Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chicken Tragedy

Note to readers: this post is kind of long and about our chickens, so if that's boring to you, don't read it.

A couple of nights ago, I was awakened at 3:00 am by the squawking of chickens, which is never a good thing. Their coop is visible from our bedroom window, but there was no moon and I couldn't see anything. Jon wasn't home--he'd gone up to Scout Camp to be with Zed and Jacob--so after yelling out the window, which usually scares predators away, I went outside with the flashlight. (I really don't like to yell outside at night, especially in the summer when people have their windows open, but it's better than a shotgun blast, I guess.) I don't really like to wander around outside at 3:00 in the morning, but it had occurred to me that I had not verified the shutting up of the chickens before we went to bed.

Well, the bad news is that I found the coop door open, and inside were two sleepy chickens. Not ten, like we'd had the day before, but two. Piles of feathers in various places: black, butterscotch, white. I looked around a little but saw nothing. The wind through the dry grass was kind of loud and spooky. For a while I imagined a human stealing our chickens--stuffing baffled chickens into a big Santa-like sack--because that's better than imagining what it most likely was: dogs, foxes, or coyotes. Seems like the smaller predators, like skunks, are more modest in their theft. They'll kill one or two, even leaving the body. But dogs and foxes just make off with as many as possible. I don't even know if they eat them. (One time after a similar chickie massacre, we found one headless body out in the field north of us.)

I felt pretty crappy and didn't sleep well after that. I hoped some or all of them would appear the next morning, which sometimes happens. They scatter in a panic and find their way home hours later, after hiding under the neighbor's porch or something. But morning came and no chickens returned. I mowed the lawn and moped and felt horrible and sad. Two chickens are not nearly as festive as ten, and this batch was so pretty and they hardly ever crapped on our front porch.

Around 6:00 pm, a small miracle happened. Phin went to feed our lonely two, and a third was wandering around next to the chicken yard! Who knows where she was all day. Now I like to imagine a few other survivors moving into other people's yards, unable to find their way home but alive and well. Yeah, I know they're dead, but it makes me feel better.

So we have three chickens left out of ten. Better than two, I guess. We have one Black Sex-Link (the name means that you can tell what sex the chicks are by their markings) and two gray Araucanas (or maybe Ameraucanas; I'm not sure about the distinction). At any rate, I'm glad to have them, because they lay blue eggs and have what Jon calls leg-warmers.

Sorry, chickies. We loved you!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dust Factory (2004)

This was a little too profound and confusing for the kids, but kind of an interesting movie. I'm also not sure the parallels or metaphors or whatever they should be called really worked that well. But the characters were likeable and the message was good.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

I'm all about taking the kids to the movies this summer, I guess.

I liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which we saw in a real movie theater right after it came out, but it didn't leave a lasting impression on me. When I've caught glimpses of it since then (one of the kids bought the DVD, so it's been viewed a few times), it seemed way too serious. So I wasn't all that excited about Prince Caspian. I enjoyed it, though.

Here's my take on the Chronicles of Narnia movies thus far: they're beautiful to look at, even stunning at times, and the action is exciting and intense (also strangely bloodless). I don't remember the books that well, but I suspect that what's getting glossed over in the movies is the thought processes of the characters as they make very important decisions. I also suspect that their choices and how they get there are the most important part of the stories, so maybe that's why the movies don't stick in my head.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Oh, that Jack Black is a hoot, even as an overweight panda who dreams of being a ninja. Some great lines from the beginning: "Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose Kung Fu skills were the stuff of legend.... It is said that his enemies would go blind from over-exposure to pure awesomeness!"

It's not all about Jack Black, though. His awesomeness is actually somewhat restrained and totally appropriate for kids. I liked this movie a lot, and I think the kids did, too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Am Legend (2007)

Will Smith is really a good actor, and he's great in this. I had some pretty disturbing and vivid dreams after watching it, though. I really need to read the book someday. There are two other movie versions: The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price and Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston. I've seen Omega Man, and I think it was pretty corny, but I can't remember it that well. Anyway, I Am Legend is very far from corny. It's suspenseful and scary.

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

This is pretty good, but I had a surprisingly violent reaction to something in one of the special features. The director or writer or someone was talking about the movie (you know that every movie is special, right, and deserves its own thoughtful discussion about how they came upon their wonderful idea, how they found the perfect actors, etc.), and he said, "We wanted New York to be a character in the movie." I suddenly felt the urge to yell "Shut up!" and throw a pillow at the TV. Like 2/3 of all movies aren't set in New York!* Yawn. Or commit violence with throw pillows. Take your pick.

It was original as far as romantic comedies go, and the backdrop of the Clinton campaign and administration was pretty interesting. I had some problems with the movie (not just with the special features), but I think they might be considered spoilers, so I will leave it at that.

*This statistic is a fabrication. If anyone knows what the real statistic is, please tell me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Eastern Standard Tribe

It's been close to 3 years since Brian Dunn gave me a couple of books that he'd just read: Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, both by Cory Doctorow. The other day I realized that they're not keepers for me, so I pulled them off the shelf to put in our bye-bye books box. (Books in that box sometimes get traded for credit at one of the used books stores around here, sometimes given to the second-hand store, sometimes given to the local public library for their "holiday reading" section from which anyone can take books permanently.)

First, I profusely praise the author for releasing his works under a Creative Commons license that allows for free redistribution. That's really cool, and for that he deserves lots of credit (and support by purchase of physical books such as Brian did!).

As I flipped through my copy of Eastern Standard Tribe, I found some notes I took on hotel note paper, and chuckled at my fussy copy-editor side. The notes:

  • Fixed width font fi ligatures
  • EST = GMT-5, EDT = GMT-4 ([wrong] several times)
  • Lexis-Nexus
  • p. 67 London = noon, Toronto = 6 am?

To address those in turn: It is really annoying to read computer output, email, etc. in fixed-width fonts but see ligatures that (1) are quite unlike what you see in a fixed-width font on a real computer terminal, and (2) break the uniform spacing of the font and mess up the alignment of the rest of the line. It's certainly more genuinely problematic in technical books, where I frequently see it as well, but it's annoying enough in a book of fiction published by Tor, who I'd expect to know better.

Lexis-Nexus: Yeah, it's just spelled wrong, consistently. It should be LexisNexis. Perhaps it was intentional to avoid using a trademark, but I kind of doubt it.

But most significantly, in a book that's all about time zones, I sure thought I must be crazy, because the time zone differences seem to be calculated wrong! Please comment and explain how I'm wrong if that's the case, but there were numerous times that Eastern Time was mentioned as 6 hours earlier than London, but by my calculations, it is only 5 hours earlier, and only 4 hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time (which doesn't change for daylight saving time aka summer time).

Yes, I'm a pedant, but shouldn't that really be right in this book? Toronto is in the same time zone as New York etc., right? I really hope I'm wrong about this.

As to the story itself: It was enjoyable, and it was just the right length (longer would've been a waste, and I love it when authors don't pad stories). But the story seemed really unbelievable to me. The idea of people forming tribes based on their particular 1-hour time zone struck me as fairly absurd. I work from a home office with people from all time zones in the United States and a few elsewhere. While the difference in time between California and New York (3 hours) is indeed noticeable, the difference between, say, Kansas and Idaho or Virginia on either side (1 hour) barely registers.

People seem to be getting more accustomed to working across timezones, not less so. Either there needs to be more nuance, or, more likely, the premise just doesn't really work. For me, anyway. As long as I set that fundamental problem aside, it was an engaging read.

Down and Out's premise was even more problematic for me. The whole story seemed a little absurd. Deadly serious themes revolving around ... Disneyland? Again, I'm probably a sub-ideal reader for this, since I'm not interested in much Disney, ever, much less futuristic post-scarcity Disney. But like the other book, it was paced well, and short enough not to annoy.

I'd like to read other fiction by Cory Doctorow and see if it has more staying power for me. I've enjoyed his essays unreservedly.

Links (including free downloads):

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

This entertaining young adult novel is about a rebellious kid who gets kicked out of several schools and finally ends up with an artistic home schooling family. The message is positive and the characters are quirky and funny.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Speed Racer (2008)

Maybe the Wachowski brothers only had one good story in them (The Matrix), but they still make great-looking movies. Speed Racer is fun to watch, but there's not much else to it. It's also too long--over two hours. We saw it at our little drive-in, which I love. I think I've mentioned that before.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

WALL-E (2008)

I think my expectations were too high for this movie, so it was a little disappointing. But it's good. The portrayal of humans 700 years in the future is especially funny and insightful, but not cynical or mean like it could have been. There's plenty of cleverness and humor, even with little dialog in some parts.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

At least they're entertaining

I gave the kids some failed lemon bars tonight--I overcooked them and the crust had kind of disappeared into the lemon part. Possibly a result of using whole wheat flour, too. Anyway, the following conversation ensued:

Seth: "These lemon bars taste kind of weird. But they're still good! No offense, Mom!"

Mira: "MOM IS NOT A HORSEY! SHE IS NOT IN A FENCE!"

It is still making me laugh.