Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh McCain, what were you thinking?

John McCain must truly be a desperate man. How else can you explain such a laughable campaign ad that attempts to equate Barak Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, but mostly serves to make McCain look like a pathetic, grouchy old geezer? I post it here only so we can all mock it in unison:

That's got to be the worst campaign ad since Sen. Bob Krueger donned sunglasses and asked Texans "Wasn't it Shakespeare who said 'Hasta la visata, baby?'" Of course, if McCain wants to draw parallels with Britney Spears, he should be award of the potential ramifications of such actions. Glass houses and all that:

Ain't YouTube grand?

Now Playing: The Kinks Face to Face

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where I work

This is where I work at Texas State, the J.C. Kellam Building. And yes, I'm still playing with my infrared filter.


Now Playing: Various Instruments of Classical Music vol 5: The Violin

Monday, July 28, 2008

Of knights, dark and otherwise

So I saw "The Dark Knight" over the weekend. If you'll recall, this was a film I was somewhat dreading to see, as I felt there was no way it could live up to the hype that has built around it. I knew I'd come away disappointed.

Great googaly moogaly! This movie kicked my ass, took my name, then kicked me again for good measure. Yes, Heath Ledger stole the show as the Joker, and he was suitably deranged and psychotic. My big concern in the advanced reviews kept referencing the fact that he wasn't funny, that only he laughs at his jokes. Well, I felt that somewhat off-base. The Joker shouldn't be stand-up comedian funny, but rather so outrageously unhinged that you laugh and immediately feel guilty about it. The great "Laughing Fish" story from the comics in the 70s is a perfect case in point. The Joker should not be dour. Why so serious? Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. The Joker is funny, but not in the Jack Nicholson "Ha ha!" way. He probably wasn't funny enough, but there were several episodes of uncomfortable laughter in the theater, and that will do. I felt his falling off the building at the end was a direct nod to the '89 Burton movie, even though Batman saves him at the last second. But I have absolutely no idea how they can bring the character back--what actor could possibly step in to Heath Ledger's shoes without coming off as an awkward aping of a legendary performance.

It was great to see the Scarecrow have a cameo early in the film. That speaks wonders for their attention and respect for continuity.

Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon is great. Seriously, of all the things they've done well in this series, to finally see Gordon portrayed as a competent, honest cop is my favorite. Yes, Michael Cain's Alfred is excellent, but Alfred's always been handled decently in the various incarnations of Batman. Commissioner Gordon's been handled dreadfully across the board.

Two Face. Wow. What can I say? This movie really was about the rise and fall of Harvey Dent. And as has been said elsewhere, even though you know what's coming, you really hope against hope that it won't. And Aaron Eckhart really sold the transformation, both internally and externally. Nothing felt arbitrary--the changes flowed from the characters and events they experience, as opposed to imposed from without.

How much better was "The Dark Knight" than "Batman Begins" when not saddled by the lightweight presence of Katie Holms? I'm not a massive Maggie Gyllenhaal fan, but I thoroughly bough her in the role of Rachel Dawes. In the first movie, I wanted to ask Katie if it was past her bedtime whenever she was on screen.

Christian Bale, again, was quite good as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Can't say much more--Batman seems to get overshadowed by everyone else in these movies.

As for the plot itself, it was tight and complex. It's a great experience when a two-and-a-half hour movie feels half that length. This film didn't have twists and turns, it had corkscrews. Truthfully, it reminded me more of director Christopher Nolan's first film, the magnificently twisted "Memento" than it did "Batman Begins." And I mean that in a very, very good way.

So what's next? Geeze, I almost pity Nolan & co., because how are you going to follow up a $500 million juggernaut like this one? How can you possibly escalate from this? Yes, we'll get the Batcave next time, and Gordon will be commissioner the whole movie, but still. The Joker can come back, but it'd be suicide to try and reprise that role just one film removed from Ledger. The Scarecrow is a fun bad guy and I'd love to see him again, but no way can he carry a film by himself. Ra's al Ghul (aka Liam Neeson) may or may not return--depending on how literal Nolan wants to get with the "immortal" Ra's being a replaceable figurehead or actually go all the way with the Lazarus Pit from the comics. Nolan hasn't allowed any supernatural elements into the story yet, so the question remains unanswered. Talia al Ghul would be a very interesting addition to the series, whether Ra's comes back or not. The Catwoman is an obvious favorite, but I don't know if they want to introduce a new romance so soon after Rachel Dawes. Plus, Catwoman as a character may still be radioactive after that dreadful Halle Berry movie. The Penguin is an obvious choice, particularly with the disarray of organized crime in Gotham, but Nolan hasn't always gone for the obvious. Ditto with the Riddler (my personal fave Bat-villain, although I'm lukewarm to the Jim Carrey version). Bane could fit well into Nolan's vision, but that character--along with Mr. Freeze--are probably out of the question due to the stench on them from "Batman & Robin." Of all those mentioned above, I think the Penguin's the most likely. Were I a betting man, that's who I'd go with. Fortunately, I'm not a betting man, so I'll have to wait four years to see, just like everybody else.

Now Playing: Jerry Harrison Casual Gods

Friday, July 25, 2008

What I am doing now

I am writing some hideously overdue book reviews.

I have just polished off the remains of a bottle of White Black Spanish from the Dry Comal Creek Winery. This is perhaps my favoritest wine in the whole world. Well, with the possible exception of hideously expensive German eiswein. But that kind of goes without saying.

I've just poured myself a glass of Casillero del Diablo's Carmenere 2006. Never had it before. Will see how it goes.

I'm pleased with myself for having bought all my textbooks for my fall semester classes already. Unless I'm able to add another class which I'm hoping to get into (it's currently full, see) in which case my book expenditures will increase considerably.

I have found one of my two missing pair of binoculars. Sadly, they are horribly out of collimation and present eye-stabbing double vision. Must get them fixed.

I am getting excited about tomorrow night. I'm attending my first-ever star party, and taking the Maroon Barsoom out for its public debut. I also got a Lumicon UHC filter in for it, which blocks light pollution and enhances the visibility of nebulae.

I'm also looking forward to seeing The Dark Knight tomorrow. I fear I'll be disappointed. The anticipation was sky high before the film came out, and now, after a week of relentless praise, there's no way it'll live up to the hype and I'll be one of two people in the world underwhelmed by it. Which sucks. And frankly, all these comparisons to The Godfather movies ain't sweetening the deal. I didn't like the first or the second. I'm just saying is all.

The X-Files movie opened today, and I didn't notice. Honestly, is it so bad that the studio's trying to bury it? I sincerely hope not, but if season 9 is anything to go by...

I'm thinking the Carmenere isn't bad. Sort of like a welterweight cabernet.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a review to finish.

Now Playing:

Friday Night Videos

Sorry for missing last week folks, but I was out of town and out of internet contact. I'll make it up to you this week with Hall & Oates' "Private Eyes." This is probably my favorite song of their after "Possession/Obsession" and is a prime example of the classic H&O sound. Their bare-bones video is also representative of their MTV presence of the time as well, quirky and low-budget, but entertaining in a quaint way. Very 80s. And has there ever been a more ominous mustache in all of rock music than that of John Oates?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Katy Perry.

Now Playing: Charley Pride Platinum Pride

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mouse in the house

We've got a mouse in the house. Or rather, mice. The drought has really scorched the farmland surrounding our subdivision, and a new school going up right next door has taken a significant amount of field mouse habitat out of play. So now we hear them scurrying in the ceilings, and our neighbors report the same. A week or so back, we actually saw one, tiny cute and charcoal-gray scurrying across the entryway late at night while we were watching some Netflix or other. The next day we found where he'd gnawed a hole through the drywall in the downstairs bathroom, and shortly thereafter caught him in a glue trap. Then we gathered the kids, and amid much fanfare, took the mouse to an empty lot bordering farmland down the street and released him (after a goodly application of vegetable oil to dissolve the glue) into his natural habitat. And we thought our mouse problem solved.

But that was not to be. We heard more scurrying in the ceiling and walls. And the other night, as I worked in my office in the wee hours, one scampered into my office, gave me an appraising look, then disappeared behind my desk. Right. A trip to the store netted me a box trap, with a nifty see-saw doorway that lets mice in but keeps them trapped once inside. I baited it with peanut butter, tucked it away behind my desk, and this morning was rewarded with a very surprised mouse. I released this one in that same field.

Notice these are all catch-and-release trappings. I have no deep aversion to more deadly types of rodent traps, but we don't view them as necessary in this case. Individually, the mice are more or less harmless and it only takes a couple of minutes to release them. Also, we are trying to teach our children empathy and that killing--even mice--should not be done without just cause. Spring traps are just begging for little fingers to get snapped upon, and poison bait is out because of the dogs and cats (both ours and our neighbors) who might come upon a stricken mouse and view it as a light snack. So we release them back into the wild, where they can serve as dinner for some owl or snake.

This is not, I must point out, the way I was brought up to deal with rodents. When I was a wee lad, no older than Monkey Girl is now, certainly, an old vacuum cleaner brought into the house from outside introduced an infestation of kangaroo or pocket mice to our house. We didn't live in the semi-arid regions of the state where kangaroo rats are native, but these certainly had elongated hind legs and a pronounced jumping ability. A kind of homemade box trap consisting of a King Edward cigar box with an entry hold cut into it proved futile in corraling the little jumpers. Regular spring traps produced unsatisfactory results as well. The idea of letting the beagles into the house to run down the mice probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight probably wasn't the best thought-out of plans. It was at this point my father decided to break out the big guns--literally.

You see, he was an avid hunter. Did all his own reloading of bullets and shotgun shells. Now to give him credit, he did not simply pull out a gun and start blasting away like Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam. Instead, he took several bullets, removed the bullet from the casing and replaced it with a wax slug. The idea being that the wax would be enough to kill or at least stun the mouse while not causing any damage to the house. Fair enough.

There was one mouse that'd taken up residence under the refrigerator in the kitchen. As we would watch TV in the living room, it'd come out and scurry around the kitchen in plain view, only disappearing if someone approached. So we--as a family--settled in to watch some movie or other in the living room, with my father on the couch with his gun close at hand. Sure enough, before the first commercial break, the mouse pops out from under the fridge. Dad picks up his gun, aims, fires. I know it had to have been loud, the report of the gun, but I can't remember that--only the build up and the aftermath.

"I missed," he said. The mouse was gone.

Things are a little fuzzy here. I don't recall who went to the kitchen first, whether it was some of us or all of us. For the sake of a good story, let's say it was just me, looking to see if I could find that wax slug.

Did I mention the gun he used was a Remington .30-06? No?

I did not find the wax slug. Instead, I found a spectacular array of mouse parts distributed around the kitchen in spectacular fashion. You would not normally believe a creature so tiny could be so profoundly subdivided and redistributed over so broad an area in such a striking manner, but disbelief does not change the fact that the kitchen was downright festooned with mouse.

Mother was not happy, particularly since she had to clean it up. But Dad had learned his lesson. From then on out, he only used a single action .45 revolver for his wax-slug mouse-hunting.

So yeah. I think I'll stick with my little hing-door box traps.

Now Playing: Derek & the Dominoes The Layla Sessions

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Who watches the Minutemen?

When I first read Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (and was blown away by it) I very, very clearly remember talk of a sequel. Such talk being that there would never, ever be one. Which is one reason I've always found the Rorschach/Question crossover by Denny O'Neil so much fun. But I do clearly remember Moore saying that while he wouldn't do a sequel, he was possibly interested in doing a Minutemen story--the Minutemen being the 1940s-era forerunners of most of the characters in Watchmen. The Comedian, in fact, is the youngest member of the Minutemen, and consequently the oldest active character in Watchmen.

But in all the years since, I haven't seen this repeated. Did I hallucinate it? Dream it? Thankfully, no:
Steve Whitaker: The Comedian’s is probably the one story begging to be told.
Alan Moore: The only possible spin-off we’re thinking of is—maybe in four or five years time, ownership position permitting—we might do a Minutemen book. There would be no sequel.
SW: The story I’m thinking of fits the gap between the end of the Minutemen at the beginning of the 50s and the Comedian’s career—with Ozymandias’ interruption of that…
AM: Hooded Justice.
Dave Gibbons: I think that’s one of the things that adds to the book. When you think of people you know, there are certain areas of their lives you know a lot about and there are other areas you know nothing about—you get years and years where you don’t know what happened to them. At one point that Comedian storyline was suggested to us by DC, to fill in the mosaic and define things. All it would do be to destroy the reality and dilute the whole thing. I think if you read the book closely and you’re fairly intelligent, you can fill in that kind of thing… just as any work of art—a painting, a drawing or any written form of art—leaves a lot to your imagination anyway.
SW: Perhaps it is to the credit of the series that I’ve become particularly interested in one or two characters. I like what you were saying about James M. Cain earlier, Dave—I have a similar fondness for Raymond Chandler which has advanced to the point where I want to read biographies and correspondence.
AM: You just want a little more of him.
SW: All we read here is a series of events around these characters stretching over 12 weeks—something else that I thought was quite neat.
DG: Now I didn’t know that.
SW: Well, it it ends on December 28th it’s 12 weeks.
AM: I’m not surprised.
DG: That’s amazing because the story dictated how much time things took.
AM: Just before we get off the subject of serialisations, continuations end sequels: when I set out to do Watchmen, and I imagine that Dave felt the same way—that we didn’t want to give people what they wanted, we set out to give them what they needed… and the same applies to sequels they may want sequels really badly…
Fiona Jerome: …but they don’t need them. Sequels are the bane of comic books.
AM: Watchmen is a novel, it’s there and it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end… complete. Frank Herbert managed to turn Dune into a Perry Rhodan for the ’80s with all those sequels. It was a wonderful book to start with that was unreadable by the time it was finished.
DG: It should be very clear in your mind who’s in charge of any artistic endeavour. Obviously, Alan and I could make ourselves a fortune on Watchmen 2 next year. I just can’t think of any reason to do it other than the obvious monetary ones. Minutemen appeals because it’s a different era and a different story.
SW: Lesbian and Homosexual relationships and costumed kinks in a 40s environment…
ALL: Hmmmmmm…

I patiently waited for years for that Minutemen series. Graphic novel. Whatever you want to call it. For Moore to apply his considerable storytelling ability to a WWII-era hero tale, or the Red Scare era of McCarthy, or Korea... wow, that'd be phenomenal. Very different from Watchmen, sure, but a worthy companion volume. Now, alas, it looks as if it will never be. Moore's testy relationship with DC (or, more accurately, with Time Warner) finally reached the breaking point a few years back, and he's washed his hands of the company for good. You never say never, but I suspect the Minutemen project, never on the fast track to begin with, will remain forever a popular volume in the library of books left unwritten.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

Who watches the Watchmen?

So... there's a new trailer out.

The Watchmen is one of my favorite all-time comic stories. I've got the massive hard bound Graffiti collected edition that was put out back around '88 or so on my bookshelf. I'm currently re-reading it, and have just gotten to the point where Dr. Manhattan departs for Mars and builds his clockwork palace in the red desert. Fantastic stuff. It's amazing how much of the story I'd forgotten since last reading it--so much subtle nuance and detail, it reminds me of Lord of the Rings in that regard, since it's very much like reading it again for the first time. And in all honesty, I'm amazed that Alan Moore (even given the fact that he's Alan Moore) was allowed by his corporate DC Overlords to tell such a measured, unhurried, deliberately paced story. Sure, it opens with a mysterious murder, but the first several issues are all about character work and flashback. And pirates, too, but those don't show up until several issues in. Sure, they print comics today that take a dozen issues or so to get to the point, but those feel stretched and padded for length. The Watchmen may be languid, but it's very dense as well. Moore knew what he was doing.

At my first (and thus far only) Wizard World that I attended in Dallas maybe five years back, I overheard some comics geeks going through one vendor's back issue boxes. One found a single issue of Watchmen. "Wow. I've heard about this one but I've never read it," says Geek No. 1. "Don't bother. It sucks. Worst super-hero comic ever," replied Geek No. 2. "It's waaaay overrated." At this point I couldn't keep my mouth shut. It's not a "super-hero" comic at all, I interrupted. It was a deconstruction of the archetypes and mythos, blowing up the conventions of the genre. You can't read it as a straight super-hero story. If anything, it's more straight science fiction than anything else. Geek No. 2 levels his slack-jawed stare at me, shrugs his shoulders and says, "That's the same thing."

No. It's not. Science fiction and "super-hero comics" are not the same thing, although they're related and super-hero comics often couch their scenarios in quasi-scientific hand-waving. The Watchmen engages in this mainly with the origins of Dr. Manhattan, but beyond that superficial beginning, the big blue embodiment of the Grand Unification Theory has much more in common with Michael Valentine Smith from Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land than Superman or Green Lantern.

But that's neither here nor there. There's a movie version of the Watchmen coming out, from the director of the uber-violent 300 (which I've actually not seen yet), and from the looks of the trailer I fear what the end product will be. Yes, the costumes are fairly accurate translations from the comic. The Silk Spectre actually looks better than the comic version. Rorschach looks, well, awesome. There are scenes drawn directly from panels in the comic that are obviously recognizable in the trailer. Wow. But then the music kicks in. Smashing Pumpkins is... jarring for the tone and mood of the source material. And the hyper-stylized visuals fly in the face of the low-tech, gritty, diminished reality present in the book. The Watchmen, again, isn't a super-hero story. There's damn little action in it--as I said above, much of it is character and flashback. Yet action is front and center in this trailer. How can dramatic posture and intricately choreographed fisticuffs maintain the integrity of the quiet forlorn despair of the graphic novel? I fear for this movie--for ever right choice made on it (and there does seem to be a number of correct decisions made here) there seems to be an equal number that are very wrong-headed indeed.

Remember back when Tim Burton's Batman movie set the world on fire? For all its faults, that was still the very best Batman interpretation we'd ever gotten (at least until Batman Begins rolled into theaters). Sam Hamm, the scriptwriter, was riding high on that success. In the pages of the Batman comic books (or perhaps it was Detective Comics) he wrote a multi-part storyline called "Blind Justice," where Bruce Wayne's shifty corporate dealings were called into question, resulting in his being put on trial for the treasonous offense of selling technology to America's enemies. Of course, the missing tech was going to Batman's arsenal, but Wayne couldn't very well fess up to that, right? It was a great riff on an interesting idea, one that was revisited a decade later with the bloated "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive" storyline that took over DC Comics for the better part of a year. It didn't take Hamm 147 crossover tie-in issues to tell the damn story, though. Those were the days.

About this time--or just a little before, if my memory isn't too faulty--the great Denny O'Neil penned the one and only Watchmen crossover story with a regular DC Comic title. In the pages of The Question (issue 17, I believe), Vic Sage--the protagonist of the title--picks up a Watchmen comic to read on a plane flight. He's startled by the tone and sophistication of the book, but is drawn to the violent character of Rorschach in particular. When Vic later falls asleep on the flight, he dreams that he--in his alter-identity of the faceless Question--is actually Rorschach. Later, he tries to emulate Rorschach in a fight with some goons and gets his ass kicked in the process, at which point he opines "Rorschach sucks." This is, of course, brilliant on so many different levels. Or one level, if you want to pick nits. Alan Moore's original pitch for the Watchmen was for a miniseries utilizing all the Charlton Comics characters DC has recently acquired--the Question being one of them. DC balked at the idea, but suggested Moore create new characters for the story instead, and thus Phantom Lady became Silk Spectre, Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, Blue Beetle became Owl Man, Peacemaker became the Comedian, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt becomes Ozymandias and of course, the Question is Rorschach. Green Arrow makes an appearance in that issue as well, but that's a discussion for another time.

Anyhoo, after Burton's Batman became a monster hit, studios were casting about like crazy for comic book properties to turn into movies and Watchmen was one of those titles to enter the aptly-named "development hell." And Sam Hamm, wunderkind scribe of the Batman movie, was tapped to pen the adaptation. That version was never produced, obviously, but the script found its way online. And I downloaded it a while back. I realize some of you folks might appreciate this as well, what with the new movie coming out. The compare and contrast amongst the different versions is sure to be interesting. Be warned: It's not entirely faithful to the source material.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Harry Harrison, Grand Master

A little something to share with you folks that I've been working on:
Harry Harrison named Grand Master by SFWA

Harry Harrison, creator of The Stainless Steel Rat and author of the novel that inspired the movie Soylent Green, will be honored as the next Damon Knight Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America during the 2009 Nebula Award Weekend® in Los Angeles, Calif.

Harrison’s selection was announced by SFWA President Russell Davis after consulting with the Board of Directors and participating past presidents. The Nebula Awards Weekend will be held April 24-26 in Los Angeles, Calif., with the awards presentation banquet to be held on the UCLA campus to tie in with the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Past SFWA President and Grand Master (2004) Robert Silverberg will be presenting.

“There are few moments in life that can be taken out and savored in memory. One happened today,” Harrison said. “A phone call from our President Russell Davis with the startling news that I was to be the 2009 Grand Master nearly led to the collapse of a stout writer!

“It’s still soaking in,” he said. “But may I express my fervent thanks to all involved for this signal honor.”

Already an established illustrator and freelance non-fiction writer, Harrison published his first science fiction story, "Rock Diver," in the August 1951 issue of Worlds Beyond. From that point he went on to produce more than 62 novels, eight short fiction collections, non-fiction books and countless short stories. He also found the time to edit 35 anthologies over the span of his career.

His active involvement in the science fiction community throughout the 1950s led to his becoming a charter member of SFWA.

“Why, I can recall with a tear in one rheumy eye, when SFWA was a just a wild idea put forward by Damon Knight,” Harrison said. “A few of us nodded and agreed with him and thus, with great hope and no money, this organization was born. I won’t dwell on the fact that this was over 50 years ago…

“Enough! Let’s look to the future not the past as we go from strength to strength and march—banners flapping—into the SF future,” he said.

Harrison was born in 1925 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, an experience that made a strong negative impression on him and inspired his satirical Bill, the Galactic Hero novel series. A regular contributor to the legendary John W. Campbell's Astounding, Harrison’s work often reflected his interest in environmental issues and non-violent resolutions to conflict. His best-known creations are The Stainless Steel Rat and Make Room! Make Room! on which the film Soylent Green was based. His more recent works include best-selling alternate world trilogies West of Eden and Stars and Stripes Forever!

Harrison is the 26th writer recognized by SFWA as a Grand Master. He joins Robert A. Heinlein (1974), Jack Williamson (1975), Clifford D. Simak (1976), L. Sprague de Camp (1978), Fritz Leiber (1981), Andre Norton (1983), Arthur C. Clarke (1985), Isaac Asimov (1986), Alfred Bester (1987), Ray Bradbury (1988), Lester del Rey (1990), Frederik Pohl (1992), Damon Knight (1994), A. E. van Vogt (1995), Jack Vance (1996), Poul Anderson (1997), Hal Clement (1998), Brian Aldiss (1999), Philip Jose Farmer (2000), Ursula K. Le Guin (2003), Robert Silverberg (2004), Anne McCaffrey (2005), Harlan Ellison (2006), James Gunn (2007) and Michael Moorcock (2008).

Until 2002 the title was simply "Grand Master." In 2002 it was renamed in honor of SFWA's founder, Damon Knight, who died that year.

More details about the Nebula Awards Weekend are available at

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

Now Playing: Ravel The Best of Ravel

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


In case you've missed it, I've got a new installment of MEMORY up at No Fear of the Future. Chapter 18, in fact, with no end in sight. Wow. Here's a sampling of what's in store:
“Within the various layers of the Empress Malinche’s garments are woven threads of nuse which have been steeped in the blood of your predecessor. Should they be loosed--that is, should the Empress happen to become disrobed in your presence--the nuse would immediately seek you out and do as nuse is wont to do.” The Emperor suppressed a small shudder. “No offense to your integrity is meant, you understand. It’s actually more a symbolic gesture than anything else. You know how dramatic court politics can be.”

What is a "nuse" you may ask? Damnedifiknow... although I suspect it's closely related to Chekov's gun.

Now Playing: Greg Kihn Kihnsolidation: The Best of Greg Kihn

Waxing gibbous moon

There are several different types of astrophotography. The simplest is using a regular camera with a normal lens to take shots of the sky. Slightly more advanced is the "piggyback" method of strapping the camera and lens onto a motor-driven telescope to take advantage of tracking motions for a long-duration exposure. With the "afocal" method, you simply hold a camera and lens up to a telescope eyepiece and shoot the image there. "Eyepiece projection" takes this a step further, removing the camera lens and using an eyepiece as a lens instead, while attaching the assembly to the scope with a T-mount and adapter. And "Prime Focus" dispenses with the eyepiece all together, using the telescope itself as a large lens. My scope was designed specifically with wide-field, prime focus astrophotography in mind, although until last night, I'd never attempted it (or at least, never attempted it properly).

To accommodate the focal plane of the camera (which is different from the human eye) I had to move the primary mirror forward about two inches inside the telescope tube. I'd never done this before, but it went smoothly with the mirror lining up perfectly in the pre-drilled holes (as far as I know, the scope's previous owner never did this, either). This necessitated re-collimation to ensure the mirrors were properly aligned. During this step, part of the brittle plastic housing on the secondary mirror spider popped off. Simply broke and fell away. This threw everything out of whack, but I eventually straighted things out. Sadly, this indicates a new spider assembly isn't something I can put off purchasing as long as I'd hoped to be able to.

There are two significant drawbacks with Prime Focus astrophotography for my scope. First is that since the mirror's position is changed, the scope can't be focused for visual observing. Unlike eyepiece projection, I can't switch back and forth--I'm committed to photography at that point. The second is that unlike eyepiece projection, where I can simply switch out eyepieces to get different magnifications, the magnification is set in stone with Prime Focus. Essentially, my scope becomes a 762mm f/5 prime lens. No zoom. There are benefits, however. The scope as a lens offers great wide-field, deep-space views for astrophotography (especially if the polar alignment and tracking are working properly). It's also a lot brighter without eyepieces in the mix, making focusing somewhat easier (this continues to be the biggest difficulty I've had with astrophotography).

last night clouds rolled in from the north, negating any chance of polar alignment, so I fell back to the old standby of the moon and believe I've gotten my sharpest image of our satellite yet:


I also took a series of Jupiter photos, which was fairly small in the image but showed the Galilean moons clearly. I'll see if I can tweak the images to get something worth posting. I tried some deep-sky imaging as well of starfields and the like, but the wind kicked up and shook the scope too much for anything worthwhile. I did catch a faint streak of a satellite passing overhead, which was nifty, but beyond the novelty factor the images wasn't worth keeping.

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Humor and Sinus

Still experimenting with astrophotography on my newly-restored telescope, and still producing far more trash than keepers. But I think I'm making a wee bit of progress. Frustratingly, I have yet to get a Jupiter shot even close to the quality of this one I shot two weeks' back when I was just playing around. It's still insanely difficult to focus my camera accurately, even when using a variety of different Hartmann Mask focusing aids. But I persevere, staying up late losing sleep looking at the stars rather than writing. Here're two shots I got last night.


This is Mare Humorum, the "Sea of Moisture," on the moon near the terminator. That large crater in the lower right corner is Gassendi. I took this shot using my T-mounted Canon Rebel XTi with a 2x Barlowed 9mm plossl lens on a 6" f/5 Newtonian reflector for those of you keeping track at home. The focus isn't perfect, but it's close.


The crescent in the upper portion of the photo is Sinus Iridium, which opens up to the flat expanse of Mare Imbrium. The huge crater halfway down the image is J. Herschel, so old that much of its crater wall has been eroded away by other meteorite impacts. It still cuts a pretty striking image among the dark shadows of the lunar terminator. This image was captured with the same settings as the one above.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Night Videos

A singer by the name of Katy Perry--I've never heard of her before--has a song out that's apparently being heavily played in all the places that pride themselves on being trendy and cutting edge. At least as far as crass commercialism will allow, since all the real trendy and cutting edge stuff hasn't been commercialized yet, you know? The video has a lot of strutting and posturing, and while stylish and pretty, shows a distinct lack of imagination. I mean, honestly--She doesn't kiss a girl once in the whole thing. Normally, I wouldn't give the song itself a second thought, except for the fact that it reminds me of late 80s pop/rock. The production I mean. Not exactly Joan Jett meets the Divynls, but it's enough to intrigue me despite the song's overall lack of substance. Why am I apologizing for this clip? It's not like I've got an aversion to the tawdry or kitschy. I think it's the fact that Perry comes off as a poseur--she sings the words, but I don't for a moment believe her. So sue me.

And just because I am morally and ethically compelled to do so, here's the great Jill Sobule's earlier and better take on the same subject matter. One word folks: Fabio!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Charles.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lust, Caution

You know, I never thought I'd ever say this, but there's too much sex in the Ang Lee film Lust, Caution. It actually detracts from the overall movie. Go figure.

The story, if you're unfamiliar with it, follows a university student who is convinced by her thespian classmates to play the role of an upper-class woman in order to seduce a Chinese official collaborating with the Japanese occupation, and lure him into an assassination. The initial plot fails, but several years later she encounters one of those students--this time officially working with the resistance--who recruits her for the same plot, redux.

It's a two-and-a-half hour movie that's about 30 minutes too long. The first 90 minutes could even be considered PG-13, after which point there's much nudity and intense sexuality, earning the film's NC-17 rating. Which is a shame, because after a certain point, the scenes don't add anything to the story. Yes, the collaborator is cruel and misogynistic. Yes, the girl's spirit and self-respect are shattered by his treatment of her. Yes, there's a kind of "Stockholm Syndrome" going on here. But that point gets bludgeoned home over and over again. The whole thing could've been wrapped up in 120 minutes, gotten a hard R rating and done decent box office--as it is otherwise an intense, moody piece. Kind of like Lee's earlier The Ice Storm, only with murder and guns.

The first half of the film was so comparatively tame--other than one drawn-out killing--that I got the impression Lee had set out to make and "erotic" film, then belatedly realized he'd neglected to include any eroticism. To make up for that, he doubled up on the naked stuff in the remainder of the film, and the result is wildly uneven. Which is too bad, but then again, he's the auteur and I'm just a guy with a blog.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Colorado River

Visited the old hometown of Columbus over the 4th of July weekend. While there I broke out the camera and the infrared filter. This is a view of the Colorado River from the edge of the front yard.


See that line of willow trees and such on the opposite shore? None of that was there while I was growing up. That was a wide, sandy beach I always thought would be great for some entrepreneur to open up as a kind of rural beach attraction. When I left for college, several years of dry weather allowed a handful of trees to take root, and ensuing floods the following years failed to dislodge them. 'Tis a pity--that was a nifty beach.

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Friday, July 04, 2008


If any of you get tired of outdoor barbecue and the like this weekend, feel free to check out the 17th chapter of MEMORY, now live over at No Fear of the Future:
The Tricentennial Emperor stood, spreading his arms wide. “We are honored, good Parric, by your presence among us. We see so few T'ul-us Tzan cross into our cosms, and we are all diminished by your parting.”

Parric dipped his head and antennae in acknowledgement. “It is my pleasuring to again experience Your Imperial Majesty’s legendary hospitaliting.”

“And Flavius MacDuff, of Clan MacDuff--”

Crazy stuff, man. You never know what's about to happen with Flavius and Parric around.

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Friday Night Videos

Happy 4th of July folks. Celebrate safely, and if you're in one of the drought-stricken areas, for goodness sake lay off the fireworks. There're enough wildfires raging without adding to the problem.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Sheena Easton.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Aquarena in IR

Though I'd share another infrared shot with you folks. This one's of the San Marcos Springs--commonly known as Aquarena, the former home of Ralph the Swimming Pig. No longer an amusement park, it still boasts its famous glass bottomed boats and has a focus on the environment and ecology now. The building in the background is the old Aquarena hotel, now home to the Texas Rivers Center.


I might be dangerous once I actually figure out what I'm doing with this camera...

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Communications & Marketing Director

Well, Russell Davis has announced it over on the SFWA Livejournal, so I might as well share the word with you folks as well: I am the new Communications & Marketing Director for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. I'm still not certain what he slipped into my drink during the Austin Nebs that would make me take leave of my senses so.

I've been the Chair of the SFWA Publicity Committee for a few years now, and have managed to do some Good Things, while falling short in other areas. My biggest frustration has been repeatedly being out of the loop on things that should flow through the publicity office, but instead I learn about them on random blogs and such. Hopefully, now that I have a fancy new title, we'll be more effective in branding SFWA and actively promoting all the good the organization does from now on.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I picked a thorn or something in the ring finger of my right hand. It's really annoying me, but thus far my extraction attempts have only met with futility. What's that got to do with the image I've posted below? Absolutely nothing.


You see, I ordered an infrared filter for my camera, and it came in yesterday. I took it out to Aquarena and experimented. Focusing is tough with it, since none of my lenses have in IR focal marker on them (infrared focuses at a different point than visible light). For this one, I set the camera for a 10-second exposure, then stepped into the frame at around the 5 second mark. Interesting effect, although I'm far from producing any IR images I'd even think about calling "good."

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