Sunday, October 31, 2010

Was Ben de-rezzed?

A TRON and Star Wars mashup poster. I love this.

Via. Fantastic!

Even closer...

Wow, these Buffalo Bills are certainly looking how I expected them to look this year. Lots of losses, but at least the team is playing more interestingly, they're playing harder than they ever did under Dick Jauron, and the games are more fun to watch. But they keep ending up in losses. Oh well. I don't have much to say about today's game, except to say that I saw a lot of heart on the field. Oh well. They came really, really close...they took the Chiefs all the way down to the last few seconds of overtime...and still ended up on the receiving end of the loss.

I was almost wondering how I'd do a post without using this graphic, but here it is.

What it feels like to be a Bills fan these days


(But isn't watching the Dallas Cowboy demise a lot of fun? As someone said on Twitter: "Welcome to bizarro world in Arlington. Dejected Cowboys fans & excited Rangers fans meet in the parking lot near the ballpark.".)

(Oh, and on an unrelated note, there shouldn't be a possibility of injury when receiving a pie in the face. Yeesh.)

A very brief note on comments

Hey folks, I'm noticing a tiny little service bug with the comments here. I have it set up so that each new comment is forwarded to my G-mail account, which is how I learn of their existence. Within each e-mailed comment, there are links to publish, delete, or mark comments as spam. I usually just click "Publish", and the comment goes through.

I've noticed a few times over the last week, though, that sometimes I click "Publish", and the "Comment Published" pop-up screen shows up -- but the comment doesn't go anywhere. I don't discover this until I actually sign onto Blogger and see a notification of unmoderated comments, and this find out that the comment I'd thought I'd published earlier is still sitting there in Limbo.

So, if you comment and later notice that it's been an oddly long period of time and your comment hasn't appeared, that's likely what's happening.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound! These are all Halloween related or in honor of Halloween.

:: The kinda-classic early 80s animated movie Heavy Metal strings together an anthology of stories, all loosely connected by the common thread of a glowing green ball that does lots of bad things to people. This is the film's most effective sequence, from the horror standpoint.

:: SamuraiFrog takes pumpkin carving seriously. Check 'em out.

:: Also check out Sheila O'Malley's montage of her costumes throughout the years. My reactions went kind of like this: "OK. Nice. Cool. Nifty. Nice. Ha, that's funny. Nice. OK...wait, what?!"

:: And of course:

More next week, folks!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Oh, come on....

white trash repairs - The Key to Power Failure
see more There I Fixed It

You know, it's not a hard job to do. A new plug will run you about $4 at Home Depot (or around $15 if you want the "professional" one). Replacing a plug on a wire takes about fifteen minutes, and the only tools you really need are a screwdriver and a sharp-bladed knife.

I can't believe someone did this.

Search Engine Tomfoolery

Back in the hazy days of the early settlement of Blogistan, it was a common thing to post about weird search engine queries that led folks to our respective blogs. You don't see this much anymore, mainly because most such meme-things tend to fall aside eventually and because after you've been blogging a while, there's a natural raising of the bar for how weird a query has to be before you take any real notice of it.

So, congrats to the person who landed here looking for "people driving topless in overalls". Sorry you didn't find what you were seeking, but...well, let me know if you find it!

Friday, October 29, 2010


Mary Poppins at Shea's Buffalo!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

See what I did there? It's "ultra". One step up from "super". Take that, Mary Poppins!

Which brings me to the topic here: Mary Poppins, the stage musical, which we were lucky enough to see live at Shea's Buffalo a couple of weeks ago. (Thanks to tickets provided by the lovely Jennifer Smith, who always manages to make the magic happen!)

I love going to see shows and we don't get to see nearly enough of them, so I was excited to go to this one. I haven't been in Shea's in seven years -- last time was for a play The Daughter's preschool class attended -- and before that, not since 1999 when we went to see Phantom of the Opera. That's too long. Now, some of that time, we didn't even live in Buffalo, and other times, finances made going to see shows about as possible as launching ourselves to Mars. Nowadays, though, going to Shea's to see a show or two isn't off the table as an option. (If only there would be a full-scale touring revival of Les Miz...!)

But as excited as I was, I was also a bit nervous about this one. Mary Poppins is one of my favorite Disney films of all, and while it's rightly seen as a classic, it tends to be seen as more of a classic family or children's movie than one of the truly great movie musicals, which is what it is (in addition to the other things). I was somewhat fearful of the translation of a beloved movie to the stage.

For the most part, though, this fear was laid aside. The stage show, it turns out, is not a simple transposition of movie to stage show with a couple of new numbers inserted; instead, it goes its own way at several points. The film was, after all, merely based on a series of children's books written in the 1920s; thus, the stage show was able to retain quite a few of the movie's best songs, but was also able to incorporate the new ones by using material from the source books that the film didn't. This made for a show that was both familiar and different.

The bare bones of the story is the same: a well-to-do -- but not rich -- family in London is in need of a nanny for its two nice, well-meaning, but not terribly well-behaved children. Nannies have apparently come and gone, but it's not until a very special nanny comes along that the kids meet their match. That nanny's name is Mary Poppins, and she's the type of nanny who makes entrances by flying in on the handle of her umbrella and toting around a satchel that contains things like six-foot-tall coat racks. Mary takes quick charge of the kids, showing them somehow that cleaning one's room can be fun (no, I've never bought into her logic on this one, either) and showing them around London where they have some very odd adventures.

Along the way -- and this is the real point of departure from the movie -- we get a good look at the trials and tribulations of the parents, George and Winifred, both of whom are having existential struggles of their own. George is worried about providing for his family, while Winifred is worried about her role as the mother. George works at the bank, as in the film and books, where he suffers flashes of idealism but often buckles down before authority. Frankly, a lot of this material struck me as being fairly dull, and I would have preferred the more whimsically odd bank of the film, where young Michael inadvertently causes a run on the bank and where the story's ultimate moment of epiphany comes from a humorless character suddenly getting a joke. Unfortunately, that joke ("I once met a man with a wooden leg named Smith." "What's the name of his other leg?") is not in the stage show. Nor is the wonderful sequence involving Uncle Albert, a man who laughs so much that he levitates to the ceiling when he laughs and then can't get down.

The stage show blends many of the wonderful songs from the film with a more modernized kind of storyline, occasionally with odd results. When young Michael opines of one particularly nasty nanny that "She probably ate her young", it was a funny line -- but it also had me thinking, "Oh, come now, no kid in Victorian England is going to talk like that." The denouement of that particular storyline -- when George's earlier decision to give a loan to a guy who looks like a waste of money turns out to have been a brilliant business decision -- felt so predetermined as to seem almost fake. It had none of the effectiveness of George's epiphany in the film, when he loses his job at the bank and realizes that his family is more important, anyway. I really missed how "Let's Go Fly a Kite" is transformed from the number where George finally plays with his children, into a number for Bert the chimneysweep.

Also, the complex lyrics of the original songs (by the amazing Sherman Brothers) occasionally seem out-of-place in a more modern type of story as this. I kept thinking of the first song of the film, in which Winifred sings of her work as a suffragette. Of course, would kids these days even know what a suffragette was? Probably not. But the show's setting suffers a bit, thus.

Technically, though, Mary Poppins works wonderfully. I loved the set design, with the Banks house looking like a giant dollhouse that literally opens up to fill the stage, and other stage effects such as the scene changes that take place as seamlessly as any I can remember. The two show-stopping numbers -- "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step In Time" -- both brought the house down, and my favorite Mary Poppins song, "Feed the Birds", survived the translation to stage just beautifully. Another number, taking place in a London park and involving naked Greek statues come to life, was -- well, I found it a bit distracting, because from my balcony seat, I kept thinking, "Is that statue really naked? Is there a guy wearing a costume with a marble phallus really dancing around on the stage right now?!"

(Oh, come on. If you saw the show, you were thinking it, too!)

The focus is on the Sherman Bros. songs, while the new songs ("Practically Perfect" and "Anything Can Happen" among them) work nicely enough. But there's never any mystery as to what we really want to hear, is there?

As for Shea's Buffalo itself, well, it's such a beautiful theater. Just a wonderful place. I love the ambience, the ornate atmosphere, the pre-show music on the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, everything about it. Although I did think that the concessions folks, selling candy and soft drinks during intermission, missed an opportunity to tie in their wares to the feature attraction. Wouldn't you agree that when selling M&Ms at a theater where Mary Poppins is playing, the price should be "tuppence a bag"?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Something for Thursday

I'll be using this again in a post sometime, but for now, here's a nice piece of music for our upcoming Halloween. Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique was intended by the composer to tell a story, detailing an artist's captivation by a woman (represented by a recurring melody he called the idee fixe that is heard in each movement) and his eventual descent into madness as, in the last two movements, he takes opium and begins to suffer demonic hallucinations. In the last movement, he envisions his lover as a witch, leading a horrible kind of celebration in which our hero has visions of death and other horrors. I'll provide a more detailed annotation of the Symphonie fantastique at some point in the future, but for now, here is the last movement of the work, "The Dream of the Witches' Sabbath".

(The Idee fixe is heard in the clarinet twice, first at the 1:33 mark, and then again at 1:52. A bit later on, Berlioz invokes the famous Dies irae melody, more than once. I normally don't like posting symphonic movements outside of the context of the larger work, but it's Halloween....)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I'm not wearing a costume for Halloween, but if I were, tell me what it would be!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A helpful hint

If you ever use the construction "I'm not a _____, but....", rethink what you're saying before you say it publicly. "I'm not a bigot, but Muslims at the airport scare me" is an asshole thing to say. And so is "I don't hate fat people, but boy howdy, I sure don't want to have to look at them!".

OK, that's not an exact quote, but it's pretty much what Maura Kelly says in that piece. I'm sure she struggled hard to find the right words to get her point across; how sad that the point she actually got across was not the one she thought she was getting across. But then, it's so often amazing to see an asshole shouting from the rooftops without ever realizing that what they're shouting up there is actually, "Hey! Everybody! I'm an asshole!"

A man stands up

I saw someone on another blog yesterday comment that "you can't equate not supporting gay marriage with hating gays". I thought that a very odd statement: "I don't hate gays, you see! I just don't want them to marry. Or serve in the military. Or [insert behavior X here]. Or...." The notion is ludicrous, in my mind; I can't imagine a motive for being anti-gay marriage or anti-gay anything that doesn't involve some level of hatred for homosexuality and those who practice it, no matter how uncomfortable certain anti-gay folks might be with the characterization of their hatred. Since anti-gay sentiment is almost exclusively focused on the political right in this country, I checked out the famously insane platform of the Texas Republican Party, and well, if you can read this excerpt and not see hate dripping from the pores of those who wrote it, well, you're frankly delusional.

Far more heartening is this manifesto, by an Episcopal Bishop.

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant." I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement.

I've pretty much reached the same point, myself.

"The pointy end goes in the other man."

Screenwriting great William Goldman has opined in the past that the hardest films to get right are comedies and adventure films. An adventure film that gets things right is one of the finest things in life, I've always believed. One such film -- which I hold to be terribly underrated, and a potential classic of the adventure genre -- is the 1998 swashbuckler The Mask of Zorro. This has been a favorite of The Wife and mine ever since she and I saw it in the theater during its initial run, and we watched it with The Daughter just a week ago. We hadn't seen it in some years -- I had it on VHS, but I don't have it on DVD -- and I had forgotten just what a rock solid entertainment it is.

What struck me right at the outset about The Mask of Zorro is that it doesn't do either of the "expected" things for a big-budget flick that pretty much reintroduced a very old character to young audiences who likely had no idea who Zorro was. The film didn't just follow the adventures of an already-existent Zorro, but neither did it dwell on a long and boring origin story. Origin stories are really tough to pull off; to often, the film spends half its time on the origin and then has to compress the rest of the tale into the second half. Sometimes this works -- Superman and Spiderman both pulled it off, mainly by making the origin stuff so good -- but a lot of times it doesn't.

The Mask of Zorro escapes the horns of this dilemma by skirting between them: we open in medias res, with Zorro in full strength, pulling off a daring exploit and escaping. But he is an older Zorro, played by Anthony Hopkins (in what is a typically outstanding Anthony Hopkins performance), and he is ready to retire as Zorro, thinking that he has won and is ready to settle into his private life as Don Diego de la Vega. However, his arch-enemy, Don Rafael, has learned who he is and goes to arrest him. In the ensuing melee, de la Vega's wife is killed, and we get hints of an old love triangle between these three, even though it is never explained outright. De la Vega is taken prisoner, but Don Rafael decides to levy an even harsher punishment: he takes de la Vega's infant daughter Elena to raise as his own.

Twenty years later, de la Vega escapes from prison and is about to murder Don Rafael when he discovers that his daughter, now a grown woman, is back in California. His desire for revenge is stymied, until he comes across a much younger man, a drunken thief named Alejandro Murietta (Antonio Banderas), who has his own scores to settle and whom de la Vega can enlist to his aid and train as the new Zorro. Lots of derring-do ensues: Don Rafael's plot to become ruler of California; de la Vega's training of Alejandro; Elena's attraction to the masked outlaw she meets in passing and her growing suspicion that her past is muddier than she has known before; a soldier from the American army who is very nearly psychotic; and ultimately, de la Vega's twenty-year quest for revenge against the man who took everything from him.

What makes The Mask of Zorro so great, from a story standpoint, is the fact that there isn't a single unmotivated character in the film. Everybody has something that they're trying to achieve, something they're working toward; therefore, everyone in the film has a reason for the things they do. I never once get the feeling of plot machinery cranking away in this movie; every character wants something, and even in the cases of the villains, they want things beyond the typical "villain" things like power and money. It's always good when there is personal history between hero and villain, and yet, too many adventure films fail to take this easy step toward making their characters more three-dimensional.

The other big reasons why The Mask of Zorro works so well are the usual suspects: the performances are uniformly excellent, the pacing and editing are outstanding, James Horner's score is a blast, and Martin Campbell's direction is top-notch. The film is also notable for its lack of computer-aided action sequences; those who place value in old-school stuff like stuntmen and choreography will find much to love in The Mask of Zorro.

It's one of the best action films of the 1990s, and much better than the more famous (and more popular) The Mummy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...!"

On October 25, 1415, five hundred eighty-five years ago, a greatly outnumbered English force dealt a crippling military defeat to the French army at a field called Agincourt. Before the battle, the English King, Henry the Fifth, had to rouse the troops, and here is how a playwright of some renown in literary history crafted the King's speech:

Lovin' the Lantern

I just saw this article about the Green Lantern movie that is currently in production. It's sounding like a pretty nifty production:

See, here’s the the thing – I can’t tell you how Green Lantern will be as a movie, but after visiting the New Orleans set of the film I can tell you that director Martin Campbell and company are working to make the biggest, most epic, most sweeping, most cosmic superhero film yet. Forget Hal Jordan versus muggers in an alley, Green Lantern is really about Hal Jordan battling to save not himself, not his girlfriend, not even just his city but the entire planet Earth. Green Lantern is a huge movie, with set pieces that will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. I can’t spoil where the final battle takes place, but it’s an INSANE location – it certainly isn’t your standard issue end-of-the-movie warehouse, bridge or warehouse-like supervillain lair.

And it’s not just Hal Jordan. Green Lantern will feature the entire Green Lantern Corps; while visiting I saw life-sized cardboard cut outs of Tomar-Re and Kilowogg, the alien GLs who help train Hal Jordan. I saw mock ups of Oa, the planet at the center of the galaxy where the Guardians of the Universe oversee the galactic police force that is the Corps. And I saw much, much more – stuff that will make not just GL fans but hardcore space fantasy nerds salivate with excitment. I’m talking massive planetary and space vistas, incredible alien life forms and crazy space ship designs.

Yeah, this better not suck. I'd hate for something to sound so completely made for me and turn out to be a turd in the punchbowl. I am pleased to learn that Martin Campbell is directing; he is very good at directing action sequences that are highly kinetic and yet easily followed by the viewer. I'm looking forward to this.

(If you click through the article, make sure to click all the way through to the large versions of the two pieces of concept art they have posted. The Lantern cemetery is a beautiful, haunting space-opera type of image.)

Halloween Quizzery

SamuraiFrog did this, and thus, so must I.

1. What is the worst treat to get when trick-or-treating?

Milk-Duds. God, those things are horrible. Just awful. They're supposed to be chocolatey-caramelly goodness, but they're really rock-hard balls of chewy crap. I hate them.

Weirdly, though, after first grade, I never trick-or-treated again. It had to do with our moves in my childhood. In second grade, we lived in West Virginia, and as I recall, the town there didn't allow trick-or-treating. (I may be misremembering, to be honest.) Third and fourth grade were spent in Hillsboro, OR, where there was trick-or-treating, but I decided I liked handing out the candy more. After that, we moved to Allegany, NY. But we lived out from the village center a ways, where we weren't really in a "neighborhood", per se; we were about a quarter mile from the next house. So the next time I went trick-or-treating? When I chaperoned The Daughter on her first trick-or-treating excursion, back in 2001.

2. What character from any horror film would you most like to play?

I'm probably best suited to be the guy who lives on the grounds of the haunted mansion and creeps everybody out, always saying creepy things to the kids, before they discover the true horror and then prove myself to be a hero before dying horribly. If I get to do the part in overalls, so much the better.

3. Would you rather be a zombie, alien, or psycho? (why)

A psycho alien. (I'll admit, I'm not sure why zombies are so pop-culturally cool right now.)

4. How many Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street movies combined do you have on dvd?

Zero. I actually hate those kinds of movies. I watched one once, in a hotel my family stayed in. My parents went down to the hotel bar for a drink, and I found one of the Friday the 13th's on HBO. It was laughably stupid and bad and confirmed my at-the-time negative opinion of horror as an entire genre.

5. What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?

Either The Exorcist or The Silence of the Lambs, both of which I consider brilliant.

6. Lamest costume you have worn on Halloween?

I don't do costuming much. In fact, the last one I wore for Halloween was when I went on my afore-mentioned last trick-or-treating excursion as a kid. That costume was a Captain Marvel costume that my mother made, because I loved SHAZAM!. And that costume was f***ing AWESOME.

7. Favorite Halloween treat?

Mini candy bars. I also like Smarties, and the fruit-flavored Tootsie Roll things, which I like a lot more than Starbursts.

8. Friendly-faced jack o’lantern or scary one?

Either-or. I just look for creativity.

9. Have you ever had nightmares about a scary movie character chasing you?

I don't think so. One thing I remember -- not Halloween-related, actually -- was going to visit my maternal grandmother. She lived with my uncle in Pittsburgh, in a two-story house with a basement that was also the garage (owing to Pittsburgh's hilly locale). My uncle's automatic garage door opener sent a horrible noise through the house that scared the living shit out of me when I was young.

10. Best thing about Halloween?

It's really the one holiday left that's all about fun, even in the scary sense, and that hasn't been shot through with a whole bunch of sanctimonious bullshit. What harms Halloween (and the entirety of harvest season in general) is not anything to do with Halloween, but actually the retail world's insistence that on October 10, it's time to say "Screw Halloween" and put out the Christmas stuff.

11. Strangest Halloween custom you’ve heard of?

None, really. Can't think of any.

12. Person in your family who most likes Halloween (not counting yourself)?

My wife and The Daughter. (Who was actually insisting, three weeks ago, that she was too old for trick-or-treating. She's 11, you see, and too old for such nonsense. No amount of me pointing out that we always see kids way older than 11 out there getting candy was budging her from her position. Learning that her friends in school are still trick-or-treating, though? That did the trick. Huzzah!!!)

13. Are you superstitious? If so, name at least one superstition of yours.

No, I'm not.

How about you all?

Sentential Links #225

Linkage time....

:: In other words, there are bizarro ideas on both sides of the fence. No argument there. And yet, there are differences. Here's my list: (Click through to read one of the best posts I've seen yet regarding the whole "Hey, you liberals have crazies on your side too!" argument.)

:: Everyone on the street feared her and did what they could to avoid her. I didn't like her one bit. But nobody deserves what happened to her. Nobody. (How should one feel when someone one knew personally, and deeply loathed for good reasons, passes away after a debilitating disease?)

:: He doesn't yet understand what an arsehole is!

:: This fella isn't getting any younger. I'd like to see it before it's gone.

:: Spock says its interior is impervious to scans and that it was built by a civilization with technology superior to that of the Federation, which would seem to be anyone capable of making an iPhone. (Ah yes, the "Kirk as a Native American" episode...which I remember as being a bit better than its reputation over the years.)

:: It’s hard to express the depth and breadth of John James Audubon’s influence on my bird paintings. Thanks to my parents, Audubon was the first painter whose work I studied, quickly followed by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. I can’t imagine a better introduction to bird painting, for each of these peerless artists turned to the living bird itself for inspiration and information.

:: Whom serves no actual purpose anymore except to let pedantic grammarians feel superior when it gets misused.

:: It Gets Better because, some day, maybe when you least expect it, you will open your hand, and there, in the middle of your outstretched palm, you will find a crystal. Hold it up to the light, and watch how the crystal sends little rainbows swarming across the walls, ceilings, floors, into the darkest corners of wherever you are. (New blog to me. I was bullied sporadically, but never consistently or all that much; I guess I was the kid the bullies picked on if they felt like bullying but there was nobody else around they would have rather bullied. It almost seemed like their heart wasn't totally in it, when they got round to bullying me, and sometimes they even looked a little bored. I was "a fat kid", but I wasn't even the fat kid, nor was I the weakest kid or the wimpiest kid. As high school went on, it slowed and slowed until, around my junior year, it just pretty much ended entirely. Some of the former bullies even became, if not friends, at least guys who didn't really give a crap about bullying anymore and found it easier just to hang out and talk about sports if there was nothing else going on. But yes, it does get better. Eventually. Nothing lasts forever, not even the worst times.)

All for this week, folks!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So close to a win!

The Buffalo Bills came off their bye week today, and headed to Baltimore to face the Ravens. The Ravens are widely considered one of the league's best teams, with a fearsome defense, and an offense that combines a punishing running attack with a significantly-improved passing game. The Ravens are also coming off a very tough loss last week in New England, an overtime defeat that left them angry and needing a win to keep pace with the Steelers in their division. The Bills, on the other hand, headed into today boasting one of the NFL's only two winless records, and a defense that would have a sieve saying, "Who are you calling 'porous'?" So the scene was set for a big loss and another pie in the face of Bills fans everywhere. Chris Berman likes to say, "That's why they play the games."

The Bills hadn't had a quarterback -- any quarterback -- throw for more than 300 yards in a game in something like four years; so Ryan Fitzpatrick today threw for almost 400. The Bills hadn't taken a big lead at all this year, so today they jumped out to a 24-10 lead in the second quarter. The Bills' offensive line had looked horrific on a depressingly common basis, so today they only gave up a single sack, provided decent pass protection, and made for a productive, if not explosive, running game. The Bills hadn't put up a strong rally from a late-game deficit, and yet today they bounced back from being down 34-24 to tie the game with seconds left to force overtime.

Unfortunately, the Bills' defense had not protected a lead in any game this year, and they still haven't. That 24-10 lead quickly disappeared to become a 34-24 deficit, with the annoying announcers -- seriously, these guys were terrible -- pronouncing in the third quarter that with a mere ten-point lead, the Ravens had the game "well in hand". The Bills tied it, sending it to overtime. But, as usual this year when the Bills score a nice number of points, the defense can't stop anybody else from scoring, either. In the NFL, scoring 34 points should mean a win. But so far this year, the Bills have lost games in which they scored 34, 30, and 26 points.

Looking at that, however, I see continued reason for potential optimism for the team's future. Everybody around here -- especially Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan -- thinks that it will take three or four years to get the team respectable again, assuming the current brain trust is even up to the job. But here's the thing: right now, the offense is pretty good, and will probably be even better if the Bills can add a stud quarterback with their more-certain-every-week high 1st-round draft pick. That means that what really needs fixing is the defense, not the entire team. If the Bills can start to address that, and do so convincingly, then I think that maybe they're only one or two years away from being good, not three or four.

Yeah, I know. "If." But all of football is "if", isn't it?

Oh, and overtime? The Bills turned the ball over in Ravens territory, on a stripping of the ball from Shaun Nelson. Now, I expect when I listen to some day-after radio tomorrow on this game, some Bills fans will insist that Nelson's forward progress had been stopped on the play and therefore it should have been whistled dead before Ray Lewis was able to strip the ball, but I'm not sure that's what happened. It looked to me like the Ravens defenders (a) surrounded Nelson, (b) held him up so he couldn't get down to the ground, and (c) kept pushing him forward to keep forward progress alive until someone could get the ball out of there. That's how it looked to me, anyway -- a smart play by a smart defense where everyone thinks as a team. I don't really blame Nelson for that.

I do blame Bills center Geoff Hangartner, though, who got really stupid at that moment. Instead of keeping his cool and hoping the defense could make a stop and prevent a game-winning field goal (granted, a tall order for the NFL's crappiest defense), Hangartner got frustrated and threw his helmet to the ground. Bills fans all know (thanks to Andre Reed in Super Bowl XXVI) that this is a 15-yard "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" penalty, which put the Ravens in field-goal range before they even ran a play. A couple of snaps later, in came their kicker, boom went the kick, and splat went the pie.

What it feels like to be a Bills fan these days

I don't think today's game was very discouraging, really; it shows that there's a lot more to the Bills that we can be optimistic about for seasons to come. Yeah, it's still a loss, but there are worse fates than being pied.

Next week, the Bills face the Chiefs, who last year were awful but are quickly improving. Bring 'em on!

Suck it, Girl Scouts!

Well, I suppose that title may be putting things a bit...strongly. And definitely rudely. Sorry about that, Girl Scouts.


Everybody loves Girl Scout Cookies, right? I know that I do. I love cookies in general, but the Girl Scout ones are special. My favorites are the Thin Mints (everybody's favorite, I suppose) and the Coconut Samoas, those wonderfully chewy blends of fudge, caramel, and toasted coconut. Of course I'd love the Samoas, given my adoration of coconut, be it in candy bars, in cream pies, on cakes, et cetera. Even on fried shrimp.

Of course, the problem is that Coconut Samoas aren't available year-round; you have to wait for the Girl Scouts to sell the things.

Until, that is, the fine folks at Keebler finally decided that Americans have suffered this state of affairs long enough. Behold the item I spotted quite by chance at The Store today: Keebler Coconut Dream cookies!

Dreaming of Coconut

And they are wonderful.

The best part of this? The Wife and The Daughter are both afflicted by that odd disease that renders both of them hating coconut, which means that all these cookies are belong to me. Huzzah!

:: As long as I'm babbling about junk food, here's the latest new candy I found. These have been on the market for a few months, but they've been hard to come by in my neck of the woods. It's the latest variation on the chocolate-in-a-hard-candy-shell notion: the Pretzel M&Ms.

Little colored balls of chocolatey-pretzelly goodness

They look pretty much like any other filled M&M out there, obviously. How do they taste? I like them, but your enjoyment will likely hinge on whether or not you find chocolate-covered pretzels delectable, as I do. These basically taste like little morsels of chocolate-covered pretzel, which is reasonable because that's what they are. I won't buy these very often, but they will be welcome at Casa Jaquandor when I feel the need for an M&M fix.

:: OK, I wasn't going to post this here, but just to show that I'm not all about the junk food these days, here's one of my favorite early fall treats: fresh Concord grapes. Oh my, I love these things -- even with their seeds. You don't get that kind of grape flavor from the normal red or green grapes we usually buy. Living in a grape-growing region has lots of benefits, and they're not all in corked bottles.

The fruit of the vine

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!!!

:: Via Jennifer, the Evolution of the Geek.

:: If you wrote a film script for studios in the 1920s, you probably received a rejection in the mail similar to this:


:: If I could wave a wand to resurrect a single monthly magazine from yesteryear, it's not much of a contest. I'd bring back OMNI. In a heartbeat. I really enjoyed reading the back issues that I "inherited" from my sister in the mid-80s. (Or maybe I stole them...I don't really know anymore....)

More next week!

Sunday Stealing

Another week, another quiz ripped from Sunday Stealing. They call this one the "Presuppose you live in New England" Quiz.

1. Have you turned the heat on in your house yet this fall?

Yes, but only a handful of times. Those days are coming, though.

In a yearly ritual, we had to have the apartment complex maintenance guys come out and re-light our pilot light when it got cold enough for us to want the heat on. You'd think I could do this myself, but they've got the heaters installed in such a way that I can't really get at the pilot light housing without difficulty, so we just figure, hey, that's what they're paid for. And wouldn't you know it: the two weeks after that were warm ones again. Only now are we starting to think, "Hmmmm, should we fire up the heat or not?"

2. Do you allow your pets on the furniture?

Yes, because (a) a lot of our furniture just ain't nice enough to worry that much about, and (b) they're cats and they'll be on the furniture as soon as we go out anyway.

3. What were your final words for September?

"Come again soon!" I like September a lot.

4. What are your first words for October?

"Ohhhh, greetings, old lover. Come and stay a while...let us lay together in the dark for a time." Yeah, I really like October.

5. Do you think you’ve ever seen a ghost?

No. As much as I'd love to live in a world that has ghosts and such in it, we don't live in that world.

6. What is the one color that represents this time of year?

Orange, maybe. Or red, because a lot of my favorite long-sleeved shirts are red.

7. Which of your senses do you think is most sensitive this time of year?

Smell, I think. But maybe that's because the air is so much clearer and crisper, and the smells are carried on its wings so much easier than during the humid, aroma-free breezes of summer.

8. What is your favorite thing to do at the county fair?


9. What do you like when you have a cold?

Colds suck, they really do. Generally, I'm all about hot tea when I'm sick. (But during the chiller months, I drink tea anyway.)

10. Are you willing to spend over $100 for a piece of winter clothing, like boots or a coat?

Not at present.

12. What do you have too much of in your kitchen?

I just this morning discovered that we have a lot of soy sauce. Not sure why that is.

13. What gripes do you have about this time of year?

My favorite NFL team is awful. And living in Buffalo, it always irks me that fall is absolutely stunning here, but it doesn't get the respect it deserves; instead, lots of Buffalonians spend our gorgeous autumns bitching about the snow that is in the offing a month or two from now. We know it's coming, and yet, we bitch about it. Drives me crazy. We should be pushing fall as a tourist thing -- come for leaf-peeping that's just as awesome as Vermont's, plus the benefits of a big city!

14. Other than yourself, are you responsible for getting anyone ready in the morning?

The Daughter is pretty much self-sufficient in terms of getting herself ready for school now, but I still make sure she's up and moving right along.

15. When was the last time you cleaned your gutters?

Never. We'll own a house someday, though, and this crappy job will be mine. Ugh.

16. So, it’s after Labor Day. Will you still be wearing white?

I don't wear a whole lot of white, but I won't let the time of year stop me. This, like just about every other fashion "rule", is stupid. [Danger! Rant forthcoming!] In fact, "fashion" as a whole is stupid. I hate "fashion". "I'd like to wear that, but it's not in right now!" What a dumb thought process that is. [Rant has been terminated.]

17. What shows are you most looking forward to this Fall?

I'm guessing this quiz is old already, because we're well into the swing of the teevee season. All the usual suspects, I suppose, although we're gathering quite the backlog of Grey's Anatomy episodes now. We'll have a marathon sometime.

What I'm really looking forward to is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the movie theater. Can't wait. Part One opens sometime this winter.

18. What three things have you just not gotten around to from the summer, but probably should do before snow flies?

Nothing really, except for changing the oil on The Wife's car. First I need to get hold of a couple of those ramp-things to elevate the front of the car, though; this will make things easier.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Universe!!!

On October 23, 4004 BC, God decided that there needed to be a Universe, so he made one: this one! Yay, God! Yay, Universe! Yay, Bishop Ussher for figuring this out!

(Orrrrr, one could take the messy view espoused by those nasty Scienticians, who think that some kind of natural processes shaped the entire Universe over the course of 15 billion years. Stupid Scienticians!)

The Piratical Epoch continues....

Roger talks about baseball. I used to love baseball -- maybe even more than I loved football. I loved the game's slower pace, the way a game unfolded rather than took place. I loved how long the thrilling moments of tension would last, and the way that in the hands of skilled spostscasters, those moments would almost seem cinematic in a way that the tense moments in football often are not. In a football game, when your team is trying to drive for a winning score in the final moments, it's still Come to the line, set, snap the ball. But when watching a baseball game, in a tight spot in the 9th inning -- well, let's say your team is holding a one-run lead with one out in the 9th. Your team's closer is on the mound, and he's a pretty good closer as closers go, but he's got one run already on base and the next two batters up are the best hitters the other team's got. The way this might unfold on teevee? Instead of football's "Watch the guys come to the line and snap the ball, always from the same angle", in baseball you'll often get a series of shots:

Closeup on the pitcher as he leans forward to see the signs.

Long shot so we can see the catcher.

Quick cut to the guy at first, getting a good jump.

Back to the pitcher, who takes his stance.

Cut to the batter, who taps the plate with the bat and readies for his swing.

Back to the pitcher, who glances over his shoulder at the guy at first.

Back to the long shot. The catcher readies for the pitch.

The pitcher stands there, ready. Glances at first again. Seems about to wind up.

He winds up, and finally, when the tension's greatest and the crowd is screaming wildly, here's the pitch.

The batter swings.

Makes contact.

The ball goes...somewhere. Where? Well, that determines the next moment.

That's what it's like when baseball is really good. When it's bad, though -- well, this parody (from Buffalo's own WGR Sports Radio) isn't as far off as you might think. ("Greg Buck" is a character they use in fake "authentic" broadcasts which are often utterly hilarious.) Baseball's problems are well-established -- the games take way too long, the big post-season games start so late that they often end well after midnight, the game's lack of real revenue-sharing hampers small-market teams to a point, and of course, the steroid issue which makes a lot of it just seem fake, anyway.

It would be easy to me to say that those reasons are the main factors in my not really paying much attention to baseball anymore, but the truth is...that photo up there. That's Sid Bream, beating a throw from Barry Bonds in Game Seven of the 1992 National League Series. Bream's run was the winning run, which put the Atlanta Braves in the World Series for the second year in a row. (They'd lose the Series to Toronto, in what was the first of Toronto's back-to-back Series wins. Neat baseball factoid: Joe Carter made the final out of the 1992 World Series, and then the next year, scored the final walk-off run of the 1993 Series. Two consecutive series ended on Joe Carter doing something.)

That NLCS was one of the most nauseating experiences I've ever had as a sports fan. The Pirates had fallen behind in the NLCS, 3 games to 1, and their loss seemed a foregone conclusion. But then they won Game 5, and after that, they won Game 6 in a big way, with their big bats finally exploding for a bunch of runs. In Game 7, they took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th. All they had to do was record three outs...but instead, the Braves scored three runs, with the final two coming on a single from a backup catcher named Francisco Cabrera whom no one had ever heard of before (and no one's heard from since). Cabrera's hit is burned on my brain: the pitch from Stan Belinda, and Cabrera's swing in which he just kind of flailed the bat out there, seeming to have zero idea of where the pitch actually was -- until he'd smacked it over shortstop Jay Bell's head into left field.

And Barry Bonds couldn't throw out Sid Bream, who is legendary for being one of the slowest guys on the basepaths in baseball history.

My love of baseball didn't end that night, obviously. I'd watch it for some years afterward, loyally and faithfully. But what did end that night was the last season in which my team didn't suck. The Pirates have posted a losing record every year since that one. Eighteen of 'em. Nobody has ever done that, in any sport. They've had at least five distinct "rebuilding efforts" since then, and another is supposedly underway right now. But hope for Pirates fans does not spring eternal, as we've seen kids born the last time the Pirates were a winning team first turn old enough to drive...and then old enough to vote. Just three more, and they're old enough to drink.

When you favorite team sucks for that long, it's no surprise that your enthusiasm for the sport in general flags a bit.

Just seeing what's happened in baseball in general since 1992 is amazing. Players have played entire long careers in that span, and never encountered a good Pirates team. The game's hallowed records have fallen (owing to drugs, of course). The Boston Red Sox won the World Series twice, finally ending their curse; the Chicago White Sox won the Series once, ending their own long drought. Major League Baseball expanded twice, adding four teams (Colorado, Florida, Tampa, and Arizona); each of those teams has been to the World Series since entering MLB, and two have won it (Florida twice and Arizona once). When last the Pirates were good, the Yankees were fourteen years removed from their last Series win; since then, they've won five and appeared in two more. When the Pirates were good, the Angels, Astros and Rangers were all known for not being good very often. Since then, the Angels have won a Series, the Astros have been to their first, and the Rangers are about to go to their first.

Wow. A lot of water under the baseball bridge. And the Pirates still stink.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hello weekend!

Gimme beer!!!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

It sure strikes me as odd that science is doing no inquiry that I know of into the odd phenomenon that beer tastes better on Friday than it does on Tuesday. How does the beer know what day it is?!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Vacation Report (or, Recent Adventures in Overalls)

A couple of weeks back, I took a short vacation. OK, it was actually a five-day weekend, but I called it a vacation, because that's what it felt like. Below is a really long recitation of stuff I did on that vacation, complete with lots of photos, so it's after the break.


I'm doing a small bit of tinkering underneath the hood. Very small. But I've finally gotten up off of me arse and figured how to implement expandable posts here on Byzantium's Shores, so I'll be able to conceal longer posts (and posts in which I use lots of photos) by hiding the rest of the content behind a link. Which is something that lots of blogs have been able to do since, oh, 2003 or so, but hey, I am quick on the draw!

Something for Thursday

From Fantasia 2000, here's one of my favorite segments: an excerpt from Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto, used to score the fairy tale "The Steadfast Tin Soldier".

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Help me, Readers!

An old friend of mine e-mailed me thusly:

Hey, I was wondering if you would know which older movie featured a battle scene wherein the protagonist and antagonist morphed into various creatures...but since it was well before morph technology, the screen showed neon-like outlines of the animals (in electric blue and neon red, as I recall). Was it Clash of the Titans '81? A Conan movie? Something else entirely? I saw that little bit of the movie as a kid, and it has stuck in my memory ever since. Do you have any idea what I'm writing about?

And I can kinda picture a scene in my head like what he's talking about, but nothing specific enough that adds up to a memory. I know I have a number of readers who ought to be right up on their late 70s/early 80s F&SF flicks, so can anyone shed some light on what Mark's movie might have been?

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Finish the sentence: What Kelly needs is....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So. Glee.

A well-done high-school show is a great thing. So is a well-done musical. Glee's popularity seems to imply that it is both of those things. So why is it that whenever I watch it, I'm astonished by the degree to which it is not?

Glee is awful. I hate it. Hate hate hate it. It is so, so, so bad. Here's a partial list of things I would rather do than watch Glee:

Watch Phyllis Diller torture puppies
Eat broccoli
Sit through The Usual Suspects again
Attend an all-Hindemith concert music program
Work my way through the entire discography of Ace of Base
Venture out in public with no shirt on beneath my overalls
Get hit with a pecan pie
Peel 50 lbs of potatoes
Vote Republican
Discuss the Star Wars Prequel trilogy with anybody at Ain't It Cool News
Eat medium-rare chicken
Visit the Creation Museum
Drink a glass of vegetable oil

Yeah, you get the idea.

(Light blogging for another few days, by the way. I'm trying to clear the decks on several things at home and get up some momentum on a few others.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sentential Links #224

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd away we go!

:: This is the year of Republican Revenge and all they want is to bring the temple crashing down around their ears in order to enjoy the sight of their enemies being crushed in the rubble.

:: Whew. Scary story. Fortunately, it is only a “what if.” Good thing we voted for change.

:: Snark is easier than describing something delicious.

:: So I have decided to disconnect one day a week to be "alone" without a thousand tweets, comments, status messages, replies, and emails. I will spend one full day a week alone with my thoughts.

:: Kirk and Spock still mean a great deal to me, but I just sort of moved on to other interests.

:: I don't get you, sign-carriers. I mean, setting aside all kinds of other things we could argue about, I'll tell you straight up that the whole "justification by faith" thing makes no flipping sense to me whatsoever. It makes my head hurt. (I'll never, ever understand that, either.)

:: FLAPJACKS: We totally need to set up a D&D game.
ME: There is never a time when that sentence is true.

:: And I’m still trying to wrap my head around Ravelry. I love the whole thing, but its HUGE. Like a secret cult – of fiber folks - that I can’t quite figure out – I love getting lost in the site! (Isn't that the truth! I've watched The Wife spend long periods of time over there.)

:: When I was working full time (from the time I was 18 until I was 59 this year), my life was very structured. Structured to the point of making me crazy, stressed and irritable because of lack of down time. All of a sudden, it's not structured at all. This new loosey-goosey life makes me feel exuberant, worrisome, productive and lazy all at the same time.

More next week!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Stealing

Continuing the quiz I began last week from Sunday Stealing:

26. Do you like someone?

There's this girl from Iowa I'm rather fond of. Luckily I'm already married to her.

27. The last song you listened to?

"Happy Together" was on the radio when I drove home from work.

28. What time of day were you born?

I think it was between 10:00 and 11:00 pm, if I remember right. (That is to say, if I remember what my parents once told me. It's not like I remember that night itself!)

29. What’s your favorite number?

You know, I've never much understood the idea of a favorite number. Different numbers for different contexts, says I.

30. Where did you live in 1987?

Allegany, NY. That's when I was in 10th and 11th grades.

31. Are you jealous of anyone?

I'm jealous of Joss Whedon.

32. Is anyone jealous of you?

Doubtful, but that just mean's they're stupid.

33. Where were you when 9/11 happened?

I was on my way to work when I first heard of the first crash. The second crash, the Pentagon, and the downing of United 93 happened once I was already at work. It was a terrifying day, and it just felt to me the height of absurdity to be making sales calls on that day.

34. What do you do when vending machines steal your money?

If there's a service desk at the business where it's located, I say, "Hey, that machine stole my money." If not, then I walk away, grumbling. I don't often use vending machines, though. I don't really trust them and find them overpriced and unnecessary, in this day and age when convenience stores are everywhere.

35. Do you consider yourself kind?

Yes, but what kind? Hmmmmm!

36. If you had to get a tattoo, where would it be?

Shoulder, or ankle. Someplace that doesn't show too much. (You wouldn't see a shoulder tattoo on me, as I never wear tanktops.)

37. If you could be fluent in any other language, what would it be?

Russian. Or French.

38. Would you move for the person you loved?

I have, and so has she.

39. Are you touchy feely?


40. What’s your life motto?

"Keep smiling, because you never know what life is going to throw in your face next!"

41. Name three things that you have on you at all times?

There's nothing that I have on me at all times. When I go out, I try to always have my wallet, my cellphone, and my keys. I like to have my pocket knife too, but that's dependent on me remembering to transfer it from one jacket to another.

42. What’s your favourite town/city?


43. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?

Some drinks on the way home from Pumpkinville yesterday.

44. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?

Wrote a letter? Several years, I think.

45. Can you change the oil on a car?


46. Your first love: what is the last thing you heard about him/her?

Let's see, who do I consider my "first love"? I'm Facebook-friends with a girl on whom I had a wicked crush early in my high school career; luckily that faded reasonably quickly and she and I became good friends after that, then lost track after we both graduated (she a year before me), and then reconnected via FB a couple of years back. The first girl I dated in college? She turned out to be crazy at the time, and I was crazy too, so that just wasn't a terribly good match, but wow, did it sure suck at the time. (It was one of those "I'm really into you! I'm not." kinds of breakups.) As I understand it, she remained crazy for a while, then became sane, and eventually ended up with a guy to whom she's been married and had kids with ever since.

Funny thing? My experience with her took place the first semester of our Freshman year. One day when we were both Seniors, I went with my roommate to get some lunch at Subway. She waited on us...and I didn't even recognize that it was her. It was only when we were walking back to campus that my roommate said something like, "Wow, you let _____ make your sub and you didn't bat an eye!" To which I said, "Wait, that was her? Wow, I guess I'm over that one now! Hooray!"

47. How far back do you know about your ancestry?

My grandparents. That's it. I always feel like I should know more about my genealogy...but I just don't care that much.

48. The last time you dressed fancy, what did you wear and why did you dress fancy?

Define "fancy". I wore a nice sweater and pants to go see Mary Poppins the other night. I haven't put a necktie on since a job interview I had in 2003 (good thing, too, as the company with which I interviewed no longer even exists). I'm not sure I even remember how to tie a tie at this point, and I'm fine with this, as I regard ties as utterly goofy and idiotic. (Bow ties with tuxedos excepted; I do like and admire super formal wear, but occasions for that sort of attire are few and far between. And speaking of which, I do prefer bow ties with tuxes. Not the regular ties.)

49. Does anything hurt on your body right now?

Well, when I stick this needle in my eye, it gives a nice sharp pain! Otherwise, no.

50. Have you been burned by love?

See above! And once more after that. The next one, though? To paraphrase Monty Python, for me the next one was the castle that did not sink into the swamp!

And that's that.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: The slow-blogging manifesto.

Yeah, that's all I got this week. I wasn't around as much this week as usual for surfing Teh Interweb. More next week, though!

Impeach! Impeach!

I've seen a bit of discussion around the few left-wing blogs I still read in which folks offer predictions as to if, and therefore when, a Republican Congress will impeach President Obama. So, my take is this: it won't happen in 2011 or in 2012, simply because if the Republicans take Congress this year, they -- and the media that crowns every political development in the United States as great news for Republicans and further evidence for the notion that the US is a "center-right nation" -- will see President Obama as mortally wounded, and they will bank on being able to easily beat him in 2012.

Now, if they're in control of Congress and President Obama wins a second term -- the latter of which still seems fairly likely to me -- then I think the probability of a Republican charge to impeachment on some kind of weird grounds is almost a certainty. Why? Because having a Democrat in the White House makes Republicans just insane.

Sunrise over Orchard Park

Sunrise over Orchard Park, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

The sunrise sky was particularly striking one morning last week, so I aimed my phone over my shoulder and snapped a picture. Yeah, it's all blurry and stuff, but the colors are the important thing here. We get beautiful sunrises and sunsets here. (I think I read somewhere that Buffalo is the only major city east of the Mississippi where you can see the sun set over water, owing to its position on Lake Erie.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The future's pretty cool!

Earlier tonight, I was sitting at my desk, sipping a cup of tea, while I used my portable personal computer to watch video that was streaming wirelessly in my home. The video I was watching was live coverage of something happening. The event I was watching was taking place five thousand miles away: a bunch of people rescuing 33 miners from the hole more than 2000 feet below the ground where they've been trapped for more than two months.

This event is really, really amazing. I can't think of any other words for it. First of all, those miners themselves are astounding. They kept their heads and their wits about them for two months, especially at the very beginning when they were likely the most terrified and confused about what was happening. And the rescuers -- they didn't rush things or stab in the dark. They studied the problem, thought about it, and came up with the best possible plan. Which they then executed perfectly.

Watching today's rescue unfold, I was thinking of the movie Apollo 13, and the true-life events surrounding it. That, too, was a case of people trapped in a life-threatening situation in a place where they could not be easily reached; that, too, was a case of people working together in a staggering display of teamwork to solve the problems to bring them home. Both the tale of the astronauts and the tale of the miners show what humans can accomplish when they're at their best.

Congratulations to everyone involved. What an amazing story!

(I'll bet that rescue capsule is very soon the most popular exhibit in whatever the biggest museum is in Santiago, Chile!)

Ten Thirteen

Happy Birthday, Chris Carter!

I think it's about time I started re-watching The X-Files.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Brief meme-things like to make their way through Facebook with some frequency, and I liked the look of this one, so I thought I'd use it in this spot this week. Here it is:

You and I wake up in jail together. Using only four words, what would you say to me?

Have at it!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Castle is just such a good show. It really is. I've sung its praises before, but I really loved last night's episode. It revolved around a murder in the New York City steampunk community, and among the show's usual strengths -- wonderful dialogue, great chemistry in the cast, et cetera -- I liked the depiction of the steampunk community. Basically, Castle did not take the easy way out and depict steampunk as a geeky, nerdy, uncool thing.

Now, I'm not the world's biggest fan of steampunk; I like a good steampunk tale as much as anybody, but I don't love it more than other stuff. But steampunk is cool and fun, and Castle made it and fun, right down to Castle's pitch-perfect definition of steampunk to Detective Beckett:

[Steampunk is] a subculture that embraces the simplicity and romance of the past and at the same time couples it with the hope and promise and sheer supercoolness of futuristic design.

How perfect is that! I can't help but wonder how, say, the CSI shows would depict such a steampunk club. They'd no doubt make it a creepy, eerie, nasty thing that only people with horrible social skills could embrace. Kind of like how they depicted furries and "sploshers" and midget conventions and lots of other stuff.

Kudos to Castle! Best show on teevee.

Dear Carl

You know what you are when you hold disgusting, bigoted beliefs because your religion tells you to?

You're a disgusting bigot.

Thanks for the opportunity to clear that up.

BTW, I saw this comment on Facebook this morning:

People will vote for him because they don't see the advantage in voting for a "good person," if Cuomo even represents that. How does Carl being bigoted or homophobic affect them? How does having an open minded person affect them? If the open minded person raises their taxes, drives away business, and makes their children leave for NC, can you blame them for voting for the nut?

Yup, I can blame them. They could have chosen a candidate who wasn't a nut, and who would channel their frustration into reasonable policy goals that would move things in a direction they like. Instead, they chose a lunatic whose approach is to say whatever leaps into his brain; who has advanced only a few policy ideas, each of which is a laughable non-starter; whose only appeal to his voters is anger that won't go anywhere at all. Anger can be useful, but Paladino's brand of anger won't be. You can bank on it.

So yes, I can totally blame people for voting for the nut.

55 Questions about books

Brazenly stolen from Sheila! I thought I had done this one before, but after a brief search of the archives, I don't think I have, although some variation of these questions have turned up many times before in other book quizzes.

1. Favorite childhood book?

I probably need to go with The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander here. I've mentioned it in this space many times, but multiple mentions never hurt anybody, did they? It's the series that put me firmly in the "OMG, I love a good epic fantasy!" track, pretty much for life. (Even if it does get harder to find what I consider a good epic fantasy.)

But I also have to mention The House with a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs. My love of the gothic, the horrific, stems from that book. It continues to amaze me that there are no film adaptations of Bellairs's books! The Treasure of Alpheus T. Winterborn or The Curse of the Blue Figurine would make amazing books -- albeit with some pitfalls that would have to be handled correctly by filmmakers, specifically the fact that in just about every Bellairs book, the young hero's best friend is an adult. When done poorly, that's just a train wreck.

2. What are you reading right now?

Coyote, by Allen Steele -- an SF book (first in a series) about the colonization of an Earth-like moon 40-some lightyears away. So far, so good.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I'm reading this in small pieces, about ten to fifteen pages a day, and am as of this writing about 150 pages from the end. I'm surprised by the fact that there's not a whole lot of story in the book, and by the degree to which Melville's chapters about whales and the sea are absolutely amazing.

The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles, by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. I'm only a little way into it.

I've also been dipping into What Do YOU Care What Other People Think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard Feynman. I like to have books around to "dip" into, like poetry collections, cookbooks, essay compilations, "how-to" books (the "Dummies" books tend to be great for this kind of reading).

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

Right now, none, but I use the library and my request list very frequently.

4. Bad book habit?

Hmmmm. When I want to blog a passage from a book, I often prop it open on my desk, beside the computer, using whatever I can grab to weigh it down so it stays open to the right page. Sometimes this results in the book snapping shut anyway, causing stuff to fall all over.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

The Beatles book and the Feynman book, mentioned above; a few others that I don't recall offhand because the stack is out of my line of sight right now. We go to the library weekly, and I never leave without a few books. Sometimes I come up with nifty stuff from the New Books section; other times I browse the older stuff and grab interesting items. I also like to check out things that look like they're not checked out very often at all, in hopes that my checking it out will give it a stay of execution next time the library weeds the collection.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

No. I suppose I will have to, someday, but I really like paper. Here's a wonderful article about the social aspect of reading that Kindles and the like may damage beyond repair:

Remember when you could tell a lot about a guy by what cassette tapes—Journey or the Smiths?—littered the floor of his used station wagon? No more, because now the music of our lives is stored on MP3 players and iPhones. Our important papers live on hard drives or in the computing cloud, and DVDs are becoming obsolete, as we stream movies on demand. One by one, the meaningful artifacts that we used to scatter about our apartments and cars, disclosing our habits to any visitor, are vanishing from sight.

Nowhere is this problem more apparent, and more serious, than in the imperilment of the Public Book—the book that people identify us by because they can glimpse it on our bookshelves, or on a coffee table, or in our hands. As the Kindle and Nook march on, people's reading choices will increasingly be hidden from view. We'll go into people's houses or squeeze next to them on the subway, and we'll no longer be able to know them, or judge them, or love them, or reject them, based on the books they carry.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

Several. People sometimes ask how I can keep multiple books straight in my head; if the books are different, then it's easy. In fact, it's easy anyway. How do you keep from confusing all the teevee shows you watch straight in your head? Same thing with books.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

I don't read any more or less since then, but I do pick up reading recommendations from Blogistan all the time.

9. Least favorite book you read this year?

This year?'s been a while since I genuinely disliked something. The last book I really remember disliking was Twilight, but that was almost two years ago. I had to dig through my archives to find the last time I panned a book, and here it is. It's an epic fantasy that just didn't grab me, at all.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

Guy Gavriel Kay's gloriously beautiful Under Heaven, which I reviewed for GMR and followed up upon here.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Tough question, mainly because I'm not terribly sure of what my "comfort zone" is. I'm more like to choose something to read because it interests me, rather than because it falls within some set of parameters delineating the extent to which I like to challenge myself.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

See above.

13. Can you read on the bus?

Sure, if I was a bus rider. I can read on planes and in cars, though. No doubt I can read on trains.

14. Favorite place to read?

Home. I also like to read in coffee places, though.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

"You will return this, under penalty of death."

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Never intentionally.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

I used to -- I have a bunch of college texts that I suppose I'll never be able to donate anywhere because of all the underlining and marginalia I used to do. Now, though, not as much.

18. Not even with text books?


19. What is your favorite language to read in?


20. What makes you love a book?

It depends on what the book is about, right? If it's fiction, I want characters I can understand and care about. I also want a setting that seems real, even if it's not. I love the "sense of wonder" (or "sensawunda") that the really good SF can create. I want adventure, and I don't mind bad things happening to characters, but I don't want unending gloom-and-doom, either.

For nonfiction, I need clarity, good explanations, evidence of the writer's passion, and lively prose. I hate dry, academic writing.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

If I love it, I'll recommend it...maybe. Problem is, finding someone for whom the recommendation might work. Most of my heavy-duty reading friends are online.

22. Favorite genre?

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Huh. I don't read much romance or Westerns, but I don't really wish I did. Not that I avoid those genres; they're just not as much what I like as the stuff I already read.

24. Favorite biography?

Berlioz and the Romantic Century, by Jacques Barzun; Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos, by William Poundstone; Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, by Dale Pollack; The Moon's a Balloon, by David Niven.

Truth to tell, I don't read enough biographies.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

Not many, unless "How To" books count. Stephen King's On Writing, perhaps. Oh wait, that also counts as biography! Score!!!

26. Favorite cookbook?

Oooooh, I love cookbooks. I've always had great luck with Emeril Lagasse's books; my favorite is his Emeril's Potluck book.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or nonfiction)?

The afore-mentioned Under Heaven, by GGK. It's inspirational in the way that all great books are.

I also find inspiration in small places: for instance, articles in how-to magazines that teach me something new or that make me simply realize, "Oh yeah, I could totally do that!"

28. Favorite reading snack?

I like to snack, I like to read. When I do one is not necessarily dependent upon when I do the other.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

I wouldn't say this has ever happened, except for times when something hyped turned out to be something I loathed (hello, Twilight!). I have hesitated from reading books that were heavily hyped, though. Such as Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I rarely pay the slightest attention to reviews.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I'll do it if it's a review book for GMR or elsewhere, or if my reaction to the book was so negative that I just have to rip it. (Again, hello, Twilight!) Mostly, though, I don't bother finishing books I don't like, and I rarely bother to write about them.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?


33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

I don't get "intimidated", per se. No matter how many times Brothers K defeats me, I'll never be intimidated by it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

Again: I'm not intimidated to read.

35. Favorite poet?

Tennyson. Or Shakespeare.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

Between 6 and 18.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

All the time.

I've said this before, but I do like repeating myself, so: I just don't understand readers who don't use libraries. I don't get it. I love to buy books as much as anyone, and if I stopped buying now and only read what I own at this moment until I read everything on my shelves, I suspect that several years will have elapsed. But I'll never ever ever be able to afford to own a copy of every book I'd like to read. Being able to read, for free? What possible rationale could I have for not doing this?

38. Favorite fictional character?

Just one? That's madness, utter madness! But OK, I guess...ummm...Bilbo Baggins.

39. Favorite fictional villain?

Lady Macbeth? Iago? Lord Voldemort? Alpheus T. Winterborn? Father Baart? So many.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

I usually bring whatever I'm already reading, plus another book or two and maybe a magazine if I'm planning to be gone more than a day or two.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

I'm never not reading, but sometimes I go through "slackish" spells during which I read a lot less.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

Brothers K. But I'll get there, oh yes.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

Teevee. The cats, who decide that their need for attention outweighs my need for literature. The Wife, telling me that dinner is ready.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

Presumed Innocent was kind of disappointing -- it made a riveting book into a fairly lackadaisically-paced thriller. And maybe I'm stretching things, but as fun as they are, the Spiderman movies take some awful liberties with the Spidey mythos.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

Around a hundred bucks, probably.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

No set time, really. Some I'll skim a lot before reading; others I won't touch at all from the time I put it on the shelf after purchase to the time I read it.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

Characters who bore me; a plot that refuses to do anything interesting. Sometimes I "bounce" off books, too; for one reason or another (and sometimes a reason I can't even put my finger on) I'm just not "feeling it" with that particular book, and it's on to something else.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

To a small extent, but I don't do very well at this, primarily because I don't have nearly enough shelves and thus resort to the dreaded Enormous Stacks of Books On The Floor And Tables Syndrome. Not at all conducive to organization. So when I want to find a specific book, I often have a struggle on my hands.

Once in a great while I'll become convinced that I own a certain book and spend lots of time searching for it...only to eventually remember that while I heavily considered buying it, and maybe even carried it around the bookstore for an hour or two, I ultimately didn't make the purchase after all.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

I prefer to keep, but once in a while I do a mini-purge.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

I don't necessarily avoid books, but I just keep finding stuff I'd rather read. I've had Master and Commander on my shelf for years, but I just never get round to it. Why? I dunno. No real explanation.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

Hello, Twilight! The stench-filled awfulness of that book really pissed me off. And then there was the Nicholas Sparks book that was a sequel to an earlier which neither of the lovers dies, so guess what happens in the sequel! (And yet, I can't quit the guy. Sigh....)

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

Hmmmm. I never read anything I don't expect to like on some level. I was surprised at the extent to which I loved Kushiel's Dart; I was just in the mood for a good Fat Fantasy, and it was so much more than that.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

I've been disillusioned with George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, ever since the series stalled after the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. The first two books in the series were amazing, wonderful, and brutal; the third was still good, but it started to feel a bit like brutality and shock for the sake of brutality and shock. The fourth, though, was a mess, with Martin actually admitting in the Author's Note that he'd basically taken a much larger book and chopped it in half just to get something out there.

I also expected to like Twilight. I really did. Vampires? Teen romance? If done well, that book would have been awesome. Instead, it was the worst reading experience of my last five years.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. (Except, possibly, for the fact that I don't hate Nicholas Sparks but feel like I maybe should!)

Wow, that was a long quiz. Fun, though!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Taughannock Falls, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

OK, I didn't want my one-sentence rant about Carl Paladino (the next post down) to be the top-most item on this blog for most of the day, so here's a pretty picture. This is Taughannock Falls, located near Ithaca. We were just there last week (more pics to come from that trip). We've gone this time of year for the last three or four years, although we don't stop by Taughannock Falls each year (even though it is very easy to get to). This year, the week preceding our trip was much rainier than usual, so I figured there'd be a lot more water going over the brink than we've seen in the past, and I was right. What a beautiful spot.

(I would have liked to get a pic of The Wife and I there, in front of the Falls, but some putz was taking up most of the scenic overlook with his tripod. My photo, taken by hand with our little $70 Kodak point-and-shoot, probably turned out just as nice as whatever he was doing!)

A one-sentence rant

Carl Paladino is a loathsome shit.

Sentential Links #223

Linkage! Time fer linkage here!

:: Pie is more meaningful than old world family recipes. (I just found this blog last week. It's a blog by a woman who actually lives in the "American Gothic" house and likes overalls. And the title of the blog is The World Needs More Pie, which I always agree with. Overalls and pie? Awesome!)

:: I guess I'm just trying to say that while GRACE is my passion, my mission, I'm not always filled with it myself. I can be as ungracious as the next person.

:: Some of films most loved time travellers all come together to make me relive every high school dance I ever went to. (Love this. New blog to me, btw.)

:: What kind of world would we be living in if every selfish, self-infatuated little prick decided he was a Howard Roark or a John Galt?

Seemed to me Dostoevsky had already asked and answered that one.

A world in which selfish, self-infatuated little pricks take axes to the heads of little old ladies.

:: When people put me on hold and force me to listen to their music I should be able to force them to listen to my music. That’s only fair, right?

:: Arg. Reason # 34,567 why life in the 21st Century sucks...

:: Thanks to the many faithful readers who took time out of their busy weekends to email me the great news that millions of dollars are going to be spent creating a Family Circus movie. (The comments on that story I linked to are actually pretty great, my favorites being “Hell yeah! This means The Lockhorns can’t be far behind! Team Loretta!” and “Who asked for this? Ida Know. Who wants to see it? Not me.”) (Oh, no. No no no noooooo. Not a Family Circus movie. Please oh please. I beg of you, in the name of all the souls in all the world. Besides, what would that movie look like? Would the image be a circle projected at the center of a standard movie screen?!)

:: Fun comics fact: Uncanny X-Men #164 to Excalibur #24 take place over a single 365-day period, according to Chris Claremont. (Kitty Pryde’s 14th birthday takes place while she’s in space, infected with a Brood embryo, while her 15th birthday takes place right after she returns from the Cross-Time Caper.) This means that everything during that span, including both Secret Wars, Iron Man’s losing his company during his descent into alcoholism and his subsequent return to power as CEO, Spider-Man changing his costume from red-and-blue to black and then back to red-and-blue, Captain America being stripped of his super-heroic identity by the federal government and returned to power, several line-up changes in the Fantastic Four, the entire invasion at the hands of the Dire Wraiths and subsequent war, the destruction of Xavier’s mansion and the seeming death of the entire team of X-Men, the Mutant Massacre, and the temporary conversion of New York into a demonic outpost of the Limbo dimension…all take place in one year. Gives a new definition to “annus horribilis”, doesn’t it? (Aieee!)

:: The only thing I'm 100% sure about? I never want to see scattered hairs in a freezer again.

More next week!