Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Feeding Frenzy!

Nature can be terrifying! Look at these monsters, devouring everything in sight! Horrifying! It's a good thing there was a screen between me and these insatiable birds.

These are American Goldfinches, spinis tristis. They don't look very yellow, but it is February, and goldfinches are the only finch to undergo a complete molt. This means they are super bright and yellow in the Summer, and boring and olive colored in the Winter. They like to hang out and feed in groups, like my picture suggests.

I was really hoping these were chicadees, because then I could use a bunch of homonym puns (genuses in the Paridae family are also known as tits or titmice). But, maybe I'll be able to get pictures of that kind of bird another time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Doggin My Soul Since the Day I was Born

Ray Lamontagne
2004, RCA
produced by Ethan Johns
  • Trouble/Burn
  • How Come/Crazy
  • Forever My Friend
  • Jolene/Crazy
This album proves anyone, even a shoe factory worker from Maine, can be the next great singer/songwriter. Ray Lamontagne debuted with this record, and it's amazing. He clearly shows parallels to his influences, Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Dylan, and Otis Redding. He has a distinct voice, giving off Van Morrison vibes.

Lucy Davies from the BBC wrote in 2004 that Lamontagne "manages to make typical singer-songwriter 3 chord fodder, with subject matter heard a thousand times before sound interesting and fresh". His approach to songwriting, and the way he delivers has helped revitalize the blues genre. Much like Ben Harper and Nathaniel Ratliffe, he plays the blues, but just differently enough to make it new.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Winter is Here. Make Some Soup

I like to cook sometimes. Usually, I don't make a big production out of it. Stir fry and oatmeal don't take very long. But sometimes I remember I can do more than easy 20 minute meals, especially if the recipe is mostly tossing stuff together and letting it sit on low heat forever.

My soup recipe is one of those. Like my chili, it is always open to changes based on what I have available, or whatever. Here is an easy step by step recipe:

  • Quart of chicken or vegetable stock (I use Swanson's with less sodium)
  • smoked pig's hocks (only 1, but you can buy a bunch and freeze them for other soups)
  • 1 Onion (or several scallions, whichever you prefer)
  • 1 whole garlic (don't remove the cloves)
  • a few chopped carrots
  • a few chopped celery
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (I use sun roasted ones)
  • 1 can beans (you pick. I like kidneys or red beans, but whatever)
  • meat (whatever you have available. I've used lamb, veal, and chicken before)
  • Your favorites spices. add whatever, make it hot, make it mellow, whatever you want.
  1. preheat over to 400
  2. put whole garlic, beans, vegetables, can of tomatoes in pan and roast that in oven for 40 minutes
  3. while that is going on, cook your meat of choice. If you have something leftover from another meal, like Thanksgiving turkey, Easter lamb, or something from a roast, cut that up and put it aside. Cut up cooked meat of choice into manageable pieces, preferably bite size.
  4. heat stock in a pot with the pig's hock.
  5. When vegetables are done roasting, add them with your meat of choice to the stock. Squeeze the garlic out into the stock also, removing the cloves from their sleeves. Throw the empty garlic clove out.
  6. Turn the stove down low and cover the pot. Let the soup sit on low heat for 2 or 3 hours or until you're hungry. Stir periodically.
  7. When ready to eat, take out the pig's hock. There isn't a lot of meat on that, but if you like, you can cut off what you can and add that to your soup too. Throw out the bones.
  8. Serve your soup hot, or let it cool and freeze it for later. Enjoy.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Nerds can not be Satisfied: Ninja Turtle Edition

This emergence of geek culture has been pretty awesome for everyone that enjoys comics. We have actual well-made films adapted from comic book heroes now. Which is huge. In case you forgot, before Marvel started taking more responsibility for their live action properties, we had to watch crap like Captain America, and Lou Ferrigno's Hulk tv show. And the Super Friends. And Joel Schumacher's garbage bin of Batman films.
This exists.
My point is, die hard comic book fans had much to complain about up until recently. Now there are actual comic book writers producing comic book movies, and although there are things that need to be changed and rearranged for film, there are fewer executives forcing major changes to characters and plots that they don't care about or understand. Comic nerds ought to be rejoicing. But, as with everything, people forget things. Like how much progress has been made.
maybe this will help those memories...
I bring this up because, recently the trailer for the second Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released. Predictably, it was met with disdain from old school TMNT fans. I don't understand any of the arguments meant to smear the film that hasn't even been released yet. I get why fanboys distrust Michael Bay (the Transformers franchise sucks). But I really can't understand what fans of the original Turtles comics, or cartoon show, expect.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Teenage_Mutant_Ninja_Turtles_charactersKevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic in 1984. Soon this comic was turned into an animated cartoon series in 1987. The comic (and cartoon) is about four people-sized mutated turtles who live in a sewer in New York, and practice martial arts with their surrogate father, a giant talking rat.

The plot of this story revolves around their unending battle with a secret ninja cabal led by The Shredder, an evil samurai warrior who is also in league with a race of extra-dimensional talking brain aliens. Also, there is a rotating cast of anthropomorphized mutants that all seem to know martial arts, both villains, and allies.

There is a full list of supporting characters on Wikipedia. Click the picture to the left to see for yourself. It's pretty nuts. Aside from four giant ninja turtles, a rat kung fu master, and a race of brains, there is a mutant mosquito, sentient garbage, a giant talking eyeball, Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs, a sumo wrestling hamster and several other mutant lizards, frogs, and small woodland creatures. Clearly, this series is a well grounded, realistic comic book franchise that's not at all silly or ridiculous.

Critics of the 2014 movie didn't like how the new digital turtles looked compared to the rubbery suits worn by actors in the 1990 film. This is a little like Godzilla fans pining away for the days of b-movie magic. These new turtles actually look like turtles, instead of green blobs with masks.

a little side by side comparison...
Perhaps nostalgia for the "good ole days" gets in the way of actual honest criticism for older films. 
Not only did the 1990 film showcase actors in foam suits with goofy fish mouths, but the plot itself doesn't really make any sense either. Four giant turtles are required to stop a crime wave in New York City? Pretty sure if the largest police department in the United States is having trouble with a gang of criminal ninjas, four freaks with ancient hand combat weapons isn't really going to make a difference.

To be fair the plot to the 2014 remake isn't much better, but at least there is a super villain with a super villainous scheme, one that is far better than just leader of a gang of pickpockets. The Shredder in the 1990 film is no better than samurai Fagin covered in knives.

The 1991 sequel is even worse. As I recall, fans were expecting Bebop and Rocksteady from the comic and cartoon show. But what we received was The Secret of the Ooze with Tokka and Rahzar, quite possibly the worst comicbook movie villains of all time. This new film, Out of the Shadows, promises to have the real Bebop and Rocksteady, and Krang. So... we finally get what we asked for 25 years ago.

The franchise has always been about silly nonsensical adventures of teenage, pizza eating, sewer dwelling, ninjitsu testudines, and their giant rat karate master and all their various mutant allies and enemies. Of course the films are going to reflect the source material. Is the 2014 movie perfect? Probably not. Is it better than the movies from the early '90s? Absolutely. Does it follow the source material in all it's wacky, cheesy glory? Not completely, but that's ok, because we all want an actual good movie, not Batman and Robin.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's February. We're so Eft.

It's February. For such a short month, February takes so long to get through. Lewis Black once said things get so grey in February, that by the end, you just want to slit your wrists to see color.

To help with our collective Seasonal Affective Disorder, I bring you a dash of color. No self mutilation necessary.

This little guy is known as the Red Eft. The eft is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Newt, notophthalmus viridescens. There are four subspecies, since this is New England, his is most likely the red spotted variety. 

They live through three stages of life, the larva tadpole stage, the eft juvenile stage, and the adult stage. The eft, pictured here in its glorious color, is terrestrial, unlike the other two stages of its development. The tadpole will shed it's gills when becoming an eft. They travel in order to spread the species, and then redevelop gills and become an aquatic adult newt. 

The peninsula sub species skips the eft stage altogether, because its boring. Don't be like the penisula newt subspecies. February is boring enough, but just think, Spring is around the corner. I promise.