Monday, September 29, 2014

Being Positive, and all that rot

A friend posted this image on Facebook yesterday, prompting several interesting responses, mainly from folks who disagree with this notion. "Life isn't a test," the refrain goes, which naturally leads to the suggestion that it's all a matter not of how you look at life, but rather, how you choose to look at life.

This sounds to me an awful lot like the idea that you can choose to be happy, that you can choose to react positively to any situation. Stiff upper lip and all that, lads! Buck up, it ain't that bad! Cheer up! Look on the bright side! Life is so beautiful, how can you not be positive! How can you possibly feel that life is a test!

To which I say, Bollocks.

My argument with such thinking isn't so much with the notion that life is often beautiful, because it often is. There really is wonderment to be found in this Universe, and life offers many amazing, fantastical moments that I would hate to miss. But life also tests us, sometimes unforgivably, often cruelly. My mother-in-law only got sixty years on this planet. My son got fifteen months.

Life gives one test after another, and eventually, we all fail. There's a popular saying out there that "God never gives us more than we can handle." I've never believed this, because it seems to me that there comes a moment for each and every one of us when God most certainly does give us more than we can handle. We call that moment death.

But all that is tangential to my main point, the annoyingly pervasive notion that we can simply choose our way to happiness. I had a boss once who liked saying "You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond." And sometimes, many times even, that's likely true. But it's not nearly as true as a lot of positive thinkers like to portray. Choosing happiness over sadness isn't like choosing steak instead of chicken, and I'm uncomfortable with the idea of putting the responsibility for sadness on the shoulders of those who are sad. It isn't that simple, and implying that it is seems highly disrespectful to me -- disrespectful of other people, their lives, their struggles, and yes, their choices, inasmuch as they have power to make any.

Life is a test, sometimes. And if you don't see it that way, I wonder if it's not because you've chosen to be happy, but because maybe you haven't really been tested yet.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Burst

Odd and amazing stuff!

:: This is really cool. I wanted to embed the video, but I couldn't figure out how to do it without also embedding the entire post, which I didn't want to do. Anyway, it's a performing artist whose medium is...bubbles. Seriously.

:: The CIA has its very own Starbucks. Working there is weird.

:: Good piece by Emily Gould on the act of quitting your job on the spot. Salty language alert, because Ms. Gould's jumping-off point is an Alaskan teevee news person who decided that it was time to quit, so during her segment, she literally said: "F*** it, I quit."

Editorializing a bit: What a self-centered jerk (the teevee lady, not Ms. Gould). I'm sympathetic, really, to the fact that lots of times, people are in jobs that push them to a breaking point, but it's my view that quitting on the spot is rarely justified (as opposed to giving respectful notice). Quitting on the spot only screws your coworkers, and it's an indulgence of self-pity that's almost narcissistic. Plus, by saying f*** on the air, this woman put her station in a very troubling spot, through no fault of its own, as regards the FCC coming knocking on the door with a couple of buckets and saying "Fill these with money, please." It was a jerk thing to do.

Working in restaurants and retail, I've seen my share of people quit on the spot, or simply stop showing up for jobs. It's not hard to give two weeks, people. One boss of mine once told someone who announced that he was quitting that night, "You know, we're closing tonight at the same time as always and we're opening tomorrow at the same time as always. Same thing the day after, and the day after that. You're not hurting the company at all, you're only hurting the people you work with, and you're only hurting them temporarily." Another boss of mine responded to a guy who announced he was quitting because he wasn't getting enough hours, "Well, if you've convinced yourself that working zero hours is better than working twenty-five, be my guest."

Anyway, I'm not thrilled that this lady has become something of a folk hero. It's kind of like a video that went viral of some high school student getting up and walking out of his class after lecturing his teacher on how she should be doing her job. That video got a lot of praise too, but I always wondered, What kind of student was that kid, anyway? Because he struck me not as a guy standing up for himself, but as more of an attention-whore.

More next week!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Glimpse of Things to Come

So, let's get down to specifics, shall we? Here's when you can expect certain things to happen!

Let the wild rumpus begin!

My Birthday Number One Song List

So today I turn 43. Yay. Let there be dancing in the streets...and for the street-dancing, I can provide a handy songlist!

SamuraiFrog and Roger both did this, and I'm never one to let something like this pass, so here's a look at the songs that were topping the Billboard charts on each of my birthdays, starting with Birthday Zero, September 26, 1971. Roger and SamuraiFrog did a more extensive thing, looking at the songs on either side of their birthday chart-topper, but I'm just going to list the ones that were Number One ON my birthday. It's just easier.

1971: "Maggie May", Rod Stewart. (I'm not a huge Rod Stewart fan, but I don't dislike him, either.)

1972: "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me", Mac Davis. (This does not ring a bell at all.)

1973: "Delta Dawn", Helen Reddy. (My main familiarity with this song springs from its use on an episode of Friends.)

1974: "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe", Barry White. (Barry White falls into the same general category for me as Rod Stewart: singers I never go out of my way to listen to, but whose appearance on the radio never makes me want to change the channel, either. This is a good song, anyway.)

1975: "Fame", David Bowie. (Nothing to add here.)

1976: "Play the Funky Music", Wild Cherry. (Heh! I actually do like this song.)

1977: "Best of My Love", The Emotions. (I missed, by five days, having my birthday's Number One be Meco's disco rendition of the theme from Star Wars. Can you believe that!)

1978: "A Taste of Honey", Boogie Oogie Oogie. (Huh?! Never heard of this.)

1979: "My Sharona", The Knack. (This song had some staying power, didn't it? It was number one starting a full month before my birthday that year, and stuck around for ten days or so after. As for the song...not a favorite of mine. I find it kind of annoying, actually.)

1980: "Upside Down", Diana Ross. (Don't know this one. The next Number One, a little over a week later, would be Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", which is classic.)

1981: "Endless Love", Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. (This was Number One for even longer than "My Sharona", from August 15 to October 17. I don't care for this song.)

1982: "Hard to Say I'm Sorry", Chicago. (I have never liked Chicago.)

1983: "Tell Her About It", Billy Joel. (Not my favorite Billy Joel song, but I do like it. It's catchy and fun.)

1984: "Missing You", John Waite. (I shrug my shoulders, as this rings no bells at all. A couple days later, "Let's Go Crazy" by Prince would take over.)

1985: "Money for Nothing", Dire Straits. (Oh yeah! I love this song. In fact, this whole album is fantastic.)

1986: "Stuck With You", Huey Lewis and the News. (I am just fine with this. In fact, I've always kind of felt that Huey Lewis's bubblegum-for-the-1980s act has been underrated for years.)

1987: "Didn't We Almost Have It All", Whitney Houston. (This became Number One right on my birthday that year. I guess it's OK. I was never big Whitney Houston fan...she's in the Rod Stewart category for me.)

1988: "Don't Worry Be Happy", Bobby McFerrin. (Oh God, this song was so irritatingly ubiquitous that year. I can live out the rest of my days and never hear it again, thank you very much.)

1989: "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You", Milli Vanilli. (Huh. Wouldja look at that. You know, I've always wondered, if the songs were good, they didn't stop being good just because it turned out that the guys we thought were singing them weren't, right? Why didn't the world just track down the folks who actually did the songs and make them the New Big Thing?)

1990: "Release Me", Wilson Phillips. (Unfamiliar with this, and given my personal history with popular music, I expect that to be mostly the way of it from here on out.)

1991: "I Adore Mi Amor", Color Me Badd. (Yup. No idea at all.)

1992: "End of the Road", Boyz II Men. (I couldn't hum a note of this if you held a gun to my head.)

1993: "Dreamlover", Mariah Carey. (I think I can name two Mariah Carey songs. This is not one of them.)

1994: "I'll Make Love To You", Boyz II Men. (If by some miracle I managed to hum a note of the last Boyz II Men song on this list, this one would get me killed. I'm noticing by this point that songs stay Number One for a lot longer, so I'm wondering how the metric changed. This song would be replaced by another Boyz II Men song, by the way, which marks the first time in my life that my birthday's Number One was replaced by a song by the same artist.)

1995: "Gangsta's Paradise", Coolio. (Wow, I know this one! Huzzah! Incidentally, it was replaced a few days later by one of the two Mariah Carey songs I can name, "Fantasy".)

1996: "Macarena", Los Del Rio. (This was Number One for three months, starting August 3 of that year. Wow. This was probably because of the dance fad, I'm assuming. The song itself has this odd earwormy thing going on.)

1997: "Honey", Mariah Carey. (No clue.)

1998: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing", Aerosmith. (Yeah, I know this one...and yes, I kinda like it. It definitely belongs in the pantheon of arena rock band power ballads.)

1999: "Unpretty", TLC. (No idea. The only TLC song I'm familiar with is "Waterfalls".)

2000: "Music", Madonna. (No clue whatsoever. Aside from her much-derided cover of “American Pie”, I have no idea what Madonna has done musically since she starred in Evita.)

2001: "I'm Real", Jennifer Lopez. (No idea.)

2002: "Dilemma", Nelly. (I have no idea who Nelly is.)

2003: "Shake Ya Tailfeather", Nelly, P Diddy, and Murphy Lee. (??? Although this is the first repeat artist from one year to the next on my birthday.)

2004: "Goodies", Ciara. (???)

2005: "Gold Digger", Kanye West. (??? I sense a theme forming here....)

2006: "SexyBack", Justin Timberlake. (Now I'm wondering at what point this exercise becomes a waste of time.)

2007: "Crank That (Souja Boy)", Soulja Boy Tell'em. (An artist who topped the charts less than a decade ago. I've never heard of him until now. In fact, is it a "him"? Or is this a woman, or a group? I have no idea whatsoever.)

2008: "Whatever You Like", TI. (???)

2009: "I Gotta Feeling", the Black Eyed Peas. (Wow, one I've actually heard. Kinda catchy, in the "I can take it or leave it" category. This song was Number One for over three months, starting in July that year.)

2010: "Teenage Dream", Katy Perry. (This isn't leaping to mind, but at least I've heard of Katy Perry.)

2011: "Someone Like You", Adele. (Holy shit, a song I've heard from an artist I like! Adele makes me happy.)

2012: "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together", Taylor Swift. (I don't know this song, but I do like Taylor Swift, believe it or not. I like her voice.)

2013: "Roar", Katy Perry. (Not familiar with this one.)

2014: "All About That Bass", Meghan Trainor. Yeah...who's she? Never heard of her. The number two song this year is by Taylor Swift. Come on, Taylor. If you'd worked a little harder we could've had another year of confluence. Oh well, maybe later I'll track down this Meghan Trainor's song and see what it's all about.

Well, that's that, folks. We'll check back in a year, and in the meantime, as Mr. Kasem always said, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Something for Thursday

Indian composer A.R. Rahman is one of the finer musicians to come out of the Subcontinent's exploding film industry, and his prolific work has earned him an international following. Here is a selection from his score to the Chinese film Warriors of Heaven and Earth, "The Golden Age".

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

(Sorry, I had this saved in Draft and forgot to publish it.)

You're in charge of planning a big time-period specific costume party. You get to pick the time period, and further, let's assume that everyone will be able to attend looking fully period-specific. What period (or historical locale) do you choose?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Could I BE any more old?

Some cultural milestones make me feel old, but others do not. It doesn't really bother me all that much to know that Star Wars is nearing 40 years old. But the fact that Friends first aired twenty years ago today? Now that hits me.

We didn't catch onto Friends immediately. It was about halfway through that first season, maybe a little less, when we discovered it, because it wasn't even on at 8:00 at that point. NBC's major sitcoms at the time were Mad About You and Seinfeld, and Friends got sandwiched in between those two, at 8:30. I suspect we missed it initially because it was new and therefore we weren't terribly interested in it, and Thursday nights were our night to go hang out at the local bar and have chicken wings. I'd set the VCR to record Mad About You and Seinfeld and ER, but it took a while for us to clue in that Friends was a decent show, too.

Once we did, though, I never looked back. To this day Friends is one of my favorite shows ever.

Here are a few random thoughts on Friends:

:: Obviously cast chemistry is important, and Friends caught that lightning in a bottle that eludes most ensemble shows. Maybe none of the actors are "great" performers, but there was chemistry between each and every one of them, and more as a group. It was so magical that the show could literally pair off any of its characters for some story or other. There were episodes that stuck Ross and Phoebe together, or Chandler and Rachel, or Joey and Ross, or Rachel and Phoebe, or...well, every permutation was explored and it always worked.

:: Friends did comedic misdirection better than just about anything I know. The best example of this is probably Ross's famous wrong-name-at-the-altar moment, when after we've been made to believe that he's really marrying Emily, that the door is finally and bittersweetly closed between him and Rachel, he says, "I, Ross, take thee Rachel...." That moment was an absolute stunner, and it was nearly equaled half an hour earlier in the same episode when Monica turned up in Chandler's bed, or a year later, when Chandler and Monica, unsure of where they were in their relationship, find themselves impulsively at a wedding chapel in Vegas, ready to take the plunge, when the previous wedding lets out -- and a very drunk Ross and Rachel, newly married, come bursting out. At its very best, Friends managed to make the punchline a delightful surprise.

:: Yes, Friends went on too long, but really, I didn't care. It ended a season after it probably should have, with an ending that was somewhat bittersweet but still confirmed the sense that these six people continue being a part of each others' lives, just someplace else, and that we weren't watching anymore.

:: I saw somewhere recently -- I don't recall who or where, sorry -- the question, "Why didn't Joey succeed?" Joey was the spinoff show, after Friends, which actually debuted to good reviews and strong ratings but quickly withered on the vine and has now taken on a reputation not unlike AfterMASH. Frasier pulled off what Joey didn't: take a single character from a just-ended, long-running ensemble show, move him all the way across the country, and tell stories about him in a new setting. Why didn't Joey work?

Well, I don't recall the same sense of being done with the whole concept when Cheers ended that was in place when Friends drew to a close, so there's that -- Frasier didn't feel like so much an attempt to keep the notion alive that Joey did. Also, Frasier put Frasier Crane into a new job, talk radio, which allowed new types of stories to be told, where Joey was still a struggling (albeit less-so) actor. And then there's the fact that Frasier was simply brilliantly written, and Joey wasn't. Frasier created another brilliant ensemble, where Joey was just Joey-and-some-other-folks. Yes, Joey started off well, but it quickly petered out.

I do remember one very nice moment on Joey that was equal to anything on Friends. Joey lands two gigs at the same time: he's the lead in Shakespeare's Richard III, and the host of a musical cowboy revue. Joey worries and frets the whole episode, certain that he's going to screw up the Shakespearean dialogue, certain that he has no place at all doing The Bard. But then, he takes the stage, and he nails that opening monologue, "Now is the winter of our discontent....". He's done it. Joey can do Shakespeare...and then the curtain rises to reveal the cowboy musical revue starting up behind him. He's done the wrong role at the wrong place.

:: Yes, Chandler's proposal to Monica made me cry.

:: Friends created a lot of wonderful recurring characters, from Janice and Gunther to Ron Glass as Ross's divorce attorney, who was flummoxed to get so much business from a single client.

:: Friends had my single favorite Christmas-themed episode of all time, when Ross dresses up as the "Holiday Armadillo".

:: My favorite Friend? Chandler. Or Ross. Maybe Phoebe, or Rachel. Oh, and Joey. And Monica! But seriously, Chandler. I think.

Here are some of my favorite Friends moments. I could watch some of these all day.

So this happened....

We adopted a retired racing greyhound.

A dirty secret: I have never been around dogs much at all, having never owned one, and therefore I have always been very uncomfortable around them. I'm a cat person, through and through; some part of me deeply sympathizes and even empathizes with all the Crazy Cat Ladies out there. Dogs are mysterious beasts to me.

But now, we have one. His name is Hurricane. No, that name does not make me less nervous about this whole thing. I'd quite frankly be more comfortable with a fat bulldog named Wilbur, but that just wasn't in the cards.

As I write this, he's been "our dog" for, oh, an hour or so. I'm sitting in my library while he whines from inside his crate. I guess we'll figure this out. The Wife and Daughter are really excited. I'm just thinking I'll hang out over here for a little while. I expect dogs will be like kids for me: actually having one will make me fine with the one we have, but I'm unlikely to be comfortable with others.

So, here's Hurricane.

And here are Lester and Julio not being all that cool with Hurricane quite yet.

This ought to be one of my more interesting autumns, eh?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sentential Links


:: If you are going to use a game as a delivery vehicle for a movie, then this is how you need to do it: You need to make a proper movie. I am irritated to the point of intolerance with games that interrupt our playtime for movies that are bad, poorly-paced, cliche-ridden, ham-fisted, utterly predictable, filled with glaring plot holes, tonally confused, boringly shot, and completely tedious[2]. The reflexive defense is, “It’s just a game, you’re not supposed to worry about the story!” Which is kind of my point: If the story doesn’t matter, then why are you wasting my time with it? Why did you waste money making this crappy thing that you didn’t want to make and I don’t want to watch?

:: Simmons is confusing death with music that just isn’t meant to speak to him. Each generation creates music that is relevant to that generation. The fact that Gene Simmons is not feeling the same emotions or dealing with the same issues as today’s teenager doesn’t mean the current music is any worse than when he was giving the world classics like “Love Gun” and “Christine Sixteen.”

:: Now, every time my wife starts to get down on her artwork, I can tell her, damn it, Svengoolie likes it, and so do Elvira, Jaime Murray, Ashley Eckstein, Pandora Boxx and Bruce Campbell, to name only a few.

:: The main innovation of The Three Musketeers (1973) is that it’s a comedy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – after all, the novel itself is very, very funny. But I was still a bit shocked at how completely hilarious the film version was. I was in stitches most of the time I was watching – and apart from a few wince-inducing moments, I was mostly laughing WITH the movie rather than at it.

:: We very nearly woke up in a different world, kids.

:: His handwriting is a fingerprint. It says: “Him. And him only.”

:: It’s been a great four weeks. If you were a part of it, thank you for being part of it. (I look forward to reading Mr. Scalzi's book...and hope that a future tour brings him closer to Buffalo! Come on, Mr. Scalzi! We don't have cooties up here! And depending on which way the wind blows, our city smells like Cheerios.)

More next week!

Sunday Burst

A few things for your consideration:

:: Liam Neeson's global reign of violence.

:: A brief history of the dominion of the awfullest of apples, the Red Delicious.

:: Daily rituals of great writers.

More next week, if I'm so inclined....

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Very Public Service Message

With delurking week pretty much over, I'm resetting comments so anonymous comments are no longer allowed. This is purely an anti-spam thing.

Resuming life as we know it....


Time to disappear again down the photographic rabbit hole!

Let's get the Flummoxing Felines out of the way first, shall we?

And then there's some recent food and such. The Daughter nagged me into deep dish pizza (I already don't make it all that often because it's fairly labor-intensive, and I make it even less now that The Wife is on a gluten-free diet and this is a virtual memorial statue to gluten):

Ramen with fried egg. I only have Ramen a few times a year, because of the salt. But I do love it once in a great while. (Hey, you know what makes Ramen really awesome? Having it with some buttered rye crispbread on the side. You dip the rye crisp into the broth and it's heavenly. That's a combo I learned from my father, way way way back when. To really be emotionally authentic, it has to be the round rye crisp, with the hole in the middle. It comes wrapped in paper and you break off the piece you want. Not the nicely-cut rectangular rye crisp! That gives you the right flavor, but shapes matter, folks!)

I really love sugar-sweetened Dr. Pepper. It's pricey (almost four bucks for a four-pack), but it's a bit of a luxury. Just awesome stuff, though.

Labels on Asian food products make me happy.

The coming of fall means the reappearance of candy that isn't easy to find other times of year, like Oh Henry bars.

The Daughter also confronted her first day of tenth grade with the requisite enthusiasm.

Fall is coming quickly! September was, like the months before it, cooler than usual (after an odd burst of hot weather to start the month). As the weather starts to turn cool, my fascination with the sky usually fires up a bit. I love the sky, and my normal shift at work starts each day when the sky is often doing some amazing things....

I don't want the earth to feel neglected as I look up at the sky a lot, so here's the ground.

I continue to do stick-figure doodles in my occasional free time at work. I make no claims to the genius of xkcd, but it's a good way to make a few little points here and there. For instance, there's a trope that shows up in fantastic fiction now and again that irritates the hell out of me:

(I'm looking at you, The Dark is Rising sequence!)

Diagramming the wisdom of Kenny Rogers:

I'll be posting a review at some point, but this one sentence perfectly sums up my love of science fiction in general and my admiration for the series The Expanse in particular:

Patience, grasshopper!

I didn't care for this book:

Our next door neighbors are doing construction on their house. Looks like they're adding on so their elderly dad or dad-in-law can move in with them. It started with the removal of a couple of trees that would have encroached upon their house's expanded footprint. Which meant...lumberjacks!

And let me tell you, folks, it's always fun to listen to guys like this talk. No swearing, just a funny run of comment through the job. At one point, a fellow who has climbed thirty feet up and is cutting branches off shouts down, "Uh, I think I cut the wrong thing!" Whoops.

My next car will likely be something bigger than my current Buick Century sedan (although not monstrously huge, just a bit bigger). Still, if I had money right now, I'd find this jalopy enticing. It's sitting at a VW dealership just down the road.

I sorted my washers and bolts. Actually, I didn't sort all my bolts, just the quarter-inch, twenty-count thread ones, because that's what I use the most at work. This is exciting shit, folks.

Here's a screw I ran up against at work. I have a set of bits for tamper-resistant screws, which are basically normal screws with really oddball heads so they're tamper-resistant simply by virtue that very few people own the drivers to budge them. This thing was even too obscure for me, though. I got it off using needle-nosed locking pliers and a lot of salty language. I don't recall what it was on, but there was nothing about the gizmo that screamed out "Holy shit, we gotta keep the riffraff from removing this screw! Grab that center-pegged pentagon screw! That'll stop 'em!"

I knocked off one major project at New Casa Jaquandor: replacing the dining room light fixture with something better. The old fixture was a perfectly nice fixture, but it was misplaced. It wasn't well-suited for hanging above a dining table, being a low-hanging fixture with a single halogen lamp that shone straight down, casting a fairly small pool of light on the table instead of illuminating the room. No such problem with the new fixture, which is (a) awesome, and (b) so bright that the next big project will be converting the existing switch to a dimmer.

And, of course, there's the usual stuff of my life...writing, overalls, writing in overalls, et cetera and so forth.

And these last, because even though I've posted them here already, I think I'll need them in the future: