Tiny Ball

Hey, remember last season, when I said I hoped the Mariners would be better on the field than in their commercials? Oy.

If the same thing happens this year, the Ms are going to give the Orioles some competition for the title of Most Painful Team to Watch.

At least there are only four this year. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can watch them here. Or you can just read on and let me save you the effort.

Let’s start with the worst and save the–well, not the best, but the least bad–for last.

The only question about “Hanimal Fanimal” is whether it’s the bottom of the barrel or the leaky septic tank under the barrel. A couple of seconds of Mitch Haniger in actual game footage bookends this paen to clueless bandwagon fandom. Unfortunately, all the joy of the spectacular catch is sucked away by the relentless idiocy of the spokesperson for the folks sitting in the bleachers. If he’s the sort of person the Mariners’ front office want to attract to games, I’m glad I’ll be watching on TV. Maybe there’s supposed to be an unspoken message here–that Mitch is too nice a guy to shove the moron away and get back to the game. But if so, it’s as poorly thought out as the rest of the ad. Leo Durocher may not have said “Nice guys finish last,” but there’s some truth to the sentiment. At the very least, the game comes first.

“Moving Target” isn’t bad. It’s just cliched, repetitive, and forgettable. Okay, Mallex Smith is fast. We get it. Couldn’t you find some way to show that without falling back on the quick cut? And there’s poor Kyle Seager forced into being the deadpan straight man again, just like in last year’s “Flip”. At least this year, he’s not clueless. But can’t somebody give him a decent punchline?

Next is “SpeeDee”. It’s cliched and forgettable, but at least it’s not repetitive. Okay, Dee Gordon is fast. We get it. Yeah, they really went with “he’s fast” in half of the commercials this year. I rank this one slightly ahead of “Moving Target” only because of the parachute. Having it pop open before Dee crosses the finish lineplate is the only real spark of creativity in either of the “fast” commercials. I’ll admit, that got a small chuckle out of me.

Finally–and not a moment too soon–we’ve got “Arts & Crafty”. Props for a decent pun and for giving Felix a decent punchline. The moving stadium roof makes me laugh, even on repeated viewings–I love the implication that Yusei Kikuchi knows the King is about to rain on his hard work. Unfortunately, the “It’s crafty” line just doesn’t quite work, leaving the ad about two-thirds of a joke short of brilliance. “Craft” does have additional meanings that could have been worked in to send the bit in a whole different direction. “It’s not just craft, it’s witchcraft.” Eh, maybe not. Have the stadium transform into a boat, thus alluding to both watercraft and Mariners. Better. Not perfect, but better. Seriously, with months to think about it, this commercial could have been fixed.

Call the tally a triple, a sacrifice bunt, a weak pop-up, and a three pitch, no swing strikeout. In the right order, that’s one run anyway.

May this be the year the Ms play betters the standard set by their commercials. Because if it’s not, this will be a long season–and not in the good way.

I’m Back

And I’m back. Did–no, on second thought, I won’t ask if you missed me. If you did, I’ll be mortified at denying you the pleasure of my company for two weeks. And if you didn’t, you’ll be mortified at having to admit it. So let’s just not go there and save us all the embarrassment.

Taking the time off was definitely the right move. Not having to fit blogging around a work training schedule, holidays, and family time simplified my life enormously. I’m still on a training (read that as “variable”) schedule, but everything else has settled down enough that I think I can get back to blogging on the usual Tuesday/Thursday/Friday plan. I’ll worry about possible changes to the blog posts once I’m done with training and have a more predictable work schedule.

No, I didn’t get much fiction writing done over the break. But I’m ready to get back to that as well. As soon as this post goes up, I’m starting the second draft of Demirep. Unlike many authors, I enjoy revising. Finishing a first draft is a rush, but sometimes the actual writing is a slog. Rewriting is almost always easier, because I know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Fewer false trails means faster, more enjoyable writing.

Moving on.

There’s progress on the Bay BridgeTransbay Transit Center. The repair plan has been made and approved. Not a whole of detail has been released yet–it sounds like there will be more after the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board meets on Thursday–but the gist is that steel plates will be attached on the upper and lower surfaces of the vulnerable beams.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a structural engineer. That said, the fact that the plan calls for reinforcements to be added to both the Fremont Street and First Street beams suggests to me that the tests found nothing wrong with the metal–that the problem is more likely to be design or construction. I’m looking forward to hearing more, including the estimated date for reopening the Transit Center, which will depend in large part on how long it takes to find a source for the reinforcement plates.

Moving on again.

Actual employment that requires leaving the house does mean I’ll have less time for television. That may be a problem come baseball season–though, as I’ve said before, I find having a ballgame on in the background helps my writing–but at this time of year, it’s arguably a good thing. Yes, the latest seasons of Worst Cooks in America and Kids Baking Challenge* started this week, the former on Sundays at 9:00 and midnight Eastern, the latter on Mondays at the same time. Which is, by the way, very nice scheduling for those of us on the West Coast: 6pm and 9pm fit very nicely around dinner and bedtime. (As usual, those of you in other time zones get the awkward scheduling.)

* Shouldn’t that be “Kids'” with an apostrophe? It’s a competition for, i.e. belonging to multiple kids.

But I’m having doubts about WCiA. It’s a cooking show, supposedly. But it seems as though each season we see less cooking, and the antics of the competitors are getting more predictable. Both, IMNSHO, are the result of competitors being chosen for their personality traits, rather than their willingness to actually learn to cook.

We’ve got the wacky ones. We’ve got the one with a crippling lack of self-confidence. The annoying fan of one of the instructor chefs. The one whose mother still cooks all his meals. The model (and, goddess help us, we’ve got two models and a bodybuilder this season). The one who thinks sugar is a universal ingredient and the one who thinks the same of capsaicin. And, of course, the one who thinks her cooking is just fine and doesn’t understand why her relatives forced her to go on the show.

The producers think this will lead to wacky hijinks. The point they’re forgetting is that arguments aren’t story. Nobody wants to see watch people snapping and snarling at each other. We want to see the contestants successes and, yes, the failures that don’t threaten to fill the set with flames. It’s their growth as cooks that’s the story.

Last season the show spent so much time on personality clashes that the cooking seemed halfhearted. Even in the finale, the cooking competition seemed muted and the food wasn’t up to the standard set in previous years. If this season goes down the same path, I won’t be watching. Which would free up an hour a week for writing. Hmm.

KBC, on the other hand, is still a delight. The kids all have their quirks, but they’re not extremely exaggerated stereotypes. They’ve clearly all been working hard at their craft for years, they’re thrilled to be on the show, and they understand that stuff happens–forgotten ingredients, knife cuts, and bad days–and has to be dealt with.

And it’s obvious they’ve studied the show’s earlier seasons. They know what’s coming, and it was charming to see them literally fleeing in terror when the twist arrived in yesterday’s episode. And yes, though we’ve seen it before, it’s still nice to see them pitch in to help each other finish when time is short.

That’s an hour of potential writing time I’m going to sacrifice willingly every week.

Not a Train Wreck

Let’s talk about Ralph Breaks the Internet (to be referred to as RBtI henceforward, ’cause, you know, lazy.)

As usual when I talk movies, there are going to be spoilers. Don’t want to see the spoilers? Stop reading now and come back after you see the movie.

And, not to spoil the post, I am recommending it. Yes, you need a good high-level grasp of popular culture and internet practices. If you don’t see the humor in Disney princesses discussing their own tropes, this isn’t your movie. Nor is it your movie if you haven’t rolled your eyes at your favorite search engine’s attempts to guess what you’re about to ask it.

If you don’t have a favorite search engine, this is really not your movie.

You don’t need to have seen Wreck-It Ralph to enjoy RBtI, but it will help. There’s a fair amount of world building in the first movie that the second film simply takes for granted. But with a few exceptions, I suspect you won’t be considering RBtI at all if you haven’t seen W-IR.

Anyway.

So yes, it’s good. The jokes are mostly on point, and the pace is fast enough that when one joke does miss, there’s another one coming right behind it. There are plenty of cameos, background gags, and audio jokes to keep you entertained when the main story drags. Which it does a couple of times.

The Disney princesses are a high point in both of their appearances, and I loved the big race scene.

Sure, there are a few things I could quibble about–an eBay with no snipers? Nah! The biggest curb I tripped over, though, is the way the monetary thing was handled. I can live with the idea that BuzzzTube lets you directly convert likes to dollars. It wouldn’t work in the real world, but we’re aiming at kids, so okay, I suspend my disbelief. Where I fall down is on the exchange rate. Ralph’s first video racks up, if memory serves, about a million and a half likes, giving him a balance of $43. That’s a weird ratio. But if we take that as given, the numbers just don’t add up later. Sure, we don’t see all the videos he makes, but the ones we do see show similar like counts. Counting on my fingers, that suggests Ralph had to make something upward of 600 videos. And collect the necessary views in a limited (and apparently rapidly changing) amount of time.

That “spung” sound you just heard was the spring in my suspension of disbelief punching through the cylinder.

But it’s still a quibble, not a major flaw.

RBtI had a couple of significant missed opportunities. (This is the point where you should leave if you don’t want to see me wearing my writer hat.)

Remember how the first movie was Vanellope’s film? Sure, it had Ralph’s name on it, but the heart of the movie was Vanellope coming to terms with her glitch. W-IR got a lot of kudos for the way it handled that part of the story. Along comes RBtI, and that all goes out the window. Vanellope uses the glitch twice (once to evade capture, once to cheat in the big race). Then it blows up on her, taking down “Slaughter Race”. But the solution is just to reboot the server–it’s got nothing to do with Vanellope or what she’s learned during the course of the film.

Sure, this was Ralph’s film–his chance to grow–but it shouldn’t come solely at the expense of the other characters.

I don’t have a solution to this one, but then, I’ve only been thinking about it for a couple of days. The film’s writers had four years (I gather there wasn’t much discussion about possible directions for a sequel until 2014.)

The other missed opportunity is smaller and easier to solve. Vanellope’s “princess song”. Okay, yes, it was a great bit. Gosh, she really is a Disney Princess. I laughed as much as anyone else in the theater.

But.

That song just didn’t work stylistically. Vanellope is caught between “Slaughter Race” and “Sugar Rush” and her song ought to reflect that in the musical as well as the lyrics. Sure, start it off with the stereotypical Disney Princess song and get your laugh. But then give us a nod to the “Sugar Rush” track from W-IR–even just a line or two–and then slide into a verse done as something you might find on the “Slaughter Race” soundtrack. Metal. Hip-Hop. Reggaeton. Something with a serious bite. Come back to the Disney Princess song at the end if you have to, but give us that explicit link to Vanellope’s past and future.

Okay, hat off.

The bottom line? Ralph Breaks the Internet: good, but not as good as it could have been.

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

A Good Start

Jodie Whittaker has made her full debut as The Doctor in an episode of her own, and guess what? That’s right, just as after her two word initial appearance last year, the universe didn’t end! Not on either side of the TV screen.

Haters gonna hate. That’s a given, unfortunately.

But for the rest of us, those willing to give Ms. Whittaker and the show’s writers a chance, it was quite the satisfying experience.

I’m not about to declare “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” the greatest episode ever. Not even the greatest debut of a new Doctor.

But it handled all the expected set pieces for an introductory episode–The Doctor’s confusion, the unveiling of the new costume and key props, and the first signs of the character’s personality–smoothly. Better still, the episode’s story worked as a story, without gaping plot holes or random non sequiturs dropped in solely to move the story along.

And, best of all, did not rely on old, familiar–one might even say “tired”–villains. We’ve reached the point where bringing in the Daleks or Cybermen comes off as a sign that the writers don’t think their story can stand on its own. I’d love to get through the whole first Whittaker season without seeing any character we’ve encountered before.

But let’s back up to those set pieces for a moment.

There was a real potential for disaster in how The Doctor’s confusion about settling into a new body was handled. Focusing on the change of sex would have yanked the viewer right out of the story and made the episode all about that. Too soon. Save it for later, if ever. Looking at the reaction of old companions, villains, or (inevitably) Doctors could be fun and educational. But not yet. The writers acknowledge the change with a single joke near the beginning, another near the end, and leave it at that. Instead, we got a focus on things almost every viewer can relate to personally: memory loss, missing possessions (that “Where’s my wallet” panic everyone’s felt), and even a bit of the “OMG, I’ve got a test, and I’ve never even been to the class!” horrors. High marks.

The prop and costume reveals are taking a fair amount of flak. I’ve seen a lot of ridicule over The Doctor assembling her new sonic screwdriver out of local, twenty-first century components, none of which would even fit into the final product. Come on, people, you’re willing to accept the Tardis being bigger on the inside than the outside, but not the sonic screwdriver? (That said, I did like the suggestion someone made online, that the actual mechanism is a big block of electronics that The Doctor has to wear like a backpack, and the handheld bit of gear is just the remote. It’d be a great alternative to the joke they actually went with. But I digress.) And at least nobody is objecting to the actual look of the device–unlike the costume, which is, I completely agree, unattractive.

But I think the people complaining about it are missing the point. It’s a very unisex outfit–equally unflattering on men and women–that emphasizes that The Doctor doesn’t see sex as relevant to her mission. And it’s also a very clear signal that the writers don’t see the new Doctor as being at all about sex appeal. None of the previous incarnations have been–we’ve never seen a Doctor use sex to influence other characters or move the story along–and this one won’t be either.

Bravo, again.

And then there’s the emergence of The Doctor’s new personality and approach to solving crises. It’s clear that Ms. Whittaker’s Doctor will fall toward the frenetic end of the spectrum. As somebody who grew up with Tom Baker’s portrayal, I say “Bring on the frenzy!”

But, that said, it’s also obvious that she’s going to explicit about promoting compromise and choice, rather than conflict-driven, all-or-nothing victory. I’ve seen several commentators suggest that this is a sop to traditional gender roles (the old “female equals nurturing” fallacy) and it might be true to an extent.

Really, though, The Doctor has always been about making choices, trying to understand, and reaching accommodation with the “enemy”. Sure, it’s often been buried under fisticuffs, car chases, and us-versus-them paranoia, but it’s been there, right back to the first season and the Daleks’ first appearance.

If this year’s new Doctor had been male and delivered the same speech at the climax of the first episode, nobody would have blinked or called it a radical departure. It’s perfectly in tune with the spirit of the character.

Kudos a third time.

It could all still fall apart. But that’s true of any show. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and all that. But I’m encouraged. Ms. Whittaker is off to a good start, and I’m looking forward to seeing where–and when–she goes from here.

Good Sports

With the baseball season winding down, as usual, I find myself looking for ways to justify that TV in the bedroom. The DVR is set to record whatever episodes of Chopped Junior it can find. The summer Kids Baking Championship just ended yesterday.

If you think you detect a pattern in my viewing, you’re right. I’m finding the cooking competitions featuring kids to be more to my tastes (sorry) than the adult versions.

It’s not that the youngsters are better cooks than the grownups. There’s some overlap, but the adults’ skills are largely more polished and their knowledge of dishes is broader.

The reason I prefer the younger competitors is simple good sportsmanship.

How often does a chef get eliminated on Chopped and storm off complaining about how the judges were wrong to eliminate her, or how the breaks just didn’t go his way? Far too often. Even the chefs who take elimination gracefully rarely shake hands with the other competitors or wish them luck.

By contrast, the kids always encourage each other. During the competitions, they share ingredients instead of hoarding them. When they’re eliminated, they get hugs from their opponents and often say they intend to practice and learn more so they can do better next time.

Sure, some of that positive interaction has to be staged. And when you’ve got six or eight hours of footage for each competitor, it’s easy to pick the best bits for the forty-five minutes that’ll be on the air.

But that’s beside the point. You’ll never see a chef on the grownup version of one of the Baking Challenges stop in the middle of the final round to give an opponent a hug and some good advice–or if you did, the recipient would probably do exactly the opposite, suspecting a trap.

It may be a carefully selected feel-good moment, but when it happens (as it did in last night’s show), the interaction still comes off as genuine. And who doesn’t need more genuine feel-good moments these days?

It doesn’t look like there’s a new kids competition on the fall schedule, more’s the pity. So, as usual, I fill the gap with anime. And I’ve found a show that hits a lot of the right notes–the same notes as the junior cooking shows.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby (I’ve also seen it transliterated as “Umamusume”) is yet another in the chain of unconventional sports shows. Unlike last year’s favorite, Keijo!!!!!!!!, the sport actually exists. As you may have guessed from the title, it’s horse racing.

The twist is that the horses are cute girls, who perform idol songs after winning races.

Yeah, I know, but stick with me.

The songs aren’t really a major part of the show, at least not through the first few episodes, despite being significant in the world we see.

Where do the horse girls come from? (Note that I’m not using the term “pony girl”. If you don’t know why, I strongly suggest you refrain from googling it. There may have been some artistic inspiration there, but the show goes in a whole different direction.) In-world, it’s made clear that a horse girl comes from a horse mother, but nothing’s been said about the fathers. So if you want some uncomfortable speculation, you can indulge.

But that’s background. We follow a young woman, Special Week, who’s come to the big city to pursue her mother’s dream, that she become the greatest in Japan.

Sounds just like most sports shows, doesn’t it? Where Uma Musume shines is in where it deviates from the sport show tropes. Rivals are competitive, but the rivalry stays on the track. Special Week idolizes the horse girl who turns out to be her roommate, but Silence Suzuka neither becomes Special Week’s bitter rival nor her biggest supporter: she’s helpful, but not to extremes, and it’s obvious she has her own concerns.

And the creators have not only passed on multiple chances to insert fan service, but they’ve given the stereotypical girl/girl love story subtext a miss, despite the many, many opportunities the premise offers.

There are a few wrong notes here and there–Trainer’s habit of “checking his charges’ fetlocks” springs to mind–but the positives far outweigh the negatives in my book.

If you’re interested, the show is available on Crunchyroll. Even if you’re only mildly intrigued, swing by and take a look. You can try the first episode, and possibly more, for free.

Not So Incredible

Obligatory Spoiler Warning. Though the box office says you’ve probably already seen Incredibles 2.

Before I start talking about the movie, though, a couple of comments about the stuff that aired before the movie. No, not the commercials. I ignored them, as I generally do. And I did it so successfully that Maggie had to point out the Hyundai commercial was filmed a couple of blocks away from the house I grew up in.

Do we really need another remake of The Grinch? Apparently someone thought we did. Come on, gang, give it a rest. If you have to do a Suess movie–and I think that’s a perfectly legitimate idea–there are plenty of his books you haven’t touched. I’m not sure there’s enough in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to justify a full-length feature, but how about Bartholomew and the Oobleck (worth it for the title alone) or And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?

Does it add anything to know the Grinch is down on Christmas because he never had one in the orphanage? No. No, it doesn’t. Sucking pickles and putting them back in the jar isn’t particularly funny. Certainly not enough to warrant that bit showing up in every trailer so far.

The audience seemed disinterested. I regard that as a healthy development, and I hope it means the film bombs come November.

Moving on.

Completely at the other end of the spectrum was Bao, the short film that’s showing before the feature. Despite being aimed more at the parents in the audience than their kids, it drew rapt attention from the entire room. The universal gasp of horror at the climax was the kind of applause that’s better than cheers and clapping because it proves that everyone was invested in the characters. Simply amazing engagement in five minutes of wordless film. And then it nailed the ending as well.

Big kudos to the director, Domee Shi, and the entire crew.

And that, unfortunately, brings us to Incredibles 2. Or rather, that brings us to the “We’re sorry it took us so long to make this film” bit that preceded the movie. “We wanted to make sure we got it right.”

Sorry, guys. I said “unfortunately” because, frankly, you didn’t get it right.

Every reviewer has pointed out that putting the final battle after the emotional climax means the fight comes as an afterthought. The audience doesn’t care by that point. The Parrs have already reconciled.

And then the film compounds the problem by splitting up the family for the supposedly-climactic scene, instead of showing them working as a team. What were they thinking?

Mind you, it doesn’t help that the solution to the big problem–the ship bearing down on the city–was so stupidly done. Stopping the ship was the right answer; turning it was dumb. Can’t get to the engine room door to shut it down? Find a different way in. Bash a hole in the bulkhead. Go through a window. In the worst case, put a giant block of ice in front of the propeller–those things are more fragile than they look–or simply freeze the water around the prop. To be fair, those last solutions don’t give Mr. Incredible anything to do. Can’t have that. But he seems to be nigh-invulnerable. Throw him in front of the prop to smash it. Problem solved, ship halted before it gets anywhere near the city.

Moving on.

Was I the only one who found Screenslaver’s message rather more compelling than it probably should have been? Not the solution (get rid of superheros), but the core complaint about getting someone else to solve all our problems? Does that sound familiar? “Hey, here’s a guy who says he can save our jobs, solve the budget crisis, and make everything sunshine and roses. Go to it, Dude!” How well did that work out?

There were smaller problems, too. Yeah, having the ship come to a halt without destroying the building it was aimed at was obviously intended as a callback to the opening battle against the Underminer. So why didn’t they do that right: don’t slew the ship sideways, bring it to a halt with the bowsprit touching the window glass without breaking it?

For that matter, what happened to the Underminer? Yeah, he got away. Why didn’t they bring him back at the end? Instead of sending the family off after a random carload of gun-firing criminals, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to send them off after the guy who got away because they didn’t work as a team at the beginning of the film? It wouldn’t even have taken a script change. All they would have needed to do was replace that car of anonymous thugs with a drilling machine popping out of the middle of the street. Leave every bit of dialog and every other cel of animation in that epilogue the same. And you still give that final throwaway scene some emotional resonance by providing a little bit of closure.

They did get some things right. Violet’s arc was handled nicely, for instance. No sappy musical interludes (and I loved the heroes’ theme songs playing during the credits).

But when the absolutely unquestioned best scene–Jack-Jack’s epic battle with the trash panda–comes in the middle of the movie, you’ve got serious problems.

I did enjoy the movie. It’s amusing and it held the attention of a theater full of viewers of all ages well enough (though I did see more mid-movie popcorn runs than I would have expected). But it’s not up to the stand Pixar has set for itself.

The Belated Father’s Day Post

Not belated because I forgot, or anything stupid like that. Belated because I don’t normally post on Sundays. Okay, so maybe it is a stupid reason. But sticking to a schedule helps me avoid slacking off. For the same reason, I work on novels in the afternoon–so I can start at the same time every day, even when I’m working on blog posts in the morning.

Bad night’s sleep? Doesn’t matter. Gotta write a blog post. Distracted by something shiny (or ragged and cat-eating)? Tough. Go write some words of fiction.

Dad was mildly amused by my schedule adherence, but he understood. “Do what works for you,” is a bit of writing advice that made perfect sense to him. Much as he loved word processing, he absolutely couldn’t edit on a computer. He printed every draft, edited it with a pencil, and then typed his changes in. Which mildly amused me, but again, it worked for him.

19-1.jpg

Last week, I linked a story in the Sedalia Democrat about the Smith-Cotton High School String Orchestra appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, and promised more words about their appearance. These are those words.

The short version, for anyone who finds the Democrat’s website annoyingly hard to use, is that the high school orchestra’s appearance was supported by the Larry Karp Memorial Fund. See, when Dad died, we asked that contributions in his name to be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Foundation. We–and the foundation–were amazed and pleased at the number of donations, and we all agreed there was an opportunity to do more than simply add the funds to the foundation’s general budget.

I often say that Dad was a storyteller. It’s no accident that he gravitated to baseball and ragtime: both are fields with enough stories to fill every library in the world. Dad liked teaching in the classic sense, but he outright loved teaching by telling stories. He could, and frequently did, talk ragtime for hours*. One of the reasons he enjoyed research was for the stream of new stories it brought him. When he started looking into Brun Campbell–a storyteller himself–the stream turned into something more like the Columbia River.

* Baseball, too, but there are more storytellers working that beat than spinning ragtime yarns.

Any community needs new blood to live. And Dad worried there might not be enough new ragtimers coming in to keep the music alive. When a new “Ragtime Kid”–a young talent consumed by the need to play ragtime–came along, he was delighted. Using the money donated in his name, not for immediate needs, but to teach the next generation of ragtimers was an easy call.

What that’s going to look like is still up in the air. We’ve got some immediate plans, and some ideas for the medium- and long-term, all aimed at getting a new generation interested in ragtime and its stories. But no project succeeds if it never gets started. We threw a whole lot of ideas around for where to start. Bringing the Smith-Cotton students to the festival this year was where we wound up. We got a couple of dozen students and their families to the festival. That’s a win no matter how you look at it. If only one of those dozens sticks with ragtime, whether as a performer, researcher, or listener, then it’s a major victory.

Now that we’ve started, we need to keep going. And that means we need to keep the fund healthy. (You knew there was a commercial message coming, right?)

I mentioned last week that the festival was somewhat smaller this year than in the past. Money’s tight all over, but especially so for art programs. We’d love some help.

If you’re willing to lend a hand, please drop a note to sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Thanks from Dad, from the whole family, and from the entire ragtime community.

I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.

Another Corporate Fail

Something a little lighter than Tuesday’s discussion of Google’s plans to build the first generation of our Robot Overlords this year.

Lighter, yes–though I fear no less depressing. Sorry about that. Stop back tomorrow for cat picture therapy if you need it.

Anyway, we’re going to add another item to our list* of bad reasons to make a change.

* Did you know we had a list? I didn’t until I sat down to write this post.

We’ve already got “Because we can,” “Because the schedule says it’s time,” and “Because we need to generate artificial excitement“. Now we can add “Because everyone else is”.

That’s right, it’s the Jumping Off a Bridge model of product development.

Look, I like Pop-Tarts–specifically, the frosted blueberry variety. I make no apologies for keeping a box around for the occasional weekend breakfast, and I’ll cheerfully ignore any comments expressing dismay over my pastriotic orientation.

Really, Kellogg came up with the perfect ratio of crispy to crumbly in the pastry, just the right amount of sweetness in the filling, and an unbeatable capper in that sweet, sweet sugar frosting. Even the multi-colored sprinkles, which I initially regarded with suspicion, turned out to add a nice bit of texture.

But somebody in Kellogg Sales’ Marketing Division looked at all the lovely cash Nabisco was raking in with its Oreo flavor variants, and decided to follow suit.

They couldn’t easily do wild flavor variants. For one thing, there are only so many colors they could dye the filling. For another, there are already plenty of Pop-Tart flavors.

So they fell back on Nabisco’s other trick. If “Double Stuf” could usher in a couple of generations of “innovation” in Oreos, why couldn’t it do the same for Pop-Tarts.

The result of that high-level brainstorming? A couple of months ago, my Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts package gained a new banner: “Now with MORE FROSTING!”

Uh-oh.

Of course I tried them. In fact, I’ve tried three boxes, made several months apart, just to be sure the flaws in the design weren’t just aberrations in a single batch. They’re not.

Yes, there is more frosting. In fairness, there’s not very much more. The additional frosting does not overwhelm the other components as I feared it would.

But, y’know, sugar is expensive. To keep the price of a box the same, something had to change. Kellogg executives were smart enough to realize that tampering with the traditional “two pastries to a pouch” packaging would be likely to cause massive consumer dissatisfaction and rioting in the streets.

They might have gotten away with reducing boxes from eight pastries to six or shrinking the size of each Pop-Tart, but that would have meant a box redesign and cost even more money.

So they decreased the amount of filling instead.

I can’t prove it. I don’t have any “Classic Pop-Tarts” handy to measure. But to my well-trained eye, it’s obvious. And, more importantly, it’s even clearer to my teeth. Less filling + same baking time = crisper pastry.

There’s more variation in texture than before the change, but even at its best, the pastry shell is crunchier than before; at its worst, they come off as more cracker than pie crust.

And, most importantly, Kellogg missed an important part of the “Double Stuf Lesson”. When Oreo introduced their “more sugar” treat, they made it optional. You could still buy regular Oreos. You still can, even if you have to hunt through the shelves to buy them.

You can’t buy regular Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts (or any of the other flavors that now have MORE FROSTING!)

I don’t expect a New Coke fiasco, with Kellogg recanting and offering the two products side by side. Pop-Tarts, for all their popularity aren’t an iconic American offering like Co’cola. The outcry is likely to be limited. Probably to this blog, to be honest.

But I won’t be buying any Pop-Tart with MORE FROSTING! Which means I won’t be buying any Pop-Tarts for my weekend breakfasts any more.

That’s undoubtedly better for my physical health. But is it better for my mental well-being?