miscellaneous commentary

Archive for October 2012

Molossus rufu

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Black Mastiff bat embryos.

[h/t: Wired]


Written by camcarlson

October 31, 2012 at 10:58 PM

Posted in Science

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Twin Cities weekend

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I finally made it up to the Twin Cities last weekend, my first visit in about four years. Cold and clammy weather gave way to sunshine as I came within view of downtown and I was greeted by excellent radio music via 89.3 The Current. My first stop was at IKEA, to buy two lamps for the living room, one to replace the floor lamp that fell over one too many times and broke earlier this year.

I spend the rest of Saturday touring St. Paul with BCF and his ladyfriend Ellen, who graciously let me stay the night in the guest bedroom of her house, located on a corner lot shaded with big old trees full of rich autumn colors, in a charming neighborhood north of the airport. After arriving at Ellen’s house we three jumped into her car and toured the town. I saw lots of people out running and bicycling along the city’s extensive network of pedestrian trails. We hit up a couple non-chain book stores, and I picked up a book & a recent issue of National Geographic, both about Easter Island.

Our late-lunch/early-dinner plans consisted of cheese-filled burgers and pint beers at Nook, a Pump Haus-style restaurant with considerably more character, featuring an eight-lane bowling alley in the basement (plus another bar/seating area to eat). Very interesting little place. Maybe on my next visit I’ll both eat & bowl there…

Our evening plans included a 7pm screening of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at the Riverview Theater (evening tickets only $3!). The movie was, in short, wildly imaginative and fantastic. Afterwards we grabbed pints of locally brewed stout at a new-ish bar so crowded we had to sit at a picnic table outside. The breeze was a bit chilly but we persevered, thanks in part to the heft of our brews.

BCF was out when I arose Sunday morning so it was just me and Ellen at breakfast – grape nuts, hot tea and politics around the dining room table, with some political news show airing on the telly. My only order of business before driving back to Iowa was a stop at the Mall of America. I arrived shortly before the mall opened but failed to realize I could have parked in one of the uber-close exterior parking spots by the northern entrance. I ended up in the big open lot by IKEA. Meh.

I had nothing in particular to buy at the mall other than a replacement jacket for the one I had been wearing (out) for the past year and a half, and I did manage to find a new one for the exact same price as what I paid for the old one. I found a game store with a lot of fun board games and trivia-type items marketed towards geeks and ALPHA-types. I couldn’t resist picking up some early xmas gifts for Collin and the girls there.

Totally by happenstance I ran into my friend Thinh at the mall. He and I walked around each floor, chatted, wandered through dozens of stores neither of us had any intention of spending money at, and (naturally) a lot of people watching. We parted ways after 2pm, him off to lunch with his friends and me back on the road.

The Intrepid handled the drive surprisingly well, given its age. I think I can get some more highway miles out of it before I let it retire (knock on wood).

Written by camcarlson

October 28, 2012 at 4:53 PM

Arrested Development

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Aside from its plethora of Criterion films, Hulu Plus offers me a wide selection of television series, including one I never really appreciated while it was on the air — Arrested Development. I caught the final five episodes of season three, but am now working my way through the entire series. I finished seasons one last night, and will resume with season two next week. Comedy genius!

Written by camcarlson

October 17, 2012 at 9:34 PM

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Gone Bust Ctd

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The Roots Market on Main St closed last month.

And I was recently informed that Zippy’s, also on Main (across from Roots) is also closed, or has been for some time and I just never noticed. Hmm.

And — *shocker* — the Wasabi restaurant that occupied the Happy Chef building on 1st St, where I went a total of three times but loved on each occasion, yeah, they went belly up too. Sad face. Their all-you-can-eat sushi specials were EXCELLENT. I will severely miss their crunchy rolls and the caterpillar rolls (which are also available at Sakura but are a shade less tasty). I don’t think I’ve been this bummed out by a restaurant closure since Little Italy closed nine years ago.

MyVerona is still closed but is scheduled to be sold on the auction block this week. Let’s hope whoever buys it keeps it as a restaurant and reopens it soon. Montage is the only high-scale restaurant currently on Main St and that rubs me the wrong way.

The new mega-Scheels building out by Target on Viking Rd is nearing completion, which means the two Scheels stores at College Square Mall and at Crossroads Mall will be soon closing.

Oh, and AJ’s on San Marnan is closed… or has been since New Years. I went to its new itineration, Panda House, with some co-workers a few weekends ago. We were not impressed.

The Ben Franklin store, a staple of the Kimball/Ridgeway market for decades, is closing this month. My mother had a part time job there in high school. I can’t say I’ve been there recently but I do remember feeling as though I had stepped into a time machine upon my last visit.

At least my gym is staying in business. They’re moving from their longtime location on 18th & Main to (I believe) the Oddfellows building on 4th & Main. It’ll be interesting to see the new layout once the equipment is moved.

Written by camcarlson

October 15, 2012 at 8:26 PM

Posted in Cedar Valley

The Big Three

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Many years ago I was given three movies titles to see on the big screen in order to be taken seriously as a lover of classic cinema: Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now. I can’t remember who provided me with these three titles. I want to say it was McCrea or someone in ALPHA when I began my independent study project, although it is equally possible I was influenced by Ebert’s 2001 review of Lawrence of Arabia (in fact, reading the last paragraph, I’m pretty sure this was an influencing factor). Either way, I’ve had these three titles stuck in my head for well over a decade. A task I had set myself to accomplish within my lifetime. Last week, I accomplished that task.

Francis Ford Coppola released an extended version of Apocalypse Now in early August of 2001. I remember seeing it at the Cinema 4 at College Square, first alone, then dragging my father and brother to it on a night later in the same week. This was years before digital projection, so I would have seen it on 35mm film stock. I know the original film was blown up to 70mm but I couldn’t find any info online if the Redux version was as well, and there’s no way for me to find out which print (if 70mm was an option) Cinema 4 screened. No matter. I had only previously seen the film on a washed out VHS copy (2 cassettes, no less). Not ideal conditions for watching Coppola’s most visually stunning film. So when I saw it in the theater, I remember feeling as though I was seeing it for the first time. I remember the clarity of the shot of Martin Sheen reading a letter on the boat at sundown, every minuscule bead of sweat visible on his face.

In May of 2009 I scheduled a weekend visit to Chicago centered around a screening of 2001 at the Music Box, followed by a Q&A with lead actor Keir Dullea (he bowed out shortly before the event and was replaced with Gary Lockwood, whose rambling and often incoherent tales of 1950s Hollywood lost my attention after only a few minutes). The Music Box Theater is an impressive venue, worth seeing in person (so I won’t bore anyone with an attempt at describing it). I took a seat a few rows from the front, next to the right aisle. Anyone who knows me know I love this movie, and seeing it projected on an enormous screen was one of the best theatrical events of my life. The opening, the ape discovering the use of tools, the ballet with the spacecraft and the docking station, the claustrophobic loneliness of the Discovery One, HAL’s ominous red iris, the split-scan, the “zoo” bedroom, the star child… I was engulfed with all these magical images, and I was elated.

And so… about a month ago I was reading an article on about E.T. being re-released in theaters as part of some film series. I went to the series’ website and discovered they would also be re-released Lawrence of Arabia for one day only, October 4th, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its theatrical debut and to drum up publicity for the Blu-ray release for later this year. The film had recently undergone an extensive restoration process:

The key is that this is a 4K digital restoration. When a machine called the Imagica EX scans across each frame of a film’s negative, it creates a digitally encoded replica that consists of 4,000 (actually, 4,096) pixels on each horizontal line. Multiplied by the 2,160 pixels on each vertical line, this makes for a total of 8.8 million pixels per frame.

By comparison, high-definition TV broadcasts and Blu-ray Discs are made from scans of 2.2 million pixels per frame. In other words, 4K images have four times as much detail and resolution as HD or Blu-ray.

In a connect-the-dots diagram, the more dots there are, the more detailed the resulting image. Similarly, in digital scanning, the more pixels there are, the more that image resembles the actual film. The significance is this: The 8.8 million pixels in a 4K scan are enough to reproduce all the visual information in a frame of 35 mm film — every detail of the image, the full dynamic range of bright to dark, the entire spectrum of colors, even the sheen of “grain” that distinguishes film from video. (Lawrence of Arabia was shot in 65 millimeter — nearly twice the width of a 35-millimeter frame — so its negative had to be scanned in 8K, creating 8,192 pixels across each line. But it is still referred to as a 4K scan because it has the same density of pixels, the same resolution across 65 millimeters that 4K has across 35 millimeters.)

Robert Harris, who led the 1980s restoration process, gave his approval to the 4k digital cinema presentation of Lawrence of Arabia, and the 4k format in general has been embraced by such visual masters as Ron Fricke, who filmed Baraka in 1992 in 70mm and released their newest film Samsara earlier this year in 4k (it was shot in 65mm), as well as cinematographer Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men). If the process is good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me!

The film was coming to Cinemark theaters across the country, but only to three locations in Iowa: Ames, Des Moines and Davenport. I bought a ticket online for the Ames location as it was the shortest distance from CF (a mere 100 miles away). I left work around 11am, drove to Ames, drove around town for an hour and then went to the theater and took a seat near the front, right in the center.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. The trailers (???) began, but they froze up (?!?!?) during the third one. A woman I assume was the manager peeked her head through the door, apologized and said she’s have it going in a few minutes. Ten minutes later the program began again, this time a 15-minute introduction to the film by Martin Scorsese. Okay, fine. Then a very short (30 second) intro by Omar Sharif. Fine. Then it froze again. Hmm. I waited some more, for about 20 minutes, before the feature finally began. But it wasn’t the feature, it was a b/w newsreel footage of the filming, showing King Hussein of Jordan and his son visiting the set. Kinda neat. Then newsreel footage of the premiere. Meh. Then, finally, the feature.

To see it on the big screen, to see what Ebert meant about the incredibly tiny black dot emerging from the waves of heat of the desert sands, slowly growing in size until an actual figure can be made of it… this happens twice during the film, and both times it is totally captivating. No matter how large of a flat-screen television there is, it will not be large enough to display these spellbinding images. Nothing compares to seeing this film on the big screen. And I am so glad, so grateful that I had the opportunity and good fortune to do so last week.

Although I’ve now seen the three film I had been focused on for all these years, there are many other classics I’d like to see on the big screen. I’d still like to see one film projected in 70mm (as Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film The Master currently is), but those screenings are hard to come by. I’d also like to see a Cinerama film, although that’s almost impossible outside of the west coast. But I’m going to do what I can.

On a side note — other classic films I’ve seen on the big screen include The Evil Dead at the Dundee in Omaha, Evil Dead 2 at the Collins Rd Theater in Cedar Rapids, High & Low and Jules et Jim on separate occasions at the Bijou in Iowa City (both were coupled with recent releases), Back to the Future (35mm) and The Godfather (low-res, possibly 2k) at College Square 12.

Written by camcarlson

October 8, 2012 at 8:53 PM

Blame it on Rio

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Ever since I signed up for Hulu Plus, my evenings have been largely spent watching all the movies on Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’ list that I haven’t seen. I’m three away from all the ones that are available to stream, with about 30 left to procure by other means. So I’m using that as my official excuse for not updating these past two weeks. But really, I’ve just been living life. Inundated with the coming of autumn. I don’t know.

So aside from watching dozens of movies, I’ve been running the same routine: work, gym, dinner & drinks w/ coworkers on Friday nights, trying to save more money than I spent, uncluttering my living quarters and not bicycling as much as I should be. But that’s okay. I’ve become rather sanguine about cycling this year. I’m stuck about about 700 miles or so and I doubt I’ll add much to that in the weeks to come. C’est la vie. But I do plan to accomplish two life-goals within the next month or so, so I keep plugging away.

It just occurred to me that I haven’t turned on my television since the Thursday before my weeklong vacation in September. That was August 30th — 33 days ago. The remotes for the television and the DVD player are sitting atop the television and… let me check… yup, they’re beginning to show signs of collecting dust. I think I can safely get rid of them at this point.

Written by camcarlson

October 2, 2012 at 10:38 PM