Monthly Archives: April 2014

Travelogue: Grand Cayman

Things to know about Grand Cayman: It is expensive.  That’s what happens when everything needs to be imported.  Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere except for transportation.  Almost everyone accepts both U.S. dollars and C.I. dollars, but expect change in C.I. dollars.  The exchange rate for such transactions is $1.25 USD for $1.00 CID regardless of the current currency fluctuations.  Get to know the public transportation system.  It is awesome and only costs $2.00 CID or $2.50 USD.  Use lots of sunscreen.

Social issues on Grand Cayman: If you look, you will notice a strange dynamic in Grand Cayman where you have a bunch of locals who are generally black and there full time and a bunch of long term visitors from other British protectorates who may stay for years.  The problem is that the latter have a much easier time getting the good jobs at the posher resorts and tour companies.  There is lots to be said about the inherent racism in this and it would be very interesting to explore why this dynamic exists there, but I don’t have nearly the expertise to comment on it.  It is something I believe you should be aware of, though.

Sunday, April 20th

Our flight from Chicago to Grand Cayman is uneventful.  It takes under four hours to get there.  North/south travel times are so skewed in my mind.  You can get to Grand Cayman from Chicago faster than you can get to San Francisco.  Crazy.

We went the AirBnB route and rented a really nice condo just across the street from Seven Mile Beach.  It’s a three bedroom/three bathroom condo split among three levels.  There were five of us staying there and all were quite comfortable.  It was a perfectly enjoyable place to stay and my only complaints would be there weren’t enough hangers or towel hooks.  Other than that, I highly recommend it.

It being somewhat late by the time we arrived, we met up with the rest of the wedding group (more on that later) for dinner at Decker’s (that’s the Trip Advisor page because Google says the restaurant’s main page may have been hacked).  The meal was excellent and I highly recommend dining there.  From there, the ladies all retired for the evening and the gents (and I use that term loosely) headed to the Grand Cayman Beach Suits bar for some drinks.  They were expensive and mediocre.

Monday, April 21st

Time to hit the beach!  Seven Mile Beach is quite beautiful. It is westward facing so you can see some really nice sunsets from it.  It is also quite calm for the ocean.  I assume that it’s because of its westward facing into the Gulf of Mexico, but I could be wrong.  The beach itself stretches for a little over five miles, not the seven advertised in the name.  All along the eastern edge of the beach are resorts and even some private homes.  It is a very enjoyable walk along the beach as long as you wear protection from the Sun.  And speaking of the Sun, for this trip to the beach, I learned exactly which portions of my back I can not reach myself.  As my friend said, my sunburn looked like someone has ripped wings off from my back.  He also burned pretty much everywhere despite very liberal applications of sunscreen.  I used to mock him for claiming that sunscreen doesn’t work for him.  I shall mock him no longer.  For that…

Being on an island, we figured that hitting a sushi restaurant is a must.  We went to Yoshi Sushi which came highly recommended and is considered the sushi place to go to on Grand Cayman.  It was disappointingly mediocre.  For me, it was the rice that was the biggest mark against Yoshi.  It was kind of blah.  Perhaps it’s because of the water they use which comes from a desalinization plant?  I guess we’re a little spoiled coming from Chicago which has a plethora of excellent sushi restaurants.

After sushi, we stopped at a bar next door called Legendz, which I found out later is owned by the same people as Yoshi and Eat’s Cafe next door (which I heard is wonderful).  The drinks were fine but the service wasn’t terribly good even though the bar was mostly empty.

Tuesday, April 22nd

We head out to Georgetown to explore the city.  The day is oppressively hot with high humidity and very little cloud cover or breeze and one of us is badly burned.  We explore the city for a while and find it to be mostly a tourist trap with lots of jewelry and knick-knack stores.  What else can you expect from a major cruise ship stop, I guess?

We stopped at a really nice oceanfront bar right behind the Casanova restaurant but whose name I can not recall.  We spent hours drinking wildly inconsistent piña coladas (ranging from excellent to blah) and staring out to sea.  I also had this excellent tuna tartar appetizer.  There was a snorkeling spot right off the bar and a few of our friends who were smart enough to bring their swimwear went snorkeling there and report it to be excellent.

The evening proved to be one of the highlights of the trip.  We went on a Bio Bay Tour.  This is one of those experiences that is very difficult to describe.  There is a bay on Grand Cayman where the water is bathwater warm.  It is inhabited by billions of bio-luminescent phytoplankton.  That is, plankton that can cast light.  We took a pontoon boat across the North Sound to the eastern shore where the bay is located.  We arrived shortly after sunset, but the light still lingered in the sky so we waited for darkness while our tour guide, Michael, explained what we were going to see.  Finally, darkness sets in and we enter the water, snorkel masks in tow.  Our disturbances in the water cause the phytoplankton to light up like eerily glowing tiny fireflies.  We spend the next half hour or so pretending to cast fireballs and snapping our fingers underwater and watching the hairs on our arms light up with disturbed life.  If you lay very still and look down into the water, it looks like you are staring down into a brilliantly clear night sky filled with twinkling stars. And speaking of stars, we were treated to a mostly clear sky as we crossed back across the sound.  The darkness allowed us to see more stars than most of us have seen in a long time.  It is a shame that we live in the light polluted world that we do because the night sky is magnificent and awe inspiring when viewed in its full glory.

Our other tour guide, Angie, was kind enough to drop us all off at Peppers Smokehouse where she joined us for some drinks while we ate dinner and, of course, drank.  The food at Peppers was pretty good.  I had whatever fish of the day they were serving and quite enjoyed it.  They also have a really good selection of mixed drinks, all of which were quite tasty. Shortly after dinner, we were joined by Angie’s roommate, who happened to be at the bar when we arrived.  We all spent the next hour or so in pleasant conversation as they both regaled us with their “how I came to be on the island” stories.  I am endlessly fascinated by stories like that and am disappointed that I didn’t hear more about them or meet many other island transplants so I could hear their stories as well.  Angie was also kind enough to offer us a ride back to our condo, but some stupid sort of politeness and not wanting to be an imposition made us say no.  Ray, when two beautiful women offer you a ride home, you say YES!

Wednesday, April 23rd

Finally, some snorkeling!  A few of us head up to Cemetery Beach, so named shockingly enough because there’s a cemetery right there, for what we’re told is the best snorkeling on the island.  Much of the coral appears to be dead and there is very little plant life, but the variety of fish is decent enough to make the snorkeling enjoyable.  The good stuff is quite a bit always from shore so I’d recommend that you be an average swimmer with fins to try it.  Every time I go snorkeling for the first time on a trip, I am reminded of how much I enjoy snorkeling.  There’s just something about the rhythmic breathing and the effortlessness of movement that it brings that I find so soothing.  We also met this really nice couple from Louisiana who were on shore leave from a cruise for the day.  They got some great underwater photography shots that they were kind enough to share, including some awesome shots of a spotted eagle ray, which sadly I did not see myself.

I think today is the day that I was able to take a nap.  If you do not know me, you do not know how momentous an event this truly is.  I do not nap.  It is well that I did, too, because the main event of the trip is coming up.  I am, of course, talking about dinner.  Dinner was at the absolutely amazing Blue in the Ritz-Carlton which deserves its own blog entry.

Thursday, April 24th

Grand Cayman has only one distillery and that’s the Cayman Spirits Company.  Today, we took a tour of their distillery.  The tour was quite fascinating and our tour guide was an unbelievable character.  The Cayman Spirits Company is famous for their Seven Fathoms Rum which they age by putting it into barrels and suspending the barrels in seven fathoms of water at secret locations in the surrounding ocean.  Pretty cool, huh?  Seven Fathoms Rum is available at Binny’s and I strongly suggest that you check it out if you like rum.  But of course, the highlight of a distillery tour is the tasting.  Oh, and taste I did!  They have a line of Governor’s Reserve rums that are absolutely to die for.  I tried the following: banana, coconut, white, dark, spiced.  So yummy!  Sadly, they are not yet available in the U.S., but they hope to change that soon.  They’ve also started producing a vodka which I found very drinkable despite not being much of a straight vodka fan.  The pièce de résistance was their special rum of the month.  For April, it was a Scotch Bonnet infused rum.  As you might guess, it is quite spicy and also very flavorful.  Our guide even mixed some up with Clamato and a little Worcestershire sauce for the most unbelievable Caesar drink you will ever taste.  For March, they made limoncello, and for May they’re making a lime infused rum.  I am now the proud owner of one of those Scotch Bonnet infused rum beauties and the distiller and the guide even signed the bottle for me.

While we were doing the distillery tour, a couple from our group went on an insanely long bike ride all through the west end of the island.  One is a very experienced biker and the other is not and they were able to make it back to our condo where the inexperienced one promptly collapsed from exhaustion.  There was still a few miles of biking left to do to return the bikes so I jumped on one of the bikes to return it  back in Georgetown.  Riding bikes in Grand Cayman is a little harrowing what with them driving on the wrong (left) side of the road and having to navigate traffic circles, but it’s also a very bikeable island once you get used to that.  I am surprised more people don’t bike everywhere there.  If given the opportunity, I certainly would.

Now we’re finally coming to the reason we all came to this island; the wedding!  This evening was only the rehearsal dinner and it was at Michael’s Genuine.  It was a fantastic dinner and the entire wedding group was there.  They served everything family style and there was a delicious red snapper, along with jerk chicken, and beef tenderloin, both of which were good, but the snapper was so much better.  They were served with some decent sides, but the calaloo is what stole the show.  Think of it as a kind of creamed spinach only made with local greens and much tastier.

I decided to try to go for a night swim but became a bit freaked out by the blackness of the ocean and the emptiness of the beach.  So I decided to take a bit of a walk along the beach during which I didn’t run into a soul.  Why aren’t people walking along the beach at night?  It’s beautiful!

Friday, April 25th

The wedding day!  But first, more snorkeling!  This time we head up to Governor’s Beach, so named because of the Governor’s mansion nearby.  This was another highly recommended snorkeling site and I found it to be better than Cemetery Beach.  The coral was slightly more alive, though still disappointingly less than vibrant,  and there was more vegetation and it was a bit closer to shore.  The fauna was more of the same but more plentiful.

Now, finally, the wedding.  The wedding was held on the beach in front of the Grand Cayman Beach Suites where the bride and groom were staying.  It was a simple and mercifully short affair as the weather was humid and hot and threatening rain.  The exchanged vows were personal, heartfelt, and beautiful.  In lieu of exchanging rings, slightly mismatching halves of a pendant were exchanged which I thought was a really nice touch.

The wedding was immediately followed by cocktails and hors d’ oeuvre at the 10 feet away restaurant, Hemingway’s while various wedding pictures were taken.  Then the rain started. We were supposed to have dinner on the upstairs outdoor patio overlooking the beach, but the rain squashed that idea.  Instead, we had dinner in a nice air-conditioned conference room.  Considering how warm it was, this is probably for the best, given there was still dancing to be done, but I think we all lost out a little on a beautiful dinnertime view.  The dinner itself was quite good.  For starters, I had a wonderful butternut squash soup.  My main course was a generously sized, but mediocre tasting tuna steak which came with some excellently prepared asparagus and some wonderfully flavored mashed potatoes.  At least I think there were mashed potatoes, I may have been a liiiiitle drunk by this time.  Desert was a slice of an enjoyable Key Lime pie.

Then came the dancing.  Oh, the dancing.  You have never seen a greater concentration of awkward white guy dancing in your life.  It matters not, for we all had a good time looking like fools.

After working up a good sweat dancing, a group of us decided to go swimming, because what you really want to be doing is swimming in the dark while drunk.  There was a trampoline set up a ways from the shore in front of the resort and we decided to give that a spin.  We quickly discovered it was not terribly conducive to trampolining and served more as a convenient way to lay down and stare at the stars and chat.  I was quickly thrown over the edge for commenting on how we only have one more day in paradise.  Looking up at the stars revealed the stars to be moving quite quickly across the sky.  But stars aren’t supposed to be moving.  Oh, right, it’s just my head that’s spinning.  After a time relaxing on the trampoline, we headed back to shore but not before each of us failed spectacularly at dismounting gracefully from the trampoline.  I performed a wondrous belly flop.

Saturday, April 26th

After a quick swim on the beach, the menfolk and one of the womenfolk head to Luca for lunch.  Our last day there and we finally find a somewhat reasonable eating option.  For $22 CID, you get an appetizer, a main course, and a desert along with a glass of wine.  I had a somewhat blah broccoli soup followed by a pasta dish with more mediocre tuna but in an absolutely scrumptious red sauce of some sort.  Desert was some wonderful profiteroles.

Then it was tour time once again.  This time, it was a catamaran ride to Stingray City followed by a quick trip to the barrier reef that encloses the northern edge of the North Sound.  The tour was by Red Sail Sports and they did a wonderful job.  Stingray City is a small stretch of shallow water located near the northeast corner of the North Sound.  Despite being quite a ways distance from land, the water is only around four feet deep and a beautiful liquid blue.  As the name implies, there are a bunch of stingrays there.  Fear not, these are not the Steve Irwin, stab you a hundred times in the chest stingrays, though they do have the barb on their tail for defense.  They’re pretty harmless as long as you don’t go trampling them.  Our guides would, in fact, catch one and hand it to us to hold and get our picture taken with it.  Another guide was feeding bits of squid to the stingrays and they were swarming around her.  It was pretty cool to watch.  Me?  I was trying to catch a stingray for myself.  It turns out that it’s not so easy.  Despite the fact that they will swim straight towards you, they are quite slick and heavier than they look.  I managed to come close just once before she slipped from my hands.  One of the guides remarked that the stingrays were noticeably antsier than they usually are.  I also saw a remarkably thin two or three foot long fish that I could not recognize but that looked pretty cool.

We departed from Stingray City and headed over to the barrier reef next.  This was the first barrier reef I had been to.  It was low tide so you could see the reef stretch the length of the North Sound as it was actually sticking out of the water.  This is some pretty cool stuff.  There was also a wreck where we went.  Some fool decided it was a good idea to try running his boat over the top of the reef instead of heading for the designated inlet.  It didn’t turn out too well for him.  There was pretty much the same fauna as our previous snorkeling trips, but this reef was much more alive than any of the others and the plant life was abundant.  Exploring the remains of the wrecked ship were fun and looking for the elusive moray eel was exciting even if none of us found her.  The only disappointment was that we were only given a half hour to explore as I could easily have done so for another half hour.  It is probably just as well that I didn’t, though, as I had a few splotches of burn on my back where the sunscreen must have washed off.

For the return trip, they broke out the alcohol and we drank and chatted.  They also attempted to raise the sails of the catamaran to sail us home, but the wind wasn’t cooperating and there is only so much you can do when you have to worry about a bunch of land lubbers running around a swaying boom.  It’s a shame because I don’t often get a chance to see a sailing crew in action up close and personal.  Note to self: learn how to sail.

After a quick shower and a quick mixing of a bottle full of Caesar, we headed to the pool at the Beach Suites to hang out for the last time with the newly married couple at the pool.  We relaxed in the pool and drank the Caesar and ate some leftover wedding cake and bid our adieus before heading to our last dinner on the island.

And where did we go for our final dinner?  Back to Decker’s so we could come full circle.  Decker’s features all you can eat lobster tail every Tuesday and Saturday night, of which we all partook.  Caribbean lobster is kind of meh.  It was fine, but not really worth getting.  There was, however, a hilarious mix-up when one of our party asked for more lobster and said three more each when we thought we were agreeing to one more each.  Needless to say, we were all stuffed to bursting before we were through.

Sunday, April 27th

It’s over!  We have an early flight back to Chicago which gets delayed an hour, but we make pretty good time on the flight home and only arrive a little later than scheduled.  The cab stand at the O’Hare International terminal was being horribly mismanaged and the cabbie we got was kind of a dick.  Yep, we’re back in Chicago.  Back to the daily grind and the everyday worries of life.

It was a good trip.  A week is just about right to spend in Grand Cayman.  I certainly didn’t want to head home afterwards, but another week on an other island would have been welcome.

Foodie Review: Blue by Eric Ripert

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 Food Orgasms  6/5 Hurting Pocketbooks

The highlight of my recent trip to Grand Cayman was without a doubt a trip to Blue located in the Ritz-Carlton.  Everything in Grand Cayman is expensive.  Blue is probably the most expensive of them all.  I was afraid that I was not going to get anyone to go with me when I noticed the prices, but three of my friends were momentarily drunk enough and in full vacation mode and threw caution to the wind and joined me.

We each had the seven course tasting menu with wine parings.  Add on the various pre-dinner and post-dinner freebies, and it was closer to a ten course menu.  No wine parings for the freebies.  So sad.   Calling the meal divine doesn’t do it justice.  Alas, I will never be able to recall the names of the wines, but each paring was a magnificently chosen compliment to each course.

By far, and across the board, we all agreed that the first course, the tuna-foie gras,  was the best.  It was a thinly pounded layer of tuna lightly brushed on the bottom with foie gras and placed on top of a toasted baguette with chives.  It was transcendent.  I could easily have had seven courses of just it and been happy.  Also well worth mentioning were the poached halibut and the striped bass and the mousse that was served as part of the desert course.  It was all quite yum.  That isn’t to say the other courses were bad, but they were only excellent.  They included a crab salad, a lobster dish which, with the wine pairing, tasted better with every bite, and one course I don’t quite remember.  The highlights of the wine were my finally finding a Riesling that I enjoy, a very excellent Merlot, and a Tempranillo that was to die for.

Now that you’ve read this far, I’ll tell you the price.  The seven course meal with wine pairings and one pre-dinner cocktail cost $400 including a 20% tip.  Yeah, I know, ouch, right?  It is three times what I’ve ever paid for a dinner.  The big question is was it worth it?  Yes and no.  No meal is worth that much, but the meal itself was the best I have ever tasted and given the company and the enjoyment we all had, I believe it’s a good once a lifetime experience if you make more money than you should but less than being comfortable throwing down $400 for a meal.

Random Airplane Musing

The world doesn’t come with borders or markings.  Why hasn’t Google Glass come up with an app for that yet?  It seems like you could easily determine borders and roads and rivers with a little GPS magic to determine your altitude and location.  It would then be a simple matter of putting an overlay on the glasses to let you know what’s below you.  You should even be able to identify other planes that pass by and be able to determine their destination and such.  Oh, and clouds!  With Google Glass’ camera, you should be able to look at clouds and it should be able to tell you what kind of cloud you’re looking at.

Get on it Google!  You come up with an app like that and I will buy a Google Glass.

Movie Review: Transcendence

Jean-Paul’s Review: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Interesting subject, but poor execution.

I’m writing this on an airplane so I don’t have the use of IMDB to look up character names.  Oh, the humanity!

You ever have one of those dreams where there were all these separate parts and you know that they are supposed to fit together somehow, but they don’t?  “Transcendence” is kind of like that.  It starts with a terrorist attack by a neo-Luddite group on artificial intelligence labs and a bizarre assassination attempt against Johnny Depp that fails.  But the bullet was loaded with a radioactive isotope so it kills Johnny Depp anyway. But not before his wife and business partner upload his consciousness into a computer.  So far so good except for the needless death by radioactive isotope part.

Johnny Depp and his wife then perform a bunch of crimes and steal a lot of money and build a massive data center in the middle of the desert.  The terrorist group is all like “Oh, we have to stop him!”  Two years pass.  They are the most ineffective effective terrorist group ever.  Meanwhile, Johnny Depp and his wife are creating cyborg people by taking close to dying people and giving them super-human strength via nanobots, of course, with the added ability to network with Johnny Depp who can take control of them at any time.  This, obviously, must be stopped by all means, and the terrorist group is just the people to do it.  Or so says the government anyway.  So the government teams up with the terrorists and puts a stop to the machinations of Johnny Depp.  The end.

I’m not really giving much away.  Everything stated above is either ridiculous plot twist or obvious progression of the story.  If it sounds disjointed, that’s because it is.  The objectives of the terrorists makes no sense.  The objectives of the government makes no sense.  The objectives of Johnny Depp only make sense in retrospect.  The objectives of Johnny Depp are the only ones which are clear, but even those become muddled as the movie plods on.

I’ll give you a good for instance of how muddled things are.  Shortly before Johnny Depp’s transference into AI, the terrorist group kidnaps his business partner because they just know that Johnny Depp is up to something.  How do they know?  Well, because they were able to find out that some of the quantum processor cores from Johnny Depp’s lab were stolen, of course.  As they are interrogating the business partner, they are able to determine the location of Johnny Depp with some internet jujitsu completely without the business partner’s help.  They then continue to hold him prisoner for some reason until he becomes one of them.  WTF?

The whole movie has weird instances like that.  Obviously, from the above, you could guess that this movie is completely skippable.  How it got so many big name actors involved in it, I have no idea. 

It’s Quiet Around Here…A Little Too Quiet

Well, Lindy has been shipped off to my (favorite) aunt’s place and I leave for Grand Cayman tomorrow!  It’s strange being in the house without a cat.  She should be plunked down right in front of my keyboard as I am typing this.  It does give me the opportunity to give the house a good, thorough de-furring. With the weather changing, Lindy has gone from shedding handfuls to shedding barrelfulls.  And by perverse cat logic, she dislikes getting combed more when she’s shedding lots.

I fear my poor aunt doesn’t know what she’s in for.  She’s a cat addict, but swore off getting another cat after her last cat passed.  Lindy is a gateway cat.  To a normal person, Lindy will induce strong cravings for another hit of cat, but to a cat addict, Lindy’s like a shot of heroin.  When I left my aunt in Lindy’s evil clutches, Lindy had already scoped out all of her new domain and rubbed her face on it all.  It will be interesting to see if my aunt’s sanity is still in tact after a week with the fiendish furball.

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Your standard Wes Anderson fare.  If you don’t know what that means, this is a good movie to find out.

You know exactly what you’re getting into when you see a Wes Anderson film.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no exception.  There is whimsy.  Lots and lots of whimsy.  There are eccentric characters by the hotel full.  There is scene after scene of painstakingly designed sets.  And there’s a lot of dialogue dispensed deadpanedly.  Deadpanedly is now a word.

This particular film is pretty straight forward plot wise.  Man runs upscale hotel.  Man loves the old widows that visits the hotel.  One widow dies and leaves him a valuable painting.  Her family fights to keep painting.  Man steals painting.  Man is framed for widow’s murder.  Man goes to jail.  Man escapes from jail.  Man goes to retrieve stolen painting.  Man discovers painting holds a secret.  Man inherits fortune.  I guess I should say it’s straight forward for a Wes Anderson movie.  And that’s just the basics.

I enjoy how Wes Anderson wraps this movie up at the beginning and then unfolds it.  It begins with a woman visiting a monument to a famous writer and then that gets wrapped up into the writer talking about his career and that gets wrapped up into the writer meeting a man who owns the Grand Budapest Hotel and that gets wrapped up into the owner talking about how he came to inherit the hotel and that gets wrapped up into the main plot.  Then, after the main plot is resolved, everything gets unpacked again and the credits roll.  So “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is actually a story within a story within a story within a story.  A recursive function, if you will.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is entertaining throughout.  There was a persistent smile on my face throughout.  The great thing about a Wes Anderson film is that he always gives you something to look at.  Often more than one something at the same time.  It’s like a main course and a desert served together.  This movie also stars every actor that has ever appeared in another Wes Anderson movie.  Part of the fun is wondering when your favorite actor will finally appear.

I wouldn’t say this is Wes Anderson’s best film, but it’s certainly up there.  I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend it to a person who isn’t a fan of Wes Anderson movies, but I’d certainly recommend it as a first entry for anyone who has never been exposed to Wes Anderson’s particular film making style.

Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife, It’s Heartbleed!

Another day, another massive security breach on the Interwebs.  This time it’s a bug in the SSL software that only most of the entire Internet uses to ensure secure transactions.  And it’s only been like this for two years or so.  There is a handy list of the most common websites and whether or not they were affected over at Mashable.  This is a pretty serious bug and you should follow the advice an change your passwords ASAP.

I have developed a very simple quiz for you to determine if your data has at all been compromised.  Just answer these simple questions.  Do you own a device that connects to the internet?  If you answered either yes or no to that question, your data has been compromised and you should take immediate action to remedy this.  I recommend a nice glass of scotch.

Seriously, it’s that bad.  Take that in.  Experian, one of only three of the credit bureaus in the U.S., had 200 million identities stolen.  And not really even stolen, but bought.  No bugs in software, no hacking effort, just some shady dude asking Experian for data and Experian saying, “My you look like a fine upstanding citizen, here you go!” But don’t worry, 200 million is only almost the entire adult population of the country.  So the odds are not 100% that your identity is among them.

So yes, the only real viable solution to our data driven world is to drink a little.  There is good news, though.  Given the enormity of the data that has been stolen and the, thankfully, small number of criminals in the world, there is a very good chance that your stolen data will never actually be used by anyone and it will just end up languishing on a hard drive in Russia for all of eternity.  Horray?

Book Review: The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Jean-Paul’s rating : 2/5 stars

I have a work friend who occasionally recommends a book to me.  These books are invariably bad.  Many times I just ignore his recommendations, but this time the book was on Project Gutenberg so I figured what the heck.  I am happy to report his 100% crappy book recommendation streak is still going strong.  After talking to him, he claimed to like it because it was a difficult read, which it was, and because it had an ending that he wasn’t able to predict.  I pointed out that there wasn’t really anything to predict and his inferences into what occurred were only inferences and never explicitly stated in the book.

I should point out that the actual title of the book is actually “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself:  With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Author”.  This is certainly the longest title for a book I’ve ever read but it’s also fairly appropriate.  The book is split up into three parts.

The first part of the book is a relation of facts as seen by the editor surrounding the life of brothers George and Robert Cowlan.  It quickly relates events from their parents’ marriage and divorce, through their younger years growing up, George with the carefree father and Robert with the strictly Calvinist mother and Reverend who may or may not be Robert’s actual father.  It then describes their young adult years in which Robert torments George by following him around and being a complete douche.  It ends with the apparent murder of George by Robert and his inheritance of all of Roberts lands and his eventual flight from justice.  This part is somewhat interesting, but there are no establishing points to go from.  A lot of the motivations from the first part are fleshed out in the second part, but it doesn’t exactly make for an exciting read when split apart like this.  What you get out of it is that George is the good brother and Robert is the bad brother.

Part two is the actual memoir referred to in the title which belongs to Robert and was found after his death.  It tells the exact same story as part one only from Robert’s point of view and in excruciating detail.  We get more into George’s strict Calvinist upbringing and his attempts to prove his predestination into heaven, the Reverend’s acceptance of Robert’s predestination, Robert’s falling in with a person (who is obviously the devil) that convinces Robert to help him purge humanity of unworthy souls, and Robert’s real or imagined descent into madness as he is haunted by demons wherever he goes.  So yeah, Robert actually thinks he’s doing good and George is the evil one.  Perceptions of good versus evil, the wackiness of Calvinism and religion in general, blah, blah, blah.  So see, there are actual themes in this book, but you have long past even pretended to care about them because it took hundreds of pages to tie them together.

Part three is fairly useless, but does leave a lot of parts one and two open to interpretation which is kind of cool.  The editor of part one is back and he’s talking about how they found the manuscript on the body of a person who hanged himself.  So Robert actually killed himself.  This is kind of cool only because you end up having to question everything Robert did.  Was the devil even real or was this all in his imagination?  It’s very Fight Clubby.  Only without any satisfying resolution.

Another weird thing about the book that really bothered me was the Scottish brogue.  Your upper-class Scots speak proper English while the servant class speaks like a much more unintelligible version of a bad Mike Myers Scottish character.  This makes it very difficult to read, which is fine; reading accents can be quite interesting.  What bothers me is how Hogg goes in and out of it sometimes for the same character.  Maybe this is on purpose and was meant as a hint into the madness of Robert.  It is very disconcerting, though, to be reading this pages and pages long soliloquy by one of Robert’s servants written all in brogue that magically transforms into standard English.

Yep, this book can be skipped.  What little entertainment there is is not nearly worth the effort of sloughing through the rest of the book.  Although it is on Project Gutenberg so at least you can get it for free.

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Possibly the best Marvel offering since the original “Ironman” movie.  A decent plot with lots of action and a stunning amount of violence.

There’s just something about Captain America that sets him apart from your everyday comic book superhero movie fare.  It certainly helps that there is none of the gross nationalism that you’d expect from someone named Captain America.  He doesn’t fight for America, he doesn’t fight for SHIELD, he just fights for what he believes is right.  When you do that, things can get messy, but you do the best you can with what you have as you navigate the grey areas of superherodom.  All that to say that Captain America has a humanity that isn’t really present in any of the other superheroes.

Those of you that watch the ever so mediocre “Agents of SHIELD” television show probably were able to catch the tie-in between the last episode of the show and this movie.  They did something similar with the last Thor movie but after the fact.  This time, the events of the TV show predict the opening scene of “The Winter Soldier” and the movie looks to actually drive the plot of the TV series.  This is the only time that something like this has ever been attempted as far as I know and it’s an interesting set of bonus material for the fandom without getting in the way of either the TV show or the movies.

Now to finally get to the movie itself.  It was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.  The plot was well crafted with twists that I did not expect, though the Winter Soldier reveal kind of fell flat for me.  It was probably one of those things that you have to be a fan of the comic books to really get.  The action in the movie is top-notch and well choreographed.  And, in a surprising turn for a Marvel movie, there is a gratuitous amount of violence in it, with a kill count that would make “Game of Thrones” proud.

If you like the comic book movies, you’ll love this one so don’t delay.  I believe “The Winter Soldier” would even be enjoyable for those that aren’t really into the whole comic book scene.  It works pretty well as a solo project.  Also, if someone could explain what the heck the ending credits preview was all about I’d appreciate it.

Here Comes The BOOM!, which has been absolutely awesome at projecting Affordable Care Act sign ups, and the Obama administration are showing that over 7 million people have signed up for individual insurance through the exchanges as of the March 31st deadline.  That surpasses the Congressional Budget Office’s original 7 million person projection by a hair or two.  The grand total of private individual insurance sign ups is somewhere between 14.6 M and 22.1 M.

This can not be seen as anything other than an amazing success.  Of course, you have the usual nay-sayers, the same people who kept on insisting that Mitt Romney was going to win the last election despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that he wasn’t, who exclaim very loudly and often that the numbers are all wrong.  To be fair, there are still some legitimate questions, but they are minor and will do nothing to take away from the awesomeness of hitting this milestone.

This must be the worst April Fool’s joke ever for ACA naysayers, those that called it a disaster, that said it would bankrupt the country, those that vigorously attempted to thwart the legislation at every turn.  April 1st, 2014 marks the beginning of tens of millions of Americans having affordable, comprehensive healthcare for the first time ever.  No longer can they be driven to bankruptcy because of an accident or a disease.  No longer will they have to decide between getting the healthcare they desperately need and the food they must eat.  No longer will people be tied down to their jobs because of the health care it provides.  Goodbye and good riddance to those barbarous days and hello to a still flawed but markedly better future.