For those of you that don’t know Master Chef, it is a competition where they compete to find the best home cooks in America.  Each week there are winners who get an advantage in the next challenge or a special treat like a limousine ride to a fancy restaurant in whatever town they are filming in. Of course, each week there are losers as well who leave the competition.Continue reading

We have friends who do tree work, removing trees, pruning trees, planting trees, you name it, they do it. (www.treeservicesannapolis.com) They turned us on to this great show called Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet.

The person the show revolves around is Pete Nelson. He is very personable but so goofy sometimes it is almost embarrassing. We also wonder about their safety habits. Sometimes one wears a hard hat but most of the time no one does. Other times they have to squeeze or push a piece into place or to get it around a branch and it seems like it wouldn’t take much for it to go horribly wrong.Continue reading

Did you go to Comic-Con 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland? Are you going to Comic-Con 2015 in Baltimore? If not, you should. Baltimore is the place to be during the September convention. There are some great names coming such as Neal Adams, Jeremy Bastian, Marty Baumann, John Beatty and Christina Blanch to name just a few.Continue reading

Well, the Downton Abbey finale was last night and they decided to give almost everyone a fairy tale happy ending. It has been a smash hit for PBS during its six seasons and what some would call a cultural phenomenon.

There was a very interesting display a year or so ago at the Dupont Estate, Winterthur that had costumes from Downton Abbey but also talked about what life was like for the ultra-rich in America at the time and how it differed from the English. It was very interesting.

Downstairs and Upstairs Had Equally Happy Endings

It didn’t matter whether it was the servants or the Crawleys, everyone seemed to get a happy ending out of this last episode. But, of course, you had to have some drama.

Thomas Barrow

To start with, Thomas Barrow, tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrist in the bathtub. Luckily, one of the maids suddenly realized this might be the case based on something he said and rushed to find him. He was found just in time and rescued and stitched and bandaged up. The support he received seemed to change him from nasty to nice. However, because of his prior issues, he looked for and found a job with another family. When he got there, it turned out it was a much smaller household and therefore a much smaller staff. He was the butler and there was a cook and a maid. He seemed very unhappy.

Lady Mary

Then Lady Mary told Bertie that Edith had had a child and because Edith hadn’t told him, it put an end to their engagement. Violet (Maggie Smith) comes back from a trip and talks things through with Lady Mary who is very unhappy since the death of her husband in a car racing accident. Violet tells her that it is OK to marry for love and not station which is kind of a shock. So she gets married to Henry in a small ceremony and is happy, but in a way, Henry is not. He had been a top race car driver but since the death of his friend and Mary’s first husband, racing no longer brings him any thrills. He mopes around for a good part of the show trying to figure out what to do with his life and not just depend on his wealthy wife. Finally towards the end it is revealed that he and Tom have teamed up and opened a car dealership selling used cars to start and then looking to move into new cars. Mary is excited for him even though this would have been so inappropriate for someone of this station to be doing at the time when the show first began.

Mr. Carson

Mr. Carson is as crusty as ever but has started to have problems with shaking of his hands making difficult to pour wine or serve properly. A bit of a problem for a butler. It isn’t noticed much at first and he hides it but becomes more obvious as the show goes on. Carson meets with Lord Grantham and says that he can no longer function at his job because of the palsy and he will tender his resignation. Grantham suggests he could stay in some capacity and Carson said that if he were the person coming in, he would not accept the job on those terms. At the very end Barrow is back from his other job to help out with a Christmas party although oddly it seemed as if he was a guest not a servant. When Carson has problems pouring, he offers to take over the job for him. Lord Grantham has a brainstorm and suggests that Barrow leave the other job and come back as the head butler and Carson would get a cottage and stay around to help and give guidance. Happy ending for all.

Mr. Molesley

Molesley gets to teach a class in a local school and tries to give the kids advantages he didn’t have. Later they expand and want him to come and live at the school in the village and work full time. He agrees to come back and work at Downton Abbey for large functions and parties.

The Hospital Resolved

Lord Grantham is not happy with Lady Grantham’s involvement with the local hospital until a niece brings him to see Lady Grantham at a hospital meeting and he realizes that she is very good at it and loves it. And, at another point Violet tells Lady Grantham that she is doing a wonderful job at the hospital.

Lady Edith

Lady Mary arranges a meeting between Bertie and Lady Edith without Lady Edith knowing it was going to happen. They resume their courtship and plan to get married. Bertie doesn’t want to tell his mother about Edith’s child. So the morning of the party where the marriage will be announced, Lady Edith goes to his mother and tells her all the details. There are some tense moments but everything works out and the marriage goes forward. This means that she now outranks her family in social ranking and also wealth.

Isobel and Lord Merton

 

Then there was Isobel and Lord Merton. Isobel turned him down and then he told her he was dying of anemia and didn’t have long to live. Violet told Isobel their age shouldn’t matter. When she went to see Lord Merton, Merton’s son and daughter in law wouldn’t let her in. They wanted him to die and to inherit the estate and not have her creating complications. Finally Violet goes with her and they barge in and get to see Lord Merton. He tells his son he doesn’t like him and he can have the house but he is going with Isobel. Then he finds out that his anemia isn’t as serious as previously thought and he won’t die soon.

Other Wrap Ups

Anna breaks water in Mary’s room and ends up giving birth to a boy in Mary’s bed with Mr. Bates, Anna’s husband in attendance. Daisy stopped being dim and finally accepted the advances of Andy. Mr. Mason started flirting with Mrs. Patmore and it looked like something was going to happen there.

Oh, and Lady Mary is pregnant. There are probably more things that could be mentioned but there was a lot of feel good stuff they packed in that last episode.

Man of Steel is a movie made in 2013 and is about guess who? No, it is not about a robot. It is about Superman. Yeah, I know, pretty obvious. Don’t know how it was rated or received. I don’t remember hearing much buzz at the time.

 

It definitely made use of the latest CGI effects. There was a lot of whizz bang, especially toward the end when they tore up a lot of New York. Why is it that New York always seems to get the raw end of things?

 

What was interesting was the way the movie fleshed out parts of the Superman creation myth but also changed some long standing parts of that myth.

Beginnings on Krypton

It starts out with Superman’s father Jor El talking to the council about escaping from the planet Krypton. No one believes him that he planet is unstable and will self destruct. They turn him down but just then General Zod comes in with troops and tells the council that he is taking over because they won’t listen and shoots the head councilwoman. Jor El and Zod agree about the planet but disagree on everything else.

 

It turns out that for centuries all babies born are bred in special pods and not born naturally. Each is selected genetically for a specific role. Jor El and his wife Lara have decided that more choice is needed and so they have just had a son through natural birth.

 

Jor El escapes Zod, steals a device called a codex with the genetic code for everyone on Krypton and gets back to his home / citadel. There he uses the codex to incorporate all the information it contains into Kal El’s (Superman) genes or cells. Based on my knowledge of biology and genetics, this seems a bit dodgy. How do you store another person’s entire genetic code in the cell of another person?

 

Anyway, Kal El gets shot off in a rocket, Zod kills Jor El, Zod and other get banished to an alternate zone, Lara watches the planet explode around her and everyone dies. As we find out later in the movie, because the planet is destroyed it frees Zod and his compatriots.

Superman Arrives on Earth

Kal El lands in a farm in Iowa (?) and a farmer and his wife raise him as Clark Kent. They hide his powers and warn him that people might react badly if they found out about him. But he keeps saving people and giving glimpses of his powers.

Superman and Lois Lane

Then something is found under 300 feet of ice in the arctic in Canada and Lois Lane goes to investigate. Clark hears about it to and signs on as a laborer. Lois sees him leaving one night and she follows and finds he has drilled a hole in the ice using his laser eye power. He discovers a space ship which turns out to be from the planet Krypton. It is from 20,000 years ago and yet his father appears to him as a hologram. So did the software automatically upgrade itself over time or had Jor El lived for 20,000 years? Or was there a time warp on Kal El’s flight to earth? Kal El saves Lois from a flying robot and then he flies the ship away so it won’t be discovered by people from earth.

 

Then Lois starts trying to figure out who this guy is. She finds his name or rather alias (not Clark Kent) and traces him slowly back to where he grew up. Finally Clark shows up and confronts her. He explains how his father died when Clark could have saved him because he didn’t want Clark’s secret to be exposed. Lois decides to stop pursuing the story and trying to publish it.

Zod Reappears

Then Zod shows up, drawn by a beacon set off when Clark / Kal El started up the ship. Zod asks for the person from his planet. The FBI finds Lois and takes her to a secret facility. Kal El surrenders and lets himself be taken in as long as it it so where Lois is being held and that she must be released.

 

Then he is handed over to Zod and Zod decides to take Lois as well. In the ship, Jor El appears to Lois and helps her escape, but before that she and Jor El make enough changes that Kal El can escape as well. Good thing because he needs to save Lois from crashing. As soon as he gets her down safely he realizes Zod is at his mother’s house and he gets there in time to save her and a big battle ensues during which half of his home town gets ripped apart. Zod retreats.

 

Then Zod deploys a machine that will terraform Earth, or perhaps we should say Kryptoniform, because when it is done, it will be uninhabitable for humans. Lois tells of what Jor El told her and they plan on using the ship Superman came in to connect with Zod’s ship and create a black hole that the two ships would be sucked into.

 

The terraform ship and Zods ship made a connection through the earth. The other was in the Indian Ocean and Zod’s was over New York city. It started destroying the city from the beam outward. Superman flew around and tried to destroy the other ship. He had troubles because he lost power when he was back in his own atmosphere. But, of course he struggles and overcomes and destroys the machine.

Lois and Scientist Saves the Day

That allows Lois, a scientist and others crewmen to arm the device and crash it into Zod’s ship and form the black hole. Lois falls out of the plane and Superman sees her and catches her again and saves her. He has to fly and strain like crazy to beat the effects of the black hole. This time they kiss when they get to the ground.

 

Somewhere in here Zod has gone to another ship, (the one found in the ice??) which has the ability to grow people from Krypton with the information in Superman’s cells. Superman confronts Zod and destroys the ship which Zod says means an end to the Krypton race that he spent his whole life trying to protect.

 

In a way, Zod is like the bad computer in I, Robot or in 20001 which decides that he knows what is best for mankind or Krypton kind and will do anything to protect it even if warped and misdirected.

Superman Saves the Day

Zod emerges from the crashed birthing ship and he and Superman have a battle royal which destroys a bunch more buildings in NY. Compared to most Superman stories, this one had an amazing amount of collateral damage. Finally Superman snaps Zod’s neck.

 

Then it shows a general driving along and a drone crashes right in front of him. Superman shows up and says I am willing to work with you but don’t try and track me. The general said that was a $12 million dollar drone. Superman says basically, so what. I will help but on my terms. Don’t pry into my business.

Intro to Clark Kent

Finally he tells his mother that he needs to get a job someplace where he can get information about what is going on in the world. He next shows up at the Daily Planet with glasses on. Like that is going to keep people from recognizing him? Especially Lois? That was kind of lame. Although I guess it was a bit suspect in the original comic too now that I think about it.

Now for a twenty something take on So You Think You Can Dance by my daughter. If you can’t tell, we like the show.

So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) is one of my favorite shows. It is the only place you can find an adult version of a dance concert that is not connected with a college or grad school. I love being able to watch all kinds of dance especially ones I’m not familiar with such as Bollywood, Krump etc. Another one of my favorite parts, THE TOUR! It is one thing watching the dancing on the TV and quite another to watch the dancing live. I am a sucker for tap so getting to see that anywhere is always a treat. For the curious ones, SYTYCD Season 12 tour tickets go on sale August 25th. I can’t wait to see this seasons contestants live and in action especially my favorite dances.

Many of my favorite dances this season have included Gabby. She is a tapper originally and I hope she wins. She is in a class all of her own. Virgil and Hailee danced a robot routine that I have classed as the most entertaining routine of the season. They pulled off the characters extremely well not to mention the actual technique. They even stayed in character during the judge’s comments and walking off stage. I want this season’s top 4 to be Gabby, Virgil, Hailee and Jim or Yaya. Which brings me to the choreographers. The caliber of choreographers on this show is insane. I am glad Sonya Tayeh is back for an episode or two this season. Any dance that Travis touches is amazing. A great choreographer cannot only put together the moves but takes into consideration the dancers he or she has and really works to highlight their best side.

So I have covered the dancers and choreographers, now on to the judges (said the way Cat Deeley says it on the show). The judges this season are Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo. I think Paula has finally found the reality TV show that she can give useful feedback on, She has been an excellent judge. Jason has added a refreshingly different perspective and a very helpful tips for the street performances. When I first heard that this season was Street vs. Stage I was very skeptical but I think it has turned out extremely well and is tons of fun to watch and mixed up the competition. Another plus, we get to see Travis (stage coach and former winner) and Twitch (street coach and former winner) every week, who wouldn’t want that? I can’t wait to see what dances they bring on tour and what spectacular dances are yet to come.

 

 

There are two main dance competition shows on TV, Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You can Dance. The level of dance between the two is night and day. In Dancing with the Stars, a Star is paired with a professional dancer. Usually the star is out of the lime light and is looking to make a comeback. So we are talking B and C list actors and actresses.

Everyman Dancers

Some of the stars can actually dance and the few who make it to the finals are pretty good. An example would be the Olympic gold medal ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White. In the Olympics Meryl Davis gave off an aura of toughness. In Dancing with the Stars, she was incredibly lithe and exuded an amazing sexuality. But many of the Stars are not particularly coordinated. They do improve as they continue on the show. The show is popular and the appeal is probably that the Stars come off as an Everyman and we can envision ourselves attempting what they are doing.

The judges are probably more important in this show because they need to carry the performers. They are a show unto themselves in a way and are vital to the flow of the show.

Elite Dancers

So You Think You Can Dance auditions hundreds of dancers and the ones they end up with are amazing. In past years the street dancers were at a disadvantage because they had to dance a wide variety of dances, many of which they had never done and possibly never seen before. The stage dancers did have to do other types of stage dance that weren’t their specialty and had to do street dance forms but it seemed like an easier transition.

This year the competition changed format. Stage and Street were separated and each had to compete at first in their own forms. Later, they started pairing a stage and a street dancer in random styles of dance. That gave the street dancers a bit more lead time to start learning choreography and start learning about other types of dance. It also gave the stage dancers a chance to get down and start working of forms of street dancing.

Some of the stage dancers still look very stiff when trying to do street and the street dancers often don’t have the extension and form and pointed toes and flexibility. But the choreographers work to show off the best of each performer and as in past seasons there have been some amazing performances. It is hard to believe they can move and jump the way that they do.

Judging

The judges are less important on this show because of the talent of the dancers. They are probably more important to the dancers than the audience because of the advice and critiques they give that can help the dancer going forward. It is a relief not to have Mary, the screaming judge, any more, although when she stopped screaming and actually gave advice, it was often good. Her replacement Paula Abdul has been a surprise. Her comments are often insightful and show a great knowledge of dance. It is quite a contrast to her time as a judge on American Idol where she often came off as a ditz and was always the one taking the edge off Simon’s biting comments.

Rizzoli & Isles last week (July 14th) blew my mind. SPOILER ALERT (for the rest of the post). How could they kill off Susie? She was such an interesting character.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rizzoli & Isles, it follows a Boston Detective, Jane Rizzoli, and Medical Examiner, Maura Isles. Susie was a forensic scientist working under Maura. Although, Susie was a minor character she added another dimension to the show. She had an innocent joy for all scientific inquiry that is missing from other crime dramas (except maybe Abby in NCIS).

I can’t figure out if the actress who played Susie decided to leave the show or if the writers decided to kill her off.  If she made the decision herself it seems odd that the episode she was killed off in seemed very thought out and scripted. It wasn’t quite a traditional two-parter, where the first episode ends in a cliff-hanger and the second (or third) episode resolves all of the remaining questions. I have watched many overt two part episodes with cliff-hangers that make you want to skip ahead in time to figure out what happens, this was the first subtle two-part episode I have seen done extremely well. All of the ingredients were there, intrigue (Susie was suspected of being dirty), emotional turmoil (a close friend and college was murdered), climax (Maura was suspended), a twist (the aspiring Politician did it) and a resolution (Susie is cleared and the murderer is caught). I can’t wait to see what the writers come up with next, hopefully without killing off any other characters. How will the remaining characters handle Susie’s death? Who will be coming in to replace her?

If you like a puzzle and you like computers and technology you will quite likely love this movie. It tells the story of Alan Turing and his genius and how he and his team help defeat the Nazis in World War II.

Enigma Machine

The movie revolves around two foci, Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine. The Enigma machine was invented in Germany as a way to code messages so they couldn’t be broken. The possible combinations were in the billions and if you didn’t solve the problem that day, you had to start all over again the next day because the Germans changed the code.

Childhood

The movie starts by showing Turing as a school boy in a British all boys school who was brilliant in mathematics but had some odd characteristics. It has been postulated that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. He didn’t want his peas touching other things on his plate and he didn’t seem to pick up on other people’s emotional cues. He found it much easier to understand math than people.

World War II

He had a good friend in school, Christopher, who gave him a book on codes and he took to it like a duck to water. So when the war starts and the British are looking for ways to break Enigma, they invite Turing and others in for interviews. Turing is put on a team headed by Hugh Alexander. Everyone is trying to understand the code and break it each day except Turing. He tries to build a machine that will crack the code since he realizes that people can never work fast enough each day to break the code. At the same time he manages to alienate most of the team because he doesn’t know how to relate or doesn’t think they are doing useful work.

At one point he asks for something and is refused and told he can take it up with Churchill if he wants. Apparently he does, because a letter comes putting Turing in charge of the team. He immediately fires several people he thinks are useless. He then searches for people who are good problem solvers in an unusual way. He puts a puzzle in the newspaper and tells anyone who can solve it to come for further interviews to help the war effort.

A number of people come including Joan Clarke. She is almost not admitted because she is a woman and the person checking people in tells her to go with the other secretaries. Turing intervenes and she takes part in another puzzle he has devised as a further test for the applicants. Joan ends up solving the puzzle even faster than Turing can and becomes part of the team.

Joan is a big help because she coaches Turing on how to interact with people and clues him in to things. She is also a big help because she is brilliant and can help solve some of the problems.

One of those problems is convincing Commander Denniston, who is the military person in charge, to fund Turing’s machine. Denniston doesn’t understand scientists and mathematicians, doesn’t particularly like them and particularly doesn’t understand or like Turing.

Gradually the team comes to believe in Alan’s machine and get it to work. But by the end of each day, it hasn’t crunched through enough combination’s to break the code. Denniston says it is worthless and tries to destroy the machine but the rest of the team threatens to quit if he does that.

Breakthrough

They all go to the officer’s club where Hugh is chatting up a young lady. She comments about how she has a German lover. (She was being tongue in cheek) She is picking up coded German signals and recording them. She doesn’t know what he is saying but has realized that he as a certain style and can identify him compared to others. This gets the team thinking and they realize that there is a weather report each day at a certain time and it always ends in Heil Hitler. This gives them a key to feed into Christopher which is the name Turing has given the machine. Voila. Enigma is solved.

But the problem is that they can only let a very few people know. And they can only selectively choose when to act on the information. If they chose to act on all the information, the Germans would know the code was broken and would change it and all their work would be for naught.  This meant they had to play God and decide who would live and who would die depending on which information was acted upon.

Detective Robert Nock and Problems

Interwoven with the other parts is a period after the war. There is a break in at Turing’s apartment but nothing is stolen and he tells the police not to bother. Detective Robert Nock thinks this is odd behavior and that Turing is hiding something. He digs into Turing’s war record and comes up with nothing. This is because it was so top secret that nobody knew about Turing’s Enigma operation until decades after the war. Nock eventually discovers that Turing is gay and the break in had to do with that. Because being gay was a crime in England at the time, he was sentenced to two years of chemical castration or he would be sent to jail.

The side effects were so severe that after one year he commited suicide. This was a crime against humanity perpetrated by the British government. Turing’s machine Christopher was the first computer. What he created basically has transformed all our lives. Who knows what he could have invented if he hadn’t died so young.

Recap

In the last episode, it was determined that a new group calling itself “The Calling” was responsible for recruiting children for jihadist purposes. It looked for kids who were loners, who were unhappy. But oddly, it was led by a young British guy named Daniel Budd with died blond hair who looked very European. But because of his recruiting kids, they refer to him as a twisted Peter Pan, hence the Neverland title to the episode.

They had been buying S bombs on the black market and had set some off in a hotel in Cairo Egypt that had killed agent Dorneget. But they found that was just a test run and the group was planning coordinated attacks around the world.

It turns out Dorneget didn’t want anyone to know that his parents had important government jobs. Now Gibbs is pushed to break one of his rules and let Dorneget’s mother (Joanna Teague) to work on the case. She is an operative for the CIA in the Middle East.

Gibbs Mental State

One thing that isn’t clear is about Gibbs’ state of mind. At the end of the last episode, as Dorneget’s body was brought out of the plane, Gibbs saw Dorneget and other killed agents standing there watching. Fine, that seemed like a nice tribute to them. But in this episode it is like Gibbs has schizophrenia or something because he is seeing and talking to dead people all the time, especially Mike Franks who is giving him grief about his decisions.

Luke in Protective Custody

So to start, they are protecting Luke, whose “friends” killed his adoptive parents when they thought he was turning on them. Joanna tries to buddy up to him since she lost her son and Luke lost his parents.

Luke opens up a little but both the ghost of Mike Franks and Joanna at different times tell Gibbs that Luke is playing him.

Somewhere in here McGee discovers that The Calling is sending songs to all its followers. Luke still had his mp3 player and Gibbs didn’t bother to take it from him. Why? Maybe he felt bad for Luke? Not like Gibbs.

Luke Snatched

Somehow an older kid who has been tasked by Sadiq Samar, the local honcho of The Calling, to find Luke manages to find Gibbs house and take Luke. The person who was guarding Luke was knocked out. But she was hit in the back of the head. By Luke? At some point video was found of the killing of Luke’s parents. Everyone seems horrified, but we never find out who did it. Luke?

Coded Songs

Then Abby discovered that the songs being sent out had messages in Morse code in the base notes of the music. That seemed far fetched to us. You never see Luke carefully writing down things, just listening to music. All these kids are so talented that they can listen to a base line and translate the Morse Code in it? Seems dubious. In any case, Gibbs should have taken the mp3 player.

It turns out that Daniel Budd was a popular DJ in Britain who was popular no longer. Somehow he got kids to follow him and started using them in small crimes. This escalated. It is not clear exactly what Budd is looking to accomplish now.

Enhanced Interrogation

So Gibbs and the team try to find Luke before anything happens to him. They are looking for Sadiq but can’t find him at first. Then there is a scene where Joanna has used her sources to find him and has him tied up in his trailer and is beating him and interrogating him. She gets some information about where Luke is. There is a knock at the door and you think Joanna is screwed, that some of Sadiq’s people are going to get her. It turns out to be Gibbs.

Gibbs is not happy that Joanna went behind the team’s back, after all they bent the rules to have her take part and he was definitely not happy with her questioning techniques.

Trip to Iraq

They find that they were not able to stop a plane from taking off in time and that Luke was on that plane heading for Iraq. So the team heads for Iraq.

They are walking through the market place and notice a girl with bright tennis shoes and figure she has been brought from the US as well. They follow her and then they find Luke. Gibbs starts talking to him and DiNozzo gets a phone call. It turns out to be Daniel Budd who is watching from a room above. At this point Luke pulls out a gun and shoots Gibbs three times. Not rapidly, but slowly and methodically.

Cliffhanger?

So will Gibbs die? If it had been Duckie it might have you wondering, but many people feel it isn’t much of a cliff hanger because Gibbs is so central to the show.