Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Wind Rises (2013)

Whilst on vacation I spent some time in the evenings watching Studio Ghibli's "The Wind Rises". This is a fictional biography of Jiro Horikoshi, creator of the "Zero" fighter which Japan used during WWII.

The story follows Jiro from his childhood, where his dreams of being a pilot are dashed by poor eyesight. After reading an aviation magazine he dreams of meeting a famous Italian aircraft design, Caprioni. In later dreams Caprioni tells him that building planes is better than flying them.

After an earthquake meets a girl called Nahoko and helps her and her maid to safety. Later on they meet again and a relationship blossoms.

Between his relationship with Nahoko, the work designing planes and the tense political atmosphere of wartime Japan, a lot happens to Jiro. That said, the story moves slowly, and I found my attention drifting away, hence watching this over a few evenings instead of all at once. 

The animation and artwork are amongst the best of the Ghibli movies, most notably the dream sequences with Caprioni and a scene where Jiro and Nahoko play with a paper plane. 

I really enjoyed the sound effects made by the planes as their propellors hum. They have an almost human quality to them.

The Wind Rises caused some controversy in South Korea and China, as it could be considered to be glorifying war and Japan's military. I didn't get that impression. The story is really about Jiro's dedication to building a beautiful airplane, whilst balancing taking care of Nahoko and his own ethical concerns about making a killing machine.

The Wind Rises is certainly watchable and enjoyable, though not as fast paced and action packed as many of the other films and, happily, not as sad as the other film Grave of the Fireflies.

Check out my other Studio Ghibli reviews:


Monday, February 11, 2013

Chicken and sweet potato stew

This is based on a recipe from crock-pot.ca but which has been moved (or removed). I've made some tweaks. Mostly I've doubled the amount of spices as the dish was way to subtle for my tastes, and halved the amount of white potato since even with an 8 hour cooking time they still were not very soft with the original recipe. A great dish for cold winter nights.


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into large cubes
1 28-oz can whole stewed tomatoes
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp celery seed
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 4 tbsp minced basil from a tube)
1 cup nonfat, low sodium chicken broth

Layer the ingredients in the crockpot, starting with the white potato, the sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and finally the chicken. 
Combine the spices and seasoning with the chicken broth and pour over evenly.

Cover and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes

"If we look straight and deep into a chimpanzee's eyes, and intelligent, self-assured personality looks back at us."

The author, Frans de Waal, is a primatologist who for several years studied a colony of chimps in Arnhem zoo. Although studying them out of the wild like this is not an entirely natural setting, the zoo visitors are kept well back, and the chimps have been found to act very much like they do in the wild in most respects. In addition the setting allows them to be watched close up without danger.

We get introduced to the key players in the chimps community and feel like we are getting to know real individuals. Then the author covers their behaviour in detail. Factual but never boring or superficial.


Chimps behave with surprising intelligence. In the book they make several elaborate escape attempts, some successful, that require planning and co-operation.

In other chapter an ape demonstrates that lying does not require human language. Using body language alone a chimp is described acting like he does not know where some food is hidden when with the group, but later alone he runs straight for it.

Also discussed is the social intelligence hypothesis. That intelligence evolved in order to deal with increasingly complex group life of the apes. The technical inventiveness that chimps have in limited degree and humans have, is a secondary development to the need to outsmart others, detect deceptive tactics and so on. Is it therefore reasonable to suppose that humans had centralized social organization before they had material possessions with which to display their wealth and power?


Even in the zoo colony the chimps occupied themselves with leadership battles. Chimps want to lead their colonies as the leader gets his pick of females to mate with, and is able to keep his children safe. However in order to become the leader in the first place there is months of not just physical intimidation, but political gesturing and favour giving to win support of the females and other apes in the group.

The author mentions the French phrase "Noblesse Oblige", which means that with wealth power and prestige come responsibilities.  In order to keep their position at the top of the hierarchy, chimp leaders will need to help weaker chimps in disputes, keep the peace, act for justice and share the females in the group.

The way the chimps behave in the colony is really not very far removed from the way managers and executives behave in a large company in some respects!

Avoid the epilogue

Originally the book was published in 1982. I picked up a revised edition 1998 with an additional introduction and epilogue, and some edits to reflect updated theories. I recommend skipping the epilogue if you want a happy ending, because you grow attached to the individual apes and there is bad news for a couple of them that was only added in the 1998 printing once the author had time to come to terms with what happened.

In all I think it's a fascinating book, and anyone interested in where we came from should check it out. In addition it seems to be recommended reading for senators and business leaders. Hopefully my boss will not read this and groom me at work before attacking one of the other managers.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chicken and vegetable slow cooker dish

This is very easy.


1/2 lb small potatoes
4 carrots
2 leeks
1 medium onion
2 lean chicken breasts
1 can of chicken condensed soup
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of milk
2-4 tsp Paprika
Salt and Pepper


Cut the vegetables into 1/2 cm thick slices, except the onions which can be finely chopped.

Layer from the potatoes upwards (working down the ingredients list) in the slow cooker

Wash the chicken breasts, dry and cut into 2-3 cm cubes and layer on the top

Mix the soup with the water and milk until homogeneous and stir in the paprika

Pour the soup over the chicken and vegetables

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours

Healthier options:

Ditch the can of soup and use chicken broth. Use skimmed milk.

Unhealthier options:

Use cream instead of milk. Cross the street without looking.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

This story follows the lives of a handful of people whose paths cross and are connected in various ways. Joinson's tale skips between modern day England and 1920's Northern China, and both the characters and the world they live in are brought to convincing life.

Frieda, in modern day London, is a young woman whose life is in some disarray; both her career and relationships. She finds Tayeb, a filmmaker forced to flee his native Yemen, sleeping outside her apartment. Inviting him in they become friends and he begins to help her with emptying the apartment of a old lady who has died, and although Frieda does not know who it is, has been identified as the next of kin.

In Kashgar, a trio of lady Missionaries venture into Kashgar in remote China where they become involved with the death of a woman giving birth. Eva, our narrator for these chapters, must help take care of the baby whilst the women are held in house arrest awaiting trial for the murder. Their mission is lead by Millicent, a blinkered authoritative woman, and also with them is her sister Lizzie who is dizzy and somewhat intoxicated by Millicent.

Each of Eva's chapters begin with a quote from 'The Lady Cyclists guide', a book which Eva has brought along on the journey along with her bicycle. These quotes have an old school charm of their own and the anonymous author becomes another character of the book.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the many little details and observations that bring the world to life. Similarly the characters all have unique voices and their motivations in life are easy to understand and empathise with. Tayeb's chapters, for example, capture a believable portrait of what England must be like to an exile without papers; always moving, always at risk of being discovered and sent home.

The story moves at a moderate pace and everything is tied up nicely at the end. In summary a richly interesting and enjoyable tale that has been finely crafted.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Road trip 2012

In 2010 we went on a family road trip through the Rocky Mountains to Edmonton from Vancouver.  Having enjoyed it so much we did it again this year.  In case you're planning a similar trip here's some info on the driving times and hotels for our route, which went Eastwards to Calgary via Banff, then up to Edmonton, and finally back through Valemount.

Day 1: Drive to Golden from Vancouver. Approx 8 hours driving.
Stopped at Kamloops for lunch
Stayed at the Travelodge Golden, which is a bit old and dirty. Not recommended

Day 2: Drive to Calgary. Approx 4 hours driving.
We had time to stop at Lake Louise in the morning and spent the afternoon in Banff
Stayed at the Thrift Lodge Calgary University. Quite old. Very cold outdoor swimming pool. Not recommended.

Day 3, 4, 5: Drove to Edmonton stopping at Drumheller. Approx 6 hours driving
Stopped at the dinosaur museum and had lunch there
Stayed at Days Inn West Edmonton for three nights. Very nice hotel, highly recommended.

Day 6: Drive to Valemount, BC. Approx 7 hours driving
Stopped several times on the way, not much to see. Did not buy a park pass, although you could do so and stop in Jasper.
Stayed at Chalet Continental Hotel. Old but clean and good service. Pool, play area and spa.

Day 7: Return to Vancouver. Approx 8 hours.
Stopped in Kamloops on the way back.

You can view all the albums from this post here:


Friday, May 25, 2012

Book wish list

I'm currently making my sluggish way through the fifth (of seven planned) Game of Thrones "Dances with Dragons" and I've also started "Dickens" by Peter Ackroyd which is perhaps the biggest book in the world (1200 pages and weighs nearly 4lbs. Once I have read it I will probably use it as furniture). So although I went to Chapters yesterday and found a bunch more books I want to read, for now they are just on my wish list.

I loved Oliver Sacks's "Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" in which he talks about some of the patients he had as a neurologist. I can't say I've ever done that, but I've certainly done things almost as daft and I'm not even officially mentally ill. Anyway, I loved his writing style, and in this book Sacks heads off to Mexico to write about Ferns. Not that I am at all interested in Ferns but from the book jacket it sounds full of interesting anecdotes.

Not on the shelf for another week. "A Lady Cyclists Guide to Kashgar" is the first book from Suzanne Joinson (disclaimer she is a cousin) and it's published by Bloomsbury. I love the cover and the idea and can't wait to check it out.

A staff pick at Chapters... Mr G tells the story of creation as told by God. “As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe.”. Sounds awesome.

I read most of Neal Stephenson's books but he lost me a bit with his Baroque Cycle. While it has some good characters and lots of historical information, it got too long for me to follow. Maybe when I retire I will revisit these on a chair overlooking a lake, occasionally calling a nurse to come and turn the page for me.

This is a neat book... I need to learn some CSS3 right now, and this is a nice thick book filled with screen shots of what the code does. Also seems to be quite detailed unlike a lot of the 'quick' guides to things.

That's all folks.