Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hit the movie this morning. I’d give it a 6.5 out of 10. There’s a lot of nice wand work ūüėõ and interesting creatures. Fun: definitely worth shelling out to see it.

I was used to the telegraphic nature of the HP movies: I always read the book and then used the movie as a form of Cliff Notes(tm). This movie was the same: lots of different CGI sets, whippy action scenes, and an expectation that you’ve read/seen the Harry Potter series to make sense of a lot of the elements that are just served up w/o explanation. Unlike the HP films we didn’t have a chance to explore the organic nature of the USMAG headquarters. No fun entrance. ūüôĀ
Characters are sketched out as much as necessary, and I didn’t get a real feel or need to identify with any character but the lone “nomag” in the picture (Perlman stole the show, IMHO). He’s the one we learn the most about, and end up rooting for. And unlike the Potter movies there’s no ensemble cast, with plenty of supporting characters. The masses of good folk are barely more props, and while the “bad people” story is mildly interesting, we know little about them. And plot spoiler is really plot spoiler who plot spoilers plot spoiler. Plot spoiler.
Also, this is definitely¬†a boy-centric picture. There’s no Hermione with brilliance or power. Oh, sure, there’s a USMAG president who’s both black and¬†a woman (which shows just how much this is a fantasy pic). But she does little more than grump and read lines. The main female characters are, sorry to say, not vibrant as compared to either of the male leads, and that’s a lost opportunity.

The plot pentultimate resolution was sad in a pathetic way. Contrived. And a bummer.

Even so, after all the above, I still recommend seeing it.

Google “Games” with Words: Spell Up

An Evil Invitation

I really like a lot of what¬†Google is doing. Really. Cars without pedals, glasses except for people who need them… Okay, fine: much of my online presence is Googlish.

One of their pastimes has been games. There was a great physics game where the object was to make intricate Rube Goldberg machines out of flippers, bouncers and other pinball-esque pieces.

I’m not sure what they learned about me¬†from that game, but I’m pretty sure that Spell Up has a couple of bonuses for Google aside from the warm fuzzy feeling of helping to cure¬†hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobics of their fear of achieving¬†sesquipedalianhood.

  1. It gets chrome users to allow Chrome to use their microphones. This is big if they want to get people using their voice-command search service.
  2. It gives them a huge sample of people all over the world speaking single letters. A great way to improve their voice recognition algorithms, perhaps even tying them to the player’s account

This second has, for the tinfoil-hatted crowd, the obvious issue of “the microphone will go on and I’ll be spied upon by clean-cut, serious Mormons in Pochatello, Idaho who are¬†determined to keep¬†Amerka safe at all costs.” That’s sort of an issue, I guess, if someone is truly sloppy with where they go on the Internet and how they set up their systems. Which means, about 90% of users.

For me, I¬†see the game as a lost cause, since it’s us polysyllabic aphorism users who will wage war with the game. And give Google a very good vocal profile of people who already know how to spell and have great¬†diction.


On Slash as a

Professor Anne Curzan, in her blog piece entitled “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore,” ¬†hails the use of “slash” in a sentence as an “innovative conjunction” or “conjunctive adverb.” She sites examples such as “Does anyone care if my cousin comes and visits slash stays with us Friday night?” Or “I went to class slash caught up on Game of Thrones…” [emphasis mine].

As a poet I play with words and usage all the time. However, I see “slash,” IMHO, as a form of grammatical laziness. Of course, YMMV. One can make the same case for Internet acronyms as for slash ‚ÄĒ with identical, in my opinion, results. Leave the slashing to the slashers. And/or poets.

On Writing

Listening to NPR, where Jonathan Gotchall reviews lists three of his top books. On Writing, by Stephen King is at the top of his list. I’ve bought and given away three copies so far. It’s a brilliant book: it helped me understand that the craft¬†of writing overlays the art¬†of writing. But one needs both to create a memorable piece of work.

With Consent up and being purchased on Amazon (thank you one and all!), I’m getting ready to publish a short fiction piece,¬†Generation To Generation, a story that’s vaguely religious (and termed ‘heretical’ by a couple of religious publications). It should be up in a few days.

Consent: New Short Story Out!

This story has been stewing in the back, the standard 95.43% ready but not quite there. Now it is, complete with correct formatting as an e-book, a pretty cover and all that jazz.

Consent is about Jesse Munoz, a Medecins Sans Frontieres veteran who’s been through too much. Back in Texas, she works with long-term coma patients, determining whether their essence is really there, and whether further rehabilitation makes sense.

As someone who suffers from PTSD, I know first-hand how things seemingly entirely unrelated can trigger things. And what folks often do to shield themselves from the ‘black hole’ in their minds.

I’d love to see reviews of the story. To help that along, I’ll select a reviewer from the list of substantive reviews who will receive a $20 gift card. (To review one must read…) ūüôā

One last thing: I have several other stories that could use another pair of critical eyes. If you’re interested, please contact me.

“Hunger Games,” Transitions from Book to Screen and ScriptFrenzy

While I disagree with the YA genre for the Hunger Games, on the basis of graphic violence rather than the usual idiocy about what kids know about sex and relationships by their early teens, it is a great series. The first novel stands firmly by itself, albeit a bit of a teaser at the end. What gave the book depth and the main characters power, at least for me, was the backstory: why the hunger, how cutting the deprivation, how evil the Pan Em Capital really was.

Give costuming its due: the frippery of the capital residents, their gaudy couture , awkward, vain hair & makeup

Translating this book to a movie reminded me how the movie industry has come to see these movies. Parse out all the plot lines, keeping all but the vivid or book-memorable ones. Discard extraneous characters, scenes. Seeing the movie last night gave me a hollowed-out visual to go with the book in my mind. Casting did a great job on the visuals for the lead actors, but, had I not read the book, I doubt I’d have caught the Depression Era costuming of the Districts. Aside from a one-line homage to Katniss’ backstory with her mother, or one nightmare glimpse of a mine explosion, entire sources of power that give Katniss her survival power and personal integrity disappear. As a result she appears much more the contrary teen than an empowered, angry, focused young woman.

I give it a 7/10 on the “fun at the movies” scale. I’m sure the sequels will be as beautiful. But hopefully better informing us of their inner strengths and motivations, and less of the jiggly camera stuff.

Review: Torchy’s, Rudy’s and TacoDeli

Tweetreview: Pretentious meets bad customer service meets… who cares. You can do better in Austin!

I’ve eaten here. A few times, in time for the morning rush and between breakfast and lunch. I’m a bit… geezer… as my kids put it, so I’ve got arms way too short for some menus. Torchy’s included, it turns out. Who ever heard of 8pt italic serif fonts on a menu? On a black background? Yeesh.

I don’t mind surly people: we need them, so we special folks can feel superior to them. But if they’re surly to me and fun and prancy with their co-workers, that’s just stupid. I mean, by definition we’re having a better life than they are: we’re not up at 5:30 making tacos for folks, and swabbing bathrooms in our copious spare time? No need to rub your relative serfdom in; we understand your passive aggression just fine.

Right, food review. I’ve had five tacos. Like at McCoffee-type places, I don’t use their corporate lingo. A taco is a taco is a taco. I ordered a barbacoa taco (those and napolitos, in my opinion, quickly define the mettle of a taco place).

“Barbacoa taco,” I said.

“What do you want on it?”

I considered that for a a moment; some people do want to contaminate their barbacoa with ingredients. “Nothing else,” I said after a moment.

“Like, um, a Democrat?” life-reject said. She pointed to aforementioned black page with italic, small-fonted text.

I looked down on it, trying to make sense of the haze that befalls people pushing 50, much to denial of their younger ilk. “No,” I said, trying for a little respect. “Just barbacoa.”

“On corn or wheat?”

Do they even serve barbacoa on corn? Sounds even more messy than it otherwise might be. “Flour,” I said shortly.

The meat was good. The taco was industrial. The service was marginal and the salsa was entirely forgettable.

And given the cost, not worth the time to purchase, let alone ingest.

It’s sometimes hard to grump about a taco place. After all, there are taquerias that are described with a number rather than a name (#17 is pretty good, if you can find it). There are showy ones like Maria’s Taco Xpress, pedestrian yet utilitarian places like Taco Shack, and wildly smiley ones like Rudy’s BBQ, which has GREAT breakfast crews; folks that really smile and really enjoy their jobs (especially with taskmasters — I mean, managers — close by). (Kidding: the folks and management there are efficient and VERY customer focused).

So Torchy’s has got to have more than snooty waitstaff and incomprehensible-to-folks-with-theoretical-disposable-income-customers menus.

Couldn’t find it. Pretty sad.

On the other end of the scale, however, aside from praising Rudy’s yet again — but they’re mainly a BBQ place, so they need to amscray from the limelight of this post — we have Tacodeli. I’ve known these folks for… uh…. too long? Ten years? Wow. They’ve got some fanatic employee loyalty, with managers who started as servers nine years ago. They make kick-ass tacos, and there’s not a thing they won’t do to make the customer happy. I’ve seen a customer return two tacos before being satisfied with the third, even if it was their… obtuseness… that was the source of the miscommunication.

Three dishes worth particular mention:

  1. Blanco pappas breakfast taco. Eggwhite and Mexican mashed potatoes. Great vehicle for the dona sauce (see below). Addictive. Best on flour.
  2. Fish tacos. Well, it’s more than one dish: there are a few they tout. Light, crisp ingredients, tasty. Corn is a nice wrapper for them.
  3. Vegetable burrito. This is my personal favorite, one per person per meal. Brown rice, beans, freshly grilled veggies. Simple and delightful.

Their dona sauce is heavenly; potent, creamy and, most importantly, a shade of green not usually found in nature. I may have to drive WAY out of my way for it, compared to a five-minute walk to Torchy’s but it’s well worth the effort: Tacodeli has the food, the service, the staff and the attitude that makes them, not Torchy’s, a great local chain. They’ve got locations across from Central Market in Central Austin, up by the IBM buildings on Braker, and down by Barton Skyway and Bull Creek.

I’ll be doing reviews as well as recipes, starting this date. I’ve got such a backlog of recipes I figure it’ll be better to give a few reviews sprinkled in. I’m pushing the dates around so they’re salted throughout the blog. These aren’t expert critiques: I’m an eater, a bit of a foodie, but heavily influenced by the vibe of the place and the people.

So… enjoy!