Monday, July 28, 2008

Lake Chinnabee camping

An old favorite quicky camping spot for me,
complete with a couple of wistful memories of happy times as a married man. Too hot this time of year for camping for my usual liking, but the kids and I got some unexpected extra time this weekend, I had to come up with something to do, so off to the Talladega National Forest it was.

Some time over the past few months, the kids' mother quit taking them to 'our' church, so I ALWAYS make sure they get to go there on the Sundays they are with me. That meant getting to the lake post-church, which in turn meant we wound up having the place almost to ourselves. That was nice, despite the less-than-ideal time of year.

The source of the lake, Cheaha Creek, was in better shape than when we visited this time last year, but still was a loooong way from cold and is July, after all. But we got out and played in it a little anyway.

The kids REALLY wanted to roast marshmallows, so I went against my no-summer-campfire instinct honed over years of camping, and we fired up some charcoal. Ate about half the bag, the fire was a waste, but you know what? Seeing those smiles and hearing the laughs was worth it!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tennessee Aquarium

The second of my usual pair of high points each month (weekends with Griffin and Carlie, what else???) involved a bit more travel than has been customary, but was a nice change.

It makes me feel old, saying I had never been to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, as if it's still a new thing. In reality, it's been around since the late 1990s, with one expansion after another since then!

Did not tell the kids where we were going before we left, and had them stumped once we got past the municipal water park in Ashville on out way to I-59.

Random notes about the drive...the surface of I-59 is ROUGH...after we got past Gadsden I noticed not a whole lot has changed since last time I drove it except for more fast food places and brands of diesel I never heard of...and we made it in a little more than two hours....maybe the Chattanooga interstate highway system works better than I remember?

I'd heard a lot of good about the Tennessee Aquarium, and it did not disappoint. Spread across the once-derelict riverfront part of town, the aquarium and its IMAX theater stood as anchors of what obviously had been years of planned development.

Everywhere one looks between Broad Street and Chestnut Street, town is not only attractive, but there's also stuff to do, places to stay. There are also good jobs skirting either side of the commercial/tourism center. I would sure like to see a lot more downtown areas become places people want to be....Birmingham is working on it, but has a LOT of catching up to do.

Good points about the aquarium are many. It's well laid-out, has a very modern design, and is roomy and accessible without being sprawling. Staff was available but not imposing like they are at Six Flags. The exhibits were a nice mix of aquatic life (although I did not quite get the butterfly garden) such as fishes, reptiles, otters, and amphibians. More hands-on live animals than I expected (but those otters will bite, son!) and the whole place was just a lot more kid-friendly than I anticipated...not one DO NOT TAP ON GLASS sign did I see.

We did the two parts of the aquarium with all the many exhibits, and took in an IMAX's currently a whale and dolphin documentary narrated by Daryl Hannah and I could not help thinking about her in Kill Bill the whole time she talked about the fragile world of our brethren with fins. There is also a run up and down the Tenn. river in a go-fast tourist boat but all its trips were sold out by the time we got ticketed..which was OK because the kids were punked out by the time we'd seen it all and besides, that boat ride was pricey! What we saw and did pushed $70, and the "River Gorge" expedition would have jacked the tab on up toward $125.
Down points were few but glaring: Paid parking away from the deck was unnecessarily complicated due to its over-reliance on automation. How hard is it to just pay an attendant?

The process of the buying a ticket to get in was nowhere near as well-organized as it could have been...hmm that is too kind... it was a downright inefficient process! The wait to pay and get in killed almost 30 minutes. At a place that big, on a Saturday that really didn't look that busy, it ought not have taken that long. Folks who had bought their tickets online had their own kiosk to use, but it saved them no time. They waited just as long as we who paid fact, probably took longer if you count the time they spent at home ordering their tickets beforehand.

Even though just having time with my kids is a treat I look forward to like Christmas morning twice a month, this was a good trip for me and them, to get out and see something new without killing all our time traveling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Film and video

Wall-E (2008) Went to the theater with my kids to see this Disney/Pixar feature and it does have plenty of kid fare. But the fact that it was made for adults from my generation who grew up watching cartoons can't be denied.
The story of an outmoded robot left clearing the earth of waste generated by humans who abandoned it starts as perhaps the most melancholy cartoon ever made. Our lonesome automated buddy Wall-E has only the detritus of mankind to tell him what we were like, and eventually he meets up with another robot we sent to see what remains of the earth we gave up on. Then comes the predictable machinations of people, with what felt like a contrived ending, and that is too bad. Although there are plenty of unflattering-but-accurate portrayals of our kind along the way, the quiet, simple robot sub-plot I liked better. Three stars (out of four).

21 (2008)
Went and rented this one the day it came out on video, and it was a good watch. But I still am not quite sure what to write about it.
Built around the true story of Ivy League brainiacs who counted cards well enough to get rich playing blackjack in Vegas, 21 is told by one of them who saw the whole thing come crumbling down in the end. It has Kevin Spacey, it has slick camera work, amazing moviemaking slickery, and all that. It also has a backstory to add depth to our hero. But it came up just a tad short on card-playing action for my taste, and a few times the story twisted out of focus, so to speak. Two and a half stars.

The Bucket List (2008) Saw this one in the video store and thought, how could I have missed a movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman? Got it home and saw exactly why I'd not heard of it.
The stars, both stricken with terminal cancer, break out of the hospital room they share to complete a list of things to do before they kick the bucket, such as visit famous spots in the world, hike the Himalayas (with cancer???) go skydiving, and the like. The Nicholson character's wealth makes all this possible, but the plot makes none of it plausible. Plus, although both perfomances are good, the star roles are typecast to the point that, we know what will be said and done long before it is. Two stars, but I might take back one of them if I saw this a second time.

3:10 to Yuma (2007) Been out for a good long time on video, but I'd not checked it out because I need to have the right 'head' for a Western. I went for it to watch with my dad, who loves the genre, but we shared the same lack of interest on this one.
Bad guy Russell Crowe somehow has an ax to grind with the good guy, a one-legged rancher played by Christian Bale. Pop and I never quite figured that part out, but it seems Crowe and his gang are robbers who rip off the same railroad again and again until it hires mercenaries to bring them to justice. There was MUCH time spent building the story, but it did not help. The gunplay, dirty deals and betrayal could have gotten done in 45 minutes or so, and been much easier to follow. We still would not have cared what happened, though. Two stars...I guess.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I still have no cell phone, BUT...

I have found a new way to get at least half the access to text messaging cell phones, as well as sending digital photographs to a cell phone, from my computer. I bet this accessibility has been around for quite some time, but I am still proud of myself, anyway.
Also I have written to crow about being able to get an idea from where a telephone number originated, which is not as easy as it used to be thanks to the proliferation of cell phones.

Send a text message to cell phone
Type in the number, type out the message, select which cell network it is (can look up if need be) and send. The cell person gets the message, although has no way to reply unless you say who you are or tell a phone number or email as part of the text. Somewhat crude, but works and is free.

Send a photograph to a Verizon, Sprint or AT&T cell phone
Also free for the person on the computer, and works the same way, but with the added bonus of being able to leave your email addy along with the pic you send, so the recipient can reply directly if their cell service lets them send email, or just call you if they recognize the email addy you use.
Where the hell is that phone number from??
Time was, you could look at a phone number prefix, the first three of the seven numbers (or exchange as sometimes called) and tell where it was from, whether or not it was long distance, etc. For example, where I live in area code 205, you knew prefixes 338 and 884 meant Pell City number, 699 is Leeds, 640 is Moody, 594 is Ashville, 979 and 822 are Hoover, 933 is the Southside of Birmingham, 967 is Mountain Brook, 467 is Springville, 655 is Trussville, and on, and on and on.
But with so many new numbers being added so fast, at about the same time as caller ID became the norm, all of the sudden the old sense of knowing at least a little something about a strange phone number was lost. But I found a way to make sense of them once again!
Here, you first click on the area code of the number you want to find out about. They are arrayed by number, AND by state/province/territory (covers the U.S., Canada, U.S. territories and the Caribbean) so it's not hassle finding the one you want.
Once you have the right area code, it's just a matter of typing in the prefix, and there you have it...the geographic area associated with the prefix.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Yep, my kids again

Here's pics from my last couple of weekends with Griffin and Carlie!