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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Silence of Three Parts



A few years ago, I started seeing mention of a new fantasy author in some of the blogs I read, a guy by the name of Patrick Rothfuss. His debut novel had just come out, called The Name of the Wind, and by the time I heard of this, Rothfuss was apparently starting to have some trouble with the sequel to his first book. I remember reading this in the context of the fan ire that bubbled over towards George R.R. Martin, whose ongoing struggles with the fifth book in A Song of Ice and Fire is a constant topic of vexation among fantasy fans. I didn't actually read The Name of the Wind until just a few months ago, however, when I finally decided to see what the fuss was.

So, what was the fuss? A novel that, it turned out, I had several different reactions to. I loved it and found it to be a compulsive page-turner, so much so that I really didn't find the book's length cumbersome at all. Yes, I loved The Name of the Wind -- and yet I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

The Name of the Wind falls, categorically speaking, in line with other recent fantasy novels that use a more modern approach to language to telling a story that is an epic fantasy. (Another example of this type of book is Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora.) And yet, the language is a major element to the novel, and language is also a major theme of the novel.

There are two stories at work in The Name of the Wind. We begin in that old stalwart setting of fantasy novels, the inn in a small, unremarkable village. The inn is run by a man who goes by the name Kote, and he is doted upon by an assistant named Bast who is not what he first seems to be. There are hints that there are troubles in the world at large, with demonic creatures on the loose, harvests failing, and business at the inn down. A scribe arrives who only goes by the name Chronicler, who recognizes Kote as a long-disappeared hero named Kvothe, and Chronicler convinces Kvothe to tell him his story.

At this point, most of the book takes place as flashback as Kvothe tells his life story. His life is deeply complex, and most of the pleasure of the book for me came from following Kvothe's life as he struggles to overcome the horrible things that happen to him. He first grows up as a member of a traveling troupe of musicians and actors, but then his entire family is murdered by beings called the "Chandrian", because his parents "have been singing entirely the wrong sort of songs". Kvothe escapes, and ends up living on the streets in a brutal and filthy town. Using his innate intelligence and competence, he makes his way to the University, where he starts to learn about magic. This may sound like a Harry Potter tale, but Kvothe's story has a very different feel, and despite the fact that Kvothe is intelligent, witty, and good at most things he tries, his life has the feel of constant disaster as he fails to recognize enemies even as he makes them, annoys teachers, commits errors of judgment, and falls in love with a woman named Denna who comes and goes with little or no warning.

This book is long and rich, and it's so packed with stuff going on that it's clear that Rothfuss is liberally scattering story seeds everywhere; the book is full of characters and details that scream out as "important somewhere down the road". Part of the pleasure will be seeing how it all fits together, in the end, and how the two stories – Kvothe's earlier experiences, and his adulthood after he has set aside his life as a hero – come together. My main, and really only, reservation, lies in the way Rothfuss often uses more modern idioms and methods of speech than one might usually find in a fantasy novel. I found the way a lot of the characters talked jarring and out of place, and it wasn't something that I was able to quickly get used to. Nevertheless, the pages keep turning, and the richness of the story sneaks up on me. This novel would be a good book to give someone who doesn't love fantasy all that much. Or for those who do love fantasy all that much. Basically, it's good for people who like good stories that don't always go where you think they're going and which have engaging characters.

(My review of the sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, will be appearing on GMR, probably a little bit after I write it. A preview: It's good. Really good. I am now a Patrick Rothfuss fanboy. That cover art up there, also, is the German cover. I don't have that cover art, obviously, but I love the way it looks, a lot more than the American paperback art that I ended up with.)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Which rank of nobility is cooler: Duke, or Baron? Or choose between Duchess and Baroness.

Where is he?

I love Pearls Before Swine:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A teevee quiz!

From SamuraiFrog I get a quiz. Huzzah! Hooray, quizzes!

1. What is your favorite "Classic" TV show?

Star Trek.

2. What character from a "Classic" TV show would you like to be?

Dr. McCoy.

3. On which "Classic" TV Show would you have loved to have a walk-on role?

If I can't be Dr McCoy, I'd like to be something else on Star Trek. Maybe a red shirt guy, and I could ham up a horrible death!

4. Can you remember a line you liked from a "Classic" TV show?

Of course I can! From the Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark": "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer!" And I'm always excited to tell people that "Quadrotriticale is a high-yield grain."

5. Which TV doctor would you choose to remove your appendix?

Dr. McCoy wouldn't have to remove my appendix. He'd give me a pill and it would go away.

6. Which TV doctor would you not let touch you with a 10- foot pole?

Morris on ER. Part of that show's fall from grace came when they started morphing that guy from idiot screw-up to actual doctor. (More on why I stopped liking ER here.)

7. Which TV doctor/hospital would you choose for the best medical care?

Whatever hospital Dr. House works in, although I'd ask if he's currently clean or if he's hopped up on Vicodin again before I let them wheel me in the doors.

8. Everyone knows nurses run the hospital. Who was/is your favorite TV nurse?

Carol Hathaway on ER.

9. Do you consider yourself a "fan" of reality TV?

No. I like specific shows. I'm not drawn to genres in particular.

10. What's your "can't miss" reality TV show (or shows)?

The Amazing Race, Hell's Kitchen. I also enjoy Undercover Boss somewhat, and Gordon Ramsay's other shows, although most of those are of the "a little goes a long way" variety. I've become a Survivor fan, although I'm boycotting this season as long as Boston Rob and Russell are on. (One is gone, I'm told. I hate seeing these guys turn up like bad pennies every other season on these shows.)

11. What reality TV show do you suppose the devil plays on the TV in Hell as punishment?

I remember ten years or so ago when FOX was roundly pilloried for producing Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?. Now, The Bachelor is on, what, it's ninth or tenth season? And I just can't stand Dancing with the Stars.

12. If you were given a free ticket to be on any reality show, which one would you choose?

I don't want to be on the show as a contestant (maybe), but if The Amazing Race ever had its pit stop in Buffalo, I'd love to be the person standing next to Phil on the mat saying "Welcome to Buffalo!" as teams arrive.

13. What shows would make up a perfect night of TV viewing for you?

8:00: The Big Bang Theory
8:30: How I Met Your Mother
9:00: Mike & Molly
9:30: 30Rock (although I've missed all of this season thus far)
10:00: Castle

14. What show(s) would you cancel without a moment's hesitation?

Two and a Half Men.

15. Is there a show (previously canceled or just no longer airing) that you'd bring back, original cast and all?

Firefly, Once and Again

16. You get to create one show to put on the schedule, with any stars you choose. Who and what would it be?

Hmmmm. I don't know, but it would involve Sela Ward as the captain of a spaceship.

17. Is there a game show (past or present) you think you would do really well on, as a contestant?

No. I'd get "OMG, the camera's on!" syndrome. Or I'd be like those unlucky folks on Jeopardy! who can't get the buzzer to work right. (But then, those game shows that Nickelodeon used to air – the ones hosted by that Mark Summers guy, the ones that invariably featured lots of pie-throwing – would have been up my alley, too.)

18. Is there a game show you think is the stupidest thing you've ever seen?

I find Million Dollar Drop really stupid. And I hated Weakest Link when it was on. The lady on that show was really creepy. (Yeah, she was just a character, but so what?)

19. Is there a game show you watch, but don't like to admit to watching? (A guilty pleasure!)

Nope. I don't believe in guilty pleasures, anyway. I only watch Jeopardy! sporadically now.

20. Who is your favorite game show host? Who is your least favorite?

Bob Barker was awesome! I actually remember quite a few "old school" game show hosts: Bert Convy, Bill Cullen, Jack Barry. Those guys were good. Oh, and Wink Martindale! Least favorite? I dunno...I guess the creepy lady from the afore-mentioned Weakest Link.

21. Who is your favorite (past or present) TV cop?

Wow, game shows to cops. Right now, Detective Kate Beckett on Castle. All time? There have been a lot of great cops! I guess I'll go with NYPDBlue's Andy Sipowicz.

22. Which TV cop do you think was the most crooked, or the most inept?

Sheriff Roscoe P. Colltrane, I guess.

23. Which TV show had the best ensemble cast of police officers?

NYPDBlue was masterfully done, especially since it turned over its whole cast (except for Dennis Franz, the glue holding it all together) more than once.

24. You need to hire a bodyguard for yourself. Which TV cop do you choose?

Secret Service agent Ron Butterfield from The West Wing.

25. Who is your favorite stand-up comedian of all time?

George Carlin.

26. Which one could you do without? (Not your type of humor, or just plain stupid!)

Andrew Dice Clay. Ugly, idiotic humor that I hated. I wasn't a Sam Kinison fan, either.

27. Which comedian do you think has gone on to have a great career aside from doing stand-up?

Either Steve Martin or Jerry Seinfeld, I suppose.

28. If you went to a comedy club on amateur night, and they gave you some jokes and a microphone, would you go onstage?

No.

29. Who is/was your favorite TV mom?

Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch), or Lily Manning (later Sammler) on Once and Again.

30. Was she a realistic mother, or more of a TV fantasy type?

The former, fantasy; the latter, realistic.

31. Which TV mom did you find the most unrealistic? Or if you’d rather: creepy – sappy – mean – you choose the adjective, and you name the mom.

Howard's mom on The Big Bang Theory. But then, she's pure comedic effect.

32. No disrespect to your dear old mum, but which TV mom did you think it might be neat to have as your own?

I never thought of teevee moms in this way. Seems weird.

33. What show would you like to see brought back for an hour or two episode, to see how the characters are doing now? (This should be a show that it might be possible to do a reunion on.)

Once and Again. Firefly. The West Wing. Friends. And I'd love to know what happened with Frasier Crane's following of the Laura Linney character on Frasier.

34. Pick a show that could not realistically be brought back for a reunion, because some or all of the cast members are gone. What if they could have done a reunion before it was too late? Name the show you'd most like to see.

I'm not sure, honestly.

35. Which reunion show have you watched and thought "Wow, they should have left that one alone!"

I can't recall any reunion shows.

36. Which do you prefer- a "reunion" episode of the series, or a "cast reunion" where the actors sit around and talk about the making of the show?

Depends on the show, I suppose. If it's been so many years that the characters are geriatric, then the latter, I suppose. Like the Happy Days reunion of a few years ago.

37. What is your favorite TV theme song?

Actual song with lyrics: The Big Bang Theory. Theme music without lyrics: Star Trek Voyager. (Wonderful theme for an ordinary show.)

38. Which song drives you crazy enough to hit mute on the remote?

That salsa-thing for Dancing with the Stars. Ugh.

39. Which song are you proud to say you remember (most of) the lyrics to???

It's not a matter of pride, really, but I do know all the words to the theme from The Brady Bunch. As you might expect.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Promise

If and when I am ever a published author, if you give me a bad review on your blog, I promise that I will not show up in your comments section and make an ass of myself.

You have my word, folks!

More answers....

I think I'm almost done...these ones are political, so I'm going to put them after a page break. (I also use some language.)

Crap on toast.

This morning I had one of those "Ohhhh!" moments of writerly epiphany, when I realized why I've been finding the last three or four chapters of the Work-In-Progress something of a struggle, where the run up to that point had been really fairly easy. It's because I screwed up and shouldn't have written those chapters. I took the story in entirely the wrong direction, and I've ended up in this awful spot where nothing's been happening; just a whole lot of exposition and introducing my main characters to new people for four chapters.

The good news about the epiphany is that I know exactly what I did wrong and where I did it. The bad news? I've been working on Chapter 13...and now, tonight, after I re-read the thing to refresh certain details in my head and prime the pump, I'll be back on Chapter 9. Oh well.

Sentential Links #241

Time for linkage. Brace yourselves!

:: There they were. Walking home from work one day, all I could see was something that looked like lots of hair.

:: And I just learned yesterday that Doritos (any of the bright-orange nacho-cheese junk snacks, actually) pair best with Pinot Noir. I thought that was weird. (But what crunchy, salty snack pairs best with Valpolicella? I love a nice Valpolicella.)

:: So, let not my lack of ranting confuse you; in most cases, I tend to side with the labor unions, even though, I should point out, I do not belong to one.

:: Among the things we do is to tilt at windmills. We do this because we also fight City Hall, and sometimes the windmills look as thought they might be City Hall. We fight City Hall because that's the only way to keep the system honest, and keeping the system honest is a lot more important than the guilt or innocence or rightness or wrongness of any particular individual or cause.

:: Blow in her face and she'll follow you anywhere. (Holy crap.)

:: The point is that the unit value of "song" is not the same as the unit value of "novel." The comparison is more song ==> short story or song ==> chapter, and album ==> novel.

:: It got me thinking, “what is the next homeowner going to think of some of my decisions?” Whenever I make changes or repairs to the house, I try to do it at least as well or better than a professional would. Not that I always succeed — sometimes I don’t have the skill or the time. I’m sure there are some things that I just live with that would make another person shake his head.

:: Three days ago I woke up thinking, “I wonder how Diana Wynne Jones is doing? I should crochet her a shawl.”

More next week!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two of Three


_DSC8763-1, originally uploaded by preloc and kanar.

Last week saw the birthdays of William Shatner (born March 22, 1931) and Leonard Nimoy (born March 26, 1931). Best to both! It's too bad DeForest Kelley is no longer with us; way too many folks think of Star Trek's "Original Series" characters as Kirk and Spock instead of the real dynamic of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. (Kelley was born January 20, by the way; if he were still around, he would be 91.)

The best recent tribute to Leonard Nimoy, of course, comes from the Christmas episode of Season Two of The Big Bang Theory. In the episode, Penny tells Sheldon that she has got him a Christmas present, which gives Sheldon pause, as he had no intention of exchanging gifts with Penny, and now he feels he must, out of social obligation. But he devises a strategy: he will buy a whole bunch of gift baskets from Bath&Body Works, and when he sees what Penny's gift is, he will give her the basket that he judges the best match for what she has given him. Hilarity ensues.

(What does that have to do with Leonard Nimoy? Watch the clip!)

Off to Arrakis!


Off to Arrakis!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

OK, Cal. Now we shall see what is up with this favorite book of yours. Oh yes, we shall see.

"Supposably?"

Here's a weird observation: does anyone else out there ever have the experience of seeing a word in print that you've seen in print thousands of times before, and yet suddenly thought upon seeing it again, "Hey, that word looks pretty weird!"



I saw this picture on another blog last night, and after look at the image for a minute, I suddenly thought: "Wow. 'Pepsi' is a pretty odd word."

Anyhoo....

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Via SamuraiFrog: Deaths in old-school arcade games.



I miss arcades, although I spent a lot less time in them as a kid than others my age, owing to my parents' odd notion that there were better things for me to be doing with my saved-up money than changing it all to quarters and playing video games. (But hey, I thwarted them by saving up my money and then blowing it all on comic books! HA!!!)

Kidding aside -- they were right, of course; as much as I loved the old-school video games of that era, I had zero concept of time management, money management, or "Hey, I should probably crack open that book that Teacher X assigned me to read/study/do homework out of." I was unfocused enough; adding regular arcade time to the mix would have been, shall we say, unwise. But I did manage to squeeze in arcade visits now and again. Loved 'em, even if my favorite games tended to be monopolized for hours at a time. Nothing frustrated more than rushing into the arcade, knowing I only had twenty or thirty minutes, tops, before I needed to be someplace else, running to my favorite game, and seeing a crowd of people standing around with their quarters lined up on the console. Ugh!

(And now I find that I can't even remember the name of my favorite late-80s/early-90s era video game, which I owned in college. I made that game my bitch...and I can't remember for the life of me what it was called, so I can't find out if a version exists for any other gaming system.)

:: I want this.

epic win photos - Classic: Overstuffed WIN
see more Hacked IRL - Truth in Sarcasm

The glass of milk would have to be pretty epic, though. I'm thinking you'd need a glass flower vase filled nearly to the top with milk.

:: I'm not a big fan of commercials, especially this one, which is pretty poorly filmed. The picture gets really blurry at the end. Or maybe it's something with my eyes.



More next week!

Saturday Centus (Sunday edition)

Late with this week's prompt as well, because yesterday was an abnormally packed Saturday here at Casa Jaquandor: we got up freakishly early (for a Saturday, anyway) to drive ninety minutes for a pancake breakfast, and then I had to grocery shop, and do two loads of laundry, and put away all of those groceries (which included dividing the 6.5-lb package of ground beef into 8-oz portions for the freezer), finishing a book that I need to review (and for which I started the day with more than 300 pages left to read), and...taking a nap or two. So I didn't get any of the writing done yesterday that I wanted to.

This week's prompt is to write a poem using the prompt. And Jenny specifically says, "The rhyming kind", so I can't just whip off a nice bit of blank verse, either. (Nothing wrong with blank verse -- I love me some blank verse, and I find it a lot harder to write something that's not awful poetry in blank verse than a lot of people suppose is the case.) I toyed with notions for a sonnet, but...well, one idea just bobbled to the top and stayed there, so here it is. A couplet.

Epitaph for the Stupid Kid

"I'm not a chicken and I know it!"
And he did a stupid thing to show it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Something for Thursday

In honor of Elizabeth Taylor's passing yesterday, here is the love music Alex North wrote for Cleopatra.



I may watch that movie this weekend....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Errr...oops. The problem with taking a few days off from work is that my routine is now off, and as today -- my first day back to work after a four-day weekend -- felt positively Monday-ish, I didn't do the Wednesday thing. Yeah, oops!

So...tell me something that actually sucks more than going back to work after time off!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I feel so...unworthy.

I posted this on Facebook earlier, but I'm still somewhat in awe of it. When the tsunami hit in Japan, most folks in those areas did the sensible thing and rushed for higher ground. Not so for a man named Hideaki Akaiwa, though. When he realized his wife was unaccounted for, he didn't rush for higher ground. He rushed for his SCUBA gear.

Chuck Norris ain't got nothin' on this guy.

She dances!

Last night I saw a sudden spurt of traffic here, all directed to this post I wrote a few years ago about Star Trek's Lieutenant Saavik, an intriguing character who wasn't handled particularly well back in the 1980s. I wondered why I was seeing this traffic spike...and then I realized that it was because Kirstie Alley is on Dancing with the Stars. Hopefully she sticks around a while -- I could use the weekly bump in numbers! Kirstie Alley! Kirstie Alley! Kirstie Alley! Kirstie Alley!

It's kind of like how I get a traffic bump whenever an episode of Big Bang Theory airs in which Melissa Rauch appears as Bernadette. Melissa Rauch! Melissa Rauch! Melissa Rauch! Melissa Rauch!

OK, I'm done whoring for attention now.

More answers!

Wow. Glaciers move faster than this. Anyhow, from Mr. Jones:

Name something that you will never do in your life that others often aspire to do in theirs. And you are comfortable with this.

For instance, I am confident I will die never having visited Egypt or learn to ski, and I'm quite okay with that.


There are lots of things I have zero interest in doing. Firing a gun, for example. No interest in it at all. I'd like to do a small amount of "world traveling", but not too many of the usual places: Paris, Greece, Tahiti, the Bahamas, et cetera. Ballroom dancing? Yeah...not especially. Maybe, but not really.

I'll almost certainly never toss a really nice basket in a pick-up game. Nor will I hit a home run. I'll likely not learn to ice skate, own a motor boat, swim in the Mediterranean, or attend a Super Bowl in person. And...I'm fine with all that. Really. I think. (I'd sure like to swim in the Mediterranean....)

An anonymous reader emailed in this one:

Do you try new authors often? Do you try new genres of books? Is reading only for amusement, or do you read to do something else (educate yourself generally, learn something in particular, ...)?

Good questions! No, yes, both. Next!

OK, more seriously. By "new" authors, do we mean "new" to me, or "new" as in, "Here's the incredible first novel by Joe Sevenpack!" I do both, really, although I tend to do both in my own sweet time. More the former than the latter, though.

I often read authors who are new to me, although they're not new to most people who read in the genres I tend to read now. A good example is Andre Norton: I'd never read her until just a couple of years ago, and I still have only read a couple of her books (and liked each one). I have authors whom I love, like any reader does, but I'm not really the type to obsessively read everything an author has written, nor (with one exception) do I have any authors whose books are sufficiently important to me that I grab their books as soon as they're published. (This would be Guy Gavriel Kay, obviously.) I haven't even read all of Tolkien yet!

Mainly I tend to be all over the map with regard to my reading. I like to switch genres after a book or two, for one thing, although I do tend to read more fantasy in the colder months and more SF in the warmer months. I also like to switch up my lengths, too: if I've just finished a doorstop of a novel, my next book is likely to be a smaller one. This tends to mean alternating newer works with older ones, as the newer ones tend to have the heftier page counts.

I also like to read classic literature, which I will often read alongside whatever genre book I'm reading at the time. Part of this is a desire to "better myself", to challenge myself with something classic or difficult or whatever, but part of this is also a shift in my actual taste, as I'm finding classic works engaging in a way that I never felt when this stuff was required reading. The most recent example of this is A Tale of Two Cities (which I need to blog about one of these days -- that book astonished me, well and truly).

In terms of genre, I do tend to stick to SF, fantasy, and (less frequently) horror these days. Occasionally I'll hear about some book in another genre that sounds interesting, but I don't really venture outside the bounds of my preferred areas too often these days. Mainly this is because I find that the genres I prefer are so rich within their boundaries that I don't really need to step outside them for variety's sake. With fantasy, I can read a big fat book about quests and such, or I can read a book about the magic in a modern urban setting, or I can read stories that mash those things together. I can read mysteries and war stories and love stories without ever leaving fantasy. Ditto SF -- and in some cases, such as Peter F. Hamilton's enormous duology consisting of Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, in which, over the course of about 2000 pages, you get mysteries, espionage thrillers, wars involving massive starfleets, wars involving planetside guerilla tactics, love stories, and ideas about what a star-spanning human culture might look like.

I do find that I'm not reading as much nonfiction as I used to. I should probably change this up a bit, as non-fiction tends to be where a lot of cool story ideas come from. My problem with non-fic is finding some that is vibrantly and interestingly written. Dry writing puts me off faster than anything.

More to come. There is light at the end of the Ask Me Anything! tunnel!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Notes from the Underside of Pop Culture

Well, not the "underside" per se, I just liked the sound of that. But anyway, a few random thoughts on stuff:

:: The official costume for the new David E. Kelley Wonder Woman show got its big reveal right before I went on my brief mini-vacation! Oh noes! So, what do I think of this?



I'm not a fan. I don't hate it, but I'm not a fan of it, either. It just looks like what it is: a costume made out of latex, so I assume that the show's sound editors will have a busy time of it just erasing out all of that nice latex-y squeaking. Frankly, this costume looks to me like what your stripper would show up in -- the one you hired to show up to your comic book-loving buddy's stag party.

And David E. Kelley is writing it. Ugh.

:: I am really liking the way Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is looking.



I'm a huge fan of these movies, of course; in addition to the first one, I loved the sequels as well. I can't wait for this.

:: I'm also very excited about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 2). While in Pittsburgh, we discovered that the ABC Family channel was doing a Harry Potter weekend, showing all of the first five or six films, so there was always some Harry Potter on when we were there. No, we didn't watch any of them all the way through, but we did catch this "sneak preview" of the forthcoming final film (which includes some standard-type musings from castmembers and the director):



I am generally of the view that the Harry Potter films are actually quite underrated. The bar they've managed to clear is really very impressive: a series of eight films, and (thus far) there's not a dud in the bunch. Especially considering that there have been four different directors, and yet even with the resulting different directorial "touches", much has been consistent throughout. I tip my hat to the producers for keeping their eyes on the ball for so long.

Along that line, I'm really going to miss the Potterverse when it's all wrapped up. It's just too rich of a universe to be done with! We need more stories set there...just as soon as JK Rowling figures out how to do that without having it be Hogwarts: The Next Generation, or Hogwarts: The New Class, or Hogwarts: The College Years, or AfterHogwarts.

Saturday Centus (Monday edition)

Obviously, since I was out of town, I was unable to do this week's Saturday Centus on Saturday. So here it is, on Monday.

“Father,” I said as I followed him, “is it true that the lower classes choose their mates themselves?”

“I believe so,” Father replied. “Disgusting practice...but then, I suppose marriage is meaningless to the workers, isn’t it? They’re not like us.”

We stopped in front of the Bridal Curtain.

“It is a good match,” Father said. “Our family corporation, merged with your bride’s, will dominate six entire industries.”

“Yes, Father.” Together we recited the Pledge to the Corporate States of America. Then Father’s voice rang out:

“Bring forth my son’s bride!”

The curtain parted.

God bless the CSA.

Yes, I'm still here.

The Family and I were out of town for three days. In Pittsburgh, if you must know. Because sometimes you just gotta get a little Pittsburgh. Anyhoo, I'm back. So there.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Something for Thursday

Given the day, I suppose this is cliche, but I like it...so here's Percy Grainger's wind ensemble setting of Irish Tune from County Derry. (Known, of course, as "Danny Boy".)



And, less clicheed, here are The Chieftains, joined by Sinead O'Connor.



Erin go bragh!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

In light of the events in Japan, have your views on nuclear power as an option in the future, as fossil fuels become more scarce and environmentally troublesome on their own, changed at all?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stuff that's cool

Apparently when you set an official World Record, as recognized by the fine folks at Guinness, you get a certificate. And the official World Record certificate, which is cool enough, has a fake beer-mug stain on it, ostensibly from the certificate being used as a coaster for one's flagon of, say, Guinness Stout. That's just neat.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A to Z

I like it when I encounter a book that takes a different approach to its subject, or to framing its narrative, or both. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is such a book. It is just that: a collection of brief pieces, organized alphabetically, about various events, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and remembrances by this particular writer. It's the kind of book that maybe couldn't have been written (or perhaps collated is the right word) in any other era than the one it sprang from. Published in 2005, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life reads, in many ways, like a blog.

It's a very quirky sort of book. The book's jacket, above the title, includes an excerpt from the Foreword:

I have not survived against all odds.

I have not lived to tell.

I have not witnessed the extraordinary.

This is my story.


Opening the front cover, some text in the Frontispiece informs me that the word "really" occurs 69 times in the text. The copyright page informs us that the author is

Not responsible for the lovely ladybug
or purple iris
or flirtatious glance
that was yours to enjoy
but which you did not notice.


The copyright page also informs us as to the primary locations where Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life was written: two cafes in Chicago.

Next comes the Reader's Agreement, which takes a whole page to inform the reader thusly:

You agree not to reproduce, replicate, or reprint any of the material in this book without our consent. [Oh, shit. -Me] When reading this book, you agree to give it your undivided attention – that means no pretend half-reading while calling and placing an order for Thai takeout. And the end of each page, you agree to thrust your arms upward and emit a loud, staccato Hey! just like circus performers do at the end of each stunt.


And so on. Maybe this sort of thing seems a bit precious or cute or pretentious, and maybe it is meant to be that way, as a sort of device to hopefully weed the book from the hands of those readers who are likely to hate it if they go farther than this. I thought it all very funny. Before the actual encyclopedia entries begin, there's an "Orientation Almanac", in which Rosenthal provides a bunch of lists designed to give some sense as to what life was like in the early 2000s. I found this section mostly familiar, and occasionally a little depressing. The 2000s were a mixed bag for me, personally, but my general opinion of the entire decade, across the world, is that any day now, humanity just has to consult its road map and realize that we should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque. But back to the book.

Right in keeping with the title, everything in this book is cast in the light of just how ordinary it all is. Rosenthal uses her alphabetical format to include many thoughts, almost brief asides, that are alternately hilarious or touching or just plain...ordinary. Here are a few examples:

Cab of Truck

Seeing just the short, truncated nubby front part of a semi truck (the cab), one is always compelled to point and say look. It's just an image you can't get used to. It registers in the brain as funny, odd, on the loose.

E

The French writer Georges Perec is most famous for writing a three-hundred page novel without using a single e. One can envision the everyday small talk that must have occurred while Mr. Perec was working on this book.

Bonjour, Georges.
Bonjour, Pascal.
What are you working on these days?
I'm trying to write an entire novel without using the letter
e.
Silence.
Did I tell you, Georges, about our new porch?

Slow/Fast

I am a slow reader, and fast eater; I wish it were the other way around.


Not all the book is like that, however. Scattered throughout the entries are longer ones, ones that deal with weightier subjects. Death, marriage, childbirth. What's interesting is that you have to look for the entries that touch on the Big Things In Life: you can't just flip to Rosenthal's entry on "death". There's no entry on Marriage; try to find it, and you'll only read about her thoughts on Marshmallows. And while there is a temptation to just start flipping randomly through the book, there is a kind of narrative structure to the book. People mentioned in early entries turn up later on, in a way that's intriguing: one person is mentioned; later on in the alphabet, it's mentioned that this person was killed when Rosenthal was a certain age; later still, the circumstances of that person's death are described in more detail.

I greatly enjoyed the book. At times it made me laugh out loud, and at others, it really did make me think a bit about what Rosenthal is saying. There seem to be two different strands of thought underlying everything she writes: first, that what we consider ordinary is often really remarkable in itself, and second, and conversely, that we are all so ordinary that any thought that we are remarkable is pure illusion. Both notions seem to be present, but I think the latter one wins out a bit. Rosenthal writes, in her entry on "Other People":

And it is precisely why you think everyone is looking at you and your lopsided, Novocained mouth, when in fact, not only is the droop indiscernible, but there is not even a single gaze directed your way; you're filler at best. You're one of the endless chunks of extraneous, dispensible flesh flurrying about in the wings of the next person's (equally delusional) center stage.


Ouch.

(By the way, the one thing libraries do that really irritates me – although I can't think of how they could do otherwise – is their habit of firmly securing dust jackets to the book. I know why they have to do it, and I've accepted its necessity, but jeez, there are so many books that put content in their endpapers that this practice renders inaccessible. Lots of history books or historical novels put their maps there, which means that a chunk of map half the width of the cover is unable to be read. Same thing happened with Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. There's stuff in the endpapers that I couldn't read because the dust jacket was taped down.)

Sentential Links #240

Linkage....

:: Manning is alleged to have committed serious crimes. The correct response would be to put him on trial. To hold a person without trial in solitary confinement under degrading conditions is a perversion of justice. (If there's one area in which the Obama Administration is proving to be a big disappointment to me, this kind of thing is it. Come on. "Rule of law" and "Due process" either mean something, or they don't and we're just another country.)

:: The King was fat, and if he were alive today he would love the Fat King Sandwich with peanut butter, banana, honey and bacon on two slices of honey oat bread fried in butter.

:: Maybe it’s because the notion of “merit” in the rock hall seems even fuzzier; it’s not strictly commercial appeal, for certain. One can argue the inclusion or exclusion of sports figures in their respective halls. But the music selections seem more arbitrary.

:: Home schooling works for some, private school for others, but as a state, as a nation, these are not solutions that will render us competitive on a global state. Public education is the key to the future success of America, and we've got to strengthen our schools and reverse the appalling dropout rates rather than eviscerate the education budget and vilify our teachers. I'm teaching my children the value of education, and how to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

:: What these fights are both about is: who decides what a community is? What it looks like? Who sets the rules? Where are we going as a group? Do we go together or do we fracture?

:: But since this is the Internet, it’s not enough to make a sweeping declarative statement: We need to turn it into a pointless, absurd comparison! (Woo, Internet!) So let’s go ahead and pit the Disney films of their classic era against the Pixar films of today, and see who comes up top. (A Bug's Life over Pinocchio? That is just insane. I'm sorry, but if A Bug's Life had been made, exactly as it is, by someone other than Pixar, I really don't think anybody would even remember it.)

:: And hey, look at that. I just wrote a piece about “Kim”. (Sometimes I wish I had any kind of tolerance at all for rap music. It's just not my cup of tea at all, but I do grant its artistry.)

:: I will make myself crazy worrying about it all, so I am planning on starting a quake kit this weekend -- water, food, backpacks, cash, flashlights, batteries, blankets, eyeglasses, shoes, First Aid kit...

More next week!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

For Japan



Come what may, the sun still rises on the Land of the Rising Sun.









Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Every so often I see an article about bad covers to SF novels, like this one, and I'm always disappointed that I own none of the books graced by those covers. Sigh!

:: So you make something craft-like, such as crocheting a hat. You want to sell it on your Etsy store, but you want someone to model it. Enter your less-than-thrilled boyfriend.

:: Do check out this graphical representation of the history of science fiction. It's a wonderful picture!

More next week!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Answers! More answers!

The Ask Me Anything! 2011 cavalcade marches on...although at the pace I'm setting for getting these replies out, it's probably more of a "mosey" than a "march".

Anyway, a reader who prefers to remain unidentified poses these:

When you are pressed for time, what do you do less of to compensate?

It depends on what I'm doing in terms of being pressed for time. If I'm at work and time is running short, then I have to prioritize my tasks, usually according to what degree of inconvenience it will be to a particular department in The Store if they don't get a certain job done that day. Of course, Management at The Store can weigh in heavily on this...if any of the store's highest ranking management persons directly tell me that Job X must be done by the end of business today, then barring something emergency-like happening, that's what gets shunted to the top of the priority list.

Mostly, though, I'm fairly good about identifying which tasks need to be done today and which can wait until tomorrow. Another factor is which tasks realistically can get done today and which have to wait; if it's after 2:00 pm and I'm in the last hour or two of work, anyone who comes to me with a job that I know is going to take more time than I have left gets put off to another day. So it comes down to considerations like "How badly are they affected if they have to wait for this?" and "How much time do I have to do this in the first place?"

Other times, though, the time crunch is felt at home. In that case, I'll identify what's likely to take the longest chunk of time out of the time I have available to me, and either focus on that specifically, or eliminate it if there are other things that are more important to get done.

What really destroys me, in terms of time management, is -- surprise surprise! -- the Internet. I get sucked into timewasters online with appalling regularity, and it can get downright depressing for me to realize just how long I've been clicking this link and reading that site without doing any writing, or reading the stack of books from the library, or what have you. What I'd really like to do (as I mentioned in another answer) is set up my home network so I can disconnect the laptop from the Internet when I need to buckle down and write. Yeah, I can just flip the Wi-Fi switch on the computer, but it's too easy to flip it back to ON again, reconnect, and launch a browser, "just to check the e-mail".

What do you like to cook the most? Who in your home does the most cooking? (And who does the clean up afterward?) Are you teaching your daughter to cook? (And does she enjoy it, if you are?)

I love to cook! Love it. I tend to focus on one-dish meals: casseroles, baked pasta dishes, soups, stews, and the like. Making multi-item meals tends to flummox me a bit as I often misjudge how long one item is going to take whilst cooking the other(s), so I end up with one dish completely done while another finishes up. This frustrates me. My ideal is to serve when everything's done at the same time, and when this fails, I get a little grumpy.

I suppose I actually cook more than The Wife does, simply because her job has her working nights five days a week, so I'm on "dinner duty" on the days she's not here, plus I'll often end up cooking on one of her two days off as well, if I feel like cooking or if she informs me that she doesn't feel like cooking and therefore I'm either cooking or buying the pizza. Those nights are when I tend to branch out and try new recipes, anyway, because The Daughter is a bit on the finicky side which makes experimentation when it's just her and myself a tad limited.

(Incidentally...I've been really in the mood to make my own fried chicken for a while now. I think I'm gonna have to scratch that particular itch fairly soon, sometime in the next month.)

The Daughter has started learning about cooking, partly out of interest at home and partly out of a Home-Ec style class she's taking at school. The other night she made her own quesadilla for dinner, when she didn't like what we were having. Now, it wasn't the most exciting quesadilla in the world -- sliced sandwich ham and cheddar cheese -- but still, she cooked it. Cool! (Now if I could just get her to realize that onions are awesome, and that salad is wonderful.)

Have you viewed any TED talks? What ones (or types of talks) do you like, if you have?

No, I haven't, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this. I totally should watch some of these. Going back to the time management thing -- there's a lot of stuff I want to do, but I never "get around" to it mainly because of a complete lack of planning. I need to make strides in this area, big time!

More answers to come!

Saturday Centus

Wow! It's mostly a matter of luck and intuition, but this week's Centus prompt suggested its story to me almost instantly. I'm serious: I knew within seconds of reading it what my tale would be. The actual writing, however, was a bit difficult; I actually generated four different drafts of the same notion, with each of the first three making me think, "Come on, I can make this punchier. It's gotta hit harder." I think that Version 4.0 is the most successful of my lot. So, here it is, with the prompt in bold.

(No science fiction this week for me, by the way. Although it could be; it wouldn't take much to make this into an SF tale. Just a word or two, really, reaffirming my contention that the difference between SF stories and other stories is merely one of window dressing.)

“Guilty.”

The word hung there, like a knife. THE knife.

“But I didn’t do it!” sobbed Tommy Wayne Jones, over and over, as two policemen dragged him out of the courtroom for holding until sentencing. He tried, but really: DNA and fingerprints all over the knife and crime scene? Poor Tommy. He’d never been accused of being intelligent.

Neither had Sandra Allen, the victim’s wife. But she’d never been accused of framing a drug-addicted vagrant for the murder she’d committed, either, which is why she went home to spend her bastard husband’s insurance money while some other poor schlub went away for life.

Sandra wasn’t stupid. Nosiree, Bob.


Sandra seems pretty cold. I may have to look back into her doings at some future point....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Continuing the Answers!!

Yeah, I gotta pick up the pace here...but time to resume clearing out the Ask Me Anything! 2011 queue.

SK Waller asks:

If you could play any instrument in a symphony orchestra, which would you choose, and why?

Easy: I'd play the trumpet, because that was my instrument, and I was pretty damned good at it too, if I do say so myself.

A history, which I've probably told before: I joined band in fifth grade, and played the French horn my first year. I wasn't very good, but then, it was fifth grade and my first attempt at a musical instrument. The next year I switched to the trumpet. I don't know if this was my idea, or my teacher's, but it happened. I was a bit better at the trumpet, but still, I rarely bothered to practice with the effect that I sucked.

On to seventh grade, where I continued to suck at the trumpet. In seventh grade, I was in the Junior High Band, with the eighth graders; up above that, ninth and up, was the Senior Band, the students of which were not tolerant of students who sucked. Neither were the eighth graders, for that matter. So it was that about halfway through seventh grade, I decided that I was really no longer interested in being filed away by all the other kids as "one of the sucky ones". I started practicing, and getting better, and stopped sucking. Sucking, well, sucked.

Over time I became fascinated by the symphony orchestra, and the brass section in particular, to the point where, for a time, my career ambition was to be a symphonic trumpet player. To me, there was nothing quite so thrilling as a big symphonic passage where the trumpets soared above it all. My musical hero, trumpet-wise, was never Maurice Andre or Wynton Marsalis; it was Adolph Herseth of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (Get just about any Chicago Symphony recording from the 1950s on, and you'll hear Herseth playing the principal trumpet part. Track down a Mahler 5th by the CSO -- Solti's live recording is amazing -- and you'll hear some astonishing trumpet playing amidst the greatness of the rest of the orchestra.)

Of course, it's not all fun-and-games for symphonic trumpets. As much as I love Mozart and Haydn and Beethoven, the trumpets of their day were limited instruments and thus were not used for much more than providing some harmonic oomph at strategic points in the score. So the trumpet players spend a great deal of time counting measures, playing a few notes, and then counting more measures.

I did get to be a symphonic trumpet player, in college. Those were some of the finest memories of my college years.

Along the same lines, Kerry asks:

Can you describe that unique smell of the ACS band room (circa 1988-89) WITHOUT using the words "brass," "moldy reed" or "feet"?

Oh, wow. Ummmm...wow. That's hard. Really hard.

At Allegany Central School in the 1980s (and before that, obviously), the band room was located at the extreme end of a long wing that extended off the right hand side of the building, so getting to band involved a fairly long walk, past the Industrial Arts room ("shop"), past the Agricultural Arts area (a subject that was taught by the single most uptight teacher I've ever had), past the Chorus room, finally into the Band room.

The band room had a lot of character, which is to say, it was pretty much of a mess.

The room was oblong, running north and south. One entered the room from the northwest corner; the band itself gathered facing the east wall, with the band director (Mr. Beach or Mr. Roosa) standing on the podium, facing west. At the back of the room, along the west wall, were two practice rooms. (For those who have never been musicians, a "practice room" is a little room, maybe five feet square, where you practice. I always detested practice rooms and avoided them at all costs. You can't judge the sound you're making with your instrument when you are working in a room the size of your bathroom or a large closet.) The south wall had a big shelf loaded with musical instruments, and a bunch of file cabinets which contained sheet music.

Now, the instrument shelves were full of instruments. Some belonged to students in the band; others belonged to the school. Many of them were complete wrecks. Others were on the way there. The school's Sousaphones wouldn't fit on the shelves, so they sat in a pile on the floor. Yup.

Along the eastern wall, at the band director's back, were more cabinets. These contained records, tapes, more sheet music, and basically music-related crap of all kinds. There was a dinosaur stereo system that nevertheless sounded freaking awesome. I loved going to the band room during a study hall and cranking that stereo with whatever I could get my hands on. There was a tuner (a gizmo that, well, tells you whether or not your instrument is "in tune" -- i.e., producing the notes you play at the correct pitch. If musicians aren't "in tune" with one another, the group will sound awful.), and there were a whole lot of goofy posters, some of which were humorous and some of which were music-related. One of these posters I've always remembered: it had an ape of some sort sitting on the ground looking pouty, and the caption was "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits." Early LOLCat, I assume.

And there were the other usual suspects: crappy chairs; music stands in various states of disrepair (getting the non-wobbly stands was quite the perk of being higher on the band food chain); percussion instruments taking up most of the north end of the room; more cabinets containing more sheet music; et cetera.

But Kerry's asking about the smell. It was a pretty unique aroma. I wouldn't say it was a horrible smell, but...well, it wasn't entirely pleasant, either. My main recollection of the odor is one of petroleum, in various forms. Valve oil, used by trumpet and horn players to lubricate their valves. Slide oil, used by trombonists to lubricate their slides. Various oils and jells used by instrumentalists of all types to lubricate...well, you'd be surprised how much lubrication is involved in the general day-to-day functioning of a wind instrument.

There was also the smell of musty paper, owing to all that sheet music around. It was kind of like the used bookstore smell, but not as pleasant. And there was the fact that for a lot of band members, the band room served as a "second locker", which meant that there were occasionally things that you would normally find in someone's locker floating around. Some of these things smelled...bad.

I haven't thought about the smell of the bandroom in quite a long time, but I do remember it. It's one smell, or set of smells, that I've never encountered since.

More answers to come, I promise!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Oops! Thought I'd posted this, but I'd only saved it as a Draft. Oh well.

(And I will get to finishing my Ask Me Anything! 2011 queries; the last week has been pretty busy. But I think I'll have some time coming up in the next batch of days.)

Anyway: even before Charlie Sheen's recent descent into the Mouth of Madness, Two and a Half Men has been one of the most highly-rated shows on teevee for a while. Having watched it off and on mainly because, well, it's on in between stuff I like watching more and it's not so bad as to have me reaching for the remote, I'm mystified by its ratings success and odd longevity. Does anybody out there really like this show? How can something this "Meh" be this successful?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

My ability to come up with a clever title for this post has been defeated.

Tom Brady dancing. (It's at about the :25 mark.)



There is no adjective in Elvish, Entish, or the Tongues of Men to describe the evil of such a thing.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The ASS Postulate

For some reason, the other day I started thinking about mnemonic devices that my teachers occasionally gave us to help us remember certain things in our classes, back in my hazy school days. Most times, my teachers tended to discourage us from relying heavily on mnemonic tricks, but sometimes they yielded to reality and actually gave us a device outright. I can't remember most of these, but as I've thought back, some have burbled up from the depths of my memory. Here are a few:

:: "Oscar had a heap of apples."

My algebra teacher taught us this one, when it came time for us to study right triangles and the properties thereof. (Which I guess was, basically, entry-level trigonometry. I wish I'd had that teacher for Trig as well...I loathed my trig teacher.) But anyway, this device helps keep straight the formulae for determining the sine, cosine, and tangent values of various angles. Sine is defined as the Opposite side over the Hypotenuse. Cosine is the Adjacent over the Bypotenuse. And Tangent is the Opposite over the Adjacent. I think. It's been a while...but anyway, "Oscar had a heap of apples."

:: "KP can ordinarily form good soldiers."

This one comes from biology. Our teacher was telling us about the various levels of taxonomic classification of life forms. It went:

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
Species

And I still remember it!

:: "Every good boy deserves fudge."

This one was used by every elementary school music teacher I ever had. It indicates which notes each line represents on a standard music staff, using the treble clef. The bottom line is E; the second one up is G; then B, D, and F respectively.

A parallel device was simply the word FACE, as those letters are also the notes in the spaces between the lines. Interestingly, once I joined band, these mnemonics never came up again. I never learned any kind of mnemonic for the notes of the bass clef.

:: The ASS Postulate

This came from my geometry teacher, and it's actually a reverse mnemonic device. When we were learning how to prove that two given triangles were actually congruent, we learned a number of postulates about congruent triangles, all involving side lengths and angles. There was the SAS Postulate, for example, which tells us that in two triangles, if two sides and the angle between them are equal, than the triangles are congruent. Similarly, there was the SSA Postulate (two adjacent sides and the following angle); the ASA postulate (two angles and the inclusive side). Ah, but! our teacher warned us. There's no such thing as the ASS Postulate, and we could remember that by virtue of the fact that if we tried using the ASS Postulate to prove two triangles congruent, she would consider us...an ass.

OK, then. Point taken!

:: When I got to college and took ear training courses in the music program, one of the earliest things we had to learn to do was recognize intervals by hearing them, and not by reading them on the page. Our professor strongly discouraged the practice, but mnemonics for intervals went round the class, anyway. If the two notes played are the first two notes of "Here Comes the Bride", that's a perfect fourth. The first two notes of Star Wars? Perfect fifth. The old NBC three-note motif? The first two notes of that are a major sixth. The first two notes of "Maria" from West Side Story? That's a tritone. And so forth. In time we got away from relying on these, anyway.

:: And yes, I remember the one that Marcia Brady taught younger brother Peter on The Brady Bunch when he was having trouble remembering what a primate is: "A vertebrate has a back that's straight."

So, what mnemonic devices do you all remember still?

Sentential Links #240

Two hundred forty! Wow, I've been doing these for a long time.

:: I choose the foods. I choose to wake up at 5 am to get on the treadmill. I choose to make this a priority. I’m not taking a magic pill. I am digging deep, finding the courage and doing this. Two months in and I can see the physical and emotional changes. (via)

:: Let’s start with this… a seat at the bar on a busy night is considered valuable real estate, it’s there for you to spend money not just your time. It’s not a park bench. And few things make your friendly bartender gradually more un-friendly, than having someone sit at the bar and park. For hours! Meaning, not have a drink beyond the first, just sit and sip and sit til the cows come home. For it’s not unlike a book store customer knocking out “War and Peace”, or reading a stack of his favorite “mags” without the slightest intention of making a purchase.

:: The saying “Measure twice and cut once” isn’t just a set of pretty words — it’s something some of us could remember a little more often.

:: Weaknesses: Most people are beginning to catch on to what a vapid, corrupt, petty, spiteful, intellectually incurious, vindictive, greedy, dimwitted, dishonest, crazy asshole she actually is (Yeah, that's a pretty good summation of Sarah Palin.)

:: I am honored that I was given the opportunity to “discover” this amazing book. The manuscript showed up on my doorstep just shortly before a Thanksgiving holiday many years ago. It was over a thousand pages long, and I was anxious to read just enough of it to be able to reject it without having to lug the thing home. But after reading the first page I knew I was doomed to get almost no sleep that night. (Oh, wow! That book is remarkable.)

:: The last ten years have given us a number of colorful and violent looks at the Roman world. When Gladiator won Best Picture in 2000, Hollywood took notice, following it with films about the ancient world (including the Spartan defense against the Persians to Alexander’s conquest of India.) Instead of talking about the films and TV shows of Rome chronologically by release date, let’s allow history to unfold before us. We’ll take a tour of the Roman story as it unfolds… (What a great blog this is!)

:: Most Twitterers will never rise to this kind of brilliance, but it is great that the medium exists for those who can.

More next week!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Want to start following baseball, but you have no idea which team to adopt as your very own? What you need is...a flowchart!

Flowchart: What Baseball Team Should I Root For?


(Click through to embiggen it all the way.)

:: This poem, and the animation used to illustrate it, is terrific.

:: Here's a fascinating article about what authors do when they have to abandon works that aren't progressing well. No, this is not relevant to me in any way.

(OK, yes, it is.)

More next week!

Saturday Centus

I know, I know. A day late. Yesterday was a pretty busy one, though, so I didn't get around to mulling over this week's prompt until late, and I didn't start writing until this morning. So here it is. I stuck with science fiction again. The best SF stories, for me, are still about what any good story is about: people. Anyway, here it is, with the prompt in bold.

“Your purpose on Mars?” asked Martian Entry Agent Miguel Martinez.

“Work,” James Nelson replied. “None on Earth. There is on Mars.”

“M-hm.” Agent Martinez finished searching the Nelsons’ baggage. James sighed with relief. “Any illegal contraband requires immediate force-return to Earth,” the sign said. Families had been sent back for the smallest things in their transpo-crates.

Emily, James’s daughter, squirmed in his wife Molly’s arms. “Shhh,” she said.

Now Martinez was scanning the Nelsons’ purple entry-and-work visa. Everything depended on this single card: one problem with their purple card, and it was back to Earth.

“Pass through,” Martinez said.

James exhaled. The Nelsons were immigrants now.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Breakfast of Champions


Breakfast of Champions, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

For years I've generally been a breakfast cereal person, but over the last month or so I've started indulging heavily in a heartier breakfast, in the form of a breakfast sandwich. I toast an English muffin (I prefer multigrain, but those sell out quickly so usually I end up getting Whole Wheat), onto which I stack an egg (cooked over-hard -- even easier than scrambling), a slice of some kind of cold cut that I've fried ever-so-briefly in the pan alongside the egg (usually ham, but on this one I had some Capicola, which is by far my favorite cold cut but which I don't get often because of the salt and fat), and a slice of cheese (pepperjack in this example).

A banana and a glass of juice complete the meal. More than 90 percent of the time I drink good old orange juice, but every few months I decide to change it up just a bit and get something else. Sometimes it's grapefruit; here I'm drinking a V8 blueberry/pomegranate blend.

Next week I plan to try one with salsa on it instead of cheese. Or a breakfast wrap. Breakfast rules!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Dance....



George RR Martin announces that A Dance with Dragons has a release date.

I'd love to be one of the fans of A Song of Ice and Fire screaming "HUZZAH!!" over this, but...well, I'll read it, sure. I won't buy the hardcover right off the bat, but I'll read the book. Sometime. But it's been so long since the last one came out that I really don't remember a lot of what was going on, so I feel the need to do a complete re-read before I get to Dance. And I can't forget that I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about A Feast for Crows -- especially since Dance tells the rest of the story from Feast, but with other characters. The last one was, frankly, something of a structural mess.

And...well, the thing is, Martin still isn't done with the book. It's not "It's finished, they're editing and it will be out in July!" Instead, it's "I'm really close, so we're just throwing out a date!" This does not inspire confidence. They've announced release dates for Dance before, and yet, it's been seven years since the last one.

Last I checked, the entire series was supposed to end after seven books. Unless Martin is able to significantly get a jump on the next one, I stand by what's been my opinion for several years now: A Song of Ice and Fire will never be finished. At least, not by Martin.


This photo appeared at Balloon Juice earlier today. How true...and the most staggering thing is the way the Top 1% has funded a bunch of know-nothing Tea Partiers whose only function is to make sure that the everything that the Top 1% wants is handed to them. I'd wistfully await the day when the Tea Partiers realize that they're just useful tools in the further indenturization of America, but self-awareness generally isn't a quality that seems to be in abundance in Tea Party types. Either that, or they genuinely want to be serfs.

(No comments.)

Something for Thursday

After the last post, I've got Blade Runner on the brain, so here's part of Vangelis's music for the film.



And I'm pretty sure I've posted this before, but here's the Love Theme from the film.



(Sequels and prequels, my ass. Ye Gods!)

No. Please oh please, No.

Sequels and prequels to Blade Runner. Come on. What are we gonna do now? See Deckard and Rachel on the run? Or go back in time so we can see what attack ships on fire off Orion's shoulder look like? Now, I've never been as enamored of Blade Runner as many are -- visually it's a staggering achievement, but narratively I've always found it oddly uninvolving -- but really, Hollywood, No.



I really think it's only a matter of time before somebody actually makes Brazzaville, the first installment of the ongoing adventures of former bar owner Rick Blaine and his friend, the ethically-challenged Police Prefect Louis Renault.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Union

Kevin Drum, in a post from last week that I've been meaning to link:

Every single human institution or organization of any size has its bad points. Corporations certainly do. The military does. Organized religion does. Academia does. The media does. The financial industry sure as hell does. But with the exception of a few extremists here and there, nobody uses this as an excuse to suggest that these institutions are hopelessly corrupt and should cease existing. Rather, it's used as fodder for regulatory proposals or as an argument that every right-thinking person should fight these institutions on some particular issue. Corporations should or shouldn't be rewarded for outsourcing jobs. Academics do or don't deserve more state funding. The financial industry should or shouldn't be required to trade credit derivatives on public exchanges.

Unions are the most common big exception to this rule. Sure, conservatives will take whatever chance they can to rein them in, regulate them, make it nearly impossible for them to organize new workplaces. But they also routinely argue that labor unions simply shouldn't exist. This is what's happening in Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker isn't satisfied with merely negotiating concessions from public sector unions. He wants to effectively ban collective bargaining and all but do away with public sector unions completely.

Nobody should buy this. Of course unions have pathologies. Every big human institution does. And anyone who thinks they're on the wrong side of an issue should fight it out with them. But unions are also the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They're the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.


Couldn't agree more.

Answers, the ongoing!

Wow, I gotta start getting the lead out with regard to Ask Me Anything! 2011. So here are a couple of sports-related questions!

Andy has this to ask:

Do you think changing up the Buffalo Bills uniforms will do ANYTHING for the team or do you think they will continue having the top five draft pick selections for the next several years?

I don't think uniforms really have any effect except for in the local sports apparel stores, where lots of fans will undoubtedly spend quite a bit of money to get the new jerseys and whatnot. Sometimes teams change uniforms and then get good pretty quickly thereafter: the Patriots in the 90s did it, and the Broncos changed to their current uniforms and almost immediately won two Super Bowls later the same decade. But usually these types of uniform changes don't result in a good team; rather, a good team results because of a new management team that changes the uniforms at the same time that they are installing a better approach to team-building.

I think that it's more likely that this year's draft will determine whether or not the Bills are drafting in the top five for years to come. If they can get at least four or five solid players out of this draft, including at least two real playmakers, then they should be able to improve fairly quickly. But if they tank on the draft, then the long years of suffering will continue. It seems kind of odd to think about it, since a typical NFL team will draft between six and nine players in any particular year via the Draft, but if you tank an entire Draft class (as the Bills did in 2007, only one player from which Draft is still on the team), it can set you back for multiple seasons.

I look forward to seeing the Bills' new uniforms -- while I didn't hate the uni's of the last ten years, I wasn't wild about 'em, either -- I'm looking forward to them drafting well even more. (I do hope that their new uni's are either their current "throwback" uni's, or just going back to the uni's of the 1990s Bills!)

Roger asks:

When will the Pittsburgh Pirates play .500 ball, and what will it take? Will they ever be truly competitive again? Has the management oversold the "we're a small market team" issue? And any comments on the passing of Chuck Tanner, manager of the we Are Family '79 WS winners?

I have zero idea of when the Pirates will be good again. None whatsoever. It truly astonishes me that a person who was born the last time the Pirates had a winning season is now old enough to drive, vote, serve in the military, see Kill Bill without a parent being along...everything but buy a beer. The Pirates have been losing longer than most people have had Internet access. Last time the Pirates won, George Bush was President. The first one.

Major League Baseball has long needed some form of revenue sharing that's more rigorous than the odd, Rube Goldberg system they have now, but after eighteen years of sucking, the Pirates don't have that as an excuse. They've been simply mismanaged for all that time. Bad scouting, bad personnel decisions, and ownership that refused to spend money...ugh.

The Pirates will need to build their farm system and develop good, young players to construct their major league club around. That's the only way they'll win again, being in a small market as they are. But it's not an impossible task; other teams have done it. (Oakland and Minnesota are prime examples; so is Tampa Bay, which has built a fantastic franchise in a town that heartbreakingly doesn't give a shit.) Small market is part of it, but the major part of it is that the Pirates' management and ownership has been resoundingly, staggeringly horrible.

More answers to come!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Pop Rocks are really gross, right?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Let's go antiquing!

Over the last year, the Orchard Park Antique Mall has become a favorite place for The Wife and I to spend a few hours. The Sunday before last, we had a couple free hours...and we still ended up rushing through the back parts of the store because our time started running out.

I've decided that what I love most about the antique thing is that, while there are familiar things that are always there (several booths of action figures, for example, heavy on the Star Wars), there is always something new, something that's really pretty unique, something that I've never seen before or something that I have seen before but maybe wouldn't mind buying. You really, truly never know what you're going to find in antique joints.

Like...a sombrero!

Rural Sombrero


(Yeah, finger on the lens. No idea how I did that. Sorry. But notice the print of comic art down there, next to the sombrero: "But I had to kill her! We wore the same dress!")

No, I didn't buy the sombrero. Nor did I want to. It's the principle of the thing, folks!

Nor did I buy these Toby mugs, although I gazed wistfully upon them for quite a while:

Athos, Porthos, Aramis


They're the Three Musketeers, although I'm not sure which is Athos, Porthos or Aramis. Toby mugs are always expensive there...which breaks my heart because I want to own some, really badly. I think that Toby mugs look absolutely awesome. There are always quite a few available at the Antique Mall, but they always go for upwards of $50 or more. Someday!

This bust of Richard Wagner wasn't there last time:

Richard!


It had no price on it, oddly. This might have tempted, had it been cheap.

Of course, there are books:

You alone can make my soul take flight....

Perusing a book


I bought both of these...Phantom for The Daughter, who is hugely into The Phantom of the Opera, and the omnibus of Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels for myself. Huzzah!

And for all the "OMG, I really want that!" which you'll find in an antique joint, there are also the items that are remarkable in other ways. Such as...this handbag!

Words fail me.


Hand-made, never used. French in origin. All the puzzle pieces fall into place!

The Antique Mall is a brightly-lit store of modern look; no dark and dusky alcoves containing items of unknown origin here. But that doesn't mean that grim things don't reside there:

This doll will KILL YOU.


AIEEE!

And if you want furniture with mirrors, well, the Antique Mall is the place for you. The mirrors seem faulty, though; every one of 'em seems to be showing some dork in overalls. Buy with caution.

Yeah, I am slowly getting bitten by the antiquing bug!