*tap tap tap* Is this thing on?
Wow, I haven’t made an actual blog post since mid-May, and that wasn’t a pleasant one. I’m not big on New Year’s, as it’s really just a change of calendar, but since I haven’t talked about much here in a while, I might as well make a big year wrap-up post.
Still working as Data Manager for the big interdisciplinary environmental research project at Penn State. Missing working with/studying clouds and precipitation, so a few months ago, my boss, with no other investigators on the project interested, let me take over responsibility for precipitation measurement at the field sites since the project’s first hydrologist left the project. She also made me informal supervisor of our new watershed specialist (he’s responsible for all the field equipment). So, I’m managing all the data, all the rain gauges of varying types, supervising the watershed specialist, and, thanks in part to his office being right across from mine, helping the national network manager (our project is one of a network of 9 sites around the country) understand network-level data management and leading a new inter-site data management working group. We had a hugely important virtual (web-conference-based) review by the National Science Foundation in the Fall, too, so I was heads-down doing a lot of work to prepare for that. I haven’t seen any feedback yet, but a couple of my colleagues said we got some good feedback. As long as we don’t get any funding cuts.
Turned 50 back in October. Can I get a refund? If you missed my adventures in urology, just go back a few posts to earlier in 2015 for most of that story. It didn’t end then, though, unfortunately. By the time of my November follow-up appointment with the urologist, I’d been finding it hard to go again. When I told him my current symptoms, he scheduled a cystoscopy for the following Monday (the week of Thanksgiving). While he was inserting the scope, I could see the camera output on the big monitor, and, though I’ve no medical training, even I could see something was wrong. Then he asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I responded, hesitantly, that was rather short notice for the hospital, much less his schedule. He was concerned enough that the hospital was able to squeeze me in for surgery the next day. Apparently (this is my urologist’s theory) some of the dust-sized debris from his breaking up of my kidney stones didn’t get flushed out properly, lodged in the wall of my bladder right at the exit, grew, and caused some swelling. Afterward, he said it was a huge mass of calcium oxalate. He also told Toni he couldn’t get a very small gauge wire through before clearing the area, and wondered how I was able to go at all. So, instead of prepping for packing and moving like we’d planned, I pretty much sat on my you-know-what for the entirety of Thanksgiving break.
Did I say, “prepping for packing and moving” above? Oh, yeah. One of the big things on which Toni and I embarked this year was house hunting. We’re tired of dumping rent into this place where we have too many stairs. Going up and down between the living area and the garage, and going up to get to the master bedroom has taken its toll, given Toni’s mobility issues. We found a nice place just outside Bellefonte, which is the Centre County seat, a small town about 10 minutes north of State College. I’ll post some pics once we’ve moved, but it’s a ranch with a full basement and 2-car garage (why are those so hard to find around here?), and it’s also a condo, so, while we’ll have an HOA fee, I will Never Have to Do Yard Work. The view of Bald Eagle Ridge out the back is wonderful, and the area is So Quiet. Started packing in earnest this week, as we close on January 28, and will move sometime in early February.
Two significant trips this year. Went to Vermont and Maine with Toni back in late August. Stopped at King Arthur Flour, took the tour at Ben & Jerry’s, and stayed at a bayside resort in Belfast, Maine, in a room with a hot tub and bay view. It was so nice; it has convinced us that, once we can swing it, we’re putting a hot tub in at the new house.
Second trip was in November – Toni and I took a long weekend to go to Raleigh, North Carolina to see two exhibits at the NC Museum of Art. We met a friend who lives in Raleigh and went to the museum with her. The main attraction was an Escher exhibit for which the single most appropriate descriptive term I can think of is comprehensive. There was even a 3-D model of Belvedere, with a viewer placed where one could see how the real place could look like Escher’s print. Also saw the Da Vinci Codex Leicester, which was a lot of pages of his mirror script in which he discussed things like watersheds, erosion, and precipitation. It was very cool as well, but in a smaller space and more crowded than the Escher exhibit.
We also went to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Toni’s family for Christmas, though we came home a day earlier than planned because of Toni getting sick.
Media – Read & Watched
Also been a while since I’ve posted about what I’ve been reading or watching. Getting a job that required Toni and I to move to Pennsylvania got me out of the habit again. Oh, I was reading a lot, but mostly work-related science and technical books and such. A few months ago, Toni and I both got new Samsung tablets for Nook to replace our previous Nook hardware, and I also (finally!) got the idea to bring it with me to and from work, where I could read during lunch (I usually stay in my office for lunch, but I don’t usually work through it), and we started dedicating more time during evenings at home to reading.
The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones – by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr, and Linda Antonsson. I got started reading the historical passages in this, a reference book for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I read the tome in its entirety (whew!), and it was rather enjoyable to read more about the world GRRM has created. We already had the hardcover, which is beautiful, but the e-version is much more portable.
Red Mars – by Kim Stanley Robinson. Picked this back up next. I started reading it back in March 2013, over 2 years ago. I was just about halfway through, and I remembered most of what had happened up to where I was, so picking it up again was relatively easy, and I finished it over a few days. It’s a strong story, and KSR certainly did his research. It begins the story of settlement on Mars, and the scientific, economic, and political implications of that, including terraforming the planet to be more habitable. It dragged a bit around a quarter to a third of the way through, which I think was why I took so long reading it even before my big life changes happened. I do want to read the rest of the trilogy (consisting of Green Mars and Blue Mars), but I needed a break from Mars for a while.
Outlander – by Diana Gabaldon. Toni and I had seen the pilot episode of the Starz adaptation last year, and we had the rest of the first half of its first season on Blu-ray, as yet unwatched, though. I had heard nothing about it other than it involved a WWII nurse who goes back to mid-18th century Scotland. The developer and showrunner of the adaptation, though, was someone whose work I’ve generally liked for a long time: Ronald D. Moore, who worked on the final 4 seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (still my favorite Trek series) and of course the acclaimed reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, which is still one of my favorite TV shows of any genre. We liked the pilot, but because it’s fairly cerebral, and we have a huge virtual pile of shows to watch, we just hadn’t gotten around to watching the other 7 released episodes. We didn’t even record the 8 episodes of the second half of the season when they aired this year, because we figured we would catch up via On Demand and/or disc. I was seeing a lot of praise online, though, for both the adaptation and the original novel and the entire huge series of books that came after it, so I started reading the first book and finished it fairly quickly (by my own slower reading standards I’ve had to accept since reaching my 40s, anyway). I loved it. There’s a scene in which Claire, the protagonist (and POV for the first novel) is punished by the main male character (an 18th century Highlander), for disobeying him and putting their entire group at risk, which really angered me for a day or so, and initially I couldn’t figure out why. The scene was well-written, and I could accept that Jamie is a man of his time and would see nothing wrong with it, so I think my anger must have come from the fact that I find such physical punishment completely anathema to my own character. Whatever it was, I didn’t stop reading, and things happened afterward in the story that helped quickly dissipate my anger. DG certainly knows how to create atmosphere yet keep one engrossed in the story without feeling bogged down.
Dragonfly in Amber – by Diana Gabaldon. I waffled for a while over what to read next, after I had finished Outlander. I think my to-read list may now be beyond life expectancy. Once Toni and I caught up on a bunch of TV shows (see below), including starting our way through the rest of the first season of Outlander, I just sort of kept going without thinking much about it. Second in the series (of currently 8 novels and counting), it definitely feels like a worthy installment, even though we are treated to more than Claire’s POV and more than a little non-linear storytelling. I liked it a lot, but decided I needed a break from Claire’s worlds for a while.
Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring – by Alexander Rose. The inspiration for the TV series TURN: Washington’s Spies, I picked this up after watching the first two seasons of the show (it comes back for another season in 2016), and I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of the history of the American Revolution that I didn’t know, and it was cool to see in-depth discussion of spy craft of that era.
Mort – by Terry Pratchett. Can’t believe I waited so long to read this. It confirmed that Death is still my favorite character in Pratchett’s Discworld series. I still have so much of the series to read, though, having only read Moving Pictures, Hogfather, and Soul Music before. I’ve loved all four of what I’ve read, though.
The Martian – by Andy Weir. I know several people who know the author personally, and, when I heard a film was being made, figured I would read the book. I loved it! The focus on science and problem solving was terrific, and the humor excellent. Very quick read, as well. Highly recommended.
Alias, Vol. 1 – by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Learning that Marvel was coming out with another TV series based on the more obscure character of Jessica Jones, I started reading the comic via new reissues of the e-versions of the trade paperback collections. This one introduces Jessica with all her humor and PTSD, but it holds off on explaining the reason she’s working as a PI and is no longer a publicly known superhero until the fourth volume, which I have yet to read (it just came back out yesterday).
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – by George R. R. Martin. This collection of the three existing “Dunk and Egg” stories set in Westeros ~ 100 years before A Song of Ice and Fire just came out this Fall, so I finally got around to reading them. I want more, but I want more of the main storyline first. I also hope one of the as-yet unwritten stories explains what happened to Egg in the Tragedy at Summerhall.
Alias, Vol. 2 – by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. See vol. 1 above.
Alias, Vol. 3 – by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Ditto.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – by Alan Dean Foster. At least Alan can put his own name on this one (though I don’t think I’ve ever seen him complain about having ghostwritten the novelization of the original film – he got his check). Picked this up after seeing the movie with Toni, her brother, and our nephew on Christmas Eve. I like Alan’s writing style, and the film was so good, the book is helping tide me over until we get a chance to see it again. I’m also interested in some of the other new non-film canon material.
We don’t get out to the theater much (only 3 times this year – Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Martian, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but we do generally catch what films we want to see by the time they’re on cable or disc.
Marvel Cinematic Universe. We had the DVD of the first MCU film, Iron Man, since not long after it came out, as we both like a lot of Robert Downey, Jr.’s work. Seeing so much talk online before and around the time the first of the MCU’s second “phase” films were being released to theaters, we picked up a special Blu-ray set of MCU Phase One films, containing Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Marvel’s The Avengers. I loved all of them except The Incredible Hulk, primarily because I felt like Edward Norton was mis-cast as Bruce Banner (and it’s nothing against Mr. Norton – his film The Illusionist is one of my favorites) and the script didn’t seem to do justice to Liv Tyler’s character of Betty Ross being a scientist. I also had to admit that, despite not being much of a Joss Whedon fan (I liked some of the early seasons of Buffy, but it got stale quickly, and I tried twice and just could not get into Firefly at all), I did like what he did with Marvel’s The Avengers. That film and Iron Man 2 also led me to jump on the “Where’s my Black Widow film?” bandwagon, while the first Captain America film changed my interest in that character completely. I knew very little about Cap from the comics, and presumed he was some jingoist good-guy patriot that would probably drive me crazy. At least in the MCU, he’s not that at all (well, he’s still definitely a good guy, but for the right reasons).
We had missed original theatrical runs of the first 3 MCU Phase Two films, but we did manage to see Guardians of the Galaxy that way last year, and I am so glad we did. From TV commercials and trailers, it looked like it was going to be either very good or very bad. I laughed nearly all the way through it, and the visuals were spectacular. At least temporarily, after being disappointed by the Star Wars prequels, GotG took that series’ place in the fun, action packed, visually beautiful space adventure hole in my brain. We did manage to see the 3 prior films in that phase, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when they came to cable. I thought Iron Man 3 was nearly as strong as the original (as far as I can tell, popular opinion for some reason considers it the weakest of the Iron Man films), and I particularly loved how Pepper was involved in the dénouement. The second Thor film was enjoyable, too – I especially loved how ruthless Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith was and seeing Thor and Loki having to work together for a while. The second Cap film was something else. It seems so bizarre to me that the showrunners of Arrested Development (a show of which, admittedly, I’ve not seen much) could make such a quality film. Including Black Widow, making Steve not pining for the “good old days” (except for Peggy and Bucky, of course), staging a huge mid-film action sequence that is chock full of competence porn on both sides (the bridge fight), and just generally a good, solid, conspiracy thriller story really help this one stand out. As a Sasquan member, I cast my Hugo Award vote for it in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category, though I’m not really upset that it lost to GotG.
Despite some complaints I’d seen online beforehand, I enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron immensely. James Spader’s Ultron and Paul Bettany’s The Vision were stand-out performances, and I particularly enjoyed the parts concerning Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir. We didn’t make it out to see Ant-Man at the theater (we never go to films on their opening weekends – too many people), but we saw it a couple of weeks ago when our copy of the MCU Phase Two Blu-ray set arrived. Despite a slow start, I really enjoyed it, especially the macro cinematography.
While in Louisville last week, we saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As soon as the Lucasfilm logo cut to the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” card, I was already tearing up, and, as the movie went along, I was 12 again. The plot was very derivative of the first film, but I don’t care. That’s a formula that works for Star Wars, and I appreciated pretty much everything I saw. Love the new characters so very much, loved seeing the old ones, especially the way they held back on one in particular. Loved the music, the effects, etc. And I can’t wait to get out to see it again. And again. I don’t think I’m seen as particularly excitable from the outside, but I can assure people that in my head I am so, so, very happy about this film.
Futurama. Still at the top of my all-time favorite shows lists, the amazing hilarious and heart-wrenching science fiction cartoon went out well in September 2013, after 140 episodes. Over that run, they had very few misses (Mr. Chunks the 2-headed goat from “Attack of the Killer App” and Jrrr’s “candy” from “T.: The Terrestrial” among them), and were a little more fast and loose with getting crap past the radar in the Comedy Central episodes, but some of their best were in that part of their run as well, including some of my favorites, “The Prisoner of Benda” (the body switcher), “Overclockwise” (Bender gets omniscient when overclocked), and “Meanwhile” (the series finale).
The Simpsons. Yes, I still watch new episodes regularly. No, it’s not the same show it was in my favorite era (roughly seasons 3 or 4 through 8 – all of the David Mirkin era and some of those who ran it before and after). It can still be hilarious though, even in recent seasons. “The Book Job,” “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again,” and others have made me laugh a lot. I’m bummed that Fox will no longer be releasing the series on disc after season 17, mainly because I like the episode commentaries. The episodes themselves are now on FX Now online and the cable channel FXX shows mini-marathons 5 days a week.
Orphan Black. Is there anything about this show about which I have not gushed already? I do feel like I’ve had to back away from a significant portion of fandom during and since the third season, though, because there have been a lot more fans expressing their dislike of developments (introduction of a certain actor’s characters, death of a certain character, quality of writing, confusion of the plot, structure of the narrative, etc.). I submit that for all of those, including narrative structure, there is no accounting for taste and I will not argue my like vs. anyone else’s dislike. I absolutely loved season 3, and I felt it flowed well and I was able to follow it fairly easily. It’s insane, the things that happen, yes, but that doesn’t mean it was confusing. And, though she didn’t win, it was also very nice to see the Television Academy finally nominate Tatiana Maslany for a Best Actress Emmy. After Christmas, a season 4 teaser was released, and I’m already wondering how soon the new season can get here.
Outlander. See the book entry above. The first season finale was pretty brutal, but fairly faithful to the book in that respect. The look of the show is amazing and has kindled a stronger desire someday to visit Scotland (it’s long been on my list) the next time we’re across the pond.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Let me start off by saying I have no idea from where so many of the complaints of the first season came. We watched that season on disc, pausing, in fact, to watch the MCU Phase Two films that changed things for the show. Since the changes imposed by CA: TWS, complaints or not, the rest of season 1, season 2, and season 3 so far, it has been a show that has been kicked up a notch. It’s well-cast all-around, particularly Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, and Ming-Na Wen (whom I’ve liked since The Joy Luck Club and Mulan, and who gets to be a real action heroine, but her character here is also so much more).
Marvel’s Agent Carter. I think my celebrity crush on Hayley Atwell may be the deepest I’ve had. And it is a quality show. It has its tongue firmly planted in cheek, yet it gives Hayley the opportunity to portray a unique character – an intelligent, resourceful, and kick-ass woman in a generally hostile to women who make waves post-WWII environment. The writers throw in a lot of appropriate tropes, while turning some of the more clichéd ones on their heads. I haven’t wanted a show to succeed so much since I became a one-man gratis marketing department for Orphan Black.
Jessica Jones. Oh. Your. God. This may be the best thing Marvel has ever committed to live action adaptation. We re-started our Netflix membership mainly so I could watch this, after having read a few of the Alias comics from which the character of Jessica hails. There’s very little I can say here that probably hasn’t already been said in the plethora of reviews and articles I’ve shared about the show in other places online. Krysten Ritter was amazing, with a very strong supporting cast, and the writing is fantastic. It just does so many things right for a TV show from what was once a comic book company.
I think I’m running out of steam after such a long post. There are plenty of other shows we’ve been watching, but I haven’t got a lot to say about them at the moment. Perhaps I’ll save them for another, TV-specific post. Some of them are new and are awesome, some are wrapping up, and some we still need to catch up on. They include Continuum, Doctor Who, Masters of Sex, The Americans, Turn: Washington’s Spies, Deutschland ’83, Game of Thrones, Broadchurch, Murdoch Mysteries (The Artful Detective), The Musketeers, Penny Dreadful, Lost Girl, Defiance, Dark Matter, Killjoys, Bob’s Burgers, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, HUMANS, Sleepy Hollow, and Mr. Robot.
Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.