And the Oscar goes to…

The Leftovers
Tom Perrotta

Imagine The Rapture – the ascension into heaven of all true believers – actually happended (without the end of the world). Or a Rapture-like event, when millions just disappear.

What would do to those left behind? How would they cope? Especially when many of the departed were non-Christians, or truly evil persons. And many of those left behind (the leftovers) consider themselves true, god-fearing Christians. What does that do to individuals, families, communities?

That’s the clever premise of Perrotta’s 2011 book. Great premise, and he keeps his focus on just one community – mainly just one family.

But the book – clocking in at 350 pages – should really have been a novella. Some good issues examined, but too much filler, too much of the same over and over again.

And the ending of the book is just bizarre.

Fun “what if?” but Perrotta just doesn’t pull it off.

All books

The Academy Awards is this evening, and I’ll probably watch most of it.

Not quite sure why, but whatever.

And while I have absolutely no skin in the game – no bets out, no crushes/hates on any actors/directors – it’s still fun to try to read the tea leaves to see just who might win.

Note: By no skin in the game, well maybe that’s not completely totally true. I’ve seen none of the films up for awards; I think the only 2012 film that I saw was Lawless, and I thought the movie was forgettable but for two things: The soundtrack, and Jessica Chastain’s performance. And she’s up for Best Actress (Zero Dark Thirty), so maybe I have some skin….

Here are my guesses for the top honors; again, just my reading of reviews and buzz:

  • Best PictureArgo. Why? In large part because its director – Ben Affleck – was snubbed for Best Director. Sorry Lincoln, payback’s a bitch. Also, Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood – see 2011’s Best Picture, The Artist. Correct
  • Best Director – Steven Spielberg. With Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow (why?) shut out, it comes down to Ang Li (Life of Pi) and Spielberg. Ang won for Brokeback Mountain recently, and Lincoln is going to run away with a lot of awards. It’s a Big, Serious Movie, and Hollywood loves that. Incorrect, but it went to Ang Li, who I said was the runner-up.
  • Best Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis. Why? Because he deserves it. This will make him a three-time Oscar recipient; this is Meryl Streep territory. Impressive. Correct
  • Best Actress – Tough call. Jessica Chastain was the early favorite, but the political controversies surrounding Zero Dark Thirty have hurt her chances (and probably cost Bigelow the nod for Best Director nominee). Jennifer Lawrence is the current favorite (Silver Linings Playbook), but that’s as much for her work in other films (Winter’s Bone, Hunger Games) as it is for her nominated film. I think this is one of those cases where Chastain had the better performance, but Lawrence will win due to her overall likeability. Correct
  • Best Supporting Actor – Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln). Why? It’s between him and Django Unchained’s Christoph Waltz. Waltz happens to be in a movie that doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of Hollywood love; Lincoln does. Incorrect, but went to my second pick.
  • Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables ). This is a lock. Correct

Update: Well, I got four out of six correct, and in the two that I missed, my runner-up won. Not bad for just knowing nothing!

The times they are a changin’

30 Rock – Season One
Starring: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and many more

The last episode of the last season (7) of 30 Rock aired about 3 weeks ago, but – until this weekend – I had only seen one episode of this generally well-received series.

This weekend I watched all of Season One, and, hey, it’s a really good show. Not up there with M*A*S*H, Seinfeld or other arguably great sitcoms, but very good, even for the first season.

Lots of topical humor, some inside references to movies such as Fey’s Mean Girls, and host of guest stars that are a testament to the respect Fey commands (LL Cool J, Isabella Rossellini, Chris Mathews, Rip Torn, Nathan Lane and a bunch of SNL former/curent cast members – and that’s just a quick list).

The series reminds me a bit of both Al Franken’s too smart for its own good Lateline, as well as the always underrated NewsRadio30 Rock is an ensemble cast that is about, in this case, a live weekly TV comedy show (think of Saturday Night Live, obviously).

Overall, light, entertaining and funny in a sad-but-true way. Everyone takes a turn at looking sane/insane (like Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser on Mad About You). Looking forward to seeing more of this series.

All reviews

Apropos of nothing, I noticed recently that I have stopped carrying change.

And that got me to thinking about other things that I always did that I no longer do.

I no longer (or rarely):

  • Carry change – I still keep a bunch of quarters in the car for that random parking meter (in the suburbs this is rare), but I virtually never carry change anymore. And if I ever get some for change, it goes in the change jar when I get home. There are two reasons for this: 1) I now carry my smartphone in my change pocket (keys in the other), and I don’t want to bang up the phone; 2) I rarely use cash, so change is not an issue.
  • Pay with cash – At Starbucks, it’s the Starbucks card. At the pump or in most stores, I’ll use the self-pay with a credit card. And – frankly – I’m not in stores much anymore. I buy online. And I rarely go out for lunch at work. I think I took $200 out of the bank sometime around last Christmas, and I’ll bet I still have about half of it in my wallet.
  • Read the newspaper – While I’m probably at a high in the amount of news I consume, it’s very rarely from the newspaper, for two reasons: 1) By the time the paper arrives (we still get the Sunday paper – Chicago Tribune), I’ve pretty much read all the “news” it has to offer; 2) The paper sucks. Sorry. Typos, sentences that make no sense, and lame stories that have no place in a newspaper in an effort to keep readers. It’s a sad reality; I used to love to read the paper.
  • Wear a watch – When I was a studio photographer, it was mandatory to have a watch. The big view cameras – under the tungsten lights – needed long, exact exposures. Yet that wasn’t a big deal, as I had always, since high school at least, worn a watch. I don’t recall when this stopped, but why wear a watch today? There’s a clock in your car, on your computer, on your phone.
  • Watch network televison – I’ll watch an occasional live event (news, Oscars) and some late-night comedy (Stewart, Colbert, an I’m-bored-let’s-watch SNL), but I can’t remember the last time I watch a TV comedy/drama (I don’t do any of the reality shows). One caveat: I do enjoy binge-watching a good TV series on DVD, to go though an entire season in a weekend or two. I just watched the first season of 30 Rock last weekend. Good stuff. Well, second caveat: I frequently catch up on Stewart and/or Colbert online.
  • Buy computer books – I have – there’s no other way to put this – a crapload of computer books surrounding me. How to navigate the internet (pre-world wide web!), VRML, DOS, ColdFusion, PHP, Perl, CSS and so on up to my last purchase, a jQuery book. The latter was an outlier: It was the first computer book I had purchased in years. Today, you just dive into a new language/framework or whatever, and when you get stuck, you google the issue.
  • Use/own Yellow/White Pages phone books – Any questions?

As you can probably see, the common thread of most of the above is technology: How technology has changed the ways we do things.

On the other hand, I still buy DVDs and CDs (with occasional iTunes singles purchases), and I now go to the bank, which is an odd event for me. Why? My current employer doesn’t have direct deposit, so I swing by on my way home to deposit the check. With other jobs, between direct deposit and ATMs, going into a bank was a very rare event. And I don’t have an ereader; still reading books the old-fashioned way.

So I’m still a Luddite in some ways. Fair enuf. I’m sure that’ll change in the near future, as well.

Same suburbs, different vehicles

OK, you don’t see many of these…

This past Thurday’s commute home was marred by what was, in this mild winter, somewhat of a messy snowstorm.

We ended up getting around 3 inches of wet, sloppy snow, and this was on top of ground that was either already wet or, in some cases, icy.

So my – albeit, modest – commute was slowed and it forced me to pay more attention to the vehicles around me than normal.

As I was checking out what might be hurtling my way, I was struck by the conformity of vehicles: For the most part, there were only two vehicle types around here – SUVs and four-door sedans (for the latter, think Honda Accord, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Camry…).

And I pass a couple of schools on the way to/from work. Whenever there is a queue of vehicles waiting out front of the school, or waiting to turn in, it’s usually mostly SUVs. Sure, there are still minivans, but very few.

It’s winter, so the sports cars may well be in the garage until the salt goes away, but virtually all the pickups you see have company logos on them. When we were in Montana a few years ago – even in a college town (Missoula) – you’d see a fair number of pickups in the mix of passing vehicles. Here they are not an oddity at all, but just not that numerous.

For what it’s worth, I reside in the near northwest burbs of Chicago, so your mileage may vary. But it was striking: Minivans have been, overall, replaced by SUVs, and two-door coupes (not sport cars) are dwindling to an almost negligible percentage of traffic. Station wagons are, of course, dead (as they have been for years), and any kind of hatchbacks are rare, though the crossovers like Subaru Forester and some Toyota and Ford model have the large back door instead of a trunk.

But – overall – it’s SUVs and four-door sedans.

Just an observation.

Our house…

Our house

Our house is a very, very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard…

Well, we signed the (bazillion) papers to refinance our house today.


  • First mortgage, in 1999, was for 30 year, high 7% interest. Yeah, paid off target in 2029.
  • Refinanced in 2004, 15 year mortgage at some 5.x% interest. OK, paid off target in 2019. Shaved a decade off the old mortgage (with lower payments)
  • Today: Five year mortgage at 2.357%; the monthly payment is ~$300 less than the current (15-year) payment. Score! Target payoff in 2018.

Refinancing – or any bank stuff – is, to the non-bank people (me), odd and frustrating,

At the end of the day, I’m totally glad we refinanced.