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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

De-rez!

SamuraiFrog points this out: a very well-made trailer for the movie TRON, the original 1982 classic, using only footage from the movie but edited in the style of trailers these days:



Compare with the actual original trailer from 1982:



Trailers have sure come a long way, haven't they?

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Brownies: with walnuts in them, or without?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

IDOL Redux

I don't know if I'll do this each week out, but here are all of the things I posted to Facebook while this week's American Idol performance show was in progress:

1. Time for IDOL! Which means three minutes of Awesome (Crystal) surrounded by generous helpings of Meh, with a couple of nice-sized dollops of FAIL.

2. Siobhan: Why is she good, again? Because all I hear is a damn screeching machine. Bleccchhh.

3. Casey James: Way better than Siobhan. His eterni-grin is a bit distracting, and this song is exactly vocally demanding. This guy isn't made to sing the kind of stuff an Idol winner has to sing, though.

4. Michael: Huh. I liked that performance a lot. Good job for him.

5. Didi: Now, there's the Meh.

6. Ahhhh, Tim is singing now. And somewhere in America, Lilly Scott just emptied a revolver into her teevee.

7. Andrew seems to have found some of his mojo again. This is actually a pretty good performance after he was staggeringly awful last week.

8. Katie: Meh. (But to be fair, I've never been a big fan of this song, so it would have to be an extraordinary performance to trip my trigger. I guess she's doing OK with it.)

9. HEY IDOL JUDGES: Great songs are great songs. Screw the "Do something contemporary" nonsense.

10. Lee: I didn't think he was as good as the judges do, but he was pretty good. This episode has been the most enjoyable of this season. Only two Meh's and one disaster thus far!

11. Crystal: Yeah, that's the stuff! (And Randy? Nobody gives a shit if you like the outfit. Shut the f*** up about what everybody's wearing.)

12. Every time I see Aaron, I have flashbacks to the first season of "Malcolm in the Middle". And he's got his hair in a faux-hawk. And he's not that good a singer. Meh!

13. Flip a coin: Didi or Tim should go.


Why Randy Jackson feels the need to comment on everybody's clothes is beyond me. I also tire of Kara Dioguardi's tendency to say stuff; the show would be better served if the camera just panned past her. And I'm really tired of hearing judges tell contestants that they should do something "more contemporary" or that what they did is "old-fashioned".

Anyhow, there it is. This season has so far been a lot less good than previous years, because the singers have been awfully mediocre. But this week's show was better than it's been thus far.

Welcome to Earth!

I see at AICN that a sequel or two to Independence Day may be in the works. Such a project has long been rumored; this has been on-again, off-again ever since the original movie came out in 1996 and did lots of business. I actually loved ID4 and I still think it's just amazingly fun to watch (note to self: show ID4 to the kid), even though its plot doesn't make one bit of sense, even before Jeff Goldblum defeats the aliens with his Macintosh Powerbook.

Of course, that makes you wonder how the sequel would go:

ALIENS: We're back, Earthlings! Bwaaa-haa-hahahaha!

JEFF GOLDBLUM: Oh, you guys again. Take this!

Jeff pulls out his iPhone and dances his fingers across its touchscreen for all of five seconds. Almost immediately the alien ships start dropping out of the sky like flies.

ALIENS: SSSHHHIIITTT....


But I digress. While reading the news item quoted on AICN, something stood out for me:

IESB has received a tip that Will Smith is now locked for not only Independence Day 2, but also a third installment. The plan would be to shoot both films back-to-back. Whether the studio opts to go the Matrix route and release the two films six months apart or do like the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and split them by a year remains to be seen. According to our sources, if all goes according to plan, the sequel(s) could shoot as early as 2011.

This would be Emmerich's next directorial endeavor after his William Shakespeare thriller Anonymous. This would also come after Will Smith's next (which will be either The City That Sailed or Men in Black 3). So this wouldn't interfere with those projects.


Did you catch that?

This would be Emmerich's next directorial endeavor after his William Shakespeare thriller Anonymous. This would also come after Will Smith's next (which will be either The City That Sailed or Men in Black 3). So this wouldn't interfere with those projects.


Wait...what? A William Shakespeare thriller? As in, the Bard as some kind of action hero?

Huh-whuh?!

Fixing the Prequels: Attack of the Clones (part 11)



part ten
part nine
part eight
part seven
part six
part five
part four
part three
part two
part one


Lengthy entry this time, folks!

Jumping back into our exhaustive look at Attack of the Clones, when last we left our Star Warriors in action, Anakin Skywalker was going off to try and rescue his mother from the sandpeople and Obi Wan Kenobi was following leads on Geonosis, having just followed Jango Fett and his little boy Boba there.

As we left off with Anakin, we start with Obi Wan. I noted that the cut from Tatooine to Geonosis is kind of awkwardly done, and it is: it's not clear until we look at the scene we're watching that we've switched planets at all. But anyway, Obi Wan wanders into a cave which turns out to lead to a corridor through which he finds an immense automated factory, building armies of battle droids.

In the script, there's a deleted bit that has Obi Wan picking his way along a cliff when he is attacked by a couple of local creatures (dog-sized lizards); after dispatching these with his lightsaber, he finds himself overlooking the wide plain on which a hundred Federation starships are landed. As he watches through his macrobinoculars, thousands of battle droids are boarding the ships. Would I include this? I'm tempted, but it might not really add much to the proceedings. The subsequent material establishes what's going on in the droid foundries of Geonosis: the construction of armies for a war that hasn't begun yet. Maybe I'd include it, maybe not. It sounds cool, at least.

Next, after seeing the droids being built, Obi Wan happens upon Count Dooku himself, walking with some of his co-conspirators. In the finished film, this is the first time we see Dooku, but remember, in my re-imagining, we've already seen him a couple of times via news reports that showed him inciting star systems to secession from the Republic. I like all of this scene as filmed, except for one little thing: an odd moment when the representative of the "Techno Union" has to stop mid-sentence and adjust his own volume knob. I didn't understand what George Lucas was doing there.

As seems to be the case in nearly every scene in this movie, there's interesting stuff in the original script that wasn't in the movie as released. Here's the conversation that Obi Wan overhears, with the stuff not in the movie in red:

INTERIOR: GEONOSIS, CENTRAL SQUARE – MORNING

OBI-WAN arrives at a vast expanse in the stalagmite interior. Immense pillars, soaring Gaudi-Gothic arches, vaulted roofs. The huge space is deserted – completely silent.

OBI-WAN starts to cross the square. Suddenly he hears voices.

He darts behind a pillar as POGGLE THE LESSER (Archduke of Geonosis), his aide, SUN FAC, COUNT DOOKU and NUTE GUNRAY approach, closely followed by PASSEL ARGENTE and WAT
TAMBOR. COUNT DOOKU is tall, elderly, and saturnine, with beautiful manners. OBI-WAN flattens himself against the pillar as they pass by.


COUNT DOOKU: Now, we must persuade the Commerce Guild and the Corporate Alliance to sign the treaty.

NUTE GUNRAY: What about the Senator from Naboo? Is she dead yet? I'm not signing your treaty until I have her head on my desk.

COUNT DOOKU: I am a man of my word, Viceroy.

POGGLE: With these new Battle Droids we've built for you, Viceroy, you'll have the finest army in the galaxy.

They move out of earshot. OBI-WAN peers around the pillar to see them going through an archway on the far side of the courtyard. There is a flight of stairs beside it.

OBI-WAN arrives at the stairs. He sneaks up them, to arrive at a narrow gothic archway. He looks down through it.


INTERIOR: GEONOSIS, CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY

POGGLE THE LESSER and his TWO AIDES are at one end of a large round conference table.

COUNT DOOKU: Now is the time, my friends. This is the moment when you have to decide between the Republic or the Confederacy of Independent Systems.

COUNT DOOKU is at the head of the table. JANGO FETT stands behind his chair.

In addition to the original group, there are also THREE OPPOSITION SENATORS: PO NUDO, TESSEK and TOONBUCK TOORA, and a COMMERCE GUILD DIGNITARY; SHU MAI and a MEMBER of the INTERGALACTIC BANK CLAN, SAN HILL.


COUNT DOOKU: As I explained to you earlier, I'm quite convinced that ten thousand more systems will rally to our cause with your support, gentlemen. And let me remind you
of our absolute commitment to capitalism... of the lower taxes, the reduced tariffs, and the eventual abolition of all trade barriers. Signing this treaty will bring you profits beyond your wildest imagination. What we are proposing is completely free trade.
(looks at Nute) Our
friends in the Trade Federation have pledged their support. When their Battle Droids are combined with yours, we shall have an army greater than anything in the galaxy, The Jedi will be overwhelmed. The Republic will agree to any demands me make.

PASSEL ARGENTE, the Corporate Alliance Representative.

PASSEL ARGENTE: I am authorized by the Corporate Alliance to sign the treaty.

COUNT DOOKU: We are most grateful for your cooperation, Chairman.

SHU MAI, the Commerce Guild Representative.

SHU MAI: The Commerce Guilds do not at this time wish to become openly involved, But we shall support you in secret - and look forward to doing business with you.

There are chuckles around the table. COUNT DOOKU smiles.

COUNT DOOKU: That is all we ask.


SAN HILL, the banker.

SAN HILL: The Intergalactic Banking Clan will support you wholeheartedly, but only in a non-exclusive arrangement.

WAT TAMBOR, the Techno Union representative.

WAT TAMBOR: The Techno Unions are at your disposal, Count.


That stuff about capitalism is pretty interesting. This could be read as George Lucas associating capitalism with evil, or a more nuanced view might suggest that it's not unusual for capitalists to be used as tools for warmongers. "Come with us and you'll make tons of money!" is a refrain you'll see throughout virtually all of history.

Interestingly, the promise of free trade actually has some precedent in Star Wars, in a pretty cool way. Obviously we know that Sith promises aren't to be trusted. Maybe they'll have "completely free trade", maybe they won't – but way back in A New Hope, there were some scenes famously deleted from the final cut of the film involving Luke Skywalker's daily life on Tatooine. His buddy Biggs has come back to visit, and tells him that he's actually going to be joining the Rebellion. One of the reasons he cites is that the Empire "is already starting to nationalize commerce in the central systems". Maybe the promise of free trade was made, and only broken twenty years later once the Emperor felt that his power was consolidated enough? The Original Trilogy abounds in little details that suggest that the Empire isn't the all-encompassing, all-powerful entity that some seem to assume it is.

Anyway, in this scene Obi Wan realizes that Count Dooku is not some idealistic politician leading a separatist movement; he's a schemer who is planning a war. He hasn't connected all the dots yet, though, and discovered that Dooku is now a Sith.

At this point we cut back to Anakin, who has found the Tusken Raider encampment. He looks over the camp from a high rise in a shot that is a direct homage to The Searchers, the obvious inspiration for this entire storyline. Anakin drops off the cliff, down to the village, in a shot that openly suggests that Anakin's fall from grace is now in progress. Anakin makes his way through the sleepy Tusken Raider encampment until he finds the tent his mother is in. This is all done...well, I hate to say it because for the most part this part of the movie is really well-done, but this little but is done with almost no attention to detail. We don't see Anakin actually looking for his mother in various tents; we don't see him reaching out with The Force to see if he can sense her presence. No, Anakin just walks up to a particular tent and then uses his lightsaber to cut his way in. (Bringing up another question: why didn't he just go in the front? Is it a tent with multiple chambers, one of which is full of Sandpeople? I'm reminded of the scene in Superman II when the supervillains make their way into the Daily Planet building by smashing their way in and leaving destruction in their wake, when lex Luthor follows them by walking through doors and commenting, "All those powers and they can't use a doorknob.") And it always seems weird that most times, lightsabers make that wonderful loud hum when they're in use – except in this scene, when the blade is almost totally silent so as to avoid waking up the Sandpeople.

I don't want to make a huge deal of all this, but again it shows what I think tends to work against George Lucas: his unflagging desire to get on with it, keep things moving, et cetera. Motion doesn't always equal mood, but to Lucas, often it does.

But anyway, Anakin finds his mother. She's in rough shape, tied to a beam and looking very out of it. Anakin unties her and cradles her, but it's pretty clear on his face that he already sees that he's too late. Hayden Christensen did a really good job with this scene, as did Pernilla August as Shmi. The little touch that stands out is when Anakin starts to say something like "Everything's going to be all right", but he can only stammer out the first couple of words before he stops and makes a face that shows that he knows it's not. Shmi tries to tell him that she loves him, but she dies before she can get the words out. Anakin closes his mother's dead eyes, and then...Anakin starts to get angry. Really angry. A slow closeup on Anakin shows his eyes burning as the music starts to get frantic. The next thing we see is Anakin in the middle of the camp, igniting his lightsaber and killing two Tuskens before they know what hits them. Another charges him and Anakin steps up and swings his lightsaber as we do a cinematic wipe to Yoda in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where he's meditating. We hear a voice we haven't heard in a long time, that of Qui Gon Jinn, shouting "Anakin! Anakin! Noooo!"

I'm of two minds on this sequence. I like the way Lucas edits it and gets us out of there as we know that Anakin is going berserk and cuts to Yoda as he sense that something awful is happening, but I'm not sure if we shouldn't have maybe seen a little more of Anakin's actions. Not a lot, mind you – we don't need to see a whole lot of carnage, but something to make very clear that Anakin is now channeling the Dark Side of the Force. Maybe a mass Force-choke of a bunch of Tuskens at once, or something like that.

(By the way, ever since Revenge of the Sith came out, I've seen lots of commentary expressing anger or dismay at George Lucas in allowing something like Anakin's killing of the Jedi younglings to make the screen. Well, the implication is pretty strongly there from the mere existence of the younglings, and yet, some folks are shocked about it – I remember one person writing about how stunned they were that Anakin would stoop that low, and it made it "impossible to root for Anakin". And I'm thinking, "Wow, you couldn't possibly have missed the point more widely than that." For one thing, we're not watching some nice kid become a juvenile delinquent; we're not watching the nice young boy from the next block join the Crips. We're watching the genesis of one of the evilest individuals in Galactic history. That's got to mean something; that's got to imply that we're going to see Anakin do some very dark things. And anyway, when I've seen comments like this, I always want to ask: "Did you even see Attack of the Clones?" I mean, it's not like the slaying of the younglings isn't foreshadowed about as strongly as George Lucas foreshadows anything.)

I also really wish that Lucas had retained the services of Liam Neeson for some "disembodied Jedi" acting in AotC and RotS. I've always wondered if Neeson was asked and refused? Anybody know?

After Yoda tells Mace Windu that he's felt Young Skywalker's "terrible pain", we cut back to Geonosis, where Obi Wan is trying to make his report. He's too far from Coruscant to contact the Jedi directly, so he tries contacting Anakin on Naboo...but Anakin isn't there. Scanning about, Obi Wan discovers that, contrary to his orders, Anakin is on Tatooine, so he contacts him there. (Meanwhile, Obi Wan is being observed by a Geonosan. His cover is about to be blown.)

Back to Tatooine we go, where R2-D2 receives Obi Wan's message. The timing isn't very good, though, because right now Anakin's returning to the Lars homestead with his mother's dead body in his arms. Sadness pervades the homestead. (John Williams's scoring of this entire sequence really stands out, by the way.)

Later on, Anakin is tinkering around in the Lars garage. It's a garage we've seen before (or will see again, much later on, in A New Hope -- it's where Luke first sees the hologram of Princess Leia). In the script, there's a brief scene between Padme and Beru in the kitchen, but it's not in the film, and it's nothing special, so I wouldn't bother much with it. Instead, in the garage, Padme comes to Anakin, and Anakin isn't doing very well at all:

INTERIOR: TATOOINE, HOMESTEAD, GARAGE – DAY

PADMÉ comes in with a tray of food. ANAKIN is standing at a workbench, repairing a part of the speeder bike.

PADMÉ: I brought you something. Are you hungry?

PADMÉ puts the tray down.

ANAKIN: The shifter broke. Life seems so much simpler when you're fixing things. I'm good at fixing things... always was. But I couldn't... (stops working, tears in his eyes) Why did she have to die? Why couldn't I save her? I know I could have!

PADMÉ: Sometimes there are things no one can fix. You're not all-powerful, Annie.

ANAKIN turns and walks away from the bench.

ANAKIN: (angry) I should be! Someday I will be... I will be the most powerful Jedi ever! I promise you, I will even learn to stop people from dying.

PADMÉ: Anakin...

ANAKIN: (furious) It's all Obi-Wan's fault. He's jealous! He knows I'm already more powerful than he is. He's holding me back!

ANAKIN hurls the wrench across the garage. It CLATTERS to the floor. He looks at his trembling hands. PADMÉ stares at him, shocked.

PADMÉ: Annie, what's wrong?

ANAKIN: I... I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them...

ANAKIN focuses on her like someone returning from far away.

ANAKIN: Not just the men, but the women and the children too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals... I hate them!

There is silence for a moment, then ANAKIN breaks down, sobbing. PADMÉ takes him into her arms.

ANAKIN: Why do I hate them? I didn't... I couldn't... I couldn't control myself. I... I don't want to hate them... But I just can't forgive them.

PADMÉ: To be angry is to be human.

ANAKIN: To control your anger is to be a Jedi.

PADMÉ: Ssshhh... you're human.


ANAKIN: No, I'm a Jedi. I know I'm better than this. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!

PADMÉ: You're like everyone else...


PADMÉ rocks him, and ANAKIN weeps.


I've always liked this scene a lot. Anakin pours out a lot of anger and frustration, some of it real and some of it his own imaginary baggage that nevertheless seems real to him because he's really only a kid still, after all. He feels a desperate need to blame someone for what's happened – himself, Obi Wan, the Sandpeople. And when he tells Padme that he killed them all, that he executed the entire encampment, he is shamed at first, and then he finds his anger again, and then almost as quickly he goes back to shame. Anakin is quick to anger and rage, quick to hatred, but he is resisting them. Not only are the seeds of his fall to the Dark Side now starting to blossom, but so are the seeds of his eventual redemption. That fascinates me.

I also note, again, that in my opinion, Hayden Christensen did a fine job in this scene. When he starts to tell Padme what he did to the Sandpeople, the look on his face isn't even one of shame: it's disbelief. Part of him can't believe he just did those things last night. His disbelief becomes the shame, and then the shame the hatred. Christensen runs a fascinating emotional gambit in this scene that a lot of people like to denigrate because "Oh he's just being a whiny teenager", but I found it scarily convincing. And again, the music greatly helps the cause by quoting not just the Darth Vader theme, but also the Emperor's theme (or the "Dark Side" Theme), showing how intertwined everything is becoming.

The next scene after this is another good one: Shmi's funeral. Anakin's farewell to his mother is very touching, particularly his vow that he "won't fail again". After they say their farewells to Shmi, C3PO comes bustling up to tell them that R2 has received a transmission from "an Obi Wan Kenobi". They retransmit the signal to Coruscant, so the Jedi and the Chancellor are watching the transmission while Anakin and Padme do as well. Obi Wan has discovered the battle army being built on Geonosis and that the Trade Federation is behind the assassination attempts on Padme, but before he can say more, the hologram shows him reacting to being attacked by a destroyer droid. Mace Windu orders Anakin to stay where he is and protect the Senator, but Padme says, "Your orders are to protect me and I'm going to help Obi Wan." So off they go.

This whole sequence works very well, except there's one thing that's always bugged me: Padme and Anakin jet off without so much as a word to the Lars family, taking C3PO with them! There should have been something like this:

EXTERIOR: Tatooine – Lars homestead – Day.

ANAKIN and PADME are ready to board their ship; the Lars family gathers before them.

CLIEGG: Thank you for coming, son. And for bringing Shmi home.

ANAKIN: Thank you for loving her.

The shake hands.

CLIEGG: You know, she never stopped talking about you and she never once stopped believing she'd see you again. She was proud of you. Never doubt that.

ANAKIN: I won't.

Anakin turns to go, but Cliegg speaks again.

CLIEGG: One last thing...she said you built that protocol droid. Well, he does pretty well here, but really, we're just moisture farmers. We don't really need a protocol droid. You should take him. He's yours, anyway.

ANAKIN: Thank you.

He turns to board the ship, after taking one last look around. Then he disappears onto the ship, which lifts off.

INTERIOR: Naboo ship – cockpit.

ANAKIN looks out the window as the planet surface drops away below them.

PADME: Are you all right?

ANAKIN: Fine. I just don't think I ever want to see this planet again.

Behind them, C3PO looks around nervously.

C3PO: This is space travel? I knew I wouldn't like it.

R2-D2 beeps in sympathy.


And that's where we'll stop for now. When we return, the Chancellor and the Senate have some choices to make, Obi Wan Kenobi meets Dooku for the first time, and a rescue attempt goes awry. Tune in!

I sense Quizzery afoot!

Time for a quiz-thing! Stolen from Cal in his Canadian Cave.

1. Never in my life have I been: to Mozambique.

2. The one person who can drive me nuts is: You. Geez, can't you give it a rest!

3. High school: wasn't really a train wreck for me. Sophomore year kind of blew, but I rebounded nicely.

4. When I’m nervous: I get all kinds of nervous energy.

5. The last song I listened to was: a track from James Horner's score to Avatar (which isn't a terribly good score, nor is it a terribly bad one -- it's just basic Horner, with some really nifty moments surrounded by a lot of workmanlike stuff).

6. If I were to get married right now my best man/maid of honor: would be asking, "Hey, what happened to the first wife?"

7. My hair is: long and graying.

8. When I was 5: I saw Star Wars.

9. Last Christmas: could've been better. Could've been worse, too.

10. I should be..: writing Star Wars.

11. When I look down I see: the bib of my overalls.

12. The happiest recent event was: getting a lot of praise for a job I did really well at The Store.

13. If I were a character on 'Friend' I would be: one of the extras in Central Perk, wondering why I can never get to sit on that really comfy looking couch.

14. By this time next year: I'd like to be even better at my job than I am now.

15. My current gripe is: Teabaggers who are oh so worried about budget deficits and civil liberties now that a black guy is President, but said not a word while the previous guy was violating both at a record pace.

16. I have a hard time understanding: why so many people loathe the Star Wars prequels.

17. There’s this girl I know that: owns the ugliest Christmas sweater in history. The thing has lights on it.

18. If I won an award, the first person I would tell would be: The Wife. Followed by you. How's that for service!

19. Take my advice: Measure twice and cut once (but don't measure if you don't have to).

20. The thing I want to buy: a house.

21. If you visited the place I was born: You'd see other babies getting born too. It was a hospital that's still there. (Well, I assume the exact location of the maternity ward has changed since 1971.)

22. I plan to visit: Pittsburgh, this coming weekend!

23. If you spent the night at my house: you'd be grossed out by the cats licking each other's arses.

24. I’d stop my wedding if: George Lucas walked in and offered me the position of screenwriter for Star Wars Episode VII.

25. The world could do without: libertarians.

26. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: lick the backside of a cockroach.

27. Most recent thing I’ve bought myself: A few books at the library book sale, I think. (Believe it or not, the last couple of times I've been in Borders I didn't buy anything!)

28. Most recent thing someone else bought me: some candy bars from Vidler's, which I threw in The Wife's basket.

29. My favorite blonde is: The Wife. (Ha! Good safe answer! Huzzah!)

30. My favorite brunette is: Stana Katic

31. My favorite red head is: Christina Hendricks

32. My middle name is: C. Just an initial. Just like Harry S Truman.

33. In the morning I: get up too early for work.

34. The animals I would like to see flying besides birds are: giant squid.

35. Once, at a bar: I ate a whole bunch of chicken wings. (OK, I did this more than once. A lot more than once.)

36. Last night I was: reading, eating dinner, watching Tomorrow Never Dies with the family.

37. There’s this guy I know who: must be destroyed. Oh, yes.

38. If I was an animal I’d be: a horse in Middle Earth.

39. A better name for me would be: Lord Ponneril the Elder. (I just made that up.)

40. Tomorrow I am: working, reading, blogging, and scheming.

41. Tonight I am: making dinner, watching The Amazing Race and The Celebrity Apprentice.

42. My birthday is: September 26, just like George Gershwin. I got rhythm!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sentential Links #200

Woo-hoo! Two hundred Sentential Links posts! Yay! Huzzah!! And something like that.

:: Sometimes I look up from what I am doing and I see Hope across the room staring at me, and there is a look of such coiled contempt in her eyes that I want to run fleeing into the night. (How well I remember that look from cats! Our current crop of feline friends don't give us that look, though; they basically stare at us with a few different expressions, most of which can be loosely grouped under "Is the dish full?" or "Pet me." They're actually pretty needy, as cats go. Weird.)

:: The Catholic Church has lost any claim to moral authority, if they ever had it (I don't think so, but I'm one of those atheist God-haters).

:: Call me naive, but I hold my church, that which purports to be the DIRECTLY DESCENDED REPRESENTATION OF JESUS CHRIST ON EARTH should be a tiny bit more concerned and compassionate when it comes to their priests RAPING CHILDREN. (I just don't get this whole thing. It's mindboggling. The cover-up for decades of pedophilia in the Church, and now the defiant circling-of-the-wagons, is nauseating. But then, I've read enough church history to know that this is merely the latest horrible conduct to be committed and sanctioned by God's church.)

:: There are certain lies that will always work in politics, no matter how often they’re used, no matter how often they’re debunked, and frequently, even if both the speaker and the listener know they’re lies. Because they’re seductive. They’re things we want to believe are true, and so we let ourselves go along with them because the truth is nasty and unpleasant and the lie is warm and comfortable. There has always been an audience for these lies, and there always will be.

:: Do cordless chainsaws strike anyone else as a bad idea? (I've never used a regular chainsaw, so I don't know. But I will admit that chainsaws are a bit freaky.)

:: I knew what I had to do.

I went inside and got my mom's butcher knife.
(Wow...this is one of the more demented blog posts I've read lately!)

:: Welcome to the first full post of the Firefly re-watch, where we get into the real red-colored molded-protein. (I need to rewatch Firefly myself. I don't agree with the writer in that I think "Serenity" actually makes an outstanding pilot, one of the best to a series ever. In the comments he says that it's hard to second-guess network execs who make millions of dollars to pick shows, but really, all they're doing is picking shows based on market research and how much money they have to spend, and they rarely have any idea what's going to survive and what's not.)

More next week!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thank God he's not MY former Governor!

On The Celebrity Apprentice: Geez, is Rod Blagojovich sleazy or what? Every time he's on screen, I feel like I'm watching Michael Scott's evil twin. Ye Gods. Illinois, how did you elect this guy?

(I know, I know, like New York State government is some kind of beautiful exemplar of governance....)

Sunday Stealing

From Sunday Stealing comes a quiz! (Sunday Stealing is all about quizzes, actually. That's what makes it fun.)

1. How far away is the last person you kissed?

Right now, about 15 or 20 miles. I've never actually measured how far it is from home to where The Wife works.

2. Has someone ever told you they would be with you forever?

Sure. We're doing pretty well.

3. Last person you were in a car with?

The Wife and The Daughter, earlier this morning.

4. Any plans for tomorrow?

I have to work and finish reading a book for a review.

5. How long does it take for you to take a shower?

If I'm washing my hair, I can be in there about 25 minutes. I like long showers. I know, not very ecological. Sorry for that.

6. Best friend or close friends?

Close friends, I think. I've gone the best friend route and it doesn't always work out so well.

7. Is tomorrow going to be a good day?

Maybe! Mondays can be a real grab bag of suck, or they can be not-so-bad. We'll see what happens.

8. Did you kiss anyone friday?

I kiss The Wife every day.

9. Ever thrown up in public?

Sigh...yes. Not in a really long time, though. In fact, nearly thirty years! I was with my parents on a road trip around Western NY the first year we lived here. My sister wasn't along, for some reason that I don't recall. We drove to Batavia and shopped at the mall there (that alone tells you how long ago this was: there were stores in the Batavia Mall), and then we drove to Williamsville where we went to the Eastern Hills Mall for the first time. I have no clue what I ate that caused this, or what bug I got, but with virtually no warning I threw up in the middle of the Walden Books there. I could have died. (In the figurative, "Oh God get me away from all these people" sense, not the literal sense.)

10. What's on your mind RIGHT NOW?

The last time I threw up in public. Thanks, quiz.

11. Who was the last person you talked to?

The Daughter.

12. What is the WORST subject they teach at school?

Typing/keyboarding. Who cares what the "proper" way to type is?

13. Have you seen anyone lately that you don't get along with?

Sure. I just go about my business and he goes about his.

14. What is your favourite colour top to wear?

Ummmm...red? Blue? Purple? Tie-dye? I like all colors, actually. Yesterday I was in a charcoal-gray hoodie. (I dislike the word "hoodie", by the way.)

15. Have you ever been in a car accident?

No.

16. What's the closest thing to you that's green?

A ceramic wall-pocket that The Daughter made for me in art class. Or a book cover. Or a pen. Or some note cards. There's a lot of green stuff right around me; not sure what's closest.

17. Where would you like to be right now?

Pittsburgh. We're going there next weekend, and I'm excited.

18. Write down some lyrics to the song you're listening to?

It's actually silent right now...and I'd probably be listening to orchestral music anyway, so the lyrics would be something like "Hummmmm...doo da doo da doo dummmmm...ya da dummmm...."

19. How many dogs do you have?

Zero. Quarters are too cramped at Casa Jaquandor for one of those four-legged drool factories. Maybe when we finally get a house of some sort.

20. Is anything bugging you right now?

Well, I continue to be bugged by my display of Mechanic FAIL yesterday. And it bugs me that my current favorite pair of overalls has a hole in the butt. I considered wearing them out yesterday with a pair of shorts underneath, but that still seemed weird.

21. Is life going right for you now?

Sure, I guess. No major disasters right now; just some ongoing annoyances and conundra.

22. Is there someone you care about more than yourself?

No! It's all about ME ME ME ME MEEEEE! (The Family, actually. Duh!)

23. What made you laugh today?

The Wife and The Daughter, both.

24. What was the last movie you watched?

We watched half of Tomorrow Never Dies last night. Good action movie, not so good a James Bond movie.

25. Whats the last conversation you had about?

I instructed The Daughter to get the laundry out of the dryer; she said OK.

26. What were you doing at 7:00 this morning?

Sleeping.

27. Do you like your hair long or short?

Well, look at the pictures! What do you think?

28. Do you want to see somebody right now?

I always want to see George Lucas.

29. Do you like the rain?

I'm not against it. I don't mind big fat rain that falls down straight; wind-driven sideways rain is not my cup of tea.

30. Did you have a valentine this year?

I'm married, so I'm good to go in that department. Yay!

31. The last person you kissed needs you at 3 am, would you go?

Absolutely...and since she's sleeping right next to me, "going" would involve moving about eight inches.

32. Would you honestly say you'd risk your life for someone else?

It depends on who the person was.

33. Honestly, if you could go back 1 month and change something would you?

My last month has been pretty much blunder-free, so I'm good. Maybe I'd get myself to the Y more often.

34. How do you feel about boys smoking?

Smoking sucks and should go away.

35. Could you see yourself with someone forever?

Forever's a long time, isn't it? How about one lifetime?

That's it!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Two creative people get together and create themselves a comic. One of them writes, the other does the art. But when the one doing the "writing" is five years old, what you get is a comic about...believe it or not...a cop armed with an axe whose catchphrase is "I'll chop your head off!"

So behold: Axe Cop!

The world needs more comics scripted by kindergarteners.

:: I saw this a few weeks ago and didn't think it was all that funny. The problem was that I watched it with the sound off.



:: Ever wonder what the difference actually is between geeks, dweebs, dorks, and nerds? Well, wonder no more!

More next week! Stay awesome, Interweb!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Frustration....

So The Wife's car needed an oil change, so I decided to do it myself. She's driving a 2000 Dodge Caravan now, so we went to Autozone and picked up the oil we need, a new oil filter, and a new air filter as well, since we haven't changed that since getting the van a year and a half ago. I changed clothes (from nice vintage overalls to rattier, "work" overalls, if you must know), and went down to do the work.

Ninety minutes later, The Wife left for Valvoline to have them do the work.

First, it took me a bizarrely long time to figure out the best way to get the van jacked up. I wonder if Dodge doesn't want people mucking around underneath the vehicles, because it was a chore getting the thing up in the air. The jack itself was no problem, but finding appropriate spots to put the jack stands? That was hard. But I figured it out.

Then I had to look for the oil filter. The first thing I noticed when I lifted the hood is how compact everything is under there; Dodge didn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room for things like hands, tools, and whatnot. And I saw no oil filter, which meant that I was clearly going to have to access it from underneath. Swell. And sure enough, when I looked for it, there it was. OK. Fine. Filter location, check; oil pan, check; drain plug...ah, there it is. Facing the rear of the vehicle, of course. That's logical. Why would I want to be able to see the part I'm loosening? And why wouldn't I want to lie down there trying to visualize which way is "tightening" and which way is "loosening", because my angle is reverse? Ugh.

Anyway, out came the adjustable wrench, which I secured onto the drain plug. And then...nothing. The wrench slipped, but no budging of the plug. Try again, and nothing. Again, and nothing. More slipping of the wrench, then nothing, then nothing again, then slipping of the wrench. At this point I realize that if I keep this up, I'm going to round off the head of the plug, and put away the wrench. Out come the regular wrenches.

Hmmmm...it's not a 1/2" nut. Neither is it a 9/16" nut. I don't have a 17/32" wrench, so now I grabbed my sockets. Turns out I don't own a 17/32" socket either, which is fine, because it's at this point that I'm starting to wonder if those clever demons at Dodge used metric nuts and such. Sure enough, it's a 12-mm hex head on the drain plug. I've got metric sockets, so I'm back in business!

Except...not so much. The thing is on so tight that my ratchet won't budge it. At all. No matter what angle I tried. Pushing, pulling, swearing at it, uttering curses in Elvish, Entish, and all the tongues of Men. Nada. Now, I only have a small ratchet (a bigger one's been on my "Buy one someday" list for a while, but I tend to wait to strike items from that list until I find a real need for it -- so on Monday, Hello, Bigger Ratchet!), so I tried thinking of ways to get more torque off the thing. At work I'd grab a spare piece of pipe and stick it over the thing, but I don't carry pipe around in my car, so I used my large locking pliers. And yes, this generated sufficient torque on the ratchet to...strip the gears inside the ratchet head. (So on Monday, Hello, Bigger Ratchet and Adapter for all my sockets!)

At this point, I decided that I'd best give up on the oil change for now. I do have metric wrenches, but they're smallish, and if the thing was torqued down that tightly, I didn't want to risk stripping the thing. But anyway...ugh. I hate when I can't do something I'm generically capable of doing. Makes me crazy.

So then we thought, "At least we can get the air filter changed." Not exactly famous as last words go, but they should be.

It's my view that the air filter should be the easiest thing on a car to change. It should be only slightly more difficult to change an air filter than to check one's oil or refill the wiper fluid. And on every car I've ever owned, that's been the case: either undo a couple of bolts or a couple of clips, lift the lid, pop the old filter out and the new one in, replace lid, refasten, lather, rinse, repeat. No fuss, no muss. A person whose only tool is a butter knife should be able to change an air filter.

This belief of mine, however, is not shared by the folks at Dodge, because their air filter is not even visible when you lift the hood. After poking around the visible parts of the engine for a while, and looking in the owner's manual where the engine diagram doesn't even indicate the existence of an air filter and whose section in the Maintenance chapter dealing with the air filter simply says "For optimum performance and gas mileage, regularly change the air filter", we ended up Googling the bloody thing. Turns out that the air filter on this vehicle is down in the bowels of the engine, and to get at it you literally have to remove a big black plastic box-thing that has three hoses running into and out of it. But do you remove the hoses entirely? Just loosen the clamps so the thing swings up and out? And even though the site we Googled said to "remove the bolt fastening this box to the front of the vehicle", there were no such bolts!

So we gave up on that, too. Double UGH!!!

Thus The Wife went off to Valvoline, and I went upstairs to change out of my now-dirty overalls which were dirty despite the fact that I accomplished zero completed tasks whilst wearing them. She got home an hour or so later, and told me that the boys at the Valvoline joint had a hard time with the drain plug too, which makes me feel better because they get to go down into a pit below the vehicle and stand up to work at it, as opposed to lying on the ground with my head under the car like I'd been. Luckily the plug isn't stripped, so I should be able to make another go at this thing next time the oil needs changed. (The van needs changes a lot more often than my car, because not only is her car the main one we use for virtually any family outing, but her drive to work is three or four times what mine is.)

As for the air filter? Well, as I noted, this was the first time we changed it since we acquired the thing. So: have you ever had that horrible fantasy where you're getting work done on your car and while you're standing there the mechanic pulls something out and yells "Hey Frank, check this out!" and brings over his mechanic buddy to look at the thing he's pulled out of your car and laugh at it while you try to hide from the guys who already know you're there because you've been talking to them? Yeah, The Wife had that experience.

I have no idea when that air filter was changed last, but apparently it was completely black. And some of the material had been chewed away...but the unidentifiable critter that had literally been living inside it. There were the remnants of a nest and stuff. I'm assuming it was a mouse or rat, but hey, who knows. It could have been a chupacabra or the last remnants of Joan Rivers's soul, for all I know.

The Wife also reported that the Valvoline guys didn't do the kind of "hard sell" that they usually like to do, such as telling you your battery is "marginal" (which they told me seven years ago, and my battery is still starting my car today) or telling you that you really really really oughta run some kind of Dr. Halladay's Secret Engine Elixir through your car to clean it out and purge it of impurities and restore life to tired ball-joints. The lesson here, I suppose, is this: if you have to go to a Quick Lube type of place, go late in the day, preferably within a half hour of closing, so that all the guys want to do is get you in and get you out.

Anyway. That's the tale. Dodge Caravan 2, Handyman Blogger 0. The rematch has been scheduled, but will likely not sell out in time to life the local blackout.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Memories that clog the arteries

(EDITED to add a couple of links to photos.)

We're considering a brief overnight trip next week somewhere, since The Family Unit will all have the same weekend off. One destination we mentioned was Pittsburgh, so I spent some time Googling attractions down there. My family actually originally hails from Pittsburgh; my parents lived there their whole lives except a couple of years in the 1960s (around the time my sister was born), and I was born there. We've always had relatives there, although those have dwindled as time has gone on; I'm down to a single aunt living in Pittsburgh now and a couple of cousins. (Five cousins total, but I'm honestly not sure at all where any of them live.)

My sister also went to college in Pittsburgh, so for many years, Pittsburgh was pretty dominant in our lives in many ways. Once my sister graduated college and started attending grad school in Buffalo, our attentions shifted up here for good. When we moved from Portland, OR to Allegany, NY in 1981, we started a period where we would go to Pittsburgh for one reason or another at least a dozen times a year. After sometime around 1988 or 1989, our reasons for going dried up, and since then, I've been in Pittsburgh probably half a dozen times, total. The Wife and I did an overnighter of our own there back when she was still The Girlfriend; and when my in-laws lived for about eighteen months in West Virginia, Pittsburgh made a logical halfway-between meeting place for day trips. That's it, though; we haven't been there in nearly ten years.

So I was Googling attractions in Pittsburgh -- the Carnegie museums, the Macy's downtown store (formerly Kaufmann's), that kind of thing -- and I remembered a restaurant we used to eat in. Or get food from. Something like that.

It's a place called Vincent's Pizza Park, and as I recall, it's...well, it's a dive. The place is no-frills to the extreme, crowded, tiny, hot, and the place served some of the best pizza I ever had. It was pretty unique pizza, thick crusted and even more thickly cheesed; partisans of New York style pizza would probably recoil in horror at the sight of a slice of a Vincent's pizza. It was also the greasiest pizza I've ever encountered, the kind of pizza that left behind pools of grease deep enough to drown small animals. Like chihuahuas.

The place was actually run by a guy named Vincent, whom I remember as a tiny Italian guy who sat on a stool making pizza. My memories are probably faulty, but I recall the guy looking ancient the last time we ate there, more than twenty years ago. The joint's been open for decades, and my father used to tell a funny story from the early days of his marriage to my mother, when she was at home and he was at Vincent's and he called home to tell her he was going to be a while because some poor slob had managed to get himself locked in Vincent's bathroom and was screaming his head off because the bathrooms there are legendarily disgusting and Dad wanted to see how it all ended. Funny tales from before the days of routine health inspections, huh?

Anyway, Vincent's Pizza Park still exists, and apparently it's still dumpy. Some recent reviews I've read suggest that the quality has gone downhill somewhat since Vincent himself retired some years ago. And then I discovered that Vincent actually died earlier this month. Turns out he opened his restaurant in 1950 (when my father was 11 and my mother 9), and he ran it himself until 2005. Fifty-five years of making gooey, heart-stopping slabs of pizza. Not a bad way to spend a life, huh?

Wherever you are, Vincent, I hope the bathrooms are clean!

UPDATE: Well, you should all be able to see what a pizza from Vincent's looks like, right? Here's a whole pie in all its glory. Note all the butcher's paper. One detail I recall, which seems to still be the case, is that Vincent's doesn't use pizza boxes. Instead, they put the pizza into a cardboard tray and then wrap the whole thing with butcher's paper. Here's a different one, a medium double pepperoni one. I love me some pepperoni, but damn, that's a lot of it on there. And here's a Vincent's pizza with everything on it, after a couple of slices have been consumed. Note the grease. Yowza! How gross! And how I want one!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pie! No, cake! No, pie! No, cake! GAHHH!

I've been waffling over this post of Lynn's for a few days now. Is pie really better than cake?

Well, geez. I think pie is a lot more versatile. Pie can be savory, and pie can be sweet. Pie can be creamy, and pie can be fruity. Are there savory cakes? Do crab cakes count? I don't know.

Lynn notes that frosting isn't her favorite part of the cake. It is mine, although I've come to appreciate the cake itself a lot more over the years. Dry, disappointing cake with wonderful frosting is a pretty meh experience; however, moist, delicious cake with meh frosting is still pretty good. Frosting has to be good, though. I've had a lot of icky frosting in my day. Give me a nice carrot cake loaded with enormous amounts of cream cheese frosting, I'm a happy guy.

I'm not generally of the view that cake and pie have certain "events" for which each is called for, except for the very obvious: Thanksgiving is a pie day, all the way. But I find the generic vanilla/chocolate/marble cakes that are usually trotted out at various celebratory events that apparently call for cake to be generally disappointing: not enough frosting, and the cake is inevitably cut into pieces of ridiculously small size. When I have cake, I want it to be rich cake, moist cake, with tons of wonderful, wonderful frosting. (Well, sometimes. Some cakes are so good that you don't need frosting at all. But those are in a class by themselves.)

In terms of dessert, I'm probably in the mood for cake more often than I am for pie, but that doesn't mean much. Plus there are wonderful things like pot pies; and when you factor pizza into the pie equation, well, that tilts the scales toward pie by quite a lot. In terms of dessert pies, I like cream pies as much as fruit pies, but fruit pies scream out for ice cream. (Sorry, Lynn, but even as I've come to love slices of apple with cheddar cheese, putting cheddar cheese on apple pie is just going a wee bit too far for me!) Of course, when it comes to throwing, I suppose it's gotta be pie...never heard of cake throwing before, although I suppose it could be done.

Pie, cake -- ach, who cares. I like 'em both!

Stet!


P090909PS-0026, originally uploaded by The White House.

Check out this amazing photo. That's President Obama, holding a draft of one of his speeches. Look at all the markings Obama has made on the text his speechwriter provided. Wow!

Something for Thursday

Wow, I remembered! Hooray! Here's one of my favorite songs in any genre, performed by Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss: the wondrous Shaker tune "Simple Gifts".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Winning the toss

I see that the NFL has voted to change its overtime rules for playoff games. Why they decided to do this for the playoffs only is beyond me, but it's a step in the right direction. Basically, if the team that receives the ball first scores a touchdown on its possession, they win. If they only score a field goal, then the other team gets a possession to attempt to tie or win the game. If the score is tied after those two possession (i.e., both teams get field goals) then we revert to sudden death.

This is almost indistinguishable from my old notion for repairing OT, which I first proposed in this space more than seven years ago: The first team to possess the lead after each team has completed one possession wins the game. That's a simple way to say things. Team one scores a field goal, team two get a TD? Team two wins. Both teams get a field goal? Next score wins. Neither team scores on the first two possessions? Next score wins. And for some craziness: Team One fumbles the ball, and Team Two's defense returns it for a touchdown? Guess what: Both teams have had possession, and Team Two has the lead. Game over, Team Two wins.

Of course, there's that pesky annoying third way to score: the safety. As continues to be my belief, points should not be awarded for a safety. I hate points for a safety, because it seems to me that scoring should be based on one thing. After all, there's only one way to score a run in baseball: a runner must cross home plate. In hockey, to score a goal, the puck must go into the net. In basketball, to score points, the ball must go through the basket. Period. And aside from the safety, in football, to score points you must possess the ball. Awarding points for a safety feels to me like changing baseball so that if the pitching team turns a triple play, they're awarded a run. (My ideal safety would simply be this: the team recording the safety automatically takes possession at the 45-yard line of the team that gave up the safety. No two points, no free kick -- just an automatic end of possession resulting in pretty bad field position.)

According to one article I read, under the new OT rules, a safety at any point in OT wins the game, which I suppose would be accurate. But winning in OT by two points by safety would just seem awfully lame.

So the NFL is moving toward my position. Yay! Now, is it draft day yet?

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Wearing shirt collars turned up: cool looking, or goofy?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Something. On Television.

Some random notes on teevee I've been watching of late:

:: This is surely going to go down as American Idol's worst season. It's been awful. Just awful. We're down to the final 11 now, but even when they were in the final 24, it was clear that there were only two or three strong contestants and a whole bunch of singers ranging from "Meh" to "OMG please put down the microphone before you kill again". And that was before one of the truly unique and impressive singers, Lilly Scott, was eliminated before she even got to the final 12.

If the job of those very highly paid judges is to pick the best singers before it gets to the "America votes" stage, how did they end up with such a bad crop? Were the asleep at the wheel? Is Simon Cowell trying to guarantee that Idol goes under in his last season?

:: Castle is now officially one of my favorite shows. I'm still not caught up on all episodes this season -- I'm six or seven behind, but I'll get there -- but I just love this show. I love its sense of humor, the wonderful chemistry between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, the supporting players (both Richard Castle's mother and daughter and the other cops at the precinct), the creative murders they solve, and so on. I also love the sly pop cultural references in the show, such as Castle dressing up as a "space cowboy" for Halloween (in the costume Fillion had worn on Firefly), and Castle's comment when someone compares him to a teevee detective: "Well, the ones I've seen tend to be oddly obsessed with their sunglasses."

Oh, and well -- Nathan Fillion. And Stana Katic. Wow.

:: The Office still has lots of gonzo, funny moments, but I think the show's definitely on the wane. It has strained credulity one too many times for me, and the character dynamics have shifted a bit too much for the show to go back to what it once was. The writers are giving it the old college try, however, by abandoning the "Jim and Michael as co-managers" thing and by giving Michael a new set of corporate foils to buck heads against.

I did like the episode in which Pam gave birth; it was a welcome return to Jim being the island of sanity in the midst of sheer craziness, and his exasperation as Pam enmeshed him in her own brand of insanity, when she is usually his sane partner in crime, was priceless. That episode also yielded what I consider to be one of the best lines in the entire run of the series, when, during a discussion of how Pam's labor can be helped along, Kevin offers the sage advice, "Stick spicy food up her butt!"

:: Still liking The Mentalist, although not as much as Castle. I still would love to see Patrick Jane be wrong once or twice. But I could look at Robin Tunney all day!

:: As much as I loved the show in its original setting, I must admit that I have not been watching the "revamped" Scrubs. I caught a few episodes, early on, and...well, I don't know. If they'd kept the show at Sacred Heart and rotated in new cast members every so often, as teaching-hospital shows tend to do, maybe it would have worked, but the episodes I watched struck me as a higher-quality AfterMASH.

:: Grey's Anatomy is still all kinds of terrific. For one thing, the one character I loathed, Izzie Stevens, is gone. (I don't like Kathering Heigl, the actress who played Stevens, either, but that's neither here nor there.) The show's predilection for having each character eventually sleep with each other character gets a bit odd at times, but what I really appreciate about Grey's is the way the ensemble gets shaken up on occasion by the addition of a character here, a character there, kind of the way ER used to do things; but where ER would keep bad characters around for way too long, the Grey's Anatomy producers seem to have a pretty good handle on getting rid of characters who just aren't working as quickly as possible. I appreciate that. Grey's is as strong as ever.

:: I'm almost hooked on The Big Bang Theory. Its timeslot is awful -- it airs while I'm reading to the kid, so I miss a bunch of it. But what I've seen is awfully clever and hilarious.

:: The Amazing Race continues to entertain. The Celebrity Apprentice does too. What I've seen of Survivor does not. Somebody at CBS really wants to give that moron Rob from Boston a million dollars, huh? He's been on The Amazing Race twice and Survivor three times now.

That's about it. I've got some reruns to watch!

Cool!

I've just discovered a cool feature in Chrome: if you do a "Find Text" search on a web page (using Ctrl-F), as you type the search text into the box, Chrome puts little markers in the scroll bar to indicate all the spots in the page where that text occurs. That's neat! Thanks, Chrome!

Very dangerous, the stairs....


And up and up, originally uploaded by pjsugi.

Remember in the movie of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to the Pass of Cirith Ungol, which turns out to be a worn staircase of stone that seems to go straight up, more a miles-long ladder than a stair? I never figured that anything like that actually existed, but the other day -- and forgive me, I can't remember where I saw this first linked -- I learned of the existence of the Ha'iku Stairs in Hawaii.

These stairs were built to service a low-frequency radio antenna during World War II. They've fallen into disrepair over the years, but they're still there and accessible, if obviously dangerous. The wonders of this world are innumerable, aren't they?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nice flying, but you still owe me a thousand credits for the dish antenna.

The Daughter and I watched Return of the Jedi last week, and I remembered a thought that's occurred to me a number of times over the years when watching the movie. I know, we see Han Solo and Lando Calrissian do some awesome flying of the Millennium Falcon over the course of the original Star Wars trilogy, but even so, I'm not sure we always appreciate how difficult it must be to do the things with that bulky freighter that they do.

Here's the asteroid field sequence from The Empire Strikes Back:



And here's the Battle of Endor (just the space parts) from Return of the Jedi:



So what's so abnormal about this? The Star Wars movies, all of 'em, are full of lots of great space flying and whatnot, from Anakin's podracer all the way to Lando blowing up the Death Star II. So what's so special about flying the Millennium Falcon? Well, look at the ship -- where every other ship in Star Wars has its cockpit nicely centered, the Falcon does not. Its cockpit is way over on the starboard side (from the perspective of the pilot), so when flying it, ninety percent of the ship's width is to the pilot's left! Now, since the Falcon is originally a freighter, this probably isn't that big a deal, when you're using the Falcon as such -- as a ship to ferry stuff from one planet to the next. But if you're going to engage in high-speed derring-do in the middle of an asteroid field, or if you're going to fly the ship through the superstructure of an enormous space station at very high speeds, to be able to negotiate those tight spaces while being instinctively aware of your ship's lopsided design, well -- that makes you an even more awesome pilot than anyone ever believed.

Clearly the Falcon and its class of freighters weren't designed to be used in the way that Han Solo and Lando Calrissian use her, but as I've noted before, design and use aren't the same thing.

(BTW, in ROTJ, does anybody else besides me ever feel a bit sorry for that last TIE fighter pilot? The one that follows Lando and Wedge all the way to the reactor core and then follows them almost all the way back out again before getting killed in the fireball that's swallowing the Death Star II from within? That's gotta suck. I'm sure that guy wasn't even thinking of trying to shoot down the Falcon once he reached the core; he's probably saying to himself, "Oh shit oh shit oh shit OK I did it once before I can get through this again oh shit God I wish that f***ing freighter would move his ass otherwise I could get the hell out of here wow it's getting hot in here oh sh--!")

Finally



Thank you, Mr. President, Speaker Pelosi, and all the principled as well as opportunistic Democrats who made this happen.

And suck it, teabaggers.

Sentential Links #199

One more to 200! Woo-hoo!

:: In the end, that’s the real problem with reboots; not only do they not really give the title a fresh start, they don’t really make it any more accessible. Within a year or two, the new continuity has its own backstory to wade through, and a few years after that, it’s just as convoluted and messy as the old one. (This is about comic book reboots and not cinematic ones, which I'm more well-versed about, but the concerns are still real.)

:: Today marks the Vernal Equinox, the date in which the amount of daytime and nighttime are equal, bringing to end the long dark winter nights, ushering longer sunlit days. It’s typically a time of celebration, but in the kingdom of Urland, the Equinox is a day of woe. Urland’s King Casiodorus long ago made a pact with Verminthrax Pejorative, the feared dragon that terrorizes his lands: The dragon will leave the kingdom in peace in exchange for a virgin sacrifice offered up twice a year on the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox. (Oddly, I wasn't that big a fan of the movie Dragonslayer when it came out, even though I was ten and it was full of wizards and dragons and young heroes and all that stuff. The book sounds interesting, so if I ever run across a copy, maybe I'll give it a look.)

:: Batman in the 70s wasn't quite the always-wins, prepared-for-anything, can-take-down-God-in-unarmed-combat dude he became post-Dark Knight Returns. Nope, Batman could be taken down by you or me (provided we were, like, not completely out of shape and sitting in front of our computers). (You know, that was what tipped me from being undecided about Dark Knight Returns into not liking it. I just can't believe that, unless he's filled his utility belt with Kyptonite, that Batman could last eight seconds against Superman. Batman is, for all his training and toys, just a guy, and I can't believe Superman couldn't kick his ass with a single punch.)

:: “American Idol” is like the Academy Awards this year – a plethora of nominees but only two real contenders. (Sheesh, don't get me started. I may not even bother watching the rest of this season. I already missed last week's show owing to a school function for The Daughter, and I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Thousands of people audition at all those stadiums, and the judges boil it all down to this group of crappy singers? And America votes Lilly off just before the final 12, when she was by far the most unique musician in the lot? Rubbish. I used to love me some American Idol, but my enthusiasm is seriously on the wane.)

:: I want more wood and brass in my life and less plastic. (I agree. And more light by burning flame!)

:: I’ve whined about this before and I’m sure I’ll whine about it again, but the business model the big box stores, and the littler box stores, have pinned their greedy hopes on is, basically, that every customer who comes into the store to spend one dollar ought to leave having spent two.

:: I've gone and bought a turntable. (Of course, I can't go this retro, as I don't have room for a turntable anywhere. But when I buy a new stereo, which will probably happen sometime later this year, it'll still have a CD player.)

:: How else do you date a cute girl while wearing THAT shirt. (Boy Howdy....)

All for this week. Tune in next week!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A quiz thing!

There's a blog out there called Sunday Stealing that does nothing but provide quiz things. So I'm officially doing one of theirs. Hooray!

TEN TO START.

1. Are you single?

No.

2. Are you happy?

Kinda.

3. Are you bored?

Not right now.

4. Are you naked?

I like to keep readers, so...no. (Really! No.)

5. Are you a blonde?

No. But I was at birth, oddly enough.

6. Are you moody?

Sure.

7. Are you a lover/hater?

I hate loving. Or love hating. OK, not really, but I'm not sure what this means.

8. Are you hot/cold?

Right now I'm on the warm side. But I can cool off quickly.

9. Are you Irish?

Half. The other half is German.

10. Are you Asian?

Wow, that came out of nowhere. No, I'm not.

TEN FACTS.

1. Name:

I don't give out my name.

2. Nicknames:

"Hey you!"

3. Birth mark:

A map of Poland, with its pre-1939 borders.

4. Hair color:

Brown, but graying rapidly. Just typing that answer saw three more gray hairs appear.

5. Natural hair color:

The one I've got now.

6. Eye color:

Blue or "hazel", whatever the hell color "hazel" is.

7. Height:

5'10".

8. Facebook Mood:

Errr...not sure.

9. Favorite color:

Purple

10. One Place to Visit:

Well, you can visit the State Penitentiary, but I don't recommend it unless you know someone there.

TEN THINGS ABOUT YOUR LOVE LIFE.

1. Do you believe in love at first sight?

No. But I believe in overwhelming physical attraction.

2. Do you believe in soul mates?

No. That is to say, I don't believe we only have one.

4. Have you ever been hurt emotionally?

No. Somehow I've spent 38 years on Planet Earth, interacting with other human beings, and never suffered the smallest emotional trauma. Yay!

5. Have you ever broken someone’s heart?

I hope not.

6. Have you ever been cheated on?

Lord, I hope not!

7. Have you ever liked someone and not told them?

Always! And never!

8. Are you afraid of commitment?

Yes. Wait until The Wife figures this out, huh?

9. Who was the last person you hugged?

The Wife.

10. Who was the last person you kissed?

The Wife.

TEN THIS OR THAT.

1. Love or lust?

Luvst. Mix 'em together, says I!

3. Cats or dogs?

Cats. Dogs are OK, but they mostly bug me.

4. A few best friends or many regular friends?

Both.

5. Television or internet?

Internet, which is where I get my teevee. We don't even have cable. Don't need it. (Hey, what if they had the Internet on television? They could call it WebTV! Gotta call the patent office....)

6. Chinese Or Indian?

Food? Chinese.

7. Wild night out or romantic night in?

Romantic night out, followed by a wild night in.

8. Money or Happiness?

Money, with which I will buy happiness. Yes, you can totally buy happiness. Don't believe the naysayers!

9. Night or day?

Night.

10. MSN or phone?

Neither. E-mail or Facebook message. You can call, but I almost certainly won't answer. I will call back, though. I just don't answer my phone unless I'm married to you or the person I married gave birth to you.

TEN HAVE YOU EVER.

1. Been caught sneaking out?

No.

2. Been skinny dipping?

Yes, and I have photos right here. (No, I haven't, and no photos, either. What kind of weirdo do you think I am?)

3. Stolen?

Yes, but either accidentally (as in the small item I forgot to pay for at the checkout, or the usual "swiping a box of paperclips from the office" thing).

4. Bungee jumped?

No. Would like to, however.

5. Lied to someone you liked?

Yes. I like you, after all, and some of these answers are false.

6. Finished an entire jaw breaker?

Yes. Don't like 'em.

8. Wanted an ex bf/gf back?

No, because they were uniformly insane. (Except one, actually. She's the one I felt bad about.)

9. Cried because you lost a pet?

Absolutely.

10. Wanted to disappear?

Absolutely.

TEN PREFERENCES IN A PARTNER.

1. Smile or eyes?

Smiling eyes.

2. Light or dark hair?

Any color hair is fine. Red's awesome, though.

3. Hugs or kisses?

Both.

4. Shorter or taller?

No preference. If taller, not a foot taller or something like that.

5. Intelligence or attraction?

I'm attracted to intelligence.

6. Romantic or spontaneous?

Why are these mutually exclusive? Spontaneous can be romantic, can't it?

7. Funny or serious?

Funny.

8. Older or Younger?

Either.

9. Outgoing or quiet?

Either.

10. Sweet or Bad Ass?

Sweetly bad-ass.

TEN HAVE YOU’S.

1. Ever performed in front of a large crowd?

Yes.

2. Ever done drugs?

Aside from alcohol, no.

3. Ever been pregnant?

I'm a guy, so....

5. Ever been on a cheer leading team?

No.

6. Ever Been on a dance team?

No.

7. Ever been on a sports team?

No. (Should have tried out for swim team in school, though.)

8. Ever been in a drama play/production?

I was in the orchestra for a couple of shows, does that count?

9. Ever owned a BMW, Mercedes Benz, Escalade, Hummer or Bentley?

Why would I want to? A car should get me from point A to point B, be able to play some decent music while doing so, and have enough room for my tools. And it shouldn't cost a ridiculous amount to fill it (or require filling freakishly often).

10. Ever been in a rap video?

You gotta love these quizzes where questions come out of left field.

TEN LASTS.

1. Last phone call you made:

To dial my own voicemail. (Before that, The Wife.)

2. Last person you hung out with:

The Daughter. (Non-relatives: a friend from work.)

4. Last time you worked:

Friday.

5. Last person you tackled:

I sacked Tony Romo for an eight yard loss in the Cowboys' third preseason game last year. (No, I didn't. Tackling? Is there some slang definition of "tackling" I don't know about?)

6. Last person you IM’d:

It's been a really long time since I IM'd anyone. Odd, since I always liked IMing people as a means of communication.

8. Last person(s) you went to the movies with:

The Wife.

9. Last thing you missed:

I winged a large rock at the head of a rhinoceros, but missed. OK, no, I didn't. I'm not sure what this means -- I miss my mother in law, who died a year ago. Is that what this means?

10. Last thing you ate:

A banana. In a little bit I'm going to drink a Dr. Pepper.

That's all she wrote!

Arrrr!

We've just returned from attending the Buffalo Philharmonic's "Family" concert this afternoon, which was "Pirate" themed. It was an entertaining hour, with musical selections that were all relevant to either pirates or the sea or both. They started with the overture to The Flying Dutchman by Wagner, although in what is starting to seem like an odd habit for the BPO, they didn't play the entire thing. I'm not sure what all the abridging is about, over at Kleinhans, but it's starting to get really disconcerting to hear pieces I know well and then note the absence of parts of those pieces. I suppose the rationale today was that it was a children's program and the entire ten minute overture might lose them at some point, but...well, I'm a fan of playing the entire work, as I've noted previously.

Anyway, they did one of the Pirate King's numbers from The Pirates of Penzance, a selection from Debussy's La Mer, the storm from Peter Grimes by Britten, and a couple of welcome selections of film music: Captain Blood by Korngold and Pirates of the Caribbean, credited to Klaus Badelt but really written by Hans Zimmer. Everything was played with lots of vim and vigor by the BPO musicians (minus a few of the personnel, whom I assume must have been given days off as the orchestra has just returned from a Florida tour), even if conductor Joseph Young set some awfully brisk tempi and kept things moving a bit too quickly for my tastes. (A little rubato never hurt anyone, folks!)

The selections were played amidst a running storyline of sorts as Maestro Young tried to win over the guest "pirate crew" (played by members of a local college men's choir) and let him onto their crew. He conducted a good portion of the program wearing an enormous tricorn on his head, which was nice. I keep waiting for the tricorn to come back into fashion, but I think it may be done.

Anyhow, it was an enjoyable hour at the BPO. These family concerts are fun. Now, if I could get the Resident Kid to get more enthusiastic about them! But Rome wasn't built in a day, and I remember that when I was her age, going to orchestra concerts wasn't my favorite thing to do, either. Took me a few years of playing an instrument before I decided I loved the idea of concert-going.

So much awesome in one place!


300+ bikes, originally uploaded by mtflickyou.

I saw this photo on Flickr. I have no idea what the story is behind this, but it appears to be a bunch of people setting out on a long excursion involving bicycles. For some reason, they're all wearing overalls. Bikes and overalls? Never thought to mix the two, but hey, why not? Cool!



(BTW, looking a bit through this fellow's photostream, it appears he's been to a lot of amazing places. I love travel photography, and there's some awfully nice shooting going on here.)

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

I'm retitling this weekly feature, so as to take the emphasis a little off the "weird" and put it more on the AWESOME which I often tend to post in this series anyway. OK? OK! Oddities abound!

:: With the exception of that road in Bolivia, which would almost certainly either scare the living crap out of me or outright kill me, I'd cheerfully drive any one of these roads. Wow!

:: I waffled on linking this here or in Sentential Links, because it's pretty well written as a crude humor piece. But I'm going to put it here, I suppose. There's a spice mix out there called "Satan's Ashes", which is apparently as hot as food can possibly get. A guy decided to make, and eat, a curry using this stuff. Hilarity ensues, in a post called The Day My Arse Died.

Satan's Ashes are comprised of the usual things you might expect in a quality curry powder: Garam Masala, Cumin and so on but also the Dorset Naga chilli (880,000 on the Scoville scale), the Naga Morich (953,721 on the Scoville scale) and the infamous Bhut Jolokia which - at 1,001,304 Scoville units is the world's hottest chilli pepper. To put that into some kind of context, that makes the Bhut Jolokia over 100 times hotter than a Jalapeno, 20 times hotter than a Tobasco pepper and 3 times hotter than a Scotch Bonnet.

In India, Bhut Jolokia is smeared on fences to repel elephants. This noxious, possibly poisonous substance which even elephants have no truck with, was precisely what I intended to put in my mouth and eventually pass out of my arse.


I'm reaching for a water bottle just thinking about this. He's got pictures, too! (Don't worry, no horrible pictures or anything. It's a food post. With inedible food.)

:: Check out this gallery of the posters NASA produces for each space mission it launches. Some of these are great.

More next week!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Food: I like it!

I've been doing a greater than normal amount of blogging about food this year, haven't I? Oh well, it's all part of my rediscovered love of cooking and whatnot. Here are some recent doings in Food at Casa Jaquandor.

:: I do love a good salad! I tend to keep my salads fairly minimalistic; I don't pile on numerous kinds of veggies and other things for an enormous explosion of different kinds of flavors. My favorite salad these days consists of lettuce (of a dark green variety) or spinach, a can of tuna, and a dressing. Here's a non-tuna salad I had last week:

Salad: the dinner of champions!


All that's on this is the lettuce, a tomato that I diced up, and a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. A hunk of good bread is a must for sopping up what's left of the oil and vinegar after I've eaten the salad.

:: Waffles are wonderful in all possible ways. I love waffles. I adore waffles. I couldn't live without waffles.

The bestest of all possible meals.


My favorite way to have waffles is the basic way, with a couple of sausages on the side and covered in beautiful, beautiful maple syrup. The real stuff, that is -- a few years ago we bought some real maple syrup for a recipe and used the rest of the bottle on waffles and pancakes, after which we realized that we'd never be able to go back to Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin or whatever else. Gotta be real maple syrup.

Most times we make normal, classic waffles. We do own a Belgian waffle maker which we dust off once in a while for a change of pace; Belgian waffles are nice from time to time. (They tend to have a lighter batter and have larger squares.) One restaurant we used to go to had an ice cream sundae that consisted of half a Belgian waffle onto which they would plop a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream and then top the whole thing with hot fudge. Ooooooh, now I want one of those.

Waffles rock!

:: We're huge fans of sausage at Casa Jaquandor; sausage is wonderful stuff. Italian sausage, Polish sausage, pork breakfast sausage, and our favorites, bratwurst! The best way to have brats is to grill them over charcoal, obviously, but pan-frying them is a good way to go in a pinch (or when it's winter in Buffalo and you just don't feel like digging the grill out from under the snowpack that covers it).

Droollllll....


I prefer to brown them on a medium-high setting on their sides, and then turn the heat down to cook them through all the way. When cooking inside, I'll put a bit of liquid -- water or beer -- into the pan to keep the smoking down. These bratwursts are cooked perfectly, I must say.

Don't turn them too much, just enough to keep them from getting too brown on one side.

Turn, turn, turn....


When finished, serve in buns. I slather mine with mustard (either brown mustard, like Gulden's, or horseradish yellow mustard, like Webbers -- French's Yellow Mustard is just wrong for brats). The Wife likes to slather her mustard on both sides of the bun, as opposed to my way (the top of the sausage). Nothing wrong with that practice at all; I just like it this way.

Brats! Wurst!


(Let's not discuss the tater tots, OK? I thought I had a can of Bush's Baked Beans for the side dish, and it turned out I didn't. As I didn't have time to do proper roasted potatoes, it was tater tots for the side dish. My preferred side dish for brats is potato salad, anyway. Oops.)

:: The day after St. Patrick's Day, The Daughter suddenly exclaimed, "We never had Shamrock Shakes!" Yes, we like the minty green shakes from the shake machine at Mickey Dee's, but...well, they're from a machine. And I'm not even sure if Mickey Dee's even had them this year. Usually they advertise these a little, right? Actually, I have no idea what's going on at Mickey Dee's anymore. We're not much for the fast food scene these days.

And in any event, I have the ability to make my own Shamrock Shakes. You're finished, Shake Nazi! No more Shakes for you! Next!

OK, where was I? Well, this is very easy to do. It's ice cream, milk, and flavoring.

Ice cream goes into the blender:

"Shamrock Shakes" I


Followed by milk:

"Shamrock Shakes" II


"Shamrock Shakes" III


Followed then by flavoring, in this case, creme de menthe syrup:

"Shamrock Shakes" IV


And then, we blend!

"Shamrock Shakes" V


(Blending is more fun if you make a mock face of horror as the blender goes to town.)

After blending, we pour!

"Shamrock Shakes" VI


And finally, we enjoy.

"Shamrock Shakes" VII


These didn't turn out as smooth as I wanted, which means that my blender setting wasn't high enough. They were still mighty fun and tasty, though. Obviously, one can change up the flavor any way one wishes, simply by using a different flavoring -- I've made maple shakes by putting maple syrup in instead of creme de menthe, for example. And it occurs to me that adult shakes could be made by using rums or some kind of liqueur.

So there you have it -- recent food follies at Casa Jaquandor!