Friday, June 29, 2007

New favorite wine

Dry Comal Creek is our local vineyard, but we rarely buy any of their wine because almost everything they produce is made with grapes shipped in from California. They have a nice-sized vineyard, but the grapes, Pierce's disease-resistant Spanish Black, are all used for a $75 port they produce which is out of our price range (and we don't drink much port anyway). The other day we were in Central Market and saw this:

White Black Spanish? So, they've finally put out something moderately priced using the Spanish Black blended with French Colombard? It certainly sounded interesting, and being one who can't pass up the unusual, we bought a bottle. But how did it taste? Pretty damn good. It's definitely fruity, and has a certain pleasant "woody" taste to it. While the official description is "demi-sweet," it's not very sweet at all. Rather neutral on that count, actually. Yes, it's a blush, but it's darker than your average rose, and has a lot more body than white zin or white merlot. The flavor's an unusual one for this type of wine, and the best I can do is say it's a lot like a classic red without the heavy tannins walloping your mouth like a sledge hammer. It's good. I like it. And I'll be buying more in the coming weeks for sure.

Now Playing: Emanuel Ax Brahms: Handel Variations

Friday Night Videos

Herbie Hancock's trippy, creepy, technoweird "Rockit" is an absolute classic of the video form and needs no further introduction. I grew sick of it due to infinite repetition on all the video programs back in the day, but enough time has passed now that I can watch it with fond nostalgia. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Traveling Wilburys.

Now Playing: Johann Sebastian Bach Romantic Moments, Vol. 8: Bach

Thursday, June 28, 2007

They're talking about me

Well, Interzone no. 210 has been out for some weeks, and surprise, surprise, folks hither and yon are piping up with their takes on the stories therein. Some have even commented on my humble piece, "The Final Voyage of La Riaza." Let's see what they have to say, shall we?
by Nader Elhefnawy

The first story, Jayme Lynn Blaschke's "The Final Voyage of La Riaza,"
is about First Mate Diego Brazo of the titular airship—not a dirigible, but a flying version of the merchant ships of the age of sail. At first the story seems likely to go in familiar enough directions—the severe officer who learns the hard way that he has to be more humane toward his subordinates, the first mate who has to grow into the role of ship's captain. Blaschke, however, takes the course of letting his protagonist shape events, rather than be shaped by them. Additionally, while the final voyage includes the usual run of maritime calamities (storms, pirates, shipwreck, mutineers, etc.), the airship and its related technologies provide an element of novelty. Still, while there are some interesting bits of world-building, greater detail might have been called for at a couple of points (in a sense this universe might be just a bit too lived-in), and the story's fragmented structure makes it a somewhat choppy read, though it is never a trying one.

["a bit too lived-in." Sweet. Here I've been wrestling with achieving the right amount of detail in my world-building. Looks like I came pretty close to the right balance from this fellow's comments.]

by Martin McGrath

Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s “The Final Voyage of La Riaza” isn’t really my kind of thing – pirates and flying ships and salty sea dogs tend to turn me off – so it is to Blaschke’s credit that I not only got to the end of the story but left it behind with happy thoughts. By refusing the obvious path of softening his protagonist as the story developed he retained my interest when it might otherwise have drained away. Diego Brazos started a bastard and he finishes a bastard.

[You know, early on in this story's gestation, I did keep softening up Diego, making him a nicer fellow. And it didn't work. At all. Only by making him an unrepentant hard-ass allowed the story to play out the way it needed to.]

by Clare

The Plot
A swashbuckle set in an airship.

What I liked
I very much enjoy stories where the technology is not explained -- just alluded to. It makes me want more more more from the writer. The balloons in this story appear to be made from spider silk -- the spiders live on the ship, making repairs as necessary. The ship is powered by creatures called gigapedes. I am intrigued.

What I learnt
I am easily confused by foreign names, although I loved the exotic colour it lends. The hero is called Diego Brazos, and is referred to using both or either of these names. Characters occasionally appeal to 'Dios', and I got mixed up with that and Diego. Senor Brazos is a hard character to like -- brutal, harsh and unpopular. But you've got to admire his style; and it is easy to sympathise with him.

The reader really does not need to understand the technology to enjoy a story -- but a damaged ship is a good opportunity to share a little info in a natural way.

[Yes! Score two for worldbuilding...]

by Sam Tomaino

First up is "The Final Voyage of La Riaza" by Jayme Lynn Blaschke. This one is set in a system of worlds in which men travel through the air in ships that look like those that sailed the sea. Diego Brazos is first mate on La Riaza, part of the line is family owns. When the captain is killed in an attack by pirates, he must take command and show his mettle. This was a beautiful look at a world like ours was long ago but with some significant differences.

[Does "beautiful look" bring worldbuilding's tally to 3? Anytime someone uses "beautiful" in relation to my writing, I'll take that as a major victory.]

LondonKdS LiveJournal
by LondonKdS

"The Last Voyage of La Riaza" [sic] by Jayme Lynn Blaschke: Two-fisted action in a culturally Hispanic-influenced setting of a system of multiple nearby planets with a common atmosphere in which dirigible airships are used for interplanetary travel (wasn't there a famous earlier novel about that kind of thing?). Obtrusively macho but fun.

[I like that he caught that the ships were indeed dirigibles, and not magically flying seafaring vessels. And isn't "Obtrusively macho but fun" just about the best pull-quote ever?]

Internet Review of Science Fiction (requires free registration)
by Lois Tilton

Subtitled A Circumstance in Eight Parts, this one is a rousing airship adventure on the high seas of space, under the command of a captain driven by dark demons of the mind. La Riaza is the grande dame of the Brazos fleet, and First Mate Diego Brazos is a son of the owner. The elderly Capitan Ancira feels he needs to learn to be less harsh with the crew, but when Ancira is killed in a battle with pirates, Diego takes command of the damaged ship, and nothing will stand in the way of his determination to make La Riaza airworthy again.

Among the charms of this science fantasy is its cosmology:
A large circle representing Cibola anchored the center of the map.
Around Cibola were broken concentric circles representing the paths of the daughter worlds: Ary and Asay, the two innermost offering nothing but slow, painful death; the four living worlds of Marlino (which they were currently departing), Ansuly, Cyodene and Jaysos; and barren Vra, airless and unreachable beyond the Cielo Mar [the Heaven Sea].


[My absolute favorite review thus far. Lois appears to see beneath the derring-do and piratical adventure and really get what I'm trying to do with this piece (not to mention the other stories I've written/am writing in this cosmology. Science fantasy. Yeah. That'll work.]

Of course, there may have been one or two opinions regarding my story that weren't positive. I'm not reposting those. If you want them, you'll have to find 'em yourself.

Now Playing: Silly Wizard The Best of Silly Wizard

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Kudos to the Bad Astronomer for bringing this to my attention. Bogosity is the video brainchild of Shane Killian debunking bogus arguments and assertions online. In these two installments, he takes on a cadre of creationists who delve into quote mining, twisting of fact and outright misrepresentation (or at best, misunderstanding) of facts to try and undermine not only biological evolution:

but also astronomy as well:

My only disappointment here is that geology didn't get in on the act. After all, the National Park Service now sells tracts which claim the Grand Canyon was formed when Noah and his animals sailed through with all that water.

Now Playing: Rita Honti Virtuoso Guitar

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ultimate burrito

The Houston Chronicle is hosting an online poll for the "Ultimate Burrito" in Houston. We all know this is now, and ever shall be Freebirds World Burrito, so head on over there and vote!

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Night Videos

In honor of the reissue of the Traveling Wilburys catalog, I present this new Wilbury sound system promo:

Along with this new Wilbury drummer promo:

Not to mention my favorite Wilburys song, "End of the Line." This is such a smooth groove, uplifting in a quiet, dignified way that can't help but bring a smile to your face. The first time I ever saw the video, back in college on MTV, I literally got goosebumps when Roy's part came up. He's got such a ghostly voice already, that the setting was pitch perfect. Damn, I just got goosebumps again. Rock on, Wilburys.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Tony Parker.

Now Playing: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I'll be heading off to Apollocon this weekend, with programming on Saturday and Sunday (not going to be able to make it for Friday's events, unfortunately). It's should be fun--Apollocon usually is. Here's my schedule as it currently stands:

11 a.m. Reading: I'll be sharing the hour with Martha Wells, which should be fun. I'll be reading the first half of The Final Voyage of La Riaza.

1 p.m. Writing 101 with Jayme Lynn Blaschke (M), Dusty Rainbolt, Melanie Miller Fletcher, Shanna Swendson, John Moore: Is your mind whirling with questions like "where do ideas come from?" or "when can I quit my day job?" then this panel is for you. Pros and emerging pros give the skinny on the art and business of writing.

4 p.m. Autographs: Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Marianne Dyson, Shanna Swendson

1 p.m. Writing Workshops: Finding, Attending, Running with Bennie Grezlik, Kandy Jarvis, Lee Martindale, Jayme Lynn Blaschke: New writers attend workshops and established writers teach them. It's a perfect symbiotic relationship. Or is it? Our panelists discuss whether workshops encourage diversity or reward homogeneity, and their possible impact on the Spec Fic field.

Now Playing: Talking Heads True Stories

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mint and jalapeño

After bottling the remaining two-and-a-half gallons of prickly pear mead last week, the only fermentables I have still unbottled are one gallon of mint mead and one gallon of jalapeño. The reason they're unbottled is that they have not sufficiently cleared, despite sitting undisturbed for several months. The mint wasn't extremely cloudy, to be sure, but the jalapeño was downright murky. So last night I broke out the packet of Sparkolloid and mixed up a couple of doses in boiling water, then added the cooling mixture to my mead. Hopefully the cloudiness will rapidly subside over the next few days as the suspended particles sink to the bottom of the glass carboys.

If all goes to plan, I'll be bottling these remaining flavors in a couple of weeks, and can then turn my attention to new experiments. There are quite a few passion fruit reaching maturity on my vines in the back yard, after all. I'm even eying a 42-bottle wine refrigerator for the garage that's almost affordable, since my raspberry mead from a couple of years back has developed an "off" taste, which I'm pretty sure comes from being aged in too-warm conditions. We'll see how all of these grand plans play themselves out...

Now Playing: Blue Öyster Cult Workshop of the Telescopes

Monday, June 18, 2007


I see interesting things on the daily commute to work. Sometimes it's the Border Patrol in action. Other times it's a viking longship cruising for plunder. Today it was a Lotus Elise. I'm not wholly sure which is the most memorable.

I've seen several Lotus cars on the highway over the years, and always knew what they were instantly. Not so this time. I wasn't even aware of the Elise until I Googled it. Apparently this is a fairly new import, a variant on the Series 2 incarnation of the performance car, which has been popular in Europe for quite some time. The Elise I encountered was charcoal grey, immaculately polished, and dwarfed--believe it or not--by my PT Cruiser. The New York plates spelled out "ITCORNRS" and I couldn't help but think, "If that's not truth in labeling, I don't know what is."

Now Playing: Jerry Goldsmith & the National Philharmonic Orchestra Alex North's 2001

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Folks who complain that the San Antonio Spurs are boring need to take off the blinders. I mean, the Spurs have a point guard who raps... in French. How many other teams can boast that, eh? As expected, kiosks full of Spurs championship swag have appeared on pretty much every street corner from San Antonio to Austin, and today's paper was filled with ads from every major retailer within 50 miles hyping all the Spurs gear they had for sale. No surprises there. What shocked the heck out of me this afternoon was finding a big bin full of Tony Parker's debut rap CD in the local HEB grocery store, amidst all the other Spurs stuff. And it looked like they were selling briskly as well. Oh, the miracles a championship can work.

So today's video is a Tony Parker joint, featuring a bunch of the other Spurs along for the ride. I've watched it several times already, and still can't decide if it's a train wreck or sheer genius. All those French lyrics muddle things, you know? But there is one unintentional bit of outright hilarity here--the Spurs trying to strike dangerous, tough-guy, gangsta poses. Doesn't work. Their choir boy image is too strong. But none fails as badly as Tony Parker himself at being badazz. I'm sorry, but anyone ever listed as one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" automatically forgoes any street cred they ever hoped to have.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Commitments.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flower, flower shining white

My favorite maypop, a Texas native passion flower, started blooming back in April. At the time I observed how intense the colors were this year. Well, that plant continues to surprise--below is a pic of something that showed up on the vine a while back, just to shake things up a bit, I suppose:


All the rest of the flowers look like the first one that showed up in April (although the colors have muted somewhat since that first intense burst). But that hasn't stopped them from producing some nice-sized fruit.


Can't wait to try some of that fruit in a batch of mead...

Now Playing: Derek & the Dominoes The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition (the Jams)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Prickly Mead

"What has Jayme been up to with his various fermentable projects?" one may ask. Well, I may tell one. I just bottled up the last of my prickly pear mead, that which has been aging in the 2.5 gallon fermentation vessel for what seems like forever. That long wait wasn't intentional--I bottled up the other portion of this batch, which had been in the 1.5 gallon vessel six week or so back. But I didn't have enough bottles to finish up, hence the delay. Here's what the finished product looks like (note that I didn't trot out all of the bottles. Like I have that much time):


I'm happy that the mead came out very clear. I'm puzzled by the rich amber color, though. The must had started out a beautiful dark rose color, due to the deep maroon prickly pear fruit I used. Oddly, the color lightened as it aged, which I didn't expect. I'd intended to oak the must, but never got around to it. I tried to get a good acid balance, since I'd used a lot of honey here and the potential for sweetness was strong. I also added some tannins to give it more complexity, but I have to admit I chose to err on the light side, since heavy tannin content is a turn off for me in wine and I wasn't sure how my experimentation would turn out.

Once the dozen or so bottles were safely corked, I opened up one half-bottle from the earlier bottling six weeks earlier that I'd placed in the fridge to chill. Mead can be horribly wretched to drink when it hasn't aged, and describing the taste as harsh and medicinal wouldn't be inaccurate. So I prepared for the worst--the only reason I was opening this one is because the oxygen in the bottle left it unsuitable for long-term storage. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it's still got that rough edge I expected, but that bite was muted. There was not much residual sweetness at all. This wine wasn't dry, but it wasn't sugary. Semi-dry is the official term, I suppose, but the sweetness was almost neutral. The acid balance was almost perfect, and although I couldn't actually taste any of the tannins I'd added, I could tell there was more depth to the flavor than in the previous meads I'd attempted. This makes me happy. It reminded me more than anything else of a decent, not-too-sweet riesling (although the alcohol content is much higher). One big surprise was the aftertaste--I couldn't taste any of the fruit initially, but a light, refreshing flavor lingered quite a while after swallowing. It was fruity, but hard-to-place and almost delicate, which makes sense since prickly pear fruit isn't a flavor that immediately comes to mind, even to someone like me who's had it before. A year from now, this has the potential to be some Very Good Stuff indeed.

I still have a gallon of mint and a gallon of jalapeno mead aging in glass carboys. I've racked them a couple of times, but neither has cleared to my satisfaction, so I'll be employing clarifying agents soon. But those two were just experiments--the prickly pear mead was my big project, and it appears (knock wood) to be a success.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Ugly with a capital U

Okay, the Spurs won game 3 tonight in Cleveland, but even the most diehard San Antonio fan has to admit that was the most awfullest game in the history of the NBA playoffs. I doubt the Spurs have played worse this year, and couldn't buy a basket. Manu Ginobili, one of the big three for SA, went scoreless until hitting three free throws in the final minute. Tony Parker was shut out of the lane in the first quarter, and Tim Duncan couldn't find his range against the Cavs defense. Yet the Cavaliers, buoyed by the home court crowd, could only manage to open a five-point lead in the first half, and actually stumbled their way to a 40-38 halftime deficit despite leading most of the half.

I found myself thinking that a sweep is definitely in the offing if Cleveland couldn't blow out a SA squad unable to shoot straight. Seriously. This was their chance, their glory moment. And they fell flatter than a roadkill Armadillo on I-35.

This wouldn't be the NBA if there wasn't some officiating controversy, and sure enough, they saved the best for last. In the closing seconds, protecting a 3-point lead, the Spurs' Bruce Bowen tried to intentionally foul LeBron James rather than allow him to shoot a potentially game-tying trey. Fouling before the shot, you see, would result in James taking only two free throws, thus preserving the Spurs' victory. Only the ref didn't call the foul when Bowen grabbed James. So Bowen continued to grab at him--even as James threw up an awkward 3-point attempt which hit the rim and bounced harmlessly away. Had the ref called the foul then, James would've gotten three free throws, potentially tying the game. But the ref didn't call it then, either, and the partisan crowd, as well as James, were outraged. So once again, critics are going to say the Spurs' win (and eventual title) is tainted. But in all honesty, one set of fans was going to be enraged by the call or no call in this instance. After being on the receiving end before (Derek Fisher's .4 second trey to send the Lakers to the finals in 2004), I have to admit that I prefer it when the botched calls go against the other team.

Cleveland, I sympathize with your plight. But not enough to feel guilty about wanting a sweep.

Now Playing: The Ventures Walk, Don't Run: The Best of the Ventures

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What? There's a game tonight?

Since I don't actually hate Cleveland, and think LeBron James is going to win his share of NBA titles (eventually), I don't have much to say about tonight's game. Either LeBron and the Cavs step up and play their best game of the season to finally win one, or it's all over for them, with nothing left for the Spurs to do other than go for the sweep. So in the interest of balancing the karma, let's hear from the fans of some other NBA powerhouse franchise that knows a thing or two about facing San Antonio in the playoffs:

On second though, that might not inspire Cleveland that much. How many samoleons do you think that video cost Mark Cuban, anyway?

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

Monday, June 11, 2007

Unexpected good news!

Okay, I've already got both of the original albums on CD, bought from Camelot Music in College Station back on the week of their respective releases. The second disc isn't as captivating as the first, which I attribute to too much Boo Wilbury, but I still love it anyway. That these two albums were out of print for more than a decade is downright sinful. But no more:
The two much-treasured albums, complete with four bonus tracks and a DVD of home movies from the sessions, are being reissued Tuesday by Rhino as The Traveling Wilburys Collection, after more than 10 years' absence.

Maxine and Like a Ship, featuring Harrison and Dylan, respectively, on lead vocals, are previously unreleased outtakes from Vol. 3. "They were completed, except for some harmonies, so I asked George's son, Dhani, to do his father's parts, which was nice," Lynne says.

The DVD features the original music videos, along with a 24-minute documentary told in the group's own voices. Fans will savor home videos shot during the recording of both albums, showing everything from writing sessions to vocal tracking to fun with the guys.

I will, of course, be snapping up this great collection sooner, rather than later. I only wish they'd have included more of the alternate tracks and outtakes, along with the Del Shannon demos made before his suicide. It's long been rumored that Harrison himself was behind the release of the various bootlegs, so including all of that material would be apropos. But still, as far as definitive collections go, this one is pretty sweet.

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits

Best-of 7, and I'll spot you six

I never really thought the Cleveland Cavaliers would threaten the San Antonio Spurs in a seven game series. They've got LeBron James, sure, but play the Jordan Rules (or some variant thereof) against him, and the Cavs don't have anyone else to step up. They really need a sharp-shooting guard they can depend on for the outside shots, and a dull-but-dependable center to post up underneath to slam home the easy feeds when LeBron is double- and triple-teamed. The Cavs currently have none of that. Boobie Gibson is the closest they have to a legit second scoring threat, but the Cavs' coach refuses to make him a starter.

The result is that the Spurs have all but shut LeBron down, while daring the rest of the Cavs to beat them. The rest of the Cavs have pointedly not answered the challenge. Before this series started, I predicted the Cavs would win two in Cleveland, but the Spurs would take it in six. Now I'm wondering if the Cavs will merely lose any of the remaining games by less than double-digit margins. When the TV announcers compared last night's game 2 mauling by the Spurs to an NCAA tournament first-round mismatch, they hit the nail on the head. The Cavs have that deer-in-the-headlights look, and I don't think even Michael Jordan in his prime could carry a team in this much disarray.

Go Spurs Go!

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Her memory rose up forever

I dreamed about an ex-girlfriend last night. Or rather, the ex-girlfriend, the one I had the longest relationship with before meeting and marrying Lisa. I don't remember the details much, but the gist of it amounted to her trying to insert herself back into my life--a repeat of something that happened around the time of my marriage.

I hadn't thought about her in ages, but in retrospect, last night's dream wasn't unexpected. You see, I just finished Julie Phillips' James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon at around midnight. To say it affected me would be an understatement. I've always had an inexplicable attraction for Tiptree's writings, and remember saving my pennies to buy that gorgeous Arkhan House edition of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever from Adventures in Crime & Space many moons ago. I'd heard vague talk of her being in the CIA, and killing her husband and herself in a suicide pact when they became old and decrepit. But Phillips' biography filled in a lot of the unspoken details, and cast the scenario in a very different light. You see, I dated James Tiptree, Jr.

Well, not really. Alice Sheldon was old enough to be my grandmother. But someone very much like her. The mania and depression were quite familiar to me from that long-ago relationship. My girlfriend at the time wasn't a writer or an artist type ala Tiptree, but she showed some of the same flighty, obsessive behavior of Sheldon in that she'd take up an interest in a potential career path, eat, drink and sleep it for extended periods, then burn out and start over with something different. She was also, like Sheldon, very dismissive of her own abilities and accomplishments, to the point where she'd withdraw from all of her classes midway through the semester with straight As across the board because the possibility existed that her "innate stupidity" would come through and she'd end up flunking. That kind of logic is maddening and frustrating in the worst kind of way, I can assure you.

But it's the suicide pact that got me, that really hit home. It's obvious in the book that Ting--Sheldon's 84-year-old husband--was in no hurry to die. Reading between the lines, it seems probable that Sheldon badgered him into agreeing to the suicide pact, and that when her depression deepened to a point where she finally wanted to end it, his desires were dismissed outright or rationalized away--she confessed to killing him in his sleep, after all, with no indication he supported this plan of action. This hit a little too close to home for me, because that tracked with the experiences I had with the ex as well.

I'd learned after dating her for a month or so that she'd been hospitalized about a year before for trying to kill herself (the details were always pretty vague). Once, while we were together, she'd tried overdosing on anti-depressants, which was certainly an unpleasant experience for all involved. She had a dog, a little border collie which she adored. It was a hyper, fun-loving thing, but I always knew when things were about to get Really Bad when the ex began casually mentioning how sad and depressed the dog had become, that the dog really wanted to be put to sleep. There are few things in life quite as surreally disconcerting as discussing the suicidal tendencies of a dog whose tail is whipping around at 90 wags per minute. Shortly thereafter, the talk would turn to making a suicide pact.

"Let's kill ourselves together, Jayme."


"Why not?"

"I don't want to die."

Angry stare. "You're in denial."

Life went on like that for three years. I'd like to say that things got worse before they got better, but the reality is that they got worse before they got mind-numbingly awful. At the end of the affair, I'd abandoned my assigned role as the supportive martyr and was actively contributing to the toxic atmosphere, something I'm not proud of. It wasn't a healthy time for me, but I eventually got out with both my sanity and my life intact. It's frightening now to look back and see how very nearly things could've turned out to be Very Bad Indeed. We danced close to the precipice, but somehow never managed to go over the edge.

Sheldon did eventually go over the edge, taking her husband with her. That she staved it off for decades is a miracle unto itself, considering the nonexistent treatment available at the time for depression (which has only improved to mediocre in the intervening years). Was Tiptree's horrific, biting writing genius because of her mental illness, or despite it? The question is unanswerable, but I can't help repeating it over and over. Looking at her life from the opposite side of this skewed mirror, all I can think is "There but for the grace of God go I."

Now Playing: Rita Honti Virtuoso Guitar

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Night Videos

I really, really dislike the standard video for music from movie soundtracks. The crass, commercial element of "splice in random scenes from the film" undercuts the song, and then dates the video badly once the movie is no longer in the theater. It's especially annoying when the song in question comes from a concert scene, in which the entire performance is available, yet the video producers still insist on carving it up to insert meaningless imagery in hopes of convincing people to go see the film. Here's a hint: A great concert performance will do a lot more to draw viewers that a melange of random scenes lacking context.

That said, The Commitments is a movie that kicks all sorts of musical ass, and the video for "Mustang Sally" is smokin' cool despite the above mentioned annoyances. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Pat Penatar.

Now Playing: Various The Commitments

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Jesus backs the Silver and Black

I see some variation on this story every year the Spurs make the playoffs, seems like, but seriously, stuff like this never gets old:
In their simple convent, where rows of chairs are arranged in front of a television and a crucifix, the 23 nuns of the Salesian Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province briefly put aside their pleas for the sick and the poor to pray for the San Antonio Spurs.

With basketball players’ names pinned to white smocks beneath their habits, the sisters faithfully gather at game time in the convent’s community room, yelling “Make that basket!” and “C’mon!”

San Antonio is probably the most heavily Catholic city in the U.S. (some say New Orleans is, but SA is significantly larger than the Big Easy and farther removed from the Bible belt) so stories like this are taken as a matter of course. On the other hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers may feel that the NBA is stacking the metaphysical deck against them come tomorrow night at tip-off time:
On Thursday, four of the nuns will attend the opening game of the championship series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The tickets were a gift from the NBA.

Boy oh boy, I love it when the small market teams make a good showing in the playoffs. You just don't get this kind of color with L.A. or N.Y.

Now Playing: Christina Aguilera Stripped

Not as much POP as you'd think

I recently came into possession of a curious little book titled Pop-up Book of Sex. I think it goes without saying that this is quite possibly one of the most brilliant ideas ever, and the person who got it for me must be pretty special in her own right. This is not unlike a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup--two great tastes that go great together. How could they go wrong?

Alas, despite the genius of the concept, the execution never, ever lives up to its potential. You'd think that if someone was going to publish a book a tawdry as The Pop-up Book of Sex, then it'd be a raunchy, X-rated riot. And you'd be wrong. Talk about setting the bar low. If it is possible for a book with this subject matter and format to be prudish, this one is. Sure, there's nudity here, but it's that kind of self-conscious high-school tittering stuff that litters the screen in teen sex comedies. That means lots of naked boobies and not much else. My wife, somewhat annoyed by the sexist undertone, pointed out the irony of a sexual pop-up book that didn't feature a single penis. Pop up, indeed. Simply tossing ideas back and forth between us, we came up with a book's worth of pop-up action that was far more engaging than this tease of a book manages--reruns of Sex in the City are far more explicit.

Still, the virtue of being first is that you're still the best there is. Kees Moerbeek and Balvis Rubess did manage to put this book on store shelves when nobody else had done so, and deserve credit for that. A half-assed pop-up book of sex is better than no pop-up book of sex at all (which pretty much goes without saying). But I can't escape the feeling that this was a private joke they never took seriously. A novelty as amusing as this is obviously a joke on multiple levels, but even the best comedians treat their jokes seriously. I just wish the authors had done the same here.

Now Playing: Ravel The Best of Ravel

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

'Dillocon Writers Workshop

I, along with Patrice Sarath, am running the Armadillocon 29 Writers Workshop this year. The deadline for registering is June 30, with the workshop being held Aug. 10. Workshop registration also includes full admission to the convention. The following professional authors and editors will be participating as instructors:
  • Sharyn November, Editor Guest of Honor
  • Louise Marley, Author Guest of Honor
  • Julie Kenner, author of the wildly popular "demon hunter soccer mom series" and The Good Ghoul’s Guide to Getting Even
  • K.D. Wentworth, author of Black on Black and The Course of Empire, also Writers of the Future coordinating judge
  • Wendy Wheeler, Austin author and screenwriter
  • Steven Wilson, co-editor of RevolutionSF and Space Squid
  • Matthew Bey, co-editor of RevolutionSF and Space Squid
  • Patrice Sarath, Austin author
  • Jayme Lynn Blaschke, author of Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak

There are several other pending instructors as well, including the singular Chris Nakashima-Brown and Jessica Reisman. The ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop has become a major event for aspiring SF/F writers. On the Friday of the convention, participants will have the opportunity to have their work critiqued by major pro editors and writers. Breakout sessions will cover craft, markets, the dos and don’ts of preparing your work for professional publication, and more. Discussions range from the basics of grammar and style to plot, theme, character, and setting.

Participants will get an in-depth critique of your work from the teacher or teachers in their group as well as from their peers. This roundtable style critique session is invaluable for learning what works, what doesn’t and how to edit.

Again, that deadline is June 30. More information can be found at Armadillocon 29 Writers Workshop.

Now Playing: Emanuel Ax Brahms: Variations & Fuge on at Theme by Handel

Monday, June 04, 2007

Storm front

Last year for Father's Day, my girls got me a tent as a gift. It's a pretty nice one, and large enough to divide into two sleeping areas. With school now out for the summer, they'd been bugging me to set it up in the back yard so they can "camp out." I promised them I'd do it on Sunday, so yesterday afternoon I battled the blazing sun and got it ready for them.

They had a blast, naturally, romping in and out all day, making plans to roast s'mores at night and sleep in the wild, regardless of the dangers posed by roving packs of s'mores devouring beagles.

That evening, around 8:30-9 p.m., I fired up the gas grill (burning myself not once, but twice) and ride herd on the girls and their friends as they compete to see who can turn simple marshmallows into blazing fireballs of death. In the midst of all this fun, I see off in the distance lightning illuminating the interiors of clouds. There hadn't been any clouds visible anywhere at sundown, and now there were some looming in the dark. Suspicious, I went online and checked Sure enough, there was a monster line of thunderstorms stretching in an arc from north of Austin to south of San Antonio. From the looks of it, they'd hit us in an hour.

So I commence to take down the tent. I've seen what straight-line winds from thunderstorms do to tents like this--send them into the stratosphere, that's what. I just get the poles flattened down when I feel the temperature drop. We're talking 15-20 degrees. Then the wind hits. It wasn't a swirling breeze. No, it was a 30 mile-an-hour wave of wind, and it grabbed up the tent lifting it above me. I held on tight, pulling the thing over to the covered back patio and hollering inside for help. Much drama followed. You see, I made the mistake of thinking a metallic rocking horse would be heavy enough to hold the tent down while I chased down other assorted windblown items in our yard. The gas grill cover was quite lively. Several beach balls were working up the gumption to hop over the fence. An inflatable swimming pool apparently did not have enough water in it to stay planted on the ground. And an inflatable ball pit flipped up in the air--spilling its contents--and made for freedom. I just grabbed it before it cleared the fence when I heard a screeching noise behind me. The tent had lifted up, taking the horse with it. I grabbed.

For one disturbingly long moment, I felt like the combination of the ball pit and tent would be enough to lift me airborne. Fortunately, my girth triumphed, and I was able to hand off the ball pit as I gathered in the billowing tent. Everything got forced safely into the house, with little or no loss of clutter.

But man, that was high drama for the kids. Think of what fun they'd have had if they'd actually been camping out when the weather hit....

Now Playing: Eric Clapton with the National Orchestra Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Arrr... pirates!

Lisa and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to celebrate our anniversary (since getting away to see any movie that doesn't involve a "G" rating or animation takes some doing). We were both concerned about "wasting" an adult movie on this one, since the second film was such a mess. But I'm very happy to report that part III is much, much better than the awful part II. Not as good as the first, mind you, but still a keeper.

Much of the stupid slapstick that passed for humor in the second is gone this time around, and the tone is much darker. The over-used kraken makes only one appearance, and that's as bird food washed up on a beach. Chow Yun-Fat is wasted in his little screen time. The Calypso angle is never resolved (not really) and I was very ticked that a promised mass armada battle between the pirate fleet and British warships never materialize. But the ending actually surprised me--Lisa didn't like it, but going for a bittersweet, tragic resolution gave me a measure of respect for the filmmakers.

But while I'm on it, did anyone else notice all the elements lifted from other films? There are a couple of big set pieces from Disney's The Little Mermaid that should be obvious to pretty much everyone, but there were several sequences lifted whole cloth from Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Just curious is all.

Now Playing: B.B. King & Eric Clapton Riding with the King

Friday, June 01, 2007

11 years

Today marks the 11th wedding anniversary of Lisa and myself. Wow. That's a long time, although I still remember many of the details of that day vividly, as if it happened only yesterday. The lunatic photographer, in particular, stands out. Not that I want him to, mind you, but memory is funny that way.

I'm not about to sit here saying that I hold the secret to a happy marriage. I don't. We've had great times and we've had rough patches. Thus far, we've managed to overcome the challenges life's thrown our way. But any way you look at it, 11 years is a heck of a long time for two people to live together and not strangle each other (Lisa insists those times I've woken up late at night with her pushing a pillow down over my face doesn't count as "strangling"). So, hey, I'm up for another decade-plus-one. Who's with me?

Now Playing: Various artists Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos I

Friday Night Videos

Pat Benatar's always been a rocker at heart, and I've liked her stuff. But when "We Belong" came out, the song (and the video) really caught my attention. She was steping out of her comfort zone, stretching her sound with more complex arrangements and instrumentation, not to mention a song that challenged her vocally. The experiment didn't last long, as Benatar went back to her rock and R&B basics for subsequent albums, but I still think this is a cool song and video. Dig those funky green gloves!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Eurythmics.

Now Playing: London Symphony Orchestra Peter and the Wolf