Friday, September 30, 2011

Decision by committee

Actually, that's wrong, come to think of it -- in Buffalo, we don't make decisions by committee. We have committees listen to people talk about the issue, and then the committee makes another committee to make the decision! Ye Gods.

For those not in Buffalo, there's been controversy 'round these parts trucks. Not big trucks delivering food to stores and restaurants, but literally "restaurants on wheels". These are trucks outfitted with food prep equipment in the back, and they basically drive to a spot, hang out their shingle for a few hours, and serve food to customers. Several food trucks have taken to the streets of the City of Buffalo, much to the pleasure of folks who work downtown, and yet much to the displeasure of actual restaurants downtown, who have been lobbying the city government ferociously to "regulate" the trucks. Of course, the restaurants' notion of "regulation" would basically make doing business downtown nigh impossible for the food trucks, who really need to have access to downtown customers if they're going to be viable enterprises.

Alan Bedenko has been doing yeoman duty on these issues, which provide a fascinating microcosm on the various problems with Buffalo: how hard we make it for businesses to take root here, how insular we can be, how our tendency to "circle the wagons" has almost led us to a state of permanent wagon-circling. Here's hoping this can be a step away from all of Buffalo's past tendencies to keep its pistol firmly aimed at its own foot.

Page One: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Page One: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I get a feeling that I'm not supposed to like Jonathan Livingston Seagull (by Richard Bach), but while I certainly admit that it's cheesy and its mysticism can be kind-of bizarre, I've determined that I'm unlikely to ever lose my soft spot for this book. So much of Bach reads like a New Age mystical version of Nicholas Sparks (minus the insistence on having someone in each book die horribly), but even now I still occasionally get the desire to dip into him a little bit again.

I wrote a couple of years back about my experience with Richard Bach, and that's generally how I still feel about him today. But that one quote from Jonathan -- "You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love" -- still speaks to me.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Something for Thursday

You know what, folks? It's sunny and cool in Buffalo (for now, anyway -- rain and chillier temps are in the forecast), I'm taking today through Monday off from work, The Wife and I are escaping town tomorrow evening (without The Kid!) for my Belated Birthday Bacchanalia (The Wife almost always works on my birthday, so we usually postpone a few days) which includes our yearly trip to Ithaca for the Apple Harvest Festival, and some other stuff's going on that has me happy as a clam,'s a bit of infectious 80s bubblegum!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

She's all grow'd up now

In one of the least surprising developments for anyone who's been following her, Jennifer has made it official and done got engaged. I characterize this as a 'least surprising development' because she's been referring to her future husband as "He Who Makes Me Smile" since pretty much the first time she revealed on Facebook that she'd been dating the guy. And when she poured out a lot of grief after the recent passing of his mother, well...the engagement is mere formality, because from what I can see, these two are already married.

And dammit, good for them!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Red apples or green apples?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Never minded....

Yesterday I mentioned that my birthday is also the date of release for The Beatles' Abbey Road. Sheila O'Malley points out that just a couple of days earlier is the date of release of Nirvana's Nevermind, the seminal album from 1991 that changed the landscape of rock music for good.

Here's the thing: I never liked Nirvana. I didn't hate Nirvana, mind you. But Nirvana made absolutely zero impact on me, one way or the other. It was the strangest thing: a cultural touchstone that slid right past me, and to this day, it remains a touchstone that remains outside my own experience. I eventually came to the Beatles, but I'm not sure that I'll ever come to Nirvana.

Part of it was the timing: I was in college, which you might think would make me more attuned to this kind of thing at the time, but I was studying music at the time, and my musical passions were almost entirely focused on classical music. At the time I hadn't started exploring Celtic music, and I'd stopped listening to rock almost entirely. I was totally unaware of that Nirvana was, what they represented in terms of the evolution of rock music, how they represented a break from what had gone before...all of it. Nirvana was, for me, a band with an album. Same as any other band with an album.

Part of this, though, was something else, something that I've been mulling over for a while. I've come to realize over the last few years that one of my personal idiosyncrasies is that I just don't tend to explore movements in popular culture as they're happening. Books come out that are viewed almost immediately as deeply important, no matter the genre, and I just file them away for future reference. Ditto movies, and music, and even teevee shows. Highly-regarded fantasy novels come out, and it takes me years to get around to reading them (The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Name of the Wind). I like Stephen King, but of his last dozen or so novels, I've only read Lisey's Story (post forthcoming), and I've never read any of his Dark Tower books. I yield to no one in my love of Star Wars...and yet I haven't read a single "Extended Universe" novel in fifteen years.

Music? I couldn't even tell you what I've missed. At work, a couple friends and I like to play with Internet trivia quizzes when we're on lunch break. Sometimes we do music quizzes -- "Identify the song clip" and that sort of thing -- and when we do, I'm generally useless for answers once we get to music past, say, 1990. Oddly, I'm more well-versed now in pop music than I've been in years, mainly through osmosis from what The Daughter listens to.

Teevee is the same way. I've yet to watch a single episode of The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, or even The Sopranos. And I'm not sure I ever will, because at this point I'm not sure my interests will ever take me there. And that's what it's all about, really -- the fact that I tend to follow my interests with little or no regard for what the "cultural movements" are. This isn't to say that I deliberately avoid what's popular; I know people who do that, and I think it's silly -- I tend to see a lot of validity in the "fifty million Elvis fans can't be wrong" argument -- but when I note things that are popular, my reaction tends to be, "Huh. File that away for future reference."

Anyway, happy anniversary, Nirvana and Nevermind.

The time for all things must pass into memory....

Three obsolete things

Three things I can't much use anymore.

I got a lot of years out of that CD player, and it just might still play -- I'm not sure, I haven't used it in a long time. I used to carry it on walks a lot or at the Y during my cardio workouts, but for obvious reasons I wasn't able to use it during weight training, which is why I got an MP3 player, which I can slip into the pocket of my gym shorts and thus keep on listening to music whilst working out.

And then there's my old cell phone. This actually isn't my first cell phone; that honor went to an Audiovox phone I had for a couple of years back around 1999 and 2000. I'm not even sure that phone is still around...but anyway, the Motorola Razr pictured here was my phone from 2007 to, oh, 2010 or so, when we decided to upgrade, which is the phone I still use. (And which, by the way, is a fine MP3 player in itself, so now I don't even use my original MP3 player all that much!)

Finally...there's my Borders Rewards card. Oh well. This card saved me quite a bit of money on books at Borders over the years. Now it'll be a nice, retro bookmark, or I'll use it as a scraper for wood putty. I'll never be able to buy books with it, though.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beatles Song of the Week: "Something"

I was born forty years ago today...on the second anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, the last studio album recorded by the Beatles, and the one that has (thus far) captured my imagination more than any other. Songs like George Harrison's "Something" are why.

This ballad immediately follows the bluesy grind of "Come Together", and immediately precedes the bizarre paean to violent murder "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". The whole album is a study in contrasts and moods, and yet it feels so organic and well-considered -- I mean, what song, other than "Here Comes the Sun", could possibly follow "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"?

But as for "Something": this is clearly one of the more well-known Beatles songs, which means that it's a song I never much liked until now. (I'm a Beatles late-bloomer, as I've noted before.) Listening to it now, with an ear that is more willing to go where the song wants to take me, I'm struck by several things.

First, the lyrics are constructed in such a way that a chorus is suggested, and yet, it never really seems to get expressed. The song begins with a drum lead-in followed by a guitar progression that turns out to be the key motif of the entire song, and then the lyrics begin:

Something in the way she moves Attracts me like no other lover, Something in the way she woos me. I don't want to leave her now, You know I believe and how.
The way the song is structured, you expect Harrison to sing something more after "You know I believe and how", and yet, he falls silent as the opening guitar lick plays again, leading to a resolved chord. This happens again in the second verse:

Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don't need no other lover. 
Something in her style that shows me.
I don't want to leave her now,
You know I believe and how.
Again Harrison's voice fades away, and the guitar leads us toward an expected resolution...but instead, the song surprised with a modulation and a mid-section that changes the rhythm from the original dreamy slowness to a more insistent pattern, and lyrics that highlight the uncertainty at the heart of the song's poetry:

You're asking me will my love grow,
I don't know, I don't know.
You stick around now it may show,
I don't know, I don't know.
And then, just as quickly, the original rhythm returns, and after one of the most calming guitar solos ever recorded for a rock song, we get the final verse:

Something in the way she knows And all I have to do is think of her, Something in the things she shows me. I don't want to leave her now, You know I believe and how.
These lyrics fascinate me. Harrison is talking to someone -- he addressed them outright in that bridge section -- and we're left to wonder who. Is he talking to us? And note what he's doing in this entire song: he's describing his lover to a third party. That's dangerous territory, of course, but fascinatingly, he is very vague about her. He can only describe those properties he loves about her as "something", and "somewhere in her smile". On the one hand, he "needs no other lover", but on the other, he seems to be reassuring himself all along that this is true at all. He doesn't "want to leave her now"...but is he leaving open a possibility that he may, in the future? We don't know...and neither does he.

Sentential Links #262

Linkage commences...NOW!!!

:: Sometimes it’s not good to look under the skirt of your favorite film. (Mr. Jones examines the increasingly infamous Han Solo vs. Greedo scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Interestingly the scene has been shifted yet again, this time so as to make the two fire simultaneously. My beef with changing the scene is that it destroys one of the movie's best laughs, not because it somehow "emasculates Han Solo", which would be the silliest of all Lucas-basher claims if not for "George Lucas raped my childhood".)

:: By the time this horse and dog can work this farm I will be the one changed.

:: Here’s a concept. If you want to hit on a woman at the bar or at least make a good impression, try to do it while not spitting in a bottle. Just a thought. (That this needs to be codified in print does nothing to encourage my faith in humanity.)

:: But something interesting occurred to me as they were verbally patting each other on the back and kidding each other about President Obama’s Secretary of State, while of course being very complimentary of her: This is only the second time in American history that I can think of when a sitting President could count on the support and political friendship of a former President.

:: Bottom line: One Crazy Summer is one stupid movie. (The fact that Bobcat Goldthwait has above-the-title billing should have been a clue here, methinks.)

:: The floor nurse looks like she just killed a guy and is hiding the body in the same room as the photo is being taken in.

:: Well, because fun romps are where you see what people really think. What they think is funny, who they think is a good butt for a joke, which broad stereotypes they think are valid and which they think should be subverted, what they create when they think it’s just for fun, not for literature. (Interesting post about two books that I haven't read in a while, but both of which I admired, from the standpoint of the treatment of their female characters. I confess that I don't really key into concerns like this when I'm reading, which makes posts like these deeply instructive for me. Especially since, in my space-opera-in-progress, my three chief characters are all female.)

More next week!

Slurm for Everyone!

Farnsworth Birthday Motivator

Yup...I'm 40 today.

That's a nice round number, and 40 is one of those nice round numbers, the ones that supposedly mark a milestone of some sort, which are supposed to prompt some kind of introspection. know what? I'm not feeling all that introspective about turning 40. I'm doing OK in most respects, although I'm showing my age in others. One thing, though -- I have always refused to believe that my future path is set, and I still believe that the main factor standing between me and the things I want to do is me.

So maybe I'll be upset when I turn 50. But for now, onward and upward!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bills 34, Patriots 31

I really didn't think I'd get to post this. I didn't want to jinx it, so I didn't create the cartoon until the final score was recorded and in the books and the players were in the locker rooms. But, at long, long last, here it is:

Oh my, what a game! The Bills spotted the Patriots a 21-0 lead before they came roaring back, getting the jitters out and making it 21-10 before halftime. Then they made it 21-17 in the third, and when the fourth quarter dawned, it was Pats 24, Bills 17. Then the Bills put up 17 points to the Pats' 7 in that quarter, and that's all she wrote.

Much has been made in these parts of the Bills' losing streak to the Pats. The Bills had lost fifteen consecutive games to the Pats, dating back to September 2003. Here's my blog post from that game. My, how much water is under the bridge! George W. Bush was President. The Iraq War was about six months old. Unless you were unusually well-versed in Illinois state politics, you had no idea at all who Barack Obama was.

Little Quinn would not be born for nearly twelve months. We'd been living in Buffalo again (after our Syracuse winter) for five months. I hadn't met a single other Buffalo blogger. The Daughter was four and was starting pre-school. The week after that game, The Wife and I went to see the hot new movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. We were still a few months from the theatrical release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and I was starting to despair of ever finding a job: my first interview at The Store was still three months away. And while I'm honestly not sure, I think I had yet to reveal in this space my unhealthy obsession with overalls.

As for football stuff that's happened since the last time the Bills walked away from the Pats with a victory? Well, the Buccaneers were the defending Super Bowl champions. Aaron Rodgers had yet to start his first game at Cal. The Bills' head coach when they last beat the Pats was Gregg Williams; since then, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron would walk the sidelines before Chan Gailey. The Bills' starting quarterback that day was Drew Bledsoe; since then, we've had the JP Losman and the Trent Edwards eras before finally arriving at Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yeah, it's been a while.

We were discussing this matchup at work the other day, a few friends and I, and I said, "I don't want that one win back in '03 to be the only time the Bills ever beat Brady. And I don't want to not beat him until he's 38 and clearly in physical decline. I want to beat him now." Well, I got my wish. Hmmm...let me try that again. "I don't want to write a publishable book when I'm 67 years old, I want to write one now!" Huh, I think my space-opera-in-progress just got better!

Some thoughts from the game:

::  Brady piled up big numbers, along with Wes Welker. So what? The Pats' defense looks awful. They've been sliced-and-diced three weeks in a row now, and they're only 2-1 because their offense is really good. Well, take it from a guy who remembers the Bills' glory days, Pats fans: awesome offense that scores a lot plus crappy defense that stops nobody equals somebody else holding the Lombardi trophy.

::  The Bills' defensive game plan appears to have been, "Let Welker get his catches, just don't let him break a giant gain, and contain everybody else." That's pretty much what they did. Aside from their tight end, nobody other than Welker really stepped up for the Pats. They might want to look into that, because if the Pats think that Brady's going to be putting up 400 yards a game all season, they're deluded. Defenses are suffering now, all over the NFL, but they're going to settle in sooner or later, as offensive players get dinged up and as defensive guys find their chemistry after an abbreviated preseason with no offseason workouts.

::  I really hope that since the Bills are doing well, CBS will decide that their games deserve an announcer upgrade. Marv Albert isn't that good anymore, but Rich Gannon is awful. At one point, the Pats were lining up with first-and-goal, and he said -- and I am not making this up -- "Well, the Patriots have options here. They can either throw it or run it." And it was funny to see his reactions to Tom Brady's first two interceptions, as he made the case both times that they weren't really St. Tom's fault. This led me to comment on Twitter, "Brady could literally hand to ball to a defender and Gannon would blame Brady's RB for not being there for the handoff". Of course, after picks three and four -- with the fourth one being run back for a TD -- Gannon just didn't talk at all. I guess he can't decide what to say when something happens that is outside of his preferred narrative (in this case, the Godlike status of St. Tom the Overrated).

::  By the way, St. Tom sure showed a lot of heart on Drayton Florence's pick-six, didn't he? He just kind of jogged toward him but made no effort whatsoever to actually knock him out of bounds and maybe, just maybe, prevent him from scoring.

::  I love comebacks, but I wish the Bills would figure out how to play well in the first quarter too.

::  The Bills still need to improve on the pass rush. Their run defense has improved greatly, but the pass D still needs some help from the front seven to rush the passes.

::  The Bills' offensive line, which had fans terrified during preseason, gave up zero sacks and largely played very well in pass protection and in a fairly productive running game.

Next week, the Bills are at Cincinnati, which may be an interesting game. The Bills and Bengals don't play every year, so the streak doesn't include nearly as many games as the Bills' skid against the Patriots, but the Bengals have not beaten the Bills since the two teams met in the AFC Championship Game after the 1988 season. Last year, the Bills trailed the Bengals by 17 before beating them by 18. Giddyup!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

::  This may be the best news story I will ever read. Seriously. How can it not be, with a lede like this?

In all his years in Brazilian law enforcement, police chief Marconi Almino de Lima had never faced a case like this: a sordid tale of love, jealousy, a contract killer and kitchen condiments.

Seriously, that is just awesome. This story screams out to be used on an episode of CSI Miami. I can even hear the dialog:

" this...ketchup?"

"Yes it is, Frank. And we [puts on sunglasses] are gonna bring the mustard."


::  Ever wonder what the concert posters might have looked like for the Muppets' Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem? Well, wonder no more! These are terrific. (Thanks to SamuraiFrog for pointing these out.)

::  I love Buffalo, but there's now way Buffalo is cool enough to have installed these on the Metro Rail cars.

More next week!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Centus

This week we are given more words -- 150 of 'em -- but we are limited to dialog only, which is always a fun approach to storytelling. I've got Firefly on the brain lately, so here's something that could happen in the 'Verse. A bit macabre, I know, but I've done the chipper thing a lot lately. I'm a couple words over the limit, but what can I say, I'm a rule-breaker by nature.

"This is the Captain. All lifepods have been jettisoned at full capacity, so twelve hundred of our passengers and crew will live. For you six hundred who have chosen to remain on the ship, I must inform you that we expect our oxygen reserves to reach zero in approximately fifty-seven minutes. May God have mercy on all our souls."

"Alright, then. Less than an hour to live."

"Hadda die sometime. Gotta love these old rustbucket spaceliners, huh?"

"Helluva way to go."

"Nah. I'll kill you before we run out of air."


"You wanna die gaspin', tryin' to breathe? Gimme a blaster to the brainpan any day over that. One for you and then one for me."


"Call it a last birthday present. Hey, bar bot!"

"Are you seriously ordering another martini?"

"Wanna die sober?"

"Don't wanna die at all."

"Yeah, well, that ain't in the cards. Dyin' in the black ain't so bad, though."


"Yeah. Cheers."

Tapping the Mike

Sorry about the lack of posts the last few days, but there's been stuff going on (not horrible stuff, just stuff), including: a 4:30 am start at work yesterday, a mild cold that's settled into my head nicely, and a horrible thing done by the state of Georgia. Haven't been much in the mood.

But bad moods don't stick around forever, thank God....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Let's pee in the corner!"

Apparently REM has called it quits as a band. Stop it, Yoko! It's not funny anymore!

Seriously, though, I've always rather liked REM, although they were never a huge favorite of mine. I have a few CDs of theirs around here somewhere, but I am in no way whatsoever familiar with the majority of their output. But I did always like what I heard from them. My favorite song of theirs was "Everybody Hurts":

But my very favorite thing REM ever did was actually this:

Best wishes, REM! Let the reunion rumors commence!

(For those baffled by the post title, this ought to clear it up.)

Books without exploding spaceships are pointless crap.

My Summer of Space Opera continues!

:: Iain M. Banks's ongoing series of space operas set in The Culture – hence the term, the "Culture Novels" – still represent mostly a rich field of unsurveyed reading for me, but I've at least knocked off another of them: Consider Phlebas. This is actually the first-written of the Culture novels, but, after Player of Games, the second I've read. My understanding is that the Culture novels mostly comprise stand-alone stories, so reading order may not matter all that much, although I do plan to mostly stick with the publication order, as much as I can.

Consider Phlebas tells the story of Bora Horza Gobuchul, a "Changer" – an alien who can take on the appearance of other humanoid beings – who is actually working for the Idiran Empire during their galaxy-spanning war against the Culture. He is rescued by the Idirans, who task him with recovering a Culture Mind (a disembodied intelligence) that has stranded itself on one of the Planets of the Dead. Gobuchul's pursuit of his mission is pretty singular-minded, and along the way, he commits a large number of acts that fall into various places on the moral spectrum. This moral ambiguity on the part of the protagonist makes the book compelling in an interesting way, as Banks makes it hard to root against Gobuchul even as he is doing things that are, admittedly, less-than-moral.

The other notable aspect of the book, fitting enough for a space opera, is the Big Epic Scope of the thing. This is "widescreen" SF at its finest, with intelligent spaceships being flown into and out of artificial constructs that are so big it becomes difficult to imagine some of them. The morals of war are called into question, as well, as one such enormous object – called an Orbital – is slated for destruction by the Culture for no other reason than the fact that they have deemed it too hard to strategically defend, so therefore, it must be destroyed before the Idirans can capture it.

Consider Phlebas is very fast-paced, moving from one set-piece to the next fairly quickly, which is nice because there are a couple of set-pieces – most notably, the cannibal-cult Gobuchul finds himself captured by – that are a bit distasteful.

:: I've mentioned before that, in terms of genre classification, we have "space opera", which obviously involves at least a good portion of the story taking place in space. For stories that are similar in feel and scope to space opera but mainly stay on a single planet – Burroughs's "John Carter of Mars" novels are good examples – we have the term "planetary romance".

I'm at a loss, though, as to what to call Ryk E. Spoor's novel Grand Central Arena, which takes place primarily neither in space nor on a planet. Spoor creates something else, an incredibly vast setting, called..."The Arena". It's here that his story plays out. Spoor's dedication of the novel – to E.E. "Doc" Smith – indicates as much as anything what he is up to here: he is writing a novel of Grand Adventure.

As the novel opens, humans are about to test their very first faster-than-light drive, in a spaceship called the Holy Grail (heh – FTL travel being, of course, the 'holy grail' of SF writers). A crew of eight is selected (for their various skills, of course), led by pilot Ariane Austin, who becomes the de facto Captain when the ship emerges from supralight speed into...something. Something bigger than huge; something impossibly vast, which, as they explore, turns out to be full of thousands, if not millions, of other alien species. It turns out that someone has configured things such that any time a species attempts FTL travel, they end up in the Arena, a place where interactions between species can be influenced and controlled by unknown benefactors, where allegiances can be formed and enimites fostered. Their first ally describes the Arena thusly:

It is a place where we all meet and challenge, where bargains are made and broken and avenged, where an alliance may be built on blood and fortune. It is a place where faith is lost, and where religions are founded or proven true. It is where you shall confront, and be confronted by, truths and lies, enemies and allies, belief and denial, impossibility and transcendence.

So, of course, our heroes venture forth and meet many beings, some of whom are allies, some of whom seem to be allies but are really enemies, some of whom seem to be enemies but are really allies, some of whom are enemies outright, and some who just don't seem to care one way or the other. Grand Central Arena is loaded with scope and scale, as well as action, intrigue, and a bit of romance, as well. There are more than a few moments of the "Ye Gods, how do they get out of this!" variety. It's a long novel – nearly 700 pages – but with the exception of a few infodumps along the way, the book is mostly very kinetic in nature as crisis begets crisis begets crisis, with very real and likeable characters (including one fellow with a shadowy past who is literally superhuman, in positive and negative ways). I've never been terribly fond of describing a book as a "page-turner", but that descriptor is very apt for Grand Central Arena.

And yes, the title of this post is a joke. Yeesh, people!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Medical drama, or courtroom drama?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Answers, the seventh!

Continuing to answer queries from Ask Me Anything! August 2011....

Lynn has a couple of good ones:

Imagine that Star Wars, Star Trek, and Firefly do not exist. What would be your favorite space opera?

Wow, this is a very tough question. Those are some of the big space opera franchises, aren't they? Without the first two, I'm not sure I even have a deep love of space opera to begin with. And Firefly is just all kinds of great, even if it is a bit uneven at times.

I think that my favorite space opera outside of those would be a literary one -- but, which one? For mind-blowing hugeness, you can't go much wrong with the "Commonwealth" novels of Peter J. Hamilton. (Thus far I have only read Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained.) And I've loved what I've read thus far of Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan stories. And there are the Lensmen novels of E.E. 'Doc' Smith...which I need to continue reading one of these days.

Favorite? I suppose I'd go with the Commonwealth novels. It's the universe I'd most want to live in: traveling to distant worlds via train, the conquering of death without a whole lot of Singularity weirdness, and, of course, space ships galore.

Lynn also asks: If you could live on any of the Firefly worlds for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Probably Ariel. I'm a city guy, I think. Not a big fan of the Alliance, though....

More to come...wrapping it up next time, I promise!

Hey, wait a minute....

To my knowledge, no one has ever seen George RR Martin and Cal in the same place....

Well now....

Monday, September 19, 2011


Today was Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is always fun. I mostly observe this on Facebook by, well, talking like a pirate all day, and posting YouTube videos of piratey stuff. Here are the items I posted:

Yarrr, I love me some pirates!

Yippee ki-yay....

I didn't want to see Die Hard when it first came out.

Mostly it had to do with a strong distaste I had for Bruce Willis, whom at the time I only knew of via Moonlighting, which was a show that I just could not stand. Even with one episode ending with a fantastic pie fight, I just never warmed to that show, and I saw Willis as a crappy actor whose only facial expression was a goofy smirk. So I didn't see Die Hard for a year or two, not until home video, when my sister rented it and forced me to watch it. Yeah. Damn her!

Initially I wasn't thrilled. I mean, our very first glimpse of Bruce Willis in the movie has him on that jet liner, smirking away the same smirk that bugged the hell out of me on Moonlighting. But the movie soon won me over. Took about, oh, ten minutes.

The first Die Hard is one of the best-made films I can think of. It is just competent, from beginning to end. We get the blanks filled in very quickly: why John McClane is estranged from his wife, and we realize that it's not really for the best of reasons, which he himself seems almost willing to admit to himself – note the way he scolds himself after he and Holly have yet another iteration of the same old argument. And there's a skyscraper that is nearly deserted and is still under construction. All that's important.

Anyway, the plot was startlingly original at the time, wasn't it? I don't think it would even get green-lit today, but back then – terrorists take control of a skyscraper, with an off-duty cop on the loose in the building? Wow, what a plot. Such a simple little hook, but the film is a lot more complex than that. We don't get standard-issue terrorists; we get a guy named Hans who has a very definite plot in mind, and it's a lot more devious than just taking hostages and demanding that prisoners in Israel get released.

Hans is, of course, played by Alan Rickman, in one of the great performances of villainy of all time. Hans Gruber is fiercely observant, ruthless, calm under pressure, and deeply intelligent. Very little phases him, and he thinks very quickly as he works to fit every single mishap into the plan. He also has a sense of humor – a violent and twisted sense of humor, but a sense of humor nonetheless – and he is willing to show his frustration at times with the knowledge that his minions just aren't as smart as he is.

What also stands out for me is that Hans Gruber isn't a killing machine. Lots of action movies in the post-Die Hard era really seem to want to establish their villain's evil by having him do quite a bit of gratuitous killing, but sometimes all that killing can really make a movie a downer. A good example is the Gary Oldman character in Air Force One – he's already taken the airplane and killed someone just to show he's serious, but there's a truly awful scene in which he counts to ten before killing a woman. This made it hard to cheer Oldman's later demise – it was just a feeling of, "Oh, finally." Hans Gruber, however, personally kills only two people: Mr Takagi, the obligatory "kill to show he's serious", and then Ellis, who puts himself in harm's way, anyhow.

What makes Die Hard really work is that hero and villain really are just about as smart as the other. Hans, of course, must underestimate John McClane, but it's such a tiny underestimation, based more on his own stereotypical hangups on Americans than anything he knows about McClane. Die Hard is a good action film because its action sequences are thrillingly staged and magnificently filmed, but it's a great movie because of the handle it has on its characters.

And then, a few years later, the sequel arrived. This one I did see in the theater, and I was thrilled to do so. I'd seen a teaser trailer months earlier, that had John McClane running through another industrial-looking subbasement or some such thing, with plumbing and electrical piping and conduit everywhere, at which point he says, "How can the same stuff happen to the same guy twice?!" That trailer indicated that this time, the setting is an airport. Bring on Die Hard 2: Die Harder. (Even though "Die Harder" never appears onscreen.)

Die Hard 2 isn't as good as the first film, but it's still plenty good. What's nice is that it doesn't try to tell the same type of story as the first film, so there's no "lock McClane in a tight spot with a different bunch of terrorists" thing. This time, our terrorists take control of Dulles Airport in Washington, DC in order to rescue a Central American military leader who is being flown to Washington to stand trial for drug charges, or something like that. Unfortunately, the movie damages itself by inventing a fictitious country for our General to hail from, but that's not that big a deal.

McClane is at the airport on a snowy day to pick up Holly, who is flying in on another flight, when the terrorists strike, shutting everything down and keeping planes in the air, circling as weather worsens. It's a nice new way of creating tension, also factoring in that the planes will be running out of fuel.

Die Hard 2 takes longer to get started, really – there's a lot, toward the beginning, that has McClane doing his own investigative stuff after he notices a couple of guys handing each other packages under a table. It's a while before the action really kicks in, this time really putting the airport setting through the paces. Our villain this time is a guy named Colonel Stuart, played by William Sadler (better known as Heywood from The Shawshank Redemption). He's suitably cold and ruthless and also intelligent, but he's not nearly as charismatic as Hans Gruber.

If Die Hard didn't give us gratuitous killing by Hans, this film more than makes up for it. There's a scene where, to make his intentions plain, he deliberately causes a 747 with 200+ people aboard to crash. And the movie underscores the point by showing us, just before the crash, the flight attendants comforting the passengers minutes before their fiery deaths. The scene is really numbing, it's so awful. (It's also implausible, as there is no way a plane with no fuel left explodes into that large a fireball.) And it's almost not worth mentioning that, through no fault of the film's, the realities of America after 9-11-01 do cast a pall over it.

There are quite a few twists and turns, mainly involving who's a villain and who's not, and some filler involving Holly being on the same plane as the nitwit reporter from the first movie. There are also more stupid cops, with Dennis Franz now playing a well-meaning but inept Italian-American version of the first movie's Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson. Die Hard 2 doesn't work quite as well as the first film, but it's still an above-average action flick.

And then there's Die Hard With a Vengeance, the third one. This one is really a mixed bag.

There's a lot that I like about it. In fact, there's a lot that I like a lot about it. Our villain this time is played by Jeremy Irons, and he turns out to be Hans Gruber's brother. He's got his very own scheme, but part of it involves torturing John McClane by making him do weird things and solve puzzles that any kid who ever owned a book of brainteasers will remember. If McClane fails to do what he's told, though, Simon – the Irons character – will detonate a very big explosive somewhere. This all culminates with a threat against one of New York City's public schools, while Simon and his small army of cohorts stage an extremely impressive bank robbery.

Plot-wise, Die Hard WAV is really very well constructed (for the most part). Everything happens for a reason, and nothing is wasted in terms of the machinations of the story. Some of the puzzles and tasks set for McClane are truly diabolical, including one that seems virtually impossible – until McClane realizes that it was virtually impossible, and that therefore it was set up to be virtually impossible.

McClane is also given a sidekick this time: a Harlem shop owner named Zeus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who ends up involved when he gets in the middle of Simon's first assigned task for McClane (to walk ten blocks in Harlem wearing a giant sign that declares a personal distaste for black people). I love the interplay between these two guys, even if it's nothing we haven't seen before a lot of times – two guys who hate each other have to work together or a criminal does something very bad. Zeus is also really smart, but he has zero experience, so it's fun watching McClane try to keep him from screwing everything up or getting killed, even as he has to admit how much he needs the guy around.

One other thing I really loved about Die Hard WAV is that it dispenses with the stupid other cops of the first two movies. This time, McClane's fellow cops are also smart, competent, and toward the end, heroic. This movie really does away with the idiots, and it's a very wise decision.

What's not so wise, however, is what's done to John McClane himself. This is what really bugs me about this film. In the first two, McClane was a family man who had some struggles but who put things back together; but by this time around, while he's still intelligent and skilled and quick with the funny wisecracks, he's also estranged again and something of a drunk. He's back with the NYPD, although he's on suspension, so we get the obligatory bit where his Captain slaps his badge on the desk and McClane says, "Am I a cop again now?" I hated that aspect of things. If they wanted to set the movie in New York, I can think up a dozen ways to get McClane there off the top of my head without making him a jerk who has ditched his family. It ends up feeling like some kind of alternate universe John McClane, instead of the real thing.

The movie's climax is also something of a disappointment, when it arrives. Die Hard WAV is a very exciting film that peters out before the end, unfortunately enough; it almost feels as though the writers couldn't figure out how to end the movie, so they just tacked on an ending and called it good. But still, on balance, I do like the film quite a bit.

I never saw that fourth one, so there is where my opinionation on the Die Hard flicks must stand....

Sentential Links #261

Linkage time!

:: I don't know what's going on with the whole multicolored Lanterns thing, except that it keeps reminding me of the Care Bears crossed with Skittles. (Great line. I read some Green Lantern comics in advance of the movie coming out this past summer, and one of them -- Blackest Night -- just had all these Lanterns running around in every possible color, doing battle against seemingly the entire DC universe-turned-zombie. I found the whole thing very odd.)

:: Thank you overalls, thank you very much. I didn’t realize you were a lesbian uniform, or go to closet staple for women who like other women. You’d think I would’ve tossed them or at least tried to trade them back in for something at Buffalo Exchange. But no, I didn’t. (New blog I randomly found. I don't get the whole "overalls equals lesbian" thing, but what do I know?)

:: The nice thing about showing up at the office three quarters of an hour before anyone else is that if you come in looking like death itself, there's no-one there to see it and you can clean yourself up a bit.

:: I've been living inside my head with all of this. I can pinpoint the time when our relationship took a turn. (Jane wears her heart on her sleeve in a pretty amazing way. I'm terrified about ever having my relationship with The Daughter ever devolve like this, and it takes a lot of courage to write about it publicly.)

:: I'm trying to be mindful about focusing more on what's RIGHT than what's uncomfortable. I truly do have a whole lot of blessing going on all around me. Still, it's just hard to be positive when you are hurting.

:: What bliss to open every window in the house and let that fragrant, "it's-almost-autumn-air" waft through. (Huh...Mental Multivitamin disappeared from my blogroll. I must have inadvertently removed it during a reorganization at some point. Rectifying this as soon as I finish collating links for this post!)

:: It was there, in that cold, sterile, metallic doctor's office, as the list of foods I could no longer eat hit my ears with a dull thud and fell to the floor, a useless pile of past pleasures at my feet, that my world, much like the bottom of my food pyramid, dropped out from under me. I pouted. I sobbed. I screamed and yelled and cursed at every Dunkin Donuts I passed. I didn't feel lucky. I felt hungry. (This blog, it turns out, belongs to...umm, let me figure this out...well, it's my cousin's (on my father's side) daughter. What is that, then? Second cousin? Is that how that works? I have next to zero knowledge of the workings of genealogy. Anyway, the main focus on her blog is her requirement to adhere to a gluten-free diet. I had never heard of such a thing until I worked at The Store and met a woman, a co-worker, who is likewise culinarily restricted. Fascinating stuff, and she's a decent writer, too! Apparently wordsmithing is in my gene pool. I hope I don't have some distant cousin I've never met (except for online) out there somewhere laboring on a space opera novel....)

:: During the flight of Apollo 11, in the constant sunlight between the earth and the moon, it was necessary for us to control the temperature of our spacecraft by a slow rotation not unlike that of a chicken on a barbecue spit. As we turned, the earth and the moon alternately appeared in our windows. We had our choice. We could look toward the Moon, toward Mars, toward our future in space — toward the new Indies — or we could look back toward the Earth, our home, with its problems spawned over more than a millennium of human occupancy. (So writes Command Module pilot Michael Collins, some months after the first moon landing. Please don't stop looking toward space!)

More next week!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bills 38, Raiders 35

Wow, what a game! It very nearly ended up as a Bills loss, but alas for our lovely Raiders fan....

This game was one of those wonderful heart-stoppers that are so fun to and maddening, as you watch each team drive home the killing stroke only to allow the opponent to get back up and keep fighting. This was a game that validates that old chestnut of football commentary: "I think the last team to score might win!"

The Bills looked bad for most of the first half, which after two games might well be shaping up as a pattern. Poor running defense combined with a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception led to the Raiders taking a 21-3 lead into halftime (would have been 21-6, had the Raiders not blocked a Bills field goal as time expired). But in the second half, the Bills came right back, scoring 21 straight points for a 24-21 lead. Then the Raiders made it 28-24. Then the Bills made it 31-28. Then the Raiders made it 35-31. And then the Bills, with fifteen seconds or so left, made it 38-35. And then the Raiders put up a Hail Mary as the clock expired, which came down in a crowd of players; luckily it was a Bill (rookie Da'Norris Searcy) who made the catch, securing the win.

It was a game of huge offensive plays on both sides, with some amazing catches. It was also a game of colossal errors for the Raiders, who seemed to commit penalty after penalty at times.

Random thoughts about the game:

::  Some folks are saying things on Twitter like "The Bills are actually fun to watch again!" But for my money, they started getting fun to watch again last year. They seem to have the same kind of approach to the game with a bit more experience and a bit more talent. I still think they're a way off from being a consistent winner, but I do not think they're several years off, anymore. But last year, for the most part they were usually entertaining and they teased fans a lot before losing because they simply didn't have enough talent. Late in the year, injuries took their toll so they ended up closing the year with a couple of blowout losses, but for the most part, they were a calm, collected, never-quit-fighting team last year too. It's just that this year they're better. How much better? Well, in the words of Chris Berman, "That's why they play the games."

::  Stevie Johnson continues to be a beast who lays it all out on the field, every time. The Bills can not let him get to the free agent market after the season. Come on, guys -- extend him already! (I have a feeling they will at some point. They are already talking with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and they seem to be taking a "talk to one guy at a time" approach to this stuff.)

::  Fred Jackson is just astonishing. He just is. Everybody knows it. But CJ Spiller seems to be settling in and figuring things out, too. I'm thrilled to have this one-two-punch at running back.

::  I felt kind of bad for the Raiders when they took an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty after the Bills scored a touchdown, and their coach (Hue Jackson) threw the challenge flag. Yes, he's a head coach, so he should know that the NFL is automatically reviewing all scoring plays now, which makes those plays "unchallengable". But still, that's a brand new rule and he's a rookie head coach, so...well, sucks to be him. I sympathize. (But not much. It's still football, folks!)

::  But also on the topic of Raiders and penalties, I'm no expert, but there were an awful lot of Raider hits on Ryan Fitzpatrick that really looked to me like late hits/roughing the passer's. All went uncalled. He took quite a few pops after the ball had been out of his hands for almost an entire 'Mississippi'.

::  On the go-ahead touchdown from Fitzpatrick to David Nelson, wow...I can't believe the Raiders let somebody get that wide open. Seriously, there were about five yards of space on either side of Nelson before you saw a Raider. Ouch. Apparently their defensive plan for that play relied on getting a sack, because they either didn't try coverage or they blew the coverage. Yipes.

::  With two wins already, the Bills are virtually eliminated from the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, unless they lose every game they have left (unlikely) or this is one of those years where the NFL's worst record goes to a team with three or four wins (also highly unlikely). Right now, I'm thinking that the Draft brings the best available right or left tackle to the Bills. (More likely right, on the basis of Demetrius Bell being off to a not-bad start this year.)

::  CBS's coverage was a mixed bag. The announcers were just kind of there, but apparently now it's a Big Frakking Deal now whenever any NFL player comes from Harvard. This just gets annoying. I know, you have to fill up airtime, but Ye Gods.

::  Also, CBS continues to irritate with their "camera shots from the area of the game" thing that they do when they come back from commercial breaks. As usual, we get the same shot of Niagara Falls that everybody who has ever watched a football game from Buffalo has seen, with the announcers saying "Ah yes, the magical splendor of Niagara Falls, thirty miles down the road from Buffalo!" or some such thing. Then, next time, we get the same shot of a guy in the kitchen at the Anchor Bar tossing chicken wings in hot sauce that everybody who has ever watched a football game from Buffalo has seen, with the announcers saying "Ah yes, they're making Buffalo wings [nobody here calls them Buffalo wings!] at the legendary Anchor Bar where they were invented!". Annoying. It bugs me every time, because NFL cities are cities, and each one has lots of cool stuff about that nobody knows about.

So, later on, they have a shot from Buffalo's Naval and Military Park, with a big old shot of the USS The Sullivans, which really impressed the hell out of me. I really think that CBS (and FOX, if they do the same thing -- I don't recall if they do!) should allow cities to pick where they take these shots, so they can get a little free publicity for area attractions. The only problem with the Naval Park shot? This time, the announcers didn't say anything! Couldn't they come up with a scripted sentence or two, like, "There's downtown Buffalo and their Naval and Military Park, where several decommissioned ships from our nation's Navy reside for tours. Lots of great history here in Buffalo!" Ugh.

::  Next week the New England Patriots come to town. Do I like the Bills' chances? Actually, I do. Sure, the Bills have lost fifteen in a row to the Pats, and they're 2-20 against them since the 2000 season, but there's this odd pattern that always seems to happen in both games, no matter whether the first game is in New England or in Buffalo. What happens is that the Bills play the Pats really hard the first time they see them, sometimes even nursing a lead well into the fourth quarter, before losing a tough one; then, the second time they see them, the Patriots just...well, they beat the crap out of 'em. It's kind of weird. So, will the Bills actually beat the Patriots? Enhhhh...I don't think so. I don't think they're ready to take that step yet, I'm sorry to say. I'd love for them to do so; I'd love for them to beat the Pats at least once while St. Tom the Overrated is under center for them. But I think that may have to wait for next year.

But, like Chris Berman always says, and like I quoted above already, "That's why they play the games!"

::  Whoa! Commercials for Hawaii Five-0's season premiere tomorrow night, and Terry O'Quinn is joining the cast? SQUEEEE!! Terry O'Quinn always makes things better by just being there. He doesn't even have to have dialogue.

OK, that's about it. Will my poor pie-faced football fan next week at last be wearing a Patriots hoodie? Here's hoping!

Hey, that guy looks familiar....

Heh...a self-appointed 'fashion expert' (which are a dime a dozen) pens a rant about how much he hates overalls (with said rants also being a dime a dozen). What's interesting is that he swiped one of my own profile photos with which to make his point, and yet, he neither notified me nor asked my permission. Imagine that. It always amuses me when people fancy themselves edgy or hip, but they don't even have the guts to tell those at whom they are directing their ire.

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

[Oops...this post went live before I could finish it!]

Oddities and Awesome abound!

::  The greatest insults of musicians, by musicians. Wow, some of these are vicious. How vicious? Well...Anton Newcombe says this of Eric Clapton:

“People talk about Eric Clapton. What has he ever done except throw his baby off a f***in’ ledge and write a song about it?”

Wow...and that one is only number two on the list.

::  Things Organized Neatly. I don't much go in for high degrees of organization, myself, but I would like to be a bit more organized -- especially in the bookshelves department. But that would require (a) more bookshelves, and (b) more space to put the more bookshelves in.

::  Not a link to anything, but an observation from the past week as the Star Wars Blu-ray release takes hold: it amuses me to note the percentage of fans who rip George Lucas for doing anything other than releasing the films in their original theatrical versions, and then go on to insist that Star Wars Revisited is the definitive version anyway. "Fan edits" are great, but "edits by the guy who actually made and owns the films" are BAD BAD BAD!! Sometimes I note my relative lack of cognitive dissonance regarding Star Wars, and I wonder if I'm doing it wrong.

More next week!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Centus

[EDITED 9-18-11 to add a clarification, below.]

Wow, I'm actually on schedule this week! My initial reaction to this week's prompt was "Oh, crap," because we're supposed to take the prompt and work it into a bit of doggerel which can be sung to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". But then the idea came to me, so here it is:

In the autumn there's a flood
of folks with their bright red blood!
How I love to bite their necks,
Sometimes while they're having dinner*,
Vampires get to do it all,
When the summer turns to fall!

The problem here is that...well, I'm over the word limit, which Jenny set at 32 words plus the prompt. I'm at 37 here, but as far as I can tell, it does fit the tune just fine, so I'm going with it.

Oh and by the way, I was putridly** late with my last two entries, so go ahead and have a look if you so desire, here and here.

* Original rhyming word excised by virtue of this being a kinda-sorta family blog. Only not really. I just thought that would be funny to do.

CLARIFICATION: A reader has apparently badly misread what I wrote above, but I feel I should make absolutely clear that I am in no way disparaging the efforts of childrens' songwriters or the weekly Centus challenge. I am only disparaging my abilities as they pertain to childrens' songwriting (which are, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty much nonexistent.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Something for Thursday

I'm feeling like a cheesy 80s ballad, from the movie White Nights, here's Lionel Ritchie with "Say You, Say Me"!

Every decade has its own variety of cheese, but 80s cheese is a world unto itself....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Charting the Progress

Charting the Progress, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

It's been a long time since I wrote about my progress (or lack thereof) on the fiction writing front, so here's an update. This photo is a screengrab of the spreadsheet I use to track the word count of the Novel-in-Progress (code-named, Princesses In SPACE!). I've been trying to hit a personal quota of 500 words a day, which has produced close to 90,000 words as of this writing.

I generally try to aim for chapters that aren't too terribly long, but aren't ridiculously short, either. I've read a few books that had over a hundred chapters that were two or three pages each, and that always bugs me, for some reason -- it just makes the book feel herky-jerky. But the other way -- really long chapters -- doesn't do it for me, either. I'm trying to stick in the middle.

I also had an original goal of keeping my chapters roughly in the same ballpark, in terms of length, but that hasn't worked out quite so well. The early chapters are fairly brief, but they get longer after chapter ten. Maybe this isn't a problem; I don't end chapters for length specifically, but I do try to end them on logical breaking points.

So: I have almost 88,000 words in. Right under that total, I have an entry labeled MMPB and another labeled TWMF. What's this about?

Well, MMPB stands for "Mass Market Paper Back". The publishing industry uses word count as its standard measure for book length, for many good reasons; but sometimes I just find it nice to be able to figure where I am, roughly, if the book was to actually be printed. Now, this can vary a lot with considerations such as the font used and the print size, but I generally assume that a mass-market paperback novel will have roughly 400 words a page. So, that entry is simply the total word count divided by 400.

TWMF? Well...this is purely a conceit of mine, just an effort to try to remind myself not to get too long-winded in telling this tale. This bit of division yields to me the rough whereabouts of my story as compared with Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear, which is a really long book. TWMF, then, refers to the page I would be on if my book were printed like the Advance Review Copy I have of Rothfuss's doorstop of a novel. Luckily I'm nowhere near where he ended up for length, and I'm unlikely to get there. I hope to have the first draft, when it's complete, somewhere between 160,000 and 180,000 words. Maybe less, if that's the way the story unfolds.

So, there we go. Hooray for Space Princesses!

Random Observations

Just some stuff that's in my head:

::  Everybody hates on Mondays, but for my money, Tuesdays are far more likely to offer up a Giant Bowl of Suck. Tuesdays are just irritating. Everybody gears up for Mondays, because they're depressing by definition, but Tuesdays? They just sit there in the tall grass, waiting to ambush you. Tuesdays are the nadir of the week. You're still close enough to the previous weekend to remember whatever good times you had to see end to go back to work, and you're too far from the next weekend to take solace. Tuesdays are just nothing but grind.

::  I don't know if I'm going to bother watching the finale of Hell's Kitchen. The show is just awful, what with the continuing, and increasingly inexplicable, presence of Elise.

::  In the "Hey, that's never happened before!" department, I got blocked by someone on Flickr! This was really odd. I've never been blocked before, ever. I only noticed because I added her as a contact just the other day, and today I noticed she wasn't showing up on my Contacts page. Weird! I've been defriended on Facebook and I'm sure I've been unfollowed on Blogger, Twitter, and Tumblr, but I tend to not notice these things...I have no idea what my numbers are, in terms of followers, on any of the services that have followers in the first place. I'm kind of intrigued as to what it was about me that turned this person off; I can only assume she took a cursory look at my photostream and concluded that I'm some kind of creepy fetishist. Oh well!

::  I have zero idea of what I want for my birthday this year. And I feel like I should be taking advantage, because I'm hitting one of the Nice Round Numbers.

Specifically, now, some food thoughts:

::  I've been consuming fruit smoothies in a big way of late. My method is this: I throw in a cup or so of ice cubes, followed by a scoop of protein powder (if I've just returned from working out, otherwise I omit the protein powder), then roughly half a cup of milk and half-to-two-thirds a cup of vanilla yogurt. Then I add fruit: usually I throw in a banana, followed either by a peach or two or a blend of berries, mostly strawberry or blueberry. Then I let the blender work its magic, and drink.

My problem, of course, is that the stuff I've been making my smoothies with will very shortly be out of season, and thus either unavailable or too expensive to keep on hand. We're heading into apple, do apples make decent smoothies? I will report back once I've found out, but an apple cinnamon smoothie sounds awesome, doesn't it?

::  I'm also giving more and more thought to vegetarianism. Not as an entire lifestyle, but I'm liking the idea of going meatless one or two times a week. I am already eating several vegetarian meals each week, so doing this won't be a problem. I imagine that beans will have a major presence. I need to start reading some recipes!

::  But no, I won't be giving up meat entirely. Never! And by way of evidence, here's a recent meal I had: a pancetta, Romaine, and tomato sandwich on a sub roll:

Oh, this was heavenly.

::  I have officially come around on fresh tomatoes. I love 'em now. I hated them when I was a kid, but I gradually learned to accept them on sandwiches and burgers and tomato slices on pizza. I'm not sure I'll ever sit and eat tomato slices all by themselves, but otherwise, I'm becoming tomato-obsessed. It's too bad our balcony gets so little sunlight during the summer; we can't grow any tomatoes!

::  Oh, and I discovered hummus last week. I had a hummus, tomato, and leaf lettuce sandwich for lunch one day that was amazing.

OK, that's about it for random blathering....

Saturday Centus (Tuesday edition)

OK, with this week's prompt I am officially caught up. Huzzah! And thus it's time for some morbid humor:

Sally was hungry, but Mother wouldn't let her eat yet. Mother said she had a surprise for Sally, something wonderful. And Sally loved surprises, so even though she was hungry, she followed Mother dutifully until they reached their lunch destination. Sally looked at the bounty spread out before her, and gasped in awe.

"I hope you're still hungry," Mother said.

"I am!" Sally quivered with excitement. "Mother, may I?"

"You may!"


And with a powerful swish of her tail, Sally the Shark launched herself toward the crowd of surfers. "I'll try one of the pink ones first," she thought.
This was inspired by an awful song my pastor taught all the young kids at Vacation Bible School, called "Baby Shark". Oh well, at least I got some nice microfiction out of it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Answers the Sixth!

Continuing to answers the questions from Ask Me Anything! August 2011 (yeah, I'm going well into September with the answers. At the rate I'm going, I'll still be answering when Ask Me Anything! February 2012 rolls around!).

Anyhoo, as always, Roger has a bunch of good queries.

Do you tend toward melancholy or depression? If so, are you aware of what triggers it? And what do you do to overcome it?

Depression? No. Not that I know of, anyway. Melancholy? Sometimes. Maybe I tend toward melancholy a bit more often than most other folks, but I'm not sure if that's the case. One thing I've learned through the years is that it's really not that easy to know what other people are feeling. It seems that every time I hear about a suicide, some close friend or family member of the person will say something to the effect of "He/she always seemed so happy."

I don't dislike melancholy, per se, but for me, I tend to get into quiet, meditative moods where I'm just thinking about all kinds of stuff. Not particularly deep thoughts, per se, but I do tend to easily get involved in my own thought-world...and one thing I've discovered about myself is that my face, left to its own devices, tends to default to an expression that looks...well, sour, or annoyed, or sad, or miserable, or any similarly negative emotion. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone asked me "Hey, what's wrong?" or "Wow, you look pissed!" when I was not feeling anything remotely like those things.

And that leads me to another thing: the expectation that people have to look happy at all times, or there's something wrong. It's like there's an expectation for people to be grinning all the time. I smile plenty, I laugh a lot, and I'm really not unhappy in general (obviously, the less I think about Republicans, the better). I just don't have a naturally happy looking face, so I have to strive for looking artificially happy. Maybe I should just paint on a clown smile every morning and be done with it!

(Not really. Clowns, for the most part, give me the willies.)

Do you still want to buy a home or has the financial nonsense made you wary?

We want to buy one. For many various reasons, we just can't seem to get our shit together quite to that degree. But I wonder if it's not just a matter of saying, "Oh, hell with it, let's just pull the trigger and get this done." Lots of folks own homes who are financially no better off than we are, and it's not like we're teetering on the brink of destitution here.

I'm not sure we'd really approach home ownership as an investment, anyway. We'd want a place to live, a place where we can grow our own fruits and vegetables, where we can plant trees and have privacy, where we can hook a surround-sound system up to the teevee and watch Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings in massive sound. (Well, maybe that last one's for me, only.)

I think we'll own a home in the next couple of years. I hope, anyway.

Would you appear on The Amazing Race? Another 'reality' show?

Probably not, but if I was to appear on a reality show, TAR would be the one, I think. It just looks like so much fun, traveling the world. I don't think I'd do well on Survivor, and with my luck, I'd manage to get on the show during Boston Rob's next appearance, and nobody would listen to my pleas to vote his ass off the very first time we go to Tribal Council. I think that Big Brother just looks stupid. And while I like to cook and make good food for my family, I am nowhere near good enough of a cook to go on either Hell's Kitchen or Master Chef. But hey, maybe I can find some kind of really nifty antique doodad to take on Pawn Stars!

I know you love your wife, and all that, but [Oh dear! -Ed.]: In your fantasy world (or before you met The Wife), what physical characteristics were you most attracted to?

Oh God, I hope she's not reading this! I've always liked red-heads, but I think every guy likes red-heads, so that's not a big one. Long hair is wonderful, and The Wife had long hair when I met her (and for a number of years after that), but she eventually cut it short (except for another fairly brief period of longer hair in 2007 or thereabouts) because of her restaurant management jobs, which had "restrained and up off the collar" restrictions. Eventually she got sick of having to spend time putting her hair up every day, so she went short. Which is just fine with me, really -- The Wife is beautiful no matter what!

As far as other physical characteristics, well...I'm not much of [God, I hate this term! -Ed.] an ass-man, for what that's worth. And I don't tend to like overly skinny women; flesh makes me happy and curves are awesome.

And a nice smile, of course. The Wife's got me covered there, too -- her smile makes me all kinds of happy.

Is there a question you won't answer, not because of your own sense of privacy, but because of someone else's?

Well, I sure had to be careful with that last one, didn't I! I suppose that there's a galaxy of such questions that I wouldn't answer, all of which deal with my family members. Basically, I'd shy away from any question that doesn't focus on me, since I can then gauge how much of myself I want to reveal (and if I decide to reveal less than I'm asked, I cover that with jokes and verbosity). So yes, I do consider others in phrasing my answers. (Luckily, this is almost never a concern here -- in all the iterations of Ask Me Anything!, I can't recall a single question that actually made me uncomfortable in the answering.)

I'd also note that there are questions that I genuinely expect to get asked every time I do this, and none of those "Hey, will this be the time that X gets asked!" questions has yet to show up!

More to come! Another post or two ought to do it. Great questions, folks!

Bills 41, Chiefs 7

Last season, in keeping with my general liking of pies in faces, I decorated my football posts with this picture every time the Bills lost:

I'll still be using this one this year, but I'll be modifying it whenever the Bills actually win. So, here's to our poor lovely Chiefs fan!

Yeah, it's a bit infantile, but what can I say? We're talking about a sport that has big guys putting on contact gear and slamming into one another at high speeds.

So anyway, what about the Bills' 41-7 dismantling of the Chiefs?

::  After a rough first series or two, Ryan Fitzpatrick settled down nicely, completing 17 of 26 passes for 208 yards and 4 touchdowns. That's a great day. And he spread the wealth around, throwing a TD each to receivers Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones, and the other two to tight end Scott Chandler. Fitzpatrick didn't have any of those "OMG please don't get picked off" throws that he seemed to air out once per game last year, either. This guy is certainly making the most of the opportunity he's getting in Buffalo.

::  And Scott Chandler? A tight end who catches the ball? And whose catches are clutch catches, including multiple scores? We haven't seen that in Buffalo since the days of Pete Metzelaars. It got to the point with him that the Chiefs were devoting lots of attention to him, which allowed other guys to get open. I can't overstate how much I am praying that this is a harbinger of what this guy can do on a regular basis. A good tight end can make so many good things happen for an offense. I've often wondered if quarterbacks like JP Losman and Trent Edwards might have developed differently had they had a decent tight end to dump the ball on and draw attention away from receivers.

::  The defense looked quite a bit more stout today, but it still has some way to go. They certainly showed that they're susceptible to the hurry-up offense.

::  Fred Jackson continues to amaze. He's just a fantastic player. I don't think he ever fails to pick up positive yardage, and there were several plays today where he ran into a pile of Chief defenders and single-handedly pushed the pile back as he forced them to yield a few more yards. What a player. I hope he's got a few years left in him. He's old for a running back in terms of years, but he's only been in the NFL for a couple of years, so in terms of mileage, he's still in his prime.

::  For Bills fans hoping that the team can still finish with the top pick in the draft and get Andrew Luck (assuming his stock doesn't drop due to a bad season), this victory doesn't help. Over the last ten years, the teams that wound up with the top pick averaged just 1.7 wins a season. The Bills are halfway to screwing themselves out of Andrew Luck!

Next week, the Bills open at home against the Raiders, a team which seems to be highly regarded for reasons I don't quite understand. They were 8-8 last year, but it was a very odd 8-8 -- they went 6-0 in their division, but 2-6 outside it. We'll see. Bring 'em on!

Saturday Centus: Football Edition!

I'm actually nine days late with this one. I was stumped for quite a while, but then a really goofy idea came to me, and here it is.

"Hey, Joe!"

"Frank! Hey Tom, this is Frank. New on our floor, so I invited him to watch the game."

"Fine," said Tom. "Come on in. Chips and snacks on the table, beer in the cooler and fridge. Pizza's almost ready."

Tom went to the kitchen.

"He made pizza?"

"Yeah, well, don't get excited. He makes pizza depending on how good he thinks the team is."

Tom came back in, pizza in hand. Frank looked at it.

"What kind of a pizza is this?!" he said.

"Peanut butter and anchovy," Tom said.

"Gonna be a long season?" Frank asked.

"Yup," said Tom and Joe.'s football season! And it's time for my general rundown of thoughts on the season that just launched yesterday (actually last Thursday, but there it is).

How good will the Buffalo Bills be? Well, they won't be all that great. But I don't think they'll be a train wreck either, unless injuries rip giant holes in their offensive line. (This is, sadly, not beyond the realm of possibility.) I expect better defense and, as long as everybody stays healthy, an offense that will be better than most expect. I look at this team and frankly I see, with an average amount of good luck, a 7-9 team. And while 7-9 is annoyingly similar to what we've seen from the Bills most years of late, in this case 7-9 would be an improvement. We'll see what happens.

The Bills dumped some salaries in the offseason, by doing things like trading Lee Evans to the Ravens for a 4th-round pick next year and by not resigning free agents like Paul Poszluzny (no idea how to spell that) and Donte Whitner. Interestingly, every player the Bills let go is one who has been generally ripped for being overrated at best while they were here, but now that they're gone, fans are taking the opposite tack, ripping the Bills for dumping salary! My simple response is, "How badly are the Bills likely to miss these guys?" If the answer is "Not very badly", then I'm thinking, "Then let 'em go." The Bills seem to have stopped throwing money at average players, which is good. Right now it leaves them with an awful lot of cap room, but so what? Now they can figure out which of their young guys they want to sign to long-term deals and have the room to do it.

Fans and media also ripped the Bills for not signing more than a couple free agents, none of whom are really marquee players. Again I say, So what? Everyone agrees that the Bills are lacking in talent across the board and need to really hit on a number of draft picks in order to build a nucleus of winning talent for the future. That being the case, it makes sense not to throw money at free agents on a team that's unlikely to win much to begin with. That's been the Wsahington Redskins approach, and it has not produced good results down there. I don't want to do that here, either.

So anyway: with a total "best-case" scenario, I can see the Bills eking out a 9-7 record, but "total best-case" scenarios obviously never happen. I'm thinking they'll be in the 6-10 or 7-9 range. We'll see.

I won't bother predicting the rest of the divisions, but I will make a Super Bowl pick: Packers over Ravens. I think the Ravens are ready to step forward and knock off the Steelers, who will likely have a down year (for them, anyway). And I think that the Packers are the best-equipped-to-repeat team I've seen since the 2004 Patriots.

Other random predictions:

::  Assuming Andrew Luck doesn't have a crappy season that doesn't send his draft stock into freefall, I expect him to end up either in Cincinnati or Washington.

::  I don't think that Peyton Manning has more than two years left.

::  I would not be at all surprised to see Tom Brady start to show signs of physical decline this year. (This would, of course, make me happy.) I would also say that if St. Tom the Overrated is to ever win another ring, it has to be this year. If he doesn't win his fourth ring this year, he won't win it ever.

::  I am not nearly as sold on the Jets as everybody else is. Mark Sanchez doesn't impress me all that much.

::  Nor am I convinced that the Eagles are going to be great, although I do think they'll win that division.

::  The Bills will conform to their usual pattern versus the Patriots: they'll play them close but lose the first one, and get their arses kicked in the second one. Oh well.

That's about it. Let there be football!

Sentential Links #260


:: If you do Niagara Falls, you HAVE to do the Maid of the Mist. I think it's the law; maybe it's in the Constitution. (I've never done the Maid of the Mist! Oh noes!)

:: “Governor, what myth does the Superman story retell? I’ll give you a hint: his adopted human parents also had the initials J and M.”

:: It's not the jeans or tee shirt that bothers me, it's the terrible execution with which Superman is drawn. It's unpleasant to look at.

:: This is a really great comic in all respects, except that the Blue Jeans Superman costume is stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Every time I see it in a panel I am reminded that I am reading a Superman comic where Superman is dressed like a dork. (Ooooh, dueling impressions of the same comic book! Cool!)

:: Now, I'm a single guy -- I know, I know, "You're single? A guy who spends a lot of his time writing about Funky Winkerbean? We are thoroughly shocked!" -- but even I know that maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't preface your marriage proposal by continuing to talk constantly about your dead first wife. (I am such a sucker for Funky Winkerbean mockery!)

:: Wonder Woman vs Sea Monsters is an entirely appropriate ascendant sign for me. If there was anything that combated my interest in exciting adventure fiction as a kid, it was pretty, strong-willed girls. Other than the girls becoming women, not much has changed since then.

:: Strange. The things that remain.

More next week!