Thursday, December 31, 2009

By midnight...

... I'll be falling for things like this. Happy New Year's Eve to one and all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hoka - Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson

1984 (but three of the stories were written in 1955-57); 253 pages. Genre : 50's Sci-Fi. Overall Rating : C+.
.
A compilation of 4 short stories that brings back nostalgic memories of what I was reading as a young teen.
.
My review in 50 words or less...
Hokas = Ewoks, but antedate them by 20 years. They love terran movies, books, and history and role-play it with a passion. The stories are take-offs of (literary) Casey At The Bat, Sherlock Holmes, The Jungle Book, and (historical) Napoleonic Europe. A pleasant read, but not much depth.
.
.
The full-blown review is here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sophie

Meet Sophie. Friends of ours rescued her from a dog pound in Tucson last weekend. Sophie is two years old, and is part Shih-Tzu, part south-Tucson. I think there's definitely some poodle in her. .
Like our Honey-Bee, she is a cyclops dog. Like Honey-Bee, she lost her eye determining who was the alpha-female dog in a household. Like Honey-Bee, she ended up being the beta-female, and needed to move on.
.
When you're a cyclops dog, and at the pound, the odds of getting adopted are slim-to-none. But our friends thought of Honey-Bee, and so took a look at Sophie. It turns out she's house-trained and a lover-girl. When she came to visit us on Sunday, she took to both the humans and the dogs here right away.
.
Rumor has it that Sophie is already being spoiled. But she is very, very, very happy that Daniel and Lupe opened their hearts and home to her.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Note to self...

When you have accidentally hit the "Reboot" button on your new PC when you didn't want to, do NOT frantically and repeatedly hit the on/off switch to try and counteract the reboot action. . Sigh.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Post-Christmas !

    Here's hoping your Christmas get-together was fantabulous and that Santa brought you what you wished for. .


     He brought me a bunch of good books for 2010, as well as several PS3 games. We put in a PlayStation 3 console last Spring when we got the wide-screen TV, but so far, it's only been used to watch movies. I've tried the PS3 gamepad a couple times, but trying to remember which of 25 buttons does what while a horde of evil monsters are charging at you is sheer suicide. However, Santa also wisely brought me some non-hack-&-slash PS3 games (golf, Civilization, etc.) so I can get used to these buttons at a reasonable pace. I don't think Tiger Woods is going to attack me if I take too much time hitting my tee shot.

  . Santa also brought me a new PC. With a "Quad Core", or something like that. All I know is that it's super-fast and has lots of hard-drive space. It will be a learning experience - it has Windoze-7 and Microsoft Office 2007 on it. My company's IS Department is gradually converting everyone over to these, amidst much whining about "things being so different". I've avoided it so far, so this will be a good way to get acclimated to these programs, before making the switch at the office.

   . Best of all, the new 'puter means I can finally play Heroes Of Might & Magic 5. I've had this game, and the Expansion Pack shown above, for three years now. But my older PC was simply too slow for it. So it's been collecting dust on my shelf since 2006. Yesterday was devoted completely to the first campaign and the Random Map generator in HOMM-5.

   . FWIW, I still believe HOMM-3 is the best PC game ever. Its random map generator allows for infinite replay value, and it's nice, after a stressful day at the office, to come home and conquer a world, killing everyone and everything that doesn't acknowledge me as just the wonderfulest tyrant to ever come along. I've kept an old PC with Windoze-98 on it just for that game, because Windoze-XP wouldn't run it. Now there is a rumor that HOMM-3 will run on Windoze-7. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas !!

The shopping is done, the presents are wrapped, and it's time to partake of Liz's annual Christmas Eve chili while waiting for Santa to show up. May you all be blessed with peace and happiness, both during the Holidays and throughout the coming year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

But is it Murder?

One of our local highway patrolmen lost his life earlier this week. You can read the Arizona Republic's article on it here. In a nutshell... . A DPS officer discovered a car was traveling with stolen plates. For that matter, the SUV was also stolen. A wild chase ensued, with the SUV snd cop car jumping on and off the freeway. Meanwhile a second DPS officer was laying down spike strips in order to blow out the SUV's tires. The SUV evaded them, but the (original) chasing officer was less adroit, and plowed into his fellow officer, killing him. The SUV driver was eventually caught and thrown in jail. . Okay. It's an especially tragic story, considering it happened right before Christmas, and the dead officer leaves a wife and four young kids. The driver of the SUV, 43-year-old Georgia Lynn Baker, has been hit with six felony counts; and I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. But I have a problem with one of the counts - murder. . It wasn't Baker that hit the DPS man, it was one of his fellow officers. And whether it was poor communication, poor driving skills, or poor judgment in not getting out of the way fast enough; the fact remains that Baker had nothing to do with the tragedy, other than being the pursued. . I have no sympathy for Baker, and my heart goes out to the fallen DPS officer's family. But we don't do him honor by slapping a "feels good" murder rap on Baker just because DPS couldn't carry out the chase and the spike strip-laying competently. There's plenty of charges to convict her on, but murder shouldn't be one of them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (book)

Author : Tom Robbins. 1976; 416 pages. Genre : Modern Lit. Overall Rating : B.
.
This is a Counter-Culture Classic. I have no idea whether the movie, starring Uma Thurman, is worth watching or not.
.
My review in 50 words or less...
Recommended if you like Bukowski, Plath, Vonnegut and/or Pratchett; and if you don't mind R-Rated passages. Lots of straight, gay, bi, group , and auto sex. Hilarious most of the time, but Robbins occasionally gets yawningly preachy. Great when the storyline is advancing.
.
The full-blown review is here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just Wrong - Memories of Steam

Okay, it's not so much "Just Wrong" as it is "What Were They Thinking?" I am the proud owner of the 3-LP set shown below. AFAIK, there is only one other copy of it in existence. . The other copy is on sale at eBay for $9.99 (as of last night). And it is from there that I snatched the above image. I picked up my copy for $1 about a year ago. So I stand to make a 900% profit if I can find a buyer. . Ah, but there's the rub. This set of albums (Full name : Memories of Steam : past and present) consists solely of ...um... train whistles. There are steam engine whistles and diesel engine whistles (so sez the back of the box). Some were recorded as the trains roared by whoever taped these. Others were recorded as the trains pulled into a station (you can hear the brakes and a couple background voices). . The first question is - why would anyone feel compelled to record train whistles in the first place? Second, is there any reason at all to record and hour and a half worth? Third, how in the heck did they talk a record company (in this case, Murray Hill Records) into putting these out on vinyl? Fourth, who in their right mind would pay full price for this? Fifth, why would anyone buy these LP's today? . Now I hear you say that I for one was suckered into paying money for them. But it was only a buck, and hey, I'd even buy a Barry Manilow LP for a dollar, just for the vicarious thrill of watching the seller trying not to snicker as he rang me up. But someone once paid full price for this, as did at least one other person for the copy that's on eBay. . I suppose we'll never know the answers to these riveting questions. Murray Hill Records is long gone, RYM doesn't list this album, and Amazon.com doesn't offer it on vinyl or CD. I wish the eBay seller luck in selling his copy for $10. Anyone reading this who wants my copy can have it for free - just pay the postage. The LP's are a bit warped, but they don't skip, and there are almost zero scratches after 40-50 years. Which isn't all that surprising. How often do you think these ever got played? . And needless to say, I have no intention of converting these to mp3 files.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Store !!

Oh, sweetness! I found another used books - CD's - DVD's - LP's - Cassettes store today. Who knows how long it's been two doors down from Best Buy and I never bothered to investigate it. For some reason, I always assumed it was just selling used/discontinued textbooks. . The vinyl selection is so-so. The DVD selection is above average, which was quite useful in tracking down some of the obscure movies Jason wants for Xmas. But the books... . Ah, the books! Which is its main raison d'être. The cost of any book is half its original list price. I got H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy for less than a buck (because it was published in the 1960's) and Mark Billingham's debut murder/mystery novel Sleepyhead. I've been looking for both of these for months. . Best of all are the stacks and stacks of "overflow" paperbacks. $1 each. Liz scarfed up a half-dozen $1 chick-lit novels (Nora Roberts, et. al.) and I found a book by Robert Harris, author of the very good murder-mystery alt-history novel Fatherland. . The store is having a "20% off everything" sale during the whole week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I foresee significant (and totally unnecessary) additions to my TBR shelf before the year is out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the church begins to wake up

There was an interesting article at Msnbc.com today, regarding an evangelical church in Colorado that made the decision to be open and affirming to gays. You can read it here. . I have to say I agree with the anti-gay people in the article on one thing - there are scriptures in the Bible that condemn homosexuaity as being a sin. . OTOH, there are also verses in the Bible that permit slavery, allow the murder-by-stoning of all sorts of transgressors, and which call for the spirit-filled New Testament church to share all their worldly possessions with their born-again brethren. . It also should be noted that the anti-gay verses are found in only two places - in the laws of the Pentateuch (which by orthodox theology are no longer binding to the born-again populace), and in the writings of Paul, who IMHO had some serious issues when it came to his relationships with women, and with sex in general. . If you believe that Paul's letters are direct messages from God, then you must also accept that slavery is okay (Philemon), women are not fit for leadership positions in the church, the clergy should be celibate, and that gossip is every bit as bad of a sin as homosexuality. . Curiously, I cannot find any anti-gay scriptures in the four Gospels. I find Paulist writings quite different from the teachings of Jesus, and I do not blindly accept the dictates of the Vatican and the various councils they've sponsored over the milennia as to what is, and what is not "true" Christianity. . Neither do I blindly accept the bozos posturing themselves as the "Moral Majority", the "Family Research Council", and/or the "God will take me home if you don't send me 4 million dollars" nutcases.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Computer Store Trivia Question

Once upon a time, there was a Babbage's at the nearby shopping mall. It sold computer software - especially computer games - and was a great place to hang out while Liz was shopping at the mall. . Alas, Babbage's is long gone, as are almost all other PC gaming stores. The trivia question is - for whom is Babbage's named? And why? And while we're at it, when did he live? (Hint : it is not any of the store's founders or owners). Links to the answer appear below. And while we're at it, who is considered to be the first computer programmer, and when did she live? . I know I'm showing my age, but IMNSHO, PC Gaming (and that includes things like Xbox, PlayStation, and NES) is the pits nowadays. I was looking at PS3 games yesterday, and 95% of them are either mindless hack-&-slash, or sports games. Sid Meier, where are you now? Link, we need you to go on another quest. Innovative programming is extinct. . Trivia Answers. Babbage's : The company answer is here (read the "Early Years of Babbage's" section); the Wikipedia article on the man is here. . First Computer Programmer : Wiki's article on her is here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Kingston Trio - Make Way

Genre : Folk
Year : 1961, Monophonic
Record Label : Capitol
Overall Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)
. I picked this LP up and posted its cover a couple weeks ago, which is reproduced above, except I photoshopped out its "Full Dimensional Stereo" header, as my copy is monaural. I converted it over the last couple afternoons; partly cuz I'm nuts about The Kingston Trio; partly cuz I wanted to make sure I hadn't forgotten how to do this. . Track Listing :
01. En El Agua (2:21)
02. Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies (2:56)
03. The Jug of Punch (3:40)
04. Bonny Hielan Laddie (2:50)
05. Utawena (1:43)
06. Hard Travelin' (2:36)
07. Hangman (2:54)
08. Speckled Roan (3:08)
09. The River is Wide (3:43)
10. Oh, Yes, Oh (2:45)
11. Blow the Candle Out (2:41)
12. Blue Eyed Girl (2:16)
. The album is in decent shape for being almost 50 years old - a few major scratches and no skips. Mostly, it just suffers from being monaural, which has a sucky sound quality. Stereo albums really were a quantum leap forward in technology. . Make Way doesn't have any hit singles, but it did make it to #2 on the Billboard Albums chart. It has a nice blend of ballads (The River is Wide), humor (Oh, Yes, Oh), a Spanish track (En El Agua), a Cowboy one (Hangman), a Scottish one (Bonny Hielan Laddie), and even a Yiddish (or African? or Spanish?) one (Utawena). . In the late 50's and early 60's, TK3 were putting out 3 albums per year; 12 tracks per album. That's a heckuva lot of songs, most of which are now forgotten. Which is a shame really, cuz there's some nice stuff here. In the early 90's, Capitol released a lot of CD's containing two TK3 albums per disc. You can buy one of these with Make Way on it at Amazon.com; other than that, your only option is vinyl. . We'll give Make Way an "8-Star" rating, because all of their stuff from the early 60's is great. The only deductions are for it being Monaural, and not having any radio-play tracks on it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Cuteness

My last five posts have all involved either the Dead or the Undead. I think we're past due for some cuteness. . FWIW, I'm on vacation until the Monday after Xmas. You have to love being with a company long enough to get 4 weeks vacation per year. Much of the next few days will be devoted to Xmas shopping. Not my favorite chore, but it has to be done; particularly before the school kids get out.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RIP - MiniNova

MiniNova (née SuprNova) b. : 19 January 2005 d. : 26 November 2009
.
Okay, technically they're not dead; they're just eunuchized. They're big enough to rate an article at Wikipedia. You can read it here. They are still considering an appeal, but to be frank, the court cases lately (and not so lately) have all been going against the torrent-sharing sites.
.
Here's hoping the best for MiniNova. Like the folks at The Pirate Bay, they are legends in their own time; and they are, after all, the second coming of SuprNova (b. 2002, d. 2004). But I have the feeling that this time, they'll stay buried.

Monday, December 14, 2009

You Suck - Christopher Moore

2007; 328 pages. Full Title : You Suck, A Love Story. Sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, reviewed here. Genre : Romantic Comedy Vampire Spoof. Awards : #6 on the NY Times Best Seller List in February 2007. Overall Rating : A-. . After more than a decade, Christopher Moore pens a much-asked-for sequel to his first vampire story. You Suck opens romantically : our fanged heroine, Jody, kills her lover, Tommy Flood. Kinda. He's not dead, he's just now a fellow, undead vampire. She was lonely. . Moore mayhem (pun intended) ensues. Since they're now both creatures of the night, Tommy and Jody need to find a daylight minion. Meanwhile, the 800-year old vampire that "turned" Jody gets loose, vowing to terminate both of our protagonists. And Tommy's turkey-bowling supermarket night-shift cohorts, led by a smurf-colored hooker named (appropriately enough) "Blue" who took all their easy-earned money, are out to put a stake in him as well. . What's To Like... Once again, the humor is profuse and laugh-out loud funny. The storyline is well-paced. The great cast of characters from BSF are back : the Emperor and his dogs, Lazarus and Bummer; the sinister Elijah Ben Sapir; the Keystone Koppish Animals, and the gay cop duo of Rivera and Cavuto. . Ah, but Moore also introduces us to a whole slew of cool, new ones - the aforementioned Blue; the teenage Goth minion Abby Normal; her moony friend Jared; and Chet the Shaved Cat. This is more than a cheap, low-effort, feed-the-readers-any-old-tripe story yawned out by Moore. . Be forewarned, there's a lot of cussing, potty humor, and sex in the book. If such things aren't your literary cup of tea, steer clear of YS. And although the book is a stand-alone, it will make a lot more sense if you read BSF first. . Some found the ending to be meh, but I thought it was good enough. Moore seems to keep it sufficiently "open" to allow for at least one more book in the series. . Cool/New Words... onomatopeed (verb, pg. 7) : "onomatopeia" is one of my favorite words, but this is the first time I've seen it turned into a verb. punani (adj., pg. 101) : well, these are "family" book reviews, so we won't give the definition here. You can google it. I had never heard of this word before. Sheltered life and all that. . Excerpts... "Ha!" Jody said. "I am a finely tuned predator. I am a superbeing. I--" And at that point she bounced her forehead off a light pole with a dull twang and was suddenly lying on her back looking at the streetlights above her, which kept going out of focus, the bastards. "I'll be back to get you," Tommy called. He's so sweet, Jody thought. (pg. 45) . "I could be a slave to your darkest desires," Abby said. "I can do things. Anything you want." The vampire Flood commenced a coughing fit. When he had control again, he said, "Well, that's terrific, because we have a lot of laundry piled up and the apartment is a wreck." He was testing her. Seeing if she was worthy before bringing her into his world. "Anything you desire, my lord. I can do laundry, clean, bring you small ceeatures to quench your thirst until I am worthy." The vampire Flood snickered. "This is so cool," he said. (pg. 96) . You b*tch, you killed me! You suck! Those are the opening lines of the book. Sequels (with the exception of Mad Max 2), always struggle to catch the magic of their predecessors. You Suck actually does a pretty good job of that. We'll give it an "A-", and a bloodthirsty recommendation. It kept me laughing and kept my interest. That's good enough for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Death panels

But of course, they don't exist. No matter what the dittoheads tell you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

RIP - Gene Barry

Gene Barry (real name : Eugene Klass)
b. : 14 June 1919
d. : 09 December 2009
. Word comes that the debonair Gene Barry passed away on Wednesday. He is best known for the title role in the 50's western Bat Masterson, but that is a bit before my time. I remember watching it once or twice, but just barely. . For me, he will always be the suave Amos Burke of the 1963-66 series Burke's Law, where he played a millionaire police detective who gets chaufferred around in a silver Rolls Royce. How cool is that? There were lots of big-name guest stars (akin to, say, the Columbo series), and Burke never failed to catch the murderer. . The plots were unbelievable and campy. I remember (I think) one episode where the victim, while being strangled as he read a book, had the presence of mind to turn to page 88 and point to it as he expired. Burke eventually figured out that, since a piano has 88 keys, it was the pianist who was the killer. . Yeah, right. But I enjoyed the show as a kid, even though I'd probably be disenchanted if I were to watch it now. . Wikipedia also says Barry played the grandfather in the 2005 Spielberg-Cruise flick War Of The Worlds. I saw it, found the special effects to be great, but everything else to be meh, and don't remember Barry's character at all. I might have to re-watch this just to look for Gene. . BTW, that's a great image of a TV guide cover above. Did it really only cost 15 cents an issue back then? Wow.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

De-Listed

For the record, Going Rogue is not on my TBR shelf, not on my reading list, and not on my list to Santa.

OTOH, Sarah gets my full support to run for president in 2012.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gunpowder Empire - Harry Turtledove

2003; 286 pages. Genre : Sci Fi - Parallel Universes; Young Adult. Book #1 of the "Crosstime Traffic Series". Overall Rating : C. . The Solter family has a novel way of spending their summer vacation - they travel to a parallel universe where the Roman Empire never collapsed. Technology-wise, that world has evolved up to muskets and cannons, so the "this-worlders" can trade common items from here - mirrors, mechanical watches, Swiss army knives, etc. - for much-needed grain. . What's To Like... Turtledove does a nice job comparing the two Roman Empires, and portraying how history might have changed if the Barbarians had never seriously threatened Rome. He also paints a detailed picture of the parallel medieval city, its government, and its daily life. . OTOH, the "this-world" timeframe is set at 100 years from now, and it isn't much different from the present day. No one wears furs (but we still eat meat), our computer understands our voice commands, and of course, we can dimension-hop. That's about it. Not a lot of progress for an entire century. . As usual, our dimension conveniently happens to be the most advanced one around. Just once, I'd like to see some more-evolved chrono-hoppers land in our world, and be condescending to us primitives. The ending isn't very climactic, and there's too much "telling not showing". See the "sexism" section on page 60. . Excerpt... But people were people, in her timeline or any of the alternates. Knowledge changed. Customs changed. Human nature didn't. People still fell in love - and out of love, too. They still schemed to get rich. They squabbled among themselves. And they needed to feel their group was better than some other group. Maybe they had more money. Maybe they had blond hair. Maybe they spoke a particular language. Maybe they had the one right religion - or the one right kind of the one right religion. It was always something, though. (pg. 43) . And the target audience is... It's important to know for whom Turtledove is writing this series . It quickly becomes obvious. The Solter kids are a pair of teenagers. The names of the parents are given once, then thereafter, it's "Mom said so-and-so" and "Dad did such-and-such". . There's no romance, let alone sex. The characters are cardboard thin and their actions predictable. After a couple chapters, the kids have to fend for themselves in the parallel Rome. War comes, and there is some bloodshed, but the horror of conflict - raping, pillaging, and plundering - is only hinted at. The emphasis at all times is how different the parallel world is from our own. . So this is an ideal book for a young boy - say, 7-12 years old - who is interested in alternate worlds. The lack of depth means there's not much here for an adult, unless you used to enjoy the 50's sci-fi books by Andre Norton. I did, so an occasional book like this is okay. We'll give it a "C", and stress that this isn't your typical Harry Turtledove series.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Just do it ... in a Buick

Time to give my 2-cent opinion about Tiger. The local sportswriters and the hacks at ESPN have both been telling us why his personal issues are none of our business. I half-agree. Tiger-the-Golfer is certainly entitled to his privacy. He gets paid to put a little white ball in 18 holes, and what he does in his spare time is his own concern.

Alas, there's also Tiger-the-Endorser. Who smiles and tells you to buy Buicks and wear Tag Heuer watches, and to use your American Express card to pay for everything. And who wears that Nike swoosh on dang near every article of clothing he puts on.

The companies that pay Tiger big bucks to promote their products rely on you thinking he's a trustworthy and upstanding spokesman. Only "good guys" are selected to convince you they really do use those products. . So Robert Wagner (Jonathan from "Hart To Hart") and James Garner (from "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files") can do endorsements, but Eli Wallach (who just celebrated his 94th birthday yesterday) and (the late) Lee Van Cleef (the not-the-Good guys in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly") don't/didn't get to. It's not that Eli and Lee are less trustworthy than Robert and James; it's that the characters they played (which is really what the corporate suits want you to think of) were bad guys. . It's the same for sports celebrities. Tiger was the perfect endorser. Personable, handsome, with a calming voice, and who is absolutely the best golfer of all time. He's a much better choice for deciding on your next car than, say, that mean old Bill Lambeer, or "I don't expect the hotel room service girls to bend over backwards for me; I expect them to bend over forwards" Koby. (*) . The reality is that it's the well-known image of the celebrity that sells the products. And it works. We the consumers get seduced by a winning smile, big boobs, and/or the nostalgic memory of a "good- guy" role that some actor/actress played years ago. . Well, fairy nuff. We may be gullible suckers, but at least we're entitled to celebrities that can keep their zippers zipped. So, Tiger-the-Golfer, you go right ahead and keep playing. No problem-o. But Tiger-the-Endorser, you're fired. We don't believe in you anymore. (*) sic.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Storm's a'coming

Dear everybody except the PNW, . Greetings from cold, wet, Arizona. It's been spritzing all day, and Weather.com says that will continue until morning rush-hour tomorrow. I've had to forego my sandals and shorts, and even had to wear a jacket for the drive home from work this afternoon. . But we cannot keep all this wonderful weather to ourselves, so we are sending it - snow, sleet, black ice and all - to yooze starting tomorrow. May you enjoy it as much as we have.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Vinyl Happiness...

... is finding a great new LP store in downtown Phoenix called Revolver Records. Their website can be seen here. . My two used-album sites here in the East Valley have become really sucky lately. $5-$7 for scratchy records, and not a single rock-&-roll LP in the $1 record bins at either EV site. . I spent two hours in vinyl nirvana today at Revolver Records, and didn't even get to their 30 or so boxes of $1 albums. I cleaned them out of their Kingston Trio stash, including the one pictured above. It was $1.99, without any skips or warps, and with a reasonably small number of scratches. . Next Saturday afternoon, we've tentatively planned to visit another Vinyl site in Phoenix called Tracks In Wax. You can view their website here. I visited TIW once, about 15 years ago, and its LP inventory was unbelievably huge We'll see if that is still true.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Just Wrong - Teletubbies

Oh. I do so much NOT want to party with these guys on New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

2009, 400 pages. The latest book (#37) in the Discworld series. Genre : Fantasy, Comedy. Overall Rating : B. . Per some fine print tied to a sizable financial donation to their University, Ankh-Morpork's wizards find themselves forced to learn the plebeian sport of foot-the-ball. Or football to you Old Worlders. Or soccer to us Yanks. . Meanwhile, the University's night kitchen has a new scullery maid, Juliet. A naive girl, slow of wit, but with looks that make even celibate Wizards turn sweaty. And from those two plot starting points, all mayhem eventuates. . What's To Like... If you like new characters, there's lots of them. Glenda, Trev, Juliet, Pepe, Nutt, and more. If you don't like new characters, a lot of your old favorites - including Rincewind, the Luggage, and Sam Vimes - are here, at least making cameo appearances. And, "ook!", the librarian's back as well. There's even a new ...er... species introduced. . Pratchett's themes this time are football. hooligans, fashion models, cooking, (as usual) racial prejudice, and the esoteric "crab bucket philosophy". For the ladies, there's even some romance. . Unseen Academicals is not as uproariously funny as the early Discworld books. Yet it's still full of wit, and Pratchett deftly weaves all those themes and a bunch of plotlines into a cohesive tale. One of my favorite characters, the benevolent tyrant Vetinari, plays a larger-than-usual role here. Some critics say he's "differently portrayed", but I see it as "character development". My only personal quibble is that 95% of the story takes place within the walls of Ankh-Morpork. It's a great city, but I always enjoy visiting other parts of Discworld. . New Words... There were a bunch of them : Concomitant (occurring the same time as another related event); Catenary (the natural curve of something flexible hung between two fixed points); Eventuate (to ultimately result (in)); Abseil (to descend by rope); Chatelaine (a chain worn around the waist, which holds all the castle's keys); Louche (of questionable taste and/or morality); Turbot (a European flatfish); Reticule (a lady's drawstring purse); and last but not least, Bledlow, which is some sort of chap that even Google and the Internet can't define. Perhaps Pratchett made this last one up. . Excerpts... "Oh he was quite healthy," said the Archchancellor. "Just dead. Quite healthy for a dead man." "He was a pile of dust, Archchancellor!" "That's not the same as being ill, exactly," said Ridcully, who believed in never giving in. "Broadly speaking, it's stable." (pg. 30) . Sator Square was where the city went when it was upset, baffled, or fearful. People who had no real idea why they were doing so congregated to listen to other people who also did not know anything, on the basis that ignorance shared is ignorance doubled. (pg. 250) . Apes had it worked out. No ape would philosophize, "The mountain is, and is not". They would think, "The banana is. I will eat the banana. There is no banana. I want another banana." (pg. 76) . Is this Pratchett's Swan Song? In 2007, Pratchett posted online that he had been diagnosed as having a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Naturally, every reader of Unseen Academicals has an opinion as to how much this affected the book. My 2-cents is, "not very much". It is an excellently penned book. . However, there is a touching scene at the end, where Nutt asks his mentor, Lady Margolotta, "do I have worth?" She assures him he does. To which he replies, "Thank you. But I am learning that worth is something that must be continuously accumulated." . He then asks her, "Have I become?", and she tells him he has "become" as well. Both questions have to do with whether the world is now a (slightly) better place because of one's having existed in it. And although the person in question here is Nutt, I wonder if maybe this isn't Terry Pratchett self-reflecting about his time in this world, and whether Unseen Academicals is perhaps the swan song of the Discworld series and his writing career. . If so, all I can say is, "Terry, you have worth. Terry, you have become. The world is a better place for you having passed through it."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

All together now...

Happy Birthday to Liz,
Happy Birthday to Liz;
Happy 35th Birthday, honey,
Happy Birthday to Liz.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

These guys are coming in January...

Two words : Polka Metal. Okay, two more : Drinking Music. Go watch their "Wooden Pints" video on YouTube. . There are some problems. First, it's on a Monday night. Second, doors open at 6:00 PM, and there are two or three warm-up bands. That means Korpiklaani probably won't start to play until 10:00 or so. And since it's a Metal concert, that undoubtedly means No Seats. Finally, since it's near ASU, that undoubtedly means there will be a Mosh Pit. . Still, this may be my only chance to see them. So I may have to take Tuesday as a day of vacation to recover.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Musical Trivia Question...

What do John Denver, Mac Davis, Buffalo Springfield, the Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan have in common? (Hint : it has something to do with the band pictured above). . (Answer given in the comments)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hucka-booboo

Meet Maurice Clemmons. Actually, you don't want to meet Maurice, as he's the pyschopathic nutcase that gunned down four Washington state police officers in cold blood in a coffeehouse Sunday morning. He also apparently is a dimension-hopper, as he seems to have skipped out of a house during an all-night stand-off with SWAT teams that had surrounded him. You can read the latest updates about him here. . Maurice is an embarrassment to Mike Huckabee, who pardoned him (along with over a thousand others) ten years ago, when Maurice was serving a 90+-year sentence. Oops. Shades of Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton. . It will be interesting to see how the dittohead power-brokers spin this. A lot depends on whether they want Huckabee to be the GOP candidate in 2012. If they do, this will be spun as the fault of bleeding-heart liberals on the Arkansas parole board. . OTOH, if they're pinning their hopes on Sarah Failin' Palin, then this is a chance to eliminate a rival and you can expect them to tear Hucka-booboo to pieces. . Personally, I think Huckabee poses the biggest threat to Obama being re-elected next time. He's got name-recognition, and can probably pull the whole midwest and south into the GOP camp. So I'm all in favor of Rush and the rest of the wingnuts going into feeding frenzy mode. . In truth, Huckabee did nothing wrong. Giving 1000+ criminals a chance to redeem themselves is well-intended. It doesn't make Huckabee "soft on crime". But it does carry an inherent risk should one of those convicts decide to try to eliminate every police officer in the entire country. Welcome to reality, Hucky. Life's a b*tch at times.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Roger Waters - The Wall - Live In Berlin

115 minutes
Genre : Concert
MPAA Rating : n.a. (documentary)
My Rating : A-
. This was a benefit concert, given on 21 July 1990, just 8 months after the Berlin Wall was demolished. Ex-Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters assembles a star-studded list of guest musicians and stages a live version of The Wall, overcoming tremendous technical difficulties to do so. The audience is estimated to be between 200,000 and 300,000. . Some of the stars... The Scorpions were an impressive opening act, even if they did milli-vanilli it. Bryan Adams was still young enough to come off as a stud. Van Morrison and The Band were cool to see, although they didn't have big enough parts in the show. James Galway played a b*thchin' flute. Waters' in-house lead guitarist, Rick Difonzo, was awesome. Cyndi Lauper and Sinead O'Connor were still relevant back then. And Mick Jagger's ex, Jerry Hall, got to prance-&-pout. . What's To Like... It's Floydian music, so naturally it's great. But it's the technical aspect of the stage show itself that really makes this a worthwhile concert/DVD. Waters puts his soul into the work, and the result is a more like a musical than a concert. The building of the wall, and its subsequent crumbling down - all done while the musicians are doing their thing - is fabulous. So if there was some miming going on, and if some of the DVD scenes are re-takes and pre-takes, that's okay. . The quibbles are few. Joni Mitchell seems to be stuck in the 60's - no visual effort on her part - just stand-&-sing. Cyndi Lauper seems overly-happy, and Sinead O'Connor seems underly-so. As always, the list of musicians who declined to play is mind-numbing : Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, and of course, the rest of Pink Floyd. . Tear Down The Wall! In the end, this is as much a historical happening as a well-staged musical. Germany was in the process of reunifying, and 45 years of French, Russian, British, and American occupation was coming to an end. The German people, especially the young, needed a focal event to remember the long, gradual reunification by. Roger Waters supplied it. . It is said the original concert audio was rather wretched. This 2003 version had the sound tracks re-mastered, and they certainly sounded good to me. We'll give it an "A-", and recommend it to fans of both Pink Floyd and History.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Yesterday...

...we had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, went to bed, and didn't wake up until the next morning. (and I got to hear this song to boot)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We'll be having some of the above, along with the usual fare. Including Liz's specialty - turkey-ham roll-ups. A long nap is planned for the afternoon, somewhere about the time the Plowboys go up by more than three touchdowns on the hapless Raiders.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Roseanna - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

1965 (Swedish); 1967 (English). 212 pages. Genre : Crime Fiction. Book #1 in the Martin Beck detective series. Overall Rating : B. . The nude body of a young woman is pulled out of Sweden's Lake Vattern. There are no identifying marks or any other clue as to her identity. Detective Martin Beck checks on all the Missing Person reports throughout Sweden, but none of them match the victim's description; even after a couple months have gone by. There's not a lot for him to go on. . What's To Like... It's cool to see how the detectives go about trying to solve a case so devoid of clues. The plot moves along nicely, and if anything, the book was over too soon. This is a "police procedural" story, so the emphasis is on perseverence and dogged detective work. There are a couple lucky breaks, but they make the story work, so that's okay. . It's also neat to read a story based on 1960's technology. There are no e-mails or cell-phones. Long-distance phone conversations have poor reception and tenuous connections, and snail-mail is the only way to send written communication. And when the snail-mail is coming from overseas, the delays are significant. . There are a couple "holes" in the story. Most notably, nobody seems too concerned about where the girl's clothing and personal effects might have ended up. And the ploy used to catch the killer smacks of Police Entrapment, although maybe this was allowed in Sweden way back then. . Martin Beck is to a certain degree, the stereotypical p0lice detective. He smokes too much, his marriage is on the rocks, and he doesn't sleep well. Oh well, at least he 's not an alcoholic. Yet. . Cool new words in the book... Only one - décolleté. Meaning (in fashion) : leaving the neck and shoulders uncovered. . Excerpt. "Don't think so much about that case. It isn't the first time we have failed. It won't be the last either. You know that just as well as I do. We won't be any the better or the worse for it." "It isn't just the case I'm thinking about." "Don't brood. It isn't good for the morale." "The morale?" "Yes, think what a lot of nonsense one can figure out with plenty of time. Brooding is the mother of ineffectiveness." (pg. 42) . Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo Roseanna is the first of the 10-book Martin Beck series. Sjowall and Wahloo were a husband-&-wife team, who wrote alternating chapters of each book. Bizarre. . Sjowall and Wahloo blazed the trail for Swedish noir police procedurals. Their influence on Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson is profound. FWIW, the most famous book in the Martin Beck series is probably The Laughing Policeman, which was made into a Hollywood movie, starring Walter Matthau. I enjoyed Roseanna, and will probably end up reading a couple more of the series.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In case of revolution...

We'll ignore the fact that the picture-taker managed to get his reflection included in the photo. Gotta think of the camera-angle, dude.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The heck with your soul...

... it's your brain we want control of. . The Roman Catholic Church has decided it doesn't like the political views of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy (a lifelong Catholic), so they're denying him Communion. You can read about it here. . These are the same folks who condemned Galileo for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa. They're also the folks who decided Hitler slaughtering six million Jews was just too hot of a topic to take a stand on. . This is not an anti-Catholic rant. This is an anti-Organized Religion rant. The Protestant denominations are just as bad; and the Islamic fundies are the worst of all. Frankly, it seems most religions are more concerned about your vote and your money than about your soul. . There is one exception to this. The UU's. Alas, they're the other extreme. Tell them it's raining outside, and they'll spend the next three hours discussing the philosophical ramifications of making such an absolute pronouncement.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Philosophy Majors

I knew somebody once - a long time ago - who chose Philosophy as his major. He never came close to graduating, so I didn't get to find an answer to that great cosmological question - exactly what does one do with a degree in Philosophy? . He was convinced that major corporations would pay him mucho dollars to sit around and philosophize to them. I thought he was full of sh*t. But hey, people with that major do graduate and presumably do find jobs that make use of their degree. . So someone tell me a job that gives preference to a degree in Philosophy. Besides, of course, being a professor teaching it at college.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde

2006; 378 pages. Book #2 of the Nursery Crime series. Genre : Umm... Nursery Crime. Overall Rating : A. . Golidlocks is dead, but was it an accident or murder? Jack Spratt is on the case, and there's a lot more on his plate than that. The Scissor-man is afoot, trying to separate thumb-sucking children from their digits. The homicidal Gingerbreadman is running as fast as he can. Punch & Judy have moved next door to Spratt, and the noise they make while fighting would keep the dead awake. Jack's sanity is in question, since he claims he has a self-repairing car, sold to him by Dorian Gray. 50-kilgoram cucumbers are being blown up, and someone is supplying illicit porridge to the bear community. . What's to Like... TFB is punnier and funnier than the first book in the series, The Big Over Easy. Every cliché and plot deivce imaginable is deliberately used. There's a multitude of plots, and part of the fun is figuring out if and how Fforde intends to wrap them all up. . The prologues that start each chapter are great. And as usual, Chapter 13 is a study in efficiency. There's a fun-filled theme park called Somme World, where visitors can relive the horrors of World War One trench warfare. The bear society is a hoot. . There aren't many negatives. It does take a while for the story to get around to The Three Bears tale. But you're rewarded by learning how three bowls of porridge, all poured at the same time, can have three different temperatures, and why Mr. and Mrs. Bruin sleep in separate beds. . Cool words in The Fourth Bear... Pedantic (ostentatious concern for details). Probity (complete, utter integrity). Moggy (a domestic cat). Sparrow's Fart (dawn). The latter two are Britishisms. I simply have to incorporate Sparrow's Fart into my daily vocabulary somehow. . Excerpts. "I was one of the first," (Hoffman) muttered sadly, following her gaze. "A life lived in fear is a life half lived. A life half lived is fear lived in half. A life half feared is a fear half lived." Some people have a way wth words, but Hoffman wasn't one of them. (pg. 14) . "When did (the Gingerbreadman) escape?" "Ninety-seven minutes ago," replied Copperfield. "Killed two male nurses and his doctor with his bare hands. The other three orderlies who accompanied him are critical in the hospital." "Critical?" "Yes. Don't like the food, beds uncomfortable, waiting lists too long - usual crap. Other than that they're fine." (pg. 54) . The Fourth Bear is another ffine efffort by Fforde. I liked it a bit better than The Big Over Easy (reviewed here). He seems to be hitting his stride in this series, and it's a bit of a shame that it is planned to be only a trilogy. But Jack Spratt's loss is hopefully Thursday Next's gain.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Speaking of movies...

2012 is also out. And garnering all sorts of bad reviews. But there's a Star Trek movie just now available on DVD. Reportedly about how the young Kirk, Spock, Scotty, etc. all ended up together on the Enterprise. Now that might be worth watching. How did I miss it when it was in the movies?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The sequel

The premiere is midnight tonight. With lots of teenage girls lining up hours in advance to see it, after solemnly promising their parents that they'll be up and ready to go to school on time just fine tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RIP - Shaniya Davis

Shaniya was the 5-year-old North Carolina girl whose mom allegedly rented her out for prostitution. If there's a more heinous crime than this, I'm at a loss to think of it. . We will allow justice to run its course. After all, the first thing the police did when the girl went missing was to throw mom's boyfriend in jail. It's always the BF that did it, don't you know? Especially when we're talking about blacks. Until a motel employee came up with a videotape showing a completely different guy carrying Shaniya to a motel room. So Bro #2 is now in jail, and the authorities had to reluctantly let the BF walk. For now. . I don't know what drives a mom to do this to her own daughter. Drug addiction? A controlling man in her life? A desperate need for money? No matter what the reason, why didn't the mom turn the tricks herself? . I do know this is why I support the very un-liberal institution of Capital Punishment. Yeah I hear you. Executing the mom and the guy that (presumably) raped and killed Shaniya won't bring her back. But hopefully it will deter the next hard-up mom and child-molesting dude(s) from engaging in this kind of perversion.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

RIP - Edward Woodward

Edward Woodward
b. : 01 June 1930
d. : 16 November 2009
. Edward Woodward was the star of an action series called The Equalizer, which ran from 1985 to 1989. He played an ex-agent who ordinary people could come to (via an ad in the newspaper) when they needed help - be it sleuthing or plain old muscle. Think "one man A-Team", or "Baretta freelances". . He played the role of Robert McCall. He had a charming British accent, a way-cool black Jaguar, and a bunch of techno-gadgets that The Joker would kill for. McCall was middle-aged (and that's being tactful) but could kick a$$ if the situation required it. . The Equalizer was one of the better action-dramas of the 80's, and Woodward won a Golden Globe Award for the Best TV Drama Actor in 1986. McCall's boss was played by Robert Lansing, whom some of us remember as the star of the 60's TV series, 12 O'Clock High. .

Monday, November 16, 2009

A lethal combination

Twitter and Swine Flu. Almost as dangerous as Faux News and Sarah Palin.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Prisoner

Starting tonight, the TV channel AMC is airing a remake of The Prisoner. Alas, it's only six episodes long; 1 hour per episode. Alas and alack, AMC has decided that the shows should start tonight here in Arizona at 9:00 PM; and to run a two-pack of them back-to-back for three nights. That means staying up till 11:00 PM on three consecutive worknights. . Are you AMC folks #%$^$ nuts?!?! I loved the original series when it aired some 40-odd years ago. But staying up even one night until 11:00 turns me into a zombie the next day. There's no way I'd survive three nights in a row keeping those kind of hours. . And FWIW, I predict Ian McKellen, the new "Number Two" is going to steal the show. He looked diabolically awesome in a trailer that AMC ran this morning.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Best Cartoons for the Past Week

Steve Benson (top cartoon) is fantastic, as usual.