Thursday, February 28, 2013

Something for Thursday

I had a piece chosen already, but yesterday's passing of pianist Van Cliburn gave me cause to push that one back a week. This particular work is so associated with Cliburn that it's almost cliche to use it, but there's a reason cliches become so in the first place.

Back when I was in school and taking piano lessons, my teacher -- a wonderful lady named Margaret Hooker -- used to rave about Van Cliburn. She thought the world of him, and I never think of him without thinking of her almost at the same time. I was never that good at the piano, choosing instead to focus my energies on my beloved trumpet, which I imagine had to frustrate Mrs. Hooker somewhat, as I could have done better had I worked harder at it. I'd say 'Story of my life', but then, that's the story of everyone's life, isn't it?

Anyway, I hope that Mrs. Hooker is finally getting to meet Mr. Cliburn in whatever musical realm they now inhabit. There's no question in my mind that if there is such a realm, she's already tracked him down.

Here's Van Cliburn playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith (part five)


Again, it's been a while since we did this, and I've been lax for mainly the same reasons: work on other projects, and the continued calcification of the view that the Prequel Trilogy is utter garbage. It seems that the only way to get commentary about the PT noticed online is to simply find some way to repackage the same, tired, old "The PT sucks and Lucas is a hack!" narrative. But for the sake of completeness, I suppose I should tilt at this windmill until I'm done...which is what I'm going to do. (I've already written several of the next posts in this series.) Perhaps a re-energizing of Star Wars fandom in the wake of the franchise's transition in ownership from George Lucas to the hands of the Disney folks will lead to a re-evaluation of the Prequels...which might lead to a discovery of this blog series. A guy can dream, can't he? So on we go!

When last we left off, we had completed the rescue of Chancellor Palpatine and were heading into the political part of the story. In my version, Anakin has already told Padme that when their child is born, he will leave the Jedi order; but Palpatine has already started his plotting, beginning with invoking some ancient law to appoint Anakin directly to the Jedi Council (which Anakin interprets to mean that he will, at long last, be made a Jedi Master). Meanwhile, Padme has been approached by several Senators who have strong concerns about the direction Palpatine is leading the Republic.

So: at this point in the film, Anakin stands before the Council after his appointment. It doesn't go as well as he hopes. (Red text indicates material not in the film; blue text indicates stuff I'm adding on my own.)


ANAKIN stands pensively (I'd have him pacing, actually.) in front of the Jedi Council Chambers. The door opens.


ANAKIN enters and stands in the middle of the room. He is surrounded by the Jedi Council MACE WINDU, EETH KOTH OBI-WAN, YODA, the HOLOGRAMS of PLO KOON and KI-ADI-MUNDI.

MACE: Anakin Skywalker, we have approved your appointment to the Council as the Chancellor's personal representative.

ANAKIN: I will do my best to uphold the principles of the Jedi Order.

YODA: Allow this appointment lightly, the Council does not. Disturbing is this move by Chancellor Palpatine.

ANAKIN: I understand.

MACE: You are on this Council, but we do not grant you the rank of Master.

Anakin reacts with anger.

ANAKIN: What? ! How can you do this?? This is outrageous, it's unfair . . . I'm more powerful than any of you. How can you be on the Council and not be a Master?

[I'm glad that Lucas excised that one sentence, there. It really makes Anakin sound whiny and entitled. The focus instead should be on the idea that just being on the Council should make him a Master, not on his power.]

MACE: You are powerful, and you have accomplished a great deal. No one here questions this. But it is the Council's decision who becomes a Master, not the Chancellor's, and there is no dusty ancient law in any book that he can use to make it so. Take a seat, young Skywalker.

ANAKIN: Forgive me, Master.

ANAKIN goes and sits in one of the empty chairs. Everyone is embarrassed. KI-ADI-MUNDI WHO APPEARS AS A HOLOGRAM, speaks.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: We have surveyed all systems in the Republic, and have found no sign of General Grievous.

YODA: Hiding in the Outer Rim, Grievous is. The outlying systems, you must sweep.

OBI-WAN: It may take some time . . . we do not have many ships to spare.

MACE: We cannot take ships from the front line.

OBI-WAN: And yet, it would be fatal for us to allow the droid armies to regroup.

YODA: Master Kenobi, our spies contact, you must, and then wait.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: What about the droid attack on the Wookiees?

MACE: It is critical we send an attack group there, immediately!

OBI-WAN: He's right, that is a system we cannot afford to lose. It's the main navigation route for the southwestern quadrant.

ANAKIN: I know that system well. It would take us little time to drive the droids off that planet.

MACE: Skywalker, your assignment is here with the Chancellor, and Kenobi must find General Grievous.

YODA: Go, I will. Good relations with the Wookiees, I have.

MACE: It is settled then. Yoda will take a battalion of clones to reinforce the Wookiees on Kashyyyk. May the Force be with us all.

ANAKIN is disappointed.

So Anakin had thought that Palpatine's action would instantly elevate him to the highest levels of the Jedi order...but that's not at all how things worked out. I really like this development and always have – with this one move, Palpatine has managed to drive the already-existing wedge between himself and the Council a little bit deeper, and he has managed to position Anakin right in the middle. He knows that Anakin will find the Council's actions insulting, and what's more, he clearly already knew that the Council would refuse to elevate Anakin to Master. Palpatine is planting seeds with the deftness of...a Sith Lord!

What happens next:


ANAKIN and OBI-WAN walk through one of the massive Jedi Temple hallways. ANAKIN is furious.

ANAKIN: What kind of nonsense is this, put me on the Council and not make me a Master!?? That's never been done in the history of the Jedi. It's insulting!

OBI-WAN: Calm down, Anakin. You have been given a great honor. To be on the Council at your age . . . It's never happened before. Listen to me, Anakin. The fact of the matter is you're too close to the Chancellor. The Council doesn't like it when he interferes in Jedi affairs.

ANAKIN: I swear to you, I didn't ask to be put on the Council . . .

OBI-WAN: But it's what you wanted! Your friendship with Chancellor Palpatine seems to have paid off.

ANAKIN: That has nothing to do with this.

OBI-WAN: Anakin, regardless of how it happened, you find yourself in a delicate situation.

ANAKIN: You mean divided loyalties.

OBI-WAN: I warned you there was tension between the Council and the Chancellor. I was very clear. Why didn't you listen? You walked right into it.

ANAKIN: The Council is upset I'm the youngest to ever serve.

OBI-WAN: No, it is not. Anakin, I worry when you speak of jealousy and pride. Those are not Jedi thoughts. They're dangerous, dark thoughts.

ANAKIN: Master, you of all people should have confidence in my abilities. I know where my loyalties lie.

OBI-WAN: I hope so . . .

ANAKIN: I sense there's more to this talk than you're saying.

OBI-WAN: Anakin, the only reason the Council has approved your appointment is because the Chancellor trusts you.


OBI-WAN: Anakin, look, I am on your side. I didn't want to see you put in this situation.

ANAKIN: What situation?

OBI-WAN: (takes a deep breath) The Council wants you to report on all of the Chancellor's dealings. They want to know what he's up to.

ANAKIN: They want me to spy on the Chancellor? That's treason!

OBI-WAN: We are at war, Anakin. The Jedi Council is sworn to uphold the principles of the Republic, even if the Chancellor does not.

ANAKIN: Why didn't the Council give me this assignment when we were in session?

OBI-WAN: This assignment is not to be on record. The Council asked me to approach you on this personally.

ANAKIN: The Chancellor is not a bad man, Obi-Wan. He befriended me. He's watched out for me ever since I arrived here.

OBI-WAN: That is why you must help us, Anakin. Our allegiance is to the Senate, not to its leader who has managed to stay in office long after his term has expired.

ANAKIN: Master, the Senate demanded that he stay longer.

OBI-WAN: Yes, but use your feelings, Anakin. Something is out of place.

ANAKIN: You're asking me to do something against the Jedi Code. Against the Republic. Against a mentor . . . and a friend. That's what's out of place here. Why are you asking this of me?

OBI-WAN: The Council is asking you.

Hoo-boy. When I really think about it, the clarity of Palpatine's plan really crystallizes nicely here. The Jedi don't trust Palpatine, but he gives them a golden opportunity to have someone watching him very closely. Palpatine is banking on the fact that Anakin perceives the Council as not trusting him, when in fact, they apparently do – or enough of them to think it's advisable to ask this of him. Palpatine knows that Anakin does not trust them, even if Anakin hasn't yet figured this out. He's playing on the fact that Anakin must be well aware of the Council's long-standing suspicion of him and his abilities, going all the way back to when Qui Gon Jinn presented him to the Council as a young boy.

And thus Palpatine lays the trap for the Jedi, which they walk into, fully aware even as they do it. Is Palpatine worried about Anakin reporting his doings to the Jedi? Perhaps...but he suspects that, when it finally comes time to make the choice, Anakin will choose him instead. It's almost as if, after years and years and years of careful plotting and reacting to events, Palpatine is finally ready to go "all in". I've always thought this all very well-constructed on Lucas's part.

Next comes a scene that demonstrates, for me, the thin line that the Jedi are walking (and they are not walking it particularly well):


YODA, MACE, and OBI-WAN ride in the GUNSHIP as it heads for the Clone landing platform. Mace and Obi-Wan are sitting.

OBI-WAN : Anakin did not take to his assignment with much enthusiasm.

YODA: Too much under the sway of the Chancellor, he is. Much anger there is in him. Too much pride in his powers.

MACE: It's very dangerous, putting them together. I don't think the boy can handle it. I don't trust him.

OBI-WAN: He'll be all right. I trust him with my life.

MACE:I wish I did.

OBI-WAN: With all due respect, Master, is he not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?

MACE: So the prophecy says.

YODA: A prophecy . . . that misread could have been.

OBI-WAN: He will not let me down. He never has.

YODA: I hope right you are. And now destroy the Droid armies on Kashyyyk, I will. May the Force be with you.

The GUNSHIP lands and the ramp lowers. YODA exits the GUNSHIP. MACE and OBI-WAN stand and give him a brief bow then take off in the GUNSHIP.

Again: hoo-boy. It's like the Jedi see that something very bad is looming out there if they keep doing things this way, and then they just keep on doing things that way. This facet of the Jedi's eventual fall – the way they brought a great deal of it on themselves, just by being clueless about things at really bad times – is an element I've always wished that George Lucas would have brought forward much more strongly. The Jedi fall is, to me, lines up almost perfectly, by way of metaphor, with that of the Knights Templar. If you've never read up on the history of the Templars, check it out...and for a good time, mentally substitute the word 'Jedi' for 'Templar' as you get close to the end.

But meanwhile: Mace, Mace, Mace, you ignorant slut. The key question here is pretty obvious: if you don't trust Anakin – and it's clear that Windu is not alone in his lack of enthusiasm for him – then why on Earth are you entrusting him with such a task? If you all feel that Anakin's friendship with Palpatine is something to be concerned about, why do you not only tacitly endorse it but openly encourage it by giving him such an assignment? Even Obi Wan, who knows Anakin best and trusts him the most, thinks that Anakin is too close to Palpatine. None of the Jedi actions here really make sense, and to me they illustrate what's most interesting about the Prequel Trilogy: that the Jedi by this time aren't even close to being the Jedi Order in its prime. They are disastrously close to something bad happening, and while they know it's there, they have no real idea where the threat is coming from. Right now they don't trust Palpatine, but that he actually is the threat has not yet entered their minds.

In terms of this scene, though, I'd add something:

OBI-WAN : Anakin did not take to his assignment with much enthusiasm.

YODA: Too much under the sway of the Chancellor, he is. Much anger there is in him. Too much pride in his powers.

MACE: It's very dangerous, putting them together. I don't think the boy can handle it. I don't trust him.

OBI-WAN: He'll be all right. I trust him with my life.

MACE:I wish I did. There's something at odds about young Skywalker. He is powerful and he has done many great things, but his thoughts and feelings are not focused on his Jedi duties.

OBI-WAN: What do you think he's focusing on instead?

MACE: I do not know.

This will play into something a little later on, pertaining to Anakin's eventual fall from grace.

Meanwhile, Anakin goes home to Padme, and it's clear that the pressures on Anakin are starting to take a toll on him there, too.


Padme's Speeder pulls up to the landing platform. CAPTAIN TYPHO escorts PADME onto the veranda, where TWO HANDMAIDENS (ELLE and MOTEE) are waiting. PADME turns to CAPTAIN TYPHO.

PADME: Thank you, Captain.

CAPTAIN TYPHO: Rest well. My Lady.

CAPTAIN TYPHO gets back into the Speeder, and it disappears into the cityscape. The HANDMAIDENS, Motee and Elle, approach PADME as the SHADOW OF A FIGURE moves in the background. C-3PO is standing nearby.

PADME: I'll be up in a while.

MOTEE: Yes, my lady.

C-3PO stands, confused, as the HANDMAIDENS turn and exit.

C-3PO: Is there anything I might do for you, my lady?

PADME: Yes, make sure all the security droids are working. Thank you, Threepio.

The golden droid turns and exits.

PADME stands and watches the sunset. The SHADOWY FIGURE moves toward her. She senses something.

ANAKIN: Beautiful, isn't it?

PADME jumps and turns around.

PADME: You startled me.

He sits next to her on the bench.

ANAKIN: How are you feeling?

PADME: He keeps kicking.

ANAKIN: He?! Why do you think it's a boy?

PADME: (laughs) My motherly intuition.

She puts his hand on her belly.

ANAKIN: Whoa! With a kick that strong, it's got to be a girl.

They laugh.

PADME: I heard about your appointment. Anakin. I'm so proud of you.

ANAKIN: I may be on the Council, but . . . they refused to accept me as a Jedi Master.

PADME: Patience. In time, they will recognize your skills.

ANAKIN: They still treat me as if I were a Padawan learner. . . they fear my power, that's the problem.

PADME: Anakin . . .

ANAKIN: Sometimes, I wonder what's happening to the Jedi Order . . . I think this war is destroying the principles of the Republic.

PADME: Have you ever considered that we may be on the wrong side?

ANAKIN: (suspicious) What do you mean?

PADME: What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?

ANAKIN: I don't believe that. And you're sounding like a Separatist!

PADME: Anakin, this war represents a failure to listen . . . Now, you're closer to the Chancellor than anyone. Please, please ask him to stop the fighting and let diplomacy resume.

ANAKIN: (growing angry) Don't ask me to do that, Padme. Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs. I'm not your errand boy. I'm not anyone's errand boy!

PADME: What is it?

ANAKIN: Nothing.

PADME: Don't do this . . . don't shut me out. Let me help you.

ANAKIN: You can't help me . . . I'm trying to help you.

They look in each other's eyes.

ANAKIN: (continuing) I sense . . . there are things you are not telling me.

PADME is startled at this.

PADME: I sense there are things you are not telling me.

PADME smiles. ANAKIN is a little embarrassed.

PADME: (continuing) Hold me . . . like you did by the lake on Naboo, so long ago . . . when there was nothing but our love ... No politics, no plotting ... no war.

Here we have another example of a scene that works better as written than as eventually shown in the finished film, which means that it's another case of overzealous editing. Basically we cut to the middle of a discussion of politics, with no preamble or set-up, which just doesn't work very well at all. During this whole part of the movie, I remember thinking, "Wow, does anybody ever just sit and talk in these? Is it all politics, all the time?" And I can see that Lucas wanted to get the running time under control, but really – you've got to let a story breathe at times.

So I'd pick up the scene earlier and make a couple of tiny additions:


Padme's Speeder pulls up to the landing platform. CAPTAIN TYPHO escorts PADME onto the veranda, where TWO HANDMAIDENS (ELLE and MOTEE) are waiting. PADME turns to CAPTAIN TYPHO.

PADME: Thank you, Captain. I'm sorry I'm so late. There were some informal meetings after the official business ended.

CAPTAIN TYPHO: You don't need to explain to me, My Lady. Rest well.

CAPTAIN TYPHO gets back into the Speeder, and it disappears into the cityscape. The HANDMAIDENS, Motee and Elle, approach PADME as the SHADOW OF A FIGURE moves in the background. C-3PO is standing nearby.

PADME: I'll be up in a while.

MOTEE: Yes, my lady.

C-3PO stands, confused, as the HANDMAIDENS turn and exit.

C-3PO: Is there anything I might do for you, my lady?

PADME: Yes, make sure all the security droids are working. Thank you, Threepio.

The golden droid turns and exits.

PADME stands and watches the sunset. The SHADOWY FIGURE moves toward her. She senses something.

ANAKIN: Beautiful, isn't it?

PADME jumps and turns around.

PADME: You startled me.

He sits next to her on the bench.

ANAKIN: How are you feeling?

PADME: He keeps kicking.

ANAKIN: He?! Why do you think it's a boy?

PADME: (laughs) My motherly intuition.

She puts his hand on her belly.

ANAKIN: Whoa! With a kick that strong, it's got to be a girl.

They laugh.

PADME: I heard about your appointment. Anakin. I'm so proud of you...What is it?

ANAKIN: I may be on the Council, but . . . they refused to accept me as a Jedi Master.

PADME: Patience. In time, they will recognize your skills.

ANAKIN: They still treat me as if I were a Padawan learner. . . they fear my power, that's the problem. And they're angry that the Chancellor used that law in the first place. So I'm in the middle, while everything falls apart.

PADME: Anakin . . .

ANAKIN: Sometimes, I wonder what's happening to the Jedi Order . . . I think this war is destroying the principles of the Republic.

PADME: Have you ever considered that we may be on the wrong side?

ANAKIN: (suspicious) What do you mean?

PADME: What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?

ANAKIN: I don't believe that. And you're sounding like a Separatist!

PADME: Anakin, this war represents a failure to listen . . . Now, you're closer to the Chancellor than anyone. Please, please ask him to stop the fighting and let diplomacy resume.

ANAKIN: (growing angry) Don't ask me to do that, Padme. Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs. I'm not your errand boy. I'm not anyone's errand boy!

PADME: What is it?

ANAKIN: Nothing.

PADME: Don't do this . . . don't shut me out. Let me help you.

ANAKIN: You can't help me . . . I'm trying to help you.

They look in each other's eyes.

ANAKIN: (continuing) I sense . . . there are things you are not telling me.

PADME is startled at this.

PADME: I sense there are things you are not telling me.

PADME smiles. ANAKIN is a little embarrassed.

PADME: (continuing) We can't let this war come between us. Not when we've both lost so much!

She steps into his embrace.

PADME: Hold me . . . like you did by the lake on Naboo, so long ago . . . when there was nothing but our love ... No politics, no plotting ... no war.

ANAKIN returns the embrace, and for a second, his expression is at peace...but then, C-3PO enters.

C-3PO: Oh! I am sorry, Master Anakin, but you have a message. The Chancellor is requesting your presence.

ANAKIN sighs.

ANAKIN: I don't want to go.

PADME: You have to. You still have your duties.

ANAKIN: But who am I serving?

She kisses him, and they hold each other for just a moment longer.


Unbeknownst to them, a probe droid is hovering nearby, its camera focused on them as they complete their embrace and part, with ANAKIN walking away.


MACE WINDU sits alone in the Council chamber, watching a holographic feed of what the probe droid is viewing: ANAKIN and PADME embracing. MACE leans back in his chair and turns to stare at the Coruscant skyline, deep in thought.

It's probably pretty obvious where I'm going with that last bit. George Lucas made quite clear that the real wedge, the final break, between Anakin and the Jedi would center upon Mace Windu. Here I'm drawing that out even more. He has suspicions about Anakin, and now he's actively pursuing them.

That's where I'll stop here. Next time, we come in as Palpatine starts to make his move to lure Anakin away from the Jedi. Tune in!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

How cool is your cell phone? What all do you use it for?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Answers, the fourth!

OK, I need to pick up the pace a little bit here....

Continuing with Roger's queries:

How many copies of the Orson Scott Card's Superman comic will you be buying. I KNOW you're his biggest fan. ;-)

Heh. Clearly Roger already knows the answer to this: Zero, nada, zip, zilch. No way, not in a million years, never. In that order.

Not one penny will ever find its way from my pocket to Orson Scott Card's, so long as it's within my power to prevent it. Heh!

If you are selected pope: will you serve, and if so, what will your philosophy be?

Another one that I can answer briefly: I would sell off all of the Vatican's art treasures to museums around the world, and give the proceeds to the victims of the church's pedophile priests. I would also order the release of any and all documents involving that scandal to the world's law enforcement agencies. And if, after doing those things, I hadn't been poisoned or shot, I would immediately resign.

Fracking: economic boon, or ecological disaster in the making?

Both, which is what's so damned scary about it. We know what happens to the Earth when we massively produce energy using fossil fuels. Why we're not throwing as much effort as humanly possible into developing as many clean-energy production technologies we can, is utterly beyond me. I do not think that history is going to speak well of the era in which we are living. We have our collective heads in the sand, and I find it extraordinarily disturbing.

OK, those were depressing. Where's a flying pie when you need one?!

Chickie du Chef

So, in my ongoing efforts to become more culinarily self-reliant, I've taken to cooking whole chickens in the crockpot. This, it turns out, is cheaper than buying chicken parts when I need just regular chicken meat for a soup or salad or something. And it's incredibly easy. I just rinse the chicken, pat it dry, and toss him in the pot. Then I cover him with salt, pepper, and whatever spices I feel like grabbing.

Crockpot Chicken

Crockpot Chicken, done!

The best thing about this procedure, though, isn't the large amount of cooked chicken I end up with. It's the next part of the process, because now I've begun making my own chicken stock, too.

After we eat whatever of the freshly-cooked chicken we plan on, I bone the rest of the bird and then throw all the remaining parts of the carcass back into the pot (retaining all those wonderful juices that the bird itself exuded whilst crocking away for eight to ten hours). I'm talking skin, bone, fat, gristle, all of it. I cut up a couple of carrots, some celery, an onion, and a head of garlic; into the pot they go. Same with a quartered lemon. Then I cover the entire works with water, put the lid on, and crock the works on low for another twelve hours. The result?

Chicken Stock I

In the words of Emeril Lagasse, 'Oh yeah, babe.'

I use my Chinese strainer to remove all the big chunks of veggies, bone, fat, and assorted whatnot (if we lived someplace with a yard, I suppose this stuff could go in a compost pile, but we don't, so into the trash with it).

Chicken Stock II

Then I ladle the broth through a fine sieve to remove the tiny particles of stuff...

Chicken Stock III

...and after that, I have a whole bunch of tasty, unsalted chicken stock. We've been portioning it into 8oz servings and freezing it. Having homemade stock on hand is a great feeling, and I'm already thinking of getting beef bones so I can make my own beef stock, too. I can certainly say that my days of using store-bought stocks or bouillon powder are over. Had I known it was this easy--!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Happy birthday to the love of my life!

Today is The Wife's birthday.

Our marriage hasn't been easy. We've had to work at it, harder at times than others. We've been tested by an awful lot of shit...and a curse of being a creative type is that, with my vivid imagination, I can imagine life without her.

It would well and truly suck.

I can imagine that life, and I would hate it. It would consist of me moving through a world that's less bright, that's less musical, that's less full of light and love. She makes me happier than I deserve. She makes things possible, and desirable, and everything else that's good. The great portion of my happiest memories all involve her in some way, and the great portion of my saddest memories are salved by knowing that they're her memories too and that we got through them together.

Could I live life without her? Yes. But I don't know why I would.

So, as long as it's within my power, I'm not gonna. She's stuck with me.

I hope she's OK with that.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: What happened when a guy forgot to send his girlfriend a Valentine's Day gift. Oh my Goodness Gracious!

:: Being in maintenance for a living, I get to hear a lot of jokes about duct tape, which has a reputation of being useful for everything. I find that amusing, because it turns out that I almost never use duct tape for anything! But anyway, here's an artist for whom duct tape is a medium, as well as other mundane objects. Wow.

:: Here's the type of thing I wish I would think of first: The Record Books, or, if classic albums had been books instead. Here's how he sums up a Celine Dion album-turned-book:

Pleasantly perky pop-psychology paperback positing prolonged pillow-time produces positive paranormal powers. Poppycock.

Further reading from the same author: Let’s Talk About Love, A New Day Has Come, One Heart, Miracle, Taking Chances, and Water and a Flame, dealing with the oral orgasm (oralgasm), ‘real-birth’, soul-mate divination through exsanguination, post-menopause childbirth, mid-life crisis continuity management and, finally, recipes for ‘mental-healthy’ eating.


More next week!


Thanks to the wonder of eBay, I now own a pair of moss green Carhartt overalls. Thus I shall conquer the world. BOW, MERE MORTALS!!!

Green Carhartts!

At the library II

Green Carhartts! II that last photo, I have zero idea what's going on with my eyes, or why I look like the dude who is just itching to tell you where he's buried all of his victims. Ye Gods.

And in other news of All Things Green, The Wife crocheted me a new scarf.

The Wife crocheted me a new scarf. Because she's awesome.

I am so prepared for this year's St. Paddy's Day! Maybe I'll even go to the parade this time....

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A meta-note

As part of my effort to lower the amount of snark in the world by lowering it here...I've rewritten my comments policy to sound a tad less harsh. So consider this a reboot of the commenting environment here. Behave, but comment away!

Writing update

So, how's the writing been going of late? Well, it's not been terribly productive.

I continue sending queries out for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title). I have already received one rejection, so we'll see how things go from here. I'll query everybody and their brother, before I'll give up...and heck, by that time, maybe enough time will have elapsed that I'll just start querying them all again, with a different letter. Who knows. If worse comes to worse, I will self-publish, because one way or another, this book is getting out there. But I'd rather it be in the 'usual' way, you know?

As for newer work -- I let my NaNoWriMo project go for over a month after November, as I returned to final work on Princesses and then to its query materials. I let it go too long, as a matter of fact, and thus have found myself struggling to get back into that one. So there's a lesson learned: I'll lower the quota if I have to, but I will not stop work on a project entirely, unless I feel that it's just not working and needs more time to ferment in my brain. That's what I did with The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title), which started out really nicely but then felt like it was bogging down into a cycle of 'walk somewhere, introduce new character, walk someplace else, introduce another new character, lather rinse repeat'. I really want to get a draft of Deliverance, eh? (not the actual title) done, because Princesses II is starting to take shape in my head at a startling speed. I need to get back to that world, if I'm to get all nine books written before I'm either ninety or dead. (Yes, nine books. That's how long I envision that series. Unless I get sick of it after six and just say, "That's all I ever planned on writing." Like George Lucas totally did not do!)

So that's where things are right now: Princesses is still a book-in-waiting. Deliverance, eh? is the draft-at-hand. Lighthouse Boy is percolating on the back burner, and Princesses II: Princess Harder (not the actual title) is in the prep stage.

For a guy who isn't getting paid for any of this shit yet, I sure am busy!

Answers the third!

Ask Me Anything!

Continuing to answer questions posed in Ask Me Anything! (And feel free to pop in with some more, if you so desire, folks!)

These were e-mailed by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

Was your high school safe? Drug or gang problems? Did it have any anti-bullying programs? Do you worry about your daughter's schools? What about the opposite: what were the strengths of your school?

As far as I know, yes, it was pretty safe. There weren't any anti-bullying programs to speak of, as in the mid-to-late 1980s, bullying was mainly seen as a 'rite of passage' kind of thing. You just had to get through it, back then. A shame, but that's just the way it was -- especially in my town, which is a small conservative town on the edges of Northern Appalachia. I took more ribbing than I'm sure I would be subjected to today in a more bullying-conscious era, but even so, I don't think I got it all that badly. Mainly it was directed at my weight. And in all honesty, as I recall it, any bullying I suffered pretty much dried up by tenth grade. I think those kids just eventually lost interest, and my sense of it all was that they bullied because it was expected of them, not because they were bullies. If that makes sense.

Gangs and drugs? If they existed at Allegany Central, I had no idea. I'm sure that there was somebody in my class -- in all classes, really -- who was a source for drugs, if I wanted to go that route. But to this day, I couldn't begin to tell you who that person even was. It probably says something that I was able to get through high school with that degree of blissful unawareness of whatever local criminal element there was. I didn't even learn of some of the stuff that went on until Facebook came along, twenty years later, and I saw lots of photos from back then -- photos of parties attended by lots of my classmates, parties with lots of beer at hand. I never knew about any of that stuff. I just wasn't in that crowd...and yet, I wasn't really ostracized at school or made to feel like I was a lesser person for not being part of that crowd.

Do I worry about The Daughter's school? Yes, but at a low level. Our particular district has a number of good programs in place to minimize that kind of thing -- particulary bullying -- and to address it if it happens. She does seem to be trending, socially, in similar ways to myself and what I know of The Wife's high school experiences, in that she has a cluster of close friends but she's not wildly social or anything.

One thing I do like about her school right now -- the middle school -- is that each grade level changes classes at different times. Any bullying that happened when I was in school mainly happened in the halls when everybody was in the hall at once, so seventh graders had to run the gauntlet of eleventh graders. That doesn't happen at her school now: eighth graders don't change classes at the same time as anyone else. I don't know if the high school does that too, but we'll find out.

Do you volunteer or donate to any charities? How did you pick it/them?

I should probably volunteer more time than I do. I give to the United Way through work (The Store has a long-standing relationship with The United Way), and I donate to a number of different charities and charitable efforts through my church. Mainly I pick-and-choose the ones that sound like they're doing good things, although I do try to keep my donations 'local' as much as possible. I donate to the local library (although not enough).

Hmmmm. I really should do more charitable work...and in terms of volunteering, I am a decent writer....

We've been watching BBC's "Top Gear" on DVDs. Ever watch it? If you did, what did you think? What were your first vehicles, how did you get them (from family? from friends? bought used? new?), and did you love or hate them?

Without getting into too many details, I must in all honesty note that my parents have been of unusually enormous help to my family and I, in the vehicular department. They've come to our automotive rescue more times than anybody has any reasonable hope of anticipating. The number of times we would have been well and truly screwed if not for their staggering generosity and help is...well, it's more than zero. It's more than five, even.

Anyhow: the first car that I owned outright, mine, myself, was a Plymouth Colt. I loved that car. We drove it on our honeymoon. The only downside of that car was that it didn't have A/C. After five wonderful years, it threw a rod while I was driving home on I-90 in Buffalo. This was less than a month after an oil change at one of those 'Kwik-Lube' joints (and that particular business is long-since closed down). I've always wondered if they screwed up the oil change, either by not putting enough in, or not putting the drain plug back on, or just not putting the oil in at all. That car should not have thrown a #*$&%*!! rod. (You know, it's amazing what you remember: I know what I was on my way home from doing. I'd gone to Barnes&Noble to buy a copy of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Very strange. This was before I had a cell phone, so I had to wait for a patrolling cop to come along and call a tow for me.)

The Wife's first car that I knew of was a silver Subaru Justy. Tiny little vehicle that she later wrecked when someone making a left in the opposite direction neglected to, you know, actually see her there. Next was a Geo Metro that got amazing mileage, but which she hated. Interesting....

As for Top Gear, I've never seen it. Should I? What say you, readers? I know nothing about that show, in all honesty!

More answers to come!

Saturday Centus

I pretty straightforward prompt this week...let's see what we can tease out of it.

She crossed her arms. “Gimme a compliment, or I’m outta here.”

“OK...uhhh...OK, here. Without you around, I sleep like a baby.”

She grabbed her purse. “Nice try.”

“No, wait! Ever hear a baby sleep? They wake up crying every ten minutes, and they only sleep until they get held. That’s what I’m like. I can’t sleep unless I know you’re there to hold me.”

She looked at him, eyes narrowed. Then she put down her purse.

“OK, fine. You got me for one more night.”

“Should I turn down the sheets?”

“Let’s not push it.”


Friday, February 22, 2013

From the land of bad puns....

Sorry. I will now repent.

(No I won't. Heh!)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Something for Thursday

Over on Instagram I'm doing a '30 Day Disney Challenge', basically because a friend of mine who is an absolute nut for all things Disney is doing it and I just can't leave an Internet meme-thing undone. It'll task me until I do it! So anyway, in honor of my favorite Disney character, here is the final song from Mary Poppins, a movie that I think would be considered one of the great movie musicals if the Disney label didn't get it filed in with the kids' stuff.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Answers the Second!

Ask Me Anything!

Continuing the cavalcade of answers to Ask Me Anything! questions. (Entries still welcome, by the way -- ask things in comments here!)

The Herkmeister (hey, if you don't mind my asking, what's with that name? There's gotta be a story there!) offers a couple of Star Wars questions.

So, Disney recently announced it would be making a bunch of stand-alone Star Wars films in addition to a new trilogy. The buzz is that first up will be a movie about Yoda (which is awesome because Yoda), but if it were up to you, which Star Wars character would you like to see get his or her own spin-off film?

This is tough. I'm genuinely not sure of what direction they're looking to take here. How many movies are they thinking of doing? Another trilogy plus a 'spin-off' film, with the possibility of more depending on box office? The plans mentioned thus far are really nebulous.

Frankly, I'd like to see the story of how the Jedi began...who was the first person to figure out the existence of The Force, what that looked like, and so on. I think that might be interesting. I have no idea if that tale has been told in any of the hundreds of "Expanded Universe" stories created over the last twenty years. I also wouldn't mind seeing a film made that tells a story inside the existing films -- maybe track the travails of the Rebel alliance after they get beaten at Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. There was a wonderful episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called 'Lower Decks', which focused on a group of lower-ranked crewmembers of the Enterprise, people for whom Picard and Riker and the rest were all intimidating folk to look up to. That sort of thing might be cool.

And frankly, I think it would be cool if George Lucas made a Jar Jar Binks movie just to say "F*** you!" to the haters. Ha!

Also, any chance of more "Fixing the Prequels" posts?

Yeah, I really need to finish those up. I'm hanging my head in shame. If ever I should get that done (I was about a third of the way through Revenge of the Sith, if I remember rightly), it should be now, as Star Wars fandom seems to be revving up again. I do continue to sulk at the calcification of pop cultural opinion that the Prequels were one unremitting slog of suck, but those last windmills do still beckon, and I suppose I should tilt at them once and for all.

OK, more answers to come!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

OK, time for a hypothetical thought experiment kind of thing!

Name two musicians whom you would love to hear in a duet together. The catch? Both must be dead, and have never (to a reasonable degree of confidence in knowledge) performed together in their lifetimes. My choice? John Lennon and John Denver.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Answers the First!

Ask Me Anything!

It's time to start answering the questions submitted by You Fine Readers in Ask Me Anything!. As always, I'm still open to questions, so don't feel you have to stop now!

I'll start by putting Andy out of his misery, who always finds something off-beat to ask. In this case:

When you eat anything with Alfredo sauce do you get a nasty smell that lingers on your lips after you are done?

I am honestly not sure...but this is likely because I consume Alfredo sauce very rarely. I never keep it at home, and the only time I ever have it is if we're at Olive Garden and I get the seafood pasta. And we haven't been to Olive Garden in at least five years.

I do know that according to an episode of The Frugal Gourmet, sometimes Italians will, after a garlicky meal, eat an entire coffee bean or two in order to mask and absorb the garlic odor. Might be worth trying. Or just drink more so you don't care!

So in my annual pilgrimage up north, I see a lot of the old telephone/ electric COPPER wire that the R.Rs ran along the tracks on poles. My question to you is, with the price of copper these days why aren’t the RR companies taking advantage of all of it and arranging to have a crew whose sole purpose is to take it down and arrange to take it to a scrap yard?

Huh. I'm actually unaware of so much copper wire still strung in such a way. I find it hard to believe that they would leave so expensive a commodity just hanging there, so maybe those wires are actually still in use in some way? I also have to think that if they were able to come up with that much copper to recycle or repurpose, those companies wouldn't rely on simple scrapyards. The recycling procedures would undoubtedly be a lot more rigorous than that!

Andy also mentioned the glass insulators on the cable poles. These are, in fact, highly collectible by railroad enthusiasts. My father once worked with a gent who was a bigtime railroad enthusiast (he had an amazing HO layout in his basement), who kept a couple of those insulators on a shelf in his office, along with some other railroad-related bric-a-brac.

For being ex elite military guys, was it just me or did the 'A-Team' shoot A LOT but never hit anybody!!

I tend to think they were missing on purpose, because they were actually extremely good marksmen, and were just trying to get the job done without causing injury or loss of life. That inspires more confidence than assuming that they really couldn't hit a damned thing.

And you also have to factor in that, at the end of each episode, when they unleashed their home-made weapon upon the bad guys (you know, the ones who said "We're gonna kill you in two hours, but for now, we'll just lock you in this warehouse with four vehicles and an entire Home Depot's worth of tools, complete with welding equipment!"), the A-Team fellows were able to hit anything they wanted with their potato-guns.

Here are three from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

The sun is starting to have some heat to it (and days are not so brief), but all this warming is exposing more and more dirt. Is your heart lifted by hints of spring or crushed by all the wetness and extra dirtiness?

Here's the thing about spring: In Buffalo, spring sucks.

Our summers are great, for those who like that sort of thing. We're never hyper-hot (although I suspect that global warming will be seeing to that in the next bunch of years), nor are we as humid as the east coast. Autumn here is spectacular. Seriously! Vermont and New Hampshire may get all the autumn press, but our autumns are just wonderful: cool, comfy, and beautiful. And then there are our winters, which are...just fine. I'm not kidding here. I'll take quite a bit of snow over the endless months of bonechilling winds that dominate the winters of the Plains.



Spring here is wet and gray and damp and muddy and dirty and...well, it's two months of unpleasantness. And then it takes most of May for the trees to get green again.

Ultimately, I don't start getting into a better mood, at least about the weather, until mid-May around here.


Do you have a cell phone? Would you ever give up your landline?

Yup, I have a cell. It's a LG...well, I have no idea what the model number is. It's a pretty basic phone, though, and not a smartphone. I suspect that our next phones will be smartphones, as it appears that the market is going to be smartphones only (except for maybe a couple of super-basic phones for old folks). No touchscreen, no Internet. I'm rockin' it, 2005-style!

I do use it as an mp3 player, and it takes pretty nice photos, for being only 3 megapixels. I would use it as a calendar, but that particular function is just cumbersome enough to use that I don't; I use my tablet and an actual paper calendar instead. I do look forward to joining the smartphone universe, but it's nowhere near a high priority. We'll get there when attrition forces us to do so.

But the landline? That's gone! Who the heck needs that anymore? Bye bye, landline! The only calls we were getting there were telemarketers, so what was the point? It's history, and we've not looked back.

Ever been to any ballet? Did you enjoy it? How about opera? Gilbert and Sullivan?

Ballet: Yes, but only twice. A few more times for opera.

I saw a ballet troupe when I was in high school (our town had a visiting artists series of some sort), and it was really quite wonderful. I saw another in college. I don't recall the specific ballets performed, unfortunately, but I enjoyed each. I keep thinking that we need to see The Nutcracker one of these years, but somehow I never realize it's being performed until a day or two before, by which time it's too late to plan the outing.

Opera: I haven't been to one since college, which makes me sad, but The Wife just does not care for it, at all, so I'd have to go by myself. I am highly intrigued by the live broadcasts of operas from the Met at IMAX movie theaters, so I may do that, someday. My first opera was in high school, when my sister took me to see The Magic Flute. I saw a couple more in college, most memorably, Madame Butterfly. I never saw a Gilbert-and-Sullivan operetta, though, which is a shame, because I love the music; "Behold the Lord High Executioner!" is one of my standard hum-to-myself tunes, and one of my favorite clever bits of film music comes during the chase scene at the end of Foul Play, when the action music is interspersed with quotes from The Mikado.

On both scores, I'd love to see more!

That's where we'll stop for now. Got some good questions going this time, and remember, feel free to ask some more!

If you get this, you are my kind of people

Monday, February 18, 2013

On Snark, and eleven years in Blogistan

The other day was the eleventh anniversary of this blog's first post. Eleven years. And to think, when I started, I figured I'd run out of stuff to say after a year or so! Anyhow, blogging continues to be about the same. Here's what the computer sees:

Writing: Blurry head

Anyhow, I've had a couple of quotes on my mind of late. Here's the first:

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua...that's the only name I can think of for the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. "What's new?" is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question "What is best?," a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and "best" was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for.

--Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I find these days that I'm drawn less and less to snark, which is awkward, because my general sense is that snark is the general tone that dominates a great and growing deal of our discourse these days.

I am not sure why this is, because snark has been with us for a really long time. Political cartoons are, and to my estimation have always been, primarily 'pictorial snark delivery devices', just for one example. But the Internet is where most of us live now, and it just seems to me that snark is the coin of the realm, the dominant means of exchange. My problem with snark, though, is that it just seems to me a rather unproductive way of getting ideas across. Snark is great when it's being crafted by someone skilled at its genesis and it's aimed at something you feel similarly about. Snark is less great when it's being crafted by someone skilled at its genesis and it's aimed at something you like. And snark in the hands of a boob is just plain irritating, no matter what it's aimed at.

Snark is, to me, similar in terms of its application in argument to what Stephen King says about plot in its application to storytelling. Likening stories to fragile fossils buried in the ground, and the writer as the person whose job it is to extricate the fossil from that ground, King indicates that this work might require any number of fine tools. Plot, he says, is in this metaphor a jackhammer, more likely to wreck the fossil than get it out cleanly.

More and more I see snark the same way. Much of the time it seems like arguing from a defensive posture, and the intent is to hit and hit and hit hard, not to convince or explore. And ultimately, I find that worst of all, after too much snark, it all starts to sound the same. And that's a shame, because in the hands of someone who is really good at it, I'll be honest and admit that well-crafted snark can be wonderful to behold.

So this is basically an announcement that I'm going to be cutting way back on the amounts of snark that I generate. Not that I generated much to begin with, but there have been a number of times in recent months that I wrote some very snarky posts, only to delete them because after writing them, I didn't feel any better about the issue at hand. This may also be a big part of why I've stopped listening to sports talk radio shows in favor of podcasts or classical music. There's just a constant parade of negativity that takes its chief form in snark that I'm just finding more and more problematic.

I've never been a large-scale purveyor of snark, but I plan to step back even more. I've sometimes wondered if my general lack of snark is why this blog has never produced larger amounts of traffic than it does, but that no longer bothers me -- in fact, in an odd way, I find it rather liberating, as the amount of traffic I do or do not receive is hardly influenced by what weirdness I choose to do here. But even so, I've decided to just go ahead and lower my snark levels as much as I possibly can. In truth, that won't effect this blog too much, but I've already been thinking along this line, and to that end, I've found myself rejecting tweets or Facebook status posts as I was either thinking them up or actually typing them. There's enough snark out there. I don't think my particular entries in the world's great reservoir of snark are going to be missed.

I've had these thoughts working about my head for a while now, and they started crystalizing some months ago when the wonderful Jenna Woginrich wrote on her blog, Cold Antler Farm, in the other quote that's been on my mind:

There are people who live their life as a series of opportunities. They hear new things, new ideas, and they find a way to support and encourage the things they see as good and valuable. If they find something negative or a waste of energy they avoid it and forget about it. Other people choose to live in fear, or on the defensive side of those who they disagree with. They put less energy into encouraging the things they support and more energy into tearing down the things that threaten them. I choose to be the positive type of person. It's why you will never see me write something negative about another person on this blog. I might rail against factory farms or an industry, but you won't see me tear apart a person. I think the only reason I have been successful at this farm (a measured success but I'm still here) is because I do not let negative ideas or people into my life. It's a protection of my spirit and a recipe for happiness. And anyone, at anytime, can decide to be a more positive and encouraging person. Every minute is another chance to turn it all around.

Spend your time with people who fly kites, either metaphorically or literally. You're better off.

I couldn't agree more, which is why, even though I like to think I'm generally positive to begin with, I'm drawing a line in the sand anyway. People who write snark? The Internet's got them by the boatload. People who write science fiction novels, blog at length about the merits of the Star Wars Prequels, wax poetic about bib overalls, get hit in the face with pies, and post photos of food and cats? I'm the only one of those. Well, maybe not the photos of food and cats. But the other stuff is all me! And this is the year I focus on the life I want. Snark doesn't make that possible, so goodbye, snark, and let the cream pies fly! (Actually, don't let them fly, if your aim stinks. Stick to shoving them.)

With the Pie I

And of course, to all the readers and fellow travelers in these various digital and analog journeys, I say....

Thanks Everyone!

For no other reason than I thought it was a cute moment.... is Kelly Clarkson photobombing Ellen Degeneres at the Grammies. (Or is that 'Grammys'?)

Sentential Links

Links. I got 'em.

:: Because I have a theory about rhyme, that we turned away from rhyme at the same time we turned away from dancing as a social and communal recreation, the same time we turned away from gathering around to sing together, the same time we, most of us, more of us than ever before in the history of the world, left our bodies in gray cubicles and began to take up full time residence inside our minds, our best gray thin and sickly approximations of the mind, divorced more and more from our blood, the same time TV came in and our towns began to glow with an eery blue light in summer evenings as the porches emptied and the fireflies and crickets did what nocturnal insects do undisturbed by laughing calling children running through the shadows and the cool dark grass.

:: The question is: How useful or realistic are the ray-guns of yore or the modern revamped directed energy weapons? (Ach, I don't want 'realism' in my SF weapons! I want nifty.)

:: Stephen Donaldson has delivered the third and final draft of The Last Dark, the fourth and concluding novel in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. This will be the tenth Thomas Covenant novel overall, and is planned to conclude the entire series. (It's really amazing that this series is still going on....)

:: Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember. You’re not alone. I’m pretty much the forgotten President. This day is always bittersweet for me. On the one hand it’s nice to be honored; on the other I’m the only President who always has to show proof.

:: I am extremely glad to be living in the 21st century right now.

:: Last year was the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first Tarzan story and, frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of celebration overall. Especially by me, but I'll be happy to point my finger elsewhere as a distraction. Couldn't we at least have gotten a new Tarzan movie? (Huh...I'm not even sure I noticed our entry into the second Tarzanic Century. Weird....)

:: The astronauts who will live on the Moon in a decade or two are the ones who are playing with Lego now. Seems like a natural extension to me.

More next week!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: What Single Girls Do on Valentine's Day. As you might expect, I love the ending here....


(seen on Tumblr)

:: In the "Science rules!" department, the other night, a friend commented on Facebook how bright and clear the stars were that night, and I responded with my observation that I like the winter sky in the northern hemisphere a lot more than I like the summer one, because it always seems so much brighter and clearer and it has my favorite constellation in it (Orion the Hunter). He asked if this was because it's just generally less hazy and humid in winter, and I have figured for years that this was the case, but then I decided to actually look it up. And you know what? The actual reason why the winter sky is clearer than the summer sky turns out, as is so often the case with science, to be even more interesting than the original supposition!

As seen during Northern Hemisphere winter (or Southern Hemisphere summer), the stars seem brighter. Why? It’s partly because – on December, January and February evenings – the part of Earth you’re standing on is facing into the spiral arm of the galaxy to which our sun belongs.

Consider the sky at the opposite time of year. In June, July and August, the evening sky seen from the entire Earth is facing toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The galaxy is about 100,000 light-years across, and its center is some 25,000 to 28,000 light-years away. We don’t see into the exact center of the Milky Way, because it’s obscured by galactic dust. But during those Northern Hemisphere summer months (Southern Hemisphere winter months), as we peer edgewise into the galaxy’s disk, we’re gazing across some 75,000 light-years of star-packed space (the distance between us and the center, plus the distance beyond the center to the other side of the galaxy).

Read the whole thing. Amazing! I love science.

More next week!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Centus (Lemon Paczki edition)

I know, I've missed a few more since my new-found commitment to, well, not missing a few. Sorry! Anyhoo, here's my take on this week's prompt.

By way of explanation, it helps for folks not from 'round here to know that these delights are a long-proud tradition in Buffalo on Mardi-gras, owing to this region's large Polish community.

Lemon paczki! (I may have mangled that's pronounced 'Poonch-key').

An East-side Buffalo bakery, just before midnight....

“We’re closed up, Fred...oh no. Not again.”

“I think I got it this time, Joe.”

Fred huddled over an enormous pocket of fried and sugared dough, one foot in diameter, quivering as if alive. A hose ran from its side to the filling machine.

“It’ll never work, Fred!”

“No! Just a bit more filling...there...there! I’ve officially reached critical mass! I’ve DONE IT!”

Cracks formed in the dough....

“Fred! Duck!”

Too late.


Joe wiped lemon filling from his eyes. “Ummm...get me a mop?”

“Igor obeys, Doctor Pastrystein,” Fred grumbled.

Mardi-gras in Buffalo.

Friday, February 15, 2013

This situation is out of control. It is out of control, and we'll be lucky to live through it.

Meteors in Russia. This is how it starts, folks. Someone's just drivin' along, and then, from the sky....

Or, after that thing has zoomed overhead, some other Russian dudes are standing around gawking at the contrail the object left...when, about twenty-seven seconds in, the shock-wave arrives....

The world is ending, people. ENDING!!!

(Hmmm...I should really have coffee before blogging...anyway, for what is likely the best coverage in terms of making sense of the science and sifting out the bullshit, check out Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Something for Thursday (and for Valentine's Day!)

Well, folks, are you feeling the love? If not, here are some selections to help.

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doesn't look too windy to me....

I've always felt a little bad that I haven't spent more time in this city.

Lemons: I like them.

So a few weeks ago I saw an article, linked on Facebook by one of my friends, about the wonderful health benefits of lemon water. The idea is that you start your morning with a cup of warm water, into which you squeeze some fresh lemon. Why? Well, there are apparently a lot of health benefits. I think. In all honesty, I tend to be a bit skeptical of every single "OMG, this is healthy in 47 different ways!" thing that comes down the pike, but I decided to try the fresh lemon thing anyway, because I like lemon and it's a good way to add some fruit to my daily food intake, which is always a good thing.

I'm not doing the warm water thing, though. I take my water bottle, the one that I use at work (it's around 26oz, I think), and squeeze an entire lemon into it. Yup, the whole thing. Why screw around with half? One entire lemon, and then I fill the rest of the bottle with water. The benefit here is that, well, lemon just makes the water taste awesome, which gives me a way to drink lots of water without really getting sick of water's not-terribly-exciting flavor. (Not that I dislike water -- I've always been a water drinker. But if I can drink water and get a bit of extra fruity vitaminny goodness in there, hey, what's not to like?)

This new fascination with the wonderful lemon (my next project will be to make Moroccan preserved lemons, once I find a jar big enough someplace) has also led me to investigate lemon concentrates and substitutes, simply because I don't have time at work to be squeezing entire lemons every time I refill the water bottle. The RealLemon juice stuff is OK, but it's never been my favorite stuff, as it tends to have a metallic hint to it. But I have found this stuff called True Lemon, which is a powder that comes in little packets. One packet is apparently equivalent of one wedge of a cut-up lemon (cut into 6ths or 8ths, I'm not sure). That stuff makes my water taste as freshly lemony as is probably possible, short of using the actual lemon.

My point here is this: Lemons rule.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Who was your first celebrity crush?

(And don't forget to Ask Me Anything!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lemon paczki!

I usually indulge myself once a week by allowing the consumption of donuts (never more than two). This week, in honor of Mardi Gras, the donut of choice was the Polish delicacy paczki. I rarely like filled donuts, but I make an exception for these. Lemon filling, yum!!!

The rest of the day I gnawed on a head of lettuce. (No, not really. Too many carbs today, to be quite honest....)

Reminder: Call for Questions!!!

Ask Me Anything!

Seeking queries! Querying seekers! Put questions in comments here -- got some good ones already, and as always, I'm surprised by what gets asked and what doesn't!

Oh, now that takes me back!

EDITED: I forgot to actually link Cal's blog. Sorry, Cal!

Cal posted this, and promptly whisked me away in the Wayback Machine to Christmas 1981, when I got one of these for Christmas.

The Commodore VIC-20 was our first personal computer, and my God, did I spend tons and tons of time on that thing. In retrospect, I didn't spend nearly enough time learning to program the thing, although I did figure out how to quite a bit of cool stuff. BASIC wasn't the easiest programming language to work with (years later I would do some work with Modula-2, a langauge similar to Pascal, and I remember thinking many times, "My God, this language makes so much more sense than BASIC!").

The VIC-20 was...well, try and use one now, and you'd get laughed out of the room. It boasted all of 3.5K of RAM, which means that the laptop on which I am writing this post is the RAM equivalent of over 1,600,000 VIC-20s. And the computer offered a screen resolution allowing for just 22 characters! Here's a screenshot I found (on an entire Tumblr devoted to the VIC-20):

And there wasn't any kind of user interface, really; the computer was expecting you to either load a program, or start typing one in. And that would involve BASIC. I wager that everyone who came of age right around that time would remember typing some version of the following into some computer of the day:

20 GOTO 10

And then you'd type RUN, hit ENTER, and giggle as the screen filled up with


Fun times, those.

The VIC-20 connected to a regular teevee. At that time, our family color teevee was a tiny thing -- its screen was maybe eleven inches, and probably less than that, so the computer got hooked up to a B&W set for a few years. Also, when the computer was turned on, it would emit some kind of signal that had an unfortunate effect on regular teevee reception in our home, which was spotty already anyway because we didn't have cable at that point and had to rely on a rooftop antenna to get all of three channels -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- from Buffalo. The cable lines hadn't been run up our road yet, so that was it. And if someone wanted to watch teevee while I wanted to use my computer, well, they got a shitty picture. I remember one night my father was watching a football game, with a crappy picture, and he yelped in pleasure when I finally turned off my computer and he could see the game more clearly. Ahh, the electronics of the early 1980s! I don't miss those days, but I do kinda miss the "Golly gee!" aspect of it all.

Later on my parents bought a larger color teevee for me to use with the VIC. They got a deal from a local store on it, because the store had been using that particular teevee -- a 19-incher! -- to demonstrate, of all things, another VIC-20! They turned it on and left it on, all day, every day, so the image of their demo game was burned into the screen. (It was a slot machine game.) That teevee served me well for quite a few years, though, even after it developed an odd habit of "ticking" whenever it wasn't turned on. We called it "the clicking wonder", and that teevee was my primary teevee until I got married and we bought a 25-inch monstrosity.

I ended up using the VIC-20 more for playing games than programming. As a gaming machine, nowadays it's pretty laughable except as a nostalgia trip, but at the time, it was really pretty good. As far as I could tell, its games and gameplay were pretty much just as good as, say, the Atari 2600 game console. A lot of the same games were available, even, albeit with the names changed. (Yes, once upon a time, Space Invaders was fun.) I remember a lot of those games, particularly my first-ever home version of Pac-man, which was a knockoff called Snakman. And believe it or not -- because you can almost always find something pertaining to everything on the Internet -- here's an actual video review of that very game. I have not set eyes on that game screen in nearly thirty years.

Wow. It's funny that he talks about joystick delay, because we had no joystick for a while and used keyboard controls. I still remember what they were: E (up), V (down), J (left), and L (right). Don't ask me why that's stuck in my head for all these years.

In terms of computing history, the VIC-20 was eclipsed by the Commodore 64 a few years later, and meanwhile, Apple was doing some interesting things with its new gizmo computer, the Macintosh.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sentential Links

Want some linkage? Sure you do.

:: That eight hour chunk in the middle of the day when I am at, what they laughably call "work" -- now that could go, quite easily. They keep insisting on giving me money for it, however (the fiends!) which I just can't say no to. A big pile of cash could solve that quite easily, but they just don't leave those lying around. Or maybe they do and I'm always late getting there. I don't know. (Heh...tell me about it. I'm pretty sure some awful rapscallion is out there having fun on my dime, and it pisses me off!)

:: I have never heard such laughter in my house. I have never seen such smiles. And I have never seen such a heartfelt, spontaneous and natural mingling of cultures, sharing of customs -- and a speedy exchange of phone numbers and Facebook pages. All because of pie.

:: And the time for debate is long since past anyway; the science is in, and it’s sound science. I’m tired of politicians equivocating and hemming and hawing about global warming. We need to stop fiddling while the world burns, and start putting out this fire.

:: The Piecemeal God is a powerful interdimensional entity, a survivor from the previous iteration of the universe, essentially trapped in the Void between worlds, and only able to manifest physically through its worshipers. Members of its cult cultivate purity of spirit, striving to attain a state of mind as close to that of their deity as possible. When a Cultist reaches that "purity", the Piecemeal God crosses over into our universe, transforming its Cultist's flesh into part of its unholy body. Because no single three-dimensional creature can contain this Lovecraftian entity, the Piecemeal God must content itself with this disconnected existence. (I'm not sure what to make of this....)

:: Remember, kids: it never gets better. Petty, childish, entitled arguments will always happen. Every day. Constantly. There are always boors and poseurs and selfish me-monkeys in life, no matter where you go, and being on the Internet simply opens up the possibility of running across more of them. It’s the dichotomy of existence: we yearn for connection and companionship and commiseration, only to find that there are few people who are truly worth the effort. Life really is high school with money.

The nice thing about growing up is that, unlike high school, you get the chance to limit your contact with the people who are annoying dicks about it.

:: If you want to transfer a few hundred gigabytes of data, it’s generally faster to FedEx a hard drive than to send the files over the internet. This isn’t a new idea—it’s often dubbed SneakerNet—and it’s how Google transfers large amounts of data internally. (Wow, the things you learn!)

:: She knew she was in trouble when the film's female lead, Marjorie Reynolds, started putting on the blackface and worrying aloud that what she'd hoped for the number was to be pretty... the implication being that, by portraying a black woman, she couldn't be. (I don't recall ever seeing that scene before, so I watched it on YouTube and...oh Lord, how awful. Ye Gods. My only memory of ever watching Holiday Inn was at Christmastime one year while I was in college, and my sister derisively saying, "Whoever thought of casting Bing Crosby as a romantic lead was insane." In truth, I kinda had to agree. He had a wonderful voice, but the man did not in my eyes ever once radiate romantic vibes of any sort. In my head, Bing Crosby is always sixty years old and smoking a pipe.)

:: The writer Pete Hamill said in 2005 that he was “some mad combination of a Lindy’s waiter, Coney Island barker, Catskills comedian, irritated school principal and eccentric uncle.” This was meant as a compliment, and it’s pretty accurate. The praise he received was no doubt warranted, but somehow, I was not his biggest fan. (I don't have too many thoughts on Ed Koch, to be honest...we moved to New York while he was mayor of NYC, and he ran for Governor a year after we arrived (and called all of us upstaters a bunch of rubes, basically). I dunno...he was just kind of there, I suppose.)

All for this week. Tune in next week!

Good morning, Internets!

Winter Morning

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: One of the greatest interactive maps, ever: Vaguely Rude Placenames. Hover over the little flags to see the names. Great stuff! Apparently there's a place in Iran called "Shit".

:: Back when I used to watch the Oscars semi-seriously, I would dutifully sit through the Obituary Tribute thing and say to myself, "Hey, they left out _____!" Turns out there's cinematic politics involved in the selection of the honored dead. Wow.

:: Here in Buffalo, we often deflect the derision heaped upon our winter weather by pointing out that our summers have never hit 100 degrees (although with global warming, I expect that this claim will not be available to us much longer), we don't have to worry about tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, and so on. Add to that list...raining spiders!

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go lie down and shiver a bit. More next week!

Photographic Evidence

Chronicling some recent adventures, misadventures, and regular old humdrum ventures of life, through the magic of digital photography! Huzzah!!!

Photos after the break....

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Don't forget!

Ask Me Anything!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Ask Me Anything! is in full swing, so getcher questions in!

Tip your server, folks!

I'm a little late to the party on this, but:

That's the note left on the receipt at an Applebee's restaurant, signed by, of all people, a pastor. Amazing.

Now, the server who was the victim of this bit of Un-Christian awfulness isn't the one who posted this pic online; that server got fired for her troubles. As a former restaurant manager, I kinda-sorta understand why Applebee's fired that server, but this whole deal also points out that the old business models and management notions are a bit behind the curve, what with things like social media about. The firestorm of negative publicity toward Applebee's that shot through Blogistan, Facebookatopia, and the Twitterverse will probably be a lot more costly to the company, long-term, than anything an angry, petulant, entitled, and whiny pastor might have done. (Especially one so full of herself that her first impulse was to demand the firing of every single employee of that restaurant. Yup, you read that right. She demanded that even employees who weren't even there that day get fired. Ayup.)

The firing of that server is bad, but I don't think it's that bad; a server with any level of skill should not have too much trouble landing on her feet at another restaurant. That industry is not exactly known for long-term tenure of its workers, and when I worked in restaurants, whenever a server left, we would invariably hear that he or she had been hired to serve someplace else. I wouldn't worry about her.

And besides, the real bad actor here was, of course, the pastor. She managed to unleash a perfect storm of assholedom that is really amazing to behold. Stiffing a server is bad, to begin with. (If you choose to undertip because of service issues, it's best to talk to the manager, because in my experience, no server is going to walk away from a table from which he or she has been stiffed or undertipped thinking, "Gee, I wonder what their issue was with my service?" They're going to think, "Cheap bastards", and move on. Trust me on this.) You can dislike tipping all you want, but to flaunt the system is just mean and petty and ineffective. Tips are livelihood to these workers. Treat it as such.

On top of stiffing the server, there is the leaving of the note. There's so much assholedom to unpack here! First, just leaving a note at all makes clear that the stiffing of the server is not an oversight. Sometimes people really do forget to tip, or other times, there's the "Hey, did you leave the tip? Nah, I thought you were leaving the tip!" thing that happens. But the note is basically rubbing the server's nose in shit...and then this pastor invokes God as a justification for it, as if to say, "I have The Lord's support in stiffing you!" Plus, the pastor is apparently unaware of the concept of giving ten percent of one's entire income to God, and kicking back eighteen percent of a guest check in a restaurant to a server. They're not even the same thing. One wonders how this pastor got through school.

And there's something else going on here, too. The pastor was part of a large group of diners, for whom Applebee's apparently has a policy of automatically charging an eighteen-percent gratuity. Why do restaurants have such policies? Because -- and this is something many diners may not realize -- large parties tend to be bad for servers' pocketbooks. Large parties often undertip as a matter of course, and there's a double whammy involved as a large party (a) takes up a disproportionate part of a server's section, (b) places significant extra demands in terms of time and effort on the server, and (c) tends to be present in the dining room longer than normal tables. Putting it briefly, large parties mean that servers wait on fewer tables, which results in lower income. That's why a lot of restaurants have an automatic-gratuity policy: to make serving them worth the server's time.

But apparently this pastor's group of diners decided to try and skirt that policy by requesting separate checks! Note the total on the bill: $34.93. That's about what it costs for two, maybe three, people at Applebee's. So they were already trying to scheme their way out of paying the eighteen percent, and when it got assessed anyway, well, the pastor whipped out her pen and said, "Oh yeah? Trying to hold me to your policy anyway? Bullshit!" Thank God the Internet was ready to exact penance!

What I end up wondering is, what are this pastor's sermons like. I wonder if she is able to preach on the Sermon on the Mount with a straight face. Perhaps not; maybe she's one of those pastors who nurses an unhealthy fetish for Leviticus.

Tip your servers, folks. They work hard, they genuinely want you to enjoy your experience, and you hold their livelihood in your hands. Literally. And if you don't want to tip servers, well...use what would have been the tip money to buy cookbooks and just stay home.