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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Burst

Oh, Internet, how weird you are!

:: They will make jewelry out of anything these days.

Via Cal, who is always a prime source of odd stuff.

:: This is weird: not five minutes after I posted the thing below about the book Farmer Boy did this show up in my Twitter feed: all the meals from Farmer Boy. Too bad Laura Ingalls Wilder wasn't a food writer, because she'd have been a good one.

:: Every kitchen needs a gizmo to make pancakes on a stick.

:: Three weird items, so here's some Awesome for you: a guy who carries a camera right into big ocean waves so you can see what they're like. Amazing.


More next week!

A random thought that just popped into my head for no reason

Remember that bit in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book Farmer Boy when the apparently wimpy teacher defeats the local gang of murderous thug boys with a bullwhip? That was weird.

Carrying on....

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Symphony Saturday

This post got swallowed by The Move That Ate Tokyo, but now that routine is at long last shaping up at Casa Jaquandor 2.0, it's time to get back to this. We'll continue with the symphonies of Robert Schumann, this time with his Symphony No. 3. Numbering musical works by composers is often a messy affair. This one is numbered '3' of his four symphonies, but it is the last symphony that he wrote. Why 3 and not 4, then? Because 4 was published before 3. Is that counterintuitive? It is to me, but I'm not a musiciologist, so what do I know?

This five-movement symphony bears some structural resemblance to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the "Pastoral", and like in the second, Schumann combines classical German form and orchestration with his own sense of Romantic lyricism. This symphony has a lot of energy, and even in the slow movements one can sense the forward momentum of the work. Lovers of film music may find a bit of the main melody of the first movement awfully familiar sounding, as there is a section of the main theme from James Horner's Willow score that sounds eerily similar. The reason for this is an old topic of debate among film music fans.

Anyway, here is Schumann's Third Symphony, the "Rhenish".


Next week: Felix Mendelssohn!

A Century since the Conflagration

One hundred years ago, it began. And in a lot of ways, it hasn't ended...but then, can we even say that "it" really started one hundred years ago, as opposed to just one particular long and sickening phase of "it"?


How the assassination of one particular member of just one of Europe's many royal families ended up causing that entire continent to dissolve into a four-year war that killed millions and did nothing more than set the stage for the even worse war to come less than thirty years later is one of the scariest of all historical tales, in my opinion. Reading about the assassination itself, the sequence of events that morning, is maddening, especially when you learn that the only reason Gavrilo Princip found himself standing close enough to Franz Ferdinand to shoot him at point-blank range was that the Archduke's driver hadn't got the message to drive the alternate route that morning. Almost as maddening is the way the rest of the royalty turned the Archduke's and his wife's funerals into an occasion for massaging old angers and familial dislikes...but when you're dealing with royalty, familial angers and old grudges get magnified to national scales, which is how wars start. There's just something so creepily medieval about the way World War I started.

From Barbara Tuchman's book The Guns of August:

"Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans," Bismarck had predicted, would ignite the next war. The assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists on June 28, 1914, satisfied his condition. Austria-Hungary, with the bellicose frivolity of senile empires, determined to use the occasion to absorb Serbia as she had absorbed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1909. Russia on that occasion, weakened by the war with Japan, had been forced to acquiesce by a German ultimatum followed by the Kaiser's appearance in "shining armor", as he put it, at the side of his ally, Austria. To avenge that humiliation and for the sake of her prestige as the major Slav power, Russia was now prepared to put on the shining armor herself. On July 5 Germany assured Austria that she could count on Germany's "faithful support" if whatever punitive action she took against Serbia brought her into conflict with Russia. This was the signal that let loose the irresistible onrush of events. On July 23 Austria delivered an ultimatum to Serbia, on July 26 rejected the Serbian reply (although the Kaiser, now nervous, admitted that it "dissipates every reason for war"), on July 28 declared war on Serbia, on July 29 bombarded Belgrade. On that day Russia mobilized along her Austrian frontier and on July 30 both Austria and Russia ordered general mobilization. On July 31 Germany issued an ultimatum to Russia to demobilize within twelve hours and "make us a distinct declaration to that effect."

War pressed against every frontier. Suddenly dismayed, governments struggled and twisted to fend it off. It was no use. Agents at frontiers were reporting every cavalry patrol as a deployment to beat the mobilization gun. General staffs, goaded by their relentless timetables, were pounding the table for the signal to move lest their opponents gain an hour's head start. Appalled upon the brink, the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country's fate attempted to back away but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.

One of the scariest aspects of war, to me, is how it so often just seems to happen. War is this emergent thing, egged on by people in power who seem to genuinely enjoy a state of war. War is certainly compelling, and tempting for people like me who like to craft epic fiction; you don't get more epic than war. But it's still horrific to read accounts of how World War I started and see the degree to which people seemed to suddenly realize, "Oh my God, we're actually gonna do this! Abort! Abort!" only to be dragged, inexorably, into the meat grinder because other parts of the human psyche took over: the ones that hold grudges, the ones that massage anger and care for it and let it grow like some awful, malignant flower.

World War I didn't have to happen, and yet, it did, because...it just had to. Why? I return, again and again, to a line of dialogue in a play I saw in college, called A Walk in the Woods. The play, by Lee Blessing, shows to arms negotiators, one Russian and one American, taking a break during the unending arms talks during the Cold War to go for walks together, during which they discuss the nature of the Sisyphean task they have been assigned. The Russian keeps returning to his view, over and over, that their job is doomed to failure because humans just plain like war. This is brought home in a line that's stuck with me ever since I saw the play: "If mankind truly hated war, there would be millions of US, and only two soldiers.

Wars happen because people want them to. That we seem to want it as frequently as we do is one of the worst things about our species.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Something for Thursday

Time for some historical epic film music from one of the very greatest of the form, Miklos Rozsa! Here is a suite from his amazing score to Ivanhoe. Not a whole lot of comment to add -- Rozsa is one of film music's immortals.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diagnosis Needed

I've been experiencing at times a strange, rhythmic throbbing emanating from underneath my desk. Does anyone have any idea what it might be?

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I'm sure I've done some version or other of this topic as the Wednesday thing before, but it's a fun topic that always inspires entertaining rantage, so: add a commandment or two to this list!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pounding the Keyboard


Moving is bad for writing. This much is certain.

A more pernicious discovery, though, is my recent determination that having a home can be bad for writing, too!

Back in my Usenet days, I participated in a group that focused on the writing of fantasy and science fiction. There was a helpful term used a lot then: "Cat vacuuming", which referred to the habit of a lot of writers to resort to the most obscure of household chores as a way of procrastinating. Chores never stop, they never go away, and there is always something that "needs doing" around the house. It's a lot easier to sit down at the desk and then suddenly remember those two light fixtures that have needed new lamps for a month -- despite the fact that no one turns them on, ever -- and jump up from the desk to act accordingly. I'm discovering that the "butt in chair" state of being, so necessary for writing, was a lot easier to attain in the apartment.

Which just means I need to apply discipline in order to regain momentum, because once I have momentum, then I'm like a friggin' train, folks. As River Tam might say, "No power in the 'Verse can stop me!"

In practical terms: after a lot of fits and starts, and shortened writing sessions that didn't produce much by way of copy, I'm on something of a productive streak again with The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title). That's my writing tracker spreadsheet up top -- note all the blank spaces, but also note how long this book is getting. And it's only, by my estimation (as I'm not working from any kind of plot outline), I'm only now nearing the book's halfway point. I knew going in that this book was going to be a doorstop, and sure enough, it is. I'm fine with that, as I wanted to write a lllooonnnggg book, in the Alexandre Dumas vein, with long-held family secrets, and royalty in hiding, and hidden treasure, and daring escapes, and wild coincidences, and femme fatales, and fateful meetings in bright taverns, and loves lost and found, and...a lighthouse above the pounding surf at the bottom of the windswept cliffs. I don't know what I'll do with this one once it's done, but I have some ideas. We'll see.

In other writing news, as of July 1, I am ramping hard into production on the November release of Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title). I'm making notes for final edits -- I need to revise some things, fix a few issues, and insert some material here and there to retrofit that book to better lead into its sequel. I've had discussions with an artist friend about cover art, and I'm considering making a book trailer to release online. I'll discuss more of this work as I go, hopefully as a way of generating some small amount of buzz for this thing. I'm aware that a lot of this groundwork will take a while to bear fruit, as it will probably be the second and third books in the series that start to pile on the momentum. But it has to start somewhere, and I am increasingly thrilled with the prospect of this book's release into "the wild".

So that's where we stand right now. Lots of work to do! Not much time to do it! It's like that song, the one from Smokey and the Bandit. You know the one. And if you don't, look it up. Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sentential Links

Linkage!

:: I have a confession to make.

I'm not brave.


:: The garbage we hear on TV and from our friends gets into our heads and we tend to talk like everyone else even when we know better. I resolved a while back to stop saying “theory” when I really mean “hypothesis” but it’s hard.

:: The record for keeping the world's longest (or largest) personal diary might belong to Reverend Robert Shields, who on a whim began one in 1972 and wrote in detail about himself and every day of his life until 1997, when a stroke disabled him. He then turned his opus, which had to be packed up in 91 boxes, over to a university. Exactly how long is it, and is it a good read? Actually it'll be a while before we know. Rev. Shields donated it to the university in 1999 with the stipulation that no words would be counted and it would not be read until 50 years after his death.

:: Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer.

Self-Pub Corollary to Yog’s Law: While in the process of self-publishing, money and rights are controlled by the writer.
(I've thought about this stuff a lot as I start thinking about gearing up for my first foray into the self-publishing world.)

:: So in that respect, as much as I loved the series, I'm glad Firefly was cancelled. (I'd like to disagree, but I can't. When we rewatched the series last year, I found this the most troubling aspect of the show. I'd like to think that they would have figured this out in a putative Season Two -- and maybe in the new comics which are continuing the story, we'll find out.)

:: We spent three hours in that booth in the early-morning hours of Labor Day of 2002.

And then we dated, got engaged, got married, bought a house in the suburbs, had a baby, had another baby. And it was all so easy. And it was the hardest thing either of us had ever experienced. Our hearts soared and our hearts were broken – both at the hands of others, of fate, of each other. And romance fizzles as you concentrate on the kids, on your job, on your mortgage, on real life.


:: To remind y’all: you can ask me ANYTHING, and I will answer, reasonably soon, generally within thirty days. Last time out, I kept getting followups, which, BTW, are fine, but it took a bit longer than I had anticipated. (Go ask Roger anything. My next go-round for Ask Me Anything! isn't until August, so this will keep you busy until then. And yes, I'm aware that I flubbed this past February's Ask Me Anything!, and I will finish those answers in August. I probably should have skipped it, with the impending move.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The day a sitcom ruined my life

It was a Thursday night, my senior year of high school, and I sat down to watch the new episode of Cheers. It was a typically funny episode, focusing on dimwitted Woody and his equally-dimwitted girlfriend, whose name happened to be Kelly. Yup, just like me. In this episode, it was Kelly's birthday, and Woody had to come up with a gift. Problem was, Kelly was filthy rich, and Woody just wasn't, so he decided to come up with a gift that would be from his heart. So it was that at Kelly's birthday party, the time came for Woody to unveil his gift to her. So he sits down at the piano, and then...[sigh]...this happened.


The moment wasn't even over before my brain started screaming inwardly, "Oh crap. Oh crap crap crap crap CRAP."

Next day at school, guess what everybody started singing as soon as they saw me. I went the entire day hearing that damnable song every time I turned around. And since Cheers was popular, the song remained in consciousness for a while...and it still has. To this very day -- and it's gotta be 25 years since that episode ran -- I will still occasionally find someone whose memory will be jogged, and they'll get this very specific gleam in their eye, and they'll ask, "Hey, were you ever a fan of the show Cheers?"

To which I will sigh, and say, "Yes, I loved the show, and if you sing it I will break your arm."

This threat is never taken seriously.

And that is the day a sitcom ruined my life.

(Via Ken Levine, who is, at the very least, an accomplice in this crime.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Instaweek(s)

Some recent pretty pictures!

Our trees are now in full leaf.



I have some new toys lately, like this impact driver. Love this thing!



A recent doodle, for an Instagram 30-day challenge:



Disney characters keep a close eye on the library for me.



We recently went to the local Botanical Gardens, housed in this building. I still need to post my photos of the plant life therein.



Neighbor cat likes to taunt Julio.



I like astromech droids in principle, but I hope they're not invented before I retire!



It's Farmer's Market time of year!



Hockey and basketball are over, huzzah!!!



I made emerald fried rice the other night. 'Twas quite tasty. Next time, I'll use a different protein, though -- ham, while quick and easy, just wasn't that exciting.



The other day I got home from work to see my father opening the gate in the backyard. A few seconds later, I saw why: he was giving the two wild turkeys in our yard an evacuation route.



Writing continues, sometimes frustrating, sometimes not...









...and sometimes with feline obstacles.



It's kind of hard to write a dramatic and emotional scene when this is going on at my feet:



And I had thought about buying a cat bed for the library, but now I see that I don't need to bother.



Lester also likes being in the kitchen when we're cooking.



All in all, life is good!



The Daughter, once eight, is now fifteen.



And I leave you with some cautionary words from Satchel.


Excelsior!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Something for Thursday

A couple weeks ago I did some happy, upbeat songs for the Thursday Thing, so this week I'll slow things down. Not necessarily downbeat songs, but just some slower tempi, because slow dancing is kinda nice once and again.















Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn



The Law of Big Numbers seems to imply that someone out there hated Tony Gwynn, but it's telling that I've never yet met anyone who did. I've met people who hated Michael Jordan, and even Dale Earnhardt, but never yet have I met someone who didn't like Gwynn as a player. I'm sorry to learn of his passing.

If there's a heaven, I hope there's good baseball. Lord knows there should be.

Hey, I'm on Goodreads!

Actually, I've been on Goodreads for quite a while (it says that I signed up in 2007!), but I've never used it. Now I'm making an attempt, after reading someplace that being active on Goodreads is a good idea for writers. I've no idea if that's true, but hey, it can't hurt. So if any of you are on Goodreads, feel free to 'add' me or 'friend' me or whatever it is they call it.

And then...explain the thing to me! I don't quite get it...do I actually write about the books I read over there, or is giving books a star rating all there is? Do other people comment on my star ratings and then we have discussions? I do rather like the notion of a book-based social media site, but if someone could give me the dime tour-and-explanation of the thing, I'd be grateful.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sentential Links

Haven't done one of these in a while! Some links:

:: I’m not trying to raise a Mini-Me, but a thinking, separate person. And, increasingly, she is. (This is, to me, one of the more fascinating facets of parenthood: watching The Daughter's interests and passions develop, and noting the areas of commonality we have as well as the points at which we diverge. Sometimes I have to catch myself and not allow my thinking to shade into disappointment -- "Y U NO LOVE STAR WARS AND SPACESHIPS LIKE I DO!" -- but mostly, I find it amazing just to watch another person's way of being develop. It's surely a sign of something that I, a former brass player and eternal lover of fine pens, have turned out to be raising a string player whose favorite pens are cheap BIC sticks. And that's OK.)

:: Therapy is a mixed bag. It takes a long time to understand why you're holding yourself back and when you finally do, it's not easy to face. And this is just one aspect. It's better than feeling that way the rest of your life. But the hardest thing I've ever done is getting to know who I am, and why. (Another of SamuraiFrog's always-moving posts of self-examination. It takes a lot of bravery, I think, to write about oneself like this.)

:: Welcome to farm life: epic views, pure joy, beautiful moments, friends in need, chores, different people, chaos, guilt, and disappointment all within one hour of living. I wouldn't have it any other way. (Farm life wouldn't be for me...but I'm really glad it's still an option for some folks.)

:: I would love to travel the ocean in this bad boy. It could be our flag ship that allows us to move away from the Cave of Cool at a moment's notice. Tell me these have a job onboard that I could do for them besides cabin boy or bait. (Yup, that thing is pretty nifty!)

:: God, I hate having an English professor for a father. (Mine's a mathematician. On road trips, I'd ask, "How much farther?" and get a response like, "Our remaining mileage is the only positive integer to lie directly between a square and a cube." Which I kind of miss, actually...but to this day, he still works number-stuff into casual conversations!)

:: Everyone who thinks they want a big cat as a pet should visit this place, see these animals and hear their stories. (I'm reminded of something Chris Rock said, years ago, when one of their tigers attacked either Siegfried or Roy: "People are saying the tiger went crazy, but he didn't. That's what tigers do. The tiger went tiger.")

:: The contrast between funny actors and comics is most apparent in the early episodes of SEINFELD. Jerry is clearly the weak link. And I’m sure he’d admit it. I give him credit for allowing himself to be surrounded by comic actors who were spectacular and he learned and grew along the way, but who are we kidding? He’s a kazoo player in Wynton Marsalis’ jazz combo. (This is true, as in the early seasons Seinfeld is clearly doing stand-up amidst a bunch of actors doing comedy. He got a lot better as the show went on, though. He'll never win any acting prizes, but he figured out quite a bit of stuff, and show-Seinfeld became much more of a distinct character as the show progressed.)

:: Oh, sorry, the God of the Funkyverse isn’t actually trying to stop Wally and Rachel’s wedding, just drive it into Montoni’s, where by immutable law all economic and social activity in Westview must take place. They don’t call Montoni’s “The Wedding Chapel of Love” for nothing! Actually, nobody calls it that, but Funky refuses to stop trying to make it a thing. (I wish I had thought of doing a blog mocking daily comic strips, way back when. Sigh....)

More next week! (Or maybe not.)

It's Monday morning...

...so if you're feeling gloomy, here's a photo.


From Tumblr; original.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Burst!

Oddity and Awesome go hand in hand!

:: Andy called my attention to this (on Google Plus, no less!), and it's hysterical: kids of today reacting to a computer from when I was their age. A nine-year-old's take on an old-school Apple Computer? Awesome! I love the snort of derision the one kid does when he's told where the computer's power switch is.


:: And Roger forwarded me this howlingly funny commentary on that most evil of card games, the most demented game of chance of all...UNO. Don't believe me?

I was at a birthday party yesterday (no, not mine, that’s in a few months from now), and the topic of discussion involved board games – the ones I loved playing as a kid (like Mouse Trap) and the ones I never got around to playing (like Candy Land). Ah, great memories of board games and card games and spinner games and “roll the dice and move six spaces” games. All fun stuff.

And then there was that ONE game. It seems like an innocuous game. You play your cards in a pattern, and hope that you don’t get stuck with a wild card before you’ve had a chance to use it.

It seems like an innocuous game.

That is, until you get into an argument with someone because their final card was a Draw Four and they used it on you as they shouted “UNO!” at you.

Ah, the wonderful game of UNO. This game has probably made more enemies, broken up more relationships, and caused more dirty looks than trying to guess who just passed wind.

I never played UNO much. I enjoyed it when I did, but it does seem to be the love-child of poker and Sorry!.

More next week!

Hey Apple?

So you're using the old phys-ed tune "Chicken Fat" for your commercials now, huh? Well, as the fat kid who had to endure (a) an asshole gym teacher in grade school who liked using that tune for calisthenics background music and (b) other kids then using that song to taunt me outside of gym class, you can all go f*** yourselves.

Love,
Me.

From the Books: Danny the Champion of the World



I've mentioned Roald Dahl's amazing Danny the Champion of the World in this space before, because it's quite simply one of my favorite books of all time. To this day I read it every few years, and I still find myself drawn into Dahl's world of a father and son living in a Gypsy caravan in the English countryside, from where they run their little petrol station. Dahl creates an entire little world here, filling young Danny's universe with magic and love and light and, since it's a Dahl novel, just enough adult-world scariness. I'm always amazed at how Dahl draws me into this pastoral world, getting me involved and invested before the real story even starts, when young Danny wakes up one night and realizes that Dad isn't there. Where has he gone? Well, for that answer, I strongly recommend reading the book yourself. The answer involves pheasants and an extremely unpleasant rich guy down the road...and that's all I'll say.

I will, however, offer this brief passage, in which Danny describes his father.

My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had. Here is a picture of him.

You might think, if you didn't know him well, that he was a stern and serious man. He wasn't. He was actually a wildly funny person. What made him appear so serious was the fact that he never smiled with his mouth. He did it all with his eyes. He had brilliant blue eyes and when he thought of something funny, his eyes would flash and, if you looked carefully, you could actually see a tiny little golden spark dancing in the middle of each eye. But the mouth never moved.

I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it's impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren't feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I've also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you with his mouth but his eyes stay the same. It's sure to be a phony.

Lest you think that eye-smiling is a thing that Dahl made up here...it isn't. Eye-smiling is real. I know. And when you see one, you will, too.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Random Thoughts on a New Life

So we've been "living" at Casa Jaquandor 2.0 for a bit more than a month now. Time for some random thoughts and observations!

:: Garbage. We don't get to just toss our trash into the apartment complex dumpster whenever it's full anymore, so now we have to know things like what day the trash gets picked up, and how they do recycling, and all that jazz. It's not hard, actually -- I'm lucky enough to live in a town that makes this sort of thing relatively easy -- but there have been a few hiccups. The first week, I failed to tie the bags tightly shut, because for the last eleven years, just cinching the drawstrings and hucking the bag into the lidded dumpster was what you did. Luckily for me I'm a smart fellow, so it only took one instance of me getting home from work to trash blown all over the yard from untied bags to learn that lesson. Whoopsies!

:: Having neighbor cats can be amusing, when one of them decides to drop by and taunt our dumb lummoxes through the sliding door.


:: It's interesting how much effort of a new place is just trying to figure out routines for normal stuff. My morning coffee ritual was taking fifteen minutes, because I had to stop in the middle of the kitchen and think it through, but now I've got things kind-of figured out so it's back down to ten minutes. Ditto little things like cooking (every time I cook I find myself wondering where a particular utensil is), changing cat litters (I had this down to a science at the old place, not so much at the new, although I think I have it figured out), and so on. Walking into the bedroom and realizing I forgot to grab my book or glasses or whatever from the kitchen is more annoying when there's a flight of stairs involved. So, for that matter, is negotiating that same flight of stairs when you have one cat who really really really likes feet. The Wife thinks that Julio is trying to kill us, and if not for all his "Cuddle and pet me!" shenanigans in the morning, I'd be inclined to agree with her.

:: I was going to post photos of some of the stuff we've done with our plants, but it turns out I haven't taken any. This is a curious oversight on my part. Must fix.

:: The moon sure looks pretty above our yard.




:: A perfectly-timed rainstorm ruined my plans for grilled steak the other night. Stupid weather...but the steak, cooked indoors, was still quite good!


:: I've really been giving my studfinder a workout!


:: I really dig having a bathroom with a skylight. This is one of those things I liked when we first scoped out the house last winter, but I like it more and more.


(I took that photo at night, when the skylight was reflecting what was below. In this case, me.)

:: We can do little things we've wanted to do for years now! More complex cooking in the kitchen. Growing things. Burning wood in our new firepit. (Note to self: Assemble firepit.) And, hang our mirror.

Way back when we got married, we wanted to decorate our bedroom in a sun-and-moon motif (a motif which I still love and look for when I'm prowling about). One item that we put on our registry was an oval wall mirror with a golden sleeping-crescent-moon face to one side -- quite beautiful and striking.

And we've never hung it.

Our first apartment had old-school plaster walls which I had no idea how to tap, and at our next two apartments, we really had other fish to fry -- new jobs starting and ending, The Daughter being born and being a toddler, moving twice in nine months, et cetera. For various reasons, that poor mirror languished in its original box for years.

Until now. Specifically, until last night.


Slowly, surely, we're figuring this whole "house" thing out. There are still some headaches -- more shelving to install in my library closet so I can set up proper storage in there, figuring out why the wall switch in the garage is set up so you can't turn on the light in the garage unless you also turn on the light outside the garage door, et cetera, et cetera, and so it goes.

And so it goes, this life at home.

Home. I like the sound of that.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

If at first you Khan't succeed....

Over at Tor.com, Emily Asher-Perrin suggests a way to make Khan's presence in Star Trek Into Darkness make more sense.

There are 72 other super humans who Khan calls “family.” They were of all backgrounds and talents, an entire pantheon of super peoples. If one of them was woken up, not knowing when it was or what he would be asked to do, isn’t it possible that he might lie? That he might tell a powerful military leader in Starfleet that he was Khan Noonien Singh? We know that Khan’s exploits were legendary—of all these genetically engineered people, he was considered to be the Attila, the Alexander, the Caesar. Pretending to be him would likely buy you more respect, more time to figure out what was going on. It would be a smart move that could keep your people alive. The sort of move that a super man might employ when woken from a deep freeze a few hundred years in the future.

I have to admit that I'm starting to feel a little sorry for STID. From what I can see, conventional opinion in geek circles is starting to settle on this being quite possibly the single worst Trek film ever. Earlier this week saw the 25th anniversary of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which has always been roundly hated (although not by me). In every discussion I've seen of that anniversary, though, almost immediately someone suggests that STID was worse. And yes, I had a lot of problems with the script. But yeesh, the film was at least well-made; I find watching it enjoyable, which is something I certainly can't say for Star Trek Nemesis.

But back to Ms. Asher-Perrin's retconning of STID. Of course, its success hinges on the writers wanting things to make sense, and in two of these scripts, we now know that "making sense" isn't something that matters all that much to Orci or Kurtzman (not to mention Damon Lindelof, who is singularly incapable of writing anything that makes a modicum of sense).

If it turned out that this man was not Khan, then all of his behaviors in the film would suddenly ring more true. Here is an individual, damaged by his circumstances and alone, afraid of losing the only people like him in the universe. He is lashing out against everyone who used him or cornered him. Without the weight of Khan’s original (very different) incarnation hanging over him, this character can be his own thing. And all that wishy-washy indecision that led to the stunt secrecy surrounding his identity in the first place could be put to bed. And we wouldn’t suddenly have to wonder how an alternate reality could change the ethnicity of a character born hundreds of years before the skewed timeline.

I suppose...but then, Ms. Asher-Perrin wraps up with this:

But better yet, we would also know that Khan was still out there… somewhere. And that would always be hanging over our heads, a perfectly poised hammer ready for whenever he was needed.

See, here's my problem with this: the inflation of Khan into the supervillain of all of Star Trek -- or, at least, this generation of Trek. Thanks to one notable episode of the original series and one very good movie, Khan has somehow become elevated to basically being Moriarty to Kirk's Holmes, or Blofeld to Kirk's James Bond. And that's just wrong. These filmmakers clearly see Khan as Kirk's ultimate nemesis, but Kirk -- and Trek isn't about defeating the villain-of-the-week. Sometimes it can be about that, but not always, and ever since Wrath of Khan, Trek seems to be fixated on this idea of "who will the villain be", right down to bringing in illustrious actors to play the villains each time out.

That's my problem with this bit of retconning: it would keep Khan out there as a potential bomb to go off. How long could these writers, who have shown zero understanding of Star Trek other than as single movie as a source of memes and tropes to be mined.

Something for Thursday

I really love this band. Here are Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, with "Anywhere But Here".

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I had a discussion pop up on a friend's Facebook page yesterday about this, so I thought I'd toss it to you folks: What do you think of the band Journey, and specifically, the song "Don't Stop Believin'"? (Personally, I can take or leave the band -- they're OK, but nothing I ever choose to listen to -- but that song has become so ubiquitous as to make me groan every time I hear its opening bars!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

And now, the walls!

Now that all the books are squared away, my focus in getting my library the way I want it is stuff for the walls. It began with my Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace poster, which faces my desk:


And now, it's been joined! A number of years ago -- too many years, as a matter of fact -- The Wife gave me a similar poster for the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 1997 special edition release, when the films got all new poster art by Drew Struzan. This poster languished for years, for lack of a place to put it in Old Casa Jaquandor, and for lack of a suitable frame. Well, I have now resolved both issues, and the poster hangs proudly to the left of my desk!


What's left? A few more small pieces of Star Wars art (which need matting and framing), another item I want badly but still need to order, and a small wall-mounted shelf for the spaceships and action figures. Also, I need to get some kind of shelving for the closet in this room so I can set up my personal archive a bit less haphazardly.

Meanwhile, I've been firing up the writing engines of late, getting that engine back on track...but more on that later!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sunday Stuff That's Weird and Cool

Time for some oddball stuff, eh?

:: Roger e-mailed me the links to these first two items. First, it turns out that this week's surprise re-emergence of Bill Watterson onto the comics page had a charitable side to it. The original Pearls Before Swine strips done by Watterson and Stephan Pastis are being auctioned to raise money for Michael J. Fox's charity, which focuses on research into Parkinson's Disease. The connection here is cartoonist Richard Thompson, whose work on the amazing strip Cul De Sac was brought to an end by Thompson's struggle with that same disease. This story just gets better and better.

:: This is just plain weird: a guy in Australia who takes weird recipes sent to him from all over, prepares them, and sees what's what. In this case, a gonzo variation on Pigs-in-a-Blanket, I suppose. I'm not sure I'm going to try this.

(OK, fine. I'm totally going to try this. But not for a while. I'm going to pretend that I still have standards, once in a while.)

Thanks for the links, Roger!

:: This is a great prank. Kudos to the kids who executed this. I like pranks that are funny and weird, but not hurtful.

More next week!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

BOW BEFORE ME, FOOLISH MORTALS

The other day I speculated on who might be drawing the substitute art on the comic strip Pearls Before Swine.

Today, the Internets are afire as Pearls creator Stephan Pastis has confirmed my hypothesis, with details as to how it came to be.

Go read Pastis's post -- it's great. Meanwhile, I'll sit here basking in my air of smug self-satisfaction!

Friday, June 06, 2014

John Oliver gives Caillou some tough love

On this week's edition of his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver -- in the midst of a brilliant segment on Net Neutrality, which you really should watch in its entirety -- took a few seconds to address everybody's favorite whiny bald four-year-old child. It involves profanity, so I'm putting it below the fold and you'll have to click the speaker icon to get the audio.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Something for Thursday

It's a bright and sunny day, and I'm in a good mood. Wow! Anyway, here are a few completely unrelated songs that are in my "Songs That Make Me Generically Happy" list. (I don't actually have such a list, but I should make one.)










Next week we'll balance things out with some really depressing songs!

Speaking of Comics....

One of the recurrent storylines in Funky Winkerbean of late has been the quest of Holly, the wife of the strip's title character, as she seeks to complete her son's collection of the entire run of a comic book called Starbuck Jones. Her son, Cory, is serving in Afghanistan, see, so it would be the neatest thing if he could come home to his collection being complete.

So, every few weeks we return to this tale (amidst the usual glum and depressing stuff that goes on 'round Funkyville), and I always find it oddly amusing. In one segment, Holly got word that the comics store across town, the other comics store, the creepy one, had an issue that the town's main store doesn't. So she goes there and tries dealing with the proprietor, who is dressed like a rowdy biker-dude and stares at her as if he's planning to fleece the living hell out of her for the issue he has that she wants. But he suddenly quotes a ridiculously low price to her after she tells her tale of filling the collection belonging to her son who is serving, and we get a look at the back of the guy's jacket: he served, too.

Anyway, flash forward to the current incarnation of this tale, when Holly has gone to the giant mansion belonging to a guy named Chester Hagglemore, who is apparently the supreme comics collector of all time. Seriously, he lives in a house that looks like Mr. Burns's mansion on The Simpsons, and Mr. Hagglemore himself looks like Ernst Stavro Blofeld.


I have to confess that I usually read FW for the same reason one slows down to stare at a bad traffic accident. The overall sense of existential gloom that overhangs the poor people in this down, and the way everyone's prime coping mechanism seems to be to smirk at bad puns, is kind of affecting in a weird manner. But this particular storyline is actually amusing in an odd way. The idea of a comics collector with the Superman emblem on the wrought-iron gates of his mansion just cracks me up, and his rejoinder in the strip pictured above actually made me chuckle, which is frankly a very rare thing for Funky Winkerbean. So for now I'm willing to go along for this ride, setting aside my certainty that the story will end with Holly finally acquiring that last issue, the one completing the run, at which point she will stand back and look upon the entire run, secure in the knowledge that she has done a good thing for her son, a thing which he will just love when he returns home...and at that moment, the Army chaplain will ring her doorbell....

So....

One of my favorite comic strips is Pearls Before Swine, which this week is running one of its "breaking the fourth wall" storylines. Stephan Pastis, the creator, does this frequently, by including a smoking, pot-bellied version of himself in the strip, often being mocked by the other characters who have to play out his tales, which are often egregiously complex set-ups for awful puns.

This week's storyline has a little girl in Pastis's neighborhood telling him that he sucks at drawing, and Pastis challenging her to do better, which she may well be doing:



But...my eye got caught by that second panel. There's something awfully distinctive about the art there...something that makes me wonder that if this goes on, maybe this comic strip whose characters are all talking animals might see the appearance of a certain hamster named Huey....

(And if the 'mystery artist' is who I think it is, I can't wait to hear the 'Inside Baseball' story of how he came to do this.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ummm...hello, Reddit people....

I see that some folks are hitting this blog via a particular Reddit board, which is fine, obviously. I would like to note that the quote superimposed on the photo over there is nothing I have ever thought or written. It's not mine. Anyway, enjoy!

There shouldn't be this much Nazi-related funny stuff in one day....

A church wanted to put an inspiring quote on its billboard. They found one. Problem was, it was a quote by Adolf Hitler. So they went back to the inspirational quote book used it anyway!



And they attributed it, right on the billboard! They didn't even leave themselves the possibility of saying, "Wait, we quoted who now?!"

Oy.

Maybe I should go offline before I learn that Heinrich Himmler liked pie fights....

Grammar, grammar! Grammar uber alles!

I saw this on Twitter earlier...so even though a bunch of you had grammar peeves that you cited in last week's Wednesday Conversation Starter, I cannot actually call any of you "grammar Nazis".

Monday, June 02, 2014

Teevee!

The 2013-2014 teevee season is finally in the books (for us, anyway, since it took us a bit of time to get caught up!), so here are some random thoughts on shows and such.

:: As always, I'll start with Castle, which is no longer my favorite thing on teevee, but that's not to say I think the show has slid too far in quality. But in its sixth year, Castle is more the old, comfy, familiar thing now than the fresh thing it once was. And that's fine. The show generally took a more screwball approach this year, and was for the most part quite entertaining after a bit of a stumble out of the gate, when they had Kate Beckett join the FBI in Washington for a few months of show time. Those episodes weren't very satisfying, as they still had to find strange ways to tie in the cops from the NYPD back home; the whole thing felt really forced. It might have been an interesting direction to take Beckett as a character, but it was clear that they weren't going all the way with it. To the writers' credit, they did find a good character-based way to get Beckett out of the FBI and back to the NYPD, in showing how the FBI's approach to law enforcement and justice isn't the same as Beckett's. As an NYPD cop, Beckett always got to find the killer and arrest them; in the FBI, she often had no real sense of the bigger picture of how her work fit into serving justice. That, I liked, but the first few episodes of the season just didn't work. Luckily, once the show got back on its regular turf, it got good again.

And then, the finale, in which Kate and Richard's wedding was interrupted when Richard was chased on the way to the wedding by someone in a black SUV...and then, cut to a bit later on, when Kate comes to the scene to find Richard's car in the ditch and engulfed in flames. Obviously Castle isn't dead, and the writers have come right out and said as much, so now the mystery is, where is he and who was in the SUV? Was it the 3XK killer? Was it someone involved with Castle's father, who is in the spy biz? Was it someone else entirely? We'll find out in the fall.

I'll just say this: I'm glad the show is coming back, but I'm wondering if a seventh season might not be the best time to ride into the sunset. I'd hate to see Castle go the way of CSI, just limping along in duller and duller fashion.

:: So what did take Castle's place in my mind as the Best Thing on Teevee? Person of Interest, which I think is just a brilliant, brilliant show. The resolution to the HR storyline was utterly engrossing, and before it ended it took some really amazing twists and turns, culminating in the death of Detective Carter (thus freeing up the wonderful Taraji Jones for the inevitable screen adaptation of Princesses In SPACE!!! [not the actual title]!) and then the most satisfying bit of a hated villain getting what's coming to him I've seen in a long time.

That said, PoI ended the season on a really strong note of bleak hopelessness. I hope they manage to find their way back a little, and restore some of the show's always understated wit. The season finale ended and I thought, "Yeesh, where do they go from there?!" Again, we'll find out in September!

:: Once Upon a Time continues to vex. It really does. Sometimes it is so good, and sometimes it is so corny as to make me reach for the maple syrup. The season split into two halves, with the first involving an extended trip to Neverland so the heroes (now including former villain Regina, played as wonderfully as ever by Lana Parilla, who is rapidly closing in on Stana Katic on my "teevee crush" list) could do battle with Peter Pan (who is a bad guy on this show). This all worked nicely because it took all the characters and shuffled the decks a bit, putting them all in unfamiliar territory; it helped that Pan was played very engagingly by young actor Robbie Kay.

The season's back half, unfortunately, got a bit tough to swallow, as the gang found themselves tangling with the Wicked Witch of the West, as the show continued incorporating new fantasy realms into its overall universe. Now Oz is a part of things? OK, I guess...but frankly, I hated Rebecca Mader as Zelena (the Witch). She just wandered through her scenes for ten episodes with this annoyingly malevolent smirk, and it just sucked a lot of energy out the show. I was very glad to see that storyline end, as it involved the show's worst villain to date and included what is absolutely the show's single goofiest moment, when Snow White figures out how to save Prince Charming after his heart has been sacrificed. (I know, if you don't watch the show, that makes no sense.) Couple this with the show's most annoying cliffhanger yet (the final scene shows Elsa of Frozen fame arriving on the scene, in what may be the most brazen attempt ever to glom onto the popular-thing-of-the-moment), and...well, Once Upon a Time is on thin ice for me right now. Originally the show felt like an examination of the blurring lines between myth, story, and reality, but now it's just starting to feel like a guided tour of the Disneyverse-that-never-was. Who will turn up next? Tune in and find out!

I did like the newfound chemistry between Emma Swan and Captain Hook, though. Hook was an incredibly lame character in Season Two, but he was very well done in Season Three.

:: The Big Bang Theory marches on. I'm still not totally thrilled with its lazy mocking of geeks and geek culture, but hey, we got to see Sheldon get drunk and then have his first kiss with Amy. And they seem to have finally gotten off the "Raj can't ever have a girlfriend" bandwagon, so there's that.

:: New shows? Not much, sadly...although we did discover Brooklyn Nine Nine just a month or so ago (which we then binge-watched), and it's terrific. Seriously, I love this show. It's got a terrific cast, one of the strongest ensembles I can remember right out of the gate. Brooklyn Nine Nine feels like Barney Miller re-made by the producers of Scrubs (without the latter show's sentimental nature). I'm glad to have another comedy to love, although from what I've read of the ratings, this show might not be around all that long. Here's hoping.

:: Amazing Race was fun, as usual. That's all I have to say about that.

:: I never watched The Good Wife this year, but I might over the summer or at some later point, as I like the show and I've heard that this season was really good. Likewise, I never watched Two Broke Girls, which doesn't seem like much of a loss to me, even giving my love of Kat Dennings, but I would definitely tune in if the show ever worked in a pie fight (seriously, this show is made for a pie fight -- the lead characters are trying to launch their own bakery, for Pete's sake!). Other than that, though...meh.

:: I'm saving Cosmos for when I can watch the original and immediately follow it with the new one. Hopefully later this summer, once we get the moving-dust settled. Ditto the new 24. And whatever else comes along that looks interesting and doesn't get canceled!

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Sunday Burst

Stay amazing, Internet!

:: I have some idea of how books get written, and how they get acquired by publishers, and how they get sold. But the actual, physical making of the book? Check this out:


Obviously this is a more high-end shop, making specialty items; I'm sure there's a lot more automation involved in filling shelves nationwide with copies of the latest James Patterson tome.

:: Why spoon out your pancake batter when you can have a printer do it?

:: The coming whiskey shortage in the United States. Bummer, because I was just starting to discover bourbon again.

Jay Lake

Science fiction author Jay Lake has died after a long struggle against cancer.

For me, the best tribute to Mr. Lake came a few years ago, when John Scalzi used him as Exhibit A in a tough-love kind of article about how to find writing time:

This is why at this point in time I have really very little patience for people who say they want to write but then come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t have the time. You know what, today is the day my friend Jay Lake goes into surgery to remove a huge chunk of his liver. After which he goes into chemo. For the third time in two years. Between chemo and everything else, he still does work for his day job. And when I last saw him, he was telling me about the novel he was just finishing up. Let me repeat that for you: Jay Lake has been fighting cancer and has had poison running through his system for two years, still does work for his day job and has written novels. So will you please just shut the fuck up about how hard it is for you to find the time and inspiration to write, and just do it or not.

You know that famous dichotomy expressed in The Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'"? Well, sometimes in this life you're forced to get busy doing both.