Monday, June 24, 2013

Update; Star Trek Into Darkness; World War Z; Detropia

Hey!  Hope everyone is doing okay!
My week at work last week was inexplicably busy.  Summer is supposed to be the time of vacations and slow dockets at the courthouse, but between meetings, covering dockets for people who are on vacation, mental health court, and vet court, last week was a really busy week.

Friday night Amy and I went to the Alamo to see Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I'd read a few of the complaints about the movie from longtime Trekkies before going to see it, and while I understand some of their arguments, I still mostly enjoyed the movie.
I've been watching Trek myself since I was a kid.
The movie was fun.  I definitely don't feel like it knocked the ball out of the park, but it was fun.
I have a few gripes, but, at the same time, most of my complaints were addressed with at least a little lip service during the course of the film.
I think Trek should be more about exploration and less about fighting and military conflict.  Mr. Scott voices this complaint, though, and, in fact, temporarily resigns over it.  This new Kirk seems to have all of the swagger of the original Kirk, but lacks Shatner Kirk's craftiness and intelligence.  A main theme of the movie, however, arises from the fact that Chris Pines' Kirk still has much to learn about being a captain (although we all assume that when push comes to shove he's always going to ultimately do things his own way).

Most importantly, the movie takes pains to remind the audience that this is a new Trek universe.  This new realm of Trek is similar to, but not identical to, the Star Trek universe that we previously knew.  Just in case the audience has forgotten this fact, Leonard Nemoy pops up to school Zachary Quinto about how things used to work in the original series.  The old literally informs the new.  This sort of device probably annoys the crap out of a lot of fans of the original show/movies.  I see it as a necessary conceit for a director and writers who might otherwise find themselves hopelessly shackled by one of the most elaborately crafted science fiction narratives of all time.  Anyone working on a latter day Trek series is going to strike a very delicate balance between respecting tradition and allowing themselves the freedom to tell new stories.
Anyway, I enjoyed the movie.  As a criticism of the movie in itself, I thought the pacing was fairly rushed and the dialogue occasionally too cute and/or clunky.  
Then again, the original Star Trek wasn't exactly Shakespeare.  It could be uneven, but we still loved it.  It's easy for Star Trek fans to lose sight of that fact as well.
As for the pacing, now that I've been spending my time watching some pretty good TV shows, I've begun to find that many Hollywood movies feel extremely rushed.

So Friday night was the spaceship movie.  
This weekend Amy ended up having to go in to work.  Quite a bit.  She got hung up working on bills and amendments pertaining to the abortion legislation that's been in the news as the legislature is wrapping up this first (and hopefully last) special session.  Apparently both Democrats and Republicans were working on amendments to try to modify the final version of the bill.
It's been a controversial subject area involving a lot of heated debate.
It also seriously threw a wrench into our weekend.

So Saturday morning we went out for breakfast.  Amy went to work after that.
I worked out and went to see World War Z in the afternoon with Ryan.  Amy doesn't especially love the scary movies, so with her working, this was a good chance for the Steans men to go catch a zombie apocalypse flick.
World War Z was a bit of a disappointment.  I really enjoyed the World War Z book by Max Brooks.  I know it's a cliche to say that the book was better than the movie, but in this case it's especially true since the movie bore such little resemblance to the novel.  The novel contains an interesting collection of vignettes about characters around the world, stylistically different and sort of thematically diverse.  The movie is pretty much your standard "a man at the end of the world" zombie apocalypse scenario.
(if you threaten a robot and kick it in just the right spot,
apparently it will cough up movie tickets)
There were very few new ideas that the World War Z movie brought to the subgenre of zombie fiction. The movie seemed primarily invested in showing us aerial shots of large numbers of zombies wreaking havoc (which, admittedly, did lend a kind of cool sense of scale) and in demonstrating the fact that zombies are both reckless and very good climbers.
But World War Z was pretty forgettable.  And I still don't understand for sure how these zombies managed to spread across the entire globe so quickly.  When they got onto planes or other confined spaces it seems like bad things happen.

This past Saturday was the first Saturday of summer, so when Amy got off work we did some celebratory grilling.  Chicken breasts in lime chipotle marinade, grilled squash, and eggplant.  I had a Ranger IPA and Amy had some wine.  It was very good.  Tasted and felt like summer.

Sunday Amy went to work again.  For a long time.
I went for a bike ride and had my first brawl of the year with the Texas heat.  It's unbelievable how much different the heat makes.  I guess it really started getting hot the weekend we were at the beach, but this was my first time to venture out when it was in the mid to upper 90s this year.  
I ride that little 12 mile route all the time, but this time it was hard.

Sunday was pretty uneventful.  I did some grocery shopping and a few chores.  Got a little reading done.  Watched a documentary on Independent Lens about Detroit called Detropia.  It was sad and alarming.  It's unnerving to see a major city just falling apart right in the middle of the country.  I guess everyone sort of knows on an intellectual level that it's happening, but the images in the film really drove the reality home.  It's even more distressing to realize that with the decline in American manufacturing, Detroit might just be the first city to fall, with others soon to follow.  Corporate profits remain strong, CEOs and shareholders continue to build wealth, and the American middle class just withers.  Detroit looks, without exaggeration, like a third world country.  As of this year it had over 100,000 homes standing empty and abandoned (plus many more commercial buildings), and this March the governor of Michigan appointed an emergency manager to oversee Detroit's financial operations in the face of the city's imminent financial collapse.  People are fleeing Detroit like rats off a sinking ship.  The population is predicted to drop 40% in the next 5 years.
The documentary tried to present some promise with the move of some young artists who are moving to Detroit because of the affordable real estate, but without a solid economic base to provide jobs, it just doesn't seem like a few artists are going to stop the hemorrhaging.

Amy came home for dinner, but had to go back.  She ultimately didn't get home until well after midnight.  Hopefully that's the last time this year.

So that was the weekend.
Hope everyone is having a good week!  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Update- Beach Trip Edition

So on Thursday morning Amy and I headed out for Port Aransas on a beach trip with a bunch of friends.  I've been going on this trip on and off again for roughly ten years with various configurations of this group of folks.  Just for the purposes of documenting who was along, I think we had:  Mandy, Vicki, Ellie, Donna Rene, Kim, Sigmund, Miles, Alicia, Collin, Clayton, Amy, Rami, Wilson, and Allison (who I met for the first time on this trip).
This was Amy's first trip with the gang, and her first trip to Port A.  She fit right in.  We had a really nice trip.  We rented a couple of houses, and we had about 13 adults and 3 kiddos in our group.  It was the first time I'd been on one of these trips with kids.  It was a little different, but a lot of fun!

It's great to have a group of friends that you can do stuff like this with. The beach trip definitely builds a sense of community.

I'm still sort of a little tired following our adventure, so maybe I'll just sort of let my pictures speak for me on this post.  I had a really nice time.  It was good to hang out with everyone, the beach itself was very relaxing, and it was a good trip with Amy down to the Texas coast!

Yay beach!

(Our beach campsite.  It grew bigger over time,
but this gives you the idea)

(late night poolside wackiness)

(Andy does his impression of
a barnacle)

(a walk at sunset)

Monday, June 10, 2013


Hey, guys!  I hope everyone had a nice week and weekend.

We've been a little busy as we're rolling into summer.

Last week we went out for dinner with a friend that Amy met while at the iSchool, Stephen, and his ladyfriend, Stephanie.  We had a really nice time!  It was good to catch up with Stephen and meet Stephanie.  We ate some good Mexican food, and I learned that I really need to see a documentary called The Short Game about hyper competitive 7 year old golfers.  We really enjoyed dinner with them.

Let's see... Thursday night I worked late at vet court.

(I will totally throw a fit if they
mess up the Superman theme.)
On Friday night Ryan, Amy, and I went to a free summer pops concert at Zilker Park that was put on by the Austin Civic Orchestra.  The weather turned out to be remarkably pleasant for a Texas evening in June (much better than I epxected).  The music mostly consisted of soundtracks (Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Cats, Superman, Titanic, Grease, Star Wars, etc.).  People brought blankets and babies and dogs, and we sat out under the trees with our drinks and listened to music while the sun went down.  It was a very nice evening.  My friend Laura plays clarinet for the orchestra, and it's always fun to see her perform (but we go because the music is good- frankly, Laura is my homegirl and all, but if the music was bad we wouldn't have made it out to see her three times in the last year).

So that was Friday night.  It was nice!

(Hops & Grain with Luckey
 and Jason - and Jessie's mouth and nose)
On Saturday afternoon I went to a beer tasting at the Hops & Grain brewery with friends Jason and Jessie and a few of their friends (who I met for the first time, but who seemed very nice).  We tasted various beers and hung out in the taproom and gawked at the big beer tanks.  It was a fun event.  Hops & Grain makes some tasty beer.  After the beer tasting I went shopping with Amy and worked out.  In the evening we went over to Jason's house for a birthday party.  It was a lot of fun.  There was food and beer and good company.  Several of Amy's friends from work made it out.  We stayed for quite a while.  Once again, it was a nice evening with good weather, so we just sat on the back patio and talked.

Sunday we got up and ran some errands.  We went up north to pick up a suit that I ordered a couple of weeks ago.  We ended up calling the police because some clown had locked their dog in a car and left it in the parking lot in 90 something degree weather.  Second time I've already made that sort of call this summer.  Grrrrr....  Dogs die in hot cars.  We live in Texas.  People are stupid.
Friday night my folks came over for dinner.  It was a very nice evening.  Amy made chilaquiles, and Mom brought a salad.  It was good to have a chance to hang out with them and catch up a bit.
Nice night.

And that was about it!
I hope everyone else had a nice one!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Showers in the Granger Building

I wasn't going to write about this because I didn't think anyone would care, but how there's been a very small buzz about it in the local media, so I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't document this turn of events...

I think I may have mentioned this once before, but I've been involved in this sort of organized push among the employees in my building to get showers added to the building during an ongoing remodel.  The idea kinda started with Amy.  She has showers in her office building at work, and she and her coworkers are in a crossfit program during lunch where they work out every day (it's sorta like aerobics combined with strength training).  Some of her coworkers also bike to work.
This got me thinking because there are a number of people in my office who exercise during lunch and others who bike to work.  There are also many people who would like to do these things but who are afraid of to get sweaty and have to be stinky all day.
So we started a sort of gentle push to get showers.  I'm definitely not the only one who supports the showers, but I sort of ended up being the de facto "annoyer in chief", sending emails to members of the Travis County Commissioners Court and gathering signatures on a support list (the word "petition" sounds too antagonistic, you see).
Well, the whole thing came to a vote yesterday in commissioner's court (the body which decides how Travis county money will be spent).  The night before the vote, the local news ran a weird story about the issue.  If you look closely when they show the petition, you might might see my name at the top of the list (and a bunch of my friends right after my name).

Not sure how long they'll keep that story on their site.

KLBJ News Radio also ran a story about the showers.

Anyway, there was a bit of drama in the 11th hour of the shower thing as Gerald Daugherty- a nice guy, but one of our more conservative commissioners- voiced some objection, saying that he didn't really feel that it was the role of government to provide these kinds of services to its employees.  Since the State of Texas, one of the most conservative governing bodies in the country, is providing these services to its employees in the Capitol Complex right down the street, I didn't have too much sympathy for that argument.  I like Daugherty and all, but we wanted our showers!

In the end, we rallied some shower supporters who went to commissioner's court.  Then a week later my boss, David Escamilla (our County Attorney) showed up at commissioner's court and went to bat for the idea.  He not only advocated for the showers, but kicked in money from the County Attorney budget that covered a pretty good sized chunk of the project.  This sort of caught us off guard (we had done this as sort of a grass roots thing, mostly), but it was really cool of him and made us all feel supported by the office.  That's a good feeling.
In the end, even Commissioner Daugherty voted for the showers and they were easily approved.

So now we'll be getting showers!  Eventually.  And I'll have to start putting my money where my mouth is and riding my bike to work.  Or exercising at lunch.

I've made a terrible mistake.  ;-)  

Monday, June 03, 2013


Howdy!  It's June!  Summer! 
I really like summer.  It's hot, but it's relaxed.  And it's fun.  I dig it.

So last Monday was the end of the regular session for Amy.  Her schedule is a little more normal now, so we're getting into a bit more of a regular routine.
On Tuesday night we joined Ryan, Susan, and Juan for Enter the Dragon at the Alamo Ritz.  For those who enjoy kung fu action movies, Enter the Dragon is a classic.  The characters have enough backstory to make them more interesting than simple punching bags, and the plot contains both some themes that are fairly classic in martial arts films (e.g., the shaolin temple and the wizened master) as well as some elements that make the movie feel more firmly placed in a particular place and time (e.g., Jim Kelly's character, Williams, seems to have a bit of a black power sort of vibe going on, and quickly flees to Hong Kong after getting into a fight with some racist cops; Roper and Williams seem to be war buddies, having both served in Vietnam).
At any rate, Enter the Dragon is a cool movie.  Bruce Lee emanates intense ferocity on screen, and John Saxon and Jim Kelly, while not quite as impressive as martial artists, lend a vibe to the film that gives it a lot more personality than your typical kung fu flick.

What else?
(that's right, Amy, I posted this!
Barton Springs 4 evah!)
The weekend was good.  We went to Barton Springs for the first time this season.  Although I didn't get in the water as quickly as Amy "Penguin" Davis, I think I managed to get into the cold water fairly quickly for a first dip of the year.  We had a nice combination of summer breeze, clouds, sun, and crazy neo hippies with didgeridoos and hula hoops.
The weekend also involved water melon, bicycle riding, and dog walking.
We went out for breakfast omlettes one morning at Magnolia.  Good food and fun to go out for breakfast.

(there is more sky in Elgin)
(it's like a nerdier version of
Burning Man!)
We went to a sine die party (the fancy name for the last day of session) for Amy's office out in Elgin at a house that had horses, a golf cart, karaoke, horseshoes (the game- not equine footwear), and a motorbike.  There was barbecue and beer and friendly folks.  We had a really nice time.  At some point people busted out some fireworks.  Mildly perilous and majorly fun.
I had band practice, but with only Frank and Jim in attendance.  To mix things up even more, I played acoustic guitar and mandolin.  Frank played his new amp.  We struggled a bit to find our footing, but we had some moments that sounded really good.  Given a little more time and practice in that sort of configuration I think we could do pretty well.

Amy made some excellent food over the weekend.  We had a really good salmon dish that's baked in some sort of asian bread crumbs (panko?) and involves mustard.  Very, very good.  She also made some blackberry bars that we ate with frozen yogurt.  They were also ridiculously good.  She had asked if I wanted any sort of baked fruit thing, and I threw blackberry cobbler out there just to see if she would go for it, and then she made these blackberry bars and they were better than cobbler. In all the right places, sweet and tart and crunchy and soft.  For real.  She could have a restaurant. 

We've also been watching Prime Suspect on Netflix.  Many of you may already know about it, but for those who don't, it's a British show about homocide detectives in the early 90's.  It stars Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. 
I like the show.  Tennison isn't a perfect human being- her drive to achieve professional success often leads to deficiencies in other aspects of her personal life- but she's good at her job and determined to succeed in an environment that's wrought with sexism and bias.  Good acting and good writing.  I'm sure we'll watch more.

Annnd.... that's about it.
It was a nice, relaxing weekend.
Following the legislative session, it was a nice change of pace for Amy, and it was really nice to just have a chance for both of us to relax a bit and hang out.

Take care!