Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Galaxy J7

So I finally bought a new smartphone. I was going to get the original Google Pixel, but reviews said sales were collapsing because users found it hard to manage. I then browsed the older Galaxy S models, but they can be sold by third parties that get terrible reviews on Amazon.

Along the way, I saw some Galaxy J models that were a lot less expensive than the S models, so I turned my nose up at the cheap things.

Looking at multiple reviews, I began to see the sense of the J models. Instead of being the flagship Galaxy S models, they were midline, workable phones that had what I needed without being the latest shiny object. Advertised for 219.99, I managed to get it for a little less when the clerk at the BestBuy brought up a discount. Of course I’ll get the protective case, since my manger recently dropped her S9 into soft dirt, and the screen got a spiderweb crack.

When I say finally, you may not believe what my previous phone was. It had the Microsoft operating system. Some of you will say, “There’s no such thing . . . oh, right.” My friend Kelly introduced me to it years ago, saying it worked just like the commercials said it did. It was the shiny new thing. But years went by. People stopped making apps for it. And it couldn’t download any Android or Apple apps.

So I’ve finally modernized.

On the subject of phones, here’s an excerpt from my urban fantasy manuscript, The Weapons of our Warfare. Stephen, a church intern, has discovered a coven has been spying on them. He returns the favor, with two teams of two on a hilltop in a wilderness. Unfortunately, the coven leader has a certain power.


Frustrated, Stephen listened to the static on his phone, keeping it pressed close to his ear so the sound wouldn’t carry.
“I thought we were far enough away.” Beverly’s jaunty mood was gone. “How are we going to tell them to move into position?”
“The coven leader’s definitely jamming it.” He looked up at the white glow. “But no reaction. As if she sets up a large jamming field by habit.”
Their plan had been simple, but bold. Before the coven leader could start her incantations, he and Beverly would confront her. If they were charged, he would throw Beverly down the hillside, if necessary, to save her.
Stephen’s hand tightened into a fist around the cell phone as he stayed determined to keep that part of the plan from her. Assuming the coven leader would flee in the opposite direction, Terrence and Minerva would apprehend her, Terrence using his authority as a police officer and a certain obscure statute they had looked up. The coven members would scatter.
But the hiss of static threatened to make it all in vain. The two teams couldn’t communicate, couldn’t warn or assure each other. Even worse, Stephen couldn’t tell if she knew they were there after all. Was it right for him to lead on, risking the others?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Side Effects of Stevia

Recently I bought some Snapple straight-up unsweetened ice tea. I figured I could add stevia to it, and that would be better than sugar. Stevia is natural, and I thought it would be better than artificial sweeteners.

public domain 

I added a stevia packet to a bottle at work one day. It was barely noticeable. Okay, so the next day I added three packets to a bottle. Later that morning, I felt like I was almost drowning because I was so badly congested. And my eyebrows were itchy. My eyebrows?

So I looked up the side effects of stevia. It turns out that if a person is allergic to ragweed (and I’ve had hay fever all my life), the body might react to stevia the same way. So it was like I just drank a bunch of ragweed.

I’ll set the box of stevia packets I bought in the lunchroom, for my co-workers to enjoy.

Which leads me to an excerpt from my novel manuscript Werewolf in the Fold. As something unique, it is set squarely in the year 1999. I know that most nostalgia stories are set in the 80s, but as people get older, they’ll get nostalgic for a time when the Backstreet Boys were popular, and the dot coms were a new way of doing business. The statements about aspartame and stevia are accurate.

Oh yes, it’s a slightly alternate reality, with certain minority groups. A rather innocent minor character Lily May is interacting with her friend Fonda.


And here she had met such people: Blacks who were well-educated and thought it normal to look white people in the eye and move into management positions, Asians (who didn’t call themselves Orientals anymore) who had been born in this country—just as their parents or even their grandparents before them—and who were as American as anyone else, and Elves like Fonda, who had befriended her and knew so much about fashion tips.
Lily May was well aware of the stereotype that Elves were amoral and chafed at society’s boundaries of decency. But if her friend had seemed to fit that stereotype for a moment there, she downplayed, suppressed, and forgot it in the slim moments between Fonda’s last comment and the next.
Fonda pointed a slim fingernail at Lily May’s soda. “And you chose the color of that to match your blazer? Those are too tame. Want some sweetener?” She rummaged in her tiny purse.
Lily May tried to snort, but it just sounded like a bad inhale. “I’m not that naïve. You just want to pour some sugar or that new aspartame stuff into it, to fizz out the carbonation.”
Fonda produced a small bottle. “Stevia. A natural sweetener. It’s banned here, but my people in Latin America like to chew the leaves.” She offered it.
Lily May thought that sounded too much like chewing some other kind of leaf, so she waved it off. Then she heard the sound of male voices approaching.
She put a finger to her lips, then whipped halfway around so she was facing Fonda with her blazer open. She kept her black Italian soda on the desk—something the guys could pretend to look at while noticing her new look.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Wonder Woman at Children’s Hospital

Here’s a nice moment in the midst of all the chaos in society. Gal Gadot is filming her second Wonder Woman movie. Between takes, she stopped by Inova Children’s Hospital in Fairfax, VA in full costume to visit some of the children.

tweeted by Kelly Swink Sahady July 6 at 12:12 pm

Sorry, guys. She’s married and has two children.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Lego my Patriotism

This is a little late, but Lego has done an outstanding job of building incredibly detailed replicas of historic American buildings. Let’s start with the Capitol, which houses Congress.

I think most Americans are familiar with a front view of the Capitol. So above is a side view.

And above is a back view. See the incredible detail?

This is Independence Hall, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Notice they included the external halls.

Both the United States Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted in this building.

Now for something timely: The U.S. Supreme Court. 

They included the bas-reliefs at the top of the arch. (Click to enlarge.) You can just imagine interns running out with the latest Supreme Court decisions.

The back view, which I don’t think I had ever seen before.

So, happy 4th of July weekend!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Plastic—Recycle or Landfill?

So a lot of you conscientiously throw your plastic bottles and other waste into recycling bins, not the garbage. But a new report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation argues that this harms the environment. How?

photo by NOAA

It turns out that most recycling materials from America and Europe get shipped to China and other Asian countries. They certainly recycle a portion of it, but they can’t use everything we send to them. They end up burning huge amounts or dumping them in the ocean.

So the next time you take a bag of plastic bottles and other recyclables out, you would be wise to ponder whether it is better to put them in the recycling bin, or toss them in the garbage—from there to be used in landfills to make uneven land useful for development.

The synopsis of the report is here.

You can read the full paper here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review of Martians Abroad

Polly is part of the thriving Colony One on Mars. She dreams of piloting a starship one day and has her internships lined up. But her mother abruptly informs Polly and her twin brother Charles they are being sent to Earth for their education.

To Earth? Earth is old, grubby, and stifling.

Shaken, Polly wants to stay on Mars and get back into her cancelled internships. But their mother dangles in front of her the prospect of getting into a piloting program upon graduation from the Earth academy. Besides, they have no choice. They leave in two weeks.

Carrie Vaughn’s Martians Abroad is an impressive story. Polly is not a whiny brat, neither is she a superwoman, but she is smart and bold as she gets thrown into one challenge after another. Look at the excellent cover above. Mars’ gravity is only one third of ours, so Polly grew up tall and thin. Notice how slender her torso and limbs are. As she approaches Earth, she knows she’ll have difficulty moving around in a gravity three times what she’s used to.

Her brother Charles is a genius—not just in theoretical matters, but in detecting plots against them. Yes, there are plots. Not just physical difficulty, not just some semi-bullying by elite Earth students, but some actual hostility—a rockslide here, a kidnapping there. What is going on?

Martians Abroad is an enjoyable read for teens on up. For more on the author Carrie Vaughn, click here.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Predators vs The Princess Bride

Predator is a science fiction/horror franchise where ruthless aliens hunt down human beings for sport and pleasure. I’m not a fan because it’s so grotesque and pointless, but I caught the last part of the latest entry, Predators, some time ago. I was impressed enough that I watched the whole thing last week.

What occurred to me while I was watching this increasingly violent and grotesque movie was that it’s just like The Princess Bride.

I’m supposed to warn there are spoilers ahead, but I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say there is kissing in The Princess Bride, but none in Predators.


The major plot points of the two movies match in an astonishing way. Predators has a group of people stranded on a planet, and at one point they tumble down a long cliff. That made me realize the resemblance: There were three attacks before this. The first one involved sharp objects that were set in clever traps, the second was much less clever and involved brute beasts, and the third involved a character callously using his wits in a way that results in someone’s death.

Described in this general way, these three attacks resemble the sword fight with Iñigo Montoya, the attack by the giant, and the battle of wits with the Sicilian. A skeptic might point out that these looked different in the two movies. Of course they do—these are two different stories in different genres, and no particular character in Predators corresponds to Westley or Buttercup. but the structure is the same.

Moving on, the characters in Predators encounter weird things in a jungle (yes, they spend most of the time in a jungle, but see how this turns out.) Westley and Buttercup spent time in the fire swamp. Then the characters are taken inside a grounded spaceship by someone who at first seems friendly, then turns hostile. This corresponds to Westley being taken inside a cave and at first cleaned up by the Albino, but is then subject to torture. The characters get out of the spaceship, and then things turn similar to a comical degree.

A character has a swordfight with one of the predators. That’s right—a swordfight! It occurs in the same part of the movie where in The Princess Bride, Iñigo has his “Hello. My name is Iñigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” swordfight.

From there, the movies have their different action scenes for their climaxes. But what is interesting is that in Predators, a main character is paralyzed, then barely manages to recover enough to do something crucial in the climax. This is just like Westley being too weak to fight, but managing to stand and intimidate Prince Humperdinck.

The remaining characters go on to an uncertain future, but in a way that continues the adventure from the start. This corresponds to Westley telling Iñigo he would make a great Dread Pirate Roberts.

Overall, here is how the plot points line up (including the water escape at the start which would not have sounded like an impressive match at first):

Water Escape: The doctor escapes from being stuck in a tree by falling into water, Buttercup escapes from a boat by jumping into water.

Sharp Attack: Sharp objects in clever traps, sword fight with Iñigo.

Brute Force Attack: Brute beasts attack, the giant attacks.

Wits to Death: A character uses his wits and causes someone’s death, the battle of wits to the death with the Sicilian.

Long Slide: The characters have a long, violent slide down a cliff, Westley and Buttercup have a long, tumultuous slide down a cliff.

Wild Scenery: The characters have adventures in the jungle, Buttercup and Westley have adventures in the Fire Swamp.

Friendly Shelter that Turns Hostile: The characters are taken to a grounded spaceship by a host that seems friendly but who turns hostile, Westley is taken inside a cave and is cleaned up by the Albino but is then subject to torture.

Swordfight: A character has a swordfight to the death with a predator, Iñigo Montoya has a swordfight to the death with Count Rugen.

Paralysis: A character is paralyzed and barely manages to recover for the climax, Westley is too weak to fight but stands and intimidates Prince Humperdinck.

Uncertain Ending: Characters go their way to start the adventure again, Iñigo will become the next Dread Pirate Roberts. 

So, do I believe the plot points were copied from The Princess Bride on purpose? Yes. Again, these are two different stories, and the actions scenes look different from each other. But the similarities in plot structure are too great.

Even if you disagree with me, you should see the lack of originality in Hollywood. Don’t try too hard to see plot similarities in movies. Just let it come to you as you’re watching a movie and you say, “Hey, I’ve seen this story before.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

New Indiana Jones Movie

Disney announced a fifth Indiana Jones movie will star Harrison Ford once again. Harrison Ford is 75 years old.

No title has been announced yet.

My suggested title: Raiders of the Lost AARP.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

R. Lee Ermey Passed Away

The great R. Lee Ermey passed away. He served for several years as a Marine drill instructor, then went into his second career as an actor.

This particular clip has two great features: 1) It’s the start of a science fiction series, Space Above and Beyond, and 2) Since it was a TV show, there’s no swearing.

The first four minutes are worth watching.



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