Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wind and Hail and Chaos

Quite a vicious little storm we had last night in Omaha. When the tornado sirens went off just after 5 pm, the sky looked perfectly fine to me. Within two minutes, I saw the dark cloud on the horizon. Two minutes later, I realized how incredibly fast that dark cloud was moving. Just as I decided to close my windows, the insanely powerful wind hit. It blew my window pane out of its tracks just as I put my hands on it. Thankfully, it did not break, and I was able to wedge it back into its tracks and get it shut. After I closed all of the windows, I retreated to the next room to watch from a distance. (I have no storm shelter. The "basement" of my apartment complex is full of windows and glass doors.) Visibility was zero. Then a sustained burst of horizontal hail hit the building like a sandblaster.

Behold my shredded window screen. All those little white blotches are holes. Notice also how it's too dirty to see through. The rain and hail were filthy with windborne dust.

I'm just lucky that the glass didn't break. A friend and former coworker lost three windows and a tree at her house.

As suddenly as it had begun, the storm was over, and everything was perfectly peaceful. The total duration was perhaps less than ten minutes. From what I've heard on the news and talking to people on the phone, the damage is very widespread. All of Omaha, and presumably any other town hit by this storm, is an absolute mess.

I lost power during the storm, but regained it about 4:15 this morning. OPPD obviously worked all night. I heard chainsaws around 1:00 am, which I assumed was them chopping up the trees that had fallen on power lines. I hear that quite a lot of homes in Omaha are still without power this morning. So I got lucky again.

So here are a few pictures, all within a block of my home.

It looks like a lovely lake, but this is Turner Street and the park.

The water levels were down when I took my walk around the neighborhood, but Dewey Street had obviously been flooded enough to wash this hunk of asphalt over the curb and onto the grass.

Here are some downed lines.

The Lutheran church next door lost a tree.

So did the folks across the street.

Look at the way this metal signpost was twisted, then bent flat against the ground.

Even more than an hour after the storm had passed, the hailstones were still piled thick on the ground.

It was quite an event. The timing of the storm was especially bad, as so many people were just getting off work. Also, great crowds of people were out in the open for the Summer Arts Festival, the concert at Memorial Park, and Shakespeare on the Green. I've heard the Summer Arts Festival was utterly destroyed, and that people who were at Memorial Park and the Green were badly bruised from the hail.

What a mess.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Lost World

Last night I watched The Lost World, the silent movie masterpiece. (2001 DVD by Image Entertainment, from the Blackhawk Films Collection.) This particular edition was assembled from pieces of eight different surviving prints of the movie, and it was about half an hour longer than any version I'd seen before. It's still not the complete film as it appeared in theaters in 1925, but it's probably the closest restoration possible. They did a fine job of repairing the film, minimizing scratches, shakes, and other damage; it does not seem cobbled together at all. The picture quality is much, much nicer than I'm accustomed to seeing in a 1920s vintage film.

For being 83 years old, the movie stands up surprisingly well. I was really struck by the high quality of the stop-motion animation used for the dinosaurs. I've seen many films from the 1950s and '60s that fall far short of these effects. They even went to the trouble of animating the dinosaurs' breathing, a touch of detail I've rarely seen with stop-motion effects. The dinosaurs' bellies swell and shrink with each breath in a way that makes them seem almost real. Clear your mind of all the fancy CGI effects you've seen and imagine sitting in a dark theater in the Roaring Twenties. The experience must have been absolutely chilling.

The movie was groundbreaking. There are echoes of this film in almost every monster movie and adventure flick that came after, from King Kong to Indiana Jones. (When I saw the little graphic of the boat sliding across the ocean, all I could think of was Indy's airplane trailing a line on the map.)

One of the neat effects was the use of color. Yes, it's a black and white film, but some scenes were tinted for effect. So scenes inside well-lit buildings were in sepia, while night scenes were in blue, jungle scenes in green, and a sunrise in red. This was very effective in setting the mood.

The human story is kind of bland, but let's be real--we're watching the movie for the dinosaurs. The beasts represent the best paleontological knowledge of the time. Sadly, much of it is quite antiquated. The dinos are taildraggers, with the bipedal ones standing upright like meerkats. And there's the brontosaurus. Egads! Well, sure, we know now that the so-called brontosaurus was really the skeleton of an apatosaurus with the skull of a camarasaurus slapped on, but back then, brontos were in! And these were no slow, lumbering beasts. No! These fast and agile dinos could hold their own in Jurassic Park.

As for the humans, we've got the nerd boy who proves himself and becomes a manly man; the big game hunter, a decent guy who gets kind of shafted in the end; the crazy scientist with wild hair, wild beard, and wild eyes; the forgettable, bespectacled entomologist; and an incredibly annoying waif-like heroine. She obviously has some courage, because she goes on this expedition, wears pants, climbs mountains, and so on, but she looks clinically depressed all the time, pursing those tiny rosebud lips and looking up sadly with those enormous doe-like eyes. I'm not sure why the hero (nerd boy) falls in love with her, unless he is some kind of vampire that feeds off sorrow and misery. And back at base camp, we've got a generic white guy and his bumbling companion, a painful racial stereotype character in blackface. This offensive caricature is my main complaint against the movie.

Still, from a historical perspective, this is an incredible film. Well worth an hour and a half of your time.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mountain Dew SuperNova

And the third and final of the new Mountain Dew flavors is SuperNova. It's sort of a purplish pink. Magenta if you will. Very appealing.

The label describes it as "Dew with a blast of strawberry melon flavor and ginsing." That's the common thread of all three sodas. As much as the Mountain Dew label itself, ginsing binds them all together.

The smell is . . . actually not that different from the smell of Voltage. On second whiff, I can pick up more on the strawberry.

Hmm. The taste is nice. As they say, strawberry melon. My impression is watermelon, as opposed to cantaloupe, muskmelon, or honeydew. The strawberry and watermelon flavors balance perfectly--neither overwhelms the other. Very nice, but something's missing. Where's the citrus zing? Isn't that required for Mountain Dew? Not that it doesn't have a bit of zing, just not as much as Voltage or Revolution.

It is delicious, though. I like it. It is worthy.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mountain Dew Voltage

New blue Dew number two: Mountain Dew Voltage. Voltage is a slightly different shade of blue than Revolution, a little bit darker, tending toward indigo. If Revolution is the shade of twilight just after the last sliver of sun has vanished over the horizon, Voltage is the sky about a half hour later. Still not really dark, just not as light. It's actually quite beautiful.

The label describes it as, "charged with raspberry citrus flavor and ginsing." Yep, ginsing again.

And I've never understood how blue came to be the color associated with raspberry flavor. All the raspberries I've ever seen have been red. I hear tell that there are black raspberries and gold raspberries, but I've never heard of a genuine, bona fide blue raspberry plant. Maybe someone thought there was too much confusion with cherry and strawberry also being red. Or maybe someone just wanted to make a blue soda and couldn't find a real "blue" flavor and picked raspberry randomly. I have no idea what the first "blue raspberry" pop or candy was, but it's taken root throughout all the junk food industries.

Anyway, on to the drink.

As I open the bottle, the smell is unmistakably raspberry, with a zing that tickles my nose before I even take a sip.

Hmm. Unlike Revolution, where the berry flavor dominated, in Voltage, the berry flavor seems secondary. The citrus taste overwhelms it. Rather than "raspberry citrus" I would probably call this "grapefruity with a hint of raspberry." This is not to say I don't like it. Actually, I think I prefer it to Revolution. I might even prefer it to Code Red, my longstanding favorite Mountain Dew.

Very nice.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mountain Dew Revolution

On my last visit to the grocery store, I discovered that Mountain Dew has released three new flavors: Revolution, Voltage, and Supernova. Apparently, ordinary Dew, Code Red, LiveWire, Baja Blast, Game Fuel, and whichever other flavors I've forgotten just aren't enough.

Well, they got me hook, line, and sinker. Sucker that I am for new flavors of anything, I bought one bottle of each. I'll review them separately, because I can't drink that much Dew at once. Back in college, yeah, I would wash down my footlong jalapeno sandwich with six cans of Mountain Dew, but these days, I can't eat or drink like that.

I'll start with Revolution. It's a dusky blue in color, like a favorite pair of worn-out jeans. The label describes the flavor thusly: "Infused with wild berry fruit flavor and ginseng." What doesn't have ginseng these days? It's so everywhere.

As I open the bottle, the smell very much reminds me of the blue Gatorade Frost. In fact, if I close my eyes, I imagine a bottle of Gatorade in front of me. Possibly the color of Revolution contributes to this illusion, although it's not exactly the same shade of blue. (The Gatorade Frost being a bright electric blue, while Revolution is darker, like the pale leading edge of twilight.)

Now to taste it . . .

I was afraid it would taste just like Gatorade Frost, but I am pleased to report that it does not. It has a sort of generic berry flavor, not identifiably blue-, black-, or raspberry, but perhaps some mix of all three. I think I taste blueberry, but that could well be a mind trick as my brain links together the beverage's blue color and the "wild berry fruit flavor" description. What fruit? I would guess some sort of citrus, as that is the Dew hallmark. I do feel a citrus zing on my tongue, but I can't pin down lemon or lime as a recognizable flavor.

No, wait. There it is, in the aftertaste. It reminds me of a Japanese Ramune soda. You know the ones with the marble in the bottle? If you're not familiar with them, the marble is stuck tight just under the lip of the bottle, and you have to push it down to open the soda. No matter how careful you are, pop always sprays everywhere, which is why I usually open my Ramune in the parking lot of the Japanese grocery store, before I get in my car. My nickname for Ramune is "Explodapop."

Anyway, the original Ramune has a lemon-lime flavor. Not like real lemon and lime, but like those little lemon-sour pellet candies that come in the packages with the cool Bandai toys. And that same fakey lemon-lime flavor is the last taste to linger on my tongue after a sip of Revolution. It really isn't the standard Dew citrus flavor at all, and the similarity to the Japanese candy makes me feel disappointed that my bottle of Revolution didn't come with a Godzilla finger puppet or some miniature plastic sushi. At the very least, there ought to be a marble in the bottle. I suppose I could put a marble in the bottle, but it wouldn't be the same.

That said, I like Mountain Dew Revolution. I still like Code Red better, but Revolution isn't bad at all. It's certainly a step above LiveWire or Game Fuel. At least I know that if I have an urge for "Romulan Ale" (for which any clear blue drink will suffice), I now have an alternative that's better tasting than Gatorade Frost or that vile Goody Cream Soda.