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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kicking tires....

Huh. Blogger has a new way of doing things, so ignore this test post as I try stuff. Like BOLD text. And Italics.

And blockquotes.

Hmmmm. Interesting. Not sure we needed a whole bunch of changes, but then, I know engineers; they love to change things!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Nobody I know admits to watching Two and a Half Men, and yet, it's CBS's highest-rated show. So, do you watch it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight."



When World War I broke out, the French military issued summonses to compulsory military service. One young man, a cellist named Roger Bricoux, did not report for duty, and was listed as a deserter. It turned out that he had a good excuse for not reporting. He had died two years earlier as one of the bandsmen on the doomed ocean liner RMS Titanic.

I expect to see a lot of books and memorabilia over the next eight months or so as we approach the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, on April 15. I just read one new book on the ship, The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic, by Steve Turner.

There's nothing terribly earth-shaking here, really -- it's just a good personal narrative of a specific set of persons who perished on the ship, providing background to one of the most famous facets of the disaster, namely, the ship's band that went on deck and played almost, if not right up to, the very end. This is not a book for the forensics of why the ship went down, nor is it a "big picture" history, which I think is all to the good. Turner provides a nicely honed portrait of the kind of men who took up their instruments one last time as death confronted them.

As with any such narrative, there are things to learn that I never knew before. The musicians were all contracted by a single firm that pretty much handled all of the musical needs of Britain's great cruise ships of the period, and the fellows in charge of this firm -- brothers Charles William and Frederick Nixon Black -- really don't come off as having been nice fellows at all. Apparently musicians were charged for their tailoring needs on their on-board uniforms, and after the sinking, one of the musicians was still in arrears on his tailoring account, so the Blacks actually sent a bill to the poor fellow's father.

Turner doesn't just stop with the musicians and their deaths; he spends time at the end of the book describing what became of the families of the musicians as well (some of whom fared very poorly indeed), and he speculates on the possibility that an old violin may actually be the instrument Wallace Hartley -- violinist and band leader -- was playing on the voyage and the night in question. And yes, the question of what the actual final tune played that night -- "Nearer My God To Thee" or "Autumn" -- is dealt with.

This is an interesting read. Recommended.

A rule for life

Seen in comments on SamuraiFrog's post about Hell's Kitchen:

Here's a tip: as the percentage of people around you who think you're an asshole approaches 100%, the odds that they're wrong drop precipitously.

This is extremely high in truthiness.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Answers, the fourth!

Continuing with answers to queries posed as part of Ask Me Anything! August 2011. I have a regular reader who occasionally corresponds by e-mail, and here are the questions this reader has posed:

I'm on vacation right now, so: what's your dream vacation? What's the best (real) vacation you've been on? How much vacation do you get in a year and how do you like to spit it up (or do you like to do it all at one time)?

My dream vacation would involve all-expenses paid to...someplace. Anyplace. Could be Disneyworld. Could be Portland/Seattle. Could be London. A cruise to Alaska. I don't have a great deal of traveling wanderlust, but I wouldn't mind being able to do any of those someday.

"Real" vacations I've been on? My honeymoon is probably the best, I figure -- we spent a couple of days on Cape Cod, a couple in downtown Boston, and then we drove home via New Hampshire, Vermont, and the upper part of New York. By the end we were getting tired and money was getting low, so we came a fairly direct route. We should have done some Adirondack exploring, though.

For our first anniversary we went to DisneyWorld, which was great, except for The Wife having an accident that involved ripping out a big chunk of the nail on her big toe. I spent the rest of that vacation pushing her around in a wheelchair. (Which was actually kind of nice, in that it got us past queues for the rides, but in another way, that kind of sucked, because Disney puts a lot of thought into its ride-queue areas.)

And then, there was our trip to the Jersey coast just last month. (Huh...did I never really blog about that? Weird...photos here, with commentary within.) That was a fantastic time.

Mostly, though, when we take trips, they're day trips or overnighters someplace. I don't get a lot of paid time off, unfortunately, so when I want to take a few days off, I have to plan ahead and budget for it. The last couple of years we've gone to Pittsburgh in the spring -- this coming spring, we may go back to Toronto for the first time in over five years, which is just a stupid amount of time to let lapse between Toronto visits -- and each fall lately, The Wife and I have traveled together to the Apple Festival in Ithaca. Those little trips mean the most to me, really -- opportunities to go someplace and spend time with The Wife, finding nifty places to shop, and so on.

Also, I started showing my son (who is 16 now) the BBC Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. I think they're very well done, but I haven't seen many other productions. What have you seen, if any and what do your recommend? (Or do you not like Sherlock Holmes stories much?) I saw a trailer for a new Sherlock Holmes movie that looked more action-adventure than I remember the stories being --- would you be interested in seeing it?

Ohhh, such a finely-crafted question...and I have to offer a really lame answer! I'm terribly lax in my exposure to Mr. Holmes. I've only read a few of Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, and I've read a few of the many "extended universe" (for lack of a better term) works that have appeared over the century-plus since Holmes first appeared. As for movies, I know very, very little. I've seen a couple of the ones Basil Rathbone made, and they are terrific. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (with Jeremy Brett playing the good detective) is good, and I greatly enjoyed Young Sherlock Holmes, even if it is more an adventure flick than a Holmes detective story. I haven't seen Robert Downey Jr.'s recent film (whose sequel is coming out at some point in the near future), and it definitely looks like more of an action take on Holmes than anything else. I've heard that the first one is fun, and I've also heard that it's a waste of time. I'll probably find out, sometime. But yes, I do need to read more Holmes in the first place!

By the way, if you really want to get into some interesting stuff, track down a copy of Shadows Over Baker Street, an anthology of Holmes/Cthulhu mash-up stories. Fun stuff!

How many books do you acquire in one year, do you think? (I fear library book sales and the like; a good cause and cheap books are a recipe for a house stuffed to the rafters with books.)

I'm really scared to speculate on this. Via the quarterly library book sales, I probably pick up fifty books a year alone. Via other venues, probably around twenty or thirty a year. It's bad. Next time we move, it better be local because The Wife is going to kill me if we have to rent two trucks.

More to come!

Dispatches from the Fair

Midway at Dusk

A few weeks ago, The Family Unit and I made our annual trek to the Erie County Fair, where the usual good time was had by all. (Except for that one guy, who didn't seem to be having a good time at all. Oh well!) Here's some pictorial documentation of our day!

(Below the fold, of course.)

Sentential Links #258

Linkage....

:: Strangely, despite the potential for lowered self-esteem, rude customers, and insane managers, I take pleasure in the job. I like eating delicious food and I enjoy assisting other people in this pursuit. Unlike offices, which force me to sit down and keep to myself, service is an ongoing chapter from Harriet the Spy. I have season tickets to first dates, breakups, and wedding engagements and I have become great friends with TV writers, professional body builders, and heirs to steakhouse fortunes.

:: If the New Braunfels city council is meeting, rest assured they're going to pass some damn fool stupid ordinance regarding the Comal River in the face of massive popular opposition. It'd be funny if it weren't so predictable. (I don't live anywhere near New Braunfels -- or even Texas, come to that -- but this is a model post for those blogging about local policy issues wherever they might be. This is how it's done, folks. If a post is so clear that I can understand the issues despite never having set foot in the town in question, then it's going to be clear-as-the-clearest-crystal to those actually affected by those issues.)

:: I held my breath. We all just kept gasping and clutching each other. We sat on the sea wall and watched. I swear to God – that ocean was alive. And it was the most beautiful thing in nature I have ever witnessed.

:: Anybody can pull off a sexy witch or pirate maid, but it takes real panache to make a convincing Princess Leia.

:: OBVIOUSLY there’s no child’s suffering that delights me so much as a Keane Kid’s suffering, and so I’m overjoyed to see Billy’s comically overwrought expression of crushing despair as his mother drapes that suit jacket over his shoulders. It’s as if he’s won the Masters, only instead of a green jacket he’s getting a blue jacket, and instead of winning the Masters he’s going to be executed wearing a blue jacket.

:: I’m pretty sure it’s not a good sign when your team’s best player is your punter. (Heh. Reminds me of a time in college when my roommate, a Vikings fan, had to be away on Sunday on some function, so I taped a godawful game for him. When he got home to watch the tape, I told him, "Well, one of the Vikes' players had a career day. Bad news is, it was the punter.")

All for this week. More next week!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

HUZZAH!!!

Seriously. Huzzah. I'm so glad that the wayward cat decided to return.

(Cats can be real dumbasses, by the way. Doesn't mean we don't love 'em, but still....)

The deck chairs are in order, Captain Smith.

Did you know that, even as NASA has ended the space shuttle program with no replacement and no real direction for future space policy, we've made it illegal for NASA to enter into cooperative space projects with China? I didn't, either.

It's one thing to mistakenly pursue bad policy on the belief that it's good policy, but I'm really starting to think that our country is deliberately opting for bad policy whenever possible. These are truly amazing times to be alive, and I don't entirely mean that in a good way.

"Dead or alive, you're coming with me."

Robocop the romance novel


I swear, I have no idea why Robocop is riding a unicorn. No idea at all. But anyway:

Funny story about the first time I saw Robocop: I watched it on VHS with my parents because a coworker of my father's told him how good it was. I found that highly amusing, because from what I knew of Robocop, I knew that my father was exceedingly unlikely to enjoy it much at all. I have never known my father to have the least inclination toward science fiction in any way, and he's not terribly big on violence. And back then, I seem to recall he didn't much care for use of the word 'F***' in his movies. Robocop had three strikes against it, going in, and no, it didn't recover. Not his cup of tea at all. But I liked it.

The movie was a staple of our action-movie watching in college, but since then, I hadn't watched Robocop in a really long time (I don't honestly know if I've ever watched it in its entirety, uncut, since college), until the other day I saw it streaming on Netflix, so I decided to watch a little bit of it. Which turned into the whole thing. Go figure. Only problem was that I was doing this on a whim and I'd already had an afternoon snack, so I didn't make popcorn. And really, Robocop is one of the popcorniest movies ever made.

So I've always liked Robocop. The sequel was meh, but the original has always been a good flick. However, in my head I've always kind of viewed Robocop as a prep film for some of the better stuff director Paul Verhoeven would do later on -- Total Recall, Starship Troopers. I remember Robocop being perfectly good, but not extraordinary. Turns out that Robocop is a lot better than I recall.

The story is, I assume, familiar to anyone who is still reading this post. At some point in the future, things in Detroit have become so bad that the police force has been privatized by a company called OCP, which is looking for new, technological approaches to law enforcement. The first such approach involves big robots called ED-209's, which turn out to be a bit...overzealous. (During a demonstration at a board meeting, the ED-209 machine-guns a young executive to death, leading the CEO to do a facepalm as this young fellow's corpse is oozing blood from a hundred bullet holes all over the boardroom floor.) Enter another young up-and-coming executive, who wants to show up the guy whose pet project just splattered some guy's guts all over the board room. His notion is to turn a cop who has been fatally wounded into a robotic police officer.

He almost immediately gets his wish, when our hero, Officer Murphy (Peter Weller), is brutally shot a number of times by a very bad man named Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and then left for dead. Murphy is somehow 'saved' by doctors, but when he 'awakens', he has been turned into a robot. Robocop.

Now, why they need a human for this is never really explained, since the idea is basically the same as ED-209 – turn police work over to a robot. Presumably 'Robocop' is better because of the addition of human instincts and thought patterns, but without memories, which have been wiped clean. Nothing of Murphy remains inside Robocop.

Except, well, turns out that quite of Murphy actually is knocking around in there, and as the rest of the movie goes on, Robocop tries to put together who he really is all the while trying to capture the bad guys, who have powerful allies in OCP itself. Much mayhem ensues, with Verhoeven establishing his reputation in this movie as a fairly creative director of gore-filled action.

I was struck this time, after not having seen the movie in so long, by the pacing. In the first place, Robocop just doesn't waste any time at all. We meet Murphy in the first five minutes, and he's been fatally mutilated and wounded about ten minutes later after an action sequence. We're told almost nothing about him – he has a wife and kid, he started twirling his pistol before holstering it because his son saw a guy do it on teevee – and yet, the film somehow is able to make us think we know more about him than we do. Since we know so very little about Murphy, Robocop's frustration as he tries to recover his memories is all the more engaging. It's a brilliant device, and in a lesser movie, there would be about fifteen minutes of stuff letting us "get to know" Murphy before his killing. We don't really feel a sense of loss until Robocop himself feels a sense of loss.

The pacing also keeps the film focused on events and actions, and only in passing mentions the various moral issues behind its story. Verhoeven's suspicions of corporate capitalism are clear, but there are no big speeches about it in Robocop, just rapid-fire angry conversations between rival executives. ("Who cares if it works? Military contracts! Selling spare parts for twenty years!") The Robocop seems cool in itself, and it's chilling in retrospect that no one ever questions the morality of a project that is just waiting for some poor cop to get killed in the line...and worse than that is the fact that OCP has maneuvered cops around in order to ensure that one of them will get killed in the line, sooner rather than later. Risks and personality assessments are cited as methods for determining where to put the cops who may die, but again, in keeping with the film generally keeping us in the dark with respect to Murphy, we are not told exactly what it is about Murphy that makes OCP determine that he's likely to get killed in his new assignment.

In terms of design, Robocop himself is iconic, with his helmet that conceals everything except his jaw. I always find this a bit interesting – why not just cover his entire face? Of course, it's because we need some reason to still see him as a human being, and for most of the time he's onscreen, that jaw is it. He doesn't do much of anything else with his mouth except speak, leaving Robocop to show his growing frustration mainly through body language, such as when he is exploring his old house and experiencing bits of old memory and puts his fist through the teevee screen realtor.

We do get to look at Robocop without his helmet late in the film, and it's not the prettiest sight, but that's when we really know that Murphy-the-person really is inside there, and he hasn't been entirely erased. There's a moment prior to that, though, that hints that this is the case. It's blink-and-you-miss-it stuff: when the bad guy sics ED-209 on him, Robocop's visor is broken in a couple of places, and Verhoeven throws in a couple of quick closeups of his fear-filled eyes. It's enormously effective, and it really cements Robocop as a character in this movie, as opposed to...well, whatever he'd be otherwise. A prop, perhaps.

Robocop's prognostications of the future are mainly hit-or-miss. The world of the "clean future" is one of antiseptic concrete; wood and metal are mainly used to depict Old Detroit, the run-down place where chaos still reigns. There are newscasts which give a bit of "future news", telling us a bit of what's going on in the world. I'm not sure why they bothered; none of this really adds much to the film, except for the bits that deal specifically with Detroit, and in any case, the prognostications seem to take the various strifes of the 1980s and project them forward forty years or so. Thus we have wars in South Africa and Central America.

I also am of mixed mind on how the movie ends: Robocop dispatches the main bad guy, there are about two lines of dialogue, and then, smash cut to credits. I always find the ending vaguely unsatisfying – but then, I'm not entirely sure how to better wrap things up. The film certainly leaves open a lot to be explored in possible sequels, particularly, Robocop's explorations of whether he's a person or not. It's too bad only one relatively lackluster sequel was made.

Basil Poledouris's score is a highly-regarded piece of SF-action film music, and deservedly so; it's appropriately futuristic sounding without being otherworldly. I realized that the main theme, the Robocop theme, isn't heard until we've first met Robocop and he's gone out onto the street to do cop stuff. Of course, that main theme is one of the great earworms of film music history. Just try watching this movie and then not end up humming that tune for days.

It's too bad that Robocop didn't lead to anything more than what it already is, but one good film is more than a lot of franchises get, right?

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Brilliantly sarcastic replies to completely well-meaning signs. Some of these are actually not that funny at all, but those that are, are worth scrolling past the ones that aren't.





:: This comic is in Korean, but you don't have to read Korean to get the gist of what's going on. Be warned: this is unnerving. It certainly got under my skin.

:: Happy Belated Birthday, Sir Connery!

More next week!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Grand Central


031, originally uploaded by MTAPhotos.

Eerie: Grand Central Station after the last trains have departed in the anticipation of Hurricane Irene. Hopefully Lex Luthor's lair is waterproof!

Step One: I am powerless before lumens....

I have a co-worker who likes to poke fun at my addiction. Now, it's not usually nice to make fun of someone's addictions, but in this case, well, it's part of my coping strategy. And at least I admit that I have this addiction, which I'm told is the first step toward dealing with it. My problem is...that aside from admitting the existence of this addiction, I have little intention of stopping it any time soon.

My addiction?

Flashlights and worklights.

I can't get enough of 'em. I love 'em. Whenever I find myself in possession of a gift card to Lowe's or Home Depot and I genuinely can't think of a new tool that I really need to get, I default to a flashlight or a worklight. I can't stop! And I've been this way virtually all of my life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't excited by flashlights, all the way back to the first one I remember owning, when I was five or six, and one of my birthday (or Christmas, or Easter, or some point when my parents just wanted to shut me up) gifts was one of those red plastic Ever-ready flashlights.

How many flashlights do I own? Well, here's a guided tour...and this isn't even all of them!

OK, first up. I keep this fellow in my laptop bag, because it's my belief that one should always have some kind of flashlight ready to hand, and in this way, I'm always prepared for a sudden need for light should such a need arise. It's also a combination laser-pointer: you click the button once for light (it has 8 LEDs), twice for laser, and thrice for light and laser.

Flashlights I: Combo flashlight and laser pointer


Next up is this old-school Maglite. This is in my toolbag at work. In truth, I rarely use it, because most times at work when I need light I reach to the one of two lights that I carry on me at all times. (More on those later.) In my experience, Maglite's flashlights are of very high quality. Unless you actually set out to break them, they just don't wear out. I have one of those black D-cell "billy club" Maglites -- not pictured in this post -- that I bought twenty years ago, and it still shines as brightly as ever. I've never even had to change the bulb.)

Flashlights IV: Old-school Maglite


You can buy kits to retrofit Maglites so as to remove the incandescent bulbs and fit them with LEDs, but I've never bothered.

Then there's this nifty light by Stanley:

Flashlights X: Stanley folding tripod light


Looks pretty cool, doesn't it? It's fairly big, actually -- that thing fits a two-handed grip, which makes it feel like...yeah...a lightsaber handle! Yes! But that's not why I bought this light. I got this one because of a nifty feature. See how it has two buttons? The one closest the lens turns on the light (a very bright LED). The lower button, though, springs open the legs, creating a tripod. And the head swivels, allowing you to do this:

Flashlights IX: Stanley folding tripod light


Thus a hand-held flashlight becomes a free-standing worklight. This has proven highly useful to me over the last few years!

Also in the worklight department is this item, from Ryobi's Tek4 line of products:

Flashlights V: Ryobi worklight


There are six bright LEDs in the clear cylinder on the left side of the light. The LEDs can be aimed by rotating the cylinder via the little knob where my fingers are. On the backside of this light is a magnet, so I can stick this light to something metal, turn it on, aim the LEDs, and there's a worklight. This is useful where the Stanley tripod light isn't practical. This light also comes with a little square of metal which you can temporarily attach to stuff, if there is no iron-based metal where you're working.

Ryobi's Tek4 line is a group of products used for measuring, calculating, illuminating, and other types of tasks that confront handymen on a regular basis. The products all use the same battery and charger, which is nice. I own one other Tek4 product, which is this handheld flashlight:

Flashlights VIII: Ryobi Tek4

Flashlights VI: Ryobi Tek4


I haven't had a whole lot of use for this light yet, although it did come in really handy during a power outage at work a few weeks back. This light produces a freakishly bright 220 lumens. (By comparison, my 2 D-cell Maglite billyclub light produces 36.5 lumens.) This light is so bright as to be almost intimidating. If I was ever stranded in a dark forest at night with a serial killer on the loose, this is the flashlight I want. Nobody's sneaking up on me when I'm shining this light around. This light may actually be too bright for normal applications, but if Tom Hanks had had one of these with him, he wouldn't have spent four years on that island talking to a volley ball, I can tell you that. He'd be signaling the hell out of freighters on the horizon.

This brings me to the lights I carry in my pockets at work. I reach for a flashlight more often than I reach for my screwdriver, so carrying two of them around isn't as silly as it sounds. I carry this penlight, first of all:

Flashlights III: Pen light


This light is useful for shining into small areas, like inside pieces of equipment when I need to look for something that's creating problems. It's the Energizer brand, but I suspect that any penlight will do the task just fine. In my back pocket I carry this light, two pens, and a small notepad.

The other light that's always on me -- and the one I use the most often, by far -- is this new model LED light by Maglite:

Flashlights II: Maglite LED


That's the Maglite XL50, right there, and let me tell you, I'd by ten of these, if I could. I love this thing. It puts out a beam of 104 lumens, which is plenty powerful for lots of things, such as when I'm standing on the floor at The Store and I need to seek out something up in the rafters, which are more than twenty feet above me and obscured by giant lights of their own. It's also one of those lights with multiple functions: click the tail once, and you get a full beam; click it twice and you get half-brightness; click it three times and you get a rapid pulse, that's ideal for signaling rescue parties if you're stranded on a mountain. I see that Maglite now has a XL200 model, that adds two light modes and runs the lumens up to 172. It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine!

And no, that's not all! Worklights, magnetic lights, penlights...what about keyring lights? Ah yes...I have two. On the same key ring. It's a sickness, I tell you.

Flashlights XI: Two on my keyring!

The top one -- the red one -- really doesn't strike me as a terribly high-quality item, and I'm sure it will not be long-lived. It was only two bucks at Home Depot, so it's not like it will break my heart when it stops working. But it has an LED light, a laser pointer, and -- get this -- a blacklight. Why would I need a black light? Maybe I'm looking for one of these substances. I have no idea. But hey, it was two bucks. Oh, and that light has a little ballpoint pen inside it. That other one, the lower one, is surprisingly bright for such a teeny light, and it's got a signal mode, too.

What other flashlights do I have around? Well, I keep another old-school Maglite on my desk at Casa Jaquandor. There's my headlamp, which I keep on my hardhat at work. And there are a bunch of other small flashlights floating around the apartment, but more than a few of those have disappeared into the trainwreck-on-top-of-a-tire-fire that is The Daughter's room. That's OK, though, because the Holidays are fast approaching, which means...cheap multipacks of cheap flashlights at all the hardware stores! Huzzah!!

Saturday Centus

I'm going to do an experiment with this week's prompt: I'm going to write it right here, without editing it at all. Usually I write my entry in OpenOffice and then tweak and and choose my words to squeeze it down, but this week, I'm going to work without a net.

(Oh, and apologies to Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg for this.)

Dr. Schwarzenstein staggered across the lawn, bleeding profusely, as he thought once again that maybe, just maybe, re-creating velociraptors from frog DNA and the contents of fossilized mosquito stomachs had been a bad idea, and that maybe, just maybe, genetically enhancing the raptor for super-intelligence had been a really bad idea.

And then there she was, the Queen Raptor, in front of him. He wasn't going to make it to the jeep. This was it. She bared her fangs, bristled her claws. "Surprise, I'm pregnant!" she said.

"I've created talking raptors?" he thought -- a scientist to the end -- as she leaped toward his abdomen.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Seven

He would have been seven today.

Little Quinn and Lilac


Wherever he is now, I hope there are sunbeams there....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to respond to failure

One of the writers of the just-released -- and just-flopped -- Conan the Barbarian movie answers the question, What's it like to be the writer of a movie that fails? This part spoke to me, for a lot of reasons:

My father is a retired trumpet player. I remember, when I was a boy, watching him spend months preparing for an audition with a famous philharmonic. Trumpet positions in major orchestras only become available once every few years. Hundreds of world class players will fly in to try out for these positions from all over the world. I remember my dad coming home from this competition, one that he desperately wanted to win, one that he desperately needed to win because work was so hard to come by. Out of hundreds of candidates and days of auditions and callbacks, my father came in....second.

It was devastating for him. He looked completely numb. To come that close and lose tore out his heart. But the next morning, at 6:00 AM, the same way he had done every morning since the age of 12, he did his mouthpiece drills. He did his warm ups. He practiced his usual routines, the same ones he tells his students they need to play every single day. He didn't take the morning off. He just went on. He was and is a trumpet player and that's what trumpet players do, come success or failure.

Less than a year later, he went on to win a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he played for three decades. Good thing he kept practicing.

Sometimes -- most times, even -- the only thing to do is keep going.

Yes, well, aside from THAT, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?


Answers, the third!

Continuing to answer queries from Ask Me Anything! August 2011!

LCScotty asks: When are we going to have another WNY blogger meetup?

I have no idea. Next!

OK, fleshing that out a bit...I'm not sure why it is, but it seems to me that the WNY blogging community doesn't really exist anymore as such. Which isn't to say that it's completely disappeared, but it's changed in a lot of ways, some of which I don't mind, some of which bug me a little. But it's the way things are.

Five or six years ago, blogging was pretty much it in terms of "social networking" online, and community formed in ways encouraged by the nature of blogging: with bloggers linking one another. At one time, bloggers in the Buffalo-Niagara region started discovering each other's existence, and links started flying back and forth, along with discussions of stuff -- politics, issues, Buffalo sports teams, Buffalo restaurants, life in this area, and other items of general interest. And in time, there were a few events where bloggers actually came together and shared drinks, food, and talked about stuff. I attended a couple of these, and they were terrific times. (Before the first one I attended, I asked in all seriousness what I should wear to such an event, and was told by one terrific person, "If you don't wear overalls, I'm gonna cry." How could I turn that down!)

Blogging, however, subsided a lot over the next few years after that, for a number of reasons. Some bloggers lost interest in blogging; others still blogged, but a lot less frequently. And some, for whom blogging was a social outlet, moved on to other outlets that were more to their liking: MySpace, then Facebook, then Twitter. There are occasional Twitter meet-ups, that I know of, but nothing that's as wide-ranging as the old 'Bloggercons' we used to have. But then, how could they be? There is so much online Buffalo population nowadays, and it's all pretty segmented. There are people I interact with on Twitter whom I am fairly confident never ever ever look at my blog, and vice versa.

And within the "Buffalo Blogosphere" itself (or, as I used to call it, "the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan"), things are pretty segmented, too. Links don't get shared much at all anymore. The WNYMedia.net blogs -- quite a few of which I read regularly, because they're really good over there -- seem to mainly link either each other or larger blogs elsewhere online, and those blogs tend to remain focused fairly narrowly on a few specific topics at a time.

Coincidentally enough, I'm writing this on the heels of Christopher Smith's departure from WNYMedia.net and -- one hopes temporarily -- the Buffalo blogging community. I've been reading him just about all the time he's been blogging, and I've (almost) always enjoyed his voice. His departure came out of the blue, and after he's been active in launching new ideas like the Buffalo Cash Mob and trying to brainstorm some way of jumpstarting Buffalo as an area of innovation and entrepreneurship. I can't shake the feeling that there is some kind of "Inside Baseball" involved with his exit from WNYM, but that's none of my business, really.

So, when the next Bloggercon? I have no idea. I'd be game, but who knows?

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Excitement is created by rhythmic accuracy"

So said a music teacher I had once, who was trying to convince those of us under his baton that a piece of music played cleanly and accurately at a slower tempo will sound faster than the same piece played sloppily at a faster one. It's a hard lesson to internalize, but, listen to the rhythmic precision on display in this performance of Shostakovich's Festive Overture. It's something to behold. This is a piece that will not be convincing in any way if the performers are not working with the utmost precision in mind.



That's one of my favorite pieces, by the way.

A quiz thing!

Roger has a brief quiz thing, and here it is:

If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?

One moment from my life? Wow, I'm not sure. Maybe the birth of The Daughter, or my wedding, or the first date with The Wife.

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

I'd propose to The Girlfriend (now The Wife) earlier. In fact, I'd propose, period. I had her ring on order when she proposed.

What movie/TV char­acter do you most resemble in per­son­ality?

Wow, this is a tougher question than it looks. Maybe Andy Sipowicz from NYPDBlue, without a lot of the baggage (like the bigotry). I'd like to be like Scotty from Star Trek, with the whole "miracle worker" thing. Or...yeah, that's a hard question.

If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would it be?

Some randomly-selected right-wing FOX News talking head, I suppose. But it would be a really low cliff, with something soft to break the fall. Like, say, a pile of manure.

Name one habit you want to change in your­self.

My desire to push Republicans into piles of manure. That is not the stuff of which good discourse is made!

Describe your­self in one word.

Verbose.

Describe the person who named you in this meme in one word.

Well-rounded! (Roger's interested in a lot of stuff.)

Why do you blog? (In one sen­tence)

Because the world just isn't complete without my thoughts on stuff like the costume in the new Superman movie, or the unappreciated merits of the Star Wars prequels, or how much the Buffalo Bills stink, or the latest space opera novel, or rhapsodic paeans to bib overalls, or why Upstate New York is awesome and should be the best place on the planet, or what types of pies are ideal for throwing, or random thoughts on hand or power tools, or the excessive use of commas to stretch single sentences out to ridiculous lengths.

Tags? Whosoever wishes this quiz is tagged!

Answers, the second!

Time to clear out some more Answers from Ask Me Anything! August 2011, huzzah!

Jenny (of Saturday Centus fame) has a couple:

Were you the kid in school always getting in trouble for using the red crayon to color the sky and the blue crayon to color the grass? I was.

I did that, a bit. I was also never one to stay inside the lines. The lines sucked. I hated the lines. The lines were evil. I do remember my kindergarten teacher getting irritated when I colored a person orange, which I did because orange was the closest thing to that 'flesh' crayon that Crayola used to make, but which I didn't have in my box. (I assume they still make that color, but call it something else, right? Something that doesn't assume that 'flesh' is, well, white?)

What I remember as particularly frustrating was that creativity was generally to be exercised mainly in Art classes, and I was terrible at art. Just terrible. So other kids were being all creative and stuff, and there I was, trying to make sure that the clay ashtray was in the shape of a heart in the first place. And if memory serves, I didn't include the little divots in the sides, where smokers lay their cigarettes. How was I to know? My parents weren't smokers. And besides, how weird was it, anyway, that in school we were actually required to make an ashtray? Yeah, it was 1977 and all, but Ye Gods, here were schools just assuming that we all lived with smokers! Wow.

Creative writing assignments, however? Those didn't come down the pike all that often, and when they did, I didn't much like them, because the topics would be assigned by a teacher. I'm not sure why this bugged me so much, but it did. I recall one assignment called "Turkey Talk", in which we were to write about Thanksgiving from the perspective of the bird. Now, if you tell me to write that story today, I'm seizing the opportunity and writing a horrifically bloody tale about the turkeys who achieved sentience and staged a rebellion at the abbatoir. Back then, however, my brain just shut down. (In that particular case, I did the smart thing and...just didn't do the damn assignment. Brilliant plan, that. Especially when my parents found out that I had adopted a personal policy of "I'm just not gonna do the stupid assignments.")

Writing just wasn't much encouraged in my school years, sadly enough. I never really knew why; maybe it was just out of fashion back then. Maybe it still is. I craved the assignments -- very rare -- where we were simply given a genre and told to write something in that genre. (And then there was the "write a piece of descriptive prose" assignment, wherein I wrote a detailed description of the girl I had a crush on at the time. In retrospect, holy shit, was that creepy.)

Music, which was my other passion, employed a rather different kind of creativity. The only real outlet at the time for creating something new, musically-speaking, was in jazz band and improv solos. My problem there was that I was simply never really temperamentally inclined toward jazz. I like to listen to it, and I was a serviceable section player, but soloing just wasn't something I was born to do. Go figure.

So, going back to writing and whatnot...I see the Centus prompts as a way of, well, making up for lost time. And apologizing to that English teacher whom I refused to take seriously in 8th grade.

I did want to ask if you'd like to be a guest blogger for me.

Sure! I've never been asked to guest-blog. This is exciting. Let me know what you're thinking of!

Reader Bill asks:

Have you kept your trumpet chops up? If not why not?

Sadly, no, I have not. The answers are all the usual suspects: time, opportunity, and life's other pursuits. I sometimes wonder how I'd sound if I picked up the trumpet again right now, and how long it would take me to recover some reasonable percentage of the proficiency I had back in the day (and I wasn't half-bad, really, if I do say so myself). But this is unlikely to happen, so long as I live in an apartment.

Time is not my friend there, as well -- I only have so many hours in the day, the same as everybody else, and I've gravitated strongly to writing as my prime creative outlet. The time I might spend practicing if I was still a musician is time I now spend writing. And finally, there's opportunity: my finest musical moments always came when I was a member of one ensemble or another, and I tended to find that the greatest musical rush for me came from being one voice in a group that was hitting on all cylinders. Those are the opportunities that are hardest to come by now. There's nothing at all wrong with local amateur groups, but...well, I have some pretty heady musical memories, and I'd almost rather keep those memories close in my heart than try to recapture the lightning in a bottle, if that makes sense.

It's a shame, sometimes. I do miss music now and again, as an active concern.

More answers to come (and new questions are still welcomed, so drop 'em here!)

Well, now I know what percent I'm in.

Political rant below the fold....

Sentential Links #257

Join us for the two-hundred-fifty-seventh iteration of Sentential Links! Or don't. See if I care. Jerk.

Anyhoo....

:: Watching the world slide slowly back into recession without a fight, even though we know perfectly well how to prevent it, is just depressing beyond words. Our descendents will view the grasping politicians and cowardly bankers responsible for this about as uncomprehendingly as we now view the world leaders who cavalierly allowed World War I to unfold even though they could have stopped it at any time. (That's actually the entire post, but I agree spot-on.)

:: These are my mother-in-law’s hands, she has arthritis and so her hands are somewhat twisted and gnarled and she can no longer play the piano fully.

:: I was very, very disappointed when I realized it was just a dream and the place doesn’t really exist. I want to go there.

:: Actors hate having to give exposition. It’s dry, it’s informational, it’s not fun. Unfortunately, SOMEONE has deliver the exposition. The trick is to spread it around, find ways to hide it, and make it entertaining. Necessary information woven into a joke is a great solution. (You can switch the word "actors" with "readers" and be equally correct here. In my current Novel-In-Progress, I recently reached a point where some stuff had to be explained, and I was concerned about that passage for quite a while leading up to it. And I'm still concerned about it. My solution was to reveal the absolute smallest amount of information that I had to, and then have someone change the subject. More stuff will get revealed later. I hope that works. Anyway, there's a reason why my favorite infodump of all time -- the "Council of Elrond" chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring -- comes about 200 pages or so into the book.)

:: Because if you lock ten children under the stairs for the first eleven years of their lives, I'll bet you a Time Turner that you'll get four supervillains, three deeply wounded individuals so desperate for love they will do anything they're told to by the first person who hugs them, two completely shattered psyches incapable of meaningful speech, and one Harry Potter, a basically normal, gently dented boy who is good at sports, naturally likeable, and willing to sacrifice himself for the group of your choice.

Them's some long odds, D-man. Glad that worked out for you.


:: So, fans, does that count as a "cop-out"? YOU MAKE THE CALL!! (I call shenanigans.)

:: You could read it in a tree.

You could read it with some tea.

I would not read it in a tree.

I would not read it with some tea.

I do not want to read that book

I will not take a single look.
(I knew I should have taken a picture of that book....)

More next week!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Geekin'

Just a few pop-cultural items knockin' round my head....

:: I love this poster, for the upcoming film Red Tails, which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and is backed by executive producer George Lucas:


Of course, I look at that poster and I see that Lucas is only the executive producer. He's not the actual producer, nor did he write the screenplay or the story on which the film is based, nor did he direct the movie. But anyone want to lay odds on whose name gets mentioned exclusively if the film flops?

:: I think that the existence of this is frakking hysterical:

1970 Imaginative Sex


Why? Well, if you know anything about Norman's somewhat infamous series of sci-fi novels set on the world of Gor, you can imagine just what his sexual recommendations are like (i.e., great if you're a man and you're into dominance, not so much if you're, well, not).

:: I really am starting to get an appreciation for cosplay.


She's makin' it up as she goes along, folks!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: In the "Awesome" camp, we have this righteous rant by Neil deGrasse Tyson, on the subject of NASA and our apparently scaled-back ambitions as a society.



Great stuff. I could not possibly agree more.

:: Here is a fantastic set of wedding photos. Kudos to this happy couple! (Scroll down slowly for best effect. Don't stop after the first four or five photos.

::: Not that I had a burning desire to go there in the first place, but I really don't think I'll be touring the islands of Indonesia any time soon. AIEEE!

More next week!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Centus

This week we get 150 words, but we're not allowed to use pictures. Oh well!

From the liner notes to the remastered If I Die Young, the one album released by Thrash Davis:

He was born Reginald Aloysius Bixby III, so it's not hard to see why he eventually changed his name to Thrash Davis. His quiet youth ended in his mum's kitchen when he found a wooden spoon and a saucepan, giving rise to a noisy passion that would last him all his short life. Davis would later revolutionize the drum set in much the same way that EVH revolutionized the guitar....

The title of Thrash's first-and-only album proved eerily prophetic when his tour blimp crashed into that tire fire, leaving rock lovers worldwide to forever wonder what might have come in future albums, after fiery songs like "Comet Vomit", "I Hate Jude", and the ribald "Rhymes with Trucker"....

Mr Dylan can knock all he wants, but Thrash Davis is drum drum drummin' on Heaven's door.

Don't forget -- All Centusians are invited to Ask Me Anything!. I've started answering questions, but new ones are still welcome!

Page One: A Tale of Two Cities


Page One: A Tale of Two Cities, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I posted about A Tale of Two Cities last week, but I figured it was still a prime candidate for Page One feature.

(BTW, is this feature popular at all amongst the readership? I'm enjoying it, but I'm not sure anyone else is....)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Something for Thursday

It's been a while since I featured the Chieftains here, so here they are, joined by Mick Jagger, performing "The Long Black Veil".



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I apologize in advance....

...for this bit of pictorial humor, but it made me laugh.


(via)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

This will be of limited interest to non-sports fans, but the question was asked yesterday on WGR and I thought it an interesting one, so: If you're a football player, would you rather be on a Super Bowl winning team or make the Hall of Fame?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Answers, the first.

OK, we're two weeks into the month, so it's time to start dishing up some answers to questions asked as part of Ask Me Anything! Augusts 2011. (By the way, I'm not closing submissions yet! You can still ask stuff!)

Andy asks: So I was up there at the Sabres store in HSBC Arena AND everything WAS 1/2 TO 75% OFF!!! Do you know why?

I honestly don't know, but I assume it's for the usual reason: clearing out the old stuff in favor of the new stuff. I know that's a boring answer, but there's no way they're not going to be selling lots of Sabres stuff there, so my guess is they're clearing out inventory before they start bringing in newer items for next season, which I further assume Sabres management is banking upon for drawing in tons of people again. Anyone who doesn't live here anymore might not realize it, but the excitement that surrounds the Sabres these days -- especially since the new owner took over -- genuinely rivals the excitement that surrounded the Bills during the Super Bowl years.

Or, maybe it's all just a front and Terry Pegula is planning to move the Sabres to Albuquerque!

Sketch Element asks: I visit family in East Aurora about once a year in May or June. Can you recommend some neat things to do or places to go that I may not know about?

Any mention of East Aurora must include Vidler's, of course, but everybody knows about Vidler's. East Aurora also has a nice Mexican restaurant called Arriba Tortilla! that The Wife and I like a lot. (No, it's probably not "authentic" enough for folks who care about "authenticity" in their ethnic-themed food. I, personally, do not.) East Aurora has a terrific farmer's market that runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays, although The Wife thinks that there are more vendors present on Saturdays than Wednesdays.

Striking out a little farther from East Aurora, there are a bunch of nature options. It's about a twenty minute drive to the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, which includes a lot of walking trails and a nature center; in the other direction is Chestnut Ridge Park, in Orchard Park, which is a big park in the hills that is an incredibly popular summer picnic destination and place for walking, jogging, biking, and even a frisbee-golf course. If one enjoys antiquing, there is the amazing Orchard Park Antique Mall (fifteen minutes from East Aurora).

And these two suggestions don't really help a May or June visit, but East Aurora is quite near any number of locations for New York State's Maple Weekend (in March), and E.A. is a great starting point for what is, in my opinion, one of the finest autumn drives in the country, Route 20A between E.A. and Canandaigua.

As with most other spots in the Southtowns, the one thing that E.A. really lacks that would put it over the top, for me, is a good bike path. There aren't any down here, and it's a damned shame.

And a reader asks via e-mail: Why is August my favorite summer month?

Well, first, there's weather. I dislike weather that is too hot and humid, and in Western NY, while our summers are generally fantastic, we almost always get one big blast of hot-and-humid, and it is almost always in July. Basically, every year I find two weeks of July sufficiently unpleasant that I don't want to leave the apartment unless it is to ride in an air-conditioned vehicle to a place that is also air-conditioned. (One of my big fears of global warming is that the length of Unpleasant Summer in Buffalo is going to get longer and longer as time goes by.)

August, however, usually sees the trend shift a bit. The temperatures start to fall, only slightly at first, but enough to be noticeable, and humidity also starts to take a downward trend. In July, there are days when we have to run our apartment's A/C all day; in August, we start to see days when I only have to run it for several hours in the evening when the heat of the apartment lags behind that of outside.

What else does August have going for it? Starting in late July and through a chunk of August, my favorite summer fruit is in season: peaches, nectarines, blueberries. Sweet corn peaks in August, and for several weeks we will dine on BLTs and sweet corn at least once a week. The Erie County Fair is in August. In sports, baseball's pennant races are starting to heat up and football training camps are in full swing. And usually sometime in August is when I can think about wearing overalls without being all sweaty and stuff.

And really, August just starts five terrific months. August leads right into September, and then to October (my absolute favorite month of the year), and then November (Thanksgiving and the beginnings of Christmas), and finally December (Christmas, snow, the culmination of football). So much of the stuff I look forward to on a yearly basis happens during these five months. Sweet corn and BLTs, the Erie County Fair, Labor Day weekend, school starting, my birthday, the now-annual trip The Wife and I take to the Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, my now-annual pie in the face from The Wife, Pumpkinville, Halloween, Thanksgiving, snow, shopping with The Wife, decorating The Store and Casa Jaquandor for Christmas, and Christmas itself.

Oh, and Little Quinn was born in August.

August is a great month!

More answers to come...and feel free to ask more questions!

Avada....


And, just like that, Harry Potter is over.

I'd like to think that we're not done with him, actually. JK Rowling is still on the young side, and she should have many years ahead of her. I wouldn't mind at all if, maybe ten years from now, she decides to take up the pen again and let us in on what happens now. Maybe Hogwarts: The Next Generation. I posed this question on Facebook a bit ago, and one person said, "What's wrong with having a story finished?" And I'm thinking, Was this Harry's only story? The kid's only in his 40s when the first story ends!

But anyway, about the movie of Deathly Hallows, or more specifically, part II of the movie of Deathly Hallows. I don't think that a single bad film was made out of the entire lot of the Potter films -- Chamber of Secrets comes closest, and even it is quite entertaining and watchable, even if it doesn't really do a single thing to expand on the cinematic Potterverse from Sorceror's Stone -- and this one is, like all the others, quite fine indeed. No, it's not perfect; none of them are. But they get a lot right in this one – just about everything they need to get right, actually.

It's an odd thing, how the Harry Potter franchise has ended twice. First the books were all out, but the arrival of that final book – even though it finished the story and told us all that happened – didn't really have that feeling of ending, precisely because we knew, at the time, that there were still three movies (which turned out to be four, what with the split of Deathly Hallows in two) to come. And sure enough, the real feeling of an ending, of an era closing, of Harry Potter now joining the ranks of things that are complete is here now, with this final movie.

When I discovered Harry Potter, there were just two books, but Prisoner of Azkaban came out shortly thereafter. This was in 1998 or 1999 or so. The movies didn't start coming out until 2001. At the time I was skeptical that the filmmakers would be able to make all the books with primarily the same cast; I figured at least one of the major characters would have to be recast at some point in the line, but as it happened, the only one that had to be recast was Dumbledore, and that was because Richard Harris passed away after Chamber of Secrets.

I actually don't have a great deal to say about Deathly Hallows part two -- just some random notes, really. I thought it a wonderful close to the series in general.

:: I'm hard-pressed to think of a single weak link in the entire cast of this entire series of movies. I particularly admire Michael Gambon's work as Albus Dumbledore, though. I've read some critiques of his interpretation of Dumbledore, but what he's always managed to capture for me is the sense of distance that surrounds the character. In the books, even though Dumbledore often comes off as a kindly old man, there is always the hint of many things going on underneath his surface and that he has thoughts which are forever off-limits to Harry and friends. There's an air of mystery that always surrounds Dumbledore that Gambon very ably captures. It would have been too easy for Gambon to play Dumbledore as "Gandalf the Second", but to his credit, he never did.

:: Maggie Smith has been in great need of a real moment in these films, ever since the first one. And boy howdy, did she get one.

:: If ever they needed a partial reason to muddle with the script a bit and deviate from the books, the first ten minutes or so was probably it. Part One of Deathly Hallows ended on a perfect break point, but it left a less-than-enthralling starting point for Part Two. The plot gets boiling quickly enough, but there's a bit of talking at the beginning that keeps the pacing down a bit.

:: Our Big Three – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson – have really grown well over the course of these films. They've developed finely as actors, and the series frankly would not work at all if they hadn't. Grint and Watson shine as they come together finally as a couple, and Radcliffe? He just takes over. He really does. His Harry Potter in this movie (and in the previous half) is finally coming of age as a Wizard, and Radcliffe nails that portrayal, right down to his sad but serene acceptance that he must go to what he thinks is his own death.

:: I love Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. I really do. Until now he has played Voldemort in a quietly menacing way, but then, when his victory seems utterly at hand, he begins to mug and preen and gloat and allow his overconfidence to show. It's really quite superb, and I think Voldemort will be remembered well in the annals of movie villains.

:: And then there's Alan Rickman, who finally gets his payoff as Severus Snape. He's just a great, great actor. He truly is. His resignation when he knows that death is less than a minute away, and his willingness to at last show emotions to Harry Potter that he has kept tightly in control for all these years, is terribly heartbreaking. "Take them," he says, referring to his own tears; and, of course, his last reminder to Harry that he has his mother's eyes. The only thing missing – and it's more JK Rowling's problem than anyone's with the film – is insight into just how Snape was able to keep hold of himself during all the years he had to do awful things on little more assurance than Dumbledore's faith in him.

:: OK, the very last battle between Harry and Voldemort? I can't quite make up my mind about it. It's filmed wonderfully, but it's done very differently in the book, where Harry and Voldemort circle each other, talking, before the final bit of magic comes. Harry's explanation as to why the Elder Wand won't kill him no matter who commands it to? In the book, Harry says that to Voldemort before the end, and it creates terrific suspense: Is Harry right, or is he wrong? In the movie, though, we don't learn this until afterwards, and to me it felt like the wrong time to do it. Even if David Yates was going to save the explanation for afterwards, there still should have been a line for Harry, something like "The Elder Wand will never kill me, Tom Riddle. And you're too blind and twisted to figure out why."

I also loved how, in the book, that final confrontation comes as everyone – the entire cast that isn't dead by that point – is gathered round to watch. Everyone sees what happens, everyone hears it. In the movie, Harry and Voldemort have their final moment alone, unwitnessed by everyone (except Ron and Hermione). But then, I loved Harry's "Let's finish this as we started – together!" before he grabs Voldemort and jumps off the tower. And I loved how Voldemort's demise was depicted – no sudden flash of death, but his screaming as his body suddenly and slowly fragmented into ash that fluttered away in the breeze. It was a very striking moment. The problem was that there wasn't enough build-up to it, so when Voldemort started to disintegrate, I was thinking, "Wait, that's it? Harry beat him already?" At the very least, those last two dueling spells should have been shouted out, as they were in the book, with Voldemort's Avada kedavra meeting Harry's Expelliarmus head-on.

So on one hand, it bugged me that Harry never explained to Voldemort just why the Elder Wand wouldn't work for him. But on the other, how great is it that Hermione asked Harry why the Elder Wand didnt' work for Voldemort? The most important bit of magical knowledge in the entire series comes down to something Harry knew and figured out, something that no one else did. He's come along way from having to ask Hermione to explain things. Harry won't be looking to Hermione to explain the pronunciation of "Leviosa" anymore, that's for sure.

:: But then, I am glad that Yates and company didn't include the Hogwarts ghost who flew around right after the battle in the book, chanting "Voldy's gone moldy, so let's have some fun!" That may have worked in the book, but it would have been an awful thing in the movie.

:: The film's overall look is fantastic, and I love how in the epilogue, the washed-out colors are gone and we're back to the bright palette of the first film. It's a key visual way in which the film shows us that the rightful order has been restored. I still think that a nice touch would have been to have Dudley Dursley show up on Platform 9.75, with his own muggle-born wizard kid in tow, but that's Rowling's fault, not the filmmakers. Oh well.

So...that's it for Harry Potter, I suppose. I do find it kind of saddening, but that's the great thing about stories, isn't it? They're always writing more. And hey! So am I.

(But really, Ms. Rowling? You need to start writing something, if you hadn't already.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Head on Desk

Spoilers for Hell's Kitchen and Master Chef, under Inviso-text -- highlight to read.

Good lord, both of these shows irritated the hell out of me tonight. If anyone has ever questioned the clear fact that for all the onscreen stuff involving Gordon Ramsay and the other two guys on Master Chef are deciding who stays and who leaves, it's really the producers who are calling the shots, there can be no doubt now. Each show had a person or two who really deserved to leave on the basis of what they did in the episode, and in both cases, those people were spared.

On HK, either Elise or Carrie should have been booted. It was painfully obvious, from the way both cooked terribly, and from the way that as soon as both of them were booted out of dinner service, the Red Team found its groove and completed dinner service with few hitches. And on Master Chef, it was clear that Christian attempted to weasel out of responsibility for his and Suzy's loss in the challenge, and that his lemon meringue pie was not as good as Suzy's. But on HK, both Elise and Carrie were spared and Ramsay pulled a surprise eviction of Jamie (who had been part of the red team's recovery after the Drama Queens were sent upstairs), and on Master Chef, Suzy was given the boot.

I really can't see any rationale for this other than the producers of each show basically telling Gordon Ramsay and company that he had to keep around the people who produced the most conflict, which in reality teevee terms translates to "the best teevee". This is the problem with these shows where eliminations are supposedly decided by the show's star/host: it's clear that the producers have input.

I remember the second or third season of The Apprentice, when in a "shocking" boardroom sequence, Donald Trump fired four people at once. This was billed as a stunning development, but if one considered that the show's numbers of both contestants and episodes were known well in advance, it became clear that that season was specifically set up so that Trump would have to do a mass firing at some point or other. It's the same thing here. There's no doubt in my mind that the producers told Ramsay, "No way are you getting rid of Elise or Carrie just yet." And that sucks, because watching the two of them is just annoying now.

And what exactly makes a 'sexy' dessert, anyway? OK, end of rant!


Sentential Links #256

OOPS! I had this post done yesterday and saved it as a Draft, instead of actually scheduling it to appear at its normal time. Whoopsies. Anyway, cruisin' right along!

:: The last leg of the half marathon was the hardest. People gather down the home stretch to cheer you to the finish line. They wouldn't shut up no matter how much I yelled at them. I couldn't concentrate and forgot what I was doing. Someone brought their dog with them and I remember thinking how easily I could beat it up. (Greg Bauch is a radio producer in Buffalo, with WGR, the local sports-talk station. He's also an extremely funny guy -- he's the voice in WGR's "Greg Buck" segments, such as this hilarious example.)

:: Ever have a bad editor?

It is the Tenth Level of Hell.
(Former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter has a blog! It's interesting reading, especially since his stewardship of Marvel was when I was at my height as a comics fan and reader.)

:: I too am an analog man. While I bought CDs, eventually, my first love is the LP. (I keep thinking about these kinds of things. I tend to get sad whenever something new supplants something I used to use and like a lot, but I tend to adapt fairly well. But I suppose everybody has their point, and I'm not sure I'll ever give up paper books, even though I know that I'll have to get an e-reader at some point. Hmmmm.)

:: I suppose every writer eventually gets to this place. The place where the words pour onto the keyboard relatively effortlessly (relative to the previous place where writing is, as RW so aptly put it, "like shoveling sludge"). The hands become robotic and are connected to the brain through a direct, straight-lined channel. You hear, view, smell, taste, and feel life around you through the writing. Everything and everyone you encounter is material that can be used somewhere. It gets weird. Multi-dimensional. Surreal. (In my experience, this state is the reward for writing every day. The mistake many make is in waiting for this state to happen, all on its own. Doesn't work that way.)

:: Yet, as I contemplated the possibility of change, I came to the conclusion that -- just because my story has a fantasy trope or three -- I don't have to fall into any ruts or cliches.

:: Incidentally, what the hell is Goofy anyhow? I never have gotten an answer to that question... (Stand By Me is twenty-five years old. Wow. You know what was really stupid about this movie? It was rated R. I had to have my mom take me to see it. That's insane.)

:: No, really. The man was buried with a power saw.

More next week!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: After Harry Potter and friends win the war, how do they win the peace? I prefer my version, where all the Death Eaters surrender and either repent or go off to Azkaban and that's that.

:: Fascinating BuffNews article about how it's sometimes difficult to sell houses where notorious murders took place. The subject matter might sound like a "Well, duh!" kind of thing, but it's an interesting story.

Sorry, but that's about it. I wasn't online as much this week. Stupid productive writing week!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Centus

This week we get another fifty-word prompt, and we're told that pictures are allowed. So, in keeping with the prompt and my love of whipped-cream related slapstick, here's my entry:

Pie Fight


"This is what you do for fun?" he said. "I'm a mess!"

She grinned through the whipped cream. "I told you I'm a blast! Now kiss me, and try not to laugh out loud?"

"Too late," he said, laughing, but he kissed her anyway.

"We should go shower."

"Yeah."

Best first date ever.

What can I say? I'm a silly kind of mood today.

And hey, Centusians -- don't forget to Ask Me Anything!

Acquiring

For the first time in four or five years...I have a new pair of overalls!

New overalls!!! II


They're a white painter's pair by Carhartt. I haven't owned any painter's overalls prior to these, and I haven't owned any Carhartt's, either. So, I managed to strike two birds with one stone, huzzah!

I was actually kind of surprised by these, when they finally came in the mail and I opened the box. The fabric is thinner than I expected, so these will wear quite a bit lighter than my usual blue denim overalls. But I'm happy to have a pair in a color other than blue or black or hickory stripe; these will contrast nicely with dark-colored shirts and sweaters this fall and winter. So, color me excited!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sorry, Michele

An opinion: I do not think that Newsweek's cover photo of Michele Bachmann 'went too far' or whatever we want to call it. I've seen plenty of photos of Bachmann, and she just plain flat-out has crazy eyes, which I suspect is because she's...well, she's dumb and crazy. I'm sorry to say it, but that's the only way I can interpret the fact that most of the things she says are dumb, crazy, or dumb and crazy. Plus the fact that her eyes really do look like that. Lord knows, we all don't photograph well all the time -- some of us (yours truly among them, I think) don't photograph well even a majority of the time -- but I've never once seen a photo of Michele Bachmann that doesn't make me think, "Wow, I really hope the docs from the loony bin find her soon."

I mean, the woman was caught hiding behind a bush once, to spy on an opposing rally. She's crazy. And she has the eyes to prove it.

Page One: 2001 - A Space Odyssey

I mentioned this book in yesterday's NPR 100 SF Books list, so it seemed right to use it today for Page One. I actually think I prefer the book to the movie, as amazing as the movie is.

Hey!


Well???

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Top 100 SF Books!

NPR has come up with a list of The Top 100 F&SF Books, although it's not a list of 100 books per se, as it includes a number of entire series. But as usual...I'll bold the ones I've read and italicize the ones I'd like to read at some point. And I'll add occasional comment.

Here's the list:

(Oh wait, complaint the first: there is no GGK on this list. WTF!!!)

(And yes, I voted.)

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien (Probably my single favorite book of all time. I re-read it this past spring.)

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (Own it; haven't read it yet. Maybe one of the next few books.)

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (I started this once and didn't get into it, decided to save it for another time. Since then, I've discovered that OSC is a lout to the degree that I will not read him again, ever. I dumped my copy of Ender.)

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (Just the first one, and recently, too.)

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin (All except A Dance with Dragons, which I own but will need to re-read the entire series before tackling this one. I'm not as enthusiastic about this series as many -- the bloat of the books is off-putting.)

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov (Probably should re-read sometime. Read them in college and liked them a lot.)

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (Wonderful book, as I recall. Maybe a candidate for re-read.)

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (Fantastic book, and quite different from the movie...which is still fairly faithful in its adaptation. You have to read the book to see what I mean.)

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan (Just the first one. Gave up a hundred pages into the second. Not my cuppa joe.)

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson (Cheating here...I'm counting having started this book a dozen times as 'reading' it. I really tried to get into cyberpunk, I really wanted to like cyberpunk...and yet, ultimately, I had to admit to myself that I just didn't care for cyberpunk.)

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore (So frakking brilliant. Just astonishingly good.)

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov (I haven't read Asimov in a long time.)

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein (Just because. I generally find Heinlein kinda weird.)

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss (Great stuff. Love this series.)

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
(All titles I need to read.)

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood (Wait, isn't this the one that Atwood swore up and down was NOT science fiction, because she doesn't want to be one of those writers?)

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King (Started it, bounced off. Maybe another time.)

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke (This is one of the first 'pure' science fiction books I read, if not THE first one that wasn't a Star Wars or Star Trek tie-in book. A truly great book -- I love Clarke at the top of his powers. 2010 was also very good. 2063 was decent. 3001? That one I could have done without.)

25. The Stand, by Stephen King (This is one of the all-time horror classics, as far as I'm concerned. I'm due to re-read it.)

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (Really good. Liked it a lot. I haven't read Stephenson at all since Cryptonomicon, though.)

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (A classic.)

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman (I really need to read this. I own the first three of the TPBs, for Crom's sake.)

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams (I read half of it. Don't tell my mother.)

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey (Tried her in junior high, and never again. McCaffrey just didn't do it for me, and I have little interest in trying again.)

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein (Bounced off this one some years ago. I have a feeling that Heinlein and I will never be 'besties'.)

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller (Own a copy, right here. I can even touch my copy from my desk. Should read it.)

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells (Oh yeah, memo to self: write blog entry about the movie Time After Time.)

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne (I read this in grade school, so I think I understood damned little of it.)

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny (Just the first one.)

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Wow, really? Is this actually good? I always figured it was your standard 1980s-era Tolkien clone fantasy series.)

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Lots of folks have told me how amazing this is, but I didn't care for it. I'm open-minded about a lot of stuff, but this book seemed so gleefully hostile toward Christianity that it turned me off.)

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson (I might have read this...but Sanderson's recent nauseating comments about gay marriage have plunked him in the "Authors I'm almost certainly never going to read" list. Maybe I'm denying myself some good stuff, but way I see it, I'm never going to be able to read all the books I want to read anyway, so what's the occasion political filter going to hurt?)

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven (Didn't like it as much as I wanted to.)

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien (Well, I've dipped into it a lot.)

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White (Wonderfully wonderful.)

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan (Well, the first fifty pages or so. I was not terribly impressed with Sagan's voice as a fiction writer.)

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons (Really need to read this one.)

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson (I loved this book for all the wild, wooly fun of it. I'm sure I didn't understand a lot of it.)

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman (Fine, fine book.)

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson (The first two trilogies. I haven't gone near the current series yet, though. I'd like to.)

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (The first three books only. I absolutely plan to read the rest!)

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (Wonderful prose, fascinating story, but it's also something of a slog in parts.)

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks (This, the most blatantly blatant of all Tolkien rip-offs, makes this list. Nothing by Guy Gavriel Kay does. Ugh.)

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard (Some of the stories, nowhere near all of them.)

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson (OK, I'm sorry, but this has been out less than a year. Give me a break, even if it is really good.)

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi (Good book...but one of the best F&SF books of all time? I'm really not sure of that.)

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke (I loved this book. Never read the sequels, though.)

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey (The first two, and I'll tackle the third one this winter. I love this series. It's amazing.)

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin (I read this in junior high. I didn't understand it at all.)

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson (Just the first one. What a commitment, this series is.)

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks (Several of them, anyway...and I need to blog about the most recent one that I read, come to that. Very good, cerebral space opera.)

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart (I'm definitely re-reading this series -- a trilogy with a fourth novel added later on -- this winter. It's a gorgeous telling of the Arthur saga that strikes the best balance, I've found, between the "magical" versions of the tale and the "post-Roman Britain" versions of it.)

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn (Yes, they're media tie-ins. But they're so good they really deserve to be seen as terrific space opera books on their own.)

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan (Wait, what?)

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge (I'll be re-reading this sometime soon...and there's a sequel coming out this fall, too.)

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Wow, I'm due to re-read this one, too! This trilogy made a powerful impression on me fifteen years ago. I wonder how it holds up.)

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (Oh, come now. I'm not as down on Anthony as many F&SF fans are, but inclusion on this list? Really?!)

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

So there you have it. Always fun to rant about book lists!