Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: A year that was...a year.

And here we go with my traditional wrap-up quiz, applied to 2008. I'll probably take a few days off now, but you never know! In any event, I'll definitely have new stuff up on Sunday at the latest.

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Of the ones that were easy to keep, I was successful. I resolved to not use shaving cream for anything at all, and I did not. I resolved to stop listening to Twisted Sister, and I did. (Never having started listening to Twisted Sister helped this one along, admittedly.) And my resolution to wear no fur products was kept with ease.

As for my other resolutions, I don't know. Did I write more? Probably not. But I certainly did live healthier, with regular workouts at the Y and quite a bit of weight lost. For this year, 2009, I'm going to once again set as my goal to live a more literary and artistic life. I want to read more short fiction, more non-fiction, more drama. I want to also re-read everything Guy Gavriel Kay has written, since it's been a few years since my last re-reads of The Fionavar Tapestry and The Lions of Al-Rassan; it's been more than seven years since my last re-reads of Tigana and A Song for Arbonne; and I've never yet re-read The Sarantine Mosaic, The Last Light of the Sun, or Ysabel.

Oh yeah, and I resolve to start riding my bike to work once the weather warms. What's the best way to carry a laptop around while biking, anyone?

Did anyone close to you give birth?

Two old friends from work (who are both now stay-at-home moms) had second children this year. Actually, the first may have been very late last year, but the second was just a couple of months ago. That's about all, I think.

Did anyone close to you die?

No. Recently, the Reaper seems to strike us in odd-numbered years, so I'm not looking forward to 2009.

What countries did you visit?

The big new one was Terre D'Ange, of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart. (I'll post about that eventually.)

What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?

Better perspective. I think I'm on the way.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Losing 35-40 pounds.

What was your biggest failure?

I didn't write enough, not nearly enough. I'm wasting too much time and not spending enough on my literary pursuits. I know I can do it. So why don't I?

And yeah, The Promised King still isn't done. Ach!

What was the best thing you bought?

Huh. I'm not sure, really. I didn't buy a whole lot, and that was mostly books. I got a 250-gig external hard drive for backups, so that was good. Aside from books, it wasn't a year for buying things. I didn't even buy any new pairs of overalls this year! First time that's happened in many moons. In fact, after selling a bunch of pairs on eBay, the size of my overalls collection actually went down significantly. So, best things I bought? Probably meals and movies with the family, and books I read. Simple and true. (And not much by way of economic stimulation, I know. Sue me.)

But I did get to finally start buying clothes in the regular sizes at Target, which means no more paying an extra two bucks to get XXL! Huzzah! (I'm using the word "Huzzah" a lot, all of a sudden. Why not! Huzzah!)

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Daughter, as always. She is turning out really interestingly, a geek-in-waiting. I can't even begin to comprehend all the stuff she tells me about Pokemon. And we read so many terrific books together!

And The Wife, who continues to endure her frequently buggerish husband.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

John McCain's. Sarah Palin? Really?! Come on. And all the free-market libertarians who continue to insist that if we just eliminate government and let the market do its magic, wonderful things will result. I keep looking at the current economy and thinking of George Carlin's words: "Right now, that invisible hand of Adam Smith's is offering an extended middle finger to an awful lot of people."

And yeah, there were times when my own behavior left me scratching my head and thinking, "Why on Earth did I think that was a wise idea?"

Where did most of your money go?

Into my gas tank and into our stomachs; the rest went to creditors or onto my bookshelves.

What did you get really excited about?

Barack Obama, who will on January 20 descend from Mount Olympus to lay hands upon the nation and thus save us from the cruel grip of our own worse natures. (Or who, alternately, will take the oath of office as President of the United States and do his best to fix the errors of the last eight years, doing well on some stuff and falling short on other stuff. I'll take either one.)

What song will always remind you of 2008?

"Last Dance", by Donna Summer; "How Deep is Your Love", by the Bee Gees; "Falling Slowly" by Glen Mansard and Markita Irglova. More on that one below, and later on in another post.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

I am happier. I think.

Thinner or fatter?

Thinner! You bet your sweet arse I'm thinner. At my height I'd lost 40 pounds on the nose from what I tipped the scales in 2007, but I've put back between four and six pounds since that point, mainly owing to my decreased workout frequency the last two months. (It's just been terribly hectic.) I'm shrinking out of clothes and into smaller clothes. It's a great feeling. And I'm stronger, too.

Richer or poorer?

I don't know. For some reason I think I should feel poorer, but I don't. It's odd.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing, listening, reading, drinking rum, watching movies. Same stuff as always. Hanging with The Wife. We missed quite a few opportunities this year.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Same as last year: worrying about stuff I can't control, and controlling the stuff I wasn't worried about. Also, missing opportunities with The Wife.

How did you spend Christmas?

The same way we always do: opening gifts, eating food, reading and writing, visiting Little Quinn's grave.

Did you fall in love in 2008?

My stock answer: I fall in love on a daily basis.

How many one-night stands?

I'd tell you all, but not one of you would believe me.

Oh fine. Zero. You happy now?

What was your favorite TV program?

The Office, Grey's Anatomy, The Amazing Race, Once and Again, Firefly. (Nobody said I had to limit myself to shows currently running.)

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don't like hate. It's such a worthless emotion. It serves no useful purpose, and it saps energy. I do feel it, from time to time, but I try not to sustain it.

What was the best book you read?

I haven't posted about it yet, but I did mention it above: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Also, a graphic novel called American Born Chinese hit me between the eyes, as did Will Eisner's Life, with Pictures. And I just read Waiter Rant by, well, a waiter. Hmmmm. Lots of good books, actually; see the preceding post for links to where I've talked about stuff I've read.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I didn't make any real new musical discoveries this year, aside from the afore-mentioned duo of Hansard-and-Irglova. I did start exploring some areas I'd been familiar with previously, such as the symphonies of Anton Bruckner. Oh, and I came to the conclusion that the Beatles actually didn't suck. Who knew?

What did you want and get?

A Democratic president-elect. A copy of the works of Kahlil Gibran. Shorter shoulder straps on the overalls, and even the ability to button all the side buttons on some of the bigger pairs. At work: a corded circular saw, a pair of pneumatic nailers, an angle grinder, and a finish sander. I figured out how to make DVDs on the main computer.

What did you want and not get?

La La Land Records has issued a two-disc set of Mark Snow's music from the Millennium series that I haven't ordered yet. I didn't get a new teevee yet; nor did I get a new stereo to replace the one whose CD player is slowly dying. (It still has good sound and I play CDs on the DVD player, so I don't need to replace this, yet.) Worst, I didn't get nearly enough time alone with The Wife.

What were your favorite films of this year?

As always, I saw almost nothing that came out this year, so Quantum of Solace wins pretty much by definition. We watched Wall-E a couple of days ago and loved it; more on that in a later post. Ditto Prince Caspian, although apparently that film's less-than-spectacular box office has made Disney skittish about the prospect of continuing the series. Their mistake here was rushing Caspian into the melee of summer box office; I suspect the film would have done much better as a winter release.

What did you do on your birthday?

I went to dinner with two friends, while The Wife was out of town on family business. Then I went home and started a three-day bender. (OK, not really. But I did go out to dinner.)

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

The same as ever: tie-dye, soft sweaters, thermal henley shirts, overalls, hiking boots, et cetera. I did buy a pair of regular blue jeans this year. Next year I'll need to replace nearly all of my shorts, which are now too big. I decided that I like the color orange, for some reason.

What kept you sane?

My friends and my family.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Jenna Fischer, Sela Ward, Gillian Anderson.

What political issue stirred you the most?

No single issue, really. Just all the ones that Republicans are wrong about. (It's a very long list.)

Who did you miss?

I missed Blogistan while I was elsewhere.

Who was the best new person you met?

As always, you. Over there. Behind the other guy.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008:

Keeping a few from last year: The Internet is made of people. Punting is for losers. Democracy works, eventually. Not all tears are an evil. Whipped cream is a miracle substance. So is ice cream. Use your library; limiting your reading to only those books you can afford to buy is madness. OpenOffice rules. Buy good tools, take care of them, don't lend them out, and they'll last forever. Savory or sweet, eaten or worn, from pizza to apple to coconut cream, pie is wonderful. Screw fashion; if it's comfy, wear it. We're not meant to be alone. No object fits in your hand so perfectly as your wife's hand, and no object fits so perfectly on your shoulder as your child's head. Let it be, and all you need is love.

And keep smiling, because you never know what life will throw in your face next!

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

The afore-mentioned "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Markita Irglova, used in the movie Once:

I don't know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can't react
And games that never amount
To more than they're meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You've made it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can't go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I'm painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It's time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you had a choice
You've made it now

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you had a choice
You've made it now
Falling slowly sing your melody
I'll sing along....

May the Force be with you all in 2009!

2008: What I said and when I said it

Wow, it seems less and less like twelve months has passed, each time I set out to do one of these posts. Below are links to what seem to me to be the best posts from this blog, as they appeared in 2008. This was the year when I ended up ceasing blogging for more than three months because I got bored of the whole thing, so I won't make any promises about 2009. But for now, here's the good stuff you may have missed.

:: I call special attention to my Fixing the Prequels series, which actually began in 2007. But the bulk of the work on The Phantom Menace took place in 2008, and I've begun addressing Attack of the Clones. I also call special attention to the 2008 edition of Ask Me Anything!, a game I now play every February (since that is this blog's anniversary month -- and it's coming up again, so start thinking of questions!). Additionally, I finished off my 100 Favorite Movies list in 2008. When I returned from blogging I changed the appearance of the blog; one idea for the redesign that I rejected can be found here. Finally, I started my weekly musical selections series, Something For Thursday, in 2008.


Rating my upbringing
An unpublished essay on grief
A Quiz about Reading
What I thought of the Republican presidential candidates
On the passing of Jim Beach, my first music teacher
Another Quiz-Thing about Books
Three, count'em, Three Quizzes!


The Best Bond Women
Giants 17, Patriots 14!!!
A very weird quiz
"Lelawala", my failed entry in this year's BuffNews short-fic contest
A "post something from the nearest book" meme-thing
Another quiz-thing
A quiz-thing about the Bible
Anticipating Indiana Jones
Weight Loss: the Journey Begins
Happy Birthday to the Wife


A Kid-Lit quiz-thing
Farewell to Brett Favre (Hey, how could I have known?!)
George and John
Gary Gygax failed his last saving throw
Eliot Spitzer pissed me off.
So how white am I, anyway?
A quiz on libraries (with some bonus opinionation)
A quiz-thing, in pictures! (Unfortunately, subject to link-rot. I may re-do this one just to fix it.)
Arthur C. Clarke, gone into the Stargate
The Dyson vacuum cleaner guy bugs me.
Easter Eggs
"Weygand" or "DeGaulle"?
Another quiz thing!
FOOB: Creepier by the day


Top Ten Supporting Characters on Seinfeld
Six Things quiz-thing
Weight loss: the journey continues
Top Ten Episodes of Magnum PI
I catch Ken Jennings being wrong!!!
So how bad was the Star Wars Holiday Special, anyway?
Some favorite poems


The One-word quiz
Science 50, Ben Stein 0
100 Things That Annoy Me
Ten Classical Music "Warhorses" I Could Do Without
God, not another quiz....
Defending the Ark
75 Things Men Should Be Able to Do
Ten Neat Little Details in Pulp Fiction
Yup, another quiz!


100 Things I Love
On Chick-flicks
On Richard Bach
Dustin Jae Fleming, 1970-1988
Remembering George Carlin
On the AFI's annual list show
On EW's lists of movies and books
Boom de yada!


Movies that make me cry
On EW's list of teevee shows
On the passing of Rick Tibbott
The Years of my life in music and movies (a meme-thing)
In which I eviscerate someone who says mean things about Star Wars
Sterling Ren Faire, 2008


Signing off

This blog remained silent for the rest of August, and then all of September and October. But then, on a Tuesday night in early November:


President Obama
How I spent by blogcation
The Top Ten dumb things said by Republicans in 2008
The Top Ten dumb things John McCain said or did
Final thoughts on the Election
Film music for scary nights
On the Great Pumpkin
A Halloween Quiz
Another Reading Quiz
I hate Nicholas Sparks and will show it by reading all of his books
I like the old Great Bird better than the new Great Bird
The James Bond Blogathon: the Gunbarrels
The James Bond Blogathon: the Music
Ooooh! A quiz!
More EW pop-culture list fun!
On the Star Trek trailer
Thoughts on Firefly
Thanksgiving (with an assist from Randy Pausch)
Wal-Mart likes stampedes.


The meeting of the James Bonds [I loved this post! -Ed.]
The latest iteration of the "Have You Ever..." quiz
The Seven Things quiz, come 'round again
From the Books: Hollywood by Garson Kanin
Ten Places You Should See Before You Die
A Christmas Quiz
Movies I hated, by alphabet
Pizza Hut Memories

These are posts where I discussed specific books:

Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis; Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson; Way Off the Road, Bill Geist.

Danny the Champion of the World and James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl; Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz; Larklight, Philip Reeve

Dreamcatcher, Stephen King; In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick; Life, in Pictures, Will Eisner; American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang; Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein; Macbeth, William Shakespeare.

The Wreck of the River-of-Stars, Michael Flynn; My Boring-Ass Life, Kevin Smith; No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, Anthony Bourdain.

The Lost King, Margaret Weis

Finally, some writings on specific movies:

The Philadelphia Story, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and At World's End

Enchanted; Blade Runner: The Final Cut; Saturday Night Fever; A Prairie Home Companion


Juno; The Whole Wide World; Stardust

Harold and Maude

Across the Universe

Definitely, Maybe

Love Actually

And there we have it: the best of Byzantium's Shores, 2008. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Continuity? Really?

It seems that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has decided to retain the services of head coach Dick Jauron, whose approval ratings in Buffalo slide in below those of George W. Bush. Jauron is a very nice guy, and he's also a lousy coach who aside from a game or two a year never seems to have the Bills prepared, disciplined, or even motivated.

Mr. Wilson's apparent deciding factor was the need for "continuity" on the team, since bringing in a new coaching staff would represent some upheaval for the squad. But jeebus, the Bills have just finished going 7-9 for the third consecutive year under Jauron. The guy's turned in the exact same sub-par result each year he's been here! Why on earth would we want more continuity, if that's what we're continuing?!

Here's Gregg Easterbrook, nicely summing it all up:

Two weeks ago, the Bills led at the two-minute warning against the Jets, were having a great day rushing and needed only a couple of runs to drill the clock: Buffalo coaches inexplicably called a pass, and the play resulted in the winning touchdown for Jersey/B. Don't you think maybe this fiasco would have been fresh in Bills coaches' minds Sunday? With the Patriots leading 13-0, Buffalo faced fourth-and-1 on the Flying Elvii 39 midway through the fourth quarter. To that point, Buffalo had 129 yards rushing and 70 yards passing -- and Buffalo coaches called a shotgun spread pass. Incompletion, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Plus, it wasn't even a deep attempt to hit the home run, rather, a rinky-dinky sideways thing that would have gained maybe 5 yards. When New England faced a fourth-and-2 in the same contest, the Pats ran and converted.

To call the New England at Buffalo game an example of a great coach versus a novice would be sugarcoating what happened. In strong gusting wind, both teams mainly ran. But the Patriots called a variety of rushing tactics and 30 of the 31 non-scramble Buffalo rushes went between the tackles; Bills coaches never took advantage of the up-the-middle pattern to call a reverse, bootleg, end-around or even a counter. Bill Belichick worked the details of the wind, Dick "Cheerio, Chaps" Jauron seemed oblivious to it. Trailing 3-0, Buffalo had third-and-9 on the New England 30 with the wind at the Bills' back. Buffalo ran up the middle for 2 yards, as if a 47-yard field goal in a 40-mph wind would be a gimme. The ball corkscrewed wildly and missed -- and why was Jauron playing for a field goal rather than a touchdown in the first place? Reaching third-and-5 at the New England 12 with 22 seconds remaining in the first half and no timeouts, Bills coaches called another run up the middle -- though it's third down, so unless you make the first, you can't spike! The run gained 3 yards, and the clock expired before Buffalo could snap for a field goal attempt. One Buffalo player was wasting precious seconds pushing and shoving with two Patriots -- don't think the New England players didn't do that on purpose, knowing the clock situation. Rather than rush the field goal team out, Buffalo coaches stood on the sideline watching the fight. And why was Jauron playing for a field goal rather than a touchdown in the first place? Buffalo had the wind advantage in the third quarter, but New England staged a long drive, keeping the Bills off the field. When Buffalo got possession, the Flying Elvii led 10-0 and there was 4:39 remaining in the third quarter, Buffalo's last chance to work with the wind -- and the Bills did not go no-huddle! A listless three-and-out followed, and the game might as well have concluded there.

Jauron is 57-77, has just one winning season in his entire coaching career and has led the Bills to three consecutive losing seasons. On game days, Jauron looks bored on the sideline. The AFC East test of manhood is how you play against New England: Jauron is 0-6 versus the Patriots, and the Bills have been outscored 174-50 in those games. Game in and game out against New England under Jauron, the Bills simply roll over. Yet rumors persist that Buffalo management just granted Jauron a long-term contract extension. Patriots fans certainly hope so.


Oh, Mike Shanahan got fired from the Broncos today. I'm sure glad our guy's not on the open market. Yeesh.

I miss the Atari joystick....

Shamus made a video. It's about videogames, but he's done a fascinating thing here, with compelling commentary that's easy to follow. Kudos to him!

(This year I may start playing some of the games I have sitting around here. I hear Galactic Civilizations is fun....)

Festival Times

Lynn on Christmas:

Fillyjonk calls the week after Christmas “the quiet week at the bottom of the year.” I like that. It’s so much better than thinking of it as “the big letdown after Christmas” or the week of “thank goodness it’s over” which seem to be the two most common ways of thinking about it. I think a lot of people just don’t know how to handle quiet times when there’s not a lot to do so they start thinking too much about the wrong sort of things and get depressed.

I don't like thinking of Christmas as a let-down either, but it's hard not to get that feeling, when it's done: "So. Now what?" "I dunno, wanna get some coffee?" "Yeah, sure." I think it's because we have this giant build-up for one day, and I'm now thinking, hmmmmm. We could try to have less build-up, but I think the cat's well and truly out of the bag on that one, yes? So if we're going to have the build-up, the next best thing to do is to extend Christmas. Let's embrace the whole "Twelve Days" thing. Let's make it a real festival! A national, or even worldwide, festival of light and love and all that jazz. We have festivals all the time; why not one more?

(Yes, this idea isn't even half-baked. But that's the way I like my ideas, because then I can mold 'em so I like 'em.)


Hey, wanna good way to be a bad blogging friend?

Miss her birthday.


Sorry, Jen, but I hope it was as happy as it could be! (And next time you're in the Southtowns for a few days, drop by The Store!)

Monday, December 29, 2008

A stupid statistic about the Buffalo Bills

I heard this on the radio tonight, and found it interesting. Three NFL coaches were fired today: Detroit's Rod Marinelli, Cleveland's Romeo Crennel, and the New York Jets' Eric Mangini.

Collectively, these three coaches were 6-3 against Buffalo's Dick Jauron, with all three losses to Buffalo by the Jets.


"Let's get the shit kicked out of us by love!"

So. Love Actually. This is one of my favorite movies, so I'm going to wax poetic about it for a while (with spoilers, by the way). Some people watch A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life at Christmastime; for me it's My Fair Lady (which I haven't watched yet this season) and Love Actually (which I have). The other day Mrs. M-Mv posted her own appreciation of the movie:

I know that many folks dislike this film -- too long, too sentimental, too... something. Everyone has a suggestion for a storyline that needs to go or a character that could be deleted. Even Roger Ebert: "I once had ballpoints printed up with the message, No good movie is too long. No bad movie is short enough. 'Love Actually' is too long. But don't let that stop you." [Emphasis added.]

I, on the other hand, think the pace, the narrative, and the characters are practically perfect in every way. Moreover, I think the film wears well: I've seen it at least six times since it was first released -- more, if you count all of the partial viewings -- and it's funny, sweet, and effective each time.

That's true, isn't it? I have yet to read a critique of this film that fails to mention the "fact" that it is just too long of a movie. Heck, even the movie's director, Richard Curtis, seems to feel that it's too long; in his filmed introductions to the deleted scenes on the DVD, he says something along the lines of "Well, the original cut was three-and-a-half hours long, so if you think the two-and-a-quarter-hour version is too long, it could have been worse." But I heard that and thought, paraphrasing the movie's Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, "Who do I have to screw around here to get to see the original cut?" I've never found Love Actually too long; in fact, it's one of the rare films that leaves me wishing I could spend more time with these characters, in their world.

I want to know if Harry and Karen repair the damage to their marriage that Harry caused with his near-miss of an affair.

I want to know if Sarah ever gets another chance with Karl, or if she ever manages to find love in a way that still allows her to care for her brother.

I want to know how the PM's relationship with a staffer turns out.

I want to know if Mark ever finds love after his impossible crush on Juliet plays out.

I want to know how Sam and Joanna fare as kid loves, and how Daniel and Carol make out as a potential couple.

I want to know if Colin ever matures beyond his need for impressive sex with American girls.

And I'd love to see a biopic of aged, battered old rocker Billy Mack, who late in the movie admits that his life, though lonely, has been a wonderful life.

Few movies seem as full of real people, to me, as Love Actually. That's a testament, really, not just to the writing, but the entire production, because the movie by its nature has to rely on its actors and editors to make the whole thing really come to life. Since each story in the movie is basically told in miniature, each cast member is put in the position of having to knock each scene out of the park. Luckily for the movie, they accomplish this.

So no, I don't think Love Actually is too long; not even close. And I think that beneath its exterior, which makes it look like the schmaltziest, mushiest romantic comedy ever made, the film is surprisingly insightful about how some relationships work when they're based on love.

The film's masterstroke is this: not everybody gets a happy ending. And, thinking about it, you realize that the movie is aware of an even deeper truth: that nobody gets an ending at all, save one, and that's the big ending, the one that really ends everything.

When we first meet Daniel (Liam Neeson) and Sam (Thomas Sangster), they are at the funeral for Sam's mother (and Daniel's wife). [Daniel is actually Sam's step-father, which raises other questions about Sam's life: has he already lost one parent, or were his parents divorced with his mother then marrying Daniel? We never learn, and for the purposes of the story in Love Actually, it really doesn't much matter.] Daniel is devastated, as is Sam, but it soon turns out that Sam's got another problem of his own: he's in love, probably for the first time in his life, with an American girl in his school who doesn't know he exists. When Daniel finally gets this out of Sam, shortly after the funeral, it's in a scene where the two are sitting on a bench, and Daniel finally appeals for Sam to tell him what the problem is, even if he can't help the boy. We're as surprised as Daniel is when Sam bluntly states, "Well, the truth is, I'm in love." Daniel and Sam spend much of the rest of the film, when they're onscreen, working out the details of how Sam can win Joanna's heart. It's a beginning that only comes out of a horrible moment of ending.

Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) are middle-aged married folks. Harry is the boss of what appears to be a non-profit or something like that; Karen is the housewife who basically keeps everything at home going, doing the cooking and cleaning and making the lobster costume for their daughter who has just been cast as First Lobster in the school's Nativity play. ("There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?") Their marriage seems staid and dull, but not unfeeling; even so, Harry finds himself responding to the advances of his new administrative assistant, a comely young woman named Mia. They never have a physical affair, but Harry indulges the attraction to the point of buying Mia a gold necklace for Christmas, which Karen finds out about. When the film reaches its last scene, Harry and Karen greet each other somewhat warmly but cautiously, and nothing really is said of what is going on with them: are they divorcing? Was Harry away on business, or were they separated? Are they working on it, or is it ending? We don't know.

And then there's Mark, who serves as his best friend's best man in a wedding at the beginning of the movie. His problem is that he is himself desperately in love with Juliet, the bride who is marrying his best friend. This is hard for him to cope with, so his way of compensating is to treat Juliet very coldly, to the point where she thinks he hates her – until she visits him one day, hoping to find some good footage in the videotapes he'd made of the wedding, and realizes that all he taped that day was her. Late in the movie this plays out in a fairly charming scene that could give pause, as Mark admits to Juliet his love for her. Was this the right thing to do? It's tempting, I suppose, to say that he should never tell the wife of his best friend that he loves her, but I don't see it that way. Mark knows that he owes Juliet an explanation, and he knows that he has to find a way to be around her and not act like an arse, and he further knows that there's no danger that he's going to be coming between his friend and his friend's wife by doing so, because he knows them. Mark knows that Juliet is not going to love her husband one bit less, so he knows that what he's doing is not a potential act of abetting adultery. His is an act of reconciliation, and as he walks away, he says to himself: "Enough. Enough now." He's put himself in a position to move on, and it's a totally right thing for him to do, even though if someone else were to try the same type of thing, it might well be disastrous for all concerned.

The most notable unhappy ending, though, belongs to Sarah (Laura Linney), who works for Harry and has been in love with their office's graphic designer, Karl, for "two years, seven months, three days, one hour and thirty minutes" (half an hour less than the time she's actually worked in that office). Harry finally sits her down and tells her to do something about her crush on Karl, since it's Christmas and apparently everybody in the office knows already. Sarah's eyes light up briefly with the sense of possibility. The problem, though, comes in the person of Sarah's brother, who is institutionalized with some unspecified mental illness. Sarah is the only one to take care of him, and she does, out of an intense sense of duty (their parents are apparently long deceased). Her brother calls her on her cell phone constantly, usually to talk about problems that she really can't help him with, but she takes each call anyway – including two that come the very night she is finally trying to seize her chance with Karl. It's an awful moment that she faces: the two are in bed, beginning foreplay, when the phone rings; Karl says, "Can you help him right now?", and when she shakes her head, he says, "Then maybe you don't answer it." But she can't bring herself to do this, and she answers, telling her brother that she's not busy at all. The moment passes, and as far as this film goes, Sarah and Karl never get together.

Sometimes in our lives, our various loves come into conflict. The love people have for one another can't be exercised because of the love they have for their children; or, as with poor Sarah, her love and desire for Karl – her desire for a life of her own, even – is pushed back because of her love and duty to her brother. One friend of mine hated the movie, mainly for this particular plot point, but I found it entirely realistic. I've known people who have made these kinds of choices in their lives.

Of course, I wouldn't be so enchanted with Love Actually if the movie wasn't so wickedly funny. There isn't a scene with Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), the aging rocker, that doesn't leave me grinning at the very least. There's the wonderful moment when the Prime Minister has to literally go door-to-door looking for someone, at one point being exhorted by a trio of little girls who have no idea who he is to sing Christmas carols (the look on Hugh Grant's face when the PM discovers that his own bodyguard has an amazing singing voice is priceless). There is one hilarious moment after another.

Lastly, Love Actually is a beautiful film. So much of the movie seems to actually sparkle, and the music is, for a typical selection of romantic-comedy music, mostly wonderful stuff, including two gorgeous love themes by composer Craig Armstrong.

As a conclusion, here's the opening scene to Love Actually, with a brief monologue by Hugh Grant as the PM. Love actually is all around.

I don't know of a scene that better sets the tone for what's to come in a movie than this one -- so much so that I almost want to turn off the computer and watch the movie again right now.

Pizza Hut Memories

One mildly unremarkable news story that happened in Western New York during the period when I was on extended blogging hiatus was the closing throughout the region of a whole bunch of Pizza Hut locations, including the one where I started working back in May of 1994. There's nothing much remarkable about this; suburban Buffalo is blessed with an abundance of former Pizza Huts that are now dentist's offices, early education places, Chinese takeouts, and so on. I've avoided talking much about those years in my professional life, but now, since the restaurant where I started isn't even open anymore and since I left Pizza Hut's employ in May of 1998, more than ten years ago, I figure it's safe to describe what it was like back then.

In May of 1994 I really needed a job, since the part-time gig I had at St. Bonaventure University was no longer available. Luckily, I had a connection with the local Pizza Hut (hereafter, 'PH') management team, in the person of the girl I was dating at the time. (I'd later marry that girl, so no hard feelings that through her I ended up working at PH.) Long tale shortened, she put in a good word for me, which in addition to my Mad Job Interview Skillz, got me hired as a cook. At that time, the city of Olean, NY had two PH locations. Since I was dating one of the managers at one, I ended up at the other. Thus it began.

Olean's remaining PH location is in the "main business district", which basically means it's in "downtown" Olean. The other one was in a fairly sleepy location (at the time), and it was a much smaller, and older, facility. I'm not sure how old it was, but it was old. I'd gone to that PH as a teenager, eight or nine years earlier, with fellow members of the concert band after school concerts. In the time I lived in that town – and we moved there in 1981 - I don't ever remember a PH not being at that spot. The place was ancient, with extremely tight quarters in the "back of the house". When I started, there wasn't even a mechanical dishwasher; all dishes were washed by hand. This was, you may surmise, less than fun. That PH location finally got a dishwasher a few years later, after I had moved to the other location in town.

One funny little quirk of the place was that the big drain in the middle of the parking lot wasn't actually connected to the city's storm drainage system, so that when we got a big rain, the lot would invariably flood. This went on for years, with the company paying some local outfit to come out with some long hose and a pump to send the water into the storm drains proper, which were just past the entrance to the parking lot. Three years would go by before the company would finally authorize the work to actually connect the lot drain to the city drains. I have no idea how much the guy made who came out to pump the lot before that happened, but I'll bet it was a lot.

This drainage problem led, on one memorable occasion, to a moment of high comedy when my manager became convinced that the problem was that a pizza box had lodged over the drain cover, thus preventing the water from going down. He set out to remove the phantom pizza box. The problem was that the lot was heavily puckered toward that drain, so the water quickly reached a depth of more than a foot. Manager guy (whose name I don't even recall anymore) decided that rather than get wet, he'd walk out there in two mop buckets, one foot in each one. Unfortunately for him, Manager Guy was also a small, not-very-heavy guy, so when he moved himself – standing in his two mop buckets – far enough out into the lot, the buckets actually started to float. I'm not sure how he managed to extricate himself from that situation without falling and completely dousing himself, but watching him float in two mop buckets in the middle of our parking lot was fairly surreal.

At the time, PH had a menu item called a "Neapolitan pizza". This was one of their takes, over the years, on the foldable New York City-style crust. It was actually a decent pizza, but it went off the menu shortly after I was hired, so that was that. But we had one regular customer who was quite the pain in the arse, and he always ordered a Neapolitan. He was a cranky old guy who looked the part: old jeans and t-shirt, ball cap with the mesh back that he just kind-of perched on top of his head, and a permanent expression that made quite clear that he remembers how hard things were back in the day. Anyway, this guy would order his Neapolitan with pepperoni, and then he'd stand at the counter staring at you the entire time. Since I would always be working the "cut table" – the spot where pizzas come out of the oven, and are then cut for either boxing or placed on peels or in their pan for dine-in – he'd be staring hard at me. And then, as he realized his time was nearing, he'd start yelling at me: "Don't burn my pizza!" He'd order me to pull the bloody thing from the oven the second I could reach in there and grab it, and I'd indulge him just to get him the hell out of there. The problem there is that pulling a pizza from a conveyor-belt oven before it's completely exited results in underbaked pizza, but that was fine by this guy; he wanted his pizza to be somewhere between "yellow" and "perfect golden brown". The other problem was that on an underbaked pizza, the cheese and toppings will slide all over the place, a problem which I'm sure this guy had because he would invariably tilt the pizza box way up to a 45-degree angle on his way out the door, which had to result in all of his toppings sliding to one side. And yet, every week, there he was.

Anyway, I started by learning how to make pizza the PH way. I have to be honest here, folks: I know that a lot of people think that PH is basically the lowest form of pizza that exists, but I've never had a problem with the PH product itself, as long as it's made correctly. I really think they've got some good food there, at least as good as any corporately-developed product can be. (Well, not always. They did have some misfires while I was there. Their take on stromboli, called simply "Boli", weren't anything to write home about; neither was the "Tripledecker", a pie that came with two thin crusts, between which was sandwiched a layer of cheese, with the sauce, regular cheese, and toppings above the upper crust. That thing was a major pain to make, you could feel your arteries hardening while you ate the thing – and that's not even bringing up the twist they introduced on the Tripledecker, the "Tripledeckeroni", which put a layer of pepperoni on top of the cheese that was inside the two crusts. Oy. As for the Boli, it wasn't very popular at all, but that's probably because they rolled that thing out at the same time they offered a special all-summer-long promotion called "Pizza and More", which meant that if you dined in and ordered anything over and above a medium with cheese, you got unlimited salad bar, breadsticks, and dessert pizza. This thing was a nightmare.)

While I worked for PH, the method of pizza making changed not once but three times. One method involved color-coded cups to measure out the ingredients, which were then layered on the pizza in a specific order; another eschewed layering in favor of tossing it all, cheese and all, into a mixing bowl and then spreading that all over the pie. I have no idea how they do it now, but I thought the system they had when I left was pretty good. That was when they switched from canned veggies to fresh ones, which is probably when I realized that while canned mushrooms taste like rubbery shit, fresh mushrooms are a gift from Heaven.

Anyhow, that little PH is closed now, leaving just one in Olean. That surprises me, a little, although Olean's probably like every other town in Upstate NY, with population slowly leaking away. However, a year or two after I was hired, the end of town where that tiny PH was located became much busier with the additions of a new Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Staples, Home Depot, a new movie theater, and so on. That the place has now closed interests me, since in terms of location, it was in a pretty good spot.

I haven't set foot in those restaurants in nearly ten years, so I have no idea if any of the people I worked with are still there. About six months into my PH career, the manager there (the skipper of the USS Mop Buckets) left to pursue other opportunities, so The Girlfriend was promoted to the job of manager. This meant that I had to transfer to the other, larger restaurant, which was also a lot busier. That was when I started training to become a shift manager, which felt like a big deal at the time. Of course, PH isn't a place that showers money on its workers, and when I eventually left PH, it was for another company that starts its dishwashers at a higher wage than what I was making at PH to run the place in the boss's stead.

But I digress. What else do I remember from my years at The Hut? Well:

I remember the craziness on every other Thursday night, because that was when the biweekly "coupon drops" hit the newspaper. Our business was heavily spiked by the coupons that ran in the paper every other week...except one week, when we all stood around at 5:00 waiting for the phone to ring. Eventually it did, when the little old lady whose phone number had been misprinted in the ad as being our phone number finally called us to see why on Earth everybody in town was calling her to order pizza. Oops.

I remember the cook who'd been with PH forever when I got hired. He lived right around the corner in a trailer park, and he had a monster crush on his next door neighbor, the "Neighbor Lady", as he called her when he talked about her, which was often. I've wondered what became of that guy, whether he was still there, and whether he had to find a way to get to the PH across town. He didn't have a car at the time, and I don't know if he even drove.

I remember a delivery driver whose forehead broke into a massive rash when he wore our ballcaps. I've never seen anything like that, before or since. He came to me and said, "Dude, I can't wear this hat. Look." He had this giant crimson stripe running right across his forehead. It was amazing to behold. There was another delivery driver who was a really bad employee; he just had trouble showing up for work, and when he was finally shown the door by management, he actually asked, "Can I go work at the other PH now?" There was a very sweet driver who was an evangelical Christian, and yet she had a pretty good sense of humor, especially with regards to the fairly salty humor the rest of us tended to display, and another evangelical Christian driver who refused to run a delivery to the local sex-toy shop when they placed an order. Drivers were a fun lot to have around, even if we were always short on them. It got quite maddening to hire a good driver, only to have them come to us a month later and tell us they needed to quit because of the wear and tear on their cars. What did they expect?

I remember working the first night that the company started running advertising on teevee for the newest thing, our "Stuffed Crust" pizza. We got absolutely killed that entire weekend. Cheese in the crust? That was a home run of an idea. What I remember most from that first night the ads ran was a family who let their snotty twelve-year old son place their order; he was such a little shit on the phone with me that his mother called us back to apologize and confirm that we hadn't tossed their order.

Prank orders were fun, too. Strangely, fake delivery orders rarely happened. There were some kids who once a month tried having ten pizzas sent someplace; I always just took the order and then ignored it. The more annoying thing was when people would place a carry-out order at my PH, and then show up at the other one to pick it up, or vice versa. The phone numbers were completely different.

Lunch buffet was usually a fun ninety minutes; we had a pretty cool crowd that included some local teachers who were all really nice people. The bad days for buffet were when there was a half-day of school, because we were walking distance from the middle school. In my experience, unsupervised middle school kids are the worst behaved of all childhood age groups. Those days were nightmarish. On one such day we knew we were going to get crushed, so I called in extra help: this old lady whom we'd hired to do nothing but carry pizzas out to the buffet. She said she'd be right in...and promptly went to her other job, at a local department store, thinking it was them and not us who'd called her in. Oy.

I remember having to call the fire department when one of our inset light fixtures in the building blew. They brought over three fire trucks for this, even though we were literally right next door to the fire department. I mean, right next door. As in, you had our building, the parking lot, and then the fire hall. I never complained about feeding those guys cheap again. (We gave then a fifty percent discount at the time.)

I remember people who genuinely didn't understand why they could call us from ten miles outside of our delivery area and expect our drivers to go to some dark parking lot just inside the delivery area and wait to make the exchange. I also remember people who would get indignant when we had a monster snow storm and we had to shut down delivery service for the night. Funniest were the Canadians who would call us for delivery to the Holiday Valley ski clubs in Ellicottville, which is twenty-five miles from Olean. One funny Canadian once said to me, when I explained that we didn't deliver at such distances, "Wouldn't you think a ski town like this would have a pizza delivery joint?" He had a fair point. I wonder if Ellicottville ever got its own pizza delivery joint?

I remember the guy who called our 1-800 number to bitch because we were closed early; our posted hours were until 10:00, and he was pissed we were closed when he showed up at 9:15. Why did we close? Because half the town, including us, was out of power when a drunk drove his car into a transformer. We were without power for more than three hours starting around dinner time. The guy who complained wasn't about to concede anything to us, not even on the point that had we opened right then and let him in, we wouldn't have been able to cook anything for him. None of that mattered, though; he was going to get his complaint in.

Great customers? We had 'em, people whose faces and, in a few cases, even names I still remember. There was the older couple who came in each and every Tuesday night around 8:30 to share a medium Supreme, and there was the lady with the incredibly bubbly and infectious smile who came in every other Thursday for a large pepperoni. We also had a very picky elderly woman who would come in for an order of breadsticks and a Diet Pepsi, but she was such a stickler for freshness that she insisted on physically witnessing the cutting of the sticks and the pouring of the Pepsi. One night I saw her walking in the door, so that's when I cut her breadsticks, just so I could hand her the box at the exact moment she arrived at the pickup window. She shook her head and said, "I'll wait for the next pan." Okey-dokey...this went on once or twice a week for months until one day she comes in and says to the other shift manager, "You guys always take good care of me, so I'd like to do something nice. How about tickets to a Sabres or Bills game?" It turned out that she was the wife of John Rigas, then-owner of the Sabres and also then-not-yet-convicted for fraud. So it was because of her that I got to watch a Bills game from the comfy confines of the former Adelphia Cable luxury suite. (The Bills lost. It was the Todd Collins era.)

Of course, there were also the not so good customers. For the first year and a half I worked there, we had lunch buffet on Sundays, which was a colossal pain in the arse, as it lasted two hours (as opposed to the ninety minute weekday buffet) and being Sunday there wasn't much "lunch hour" business, so tables turned much more slowly. We'd fill up with church families, most of whom were all very nice, but there was one family that would insist that their two daughters were both under twelve years old, so as to get the lower price. This despite the fact that I could observe one of the girls driving, and that both were, shall we say, richly endowed for eleven year olds. I was always amazed that this family thought nothing of leaving church on a Sunday and making it their first order of business to come to PH and bear false witness in order to save a few bucks.

Sometimes we'd host childrens' birthday parties. Servers hated these because they required much more intensive attention to the party, which meant that they couldn't take many other tables while the party was there, usually resulting in lower tips. Once a party came in and took up a server for two hours, during which she did nothing but wait on that party. They left no tip at all. Our menus at the time stated a policy of charging automatic gratuities on parties of eight or more people, but upper levels of management directed us not to enforce this policy. I have never understood this; I have never yet met a server who dispute my view that large parties tend to tip less.

My coworkers were, for the most part, all nice people, with the occasional dud. I've often wondered what became of more than a few of them. I attended a couple of weddings for coworkers, and a bunch of them attended mine. A Friday morning ritual for several years was to breathlessly discuss the events on the previous night's episode of ER (this was when the show was fresh, new and good.) Oddly the Bills were never much a topic of discussion, but one guy I worked with was ecstatic when the Yankees won their first of several World Series, in 1996. Back then cell phones were new and only three or four employees had them; I was talking about movies with another employee when he asked me, "Hey, at the bottom of all the movie posters these days, what's all that stuff that says 'HTTP', colon, backslash backslash"? One guy came along who was a terrific geek, and we merrily discussed Star Wars (the Prequels were just rumored at that point) and The X-Files and such, until he left a few months later. I think he became a teacher eventually. Good on him; he'd have been a good one.

For a while, all the PH locations west of Syracuse were in one big division, but apparently there weren't enough area directors right then, so for a while, each area director was responsible for seventeen or eighteen restaurants. So when ours showed up for his monthly visit to go over numbers, he brought in all of his paperwork in a giant binder on our restaurant, sat down with my manager, and...discovered that he'd brought the books for the wrong restaurant. That was pretty funny. I was highly intimidated by that guy, for some reason. Ever since then, I've wondered why. He was, after all, just a guy.

Gradually, the Upstate New York market got chipped up as the company sold off certain markets to franchise operators. For the time I worked for PH, our restaurants were company-owned, but it wasn't long after I left that all of the WNY PH locations became franchise-operated as well. Since then, I've seen ads on teevee for lots of new products they've come out with: another attempt at a New York City crust called the "Big New Yorker"; a calzone thing apparently called a "P-Zone"; baked pasta dishes that come in big foil pans; other versions of bread sticks, and so on. I've never had any of these, although that P-Zone thing looks pretty lethal.

It was interesting to work at PH during the 1990s, when all kinds of new casual-dining restaurants, each with its own "concept", were coming along. Shortly after I started, PH acquired a chain of sub sandwich from New England called D'Angelo's, and they then started to roll these out into Western New York, mainly in the Buffalo area. I liked the D'Angelo subs a good deal, but that "concept" didn't last long, and within three years, I think, all of the PH-D'Angelo restaurants had either switched to PH's alone, or had closed altogether.

Interestingly, we didn't spend a lot of time worrying about Domino's or Little Caesar's. (Probably with good reason, since I haven't seen a Little Caesar's in years and I have no idea where the closest Dominos to me is, either.) The big competitors we always had to worry about, or were always told to worry about, were Fazoli's and Papa John's. Fazoli's was a chain of Italian fast-food eateries, like Sbarro but without the pizza. One of these opened up in Olean, right across the street from my first PH (the smaller one), right about the same time that all that other retail showed up on that end of town. It was, naturally, a really popular place for a while, and wasn't. Fazoli's closed down in Olean after less than three years, if memory serves, and there isn't a single one left, that I know of, anywhere in Buffalo. As for Papa John's, we were constantly on the lookout for the major push into the Buffalo and Rochester market that they were certainly gearing up for. That major push never came. I never even saw a Papa John's until we moved to Syracuse in 2002, when we tried it for the first time. We liked it, but the place shut down two or three months after we moved there. So much for Papa John's.

Today, PH still exists in this area, although their footprint is even smaller than it once was. When I worked there, I attended a meeting once that was led by our "Ops Director" (two levels of management above store manager), and he told us in a spiel about business planning that the Buffalo market is hard for national pizza chains because in this city, nearly every street corner has a mom-and-pop pizza place on it. That much is certainly true. I know, off the top of my head, of six pizza joints (Nino's, Capelli's, Papa Geno's, Pizza4U, Roz's, and Ricotta Pizza) within a mile of my apartment, and we live out in the 'burbs. My nearest PH is five or six miles distant. There is a PH about fifteen minutes away that apparently has some kind of "Italian Bistro" theme going on, and another that's about a twenty minute drive away (fairly close as the bird flies, but impossible to get to without traversing heavily-trafficked suburban streets) that calls itself "Wing Street". (I have zero idea what that means, outside of my supposition that it involves chicken wings in some way.)

So, that's what it was generally like to work at PH for four years in the 1990s. It wasn't a great job and it didn't lead me to any particularly fantastic heights, but I did have a lot of fun and learn some stuff about working for a living. Not a bad use of four years when I didn't much know what I wanted out of life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another gift!

What a pretty tea cup!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

The Wife gave me this super-cool tea cup. Under that lid it's got its own infuser. Very cool! I'm becoming more of a tea drinker.

(A few more views on the Flickr photostream.)

My gifts

My fashionable Christmas, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Here I am, wearing the winter coat the Wife gave me, and looking at my new watch. Which the Wife gave me.

For the first time ever, she gave me more than I gave her. This means that her birthday is gonna rock. Oh yes.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Well...I got nothin'. Sorry, folks. But hey, an NFL team went 0-16. That's pretty weird. 16-0 one year, 0-16 the next. What is up with that?

Anyway, hopefully more weirdness next week.

Unidentified Earth #52

OK, the general consensus on UI's 49 and 50 is that I may have taken too perverse a pleasure in coming up with tough ones. I'm still not giving up the game, but more hints: the building seen in UI 49 is used for exterior shots on one of my favorite network teevee programs. (But the building is not located in the city where the show takes place.) Identifying the show earns partial credit, but actually coming up with the name of the building (yes, you can use Google, and how would I know, anyway?) gets full credit.

UI 50, on the other hand, may have been seen by people who have visited Walt Disney World. No more than that.

As for UI 51, everybody's right: that there is the famed opera house in Sydney, Australia.

And now for what I'm sure is another easy one:

Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, please!

A New Low

Yesterday I had one of those "When you think you've seen it all..." moments. I got a Spam e-mail from someone whose method of sending out their messages was to utilize the contact information left by people who sign the online guestbooks for people who have died.

There are times when I don't understand people. Who would think of harvesting a bereavement memorial site for contact info for Spam purposes???

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Rising of the Hunter

Snagged from APoD, Orion and Canis Major rising over ancient ruins in Turkey:

Merry Christmas to my readers, and thank you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ugly guy alert....

UPDATE: Hi, Reddit folk! Feel free to hang around. (But you should know that the quote in the picture over there is not mine. I have never written or thought any such thing. I'm weird, but I'm not Messianic about it.)

Erin hit me with this:

1. Take a picture of yourself.. riiiiiight.. NOW!
2. DO NOT change your clothes. DO NOT fix your hair.. Just take a picture.
3. Post that picture with NO editing.
4. Post these instructions with your picture.
5. Tag 10 people to do this!

Well, I'm not going to tag anyone; go ahead if you're so inclined. But here's what I look like with no helpful editing at all:

Well...yeesh. Thank God I was clothed.

(I apologize for the mental image I have just inflicted upon my readers...but no, I don't make a habit of websurfing in the buff, as it were. But so much for weaning this blog of the overalls....)

Mr. President, your shirt, please.

Because I like pictures of Presidents looking non-Presidential, here's a slideshow of shirtless Presidents. I had no idea that Reagan had that much of a gut, and while Bill Clinton shirtless isn't much to look at, Hillary Clinton in a bathing suit looks just fine. That is all.

New boss, same as the old boss....

President-elect Obama has not appointed to his cabinet nearly enough long-haired guys who spend their days wearing overalls and wishing the world would learn to love George Lucas again. I can't imagine I'd be filibustered in my quest for Senate confirmation as Secretary of Geekery.

(Anyone who utters any phrase of the form "Obama has not appointed enough _____ people to his cabinet" needs to shut up.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sentential Links #152

This will be the final edition of Sentential Links FOREVER!!! Or, for this year. Get 'em while they're hot!

:: That's why I don't date horses. They lie. (See, I don't date horses because they're big and they eat oats and, well, they're horses. I never get to the stage of a relationship with a horse where honesty becomes a factor.)

:: We always had fun when we were working on Next Generation, but when Majel was on the set, it was a party. (BTW, did anybody ever wonder about Christine Chapel's reaction to learning of Spock's death? Was she still in love with him by then? And then what about her reaction to learning that he'd been regenerated?)

:: I might like it. I might not. But I am going to taste it completely, and then make up my mind AFTER I see what it is all about, not make up my mind going in. (New book-club blog, featuring Belladonna, among others. Good luck! And take the benefit of my experience: don't try to inaugurate your new group-read blog with The Brothers Karamazov.)

:: Has anybody ever traced the history of human characters in short cartoons? I specifically mean the use of humans as supporting characters in cartoons that are about anthropomorphic animal characters. (I confess, I never thought about it much....)

:: I know it's trite to say it, but some of the most important things you can give your kids aren't THINGS.

:: I'm a firm believer that people can and will make a religion out of anything. Small and large gods are invented every day. I know a guy who's made a minor religion out of tea.

:: I guess I will have a lot of time to save my pennies for this, since it hasn't been released yet and we don't even own a Blu-Ray plyer, but one can dream of the day I can watch every drop of sweat roll down Viggo's gorgeous face.

:: Related thought: For a group that tends to pride itself on toughness, this is a lot of whining.

OK, folks, that's about it for Sentential Links until 2009. Excelsior!

(But stick around, I'm not doing a blog-stoppage or anything. Just no Sentential Links for a week.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Unidentified Earth 51

I dunno, folks, is there any interest in me continuing this series? I didn't do one last week, but there are no guesses at all for the last two installments, UI 49 (for which one might want to follow some evidence) or UI 50 (for which one might require the services of an engineer with lots of, oh, imagination).

Anyway, here's one that really ought to be pretty easy:

Where are we? Rot-13 the guesses....

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Not a whole lot going on weird this week. I'm losing my touch....

:: Letterman's Top Ten George W. Bush Moments:

Number Four is my favorite. Remember, the guys at Powerline still think this guy is Teh Genius.

:: The Periodic Table of Awesome. Sure, I could quibble a bit, but since they replaced "Bob Saget" the other day with "Samuel L. Jackson" (whose element symbol is, of course, Mf), I'm happy. (Bob Saget? Awesome? Come on now!)

I don't remember where I saw this linked, because I forgot to bookmark it and only found it again by Googling.

That's all, I guess.

People who quote movies should be boiled in oil.

UPDATED with some correct guesses!

I've just seen a movie quote quiz-thing over at Erin's blog. The idea is simple: you pick 15 movies or so, give a quote from each one (IMDb is good for this), and challenge your readers to identify the movies. As the quotes get identified, I'll strike through them. I can't pass this up, now can I? Why, no! So here we go (and just to make it slightly harder, there are no quotes from any Star Wars movie here):

1. We grew up in peacetime!

2. You're as crazy as your mama! Goes to show it's in the genes. (JFK, guessed by SamuraiFrog)

3. The only thing that worried me was the actual killing. How does one do that? Hmmm? How does one kill a man? It's one thing to dream about it; very different when, when you, when you have to do it with your own hands. (Amadeus, guessed by Charlie.

4. Sherif, is there not one thing in your life that is worth losing everything for? (The Wind and the Lion, guessed by SamuraiFrog)

5. I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon.

6. That's enough, Baron. Turn it off. No one's impressed with your cheesy light show, okay?

7. If you ever get tired of going steady with somebody that ain't around, I'm up for grabs. (American Graffiti, guessed by Aaron)

8. We had a nice couple of minutes together. She threatened me, I patronized her. Didn't have anything to eat, but I thought there was a connection. (The American President, guessed by Charlie)

9. I can't fight it anymore. I ran away from you once. I can't do it again. Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You have to think for both of us. For all of us. (Casablanca, guessed by Aaron)

10. "People"? I ain't "people." I am a - "a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament." (Singin' in the Rain, guessed by Will Duquette)

11. When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome... and then, of course, you spoke. (As Good As It Gets, guessed by Aaron)

12. I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up, OK?

13. We didn't choose this place! We didn't choose these people! They were invited! (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, guessed by SamuraiFrog)

14. Never take it seriously, you never get hurt. Never get hurt, you can always have fun. And if you ever get lonely, you just go to the record store and visit all your friends.

15. Boy, it sure would be nice if we had some grenades, don't you think? (Serenity, guessed by Aaron)

There they are. What movies are they from?

A poll!

Time for a quick poll of my readers, all eight of you! A co-worker asked me this question a while back, probably while I was on hiatus, and he was totally baffled as to why I would answer the way I did. So here it is, and you can all answer in comments:

Pirates or Ninjas?

Let's hear it!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ummm...hey, Buffalo?

Exactly when did our collective reaction to a forecast of a lot of snow go from this....

to this....


Friday, December 19, 2008

A little while ago, I was tagged by SamuraiFrog with the "Story Meme", which goes like this: a story is given to you in part, you continue it a bit, and then you pass it on to some other folks. Here's where we stand so far:

Part the First:

The bus was more crowded than usual. It was bitterly cold outside, and I hadn't prepared for it. I noticed that a fair number of the riders were dressed curiously. As I glanced around, I stretched my feet and kicked up against a large, heavy cardboard box laying under the seat in front of me.

SamuraiFrog then continues the tale:

I looked around for the box's owner. Across the aisle from me, a pretty girl flashed me a smile and cocked her head. She was motioning toward the box. Encouraging me. Sliding the box back towards me, I opened it and was immediately confused. Inside was a plastic rain poncho, a police baton, and a Donald Duck mask. I looked around and saw that several people were wearing plastic rain ponchos. I looked back over at the pretty girl. "You're ready for this, right?" she asked me. "They wouldn't have sent you if you weren't ready."

And now I step up:

I shook my head as I folded the box closed again, and when I looked up at the girl, I chuckled. "They didn't send me," I said. "You're really out of your depth if you think that they send me anywhere. I send them places." I pushed the box over to her with my foot. "And Donald Duck? Really? I'm a Daffy man. If you knew anything about me, you'd know that."

The girl's eyes flashed momentarily, and then she smiled. It was the kind of smile that nice people see when it's the last thing they see in this world, just before the person smiling that smile pulls the trigger on the gun that's aimed at their forehead. "You're not a Daffy man," she said. "Not even close. You can think you are all you want, but we're not about what you think you are. We're about what you really are. And you were so close, really; a one-in-three chance of picking the false prop. No, the mask is real, and you'll be putting it on soon enough, Boy-O."

"And the poncho?" I asked.

"If you're lucky."

I nodded then, understanding. "So the police baton is the fake, huh."

"No, that's real too. That's why your 'They don't send me, I send them' bit just then was so lame that I almost got off the bus right then and there, which I'd have prefaced by kicking you in your smallish groin. If you knew anything about them, you'd know that they don't mess with fakes."

Now I smiled. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

"Sure," she said. "Whatever. Just shut up and put on the mask. You're gonna be our getaway driver."

"OK," I said as I grabbed the box back, opened it, and took out the Donald Duck mask. Sure, I'll wear this. She's right that I'm not a Daffy man after all, but what she doesn't know is that I hate ducks, all of 'em, every last one. Donald my ass. That's what I thought. What I said was, "How's this?"

The girl sighed. "They sure can pick 'em. Here. Do not lose this." She handed me something from the pocket of her jacket, wrapped in paper. She was acting like it was the Holy Grail or something, and I suppose it was, because when I unwrapped it, what was in my hands was ____.

So, what did she give him> Tell us, Steph, Nettl, Jayme, Tosy and Cosh, Paul, and Simon! You're all it!

UPDATE: I wrote this and scheduled it to appear today...and then discovered that Roger has tagged me with this same thing, although his version of the tale has gone in a different direction, obviously. Hmmmm!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Toward the unknown region

Condolences to Jen, whose grandmother has passed.

The universe is a spherical region seven hundred and five meters in diameter.

That's my favorite "Computer Voice" line from Star Trek: The Next Generation, given in response to Dr. Crusher's query: "Computer, here's a question you shouldn't be able to answer: What is the nature of the Universe?"

Anyway, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the actress who played the Computer Voice as well as Nurse Christine Chapel, Number One, and Lwaxana Troi in various Trek series, has died. A shame.

Really Sorta!

I'm not sure if I've encountered a more ungainly movie title than Definitely, Maybe. I suppose Love Actually is a contender. And like that film, somewhere in the screenplay to Definitely, Maybe those very words are spoken, giving the strange title a bit of context that kinda-sorta makes sense. Really. Sorta. (Hey, there's a title: Really Sorta!)

Unsurprisingly then, Definitely, Maybe comes from some of the same filmmakers responsible for Love Actually, and it's the same genre of movie: it's a mushy romantic comedy with a plot that's as old as the hills freshened up a bit through the use of some nifty narrative trickery. It doesn't rise to the level of Love Actually (which is one of my favorite movies ever), but it's got quite a bit of quirky charm going for it.

So, what's Definitely, Maybe about? Well, it tells the tale of the proverbial lonely guy who can't figure out who he's supposed to be with. However, it doesn't start out being about that, using some misdirection to make us think it's about something else. A man named Will, working in an ad agency in New York, receives his final divorce papers, which puts him in the mood to finally tell his daughter Maya (who is one of the cuter movie kids I've seen recently, by the way) the story of how he met her mother (the woman he is about to divorce). However, he decides that in the course of telling her the story, he will change the names of the women involved, and that she therefore has to try and pick out which one is actually her mother.

So it's set up as kind of a "love mystery", in a way. Will, it turns out, has in his life had three "great loves", and each is a "contender" for turning out to be Maya's mother. There's "Emily", Will's college sweetheart; there's "Summer", the journalism grad student Will meets in the course of working for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign; and there's "April", the copy-girl in Bill Clinton's New York office. These women come and go into and out of Will's life for various reasons, and at times he's truly in love with each one (or that's how he tells the tale), so we're kept as in the dark as Maya as to who her mother will turn out to be.

(Yes, this framing device is not dissimilar to the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. An idea's an idea, folks.)

As the movie progresses deeper into Will's travails of love, it slowly dawns on Maya that obviously her mother can't be the one true love of her father's life, since he's divorcing her. Who can it really be, then? Well, by the time Maya's realizing this herself, we're realizing already just who Will really belongs with in the first place. The answer's pretty conventional by romantic comedy standards, especially when Will buys a certain meaningful gift for one of his three lady loves. Still, the movie does a pretty good job of at least making it seem as if Will's future with this particular lady is hopeless, pretty much right up until the very last scene.

A lot of the film's humor stems from poking fun at how things have changed in so short a time since the early 1990s. At one point, Will is handed one of those gigantic first-generation cell phones, the ones that could only be carried around if one was wearing Batman's belt; at another, the Bill Clinton campaign staff is sitting around watching the news, and Bryant Gumble interviews the owner of the Texas Rangers, George W. Bush, and someone scoffs, "This guy better plan on spending the rest of his life in baseball." Or later on, when someone's job security depends on getting some information off the Internet immediately...and in the middle of New York City, they have to wait for the posh hotel's dial-up connection to kick in.

Acting-wise, the movie's not any great shakes, but everybody gets the job done. Rachel Weisz ("Summer") is probably the biggest name among the leads, but my favorite of the women was Isla Fisher as "April". (It's the long red hair, obviously.) Ryan Reynolds's first impression as Will is pretty bland, but he grew on me in the course of the movie. Everybody's good looking, but not so good looking that it's distracting. Kevin Kline has a cameo as a pompous-ass college professor that's worth watching for. If the performances aren't great, they're not distracting, either. The music is a combination of nicely selected pop songs and earnest "romantic comedy" music (heavy on the piano).

Like I said, this is nothing more than a well-made mushy romantic comedy. If that's not your genre, then for the love of God, stay away from this movie. But I enjoyed it.

Things that need to exist, #4872

I want an album of Christmas songs, done in the Cantopop style. I think that would be really cool.

Something for Thursday

Ralph Vaughan Williams, played by Hilary Hahn. Pure magic. Here's The Lark Ascending (it's in two parts):

The first time I heard this work was at a performance in Buffalo by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I went to that concert because they were going to be playing Mozart's Symphony No. 40, after this thing by RVW that I'd never heard before. This piece rocked my world, though. I think I held my breath for the entire work, for fear that my respiration would break the gossamer tapestry the violinist and the orchestra were creating that night....