Smartphone reset, summer 2015 (part 1 of some)

August 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 29, 2015

The Great Phone Meltdown of 2015 happened at an inconvenient moment.

In mid-December 2012, my Parental Unit bought two Apple smartphones: A 16-gigabyte iPhone 5 for P.U.’s own self and, as a very generous gift, a 32-GB iPhone 5 for me. This was a very spiffy upgrade from my previous (and first) smartphone, an iPhone 3GS.

The phone served me well, from shortly before my second trip to the Rose Bowl (which happened to be my first in-person viewing of a Stanford Cardinal victory at the Rose Bowl) up until… well, up until Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.

A close friend, M—, whom I refer to as my godsister, had invited me to join her family at a cabin in the mountains around Harrisonburg, Va. The rental began on the fourth Saturday of August, but since I didn’t wish to join them for the entire week, I planned on heading up there on the 19th.

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Debut novelist Ariel Djanikian builds to a devastating series of climaxes in ‘The Office of Mercy’

August 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 26, 2015

The Office of Mercy, the 2013 debut novel by American author Ariel Djanikian, depicts the journeys of two members of a future American community that is both highly insulated and extremely fascistic.

The main character is Natasha Wiley, a rebellious 24-year-old resident of a primarily underground habitat called America-Five. The residents rarely leave the settlement; even less rarely do they have any wish to step outside its antiseptic corridors. Wiley works in the Office of Mercy, where she monitors migratory tribes roaming a harsh environment that was scoured centuries ago by a violent storm — the result of climate change, perhaps.

The agency’s functions are hardly limited to monitoring, however. The office also conducts sweeps — a euphemism for killing. Ideally, the office confirms that all members of a tribe have gathered together and clinically destroys them with a tactical nuclear strike. If there are stragglers, either the sweep is postponed or things get…messy.

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Friday night at the ballpark — fireworks show!

August 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 25, 2015

Here are some photos that I took near the beginning of the fireworks show at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park after the home team’s 7-6 win in 14 innings over the Toledo Mud Hens.

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Friday night at the ballpark, Durham Bulls edition

August 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 25, 2015

On Friday night, I went to a ballgame for the first time in about two years. I ended up getting quite a show.

By happenstance, I bought tickets for myself and my friend D— that placed us in section 120 of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. I’d never sat in that part of the stadium, but it turns out to be right behind the Bulls bullpen. D— and I sat three rows behind the Durham relievers. We could see them stretch, start to warm up and chat with fans.

Durham Bulls relievers Kirby Yates and Parker Markel

Durham Bulls relievers Kirby Yates and Parker Markel sit in the home team’s bullpen at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) during an extra-innings Minor League Baseball game on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, against the Toledo Mud Hens in Durham, N.C.

A very cute little girl, perhaps 5, was sitting immediately beside one end of the bullpen bench, which for the home team is mostly surrounded by a small concrete enclosure. (The visitors’ dugout is just a bench or two.) This girl talked regularly with the players. One of the pitchers had fun surreptitiously switching hats with a little boy who was sitting just behind the dugout.

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One tournament, three hands

August 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 24, 2015

Author’s note: This will be my last poker post for a while, honest! MEM

The story of a tournament in three hands.

I.

The tournament began with three tables before expanding to four as a few late-comers trickled in. We’ve shrunk down to three.

I started the tournament at this table, took what I considered to be a bad beat, and moved to the expanded table. That was full of some wild action, and I initially cursed myself for letting myself be seated with some unpredictable players.

Still, I survived. When Scooty, the tournament director, broke up the fourth table, I quickly claimed my original seat at the table where I’d begun.

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Soderbergh’s eccentric ‘The Limey’ explores fatherhood from the perspective of a bereaved veteran criminal

August 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 22, 2015

The Limey, the 1999 crime drama directed by the prolific Steven Soderbergh, is a quirky movie about a British criminal who visits Los Angeles to investigate the death of his daughter.

Terence Stamp stars as Wilson, who flies to the States fresh off a nine-year prison stint for armed robbery. He initially enlists the aid of fellow ex-con Eduardo (Luis Guzmán), who met Jenny Wilson (Melissa George) in an acting class. Later, Wilson ingratiates himself with Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren), the acting coach who became Jenny’s surrogate mother, due in no small part to her own mother having died when Jenny was a child.

This story could have played out as a straightforward revenge tale, and Wilson certainly isn’t above getting his hands dirty as he pushes for answers about just how and why Jenny died. But Soderbergh and the British screenwriter Lem Dobbs (the screenwriter of the well-regarded science fiction mind-bender Dark City) have a different agenda in mind. What initially seems to be a simple film narrative actually turns out to be a flashback: The entire story is framed as Wilson’s reminiscing as he flies back to England.

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An intriguing tale of World War II atrocities unspools in Ronald Balson’s uneven ‘Once We Were Brothers’

August 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 21, 2015

Once We Were Brothers, the 2013 novel by Chicago lawyer Ronald Balson, regularly shifts its narrative between the present-day Windy City and World War II Poland. But the heart of this book is clearly in the events of the 1940s, which Holocaust survivor Ben Solomon recreates over a period of several weeks as he tries to provide his attorney with evidence that Chicago’s most prominent philanthropist was in fact his stepbrother, who went on to become a Nazi war criminal.

Solomon’s counsel, corporate lawyer Catherine Lockhart, initially believes her client to be a seriously disturbed crank. But she quickly becomes enraptured by Solomon’s story, and who could blame her? It’s a story of strong-willed men and women whose lives become irreversibly warped as the continent around them succumbs to a tyrant and his anti-semitic obsession. By the time Solomon brings his account to its conclusion, most of the characters — not to mention millions of Jews and their countless communities — have been exterminated by a vicious genocide.

By contrast, all the drama in Once We Were Brothers’ present-day narrative seems entirely trivial. Will Lockhart’s career — already derailed by a personal meltdown triggered by her duplicitous former husband — be permanently impaired as Solomon increasingly distracts her from her obligations to her corporate clients? Will Lockhart and Liam Taggart, the handsome, savvy private investigator who has loved her since they were children, recognize their mutual passion for one another? These are all low-stakes matters in the grand scheme of things.

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Tales of TOCs championships, summer 2015 edition (part 2)

August 20, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 20, 2015

Continuing my chronicle of championship events…

On Saturday, I had a relatively brief stay in the Buck’s Billiards TOCs tournament. Once, while in the big blind, I checked pre-flop with a hand of seven-five off-suit. The flop came out nine-eight-six, giving me a nine-high straight, which I decided to check.

That was a mistake. The turn was a seven, which I was unhappy to see — it left the board open-ended. Still, I had a made hand — I already had five-six-seven-eight-nine — so I bet something.

Dave folded to my very modest bet of 600; the other participant in the hand, a woman whose name escapes me, stayed in. We were now heads-up.

The river was a 10. This was even worse news for me: The board was now a 10-high straight, rendering both my five and my seven useless.

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Tales of TOCs championships, summer 2015 edition (part 1)

August 20, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 20, 2015

World Tavern Poker divides each year into two 26-week-long halves. The first 24 weeks of each half constitute the regular season; the final two weeks are when venues stage their championship events. First comes the tavern championship, open to players who have played at least 15 games that season at a specific venue, which I wrote about previously.

The final week is the tournament of champions (or TOCs) championship, open to anyone who has placed first, second or third at any game at that venue in the season that is coming to an end. Everyone gets the same starting stack in the tavern championship games, but TOCs starting chip amounts are based on the player’s number of top-three finishes: The more you have, the more chips you get.

I qualified for TOCs at a number of venues, but gosh — it was kind of ugly, especially at first.

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William Dietz’s fast-paced ‘Runner’ is well built but mindless science-fiction entertainment

August 18, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 18, 2015

Runner, a 2005 novel by William C. Dietz, is set in a far-distant future where humanity has settled dozens of planets across the galaxy but has lost most of its understanding of science and technology.

A trio of characters are at the center of the book: The titular runner, Jak Rebo, a seasoned interstellar courier-cum-mercenary; Tra Lee, a roughly 10-year-old boy who is a contender to be named leader of his religion, a Buddhist-like denomination known as the Way; and Lanni Norr, a “sensitive” with psychic powers who finds herself gaining unwanted attentions from the ghost of a deceased technology enthusiast and the order founded by the dead man.

The plot is kicked into motion when Rebo is hired to escort Lee to Thara, which happens to be both the home world of the mainly irreligious runner and the headquarters of the Way. While trying to elude operatives of a rival sect while traveling aboard a starship, the duo encounter Norr, who senses that Lee’s life is in danger after he becomes separated from Rebo.

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