Nothing less than the existence of God can explain this funny world. His edgy sense of humor is manifest in all things. This occasional blog helps you take comfort, of a sort, from that divine finger in your eye.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Cheap Critic: The Good Dinosaur


I generally run out and see Pixar films during the first week of their run, often opening night. But somehow the Missus and I had trouble working up a lot of enthusiasm for "The Good Dinosaur." We had seen the trailer several times and both had three-part reactions, notably:

1) The background and environmental rendering was gorgeous.
2) Against those amazing backgrounds the cartoonish character animation was jarring.
3) And... meh.

When I noticed that it was playing at our second-run theater where we could see it on the cheap I decided to give it a chance. I had seen several reviews that suggested that Pixar was so excited about their new technologies for environmental rendering that they overlooked the small detail of giving the film more than a pro-forma story. Now that I have seen the film I have to say that those critics were a bit hard on the film, which isn't to quite say they were wrong. The film has most of a decent story... but not all of one. It's frustrating because it was so fixable. But they didn't see it. And they didn't fix it. It's kind of lame but it didn't have to be.

The main problem -- and I've complained about this with Disney before (see my review of Brave) -- is that they are so into their characters that they can't let them change. At the end of the film the scriptwriters put the characters back where they found them with no scuffs or nicks from their adventure. In The Good Dinosaur our protagonist makes the hero's journey, sees marvels, performs brave acts, earns the respect of the ghost of his dad, rushes home to reach his family before its too late... and they are fine... they're glad to see him, mind you, but his earlier dramatic promise to his mother -- "I won't let you starve!" -- foreshadows nothing, she's fine, the family farm is fine, his brother and sister are fine, there's really no reason for him to have rushed home.

And then there is the name of the film -- The Good Dinosaur -- what's with that? We see lots of dinosaurs and most of them seem OK. There are a few bad ones, I guess -- the pterodactyls are hard to like and and the archaeopteryxes ditto (apparently feathered and/or flying dinosaurs are evil) -- but most of the other dinosaurs we see are good guys too. Our hero is nice enough but he never quite seems to earn his definite article. He is A Good Dinosaur, to be sure, but it seems like he'd have to change the world, just a bit, to earn the title of THE Good Dinosaur.

So, bottom line, The Good Dinosaur is worth seeing so you can goggle at the environmental rendering. Their computer animated vegetation is astounding and what they have done with animating water has to be seen to be believed. Just don't expect the story to go anywhere.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

One Hundred Years Ago Today Looking for a Planet Far, Far Away


One hundred years ago today astronomer Percival Lowell was looking for a ninth planet in the Solar system. Its existence and its rough location had been predicted by other astronomers based on the perturbations of the orbits of other bodies (notably Neptune) but nobody had ever seen it. Lowell was convinced it was there and he was looking for it.

Today, one hundred years later, astronomer Michael E Brown is also looking for a ninth planet. Today's predicted planet was once again suggested by the peculiar orbits of other bodies (notably the distant dwarf planet Sedna with a highly elliptical orbit). To date, nobody has seen the new ninth planet but Brown is convinced it's there and he's looking for it.

In the intervening century a lot of stuff has happened but a surprising amount of it canceled itself out leaving us back where we started. Lovell didn't live to see the discovery of his ninth planet (which he called "Planet X"). It was discovered by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh fourteen years later and named "Pluto." For seventy six years "Pluto" was the ninth planet in the Solar system, but with the dawn of the 21st Century astronomers started discovering lots of new objects as large or larger than Pluto and, rather than posting the current number of planets like a stock ticker that could be constantly updated, scientists decided to set the bar higher, insisting that planets had to be much larger than Pluto, and demoting Pluto, in 2006, to "Dwarf Planet" status (along with all of his newly-found companions.) Once again there were eight planets. And scientists were pretty sure that would be it.

Turns out they were probably wrong.

The evidence for the 21st Century Planet X comes from the very eccentric orbits of some of the other, smaller objects way out in the Kuiper belt (sort of like an asteroid belt only out past Pluto). It turns out that these objects have really similar orbits -- all 30 degrees off from the ecliptic and all on the same side of the sun. The theory is that they have similar orbits because they have all had close encounters with the same massive object that spends most of its time on the other side of the sun, 30 degrees off the ecliptic in the other direction. This article has a helpful picture.

The order of the planets that I learned as a teenager uses one of the few G-rated mnemonic sentences I can easily remember. "Mother very easily made jelly sandwiches under no protest." for "Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto." Some years ago (while Pluto was still a planet) it crossed inside the orbit of Neptune and, technically, became planet eight with Neptune in the number nine spot. But the new Planet X is well outside the orbit of Neptune (as much as 31 times as far from the sun) so as long as they give it a "P" name I won't need any re-education.

Perhaps they could name it after Priapus -- the Greek god of Nature, Gardens and Beekeeping. That'd work.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

Aurelie Jane McPherson. I knew her middle name was Jane. Of course I knew. She is my granddaughter after all. I didn’t actually need to page back through three months of Amber’s Facebook timeline looking for that first post with the full name. “Jane”. Of course it is Jane. I knew that. I just panicked when I saw the cursor blinking after “Aurelie”.

Aurelie is a French name. I’ve been to several web sites to try to learn the French pronunciation. It is Oh-RAY-lee but you have to say it really fast… and sort of gargle it… like you have a bit of cheese stuck in your throat and you are trying not to cough while saying the name. I can almost say it the French way if you give me a minute to prepare but I’m not sure that will be fast enough in real-life grandfather situations. In the time it takes me to wrap my mouth around Oh-RAY-lee I can say “You there, small person, don’t put that vile thing in your mouth!!” which you’d think would take longer. Fortunately, I can say the anglicized version that sounds like “Aura Lee” as in the popular song that was a hit during the Civil War.
As the blackbird in the spring 'neath the willow tree
sat and piped I heard him sing praising Aura Lee.
Aura Lee! Aura Lee! Maid of golden hair
sunshine came along with thee and swallows in the air.
(Tune is same as Elvis’ “Love Me Tender”)
Aurelie was born at 10:21 pm. on July 24th, weighing in at 8 lbs 14 oz and is already quite accomplished for a three month old. She holds her head up like a champ. She looks at faces. She laughs when her mom pretends to sneeze. She gains weight to the satisfaction of her pediatrician (a talent that comes from my side of the family.)
Aurelie’s brother and sister, Liam and Eva McPherson will be four by the time you read this. They are shown here with their newborn sister, for scale. I don’t have any song lyrics that go with their names. As far as I know there are no “Liam” songs and the best I’ve got for “Eva” is “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” which doesn’t seem that Christmassy.

It is boastful for grandparents to go on and on about how smart their grandkids are so I will spare you*. But I did see a scientific study that suggested that women with adipose bottoms have smarter babies, presumably because the infants are slightly better nourished in utero. And based on that study people who spend some time with my grandchildren might imagine that Amber’s posterior would be huge... but, really, that’s not the case.
Chris and Reid have sold their house in Cary and, if all goes to plan they will have bought another house by the time this card is delivered. The new house they are buying will take ten minutes, each way, off of Christopher’s daily commute without increasing Reid’s. That’s the “official”, sensible reason they chose it. The actual reason is that the new house is not part of a Home Owner’s Association. They had rented out the previous house for several years and Chris grew tired of getting cranky-grams from the HOA whenever his tenants fell behind on their grass mowing. The new house sits on nine rural acres, of which Chris can mow as much or as little as he likes. Perhaps he should go to a local salvage yard and buy a rusty old junker to put up on blocks in his yard… just because he can.
Irene and I are fine and we continue to do the usual stuff. Please refer to previous years’ Christmas cards for details. We did get a new dog – Gypsy Rose (shown here with yours truly) - to take the place of Ms. Cello who passed away. Jaxon, our other dog continues to do well. I suspect he would be getting old and slow and fat if it weren’t for Gypsy who chases him around the back yard ten hours a day.
Our Cockatiel, Sugar, (shown on Irene’s shoulder) is quite an elderly bird being more than 20 years old. She seldom comes out of her cage but apparently she wanted to be part of this year’s Christmas letter and she came out to pose for a photo this morning when Irene was filling her seed cup. My father, Allen, continues to do well. He recently celebrated his 89th birthday and is in reasonable health and good spirits.

*What? Don’t all the Christmas cards you get have footnotes? Anyway, Irene insists that I mention how well Liam reads for a three year old. Since that conflicts with my promise not to boast I have hidden her grandmotherly boasting in a footnote which nobody will read and for which I can blame her.

A few additional photos that didn't make the cut for this year's newsletter are available here (

Friday, December 19, 2014

NC Haslup Christmas Letter -- 2014

1. PineCones in Fairbanks Alaska
As I write this 2014 installment of the NC Haslup Clan Christmas Newsletter, I have already missed the first (Partridge in a Pear Tree) through the fourth (Calling Birds) days of Christmas. But there are 8 more so hope remains. I do need to hurry, though, because of the plumbing issue.

As it turns out, of the houses owned by Irene and me, and by our grown, married children, all three have had significant plumbing problems in the past year or so. Chris and Reid had to replace all the water pipes in their house, Amber and Lee had to tear up their bathroom floor to get at a pipe, and we replaced a burst pipe near our upstairs water heater.

Because of these painful (and expensive) events there are some days of the song that may have unpleasant connotations: "Twelve Plumbers Plumbing, Eleven Pipers Piping, Ten Loos a-Leaking, Seven Drains a-Swimming, Six Bills for Paying, Five Wax Bowl Rings, Four Floating T-" ... well you get the idea. Days 1,2,3,8 and 9 -- Partridge in a Pear Tree, Turtle Doves, French Hens, Maids a-Milking, and Ladies Dancing, respectively -- are OK because I haven't thought up anything funny that rhymes. So I have to get cracking to try to hit days 8 and 9 for those few people who will be getting a paper Christmas card this year..

With one notable exception*, we are all reasonably healthy and seem to be thriving. Chris still has the same job as a graphic designer/art director for a communication firm, Amber is continuing her residency in Emergency Medicine. Amber's Lee and Reid are both teaching (college chemistry and high school physics, respectively). Lee and Irene are largely unchanged from last year so I will refer you to last years holiday letter for details..

Most of this year's newsletter is being presented as an online slide show because, um, I sorta ran out of time to lay out the newsletter. The link (immediately below) is followed here by an exhibit guide for the photos. You might want to skim the guide before you click the link to decide whether you need to see the photos just now.

1. PineCones in Fairbanks Alaska

1. PineCones in Fairbanks Alaska Taken in June, near the Morris Thompson Visitors and Cultural Center along the walking/bicycle path beside the Chena River. Christmasy-looking, I think.

2. (Big) Lee

2. (Big) Lee Photo of your obedient servant. I am sitting in my comfy chair and kitchen clutter in background is nicely blurred. Chris probably took this one while trying out my new lens.

3. Irene on the BlueRidge Parkway

3. Irene on the BlueRidge Parkway Nice shot of Irene taken at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, mid October, just before sunset.

4. BBQ w/ Amber, Lee, the twins, Calvin and Pat

4. BBQ w/ Amber, Lee, the twins, Calvin and Pat Here we are, the whole family... except that our friends Calvin (second from the right) and Pat (leftmost) are standing in for Chris and Reid. (Didn't get a family portrait this year.)

5. James and Ashleigh, newlyweds.

5. James and Ashleigh, newlyweds. Dancing at the reception after their beach wedding. It was pretty dark in the tent and most of my photos were blurs. I like this one though.

6. Random Newlyweds Who Asked Me to Take Their Photo

6. Random Newlyweds Who Asked Me to Take Their Photo No idea who this couple are. They had just been married on the beach and were looking to have their picture taken at Sunset at Fort Fisher. The lighting is the high-beams of our Subaru Outback. The is possibly my favorite wedding photo I have ever taken. I emailed this and a few similar images to the man on the right who had officiated at the ceremony.

7. Christmas Dinner Last Year at Cousin Bill's House.

7. Christmas Dinner Last Year at Cousin Bill's House. Very nice affair -- good company and fabulous food. Irene was there, too, acting as photographer for this shot.

8. Foggy bit on the BlueRidge Parkway.

8. Foggy bit on the BlueRidge Parkway. Richland Balsam overlook. Bit of a different driving experience on a foggy day, offering bottomless gray vistas yawning inches from the passenger side window.

9. Chris and Reid on the Appalachian Trail (Note White Blaze)

9. Chris and Reid on the Appalachian Trail (Note White Blaze) Reids first time on the AT. Chris appears to be doing a movie impression -- the hat, the intense gaze, the stubble -- Kenneth Barnaugh? No, that's not quite it. I can almost... Don't tell me... Um... Ok, tell me.

10. Chris and Reid's New Dog, Miss Scarlet

10. Chris and Reid's New Dog, Miss Scarlet Nice dog with soulful golden eyes. May be a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. At least that's what Reid thinks.

11. Granddaughter, Eva

11. Granddaughter, Eva Earlier this year, I think. They grow so fast at this age. Love the light here... And, of course, fond of the girl, too.

12. Grands Liam and Eva

12. Grands Liam and Eva Being adorable. Obviously plotting mischief.

13. Amber's Lee and her Eva, too.

13. Amber's Lee and her Eva, too. Irene took this photo of Lee and Eva posing with the lion beside the steps of some-building-or-other, somewhere, probably in New Jersey. Princeton, maybe. Irene took this one.

14. Eva with some Over-sized Art.

14. Eva with some Over-sized Art. She is three now. I think the Munch-man is overreacting to the Munchkin. Although she was still in the "terrible twos" at the time.

15. Lee in The Dr Zeuss Themed Part of Universal Studios, Orlando.

15. Lee in The Dr Zeuss Themed Part of Universal Studios, Orlando. Kinda like that part of the park although there might be more to actually do there if I had the grandkids in tow.

16. Amber, Liam and Eva

16. Amber, Liam and Eva Irene took this shot and I was able to pull Amber and Eva out of the deep shadow in post-processing without burning out Liam who was in the sun. But that is boring, I know. Sorry. I wasn't along on that trip and don't have much to say about the photos.

17. Dandilion Taken with Lee's New Lens

17. Dandelion Taken with Lee's New Lens One of several photos taken in the backyard to try out my new Sigma 18-250mm lens before our trip to Alaska.

18. Obligatory New-Zoom-Lens Moon Photo

18. Obligatory New-Zoom-Lens Moon Photo You may wonder: what is Christmasy about a photo of the moon? Well, you see the lens -- a Sigma 18-250 zoom -- was an early Christmas present I bought myself. ... or ... maybe it was a late Christmas present from last year. ... Yes, that is. It was last year's indulgence. Wonder what I will get for myself this year???

Maybe trouble...

19. Roseate Spoonbill Taken Near Mims Florida

19. Roseate Spoonbill Taken Near Mims Florida Spoonbills are on my list of things that can't be explained by atheists. Without postulating an odd sense of humor behind its design it is impossible to explain how the spoonbill came to be so funny looking.

20. Portrait of Leopard Frog, Taken with New Lens in Backyard.

20. Portrait of Leopard Frog, Taken with New Lens in Backyard. Yes, I know dear, there is NO reason for this photo to be here. You're quite right. But if I took it out now I'd have to renumber all the other photos.

21. BigLee and Irene in Dinali Park in Alaska

21. BigLee and Irene in Dinali Park in Alaska The interior of Alaska is a dangerous place in the summer. It is so beautiful -- and there ARE people who live there year round. It's tempting not to go home.

22. Photographing Snow Plow last February

22. Photographing Snow Plow last February This photo looks like it ought to be part of our Alaska collection but actually it was shot last winter across the street from our neighborhood. I wanted to get an action shot of the snowplow and I got more action than I had figured on. It was a bit like losing a snowball fight with Optimus Prime.

23. BigLee, Pattye, Frosty and Irene with Alaskan Pipeline

23. BigLee, Pattye, Frosty and Irene with Alaskan Pipeline Fisheye lens selfie taken somewhat north of Fairbanks.

24. Irene Points to Our Location along Pipeline.

24. Irene Points to Our Location along Pipeline. Another fisheye shot. I like it because it makes her look 17 feet tall.

25. Huskys Go For a Boat Ride near Fairbanks, Alaska

25. Huskys Go For a Boat Ride near Fairbanks, Alaska People in Alaska have a different meaning for the word husky than do those in the lower 48. In the lower 48 a husky is one of several breeds of dog some of which have blue eyes. In Alaska it is any sort of dog that loves to pull a sled.

26. Irene in a Riverside Park in Fairbanks, Alaska.

26.  Irene in a Riverside Park in Fairbanks, Alaska. Taken along the river walk by the Chena river.

27. BigLee with Caribou Antler Arch in Fairbanks

27. BigLee with Caribou Antler Arch in Fairbanks Taken along the river walk by the Chena river.

28. Irene Talks with Alaskan Native Come into Anchorage to Sell Handicrafts

28. Irene Talks with Alaskan Native Come into Anchorage to Sell Handicrafts The woman in blue (left) had come into Anchorage to visit her daughter (center) and to try to place some of her handicraft items in some of the local shops. She lives on St Lawrence Island -- a large island in the Bering Sea, much closer to Siberia than to the Alaskan mainland. Among her offerings was a pair of seal fur gloves that were lovely and she assured us that the seal the fur had come from was very tasty and tender.

29. Irene, Frosty and Pattye in Fairbanks

29. Irene, Frosty and Pattye in Fairbanks Our first two nights in Alaska were spent in the River's Edge Resort in Fairbanks. Between jet lag and the midnight sun (not to mention the 1:00 am sun and the 3:00 am sun) we kept kind of strange hours the first few days. Lovely place to wander down the path by the river at 4:00 am although you had to keep moving or the mosquitoes would fly off with you.

30. Irene Sitting in an Exhibit at U of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks.

30. Irene Sitting in an Exhibit at U of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks. Many Alaskans decorate their outhouses. This is an unusually ornate one. That blue foam pad is crucial for an inland-Alaska outhouse since it is an excellent insulator and your butt won't stick to it, even at 40 below.

31. Lee, Irene, Matt, Pattye, Frosty and Allen Embark on Alaska Cruise

31. Lee, Irene, Matt, Pattye, Frosty and Allen Embark on Alaska Cruise First few seconds on board the Norwegian Sun sailing from Whittier, Alaska in messy weather.

32. Lee and Irene in Times Square

32. Lee and Irene in Times Square Having a great time despite cold rain. We stood in the Tckts same-day line and scored half-price tickets to a musical called "Side Show".

33. All Aboard the Norwegian Sun

33. All Aboard the Norwegian Sun This is our official boarding photo from our trip to Alaska this June. The weather was lousy (we had half drowned, half froze trying to reach the terminal) and Irene did not want her photo taken. I LOVE this photo. Makes me laugh every time I see it.

I will close with a sincere wish that the remaining more-than-half of Christmas will be a joyous time for you and yours and that the new year that will start with the arrival of those Maids a-Milking will be a safe and prosperous one.

* The exception is our small gray dog, Cello who died on the 26th.

Click here to see photos as slide show.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Beer Run in the Snow

Chris and I. looking for any excuse to get out in the snow, decided to walk down to our neighborhood Food Lion and buy some beer for the winter storm. When we got there, of course, they were closed but fortunately we had foreseen the problem and had a plan. We stood at their locked door and complained loudly that they were closed when we needed them. That was our plan. It went perfectly. After executing our plan (flawlessly) we decided to wander aimlessly around the shopping center (our new plan) and we discovered that the drug store was open and sold beer. Huzzah!
On the way back to the house we were passed by a number of snow plows. I really wanted a photo of myself with a snowplow in the background. But the first one passed before I could get out my camera...
... and so did the second...
... so I gave up on the self-portrait angle and snapped this shot ...
... and got a serious face full of snow as the plow went past .
It was a bit like losing a snowball fight with Optimus Prime.
It's been a long time since I have had an icicle growing on my hat. Marvelous. I do like a bit of winter weather in my winter.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas 2013 Haslup Newsletter

merryxmas by bigleehimself

This Page Intentionally Left Blank.

 . . .

No, I guess that won’t do.  I must ignore the cursor blinking on the blank screen and get on with this year’s North Carolina Haslups Christmas Letter.  So here goes.

We will start with Liam and Eva who turned two in November.

In other news, Chris and Reid are in the process of moving to the Washington DC area.  Reid is excited to have found a position teaching in a small school near Leesburg, Va. and she and Chris have moved into an apartment near the school.

Chris is still working in Raleigh for the present while he looks for a graphics design job in the DC area.  He does the weekly commute thing – living in Leesburg on the weekends and staying with us during the week – which is a bit of a grind but he is still young and seems to be bearing up well.  It is a treat for us to get to spend so much time with him but we miss Reid.

Amber and Lee have (again) had an absurdly busy but largely successful year.  Amber graduated from medical school in June and was accepted for a residency in emergency medicine in New Jersey.  Lee found a job teaching at a local college nearby.  She and Lee found and bought a charming hundred year-old house in Pennsauken, New Jersey, moved, started work, learned the joys of hundred year-old plumbing – Lee managed to match the original tile pretty well – all while taking care of two energetic toddlers. They are all busy, prosperous and rather too far away to suit the twins’ grandmother Irene.

Lee and Irene celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary twice.  The first celebration was a Valentine’s Day week cruise of the Hawaiian Islands on Norwegian’s Pride of America.  Irene had originally planned to schedule the cruise later in the year to be closer to our (August) anniversary but someone told her that if you want to see whales then February was the month to do Hawaii. The photo at right was taken from a boat that was taking us snorkeling. Irene is in the gray plaid.  Whales were everywhere. We had a wonderful time and Irene is already talking about doing it again in a few years.

The second celebration was a trip to Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center.  Disney is always fun (that’s what they do and they are good at it) but we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the Space Center.  They have a new-ish museum built around the Space Shuttle “Atlantis” and it is a fabulous museum.  We recommend it highly.

This note is sent in the sincere hope that it will find you and yours well, healthy and enjoying a wonderful holiday season and a successful and happy new year.

Lee and Irene Haslup

A Few more photos...

 Lee and Irene about to get really wet in Hilo, Hawaii
 Another shot of Liam and Eva

Chris and Reid's Dog

 A Christmas ornament Amber made out of salt dough at the age of four.