Saturday, April 30, 2011

Disney Done Right

Yesterday, Melanie, the kids, and I got back from Orlando, where we spent three nights and finished up the remaining two days on our four-day Disney World tickets. As you may recall, our first day at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom back in early March left me feeling anything but enchanted. This time around, Melanie and I followed the advice of some good friends and had an immensely more enjoyable experience. In fact, we concluded our time at Disney World wishing we could buy annual passes. Knowing how to do things right changes everything for the better. Now we’re pros.

To give you an idea of how much more smoothly our Disney World trip went this time around, consider the following comparative data:

First Trip to Magic Kingdom
Time passed between leaving hotel and entering the Magic Kingdom gates: 2.5 hours
Time of entry into Magic Kingdom: 12:35pm
Time passed between entering the Magic Kingdom gates and leaving the Disney World parking lot to head back to hotel: 7 hours, 10 minutes
Highly Irksome Parade Interruptions During Visit: 3
Total attractions experienced: 5 (including 2 non-rides)
Average time spent at Disney World per attraction: 86 minutes
Longest Wait Time: 45 minutes
Estimated Average Wait Time per Attraction: 25 minutes

Second Trip to Magic Kingdom
Time passed between leaving hotel and entering the Magic Kingdom gates: 30 minutes
Time of entry into Magic Kingdom: 8:05am
Time passed between entering the Magic Kingdom gates and leaving the Disney World parking lot to head back to hotel: 4.5 hours, maximum
Highly Irksome Parade Interruptions During Visit: 0
Total attractions experienced: 11 (12 if you include repeats; all rides)
Average time spent at Disney World per attraction: 22.5 minutes (max)
Longest Wait Time: 15 minutes
Estimated Average Wait Time per Attraction: 3 minutes (most had no wait time)

Admittedly, I think it helped that we didn’t show up during a week when several schools in the state were on spring break. But the real advantage came from getting into the Magic Kingdom right when it opened. To achieve this, we drove ourselves to the park, which cost $14 in parking fees but which was a lot faster and easier, both coming and going. Arriving at Disney World when it opened also meant that, like our friends had told us, we could spend the first couple of hours at the park walking onto rides with little to no wait whatsoever. It was blissful.

Here are the rides we enjoyed, in the order we enjoyed them:

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • On this ride, you sit in a rotatable seat with two laser guns attached to what might as well be called the dashboard. You can spin your car around and shoot at various aliens that have come to “attack.” You rack up points for hitting targets with the laser beam as you go along, the points being displayed on your dashboard. (It’s like a video game in that respect.) I sat with Edison, and he was very nervous up until the last minute or so of the ride, at which point he finally stopped burying his head into my arm and started playing along. At that point, it became his favorite ride and he asked to go on it again immediately after it was finished. We made him wait a little bit.

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
  • Not much happens on this ride. Most of the time, you’re in the dark or in some empty corridors, not doing much else than moving. I guess that makes the name of the ride appropriate enough, but I’m still wondering if more isn’t supposed to happen than did, or if the ride is so-to-speak under construction. There just isn’t much to it at all. But, despite the ride’s mild nature, Eddie and Peter would both seize up a little bit whenever the car we rode in would round corners or speed up slightly. They’re timid boys, alright.

Tomorrowland Speedway
  • Melanie took Edison and Peter on this, whilst I held onto Creegan, who was too small to be allowed on the ride. Edison steered the race car while Melanie controlled the gas pedal and Peter became the helpless passenger. I stood up in the grandstand to watch my family pass by, but once they got a few feet past the starting line, I couldn’t see them anymore. I nabbed the following pictures from a distance while trying to balance a sleeping Creegan in my arms. Not an ideal picture-taking situation, but at least I got something.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (again)
  • Edison was clamoring to go back on this ride, so we indulged him. I sat with Peter this time around and tried to make it as fun for him as possible. He was fairly nervous on most rides and didn’t seem too thrilled to be revisiting this one, so I tried to be extra silly about it. I kept telling the aliens that I wasn’t going to let them get my Peter. Peter gradually warmed up to that, even cracking a smile and letting out the occasional giggle, but he always remained a bit cautious. Even after our second visit to this ride, Edison kept asking to go back on it. We never did, but that didn’t stop him from bringing it up and trying to add it back onto our itinerary.

Mad Tea Party (AKA the teacups)
  • I’m pretty sure this is the only ride that Peter actually requested we go on. He giggled with delight as he watched the ride in operation while we were in line. Of course, he got more nervous once we were in the teacups and spinning around, but he seemed to enjoy it in the end. When all was said and done, Peter declared the teacups his favorite ride of all, and whenever Edison would petition us to return to Buzz Lightyear, Peter would toss in his vote to return to the teacups.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • A fun ride with just a bit of psychedelia thrown in. During part of the ride, you’re in Pooh’s heffalumps and woozles dream, complete with black lighting that makes everything glow vibrantly. Kind of cool.

It’s a Small World
  • A friendly and calm enough ride for Eddie and Peter to enjoy without much nervousness at all, thankfully. We went on this one to pass some time while waiting to go on the Peter Pan ride, for which we had gotten some FastPass tickets (tickets that allow you to come back during an assigned window of time and board the ride without waiting in the normal line). I don’t know how long a ride It’s a Small World is, but compared to everything else, it felt incredibly long. But we enjoyed it. Even so, I couldn’t help wondering how suppressed the female Muslim dolls were, out there singing and dancing with their faces covered. I couldn’t help thinking that they might get beheaded if they didn’t perform well enough. Kind of a downer. There was also a moment at the end of the ride where we were stopped for just a minute. It was right at the end, where you can see the brightly colored signs saying “Goodbye” in a variety of languages. I thought it would be especially demented if, at this stage of the ride, they sink your boat and release piranhas into the water. It would be a tragic way to go, being eaten alive while a chorus of happy-sounding children sing all around you and a collage of signs bidding you adieu stands tauntingly before you.

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
  • I took Eddie and Peter on this while Melanie fed Creegan. There were five horses per row, and Edison, Peter and I were the second group in line, so I didn’t think we’d have a hard time getting on three horses side-by-side. But, as I strapped Edison and Peter in, some father came along and strapped a kid into the horse directly next to Peter, while two other kids climbed onto the two horses after that. I ended up having to stand, which hadn’t been my plan. I was slightly perturbed. I’d think if you saw me putting my kid into a horse while standing right next to an unoccupied horse, you might think I’m planning on sitting there.

Peter Pan’s Flight
  • The first and only ride on which we used a FastPass ticket. That dropped our wait time from 25 minutes (the estimated wait when we got our FastPass tickets) to zero. That was nice, as this was the only ride we went on that ever had such a long wait.

The Haunted Mansion
  • Before our first trip to the Magic Kingdom back in early March, Edison claimed he wanted to go in the haunted house at Disney World. Once we were at Disney World, he changed his mind. This time around, knowing we were returning to the Magic Kingdom, Edison said he wanted to be “brave and smart” and go in the haunted house. When we actually got to the Haunted Mansion, however, Edison was pretty adamant about not going on it. But he didn’t express this very enthusiastically until they were closing the doors on us, which made it a bit tricky to change our minds. Eddie ended up being a trooper about it, albeit a reluctant one, and I think he even got some enjoyment out of the ride in the end. He certainly wasn’t terrified the whole time, which I was glad about. I was his age or even a little bit older when I backed out from going in the Haunted Mansion with my dad. So, Eddie outdid me.

Pirates of the Caribbean
  • I was amazed that we were able to walk right onto this ride, even though it was noon-ish when we got to it. Our wait probably would have been longer had we not gone down the right side of the ropes that divide the line into two. The usher at the entrance to the ride was telling people to go down both sides of the ropes, but nobody was going to the right. We did, but we felt a bit unsure about it, just because nobody else was. I especially started to doubt our choice when we ended up walking down several long and empty halls. I kept asking Melanie, “The guy did say to go down both sides, right?” Melanie assured me he had. A few people were following us, too, and I felt worried that we were leading them astray. But, finally, we ended up meeting up with the main group again, albeit boarding the ride on the opposite side. That’s OK, though, that’s what was supposed to happen. The side we ended up on had much fewer people, so we didn’t have to wait at all to get on a boat. Had we gone to the left with the rest of the crowd at the beginning, we probably would have had a 5-10 minute wait time. That wouldn’t have been significant, but I’ll take immediately boarding any day.

Walt Disney World Railroad
  • For our final ride of the day, we went on the leisurely steam engine train that makes a complete circle around the periphery of the Magic Kingdom. It wasn’t anything exciting, but we knew Eddie and Peter would enjoy riding a train, so we went for it. While waiting for the train, Melanie and I both snapped a few more photographs. I had planned on taking many more photographs on this trip to Disney World, but of course, I didn’t. It always feels like an interruption to stop and get the camera out, so I frequently chose not to take pictures even when I considered doing so. Maybe that’s lame, but oh well. I’m not that sad about it.

By the time it was 1 p.m. and we were leaving the Magic Kingdom, we felt like we had been there all day. We were worn out and ready to go. And yet we had plenty of hours left in the day. It was great. We were able to go back to the hotel, relax, go out to a steak dinner, and then head back to the hotel for a pre-bedtime swim. Compare that to our first day at Disney World last March and there’s just no denying that we did something incredibly right this time around, and incredibly wrong last time. Sure, we could have spent a lot longer at the Magic Kingdom and gone on several more rides, but we didn’t even want to, and there’s nothing we bypassed that we felt strongly about trying. We got what we wanted out of the trip, and we got it quickly and easily. Perfection.

In the very near future, I’ll write about our visit to Epcot, which concluded our Disney World experience.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Movie Review: The King’s Speech

The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Running Time: 118 minutes
Originally Released: December 24, 2010

* * * * (out of four)

One of my favorite scenes in cinematic history is from Milos Forman’s Amadeus, when Mozart dictates from his deathbed to Salieri the symphony that at that moment exists only in Mozart’s mind. It is a beautifully filmed and very powerful scene. As I watched 2011’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech, I was more than once reminded of that masterful scene in Amadeus. That the delivering of a political speech could be made so musical—both literally and figuratively, as one who watches the film learns—is assuredly mesmerizing, but it is just one of the merits possessed by The King’s Speech. If you think the film is simply about a stammering politician’s fear of public speaking, you are wrong. It is about self-confidence, self-acceptance, acceptance of acceptance, courage, honesty, friendship, and just about every other virtuous human characteristic. The fascinating historical backdrop is just the icing on the cake.

Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who became Britain’s King George VI after his brother abdicated the throne in 1936. Known as “Bertie” to his family, Prince Albert struggles with the public speaking that is so often a part of his political duties. Bertie stammers, a problem that escalates when he is put into high pressure situations like delivering a speech to an overcrowded Wembley Stadium. Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter), has tried to help her husband by seeking doctors who are trained in speech therapy, but to little avail. Eventually, Elizabeth happens upon an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), who agrees to help Bertie provided that the prince accepts Logue’s unorthodox practices. The first encounter between Logue and the prince proves contentious, but it also provides the first glimmer of genuine hope that Bertie has ever had. Before long, Logue becomes one of Bertie’s most trusted confidants, the therapy extending well beyond the mechanics of speech production, as the prince deals with his father’s death, his brother’s ascension to and subsequent abdication of the throne, and of course, Bertie’s own coronation.

I will admit that I didn’t have much hope in The King’s Speech before I watched it. I knew all the hype surrounding the film, particularly that it had won Best Picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but I took it for granted that the film would be vastly overrated. So many of the movies that receive a great deal of praise turn out to be mediocre, and that seems especially true of period pieces, which the Academy—often unfairly—reverences. This time around, however, the Academy did right. The King’s Speech is an excellently crafted, beautifully filmed, and brilliantly written film carried on the back of two terrific performances. Firth’s Oscar for Best Actor is well-deserved; it is a pity Rush was not extended the same courtesy. Though he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, I will assume he lost only because he had previously picked up a Best Actor trophy for 1996’s Shine. (The Academy is stingy about giving out multiple awards to the same person. Funny enough, that makes Rush’s loss a political one. Ah, politics!) To be sure, Rush steals the film, and indeed, it is the first scene shared between Rush and Firth that demonstrates the film’s greatness. It was during their first exchange that I was struck upon the head with the realization that I was watching something quite grand. The quality of the film did not waver from that point on.

Perhaps I should mention that Bonham Carter was also nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role. To that, I offer a most resounding “meh.” It’s a baffling nomination, in my opinion, if not for the fact that such unwarranted nominations are rather prevalent in the supporting actress category. By default, these nominations tend to go rather indiscriminately to the supporting actresses from whatever films are filling up the more prestigious categories, such as Best Picture and Best Director. Bonham Carter lost out to The Fighter’s Melissa Leo, who was only slightly more deserving, while Rush lost to The Fighter’s Christian Bale (an admittedly great performance, though not the one I wish the Academy would have recognized with a trophy). The King’s Speech did nab the Best Director award for Tom Hooper’s work, however, which is an appropriate bestowal. I’m actually finding myself desirous to watch the movie again. That doesn’t happen very often, especially with British period dramas. The fact that I am eager to re-watch a movie about saying a lot—well, that says a lot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Potpourri No. 31

Life, served up deli-style, sliced nice and thin…

Job Security
In my previous potpourri post, I mentioned the fact that I’d been given a teaching gig for the latter part of the summer. I’ve since been told that I’m incredibly likely to teach in the fall, too. Rather than logic, however, I’ll be teaching an introductory ethics course in the fall. (Applied ethics, I should say, which means that it’s more about ethical issues than about ethical theory, per se.) I think that’ll be quite fun, though I wish I had more time to deliberate about what to do with the course. I had to choose the textbook for the course today, over four months before the class begins. As a result, I’m going with a textbook that has been used by instructors for whom I’ve TA’d in the past. That gives me some familiarity with the text, though ideally, I’d have more time to consider other options. There are a few ethics textbooks that I’ve seen online that pique my interest, but without being able to look inside of them, I don’t want to commit to them. So, I’m going with the familiar. Bummer. I take some comfort in knowing I can supplement the required text with other readings that I can make available to the class online. Maybe I can spice things up that way.

Feeling Special
I have finally scheduled my special area exam for next Monday, April 18th, at noon. Given that I still have a week to prepare for the exam, I’m feeling pretty good about it. Hopeful. It’s good to be getting to this point. After this, the next milestone in seeking my Ph.D. is to write up and defend a dissertation prospectus. I’m quite happy to say that I’ve had a lot more ideas about this lately. In terms of developing ideas, the last few weeks have been a very fruitful time for me. It’s exhilarating. It makes me hopeful that I can write up and defend the prospectus very, very soon after taking the special area exam. Wish me luck!

Bloody Interesting!
I recently watched a documentary called The Science of Sex Appeal that was available through Netflix Instant Viewing. It was quite fascinating, but one of the most interesting things to me is that when a woman ovulates, she actually becomes sexier, in a variety of ways, to men. In one study, they took two photographs of the same woman—one taken during ovulation, and one taken when she wasn’t ovulating—and put them side by side. They told men that the two photos were of twin sisters, and they asked the men to select which woman they thought was the most attractive. The overwhelming majority of men chose the picture of the woman that was taken during ovulation. Seeing the pictures side by side, there is a noticeable difference, a kind of luminescence in the ovulating woman. Even more fascinating, in a different study, men listened to pre-recorded audio of various women reading the same line of (non-sexual) text. They had the men rank how sexy the voices were. Unbeknownst to the men, some of the voices they heard were of the same woman, but recorded during ovulation. Again, the same woman’s voice was ranked as sexier when she was ovulating than when she was not! I found that quite fascinating. And, if you’re curious, ovulating women are more likely to be attracted to men, too. Ovulating women respond more positively to smelling sweat-stained t-shirts than do non-ovulating women.

Clearing Up Some Clutter
Am I the only one who has a tendency to leave open web pages for future reference, and thus to end up with tons of open web pages that just sit there for weeks on end? Sometimes, I leave something open because I want to remember to share it with someone else. Sometimes, I leave a page open to remind me that I need to do something. If I bookmark these pages with the intent of revisiting them, I never do so, and typically, I don’t want a permanent bookmark to the page anyway. Something else needs to be done. Well, I finally realized that I could just post some of these links on my blog. That way, they’re not completely gone, but they’re not taking up space in my bookmarks either. So, here are some random things from the web that, for whatever reason, I found interesting:

Free Will Being Discussed in the New York Times

The IFC’s 50 Greatest Opening Title Sequences of All Time

And here is a video of “natural hallucinogen” – and yes, it really works:

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Eddie Update

I have tried writing this blog entry numerous times, and for some reason I’m finding it very difficult. It all comes out like crap, and I’m not capturing what I want to capture. The bottom line is that Edison has now been home from the hospital for two full days. He’s doing well, but I admittedly wish he seemed more enthusiastic than he often does. I think the only reason my hopes are higher is because Edison seemed happier and happier each day after the surgery, and at times, he almost seemed like his old self. He would laugh and make silly jokes. Then, when we brought him home, he amazed us by freely walking around the house, unhesitatingly climbing up and down on the couch or bending down to pick something up, and asking for and eating various foods. It was so awesome to see him behaving largely like normal. Since then, however, he has seemed a bit less cheerful. He seems tired, which makes sense, and his spirits don’t seem quite as high. I don’t think anything’s wrong with him, but I let myself worry sometimes anyway. I know there is still a chance of an abscess forming at the surgical site, and I know that if such an abscess does form, Edison’s condition will regress. Thus, anytime he is even remotely less chipper than he was a few minutes earlier, I start to fret. I know I’m being a bit irrational, but that’s how I feel.

On the plus side, Edison’s digestive system now seems to be operating at normal. This was one of my biggest sources of fear. The appendix has nothing to do with digestion, but having surgery can upset the digestive system and it can take a few days for things to “wake up,” as the nurses at the hospital put it. For the first few days after surgery, the nurses and doctors who would listen to Edison’s stomach always said they wished it were making more noise. I was worried that this would delay us in coming home. Finally, I was put at ease by a surgeon who assured me that, since Edison had had a bowel movement 48 hours after surgery, things had to be working. According to her, we didn’t need to worry even though another 48 hours or so had passed and another bowel movement had yet to follow. I was extremely grateful on Sunday morning when Edison’s stomach suddenly sounded a lot more active. He didn’t have another bowel movement until Monday, over 72 hours after his first post-surgery BM, but he ended up having three by the time Monday was over. And two today, so things are looking good. (Well, not literally, I guess. It looks quite gross, but we’re happy about it.)

Another high point since Edison’s return home is when he took his first shower. Because he cannot submerge his surgical wounds, he cannot take a bath like he is accustomed to. And so, yesterday, Melanie gave him a shower. He was quite reluctant about that at first, but he decided he quite enjoys them. He told Melanie he wants to take a shower everyday now. How mature, eh?

Melanie and I have been sad that we haven’t taken more pictures to chronicle this ordeal. Our camera battery was dead, and up until this evening, we thought we had lost the battery charger. We assumed we left it in the hotel in Orlando when we recently went to Disney World. Then, tonight, Melanie finally stumbles upon the charger when we’re not even looking for it. Of course, this happens the day after I order a replacement charger online. Oh well. Hopefully that one can be returned without much of a problem. All said and done, what this means is that we have only two pictures of Edison during his time in the hospital. They were taken by me on my cell phone, which means the image quality is very poor. The photos were taken on Wednesday, March 30th at 4:42 a.m. as Edison got wheeled down to the pre-surgery waiting room. I had considered taking photos with my cell phone before this, but it usually didn’t seem like an ideal time. I finally snapped these photos at the behest of the guy (a surgical nurse, I assume) in the first image below. He was quite adamant that I take a photo, and that he be included in it. He was rather upbeat about it all, like it was something really cool. It struck me as a bit odd, especially since I don’t think he was even going to be a part of Edison’s surgery in particular. Anyway, these are the only two photos we have, so here they are.

Notice in this second picture that Edison is licking his lips. He did this constantly after being taken to the ER. He was incredibly thirsty, but as soon as they knew they would be doing a CT scan, and afterward knowing that they would be doing surgery, they did not allow him to drink any water. They did not even allow him to suck on an ice chip. Even in Edison’s sleep, his tongue kept lapping at his lips, trying to moisten them. It was sad.