Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Night Videos

I hope everyone's had a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Here's an obscure bit of 80s nostalgia for the season from those 80s one-hit-wonders, the Dream Academy, "Life in a Northern Town." Feels like a winterish tune suitable for the weather we're having, right?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Billy Joel.

Now Playing: Sting The Soul Cages

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Belated Ren Fest report

The family went to the Texas Renaissance Festival the other week, and despite the best of intentions, I've been remiss about posting a trip report. We had fun, as usual, although we burned through our allotted ration of spending money all too quickly. Ren Fest is always a highlight of our year, and The Wife would love to someday shoot a wedding at the lovely chapels they have there. I took her to Scarborough Faire on our first date, and when we lived in Temple, we'd hit both big ren fairs each year. Sadly, Scarborough's a bit too far from New Braunfels for a day trip with the kids, but we still make Texas Ren Fest and annual occurrence.

Bug and I played the King of the Log game, and he triumphantly knocked me into the hay. We didn't get to listen to as much music as we'd have liked, and missed Instanpita entirely, but Monkey Girl picked up a CD by a Celtic/Eastern European fusion rock group that she's happy with. The Wife and I drank a little wine, and Bug and Fairy Girl rode ponies before we took in one of the jousts. One thing that impressed me is the fellow in these pictures. I believe I caught a glimpse of him last year, briefly, but this time around I got a good look, and have to say I was impressed with his forest spirit/ent costume. You have to respect anyone willing to climb up on 10-foot stilts while wearing 100 pounds of makeup and prosthetics. He brings to mind the "Green Guy," an ogre on stilts who'd sing bad songs while playing a kazoo from my first visit to Texas Ren Fest back in '87. Here's another shot of him, just to give a sense of scale:

I've always been proud of my Hern the Hunter/Stagman costume, but I have to admit this guy's got me beat.

Now Playing: Sting Songs from the Labyrinth

Sunday, November 21, 2010

That's one angry Cornhusker!

Tonight is a good night to be an Aggie. A&M's 9-6 victory was a throwback to glorious Wrecking Crew defensive struggles of old. And for once, penalties went our way. I'll admit I had flashbacks to Larry Horton in the '89 Arkansas game before that late pass interference flag was waved off, but all the while I was thinking "You'd better not sell insurance in Lincoln, ref!"

Nebraska had a lot of penalties tonight, and the Husker message boards are in utter and complete meltdown over them. But apart from that one bogus fourth-quarter roughing the passer flag they picked up which kept A&M's scoring drive alive, Nebraska earned every flag they were hit with. Illegal formations and false starts plagued them all night, and their coach, Bo Pellini, lost all composure, cussed out the refs, and was flagged for a personal foul. The guy's a head case, but not as big a head case as his brother Carl, the Nebraska defensive coordinator, who attacked a cameraman on Kyle Field after the game:

All things considered, I'm not shedding too many tears to see Nebraska head off to the Big 10 next season.

Now Playing:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Night Videos

Spur of the moment impulse here: Billy Joel's Allentown decided it wanted to be featured today. So here we go. I have no understanding why music critics have always been so dismissive of Joel's work. Here we have a poignant chronicle of the decline of industrial America, a generation cast adrift in the Rust Belt, all wrapped up in a deceptively buoyant melody. Hardly subject matter worthy of Kary Perry or Lady Gaga. I don't get it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Joe Walsh.

Now Playing: Billy Joel My Lives

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

About that Green Lantern trailer...

It's been a not-so-secret desire of mine to script Green Lantern someday, and actually write it as a science fiction adventure, rather than simply "super-heroes in space" as it's been done for the majority of the past 50 years. Alfred Bester helped re-invent the Silver Age version of the character, so it stands to reason the Green Lantern Corps should be more Lensmen and less SuperFriends. So I've been watching the development of this film closely, and have been rewarded with this trailer:

My reaction, to say the least, is mixed. There's great stuff here--Abin Sur, Tomar-Re, Sinestro, Kilowog (!) and Oa with the Central Power Battery. Hector Hammond looks incredibly creepy and menacing, a distinct improvement over the character from the comics. BUT (and there's always a but), there's a lot that's cringe-worthy. Warners tried for a *very* long time to make Green Lantern into a wacky comedy, even attempting to build the film around Jack Black at one point. The way this trailer opens, with Jordan scrambling out of bed and abandoning the hot blonde, to the miserable "let's get these pants off" line... that setup screams "slacker screwup gets the keys to the kingdom and hilarity ensues." We've seen this a thousand times before, and it never ends well. There's a definite attempt at a wacky Greatest American Hero setup, almost like Bill & Ted's Intergalactic Adventure. The "epic" aspects are really soft-pedaled, and so tonally dissonant with the Hal Jordan background setup, that it feels like two different movies.

But then I remembered--it's a *trailer*. Trailers aren't cut by the filmmakers--they're cut together by ad men who normally don't know or care what the film is about, they're more interested in pigeonholing it and packaging the film as pre-digested and inoffensive. How many times in the past decade has there been a significant backlash against a film marketed as something it isn't? Remember how the trailers and TV ads to The Bridge to Terabithia looked like a soulless knockoff of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, with kids playing with happy dancing fairy creatures? And then how everyone was shocked that it was not only good, but actually followed the book and killed off AnnaSophia Robb?

Remember, this is the same Hollywood that normally tries to set every otherworldly science fiction epic on Earth--Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Aliens vs. Predators etc.--because execs don't believe an audience can grasp a setting anywhere other than the good old U.S. of A. where folks speak American.

The more I think about it (and rewatch the trailer) the more I'm convinced this is one of the most incompetent movie promos, ever. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but the only parts that succeed are the brief glimpses of cosmic dazzle, which come off more as a reluctant afterthought in the trailer, included only because they "had to be there." The guys doing the trailer would much rather be cutting a promo for Hot Tub Time Machine 2: Boogie Wonderland. The filmmakers themselves are saying all the right things in interviews, and the released concept art is powerful, epic and moody, so it's baffling how they could give every indication of grasping the nuance of this property, then turn around and make a movie that misses the mark so badly. The fact that Hal goes to Oa and encounters alien Lanterns who don't look like they stepped out of Club Med is a major break from previous treatments of this property. This alone gives me hope.

The movie could still very much live down to this trailer, but for now, I'll accept it with a grain of salt and assume the tone-deaf elements result from Warners' corporate incomprehension. In the future, maybe they could contract out to Marvel to cut future trailers, because those guys get it.

Now Playing: Various Music for Glass Harmonica

Friday, November 12, 2010

Talkin' with Pete Masterson

So I finally got to interview Pete Masterson today for the Chicken Ranch book. Masterson, you may or may not know, is an actor/director/writer with a long and productive career on stage and screen. What he's probably best-know for, though, is the fact that he co-wrote the book for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Larry L. King.

I'd been trying to arrange an interview with him for several months, but every time we got something set up, conflicts arose either on his end or mine and we ended up canceling. Until today, at least, when we finally connected. He's a nice guy, and was willing to talk to me as long as I needed. Nothing earth-shaking came out of the conversation, but he did confirm many of the events King recounted in his excellent book, The Whorehouse Papers. Masterson had several amusing stories, chief of which was the fact that it was his idea to bring in Edna Milton, the last madam at the Chicken Ranch, to be part of the Broadway production in a non-speaking role. During rehearsals, Masterson said, Milton would sometimes lean over and suggest lines for the actresses portraying the prostitutes to say. He nearly fell over, he recalled. Edna, apparently, had quite a mouth on her...

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel US

Friday Night Videos

Joe Walsh, somewhat less goofy than he usually is in concert situations, playing "All Night Long." Really, is any further explanation necessary?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Dixie Chicks.

Now Playing: Joe Walsh Little Did He Know...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Damage control: Homebrew Edition

When last we spoke, I'd laid out a lament about lost plum wine and how my recovery process involved starting a six-gallon batch of dark ale. But something was nagging me, something I couldn't put my finger on. That usually spells trouble.

Figure it out I did, although it took a couple of days. I'd added one pound of dark malt as the supplemental sugar, which all liquid malt extract kits require, but it slowly dawned on me that this was an unusually low amount of additional sugar. The instructions had said one pound, right? I'd checked before purchasing the dark malt, which is why I just bought one pound instead of more. Except... when I pull out the instruction sheet to verify this, to my chagrin I see that the kit requires 1 kg of extra sugar. Kilogram. Not pound.

Well, crap. A kilogram is a little more than two pounds. It's not a ruined batch--the extract kit has lots of malt, and I did add another pound, so it would ferment (and indeed was fermenting) just fine as-is. But it'd be relatively weak ale. If I wanted weak beer, I'd go to Oklahoma. What to do? I didn't have any more malt to add, and I didn't have the time to make another trip to San Antonio. Table sugar was an option, but to my mind, refined cane sugar is throwing in the towel, and it seemed somehow wrong to put that in a dark ale that was all-malt up unto this point. Then it struck me--brown sugar.

Now, a lot of people avoid using brown sugar in homebrew because it has a strong flavor. In fact, this is why dextrose corn sugar is so popular with home brewers, because it adds almost no flavor to beer or other fermented beverage. Brown sugar is like the anti-dextrose. But since I was only adding a relatively small portion, and the brew is dark and flavorful already, it seemed a worthwhile experiment. So I picked up a pound of brown sugar, making sure it was unadulterated brown sugar, as opposed to refined sugar back-mixed with molasses, and added it to the wort.

Several days later, the fermentation is finally slowing down. We managed to survive the blow-out phase without a huge foaming mess taking over my office. Temperatures have stayed below 80 degrees as well, ensuring an optimal environment for the fermentation without the formation of harsh fusel alcohols. At this rate, it may be ready to bottle by Sunday. I don't know how it will taste, but it smells good at any rate.

Oh, yeah. I also added potassium sorbate to my two batches of mead. That should neutralize any yeast that survived the campden tablets, priming the mead for back-sweetening sometime next week or thereafter. After the loss of all that potentially great plum wine, I want to get these in bottles ASAP.

Now Playing: John Williams Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Soundtrack

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Six gallons of regret

Saturday, prior to the Aggies taking on the Sooners in a Big 12 showdown of interesting, if not epic, proportions, I figured it was high time I attend to my various fermentables sitting in my office for far too long. I started with my smallest batches first, the smoked malt braggot and plum melomel. The smoked malt braggot, in the smaller 1.5 gallon container, remains quite hazy. I tasted a sample, and was initially disappointed in that it seemed a plain show mead, quite dry, but then a distinct smoky aftertaste presented itself. Not a total disaster yet, at least. I racked it off the sediments and added a campden tablet to knock out the yeast to stop any further fermentation. At that point, I added a single jalapeño sliced lengthwise with the seeds removed. I'd thrown the slices in a frying pan to sear briefly, the intent being that the heat would take some of the sharp edges off the raw taste. I dropped the slices into the mead once they cooled, and will rack again in a week. It's slightly too dry, and after tasting it with the added jalapeño, I'll back sweeten with honey (which is why I put in the campden tablet). My previous attempt at a jalapeño metheglin, which I called "Liquid Heat" was exactly that, not unlike drinking raw, liquid chili peppers with a sweet chaser. I'm going for more subtlety this time, hence the removal of the seeds.

My 2.5 gallon fermentation vessel held my plum melomel attempt. I'd left 4 pounds of chopped plums in there to ferment out dry, and I was nervous as to the result. I drew off a full glass, and was amazed by the clarity. There were some suspended particles, yes (lots of fruit bodies in there, after all) but this stuff was very, very clear and a gorgeous crimson color. And the scent was fantastically powerful, fruity plum. One taste was all it too to convince me I have a winner. Very fruity and tart, with a hint of acidity. The only negative was that it'd fermented out all the way. It was dry. Super-dry. This melomel was so dry it actually sucked the sugars out of your body and beat them into submission. Wow. Whereas the smoked braggot needed a slight amount of sweetening to bring it into balance, this one is going to need a lot more honey. And I'm not trying for a syrupy-sweet dessert wine, either, just enough honey to balance all the flavors and bring the sweetness up to neutral. But I really am looking forward to the end result.

Thus inspired by the success of my various meads, I turned to the six gallons of plum wine I had aging in a secondary container. I was quite excited, because during the racking it had boasted a rich, burgundy color and a very strong fruity aroma and taste. I couldn't wait to see how it'd cleared out, and how the flavor may have mellowed. Imagine my horror when muddy brown muck filled my glass. At first I thought it was some sediment from the bottom, but no, the entire batch had that same dark, sludgy look. And, sad to say, a flavor that matched. Six gallons of plum wine had oxidized somehow, and was utterly ruined. I'm not sure how that happened. Carelessness on my part, I supposed, but thinking back I can't recall any "smoking gun." I'll try again, since I have plenty of plums chopped up and frozen in the deep freeze, but this was very disappointing.

There's only one thing to do when you have to dispose of six gallons of ruined wine, and that's start another six gallon batch to replace it. Being a fan of instant gratification, I decided to make a quick batch of beer. 1) I have a single bottle of home brew left in the refrigerator, and 2) it'll ferment in a week allowing me to use the fermentation vessel for mead or wine or something else in short order. Like I said, instant gratification. Plus, I've never, ever had a batch of beer go bad on me.

Sunday afternoon I set out with the Bug to Homebrew Party in San Antonio. It's just 15 minutes from my house, and nothing has dissuaded me from my initial impression that this place compares very favorably to the excellent Austin Homebrew Supply. While there I got a bottle of potassium sorbate (to really, really make sure the fermentation stops in the mead), some wine yeast, a kit can of Cooper's Dark Ale extract and a pound of Munton's dark malt extract. What can I say? I like malty beers better than hoppy beers. I could easily have spent a thousand dollars or more in there, but I didn't (because I don't want to be divorced). Once I got home, in short order I had the wort cooked, mixed and cooled in my primary six gallon fermentation vessel. Cooper's wasn't kidding when they said it was dark ale--the stuff's black. I worked up a yeast starter with some passion fruit juice and yeast nutrient, and pitched it once the temperature of the wort hit the acceptable range. Currently, things have settled down and there's a nice layer of yeast lining the bottom, with occasional tiny bubbles rising up. I expect that by this time tomorrow the airlock will be bubbling non-stop and threatening to blow out.

So, what should I attempt next week after this beer is bottled? Try for another batch of plum wine? Or a fig or prickly pear melomel? Or even a medieval "burnt" mead with carmelized honey? Decisions, decisions...

Now Playing: The Kinks Something Else

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday Night Videos

I enjoy the heck out of the Dixie Chicks, and "Goodbye Earl" never made premeditated murder sound so good. The video's a hoot and a half as well, because how can you go wrong with Dennis Franz and Jane Krakowski?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Warren Zevon.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast Best Little Whorehouse in Texas