Colony (Seasons 1 and 2)

In a world where aliens with advanced tech have divided up human cities using giant walls and chosen new human governments to rule on their behalf, one family in Los Angeles strives to stick together, and, maybe, fight back.

The setting of Colony

It’s been interesting to see how things are the same but different in this near-future world. What does the city look like after the arrival? How does the economy function? How does the dictatorship function? How and why do people try to resist or cooperate with it? How do people use power to advance their own ends? What must people do to stay safe? To keep others safe? What has become of the rest of the world? What does the future hold for humans?

The characters of Colony

Against that backdrop are the characters who have to cope with life under the strictures of the Transitional Authority. I’m not such a fan of Sarah Wayne Callies as Katie Bowman. I’m not sure whether it’s the acting or the character I dislike, but Katie often gets this wide-eyed indignant look that insists, “This is all someone else’s fault,” even when it’s hers.

The actors of Colony

On the other hand, it’s and good fun to see Will Bowman played by Georgia boy Josh Holloway (who is familiar to me as Sawyer in Lost, and who I also just saw unexpectedly in Ghost Protocol). And it is a real joy to see Alan Snyder played by Peter Jacobson (who is familiar to me as Doctor Taub in House).

I’m looking forward to seeing what new developments Season 3 will bring.

Airframe by Michael Crichton

When I read Airframe, what struck me most, apart from the author’s finely honed ability to build and sustain tension, was how outdated 90s communication technology seemed. Beepers, CD players, video recorders that use tape, faxes, landline telephones, television screens that aren’t flat… and what the heck is a telex, anyway?

More thoughts on this un-put-down-able techno-thriller below.

Continue reading Airframe by Michael Crichton

Euros from Malta

You can spend any country’s Euros anywhere in the Eurozone, which means the coins spread around a bit. Still, in Spain, mostly you see Spanish Euro coins, and in Italy, mostly you see Italian ones, and so on.

Thus, if you were trying to collect all the different coins in circulation in the Eurozone countries, you’d have little hope of running across all the coins from the small Mediterranean island country of Malta, unless you or someone you knew actually went there.

Challenge accepted.

My husband Aquinas brought back a set of eight Maltese Euro coins for each of us when he went to Malta for a conference this month.

Maltese for Foreigners

My husband Aquinas brought back this set of learning materials for me from Malta, where he went for a conference.

It’s not that I have any serious intention of studying the language, it’s that I collect language-learning materials. I suspect the fact that Maltese is written using the Latin script would make it easier than other Semitic languages for an English speaker to learn, though.

Semitic? As in, related to Hebrew? Yep! Maltese is not just a popular breed of dog or an infamous falcon statuette, it’s an amazing hybrid of Arabic and Italian, two languages which, frankly, I didn’t know had a non-empty intersection.

Travels by Michael Crichton

I have mixed feelings about Travels, Michael Crichton’s collection of autobiographical anecdotes.

On the one hand, Crichton is an intelligent, educated and interesting person with stories to tell that are exotic and absorbing, and he’s a good storyteller. On the other hand, a third of the material is about his rocky medical career, and another third of it relates to paranormal stuff, and in a couple of the non-medical, non-paranormal chapters, Crichton relates some nearly lethal experiences of the kind that involve water and thus cause me disproportionate anxiety.

In short, I like how he writes, but I didn’t like much of what he wrote about in this book.

For more on what stood out for me as well as more on Crichton’s oddly unscientific treatment of paranormal phenomena, see below.

Continue reading Travels by Michael Crichton

Annie (1982)

Huh. Well, I really don’t know what to think of Annie. On the one hand, it’s really long, and as some reviewers point out, it doesn’t really go anywhere or mean anything, but on the other hand, I’m super nostalgic about the songs! I had fun watching it, but I have no idea whether a child or adult who has never seen it before would enjoy it.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Also below: Some things about the movie that surprised me, and the history of the character as she has appeared in a wide range of media from 1885 to 2014.

Continue reading Annie (1982)

Visual Explanations by Edward R. Tufte

Edward Tufte was a byword among the publishing professionals I worked with in 2004–2008. If you had anything whatsoever to do with the design or illustration of serious books, you had at least one of his four giant tomes on your shelf, if not all of them:

  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
  • Envisioning Information
  • Visual Explanations
  • Beautiful Evidence

Visual Explanations is the only one that’s made it onto my shelves so far, but at least now I’ve read it. Now I know what all the fuss is about.

Tufte’s lovely, informative book shows readers how data has been displayed throughout history in a variety of fields and how it is clarified or obscured by the manner in which it is displayed. He shows you illustrations of magic tricks and data from the Challenger disaster as well as 17th century book frontispieces; snapshots from computer interfaces as well as images from works of art history and natural history.

When and Why I Read Visual Explanations

On the to-read list since June 2012. Ties in with The Back of the Napkin because it’s about visual thinking.

Genre: non-fiction (information design)
Date started / date finished:  30-Mar-17 to 08-Apr-17
Length: 151 pages
ISBN: 0961392126 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 1997
Amazon link: Visual Explanations

Timeless (Season 1)

Although iTunes calls Timeless a drama, there’s a healthy dose of science-fiction as well. It’s a time-travel show, for Pete’s sake!

The three main characters, who have a pretty nifty-looking time machine, are struggling with some kind of shadow organization that has control of a newer one.

The sets, costumes, and special effects are fun (the show must cost a fortune to produce), but I found the expositiony dialog intolerably overbearing. Clearly the writers are trying to contrast prejudiced views of women and minorities in the past with views of women and minorities in today’s more enlightened times, but the well-meaning messages are written in clumsily.

Since the good guys and the bad guys both wind up changing history and killing people, there are interesting moral issues at play, involving questions of the good of the many vs. the life of an individual and whether the end ever justifies the means. Why couldn’t some of the same subtlety be brought to bear on issues of race and gender?

See below for two grating examples of political correctness in Episode 8, “Space Race”.

Continue reading Timeless (Season 1)

The Story of the Stone aka The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin and Gao E

Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club selected this mammoth Chinese classic for discussion at the end of January 2018. I bought the five-volume Penguin paperback edition and the 64-page illustrated version published by Real Reads. Below are the results of my research into the different available English translations.

See also: Buying books in Singapore

Continue reading The Story of the Stone aka The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin and Gao E