December 25, 2013

December 18, 2013

December 18, 2013

Investigate THIS, NCIS

I don’t mention it a lot, but NCIS is one of the shows in my regular rotation. I enjoy it for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I’m secretly 65 years old. It’s generally light in tone (I had to stop watching CSI after the hundredth incestual blood splatter), it’s got great characters, and it’s set right here in my backyard.

As a bonus, the show is generally phenomenal at paying attention to detail. When they mention a place, it’s a real place. When they show a CAC (Common Access Card—the ID used to enter DOD facilities), it looks like a real CAC. Their technical advisor is on the ball, and I salute him or her along with the people who research and create props and graphics and things. I totally believe all of this is real.

Well, okay, except for this one little nitpicky thing I noticed in the most recent episode. Note the comparison of a dude’s Virginia driver’s license and his CAC:


While the format of each card, from the colors to the fonts, is perfect, take a look at the pictures. Even pretending for a moment that each card would use the same color blue background, and that he would have the exact same facial expression and appearance, WHO WEARS A SHIRT AND TIE TO THE DMV?

I’m working through this by telling myself the guy used the Pentagon branch of the DMV* to renew his license, so he was in work attire for the photo. They just didn’t have time to mention that in the episode.

Whew. Close one.

(P.S. What are we thinking of Ellie Bishop so far? I like her, but she's no Kate.)

* I’m told it’s real so let’s assume it’s real, okay?

December 12, 2013

December 12, 2013

New York New York

New York magazine recently announced it was switching to a bi-weekly publication schedule. Thus I will receive an issue every two weeks rather than every week. To clarify, this is a completely different magazine from the New Yorker, to which I do not subscribe. Probably because they never offer free subscriptions.

That’s how I got into NY mag in the first place, you see: they offered a free subscription deal online. I’m a big fan of the city, a big fan of magazines, and a huge fan of free things, so I signed up. I expected a monthly magazine with some interesting pictures and stories. What I got was a weekly dose of all things New York, along with fascinating stories about history, art, culture, business, politics, and other topics of national interest. In short, it’s a great periodical, regardless of your interest in the city itself.

One of the things I love about DC is its importance. That sounds terribly smug and self-aggrandizing, but the fact remains that DC’s news is the national news. Watch any network evening news program and you’ll see correspondents at the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, and other buildings near which I have spilled yogurt on myself. They call this “living the dream,” folks.

New York has a similar national influence. I’m pretty sure Mayor Bloomberg is North America’s second most recognized mayor right now after Rob Ford. Not to slight the heads of, y’know, St. Louis and Boise and stuff, but if one of them banned Big Gulps you probably wouldn’t hear much about it.

Anyway, because I go to NYC on a regular basis, I find the mag’s tips on new sights and upcoming events particularly helpful, and occasionally the reason for an impromptu trip there. (+1 for being childless!) Like this week, when I read about Myers of Keswick, a British grocery store near Chelsea. I no longer have to fly to the UK to get shrimp-flavored potato chips. Rule Britannia.

Look, I get a crapload of magazines, many of which I flip through in five minutes or less (sorry, Bazaar). But some magazines I savor, and NY mag is in that list. I’m sorry to see it cut back to bi-weekly, but at least it’s staying in print. (I find reading digital magazines excruciating.)

December 10, 2013

December 6, 2013

December 6, 2013

FY 2013 Books of the Year

Now that you’ve had some time to digest the also-rans, and now that I’ve had time to present them to friend-of-blog P for her birthday, allow me a moment to discuss three of the best books I read this year. It’s holiday shopping season, after all, and few things* make better gifts than books. Keep in mind that my reading tastes may not match yours, though keep in mind I have excellent taste in books.

NON-FICTION

Dad Is Fat
A collection of comedic essays on parenting by Jim Gaffigan. Before reading this book, I knew Gaffigan only as the guy who played a version of young David Letterman (Indiana weatherman-cum-funny-guy) on a short-lived sitcom a few years ago. I’d never seen the Hot Pockets bit or any other of his routines. And I obviously wasn’t looking for something to increase my appreciation of parenting, because the No Babies Here policy remains in full effect.

Which is why I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this book. I laughed. A lot. Because Gaffigan is the rare** parent who realizes that parenting is terrible. It’s loud, messy, and exhausting all at once. It’s expensive and logistically difficult, especially when you live in a large city. In short, this is a book written by a parent BUT with sympathy towards non-parents.

The best book I read this year in the biographical, comedic, and essay collection genres.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
My 2013 was full of trivia. Even more so than usual. I participated in the World Quizzing Championships. I won scads of money on a TV quiz show. I tested for Mensa.*** I found myself needing to know a lot of things about a lot of things, and my modus operandi in these situations has always been to read voraciously. Among the books about history, biology, and geography, I consumed this gem about the elements.

It’s probably been a while since you considered the periodic table, if ever you did. (I myself was always more of a biology person, because classification soothes my inner obsessive compulsive.) But it turns out that that grid contains some fascinating characters. Learn how they got their names, how they were discovered, and some of the freaky things they can do.

The best nonfiction book I read this year, and the better of the two I read specifically on the periodic table.


FICTION

 
Calling Me Home
One of the authors I greatly admire posted her summer reading list online, and I tried to read every book on it. Alas, they tended mostly towards vaguely-romantic fiction. Couples separated for various reasons, kids estranged from parents, and the like. If I’m going to read about kids, I want them thrown into an arena fighting to the death.

But calling me home, about an interracial relationship in a pre-Civil Rights Era America, managed to rise above the fray. It’s a little like The Help.**** There’s a big twist about ¾ of the way through, and it made me sob like a ridiculous person. The novel simultaneously tells stories set in the past and in the present, and they show both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But all that Big Idea stuff aside, it’s just a good story.

The best fiction book I read this year (that I also feel good about recommending to people).

So that’s me. What did you read and like this year? My roster for 2014 needs filling.

* Cash, property, vacations, and vital organs excepted.
** As far as I can tell, anyway. If I never again hear from a parent about how wonderful their kid is, it will be too soon. Unless I’m related to it, I don’t want to know. Sometimes not even then.
*** Results not in as of press time.
**** This year’s Gone Girl was Before I Go to Sleep, which I read with a growing sense of dread. I didn’t want to stop reading, but I also didn’t want to keep reading. Open at your own risk.

December 2, 2013

December 2, 2013

What Happened in Vegas, Part 4

I’m going to combine the last two days of my Vegas trip into one entry because I didn’t do all that much on the very last day of the trip and also it’s taken me two freaking months to write these four measly recaps. Honestly, I’d consider a recall-the-blogger petition if I were you.

My first stop was the Hoover Dam. (Pretend I made a series of clever puns on the word “dam” here.) Though the Dam is in fact run by the federal government, and though the government was still sequestrated down at the time, the Dam was open because it’s funded by revenue collected through fees. For my friends in the federal budgeting world, it was a revolving fund situation. For my friends not in the federal budgeting world, it means I got to go on, in, and around the Dam.




Oh, and the nearby Callahan Bridge, which was built so regular people could avoid the tourist traffic chaos of the Dam.

IMO, just as spectacular as the Dam.

I love the Art Deco era, and the stylings of such novels as The Great Gatsby and The Fountainhead (if not the novels themselves), so I totally dug the feel of the Dam. Say what you will about the 1930s; those people built things to LAST.

Things like this cue up Rhapsody in Blue in my head. MURICUH.

On the way back to Vegas, our tour bus driver stopped near Lake Mead (actually for serious closed due to the slimdown) so we could get some pictures from afar.

Shouldn't it be tarped or something?

Once I got back to the Strip, I was drawn like a moth to a flame to the World of Coke store. Specifically, their tasting tray: 16 samples of Coke products sold around the world.

Definitely let the colors freak you out. They're a hint of the danger ahead.

I consider myself a champion Coke drinker, averaging at my peak four cans a day. But even split between me and TheBoy, this tray did us in. Also doing us in: flavors like cucumber, pine nut, and Beverly. Beverly is served in Italy and we thought it tasted like death. Fun!

I knew I had to see the Strip at night, because it was my best chance of finding Ocean’s Eleven it’s entirely different then than during the day. The Bellagio fountain looks different:


You’ve got the Mirage volcano:


And don’t forget the freakishly-bright column of light emanating from the Luxor:


It’s like Christmas decorations. Some look best during the day, some during the night. And rarely do those two groups overlap.

So will I ever go back? I think I probably will, once enough years have passed. Maybe for my 40th birthday. I need to see whether David Copperfield has aged at all, and if perhaps Beverly tastes better when you’re old(er).