Weekend Report - 2 Movies, A Play, and a Museum

I had a fun week last week. My old university buddy came to town for a week long training course (on laser safety) so we had time in the evenings for lots of video games and shopping for dangerous laser pointers (the best we could find was a class IIIa 5mW red pointer at Staples with a really sharp beam, not as good as those frequency doubled IR->green pulsed ones from China (right at the maximum eye sensitivity colour, plus the pulse concentrates the energy enough to do shock damage from vaporized water in the retina, and you can remove the IR filter from the front to triple the power)). I also got to play with his hand held GPS, shop for video game accessories, and dine at Lone Star twice for lunch (it's full even on Sunday! And I got a free salad after they ran out of coleslaw for the ribs).

Along the way I saw Hannibal, Thirteen Days, Larry's Party and went to the Science and Technology museum.


Hannibal (IMDb Details) is a horror film / one sided love story, with a really gross ending (making the earlier disembowlled hanging of someone over a public square in Florence look normal). The story wasn't all that interesting, just routine in plot and character. I wouldn't want to see it again.

Thirteen Days

Thirteen Days (IMDb Details) is a nice historical drama about the Cuba Missile Crisis and the behind the scenes activity president Kennedy and staff went through. I'm surprised that we are still here; the military forces were quite eager to go to war against the president's orders. The Soviet forces were similarly champing at the bit. It was a miracle that the leaders of both sides were able to exert control and communicate with each other (barely - there was little direct communication, most of it was inferring attitudes by looking at various events, often made seemingly more hostile by military eagerness (like the USA doing an atom bomb test in the middle of negotiations)). It was enjoyable, I'd watch it again on TV.

Larry's Party

Larry's Party is a play showing at the NAC theatre, based on the book, but turned into a musical. Most reviewers agree that was a mistake. The main point seemed to me to be about ordinary people worrying about the meaning of their lives, and being distracted by their work load. The best part was a cheerful song about poisonous preserved beans made by the grandmother which killed a guest and ruined the rest of the grandmother's life (Dot's Amazing Beans...). The main guy went through two marriages and divorces (one kid) and a third dallyance before re-meeting his first wife at the party. He also found a career in making mazes, after a dead end job in a flower shop overwhelmed him. Anyway, cutting to the core and skipping the boring songs, his life's importance (things that change history) consisted of his family and work. It's nice to see a few Human psychology data points confirmed by the story and the audience's reactions; but other than that, it's not interesting (read the book by Carol Shields).

The Museum of Science and Technology

The Museum of Science and Technology has been rearranged since the last time I was there a couple of years ago. Now there is a diagonal carpeted path all the way through the museum, with exhibits off to the sides (makes it easier to find people). Some of the old items were still there (the step by step telephone switches, though now they also show crossbar, electronic amplification and microwave relay equipment), the periscopes, the crazy kitchen (much worn with use), and the trains. The communications section has been redone, with TV (old and new equipment, and a blue screen interactive video hockey game), radio (nice 1920's transmitter made of an open cage 3m X 3m X 3m of metal wires and glass rods attached to the occasional component so you can figure out how it works), telephone and telegraph equipment. There's a large labour saving exhibit with all sorts of interesting junk. The computer exhibit has been redone, a bit smaller now but more of a linear history (from drum memory, old computers including a Cray-1 and a large chunk of the NORAD SAGE radar defence system (with a light gun - somewhere I read about it detecting electrically rather than by light to avoid the phosphor light-up time delay), through the Nabu (and 6Mb/s cable modem of the 1980's, hey, I have one!), to modern laptops). The space section is excellent, with several actual satellites (the spare unflown birds), bits of Canadarm and space station (look for the toilet on the ceiling) and piles of other interesting stuff. There are also sections devoted to boats, cars, trains, energy, and materials.

- Alex

Copyright © 2001 by Alexander G. M. Smith.