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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Of news, Netflix, Amazon, and chimunks

Just because I haven’t been blogging lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about stuff…

Not writing about news is good news

I’ve actually started a number of posts about current events, but it all gets so depressing. And it changes so fast.

Like after Charlottesville, I was going to write a thing about how Canadians could join the Sleeping Giant twitter campaign to discourage companies from advertising on the alt-right Rebel Media website. But within days, The Rebel seemed to be sort of falling apart anyway, and it no longer seemed, maybe, the best way to spend one’s limited amount of time for activism.

443527_m1494452946Then I went to see An Inconvenient Sequel, on climate change. That seemed a better target for activism. And then with Harvey’s severity clearly being an illustration of what climate change looks like… But me writing about that, seems like piling sanctimony on top of tragedy. Better to leave it to those who have studied it longer, and have more skin in the game like Eric Berger (This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same) and Brian Merchant (Climate change denial should be a crime).

Whereas I will write more trivial stuff, like…

The chipmunk invader

“We have a chipmunk living behind our TV cabinets”, I wrote to our catsitter.

That was mid-July, and it had already been around for a couple weeks. Nearing September, the chipmunk was still with us.

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Yes, they’re cute. But they’re still rodents.

It seemed to have a developed a routine of leaving its hiding place mid-morning to drink water from the cats’ bowls (handily kept right near the TV cabinets) and scrounge for food—which it was clearly doing successfully, given its longevity.

[Something I just learned from “Interesting facts about chipmunks: “Chipmunks are diurnal. In other words, they only come out during the daytime. The reason is not because they are blind at night, but because everything is too dark for their main defense system—their eyes—to work to their advantage.” Would explain why I never saw it in the evening.]

The chipmunk became increasingly brazen, stopping to give me a look to determine that I still appeared unable to catch (it was right; there is no catching a chipmunk!) before scurrying up the stairs to see what treasures could be found on the main floor. The cats occasionally decided to give chase, but more often just watched it, bemused.

The chipmunk was too big to be caught in mouse traps, too small to set off the squirrel trap, which we’d find untripped, bait missing. (“Great,” I said. “Now we’re purposefully feeding it.”)

We’d leave windows open a crack, but it showed no interest in exiting.

Maybe we need a rat trap, Jean suggested.

Before going that lethal route, we tried one more live trap, this one apparently designed for chipmunks: The Havahart Model #1025.

It took three days, but it actually worked: Chipmunk out for its rounds, almost immediately entered the trap, and… Trap door shut!

Chipmunk not happy.

I was a little freaked out by the success, especially as the little thing was making a terrible ruckus trying to bang its way out. Then I got it together enough to throw a pillow case over the trap (that’s supposed to calm the animal), and cary it out and over to the park, where I released it into the woods.

Herein ends your unrequested lesson in how to get a chipmunk out of your house. Now if only we could locate its entry point, so it can’t find its way back in…

Beyond the Lights or under the radar?

It was nominated for an Oscar and won some BET and critic’s awards, but I’m not sure how many people have heard of the movie Beyond the Lights. I was sort of looking out for it when it was released in 2015, but if it came around, it didn’t stay long.

I saw it recently as a DVD loaner from the library (it’s also on US Netflix). It’s about a young black woman, Noni, whose latest single is a big hit and whose first album is hotly anticipated. But after an award-winning night, she goes off alone and stands on the balcony of her fancy hotel room, thinking about jumping. She’s rescued by the young black officer on duty to protect her. They really seem to connect…

So yes, this is a romance, but better-written than most. Their challenges as a couple—the paparazzi, parental disapproval on both sides, conflicting career aspirations (the police officer also has political ambitions)—seem believable, not just plot contrivances. That Noni has a stage mom is a bit of cliche, but the character isn’t just a cartoon villain. The movie also offers a critique of the highly sexualized way young women are marketed in the music industry. (The film was written and directed by a woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood.) The actors are good, and lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw does have a lovely voice.

So if this sounds like your kind of thing, I think you’ll enjoy it. (And if not, like Jean, you’ll likely still admit it’s a decent film.)

Also recommended—but I assume most people have heard of this movie—the “still in theatres” The Big Sick. Making comedy out of the unfunny matters of race and illness.

Amazon pricing: Maybe it’s a game?

queen_al_live_in_japanSo back in November, the first-ever official live Queen + Adam Lambert blu-ray was released, initially sold only from a Japanese website. I most definitely wanted this thing, but when I did the conversion from Yen, it was $120 Canadian for the single disc + CD, plus shipping from Japan, which seemed… pricey, given that your average blu-ray is about $20.

So I waited for it to be available from Amazon as an import, whereupon it was listed for… $145. This was not going in the right direction. I kept checking it periodically, but the price remained stubbornly high, and nowhere else (including ebay) seemed to offer anything better.

Then one day Amazon emailed me to inform me that the price had dropped. Which it had… To $101.

I was considering that, but wasn’t yet convinced.

Then a little over a week ago, I had a random look Friday at lunch time and… It was $48.

So, fine, I ordered it. (And despite them telling me that by not choosing Prime, I’d have to wait til Thursday to get it, it arrived on Monday, Prime time!)

But the thing is, when I looked at the price again later that very same day—when I happened to be logged in as Jean—it was $62.

And right now, for both of me and Jean, it’s $67.

I’ve heard that Amazon has these sophisticated pricing algorithms that causes pricing to vary at any given time based on your past purchasing habits.

Which makes me wonder: Did I cave too soon? If I had kept checking at random times and days, would I have eventually acquired this item at $25?

And does this mean that all Amazon items are cheaper for me at lunchtime? Or on Fridays? Or have I ruined both now by going through with a purchase at that time and day?

And what’s up with the wildly different prices on the same piece of clothing at different sizes?

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One dress, but each of its four sizes is a different price with a $140 range!

Anyway. The blu-ray is a gorgeous thing, with the best video and sound I’ve ever seen and heard on recorded Queen + Adam Lambert material. So I’m happy with it, even if the camera operator doesn’t always know when it’s important to focus on Adam (like, when he’s getting on his bike, and riding!).

 

Netflix: Giving us the sitcom revivals we didn’t know we needed

I don’t know that the world was clamoring for a remake of the Bonnie Franklin-starring 70s / 80s sitcom One Day at a Time, but Netflix has gifted it with one anyway. I was surprised to see how high it appeared on lists of best Netflix originals, so I decided to check it out.

What has it retained from the original? Well, there’s still a single Mom living in an apartment with her two teenage children, and a building supervisor named Schneider. Also, the same theme song, only re-recorded in a cooler version.

Other than that, not much. The family is Cuban-American; Mom Penelope is an army veteran; there is a daughter and son, not two girls; her mother lives with them, also; and Schneider is a wealthy Canadian ex-pat who never wears denim, carries a toolbox, or hits on Penelope. (See Why the New Schneider on One Day at a Time Is So Much Better Than the Old One.)

With its live studio audience and typical sitcom wisecracks flying, the series initially lulls you into thinking it will be super-light entertainment. But though it never gets too heavy, almost every episode touches on serious and often timely subjects: Dealing with PTSD. The challenges veterans have getting help from the VA. Figuring out your sexual identity. Raising boys in the age of online porn. Crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Pay equity. Affirmative action.

(Hey, I somehow circled back to news, sort of.)

It wasn’t the sort of addictive thing that I had to keep watching, but I enjoyed every episode and grew quite fond of the characters. Despite that list of Serious Issues, it is a comedy, and a funny one. I was sad to see the end of Season 1. Fortunately, it has been renewed for a second season.


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On the songs in our heads

Do you ever get songs stuck in your head?

So opened a blog post by Deidra Alexander, fiction writer. (I have not read her fiction. I just follow her blog.)

Yes, I do, Deidra. So I expected an amusing accounting of a phenomena I’m quite familiar with.

But then she went to say, “I have a few that I cycle through.” And went on to list exactly… three songs.

Three? Your whole life, just three?

And her main one was “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Franki Valli. Two lines of it, to be exact. “I don’t even know the rest of the words,” she writes.

Uh, you’ve had this song stuck in your head off and on for years and you’ve never bothered to hear and learn the rest of it? What? (Tip: Listening to a “stuck” song can actually be a way to get it out of your head.)

Then the other two are:

  • A folk song
  • A children’s show theme song.

I mean… Having such a limited and unappealing internal playlist sounds like a freakin’ nightmare.

Yet, Deidra seems perfectly content with this situation, not describing it at all negatively but just as an amusing little fact of her life.

I have to stop being surprised that people aren’t like me.

Thing is, I know there are people who basically never get songs stuck in their head—I’m married to one of those. But I had just assumed that those who did experienced much as I do: That while it was fairly common to have some song stuck in one’s head, the song in question changed frequently over a life time. Three songs? I’ve surely experienced this phenomenon with hundreds.

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Photo courtesy of www.m3ga.net

Most of these occurrences come and go without making it into my long-term memory. But some I recall because they’re associated with an unusual place or event. When I was in Berlin, U2’s “Zoo Station” rattled around after we visited that very train stop (the U2). On our Napa trip, I kept hearing “California Dreamin’”. When we adopted our cat Mocha, I inherited “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on internal repeat longer than was really pleasant (no matter how cute Ricky Martin is).

“And her skin’s the color mocha…”

Getting a Koodo phone spawned some days of Alanis Morrisette’s “Thank U” becoming my internal soundtrack, though it took me a while to figure out the association. Can you get it? It was this line:

“How’ bout that ever elusive kudo”…

And after 9/11, I was rather haunted by “American Tune”. (And I dreamed I was dying / I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly / And looking back down at me / Smiled reassuringly / And I dreamed I was flying / And high up above my eyes could clearly see / The statue of liberty…)

Sorry to bring down the room.

On a lighter note, spring 2013 was all “Blurred Lines” on repeat, which was so annoying! But that one didn’t relate to any particular event or place. It’s just a super-sticky song. (As is that horrid “We Built This City” song. Ugh!)

Often I don’t know what inspires the song stickiness, though. This week’s song in my head is Adam Lambert’s “For Your Entertainment”, a fave kitchen karaoke (complete with dance steps). Of course, that it’s Lambert is certainly no surprise; but why not a Queen song, since that’s mainly what I’m listening to him sing these days? (Queen + Adam Lambert being back on tour.)

(Speaking of karaoke, now I’m reminded of someone who insisted the only songs she possibly knew well enough to karaoke where ones by Wham! Apart from the very weirdness of only being melodically familiar of a single 80s band (what, no Beatles? No We Will Rock You?), now I wonder: Does this poor person have “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” as their one and only earworm?)

So many questions.

Fortunately, science is on it! You can follow along with the Earworm Project to learn:

  1. What features do typical earworm music tunes have in common?
  2. What do people who frequently experience earworms have in common?
  3. What causes earworms?
  4. What cures earworms?

One intriguing finding:

We’re working with the hypothesis that people are getting earworms to either match or change their current state of arousal—or a combination of the two.” She adds, “Maybe you’re feeling sluggish but need to take your child to a dance class, so it could be that an earworm pops into your hear that’s very upbeat, to help you along. Or working in reverse, can earworms act to calm you down?” It would explain why we sometimes get earworms even when we haven’t been listening to music at all, or why people who spend a great deal of time in nature often report beginning to hear every sound—wind blowing, leaves rustling, water rippling—as music, which their brain spontaneously plays over and over. Just as important, it would help explain why our brains often seem to linger on music that we don’t particularly care for.

From Anatomy of an ear worm

Playlist of ear worms referenced in this post (including Deidra’s big opportunity to hear the rest of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” but excluding “We Built This City”, because I’m not a sadist).