Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

New Month, New Masthead

I hope you all like this one!

(UPDATE: No, this image isn't staying around forever. I'll replace it sometime tomorrow.)

Move Over Br....nah, I can't go through with it.

I was going to post a certain picture here as an April Fool's edition of Move Over Britney!, but....well, I just love my readers too much to subject them to such things.

Go look at the item I'm sparing you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Lazy Linkage

Not much to talk about, but here are some items of interest. Or not. (Yes, it's a slow day, and I had a lousy day at The Store. You know how to tell bad karma when you're working at a grocery store? When you get paged to come quick because one of the front doors fell off its hinges. And that was at the end of my day. Yeesh.)

:: Alistair Cooke has died. I never heard his "Letter From America" radio feature, but I remember my mother's faithful watching of Masterpiece Theater when I was a kid.

:: Matthew Yglesias links this poll of the 10 sexiest women. Regular readers will know that I nearly covered my monitor in Pepsi from my oral cavity when I saw who was Number One. But then, my idea of "sexy" involves brains and talent, and does not involve a stainless steel pole and guys waving dollar bills, so there you are. (Like Matthew, I don't even know who a couple of these women are.)

:: All the writing books say not to try crap like this, but when you see news items that endorse it -- with supporting quotes from the publisher, no less! -- one is tempted to despair for the idea that maybe just writing the best book one can is the way to go. The publisher in question, though, seems to be a bookstore-chain associated label, rather like "Barnes&Noble Books", so I'm not sure this really counts as "using a gimmick to get published" in the classic sense.

:: The Ten Best Rock Bands Ever. Start quibbling, I guess. I can't really say -- while I can't deny the Beatles their place in history, I can certainly admit that I don't much care for them as a listening experience. I almost always prefer hearing Beatles songs performed by, well, people other than the Beatles. And I will go to my grave thinking that "Hey Jude" is one of the most horrible, Godawful, please-drive-an-icepick-through-my-eardrums songs in all of history. But then, I'm a guy who thinks that Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits is the best rock album of the 1980s, so again, what do I know.

:: As a follow-up to my post a few days ago about why The Apprentice is better than Survivor, I see an MSNBC article that argues convincingly that The Apprentice is better than Survivor. Hell, if I'm ahead of the pro writers, how come I'm not one?

:: LiteBrite, on the Web. Believe me, it's more fun doing LiteBrite on the living room floor with a four year old while The Simpsons is on, but hey, what do....[head explodes]

An Impending Hiatus, and a couple of other notes.

Just a heads-up for my regular readers: I will be taking a week-long hiatus starting on Easter Sunday and ending the Saturday after Easter Sunday. This hiatus will coincide with the wife's vacation, so we'll be doing some fun stuff away from the computer, and anyway, it's been a while since I took time off to recharge the blogging batteries. I'm falling dangerously behind on my 2004 Reading List, for instance.

Also, I'm kicking around ditching BlogRolling for maintaining the blogroll, just to speed things up, really. I never found it all that easier to use than by merely hand-coding links, and the "Recently Updated" thing doesn't seem to actually work for all blogs. I'll probably implement that change in the next few days. Nothing against BlogRolling, really, but the load-time issue is a biggie, and I just don't gain as much by using that service as I thought I might when I signed up. (I was considering this move before the service was bought by some other company, so this isn't some grand stand against the corporatization of the Web.)

Finally...well, there is no "finally". That's it.

Duke is evil? When did that happen?

No links, but I've seen a few comments here and there that for purposes of the NCAA tournament, Duke has become the college basketball equivalent of the New York Yankees: everybody is either a fan, or hates them. Not being up on my college basketball, when did this happen? I seem to recall a lot of admiration for Duke and for Mike Krz....their coach. Did I miss something?

And speaking of the Yankees, I see they lost on opening day. Don't get excited, Yankee-haters, and don't get downtrodden, Yankee-lovers. The Yankees opened their 1998 season with two straight losses, and then they went on to win 120 games (I think...I'm not looking it up).

And then there's my team, the Pirates, who have posted losing records eleven years in a row and are now in their third rebuilding phase, by my count. But maybe if this rebuilding project takes, Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy can have a speech like this:

"Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So, I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp, but the fourth one... stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands."

Oh well.

Confessions of a One-time Minister

Fascinating post about one man's Christianity, here:

"I'm trying to get my head around were I stand right now vis a vis Jesus Christ. Not God; Jesus. God's a done deal; God has returned my calls consistently over the past year and a half; as for Jesus, I can't even get Jesus' voice mail. He's probably busy dealing with the whole Mel Gibson thing."

Via the Unsinkable Mr. Jones, whom I know has done a great deal of reading about religious matters and whom I wish would write some of his own essays about his thoughts thereof.

Post-modern Blogging?

Yesterday when I logged on to Blogger for some posting, I noticed that three of the "Recently Published" blogs sported really minimalistic titles: "Weblog", "A Blog is a Blog is a Blog", and the self-referential "This Is Not a Blog".

I failed to click through and observe any actual entries, however, so I can't vouch for what the content might have been. I just found the presence of three such blogs on the list kind of funny. (Emphasis there on "kind of", rather than on "funny".)

Monday, March 29, 2004

Yes, it's serious music, dammit!

If you ever want to see some thin skins in action, just wander onto a film music discussion board and suggest, in as condescending a tone as possible, that film music doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as real classical music.

Some people out there, though, get it: of course it does. The Washington Times had a great article the other day about it. (I know, liberal bloggers aren't supposed to approvingly link the Washington Times. Well, I'm doin' it anyway. Harumph.)

Here are a couple of key passages from the article:

"The death of classical music in the 20th century has become an almost tiresome cliche, but maybe now is the time to ask if these reports of serious music's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Perhaps we have just been looking for it in the wrong place. Perhaps it merely went into hiding in a place where you would least expect it: the Hollywood soundstage.... As these new recordings and others amply demonstrate, it is long past time to recognize Hollywood's greatest film scores as significant milestones in the legitimate classical repertoire. Continued academic snobbery and pointless experimentation will only further alienate musical culture from its traditional and popular roots in the unities of dramatic presentation and formal structure."

Go read the whole thing. The re-recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood score to which the article refers is here. It's worth noting that William Stromberg and the Marco Polo label have been re-recording classic film scores for years, and that this is only the most recent of their releases.

I think it's a bunny. Or an axe-wielding madman.

Yet another nifty post by Lynn Sislo, in which she provides three abstract paintings but doesn't identify the artists. One of them is apparently by a "name-brand" artist, while the other(s) are by amateurs. There's some interesting discussion going on, too, but as is almost always the case, I don't really "get" some of the statements made by people who seem to know what they're talking about. Of course, my own personal definition of art is hyper-inclusive, and there's also my general rejection of any objective standard of good versus bad, so there you go.

Anyway, I like the second painting she posts. It seems to me to be best organized around a visual theme.

The Smoking Exploding Space Modulator

After finding clear evidence of water on Mars a couple of weeks ago, something even more exciting has been detected by Earth-based telescopes and spacecraft in Martian orbit: methane. What's so exciting about methane? The methane molecule is not stable in the Martian atmosphere, so unless it is replenished it would disappear within several hundred years. And methane, so far as we know, could be replenished in two ways. One is volcanic activity (for which there is no current evidence of there being any on Mars), and the other is microbial activity.

Now, if they find a beat-up road sign reading "Barsoom City -- 50 miles", that'll really be something.

(link via Warren Ellis)

Oh, give it up, Atrios!

Sometimes I wonder if Atrios's staunch pseudonymity is just a test to see how long he can keep it up. Case in point: Kos has pictures of Atrios with the face blurred.

At some point it all becomes just an exercise in silliness, doesn't it?

How DARE they quote the Bible! It's ours! Keep thy mits off, libruls!

Kevin Drum points out something funny. It seems that the Bush campaign is mad because John Kerry quoted scripture in the course of criticizing the President.

I know that a lot of conservatives think that the Bible is theirs and theirs alone to use as a rhetorical cudgel against their political foes, but something tells me they're about to discover that it goes both ways.

God's person acting troupe continues to grow....

British actor Sir Peter Ustinov has died.

I'll bet there are some amazing productions of Hamlet in Heaven these days.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Fuel for Anti-Semitism

A common criticism of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ is that, if the film itself is not anti-Semitic, it might well provide fuel for anti-Semites who want to believe that "the Jews" were primarily responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. I'm not sure how fair a criticism this is -- I'm generally wary of blaming art for the actions of people who view it -- but I do note at least one instance of it happening. It seems that a Shi'ite cleric in Kuwait wants the film to be exhibited, over that country's ban on films that depict prophets (Muslims hold Jesus to be a prophet), because it exposes "the role of the Jews, the killers of prophets".

Gibson has insisted that he intended no anti-Semitism in making this film, so I hope he condemns this blatant attempt by some to graft anti-Semitism onto his effort.

Down with the Academy!

PZ Myers offers up a charming story from his own life about how a single professor tormented him in his grad school days. I sometimes regret that I didn't go to grad school...but not often. This kind of thing is the reason why; and since my father and sister are both in academia, I've heard many a story of this sort. I suspect that the combination of difficulty of subject matter -- one has to be very smart to master enough of a subject to earn a doctorate -- and tenure makes mean people delight in their freedom to be mean.

I'm reminded of a quote from an essay by philosopher Paul Feyerabend that I once read in which he bluntly stated that "Never before has the field of philosophy of science been dominated by so many creeps and incompetents". (Not exact wording, but I don't feel like digging for the exact quote.)

Answers to the two book quizzes

OK folks, I'm providing the answers to the two book quizzes (here and here) in comments to this post. Feel free to peruse the quizzes, those who might have missed them. And the winning entry for the Grand Prize, the 2004 Humvee with gasoline provided for life, has sadly been disqualified because in each case the entrant gave twenty answers to quizzes that only had fifteen questions. Sad, really....

Beam us up!

Has anyone written anything, maybe a book or at least an article or two, about how Star Trek has shaped the course of technological development over the last few decades? I'm thinking of things like this:

:: We all remember the communicators from the original series, which Kirk and company would flip open and hold to their faces, walkie-talkie style. Current cell-phone design seems directly inspired by this, no? Will future iterations of cellular technology bring little badges you wear on your chest, Next Generation style?

:: On Star Trek, everyone would read things via computer pads. Today, Angie McKaig points out the parallel to reading on today's PDAs and tablet PCs.

:: Finally, I'm wondering if people don't expect the Net in general to function the way the library computer does on the Enterprise, in which crewmembers can apparently request nearly any work ever created. Remember the Next Generation episode in which Ryker, Worf and Data get stuck in a simulacrum of a ritzy hotel, created by aliens for a human astronaut who had crashed on their planet? (The guy was reading a copy of some really bad novel set in a ritzy hotel at the time of his crash, and the aliens took that novel as a guide for what human life was really like.)

Anyway, according to the episode, that novel was written three centuries before the adventures of the Enterprise-D, and it deservedly slipped into complete obscurity, but Captain Picard is able to call up its text on the Enterprise computer almost instantly. And that's just one example; there were numerous other instances in The Next Generation when someone would take advantage of Data's staggering reading speed and give him an order like, "Data, search through the entire Federation database for any mentions of one-eyed purple people-eaters". And ten minutes later, he'd report back: "One hundred years ago, there was a single incident recorded on the planet MumboJumbo III...."

What I'm wondering is if we've come to expect the Net to be our version of Star Trek's library computer, and if some of the current copyright debate springs from the clash between what we want the Net to be versus what the Net really is, at least right now.

(Yes, this is just half-baked speculation. In fact, it's not even half-baked -- the oven's not even done preheating.)

Search Engine Strangeness

I'm flummoxed by a couple of search engine queries that have recently steered a bit of traffic here. First -- and I'm pretty sure I've commented on this before, and I have no idea why it's happening again -- are searches for people evidently wondering if the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kevin McClatchy, is gay. Well, as a Pirates fan, I'm more interested in just when he's planning to end the streak of consecutive losing seasons (currently 11, nearly certain to be 12 after this year) in which the Bucs are mired.

Second, in the last twenty-four hours I'm seeing a bunch of hits from people looking for info on the 9-11-01 Memorial Edition of that "Jenga" game. Lord, I hope such a thing does not exist. Not even my sense of humor, which is pretty dark at times, finds much to laugh about there.

Crap, it's been two months! Somebody give me a big idea to just toss out there, unformed and unspecified!

President Bush calls for "universal broadband" by 2007.

Of course, he doesn't offer Suggestion One as exactly how to do this in just three years, but hey, he's a "big picture" kind of guy. No doubt I'll be able to use my spiffy new broadband connection in 2007 to keep up with all the activity in his "Colonize Mars" program.

(Hey, here's a question. Why doesn't he propose "Universal Employment" by 2007? Actually, I'm not sure I want an answer to that.)

Catchin' a Wave in the sky....

Jan Berry, of surf-music duo Jan & Dean fame, has died. The surfer stuff isn't really my cup of tea -- a little Beach Boys goes a long, long way, for me -- but that's still sad.

Come home, Sammy! We missed you!

Eight years after a contentious departure/firing, Sammy Hagar has rejoined Van Halen for an upcoming tour and possible recording. I'm not sure how much, if any, interesting new stuff Van Halen can bring to the table (especially after that album with Gary Cherone -- yeeccchhh!), and I'm really not sure if Hagar's voice these days is capable of producing the kinds of high notes that the best songs from his Van Halen output require, but I always liked the Sammy Hagar phase of the band's history. (The David Lee Roth era was great, too; I tend to like both equally.)

I remember an interview with Hagar after his departure in 1998 in which he sadly noted that "I'll never make music again as good as I did with those guys", which seemed to me a refreshing bit of honesty, especially after David Lee Roth's "Who needs them? I'll be bigger than Jesus!" attitude after his original exit. I also thought it a good illustration of the idea that "Living well is the best revenge" when I saw Sammy on, of all things, an episode of Emeril Live! on the Food Network a few years later, in which he reported that since leaving the band he got a place in Mexico, on the beach, where he makes his own tequila.

Striking a blow....

I'm not sure if this works, but I saw it over on Nathan Newman's blog, and I figured if I can help it along by linking it, why not. It's a site that is nothing more than a gigantic collection of bogus e-mail addresses, intended to gum up spambots. Spam hasn't been that big of an issue for me, especially since I switched to EarthLink as my primary ISP, but it's still annoying.

(I do, though, have to grudgingly admit a bit of admiration for whoever generated one spam message that showed up in my Hotmail inbox yesterday. Like everyone else, I've watched as spammers come up with nifty spellings of sexual organs in order to get past the filters, such as "Ma.ke yer pen.!s b!ggur!" Anyway, as a lover of words, I have to be honest and admit that "Bulkify your member!" is a pretty clever construction.)

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ewwwwww!

Longtime viewers of Friends remember that the gang used to occasionally gaze out the window of Monica's apartment and follow the adventures of "Ugly Naked Guy", a guy who lived in an apartment across the street and who apparently never wore clothes. (Ugly Naked Guy eventually moved away, leaving his apartment open for Ross. "Ironically, all those boxes seem to be marked 'Clothes'," Chandler observed as UNG was packing.)

Why am I bringing this up? Oh, just because....

Questionable Sales Strategies

In the middle of an update about life stuff, The Grey Bird relates a call she received from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's ticket sales people. I read this with mild interest, because when we first moved from the Southern Tier to Buffalo four years ago, I actually interviewed with the BPO's sales staff for a job, and I got to listen in on one of their sales calls, which starts with a "Hi, we're just calling to see if you liked the concert" type of thing before awkwardly sliding into a sales pitch. (Why do companies think that sales calls can be disguised thusly? Yeesh.) But I have to say, the call that I got to hear didn't go anywhere near as far afield as Grey Bird's did. Wow. No way I'd be comfortable doing that.

Video Store Advice

Looking for something good to watch when all that's on is boring basketball? Or are all the copies of From Justin to Kelly out of stock at BlockBuster? Well, Sean links a nifty list of underappreciated movies, and it really is a good list. There are 100 movies on this list, and the only ones I'd question are as follows:

Dragonslayer In fairness, it's been a long time since I saw this one, but I recall it being pretty dour and humorless. I should watch it again, though. (Alex North's last film score, by the way.)

Alien 3. I don't like any of the Alien movies, but this one's especially bad. Not even a good score (Eliott Goldenthal) saves it from being dreck.

Young Sherlock Holmes. This is two-thirds of a really good movie. The ending, in which the great detective suddenly becomes an action hero, stinks. Great score by Bruce Broughton, though.

The Mosquito Coast. I can't say I like this one much, but it's worth watching just to remind oneself of what Harrison Ford was capable of doing before he decided, after The Fugitive, to stop challenging himself.

Point Break. Good idea for a movie, really, and it's fun for a while. But about two-thirds of the way through it just won't stop taking itself so damned seriously. Scrubs fans can enjoy a younger John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox), though, as a snotty FBI superior.

The Last Boy Scout. Nope. Sorry. I love this movie's opening credits, and the very first scene is pretty good ("Whoa, did that football player really just do that?!"), but after that it's pretty dull and depressing. And really, I can't get behind a movie that has Bruce Willis, after he's defeated all the bad guys, embracing his wife and whispering "Fuck you" in her ear. Come on.

The Hudsucker Proxy. I like weirdness and flights-of-fancy and all that, but this one is just too "out there". Good production design and all that, but we're talking about a movie whose MacGuffin is a hula-hoop. Sure.

Anime Goodness

A couple of anime notes:

:: First of all, the big news is the recently announced DVD release of three more Studio Ghibli films. I'm looking forward to seeing Porco Rosso and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, and I'm really looking forward to having a DVD of My Neighbor Totoro, which is quite simply one of the finest films I have ever seen. As ever, keep an eye on Nausicaa.net for Ghibli-related news, and Destroy All Monsters for general Asian pop-culture stuff.

:: Regular readers of USS Clueless know that when he's not writing 9000-word essays about how America should be bombing into submission everything between Tunis and Calcutta (yes, I'm oversimplifying!), Steven Den Beste has quite the budding interest in anime. ("Budding" probably isn't the word, since he's amassed an anime library that's apparently rather impressive.) The other day, SDB posted a helpful summation of his recommendations thus far. His post centers on the anime series he has watched -- i.e., no stand alone films -- which actually strikes me as being pretty helpful, since I tend to look at the anime section at Media Play and wonder which end is up.

:: Not quite anime-related, but I have a new review of an "issue" of a manga called Dragon Knights over on DAM. It's probably not a very helpful review for those wondering if they want to read that series (for reasons I explain), but there it is.

Friday Saturday Burst of Weirdness

Since I seem to be slipping into making Friday my general day of inactivity here, I may just redub the Burst of Weirdness on a permanent basis. But I don't know yet, really. So I'll just keep toying with expectations. Heh!

Anyway, I've noticed over the years that for any occupation that exists in pretty much any locale, somewhere there will be a museum and/or Hall of Fame devoted to that particular occupation. Case in point: The International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame.

On a related thought, how long until someone puts up a "Blogging Hall of Fame" on the Web?

Hoo-boy.

I can't wait to see what happens when the right-wing of Blogistan sets its sights on this. Keyboards will be bursting into flame, no?

This, to me, is a perfect example of the Universe's warped sense of humor. I mean, the guy's gotta have a lawyer, but this is just too much!

Planetary Astronomy for me, but not for thee



Right now, five planets are visible to the naked eye from the Earth's surface. This alignment will not recur for 32 years.

And what's the weather like in Buffalo, for those of us who'd just love to get outside and see our planetary neighborhood? And, you know, show it to our daughters who after all will (theoretically) be off and making lots of money in her own career next time this happens?

Friggin' cloudy, that's what. We've been overcast for four days in a row.

The window for viewing all five planets closes on April 5, so hopefully there will be at least one clear night between now and then. Problem is, spring in Buffalo tends to be our worst season, weather-wise. Here's hoping.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Sunrise on March 22 over the Western Canal in Tempe, AZ.

Taking the lazy-way out again by pilfering the Astronomy Picture of the Day from a few days ago, I just thought this one was unusually striking. The Western Canal runs directly east-to-west, so one day after the vernal equinox (the one day being due to Tempe's latitudinal position), the sun rises exactly in alignment with the Canal, yielding this blazing image. How cool is that!

So, what's the statute of limitations on Clinton-blaming?

And what would Peggy Noonan, she of the ever-so-tossable (and ever-so-empty) head, have written had he done what she now insists was so clearly what he should have done all along?

I'll tell you what, Peggy. Don't bitch about it now. Show me that you were writing columns insisting that Bill Clinton take on the terrorists back then, when you were having your "off the record" lunch. (Pretty convenient claim, that.) Show me the columns you wrote during the 90s when you said that if Bill Clinton took us to war to get rid of Saddam Hussein, why, you'd support it one hundred percent. Or, how about a column from 1996 in which you argue that a President Dole would be a lot better at fighting terrorists?

Oh, that's right. There weren't any such columns. "Bill Clinton didn't do enough to fight terrorism" isn't much of a claim if you have no basis for the idea that "A Republican would have done so much more!" This kind of crap reminds me of what I wonder about people who insist that Nostradamus predicted the 9-11-01 attacks: "How come nobody out what Nostradamus was talking about before it happened?!"

(link via TBogg, who reads a lot more of this kind of crap than can really be healthy.)

All right, NOW we have a manhood problem.

Longtime readers of mine know that I don't put a whole lot of stock in the idea that America has somehow "lost its manhood", a thesis that I generally find holding sway in people who have watched too many John Wayne movies and who have the whole "gun as surrogate phallus" thing going on to a level that's a tad creepy. (See that idiotic "Pussification" essay by Kim Du Toit from a few months back for the best -- or worst -- framing of the "argument".) I tend to think that America has never been any greater a repository of "manhood" than anyplace else, and that American "manhood" is doing just fine. OK? OK.

But come on!

"Exercise guru Richard Simmons allegedly slapped a man who made a sarcastic remark about one of his videos, police said. Simmons, known for his Sweatin' to the Oldies series of exercise videos set to songs from the 1950s and 60s, was cited for misdemeanor assault."

Just think: there's a man out there, somewhere, who had to tell the police that he was assaulted by Richard Simmons. Well, I hope he was a midget; otherwise, someone's got a problem in the "testosterone" area.

(Actually, isn't the mental image of Richard Simmons in a Greco-wrestling match with a midget kind of appealing, in a "I'd like to watch that on the USA Network at 1:30 a.m. after drinking eight beers" kind of way?)

Who needs Sorkin, anyway?

In general I've been pleasantly surprised with The West Wing this season. Writer Aaron Sorkin's departure does not seem to have doomed the show, in my opinion. But last night's episode, dealing with the political realities of an appointment to the Supreme Court, was the first since Sorkin's exit that actually felt like a Sorkin episode. A lot of the old Sorkin touches were there: the idea that public service is an honorable thing, and that committed people on opposite sides of the aisle can still have a constructive debate; rapidfire dialog with occasionally humorous results (twice involving the ever-amazing Lily Tomlin); badmouthing of conservatives until one actually shows up and makes them realize that they're not actually demons-in-disguise; and the old trick of having a character come up with an idea that couldn't possibly work, although in the end it works perfectly.

Basically, what happened is this. Earlier in the season, there was an episode involving the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and his troubling health; in a closing scene, that Chief Justice -- apparently a giant of Earl Warren stature in the West Wing universe -- bemoaned the fact that Washingtonian hyper-partisanship now means that only bland moderates can get confirmed. To start last night's episode, then, a SC justice has died (not the Chief Justice, though, which becomes an important point). The White House staffers gather a list of nominees, leaning toward one guy who's exactly the kind of bland moderate they don't want to have to settle for, and for window dressing, they interview a firebrand liberal justice (played by Glenn Close). Problem is, Josh Lyman falls in love with the idea of getting this woman onto the court, which is clearly not possible.

Except that Josh comes up with an idea: if he can talk the Chief Justice into stepping down as well, thus creating two vacancies, the White House will name as its second nominee whoever the Judiciary Committee picks -- and the Committee is, of course, run by Republicans. In comes a very conservative justice (played by William Fichtner -- some great casting in this episode), and in the end, President Bartlet ends up nominating both judges to the Supreme Court, under the idea that the Court produces its best work when it has both a brilliant liberal and a brilliant conservative to battle each other.

This was just a really good episode that had that first or second-season feel, the message that "Yeah, there's lots of partisanship down there, but Washington really doesn't suck".

The only downside, as far as I could see, was a bit of a continuity error: the episode oddly makes no mention at all that President Bartlet already has made a Supreme Court appointment. One of the major story arcs of the first season involved the confirmation battle to get Judge Roberto Mendoza (Edward James Olmos) onto the SC. I don't recall if anything in last night's episode specifically contradicts that, but it seems an odd fact to not come up at all in the show.

Come on, Minnesota!

Aaron is incensed that his state has begun the process of amending its constitution to permanently ban gay marriage. His position mirrors mine almost exactly.

But more than that, I resent the Rick Santorums of the world who insist that "straight" marriages will suffer if gay marriage is allowed. The idea that my commitment to my wife could be shaken by someone else's desire to show equal commitment to yet someone else is revolting.

Anyway, that's that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Best Quiz EVER

I rarely do those online personality quizzes -- you know, "Which Biblical prophet are you?" and the like, but I couldn't resist this one, based on the work of Edward Gorey.

Don't Trip
You will be smothered under a rug. You're a little anti-social, and may want to start gaining new social skills by making prank phone calls.

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
brought to you by Quizilla

That's pretty funny, I think. And if you don't get it because you've never read The Gashlycrumb Tinies, well -- here you go. I once owned a poster with the entirety of The Gashlycrumb Tinies upon it; it provided many moments of humor in college as I watched midwestern Lutherans grapple with the bleak humor of twenty-six alphabetically-named youngsters meeting their doom in horrible ways.

I'm pretty sure that's not how Martin Yan said to do it.

Scott decides to do a little stir-fry. Hilarity ensues. And, maybe, a little salmonella.

Let me turn down the lights, dear....

Darth Swank opens a post thusly: "Last night, my lovely wife and I sat down to watch our new DVD of Dawn of the Dead." Suddenly, I'm wondering what their first date was like!

"Hey, I hear there's a midnight showing of Guzzlers of Blood III: Bring Your Own Bucket down at the Bijou this Friday. You wanna go with me?"

"Will you be embarrassed if I wear my black wig and vampire teeth?"

"Oh baby...."

The Descent, continued

Oliver Willis posts a photo of his-inexplicably-beloved Britney, and looking at it, I wonder now if my "Move Over Britney!" series is now pretty much irrelevant. I mean, there's the total package: unimpressive body, bad hair, vacant eyes that might as well be made of glass. Britney's not a person, she's a product, and not even a particularly good one.

Oh well.

The Jack Bauer Power Hour

For a variety of reasons, Lynn Sislo is frustrated with 24. Some of her reasons deal with the show's writers, and some deal with the FOX Network, which has historically tended to make really goofy decisions regarding programming. (Witness their cancelling of The Family Guy, only to see that show set records as a DVD release. Now there's a strong possibility that FOX may bring the show back. Now, that's a show that I can't stand, but axing it was a pretty dumb move.)

Lynn's primarily annoyed that 24 has been off the air for several weeks now, and will remain so until next week. Here I think the show's structure (an entire season telling a single day's events in real time, one episode per hour) clashes with the realities of a TV season. FOX needs to time 24's climactic episodes with May sweeps, but they can't just do like other networks with hit shows and have a new episode here, and a new episode there during the non-sweeps months, because 24's unique story structure would likely suffer if they do that. It's actually a lot easier, probably, to recall where things are right now and then plow through the last nine episodes of the season; and this way, we're spared the annoyance of saying, "Hey, is 24 new this week?"

So I can't fault FOX for the programming, believe it or not. Now, I will grant that the show isn't as good this year as last year, but that's a writing thing, not a FOX thing.

NOOOOOOOO!!!

I'd like to take a moment to offer a piece of advice to all my wonderful readers. If you ever find yourself working in a position in either a restaurant or a grocery store that involves a lot of cleaning and "grunt work", there is one question to which the only proper response is to run away, screaming.

That question is this: "Hey, could ya give me a hand cleaning this grease trap?"

Aieee!

Templates galore....

By sheer happenstance -- it was listed under the ten most recently published blogs on Blogger's main screen -- I found this blog, which is nothing but a clearing-house of new templates you can try, if you're on the prowl for new templates. The most recent ones posted there may be of interest to Matrix fans.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Two Observations

ONE: I just saw an ad for The Passion of the Christ which is one of those "Our movie's been out for a month now, so here are some catch-phrases from our critics" ads. At one point, the portentous announcer says something like, "Roger Ebert calls The Passion powerully moving!" Which made me think, wouldn't it be funny if someone made a movie of the Christ story that critics found "strangely uninvolving"?

TWO: Years ago, one of the ESPN guys on SportsCenter defined disappointment as "Sitting down to watch NYPDBlue, noting with excitement the warning about partial nudity, and then discovering that it's Detective Medavoy who gets nude." Well, that's exactly what happened tonight. Yeeesh....

(Medavoy, for those uninitiated, is the portly, middle-aged cop on the show. No, not Dennis Franz. The other one.)

Portable Writing

In comments to not one post but two, John Scalzi is encountering opposition to his apparent belief that writers who go to Starbucks or the like and set up camp with their laptops are really just poseurs who aren't really writing but want to be seen writing. I guess I can see his point, sort-of. But not really.

I'm one who used to enjoy writing in different places, back when I was still doing all my first drafts in longhand. I'd estimate that I did about, oh, 75% of my writing at home, at my desk, with the headphones delivering high-quality classical or film music to my eardrums, but sometimes, I just plain wanted a change of scenery. So I'd pack up my papers and my pens and go off to the cafe at the grocery store or maybe the library, and I'd sit there and write.

I've always been pretty good at shutting out the outside distractions of the world and attending to my writing (an ability that I cultivated much to the chagrin of more than a few of my teachers through the years), and those abilities came in pretty handy when I just wanted to sit somewhere other than the same exact chair in front of the same exact desk and work on the same exact manuscript. If I'm really losing myself in the writing -- and you'll have to take my word for it that I am -- well, what difference does it make where I'm doing it?

And yes, I'll admit that when I sit at the cafes and libraries of the world, I do tend to put the pen down and "people-watch" a bit, which I think is part of what John interprets as indicative of "poseurness". (Poseurity? Poseurdom? Hmmm....) But that doesn't mean that, if I were sitting at home, I'd be that much more productive. You know why? Because my desk is surrounded by my books. And believe me, the tendency to just look up "a passage or two" from Tigana or The Return of the King or any other book is, at least for me, one hell of a lot stronger than the tendency to watch the cute girl in the black turtleneck and baggy jeans who's mixing all the cappucinos.

(In fact, since I don't own a laptop, I can't blog anywhere other than here!)

Some writers subscribe strongly to the idea that you should have one place where you do all your writing, and that's it, and it should be your place and it should be the only place where you ever get any real work done. Well, if that works for them, great. Not all writers work that way, just as some writers insist that you should outline your novels, and others resist outlines religiously.

Now, since I pretty much stopped doing first-drafts longhand in favor of typing, all of my writing activity that involves stringing words together has to take place right here, at this table in my living room. But I can still edit my manuscripts elsewhere. And I have, and will continue to do so.

So there!

"The Apprentice" vs. "Survivor"

I've made no secret over the years that I positively hate the show Survivor, because it's boring and it rewards people for behaving in ways I'd never ever ever want to see rewarded in real life with anything other than a swift kick in one of several nether regions. But then, I've become hooked on The Apprentice, which is basically Survivor transposed to a business environment. I've been trying to figure out why I like Donald Trump's show and not the other one, and I've come up with two main reasons.

:: The "challenges". Both shows divide a group of people into two smaller groups, who are then set to competing against one another in a specific "challenge" (in Survivor lingo), or "task" (as it's called on The Apprentice). The team which wins typically earns some kind of reward, while the team that loses gets to sit down with Trump or Jeff Probst, dissect the defeat, and then see one of its members shown the door.

On The Apprentice, the tasks are business related things that do pertain to actual skills a business person might need: negotiation, sales skills, management of personnel, et cetera. Yes, they're still manufactured tasks -- such as the episode when the two teams each took a day "managing" the Planet Hollywood at Times Square. (I'm sure they weren't really managing the entirety of that restaurant's operation.) But for the purposes of the show, they're real enough. Contrast that with the dorky games they come up with for Survivor:

OK, Survivors, listen up! What we have here is an obstacle course! First you're gonna hop on one foot across these three-inch wide beams over those mud pits. Then, you're going to get into one of these rowboats and row across this pond using oars from which the blades have been removed. When you reach the other side, you'll find a piece of paper on which the name of a Broadway show has been written; you must sing one verse of one song from that show before you move on to the rope ladder which we have covered with maple syrup. At the top of that ladder, you'll find a flag. Pull that down and then swim back to the starting point, at which point your second person will go. The first team to bring back all five flags wins immunity!

Yeah -- the ability to do that well is one which will really come in useful sometime down the line. And really, there's something about the whole Survivor exercise that reminds me of my grade school gym classes, when we'd walk in to discover the gym set up in some weird fashion we haven't seen before -- say, the high horse sitting in front of a miniature dodge-ball court in turn in front of a rack of medicine-balls -- with the teacher standing there with his hands behind his back, whistle around his neck, and always starting each instance of gym class with the words, "OK, listen up!" We'd be thinking, "What the hell is this?", with much the same expressions of bewilderment that the contestants on Survivor display. Of course, back then, we didn't get fresh pizza or a trip to a spa on the next island over if we won.

None of that crap, though, on The Apprentice. Briefings on-the-fly by the boss are pretty standard in any job these days.

:: My other reason for liking The Apprentice while hating Survivor is simple: NO ALLIANCES.

Half of each episode of Survivor seems to always be devoted to contestants trying to form alliances with their teammates to get rid of other teammates, preserve themselves in "the game", et cetera. I guess the show's fans find this all very interesting, but to me it's always incredibly boring. There really are only so many hushed conversations out by the water hole or down by the waterline about whether or not it's George or Tammy or Brunhilde's time to go or whether they're a threat next week or whether they can be counted on when voting time rolls around which I am prepared to watch, and I reached my quota way back during the very first iteration of Survivor. Of course, the show's fans may claim that each season this stuff gets more compelling, since the initial level of trust now seems to be set at zero, but really, it's all terribly boring and the same.

On The Apprentice, though, this alliance-stuff doesn't happen -- or at least, not nearly to the extent it does on Survivor. The show is structured to keep it from happening. Nobody is "voted off" The Apprentice; each week, Donald Trump alone decides who gets tossed. The losing team's "Project Manager" -- i.e., the team member who took charge of that episode's "task" -- decides on two teammates who will confront Mr. Trump, while the remainder of the team, now safe from being fired, goes back upstairs to the suite. Then, Trump quizzes the Project Manager and the two teammates before finally firing one of these three. (Now that the show has progressed to the point where there are too few contestants left for things to work this way, I assume the process will change slightly.)

When there's only one vote being cast, and it's not even being cast by a contestant, there's not much to gain by trying to gather everyone to your side. Sure, there's a little of it -- pledges by project managers not to take certain people into the board room, and that kind of thing -- but it's really surprisingly ineffective. (A couple of weeks ago, just such a strategy completely backfired for a Project Manager, and she got fired.) This lack of all that boring crap about alliance-forming and who betrayed whom and so on makes The Apprentice a lot more interesting to watch.

Of course, once The Apprentice is into a fifth or sixth season, all this might have changed and the show may have become boring. But I found Survivor pretty uninteresting in its first season, whereas I'm enjoying The Apprentice a lot.

Oh, come ON!

It used to be that you never knew when you'd want glowing, flashing, technocolor teeth while out for a night of club-hopping, dancing, and frolicking about. Well, once again, thanks to technology you'll never have to pine for a glowing oral cavity again! Behold the Oral Disco!



I'd like to see someone where one of these into a biker bar, in a small town in Georgia, after midnight. Now that would be fun. Or, as they say in some parts, a "hootenanny"!

(Need you ask? via Warren Ellis)

Great Moments in Candy-Making (and some not-so-great ones, too)

You know those easter-egg shaped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups that come out every Easter? Well, someone at Hershey or Mars or wherever finally had the most obvious epiphany of all time: Why do those egg-shaped knockoffs of popular candy bars have to be Peanut Butter Cups, and only Peanut Butter Cups?

Hence, today I discovered Easter-egg shaped Milky Ways, Snickers's, and -- oh joy of joys -- Mounds's and Almond Joys. I nearly cried at the beauty of it all.

But then, there's the flip side. I love candy corn in the fall, I really do. It's one of the few food items that I associate with a very definite time of year, so much so that I won't even consider buying candy corn at any time other than late September and the month of October, no matter how much I like the stuff. (And I like it a lot.) I'm not going to change on this, either, so I'm afraid that changing the color of candy-corn from orange to a variety of pastels, and calling it "Easter Corn", is not likely to change my mind here.

By the way, there's something I enjoyed some years ago, and I've never seen it since -- nor did I make note of the brand name, so I have no idea where to even look. It was a peanut butter cup, and I figured I knew what I was getting, since the wrapper said "Peanut Butter Cup" on it even though it wasn't a Reese's. But when I unwrapped it, I discovered that it was, in fact, just that: a peanut butter cup. There was no chocolate at all. It was as if the peanut butter center of a Reese's had been expanded to become the entire cup!

The Reese's people did come up with something close to this a while back, on a limited basis. They called it an "Inside-Out Reese's", and it was a peanut butter shell with a chocolate interior. That was close, but I still want the version with no chocolate. (Nothing against chocolate, mind you. I adore chocolate, in all its forms -- even white. Yeah, I know, white chocolate isn't technically chocolate. So what? Root beer isn't really beer!)

I seem to recall that one of the standard pieces in a Whitman's Sampler is a no-chocolate peanut butter cup, but it has been many years since I enjoyed a Whitman's Sampler, so I'm not sure. Whitman's Samplers were always fun, though, when I was a kid -- I still recall vividly that first discovery of the second layer of candy, and I recall the ritual that the piece shaped like the Whitman's delivery boy was the last piece of the upper level to be consumed before proceeding to the lower level. Those were the days.

Oh, and back when I used to receive lots of shopping catalogs (those were the days -- catalogs make great bathroom reading, because that is the only room in which one can look at some of the items in the catalogs and actually think, "Damn, I need one of those"), one of them always advertised "Maple Nut Goodie" candy bars, sold by the small tin for something like $29.95 plus shipping. The catalog claimed that these candy bars are beloved in Minnesota. Well, I happen to have some Minnesotans amongst my readership, so, are these things beloved? Or, are they merely good? I ask because I love the flavor of maple.

Also, I admire the elaborate lengths to which folks who make suckers and lollipops go these days, but for my money, there will never be any sucker better than your basic old Tootsie-Pop. (I always buy them at the bulk section, because that way I can avoid getting the chocolate-flavored ones. What I said above about loving chocolate does not apply to chocolate-flavored hard candy.)

And to conclude this rambling paean to All Things Bad For Your Teeth, here in Buffalo there's a popular item called "sponge candy". I find it hard to describe, but it's like if they take yellow sponge cake and somehow cook it until it's very hard -- maybe they fry it -- and then it's dipped and coated in either milk or dark chocolate. People in Buffalo adore this stuff, but for some reason, I just don't get into it. I find the texture weird and the sponge center flavorless.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Yeah, yeah, TPM sucked, I get it.

Last night's episode of The Simpsons opened with a five-minute long meditation on Star Wars fans. Basically, everybody in Springfield is shown standing in line to see a movie called something like Cosmic Wars I: The Gathering Threat. At the head of the line is Comic Book Guy, decked out in flannel and jeans, just like the genius creator of Cosmic Wars. And then the movie starts, with the opening crawl droning on and on about "regulatory agencies" and whatnot. And a character named "Jim Jom Bonks", and so on. Basically, The Simpsons invoked nearly every pithy whine about The Phantom Menace ever uttered, and all as a set-up for a story about Homer and Marge drinking too much.

Some of it was kind of funny, but it was also tired and lame -- I'll admit that I laughed, but it was at the same time that I was thinking, "Good Lord, that movie came out five years ago! You're just getting around to lampooning it now?" Not the finest in topical humor, guys.

(Apparently, the Star Wars parody stuff can be downloaded at TheForce.net, if you're dying to see it. I'd advise waiting for the rerun. The episode's main story was pretty dull.)

Geez, why didn't I ever think of that?!

In the last few hours, I've seen two articles linked from outposts in Blogistan that involve artistic folks who have been forced, via shifts in the nature of their chosen artistic field, to get day jobs not in that field. One is cited here, by Friedrich of the Dynamic Blowhardic Duo, and I've seen the other in a number of places already -- John Scalzi first, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden has devoted space for what's sure to be a long comment thread about it.

I'm of mixed mind when I see things like this. First, it annoys me that we're constantly bombarded with rhetoric in this world that we can do anything we want to do, and yet, we really can't; but then, it also annoys me that people complain that they can't, as if they're shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that we haven't come round to the world depicted in Star Trek when self-betterment is the goal of everybody. I don't know, really. I tend to be a believer that one should play the cards they're dealt, but I'm also sympathetic to the fact that the cards just don't get dealt fairly, and ultimately I suspect that we aren't afforded nearly as many choices in this world as we like to pretend we are.

No, I have no point here, just half-baked ramblings.

Blogging versus Writing, again

Will Duquette posts some thoughts in response to my thoughts yesterday about whether blogging is good practice for writers.

I, too, have seen the "Get a blank piece of paper and fill it" practice advice, and I tried it for a time a few years ago; it came from a book called Writer's Book of Days or something like that, and the book offered topics or scene suggestions to get started. I enjoyed it, but after a while I stopped, and not for any particular reason, really. Basically, I figured that once one gets used to writing every day, one doesn't have to practice it -- one merely does it. That's the function of the blog these days, I think.

By the way, the other day I discovered an old John Scalzi post about some of the same issues while digging through his archives for something else.

(Will also asks, in his post, how to pronouce "Jaquandor". I suppose it doesn't matter much, since I swiped it from an obscure 1980s comic book, but my way of saying it is "juh-KWAN-dor". I've kicked around using "Jack Wander" as a pseudonym on my horror novels, if I ever get around to writing them, as a nod back to my longtime Net alias. I doubt that would have much mileage, though, joke-wise.)

Crap....which button do I push to let the water out of the dam, again?!

If you have an AOL Instant Message account, apparently you can put it to good use by playing classic Infocom text adventure games like ZORK. Man alive, did I ever NOT need to know about this. And now I have a hankering to play Colossal Cave, too....and all those bare-bones, but still entertaining, Scott Adams text adventures.

(If you like graphical adventure games like MYST, and you've never tried their text-based forebears, then what are you waiting for? Just don't start with Suspended. That game will make you want to kill people. Trust me.)

Damned Kids....

When I worked for Pizza Hut, the most dreaded time of year was not the Holiday season, or even Mother's Day. What we hated most was Regents Exam Week in New York State, because that's when classes end in public schools and kids only have to show up to take whatever exams are required of them. So, if they only have a single class in which there's an exam, the only time they need to be in the school is the appointed hour of that exam. Otherwise, they are pretty much given free reign. And that almost exclusively affects high schoolers; middle school kids – your seventh, eighth and some ninth graders – have no exams at all, and thus they're basically on vacation as soon as Regents Week dawns.

In the town where my Pizza Hut was located, the middle school would have "half days" for the entirety of Regents Week, which were little more than exercises in school-run babysitting in the morning. Around noon, the kids would be unleashed, and since my restaurant (among others) was just a half-mile's walk down the street, we'd get swamped with horribly behaved kids absent of any adult supervision whatsoever. It was pure, unadulterated hell. They'd trash the place, demolish the lunch buffet, and leave the servers almost nothing in tips. And for some reason, the adult lunch crowd would never understand why the place was always such a mess that week.

I'm reminded of all this by Sarah Jane Elliott's collection of things she's finding herself saying to the kids inundating her workplace on Spring Break. Ah, the memories….

Another Book Quiz: First Lines (but with a twist)

I had fun compiling the "Last Lines of Books" quiz from the other day, so here I am, coming up with another. This one's "First Lines", but with a twist: these aren't the first lines of the books themselves, but rather the first lines of spoken dialogue in the books. And in some cases, books can go pages and pages before anyone talks! Take that, Flanders!

In terms of method, what I do here is quote the lines themselves, stripped of dialogue attribution that would identify the speaker. I have not, though, edited out any names mentioned within the dialogue lines themselves, which may tip a few of them off. OK? Here we go….

1. "Come out, Neville!"

2. "Good evening, rya. Will you eat some dinner? They've got a hotchewitchi on the fire, smells very kushto."

3. "Raziel, what in heaven's name are you doing?"

4. "I seen him about three months ago. He had a operation. Cut somepin out. I forget what."

5. "Go away! Get out of here! You ought to be ashamed!"

6. "Why? Why must it be horseshoes? As if we had any horses!"

7. "You're not taking this seriously. Behave yourself."

8. "Is he not small for his age, Jessica?"

9. "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."

10. "It will have to be paid for. It isn't natural, and trouble will come of it!"

11. "Do you think the roof will fall in on us today? Did the frost hurt your stinkweed?"

12. "Yeah, that's true. It's even better when you've been sentenced to death. That's when you remember the jokes about they guys who kicked their boots off as the noose flipped around their necks, because their friends always told them they'd die with their boots on."

13. "We should start back. The wildlings are dead."

14. "We be jammin' now, mon!"

15. "Be careful, unless you want to trip over a sculptor."

16. "Hmmm. That's quite a drop."

Answers will appear Thursday, if I'm so inclined. So have fun, and have a look at the other quiz, too!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Aw, mannnnn....

One danger of being both a reader and a wanna-be writer is the fact that I often encounter things that make me think, "Geez, I suck."

Like this.

Geez, I suck.

A question of Method

It occurs to me that, in a lot of cases, rather than use a blogger's commenting feature, if I have something to say I'll actually post it here. Am I alone in this? How do you all decide between whether something warrants a quick comment on someone else's blog versus a full-fledged post on your own?

What good is a scientist?

PZ Myers points out the disconnect between what scientists know and what we expect them to know. I discovered this, actually, at a pretty early age when I was shocked that my father, a mathematics professor, didn't know the sum of 384759 and 294824 off the top of his head. Lots of folks, it seems to me, view science as a collection of facts, whereas scientists see it – correctly – as a process that is brought to bear on a collection of facts. This leads in turn to things like belief in UFOs and objecting to evolution on the basis that "it's just a theory".

Potato, Po-tah-toe

I never saw the point of making fun of Dan Quayle for misspelling "potato"; in my experience, good spelling isn't necessarily an indicator of intelligence. Or, more specifically, I've never found bad spelling to be a reliable indicator of low intelligence. One boss I worked under for five years is a highly intelligent man, very articulate and pretty well-read – but his spelling is utterly ghastly. Occasionally he would try to post a strongly-worded notice to the employees of our restaurant over some recent performance issue, and the only result would be that the employees would cluster around the notice and laugh at its level of bad spelling and grammar. I eventually told him that he'd better leave that stuff to me. (And since I've encountered the "smart-when-talking, dumb-when-writing" combination numerous times in my life, I wonder why this should be so. Stephen Pinker has probably covered this in one of his books on language and the brain, somewhere.)

Of course, all that is just preamble to my linking this, at which I admit laughing despite my statement above. I'm so ashamed. Stricken, even.

(That's a great site, by the way. Take a few moments to explore the archives. Like this one: something tells me a sign like this at the boundary of Fangorn Forest might have saved Saruman a lot of grief, eh? Oh, and it's all via I Love Everything.)

(UPDATE: Well, this is a first: I've managed to contribute to demolishing some poor site's bandwidth, thus forcing its temporary removal from the Web! I'll try to remember to resurrect this post next month, after the site in question returns.)

Two words and a picture.

Between the title of the post and the content, this is a triumph of minimalism.

Squashing the Product-Hawkers

If you're looking for ways of minimizing the advertising that is foisted upon you in the course of doing stuff online, Steven Den Beste has a couple of recommendations. I tend to do very little in terms of this kind of thing -- basically, running EarthLink's pop-up blocker is fine by me, although it's a bit overzealous, frequently getting in the way of Javascripts that open new windows, and in terms of spam, I really don't get a whole lot, thanks to AOL's filters. Like SDB, I do get a lot of the "Help the President of Zimbabwe smuggle $50,000,000 out of the country" messages, and I see that mails for Viagra have given way to mails for Cialis, but that's about it. In general, I actually seem to get less spam at my main inbox than real messages; although this is no doubt because I'm on a couple of fairly high-traffic lists (both for GMR staffers), the amount of spam that gets through isn't debilitating at all. (At least, not yet.)

But SDB generally knows what he's talking about with stuff like this, so if you're looking for solutions to these kinds of problems, check out the two programs he recommends.

Blogging versus "Real" Writing

Sean e-mailed me a link to this blog post a while back, and I duly bookmarked it and then completely forgot to address it. The basic thrust of the post seems to be that blogging isn't really good for writers, in the sense that blogging helps them improve their writing, develop their relationships with editors, sell their stuff, streamline their prose, compose their ideas, and the like. Basically, blogging seems to be a kind of "cat-vacuuming", just another activity used to avoid doing the real work, the actual heavy-lifting.

To an extent, this is true. I started my new job more than a month ago, and I've kept Byzantium's Shores pretty regularly updated since then. But in that time – and here's an admission I'm loath to make – I have committed fewer than 1,000 words to The Promised King, Book II: The Finest Deed. That's pretty ugly. In fact, it's downright embarrassing and unacceptable. While there are pressures of learning a new job, as well as getting myself up to speed in a new organization staffed by more than 300 people, and while there have been other things to do (I can't just stop reading, especially when I have items for which reviews are expected by various websites), the fact is, aside from blogging, I have spent almost no time since starting the new job writing, except in the sense of mulling over plot-details while wheeling carts around.

And yet, I keep updating here. Why? Well, because it is easier to focus on doing this than on doing that, or at least it has been. But the nagging sense of disquiet is growing, and it's time to get back to the writing that really matters. No, that doesn't mean I plan to slacken my efforts here. It does mean, however, that I'm going to get back to squeezing writing from the time that is given me.

To get back to the linked post above, I'm not sure that blogging is bad for writing, although I am no published writer, so my opinion on this really isn't worth much, I suspect. To me, blogging for the last month has been the equivalent, say, of the kinds of exercises a person who engages in regular weight-training might do when they go on a long business trip and can't get to a gym in the meantime. Blogging might not keep every writing muscle sharp, but at the same time, it keeps all of them from going into atrophy; and besides, I've always viewed blogging as kind of a side-venture that helps writing in other ways: it's another source for grist that I can feed into my own particular mill. I doubt very much, for example, that I'd have ever read Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds had Will Duquette not reviewed it (and had I not been reading his blog in the first place).

So, is blogging a waste of writing time? I'm not really sure. It could be, I suppose, if I define it in terms of a strict accounting of minutes logged writing the novel or a story in terms of minutes spent writing posts for Byzantium's Shores. But then, I've never been much for strictly tallying the minutes of my life.

I'm sure barging into the conference room before Mr. Trump called her had nothing to do with it....

Via the Libertarian Jackass, I see that recently-departed Apprentice contestant Omarosa wants to have is still insisting that she was the victim of racism. Well, maybe she was, maybe she wasn't – but I'm not about to take seriously the ravings of a person who thinks that the old canard about "the pot calling the kettle black" is a statement about race.

All Pings Welcome!

I've made it standard practice to ping Weblogs.com for about a year now whenever I post. This, I am told, allows services like BlogRolling to know when I've updated, so I show up on BlogRolling-powered blogrolls as sporting new posts. And since I tend to do all my posting for a given day in one shot, my typical practice is to write a couple of posts, publish them, and ping Weblogs.com; then I'll write a few more posts and publish those, but not ping Weblogs.com until hours later. In this way, I get two pings out of a single round of updates. I have no idea if this helps generate traffic or if it's just a useless scheme I've cooked up, but it seems harmless.

Except that I've discovered that at least over the last couple of days, Weblogs.com has been accepting my pings even though I have made no changes to Byzantium's Shores in the interim. I pinged a short while ago, with nothing new published here since the last time I pinged (on Friday), and it went through just fine. Hmmmmmm. (This could all just be meaningless blather on my part, as well. Ya never know.)

No! I won't do it! You can't make me!

I have personally gone to great effort to remove a certain bit of wardrobe-related knowledge from my brain, but Andrew Cory brings it screaming back. Dammit! (The article of clothing in question is, to my way of thinking, the most spectacularly evil and useless item in the entire world of clothing. That is, considering only the stuff I'd ever have to wear. I'm certain that women can lay claim to all manner of items of at least equal evil value, starting with high heels.)

At least the page Andrew links is written with a "Yeah, this sucks, but if you're unfortunate enough to need it, here it is" tone.

Talking Good, versus Speaking Well

Here are a couple of language-related goodies I've found lately:

:: First, some handy new terms for the workplace that I hadn't seen before, such as "Seagull Manager" (every organization seems to have a member of Upper Management whose only function is to behave in this way) and "Irritainment" (not work-related, really, but reading certain blogs, such as Kim Du Toit's, can be described thusly).

BTW, the linked list is apparently edited down from a longer list! I want to see the whole thing.

:: Second, via I Love Everything, here's a list of words that are either very commonly mispronounced ("February") or words that simply do not exist ("irregardless"). While I'm generally less anal about precision in language than many people I know (my view tends to be that you can't stop language from changing and evolving, unless you kill all speakers), I do have my linguistic pet-peeves and thus I'm thrilled to see "Orientate" listed as a non-existent word. You don't "orientate" yourself to the sun, and you don't "orientate" new employees, people! Sheesh!

(It turns out that Languagehat hates this list, and points out a few errors.)

Friday, March 19, 2004

New Blogroll Additions

I've added these folks to the main blogroll, because, well, I can. (That, and they're interesting reads.)

:: Redwood Dragon
:: Experiments in Writing, Singing and Blogging
:: Peevish
:: The Gray Monk

No descriptions; just go check them out.

Video killed the radio star....

Original MTV veejay J.J. Jackson has died at the age of 62. He had a heart attack. I'm one who grew up with MTV -- I first saw it when I was 11, about a year after it started -- and I well recall Jackson, along with Martha Quinn, Adam Curry, Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman. There really was a time when MTV was pretty friggin' cool, and J.J. Jackson was a big part of that.

(via Darth Swank, who had his own drive-by of the Grim Reaper yesterday.)

Last Lines

OK, on a pure whim, here is a quiz I'm cobbling together. Very simply, these are the last lines of books I own. (By "last line", I mean, the last line of the story of main body of the work. No appendices, author's notes, or anything like that. By that standard, many would have to be some variant of "This book is set in 11-point Helvenicia, a typeface designed by Sir Wadrick the Walloper of Northsandpembrokewichshire in 1644 as a result of a lost bar bet.")

Most are fiction, but some are not. A few will be obvious, a few not so obvious. Enjoy. I'll post the answers next week sometime.

1. "He braced himself for this big fucking scream."

2. "End it with the ending of a night."

3. "We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things."

4. "Waves broke in swift lines on the beach, and she walked over the sand toward her friends, in the wind, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars."

5. "Away on the horizon he could see the golden edge of a kingdom where, since he was a small child, he had always longed to go."

6. " 'Boy, I'm glad all that supernatural stuff is over,' the bat said."

7. "To a receptive audience, it might be a kind of Second Coming."

8. "Life was such a wheel that no man could stand upon it for long. And it always, at the end, came round to the same place again."

9. "The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart."

10. "And, in time, only the bards knew the truth of it."

11. "Therefore, we say -- speaking as living and (we think) thinking beings, as carriers of the fire -- therefore, choose life."

12. "What I have been trying so hard to tell you all along is simply that my fahter, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had."

13. "They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way."

14. "Again: If you receive this message, please respond!"

15. "So I have just one wish for you -- the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom."

Wow....in blog years, that's friggin' ancient!

Archipelapogo celebrates three years of blogging today. Congratulations to Scott!

Oh, and he's doing a bit of fundraising: donate at least $3.00 to one of three causes (he specifies them), and he'll send you a CD-R of depressing music. Scott seems to know a lot about the contemporary music scene (something which I know perilously little about), so I have some confidence that, despite the theme of the CD, he'll pick good stuff.

I hear things....

In the course of my job, I wander in and out of many departments for just moments at a time -- seconds, even, if I'm just passing through. This means that I overhear bits of conversation between employees that, in some cases, are intriguing and in others make me think, "GAAHHHH, I gotta get outta here!" Here are a few from the last day or two:

1. One guy, standing on top of some very high shelves to do some stocking, calls down to his helper on the floor: "Hey, do you think those boxes will support me when I jump down?" (He was about twenty feet off the ground. The boxes stood at no higher than four feet.)

2. One woman, to another, unaware that I was anywhere near, even though I wear keys that jangle and frequently hum whilst walking: "Yeah, the doctor's going to do an examination because he thinks my eggs aren't implanting. And I really hate those exams, because I don't like the way it feels when--" (At this point I feigned several loud coughs.)

3. Produce Guy #1: "I dunno, you think he'll be pissed?"

Produce Guy #2: "Dude, she's his sister!"

(This one, I wanted to stick around for. Alas, I couldn't figure out a way to do it without being obvious.)

Friday Burst of Weirdness

The Exorcist, in thirty seconds.

Oh, and re-enacted by cartoon bunnies.

(via Jay)

Thursday, March 18, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





The Ardagh Chalice.

Considered one of the finest examples of Celtic art and metallurgy, the Ardagh Chalice was found in the mid 1800s (I found several different years for its finding while researching online) by a young man in Ardagh, Ireland, who was digging potatoes at the time. The Chalice dates to the 8th century AD, where early Irish church fathers used cups like this in performing Communion.

I first read about the Chalice in Thomas Cahill's book How the Irish Saved Civilization. In describing the Chalice, Cahill describes how a worshipper drinking the sacramental wine from the cup will, in the course of draining it, tilt it toward Heaven, revealing its intricately-carved underside to God. This bit of detail has always struck me as a particularly lovely facet of ritual. I was unable, sadly, to find any images of the carved underside on the Web.

Yes, it COULD be worse....

I suspect that at least a few of my readers are baffled at the fact that, at least for now, I'm genuinely happy to be working as a clean-up guy at a grocery store. Well, I actually am enjoying the work, but if you'd rather see some context in which my current job looks even better than I already think it is, feast your eyes.

That third photo just kills me. I imagine this poor guy saying "Excuse me, Captain? I was reading a book last night and it mentioned something called a tripod. Do you think we could try--" "Shut up and go hold that thing up!"

Putting Ignorance to My Advantage

I tend to get stopped at least once a day in The Store by customers looking for stuff, and since I've shopped in that store for years before getting hired to work there, I pretty much know where most things are -- but I can't rattle off the aisle numbers, because I don't know those. So, when I get stopped by customers, I'll often tell them something like "I'm new, so I'm not really sure. But let's see...I think they're down this way...I'll run and look for you...ah, yes, there they are! Can I get them down for you? Will two be enough?"

They love this. Oh yes, they do. Not that it will help them when our overlords come back to reclaim the planet...heh heh heh!

Ohhhhhh, you're KILLING me....

Bára's been at the self-portraiture thing again, and if ever I've seen a photo online that made me want to see what lay beyond its boundaries, this is the one. Wow.

Maybe they can ditch lethal injections in favor of burning at the stake, while they're at it

One of the little mysteries of the 2000 elections was how Al Gore managed to lose his own home state of Tennessee. Of course, most on the right seized on the notion that he never really lived there, but generally, I suspect it's just that his state has been trending more conservative in recent years. Had he not become Vice President in 1993, I wonder if he would have even been re-elected to his Senate seat in his next election.

Stuff like this makes me think, probably not. "Crimes of nature", indeed.

(via Atrios)

Five Times Five

For some reason, I seem to steal "posting memes" from Lynn Sislo more than anyone else, such as this one. She comes up with pretty neat ones, though, so here goes. She doesn't provide an explanation, so I'll assume it's "Five Favorites".

MUSIC

1. Berlioz, Romeo et Juliet
2. Howard Shore, Lord of the Rings film scores (I consider all three to be one major work)
3. Pink Floyd, The Wall
4. Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen
5. Williams, Star Wars film scores (see note to Shore)

BOOKS

1. The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay
2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
4. Cosmos, Carl Sagan
5. The Book of Marvels (both volumes), Richard Halliburton

MOVIES

1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
2. Casablanca
3. Schindler's List
4. My Fair Lady
5. The Sea Hawk

(Note: I restricted myself to a single Star Wars film. I could as well have just listed all five movies to date and called it good.)

PLACES

1. Buffalo, NY (anywhere, really, but especially the Southtowns. I want a house in East Aurora.)
2. The Twin Cities.
3. Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA.
4. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
5. Allegany State Park, NY.

FOOD

1. Pizza with sausage and banana peppers.
2. Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, with provolone and mushrooms. (I don't care if the lack of Cheez-Whiz renders it an "unofficial" Philly cheesesteak. Keep that orange crap off my sandwich!)
3. Haagen-Dasz: Coffee flavor. (The stories I could tell about this stuff!)
4. Buffalo-style chicken wings. (I only indulge in these once in a long while anymore, since they're so spectacularly unhealthy. But God, are they wonderful, if really done Buffalo-style.)
5. Grilled Italian sausage on a long, hard roll and topped with grilled onions, green and red peppers, and brown mustard.

Mourning Dr. Sagan, yet again....

A couple of weeks ago, the Opportunity rover observed a transit of the sun from the Martian surface, by Mars's moon Deimos.

Well, now Mars's other moon, Phobos, has joined the transit party. My jaw is starting to ache from all this dropping!

(via Jay Manifold)

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Raise the glass for St. Paddy!

A happy St. Patrick's Day to all my readers, Irish-descent or not. (I am Irish on my mother's side; my father's side is German.) I had hoped to take the kid to Buffalo's St. Patrick's Day Parade the other day, but family misfortunes ruled that out. Maybe next year. So now I'm just sittin' and bloggin', whilst listening to my Naxos CD of "An Irish Symphony" by Sir Hamilton Hardy (1879-1941). Later I'll listen to some Chieftains, although I'll have to be careful and play the Irish stuff, and not the Welsh stuff or the Scottish stuff or the Galician stuff or the Canadian Celtic stuff or...you get the idea.

And maybe I'll have a beer, since my brand of choice at the moment is, conveniently enough, Michael Shea's. (Good thing, that -- last time I bought beer, I came very close to getting Tsing-Tao instead, which just wouldn't be appropriate.)

Who's Vivienne?

Jay Manifold is wondering who Vivienne is (I assume he's referring to this month's masthead image, or else it's a really weird question).

In many versions of the Arthur legend, Merlin is done in when he is seduced by a wicked woman who tricks him into revealing to her the secret of his deepest lair -- usually a cave of crystal. The woman then seals Merlin inside forever, which is why he's not around later on when things in Camelot start to turn for the worse. In Tennyson's telling of the legend, Idylls of the King, this woman's name is Vivienne. Thus, the picture above depicts her seduction of the old and weary mage.

Now, her name is not the same in all versions. Sometimes she is Vivienne; sometimes Viviane; sometimes Nynaeve or Nimue. Sometimes she is also the Lady of the Lake, other times not. These variations are part of what, for me, make the Arthurian legends so compelling.

How many balloons could you fill from the gas in Paula Abdul's head?

The real competition on American Idol has begun, and I'm not sure who I'm rooting for. There's young crooner John Stevens, who is also a local boy, but he's awfully young and I just can't see his style carrying him all the way through to victory -- especially with Randy Jackson getting more hostile toward him every time he picks up the microphone. (And Simon is nice to him! Weird....)

I also finally started to see what they like about Fantasia Barrino so much. She's the one the judges have gushed over, unanimously, each time she has sung, but I haven't really been able to grok her stuff since she keeps doing songs that I don't like that much. Last night, though, she did a good one, and I got a kick out of it.

I also really like that football player guy, Matthew Rogers; but for my money, I think I'm really rooting for George Huff. I really like his voice and his exuberance. In fact, I really like his exuberance, and the way he's constantly smiling in that "Gosh, this is all just so much fun!" way of his. And this will probably sound weird, but he reminds me of Josh Exley, the alien-turned-1940s baseball player from the X-Files episode "The Un-natural". The gist of the episode -- which is one of my favorite episodes of any TV series, ever -- was that an alien from a species that had no concept of joy discovers it for himself in the course of playing baseball. Like George Huff, the Josh Exley character was a good singer, smiled a lot, and just enjoyed the fun of it all. And George even looks like Josh Exley.

Maybe that's a strange reason to root for a contestant on a reality show, but it's my reason, and I'm sticking with it.

(BTW, I taped the last half hour and watched Scrubs instead -- brilliant episode, as always. But did Paula Abdul actually manage to make it through an entire show without telling a contestant some variant of, "I'm so proud of you, you chose a really hard song, but you made it your own"?)

Bills news....

The Buffalo Bills have started reworking their roster for next season. They signed former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, which should be an upgrade: departed CB Antoine Winfield is a vicious tackler, but he has the worst hands I've ever seen and almost never even comes close to intercepting the ball, which is really what you want out of a CB anyway. (One of the Buffalo radio sports guys said of Winfield, "A corner who tackles well is like a receiver who blocks well. What's the point?" That's putting it a bit strongly, but there's a grain of truth there.)

The Bills also released veteran backup quarterback Alex Van Pelt, who has already signed on to do color commentary for the team's radio broadcasts next year. Van Pelt is a classy and intelligent football guy, and I'm sure he'll do fine on the radio, although I rather expected him to go into coaching rather than broadcasting. Off and on through his career, when the starters ran into trouble, some fans would call for Van Pelt to be allowed a shot at the starting job, which is testament to his leadership and football acumen. Too bad that his physical skills were never up to par, especially in the arm-strength department. Alex Van Pelt had all the attributes of a fine NFL quarterback -- except the arm, which you really can't do without.

Now the Bills are looking seriously at Billy Volek, the backup QB from Tennessee who is an unrestricted free agent. That would be a good signing. He's experienced (four years) and young, so when Drew Bledsoe departs -- sooner or later -- the Bills would have someone to plug in for a while, if not for a long time.

I hate Kevin Drum.

Why? Because starting today, he's a paid blogger. I'm sure that one of these days, the Buffalo News will realize its dire need for a blog...but until then, Kevin's evil and must be destroyed.

(Yeah, I'm linking him anyway. Who ever said I had to be rational?)

The ever-shifting sidebar....

In accordance with prophecy my general tendency to keep moving things around, I'm shifting the sidebar about. Firstly, there are a few folks I want to add to the blogroll, but I'm trying to keep the blogroll that's actually maintained via Blogrolling.com at a certain length, because once it starts getting really long it tends to slow down the loading of the page. (Longtime readers of Brad DeLong's blog, for example, may recall some truly glacial load-times before he moved his titanic Blogrolling-powered blogroll to its own page some months back.)

So, what I'll do is move all LiveJournal users to their own section in the sidebar, titled "Pilgrims from a Strange Land". (This is because LiveJournals strike me as a bit odd. That whole "friends" thing is weird, and navigation of LJ archives tends to be a nightmarish affair.) Another new section is entitled "Mapmakers, Sages and Scribes"; this is where I'll list professional bloggers -- i.e., people who are either directly paid to blog or folks who are actual journalists for whom blogging is part of the whole package of their work. All this will open up a few spots in the main blogroll. Of course, blogs that are relocated from the Blogrolling-powered blogroll will no longer be marked as recently updated when they have new posts, but since not all blogs seem to respond to that service, this doesn't strike me as a problem.

These changes will be effective...right now. BOOM! There, that didn't hurt, did it?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The ever-expanding cosmos



That's an artist's conception of Sedna, the most distant object found in solar orbit. The consensus seems to be that it's not a planet, but rather a planetoid and, more specifically, an Oort Cloud Object. It's out beyond even the Kuiper Belt -- very far, indeed.

Man, does a single day go by anymore that I don't go online, see some bit of planetary astronomy news, and think, "Damn, if only Carl Sagan hadn't died just a handful of years before all this!"

(link via Jay Manifold)

An Irrefutable Formula

Suicidal Tendency + Failure to Plan Properly = Mocking from Blogistan.

This one's kind of gross, folks, but it hit my "black humor" nodes dead-on. I have no trouble imagining the guy's cry of "Oh, noooooooo!" as he reached the point of impossibility in his plan.

(via Warren Ellis, of course)

"Compassion" in government, in action

One would think that the State has an economic interest in making sure that, as much as possible, only the guilty get imprisoned, since room and board in prisons costs money, and if you're spending that on locking up an innocent person, well, it's money wasted. Except that someone's hit on the idea that the state should be able to recoup that investment and charge those unlucky duckies for that room and board.

At least it's happening in Britain and not here...but you never know. Good ideas have to wait for their time to come, but bad ones whip around like oversugared five-year-olds at Chuck E. Cheese. I just know that sooner or later, some legislator in this country, full of desire to up his "law and order" and "fiscal responsibility" street cred, is going to propose something like this. You watch, folks.

(via He Who Modulates)

Oh, THAT explains it.

It turns out that today's snow in Buffalo is a time-delayed gift from His Swankiness. Thanks. Tons.

(BTW, in keeping with his "Swank" theme and his general fascination with Asian stuff, I've considered paying homage to The Mikado (my favorite Gilbert & Sullivan operetta) and dubbing Mr. Harris "Swanki-poo". Somehow, I don't think he'd totally appreciate that....)

Speaking of Mr. Harris, today he quotes in its entirety one of the great film monologues of all time, Quint's account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis from Jaws. I've long thought that this may be the moment in the film that elevates it into greatness. Also, it was this scene, more than any other in any film, that drove home to me the evils of the "pan-and-scan" formatting for televisions. I saw the film many times on VHS and whenever TBS aired it, and this scene always kept Robert Shaw in tight close-up during the monologue. Little did I know that, in Steven Spielberg's original framing of the scene, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) is off to one side, listening with a haunted expression in his eyes.

Regarding the Indianapolis, I once saw a TV documentary about it -- I don't recall if it was a National Geographic special or what -- that interviewed some of the survivors. As Greg notes, it was a far more horrific ordeal than the Jaws monologue conveys. The bit that's stayed with me is how one of these men described how a friend of his finally succumbed to dementia and announced that he was going to dive down to the fresh water beneath the salt water on top of the ocean and have a drink. Down he went, and that was the last anyone saw of him.

Anyway, they delivered the bomb.