Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

September – December Changes to California Highways

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Dec 30, 2014 @ 12:05 pm PST


It’s time for the final highway page update of 2014. I know they have been few and infrequent this year, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Let’s dig in:

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum, but as usual it contained no additional information beyond what I gleaned on my own. I’ve given up on misc.transport.road. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Russ Berckmoes(2), Michael Carrillo(3), Patrick Chandler(4)]: I-5(1,2), Route 12(1), Route 17(1), Route 29(1), Route 33(3), Route I-80(1), Route 84(1), Route 85(1), US 101(1), Route 103(1), I-110(4), Route I-215(1), Route 258(1), I-280(1), I-580(1), I-710/Route 710(1), I-880(1). I also added information on the origin of the County Route Marker program brought to my attention by the folks handling AAroads over of Facebook, which also updated Lassen County Route A1.

Reviewed the Pending Legislation page, based on the new California Legislature site. As usual, I recommend to every Californian that they visit the legislative website regularly and see what their legis-critters are doing. Noted passage of the following items:



California Highway Headlines for December 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 29, 2014 @ 11:21 am PST

userpic=roadgeekingThe end of the year, at last. I’m posting this during “shutdown” week — that period between Christmas and New Years when aerospace companies typically go on vacation for the week (and so I can take some time on the highway pages). Hopefully, you had a great 2014 with lots of safe travels and explorations of California’s highways. Here are some headlines from December related to those highways:

  • Willits bypass overrun at $64 million: Caltrans. Caltrans is seeking an additional $64 million to complete construction on a highway bypass around Willits, a project that has been beset by numerous delays and legal challenges from opponents who think the road is unnecessary and too environmentally damaging.
  • City Staff Selects Design Team for SoCal’s First Freeway Removal Project. It’s been named one of the top “Freeways Without Futures” in the nation and described as a “perfect example of obsolete infrastructure.” Its removal has been fought for by City Fabrick founder Brian Ulaszewski since 2010, long before the existence of Fabrick itself. It has been a blight on a neighborhood that sees some of the least amount of park space in the entire city. Nearly half a decade later, the project to remove a large portion of the Terminal Island (TI) Freeway in West Long Beach, after having gone out to bid in an RFP with an estimated bid value of $225K, has a team to take the project on: Meléndrez, y’know, the crew leading that tiny project known as the MyFigueroa project in LA and the Bixby Park re-design.
  • ‘Jackass’ star Steve-O cited for anti-SeaWorld stunt. “Jackass” star Steve-O has been charged with a traffic infraction for an anti-SeaWorld stunt in which he defaced a freeway sign in San Diego. The Los Angeles-based entertainer, whose full name is Stephen Gilchrist Glover, posted a YouTube video in August showing him climbing up the freeway sign to attach the word “sucks” after the words “Sea World.”
  • 5 Freeway widening project still has 4 more years to go. It’s been a tough three years for those relying on the 5 Freeway between the Orange County border and the 605 Freeway or for those living or doing business in the area. And there’s still an estimated four years to go, Caltrans officials predict.
  • Caltrans holds ribbon cutting for new I-5 truck lane and freeway widening in Santa Clarita. Hundreds of thousands of motorists will now enjoy reduced congestion and enhanced safety on a segment of Interstate 5 in Santa Clarita thanks to the completion of a $67 million project by Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) that has extended the southbound I-5 truck lane and added mixed-flow lanes in both directions in this heavily traveled corridor.
  • “Bay Lights” gets offer of permanence from bridge officials. Amid the gloom of gathering storm clouds Wednesday, some good news shone through for aficionados of the “Bay Lights,” the ever-changing art installation on the San Francisco end of the Bay Bridge. The bridge’s official overseers, the Bay Area Toll Authority, gave its blessing to a proposal to reinstall the lights — in time for the January 2016 Super Bowl — as a permanent fixture on the four-tower suspension span.
  • New Lane Opens on State Route 57; Completion Event on Dec. 22. In late November, commuters began to enjoy a more efficient commute on State Route 57 (SR-57) when a new 3-mile northbound general-purpose lane opened between Katella and Lincoln Avenues in Anaheim. The $41 million project is the final segment of the SR-57 Northbound Widening Project, and improves a vital north-south link in Orange County
  • Bay Bridge light show will go on. There will be permanent, artistic lights at the end of the tunnel — the westbound tunnel of the Bay Bridge leading into San Francisco, that is — come 2016. After a two-month campaign, the nonprofit Illuminate the Arts announced Wednesday that it had raised the needed $4 million to reinstall the “Bay Lights” as a permanent fixture on the western end of the bridge. Billed as the world’s largest light sculpture, the display of 25,000 LED lights turns the 1.8-mile San Francisco portion of the span into a nightly show of constantly changing abstract images.
  • Bay Bridge light sculpture hits fundraising goal to shine on. The world’s largest LED light sculpture is destined to be on permanent display on the Bay Bridge after a fundraising campaign hit its $4 million goal. Illuminate the Arts, a nonprofit group, announced Wednesday it has raised the needed amount for new equipment and reinstallation of the 25,000 LED lights on the western span of the Bay Bridge. The largest chunk of money — $2 million — came from Peninsula philanthropist Tad Taube. Starting in early March, the lights must be removed so Caltrans can maintain and paint bridge cables. The lights will be put back up in time for Superbowl 50 on Feb 7, 2016, and given to the state.
  • Hollywood Hills residents angered by plan to close 101 offramp. A plan to permanently close a major offramp from the Hollywood Freeway to make way for an expansion of Universal Studios is fueling outrage from residents who say it will cut off their community. The southbound Barham Boulevard exit ramp near Universal City will be shut down — probably in the coming year — as part of NBCUniversal’s $1.6-billion project that includes the building of a Harry Potter-themed attraction.
  • NBCUniversal Permanently Closing 101 Freeway Offramp and the Neighbors Are Pissed. One of the less-discussed features of the massive NBCUniversal Evolution project, which will bring huge changes to Universal City and the surrounding area (including a giant Harry-Potter-themed attraction and hotels) is the permanent closure of the 101 South offramp at Barham Boulevard. A new southbound onramp will be built on Universal Studios Boulevard, which will send Universal Citywalkers right onto the freeway instead of routing them through the surrounding neighborhood, says the LA Times. So there will be less traffic in the area, but residents will have to get off the freeway one stop before or after the Barham exit, which sounds like it could be a little inconvenient. And since this is LA, naturally, there are residents who are proclaiming the closure “an abomination.”
  • Plans for problematic highway intersection call for roundabout or traffic signal . Drivers dread it, but some can’t avoid it. The intersection at Highways 121 and 116 in Schellville has been a traffic congestion nightmare for both visitors and residents of Sonoma and Napa. However, motorists have few alternatives when trying to pass through that part of Wine Country.
  • San Fernando Valley Prioritizes Freeways, Then Bemoans Lack of Transit . This seems to be the week that the news is that nothing happened in the San Fernando Valley. Last Thursday, SBLA reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements are not happening yet. On Sunday, the Daily News ran a piece by Dakota Smith entitled, Lack of new San Fernando Valley rail lines draws complaints.

2014 – A Year of Reviews in Review

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 28, 2014 @ 9:27 am PST

userpic=theatre_musicalsI just posted my last write-up for 2014, so it is probably worth looking back at my entertainment (theatre, ♦ concerts, ◊ movies, and ⊗ other reviewed stuff) year. Here’s what I saw in 2014:

All told, 2014 saw us at 53 live theatre shows, 6 concerts, 1 comedy show, 2 tribute nights, and 3 movies or TV equivalents.

So out of all of this, what were the most memorable items of the year?

I think the most impactful show was Sex and Education at the Colony. I quote that show regularly: it taught me an important lesson: to convince an audience, don’t write what you think will convince them. Instead, get into their head and write what they think will convince them. It’s an important message — convincing someone by presenting the argument that works for them.

I think the most impactful situation was the bru-ha-ha over REP’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The production itself was excellent. Two shows after we saw it, an audience member either got drunk or acted drunk and made homosexual slurs. An actor went into the audience before calling theatre staff and physically threatened the patron. After the incident, the theatre fired the actor for that behavior and was forced to close the show. The fired actor and his friends put the story on the Internet, and the theatre’s name was dragged through the mud (I was one of the few voices able, for legal reasons, to speak up for them). About a week after the incident a version of the production showed up at another theatre (without proper licensing), with many of the original cast but sans the original director, as a “benefit” (and the actor and that production were cited). The Santa Clarita community and REP regulars rallied around REP with a number of fundraisers, and the theatre came out of it OK. It goes to prove the adage: do something great, or do something awful — in either case, they’ll remember your name.

I think the production that made me think the most was Discord, which reappeared later in the year at the Geffen. An intense theological discussion similar to Meeting of Minds, it made one see the bible and the New Testament — indeed, the impact of Jesus — in a new light. I still remember Jefferson’s comment that if you remove all the miracles from the New Testament, the story is even more miraculous: a simple man who through the power of conviction was able to change the world.

We had a number of science fiction or similarly themed musicals: Zombies from the Beyond, Evil Dead: The Musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Roswell. All were great fun and demonstrate that the genre can be a hoot if done right. Bat Boy – The Musical deserves some special mention, as the songs and the story go beyond the normal parody type story to make an even larger statement about society.

There were a number of shows that were extremely moving: The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre was astounding in its characterizations; Big Fish at MTW was just a delight in the scope of its story, and Harmony at the Ahmanson was amazing in its significance and impact.

There were some truly classic shows, in addition (of course) to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Shows like Inherit the Wind at GTC, Harvey at Palo Alto Players, and The Great Gatsby at REP East. There were also some classic musicals, expertly done: Li’l Abner at LA City College, She Loves Me at Chance, and Bye Bye Birdie at Cabrillo.

There were some once-in-a-lifetime shows, notably the tributes to Stan Freberg and Theo Bikel, where we were were sharing the theatre with major industry people. Only in Los Angeles. Our other concerts weren’t slouches either, in particular Noel Paul Stookey‘s concert at McCabes and the long-awaited return of the Austin Lounge Lizards.

I’m not the type that gives meaningless awards. I can’t say who was a best actor, or what was the best show that I saw. Certainly, I can’t judge what was the best show in Los Angeles. I can tell you which performances I enjoyed and stayed with me the most. Weekly, I can share with you the impressions of what I see; I hope that they help you in discovering all the entertainment possible in Southern California.

May you have the happiest of new years, and may 2015 bring you a year of wonderful entertainment, theatre, and concerts. Want to know how to afford going to so much theatre? Look at my post on discount theatre options.

A Humbug? Bah!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 28, 2014 @ 7:53 am PST

A Christmas Carol (Zombie Joe's Underground)userpic=theatre_ticketsGrowing up Jewish, I used to think Christmas was a humbug. I didn’t actively hate it (although I did, and still do, dislike the heavy marketing aspect of it and the way American society pushes it down everyone’s throats), but I also didn’t appreciate many of the Christmas rituals. That’s been changing over time; I’ve been increasingly liking the notion of the holiday as something that spreads goodwill (something that goes back to my favorite Christmas song, Peter Paul and Mary’s Christmas Dinner). As such, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Christmas episode of “The Librarians”. I’ve also had a growing appreciation for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (especially since discovering the wonderful concert version of the story). So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I increasingly found myself drawn to Zombie Joe Underground (FB)’s production of the story; the excellent reviews on Bitter Lemons didn’t hurt either.  So last night, yes, we voluntarily went to see a Christmas-themed theatre production (does this mean Elf: The Musical is in my future? One never knows!)

First, however, a word about A Christmas Carol in general. I realized this morning one reason I’m growing to like the story — it doesn’t emphasize the religious aspects of the holiday, nor does it emphasize the commerical aspects of the holiday. Mind you the religious aspects are fine for those who are Christian; I’m not. As for the commercial Christmas, Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer say it best. But what Dickens’ story emphasizes is the goodwill aspect of the holiday, and the importance of having a changed attitude towards one’s fellows. It emphasizes the importance of not worshiping the gods of business and money, but doing something good with one’s life. That’s a concept that resonates with me.

Next, a word about Zombie Joe Underground (FB) (ZJU), in general. This was my first time at the venue, although I’ve known about it for ages from Livejournal. The venue is truly a black box theatre, lacking even a conventional stage and conventional stage lighting (I think all the lights were parabolic reflectors; not a single Leiko). Yet the theatre performed there was remarkably creative, with an emphasis on the theatricality of the actors, not the sets or props. This is very refreshing to see, and a nice change of pace for our mix of shows. From what I’ve been told, and looking at the mix of past shows on the wall, the venue specializes in the creative and avant guard, not the traditional play or musical that might hit a traditional stage venue. They lean towards the macabre in a way similar to The Visceral Company (FB); but have a different approach towards production and staging. I do plan to keep a closer eye on the venue for future productions of interest.

What happens when you bring a production company like ZJU together with a classic Christmas story? You get something offbeat. Mind you, they don’t change the story (unlike my favorite version, A Mulholland Christmas Carol), although they do imperceptibly condense the story to under an hour. Rather, you get all the essential elements the story presented in an offbeat approach with actors that are truly having fun with it. I guess at this point I should provide a synopsis of the story, but if you don’t know A Christmas Carol — given all the myriad versions out there — then you have truly been living under a rock. So, for those living under rocks, click here.

You get a sense of the energy of this production from the start, when the “Steam Punk Chorus” comes out and starts singing a number of Christmas carols. I put “Steam Punk” in quotes, for the ZJU notion of steampunk is wearing goggles (even swim goggles) and corsets, and none of the Victorian mechanical inventions I would expect. The chorus is more macabre, with white faces, darting eyes, playful grabbing and sexiness (without exposure), and warped attitudes. I still can picture in my mind their reactions and playfulness with the tambourine one of the young ladies was playing. They are also — much to my surprise for a storefront theatre — quite strong singers. The voices of these seven actors are just remarkable — from the young man singing Ave Maria to the blend of all the women’s voices (especially the one with the tambourine). Truly a remarkable opening.

After the opening songs, the story of Scrooge begins in earnest. The retelling itself stuck to the traditional story; I found it difficult to identify much that was abridged. With the exception of the actor portraying Scrooge (Sebastian Muñoz (FB; Page)), everyone (including the director) played multiple roles and were not only switching hats, but costumes, wigs, makeup and styling constantly. This led to a form of theatre that emphasized the creativity and what the acting process brings to create the sense of place and character. You were transported to London in the 1800s through the performances in front of you, not the scenery or the sounds. There was also a ZJU sense of playfulness in the mix — the occasional pale face, the use of total darkness and flashlights, the occasional “steam punk” chorus aspect in the background. It’s hard to put into words, but the total overall effect just made the show really fun and different.

The performances also brought out a sense of joy. As always, I have trouble telling what came from the actors and what came from the director, although in this case the director was one of the actors (Denise Devin (FB)). This team of actors — and it is hard to single anyone of them out given the multitude of roles —  were uniformly great. Those in the chorus were strong singers, and they all brought a form of maniacal energy to their myriad roles that it was just remarkable to watch them. I was going to try to give a bunch of specific mentions, but they would all seem to devolve around the same thing — they were great. A few things that stick in my mind: Scrooge’s energy and passion; the characterizations of young Scrooge (although how Scrooge went from being a young bald man to an older man with hair was astounding :-)), of his sister, of Mrs. Cratchet, the joy of the ghost of Christmas Present, the playfulness of Tiny Tim and Cratchet’s children, the joy of Fred — all were spectacular.

The acting team consisted of the following individuals: Jason Britt (FB) [Ghost of Marley, Bob Cratchit, Topper, Belle’s Husband]; Denise Devin (FB) [Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future]; Courtney Drumm (FB) [Steam Punk Chorus, Tiny Tim, Carol Boy, Turkey Boy, Want, Belle’s daughter, Laundress]; Gloria Galvan (FB) [Mrs. Cratchit, Steam Punk Chorus (she was the one with the tambourine that I liked), Mrs. Fezziwig, Ms. Lacey, Charity Gentleman]; Sara Kessler (FB) [Steam Punk Chorus, Fan, Elizabeth]; Lara Lihiya (FB) [Steam Punk Chorus, Violin, Belle, Belinda, Narrator, Housekeeper]; Sebastian Muñoz (FB; Page) [Scrooge]; Kelly Rhone (FB) [Martha, Steam Punk Chorus, Charity Gentleman, Exchange Man, Guitarist, Narrator, Waiter]; Kevin Pollard Jr. (FB) [Steam Punk Chorus, Younger Scrooge, Undertaker, Narrator, Peter Cratchit]; and AJ Sclafani (FB) [Steam Punk Chorus, Fred, Narrator, Exchange Man, Fezziwig].

Turning to the technical — ummm, what technical? The credit for scenic design is listed as Angelia Weitzman (FB), but there was no scenery to speak off, other than a black box or two; the true scenic design came from her other credit — co-costume designer together with the director, Denise Devin (FB). Also working on costumes — specifically, special costumes — as well as the props was Jeri Batzdorff (FB). The costumes and props combined to give a wonderful scenic design of the imagination — a nice (and interesting) change of pace from the more realistic scenic design of the larger/more traditional theatres. Technical sound and lights assistance was by Steven Alloway/FB: there really was no additional sound, and the lights themselves were rudimentary — no Leikos, but a number of parabolic reflectors either with colored bulbs or gels, without the traditional lighting control bar. Still, Alloway and the other designers used what they had to best effect, and there were a number of times I noticed the use of the lighting to create a mood for the scene. Hence, kudos are in order for the lighting. Production Graphics were by Zombie Joe, who also produced the show. Musical stylings were by the Steam Punk Chorus. The production was directed and adapted from the original by Denise Devin (FB).

I do have one negative to add — not about the show, however. Zombie Joe’s really needs to improve its website. As someone who has an old website, I can recognize a website with an even older look — the blinking and the animation reminds one of the days of MySpace and all the blinking free sites. Zombie Joes would do good to find a volunteer who could revamp their site to provide more information on their shows and the theatre itself, in a style that is much more conducive to the modern web.

There is one more performance of the ZJU version of A Christmas Carol (FB) today at 7:00 PM. Tickets are available through tix.com, or in person at the theatre. Note that the show itself is under an hour.

Dining Notes: For dinner before the show we tried a new restaurant in North Hollywood, Yerevan Steak House. They are a few blocks up Lankershim from the theatre, about 3 blocks N of Burbank, across from Mofongos Puerto Rican (where we’ve eaten before). Yerevan is a simple Armenian kabob house, family run with a very family feel, and excellent food. I think we’ll be back.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This was our last show of the year, unless I unexpected add something on New Years Eve. It’s been an interesting theatrical year — I’ll work on recap post next. As for 2015: January is filling up. The first weekend of January there’s no interesting live theatre, so I may go see the new “Into the Woods” movie. The following weekend brings two shows: “Serial Killer Barbie: The Musical” (FB) at the No Ho Arts Center on Friday January 9 and “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11. The next weekend starts the Rep season with “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat Sanuary 17. The following weekend is currently open (but I’m looking). January may conclude with the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Another View of Airbnb

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 28, 2014 @ 5:30 am PST

userpic=travelNear the end of November, I wrote a post detailing my experiences with Airbnb. Today’s Pearls Before Swine captures the Airbnb experience well, especially if you are staying in someone’s guest room. That’s not to say the Airbnb experience is bad, but it has a difference series of considerations from staying in a hotel.

(click to go to the image page)

End of the Year News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 27, 2014 @ 11:05 am PST

userpic=observationsIt’s the last Saturday of the year, and thus this is the last serving of News Chum Stew for 2014. Let’s hope it is somewhat tasty:

  • The Podcast Renaissance. I’ve written before about the rebirth of podcasts, exemplified by Serial. Here’s another article in the same vein. I like this article because it gives some insight as to why podcasts are seeing a rebirth, especially when you don’t see “pods” anymore. The answer is that the podcast is basically the radio version of VOD — you don’t have to listen to the talk radio stations with all their commercials — you can listen to well-produced material, streamed to your car either directly or from your phone (no downloading required), when you want. I think this should be a wake-up call to the previous generation podcasts, such as Born Ready (a Bay-Area theatre podcast) — you need to up your game and produce something that sounds better; two guys sitting around a microphone chatting on a subject doesn’t fly these days.
  • How Chicken Changed The World. Little things have big impacts. We often realize this, but then don’t think about the little things. Consider the humble chicken. According to one man, Chicken has powered human civilization. It has not only provided a cheap (cheep) and easy protein source, but had medicinal uses, and helped build communities.
  • The Death of Voice Mail. If you’re like me, you hate voice mail. You would rather send an email or a text than sit and listen to backed up voice mail. Slashdot has some interesting commentary on an article about Coca-Cola disconnecting the voicemail at its headquarters. It views this as yet another salvo in the war against voicemail, which is rapidly being won.
  • Pronounciation Errors that Shaped English. If you like history or language, you’ll enjoy this link (which I think came from Andrew Ducker): 8 ways that pronounciation errors shaped the English language.
  • Christmas Lights for Celiac Research. Slashdot recently reported that this year is the last year of Alex’s Internet Controlled Christmas Lights for Celiac Research. Now, to me, the interesting fact here is not the Internet control — in this era of computer-connected everything, Christmas lights aren’t that far fetched — but that this was for Celiac research and I never heard of it.


The Power of Mathematics

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 26, 2014 @ 7:58 am PST

The Imitation Gameuserpic=moviesAs you might have figured out by now, I’m a live theatre person. However, I do occasionally go to the movies, and one of those “movie days” is always Christmas Day. This year, after some back and forth on the particular movie, I settled on “The Imitation Game“, a bio-pic about Alan Turing (my wife vetoed “Into the Woods“, which I may see the first weekend of January; she went to go see “Night at the Museum 3“).

Alan Turing is an interesting, and quite tragic, fellow. Most folks in the computer science world know of Turing: the most prestigious award in the computing field is named after him (the ACM Turing Award), anyone studying computability theory learned of the Turing Machine, and anyone dealing with artificial intelligence knows of the Turing Test. Dayenu – that would have been enough. A smaller number of people may know of Turing’s real contribution: he was one of the people behind the breaking of the German Enigma code machine — an effort that quite probably led to the Allied victory against the Germans in WWII (and, ancillarily, one of the reasons that the Unix crypt utility is insecure, as it is based on the Enigma algorithms).  As an aside, I’ll note that those who really want to study Turing might look at the online Turing archive, a large web collection of digital facsimiles of original documents by Turing and other pioneers of computing.

The general unwashed public, however, knows little of Turing and little of cryptography. There have been plays and movies portraying Turing before: most notably Breaking the Code, a 1986 play by Hugh Whitmore that was later turned into a movie starring Derek Jacobi. Most of the portrayals focus on attempting to reconcile Turing’s cryptographic work with the secret that seemingly led to his death: his homosexuality.

All this Turing talk is because the latest attempt to explore Turing’s life is the movie The Imitation Game, based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges (who runs a detailed website on Turing and his life), adapted for the stage by Graham Moore. As with any entertainment writeup, we need to look from three areas: the story, the performances, and the technical.

The screenplay for The Imitation Game does a good job of telling a version of the story of Turing’s life. It certainly goes in deeper and provides more details than Breaking the Code did. It uses a framing device of an early 1950s burglary at Turing’s house to have Turing telling his story to the police, who ultimately uncover his homosexuality and prosecute him for it. The film keeps jumping back and forth in time between the 1950s police station, the war years at Bletchly Park, and Turing’s early years in Boarding School.

The problem, of course, is that this isn’t quite the truth. Films rarely are: they simplify facts in some areas, amplify facts in other areas, and create fictional peoples and stories in still other areas. This story does that in spades — while researching this writeup I found a good summary of the historical inaccuracies in the film. There are a number of key ones, with the most glaring being the fact that Turing was never accused of espionage, and never worked with the individual identified as the actual spy in the film. It also over-amplifies the relationship with Joan Clarke, under-emphasizes the other cryptography work that Turing did, and neglects to mention the fact that multiple machines were built. It also tends to under emphasize Turing’s death from cyanide poisoning, although they hint of it at the beginning of the movie. Turing’s life story is interesting enough — read the Wiki page to get a good idea of it — but the screenwriter chose to change it. Ah, Hollywood. Note that I have no idea if Hodges’ original book makes the same errors, but I’m inclined to doubt it.

“But besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” — If we set aside the historical inaccuracies (that is, we accept this fictional version as the story to be told), the progression works reasonably well. The jumping back and forth in time is not confusing, and the way the story introduces and builds the characters works well. The play also throws out some good quotes, most notably “it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” This quote is one of those wonderful inspirational lines that may goad people to get involved with science and engineering — this is a good thing.

The story also highlights a major dilemma the folks at Bletchly Park faced: they couldn’t let the Germans know they had broken the code; if they did, the Germans would change the code. Thus, they had to let some people die in order to save others. This was perhaps the most interesting question at the heart of the story. However, it is dispatched relatively quickly and doesn’t demonstrate the likely large moral debate that occurred.

The performances in the film were excellent. I’m not going to list the entire cast as I do with a play; there’s IMDB for that.  I will note that Benedict Cumberbach portrays Turing well, although it is unclear how much of the Aspergers mannerisms and stutter were an invention of the screenwriter. Keira Knightly does a good job with Joan Clarke, a fellow cryptographer and one-time fiancee of Turing. From what I’ve read of Clarke, I don’t think the role was written accurately portrays the character; however, Knightly does a good job with the role as written.

Let’s turn now to the technical side. If this were a stage show, I’d be talking about sound, lighting, and sets. Most of those just blend into the story in film; what film brings to the fore is the cinematic aspects. This film did a very nice job of establishing place and time through a mix of new sequences illustrating wartime England and grainy stock footage of bombings and such. Bletchly Park also seemed to be portrayed well, although I cannot compare it to the real thing. The good thing (to me) is that there were very few points where I became aware of the cinematographer trying to do tricks with the camera to create emphasis or mood.

Overall, I found the film quite enjoyable and worth what I paid for it. Whether it was a story that deserved the “big screen” treatment is less clear — the story would likely have worked on the small screen as well. Alas, there were few truly “need the big screen” movies out that our group could agree were worth seeing. I am disturbed by the historical inaccuracies — not because the screenwriter chose to put them in, but because this will likely be the version of the story that the unschooled will take away as Turing’s story.

Preview Notes: We have the following five movies previewed:

  • A Most Violent Year. A crime drama seemingly about a trucking company and the mob in Jersey. The story just didn’t catch my interest.
  • Black Sea. An adverture hunt to recover the gold from a sunken U-boat, with the spoils being evenly split. Of course, with an even split, you need only to reduce the number of people to increase your share… Not interested.
  • Chappie. A movie about a sentient police robot, and how he learns of his sentience. Appears to be an interesting story  about AI. It was interesting to see this paired with a story about Turing; one wonders if the robot would pass the Turing test. Potentially worth seeing.
  • Paddington. Why, you might ask, would a children’s comedy be placed in this movie. Of course, the answer is that Turing was born in Paddington. The movie itself looks quite well done and cute, and may be worth seeing.
  • Woman In Gold. A movie about a quest to recover artowrk stolen by the Nazis. This looked to be a very interesting story, well acted. Might be worth seeing.

Upcoming Shows: There is one more show in December for me: A Christmas Carol, as interpreted by Zombie Joe’s Underground (FB) on December 28. January is filling up. The first weekend of January there’s no interesting live theatre, so I may go see the new “Into the Woods” movie. The following weekend brings two shows: “Serial Killer Barbie: The Musical” (FB) at the No Ho Arts Center on Friday January 9 and “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11. The next weekend starts the Rep season with “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat Sanuary 17. The following weekend is currently open (but I’m looking). January may conclude with the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

A Christmas Musing

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 25, 2014 @ 7:42 am PST

userpic=chanukah-christmasToday is Christmas. To those who observe it, I hope you’re having a happy holiday and found what you were expecting under the tree. Me? No tree. No presents. Just a movie and Chinese food, with friends, in a crowded restaurant.

Christmas is one of the days in the United States where I realize I’m part of a religious minority. Almost everything is closed. Everyone (it seems) is out celebrating the birth of their religious savior, and pushing it in my face. Further, although that’s a harsh way of saying it, I don’t have a problem with much of it. People should be free to celebrate whatever faith they want (even if their faith is questioning God or non-believing — which, as the existence of God can be neither proved nor disproved — is just another form of faith). I’m more troubled with the Government observing the holidays, as that is favoring one religion over another; that’s only offset by my getting the day off.

The reason I’m writing this post (other than I have nothing else to do Christmas morning), however, is to note that I’m obviously not alone. Two days ago, I circulated on Facebook an article from Everyday Feminism (which has since been pulled, but I found the original elsewhere) about all of the examples of Christian Privilege in US society. This must have hit a nerve, as it has been one of the most shared links I have ever posted.

“Privilege” is the hot word on everyone’s lips. In the wake of Ferguson, there have been vast discussions of White Privilege. This is thing that does exist, but it is really an artifact of our society’s history… and thus, it is very hard to change. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to change it, but we need to recognize it won’t happen overnight. Eliminating racial based privilege and judgement will take multiple generations and training to do completely. The fact that we are even questioning the privilege and discussing it is a big step forward — compare this with our attitudes towards race 100 years ago in 1914, or even 50 years ago in 1964.

The first step towards solving any problem is recognizing it. That’s why it is important to recognize where we are giving inherent privilege without realizing it — beit White privilege, Christian privilege, Thin privilege, and so on. Perhaps this is why that article hit such a nerve.

I should, digress for a minute, about the recent anger towards the police. In addressing the question of privilege, we should not forget that policemen are people too, and that the vast majority of police officers really want to protect and serve and help all people. Any death is tragic — irrespective of color of skin, or of profession. When we judge people based on their uniform or profession, we are making the same mistake as those who judge on skin color. We need to learn to see people based on the person, not how they are packaged.

The discussion of privilege does not mean that everyone needs to be the same. That leads us down the political correctness path, and takes us to a Harrison Bergeron world (and if you haven’t read that short story, you should — it was very prescient. You can read it here. I’ll wait.) Rather, it means we should see people as the person they are, and not provide special benefits or treatment based on some characteristic.

Bringing this full circle to what day it is — I really like the notion of the recent Christmas episode of The Librarians. Christmas is as good of a day as any to spread good will, good cheer, and recharge the goodness of humanity. May today recharge you with good spirit, and may you find in the coming year the lessening of judgement and privilege based on the packaging, and the greater recognition of the person and the contents inside, which is where true value and worth lies.