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Archive for January 2012

Essential Geography

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Most people may not know that I am fascinated by topographic maps and interested in cartography in general. I would rather navigate across the country with a road atlas than rely on Google Maps, which I know puts me in limited company. I would love to get my hands on one of these maps

[The] big mapmaking corporations of the world employ type-positioning software, placing their map labels (names of cities, rivers, etc.) according to an algorithm. For example, preferred placement for city labels is generally to the upper right of the dot that indicates location. But if this spot is already occupied—by the label for a river, say, or by a state boundary line—the city label might be shifted over a few millimeters. Sometimes a town might get deleted entirely in favor of a highway shield or a time zone marker. The result is a rough draft of label placement, still in need of human refinement. Post-computer editing decisions are frequently outsourced—sometimes to India, where teams of cheap workers will hunt for obvious errors and messy label overlaps. The overall goal is often a quick and dirty turnaround, with cost and speed trumping excellence and elegance.

By contrast, David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus—a 35-year veteran of cartography who’s designed every kind of map for every kind of client—did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It’s the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.


Written by camcarlson

January 30, 2012 at 9:20 PM

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Waterloo Weekend

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Joined several co-workers for dinner & drinks at the OP on Ridgeway on Friday night. Went out with Ben, Kami, Dan & Joyce at the Panther Lounge and then Barney’s off of 218 on Saturday night, followed by more drinks and spicy enchiladas at their impressive house in Highland Park. Crashed at Ben’s house next door, woke with the sun and drove home, then drove back to Waterloo after a midday run to peruse the DVD collection at the WLO library, which contains over a dozen movies on my recently revised film list; I checked out the maximum five and returned home.

Watched “Hannah and Her Sisters” (re-watched; I had seen it years ago but forgot how good it was) and “American Splendor” yesterday and “Dinner for Schmucks”, “Now, Voyager” and “My Dog Tulip” today.

January addenda

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After many days of on-and-off heat at the Mandalay, I think it’s back on for good. A much-needed sigh of relief. Naturally, fingers are still crossed, still knocking on wood, et cetera. But it’s nice not relying on a quartz heater every evening.

I watched “The Double Life of Veronique” last night, a 90s French film beloved by both Ebert and Katya. I wasn’t drawn into the story as deeply as I had hoped but I enjoyed it nonetheless, especially the camerawork and the color choices, and the lead (Irene Jacob) is an absolute natural beauty. I think I’ll try to see it again with Katya whenever she’s back in the US.

I watched “50/50” tonight. Very good movie. On par with some of my favorites from 2011, so I’m adding it to my list (see previous entry). The dialogue was pretty sharp and I loved the confrontation between Seth Rogen and Dallas Bryce Howard. Sorry to see “Bridesmaids”, a good but not great comedy, receive an Original Screenplay nomination yesterday but not Will Reiser for this film. But I’ll write about Oscar nominations in more detail tomorrow…

Written by camcarlson

January 25, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Favorite films of 2011

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As in 2010, I saw several great movies last year, and a lot of good ones. The films listed below are the ones I unequivocally recommend to anyone. Rather than make a top ten list, I thought I’d mimic Jim Emerson’s “moments out of time” and share a thought or two about each film, a shot or a scene or a piece of dialogue that made these movies stand out for me. Presented in the order in which I first saw them…..

Rango: The scene near the beginning when Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) barely survived a perilous road trip stuck inside a glass tank; the townsfolk engaged in a bizarre “water spell” dance maneuver; and Bill Nighy providing the voice of Rattlesnake Jake.

The opening scene of “Midnight in Paris” – a lovely montage of daily life in Paris (clip) – and Corey Stoll’s scene-stealing role as Ernest Hemingway.

The Tree of Life: My favorite film of 2011. When I saw it in Denver CO last August, I wrote it was “a magnificent, beautiful, raw film about the creation of the universe, the birth of life on Earth, life, grace, guilt, families, pain, growing up in the 50s, faith, God, death.” It is a film as ambitious in scale as “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a movie it is often compared to. Of all the beautiful images that captivated me, what I remember first is the upside-down shot of children’s shadows dancing on a street.

To quote Ebert:

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer “to” anyone or anything, but prayer “about” everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.

What Malick does in “The Tree of Life” is create the span of lives. Of birth, childhood, the flush of triumph, the anger of belittlement, the poison of resentment, the warmth of forgiving. And he shows that he feels what I feel, that it was all most real when we were first setting out, and that it will never be real in that way again. In the face of Hunter McCracken, who plays Jack as a boy, we see the face of Sean Penn, who plays him as a man. We see fierceness and pain. We see that he hates his father and loves him. When his father has a talk with him and says, “I was a little hard on you sometimes,” he says, “It’s your house. You can do what you want to.” And we realize how those are not words of anger but actually words of forgiveness. Someday he will be the father. It will not be so easy.

The scene in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” when Caesar duels with Draco Malfoy in the playpen at the animal control center; Draco’s insult (a nod to the 1968 original) and Caesar’s “response”. Really, every scene with Caesar is a reminder of how talented Andy Serkis is with manipulating his body movements. Please give this guy an Oscar.

Drive: just about every detail in the opening car chase scene – the editing and pacing, the tension outside the gates, the speed and agility with which the Driver (Ryan Gosling) controls his vehicle, how he anticipates every move of nearby patrol cars, and how his eyes do the talking while his face remains stone cold. Also, Albert Brooks as the gangster who could give Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds” a run for his money. Driver: “My hands are a little dirty.” Brooks: “So are mine.” Also, that silver satin scorpion jacket he wears stands out in my mind.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: every scene — every shot — within the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in southern France that showed the primitive artwork shrouded in a sea of forgotten darkness. When I saw the movie two months ago I said the best one-word description of it was “haunting” and I stand by that assessment. It reminded me of the creepy title sequence to Herzog’s “Nosferatu”.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: WOW. This is a dark, dark movie. Tilda Swinton is one of my favorite actresses and she gives a great performance in this film as the mother of a truly wicked child. The most chilling scene is Swinton cleaning her younger daughter’s eye socket after “accidentally” ingesting cleaning products. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

Another Earth: the vague yet pointed manner in which the lead actress reveals her deeper connection to the man she has been helping throughout the movie, as well as the closing shot of the movie. The entire film reminded me of Darren Aronofsky’s 1998 low-budget indie film “Pi”.

Matt King (George Clooney) going for a gloomy morning jog on an almost-deserted Hawaiian beach in “The Descendants”, and the pivotal tidbit of information he receives totally by coincidence from his cousin (Beau Bridges) later in the day.

I’m still waiting to see “The Artist”, “Melancholia”, “Take Shelter”, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, “Into the Abyss” and “A Separation”, all of which have received positive reviews.

Other images/scenes that stood out from 2011 movies: Kiera Knightley’s teeth-gnashing performance in “A Dangerous Method”, Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher” (“I want to sit on his face.”), the scenes of societal breakdown and the Big Reveal at the end of “Contagion”, the desolate landscapes of “Meek’s Cutoff”, Brad Pitt hastily spitting popcorn out of his mouth during a session of fast-paced wheeling & dealing in “Moneyball”, the pivotal train wreck in “Super 8” and the end-credit amateur film worthy of the Franciscans, Joey trying to escape the tank within the trenches in “War Horse” (and eventually charging it head-on) and, later, becoming hopelessly entangled in barbed wire in No Man’s Land.

I also liked and recommend “Albert Nobbs”, “Beginners”, “Bill Cunningham New York”, “Bridesmaids”, “Captain America”, “Carnage”, “Cold Weather”, “Forks Over Knives”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “Harry Potter Part 7.2”, “The Help”, “Immortals”, “In Time”, “Margin Call”, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, “The Mill and the Cross”, “Our Idiot Brother”, “Source Code”, “Terri”, “Win Win” and “Young Adult”.

Running Assessment

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I ran my first 5K in who knows how long. Sometime mid December? I figured I’d be so out of shape I would be lucky to cross the 30-minute mark. So I made a point of starting out at a 8:30-mile pace and chug along until my lungs forced me to scale it back. That didn’t happen, and I managed to pull off 26:31 in the end. Not too shabby for a guy focused on hourlongs this winter!

Then I went home, showered, ate my body weight in tuna & pasta shells, and took a 3-hour nap on the couch. Excellent.

Written by camcarlson

January 10, 2012 at 10:28 PM

Posted in Running

Winter Assessment

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I know I resolved to write more this year, so I had better kick my own ass for not following through this first week of 2012. I also am due for a movie roundup but I want to wait and see if a couple films I’ve been eagerly anticipating come to the Cedar Valley this upcoming weekend. Whether they do or not, I’ll post something next weekend.

New Years Day I woke up in an apartment without heat. I called Al and he came over and supposedly fixed it; the radiators were warming up the place by afternoon, after I returned from lunch at Toads (bowl of chili w/ cheese and onions and a frosted glass of Blue Moon). The next morning I awoke again to a cold apartment. Same thing Tuesday, and Wednesday, and every day since. I’ve called him every day and he comes over and does whatever it is he does to get it going, but it doesn’t seem to last. A few days ago he mentioned something about the pilot light and needing to replace the boiler (the heater connected to the radiators in the three southern apartments in this building is an ancient machine in the basement). Today he said something about ordering parts; his cell phone reception was so noisy I could barely make out a word. But tonight it’s finally warming up again. Every month it’s another adventure here at the Mandalay!

On another note, I have been working out rather consistently these past couple of months. I feel like I’m in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in since high school. I could stand to lose a few more pounds but I won’t quibble over it. My diet is better than it has been since college, which isn’t unusual for people my age. I rarely eat out, save for the past couple of weeks when friends and family were in town. I go to the gym 6 days a week (more like 13 days every two weeks; I take one day every other week off). I alternate between 30-60 minutes of weightlifting (closer to 60 minutes since December) and 60 minutes of cardio. The cardio itself alternates between running on the treadmill at a slow conversational pace (usually around 5.6-6 mph) or grinding away on the elliptical machine. I still avoid the stationary bike, as though it were cursed to inflict me with leprosy. This winter has been unusually mild and we were blessed with temps in the upper fifties last week. Had I not been plagued with a cold I would definitely been bicycling on the trails those afternoons. We might see fifties again this Tuesday… if we do, you know where I’ll be.

Written by camcarlson

January 8, 2012 at 8:38 PM

Posted in Bicycling, Cedar Valley, Cinema, Running

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Resolutions for 2012

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Tonight ends my 10-day vacation from work. Ten long, boring, mostly uneventful days. Between Friday afternoon (12/23) and the following Tuesday I had very little human interaction. I used the time to catch up on several movies and finish reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I became social again mid last week, going out for drinks with Cory, Ben, BCF and a few co-workers, and met up with Mia & Scott on Friday night (Anya was already in bed). I began reading Ebert’s memoirs and watched several more movies. The to-do list I prepared a couple weeks ago has seen only one item crossed off, and I have no regrets about that: I wanted a week in which I did not wake up to an alarm nor feel rushed or hurried into action of any kind. In that regard, this vacation has been a success, though I end it with a slight cold.

We have been experiencing a rather odd winter this year; the temperatures have stayed in the 30s and 40s for most of December and we’ve received no significant snowfall. It’s as if autumn never ended. Since the road to the Lodge remains dry and passable, Cory took the opportunity to host New Years at the Lodge. We began with Micah, Cory and I constructing a small bonfire out in the field. The winds were blowing from the south but after an hour things went calm, and then a cold front roared through and the winds began howling from the north. Cory’s sister & her Belgian husband stopped by and Jason & Holly entertained us with their homemade potato gun. The guests left after midnight, Cara went to bed and Cory, Micah and I stayed up until nearly 3am playing Rummikub.

So here is 2012. I think my life is more or less where I want it to be so there are only a few goals I have for myself this year, notably paying off my student loans. But a resolution is not the same thing as a goal. So this year I resolve to continue what I began in 2011 — drink less and eat out less often — and spend more time with my family and friends, the people who matter most in my life. Once my loans are paid off I can afford to travel more often, so I will finally be able to visit a lot of people I have seen little of these past few years. For the immediate future (Jan/Feb) I’m just going to keep my head down, work my ass off, keep up at the gym, whittle away at my winter to-do list and try to spend as little money as possible. Stay tuned…..

post script — I also resolve to write more often, starting with a movie roundup this weekend.

Written by camcarlson

January 2, 2012 at 6:40 PM