Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Killing two birds with one stone, err, um, credit card.

I am writing from Houston, where I am staying with my brother and sister-in-law. I actually arrived on Thursday evening, but as luck would have it, it was the same day that the computer here decided to get a nasty and debilitating virus, preventing me from e-mailing or updating my blog. I had to resort to using my sister-in-law’s iPod touch, which has internet service, to wish belated birthdays and simply check my e-mail.

At the same time, before I even left Denver, I have been looking for a laptop to call my own and knowing that I was coming to stay with my brother for a few days, I decided to save the shopping for one until I got to Houston. My brother and his wife have been very patient with me and willing to drive me around Houston to every store that sells computers the last two days. At first what I had in mind to buy was one of those mini notebooks that have the bare minimum. I liked the idea of having a tiny computer that weighed less than five lbs that would be easy to take places and serve my very modest purposes. The more I looked at those kinds of laptops, though, the more I realized that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to get something so stripped down and basic. As humans we always want more, I told myself. For one thing, the ones that are good are a little pricey, and for another, the ones I can afford are missing one or two components I’d rather not do without, like a CD drive, for instance. For some reason, computer manufacturers are taking CD drives out on some of their models, especially the smaller ones and it’s not something I’m willing to give up. Because of all these cons, I exed out the idea of getting such a basic thing and decided to look at regular-sized laptops, instead.

Surprisingly and satisfyingly fast, I found the computer I wanted on day two of my search and purchased it. I absolutely love it. I've killed two birds with one stone- I've managed to solve the issue of not having a fully working computer for me and my hosts, as well as making a purchase I'm happy with and confident about.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Back to movies and other fun things

School is out, the newspaper is on hiatus until January and I have all this free time to do anything I want. There are a lot of things I want to do, as is usually the case with me, but before I let myself go crazy with a suddenly open schedule and tons of free time, I asked myself what it was I was not able to do when school and the paper were keeping me busy.

Why, watching movies and reading for leisure took quite a hit once school and the newspaper got underway in September. I have other more serious things planned for this break from school involving the research and writing of my labor of love novel, but when all that gets to be too much, I decided I'd do the things that I love to do the most other than writing... I would read fun books and watch DVDs. That's my plan as long as I'm in Denver through the break.

As things started winding down with school, I was able to finish the book I had started in August and now I am almost done with another book. I have at least two other books to keep me in reading heaven without interruption after I finish the current one, and I am fully covered and one happy camper in the reading department.

Now, the movies. I have watched uh-lot of movies since last Friday and I'd like to recommend a few of them. This way, I get to flex my movie reviewing muscles and you will know what movies I liked or didn't.

First, I will begin by talking about The Last King of Scotland. I really liked this movie that gave Forest Whitaker a well-deserved Oscar for playing a man who can scare with a look; former Ugandan leader Idi Amin. This is probably a movie most people have seen already, as it's relatively old now, but if you haven't seen this, see it. James McAvoy, an actor I never paid much attention to-- come to think of it, I don't think I've seen any other movie with him (No, I haven't seen Atonement yet either, but it's on my list of movies to see over break)-- has a new fan in me, thanks to his amazing performance as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. This movie is quite disturbing and perhaps not one that can be stomached by all, but the disturbing images are necessary to demonstrate Amin's brutality and atrocities against his own people, sometimes those very close to him, even. Of course, this movie is a fictionalized story based on real events and people, so I hesitate to believe everything the movie depicted, and besides I don't let Hollywood teach me history, but I think it did a good job in showing us a take on what kind of man would do all the things Idi Amin did. The Last King of Scotland is unforgettable for a lot of reasons.

The next movie I'm going to talk about is Beowulf. I don't know why I picked this up, but I did with great interest and brought it home. Again, I don't know why I did that, seeing as how I hate Angelina Jolie and having read the epic poem in high school, I wasn't sure how you would make a movie out of it. I also found it surprising that Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn and John Malkovich were part of the cast. I had missed the fact that this movie was done in 3D and thought there was something really weird about Robin Wright Penn... she didn't look real. Then Anthony Hopkins entered the scene and he looked weird, too. Then I figured it out-- that this movie was done in 3D. Weird, I thought, but OK. Then the dialogue began as well as the conflict. Suddenly, Beowulf, a mere monster slayer in my memory, became a complicated man with some major inner-demons and conflict. What a clever twist to an otherwise straightforward story about a hero who saved the people from the evils of a demon and its mother! This take on Beowulf gives each character depth and plenty of story and plot to keep you engaged. The good news is, Angelina Jolie's part is relatively small and it suits her... she's nothing but a hot and sexy demon who lures men away from their duties to fulfill her own agenda. I thought she did a fantastic job and I was entertained throughout this fun movie.

Next up is a horrible movie titled Before the Devil Knows you're Dead. I picked this up, because it starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom I love. The title was a little intriguing, as was the plot, which involved two brothers deciding one day to rob a mom & pop jewelry store. *Snore*, but there is a twist... it is their parents' jewelry store that they decide to rob. Things go completely wrong and it's a downward spiral from there that drives each character to do things that make you want to smack each one of them upside the head for being so stupid, or just plain horrible people. Hoffman is the brother with major marital, financial and drug issues, who thinks up the whole thing. Ethan Hawke plays the younger brother whose incompetence leads to his mother being shot and Marisa Tomei is the annoying wife of Hoffman's character. To be honest, I don't understand why Tomei's character was written into the script to begin with, because all her character offered was way too much unnecessary nudity and a means for us to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman naked and huffing and puffing, if you know what I mean... which is quite disgusting, by the way. Just when you think these two brothers and Tomei's character are awful, you are then introduced to their father, and then you begin to understand why these two brothers are so messed up. In every group of movies brought home there is bound to be one that aggravates you, right? That's what this movie did... it aggravated me. Greatly.

Death at a Funeral is the last movie I'm going to talk about, because you always want to save the best for last. This is a great movie hailing from Britain and ranks, in my book, as one of the funniest, if not the funniest movie I've ever seen. It's rare to find a truly funny movie geared at adults without drugs or sex in the equation... err... wait. This movie is pretty much built on these two things. Sex and drugs. At a funeral. Doesn't sound so innocent does it? But it is! This movie is a look at what might happen when you bring a bunch of people together to attend the funeral of a man with a secret, with an American little person as one of the attendees and a very mobile bottle of valium with something else in it. Bottom line: You will laugh a lot at this movie up until the very last minute.

These are the movies that I had opinions about. I hope you find them helpful, agreeable, or at the very least interesting. Until next time!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Romancing the Stone with a Colombian in the room

I haven't written about Thanksgiving week yet, and now it seems so passe that I don't want to just write about how Thanksgiving week went, albeit it was anything but uneventful.

Plenty of things happened over Thanksgiving this year and they were all good things. For instance, my brother and his wife came out to Denver for a visit over the holiday and stayed Wednesday night through Tuesday morning... that's six days. What's so special about that? Well, for one thing this is the first time, in a very very long time that my brother has been able to come out for a period longer than three or four days. That is, of course, if you count the day when he actually has to board a plane and go back to whence he came from, ridiculously early in the morning. OK, so that's not so exciting now that I'm writing about it. I mean, if you really think about it it's not even two full days extra from the usual. But you know, it's like money-- if it's anywhere over $50, it sounds like a lot of money for you to do plenty of things with, but when you go out there and try to put that money to work it suddenly and very quickly dwindles down to mere peanuts before you even get a chance to spend it. It's psychological, obviously.

Another thing that made this Thanksgiving super special was the fact that it was my sister-in-law's first visit to Denver and stay at our humble abode. Still not very exciting to anyone but us... *damn*. BUT if you recall what I wrote at the beginning of this post, my intent isn't to write about Thanksgiving, but rather something that took place during the Thanksgiving holiday. Something that I've been mulling over in my head for a few days and now feel ready to write about.

One evening during my brother's stay we decided to watch a family favorite-- Romancing the Stone. If you're not familiar with this flick, it is total escapism and adventure that takes you from a romance novelist's apartment in New York City, to a treasure hunt in Colombia. Now, the significance of my brother and his wife's visit is the fact that my sister-in-law happens to be Colombian. Adding another first to her list, she viewed this piece of pure 80s entertainment.

I found out a long time ago that though this movie is set in Colombia, it was not shot there due to an influx of kidnappings right around the time the crew was supposed to go down there. Instead, they shot it in Mexico. OK, I thought. It may not be authentic Colombia, but it should be generally close. I have no idea what I mean by generally close, but I expected something to be accurate even though this is hardly a movie that required more than someone's fun imagination and creativity to produce.

Putting aside Michael Douglas's inability to pronounce Cartagena correctly throughout the movie by adding one of those squiggly Spanish accents to the "n", so that Cartagena (it's spelled just like it sounds, only the "g" is an "h") is Cartagenia. Or more precisely, Cartahaynia, pronounced with a deliberate twang. That's annoying and completely incompetent on the director's part, but I digress. No, I'm talking about the complete disregard for the distinct differences between Latin America and Central America... folks, they're totally different. They are two different continents with different landscapes, cultures, climates and Spanish dialects.

What bothered me the most after watching Romancing the Stone with a Colombian in the room was how much was ridiculously made up. The first thing that made my brother and his wife chuckle was a close up shot of a supposed Colombian license plate. I can't imagine replicating a country's license plate would be that difficult, even if there was no internet to make such information easily accesible. The second thing that made them burst into laughs were the gators just roaming about on pavement. The dialect spoken was Mexican and the people were Mexican. Not even the native dress of peasants or the police/military were accurate, according to my sister-in-law. "Not even close," she said. My favorite was the llama... there aren't any in Colombia, or Mexico for that matter. They really went out of their way to be wrong, I guess.

After saying all that, you're probably wondering why I'm making such a big deal about an 80s movie with a romance novelist as its main character. Well, it's mostly because I am doing research for a historical fiction story I hope to turn into a book one of these days. Fiction has always scared me more than non-fiction, because fiction is, well, fiction. You, the writer, make it up and it's all you. If you make a mistake, you really look stupid and people will roll their eyes. I know, because I roll my eyes all the time at fiction that pretends to know what my people-- Arabs and/or Muslims-- are like. I've also read and seen fiction that makes Denver look like this snow-covered place where people wear their coats all winter long over their Denver Broncos gear and go on about how cold it is with a cowboy's twangy accent. I grew up and have lived in Denver for 20 years, and I can tell you that that painting of Denver is pretty much bologne.

Finally, I am of the total belief that if you're going to go out on a limb and do something, you should do it right or don't do it at all, otherwise the Colombian in the room will laugh at you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How my brain works and how the library oils this ol' engine

This morning I got an e-mail notification from the library alerting me I had two overdue items. I have been checking out materials at the library, despite how busy I am, but I haven't been checking my account or renewing anything. Today was the day I decided to log on and renew what I could renew and find out what needs to go back ASAP. Now, I know that I have pretty high fines in the neighborhood of $21 and some odd cents. I know this because the last time I tried to check out something I couldn't because of my really high balance. I paid a little bit of the fine that day and went about my merry way. My fines have gone up considerably now, because the library seems to think that two overdue books are just plain lost, so they're charging me their full price, plus the late fines. That makes the $21 jump to a whopping $82.61.

It is no secret that I use my local library heavily. I'm sure that if some need arose for someone to investigate my interests and obssessions (and of course my ability to keep my accounts in order), the library would provide a perfect window and timeline into how my scattered brain works, even more so than the people I share my life with. Before I moved to where I live now libraries to me were the stereotypical old and dusty buildings with a musty smell in the air and old spinster librarians with lipstick on their teeth who love to shush you and glare at you over their bifocals. In high school, the library was the place I got into the most trouble, because I would go with friends with the intention of doing homework but end up doing anything but that and get kicked out by a librarian. As much as I enjoyed reading back then, I never checked out a book to read for pleasure. Required reading might've had a lot to do with that, but nonetheless, I still liked to read enough that I went out and bought whatever book I wanted to read, keeping the library in my psyche as just a quiet place with a reference section.

I never imagined that I would one day be a regular at the library with a tote full of hardback, plastic covered materials hanging from my arm as I browse and end up with a tall, chin skimming collection of books and other media to check out. More importantly, I never thought I'd be one to do this for pleasure. I honestly don't know whether this change in my reading habits (I read an insane amount more now than I did when I was younger) was brought on by my moving to a county that maintains an impressive library in my neighborhood, or if my growing passion for writing induced it; all I know is, between the ever-growing internet that has become a virtual and abundant reference section and my neighborhood library, I am always feeding my constant curiosity and teaching myself new things.

Just to give you an idea of what kinds of things interest(ed) me that I searched for and found at the library, here is a very mini and personal research project that began in a most unlikely place to inspire the use of a library. This is just how my brain works...

After watching the 2006 World Cup and seeing the Portuguese and Angolan teams surprise, wow and make history with their mad mad mad skills at football (soccer), I became intrigued with more than just the players from the teams. I was intrigued with these countries that incidentally shared a language and history. At first I used Google and Wikipedia to learn the basics of each country, but found that I wanted to know a lot more. And so, the search began for materials on Portugal, a power that took Africa by storm during the age of discovery, which I had read about in an illustrated history book when I was a kid and logged away in the recesses of my mind. Through my light research inspired by a game of football, I found out that in 1755 Portugal's capitol, Lisbon, had suffered a devastating earthquake that was then followed by a tsunami that nearly wiped out the city. I found this out shortly after the big tsunami disaster had hit southeast Asia, so the intrigue turned into an obssession with this country that sits on the western-most tip of Europe with the vast Atlantic Ocean in its horizon and Spain as its neighbor. During my reading immersion in everything Portuguese, from food to music, I remembered something that someone had told me about the Portuguese language-- that it was Spanish mixed with French. Well, I thought, let's take a look. The library had a great collection of books and DVDs about Portugal as well as, to my delight, several Portuguese langage aides, including the
Teach Yourself series, a great resource for anything your heart desires to learn. Luckily, Teach Yourself also publishes books about countries that cover, with great detail, the social, cultural, religious and gastronomic elements of a place. It was through Teach Yourself that I found out about Portugal's rocky relationship with Spain, which goes a long way back in history and manifests itself still with proverbs inspired by historical rifts involving Spain wanting to take over Portugal and Portugal foiling such plans on several occassions. In other words, these two countries share a border, but though they are "friends" now, there are still echoes from the past heard through proverbs. Here is one proverb that stuck with me:

De Espanha, nem bom vento nem bom casamento.
From Spain, neither good wind nor good marriage.

Now, the wind part refers to the East winds coming from Spain that cause storms. The marriage part, however, has deeper historical roots than mere weather. It is a really interesting story and one that I read about in the Teach Yourself book about Portugal. I hate to say I can't remember the details, as the hunger pangs for all things Portuguese began in 2006 and have calmed down a bit. What I do remember is that the marriage bit of the proverb is in reference to a union between Portuguese and Spanish royalty and an awful case of separation anxiety involving the physical keeping of the queen's corpse on the throne.

Now, I don't remember every detail from my research obviously, but I know a lot of things about a lot of things and places that most people don't. First, because I've always been an arm chair historian and small-scale researcher to satsify personal curiosity, and second, because I know how to reap the benefits of my local library.

So, I said something about how my brain works and I believe I've woven quite the tapestry to demonstrate that it just keeps going on and on.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Who are you people?

I've been keeping an informal count of the overall number of visitors to my blog for quite some time. I unfortunately can't remember when I added the counter at the bottom of the page, but it was over the summer.

Throughout my keep up of this blog the last two or three years, I've had a few interesting visitors. Two that come to mind are a guy from Portugal who had seen my post about my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park during the summer of 2007 and thanked me for sharing the picture, and a man from the Virgin Island of St. Croix who'd seen my post about my visit there, and thanked me for writing about his island.

These two guys left nice little comments on those posts and that's how I knew about them and it was quite a surprise to me that my blog was being found by complete strangers overseas. All that time I was under the impression that only my friends and family were bothering to look at my blog.

Being that I unfortunately don't update my blog each day, I find it hard to believe that between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1 my friends and family have managed to visit it that many times when I haven't even updated the thing since Nov. 17. I mean, I only have a handful of friends that read my blog, and even fewer family members. Hmmm.

Now, I know that there are cool plugins that can tell you exactly where those hits are coming from, and when they came in, but I not only have no idea how to use/read those things, but it's just plain no fun that way! So... who are you people that are visiting my blog? How did you find out about it and do you visit it regularly? If you do, what makes you come back? Leave a comment and say hello, I'd love to meet you! If you don't feel like doing so, or have stumbled upon my blog by accident, I thank you for taking the time to visit and read!