Wednesday/ Christmas light enchantments

The Seattle Mariners baseball field – south of downtown – is set up as a Christmas light maze (the Seattle ‘Enchant’ Christmas market and festival). So that’s where we went after beers & dinner tonight. There were forests of light trees, a scavenger hunt for Santa’s reindeer in the maze, and a little ice rink as well.

In a forest of light trees ..
A giant snowflake ..
.. and here’s Rudolph (the Red-nosed Reindeer), one of nine of Santa’s reindeer, hidden in the maze. Some of them are lying down, and it took us a little while to find the last one, called Cupid.

These skaters look very comfortable on the ice of the little ice rink. We did not set foot on there! [Photo credit: thanks to Bryan for the picture].
And here’s a selfie of the friends – from left to right Ken, Steve, Willem, Bryan & Gary. Yes, it was a little chilly! 43 °F/ 6 °C. [Photo credit: thanks to Gary for the picture]. 

Saturday Night Live/ the ‘cold open’

‘President Trump’ was again featured in this Saturday’s SNL cold open, portraying him and other world leaders at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. Hmm. Is this really funny? I thought. In this case, Putin and Mohammed Bin Salman are – by all credible accounts in the real world – savages, directly responsible for murdering their political enemies. They should be persona non grata at the G20 (and maybe they are). So is it cool to ‘celebrate’ and poke fun at them?

I guess I’m too serious. This is simply an offer to the audience to escape the horrors of the real universe, and jump into a parallel one of parody, for a little while.  Another problem could be that I only have one beer on a Saturday night, and not three or four, as I’m sure most in the studio audience must have had!

‘Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night Live!’ yells the cold open* cast of characters, from left to right: ‘Michael Cohen’ (Ben Stiller), ‘Rudy Giuliani’ (Kate McKinnon), ‘Melania Trump’ (Cecily Strong), ‘Donald Trump’ (Alec Baldwin), ‘Vladimir Putin’ (Beck Bennett), ‘Mohammed Bin Salman’ (Fred Armisen). *In television production parlance, the ‘cold opening’ or ‘cold open’ is a one to five minute mini-act at the beginning of the show, even before the opening credits, that is used to set up the episode and catch the audience’s attention.

Sunday/ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ rocks

We ran out to the movie theater today to go see the just-released Freddie Mercury/ Queen biopic called ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It had gotten mixed reviews from the critics – but as it turned out: what do they know? I thought it was very, very well done.

American actor Rami Malek worked hard to undergo a stunning transformation to portray Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance and human side. The filmmakers collaborated with Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor (71) and lead guitarist Brian May (69).  (Bass guitarist John Deacon (67) retired from the band’s activities a few years after Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991).

The movie ends with an amazing recreation of Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert that was held in 1985 at Wembley Stadium in London (worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans).

Great picture of Freddie Mercury and partner Jim Hutton. They had been together for 6 years when Mercury passed away in 1991.  [Picture from Hutton’s memoir ‘Mercury and Me’, published in 1994].

Wednesday/ Oktoberfest is over

Oktoberfest 2018 in Munich is over, but here is a cute little cartoon from German cartoonists Greser & Lenz.

Precarious situation at the Oktoberfest: ‘Take the mass* back, I have ordered one on the internet in the meantime’.   *A ‘mass’ is one liter of beer, going for an average of about €10 (US$ 11.50) at this year’s Oktoberfest.  [Copyright: Greser & Lenz]

Sunday/ the fantasy worlds of LEGO

We went down to the annual ‘BrickCon’ LEGO exhibition, at Seattle Center today. This is where LEGO master builders show off their work, and fans come to admire it.  Here are some of my favorites.

Got to have a LEGO Space Needle, of course. This one was built by Wayne Hussey in 2012, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the real Needle. It took 800 hrs, over 6 months, and has more than 50,000 bricks. (And I love the totem pole in the background).
Elaborate model of the ferry Issaquah, with bridge and deck equipment, minifigures and filled up with all kinds of vehicles, to boot.
Alaska Airlines hangar with landing strip, complete with skid marks. Lots of airplanes, and a wildly colorful flying machine taking off! Seattle waterfront Ferris wheel in the foreground.
This ‘Matt’s Rollercoaster’ model was the pièce de résistance of the exhibition, in a way, featuring a fully functional roller coaster rail and car. It was built from 20,000 standard LEGO pieces after two years of design work. Check out the top right of the coaster: the car is about to plunge down on the rails and into the loop (!), to end up back at the start.
Whoah .. and how about this 15-storey medieval megacastle, with its dragon (on its landing pad), moat, drawbridges & knights. I am sure enemies from the ends of the earth can be spotted by the guards in the turret at the top.
Another castle, styled with terraces and lots of minifigures on the attack. (The still have to deal with the castle walls and the moat, though).
Here is a Halloween house. I love the roof with its reds and pinks, and the other details.
The dinosaurs/ ‘dino wars’ is another LEGO theme, some sets licensed from the Jurassic Park movie franchise.
Finally, a style of LEGO that is called ‘microbuilding’, challenges the builder to create a miniature model of something, such as this Washington State ferry. Nicely done. (The trick is to have a large superset of bricks to tinker with and select from, to put together).

Saturday/ wearing many layers of clothes

I am under the weather. Sometimes today I had to put on several layers of clothes to keep me warm out of bed, and to keep the chills under control.

‘That reminds me of the Friends episode with Joey wearing all Chandler’s clothes’, I thought.

‘Look at me! I’m Chandler. Could I BE wearing any more clothes?’ asks Joey. From a FRIENDS episode aired 9/26/1996.  Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, wears all Chandler’s clothes (Matthew Perry). Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank

Tuesday/ no Aviation Gin for you (or me)

I see actor Ryan Reynolds’ gin has arrived in Seattle (Aviation Gin). It made me think of our gin of choice, for after-work cocktails, back when I worked in China: Bombay Sapphire. So I should give the Aviation Gin a try.

P.S. Alas, party-pooper researchers have published the results of a sweeping global study in the Lancet, that says that not even modest amounts of alcohol is good for one’s health. What is one to do?

Spotted here on 15th Ave, on Capitol Hill: a delivery truck with a poster of Reynolds, promoting his new gin. Described as an ‘American gin’, Aviation Gin is handcrafted in small 100-case batches by a small, dedicated team of master distillers in Portland, Oregon.

Thursday/ LEGO’s Castles

Here’s a 2012 set called ‘Kingdoms Joust’. A joust is a horseback fight with lances, as shown. The king and the queen are looking on, with some peasants going about their business.

Below is the used LEGO Castle #6075 set from 1981 that I had bought from a Craigslist seller in Tacoma.

I had to fill in quite a few yellow brick pieces of my own. I bought it knowing there were no knight or horse minifigures. (Aw). The red drawbridge is also missing its pulley and rope, used to draw it close.

Fun as it was, to build this set, it’s really outdated. The modern medieval sets from LEGO use gray bricks and not yellow, roof tiles, and add in a lot more detail to the castle walls and roofs, and to the minifigure characters (see the picture of ‘Kingdom’s Joust’).

The LEGOLAND Castle #6075 set from 1981. My set has no knights or horses. They are hard to find on the used market, given that the set is so old. I should just get a new set such as Kingdoms Joust, with knights and horses to use when displaying this one.

Monday/ pleased to eat you

The popcorn movie ‘The Meg*’ is out on the circuit. Even though I have not seen it yet, it’s fun to check the movie’s trailer online, and the posters for it. The movie is a co-production with China, and features actress Li Bingbing alongside Jason Statham.

*Short for Carcharodon megalodon, a really, really big shark (60 ft/ 20m) that roamed the oceans until about 2.6 million years ago.

Carcharodon megalodon was bigger than a school bus, and could swim twice as fast as today’s great white sharks [Infographic from fossilera.com]
Fossilized teeth of Carcharodon megalodon are still found, but not much else (the shark had a cartilage skeleton). We also do not know why they went extinct .. probably because they ran out of food to eat!  [Infographic from fossilera.com]

Movie posters in different languages. Let’s see: Opening Wide is a movie reference (the movie opens in a large number of theaters) | Spanish ‘Te dejará con la boca abierta‘ – It will leave you with your mouth open | German ‘Biss bald‘ – ‘Bite’ you soon; a word play on ‘Bis bald’ – See you soon | Russian КуШАТь ПОДАНО! – Dinner is served!
An alternative movie poster with the tagline ‘Pleased To Eat You’ and two beautiful beach Homo sapienses as shark food, complete with an American food label. I am very sure the megashark will not peruse the food label beforehand !

Friday/ a scene from Texas

Here’s a simple Texas-themed construction. I was inspired by pictures that I found online for a 1977 set called ‘Texas Rangers’.

The original Texas Rangers set had horses and cowboys in. I did not have bricks to build those, but added a cow that I had on hand. (That cow is about to walk over, and chomp that yellow flower in the corner).

Wednesday/ LEGO House on the Hill, 2.0

May I present the new and improved version of what I will call ‘LEGO House on the Hill’? The original one was only a shell, with no floors, and not much detail inside.

This house is still very compact, and built with pretty basic bricks. I don’t have custom furniture and kitchen appliance bricks that come with some LEGO house sets – yet.

Front view. I should change out the baseball cap, or the briefcase, on the house resident. The cap & briefcase don’t really go together.
The back of the house. The garage still needs a little work.
Here’s a ‘Google Earth’ view, looking down on the roof.
Top floor, with the roof removed. Stairs from the ground floor lead into the hallway. Bathroom is to the left with blue furnishings. Main bedroom on left with grey bed, guest bedroom on right with orange bed, study at top with a brown desk.
Ground floor. Staircase by the front door. Kitchen on the bottom left with island, with dining room & brown table top left. Top right is the living room with TV and sofa.

Sunday/ I loved ‘Love, Simon’

I went to see Love, Simon, on the spur of the moment today. It is a coming-of-age film, a romantic comedy-drama about a closeted gay high schooler called Simon. (He is forced to come out of the closet – of course. He makes mistakes in the process, hurts people, but his parents and friends are supportive).

I see some film critics wonder if the movie is already too little, too late, for today’s kids for whom being gay is – finally – O.K.  So they don’t need this movie.  Well, I think I disagree.  The movie will be watched by old guys like me, and by parents, and by gay kids that have a rough time where they grow up. And it will mean an awful lot to them.

Picture from the movie, and comment from the New Yorker magazine. From left to right the characters and friends Nick, Simon (actor Nick Robinson, a Seattle native), Abby and Leah. The film is hailed as a first: a major studio backing a gay director making a gay-themed movie. (Robinson is straight). The movie is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 book ‘Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’.

Thursday/ there is a terrible lizard in my backyard

I did not buy the big T-Rex I saw at Toys-R-Us (my post a few days ago), but this red one at Walmart was on sale for just $1.97.  Besides, the dinosaur – the terrible lizard * – goes nicely with the garage that I added to my Lego house.  It’s all just for fun. I will eventually box up these toys and donate all of it to Goodwill.

*Dinosaur comes from ancient Greek δεινός (deinos), meaning ‘terrible, potent or fearfully great’, and σαῦρος (sauros), meaning ‘lizard or reptile’.

 

Monday/ my house, in Lego bricks

What would my actual house look like in Lego* bricks? I wondered.  Well, only one way to find out, I thought: build it – and so I did.  I’m pleased with the result.  I had to scavenge bricks and roof tiles from my 2004 Lego Designer House kit, destroying it in the process – but that’s OK.  The roof was a lot of fun to build.

*Lego is short for leg godt, Danish words that translate to ‘play well’.

That’s the Lego ‘me’ on the porch, with the blue shirt and cap (Front). The real house is green with a grey roof! but hey, the white walls and red roof will have to do instead. If I were really determined, I could special-order green wall bricks and grey roof tiles, on   bricklink.com. It’s an online catalog that lists thousands of sellers and thousands of types of bricks. Lego has produced 400 billion bricks since 1958, in almost any square, round and triangular shape, and color, imaginable.

Tuesday/ point and line puzzles

I scan through the Wall Street Journal almost every day, at the public library here in my neighborhood. The weekend edition has puzzles in, and the two puzzles below are from this last weekend.  (This is the link to the WSJ puzzle blog).

I think I know the solution to the ‘Maximizing Links’ problem .. but the Seven Points problem has me stumped .. but I’m working on it!

Update Fri 4/6: Well, the solutions have been published. I got the first one right: 9 links can be drawn. Trying to solve the ‘Seven Points’ problem was a humbling experience, and I got close, but no cigar.  I knew the solution had to involve equilateral several connected triangles, but I should have applied more rigor, and maybe used a compass to arrive at the solution (as shown in the figure with the circles, from Math Stack Exchange).  So depending on the way one looks at it, the solution is a regular pentagon, with two points carefully added to it, equidistant to three other points on the pentagon .. OR two diamonds pinned at a shared vertice (bottom left on the first diagram), and the other vertices a unit length apart.

Sunday/ El Recodo, Villa Unión

The drive to El Recodo is to the northwest is under two hours. Villa Union is just off Highway 15 on the way back.

On Sunday, we drove out to the town of El Recodo and made a stop at Villa Unión for lunch at a famous seafood restaurant.

We were very lucky to run into a tour guide in El Recodo to show us around.  He also phoned ahead to the very popular restaurant in Villa Unión, which allowed us to get in almost right away.

The church off the main street in El Recodo was built in 1855. The bell was made of all kinds of metal that were collected from residents. That’s Samuel, our impromptu tour guide of the church and the town at large. He seems to know everyone there!
This is a beautiful Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, native to the area.
This picture is from inside a little museum dedicated to the famous ‘Banda El Recodo’ band and its founder Cruz Lizarraga (now deceased). It’s the centenary of Cruz’s birthday in 1918.
Just an old building with Spanish roof tiles that I liked very much -on a side street in El Recodo.
Here’s the Parroquia San Juan Bautista (Parish of San Juan Bautista) in Villa Unión, located on the main town square.

Sunday/ Oscar notes

The Wall Street Journal had a little report about Oscar enthusiasts that watch all 59 movies before the big night, driving many miles to art theatres for the foreign films or documentaries. (That’s not me!).

Gary Oldman (59) with his Best Actor Oscar for ‘Darkest Hour’. He addressed his 99-year old mom watching the Oscars on TV: ‘Put on the kettle; I’m bringing an Oscar home’. Oldman is British by birth, but now American. He married Gisele Schmidt in Sept 2017 and lives in Los Angeles.

I still want to go see Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in WW2, though, and also on my list: The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name and animated film winner Coco.

Nice to see Bladerunner 2049 winning in Visual Effects as well as Cinematography.

Someone noted on Twitter that none of the movies directed by women, won any Oscars: a disappointment.

Harvey Weinstein, and several other men in the Hollywood industry accused of sexual harassment, now persona non grata, were nowhere to be seen.

Saturday/ Wakanda forever

Clockwise from the Bottom Left: Wakanda’s all-women army | Black Panther in his super-powered ‘vibranium’ suit | Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa  aka Black Panther | Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka aka Erik “Killmonger” Stevens | the newest comic incarnation from Marvel has award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates as writer | Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s love interest Nakia | the high-tech world of Wakanda, created by Industrial Light & Magic studios

 

A real black panther [from Wikipedia]. Black panthers in Asia and Africa are black leopards, and those in the Americas are black jaguars (picture). What a magnificent beast .. but man, would I hate to run into one in the night, in a rainforest!
Black Panther is ‘a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world’ says Jamil Smith in TIME magazine. Of course, it does not hurt that it is also a great action flick, full of beautiful people and gorgeous scenes of the utopian world of Wakanda.

The movie is not not devoid of racism – in more than one scene, a white character finds out what it’s like to be in a world in which black people have wealth, technology and military might.  (A world where white people are not allowed, in fact!).  Overall, the movie has a great message, though: in the real world full of different nations and ethnicities, we are all our brother’s keeper.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween 2001, at the office!   [From merriam-webster.com] Hippie, plural hippies : a (usually) young person who rejects the mores of established society (as by dressing unconventionally or favoring communal living) and advocates a nonviolent ethic; broadly : a long-haired unconventionally dressed young person.

Saturday/ reality or illusion?

A dystopian Los Angeles in 2049 (seawall on the left). The film is neo-noir: dim lighting, crime and violence, night scenes, lots of rain and snow, and dark dramatic music.

We went to see the new ‘Bladerunner 2049’ movie on Saturday, and I liked it a lot.  Ryan Gosling is Officer K from the LAPD and hunts down replicants (robots that look and act like humans), then discovers he might be a very special replicant himself. Are his memories real or not? is a big part of the movie, as is the destroyed Earth backdrop. There was a Blackout (electromagnetic pulse) event in 2022 that destroyed all digital data records on Earth, and as a consequence Officer K has to knock on doors and ask people (and replicants) questions, to get information.

I loved the enormous fields of solar power generation stations in the opening scene, the massive seawall that protects LA from the sea, and the flying cars. There is also Officer K’s holographic girlfriend Joi (says she: ‘I missed you, baby sweet – what a day, hmm?’), and a cool holographic jukebox player. But in the final analysis, the movie is about what makes us human. A perennial science fiction question seems to be: could artificially intelligent (AI) creatures be made human, say, with implanted memories? What is illusion, and what is ‘reality’, anyway? As Albert Einstein famously said: ‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one’.