Thursday, May 31, 2012

Knight Errant by John Jackson Miller

I just finished another solid Star Wars Expanded Universe novel.  This one focuses on a lone Jedi's struggle to help people out deep in Sith space.  I like the Star Wars books which don't feature too many sanctimonious Jedi so this book was another good read.  The characters were believable and there was even some humor similar to what is found in A New Hope.

I recommend this book.

Project Tree: Day 102

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Stupid, pointless and boring.  Star power and the lead actress' amazing rack could not save this movie from sucking serious ass.  I found none of the badassery believable and the plot was stupid.  I set a new record by checking how much time was left 15 minutes into the movie.

I do not recommend this movie under any circumstances.  It wasn't the worst movie I've seen, but it's definitely in the bottom ten percent.

Project Tree: Day 101

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sacrifice by Karen Traviss

Another book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, in the Legacy of the Force series.  The whole series feels like filler and this book is no different.  Traviss can't convince me to care about the characters and the book lacks action.  It feels more like a drama than a science fiction book and it's disappointing.  As I've mentioned in other reviews, I prefer the books with characters not mentioned in the movies since you have a clean slate with them.

I only recommend you read this book if you plan on finishing the series.

Memorial Day yard work

My goal is to fill in my front yard enough such that it requires no mowing.  The soil is mostly rocks and sand and isn't big enough to justify a grass yard.

I hit Hewitt's to get some plants.  It was predictably busy with a lot of old people there.  It was funny to watch the naughty 20-something fully tatted-hottie in the short shorts ringing up people four times her age.  I got five plants:

Green mound juniper:
 I'm hoping to use this plant to line my driveway.  It should only grow about 18 inches tall, but many feet out.  I haven't decided how deep in the yard I'll let it get, but it can definitely spread out.

This plant is near my redbud forest pansy near the garage opening and is to fill in a gap.

Kobold Japanese barberry:
I'm hoping this plant can stabilize the slope in my front yard and will help fill in an empty space.

I planted this one near the juniper to fill in a corner near the trees.  It should tolerate the partial sun pretty well.

I planted the other one in a shady spot in the other corner of the front yard.  Rhododendrons grow well in my home state of Oregon and I'm pretty sure they grow well in the shade.  It won't flower for long, but it'll stay green year round which will be nice in that corner because I'm trying to block the view of the street.

My goal is to have a wall of green in my front yard so I neither see nor really hear the traffic on my street.

Project Tree: Day 99

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ultimate frisbee in Ithaca

Last weekend I drove over to Ithaca to visit some friends and to play ultimate frisbee.  There was a hat tournament organized, but it was relatively hot out and the turnout was enough for just two teams so we played pickup.  Some fools complained, but there was no charge for the tournament so they got two hours of exercise in the sun for free.

My fitness regimen is working since I was able to run around without getting overly winded, but I still feel a little slow which suggests to me I'm overtraining.  I dropped a couple of passes and made some poor throws, but it wasn't too bad for my first ultimate experience of the year.

Project Tree: Day 98

Track work

No rest for the wicked this morning so I hit the track for some interval training before it got too hot.  It was still sunny and toasty, but not overbearingly so.

I felt slow again this morning, like my shoes have lead plates in them.  I added an additional warm up lap and another cool down lap so I did twelve total laps with eight of them interval-style.  My GPS watch said I did 3.15miles in 31:24 for a pace of 10:01/mile which is disappointing, but understandable given I walked the first cool down lap.  I averaged 6.0mph with a top speed of 14.8mph which is better than last time, but I'm capable of nearly 17mph.  My heart rate averaged 150bpm with a maximum of 180bpm.

Even though I'm disappointed in my pace, I'm pleased I was able to get out there and bang out the twelve laps. I should focus more on the process than the results - "Journey before destination."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Planet Hulk

I'm paying for Netflix streaming so I figured I might as well get some use out of it so I watched Planet Hulk, an animated movie, while eating dinner tonight.  Hulk has been exiled from Earth for being too badass and lands on a planet far, far away where he is enslaved.  What follows is a fairly predictable gladiator-redemption movie culminating in a happy ending for all.

The movie never says why Hulk doesn't turn back into Banner, but perhaps it's explained better in the comics.  I also was introduced to Beta Ray Bill for the first time.  I thought he was some weird zombie Thor, but he's a bonafide character in the Marvel Universe.

Those who know me, know I'm a big fan of The Incredible Hulk so this review is partly biased.  He seemed depowered a bit, but it probably made for a better story and you still got to see a lot of Hulk smashing.  This movie is also graphically violent so it is NOT suitable for children.

The animation is ok, but nothing special.

I recommend this movie if you're a fan of The Hulk and/or you've got some time to kill.

Project Tree: Day 97

Fitness update

I haven't found a good cardiovascular activity to fill the void once basketball through the town ended and the numbers reflect it.  The chunk around my waist grew a little bit, but I hope my renewed commitment to eating well will take care of that.

I'm still looking for pickup ultimate here in the Capital District, but have struck out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Holiday weekend ramblings

I guess most of my posts this month have been related to movies, books or Project Tree.  Not much has been going on with me other than the usual - working and working out.  I went to Ithaca last weekend to play ultimate and that was cool.  I have plans to go on an overnight hike next weekend, but the weather might not cooperate.  I ordered up a two man tent and some other camping supplies that I don't have.  I'm probably a stove and a water filter short of the bare minimum.  It's definitely fun to rough it out in the woods and it's good exercise as well.  I've got to make sure I can roll up my sleeping pad.  I also need to check on my sleeping bag because it hasn't gotten any use in the past five years for sure which is pretty sad.  I'm still spending money, but at least it's money I have and I get paid three times in June so I'll have an extra paycheck's worth.  I have plans to get some more plants for the yard to fill in the front.  It's green, but could do with some color.  A blast from the past contacted me this week, but I had to cut things off this morning because it would be no good for either of us.  She's got something going on and I thrive on chaos so I'm not the most stabilizing influence.  I've decided to change up my diet after watching this video.  She doesn't say anything I didn't already know, but it's good to have reinforcement from time to time.  I'll get a bunch of vegetables and grass-fed meat when I hit the store tomorrow.  I also ordered a food dehydrator yesterday because kale chips sound like the only way I'll be able to eat kale since I don't do well with bitter food.  I already eat a fair amount of spinach so I can up my intake of carrots, peppers and berries to get some color.  Add in some broccoli and I'm golden.  A colleague was talking about getting his vegetables through juicing, but that process breaks down the vegetables so you lose the benefits of the fiber.  I think one of the problems plaguing the American diet is that our food is mostly predigested.  You don't have to do any work to chew it and you do even less work to digest it so we spend most of our day far from equilibrium.  Satiety seems to be a lost feeling since we eat until we're overfull rather than until we're no longer hungry.  The dehydrator should also let me make jerky which is a good snack.  It works the jaw muscles and takes forever to eat so you can't over eat.  It should make a good snack for the trail as well.  I've got plenty of kitchen gadgets, but you can never have too many and I put them to use.  I haven't decided if I should give up dairy as well since I don't know how it fits into a forager's lifestyle.  I guess milk might be ok, but cheese definitely requires some processing.  In honor of the holiday, I'll get some ice cream tomorrow and will live with the consequences.  Every diet should have room for crap food since it's ok to let yourself go now and then or you'll go crazy.  The hard part is reeling yourself back in and not sliding into bad habits.  I think I should be ok if I don't buy too much crap because I'll eat whatever I buy when I feel like it.  I'm not someone who can ration out Oreos or whatever.  I'll eat them until I feel full and then I'll eat a few more for good measure.  It's funny when you know you're doing something wrong, but you're powerless to stop it.  Is that how addiction works?


I didn't expect much from this movie other than some mindless action and was not disappointed.  Contraband is nothing special, but is mildly entertaining which is perfect for a Friday night before a three day weekend.  Wahlberg plays the same character he's played in his last few movies except he's in Louisiana instead of Boston.  Kate Beckinsale looks fine as usual, but you don't get to see her assets.

The smuggling parts of the movie were pretty cool, but overall this movie is just ok.  I recommend it only if your brain has already shut down for the night.

Project Tree: Day 96

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Perfect Getaway

The only thing positive I can say about this movie is that the Hawai'ian scenery is awesome.  It has a bunch of famous actors in it, but they're mostly wasted in this boring thriller.

I do not recommend this movie.

Project Tree: Day 93

Monday, May 21, 2012

Californication: Season 1

This series had been in my Netflix queue for a couple of years now and I finally moved it up to check it out.  I feel stupid for not doing so earlier since it's definitely my kind of show.  I wouldn't mind being Hank Moody minus the cigarettes and statutory rape.  His daughter says something to him that I can relate to: "You're tragically flawed, but you have a good heart."

The first season might be a little dated, but is still worth checking out.  You get to see some nice titties which is also a plus in my book.

I highly recommend this series and I will quickly watch the following seasons.

Deceived by Paul S Kemp

Yep, another Star Wars Expanded Universe book, but it is another good one.  Sure, it's based on a BioWare game, but it is well-paced and the characters are nicely fleshed out.  It focuses on individual conflict for just three characters so you don't get lost in endless side-plots like with the series involving better known characters. It also explores the gray area in the Force rather than casting everything as black and white.

I recommend this book.

Project Tree: Day 92

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Project Tree: Day 88

2012 CDPHP Workforce Challenge

Today I ran in the CDPHP Workforce Challenge.  It's a 3.5 mile "race" around downtown Albany.  I put race in quotes because they had 10,000 participants this year and I had no clear path the entire race.  It's ok though because the event is more about getting out and doing something than busting one out.

The unevenness in my speed is me trying to avoid the crush of people.  Some people ran up the hill and then started walking which is not cool because they blocked the course only 0.25 miles into it.

My GPS watch said I did 3.52 miles in 32:09.84 for a pace of 9:08/mile which is really close to my goal of 9 minute miles.  My average heart rate was 173 bpm so you know I was working.  I beat last year's time by a couple of minutes so I'm happy with the results.  I can tell my track work is paying off because I wasn't dead when I finished.  I wanted to sprint the last quarter mile, but the course was too crowded.

I have a Garmin Forerunner 305 which is pretty hefty and it slides around a bit when I run which is annoying so I'm going to think about getting a smaller one.  I can use the bigger one for biking and a smaller one for these races.  I plan on running a ~3 mile race every month or so and the watches aren't that expensive.

My company had a good turnout and it seemed like people had a good time regardless of their fitness level.  There was also a fair amount of eye candy on the course which is always appreciated.  Y'all know I'm a big fan of a nice ass in tight workout pants.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Empire Strikes Back

I've been reading a lot of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels and it got me thinking about the original trilogy. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Star Wars movie so I got it from Netflix and watched it tonight.  The visual effects are cheesy and so is the dialogue, but there are still some great lines - I know.  Pray I don't alter it any further.  I'm your father.

People forget that Lucas didn't direct these ones and someone should've had the balls to keep him from mucking with the prequels.  Stupid Jar Jar.

Project Tree: Day 87

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Project Tree: Day 86

Underworld: Awakening

Even Kate Beckinsale in tight latex couldn't save this installment in the Underworld franchise.  It felt a bit like a cash grab and the plot was fairly pedestrian.  She mostly shot Lycans with guns and didn't really do any Vampire-specific stuff.

There was an opportunity to see her titties in the beginning, but the movie had some careful use of fog to frustrate me.  Gah.  I'm not a fan of add-a-kid either.

I don't really recommend this movie, but it's not going to be the worst thing you've seen this year.

I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

My cousin recommended this book to me and I'm glad he did.  It's less a book and more a collection of Frank Sheeran's recorded "confessions."  Sheeran was involved with the mob and admitted to being the one to kill Jimmy Hoffa.  I don't want to spoil too much of the book, but there are some interesting parts related to JFK's assassination that make a lot more sense than the conspiracy theories.

Brandt tries to explain the background, but I found his parts to be the weakest in the book.  Sheeran's dialogue is often hard to follow because he's deliberately obtuse.  They were constantly worried about wire taps so they spoke in code - a lot of "this thing we had to do" and so on.  After a lot of "things" get mixed together, it can be hard to follow the thread.

I liked the first half better than the second, but I still highly recommend it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Project Tree: Day 85

X-Men: First Class

I saw this movie in the theaters last summer when it came out, but felt like watching it again after seeing The Avengers.  Fortunately, a coworker owns it and loaned it to me.  It does a good job with an ensemble cast except for January Jones who has maybe two distinct facial expressions.

I didn't enjoy it as much the second time, but that was to be expected because I knew what would happen.  I highly recommend it to those who haven't seen it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

City of God

Netflix thought I would love this movie, but it did nothing for me.  I had it at home for more than two weeks before finally deciding to watch it and I guess someone was trying to tell me something because it was mostly a waste of time.  It had plenty of violence, but I didn't care one bit what happened to the characters.  You could tell they weren't going to make anything out of their lives so what difference did it make if there was a gang war or not?

I do not recommend this movie, but perhaps some of you might like it.

Animal skull

I was mowing my front yard/jungle and saw an animal skull:

Given the canines it has to be some sort of predator, but the skull looks too large for a cat and it's unlikely a dog died in my yard.  I guess it could be from a skunk or an o'possum.

It's clearly been there a while which tells you how often I get to that part of the yard.  I need to formulate a plan for my yard and start executing it.

Project Tree: Day 84

Track work

Today is Sunday which means it was my time to hit the track for some interval training.  I've been feeling sluggish all week and this morning was no exception.  It's not that I'm unmotivated, but that I just feel... slow.  I'm not sure how else to describe it.  Maybe I'm fighting something or maybe it's because of the crap I've been eating this week.

Regardless, I was able to bang out ten laps this morning with eight interval laps.  My GPS watch tells me I ran 2.64 miles in 25:48 for a pace of 9:46/mile which is well off my goal of 9:00/mile.  I wasn't able to jog the curves and my sprinting felt slow as well.  I averaged 6.1mph with a top speed of 14.4mph which is really slow for me.  My heart heart averaged 154 bpm with a maximum of 174 bpm.

I've got a 3.5 mile race this Thursday so hopefully I can shake myself out of this funk before then.

The next time I do interval training, I'll add another warm up and cool down lap to get around 3.1 miles.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Revan by Drew Karpyshyn

After reading this Expanded Star Wars Universe book I realized that I greatly prefer books that do not involve any characters from the films because then I'm not comparing their actions to those in the movies.  This book is about a Jedi's quest to explore his past and takes place thousands of years before the movies.  It has the usual light saber and Force battles and is well-written.  Much of the action takes place on the Sith homeworld and the author does a great job of explaining some of the key differences between the light and dark side.

This book is based on The Old Republic video game from Bio Ware, but it was a good story nonetheless.

I highly recommend this book and I will definitely read his others.

Project Tree: Day 83

Friday, May 11, 2012

Project Tree: Day 82

Real Steel

Real Steel is Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots meets Rocky with a heavy dose of a clone of the annoying shit from the Phantom Menace thrown in.  It hit cheese factor five pretty quickly, but was partially redeemed by animatronic violence and Evageline Lilly's rack.

There were some cool moments, but the commentary by "ESPN" in the final match was stupid enough to ruin the ending.

I thought the movie was ok and not the worst way to kill a couple of hours.  I know that recommendation is not rousing, but it's truthful.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The President visits CNSE

As mentioned yesterday, President Obama visited my work site, the CNSE on the edge of UAlbany's campus.  It disrupted our day, but some lucky souls got to hear his speech.  I was ok with his visit until I saw this picture.  Most of you might not know why I'm pissed, but the four people pictured are inside a goddamned clean room. Protocol dictates that everyone is required to wear a clean room suit, but that would've ruined Obama's photo op so he, and everyone else, got to walk around unencumbered.  What's the big deal you ask?  Well, we're making devices many times smaller than a human hair so imagine all the particles generated by people walking around.  Besides, they had bomb-sniffing dogs go through the clean room as well.  These people are also in the photolithography area which has a lot of chemicals sensitive to light.  Of course they couldn't take pictures with just the yellow lights so they turned on the goddamned white lights.

Crikey.  I know his visit generated some good press for the site and I know the dude pictured, Martin, but still. He effed up my day yesterday and he set a bad precedent by thinking himself above the rules.  He's just the president, not a god so he should be held to the same standards as the rest of us.

Project Tree: Day 80

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Project Tree: Day 79

The Avengers

The President's visit to my work site really goofed things up so we were encouraged to work from home.  However, they shut down the network to the fab for most of the day so there wasn't much work to be done so I hit the theater to catch The Avengers.  Longtime readers know I'm a big action fan, a big comic book fan and a huge fan of The Incredible Hulk.

Let me reassure you that this movie does not disappoint.  The beginning is a little slow from an action perspective, but I would say the movie is well-paced.  The acting is excellent and the dialogue is funny without being cheesy.  I think Downey, Jr was born to play Tony Stark and he doesn't mail it in like he did with Iron Man 2.  I was worried about Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, but I think he gave the most credible performance yet.  Scarlett Johansson looks great as always and her character is not just there for eye candy.  The guy who played Loki, Tom Hiddleston, was an excellent villain.  He was powerful yet flawed which is one of the themes of the movie.

This movie also perfectly captured the essence of the Hulk and his action scenes were my favorites.  The previous movies slightly depowered him, but the angrier he gets, the stronger he gets so there is no theoretical limit to his strength.  He wasn't so powerful though that the movie was boring.

I highly recommend you see this movie as it's not just a great action movie, but a great comic book movie.  I liked it as much as I did X-Men: First Class and it shows how to do an ensemble comic book movie without watering down any of the characters.  I think it helps that previous movies were made to introduce the characters and their backstories.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Project Tree: Day 77


As an outlet for all the random thoughts that enter my head, I signed up for a Twitter account, BigMonkey76.  The updates should show up in the upper left if Blogger cooperates.

Ascension by Christie Golden

Ascension is the eighth book in the Fate of the Jedi series and is probably the best effort Golden has put forth.  However, her writing is still uneven and overly descriptive.  I haven't exactly pinned down why I don't like her style, but the fact remains she lags far behind the other writers in the Expanded Universe.

This book continues the Jedi's quest to rid the universe of Abeloth.  There are some interesting parts, but Luke Skywalker is still an annoying character since he's a jerk.

I recommend this book only if you're set on finishing the series.

Reclaiming my yard

I mowed the back yard and part of the front yard for the first time since last fall.  We've been having cycles of rain and sun so the grass was pretty tall.  However, I didn't rake the leaves last fall so the grass in the back is patchy at best.  At least it now looks like a poorly maintained yard rather than an abandoned one.

I'll get some grass seed and try to rescue the back yard so I can dribble a soccer ball or play croquet out there.  I would like to have no grass in the front yard, but I need to plant something to prevent the weeds from taking over.  I'm thinking maybe something like juniper or jasmine.  I think juniper is an evergreen so that would be nice to have during the winter.

A good fraction of my front yard is marshland and it hasn't been warm enough yet to shrink my mosquito pool. I did see a duck out there this morning which is cool.  He was swimming around and it looked like he was finding stuff to eat.  I doubt there are any fish in there, but maybe some tadpoles or frogs.

I also have plans to fill in more of my front yard to cut down on the road noise and to increase privacy.  The new townhouses down the road have doubled the traffic on my street.

To improve privacy in the backyard, I'll get or make some trellises and then plant climatis or something else to block the view of my neighbors' back yards.

It'll probably take a while for all this to happen, but I need to maintain some momentum because a bad yard will decrease my home's value.

Track work

I've been on an early schedule this week, so I woke up early again this morning and hit the track for my weekly interval training.  My strength training must be working because I felt pretty good this morning and was able to add another two laps of interval work for a total of ten.  Not too shabby.  I also wasn't as wiped at the end.  I probably could've done another interval lap, but I want to ease into it.  My goal is to do around 3 miles of interval work since that would correspond to a 5k.

My GPS watch tells me I ran 2.63 miles in 25:14 for a pace of 9:35/mile.  I averaged 6.3mph with a maximum of 15.5mph.  My average heart rate was 150bpm with a peak of 176bpm.

I'm pretty happy with those numbers, but I'd like to get the pace down around 9:00/mile which means I need to walk less.  I was able to jog the curves for the first four laps which is an improvement over last week.

Here is a plot of my speed and heart rate as a function of distance:
The discontinuity is from when I stopped to tie my shoe.  One lace always loosens after a couple of laps.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday ramblings

I've realized what is really bringing this country down is selfishness.  People no longer seem to give a crap about anyone else.  Around here, people drive aggressively because they don't really care if they cut you off or if they're tailgating you because they're just that more important than you.

The weather has been fairly uneven this week, but hopefully warm weather is on its way.  I'd like to get back into hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities.  My strength training is effective, but it's good to get some cardio in as well.  I also figure it's good for me to socialize to prevent me from going full-on hermit.

I've still been having poor luck on the dating scene, but I hope more socializing will help.  I'm thinking of taking some yoga classes to gain some flexibility and those tend to be full of women in yoga pants.  Mmmm...  I might also sign up pilates to strength my core, but we'll see.  I'm not exactly flush with cash right now and I still need to buy a ticket to visit Oregon in late June and early July.

Project Tree: Day 76

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Exile by Aaron Allston

Exile is the fourth book in the Legacy of the Force series and one of my favorite Star Wars books to date.  I think Allston is one of the better authors in the Expanded Universe since he seems to have a good grasp of the characters.  His writing is descriptive yet crisp and has a good mix of dialogue and action.

I recommend this book.

Project Tree: Day 73

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I did my beginner's yoga routine for the first time in months this morning and learned how inflexible I became.  My plan is to do this routine twice a week since it'll improve my flexibility and should help with my posture and overall health.

Project Tree: Day 72