Thursday, July 31, 2008

To Be Visited...

Here's one of the places I still want to go to someday. More specifically, Izmir, then down to the Anatolian coast. Gotta work on talking Liz into it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

She's done it again...

My dog-napping (or dog-rescuing, take your pick) wife brought home a pair of runaways today. They appear to be "mama & son", and are Miniature Pinschers. Which I am told are rather expensive dogs.

The pup has a tag, which even has a telephone number on it. Alas, the lady who answered tells us she's only had that number for about 3 months, and gets lots of calls for the previous number-owner.

So, the "Found Dog" signs are up, and here's hoping these two weren't dumped. If they were, hopefully we'll have an easier time unloading them then Liz's two previous "acquisitions", which were both Pit Bull pups.

We'll call these two Pepe and Mimi. BTW, I never gave the final outcome of Poochie, Liz's last bring-home. After 10 days of no one claiming him, I finally persuaded a friend of Jason's to take him. They hit it off immediately, but alas, said friend had to move into an apartment a week later, and it was a "No Pets" deal.

This had the making of another family crisis, as Liz wanted to bring Poochie back here, and I, along with our three resident mutts, said "No!!" But there was a happy ending to the story, as the friend found a relative to take Poochie. So Poochie, who is now named Mustache (don't ask. it's a long story), did finally get a happy home. For you sentimental dog-lovers, you can see a picture of Poochie/Mustache here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Escher Tribute for the Week

Salvador Dali is my favorite artist. But Escher's in the top three. I love it when people do tributes like this.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Emmylou likes Chemistry !!

At least that's what I thought when I got Emmylou Harris' new CD (All I Intended To Be), and on Track 09, she calls herself a dimer. Now just why she'd refer to herself as a "chemical compound made of two smaller identical or similar monomers that are linked together by hydrogen or covalent bonds" is beyond me. Maybe she means she has a split personality. By that line of thinking, I'm a polymer.

Alas, it turns out Emmylou wasn't talking chemistry at all. The title to Track 09, "Old five and dimers like me", refers to her being a geezer. Or something like that.

Which reminds me - do you know how to tell if someone you know is a chemist? They think "unionized" is a four-syllable word. ;-)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Smear Campaign

I work with a guy who is convinced Obama is a militant Muslim with direct ties to an anti-American mosque in London. He knows this, cuz someone sent him an e-mail saying it was so.

In other news, we saw Batman : The Dark Knight yesterday. It is very good, but I wouldn't put a label like "best ever" on it. A more-detailed review to follow.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Well, Hello Dolly!

Dolly makes our Arizona monsoons look rather dinky. And I'm looking forward to seeing storm pics on lots of Texas blogs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

For Bibliophiles only...

I have a grudge against the "Flo & Friends" comic strip, because it was a (presumably) cheaper replacement in the Mesa Trib for Doonesbury. The humor is bland, at least IMO. But if you think Dennis The Menace is funny, you'll like F&F.
Be that as it may, today's strip was way kewl. Someday, I'm going to face this very same problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just Wrong - July '08

I think we'll start a new semi-regular theme here. "Just Wrong". Some humorous. Some serious. All blatantly wrong. Babs gets to lead things off.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dali Fix for the Week

A Worth1000 tribute to my favorite artist. Left-click on it for a better view.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The True False Identity

Artist : T Bone Burnett (Joseph Henry Burnett, b. 1948)
Album Title : The True False Identity (59:30 minutes)
Genre : Rock (50's & 60's)
Rating : ***** *½ (out of 10*)
This Week I'm Listening To...
T Bone Burnett is a guitarist, songwriter, and producer, who was one of two awesome lead guitars at the recent Alison Krauss/Robert Plant concert. The True False Identity is his 2006 solo release, and was his first new studio album in 14 years.
What's To Like...
There's a wide variety of musical styles and influences here - some blues, some ballads, and even a teensy bit of Jimi Hendrix-sounding stuff. But it is all tied together by an overlying 50's-60's Rock beat. Unsurprisingly, the guitar-work that takes center stage. Simply put, T Bone is a guitar god.
YouTube Links...
You can hear track #2, Palestine, Texas (audio only) from tTFI here. A live version of track #10, Earlier Baghdad - The Bounce, can be seen/heard here. In fact, this latter live track is IMHO better than the studio version.
What's Not To Like...
His guitar-playing may be fantastic, but T Bone's voice here is strictly so-so. But it's the lyrics themselves that are the weakest link. The rhyming schemes are for the most part, unambitious. One example :
Joe wasn't slow
But didn't know
How to blow
All the dough
From the show...
And while there are some catchy phrases scattered throughout the songs, they somehow are either too esoteric or too vague to give the song lyrics as a whole much coherency. Example #2 :
When you're out for revenge
Dig two graves,
When you run from the truth
It comes in waves.
Nice sounding, and the meter is good. But on further analysis, that verse doesn't make much sense.
I'd Like My T-Bone Rare, Please...
Not only is he spectacular on guitar, but T Bone also has the Midas Touch when it comes to producing albums. His resumé includes Krauss/Plant's Raising Sand, and the soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?
It's a pity then that The True False Identity isn't a better effort. Perhaps T Bone should have someone else do the arranging of his songs, re-write the lyrics, and double the length of all the guitar soloes.
In the end, T Bone's marvelous and complex guitar-playing (slightly-more-than) compensates for the shortcomings of the lyrics and song-arranging. We'll give this a "medium well" 6½ stars, and try to find his "20-20" album, which reportedly is an anthology of his 20 years of solo work.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One less planet to visit

Huqurrum-6, a star in neighboring Andromeda galaxy, went nova with almost no warning last week. Which unhappily toasted one of my favorite vacation planets, good old, balmy Huajixi. While I was there, working on my tan, no less. Luckily, I never leave home without a towel, a toothbrush, and a portable wormhole.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Night Lights

I'm pretty certain both of these pics are phony. In theory, they are NASA satellite images. This top one seems questionable to me. I don't think Greenland and the North Pole ice would show up that well in a night-time image. Also, the "tail" of Alaska seems to extend loonnnggg way towards Siberia.
This bottom one's even shakier. Lots of red lighting for no discernible reason. Ditto for the blue lights, especially those clusters between Scotland and Norway.
Still, these are way-cool pics.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mission Accomplished

Isn't it curious - we invade and occupy the country with the 3rd- or 4th-largest oil reserves (depending on whose data you're using), yet gas prices are spiraling out of control. I guess it's true - "GOP" stands for the "Gas & Oil Party".

Trivia question for the day : from what country do we import the greatest amount of oil?

Monday, July 14, 2008

XKCD in Foxtrot

There, in the lower left-hand corner, is Foxtrot's most excellent parody of And a fine bit of xkcd humor it is, too. I'm sure the other three offerings are also webcartoons, but I don't recognize them. As always, left-click on the image to get a larger view of it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Monsoons are here!

Actually, we haven't had a lot of dust (so far) with the 2008 monsoons, which is quite unusual. We've had rain three times this past week, which has helped our lawns immensely. Of course, it's also koncked a gazillion more pods out of the two frontyard trees. Still, I'd rather have 100°F and Houston humidity than 115°F and Death Valley dryness. Our dogs agree.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I admit it. I am a biblioholic.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Artist : Andrew Bird
Album Title : The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)
Genre : Baroque Pop
Rating : ***** **** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Andrew Bird is a Chicago musician, formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and who plays a bitchin' electric violin, as well as mandolin, guitar, and (of all things) glockenspiel. Oh yeah, he is also one superb whistler. You can read more about him here at Wikipedia.

TMPoE is his 2005 solo release. It's hard to classify this album. Wiki calls it Baroque Pop, and that's as good as any appellation.

YouTube Links...
You can hear the album version of the fantastic track, Fake Palindromes, (audio only) here. For a live version of him doing FP at Bonnaroo (whatever that is), click here. You can see another video from Bonnaroo, A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left, here.

What's To Like...
Simply the best electric violin-playing since the early days of ELO. Excellent arrangements; bizarrely surreal lyrics (with a chemistry bent!); skilled musicianship; and nice rhyming schemes. The best way I describe him is as a slightly-psychopathic Mensa nutcase version of (Tiptoe Thru The Tulips) Tiny Tim.

Bird is also a techno-geek, who uses some cool devices to allow him and one other performer to sound like a 4-piece band. You can read about this at the above Wiki link. The main thing to recognize in those two Bonnaroo videos is that none of that music is piped in.

Oh yeah, the album cover is très cool, too.

What's Not To Like...
Not much. His guitar-playing is a notch below his virtuoso voilin performances. And while it is impressive how many instruments he and the drummer can play at once, one wonders if things would be easier if they added a keyboardist and a guitar player to the band. Still, this is mere quibbling.

"I like long walks and sci-fi movies,
You're six foot tall and east-coast bred;
Some lonely night we can get together,
I'm gonna tie your wrists with leather,
And drill a tiny hole into your head." (from Fake Palindromes)
Andrew Bird brings an original sound to the music scene. He's everything Britney Spears is not. You'll have to give it a close listen in order to appreciate the strange, subtle, and intellectually-stimulating lyrics. In spite of the somewhat psychotic atmosphere to TMPoE, this is not a depressing album.

With 13 cool, catchy and complex tracks (only the last cut, The Happy Birthday Song, dips to being merely "mediocre"), we'll give TMPoE a solid nine stars, and see if we can find his 2007 (and most-recent) release, Armchair Apochrypha.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rights?! What rights?

It's nice to see someone in Fort Worth sees it the same way I do. Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito are political hacks, not justices. One more Rethugnican-appointed bozo in the SCOTUS will give them a majority. This is why we have to win in November.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Title : Catch-22 (1961, 455 pages)
Author : Joseph Heller (1923-1999)
Genre : Literature
Rating : B

This Week I Read...
Oh, the absurdity of war! John Yossarian is a bombadier, stationed in the Mediterranean during the last half of World War 2. He spends his time bombing the northern half of Italy, falling in love with various whores in Rome, agonizing that his next mission will end in his death, and trying to figure out how to convince the military to ship him back to the states.

There is a way out, of course. If you're found to be insane, that's an instant ticket home. Alas, by attempting to show that you're insane, you demonstrate your sanity. That's Catch-22, and that means it is impossible for Yossarian to ever get himself discharged.

What's To Like...
Yossarian is a classic anti-hero : full of faults, scared of dying, and anti-establishment. The group he's stuck with (the "Fighting 256th") has country bumpkins, back-stabbers, buxom nurses, milquetoast chaplains, incompetent Generals (anyone remember the Peter Principle?), ambitious Colonels, capitalistic Majors, and a host of other engaging characters to become acquainted with.

If you like paradoxes, there are a couple billion of them in this book. Then there are the Catch-22's themselves, which are similar to, yet different, from paradoxes. BTW, a "Catch-22" is entirely fictional. FWIW, there were quite a few numbers tried prior to the book being released - Catch-11; Catch-14; etc.

I suspect if you've ever been in the service, you'll find this book hilariously close to how things really were. I'm not a vet (both the Army and me are stronger because of this), so there's a limited amount of relevancy here for me.

What's Not To Like...
It's a slow read. As with the other Heller book I've read ("God Knows"), its way too repetitious. You could slice 150 pages out of C-22, and it would be much better. You'll find yourself skipping "text" paragraphs to get to the dialogue parts.

There's no plot for the first 75% of the book. It's like watching a 24-hour M*A*S*H marathon - there's humor and wit, but no progression in the tale at all. To be fair, Heller wakes up around page 330, and things finally begin to unfold. The book gets markedly darker after that, which IMNSHO is a plus.

Finally, the ending just plain sucks. I know this is a farce, but it was a believable farce until... well, no spoilers here.

It's The History, Stupid...
If you judge Catch-22 solely on its literary merits. it doesn't stand the test of time very well. Joseph Heller was destined never to repeat his initial smash hit. I'd go as far to say that the success of C-22 was due more to good timing than good writing. Of course, I say that about Seinfeld too.

But Catch-22 is a breakthrough opus. Along with authors like Kurt Vonnegut, there was finally something distinctive about American literature. Yeah, the Brits figured this out before we did, but hey, they've had more practice at this sort of thing.

You can see the influence of Catch-22 in M*A*S*H, and maybe-just-maybe, even in Dilbert. So we'll remember its time-period, and give it a shaky B. With Heller, Vonnegut, and Hunter S. Thompson all now departed, maybe it's time for a new generation of talented American authors to emerge.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Unintended Consequences

This is a legit article from Chemical & Engineering News, a publication that one gets by paying one's ACS dues. Left-click on it for a readable image.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July !! (a)

Happy Independence Day! Or, as they call it in the UK, Happy You-Ungrateful-Rebels-We-Never-Wanted-To-Keep-You-Anyway Day.

This is a holiday unique to the USA, where our culture takes center stage. In baseball, the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, which is as American as it gets. So I turned on the TV to ESPN, and what did I find?

A hotdog-eating contest. Indescribeable drama as Takeru Kobayashi tried to retake the title from last year's winner and upstart, Joey Chestnut (pictured above).

So I switched over to CNN (Channel 38), and what was their headline news-story? You betcha, the hotdog-eating contest. Indeed, if you go to the MSNBC website, you'll find this is also one of their top stories for the day. Click here.

In case you're dying to know, Chestnut and Kobayashi were tied at the end of the 10-minute contest, each having eaten 59 hotdogs (including buns). In the 1-minute "dog-off", Chestnut retained the title by downing 5 more.

Happy 4th of July !! (b)

Here then is the face of American culture. Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Pods Must Be Crazy

Question : What do you get when you cross two pod-pooping trees with a monsoon wind? Answer : 30 gallons (*) of pods strewn out across the cul-de-sac. To say nothing of our roof, our swimming pool, the bed of my truck, the neighbors' yards, etc.

Fortunately, I'm off this week, so I had time to buy a push-broom and sweep the street. In 112° heat and monsoon mugginess. What fun.

I blame my Druid persona for this. Him and his cotton-pickin' fertility rites. Those trees were sterile for the first 10 years we had them. A few leaves; no pods. But oh no, Mr. "Viva Vercingetorix" just had to perform some sort of Druidic ritual. And since there are no oak groves in Phoenix, he was forced to make do with the two trees in our front yard. Sheesh.

(*) : Yeah, I know. "gallons" is a liquid measure. But I filled my 5-gallon bucket 6 times with those &*#!$% pods you see in the street.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Alison Krauss & Robert Plant Concert

Who : Alison Krauss and Robert Plant
Where : Dodge Theater
When : 01 July 2008
Rating : B+

Dodge Theater is in downtown Phoenix. It is relatively new; part of the urban revitalization program. The acoustics are so-so; better than American West Arena or any outdoor venue, but nothing compared to Grady Gammage Auditorium and/or Celebrity Theater. You were allowed to take pics, but no flash photography. We complied, and our pics came out sucky, so I had to scrounge the internet for photos from their earlier concerts. Rating : B-

$80 a ticket got us in the first row of the 2nd-floor balcony. That's about 30 rows back from the stage. There were two additional balconies above us.
$4.50 got you a regular-sized bottle of water. I cringe to think how much a bottle of beer cost. T-Shirts and other concert paraphrenalia were going at the usual prices - $30 for a regular shirt, etc. Rating : C
The crowd, not unexpectedly, ranged from old hippies to country & western fans, and everything in between. No metalheads or goths to speak of. For the most part, the mood was mannerly. Some standing ovations, but not many. Very little dancing in the aisles.
About 3/4 of the way through the concert, one woman felt compelled to declare her love for Mr. Plant from the front row. She was cordially escorted out.
About 15 minutes later, some clown felt compelled to pledge his love to Ms. Krauss. He even managed to crawl onstage, before Robert signaled for Security, who carried the nitwit away in a most uncordial fashion. Plant never even missed a note in his singing. One gets the feeling this happens on a regular basis. Rating : C+
Sharon Little is a Melissa Etheridge wannabee who, at the beginning of 2008, was working as a waitress in Philadelphia to make ends meet. Since then, she has signed a record contract and put out an album. She was thrilled-to-goodness to be opening for Alison and Robert.
She and her band did about 6 numbers from their CD. Her songwriter plays rhythm guitar and gets equal time in the spotlight. He is weird. One sees some personnel changes in this band before the next album comes out. Sharon was okay, but Krauss and Plant don't have to worry about being upstaged. Rating : C
Sharon finished at 8:15; apparently Krauss and Plant had no intention of starting before 9:00. Gotta sing a few more songs, Sharon. To be fair, we then got two hours of good music from the headliners.
In addition to doing most of their numbers from the Raising Sand album, they did a bunch of Krauss' bluegrass stuff. The back-up musicians were awesome, highlighted by one T-Bone Burnett who, uncoincidentally, produced Raising Sand.
My main beef with the album is that it's just a bunch of nice duets. Charming, but nothing to get excited about. The concert renditions were quite different - lots of showing off by Alison and the band. I'd go as far to say that if the second Krauss/Plant CD turns out to be a "Live in Concert" issue, it will be much better than the studio effort.
Krauss got to show off her bluegrass fiddle skills, which are superb. Alas, that left Plant as the "weak link" - a middle-aged rock-&-roll geezer trying to be relevant among some gifted bluegrass musicians, and whose only contribution is singing. They did allow him to do one Led Zepplin number - Battle of Evermore, but the basic structure of that song is well-suited for a bluegrass treatment. It should be mentioned that the chemistry between Krauss and Plant seemed quite weak. She seemed much more comfortable interacting with T-Bone and the rest of the backing band.
In the end, the strengths of Alison Krauss and (more importantly) the session musicians more than made up for Robert Plant. Go to this show if you like Raising Sand or if you like Bluegrass. The only reason to skip it is if you are uneasy about over-the-hill rock stars not knowing when to quit. Rating : A-.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

For chemists only...

Something quick from the genius that dwells at , as we're off to see Alison Krauss and Robert Plant tonight.