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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

A couple of bits o' weirdness for y'all!

(And the fact that I said "y'all" is not one of the Bursts of Weirdness. Just so you know.)

:: It's hard doing all the introspection necessary to coming up with good New Year's resolutions for ourselves, which is why I'm glad that there's this handy widget that does the work for you! Just keep refreshing until you get one you like, and then post the handy code, like so:



In the year 2007 I resolve to:
Train my cats to hunt hamsters.



Get your resolution here.


First, to get some hamsters. Oh yes.... (via Laura, whose own resolution is pretty funny; I'd like to see her demonstrate that particular hobby at her workplace. Hilarity would just ensue, I tell you!)

:: I don't really want one of these. I just want to see its carrying case.

That's all!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Whoa....

There's a friend of mine from my elementary and junior high school days whom I think about from time to time. His name was Mark Jensen, and he and I enjoyed many a fine moment of pre-teen geekery together. We saw Return of the Jedi together on the second night it was out; we watched an awful lot of MTV together; played Dungeons and Dragons (the simpler version, not AD&D); we hung out in the computer room at my father's college playing the local variant of the classic Colossal Cave game*; we hung out at Mark's house playing great Atari games like Pitfall and Adventure and whatever else.

(Mark would also occasionally get pissed at me, usually on the basis that, in his words, I was being a "dickhead". I, of course, thought no such thing -- but now, twenty-odd years later, I look back at think, "Damn, I really was being a dickhead. Boy, self-awareness years later is just useful as hell, isn't it?)

Anyhow, I used to try Googling Mark's name on occasion, but "Mark Jensen" isn't a terribly unusual name, so there was really no way for me to narrow down the two million or so hits for "Mark Jensen" to the guy I knew. Oh well.

But then, just an hour or so ago, I decide to do one of a bit of ego-checking on Google by searching under my own name, and wouldn't you know it -- I find Mark's GameSpot profile, wherein he mentions me at one point. That's just friggin' spooky, man.

It turns out that you have to have a GameSpot profile of your own before you can send a message to one of their users, so maybe I'll set one of those up for myself sometime in the next day or two. Meantime, Mark, if by some chance you're already reading this blog, drop me a line. Sounds like you've been busy.

* Wow, was Colossal Cave the funnest thing ever! I loved that damn game, even though the student at my father's university who had put it on the mainframe was highly territorial about it, refusing to give me hints about some of the game's tougher puzzles and even going so far as to add his own puzzles to the game, including one that had no solution at all.

Anyhow, it's a great game, if you like the old text-adventure thing.

Happy Birthday Jennifer!

Go over to Jennifer's place and wish her a happy belated birthday, unless you happen to own a time machine in which case you can go back in time and offer her a happy on-time birthday.

Of course, the nice thing about a belated birthday wish is that you don't have to say something like "Hope you have a nice birthday", because you know if they already did or not. Jen did, of course, have a nice birthday, so I'm spared saying something like "Well, better luck next year." I gotta get to that cheesecake place one of these days.

A reminder!

In case anyone missed it, I'm taking submissions for a special Sentential Links post, in which my readers can submit links to posts from any blogs they wish, highlighting any post from the past year they found worthy. Details at the head of this post. If I don't get enough submissions, obviously I can't do the Special Post! The only "rule" is that I'd like to avoid political stuff if possible, mainly because I'm unlikely to willingly link a right-wing political post, and I do enough highlighting left-wing political stuff on my own.

Leave submissions in comments either here or on the earlier post.

The realm of Sauron Saddam is ended!

He's dead.

A few years ago I watched a PBS show -- Frontline, maybe, or something like that -- which detailed the early years of Saddam Hussein's power in Iraq. There was one sequence that I found especially chilling: it was a moment in which Saddam cemented his power. I can't remember all of the details, but it was a large gathering in an auditorium or some such place where Saddam gathered several hundred (or maybe thousand) high-ranking people from throughout the country. As he sat at a table up on the stage, Saddam read off a list of names, one by one, and after each name, a couple of armed guards would come down the aisles, find the persons named, and escort them outside to their own executions. Some of those named shouted curses at Saddam as they were led outside; Saddam merely picked up his cigarette and took a drag and read the next name on the list.

I suspect that people like Saddam come in two basic varieties: those who believe that their reigns will be the ones that last, and that they will be the ones who will die in old age, still in power; and those who know that they will more likely meet their end in a hail of bullets fired at them while they stand blindfolded against a wall, or at the end of a hangman's rope. From all of Saddam's actions over the last few years, he seems to have been of the former variety, which makes him a lot less interesting, in my view. He's just what he always was: a deluded guy who wreaked a lot of evil in his life. Sadly, he'll manage to loom larger in history than he ever should have, because of geography and because of someone else's mistakes in dealing with him. I look at Saddam Hussein and I wonder how on Earth someone so small managed to become someone who will loom large in this particular segment of history.

I'm not wild about the way Saddam's trial was handled, but I can't say that justice wasn't done, either, so that, for me, is pretty much of a wash. And I can't say that this is a milestone one way or the other. Saddam will be a martyr for some of the violent people in Iraq, to be sure, but I strongly suspect that a lot of the other violent people in Iraq -- maybe even the majority of violent people in Iraq -- don't really give two shits about Saddam Hussein and never have. The toppling of Saddam's regime nearly four years ago, the deaths of his sons, his own capture, the "transfer of power", Saddam's trial, Zarqawi's death -- none of those events were of any larger significance in a war that continues to spiral out of control, so I see little reason to suppose Saddam's death will be one, either. The world is neither a better place nor a worse place with him gone. His days of significance are long past, and his death, while certainly deserved, is pretty meaningless.

If he really wanted to be a martyr, though, he'd have killed himself to avoid capture. So Saddam died an insignificant coward. And the war will go on just fine without him. And on. And on. And on.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006: The view from the flip side

I answered the following questions at the end of 2004 and 2005; here are the answers to the same questions, as decided by the events of 2006.

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I usually don't make official "resolutions", but I did read more, so there's something done that I wanted to do. I also managed to learn a lot more on the job, starting with actual carpentry. For 2007 I plan to read even more (including some of that actual literary stuff), and I absolutely plan to write more. In 2006 I didn't write much at all, except for what I've done on this blog. I'll definitely get back to serializing The Promised King, sooner rather than later (an announcement thereof is forthcoming soon!).

Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, but a number of ladies I know from The Store are expecting, including one very dear friend of mine.

Oh, wait -- people in Blogistan count, right? Alan had himself a second child! Huzzah!!

Did anyone close to you die?

My Uncle Jerry died a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't exactly close to him, having not seen him since my wedding in 1997 (he caught the garter at the reception), but he was a great guy who will be sadly missed by those to whom he was close. Other than that, my year was pretty much Reaper-Free.

What countries did you visit?

The usual: Hoth, Bespin, Endor, Coruscant, Middle Earth, Fionavar, Westeros, and the fine city of Metropolis. We also went to Canada.

What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?

Finished manuscripts; a DSL hookup; the ability to do more carpentry. Oh, and peace and love.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Reading, listening, learning, living.

What was your biggest failure?

Not finishing The Promised King, Book Two. (Third year in a row! Yay!)

What was the best thing you bought?

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers complete score box set; jewelry for The Wife; the complete Firefly on DVD; bottles of spiced rum; a KitchenAid mixer; a new digital camera; books for me and The Wife and The Daughter.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Daughter, who has remained sweet, smart, a handful at times, and generally a very good student. And the American voters.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

George W. Bush and his entire administration; any rightwingers who still cling desperately to the notions that global warming doesn't exist or that Iraq is a place of burgeoning peace if only the MSM would tell us so or that the forced removal of the Bible from all households at the hands of armed UN soldiers is imminent.

Where did most of your money go?

Food, books, DVDs, music, food, books, food. Oh, and rum. Quite a bit of rum.

What did you get really excited about?

The two BloggerCons I was able to attend; Superman Returns; Guy Gavriel Kay's new novel (coming early next year); the hippies winning The Amazing Race; JP Losman's positive development as an NFL quarterback; the rise of the soon-to-be Stanley Cup champion Buffalo Sabres.

What song will always remind you of 2005?

"Some Enchanted Evening", from South Pacific. Not really sure why, but this year I learned its lyrics.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier.

Thinner or fatter?

I know I've gained some weight. Not enough to really worry about, but I think it's time to start going the other way.

Richer or poorer?

In terms of money, about the same, although I think I'm learning to make financial decisions that are less bad, and I'm picking up skills that will keep me employable for as long as I can pick up a tool. After all, there's only so much service-work that can be outsourced to Mumbai, and there will always be broken things that need fixing or walls that need painted.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing and walking. I love walking. And drinking water (even though I drink plenty of it to begin with).

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Reading political stuff online. All it does is get me pissed, with no outlet except producing more political stuff online. It's self-replicating, and as the elections got closer, I found myself pushing my inclination to avoid political posting down more and more. This has always been primarily a personal blog.

Oh, and eating pizza.

How will you be spending Christmas?

This quiz is meant to be done before Christmas -- but no matter. We went to church on Christmas eve, and then we came home to open presents. Next morning we set out four or five more presents for The Daughter (these were the "Santa" gifts), and spent the rest of the day relaxing and helping her play with her new stuff.

Did you fall in love in 2005?

My answer from last year still applies: I fall in love on a daily basis. Who ever said that you can only fall in love with someone once?

How many one-night stands?

Like I'm gonna tell you that!

What was your favorite TV program?

Scrubs, American Idol, The Amazing Race, The Office, My Name is Earl, House, Grey's Anatomy.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Alex Ovechkin and Rod Brind'Amour. They must be destroyed!!!

(Generally, I don't like to hate people. It's such a useless emotion, when you get down to it.)

What was the best book you read?

Maybe I should blog about books more, since I can name a bunch of wonderful ones I read that I barely mentioned, if at all, in this space. I read three books by Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential, A Cook's Tour, The Nasty Bits) that I loved. A book called The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness that I checked out of the library on a whim and loved so much that I gave a copy to my best friend for Christmas. And the remarkable Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town, and the Search for What Matters Most, which I blogged about here. That last book moved me deeply.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

This was more a year of musical rediscovery for me. I rediscovered Howard Hanson, Tchaikovsky, and a number of other composers.

What did you want and get?

A new computer and the afore-mentioned KitchenAid mixer! Huzzah!

What did you want and not get?

In spite of my lack of enough interest in one to buy one myself, I did enter a contest at The Store to win an iPod. I didn't win. Oh well.

What were your favorite films of this year?

Casino Royale, Superman Returns, Cars.

What did you do on your birthday?

I had to work and The Wife had to work, so we celebrated a few days later, if memory serves. What did we do? I can't remember. We probably went out to eat.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?

Why would I change my personal fashion concept? I just don't get fashion, people wearing whatever a group of magazines tell them is "in" that year. Shouldn't what's "in" be in because people buy a lot of it, as opposed to people buying a lot of what's "in" because it's "in"? Isn't that the central point of one of Plato's Dialogues or something? Anyway, same as always: I'm your hippie workwear guy. Tie-dyes or solid colors; overalls from September to May.

What kept you sane?

Sanity is overrated -- but I suppose The Wife and Daughter, my friends, and the various voices from Blogistan, Buffalo Prefecture and beyond, did the job as well as anybody.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Kate Walsh, Teri Polo, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jewel Staite.

What political issue stirred you the most?

It was an election year. I didn't need a single issue to stir me up.

Who did you miss?

My son, my friends who don't live in Buffalo.

Who was the best new person you met?

Aside from a couple of them, all of the fine Buffalo bloggers whose acquaintance I've made in real life, I made this year. And they're all fine, fine people whose blogs I either read daily or should read daily. (Say, when's the next official BloggerCon, folks?)

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006:

Not all learned in 2006, actually, but reinforced: The Internet is made of people. Rush more, blitz less. Don't punt when you're trailing or when you're in your opponent's territory. Democracy works, at least sometimes. Not all tears are an evil. Cool-whip is a miracle substance. So is ice cream. Use your library; limiting your reading to only those books you can afford to buy is madness. OpenOffice is a quality program. From pizza to quiche to apple to coconut cream, pie is the greatest of foods. We're not meant to be alone. No object fits in your hand so perfectly as your wife's hand, and no object fits so perfectly on your shoulder as your child's head. Keep smiling, because you never know what life will throw in your face next!

And don't take it all so seriously.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I don't know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I've been afraid
That I might drift away
So I've been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I came from
And that's the reason why I seem
So far away today

CHORUS:

Oh, but let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me
And now I'm going home
If I should become a stranger
You know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia's been everything
I've ever had

Now I have moved and I've kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the ladies and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes there's no denying
I have traveled hard with coattails flying
Somewhere in the wind

(Chorus)

Now I'm sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames that could not get any higher
They've withered now they've gone
But I'm steady thinking my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When the hands are shaken and the kisses flow
Then I will disappear....

(Chorus, 2x)

--"Caledonia", by Dougie MacLean


And thus ends another year.

(This isn't the last post of this year, however, so don't stop checking in!)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Best of 2006!

Find below a list of the Best Posts from this blog in 2006, as chosen by a selection committee of...well, me. Any newer readers may enjoy perusing these posts -- after which time they may break their fingers in their haste to click the "Back" button on their browsers, but hey, you never know.

First, I'll single out the two complete short stories I posted in this space this year: "Elizabeth and Andrew", a tale about music and love and letters exchanged across time in a library book, and "What Happened to the Huntsman?", which reveals, well, what happened to the Huntsman in Snow White.

How to make Pastitsio
Entering the Wagnerian Universe
How to Drill Screws Into Masonry
Dinner at Buffalo's Gaudiest Restaurant
My first BloggerCon: a smashing success!
I'm uneasy about the prospects for Spiderman 3
Mozart at 250
Mozart at 250, part deux
Jonah Goldberg, Boy Idiot
Stuff I've Done (a blog quiz thing)

Thurman. Still waiting for Canton. Grrrrr.
Lester and Julio: a portentous arrival
R Stillers won the Super Bowl!
Tough Love (a short story)
John Scalzi is evil and must be destroyed.
Kid-Lit (a blog quiz thing)
Fueling my blog-quiz addiction
ER needs a DNR
A blog-quiz about books

Back to Fionavar
The magic of used books
A musical blog-quiz
Yet another blog-quiz
Still another blog-quiz (Do you detect a theme here?)
Dick Cheney: evil alien disguised as a man

Rum. I like it.
James Bond, Cold Warrior?
Book review: The Stupidest Angel
Thoughts on Narnia
Borodin and my entry into the world of string quartets
Response to SDB's article on Hayao Miyazaki
Into the Depths of the Stars! (announcing my space-opera reading project)

Ice Cream: I Like It
Filing CDs: My system for musical madness
Liveblogging the West Wing series finale
Weirdness from the Mouths of Libertarians

Worst Incentive EVER.
Oh NO! Someone will see Teh Boobies!
Why customer service sucks in this country
Cat versus Toilet Paper
Superman Returns

I am a Patriot
How I nearly quit blogging entirely, but returned out of spite
On the fountain pen
Superman's Secret Identity (incomprehensible to non-Buffalonians)
Fun with Fruit and Mayonnaise (and not what you think, either)
How to Write like Mary Kunz Goldman
Favorite Episodes of Favorite TV Shows
Recapping the Renaissance Faire

How Dead Poets Society should have ended
Ask Me Anything!: The Roundup (with links to the earlier posts in that series)
King Kong
A quiz about books
Cars: what a weird movie!
The birth-pangs of the New Middle East
Screw the high school football players.
The Sparrow
Favorite TV characters of mine
A post in which I get hot under the collar because some nitwit badmouths Buffalo

GAH! Teh stupid! It burns!
Pound for pound, the most error-filled Football Predictions Post in Byzantium's Shores history
A post in which my troubled relationship with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip begins
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza is NOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOT a casserole, dammit!
A few good books you should read
Studio 60's second episode
Studio 60: I sure bitch a lot about this series
Nope, not content to stop writing about Studio 60
Space opera: I like it!
Wow, that's one big October snowstorm!
Breaking new ground! Writing about Studio 60.
Sports Memories

John Kerry hates everything about you!
How to Fix the NFL
How to prepare yummy chicken
The best James Bond Quiz ever!
A Boy, a Girl, and a Customs Agent

Overrated movies and my thoughts thereof
Blathering about Studio 60
God bless the xenophobes!
Bond is Back
My Christmas gifts for Blogistan!
Carl Sagan: The Candle Still Burns

Enjoy some or all of these posts. Enjoy them or the puppy gets it.

Tagged!

Jennifer just tagged me with a "Five Things You Didn't Know About Me" quiz, which I'm finding difficult, I must admit, since after nearly five years of blogging, it's rapidly becoming the case that the only stuff that you don't know about me is stuff I don't want to blog about. But anyhoo, here's some stuff:

1. Apropos of a recent dustup of sorts in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, I must admit that -- sigh! -- I have not shopped the Elmwood Strip in more than five years. Probably even longer than that. Why? I genuinely don't know, other than that there always seems to be something that I'd rather do more. I always wanted to, and still do; every time I was at Childrens Hospital for one of Little Quinn's procedures or visits, I'd think, "Man, I gotta get to Elmwood one of these days." And still, there Elmwood sits, unvisited by me. (A couple of other embarrassing admissions for this Buffalonian: until two years ago, I'd never eaten at Mighty Taco, and I still have not been to a Louie's.)

2. Had The Daughter been a boy, her name would have been Quinn.

3. My first musical instrument was the French horn, which I played for a year before switching to the cornet and later the trumpet. (The cornet is actually a trumpet whose pipes are more conical in nature than the normal trumpet's.) I didn't take practicing seriously at all for two years, -- from fifth grade until about halfway through seventh -- when I suddenly realized that (a) I sucked, (b) I was tired of sucking, (c) if my parents weren't going to let me quit band (I'm still embarrassed to this day that I actually asked my father if I could quit) then I'd just as well not suck, and (d) it would be cool to not suck.

4. I used to be a pretty good swimmer (probably still am, as it's not a skill one forgets), enough so that my high school's swim team coach used to repeatedly ask me to join the team. Why didn't I? Because I was Young, and therefore Stupid.

5. My love of overalls has nothing at all to do with the fact that I went to college in Iowa. In fact, I was in my junior year of college before I wore them out there. (And as soon as I did, any number of native Iowan college mates of mine started asking me if I was trying to become "an official Iowan".)

Now, I suppose I should tag some people. I usually don't tag people on these kinds of things, but hey, why not? So: Roger, Lynda, John, and...hmmmm...Shamus? You're all up. Or not.

Late a President of the United States

I was five years old when Gerald Ford left office as President, so I have no memories at all of his political life. From what I've read, he was a genial President and what the country needed in the aftermath of Watergate. Personally, I've always believed that his pardoning of Richard Nixon was probably the right thing to do, and that things might have been better had Ford been elected in 1976. (For one thing, had Ford been elected in 1976, there likely would never have been a President Reagan. And if no President Reagan, then maybe no Bush dynasty.)

That's about all I can say about Ford, really. His whole time as President was spent during a time when my most pressing concerns were how soon Sesame Street would be on.

When I read the news this morning, I have to admit that my first thought was not of anything Ford ever did, but of the line in Airplane!: "He's alive, but unconscious. Just like Gerald Ford." I wonder if Ford was the first President to find himself a regular punchline, given the concurrent rise of Saturday Night Live? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Anyway, condolences to the Ford family.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sentential Links #80

OK, I weakened: here's a Sentential Links post.

But before I get to the links, I had an idea for either next week's post, or the one the week after: I'd like to expand it from a list of links to posts I read in a single week to posts anyone else read in 2006. So, if you have any blog posts that stuck in your mind and you'd like them linked herein, feel free to leave the links in comments. And feel free to link your own blogs! Go ahead and pimp your own stuff, if you had a post that you especially liked only to see it vanish into the Archival Aether. For now, I'm limiting submissions to two per individual. You can use both to pimp your own blogs, or neither; and if you're just a blog reader and not a blogger yourself, feel free to leave a URL to whatever posts struck your fancy, on whatever blogs. (Fair warning, though: I probably won't be linking any right-wing politics posts, because I'm just not a right-winger. So don't submit lots of those. Other than that, anything goes, and submissions don't have to be from my own blogroll, either. In fact, the more submissions that come from blogs I don't read, the better!)

Onward:

:: So here's a lovely Christmas tale from 1991 involving my ex. (Those are the best ones!)

:: look! a farmboy wow! check out the destiny! instant grown-up dragon! mentor! evil wizard! platonic love interest! minor confrontation! hidden fortress! major confrontation! is she dead?! of course not! come back for the sequel! (More a parenthetical note than a sentential link, but there it is.)

:: [Undesirable experience] made my [sensory organ] bleed. (Oy.)

:: I guess it's because I didn't grow up in a WD-40 family. (WD-40 is the key to world peace.)

:: Ah, the six-year-old Gore joke. What would an article about politics and the web be without it?

:: A Christmas story of how Billy Idol defeated Manuel Noriega and ended the 1980s.

:: T’was the night before Christmas
and all through the world,
not a creature had evolved yet,
not even a bird.


All for this week, what with less surfing than usual and people mostly posting less anyway. Remember to submit links to The Best Stuff You Read in 2006, as per the guidelines above!

When Santa cracks open a cold one

Boy, I'll bet Santa gets really tired this time of year! I envision him getting home after flying all over the world and just staggering into the bedroom, grumbling something guttural at Mrs. Claus, collapsing into his recliner, accepting a spiked beverage of some sort from his personal elf, and then flipping on his TV to watch whatever it is that Santa watches. Elf porn, maybe. Or football.

Anyway, Christmas was a very nice affair here at Casa Jaquandor. I gave The Wife several books, a couple of DVDs, the new Loreena McKennitt CD, and a few other cool things; she gave me a new Henley shirt (I love Henleys, and my older ones are getting seriously ratty, thus requiring an upgrade over the last few months), a gift card to Borders, a set of utensils for making and consuming sushi (now I gotta learn to make sushi!), and a couple other items. The Daughter, of course, cleaned up: a toy puppy that wags its tail and actually licks you, one of those GigaPet games, a couple of board games, a few books, and so on.

Christmas dinner was a pork tenderloin on which I applied some kind of rub before we roasted it, scalloped corn, acorn squash (baked in a mixture of maple syrup and some other stuff), and the requisite rolls and biscuits.

Oh, and the new computer? It rocks. For a time yesterday I shut the world out, by watching parts of Revenge of the Sith on my computer screen. Life can not conceivably get any better!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Someone is coming....

It's time to sign off for the Holy Day, the Mass of the Christ, and so on. We're snow-free in Buffalo, believe it or not. But so what? They're snow-free in Phoenix, AZ, and yet they celebrate Christmas there, too. Stuff before I depart:

:: This is also an end of sorts for an old and trusty friend. The computer on which I have written every post thus far of this blog has been showing its age for quite some time now, and the time for replacement is at hand, with said replacement coming via the generosity of my parents, who would have to both live to the age of 189 if I was to ever completely repay the things they've given me, both tangible and not, over the years. The old computer, a HP Pavilion, made its debut in our home in late 2001, before this blog even launched. Five years later, it still works OK, although with creaks and whines on occasion. It no longer plays The Daughter's games on CD-ROM, unfortunately, and it freezes up on occasion requiring a cold boot. But I'll miss this durable machine, even as I launch the new one. Five years on one computer? Who does that? So anyway, one additional reason I've had so little time for posting lately is the preparation work for the new machine -- making backup CDs of all the data from the old computer so I can migrate all our documents and photos, downloading the latest versions of Firefox, OpenOffice, and various other programs that we use so I can load them right onto the new machine.

So, anyway, when next I post -- probably Tuesday or Wednesday, if all goes according to plan -- it'll be on the new computer.

:: We put our Christmas tree up very late this year. It went up Friday night. It would have gone up a week or two previous, but at one point in mid-December The Wife and The Daughter both suffered colds that made anything more ambitious than ladeling soup down their throats unpalatable. Both mended just fine, though.

As for the tree, I'll put some photos of it up at some point (maybe), but remember that last year I posted some photos of our most beloved Christmas ornaments, here, here and here.

:: Here's a nice bit of Christian perspective.

:: Shamus's DM of the Rings comic takes a strange turn.

:: ABC had The Sound of Music on last night, and The Daughter insisted on watching the first hour or so, which was fine by me, even though I can't imagine why networks will show their own series in Widescreen formats but not a friggin' movie. Nope, we got pan-and-scan Sound of Music, which always disappoints.

By the way, from watching this movie, I always thought that the word for "a girl who's just entered the convent" is "postulate", which I found baffling since in a geometry and logic context, "postulate" means something completely different. Then a few weeks ago I'm reading a newspaper article about the declining number of nuns in the Catholic Church, and I discovered that I've been mis-hearing the word "postulant" all these years.

:: Our Christmas dinner this year will be a pork tenderloin (not sure how we'll season it), scalloped corn, an acorn squash (I'm slowly coming to accept the squash as something that doesn't taste bad), crescent rolls, and biscuits. In case anyone was wondering.

:: Finally, here's a poem I offered last year at this time. It's one of my favorite works of Christmas literature.

"Noel: Christmas Eve 1913", by Robert Bridges (1844-1930).

A frosty Christmas Eve when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields and marvelling could not tell
Whether it were angels or the bright stars singing.
Now blessed be the towers that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders (said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ in the belfries tonight
With arms lifted to clutch the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above and the mad romping din.
But to me heard afar it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderley to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect of th’ eternal silence.



Peace

May you all know peace and love on this Christmas Day, and all the days to come.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Not all weird stuff, actually, but something of a grab bag of niftiness:

:: From the Beeb comes 100 Things We Didn't Know Last Year. We now know that sex is a fairly dangerous activity for giant squid, that you're significantly more likely to be bitten by a human than by a rat, what the most frequently misspelled word in the English language is, and something about the linguistic capabilities of baboons, among other things. Check it out.

:: I may have missed it on Dr. Myers's blog, but Japanese researchers actually have video of the capture of a giant squid. The deep-water shots of the giant squid being baited that they got a few years back were cool enough, but this is astounding. (Anybody speak Japanese? And do Japanese newscasts really use cheesy music in the middle of their stories like that?)

:: I've probably linked this or something like it before, but if you like your gods old -- I mean, impossibly ancient and cosmic in their powers -- then what are you doing celebrating Christmas, when you can be celebrating the Winter Solstice properly, by honoring Cthulhu, complete with carols for the Old Ones like "I'm Dreaming of a Dead City" and "Do You Fear What I Fear"!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why can't cars just be fueled by hot air?

This afternoon I got annoyed while trying to buy gas, and slipped out with a string of salty words. With The Daughter in the back seat. I hate when I do that, and I'm trying to break that habit immediately. (I apologized to her seconds later.) I was angry that I'd been cut off in the line for the pumps (not huge lines, just two or three cars deep), and I ended up going somewhere else. But as I drove away, I thought about what had happened, and I realized that it wasn't at all the fault of the motorist who'd pissed me off. It was the gas station's fault.

Here, via Google Maps, is the gas station in question:



Beneath that canopy are four sets of pumps, for eight pumps total, so you have room for four cars gassing up to either side of the cashier's booth, which is in the middle of the whole operation. I guess we're all familiar with the basic concept of the gas station, right? Pumps that dispense from the right and others that dispense from the left, to be used by motorists depending on what side of the car their gas port is on? OK.

The problem here is that this gas station is surrounded by parking lot, which means that there is no set way for cars to approach the pumps. Assuming the top is "north" (actually, it's more northwest, but we'll call it north to save time), cars pulling in via the driveway just to the east there should come about and approach the station from the south, and thus queue up depending on what side of the car they fuel on. But at this station, alone of every gas station I ever use in this area with any frequency, nobody does that.

Here's a rough diagram:

NORTH
1 -|- 2 3 -|- 4
--------cash--------
5 -|- 6 7 -|- 8


The numbers indicate pumps.

Today, I pulled in to get gas. My car fuels from the passenger side, so I took stock of the situation. You'd think that I would come down that driveway, swing around to face north, and then pull into an appropriate pump -- in my diagram, one of the odd-numbered pumps -- to either side of the cashier booth, still facing north.

Alas, this was impossible. I'm sitting south of this whole mess, down below pumps 5, 6, 7, and 8. The car at pump 3 is facing north, fueling from his passenger side. OK. But the car at pump 7 is facing south -- i.e., facing me -- fueling from his driver side. So I can't really pull up to pump 7 as if lining up, because to do so will block that motorist's exit. And at pumps 1 and 5, both cars are facing south, fueling from their driver sides. At pumps 4 and 8, the cars there are actually facing each other -- pump 8 is facing north, pump 4 is facing south -- so again I can't just queue up there in the wrong direction either. Pump 6 was actually vacant, but someone at pump 2 was facing south, so even if I'd back into pump 6 to fuel from my passenger side, I'd be blocking that guy when he tried to exit.

And it's at this point that someone else comes in behind me, swings around, and queues up behind the south-facing guy at pump 1 -- which would mean that if I backed into pump 6, the guy at pump 2 wouldn't be able to move until either I or the new guy lining up in the wrong way moved forward.

Adding to all this confusion is that the driveway isn't even the only way to enter the gas station area -- it's situated in an outlying parcel of a large strip plaza, so cars are always coming not just from that driveway but from the other three or four possible directions as well. At non-busy periods, this usually isn't a problem, but on busy days it's quite the bungle of traffic as people basically take the "Look out for number one" approach to getting to these particular pumps.

It doesn't have to be this way, obviously. Here's the other gas station I tend to frequent regularly:



Here, the pumps are under that long canopy directly south of that blue-roofed building at top. (That's the convenience store, and that long building running north-south over to the right is a carwash.) Here, cars enter the operation from the south, and as can be seen, there just isn't room for them to swing about the north and come at the pumps from the opposite side. Here, everybody queues up to enter the pumps from the same side, exits from the same side, and everybody's happy. (In a particularly ingenious stroke, this station recently made their turnover at the pumps even quicker by installing this super-long hoses that will reach either side of your car no matter which pump you use, meaning that unless you're driving a Hummer with a pumped-up chassis, you can run the hose to the opposite side of your car if you have to.)

This isn't difficult stuff here, folks. The main idea behind channeling large amounts of people through a limited service space is pretty simple: clearly mark where they're supposed to go, and in what direction, and you won't have big problems. The fact that the gas station that frustrated me today (as it often does) is operated by one of Buffalo's main grocery store chains (not mine, though!) makes their half-assed operation all the more baffling. These folks know better.

OK, end of rant.

Has anyone seen my senses?

For reasons quite easy to understand, I went out shopping last night and today.

Oy.

It actually wasn't that bad. The trick is to know what you're getting into. If one simply accepts, even as one sets out to pick up those last two or three gifts, that the excursion will end up taking three hours (when the exact same trip performed on, say, a Tuesday in March would take ninety minutes), one will do just fine. And I find that for the most part people are being fairly pleasant, amongst the crush of people. I just keep trying to be observant, get out of their way when they're obviously looking for something, and so on. It's not that hard to stay pleasant even while fighting the Crowds of Christmas. I've come to realize that there's an extent to which it's true that we can influence our own moods and such, so rather than see all the other people around as annoyances and obstacles, I choose to see them as people who are racing against the clock to buy nice stuff for the people they love. So why be a prick about it?

A few notes from the shopping front today and last night:

:: Isn't it great when stuff's on sale that isn't marked as being on sale? It's cool to see the sum at the register turn out to be ten bucks less than the mental tally you've been keeping in your head. I love that.

:: Exception to the above thing about Christmas shoppers really being nice people: The woman who checked out in front of me at Target last night was so engrossed in her friggin' cell phone conversation that she took forever to gather up her bags while I was cashing out myself. In fact, she lingered so long that she actually picked up my bag, prompting the lovely cashier to yell out, "Hey, that's not your bag!" The lady just looked, shrugged, and plunked my bag back down, without even breaking her conversation long enough to apologize.

So yeah, don't tell me that yakking on a cell phone while driving is some holy right that the government shouldn't be legislating away.

:: Buffalo readers: if you're generally of the anti-Walmart stance, and you're not doing part of your Christmas shopping in East Aurora, then it's time you started. It's precisely the kind of small-town retail environment that the anti-Walmart crowd is always waxing rhapsodic about. And it isn't just Vidler's, either. I just love East Aurora. It is, to me, what the Elmwood strip is to the Buffalo Rising crowd. And frankly, it's the kind of thing about our whole region that we should be advertising all over the Great Lakes region. Small-town shopping districts like East Aurora's are wonderful, magical places. East Aurora should be the Northeast's answer to Galena, Illinois. (And if you haven't been to Galena, what are you waiting for? It's only a twelve hour drive from Buffalo, right down US 20! Go!)

:: Also Buffalo readers: if you, or anyone you know, wears workwear (like Carhartt) or a medical uniform (nursing scrubs or chef coats) on a regular basis, the Work'n Gear location on Walden Ave on Cheektowaga is closing and is thus marking everything down like crazy. (Yes, I've already cleaned them out on overalls in my size. Well, not the Carhartts. Carhartt stuff is way more expensive than I can afford, even at twenty percent off, which is kind of a bummer because those dark green ones look kinda cool.)

:: No snow. Ugh!

:: From the "Keep your voice down, dear" department: a guy was exiting Target last night with his wife, some kind of large piece of electronica -- a big TV, perhaps -- on a flatbed cart, promising his wife how he'd demonstrate his gratitude that she'd finally let him get the gizmo he wanted. Let's just say that if certain things either work or don't work in the way they're intended, this fellow may be getting another big present in late August or September.

:: I used to do my Christmas shopping early. Like, October. I'd get the main things I wanted to give people then, and use the "real" shopping season to get little things to fine-tune Christmas the way I wanted. This year, I went with the "Shop at the last possible second" approach. I don't recommend this. Next year, I'm back to doing it early.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The candle still burns



The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us -- there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.


Carl Sagan died ten years ago today. Many famous people have died over my lifetime, but Sagan's passing is the only one that I really, truly mourned. Every single news story I read about the latest photographs from the Mars rovers or the Cassini probe makes me wish he was still here, that great popularizer of science who doggedly continued to labor in planetary astronomy when everyone said that the real interesting stuff was in the stars, not in the planets.

I was nine years old when I first encountered Sagan, as his landmark PBS miniseries Cosmos debuted. My fourth-grade teacher had a poster for it and everything. I was the "science geek" of the class, so of course I watched the show -- but so did a number of friends of mine, including one kid who lived on a farm. Being nine, we didn't understand much of what the show was about. I expected a show about space, maybe a planetarium-type of exposition on PBS, so I was confused by all the biology and history. But there was something compelling about it anyway -- Sagan's voice, for one thing, which I always found very charismatic, and the writing, which was rich in poetry.

In Cosmos, I learned for the first time of a thing called "evolution". I learned about Mars, of the likelihood of extraterrestrial life, of the nuclear threat. I learned of skepticism, and for the one kid in the class who didn't groan when the teacher said "Take your science books out", I thrilled to hear science described not as a subject but as a tool, and the "best tool we have". And as a nine-year-old, I was thrilled to learn that the word "Googol", naming the number identified by a 1 followed by one hundred zeroes, had been coined by another nine-year-old.

No, I didn't understand much of Cosmos, even though I owned a copy of the book (my parents advanced me two months' allowance to buy it).

Even today, I'm stopped on the street or on an airplace or at a party and asked, a little shyly, if I wouldn't -- just for them -- say "billions and billions".

"You know, I didn't actually say it," I tell them.

"It's okay," they reply. "Say it anyway."

...

For a while, out of childish pique, I wouldn't utter or write the phrase, even when asked to. But I've gotten over that. So, for the record, here goes:

"Billions and billions."


During my college years, we had a thing called May Term. This was a shortened "third semester" during which students took a single course over a four-week period. During my freshman year May Term, I took astronomy as a science elective. Alas, my professor wasn't nearly as interesting a speaker as Carl Sagan -- he had a high-pitched, nasal voice and said "ummm" a lot -- and the class was actually held in the school planetarium (a room whose existence was the school's best-kept secret). So there we were, in a dark room sitting in seats that reclined back to 45 degrees, listening to a prof with a droning, high-pitched voice. Little wonder that the friend with whom I took the class traded off with me on "snore patrol". It wasn't a bad class, though, and the lab portions, involving stargazing at night, were a lot of fun. And I spent my afternoons reading Cosmos. A year later, while taking some other course during May Term, I watched the entire Cosmos TV series on the VCR. The tiny video store up at the corner actually had them all on their rental shelves.

Some years later, after I graduated, I learned that Sagan had written something of a "sequel" to Cosmos. I bought Pale Blue Dot the second I saw it in the bookstore, and read it almost immediately. A few years after that, I bought The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, and read it almost immediately. I remember seeing Sagan on Nightline, in which he reacted to something that was in the news from the world of astronomy, and in which he noted that he'd come through his recent illness fairly well, and that he hoped that a new period of increased funding for basic scientific research was in the offing.

Some time after that -- I don't recall how much -- my mother told me that Carl Sagan had died.

I don't know to what extent ignorance of science and mathematics contributed to the decline of ancient Athens, but I know that the consequences of scientific illiteracy are far more dangerous in our time than in any that has come before.


Obviously I never went into a life of science. I studied music and philosophy, on my way to working in restaurant management, a brief stop in sales, and finally retail maintenance (whilst always writing). Carl Sagan's influence in my life is one of attitude: skepticism coupled with enormous wonder, and the certainty that science is absolutely essential to understanding the universe and our place within it. From Carl Sagan I learned that the Universe -- the Cosmos -- is a place of wonder and beauty and amazement. I think of his work often, when I look on the stars or read about the planets. When I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, I detected Sagan's influence there as well. As Sagan wrote in Cosmos:

The power of [Percival] Lowell's idea may, just possibly, make it a kind of premonition. His canal network was built by Martians. Even this may be an accurate prophecy: If the planet is ever terraformed, it will be done by human beings whose permanent residence and planetary affiliation is Mars. The Martians will be us.


Earlier in that same chapter, Sagan relates the sad story of a friend of his, a scientist named Wolf Vishniac, who developed an experiment for the Viking lander that would test for the presence of microbes in the Martian soil. Vishniac's experiment was eliminated in a cost-cutting gesture, and then Vishniac himself died while on a scientific expedition to Antarctica. Later, Robinson featured the Martian crater named for Vishniac in his epic trilogy.

Perhaps one day our descendants will stand beside the waters of a Lake Sagan on a planet in some other star system, and perhaps they'll wonder about the writer whose every word glowed with the hope that one day we'd be out there, if we survived our technological adolescence. I hope so, too.



If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.




We have heard so far the voice of life on one small world only. But we have at last begun to listen for other voices in the cosmic fugue.




Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every yougn couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there -- on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.




For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas in Blogistan!

I'm going to invent a game here, or a blog-meme, or some such thing. Basically, I'm going to pick a bunch of bloggers at random -- some from my blogroll, some not -- and describe what I'd give them for their ideal Christmas present, based on what I've read from them in the past. OK? OK!

:: For Lynn Sislo: I will chain Joss Whedon in her basement for one year, wherein she can extract from him as many Firefly tales as his brain will produce under durress.

:: For Sean: I will arrange for Tom Brady to visit him so they can toss the ole pigskin back and forth in Sean's backyard for a while, not unlike that episode of The Brady Bunch in which Jow Namath visits Bobby. (I will also arrange for Tom's ACL to rupture while at Sean's house, thus earning him the eternal enmity of StuPat fans worldwide. Heh!)

:: For Alan: I will arrange for one leg of The Amazing Race to end on the Buffalo waterfront, where Alan will get to be the person standing next to Phil and say "Welcome to Buffalo". (Sadly, Alan will be driven from town on a rail when he slips and says to one team, "Welcome to Clarence.")

:: For Mrs. M-Mv: A full-size semi truck loaded with wood planks and cinder blocks, for the construction of ad hoc bookshelves. Oh, and a First Folio.

:: For John Scalzi, a cybernetic brain implant that will track his Amazon sales rankings in realtime. Oh, and a fuzzy kitten which he will name "Phluphie".

:: For Scotty, one of these.

:: For Lynda, round-trip air tickets to the destination of her choice, anywhere in the world. Oh, and a Boston Creme pie.

:: For my readers: my gratitude for the patience of when I get into political moods, or for when I go off on a Star Wars obsession, or when I indulge myself in obscure jokes that nobody but me gets and I don't realize it until I'm the only one laughing.

:: For all of Buffalo, this in June 2007, followed by this in February 2008.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(If I didn't list you, it's because I don't have room to list everybody, I couldn't think of what to get you, and you'd probably exchange it anyway.)

Royale with Cheese

On Thanksgiving Night, the Wife and I got to go see Casino Royale. Now, almost four weeks later, I guess it's time for me to say what I thought of the movie.

It's really good.

Next!

OK, I'll say more than that. Be aware, though, that I make no effort to avoid spoilers for the movie in this post. Yup, I'm gonna post me some spoilers. You have been warned. About the spoilers.

How good is Casino Royale? I've only seen it once, but I've been thinking a lot about it, and it very likely is the best Bond film in years. In fact, it seems to me to be able to crack my personal top five (which does not include Goldfinger). Over and above the film's status as a "relaunch" of the whole Bond franchise, making the character a rookie who still has to earn his chops, it's just a very well-made film. It's well shot, well acted, well written, and well scored. The Bond series isn't usually where one goes to see really good filmmaking in action, for the most part, but this one really clicks.

So what of the story?

I found it both maddening and fulfilling at the same time. Part of this is, no doubt, to the fact that the film plays with the conventions of the Bond series without totally embracing them, and thus the film is quite good at confounding expectations. Things happen in this movie that you don't expect in a James Bond flick. In one brutal scene, Bond gets tortured. Shown as a fairly green agent, Bond makes mistakes and acts impulsively. We see Bond in over his head; we see him at times surviving various predicaments out of almost literal sheer luck; we see Bond unsure of himself and of his abilities.

That's what makes the film's ending so perfect. It's the second Bond film to not end with 007 making love to the woman (one of many marks of quality Casino shares with the great OHMSS), but interestingly, as the film ends, Bond's mission isn't even over. That, I thought, was a pretty brazen bit of storytelling. There's no final confrontation here with the villain; instead, we see Bond tracking down yet another name in the long chain of villains he's been pursuing all through the film, and after shooting the man in the foot, Bond looms over him, rifle in hand, smiles, and introduces himself: "The name is Bond. James Bond." Smash cut to the end credits, with those famous brass chords from the James Bond Theme blasting forth.

I can recall few films that have ended with so perfect a final shot. In that moment, a guy named James Bond becomes James Bond. And that's what the film was about in the first place. Daniel Craig didn't have to have the gravitas of a Bond actor through most of the film, because the film's very story is about how he earned that gravitas in the first place.

Now, there are some narrative gaps in the film's logic. The way things unfold after Bond is captured by LeChifre isn't entirely clear, and it's a bit unsettling that this is the second consecutive Bond film where a key plot point involves the failure of the powers-that-be at MI6 to do their homework on one of their own people. The Venice sequence is hard to follow as well (I wasn't sure just why that building collapsed). But the sudden murder of Le Chiffre, whom we've assumed was the main villain in the classic Bondian sense, with a half hour left in the film was a nicely unsettling touch. Suddenly the audience is thrown into a position of being as ignorant as Bond, and watching Bond slowly catch up with the situation gives the last all of its tension as we realize that Bond has been betrayed, and just who the betrayer is.

I read the book of Casino Royale years ago, but I was able to note a lot of material in the film that was straight out of the book -- the way Bond names a drink after Vesper, the way Bond's mission appears doomed until a CIA agent named Felix Leiter introduces himself at the right moment, and the fact that Bond is betrayed by the woman with whom he's fallen in love.

So where does Bond go from here? I'm wondering what the producers have in mind for the follow-up. Since the character has been relaunched, perhaps they could actually remake all of the original films, updating the stories to the present day. One thing's for sure: as much as I think that Casino Royale has breathed new life into James Bond, I hope we don't see a return to villains plotting to destroy the world anytime soon.

Welcome back, Mr. Bond. It's good to see you again.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sentential Links #79

This will probably be the last installment of Sentential Links for 2006, as Christmas Day and New Years both fall on Mondays, and since my computer time will be sporadic at best over the next couple of weeks. (Although I do reserve the right to do a special edition or some such thing.)

Click away, folks!

:: My grandparents were very proud to be able to buy us all a steak dinner - something we could never afford.

However, this was a CHINESE FOOD restaurant.
(Aieee!)

:: But in the end, most small presses have one very important thing in common with most big publishers:

They are out to make a buck.
(This is part one in a series of lengthy posts about Colleen Doran's experiences in the small-press comics world. Which reminds me that I need to get off my ass and finish reading A Distant Soil one of these days. At least, the first three volumes, at any rate.)

:: But these dreams lately have been weird. No, I'm not going to describe them. If I put them into words and posted them on the internet, it would just lead everyone to try to figure out what they mean, and I think that's crap. (Heh. Drew's blogging again. No one escapes Blogistan unless Blogistan wants them to escape!)

:: Two thirds of arguments, I think, could be boiled down to this final exchange.

"Was this really the best you could do?"
"Yes."
"Then okay."


:: It just appears to me that too many folks view heaven as nothing more than an adult-rated Romper Room.

:: I woke up yesterday morning with what can only be a sugar hangover. (Tell me about it. This year I've added a second pancreas.)

:: One of the small pleasures of doing customer service this time of year is answering the hundreds of customer e-mails that pour in - especially at the last minute from panicking people who are desperate that their attentions are seen to. (SDB linked this one. It's worth nothing just for the stuff about when your credit card is denied: the retailer or restaurant or other business you're transacting with is not told why your card is denied. The little machine doesn't flash a message at us saying something like, "Holy shit, this guy is already $300 over his limit and hasn't made a payment in months! Don't take his card!" It just says, "Card denied" or "Transaction not approved" or something like that. This is one of those "Don't shoot the messenger" moments.)

:: Dr. Joshua Coleman has discovered the way to improve a couples' sex life and all the world is on the edge of their seat in anticipation to learn about his amazing new discovery... (Turns out the answer does not involve Cool Whip, so I can't say I'm terribly interested. Feh!)

:: I saw a perfect description of the patriarchy while I was at Dickens Faire last week.

:: And Stephen Hawking agrees with me. So there.

:: As for me, I will no longer support him in any way. I'm going home tonight and I'm removing every Michael Crichton book from my library. (Thankfully, I've never read any Crichton.)

:: Architects who design bathrooms with two doors should be dragged out into the street and shot. (Huh? Two doors? Who the hell does this?!)

:: I realize, as this guy is whipping Daniel Craig's crotch with tarred rope, that this is the Royal Premiere. That right now the Queen of England is watching Daniel Craig get whipped in the balls. (I can't remember if I linked this before, but it's worth revisiting.)

:: I would just like to take a moment to express my surprise and pleasure at being selected Time's Man of the Year. (Me too!)

OK, there may be an installment of Sentential Links next week after all. It's just too enjoyable a time, gathering them all. We'll see.

Warp speed!

A football addendum

Two things about yesterday's football post:

:: In comments, a reader asks why I think NFL referee Ed Hochuli is biased against the Bills. Actually, I don't really think that; Hochuli's is the only name I could think of when writing that post, and I didn't feel like Googling some other ref. I was joking about how Bills fans tend to get really incensed about bad calls against the Bills; however, having only really been around Bills fans, I can't say if the same phenomenon exists among all NFL fandoms.

But I do think that the NFL refs should be full-time, and they should be very rigorously trained. There are enough bad calls on a frequent enough basis that the officiating needs some upgrading.

:: I griped a bit about the Football Outsiders website, whose editorial stance seems to be to say nothing about JP Losman unless it's negative. Today's a good case in point. From today's Audibles at the Line column, here's the total of what the FO.com folks have to say about yesterday's Bills-Dolphins game:

Doug Farrar: Well, you have J.P. Losman and his weekly 90-yard bomb to Lee Evans. His first half against Miami: Five completions, 105 yards. Passes of 37, 33 and 28 yards to Evans and Robert Royal.

Michael David Smith: Jason Taylor is looking great as usual. Is that guy ever going to get old?


That's it. That's all they say about that game. Nothing about the progress of a Bills offense that is producing consistent scoring drives. Nothing about the Bills' defense throwing its first shutout in over two years. And for that matter, they leave something out in that summation of Losman's first half: Five completions, out of only eight attempts. It's not like he went 5 of 19 in the first half; he went 5 of 8, and finished the game with a very respectable line of 13 completions, 19 attempts, 200 yards, 3 TDs, and zero INTs.

It seems that if Losman has a good game, the FO.com folks will either (a) completely ignore it, or (b) mention it in a way that makes it sound like he mainly sucked and just got lucky on a handful of plays.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Winning friends and influencing people

Advice from my life that will be useless to anyone else out there, unless they're actually living my life: Putting four pairs of overalls in the tumble dryer at the same time doesn't really help in the "quiet" department of apartment building life.

(Usually I split 'em up over several loads, but tonight I'm only doing one load, so I figured I'd wash 'em all at once. Bad idea, that. All that metal banging around in there? I may as well have chucked a handful of marbles into the dryer.)

Quiz time! Hooray!

I haven't done a blog quiz thing in a while, and this one's tailored specifically to musicians -- although non-musicians can participate too, simply by omitting the specifically musicianly questions. I found it via Tosy and Cosh, who in turn got it from Terry Teachout, who in turn links this as the embarkation point for this quiz.

GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OR TWO OF AN ESPECIALLY GOOD OR INTERESTING:

1. Movie score. The Lord of the Rings (Shore), The Sea Hawk (Korngold), Star Wars (Williams)

2. TV theme. Magnum, PI (how great was the team of Post/Carpenter at TV themes in the 1980s!); Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (still my favorite of the Trek themes); The West Wing (nifty "patriotic" sound; ends on an unresolved chord)

3. Melody. The idee fixe from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique; "On the Street Where You Live" by Lerner and Loewe, from My Fair Lady; "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral" from Lohengrin (this will be the entry music if I ever get married again).

4. Harmonic language. "Irish Tune from County Derry", set by Percy Grainger. In fact, all of Grainger; he had an amazing way of voicing chords so you rarely notice just how dissonant they are.

5. Rhythmic feel. Elmer Bernstein's score to The Magnificent Seven. The last movement of Scheherazade. "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash.

6. Hip-hop track. I don't know anything about hip hop.

7. Classical piece. Geez, how many! I don't often mention the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto here. Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead. Berlioz's wonderful oratorio L'enfance du Christ. (If you only know Berlioz as the master of orchestral bombast, check this work out.)

8. Smash hit. Hmmmm...I usually tune smash hits right out of my consciousness after I get sick of them. The theme song to "Friends", I guess.

9. Jazz album. I used to pretend to be a jazz afficionado, but I eventually gave that up. Still, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis should be in every record collection.

10. Non-American folkloric group. Altan; the Battlefield Band.

11. Book on music. The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein; Evenings with the Orchestra by Hector Berlioz.

BONUS QUESTIONS: (I'm just presenting them here, but not answering them, because they don't really apply.)

A) Name an surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years.

B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated.

C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn’t, not really).

D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer.


So there you go.

The Ball of the Foot

In comments to this post, Roger points out that I haven't talked much about the Buffalo Bills lately, even as they've been playing quite a bit better compared to their first month of this season (when they were mildly OK), or the second month (when they descended into the Pits of Suckitude). I still enjoy football, and I still root for the Bills with all the lustiness my lungs can summon, but I figure that since the team's problems are pretty much the same as they've been for the previous four years I've faithfully blogged the Bills, why keep repeating myself?

But to sum up anyway, I'm encouraged by JP Losman's play over the last five or six games. After a couple of horrible outings (against the Bears, who are very good, and the Lions, who are very not) in which Losman played about as badly as an NFL quarterback can play without getting benched, he's shown a lot of maturity in addressing his weaknesses, in leading the team on the field, in making good decisions with greater frequency and consistency. I can't look at Losman and definitively state that he could be the guy to eventually bring this team a championship, but I don't for one second think that he's guaranteed to be crappy either. For me, Losman's earned the reins in 2007. He's learned, he's grown, he's rebounded from some very bad games, he's executed a couple of successful comebacks (and narrowly missed on a couple of others).

Put it this way: even if Losman is right now as good as he's ever going to be (which is possible, I grant, since I'm unable to predict the future), he's still not in the top three of the problems the team's management will need to address this coming offseason.

Much press was made about a month ago when the Bills' coaches decided to shuffle the offensive line, stacking things so their best players are at least all on one side of center (the left side, actually), so at least theoretically they could rely on that side to get things done. That's worked fairly well as sacks have gone down, rushing yardage has gone up, and Losman's had time to look at the field and find open receivers (Lee Evans, more often than not). But I don't want to oversell the line right now: it's become "adequate". There's some encouraging stuff going on there, but I still believe that offensive line has to be a major priority this offseason, either in the draft or free agency (preferably, both).

Defensively, the team seems to give up lots of yards but make enough big plays to stay alive in games. That kind of defensive philosophy can make games fun to watch, but rarely will you win with a "bend but don't break" approach to defense. (I've always believed that Walt Corey's "bend but don't break" D was the prime culprit in the Bills losing four Super Bowls in a row.) They've got to get tougher at the line of scrimmage, preferably with some kind of big guy who can stuff the run in the middle and let those speedy ends do their thing.

What of Nate Clements, the soon-to-be free agent cornerback who's almost certain to leave this year? I'm fine with him going. He's a very good player and he'll be tough to replace, but I've always found him inconsistent and very much of a "Me!" type of guy. And besides, if the Bills can make the defensive line significantly better going into next year, that will somewhat accomodate the departure of the team's best CB.

As for all the bad vibes in the air right now about the increasing suspicion in these parts that the NFL is pricing itself out of cities like Buffalo, I'm just not in the mood to write about that right now, except to note that my optimism about this region is as high as usual, and that maybe if we can just figure it out in the short term, in a decade or so this region will again be rich enough that we won't have to worry so damned much about the future Toronto Bills.

I do think they should tarp over some of the seats at Ralph Wilson Stadium for next year, however. It makes no sense to me that, to take one example, Gilette Stadium (home of the New England Stupid Patriots) seats 68,000 people in service to a metro area (Boston, MA) of over 4,000,000 people, while Ralph Wilson Stadium has over 72,000 seats in service to a metro area of just over 1,000,000 people. (Over two million, actually, if Rochester, NY is included -- but still, we have more seats for far fewer people. Makes no sense.) I'm not one to get into handwringing over the fact that the Bills have failed to sell out their last three home games; fatigue over this team's mediocre results was bound to set in sooner or later, and the Bills occasionally had trouble selling out during the Super Bowl years (that famed Wild Card game in 1993, for example, when the Bills overcame that 35-3 deficit, was blacked out locally). The atmosphere at the Stadium has a fairly raucous reputation right now, the NHL Sabres are incredibly hot right now, and there was that wild storm in October that hit a lot of people squarely in their wallets. I don't think the recent spate of blacked-out games is something from which we can draw conclusions about this franchise's viability.

But hey, the Bills clobbered the Dolphins today. Hooray!

And I wasn't going to link this, but then five or six people e-mailed me the thing, so there it is. If life were a German opera, Tom Brady would be in the part of the story where the Devil comes back to exact the horrible price for the magic bullets he's just bought.

Finally, since I'm in the midst of a big football post, I may as well bitch a bit about the Football Outsiders site. The degree to which these guys are anti-JP Losman is really irritating. Each week, they have a column where they cover nearly every game -- except, in a few recent weeks, they've either made absolutely no mention of Losman at all in games in which he's played well (like the Jacksonville game), or not even mentioned the game in the first place (they managed to utterly ignore the Houston game, the San Diego game, and more). No real point here, but it sometimes seems that they feel they have to find a way to not saying anything good at all about Losman. Yes, I'm sure the reasons they didn't cover several of those games are perfectly prosaic in nature, having to do with the fact that nobody can watch every game and so on, but we Buffalo sports fans are a paranoid bunch, given to hypothesizing conspiracy theories whenever things don't go our way.

(Don't get me started about Ed Hochuli, the NFL's most anti-Buffalo official. Harumph!)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Via Sean, I see that Ken Jennings is a heathen pig who must be banished to the fifty-ninth circle of Hell for daring to commit this transgression. O the Humanity!!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Gone fishin'

Just popping in here to say that I haven't fallen silent for any nefarious reason this week; I've just been very busy at work and at home with Christmas prep and whatnot. I hope to return to my still-sporadic-but-not-this-sporadic posting schedule sometime this weekend. I've got lots of posting ideas churning in my head as it is (including my thoughts on Casino Royale).

Keep on trekkin'!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sentential Links #78

In general I'm on the computer a lot less this time of year, so fewer links than normal between now and January. But now:

:: Then shall the world tremble before our assembled might! Arr! (An anthology of stories involving piracy on the high seas? Wow!)

:: Fruitcakes are the definition of baked goods people buy to give away. Adulteration happened. By the time everyone got around to comparing notes on how nasty most commercial fruitcake had become, we’d raised a generation of kids who wouldn’t eat fruitcake on a bet. (To this day, I don't think I've ever had fruitcake at all, either homemade or store-bought. I might try one this year.)

:: Yes, nothing quite says "Christmas Cheer" like going to your parents' graves and shouting that they deserved to be gunned down in a filthy alley.

:: The blonde insists our first date was a week earlier, on December 1st. I refuse to accept this. (Well, yeah. A date, as Cameron Crowe clearly established in Say Anything, consists of "Prearrangement...with the possibility for love." Just hangin' out with friends and having pizza is a "scam". Or maybe not. The movie never cleared up that particular point.)

:: William Tager was born on a parallel Earth in the year 2265. (My new seventh-favorite blog. The six in front of it? I'll never tell!)

:: I mean, we may have met in the Little Pony aisle of Target, eh? (Ah, My Little Pony...and the porn stars!)

:: Overalls, no longer stigmatizing, are as American as apple pie and Apple iPods. (A news article and not a blog post, but it's always nice to see a little love for the overalls!)

Enough for this week. Keep well, folks. The world's a harsh place, full of vultures, vultures everywhere!

The pinnacle of Interweb Evolution

What if A Charlie Brown Christmas had actually been an episode of Scrubs? Find out here.

(God bless MeFi!)

And yet they have jobs....

Overheard at Borders yesterday, from the lips of one of two guys who were looking for a specific book in the Romance section, presumably for the girlfriend or wife:

"Ooooooh, dude! They're arranged by the name of the author, not the title!"

That guy's education constitutes money well spent, I'd say.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness (Monday edition)

Sorry for the lack of a Burst yesterday, but I got distracted doing other things. Judging by the massive outcry, though -- nobody noticed the lack of the Burst of Weirdness! Snif snif....

Anyhow:

After a vigorous day of horseback riding out in the woods, I stopped when I felt a sharp pain in my purlicue, so I dismounted. That's when I noticed that there were otters nearby, and I had stepped in their spraints and got it all over my rowels! I was so mad I closed my eyes and saw the greatest phosphenes of my life! But alas, today I'm off to Target to get some new aglets.


For help translating this gibberish, see this list of names for things that you might not have realized had names in the first place. By the way, the word "aglet" was actually used on a recent episode of CSI: Miami. I know it was that word because after one person said it, another helpfully defined it, in a fairly ham-handed "As you know, Bob" moment. (link via Lynn)

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the cosmic bizarreness of Ann Althouse's conjecture that maybe Jose Padilla's jailers keep him blindfolded so he can't communicate by blinking when he's outside the jail cell! That was some prime weirdness, right there.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Heavens, are you still here?

Let's hear it for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who's not letting a little thing like lame-duck status stop her from bringin' Teh Crazy to Washington!

You're such a tease!

So I log into Blogger the other day and see a big banner thing across the top of the "dashboard" page (for non-Blogger users, the "dashboard" is the main page you see when you first sign in, before you start writing posts and stuff to your various blogs), telling me that I was at last allowed to make the migration over to the new BloggerBeta. So I clicked the link, only to be told that I actually can't make that migration yet; and when I clicked the "More info" link, I see that this is likely because they can't do "huge" blogs yet, where "huge" is defined as having several thousand posts (check) and/or very lengthy comment threads (not so much). So here I am, still stuck in non-Beta land. Not that this is such a big deal, but I'd like to do the "post-labels" thing, even if I have no intention of actually going through my archives and categorizing my more than 5000 posts.

(Yeah, that's right, I've written more than 5000 posts in this space. Ye Gods.)