Tuesday, September 25, 2012

One more view of the Endeavour!

One last picture of Endeavour and the carrier 747 - arriving at LAX - taken by a friend at LAX.  Great photo Chief!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Citizen Grouch book recommendations

I hit the jackpot recently with a whole herd of excellent books and even though I am indeed a grouch I am not so grouchy that I will keep these gems all to myself.  So, here are Citizen Grouch's latest book recommendations:

L.A. '56 - The Devil in the City of Angels  by Joel Engel

A true crime story of a serial rapist on the loose in Los Angeles in 1956 that haunted the lover's lanes of the city.  The story reads like a '50s movie, hard boiled attitude and the slang and rhythm of the writing of the times.  But, this book isn't just a crime story but also documents the discrimination facing the black population of the city, the corruption and incompetence of the LAPD of the day, the police chief's efforts to reform the force, and the difficulties facing one up and coming Hispanic detective who would solve the case and go on to be the lead detective on several sensational crimes in the future.  Well written and gives a sharp flavor for the times in the City of Angels.   One thing I learned:  Gene Roddenberry was a LAPD sergeant at the time and moonlighted writing TV scripts for Hollywood!


I bought this on my Nook E-reader at a discount price and put off reading it for almost a year until I got around to it.  Big mistake on my part!   This is a thick read, both in length and detail.  It is future fiction:   Mars is colonized and independent of the united Earth, the asteroid belt and moons of the gas giants are colonized and the Latter Day Saints are building a generation ship to colonize another star system.  It is a horror story:  A space freighter is infected with a horrible alien life form that kills and transforms everyone it encounters.  It is a mystery:  A burned out police detective is given the job of finding a spoiled rich girl who ran away from home and is hiding in the belt.  He is to get her and return her to her family on Luna.  But for some reason someone or some agency doesn't want him to find her.  It is an old fashioned space opera:  An ice freighter responds to a distress signal and finds the space freighter alive with the all consuming alien organism.  The ship is destroyed by unknown stealth destroyers and the away team must evade the destroyers and make their way  to civilization and seek answers and revenge.  It is a clash of nations:  A war is brewing with Earth and Mars opposing the colonies in deep space who wish to be free of the inner planets.  And it all comes together in a gotterdammerung of space war, hideous alien virus, equally slimy multinational corporations willing to kill anyone and everything to profit from the virus, outer planet terrorists, and a detective who has fallen in love with the missing girl from Luna even though he has never laid eyes on her.  What a story!   Read it and enjoy.   The second book is Caliban's war and it is equally good.  I'm just reading it now.

SEVEN DAYS by Deon Meyer

Another outstanding police mystery novel based in contemporary South Africa.  Police sergeant Benny Grieseel, recovering alcoholic, recently divorced, father to two teenagers, burned out, and feeling old and outclassed by the younger members of the force is faced with two mysteries:  who killed a young and sexy woman who worked in investment banking and used a sword or spear to do it?  And who is the person who is threatening to shoot a policeman a day until the police charge the woman's killer and claim that they know who the killer is?  The police don't have a clue.  And the shootings start.  Benny Griessel is world weary and struggling hard to maintain is sober status even when the fading music star that he has befriended continues to drink and tempt him to do the same.  Meyer's stories are fast paced and make each character in the story interesting and alive.  Highly recommended!  Fact:  I emailed the author when I first read one of his books and got a personal and gracious reply the next day!  This is a guy who deserves to do well.

WHAT IN GOD'S NAME  by Simon Rich

Heaven is a corporation and God is the CEO.  He's the idea guy and operations aren't his thing.  He likes to golf and communicate with his latest profit, a homeless guy who records God's messages on a piece of cardboard to hold up to passing traffic.  Heaven Inc. has golf courses, masseuses, and restaurants and a corporate campus like Microsoft's.  Angels work in departments such as Gravity Enforcement, Lightning Placement, Geyser Regulation, Field Goal Manipulation, Chinese Food Enhancement, and Payroll.  God is bored and decided to shut down the Earth, a losing division.  Two angels, Craig and Eliza convince him to stay the destruction of Earth for 30 days if they can grant one prayer.  In this case it is to get a painfully shy and nerdy young man and woman to fall in love and kiss.  They already have a compatibility score of 96 after all!  How hard can it be?  Hard enough that snow storms, botulism, explosions and destroyed I phones are employed before it is all over. 
This is really funny book written by someone who had to work for a major corporation in the headquarters.  He's nailed it dead on.  An easy read, not long but worth your time.  

THE WRECKING CREW - The inside story of Rock and Roll's best kept secret by Kent Hartman

Who knew that almost every hit R&R song recorded in Los Angeles from the early 60s to the late 70s were played by a studio band that became to be known as the Wrecking Crew?   Glen Campbell got his start with this group.  Many groups had accomplished vocalists but so-so abilities on instruments so the Wrecking Crew provided the accompaniment.   In some instances the music groups such as the Beach Boys had two shifts going:  one in the studio recording and one on the road at concerts!  Glen Campbell toured as a Beach Boy while the real deal was back in the studio cutting another 45.  This book chronicles the start of many successful acts such as Sonny and Cher, The Carpenters, The Captain and Tennile, The 5th Dimension, Jan and Dean, the Mamas and the Papas and lots more.  A very fun read for us baby boomers who remember to music and personalities of the era.

There you have it Grouches and Grouchettes, four great reads to while away the weekends.  Happy reading!

Space Shuttle Endeavour's grand arrival!

I am a space program booster from way back.  I remember standing outside on the front porch at night as a kid to watch Telstar pass by in the night sky and my father dismissing Alan Shepherd's sub-orbital flight as 'just a shot down the missile range' compared to the accomplishments of the Soviets.  As a Pittsburgh Press delivery boy I saw my first news of the fire in Apollo one as I was delivering the papers on my route.  I recorded every Apollo manned launch with my battery operated reel to reel tape recorder, mic propped up in front of the TV as Walter Cronkite narrated each journey for us.  My favorite TV shows were space themed:  Man into Space; Rocky Jones; Lost in Space; Star Trek.  I remember the first space shuttle launch and when I heard that the Challenger and later Columbia were lost. 
When I heard that the Endeavour was coming to L.A. by plane and would do some victory laps over the city I was excited as if I was 10 again and waiting for my birthday.  My place of employment is fairly near downtown, close to Griffith observatory and in the potential flight path to JPL labs in Pasadena.  I hoped and hoped that we'd see the shuttle. 
The rooftop parking lot gave a great vantage point for shuttle spotting.  Since I was on my morning break there was not worries about doing something I shouldn't have been doing.  The carrier 747 and two T38 escorts made three passes by us:  one fairly far away, the second right overhead but high and the third (when I had gone back to work but heard the approaching engines) directly over my building at low altitude.  I managed to run outside just in time to see it pass overhead on its way to JPL. 
I am indeed proud to be an American, the only nation on Earth to go to the moon and have a manned shuttle program.
Yep, that smudge in the sky is the carrier and shuttle on its first orbit around the city
Coming overhead on the second run
What a sweet, glorious sight!
Goodbye Endeavour, well done!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sight Seeing in Seattle - Part 5 - Science fiction and rock and roll

We visited the EMP museum, billed as the museum of Science Fiction, Rock and Roll and Popular Culture.  None of those areas of interest fit into the title of 'EMP' so my thoughts were that this place was going to document the historic effects of Electro Magnetic Pulses as released by nuclear detonations.  Did you know this phenomena was first experienced when an atmospheric test of a nuclear warhead in 1962 caused the phone system of Hawaii to crash?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish_Prime   Well, this museum is not about that topic which could have been interesting but instead it covers what I listed at the beginning of this.  In the museum we found a very interesting section on the development of the guitar which I spent some time perusing.  I skipped the rest of the rock and roll stuff and went to the SF part.  There was a traveling display of props and the like from the movie Avatar which was interesting but I'm not a head over heels fan of the movie unlike so many others so the display was mearly interesting except for the full size mech suit thingy which was great.  I want one!  The museum is worth seeing if you are at all interested in any of the three concentrations that they cover.
That is a lot of guitars!

If you don't know what this is from I'm not telling.
Ok, this made the trip worthwhile for me.  A laser pistol and rifle from Lost in Space!  Funny, they didn't look this cheezy in the TV show!
MAJ Don West used the laser rifle to good effect on the cyclops.  Good shooting Major!
Yoda's stuff. 
Any museum with step by step instruction on how to survive a creature attack is OK in my playbook!
Ok, that was enough of that, time to see more sights!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sight Seeing in Seattle - Part 4 - Brony day aka Everfree

The real reason we were in Seattle was not to see the natural beauty of the area around the city nor was it to sample the delights of the historic downtown district.  No, we were there to attend Everfree, the northwest My Little Pony fancon.  Well, Young Son was there to attend Everfree for three days.  We were good for about 3 hours on day one and then we were done.  So, if you remember My Little Ponies from 20 years ago, this is not them.  I can't say what the modern incarnation is, because I am too old and too much a fuddy-duddy but young people seem to adore them.  I must say I don't get it, but that is to be expected.

The convention was held in two different hotels separated by about  half a mile.  Hordes of people streamed between the two venues constantly and jammed the hallways and grounds of the hotels.  I heard two frazzled hotel management types at one of the places bemoaning that they had booked the convention because the attendees were spooking the guests.  
Organization was definitely not the strong suite of the convention organizers and on the first day near chaos reigned.  The male to female ratio was about 9:1 and the nerd quotient was off the charts.   All that said the Missus and I were very favorably impressed with the good will, good humor, and politeness off all the attendees (except me - my goodwill was at zero after two hours of chaos and standing in disorganization).   The conventioneers didn't even jaywalk but dutifully waited for the 'cross' signal at the marked crosswalks!

Attendees with props that mean something in Ponyland but not to me.  This is 20% of the female side of the group.
The Flim Flam brothers who are horses in the show but obviously people here.

Waiting in yet another line for something.  Can you spot Young Son?
These two got the Grouch prize for dedication to their craft! They were later seen riding off in a compact car.  At least they weren't driving.
No, Young Son wasn't attending with this young lady but notice that he did manage to stand next to one of the few girls at the gathering!   She is a pony too but I have no idea which one.
This is how we knew that these were good people attending this convention:  someone invited strangers to write on his car and no one damaged it, keyed it, scribbled in sharpy on the paint...good for them!
Nice artwork and nice sentiment!  I still don't get the MLP thing but it seems pretty harmless.  I still think they should all be drafted into the Army for four years but that is beside the point.

Sight Seeing in Seattle - Part 3 - good food

Driving in the general Seattle area we came across this eatery.   We weren't hungry so we didn't stop but I would almost have paid just to go into a place called the Poodle Dog (good food).  Wonder what goes on in the Pup room?