Archive for Review

My New Crumpler Backpack

Crumpler's Whickey and Cox photography backpackWhile in New York I specifically hunted down the tiny little Crumpler store in SoHo to try out a potential backpack. It’s of a type I’ve been wanting for a while, one which can carry my camera gear along with my laptop. The idea is to be able to carry my digital SLR almost everywhere I go; there’s no point owning a camera that stays at home.

I decided on The Whickey and Cox [Crumpler photo bags], which holds a 15″ laptop (it’s actually even more spacious than needed for my 15″ Thinkpad T42p) and a significant amount of camera gear (potentially a couple bodies and a few lenses). Even though I don’t have enough camera gear to fill it up, the design is perfect for all the odd bits of electronics and other lumpy things I often carry. There’s a smaller pack (The Sinking Barge) that would hold my current camera gear and laptop just fine, but it doesn’t leave much room beyond that. When I visited the store they were currently out of the color I wanted (the sandy brown alternative is quite ugly, I’d say) so back at Kyle’s that night I ordered it online. By the time I returned from Mexico the backpack had arrived.

In general it is great, I can carry most everything I usually carry plus my digitial SLR. The only thing that I sometimes carry that doesn’t fit well is books of any significant thickness. Also, the pockets that are accessible from the outside are nowhere close to as easy to use as the ones on my old backpack. The opening is so narrow and the pocket so deep that it is difficult and sometimes painful to get your hand down in there; so, there is no way you can throw small things in and expect to dig them out easily. This isn’t much of a problem since the organization inside the main compartment is so nice: there are a couple small zippered pouches, one that goes along with the laptop sleeve. I find it quite comfy to wear. The back is a bit more padded than my old backpack and yet it is still quite stiff because the laptop sits right there. My old backpack from Spire holds the laptop further from your back but has a stiff plastic sheet conforming to your back which I have grown to really like. The stiff back makes the pack quite confortable and solid no matter what you put in it, and I was worried I would miss that in the Crumpler bag. But, on the whole, the Crumpler bag turns out to be a more rigid pack thanks to the foam lined camera compartment and the location of the laptop.

For the record, my old backpack is an early version of the Spire Meta, which I still highly recommend. As far as I know, it is the only backpack short of a true hiking pack that has a waist belt designed to carry a substantial load. It also has two very nice handles, one on top and one on the side that are far better than the usual loop of fabric. Also, it expands and contracts well; I can stuff it with clothes for a trip or sinch down some straps and go to work with just a few papers and a laptop in a sleek package.


Stereolab at the Majestic

Stereolab plays the Majestic Theater in DetroitLast night Christina, Katie, Jeremy, Monica, Heidi, and I went into Detroit to see Stereolab [Wikipedia] [Google] at The Majestic Theater. The sound and presentation was, in “a word” friggin’-sweet! The Majestic is a fairly spare venue in a somewhat questionable area—Monica had her car broken into just outside the Theater some time ago. But, it seemed to all work well for the ‘Lab and their sound. Afterwards the adjoining bowling alley was really hopping with the hipster crowd and we were pleased to discover our car safe and secure.  It was a tasty, cream-filled weekend; I’m still dabing the sticky spots at the corners of my mouth.


New Photos & Life Aquatic

Zissou looks through porthole in Life Aquatic
I’ve started adding photos to my Winter 2004 gallery. I should be able to finish this afternoon. After that I think I will go back and work on adding some photos from the summer of 2004. I know Pierre would like to see them and he was kind enough to lone me his Life Aquatic DVD this week. So, my next uploads are dedicated to you, Pierre!

(Though it may not have lived up to all the reviewers’ expectationsRushmore is a somewhat better film—I found Life Aquatic to be great notheless.)


Wind Coming

Nicolas Cage in The Weather Man, umbrella in rain
We’ve been hit with some crazy nice weather recently. The last few days have reached up into the 70s (after a few weeks were it was getting down to freezing at night). Now it looks like we are in for a fun ride tomorrow. Temperatures are dropping rapidly and the wind will reach into the upper 30s in MPH, gusting to 57 MPH. This according to the best forecast around, the National Weather Service – Ann Arbor.

Oh, and this makes a convenient segue into a mention of The Weather Man staring Nicolas Cage. It’s not a bad movie, I recommend seeing it. Nicolas Cage doesn’t always play it perfectly and at times the writing is overwrought, but there are a few brilliant bits of humor (one being the tartar sauce train of thought scene) juxtaposed against some believable drama. Cage plays a Chicago TV weatherman who’s life is simultaneously going right and going wrong, mostly wrong. It can be uncomfortable to watch because Cage’s character very clearly doesn’t know how to handle himself, but he somehow muddles through.


Parasites Like Us

Sorry about the lack of updates, I am a horrible blog-human. Here is a post I wrote way back at the end of May but never posted. The issue of the heat was painfully relevant once again this weekend (for the third time this summer, young though it is)…

With the hot hot heat of a Genevois May upon us, I’ve been laying low in the cool darkness of my room for much of the weekend. If you had popped your head in you might have found me reclined on my bed with a sprig of mint between my teeth, the leaves bruised and smelling sweat and tangy of its rum and tonic marinade. At other times the beverage was instead a cool tea swirled languorously in my Japanese ceramics. And yes, the rumors are true, cherries forming the majority of a kilo did go missing, but the case is still open: No, officer, I don’t know anything about that pile of pits in the corner. … No, I can’t say that I noticed any sticky-lipped characters passing through. … Me? I’ve just been sitting here reading my book, minding my own business. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, my memory seems to have faded with the brisk breezes of winter.

What little evidence this eye-witness can provide is that the book in question was outstanding. I began reading Parasites Like Us a couple weeks ago, but until now I have only progressed in fits (a few pages before bed and such). This weekend, though, the remainder of the book was swallowed up whole with a big eye-watering glug. Parasites is the first novel by an author who greatly impressed me with his short story collection, Emporium. The novel is an eloquent account of the final days of humanity as we now know it, told to the readers of a new world born from the handful of survivors. The narrator is a professor of anthropology who, before precipitating the apocalypse, is mostly consumed with the taming of his two graduate students and his own stubborn sense of loss. It is introspective, grizzly, and observant. It does, as advertised, feature flaming pigs.

I found it notable that the author of Parasites, Adam Johnson, in his short blog (see the June 28, 2005 entry), mentioned the other book I just finished reading, Ryan Harty’s Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona. It is an intense series of short stories, poignant slices of lives in transition or desperate for it, and a great example of short story telling. It packs in far more loneliness and desperation than is ever found in Parasites’ apocalypse (which is an oddly matter-of-fact, and even uplifting, tale of an apocolypse). The title is plain, it is a recollection of some of the saddest moments that the sprawling suburbia of the desert southwest might plausibly muster. The sadness, though, is less Where the Red Fern Grows and more the sort that lingers in the background during those indefinite periods of transition between life’s meaningful milepost like jobs, friends, or lovers. Solid resolution is sandwiched between desperation for purpose. Time passes, lives change, so why does everything seem to stay the same? It is as if they characters are waiting for something, and yet they can’t imagine what. Will that something come tomorrow or was it twenty years ago? The emptiness and desperation is compelling because it is subtle and real. Dramatic things happen, and they have to be acknowledged; but, we can’t spend our lives weeping in a corner, we move on. So the question becomes, when and where to? Maybe we aren’t far away. In summary, here is an appropriate quote

Everything suddenly looked so odd it was hard to believe it had looked normal at one time, and that made him feel better. It was almost possible to imagine a time when the last several days might seem strange and far away, too, when he might look back on them with a kind of detached wonder. But he didn’t want to let them pass too quickly. There was a pleasure to what he felt, along with the pain, and he understood that to let it go would be to suggest the worst of life—that it was transitory and random, quick to forget.

I highly recommend the book.


Real American Dining

Buffalo Bill
Reid’s mother took us to Buffalo Grill in Ferney-Voltaire for dinner tonight. For better or worse, they are a very good representation of American dining. Except for the carpaccio and crème bruelé on the menu, there is little to tell them apart from your standard American strip-mall steakhouse. Considering their name it seemed fitting to have the Pavé de Bison, cooked rare. I forgot to ask if the bison was imported from the US, or if somewhere in France there are farmers raising bison, a notion that somehow appeals to me. Though I’m primarily a fish and shrimp person I found the meat to be pleasant enough. The roquefort sauce was unimpressive, and the green beans were sad but edible.

Speaking of food, I whipped up a very good potato-eggplant soup this afternoon. I happen to have some beef in the fridge that I considered adding to the soup, but I’m glad I stuck to just vegetables. With this surprise trip to Buffalo Grill my tiny red-meat digestive subsystem might have been overwhelmed. Also today: John made some awesome brownies using the chocolate that Guilia gave me for plant-sitting during her long Easter break. He also had some very tasty hot spiced wine ready when I finally dragged myself out of my room after a long morning of internet-in-bed, hair cutting, and cleaning.


Savage Critics

Nothing captures the essence of summer-blockbuster desperation quite like a billboard featuring an Oscar-winning actress on all fours.
- Village Voice’s Mark Holcomb, Catwoman review.

I need to find more of this: a collection of savage movie review quotes. (Though the last one, about Anchorman, really isn’t savage at all.)

From the same site I discovered Cin-o-matic which looks like a great site if you really love movies and you really love making lists. Certainly I’m in the last category at least. I took note that Dack doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of backyard wresting movies. But, according to his April 5th note, he is a fan of the brilliant topical comedy of David Rees and his unstoppable fighting technique.


Naps, Coconuts, and Vampires

Sheryl Lee in John Carpenter's Vampires
Last night Reid and I entertained ourselves by joining Pascale and Guilia at Pascale’s apartment. We just hung-out and watched some TV. First up was a French analogue to American Idol. For a show where people are supposed to show off their singing, there is a surprising amount of talk. Boring! In addition, it started to annoy me that it was clear the producers had selected the widest possible variety of contestants (except the heavily underrepresented majority, ugly people). Let’s face it, in reality we are not all beautiful or unique snowflakes (or so I hear). And what’s with 4 of the 5 people booted off being women? I guess if TV has taught us anything it is that females are the inferior sex. (…and that there is more to
people and
coconuts than the world gives credit.)

By the way, this Gilligan’s Island trivia is fascinating

The ship’s name, S. S. Minnow, was not named for the fish but rather for Newton Minow, head of the FCC in 1961. Minow was the one who called television “America’s vast wasteland”. Sherwood Schwartz did not care for Minow so he named the soon-to-be shipwrecked ship after him.

Second up on the TV was
Vampires, staring James Woods. This is about the time Pascale and Reid checked out (see below), a good thing because Pascale likely would have suffered some deep emotional trauma from the sight of a Vampire impaling a man with his bare hand, strangling a woman on the other side of the man with that hand, and then splitting the man vertically in two. We didn’t stay until the end, but I assume Woods eventually takes care of things with the necessary combination of heart-stakes, decapitations, and incinerations. It’s nice to see that Woods is doing good things with that
scholarship to MIT.

As alluded to above, Pascale put in a command performance of her brilliant
sleeping trick. Reid, taking a lesson from this greatness, caught a few winks himself in what was a stellar first showing on the kitchen couch (yes, Pascale has a kitchen couch!) in the novice sleeping-during-social-functions category. Meanwhile, Giulia and I stood guard in case of vampire attack. Finally, what’s with Giulia buying a cake instead of baking it herself? I expect better!

My chocolate covered banana candy went unappreciated.


Closer, The Anniversary Party, Garden State

I ended up doing a lot of movie watching this weekend. At the moment I think my favorite was the first, Garden State. Miriam, Pascale’s flatmate, pulled it out after we returned from a walk around Geneva. It was enjoyed with the usual Lebanese dinner goo (but tasty goo, it is) and chocolate fondant. For a first try at it, Pascale did a good job with the fondant; not everything she bakes comes out hyper-dense! Garden State isn’t a bad little stew of epilepsy, side-cars, infinite-abysses, and indirect-matricide. Besides it’s got that funny/serious guy from that hilarious show and that cute girl from those unfortunate movies; so, there’s that. I guess we have that.

After deciding we didn’t have enough wild and crazies in us to brave the Brazilian party down in Geneva, Pascale and I traded in Miriam for Reid and John and slipped a Region 2 DVD of The Anniversary Party into Pascale’s Region 2 DVD player. Of course this was not before swearing loudly at satan’s spawn and the rest of the sulfurus-smelling corporate media for bringing us DVD region coding. This because moments before my Region 1 copies of Rushmore and The Butterfly Effect had been very rudely rejected by Pascale’s disgustingly compliant DVD player.

Anniversary Party was hectic and disfunctional. My major complaints are two fold

  • There is a disproportionate number of movies about actors and books about authors. This movie was about both. For a movie that seems to explore real human problems and complexities, the fundamentals are a little too distant from my reality.
  • Alan Cumming’s mullet and wife-beater might have been hip and “ironic” for a few moments in a few elite circles, but are these really moments and circles that deserve cinematic exploration? I don’t want to be subjected to that retro-class fashion crap for half a movie, even if it is the most integral element of the character.

By the way, did you know Alan Cummings has his own fragrance, discussion of which made up the bulk of his recent Daily Show interview.

Finally, the third movie was Closer with Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen (and not much else). We saw it at a theater in Geneva on Sunday. Pascale had been talking about catching it for weeks. It’s a crazy mixed up love quadrangle with some very “frank” dialog and a string of semi-twists that hinge on what seem to me to be mostly irrational behavior. For the first third I didn’t think much of the movie, for the second third I warmed to it and was genuinely curious to see how it will wrap up, but by the last third it had all gone too far. I will refrain from more detail so my spoiler doesn’t bump any of the precariously balanced levers in this emotional Rube Goldberg device. In summary, I enjoyed the movie to a degree, but it wasn’t all that. It’s not as if I was crying in the aile or throwing money at the screen by the end. Plus, did I mention Natalie Portman is pretty cute? Yes, I did. So, there’s that; I guess we have that.