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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Something for Thursday

Here's a concert work by one of film music's greats: Fireworks by Jerry Goldsmith.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I've got a bad feeling about this

A "future history" of a reboot of Star Wars:

April 2011 - George Lucas announces plans to reboot the Star Wars franchise with a new version of A New Hope.

Lucas promises that this will be a new vision recognising the enormous strides made in technology: 3D, extensive use of synthespians and a host of old and new characters.

The Internet immediately goes into meltdown, with Twitter's fail whale on active duty. Meanwhile new website dontrapeourchildhoodagain.com goes live with remarkable speed.


Yeah, after the initial "George Lucas sucks" stuff, the feature takes us through a timeline of the making of the Star Wars reboot, which is written by...JJ Abrams.

That's where I start to throw up a little in my mouth. I actually wouldn't be totally opposed to Abrams directing a Star Wars movie, but I sure as hell don't want him writing one. Ugh!

(Of course it's all an entertaining hypothetical exercise...but I don't want a reboot of Star Wars any more than I want the once-conceived sequel to Casablanca.)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What is the thing you ate that you were utterly convinced you would detest to the point that you were prepared to spit it out as you lifted the fork or spoon to your mouth, only to discover that you actually didn't dislike it at all and maybe loved it?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A short morality play



(Ripped asunder from its original context, here.)

Who the heck IS John Dory, anyway?

Spoiler thoughts from Hell's Kitchen! Mouseover to read.

:: Holli and Jay go together like fig newtons and scrambled eggs. What an awful couple!

:: The "teach a clod to cook" challenge is entertaining. Autumn sucks, though. So does Ben -- and Ben's a culinary instructor! He can't teach, he can't lead, and he's a douche.

:: Riding the Goodyear Blimp -- how cool would that be! I'd love to ride a blimp.

:: I got a kick out of Ben and Autumn's punishment for losing the challenge -- they had to do maintenance tasks, like fixing wobbly tables and changing light bulbs and the like. Stuff that I do in my day job. I'd have had Jean-Phillippe's list done in an hour!

:: Dinner service: Nothing really new. Autumn's a sneaky clod, who won't own up when she blunders. Ben stops talking. Jay's a skilled, but arrogant, goof in blue hair. Holli just keeps on plugging, even through the rough spots. Rooting for Holli, but Jay might be the completest of the packages available for Ramsay to choose from.

:: Jay nominates Ben and Autumn, which sounds right, but also looks fishy because of his relationship with Holli. This is the clear reason why workplace relationships can be disastrous at times! Be careful, people!

:: Nobody goes home...heartwarming reunion with loved ones...gotta be a twist coming soon here....

:: Don't show me Ben's kid! I can't hate him when he's being all human and stuff!

:: The father of Holli's kid -- she seems to really have a thing for doughy guys, doesn't she!

:: Two chefs will exit the show next week. Who knows!

"Sir Knight!"

Actor Maury Chaykin has died. This is sad. He was only 61, and he was a fantastic character actor -- one of the best "Hey it's that guy" kinds of actors. For me, his most memorable turn was as the Army officer in Dances With Wolves to whom Lt. John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) reports, early in the film, for his assignment. Chaykin's officer turns out to be insane, and as Dunbar is riding away from the base, the sound of Chaykin's suicidal gunshot rings out across the prairie. It was an odd moment in the film -- a "What was that about" kind of thing -- but I think it set up quite a lot of the later plot of the film, providing an explanation of just why the tiny camp Dunbar is taking over has been abandoned and why it's allowed to languish for so long afterwards.

Good character actors are so important, because it's their professionalism and skill that rounds out the world of a film. Chaykin was a fine one, and he'll be missed.

Loving Books Too Much

In a photo I posted the other day, I'm brandishing a copy of a book called The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, which is subtitled The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. Written by Allison Hoover Bartlett, The Man Who.... is a wonderful look into the darker side of book collecting.

I've always found book collecting fascinating, even if I am such a low-level collector myself that I'm not sure the word collecting can even apply to me. I suppose I'm more of a gatherer. I am generally uninterested in tracking down first editions of books I want, preferring handsome, sturdy volumes of any edition that I can read. That's the thing, for me: although I may well never get round to reading all of the books I own, I can honestly say that there is not a single book on my shelves that I didn't acquire under the thought that I might one day like to read it.

This isn't to say that I won't purchase books on the basis of their attractiveness or their age; I do this on occasion, but almost always for bargain prices at my beloved library book sale, and even then, I don't buy books purely on the basis of their age or editions. I own four or five complete Shakespeares, several of which are quite old, but this is because in my view you can't have too many complete Shakespeares. One in every room, and all that. I pass by lots of gorgeous volumes that may well be "collectible", because their content does not interest me one whit.

Book collectors, on the other hand -- the true collectors -- acquire their books for other reasons. Age, relevance to a certain topic, rarity, and so on. Here is how Bartlett describes the collector's approach:

Walking by a booth with an impressive selection of dust jacket art, I heard a dealer say to a passerby, "Don't judge a book by its content!" I had read enough about book collectors before the fair to get the joke: Many collectors don't actually read their books. At first, I was surprised, but having given it some thought, it's not so shocking. After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books' physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories -- we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on.

For me, the most important book-as-object from my childhood is Charlotte's Web, the first book I mail-ordered after joining a book club. I still remember my thrill at seeing the mailman show up with it at our front door on a sunny Saturday morning. It had a crisp paper jacket, unlike the plastic-covered library books I was used to, and the way the pages parted, I could tell I was the first to open it. For several days I lived in Wilbur's world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte's death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book. I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put off the inevitable end, my banishment from that world. I still do this. It doesn't make sense, though, because the pleasure of that world does not really end for good. You can always start over on page one -- and you can remember.


I'm always a bit saddened when I look through the childrens' books at the library sales, and find volume after volume with inscriptions inside the front covers, inscriptions like "To Annie, I hope you like this book, Love, Grandma." Grandma took time to pick the book and write something nice inside, and yet, this physical emblem of a grandparent's love for their grandchild has been packed up and sent off to the library book sale. Yes, I'm likely guilty of this myself; I remember some books that my own grandmothers gave me back when they were alive, and I'm not sure a single one still lurks in some corner of my parents' house.

But back to The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. Bartlett's book focuses on a single book collector named John Gilkey and the illegal methods he used to collect his books, and a bookseller named Ken Sanders who finds himself tracking Gilkey's thefts. Gilkey pays for books with bad checks; he gets a job in a retail establishment and then steals his own customers' credit card numbers to buy more books; he lies his way through meetings with booksellers and even involves his own father as a dupe to pick up books so he can't be traced himself. And Sanders is tracking him all the while, even as he constantly bemoans the fact that law enforcement people apparently don't take book theft all that seriously.

The Man Who.... is actually, at its heart, a character study about these two men: the criminal who desperately wants an amazing book collection as a status symbol and who engages in some pretty breathtaking justifications of his crimes (he seems to genuinely believe that he has a right to the books he steals), and the crusty bookseller who wants nothing more than a big legal victory against one of the country's most brazen book thieves. Bartlett interviews both men at length, even going into prison to talk with Gilkey, who is in and out of jail so often that it's clear he simply views it as part of the cost of doing business.

I may never be the type of person to spend several hundred dollars for an edition of some book; I'm just not wired that way. I'll never completely understand the impulse of someone who wants to spend that much on a book that they have no real interest in reading, but even so, the book-collecting world is a fascinating one to look into on occasion.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Drink up, me hearties!

Color me excited!

Some Random Observations

Comments on some stuff....

:: I'm still not much of a fan, but over time I've developed a small bit of appreciation for The Family Guy. Mainly, I find Stewie (the megalomaniacal English-accented baby) and Brian (the articulate, alcoholic dog) reasonably funny. Everybody else, not as much. But I don't hate the show as much as I used to.

However, I'm in no danger of becoming a fan of Seth McFarlane's in general. The Cleveland Show and American Dad are freakishly awful.

:: Last night's Simpsons episode was a repeat of a Sideshow Bob episode I hadn't seen before, that borrowed its plot from the movie FACE/OFF. Bob escaped prison by switching faces with a cellmate. A line I liked, from Bob describing his own removal of his own face: "As Krusty's assistant for many years, I had been hit with so many pies that my face had lost all sensation!" Geez. One wonders what kind of pies Krusty's using, that they hurt that much.

:: I'm not following America's Got Talent all that much -- turning it on occasionally, mainly -- but I do like the "Fighting Gravity" and "AscenDance" acts quite a bit. In fact, both acts are of similar types, so I wouldn't mind seeing both win and end up doing acts in Vegas together. I'd love to see the show end with some act like this winning, as opposed to yet another singer. Three of four winners have been singers thus far (the second was amazing ventriloquist Terry Fator), and if I wanted to watch a mere singing competition, well...that's what IDOL is for.

:: The weather this summer has been awful. June was cooler and rainier here than normal, and July has been one nearly unbroken stream of hot-and-humid. I am more than ready for August, which I've always found the most pleasant of the summer months. (Well, I guess I have to include September, but emotionally, I consider September to be an autumn month, even if it's often in the 80s in September round here.) But this month has been too warm for me to enjoy doing much of anything outside at all.

:: I'm starting to feel the pull of the Siren Song of power tools of all kinds. I'm not sure that I have any real use for one those new Dremel Trio tools, but damned if I don't want one. (No, I'm not going to buy one absent a use for it. I'm not that dumb.)

:: I feel pretty stupid when I have to go into Home Depot to exchange an accessory for a power tool of mine, because I bought the wrong accessory or the wrong size accessory or something similar. I should know what I need, dammit! (Specifically, it was the belts for my belt sander that I bought the other day. I needed 18-inch belts and got 21-inch ones because I wasn't paying attention.)

:: People in West Seneca, NY are resisting the conversion of some buildings that already exist from a no-longer-being-used satellite college campus into housing for low-income senior citizens, on the usual basis that traffic will go way up (because apparently senior homes have traffic rivaling that of local shopping malls) and because it will "lower property values". How it will do this, I have no idea. Personally, I wouldn't mind having a new, built-in community of folks who will spend money in the town, especially since it would mean using pre-existing building stock, but that's just me. Gotta love those NIMBY's -- they're not just about preventing the dumping of nuclear waste in their backyards anymore!

:: Is it just me, or have fireworks displays become, well, boring over the years? Unless you're watching the super-duper displays in New York or Washington or Boston for the 4th of July, or the amazing displays at Disney World, it's just kinda nice and kinda dull now. "Ooooh, a red one! And now a green one! That one's purple AND green! And a couple of those loud BOOMy ones just for effect! And now...a red one and a green one at the same time!"

Maybe, though, fireworks displays were always like this, and I only realize it now because these days, if you want, you can see fireworks somewhere on a weekly basis. At least in Buffalo, you can. When I was a kid, fireworks were on July 4, and that's it. That's the way it was, and we liked it!

:: People who drive in pristine white Oldsmobiles are extremely annoying. But even worse are people who drive around in Camaros as though they are pristine white Oldsmobiles.

Sentential Links #214

Linkage....

:: Today, this argument would almost certainly carry the day. Even most liberals wouldn't fight it. It's as if we've been brainwashed against arguing that we should do something purely because it represents the way we think people deserve to be treated. We need graphs and charts and dueling models of economic distribution instead. (Good post by Kevin Drum that captures something that's been bothering me for years about the American political debate -- everything comes down to cost, or whether it makes money, or whatever. Everything. The context here is the increasingly common practice employers -- read, businesses -- have on factoring credit checks into hiring decisions, as if someone's credit can really be said to have a bearing on their character or likelihood to be a good employee.)

:: Thoreau's grim observation is a call to revolution. Not the revolution of mobs but a revolution of the spirit.

:: We can't stay 24 forever, but we can always look good if we make an effort.

:: But for sentimental reasons my money’s on the first couple. The second couple’s having their fun now and it’s enough and good for them. Good luck to them both in whatever comes next. But I want to believe that twenty or twenty-five years from now the first couple will be down here with their kids and he’ll look out from the beach one day and see another couple on the float, talking, and he’ll think with more amusement and affection than nostalgia and regret, “Were we ever that young?”

:: Although my blog was supposed
to be about art
it became more about the "art of life,"
and living the adventures
of being a wild woman,
sweet, funny and trying.
In this, I have found a new voice
and a storytelling quality,
I didn't know I had.
(Brand new blog to me; one of the more whimsical blogs I've come across of late!)

:: I believe in the Shekinah, the Buddha, our vibrating strings and the forbidden forest. (Another wonderful blog that's new to me. Whoever said that blogging is dead must have stopped looking in 2006, because I keep finding new and amazing people out there.)

:: I'm usually the last one to to complain about (or pick up on) this kind of thing--and I'm the first to skeptical when people try to turn something that seems harmless into a racial thing --but damned if the first thing to pop into my head while reading this was "Wait, Superman is making Philly safe for white folks?" (Read this and the several posts immediately preceding it for some interesting comment on the current storyline in the Superman comics. The story looks...well, pretty downright awful, on a whole bunch of levels, the worst being that J. Michael Straczynski, who is writing this, has decided that Superman's main power is his super-doucheyness.)

All for this week. Back next week!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Meme of Many Odd Questions, part trois

Wrapping this up, which I've done the last two weeks. Via Sunday Stealing:

45. Favorite color?

Purple.

46. Have you ever slapped someone?

Sure. Punched and kicked, too. I was a kid once. (I'm proud that I've never slapped The Kid or The Wife, though.)

47. Is your hair curly?

Not really, although it does occasionally hang in loose ringlets.

48. What was the last CD you bought?

Wow, it's been a long time since I bought a CD at a store. I've downloaded music, though. I love CDs, but they've always been too expensive, and increasingly hard to find in stores.

49. Do looks matter?

Unfortunately, they end up mattering a bit. It's a damned shame.

50. Could you ever forgive a cheater?

At cards? Maybe. At love? I hope I never have to find out.

51. Is your phone bill sky high?

It's probably higher than it should be, just because we should really get off our arses and consolidate our phone service or something. We've talked about ditching our land-line and going with Fios for Internet only, but we haven't pulled the trigger yet.

52. Do you like your life right now?

Sure. It needs some improving, but it's fine.

53. Do you sleep with the TV on?

We don't even have a teevee in the bedroom. When we want to watch something while in bed, we use my laptop...and I don't fall asleep with the laptop!

54. Can you handle the truth?

Sure!

55. Do you have good vision?

It's OK, I guess. I wear glasses for reading and computer stuff, but other than that, I'm OK. I've noticed that my long-distance visual acuity has been dropping over the years; I used to be able to see things from very far distances that are now harder to make out.

56. Do you hate or dislike more than 3 people?

Dislike, sure. Hate, no. I try to avoid hate.

57. How often do you talk on the phone?

When at work, fairly often (we have a wireless phone system). When at home, not that often. Mainly calls to The Wife when she's at work.

58. The last person you held hands with?

The Wife. I love her hand; I think we started holding hands on our second or third date.

59. What are you wearing?

What else? A white t-shirt under a pair of overalls.

60. What is your favourite animal?

The buffalo, the killer whale, and the good old cat.

61. Where was your favorite picture taken at?

Right outside our apartment building. (That's just one of many favorites.)

62. Can you hula hoop?

I'm not sure I've ever tried!

63. Do you have a job?

Well, duh.

64. What was the most recent thing you bought?

The new oil filter for The Wife's car.

65. Have you ever crawled through a window?

Probably, but I don't recall doing so.

And that's it. I think that the Meme of Many Odd Questions is finally over!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddity and Awesome abound!

:: The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man. No, seriously.

:: The new trailer for Tron Legacy:



This looks...really cool, I must say.

:: I'm thrilled to see my preferred mode of response to the Fred Phelps crew taking hold, whenever these doofuses decided to show up somewhere. My favorite sign, amongst that crowd, is "MAGNETS -- HOW THE $&%* DO THEY WORK?"

All for this week!

Productivity: I has it!

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I forgot something! Updated at bottom.

It's been a pretty busy weekend at Casa Jaquandor:

:: Grocery shopping, as usual.

:: Making dinner last night. I found a new recipe for Chicago Deep Dish Pizza crust, which I tried out with these results:

Chicago Deep Dish pizza, new recipe

Wonderful! My original Chicago Pizza crust recipe was good, but I always felt like something was missing, because it didn't turn out as flaky or buttery as the crust at Pizzeria Uno. So I found this recipe, which is pretty close to the same except that it adds a secret ingredient.

Which is butter.

Yum!!! I love this stuff, even if it does take quite a while to make.

:: The big task, though, was changing The Wife's oil. Well, the oil in her car. I can't very well change her oil, right?

Regular readers will remember the debacle that unfolded last time I tried to do this job. Well, this time I met with success, but not without a few speedbumps along the way. First, the weather refused to cooperate for days; I've been trying to get this job done for a week, and only today did the weather finally start to clear up. Second, The Wife's car is not easy to get jacked up high enough to do an oil change. (Next time I'll be buying those little ramp things.) Third, it turned out that we had bought the wrong filter last time, so I had to go off and get the right one. Ugh! But...finally, the oil is changed. Huzzah!

:: Also, laundry.

And now, blessed relief! Time for a beer.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, how could I forget this? I've written in the past about various operational difficulties that have afflicted the Main Computer here at Casa Jaquandor -- the super-loud cooling fan, the CPU cooler that started to fail, the fact that the computer doesn't currently recognize the CD-DVD drive (I need to re-install Windows for this to work again, I think), and so on. Well, something new started happening: the computer would switch into Power-save mode and nothing would bring it back out. So after probing about, I diagnosed this as the video card overheating. Our original video card has a tiny cooling fan of its own, but I discovered that it was no longer spinning at all, so I assumed that was my culprit. I read that you can replace those fans, but I figured that since the computer's nearly four years old anyway, replacing the video card entirely is probably the way to go. I want to get at least one more year out of that machine, anyway. So it was off to Best Buy, where I picked up a new video card for $50. (We don't do hard-core gaming or anything, so those insane cards that cost $170 are not in the running.)

Got home and got the new card physically installed, which was actually quite easy. Hooked everything back up, fired up the computer, and realized a new problem. Everything was working, but the video card needed to have its drivers and such installed via the CD-ROM that it came with.

Which the computer couldn't read because that drive is currently inoperative.

So I put the CD-ROM into my laptop and copied its files to a Flash drive, and then I ran the installation software on the Main Computer using the Flash drive. And now, everything seems to be working. Not only has there been no recurrence of the Power Save thing happening, but the heat sink on the new card must be of higher quality -- that, or the new card just runs cooler -- because the main cooling fan in the computer has been kicking into high gear a lot less frequently. I do still plan to add one more cooling fan to the machine, just to be safe, but so far, so good.

There! I think that's everything.

Oh wait -- I didn't get any writing done at all this weekend. Shit. What a wasted weekend!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Being noir


My biography?, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I just finished the book pictured herein, and wondered briefly if the title could apply to me...but of course not! As if I could love books too much. Anyway, the title sounds like a 1950s detective movie, hence the black and white.

Look for the sequel, "The Man Who Wore Overalls Too Much". Coming in 2011 to bookstores near you!

100 SF books everyone should read

Here's a list of 100 SF books that apparently everyone needs to read. In accordance with blogging tradition, I shall reproduce the list now, with the titles I've read in bold, titles I haven't read but already own and plan to read in italic, titles which I don't own but still hope to read in red, and occasional comment along the way.

The Postman – David Brin
The Uplift War – David Brin
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Foundation – Isaac Asimov
Foundation and Empire – Isaac Asimov
Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov

I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
Rogue Moon – Algis Budrys
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke
The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
Armor – John Steakley
Imperial Stars – E. E. Smith (Never heard of this. But I have read other EE "Doc" Smith, in his more famous Lensmen sequence.)

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card (Won't be reading these. OSC has revealed himself to be such a jerk that I have no desire to visit his work, no matter how highly regarded it is.)

Dune – Frank Herbert
The Dosadi Experiment – Frank Herbert
Journey Beyond Tomorrow – Robert Sheckley
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Valis – Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick (I've never read any PKD! What gives?)

1984 – George Orwell
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut (I've never read Vonnegut either. What a hole in my literary life.)

The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
The Island of Doctor Moreau – H. G. Wells
The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
From the Earth to the Moon – Jules Verne
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
(I'm not sure I'd put it in The SF Canon just yet, but it's a cracking good book.)

Nova Express – William S. Burroughs
Ringworld – Larry Niven (Just raed it! Great ideas in here.)
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The Unreasoning Mask – Philip Jose Farmer
To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer
Eon – Greg Bear
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
Lightning – Dean Koontz
The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison
The Fifth Head of Cerebus – Gene Wolfe
Nightside of the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester

Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
Doomsday Book – Connie Wills
Beserker – Fred Saberhagen
Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. LeGuin
The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin
Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delany
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
The Forever War – Joe Haldeman

Star King – Jack Vance
The Killing Machine – Jack Vance
Trullion: Alastor 2262 – Jack Vance (I have a Vance collection somewhere...need to read it.)

Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein (I bounced off this book the first time I tried to read it.)

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
A Time of Changes – Robert Silverberg
Gateway – Frederick Pohl (Loved this book.)
Man Plus - Frederick Pohl
The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
The Execution Channel – Ken Macleod
Last and First Men – W. Olaf Stapledon
Slan – A. E. van Vogt
Out of the Silent Planet – C. S. Lewis
They Shall Have Stars – James Blish
Marooned in Realtime – Vernor Vinge
A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge
The People Maker – Damon Knight
The Giver – Lois Lowry
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Contact – Carl Sagan
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
(Dreck. Pure and utter dreck; wretched prose, embarrassing characters, and one of the most sickening worldviews I can think of. And what makes The Fountainhead an SF book? There is nothing SFNal about it.)

Battlefield Earth – L. Ron Hubbard (Oh, come on now. Why should anybody read this?)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain
Little Brother – Cory Doctorow
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
Planet of the Apes – Pierre Boulle

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Something for Thursday

I've never seen the movie, but John Williams's score to Empire of the Sun is generally held to be one of his finer efforts. Here's "Caddilac of the Skies".

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You get to hang out with Jean-Philippe! Yay!!!

Just a couple of reactions to last night's Hell's Kitchen, written as things happened. Spoilers, so highlight to read:

:: Ben is starting to sink a bit. I'm loving it. As Chef Ramsay noted, "At this point in the competition, the weak start to get exposed." Ben's faults are coming through, which is a good thing.

:: Jay spent a day with Holli. Therefore, I must kill him. Pistols at dawn, Jay!

:: Autumn is totally irritating.

:: I still hate Ben, I still love Holli, and Jay's moves on her must result in his being dropped into a very high elevator shaft. With no elevator. Betrayer most foul!!!

:: Let me be clear on this: Holli's behavior on this episode makes clear that she has no particular revulsion for guys with unusual hair who are also on the larger side. GAHHH!!!

:: Hmmmm...The Wife may read this. I may be spending tonight on the floor. Luckily, The Wife has also shown no particular revulsion for guys with unusual hair who are also on the larger side!

:: Ben tries to execute some kind of maneuver to make himself look good. Sous-chef Scott has none of it. Best moment of the season!

:: Gone tonight: Ed and Jason. Ben dodged a bullet, sadly enough. But Ben probably showed more outright skill than Jason did. I'm confident that Ben will probably be one of the next to go.


Back next week!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

This is purely hypothetical, but I'm curious anyway, so: if I was to give you the task of renaming this blog, what would you have me name it?

(No, I'm not thinking of renaming it. This is pure curiosity!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Breakfast -- the Meal of the Gods


Breakfast at Charlie's, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I love food of nearly all varieties, but like a lot of folks, there's a special place in my heart for breakfast. There's something awfully nice about a day that starts off with a nice, big, filling breakfast. I'm not partial to any particular item for breakfast: I'll have my beloved waffles or pancakes with pure maple syrup and a side of some kind of meat, or I'll have an omelet and homefries, or I'll go big and get one of those combo breakfast meals that every good breakfast joint has.

The photo above is one of those meals, from one of my absolute favorite breakfast joints: Charlie's Diner in East Aurora, NY. It's exactly what it sounds like: a diner, with typical diner grub. Inside there's seating at a cramped counter and a few tables in the first room, but the place has become so popular over the years that it's obviously expanded greatly, with additional dining room areas. And best of all is the seating area on the porch out front, where one can sit in shaded fresh air and eat. It's just a fantastic place. My meal above consisted of two eggs, three sausage links, home fries, toast on homemade bread, and a stack of three pancakes that I couldn't squeeze into the frame. (The pancakes at the upper left are The Daughter's.)

I love breakfast because it tends to be the most value-packed of meals. You can get a huge meal, with coffee and OJ, at most places like this for around $10. That's great, especially when you eat late enough in the morning and you eat enough food to make lunch expendable.

We ate there on a Saturday morning two weeks ago before attending the East Aurora Farmers Market. Farmers markets are some of my favorite things; just wandering around, looking at all the fresh produce and vegetables and plants and flowers and other items is fantastic, and I love being able to hand my money for a head of lettuce to the person who grew it.

Back on the subject of breakfasts, we discovered quite by accident last week a great show on PBS called Breakfast Special. This show spends an hour profiling different kinds of breakfast joints throughout the country, from one of Western New York's own pancake houses (the Maple Tree Inn, which is only open during maple syrup harvesting season) across the country to a couple of places in Portland, OR. Watching this show made us terribly hungry. If you can find the show on your PBS station, check it out.

Wow, I want to eat some breakfast now...and as I'm writing this, I've just finished dinner!

On that Mosque near Ground Zero

Setting aside the glorious way in which this subject prompted America's Idiot-In-Chief, Sarah Palin, to live right up to her rep for being the single most empty-headed person in America's public life, I have to note that I grow tire of a certain style of thinking regarding issues like this. The reasoning basically goes thusly: "Sure, 99.9 percent of the Muslims in the world are not actually terrorists waiting to suicide-bomb you, but for the good of America, we should certainly treat all of 'em as if they are."

And for the "Build it, but somewhere else" crowd, what is the acceptable distance? Ten blocks? Twenty? A mile? If it's meant to serve Muslims in Lower Manhattan, where should it go that it won't be too darn close to the WTC site? Or should they just not build it in Manhattan at all?

Count me among those who think that letting this mosque get built and used without making any fuss whatsoever would put forth a much greater demonstration of America's ideals than anything I've seen in quite some time.

UPDATE: Alan says what I said, but he uses a lot more words to do it. Ha!

Monday, July 19, 2010

MarioKart!

Turn turn turn turn turn turn TURN!!!

So, we picked up Mario Kart a while back. This is, as the title makes clear, is one of the Mario franchise games. It's a go-kart/race track game, in which you pick your character and your vehicle and navigate at breakneck speeds through various courses that have lots of obstacles.

Of course, this being Mario, you're pitted against all manner of obstructions: walking bombs, yawning precipices over molten lava, enormous caterpillars that wander back and forth across the path you're driving, and so on. Sometimes you're driving on a raceway; other times you're driving on normal roads that are populated by other cars. There are races on ice, and there's a maddening race on a narrow track that orbits the Earth. (Go off the road on that one, and you burn up on re-entry. Wheeeee!!!)

Mario Kart is an occasionally maddening game to play. There are ways to pick up items that help you out throughout the game; some of these give you speed bursts, while others are weapons you deploy to slow down the other drivers. The other drivers, though, get to pick up the same kinds of weapons, and sometimes sheer bad luck can convert a first-place running into limping into the finish in 11th place (out of 12). The most maddening ones are when you're hit with multiple objects, right after the other, so you can't even get yourself started again before you're hit.

But like the other Mario game with which I'm deeply familiar, Super Mario Bros., this one is designed for maximum addictiveness. The races are no more than three or four minutes long, with four races being grouped into a "cup", so there is constant temptation for "just one more race and then I'll go do some writing, really, I totally promise." Especially when certain courses prove to be so difficult that all you want to do is come in first, just once! (I have yet to win Wario's Gold Mine, for example. That one drives me batty.)

The game's visual invention is amazing. Not just the landscapes, but there are humorous touches all over. I especially love all the little cameo appearances by people, creatures, or other items from Super Mario, like the giant cast-iron ball of teeth that barks like a dog, or the ghosts that jeer at you, or Bowser himself. And there are lots of small jokes in the backgrounds, such as in the race through Coconut Mall, where at one point you have to contend with cars being driven by whichever Mii's you have created for your system.

I'd write more, but...I need to go play some Mario Kart!

Sentential Links #213

Linkage....

:: In 1998, Krissy decided that we should have a dog. This precipitated a philosophical discussion between the two of us as to what constituted a “dog.” Krissy, whose family had had a number of smaller dogs over the years, was inclined toward something in the shih tzu or maltese direction of things. I, however, steadfastly maintained that if one is going to own a dog, then one should get a dog — a large animal, identifiably related to the wolves whose DNA they shared, who could, if required, drag one’s unconscious ass out of a fire. (It's a long post about a dog. Which means that by the end of it, your eyes will be producing some kind of odd salty discharge, so be warned. Condolences to the Scalzi family on the loss of Kodi; and I've often wondered why the Scalzis only have one child thus far, and this post provides a small answer with which I can relate all too readily.)

:: I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years, and particularly since 9/11 I have tried, when circumstances allow, to make this an underlying theme in my work: that Muslims and Christians can live together, that there is more that unites us than divides us, that it is only the extremists on both sides who want to see a Clash of Civilizations, and not co-existence, rule the day. (Amazing post that relates history to today in a powerfully personal way. Check it out!)

And...I'm going to stop there, actually. I'd like those two to stand out, for obvious reasons. More links next week!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Twenty Albums

Via Roger:

Rules: Create a non-objective list of your favorite albums of the last 20 years (anything released between 1990 and now), remember, this is your FAVORITES so, if Maroon 5’s Songs about Jane was your favorite album, that should be number 1, even if you feel Nevermind was a more influential album.


Sounds like fun, although I do quibble with the word "non-objective" up there. There is no such thing as an "objective" list of the Top X of anything, but that's neither here nor there. So, my top albums from the last twenty years? Hmmmmm....

Well, what the hey. Here's a list, in no particular order:

The Beatles Anthology (Probably cheating here, but it's my list)
The Village Lanterne, Blackmore's Night
Santiago, The Chieftains
The complete scores to The Lord of the Rings (all three)
Cleopatra, Alex North (the restoration by Varese Sarabande)
Hymns of the 49th Parallel, k.d. lang
Les Miserables: The Tenth Anniversary Concert from the Albert Hall
The three scores to the Star Wars prequels
Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Ponyo, Joe Hisaishi
Supernatural, Carlos Santana
The Rising, Bruce Springsteen
Live from the Ends of the Earth, Dougie MacLean
Home, Dixie Chicks
Any of Sir Colin Davis's live recordings of the music of Berlioz, with the London Symphony (particularly Les Troyens and Romeo et Juliette).


What are your favorite albums of the last twenty years?

Meme of Many Odd Questions, part deux

Apparently last week's Sunday Stealing quiz-thing was a two-parter, so once again via, here's Part Deux.

23. Do you rent movies often?

Not terribly often -- once a month, maybe. More often if you count movies watched online or checked out of the library. I'm intrigued by that thing that Netflix has that lets you watch movies on your Wii, I have to admit.

24. Is there anything sparkly in the room you're in?

Yup! Lots of stuff. For instance, I have a wall sconce candle holder on the wall next to my desk, and hanging from that are some Mardi Gras beads. I love the sparkly!

25. How many countries have you visited?

Three. (But I don't remember Mexico and take my parents at their word that I've been there.) The other two are Canada and my own, the USA.

26. Have you made a prank phone call?

Yes, but not very many. My favorite was to call friends in the middle of the night in college and when they answered, to simply say, "Good night!"

27. Ever been on a train?

Yes! I love trains. I want to take a train across the country some day. I really wish the Big Stimulus Package had included a massive investment in railroad infrastructure. I know it included a lot of money for rail, but I'm thinking friggin' enormous. Build the infrastructure, regulate it, and let private companies run the next generation of really fast trains. That would be awesome!

28. Brown or white eggs?

Usually white, just because they're cheaper. In terms of quality or whatever, I have no opinion.

29. Do you have a cell-phone?

Yes! I love it. It has a 3mp camera and I added an 8GB memory card to it, so I can use it as an MP3 player.

30. Do you use Chap Stick?

Occasionally, in the winter. But not that brand, actually; I like the Burt's Bees stuff.

31. Do you own a gun?

No. Guns scare the shit out of me. I have no desire to even hold one, much less own one.

32. Can you use chop sticks?

Yes, but not very well. I need to practice more.

33. Who are you going to be with tonight?

Well, The Daughter's here now and The Wife is working. But The Wife gets home later, so I'll be with her. Weird question that belies this quiz's teenaged origins.

34. Are you too forgiving?

Either that or not forgiving enough.

35. Ever been in love?

I would hope so!

36. What is your best friend(s) doing tomorrow (or the next soonest week day)?

She'll probably go to work, I suppose.

37. Ever have cream puffs?

Yes. Not a big fan, actually, even though I love creamy stuff. Cream pies? Magnificent! Cream puffs? Meh.

38. Last time you cried?

When I realized that Holli on Hell's Kitchen will never be mine.

39. What was the last question you asked?

"Hey, did you forget that you have to do dishes today?"

40. Favorite time of the year?

Fall. October, specifically. October is the month that makes me feel alive: the turning of the leaves, football season gets serious, overalls take over my wardrobe again. (And the way July is going this year, I'm earning my October, dammit!)

41. Do you have any tattoos?

No.

42. Are you sarcastic?

Of course not. What would possibly make you think that?!

43. Have you ever seen The Butterfly Effect?

The movie? Huh? No. This question is odd.

44. Ever walked into a wall?

Um...yes. When I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing. Ugh.

Apparently there are 21 more questions, which I assume will be presented next week. Fun wow!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Life lessons from a Disney mermaid!



:: I may have actually posted this before, and if that's the case, sorry, but: 20 of the World's Most Beautiful Libraries. I'm pretty sure the one from Dublin, Ireland was the template for the Jedi Library in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

:: On a related note is Bookshelf Porn, which collects photos of bookshelves and libraries and bookshops and everything in between. Truly a source of prime, USDA-grade Awesome, although I found the site's functionality a little wonky, so I'm using Google Reader to follow its RSS feed.

Via Bookshelf Porn, I've just learned of a place called Shakespeare and Company. It's the bookshelf I must visit before I die:

Shakespeare & Co.

Which means I'll have to get myself to Paris someday. Sigh....

More next week!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Nine

From here, a weekly quiz:

1. Tell us about the last time that you got hurt in the arena of love.

I got a bad case of turf toe there. Ugh! (Seriously, if we're talking "romantic" love, it's been a long time, as I've been "off the market" since 1991. Which seems weird to me, because before she came along, I sometimes thought I'd never get "off the market".)

2. Have you ever been part of the wedding party, other than your own?

Nope. The Wife has, but I have not. I'm not sure the people in my life now who would be most likely to put me in their wedding party are themselves likely to be getting married any time in the foreseeable future, so I may live my life without ever giving the toast at a wedding. Which is a shame, because I could come up with a good one, I'll wager!

3. Let's say you find yourself in Hell after you die. Think about everyone you've known in your life. Who would be the one person that would least likely to surprise you by being in Hell with you?

Yeesh! Maybe that jerk-off who pushed me off my bike in seventh grade, breaking my collar bone. Ohhhh, if I ever find myself in his company again....

4. What brings you good luck?

The UPS man. He delivers tools when we order them through our supplier at work.

5. Do you have a photo blog? If so, feel free to share the link with us!

Not a "photo blog" per se, but there is my Flickr photostream, which is full of photo-y goodness.

6. What is your biggest source of news? (Internet? Newspaper? Television? Radio? The Daily Show? Other?)

The Interweb and the Buffalo News, mostly. Although the BuffNews is pissing me off of late.

7. What's the hottest you've ever been in your life?

I think there was one 100-degree day when we lived in Portland last, back in 1980 or 1981. One thing I like about Buffalo is that it's never hit 100; in fact, we don't even hit 90 all that often. People who happily bask in hot weather are people who should be watched carefully by psychiatric professionals, because that kind of thinking just isn't right.

8. If you had to choose a theme song for your blog, which would would you choose and why?

The theme to Star Wars! Or The Lord of the Rings.

9. Who was the last person you had an online conversation with that you've never met or talked to on your phone?

Probably Belladonna of Mind-muffins, whom I now track via e-mail and Facebook more than blogging. She and I have similar attitudes on a lot of stuff (although she doesn't care for ABBA, which I find highly odd!).

Carpenterizin'

Occasionally at work I get to do some carpentry by myself. Now, I'm really pretty green as far as carpentry goes, but I'm learning as quickly as I can given that my only real opportunities to practice come at work (but when we get a house, hoo boy, then it's Carpentry Central!). When there are big projects to do -- building of cabinets, for instance -- I tend to wait until one of the more experienced carpenters in the company division is in residence, and then I pay as much attention as possible whilst helping. On simpler jobs, though, I go at it myself. Two weeks ago I had to build three of those A-frame type signs, which were intended for display along the street during special events.

A-frames aren't hard to make, really -- just time-consuming, as they involve quite a bit of cutting and joining. I had to cut six 3*5 sections of plywood out of full-sized, 4*8 sheets, using my circular saw:

It cuts! In circles!


My weapon there is a fairly cheap Ryobi saw, which gets the job done for my purposes. If and when I get more serious about this stuff, I may upgrade to a higher quality saw, but for now, this one's just fine for me. (Although, when I bought it a couple of years ago, the first thing I did was to replace the enclosed blade with a better one, a blade that had twice the number of teeth and a thinner kerf to boot.)

The 3*5 plywood sheets were for the faces of the signs; I built the frames themselves out of 2*4s which I cut down to proper sizes using a miter saw. I then joined the 2*4s together using one of my favorite gizmos, my pocket-hole jig. Pocket-hole joining is amazing to me: not only do they result in strong joints, but they're amazingly easy to do. Here's the jig in action:

Drilling pocket holes


You just clamp your workpiece in the jig and then use the bit that comes with the jig to drill your pocket holes. Then, afterwards, you simply drive your screws through the pocket holes into the piece you're joining to the pre-drilled piece, and everything gets pulled together really nicely. I love the pocket-hole jig. Long live the pocket-hole jig!

Unfortunately, I didn't think to actually take photos of my finished signs, so imagine they look kinda like this, but with better carpentry and no skateboard dude.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Something for Thursday Friday

[Sorry, folks, but I had an unplanned hiatus from blogging, just because it's hot and unpleasant and I just didn't feel much like blogging.]

[Oh, and now I've edited the post after originally posting it. Sorry.]

I've mentioned the music camp I attended as a high school student, and was later employed by as a counselor. There were a number of ensembles for students: a full orchestra, a string orchestra, a small vocal group, a full chorus, two jazz bands, and two concert bands (one for junior high kids and one for high schoolers). Being there for two weeks was always a heady time -- you're away from home without parents, for possibly the first time in your life, and you're working very hard on music, probably harder than you've ever worked in your life. And...well, there are girls there. Yes, I had a few crushes there myself. No, I won't tell you about them! (Let's just say that in high school, my skills with the Fairer of the Genders were, shall we say, less than smooth. Luckily, I got to college and perfected my powers of hypnosis, which is how I managed to convince a certain girl there that I wasn't totally crazy. By the time she figured this out, it was too late! We were already married! HA!)

I had some passing familiarity with music camps from my sister's experiences with them when she'd been in high school some years before. Her music camps were always in college settings; campers stayed in dorms and performed in auditoriums. My camp, however -- called the Bristol Hills Music Camp -- was your canonical summer camp, located out in the woods. The land and the buildings were owned by the 4-H people. The camp was located in the hills above Canandaigua Lake, south of Rochester, NY. We lived in cabins, and were cautioned each year to make sure our bags of chips and candy bars and whatnot were secured lest the raccoons get them. The concerts were given in the main lodge, and outside the front door of the main lodge was this view. You know those stereotypical summer camp bonfires where the campers all gather to sing "Kumbaya"? We did that. For real. Sounds cheesy, but when you actually do it, it's awesome. And each night ended with an hour-long "mixer", at which there were games, refreshments, and dancing. The big thing there was doing the "Time Warp", from Rocky Horror. Everybody came sprinting for the dance floor when that came over the speakers.

Another memory? They'd get a couple of local bands once or twice each year to play a full-fledged dance. One band was awful -- those guys never came again -- but there was another band that played every year, fronted by one of the camp's actual faculty members and featuring a lead singer who looked like she belonged behind the counter at a truck stop diner. Her voice was lower than mine, but man, that crusty broad rocked. (I know, "crusty broad" isn't a flattering term, but it's what she was, and she was totally proud of it.) One year, they brought in a different band to play, and they were actually pretty good -- except that on this night, there was a total lunar eclipse that nobody had known was going to happen beforehand. As the moon faded from view, every camper ditched the band inside to watch the moon outside. I always felt a little bit bad for that band -- I hope somebody told them what was going on and that the kids weren't exiting the hall because they sucked. (I was actually the first person to notice the little brown spot on the edge of the moon that heralds the beginning of an eclipse, huzzah!)

Oh, and for some reason, I spent two years at that camp wearing a fedora. I have no idea why. Overalls, no. Fedora? Yup.

But the music? We played some amazing music there. The first time I sat down in my seat for the first concert band rehearsal, I was in something of a state of awe. It was the biggest ensemble I'd ever been part of. I'd never been a part of a group capable of producing that much sound before. It was just amazing. Over two weeks, we'd prepare one fifteen-minute-long program each week, to be performed at the concert at the end of the week. (I think the camp only operates one week now, which is a shame. Those two-week-long camps were extraordinary.) Each week would be under the direction of one of two different conductors; the first tended to gorgeous, Romantic works full of lots of melody, while the second tended to more cerebral -- but equally awesome -- works. (This second guy would, after a few years, start bringing in his own compositions, which I always enjoyed playing.) Music-making at a summer camp in the woods was just amazing; who else but a bunch of music geeks would, while rehearsing Sousa's Liberty Bell March, would discover that the steel pillars supporting the ceiling of the Main Lodge produced a perfect B-flat, and thus decide to station a percussion player right by that pole, armed with a mallet?

I wish I could remember every piece we played there, but sadly I can't. But several have stuck with me, including this set of variations on "Simple Gifts". Here's Chorale and Shaker Dance by John Zdechlik.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Somebody shoot this prick!"

During my college years, my mates and I would have "Movie Nights" on a pretty regular basis. Almost weekly, actually. This consisted generally of movies, pizza, and beer. Worse ways to spend a night, huh?

One of our common staples in our movie watching was the Lethal Weapon series. Now, at the time, there were only two Lethal Weapon flicks, although the third would come out at the end of our junior year. We loved these movies, and we could readily quote them as ably as we could Star Wars. And yet, once college was over, I pretty much let Lethal Weapon slide into memory a bit, only revisiting it briefly when Lethal Weapon 4 came out in the mid or late 90s. I remember that one being fun, but slightly forgettable. It's been at least eight or nine years since the last time I watched any of them.

This wasn't because I came to dislike them, I should note. They just faded from my memory. I moved on. Until, that is, I saw a set in a cheap DVD bin somewhere that included all four Lethal Weapons. For ten bucks, I had to buy it. This was about a year ago...and I forgot about the discs again. Until now. The other day I watched Lethal Weapon, the 1987 original. I expected it to feel like sliding into a comfortable article of clothing that I haven't worn in a very long time, and it did feel like that. But I also found myself admiring it more than ever. Lethal Weapon is still a terribly well-made film, exciting and thrilling and full of wit and verve. It has aged extremely well.

First, though, a brief aside about Mel Gibson. His behavior seems to get more indefensible every time he shows up in the news, which is a damned shame. I once counted him among my favorite actors, and he was starting, in the mid-90s into the first years of the 2000s, to show signs that his career was progressing in an Eastwoodian fashion, from action-and-genre star to more serious actor and pretty good director. I still love Braveheart, and The Man Without a Face is a terribly underrated film, in my opinion. But apparently there's been a very ugly underside to Gibson all these years, and the last five years or so, he's found it impossible to keep that underside hidden as he was once able to do. It's a damned shame, really. I think that Mel Gibson is a fantastically talented man...but apparently he's a colossal SOB to such a degree that it's hard to like his work as much as I once did.


What's good about Lethal Weapon? Lots of things. It's a buddy story, obviously, as well as a "redemption" story. Gibson's Martin Riggs is suicidal after the death (in a car crash) of his beloved wife; Glover's Roger Murtaugh is tired and weary as he approaches retirement. Both men are thrust together in an uneasy partnership as they become involved in a case involving the murder of the daughter of an old Army buddy of Murtaugh's, a case that leads to bigger and bigger things until Riggs and Murtaugh find themselves up against a drug-running operation of ex-CIA spooks.

All of the typical "buddy" movie tropes are here -- the uneasy, suspicious feelings between the two men at the outset; the clashes as their respective differences in how to do things rear their heads; the gradual opening of respect between the two as they get to know each other; the final act in which they depend on each other; the final scenes where their friendship is openly established. What makes this all special in Lethal Weapon is, in great part, the chemistry between our two leads; if ever any two actors were born to be in a movie together, Gibson and Glover are the guys. What makes it work even more, though, is that the film avoids easy epiphanies and Big Moments of Truth. Instead, we see the little moments that depict the lowering of defenses, the growing of understandings, and the fostering of friendship. The script is very well written, in this regard.

Consider the early scenes just after Riggs and Murtaugh have been paired up. Neither is thrilled about the situation, and Murtaugh keeps making digs at Riggs over his tendency to charge full-speed ahead into situations ("See? I shot him in the leg, which is why we can question him now. You cuff him, and I'll stand over here, being happy.") There's a moment where Murtaugh admits that his birthday was the day before, and Riggs says, "Maybe I'll get you a present. It's the least I can do, after the warmth you've shown me today." And while Murtaugh doesn't really say anything to this, his facial expression relents. A bit.

There is a big confrontation scene which comes immediately on the heels of one of the film's biggest laughs; going from a hilarious scene (in which Riggs has to talk down a jumper from a tall building) right into a tension-filled confrontation as Murtaugh tries to ascertain whether Riggs actually is suicidal is a master stroke in the film. In this scene, Riggs admits that he thinks about suicide every day -- "Every. Single. Day." -- but the one thing that keeps him from pulling the trigger is the prospect of still being a cop. "Doing the job".

Which is why it's so great that when it comes time for one of the two men to realize that the case they've just wrapped up is actually anything but, it's Riggs who makes the realization. This partnership and this case are reawakening his brain. And in the same way, working with Riggs is reawakening Murtaugh's. It just works very well. I also like the depiction of Murtaugh's normal family life, and the way that Riggs becomes welcome in that family very quickly.

Of course, the main attraction of an action flick is...the action, which is first-rate all the way through, even during the admittedly goofy final fight between Riggs and Gary Busey's "Mr. Joshua". The film is full of first-rate stunt work, and Richard Donner is always good at directing chaos and mayhem so it's violent and kinetic and yet easy to follow. He even manages to make it plausible when Riggs takes off on foot after Mr. Joshua, who has just stolen a car.

Lethal Weapon is one of the best action films of the 80s. For my money, it's every bit as good as Die Hard, which is commonly held as the action movie gold standard.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

In the interests of broadening the horizons, I'm going to diversify this weekly feature a bit, and start including conversation starters that are simple questions, as opposed to the "either/or" thing I've done up 'til now. I'll still do the either/or thing, but I'll take an occasional different approach. So here's the first new type of Wednesday Conversation Starter:

Why does ice clinking against the side of a glass sound better in lemonade than it does in any other beverage on the planet?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

FOX! CURSE YOU, FOX!!!


CURSE YOU!!!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

So I settle in for my weekly dose of the beautiful Holli Hell's Kitchen, only to discover that the Major League Baseball All Star Game is on instead. Betrayer most foul!!!

I was hoping to write like George Lucas.

Here's a fun little tool that analyzes a piece of your writing and tells you what famous writer you write like. I did it twice, and here are my results:


I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!




And:


I write like
Edgar Allan Poe

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!




Funny thing? I put in two extracts from the same piece of writing (my current space opera project). So apparently I'm writing a "Stephen King meets Edgar Allan Poe...in space!!!" type of thing.

Which is pretty cool, because now that I think about it, I'd love to read a "Stephen King meets Edgar Allan Poe...in space!!!" type of thing!

Thoughts on the Taste

This weekend was Buffalo's annual food festival, A Taste of Buffalo, wherein fifty or sixty area restaurants set up booths in downtown Buffalo and sell sample-sized portions of their menu items. It's always a fun time; we've been going for over ten years now.

The prices have gone up a bit over the years. The way Taste works is this: you never pay the restaurants directly. Instead, you buy tickets at $.50 each (in sheets of ten), and then you "pay" the restaurants in tickets. Small items tend to go for 3 tickets each, mid-items will for for 4, 5, or even 6; most places have a "big" item that goes for 8 tickets. When we first started going, ticket prices at the booths topped out at 6 tickets, so items that were once $3.00 are now $4.00. No big deal, really, but we do budget for it.

Typically we spend between $40 and $60 down there, which isn't awful, for a family of three. And that's all food: we take our own drinks, packing a cooler bag with some Pepsis and a lot of water bottles. We also never drop by the beer tents or the wine places -- one joint was doing "wine slushies" for fifteen tickets each. We were quite full when we left, even though we got "burned" at one place whose 8-ticket item turned out to be very small indeed. (Oddly enough, it was one of our favorite local restaurants! It was doing barbecue ribs for 8 tickets. I like their ribs, so I plunked down my tickets -- and was handed a little paper basket with two ribs in it. Harumph.)

Anyway, we had several slices of pizza from various places, two different versions of Caribbean Jerk chicken, a cup of chicken wing soup, a pulled pork sandwich and some mac-and-cheese from a barbecue joint, as well as some ice cream and a few other goodies along the way. I have noted that there doesn't seem to be enough "new blood" every year, and we've been going to the Taste long enough that we have "old favorites". The addition of a second place offering Jerk Chicken was pretty cool, though!

We left when the crowds started getting too thick, which usually happens around 3:00 in the afternoon. (There was an awful bottleneck in the street at one point, which turned out to be because Senator Charles Schumer chose the worst possible spot to set up camp for his day of handshaking. It's always nice to see one's Senator, but he sure picked a lousy spot to stand!)

There was one other way that the Taste of Buffalo cost us a chunk of money on Saturday. After walking around downtown eating for three-and-a-half hours, we were all pretty tired when we got home. So when dinner time rolled 'round...we decided to get a pizza and some wings instead. There went another thirty bucks! Oh well. It was a great food day, though.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why can't the gods ever target, say, Dallas like this?

I'm not sure what Cleveland did recently to so annoy the Gods, but yeesh. Getting shafted on national teevee by Lebron James was bad, but the passing of Harvey Pekar? That's just mean, Governors of the Universe.

I read Pekar's graphic novel The Quitter last year and posted about it here. At the moment I actually have Pekar's graphic adaptation of Studs Terkel's Working out of the library right now, although I haven't started it yet. I'm a new admirer of Pekar's, and I'm saddened to know that he won't be producing anything more.

Monday Mayhem

Monday Mayhem is not unlike Sunday Stealing, in that it provides quizzes for bloggers on a weekly basis. I figured I'd do one of them:

1. Lindsay Lohan was recently sentenced to 90 days in jail. What do you think her future has in store for her?

Jail time.

2. What is the biggest fashion "don't" that you would like to police?

I don't believe in fashion "don't"s. I've long come to the belief that virtually all of fashion consists of some folks somewhere deciding arbitrarily what's "in" and what's "out". I have no time for that crap, at all.

3. How should we punish sites that lure us in with "read this" and take us somewhere where we are first greeted by a pop-up and then a series of click throughs to actually read the meat of the story?

They should be beaten with tire irons.

4. What is the most you will do to post a comment on a site? At what point is it not worth posting a comment?

I don't comment enough on my favorite blogs, but I've been trying to do so more often.

5. If you purchase something online and you are charged for postage, is it still reasonable to charge for "shipping and handling"? What exactly does "shipping and handling" entail?

Well, it's not just postage. There's the cost of the box and the cost of the time and effort to get the thing packed and, if it's just you by yourself, getting the thing to the post office. When I ship stuff I sell via eBay, I tend to charge a dollar or so more than what I figure the postage will be. (Or, at least I used to, before eBay decided to mandate certain shipping charges, which I find annoying.)

Sentential Links #212

Linkage....

:: Thanks for helping me rehearse for my next grand jury appearance.

:: I am a middle aged, doughy white man. At 80 years old Ernie is thinner, far more fit and much more energetic than I will ever be. He also has more hair on his head.

:: One of the things most people don't realize about cows is that they are extremely crafty What I mean is, they are much smarter than one might think. Case in point: Fences.

:: Jennifer Tilly is one of my best friends. No, we've never met, but I know it. Deep down I am sure she and I would be buddies. She's funny and quirky, sexy as hell, and has a cartoon voice. What else do you need?

:: I love the rain, it hides all these tears.

:: I’m sure you all remember the excitement that led up to January 1, 2000! Today’s story, written 43 years before, predicts all sorts of amazing things, including a future in which pedantic trolls don’t go around saying, “Um, actually the new century doesn’t start until 2001.”

:: I am the kind of guy that loves new food products. If I see a commercial for some new cheez-it flavor or something, I have to try it. I am a sucker when I go into the grocery store and see 'NEW' on any product in big bold letters just teasing me. This is especially true for the cookie, cracker, chip or candy aisle. My ultimate weakness is a new flavor of Doritos, I have to have them.

More next week!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: What a cool blog! It's a food blog that focuses on food and history. Lots of recipes paired with historical information, and it's cool to scroll down the blog and read the bits of food history that happened under each American President. Here, for example, is a list of provisions called for at the Second Inaugural of President Ulysses S. Grant:

Among other provisions were 10,000 fried oysters; 63 boned turkeys; 150 capons stuffed with truffles; 15 saddles of mutton; 200 dozen quails; 200 hams; 250 chickens; 400 partridges; 25 stuffed boar’s heads; 3,000 head cheese sandwiches; 2,000 ham sandwiches; 8,000 pickled oysters and 2,000 pounds of lobster.


Sounds like a hell of a party, right? Go over there and read about how the party went!

:: Want to see ladies in bikinis reading lines from Star Wars IV: A New Hope? Sure you do!



:: When I was in grade school, there was a series of educational films that we'd watch in class on occasion. They were called "the Hot Dog movies", and they were short films on various subjects. They used a lot of goofy humor, and they included appearances by Woody Allen and Joanne Whorley. Apparently these films ran on teevee sometime in the early 1970s, but I saw them in class in third and fourth grade. One of the only ones that I really remember dealt with US paper currency, and as luck would have it, that's the only Hot Dog film I've been able to find on YouTube. Here it is. I just think this is pretty cool!



Anybody else ever watch these?

Meme of Many Odd Questions

From Sunday Stealing:

1. First thing you wash in the shower?

My hair.

2. What color is your favorite hoodie?

My three tie-dyed hoodies, actually -- green, purple and red and blue.

3. Would you kiss the last person you kissed again?

I hope so, since I married her!

4. Do you plan outfits?

Not any farther than, "Hey, haven't worn this in a while."

5. How are you feeling RIGHT now?

Kinda nappy, actually. I think I'll take a nap. (I'm writing this late afternoon Saturday.)

6. What's the closest thing to you that's red?

My pocket knife, sitting on the desk.

7. Tell me about the last dream you remember having?

Can't remember any right now. My memories of dreams fade very quickly.

8. Did you meet anybody new today?

Not by name, but there were lots of strangers at Taste of Buffalo.

9. What are you craving right now?

Pizza. I'll probably buy one for dinner.

10. Do you floss?

Absolutely.

11. What comes to mind when I say cabbage?

Corned beef?

12. Are you emotional?

Yes. And no.

13. Have you ever counted to 1,000?

Nope. I've started as a getting-to-sleep measure, but never gotten there.

14. Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it?

I alternate between both.

15. Do you like your hair?

Sure!

16. Do you like yourself?

Most times. Sometimes I gotta get away from myself, though.

17. Would you go out to eat with George W. Bush?

If he's buying, maybe. I'd be faking the niceties, though.

18. What are you listening to right now?

Nothing.

19. Are your parents strict?

Since I'm 38 and haven't lived at home for quite a few years, I'm going to say, Not really.

20. Would you go sky diving?

Maybe....

21. Do you like cottage cheese?

It's OK. I used to hate it, and now I don't. But I don't adore it, either. It's good and I should eat it more often.

22. Have you ever met a celebrity?

Nope.

Short quiz....

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The point left a contrail above his head

Matthew Yglesias has been one of my favorite bloggers for years, but in commenting today on Lebron James, he misses the point about as badly as a point can be missed.

I’m all for rooting against the new look Heat, but it is worth saying that a lot of the anti-LeBron commentary of the past couple of days bespeaks a major anti-labor bias in our popular culture. The guy had an offer from one employer and a competing offer from another employer—he took the offer he preferred. Is that really so terrible? Does he really have a moral obligation to work for Dan Gilbert’s for-profit firm indefinitely? Would you like to be told that if you get offered a better job, it’s unethical for you to accept it? I wouldn’t.


Look. This stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and we're not talking about, say, a District Manager for Fed-Ex going to work as a District Manager for UPS. There's a lot more at work here than an employee simply deciding to take a new job.

Mega-star sports figures who command salaries in the stratospheres of their sports simply aren't comparable, as employees, to people like Matt Yglesias, who work in a cubicle farm writing blog posts all day. These kinds of sports figures become identifiable parts of their communities in ways that the vast, vast, vast majority of employees in this country never even come close to being. That being the case, moral questions regarding James's departure can, and do, and ought to, come into play.

Besides, no one is saying that James had a moral obligation to stay in Cleveland. In this day and age, no one would really suggest that, and when a great and beloved athlete manages to stay with one team for an entire career, it's viewed as (a) an anomaly, and (b) something of an equal effort on the part of the player and the ownership. Most times a player in that case will voluntarily forego a larger offer or two over the course of their career, if they think the situation they're already in is a pretty good one. The claim can be made that the morally preferable course would have been for James to stay in Cleveland, but nobody thinks he was obliged to do so.

The criticism, as far as I can see it, focuses on a number of issues surrounding James's decision to leave. There was the callous manner in which he did it, stringing Cleveland along so they couldn't get a jump-start on a post-Lebron era until after the Draft and once free agency was already in full swing; there was the way he pretty much treated the fans of that city as if they were disposable; there was the way he pretty much structured the entire episode so as to stroke his own ego.

It all reminded me of a scene in the movie Nixon. Late in the film, when Watergate is starting to bring the administration down, Nixon holds a press conference to make some sort of announcement. To that point, when he's announced stuff, the entire room has always erupted into applause, but at this event, he makes his announcement, steps back to receive the applause...and only his aides are applauding. Everyone else is just sitting there. That's what the Lebron James fiasco has looked like. He constructed this entire thing utterly convinced that everyone sees him as a hero, and now he seems a bit shocked that almost nobody actually does. (Give the Miami fans some time, when his teams start accumulating 55-win seasons and second-round playoff exits.)

Players can, and do, leave their original teams all the time. But when they do, it's generally for one of the following reasons:

1. They are significantly underpaid in their original market, and they are unlikely to come anywhere near their market value there.

2. They want desperately to win, and their current market seems unlikely to do so any time in the foreseeable future.

3. Team management decides to allow the player to leave, under the belief that they may be better equipped to win without the player or by replacing him at the position he plays.

4. The chemistry of their current team is unpleasant to the point that they want to play someplace else.

There are others, but those are the big ones that I generally see bandied about when players leave one team for another. And as far as I can tell, none of these really apply to Lebron James in Cleveland. They were prepared to pay him as massively as anyone else was; they've been a very good team in recent years; and...well, I can't really speak to the third point. But I haven't read anything about the Cav's locker room being a hotbed of miscontent.

James's willingness to leave Cleveland was clearly not motivated by money, and if James thinks he's going to a more winning-conducive environment in Miami, everything I've read indicates that he's likely mistaken. As for the last, well...maybe I'm wrong, but basketball has always struck me as the most prima donna-ridden of sports, and the Miami locker room will now have three prima donnas within it. If they don't win, look for things to deteriorate quickly, and heck, it might happen anyway if they do win. Lots of winning teams end up falling apart not because they get bad again, but because their chemistry can't be maintained.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is that no one thinks that Lebron James had a moral obligation to stay in Cleveland. Most folks, though, think that he had a moral obligation to not be a dick. And by any reasonable standards of dickishness, Lebron James was a dick of epic proportions.

Good eatin'!

Wow, it's been a while since I did a food post here, hasn't it? So here's a round-up of some recent(ish) meals at Casa Jaquandor!

:: Grilled bratwurst. Yum. Not much to say here, just...grilled bratwurst! Yum!

Brats, finished

I heart sausages of all types, and bratwurst may be my favorite. It's just wonderful stuff. The trick is to get them off the grill at the exact moment the last little bit of pink in the middle has faded. It's an art form, it is!

:: A while back I posted about Chiavetta's chicken marinade, a staple of barbecue here in Western New York. At that time, it was still cold out, so I did the chicken in the oven. Well, I figured I should revisit Chiavetta's, in the preferred cooking method: over charcoal. So here it is. The steps are the same: Marinade for a long time, and then grill until done. Once the chicken is done, the instructions say to put the chicken into a pan on the grill and then heavily baste it with more of the sauce, allowing the flavor to permeate the chicken via steaming (or something like that).

Here's the chicken on the grill:

Chiavetta's II

And here's the chicken on the table:

Chiavetta's III

:: I love a homemade pizza, but I'm kind of ashamed to admit that when I do the job, it's not really homemade, as I've always used store-bought dough and sauce from a jar. Well, I decided that enough was enough on that score, so I made a pizza entirely from scratch a while back: my own dough and my own sauce, topped with cheese I grated and pepperoni and sausage made from a pig that I killed and butchered.

OK, that last part is a complete lie; my pepperoni and sausage came in packages. Do I look like the kind of fellow who could slay a pig? Of course not. Yeesh. But I did do the other stuff. Now I'll probably experiment more with other crust and sauce recipes. Here's how the finished product turned out:

Pizza from scratch

Pizza close-up

It was really good. The dough recipe I used is an old one we've had around for a while that we got from Cooking Light Magazine -- oh Cooking Light, how we miss the days when you weren't a cheaply-done production! -- and the sauce recipe I used is this one. The cheese and pepperoni are straight-forward; I just grated my own part-skim mozzarella. For the sausage, I cooked up three large links of Italian sausage and then cut them up into large chunks. My firm belief regarding sausage on pizza is that the chunks need to be big.

:: OK, let's talk burgers.

I tend to be a bit on the lazy side when it comes to burgers at home. The Wife generally keeps us stocked up on frozen burgers that she gets from The Restaurant at which she works (don't worry, she pays for them!), and that's usually OK for me. Other times I'll pick up pre-formed fresh ground beef patties at The Store, some of which they flavor with stuff. They have a Greek burger with feta cheese mixed right into the beef that's terrific, as are the basic bacon-cheddar ones (with bacon pieces and shredded cheddar also mixed into the patties).

But every once in a while I want to taste the burgery-goodness flavor that you can really only get by grilling your own hand-made patties, so that's what I did a couple of weeks back. I picked up a package of ground beef that was roughly 1.4 pounds and divided it up into three patties of such equal size as I could make, for three 7-point-something oz. burger patties. I added nothing to the beef at all -- just the meat, although when the patties were shaped, I seasoned them on both sides with salt and pepper. (As Emeril Lagasse used to say on his shows, "I hate one-sided tasting food.")

Burgers I

Then it was onto the grill!

Burgers II

Cooking burgers on the grill is about as easy as cooking something can be; all you have to do is keep an eye on things and spritz the flare-ups with water when they get out of hand. Every article or teevee show I've ever read or watched on the proper cooking of burgers gives the same two pieces of advice, and I agree whole-heartedly. Those pieces of advice are:

1. Flip the burgers exactly once.

2. Do NOT press down on the burgers with your spatula in hopes of making them cook faster.


Burgers III

Those rules are for your benefit, folks!

Oh, and the third rule: let the burgers rest a few minutes before allowing consumption.

Burgers IV

Yeah, one of them turned out a bit bigger than the other two. Beef portioning FAIL!

When I do the frozen patty thing, I'm generally happy to throw the burger onto a bun, top it with ketchup and mustard, and call it good. But a patty like this deserves a bit more by way of stuff on the bun along with it, so here's how my final burger ended up before I tucked into it. The only thing missing was a slice of fresh tomato. (Because when I was shopping, I didn't think to grab a tomato. Argghhh!)

Burgers V

:: By the way, as long as I'm talking about burgers, I had a brief discussion of this topic on Facebook and since I'm talking food and burgers here, I'll bring it up. There's a new fad in the burger world, but I must protest the nomenclature thereof. What am I talking about?

I hate hate hate the term "sliders".

Sliders, for those who haven't had this craze hit them yet, are basically miniature burgers. They're only about three inches in diameter, so consuming one takes about three or four bites. I'm not sure what the allure of these things is or why they're so popular right now, but as I understand it, the term originated with the White Castle fast food chain, which sells tiny little burgers in packages of ten or something like that. (We don't have White Castle in WNY, so I've never actually eaten one.)

I'm a bit baffled on the concept of miniature burgers to begin with, except for the idea that it might be a nice way to experience different mixes of condiments on one's meal of burgery goodness at one time, but that notion is of limited appeal to me, anyway. Maybe for novelty's sake it might be fun to have one little burger with ketchup and mustard, another with mayonnaise and onions, and a third with chili sauce, but...i'm just not that thrilled with the idea. For me, miniature burgers is probably a good thing to have for a kids' birthday party, but that's about it.

As much as I don't understand why these little burgers have become so popular right now, I do admit that I loathe the term "slider". Can't stand it. It's just an unpleasant sounding word for a food item. To be blunt, it sounds like a word one might use to describe an unwelcome experience one has with one's bowels. "Sliders" to me sounds like another word for "Montezuma's Revenge", if you take my meaning. Hate the term. Hate it. I'd find the whole concept if they called it something else -- miniwiches, perhaps. Or maybe teenyburgs. Or burgertwee's. Or maybe we could honor some height-challenged celebrities or chracters and call them Colemans, or Tattoos, or Artooburgs.

Anything other than that awful word, "slider".

And now, I'm off for the annual Taste of Buffalo food festival. Huzzah!