Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Runnin' off the Rails

Our Thanksgiving modus operandi around here, in recent years, has been to meet my parents at a local restaurant for dinner, after which they spirit away The Daughter for a couple of days of quality time while The Wife and I enjoy some quality time as well. Usually, then, after T-giving dinner, The Wife and I go to a movie. After seeing Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and The Men Who Stare At Goats on previous Thanksgivings past, we've decided that our post-enormous dinner movie is better an action film of some sort. (Well, OK, calling Goats an action movie is a bit of a stretch. But as much as we enjoy a good romantic comedy, we don't do rom-coms on T-giving.)

So this year's movie was Unstoppable.

And seriously – that movie is a friggin' blast.

It's about as slick an entertainment as you'll ever see. There's really nothing that happens in it that is a surprise in any way, and in fact, you can almost feel the cliche's falling into place, one by one by one. Unstoppable falls into the action movie subcategory of "Race against time toward an unavoidable disaster". There's a big long freight train in rural Pennsylvania that (a) is pulling a whole bunch of cars filled with stuff that will either explode hugely or poison half the state, and (b) has managed to get away from the freight yard workers. Oh, and it's not just gently rolling away, either: it's under full throttle, with no one at the controls.

Enter, at the other end of the line, another freight train. This one is driven by two guys: the grizzled old veteran of the rails whose career's end is being forced upon him (Denzel Washington), and the young railroader who is smart and well-trained but who has only been on the job a few months and has the misfortune of being related to someone higher up the coporate food chain (Chris Pine). They're just kind of ambling out onto their day, taking a train from point A to point B, when they learn that there's this much bigger train that's out of control and it's heading right for them.

So, already we have the old vet who knows everything because he's incredibly experienced, clashing with the young buck who doesn't want to feel stupid. We have the lady running the freight yard who proposes an obvious solution (derail the train in farm country), but she's overruled by the corporate bigwigs who are trying to manage the crisis from a conference room in a skyscraper in Pittsburgh. "Do you know how much money we'll lose if we derail that train!" comes the typical reply from the guy in the nice suit. And of course, option after option fails until the train is, predictably, nearing a big city that can't evacuate in time because it's too big and where the tracks make a kind of curve that no train whipping along at 70 mph could possibly negotiate. Oh, and that particular curve in the tracks is surrounded on all sides by enormous tanks of fuel and such. See what I mean? Every clich̩ in the book Рand I haven't even mentioned the train full of kids on a school trip.

What I liked most about the movie was the way it got the ball rolling very early on. There is almost no tedious set-up here; less than ten minutes in, the train is out of control and certain disaster is about to strike. What little bits of backstory and character history we get throughout the movie come in little bits, here and there; no long speeches. Unstoppable keeps its eye on the prize, and delivers. It's a terrifically fun flick. See it!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cutting the meat for her? Why not just eat it, too?!

Photo958, originally uploaded by All Things Jennifer.

Jennifer Smith posted this photo, and I remember seeing the article in the paper. It cracked me up. Someone wrote in to Miss Manners to ask if the man should cut the lady's meat at the table; Miss Manners pithily responded along the lines of "only if she's five".

When I worked in restaurants, I never saw a man cutting his date's meat for her. But I did see men ordering for the women, which I found a pretty creepy exercise. Less so at Pizza Hut, obviously, where it's "We'll get a large supreme." But when I worked at Bob Evans, I was always bugged on the odd occasion when I heard a man say "I'll have the Western Omelet, and she'll have the Rise-and-Shine Breakfast, over easy, with bacon." This wasn't terribly often, but it did happen, and when it did, I invariably looked for some sign that the woman was deaf or mute. Never was.

And then I remember this one guy. As a manager, one of the ways I would handle being in the dining room and interacting with my customers was to grab a coffee pot and circulate the room, offering refills. One time I approach a table of four, with a guy and his lady friend sitting on one side and an older couple on the other. Each had full cups of coffee except the younger lady, whose cup was empty. I asked her, "Would you like more coffee?" Whereupon her Manly Companion snaps his hand down on top of her cup, glares at me, and says, "NO!" I've always wondered if he thought I was coming on to his date.

Anyway, the idea that there's a man out there who insists on cutting his lady's meat at meals disturbs me. It's like finding out that there are people who believe that the Earth is flat!

The Moonraker? Really?

Here's something cool: a list of the 100 best movie spaceships. I was especially gratified to see that they don't allow the fact that a lot of those movies are, well, total crap to color their estimation of the ships themselves.

Of course, I do have a quibble or two. Like, the Moonraker. Sorry, but it's just a space shuttle, and I know, we got a lot of stuff done with the shuttle over the last thirty years, but face it -- the shuttle was the Honda Accord of spaceships. Nobody's excited by one. Frankly, that goes for the shuttles in Armageddon, too.

:: I don't even remember the ship from Starman, and the photo doesn't do it any favors.

:: I was also less than impressed with the Narada from Star Trek 2009 -- it just seemed like something invented to look threatening on the screen, and there's nothing from the movie to indicate that it was made with Borg technology or whatever. I suppose this is from the comic book that came out before the movie, but that's weak tea, as far as I'm concerned. Plus, I didn't like the way the Narada's weaponry was either powerful enough to swat around entire fleets like flies, or wimpy enough to fail to take out individual ships, based on whatever the needs of the plot happened to be at that moment.

:: Space Cowboy's ship from Battle Beyond the Stars? Among those geeks who have seen that movie, who remembers for a second what Space Cowboy's ship looked like? If you've seen it, you know what ship you remember from that movie. Damn right: Nell, the boobs-in-space spaceship!

:: I always liked the Klingon Bird of Prey from Star Treks III through VI. (I think they might have used it in Generations too, come to that.) Thinking back on Trek, there were a lot of ship designs that I really didn't like, though -- particularly ones from the TNG era, whose Enterprise always looked oddly distended in the saucer section. The Big E on that show looked great from certain angles, and utterly awful from others. And I was never able to figure out which end was up on the TNG-era Romulan Bird of Prey.

:: OK, I know this is geeky fan-stuff, but there are a few Imperial shuttles in use in Return of the Jedi. Only one of them is the Tyderium; that's the one the Rebels use to penetrate the Death Star shield and land on Endor. The one that Vader uses in the first scene? Not the Tyderium. The one the Emperor lands on the Death Star? Not the Tyderium. The one that Vader uses to bring Luke back from Endor to the Death Star? Not the Tyderium. The one that Luke uses to escape the exploding Death Star at movie's end (which is what's pictured in the article)? Not the Tyderium.

:: I'm glad that a little love is given to one of the ship from the Star Wars prequels, which were chock full of fantastic spaceship design. Lots of fans complain that there's not one single ship in the Prequel Trilogy to root for the whole way through, like the Millennium Falcon. Those fans are dummies.

(OK, maybe "dummies" is too strong a word. We'll go with "oddly misinformed".)

Still, a cool article with some surprising entries that I was glad to see on there. Check it out!

Stop the dreading!

Hey all! I hope everyone has had an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend. More to come later on mine, of course, but this annoyed me greatly when I went to the Buffalo News website on Friday morning. I saw this headline, with the text right under it:

On Black Friday, forecast is for white

Southtowns, at least, are expecting 1st snow as winter makes its long-dreaded return to WNY.

The Southtowns are the suburbs south of Buffalo, as you might expect. (Thus, the location of Casa Jaquandor.) So what's irritating about this? That qualifying phrase in the sub-head: long-dreaded.

I, for one, like snow just fine. Sure, I get tired of it in March, but I also get tired of hot weather in September but it's fine in June. Point is, there is entirely too much hating of the snow around here, and there is entirely not enough embracing it. Every time we openly admit that we "dread" the snow, as far as I'm concerned, we're openly admitting as a region that we really wished we were someplace else.

Well, I don't wish I was someplace else. I like it here, snow and all, so let's stop acting like the snow is this awful thing, OK? You know what, Buffalo? Maybe the rest of the country would stop acting as though Buffalo is a godforsaken snowy wasteland all months of the year if we stopped acting like it is too.

Snow rules. Embrace it! And those that don't want to? Charlotte, NC beckons.

End of rant.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

HE CAUGHT IT...oh. Crud.

Steelers 19, Bills 16 in OT. Sigh....

Well, once again, the Bills lose but they do it in such a way that leaves a weird sense of potential optimism for the team's future. Usually when a team gets really bad and has to start rebuilding, they go through a progression of phases. First they're the bad team that everybody wants to play, because they're terrible and an easy win. (This year, the Carolina Panthers seem to be fitting that role.) But there's a phase that sometimes gets overlooked, and that's when you're the bad team that nobody wants to play. That's the Bills this year. Their record is awful and they're still on pace for a pick in the top five of the draft, but damn, they work so hard and play so hard and they just don't make it easy for anybody to beat them.

But they usually get beaten anyway. That's because, right now, the Bills' level of talent just does not match up to their level of heart. When it does, look out. But for now, it's one painful loss after another.

The main goat today is apparently Stevie Johnson, the Bills' certifiably "great story" of the year -- the seventh-round pick who has blossomed in this, his third year, as he puts on fine receiving display after fine receiving display. But today, in overtime, he was wide open for a long pass, a 40-yarder, that Ryan Fitzpatrick put right in his hands as he entered the end zone. He catches that pass, the game ends right there, 22-16 Bills. Instead, Johnson drops the pass, and then just sits on the ground, in stunned disbelief. It was a clutch situation, and he dropped the ball.

Now, Johnson still has a ton of talent, he's still having a great year, and he's still a young player who can learn a valuable lesson here about what it means to be really clutch. And I hope all that happens, because you can't be considered a great receiver if you drop that pass. (For my money, the worse gaffe was Leodis McKelvin's fumbled punt return in OT. The Bills recovered the ball, but they lost about twenty yards on the fumble. Those yards might have been the difference between the drive ending in another punt and the drive ending in a field goal attempt. Oh well.

Anyway, the Bills came close to knocking off one of the NFL's best teams. But instead, once again, it's Pie Time for Bills fans!

What it feels like to be a Bills fan these days

Lots of pie for me this weekend, eh?

A quick "by the way"

If any newer readers want to read more about Little Quinn's life, you can find links to posts I wrote during his days on Earth in my "Notable Dispatches" page, accessible by the tab link at the top of the main body of this blog.

On the "Saga's End" post -- the post I wrote on the day he died -- there was an outpouring of support in comments, but those comments are now gone because they were left on an old commenting system that I no longer use here. I did save them all on my hard drive(s), however. But the general lack of condolence on the post as it exists now does not reflect what happened at the time.

Sunday Stealing

I've missed a few of these, so here's a new Sunday Stealing quiz.

1. If you could interview anyone on your blog (alive or dead) who would you chose and why?

This is a common question, so I'll try to give an answer I haven't given before. Leonard Bernstein.

2. What do you feel is your strength as a blogger?

An almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

OK, that's actually one of the secret weapons of the Spanish Inquisition. I like to think I can string words together in a way that expresses the jumble in my head in a way that doesn't suck.

3. Can you share a little bit about yourself that you have not already mentioned on your blog?

You know, once you've been doing this almost nine years, it's hard to find anything like this that I'm still comfortable mentioning here! I suppose that the pies in my face in the post two down from this one might qualify, but it's there, so...if I haven't mentioned it yet, I'm not likely to!

4. If you were forced to change the name of your blog, what would you change it to? Why?

Opinionation in Overalls. Or Blatherous Babble in Bibs. Or Droning in Dungarees.

5. What do you think is the most fulfilling part of being a blogger?

I love the writing, and when I write a post that I particularly like, I dig the feeling of satisfaction I get as I click "send". But the nature of blogging is the interaction, really. I like it when I get good, thought-provoking comments or links back from other peoples' blogs.

6. What would you do with your last day if you found you had only one more day to live?

Find a bakery and start the biggest pie fight I could.

7. You’ve been doing medical research for decades and have finally found a cure. What was it that you found a cure for and why did you choose this particular ailment?

Oh, man...that's a tough one. Cerebral palsy, which took my son? Or pancreatic cancer, which took my mother-in-law? or could I widen my scope out far enough to eliminate all cancers?

8. What is your most guilty pleasure?

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. I freely and openly admit to liking all of the things I like.

9. Answer only one. What is your favorite book, movie or TV show?

OK, fine, I'll play by the rules, despite my instinct to cheat on questions like this.

Book: The Lord of the Rings
Movie: Star Wars: A New Hope
Teevee Show: Firefly

10. What do you think is the very best smell in the world? The one smell that can take you back to a time and place of a very vivid memory in your past?"

OK, I didn't cheat on the last one, so I'm cheating here.

Pizza baking. I love the smell of a cooking pizza, and it invariably reminds me of the good times I had working at Pizza Hut. Now, there were some bad times there too, and in no way would I ever want to go back to that part of my life, but I do fondly recall some of those times.

Roasting turkey. This reminds me of holidays in my home as a kid.

And then there's that "city smell". If you've ever walked down a busy street in a vibrant city with lots of restaurants and cafes and whatnot, you know that smell. It's a thousand different food smells and urban smells and other smells wrangling together. Whenever I smell it, no matter what city I'm in, I'm whisked away to the first time I recall really noticing that smell, when I was walking along Yonge Street in Toronto with my sister one winter.

Kind words, freely given

I'd just like to thank everyone who has weighed in either here, or on Facebook, or in e-mail about today's anniversary of Little Quinn's passing. It really doesn't feel like it's been five years, sometimes; other times, it seems like it's been longer. Maybe some time I'll write more about the various strategies The Wife and I used to cope and get through all of the challenges that Little Quinn posed, from the moment of his birth to the moment of his death. (Keep that in mind, all you regular readers -- we're two months away from the next edition of Ask Me Anything!) Those challenges were many, and they went on a long time even after he was gone -- a longer time than I had even thought likely. The passing of a child is a long-haul kind of thing.

Some of you seem to worry -- and this is perfectly normal -- about the inadequacy of the words you have to offer. Believe me when I tell you, any words of support and love and understanding are the right words. As long as they're from the heart, they're the right words, and I value each word that anyone has ever said to me about him.

So anyway, now back to regular content, huzzah! (But I'll probably be skipping Sentential Links for this week. I just haven't been online much, and judging from my traffic numbers, none of you have, either!)

Runaway trains! Antiques! Food! Pies! What a weekend!

(UPDATED below.)

I spent a muchly-deserved, muchly-anticipated long weekend over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a great time. Details and photos and such after the break. This is a "daily life" type of post, with a bunch of photos. But there's also a punchline at the end which you may find amusing, if you've ever thought I warranted some kind of "just desserts"....

Lazy Thanksgiving Morning

Thanksgiving Morning here at Casa Jaquandor is a lazy affair. The Wife and I are often quite tired heading into this particular weekend, as our jobs both tend to pick up and become very hectic as the Holiday Season approaches. We're always grateful to have a morning that consists of lazing about, watching the Macy's Parade, drinking coffee, and eating donuts. It's especially relaxing because...we don't cook T-giving dinner.

For the last five or six years, our tradition on Thanksgiving has been to eat out. With my parents not really feeling like cooking the massive meal anymore, and with their drive to our home being about an hour, we've decided it's best just to go to a local restaurant. We tried a couple of different places early on, and were disappointed, but then The Wife and I discovered Danny's a few years back. We first went there on an October night several years ago, whereupon we discovered that they were open for Thanksgiving with special meals, including a turkey dinner. We loved their set-up, and we had a winner. So that's where we go. This year, they did away with the "special Thanksgiving menu" and instead set up a buffet line, with all the usual Thanksgiving selections. (Almost all, actually -- The Wife didn't get her beloved green bean casserole.)

After the mid-afternoon meal (when we sat down, the Lions led the Patriots 17-10, but when we left, the Patriots had won 45-24), my parents absconded with The Daughter for a couple of days at their home, allowing The Wife and I some quality time together. This was extremely welcome! The Wife and I have, in the past, found it entirely too easy to lose sight of making time for one another -- especially since for years we've worked opposite shifts at our respective jobs -- so now, we tend to aggressively plan our time together and make the most of it when it comes. And we crammed a lot into the 48 hours we had together!

After T-giving dinner, it's become our own little tradition to go to a movie. This year we selected Unstoppable, the runaway-train movie with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. But since the show-time was still ninety minutes away, we were able to run home and change into more comfortable clothes.

Ooooog, I ate too much....

Among the many virtues of bib overalls is that of all pants, they are by far the most comfortable to wear in the hours following an enormous meal.

So we went to see Unstoppable, which we loved. I'll have a full review of the movie up sometime soon, but I do want to note that the Regal Cinemas in the new addition at the Walden Galleria Mall is a great place to see a movie. They've somehow made the concept of stadium seating even better, with seats that rock a bit and armrests/cupholders that swing up and out of the way, which makes for easier hand-holding with one's sweetie during a movie. Yay! (We tend to like the action pictures on T-giving Day. Not sure why.)

The next morning, of course, was Black Friday. We're not the types who go out at four in the morning to find the best deals on stuff; we do go out shopping a bit, but later on, after more morning relaxing and coffee.

Coffee on Black Friday

Later on we ventured out to do some shopping. JCPenney (clothes for the kid), Barnes&Noble (book ideas for the kid -- but none purchased), JoAnn Fabrics (sewing supplies for some of The Wife's projects), Home Depot (bought a Dremel 4000 rotary tool, huzzah!), and a few other stops. We had lunch at Panera Bread, where I looked kind of bored:

Waiting for lunch

We also planned to make a nice dinner that night of steak, and squash, so it was off to a grocery store to pick up those items among a few others, including...three coconut cream pies.

Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee!!!

More on the pies later....

But amidst all of this, we were also having some frustration with a local tire dealer. Our minivan needed new tires, and to make a long story short, The Wife got a quote for new tires several weeks ago, and then, in the intervening period, the tire place changed managers. This new guy proceeded to muck things up to the point that next time we'll just go someplace else. (For the locals: it wasn't Dunn Tire. Not going there in the first place was probably our first mistake.) This manager guy started off by telling us he would honor the quoted price, then said that he could only honor the quoted price if we got the same identical tires as last time (which weren't in stock), then told us he couldn't honor that quoted price unless we could prove, with receipts, that we'd had the previous tires properly rotated every...however long it is you're supposed to allow to transpire between tire rotations.

Anyway, The Wife got more and more angry until the guy finally got all apologetic and offered a $100 discount for the "miscommunication", but we're still unhappy and do not plan to go back. I love it when management people blatantly screw up and try to blame it on a "miscommunication". Ugh!

During all of this, lake-effect snows started to move into the region, for the first real snowfall of the winter.

Visibility, oh noes!

To give an idea of how quickly the snow bands can move at times, this intersection -- about 2 miles from Casa Jaquandor, the corners of Southwestern Blvd. and Milestrip Rd. -- looked like this ten minutes after I had driven through it the first time. That's what can happen in Buffalo, folks! It's been a very mild winter thus far -- the one day before this that we "had snow", a couple weeks ago, it was an overnight dusting that had already melted by the time we got up.

Now, however, the "blustery" has arrived.


Our other main shopping destination that day was the Orchard Park Antique Mall, which is a big store that is full of antiques, offered by different dealers. We spent close to two hours there, that's how big and fascinating a place it is -- you can find everything there from beautiful antique jewelry to vintage action figures to old books to old furniture. Just an amazing place.

Antiquing: Man in the mirror

Antiquing: My back in the mirror

And in any antique store, you can find lots of questionable stuff as well. At one point we saw a set of glow-in-the-dark plastic figurines from the Casper the Friendly Ghost movie that came out in the 1990s. The Wife and I recoiled in horror, because these figurines were a tie-in item when we worked at Pizza Hut. Aieee!

And then there are things which are well-nigh inexplicable:

Antiquing: Ewwwww!

I do not want to know.

After that -- about five o'clock -- we went to pick up the completed minivan and returned home for our steak dinner. Later on we drank some wine, we watched The Man with the Golden Gun...and we attended to the matter of those three coconut cream pies.

Sara Lee Tropical Coconut Cream Pie

Obviously we couldn't eat three entire coconut cream pies -- not just the two of us, at any rate. So, to what use did we put them? Where did those pies end up?

Well...here's where they ended up:

Splat! The Aftermath

Yup. All three, in my face.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for a pie in the face. This is a fate that befalls me every once in a while, and as my good friend Belladonna once said, "It's a bit of a rediculous tradition I suppose, but it has been fun and keeps me from taking myself too seriously!"

The holidays can be a deeply emotional, and for some folks, troublesome time of year. I find that getting hit in the face with a pie is a good antidote to that. Yes, I believe in "pie in the face therapy". Hey, it can't be any less effective than some other "therapies" out there!

Here's how it went down:

I hope your Black Friday was as much fun as ours (new tires notwithstanding)!

Splat!: Lookin' old-timey

Splat! Enjoying pie in my face.

UPDATE: No, this wasn't the first time I've been pied. My last pieing can be found here. (Ignore the date on that post -- I backdated it to keep it hidden as a kind of "easter egg" for people who went digging around for it. Now, I figure, why hide it?)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Five years....

Groovy Boy!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

How can it possibly have been five years since I last held my son? Time is awfully relentless. Wow.

This photo was taken just days before he decided that he'd had about enough of his limited life here with us. I can't say I blame him for that, but...well, it would have been nice if he could have said something first. But then, it would have been nice if he could ever have said anything, at all.

Anyway, I sure hope he's OK, wherever he is right now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Things I'm Thankful For

I'll be spending some quality time with The Family over the next few days -- first just with The Wife, as my parents take The Daughter for two nights, and then with all of us for the rest of the weekend. That being the case, I'll be taking a break from the blog. I'll have new content up either Sunday or Monday, depending.

For now, here is a partial list of things for which I am thankful -- partially recycled from last year, and with some new additions.

Cheddar cheese so sharp it makes you pucker
Sesame crackers
Our azalea plant
Our ivy plant
Get Fuzzy
My blog
Other peoples' blogs
George Lucas
Star Wars
My dining room table
Klein screwdrivers
LED flashlights
William Shatner
Sela Ward
Mary Stewart's Arthurian trilogy
Stephen King
The hardware store in my old hometown
Angle grinders
My new jigsaw
The glory years of the Buffalo Bills
Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation every night at college
Surprising The Daughter with a new Webkinz
Ms. Pac-Man
Sergei Rachmaninov
The Beatles
Van Halen
Baked pasta dishes
Harry Potter
Guy Gavriel Kay
Big, thick poetry collections
Small, artfully illustrated poetry collections
My drill
Schopp and the Bulldog (Buffalo sports talk radio guys)
Fried chicken
Italian sausage
The Amazing Race
Aaron Sorkin when he's on his game
Big breakfasts that leave me full until mid-afternoon
Light breakfasts that take the edge off until a nice lunch
The Mentalist
Tasting something good at a restaurant and figuring out how to make it at home
Ice cream at the roadside place down the road
The County Fair
JRR Tolkien
Route 20-A in the fall
Using the scissor jack at work
Blue denim bib overalls
Hickory-striped bib overalls
Pies on the table
Pies in the face
Pies in MY face
Monty Python
Aquariums and science museums
The Origin of Species
Complete collections of Shakespeare
Thick, fuzzy socks in the winter
Watching the Super Bowl
Watching figure skating
Discovering new authors
Liking books on the re-read that I didn't like the first time
Daniel Craig as James Bond
George Lazenby as James Bond
The Y
My MP3 player
My cell phone
The Burchfield Nature and Art Center
The Daughter learning the string bass
John Williams
Hector Berlioz
Roast turkey
Chicken wings
George Carlin
Hayao Miyazaki
Baby Fiona
Little Quinn
The Daughter
The Wife

So, what are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"You know who you are!"

I found this video absolutely fascinating:

This has apparently been going around the Interweb a bit, so you may have seen it, but for those who haven't, the Readers Digest Condensed Version is this: a professor of business at the University of Central Florida gave a mid-term exam, graded it, plugged the grades into a spreadsheet, looked at the results, and noticed that the grades on this particular mid-term were ticking noticeably higher than for midterm exams from previous semesters. Then someone anonymously provides him the obvious reason why: some students managed to get a copy of the "test bank" for the course and circulated it amongst a bunch of other students, who used it to prep themselves for the test. In other words: they cheated.

Now, I've been outside the realm of academia since I graduated college in 1993, so I had no idea what a "test bank" was. Basically, as I understand it, the companies that publish textbooks also provide, as a service to instructors, things called "test banks" which are nothing more than giant collections of test questions, from which instructors can then pull questions for their exams. My understanding is that in this case, there was a "test bank" of 700 questions from which 50 were drawn, so students using the test bank to prepare themselves had a pretty big job ahead of them. It seems to me that if those numbers are accurate, then maybe their time might have been better served just studying the course material. In fact, it seems to me that maybe a case can be made that when you prep for a test drawn from that many questions, maybe in a way you are studying the course material.


I've always found that there's something of a grey area when it comes to cheating. There are obvious cases of cheating, clearly: a kid who hacks a professor's computer to steal the test behorehand, or another kid who decides to plagiarize a paper for a course. But then there are things like this, where from certain perspectives, it certainly seems like cheating, while from others it just seems like...well, not really, I guess. It's cheating, but it's cheating that seems to me partially aided and abetted by "the system". It's not unlike the use of steroids in baseball in the 1990s: cheating, yes, but the system was set up at the time to make it very easy to do, with very little penalty.

The whole process of the way this course seems to operate seems a bit...lazy? Maybe that's too strong a word; certainly there seems to be an "assembly line" aspect of the teaching enterprise going on here. That prof gives lectures, and the students go off to "labs" to do...more coursework, I guess. There's not a whole lot of context here to go on, but the structure seems to put a lot of the work of running the course on the heads of the lab instructors, from grading the exams and homework to spending long hours creating a new mid-term exam once the old one has been compromised. But when you have 600 students taking a course, I suppose there really isn't a great alternative.

Some other things strike me from the video. First, the professor here continually refers to "forensic analysis of the data", which will presumably reveal all of the cheaters. I am no statistician, so I'd be interested to know how the data can reveal the difference between a student who prepared for the exam by use of the test bank and a student who prepared for the exam by traditional studying of the course material. He implies, a number of times, that the cheaters will soon stand revealed and that at that point, the folks from Academic Affairs -- whom he really seems to be going out of his way to make sound like a bunch of relentless Imperial Stormtroopers -- will decide their fates, particularly with the ominous statement, "I don't want to have to explain to your parents why you're not graduating." He also says something like "The net is closing around you even now!"

But then he also offers the cheaters a deal: all they have to do is admit that they cheated, and take a four-hour ethics course, and...all is forgotten. They'll take the same re-written midterm as anyone else and go on from there. Well, that certainly does not seem to me the type of offer one makes to someone when "the net is closing around them". It doesn't make sense to offer a deal that carries with it minimal effort and zero long-term consequences for the guilty if you're already certain of their guilt and are near to proving it. This whole part of the lecture strikes me as the kind of veiled threats of legal action that collection agencies use; for all their harsh language and legal-sounding threatening, it turns out that collection agencies are really pretty toothless.

And frankly, I as a student was present for more than a few instances where the teacher had to dress down the entire class for lack of specific knowledge as to which student did something naughty, and in my experience, the teacher or principal or whomever always pretty much lost the room when he or she uttered the phrase "You know who you are." (Actually, the prof in the video has an even more laughable line than that: "The days of students figuring out new ways to beat the system are over." Yeah, dude. Sure they are. As of this day, all future forms of cheating have been rendered impossible! Huzzah!!!)

I didn't really witness much outright cheating when I was a student. I myself never cheated, although the thought did occur to me a few times, here and there. I was always deterred more by the thought of dolorous consequences than by any good and noble commitment to my own learning, although I did generally think that I'd rather have a bad grade be my own doing than a good grade be artificially achieved. Generally, though, I just didn't have the confidence that I could pull it off and I certainly didn't want to get caught. I'm like the guy in Dial M For Murder who says that he only believes in the "perfect murder" on paper: "My murder would be like my bridge-playing -- I'd make some stupid mistake and only realize it when I noticed everybody else staring at me." Plus, since I was a Philosophy major, there really wasn't much you could do in terms of cheating beyond plagiarism -- and on plagiarism, I do have a pretty rigid moral code. But when your exams are all-essays all-the-time, well, you either know your shit or you don't.

There was one cheating incident that I remember fairly clearly, though, from my grade school years. In seventh grade, several classmates of mine somehow managed to get access to our math teacher's grade book, and they took that opportunity to take a pencil and adjust their own grades upward. I don't recall how they managed to score a few minutes of unsupervised time in her room, but they did. And then, afterwards, they bragged about it, so everybody knew. Someone blew them in, and that was that. One fine day we're gathered for class -- it's toward the end of the year -- and in storms the teacher, grade book in hand; she announces that she's just discovered that the grades in her grade book don't match the grades she routinely turns in to the Guidance office (a story she made up to cover the fact that someone had reported them, which everybody figured out anyway).

This particular teacher was...well, let's just say she was not one of my favorite teachers. At all. Never liked her in the slightest, although she was inexplicably beloved by most of the rest of the school. (It's the same teacher in Item #7 in this old post of mine.) After making her announcement, she proceeded to take malicious glee in tormenting the kids who had cheated, saying things like "Hey, you're looking a little pale there!" and stuff like that. I always thought that was crappy on her part -- you've got the kids by the hair, just take 'em down to the principal and be done with it. But that teacher sure enjoyed dealing out public humiliation to her chosen few. I don't recall what the consequences were for the cheaters in that instance, but it certainly made for an interesting few days in a small school.

Anyway, moral of the story: don't get the test bank.

Built a condo made of stone-uh

I figured that Steve Martin had forever left behind the days of the white suit and King Tut...but apparently not.

This makes me really happy, for some goofy reason.

Monday, November 22, 2010


So, I took The Daughter to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the other day. We loved the movie, just loved it; but then, we've loved the entire series to this point -- even the occasionally sickeningly-sweet first two, directed by Chris Columbus -- and this is the one where it all comes together. Some of this will involve spoilers, so my thoughts are below the fold.

Sentential Links #229

Linkage time....

:: Check that out! An actual series of dust storms blowing off the coats of Alaska!

:: But suffice to say that different people are going to respond differently to superlongevity, and that boredom and ennui will soon be treated as vestigial psychological states that will be self-regulated it if not eliminated altogether.

:: The word eye has to be one of the funniest words in the English language. Especially when it's said all by itself: "EYE!"

:: OK, who were the best bloggers and Twitterers from before the WWW, perhaps before the 20th century? Letter writers, pamphleteers, diarists – who of old would have been a Natural Born Blogger?

:: If you consult older editions of the Guinness Book Of World Records, you will see that Jean Grey did indeed hold the unchallenged record for "Fastest Blanket Bringing" for many years.

:: Man they are showing a lot of Abin Sur’s spaceship. That makes me worry. When the awesomest thing they’re showing is the spaceship that blows up in the first twenty minutes it kind of makes you wonder about, you know, the rest of the movie.

:: Leave for the airport NOW. Don't wait until the day of.

Bring no luggage. Wearing the same clothes for a week is a small price to pay. Plus, the airlines now charge you for check-in luggage AND blankets. Pretty soon pressurized air will also be extra.

:: There is a fire in my wood stove, and between that and two glasses of homebrew...I am very warm tonight. I just ate a simple dinner of pasta and red sauce—then with a slight buzz and a full belly—I pulled my fiddle off the shelf and played a few Irish tunes to light up the room.

All for this week!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Ken Levine posted this, and it's absolutely hilarious, one of the funniest bits of product placement in a teevee show ever. (I think it's unintentionally funny, though.)

My favorite bit of product placement ever comes in Superman: the Movie. After Pa Kent has died and young Clark has found the green crystal, Ma Kent is up at dawn getting breakfast ready in the kitchen, and we see her hand plunk a box of Cheerios down on the table, just so its label catches the sunlight. Hilarious...especially in the end credits, when there is actually a screen credit reading "Cheerios by General Mills".

In general, I tend to actually prefer it when people on teevee or movies use real products. I always found it more distracting to see cola cans that were obviously Pepsi cans, but with "Pepsi" replaced by the word "Cola". I find that almost as distracting as any time someone recites a phone number. Hearing "555-xxxx" is glaring on the ears, but after years of hearing "555" prefixes, whenever a more daring movie uses a real-sounding prefix, that stands out too. I now think that movies and teevee shows should never have characters saying phone numbers out loud. At all.

:: My friend Aaron sent me this photo of a business whose building is obviously an old Pizza Hut. I should go around and take photos here of former PH's that are now something else. There are a lot of former PH's in Buffalo.

:: I'd love to try a bite of this. But no more than a bite. Wow, my heart stutters when I just look at the pictures.

More next week!

How I spent International Overalls Day

IOD: Bib

Well, basically, today was for me just another day out and about...but even a bit of online funnery called International Overalls Day made it more enjoyable, in some weird way. So here's how I spent the day (after initial coffee):

I guess I'll wait for my unavoidable doom, then

Via Palgolak:

Yeah...I'm screwed.

IOD: Zombie weapon?

No, I don't think that a dip pen is likely to slow down an encroaching zombie. Sure, it's nice and sharp so maybe I could use the pen to stab the zombie in the brain, but I'm not sure it would penetrate through the skull into the zombie's brain on one shot, and I'm not sure the pen is strong enough to retain its shape and sharpness for a second stabbing attempt. Or maybe I could pour the rum from my hip flask onto the zombie and then use the matches to set the beastie aflame, but there's less than eight ounces of rum in there. Not sure that would make an effective enough, or large enough, flame to bring the zombie to a stop.

I have a feeling that if a zombie cornered me at my desk, I'd be seriously out of luck.

Happy Overalls Day!

IOD: Coffee, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

It's International Overalls Day, or as I call it, "Saturday". Originally created by Niels Windfeld Lund, a University professor from Norway who manages to out-do even my devotion to the Sacred Garment, this day is just a time for like-minded goofballs the world over to bask in fellowship and sweet, denim comfort. There's a Facebook page and everything.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need more coffee.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I probably hate this, so let me tell you what I think of it!

Here's the kind of review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that's driving me crazy. I've seen a bunch of these over the last few days, all striking the same kind of tone, but this one takes the cake. Why oh why oh why should I take even remotely seriously the opinion of a person who leads off thusly:

Fans know the tales better than I; I stopped reading the books after the third entry, and have only enjoyed the movies intermittently. The first two, directed by Chris Columbus, were too faithful to their source material to have much life or personality. The next couple had moments of macabre delight in part because they strayed from their predecessors' literalness but also felt curiously static; formula crushed the energy from them to the point that I skipped the fifth altogether. I did see the sixth, but cannot remember a single frame.

I'm not saying you have to be a fan to review the film, but it's the final chapter of a larger tale. If you're going to grapple with it, then you really should have some working knowledge of what has gone before. This kind of thing is like reviewing, oh, A Tale of Two Cities and saying, "Well, I didn't really like the first ten chapters, skipped a bunch of the next ones, but here's my take on the book's last six chapters anyway."

Ultimately this goes back to my deep, deep aversion to the whole notion of "objectivity" where Art is concerned. I remember arguments I'd have on rec.music.movies, for instance, where someone would say, "Well, the score to [Movie Title Here] is nice, but when you listen to it objectively, you realize it's not that good." I'd respond with the obvious point that no, you're not being "objective", you're just being negative but trying to give yourself an air of authority by claiming "objectivity".

I submit that if someone says "I really don't know anything about Harry Potter", then their opinion on the new movie is next to useless. And that goes for everyone, including Roger Ebert. If someone who loves Harry Potter doesn't like the film, that's interesting to me. Otherwise, it's just people who don't like spinach offering reviews of a cookbook of spinach recipes.

All prophecies come true if you wait long enough....

Fifteen years ago, I was in Year Two of what would be a four-year stint working at Pizza Hut in Olean, NY as a shift manager. One thing I remember from back then was the way upper management was constantly exhorting us to compare ourselves to other restaurants. "Are we as good as McDonald's? Are we as good as Burger King?" And so on. And it wasn't just the chains that were already in place, either -- they were constantly kvetching over the places that hadn't even come into our region yet.

For instance, there's a chain of fast-food Italian restaurants called Fazoli's that announced that it was coming into Western New York, and they were coming hard, with lots of locations. Cue the ensuing panic amongst the Pizza Hut folks. We had to be on our toes! We had to be ready! Well, Fazoli's came...and went. They opened, there was much fanfare, they operated for a while, and within five or six years, they all closed. So much for them.

There was an even scarier chain out there, though. This chain had the higher-ups at PH quaking in their boots. We heard their name invoked at every major meeting we attended, and our store managers brought back the latest rumors from every major meeting they attended. This other chain was coming. They were expanding very quickly, and when they finally touched down in WNY, we were going to have all we could handle keeping our business. The chain?

Papa John's.

Which, as it happened, never came.

There was never a Papa John's, not one, while we worked for PH, not even as late as fall 2000, when The Wife left PH to work somewhere else. We wouldn't even see a Papa John's until fall of 2002, when we moved to Syracuse. We ordered from there once, we kinda liked it, but it wasn't anything special. And wouldn't you know it -- Syracuse's two or three Papa John's locations closed while we were living there. And six months later we moved back to Buffalo anyway.

Flash forward to this morning, when one of my Facebook friends posted something about the Papa John's pizza they ate last night. It seems that as of two months or so ago, Papa John's has finally touched down in Western New York. With a single location. I, of course, no longer care, having (a) left Pizza Hut as an employee almost thirteen years ago, and (b) having pretty much sworn off chain pizza anyway.

But I do wonder if the local PH higher-ups are still nervous about Papa John's.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yes, Virginia, you CAN like Star Wars!

This little girl loves Star Wars -- but the boys in her class shamed her into leaving her Star Wars water bottle at home.

I remember this kind of crap from when I was a kid. I didn't see it as bullying, which I always interpret in its more brutal traditional forms: the group of big kids hanging out on a particular corner because they know the smaller, weaker kid has to pass that way to get home, for example. But this kind of relentless "Make fun of her until she buckles" stuff is bullying, as much as any "Hey kid, gimme your lunch money" thuggery. But I like this father's approach: blog the story, solicit comments from women who love Star Wars too, and use those comments to show the kid (who is really cute, by the way) that it's OK to like Star Wars and that those little boys can suck it.

Yes, I'm a guy who loves Star Wars. But I know plenty of women who love it too, and as a kid, I might not have come to love it had I not had a bigger sister who, at the time, adored it.

And besides, the little girl can always point out that if Star Wars is for boys, why is it that so many men in the movies get their asses kicked by two women, Padme and Leia?

The winner will receive a swimming pool filled with "Meh".

I've gotta say, the current seasons of both Survivor and Hell's Kitchen aren't really doing it for me. Neither show is presenting any kind of favorite, any kind of contestant whom I want to see win. I'm almost thinking, maybe both shows should forego a winner this year and give next season's winner two grand prizes.

I've missed some of Survivor this go-round, owing to its new Wednesday timeslot, but wow, what a bunch of doofuses. These are people who left their camp in last night's episode to go to a challenge, and who decided to build a barrier for their big campfire, between the fire and their lean-to shelter, out of their wooden storage chests. Which caught fire, destroying all of their food stores and their shelter. Nobody deserves to win after that.

As for Hell's Kitchen, well -- Sabrina's gone, because she was just too juvenile to make it to the end. Gail and Russell seem to both do well in challenges, and then crash and burn in the services. Nona and Jillian are just kind of there. And Trev? Here's a guy who thought that cooking frog's legs was thinking "outside the box". For a dish he was preparing for, among others, a French judge.

It's still fun to watch the shows, I guess, but without anyone to root for, it's just watching something dull unfold. I hope the next seasons are better.

Something for Thursday

(Yeah, I screwed up the date when I scheduled this post, which is why it was here, then it wasn't, and now it's back. Oops.)

A lot of my friends from work are either hunters or married to hunters. I'm not into hunting myself, but lots of people I know are. With hunting season about to kick off in a big way here in Western New York, here's a selection in their honor. From the opera Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber: the Huntsmen's Chorus.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I am Locutus!

Locutus, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

You will service me. All your power tools will be added to my own!

I bought a Brinkmann LED headlamp the other day, for use when I'm on the scissor-lift at work -- oft times I'm doing work up there above the level of our lights and occasionally a little light would be helpful. Now, I'll have it, by strapping this thing to my hard hat. Interestingly, it has a red light for night vision. Cool!

Wow, do I love tools!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Would you rather have a smaller package at the same price, or the same size package at a higher price?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fantasy vs. Reality

Great quote from Sean Connery:

It’s great to put across fantasy. It’s a constant surprise how reality is harder to put across than fantasy. I never forget that Stephen Crane wrote a very fine book about war, The Red Badge of Courage, although he’d never been in a war. And then he wrote a very bad book called Shipwreck, although he had been in a shipwreck. And this explains a lot of things.

Via (in comments).

X-Files Case Report: "Deep Throat"

"Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life on this Earth not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?"

"Because...all the evidence to the contrary is not entirely dissuasive."


"They're here, aren't they?"

"Mr. Mulder, they've been here for a long, long time."

That exchange comes at the end of "Deep Throat", the second episode of The X-Files. Even more than the Pilot, "Deep Throat" establishes a lot of the groundwork for what is to come over the course of the series. More tropes are introduced: Government secrecy and conspiracies; government collusion with apparent alien visitors; shadowy governmental agencies which are apparently above the law; the continual failure of Agents Mulder and Scully to come away from their investigations with any proof at all of what they know to be the case. And most importantly – indicated by the title of the episode – the establishment of an inside source of information who will be Mulder's confidant and informant, but who may or may not be on Mulder's side.

This story takes place mainly in an Idaho town near an Air Force Base that does not appear on any maps, due to the secretive nature of its work. A pilot there has turned up at home, cowering in the corner and covered with terrible rashes and skin lesions. The Air Force takes him into custody, and holds on to him for several months, telling his family nothing at all of his whereabouts or status. Somehow Mulder gets wind of this and tells Scully that "we're heading to the Spud State to investigate a little kidnapping." When Scully asks why Mulder is interested in an apparent kidnapping with no "paranormal" element, Mulder replies, "This case has a smell to it. A certain 'paranormal bouquet'."

But before leaving for Idaho, Mulder is confronted by a dark-suited man who tries to warn him off the case and tells him that he can give Mulder information when it is in his best interest to do so. We'll never learn this man's name; we will only know him as "Deep Throat" (which I don't recall anyone in the show actually calling him). This, too, will be something of a meme throughout the show's run: people telling Mulder things in sufficiently vague terms that he doesn't really have a great deal of choice to make.

Off go Mulder and Scully to Idaho, where they learn that experimental aircraft are being tested – but the aircraft are capable of speeds and maneuvers impossible in current aeronautical technology, which leads Mulder to hypothesize that the government is working on technology gleaned from the UFO that crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 (the Air Force base in the episode being one of the places to which wreckage of that craft was taken). Suddenly the missing pilot is returned to his family, but he seems very strange now, oddly passive and childlike, and he can't remember anything. Mulder thinks he has had memories erased, but Scully thinks that's impossible; more likely, the strange pilots up there are the washouts of a testing program who couldn't handle the stress.

Anyway, our two agents meet a couple of teenagers (one of whom is played by a young Seth Green) who like to sneak onto the AFB grounds and watch the test flights (which happen at night), which of course leads Mulder to do the same...only he gets caught, after seeing one of the aircraft up close and personal. Mulder's whisked away by men who are doing something medical to him. Meanwhile, Scully is on her own and has to figure out how to get Mulder back, which she finally does – only to discover that he has no memory of the last twelve hours. They return to Washington, with Scully indicating in her field report the completely inconclusive nature of their investigation. Mulder, meanwhile, meets again with his new informant. The exchange above closes out the show.

"Deep Throat" is a fine, fine episode, and in retrospect, it's probably one of the most important in the series's run. It establishes so much of the dynamic that would later dominate the show's developing mythology, especially the knack Mulder has for being right while never being able to come up with any evidence. I also like how Mulder and Scully are still at odds quite a bit of the time, with the trust between them still not there and with Scully basically approaching her assignment to the X-files with professionalism but also with skepticism bordering on conviction that all of it is complete BS.

This episode also establishes the high level of production values that were a key part of the success of The X-Files. Many shots are downright cinematic in nature, as is the way the showrunners are able to shoot around the Vancouver area in ways that double for the less-mountainous areas of Idaho. I also liked the framing of the episode's final scene, in which Mulder is jogging on a college track when Deep Throat comes to visit him; there is a nice combination of long shots and close-ups that makes the scene nice to look at. The X-Files is often credited with bringing cinematic production values to television, and it's easy to see this influence in this episode.

So, what is to come? The truth, after all, is out there!

(Oh, this was also the first episode to use the show's signature titles sequence, complete with Mark Snow's distinctive X-Files Theme and the "Truth is out there" tag line. The pilot's credits had simply run over the opening scene, after the teaser.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's like the song, George! Downtown! There's your answer!

Here at Casa Jaquandor, our regular day to go to the library is Thursday. That's carved in stone. We always go on Thursday. Except for weeks when Thursday is some kind of holiday, such as the upcoming Thanksgiving Day...or last week, when Veterans Day fell on a Thursday. So, we decided to postpone until Saturday, and instead of going to our own Orchard Park Public Library, we headed instead into downtown Buffalo and the Central Library. We've been to the Central Library a few times, but not in a while; we like to get down there a few times a year. One great thing about living in a county where all the libraries are members of a larger County Library system is that you have access to all the books, county-wide; but that's only a help if you know what you want. For browsing, you're limited to what's available at the library you actually visit. Now, the Orchard Park Library is a lovely facility and over the years we've spent a lot of time browsing there. But the Central Library is something else.

First, though, we had to actually get down there, into downtown Buffalo. And that meant...Route 5 and the Skyway, which is actually our favorite route into the city anyway. Below the fold are photos from the day.

Eight years in

Sheila O'Malley has been blogging for eight years. I was actually blogging before she was -- this February I'm coming up on nine years -- but on the occasions when I get a horrible case of "blog envy", the awful feeling one gets after reading someone else's blog post of "Ah, so that's how it's done and I'll never figure out how to do it myself", the cause is almost always one of Sheila's posts. Her blog is one of the marvels of the Interweb, and I'll have words with anyone says otherwise!

Sentential LInks #228

Linkage! Linkage! Linkage!!!

:: At one point, Becca turned to me and said: "She's the only reason we're watching this. If you weren't attracted to her, we'd probably have turned this off half an hour ago."

:: I'm pretty much a genfic guy. Light romance is okay, especially if it's funny, but for the most part I'm the farthest thing possible from a relationshipper. I don't want characters to get smooshed together; I want to watch them interact. I'm not a big fan of pure romance, and I really don't want porn. My big thing is that I like seeing the characters relate as friends.

:: Well, that's nice, but monarchy is still a flawed system of government!

:: But what I want to know is what could a 6-year-old possibly lobby for in student council? Free chocolate milk? Longer recess? Pajama day once a week?

:: i can't believe that our society has come to a point where it's more shocking to the general public to wear full length denim overalls than to wear underwear for shorts. these are things that just don't make sense to me and never will.

:: After the Star Wars series played out, Boba Fett had a little known career in B-movies.

:: I hate it when characters who were heroic in an earlier film turn bad in a sequel; it's not dramatic, it's lazy sensationalism, and it's a slap in the face to fans who grew up admiring the original vision of the character.

:: Don’t worry though, my friends. When I hit it big, I won’t make the same mistake. I won’t be giving it away through a series of outlandish stunts either. No, I’m going to do the right thing with the money – I’m going to buy a bunch of completely unnecessary and awesome stuff.

More next week!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"I only am escaped alone to tell thee."

Sheila O'Malley points out that today is the 149th anniversary of the publishing of Moby Dick, with a typically fantastic post on the book. I've started -- and stopped -- reading Moby Dick a number of times over the years, ever since college, but just a month or so ago I finally got all the way through it. My original notion was to serialize it for myself, reading two or maybe three chapters a night, as Moby Dick is comprised of 135 very short chapters. I figured that taking the book in small chunks would make it, oh, more digestible. What I didn't expect was that this manner of reading the book didn't make it more "digestible" at all -- at this point, it turns out that I'm able to digest the book just fine. What my self-serialization of Moby Dick did was make the book more exciting. Much more exciting -- and this is all the more amazing, seeing as how if you distill the book down to just those parts where something is actually happening, it's probably only about a hundred pages long.

I was lucky in that I knew very little about Moby Dick, aside from the "big picture" stuff. What I knew was this: A guy we're supposed to call "Ishmael" gets a job on a whaling ship, the Pequod, which is skippered by a fiercely grim Captain Ahab, who lost one of his legs to a white whale upon whom he has vowed vengeance. Off they go, presumably to do some normal whaling, but in reality to seek out the white whale, named Moby Dick. They find the white whale, in the end, but Ahab and everyone else on the Pequod perishes in the struggle. Everyone else save Ishmael, who floats away to safety atop a coffin carved by his drowned friend, a savage named Queequeg.

And of course, I knew that Moby Dick played a thematic role in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Khan views James T. Kirk as his own White Whale, even dying with the same words as Ahab: "From Hell's heart I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!"

The greater part of Moby Dick is given not to the story of the pursuit of the whale. Nor is it given to deep analyses of the psychology of whalemen, alone on their ships at sea for months or even years at a time, with their only other human contact coming when they meet other whaling ships. The bulk of the book is given to the whales and their nature and their hunting. Chapter after chapter after chapter goes by, each dealing with some aspect or other of whales and whaling, and it's in this way that we do, in fact, gain insight into the psychology of whalemen and in the nature of Ahab's pursuit -- for as we learn these things, we start to learn just what it is that Ahab is after.

The book opens, before the first chapter, with many pages of quotes Melville has tracked down pertaining to whales. He must have been steeped in the literature of the sea back then, to have been able to collect all these:

"So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail,
While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!"

Nantucket song.

It's interesting that the book proper opens with that famous line, "Call me Ishmael", when we lose track of the narrator for great swathes of the book at a time. Ishmael disappears entirely, as does Queequeg and Starbuck and even Ahab and the Pequod much of the time. I wonder if in some way Melville isn't trying to ultimately get us to identify not with any of them but with Moby Dick himself?

One final observation, which I've made before (I know I said it on Facebook, anyway): while Moby Dick's opening line is one of the most famous in all literature, I find the opening sentence of the second chapter to be strangely evocative of the adventure to come:

I stuffed a shirt or two into my old carpet-bag, tucked it under my arm, and started for Cape Horn and the Pacific.

Interesting, then, that we follow Ishmael as far as the side of the water -- and from that point on, we don't follow him much at all.

(The image atop this post is from a painting called Whale Fishery, by Ambroise Louis Garneray. The painting is used as the cover art for the edition of Moby Dick that I read.)

What does it mean when our guys score more than the other guys?

The Bills won! The Bills won! The Bills won! So, no pie in the face of my cartoon Bills fan this week.

But now, I'm sure that some Bills fans are disturbed by a victory now, since the focus for many here has changed from winning this year to securing the best possible draft pick for next year. The Bills have been streaking toward the first overall pick, with which they would hopefully be able to pick the best quarterback in the draft (hopefully either Andrew Luck or Ryan Mallett; hopefully not Jake Locker, whose stock has been dropping). So, now that most teams have played nine games, let's look at the Bills versus the other teams who are in position to end up picking first.

The Bills, of course, are now 1-8 on the year. If they pick first and Luck or Mallett are there, the Bills will almost certainly take one of those two. The question mark right now is whether or not Luck will actually decide to enter the draft or remain in college. He has indicated in the past that he plans to return to Stanford next year, and Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan is constantly pointing out that Luck may see that he'd be drafted by Buffalo and decide not to enter the draft, especially since his coach, Jim Harbaugh, rejected the Bills' head coaching job last year. The motivating factor in favor of Luck's entering the draft is money: when the NFL gets its new collective bargaining agreement, there will almost certainly be some sort of salary cap structure for rookies, so there is a big chance that the 2011 Draft will be the last one where rookies can get enormous contracts to launch their careers. And who knows? Maybe Luck will look at the Bills and see a team with more potential than many thought before the year started. They're not a total wasteland of talent, after all. We'll see.

Also sitting on a single win are the Carolina Panthers, who are also really bad. I don't know much about the Panthers, but I do know that they drafted one of the top QB prospects last year in Jimmy Clausen, so I tend to think that unless Clausen looks really awful, the Panthers are unlikely to be looking for a QB next year. So, if the Bills end up picking behind them, maybe they still get a shot at Luck.

Next up, at 2-7, we have the Cowboys, Lions, and Bengals. I'm not sure I see any of these teams looking to go QB high in the draft -- maybe the Bengals, if their almost-certain new coaching staff decides that Carson Palmer needs a change of scenery. I don't see the Cowboys dumping Tony Romo, and the Lions still have last year's top pick, Matthew Stafford, as their young prospect. Stafford seems to have some injury problems, though, that could put the Lions in the QB market. But I'm not so sure.

Then there are the 3-win clubs. The Bills are almost certainly not going to win three games, so I think there is very little chance that any of these clubs will end up edging the Bills in terms of draft position. But, you never know! So, our 3-win teams are the Browns, Broncos, Vikings, and the Cardinals. The Browns have a QB prospect drafted just this year in Colt McCoy, and the Broncos traded up to get Tim Tebow, so both teams may be looking to draft something other than a QB. Not so those other two teams, though; the Vikings absolutely need to address their future QB situation, with Brett Favre looking worse and worse, and the same goes for the Cardinals, unless Derek Anderson somehow manages to turn it on over the rest of this season (unlikely).

So, it seems to me that even if the Bills don't end up picking first overall, they might still have their pick of quarterbacks if they end up picking behind Carolina, Dallas, Detroit, Cleveland, Denver, and maybe Cincinnati. They're screwed, however, if they're beaten for draft position by the Vikings or Cardinals.

Another scenario that could screw the Bills anyway is if any of those bad teams end up (a) drafting ahead of the Bills, and (b) firing their current coaching staff and hiring Jim Harbaugh, who might well decide to draft his college standout, Andrew Luck. But we'll worry about that when it happens....

Food Is Fun!!!

One of the Finest of Meals, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I haven't blogged about food lately, so...here's a post about food.

:: Up there in the photo is my dinner from the other night, when The Family and I went to Ted's Hot Dogs, a Buffalo institution. If you don't live in Buffalo, here's another reason to move here. The hot dogs are cooked to order over a charcoal grill (yes, they have industrial-strength hoods over their grills), and then topped with whatever. My usual default is mustard and onions, but lately I've been rediscovering relish, so I got one with mustard and relish. They also have terrific onion rings, and their fries are OK. Ted's rules.

(Actually, for some reason they also have a single location in Tempe, AZ, so if you live there or are heading there, you can get yourself a little fix of Buffalo.)

:: I made an easy chicken casserole the other night. Here's the formula:

1.5 lb chicken
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1.5 cans of milk
.5 lb shredded cheddar cheese
1 box of chicken-flavored stuffing mix (or equivalent amount of homemade stuffing), cooked according to directions.

Cook the chicken, shred, and put into a greased casserole dish. Add the cans of soup and then use the cans to measure out 1.5 cans of milk (or less, if you want your casserole thicker). Stir this all up. Now layer the shredded cheese on top of the soup-and-chicken mixture, and top with the stuffing. Bake at 375 until bubbly.

I forgot to take a picture, sadly enough.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Check out this great compilation of behind-the-scenes photos from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which also includes photos from the four TNG movies. Stellar Cartography was a really cool set -- and there are a couple of really creepy photos there of Alice Krige as the Borg Queen from First Contact, when they were filming the bit where the Queen was nothing but a head and a spinal column. I also like the "Man In Suit!" shot of the guy who played the oil slick that killed Tasha Yar, Jonathan Frakes looking like he's coming on to women constantly, and a couple of shots of close-ups where you see that the poor actors are acting with a big-ass camera about ten inches from their faces.

And here are my two favorites. This is Brent Spiner, Rick Berman (the main Trek producer during the 1990s), Patrick Stewart, and, sitting in the Captain's chair, Trek composer-extraordinaire Jerry Goldsmith.

And I'm not sure when this next one was taken -- probably from the set of either Insurrection or Nemesis. I'd remember if I could place those alien dudes Patrick Stewart is mugging to, but the first of those two films was merely forgettable while the second was awful. But that's not the reason for posting this photo, anyway.

Yup -- there's Deanna Troi herself, the ever-gorgeous Marina Sirtis, finely sporting a pair of overalls. Huzzah!

(I always thought Sirtis was utterly beautiful, and a fine actress to boot. I remember being glad when the producers finally realized that she was a gorgeous woman who didn't need plunging necklines and skimpy skirts to look gorgeous, and just put her in a regular old Starfleet uniform.)

:: This is the kind of thing I wish I could think of. I wonder who makes 'em? Come on, Cal, give us a link!!!

:: This is kind of strange. Over at ToolGuyD, one of my favorite blogs on hardware and tools, a post recently appeared scoffing at a very weird new tool being made by Husky. (Seriously -- that tool is just strange. I looked at it at Home Depot last week, and I couldn't believe what a goofy item it is.) Well, they've since received a number of posts on that tool in comments that they now believe to be posted by shills either for Husky or for Home Depot. It's all very strange! Why go to this level of chicanery to try to stand up for a 48-in-1 ratcheting wrench that looks just plain odd?

More next week!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Beatles Song of the Week: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Well, maybe I should rename this series of posts, since there's an element of weekliness that is implied and which I am not achieving at all. Oh well...I guess we'll just have to stipulate that I never claimed that there would be a Beatles song for every week, but rather that I'll be posting about the song when there happens to be a Beatles Song of the Week.

I'm not sure that made any sense at all, but let's plow on, shall we? "While My Guitar Gently Weeps":

This song's genesis, as related by Wikipedia, is fascinating. The key phrase "gently weeps" were apparently the result of Harrison choosing to write a song using the first words he saw upon opening a book at random. The song also came at the time when the Beatles were deeply involved in their explorations of Eastern sprituality.

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don't know why nobody told you
how to unfold your love
I don't know how someone controlled you
they bought and sold you

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don't know how you were diverted
you were perverted too
I don't know how you were inverted
no one alerted you

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at you all
Still my guitar gently weeps

Harrison's lyrics suggest that in a universe of constant change (he was reading the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, at the time), there is still on unending constant: the gentle weeping of his guitar. The guitar is eternal; it is unchanging, and all the world's strife and flux is almost illusory in the face of the guitar and its tones. Even "you" are changing: the "you" of the song has been "diverted", "perverted", and "inverted". "You" were "bought" and "sold" and "controlled", and your love remains folded. Ouch. That sounds pretty dark, indeed.

It's not just the guitar that's eternal, though; it's the singer himself, who casts himself as the player of the eternal guitar and the observer of our transient world. The singer is placed outside the world: he can see its turning, he can see the sleeping love, and in a particularly fascinating lyric, he can see the floor needing. That last strikes me: usually we'd say "The floor needs sweeping", which we take to actually mean "You need to sweep the floor." But the way Harrison frames it in his lyric, it's the floor that is doing the needing here. How can a floor "need"? And yet, it does.

In terms of the song's sound, the guitar's solos suggest the very eternal nature of the weeping by finding a single note to stay around for long periods of time. You hear the guitar keep coming back to same note, over and over and over again, before it finally moves on and finds a different note to constantly return to. The song's rhythm drives forward constantly, even in the 'B' sections where we briefly turn to a more lyrical tone. The guitar in the song isn't really gently weeping -- but it's certainly constant, unchanging in the face of a world of change.

This is about as far from "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah!" as you can get. What a band.

Hacking at the weeds

After a long time of inactivity, I've decided that it's time to start selling books and such on eBay again, in an effort to weed the collection a bit and to raise a bit of money for Christmas or for buying power tools for myself. You never know...but there's a new eBay button in the sidebar (down below the link to my Flickr stream). Maybe there's something there that's perfect for the reader in your family!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something for Thursday

The other day, I said of Mozart's Sinfonia concertante:

I can think of few pieces of music more sunny in nature, more optimistically life-affirming, than the ever-wonderful K364.

Well, you be the judge.

What I love most about this piece is that it's an object lesson that a work of art need not necessarily be dark, gloomy, or pessimistic to be profound.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hmmmm...needs more dog.

A lot of my search engine traffic is for my recipe for Chicken Wing Soup, so I figure I owe it to those folks to note that I tinkered with my recipe and made it, in my opinion, better by smoothing out the soup's texture a bit. So make some Chicken Wing Soup!

Chaos in action

Note the framing of this video as it starts, implying the direction the big smokestack is expected to fall after the demolition explosives are set off.


(It's funny because nobody was killed or injured, but this could have been an awful tragedy.)

A word picture

The woman who entered the cafe was tall and thin, dressed in tight jeans, a form-fitting hot pink t-shirt, and a long black cardigan. In the style of the day, she had a wispy lavender scarf twirled around her neck. Her thick, black hair fell to the middle of her back, with one long lock, colored in that dark purplish-red that dark-haired women sometimes like, draped over her left shoulder. Her glasses made her look studious, as did the tote bag containing at least three books that she let fall to the chair in the same motion with which she set her plate down. The plate contained a single slice of pepperoni pizza, and when she sat down, she produced from her book bag a travel-worn water bottle that had the look of having been to the Serengeti once or twice.

Before she ate, she carefully -- ever so carefully -- opened the newspaper that the previous customer had left on the table, selected the section she wanted to read, and then -- also so carefully, ever so carefully -- opened the section to an inner page, and folded the paper open in a series of quick, practiced motions that called to mind those of the great masters of origami, that she might read the story that interested her without wrestling with the entire paper.

She laid the paper on the table in front of her, took another sip of water. In her left hand she lifted the slice of pizza, and then she looked around one last time, as if seeking a missed companion, before she lifted the pizza to her mouth.

Whereupon she seized the slice with her teeth, point first, and ripping the rest of the slice away with her hand as she chewed with abandon, ignoring the gob of cheese hanging down over her chin until she had swallowed and washed the bite down with another draw from the water bottle. It was then that she placed the slice back down on the plate, took a napkin from the holder, wiped her chin, and then resumed her savage attack on her pizza slice.

She consumed that slice in little more than 79 seconds, washed the last bite down with one last sip, and then in one motion that also must have been practiced, rose from her chair, slung her book tote over her shoulder, grabbed her empty plate and four used napkins, and headed for the exit, her long, oversized cardigan billowing out as she went.

Leaving me to wonder how a woman with that body ever got that body by eating with such savage glee.