Friday, November 30, 2012

Film Review: We Bought a Zoo

Well, this was supposed to be our family movie night selection to watch with one of our children.  Unfortunately as sometimes happens, their misbehavior got in the way and it was early to bed with no family movie night.

This didn't stop my wife and I from watching this movie though and we both enjoyed it.

Yes its fairly cliche--The father is left to take care of his two kids by the death of his wife, he's having trouble connecting with his teenage son, the younger daughter is a sweet ball of precocious energy, there is a cute blond who works at the zoo he buys for him to fall in love with, etc., etc.

What makes it enjoyable is Damon's work which is never too schmaltzy and just touching enough to make you feel bad for him without going over the top.

Cameron Crowe's work is also very good with excellent choices in music and solid direction.  He could have easily fallen into the husband falls into bed with new woman storyline but never does.  In fact their relationship remains decidedly non physical throughout.

Based on a true story that occurred in England this story is an excellent family film appropriate for all ages and should entertain virtually anyone.  It won't blow you away, make you cry or get your heart racing, but it is good, clean fun and sometimes we need that too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Neil Young and Crazy Horse 11/26/12 at Boston Garden

Not getting out to nearly as many concerts as I used to going to Neil Young & Crazy Horse last night was a pleasant diversion.

Neil Young was evidently on my buddy's bucket list and he asked me to go to the show some six months ago when tickets went on sale.  I told him I would accompany him but mentioned that selling tickets that far in advance for a performer who has never looked that healthy to begin with, let alone now at age 67 was taking a leap of faith.

Nevertheless, Neil made it to the show last night and so did we.  Stopping in Fanueil Hall for dinner at Hillstone (formerly Houston's) for some eats and early drinks.  Burgers for both of us (a real one for me and a veggie burger for my friend) and a Whale's Tale pale ale for him and a vodka tonic for me.  Bartender is confused for a bit thinking her increased traffic was due to the Neil DIAMOND concert...

Informing her that we would not be caught dead at a Neil Diamond concert she may have been a tad bit confused as I don't believe she knew who Neil Young was and likely only knew Neil Diamond from "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway...the younger generation...there you go...

Anywho, a couple burgers (VERY yummy by the way) and a couple drinks and we were off to the Garden a five minute walk away.

The lighting on the Garden itself was turned a tie dye color for the supposed 60's loving crowd.  Certainly this was the first concert I've been to in a LOONG time where I was actually younger than the median age of the attendees.  Lots of aging men with no hair on top and long hair in the back on one hand and well to do ex-hippies coming into the city from their million dollar homes in Weston or Wellesley.  The women weren't prizes either as hippies don't generally age well.

Which is precisely what we had for an opening act in Patti Smith.  When I told my friend that she had been married to John Mcenroe at one time he didn't believe me and said that he would not have stooped to marry such a hag.  I'm blaming in on copious amounts of '70s and '80s cocaine.  Regardless, I do wish I had brought a tennis racket to the concert and yelled out "You CANNOT BE SERIOUS?!?!" but decided that even hippies have their tipping point.  I did get a chuckle out of her rantings to the crowd "People can change the fucking world!!!" and "The earth is screaming out for help!!"  My good gracious...

[edit to add] come to find out that Patti Smith is a different individual from Patty Smyth!!  It is Smyth with a "y" that is married to John Mcenroe (both are relatively accomplished singer/songwriters making this all ver confusing) and is actually attractive vs. Smith with an "i" who is a virtual disgrace to the softer sex. This doesn't make the tennis jokes any less funny nor her wailing any less painful...

Neil came on (thank god) after about 45 minutes of caterwauling by Patti and proceeded to put on a hell of a show.  For a 67 year old, Neil rocks and rocks hard.  The music is loud and hard only occasionally interspersed with acoustic stuff like "The Needle and the Damage Done" to keep the hippies in line.  In truth I love songs like "Needle" but I don't think Neil's heart is in playing such stuff anymore and when performed feels flat and lifeless when it should be heart rendingly painful.  The setlist was as follows:

1.Love and Only Love

3.Born in Ontario
4.Walk Like a Giant
5.The Needle and the Damage Done
6.Twisted Road
7.Singer Without a Song
8.Ramada Inn
9.Cinnamon Girl
10.Fuckin' Up
11.Mr. Soul
12.Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

13.Farmer John

at over two hours these songs sometimes became extend riffing and feedback with my personal favorite on the night "Walk Like a Giant" extending well past the 15 minute mark.  The smell of cannabis wafted throughout the Garden this evening though not to near the extent I would have expected and the general admission crowd on the floor was as well behaved as any group of aging Boomers can be expected to be.  We spent about 50% of the time on our feet, similar to the behavior around us and no one gave us a hard time about it.

Young's influence on many of my favorite bands (Pearl Jam in particular) cannot be overstated.  He has crossed back and forth between many genres over the years but given he has nothing left to prove and can play whatever and in whatever style he wants, it is cool to see he doesn't pander to those who want him to play CSN&Y stuff over and over and that the loud, electric guitar heavy works of his past remain his favorites.  Neil wasn't on my bucket list of performers to see before last night (as he was on my ticketmate's) but I'm damn glad I saw this icon before he to leaves us to the garbage that most frequently fills our ears these days.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Infiniti/Red Bull Take Third F1 Title in Three Years

In what was the final race of the 2013 F1 season, Sebastian Vettel overcame the weather, his crew and a first lap accident that dropped him back to last place.  Over the course of the 71 lap race Vettel would work his way up to 6th place where he would finish, grabbing just enough championship points to fend off the challenge of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Vettel has become the youngest three time F1 champion in history and brings Infiniti/Red Bull its third consecutive driver's and constructor's championship.

With F1 continuing to expand within the US with the US Grand Prix in Austin this year and an additional event in New Jersey coming in 2014 as well as a broadcasting deal with NBC and NBC Sports Channel F1 is poised to become a relevant sport in the US as it currently is around the rest of the world.  Infiniti could do well to maintain its support of the clear #1 team in the series for both exposure here and in emerging markets.

Only time will tell if F1 will become something worth covering on ESPN or in your local paper or if it will return (as it has in the past) to a third or fourth tier status like soccer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poor Nissan Vehicles From Sandy...

So as a Nissan related competitor I am in a bit of contact with the corporate folks.

Of course I am always looking for an in as to obtaining benefits for myself and my team.  So I asked if, due to the flooding from Sandy, that Nissan might have a severely discounted Titan or NV2500 or Pathfinder available.

With over 1000 Nissans to be written off as total losses at NJ ports I figured at least one might be appropriate for towing my race truck and maybe Nissan corporate/Nissan Motorsports might be able to help me obtain one for a significantly discounted price.

After all, Nissan at one point had a policy in place to give used vehicles to competitors for only $1 if they were designated for track use only.

Unfortunately two items came in the way of Nissan benefiting me in this manner.

For one Nissan has ended its practice of selling vehicles it has tested or used for various things (advertisements, etc.) to motorsports competitors for $1. Evidently a number of individuals somehow took advantage of this and did not treat the program with respect (interpret that as you will).  Lawyers of course got involved and determined that Nissan was generating too much liability and recommended Nissan terminated it.  Of course they did.  Strike #1

Strike #2 came with the obvious declaration  that all vehicles lost to the storm were insured against loss and are now all property of the insurance companies and not Nissan.  What the insurance companies decide to do with them is anyone's guess but I'm betting they all go to the crusher/vehicle recycler given the conservative nature of insurance companies.  Regardless, Nissan has no say in what is done to them or who they go to.

So it is that I looked into if Nissan might be able to part with some of its flooded vehicles for the benefit of its motorsports participants.  We'll keep working...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Veteran's Day Hike With Jake...

It's been a long time since I've gone on a real hike unfortunately.  Life in general has taken precedence as have other hobbies and interests.  Now that my son Jake is seven years old he is strong enough to go on some decent hikes himself.  So with the day off on Veteran's Day for myself and no school for Jake I figured it was time for his first real hike and my return to the woods.

Our choice for the hike was one I had done with my wife many years back on a very rainy weekend.  I remembered it as a short by very interesting hike with ladders, scrambling and boulder caves.  This day there would be no rain and the terrain was extremely fun for both myself and my seven year old.

The Mt. Morgan-Mt. Percival loop hike is some 5.5 miles in length and some 1,200+ feet in elevation gain so its requires a solid effort to complete though not too much for Jake or myself to handle in quick fashion on these short late fall days.  .The tops of both mountains are not tree free but still provide fantastic views to the south overlooking both Squam Lake and the northern edges of Lake Winnepasauke

 We started at about 9:30 AM and including our lunch break at the top of Mt. Morgan, finished a bit under five hours later at 2:15.  Jake was ecstatic about the hike, thoroughly enjoying every minute and wants to go on more and similar (with scrambling, caves, ladders, etc.) in the future.  We'll see how long it is before his legs start outpacing mine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Halloween Hooptiefest 2012

Broadening my motosports horizons I joined the Dennis Motorsports group for the 2012 edition of the 24 Hours of Lemons Halloween Hooptiefest at New Hampshire Motorspeedway a couple weekends back.  Taking what must be a vehicle "purchased" for $500 or less and making it raceworthy via safety equipment it was our job to race it for 14 1/2 hours over two days (no lights at the track prevents nighttime racing).

The race and experience as a whole was extremely enjoyable.  Racing head to head against over a hundred other beaters was quite the thrill, as was contesting a race wholly on asphalt and on a National level track like NHMS.

After getting in about a half hour of practice on Friday we were off to the races on Saturday morning.  Kind of.

The Dodge Neon began having power issues right away and running extremely hot during its first session on the track.  Before coming off the track the Neon was running as high as 2nd in the race.  This was not to be however.  The Neon was quickly diagnosed with a probable head gasket issue and it was determined an engine swap was needed.

The Dennis clan is nothing if not resourceful and got to work on the engine swap right away.  I stood back and assisted where I could with my limited mechanical aptitude (mostly handing things over, finding tools, etc.) and four hours later the Neon was back on the track.  I got about 45 minutes of racing in at the end of the day and didn't embarrass myself or wreck the car.

The second day didn't go so smoothly for me and that's where I would quibble with the management of the Lemons series.  Agreed it is supposed to be some kind of amusing, sophomoric type of motorsport but it takes itself serious enough to hand out $500 in winnings at the end (in nickels) and rakes in some $100,000 in entry fees per event.  Given the aforementioned the decisions of the series' officials should be more well thought out.

On Saturday I was black-flagged for two separate incidents.  The first was supposed "speeding" in the paddock.  With no speedometer in the car I can't say how much I exceeded the 10 mph limit but it wasn't much and when I was brought in for it I was told that they didn't know how fast I was going and when I said my guess was 20 mph, the response was that I wasn't going that fast but that they didn't know how fast I was going.  What????  You're just guessing??

Secondly, I was blackflagged for "hitting another car" in a sharp right hand turn.  I explained that I had the inside position on the car and was under braking when the outside car cut across my nose when I tapped him and we both continued on.  Now at best this situation was a 50/50 racing event with both drivers to blame for various infractions but I was called in just because it was reported that I had hit someone and anyone on the inside position is automatically found at fault per the official I spoke to.  Great...

This is to say nothing of the poor corner workers, inconsistent yellow flags and black flags for passing under said inconsistent yellows.  At worst the officials should have assessed a drive through penalty for "passing under yellow" as it was often near impossible to discern the exact moment a yellow would come out and immediately stop passing the 100+ cars on the track.

None of this is to say I didn't enjoy myself.  I did.  I just hate the interference of "officials", especially when their opinions are enforced without true thought or reason.  Which is one reason I like Rally and desert racing.  Their results are more purely driven off of the performance of your vehicle and driving, and not external factors and decisions.
The weekend results for the Dennis Motorsports Neon??  We finished 78th out of 117 entries completing 255 1.6 mile laps on the NHMS roadcourse.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Rally Cat Some Two Months Later...

So I had been thinking of posting this update of late and a question regarding the Rally Cat (called Zoey now) and her condition.  Well, she (yes, I misdiagnosed she as a he originally, shows what I get for being married for 10 years!!) is doing quite well, below is a picture of her today along with one of when I found her.

She had ringworm, a broken left leg and a host of other problems when she was rescued at Black River Stages 2012.  She is now very happy and healthy.  Weighing 1.8 pounds initially she is now about 3 1/2 pounds and growing rapidly.  Her limp from the broken leg is virtually gone and she leaps and runs with no problems.  She is your typical kitten showing no ill effects from the first few weeks of life.  Thanks again go to Matt and others who helped take care of her while I was busy putting my truck in a swamp.  She couldn't have been rescued without you guys.

Nissans in Baja Portalegre 2012

Just a couple Nissan's from this past month's Baja Portalegre 2012 (Portugal Baja).  A Nissan didn't win the event (a highly modified Hummer H3 did, picture here as well) but a Navara (Frontier) did finish 8th and a Pathfinder finished 9th out of 33 entries, of which only 14 finished.
Baja Portalegre...

Video of Cassie Currie LOORRS Crash...

This video is from the recent LOORRS event during the final race of the year in which the Pro Lites faced off against the buggies.  If this collision took place on the ground it would have been inconsequential but in the air it quickly goes bad in a hurry...Both drivers walked away unharmed...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Another Video From NEFR 2012...

Just a video from this summer that I came across today that shows the NISMO Stuff Racing, Nissan Frontier in action, on its way to a podium spot for 2WD vehicles...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Best Buy Sucks...

OK, this may not be a new opinion but I figured I'd offer my take on it anyway.

When I first encountered a Best Buy some 10+ years ago the place was cool.  They had all the latest video games, latest CDs, movies, TVs stereo equipment, computers, etc.  The store was shiny and new and the people who shopped there were a lot like me.  Young, relatively affluent and up to date on consumer electronics.

As I went into a Best Buy last week to return a SATA cable that an employee sold me for an IDE drive I sat in the line for returns and looked around and realized how much things had changed in those 10+ years. 

CDs and Movies are now purchased primarily in digital format so those individuals who come to shop at Best Buy for those items are typically those who are way behind the curve.  Washers, dryers and the like??  The only people who shop for those at Best Buy are people who are allergic to the smell of wood at Home Depot.  The rest?  Well, you could swap the individuals shopping at Best Buy for those down at the local DMV, Post Office, Unemployment line, or Welfare window for this crowd.

Truly I felt dirty and disgusted by the time I left.  And the "help" (?) at the store?  It wasn't any better.  The "Geek Squad" looked like a bunch of nose picking rejects who got booted from the high school chess team and the rest (if they could speak English) were there more as furniture than anything else, certainly not bringing anything to the table.

So there it is.  A primary reason why Best Buy will likely be declaring bankruptcy in 2013 or at the least, closing like 30% of its stores in more "restructuring" similar to Circuit City.  Best Buy has become the domain the lowest class of US society.  Those that do nothing, create nothing and present no value to society other than to create the next generation of government dependants.  Not exactly a winning business formula.

Me?  I did my research on Google as to what cable I needed and bought it at the lowest possible price from an online retailer.  And I'm much happier (and less depressed about the state of the country) for it...

Book Review: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

A loooong term project by its author, himself a decorated Marine (Navy Cross, Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals), Rhodes scholar and Yale student, Karl Marlantes took some 35 years to write this novel.

Ostensibly a work of fiction it is clearly autobiographic in nature with the author likely changing names to protect the profoundly stupid and not caring to make actual places, locations and dates match reality.  As a work of fiction it is more profound than any non-fiction retelling of events could be.

A very circular work in that events, locations and characters that appear in one section are bound to return in another, under variously different circumstances, Matterhorn is a powerful portrayal of the stupidity and horrors of war--and not any war, but Vietnam in particular.  Others, far more experienced than I, have claimed directly that this novel could not be written about Afghanistan or Iraq today, that yes, the military still does profoundly stupid things and for profoundly stupid reasons but the disregard for individual soldier's well being that was present 40 years ago simply doesn't exist today for the most part.

The bloodshed here is unaltered and the randomness of death is carried throughout.  This is not a novel where you know the hero will survive, every page is filled with the roll of the dice that is survival for anyone partaking in such enterprises.

Matterhorn expresses many of the issues of its time including racial divides and class divisions but shows that at the heart of it all, these divisions melt away when life and death are the only things to be gained and lost on a given day.

At 600 pages, Matterhorn is no quick read but its well worth it and will have you searching Google and other sources to find out if anecdotes Marlantes uses as plot devices, are true (such as: Did US soldiers really get killed and eaten by tigers in Vietnam?  Answer: yup).

It is a book that belongs on your shelf.