Thursday, August 31, 2017

Something for Thursday

This is probably the Platonic ideal for the love theme from a sad melodrama:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Adventures in Junk Food

So, let's talk Combos!

I first remember Combos showing up in the 1980s, but from what I'm reading online they actually came out in the 1970s. Maybe the 80s were when the first big marketing push happened. If you've never had Combos, really need to get out the cave you're living in. They are a salty snack made by filling little tubes of either pretzel, cracker, or tortilla with some filling or other. Usually it's cheese-related.

SeriousEats offers this, by way of description:

Created in the '70s, Combos have become a staple of rest stop gas stations. They're marketed as the perfect driving food—75% of all Combos sales occur in gas stations**—and those marketers may well be right. They're baked, so they don't get your fingers greasy the way potato chips do, allowing you to maintain proper grippage on the steering wheel as you maneuver through perilous long, straight, highways. They're heartier and more texturally varied than most bagged snacks. They provide just enough interesting structural and procedural challenges to keep you occupied until the next game of Mad Libs, while not so many that you get distracted from driving. They also come in over a dozen flavors that range from "That makes sense" to "WTF, buffalo?"

**According to the statistics I just completely made up

There's a lot of truth to this. Combos really do taste better when eaten in a car, preferably with something carbonated with which to wash them down. I'd estimate that over 90% of the Combos I've ever eaten were consumed in the car. My favorite flavor is the Pepperoni Pizza version (not to confused with Pizzeria Pretzel), but really--I'll pretty much eat any flavor of the things. Cases in point:

I love Combos and I am not ashamed! #yum #junkfood #combos


Of the two, I prefer the Seven Layer Dip ones to the Buffalo Blue Cheese ones. You might find that odd, given that I live near Buffalo and am thus supposed to be enamored of all such flavors, but in my experience, the "Buffalo wing" flavor doesn't always exactly translate to other snack foods very well. It's hard to get the vinegary-spicy flavor of the wings AND the blue cheese in there at once; usually what results is too much spice or salt, or the sour flavor of the blue cheese profile overwhelms everything. The Combos fare better in that regard, partly because it's just the filling that's flavored, so the outer pretzel covering ends up "absorbing" some of the overwhelming effects.

Meanwhile, the "Seven Layer Dip" Combos mainly taste like mild salsa and sour cream. Obviously you're not going to get all seven layers in there! The idea is to hint at the flavor of the stuff, not capture it straight out. So these Combos (with their tortilla shell) are more suggestive of a seven layer dip than actually taste like one outright. And I can respect that: This is a bite-sized snack food, after all.

So there we are! What snack foods shall I try next? It's a wonderful salty munchy world out there!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

I've featured this work before, but on my way to work yesterday I heard it played and I was already thinking that hey, I can just run it again...when I heard something new. Turns out there's a choral part that isn't always performed, and it adds a very nice dimension to the work. So here, again, is Jean Sibelius's wonderful Finlandia, this time with chorus when the big hymn tune starts.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Symphony Saturday

I'm not ready yet to talk about Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (when you hear it, if you haven't, you'll understand why), so meantime let's turn back the clock and hear a work at the opposite end of the symphonic pool. It's the Symphony No. 104 by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Haydn isn't heard much these days. He has long been nicknamed "Papa" Haydn, and he does seem to be viewed as a lesser-talented contemporary of Mozart, someone who is primarily famous for being one of the better placeholders between Bach's death and Beethoven's rise. This is, of course, totally unfair. Haydn is a composer of unappreciated depth, which I think shines forth in this, his last symphony.

During the Classical era the symphony settled into pretty much the form in which it would exist for most of the coming hundred years, the efforts of composers like Berlioz aside: four movement works, sonata-allegro form in the first, and so on. Haydn was deeply prolific, as just his production of over a hundred symphonies attests. But the work itself is the thing, and it glows throughout with classical restraint and an almost folkish feel at times. Even some of Haydn's joking manner comes through, as the symphony opens with a minor key introduction before settling in to a cheerful major-key allegro.

It's particularly interesting, when I've been listening to so much Mahler, to go back and revisit the earlier days of the form that Mahler would stretch farther than nearly anyone else. Here is Haydn's 104th Symphony.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bad Joke Friday (Good Joke Edition)

I thought I'd take a break from the usual groan-inducing content that regularly characterizes this feature, and post something genuinely funny. He's a brief bit from George Carlin! This is part of a longer bit he did about some of the odder phrases in our language. Cheers!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Something for Thursday

I had a number of friends in college (still friends, but this is about the time in college) who were big fans of the "new age" music group Mannheim Steamroller. I was never as big a fan of Mannheim as they were, but I did like quite a bit of the music from their Fresh Aire albums (less so the Christmas stuff), and a few of us actually heard them live in a concert in Minneapolis. This track was performed at that concert. Here is Mannheim Steamroller's "Come Home to the Sea", from Fresh Aire VI.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Happy Birthday, Gene Kelly

As much as I love Fred Astaire, I will always be a Gene Kelly guy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

This is a cool video realization of one of my favorite marches of all time, the "Children's March" (subtitled "Over the Hills and Far Away"), by Percy Grainger. It's one of those videos that allows you to follow along with the shape of the music. These are always fun to watch and use to appreciate the structure of a musical work. As for the Children's March itself, its mood shifts and changes, starting off in jaunty fashion but occasionally becoming stormy or pensive, all the while maintaining a healthy sense of a child's optimism as he or she sets out on the path to Adventure.

Monday, August 14, 2017

2017: Year of the American Nazis

I don't have anything eloquent or insightful to say on the subject, but I feel that I should say this: to hell with the white-supremacist Nazi subculture that is thriving in my country today, and to hell with anyone who either supports them directly or offers them de facto shadow support by offering arguments like "Sad about what happened but Antifa is worse", to hell with a major political party that decided that its ensconcement in power was a sufficiently worthy goal to ally with such people, and to hell with a moral midget of a President whose election is manna from heaven to these people and in whom they find a father figure.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

Submitted by a reader:

Why do fish live in salt water?

Because pepper makes them sneeze.

Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Something for Thursday (Glen Campbell edition)

There are four songs I remember from when I was just a very small child: "Country Roads" by John Denver, "Song Sung Blue" by Neil Diamond, "Love's Been Good To Me" by Frank Sinatra, and "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell. My very earliest musical memories involve these songs.

Glen Campbell died the other day. He was a wonderful musician, and the world is poorer for his passing...but so much richer for his having been here at all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

OK, this is pretty cool. I'm not the biggest fan in the world of Pachelbel's Canon in D, but I suppose it's iconic enough and this video is pretty neat: it's a scrolling score of the piece. The YouTube channel has a lot of scrolling score videos if you want to see how some musical selections work. The channel is heavy on Bach, but Bach is great, so check it out!

Meantime, here's Pachelbel's Canon in D.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Adventures in Junk Food

For several years now, the fine folks at Lay's have been coming up with interesting potato chip flavors. Some are OK ("Garlic Cheese Bread"), and some are...not ("Chicken and Waffles", which I tried, and "Cappuccino", which I did not).

This year is no different, and I was very much intrigued by these:

A possible future regret. #potatochips #waitwhat

I've only had fried green tomatoes a few times, and not in quite a few years. I like them, but they're not anything I would go out of my way to eat. The chips, though? They're actually pretty good!

The Fried Green Tomato chips. I actually liked these! #yum #potatochips #junkfood

I like that they did this with the Wavy style chips, which are my favorite: they're more crisp than crumble, and the wavy texture stands up a lot better to robust flavoring. These have a nice savory flavor, with enough spice to add just a bit of smokiness and heat, and they're not super-salty, either. Do they taste like tomato? Why yes...but only just a little. It's a very mild flavor, which is good because I suspect that it could get overwhelming.

Nicely done, Lay's! I'll be buying more of these. (And then, as always seems to happen with "specialty flavor" things to which I take a shine, they will almost certainly vanish from the market never to be seen again. Alas!)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Fifteen Greatest Science Fiction Movies (according to me)

Not long ago the awesome folks at The Geekiverse posted their Top Fifteen Science Fiction Movies.

Their list is, for the most part, a pretty good list! And yet, I disagree with it! Naturally! So, let’s have at it: here is my personal list of the top fifteen sci-fi movies. I will go in reverse order, with comment.

15. Flash Gordon

Recently seen and written about! This is almost my platonic ideal of an afternoon fun movie, the kind of thing I watched on a Saturday afternoon as a kid with either a bowl of popcorn or a can of Planters Cheez-Ballz. I have never not loved this movie.

14. Galaxy Quest

Some people actually include this in their ranking of the Star Trek movies. I don’t, but if I did, it would outrank quite a few of the actual Trek flicks. Yes, it’s parody, but it’s parody with some real stuff to say, genuine heart, and an understanding of what really made the object of its humor so worthy of a devoted fan base.

13. Forbidden Planet

To modern eyes it’s a clunky and slow movie, full of cliché and occasionally almost laughable in its depiction of a future humanity where everyone dresses the same and follows the lantern-jawed blond leader around. This was a very effective game-changer back in the day, with its Shakespearean-inspired story and that electronic score.

12. The Iron Giant

Made when animation was just starting to shake off its cultural ghetto of only being suitable for telling Disney-style fairy tales, this movie is something of a Cold War analog to ET, with sadness at the end that is every bit as earned as in the other film. The Iron Giant tells an amazing story with economy and humor.

11. Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day

OK, sure, I’m cheating naming two movies under one entry. It’s hard to separate these two, though, as they really combine to tell a single larger story very effectively. They are both amazing techno-thrillers with time-travel and a seemingly unstoppable enemy; they are also deeply human movies and the second one adds incredible visual effects to boot (the T1000 is every bit as convincing now as he was then).

10. TRON

I still remember my keen disappointment in 1982 when TRON came out. I loved it, saw it twice that summer, yada yada. I assumed that it would be the next Raiders or ET, the next thing that every kid saw. Instead, I got to school that fall, and nobody had bothered to see the movie about “the world inside the computer”. Alas. I still love it, for all its nifty world-building and videogame lingo.

I also enjoyed the sequel a great deal, which again does not seem to have been a universal opinion.

9. 20000 Leagues Under the Sea

I read some Jules Verne as a kid. I didn’t really understand him, but I could sense that there was some neat stuff going on there. This movie clears up a lot of it, making for a voyage into the unknown on our own planet that is fraught with wonder, danger, and a little madness. Like all sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s it takes a bit of willingness on the part of the viewer to go where it’s taking us, but it’s a grand adventure of a movie.

8. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension

For sheer gonzo weirdness, I don’t think this movie will ever be beat. It’s just fun, with characters that are a hoot to watch from start to finish. Jon Lithgow’s villain is over-the-top goofy hilarity, and Peter Weller balances everything with an understated performance as Buckaroo that somehow makes the entire thing believable. The movie also gave me one of my favorite obscure quotes (which nobody ever gets when I say it in real life): “Whoa, don’t tug on that! You never know what it might be attached to!”

7. The Day the Earth Stood Still

Sure, it’s heavy-handed messaging about nuclear war, and I’m not usually a fan of heavy-handed messages in stories (“If you want to send a message, use Western Union!” the saying goes). But this one is crouched in eerie mystery, and the iconic visual of robot Gort on his relentless march of destruction sticks with me even now.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey

I saw this at a science fiction convention in Portland, OR when I was in fourth grade. I didn’t understand most of it...or rather, big chunks of it. I read the book a few years later, and then I watched it again on home video, and it never fails to engross me when I watch it. Huge and epic, and yet with only a handful of people in it; ambiguous and yet full of strange wonder. What does it mean? I dunno, really, although I do think it’s a story of unnamed aliens encountering humans at various stages in development over the millennia and performing uplift on occasion. I think.

5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Such a fantastic film this is! The tale of the aliens who implant strange visions into the minds of ordinary people for no other reason than to screen them for purposes of finding out who gets to make the first contact is still incredibly effective, drawing on the late 20th century UFO lore to tell a tale of optimistic meeting with aliens for the first time. I can’t wait to see this when its reissue comes out this fall. (Yes, the story has problematic elements regarding Roy Neary’s family life and the morality of Neary just leaving them to go fly with the aliens. Steven Spielberg has even admitted that he would end the film differently if he made it today. Still, those problematic aspects of the film raise important questions.)

Previously written about here.

4. The Abyss

What a ride this movie is! Again with the Cold War subtext, this time with aliens under the oceans. The version to watch here is the Director’s Cut, which restores a subplot that, yes, does hearken back to The Day the Earth Stood Still. But the way it all turns out is well-earned (even if James Cameron’s complete lack of subtlety does let him down a little bit). The film’s main mystery is fascinating to behold as it unfolds, and the film’s villains are also interesting people whose fears and aims aren’t entirely unjustified.

Previously written about here.

3. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

This movie is near perfection, from its relationships to its pacing to the design of ET himself to the incandescent score by John Williams. Just listening to the music from the last scenes of this movie has been known to make me cry.

2. Castle in the Sky

This is almost my favorite Hayao Miyazaki film, but it’s here on this list because Princess Mononoke is a fantasy. Castle is an adventure-filled wonder-fest that involves a young girl with secret powers who may fulfill prophecies, the various groups looking for her, and...a castle in the sky, floating forever hidden beyond a bank of clouds. Hayao Miyazaki’s films have influenced my storytelling in ways that I haven’t even figured out yet. (BTW, this one is playing next month as part of the Fathom Events roster of great movies! If you’re interested, check out for info on screenings in your area.)

1. Star Wars

Oh, come on. Was there any doubt?

Now, this raises a question: can I name just one film? After all, I did cheat with the Terminator movies. But Star Wars now stands at eight movies, with the ninth on the way at the end of this year. Plus, they don’t all combine into one story as seamlessly as one might like. These tend to get made one-at-a-time and aren’t always conceived with the greater story in mind, which leads to tonal inconsistencies and a few lumbering plot points.

But I don’t care.

Star Wars (or, A New Hope) made me the storyteller I am today, which means that maybe it made me who I am today. More on this in this essay I wrote on the fortieth anniversary of the first film.

Honorable mentions:

Here’s a list of movies that I considered but which did not crack my top fifteen, for one reason or another. Titles marked with an asterisk came this close to the Top 15.

This Island Earth
Battle Beyond the Stars
(written about here!)
Blade Runner
(I’ve tried, folks, really. I don’t think I’ll ever care about the characters in this story, though.)
Apollo 13 (Might not be science fact, it probably isn’t)
The Black Hole (written about here!)
Journey to the Center of the Earth
The Last Starfighter
Night of the Comet
Heavy Metal
Back to the Future
The Fly
Guardians of the Galaxy*
(again, not sure if it’s SF or Superhero)
Batteries Not Included
The Rocketeer
Jurassic Park*
Demolition Man*
(Yes, it’s crappy 1970s disaster porn. I still like it.)
Space Battleship Yamato (written about here!)
The Postman (Not great, but not nearly as bad as its mega-flop reputation has us think)
Contact (written about here!)
Men in Black
(This movie is not good, and I can’t not watch it when it shows up.)
The Fifth Element (I need to see this again; it’s been fifteen years or so)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The Incredibles
Independence Day
John Carter
(written about here!)

Here are some prominent SF films that I haven’t seen and yet need to:

War of the Worlds (Spielberg)
Planet of the Apes (the new ones)
Treasure Planet
(Technically I’ve seen this and I disliked it, but enough people have told me otherwise that I’ve wondered if I owe it a rewatch)
Edge of Tomorrow
Minority Report
Jupiter Ascending

The Mad Max movies (Seen so long ago that at this point it's easier to just say that I haven't seen them at all.)

And finally, what of Alien and The Matrix? I dislike both, as movies and as franchises. And no, I don't subscribe to the whole "Well, I don't like it but I have to grant that it's a classic" thing. Dislike is dislike for me, period.

Oh, and I cannot hate Starcrash, even though it is really, really, really really really bad.

What say you all, folks?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

New to me is this work by Georges Enescu, Vox Maris. I know nothing at all about this work, or what the vocal element is singing about. While much of the Enescu that I have heard is heavily reflective of Enescu's Romanian folk heritage, this work sounds almost entirely atmospheric and haunting, bordering on pure impressionism.

Here is Vox Maris.