Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Wire's Lester Freamon

Over the last month I watched all 5 seasons of HBO's The Wire (music post here: link) and really enjoyed it.  Each season focusing on a different aspect of life in and around Baltimore.  Written, vetted, acted, filmed, directed really well, with an excellent pace, rhythm, focus; I highly recommend watching it, and not just saying "I love the wire... but I don't know any of the episodes" as most Umerikuns have stated at some time in the past.  I'd only seen bits and pieces when staying in hotel rooms, disjointed, I could not appreciate the magnitude of the series.



In retrospect, when I look across all the 100s of characters presented throughout the 5 seasons, the one character who stands out as the most likable, most relatable, least flawed, in my perspective is Lester Freamon, played by the excellent actor Clarke Peters.  Lester was one of the oldest & least appreciated detectives on the BPD.  Politically incorrect, doing "what was right" before considering how it would damage his career's trajectory, Lester's steady hand and clear mind was refreshing in each scene in which he appeared.  Fastidious, meticulous, tenacious, passionate, determined, driven, mentoring, patient, enduring, curious, insightful, intelligent, level headed (usually), deductive, adept, and righteous.  He was "good police".  As the 2nd oldest member of the last engineering team I led (with most of the other team members being 20 to 25 years younger than me, who looked up to me) and mentored, it makes sense that Lester is the one I could identify most closely with and with whom I could empathize.

Yes, in The Wire, Lester sometimes drank too much, but who doesn't drink too much sometimes? (Ben Franklin always said not to trust the man who drinks water when everyone else is drinking ale... and I do not disagree with old Ben).  Lester had quite an R rated vocabulary and tone, especially when he was justifiably incensed, but again, that's a common human trait.  I know I have from time to time.

The other character I could closely relate to, ironically was also played by "a Clark" - Clark Johnson played the city desk editor Augustus (Gus) Haynes.  Gus worked for metric driven stuffed suits who placed morality & honesty on a much lower priority than glowing recognition and public perception.  Sadly, I've worked in roles like that as well, far too often in the past.  Gus was only in the final season, and not throughout the entire series, so I didn't have enough time to relate to him, and how he dealt with tools like Scott Templeton... but I have a personal appreciation for Gus's daily struggle.

If you've not watched The Wire, you really should.  Especially if you are stuck in a airplane, a hotel, or on a couch recovering from an orthopedic injury that limits your mobility.  It'll be time well spent, eye opening, enlightening, and informative.

National Pine Cone Reserve

When I was a kid growing up in Highland Indiana, every year my parents worked diligently in preparing for our parish's "Christmas Bazaar" where arts and crafts and all sorts of Christmasy goods were sold to raise money for the church and school.  My mom would work with the volunteer ladies who made crafts.  My father would work throughout the year in his workshop in the basement, sawing, coping, gluing, clamping, painting various pieces of woodwork (bird houses, paper towel racks, etc).  Most of the goods had a Christmas theme to them, and wreaths, holly, and pine cones were common-place.

So imagine my surprise when I ascended the hill across the street from my home, and found the drainage culvert up there FILLED with beer-can sized pine cones!  As I walked further along the hill-side, I found hundreds, if not thousands of pine cones; many wheelbarrows worth of pine cones.  If mailing goods was cheaper than it is (I recently mailed a very light package to Chicago, via slow snail mail, and the postage costs were almost as much as the contents of the package!) I would send mass quantities of pine cones back to Highland so the church volunteer ladies could craft them into various & sundry Christmasy goods.  Also, geography conspires against us.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Torrey Pines Beach Yoga

Back in June, I drove Dr Desert Flower down to Otay Mesa so she could get a Fast Pass Global Entry and bypass the log immigration ICE lines that always exist when crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.  After I dropped her off at work, I stopped off at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, just off the PCH, with my State Park annual parking pass & yoga mat in hand.  It was a sunny day, when I parked at the beachside parking lot, and crossed the steep road that ascends up to the top of the Torrey Pines bluffs, located a mostly-flat spot that over looked the beach, and I rolled out my mat.  It was a new place in which I've never practiced yoga before.  I thought it would be a good morning.


Within about 10 minutes of beginning my practice, a thick marine layer began rolling in.  By "thick" I mean the 50 yards between the water's edge and I became occluded by mist to the point where I could no longer see the sea.  I could hear the waves... and the mist made me pretty damp and sticky, but I could not bask in the warm sun nor see the waves rolling in and crash on the beach.   (These were 3 to 4 foot waves, that made quite a crash, when they rolled in)

After more than 1/2 an hour in the wetting mist of the thick marine layer, I called it quits, rolled up my mat, and headed home.  (the gray backpack pictured here, was the last time it was usable... more on that in a future post).  It was interesting to note that the marine layer marched in from South to North.  Right Behind me, was a steep incline that lead up to the Torrey Pines bluffs, more than a 100 feet above where my mat and I were.  I could visibly see wisps of mist condensing as the wind drove the moist air against the cliffside and spiraled past me, within just a few minutes of taking this photo.

I'll practice there again, as it was scenic, natural, and inspiring... far better than any flatulence or sweat scented yoga studio.  Beach yoga studios are the kind of environment I call "my happy place".
= )

The Allure of Organic Tomatoes

Dr Desert Flower loves fresh tomatoes.  I prefer my tomatoes cooked... but I will tolerate a fresh tomato sliced on a burger if it is an option.  DFF has been trying to grow tomatoes on the East side of our home, where the side yard gets about 3 hours of intense late morning sun after our M class star claims high enough to shine over the 5 foot tall masonry border wall.  The eastern garden was not very fruitful.  Either because of the limited UV window, or the poor soil, and poor drainage... or the legacy of the cornucopia of chemicals (both pesticides and fertilizers) that the previous homeowners left us in the garage's "cabinet of death" we found when we moved in... we were not sure.  But we gave up on the side yard, and moved a large potted tomato plant to the sun drenched court yard at our front door.

The front door court yard BAKES in the mid-day.  The 2 story southern facing house wall reflects a good deal of heat energy, the concrete warms up considerably, and the tomato plant basks in all of this solar radiance.  Tomatoes have been plentiful, producing almost 1 a day (6 to 10 a week) over the last month.  Then... we started seeing little black "rice grains" on the concrete around the base of the plant, and many of the leaves were completely eaten.  Turns out, the "rice grains" were "castings" (not inconel castings... insect larva poop, caterpillar droppings), and DDF identified the perfectly camouflaged caterpillars as cabbage loopers, laid by a moth who loves tomatoes.  These loopers - which look like Sesame Street Inch Worms when they are young and little and cute - can grow to the size of an adult human's pinky.  They are relentless.  They are perfectly hidden on the plant, mimicking the exact same green color, latching on underneath a large leaf, gripping the stems with their multiple caterpillar legs tenaciously, and chomping into the plant viciously with 4 alien-like jaws.

Each day I water the tomato plant as a good unemployed husband, after applying for 3 to 5 jobs.  Each day I look for the tell-tale black "castings" laying around the plant, and if I find any (as I do about 1/2 the days I look), then I closely inspect the plant, looking for the devious little critters who love tomatoes as much as DDF does.  When I find one, I toss it out into the lawn (previously using my fingers, but I've placed a small pair of needle nose pliers out on the table in the court yard, as the loopers put off a green defensive slime when gripped between fingers... and I don't need any more inflammation in my life) and let the birds eat them; peacocks and peahens are frequent visitors to our front lawn.

The interwebs told us to use dish soap solution, sprayed on the plant, to discourage the loopers, as a way to not harm the fruit or plant.  Yes, a bubbly dish soap (we use Dawn) DOES make the little young loopers fall off in distress, and one can easily find them on the concrete.  But the fat, puffy, fully-grown adults completely ignore the dish soap sprayed on them, even when I spray it DIRECTLY on them, leaf inverted, directly impinged, 10 or 20 squirts, all of its little feet tenaciously gripping the poor little tomato plant, undeterred.  All of this caterpillar assault has left the tomato plant undaunted.  In fact, the tomato plant has re-doubled its efforts in producing fruit, as if to raise a big middle finger to the insects who are trying to destroy it.  That's good news; more tasty tomatoes chez nous.

Anatomy of a Volvo Headlight Assembly

Last month I was driving to Pep Boys in Encinitas, when all-of-a-sudden, my Volvo C70 dashboard told me that one of my head lights was out.  I'd never had a car tell me, as the driver, that the head lamp was burnt out.  Convenient and serendipitous that it happened on the way to the auto parts store.

I purchased (2) replacement lamps, figuring that if one burnt out, the 2nd one would likely burn out sometime within the next year, and headed home to figure out how to change it.  Volvo was Way Ahead of me, and had already designed in an extremely simple & straight-forward mechanism "designed for maintenance".  Unlike most engineers, I took out the instruction manual (age has proven to refer to the directions first, before breaking something additional in ignorance) and found that Volvo had implemented a 3 sided alignment pin that was a small aluminum spike.  Withdraw the spike, and viola, the entire head lamp assembly easily slid forward to allow bulb replacement.



On Hondas, Chevrolets, Infiniti, Fords and Mazdas, I've struggled and strained to get head light bulbs out of blind or hidden assemblies, by feel.  With the Volvo C70, it was incredibly simple.  So simple in fact, that when I had to return to Pep Boys (because they sold me the wrong model head lamp the first time... from a counter person who didn't understand the specificity of exact part numbers... but the manager corrected the error on my return) ... I was able to replace the head lamp In The Parking Lot, easily.


I was very impressed.  If only all car makers and all consumer goods manufacturers had thought this through as thoroughly as Volvo has done... servicing their products when parts need to be replaced would be So Much easier!  Now.. if the same care could have been applied to the location of the oil filter... instead of being buried behind the engine and above the hot exhaust manifold, then That would have been awesome!

Finally, Eastwatch

Game of Thrones season 7 episode 5 last Sunday helped close some loose ends, but opened up a few new ones.  As always, if you have not yet seen the episode, stop reading now, as this will likely spoil it for you.


I've been a fan of the opening credit sequence of GoT over the last 7 seasons, and when Eastwatch was shown, with very few gears (barely working), multiple cracks in the wall (falling into disrepair, or severely in need of repair) I was a little disappointed to see how weak the fortification was, but the 2nd time I watched it (and screen grabbed it from HBO To Go) the more clarity it gave me.  Much like how Winterfell's bevel gears were chipped and the dire wolf's head was replaced with the flayed man while the Bolton's held the castle, Eastwatch is not so much a castle as it is a neglected relic.

It is an understatement to say that Jaime Lannister's ability to hold his breath and swim massive distances underwater (nearly a 1/4 mile, from the scene where he and Bronn Finally surface away from the burning loot train) means that not only is Jaime the finest swordsman of Westeros, but he can swim better (faster, longer, more strongly) than Michael Phelps.  Phelps never wears full plate mail or a golden hand when he swims, and the length of an Olympic sized pool is no where near a 1/4 mile, so Jaime is at least 10X better a swimmer than Michael Phelps, as far as physics is concerned (and no, I don't believe that farcical statement).

Despite the fact that Jaime isn't dead (though he should be), he did serve a nice role in having a parle with his little brother down in the catacombs.  Useful plot advancement, sure... but then he never should have tried to skewer Daenerys when she was attempting to un-spear her dragon Drogon, now should he?
















The internet rumors about how Jon Snow and Daenerys are either Aunt & nephew, or cousins, or 1/2 siblings from a different mother, were given serious wind in their sails when Jon took off his glove and bare-handedly petted Drogon's nose on the windswept cliff of Dragonstone while Daenerys was riding her largest and most vociferous child.  I doubt that I would have been able to muster touching the nose of such a large beast, and would have been concentrating on not evacuating my bowels or voiding my bladder to be that close to history's most lethal biological killing machine.  It was a Very Nice touch to be added to the series (double entendre intended).

The "fool's errand" that Jon Snow, The Hound, and Tormund Giantsbane undertake to "capture" a white walker and bring it back to show the Southerns that the threat is real form the army of the dead, is just going to get them all killed.  Much like Saving Private Ryan, or the United State's misadventures in Afghanistan, or any of a dozen search-and-rescue movies popular in modern culture... you know it's going to go terribly wrong.  The Night King will see them coming from miles away, and the entire party that sets out through the East Watch tunnel should be killed or turned into white walkers immediately, regardless of how much dragon glass they might or might not be carrying (no time was spent showing weapons being forged from Dragonstone mined dragon glass obsidian... but one can assume that some kind of spears or daggers were hastily thrown together).

I DO think that Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is one of The Most under-appreciated and under-rated characters in all of GoT.  He's brought his red haired tribe south of the wall to escape annihilation.  He watched as The King Beyond The Wall was set to burn at the stake at Castle Black.  His female kin who hooked up with Jon Snow also got killed in the battle of Castle Black, and then he VOLUNTEERS to go to the decrepit Eastwatch Castle to be run over by a horde of white walker undead. He's a remarkable warrior, a great leader, attracted to strength & skill... From a cultural stand point, this leader has been through ALOT.  His patience has been tested, he's been openly insulted in several episodes by lesser men, and yet he keeps on being a reliable, go-to, force majeure.  I will be sad if/when he inevitably gets killed & turned into a red haired white walker.  I would have enjoyed fighting alongside Tormund, sharing a roasted goat or sheep with him, and exchanging tall tales around a warm fire after a pitched battle.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

He's Got the Fire & the Fury

Back on July 2nd, while on a flight from LAX to Covington Kentucky, I jammed my elbow tween the arm rest and the fuselage in a Delta coach flight (link here) and through the rest of July and the beginning of August, my left arm (elbow, bicep, triceps) has been fairly useless.  I've been icing it, elevating it, trying to stretch it.  Physical therapy began this week, and today was my 2nd PT session, and there's been some increase in mobility, decrease in pain, and I can almost use the left arm for things like shampooing my hair, driving a car and turning a steering wheel, etc... all good things, all good progress.

While icing my arm and keeping my elbow elevated higher than my shoulder, for several hours each day, I caught up on most all of my DVR recordings, and I set out determinedly to watch the entire HBO series The Wire, on my legal HBO To GO account (since Amazon wanted to charge me to watch season 5, after letting me watch seasons 1-4 for "free" with my Amazon Prime account.  Netflix recommended Luther... which I may watch in August, as I still have 2 or 3 more weeks, at least, of PT & icing ahead of me.

When I heard the farsical child who is the 45th President say that the DPRK will face "Fire & Fury", I thought of the opening music for The Wire.  Each season had a different artist (or set of artists) perform their version of the 1990 Tom Waits song Down In A Hole:
Season 1 - The Blind Boys of Alabama (Spirit of the Century, 2001)
Season 2 - Tom Waits (Franks Wild Years 1990)
Season 3 - The Neville Brothers (...and all the pieces matter, 5 years of Music from The Wire)
Season 4 - DoMaJe (Beyond Hamsterdam, 2008)
Season 5 - Steve Earle (Washington Square, 2007)
Season 5, last episode, finale recap - The Blind Boys of Alabama (...and all the pieces matter, 5 years of Music from The Wire)

I like Tom Waits original the best, I think.  They're all good, in their own interpretations.  "He's got the fire and the fury, at his command".  Full set of Waits lyrics here: link


I certainly hope the know-nothing, impetuous, 2-minute-attention-span, Obama-obsessed spoiled child who never got his Daddy's approval doesn't cause massive fissile fallout to rain down over the Western Pacific, and in the process, kill millions of Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese, while taking the US economy, stock market, and West Coast real estate prices; il faut voir.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Geography Still Doesn't Matter in a Dragon Based Economy

Last month, I stated that "Geography Doesn't Matter in a Dragon Based Economy" (link here).  Euron's fleet and Daenerys Targaryen's fleets occupied the same space in the Season 7 opening episode of GoT, and not a single mention of it was made in the show despite the Narrow Sea and the close proximity of Dragonstone to Kings Landing.

(if you have not watched any of Season 7 and want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now)
Horizon of Dothraki 
The 2nd episode had Euron's Iron Island fleet mysteriously SURPRISE and DESTROY Daenerys's renegade Greyjoy fleet and apparently All the armies of Dorne who were aboard as well, AT NIGHT, with very few casualties among Euron's angry bunch, which was farcical for multiple reasons.  Euron's flagship finds Yara Greyjoy's flagship, undetected, without any warning, raids it, kills or imprisons everyone on it, and sinks it, in the middle of 1000s of ships (no radar, no satellites, no infrared... yet 100% successful for despicable & revolting Euron).  None of the Dorne soldiers apparently survived... but Dorne is a much larger and formidable force & geographic area than the tiny pugnacious Iron Islands.  Instead of firing a bunch of arrows into Then as he jumps over board, they sail away and just let him bob in the cold water...  all ridiculous aspects of an otherwise well written, acted, and presented television show.
Silly Scorpion, Don't Aggravate A Full Grown Wyvern
Last night's episode (#4 in the 7th season) DID FINALLY bring out the wyverns (remember, they're technically NOT dragons since they lack front legs / limbs) directly into a battle, unleashing the full fury of organic napalm delivered from the throat of a very angry, full grown Drogons.  I loved the "Smaug moment" Drogons had when Jaime's Lannister archers let loose a volley of arrows that harmlessly bounced off Drogons underbelly scales.
Silly Human Archers
But the reason I have reiterated that "geography doesn't matter" is because of the episode ending where Jaime is knocked from his horse (apparently by the flame resistant Bronn who has repeatedly saved Jaime's behind) and he falls, slowly dragged to the bottom of a very deep body of water, by his gold hand and his heavy plate mail armor.  Well, if you're going to arrange for a very deep drowning pool to be part of the plot, you can't have a gentle slope of meadow grass tapering off at the water's edge.  Such a gentle slop would have made the water 1 or 2 feet deep MAX where Jaime was knocked from his horse, 1/2 a second before the running equine was turned into ash by the wounded and angry Drogons' fire.  One or two feet deep, and muddy, would have been the "water" that Jaime fell into, after charging the wyvern & Daenerys with his steed and spear at a full tilt (while his little brother pleads from the hill top, futilely, that Jaime flee, instead).
Little Brother's insight, not heeded by older brother
Is Jaime dead?  Did he drown, dragged down by his armor and gold hand?  He should be.  If he's not, when he surfaces, he'll be a crunchy treat for Drogons, who has not yet been fed this season (on camera).  So wether he drowned in an impossibly deep body of water that should have been 2 feet deep at most near the bank where he fell in, or he surfaces and gets eaten, it doesn't matter.

Why do I care at all about geography, when there are witches, 3-eyed ravens, white walkers, wyverns,  resurrected zombies like The Mountain, and a flame-proof Daenerys inter-woven into the story?  Because geography matters.  Geography anchors the reference frame, it provides logical context, to is the foundation upon which the rest of the "world" from H R R Martin or anyone else can exists, function, facilitate commerce, livelihoods for the citizens of that world... so that it can be believable.  Throw in the magic and mythical creatures, and that makes it more exciting to the readers / watchers. But make a gentle sloping river bank lead to a DEEP Sudden Ledge of a drowning pool... make a bay so narrow that it cannot hold thousands of ships that couldn't see each other... it creates a landscape with so many unknowns that the watcher / reader doesn't know if Up is Down, left is right, gradual is sudden, light is dark, etc.


In Avatar, they had floating geography, that the "unobtainium" caused to hover above the planet's surface, sure.  But the "unobtainium" was intrinsic to the plot, it was Why the humans were mining the planet and disturbing the entire eco-system.  The viewer could suspend disbelief because of how central the geographic features were to the viability of the plot.  In GoT, the geographic anomalies keep getting in the way, making the world of Westeros into a farce instead of a fantasy realm.

Enough said... now it's time for me to make some dinner.

Cumbersome, again

For the last week, Seven Mary 3's Cumbersome has been running through my head.  I can't seem to get it out of my brain.

7 years ago, I posted this here on JustJoeP... but due to its persistence in my consciousness, I am posting it again.  This time, the live version from David Letterman, 21 years ago.  (things live forever, sometimes, on the internet)