Thursday, July 31, 2014

City of God (2002)

City of God (2002): Stories from the slums of Rio. Poverty. Drugs. Crime. One boy wants out. Unfamiliar setting for a timeless story. A-

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kenai Fjords Fjor the Win!

From 2014 07 06 Kenai Fjords

There's a tradition in our family where every family member picks their favorite thing about each vacation - a place, an activity, whatever. For our recent vacation in Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park gets the nod. I knew nothing about the park before the trip, now it's my favorite place in Alaska. It has mountains, glaciers, the sea, and wildlife. We saw harbor seals, Steller sea lions, sea otters, Dall's porpoises, humpback whales, tufted puffins, horned puffins, black oystercatchers, mew gulls, common murres, bald eagles, starfish, even a smack of jellyfish.

More photos after the jump.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Philomena (2013)

Philomena (2013): Woman seeks child she gave up for adoption 50 years ago. No one changes. I didn't see that coming in a million years. C+

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Moody Day in Glacier Bay

From 2014 07 04 Glacier Bay

We had the worst weather of our vacation on the day we cruised Alaska's Glacier Bay. Cold, rain, clouds and fog. Big disappointment, right? I'd be lying if I didn't say yes, but it turned out OK. Being on a cruise ship all day, we were largely protected from the rain. We took a lot of moody photos. And our views of the glaciers weren't spoiled at all. In fact, our National Park tour guide said that rain actually increases calving activity of glaciers. The rain water seeps into cracks in the glaciers, then freezes, expanding and cracking the glacier. We floated in front of Margerie Glacier for over a half hour. It must have calved six or eight times. All in all, a very satisfying day.

More photos after the jump.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Skagway, Gateway to the Gold Rush

From 2014 07 03 Skagway

It was a hard day's run, up the Canon, through Sheep Camp, past the Scales and the timber line, across glaciers and snowdrifts hundreds of feet deep, and over the great Chilcoot Divide, which stands between the salt water and the fresh and guards forbiddingly the sad and lonely North. They made good time down the chain of lakes which fills the craters of extinct volcanoes, and late that night pulled into the huge camp at the head of Lake Bennett, where thousands of goldseekers were building boats against the break-up of the ice in the spring. Buck made his hole in the snow and slept the sleep of the exhausted just, but all too early was routed out in the cold darkness and harnessed with his mates to the sled.
Source: Call of the Wild, by Jack London.

After the jump, more about Skagway and the White Pass and Yukon Route. And photos. Lots of photos.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

We're Number 37!

D Magazine published its ranking of 63 Dallas suburbs. Richardson came in 37th. Meh.

Is Richardson really the 37th best suburb? Who knows? I don't. And D Magazine doesn't either. The magazine's methodology looks at safety, education, housing, and something called ambience. After the jump, why I don't ascribe too much importance to D Magazine's scores.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Juneau, A Small City in a Big State

From 2014 07 02 Juneau

Tour guides in Alaska ask if there are any Texans in the tour group before telling the group that Alaska is so big that if you cut the state in two and make each half its own state, Texas would be the third largest state in the Union. (They sometimes describe squirrels as "Texas Grizzlies," too, but less often.) Those tour guides don't brag about the population of the state, which could fit comfortably in, say, the City of Dallas, or the population of the capital city, Juneau, which could fit in the City of Richardson with room left over for... two more Juneaus.

More about Juneau after the jump.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Nominations for Charter Review Commission

The City of Richardson is finally making good on a long-overdue need to review its creaky city charter. This doesn't erase the charge of reneging on a campaign promise, but better late than never.

I learned some things the last time Richardson's city charter was debated. And when I say "debated," I'm actually understating how it went down. In the end in that case, Richardson voters did approve a charter change calling for direct election of the mayor, but that change created a dozen or so ambiguities in the charter that make a charter review even more necessary after that change than before. And there were plenty of things needing review before (hat tip to Bill McCalpin).

Anyway, we're now, finally, at long last, getting that long overdue charter review commission. After the jump, my nominees for who should serve on that commission.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ketchikan, Salmon Capital of the World

From 2014 07 01 Ketchikan

Not that we saw any salmon. We were a few weeks early. But we were told that salmon by the hundreds of thousands will be swimming up Ketchikan Creek right through town by the end of July. That's what made Ketchikan a summer fishing camp for the Tlingit natives for thousands of years. Fishing is still a big industry in Ketchikan.

The modern history of Alaska is more a story of boom and bust. The fur and timber industry came and went. The wood pulp industry died out in Ketchikan when the big pulp mill closed in 1999. Tourism is the latest boom, with several cruise ships at a time docking in Ketchikan, doubling the town's population of 8,050 on a busy day.

Old Ketchikan is what the tourists come to see. The souvenir stores along Creek Street, actually a boardwalk built on pilings over Ketchikan Creek, occupy what was once the red light district during the gold rush of 1898. At several sites around town, Ketchikan has the world's largest collection of totem poles. During the 1930s Great Depression, with funding from the Civilian Conservation Corps, decaying totem poles were preserved and new ones carved -- a good example of a worthwhile outcome resulting from fighting recessions by creating jobs through government stimulus spending. That investment is still paying dividends today by way of tourist dollars and can be seen at Totem Bight State Historical Park.

More photos after the jump.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Her (2013)

Her (2013): Divorced loser dates his computer OS. Sad...and not in a good way. The gimmick is only thing going here. Disappointed. D+

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mixed-Use Developments Don't Have "Shopping Centers"

The Dallas Morning News has a story by Steve Brown that illustrates how Richardson is missing the mark on transit-oriented, mixed-use development. (That's not Steve Brown's point. That's my takeaway.) The headline reads, "Plans approved for CityLine Market shopping center in Richardson.

After the jump, the details.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cruising the Inside Passage

From 2014 06 30 Inside Passage

The Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska is stunning. That is, if you can see it. It all depends on the weather and time of day. Cruise ships time their departure from Vancouver based on when the tides will be favorable to transit the Seymour Narrows, where the passage squeezes to less than a half mile. Unfortunately for us, that meant much of our own trip through the Inside Passage of British Columbia occurred in the middle of the night, depriving us of the best scenery. In the morning, safely out of the passage and into open water, we were able to see the pilot transfer boat arrive to take off the pilot who guided us through the night. Then it was a day at sea before reaching the Inside Passage of Alaska and our first port of call.

Oh well, there are other things to do on a cruise ship than watch the scenery go by. I learned that cruise ships have a language all their own. For example, on land "brunch" is the meal that combines breakfast and lunch. On cruise ships "brunch" is the meal *between* breakfast and lunch.

More photos after the jump.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Do Economic Development Incentives Become Corporate Welfare?

When do economic development incentives become corporate welfare? I don't know, but I hope someone on the Richardson City Council is at least asking the question. It's prompted by two recent news stories, one in Plano, the other in Richardson.

After the jump, how much do we have to pay to attract business?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Vancouver, Lotusland

From 2014 06 28 Vancouver

Our cruise to Alaska departed from Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver seems to be doing everything right. There's a commuter rail stop right at the airport that leads you right downtown quickly and affordably. (Dallas is just getting around to that at DFW Airport and doesn't even plan to do it at Love Field.) Downtown, Vancouver redeveloped an old industrial area along the waterfront with high-rise apartments and condominiums. The result provides the population density to support the shops and restaurants and entertainment that make walking in downtown Vancouver a joy. (For those who fear that higher density development leads to lower property values, Vancouver's problem is just the opposite -- real estate is getting priced out of middle class reach.) Stanley Park is a 1,000 acre city park that feels like a national park. This was my first visit to Vancouver. I hope it won't be my last.

More photos after the jump.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Separated by 5,258 Miles

Award yourself 100 points if you can correctly identify the countries in which these two photos were taken.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska (2013): Aging, confused father travels with hapless son to Nebraska to claim $1 million prize. Poignant. Small town black humor. A-

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Touring Pasadena's Tournament House

From 2016 06 16 Tournament of Roses House

While visiting southern California for the Caltech commencement ceremony, Ellen and I took the opportunity to tour Pasadena's Tournament House. The house is not open to the public but the grounds and rose garden are. It's a quick stop, worthy of a stop if you are ever in Pasadena.

More photos after the jump.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Time That Remains (2009)

The Time That Remains (2009): Palestinian family's life from 1948-present. Visually lush. Story is absurd, surreal, numbing all at once. C+

Monday, July 7, 2014

Touring Arlington Garden in Pasadena

From 2014 06 16 Arlington Garden

While visiting southern California for the Caltech commencement ceremony, Ellen and I took the opportunity to tour Arlington Garden in Pasadena. It's a hidden gem, tucked away in a residential neighborhood, no signs, no parking lot, just a small neighborhood park. But what a park. If you find yourself in Pasadena with an hour to spare and wonder what to do, do yourself a favor and visit.

More after the jump.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Frances Ha (2012)

Frances Ha (2012): Young dancer in NY struggles with career, rent, friends. Compelling look at being 27 and "not a real person yet." B+

Thursday, July 3, 2014

OTBR: A Cycle Path in England

Latitude: N 52° 54.558
Longitude: W 001° 50.070

A child on a road trip with his family asks, "Where are we?" and the father answers, "Let's check the map. We're off the blue roads [the Interstate Highways marked in blue on the road atlas]. We're off the red roads [the US and state highways]. We're off the black roads [the county highways]. I think we're off the map altogether." It was always my dream to be off the map altogether.

After the jump, a few of the random places (and I mean random literally) that I visited vicariously last month that are "off the blue roads".

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Touring the Pasadena Police Classic Car Show

From 2014 06 15 Classic Car Show

While visiting southern California for the Caltech commencement ceremony, Ellen and I took the opportunity to tour the Pasadena Police Classic Car Show.

If Detroit is the birthplace of the American automobile industry, then southern California surely has to be where the American love affair with the car reached its teenage years.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Repeat Tweets: Blaming Clinton

Repeat tweets from June, 2014:
  • Jun 1 2014: MT @SenTedCruz: "Clinton more focused on blaming vast right-wing conspiracy than terrorists." And Cruz is more focused on blaming Clinton.
  • Jun 2 2014: MT @SenTedCruz: "For two centuries there has been bipartisan agreement that democracy depends on free speech." Pretty sure still true.
  • Jun 2 2014: MT @SenTedCruz: "The First Amendment has served America well for 223 years." It even protects you when you lie that some want to repeal it.
  • Jun 3 2014: MT @SenTedCruz: "Senators who sign up to repeal First Amendment free speech protections should be embarrassed." So should senators who lie.
  • Jun 3 2014: Berkner's Jacob Patterson makes the North Texas High School Baseball Coaches All-Star team. Game set for June 9.

After the jump, more repeat tweets.