Passing Notes

Cell phones evoke strong reactions in many users, from camping out for days in advance of a posted release date, to igniting flame wares online debating the merits of the latest models. Some people are fully entrenched in one brand or the other and cannot conceive of ever using another model, while others flip back and forth depending on what deal they find at the time. Some people get a new phone every six months while others hold onto their phone until it completely stops working. I tend to fall in the latter group. My Galaxy Note 4 was on its last legs and it was time to consider a new phone. I held off getting a replacement until I knew whether or not Samsung would continue the Note line after its Note 7 debacle. I now have a new phone and a new carrier (kinda) and I am a happy camper once again.

I bought my Note 4 when my Note 3 failed. When my Note 4 began exhibiting battery problems after a year, I considered having my carrier upgrade me to the newly-released Note 7 (Samsung skipped the Note 6) as a replacement. Fortunately, my Carrier was able to get me a new Note 4 that resolved my issue and I didn’t have time to be disappointed because it was just then when the Note 7 began exploding in people’s pockets. The carriers very much want people to buy a new phone every year and it had been more than two since I bought my Note 4. Both Samsung and Verizon were keen on upgrading me to the Galaxy S-8. I even considered it, but it came down to the fact that there is no S-pen in the S-8. I just couldn’t do it.

All that changed at the end of July, when Samsung began teasing its “Bigger Things” ad campaign. Clearly from the silhouette, they were about to release a new Note! I was giddy with “New Phone” excitement. After Samsung announced the phone, the major carriers began offering pre-orders at different price points. The phone is not cheap. $960 from all the carriers, but that could be mitigated by trading in an old phone. Best Buy offered it for $150 less than the carriers, so that was the best deal, if I stayed with Verizon. One problem, though, was that I had finally finished paying off my Note 4 and my Verizon bill was about to be a lot lower, but if I bought the phone from them, I was stuck making payments for two years again. Verizon is not the cheapest data plan unless you get four lines from them. As I live alone, I certainly don’t need four lines. Their unlimited plan was a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I began shopping around.

The other major carriers were comparable to Verizon and nothing stood out. Comcast had recently launched their Xfinity Mobile service and I looked at that. As an Xfinity Internet customer, I could get phone service from them without paying a line access fee. That was cool. Their unlimited plan was cheaper than the other carriers as well. The only problem was that Xfinity Mobile wasn’t listing the Note 8 as being available, and I had to buy the phone from them to activate it. They do not yet offer a bring your own phone plan. Fortunately, the week after its announcement, the Note 8 appeared on the XM website for pre-order at $200 less than all the other carriers. That pretty much put the nail in the coffin for me. I ordered the phone and the “by the gig” plan ($12 per gig) and waited.

The phone arrived at my home via FedEx on the 15th (the official launch date) and I unboxed it immediately. It is about a centimeter longer than the Note 4 and about a half-centimeter more narrow. It is an all-glass body, which makes it challenging to hold onto. Also, it is very slippery and will readily slide on any slanted surface, so a tactile case is essential to prevent damage. It’s biggest cosmetic difference is the infinity screen, removing any hard buttons from the face of the device. No home button. No fingerprint scanner. Nothing. When the phone is off, it is just a black obelisk. The power button is in the same position on the right side and the volume buttons are on the left. One new button shares the left side at about thumb position and that is the Bixby button. More on that later.

On the flip-side, there are two camera lenses, the flash and the re-positioned fingerprint sensor. The dual 12 megapixel camera is an oft-touted improvement allowing for more portrait style photography giving simulated depth of field. The front camera has improved as well, now sporting 8 megapixels. The most significant improvement for me is the manual settings allowing the user to set aperture and shutter speed and ISO if they so choose.

The S-pen does more now as well. While it is still a WACOM stylus, Samsung has added more features in the system that uses the S-pen. It had a coloring program that allows the user to either color on predrawn art, much like those adult coloring books that were all the rage a couple of years ago, or free draw and color original artwork and share it in an online gallery for feedback. I have wasted a couple of hours doing that already.

The Note 8 is a Note, so it still works on the same principle as its predecessors and I am well familiar with it. My greatest impression is the faster CPU and the larger memory. The Octocore processor running at 2.35 GHz and the six Gigs of onboard RAM mean it is zippy fast. Samsung also brought back the micro SD card slot so the on board 64 Gigs of storage can be augmented by adding up to 256 Gigs of removable storage.

What I not as enamored with is the rear mounted fingerprint scanner. I have yet to get my finger in the correct position thanks to the thickness of my phone case/wallet. Fortunately, the Note 8 offers retina scanning as a biometric option as well as 3-D facial recognition. This is fine for unlocking the phone, but my apps and websites still want fingerprints.

Some of the updates to standard apps are not as welcome either. The mail app is missing the ability to register a domain as spam, meaning one can only register each message one at a time. Some menu items have been moved to other screens, which is just a matter of a learning curve.

All in all, I am quite pleased with my new Note 8 and I am glad I waited. I am also happy I got it for $200 less than the major carriers were charging, while I still get the Samsung promotion for a wireless charger and memory card. I even ordered a new wallet case which showed up one day after the phone. Apple announced the new iPhone just two weeks after Samsung announced the Note 8. At $1000, the iPhone X took the Note’s short –lived title as the most expensive phone on the market. At least until Samsung announces the Note 9.

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Hunkering Down and Riding It Out

I consider myself a Houstonian. I was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and that town will always have a special place in my heart, but I was raised in the Houston area, so this is where I consider home. Having lived most of my life in this area, I have been exposed to the peculiarities of Houston weather, from the boiling hot summers where you can literally cook and egg on the sidewalk (cook it, not eat it) to the days where all four seasons compete for attention with rain, snow, and heat all within the same twelve hours. I have worked outside in the summer of the drought where we had more than 90 consecutive days of heat in excess of 100 degrees and during the few days in winter where snow actually fell and accumulated enough to build small snowmen. In all my time here, I have also had my fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms and it never fails to impress me just how stupid people get in the face of extreme weather. Just one trip to the store this week demonstrates just how little people think when faced with the unusual.

The first serious storm I can remember is hurricane Alicia back in 1983. I was 18, I think. We lost power for a few days and several branches littered the yard and the street. I don’t remember that we flooded during that time. It was a few weeks after Alicia that several tornados came through and took down a tree in our yard, laying it across the breezeway of the house. I remember a neighbor was a construction contractor and he had a work crew up on his roof during the height of the storm repairing his roof damage. During that storm, bottled water wasn’t a thing and I don’t remember my mother raiding the stores for 15 loaves of bread or 12 cases of canned goods, yet we had food to eat and plenty to drink.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita threatened was the first time I noticed the fear mongering on the TV. Weather forecasters began crying for people to get out of town. It was the first time I saw people panicking about the weather. It was the first time I experienced people rushing the stores and gas stations. There were lines for miles to get into the gas stations. Somehow, I managed to weather the storm without ransacking the local Kroger.

During hurricane Ike in 2008, people panicked again. This is not to say there was no cause for concern. Many people ended up losing their homes in that storm and thousands were without power for weeks. This is the reason for hurricane preparedness plans, so people can have a plan for what to do in the event of a serious tropical storm. I have a plan, too, it just doesn’t involve loading multiple shopping carts. There’s nothing wrong with buying provisions, but It’s the people who clear store shelves that just bother me.

Think, people! It’s not like there will never be water or bread ever again. The stores will restock. The most serious storms have effects lasting a week or two tops. There’s no need for one person to buy every loaf of bread on the shelf. People dragging three shopping carts loaded for bear to the register is ridiculous. I try to limit my normal grocery shopping to no more than once a week. It helps with managing my budget to buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time. If I have a week’s worth, then I should be fine for any storm that comes along, since the effects will probably only last a week. I see no need to have 10 loaves of bread going stale or moldy on my counter, or having three cases of bottled water taking up space in my pantry, especially when I have filtered water in my fridge and I don’t drink much water anyway, or having so many canned goods in my pantry that I could open a food bank.

Hurricane Harvey is currently bearing down on the Texas coast and the weather prognosticators are predicting flooding as bad or worse than Allison and winds worse than Ike. The news is saying it will be the most severe storm to hit America in years. This is drumming up a panic in the population just like they did for Katrina, Rita and Ike, particularly in those who have moved into the area since Ike and who haven’t experienced such a storm. The news is about to go into 24 hour storm watch mode, preempting normal programming for the duration of the storm, or until everyone loses power. Either way, I have a week’s worth of non-perishable food, plenty of water, candles, and batteries for my flashlights. If this one turns out to be worse than Ike, I can still evacuate. My readiness plans account for that eventuality too. This comes from being a Houstonian and having survived several tropical storms and hurricanes in my day. That, and having the ability to think.

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Shut Up, Mr. Man!

Let me issue a trigger warning. I am about to embark on a circular argument, because I am about to explain something while being a man. This act has been labeled by the liberals as a derogatory term, since for a man to explain something is evidently a microaggression. They have lumped this microaggression into a grouping designed to address what many feminist perceive as an affront to humanity: Mansplaining, manspreading and, here’s a new one, manterrupting. These are terms that feminists are using to promote the “gender inequality” argument that has been catching traction the past few years, so much so that CBS correspondent Faith Salie did a segment on the phenomenon on CBS Sunday Morning.

Mansplaining is the tendency for a man to “talk down” to a woman by way of explaining the man’s position “in a condescending manner.” Unfortunately, a condescending manner appears to be any time a woman doesn’t want to hear the argument, which, most men who are or have been married know, is all the time. But the label doesn’t really cover the gamut of condescending explanations. My kids condescend all the time. I have had enough eye rolls and heavy sighs from my granddaughter and women friends as they try to explain something to me to know that condescending is not a gender specific trait. Men explain things to other men. As an instructor, my whole day is spent explaining things. Is this mansplaining? Or is it only mansplaining when a man explains something to a woman? So if I teach a class of both men and women, am I only committing half a crime?

Manspreading is the masculine tendency to sit with the knees far apart supposedly to expose the genitals in some sort of sexual power display. This particular faux pax is a well-earned one, but maybe misunderstood. I know I tend to spread my legs when sitting, as many men do. Unfortunately, this has less to do with sex or power than with comfort. Men have certain physical accoutrements that occupy the space between the legs and those attributes can be in a position to cause discomfort with sitting with the legs together. The only remedies are to sit with the legs slightly apart, or to manually adjust the affected parts. Neither option is socially accepted and thus men find themselves between a rock and a hard place, or more to the point, stones and timber. That is not to say that some men don’t go overboard and stretch out to an excessive point. This is not exclusively a male trait though. Many larger people of both sexes can occupy more space that is appropriate. These people are simply douchebags. Again, not sexist. Just asshats.

Manterrupting is the tendency to interrupt a woman who is talking, presumably to do some mansplaining. This is a new one, because evidently, only men interrupt. Women are far too civilized to engage in such a rude activity, and it is only when a man interrupts a woman does the crime rise to the level of manterrupting. Women interrupt other people all the time. Both of my Ex-wives were quite ready to interrupt me in any discussion. Why is it manterrupting only if I interrupt them? Faith Salie threw out some statistics that during the presidential debates, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 55 times compared to the 11 times she interrupted him. The wonderful thing about that debate was that Donald interrupted everyone, including the moderators. It is just a Donaldism. Perhaps the term should be Donterrupting or Trumpterrupting.

One of the more tried and true rhetorical strategies that have been employed throughout the history of human interaction is that of undermining the authority of opposing views. This is no more evident that the current argument that men cannot have a voice in the abortion issue because men have no uterus. This is also evident when a feminist labels a male argument as “mansplaining.” Once the label has been applied, the man’s argument can be dismissed in its entirety with no more consideration to the content of the argument. So, when a label like mansplaining or manterrupting is thrown out in a discussion, it is merely another way for a woman to say “shut up, Mr. Man.”

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Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

The riots in Charlottesville, Virginia Saturday have been the topic of discussion all week, but most of the media discussion has been focused on President Trump’s response to it. The riots flared when a scheduled rally by several different organizations who planned to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a confederate general in the Civil War, was met with counter protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement and the Anti-facist (Anti-Fa) movement. One woman was killed when someone drove a car into a crowd of protestors. The driver was arrested and identified as James Fields of Ohio, who had come to Charlottesville to join in the protest. The media was quick to single out the alt-right as the sole source of the trouble and blame them for the death. This is a complete propaganda campaign of the worst sort trying to control the public consciousness with lies and misdirection. Fortunately, President Trump isn’t playing along.

According to reports, the facts are that several groups clashed in the streets and began to argue and shout at and shove each other. Small skirmishes erupted all over the area around the demonstration which devolved into more serious violence as the day wore on. Police posted units all along the area, but according to witnesses, the police did not actively interfere until the car crash. The governor declared a state of emergency and the police cleared the area, making several arrests.

From the reports, this looks like a standard public disturbance issue with a tragic outcome culminating in the death of the young woman. Two additional deaths occurred when a police helicopter that was supporting the event crashed in the woods. The details of the cause of the crash have not been reported yet, but it is not likely the result of any action from any of the protestors since it happened away from the demonstration.

So, while this is tragic, to be sure, it is not worthy of the media coverage or social media coverage it has garnered. The reason it has gotten so much traction is that many of the groups protesting the removal of the statue are what the news media has labeled “Alt-Right” or neo Nazis or KKK. The socialist left is raising the volume on this in order to try to paint all conservatives as neo Nazis and KKK members. As if the mere presence of these groups is the sole reason for the violence that occurred.

I would never suggest that the Neo Nazi party, or the KKK embrace the true spirit of America. I do not condone any of these radical ideologies. By the same token, I do not condone the BLM or Anti-Fa movement either. Groups like the KKK and the BLM are the flipsides of the radical ideology coin. Unfortunately, the news media and the left (one in the same) favor the BLM/Anti-fa crowd and are portraying them as the victims in this melee.

They seem to forget that it takes two to fight.

Sarah Bosner, a blogger for Rolling Stone magazine mentioned observing a white man punch a black woman as though that was an example of the whole ordeal.

Shortly before the car ramming, I see a man marching with the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, punch a black woman who had thrown ice from her cup at him. Bystanders intervene, but the police do not respond.

Her point seems to be that a big bad Nazi beat up a poor defenseless black woman. She glosses over the fact the woman assaulted the man first by throwing her drink at him. I can imagine that prior to that, she had probably already peppered him with plenty of vitriol to raise his boiling point that level. In that regard, maybe it is indicative of the whole ordeal. A lot of people got insanely angry and acted like fools. Everyone involved should be held accountable…on both sides of the issue. In fact, BLM organizers deliberately bussed in demonstrators to counter the protest. The only reason to do such a thing was to foster a conflict and in doing so, they had to know that violence would erupt. In fact, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the violence was the expectation. They wanted a conflict to promote their leftist message and to try to paint the right in as bad a picture as they could.

President Trump seems to have a handle on this concept. His initial condemnation said that people on both sides were to blame for the violence, which is clearly true. The BLM movement already has a history of violence and killing police officers, so they clearly bear some of the blame for the violence in Charlottesville. Trump addressed the incident on Saturday:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,”

This covers not only the violence from the Alt-right, but also from the BLM and the Anti-Fa, who also bear equal responsibility for the violence. But this wasn’t good enough for the left-leaning media or the neo socialist on the hill, who circled the wagons to roast Trump for “supporting Nazis.” Trump’s advisors quickly coerced him into revising his statement and singling out the “Nazis” because they are so vile they must be to blame for all the problems that happened. Trump did so, but then backtracked to his original “both sides” statement, much to the frustration of the left.

Here’s the thing: He’s right about that. Sure, Nazis are bad. Sure, KKK is bad. Sure, we had a war to stamp out the Nazis in 1945. And, sure, it is terrible that people try to align themselves with that movement today. But here’s the rest of the thing: They have every right to do that. It’s called the first amendment. Citizens of the US have every right to think however they want to, never mind how stupid that think may seem. After all, so many people still think Obama was a good president. They have a right to think that. The government cannot do anything about it. The government similarly cannot do anything about stopping people from joining the Nazi party or the KKK, no matter how repugnant it may be. Just because people align themselves with the Nazis or the KKK doesn’t mean they are criminals or terrorists or that their planning to murder people. It just means they are idiots.

Where these people, Nazis, KKK, BLM, what have you, go wrong is when they commit crimes like assault or vehicular homicide because of their beliefs. On Saturday, everyone there, from all of the different groups, are to blame for the carnage and all of them should be held accountable.

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Observations During a Mundane Afternoon

After several weeks of procrastinating, I finally got my list of chores done this week. Among other chores, I got my hair cut, the oil changed, tires rotated, and the car detailed.

I needed a haircut, so while I was getting my oil changed at Walmart auto center, I went to the TGF hair salon in the Walmart for my quarterly trim. While the beautician was delicately snipping the half inch off the top (only the grays, I told her) an older, brightly clad bottle-blonde woman with blue-veined legs emerging from hot pink spandex shorts came in, walked up to my attendant and demanded Paul Mitchell face soap.

“We don’t have any,” the employee said, not missing a snip of her scissors.

“Could you order it?” the woman persisted.

“I’m afraid not,” the employee started to reply, but didn’t get to finish the thought.

“Why not?” the woman interrupted.

The employee stopped snipping for a moment. I caught her eye in the mirror and gave her a bemused smile of sympathy. “We don’t carry it,” she answered.

“So, you can order it.”

“No, ma’am.”

“Why not? You carry other Paul Mitchell products.”

The manager came out and took over the conversation, desperately trying to get the woman to understand that face soaps are not a product that TGF can order. The customer seemed unable to process that a hair salon does not carry the facial product she wants. The question “why not” was asked after every statement.

“Well, I’ll be back in a week to pick it up. Please order it for me,” the woman demanded as she pushed her shopping cart out of the store. We all snickered when she wandered out of sight.

While sitting in the chair getting my ears lowered, my stomach started rumbling. During this week, there was a discussion online about In-n-Out Burger coming to Houston, so I decided to have lunch at what I thought would be its most direct competition, Smash Burger. After that meal, I have determined that Smash Burger is not in competition with In-N-Out Burger. And having had In-N-Out on more than one occasion, the real competition it has to beat is 5 Guys or Whataburger. Smash Burger is above McDonalds and Burger King, but that’s about it.

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While leaving Smash Burger and heading to Discount Tire, I came upon a lone wheel rolling down the feeder road, weaving lazily from one lane to the other, never quite finding the curb before angling back across traffic. It rolled for at least a mile before it wandered down a side road. There was no car pulled over that was missing said wheel, no indication that anyone had lost it and no one appeared to be looking for it. It was just out for an afternoon jaunt all by itself. Makes you wonder what else your car does when you think it’s parked.

I left Discount Tire and headed over to the car wash. After getting my car detailed, I stopped in a parts store to get a battery for my motorcycle and then to the gas station to fill up the tank. Before I could even open the gas cap, a van pulled up beside me and a young Hispanic fellow stuck his head out of the window.

“Hey, man,” he asked, “you need a new home theater system? I got a spare one in the back.”

“Nope. I’m fine, thank you.”

“You sure, man? I can let you have it cheap.”

“I’m good.”

As they drove off, I had to wonder of what truck that system “fell off” or whether or not some home was missing its stereo.

On the way home, after completing all the tasks I needed, including getting the car detailed, the skies opened up and rained all over my car. But, it’s all good. It just gave my car “the wet look.”

It was an interesting afternoon, to be sure.

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Running in the Family

When I was a child, I would occasionally spend the night with my Grandmother in Cabot, Arkansas and just after bed time, a large train would come rumbling by her house, as she lived less than 100 yards from a main line, and I would jump out of bed to watch the train go by. The night air was cool and the grass and pavement were lit by the moon and starlight and the one or two street lamps that ran along the road between the house and the train track. The lonesome whistle of the engine and the clickity clack of the train wheels on the steel tracks were the only sounds I heard as I watched the trains roll along. I wouldn’t budge from my perch until I saw the caboose roll along into the darkness. Some nights, I went to bed disappointed once the railroad companies stopped using cabooses.

Figure 1 My Granddad Standing next to a retired steam locomotive circa 1970.

My mother tells me that both of my Grandfathers worked for the Missouri Pacific railroad back in the forties, fifties and sixties; mom’s dad was an engineer and dad’s dad was a conductor, and both worked for the railroad until their respective deaths. Their company was eventually bought out by Union Pacific.

My father has always had an interest in model trains as long as I can remember. His preference was the large modern diesels that pulled America’s freight ( I surmise this was because of his career in transportation logistics) while I preferred the old steam locomotives of the 1800s.

My parents bought me a train when I was a child, one of those carpet trains with the oval shaped track that could be set up and taken down quickly. Of course, the problem with those train sets was that in designing them that way, the manufacturers guaranteed themselves repeat business as pieces would invariable get broken or lost in the process. Another problem with those sets was that running the train in a perpetual circle or oval got boring pretty quickly. The only way to alleviate that boredom was to actually build a model railroad with buildings and tunnels and bridges.

My father had a grand plan to set up a full scale model railroad on a large piece of plywood with miniature buildings, cars and trees; a small scale duplicate of a slice of America that we could control. Sadly, this model never reached fruition as we didn’t have room for it in the house and when we started it in the garage, it got pushed aside to make room for more practical matters. I hear from mom that he did eventually set it up after I moved out on my own.

Sometime around 1997 or 1998, my dad and I went to the Arkansas railroad museum in Pine Bluff. While we were there, I bought a small N-scale steam locomotive and a few cars and some track; enough pieces to build a small working electric train setup. I had no aspirations of building a large model train set, but I always like the wood-burning steam engine with its large bell-shaped smoke stack, and I wanted to have one that would run on my desk while I did my homework, since was attending college at UALR. I don’t remember ever getting it running, though, and that engine sat on a piece of track on my desk until I moved away. Then it sat in the hutch on my desk for another 16 years, doing nothing more than gathering dust.

In December, 2016, I took an assignment to write an article about a display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science called Trains over Texas. The museum had a large O-Scale model railroad built featuring natural and man-made landmarks of Texas. While researching the story, I watched the model trains run and talked to several museum docents, who were avid train modelers. This reignited my interest in model trains and I became interested in whether my old train would still run after all these years. Of course, this meant I would need track and transformer, which I did not have.

In trying to find one, I determined it would be cheaper to just buy a boxed railroad train set from Amazon, rather than piece the track together.

I got the train set, put it together and ran the n-scale coal-burning steam locomotive that came with the kit. It worked fine. I then put my old train on it. It sputtered and spun its tires and did its best to run, but it needed some TLC and maintenance before it was going to work. I knew nothing about maintaining a locomotive. I had to learn quick.

I quickly found out that model railroading is not a mainstream hobby, and the big box hobby stores are woefully inadequate to supply the model railroad hobbyist. Michael’s has absolutely nothing for trains and Hobby Lobby only stocks two or three boxed train sets, but no individual pieces or models. As a matter of fact, a Google search turned up only two hobby stores in the entire Houston metroplex that serves the train community.

G&G hobbies is a general purpose hobby shop in Rice Village that does have a few locomotives, track, models, and even some box sets. It even has parts to repair trains, so that’s good. It does have a very large selection of rolling stock (trainspeak for train cars). Sadly, the focus of the store is Remote Control (RC) toys and plastic models, and apparently only one employee knows anything about trains. As such, G&G was unable to help me service my little Jupiter.

Papa Ben’s is a train shop in the Montrose area which offers nothing but trains. Its entire focus is model railroading. They even have a “club room” with a huge N-scale layout setup where members of the local train club come and play. One employee, a tall man named Steve, not only was able to educate me on how to maintain my Jupiter, he even fixed the broken coupler on the tender for me. I was able to get several ideas for my train setup and all the part I need to complete it.

I also attended a train show in Stafford that had several stores from all over the country as well as many of the chapters of the model train club. I took my grandsons to this show and they had a ball controlling an HO switcher to put together all the cars needed to form a train.

An old high school friend of mine contacted me several months prior and offered me the chance to partner up with him in a hobby shop in New Hampshire. When he found out I like model railroading, he became very excited and declared I would be the train guy! Now, I am learning a lot about trains as a result of my efforts to fix my Jupiter, but I don’t know if I’m “the train guy.”

I learned about a new technology in model railroading that did not exist the last time I entertained the notion of trains. Digital Command Control equipped trains have a computer chip that allows the train master to run multiple trains on one track independently. With old DC technology, any train on the track would draw the current from the transformer and they would all run based on the amount of current. The train master couldn’t set independent speeds or stop a single train. It was all or nothing. Also, DCC allows the master to turn the train light on and off at will. Some trains even have a sound chip so it actually rings the bell, whistles and chugs along the track with realistic noises.

Now I have gotten the idea to retrofit my Jupiter with one of these DCC chips and an LED bulb to make it more realistic.

While I was in a train shop in New Hampshire, I found two flat bed cars with Army tanks on them. I thought they were clever so I bought them so I would have something more interesting than just plain old box cars or tanker cars. At a store in Austin, I found a surface to ground missile on a rail car. At a train show in New Braunfels, I found flat bed cars with other military vehicles and I got the idea of making an Army train. I bought two flat beds with a duce-n-half, two ¼ ton jeeps an M113 and an M577; all vehicles I drove in the my time in the Army. So now, I plan on having a Chessie System locomotive pull my Army train, my Union Pacific engine pull the box cars and I am thinking of getting some logging cars for my 0-6-0 steamer to pull. My Jupiter will pull my excursion train, which has a Pullman car and two open sided passenger cars.

All I had to do at this point was build a model train layout on which my trains could roll. I’m creating a new blog to document the development of my model. Have fun. I hope I will.

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Wonder Woman Excels Despite the Hype

Many critics were anticipating a poor showing of the film Wonder Woman because it is helmed by a woman: Patty Jenkins. The thinking apparently that a woman cannot drive a major Hollywood Blockbuster. Many people are heralding the film much the same way Hillary was heralded as the first female presidential nominee. Some people complained when a movie theater held a woman-only screening of the film, which drew more criticism from the other side of the issue. Other hype surrounding the film was that this is the first superhero film starring a female superhero as its main protagonist. The simple fact is that there isn’t a better female superhero to launch the effort. It pays off as well because Wonder Woman is the best DC Superhero film to date. This, despite the fact that Zack Snyder had his fingerprints all over it.

Gal Gadot exudes both a strength and a softness at the same time which is perfect for the role of Diana, Princess of the Amazons. Despite having a female superhero and taking the few side shots at feminism during an historical depiction, the film does not follow in the footsteps of the CW’s Supergirl in trying to become an Anthem of the new feminism, which might upset the more militant feminists out there. Rather, the plot focuses on telling the story of Wonder Woman’s development and entry into the modern, human world. This serves to actually tell a compelling story without delving into social mores and issues that would otherwise be divisive and distract from the enjoyment of the film.

The story departs slightly from the comic book depiction of Diana on Paradise Island, as well as its introduction of Steve Trevor, the American fighter Ace who is rescued by Diana and ushers her into the real world. There is no invisible jet, no spinning into her costume, and—for the most part—no alter ego. She is introduced to the war brass as Diana Prince, her secret identity from the comic book and TV show, but for the bulk of the film, she is Wonder Woman, even though no one actually addresses her by that title. She is simply Diana.

The bulk of the movie’s humor comes from Diana’s innocent reactions to what passes for modern society during the Great War. Chris Pratt, no I mean Chris Evans, no, sorry, Chris Hemsworth…nope, that’s not it. Oh, right, Chris Pine, of Star Trek, plays Steve Trevor, the American spy working for British intelligence to stop a Nazi chemical doomsday weapon that threatens to derail an armistice to end the war. There is an instant spark with Diana when she pulls him from the ocean after his plane crashes. The chemistry is tangible and plays well on screen, making their dynamic all the more real in the film’s climax. Pine’s portrayal is fine, if a little anachronistic. He tends to exude a 21st century swagger that would not have been tolerated by the British hierarchy in 1918.

The only detractor for the film is in its producer’s vision. Warner Brothers chose Zach Snyder to helm the DC cinematic universe and Snyder’s vision of the heroes in that universe is a dark one. Many fanboys have filled blogs and discussion boards with posts suggesting that Snyder is trying to adapt the DC graphic novels Injustice: Gods Among Us into the movies. That idea gets a serious booster shot with the antagonist in Wonder Woman. Snyder has an artistic eye for cinematic visuals. There is no denying that. But with the muted color pallet he chose for Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, it makes the viewing experience depressing. Snyder has a penchant for near monochromatic color filters as he displayed with his highly successful adaptation of the graphic novel 300. That pallet fits certain scenes, such as when Diana is first introduced to London (she says “it’s hideous”), but to make three films that way detracts from the viewing experience.

Despite Snyder’s limited vision, and the feminist hype, Wonder Woman is a great film and definitely worth the price of admission. Heck, skip the matinee and pay full price. It’s still worth it.

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