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Archive for February, 2012

Book Review: Locke and Key series

If I tell you Locke and Key is a graphic novel some of you are going to judge.  If I tell you it’s about a family named Locke who live in a spooky mansion called Key House, even more of you are going to judge.  Finally, if I tell you Key House is located in Lovecraft, Maine, then that’s going to be the final nail in the coffin and a lot of you will decide you don’t want to read it.  That would be sad though.  Because Locke and Key (written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez) is a truly great read if you enjoy the supernatural genre.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front, it’s a bit gruesome.  The art doesn’t show the really violent parts, but seeing the after effects in color on the page is a lot more cringe inducing than reading a detailed description painted solely with words.  The opening pages involve some disturbed teenage boys, murder, and a serious beatdown administered with a brick.

Now that I’ve sold you on the gruesomeness, lets pull back from the brink a little and discuss plot and characters.  The Locke family are at their summer home and the adults are having some grown-up time while the kids are off exploring the countryside.  A couple of troubled former students of Mr. Locke show up and talk their way inside.  Turns out that the boys are up to no good and when the smoke clears, dad is dead, mom is seriously hurt, and the bad guys are vanquished thanks to the teen-age son, Tyler, and the aforementioned brick.  All this action occurs to set the scene for the long term.  Mrs. Locke, Tyler, and his two younger siblings have to move to their dad’s childhood home, a spooky looking estate called Key House in a little town called Lovecraft, Maine.

I’ll be honest, by this point in my reading I was starting to have second thoughts about continuing.  A family named Locke that lives in the Key House?  Lovecraft, Maine?  Not exactly subtle writing, even for a comic book.  Fortunately I decided to stick around and at least finish out the first graphic novel.  Once the background was in place, things got a lot more mysterious.  There’s still plenty of action, but it doesn’t reach the depths of the first attack on the Locke family.  Most importantly, the Locke kids, and their mother, have what seems to be a fairly realistic reaction to the horrible ordeal they have been through.  Mom becomes an alcoholic, teenage Tyler is angry at everything and everyone, tween daughter Kinsey cries at the drop of a hat, and the youngest sibling, Bode, becomes a loner dedicated to exploring the Key House and saying things to creep out the kids at school.

The kids quickly start to realize there is some supernatural entity attached to the house and the Locke family.  They start uncovering clues to their dad’s involvement with this entity in the form along with some strange looking antique keys.  After a certain point the supernatural entity itself becomes a point of view character and we learn it’s looking for an Omega Key that the kids’ dad hid away at some point in the past.

The story is being published as an ongoing monthly comic book, but I caught up by way of the four graphic novel collections.  There’s an overarching plot with ongoing mysteries, but each collection has some varying amount of closure.  I’m pretty invested in the ongoing story at this point, but the mysterious keys are what really makes me think about a monthly stop at the comic shop.  Each separate story arc introduces new keys that have some unusual power and were apparently manufactured by a Locke ancester.  At one point the kids come across a key that enables the user to open up the top of his skull.  Fortunately, cranial contents are shown symbolically rather than as basic grey matter.  I’m not going to go into detail, but suffice to say their were lots of fun visuals to look at in the kids heads.  Kinsey even decides to remove her ability to cry (depicted as a tiny weepy version of herself) and her ability to feel fear (depicted as a tiny little dark lady).  I’ve found it worth coming back to just to see what new keys they come up with.  (There’s one to change the users race, and another for gender.)

The art style is a bit cartoonish.  I found this off putting at first, but it quickly grew on me.  I’ve never been a fan of the minimalist black and white style of The Walking Dead, and the technicolor scenery combined with the dark plot make for an easier read and lulled me just enough to provide an extra jolt of adrenaline every time some new dark event happened.

If you’re interested in the horror genre, then I definitely recommend Locke and Key.  It’s tightly plotted with realistic (for a comic book) characters and has visually appealing art with a great attention to detail.  You can get the first four collected volumes at stores (or the library).  If you’re really impatient you can also catch up to the ongoing story in the monthly comic book published by IDW.  If you’re a book snob who can’t bring yourself to read comics…. why you gotta be that way?  (And if it helps, writer Joe Hill is the son of genre defining author Stephen King.)

Bonus feature:  The story was optioned by the Fox Network and a pilot was made for an ongoing TV series.  Sadly Fox didn’t pick up the pilot.  There were rumors that MTV might produce the show, but so far it has only been shown to fans at Comicon last year, but you can see the trailer.

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Gone Viral

Things on the blog have been slow because the kids AND the computer have gone viral.  Sadly, neither of those are as similarly labeled kitty videos.

The computer is finally fully functional again and the kids are back to their previous level of snot so hopefully I can get back to posting.

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Water towers and civic pride

After writing all the technical stuff about water towers I thought I’d do a post showing the creative side. After all, if you’re going to have that big billboard high in the air for everyone to see you might as well make it look good.

Before you look at the pictures, I highly recommend this article from the Onion about the water tower’s role in chronicling history.

Fish bowl tower in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Beach ball water tower in Lewisburg, Ohio.

Howdy y’all. In Florence, Kentucky. Even comes with a funny little story.

For a more creative flair… the world’s largest ketchup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois. It has its own fan club and annual festival too.

The Peachoid. A giant peach shaped tower in Gaffney, South Carolina. Has its own Wikipedia entry.

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Art from Tor.com.

Vilcabamba is another free story by Harry Turtledove that I ran across over at Tor.com. The story is told through the point of view of Harris Moffatt III, president of the United States and Prime Minister of Canada just like his daddy and granddaddy before him. Turns out, during Harris Moffat the first’s tenure as president the Earth was invaded by aliens and Harris is in charge of the only part of North America the aliens didn’t find useful. And even that is about to change now that the aliens found a silver deposit in Utah.

Spoilers ahead, go read the story first if you don’t want to hear the rest.

The whole story is a brazen reference to the European colonization of North America with the entire human race in the role of Native Americans. Humans met the aliens peacefully when they landed, but the Krolp came out shooting. The Krolp take most of the land but leave the natives the land that’s least useful and hardest to live on, and then decide they want that too when precious metals are discovered there. The aliens are centauroid with four legs and an upright torso just like the Europeans appeared to the Native Americans when they were riding horses. Even the title is a reference to the subjugation of Native Americans. Vilcambaba was the last hold-out of the Incan empire and was abandoned in 1572 when the Spaniards sacked the city and relocated all the inhabitants to a new city. Just about the only thing that happens differently is that humans didn’t have to help the invaders survive for the first few years.

The story ends with the Krolp conquering the rest of the US and leaving no free humans except those hiding out in remote places. It was a fine story, but aimless and not especially entertaining. It was a lot like reading about a rock slowly rolling down a hill toward a defenseless baby. You know what’s going to happen and there was really no point.

I would have much preferred a slightly different story. Turtledove briefly mentions humans who attend the Krolp school and how they are being assimilated. To me the aftermath of the Krolp’s final conquest would have been a much more interesting story. I would have enjoyed reading about how human culture was slowly assimilated into Krolp culture. Perhaps a story two hundred years in the future when a few humans are running casino for the Krolp.

Like the last Turtledove story I reviewed, this one is much more interesting for the questions it raises about the future rather than the story itself. It’s not a great story, but short enough to still be worth a read just because it makes you think You can get it free at Tor.com or buy it for the ereader of your choice.

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We might as well go ahead and get one thing out of the way.  It’s still The Phantom Menace.  If back in 1999 you thought it was a turd that ruined your childhood, now it’s a gold plated turd with smell-o-vision and 3D stink lines.  I freely admit, The Phantom Menace is probably the worst of the Star Wars franchise, but it’s still enjoyable.  I’m not going to try and analyze a movie that’s been analyzed to death for the last 12 years, but I am going to share a few quick thoughts.  If you just want to know if it’s worth shelling out to see a movie in 3D even though you’ve seen it before, skip to the end.

I don’t remember what I thought when it was originally released in 1999, but these days it strikes me as a childish movie.  Jar-jar’s antics had the kids in the theater rolling in the aisles.  The humor was so over blown and obvious it almost seems like a movie written for kids.  I think it’s safe to say that wasn’t intentional given the franchise as a whole.  Star Wars isn’t exactly intellectual, but it was never aimed strictly at kids.  More likely it’s an example of Lucas wanting to make sure everyone knew he was trying to be funny.  Mostly, the comic relief overshadows everything else that goes on.

I do vaguely remember little Jake Lloyd getting savage reviews for his portrayal of nine year old Darth Vader.  I  wouldn’t call it a great performance, but I mostly wrote that off to an inexperienced child actor and an inexperienced director.  (I’m not sure Lucas qualifies as an inexperienced director, but he certainly seems to make the mistakes you would expect from one.)  Lloyd’s line readings are more like line readings than dialogue, but he comes off with a fair amount of charm that was severely lacking when Hayden Christianson took over the part.  (On my charitable days I’m willing to assume that’s the way Christianson chose to play the role of the galaxy’s second greatest villain.)  Lloyd does hint at a dark side that we all know will win out in the end.

I was interested in seeing the 3D, but my main reason for going was just to get the theater experience again.  It’s fortunate that was my mindset because the 3D was almost non-existent.  I may have been spoiled by all the movies coming out lately that were specifically made for 3D, but I got very little out of the 3D conversion here.  It did add a little excitement to the action scenes like the pod race and the three way light saber melee at the end, but mostly it just seemed to add a little depth to the scenes when the actors were standing around talking.  I didn’t see much point to the conversion.  On the plus side, it didn’t have the ghost images that some recent 3D conversions have been getting complaints about.

I don’t feel like I can provide a good see/don’t see recommendation on this one.  If you hated the original release, or if you’ve seen it countless times on the small screen, I’m going to advise you to stay home.  If you’re a fan of the movie, or a franchise fan who hasn’t seen this installment in a long time, then you’ll probably have an enjoyable two hours.  If you do go, try to be impartial because it really is a better movie now that it has 13 years and two sequels under its belt.    My enthusiasm for seeing the original trilogy in 3D is a bit dimmer than it was a week ago, but I still look forward to seeing the Death Star trench run and the battle with the walkers on Hoth when those conversions come along over the next few years.

My biggest regret is that my kids aren’t yet old enough to tag along.  Phantom Menace is the most kid friendly of the series, but I can’t quite bring myself to take a couple of four year olds in.  On the plus side, by the time the3D versions of the original trilogy come out they’ll be slightly older than I was for the originals, so they’ll be able to experience them the same way I did without the prequels muddying the water.  Being able to experience it with my kids is the real plus of the rerelease.

Did you notice how I very carefully didn’t mention how Darth Maul, a potentially great villain, is killed off after only a few minutes of screen time? An enormous waste….

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Horseshoe Falls as seen from Niagra Falls, Ontario

When I say flow, what I really mean is ‘volumetric flow rate’.  In layman’s terms, flow is the volume of water that passes a certain point in a set period of time and it’s generally expressed as either gallons per minute (gpm) or cubic feet per second (cfs).  The equation for flow is:

Q = V * A

Where Q is flow, V is velocity of the flow, and A is the area of the flow.

For instance, say you have a square ditch running by your house.  You know it is three feet wide and five feet deep, but the water in it is currently three feet deep.  That makes your area 3 ft * 3ft = 9 square feet.  You measure the velocity of the water and determine it’s moving about 2 ft per second.  That means the flow rate in that ditch is: Q = 2 * 9 = 18 cubic feet per second.

The numbers themselves aren’t that important.  The most important thing to take away from this discussion is how the variables affect each other.  If Q goes up, V or A must go up.  If A goes down then V goes up, and so on.

Let’s continue our example above.  The neighbor wants to slope his yard so it also drains into our ditch.  His yard is about the same size as ours, so we’ll assume he’s going to have about the same amount of water.  Suddenly the Q in our ditch doubles from 18 to 36.  Do we let him do it?

If our Q is going up, then V and/or A are also going to have to go up.  Velocity depends on what the ditch is made out of and how steep it is, and the neighbor isn’t going to change those so we’ll assume our velocity stays the same as before, but the ditch is 5 ft high and our water is only 3 ft deep so area can increase when the flow does.  But is it enough?  To figure that out we’ll calculate the maximum flow the ditch can hold.  We do that by using the entire ditch height rather than just the 3 ft of depth.

A= width * height = 3 ft * 5 ft = 15

Q = 15 ft * 2 ft/sec = 30

So our ditch will hold 30 cubic feet per second without overflowing.  We calculated the flow in our yard to be 18 cfs and we think the neighbors will be about the same.  So if we let the neighbor do what he wants there will be 18 + 18 = 36 cfs of water in our ditch.  But the max is only 30 cfs.  So we tell the neighbor no, because it will make our ditch overflow.

Another way to use our new found knowledge…. Maybe you decide to put in a flower bed next to the creek and want to make it more narrow.  You can can do the same calculations with a smaller area and see how that works out.  Or if you’re afraid your kids are going to fall down the five foot vertical wall and want to make it a shallow slope instead, you can figure out the best way to do that.

I’ve simplified it quite a bit, but now you know the foundation of hydraulic engineering, so we can build on that.  Later I’m going to talk about bridges and levees and how they affect flow.

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The Old Chicago Water Tower

During my research for the water tower post I ran across some interesting info about a historic water tower in Chicago. I wanted to showcase it because it combines form and function in a way rarely allowed these days.

The tower was built in 1869 on the banks of Lake Michigan. A pumping station is built into the base, and the 154 ft tall tower provides supplemental pressure. It’s one of the few buildings that was still standing after the famous Chicago fire in 1871. It’s no longer used as a functioning water tower, but the area where it stands has become known as the water tower district and one of Chicago’s many skyscrapers is named after it. It was reportedly described by Oscar Wilde as “a monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it”. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the castle design
inspired the White Castle logo. I had trouble finding good pictures because most were copyrighted and not available for reposting.

You can see the tower here on the left with another famous Chicago tower behind it.

The tower also inspired this painting by Thomas Kinkade.

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