Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book Club - May 2015 Reading List

Only 6 books read this month. I'm never gonna make that 100-books read in 2016 goal.  Dang. Anyway, some interesting stuff this month.

This was a free Kindle book I got through BookBub.com. It was OK. There's a project going on in deep space to cause a star to explode. I'm not clear on the stated purpose of the project but the secret purpose is to open a gateway, for the those supporting the project, to new star systems for colonization. But the chief of the project, the only guy who really understands how it's supposed to work, has been kidnapped by another star power, which opposes the project, and injected with nanobots which will make him destroy the project. Oh, and the star is sentient. Lots of science fiction concepts thrown in here. It is apparently the first book of a series. It was entertaining but not enough to make me want to read any more in the series.

I like Neal Stephenson but had put off reading this for a few years, mainly due to the length. But I decided to tackle it (another reason I'm not going to reach 100 books is that I keep picking up books that have 800 plus pages like this one). The title is pronounced Seven Eves which took me awhile to figure out. I liked the premise. All of a sudden, for reasons nobody figures out, the moon explodes. At first it's a novelty, the seven pieces of the moon orbiting together (an early, but false, idea of what the title meant). But after some calculations, smart people figure that within a year or two, the pieces would grind down and start to rain down on the earth, turning the surface of the planet into molten slag and killing everyone. So countries band together to expand the ancient International Space Station, so it can support a population large enough to ensure that mankind can recolonize the earth when it cools down in 5,000 years. The book was part human interest story, part graduate course in orbital mechanics and part management principles. The human interest part was pretty good, but the other stuff, perhaps as much as 2/3 of the 837 pages, was pretty dry.

I'm not a big reader of celebrity autobiographies (even though I read Dick Van Dykes' last month). I saw this in my library bookstore and remembered seeing Short plugging the book on a late night talk show. I think Short is a pretty funny guy but he can be hard to take sometimes. His act consists of a stable of characters he really gets into with costumes and make-up. Some of his characters I don't like much. I enjoyed the book. it was very inside-Hollywood. He's about my age so, even though he's Canadian, he and I share a lot of common influences. In my 20's my crowd was very into the first couple of iterations of "Saturday Night Live". Short was a bit late to that crowd but he, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroid, John Belushi, etc. all worked together on various project that I mostly liked. So it was interesting to see how that whole scene evolved.

 This book takes place on a small island off the coast of Washington state. It's 1954 and a local fisherman has been found dead, drowned and caught in his own fishing net at sea. But he'd also been hit in the head hard enough to crush is skull. Suspicion falls on a local American-born Japanese fisherman, who gets arrested for the murder. The novel uses the trial as a device to tell the various stories of the people involved and the complicated interactions between them over the past 20-30 years. This includes the WWII interment of the Japanese, who had been living on the island for over 50 years; the experiences of islanders in the war; the fragile economy of the island, depending on strawberry farming and fishing; and a relationship between a teenage Japanese girl and a teenage white boy from before the war. There was a 1995 movie made from the book which I haven't been able to find. I highly recommend this book.

This is the first, excellent novel, of a long series about private detective Elvis Cole and his mysterious partner Joe Pike. Good hard-boiled detective fiction if you like that sort of thing. I had read the latest book in the series and liked it. Amazon reviewers didn't think it was Crais' best work but I enjoyed it enough to start the series from the beginning.

I'm kinda of addicted to Jack Reacher books, even though that pretty much read the same. The slight difference is plot and the situations Reacher gets into just keep me coming back for more. But Jack may be ready to settle down. He suffers a concussion early in the book when a guy hits him in the head harder than he remembered ever being hit. He refuses to accept that he's been damaged in any way, putting himself and the people he's trying to help in danger. At the end of the book he acknowledges his error and agrees to hang around awhile with the inevitable female attraction. By the way, the bad guys in this are probably the nastiest bad guys Lee Child has ever come up with.

Monday, May 16, 2016

My 98,000th trading card

I got my 97,000 card in February.  Another 1,000 down.  I'm calling this my 98,000th trading card but I would guess that more than 95% of them are baseball cards.

I'm currently working on the blaster and 2 Bowman value packs I bought last week. I give you Edwin Encarnacion, Bowman #93.

Look at all those empty seats. This is the 53rd 2016 Bowman card I've handled. I don't like the backs any better than I did on the first card.

Honestly, I'm trying to buy fewer cards this year so this may be the last bragging post in awhile.

Friday, May 13, 2016

2016 Bowman - First Look

Blogging has been sporadic and will probably remain so for awhile. But I got some 2016 Bowman and had to spout off.

As usual, Bowman is split between 150 base cards and 150 Prospect cards. Each pack also contains 2-3 Chrome Prospect cards and the occasional insert. This will be a tough set to complete by buying packs. Out of a 10-card pack, at most 5 cards will be base cards.

Here's what they look like.

The card fronts are pretty nice. They are very similar to last year's cards but easier to read. 2016 Topps went to minimum foil; Bowman went with no foil. The player name, team logo and player position all are easy to see. The logo background is in a team color. Why they chose blue (a very minor part of the Phillies uni) for the logo background is beyond me. There is a blue parallel but I don't think that's what this is. The card is a bit busier than I like. For example, all that construction on the top and upper right corner could be done away with, in my opinion.

The black strip on the bottom, between the team logo and player position has the team name spelled out. It's almost completely unreadable.

I like the fronts but the backs are a hot mess. Let's list the problems: 1) the color contrast of the card number against the background, combined with the small font makes the card number very difficult to read on most cards; 2) All of the type fonts are too small, the bio info, in particular, is impossible. Why go through the trouble of writing stuff and then make is so hard to read; 3) The diagonal lines make the back hard to look at, it's hard to find the player name, team, position, etc., because your eyes are pulled away to the upper right and all the information is in the upper left. Did Topps pick up some 1980's Donruss designers?

The background colors are in the team colors and a nice pastel version of the colors, the only thing about the back that is acceptable.

I bought a couple of value packs which come with some yellow parallel cards. I've got 6 of them and they're all prospect cards. I can kill two birds here and show you a parallel card and a Prospect card. And an Astros card as well.

I think I like the Prospect card design more than the base cards but still too busy. I like the name at the bottom rather than on the side. You can see by looking at this why I think that Franco cards isn't a blue parallel. Not enough blue in it.

The backs are the same as the base cards, not worth showing another one.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016 Panini Diamond Kings - the extras

I featured the base cards of 2016 Panini Diamond Kings yesterday. Today I'm going to cover the inserts and parallels.

Before I start, let me note, that there are over 100 different parallel, inserts, and parallel to inserts, relics and auto cards in this set. Good luck.

There was a different insert or parallel in each of the seven packs from the blaster I bought. Here's a red framed parallel.

The early 2000's Diamond King sets were known for these, and I think those were among the first cards to use frames. I've always liked the concept. According to baseballcardpedia.com, these red framed cards are supposed to be numbered to 99. Mine isn't numbered at all.

I'm getting a bit tired of mini cards but the design of the front is outstanding. I would absolutely love this set if the full-sized base cards looked like this.

Of the ton of inserts, there are only five which do not involve some sort of relic, auto, or serial number. I got one of each. The base set does not have any foil but all of these do, but it's pretty low key.

Aficionado was a weird one-off set that Pinnacle (now owned by Panini) produced in the mid-1990s. This card has nothing in common with that set except the name. I like the front and, in fact, I'd have liked this to have been the design for the base cards. The backs are nearly the same as the base with a rectangular frame instead of an oval one.

 This is a pretty unattractive card with more microscopic text on the back.

Perez attempts to put out a stadium fire with a Gatorade bucket. Is this card supposed to be in the style of expressionism? I'm not an art critic and the Wikipedia article, while interesting, didn't help. Maybe it's just meant to display the player's expressions? It is certainly colorful.

 Another not very attractive card.

Another insert that I'd rather have been the base set.

Did you notice that I got card number 12 from each of these inserts?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 Panini Diamond Kings - The base cards

I picked up a blaster of Diamond Kings at Walmart late last week. I debated buying two but I'm sort of glad I didn't. I was a big fan of the early 2000's Diamond King sets (especially 2004). I didn't think Panini could do better.

I did a little searching for other posts on this product but couldn't find anything but this has been out a few weeks so I'm sure I'm not the first. I did find a couple of video box breaks (one by Beckett.com, which wasn't too bad and was only 9 minutes long with comments limited only to the players on the cards). The other was a case break, over an hour, of which I could only stand about 3 minutes.

The cards are printed on canvas textured card stock and the pictures appear to have been painted, much like the Diamond Kings of old, when they were part of the Donruss set (the 1980s), inserts (the 1990s), or a separate set (the 2000's). These new Diamond Kings are, I'm pretty sure, not painted but some sort of Photoshop effect.

Looking a scans of the cards only gives you only one of the 3 main aspects of these cards. I mentioned the canvas texture which you can sort of see, especially on the backs. The other is the smell. Yes, these cards stink. I think they smell like oil paint.  It's not a real pleasant odor. 

The first 50 cards of the 200-card set are what I would call Legends, famous ball players from the past who are deceased. Of the 42 cards in the box, I got six of these. Some of them are players you don't often see in modern sets.

All the cards follow this same pattern. The background painting stops before the top of the card but the top of the players head protrudes into this area. Of course there are no logos or team names. I'll have to say that these cards are more visually interesting than 2016 Donruss but share one of Donruss' failings. Offensive players are mostly batting, pitchers are mostly in their windup or delivery, and catchers are mostly in their catching gear. The cards automatically become less interesting when there are no logos.

I don't much care for the backs at all. A repeat of the front picture in a frame (yawn). Some bio info in microscopic type, barely larger than the font used for the copyright info. Just for comparison here is a back from 2004 Diamond Kings.

 "Crowning Moment" paragraph, a comment on the artist and past appearances as a Diamond King.

Cards from 51 to 139 are mostly current players, except for cards except for 10 non-consecutive cards between 123-135, which are living retired greats.  I got two of these.

Here are some of the current players. I got one Astro and one Phillie each but at least they are desirable cards.

If you're sharp eyed, you've noticed, just on 4 cards, what I noticed, the tops and bottoms of the cards have pretty much identical "brush" strokes. Note on the bottom right, the little arc of white dots. It's on every card.

The last 40 cards are rookies with a slightly different front design.

The player's name is in a black box at the top and there is white bleeding in from the sides for some reason. The DK logo and team name and position are in the team color instead of white.

There was in insert or parallel in each of the 7 packs. I'll cover them tomorrow.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Club: April 2016 Reading List

Easy Hardwick is the beautiful star of "She Came From Beyond" a local cable access show with a similar concept to "Mystery Science Theater 3000". She's content living in a small Oregon town from where the show originates. Then she meets a guy in a science fiction chat room, has a physical affair with him and get pregnant. From there she has to contend with: her lover's crazy wife; new found wealth when her show gets picked up by the SyFi Channel; being pregnant (with twins no less); her fathers (the male gay couple who raised her) and their separation; and assorded other oddball things. Sometimes funny and sometimes sad, it's not the sort of book I normall read. But it was enjoyable.

This is the 17th book by Robert Crais and I'm sorry I didn't find him sooner. Most of them have been novels about private detectives Elvis Cole and his mysterious and seldom seen partner Joe Pike. Cole is hired to find a woman scientist who works for a munitions company. She's an expert in explosives. From the beginning the case doesn't seem right to Cole. The woman who hired him keeps their meetings and communications secret; a lead leads to an apparently abandoned house, which blows up 10 minutes after he leaves; somebody attempts to kill the police officer who had an explosives sniffing police dog associated with the case. The story was a bit convoluted but wrapped up well. Most Amazon reviews were positive but seemed to indicate this wasn't his best work. Since I liked it, I'm looking up his back catalog. I'm currently reading the first Elvis Cole novel from 1987.

This is the story of the great flu pandemic of 1918-1919. An older estimate of the deaths caused by this disease was 25 million, world wide. Current estimates range upward to 500 million. Believed by many to have originated in swine in Kansas, it struck during World War I, just as America was mobilizing to enter the war. It came in 3 waves, the worst being in the fall of 1918. How bad was it? In October, some 1400 people in Philadelphia died from it in one week. Bodies were being buried in mass graves. Barry spends the first part of the book describing the deplorable state of medicine in the US around 1900, and the singular doctors and scientists who, by the time of the pandemic, had brought American medicine to, at least, par with the best in the world. But even still, with back-breaking efforts of doctors and nurses, both on the hospital floor and in the research labs, the flu couldn't be stopped. Eventually it mutated and no longer affected potential human hosts. It took another 10 years to find the virus responsible. The author uses Philadelphia to describe many of the social effects of the pandemic.  This was of great interest to me as I and my wife grew up in Philadelphia. All of our great grandparents were young men and women in Philadelphia in 1918. This flu predominantly killed young adults. Obviously our great grandparents survived. I have never heard a single family story about the time.

This book presents the entire set of Star Trek trading cards that Topps issued in 1976. This was a good 7 years after the show had gone off television but Topps felt that such a set would sell because Star Trek was more popular then ever. The fronts and backs of each card are presented, at about actual size, with a short commentary about each card. The perfect gift for the hard core fan (given as a gift to me by my perceptive daughter. The dust jacked is a waxed paper very much like how original packs were wrapped. In fact, if you fold out the jacket, it looks just like a folded out pack wrapper.

In a day-after-tomorrow America, Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. They are living in their car, barely surviving on the scant wages Charmaine makes as a waitress. One day they hear about the Positron Project. Desperate for security they apply and get it. It seems ideal. They are given a house, food, clothes and a job in a small town where everyone is part of the Project. The catch, you only get to live in the house for a month, then you spend a month in the town prison where you live in a cell, get fed and work on various prison projects. There seems to be little difference between the two except you perhaps had a slight amount of freedom in the town, although you can't leave, can't access the Internet and can't make a phone call out side of town. They are happy there for months until Stan starts to suspect that Charmaine is having an affair with the man of the couple who lives in their house while they are in prison. She is, and it all starts to unravel for Stan and Charmaine and the Positron Project. Pretty good.

When I was in my teens, I loved Dick Van Dyke. "The Dick Van Dyke" show still brings smiles if I happen to run across it. I hadn't thought much about him recently until I saw this video last year featuring the then 89-year-old Dick Van Dyke and his wife (who is 46 years younger than he).

Then I saw this book in the library. It's full of stories about his career and how he has managed to survive all this time. A pretty light weight book but, if you're a fan, enjoyable.