Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Heroes: The Fix

Last night's episode was a set-up episode. Nothing much happened beyond moving the chess pieces around on the board to prep things for the promised events of next week's episode. And next week's episode better be jam-packed, as almost every storyline ended with a cliffhanger of varying import. Especially since Cheerleader Claire finding her birthmother was front and center in the promos for the episode, an event which didn't happen until the final few minutes of the show. Grr.

But even so, the episode was a keeper. It was probably more comic-like in its plotting and setup than most other episodes of the series, insofar as the structure and pacing went. It felt very confident, in that the cliffhangers were the payoff. I mean, Bennet caught in a Silence of the Lambs moment by supervillain Sylar? Yikes! Although watching Bennet's "internal conflict" and "angst" over the continual mindwipes he's subjected his family to, it strikes me that the writers ought to invest a lot more energy into making him a sympathetic character, even if he is at odds with most of the other characters on the show. Right now, he's Cancer Man light, and that doesn't really benefit anyone. If they make him more like, say, Londo Mollari, a fellow with basically honorable intentions who sets in motion forces he can't control that sweep him along, I think that'd add significant depth to the character. Right now, we're being told (shown, sort of) that he's multi-layered, but the substance ain't there.

Claire's white-trash firestarter mother is an interesting addition to the cast. Obviously, she's had active powers for all of Claire's 16 years, reading between the "firey car crash" lines. Which means there is another generation of Heroes out there that didn't suddenly manifest their powers six months earlier. I wonder if the writers are going to follow up on that, or ignore it as the series progresses?

Did I miss something in the exchange between Peter Petrelli and the Invisible Man who looks like Mike Rutherford? I mean, where does Petrelli get off thinking the former Genesis guitarist has trained other heroes how to use their powers? Ol' Mike made reference to meeting other supers in the past, IIRC, but at what point did he become some sort of sensi? The impression I'm getting from his evasiveness is that he's either a con artist (high probability) or a mere fraud (equally high probability). I don't expect this relationship to end well.

Hiro, of course, gets the best lines of the show, as usual. That his personal demon to confront is his own father is priceless--and fits so well with his character that I worry the follow-up can't possibly live up to the cliffhanger. Next week better really be good, or I'll be sorely disappointed.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Racking the mead (finally)

It took a little longer to rack the current six-gallon batch of mead than it should have, but I finally managed to get around to it. Yay! I've now got it divided into four different containers, which gave me a free hand to experiment:


The two Mr. Beer fermentation vessels on the chair hold 1.5 and 2.5 gallons respectively. Both of these currently hold the prickly pear incarnation of my mead. Remember, I'd harvested quite a few beautiful ripe prickly pear fruit back in (yikes!) July:


I'd stored them in the deep freeze, which proved to be a good thing. Donning a thick oven mitt, I cut the ends off each one and peeled them with a potato peeler. Being frozen solid, the process went quickly at first but got messier as the fruit thawed and the juice--the deep burgundy stainable juice--started getting everywhere. And several of those fine prickles worked their way through the oven mitt into various digits of my left hand, but overall it was fairly painless. I placed all the cleaned fruit into a large pot, covered it and left it on the counter overnight. In the morning, the pot was filled with juice--freezing the fruit had ruptured the cell walls, making my job all the easier. After cooking the mix for 45 minutes (I'd been warned that raw prickly pear will foam uncontrollably if fermented) I strained out the pulp and ended up with almost seven cups of intensely colored juice. I divided it proportionally between the 1.5 and 2.5 gallon vessels, and filled with mead. What's cool is that both of these are fairly clear to start with, and should be crystal clear before long (I might not even have to rack again). I usually use green bottles for my mead, but for this batch I'm thinking we need clear bottles to show off the color.

The remaining mead went into two one-gallon glass carboys, formerly containing Central Market Organic Apple Juice. In the leftmost one I added maybe a quarter cup of fresh mint leaves--chocolate mint and spearmint, I believe--at Lisa's request. I'm not a huge mint fan, but this one smells really good. It's pretty dry right now, and I'll probably let it stay that way and not add any more honey. The carboy on the right was the recipient of one honkin' big jalapeño pepper. It's quite ripe, the end of it turning red, and I expect it should convey a great deal of heat to the mead. I sliced the end of the pepper crosswise to ensure the heat from the seeds is able to penetrate the mead. I expect this one will need a good deal of additional honey before its through, along with another racking or two. I anticipate it needing at least a little sweetness to balance the heat. But I'm not 100 percent sure--I'm making this up as I go along, after all.

I've also got some medium toast French oak chips that will go into the prickly pear and jalapeño mead sometime in the future. Is this brewing stuff fun, or what?

Now Playing: The Partridge Family Greatest Hits

Friday, January 26, 2007

Flash and dazzle

On the morning commute today, I crested a hill between New Braunfels and San Marcos and was instantly dazzled by a brilliant crimson flash. It was extremely bright, and went away quickly. A moment later it appeared again, and I located its origin about a mile or so ahead of me on I-35. It was coming from a northbound vehicle, and the flashes alternated from short, intermittent bursts, to a steady blaze lasting a minute or more. The rising sun was well above the horizon, directly to my right, so the angle wasn't right for it to be a reflection off the rear windshield or mirrors. And it was red. From a mile away it was so intense and bright I seriously thought someone was flashing a laser my direction, and worried about being struck blind.

But the flashing continued randomly, and despite the brightness, the light wasn't focused like a laser would be. So I slowly began gaining on the mystery vehicle. I caught up to it around the San Marcos outlet malls, and talk about an anticlimax. Turned out to be a dark gray Nissan Xterra. The blazing light was indeed reflected sunlight, bouncing off the curved reflective surface surrounding the actual taillights--not the lights themselves--but still encased in the red plastic taillight casing. I was dumbfounded at how something that has no relation to the lights themselves other than proximity could produce such a startling reflection at such a bizarre angle.

It was a really cool effect, though.

Now Playing: ZZ Top Antenna

Friday Night Videos

My exploration of contemporary videos steeped in unabashed nostalgia continues this week with "A.M. Radio" from Everclear. This is, without a doubt, one of the scruffiest bands I've ever seen, but the the lead singer/songwriter Art Alexakis nails the whole 70s aesthetic. The lyrics are catchy, but the video itself is pop culture crack for a child of the 70s like me. I remember watching all those goofy Sid & Marty Kroft shows on Saturday mornings--Land of the Lost, H.R. Pufnstuf with Witchiepoo, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters... Wow. It's a wonder they didn't include the classic Bigfoot & Wildboy in that mix. But even though I was very young, I clearly remember watching Hawaii Five-O with my parents in the evenings, and I guess it's a testament to my age that I also remember watching the original Sonny & Cher Show and The Dean Martin Show (and later, his Celebrity Roasts) back then as well. So, yeah. This song and video works for me.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Bowling for Soup.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Local Hero

As if Eva Longoria and Ricardo Chavira aren't enough, it looks like San Antonio has another actor on a big hit show that it can lay claim to. And this show happens to be Heroes, that addictive super hero drama I post about here on occasion:
Did you know that Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays Mohinder — the genetics professor in India who inherited a list of people who have extraordinary powers — grew up in San Antonio?

According to his mom, Rajam, a neonatologist at UT Health Science Center, her son was born in Chicago, but the family moved to the Alamo City when he was very young.

Ramamurthy graduated from Keystone School here, but left the city to attend Tufts University. He didn't major in drama, but acted in several plays and fell in love with acting.

His mom was initially surprised by her son's choice of careers as he comes from a family of doctors. However, she and her husband — an anesthesiologist at the health science center — now are bursting with pride over their son's talent and success.

The only real disappointment here is that Ramamurthy's character, Mohinder, hasn't really been given anything significant to do on the show, other than wander into the narrative and impart bits of information that dispells the ignorance of other characters to a small degree. I'd thought early on that Mohinder would be the focal character of the show, since he's apparently "normal" but that was before Hiro and Peter Petrelli started stealing the limelight. Maybe Mohinder will step up in the second half of the season...

Now Playing: Ravel The Best of Ravel

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Heroes: Godsend

"Godsend" proved to be an interesting episode is several respects. The show's producers have obviously started writing scenes with Hiro's popularity in mind--the entire sword-thieving sequence was great fun. The fact that the mysterious puppet-master Lindermann already has the sword in his possession, and what Hiro stole was a mere replica ups the ante significantly. As does the recurring symbol that this time appears on the sword's hilt.

We finally get a little hint that Niki's "powers" consist of something more than a run-of-the-mill split personality. Apparently, super strength is part of her bad-girl persona. Nifty. And Cheerleader Claire, who tends to be a little more passive than I'd like, does a reenactment of her freefall splat from the pilot episode in order to convince her mindwiped former best friend of their, uh, former friendship.

Probably the most interesting part of the episode was the clarification in Peter Petrelli's coma dream that he does indeed absorb Fallout Boy's powers and can't control them, thus leading to the nuclear obliteration of New York. That's partly what I expected the situation to be, but I also suspect that there's more to it than that, since Peter's dream plays out more as prophetic metaphor than literal truth. And I have to say that his fight with the antisocial Invisible Man was great fun as well.

Again, we didn't see much advancement in the narrative this episode, but we did see a number of the characters' attitudes and understanding mature, so it'll be fun to see how those play out over the next few weeks. All in all, I'm quite glad Heroes is back.

Now Playing: Various Best of Mozart vol. 1

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Night Videos

My brother, Chris, is a huge Bowling for Soup fan, and I have to say that their video for 1985 has done a lot to convert the unrepentant Gen-Xer in me. I remember seeing Robert Palmer in concert at A&M (Heavy Touring Nova) and laughed out loud at their riff on George Michael. But the band's spot-on impersonation of Motley Crüe--particularly Brett Michaels--had me shaking my head in wonder. Yeah, this counts as another "modern" video that I approve of. Good stuff.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Fatboy Slim.

Now Playing: Berlin Philharmonic "The Ring" Without Words

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Aeon Flux

I was a fan of this strange animated show when it first came on MTV back in the mid-90s. I've only seen a fraction of the episodes, but appreciated its take-no-prisoners, Heavy Metal approach to animation and the future. So when the live-action movie was announced, I had misgivings. I'm a Charlize Theron fan, true. Rare is the movie that is so bad her presence doesn't improve things a notch. Even so, the mixed reviews that I read on this one gave me pause. But with everything being iced in around here, Lisa and I decided to give it a chance as a DVD rental.

Very, very disappointing is the verdict. It's not awful, just relentlessly mediocre with tiny flashes of throwaway brilliance to remind you how good it could have been. Standard-issue, Hollywood cliche-ridden plot. For once I'd like a movie centered around cloning not to stoop to giving the characters memories of their former selves. Gag. It's a very, very stylish movie, with great location shots. But the direction is muddled more often than not and there are more "as you know, Bob" infodumps than you can shake a stick at. Ultimately, this movie is nothing more than a mirror-universe remake of Logan's Run. Think about it--in Logan, the carousel is the center of society, but rebirth is a fraud. In Aeon, a secret, Carousel-esqe cabal eliminates certain members of society to ensure that rebirth may continue in perpetuity. Which might have made an interesting movie, only Aeon wasn't it.

Now Playing: Sting Mercury Falling

Mr. Canoehead: Giant beaver!

Mr. Canoehead's greatest disguise yet. Eat gunwales!

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

Monday, January 15, 2007


Okay, I know for you folks living up in the Great White North this is no great shakes, but it's 33 degrees right now and falling. The temps haven't climbed above 40 for three days, and it's been raining steadily since Friday. It's expected to drop to freezing by lunch, and continue a downward trek for the next 36 hours or so. Sleet, freezing rain and snow are expected.

I tell you, friends, this is a veritable apocalypse in these here parts. Schools, businesses and universities are expected to be shut down tomorrow, and maybe into Wednesday as well. Were I of a mind to, around about 6 a.m. tomorrow I could trek the mile or so over to I-35 and count all the vehicles that've slid off the road. Even money says I'd spot at least a dozen on the stretch of road visible to me.

And thus winter comes to Texas. Oh well. At least my fruit trees are getting the chill hours they need in order to fruit. I didn't even get plums last year...

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

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Most of the videos I post on Fridays are 15-20 years old. That was the golden age of MTV, after all, and coincided with my formative teen and college years when videos were "cool" and my life revolved a great deal around music. Even though MTV doesn't actually air music videos anymore, there are still pretty cool ones coming out every once in a while. Case in point: Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice." I've never worshiped Christopher Walken the way some folks do, but I'll admit "Needs more cowbell" is one of the best lines to come out of Saturday Night Live over the past 20 years and in this video he's just frellin' awesome. Plus, any song that references Dune in such a hip way certainly deserves bonus points.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Bangles.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Too much time on my hands

So yesterday during my lunch break I left the office, walked down eight flights of stairs and proceeded to wander around the Texas State campus with a pocket full of passion flower seeds, which I scattered in likely places I passed.

The campus straddles the Balcones fault, with most of the campus on limestone hills and the rest--including the San Marcos River and Aquarena--on clay prairie. This should be prime passiflora territory. There's been talk of making the campus an arboretum because of all the trees and native plants found here, which make it a very beautiful campus indeed. But I've never seen any passiflora despite looking off and on for the last several years. Passiflora affinis is native to the Hill Country and is found in Hays County, but not on campus apparently. Neither is the more obscure p. tenuiloba. I didn't have seeds of those. Instead, I had seed of p. incarnata, the native "maypop" I collected last spring in Colorado County which has been enthusiastically growing in my back yard ever since. Their western edge of their native range ends at the Balcones fault. There's some overgrown wildscape around the edges of campus on the prairie that should be prime incarnata habitat. So hither and yon I walked, dropping down seeds and covering them with leaf litter in sunny, brushy margins of the campus.

There's a small spring arising from the hills that forms a modest stream that flows into a flood control wetland before draining into the San Marcos river. There's a little island in the middle of this wetland, maybe 100'x100', give or take. Since I didn't want to get muddy reaching it, I instead scooped up balls of black clay the size of peach pits, pressed a few seeds into each one, and pelted the island with several hundred passiflora seeds. It's isolated and relatively unmolested by groundskeepers, with scrubby trees and undergrowth along the edges and open meadow in the interior. Excellent passiflora habitat, in other words. And really, if only two of the seeds I distributed grow to maturity, birds and small animals will scatter seed from the fruit elsewhere on campus.

Just doing my part to improve biodiversity.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Night at the Museum

The girls both really, really wanted to see the new Ben Stiller flick, "Night at the Museum," because, as they explained, "everyone at school's seen it." So Lisa and I took them--because we wanted to get out of the house more than anything else.

How was it? A lot better than I expected. Stiller plays the same character he plays in all of his films, that is, himself--although there are some clever bits he pulls off during his second night on the job. There's the standard-issue framing device of divorced parents and the father desperately trying to connect with his young son, but clueless about how to do so. There's the obligatory love interest. And a museum in which all the displays come to life from sunset to sunrise. There's not much plot. Dick Van Dyke plays essentially the same character he voiced in the milquetoast "Curious George" movie, and that's not a good thing. Owen Wilson does what he does. Ditto Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams. And the filmmakers are apparently unaware that Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun were two entirely different people.

Overall, the films an over-the-top concoction of anachronisms and joke setups. It is, essentially, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" remade without all the time travel. Or Bill and Ted. It's a goofy, entertaining popcorn flick that delivers what it sets out to deliver, and nothing more. The kids, naturally enough, are already asking when the DVD comes out so we can buy it.

Now Playing: Billy Joel/Richard Joo Fantasies & Delusions

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mead update

Remember that six gallon batch of mead I started way back at the beginning of December? It's still fermenting! I'd expected to rack it into separate vessels by now and add the prickly pear, mint and other flavorings to produce a variety of different drinks, but the stuff's still going. It's not fermenting vigorously, mind you, but it's quite steady. I know I used a lot of honey to start off with, but it's got to be running out of fermentable sugar sooner or later...

Now Playing: Franz Schubert Wanderer Fantasy C major

Friday Night Videos

Way back in '86, right in the middle of my formative high school years, the Bangles burst upon the scene. They hit it big right away with the Prince-penned "Manic Monday" and had a monster hit with the goofy "Walk Like an Egyptian," but my favorite song of theirs from the period is the often-overlooked "If She Knew What She Wants." It's got sweet harmonies and the subject matter reminds me of more than a few of my relationships from that era. Turns out, this is another song that had an MTV-only alternate video made. The alternate's interesting, but my fave is still the original (there's something about cute chicks and guitars, you know?):

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Modest Mussgorsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Next generation realization

What's the word for the realization that history--if it remembers me at all--will do so only in the context of being the father of my children? I'm fairly certain, even at this early date, that in adulthood my children will eclipse whatever modest accomplishments I've made. It's not an unpleasant mindset, but it does leave me feeling somewhat inadequate.

Now Playing: Martin Hummel 17th Century German Lute Songs

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'm back

Holidays are never good for me, in an "online connected" context. There's so much family stuff going on, I rarely get near the computer. Seriously. But I'm back now.

Lots of interesting things to report, few, if any, having to do with writing. My entire holiday--which stretched to nearly two weeks due to the university being out--was taken up with a huge new project. I spent a disproportionate amount of time and effort converting the second-floor loft of our home into a fourth bedroom for Orion. Lisa's been chronicling the progress with a series of photos, which I may be able to share sooner or later. Suffice to say, it's been an event. Rather than just put up a new wall, Lisa and I decided to put up cabinets/shelving in the to-be hall side of the wall, not unlike what I wrought for my office bookshelves. Which, naturally, increased the expense dramatically, not to mention the time and complication. The tough part was installing new lighting and rewiring. I'm by no means an electrical genius, but I do okay. No, the real bear was getting up into the attic, which was not designed for human access. Between the fiberglass rash and puncture wounds from bumping into roofing nails once too often, I'm seriously considering posting a sign saying "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter." And about midway through the project, I came down with a nasty intestinal virus. Nice. The room's not finished yet, but all that's left is detail work. Personally, I'm impressed with the results (and the fact that I didn't electrocute myself).

For those of you wondering, yes, I did watch the Holiday Bowl. Both halves. The less said about the second half, the better.

Orion got Lisa a 6-foot palm tree for Christmas (with a little assist from me). I planted it yesterday in the back yard. A major excavation work. Orion didn't offer to help. If the tree lives, it'll look pretty darn cool.

I really cleaned up on presents, personally. Keela, my loving daughter who has in the past given me gifts of Supergirl panties and mouthwash for Christmas, this year went with a pink purse. She's starting to take a perverse pleasure in non sequitur gifts, and I tremble at what the future holds. Calista got me a nice maroon sweatshirt. Orion got me (with help from his mother) the King Kong/Son of Kong/Mighty Joe Young DVD set. Sweet. Lisa, my amazing and talented wife, really outdid herself and plowed through a huge swath of my Amazon wish list, getting me the Farscape season 4 Starburst DVD editions (which I've been watching with renewed glee). I also landed a load of books including Passiflora: Passionflowers of the World by Torsten Ulmer and John M. MacDougal, Trail of Tears by Gloria Jahoda, Stephen Dedman's collection Never Seen by Waking Eyes and James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. Is that an embarrassment of riches, or what?

Unfortunately, as I said earlier, I haven't done any writing for two weeks. Hopefully, that's going to change pretty soon as I get Orion's bedroom finished up. Stay tuned...

Now Playing: Pandora Internet Radio Alan Parsons Project