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.


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.

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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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I've just published chapter 24 of my online fiction serial MEMORY over at No Fear of the Future. I suppose this sequence I'm writing now could be subtitled "Flavius' dinner from hell." You'll be happy to know his suffering continues unabated in this installment:
Flavius’ table rotated as a waiter dropped a plate in front of him. Orange and green squares were piled high, opaque, gelatinous things that seemed to crawl about of their own accord without the use of legs. Blue-striped berries rolled between and over the squares randomly. A frothy red liquid now filled his glass. From the gasps of shock, astonishment and delight rising up throughout the hall, Flavius guessed these were more of the Empress’ last second menu alterations.

“A bit ostentatious, serving troesken as the fourth course. I wonder what my debauched wife has in store for the rest of the evening?”

Flavius snapped around just as the Emperor Camargo’s table merged neatly with his own.

Remember folks, if you like it, spread the word!

Now Playing: The Kinks One for the Road

39 today, or, Why should Jay Lake have all the fun?

As you approach your 39th birthday, discovering blood in the toilet after you've used it, as a general rule, is not a good thing. If you mention this to your spouse, or mail carrier, or the garbage collector, they're all going to tell you to go to the doctor (right after going "Ewwwww!"). The trouble with this line of reasoning is, when you tell this kind of thing to doctors, they start throwing words around like "Colonoscopy."

Let me tell you here and now friend, that is an evil, evil word.

Not because of the colonoscopy itself, mind you. They pump anesthesia into your veins and you sleep through the whole thing. No biggie. The evil part is the preparation: A "low residue" diet for several days prior, followed by clear liquids the day before, and starting the evening before, more evil laxative consumables than any human beings should ever face. Normally, the laxatives are consumed over something like a 12-hour period. Take the pills (including anti-nausea medicine) and drink half a gallon of a nasty Gatorade/urine/Epsom salts cocktail, then repeat the process in the morning. Only my scheduled colonoscopy time was moved up, so I had the pleasure (and use the word in a pejorative sense) of drinking it all--and entire gallon--in one sitting.

The famed Jay Lake, of course, is familiar with some, or all, of this. He was far more dramatic about it, however, arriving at the hospital in a state of near-death where the crack medical team discovered that Jay was harboring a cancerous polyp in his innards. Jay, being the relentless showman that he is, immediately commissioned a puppet based on the antomical intersection of life, death and the absurd.

I ask you folks, how can I compete with that?

Short answer: I can't.

I don't have colorectal cancer, which is just as well, as mine would simply be a watered-down interpretation of Jay's. He did it first, and is the one all other literary colorectal cancers would be compared to. Besides, I couldn't get a puppet out of the deal without being accused of copycat status, so what's the point?

The bleeding was caused by an internal hemorrhoid. Pretty anti-climactic. Particularly since there's no other discomfort and not really any treatment they can offer me. I didn't even have any polyps.

The one cool thing they found isn't really cool at all. It's pretty marginal as far as diseases/ailments/disorders go. I have diverticulosis, by virtue of a single diverticuole they discovered way up in my intestine:


This, in case you're wondering, is sort of like an anti-polyp. Whereas polyps are abnormal growths inside the intestine, diverticulosis is an abnormal growth outward from the intestine. Kinda like a spontaneously generated appendix. You know, in case my actual appendix goes on the fritz and has to be removed, this will give me an optional useless piece of gut that can potentially become infected in the future. At which point I'd be diagnosed with diverticulitis. Sound familiar? If you were a fan of Saturday Night Live back in the 80s when Joe Piscopo and Robin Duke played Doug and Wendy Whiner in a recurring series of sketches in which the couple (naturally) whined about everything in annoying, nasal voices, including the fact that they suffered from "DI-ver-TIC-u-LI-tis!"

At this point of the blog, the normal practice is to end with a YouTube link to one of the Whiner sketches and end with a laugh. Except I can't do that. Apparently Joe Piscopo's longest-running character bit on SNL isn't popular enough to be pirated on YouTube (or anywhere else for that matter). So my one tangential bit of pop-cultural relevance is a dead end. And Jay gets a puppet.


Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More on the mead

I found myself with a tiny bit of free time today, and took the opportunity to print and label some of my mead. The mint metheglin, you may recall, was conjured on the request of The Wife last June, and had languished unlabeled (apart from some masking tape with Sharpie). The mint's in bloom right now, but a couple of weeks ago when I put together this layout, it wasn't. Ah well. I think the triangle works quite nicely overall.


The blueberry melomel, well, I always knew I'd use a berry as the main design element. All of my previous labels had been so rectangular, I wanted to break away from that design mindset. So berry-shaped it was. I think I've done okay with these last two. I still have the maypop to label, but I don't know how much effort I'll put into it, since the final product is pretty bland.

The Blueberry Thrill, of course, needs quite a bit more aging before it'll begin to be palatable. The bar is set pretty high for it, however--the other week The Wife and I visited The Grapevine in Gruene, and they had some blueberry wine from the Piney Woods Winery in east Texas. Wow. That stuff was stunning. I suspect my blueberry-infused mead won't even come close. The mint, on the other hand, should be plenty ready to drink. I'm not really a mint person, so I'm waiting on The Wife to uncork one...

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel 3

Saturday Night Live

Wow. If they kill off Sarah Palin and replace her with Tina Fey, would anyone notice? Actually, they probably would. Tina Fey is funnier and a lot better versed on national and international affairs.

Damn, was that opening skit spot-on or what?

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel 3

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Well, it looks like Hurricane Ike has veered far enough northward that us folks here in the San Antonio area aren't going to see more than a little rain and maybe sporadic wind--nothing that could be considered hurricane force or even tropical storm worthy. Which is fine by me, since evacuees from Houston are filling up shelters all over the area. The Wife and Monkey Girl are down the block at the new elementary school delivering a wagon load of snacks to the people staying there. So for all the people either fleeing the coast or stuck in Houston or Beaumont as this big thing pounds ashore, here's a blusey version of REO Speedwagon's "Ridin' the Storm Out."

If a blonde Kevin Cronin is too much for you, how about one with Mike Murphy on vocals from 1974?

Stay safe out there, people.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Alan Parsons.

Now Playing: News 4 WOAI

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Irwin M. Fletcher R.I.P.

Well, ain't this a big ol' bucket of suck. Gregory McDonald, author of some truly brilliant Fletch mystery novels, has died:
Mcdonald died Sunday at his farm in Pulaski, Tennessee, about 60 miles southwest of Nashville, according to Mcdonald's manager, Dan List. List said Wednesday that Mcdonald had been diagnosed with cancer.

I absolutely fell in love with the first Fletch movie when it came out in 1985, and to this day I believe that role was tailor-made for Chevy Chase. The second movie pretty much stunk up the joint, though. But the first was pure genius. I read the movie tie-in when it came out, and was dazzled by the intricately tight plotting but also the quick pace and relentlessly witty dialog. It wasn't until a couple of years later, as a freshman in college, that I discovered that McDonald had actually written a whole series of Fletch books. Wow. Confess Fletch remains my favorite. Great, great stuff. The later reboot McDonald did, beginning with Fletch Won, seem to me a kind of forced, going-through-the-motions attempt to recapture the magic, and sadly they just don't work. But the early ones, wow, you can't beat them for a good time.

Now Playing: Thomas Bloch Music for Glass Harmonica

Monday, September 08, 2008

Something's developing

We're actually using cameras now in my photography classes. Nothing exciting, just boring point, light meter and shoot exercises thus far. In the film class, it's like a museum display (and I mean that in a good way). Yes, there are a number of Canon Rebels and old AE-1 bodies, as well as the occasional Nikon. But man, I didn't expect to see so many Minoltas! Seems like ever other camera there is a Minolta--one girl even has a big-time pro-level body complete with off-camera hot shoe grip, hard case, many, many filters and lots of other whistles and bells. We're talking thousands of dollars when new. She confessed she didn't know what half the stuff was for--a family friend is a pro photography and made the switch to digital years back, and let her use the old film camera since it was only gathering dust. Wow. There's also a number of Pentax and Olympus cameras, as well as one brand-new looking Sigma. Very interesting.

So our assignment last week was to shoot an intersection with a 50mm lens and bracket. Which was an extremely boring assignment, and difficult as well since the 50mm isn't wide enough to take in such a scene easily. I witnessed a two-car collision at my intersection, but unfortunately didn't catch it on film, as I was writing down shutter speeds and apertures at the time. sigh

Today we developed the film. I met with mixed results. I had a devil of a time transferring my film to the developing spool--it kept jumping the spool and crimping--and I had to restart several times before I finally gave up. The end result is that portions of my film didn't develop properly, and have gray blotches obscuring the frame. The good news is that more good frames survived than bad, so I should have something worth enlarging when the time comes. Developing with chemicals, while fascinating in an analog sort of way, is indeed a pain. I'm glad the world has gone to digital.

Now Playing: The Doors The Best of the Doors

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Here's an Alan Parsons video I've never seen before. "Turn It Up" is also a song that's new to me--it sounds very much like something Mike + The Mechanics might've done a decade or so back, rather than, say, "Eye in the Sky." The video, however, very much shows a Pink Floyd influence, apropos, I suppose, since Parsons served as a sound engineer on some of that band's biggest albums, including the legendary Dark Side of the Moon. Trippy stuff here. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Mexican Radio.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Teacher, teacher can you teach me?

Today I started my second week of school. Second? Yeah. I was busy last week with all sorts of schoolish and workish things. My blogging wasn't very substantial (like it ever is, you cleverly snigger).

But yeah, this thing I've been threatening to do--take some college-level photography courses--I've actually for-true pulled the proverbial trigger on. Last Wednesday was my first day, with my weekly schedule boasting nine hours Monday-Thursday. My first class is 2D Design, which has nothing directly to do with photography, but is one of two prerequisite classes I've got to take to get to the good stuff. Technically, I'm supposed to take them before I can enroll in any other Fine Art courses, but because I asked so nicely, I got a waiver to take the in separate semesters concurrently with the upper level photography stuff. Nice. And 2D Design is interesting in its own right. The instructor is one I've encountered on occasion in the past, and she seems like a good deal of fun. She refers to me as my boss' "Sidekick," so we're not too hidebound by formalities. Then again, in a fine arts class would you expect anything less? There are 18 students in the class, 16 of them young women. Every single one of them is 18-20 years my junior. In fact, I realized with a start that first day that 20 years prior, I was a callow freshman sitting in a similar class for the first time. How's that for bringing on instant feelings of decrepitude? There are few things more disheartening than realizing that creepy old guy in the third row is you.

My next class is Intro to Traditional Photography. There are 18 students here as well, split 50/50 male/female. The original course description I saw last year made it out to be 75 percent film and 25 percent digital, give or take. The reality of it is that it's 100 percent film, or, many ways to deplete a bank account in no time flat. We'll be shooting B&W film in honest-to-gosh film cameras and developing them in a darkroom with honest-to-gosh chemicals and negatives. The whole nine yards. I'm lucky in that I have the Wife's old 35mm Canon to use, and don't have to spend a couple hundred on a film body that's guaranteed to be obsolete by, oh, sometime three years ago. Don't get me wrong--there's a lot of value in learning the basics of film photography which is directly applicable to digital. Knowledge is good. But I really wonder how long classes like this will remain viable. That point was driven home the first day when the instructor waxed poetic on certain types of film, certain types of photo paper, and punctuated almost every nostalgic reminisce with, "But they don't make that anymore." Digital has reached the point where full-frame sensors have surpassed the photographic quality of the finest 35mm film and cameras, and they're fast approaching the quality of the previously-untouchable medium format cameras. I will wager that within 10 years they'll have far outstripped the grandeur of the gold standard large format photography. It just strikes me that focusing exclusively on film in this entry-level course is setting students up for instant obsolescence.

I, myself, have hedged my bets sufficiently. My third class is Photojournalism 101, and as I expected, the first two classes have consisted of a crash course in photography basics with "Get out there and shoot something" being the modus operandi from here on out. Photojournalism more than any other branch is being radically redefined by digital, and those photojournalists stubbornly sticking to film only are unemployed relics. A sea change is happening, with the photojournalist suddenly becoming a combination of that, a print journalist and a broadcast journalist. Photography purists scoff at Nikon's new D90 and its HD video capability, but with newspapers struggling to reinvent themselves online to survive, multimedia content is one way to stay relevant in the 21st century. Even now news organizations are sending their reporters out armed with flash memory digital recorders to document the story, so I predict that not only will HD video become a common feature in high end dSLRs, it'll become a required app for all working photojournalists. I blame it on Steve Jobs and the iPod--all tech will eventually merge into one device, the iOmnipotent, perhaps.

The class itself looks to benefit me greatly. The instructor is a retired San Antonio Express-News photog, and we've gotten to talk shop a little. Unlike the Fine Arts department--which has no loaner cameras to check out--the School of Journalism has half a dozen Canon Digital Rebels available for student use. There are 18 students here as well, again split evenly between male and female. That means 12 students have to come up with their own cameras. I'm all set in that department, obviously. But don't cry too much for them, at least they're in better shape than the Trad Photo students who have to buy film cameras, paper, film, chemicals... For roughly $400 in class-related expenditures (assuming they started from scratch) the digital students are coming away with far more value in hardware. These first couple of days have been spent going over basics, such as shutter speed, aperture and such, things I have a decent grasp of. But its exercises like dissecting a photo from a newspaper that I've been able to exercise the rusty old editor muscles, pointing out how one simple, yet visually arresting image is better for the front page whereas a technically more interesting, complex photo would work much better as jump art. I may not know how to take a great photo, but I damn well know how to use 'em in a proper newspaper layout. After class today, one student came up to me and asked my opinion of a Nikon D40 she'd just bought. Naturally, being a Canon man, I told her she'd just doomed herself to failure. Well, I thought it. Actually, I told her Canon and Nikon were in a horserace and each produced cameras and lenses that compared very favorably to the other, and that she'd do fine with that particular camera. Looking at it now online, it does look a little long in tooth with just 6.1 megapixels and the D90 just announced. For the price she could've gotten a Canon XTi like mine which is two generations newer, or at least a Nikon D50 if she'd known where to shop around. But for classroom purposes she's got a good camera body. As long as she doesn't plan on blowing all her shots up to 8x10s or larger, she'll never run up against the 6.1 MP limitations.

Looking over what I've just written, it occurs to me that I know a heck of a lot of technical stuff about cameras and photography in general, yet I still have little in the way of practical knowledge or instincts when it comes to actually taking the shot. Ask me again at the end of the semester--I hope I'll have a different story then.

Now Playing: The Kinks Schoolboys in Disgrace

When you're hot, you're hot

Jerry Reed has died. This makes me sad. I suspect it makes Chet Atkins, Peter S. Beagle and many others sad as well. What a time to find out I haven't ripped any of Jerry's music to my work computer. I've got Jerry Jeff Walker playing, but it's not the same.

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua

Monday, September 01, 2008

All together now: What was he thinking?

Okay, it's pretty clear by this point that I'm not voting Republican this election cycle. Sara Palin's selection of John McCain's running mate wasn't going to sway me one way or the other, but the fact that she's a Creationist and has tried to shoehorn so-called "Intelligent Design" into Alaskan schools quashed any chance that I might warm to her.

But you know, a smoke-and-mirrors belief like that will play well to the religious right and the rest of the population probably won't care one way or the other. So it's a wash for McCain. But great googly moogly, what about all these other revelations that are cropping up on what seems like an hourly basis? The New York Times takes a close look at the controversy creeping up on Palin:
On Monday morning, Ms. Palin and her husband, Todd, issued a statement saying that their 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, was five months pregnant and that she intended to marry the father.

Among other less attention-grabbing news of the day: it was learned that Ms. Palin now has a private lawyer in a legislative ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she abused her power in dismissing the state’s public safety commissioner; that she was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede; and that Mr. Palin was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken-driving charge.

Aides to Mr. McCain said they had a team on the ground in Alaska now to look more thoroughly into Ms. Palin’s background. A Republican with ties to the campaign said the team assigned to vet Ms. Palin in Alaska had not arrived there until Thursday, a day before Mr. McCain stunned the political world with his vice-presidential choice. The campaign was still calling Republican operatives as late as Sunday night asking them to go to Alaska to deal with the unexpected candidacy of Ms. Palin.

Wow. Just wow. If this is an accurate assessment of the situation, McCain's inclination to shoot from the hip may have simply shot him in the foot. If he felt he had to have a woman on the ticket in order to win the election, I can think of quite a few Republican women far more qualified and more vetted than Palin: Elizabeth Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Olympia Snowe, Condoleeza Rice... I don't necessarily agree with their politics, but I respect their abilities and don't doubt they'd be qualified to step in and run the show should McCain's melanoma come back.

The Wife and I were discussing this today, shaking our heads. The cynic inside us began to wonder if McCain really did know about all of the skeletons in Palin's closet, and picked her with the understanding that she'd eventually withdraw. That way McCain could get the good press of picking a woman, but still get the name brand of Mitt Romney or whoever as a final running mate. But geeze, that seems way too Machiavellian, even for Karl Rove.

Now Playing: Prince Batman