Category Archives: Culture

Book Review – Hellstar

Hellstar by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry

Cover picture from HellstarEarth’s first colony ship to the stars is going fine, several decades into its trip to a distant habitable planet. The 8000 inhabitants are healthy and happy in their metal torus. But slowly things start going wrong – mechanical failures and strange physical phenomena manifest themselves with increasing frequency, and soon the population starts showing the strain. A serial killer and a dangerous recreational drug don’t help things either.

Hellstar, despite the terrible title, is actually not a bad hard scifi (with a few mystical overtones) thriller. By no stretch of the imagination is it a good book, but it is well-paced and its only real major crime was being written in 1986. It’s time to bring out The Eighties Scifi Paperback Checklist:
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The Freedom Trail, Various Wildlife Refuges, and Three Pieces of Performance Art

This entry is just a collection of random stuff I have experienced recently. In no particular order:

The Freedom Trail

Bunker Hill MonumentThe Freedom Trail is a self-guided walk that winds through central Boston, passing various sites of historical interest on the way. Boston is very proud of its history, being the site of the American Revolution (boo hiss) and the abolitionist movement (better late than never) and its role in the American civil war (hooray).

About 40% of the sites on the trail are connected to Paul Revere, I was pretty sick of hearing about him by the end.

At the end of The Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Monument. Technically (and confusingly) not on Bunker Hill, the monument commemorates The Battle of Bunker Hill (which was also not actually on Bunker Hill). In any case, you can climb to the top of the monument (294 steps!) for a cramped, hot, and majestic view of the city. This picture is looking vaguely west along the Charles River in the background.
Boston from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument

4th of July

The fourth of July is one of the important holidays, and one Boston celebrates with gusto. The public celebration was brought forward one day because of the bad weather forecast for the 4th, so I went down to the Charles River Esplanade to see how things were done. It was basically like Symphony Under the Stars in Auckland but with more security (and armed police wandering around). We were treated to various patriotic songs by the Boston Pops Orchestra and some hits from a Beach Boy. The crowd had a very lucky escape when Joey McIntyre couldn’t make the rescheduled event.

I learnt that nobody really knows the words to the America national anthem, and fewer people actually have the range to sing it. I also learnt that Americans get annoyed if you sing the correct lyrics My Country, Tis of Thee, which more properly begin “God save our gracious Queen.”

The concert was cut short due to the encroaching rain, and we were treated to the best fireworks display I have seen. It must have been visible from most of the city. The best part were the shells that exploded into reasonable attempts at a giant smily faces.

5 minutes after the fireworks ended, the thunder storm took over the skies. Boston gets proper summer storms, the lightning lasted for over an hour and for a while you could almost read by it, so frequent were the flashes.

Sharknado

I don’t really have much to say about this. Sharknado is a (terrible) made-for-TV film that became a minor hit a while ago. This was a special presentation by the guys behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000 which consisted of them playing the film in its entirety, but making jokes over the top. Despite being fairly inept, Sharknado is quite entertaining, and with added jokes makes for a good evening’s entertainment.

My only other observation is that in America, a small coke at the theatre is approximately 1 litres worth.

The Phantom of the Opera

The tragic story of a hideous man who sits backstage playing the keyboard all-the-while lusting over a beautiful actress he will never have. Wherever does Andrew Lloyd Webber get his ideas from? </old joke>

This was a lavish production, with pyrotechnics and all sorts of stage trickery. It turns out I had completely misinterpreted the story, so the ending was a complete surprise to me. The Boston Opera house is pretty amazing just by itself. It is a little like the Civic is Auckland but about twice the size. This photo doesn’t really do it justice.
Boston Opera House (from the cheap seats)

Ipswich River and Great Meadows Lake Wildlife Sanctuaries

Finally some photos from two wildlife sanctuaries I have visited in the last few weeks.

Beaver Dam at Ipswich Wildlife RefugeThis is a beaver dam (the pile of sticks, not the bridge – beavers are neat but not that good at building). I have seen several of these constructions in various parks, but no beavers as yet.

Lillypads at Ipswich River ReserveThis pond was absolutely filled with turtles of various sizes. American ponds seem a lot more alive than back in New Zealand, with frogs, insects and small mammals all vying for space. The lilypads are nice as well.

Triple Feature – All Three Transformers Films

Red Letter Media is a company that produces humorous film reviews. I have linked to these guys before, when they released the amazing takedown of The Phantom Menace.

Here is something different. A little film called Transformers 4 : Age of Extinction is coming out soon, and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to watch the first three films? Simultaneously.

Personally, I have only seen the first Transformers. It was terrible.

Epic Rap Battles of History

My current obsession is the Epic Rap Battles of History youtube channel. What could have been a stupid idea is redeemed by clever editing, well produced music, and just a whiff of actual research. They also somehow managed to get some pretty big guest names to play some of the characters.

They also show clear signs of improving with each season. Season 3 is currently being released, but they already have a large back-catelogue of good material.

Here is my favorite so far:

Some others I like:
Hulk Hogan vs Kim Jong-il
Bruce Lee vs Clint Eastwood
Gandhi vs Martin Luther King Jr.
Mozart vs Skrillex
And finally, Rasputin vs Stalin, quite possibly the best summary of Russian history since Boney M.

A Tube of Bread and Andy Capp

I thought that, having grown up on American TV and films, I knew almost everything about the US. But I am constantly finding new things that surprise me – like the way the even new houses have rooms without built in lighting, or the widespread belief that turkey is worth eating.

And then there are the strange products that lurk in the supermarkets.
Trade Joes Crescent Rolls in a TubeYes, this is bread in a tube. I originally thought it was a can – the ends are metallic but the main body is formed from layers of cardboard. Nevertheless, it is well sealed and the dough is under pressure and pops out alarmingly when you open the container. There is no kneading, the bread is pre-cut into little triangles that you just roll up and bake.
Bread in a Tube Results
And the result? Not bad. The rolls don’t rise much, but you get 12 per tube. It is not the tastiest bread and far to sweet for my liking, yet edible enough. Bread in general seems to be a lost art in the U.S. so I would probably buy these again.

Andy Capp Cheddar Fries
Not so much these Andy Capp “cheddar” “fries” – product link in case you think I am making this up. For some reason fake nasty American cheese powder tastes much worse than the proper fake nasty cheese powder we get back in NZ. But what really caught my eye was the endorsement from Andy Capp.

The last time I thought about Andy Capp was when he was a punchline in an episode of the Simpsons that was made over 20(!) years ago (Marge vs. the Monorail) but apparently he still carries enough cultural weight in the ‘States to headline his own line of chips, with a “flavor punch in every crunch”.

On the other hand, I did buy this packet from a vending machine in a bowling alley, so it might be a localized phenomenon.