Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Train to Busan (2016)

Train to Busan (2016) written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon

Recently divorced dad Seok-woo is a fund manager in Seoul, South Korea. His job demands a lot of time and attention, so naturally his daughter Soo-ahn wants to move in with Mommy, who lives in Busan (about an hour by train from Seoul). It's her birthday and he's bought the same gift he gave her for the last big celebration. He realizes he has to let her go but he insists on riding the KTX train with her to Busan. They board with no problem though some unrest is springing up in the city. A girl with a bite wound to her leg manages to jump on the train unnoticed. She is a victim of the unrest--a rapidly spreading zombie plague! Soon enough, the train is filled with zombies and the dad has to man up and work with others in order to get his daughter to safety.

The central relationship between father and daughter is well-written and acted, giving the movie a strong core. He clearly starts out neglectful but would be a good dad if he paid more attention. The crisis wakes him up and turns him into a better father and a better man. The theme of fatherhood is underlined by a couple who are part of the small band of survivors. The wife is pregnant and they have their own tensions. The group has to fight their way up the train to a car full of people. Unfortunately, that car has a corporate executive who takes control and incompetently manages the situation. He's what Seok-woo could turn into without becoming a decent man. Thus, the perennial zombie theme of selfishness vs. selflessness is also brought to the foreground. Thematically, the movie is very satisfying.

The action is tense and exciting, with good editing and direction. The characters use more cleverness than brute force to make their way through the train, making the set pieces more thrilling and less gory. The zombies are unnerving without being excessively gory. They have milky-white eyes and contorted limbs with black veins ruining their complexions. They do eat people but the movie doesn't have any of that tearing-limb-from-limb or pulling out internal organs like in many zombie films, so the gore isn't so extreme. Some of the supporting characters are underdeveloped and look a bit cartoony (like the corporate executive) but the main characters are very good.

Overall, an excellent zombie movie with a lot of heart at the center. Well worth seeing.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death (1969)

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death (1969) directed by Michael Ferguson and written by Brian Hayles

Second Doctor Patrick Troughton lands on Earth in the late 21st century with companions Jamie (the Scottish highlander) and Zoe (scientific wiz). They discover the planet has become completely dependent on T-Mat, a sort of teleporting system that has reduced every other form of transportation to museum pieces. The system starts having problems because the relay station on the moon has been overrun by invaders--the Ice Warriors of Mars! Taking over the moon base is only the first step in their nefarious plan to conquer the Earth.

The six-episode series is a mixed bag. The Ice Warriors' costumes look a bit fake (baggy rubber suits that make their movement awkward) but their hissing, whispery voices (they are a reptilian race) are effective. The plot moves at a good pace and has only one or two head-scratchingly bewildering moments. Patrick Troughton is a fun Doctor, able to do comedy and drama without looking silly. Bigger issues like the overextension of technology and the need for adaptability are nice themes which naturally flow from the story.

A fun if not outstanding series.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Seward's Folly

My daughter combined science and cooking when she tried a recipe from Smithsonian Maker Lab--Baked Alaska. This recipe lets you bake ice cream in the oven without it melting! The trick is the same trick that makes an igloo work as a shelter. Snow has a lot of air in it which makes a great insulator. The meringue on Baked Alaska insulates the ice cream, keeping it from melting in the oven. Or at least it's supposed to.

The first step is to make a cake, which was the easiest bit. My daughter worked from scratch and made a fine chocolate cake.

Reading the cake recipe

Adding baking soda

Happy stirring

Tasting the chocolate

The next task was whipping up the meringue, literally! Of course, you need some egg whites to start.

Separating eggs

Whipping the eggs into a froth!

We used the cake pan to make a lump of ice cream just the right shape for the cake. Putting the ice cream on the cake was a little trickier, since it needs to be right in the middle.

Ice cream on cake!

Good job!

The next step is to spread the meringue quickly over the ice cream and cake to seal it off from the heat of the pre-heated oven (the cake serves as insulation on the bottom).

Spread the meringue

Get it all over

Finishing touches

Into the oven

After what we thought was the right amount of time, it came out to unhappy results.

Oh no, melted ice cream!?!

In the after action discussion, Mommy and daughter decided the meringue wasn't quite right. When they added sugar during the whipping process, the sugar went in too quickly. That prevented the meringue being fluffy enough to insulate the ice cream and stiff enough to stay put.

Undaunted, they tried again...this time with cookies! Actually, they used digestive biscuits, which are more like round graham crackers than like chocolate chip cookies. This time, the sugar was added slowly to the egg whites as they were whipped.

A carefully prepared meringue

An ice-cream scoop was sufficient to shape the ice cream properly, leaving an easy (if messy) process of applying meringue. With a smaller surface comes less meringue, meaning less insulation. It also means less cooking time, making the bake time a critical component for success.

Meringuing the mini-Alaskas

Making sure they are sealed

Wanna hug? Do ya?!?

Success was achieved this time, with scrumptious individual servings of Baked Alaska for all comers.

Out of the oven goodness

Plated perfection

One happy dessert eater

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: English Catholic Heroes ed. by John Jolliffe

English Catholic Heroes edited by John Jolliffe

English Catholic Heroes looks at the 1500 years of Catholicism in England through the stories of nineteen men who contributed in various ways to the growth and glory of the Catholic faith. Some of the figures are quite famous, such as Thomas Becket, Thomas More, Edmund Campion, and John Henry Newman. Other names are obscure, especially to readers not raised on the British Isles. They all had fascinating stories.

While most were scholars and clergymen, others were laymen who did things other than teach, write, and preach. Augustus Pugin was an architect in the Victorian era who contributed greatly to the Catholic Revival of the early 1800s. Leonard Cheshire opened many local hospices for the handicapped and disabled. Robert 9th Lord Petre worked in political circles to improve the freedom of Catholics in the late 1700s. The diversity of contributions is impressive.

The book has some larger narrative threads. Historically, the greatest crisis for the Catholic Faith in England was during King Henry VIII's reign, when the Protestant Reformation snuck into England by way of his desire to have a male offspring. Centuries of oppression and martyrdom ensued. Five of the men in the book were martyrs under the Anglican crown. At the time, the only legal Catholic churches were the chapels at foreign embassies.

Even when the practice of the Catholic faith was permitted again and Catholics were allowed to work in trades and the government, a new challenge arose. Irish and continental immigrants wanted a more "Romish" liturgy with pomp and circumstance and grandeur. The native English wanted a more "British" style with simplicity and without confrontation, a movement known as "Cisalpine" for its "this side of the Alps" attitude. The others were known as "Ultramontane" or beyond the mountains, i.e. in Italy and Rome. Men in this book were on both sides of the issue. Arguments can be made for both sides.

As with any compilation of essays from various authors, some are more well written than others. And they don't always agree 100 percent. Even so, the differences are more in emphasis and style than in substance. The Catholic Church is quite diverse in its appeal, a diversity that can be found within a nation and even within a parish. This book represents the great wealth and diversity of the Catholic Church in England, that wealth being in its faithful members.

The book had a sort of sequel called English Catholic Heroines, which I reviewed here.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: Wonder Woman: Her Greatest Battles by G. Ruka et al.

Wonder Woman: Her Greatest Battles written by Greg Ruka, George Perez, John Byrne, Gail Simone, Geoff Johns, and Brian Azzarello with art by many talented artists

Ares, Medusa, Cheeta, Power Girl, Superman, and a host of others (including the vengeful children of Ares!) face off against Diana of Themyscira, better known as Wonder Woman. This book takes seven single issues from the past thirty years and gives readers almost literally Wonder Woman's greatest hits. The stories are epic and entertaining, showcasing not only her amazing strength and agility but also her intelligence and integrity. She is a powerful fighter and often makes tough sacrifices in order to save the mortals of Earth.

The art ranges from good to great and the writing is very well done. Highly recommended!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Maryland Science Center, Baltimore Part II

Continuation of yesterpost about the Maryland Science Center...

blue crab exhibit shows various animals and ecosystems in Maryland. Just when we thought the creepiness was over from the human body exhibit, we saw some live crabs that looked like they wanted to do us harm!

Real, live crab on display

Fake crabs to explain the difference between males and females

Still creepy-looking

Mega-crab display

The area also includes some tranquil turtles that swam lazily around their display. By this point it was after hours, so they hardly had anyone to show off for.

Turtle among shells 

The outer-space exhibit shows relative sizes of thing in the universe, including our tiny spot in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Our spot in our 'hood

Another fascinating display looks for possible location of extra-terrestrial life here in our own solar system!

Possible spots for life if not intelligence

The area has some interactive exhibits too, like lining up the planets in order of proximity to the sun and in order of size.

Distant worlds

Smallest to largest is a bit harder

Power Up is an area that explains and explores the world of electricity.

Providing power for the city

One display has visitors managing power resources throughout a simulated day. Different resources like coal, nuclear, solar, and hydroelectric need to be spun up and down so power production isn't wasted but also meets the needs of the changing demands throughout the day.

Adjusting capacity to meet demand

Using different types of power

Another display shows how power lines and the grid are all connected so that electricity can go from a power plant to a home.

Connecting power lines

A happy ending for three homes!

Other exhibits let visitors power simple objects through muscle power.

How much power does each type of bulb need?

Lighting the lowest

Magnet generator

We didn't get to see all the exhibits. Some were closed for lack of staff or were in a different part of the museum. We'll have to go back to see the dinosaurs and the workshop/laboratory.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Maryland Science Center, Baltimore Part I

The Maryland Science Center is located on the south end of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The main audience is children but adult can enjoy (and learn from) the exhibits too. My son and I went for a camp-in, which let us enjoy the exhibits after hours. We had to share with a bunch of other scouts but hardly enough to make the place seem crowded.

Our first stop was Newton's Alley. The alley has lots of interactive exhibits based on classical mechanics.

Floating magnet trick

The displays had plenty of pulleys doing various jobs. One station had block and tackle arrangements to help visitors pull themselves up.

Raising himself to new heights

A tug-of-war display taught visitors the value of where to attach a rope to a weight. On one side, the rope is attached to the bottom of the tower, requiring a great deal of force to pull the tower down. The other side has the rope attached to the top, requiring much less force.

One-man tug-of-war

Another display has a ball suspended in mid-air by blowing air. The air circulates around the ball, stabilizing it and keeping it from falling down.

Floating ball trick

Another station had the boys sitting down to pump a ball up a shaft.

Not sure which principle this is demonstrating, should have read the sign!

Another display shows how you would weigh differently on different planets (which have different levels of gravitational pull on their surfaces). My son was dying to find out, so we dropped a coin to get the information.

Weight changes machine

One set of stats

Pluto is clearly not strong enough to compete with other "real" planets

My son's favorite device was the musical Rube Goldberg device. In it, marbles follow along tracks, occasionally striking different instruments inside of the machine. He came back to this several times.

A fun device for sure

Upstairs is an exhibit on the human body and how amazing it is. Luckily we went there while the museum was still open, so one of the staff was operating the bed of nails. Patrons are invited to lie down on a table with lots of little holes in it. Then the operator throws the switch and all the nails come up and raise the visitor off the table. We both tried it and it was quite amazing. Not the most comfortable bed ever, but not too bad either.

My son relaxes at the museum

Another exhibit purports to let visitors zoom into their bodies and see cells in action. The images were the same for him and me, so I suspect some chicanery going on behind the scenes.

A viewer that lets you "see" inside your body

Looking at heart cells

Brains were on display here, there, and everywhere. During the sleep-over, we slept by the big head with the skull cap removed.

Brain in an empty vat

Not the most comforting bedtime companion

That brain/bust wasn't nearly as creepy as the vegetable man down the hall. Maybe it's a woman?

Vegetable person

Piecing together a human skeleton (well, a replica of one) was another fun exhibit with some creep-factor.

Leg bone is connected to the knee bone, right?

More on the science center's exhibits in the next post!