Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!!!

:: Hyper-minimalist poster designs of the classic children’s stories we’ve grown to know and love. Here's an example:

That's the most "risque" one there, I think.

:: This is a product that needs to happen.

:: The Mercury Seven astronauts, in a fascinating pose.

More next week!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

1000 words?

As much as I love photos and pictures and such, there aren't that many that make me wonder what the story is behind them. This is one.


Saturday Centus

This week we get a picture:

Hmmmm. Now what to do with that....

"If we don't bring back something, she's gonna kill us," said Joe.

"Tell me somethin' I don't know," said Willie. "But look where we are. There's nothin' here!"

"Oh yeah there is," Joe said. "I can feel it."

"Aww, you can't feel nothin'. We shoulda stayed in the grass."

"Hey. See that?"


"That! Right there! Look!"

"Where...huh?! gotta be kiddin' me."

"And you said I can't feel nothin'."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yer a genius. Now how we gonna lift this thing?"

"You get one side. I get the other."

"Yeah, right. Do ants even eat egg?"

"Just lift, Willie!"

Hmmm. Do ants eat egg? I have no idea....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Page One: The Hobbit

Page One: The Hobbit, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I saw someone do this on Tumblr a couple weeks ago, and I fell in love with the idea, so I'm starting a whole new series of blog posts, which I will intend to do weekly but which, as with all such things, I will actually do whenever I think to do one. The idea is a simple one: the first page of books that mean a great deal to me.

For my purposes, I will generally define "page one" as the first page of the actual story, whether that be a prologue or the first chapter. Anyway, here is Page One of The Annotated Hobbit, featuring the complete text by JRRT with annotations by Douglas A. Anderson. This book is full of fascinating details about the writing and publication history of The Hobbit, and of course, the ever-wonderful story of The Hobbit, which I continue to believe is absolutely essential to any proper reading of The Lord of the Rings.

Something for Thursday

GACK! I forgot. Just plumb slipped my mind, it did. So here's Sammy, Eddie, Michael, and Alex, with the "Best of Both Worlds".

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From the Books: Mike Royko

For quite a few years, one of my favorite things in the newspaper was the syndicated column by Mike Royko. I loved his writing, and his style has come to mean "Chicago" to me in a very real way. Royko was also a favorite of my father's, and one year for either Christmas or his birthday I gave my father a collection of Royko's columns. I spotted another collection – or maybe it's the same one – on the shelf at the library the other day (One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko), and I've been dipping into it with great pleasure. It's a voice I'd forgotten about.

Royko's writing, more than anyone else's, evokes a newspaper for me. Often when reading him I can almost see him there, at a desk in a corner of some big newsroom in a big building in downtown Chicago, his typewriter keys clicking away while he smokes. I actually don't know if Royko was a smoker, but his columns evoke an era when smoking wasn't quite the demon it is now. His writing is the writing of a guy who haunted local taverns, and reading him makes me think of the smell of newsprint.

Royko was also perceptive and, in some cases, prescient, as when he wrote of Rupert Murdoch in 1984: "No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper." I really wish he was still around right now; in this world of FOX News, a voice like Royko's would be invaluable. He'd only be 79 today, if a brain aneurysm hadn't struck him down in 1997. I'd love to know what Mike Royko would make of the state of journalism today, and the fact that one of the most important political commentators of our day – two of them, actually – are hosts of shows on a comedy network.

Royko could write gorgeous, lyrical prose, though, and this column of his -- from November 22, 1979, on the occasion of the sudden passing of his first wife – is a prime example. I love how delicately he chooses his visual descriptors, which details to include and which ones to omit. I love the lack of proper nouns, and that he didn't write this in the first person. The short sentences and short paragraphs are a Royko trademark, but they add up to a larger, and deeply beautiful, portrait in words of a beloved person gone too soon. A more loving tribute would be hard to think of.

The two of them first started spending weekends at the small, quiet Wisconsin lake almost twenty-five years ago. Some of her relatives let them use a tiny cottage in a wooded hollow a mile or so from the water.

He worked odd hours, so sometimes they wouldn't get there until after midnight on a Friday. But if the mosquitoes weren't out, they'd go to the empty beach for a moonlight swim, then sit with their backs against a tree and drink wine and talk about their future.

They were young and had little money, and they came from working-class families. So to them the cottage was a luxury, although it wasn't any bigger than the boat garages on Lake Geneva, where the rich people played.

The cottage had a screened porch where they sat at night, him playing a guitar and her singing folk songs in a sweet, clear voice. An old man who lived alone in a cottage beyond the next clump of woods would applaud and call out requests.

One summer the young man bought an old motorboat for a couple of hundred dollars. The motor didnt' start easily. Some weekends it didn't start at all, and she'd sit and laugh and row while he pulled the rope and swore.

But sometimes it started, and they'd ride slowly along the shoreline, looking at the houses and wondering what it would be like to have a place that was actually on the water. He'd just shake his head because even on a lake without social status, houses on the water cost a lot more than he'd ever be able to afford.

The years passed, they had kids, and after a while they didn't go to the little cottage in the hollow as often. Something was always coming up. He worked on weekends, or they had someplace else to go. Finally the relatives sold the cottage.

Then he got lucky in his work. He made more money than he had ever dreamed they'd have. They remembered how good those weekends had been and they went looking at lakes in Wisconsin to see if they could afford something on the water.

They looked at one lake, then another. Then another. Cottages they could afford, they didn't like. Those they liked were overpriced. Or the lake had too many taverns and not enough solitude.

So they went back to the little lake. They hadn't been there for years. They were surprised to find that it was still quiet. That it still had no taverns and one grocery store.

And they saw a For Sale sign in front of a cedar house on the water. They parked and walked around. It was surrounded by big old trees. The land sloped gently down to the shore. On the other side of the road was nothing but woods. Beyond the woods were farms.

On the lake side, the house was all glass sliding doors. It had a large balcony. From the outside it was perfect.

A real estate salesman let them in. The interior was stunning – like something out of a homes magazine.

They knew it had to be out of their reach. But when the salesman told them the price, it was close enough to what they could afford that they had the checkbook out before they saw the second fireplace upstairs.

They hadn't known that summers could be that good. In the mornings, he'd go fishing before it was light. She'd sleep until the birds woke her. Then he'd make breakfast and they'd eat omelets on the wooden deck in the shade of the trees.

They got to know the chipmunks, the squirrels, and a woodpecker who took over their biggest tree. They got to know the grocer, an old German butcher who smoked his own bacon, the little farmer who sold them vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet corn.

They were a little selfish about it. They seldom invited friends for weekends. But they didn't feel guilty. It was their own, quiet place.

The best part of their day was dusk. They had a west view and she loved sunsets. Whatever they were doing, they'd always stop to sit on the pier or deck and silently watch the sun go down, changing the color of the lake from blue to purple to silver and black. One evening he made up a small poem:

The sun rolls down
like a golden tear
Another day,
Another day

She told him it was sad, but that she liked it.

What she didn't like was October, even with the beautiful colors and the evenings in front of the fireplace. She was a summer person. The cold wind wasn't her friend.

And she saw November as her enemy. Sometime in November would be the day they would take up the pier, store the boat, bring in the deck chairs, take down the hammock, pour antifreeze in the plumbing, turn down the heat, lock everything tight, and drive back to the city.

She'd always sigh as they pulled onto the road. He'd try to cheer her up by stopping at a German restaurant that had good food and a corny band, and he'd tell her how quickly the winter would pass, and how soon they'd be here again.

And the snow would finally melt. Spring would come, and one day, when they knew the ice on the lake was gone, they would be back. She'd throw open all the doors and windows and let the fresh air in. Then she'd go out and greet the chipmunks and woodpeckers. And she'd plant more flowers. Every summer, there were more and more flowers. And every summer seemed better than the last. The sunsets seemed to become even more spectacular. And more precious.

This past weekend, he closed the place down for the winter. He went alone.

He worked quickly, trying not to let himself think that this particular chair had been her favorite chair, that the hammock had been her Christmas gift to him, that the lovely house on the lake had been his gift to her.

He didn't work quickly enough. He was still there at sunset. It was a great burst of orange, the kind of sunset she loved best.

He tried, but he couldn't watch it alone. Not through tears. So he turned his back on it, went inside, drew the draperies, locked the door, and drove away without looking back.

It was the last time he would ever see that lovely place. Next spring there will be a For Sale sign in front and an impersonal real estate man will show people through.

Maybe a couple who love to quietly watch sunsets together will like it. He hopes so.

Yeah, I miss Mike Royko.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

A scenario: A person, we'll call her "Ruth", is boarding a jet plane for some locale. Ruth is not old, but she does suffer from arthritis in a number of her joints, so whenever Ruth travels by air, she makes sure to purchase an aisle seat, which provides her with the greatest flexibility and ease of getting up and stretching during the flight, should the need arise.

Her fellow passengers board, including a husband who is sitting in the middle seat of Ruth's section and his wife, who is sitting in the aisle seat directly across from Ruth. The wife asks Ruth to switch places with the husband, with the husband taking the aisle seat and Ruth taking the middle seat, so the couple can 'sit together'. Ruth, citing her arthritis and the fact that she specifically paid for the aisle seat for specific reasons, refuses.

Was Ruth rude to refuse?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brightest day, darkest night, yada yada yada....

I saw Green Lantern a while back, and I've been struggling since then to figure out how to write about it. I liked the movie, quite a bit. I grant some of its flaws, but for the life of me, I can't justify the enormous piling-on of the critics who have ripped the film and given it an awful reputation. That, plus what I understand to be lackluster box office, seems to cast doubt on any hopes that Green Lantern might be the start of a franchise. Maybe DVD sales will help, but in this era of slackening DVD sales – well, I'd be surprised if the next time we see Green Lantern on the big screen will likely be a reboot that happens later rather than sooner.

Green Lantern just isn't a bad film. It simply isn't. Not one of its flaws is sufficient to sink it as an enjoyable experience, and I think that a lot of the harping on those flaws is downright unfair. One common complaint – too much CG! -- has really become, in my view, a crutch complaint that everybody levels against everything nowadays in the movies.

But the thing is...Green Lantern is a frustrating film, because I've rarely seen a movie that makes so clear the ways it could have been a truly outstanding film in its genre. On the one hand, it's a fun movie. On the other, it's a maddening one.

I came to Green Lantern fairly virginal as far as the character goes. I knew very little about him aside from the bare bones of his origin: a hotshot pilot named Hal Jordan comes across a crashed alien spaceship, whose purple-skinned pilot hands him his green ring and the green lantern that powers the ring. In this way, Jordan becomes a Green Lantern – a member of an intergalactic police force, who uses his ring's power to fight evil. I did read some recent comics -- mostly stuff by Geoff Johns -- as preparation for the movie. Some of it, I liked. Some of it (lookin' at you, Blackest Night), I thought was just over-the-top, histrionic nonsense. But anyway....

Green Lantern casts Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, and it's a fine performance. The character isn't really anything we haven't seen a lot of times before; he's the talented but uncommitted screw-up who is given power far exceeding his apparent level of maturity and who must learn to see within himself whatever the "ring" saw. Yes, that's a tried-and-true formula, but that's because when done well, it really works. In Green Lantern, it does work, but not as well as it should. Why?

Well, for one thing, the film keeps taking its focus off Hal Jordan for other things. There's a lengthy intro that tells us a lot of stuff about who the Green Lanterns are and what they do and why they do it. It's kind of interesting,'s too early for it. There's a reason why, in Star Wars, we're more than a half hour into the movie before the words "Jedi Knight" are ever uttered. The movie has to set up its enormous cosmic threat, a beastie called Parallax. Now, I liked the way Parallax was depicted, but I kept thinking throughout the movie that we really needed a tighter focus on Hal Jordan the whole way through.

And there's the other problem: Parallax isn't the only villainous force in play here; there's a whole other villain too. A scientist is somehow infected with the "Yellow" power of fear, and becomes the initial threat that Jordan must face before Parallax finally comes to call on Earth. And here is part of my general problem with superhero movies these days: they're all origins, all the time.

I don't mind origin stories for superheroes; in fact, we need them, so we know who they are and why they can do the things they do and why they do them in the first place. Problems arise when, in addition to a superhero's origin story, we also have to endure a long origin story for the villain, too. That happens here. It happens in the Spiderman movies. It's going to happen again in the new Spiderman movie, the one that's a reboot that will apparently treat us all to seeing Peter Parker bitten by the damn spider again.

The best superhero movies I've seen -- Superman, the Christopher Nolan Batman films, Iron Man – don't really bother with the origins of the villains, because they don't really need to. We can spend time delving into Superman's origin properly because we're not also having to learn all about how Lex Luthor became, well, Lex Luthor. Ditto The Dark Knight -- we know who Batman is, and all we need know about the Joker is that he's a lunatic. Now, the first two Spiderman movies were still well-made, but in each case, we still had to watch long origin stories for the supervillains. And in Spiderman 3, there were two of them.

I was looking forward to Green Lantern because of the hero's space opera nature, but it turns out that Green Lantern might have really been something special if it had omitted much of the space opera and left that for the potential sequel. I did groove on all the space stuff, but I can't help thinking that what the movie really needed to do was tighten the focus on Hal Jordan, give him more heroic things to do, and have him square off against not quite so cosmic a villain.

Random thoughts:

:: If the Lanterns can fly through space by themselves, why does Abin Sur have a spaceship at all?

:: Why can Parallax slap aside a dozen Lanterns in one scene, and then get taken to the mat by Hal Jordan?

:: The final fight is over too soon, anyway. Jordan should have been battered and bloody well before he got to his "In brightest day...." recitation. (Which was a great moment, by the way.)

:: I loved the fact that a little mask isn't enough to conceal Jordan's identity from those who know him. I also loved how he tried using the Christian Bale Batman-raspy voice.

:: Some folks have complained that Sinestro's taking of the yellow ring, during the credits, isn't set up in the movie. See, coming at this from a non-GL fan perspective, I thought that Sinestro's presence in the movie did nothing but set this up. It's the only reason he's in the movie at all. So the film is actually giving us three origin stories!

:: I loved the look of the film. It's not nearly as 'green' as the commercials and posters suggest. I also didn't find the CGI poorly done at all. But then, these kinds of complaints seem to me to usually spring from people who have an overly strong attachment to Harryhausen stop-motion stuff.

:: Having heard the score now in context of the's still a bad film score.

So there it is. I hope there's another movie, but I'm not optimistic. But I liked this one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

I could swear that I've linked this already, but for the life of me, I can't find where, so maybe it's just been on my "Link this!" radar for a while, without actually getting linked. Anyway, over at Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic there is a truly wonderful post about the pilot episode of The Incredible Hulk (the Bill Bixby-Lou Ferrigno show).

The credits roll to the theme of Joe Harnell's The Lonely Man and Banner's lonely journey begins. The theme highlights the tragic reality of the figure that is David Banner always walking away alone. This version of the Hulk has been called an "American classic." I think that is a great assessment of what the folks involved with this series, aimed for adapting from a comic book. It's the perfect American tragedy.

This was a strong start to the possibilties ahead. As a character study Johnson gets the dark tone, but I can imagine there were suits in the room that were uncomfortable with a story centered on a tragic figure. The Incredible Hulk was clearly intended to be a big green doozy of a series. It's one of the first comic book characters to move beyond conventions and present something much bigger and do so successfully.

It's really a terrific post. Go read it.

Sentential Links #253

Let the linkage commence!

:: Regardless of what Freud may have theorized,this is the ONLY time I get penis envy. (Minds out of the gutter, please. Yeah, you. Yeesh!)

:: This woman extracted a bottle of perfume from that tiny purse I just mentioned, and proceeded to spray its contents over her drink. In one quick spritz. I mean, I understand wanting to smell nice but this is ridiculous. (I'm not a martini drinker, so I have little idea what any of this means. But it's pretty funny!)

:: There's nowhere to go with that. The question ends there. The worst that can happen has happened and there's nothing good that's going to come out of it.

:: Even if that number is wildly off, would you support $30 Billion to colonize Mars? Would you end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars 70 days sooner to take the next great adventure? (I'd have ended the Iraq and Afghanistan wars years ago, and not only had the money for the next great adventure but true healthcare reform to boot. But that's just me.)

:: So with a half-smile that was a mixture of sadness and satisfaction, I said my goodbyes to shuttle Atlantis, clicked off my computer, and went back to bed for a couple hours. And as I was drifting off, the DJ in my head served up a fragment of an old song, Bob Seger's "Against the Wind," a line about deadlines and commitments, and a mood of being resigned to an unadventurous adulthood even while your spirit is still yearning for something else...

:: I will continue to enjoy the harvest and reap the benefits of my spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, basil and the many other healthy greens that are sustaining me this summer. I will continue to check the garden each morning with excitement and anticipation -- and holding my breath that I don't wake up to zucchini the size of my Mini Cooper. You laugh. But at this current growth rate, anything is possible.

:: Oh, man, when I analyzed Monday’s Funky Winkerbean, I obviously wasn’t prepared for the multiple layers of smugness we were in for. Les didn’t smugly display his superiority over his old professor; instead, he refrained from this act of petty taunting, so he could come home and wax smugly about his moral superiority. Kudos to you, sir!

:: Add very little water and food colouring to the icing sugar until you have a glue-like paste. Don't make it too runny or you'll end up with Shoggoths instead of Cthulhus.

More next week!

Sunday, July 24, 2011


SSM! Oh NOES!!!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Today was the day that gay people could officially marry in the state of New York. I keep waiting for my wedding ring to disappear from this universe, in dead-Jedi fashion, as clearly now my own marriage is bereft of meaning. But oddly, the ring just sits there, being all ring-y and stuff. If this keeps up, I may start to suspect that maybe gay marriage is just fine.

Brief notes from the vacation

So, here I am, writing on the last day of my vacation. Although, that raises an interesting question -- is this actually the official last day of my vacation, since I'd be off on Sunday anyway? Did "vacation" actually end around 4:00 pm on Friday afternoon, which is roughly when my work week usually ends? Hmmmmm. (I once worked with a guy who actually tried arguing with management that since vacation weeks included days he normally didn't work -- that particular company required vacation time to be used one entire week at a time -- that he was somehow getting screwed out of paid time. I found his argument unconvincing, as did management.)

Anyhow, some random notes are below the fold.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

[Link fixed]

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Back in the day -- and maybe even now, I wouldn't know -- Marvel Comics had a character who was inspired by the 1970s disco craze. She was a mutant who went by the name "Dazzler", and she was basically a human disco ball: her mutant superpower was the ability to absorb sound energy and convert it to light. In her first appearance, she was singing at a disco and using the throbbing beat and ambient noise to create her own psychedelic laser light show. Interesting idea, actually, and Dazzler had her own title for a few years. (I read it for a while. It was really pretty "Meh".)

But apparently Dazzler was created with the intent of putting her in a movie -- a movie that might have been one of the most whacked-out, grandly weird superhero movies of all time. The movie would have co-starred KISS (yes, the rock band at the height of its painted-faces fame) and Rodney Dangerfield playing multiple parts. Read about it here -- it's so insane that I can't help but be sad that it never came to pass.

(Thanks to SamuraiFrog, who posted this on Facebook.)

:: Minor leaguer throws no-hitter, but it is later -- two days later -- officially ruled not to have been a no-hitter. And yet, the very fabric of baseball's space-time continuity would have been destroyed utterly if the reverse had happened last year for the guy who did throw a perfect game but was not credited one because the umpire screwed up. Sure. Whatever. (I still think that folks who think that baseball would have been thrown into chaos if we for one second considered that maybe, just maybe, umpire decisions shouldn't be treated as Sacred Writ even when they're wrong were full of crap.)

:: Greatest video ever!

More next week!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Will you....

In truth, I don't think I'd ever heard a single song by Amy Winehouse until just a few minutes ago. It was this one: her cover of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", which is a long-standing favorite love song of mine to begin with.

On the basis of that, it seems clear to me that a talent was lost today. And that's always a sad thing. I hope she has found peace.

Saturday Centus

This week we only have fifteen words to work with. Hoo boy. Jenny says that she's looking to provoke "deep thoughts" with this prompt, but as always, I prefer to not go very deep. I'm a "stay right at the surface" kind of guy, so here's a short scene:

HE: Before I die, I want to--

SHE: But you're a ghost. You're already dead.


HE: Shit.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Sigh...., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

"Well, I'm back," he said.

Kind of odd that the first photo from our trip that I upload is actually the last one taken, but I'm not always prone to doing things in correct order! Anyway, we're back in WNY, and that's the sunset from last night when we were on Route 219 near Springville, with only about 25 miles left to drive.

More details to come, but the trip's over. Normal life resumes...soon. (Trip may be over, but vacation isn't!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dispatch from the Shore

Hey all,

We're having a great time here on the Jersey Shore. It's funny -- I'm aware of the existence of a teevee show called The Jersey Shore, and that's that, but when I was telling people that my family and I were going to the Jersey Shore, lots of folks grinned and said, "What happens at The Shore stays at The Shore". And that sounds great and all, but it doesn't make for good blogging. So, a couple of notes thus far:

:: It turns out that the tastiness of rum varies in direct proportion to one's proximity to salt water. Rum's great in Buffalo. But drinking rum when you're so close to the ocean that even through closed doors you can hear waves breaking? Awesome.

:: I'm planning to sample some tequila later. I'll just have it on the rocks, maybe with a lime twist. None of that licking-salt stuff; that's just gross.

:: Yeah, it's really hot. But late in the afternoon when the wind is coming off the shore, it's very pleasant and can get downright chilly.

:: Kite surfing looks like more fun than anyone should be allowed to have during one activity.

:: I dislike tourist-trap pricing.

Reactions to world events:

:: The Pirates aren't just toying with having a season over .500, but they've been flirting with first place. In fact, as of this writing, they hold a one-half game lead in the NL Central. This amazes me.

:: The NFL lockout sure has been "on the verge of ending" for quite a while now.

:: Thinking it over, it becomes clear to me that the Republicans have been getting a little crazier each year for something like thirty years. Every time election season starts to roll around, they're just a little bit more insane. It terrifies me to think that as batshit crazy as Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry are, in 2015 (assuming an Obama reelection next year) there will a whole bunch of Republicans coming to the fore who are crazier than that.

:: Rupert Murdoch apparently got a pie thrown at him today. This disappoints me. I can think of few people less deserving of a pie in the face than Rupert Murdoch. But then, I'm odd.

:: And finally, it continues to amaze me that you don't have to venture far from Western New York to see how much nicer folks have it just about anyplace else. Cities and towns with waterfronts, that let folks build things as long as they comply with certain zoning requirements, cities and towns that...oh well.

More upon my return to society. Having great time, wishing you were!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wondering where I'm going?

Strathmere, NJ, originally uploaded by READYMADE1969.

This place. And I can NOT wait to be there. It's been fourteen-plus years since I walked in salt water.


A meta-note: as of today, I am on my first week-long vacation since my sister-in-law got married in July 2005. We're taking a trip for a few days, during which I expect that Internet access will be spotty and I'll be doing other stuff anyway. So, there may be some posting here, but there also may not. You never know! I'll probably post a few times to Twitter, since all I need for that is my phone. But new content will likely be infrequent for most of the upcoming week.

Saturday Centus

I never got around to last week's prompt, because last Saturday was unusually hectic and then I forgot about it until just now. So I'll do a two-fer in this post. First, my use of last week's prompt:

It was already over ninety degrees at 7:00 a.m., and the road stretched out before them, heading straight into the sun. The mountains were behind them, and the dry, deserted lowlands were next. Joe floored the gas of the old Ford pickup, and Joleen sighed.

"There was a sign back there," Joleen said. "And the sign read--"

"Too late for that," Joe said. "This old girl's either got 400 miles left in her, or she don't."

Joleen went back to staring out the window. She remembered an old joke: "Ford: Found On Road Dead". She laughed, humorlessly.

399 miles to go.

And now, my use of this week's prompt, wherein we are also commanded to only use 25 words, not including the words in the prompt itself. I'm a bit political here, but I make no apologies:

"Thou shalt let them marry," said Jesus. "A new commandment? Why? They're getting it on their own."

"They're slow about it," said God. "And I'm not getting any younger."

Friday, July 15, 2011

A good idea is just a bad idea that's been waiting a while.

I've been a subscriber to WIRED for years -- I know I started in the late 90s, at least. I've always been a big fan of the magazine. As a subscriber back in 1999 or thereabouts, I got a little package in the mail one day. It contained one of these:

This is a gizmo that they called a "CueCat". It wasn't invented by WIRED, but they distributed them. You plugged it into your computer, and the CueCat (get it? A 'cat' to go with your 'mouse'?) is then a barcode scanner. The idea was that you'd be reading a magazine or some other publication, come across a special barcode, scan it with your CueCat, and then your computer would launch a special website only activated by that barcode.

It was a pretty goofy idea, really -- who was reading magazines and scanning barcodes? The notion never got off the ground, and the CueCat has been synonymous with "idiotic tech idea" ever since.

But now...the newest thing is using one's smartphone to scan a barcode-looking emblem on a product or advertisement, in order to launch the smartphone's browser and bring up a special website accessible only in this manner.

So the CueCat was a good idea that was waiting for wireless smartphones. Every idea comes back, sooner or later!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Remissful blogger is remissful.

I've been remiss (!) in noting that MD Jackson of Skylarking has awarded me one of those blogging award things, this one called the "Versatility Award". This is because I'm a versatile blogger. (I know, it's just like the title of the award!)

So, as is usual with this type of thing, I'm supposed to provide seven facts about myself and then give the award to several other bloggers. I usually skip these steps, but what the hey...only problem is, after nine-plus years of blogging, I'm almost at a loss as to what facts I still can 'reveal' about myself that aren't common knowledge to those who read this blog on any kind of basis, regular or not.

By way of a bit of navel-gazing, I've noticed a substantial drop in traffic round these parts lately. What I think has happened is that Google may have shuffled its image hit results, because those seem to be the hits that I'm not getting as much of anymore. I don't expect traffic to ever jump here again, really -- it may fluctuate upward a bit, but I suspect that my average number of viewers is pretty much calcified in place. That kind of bums me out, but as I've noted, it's also a bit liberating in a way. I've wondered occasionally over the years if it's my blogging versatility that's kept this blog from ever becoming highly trafficked, but now...well, who cares.

Anyway, seven facts!

1. My first-ever job, as I've noted before, was as a technical-services assistant at the library at St Bonaventure University. I was one of several people who did things like put new card pockets in the backs of books, weeded cards from the card catalog, and stuff like that. I don't imagine very many of those tasks are the same now...but that was my first real job. I went from never having worked to suddenly working eight-hour shifts during summer after my senior year. That was quite a shock to the system. I probably should have had a part-time job at some point before that, but in high school I was a social stick-in-the-mud and thus didn't really need a whole lot of money over and above my allowance from my parents.

2. My current job at The Store, as I've noted before, involves the use of a lot of power tools, and I've grown quite proficient and knowledgeable about tools and their uses in seven years. I can do a lot of stuff, and it's been a thrill learning it all and continuing to learn. I'm enormously lucky to have scored a job that provides literally years of learning opportunities and skills which will serve me well in other areas of life. And boy howdy, did I have a lot to learn. When I first got hired, in my first few days a manager asked me to put some paper towel dispensers up on several walls. He handed me a drill with a driver bit and some drywall screws and sent me off...but I had to go back to him for help, because the screws were Philips head and the bit in the drill was for slotted screws, and I didn't know how to change a bit in a drill.

3. I have an odd fascination, as I've noted before, with pies in faces. I think a pie in the face is all kinds of awesome...but I hate seeing newly-married brides and grooms smearing wedding cake all over one another. This irritates me to no end. It strikes me as godawfully inappropriate and never makes me laugh. The Wife and I did not do this. Neither of us wanted to do it.

4. I'm not a fan, as I've noted before, of mashed potatoes. I don't like the flavor or the texture, and gravy doesn't save them, either. But mashed potatoes do fall into that odd category of "Foods I don't like but yet always look really good to me when I see them". Mashed potatoes on someone else's plate look so yummy! So does pineapple on pizza, and so does sauerkraut. But I'm not a fan of any of these. (I do think that cooking meat in sauerkraut does wonderful things to the meat. The 'kraut itself, I can take or leave. Like it on Reuben sandwiches, though. And just today I tried some on a hot dog, and that was OK.) And no, broccoli does not fall into one of those categories. Broccoli looks, to me, like it tastes: the Food of the Devil.

5. I realized a while back that in my current work-in-progress, the space opera novel, I'm envisioning one of my characters as Nichelle Nichols in the Star Trek III-IV-V era. I thought that the older Uhura really had this sexy, "Don't make light of my opening and closing hailing frequencies because I can kick your ass without so much as reaching for my phaser" thing going on.

6. Vegetarianism isn't for me, but I do like to explore vegetarian options now and again and am planning to do more of it. Veganism strikes me as an approach that makes some fairly odd assumptions regarding the suffering and 'exploitation' of animals. The 'raw food' movement? That's the one that makes me want to eat a bacon cheeseburger out of spite. Judgmental? Sure. Hey, I've got limitations, same as everybody else.

7. To this very day I have never attended a single rock concert. The closest I've come was "Classical Mystery Tour", a Beatles tribute band that performed with the BPO a year ago. (Which was, truly, a wonderful concert.) In all honesty, I don't really think I've missed anything -- except for Van Halen.

OK, there are seven facts about me. All of them are certified true, or your money back. Now to give the Versatile Blogger award to others! As always, this comes with absolutely no obligation to play along.

Jason Bennion of Simple Tricks and Nonsense blogs about his difficult relationship with his father, his sadness over the space shuttle program ending, his thoughts on movies, and occasionally his experiences as a fairly liberal guy with a beard living in deeply conservative, facial-hair-free Salt Lake City. I just wish he could post more, but judging by how often I see him post things on Facebook like "Yeah, it's 7:00 and I'm still at the office", I can totally understand why he is limited.

Lynn Sislo of Violins and Starships has been a daily read of mine for years, and I see no sign of that ending. She'll put up a post about a sewing project and then blog about the science fiction book she's just read, and other topics in between. Endlessly fascinating blogging from the wilds of Oklahoma!

SK Waller of Incurable Insomniac is also a fantastic blogger from the wilds of Oklahoma. She's had a tough go of it through life, but she writes openly and honestly about it all. Hers is a musical soul, and she's got a lot of songs to sing. I constantly wish for her to have a big success story.

Roger Owen Green of Rambling with Roger is the very picture of intellectual curiosity. He's one of those folks who engages with the world in such a way as to always have something new and interesting to say. And he blogs every day. That's amazing in itself, these days in Blogistan!

In truth, I could pass out two dozen of these and still have room for more; most of my favorite bloggers now are the "versatile" types. Single-subject blogs have to be very fascinating or well-written to keep my interest, and I've almost completely given up on political blogs entirely (I still have four favorites that I check in on, once or twice a week). I get the sense that blogging is settling into a niche hobby, like all others. But it's still my hobby! Thanks for all the versatility out there, Blogistan!

Hee hee....

I've interacted with a good many libertarians in the time I've been online, and I can probably lose a few fingers on one hand and still use that same hand to count the number of 'em who don't fall into one of these categories.


Something for Thursday

A gloriously beautiful setting of Ave Maria by Franz Biebl.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's a lonely ex-planet to do?

According to Pearls Before Swine, Pluto has a sad.

You'll always be a planet to me, Pluto!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

This question came up over on the FSM boards, and I actually found it interesting, so I'll post it here.

You buy a CD. Some time later, it doesn't matter how long, you rip the CD to your computer's hard drive for your own personal use, either to burn a new copy to use in the car or to put on your MP3 player or to listen using your computer speakers or whatever. Some time after that, for whatever reason, you decide to sell the original CD.

Should you then delete the ripped music files from your computer?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Openly Judging You

This (.pdf warning) may be the greatest judicial ruling ever written. Or maybe not. I'd have to read others by this same fellow to be sure. It's the final ruling in a divorce case that has apparently been extremely acrimonious, and the judge's response (the Hon. J.W. Quinn, of St. Catherines, ON -- just about a 35 minute drive from Casa Jaquandor, depending on the border crossings!), in the end, is to fill his ruling with lots of dry wit. The very first sentence is "Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud." And check out the bits during a section wherein he details the various death threats made against the husband by the wife and her family.

:: After noting that Larry (the husband) has provided evidence that Catherine (the wife) tried to run over him with the family van, the judge notes in a footnote: "This is always a telltale sign that a husband and wife are drifting apart."

:: When noting a threat that Larry would "end up floating in the canal dead", the judge notes this by saying, "A nautical theme was added."

:: He closes this section thusly: "As can be seen, Catherine and her relatives are one-dimensional problem solvers."

Read through this thing. It is terrific!

(The title of this post is a shout-out to a Twitter- and Tumblr-mate of mine who goes by the handle "Silently Judging You". Greetings, SJY, if you read this!)

The Beatles Song of the Week: "Octopus's Garden"

Well, I couldn't have picked a worse title for this series of posts if I tried, huh? "Beatles Song of the Week"? Yeah, if we redefine "week" to mean "some indeterminate period of time that bears no relationship to a seven day span". But anyway, about "Octopus's Garden". I can't get enough of this song. It just tickles my hippie heart, in a big way.

At first hearing, "Octopus's Garden" sounds like a harmless bit of bubblegum fluff, and at its most basic level, that's pretty much what it is. Sandwiched on the Abbey Road album between the swelteringly sexy "Oh! Darling" and the grinding blues styling of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", we find this happy song with its infectious beat, its guitar riffs that sound like pure fun, and its playful lyrics that are warm and colorful.

I'd like to be under the sea 
In an octopus's garden in the shade 
He'd let us in, knows where we've been 
In his octopus's garden in the shade 
I'd ask my friends to come and see 
In an octopus's garden with me 
I'd like to be under the sea 
In an octopus's garden in the shade 

We would be warm below the storm 
In our little hideaway beneath the waves 
Resting our head on the sea bed 
In an octopus's garden near a cave 
We would sing and dance around 
because we know we can't be found 
I'd like to be under the sea 
In an octopus's garden in the shade 

We would shout and swim about 
The coral that lies beneath the waves 
Oh what joy for every girl and boy 
Knowing they're happy and they're safe 
We would be so happy you and me 
No one there to tell us what to do 
I'd like to be under the sea 
In an octopus's garden with you 
in an octopus's garden with you 
in an octopus's garden with you

This is such a perfect little love song for its era, with its lyrical suggestions of an exotic realm that only the two lovers of the song can know about, a world of colors and warmth and safety. We would be warm below the storm / in our little hideaway beneath the waves makes clear that there is, in fact a storm that needs to be hidden from. And it seems to me a bit of wisdom to suggest that sometimes, in the face of a storm, the best thing to do is hole up in a little hideaway with someone you love. Someone with whom you can rest your head on the sea bed.

Musically, the song is interesting on its own. The guitar intro, punctuated twice by chords and drum hits, seems a bit mysterious at first, with a peppy sound but being played in such a way that the song's meter and rhythm don't become clear until the main body of the song begins. Also heard throughout the song is a tinny, saloon-style piano backing the main action, and the rest of the band (this one is sung by Ringo Starr, who also wrote it) provides appropriately cheerful backing vocals. The song's final bars, with the final line repeated three times and the guitar answering each time before leading out in much the same way the song began, is a wonderful effect.

I mentioned above the contrast "Octopus's Garden" makes with the two songs on either side of it on Abbey Road. This effect can't be overstated, but then, Abbey Road is such a brilliantly assembled album of contrasts, with "Oh! Darling" leading into "Octopus's Garden" leading into "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" leading into "Here Comes the Sun".

This song seems so silly, so goofy. And I can't get enough of it.

And hey, this song was good enough to be covered by the Muppets.

Monday, July 11, 2011

X-Files Case Report: "Eve"

"One girl was just abducted."
"Potato, po-tah-to." (Mulder and Scully)

"Eve" is one of the stronger episodes of the first season, and it's actually a very memorable tale, only partially undone by some poor storytelling in the last act.

A shocking murder takes place in Connecticut, where a suburban father is found sitting on his daughter's backyard swing set. His skin has gone completely white, and there are two distinctive puncture wounds in his neck. Only his daughter is there to see.

This sounds like a vampire story at first, but when learning of the case, Mulder's initial hypothesis is alien abduction, based on blood loss that resembles that in cattle mutilation cases. Since the daughter reports having seen nothing, Mulder interprets this as a "time loss", similar also to that of alien abduction cases. This is the direction in which things are going, when another murder takes place in San Francisco – under identical circumstances. When Mulder and Scully investigate this one, they find that this victim also has a daughter, who is identical to the daughter of the first victim.

There are a number of twists and turns in the course of this case, but it eventually turns out that the two girls are the second-generation progeny of a woman 'created' in secret US government eugenics experiments that took place at the beginning of the Cold War. The experiments created children with strong psychological connections to one another – and also with deep psychoses. The earlier woman – named 'Eve' – used her job as a fertility doctor to inseminate couples with her own created embryos, leading to the births of identical children on opposite sides of the country – but children who somehow already know of each other's existence.

This is all very eerie and effective, until the final act, when Mulder and Scully are taking the two girls to where they can be treated or observed or some such thing. The girls are planning to kill Mulder and Scully, and their plan is to poison their soft drinks with digitalis, the same poison they had used on their own fathers. The script establishes that the poison has a very sweet flavor, so it's maddening when Mulder and Scully both comment on how sweet their drinks taste but don't put two and two together. Mulder figures things out, though, when he realizes he'd left his car keys on the counter of the truck stop where they'd bought their drinks. He goes back in, grabs his keys, and finds a couple drops of the poison right there on the counter. This whole scene is just awfully done. The rest of the episode is very good; I can't believe the writers (Kenneth Biller and Christopher Brancato) couldn't come up with a better way to have Mulder or Scully figure things out.

My only other quibble is the show's apparent growing reliance on the Deep Throat character to show up and provide an infodump at some point. Mulder always seems to have his source of information that jump-starts his investigations.

Nevertheless, the episode has a nicely chilling premise, its first three acts have enough shifts that we don't know what's going on, and the last scene is one of those niftily eerie ways The X-Files had of ending things on a note of non-resolution. It's a very good episode that is mainly marred by some deus ex machina in the end.

Sentential Links #252

Steaming forward....

:: A sad end to the life of a great man. Perhaps we might convert the facility from storage unit to museum at some point to honor one of the greatest engineers in the history of mankind. (Tesla was a towering genius. He was also an eccentric lunatic. Truly one of the fascinating figures in science, not just in terms of discovery but also in terms of cautionary tales.)

:: What can I say. I was HIGH from the whole experience. (This post makes my heart sing. Seriously. Go read it.)

:: Ah, but I am one of a dying breed, I fear. There is no room in our modern, confoozled America for artful living. Life has gotten too hard. I really belong in Europe and, if I could somehow manage it, that's where I'd be. (I wish I knew how to disagree with this, but I don't. I do think it depends on where one is, though...there are places in America where this kind of living is OK. Ithaca, NY strikes me as one such place.)

:: But once again, the voice of Mission Control reminds us... this is the last time this woman will ever show off for us. Savor every moment with her, because soon she'll be gone. (There's a quote by Stephen King that keeps popping into my mind as the space shuttle program comes to its conclusion, with nothing in sight to follow it...and as America is turning into a country that seriously mulls over things like privatizing state parks and closing libraries. Referring to something else, King says: "I don't wish to speak too disparagingly of my generation...actually, I do, we had a chance to change the world and opted for the Home Shopping Network instead."

:: Anyway, the whole point of this sordid tale is this: when Watson woke me up this morning by punching me in the face from inside my nose, I thought this would be pretty funny: "Me: Dude, come on, cat. Your toxic shit is suffocating me over here! Cat: I CAN HAZ-MAT? Me: Yes. Yes you can." (Only cat owners would find the humor in a story about horrible cat shit.)

:: I've been musing on how goodbyes never get any easier. Every other task I can think of seems to get easier with practice. My proficiency increases with repetition. Alas, parting from those I love is not like that. (No, this one does not get easier. Nor does comforting friends at funerals.)

:: I’ve given you a lot to think about and digest in this letter. Chances are you’ll forget most of it. So if you only take away one thing from this message, let it be this – don’t be a douche.

More next week!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: What happens if you eat that little packet of stuff that says "Do Not Eat"?

:: In general, 62 percent of people like spicy food. But among those who think flag burning should be illegal, 78 percent like spicy food. How do we know this?, that's how!

:: I did not know that the Taco Bell chihuahua ads actually led to decreased sales at Taco Bell. The things you learn.

:: I'm of mixed mind on this super-patriotic paint job on a Camaro, which a friend e-mailed me last week. On the one hand, yes, that's a really impressive bit of car painting. But on the other hand, I'm really tired of the brand of patriotism that seems to only define national greatness in terms of wars we've fought.

More next week!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

At the Taste

This weekend sees the annual Taste of Buffalo food festival, which takes place downtown. We go every year, and I've blogged about it before, but here are thoughts from this year's edition! (If you don't care, I'll put it below the fold and you can ignore it. Unless you read me on Google Reader, in which case, well, you're screwed.)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Cheez Balls!

Cheez Balls!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.


I've written before of my love-affair as a kid with Planters Cheez Balls. Those things were wonderful, just wonderful...and they're gone. Made no longer. They live now only in Valhalla, where only those warriors who gave their lives in battle get to feast upon their globular cheesy goodness for all eternity.

Cheez Balls may seem like just plain old cheese puffs in ball shape, as opposed to the longer twisty kinds, but it was the ball shape that made them wonderful. For one thing, Cheez Balls had more crunch to them than your regular cheese puff; they were, in terms of crunch, about halfway in between "regular Cheetos" and "crunchy Cheetos". The round shape concentrated that delicate crunch, and in addition to the Cheez flavor, Cheez Balls had a distinct aftertaste of corn.

Planters Cheez Balls were the perfect snack, and I've mourned their passing. Mourned, I say!

But tonight, I was in Target, looking for a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part one on deeveedee, and I darted down the snack aisle looking to see what was new. I'm not sure what for...a coworker told me about a new Honey BBQ flavor of Cheetos, but I was just looking around, mainly. And then I saw a whole shelf...full of these huge plastic jugs...filled with small globes of puffed cheese goodness.

And now, one of those jugs is mine. Mine, I tell you! Mine, all mine! are they? They're really close to Planters Cheez Balls, actually. The cheese flavor and the delicate crunch are dead on. The only thing missing is that noticeable aftertaste of can detect it, actually, but it's not as strong.

Now to put an Errol Flynn movie on the teevee on Sunday afternoon...and plop down in the middle of the living room floor...with the cheese balls!

We could quibble all day on who shot first....

I've been waffling on whether or not to write this post, as part of it involves blogging about work, which I'm not generally thrilled to do, but I don't think that the relevant work details are especially sensitive, so here goes.

A few weeks back, the fine folks at Cultural Compulsive Disorder (one of my favorite pop-culture blogs, by the way) decided that it would be cool to show all six Star Wars movies in their favorite bar. They were going to make a thing out of this -- they put up flyers, and so on. Come to the bar, buy drinks or snacks or whatever, and watch Star Wars for free.

Unfortunately -- but, I think, fairly predictably -- Lucasfilm caught wind of this and issued a cease-and-desist letter. Now, they got their details wrong, thinking that this was to be a charged-admission event, but still, the writing was on the wall: No public screening of Star Wars without permission. Naturally, this didn't go over well with the CCD guys, although they are complying.

Cal (of Canadian Cave fame) commented on this, and I left the following comment (slightly revised) in response.

Firstly, there's an awful lot of blasting of Lucas personally here and on CCD. I suspect that Lucas in all likelihood personally knows absolutely nothing about this whole affair, and that this is the work of a legal department and nothing else. And the fact is, this isn't an abnormal thing to happen. It may suck, but it's not unheard-of or out of the blue.

Here's a true story. I work at a big grocery store, as you may know, which is part of a pretty large chain in the Northeast US. A couple of years ago, someone at corporate thought it would be cool to have "Movie Nights" on Fridays in our cafe's. We'd show a movie in the cafe, something "family friendly", the idea being that parents would bring their kids to watch the movie and maybe buy a meal or two to eat in the cafe. I'm not sure how it's worked out in terms of increasing sales, but it's worked fairly well at least as far as getting people to come watch the movies.

Some stores show their movies on a large flatscreen teevee, but the fellow who was store manager at the time had a "Go big or go home" type of philosophy, so at his command, we went all out. We bought a commercial corn popper. Two dozen bean-bag chairs to be put out for kids to use. A large carpet to roll out (our cafe's floor is quarry tile). And for screening? We installed a 16' by 9' screen, a ceiling-mounted projector, and a home-theater sound system with five surround speakers and a subwoofer. (I got to install all that, along with the help of another guy. It was actually a really fun project to do.) Attendance at our movie nights has been hit-or-miss (we do one or two a month, packing 'em in sometimes and not so much other times), but for quality of the set-up, we're top-notch.

But about six months ago, we got a letter from the MPAA. They weren't telling us to stop, but they were notifying us that since we (the company, not my store specifically) were screening movies for more than 25 people at once, this constituted a "public screening", and thus, we had to pay for the privelege. So now, the company must pay some money to the MPAA every time one of our stores has a movie night. It's not a huge amount -- our company can easily afford it -- but still, those are the rules. Oh, and there was one other rule: No screening of Disney movies is allowed. Period. And that includes Pixar, unfortunately. Disney, apparently, said "No free screenings of our films."

None of this is meant to be a defense of Lucasfilm's reaction, but, unfortunately, that's the lay of the land, and has been for quite some time. In all honesty, I do think that the fine folks at CCD should, when dreaming this idea up, have contacted Lucasfilm first to ask permission to have a free screening of the movies in a bar. Those disclaimers at the beginning of every movie on home video since the early days of VHS -- "This film is licensed for private viewing only" -- are easily dismissed, but legal departments of production companies take them seriously.

I obviously have no idea if Lucasfilm would have OK'd a free screening of Star Wars in a bar or not. I've seen screenings of the films advertised occasionally around town, though, so I would think they'd be at least somewhat open to the idea. Again, I don't know -- but I do know that this sort of thing is part of the whole copyright landscape these days, and that organizers of such events are best advised to proceed with caution and get permissions.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Something for Thursday

A bit of film music today, from the movie Aliens.

I've written before that I'm not a big fan of the Alien franchise. The first one I generally find dreary, slow, and not terribly effective upon repeat viewings. I've read a lot of defenses of the film that seem to come from an almost Freudian perspective, so many actually that I've now come to refer to Alien in my head as Attack of the Killer Space Vaginas. I'm not convinced.

Alien 3 is complete garbage, just another dipping-into-the-well that makes zero sense and worse, starts off by immediately killing the characters we'd come to care about in the previous film. I've never even attempted seeing the fourth one, any of the Alien vs. Predator exercises in lunacy, and I have no interest in Ridley Scott's apparent Alien prequel.

But I did recently watch Aliens, the second film in the series, for the first time in maybe ten years. This one was written and directed by James Cameron, and it remains my least favorite of his films. But I do respect Aliens a bit more now, for the slick action entertainment it is. I was struck at how little gore there actually is in Aliens, for one thing. I do still have problems with the movie -- mainly the way the plot just unfolds in a fashion that is almost grimly predictable. Everything that happens is telegraphed way before it does so; witness the awful foreshadowing of the movie coming to a crashing halt just to make sure that we all know that Ripley's got some serious forklift-mecha suit-handling skills. Aliens has almost no surprises and mainly succeeds on the strength of the direction, the cast, the effects, and James Horner's score.

Even there, though, we find problems. I've read that Horner had very little time to write the music, which serves as an excuse, but it's still the case that listening to his music to Aliens is basically like listening to a greatest-hits compilation of Horner's film music work to that point. He wasn't a big name at this point; his highest profile work was for Star Treks II and III, but both of these are virtually quoted verbatim in Aliens. It gets awfully distracting at times -- but there are still spots in the score where Horner gets it dead on. Perhaps the most famous of these, among film music fans, is the music that accompanies the final escape from the planet surface. It's one of the best "climactic scene" bits of scoring I know. Here's "Bishop's Countdown".

By the way, there's a part in the movie where Newt, the little girl, slips into an air duct that goes down quite a ways. She screams as she slides down the metal tube, leaving Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) screaming in horror that she's lost the girl she's sworn to protect. Apparently during filming, the actress playing Newt found dropping down that tube a blast, so she purposely kept screwing up the scene so she could keep doing it. James Cameron finally had to promise her that if she got the scene right this time, she could spend the rest of the day playing on her new slide. I love movie-making stories like that!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Let there be light!

Here's a nice article about the next wave of indoor lighting, the natural-spectrum LED bulb. These will almost certainly be supplanting even the compact fluorescent bulb within five or ten years. They're available right now in smaller wattages, but a 100W version is coming. (That's wattage equivalency, not actual wattage of the bulb. We should really discuss bulbs in terms of lumens, rather than wattage.)

I switched Casa Jaquandor over to CFLs entirely (except for our dining room light, which is on a dimmer) a few years ago. I've never had a problem with fluorescent light, and I especially prefer the ones that enclose the spiral tube in a bulb that softens the light. I find the light quality indistinguishable from regular incandescents, and I actually like how CFLs start out quite dim before warming up over a minute. Being able to turn on the bathroom lights when I stagger in there at 4:00 am without initially blinding myself? That's a feature, not a bug!

But even so, I wouldn't say I love the CFLs; they get the job done and I'm perfectly happy with them. But I've known all along that CFLs are just going to be around as long as it takes for the LED bulbs to get better and cheaper. That day is coming, and I'm looking forward to light bulbs that will last twenty years.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

After a conversation on Facebook this morning about how cool US Route 20 is (US 20 runs from Boston, MA to Newport, OR...and right past Casa Jaquandor...and through the part of Iowa where my college is), here's the question: what's your favorite road and what's so great about it?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Snoring into Bethlehem

Some lady just got acquitted of murder, apparently. Maybe one day I'll understand why this murder trial commands so much attention over all the other ones that barely enter the public consciousness even in the municipalities where they take place, much less the national consciousness. Maybe, but I doubt it. And I still don't care.

Monday, July 04, 2011

When in the course of human events....

This is a repost from July 4, one year ago today. Happy birthday, America!

Here's a really weird story. It's so weird, I'm not sure the historians didn't make it up out of whole cloth. It seems that around 235 years ago or so, some folks living in a place under the rule of a King decided that they didn't much like the way that King was ruling them. At all. They pretty much decided, en masse, that their King was behaving, to use a current term, like a douche.

Now, over the many centuries before these folks came along, lots of other folks in other lands have decided that their Kings and Queens were being douchey, so they came up with ways to replace them. They'd organize revolts, usually behind the banner of some obscure relative of the monarch's so they could say that their person has a better claim to the throne, and off they'd go. So you'd expect that the folks we're talking about here would have just said, "You know what? Our King is a douche. Let's replace him with a new King."

But these folks didn't say that. What they said was, "Not only does our King suck, but he sucks so much that we're now thinking maybe we won't even have any more Kings. We'll do it all ourselves."

Over a year or so, there were some battles and skirmishes between these folks and the troops sent by the King to put down the pesky rebels, but it didn't work, and that notion -- "No more Kings and Queens!" -- took hold. It became a really popular idea, so finally, these folks appointed some representatives to gather in one of their cities and talk these issues over. The conversation went like this:

GUY #1: So, we're all agreed then? Kings suck?

GUY #2: Yes, Verily, they suck.

GUY #1: OK, so what do we do?

GUY #3: Well, we're already fighting, so we just keep fighting. But we should probably tell the King that we're being serious and we're not just a bunch of rabble-rousers here.

GUY #1: Right! How do we do that?

GUY #4: How 'bout a letter? I've got some nice parchment, quills, and a new bottle of ink.

GUY #2: Good idea! But you're about as eloquent as my cow. You'll just write "Hey King, sod off" and be done with it. We should be a bit more poetic about it.

GUY #4: How about Tom? He's pretty poetic.

GUY #1: Good idea! Let Tom do it. Now where's that Adams guy with the beer?

So a guy named Tom wrote the King a sternly-worded letter. It was pretty wordy, given the standards of the time, so here's a paraphrase:

Dear King,

We the undersigned, being representatives of the people of your colonies, have collectively decided that you are a douche and we don't want to live under your rule anymore. Furthermore, we're going to come up with a government of our own that won't even have a King. Now, we've just called you a douche, so you're probably thinking that we should be kind enough to at least tell you all the reasons we have for thinking you're a douche, so there's a list of those reasons later on. For now, suffice it to say that we believe in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. And you don't. And since we like the whole Life and Liberty thing a lot more than we like you, we're gonna take those and let you do whatever it is you do with your time in that Palace of yours.

So, here's the list of ways you've pissed us off. Note how long it is. You don't have to be a douche, you know.


See? Really, dude. There's no reason for some of that stuff, right? So anyway, have a good life and all. You've still got your island, and Canada seems pretty happy with you for some reason (but really, they're weird folks to begin with, what with that odd game they like to play on ice). But we're out of here.

All the guys present

PS: Could you make sure your soldiers always wear those bright red coats? It makes it really easy to see 'em in the forests. KTHXBAI.

And so it came to pass that after some years of war, and some further years of cruddy government, they all got together again and figured out how they wanted to set up their new, "No Kings!" government. Their notion was to spread power out amongst a bunch of folks who were accountable to the people, and to further make sure that their government was required to respect certain rights that couldn't be taken away. It was a really weird idea...and yet, these folks worked hard to make it work, and their children kept working hard to make it work, and their children kept at it, and so on and so on and son on, until today.

Does it still work? Sometimes yes, sometimes not so much. But we're still here, and we're still working at it.

So Happy Birthday, United States of America! You're a wonderful, weird, beautiful, maddening, and awesome country.

(Hey! Uncle George is in there!)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Leaps and bounds

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy has a fascinating article in the New York Post about the impending end of the space shuttle program.

It’s fashionable to say the Shuttle program was a failure — too expensive, too limited. But progress is not a steady curve. Not all steps are leaps.

At the time the Shuttles were proposed, small, lean private companies able to build rockets like SpaceX didn’t exist — but these companies owe their existence to the environment NASA helped create.

Things are different now, however, and the era of something like the Shuttle should be behind us. The Shuttle missions were billed as routine, but NASA shouldn’t be doing the routine. The role of our space agency is to innovate, invent, design, push the limits, cross the borders. And once that’s done, once it becomes routine, they should hand it over to others.

Let private companies take over low Earth operations, and let NASA be free to pursue literally loftier goals. What the President and what Congress want isn’t all that different, and we shouldn’t let inaction leave us with no vision. NASA’s future does depend on the decisions made in the next year or two. If nothing is done, then nothing will get done.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

I actually don't have a lot this week, as I've been busier with other pursuits than nosing about my usual haunts on Teh Interweb. But I've got to share this:

I am so boiling some eggs to give this a try!

UPDATE: I got this from MeFi, where I saw the best comment to anything I've seen all day:

Am I the only person who likes peeling eggs? I mean, first you get to smash it all around and then you pick and peel; humans love to pick at things! It's like picking a scab but you end up with a snack instead of a bloody knee.

Getting humor out of scab-picking is a big damn gift, I tell you what.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Oh yeah? How 'bout a giant SPOON, then?

Yesterday, I posted to Twitter thusly:

Win hockey, you get a giant cup. Win Wimbledon, you get a giant plate. What's needed is a sport where the winner is awarded a giant fork.

Well...wouldn't you know it. Behold the prize for winning the Tirreno-Adriatico bicycle race:

I hate it when reality upstages a joke of mine!

(But not all bad for me: Kevin Drum, one of my favorite liberal bloggers, even though I am currently not reading political blogs because I just need a nice long break, re-tweeted me on this. That's cool, especially since he's never linked my blog!)

Saturday Centus

A normal, but patriotic, prompt this week. Easy enough. Here we go!

Nico Fabrizzio took in the cheers of the crowd, but he could only think of sleep. After thirty cities in thirty-two days, he'd wasn't even sure where he was anymore. He loved the sold-out audiences, but now the "Golden Tenor" was just one short song away from a vacation. And this wasn't even a full concert; just the National Anthem before a hockey game. The announcer announced him, silence fell, and he sang, unaccompanied.

"Oh say can you see...."

His voice filled the stadium. It was remarkable.

Too bad he was in Montreal for a Canadiens-Maple Leafs game.