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Archive for December 2012

Xmas 2012

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I’m smack dab in the middle of a 10-day vacation from work, aside from a brief 6-hour layover at work on Monday — more like an appearance than actual work. I’ve spent my time trying to catch up on my sleep (with limited results), eating far more than I should, watching a few good movies (though I could be watching more) and generally being a lazy loaf. A blizzard rolled through last Thursday and left about a foot of snow on the ground, an annoying layer of frozen snow & ice on the roadways and a chill in the air. This has led to the vast majority of my time being spent indoors.

With my time off I have finished reading “Carter Beats the Devil” and have seen “Les Miserables” which I was surprised in that I liked it more than I thought I would, as I normally don’t go for musicals. Also saw “Forbidden Games” on Hulu, a 1950s French film about how young children cope with warfare. I have a couple more films from Ebert’s Great Movies list to watch before next week, when I perform my annual update & purge of my film list, and at some point I’d like to see “Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, though the latter isn’t likely to come here until January.

Before I left work last Friday I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish with my time off. Things like clearing out my long list of internet bookmarks, purging 2012 pictures from iPhoto, going to the gym for at least one hour every day, catching up on email correspondence, et cetera. So far I’m not doing a solid job on tackling this list. I’m redoubling my efforts today.


Written by camcarlson

December 26, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Posted in Cinema, Literature

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Enjoyment

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I saw the first installment of “The Hobbit” last night at College Square. A preface: when “Fellowship” came out in 2001 I waited in line for hours inside the mall on opening day (which was a Wednesday if I recall correctly), in the hallway where the arcade used to be next to the Cinemas entrance. I loved the first film. During the following summer I read “Lord of the Rings” and loved (to a slightly lesser degree) “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King” when they came out in 2002 and 2003, respectively. I can’t remember when I first read “The Hobbit”, though I know it was sometime after 2003, and I reread it a couple winters ago.

Viet and I went to the theater last night for the 7:30 show. 48 fps 3D screenings are only taking place in Des Moines and Davenport, so we opted for the cheaper 2D version over the 24 fps 3D. We lingered about with six (!!!) other people before the cleaning crew came out and let us take our seats. I was literally aghast and slightly upset by the fact that there was no line for this movie, though I conceded most of the true fans probably gone to the midnight screening (which was not an option back in 2001, 2002 or 2003; had it been, I would have attended). We sat in the second to front row in the stadium.

The movie was pretty good. The first hour slogged along at a mildly boring pace, but I’ve come to expect that from big-budget action/adventure films (like “The Avengers”, the last few Harry Potter films”, the last two Matrix films, etc.). After Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves depart the Shire, the tempo picks up a little. I know Peter Jackson had to borrow some characters from other Tolkien works to fill out the too-long 170-minute running time for this film, but this didn’t bother me at all. [SPOILER] In fact, I got more of the thrill out of the tiny glimpse of the Necromancer than I did from the glimpse of Smaug at the end.

Like I said, it’s been a couple years since I read “The Hobbit” but I know there doesn’t seem to be enough material to convert into three separate three-hour-long films. Peter Jackson took Azog of Moria (I don’t remember him from the book but maybe he’s tucked away in there somewhere) and turned him into the main villain, the Pale Orc. Martin Freeman is *perfect* as Bilbo. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role (except, obviously, for Ian Holm as the older version). Christopher Lee is back (yay!) as Saruman, and Andy Serkis gives the best performance of the film as Gollum — the scene with him and Bilbo in the depths of the Misty Mountains is by far the best of the film. I’ll repeat what I said of the original trilogy, that Serkis should be given some kind of special Academy Award for the brilliant work he’s done bringing Gollum to life.

Overall, I liked the film, though I’m not sure I’d want to see it again unless I had the chance to see what all the fuss is about regarding 48 fps.

Written by camcarlson

December 16, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Does the universe have a purpose?

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If the purpose was for humans to exist, then the universe procrastinated for 99.9999% of its cosmic history.

Written by camcarlson

December 13, 2012 at 10:59 PM

Posted in Science, video

Tagged with

DVD purge

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Around the same time I developed a keen interest in the cinema in high school, I began purchasing a lot of movies on VHS. In 1999 I made the transition to DVD. I remember the first four movies I bought on DVD were “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Matrix”, “Three Kings” and “Being John Malkovich”. To watch these early discs I had to use the DVD drive in my brother’s desktop computer, which meant I could only watch them when he was either at class or at work (otherwise I had no hope, as Matt is a serious gamer and spends nearly every free waking moment engaged in video games).

At the end of ’99 I bought a cheap Orion VCR from Wal-Mart, and my father bought me an upscale Sony DVD player from the Best Buy store in Cedar Rapids, the nearest at the time. The DVD player retailed for $299, which seemed reasonable at the time. I still own that player and use it on occasion.

Even though the VHS format was falling in price during the early 2000s, I gave up on it to focus exclusively on DVD. During college I bought dozens of movies on a whim, often ordering them on when they first became available in DVD format. By the time I moved to Omaha in August 2003 I had around 100 titles on DVD and 50 or so on VHS. On one of my first nights living there I visited a nearby Wal-Mart and bought two small wooden bookcases with adjustable shelves. I used these to store the movies I had at the time.

I remember when I moved to Oxford in February 2004 I took all of my DVDs but only 10-20 VHS tapes, leaving the rest packed away in my parents’ basement. Many of these movies I later gave away to family and friends in what would be my first move purge, in 2004-05.

As I progressed into my 20s, depleted my savings, found gainful employment and rebuilt my savings, I became wiser with my spending habits. To put it bluntly: I grew to despise spending money. Still do. The rate at which I bought new movies slowed considerably as I grew older. I opted to pick up previously viewed DVDs from the local Blockbuster, which were cleaned and virtually assured to be playable from beginning to end. I can only recall buying one movie that did not meet this standard. Blockbuster allowed me to exchange it without issue.

By 2009 I had over 220 DVDs to my name. The two bookcases became so crowded that I had to conduct a second movie purge. I filled a shoebox with unwatched movies and gave them away over a period of a few months.

My DVDs as of this summer -- over 220 titles.

My DVDs as of this summer — over 220 titles.

In 2010 I began to seriously unclutter my physical belongings. First it was the long file boxes containing all my notes from high school and college, various documents, clipped magazine and newspaper articles, et cetera. Then it was my large plastic bin of photographs, followed by a smaller but still unwieldy container of office supplies. My bookcase of books and magazines was decimated, so much so that the books that survived found a new home in the windowsill of the big picture window in my living room and the bookcase found a new home at the downtown St. Vincent. Closets and cabinets were cleaned out of unworn clothes and unused dinnerware.

I also got rid of all my lingering VHS tapes, at that point only a couple dozen oddball titles. I borrowed Micah’s EyeTV to convert a few hard-to-find titles to digital – “Breaking the Waves” (which I later found on DVD at the CF Library, natch), the 90s animated television series “The Maxx” and a PAL-to-VHS transfer of “Song of the South” with Thai subtitles during the song numbers. The tapes and the VCR were bagged up and dropped off at St. Vincent.

During this years-long process, my DVDs went untouched… until this summer. The bookcases were packed again. I eyed my movie collection and accepted the fact that, even if I wanted to watch them all again, I could watch one movie a night and it would take me the good part of a year to get through them all, without making any room for new movies. Not acceptable. Time to unclutter.

Scanning the collection, I could identify at least 50 or so titles that I could reason with myself I wouldn’t want to watch anytime soon. I boxed those up and took them over to my mother’s house in July to be sold at her garage sale. She picked through them and pulled out several to keep, as did my sister via telephone. I told mom to sell them at $2 apiece; she sold them at $3 (or 4 for $10 or whatever other deal she made with some buyers), pocketed a buck for each DVD and gave me the rest. The sale netted me over $120… not too shabby.

After the garage sale I had two rows of keepers and a stack to be sent to

After the garage sale I had two rows of keepers and a stack to be sent to

Of the ones that didn’t sell I tried to give away to friends and co-workers. This took another 20 or so off my hands. What remained were kept in the box and stuffed in the back of my bedroom closet. Steph V offered to take any unloved ones, so she will receive the box when she comes back to town for Xmas.

Back in July I put aside movies I didn’t really want to watch again but I knew I could probably get a little bit of money out of – mostly titles from the Criterion Collection or movies I knew to be out of print. In October I priced these movies on Amazon’s trade-in program and shipped all but three. Amazon accepted 10 of them and gave me $50 in in-store credit. I sold the remaining three (“Days of Heaven”, “My Dinner with Andre” and “The Battle of Algiers”) on ebay and netted $85.

I narrowed down the movies I wanted to keep to a much more manageable collection of 80-90 titles. They took up two rows on one bookcase with room to spare. I realized I could save space by ditching the bookcases altogether and moving the discs from their individual snap cases into a single binder. I found a nice one on sale at the Staples at Crossroads for $12 that held 128 titles, a binder that normally sold for closer to $20, so I guess they were clearing out old inventory or something.

The binder vs. 80-90 DVD cases.

The binder vs. 80-90 DVD cases.

Empty cases and promotional junk vs. the binder & three neat cases.

Empty cases and promotional junk vs. the binder & three neat cases.











I spent a Friday night removing the discs from their cases (a number of them had second “bonus” discs, which I almost never watch but decided to keep anyway) and inserting them into the binder. The next day I removed all the case inserts, booklets and various promotional material – more junk I don’t need. Almost all of it was tossed into the recycling bin.

The Evil Dead movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey” came in interesting and well-crafted cases: the 2001 case includes a cut still from a 70mm print and the Evil Dead cases are covered in a latex replica of the Book of the Dead prop from both films. These movies stay in their original cases.

I offered the empty DVD cases to family and friends but only one person expressed any interest. The Cedar Falls Library generously accepted them. My sister was the lucky recipient of the two bookcases  no longer needed.

All that's left are empty cases, giveaway movies and Criterion discs.

All that’s left are empty cases, giveaway movies and Criterion discs.

The zip-up binder now has only one blank pocket for a new disc, plus a few slots along the inside cover I could move a few bonus discs into. So I could add 4 or 5 more movies to it before it’s stuffed. Fine. Once it’s filled to capacity I’m instituting a one-in one-out policy. I’m well beyond the point of wanting to continuously add to my movie collection, now that I’ve re·examined my film-watching habits and have determined I care far more about watching new movies than re-watching old ones. [This dovetails nicely into something I wrote about movies I’d take with me to a deserted island… all of those movies made the cut.]

Nearly empty!

Nearly empty!

Written by camcarlson

December 9, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Cory’s Big Move

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I spent last Saturday helping Cory move about ninety thousand pounds of appliances and electronics out of his parents’ basement. That’s how much it felt like we moved, anyway.

Cory’s been building up collections of all sorts of things down there since as long as I’ve known him. He has a respectable collection of 80s/90s Apple computers, in the room immediately to the left of the basement stairs, and some televisions, radios and rotary telephones in the room to the right, plus other miscellaneous items throughout the basement; Betamax players, Umatic players, Laserdisc players, Videodisc players, typewriters, vacuum cleaners, Radarange microwaves, washing machines & dryers, refrigerators, ovens, light bulbs & light fixtures, other random kitchen appliances and cookware, transistors, car parts, antique instruction manuals, film strips… you get the idea. Many of these items come from thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, or found abandoned in random places.


Now that Cory has nearly finished work on the interior of his second building out on his property (dubbed CS3, or the research lab) the time had come to begin moving as much as could be moved within the time limits of a single Saturday and the physical limits of four strapping (relatively) young men (Cory, Ben, Don and I) and two spirited women (Cara and Cory’s mother).


We began at 7am, moving the heavy items out of the basement first: Radaranges, console TVs and industrial strength typewriters. With the assistance of an appliance dolly we maneuvered several ovens and fridges up & out through the back stairway. Took about 3 hours to move the first load onto the front lawn and entryway, then load it into various cars and a rental van picked up earlier that morning. About an hour to caravan over to CS3 and move everything inside; Radaranges and miscellaneous garage supplies downstairs and everything else upstairs.


photo 3

Back to Cory’s parents’ for lunch, then a second round, including the BIG appliances, hauled up and loaded into cars. By the time we made it to CS3 for the second unload it began to fog over and mist a little. We took advantage of the fading daylight (a very gray day at that) to move random items from the Lodge over into CS3; a sectional couch, 2 teletype machines, half of a switchboard desk and a Hammond organ, along with smaller items.


By the time we reached his parents’ house again it was around 5pm and dark outside. We loaded just the larger vehicles and the rental van with what we could handle, mostly TV sets and some other appliances. We were exhausted by the time we made it to CS3 the third time but we pushed on, beyond reason, hauling one item after another up the wooden, slightly creaky exterior stairs on the side of the building. Drained of strength and incredibly hungry, we retreated to Cory’s parents’, then to the Panther Lounge for some cold beers and hot pizzas.

photo 4

When I returned home that night I could barely walk, my ankles and left knee were so sore. My lower back was killing me. As I was undressing to take a shower I discovered some odd-shaped, colorful bruises all over my arms. They didn’t hurt much but they were quite a sight. The big rainbow one on my left bicep is still around, though it’s fading in appearance. I’m using it as an excuse to skip the gym for a few days. That, and my lower back is still just a bit sore.

Written by camcarlson

December 4, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Posted in Cedar Valley

Tagged with , ,