Thursday, March 30, 2006

What good is bait if there's no hook?

Yesterday I posted about how an economic study indicates San Antonio could support the addition of both the NFL and Major League Baseball. Which was cool news. Unfortunately, someone had to go splash the cold water of reality on all of us giddy at the prospect:
With a possible extension of San Antonio's tourism taxes to build a Major League Baseball stadium, the options left to finance city leaders' dreams of an NFL team are dwindling.

There's only one-eighth of a cent left under the cap for sales taxes — revenue that could go for library improvement or crime prevention instead of artificial turf and luxury suites.

And the tax options left under 1997 sports venue financing legislation are unpopular options with sports team owners and are unlikely to generate the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to bring football here.

And, if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of it:
The original bond debt for the AT&T Center could be retired by 2012 instead of the contractual 2022, according to the latest projections. But there is still more than $100 million in principal to pay, and adding an estimated $240 million for the baseball stadium and improvements around the arena to that number could mean tourists would be paying the taxes another 20 to 30 years, according to David Smith, budget officer for Bexar County.

That debt could stifle future public money options for a stadium should the city get another chance at luring an NFL team.

So essentially we're looking at a situation where the city and county have enough potential revenue from the tourist trade to build one stadium without socking it to locals, but not two. Even though the locals could support both.

Logically, there's the Alamodome which could play host to an NFL team, but the Alamodome was built just before luxury suites became a major revenue stream for teams, and has very few of those money generators. The Alamodome is a great stadium to see a game in, and I don't think a new stadium should be built to replace it. But extensive rennovations are needed to bring it up to "modern" NFL standards, rennovations which would cost $100 million or so. That's not as much as building an entirely new stadium, but again, that money's not going to be there if a new baseball stadium goes up. And San Antonio still doesn't have a commitment from any team or league for relocation or expansion.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Golden Rocks

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

More bait for the Marlins

Now this is interesting. During San Antonio's flirtation with the New Orleans Saints last year, Bexar County officials commissioned a long-term economic study to quantify assertations that the region could support two professional sports franchises, ie the Spurs of the NBA and Team X of the NFL. Turns out the recently completed study was more positive than anyone expected:
The study found population in the region should increase to 4.92 million by 2015 from an estimated 3.99 million this year, or 2.3 percent a year.

The number of jobs is forecast to increase 2.8 percent annually to nearly 2.2 million, up from 1.7 million this year.

Total personal income could increase 7.2 percent annually to $238.9 billion from an estimated $128 billion this year.

Hockenyos' report says recent growth in the regional economy, mostly along the Interstate 35 corridor from San Antonio to Austin, has led to 478,000 net new jobs, or 3 percent above the previous year.

In contrast, national employment grew 1.5 percent.

"Growing appeal of the region as a site for expansion and relocation of both people and firms helps San Antonio/I-35 consistently perform 'above the line' relative to the U.S. as a whole," the report said.

San Antonio's "economic roll" includes the new Toyota manufacturing plant and suppliers, the selection of Fort Sam Houston as the new headquarters of U.S. Army South and new high school work force academies that help produce skilled workers.

The long and short of it is that San Antonio's economic base is growing far more rapidly than it ever has. No only do the numbers indicate the region (which includes Laredo on the border and tech-savvy Austin to the north) could easily support a second franchise today, but they also seem to point to the economic ability of San Antonio to host a third professional team ten years down the line. If projections play out as expected, of course.

This is an interesting bit of news for everyone to chew over. There's a faction that is opposed to pursuing the Marlins, because they view the acquisition of a Major League Baseball franchise as automatically precluding the addition of an NFL team. But this study shows they're not mutually exclusive. San Antonio can literally have it's cake and eat it too. Cool.

Now Playing: The Doors The Best of the Doors

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The smells of sogginess

It started drizzling yesterday, and it's been raining steadily here all day. Great news for our drought-stricken region. The air is thick with humidity, and the temperature's just cool enough to be comfortable.

The smokers in our building gather on the loading dock on the first floor to get their nicotine fix before riding back up the elevators to whichever floor they work on. I've noticed today that even if nobody is in the elevator besides me, there's a lingering scent of damp, musty tobacco. Reminds me of my Grandpa Fritz, who had that same odor clinging to him on rainy days. At least, he did until cancer finally caught up with him. Odd what memories the weather holds in store.

Now Playing: Ray Davies Other People's Lives

Monday, March 27, 2006

Aggiecon 37 post-mortem

I survived my whirlwind excursion to Aggiecon. It was great to see folks such as Rick Klaw, Mark Finn, Bill Crider, Lou Antonelli and the rest, but other than that... the con was anemic, once you get right down to it. There were problems with the autograph sessions that have persisted for several years the con organizers continue to ignore. Attendance was light. Dealers room and the art show were both significantly smaller than in years past. And, to add insult to injury, the con had for some bizarre reason decided to drop a chunk of change to bring in Peter Mayhew and his $20 a pop autographs at the last minute. Media guests are the reefs upon which the ship of Aggiecon has desperately tried to dash itself upon regularly over the years. Aggiecon is not a convention where the demographics and economics allow for dropping several thousand dollars on a media guest. Financial solvency will not result. Especially when said guest is signed just a month before the con and no mention of the fact is included on any promotional materials. He's not even listed in the program book, fer cryin' out loud.

I pointed this out in frustration to some of the con staff, and was given some wishy-washy answers in reply: "Well, he's a friend of ours," and "But he cut us a really good deal" and--this is my favorite--"We had to get somebody!" No, Pointdexter, you don't have to blow four grand on an actor who'd be a C-lister at Wizard World. Especially when said four grand (or however much it is) constitutes at minimum a quarter of your convention budget, and has no hope in hell of being recouped. I guarantee there weren't 10 people in attendance there specifically because Mayhew was present. And even if the con had advertised his presence, who's going to drive from Houston to see him when Creation will stage one of their overpriced dog-and-pony shows with him out at one of the airport hotels three months down the road (provided Mayhew hadn't already been there for a boat show six weeks prior). To top it off, the con also had James C. Leary in as a media guest. Leary's claim to fame being the heavily made-up demon "Clem" from several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I pray to high heaven they didn't actually pay cash money for this guy to come in, because again, not even a dozen people bought con passes to see him.

Are Mayhew and Leary nice guys? As far as I know. But they're horribly, awfully, grossly inappropriate guests for Aggiecon. If there is no Aggiecon 38, the blame lies squarely on the convention officers who thought it'd be a good idea to bring in media types. Their fault. Because there is no way this convention made money this year. The question is "How much did they lose?"

If the con committee has a lick of sense, they'll revise their charter/constitution/operating procedures to forbid the outlay of appearance fees for guests, if not the outright banning of media guests. No media guests--be they from Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape, anything--have ever worked out financially for the con. Several times the red ink would've sunk the con for good had Texas A&M not eaten the loss because the club was a university-sponsored organization. But Aggiecon doesn't have that safety net anymore, and by golly, if they want the convention to survive, these students have to stop wanting to convert their convention into some College Station-based version of Dragoncon and start acting responsible with their limited financial resources. Because right now, they're on the fast track to oblivion.

Now Playing: Silly Wizard The Best of Silly Wizard

Friday, March 24, 2006

Aggiecon 37

Just a quick one for you folks before I hit the sack. Tomorrow, March 25, I'll be at Aggiecon 37 in College Station. It's just a one-day appearance, but my programming is packed--I'm on SF In the Real World, Multi-Media Future, Cloning & Immortality and Creating a Space Habitat as well as the usual Guest Reception and autograph sessions. See you there!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

In which the author travels to Salisbury Plain and Easter Island

No? Would you believe Kerrville? I'd been planning a trip to Kerrville for the sole purpose of paying Natives of Texas a visit, because they propogate p. tenuiloba and p. affinis, two native species of Passiflora that I've wanted to grow amongst the other things in my yard. And these two are pretty darn rare in nursery circles, so a road trip was in order. Calista wanted to ride along, so it became a father-daughter outing.

Since we were going to be in the area, I thought we'd make a side trip to one place I'd always wanted to visit myself--Stonehenge II, a 60 percent scale model of the ancient standing stones from England, built by Al Shepperd and Doug Hill in a Texas Hill Country pasture.

I didn't tell Calista where we were going after the nursery. She didn't really notice we were traveling a different road. But the road literally comes out of the trees along a turn, and bam! there it is, looming up from the flat grassland with limestone ridges in the distance. Calista literally gasped, and demanded "What is that!?" Her enthusiasm, shall we say, was infectious. And I didn't have to talk her into getting out of the car and walking out to the site.

Not content to let standing stones lie, so to speak, Shepperd and Hill eventually branched out into other forms of reproductive stonework, such as this replica Moai from Easter Island. Two flank the Stonehenge replica, roughly 50 yards to either side.

The second Moai is wearing one of the odd hats the Easter Islanders placed atop some of the statues. With the exception of two big limestone slabs used in the Stonehenge mockup, all the creations are sculpted using steel, plaster and concrete. It's obvious the structures aren't real stone, but that doesn't diminish their impressive nature. It's a lot of fun, tucked away in the middle of nowhere. The world needs more whimsy of this sort.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Glass Houses

Monday, March 20, 2006

New interview is up

Here's a switch: Some poor schmuck interviewing me! Rick Klaw does the dirty deed in a Q&A now up at
What do you do as an interviewer to prepare yourself for the interview? I assume you don't just show up.

I don't just show up, no. That's the kiss of death. You learn that early on in journalism as a reporter. If you show up, your ignorance will be on display for everyone to see and snicker at, and even when you do prepare, a lot of times your ignorance is on display because you haven't prepared enough, even if you do an extensive amount of preparation.

First of all I just try and find the author's web site. If they don't have an author's web then, just any fan sites or anything up there, just the basic biography first, who they are, what their influences [are], if they grew up here, or they grew up there; that's just background information to give you kind of a picture of the person. Their bibliography: find out what books they've written, what their newest books are, what their most recent stuff is, what they're most known for. If they're known for winning Hugos back to back to back, well then that's a significant part of the story. That's background information to give you a feel for the author and a foundation to base everything else on, but what I've found is the most important thing to do is to track down as many prior interviews as possible, not to steal the question, but just so you know what questions are always asked, then just do one step and DON'T ASK THOSE.

That's the main thing that I learned: don't ask these questions, don't ask this question, don't ask this question because everyone else has. Now, I say that, but that's not always really possible or advisable, as far as not asking questions. Because when I interviewed Vernor Vinge, I started off the interview with an apology, I'm sorry that I'm going to start this off, because you've answered it a million times, but let's talk about the Singularity, this concept that you have. He laughed, and then we went on from there. I didn't limit myself to that, which I've seen some interviews with him that that's all they discuss is the concept of the Singularity where humanity reaches a cusp and what comes out the other side of that no longer resembles humanity as we know it.

And you want to know the scary thing? That's only PART ONE of the interview. For a fellow who's only published one book, I sure do seem to think highly of my own voice!

Now Playing:

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Childhood nirvana

Okay, you I'm taking off from work for a couple of weeks to help Lisa with Orion. In all honesty, Lisa handles Orion pretty well on her own, but it's the other two kids--Calista and Keela--who are climbing the walls. They're bored. They want to do something fun. Patience has never been a virtue of these Blaschke women. What's a dad to do?

They didn't know where I was taking them. The anticipation was driving them buggy, until we turned into the parking lot and they saw that iconic Six Flags logo. Then it was sheer bedlam in the PT Cruiser. Fiesta Texas! Yay! If anyone had nominated Daddy for worldwide dictator for life, there'd been two very enthusiastic votes in favor right then and there.

I don't handle dizzy well. Never have. I avoid carousels and merry-go-rounds because motion sickness makes me barf. How sad is that? So of course the very first ride they want to go on is the "Wagon Wheel," which I now call the "Vomit Wheel." It starts out horizontal and then rises to vertial before dropping back down. I can handle forward velocity fine, so I figured this would be okay. I didn't count on the cars swinging from side to side during the ride. Yikes. I was in pathetic shape afterwards, and was queasy for at least an hour afterwards. And having a seven-year-old and a five-year-old taunt you isn't much fun, either.

The "Gully Washer" is one of those white water raft rides. I've grown very disappointed with them of late. This one was much like Sea World Texas' "Rio Loco," in that you simply don't get wet from the whitewater aspect of it. Very tame. The "wet" comes from an artificial waterfall the raft floats under--only the waterfall wasn't working this day. What a rip. Of all the whitewater rides I've been on, the late, lamented "Thunder River" at Astroworld is still far and away the best.

The girls are gettin' their kicks on Route 66. Yeah, it's pretty tame. But it's nice to know that some of the classics endure. I drove a clone of this many a time at Astroworld growing up, and it's nice to share that with the girls. My only complaint is that the Fiesta Texas version doesn't have a gas pedal--you can only go one uniform speed the whole way, rather than speeding up or slowing down. And the power went off for about two minutes while we were riding, forcing us to sit motionless for far longer than two hyper girls would like.

The girls automatically gravitated to the tallest, scariest, most dramatic rides in the park. Which we couldn't go on because A) Keela was usually too short, and B) Mommy wasn't along to wait with Keela while Calista rode. Which is why we didn't do any roller coasters this time around (Okay, Keela was tall enough for the "Road Runner Express," a real rollercoaster as opposed to the kiddie-sized "RollerShuhCoaster," but they were having mechanical problems with it and shut it down). But when they saw "Die Fledermaus" begging kicked into high gear.

Alas, Keela was an inch or so too short, and couldn't go. But Calista begged. And begged. And seeing has I had many fond memories of "The Gunslinger" from Astroworld, which was pretty much the same thing, I granted Calista permission to go by herself while Keela watched. The results, as they say, were predictable (Photoshop enhanced for your viewing pleasure).

They've been begging to go back every day since.

Now Playing: Billy Joel An Innocent Man

Friday, March 10, 2006

San Antonio Marlins

Since I've been busy doing the new father thing, I haven't had a chance to comment on San Antonio's latest flirtation with a pro sports team that wants a new stadium. This time, it's the Florida Marlins of Major League Baseball that are making goo-goo eyes, and the Alamo City is making them right back:
County Judge Nelson Wolff said Thursday that two potential baseball stadium sites in Northeast Bexar County have been mentioned to the Florida Marlins, and a third in that area will be passed on to the team.

"We showed them land near (Retama Park in Selma) and also the Longhorn Quarry," Wolff said.

The third site is in Live Oak near Loop 1604 and Interstate 35.

All three sites for the proposed open-air, baseball-specific stadium are privately owned.

"We'll show them any site that has potential," Wolff said at a luncheon for the Northeast Partnership for Economic Development, a coalition of Randolph AFB-area suburban cities.

Wolff's comments came one day after he informed the Marlins that the county would put up to $200 million toward an estimated $300 million ballpark if voters were to extend taxes on hotel occupancy and rental cars.

First things first, they're not going to build a Major League stadium for $300 million. Actually, they could, but that's if land was already in hand. It's not, although there are prime locations available. And that doesn't include a retractable roof to the stadium, either, which isn't necessarily necessary in San Antonio, but is pretty much the standard with new stadiums these days. Even with construction costs in Texas being cheaper, as Wolff rightly points out, you're still looking at a price tag of $350 million, minimum, after land acquisition, and possibly up to $450 million despending on the roof issue and other whistles and bells. If you anticipate the Marlins kicking in $100 million, that still leaves a $50-100 million gap in total public investment. That reveals Wolff's offer as what it truly is--a serious offer of earnest money, designed to get the Marlins' attention and scare off other potential suitors, such as Charlotte and Portland. I'm actually quite pleased with the locations they're considering:

I live right up I-35, just off the north end of this map. Retama Park's just about a 10 minute drive from my house. The site at the old Longhorn Quarry is just over 15 minutes, depending on traffic. I actually looked at some houses near the quarry about four years back when I was working in San Antonio. So any of these three locations are okay by me.

But what of the bigger issue? Can San Antonio support Major League Baseball? A decade or so back, the answer for me was easy: Hell yes! I'd never seen a city better suited for baseball. With generally low-priced tickets and a broad appeal to Hispanics, I was baffled as to why San Antonio had only a AA Texas League franchise in the Missions. Hadn't recently-completed Wolff Stadium set a new standard for first-class minor league ballparks, allowing the Missions to move out of venerable V.J. Keefe? Hadn't the Missions set Texas League attendance records? In the early 90s, the Missions also set national merchendising records with their redesigned uniforms and logos.

Ah, how wisdom comes with age. That beautiful Wolff Stadium hasn't seen a dime invested in it over the past 15 years, and is looking pretty shabby at the seams. The Missions have been begging for years to take over the stadium's management from the city, just so they can make much-needed improvements, but nobody in city hall can be bothered. Attendance has lagged while glorious new state-of-the-art parks have opened in Austin and Corpus Christi. San Antonio's being lapped by other communities. But minor league baseball has flourished in San Antonio for more than a century. The tradition is here.

Unfortunately, the biggest sticking point in SA's ability to support the Marlins may be baseball's fundamental economics. They're messed up. When scrub utility players make on average $2.5 million per year, there's something wrong. There's no salary cap. There's no revenue sharing. There are strikes every few years, with millionaires fighting billionaires. There's Barry Bonds and steroids and gambling scandals... I don't know if San Antonio can support that. Not 40,000 seats' worth of support for a full Major League season schedule. And that's not San Antonio's fault--it's baseball's. When you have only a handful of teams--New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta--that are capable of turning a profit on a regular basis, while everyone else is left grasping for table scraps... sheesh.

The corporate base is here. AT&T is now the world's largest telecomm. Toyota is ramping up production while GM and Ford shed tens of thousands of jobs. A second pro franchise can co-exist with the Spurs in this city without the two cannibalizing each other. The NFL, with the existing fan base and 8 home dates to sell out in the Alamodome would be an easy sell. You couldn't not make money with that one. One would think the same holds true with baseball--and with the strong Latino makeup of most Major League rosters, marketing shouldn't be a problem. But would a San Antonio franchise survive the next round of self-destruction that grips baseball every few years? I'm dubious. Baseball is simply too messed up.

But hey, I'm all for throwing caution to the wind and giving it a shot. I've always like Major League Baseball more than any other pro sport, and am too far away to really suffer the trials and tribulations of the Astros' fans this year (and every other year besides). Having a team, literally, right down the street would be a blast. I just hope they change the name, because really, San Antonio Marlins? Personally, I'd got with Vaqueros, but your mileage may vary.

Now Playing:

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Play that Kinky music

No, not Kinky Friedman. I'm talking about the Kinks, the bestest band what ever was. According to this article, they've suddenly become the darlings of the ad biz, even with songs that were never hits:
Sixteen years after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 23 years after their last top 10 hit ("Come Dancing"), the Kinks are in the spotlight again -- thanks to a number of TV spots that feature their distinctive pop music.

A couple of weeks ago, the British band's top 10 hit from 1964, "All Day and All of the Night," helped launch a new Tide campaign. In the coming weeks, the group's "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy" will be heard in spots for IBM and Abbott Labs, respectively.

Additional licensing opportunities for the Kinks' music are in the works, says Kenny Ochoa, VP of film/TV licensing at Sanctuary Records Group, which represents the group.

Even though many of the songs used were not big U.S. hits, Ochoa credits this "Kinks renaissance" to the timelessness of the band's music, which has influenced many of today's rock bands.

He says an additional credit must go to Hewlett-Packard, which licensed the Kinks' "Picture Book" for an award-winning 2004 campaign.

"When spots work, they really work," Ochoa says. "The music and visuals drove that spot -- it was a perfect marriage."

"Picture Book" has always been a song I enjoy. It was never even released as a single, but has a goofy, loopy charm, and is a good example of Ray's music hall-inspired writings. Of course, the flip side of that one is "People Take Pictures of Each Other," which is almost as bouncy a beat, but far more cynical in outlook. Some may look down on the Kinks for selling out, but as they control almost none of their early catalog, I look at it as the band getting some exposure they richly deserve.

In other news, the pub where the Davies boys first jammed has been designated a national historic site in Britain:
LANDLORD John Dick and fans of legendary band The Kinks celebrated a top award given to The Clissold Arms.

The pub, in Fortis Green Road, Muswell Hill, was honoured with a plaque commemorating it as the venue where the band's founders, brothers Ray and Dave Davies, first performed in 1960.

It is among the first 14 in the country to be named Britain's Pubs in Time - a scheme to commemorate drinking holes with historical significance - and one of three with a modern musical connection.

If I ever someday get over to the U.K., I'm certainly going to have to make it over to The Clissold Arms and have myself a pint or two in honor of the history of the place.

Now Playing: Ray Davies Other People's Lives

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In which a new Blaschke comes into the world

Orion Elliott Blaschke was born 4:22 p.m. Monday, March 6. He weighed 7 pounds 4 ounces and measured 19.5 inches long. Lisa and I went in to the regularly scheduled OB appointment at 9:30, then went across the street to the hospital with relatively mild contractions 7 minutes apart. Since we were a few days past the due date, Lisa's water was broken at 11 a.m. to try and spur things along. The contractions did indeed intensify, coming 2-4 minutes apart. But by 3 p.m. effacement and dilation had only progressed a moderate amount, and the OB started hinting about using pitocin. Which Lisa absolutely did not want, having tangled with that nasty stuff when having Calista. Instead, we hooked up her breast pump for nipple stimulation. That did the trick. The intensity of Lisa's contractions shot off the chart, and by 4 p.m. Lisa was completely dilated and effaced, with urges to push. She gave birth, I feel compelled to point out, without any drugs, epidurals or pain killers of any sort. She's just macho like that.

So, without further ado, I present Orion and his daddy (that latter fellow didn't really do much at all during the festivities, other than cut the cord):

Here Calista and Keela meet their little brother for the first time (he's got Keela's mouth and Calista's eyes):

And here he is flying solo.

You may note the abscence of any photos featuring Lisa. Mommy's doing just fine, and recovering more quickly than she did with either Calista or Keela. But all the pictures I have with her and Orion are breastfeeding ones, so I'm going to wait until we get some pics that don't expose mommy to the whole world.

Now Playing: Mike & the Mechanics Living Years

Friday, March 03, 2006

Greatest DVD deal ever

If you have a Hastings near where you live, run--don't walk--there post hast. They've got the most awesome DVD sale going on. Well, it's not exactly a sale. It's more like a bin, filled with two-packes of some of the worst science fiction movies ever made. The kicker? They're going for the bargain price of $1.99. Look at the beauty I grabbed:

I watched Gamera all the time as a kid, on those Saturday morning "Creature Features" that gave me my Godzilla fix and had King Kong duking it out with his robot double. I always though Gamera was pretty cool with those tusks, even if the movies themselves were more than a little goofy. I remember watching "Destroy All Planets" about a dozen times, and even saw "Attack of the Monsters" a time or two. "Gammera the Invincible" is new to me, though. Re-watching "Attack of the Monsters" with Calista, I realize the film's even dumber than I remember. And the special effects are so shoddy they make Tojo's Godzilla flicks look like masterworks from ILM in comparison. I mean, is this great stuff or what?

Even better are the other movies they have in that bin. It took all of my self control not to load up on all of 'em right then and there. Judge for yourself:

I ask you, how can a sane human being not look at "Warning from Space" and not be captivated by Japanese actors in green starfish costumes with big eyeballs on their bellies? Any DC Comics fan worth his salt would grab it for the Starro the Conqueror/Evil Star connotations, if nothing else. And that doesn't even take into account "They Came from Beyond Space" on the same disc! And the other disc, oh boy. Peter Graves? I'm so there. An added bonus is Robot Monster's poor cousin from the sticks getting his own chance to shine in "Phantom from Space." I'm telling you, gang, any one of these films would be a bargain at twice the price, but two movies for $1.99? Heck, you can't even pirate 'em that cheaply...

Now Playing: Dave Davies Bug

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Writing underwater

Managed to get past a sticky part in the Europa story last night. I forsee one more big trouble spot up ahead, and then we'll be home free. It's interesting how the current story is running parallel to the original draft, but maybe 20 feet over to the left. I mean, I can see the original plot from where I am currently, and the terrain and landmarks are more or less the same, but it's still different enough to require me to work as hard as if I were writing an entirely new story.
"He was going to accept. It was everything RĂ¼diger ever wanted, really. The Kargel was to be his--our--last Europan tour." Theda looked up at Sabine, her face haggard. "I'm finished here. There's nothing left. I'm ready to go home."

Sabine nodded. "There are other cold vents, Falko. I've already lost one crewmember. I've no intention of losing any more."

"A methane plume like you're talking about would be cataclysmic," I said bitterly.

"If you're thinking mutiny, Falko, better make damn sure you kill me your first try, because you're not getting a second."

There's exactly one sentence in that mix that survives from the original draft. The bit about "methane plume," and even that's just a fragment from a much larger argument.

At this point, I have no idea how much longer this story's going to run. I think I'm running up to the endgame, but then again, this rewrite's been throwing all sorts of curveballs at me, so who knows?

Now Playing: Astrud Gilberto The Best of Astrud Gilberto

March Madness!?

This must be a sign of the apocalypse: The Texas A&M football team can't buy a win on the field all season, while the basketball team just knocked off the no. 6 Longhorns to run it's season record to 19-7 on the year and make a play for landing a berth in the Big Dance. Oh my goodness:
The 13,176 rabid Aggies — and yes, that is redundant — may have left the Reed Arena court by now, but we're not going to swear to it. They just might still be stomping and yelling and jumping and throwing the horns down.

If it's one thing the Aggies are really good at it, it's being noisy. They can do loud.

The school-record crowd outfitted in white T-shirts and waving white towels stormed the floor after Acie Law's 22-footer swished the net with no time left on the clock to give the fans something to shout about. That may include a deserving NCAA tournament at-large berth despite an atrocious non-conference schedule the Harlem Globetrotters would be ashamed to have.

Could the squad's cream-puff non-conference slate have disguised the fact that the Aggies might actually be--gasp!--a good basketball team? The mind boggles.

Now Playing: Ray Davies Other People's Lives

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Other People's Lives

I'm a huge Kinks fan. Phenominally huge. I've got bootlegs and imports and multiple copies of their albums on CD counting all the remasters and bonus tracks. I've got books written by and about them, and have various solo efforts by the brothers Ray and Dave. In short, I worship their musical genius.

So Ray Davies' first solo studio album, Other People's Lives, hit the stores a few days back. I finally picked up my copy today. It's a very... interesting listen. To some degree, it's over-produced in a way not unlike Colin James Hay's first solo album apart from Men at Work, Looking for Jack, was. It's as if Davies is extremely self-conscious about his first Kink-less effort (Storyteller was live, and relied heavily on Kinks tunes, so that doesn't count) and is pulling out all the stops to show he's not some British Invasion version of David Lee Roth, dependent on his bandmates for his success. Of course, Ray's always had a sort of insecurity about him, evidenced by his famous battles with brother Dave.

Pete Townshend once said Ray should be named poet laureat of Britain, and listening to this disc, that's in evidence. He's revisiting themes of isolation and dysfunction in these songs, which have been hallmarks of Kinks songs since almost the beginning, but the approach and style comes off as fresh. This is a melodic album, with less of the awkward music phrasing that characterized latter Kinks albums such as Phobia. There's also less of the meandering, jazz-inspired story-song types that showed up on Storyteller and Waterloo Sunset: The Singles Collection, although some of that atmosphere carries over to the new tunes.

While the music and vocals are evocative of the Kinks, it's not that much of a Kinks album. Dave's rampant guitar is nowhere to be found. And much of the production lifts from styles of 70s singer-songwriter releases, particularly the use of horns (much more effectively employed here, I might add, than in the over-the-top RCA catalog from the Kinks). The opening track, "Things are Gonna Change (The Morning After)," dealing with the fallout of alcoholism, even sounds to me like recent U2, if you can believe it. Musically, it takes a cue from the last official Kinks single, "To the Bone." The closing "Thanksgiving Day" is a wonderful bittersweet piece of nostalgia and redemption. "Is There Life After Breakfast?" is becoming a favorite.

Ray has an amazing talent for taking the bleakest, most morose subjects and grafting them to powerful, even uplifting melodies. The juxtaposition is brilliant, far more so than your run-of-the-mill rock dirge would be. I doubt any single off the album will chart, but it may well get a good deal of AOR airplay. I'm not entirely sure how I'll like this album overall a year from now--it usually takes a while and many listens for me to absorb all of Ray's lyrics--but again, musically it's far more consistent than the tracks on the last few Kinks albums, which ranged from brilliant to stunningly mediocre. My only complaint is that there are several songs that would've probably benefitted from a stripped down, almost raw acoustic interpretation rather than the "Wall of Sound" approach Ray's taken instead. But overall, it's a very encouraging not-really debut from Ray, and I look forward to seeing what future efforts of his entail.

Go buy Other People's Lives. It's not the Kinks, but it's good stuff.

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16 ways to kill an astronaut

So now we have it. The new, improved foam insulation on the space shuttle's external tank is just as dangerous as the old, unimproved foam insulation that caused the Columbia to break up over Texas.
NASA says 16 pieces of foam insulation broke off the fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery during its launch last July, offering many chances for harming the spacecraft in the same way Columbia was doomed three years ago.

It's the first time the space agency has put a number on the pieces of foam that snapped off during liftoff last year in the first flight since the Columbia disaster. Engineers had hoped to prevent any threatening loss of foam and were disappointed when it happened again.

"The large size of some of the foam losses caused concern because they were much larger than analysis had predicted was likely," the space agency said in an update on its Web site recently.

Here's a wacky thought: Instead of pumping billions into continued ineffectual redesigns and operation costs, why not decommission the remaining shuttles now, before more people get killed, and instead plow that money into developing the CEV and Shuttle-C variant NASA has on the drawing board? That way that white elephant ISS gets completed eventually, but we get a more-efficient heavy lifter and a much safer manned spacecraft that much sooner. All without breaking the budget, which the current plan most certainly does. I'm sorry, does that make too much sense?

Thanks to Bad Astronomy for the link.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kronikles