What I learned this week, September 21, 2012

Why James Bond Fans Are Better Than Sci-Fi Geeks

Bond fans are different. They (we) make an effort. When I was younger, I found that watching the Bond films and reading the books made me a more active and motivated person. I began to take an interest not just in playing video games but in learning new things. Online Bond forums are, by and large, not a bunch of nerds arguing over fantasy scenarios but guys talking about actual skills: effective martial arts to learn for self-defense, good clothing decisions, how to fix cars, elegant alcoholic drinks, card-playing tips, travel locations, etc. These are real skills that you can go out and learn and use. You can’t learn how to fly an X-wing, do flips with a lightsaber, or use the Vulcan neck thing to take out a mutant invader.



There has been a lot of talk about Lincoln’s voice in the new Speilberg film – how Daniel Day Lewis interpreted him as having a higher voice than the usual booming baritone. This seems to be historically accurate.

It didn’t seem to be such a big deal, until I listened to this trailer:

Photographer and videographer Peter Sutherland followed six cyclists from different disciplines of cycling and personal backgrounds to produce short but moving documentaries on each one.

“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on …our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

— From TEDxHouston speaker Brené Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly, released this month.

I keep reading everybody writing and saying that, “Rush is an idiot!”

I don’t know… this might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s pretty good anyway:

People at the Red Bull Soapbox Race

More of my shots from the Red Bull Soapbox Race, Dallas, 2012

One of the quirks that I have is that I do not wear shirts with writing on them. This guy did nothing to change my opinion on that.

No wonder those birds are angry.

There were a lot of cameras in the crowd.

It was a long day – get some rest when you can.

These guys walked their rather sparkly car past where I was standing. I didn’t see what had happened up the hill, closer to the start and didn’t know why it wasn’t rolling… but… Youtube to the rescue.

One of the cool things is that you could go down into a pit area and look at what was left of the vehicles after they ran their race. If there was enough left in one piece you could even sit in the driver’s seat and get your picture taken.
Or you could talk to the drivers. For some reason this driver, from a cheese-wedge shaped car that made it down quickly in one piece, seemed very popular in the pits.

Eating Insects in the Rain

Back in the spring, I tracked down a Food Truck sponsored by Dos Equis. Billed as “The Most Interesting Taco in the World” – they had hired a well-known local truck, Rock and Roll Tacos, reskinned the outside, and sent it out to give away interesting tacos. They called it “Feast of the Brave.” I had shark and iguana tacos… and they were so good, it wasn’t even brave to eat them.

Dos Equis is doing the promotion again, this time with the Nammi Truck, which usually serves Banh Mi sandwiches. They’ve made up some sandwiches with Jellyfish, Quail, and Silkworms. The silkworms are billed as “Soy Silkworms” – but that means they were fed on soybeans… they are the real thing. I have always wanted to eat some insects, so I decided to track them down.

Today I had a long bicycle ride planned, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The streets were very wet and the rain spitting down. I’ve done some work and have replaced the spokes on my ancient Raleigh Technium 460 road bike so I took it out around the neighborhood. It worked great, though I was nervous with the narrow tires on the slick tarmac.

So, I had the day and had to make new plans. A quick look at the Internet and I discovered the Nammi/Dos Equis truck was down in the Arts District outside the grand opening of the new City Performance Hall. I grabbed my stuff and rode the DART train downtown.

I didn’t think of an umbrella and by the time I walked up to the truck I was drenched and probably looked like an idiot. Four women and one guy in costumes were huddled outside the truck when I walked up and said, “Can I have a silkworm sandwich?”

“Oh, you want to go for it right off?” said one woman as she handed me a sandwich in a paper tray.

Until the moment that I looked down at the food I never really thought much about actually eating silkworms. They were brownish, obviously segmented bugs, and bigger than I had imagined. I guess it is the pupae stage of the silkworm that is edible… they were almost the size of the last joint on your little finger. There were plenty of them in a sandwich.

I walked over to a little table that had an umbrella (intended for shade… the rain water poured through it) and tucked in. The worms were, not surprisingly, crunchy. They had a bit of a nutty taste… though, really they tasted like… well, bugs.

While I was eating a couple walked up to me. We talked about the various other food trucks lined up. They did a good job of holding a normal conversation with a stranger that was shoveling insect pupae into his mouth. The guy had been to Vietnam and talked about the sandwiches and how they weren’t really sure about what was in them, but they were good.

Now, I was finishing my order. I love the Nammi Banh Mi – they are more expensive than the usual Vietnamese sandwich – but they are very generous with the meat (the pork, of course, is the best). A bunch always falls out into the little tray and you get the extra enjoyment of finishing off the spicy filling along with whatever vegetables have also fallen out.

So now I looked down at the little tray and there, true to form, was a little pile of Silkworm Pupae along with some daikon, cilantro, and shredded carrot. Should I eat the worms?

I did. It was a little harder to eat the little buggers bare like that – without benefit of the sandwich bread concealing the fact that I was eating insects… but I figured if I’m up for it, I’m in. Like most from my generation, I have always felt a compulsion to finish my plate.

Insects consumed, I headed into the performance hall for the opening day festivities. But that’s a story for another day.

The Nammi folks trying to stay dry.

They were all in costume for the Dos Equis “Feast of the Brave” food giveaway.

Here’s my silkworm sandwich.

Proof I ate it – only a bite left.

While I was eating, a rugged group on bicycles, braving the rain, came up for some food.

Soapbox Race

I had nothing going on this weekend, so I consulted the Internet to find something on Saturday – something with a lot of people, where I could practice taking photos of real persons. I came up with a Soapbox Derby Race, sponsored by Red Bull.

The other week, when I drove out to the far Northwest stretches of the Dallas side of the Metroplex, I stopped off to take some photographs of a horse sculpture that I had found online. When I drove by the horses looking for a place to park, I considered going up the street a bit, parking, and riding my bicycle back down. Looking closely, I decided that the street ran up a hill… and that hill was too high and too steep for me… at least at that time.

So, I guess that it isn’t surprising when I realized the Soapbox Race was going down that very hill.

I wanted to get a good spot, so after buying some vintage ink at an estate sale I drove out there – only to become horribly lost and trapped in the various byways of Plano. Tens of thousands of people were on their way to the race and every housing development had a private guard out in front with a clipboard to make sure nobody drove by or parked on the sacred streets. That funneled all the cars into a single road which was hopelessly backed up. Everything in Plano is fenced and guarded – it’s the most unfriendly and unwelcoming town there is.

This put me in a foul mood and I almost gave up, but I finally looped way to the west and came in from The Colony side, which was fine. I only had to navigate a rough cowshit-filled field, a tangle of barbed wire, and a mile-long walk… which was much more pleasant that a single drive down a carefully manicured housing access boulevard.

I found a place along the race route and held on, standing there for over an hour, when, once the race began, a loud boiling crowd of kids and aggressive self-righteous parents wedged in and forced me into a tiny bit of space. I stayed for a dozen or so races until I gave up and made my walk back out.

It was a fun event – but way, way too crowded. I took a few photos – enough for a handful of entries here. It wore me out… I’ll have to think hard about this sort of thing. I might stick to smaller groups next time.

Big crowd at the Red Bull Soapbox Derby.

The home built gravity-powered vehicles rolled downhill on a narrow course lined with hay bales and sprinkled with obstacles. The crowd quickly grew to a point where it was actually tough to get a good look. Here’s a particularly artistic (though not very fast) entry rushing towards the finish line.

The crowd lining the race course.

The spectators lined the entire course (maybe a kilometer long) four or five deep on both side, with thousands more on up the hills.

Celebrity Judges.

The competition wasn’t on speed alone. There was a panel of celebrity judges up on an elevated platform. Here are three of them (left to right): Josh Henderson (from Dallas, star of Dallas), Lolo Jones (Olympic hurdler), and Louie Vito (X-Games Snowboarder).

The first official entry.

The first official car was a two-person buffalo thing. It wasn’t too fast, but it did make it all the way to the bottom. Not all of them did.

Three men in a tub, post-wreck.

All entries crossed the finish line, even if they had to carry the thing. These guys had a spectacular crash (too far up the hill for me to see live) and some nasty road rash.

I visited the pit area. This is the broken steering joint that doomed the Three Men in a Tub entry.

One of the first entries was “Three Men in a Tub” – and they picked up some serious speed until a weld gave way and they had a spectacular crash. The crowd was so tight I could only see the bit of race right in front of me – but there were big video screens set up and they replaced the tumbling high speed wreck over and over. Post-disaster the racers walked by me lugging their wrecked vehicle (helped by track employees) and one guy had a terrible road rash and he seemed in pain from knocking his helmeted head into the pavement.

The OOmpa Loompas from the SMU team. They barely made it ten feet.

Some of the racers were well-made and carefully thought out. Most weren’t. The SMU team had a cart that was terribly top-heavy and barely went ten feet before tumbling over and tearing itself apart.

Six Flags

If someone says “Six Flags” or even “Six Flags Over Texas” most people will think of the amusement park(s). Few outside of the Lone Star State know the historical implications of the six flags. There really have been six different flags flying over the state – a couple of them twice each.

First was the flag of Spain. From 1519-1685 and again from 1690-1821 most of Texas was a Spanish colony. In between, for the five years from 1685 to 1690, the area was under French rule. For more than a decade, from 1821 to 1836, Texas was a part of the newly-independent country of Mexico.

For ten years, from 1836 to 1845, Texas was a Republic… its own country. Some people think it was the only state to be independent, but that’s not true.

Then, in 1845, Texas joined the US as the 28th state, only to secede and join the Confederate States in 1861. Finally, in 1865, after the Civil War (or The War Between the States, as it is still called in the South) it rejoined the US.

Along the Esplanade, in Dallas’ Fair Park, are six huge porticoes lining a massive pool… three on the north and three on the south. Each portico represents one of the flags that flew over the state. There is a huge female statue outside each representing each country… I’ll look at them another time. What I want to show you is what is inside each portico.

Every entry boasts a massive mural painted on the wall. They are done in a beautiful, powerful, art deco style. I think they are among the coolest things in the city.

And they are virtually unknown. Each fall, millions attend the Texas State Fair and wander around eating their corny dogs, riding the ferris wheel, or looking at the newest car models or the fattest livestock and nobody bothers to peek inside the porticoes at the artwork – even though they are about forty feet tall.

I love to walk the mostly deserted park on non-fair days and look at the paintings. The ones on the south side, facing the north, have been beautifully restored. The ones on the north side, facing south – where the burning sun reaches in – are in worse shape and are very difficult to see because they are behind protective screens. I hope they are restored some time… I’m sure someone is working on it.

The murals are very difficult to photograph. They are in shade and reach up tall and wide in alcoves where you can’t get any distance away for a good shot.

So I did the best I could. If you have the time and are in town – go down and take a look for yourself. Otherwise… here you go.

The Esplanade pool at Fair Park in Dallas. You can see the huge porticoes on the south side on the right.

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

The huge murals are tucked inside the massive porticoes and are very difficult to photograph.

The northern three porticoes are facing the sun and their murals are badly faded.

I hope these are restored – they would be beautiful. This one includes a space ship – painted in 1936.

What I learned this week, September 14, 2012

5 Simple Mind Hacks That Changed My Life

  1. Making yourself impervious to criticism.
  2. How to make a final decision.
  3. The key to getting over mistakes.
  4. How to stop overreacting to minor issues.
  5. How to have a more active life.

I’ve been working on #5 lately. Shame I’m always so exhausted when I get home from work.

The Worst Rock Band Ever

I love the systematic method used in this article. He has Motley Crue barely beating out Creed as the worst ever. But he has one line about Creed that is money: “Rock and roll is supposed to be fun, not like passing an impacted stool, and then telling all your friends about it.” I wish I had written that.

The 10 Most Damaging Chick Flicks Ever Made

Too bad they also send some of the worst messages to women in the history of mankind. Horrible stereotypes, insulting characters, idiotic relationship advice… it’s all there. Some chick flicks are better at hiding it than others, but generally, you can count on the same thing each time. The worst part is, women are actually starting to believe the lunacy they see in these movies!

The 7 Most Overrated Blockbuster Movies of the Last 20 Years

News You Can Use:

10 Reasons There Won’t Ever Be an Aquaman Movie

5 Great Pieces Of R-Rated Life Advice from the Movies


A Village After Dark

by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Never Let Me Go

I know I keep posting stuff about Cloud Atlas – but I’m really excited about the film (even though I know it might not be that good – the possibly of glorious failure is strong) – Plus… more importantly, I want to give everyone every opportunity to read the book first. It’s an amazing read, in many ways… in every way.

Plus, how can you miss Hugo Weaving playing Nurse Ratchet.

A woman, Annie Clark, that went to a local High School, has hit the big time as St. Vincent. She has released an album in partnership with David Byrne – Love This Giant. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Same as it ever was.