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

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sentential Links #108

One hundred eight and counting:

:: I swear, that ramp-up to the final battle felt like Mousecateer roll call ("And now here's Oliver Wood, who we haven't seen hide-ner-hair of since Book 3, come to join the fray!"). (Remember how lots of people complained about too many "Classic Trilogy" characters showing up in the Star Wars Prequels? No such complaints about the Potter books. Spoiler filled post; new blog to me.)

:: Being smart is cool. Being stupid is embarrassing, despite what you see on the MTV and the YouTube. Listen to me, I'm a wise middle-aged old man now. Also, get off my lawn with your big brains and your hot pants and your culture I don't understand (but understood as recently as the day before yesterday).

:: I couldn't help but wonder why people live in some of those spots...what took them there? What holds them? (I've often perused the map of Oregon and wondered the same thing.)

:: Thank God Joseph Heller and James Jones and Erich Maria Remarque and countless others aren't trying to write their books today. They'd be burned as heretics by a bunch of nasty boys and girls who have fetishized "the troops" into a strange form of Boy Band eroticism --- that empty, nonthreatening form of masculinity the tweens use to bridge the scary gap between puberty and adolescence. Private Peter Pan reporting for duty.

The real men for them are the civilians on 24 torturing suspected terrorists for an hour each week, keeping the lil'est tough guys safe from harm with hard sadism and easy answers. That's where this wingnut war is really being fought. With popcorn.


:: The first step into making the hollow book is to select a book. (Crap, and I sold my copy of Atlas Shrugged years ago! It would have been perfect, since in terms of content it's already hollow. Still, this looks like a really cool project. I may have to make one of my own someday.)

:: The FCC is so concerned about protecting the public from indecency that it doles out huge fines for swear words that accidentally go out over the air. And God forbid for one nanosecond America sees Janet Jackson’s breast. Our whole nation could collapse. If terrorists really want to bring down this country they should organize suicide streakers. (Had I read this post yesterday, a couple of the links therein would have made the Burst of Weirdness. Naughty language, but on a "meta" level.)

:: With you here, I'd still be happy. (For some reason I'm drawn to stories of heartbreak like a moth to a candle these days.)

All for this week.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I'm so pleased you're not dead!

I have to admit that my geek heart goes a little pitter-pat every time I read something about Indiana Jones and the Journey Back to the Well One Last Time. This time I learn that Karen Allen, who played Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is back on board. And what's more, it appears that since 1981 she has aged about six years:



I'm still skeptical about this movie, but we'll see.

As long as I'm on the subject of Dr. Jones, I may as well run down my thoughts on the original three movies:

:: Raiders of the Lost Ark is, of course, a great movie. When I saw it in 1981 it pretty much took my breath away, being the first cinematic adventure of its type I had ever seen. (Within a year I would discover Errol Flynn. What a great time that was to be a ten-year-old geek!) My father, who attended the movie with us knowing nothing about it at all, was appalled at the violence, especially at the very end, but I thought it was just the coolest thing. The movie was rollicking fun, it contained exactly enough romance to convince a ten-year-old that seducing lovely women is what adventurer-archaeologists do and not one minute more, it had surprises, it had exotic stuff, it had John Williams at the height of his powers. How good was Raiders, in my eyes? Well, for one summer it got me to stop wondering if Han Solo would survive carbon-freeze.

I remember seeing it several times in 1981. The first movie we rented when we got a VCR was Raiders, naturally enough. It was when we rented it that I first saw the reflected cobra in the glass pane in the Well of Souls. Strangely, it took me until the late 1990s before I worked out the math of how high the Staff of Ra is and compared it to the scene in the Map Room, which would have to imply that Indiana Jones is four feet tall. I don't remember when I noticed the fly crawling into Belloq's mouth, but I think that was pretty early on. (And I've always wished that the film would have explained better just how Indy knew not to look on the power of the Ark.)

:: I was in seventh grade when Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came along. I loved it too at first, but then I decided at some point that I hated it -- Willie Scott's whining got to me, I guess, as did the bit where they jump out of an airplane with only an inflatable rubber raft to break their fall. However, I gradually came to like it again when I watched it in college. It has a very different flavor than Raiders, which I appreciated; I liked its much darker tone and its foray into Eastern mysticism. I actually like the Short Round character, particularly the scene where he awakens Indy from the "Fever of Kali" (or whatever it was called). If anything, I now feel that Temple of Doom is underrated. (And another cracker of a John Williams score -- his "Parade of the Slave Children" theme is one of his very best.)

:: I also loved Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when it first came out, and I came to like it a bit less over time. With this one, however, my opinion of it hasn't really rebounded. It's still a lot of fun and compulsively watchable, but it suffers a lot on several key grounds. Yes, Harrison Ford and Sean Connery have great chemistry, but the whole bit about how they both slept with Elsa the Nazi Archaeologist is just creepy and doesn't really add anything to the plot. The plot itself is basically a massive retread of Raiders. (Don't believe me? Which film am I describing here: "An old authority figure from Indy's past turns out to have been very near to discovering the last resting place of one of Christendom's most famed and legendary artefacts, and Indy is off to pick up the trail where this old authority figure left off. Along the way Indy enlists the aid of his friend Sallah, where he eventually ends up in the Middle East racing the Nazis to finding the artefact, at one point engaging a thrilling chase with an entire convoy of Nazi vehicles. In the end, the villains are undone because they've failed to understand something about the power of the Christian artefact that Indy has already figured out.")

Sallah is turned into something of a buffoon, and Marcus Brody -- whom Raiders implied to be Indy in later, civilian life -- is reduced to near Jar Jar Binksian status. (The scene where the Nazis manage to capture Brody is just painful to watch.) Last Crusade is the most directly cartoonish of the Indiana Jones movies. And at the leap of faith toward the end, when Indy takes the step and plants his foot down on thin air, he looks astonished that it's worked. Shouldn't that look of astonishment therefore represent that he didn't have faith at all, and thus he should be plunged to his doom?

Anyway, I hope this new movie is good. I really do.

(Photo of Karen Allen via)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I didn't see a whole lot of standout weirdness on the Intertubes this week, for some reason. I do note that apparently Dark Horse is re-issuing the Gor novels. Now, I never read the Gor novels, but from what I've gleaned, they're a series of planetary romance novels in the attempted vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs that happen to feature a healthy dose of misogyny. So far I've read a lot of "What is Dark Horse thinking?!" style of commentary on this. Has anyone out there read the Gor books? How bad are they? I have to admit that I might read a couple just out of curiosity.

(Sorry about the fairly lame Burst this week, but that's what I had to work with, folks!)

Spiderpig, spiderpig!

Yup, I saw The Simpsons Movie the other night. A great time was had by all. Well, by me and the three guys I went with. The rest of the theater? Don't much care if they had a great time. Jerks. (Especially the idiots who can't seem to go ten minutes without sending a f***ing text message, whether there's a movie on or not. Sure, texting is less pernicious than, say, actually talking on the phone or getting up from the middle of a row of theater seats to go outside and answer the call, but it's still a darkened theater, and the sudden blue-white glow of a cell phone being opened so someone can text back to some idiot friend of theirs is really distracting.)

Anyhow, I found the movie very funny, although not quite "Marge versus the Monorail" funny, or "Stonecutters" funny, or "Twenty-two Short Films About Springfield" funny, or "Bart's Comet" funny, or "King-Size Homer" funny, or "Cape Feare" funny, or...well, you get the idea. But it's very funny indeed. It's got all the hallmarks of good Simpsons humor: subversive stuff that skewers, well, everything; entire subplots that turn out to be mere set-up for something completely different later; Homer exhibiting cluelessness on a scale unimagined before; perfectly-placed one-liners from Ned Flanders and Ralph Wiggum.

Nearly every negative review I've read of this movie basically boils down to a laundry list of favorite characters who don't get enough screentime, which is frankly unavoidable, given the sheer numbers of memorable people in Springfield. I think that some people expected the movie to be about Springfield, rather than about the Simpsons, but like any Simpsons fan, I wish more had been seen of a number of folks: Mr. Burns, Smithers, Apu, Principal Skinner, Superintendent Chalmers, Patty and Selma, and so on. And I think it would have been great if the movie had been dedicated to the memory of Troy McClure -- they could have even had a screen credit reading, "To the memory of Troy McClure, whom you may remember from such films as..." and then list them.

A film music geek moment: The music by Hans Zimmer was actually decent, although when the end credits roll got to the music credits, there were so many names listed as assisting with the music, orchestrating it, and conducting it (how does the score for a movie that's not even ninety minutes long require two conductors?!), that as always, I end up wondering just what it is that Hans Zimmer actually does when he's "composing". I can never make up my mind about Zimmer: more often than not I end up liking the resulting product just fine, but his "composition by committee" thing rubs me wrong somehow. I also wish that somehow they could have had an Alf Clausen musical number in there, although I did love how the throwaway "Spiderpig!" ditty improvised by Homer ends up actually playing a funny role later on. (And make sure you stick around through the credits, so that you can hear the "Springfield Anthem".)

So yeah, I liked the movie. It was a lot of fun, which is exactly what it should have been.

By the way, I went to simpsonsmovie.com and made my own avatar:



(No, there's no option for overalls there that I could find, so it's blue pants. And no, I don't own shoes in that color. But I would, because they're pretty and I'm all about the pretty.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

If elected, he will not serve!

I've been remiss in not wishing Alan Bedenko well on his run for the Erie County Legislature. So, best wishes to him, and high hopes that he wins. I'd pledge to vote for him, but I'm not in his district.

I also didn't know that Alan grew a beard. Someone should have told him that bearded guys look shifty and evil. Of course, someone may have also pointed out that without a beard, Alan looked eerily like a dark-haired Dick Cheney....

Unidentified Earth 12

As expected, last week's installment was nailed within hours of posting: it was Monument Valley, Utah, that butte-dominated region where so many great Western films were made. To everyone who got it, award yourselves 146 Quatloos. Why 146? Because I'm the one with the Quatloos, that's why.

Time for this week's installment, which I expect to be identified very quickly -- but I couldn't not use this one, so tickled was I that Google's satellite image of it is so stunningly clear.



Where are we?

(Rot-13 your answers, please!)

Hmmmm....

I just took this test thing:



If you mouse over the little color squares, their meanings are given, I guess. Not sure I completely agree, but then, I'm glad there's no square for "high self-loathing". And how did I get "slightly high attention to style"? I pay almost no attention to "style" -- in fact, what I feel for "style" or "fashion" is close to contempt. Maybe I misread a question or two and mismarked my answer or something.

(via)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Way to go, Texas!

A creationist heads the Texas State Board of Education.

Sigh....

The Interview Meme, still kicking!

Questions came my way from Tosy and Cosh:

1. What potential storyline set up in the third season of Once and Again are you most disapointed they never got to address?

Well, one major reason I'm frustrated at the continued non-availability of Season Three on DVD is that since the show ended five years ago, I don't really remember Season Three much! That said, Karen Sammler's journey back to love and Jessie's sexuality were fascinating threads that got cut short, I think.

2. What John Williams theme is your most treasured, and why?

Oh, heavens. I treasure so much of Williams's work that this is really hard -- but for once I'll go with the spirit of the question and not cheat, and thus name only one theme. The "Force Theme" from the Star Wars films, which is to my mind the most resonant of all of the themes from that series. (It started off as "Ben Kenobi's Theme", but then became more strongly associated with the Good Side of the Force over the course of the Saga. For those who aren't as geekily familiar with these scores as I, this is the first theme that plays in Star Wars during the Throne Room finale sequence, as Luke, Han and Chewbacca walk down the aisle toward their medals.)

3. What single location - not a town or region, but a discrete place (a single park, or field, or lake) - is your favorite?

See, now this is just mean! My favorite single location? Aieee!

Well, there's a creek that runs nearby the apartment complex where we live, about two miles away. This creek cuts through a surprisingly deep ravine for these parts, and there's a back road between my town and East Aurora, NY that drops down into this ravine to cross that creek. Sometime I should take pictures when I go that way. I love that in Buffalo you can be in the midst of urban settlement, but still be minutes away from terrain that feels remote.

(Now, expanding my answer out a bit, I adore Southern and Southeastern Erie County. There are spots so gently beautiful around here that I frankly never want to leave.)

4. What piece of art - a song, a tv episode, a film - made you cry the most upon first seeing it - the largest, wettest, most copious tears.

First time? Well, I've always been one to get misty-eyed, or sob outright, at movies. Always. I remember as a kid, watching Snoopy Come Home, and thinking that it was dead certain that Snoopy was never going to get home, and crying my eyes out...or the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy's saying goodbye to her friends before clicking her heels to come home.

More recently? Well, the first time I read it, I was completely unprepared for the emotional wallop of the last half of The Darkest Road, the third book in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. To this day, re-reads of that trilogy bring me to tears.

Certain episodes of Once and Again make me cry, too -- "There Be Dragons", especially.

5. You are given the magical ability to have any career in teh arts you want. But the gift comes with a price; you will no longer be able to physically write (or dictate - don't get picky about the details; youcan't write). Do you take it? And what would you do?

No, I don't. Writing's what I have. It might take me a little while to rule out becoming a musician, but ultimately, no.

OK, that was fun!

The cuteness! Aieee!!!

Last night's episode of America's Got Talent featured the greatest ventriloquist act I've ever seen. Don't believe me?


Skip to the one minute mark for the actual performance. It's just sweet, folks.

(And what's with Piers Morgan? He hasn't pissed me off in weeks. Is he nicer this year, or am I off my game?)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hey Jeff!

Your questions are in comments below. (Unless you're reading this the second I publish, in which case, give me a few minutes to type them!)

Inspiring? Moi???



Judith Heartsong has bestowed upon me the Inspirational Blogger Award, which is rather like the Thinking Blogger Award, only it rewards, you know, inspiration. I'm tremendously flattered, inasmuch as I find it amazing anyone would be inspired by my blatherings in this space, but hey, I've always found it prudent to undervalue my own contributions to as great a degree as possible. And really, I'm glad that it wasn't called the Perspirational Blogger Award. (Which, in normal summertime temps, I could win in a walk, to be honest. Hence the fact that I generally never wear the overalls between May and September.)

So where was I? Well, as part of the Inspirational Blogger gig, I now have to name five recipients myself. The following inspire me (as do many others):

:: Belladonna's Mind Muffins, whose spirit of life-as-adventure (or slapstick!) makes her blog a daily read of mine.

:: Mrs. Mental Multivitamin, whose simple three-word philosophy might have been admired by Moses (it would, after all, have fit onto a single -- and smaller -- stone tablet).

:: Erin, who likes words.

:: I very much doubt she'll accept this tag, but I find Dorcasina's blogging terribly inspiring, in the face of circumstances that I wish weren't so.

:: He'd probably think it weird, but PZ Myers's fiery commitment to science inspires me.

So there we go. Inspiring, no?

Hallowing Deathly

There's a really fun free-for-all, spoilerific Harry Potter thread going on over at Making Light, and I just want to highlight this comment, which is as good a summation of the book's central theme as I'm likely to see. Kudos to Leah Miller, author of the comment.

Sentential Links #107

Installment One Hundred the Seventh! Let us commence!

:: I got through surgery and had my gallbladder removed. (You know, I was remiss in wishing Shamus well before his surgery, so I'll toss him a Sentential Link after it. Because that's totally the same thing. Best to him for his recovery!)

:: Don't even get me started on the gnashing of teeth and gouging of eyes I am reduced to when 'impact' is used as anything but a noun. (You know what's weird? Every person I've ever heard expressing this sentiment is Canadian. Is there something in the Canadian water that so impacts the linguistic centers of their brains?)

:: My marriage, unfortunately, is hanging on by a thread - a frazzled one at that. (My commiserations. And your five questions are on the way!)

:: Is this really a breast cancer blog? (Brand new blog to me. Check it out. In an odd coincidence, I've also started faithfully reading Funky Winkerbean over the last couple of weeks. I hope that this blogger's breast cancer tale has a better ending.)

:: If you've ever taken a creative writing class, you probably had to do that assignment where you take a line from a famous poem and build your own poem out of it. (Oh thank God, no, I didn't. But then, it now occurs to me that I've never taken a creative writing class. Another brand-new blog to me this week.)

:: I've said this before but I cannot stress this enough: I have an irrational fear of mayonnaise. I cannot abide the stuff. When that commercial for squeezable mayo comes on television, I mash my eyes shut and plug my ears and go "LA LA LA LA LA!" I can't handle it. (Yet another brand new blog to me this week! I'm certainly becoming quite the out-going denizen of Blogistan, eh?)

:: But how did you discover Superman and Satan were the same person? (I swear I didn't make this up.)

:: The whims of fate have tossed us like tumbleweeds. Now we have lived in this place for what seems like our average stay in a community. Out of sheer habit, I'm feeling like it's time to move again. (Well, Buffalo always needs good people! You'd always be welcomed here. And we have seasons and stuff.)

:: The format doesn’t need to be perfect, but seriously don’t switch back and forth between stage play and screenplay format. (Are you allowed to do spec scripts in stage play format? Because, truth to tell, I hate writing in screenplay format. Hate it. It makes me feel as though seven of every ten keystrokes are hitting the TAB key to get things in the proper place.)

:: He said of his wife, simply, "I can't live without her." (I don't care that this post is almost three years old. Read it, if nothing else from this batch of links. Blogging politics is one thing. Blogging a love story is something else.)

And so we wrap up for this week.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Deathly Hallowing

Time for some first impressions on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I finished reading about an hour ago. I'll color-obscure the text here, so you'll have to highlight to read it.

Oh, and for the purposes of the comments thread for this post, I grant full spoiler power, seeing as how I'm writing spoilers in the post itself. So if you don't want spoilers, don't highlight the text below, and don't read the comments, either!

These are all just random thoughts, which I'm plopping out there as they come to me.

:: I love that Rowling had it come down to Harry versus Voldemort, for all the marbles, in front of everybody. That was a masterstroke.

:: There's a little too much deus ex machina in the front half of the book. Too many times Harry and company seem to get the key bit of information by sheer luck, with one particular instance -- when they just happen to be huddling somewhere in the countryside under the Invisible Cloak when a group of people who happen to know an awful lot about what's going on just happen to pick that exact spot to sit down and have a long conversation -- standing out.

:: Hey, David Weber! This is how you stop your final battle in order to have an infodump. JK Rowling has her stylistic faults, but she is the simple best writer on the planet at conveying plot information without grinding everything to a halt while she does so.

:: The single best thing in the book, and maybe the best moment in the entire series, is the moment of Severus Snape's death. He expires as he gazes one last time in Lily Potter's eyes (since we've been told many times that Harry has Lily's eyes).

:: Snape was a good guy after all. I always thought so. Except for when I didn't. However, it didn't play out the way I thought it might: turns out that Dumbledore didn't need to swear Snape to an unbreakable vow in order to commit Snape to killing him. (Of course, the interesting question there is, what if Dumbledore had not been already doomed to die?)

:: At times, the Death Eaters seem like Imperial Storm Troopers, don't they?

:: Well, a Weasley had to die sooner or later, right? I'm surprised Rowling didn't mine that for one last bit about everyone's inability to tell them apart.

:: I knew Neville would have some big role to play! Yay!

:: I was completely wrong about the Dursleys! Boo! I thought for sure there'd be some small way in which they turned out to be important in the end, but not so much. Just a bit of character growth for Dudley. (But I do think Rowling missed an opportunity here. In the Epilogue, it would have been cool if another of the new students heading to Hogwarts had been Dudley's, yes? Another Muggle-born?)

:: I liked that the events of Dumbledore's life as depicted in the tell-all book are true, and that it's all left up to interpretation.

:: What's next for JK Rowling? Hogwarts: The Next Generation? Something else entirely? Or will she just put down her pen and bask in the fact that she's made Harold Bloom's life miserable? No idea, here -- but for my part, thanks, Ms. Rowling. You told a hell of a tale here.


And there it is. So long, Harry. It's been fun.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Different kinds of weirdness from the week gone by:

:: I knicked this photo from this post by Neddie Jingo, because I thought it was hilarious. For all I know, this may be one of those types of graffiti that are known the world over and which I somehow have completely missed, but anyway:



In conjunction with this John Scalzi post, I envision John just standing there, hitting the button over and over again, chortling like a Vegas gambling addict who can't stop putting money in the slots, as he basks in vending-machine bacony goodness.

:: I work with this guy at The Store:



Here he is again, in a longer one, with some other guy:



:: Remember in Wayne's World, when Wayne and Garth engage in the pastime of lying face-up about twenty feet from the leading edge of one of O'Hare's runways? Well, check this out:



Here's another, and note the dust and wind that gets kicked up by the jet's wake:



MeFi has an entire thread about this kind of thing right now. That airport has a really short runway, with water pretty much flanking in on all sides. Here's the cockpit's point of view of that same approach:



And here's an entire gallery of landing sites to test the mettle of any pilot. Frankly, as neat as the St. Maarten Island landing looks, this one would scare the living crap out of me.



I wouldn't land there with Han Solo at the controls!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Interview Meme, yet again! (Part Deux)

Roger hit me with some questions from the Great Interview Meme, and I'm now getting 'round to answering them. Because I am just that prompt, let me tell you!

1. So what ARE the other bloggers, other than yourself, specifically griping about when they talk about "the folks in Albany"?

It's generally a short-hand for the state government, which in our state is rife with patronage, corrupt, devoted to maintaining the status quo of power, et cetera and so forth. Basically, "the folks in Albany" is a shorthand for "the giant f***ing albatross that's been hung around the neck of a region (Upstate NY) that is getting really really tired of shipping all of its homegrown talent elsewhere, like we're the Pittsburgh Pirates of the nation."

In truth, I don't even think of Albany as a place, in the sense that there are people living there who need to get groceries and fix the lawn mower and who worry about their back pain or get nervous about the fact that the car they just paid off three months ago is now making a suspicious knocking noise. A couple of years ago I received for review from GMR several CDs by a Celtic band from the Albany era (Hair of the Dog, to be precise), and I actually remember thinking, "Wow, they have music in Albany?"

So yeah, Albany is basically Mordor. With freeways running through it.

2. There's a new movie, You Kill Me, with Ben Kingsley as a Polish mob hit man from Buffalo. Is there a Polish mob in Buffalo, and will you see the movie?

If there's a Polish mob here, I know nothing about it. Really, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe one of my Buffalo readers can say something here? As for the movie, I kind of doubt it. Mob stories just tend to not interest me much.

3. How do you think the current and upcoming restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Canada affect the border economies, particularly the Buff/NF area?

Alan Bedenko has been all over this, but generally I think it's a whole bunch of incredibly stupid policy, which makes it perfectly in sync with the rest of the current Administration's "War on Terror". I'm a fan of trade and open borders (as open as possible), and in a time when the Niagara Frontier is suffering economically during an era of ever-greater globalization, sticking us behind a fence just makes me very sad.

4. How do you feel about the image of Buffalo as a loser? Four Super Bowl losses in a row (four more games than some teams have ever been in), snowy (even though Syracuse, on a year-to-year basis gets more), economically depressed (well, OK, there's something to that).

No other way to say it: it pisses me off. I get really tired of "media narratives", whether they're in politics or regional stuff like Buffalo's rep. It's just laziness: "Oh look, it's snowing in Buffalo again. Send a camera crew!" Bah.

5. Do you know the lyrics to "Erie Canal"? Did you learn them in school, or where? Have you heard the Springsteen version? Does it sound different to you from the one you learned?

I don't know the lyrics any longer, but we did do that song way back in grade school. Funny thing is, I distinctly remember doing that song at my grade school in Portland, OR, which makes me think that the historical significance of the Canal is sometimes undersold. As for the Springsteen version, I don't know it, but will look it up.

OK, if anyone else wants any questions, feel free to ask, since this rescusitates the Great Interview Meme!

I win!

Well, the tenth time was the charm: last week's Unidentified Earth location has remained Unidentified, which means I win, and therefore I get all your Quatloo's. Heh!

As for the solution, the two hints probably weren't as helpful -- but the second one, referring to the movie that used that location coming out in 1969, pinpoints my favorite James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The location is Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant that sits atop the Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps. In the movie, Piz Gloria was the hideout of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, where he was masquerading as "Count Balthasar de Bleuchamp", and using Piz Gloria as a facility for "allergy research". (Turns out he was really developing a biological weapon for his next diabolical scheme.)

The construction of Piz Gloria was actually partly funded by the film's production company, in exchange for exclusive filming rights. As you look at the Google satellite, shot, the round conical shape is the roof of the restaurant, while the circular platform off to the left (connected by walkway) is a helipad. Piz Gloria is also accessible by cable car from below.

I think the location was also obfuscated a bit by virtue of the location having been apparently imaged during summer, when the Alps are quite a bit less snowy, except on their shadowed north faces. The almost "lunar" look to the location helped make it a lot different from in the film, when it's all snow as far as the eye can see (which it had to have been, really, since James Bond could hardly have escaped from Piz Gloria on skis had it been otherwise).

So there you go.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

But what's the deal with THE DURSLEYS???

Cracked.com's "Six Questions the Final Harry Potter Book Had Better F***ing Answer:

It's expected that the main narrative of The Deathly Hallows will be about Harry's hunt for the remaining Horcruxes before his final confrontation with Voldemort. If this is true, it means that the final Harry Potter Book will have the same plot as basically every RPG ever made, what with Harry having to "collect the Seven Important Things" to defeat the "loosely explained magic barrier" which will allow him to access the "final dungeon," and in the end he'll still be a "massive nerd."


Geez. I hope we didn't come this far to have JK Rowling end up channeling Terry Brooks. Wouldn't that be a let-down.

Personally, I think it would be funny if the book ended with Harry and friends sitting around a table at the Hogwarts dining room, munching Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, wondering if at any moment one of Voldemort's agents would burst in and kill them all -- and then the last page ended in mid-sentence, with seven or eight blank pages following thereafter, making people wonder if their book was somehow affected by a screwup by the publishing company....

Toonz

Apparently I was tagged the other day by Paul on a quiz-meme thing where I'm supposed to write about between 5 and 10 "songs" (which I loosely interpret as, well, any musical work at all) that have had a large impact on me. Hmmmmm...well, I'll try to stay away from my "usual suspects", i.e., works or songs that I've waxed poetic about in this space before. With maybe one or two exceptions.

:: "Building the Barn", by Maurice Jarre, from Witness. OK, Witness is one of my all-time favorite movies. I think it's damned near flawless. The only faults I personally find with it are that (a) the subplot with Hochleitner's (Alexander Godunov) jealousy of John Book's relationship with Rachel is just slightly overplayed, and (b) the score by Maurice Jarre is, with one giant exception, disappointing brooding synthesizer crap.

The one exception, though, is absolutely remarkable: the cue that underscores the wonderful barn-raising set piece. I almost wonder if Jarre intentionally made the rest of his score as nondescript as it is, so this one cue would stand out, but stand out it does. At the outset it sounds almost like a retread of Pachelbel's Canon in D, but then it goes into its own thing.

On a more personal note, whenever I listen to this track now (a stunning version for full orchestra, as opposed to synth, can be heard on this album), I think back to this day, and the time I spent doing something rather like a barnraising, and at the side of my best friend.

:: "Wonderful World", by Sam Cooke. Featured in the other great scene from Witness (although in a version not sung by Cooke). I love Sam Cooke, and this is my favorite of his songs.

:: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, by Sergei Rachmaninov. OK, here's one that I've waxed poetic about before, but I can't help it. I often hear Ravel's Bolero described as "erotic" or "sensual", but damned if I can't ever hear those qualities. But you know what? I was listening to the Rachmaninov Second a week or two back, and, well, I can't help but use adjectives like that to describe it, the way it constantly ebbs and flows, the epic nature of its emotion. I don't usually describe music in such stark terms, but in the Rachmaninov Second I hear the distillation of love itself. I don't know how to say it any other way.

:: Irish Tune from County Derry, by Percy Grainger. This was the first piece we played in band, on the first day of my freshman year of college. I think my love of Celtic music was born here. I love this lush and gorgeous setting, with its ingeniously concealed dissonances.

:: "The Portrait", by James Horner, from Titanic. Bite me, Titanic haters. I love this movie, and that's a fact. The music, however, is another story -- there's some awfully good stuff here from Horner, as well as some tremendously lazy stuff, and the "action" writing during the sinking is mostly rhythmic thrashing. While I don't hate "My Heart Will Go On", I will certainly admit that it's been played to death to the point where it's pretty much a complete cliche of a song. However, the solo piano rendition of that theme, heard during the scene where Jack sketches the nude Rose, is soft, tasteful, and delicately beautiful.

:: "The Grand Finale", by Danny Elfman, from Edward Scissorhands. I'm not the biggest Elfman fan in the world, but he's had his moments, and this track contains about nine of them.

:: "Inside Your Heaven", by Carrie Underwood. The tune's nothing groundbreaking, and the lyrics are pretty much your standard insipid pop-ballad poetics. And yet, I love this song so. Shoot me. Right now.

:: "I Dreamed a Dream", from Les Miserables. How I want to see this show, someday, seeing as how I know every note in its score from listening to the complete recordings for so long. "No song unsung, no wine untasted...."

:: "One for my Baby (and One More for the Road)". Classic song. I love the version by Frank Sinatra off his Only the Lonely album. Can't listen to that album too much, though. It's never an easy listen, and these days, it would probably drive me to either suicide or body-piercing. Maybe even a tattoo or something.

OK, that's all. I guess I'm supposed to tag people now, but I think all the people I'd normally tag have already done this one, so feel free to grab-and-go, folks.

Unidentified Earth 11

Since last week's entry ran on Friday instead of Thursday, I'm going to leave that one unidentified until tomorrow. I can't believe one made it almost an entire week! Yay, me!

But for now, I'm getting back on the Thursday schedule, which means a new installment. I have a feeling this one will be quite a lot easier than last week's.



OK, where are we?

(Don't forget to use rot-13 to encode your answers, folks!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mr. Scalzi, enabler....

I've wondered on occasion at what point The Daughter would be an appropriate age for introduction to Monty Python. Well, I wonder no more.

(Well, within reason. There's quite the range between Holy Grail and Meaning of Life, obviously.)

Let me know when he loses Glenn Reynolds and the Powerline boys....

George Bush has lost the support of Richard Mellon Scaife. This would be like...I don't know, me rooting for the Patriots or something. Wow.

(Via TBogg)

Earth?

It seems that the current installment of Unidentified Earth is a stumper! This makes me happy, although it also makes me wish I'd saved this one for a while, because I suspect that most of the remaining ones I have bookmarked -- enough to get us into January at least, at the current rate -- will almost certainly be easier, with a few that I'm sure will be identified almost instantly (the only reason I'll be doing those is basically that they look really cool from space).

So, anyway, I've updated this week's episode with a hint. Have a look. I'll post another hint tomorrow evening as well, just in case the thing is still unidentified!

Breaking the Ships

One of the unfortunate mainstays of Buffalo's outer waterfront the last bunch of years has been the presence of an old ship that basically got docked here and then forgotten about, as it rusted in its moorings for years and years. Well, that ship has finally been taken away, towed out of Buffalo's waters on its final voyage. Although the ship's fate is apparently now unclear, I suspect it will ultimately sail to the fabulous land of India, where it will likely end up in a place like this:



That's a shipbreaking yard on the coast of India, where decommissioned ships are literally run aground and then slowly dismantled by laborers. It can be very dangerous work, so let's hope that the former blight on Buffalo doesn't ultimately end someone's life when it reaches its ultimate destination.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sigh....

I've started experimenting lately with the writing of poetry. I'm not willing -- yet -- to post any of those efforts here, for two reasons: first, I'm not sure what I'm doing, and thus am not at all sure that I'm not producing total crap; and second, the subjects I am committing poetry about are more personal than I usually get in this space. I'm just noting a bit of conflict in my head about my desire to commit poetry. Part of me is thinking, "Cool, another way to write!", while another part is thinking, "Isn't there another way to deal with this stuff? Something involving a bottle made of brown glass, or perhaps a frontal lobotomy?"

On a parallel note, thank God for Youtube. I figured that by now, someone would have uploaded the greatest single scene in the entire run of The West Wing, and sure enough, someone finally did.


Wow, I miss Toby Ziegler.

Sentential Links #106

This week's linkage. Click, or an army of locusts will descend upon thee and pick thy bones clean! BWAA-HAA-HA-HA-HA!!!

:: In my dream I stop at those all-night cafes at two in the morning for pie and coffee before getting on the road again so that I can arrive at your house by dawn.

:: As an Olympic-level bullshit artist myself, I just have to give it up for a guy who created an entire make-believe field out of thin air and declared himself the leader in it. (My parents sent me to see a performance of Kreskin's back when I was in second grade. It was a terrific magic show. Even then I somehow sensed that it was all BS, but wow, what fun BS it was!)

:: They say all good things come to an end.... but I believe that really good things are never really gone for good. (Sorry, but I'm not replicating the typeface and color effects! Looks like an essay contest is in the offing. Check it out. This is a blog I never seem to read enough.)

:: There are many who will possibly have different interpretations to each and some who will even refute that this is actually what they mean, but still it's fun to read the stories and rumours circulating behind some of our favorite memories of oft-repeated rhymes from our childhood which we undoubtedly want to pass on to our kids. (Totally new blog to me.)

:: They rant from afar, while your quotidian Israeli has to live with his or her neighbors, however unsavory, for a helluva long time. That's why you talk to enemies sometimes gang, cuz it's a big, mean world out there, at least outside the fantasy world of 17th Street, where one can simply topple the Saddams and Bashars and Ahmadi-Nejad's, hand out the Federalist Papers to the rapturously grateful masses in the main square of the capital, and swiftly move on to the next scheduled gig.

:: I don't have much to say about this. I do want to mention that it falls into one of my favourite sub-categories of comics: Iron Man getting his ass handed to him. (Never much liked Iron Man. He struck me as a really butch version of C-3PO. [I know, Iron Man came first, but not in my world!])

:: The doors should be closed when the zombies come.

:: On the one hand, the last thing I want is to become the kind of blogger who throws a fit when commenters don’t recognize how special a snowflake the blogger is. On the other hand, the second to last thing I want is to become the kind of blogger who makes people say: “David, yeah, he’s pretty sharp and he knows a lot about a lot of stuff, but he’s got a weird bee in his bonnet about X, and when he starts going off about it you should probably just nod and smile and change the subject.” (Shit, I think I'm both of those!)

:: It an utterly epic sensation - a sense of standing on the slopes of a high mountain in Winter, the cold northern wind cutting you crosswise as you gaze intently into the wilderness valley that fills your vision below. It is a sense of warm fires, hoppy ale, and strong mirth on cool Balsam nights as one is encamped beside an old tree beneath a high forest canopy. It is that smell of earth, trees, and tobacco - each smell simultaneously commingled and distinct. It is the myriad of stars in the velvet midnight heights; it is the glowing lamps of Faƫrie disguised as fireflies. And it is the whisper of rain in the Verdant Seasons... (Another serendipitous blog discovery. I found it while Googling the exact wording of the brief passage at the very end of The Return of the King, when Frodo beholds "the far green country under a swift sunrise". Now, you're probably wondering, "Hey dummy, why didn't you just get up and walk ten feet and look up the passage yourself in one of your two copies of the actual book?!" Well, if I did that, I wouldn't have found this very nice-looking blog, now would I?)

:: Oh, dear Lord! You made many, many poor performers. I realize, of course, it's no shame to flub, but it's no great honor, either. So what would have been so terrible, if I had been given one good performance? (Ah, the bane of musicians and former musicians the world over. As one who's been there, the thing about soldiering on past a performance flub is something that one does get better at doing, through practice. Unfortunately, the only way to practice soldiering on past a flub is to, well, flub in performance.

A personal tale here: in my junior year of college, one of the works we performed on our band tour that year was Percy Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy [one of the great masterworks of band repertoire, and for my money, one of the great masterworks of music in general]. Well, in one of the inner movements -- I think either the fourth or fifth, but I couldn't say for sure without looking it up, which I'm too lazy to do just now -- there's a spot where the whole band builds to these massive, fortissimo chords that sound five times. Well, in performance, I once lost count of which blast of the chords we were on -- and sadly, I wasn't lucky enough to have overcounted, and thus put my trumpet down after what I thought was the last chord. No, I added an extra one, all to myself. In the middle of the brief silence that was written on the page, the glory of my own sound blazed forth. Never have I wanted to leave the stage less than I did at that moment, because I well knew what the main topic of discussion would be once the concert was over.

So if you're going to flub, make it a big one. The calamitous mistakes are the best -- and in some genres of music, no one in the audience is likely to notice.)

Well, that's all for this week. Until then, it's a jungle out there!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The stupid! It burns!!!

It's official, folks, and I can no longer deny it. I am a complete idiot, and am no longer fit to sully the doorsteps of Blogistan.

This is the Jason I had in mind, so if he has any interest in coming out of self-blog-exile, he can take those same questions and go with them. For the actual Jason who responded, I'll come up with some real questions tomorrow.

God, am I stupid. I deserve some kind of embarrassing punishment for this! Suggestions for punishments can be left in comments, I suppose, but keep it clean. We're still PG-13 here!

[slinks away, shoulders slumped]

Invisible Rope

These two guys are evil.

Now, if they'd pantomimed being yanked off their feet when the cars hit their invisible ropes....

Just let 'em work until their heads thud against their desks

Kevin Drum on the American unwillingness to take vacations:

Of course, I'm hardly one to talk. In theory, I agree with Ezra [Klein, who has a LA Times op-ed about this], and I would have preferred a job that paid 10% less but provided 10% more vacation. In reality, I rarely even used the two weeks of vacation I got. Partly this was because I was caught up in the work ethic feedback loop that's spiralled almost insanely out of control in America, but also, ironically enough, because I only got two weeks of vacation. So I hoarded it. You never know when you might need it, after all! Maybe if I'd gotten six weeks of vacation time I would have actually used more of it.

But I was hardly the worst. The really disheartening cases were the people I'd call into my office and practically order to go on vacation. They had accumulated, say, 300 hours of vacation time and weren't allowed to accumulate any more. Take a couple of weeks off, I'd urge. If you don't, you'll be working for free, burning through vacation hours you're no longer earning. Sometimes my exhortations worked, sometimes they didn't. Very sad.


Maybe I'm lazy, but I'm continually baffled by the American obsession with working freakish numbers of hours at the job, and the fact that we're so reluctant to take vacations (or to grant them to our workers). I've never seen the virtue in doing that much work. I even remember reading with some astonishment an article a few years back in the Buffalo News advising workers to take their laptops and cell phones with them on their vacations, so they could spend three or four hours a day making calls and answering e-mails and servicing accounts. What the hell's a vacation for, anyway?

I somehow suspect that there's some connection between our attitude toward vacation in this country and our tendency to take mental illness less seriously than physical illness. I'd try to do some connecting of the dots thereof, but I'm kind of tired right now. Maybe I need a vacation.

(Actually, that may not be a bad idea. Now that I think of it, aside from my sister-in-law's wedding back in July '05, over the last three years I haven't taken any significant time off from work that wasn't somehow related to the health problems and deaths of our attempts to increase our family size beyond three.)

Books: I read 'em

Some recent reading:

:: I was a bit disappointed in Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, by rock critic and Rolling Stone contributing editor Rob Sheffield. It's a good book, to be sure, but it just felt a bit off to me. In the book, Sheffield uses mix tapes as a staging device for describing his life during the 1990s; each chapter opens with a facsimile of those fill-in labels that come with the box for blank tape cassettes, with the titles all filled in with the songs on that particular tape.

What disappointed me about this one? In truth, I'm not entirely sure. It could be that I found the book slightly unfocused; it's not totally about the music, and it's not totally about the relationship, either. Both aspects of the book seemed to get shorted, for me. But more troublesome was the general pall that hangs over the entire book, since Sheffield tells us right up front that his wife Renee died of a pulmonary embolism, one of those meaningless deaths where you're going about your daily grind when suddenly it all ends and you're gone before you can hit the floor like a burlap bag filled with gravel.

I'm not trying to make light of Sheffield's horrific experience or the difficulty of his grieving, and I genuinely suspect that my feelings about Love is a Mix Tape stem from the fact that it didn't turn out to be the kind of book I was expecting, and given personal factors, it didn't turn out to be the kind of book I needed when I picked it up. So don't take this as a non-recommendation, because it isn't.

:: I mentioned him a couple of weeks back, but I'll say more about him now: Nick Bantock. A month or so ago, a dear friend of mine gave me a hand-made gift that instantly put me in mind of Bantock's Griffin and Sabine trilogy, and it not only occurred to me that I hadn't read Griffin and Sabine in a number of years, but that I hadn't read the follow-up Morningstar trilogy at all.

And then, a day or two after that thought occurred to me, I was in Borders and found four of the six books between the two trilogies on the "Bargain Book" stacks, each for $2.99. So I picked them up and bought the rest on eBay, over a week or two gathering a total of two copies of each trilogy: one for myself, and one for my friend whose birthday is next month. (Don't tell her.)

I love this series, I really do, and I think it's now to join Lord of the Rings and the books of Guy Gavriel Kay on my "To re-read in its entirety every few years" list. (I wait several years between re-reads to keep things fresh: there are still details in LOTR that catch me by surprise each time out.)

Griffin and Sabine and Morningstar are epistolary works, with their stories told entirely in the texts of letters and postcards mailed back and forth between the main characters. In the first book, Griffin and Sabine, English artist Griffin Moss receives an enigmatic postcard from Sabine Strohem, who is herself an artist who designs postage stamps for the tiny Pacific island nation of the Sicmons. Strangely, Sabine starts right off by referring to changes Griffin has made to a work of his that he hasn't shown to anyone. Right off the bat, this story is by turns mystical and sensuous.

I've never read anything quite like it -- especially seeing as how Bantock is himself a maker of art books. Instead of just printing the text of the postcards and letters, Bantock lets us handle the physical artefacts themselves. To read the letters, you actually have to remove them from their envelopes, which are glued to the pages. It sounds like a gimmicky device, but I loved the tactile sense not unlike reading a collection of love letters found in a dusty attic. Bantock is wise enough to give almost no narrative comment other than what's in the letters and postcards themselves. At times this makes the story a bit hard to follow, but really, this is at it should be. The reader has to fill in the blanks by imagination, which is the way it would be when one reads a collection of old letters, anyhow.

I've checked out a bunch of other Bantock titles from the library, and will report on them in due course. (When I read them, of course.)

:: Finally, I'd been meaning to read Bill Mauldin's Up Front for some years, which I own as part of the Library of America's amazing Reporting World War II collection, and I finally did so. What an amazing, stunning book. Seriously, I can't recommend this highly enough, for anyone who wants to know what life was like for the infantrymen of World War II, or for anyone who admires good war writing, for that matter. I'd be very interested to hear just how life for the infantrymen in Iraq today compares with that Mauldin describes for those of World War II, over sixty years ago. There's not much more to say than that, other than that I'm glad to have finally gotten to this one.

Where there's swill, there's a way

That may be the worst pun I've ever used in a blog post title, but anyway, I just happened across a website called Swillparty.com, which turns out to be a Buffalo/WNY site devoted to social wine tasting. Apparently SWILL is an acronym, standing for "Several Wine Imbibers Liking Libations".

They've got a wine blog (already bookmarked for the next update of the blogroll), and they've even come up with a nifty-looking kit for getting your own wine-tasting parties together, along with several other items of merchandise. So, if you're local and you're looking for wine-tasting stuff, keep your money local and buy from them. And if you're not local, buy from them anyway, because your locality doesn't need the money as much as Western New York does! I'm not quite the wine drinker I used to be -- beer, rum (Spum! Vrum!), and Southern Comfort are my poisons of choice these days, although I do enjoy wine and I've got a half-bottle (or whatever the technical term is for a 375-ml bottle) of Sauternes that I'm keeping for consumption when I make my first professional fiction sale. (Although at the rate I'm going, that bottle will be too valuable to drink when that day comes....)

I found this site, incidentally, by exercising an old online pseudo-hobby of mine, namely, Googling names of people I've gone to school with. Turns out that the founding SWILLer, Anne Conroy-Baiter, is one of those old friends with whom I lost touch years ago. (It also turns out that she's apparently quite the watercolorist, which is something I don't recall knowing about her at all from high school. I could really learn to like this Interweb thingie!

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Okay now....

:: I'm torn. Part of me actually wants to see what my cats would be like on distilled essence of catnip, while the other part of me is terrified at that same prospect, since said cats are (a) big lummoxes, and (b) barely smarter than chickens.

:: Bicycle chandelier.

:: Huh-whuh?!

Police on Capitol Hill are baffled by an attempted robbery that began with a handgun put to the head of a teenager and ended in a group hug.


:: Oh, how I wish this was how For Better or For Worse was really going!

A pretty good week for weirdness on the Web, I'd say. Let's keep it up, folks!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Yippee-kiyay....

I just e-mailed this to a friend, but I figure it warrants posting here too: via Michael May's Adventureblog, I see Ten reasons why John McClane is more bad-ass than Optimus Prime.

Well, duh. I think the real question is, who's more bad-ass: John McClane or Jack Bauer? For instance, John McClane never has to torture anybody, and while he might be racing against time, he never seems all angsty about it the way Bauer does -- I mean, Bauer's always barking to somebody about how "he's running out of time", whereas McClane just keeps chuggin' along, making one wisecrack after another.

How about you all, folks? Terrorists are gonna do some really bad stuff, so who do you want after them: McClane or Bauer?

Dumb Question Time

OK, I keep forgetting that I have an account on that Facebook thingie, so I've just done some actual editing of my profile over there, here. So far so good, but is there a way to find people who marked me as a friend? I got an e-mail about someone doing this a while back, but at the time I didn't have time to reciprocate and then I must have stupidly deleted the e-mail because I can't find it anywhere.

Anyway, as social network sites go, I think Facebook's a lot nicer than MySpace. Too much looking at MySpace sites makes me have seizures.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Let's here it for Pennsylvania!

Pennsylvania passes a law protecting the right to breastfeed in public. Wow -- ditching Santorum, now this! Good on them!

(Via PSoTD, who coins the term "feed-o-phobes" to refer to people who are against public breastfeeding. Nice word.)

UPDATE: GAHHH!!!

Yes, in the title of this post, I used "here" when I meant "hear". This is because I wrote the post in about nine seconds when I was tired, and these days, I'm seemingly morphing into something of an idiot.

But hey, making these kinds of errors has never stood in Matthew Yglesias's road to blogging fame and fortune, so maybe I'll start making moor mistakes of the homonymic variety.

Unidentified Earth 10

[Updated with a hint.]

[Updated again.]

Somehow I totally forgot to do this last night, since this is a Thursday feature. Sorry, faithful readers! Just a good old fashioned dropping-of-the-ball on that one.

First, I've decided that closing comments and having guesses e-mailed to me isn't that great, so I'm reverting to comments. I would like to impose one rule, though: When leaving a guess, please use this widget to convert your guesses and answers into rot-13. That way, the comments won't spoil it for anyone who's looking to comment while still trying to figure it out for themselves. I think that will work. If anyone comments without using rot-13, I may delete that comment, but when doing so, I will convert it to rot-13 myself and repost it, identifying the original poster so that it won't be like the entire comment is scrubbed forever from the blog. Let's see how that works.

Second, last week's answer. I received two correct replies, so those of you who got it -- you know who you are -- can award yourself five thousand Quatloo's. The image was of the Millau Viaduct in France, which is the world's tallest vehicular bridge. What's cool about the image I used is that the Viaduct wasn't completed; only the very tall concrete support pylons are in place, which can be made out sharply standing upright and casting long, straight shadows on the valley floor. Congrats to the winners! Don't spend all your Quatloos in one place.

And now for this week's stumper:



Where are we?

(Remember to rot-13 your answers!)

UPDATE I, 7-17-07: Here's the first hint. This location figured prominently in a movie.

UPDATE II, 7-19-07: Here's the second hint: The movie came out in 1969.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

You [beep] donkey!!!

Anyone else out there love Hell's Kitchen as much as I do? I think that show is unbelievably hilarious -- the blend of The Apprentice with a cooking show is terrific, especially since Chef Gordon Ramsay seemingly alternates between exactly three moods: calm and playful when he's being a "civilian", mild haughty disdain when he's being a chef, and -- most amusingly -- over-the-top, profanity-laced rage when he's being the chef.

Interestingly, I don't think the show would play so well if we were hearing Ramsay's unexpurgated curse words, epithets, expletives, and use of "f***" as punctuation. The censoring beep actually seems to make things funnier, when he'll utter a sentence that includes four or five beeps.

Anyway, here's a long video of highlights from Season Two of HK, with some very funny stuff (like his immortal "You donkey!", when the inept Giacomo can't figure out that the oven isn't working because he turned the gas off). My favorite Gordon Ramsay moment, however, comes at the beginning of this short video, when he gets so worked up that his voice actually breaks on the word "nonstick".

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A generic shout-out

A while back, my blog-friend Belladonna decided that she was going to substantially reduce her blogging activity, which made me sad; but lately she's writing all kinds of interesting posts along the lines of pure personal blogging. Check her out!

Maybe Alpha Centauri is getting brighter???

The Sun isn't causing global warming.

Of course, none of this matters because there's one glacier that's getting bigger and Al Gore doesn't live in a cave.

(Via)

The Interview Meme! Answers trickling in!

The first answers are in from my questions on the Interview Meme: Lynn, Laura, Dave, Tosy and Cosh, and TeflonJedi. Everyone else, your questions await in the comments to that very first post linked above, so grab 'em!

(And if anyone else wants five questions, I'll still entertain any late-comers. Such is my devotion to the great Interview Meme!)

UPDATE: Minutes after I published, I saw that Two Write Hands has answered as well.

Technology! Whiskey! Sexy!

Roger had a list the other day of technologies that USA Today touted as the most important to come along since 1982, and he gave his opinions/thoughts on each entry. I figured, hey, why not do the same!

1. Cellphones

Don't have one. Someday I'm sure I'll get one, because there really is some convenience there, but I'm in no hurry. Plus, for all their usefulness, they're also too damned everywhere and they seem to turn otherwise-normal people into rude boors who think that their own personal connectivity to anyone and everyone is more important than being polite to people who are physically there. (And I have no interest at all in the iPhone. In fact, that one iPhone commercial that starts with "Suppose you're watching Pirates of the Caribbean...." actually annoys me. I can't take seriously the thought that watching movies on a screen the size of an index card is now supposed to be a good thing.)

2. Laptops

I plan to buy one sometime in the next few months -- probably September. I just want to be able to write at my desk, as opposed to the family computer table, or to actually take the thing out to do some writing. I love to write in cafes and such places; cacophony and people-watching juice my creativity.

3. Blackberrys

You know, I don't get the Blackberry, and I'm not even sure what the hell it does. Seems like a combination phone-and-palm pilot thing. No need for one at all.

4. Debit cards

Cool thing, but I don't have one.

5. Caller ID

Meh. I grant its usefulness, but for me, it's not that important, since we don't answer the phone anyway.

6. DVDs

I love the DVD. I love them more than kittens. And I, for one, am flummoxed at the idea that we need a new and better format already.

7. Lithium rechargeable batteries

I like rechargeable batteries. They're neat. What else to say?

8. IPods

I don't own one. I suppose I'll get some kind of digital music player someday, but it's just not a priority. The CD is fine for me.

9. Pay at the pump

This is certainly useful, even though I pay with cash for my gas almost exclusively.

10. Lettuce in a bag

Now we're talking! I hate chopping lettuce, but I love being able to have a tasty salad in seconds.

11. Digital cameras

I love the digital camera. I love being able to make my own prints, to get photos directly onto the Web and the blog, and so on. (Note to self: Get off thy arse and pony up for a pro account at Flickr.)

12. Doppler radar

I suppose, although sometimes I think that the only reason it was invented was to give TV news shows an opportunity to do some masturbatory advertising: "You saw the approach storm FIRST on Channel 2' LiveDopplerTwoThousand!"

13. Flat-panel TVs

Yup, I'd love one. Our current computer monitor is actually a flatscreen, and the first time I watched a DVD on the computer, I was astonished at how much more movies look like movies on the flatscreen LCD monitor than on my standard cathode-ray-tube teevee. It'll be a while before we get one, though -- maybe whenever it is in the next couple of years when the TV signals go all-digital.

14. Electronic tolls

Sorry, but screw the tolls. Seriously. Especially here in New York, where tolls go to provide funding for the "Thruway Authority", a governmental body whose only job is to oversee the New York State Thruway. What is so damned special, though, about I-90 in New York that it requires an entire bureaucracy of its own?! I'd just ditch the Thruway Authority and just turn I-90 over to the Department of Transportation.

15. PowerPoint

Really? This is the Wonder Bread of technological innovations. It's everywhere, and yet I can't tell where it's made anything better. I've been in on many a potentially-fascinating lecture that, distilled to a series of slides on a computer, became "Meh".

16. Microwave popcorn

I confess: I love microwave popcorn. I also love regular popcorn, but I almost never pop it the right way anymore. (By the way: the best traditional corn popper I've ever discovered is the Chinese wok. Works better than those electric corn poppers. And air-popped popcorn is the tool of the Devil.)

17. High tech footwear

What is high-tech footwear? Scientifically-designed Air Jordans? I'm a Birkenstocks-and-overalls type, and I buy my shoes at Target and Payless.

18. Online stock trading

Sure. Because the world needed a way to take capitalism and give it a stiff shot of meth.

19. Big Bertha golf clubs

I don't know a thing about these, but if they help me putt my ball past the big windmill on Hole Six, bring 'em on!

20. Disposable contact lenses

I don't wear contacts. My glasses are only necessary for reading and computer stuff, so these have no effect on me at all.

21. StairMaster

Meh. For this kind of thing, I prefer a treadmill with a programmable hill-resistance thingy. (I've actually been doing a lot of walking lately, because I've decided that I've backslid on my health long enough. I take the personal CD player and hit the road for an hour, most days. No idea if I've lost any weight yet, but time will tell when my clothes start feeling looser.)

22. Tivo

No opinion whatsoever. Don't have it, no plans to get it anytime in the foreseeable future. Sounds cool, but so do lots of things.

23. Purell

I like liquid hand soaps just from the neatness angle -- no bar of soap oozing all over a soapdish on the bathroom counter -- but I don't much care about the anti-germ thing. The idea is to get germs off your hands entirely, after all, so bar soap works fine for that.

24. Home satellite TV

Heh. We're using rabbit-ears.

25. Karaoke

Huh? This is better than the compact disc? I had some fun times at a karaoke bar in college (never sang myself), but come on. The CD made music sound so great, and setting aside all the crap about record companies charging absurd prices for them, the CD is terrific. I still have the first CD I ever owned (Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie), and it still sounds great. Since I got my first CD player for Christmas in 1988, with that disc being one of several my parents threw in to the package, that means I've owned that disc for eighteen-and-a-half years. Will MP3's still be the way we're listening to music in 2025? Somehow I doubt it.

What about widespread GPS technology? Or the friggin' World Wide Web? Yeah, the bones of the Internet existed before 1982, but not the Web. And I'd cite digital visual effects in movies. Lots of people complain about rampant CGI in movies, but frankly, the crap-to-goodness ratio back in the days when effects were models and matte paintings probably wasn't any less than it is now.

Thoughts?

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Interview Meme, yet again!

All those of you who requested questions for The Great Interview Meme will find your questions posted in the comments on that post! Get thee hence!

And if anyone else wants questions, you can still volunteer. I love the Five Questions game!

Great picture posts!

Do you feel lucky?

Sentential Links #105

105, eh? Just out of curiosity, I wonder what nifty roads might carry the number 105...and this one in Nova Scotia sounds pretty.

Anyway, here are this week's links. Click them, lest they spoil.

:: I’ve been asked to leave Los Angeles. The iPhone has been out for over three days now and I don’t have one yet. In this town that’s unacceptable. (Thankfully, we in Buffalo aren't so militant about such things. I'm sure the iPhone will take off here eventually, but not until Apple figures out a way to make it safe from pizza sauce and chicken-wing grease.)

:: It’s also a fact that this issue was at first denied by such politicians; they said global warming didn’t exist (Inhofe called it a "hoax"). Under relentless pressure from scientists and other reality-based people, these guys have finally admitted that yes, GW exists. Now, of course, they are trying to lay blame anywhere but on the corporations that pay them so handsomely.

:: This just may be the most perfectly Canadian bank robbery of all time.

:: I mean, I'd like to save the planet, too. It's a big issue with me; I think our spotty enviornmentalism and our feet-dragging on global warming are the worst of the problems facing us as denizens of Earth. But it's been over 20 years since Live Aid, and we still think concerts can save the world?

:: I can’t really be the poster child for honest atheism anymore, but I probably never should have been.

:: Therefore, be it known that I am declaring today, June 28, the first annual day of retribution for all that binks, buzzes and jams.

:: Nothing in all art is as painful as unsuccessful originality. (Ah, Carl Nielsen. I need to listen to his symphonies again.)

:: In fact, my very first exposure to the genre was back in 1977, when for some unknown reason the marketing department of 20th Century Fox felt that using misleading imagery on the posters for Star Wars (when it was just Star Wars and none of this "Episode 4" retconning) was a good idea, and so in one poster we got a reasonably accurate depiction of the main characters both in looks/costume and mannerisms, and in the other we got a painting which not only had to cut off Leia's sleeves and collar and scoop the neckline down towards her navel, but also to dislocate her femur in order to make her leg stick sexily out of the newly-slashed side of her dress, and stretch her shinbones like taffy.

:: Art is a product of plying one's craft. That's why someone can look at an overall shitty piece of art and say, "Look at the craftsmanship." (I've never understood the difference between "art" and "craft", except that it always struck me as a handy way for people to denigrate something they didn't like. I ran into this all the time on rec.music.movies: "Miklos Rosza was a great artist, while John Williams is just a very good craftsman!" But anyway.)

:: In the long run, reducing the tolerance for al-Qaeda and likeminded jihadist groups in the Middle East is the only way we'll ever permanently reduce the threat of Islamic terrorism. This — not military action — should be the single most important guiding principle of our foreign policy. Maybe starting in January 2009 it will be. (Amen.)

All for this week.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Oy.

Observation: If you need some help in figuring out just why Shakespeare was a SGF*, just try writing a sonnet sometime -- and then reflect that he wrote over 140 of 'em, and they're all perfect, whereas yours is...not.

* SGF = "Super Genius Freak".

Will he finally become Totally Headless Nick?

Well, we're about two weeks out from the massive THUD of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I will of course buy on day one and read as quickly as I can. I actually haven't re-read any of the previous volumes yet, but I suppose I will sometime once the series is complete. So, since I'm not totally "up" on my Potter-verse mythology, I'm not equipped to speculate a lot on what's going to happen.

However, I will note that I'm keenly interested in seeing how two specific characters -- well, groupings of characters, anyway -- ultimately fit into the story. Sure, I want to know if Harry dies and what happens to Ron and Hermione and Hagrid and so on, but the two supporting-cast character arcs that most interest me are Neville Longbottom's and the Dursley family's. Neville's got to have some important task to accomplish -- maybe he's the next Dumbledore! -- and I can't fathom that JK Rowling has kept the Durleys around just to have them be irrelevant in the end.

Oh yeah, and Peter Pettigrew's life-debt to Harry Potter needs to come into play at some point, I suppose.

And here's a question: I wonder if Rowling will ever write another word after this.

Harsh Mistress

Robert A. Heinlein yesterday proved that he is still Science Fiction's Biggest Jerk of All Time by electing to stay dead, rather than participate in the celebrations of his one hundredth birthday. Way to go, RAH. Jerk.

Anyhoo, SF Signal has a slew of RAH links. I've got to read more Heinlein one of these years. I've read a bunch of his short fiction, but none of his novels. (I started The Moon is a Harsh Mistress a few years back and bounced off it.)

Happy Birthday, RAH.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddity abounds....

:: Sitting on a car airbag and setting it off. I have this feeling that if the very last human being to ever die is a male, his last words -- and thus the final words of our once-promising species -- will be some variant of "Hey, watch this!"

:: You know those "Mr. Wizard" style energy gadgets that you see in science museums? The ones that generate sparks of electricity that arc right through thin air? Well, in Russia, they once built some really big versions of those gadgets. How big? Really big. As in, "towering over the trees" big.

:: Someone crafted a hand-made Cthulhu chess set. I love it! (Note to self: get an Omega Chess set some day.)

Tune in next week for more prime weirdness.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Very Public Service Message

For folks attending A Taste of Buffalo this weekend, two key points:

:: Each booth serves, at most, three or four different things, and that's it. So if you wait in a line for more than, oh, one minute -- and exactly zero booths at ToB have wait-times less than that -- then there's absolutely no reason why you can't know what you're ordering by the time your turn comes up. So, please oh please, don't stand in line with two other people, and then when your turn arrives, turn to your cohorts and say, "So what do you guys want from here?"

:: You may have noticed some fairly large numbers of people clustered around you, especially in the food lines. So once you get an item from a booth, please oh please go somewhere else to eat it. Do not simply move all of four feet from the counter and then stand right there to chow down. Now that ToB is on Delaware and Niagara Square, there is absolutely no shortage of places to slip away while you eat such that you won't be in the way of the other people coming behind you in line.

:: If you're in line for some booth, and it's getting very close to your turn, then please oh please do not then cluster closely around the poor soul in front of you who's just grabbed his or her food and is only looking to get out of the way. Let them out.

Please oh please.

Thank you.

The Interview Meme, in progress....

For those who volunteered to receive five questions from me for the great interview meme-thing, I'll be generating those over the weekend and will send them out on Monday. If anyone else wants in, just leave the comment there (or here). And since this is a reciprocal thing, I may ask a few of you to hit me with five questions as well.

Earth?

I've only received one guess as to this week's Unidentified Earth location. Is this one actually hard (unlikely), or are there readers sitting on the correct answer but feel hinky about e-mailing me with it (more likely)? Fret not, readers; I won't broadcast e-mail addresses or sell them to spammers!

More Book Notes

Another quiz thing, this one about books, filched from Paul:

Recommend 3 books you believe everyone needs to read and say why people should read them.

The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Simply put, his finest novel yet, and a stunning and heartbreaking romance. (But as I've noted before, you have to read it twice. The second time out, when you know what's coming, what was interesting before becomes shattering.)

A Gentle Madness, by Nicholas Basbanes, if only to give yourself an excuse to keep acquiring books (because there's no way you're as bad as the truly odd book collectors he writes about).

The Lord of the Rings, by JRRT. Just because. And don't give me that "All they do is walk places" hooey. If you can read Robert Jordan or George RR Martin, you can certainly get through LOTR.

Bonus pick: The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck.

Name three books you’ve never been able to finish and explain why.

OK, time for my annual admission of failure to get through The Brothers Karamazov. But I swear, by all the Gods above and some of the ones below, that I will not depart this earth until I've read this thing. Dostoyevsky will not be my undoing.

Neuromancer by William Gibson. I tried to read this at least four times in the 1990s, so badly did I want to get into cyberpunk. Life got better when I finally realized that I just didn't like cyberpunk all that much. (I also bounced off a number of other cyberpunk novels, some by Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling. Neal Stephenson, I can deal with, just because he's more funny than dystopic. To this day I've only finished one Gibson novel, Virtual Light. And I hated the Gibson/Sterling collaboration The Difference Engine.)

Let's see, what else? There really aren't too many books that I've "never" been able to finish. I've "bounced off" tons of books, which I always see more as a sign that I'm just not in the mood for that particular book at that particular time than a sign that I'm simply not meant to really read it. Some I come back to later on and get through, while some I simply never pick up again. Maybe The Silmarillion, but then, I don't think I've made an attempt to really read that one since I was in high school, and that just doesn't count.

My glacial reading of the Bible proceeds apace, I should report. I read a tiny portion of it when the mood strikes me. I'm still in the midst of Genesis. I find myself alternating between awe at the beautiful majesty of the Bible's poetic constructions, and stunned disbelief that some of it gets taken seriously at all. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah just struck me as absurd: that these guys all come to Lot's house and demand that he hand over the angel he's just taken in so they can have carnal relations with him, and Lot's response is that apparently the idea of homosexual action is so repugnant that handing over his daughters for carnal action is preferable. I read that whole passage, and I kept thinking, "Ummm...sure. Right."

Name three books you want to read, but haven’t yet.

Just three? Ha! How about three entire authors? Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jane Austen.

But OK, the question asks for titles. I'd like to read Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon), Infinite Jest (Wallace), and The Tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu).

Are there any books that you’ve loved, but been disappointed by the film/TV adaptation?

Actually, not really. Movies, after all, aren't books, and movies have storytelling strengths that books don't, and vice versa. I don't normally read a book and then say, "Wow, can't wait to see that on the big screen!" Lots of bad movies result from good books, lots of good movies come from good books, and so on. Heck, sometimes you'll even find good movies from bad books (The Bridges of Madison County).

Which books (apart from the Potter books) do you re-read the most?

Not sure why the quiz specifies the Potter books, but I don't tend to do a whole lot of cover-to-cover re-reading. I do, however, engage in lots of "dipping" into favorites, revisiting old passages and episodes I liked a lot. For actual re-reading, the usual suspects apply: Lord of the Rings, the books of Guy Gavriel Kay (I'm actually due to re-read a number of these; it's over five years since I've been through Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, The Sarantine Mosaic, and four years since The Last Light of the Sun), and the books of Lloyd Alexander.

Which books do you remember most from your childhood?

Pretty sure I've answered this question many a time, but Lloyd Alexander's Prydain and Westmark series; the gothic horror stories of John Bellairs; the real-world tales of Betsy Byars. Robert Cormier was also a good one -- his were the first books I read that contained large doses of moral ambiguity, and his Fade is a genuinely unnerving supernatural story.

Are there any books that you are proud to say you have read?

"Proud"? I'm not sure that's quite the word. I'm tickled to have read The Three Musketeers, and I feel like I'm aging into some of the great books of our collective past, but I don't feel proud of that. I'm proud of what I've written, but I'm fortunate to have read what I've read. For the most part, anyway.

Are there any books that you are ashamed to admit reading?

Similarly, I'm never ashamed of my reading. There are books that I wish I'd not read in favor of something else -- I believe I've mentioned my tenth grade English teacher before, the one who made us read Ordinary People while the other classes were reading Mark Twain. (I've never forgiven that teacher for this.) Hell, I don't even wish I hadn't read Ayn Rand -- in fact, I'm glad that I made it through her ghastly prose and appalling pseudo-philosophy with my personality intact.

Of course, if this question's merely asking about "guilty pleasures", I suppose I can impugn my own literary credibility forever by simply making this admission: I still like Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Are there any books that have had a big emotional impact on you? List 2.

Well, in 1994 I figured I was a sophisticated enough reader that I would likely never be moved to tears by a book again. And then I picked up GGK's Fionavar Tapestry. Every time I read that thing, I sob like a little girl. In fact, when I re-read it now, since I know the story so well, I tend to set it aside when I'm coming up on a passage that I know has that effect on me until I'm alone, so I can wallow in my teary blubbering.

On the flip side of the coin, laughter's also an emotion, and there's nothing like a good Christopher Moore book for that. Fluke and Island of the Sequined Love Nun are my favorites here. (Note to self: your copy of You Suck: A Love Story is still unread.)

I know it said to list two, but I've gone this whole post without mentioning Carl Sagan's Cosmos, so here it is. No book has ever given me the sense of wonder that this book does.

This is a non-tagging quiz, by the way, so grab it if you want it.