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Day Two: Buenos Aires

Posted on Friday, December 1st, 2017

Dave!So here I am for a single day in Buenos Aires... what to do, what to do, what to do?

After surviving an insane taxi ride into the city, my soon-to-be-cabinmate and I decided to walk around the neighborhood while we waited for our hotel room to be ready.

Coincidentally enough... La Recoleta Cemetery, which happens to be one of the biggest attractions in the city, is directly across from the hotel.

The reason it's famous is not only because it's eclectic and beautiful... but a lot of famous Argentinian people are buried there. Like Evita herself, Eva Perón (the real version, not the Madonna version). And, sure enough, there she was...

Eva Peron Gravesite

Eva Peron Gravesite

The cemetery itself is quite large (spanning several city blocks) and, as I said, is eclectic. A variety of architectural styles fill the place and something gothic and ornate can sit right next door to something stark and modern. You could spend a day wandering around the place. We breezed through in about an hour...

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Found a pretty cemetery cat...

Recoleta Cemetery Cat

Then it was time for a walk around the corner to Hard Rock Cafe No. 167 for me...

Hard Rock Cafe Buenos Aires

Hard Rock Cafe Buenos Aires

Before we knew it, 2:00 had rolled around and the hotel was ready to receive us. And I wasn't kidding about the cemetery being right across the street... as this view from our balcony will attest...

La Recoleta Cemetery View
To see a more detailed view, click on the image to embiggen.

Recoleta Cemetery View

When the dinner hour arrived, we opted to take the hotel desk advice and eat Argentinian empanadas at a local restaurant. I opted for cheese and onion and corn and onion, both of which were delicious...

Empanadas Buenos Aires

Wish I could say the same for our dinner companion, which was right above my head...

Empanadas Companion Buenos Aires

And that's pretty much the extent of my day in Buenos Aires. Which isn't a lot, but probably to be expected after traveling for the better part of 20 hours on no sleep.

   

Day Three: Ushuaia

Posted on Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Dave!It's pronounced "OOSH-WHY-YA"... but not really. There's a subtle accent thing going on somewhere in there which the locals make sound prettier than that.

As to what it is? At 54°56′ South longitude, it's the Southmost city I'll probably ever visit, that's for sure. Further south than Johannesburg in South Africa... even quite a bit further south than Sydney, Australia...

World Map Ushuaia

Flying in amongst the jagged mountain peaks as you land, you can't help but think "Oh, man... I hope that the pilot brakes in time so we don't accidentally go scooting off the end of the world...

World Map Ushuaia

The city itself is small, as you'd expect... but, at the same time, it's also much larger than the tiny village I was picturing in my head. I mean, it's big enough to have a Hard Rock Cafe (bringing my total Hard Rocks visited to 169)...

Hard Rock Cafe Ushuaia

It's a fairly recent property, so it's one of the newer "hipster lounge style" cafes (which I hate) but at least they tried to work in more memorabilia than some of the latest Hard Rocks...

Hard Rock Cafe Ushuaia

Hard Rock Cafe Ushuaia

Hard Rock Cafe Ushuaia

Hard Rock Cafe Ushuaia

The surrounding mountains make the city a pretty one, and there's two jagged peaks in particular that keep popping up when you look eastward from anywhere in town...

Ushuaia Peaks

Ushuaia Peaks

The skies, as you see, are a deep blue. The local church in town decided to paint their building to play off the color beautifully...

Ushuaia Peaks

Since the expedition boat to Antarctica leaves on Monday whether you are here or not... whether your luggage is here or not... I decided to play it very safe and arrive two days early (hey, when you're spending this much money to get here and equip yourself, better early than the alternative). This means we have an entire day to fill up tomorrow. And since we've pretty much seen all there is to see in Ushuaia, I guess that means we're heading out into the Tierra del Fuego region of Patagonia. Maybe. It's going to be Sunday, and I have no idea what that means in this part of the world.

   

Day Four: The End of the World

Posted on Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Dave!Because killing an entire day in our hotel room was not an option, last night was spent Googling for things to do in Ushuaia. Four-wheeling around Patagonia seemed like a fun thing to do, but there were no available spots. Then we discovered "Tren del Fin del Mundo" (Train of the End of The World). Originally used to transport prison labor to the countryside to collect timber, it eventually became a tourist attraction that runs into Tierra del Fuego National Park. Not everybody can say they've ridden "the southernmost functioning railway in the world," so plans were made.

We didn't know how many tickets would be available for the limited number of runs that the train makes, so we hired a taxi and got there plenty early. We were, as it turns out, the first ones to arrive at 8:30. You can ride the train one-way or round-trip for 800 pesos "tourist class" or 1400 pesos "First Class." We opted for the latter because the extra $30 US gets you a private compartment with drinks, a croissant sandwich, and souvenirs. Money well-spent...

Train of the End of the World

And when it comes to the Train of the End of the World... you're not just First Class... you're First Class As Fuck. It's engraved right there on your seat...

Train of the End of the World

The train itself is of the narrow-gauge variety, and looks like something you'd ride at Disneyland...

Train of the End of the World

While charming, in its own way, the train ride itself is not overly-spectacular. Other than bragging rights of having ridden the southmost train on the planet, it's kinda slow and boring... despite the narration that tells you about the history of the train as a prison labor transport. On the trip into the park, you do get to stop at La Macarena Station, where you can climb steps up to a small waterfall though...

Train of the End of the World

Train of the End of the World

The main attraction along the way, if you can call it that, is the wild horses that live on the plains of the park. Apparently some of them escaped from local gauchos and started breeding, so now they're everywhere...

Train of the End of the World

Train of the End of the World

Train of the End of the World

The nice thing about us having hired a taxi instead of going on a bus tour is that our driver warned us about the train being a bit boring. So instead of riding it back to the station, we hired him to wait for us at the end and take us further into Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Our first stop was "The Post Office at the End of the World" which sits on Lake Roca. Alas, it was Sunday so the office was closed... no passport stamps or postcards from the southernmost post office... but it was still nifty to look at...

Post Office at the End of The World

Post Office at the End of The World

Post Office at the End of The World

Post Office at the End of The World

Post Office at the End of The World

Our next stop was Lake Acigami, which is so cold, windswept, and choppy that you can't swim in it. All you can really do is look at it...

Lago Acigami

Lago Acigami

The waves off the lake are so strong that they've carved out the area where they reach...

Lago Acigami

Lago Acigami

From there we continued on Route 3 to the literal End of the Road at the End of the World...

End of the Road at the End of the World

If you look at Google Maps, you'll see exactly where the road ends and The End of The World Begins. If you had the time, you could start at the end and drive all the way to the beginning in Alaska, which is 17,848 kilometers (11,090 miles) north...

End of the Road at the End of the World

End of the Road at the End of the World

End of the Road at the End of the World

End of the Road at the End of the World

As you can kinda see in this satellite image, there's a wood-plank pathway that leads out to The End of the World...

End of the Road at the End of the World

There is a large viewing platform where most people walked to, then turned around and walked back to the road. But if you look at the Google Maps satellite image above, you'll see that the large viewing platform is NOT the "End of the Earth"... for that you have to keep walking until you reach a smaller platform...

End of the Road at the End of the World

I won't lie. The view is pretty great, even though our beautiful blue skies were starting to cloud over...

End of the Road at the End of the World

I took a panorama shot of "The End of The World" with my crappy pocket camera... it's cool, but really doesn't do it justice...

End of the Road at the End of the World
Click to embiggen the photo in a new window.

Before heading back into town, our driver wanted us to see two things.

First was a beaver dam. No beavers... just a dam that the parks service keeps around for tourists to look at. The walk to the site is quite nice...

A Beaver Dam!

But the dam area is pretty much gutted...

A Beaver Dam!

A Beaver Dam!

The last thing he wanted us to see was the tiny wild orchids that grow in the area. I'd never seen orchids grow in the wild, so that was actually interesting to me. Turns out they are almost impossible to photograph because the wind is always blowing. I gave it my best shot though, and this is as good as I was able to get...

A Wild Orchid!

And... that was that. Back to Ushuaia we went, where we wait to be whisked away to our expedition orientation dinner.

For tomorrow we set sail...

   

Day Five: The M/V Ushuaia

Posted on Monday, December 4th, 2017

Dave!We were kicked out of our hotel room at 10am, but couldn't board the ship until 4pm. This resulted in a lot of sitting around, but also lunch.

The M/V Ushuaia was formerly a research ship (and is still registered that way if you look it up on a marine tracker), so luxury accommodations aren't really what you're getting when you sign up. Welcome to my new home in Cabin #210...

M/V Ushuaia Stateroom

M/V Ushuaia Stateroom

Still, it's a nice ship and she'll be on her way in mere hours...

M/V Ushuaia Ship

M/V Ushuaia Ship

The M/V Ushuaia has internet via satellite. It's slow and unreliable, but available if you want to pay for it. I've decided that, for this trip at least, I really don't. I want to completely unplug from events back home. I don't want to know what stupid shit President Trump said... I certainly don't want to know if he started a nuclear war with North Korea. I just want to forget all the bullshit for a week and be at peace.

Here's hoping for smooth sailing over the most violent waters on earth.

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Day Six: The Drake Passage

Posted on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Dave!And so... not the smooth sailing I was hoping for.

The open sea has proven so treacherous that the ship seems to be floating on its side from time to time. You look out your portal and you can see your own wake. Naturally, this has caused a lot of discomfort for a lot of people onboard. As for me? I don't get seasick, but I put one of those patch things behind my ear just in case.

Unfortunately the patch can't prevent a door from slamming on my finger.

I went to leave the cabin just as a big wave struck the side of the ship. This swung the door back with my hand still attached. Ouch. My right ring finger now has a pretty big chunk of skin ripped off of it.

It's surprising how simple things like sleeping, opening a door, brushing your teeth, and going to the bathroom become a major ordeal when attempted on rough seas. During breakfast this morning, a wave struck the ship and rolled it pretty hard. All the breakfast plates, glasses, mugs, and utensils went flying. It was then I learned that each season over half of the dishes on this ship have to be replaced. The cost of doing business in the Antarctic, I suppose.

And it's not just the dishes that are breaking... regardless of how careful you are, the potential for injury on a trip like this is huge.

Yesterday a guy tripped on a busted sidewalk in Ushuaia and couldn't board the ship because his ankle was jacked up. Then this morning during some particularly turbulent seas I heard a man screaming in the hallway. I went out to see if I could help and ran into somebody who told me that a man had just fallen down the stairs and broke his leg. Turns out he has a very bad compound fracture and has to be air-lifted to a hospital. We were going to head back to Ushuaia to drop him, but there's a hurricane-force storm to the north which means we can't. So... we are making a detour to the only nearby place a plane can land... King George Island.

Considering the seas are as violent as they are, I would not be surprised if there end up being more such accidents.

In better news... we saw our first iceberg today. It was kinda tough to get good photos when the ship was rocking and rolling, but I did my best...

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

And Antarctica is still a day away...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

More rough seas ahead, I'm sure.

   

Day Seven: King George Island

Posted on Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Dave!Today the ship arrived at our detour to King George Island so the passenger who was thrown down the stairs yesterday could be air-lifted to Chile for surgery. The hope is that his circulation wasn't badly damaged by his compound leg fractures. If it was, he could lose his leg. The ship's doctor thinks he's going to come through fine despite the serious damage, so fingers crossed.

I can't fathom how much a med-evac for something like this costs. Tens of thousands of dollars, certainly. The flight-time alone out of Puente Arenas is 5-1/2 hours each way. Fortunately, the expedition group requires that you have comprehensive insurance for just such an emergency, so at least the poor guy won't have to mortgage his house after he gets out of the hospital.

But I'm ahead of myself...

Today was the day that we officially crossed into Antarctic waters. I think people were more excited about being in calm waters than they were about becoming "Antarcticans." Being able to walk without being thrown around is kinda a big deal.

King George Island has bases from countries around the world. According to Wikipedia, there are research stations here from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, Uruguay, and The United States. Chile's base "Frei" has the landing strip where the med-evac will happen. I snapped some photos of buildings and a helicopter, but have no idea which country they belong to...

King George Island

King George Island

I am told that there is an annual marathon that is run here. Cannot fathom trying to run in the heavy winds that blow through this area of the world, but I guess it's bucket-list accomplishment if you/re a runner.

And... today's progress...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

After we've confirmed that the med-evac plane has reached "the point of no return" and will definitely be coming to pick up our passenger, we're headed into the Gerlache Strait and further down the Antarctic Peninsula.

   

Day Eight Part One: Hydrurga Rocks

Posted on Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Dave!Yesterday's excursion had to be canceled in lieu of the medical evacuation, so this morning's landing at Hydrurga Rocks is my official first time stepping foot on Antarctica soil. So far as landfalls go, we couldn't have asked for nicer weather. The skies are a stunning blue-on-blue color that, I'm guessing, comes from having pristine, pollution-free air. As if that weren't enough, temperatures were above freezing, so I stripped off my jacket the minute I stepped off the Zodiac Raft.

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

This place is famous as a breeding ground for chinstrap penguins, and they are everywhere...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
It's breeding season, so rocky "nests" are being built pebble by pebble in order to create a safe space until the eggs hatch...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
The penguins are accustomed to humans, and will walk right up to you if you're not moving around too much. This guy wandered up next to where I was sitting and just stared at me for a good ten minutes...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
In the water, penguins are graceful swimmers who can move with precision and skill. On land they are clumsy creatures that seem to fall over a lot. Watching them walk is adorable and high entertainment...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Bonus... there were also seals!

Seals at Hydrurga Rocks

Seals at Hydrurga Rocks

Seals at Hydrurga Rocks

Not a bad first landing, that's for sure!

After we got back the the ship, the beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed all morning started to turn...

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

Guess the weather was good while it lasted.

And... today's progress...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

   

Day Eight Part Two: Andvord Bay

Posted on Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Dave!Since it's summer here at the bottom of the globe, the sun never truly "sets"... it just kinda dips below the horizon for a while. If we were closer to the Antarctic Circle, we wouldn't even see that, because the sun pretty much hangs around all day long in December.

Tonight we took the zodiacs out for a spin so we could see some icebergs in the evening sun. Which usually doesn't feel much like "evening"... except this time it did. The clouds that rolled in this afternoon just kept piling up, blotting out much of the sunlight. Add a misty fog across the water and this is about as "nighttime" as you're going to get right now.

And it's sublimely beautiful.

The atmosphere coupled with the buttery light of the sun peaking through the clouds was a photographer's paradise, and I shot hundreds of photos of glacier ice... all of them amazing. Picking favorites to post here was no easy chore. But I whittled it down to a dozen shots just to keep this entry a reasonable length...

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

   
Amazingly enough, we found some wayward gentoo penguins hanging out on the ice...

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

And... here's where we ended up today...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Here's hoping the weather improves a bit for tomorrow's landings.

   

Day Nine Part One: Cuverville Island

Posted on Friday, December 8th, 2017

Dave!Despite the fact that we're in the Antarctica summer months, it's still feels very much like winter here. Snow is everywhere and the skies are overcast and gray. It's also fairly chilly, but ultimately warm enough that I find myself stripping out of my winter coat. A fleece with my thermal underwear is more than enough.

Today's first excursion was at Cuverville Island, which is prime breeding ground for the gentoo penguin. We're told that 5,000 pairs of them breed here annually, which is a lot of penguins...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

The penguin eggs are a delicacy for many predators. Skua birds just love to swoop down and make a quick meal out of an unattended egg...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

Global warming is endangering breeding beaches, forcing the penguins to seek higher and higher ground. This is unfortunate, because they move quite poorly on land. In the water they are graceful and fast, on land they are awkward and clumsy. They're constantly falling over as they try to make their way from one spot to another...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Fall

To make things easier, penguins navigate the landscape via "penguin highways" that are created from endless birds walking the same paths over and over again...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Highway

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Highway

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Highway

Penguins are curious creatures with odd behaviors that are fun to speculate over. This penguin, for example, just stood in one spot for the longest time with his flipper out like he was directing traffic or something...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Traffic Cop

Which might have come in handy for these penguins that ended up "stranded" on an iceberg...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Iceberg

My favorite thing to to do is watch dirty penguins head to the water...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

Where they swim around, get cleaned up, and have a bite to eat...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

Then return as clean penguins, drying themselves in the breeze...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

And... that's all she wrote for Cuverville Island. Time to navigate the icy waters back to the ship...

Leaving Cuverville Island

And... here's where we are now, very close to our last landing...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Later today we're making our first landing on the actual continent of Antarctica instead of the surrounding islands as we have been. More than a little excited for that!

   

Day Nine Part Two: Neko Harbor at Andvord Bay

Posted on Friday, December 8th, 2017

Dave!And lo did the weather gods smile upon us, for today's second excursion to the actual continent of Antarctica exceeded my dreams.

When the ship pulled into the harbor, you immediately knew something special was going to happen because the water was so calm. It was like a massive mirror reflecting everything you see...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

It kind of messes with your head because you're seeing double across the entire horizon...

Neko Harbor Pano
Click to embiggen the photo in a new window.

As we headed out in a Zodiac to our landing site, the ice in the water started out pretty small...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

But kept getting bigger and thicker the closer we got...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

By the time we made it to shore, it was all ice...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Everywhere you looked, there was gorgeous scenery begging to be photographed. And if this were the only day I had in Antarctica, I would have been perfectly fine with that...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Yes, those are penguins laying there if you zoom in...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

There's a couple rookeries nearby where penguins hangs out...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

They're building nests by hauling pebbles around...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Except pebbles are lacking, so they're pretty much just stealing them from each other's nests. Which results in arguments, as you'd imagine...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

And so... yeah... Neko Harbor. A pretty great end to a pretty great day...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Everything I see after this is gravy.

Neko Harbor is a backtrack through Andvord Bay from yesterday, so our progress is a little backwards...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

The weather seems to be clouding up again, so I'm guessing tomorrow won't be as nice as today. Which is totally okay... if every day were this perfect, my head might explode.

   

Day Ten: Bancroft Bay

Posted on Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Dave!The gods of Antarctica giveth... and the gods of Antarctica taketh away.

Yesterday's excursion to Neko Harbor was everything I could have hoped for when it comes to photographing Antarctica... a non-stop parade of beautiful blue-blue skies, water so calm it was like a mirror, and a gorgeous location to shoot at.

Today? Not so much.

Our first excursion to Orne Harbour this morning was canceled because of nonstop sleet and zero visibility. Our second excursion to Bancroft Bay went ahead as scheduled, but even my best photos couldn't hold a candle to my worst photos yesterday. Especially with the snow coming down. I tried to photograph some birds as we left the ship, but it was tough to focus through all the white stuff in the air...

Bancroft Bay Birds

Bancroft Bay Birds

Bancroft Bay Birds

Bancroft Bay Birds

There was a bit of excitement because some whales were spotted while we were out. The krill they were eating must have been near the surface, because they didn't do much except show their tails...

Bancroft Bay Whale

After taking a lot of photos of water where wales used to be, we continued further into the harbor to look at glaciers and icebergs...

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

Bancroft Bay Ice

If there's one thing that Antarctica has, it's an abundance of icebergs.

And then... time to head back to the ship...

Bancroft Bay Whale

Bancroft Bay

Bancroft Bay

And... today's progress...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Tomorrow is our last day of exploring Antarctica before heading back across The Drake. Hoping for a great finale to the trip!

   

Day Eleven Part One: Whale Watching

Posted on Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Dave!Up until today, we've seen whales a couple times... but, for me, it's always been at a distance. They've always been off in the distance, and the best shot's I'd get would be of a tail... or maybe some spray... but nothing terribly impressive.

Then today as we were (ironically) headed towards "Whaler's Bay," a pair of whales came right up to the ship to say hello...

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Pretty amazing.

And they were there playing around the ship for a long, long time. Over an hour. After I took the above photos, I went back to my cabin, took a shower, and uploaded my photos. After all that I saw they were still there, so I grabbed my iPhone to shoot some video. It goes on for eight minutes, so I trimmed it so as not to bore you to death...

An unexpected bonus for this trip, to be sure. We didn't even have to leave the ship!

   

Day Eleven Part Two: Deception Island

Posted on Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Dave!Last night we were provided a lecture about whaling in preparation for today's first excursion to Deception Island and "Whaler's Bay." It's home to an abandoned "whale processing center" where tens of thousands of whales were butchered for their parts (and oil, of course). Not a subject or a location that appeals to me, but I tried to make the best of it. There was a spooky fog out, which made things slightly more interesting than it would have otherwise been to me.

"Deception Island" is actually the caldera of an extinct volcano. You enter the caldera by passing through a narrow channel of high winds which sailors have named "Neptune's Bellows."

Neptune's Bellows Antarctica

Neptune's Bellows Antarctica

You can kinda see how insane it is to navigate inside the caldera by looking at this satellite image I grabbed from Bing Maps...

Deception Island Bing Maps
©2017 Bing Maps / Earthstar Geographics

   
But pass through we did, at which time we found ourselves approaching Whaler's Bay...

Neptune's Bellows Antarctica

The ruins of this tragic site are still around...

Neptune's Bellows Antarctica

Whaler's Bay on Deception Island Antarctica

Whaler's Bay on Deception Island Antarctica

Whaler's Bay on Deception Island Antarctica

Whaler's Bay on Deception Island Antarctica

Deception Island Antarctica

Deception Island Antarctica

Deception Island Antarctica

   
It wasn't just the past, death was everywhere in the present too...

Death in Antarctica

   
Far more interesting to me than the remnants of death was some penguins on the shore...

Deception Island Antarctica

Deception Island Antarctica

Deception Island Antarctica

   
There was also a bird that was looking most perturbed...

Deception Island Antarctica

   
And... our progress so far today...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

One more stop today then a couple wake-ups across The Drake Passage until vacation is over.

   

Day Eleven Part Three: Half Moon Island

Posted on Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Dave!The weather outside continued to be dreary, so I was questioning whether or not I would even bother with the excursion to "Half Moon Island." Ultimately I decided I might as well go. It would be something to pass the time before two days on The Drake Passage.

What a pleasant surprise.

Unlike Whaler's Bay, which wasn't my thing... Half Moon Island has beautiful topography and an abundance of penguins to photograph. It was the perfect way to end my last day in Antarctica...

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

Half Moon Island Antarctica

BONUS SEALS ON THE BEACH!

Half Moon Island Antarctica

   
Our progress today...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

And... the end. A treacherous trek across The Drake followed by three flights over three days, and my vacation is over.

Something tells me I'm going to need a vacation from my vacation.

   

Day Twelve: The Drake Passage

Posted on Monday, December 11th, 2017

Dave!Yesterday's afternoon excursion was the end of my Antarctic adventure. I've turned in my life vest, and there will be no more landings on the seventh continent. And yet... there's still two days on the Drake Passage until I can begin my journey home.

The ship's doctor passed out "seasick pills" with dinner last night, so we knew that it would be a rough ride for the crossing (projected 9 to 12 meter waves rather than the 6 meter waves we had heading out). Rather than test the limits of my immunity to seasickness, I went ahead and took a pill. There's not much to do onboard anyway, so I might as well be doped up so I can sleep...

Now my life is all about risk assessment until we reach Ushuaia. As in... "Do I risk dying on the toilet just now... or should I wait a half hour in the hope that the waves will ease up and I can pee safely?"

I couldn't hold my phone during the worst of it, but this is pretty much the entire day...

Thinking back on this trip as a whole... I wish it would have been two or three days longer. It takes such a huge amount of time and money to get to Antarctica, that the actual time spent there seems to fly by in a flash by comparison. We did lose a day for the emergency medical evacuation... and lost a half day due to bad weather... but, even so, I wish we went further south to see more than we did. To the Antarctic Circle at least. Something to keep in mind if you ever decide to book a trip to Antarctica of your own.

That being said... what an amazing adventure!

Even with the huge effort and expense it takes to visit, this is easily one of my most memorable, most unique, most special trips I've ever taken.

Will I ever visit Antarctica again? Probably not. Unless it's radically different itinerary, my afternoon at Neko Harbor was perfect in every way, and all the Antarctica I need for a lifetime. But I've learned to never say never, so perhaps there's another trip in me one day.

Heaven only knows there's plenty of Antarctica left to visit. But, alas, one step closer to home...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Assuming I survive the rest of these crazy rough seas... holy cow.

   

Day Thirteen: The Drake Passage

Posted on Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Dave!The captain took pity on us and tried to circumnavigate the storm rather than head straight into it. Still... a very rough night. The trick is to prop up the sides of your mattress so that you can wedge yourself in the middle. Not the most comfortable way to sleep... but better than being tossed around like a rag-doll all night.

We've been told that we'll reach calmer waters around 5:00pm, which would be a nice treat before I have to make the long journey home.

This morning I tried to organize my junk for packing. Which is easier said than done when the waves are crashing into the side of the ship. One minute you're reaching for a pair of socks... the next you're being tossed against a wall.

The hardest part of packing is seeing all the crap I brought but never used.

I was told that waterproof over-pants would be trashed and I should have at least two. I brought three. I used one. Same for heavy waterproof gloves. Told I needed two, brought three, used zero. It was never cold enough to wear them. When I used any gloves at all, it was just the thin liners. And then there's a pile of scarves, balaclavas, and fleeces that I never touched.

If I had this to do all over again, I would have a different packing strategy. Prepare for the worst weather possible... but not over-pack as I did this time. I could have easily left a third of this stuff at home and been fine. Live and learn. I'm just glad I didn't rent parka, pants, and gloves as originally planned. That would have been a ridiculous level of overkill.

And now... a good night to you, for tomorrow we make port...

   

Day Fourteen: USH -> AEP

Posted on Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Dave!And... survived The Drake Passage to arrive back at Ushuaia this morning. The ship was kind enough to feed us breakfast before kicking us off, but it was the same breakfast buffet from the past nine days, so eggs on toast with a bowl of corn flakes wasn't a very exciting way to start my day.

Most of my morning was spent being very concerned that we'd only have 90 minutes from the time we arrived at the airport until our flight left. I was assured... twice... that this would be plenty of time because "it's a small airport." Which was odd assurance since small airports are notoriously understaffed. Add to that the fact that Aerolineas Argentinas is flying several very large planes into this "small airport" and I was understandably concerned.

I should have trusted my instincts and taken a taxi to the airport rather than wait for the bus they had scheduled.

Huge lines. Precious little staff. A long wait to get through security. And a mad dash to find out where in the hell our plane was because it wasn't at the gate we were told. It was an awful, nerve-wracking, terrible way to end my vacation.

But we made it... and it was a good flight... so all is well and I'm back in Buenos Aires now.

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Day Fifteen: EZE -> ATL

Posted on Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Dave!If I were smart, I would have flown the 9:18pm flight out of Buenos Aires yesterday instead of today. Except... I really, really didn't want to go from the ship to a flight to another flight to another flight to a long drive home all one right after another. And so... a night in Buenos Aires... followed by a long day in Buenos Aires. Albeit a beautiful day to be sure. As I could see from the window of my hotel room...

Palacio Duhau Buenos Aires

Traffic to the airport was insane, taking almost two hours. Good thing I left five hours early for my nine-and-one-half hour flight!

EZE to ATL Flight

One. More. Flight. To. Go.

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Day Sixteen: ATL -> SEA -> Home

Posted on Friday, December 15th, 2017

Dave!Naturally I was unable to sleep for the 9-1/2 hour flight from Buenos Aires to Atlanta, which meant I was beyond tired when I finally made it back to the USA. That I had to follow that with a 2-hour layover, a 5-1/2 hour flight to Seattle, and a 2-1/2 hour drive home... well, let's just say I've taken "exhausted" to a new level entirely.

The good news is that I get to see my cats at the end of it all.

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Caturday 44

Posted on Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Dave!Having two cats complicates my travel a bit.

Having two cats I love more than just about anything complicates my travel to a terrifying degree. Despite having automated feeders, an automated water fountain, automated litter boxes, two camera monitoring systems, a home security system, and a catsitter to keep it all running while I'm away... I still spend a lot of time worrying about Jake and Jenny every waking hour of every day. Are they doing okay? Are they lonely? Are they safe? Will they forget me? Will they forgive me?

Yesterday when I got home, Jake came running to greet me. He couldn't get enough petting and cried every time I stopped. Jenny kept her distance, but eventually wanted in on the action. The rest of my day was spent making it up to them. Which wasn't difficult because they followed me everywhere, Probably trying to make sure I didn't abandon them again...

Kitty Return

Kitty Return

I turned Carl the RoboVac off while I was gone. Turning him back on resulted in exactly what you'd expect... a lot of cat hair and kitty litter filling up the bin...

Carl RoboVac Bin

I went to bed at 4:30 yesterday and stayed there until 7am this morning when it was the cat's breakfast time.

Today I was planning on unpacking, washing clothes, cleaning house, posting all my blog entires from my trip, and running into work. But my cats had other plans for me. It's rare that they both get this clingy at the same time... but it's been like this all day. Guess they really missed me?

Kitty Love

Kitty Love

Coming home to this makes it very hard to think about leaving them again. Especially to a place like Antarctica where I have no contact with the outside world and no way to check in on them.

Fortunately, I have three months before I have to worry about it.

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Bullet Sunday 534

Posted on Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Dave!It's time for a Very Special Antarctic edition of Bullet Sunday, which starts... now...

   
• Go! Antarctica is a pricey trip, but it's not the horrific monetary spectacle you might think. Not including airfare, you can take the same ship I did... have the same type of experiences I did... for as little as $5,000 in Antarpply's 2018 season. I went via Muench Photography Workshops, which was quite a bit more expensive... but it had world-class photography instruction with people like Will Burrard-Lucas, which made it worth the ridiculous cost. If you've always had a hankering to see the bottom of the world, it's worth saving your pennies to do, and doesn't necessarily have to cost $15,000 for a great experience... penguins and all.

Penguins!

   
• Darkness! The strangest part of being back to the Real World? That it gets dark. Something that barely happened when I was in Antarctica. The fact that it starts getting dark around 4:00 and is pitch-black by 5:00 just makes it all the stranger. I've gotten used to light at 10:00 at night!

   
• Photography! My most used lens was a 24mm-70mm. It worked for glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife that was near me. My second most-used lens was a 70mm-200mm... which I really, really wish was a 70mm-400mm. Fortunately, my 200mm lens optical quality is excellent and I had massive 42.4 MP images I could easily crop into... but things would have been much easier if my telephoto had more reach. I also took a 10mm-18mm ultra-wide angle which I used occasionally. I didn't use any other lenses I took.

I highly recommend having two camera bodies on you. That way you can have both zooms handy and be sure to capture most anything at a moment's notice. You also have a backup body in case one fails, which is pretty much essential isn't it? You aren't going to go all that way and not have a camera!

I took a monopod because it was easier to pack than a tripod. I never once used it. I imagine that you could set up for taking shots, but there was plenty of light to go handheld 100% of the time, and the flexibility was critical towards getting my best shots.

I fretted over condensation accumulating when I came from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors ruining my cameras. Was never a problem (heck, my glasses never even fogged over). It was suggested that I take a plastic zipper-bag to put my camera in so that the condensation forms on the bag and not my camera. After spending weeks finding one big enough, I never had to use it.

I bought a massive dry-bag that I could put my whole camera bag into so my gear would be safe during a Zodiac landing. Thing was... I never took my entire camera bag. Just my two cameras and their lenses. Which meant my dry-bag was massive overkill. I should have bought a smaller one and just wrapped my cameras in towels or something.

I took circular polarizing filters. Never used them. They might have been handy to cut glare on the water when the whales turned up... but they were just a hassle every other minute of the day, so I ignored them.

   
• Un-Borrowed! I needed a backup camera body, but couldn't afford to buy a full-frame one to take with me. So I decided to rent one from BorrowLenses.com. I received an email telling me that I could pick it up at Kenmore Camera the day before I left. I went to pick it up and it wasn't there. I called and found out there was a mess-up of some kind with UPS, and it wouldn't be arriving until after I left for the airport. Their attitude was absolutely shitty. First of all, they would never give me a tracking number so I could find out if it was THEIR fault or UPS's fault (of course they blamed it on UPS). Second of all, they did nothing... NOTHING... to try and make the situation right. It was all "Oh well... stuff happens!" No offer to buy a body from Kenmore Camera and rent that to me. No offer to express ship to my hotel in Buenos Aires. No attempt to find an alternative. No offer to try and find a rental company in Argentina. Absolutely NOTHING. They didn't care about helping me out in any way, despite their promise to have the camera available on the date I requested.

And so... I had to spend $1400 I did not have to buy a camera I did not want. Especially since I could have put that money (if I had it) towards a new Sony a7R mark III. Such a crappy situation. I mean, what choice did I have? What was I going to do? Go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica without a backup camera? Impossible. Thanks for absolutely nothing, BorrowLenses.com for being a total piece of shit.

UPDATE: I complained on Facebook. Borrow Lenses refunded my money and gave me a credit for future rentals. They were apologetic about the situation (this time) which has me wondering if I just got the wrong customer service agent... or if they only act this way when called out publicly?

   
• SmartWool! There was a lot learned on my expedition to Antarctica. The most surprising? How fantastic SmartWool socks are. I have been wearing them ever since I got back and have had warm, comfy feet despite cold temperatures in my home town (and a history of cold feet).

SmartWool Sock!

Don't know how I'd get through winter without them now that I know about them.

   
• Warmth! As it turned out, I worried way too much about being too cold. As it's summer in Antarctica and global warming is actually a thing, it was never all that cold. Certainly not even close to how freezing cold it was on Cadillac Mountain when I was waiting for the sun to rise in Acadia last month! I usually ended up taking off my winter coat on land excursions and just wore my fleece, waterproof pants over jeans and long underwear. Only a couple of times when the sun was clouded over and it was snowing did I double up on long underwear and wear my coat. And, despite buying hand-warmers and spending two days in Ushuaia finding Zippo lighter fluid to put in them, they went unused. So glad I didn't rent an arctic parka and snow pants. I would have never put them on. I guess what I'm trying to say is... prepare for the worst. Make sure you have enough clothes to stay warm if the weather is terrible. Have layers and layers available so you can build the outfit you need to be comfortable in cold weather. But... don't obsess over the idea that you need to buy Antarctic-winter-level expedition gear to stay warm. Unless something goes really sideways, you just won't need it (and if things go that sideways, your landing will probably be canceled anyway). I'd recommend following the advice you'll get from your ship if it conflicts with my experience... but it really shouldn't.

The only thing that ended up being a little cold was my feet because the rubber boots you get from the ship for the landing are not well-insulated. My SmartWool socks with liners made sure it never got that bad. On cold days where I'd be in snow for long periods, I doubled my SmartWool socks, and... problem solved (seriously, those socks are amazing).

One final tip... it was highly recommended that I get two or three pair of Merino Wool long underwear. The stuff is soft (not scratchy) and does a really good job of keeping you warm. Best of all? It doesn't trap odors, so you can wear a pair for several days and not smell like a locker room. Which is what I did... except... I bought some inexpensive disposable men's underwear (which seem very much like cotton panties... or "manties") as a fresh daily barrier to help keep my long undies clean. Worked great. Took up practically no space in my suitcase. In the end, Merino Wool is a bit pricey but so worth it. I bought two pair of the mid-weight tops/bottoms directly from Minus 33 and was very happy with it. I loved that it was so thin that I could double it up on colder days and be toasty warm.

   
• Sun! The sun reflecting off the snow and ice is pretty harsh. Take good sunglasses (and, if you wear glasses, get good prescription sunglasses). And, oh yeah... TAKE SUN SCREEN! I had a friend tell me that he got sunburned pretty bad on his Antarctica trip. So I took Banana Boat SPF 30 and applied it liberally to my face. Wore it every landing we had. Still got burned. So... take a higher SPF than 30 if you want to avoid sunburn!

   
• Expectations! I was warned many times to keep my expectations in check. Antarctica is wildly unpredictable on all fronts, and having lofty expectations is almost certainly setting yourself up for disappointment. All you can really do is get excited for the possibilities... then roll with whatever comes your way. I mean, just look at my trip! We had to cancel one of our landings so we could detour to have somebody airlifted to Chile for a medical emergency. We had to cancel another landing because of bad weather. And yet... everything worked out. I was just thrilled to see what I got to see and do what I got to do...

Antarctica Neko Harbor

And, seriously, it could have been worse. It can always be worse!

   
• Inflight Movies! With nearly thirty hours in planes that had a rather large film library, I was able to watch a few movies to occupy my time getting to Buenos Aires and back...

  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — I went into this movie with such huge expectations... it was to be the spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element for heaven's sake. But it let me down in so many ways. Watching it again with zero expectations let me enjoy it for what it was, and I may actually kinda like it now.
  • Atomic Blonde — I loved this movie so hard. Between the Cold War spy plot, perfect 80's soundtrack, and Charlize Theron kicking abundant amounts of ass... it was too good to be true. It only improves on second viewing.
  • The Mummy — THIS is what was supposed to kick off the new, improved, and unified "Dark Universe?" So bad. So groan-inducing awful. Tried too hard to capture the fun of the Brendan Fraser version and failed miserably. Really hated it.
  • Logan Lucky — Smart. Funny. Surprisingly good entertainment.
  • Ghost in the Shell — As a huge fan of the original manga and animated series/film, I was let down by this ScarJo movie spectacle. On second viewing, the problems are still there... but the amazing visuals are too. I don't hate it. I just wish it could have lived up to its potential.
  • Power Rangers — It starts with a bull masturbation joke and just gets progressively worse from there. The TV show reveled in its cheesiness... the movie tries to take it seriously and failed utterly. Nothing makes sense. Everything is stupid to the point of being offensive. I'm embarrassed for everybody involved.
  • John Wick: Chapter Two — Really wish I saw this in the theater. The original completely surprised me with how good it was. This one was just as good despite my high expectations. The ending sets us up for a third installment that promises to up the stakes yet again... I'm ready.
  • Alien: Covenant — While not the disappointment that Prometheus was, it still falls way, way short of being Alien-worthy.

   
And... no more Antarctica for you. Or for me. See you next week.

   

The Seventh Continent

Posted on Monday, December 18th, 2017

Dave!And so I updated my Travel Map last night.

I've now step foot on all seven continents, which is pretty cool bragging rights...


Dave's Travel Map

   
I've also come one step closer to finishing off my travel bucket list. Two down. Eight to go...

  1. Africa. Who doesn't want to experience an African safari? Who doesn't want to see elephants, gorillas, lions, rhinos, giraffes, and the dozens of other amazing creatures that can be found there? This is another one of those trips that requires a massive stack of cash to do right.
  2. Antarctica. The reason I haven't been to Antarctica yet is solely a matter of money. I don't just want to float by on a cruise ship... I want an actual expedition, and that costs an absurd amount of bank. I'm hopeful I can get it figured out one day soon, because I don't know how much longer I'll remain healthy enough for such an adventure.
  3. India. It seems insane that one of the destinations I most want to visit on earth is still on my to-do list. I think the problem is one of time and logistics. There are simply so many places in the country I want to visit that I can't decide on an itinerary that would fit in a two-week period. I'll get it sorted eventually, I suppose, but every time I've tried in the past I get mired down with the fact that I need five weeks to do what I want to do, and no way to take that much time off.
  4. New Zealand When I visited Australia two years ago, I drew a line through Sydney and created a trip north (including Fiji), and a trip south (including New Zealand). I ended up going north because the southern trip would take a week longer and an additional $1600... both of which I didn't have. But that southern itinerary is still there. I still want to do it. I just need the money and the time. Again.
  5. Peru & Galápagos Islands. Machu Picchu is a bucket-list item that I've been dreaming of for decades. The Galápagos Islands is also on my list, and seems like an easy pairing for one trip.
  6. Jordan & Israel. There are many reasons I want to visit Jordan but, naturally, seeing Petra before I die is probably the biggest. And since it would be insane to go all that way and not visit Israel, another place I've longed to see, this is a dream trip.
  7. Brazil. Visiting Rio de Janeiro, Fernando de Noronha, The Amazon Rainforest, Ouro Preto, and dozens of other places in Brazil is kind of a no-brainer. But I want to see Iguazu Falls. Badly. It's just such an amazing spectacle on movies and television that I cannot fathom how amazing it would be to see in person.
  8. Moscow & St. Petersburg. This is a pretty simple trip to plan... just call up a company who does river cruises (like Viking) and sail from Moscow to St. Petersburg while enjoying all the amazing stuff in-between. Easy! At least it's easy if you've got lots and lots of money.
  9. Norwegian Fjords. A cruise along the coast of Norway through all the beautiful little fishing towns and jaw-dropping scenery seems like one of the most relaxing vacations ever. And I blame my obsession with experiencing it on Disney's Epcot. They show a movie after you go on the "Maelstrom" ride in "Norway" that shows just how amazing such a trip would be, and I've been dreaming of it ever since.
  10. Nepal. Always wanted to go. Still want to go. Need to find a way to go. Have never put enough time into figuring out how to go. Really must go.

I used to be pretty obsessed with making it to everyplace on this list. Now? Not so much. Sure, I'd still like to visit all of them... but I'm not going to feel a failure at life if I don't make every destination. Except India. I really, really want to make it to India before I die.

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Better Living Through Pharmaceuticals

Posted on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Dave!While unpacking from my vacation, I found a strip of pills given to me by the doctor onboard the Ushuaia for motion sickness. When crossing The Drake Passage I took one the night before hitting rough waters, but didn't find I needed them for the two days of trauma that followed, so I never used them. I thought I gave them all away, but apparently I did not.

I had no luck using the Pill Identifier at Drugs.com (my go-to site for identifying mystery pills), so I typed in what information I could find from the partial package I had... "Janssen" and "ugero" and "75"... which resulted in Stugeron 75 MG Tablet...

Stugeron is a medicine that belongs to the category of antihistaminic medications. It is used to treat problems associated with the inner ear and the brain. This medicine is used to treat dizziness and sickness associated with motion sickness.

Apparently this is a better drug for motion sickness than the Promethazine I had requested from my personal doctor. When the ship's doctor had us bring any medications we were going to use to dinner to show her, she just kind of chuckled and shook her head "no" while handing me the Stugeron. Needless to say, I took her word for it, because I'm guessing somebody serving on a ship would know what works best.

Ah the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals!

Which is a strange thing for me to say given my raging hatred for "Big Pharma" and the way they manipulate doctors into over-prescribing their over-priced crap.

And yet...

Gabapentin, which I like to refer to as "The Miracle Drug," has been life-changing for me. After being plagued with ever-worsening "restless leg syndrome" for years, I finally got relief (and a good night's sleep) once I consulted Dr. Google and found that people were getting good results with Gabapentin. I begged my doctor to let me try it and, 600mg a night later, my quality of life has improved so profoundly over the last couple months that I am almost moved to tears just thinking about it.

And so...

Not all drugs are all bad all the time. Sometimes they are a necessary part of life that you just have to accept and be grateful for.

And I am.

Even though I still wish drugs were cheaper, doctors wouldn't be so quick to throw a bunch of drugs at every problem that walks through the door, and Big Pharma would be forbidden from influencing doctors and politicians with their endless supply of money.

Time for Gabapentin and bed now.

   

Rub My Belly

Posted on Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Dave!My cats have been very glad to have me home.

Though they are never shy on having me make up to them the three weeks I was gone. Many a belly rub has been demanded since my return...


XXX

   
Not that I blame them. I could go for a nice belly rub every once in a while.

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Ghosts of iPhones Past

Posted on Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Dave!There was no way I was going to buy a new iPhone before heading to Antarctica... with my luck, I would have broke it, lost it, got it stolen, or dropped it down a glacier or something. I was going to wait until my tax refund came so I had the money to get an iPhone X but, thanks to Apple's new iPhone Upgrade Program which makes it a monthly cost instead of a one-time cost, I ordered one the day after I returned.

The short version? I love it. With some reservations.

The long version? Better strap yourself in...

I have three phones.

iPhone 6 (purchased October, 2014). My personal phone. It's usually sitting in my jacket pocket, as I mostly use it just for rare phone calls I get. Back in December of last year, I had a problem with my phone "blacking out" and took it to the Apple Store in Portland's Maine Mall. A guy there ran a diagnostic, said that processor-intensive apps can crash the phone or slow down if the battery is old or faulty like mine, and suggested that I set up an appointment to have it replaced. I declined and instead sent it in to iFixit for replacement in February (less cost, same quality repair). So everybody buying into the latest round of anti-Apple hysteria because they "slow down old phones" can just calm their tits. They do it to prevent exactly the problems I was having... and it's obviously not a secret if I was told about it from an Apple Store employee a year ago. With my new battery, the phone runs at full speed and I didn't have to buy a new phone because my iPhone 6 was too slow. I bought the X because I wanted the better cameras and other hardware features. That's it. The iPhone 6 still works perfectly fine.

iPhone 6S (received a little over a year ago). Provided by the company I consult for. This is the phone I use most of the time because it has a better camera than my iPhone 6... and it also has Apple's "3D Touch" technology, which I like. Never had the battery replaced and it runs as fast as it ever did. This phone is never left on a charger. I plug it in during the day at work and rarely is it charged to capacity. I heard this prolongs the battery. It seems to work. It is not being replaced because it is still a great phone and works perfectly well.

Galaxy S8 (received in June). A phone I receive for development which replaced my Galaxy S7. Despite the fact that I loathe the Android operating system, I was genuinely excited to get this model because of the "magical" Samsung Bixby virtual assistant. Touted to be a generation above Apple Siri and Google Assistant, I was enthusiastic about what that might mean. Except the phone didn't come with Bixby... I didn't get it until August... and it wasn't worth the wait because Bixby pretty much sucks. It sucks so bad that Samsung released an update which allows you to disable the stupid Bixby Button on their phones. The actual Galaxy S8 phone is pretty nice. It looks futuristic and cool and the beveled screen is beautiful. The camera is also quite good. Some critical design flaws (like the fingerprint sensor, which is right next to the camera lens on the back... WTF?) don't take away from the fact that this is a great phone. Or would be if not for it being tied to the Android OS. I don't care what people say... it is not just as good as iOS, there is a difference, and I am having none of it. Third party apps that are the same on both platforms feel like a lesser experience on Android, and it's a big enough difference that I would pick my three-year-old iPhone over this new Samsung any day. In fact, I actually do this... every day. The S8 phone usually sits in a drawer. I rarely use it unless I have to.

And so... enter the iPhone X.

Which will have to wait until tomorrow, because I still have some unpacking to do. I worry that if I don't act now my smelly suitcase might become sentient and destroys us all!

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iPhone X and Life

Posted on Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Dave!Yesterday I took a look at my current collection of phones. Today I'll take a look at Apple's latest and greatest... the iPhone X.

As I said yesterday, I love it. For the most part.

But there are times I have to ask myself if the $1000 price tag (or whatever the monthly charge is with my Apple Upgrade Plan, which is how I can afford to buy the thing) is worth it. My previous phone, an iPhone 6, did everything I needed and still works perfectly fine. The iPhone X is, naturally, faster at stuff... but so much of what I used it for is exactly the same. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp may load faster, but the game experience is exactly the same. Safari doesn't load pages much faster over what I had. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I just went into debt $1000+ so what am I getting for my money?

Funny you should ask, as I now examine the iPhone X piece by piece...

Apple iPhone X

   
PRICE

The iPhone X is a whopping ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. MINIMUM. This is absurdly expensive and, given the cost estimates I’ve seen for the actual parts and labor, a total cash grab by Apple because they know everybody will want one no matter what it cost. In all honesty, the $750 price tag of the Galaxy S8 seems much more reasonable for this phone, but that’s Apple for you. Many times while looking at my bank account I'll wish I had just gone for the iPhone 8, but the deed is done so I'm just embracing the horror.

   
SETUP

Getting my new phone running was relatively painless. My iPhone 6 had iOS 11 on it, so I just had to hold it next to the new phone and (eventually) it gave up most of the info needed. Since FaceID is brand new, this adds another step, of course. You have to stare into the selfie (front) camera and rotate your head around so the X can map it out. Eventually your phone wants to download and install the latest iOS update (11.2 for me) at which time you have to enter your four-digit PIN code. Why they don’t use FaceID here is a mystery, but whatevs. After that your settings (right down to your home and lock screen background images) are grabbed from iCloud and your phone downloads all the apps you had on your previous phone. For some weird reason I had to set up my credit cards for Apple Pay twice, but this just involved entering my security codes and waiting for the bank to approve them, so not a big deal. After saying some sample phrases so Siri can understand me, I was ready to roll. Like I said... painless setup assuming you have an older phone running iOS 11.

   
SIZE

I would have preferred to stick with the non-plus size phone that I already had... but the iPhone X isn’t that much bigger. Under a quarter inch top and bottom, which I can live with. The problem (if you can call it that) is that the screen real estate is larger so you can't really navigate one-handed with your thumb any more. I'm thinking of re-ordering how my apps are laid out to see if I can at least do my most common tasks one-handed, but adjusting to a new home screen layout is not something I'm looking forward to.

   
DESIGN

I am going to be brutally honest here... my Samsung Galaxy S8 kinda edges out the iPhone X when it comes to sheer looks. The S8 looks more what you’d think a mobile phone of the future would look like. The X looks like more of the same. That being said, the minimalism of the X probably pushes my aesthetics buttons a touch more than the S8. But barely. I love them both. If I have a gripe with Apple's design choices, having the camera lenses protrude out the back of the camera would be a big one. With a case on, no big deal... but still pretty tacky in the way it jacks up the clean lines and form factor of the phone. Why Apple hasn't made this a priority in their aesthetic is a mystery to me.

   
CONSTRUCTION

Make no mistake... the iPhone X is a fragile piece of tech. On my 6, I didn’t use a case, I applied corner bumpers and a screen protector. With my X I got a full-on Apple-branded silicone case and a screen protector because it’s got a lot of glass and feels far more fragile than my old phone. As an aside, I looked at a lot of cases and ultimately settled on the Apple Silicone Case, which is very nice. Beautifully constructed and branded... great to the touch... not slippery... an all around perfect choice if not for the absurd $40 price tag. Seriously, other similar cases are $15, which I would have gladly purchased if not for the ugly branding.

   
SCREEN

Considering that Apple is using the OLED panel that Samsung makes, it’s no surprise that the X looks as remarkable as the S8. Actually better, somehow. What *is* surprising is that Apple decided to notch out the screen at the top in order to maximize frontal screen real estate while still allowing for the camera and sensors the X needs. Honestly, I stopped noticing it after a couple days. Mostly. It is what it is and my brain has made peace with it.

Except... I still hate it...

Apple iPhone X

Stylistically it looks crazy stupid and the way the status bar has to display around it is downright silly. And then there’s the fact that THERE’S A GIANT NOTCH THAT IS CUT OUT OF EVERYTHING YOU LOOK AT THAT'S FULL-SCREEN, FROM PHOTOS TO MOVIES TO GAMES. The thing is so bizarre that even Apple seems unsure what to do with it half the time. Older apps ignore it and center their screen from top and bottom, which is actually preferable to having to look at the notch, in my humble opinion. Seriously, I would have rather had a black bar at the top and a phone that was an eighth-inch taller than this absurdly bastardized compromise. The end.

   
SOUND

The iPhone X has darn good sound... bordering on amazing sound... and is loud. As in room-filling loud at only 2/3 full volume. Which is good, because the quality of sound diminishes pretty fast when you go past 2/3 full volume. Still... I have to admire just how much care Apple put into the acoustics to have iPhone X be this good. I have tested it out by having a wide variety of music playing next to me while I work and am always impressed. Crisp notes in the highs and thumping bass in the lows. As an improvement over my iPhone 6, the X has stereo speakers in landscape orientation (one in the bottom and one in the earpiece). This isn't a heck of a lot of separation, but you actually do get surprisingly good stereo out of the thing. There are times that the sound transcends what should be possible in such a small device... especially when watching movies with good spatial sound. All isn't perfect, however. While listening to the achingly beautiful Some Kind of Love by The Killers, for example, there are parts where the sound becomes so distorted (even at half-volume) that it's hard to listen to. Not sure why certain sounds are so difficult for iPhone X to render when it's so great so often, but it's an issue that pops up often enough to be a problem.

   
FACE-ID

I pull out my phone and swipe up to activate it. FaceID is so quick that I forget it’s even happening while I’m doing it. This is a far cry from TouchID where you can’t help but notice that you’re jockeying your thumb on the home button to get a read on it (or, if you’re using a Galaxy S8, you’re sliding your finger all over the camera lens on the back trying to get a read on its inexplicably-placed back fingerprint scanner that’s right next door). I didn’t know how I’d feel about FaceID, but I absolutely love it and don’t think I could go back to anything else. It even works in the dark somehow. Yes, there are a few times I've had to move the phone a bit (usually while laying in bed) and if my glasses are off it can have some trouble, but the fact that the tech works as remarkably well as it does the majority of the time is a true testament to Apple's innovation here. The fact that you get Animojis out of the deal is just a bonus...

Yeah. Something tells me that Animoji will get really old really quickly.

   
CHARGING

The wireless charging is great. Except... the chargers I found that work with the iPhone’s quick-charge are pretty crappy so far (including the Belkin I bought, which is $50!). And Apple really shit the bed here by using only 7.5W instead of the 15W that Qi standard allows, which means it takes forever to charge your phone completely. WHY?!?? And apparently Apple decided not to use two-way communication, so your phone can’t tell the charger when its full. WHY?!?? If you’re really in a hurry to charge your phone, plugging it into a powerful 30W charger (not included) is obviously the way to go. Assuming you want to spend the money for it. My iPhone 6S still has a good battery because I was careful to never leave it plugged in all the time. Wireless charging seems to invite this since you have to leave it on the thing overnight, so I dunno if it's actually a benefit. Depends on how much it costs to replace the battery at iFixit, I suppose.

   
BATTERY

That being said... the battery seems good on my iPhone X. After the initial charge, I didn't charge it again for two days. Granted I am not on it all day long... but there were some pretty intense periods of use for games and such, so it's still pretty impressive. At least it is for how I use my phone. But how long will it last? That's a good question. Battery longevity is a problem that manufacturers like Apple seem to like (since most people will just buy a new phone instead of replace the battery like I do) so it's probably not a priority.

   
CAMERA

Okay... here’s ultimately the real reason I paid the premium price for the iPhone X instead of going with the iPhone 8. I wanted the spectacular dual-lens camera that comes in the 8+ but didn’t want to buy a purse to carry that massive phone in. With the X, you get the 8+ camera at the 8 size phone, and that was worth the $300 to me. Heck, $300 is what it would take to buy a decent pocket camera, so going X is just one less thing to carry around. And the camera is indeed great. A nice improvement over my Samsung Galaxy S8, which is already a pretty amazing camera. The colors are richer and less washed out. The sharpness is mind-bogglingly good. The low-light abilities are equally great. It’s the total camera package and I love love love it. If, for no other reason, that I get great cat photos from it...

Jenny Shot on iPhone X

I'm torn on "Portrait Mode." This feature simulates an aperture for depth of field control without actually having a variable aperture. From what I can understand, it uses both cameras at the same time to try and figure out what parts of the image are closest to the camera so it can blur out the background artificially. Sometimes it works pretty great. Other times my main subject has weird blurry edges. Other times background blur is really bad quality with heavy, artificial halos, like my feet in this shot...

Jenny Shot on iPhone X

I prefer to turn off "Portrait Mode" and just let the camera's built-in aperture play the cards you're dealt. Still, overall a superb camera... and the video capabilities are world-class... you could film a movie with this thing! I'm guessing you'll get more than a few shots that will surprise people when you tell them they were taken with a frickin' phone. I mean, come on... look how sharp Jake's fur is in that shot! And that's reduced-resolution to fit my blog! I plan to write more about iPhone X photography in a future entry, so stay tuned.

   
HOME SCREEN

Interesting to note that the iPhone X has an extra row of app icons compared to what my old iPhone 6 allowed. Very nice to have four more apps handy on the first home screen. As I mentioned previously, however, you can't reach all of them with your thumb one-handed... even if you've got long fingers like I do.

   
GESTURES

In lieu of the missing home button, Apple has replaced physical function with swipe gestures. Some of them work. Swiping up to get to the home screen... fine. Swiping up and pausing to get to the app switcher... fine. Swiping right across the bottom for previously-used apps... great. But swiping down from the top-right corner to get to the Control Panels? Awful. No way to do that one-handed. In order to reach it one-handed, you have to use Apple's "reachability" feature which used to be a simple double tap on the home button... but now is almost impossible with a swipe down on a tiny portion at the bottom of the screen (assuming you've enabled it in preferences). For heaven's sake, provide a sane alternative to get to the Control Panels screen... like swiping left past the "Widgets" screen... or even providing an icon... SOMETHING! The Control Panels screen is something I use constantly. To make it so absurdly difficult to access after it was so easy before-hand is a big detriment to iPhone X.

   
APP SPEED

Compared to my iPhone 6 and 6S, the X is monumentally faster (as you would expect). Compared to my Galaxy S8, the X is (surprisingly) quite a bit faster as well. Using the same apps side-by-side on both phones it’s noticeably faster on the X, which surprises me. I guess all the hype Apple made over their "A11 Bionic Chip" is justified. The iOS interface is so flawlessly buttery smooth and glitch-free as to be remarkable in itself. Action games are beyond good, and well-developed newer games on iPhone X rival dedicated consoles for speed and quality (seriously, install an app like Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade and prepare to be blown away)...

Warhammer 40,000

I'm sure there will be a slew of new games optimized for the A11 Bionic, which means it's a great time to be an iPhone gamer.

   
CELLULAR SPEED

Here’s where Apple bites it... and bites it hard. Samsung has implemented Gigabit LTE tech in their phones whereas Apple has been sitting on their hands. You don’t notice it much where I live here in Redneckistan... but in larger cities with optimized LTE networks, you do. I noticed it when traveling with both of my phones and always chalked it up to my newer Samsung phones having a faster chip-set than my much older iPhone 6S. Turns out that was only part of the game, and Apple has a lot of catching up to do. I hope they are adequately embarrassed for falling so far behind the competition. Rather than rehash this puzzling failure by Apple, here's a link to read if you're interested in this kind of stuff.

   
AR

When Apple debuted the iPhone X, a big chunk of the keynote presentation was devoted to Augmented Reality, and it's clear Apple has big plans for the iPhone to be a major player in the field. Not that you'd know it from some of the shitty apps that are available right now. I downloaded two games, both of which were crap. They force you to watch ads for other games to play and weren't the least bit entertaining, so I deleted them immediately...

Shitty Apple AR Games

I also bought The Machines which was the AR gaming app that Apple demoed during the keynote. It's a far superior game to most of the dreck out there, but not quite "there" yet. Not that it's bad or unplayable... it just feels very first-generation where everything but the kitchen sink was crammed in to be used as a demo showcase. Or maybe I'm just old. Either way, it's very promising and I am definitely excited to see where AR gaming ends up in the future.

Assumably, Apple's AR-Kit development tools will eventually lead to some amazing things outside of gaming (I know IKEA has an AR app in development that allows you to place their furniture in your home, for example), but right now it's just games and gimicky crap.

   
PHONE

Oh yeah... this thing is a phone too! Signal strength seems on-par with my iPhone 6. Call quality is mostly dependent on your carrier, but I'm not hearing any radical improvement over what I had (except when used as a speaker phone, in which case the X trounces my older iPhone).

   
CONCLUSION

So far as phones go, my opinion is that there isn't anything to touch the iPhone X. It's powerful, functional, has Apple's refined iOS behind it, and is filled with mind-bogglingly great features highlighting its display, sound, and cameras. My Samsung Galaxy S8 (running Android OS, which I loathe) may seem a bit more futuristic when it comes to design, but is otherwise lacking in comparison... though probably not in any way that's going to convince Android-loving mobile users to switch. I am not 100% convinced that the X is the right upgrade for everybody... the iPhone 8's more rational price point and equatable power/features are more compelling when you consider it's $300 cheaper... but the X is most definitely not a bad choice if you are willing to invest the cash (or simply must have the latest and greatest iPhone available).

My wishlist for future iPhones doesn't have so much to do with the hardware, but the OS choices that run it. If forced to come up with something, however, I'd have to chime in and say that a headphone jack was a stupid thing to axe. I know it takes up space, but it seems ridiculous that a company as tech-savvy and innovative as Apple can't come up with a way to keep it. Odds are that they could... they just didn't want to. That, more than any other example I could come up with, summarizes the joy and hurt of Apple's "We Know Best" philosophy. And yet... in many ways its served them well (as the billions upon billions they make from iPhone profits will testify) even though that makes them a bad fit for some consumers. I've come to embrace it even though I don't always like it.

In the end I'm very happy with my iPhone X even if I'm not happy about what I had to pay for it. At least until the iPhone XI is released, I'm sure.

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Caturday 45

Posted on Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

Dave!I just got back after three weeks away a week ago.

Now I'm getting ready to head out again.

It's really tough to leave my cats... especially given how attached they've been to me since I returned. They're all over me night and day...

Jake and Me

Jenny and Me

Jenny and Me

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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Eve’s Day Drive

Posted on Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Dave!And so... I'm heading over the mountains for a short holiday vacation.

All week I was a little apprehensive because the weather forecast kept changing, but it ended up being a beautiful day with bare roads and pretty scenery. A piece of cake drive to be sure...

Mountain Pass Drive

Mountain Pass Drive

Mountain Pass Drive

Mountain Pass Drive

Mountain Pass Drive

Alas, my visor-clip broke apart half-way through, so I missed recording some of the glorious snow-filled wonder.

Catch you after Christmas!

   

Merry Christmas

Posted on Monday, December 25th, 2017

Dave!To everybody who celebrates the holiday... wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

Which, apparently I can do now that President Trump has taken back this beautiful phrase from the relentless eight-year war on Christmas that happened under President Obama's watch...

Dave!

Oh... wait a second... like so many things that come out of Dear Leader's Twitter feed, he's completely full of shit...

No surprise that our lying asshole of a president has bought into the false narrative that there's ever been a "War on Christmas"... despite the fact that you can walk into a United States Post Office and buy stamps with Jesus on them for Christmas (as you've been able to do for decades). Here's the selections for this year...

Christmas Stamps 2017

Meanwhile, seven years ago...

Dave!

Uh huh.

   

Blanket Monster of Death

Posted on Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

Dave!I don't celebrate Christmas, but my family does and I do my best to keep up.

This includes a Christmas gift exchange where I ended up with a beautiful new faux fur blanket.

Alas my cats are scared to death of it. For the first half hour from when I pulled it out they wouldn't come near me. Eventually Jake decided to investigate, but was still leery of the thing...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

   
He left for about 15 minutes, but eventually came back... a little braver this time...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

   
At least he was until Jenny clawed him on the butt while he was "investigating" the strange furry thing that had invaded his home. He much have jumped two feet straight up in the air and then ran off...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

   
Jenny herself was considerably braver. She hopped right up to sniff out the blanket monster, but left unimpressed...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

   
After Jake regained his composure, he saw how brave Jenny was and followed suit...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

   
He eventually ran away again, but returned about ten minutes later. This time on the couch next to me...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

You'd think that would be enough to convince him... but no. He left soon after and has been observing the blanket monster from atop the cat tree.

While I was gone one of my cats (Jake) decided to confiscate the cat treats I've been giving to Fake Jake. He's pretty crafty being able to open a sealed plastic container with nothing but paws and teeth...

My Cats and the Blanket Monster

And he ate the whole dang container, the little butt-head.

Guess it serves me right. Good thing I don't have plans to leave again for the rest of the winter.

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And So Jake is Trying to Kill Me…

Posted on Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Dave!Living in the upper latitudes as I do, winter makes for crappy weather. It's cold, wet, and dark. And its dark for a really long time each day. When I get up to feed the cats at 7am, it's still pitch black out. Luckily, I have an Alexa Echo Dot in my bedroom upstairs to illuminate my home on command.

Or not.

"Alexa, turn on morning lights."
= nothing =
"Alexa, turn on morning lights."
= crickets =
"ALEXA! TURN ON MORNING LIGHTS!!!"
= nothing =
ALEXA? ALEXA? ALEHHHHXAAAAAAHHH?!???

It's then I notice a red glow coming from Alexa over on my dresser. That can't be good.

So I get up in a dark room... stumble over all the cat toys that have been dropped on my floor... nearly tripping into the dresser as I step on a hard compressed catnip mouse toy... then make my way into the hallway.

NOTE: Had I taken a header into the dresser, I could have been killed!

Sure enough, Alexa is all red glowy angry and ignoring me...

Alexa Red Ring Light of Death

"Why U Mad, Alexa?" I mumble as I head out into the darkened hallway... where I trip over Jake on the landing and nearly fall down the stairs.

NOTE: Had I tumbled down the stairs, I could have been killed!

I have been letting Alexa control everything for so long I forget that there are light switches... somewhere... around this place.

Eventually I make it downstairs where my "Smart Home" has turned on the lights for me and I can see again. Jake and Jenny stare at me impatiently as I dish up their breakfast, then chow down while I absent-mindedly ask Downstairs Alexa to turn on the stairway lights... and she does!

Apparently it's only Upstairs Alexa who is broken?

So I Google "ALEXA RED LIGHT" and find out she's not broken at all...

If the light ring on the top of your Echo is solid red, you have disabled the microphone feature. Alexa will not be able to respond to your requests until you have enabled the microphone feature, which will turn the solid red light off.

I missed the little microphone button with the slash through it on top of Upstairs Alexa.

THEN I remember.

Last night as I was falling asleep I was playing Jeopardy with Alexa (totally swept Tuesday's clues!). My cats wanted attention, but I was too tired to do anything. All of a sudden Alexa stops playing and I catch a glimpse of Jake on top of the dresser. I assumed he was laying on the speaker so Alexa couldn't hear me... then I fell asleep.

But that's not what happened at all!

Clearly Jake turned off the microphone so he could kill me in the morning! Remember how he tried to trip me on the stairs? Remember that? Remember? I COULD HAVE DIED!

And so... I am guessing he's more upset over the furry blanket I brought home than I realized.

Looks like I need to be watching my back for a while...

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Video17

Posted on Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Dave!And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year.

Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of movies I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of movies I never saw that would have probably ended up on my list (we'll get to that later). And here we go...

THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.

Favorite Movies 2017

#1 Thor: Ragnarok
While critics were kind of meh on the first two Thor movies, I loved them. The first captured the grandeur and majesty of a prince of Asgard and set up Loki as a major player in all that would follow. The second faltered a bit on story, but had the best Thor action we had seen to date. And now we get Thor: Ragnarok which heads into new, more comedic territory to deliver one of the most entertaining Marvel Studios films to date. Writer Eric Pearson, who came out of nowhere with only episodes of television's Agent Carter under his belt absolutely nailed the perfect balance of action to laughs. Director Taika Waititi went full-on Jack Kirby with the visuals and made the script absolutely sing. And then there's the flawless cast headed by Chris Hemsworth and his way underutilized comedic chops... plus Tom Hiddleston being the best Loki yet, Cate Blanchett taking the crown as Marvel's best villain yet, Jeff Goldblum being the most Jeff Goldblum we've seen yet, Mark Ruffalo giving us (by far) the best Hulk yet, Idris Elba finally being given something substantial to do and bringing the best Haimdall yet, plus Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie... easily one of the best additions to the Thor saga yet. The plot is almost incidental given the amazing cast and visuals, but it doesn't suck. Thor and Hulk in a buddy movie and it's glorious. By far my favorite film of this year. Of most years.

#2 Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Sony Spider-Man films went from pretty good and took a slow slide to comic book tragedy. I was always glad when a new one was released, but never cared much for what I saw. Until Marvel got the character back and made him exactly the character he needed to be. Spider-Man: Homecoming is easily the best Spider-Man to ever hit the screen. Painfully respectful to the source material (holy crap... Spider-Man is just a kid!) with some fantastic updates (Aunt May isn't ancient! Tony Stark is his mentor!) and laced with dazzling special effects that never overwhelm the story, I loved every minute of the movie. Michael Keaton adds new dimension to The Vulture, who is stealing all the tech in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and creating powerfully-armed super-criminals which Peter Parker stumbles upon. Trying to balance being a super-hero with school, his friends, his aunt, and his love-life gets to be quite a challenge, but makes for fantastic entertainment. Robert Downey Jr. popping up from time to time is just the icing on the cake.

#3 Wonder Woman
It's no secret that I positively loathe the new "cinematic universe" being created by DC Comics and Zack Snyder. Dark, depressing, and absolutely no fun... Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, and Suicide Squad just plain suck. I hated them all. But then Patty Jenkin comes along and plucks Wonder Woman from the gloom to create a glorious representative of what the DC films should be. Taking place in World War I, Steve Trevor crashes into the ocean near Themiscyra, home of the Amazons. Princess Diana, born into a destiny for greater things, leaves paradise to search for Ares, god of war and whom she is convinced is behind the horrors emveloping the world. Things don't go quite as she planned, but Diana becomes the hero we need along the way. Kudos to Gal Gadot and Chris Pine for their amazing performances, which elevate an already remarkable story. When Diana climbs out of the trenches to cross "no-man's land" and save a village in France, we were treated to one of the most surprisingly emotional moments on film in 2017. It was that moment that Princess Diana became Wonder Woman, and Patty Jenkins brought hope to the future of DC Comics on film.

#4 Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2
The original Guardians of the Galaxy has long been one of my favorite Marvel films. It was a complete surprise. I held no hope at all it would be any good, but James Gunn figured out a way to make it more than "good" and I loved everything about it. The sequel didn't capture my imagination like the first... the story is a bit convoluted and lost a bit of the emotional charm... but it's still a wholly entertaining ride that I loved to watch. Kurt Russel pulled off the character of "Ego" the way few others could, which just added to an already flawless cast... the highlight being "Baby Groot," who absolutely nobody can help falling in love with. But above everything is the emotional center that Gunn put at the core of it all. Peter Quill's self-discovery and need for family drives the story in ways that most super-hero flicks can't match, and that's why the movie works as well as it does. Cannot wait for Volume 3.

#5 Blade Runner 2049
It's an unnecessary sequel with a story that was in desperate need of editing, but it was also a revelation with stunning visuals that made it a worth successor to the original film. Most people I know either loved it or hated it with nothing in-between, and I totally get that. And it's part of the reason I liked the film so much... it totally went for the brass ring and took risks that could alienate its audience. Was it the story I most wanted to see? No. But it was still very much in keeping faith with the original, and Ryan Gosling as the Replicant "K" has once again upped my opinion of his talents (the first time being in The Good Guys where he was amazing). Harrison Ford's return as Deckard was in many ways underwhelming, but this isn't his story, so it works. Yes, the film dragged on with every scene feeling far longer than it needed to be, but it was also amazing to look at and had an unexpected emotional punch. Dismal box-office practically ensures we won't be getting any more Blade Runners until the inevitable reboot seven years from now, and that's probably okay. Though, by the end of the movie, I was left very much wanting to see more of the dreamy future world that K lives in. I guess that's about as good as an endorsement as I can give.

#6 Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron is a fantastic actress who knows exactly how to inhabit the roles she takes on. Never is this more apparent than with this 1989 Cold War spy thriller that is filled with some of the best "James Bond" action you will ever see. Relentless action highlighted by some of the most brutal fight scenes you'll see by a woman... or a man. The fact that it was such an amazing 80's soundtrack attached is just the icing on the cake (though I honestly can't picture the movie without it). The twist on a twist at the end was not as surprising as it could have been, but it wraps things up well and has me dying to see a sequel.

Favorite Movies 2017

#7 Get Out
Who knew? I dismissed Get Out as another Key and Peele bit of funny fluff like Keanu and had no plans to ever see it in theaters... thinking maybe I'll catch it on video. But the critical acclaim built up so fast and was so overwhelmingly positive that I had to see it. I was not disappointed. Jordan Peele has stepped away from comedy (while leaving one foot in the pool) to craft a remarkable thriller that has a running commentary on society that few others could handle so deftly. And yet... wholly entertaining on top of that.

#8 LEGO Batman: The Movie
Amazing. DC should just scrap everything they're doing and just LEGO everything. I laughed more time in this film than any film in recent memory. I was sorely tempted to just slap this at #1 and be done with the list... but... so many good films this year.

#9 Coco
It's as if Pixar releases shit like Cars 2 and Cars 3 then compensates for it by releasing stunning works like Brave, Finding Dory, and now Coco.... A heartfelt story married to lush, colorful, gorgeous visuals. Seriously, this is one of the prettiest films ever made.

#10 Kedi
It took owning cats for me to fall in love with cats. Kedi is a love-letter to the stray cats of Istanbul... thousands of them... and the people who interact with them. If you're fascinated by felines, documentaries, and other cultures, this is your movie. Heck, even if you're not into any of those things, this is still your movie.

#11 Baby Driver
A lot of movies tout themselves to be "thrill-rides" and end up being anything but. This movie is a thrill-ride that actually delivers. Edgar Wright took both car chase movies and heist movies to another level by combining gritty action with a phenomenal cast and a killer soundtrack. It's a real shame that Kevin Spacey turned out to be a shit, because this movie typifies him taking on a subordinate role in a film and just killing it.

#12 Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
Just when you thing the body-swap trope has been done to death and you never want to see it again, director Makoto Shinkai uses it to craft a beautiful, compelling, complex love story unlike any other. Besides being beautifully animated, the story has real emotional impact and a twist you feel. It's a real shame that so few Westerners will see this movie because it's well worth seeing.

   
SPECIAL MENTION...
I love a good standup film. I live for a great standup film. Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King is a standup film to die for. I've seen it five times. I will undoubtedly watch it a dozen more...

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

Because I am not an Indian-American Muslim, Minhaj cannot speak to my experience being an Indian-American Muslim. But he makes it so that I can relate to his story and reach a place where I can better understand what it means to be an Indian-American Muslim in this country... and only the very best comedians can do something like that. This is game-changing, groundbreaking, beautifully-realized, entirely entertaining comedy film that is not to be missed. And that's true no matter who you are or what you believe.

   
SPECIAL MENTION...
Last year my #9 movie was La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle), which was a 2016 movie for me because I saw it on the festival circuit. It was put in general USA release this year, so I'm mentioning it again because it's just too beautiful to overlook...

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle

Gorgeous animation from Studio Ghibli that's a warm blanket in visual form (there's no dialogue). The story is a tale of survival that unfolds like a classic fairytale... but ends up being so much more. I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen it on the big screen where it's visual grandeur can truly be appreciated, but it will resonate with you when viewed at any size. Watch it. And watch it without distraction so you can soak it all in the way it was meant to be experienced.

   
HONORABLE MENTIONS...

  • Dunkirk. I didn't think of Christopher Nolan as a historical drama filmmaker, but this is a film which proves his storytelling knows no boundaries. Everything about it is meticulously orchestrated to deliver emotional impact in the best possible way. I saw this in IMAX, which is probably the best way to experience it, but it's really unmissable, glorious filmmaking in any form.
  • The Big Sick. Based on comedian Kumail Nanjiani's real-life relationship with (now-wife) Emily V. Gordon, this is a romantic comedy filled with wit and charm that's made fresh by the cultural divide in the middle of it all. With beats of dark humor popping up from time to time, it's a movie that strives for entertaining substance... and succeeds.
  • I Am Not Your Negro. "The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story." Based on an incomplete manuscript by James Baldwin, this is a telling of that not-so-pretty story. A brilliant, visionary film taking a hard look at race in this country that demands to be seen.
  • Colossal. Where? Where did this come from? I saw no advertising for it when it was in theaters. I only saw it when it popped up on iTunes as an "editor's choice" kind of thing while I was bored and looking for a movie to watch. I was so intrigued by the cast (Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis?) and the concept (movie monsters?) and the reviews (critics absolutely loved it?) that I was compelled to buy it. Loved it. Brilliant in every way.
  • Gifted. I loathe "heartwarming kid movies" and avoid anything that even looks it like the plague. But this was the only movie I hadn't seen on a long flight, so I dug in hoping that Chris Evans would do a decent enough job to salvage it. Imagine my surprise when not only did Evans turn in a phenomenal performance... but the story was really good as well. Oh... and the kid wasn't nearly as annoying as they usually are.
  • It. A pleasant surprise in many ways, I avoided this film in theaters because I didn't see how they could top Tim Curry's amazing take on Pennywise the Clown. Turns out they didn't attempt. to top it... they just went in a different direction entirely. Interestingly enough, this movie is only half the book. I'm guessing that, given the huge box office it did, the second half of the story will make it to screen sometime soon.
  • John Wick: Chapter 2. The original John Wick completely surprised me with how good it was. This one was just as good despite my high expectations. The ending sets us up for a third installment that promises to up the stakes yet again... I'm ready.
  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I loved the first film. A lot. The sequel had escalating entertainment value, but really faltered in a number of places. I liked the movie. I wanted to love it. The fact that I didn't has me worried for the future of the franchise.
  • Logan Lucky. Smart. Funny. Surprisingly good entertainment. If you haven't seen it but are looking for a good film to watch, then just watch it. Don't go researching it or even watch a trailer. Let Logan Lucky take you by surprise like it did me.
  • Hidden Figures. A beautiful movie with a flawless cast marred by the fact that we apparently can't have accurate mainstream Black history movies based on real events without tossing in fictional white saviors to make it "feel-good-marketable" in the process.
  • War for the Planet of the Apes. We're in our third movie of the new trilogy and I don't know how they do it. All three of the Planet of the Apes films are good, but this may be the best yet. I honestly want for there to be another one if we're going to get a film like this.
  • Umi Yori Mo Mada Fukaku (After the Storm). This is a film that is intrinsically Japanese in that it is a simple, beautiful movie on the surface... with plunging depths that are only hinted at lurking underneath. Surprisingly, it's perfectly enjoyable just to let the surface wash over you without having to think so much... but there's more to the story waiting if you are game to look for it. Stars Abe Hiroshi, one of my favorite Japanese actors of the moment.

   
HAVEN'T SEEN YET, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Downsizing
  • The Shape of Water
  • Loving Vincent
  • Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
  • Lady Bird
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • The Disaster Artist
  • God’s Own Country
  • Loving
  • City of Ghosts
  • Jane: In The Shadow Of Man
  • A Ghost Story
  • Okja

   
NOT AS BAD AS THEY SAY...

  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I went into this movie with such huge expectations... it was to be the spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element for heaven's sake. But it let me down in so many ways. Watching it a second time with zero expectations let me enjoy it for what it was, and I may actually kinda like it now.
  • Ghost in the Shell. As a huge fan of the original manga and animated series/film, I was let down by this ScarJo movie spectacle. On second viewing, the problems are still there... but the amazing visuals are too. I don't hate it. I just wish it could have lived up to its potential.

   
THE WORST...

  • Power Rangers. It starts with a bull masturbation joke and just gets progressively worse from there. The TV show reveled in its cheesiness... the movie tries to take it seriously and failed utterly. Nothing makes sense. Everything is stupid to the point of being offensive. I'm embarrassed for everybody involved.
  • Justice League. I held out no hope for this continuation of the Zack Snyder travesty wrecking the DC Comics Cinematic Universe, and swore I would wait for video. I broke my oath because I was bored while at a work site. I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would... but still hated it. A disjointed, disaster-porn mess with a useless villain that not even Wonder Woman can save. The only thing positive to come out of it was the glimmer of hope that Ezra Miller's "The Flash" could be a fun movie.
  • The Mummy. THIS is what was supposed to kick off the new, improved, and unified "Dark Universe?" So bad. So groan-inducing awful. Tried too hard to capture the fun of the Brendan Fraser version and failed miserably. Really hated everything about it.
  • The Dark Tower. You know your movie is shit when not even having Idris Elba starring in it can save the thing. A confusing, incoherent, poorly-conceived movie where even the action is boring.

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Tube17

Posted on Friday, December 29th, 2017

Dave!And now is that special entry where I wrap up MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS OF 2017!

Which was not as easy as it was in previous years because "television" is so scattered that I feel I'm missing most of it. New series and old favorites appear without my ever knowing they existed. Some shows I am aware of, but never had time to see. This list is made from those I actually saw...

THE TWELVE BEST...

Dave Best TV 2017 PART 1

#1 The Good Place
“Eleanor, your cocaine and escape train are ready.” Yes, I loved the show's first season... but I didn't know how much I loved it until Season 2 blessed our television screens this year. It seemed as though the writers had backed themselves into a corner after 2016's mind-blowing finale, but it turns out they were just getting started. The characters reach all new levels of genius and the stories have just gotten more and more wackily brilliant. By the time we get to episode 6, The Trolley Problem, I was convinced this had to be the best show on television this year. By the time Janet creates her rebound boyfriend, Derek, in episode 7, I was certain of it.

#2 Lucifer
This show grabbed me in the first season, but never really took hold until this year's third season where everything just kind of clicked into place. If forced to come up with a way to describe a show about The Devil abandoning Hell and moving to Los Angeles, I'd probably have to choose "deliciously fun," which is a pretty accurate description of every episode. Largely in part to series star Tom Ellis, who chews through every scene as if it's his last... and series regular Lesley-Ann Brandt as Mazikeen, a demon torturer who followed Lucifer to earth and is really making the most of its opportunities. If you haven't seen the show (or dropped it early on) I'd encourage you to take a look if you're into deliciously fun entertainment.

#3 Trial & Error
"Mur-der Board! Mur-der Board!" Lord, where do I even start. This utterly hilarious and totally bizarre show is a combination of The Office and a spoof of every legal drama ever. The result is laugh-out-loud television that never lets up through all thirteen episodes... each of which was so dense with laughs that you have to wonder what's left for a second season. John Lithgow as accused murderer Larry Henderson steals the show as you would expect. What you don't expect is the secondary cast of zany characters which make the show so blissfully entertaining (including Sherri Shepherd as a disorder-laden assistant and Steve Boyer as a simple-minded investigator). The minute I watched the end of the last episode, I started over from the beginning to catch all I had missed.

#4 Star Trek: Discovery
If I'm being brutally honest, I've not liked any of the Star Trek series since the original. Sure I watch all of them. Sure they all have their moments. But they just seem to get mired in the boring-ass tedium of button-pushing and lame stories with one-dimensional characters that float through the silly futuristic scenery. Discovery took this trend as a serious challenge and decided to break all the rules to create a Trek that is truly new and different. Some of it fails completely (yet another Klingon redesign that comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit into any timeline of any previous Trek, even though this series takes place before The Next Generation), some of it seems like a desperate attempt at never-before-seen-stuff that's created solely for the sake of having never-before-seen-stuff (spore drive?), but much of it... heck, most of it, is just sheer spectacle entertainment. First of all, it's beautiful. Great design and special effects. Second of all, it's compelling. Smart, intelligent characters in good stories. And lastly, it's perfectly cast. Sonequa Martin-Green and Jason Isaacs are top-echelon actors turning in mind-bending performances that elevate every episode. If you like sci-fi but have been poo-pooing the next-gen Star Trek shows as "sci-fi light" then Discovery is worth a look.

#5 Master of None
I liked Aziz Ansari's Netflix comedy/drama in its first season. I loved it in its second season. Every episode feels like Ansari was hell-bent on not falling into the trap that plagues so many shows... a weak sophomore season. So what does he do to keep things fresh? Moves the story to Italy where his character, Dev, is working as an apprentice pasta maker. Seriously. We don't stay there for long, of course, as the show moved back to New York in short order, but it's enough of a pallet-cleanse to get you heavily invested. But what really makes Aziz Ansari the star of this show is his willingness... hell, his insistence... of giving other characters center stage from time to time. Even if they aren't regular characters but some random people that invade the show out of nowhere. This results in two of season's strongest episodes... New York, I Love You which features the lives of New Yorkers intersecting in surprising ways... and Thanksgiving, which focuses on Dev's best friend Denise and her family around Thanksgivings through the years (this is the episode responsible for Lena Waithe's historic Emmy win and giving us the glory that is Angela Bassett in a flawless performance). Aziz Ansari has said that he'd eventually like to make more Master of None... oh how I hope he does.

#6 The Good Fight
I never saw The Good Wife. Regardless of how many accolades it received, I just didn't care to invest in yet another legal drama. Turns out that may have been a mistake. Picking up from where the original series left off, The Good Fight takes Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart in new directions as she is forced out of her law firm and forced to delay retirement after a scandal which ruins her career and her fortune. She is recruited into a new African American firm where she continues to fight for causes that are important to her while rebuilding her life. I only watched this show because I wanted to get the most out of the money I was paying to see Star Trek: Discovery on "CBS All Access." Turns out I would have paid for the service just to watch this show all along. It's the legal drama to end all legal dramas, and everything about it is great.

Dave Best TV 2017 PART 2

#7 Game of Thrones
I never put GoT on my "best" lists because it just seems so cliche. I list it in the "honorable mentions" and let it go. But this season it was really hard to do that, despite the fact that it was a mere seven episodes. Each of those seven episodes was packed to the brim with all the things that makes it such a great show (sometimes over-packed and plague with logistical problems because of it), and I just couldn't fail to give it due props in 2017. The season opened strong (Arya Stark brilliantly eliminating the entire House of Frey) and ended strong (holy shit... how do you stop an undead dragon?) and everything in-between was gravy.

#8 The Orville
Yes, it's a surprisingly brazen rip-off of Star Trek. Yes, it's a weird hybrid of sci-fi drama and comedy that's bizarrely serious one minute with a comedy injection appearing out of nowhere the next. Yes, the critics seem to hate it for the reasons I just mentioned. But... I like it anyway. And I liked it more and more as the season progressed. They seemed intent on giving every character their due, and the result was a moving target that never failed to keep me entertained (even as I found myself trying to pick out which episode of The Next Generation was ripped off for any given episode). Ultimately I think the characters, special effects, and even the stories work well. Not great, but well. I was certainly entertained by it all. Maybe they will build something more cohesive and original in the second season that will make my time investment worthwhile. I certainly hope that's the case.

#9 Young Sheldon
The fact that I like this show is oddly puzzling to me. I thought it was a terrible concept... taking one of the most bizarre characters from The Big Bang Theory and building a show around his childhood... but it actually turned out amazing. Partly due to the fact that the stories reach highs that the parent show never do (could never do)... but mostly due to the casting. Yes, Iain Armitage as young Sheldon Cooper is perfect. But it's Laurie Metcalf's daughter Zoe Perry playing the character of Sheldon's mom that her mom originated that's just out-of-body-experience-level genius. She's flawless. Zoe takes everything her mother built into the character and then skews it younger in surprising ways that make the character her own. Then... then... they got Annie Potts to play Sheldon's meemaw. This is casting brilliance that defies all rational thought! If they can keep doing what they're doing and build such fascinating stories around Sheldon like they have been, this is one show that would be fantastic to take through Sheldon's high school years. He's just bound to get more interesting as he gets closer to the character he'll eventually become.

#10 Stranger Things
I was late to the party with the first season of Stranger Things. I was not going to make that mistake twice. The Duffer Brothers have created a love-letter to 80's pop culture with a show that could sit right next to films from that period, and I wanted more. The second season did not disappoint. Yeah, it didn't evoke the surprise and wonder that the first season did... how could it?... but it gave us everything we could want for a follow-up. But it takes a while to get there. It starts slow. Really slow. As in so slow that the first three episodes could have easily been combined into fifteen minutes kinda slow. But then it gives us more of the same in slightly new ways and you can't help but be swept away by the spectacle of it all. Some characters could have used a bit more work (I'm looking at you, Eleven) but I was ultimately satisfied with what we got.

#11 One Day at a Time
Color me surprised. Color me shocked. I would have never... not in my wildest imagination... thought that a rehash of a 70's sitcom I hated would end up being one of the best things to cross my television this year. And yet, here we are. Netflix has developed a fantastic Norman Lear 70's comedy for 2017 by adding a Cuban-American twist and piles of timely social relevance. Plus Rita Moreno. It's so good that I didn't find myself screaming at the stupid laugh track, because that was just part of the show's throwback charm. I'm not sure how a second season would go... it seems like an opportunity to screw up something really good... but I'm really looking forward to finding out how it goes when Netflix drops thirteen more episodes next month (as revealed by a faithful spoof of the original show's opening credits earlier this month)...

#12 The Defenders
This should have been... could have been... at the top of the pile. It's what we've all been waiting for and everything the Netflix Marvel shows have been leading up to. And then? They dropped the ball. Despite somehow snagging Sigourney Weaver in a prime villain role. Part of the problem comes from building too much of the show around Danny Rand / Iron Fist, a character I love from the comics which has been a serious misstep when hitting the small screen at Netflix... but most of it has to do with the fact that they never really took advantage of everything Marvel has in their vast toybox of people, places, and things to craft something truly worthy of everything that lead us to this point. It was just so "meh." Lord only knows we don't need yet another alien invasion plot, but even that would have been preferable to a pedestrian story like this with only a few slugfests tossed in to liven things up. Fortunately (most of) the characters make it worth watching and it had some fun moments. But please, for the love of Pete, let them come up with something better for The Defenders 2.

HONORABLE MENTIONS...

  • Great News
  • Big Little Lies
  • Dear White People
  • Mindhunter
  • Will & Grace
  • Better Call Saul
  • The Flash
  • Supergirl
  • The Punisher
  • Insecure
  • The Leftovers
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Big Mouth
  • Rick and Morty
  • The Americans
  • American Gods
  • Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father
  • Silicon Valley

THE WORST...

  • Death Note. Well, they got Willem DaFoe to voice Ryuk, I guess that's something. While I guess this is technically more of a movie than a television series, I'm putting it here because it never felt much like a movie. And that was the problem. It should have been a TV show where they could create the dark story that made the original manga so compelling. Which is to say it shouldn't have had a bland, whitewashed cast and set the story in Seattle. But even setting that aside, this was such a lazy effort that never seems to strive for "average" let alone greatness.
  • Twin Peaks: The Return. I wasted half my life waiting for this? David Lynch and Mark Frost have gone full-on arthouse, completely abandoning the perfect melding of the bizarre with the familiar that made the original series one of the most original things to appear anywhere in any media. Instead they went with episode after episode of bizarre meandering crap that was senseless and boring. We don't get the return of Agent Cooper, we get Kyle McLaughlin stumbling around as "Dougie" doing absolutely nothing for hours? No thanks. The biggest television disappointment in the history of television.
  • The Inhumans. It's hard to think of how Marvel could have done a worse job of bringing this show to television. It was so bad. First of all, they took the Odo route with Medusa. Just like Odo was the shape-changing alien who rarely changed shape on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Medusa was the sentient hair-wielding mutagenic marvel that had no hair. Yeah, it was a budget decision, but it was a horrendously bad one. Even considering Medusa's hair-effects (for the brief moment she had hair) were pretty lame. Everything else was just painfully mediocre. The set design was mediocre. The special effects were mediocre. The characters were written mediocre. The story was mediocre. There was zero effort to put the time, money, and talent into making this worth watching so why did they even bother?
  • Iron Fist. After a surprisingly brilliant run of Netflix Marvel shows that began with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, Netflix took a serious shit all over The Immortal Iron Fist by casting the wrong actor and crafting a story around him that was just plain bad. It's not that Finn Jones is a terrible actor... he's not. But he was wrong for this role and made the inexplicable choice to make Danny Rand sound like Keanu Reeves... which would not be a bad thing, except it's Keanu Reeves from Bill & Ted. They had an opportunity here to do something truly new with the character that would honor the source material. They did none of that. In fact they did the opposite of that. They took tired old tropes, saddled them to a tire old story, and made Danny Rand a boring shadow of what he could have been.
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Audio17

Posted on Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Dave!I have a select few friends who just get me, musically. They are always sending me tips about great new music they know I'll freak out over, and I could not be more blessed. This year one of those friends left us, and it's been very hard for me to enjoy the many, many bands and songs we enjoyed together because it's impossible to separate him from the music. And yet... in so many ways he is still with me because the music we loved is still here. Love and miss you Howard.

Below are my favorite albums of 2017.

THE TWELVE BEST...

#1 About U by MUNA
I can't remember how I discovered MUNA, but I do remember rushing to iTunes to purchase their album before I had even finished the first track I ever heard (the achingly beautiful Winterbreak which is my favorite song of 2017) (UPDATE: It was Aaron, of course). About U turned out to be one of those rare albums where I love every single song and was aching for more once I got to the end. If you heard of them, it was probably with the catchy I Know a Place which got some traction in early 2017. I'd list my other favorite tracks, but it's all of them, so I'll just post some YouTube videos and shut up now.

   
   
   

   
#2 What if Nothing by Walk the Moon
There was criticism laid at the feet of Walk the Moon for becoming pop sellouts with their latest album. Well, as somebody who lives for pop music, that just made me love them even more. What's so puzzling is that there are songs like Headphones that are hardly bubblegum pop anthems, so I'm not quite getting the hate. Regardless, there's a lot here to love for fans new and old... including their first single and my favorite track, One Foot which is catchy in a way that never quite leaves your head. And then there's the haunting Surrender which proves the band can craft a haunting love song for the ages.

   

   
#3 Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers
If you like The Killers, this album is more of the same. For many bands, that would be a criticism, but it's all I want from a new album from this band. Lead by the sublimely beautiful Some Kind of Love, it's just track after track of The Killers doing what they do.

   

   
#4 Silent Science by B•R•A•U•N
The dreamy vocals of Mackintosh Braun have made them one of my favorite bands. So when one-half of the duo drops a solo album, I take notice. Turns out that Ben Braun can churn out a beautiful album all on his own, feeling very much like an extension of his band. Beautiful dreamy pop from beginning to end.

   
#5 The Punishment of Luxury by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Say what you like about OMD, but they are one of the most consistent pop bands in my arsenal of 80's favorites. Unlike too many others (I'm looking at you Depeche Mode) who tried to change what made them great, then stagnated in a place that nobody wanted, McCluskey and Humphreys (with few exceptions) stick to what their fans want to hear. And that'e exactly what you'll find in The Punishment of Luxury. Yes, there's a few (ahem) "artistic diversions," but the rest is synth pop magic.

   

   
#6 Beautiful Trauma by P!nk
P!nk lives and dies by her live performances, and all I really want from a new album are tracks that will work perfectly when she tours. And here's an entire album filled with songs that she's sure to absolutely kill live. The title track is all you could want from new P!nk, but she didn't stop there. Entirely too much material for great videos like these...

   

   
#7 Evolve by Imagine Dragons
While I'm not exactly sue I would call this album an "evolution" for the band, it is a darn good album. Perhaps less dark than previous efforts, there's enough here to ensure great sing-along material for their amazing live shows. If you're a fan of Imagine Dragons, Evolve won't disappoint.

   

   
#8 A Moment Apart by ODESZA
It's tough to put a pin in what it is I like about ODESZA. They churn out some really good elctro-pop beats, but a lot of bands do that. I think what puts them on another level is that they know just what to do with those beats, pairing them with artists who accompany them so beautifully. Back in 2014 they wowed me with the beautifully-constructed All We Need... and their third album elevates that kind of intricate future sound sensibility to even loftier heights. It's an album that was played on repeat for a good chunk of my Fall music rotation, and doesn't diminish as time goes on.

   

   
#9 Zombies on Broadway by Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness
After the hiatus/breakup(?) of Something Corporate, Andrew McMahon went on to form Jack's Mannequin. After the hiatus/breakup(?) of that band, he had some solo stuff... then started releasing music as "Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness" and this is his second album with that "band." I have a tough time getting into it as easily as the first, but it's still a beautiful effort. The video for So Close is probably my favorite video of 2017, and I didn't see it until I was visiting the Hard Rock Cafe in Ushuaia, Argentina!

   
#10 More Life by Drake
While I loved Drake when he debuted, his subsequent albums felt like an investment of diminishing returns. And now we get More Life which is, in my mind, the best album of his entire career. None of it panders to the pop charts explicitly, but he has a pop sensibility imbued in some of the tracks that's impossible to deny once married to the flawless vocals that make Drake be Drake. While Kendrick Lamar was getting all the accolades in 2017 for DAMN. (and rightfully so, the track DNA is everything you could want in a rap track), this was where my focus was. I've listened to the song Passionfruit entirely too many times this year.

   
#11 Concrete and Gold by The Foo Fighters
Gotta hand it to Dave Grohl, with each new Foo Fighters album, he seems intent on reviving classic rock anthems from yesteryear. As he abandons the pop-rock beginnings of the band in favor of metal-tinged hard rock, I can never decide if I like his band more or less. Regardless, I listened to Concrete and Gold quite a lot over the Summer of 2017.

   
#12 Pop 2/Number One Angel by Charli XCX
And now, at the closing of the year, we get Charli XCX going full-on 80's synth pop in an album that would make Missing Persons proud... Pop 2. An effort I enjoyed so much that it made me take another look at her full release from earlier in the year, Number One Angel. While not exactly groundbreaking, it's a darn good pop album with catchy tracks that I found myself listening to on repeat.

   
HONORABLE MENTION...
We Could Be Beautiful (EP) by Wrabel
This year, thanks to Aaron, I got to see Wrabel in concert which was, as expected, amazing. He has become one of my absolute favorite musical artists, and I'm dying for a complete album of music that I can immerse myself in. But all he seems to do is tease us with EPs and singles. My favorite song of 2016, 11 Blocks can be found on We Could Be Beautiful with four other fantastic tracks. We also got a beautiful and important single The Village in 2017, but still no album. Here's hoping 2018 is the year.

   
HONORABLE MENTION...
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
I had thought that James Murphy had called it quits years ago, but apparently the demise of LCD Soundsystem was temporary. While I didn't fall in love with every track on this album, the pure nostalgia of half the songs here were enough to keep me listening. First among them was oh baby, which is so painfully 80's throwback as to feel like a lost track from an abandoned burned down disco...

   
HONORABLE MENTION...
Wall of Goth (EP) by Rey Pila
Mexican pop rock band Rey Pila may not have the most imaginative lyrics, but their beats are pure 80's joy. This four-song EP is more of the same, and a welcome addition to their discography.

   
HONORABLE MENTION...
Younger Now by Miley Cyrus
It's no secret that I've loved Miley since her Hanna Montana days and never stopped... even when she went nuts. I just love her voice. So when I got my hands on Younger Now, I found myself listening to it... a lot. Poppy with some country elements (and a duet with Dolly Parton!), so what's not to like? I dunno. It just didn't last for me. Despite liking it well enough over the Summer, I rarely find myself listening to it now.

   
SONG OF NOTE...
I dearly wish that Jai Wolf would set aside some time for a proper album but, alas, he seems content to keep dropping beautiful tracks on us with no album in sight. This year we got Starlight which only serves to make me want a full album even more. My favorite version of the song is the "Goldroom Remix" which is slower, more purposeful, and ever so dreamy and beautiful.

   
SONG OF NOTE...
I may not have cared for the album much, but I sure liked the single from Bleachers titled Don't Take the Money...

   
SONG OF NOTE...
I may not have cared for the album much, but I sure liked the single (and the amazing video) from Katy Perry titled Chained to the Rhythm...

   
REGRETFULLY LOST ME...
The Valley by Betty Who
Betty Who's EP and debut album was on continuous repeat for months after I found it. To say I was anticipating her return with The Valley is a huge understatement. It all began in Summer 2016 with the amazing I Love You Always Forever cover that had me chomping at the bit. Then I was underwhelmed with the next single, Human Touch, but remained hopeful. The album finally arrived this year (on my birthday, of all days) and I just could not get into it. The best tracks have these weird interludes that completely disrupt the flow of the song and I can't wrap my head around why Betty and her producers felt a need to inject them where they weren't needed. Some Kind of Wonderful? Wonderful. Until there's this misguided plunging rap interlude. Mama Say? Fantastic. Until some heavy breathing is dropped into the song from nowhere for no reason. It goes on and on. It's as if she felt she had to "be different" by crafting these weird hodgepodge tracks, when I Love You Always Forever illustrates so flawlessly why that's just not the case. Oh well.

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Dave17

Posted on Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Dave!For those who only read one of my posts each year... or anybody wanting a recap of the past year here at Blogography... this post is for you! As customary, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.

2017 was far from ideal. And yet... compared to the bucket of never-ending suck that was 2016, it was a vast improvement. So I can't really complain.


JANUARY

Said goodbye to President Obama, a president that I never learned to truly appreciate until the total disaster that's now occupying The White House moved in...

President Obama Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza


   
FEBRUARY

Took my cats to the vet for the first time, something I am definitely not looking forward to doing again in the New Year...

Jenny Hides

Jenny Hides

Jenny Exam


   
MARCH

Went to Disneyland for work, then ranked my all-time favorite Disney attractions.

Cali Weather

   
• Yesterday I listed my favorite albums of 2017. Last March I listed my all-time most hated songs that everybody else seems to love.

   
• Flew to San Francisco to see one of my favorite new musical artists, Wrabel, with my (literal) rockstar friend Aaron.

   
• Headed to Las Vegas, where I finally ziplined down Fremont Street, among other things.


   
APRIL

• Said goodbye to Lil' Spicey...

Lil' Spicey's Last Press Conference

   
Built a built-in desk... for my cats, apparently.


   
MAY

• Flew to Denver to celebrate my good friend Howard's 50th birthday with the Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2!

Baby Groot


   
JUNE

• Built new built-ins for my bedroom closet, which turned out amazing...

Dave's Home-Built Closet Organizer!

   
• Had one of the biggest scares of my life during The Great Jake Escape...

   
Back to Vegas again (for work this time).


   
JULY

Said goodbye to my long-time blogging friend, Anissa.

   
Welcomed Carl the RoboVac to my family...

Eufy RoboVac 11 vs. Jake!

   
Flew to Maine for blueberries (and for work).


   
AUGUST

Said a painful goodbye to my good friend and long-time blogging buddy, Howard.

It's Howard!

   
• Lived through Raccoonageddon.

   
Live-blogged my photographing the eclipse (with my cats).

Total Eclipse Uneclipsed Sun Shot!

   
Read The Nashville Statement so you don’t have to.


   
SEPTEMBER

Lived through another round of wildfires in my neck of the woods.

Smokey Drive Home

   
Built a tunnel for a bird to escape my home before my cats could murder it...

   

   
OCTOBER

• Wrote "Second Amendments and Horse Shit" which surprised some people, I'm sure.

   
• Had some extra money that came my way and wrote about what I did with it... which included getting some old negatives scanned...

Lil' Dave in his fire truck

   
Added Joy the Mopping Robot to Carl the RoboVac and my growing family.

Jenny Eyes Joy Suspiciously!

   
Got my cats into the Halloween spirit...

Skeleton Cats


   
NOVEMBER

Had a colonoscopy... and posted photos of my beautiful colon (you're welcome!).

   
• Flew to Maine and finally visited Acadia National Park...

Bass Harbor Head Light Visit

   
Visited the Eastern-Most Point in the USA at West Quoddy Head Light on a bad weather day...

West Quoddy Head Light Lighthouse

   
• Was first in the USA to see the sun rise at Cadillac Mountain...

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia


   
DECEMBER

• Flew to Buenos Aires and visited Evita at Recoleta Cemetery...

Recoleta Cemetery View

   
• Took in the view at The End of the World...

End of the Road at the End of the World

   
Headed out across The Drake Passage in some of the roughest seas on earth...

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

   
• Fulfilled a life-long dream when I finally set foot on Antarctica for the first time...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
Photographed Antarctica icebergs at "night"...

Glacier Icebergs

   
Explored the lives of penguins...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

   
• Had one of the most amazing days of my life when I stepped foot on the seventh continent...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

   
Got up-close-and-personal with some whales...

   
More penguin photography at Half Moon Island in Antarctica...

Half Moon Island Antarctica

   
• Used Apple's new "iPhone Update Plan" so I could buy an iPhone X and post my thoughts on the astoundingly expensive thing.


   
And there you have it, the year that was the major events in my 2017.

Well, the ones I shared on my blog, anyway.

Thanks once again to my cats, family, and friends for making life bearable through the not-so-great times. Though, I have to say, closing out the year with my bucket-list trip to Antarctica certainly had it ending on a high note.

Here's to a good 2018, everybody.

   

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