Monthly Archives: April 2015

New Crossword: Begone!

For those of you who haven’t explored my entire web site, I make crossword puzzles among other things. Click anywhere on the image above to be taken to the puzzle. If you enjoy them, there’s a link at the bottom to more puzzles.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a time travel science fiction book where the main character, a young female historian, goes back to medieval times. The author’s main purpose in writing this book, so far as I could tell, was to show off her knowledge of that era. It was lush with detail, but unless you are into history you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the tedious display.

It was a strain to give this as much as two stars. Perhaps I was expecting too much because this was a Hugo and Nebula Award winner and Willis is supposedly an iconic figure in science fiction, but I must agree with all those who say it was boring. The almost six hundred pages could have been easily trimmed to two hundred. The author tries to keep the reader in suspense by constantly keeping the characters from contacting each other with the necessary information due to sickness, quarantine, travel with no phone, etc. It was simply irritating. The plot really doesn’t hold together and most of the characters aren’t very likeable. The whole bell-ringing thing was another irritant. Maybe Outlander fans would enjoy it, but I can’t recommend it.

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Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Apple Tree YardApple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The opening tease of a scene was the only clue for the first half of the book that this was going to be anything other than a romance, a modern day bodice-ripper. There is no doubt that the affair is described with skill and mostly good taste. The author has a real talent for eroticism. I could see a few eyeglasses getting pretty well steamed from some of the scenes.

The book is told in the first person by a geneticist, a woman Ph.D. with a prestigious position at a British research institute. She is speaking as though to her lover, who we know from the opening scene is “in the dock” as her co-defendant, although we don’t know exactly what for. The suspense is palpable until the author brings us to the events that lead to the trial, rather a long way in, at which point things becomes rather predictable.

At times the monologue was out of character, and this bothered me a bit. I listened to it on CD, read by an excellent actress who used a very high-class, educated accent for the protagonist, so it was jarring when the romantic language was punctuated with an F-bomb. The crudeness was kept to a minimum, but it still took me out of the story and detracted from the empathy we are to feel for the main character, who is portrayed as a victim.

At times, too, her grammar was not consistent with her level of education. At one point she says to her lover, “Us means you and I”. No, “we” means you and I. “Us” means you and me. She repeats this mistake in reverse later, saying “to you and I.” Don’t they teach the difference between the subjective and objective cases in England? A brilliant Ph.D. speaking this poorly is not credible.

The trial scenes examining witnesses were excellent. As an attorney, I appreciated the skill with which this was done, although I doubt an American judge would allow the attorneys the latitude given the ones in the book.

In Goodreads, I gave it three stars, because I liked it, but for Amazon and this blog I’m raising that to four, since the grading scale is different. I can’t quite go to “really liked it” but it’s worth a read.

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Movie Analysis part V


Continuing my analysis of movie trends, I prepared this chart showing the relative frequency and popularity of the different genres of movies. Click on the chart to enlarge it if you have trouble reading it. The purple bars show how many of that genre were in the data. The green show the average number of viewer ratings for movies in that genre. I normalized Titanic and LOTR:The Return of the King for reasons explained in earlier posts. I found the results surprising. Science Fiction/Fantasy is obviously the big box office winner.

Four hundred movies were included in the data, consisting primarily of those listed in (RT) each week as most popular in theaters and most popular DVDs and downloads over the last several months, but also included all the movies I have viewed from Netflix that I could retrieve from my viewing history and movies from lists of Oscars winners and nominees over the last ten years. I believe that the data is fairly representative of movies being made in recent years.

Assigning a genre to each movie is somewhat subjective, but perhaps less so than I thought it would be. Some movies were assigned more than one genre, but I tried to avoid that and pick just the one that was primary. If I didn’t know the genre I relied on RT’s description and genre designation. Here’s a brief description of how I defined each genre for purposes of this chart.

Drama: This is the default for fictional movies. Almost all movies have dramatic elements but I only assigned this to movies where the story line was the primary draw and it did not clearly fit the other genres. It includes most mysteries, thrillers, coming of age stories, etc. Example: The Descendants.
Animated: Movies that were entirely animated, including stop motion, but not including mix of animation and live action. Example: Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Comedy:  Includes dark comedies and farces. Example: Kenny.
Foreign: This is more of an attribute than a genre, so foreign films were usually given a separate genre such as drama, comedy, etc. Example: The Broken Circle Breakdown (which is also a musical).
Reality: Fictionalized movies purportedly based closely on real events or persons, such as biopics. Example: Lincoln.
Documentary:  Example: Code Black.
Musical: Some musicals were also reality-based, dramas, or other genres. Example: Annie.
Horror:  Example: Ouija.
Sci-fi/Fantasy:  I consider science fiction (e.g. Gravity) and fantasy (e.g. Harry Potter) different, but there is a large overlap (e.g. Interstellar) and most movie sites treat them as one genre.
Romance: There are romantic elements in most movies, but I restricted this to essentially pure love stories. Example: Amour.
Action: Movies where the main draw is explosions, car chases, fights, stunts, etc., not the story. Example: Hercules.
Kids: Movies aimed to attract children, including teens, or the whole family. There is considerable overlap with animated movies, but not all animated movies are kids’ movies and vice versa, so I gave them separate genres. Example: Frozen.

Dead as a Doorbell

I don’t know when it happened, but doorbells died. So did knockers. There’s a dirty joke there somewhere, but that’s not where I’m going. What I learned recently is that people don’t use doorbells any more, nor do they use door knockers. They call. At least, that’s what they do when they arrive in response to a craigslist ad. Maybe craigslist is the killer.

After my remodel I had several items to dispose of, so I ran a few craigslist ads. Without exception everyone who came to see the advertised items called me when they arrived in front of my house. This is true even though they were expecting to come inside. So I had to go outside and escort them in. Two of them didn’t even get out of the car until they saw me come out the front door. Why didn’t they just come to the front door and knock or ring? There must be some generational thing going on. Maybe it has to do with smart phones, but I don’t see why that would make a difference. I found this behavior rude, although I’m guessing these people thought they were being polite somehow. Perhaps where these people live, for security reasons no one comes to the door unless they know who it is, so calling is necessary.

Of course, this can only happen if the visitor has my phone number. We still get doorbell ringers soliciting donations, trying to get our house listed with them, or even selling girl scout cookies. When we invite personal friends over, they come to the front door and ring. So my observation only applies to “casual visitors” for want of a better word.

If you are among those who call instead of knocking, I’d like to hear from you. What is your reasoning? I’m attaching a contact form so I can get some responses.

No means yes

Reposting from The New Yorker:

What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand?
By Kathryn Schulz

Not long ago, I walked into a friend’s kitchen and found her opening one of those evil, impossible-to-breach plastic blister packages with a can opener. This worked, and struck me as brilliant, but I mention it only to illustrate a characteristic that I admire in our species: given almost any entity, we will find a way to use it for something other than its intended purpose. We commandeer cafeteria trays to go sledding, “The Power Broker” to prop open the door, the Internet to look at kittens. We do this with words as well—time was, spam was just Spam—but, lately, we have gone in for a particularly dramatic appropriation. In certain situations, it seems, we have started using “no” to mean “yes.”

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