Archive for August, 2015

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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2009 documentary ‘Home’ depicts a planet on the brink of enormous change

August 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 17, 2015

Home, the visually stunning 2009 documentary film directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, is partly a biography of the planet Earth, partly a history of the human species and partly an environmental manifesto.

According to its promotional material, the movie was shot in 120 locations in 54 nations. The images, fittingly, seem to cover every environment on the planet, from arid desert to lush jungle to frozen landscape to artificial archipelago. At one moment narrator Glenn Close is discussing a city filled with skyscrapers; the next, seemingly, focus has shifted to a plain covered by nigh-identical suburban homes and the network of asphalt roads that serve the cars these communities require. Or perhaps we’re exploring the antithesis of these places — poverty-stricken urban sectors where electricity, food and clean drinking water are luxuries, not givens.

But more on that in a minute. Another thing that’s striking about Home is the movie’s varying time scales. The movie begins by describing events in terms of thousands of millennia. The age of the Earth, for instance, is about 4.5 billion years. The first organisms began appearing a few hundred million years after that.

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Tales of tavern championships, summer 2015 edition (part 4)

August 15, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 15, 2015

Sunday night.

This was it — my last chance this season to win my first tavern championship.

The venue was another billiards joint, this time near the Cary-Apex municipal boundary. I was ranked in the top 10, which meant I could show up at 9 p.m. and play nine or so others for the title — which was exactly what I did.

I think we started with seven players, and I got off on the wrong foot. Nick, the tournament director or TD, seated me at the end of the table. I scarfed down some food I’d brought with me — this venue doesn’t have a kitchen — and waited for things to start.

When V— came to the table, he asked where his seat was. “I think Nick put you over there,” I said, pointing to a stack Nick had placed a little earlier.

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Tales of tavern championships, summer 2015 edition (part 3)

August 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 14, 2015

Saturday night, continued.

After I won the tavern championship semifinals at Buck’s Billiards on Saturday evening, the real work lay ahead: Winning the tavern championship finals.

The finals had two types of players: Those who were ranked in the top 10 throughout the season and those who were ranked below that but had fought their way out of the semifinals (as I just had). Regardless of rank, all of the players had participated in a minimum of 15 games at the venue that season.

Because 36 people had played in the semifinals, as many as four people were going to advance to the finals. But the top finishers in the semifinals included me, a man named Jake, and Dan and Dave, two players who were already in the top 10. So there would be a maximum of a dozen players in the championship.

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

August 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 13, 2015

Saturday night.

Buck’s Billiards, a joint just on the Cary side of the Raleigh-Cary municipal boundary, is a popular World Tavern Poker venue. Tournaments there frequently have four or five tables. It’s not unheard of for contests to attract six tables’ worth of players with about 10 people apiece.

If you win a game at Buck’s, you’ll typically earn many points toward your regional, state and national standings. If you win multiple games at Buck’s, you’ll earn respect. That’s true if you win the tavern championship, too, of course.

But winning the tavern championship is a tall order. If you’re ranked in the top 10 at a venue, you have automatic entry into the finals. If you have at least 15 games that season and scored any points in a tournament but aren’t ranked in the top 10, you have automatic entry into the semifinals. Ten percent of the entrants into the semifinals get a seat into the finals.

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

August 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 12, 2015

Thursday night. 

I managed to get to S—’s, a Raleigh billiards hall, just on the dot of 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6. I was eager to be on time because of a mistaken impression — a stricture that applied in previous World Tavern Poker seasons but had changed this time around.

You see, this was the circuit’s tavern championship league, and my top-10 ranking at S—’s entitled me to a spot in the 9 p.m. finals. (Qualified players who were ranked lower than 10 had to play their way in through the 7 p.m. semifinals.)

As it turns out, the championship games now have the same 20-minute grace periods as the regular-season games, so I could have been a little less concerned in my rush to get from my childhood home near New York City to Raleigh. Regardless, I arrived at the start.

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Blogging: Here’s where I’m at (and here’s what’s coming up)

August 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 12, 2015

So I’ve returned from my big trip. I managed to keep my blogging pace up… almost… mostly by dint of posting three times on Saturday (which was two days after my return).

Just to set the stage for the next few weeks…

While on vacation, I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s moving 2009 post-apocalyptic tale, The Year of the Flood, which I’d actually begun in late March. (I took several long breaks because the novel is full of darkness and foreboding.) I also completed Ariel Djanikian’s excellent 2013 dystopian science fiction novel, The Office of Mercy (which arguably might be better labeled post-apocalyptic). Reviews of these will be forthcoming.

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The unpleasant surprise in the road

August 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 11, 2015

Author’s note: Due to its subject matter, which involves animal mortality, this post may not be suitable for young children or other sensitive readers. MEM

When I left the house Monday afternoon, I unlocked my car trunk with my key (not a remote-control foban actual physical key, like someone trapped in the 20th century). A friend had asked to borrow an air mattress from me, and I wanted to confirm that I had it in my vehicle.

The item was there, so I shut the trunk and started rounding the car to put my backpack in and get behind the wheel. Before I could accomplish any of that, however, I got quite a fright.

The body of a cat was lying in the road, just a foot or so away from my vehicle.

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Left, right: The beat goes marching (and slipping and stumbling) on

August 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2015

After a nearly two-week-long trip that included a few dips in the Atlantic Ocean, I returned to Durham, N.C., around midnight on Thursday.

That night, I experienced an extended, detailed dream about working as a newspaper reporter. Things seemed to go pretty well over all, but near the end of the dream, I started to worry about whether a certain interaction with a colleague was going well or not. (I don’t recall the details.)

As my anxiety peaked, I felt like kicking my legs to relieve tension. And indeed, I awoke feeling as if I’d done just that.

In fact, I was experiencing a major charley horse — a muscle spasm — in my left calf. I briefly cried out in pain and terror before calming myself.

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Book overboard! (Trigger warning: Accidental violence to books.)

August 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2015

Author’s note: Earlier today, I began chronicling my mundane exploits on a recent Sunday while on vacation at a beachside apartment complex in Ocean City, Md. And now, the conclusion to my not-so-thrilling adventure! MEM

A few minutes after leaving the parking deck, I stepped out of the elevator and onto the 14th floor. I turned to the right before remembering that I had to head the other way to get to our apartment.

I got there, unlocked the door and headed inside. My head was a bit fuzzy, and I had to concentrate to make sure I did everything I wanted to before I went back down to the beach: Trade sneakers for on sandals; grab my book; locate and swallow the pain reliever; take a towel.

After I accomplished everything I’d wanted, or so I thought at the time, I locked up the apartment and began walking toward the central elevator bank.

But then I got annoyed at myself again — there was something I’d meant to adjust inside the apartment, where I could safely put stuff down and devote both of my hands to a given task without fear of having sand get everywhere, or of having my belongings taken by passers-by. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just go over to the railing and make the adjustment.

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Sunday-morning banalities: Summertime Ocean City, Md., vacation edition

August 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2015

As I wrote the other day, I recently was on vacation on the Atlantic coast. My Sibling-in-Law’s family was kind enough to invite my Parental Unit and I to their summer retreat in Ocean City, Md. — my first visit to that part of the Eastern Seaboard.

P.U. and I had two full days in OC: Sunday and Monday. We drove in with one of my Sibling’s and SiL’s children Saturday late morning/afternoon/early evening. (It was a seven-hour drive, thanks to a combination of traffic and one or two confused and/or ill-advised attempts to circumvent traffic.)

On Sunday, P.U. and I were the first to head down to the beach. We shepherded the SiL’s clan’s young-uns (all four of them, if memory serves). As P.U. watched the kids frolic in the surf, I checked in with the rental company employee — a Romanian national about 20 years of age, apparently, who was deeply tanned and adorned in a flattering bikini — to obtain the beach umbrella that SiL’s parents had secured for the week.

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All we are is corks in the sea

August 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 4, 2015

Until last weekend, I think it had been four and a half years since I’d been on the beach. (Those seaside sojourns, incidentally, were related to my jaunt to Miami for the Jan. 3, 2011, Orange Bowl.)

I was fortunate, however, to have been invited to the Maryland community that my sister-in-law’s family has been visiting for about three decades, and perhaps longer. And on Sunday, I went in the water.

A young relative grabbed my hand and led me down the beach into the Atlantic Ocean. I winced and belly-ached at the temperature of the water for a few minutes. Then my body adjusted, and I tried to accommodate my companion’s demands to jump and duck and turn my back to the waves.

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Ask not for whom the sharknado tolls…

August 2, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 2, 2015

My contributions to the Sharknado canon, courtesy of some late-July Twitter brainstorming. Get at me, Syfy!

Sharknado 4: The Sharkening

Sharknado 5: Just When You Thought It was Safe to Leave the Storm Cellar…

Sharknado 6: Sharklahoma!

Sharknado 7: Into Sharkness

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