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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mysteries!

You know, at the rate new developments seem to be churning out for old mysteries, we're gonna run out stuff for Indiana Jones to figure out.

:: A French architect has a new hypothesis for the construction of the Great Pyramid. Basically, he thinks they built it from the inside out.

:: An old diary has surfaced that may yield clues to what happened to Amelia Earhart.

The basses are loaded

Apparently the long-simmering deal to bring a Bass Pro store to downtown Buffalo's waterfront has finally been brought to a boil: a deal was announced the other day for a newly-constructed complex right down by the water which will include the Bass Pro store and -- well, a whole bunch of other stuff.

I have to admit that I'm a bit conflicted here. If they build this thing as proposed, I'll yield to no one in my happiness about it. But I also will not believe it until I see actual construction being done. And when I say "construction", I mean cranes and workers and actual work being done. I add that last because I remember the hoopla in Syracuse a few years back when then-Governor Pataki showed up for the "groundbreaking" for Destiny USA, and the repeated hoopla a year or so later when a whole bunch of steel beams were delivered to the site for the "impending" construction. And guess what? That steel is still sitting there, with nary a construction person in sight.

I know, the Bass Pro project isn't remotely on the insane scale of Destiny USA, but there are other reasons to be skeptical here as well. Buffalo's history with projects like these is not encouraging, and the history with this particular project is itself particularly spotty. There was a Big Announcement like this two or three years ago, with smiling politicians and Bass Pro senior managers and architectural drawings and all that, but it all came to nothing thus far. I need to see more, folks, before I get excited.

Here's a quote from a Buffalo News story that gives me pause:

While the pact inked Friday is nonbinding — as was the memorandum of understanding the retailer signed in 2004 — this time around, Hagale said, the potential is greater and the hurdles are fewer. Shifting focus from the Aud to the Central Wharf made a key difference, according to the Bass Pro executive.


After more than three years of talking about Bass Pro, we're only on our second nonbinding pact, on which there are apparently still "hurdles" to be surmounted.

Here, by the way, is what it supposedly will look like:



I note that they didn't put the Skyway into their rendering.

I love the way this looks, don't get me wrong. But I'm not getting excited until the Big Machines start cutting into actual earth. Over the years, Buffalo's seemingly eternal quest for waterfront development has produced lots of scenes that look like this:



With all due respect (and hope), I'll withhold my excitement until there's a scene on the waterfront that looks like this:



Now that will be something worth getting exited over.

A rare quiz

There seem to be two types of bloggers: those who cheerfully do "What kind of X are you" quizzes, and those who will do them but only with the proviso that they rarely do those kinds of quizzes. I'm in the latter camp; I rarely do these kinds of quizzes, but anyway, here are the results of the one I just did:

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Literature Nerd
 

Does sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea/chocolate, and a book you can read for hours even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance? Then you fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and it's eloquence; and you may like to read/write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society, however you can probably be overly-critical of works.

It's okay. I understand.

Musician
 
Gamer/Computer Nerd
 
Science/Math Nerd
 
Social Nerd
 
Anime Nerd
 
Artistic Nerd
 
Drama Nerd
 
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace


I guess that's about right.

(via)

Tales of a Dead President

Over at Buffalonews.com, they've posted the nine finalists for the short story contest online, including the Grand Winner of All The Universe (ahem). Apparently they're only up for thirty days (after which time I'll probably post my own story here, thus ensuring its permanent location on the Interweb). The stories are as follows:

Twelve Presidents, by ME!!!
The Color of Dreams, by Jennifer Cantie
Goodnight, Ernest, by Partho Sarkar
McKinley's Blood, by Meg Jones
The Red Carnation, by Lou Rera
One of a Set of Two, by Timothy Driscoll
Love and Anarchy, by Trudy Cusella
The Wilcox House 4, by Beatrice McManis
Far Away Places, by Cynthia Keiken


As of this writing, the only of these stories that I've read is Ms. Cantie's, which I enjoyed. I'll peruse the others over the next week or so as well.

Maybe next year's contest will have a futuristic, Science Fiction theme; if so, I'll set my story at the 2147 Grand Opening of Bass Pro Buffalo!

(And thanks to Sharon LoTempio of the News for the notification that the stories are online.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What else to talk about in March? FOOTBALL!!!

Yup, time to babble a bit about football.

:: ESPN has given Joe Theismann the boot from Monday Night Football, and damn, it's about time. Longtime readers know I can't stand the guy, with his continual need to fill silences with idiotic comments such as when the Bills played New England, and Theismann fell over himself praising Tom Brady's management of the game tempo during New England's opening drive, about four minutes into the game. Ugh.

Somewhat gratuitously, here's Theismann's famous leg injury. The guy won a Super Bowl, but this is what he'll always be famous for on the field. Crappy announcer, but that has to suck.

:: The Buffalo News's Allen Wilson gives a partial defense of Willis McGahee's recent attacks on the city of Buffalo, here. The gist of it:

There have been a number of things said and written about former Bills running back Willis McGahee following his comments about the city in last Sunday’s Baltimore Sun. But there is some truth in part of what he said.

I’ve talked to a number of other single young men of McGahee’s age and background who have complained about a lack of things to do in our town. Some defenders of Buffalo's night life will point to Chippewa Street, but not everybody likes to go bar-hopping. Some people have different tastes, like hanging out in more urban settings. But inner-city nightclubs for young adults are in short supply in Buffalo.

It should be noted that McGahee grew up in Miami, so compared to that city, Atlanta or Philadelphia, Buffalo does come up short in terms of diverse places for young adults to hang out.


I can see the point here, but really, I don't much care. With the money McGahee made while here -- even if he didn't get his Really Big Contract until he got traded to Baltimore -- he probably could have opened his own nightclub, right? But that would have required an actual desire to do something.

When you enter the NFL draft, you take your chances. Some guys get picked by the Giants and get to live in the country's largest city. Some guys go to smaller, but still vibrant, cities. Some go to small markets that are trying to do the best they can. But all of them get paid a huge amount of money to do it.

Willis McGahee found Buffalo boring. Well, I watched the guy on the field, and aside from that first year he was here and the games against the Jets the rest of the time, I have to say that it was pretty mutual.

:: The Bills also traded linebacker Takeo Spikes to Philadelphia. I wish Spikes well; I hope he recovers from his injury enough to play close to his former level and that he finally gets to play for a playoff team. He left the Bengals for the Bills when it seemed like the Bills were getting better while the Bengals weren't going anywhere, but it played out pretty much in reverse. And for his trouble, Spikes suffered a bad lag injury two years ago. Last year he wasn't very productive at all, since he'd been in injury trouble all year.

I can see why the Bills traded him. The historical record for guys injured as Spikes was rebounding to one hundred percent is not encouraging. He may have a few good years left in him, but it's highly unlikely that Spikes will ever again be the physical force he was before the injury; that being the case, the Bills would have been crazy to pay him the continued big money he was due.

Spikes was a terrific player here, and I hope that he gets back to that in Philly. I really do. He deserves better than what he's received in his NFL career; he deserves better than to become the Archie Manning of linebackers.

Graphically speaking

I've been reading quite a few graphic novels of late, and I have some more in the "to read" stack, seeing as how the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library actually stocks them to a nice degree.

(If you live in or near a locality with a large public library system and you're interested in graphic novels, give this route a try. I firmly believe that one big reason that graphic novels are seemingly forever stuck in that "on the brink" phase, where people are constantly saying things like "Hey, these aren't the funny books you grew up with!", is that graphic novels tend to be priced in so high a fashion as to seriously discourage random exploration of the medium. Do I strongly recommend Craig Thompson's Blankets? Absolutely. But if someone came to me and said, "I have forty bucks. Recommend some reading material I might like", I'd probably feel a little guilty if I advised them to blow their money on Blankets only to have it not be their cup of tea.)

I don't know if we're in some kind of "Golden Age" of graphic fiction, but there's just some amazing work being done outside of the standard superhero stories. (Not that there is anything inherently wrong with superhero stories in the first place.) To anyone who would dismiss the graphic novel along the lines of "I don't need pictures to go with my storytelling", I'd simply ask if you keep your eyes shut when you go to the movies!

Here are some thoughts on some recent reads of mine.

:: I never saw the David Cronenberg film of A History of Violence, so I have no idea how accurate the film is to the original graphic novel. I heard that the film was very good, so I checked out the novel on that basis alone, much as I did with The Road to Perdition a few years back. In that case, I found the ways in which the film diverged from the novel interesting, and I couldn't decide which version of the tale I preferred. (In fact, the versions are sufficiently different that I find it easy to like both equally.)

A History of Violence has much the same kind of feel as Perdition; both involve (at least in part) the way big-city violence comes to small-town America. Even though both books are by different authors and have different artists, the same kind of emotional pall hangs over the story in each, a sense of impending doom where happiness will be destroyed forever, and quite violently, at that. Part of this comes from the art of History, which has the same stylistic feel as Perdition, with heavily-lined black-and-white images that make the larger panels almost impressionistic in nature.

I found the tale of History a bit less gripping than Perdition's. In History, a pair of violent killers come into a small town where they are done in when they run afoul of the wrong guy to pick on. The rest of the story comes out of the reasons why Tom McKenna is the wrong guy to pick on, and just what the secret history he's concealing happens to be. I did find it a bit disappointing when it turned out that McKenna is your basic "running from the mob" kind of protagonist, but even so, the story does take some surprising twists as it heads toward its conclusion.

:: Of a completely different nature is Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi. I read Persepolis more than a year ago (and seem to have inexplicably not posted about it here), but I finally read the second volume just a few weeks ago.

Here is an amazing memoir of an Iranian expat, now living in Paris, who grew up witnessing firsthand her country's embrace of -- or descent into -- fundamentalism and oppression. The first volume deals mainly with Satrapi's childhood and early adolescence, while in the second Satrapi goes to live abroad to finish her studies. Thus the books tell two stories: the first, an internal tale of a society's willful decision to become fundamentalist, and in the second, a story about a person living abroad who happens to come from one of the more disliked nations on Earth.

As autobiography, Satrapi's work is riveting. She has a keen perceptive gift that is the key to all good autobiography; in our lives, we all tend to be our own heroes and villains from time to time, and Satrapi never shies from depicting her own faults as well as her own strengths, her own mistakes as well as her own triumphs. And her ability to put into very few words and images the strife that surrounded her country in that tumultuous period is particularly noteworthy. At one point, while discussing the fundamentalist government's focus on acceptable public clothing for women, Satrapi writes:

The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself:

"Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my makeup be seen? Are they going to whip me?"

...no longer asks herself:

"Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, is ti livable? What's going on in the political prisons?"


I wonder if there will be a Persepolis 3. I hope so. Satrapi's art is simple and evocative, and her writing is exemplary.

:: Moving into equally serious territory, last night I read The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot. In this book, a teenaged runaway girl named Helen is living on the streets of London for a time with her pet rat; she has run away from home because of her father's molestation of her. Over the course of the book, Helen draws much inspiration from the life of Beatrix Potter, to the point where she unconsciously (or perhaps partly consciously) begins to model her own life on that of Potter, with whom she apparently shares some parallels.

This is a difficult work to characterize. Parts of it seem almost fantastical, but those kinds of elements are always portrayed as being in the mind of Helen; and what I admired most was the book's insistence on the role that story and fantasy can play in helping us heal from unspeakable hurts. Too often we view fiction as "escapism", but in this story, Talbot gives us a character for whom fiction is an essential way of dealing with her particular part of the world.

:: And now into pure fantasy: The Life Eaters, written by David Brin and painted by Scott Hampton. This book depicts a World War II gone horribly awry when the concentration camps turn out to be massive "factories" for necromancy, thus bringing the gods of Norse mythology to horrible life.

Apparently this is based on a short story of Brin's (and it reminded me in part of a story of mine; I'll have to post that here at some point). It's a fascinating blend of fantasy and SF tropes, as well as an enjoyably dark tale about the borders between science and mysticism. My only complaint here was that to me the ending felt a bit rushed.

:: Moving into the folkloric type of talespinning, there was the utterly gorgeous Book of Ballads with art by Charles Vess and written by many contributors, among them Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, and Jane Yolen. Seriously, this book contains in a fairly compact package the work of some of the top names in fantastic literature today.

According to Terri Windling's introduction, in the 1990s Charles Vess illustrated a series of comics which simply told the stories of old ballads from the English, Irish, and other traditions. For anyone who is used to more "sanitized" folklore, the original tales and ballads often turn out to be quite dark, and a number of the tales contained in The Book of Ballads are downright grim. But each is done with charm, and Vess's artwork -- black and white, with so many tiny and precise marks that one wonders how much time Vess spends on a single panel -- is always stunning.

I recommend this book highly; it's made its way onto a short list of graphic novels of which I'd like to own my own copy.

:: OK, a brief digression here. I often have difficulty reading manga, and oddly enough, it's nothing to do with the right-to-left thing. (For those who have never tried to read an authentic manga, they are printed in reverse of the way we print books in our culture, and you read right-to-left.) This is easy enough to get used to. My problem with a lot of manga is the artwork: I often find it terribly difficult to figure out just what it is that I'm looking at, and in a graphic novel, that's not the effect one wants. The latest victim here was a book called Trigun, which I went into with high hopes, mainly because of its subtitle: who wouldn't want to read a tale subtitled "Deep space planet future gun action!"?

I'll try it again sometime. But for now, I found the art nearly incomprehensible a lot of the time.

:: OK, last one. This is the wonderful Castle Waiting by Linda Medley. This is another collection of installments of a comic, so the book ends without much sense of closure -- so I fervently hope this isn't the end! (And according to Medley's official site, this is only Volume One. Huzzah!) But the book is incredibly generous in its contents: there are almost 450 pages here. Lots to get through.

Castle Waiting is the story of the denizens of, wait for it, Castle Waiting. This castle is the formerly abandoned home of Sleeping Beauty (the first chapter tells that story from a different perspective), but is now home to a motley collection of odd characters (a steward who has the head of a stork, for instance) whose lives have all come together at this castle. Into their midst comes a pregnant woman named Jain, whose past is rather mysterious (and which is never really explained in the extant volume!). Medley delves into the backstories of these strange people who have made their home in this abandoned castle, with its water sprites and mischievous bodyless demons (he's a head with feet) and a nun from a cloister for bearded women and so on.

If I had to make an analogy, Castle Waiting feels cut from similar cloth as The Princess Bride; it's not parody per se, but rather gentle pastiche, loaded with in-jokes and inside stories that descend into other stories of their own. The book meanders all over the place, and never once did I mind.

Bring on Volume Two.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Please oh please

If any of my readers are voting for Sanjaya Malakar on American Idol, would you please stop? Every time you vote for him, you make Jesus cry.

Thank you.

UPDATE: Not that Chris Sligh has been any kind of memorable performer; he hasn't had a really good appearance since before the Final Twelve, and this week's performance wasn't very good at all. But Sanjaya has no musical ability whatsoever. And frankly, that the Simon-Paula-Randy Hydra failed to eliminate Sanjaya at any of the points at which they still had control kind of speaks volumes about their supposed fingers on the musical pulse. (Well, Randy and Simon, anyway. We all know that Paula is only firing on about nine synapses nowadays.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Tao of Bau(er)

One topic that seems to pop up regularly on political blogs these days is whether or not 24 is a right-wing show or not. Kevin Drum had a representative post a few days ago:

So what's up? The hyperkinetic world of 24, where good and evil clash, torture is a necessary tool, and terrorist threats are everywhere, is indeed a paean to modern Bushian conservatism. But when the action switches to the Oval Office, hawks are almost universally portrayed as either ideologues who panic at the first sign of trouble or else scheming superpatriots who are desperate to push the United States into unjustified wars as a way of advancing their own mercenary agendas. If Joel Surnow's name weren't attached to the series, you might guess that it had been produced by Michael Moore.

So is 24 liberal or conservative? Schizophrenic, I'd say.


That's about right. The show does pretty much whatever it wants. I remember that after Season Two ended with Jack successfully averting a US military strike against a Middle Eastern country or two that had been implicated by false evidence for involvement in an attempted nuclear bomb detonation in LA, the Objectivist Loon over at the FSM message boards was beside himself because obviously when someone attacks you, you're supposed to go after anyone who might be kinda-sorta simpatico with your attackers but not actually involved with the attack, anyway. How weird.

But after watching last night's episode, I have to wonder why we keep talking about this, anyway. Last night we had the President of the United States in a medically-induced coma, and about two-thirds of the way through the hour (remember, 24's gimmick is that it takes place in 'real time'), he actually crashed. And not only were the doctors able to bring him back from the brink of death, he was actually able to carry on a lucid conversation with his Vice President just minutes later! And remember, back in Season Two, at one point, Jack fell into the grips of the bad guys, who tortured him to the point where he was actually clinically dead -- but of course, he rebounded minutes later to kill them and continue Bauerizing the world. And that's to say nothing of the fact that on 24, nobody ever gets stuck in traffic. In Los Angeles. During a nuclear scare.

As for Jack and the dark deeds he always has to commit (he was ordered by the President to shoot his own commanding agent in the head in Season Three!), I'm starting to think that if they ever decide that a given season's going to be the last season, I hope that all the bad stuff Jack's had to do finally wears him down to the point where he goes over to the dark side and has to be taken out by the next guy. Jack's last words should be "Tell Kim I'm sorry." Nobody could do the things Jack's had to do and not go insane.

I'll close with a complaint: was the assassination attempt on David Palmer that closed out Season Two ever referenced again in any substantive way? I didn't watch Seasons Four or Five, so I don't know, but Season Two ended with an assassin shaking Palmer's hand, and then with Palmer staring at his hand, and finally with Palmer writhing on the ground in agony. But when Season Three started the next fall, the calendar on the show had been moved up eight or nine months, and Palmer was out there Presidentin' his heart out. The only reference to the assassination attempt I recall was a shot of the scar tissue on his hands. WTF? Imagine if Return of the Jedi had opened with the Millennium Falcon and Luke's X-Wing rocketing away from Tatooine, with Han saying, "Hey Luke, thanks for rescuing me!"

Now that I've whined a bit about the lack of realism on 24, I hope you'll excuse me while I pop Thunderball into the DVD player. That's the stuff!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Worst Mother of the F***ing Year

You know, I'm always aware that people like this exist in the world, but dammit, I don't want to hear about their nauseating antics.

It's the damn Taliban in a minivan.

(via)

Sentential Links #92

Ninety-two! Get 'em while they're hot!

:: I am so very, very tired of finger-waving scolds, moralists, and prudes having a conniption fit over things that wouldn't raise an eyebrow in other parts of the country. I'm tired of the embarassment of the rest of the country thinking that everyone in Utah is like these folks that make so much trouble and end up in the "news of the weird" columns. More importantly, I'm tired of the prudes having such an outsized amount of influence over the culture in these parts. (While on vacation in Utah with my mother years ago, my father tried ordering a second beer in a restaurant. Hilarity ensued.)

:: This is one of the characteristics I viscerally loathe in certain members the human species -- sanctimonious, busy-body, judgmentalism coming from people who have neither the insight, the perspective or the sensitivity to render any kind of opinion about other people's personal lives and marriages. And yet they do it, with great confidence in their own ability to see inside other people's most personal relationships.

:: Just what is the deal with home decor stores these days? All the goods for for sale are either bundles of brown sticks, lumps of unpainted clay, or a sheet of rusty and dented metal. It's like browsing for housewares in the Khyber Pass: (Thanks, Lynn!)

:: It’s like a monk who decides to try alcohol for the first time, so he strides into the liquor store and gets a bottle of wine, some whiskey, a vodka, something printed in spanish which may or may not be be tequila, the makings for Jello-shots, and a case of beer. I mean, why screw around, right? (Geez, I only bought four games, spread over two trips to Target. And I only bought the cheap-o games, the ones that are $9.99 each. I haven't bought the Star Wars Best of PC set yet, because it's forty bucks, but even that works out to eight bucks per game.)

:: Ellen is offered a Zoo Pal plate as a consolation prize as well as the option of a Dinosaur Fork, a Piggy Spoon or (I am saying this out loud and LOUDLY as I pull the brown piece of plastic out of the box, by the 3rd syllable, I notice my fatal error but it's too late to stop...) or this... (I'm not revealing the punchline. Go to Jen's place to find out, and roundly laugh at her expense!

But really, you see products like this and you wonder if the people who came up with them were never in 7th grade? Can't you just hear the Beavis-and-Butthead laughing in the background here?)

:: Al Gore's recent congressional testimony on the subject, and the chilly reception he received from GOP members, suggest the discouraging conclusion that skepticism on global warming is hardening into party dogma. Like the notion that tax cuts are always good or that President Bush is a brave war leader, it's something you almost have to believe if you're an elected Republican. (Not a blog post, actually, but an interesting op-ed.)

:: I'm an officially published writer! (I hate her so much....)

:: The prom queens who wouldn’t piss on your head if your hair were on fire pleading to vote for them because it’s their dream and they’ve worked sooo hard for this.

:: It's going to give every pirate fan an arrrrgasm, I think. (Boo, hiss! But what an awesome trailer. I hope the movie's as good.)

And that's all for this week. Carry on, folks.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I can tell you if your head's about to explode.

I hope that whoever came here via this search realized quickly that this blog is unlikely to be of any help.

Maybe the next detour can have the racers putting back the pieces of my exploding head.

How does The Amazing Race do it? I loathed Dustin and Kandice in TAR 10; now I'm actually starting to root for them. And damned if I'm not now actively rooting for Chirna and Marla (or is it Charla and Mirna)! Mirna (the tall one, I think) never shuts up, but her manner of speech is oddly hypnotic and frankly, I'm finding Mirna increasingly pretty.

What is this show doing to me! GAHHH!!

Dear John

This isn't safe for work, but I found it hilarious: a break-up e-mail, coupled with a "dramatic reading" that somehow verbalizes the idiosyncratic grammar and typing. It gets a little monotonous about halfway through, but stick in there, because it gets funny again once the keyboard repeatttttt and ALL-CAPS kicks in.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

"Weird" probably isn't the right word for this; it's actually really cool in that MC Escher-ish way. Go look.

Link via He-Who-Eschews-Permalinks.

(Steven also notes, in the post above the one I'd link above if he had permalinks, something about Internet Explorer 7:

And now for something good: middle-clicking a link opens it in a new tab. That was something I really came to like in FireFox. (And middle-clicking while not on a link opens up scrolling, which I like, and which FireFox does not do.)


Is he referring to clicking the scroll-wheel? In the latest version of FireFox (I'm running 2.0.0.3), clicking the scroll wheel does the same things he describes here.)

(And actually, I now see that Steven thinks the pictures are more reminiscent of Magritte than Escher. I had to remind myself who Magritte was, and I think I lean in his direction, kinda-sorta. Maybe even a blend of the two.)

My wallet is shrinking! My wallet is shrinking!

Oy. The new Borders that's about 1.5 miles from Minas Jaquandor has opened. It's what they call a "soft open" -- when they open the doors before their anticipated "Grand Opening" -- but I don't care. Open is open. If I can walk in and buy stuff, you're not softly open, or kinda-sorta open, or in a state that resembles openness. You're open.

Anyway, their parking lot is still unfinished -- the islands have no grass in them, the surfacing of the lot is rough and uneven (they striped it anyway), and two other buildings on the same parcel (one a restaurant, the other something else that nobody knows yet) are still unfinished -- but Borders is open. Aieee, and all that.

What of the new Borders, then? This was obviously a shakedown cruise, so there were tons of employees generically milling about, looking to show people where stuff was, sometimes with comical results (I heard at least two employees, when asked where certain topics were, respond with something along the lines of "Uhhh...I think I saw it over there."). The music section is smaller than it used to be at the old Borders; but then, music sales are down these days and I suspect these sections will only get smaller with time. The manga section is surprisingly large, making me wonder if there are that many manga fans in Buffalo! The graphic novel section, like the older Borders, is great if you're after standard superhero fare from DC and Marvel, but mildly disappointing if you're after any of the non-superhero stuff. The Fantasy and SF departments are fine. Nice children's section. Didn't sample the coffee; the cafe was packed. I'll save that for when they've been open for a while and I'm there on a weekday.

The woman who checked me out at the counter was very nice; and refreshingly enough, she wasn't terribly apologetic about the fact that she was brand new on their register system. She just said "OK, bear with me, since this is still all new to me!" And that was fine with me, since I was armed with a Borders Rewards card, a gift card, and a coupon for twenty percent off one item. You shouldn't be churlish with your checkout person when you're the one gumming up the transaction with all manner of ancillary stuff.

Oh, what did I get? Well, The Daughter got to pick out five books for herself, because I'm a softie. (Hey, at least I made her whittle down her original picks from eight!) I bought Lost by Gregory Maguire for The Wife (I'll probably read it too at some point), and for myself, I finally grabbed my own copy of David Dubal's The Essential Canon of Classical Music (reviewed here), a novel by Steven Brust (never read any Brust before), and a study Bible with lots of maps and cross-references and notes and a giant concordance (this will supplement my KJV, which is my "main" copy of the Bible).

And now I'll be eating Ramen noodles for the rest of the week. Wow, I'm glad I get paid weekly.

(Surprisingly, the shopping complex in question -- Quaker Crossing, for you locals -- has all manner of Big Box Retail going on. The oldest tenants are Target and a Regal Cinemas; there's a Premier Liquor (where I'd shop more but there's a liquor store that's just as nice even closer to Minas Jaquandor -- how great is that!), a Kohls, a furniture place, a Marshalls (whatever that is), and some other stuff that's as yet unbuilt. But as of this writing, this particular retail complex violates what I've come to believe is the First Commandment of Retail Complexes:

Thou shalt include on thy property a dollar store.


I can only assume that the dollar store is to come at some point. I don't know about any other major metro areas -- feel free to weigh in on this point, readers -- but in Buffalo at least, if you were to fly a Cessna at a low altitude in a straight line over our metro area from North Tonawanda to Hamburg and chuck one hundred rocks out the window of your airplane at an evenly-spaced rate, I suspect that at least eighty of your rocks would hit a dollar store.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's a sign!

Shamus provides some recommendations for computer games to try out as entry-points. I found this especially helpful, seeing as how my last direct experience with PC gaming was Riven.

But on the other hand, today's installment of Get Fuzzy was not so good a sign of things to come:



Aieee!

Lessons in Bitter Disappointment

So I just signed onto AOL and checked e-mail there and such, when something caught my eye: on the welcome screen, in the News Videos section there was an item headlined:

Cop Shoves Skateboarder Into Bush


Of course I clicked it! Who wouldn't love to see a skateboarder being shoved by a cop into a passing-by George W. Bush?

Sadly, the errant skateboarder was only shoved into a shrubbery. Darn it.

Closing the Shudders

Most of the people who commented on the fact that I was linked on the pay-subscription section of Fark.com the other day in an apparently non-flattering light told me to not take it seriously, don't lose a whole lot of sleep over it, and so on. And sure enough, I didn't: I've been blogging for five years and I was on Usenet for five years before that, so believe me, the faces behind the paid-subscription wall at Fark are going to have to come at me with a lot more than "Overalls and long hair, ewwwww!" if they want to disrupt my dreamtime at night.

But one thing I have thought about just a little was the comment that apparently launched the thread. It was nothing more than a link to the main blog page (i.e., not to a specific post) with this comment: Do I really envy this guy's life, or does it make me want to shudder? I can't decide.

Well, there are aspects of my life that are certainly shudder-worthy. In terms of career accomplishments, you might think that a guy nearing 36 years of age would have a few more ladder-steps beneath him, I suppose. But what else? The trappings of having grown up? Is my life somehow shudder-worthy because I as yet don't own a house and still wear my hair long and I'm not in middle management and I'm not doing what I studied in college?

Certainly not. The way I see it, I've got a family that's currently coming back into Joy after some very serious detours into darknesses no one thinks about. I'm good at a variety of things, and I'm constantly learning new skills. I work for a company that's been repeatedly named one of the best in this country to work for. My hobbies don't require giant amounts of cash, and they make me smarter and more artistically aware. My daughter does well in school. My wife is very good at what she does. My marriage is intact after being tested a few years back by everything the Fates could throw at us, short of a direct meteor hit. I eat well, and for not a whole lot of money either. I don't get to hear live music as much as I might like, but I can take ten bucks in my wallet and treat my family to a fine day on just that. And I live in Buffalo, a city where things aren't freakishly expensive and where the weather's just fine most of the time (OK, I'll be honest, spring here sucks). I live where chicken wings were invented, for God's sake. Ninety minutes down the road is one of the world's great cities. I've got friends, I've got cats, I've got Tolkien and fountain pens and candles and an antique writing desk. I've got electric light, second sight, and amazing powers of observation.

Go ahead and shudder at my life, if you must. But before you do, ask yourself: Whadda you got?

End of sermon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Zounds!

OK, according to my SiteMeter, something here got linked at Fark.com; problem is, following the referrals, it apparently comes from a section of Fark that is for paying subscribers only, and I'm not. So, could someone drop a comment here to tell me what the deal is? I love traffic, but I love even more knowing why it's coming!

(I hope it's not someone laughing at my stupidity...I hate it when that happens....)

UPDATE: Well, according to what someone has helpfully posted in comments, I'm getting roasted over there for some reason. I wonder what the original catalyst was? Somebody sure hated something I wrote here! Anyhow, welcome aboard, FARKers who think I'm fat and fashion-challenged (guilty on both counts) and that I haven't left the basement (sorry, upstairs apartment, gainfully employed, married, child, et cetera). Feel free to look around the archives; having been blogging for five years, I hope it's not all crap. But you never know! At least it's free, right?

Brief linkage

Some short hits on stuff I'm seeing today:

:: Hayao Miyazaki's new film is announced. The tale apparently involves a goldfish Princess who wants to become human. Here's hoping, because I've always loathed The Little Mermaid.

:: Turkish Star Wars. I have absolutely no idea what this is all about. (Fairly long video, but if you watch the first minute or so, you get the idea.)

:: I don't know how much of an influence I was in Jennifer's decision to make this purchase, but I can't help but feel a little proud!

:: Tokyo's long nightmare is over.

Well, gotta go. Work to do and all that. You know how it is.

Sentential Links #91

Here we go now!

:: Unions appear to have, at most, modest and variable effects on student outcomes. Even the most hostile reading of the evidence doesn't come anywhere close to suggesting that unions are the single biggest obstacle in the way of educating our children properly. And it doesn't come within light years of suggesting that it would be worth doubling spending to get rid of them.

:: Recently, as I was enthusing about my obsessive love of all things Battlestar Galatica, someone asked, "Why do you waste your time on that weirdo, geeky, sci-fi crap?"

:: I can't wait for THE NEW SPACE OPERA, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, which we'll publish in June. (I can't either, dammit!)

:: Anyway, it was nice to see a movie with no explosions or car chases or knife fights or profanity. Just good old lust, jealousy, bitterness and spite.

:: Can you imagine the radical change in conditions it would take to rouse fat and happy Americans from their couch potato slumber to violently oppose their government? They can't even be bothered to vote!

:: Why a String Quartet? What is it that has given it its exalted reputation and mystique? Why have so many composers regarded it as the perfect medium of expression, though it is perhaps the most demanding to write for?

:: I personally find tuxedos to be a ridiculous and distracting choice of male concert fashion. They fail to convey the intended seriousness and instead make players look like uncomfortable groomsmen. Informal all-black attire would be better.

:: And the next thing I know I'm planning on doing a whole series of 100 posts, talking about each of 100 pages.

All for this week. Clear ether! (Wow, I wish I knew some E.E. "Doc" Smith fans in real life -- I'd love to be able to walk around telling people to "Clear ether".)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Backing...away...slowly....

Every so often, in tooling around the Interweb I encounter something that makes my brain nearly shut off in its attempt to wrap itself around the idea that someone may be arguing a certain position. I just had one such moment, over on rec.music.movies, where in response to my oft-stated position that "Good film music must be good music first, and good music by definition can stand alone" -- i.e., that hearing a film score in its cinematic context isn't completely necessary to assessing the worth of a score -- a person stated this:

The idea of music isolated from visual experience is STUPID. Why do you think composers wrote for visual elements...and even music qua music has the visuals of orchestra and conductor. Get real...isolated music tracks on CDs are the absolute worst representation of music....MUSIC IS VISUAL.


This is wrongheaded to such a vast degree that it staggers the imagination. It's not uncommon to encounter people who believe that one should only judge a filmscore by how it functions in a film (although how one makes this judgment is less than clear; if a piece of music can be moving when coupled with a film but not moving outside of it, I'd argue that it's the film amplifying the quality of the score, and not the other way around), but I've never met anyone who believes that all music has some essential visual component that renders the act of recording a bad one.

My response on thread was as follows:

So, a blind person attending a concert of the New York Philharmonic performing, say, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is somehow missing some unimaginably vital part of the performance? For that matter, is a *sighted* person attending that same performance somehow missing something vital from what Beethoven intended, since the hall isn't lit with candles and the performers aren't wearing powdered wigs? How
about the many musicians who often close their eyes while performing? What are they doing wrong?


Another rejoinder that just occurred to me: Two people attend a concert of a Mozart piano concerto and a Mahler symphony. One person is blind, but has full hearing. The other is sighted, but has been deaf since birth. Who do we suppose gets more out of that concert? Transpose these same two people to a room with all the lights turned out, and now put Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band on the CD player. Who gets more out of that experience?

What a weird conversation to find myself in.

They don't build 'em like that anymore....

The language in the commentary gets a bit salty at times, but check out the stunning photos of what is apparently the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, OH. What a gorgeous building.

(via)

At the mall

Yesterday The Wife and I spent a bit of time at the mall (the Galleria, for you Buffalo readers). Not much excitement there -- my days of happy mall-shopping are now long over, and I'm content to visit the mall two or three times a year just to see what's up -- but I did note at one point, while we were standing in line at Sears (The Wife was buying a new spring jacket), a family behind us was conversing away in a language other than English.

I notice this more and more these days around the area, and I'm wondering if the Buffalo region is becoming more international in character or if it's mainly people from other cultures living in Canada and then coming over here to do some shopping.

But I thought back to conversations I've had with people who are insistent that "If you're gonna live here, you'd better speak English", and frankly, I've heard nothing to change my opinion that it's a free country and that means you should be able to conduct your lives in whatever damn language you want.

One guy I knew once insisted that it's rude to converse in another language -- Spanish, say -- when you're in a primarily English-speaking country, and I always wondered, "Why?" Of what possible use is it to me that some family of complete strangers speak English as opposed to Arabic or Italian or Hindi or whatever? What they're talking about is still none of my business.

It seems to me that the "They should speak English!" impulse springs from one of two mindsets: either "Everybody's conversations are my business and I should be able to listen to them", or "I don't trust those swarthy people to have their own conversations". I find either mindset ugly and disrespectful.

So, as far as I'm concerned, go ahead and speak whatever language you want. It's all part of the price of maintaining a free country: we don't get to assume any longer that the people around us are all white, English-speaking Christians. And personally, I think we're all the better for that.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Possibly more snark than weirdness, but hey, I'm feeling snarky today.

:: The Right Wing has begun its latest project: taking Gandhi down a peg or two. Gandhi. Oy.

Oddly, the people who hold Gandhi as "the most overrated man of the 20th century" (I'd pick Reagan, personally) are probably people who claim that the teachings of Jesus should be universally followed. But not the Jesus stuff about loving your neighbors, forgiveness, charity to the poor, and all that. Rather, the Jesus stuff about shunning gays and Spreading Love Through Widespread Use of Incendiary Devices. You know, "Action Figure" Jesus. The one who conveniently fits into the cockpit of their toy bombers (sold separately, of course) with the crosses painted on the fuselage.

:: Apparently there are a number of words which, when encrypted using Rot-13, turn into other words. That's pretty cool. I especially like that the Rot-13 of tang is gnat, or tang spelled backwards!

:: OK, I'm going to assume that the Garrison Keillor article that occasioned this vehement response is an example of a satiric joke that was so poorly executed that it wasn't recognized as a joke at all. I'm not the world's biggest Keillor fan, but I have to think he's more enlightened than that. Hoo-boy.

:: A three-way tie on Jeopardy!. That's interesting. Which brings to mind that I always find it kind of funny when an episode of The Price is Right ends in a double overbid at the showcases, in which case nobody wins anything. Whenever that happens, you can just feel the show deflate on the air.

:: OK, everybody's probably already seen this, but I just saw it the first time the other day: ROFLCAT. We had a good time with this one in our household (skipping past the non-PG ones).

Passages

I see via several different Buffalo blogs that Kevin of BfloBlog lost his father yesterday. Deepest condolences to him and his family. A poetical offering, if I may, by way of Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894):

Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow, dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you waiting at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

Friday, March 16, 2007

For a better fyoocher!



Scalzi for President of the SFWA.

He's our last, best hope for a John Deere cap for every published SF writer!

(Kidding aside, his platform seems sensible. I confess I haven't given a great deal of thought to these issues.)

Meh....

This week has been a blend of busy and not-feeling-like-posting. So I haven't been posting. Will that continue? Who knows?

Anyway, a few thoughts on various stuff:

:: Watched Raines last night, and I had one of those cases where I read a lot of middling-to-negative reviews of a thing, watch it, and wonder if they watched the same thing I did. I found Raines very enjoyable; Jeff Goldblum delivered a fairly understated performance (as compared to, say, Jurassic Park, in which he hammed it up) as Detective Raines, who has conversations with the murder victims whose murders he is investigating.

The commercials made this all sound rather Sixth Sense-ish, but it's not -- the show makes clear that Raines isn't really talking to the dead, but hallucinating them, which makes the conversations with them interesting in that the dead can't give him hints, seeing as how as they have no more information than he has at any given point in the investigation.

Anyway, I found the pilot nicely written, with a story that moved right along, and some good and snappy dialogue. Sure, the murder mystery is fairly pedestrian -- nothing there that you wouldn't have seen on any episode of, say, Rockford Files or Magnum PI, but I enjoyed the show anyway.

:: Lance Mannion asks who our favorite TV detectives are. Mine is Andy Sipowicz from NYPDBlue, whose character growth over the show's run was always fascinating to behold. The show creaked quite a bit with age as it got older, but even so, I always loved ol'Andy.

:: My "guilty pleasure" TV cop? Why, Don Johnson's Nash Bridges, of course! I just found that show ridiculously entertaining a lot of the time. The show went on probably at least a season too long, but it was a lot of fun for a while. (In fact, with its Friday 10:00 timeslot, it made a wonderful partner with Millennium.)

Of course, watching Jodi Lyn O'Keefe blossom on the show was always pleasant:



:: I will buy this. Shut up. Those movies had nice music, aside from all the pop stuff.

:: "But Bill Clinton did it too!" Yeah, right.

:: I'm often the one on various Interweb fora to interject into long threads devoted to complaining about some TV show or book or whatever along the lines of, "Geez, if you hate it so much, why do you watch it so much?" A grand example can often be found over at the FSM message boards, where one regular member is a religious fan (and I mean "religious" quite literally) of the original incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, so much so that he'll denounce with appropriate fleckling of the monitor with spittle the various plot machinations of the current version of the show. I once asked, "Why the hell are you watching something you loathe so completely?", and he replied, "So I can discuss it." I just don't get the impulse to keep dwelling on something that brings you displeasure.

So why do I keep reading For Better or For Worse, then? Hell, I dunno -- but I guess it's fun to see that plenty of folks are annoyed by it in the same way that I am. Here's a perceptive comment as to the way April is being treated in the strip:

But April is the only one of them who has a valid excuse for acting like an adolescent.

Liz had a pretty good independent life going for herself, until she suddenly and mysteriously decided that she was homesick and couldn't take it anymore. So she quit her job and asked her boyfriend -- who had already moved for her once -- to move again, and then she fled south like a scared rabbit and moved in with Mommy and Daddy at the first opportunity. And then she was surprised when her boyfriend turned out not to be so excited about the "follow Liz wherever her whim takes her" plan as she'd thought he would be.

Mike and his family had the fire, so they had a pretty good reason for moving in... but why are they still there? They've got plenty of money to find another apartment, even if they do decide that they want to start looking for a house sometime soon. But no, Mike complains that every apartment they see is too small, too far away, too expensive, too something; and he's completely terrified of the idea of buying a house. So they stay on in his parents' house, and stay, and stay...

In the meantime, April has been evicted from her room and is sleeping in the rec room -- which is also the storage space for Mike and Dee's extra stuff. Too many people are using too few showers in the house, and apparently the people who can drive -- which is pretty much everyone except April and the little kids -- can't be bothered to go grocery shopping often enough. April has been shunted off to a corner while her theoretically-adult siblings clamor for their parents' attention.

Meanwhile, their grandfather has had a stroke and April is the only one of the family who seems to visit him consistently and still treats him like a person and not a fixture.

As James notes, on the scale of things all of this isn't that huge a problem... but it is hard for a sixteen-year-old girl. What I find disgusting about the situation is that consistently, every time that April tries to suggest that this is hard for her -- every single time -- she's smacked down and told that other people have it worse than her, so shut the hell up. Mike the Literary Genius and Liz the Broken-Hearted are treated with kid gloves, because of course their problems are serious and weighty -- but April? April's problems aren't worth worrying about. Go back and hide in the rec room, April; the grown-ups are talking.

It's incredibly dismissive of her feelings, which justified or not are still her feelings. This is how you teach people that they are worthless and insignificant and that nothing they do matters. April may be a fictional character, but I'd still rather that she not learn that lesson.


And here's a great post on why Anthony is evil and must be destroyed.

:: Tomorrow morning: pancakes, bitches! We weren't successful last year, but we did get a nice consolation prize: Charlie's Diner in East Aurora, which is just a great little breakfast joint in the classic tradition.

:: The NCAA Tournament: as always, "Meh."

And so it goes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Am-buh!

I didn't blog this the other night, but I was surprised to see Rob-and-Amber depart The Amazing Race. I didn't like them and was glad to see them go, but I liked the fact that the first time the detour involved brains, they promptly tanked it.

So, who are my remaining favorites? I don't know. Dustin-and-Kandice are kinda winning me over, since they're always fairly positive and since they have to figure things out themselves this year. (Was there a rule change to disallow having natives get in the car with the racers to show them where exactly to go? That was infuriating in TAR 10, when D&K would bat their shiny blondie eyes at some local dude, and have him drive them right to the location, while everyone else was trying to find someone who spoke any English at all.) Uchenna-and-Joyce are kind of cool, although it annoyed me that they kept trying to assign Guam as the place Magellan began his voyage (hey, guys, how do you suppose Magellan got to Guam in the first place?). And Charla-and-Mirna (or is it Marla-and-Chirna?) are oddly compelling. I'm not rooting for them to win (making the dwarf lug the giant sign pole up the hill? Huh-whuh?), but I hope they stick around a while, because their exploits are just comical.

And I had no idea that Chile was that beautiful a country.

Ysabel

I finished Guy Gavriel Kay's newest novel over a week ago; since then I've been trying to figure out what I thought of it.

Spoilers for Ysabel follow!

GGK's career path led many to expect a far different novel this time out. He started out with his epic fantasy trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry, in which he delved deeply into that genre and pretty much wallowed in all its tropes before coming out clean on the other side; then he moved on to a subgenre he kinda-sorta invented, which I call "historical fantasy". His main aim was to explore themes and events from history, by transposing them into fantasy realms of his own creation; thus we had Tigana, set in a faux-Italy, A Song for Arbonne, set in a faux-medieval Provence, the great Lions of Al-Rassan set in a fantastical Moorish Spain, the Sarantine Mosaic, a duology set in a faux-Byzantium, and most recently, The Last Light of the Sun, set in a faux-medieval Celtic Britain.

From all this, many wondered where he'd go next -- historical Russia, perhaps? Or the Holy Roman Empire? I myself hoped he'd venture into the Orient. What I did not expect was for him to go in a Charles de Lint-type direction. Ysabel is set in modern-day Provence, and that's where it stays. It's pure real-world fantasy, all the way through.

Which isn't to say that GGK avoids his traditional historical themes entirely, because he doesn't. Instead, he seems more interested here in directly exploring how the tales from centuries ago still ripple through to our time and shape us and who we are today.

Ned Marriner is a fifteen-year-old kid, traveling with his photographer father who is on assignment in Provence. While his father is off taking photos, Ned goes wandering through a centuries-old cathedral, where he meets a girl his age named Kate. They then meet someone else, someone quite mysterious. And they find things in the tunnels beneath the cathedral that are equally mysterious. Ned goes with his father's crew to scout out a location for a shoot, and suffers from migraines and visions of blood when he reaches the place of an old battlefield. He and Kate meet more mysterious people -- and then they find themselves smack in the middle of a drama that apparently plays out repeatedly, over and over and over through history. It is a love triangle between a woman and two men. In this iteration, the woman takes the name "Ysabel" -- and takes the body of Ned's father's aide, Melanie.

This was all very interesting, and Ysabel has a type of momentum that isn't usually the kind of thing one experiences in a GGK book. I'm long accustomed to reading GGK's historical novels (set in lands that never were, of course), and it was an odd sensation to read him in a more contemporary, "supernatural suspense story" mode. The book's focus is also more intimate than GGK has written before; the cast of characters is small and the stakes do not revolve around entire realms but on a small set of individual lives.

Something strange happens a ways into the book, though, that took me a little off-guard. The two characters from The Fionavar Tapestry who returned to Earth at that tale's conclusion show up. Kim Ford and Dave Martyniuk are Ned's aunt and uncle, and they are summoned to give Ned aid in saving Melanie from the fate of being displaced from her own body.

The central conceit of Fionavar is that all worlds, including our own, are mere reflections of Fionavar, the "first of all worlds". Thus, by directly bringing Kim and Dave into play here, GGK seems to indicate that the love triangle herein is also reflective of something deep that happened in Fionavar, and sure enough, that series had a couple of ill-fated love triangles at its heart (Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot, Amairgen-Lisen-Galadan). The problem, though, lies in the execution: I'm not sure that a reader coming to Ysabel without having read Fionavar is going to understand it all. The events of that series are referenced a number of times, but always obliquely.

I found Ysabel to be an engaging read, and yet, somehow I felt disconnected with it at the same time. A big part of that is the presence of Kim and Dave: frankly, I'm not certain that I ever wanted to know what happened to them after The Darkest Road ended. That series, whenever I read it, always feels so complete, that the re-emergence of those characters felt strange to me, almost overpoweringly so. I think of GGK's oft-stated insistence that he'll never reveal just what befell the three women who saw a riselka at the end of Tigana; I feel as though now he's done just that. (I did, however, get a fanboy thrill when I learned what false surname Dave's been using in Africa.)

Of course, first impressions of a GGK novel are often unreliable. I can think of few authors whose books more lend themselves to re-reading than GGK, and this may well be another in a long line of such examples. Now, to schedule a re-read sometime in the future....

Sentential Links #90

Time to link stuff! Hooray! (Although not as many this week, since I was offline for something like two days. Two long days. Two lllooonnnggg days. Longest days ever.)

:: Ass. (Who? Click it!)

:: Every blogger, no matter how well read, tends to suffer from "Ted Barlow syndrome"; the belief that nothing you say or do or write matters. (Crap, I can't even get that syndrome named after me.)

:: It is official.

I'm going to relocate to Buffalo.
(Ha ha ha HAAAA! In your face, Charlotte NC!)

:: It was probably the most glorious summer of my life.

:: Success does not equal significance. (Maybe not, but it can. Take a look at the Young Adult/Children's book sections at the bookstore if you have any doubts as to the significance of the Harry Potter books.)

:: Today, I released my first book into the wild. (Apparently a Japanese guy tried picking it up, but a Greenpeace activist made him stop.)

:: The poems are, of course, long gone because, um… Why exactly? Are kids just getting too much dang poetry on TV? (You bet! All the verse on the teevee is getting to be too much!)

:: By making clear the real reason for the exclusion of gays, Pace is helping to sound the death knell of their exclusion. (We can only hope.)

:: Is it a good sign to discover metal in your fourth decade?

All for this week.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tune in tomorrow....

Busy today, folks. Will attempt posting again tomorrow. Look for Sentential Links then.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

PZ and Skiffy

Apparently while I was offline, PZ Myers turned 50. And in doing so, he demanded that readers write poems celebrating him, or something. So here's a tri-partite Fibonacci poem in honor of Dr. Myers:

I.

P
Z
has turned
fifty. May
he never meet an
axe murderer in overalls.

II.

He
is
the scourge
of I.D.,
but his secret love
is ever the cephalopod.

III.

For
a
guy who
descends from
monkeys, he's oddly
mild-mannered. Clark Kent o' the Plains.


(Anyone quibbling with my accounting of syllables will be subject to pistols at dawn!)

He also provides the latest "Bold it if you've done it" meme-thing, this time springing from somebody's list of "the most significant SF and fantasy books ever" or something like that. Here's the list, to which I have added some comment where appropriate. Bold means I've read the book; italics means I definitely plan to read the book; strike means I have no intention of reading the book, for one reason or another, and a question mark before the title means that I haven't even heard of the book. No markup at all means I have no views on the book whatsoever. OK? OK.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (Duh!)

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (I'm always surprised at the way Asimov's writing seems to have fallen out of favor. I've loved the guy for years.)

Dune, Frank Herbert (I started it once, but I got exasperated at having to flip back to the glossary just about every other sentence. I'll definitely read it again, though.)

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin (Don't remember it all that well. My reaction at the time was "Meh". But then, I was in eighth grade.)

Neuromancer, William Gibson (Sorry, but cyberpunk just doesn't do it for me. I started this novel four or five times before I decided that it simply wasn't my cup of tea. One of the iconic opening sentences of SF, though.)

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke (I love Clarke, too. I've read a lot by him, but never this, for some reason.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (I'd have found this book a lot easier to like if not for the continual "Wow, do Christians suck!" subtext. So much good stuff here, though.)

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Just got a copy from SFBC!)

The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov (Not familiar with this.)

? Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras

? Cities in Flight, James Blish (Aside from Blish's novelizations of Star Trek episodes, I've read nothing by him at all. It's really a shame how many SF authors are vanishing into the mists of out-of-print-land.)

The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison (Hey, Harlan, can we get a progress report on Last Dangerous Visions?)

? Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester

Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey (Tried McCaffrey years ago and bounced off her. Unlikely to try again.)

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (Sorry. I'm usually pretty good about not holding artists' political views against them, but for some reason, I can't get beyond the fact that Card is a homophobic reactionary twit.)

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

Gateway, Frederik Pohl (I loved this! I need to read the follow-up books.)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson (What a great book this was.)

Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice (Saw the movie, see little to be gained by reading the book. Loved the movie, though. Cruise was fine as LeStat, in my eyes.)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

? Little, Big, John Crowley

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny (Ahhh, the Amber books. Gotta finish those.)

? The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

? Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

? More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon

? The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith

On the Beach, Nevil Shute

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

Ringworld, Larry Niven

? Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien (Tried once. Got about three pages in. Will try again.)

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson (Best ending ever! OK, not really. Stephenson has no idea how to end his books.)

Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester (Just acquired this one, too.)

Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

? Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks (I read this in seventh grade, before I read Tolkien. I've never tried reading it since, for obvious reasons. I tried reading Brooks's non-Shannara series a few years ago -- some kind of dark fantasy thing -- and I didn't like it, either.)

Timescape, Gregory Benford

? To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I obviously haven't read all of these, so I can't properly judge how "essential" or "significant" every title here may be. Seems to me, though, that Tigana should be in there somewhere, or The Stand. (I consider horror to be part of the SF and fantasy rubric.)

And now this is where you can all jump in comments and tell me what an ill-read slob I am, that I haven't read the Hitchhiker books or whatever else!

Shamus is evil and must be destroyed.

All that reading of Shamus's blog has, as I predicted here, finally demolished my resistance. Today at Target I weakened and bought, from the "cheap computer games" section, Galactic Civilizations (which apparently includes an expansion pack of some sort) and Freelancer. And I saw a bunch of others I'd like to try at some point as well, including a Star Wars five-pack thing.

(Shamus pleads ignorance here as to how this could happen, claiming that when he writes about games it's mainly to rant and rave about them, but I know reverse psychology when I see it! He's not fooling anybody!)

I figure that at least the games I bought kinda-sorta fall into my whole "space opera" research thing, right? Yeah, research. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

(But we're having company this week, so I won't be firing these games up until either next week or maybe even the week after.)

UPDATE: Shamus finally noticed this post, and is now twirling his mustache as his nefarious plot comes to fruition. Ah well.

Anyhoo, as noted, I haven't played any of the games yet, due to Real Life stuff that has made it not-quite-a-good-idea to start playing yet. But this coming weekend? All bets are off. (This is shaping up to be a bad weekend, what with me planning to play one or more of the games and go to the brand-spankin'-new Borders nearby on Saturday. I just hope I remember to do the laundry, wash the dishes, and feed the cats!)

In his post, Shamus says this:

I must add, there is something humorously over-the-top about his approach to this that I find admirable. He didn’t just run out and get one game. No, he went in and got a big 'ol pile.

It's like a monk who decides to try alcohol for the first time, so he strides into the liquor store and gets a bottle of wine, some whiskey, a vodka, something printed in spanish which may or may not be be tequila, the makings for Jello-shots, and a case of beer. I mean, why screw around, right?


Well, you gotta dive in with both feet, right? What's the point of starting halfway? Besides, there's always the possibility that maybe the first game I try stinks, and if I don't have another to jump into, how do I tell if it's the game or if it's me that isn't working out right?

Anyway, for the time being, I plan to restrict myself to games from the Cheap Shelf at Target only (except for the afore-mentioned Star Wars fivepack, which comes out per game to about the same as a cheap game from the shelf at Target anyway.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

:: Here's something I never knew. John Jacob Astor IV was a science fiction writer! You can read his work A Journey in Other Worlds online. A taste:

Jupiter--the magnificent planet with a diameter of 86,500 miles, having 119 times the surface and 1,300 times the volume of the earth--lay beneath them.

They had often seen it in the terrestrial sky, emitting its strong, steady ray, and had thought of that far-away planet, about which till recently so little had been known, and a burning desire had possessed them to go to it and explore its mysteries.
Now, thanks to APERGY, the force whose existence the ancients suspected, but of which they knew so little, all things were possible.

Ayrault manipulated the silk-covered glass handles, and the Callisto moved on slowly in comparison with its recent speed, and all remained glued to their telescopes as they peered through the rushing clouds, now forming and now dissolving before their
eyes. What transports of delight, what ecstatic bliss, was theirs! Men had discovered and mastered the secret of apergy, and now, "little lower than the angels," they could soar through space, leaving even planets and comets behind.


Interesting. Of course, Astor was best known not for his SF writing but for dying aboard the RMS Titanic, although he didn't actually "go down with the ship". His body was actually found floating at sea a week after the wreck; from the damage to his body and the amount of soot covering his body (he was actually identified by the fact that his initials were stitched into his lapels), it was surmised that he was crushed by one of the falling smokestacks of the great ship.

:: Via Warren Ellis: fun for kids of all ages! Color such Biblical scenes as when Jesus rode the Velociraptor on his way to...somewhere!

Always weird stuff out there in Internet land...and with DSL, the weirdness is faster!

But. for the grace....

I know that I have a fairly iron-clad policy against blogging about my job, but I feel it OK to violate that policy just this once.

I work with this woman's father. I can't think of a more gut-wrenching thing to happen to two parents, or to an engaged man. And I say that as someone whose gut has been wrenched a-plenty in the last couple of years.

I think of all the tiny little things that happen during a day that might have preserved her life: a green light that she might have otherwise caught red, a conversation that might have gone on just thirty seconds longer. Instead, she was in exactly the most horrible place to be at exactly the most horrible time to be there.

And now, instead of planning her wedding, her loved ones are planning her burial.

I know this poem by A.E. Housman is about a male athlete, but I always think of it in times like this:

THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

--"To an Athlete Dying Young"


Sigh, with tears.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The good Lord tripped me up at the line of scrimmage.

I suppose I should address the recent moves made by the Buffalo Bills, yes? (Since the question was asked in comments, after all.)

The major moves are twofold: the Bills signed three players to the offensive line, and they traded Willis McGahee to Baltimore for three draft picks (3rd and 7th round this year, 3rd round next year).

First, the line. Hooray, it's about time, and all that. For the entire time I've been writing this blog, the offensive line of the Bills has never once risen above "merely adequate", and has frequently made descents into the realm of "downright bad", even making a couple of stops at "friggin' abysmal". As my longtime readers know, it's my opinion that all the ink spilled over the issues of quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, defensive backs, linebackers, and everything else here pale before the fact that the Bills have not been a force at the line of scrimmage in a very long time.

And look at all the recent Super Bowl winners and runners-up: some had amazing, high-octane offenses; others had punishing, smothering defenses. Some had very competent running games, while others placed more emphasis on excellence up front in winning with a succession of backs and/or receivers. But for all the different approaches that get teams to the Super Bowl, it's a fact that you don't get to the big game if you're not dominant at the line of scrimmage. As Chuck Dickerson used to say on the radio here (in just about the only words that ever crossed his lips that I agreed with), "Football games are won or lost by your big guys up front."

So now the Bills have signed three new O-line guys, which is very welcome news in my eyes. The team's approach to improving the offensive line, going back three general managers, has been to draft O-line guys low in the draft and hope they develop into studs. That hasn't really worked all that well. (Now, maybe these guys all tank and the line still stinks. Could happen. But then again, maybe not.)

The other big Bills story is, of course, the trade of McGahee. I'm fine with that. McGahee has never lived up to his potential in Buffalo, which is a real shame because that first season he started, he showed real flashes of excitement. But this past year, he didn't make it to 1000 yards, I didn't see him make one of those awesome stiff-armed blocks he used to do all year, and he basically gave off an air that said, "I'm here to make money and that's about it."

Do I think McGahee stinks? Not at all, and in fact, I'd bet that he's about to have two or three very good years in Baltimore before he starts his career decline. But what got me this year wasn't even his lack of output, but the fact that he just never seemed to care all that much. Sure, there were two games that were notable exceptions, but like it or not, the Buffalo Bills don't play the New York Jets sixteen times next season.

I finally realized McGahee was never really going to lift off here during the second-to-last game of last season, when the Titans came to town. The Tennessee running back that day was Travis Henry, the workhorse guy that McGahee had originally pushed out of Buffalo back in 2004. And Henry outran McGahee that day, badly. Basically, McGahee let the guy he'd pushed off the Bills roster come back into town and show him up in his own park.

Did the Bills get better by trading McGahee? Possibly; possibly not. But it was already clear that they weren't going to give him a big contract heading into next year, and they probably weren't going to try to resign him after next year. So, faced with the possibilities of a training camp holdout and then finally losing him anyway, they chose to lose him in a way that gets them something in return. Sounds good to me.

Now, on to the draft.

Mesa back!

Well, that wasn't long. Certainly not long enough for anybody to actually miss this blog. Maybe I should go into hiding again!

Anyhow, yes, the DSL has been installed and life is now happy and blissful at Minas Jaquandor. The moral of the story is: if your dial-up modem is about to die horribly, order your DSL upgrade package ten days before it does.

Although there was one minor hiccup: The Wife actually left the apartment yesterday morning for about two hours, which is of course when UPS tried to deliver our modem. They left the little post-it note saying "We'll try again on Monday"; my response was, "Oh no you won't. I'm coming to get my package." Or, as I said to my fellow Wayne's World-quoting friend at The Store, "It will be mine, oh yes. It will be mine."

So at 7:00 on Friday night I'm driving through the East Side of Buffalo, heading for the UPS shipping center. And wow, is that place big. I figured it would be, but damn, it's a huge joint. I was amused by the little signs on the streetlight posts lining their long service road: "Leave yourself an out", "Make sure they see you", "Aim high". Refreshers from Driver's Ed for UPS drivers, I suppose?

Anyhow, I got the modem and had it fired up in about an hour after we had dinner (Chinese) and put The Daughter (not Chinese) to bed. The only technical problem that I ran into during the installation was that one of our other phone jacks in another room had an old length of phone cord still plugged into it, from an older phone setup of ours. Took me about half an hour to realize that was screwing things up and interfering with the DSL line, but when I unplugged that, everything started working.

And now my Internet connection is fast. Like, "I don't have to wait for YouTube stuff to download" fast.

All I need now is a cellphone, and I'll be in the 21st century.

Regular posting will resume later on, perhaps.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Grrrrrrrrrr....

Well, folks, this blog will be laying fallow for an indeterminate period of time, due to technical issues.

Basically, when we got our new computer for Christmas, it didn't come with a modem (long story there), so I bought from Best Buy an outboard modem to use that connects to the USB port. I should have realized I was in trouble when the installation instructions said something like, "At this point Windows will warn you that this driver does not pass Windows Testing, but don't worry. It works."

Well, the modem driver never got along well with the rest of the computer, often causing spontaneous restarts due to driver conflicts and whatnot. Yesterday it finally got so bad that it actually corrupted some important file, said file being so important that Windows couldn't even restart. So I had to a complete system recovery.

Since the computer's still so young, very little important data was lost; I still have all of my backup discs from when I switched computers in December. Also fortunately, I placed my order to switch to DSL service ten days ago, so I'm expecting the DSL modem and software to arrive sometime soon. But I don't know when, and in the meantime, I am not putting the new modem back on my computer. It's going away. Bye-bye. (Its brand name is Dynex, by the way.)

So, until I get my DSL service and connection all fired up, my Internet activity will be restricted to brief moments from work when I'm on break (or, as I am right now, before my scheduled shift starts). I'll still be able to check e-mail sporadically, but I won't be able to write blog entries at all until I'm up and running again.

Please keep checking in, though. You never know when I'll be back. Hopefully soon.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An update

I've finally made a lllooonnnggg overdue update of my Writings Elsewhere page, wherein you'll find links to stuff of mine appearing on the Web other than on this blog. (As of this writing, that's on Green Man Review exclusively, but you never know what the future may bring!)

Squash! (part two)

A few weeks ago, The Wife made this for dinner:



A number of people have asked for the recipe, so here it is:

1. Obtain squash.
2. Stuff as pictured.
3. Cook.
4. Serve.

Easy as that!

OK, but seriously, here's the recipe as described by The Wife. She got the main idea from a magazine she checked out of the library; it said to microwave the whole works after stuffing, but she went with cooking it in the oven.

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium acorn squash
1 pound bulk spicy pork sausage
.5 cup chopped onion
1. egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup fresh baby spinach, finely chopped
1.5 cups soft bread crumbs
.5 cup dried cranberries

Cut the squash in half and remove the pulp and seeds; feed pulp and seeds to your enemies or your children. Season the squash with salt, pepper, and freshly squeezed orangutan blood (this ingredient is highly optional, as well as morally questionable), place the squash face-down in a baking dish, and roast at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (Roasting at 375 degrees Kelvin will yield questionable results.) Roast for 30 minutes.

While roasting the squash, prepare the stuffing. First recite the following prayer to Obosidor, Etruscan God of Food:

O great Obosidor, slay my enemies
and decorate my doorstep with their
entrails!


(Strange prayer to offer a God of Food, but that's what the recipe says.)

Then crumble the sausage in a large skillet along with the onion and cook until the meat is no longer pink. (Here the recipe says to drain the fat. I always omit this instruction in recipes, which partly explains the waistline you see in the photos of me in the sidebar. Do according to your want.)

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the egg and milk. (They had it coming, the lowlifes....) Stir in the spinach, bread crumbs, cranberries, and finally the sausage-and-onion mixture. Sprinkle with a liberal helping of moondust. (It won't taste right without it.)

After the squash are finished roasting, turn them upward and stuff. (Use a spoon for this, as the squash will be friggin' hot.) Return to the oven and continue to roast at 375 for twenty minutes or so.

Remove from oven before eating. (Trust me on this, folks.)


This goes well with a nice Chianti. Omit the fava beans.

At least, that's how The Wife said she made it. I didn't quite find all of that believable, but, you know....