Review of “Travelers” (season 1)

travelersTravelers is a science fiction series starring Eric “Will” McCormack as FBI agent Grant McClaren leading a team of 4 other “travelers” who have been sent to save the world from a catastrophic future by the mysterious “director”. They are an odd group: Marcy (MacKenzie Porter) is mentally challenged; Carly (Nesta Cooper) is a single mother with an abusive ex. Trevor (Jared Abrahamson) is a jock who nearly dies in a cage fight; and Philip (Reilly Dolman) is a heroin addict.

This oddball team must come together to take on missions, battle mysterious enemies, and all the while, keep up the pretense that they are normal people. The science fiction plot is solid, and the first season stays intriguing throughout. The acting is also good. I find the series reminiscent of Fringe, though less over the top. I really enjoyed season 1, and have started watching season 2 on Showcase. Season 2 should be available on Netflix if you don’t live in Canada.

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DIY: Replacing a Toilet Fill Valve

What should you do if your toilet stops filling up? First, take the back off. Make sure the fill valve isn’t stuck closed (push down on the arm, water should flow). If not, you may need to replace the fill valve. Here’s a picture of a broken fill valve. The arm is stuck down, but no water is coming out:


Here’s how to replace it:

  1. Turn the tap on the supply clockwise to shut off.


  1. Drain the toilet tank by flushing it, then mop up what water is left with a towel.


  1. Disconnect the supply from the old fill valve.


  1. Remove the old fill value by undoing the nut on the bottom of the tank.


  1. Remove the supply line connector from the new fill valve. You shouldn’t need this, as there should already be one (the one you undid) on the supply tube. Then remove the grommet (black rubber ring) and the nut from the bottom of the new fill valve.


  1. Extend the height of the fill valve and move the float to the right position to match the old valve as closely as possible. In my case, that was making both as high as possible, and the new valve was still shorter than the old one.









  1. I actually put the big rubber washer on the inside of the tank (flat side down), then tightened the nut on the bottom of the tank (hand tight + one full turn with a wrench), push the grommet into the end of the fill valve, then reattached the supply (hand tight).


  1. Clip the fill tube to the inside of the overflow pipe, and slide the other end onto the fitting on the fill valve.


  1. Finally, turn on the supply, checking for leaks under the toilet as the tank fills up. The valve should shut off before the water level in the tank reaches the top of the overflow pipe. If not, you need to adjust the fill valve to make it shorter.


  1. Once the tank is full, test flush.

That’s all there is to it.

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Book Review: “The Skein of Lament”

* * * * A

The second book of “The Braided Path” series by Chris Wooding, The Skein of Lament, is a rare sequel that I liked better than the first book. The series is a fantasy reminiscent of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Set in an alien fantasy world (which has three moons), the second book revolves around the conflict between the noble families of the Saramyrian Empire, the evil magic wielding Weavers, and the group of rebels from the previous book.

Many of the rebels are aberrants, mutants with various abilities. A group of them, known as the Red Sisters, are able to counter the Weavers abilities. As the nobles continue to maneuver against each other, the Weavers plans become clearer. Meanwhile, Sophia, the child of the Empress murdered in the first book, is developing her ability to commune with the spirits.

The writing remains good, the vivid descriptions of the imagined world and solid characters of the first book are built on further. I like the fact that many of them, including one of the main characters, Asara, are neither good nor evil. This book introduces some great new characters. The plot is far more action laden than the first book, and the ending is excellent. I have the anthology “The Braided Path”, and I’m reading the sequel “The Ascendancy Veil” next.

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Review of “The Shannara Chronicles” (season 1)

* * C

The Shannara Chronicles is a series based on the fantasy novels of Terry Brooks. Fortunately, the series creators chose to skip the terribly written debut “The Sword of Shannara”, which was a Lord of the Rings clone. Instead, season 1 is based on the superior “Elfstones of Shannara”. And where the series sticks to the book, it is quite good.

The series revolves around half-elven Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), who is recruited by the druid Allanon (Manu “Deathstroke” Bennett) to help save the four lands when the forbidding, and elven magical barrier that keeps demons from entering the world, begins to fail. Along with elven princess Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) and rover Eretrea (Ivana Baquero), they battle the demons to save the four lands.

The series has some significant problems. The writing is truly terrible in places, particularly the teen drama dialog, which feels very out of place in what is (in the source material) an epic fantasy. Wil comes off as a complete bonehead. The elves are way more human than in the book, making them seem petty and weak, whereas in the book they are noble, and it is only the cunning of the demons that weakens them.

The fantasy world is far more obviously a future earth than in the book, with constant rusted out cars and other artifacts of modern day in the background. The effects are reasonable, and the poor writing is somewhat made up for by good supporting performances by Bennet and John “Gimli” Rhys-Davies (playing King Elessedil), though other supporting players are weak.

There are two more seasons, presumably based on the sequels to Elfstones, and the series has been renewed for a fourth. The first season is entertaining, but the book was far better. I’m not sure I will watch the second season, but if I do, I’ll review it here.

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Book Review: “The Weavers of Saramyr”

* * * B

The first book of “The Braided Path” series by Chris Wooding, The Weavers of Saramyr is a fantasy reminiscent of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Set in an alien fantasy world (which has three moons), the story revolves around the conflict between the various noble families of the Saramyrian Empire when it is revealed that the empress’s daughter and heir is an ‘aberrant’.

Aberrants are mutants with various abilities. They are ruthlessly killed by the Weavers, a priestly cast with magical abilities, including the ability to communicate telepathically over great distances. The Weavers serve the noble families, and are tolerated for their gifts, despite the fact that their powers lead to insanity and often horribly violent behavior.

The writing is good, with detailed descriptions of the imagined world, and solid characters. I found the book some what imbalanced, with most of the good characters being women and most male characters being villains. My biggest criticism is of the ending. I won’t reveal it, of course, but it is a bit of a deus ex machina, though at least it is foreshadowed earlier in the story and didn’t completely come out of nowhere.

I have the anthology “The Braided Path”, so I’ll be reading the sequel “The Skein of Lament” next.

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Review of “Annihilation”

* * * B

annihilationAnnihilation tells the story of Lena (Natalie “Padme” Portman). When her husband Kane (Oscar “Poe” Isaac) shows up after going missing while on a secret mission for the army, he is seriously ill. On the way to the hospital, his ambulance is stop by MPs. Lena wakes up in a mysterious military installation, “Area X”, on the edge of “the shimmer”, a zone of energy that is slowly growing. Of everyone who has ever entered the shimmer, only Kane has returned.

Lena, who has served in the army and is a cellular biologist, volunteers to enter the shimmer in hopes of finding a cure for Kane. For some reason, the team she joins are all women. Once inside the shimmer, weirdness ensues. Slowly, the truth about what it is is revealed. After the climactic conclusion is reached at the center of the phenomenon, Lena returns to Area X. I won’t spoil the ending, other than to say it is as disturbing as the rest of the film.

Though this film is science fiction, there are some good scares and some serious body horror. Natalie Portman is excellent, as are Jennifer Jason LeighGina Rodriguez, and Tessa “Valkyrie” Thompson. All in all, it’s a lot of fun.

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Review of “Enemy at the Gates”

* * * B

This war film, based on real events, dramatizes the Russian defense of Stalingrad in world war two. Vassili (Jude Law), a young sniper, is made a hero by the Soviets after he saves a propaganda officer, Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), by shooting a half dozen German soldiers. His fame leads the Germans to send a sniper of their own, Major König (Ed “Bud” Harris) to assassinate Vassili. The two play a drawn out cat and mouse game, each trying to kill the other.

There is an excellent love triangle involving Vassili, Danilov, and Tania (Rachel “Evelyn” Weisz). After her parents are murdered, Tania joins Vassili on the battlefield. The main characters are all well played, and there are several good minor characters including Nikita Krushchev (Bob Hoskins) and Koulikov (Ron “Hellboy” Perlman), a sniper trained by König. The film also makes a great critique of Communism: no matter how much the system tries to make everyone equal, there will always be those that have greater gifts and win more love.

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