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Archive for January, 2011

Friday Fun! (MIT Mystery Hunt)

January 28, 2011 3 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Sorry I missed Friday Fun last week.  Since nothing that exciting happened last weekend or this week, I thought I’d tell you about the MIT Mystery Hunt I participated in the weekend before.  That was the original plan for last week’s Friday Fun anyway. ;-)

Team Unicorn friends Jeremy and Amy invited me to participate in their team in this year’s MIT Mystery Hunt.  Basically, every January a bunch of groups of nerdy people get together and solve a series of mystery puzzles in a competition to win the coin and the hunt.    That winning team then wins the privilege of designing the next year’s puzzle.  It lasts from Friday mid-day to sometime on Sunday.  I was pretty nervous going in, because I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  Also I’d heard the people who participate are brilliant, and while I consider myself to be intelligent, I never claimed to be a genius.  ;-)  Plus, the teams are fairly large (I think there are 30ish members?  Correct me if I’m wrong, Amy and Jeremy), and I only knew two team members going in….so yeah.  I was nervous.  But I was also excited!

I arrived after work on Friday and walked into a room full of tables of groups of people crowded around their laptops, as well as a few people at chalkboards and a table of food in the corner.  I delayered from coming in from outside, tossed my bag of chips onto the communal pile, and kind of hesitated for a second.  A gal I didn’t know immediately started talking to me and invited me to join the puzzle she and a couple of other gals were working on.  It turned out that the puzzle had to do with musicals, and well, none of them knew much about musicals.  You guys.  Musicals have been my forte since I was 5 years old.  So I jumped right in and started learning how the puzzling goes about.

A burrito run, some chit-chat, and some solving later, and I found myself totally engrossed in the world of puzzling.  Not only were the puzzles really challenging, but the way they’re designed you need a group of people to work on them.  A combination of everyone’s strengths.  It naturally leads to group work in a way I never experienced in the classroom.  Plus, everyone I met on the team was super-nice, friendly, and welcoming.  They were funny and fun to hang out with.  Shortly I found myself talking off-topic with one of the gals and found out we live in the same general area of Boston.  We hit it right off discussing zombies and True Blood, and I felt right at home.  I wound up showing up for each day of the puzzling, even though at first I wasn’t sure if I’d like it enough to.  I also may have ordered a team tshirt and promised to come next year as well. ;-)

It was a real blast, and I encourage any nerds to participate.  You can participate from a distance via internet connection if you want, so you don’t have to be local to play.  Thanks a bunch, Amy and Jeremy, for encouraging me to come play!  It was one of my best weekends I’ve had in Boston.

 

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant (Series, #1)

January 25, 2011 3 comments

Bloody RSS feed.Summary:
Adopted brother and sister Shaun and Georgia Mason are part of the first generation to not remember a world without zombies.  The Rising occurred when a cure for the common cold combined with a cure for cancer to create the Kellis-Amberlee virus.  Now everyone has dormant KA cells in their body that can be activated anytime they come into contact with the live virus.  But that’s not all that’s changed.  The Rising led to bloggers becoming the more trusted news source, and Shaun and Georgia are part of the newly important news group of bloggers.  Their big break comes when they’re asked to be part of the media team for one of the presidential candidates, and their new job opens a whole world of intrigue.

Review:
I wanted to love this book.  I wanted it to be a 5 star read.  The world Grant creates is incredibly interesting.  Urban and rural structures designed specifically with zombies in mind.  Taking blood tests just to enter a town or a hotel as a routine part of your day.  The KA virus being in non-zombies as well as zombies.  The whole concept of bloggers rocking the media world.  (I mean, hello, I’m a blogger.  This is a fun idea).  Even though I usually find politics dull in books, the politics in this one were actually interesting since so much of the campaigns revolve around the zombie wars.

So why didn’t I love it?  The characters.  I have serious issues with the two main characters–Shaun and Georgia.  There is a creepy, incestuous vibe rampant around the both of them throughout the book that I don’t feel Grant ever sufficiently addresses.  They are nearly completely inseparable.  Georgia is in her young 20s, Shaun is 19ish, and they still sleep in the same bed together whenever they get the chance to.  In their underwear.  Neither of them has ever dated anyone, in spite of the fact that the presence of zombies doesn’t keep anyone else their age from dating.  The scenes between Shaun and Georgia read like scenese between lovers.  He even puts his hand on the small of her back at one point, something that I’ve only ever had men I’m dating seriously do to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can handle incest in a book, but a) Grant skims over it and doesn’t address it and b) it doesn’t seem to serve the storyline here at all.  It’s decidedly odd that in a zombie novel, the part that creeped me out had nothing to do with the zombies.  See what I’m saying?

Overall, the world-building is excellent, but the characterization takes away from it.  If you like reading books purely for the aura of zombie, you’ll enjoy it.  Those more interested in the characters should check out The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Summary:
The Duchess of Malfi has been widowed young.  She wants to remarry, but her brothers wish for her to remain single.  She enters into a secret marriage and is blisfully happy…..until her brothers find out.

Review:
This classic play, first performed in 1614, is everything you’d expect from the early tragedies.  There’s greed, vengeance, mysterious children, weeping women, and more.  This one is slightly different in that it is drenched in Catholicism and contains a truly evil brother.  I wish I could say this play made me think the way A Doll’s House did, but honestly the only thing I thought was “Man, it sucks to be her.”  It is quite possible that this is one of those plays that comes across better when you see it performed than when you read it.  I found it neither enjoyable nor unenjoyable, and I think that may simply be because at this point in time the tragedy plot seems overdone and completely not shocking.

However, if you find the plot appealing and enjoy a good, old-fashioned tragedy, then you should give this play a shot.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for iTouch, iPhone, and iPad

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On 20-somethings and Cooking

January 20, 2011 20 comments

I saw something when I was out grocery shopping this weekend that I can’t stop thinking about.  There were three young 20-somethings in front of me in the self-check-out.  They  had a very full cart.  I’m assuming they were roommates shopping for the household.  In any case, I had a bit of a wait, so I started to look at what they’d bought.  I’m always intrigued to see what groceries other people buy.  Anyway.  Their food consisted entirely of prepackaged meals, almost all of them Hungry Man frozen dinners.   We’re talking enough frozen dinners to feed all three of them for around a month.  It took all of my self-control to not let my jaw drop open.  There was not a single piece of fruit, vegetable, or even, heck, a box of pasta in the mix!  Not even some canned applesauce!  Every single item was a frozen dinner.

This rather dramatically demonstrates a trend I’m seeing among my generation that frankly worries me.  I’m not one to rant in a pretentious way about what you should eat, but what the hell happened to the art of cooking?!  Why are people reaching their young 20s with absolutely zero knowledge about how to make dinner from scratch?  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are my age who know next to nothing about cooking.  One of my meals that never fails to impress these friends who can’t cook I call Poor Man’s Pasta.  I take some fresh veggies, chop them up, stir fry them for a bit with herbs, water down some marinara sauce, add it to the pan, and cook it until it simmers down.  I toss pasta in with this, and we have a meal stuffed with fresh veggies and herbs and far more health than a frozen meal that god only knows where the food came from, how long its been frozen, or how much sodium is in it.  It’s basically frankenfood, and it disturbs me that people my age don’t know how to make anything better.

Cooking is one of those things we need to know how to do as human beings.  We should know how to make ourselves food! This seems obvious, but it apparently is not.  Why are parents letting their kids grow up without knowing how to cook?  Isn’t this a basic human need that should not be ignored?  It reminds me of the kids in my undergrad who arrived at college with no clue as to how to do their own laundry.

So, I call out to my fellow 20-somethings.  If you don’t know how to cook, please learn.  It is cheaper.  It isn’t that time-consuming to make a freshly-made meal.  Ask a friend who knows how to cook.  Take a lesson at a local adult learning facility.  This is a basic skill you should at the very least know how to do.  Even if you only cook your dinner yourself once or twice a week, it’ll still be better for your health.  Not to mention, then you can pass the ability of cooking on to your kids, if you decide to have them.  Don’t let the future be a world where only professional chefs know how to cook a meal.

Recap: Jersey Shore Season 3 Episode 2

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

This was a relatively dull episode featuring far too much Ronnie/Sammi drama, but the previews promise us that the next episode will include the infamous ARREST OF SNOOKI.  So we have that to look forward to.

The fight that started at the end of last week’s episode between Sammi and JWWOW quickly fizzles when a couple of big, black MTV bodyguards split the girls up.  This is intriguing because in previous seasons it was always the other roommates who split fights up, but this time they seemed content to watch JWWOW smash Sammi.  A dramatic camera close-up shows us that *someone* lost a fistful of hair, but it was unclear who.  I’m hoping Sammi.

Later, while Sammi pouts and Ronnie sits there trying to be a good boyfriend but clearly bored to tears, the roommates prep to go out.  Snooki and Deena remind us yet again that they are like totally “two peas in a pod.”  The men of the house then start a debate over whether Deena’s boobs are real or fake.  She informs them that they’re real, and then one of the guys asks, “What’s in boobs anyway?”  Deena says, “I dunno.  Fat?”  Dude says, “What about milk?”  Deena replies that she thinks that’s only there when you’re pregnant.  I have never face-palmed so much over a conversation in my entire life.

The roommates (minus Ronnie and Sammi) go out.  Vinny is convinced he has a stalker at the club.  If he in fact does, we all know it’s because of the show and not him.  He’s the most forgettable of the bunch.  Snooki gets trashed and randomly hides in a bush then informs the camera, “I will pee in a bush; I will poop in a bush; I will hide in a bush.”  ……Good to know?…….JWWOW brings her home and calls her boyfriend who’s randomly being pissy at her, which seems odd until he hangs up the phone with “and happy anniversary to you too.”  Oh snap.  JWWOW forgot their anniversary.  Um, dude, just a friendly suggestion here but maybe you should dump the girl who’s happier to be at the Shore than with you and forgets your anniversary?  Just a suggestion.

The most bizarre out of left field part of this episode occurs the next morning when Ronnie and Sammi get up and GO TO CHURCH.  If I wasn’t agnostic, I’d have fully expected them to get struck by lightning the instant they set foot in there.  Alas, we did not get to see them actually in the church, so I remain skeptical about that.  Maybe they just *said* they were going to church but really went and fucked on a beach somewhere?  I am baffled.

The rest of the crew rolls out of bed sometime in the early afternoon and are all pissed that Ronnie and Sammi took the car without like saying anything to anyone or leaving a note or anything.  They then all do GTL.  We get to see JWWOW do some punching, but it is far less cathartic than if Sammi had been on the receiving end of it.  The crew then cooks family Sunday dinner and are very peeved that Ronnie and Sammi aren’t there for it.  When Ronnie and Sammi get back, Ronnie looks like a beat up puppydog, and Sammi is just generally a bitch to everyone.  Naturally.  Deena sums it up best (shockingly), “I have no idea why Sammi’s here. She’s boring. She’s just there. She’s like furniture.”  Yes.  Bitchy, annoying furniture.

The next day Deena, Situation, and I believe Vinny “work” at the tshirt shop from last summer.  That owner has the patience of a saint.  Later, Snooki and Deena play kickball on the roof of the house, which is not in itself interesting, but when they loose the ball, Vinny comes to help.  He and Snooki make multiple blatant insinuations that when they hooked up, Vinny’s penis was too big for Snooki’s vagina.  I can’t decide if this means that Vinny has a huge-ass penis, or Snooki has a freakishly small vagina to go along with how short she is.  In any case, this has led to me imagining the two of them naked together, and I did *not* need that image in my head!

Later everyone, including Ronnie and Sammi, go out to the boardwalk.  For those who don’t know, the boardwalk on the Shore is basically a carnival.  It looks entirely awesome, and I don’t know how I missed going to it when I was on the Shore that one summer.  Ronnie actually starts running around having fun with everyone while Sammi stands in the middle of the street being pissed off and generally a wet blanket on the whole evening.  When they get home, Sammi tearfully tells Ronnie how much he hurt her when he cheated on her in Miami.  He tells her that he knows what he did was wrong, but “at least I came home to you every night.”  Sammi looks like she just got slapped in the face, and I suddenly feel sympathy for her.  She should have listened to her girlfriends instead of ostracizing them over the skeezebucket of a “man” that is Ronnie, but sometimes people in love do stupid things.

 

Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 2 comments

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three act play is regarded as possibly the first ever feminist play, so I knew I had to read it.  I was naturally curious as to what feminist issues the play would address.  Although it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is addressing, the content and the title point toward women being treated as playthings, as men’s own versions of dolls to make do whatever they wish in their perfectly-imagined household.

The three acts are all written so that they may remain in one room.  This is convenient for the actors, of course, but I also personally enjoy seeing a story unfold all in one room.  It takes skill to make that happen, and it makes the whole story feel more personal and urgent.

At first I was annoyed by how Nora allows Torvald to speak to her, addressing her as his “little squirrel” and “songbird,” as well as making it evident he doesn’t think she has a capable brain in her skull.  He is painfully selfish, apparently viewing her entire existence as only for him.  Of course, this is all part of the set-up for the ending, and makes the ending surprisingly enjoyable.

It is a short read, but the play itself takes about three hours to perform, making it an excellent length.  The dialogue and mystery of the debt are intriguing enough to hold one’s attention, as well as not suffering too much from older English dialects.  This may partly be because it is translated from Norwegian of course, but still.

There is one element of the ending that I find confusing, and I’m not entirely certain if I’m supposed to be confused or not.  This combined with some of the more annoying aspects of the first act prevent me from loving the play, but it is still highly likeable.

I recommend this 1879 three-act play to those interested in older versions of the theater, as well as those interested in feminism.  It is not only entertaining, but leads one to consider both gender and marriage roles.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

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Book Review: Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

January 17, 2011 3 comments

Brunette woman looking in a mirror.Summary:
This retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, is set in a medieval Ireland facing the constant threat of Norman invasion.  Caitrin, an Irish lass trained in the trade of a scribe by her now deceased father, runs away from an abusive situation and stumbles upon the mysterious Whistling Tor.  The crippled lord of the area lives in Whistling Tor and seeks a scribe.  The local villagers warn Caitrin against taking the summer job due to a fear of the host living on the hill, but Caitrin sees no other choice.

Review:
Fantasy is one of those genres that I have never been able to get into, but I do love fairy tales, so I thought maybe a retelling of a classic would work for me.  When will I ever learn that I just don’t like fantasy?

Marillier does all the elements of a fantasy book well.  She sets up the mysterious, old land of Ireland with just enough description to place the reader there but not so much as to slow down the action.  Gothic mystery seeps through every page.  The idea of the non-human servants and household members of the castle are creatively handled, as is the lord’s beast-like qualities.  The members of the host who could so easily have flowed together are artfully individualized.

Additionally, the romance between Caitrin and the lord of the castle is one I actually approve of for once in a YA book.  They both are flawed and have issues to work on, but love each other and have good hearts.  Thank you.  That’s what a relationship is supposed to look like.  I would be entirely comfortable seeing a teenage girl reading this.  It’s a healthy, realistic relationship.

Still, though, I had to force myself to slog through the book.  I was bored a lot of the time.  I don’t like long descriptive passages of a forest.  I don’t like reading about dull politics of various areas of Ireland.  I’m not interested in explanations of the other-worldly figures.  The most interesting part to me was the mirrors all over the household, and they were not addressed fully to my liking.  In spite of being able to recognize this as a well-told story, it failed to draw me in.  I don’t particularly know why.  My best guess is that it is fantasy, and fantasy has always bored me.  I was hoping venturing away from the more typical knights in shining armor and dragons style fantasy would solve the problem, but I was wrong.

Thus, this YA fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast is creative and well-done.  I recommend it to those who know they enjoy a good fantasy story, but those who do not should probably skip it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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