Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's mead

After far too long a delay (again) I finally got around to starting a new batch of mead this afternoon. I'd gotten 12 pounds of semi-local honey (from Pearsall) back in the spring, and was somewhat put out to discover it'd crystalized to a great extent in the interim. It was still good (quite tasty), and dissolved easily enough once I stirred it into a pot of hot (not boiling) water. But actually getting it out of the plastic jug took some doing--a combination of squeeze and repeat, plus adding hot water to the jug and swishing it around very aggressively.

I took the dissolved honey and added enough cool water to make five gallons of must. To this I stirred in two teaspoons of yeast nutrient, just over a teaspoon of tannin and four teaspoons of acid blend. I took a little taste, and darn if it wasn't pretty flavorful as-is. Then, once the must had reached room temperature, I pitched in a dose of Montrachet yeast, which I'd started earlier in a cup of grape juice and water. Looking over at my fermentation vessel as I type this, I see the airlock is already bubbling.

I used Montrachet once before, but can't quite recall what for. It's supposed to be a very good red wine yeast, that produces complex flavors in dry wines, and can tolerate high alcohol content. The Compleat Meadmaker recommends it for melomels (fruit mead) with a big mouthfeel, so that's what I'm going for here. After initial fermentation is complete, I'm going to rack the must out into a two-gallon batch in which I'm adding a quart of my dark muscadines I picked and froze earlier this summer. I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out, because I've developed quite the taste for a good red muscadine wine. The remainder of the mead I'm putting back in the big fermenter and adding bunches of crushed apple and cider to make an apple-mead cyser. I expect I'll add some cinnamon sticks and maybe nutmeg at the time as well. But that's still a few months away. The important thing is, we've got a new batch bubbling away.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Streetlife Serenade

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lame Duck Christmas: A Holiday Fable

Merry Christmas, happy Hannukah and a festive Festivus to you all. In the spirit of the season, I've posted a brand-new, never-before seen piece of short fiction over at No Fear of the Future as a gift to all my loyal (and not-so-loyal) online readers. I hope you enjoy it.

Lame Duck Christmas


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Grades are posted

Well, the fall semester is over, commencement has come and gone and now, finally, grades have been posted. And this guy who hasn't engaged in any kind of formal schooling since the summer of 1992 pulled in a... wait for it... 4.0.
FALL, 2008 3615-TEXAS STATE
COURSE DESCRIPTION CREDIT INFORMATION GRADE POINT
CORE PFX NO. TITLE WI GPA HOURS HRS PASSED GD TOTAL AVG.

ARTF 1301 2-D DESIGN 3.00 3.00 A 12.00
ARTS 2361 INTRO TRAD PHOTO 3.00 3.00 A 12.00
MC 4312 PHOTOJOURNALISM 3.00 3.00 A 12.00
SEM TOTALS: 9.00 9.00 36.00 4.00

That's straight As across nine hours. A 4.0 grade point average, with my name attached to it. That's not something that has ever happened before, so yeah, I'm a little giddy. (Note, formatting is a little wonky, but I'm not losing any sleep over it. I got my 4.0 and that's all that matters!)

Now Playing: The Kinks Come Dancing

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone! It's time again for our annual holiday-themed video showcase (no, I'm not going to post the Kinks' "Father Christmas" again, but if you need a fix of that inspired holiday classic, you can find two versions here). Since I'm no Scrooge, I'm serving up two, count 'em, two Christmas classics today for your audio/visual enjoyment. First up, the one and only Jill Sobule (who I think it's well established that I like) with her singular version of "Merry Christmas From the Family" by the lovely and talented (and Aggie) Robert Earl Keene:



Next, since you've all been so good this year, we have the end-all, be-all version of "The 12 Days of Christmas," as performed by the legendary Bob & Doug Mackenzie. What's that, you say? There never was a video produced from that long ago album track despite its inherent genius and continual airplay on FM radio? Watch, and be amazed:



Remember, a beer in a tree always makes a classy holiday gift!

Now Playing: Donal Hinely Midwinter Carols

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Swingtown

Holy crap, what an excellent series. The Wife and I ordered it via Netflix as sort of a "tide us over" measure until the second season of "Tell Me You Love Me" became available on DVD (which it won't ever be, damn it. I just learned that despite HBO picking it up for a second season, the creator walked, unable to "find the right creative direction" for the show. So us viewers are left with dangling plot threads. Gee, thanks).

"Swingtown" is actually a much better show than "Tell Me You Love Me," or at least a more engaging show. There's a strong echo of Ang Lee's The Ice Storm here, only without the overwhelming pall of desperation and futility of that film. It's a lush, meticulous drama that moves along at a brisk clip. It oozes the 70s out of every frame, much more effectively than "That 70s Show" ever managed. Even the camera angles and color palette remind me of hourlongs from that decade, such as "Family." The characters are varied and engaging, and the plots aren't so much plots as events that unfold in the characters' lives.

We were hooked after 30 minutes, and both agree that it'd work better as an HBO series. So naturally it scored pitiful ratings and didn't even make it through the first season. Rats. But if a more upbeat version of The Ice Storm piques your interest, or a less-risque, faster-moving "Tell Me You Love Me," then "Swingtown" is highly recommended from this corner.

Now Playing:

New MEMORY!

Goodness, it's been almost six weeks since I last posted an installment of my online serial, Memory, over at No Fear of the Future. What can I say? End of semester projects and finals really worked me over and cut into my writing time. But I'm back, just in time for Christmas with chapter 29 of my ongoing saga:
Djserka looked back the way they’d come. “So those moironteau things have been sent by Rapteer? Dreadful.” Nictating membranes flicked over Djserka’s eyes. “I daresay that explains why His Imperial Majesty’s restricted Nexial access. Damn. I should’ve spat in Rapteer’s food when I had the chance.”

Parric shook his head. “Should be doing more than just spittings.” More alarms sounded from the chamber. “We must be leaving before they break through.”

“You think those beasts will get past the Imperial defenses?”

“Of coursing they will. This palace is operating on skeleton crewing, remember?”

“Well, staff, yes. But there’s a full Eternal Militia battalion permanently stationed in the palace.”

“Only one battalion?” said Parric in surprise. “That is buying us less time than I’m initially thinking.”

“You’ve got quite a negative demeanor, don’t you?”

Be sure an tell your friends and neighbors! There's lots of fantastic words just waiting there to be read!

Now Playing: Dr. Demento Show November 29-30, 1997

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lump of coal

Santa Claus paid an early visit to Casa de Blaschke last night to leave a lump of coal in my stocking. Despite my clear and repeated misgivings, the Jolly Old Elf left a kitten for the children. A kitten. An apple-brained Siamese at that. Our other cats (and I use the term "our" loosely, since they came with The Wife as a package deal) include a white Turkish Angora mix with the longest claws I've ever seen on a domestic cat and a paranoid disposition, a cranky 17-year-old Siamese mix who hocked up a hairball somewhere under the Christmas tree last night (I ain't going in to look for it) and another apple-brained Siamese that's been banished to the outdoors because of willful and repeated peeing under beds, clean laundry piles and my open suitcase prior to a week-long trip (which I didn't discover until I'd reached my destination. Let me tell you, that was a fun week away). Just to make sure I knew she hadn't forgotten me, that Siamese managed to slip into my car last week through a slightly open window and turn my car into a mobile outhouse.

As for the kitten, yeah, it's cute, but so's a baby wolverine. I've got three long gashes on my wrist from where it decided last night my hand was an impending peril to all creation, and must be destroyed.

I can only assume I've been very, very bad this year, and Santa decided to call me on it.

Now Playing: Dr. Demento Show December 9-10, 2000

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Today's video is "Bettie Page" by the Royal Crowns. It's a fan-made video, but wholly appropriate for the subject matter (except for some weird Halloween non-sequitur at the end). No other explanation is necessary.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Various Artists A Classic Cartoon Christmas

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We'll miss ya, Bettie

The passing of Bettie Page saddens me. Her saucy, naughty pinup romps and fetish work should, by all rights, be tawdry affairs that withered with age. But they weren't, and didn't. Against all odds, there's a sweet innocence to her sexuality in them--fat chance of finding that today. And she was an inspiration for David Stevens of Rocketeer fame. If she had no other accomplishment in her life, that would be enough for me.

My buddy Rick has a distinctive perspective on Ms. Page's passing, as his grandfather was Irving Klaw, the photographer who made her famous (yes, before Bunny Yeager came along). You can read his thoughts on his Geek Curmudgeon blog. There's also a memorial up on her website.

Now Playing: James Horner The Rocketeer Soundtrack

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

John Adams

I'd heard that the John Adams miniseries from HBO was pretty good. Heck, it won an Emmy after all. But goodness, I didn't expect it to be this degree of excellent. Laura Linney steals almost every scene she's in as John's wife, Abigail Adams. She is excellent. Paul Giamatti is great as John Adams, although I confess to seeing him as Paul Giamatti in most scenes simply because nobody else looks quite like Paul Giamatti. Tom Wilkinson is brilliant as Ben Franklin.

The first two episodes were wholly engrossing. They quite reminded me of that other great HBO series, Rome, except there wasn't any sex, scant nudity and a dearth of violence and gore. Other than that it was incredibly well written and produced. The third episode, where an ill-suited Adams is sent to France and clashes with Ben Franklin and insults pretty much everyone in Paris was less engaging. Adams was a boorish ass that made pretty much every stupid mistake he could... which it the point, I take it. Historically, his time in France wasn't a great success, but thematically, it's his separation from Abigail that is his undoing--she tempers his passions, and he is a bigger man due to her influence. That said, I'm ready for episode 4 to get back to Adams cutting a great swath through history and not falling on his face so much.

Highly recommended at any rate. One of the best colonial/Revolutionary War/early American dramas ever made.

Now Playing: Tangerine Dream The Private Music of Tangerine Dream

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Night Videos

It's been a while since I featured the Kinks here, so with rumors swirling (well, maybe not swirling, but at least percolating) I figure now's as good a time as any for one of my favorites from their Arista years, "Don't Forget to Dance." It's a mushy, sentimental song, and in the video, despite his slick Spiv persona, Ray reveals that he's mushy and sentimental at heart (but then Kinks fans have known that ever since Village Green Preservation Society...)



Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Refreshments.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wafflefest

Okay, so I'm back from the Christmas-themed Wafflefest held in downtown New Braunfels. And just like last year, there was not a waffle to be had. Instead of hot syrup and buttery goodness, everyone there was passing out cups of hot, spiced apple cider. Some of them were pretty good, mind you, but that's no substitute for a piping hot waffle. What's up with that?

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Love, Kilma

The lovely and talented John Klima, who had the singular good taste of purchasing my short story "A Plague of Banjos" for his excellent publication Electric Velocipede (more on that to come), has given yours truly an enthusiastic shout-out for my piece "The Whale Below" in the über-awesome pirate anthology, Fast Ships, Black Sails currently available at a bookstore near you:
The top two stories from the book, in my opinion, are the Garth Nix story, “Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsk√∂e,” a wild conglomeration of pirates, ancient technology, clockwork robots, general steampunkery, gods, and other whatnot with a dash of humor, and Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s “The Whale Below” (also a tale of steampunkishness, but with airships, whaling, gibbering beasts, and other good stuff). Both stories give a unique perspective on pirates as well as having a great deal of world-building that’s gone into them. As a reader, I appreciate when an author has put the effort into creating a world that I feel like I could step into and experience. Both writers have done this here.

Ah, such love is always welcome when you're an angsty, dithering writer with esteem issues. Which pretty much describes the lot of us, doesn't it? The rest of Klima's thoughtful review may be found over at Tor.com.

Now Playing: The Beach Boys Christmas with the Beach Boys

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Beast of a review

My new review of the DVD movie Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs is now live over at RevolutionSF. Gotta love satirical cartoons that manage to include both Shakespeare and porno allusions in the title.
The premise of the film is straighforward enough: There’s a rip in the universe, allowing a tentacled, extradimensional being -- Yivo -- to invade and possess the population of Earth, Puppet Masters-style. Yivo isn’t your garden-variety extra-galactic menace, however. Instead of death and destruction, he wants love and copulation -- and lots of it. Throw in Amy’s long-delayed marriage to long-suffering Kif, Fry’s whirlwind romance with polyandrous Colleen and Bender’s induction into a secret society of human-hating robots, and there’s more chaotic plot twists than even billion-tentacled Yivo can shake sticks at.

It's a funny continuation of the Futurama universe, although not without flaws. But I'm not going to outline them all here for you. That's what the review is for. Go read it!

Now Playing: The Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ahem

When you're a 35 point underdog on the road against the no. 2 team in the country, trailing only 714-0 in the second quarter while facing 4th-and-1 deep in enemy territory... Opting to kick the field goal instead of going for the touchdown means--by definition--that you don't deserve the win. Playing not to get shut out is not a winning strategy.

I'm just saying.

We will speak no more of this.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Quagmire of Solace

Okay, so I go to see the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. In a nutshell, I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as some of Roger Moore's worst efforts, but after the greatness that was Casino Royale, it's more than a little disappointing.

First up, why the hell can't the producers come up with a decent title song anymore? "Another Way to Die" by Alicia Keys and Jack White has got to be the most atonal, atrocious trainwreck ever to plague a Bond film. And yes, I'm including the disastrous "Die Another Day" techno misstep by Madonna. Bond themes used to be uniformly great, or if not great, then at least gloriously schmaltzy. What happened?

The movie itself I'd have liked better if I could've told what was happening during the action sequences. The endless quick cuts and shaky cam were so baffling I actually found myself looking forward to the talky interludes so I could have the actors explain what just happened. Not a fan of hyperkinetic chaos, I.

I also had a big problem with the big wrapup of the Dominic Greene/Quantum storyline. Bond's chasing Greene to learn about this mysterious Quantum (aka S.P.E.C.T.R.E.) group. When Bond finally wins said information, it happens off-screen, so the audience remains in the dark! Now, you might says "The movie was a character study--the Quantum information was irrelevant." Well, hell. Even in The Maltese Falcon they at least let you see the mcguffin, rather than keep it hidden. If Quantum is going to be the modern equivalent to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (because of legal entanglements preventing use of that organization, Blofeld and the like) then the filmmakers better by-god deliver on the promise that this is a modern-day S.P.E.C.T.R.E! This, they did not.

I did like the character arc Bond went through on this film, although I don't think it entirely necessary. Had they ended Casino Royale the way the book ended, the arc there is complete--Bond has become Bond. However, they didn't so they need this movie, filler as it were, for him to reach that point. Bond's driven by revenge the whole movie, leaving a significant bodycount in his wake, but when he finally reaches his goal, he doesn't kill his target, but instead hand him over to M. he's reined himself in and finally become the agent we know. Following up with the iconic gun barrel sequence was a nice touch at that point, and punctuated the movie in a way that made a lot of sense for me. Until that point, it really, really didn't feel like a James Bond movie--except for the brief run with Agent Strawberry Fields. When she was on-screen, it felt very much like the heyday of Connery's Bond films, with snippets of Brosnan's Bond as well. But once she was out of the picture, it went back to being a generic action flick.

Interestingly enough, it reminds me of two previous Bond films: On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Man With the Golden Gun. The former, although a very different film, had a Bond that was motivated by emotion much of the time, rather than duty. Quantum shares that element. OHMSS also shares abysmal fight scenes, with footage sped up in a misguided attempt to increase the excitement--the 1960s equivalent of relentless quick-cuts, I suppose. The Golden Gun comparisons come strictly through the gratuitous and nonsensical introduction of an exploding secret villain HQ in the finale of both movies. Both were utterly pointless and contrived, and didn't fit in with the story that had gone before. They'd simply come to the point where "it's time to blow stuff up" in a Bond film, and so they did so.

After the excellent job the filmmakers had done on adapting Casino Royale I suppose I'd hoped they'd go back and make faithful adaptations of Fleming's work, or, if not Fleming's, then at least John Gardner's. That's not to be, apparently. Quantum of Solace isn't a bad film. It's merely an okay action flick, but misguided as a Bond movie. I'd hope they realize this and bring the next film back closer to the course set out by Casino Royale.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Well, even if I don't have the time or inspiration to contribute meaningful commentary to my blogs during the week, at least there's always Friday Night Videos, eh?

By now you've probably seen the dazzling movie trailer for the new J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot. From what I've seen online, it looks pretty good, but I'm withholding final judgment until I see the final cut in the theaters. That's pretty much how I feel about The Watchmen--hopeful, yet skeptical. So in observance of the new bit of Trek frenzy sweeping the interwebs, today's video is "Banditos" by The Refreshments, which has a good little recurring shout-out to Trekkies near and far, although the captain isn't Kirk.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Gipsy Kings.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Battle of the Paddle

Ever since the great flood of 1998 which canceled the football game between Texas State and Nicholls State, the meeting between the two schools has been known as the "Battle of the Paddle." The paddle, of course, being a canoe paddle, symbolizing the high water, etc. The Bobcats and Colonels met again Saturday, and the Bobcats really came out firing on all cylinders, thumping the Colonels 34-10. Once again I was on the sidelines, shooting away. Here are some of the less awful images I came away with.

BOBCATS_Nicholls_001

BOBCATS_Nicholls_002

BOBCATS_Nicholls_003

BOBCATS_Nicholls_004

BOBCATS_Nicholls_005

BOBCATS_Nicholls_006

BOBCATS_Nicholls_007

BOBCATS_Nicholls_008

BOBCATS_Nicholls_009

BOBCATS_Nicholls_010


I'm starting to think I could totally do this whole sports photography thing. Not well, mind you. But with the volume of shots I take, the law of averages works in my favor...

Now Playing: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Okay, after a somewhat rough week at this end, I figure what's called for is something light and uplifting. Buoyant even. Right then, the Gispy Kings it is, doing their cover of "I've Got No Strings" from the soundtrack of Disney's Pinocchio. Seriously. The Gipsy Kings make everything sound awesome.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cameo.

Now Playing: Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill

I should know better

The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is one of my favorite novels of all time. So I've been dubious of this new film adaptation by the director of 300. The "look" in the first trailer struck me as all wrong--it should be noirish rather than hyper-stylized--and the music selection for the trailer was awful. I did not hold out much hope, although it looked pretty.

But great googaly moogaly, this latest trailer has me--dare I say it?--looking forward to this film. Yes, the music still sucks, and I cringed when Nite Owl referred to the heroes as "The Watchmen" (the name being more of a metaphor in the comic rather than the actual name of a super-team). But wow. Oh, wow. They had me at Rorschach, and really, that's what matters most, isn't it?



Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass The Lonely Bull

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scouting locations

Hot on the heels of last night's model shoot, I've got another session scheduled with another model for Saturday. I'm shooting the Texas State football game that afternoon to garner a bit more sports experience, so we're meeting a couple of hours beforehand. Which means I have to have some idea of where we're going to go in order to maximize our limited time.

So today I went to a children's playground in San Marcos that I've taken my kids to in the past. Lots of good potential there, which I expected. But holy moly! That playground is actually--it turns out--part of the much larger Rio Vista Park complex. I hadn't realized Rio Vista extended well past the dam/rapids, but apparently it does. I discovered a nifty hollow tree with a cavity large enough for my model to tuck herself into, as well as a very photo-friendly cypress island with enormous old trees with massive, sprawling root systems. Photo opportunities abound. Naturally, I'll post pics once I have something to share.

Now Playing: Prince The Black Album

Photo shoot with model

Tonight I had my first real photo shoot with a real, live model. At least, a model I wasn't immediately related to. Laura, a classmate in 2D Design agreed to help me out with a few of my "New Braunfels After Dark" shots, since I've found they work better with people in them than without. This was for my black & white film photography class, but midway through our pell-mell dash from one site to another, I pulled out my digital camera to take some test shots to find the best angle and framing for a picture on San Antonio Street in downtown New Braunfels. I wasn't expecting any of these to turn out well, but I was pleasantly surprise with this:

Laura_Heckendorn_WEB


Yes, it's a little soft, but it's not at all bad considering I shot using only available light. Laura's easy-going and the camera likes her, so I hope we're able to get together and do something else in the future.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Photo excursion

The semester is more than half over with now, believe it or not, and in my two photography classes we're hard at work on our final projects. Well, I am, at least. For photojournalism, we had to come up with a photo story we could work over an extended period of time, ultimately turning in a package of 6-8 shots. I chose to do the forensic research center at Texas State, since I'd worked with the director, Jerry Melbye, in the course of my regular work at the university and he agreed to let me shoot. The only restrictions he had for me was 1) that I not photograph any decomposing human bodies at the facility and B) they get copies of everything I shoot. Fine by me.

So I took almost 200 shots at the forensic research compound's ribbon-cutting back in October. I got some decent shots, but nothing spectacular--a decomposed pig carcass and a TV reporter doing intros from a shallow grave were about as exciting as it got. I needed more, so I asked if there were any upcoming photo opportunities for me.

Little did I know.

Friday I got up at dark-thirty and drove up to DPS headquarters in Austin. The forensics program was taking a dozen grad students to a cold case site in Falls County, and the Texas Rangers gave the okay for me to tag along. I tell you folks, I did not expect anything like this when I first made my proposal. It was an enlightening experience that included Texas Rangers armed with chainsaws, the DPS Dive Recovery Team, the Falls County Sheriff's Office, a bulldozer and a bunch of attractive, ambitious and focused coed grad students. I am in awe of the dedication and knowledge these students possess. This isn't the glamorized CSI or Bones version of forensic science, it's the real deal. And yes, they recovered human remains, hopefully contributing valuable evidence which may someday solve this crime.

And yes, Texas Rangers (the law enforcement kind--not the crappy baseball team) are every bit as awesome as legend has it. Doubly so when wielding chainsaws.

And I got pictures of it all. Some of them are even good. I'll post some eventually, but probably not until my final project is completed.

Amazing.

Now Playing:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fast Ships, Black Sails -- The Video!

You know you've been waiting for this.



Available now wherever fine books are sold. Or keelhauled. Whichever comes first.

Now Playing:

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Tonight we have Cameo's video for "Word Up." Say what you like, but I find it a fun, funky song. As a bonus treat for the geeks in the audience, check out a pre-Star Trek Levar Burton in the role of the police inspector.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... John Fogerty.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Stay Classy Texas: Election Edition

Just as you thought it was safe to come out on election day without having to carry an umbrella to avoid streams of bilious spew coming from some wingnut or other, up steps Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar to fill the void with her insightful and well-reasoned thoughts on Barak Obama:
AUSTIN — State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar isn't backing down from her claim that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is plotting with terrorists to attack the U.S.

The Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group that monitors the board, released a public statement on Monday asking Dunbar to retract the statement.

"I don't have anything in there that would be retractable," said Dunbar, R-Richmond. "Those are my personal opinions and I don't think the language is questionable."

For those of you slow on the uptake, my previous reference to "insightful and well-reasoned thoughts" was sarcasm seasoned with a heavy dose of cynicism. Dunbar, you might know, is a member of Governor Rick Perry's posse. As a member of the powerful State Board of Education, she wants to teach Texas school children that the dinosaurs all drowned when they couldn't fit on Noah's Ark. With folks like her filling this state's high offices, how can Texas not blaze a glorious trail into the 19th century?

I suppose it's too much to hope that Dunbar and Michele Bachmann eventually end up as unemployed drinking buddies, huh?

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Monday, November 03, 2008

Two more

I found a cache of images on my memory card that didn't download the other night. Most are junk, but there were a couple that jumped out as decent.

Bobcats_7

Bobcats_6

That helmet in the last image has seen some hard action...

Now Playing: Shakira Laundry Service

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sports photog

I went to the Texas State vs. Northwestern State football game today and took pictures. Like, for real. On the sideline. I had a photo pass and everything.

Although my background is in journalism and I've covered hundreds of football games from high school through college and NFL, this was the first time I've ever tried to shoot one, photographically speaking. It was just for myself, for practice. Remember that newfound photography obsession of mine? There you have it. I knew it'd be tough, but geeze Louise! I took several hundred shots and promptly threw away half. Of the remainder, these five are the only ones that come close to being decent enough to share.

1.
Bobcats_5

2.
Bobcats_4

3.
Bobcats_2

4.
Bobcats_1

5.
Bobcats_3

No. 5 is my favorite, although I screwed up and framed it about two feet too far to the right. Obviously.

My screw-ups are many, but it was a learning experience. I was shooting with my old EF 75-300mm. No image stabilization on 18-year-old lenses. It's old and slow. I also bungled my camera settings, cleverly shooting shutter priority all day set at 500 to stop the action. Well, that worked fine, except that much of the time the camera set the aperture between 8 and 11, so I got almost no background blur. Next time I'll have to go manual I suppose. Still, it wasn't a complete waste for my first time out. If I'd been working for a paper, I'd be able to turn these in without shame (we were forced to run far worse some Friday nights with deadline looming. Ah, I remember it well).

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Night Videos

No, I'm not going to post the video to "Thriller" today. Vincent Price notwithstanding, I am soooo tired of that little piece of Michael Jackson pop culture history. Instead, in observance of Halloween, I'm bringing you an obscure--and strange--video from John Fogerty. I'll wager the majority of folks out in internet land haven't even heard this song, "Eye of the Zombie," before. I still have the 45 single I bought from Wal Mart when it first came out. Now that is scary.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... ZZ Top.

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Spirit of the Incas

Monday, October 27, 2008

Costumed tomfoolery

I won a Halloween costume contest yesterday. As Hern the Hunter of British myth and legend.

HalloweenContest102608


"Where's your costume?" you ask. Har har. Yeah, I've heard that one before.

The Gruene Lions Club held a Halloween carnival at Landa Park in New Braunfels, complete with a costume contest and prizes. There were about a hundred million bazillion kids in costume, from ages 0-15, with everyone above that competing in the adult division. Some very inventive outfits were on display--more than I'd expected from New Braunfels on a Sunday afternoon a week before the trick-or-treat day. When push came to shove, however, I lucked out and won first place in the adult division. This wasn't a forgone conclusion, though. Take a look at the second-place winner.

HalloweenContest2_102608


Don't feel too bad for the alien--he won a $100 gas card. The question is whether or not his flying saucer runs on regular or unleaded. The M.C. asked me what I was going to do with the prize money. Rather than repeat the stale "pay bills" or "blow it" mantra, I blurted out (in character) that I'd put it toward establishing a game preserve, then spontaneously thanked all the Park Police in attendance for strictly enforcing all out-of-season hunting ordinances. It got a laugh, and I managed to hobble off the stage without impaling anyone. I also lost about 20 pounds due to sweat. I'm telling you, that getup is hot. All in all, a successful day.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings

Friday, October 24, 2008

New MEMORY

Hey kids! I've got chapter 27 of my online serial MEMORY up over at No Fear of the Future.
Parric’s stomach grumbled as he watched a fluttering swarm of fyrit--tethered to the serving tray by minuscule golden threads--taken down to his simulacrum. Such a waste. The three courses he’d sampled were flawlessly prepared, but they’d been comparatively small. Certainly not enough to constitute an entire meal.

The simulacrum would eat them all dutifully, of course. Then the intermingled mess would be unceremoniously dumped somewhere within the palace once the simulacrum dissipated.

Finally, after an interminably long time, dessert arrived in the form of gossamer-thin orbs filled with aromatic smoke of varying hues. Parric watched with a mixture of exasperation and impatience.

A passing peq caught Parric’s look and shook its head in sympathy. “Empty calories,” it grunted, then ambled on.

Thanks for reading, and remember--let me know if you like what I'm doing!

Now Playing: Howl's Moving Castle

Remember, there's a reason why Aggie jokes exist

Remember George Deutsch, that dumbass Texas A&M dropout who got caught up in scandal when he took it upon himself to edit NASA research to make it conform to Bush administration policy? Sadly, I do. That kind of stupidity is hard to live down when you're an A&M grad. Well, George now has company, of an even more infamous kind:
PITTSBURGH - A John McCain volunteer in Pittsburgh who said she was robbed and sexually assaulted because of her political views has admitted to fabricating the story, police sources told a TV station.

KDKA TV added that one source said Ashley Todd would face charges.

Police have not formally announced the fabrication, acknowledging only that detectives in the case were meeting with the force's public information officers.

Todd, of College Station, Texas, earlier agreed to take a polygraph test due to inconsistencies.

Among other things, police said photos and bank card information from an automated teller machine where the college student claimed she was robbed do not show her using the machine at the time, police said.

Okay, so she doesn't actually attend Texas A&M. She goes to Blinndergarten, which pretty much makes her a wanna-be. Not that it matters, since any "college student" from College Station will now and forevermore be identified as an Aggie. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that this mini-scandal can only help Obama, but really, if that's not a hollow victory, what is?

Now Playing: Aerosmith Get a Grip

Friday Night Videos

Goodness! I've been doing these Friday Night Videos for a couple of years now, and just realized that I've been remiss in not featuring a single video from that li'l ol' band from Texas. Well, no longer. Here's ZZ Top with "Legs," one of my favorites and a classic bit of cinematic musical presentation. And really, how can you not love a video featuring the Eliminator? Gotta love them suicide doors!



Previously on Friday Night Videos... M/A/R/R/S.

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ditch

Rick Noriega has a new campaign ad. I'd give it a bigger intro, but it pretty much speaks for itself:



Remember Texas, early voting continues through next week. Head on over to your polling site to punch Rick's ticket and avoid the long lines on Nov. 4.

Now Playing: Blue Oyster Cult Workshop of the Telescopes

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Battlestar Galactica?

So, when last we left the rag-tag fugitive fleet midway through season 4, they had finally discovered Earth--and it was a barren, blasted wasteland. But what, exactly, will they find on that ruined planet during the remaining episodes? A leaked opening sequence that popped up on YouTube recently hints at the unspeakable evil that lies in wait for the Galactica crew:



Now Playing:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

VOTE!

Early voting started in Texas yesterday, and will run through Oct. 31. I went and voted at 8 a.m. this morning. There were already 25-plus people lined up ahead of me, but fortunately things went quite smoothly and I was out of there within 15 minutes.

Seriously, this country owes a HUGE debt of gratitude to all those dedicated volunteers who work hard to ensure our democracy functions properly. They certainly have mine.

In case you folks are curious, I did indeed vote for Barak Obama for president and Rick Noriega for senator. And, lest you dismiss me as a mere straight-ticket voter, I'll have you know I went down the ballot and examined every race and ballot initiative. I did not vote for a Democrat in the District 21 representative race. Sadly, there wasn't one running against Lamar Smith, who--during a telephone town hall I listened in on last year--let one crazy lady rant on about putting alligators in the Rio Grande to eat any Mexicans that tried to swim across. Instead, I ticked the box for Libertarian challenger James Arthur Strohm. I don't agree with the whole Libertarian concept of "no government whatsoever," but after eight years of Bush and the Republicans bloating the Federal bureaucracy and blowing the budget all to hell, sending a bunch of Libertarians to Washington couldn't hurt.

Locally, my biggest disappointment was that loony Ken Valentine, who made such an ass of himself in recent years with his antics to try and close the Guadalupe and Comal rivers so he and his cronies could have a private waterfront that he got himself recalled off the New Braunfels City Council... well Ken's running for a spot on the Edwards Aquifer management board. Sadly, I'm not in his district so I couldn't vote against him. But I would if I could. Knowing his track record, he'll try and use his position to ban tubers from the rivers again. The jerk.

So, if you're an eligible voter in Texas, or anywhere else they have early voting for that matter, get out there and vote!

Now Playing: Greg Kihn Kihnsolidation

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shutterbug

I had my mid-term evaluation today in the Intro to Traditional Photography class. The good news is that I'm not failing. I've actually got a shot at making an A in there if I don't screw things up. I don't, apparently, have a single style or specialty (according to my prof) but tend toward taking shots with my 35mm that are more suited to a medium- or large-format camera. Fortunately, he says I'm getting away with it.

Part of the evaluation was to discuss my final project, which I'm waffling on. One idea is to take night shots of New Braunfels, since that's a photogenic town that has lots of daylight imagery taken but next to nothing after sundown. So I spent a couple hours stumbling around in the dark trying my hand at that this evening (just got in, in fact). The other, more pretentious idea, is themed "After We've Gone," which will purport to show the decay and collapse of humanity's works after some unnamed apocalypse wipes us out. Pretentious, I know. I've got some ideas, but logistics are killing me. We'll see. I'll develop tonight's roll of film tomorrow and see where we stand at that point.

A final part of the evaluation was the prof giving me the names of several photographers who's work I might take inspiration from, given my particular style(s). Emmet Gowin was the first one, due to several family shots I turned in for assignments earlier this semester. Interesting fellow, that Emmit. He specialized in photographing his wife, and did a fine job of it, so The Wife at this end has been put on notice. The next was Abelardo Morrell, suggested, I assume, because I shot a helix of Tolkien books for one assignment. Morrell, you see, did an entire series of book-oriented photography. Intriguing stuff, but I don't think I'm equipped to follow down that path. The third photographer suggested was O. Wilson Link, who has published several books of the most glorious steam locomotive photographs ever. They're all black and white, but the sharp contrast and richness of tones is stunning. Those are images with fantastically rich texture. Very nice. Sadly, his final years ended in acrimony. I've already got an idea how I can echo his in my final project, but timing's going to be a bit tricky. We'll see if I can manage it.

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5

W.

The Wife and I had one of our (extremely) rare nights out without the kids this past weekend, and in the spirit of the political season we seized the opportunity to see the new Oliver Stone-helmed biopic of our current president, W.

The bad news first: Not a single Talking Heads song to be heard throughout the entire film, much less "Once in a Lifetime."

It's also not what you're expecting. It's not Oliver Stone holding Dubya's feet to the fire for two hours. As reported elsewhere online, it's a largely sympathetic character study of a chronic screw-up with serious daddy issues who tries to make good, and the one time he succeeds he gets in so far over his head that you can't help but pity him.

Is it funny? Yeah, but not as much as you'd expect. Bushisms and absurdities get most of the laughs. There's a lot of historical details crammed into this film, even if Stone mixes and matches for dramatic effect. For instance: The bit about Morocco sending thousands of trained monkeys to Iraq to detect minefields? True story. Only they weren't trained. Morocco had and over-population of monkey, so they proposed crating them up and releasing the critters on minefields in Iraq to detonate a clear path for U.S. troops. Bizarrely hilarious in a morbid way.

Josh Brolin is magnificent as Dubya. He's likable and sympathetic while simultaneously being a horse's ass. James Cromwell is excellent as the senior Bush. Even though he doesn't affect any speech or mannerisms ala Dana Carvey, he still carries an impressive presidential gravity on screen and shows in painful detail the death throes of the moderate wing of the Republican party.

Richard Dreyfuss darn near steals the show with his creepy, spot-on turn as VP Dick Cheney. I was dubious about this bit of casting, but wow, Dreyfuss disappears into the character.

The only real sour note was Jeffrey Wright's portrayal of St. Colin Powell. Set up as the only voice of reason within Dubya's administration, a sort of latter-day Cassandra figure, Wright's performance is stiff and arch. Every time he spoke, I suddenly felt like I was watching a Saturday Night Live skit. It just didn't work, and that's a shame.

Overall, it was enjoyable but not great. It reminds me, more than anything, to the obscure but worthwhile film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers with Geoffrey Rusch and Charlize Theron from a few years back. Like that film, W. has some great performances by actors who disappear into their characters. They try to show a balanced view of their respective subjects, and juggling the good with the bad makes for some awkward and ungainly moments. The films meander from one great scene to the next (there are great scenes, no doubt), with mediocre material filling the spaces in between. And neither film can really figure out how to end things, so they kind of stumble across the finish line.

That doesn't mean W. isn't worth seeing, but I expect this film to be one that gains a following via Netflix more than from theatrical viewings, and predict its reputation will grow the farther removed we get from Dubya's administration.

Now Playing: The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Friday, October 17, 2008

New MEMORY! Now with illustrations!

Howdy folks! Things have been challenging on my end of late. Yes, I know I missed publishing a new installment of MEMORY last week. My bad. But as I've mentioned previously, my photography and art courses I'm taking this semester can be quite time-consuming, and several time-intensive projects converged to hammer me big time last week. This week was only slightly better.

There's a silver lining, though. In my art class, I perverted an ongoing, multi-stage project into a chance to illustrate some of my fiction, select characters from MEMORY being among the subjects. It just so happens that one character, a Naga-ed-der who shows up in this week's installment at No Fear of the Future, is one that I chose to illustrate. Neat-o, as they say.

Interesting thing about the artistic process. You've all seen book covers and illustrations that in no, way, shape or form conform to the descriptions in the book itself. We've all griped about them. Even fairly literal interpretations of scenes and characters often take artistic license in obvious and dramatic ways. Well, I'm the author and the artist, so my pen-and-ink efforts (feeble tho they may be) should have no problem faithfully replicating that what is represented by the written word.

Well, not exactly. Turns out I was more interested in an illustration that was more representative, in general, than specific. In short, I took artistic liberties and deviated from what I wrote, for reasons including (but not limited to) practicality of composition, the mood I was trying to convey and pleasure of the artistic process itself. I know what you're thinking: If you ran into a Naga-ed-der at, say, your neighborhood Applebees, would it look like the illustration? Well, yes. More or less. But there's plenty of leeway in there for other artists in the future to bring their own interpretation to the gallery without being "wrong" (as if that's ever going to be a concern).

The more important point in the above discussion is wholly missed by the whole fixation on illustration accuracy, however. A Naga-ed-der would never be caught dead in an Applebee's, or a Bennigan's or TGI Friday's or any other so-called "fern bar" eatery. A Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is probably as lowbrow as one would go, and that's pushing it. They'd gravitate more toward fusion cuisine, anyway, so I suppose that's a moot point.
Naga-ed-der


Amid the steam and smoke and clanging noise, a circular balcony filled the center of the kitchen. Here nearly a dozen aerial waiters worked rapidly, taking serving trays from peq and diving over the edge, tethered by silken threads from their tail spinnerets anchored to the balcony railing.

“Excusing me,” Parric said to a passing peq loaded down with some purple, tuberish vegetable that appeared disturbingly phallic. “I am needing to speak--”

“Ours is only to serve, sir, and we are serving now,” the peq said with a courteous but unmistakably dismissive nod, then continued on its way.

“I...” Parric started, but the peq had already vanished amid the chaos. Clicking his beak in annoyance, Parric pushed his way through disinterested peq to the one chef that seemed to exude the most authority. “Excusing me--”

“Who let this one in here?” the chef grunted loudly without looking from his confections. His orange skin glistened wetly from the steam. “Have the doorman escort it out.”

The entirety of chapter 26 can be read over at No Fear of the Future.

Now Playing: Don Henley The End of the Innocence

Friday Night Videos

M/A/R/R/S had a huge hit with "Pump Up the Volume," one of the first techno/dance/pop songs to really catch fire and dominate radio playlists. I was never a huge fan, but the song was pretty much inescapable the entirety of 1988-89, and I have to admit it was aurally interesting. The video, however, takes it to an entirely new level. Best use of NASA and Soviet stock footage, ever.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... Hoyt Axton.

Now Playing: Dave Davies Chosen People

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cruise infrared

Sorting through the old harddrive, I came across a bunch of photos from the cruise back in the summer I never got around to editing or posting. Lots of crap, of course, but a few interesting things. One of the more visually arresting features of the cruise ship 'Ecstacy' we were on was the grand atrium:

CruiseLobby001_web

CruiseLobby003_web


It was, as these things go, flashy and garish and gilded to the extreme. Then I got to thinking... what would it look like in infrared? I'd never tried taking infrared shots indoors before, but when I found a little free time and gave it a shot. Frankly, I was surprised at how these turned out. The false-color sepia tones that came out in the image lends the architecture a kind of ancient, Romanesque gravity that absolutely does not exist in the first two shots above. My favorite is the vertical shot from the floor, as it is very "cathedralesque" but I find them all interesting.

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Now Playing: ZZ Top Tres Hombres

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Beer!

For those of you keeping score at home, back on August 25 I started fermenting a batch of beer. The liquid extract kit I used was Cooper's Dark Ale (which I'd never tried before--breaking away from my nut brown ale comfort zone some) and half of the added sugars were dark toasted malt. Once the overwhelming foaming fermentation settled down, I added enough honey to make up the balance of adjunct sugars. The beer settled down and went on fermenting steadily. And kept on. And kept on. Fermentation slowed down greatly, but absolutely, positively, would. Not. Stop.

Normally, in my experience with homebrew beer, the little yeasties exhaust all the sugars within two weeks. You then prime and bottle, and the resulting brew is drinkable in another week or so. This stuff kept on for more than six weeks! It actually stopped fermenting in the middle of last week, but it took until last night for me to find the time to bottle the stuff up.

I'm wondering if it really was the honey that turned the fermentation into such a long, drawn-out affair. Mead takes a while to ferment, yes, but that's pure honey in an environment that isn't all that hospitable to yeast. With the beer, the honey made up a relatively modest share of the fermentable sugars, so I'm not so sure. And I'm also somewhat concerned about the taste of the beer if it's not aged a long while, as mead has a nasty, medicinal flavor if drunk "early." This is all unexplored territory for me, folks. I'll pop open a bottle in a couple of weeks and let you know what I find.

In the meanwhile, who else has discovered the wonderful Shiner Black Lager? It's become my second favorite commercial beer behind New Belgian's 1554: Enlightenment Black Ale (fear not, the venerable Shiner Bock is still a reliable standby).

Now Playing: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Music for Glass Harmonica

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Go Noriega! Go!

No, no, no. Not the tin-pot Panamanian dictator G.H.W. Bush imprisoned after that little Latin American invasion back in the 80s. No, this is Rick Noriega, a veteran state lawmaker who also happens to be active in the Texas Army National Guard and has recently served in Afghanistan--not to mention commanded troops during the recovery efforts of hurricanes Ike and Rita. He's challenging do-nothing Bush II stooge John Cornyn, who, after being Dubya's most loyal lapdog in Washington, has the audacity to run a campaign ad lauding himself as the candidate of "leadership" and "change." Ugh.



In a fair world, Noriega would be wiping the floor with Cornyn. Unfortunately, Cornyn has a huge money advantage, and is leveraging that to its fullest. Even so, Noriega is within 7 points in recent polls--a vast improvement from the 20+ point deficit he faced just a few months back. So pass Noriega's campaign spots around to your Texas friends and remember to vote for Rick this coming election.

Now Playing: Violent Femmes Violent Femmes

Monday, October 13, 2008

An offer of dubious merit

I've been mulling this for a while, but haven't felt confident enough in my photographic skills before now to pull the trigger. But you gotta take the plunge sometime, eh?

I'm making myself available for people who need publicity photos of themselves for professional use. This offer is for writer types mostly, since that's who I run with, but all comers will be considered. Pretty much anything goes here, from the standard, frontal-face dust jacket mug shot to more creative and off-the-wall stuff.

How much is this going to cost? Well, actually, nothing. I'm offering this as TFP (ie Trade for Prints). What that means is that the author in question signs a model release and I provide a disc (or other agreed-upon medium) with the finished, edited images. It's win-win as I see it--I get valuable photographic experience and a chance to build my portfolio, while said author gets a variety of quality, high-resolution photos with a limited-use license.

Interested? Drop me an email. We'll talk.

Now Playing: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Nine Tonight

Friday, October 10, 2008

My share of meltdown

Got my investment portfolio report in the mail. Now, when I say "investment portfolio" realize that it's a modest college investment plan for my son, Bug. The state shut down its great Texas Tomorrow Fund right before he was born, so we're trying the investment route to save up for his college education. Because, you know, one of The Wife's uncles told me some years back how big a mistake I was making and how much money I was losing by not investing the girls' Texas Tomorrow Fund money into the stock market.

So the portfolio report gives me the happy news that it is worth $200 less this quarter than it was the previous quarter. And the previous quarter it was $200 less than it had been the previous year. None of this takes into account the 2,000-point plummet Wall Street's taken in the past few days.

I actually heard a pundit arguing (not in recent days, but in the past month or so) that rather than the current economic collapse being the result of too much deregulation, existing government regulation was actually the cause, because "If the government didn't require companies to report their balance sheets, they could've kept the sub-prime losses secret, and nobody would've panicked." Yeah. Gotta love the free market.

Now Playing: Clandestine Music from Home

Self-portrait, Bastrop County

Pretentious, artsy-fartsy self-portrait alert. False-color infrared. I'm still struggling with the post-processing, but I'm finally starting to get some results I like.

FalseColor-SELF

Now Playing: Various Artists Celtic Moods

Friday Night Videos

Deanna Hoak's challenge to post songs that make one smile got me to thinking about the obscure, random music I've loved over the years. And I came to the realization that there simply isn't enough Hoyt Axton in the world. Unless you grew up on country music in the 70s/80s, you probably only know Axton from his role in the original Gremlins movie, of maybe his classic guest appearance on WKRP in Cincinnati. But Axton was, before his untimely death, a brilliantly quirky songwriter in the Roger Miller school of verse. Unlike the great Miller, however, Axton always seemed to have a hardscrabble earthiness to his work, even when his tongue was planted firmly in cheek. One of my faves is "Della and the Dealer," as funny and sly and menacing as a song as any right to be. I wish to heaven I could write fiction like Axton wrote songs...



Previously on Friday Night Videos... LL Cool J.

Now Playing: John Mellencamp Human Wheels

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Smiley song

Okay, Deanna Hoak started something with this whacked-out idea of posting a song that makes one smile every time one hears it. Quick as you can say Snidely Whiplash, Chris Roberson, Mary Robinette Kowal and Sean P. Fodera have posted silly videos of silly songs. So who am I to buck the trend?



Sadly, the video and music therein is of higher quality and boasts a better plot than the abysmal movie version of Josie & the Pussycats that came out a few years later. Go figure.

As a special bonus treat, I'm also offering up the video for "Code Monkey" as performed by aleprechaun. The song is okay by me, but its the video in particular that I find endlessly amusing. I suspect you'll agree.



Now Playing:

2D design

One of the things that annoyed me about going back to college for some select classes was the fact that in order to take any fine art photography courses, I was required to take non-photography prerequisite courses as well. I was allowed to split them up and take 'em concurrently with the photo classes--one this semester and one next (if I do end up taking more classes in the future).

The one I'm taking this semester, 2D design, has turned into quite the pleasant surprise. It's not a drawing class, technically speaking, but everything we do involves drawing. I used to do quite a bit of pen-and-ink when I was younger (read: high school and college) and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. It uses an entirely different portion of my brain than does writing, and the net effect is that I can effectively zone out while working on the various design projects and let my subconscious take over.

My first big project was pretty rough, since I was woefully out of practice and distinctly lacking in confidence. For the second project, I threw caution to the wind somewhat and the end result was something that surprised me and even generated approving nods from The Wife. The current project is an order of magnitude more difficult and challenging, but I'm loving it (after a horrendously rough start). I'm literally channeling some of my writings into the piece, and there's a degree of Wayne Douglas Barlow influence in there for anyone who's looking for it. I'm quite eager to see how the end product turns out.

So, to make a long story short, even though I didn't want to take it, 2D design is becoming one of the highlights of my semester.

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer Return of the Manticore

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pictures at and exhibition

I've accumulated quite a few photographically-inclined images of late. This isn't surprising, seeing how I'm taking two photography classes this semester. These aren't those. The photojournalism pics are very limited in scope and wouldn't be interesting outside of the classroom context, and my intro to B&W photography are actual darkroom prints which I've not yet had a chance to scan into digital form. So these are other, random, photos that I've taken over the course of the past month.

First up is a squirrel I saw last week as I walked to my car in the parking lot. It was actually in the cypress tree above my car, feasting on the seeds from cypress cones. I used my 75-300 telephoto to zoom in tight, and the end result isn't too bad. Nice colors.

Squirrell092908_sm


Next up is mint in flower, from my back yard. I recently acquired my late father-in-law's 50mm Nikon AI-s lens, which is a quality manual focus lens from back in the day. All my equipment is Canon, though, so I couldn't directly mount it on my camera. So I ordered a reversing ring and mounted the lens on my camera backwards, converting it to a nifty, high-magnification macro lens. I'm able to control the aperture and everything this way. Sweet. This is one of the first successful macro shots I took with it. Nice colors, and a nice, creamy bokeh (background blur).

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Bees gathering nectar from passion flower vines make good macro photography subjects as well. I'm just saying.

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I didn't take nearly as many photos during the Comal County Fair this year as I'd expected to. Between the heat and chasing kids there just wasn't much opportunity for me. But as we were leaving Thursday night, I did a quick point-and-shoot at this ride on the carnival midway. I'm more than a little shocked that it came out so well, since I didn't put much effort into it. Strong colors. It looks more dynamic than the scene really was. Fun stuff. Next year I hope to really prowl the midway and get some good motion blur lighting effects...

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Now Playing: Michael Kamen The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Friday, October 03, 2008

New MEMORY

I've finally got a new installment of MEMORY published over at No Fear of the Future. The 25th chapter at that. Wow. do I get a cookie or something?
“Yer right,” Flavius said suddenly, pushing his plate and drink away. “Yer Imperial Majesty is absolutely right.”

Emperor Camargo barely concealed his surprise, then narrowed his eyes at Flavius. “About what, friend Flavius? Some of my predecessors have argued for infallibility in every Imperial thought, word and deed, so specific examples would help my studied evaluation of such claims.”

“Why, the bit about the leaving, of course,” Flavius said. “Yer Imperial hospitality’s been grand, but yer right that I dinnae belong here. Even yer food, fine stuff that it is, no doubt, is too much for my simple tastes. So, aye, I’m leaving.”

“And when do you plan to depart?”

“Immediately, if nae sooner.” Flavius stood, wobbled a moment, then bowed politely. His head swam more than he’d expected. “May we meet again in better times. And by better times, I mean with fewer bodies trying to put me in an early grave.”

This proved to be quite the difficult installment to write. I'm certain other writers out there will understand when I say it's a sequence which contains relatively little action, yet is essential in terms of moving the story forward. It's not a sequence that wrote itself, suffice to say. The whole Imperial dinner was and awkward animal to tackle, seeing how it needed to be treated lightly but at the same time avoiding a descent into farce. I don't know if I succeeded. I do know that there've probably been more rewrites these last few chapters than I've had to do before. It's a delicate balancing act, I suppose. The fact that my free time's been dramatically eroded by art and photography assignments merely ups the challenge.

And I still don't know what's coming next. Oh, I know something that's coming up soon, but that's probably a month away still. What happens next week is still anyone's guess.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Songs in the Attic

Friday Night Videos

Well, the VEEP debate went off without a hitch last night, which means Joe Biden didn't drone on in Senate speak and Sarah Palin didn't spontaneously combust. Halfway through, Biden figured out Palin was sticking strictly to scripted answers, so he gleefully jumped on McCain with both feet knowing Palin wouldn't (couldn't?) ad-lib any defense for her running mate. Palin, for her part, used the word "Maverick" about 147,000 times. Overall, it was polite and professional as far as debates go, with none of the bloody carnage on either side everyone who tuned in had hoped to see.

So for all the disappointed debate watchers out there, I dedicate today's video to you. THIS is what we wanted to see:



Previously on Friday Night Videos... Large Hadron Rap.

Now Playing: Various Artists Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reverse psychology

Oh, those zany celebrities! Playing the reverse-psychology card to get hip, young, disaffected... young people to register to vote. Why didn't I think of that?

Register to vote!


While we're on the subject of politics, is anyone else worried that Sarah Palin's rambling, incoherent, incomprehensible answers to Katie Couric's decidedly softball questioning--answers which were lampooned on Saturday Night Live and distributed far and wide by incredulous internet viewers--is really a case of sandbagging by the McCain campaign? That Palin's really going to surpass that low, low bar set for her in tonight's vice-presidential debate, and maybe provoke Joe Biden to make one of those embarrassing verbal gaffs he's so prone to make? I mean, really, nobody is as incompetent as Palin has appeared thus far, right? Seriously, in the final bit from the painful Couric interviews, Palin was unable to come up with a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade that she disagreed with. Hello? Other than the 2000 split decision that handed the presidency to Bush (while we all know how well that turned out, I can hardly expect Palin to poo-poo it) she could've at least thrown out the Dred Scott case to show the Supreme Court is fallible. That's in all the history books. So is Plessy vs. Ferguson. Those aren't modern cases by any means, but it'd at least show she has a somewhat reasonable grasp of American history and governance. Sheesh...

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Swimming upstream

For those voters out there who are still in the "undecided" category with regards to the upcoming presidential election, cartoonist Stuart Carlson has really spelled out the choice in clear terms for you:

Carlson


Even so, what looks to be a no-brainer is no guarantee Barak Obama will win this horse race on Nov. 4. Yes, there are some die-hard Republicans who'd vote for teh embalmed corpse of Richard Milhouse Nixon were he on the ballot this year, but other folks who aren't so die-hard are still waffling on Obama despite every indication this should be a runaway election for the Democrat. Lots of reasons/excuses are offered, but personally I believe it comes down to closet racism. That's the elephant in the room nobody really wants to acknowledge in 21st century America, but it's there all the same.

A case in point that hits close to home: My own 90-year-old grandmother (who I love dearly), who will curse Reagan and Bushes 1 & 2 at the merest hint of political discourse and has never, ever voted Republican in her life... well, she's talking about voting for McCain. Seriously. This woman despises Republicans with a passion, is a great fan of Jimmy Carter and will defend Bill Clinton's honor with surprising passion. But if the subject of Obama comes up, her immediate reaction is a derisive, "Oh him!"

Why doesn't she like Obama? He is, of course a close ally of the Kennedys and as close to the second coming of JFK as there's ever going to be (JFK being a demigod to my family somewhere between the pope and Jesus Christ in terms of reverence). Joe Biden, his running mate, is Catholic, which normally be all the reason anyone in my family would need to vote for that ticket. Her answer: "If he gets in, them blacks are going to be everywhere!"

My family's ancestry isn't one of affluent stock. Descended from poor Polish and German immigrants, my maternal grandparents never had much money even in the best of times and struggled through the Great Depression, picking cotton for many, many years in fields shoulder to shoulder with black and Mexican workers under the blistering Texas sun. As individuals, they got along, but as a group... well, one time tested way of boosting tattered self-esteem is to diminish others around you. Remember, this is way back before Jim Crow even went by that name, so it's not surprising that racial epithets became part of the fiber of their language, not to mention world view. One charismatic politician isn't going to overcome 90 years of ingrained thinking, even if she might come to like Obama as an individual were she ever to sit down and have a conversation with him. She's had a number of minorities as friends over the years that she speaks highly of, but these people are always exceptions, you see, somehow different or superior to the undesirable group from which they came.

I'm convinced there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters like my grandmother out there. People who may be ambivalent to, like or even love everything about Obama except for his skin color. That when the time comes in the voting booth, they simply cannot vote for a black candidate. The so-called Bradley Effect writ large. I don't know if these people will vote for McCain or simply stay home. I don't know if their votes will impact the election in any meaningful way. I've long assumed that my cynical generation--Generation X--along with the Millennials behind us and the Boomers who'd raised us had moved beyond the point where simple skin color could hold such sway over far more pressing issues. I hope that optimism plays out, but the cynic in me believes otherwise.

Now Playing: Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings & Food

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Champion meadmaker

Well, not champion exactly. More like champion twice removed. I entered a bottle of my prickly pear mead (melomel for the purists out there) in the Comal County Fair this year, and was rewarded with a white ribbon, signifying third place. Which I assume means my stuff is drinkable, and none of the judges went blind.

PricklyPearMead3rdPlace


I've now won twice at the fair, the first being another third-place finish in 2006 for my "Holiday Spice Metheglin," another honey wine with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. Last year's entry of my jalapeño metheglin didn't place, but to be honest I didn't expect it to. It was quite strong stuff, like drinking liquid fire. An acquired taste at best, but I didn't have anything else ready and figured "what the heck?" I like to think I've improved in my brewing skills over the years.

The weekend was not without some drama, though. Saturday I arrived to look over the winners (I'd breezed through on Thursday to find if I placed, but didn't get a chance to browse beyond that) only to find the wine entries removed with a note saying they'd been "Moved due to vandalism." Apparently on Friday someone broke into the display and removed some of the entries. He then crawled underneath the table supporting the display and proceeded to drink his thieved alcohols. And that bastard had the nerve to leave mine alone. Jerk.

One thing I wish they'd change is to provide contact information on the homemade wine entries or somesuch. Homebrewers are a curious lot, and I'd very much love to trade with the other winners bottles of my mead for samples of their mustang, agarita and other varied wines. Names aren't allowed on the bottles, so I can't even look the entrants up on my own. That bites. Maybe I'll figure out something for next year, but if you're reading this and had some homemade wine in this year's Comal County Fair, drop me a line and we'll talk shop.

Now Playing: The Mamas & the Papas The Best of the Mamas & the Papas

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Night Live

Tina Fey is a goddess. The Wife and I were flipping channels, not even thinking about Saturday Night Live, when we caught the opening of Tina Fey's Sarah Palin sketch. Boy, oh boy, after her inspired skewering of Palin a few weeks ago, we were very, very curious to see what they'd do for an encore--particularly since they were riffing on Palin's bizarre interview with Katie Couric from earlier this week.

Truth to tell, it started off kind of shaky. The timing was off, the barbs missing the mark just enough to fall flat. Then they struck comedy gold.

They used Palin's own interview answers, verbatim. Holy moly! That was just as funny coming from Fey as it was the first time Palin babbled her way through Couric's softball questions. Of course, there were some nice touches added by Fey & Co., such as "Eating off the Dollar Value Menu" more often in order to deal with the nation's financial crisis. Great stuff.

The sketch pitting Obama and McCain against each other in the presidential debate had its moments as well, but neither actor really nailed the politicians' personas in
the brilliant manner of, say, Dana Carvey from 1992. But that's okay, as long as we've got Tina Fey nailing Palin brilliantly.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast Recording Monty Python's Spamalot

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Night Videos

How can I not feature something as genius as the "Large Hadron Rap" by CERNTV? It may not be the most polished production, but it does a pretty good job of explaining sub-atomic particle accelerator physics, which is more than NWA ever managed.



And, if you want your technobabble delivered in a more sedate, non-musical way, then there's always the CERNTV documentary on stand-by.



Previously on Friday Night Videos... Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Now Playing:

Friday, September 19, 2008

That pirate thing again...

In further observance o' Talk Like A Pirate Day...



So, does this be a cover to shiver yer timbers or no? Arrr, I thunk it might be! Word has it that advance copies be slipping out, and scalawags on the internets be starting to make favorable comments about it. Since this ship's available for pre-order, I thinks it may be good to remind you lubbers what sort o' crew be manning this vessel:
Introduction: "Raising Anchor" - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
"Boojum" - Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
"Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake" - Naomi Novik
"Avast, Abaft!" - Howard Waldrop
"I Begyn as I Mean to Go On" - Kage Baker
"Castor on Troubled Waters" - Rhys Hughes
"Elegy for Gabrielle, Patron Saint of Healers, Whores and Righteous Thieves" - Kelly Barnhill
"Skillet and Saber" - Justin Howe
"The Nymph's Child" - Carrie Vaughn
"68˚06'N, 31˚40'W" - Conrad Williams
"Pirate Solutions" - Katherine Sparrow
"We Sleep on a Thousand Waves" - Brendan Connell
"Pirates of the Suara Sea" - David Freer & Eric Flint
"Voyage of the Iguana" - Steve Aylett
"Iron Face" - Michael Moorcock
"A Cold Day in Hell" - Paul Batteiger
"Captain Blackheart Wentworth" - Rachel Swirsky
"The Whale Below" - Jayme Lynn Blaschke
"Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarskoe" - Garth Nix

So, is yer gonna buy one now? Aye, I thought so...

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer Return of the Manticore

Friday Night Videos

Avast there ya scurvy dogs! I don't normally post fan videos on this here sloop, but it bein' talk like a pirate day an' all, what salt wouldn't feel his pulse quicken to the bold chantie tune of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Pirates? Aye, that's what I thought.

Pirates, part 1:


Pirates, part 2:


Of course, if that's too pretentious for you, there's always Marty Berk's one-man interpretation of Ray Steven's obscure (yet undeniably classic) "The Pirate Song."


Previously on Friday Night Videos... REO Speedwagon.

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer Return of the Manticore

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How about a bowl of wood shavings?

One of the annoying things about being diagnosed with internal hemorrhoids and diverticulosis is the fact that there aren't any real, practical treatments for the condition. Oh, sure, they could do invasive surgery, but that's overkill on the order of using a steamroller to smooth out the icing on a birthday cake.

The only prescription I got was a mandate to eat fiber. Lots and lots of fiber.

But wait, says I. Fiber is already a big part of my diet. Whole grain bread all the way. Even my tortillas are whole wheat. I like the texture, and the flavor is stronger. I'm all about fiber.

Says the doctor: You only think you're all about fiber.

Get this, the normal human person is supposed to consume 20-25 grams of dietary fiber daily, according to USDA guidelines. I have to consume at least 35 grams daily. Now granted, that doesn't seem like a whole heck of a lot. Half again more than the average mortal, but still. Until you look at the food labels and realize that even fiber supplement pills and the like only contain around 2 grams! Holy moly, how is this possible? Whole grains don't even begin to get me to my daily goal. Reaching the normal RDA isn't too much of a stretch, but each gram beyond that seems exponentially more difficult.

Huh. Maybe I should just down a spoonful of the parakeet's bird gravel and call it a night.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings