Thursday, January 15, 2015

Time to Move to a new Blog Home

I first started blogging in 2005 here as a way to record my study abroad experience. Those posts aren't even here anymore to move!

But the rest of my blog archive and myself are relocating over to a WordPress blog. I use that platform a lot for work and I've come to appreciate its functionality a bit more than here. Here was perfect back when it was the only option that I liked but I guess it's time for a big girl blog now!

I'm still working on the new blog's look and feel but any new posts are going to show up there starting today. We had a good run Blogger, catch you on the other side!

Please, change your bookmarks, RSS feeds etc. and follow me over to:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Robots are cool

I do love a good robot. I was a fan of Johnny Five as a kid, adored Wall-E the second I saw him and have decided I want Echo as my new best friend. The ones in the film version of I, Robot weren't really on my list though I do love Sonny but that could be because Alan Tudyk is one of my favorite people ever.

I have, unfortunately, never read the books that inspired the movie until now. My dad apparently missed these for me in his reading assignments when I was a kid which is a bummer because I can guarantee I liked this book better than Have Space Suit, Will Travel. I, Robot, is according to my dad, a compilation of short stories Asimov published in science fiction magazines in the 1950s and 1960s as he developed the three laws of robotics for the trilogy they would eventually star in. The short stories are threaded together as memories that Gloria Calvin, lauded robopsychologist, is sharing as part of a press interview on her retirement from U.S. Robots. They track the earliest developments in robotics as the machines grew and came across dilemmas with the Three Laws and their functions.

I actually had the movie tie-in cover but
this is cooler.
To start with, if you have seen the movie, this is not the corresponding book. That is the second book in the trilogy, The Naked Sun, which has most of the basic plot line from the movie. Which, in Hollywood's defense, is an awful title for a robot movie so I can see why they stole the entire series's title. I would catch a few things here and there that ended up in the movie from these short stories (the character of Gloria Calvin, the story where a robot hides among other robots, the idea of a great machine doing things that protect humanity but takes away their rights) but for the most part, these were entirely new stories based around the Three Laws.

I like Asimov's writing style though he can be over my head. A lot of his writing is technical; he is trying to rationally explain science in a fictional context where it may or may not actually be possible in the real world. That said, with the Robot series, over what I saw in the Foundation trilogy, there is a lot more psychology than science. This is of course because the main question is when is a robot more like a human? When is a robot actually a better version of a human? Is there a way to actually tell the difference between them at that point? Lots of cool questions and I loved all the different dilemmas that came up in these stories to explore them.

The secondary characters of Mike Donovan and Greg Powell, who were technicians on the front lines of testing new robots, were funny and often in the weirdest situations: one robot decided he was a Prophet for the machine, another ended up in a dilemma loop which meant he was a drunk robot, yet another time they were the butt of a robot's practical joke as it dealt with a dilemma with the Laws. These were easy to like characters that got at the problem in the story, less so the science which made the science in turn, approachable. A dilemma with one of the Laws is essentially a logic problem and I don't know about you, but that was not my strong suit in math class. However, through these two laymen type characters, I was able to follow and enjoy and try to puzzle out the problem along with them. I did like the stories where Gloria Calvin was also the main person struggling with the robots to figure out the dilemma but the character herself was much more contained and Asimov used that to hold back information, making it harder to puzzle alongside her. She's pretty prickly in general so it's actually a neat way to use the character as a tone for the storytelling.

I liked these stories, I liked being able to explore the Three Laws more and also look into the world that helped develop them. The movie has its place (I like it though I know it was not as popular as hoped) but I always like checking out the origin stories. Gives you a different way to look at a world and a a story you thought you knew.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

An Ode to Bookstores

Obviously reading something like The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is going to make me think about bookstores. That is after all the author's, Lewis Buzbee, point. Though the book is showing its age a bit (it was published in 2006), Buzbee's book does one thing very well. It tells the story of the bookstore from its historic roots through to today's chain stores. We watch the evolution of bookseller, publisher and author, as the world created a place for them to sell their wares. It is a cozy history an any true lover of books and bookstores will enjoy this look at their history both through facts and Buzbee's extensive experience working in and around bookstores most of his life.

From Goodreads
However, what I think I loved most about this book was the memories it brought to me. The first bookstore I can remember frolicking through was a Waldenbooks at Great Northern Mall in Clay, NY. It wasn't a large store but it had books jammed into every possible nook and cranny. I coveted gift certificates to the mall on every gift giving occasion which I would promptly spend at Waldens. It was here in sixth grade I stumbled across a paperback of Anne of Green Gables and here I begged my mother to drive me back to over the next few months as I devoured L.M. Montgomery books by the bagful. I don't remember when it closed exactly; I think I had already left for college so it was simply gone one time I came home. I remember the profound sadness that washed over me when I saw its empty, dark storefront. It has been such a place of wonder and possibility to me as a kid. For it to be suddenly gone seemed tragic.

I've since visited many an awesome bookstore. I've had very generous and patient friends let me loose in Tattered Cover and The Strand. Lost myself in Blackwell's and many a Waterstones on the other side of the pond. I even almost missed my ride in Hay-on-Wye (truly a book lover's heaven on earth).

Sadly, but perhaps a good thing for my bank account, I find myself these days often living in places with few bookstores for me to lose track of time in. I content myself with one fantastic used bookstore and two chain stores these days. I am mocked daily by the Borders sign that I drive past every day, the store space long since turned into a DSW. I once walked the hallowed floors of Borders #1 as it put fabulous independents in the area out of business. Now it too has gone the way of the dodo.

However, Buzbee is right about bookstores. They aren't going anywhere. They will change, evolve, consolidate and morph as they need to but they won't leave us. Too many of us enjoy browsing, sampling, sipping a latte while reading a book we have no intention of buying. Amazon and its ilk are convenient and they get plenty of my dollars but nothing beats working through the shelves of a bookstore on a rainy day and coming across that one book you didn't know you'd been looking for all your life. Long live the bookstore I say!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Kind of lost a year there...

From here.

It wasn't intentional to just stop writing. Things got in the way. What those things were escape me now. I tried to use Evernote to journal a bit but didn't stick to that either. I also wasn't cooking very much. Or apparently reading anything I felt so passionate about that I needed to share it. In many ways, 2014 apparently wasn't worth writing about for me. Let's start out 2015 (six days late) on a better note.

I need to cook more again. I am avoiding doing the analysis on my budget last year because I can guarantee my eating out spending was off the charts. What caused this? I'm not sure. A slightly demonic cat who gets into the way in the kitchen? A lack of good recipes to try? Complete and utter laziness...I'm actually voting the last one on this list. I have no excuse. This year's first goal, cook more! Even if it's not a new recipe, even if it's really just warming up something already in the cupboards. I need to curb the impulse to just stop at Panera on my way home.

I need to be better about sharing my reading. Looking back over my 2014 books read (GoodReads is an organizing loving book reader's dream), I didn't do much other than put stars on books. Did I really have nothing to say?! Again, laziness and a slight addiction to getting back to a Netflix binge after finishing a book. This year, I will take the time to reflect after I finish a book. Even if it's only two sentences worth! (See exhibit A, I finished The Palace Job on the plane rides back to Florida last week. It's a good read but I don't have tons to say just "A great caper read! I will admit some of the magic logic went over my head but it never took away from my enjoyment of the book. If you're looking for a fun ensemble led by one very cool kickass heroine, check this one out!")

I also have decided I need a more balanced reading diet. I am heavy on the fiction. Which isn't a bad thing but my to-read list, sub-group non-fiction, is getting longer every year and I rarely touch it. This year, my goal is one fiction book, one non-fiction book and so forth. I am currently reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop which starts me off nicely on this goal!

I also want to explore more. I got out a bit last year (I have partially finished blog posts to prove it) and explored around my neck of the woods more but I could share that better. I haven't even done Yelp reviews in forever. I like Tallahassee and it has some pretty neat places and things to do. I should let other people know about them! Added bonus, I would get off my couch since I want to read and cook, activity might be a good idea to add to the list...

Other than that, 2015 is a pretty blank year for me. I do turn 30 (the horrors!) so maybe other exciting things will come along. But mostly, I'd like do my nice cozy hobbies (cooking, reading, Netflix binging, protecting my bookshelves from a cat who thinks books are toys) and write about them again!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chicken Ranch Potatoes

I am alive! I'm afraid between Thanksgiving, Christmas and getting stuck up north in this epic winter for longer than planned alongside a pretty big project going down at work, this blog was pushed off to the side. However, in an effort to start cooking again and getting back onto some sort of schedule that involves more than me coming back to my apartment and warming up leftovers while I stare at the TV, I thought blogging about dishes again would inspire me. So, I picked a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and got to work. And while it was delicious, it was also a dish that the leftovers proved to be very boring after the first two nights.

I had most of the ingredients for this dish already which was why I'd picked it out of the book. There had been a sale on microwavable baked potatoes not too long ago so I had those in the fridge already. This was a very simple dish and tasty. I think though I would, rather than mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, mix them on top of the potatoes in the future. There is almost a little too much ranch dressing with this recipe. I'd also make it when I'm sharing a meal with someone so I don't have quite so much leftover next time so definitely one to share with people!

Having this with a salad made a very filling meal!

From Taste of Home's Fast Fixes with Mixes:

2 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 package (10 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup ranch salad dressing
4 hot baked potatoes

1) Place chicken and vegetables in a 2-qt. microwave safe dish; cover and microwave on high for 6-7 minutes, stirring once
2) Add salt and pepper and let stand for 2 minutes
3) Fold in the salad dressing
4) With a sharp knife, cut an X in the top of each potato; fluff pulp with fork
5) Top with chicken mixture

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chicken Tacos

Fall has officially arrived in the Big Bend. I may go frolic in the nearest park and enjoy the fact I can stand outside for longer than 15 minutes and not be dripping with sweat. It was a very long summer. People around here think I am weird but never hated cold weather. Yes, North Dakota took cold weather to a level this Central New York native did not know existed and I did my share of complaining. Call me nostalgic for the seasons of home. Where it is currently in the 30s so I try not to complain about the heat to my family...

However, with the temperature falling to less hot and humid conditions, I was able to pull out my Crock Pot and try one of the many slow cooker recipes I've been stockpiling. I wanted to also pull it out while I would be home the entire time as it would be my first time using it with a very curious cat in the apartment. After she thoroughly investigated this new appliance on her side of the kitchen counters, and I think may have slightly burned the tip of her nose on it, it seemed to be uninteresting to her so success! I think it will be fine to leave it on for a work day if I want to do so and not come home to a monumental mess.

So, which recipe to start with? It wasn't quite stew weather yet and I wasn't quite ready to make a batch of Aunt Marcia's spaghetti sauce for the season. So, what to try? A quick search through Evernote where I hoard recipes found me this simple, easy to put together recipe for chicken tacos. I however don't have a source. I have a vague recollection that one of my friends pinned this and I saw the post on Facebook. I actually used less chicken than the recipe called for and the batch still lasted me from Sunday to Thursday. I changed it up over the week, using the chicken for traditional tacos, chicken taco salads and mixing it with rice. For the last of the batch, I covered tortilla chips with it and cheese and made some fantastic chicken nachos.

It may not look like much but it was tasty!
Chicken Tacos

6 chicken breasts
1 jar of chunky salsa
1 package of taco seasoning

1) Place the chicken in the bottom of the Crock Pot. Cover with the salsa and then sprinkle the taco seasoning on top. (I used about half the taco seasoning in the package as I used only 4 chicken breasts - use as you want to - the more you add, the more kick the finished dish will have)
2) Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours
3) Shred the chicken with forks before serving.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Brothers Grimm

I originally had thought for my DVD re-watch project, I would go in alphabetical order. But, then Friday the 13th came around and I thought a scary movie was in order. Now, a couple of things. One, 13 is a lucky number for my family. My sister and I were both born on a 13th - I even turned 13 on Friday the 13th which I have always loved. In fact, last Friday was my sister's 25th birthday. So, I don't really have the same superstition about 13 as many have. Two, I don't actually do "scary" movies. I am a wimp and have no qualms about it. I like  dark action movie or one that is creepy but I draw the lines at movies that try every five minutes to scare you out of your skin. Not my thing. Honestly, Tim Burton is about as scary as I get. I still have nightmares about a certain Supernatural episode for the love of Pete and even my beloved Doctor Who gave me a complex about stone statues. So yeah, a wimp may be too kind a word.

However, if a creepy movie has a good enough hook, I'll watch and just bury my head in a pillow frequently. Hence why, a long time ago, I shelled out for a copy of The Brothers Grimm. Starring two of my favorites, Heath Ledger and Matt Damon, it had a promising premise. Jake and Will Grimm are con artists who go throughout the French-occupied German countryside, taking advantage of local folklore to act as 18th century ghost hunters. That all goes awry when they end up in a real enchanted village where young girls are mysteriously disappearing and they are charged by the French occupiers to discover what is happening and to stop it.

Sigh, this movie is sort of scary? For Friday the 13th, it fell flat. I should have gone with The Mummy. Even for me, Grimm is on the weak side. It had been a long time since I watched this and honestly, I remembered it being better. It has great potential - the idea should be great but the execution is lacking. The story meanders a lot and takes too long to get to its climax. It has good characters - I particularly enjoy Heath Ledger as Jacob Grimm, the reluctant former scholar who follows Will from one con to the next. His willingness to believe in the fairy tale is endearing and what one would expect from a Grimm. Peter Stormare also deserves a thumbs up for his creepy yet delightful Cavaldi who is constantly trying to torment or kill someone via over the top means. At one point he has the Grimm brothers dressed in aprons and bonnets scrubbing the floor a la Cinderella. It's weird and yet makes me laugh. The Brothers Grimm does have its moments, including one of its best quotes (TRUST THE TOAD!), but overall, it falls flat. One for the Goodwill pile to start out my rewatching.