Monday, March 31, 2008

Aggiecon 2008

I attended my first science fiction convention, Aggiecon 20, in 1989. I didn't actually see much of it, being a worker in the dealers room, but I did some gaming and met Octavia Butler in passing. The next year I ran the dealers room, and in 1991 I ran the whole shebang, with Aggiecon 22 being somewhat successful, relatively speaking. Since then, I've attended every intervening Aggiecon in some form or fashion, even the Michael Moorcock year in which I wrecked my truck and was only able to stumble in for an hour or so.

That's something like 19 consecutive conventions, a streak unbroken until this year. Aggiecon 39 was held this past weekend. I didn't attend. I wasn't invited. From what I hear, a number of the so-called "regulars" weren't there either. The current group of students in charge seem inclined to turn it into a media convention, with writers relegated to an afterthought. I have to question the long-term viability of a convention that bills an actress such as Ellen Muth from the defunct TV series Dead Like Me as the main attraction, but it's their con and they can run it as they please. I obviously have a lot of emotional investment in that con, and hate to see it fade away after all the attempts by the university administration to kill it over the years, but the fact is, Aggiecon's been long since replaced by Armadillocon, Apollocon and even ConDFW as conventions I look forward to attending the most every year. The reverse used to be the case.

Not that I'm suffering over here, mind you. I got a lot of yard work done Sunday. The Wife and the girls spent Saturday at a Girl Scout retreat while the Bug and I did a bunch of male bonding stuff. The Wife and I watched a few episodes of Tell Me You Love Me via Netflix (not for everyone, but we're quite taken with it) and I finally got to see Hollywoodland. And I also finished part 9 of MEMORY, which was no small feat.

So it's not like I was sitting at home, pining for a last-minute call from the convention. But a snub's a snub, and I'm probably taking it a little more personally than I should. I suspect I'll get over it.

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road


After an unplanned three-week hiatus, there is finally a new chapter of my ongoing online serial, MEMORY, up at No Fear of the Future. Enjoy.

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Ah, the Romantics. One of those popular 80s bands that few people remember these days. One can only wonder what they were thinking when they filmed this video. I'm sure that on paper it looked golden: Combined a 1950's "tough guy" aesthetic with black leather jackets and pompadours with the neon glam of hair metal. The end result, however, went horribly, tragically wrong. Maybe it's a good thing few people remember this band. The song kicks all sorts of ass, though.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Corey Hart

Now Playing:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Listening to my Dr. Demento Shows as I prep them for sale on Ebay, I've come across songs from the Animaniacs TV series more then once. And it reminds me how much I loved this program when I was in college and a freshly-minted graduate. I never warmed to Tiny Toons, but Animaniacs were awesome on so many different levels. Consider "Wakko's America":

Or perhaps "Yakko's World":

I'm going to have to add the DVDs to the ol' Netflix queue to enjoy with the young 'uns. I'll probably slot them in right after the upcoming Rocky & Bullwinkle discs...

Now Playing: Dr. Demento Show April 5-6, 1997

Monday, March 24, 2008

UCLA 51, Texas A&M 49*

Bitter? Me? Why on earth would I be bitter? The fact that UCLA fans online afforded A&M more respect before the game than after--essentially saying "if your team didn't suck so much we wouldn't have kicked your ass so bad"--has me a little peeved. Losing is one thing. A&M's done plenty of that in basketball. But playing a No. 1 seed to the wire only to have the game decided on an excruciating non-call is wrong on just about every level.


To have the Bruins fans strutting around thumping their chests like they'd just taken out Kansas or some other traditional power, as opposed to a No. 9 seed they were supposed to blow out by 10-plus points is too much. Especially when practically everyone else in the country is calling it for what it was.
Maybe Donald Sloan would have gotten to the foul line if he'd produced autopsy scars.

Sloan got slapped and knocked down on the way to the potential tying basket in the final seconds of the Texas A&M Aggies' second-round NCAA Tournament game against the UCLA Bruins. The cameras don't lie: In 49 states, what the Bruins defense did to Sloan would have constituted a mugging.

The truth is that the Aggies were in Anaheim, Calif., just down the road from the UCLA campus. The truth doesn't set the Aggies free or send them to the next round.

Right or wrong, that's the kind of call — or non-call — that almost invariably goes the way of the marquee team.

Especially a marquee team that is seeded No. 1 and is the gold standard of college basketball programs.

Steve Campbell's right about delivering a knockout punch, though. Against a golden team like UCLA, you've got to have a 10-point lead at the end of the game, rather than just after halftime, so bad calls or non-calls can't affect the outcome. Last year against Memphis, Law didn't make his layup and we lost the game. Two years ago against LSU, our guys fell apart in the final seconds and we lost the game. Both of those outcomes were a direct result of the play on the court. This year... well, this year's outcome burns. It's going to for a long, long time I suspect.

I hope Kansas or t.u. kicks the snot out of UCLA in the Final Four or in the final. Actually, I hope anyone playing UCLA kicks the snot outta the Bruins from here on out, preferably aided by a bunch of non-calls to rub salt into the wound.

Update: Our Big 12 friends to the north who tend to know something about the game of basketball, namely Jawhawks fans, have put together this little video. Thanks, guys. I wonder if UCLA would've gotten that call had they been playing Kansas. Or Duke. Or UNC...

Now Playing: Buffalo Springfield Retrospective

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Night Videos

It is impossible to do any retrospective video feature without eventually dealing with Corey Hart (at least, that's the case if you're a child of the '80s). What is it with the '80s and the name Corey? Feldman, Haim, Hart... was there something in the water? In any event, I'm duty bound to feature a Corey Hart video and song, but "Sunglasses at Night" is simply way too obvious (even if the song gets me and The Wife to sing along). Instead, I offer for your entertainment this obscure piece of Asian fascination from 1985: The Boy in the Box.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Davies.

Now Playing: Supertramp Classics

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hoops to jump through

Folks who know me know that I rarely do anything by half measures. I develop an interest in something, and go all-out to immerse myself in it, to the point of obsession sometime. Such is the case with passion flowers, such is the case with 1937 Studebakers, and now, such is the case with photography.

I never took photojournalism in college. I earned my journalism degree without learning how to take even a snapshot, and from time to time, this sad lack of skill on my part has reared its ugly head to complicate situations that should've been fairly straightforward. I wasted lots of 35mm film by not having a clue what I was doing, and while the acquisition of a digital point-and-shoot improved matters dramatically, any decent photos I take are still more a matter of luck than competence.

So, I've learned a little bit of the underlying basics by reading The Wife's old photography books (she's actually a pretty good shutterbug) but theory has only taken me so far. What I need (I've gotten into my head) is formal training. It just so happens that Texas State has a staff education developmental leave program, which allows select individuals to take classes at the university, and the university picks up the tab for tuition and fees. There are restrictions--participants are limited to four semesters worth of participation, lifetime; one must take a minimum of 9 hours and a maximum of 12. Lots of approvals are required. Time off from work is also an option, although this poses severe problems for a small office staff such as mine (there are only two of us).

Even so, I've applied and been approved for this. I applied as a transfer, under the classification of "Second degree seeking student" and been accepted. After conferring with an advisor and taking my unique needs and situation into consideration, we settled on three courses--a straight photojournalism course, an introduction to photography course offered by the fine arts department (which has a degree specialization in photography) and a 2/D design course, which is actually a prerequisite for the intro to photography course, but which I'd be allowed to take concurrently via a departmental waiver. This has been consuming me for the better part of two semesters. The logistics are quite daunting, particularly paperwork deadlines that are in conflict with when actual information needed to complete them will be available. But now that I've been approved, everything is all hunky-dory, right?

Wrong. I found out today that the photojournalism course isn't being offered in the fall. There's talk of maybe bringing in an adjunct to teach the class, but the department won't know one way or the other for another three weeks. I have to turn in my class schedule to HR next week (with actual registration for classes beginning the following week--go figure). I am, as they say, up the proverbial creek. If I can't take that photojournalism course, or find a suitable substitute to make my nine hours, I'll probably have to drop out of the program. Which would suck, after all the hoop jumping I've done thus far.

I've got a meeting scheduled with the advisor tomorrow. Hopefully we can work through this mess. If not, I'm probably going to be in a pissy mood for the next four months or so.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Meddle

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Customer service

I'd meant to blog about this for some time, but Things kept getting in the way. And this subject is "customer service." Usually, this is the cue for a rant on my part. This time, however, I'm giving credit where credit is due.

Remember last month when I kept bellyaching about my new camera being broken? I was loathe to part with it, since I could still use it to take pictures. I just couldn't get the memory card out. Not good for long-term usage, but tolerable short-term. Well, I finally bit the bullet and jumped through the online hoops to start the return process from (they being the retailer from which I purchased my Canon Rebel XTi in the first place, being at least $100 cheaper than any other vendor--local or online). The catch was, to return the camera, I had to pay for postage and insurance (to be refunded later) which cost me $18. I was not happy with that. I was surprised and delighted to discover that my replacement camera was shipped out the same day I mailed my broken one in. The did not wait for the broken one to arrive first, as I'd expected. Two days later my replacement arrived. And there was much rejoicing.

Then, last week I got an email notice from Amazon that my refund had been processed and applied to my credit card. Great. But when I checked, only $6 showed up. Uh... I don't think so. I've read reports of where corporations figure out the point of maximum profitability, how much they can fleece their customers before said customer cries foul. Basically, at what point does the average customer decide that it's not worth the effort to get a proper accounting of things? The fact that $6 was exactly 1/3 of what was owed me smelled suspiciously like a formula to me, although it may well have been a simple processing error. Either way, I fired off a terse email pointing out the error, and to Amazon's credit the missing $12 was forthcoming the very next day, with profuse apologies from the guy handling my account. So hey, Amazon done good and gets high marks for prompt action on all counts.

My other customer service tale features Ison's Nursery & Vinyard. Four years back, after we moved into the New Braunfels house, I ordered three grape vines from them to grow over the dog run fence. They were two Orlando seedless varieties and one named black muscadine. All of them produced fruit this past year... except that the Orlando seedless weren't green, seedless grapes as advertised. Instead, the were purple and seedy. After some research, I figured they were Fredonia grapes, which is a nice variety appropriate for my area, but not what I'd wanted. Several emails to Ison's generated an apology from them, and the explanation that their Orlando supplier had been selling them Fredonias instead of Orlandos for several years until the mix-up had been discovered. They no longer carried Orlandos, but offered to send me some other variety as replacements. None of their traditional grapes appealed to me or were suitable for my growing conditions, but I'd really liked the fat black grapes produced by the muscadine plant. They're very sweet, but also have an unexpected nutty flavor to them you wouldn't expect in a grape. So I asked for a single self-fertile bronze muscadine as a replacement. And met with no response. I sent several more emails over the winter months, each one disappearing into a black hole. I figured they were ignoring me, although I'm not the type to give up. Last week, however, a nice little muscadine plant arrived in the mail. So yay Ison's! I still need to put it in the ground, but I'm looking forward to trying out it's fruit in a couple of years.

Now Playing: Jerry Harrison Casual Gods

Monday, March 17, 2008


The Digital Photography School blog features weekly contests/assignments, in which readers are given a photography topic to shoot. The idea is to challenge the photog each week into either trying something they haven't done with the camera before, or attempt the subject in a new and creative way. Last week's assignment was "monochrome." Amidst all the stress we had to deal with, I somehow managed to grab a little time and attempt to photograph smoke for the assignment. This was something I'd wanted to do for a while, and even though it was a sloppy, over-stressed rush job, the end result wasn't too shabby.


One of these days, when I have the time, I'm going to try this again, and do it properly. One interesting note--on the largest version of the photo on Flickr, you can actually see the weave of the black sweatshirt I used for the background through the smoke.

Now Playing: Ray Davies Working Man's Cafe


By sheer happenstance, I've just noticed that today marks the four-year anniversary of this blog. The first post unfortunately set the tone for the inane prattle that has filled these pages since.

Four years. Huh. That's something of a long time. Yet I've managed to successfully avoid being slashdotted despite copious chupacabra content over the years.

Now Playing: AC/DC Who Made Who

Friday, March 14, 2008


In other news, and apropos of nothing, the urge struck me to pull down a bottle of my prickly pear mead I'd put up to age and sample it. You know, to see if it was aging well and possibly had the potential to be drinkable. June will mark the one-year anniversary of this batch's bottling. And damn if it isn't good. By far the best mead I've ever laid down (not that that's saying much, mind you). But The Wife liked it, so that's something.

It's not as sweet as I'd feared--a little more than, say, white zin, but nothing like a port or somesuch. Very fruity. More fruity than it tasted when I bottled it, that's for sure. But it's not a sharply defined fruitiness. I noticed this about the prickly pear fruit when I added it to the fermentation vessel--it had a vaguely melonish taste, but nothing that jumped out to distinctly scream "Prickly Pear" the way passion fruit screams "Passion Fruit!" or raspberries scream "Raspberries!" The taste is pleasant, but hard to pin down, which adds an intriguing element to the drink.

By the by, this stuff has got a kick to it. I used a lot of honey in the brewing of it, and it has a correspondingly high alcohol content. One glass and I've got a distinct buzz, which doesn't happen to me with wines. The honey/fruit sweetness disguises the potency of this stuff.

But yeah, I like it. I wonder how smooth it'll be with another year of aging? I wonder if any bottles will survive that long to find out?

Now Playing: Ray Davies Working Man's Cafe

Friday Night Videos

Earlier this week I finally got my copy of Ray Davies' new album, "Working Man's Cafe." It's good. I'm not entirely sure what I think about it beyond that at this point--I'll have to listen a lot more and let my feelings congeal, as it were. I do like that it's not as over-produced as "Other People's Lives" was, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's better. Ray's funny that way.

I'm pretty sure at this point that I don't hold "One More Time" in as high esteem as Jeff Vandermeer does. It's a good song, but it's not "Waterloo Sunset." And I do think the semi-acoustic version Jeff links to on his blog works better than the studio version. Something about Ray's songwriting just lends itself to live performances. But I'm not faulting Jeff. Every so often a song just hits a chord with a listener, and resonates beyond all reason. For me, it was "To The Bone," which I first heard Ray perform on VH1's "Storytellers" series. I was so excited by it, I wrote to Konk Studios to ask (among other things) if it'd be on the U.S. release of the "To The Bone" album (I'd already gotten the British import by that time). So here's that original performance by Ray. Incidentally, this is one case where the polished studio version sounds better to me, but I still love his live take.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Art of Noise.

Now Playing: Ray Davies Working Man's Cafe

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Charles H. Elliott 1943-2008

My father in law died Saturday morning, after battling cancer for several years. The whole family's taking it hard.

I remember clearly the weekend The Wife first took me home to meet the folks. There was a good bit of nervousness on my part, and for good reason. Charles took particular glee in picking on someone, and The Wife had let her folks know that I was an aspiring (and unpublished) science fiction writer. Charles, it just so happened, was a science fiction fan, and had read quite a few of the classics of the genre. So the first thing he does when I walk through the door is quiz me.

"Who was the Mule?"

Imagine being faced with that right off the bat. Fortunately, I'd read my Asimov during my teenage years, and answered easily and in detail. He quizzed me for several minutes, and I recall getting every question right except, perhaps, for one. But it was enough to convince him I was the Real Deal, and not just a poseur who'd watched Star Wars a half-dozen times. Once he pronounced me "acceptable" I saw my chance and seized the opportunity to turn the tables on him.

"Now it's my turn to quiz you," I said. "What famous British fantasy author lives here in town?"

Amused, and waiting, perhaps, for a punch line, he admitted he had no idea.

"Michael Moorcock," I said.

"No way," he answered.

So I walked over to the phone book, open it to the Ms and show him the listing, plain as day.

That clinched me the title of "Favorite Son-In-Law" from that point forward. He will be missed.

Now Playing:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Art of Noise was an odd, experimental group. To say the least. They only had a handful of hits, but always garnered a lot of attention with their sound. One of my faves is their remake of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme." Of course, it helps when you recruit someone like Duane Eddie on guitar. The video is trippy as well, a stylish, surreal take on the old noir films of the 40s. I find it quite entertaining, even if it isn't always coherent.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cheap Trick.

Now Playing: The Kinks Everybody's In Show-Biz

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Happy birthday, Bug!

Hard to believe that it was just two years ago that Bug came into our lives. Needless to say, nothing's been the same since. He's now two whole years old, had a vocabulary threatening to outstrip mine, and views the world as one big, ongoing game to be played for his entertainment. Which, of course, is as it should be.


Happy birthday, Bugaboo!

Now Playing: Dixie Chicks Home

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Civic duty... or something like that

Whew! What a strange day this March 4 has proven to be. I'm quite glad that I voted early--I'd be utterly exhausted if I had to stand in line at the polls as well as everything else. Turns out I did quite enough standing as it is.

The Wife and I, in a fit of patriotic initiative, decided to attend the Democratic caucus this evening after the primary polls closed. Our precinct voting site was our children's school, so it was easy enough to head over and take the young 'uns so they could see the democratic process up close and personal. The polls were just closing as we arrived, and the Republican primary workers hightailed it out of there in no time flat. A grand total of 34 people turned out to caucus, with the goal of divvying up four delegates to the county convention at the end of the week. Signing in took forever, and the kids, tired of the democratic process' glacial pace, took to running up and down the halls. The actual caucus went pretty smoothly. Those gathered split 18-16 for Clinton/Obama, with The Wife throwing her lot to Hillary and myself backing Barak. "We cancel each other out," is one of The Wife's favorite phrases. Because the vote was so close, the delegates were split 2-2 between the candidates. Choosing delegates was easy for our group, as there were two folks quite enthused by the Obama campaign and two others eager to serve as alternates. The Wife reported that this was much the same for the Clinton camp, except for the fact that one busybody decided a vote couldn't be held unless the prospective delegates each gave a speech outlining how desperately they wanted to be a delegate, and loved Hillary with their heart and soul. Us Obama folk were kicked back and relaxing as the Hillary folk suffered through haphazard speeches. Yikes.

I couldn't help but be struck by the attitude differences between the two groups. The Obama supporters seemed just happy to be a part of the process, whereas at least a few of the Clinton supporters struck me as offended that anyone would support a candidate other than Hillary. I just don't get that defensive attitude. I don't know where it comes from. Go figure.

Upon returning home, I learned my brother had a close encounter of the political kind as well today. The Adobe Cafe is a modestly-priced Tex-Mex restaurant in New Braunfels. Not high-end casual dining, but decent enough food. He went there for lunch, and encountered a phalanx of Secret Service agents surrounding the place. He went in to find none other than Bill Clinton pressing the flesh. Thirty minutes later the ex-president would be in San Marcos, causing our News Service phones to ring off the hook. Seems like you can't throw a stick in Texas without hitting a politician these days. No biggie. Now that the primaries are finished, we won't see one--Republican or Democrat--from now through the general election unless they blow through for a fund raiser. Texas is gradually turning from red to purple, but it's not Virginia yet, not by a long shot.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Pandora's Box

Primary colors

So far this bizarre primary season, we've had Chelsea Clinton and Sean "Samwise" Astin campaign in San Marcos, Sen. Ted Kennedy give a political speech in Evans Auditorium and then there was that Barak Obama rally in Sewell Park which drew upwards of 15,000 people. You'd think with people actually voting today, the insanity would die down some. You'd be wrong. Look who turned up on the Texas State University campus this afternoon for a little get-out-the-vote cheerleading:


I didn't get many decent pics because, ironically, most of the time former President Bill Clinton was too close to me for my 75-300 lens to focus on him. When you only have 30 seconds or so to get a shot, you can't waste it switching lenses, unfortunately, and I made the wrong call. Bummer. I definitely need a good mid-range zoom for situations like this.

I did manage to get a handful of decent profile shots of the former president despite the rugby scrum of students jostling around me trying to get close enough to shake his hand. And if it's shots of the back of his head you're needing, I kicked all kinds of ass there.

Now Playing: The Hollies The Hollies Greatest Hits

Photomania strikes

There's a pretty dynamic online community over at the nifty blog, Digital Photography School. Each week a different "assignment" is announced, a challenge to take the best photo possible on a specific topic. The winner gets kudos and all the prestige they can eat. It's exciting for me, since it gets me to think about photography in ways that my untrained self has never done before. This past week's topic was "Shadows." Here's my entry:


This was a concept I'd had for several years, but never had the camera or inclination to attempt it. Getting all the settings correct for the shot so that the final image was neither too bright nor too dark proved a real pain. As did the limited space I had to work in, since I do not as of yet own a wide-angle lens. My hand, oddly enough, came out as a horribly jaundiced yellow, which took a bit of Photoshop work to correct. Other than that misstep, however, I think it came out pretty close to what I'd wanted.

Now Playing: Buffalo Springfield Retrospective

Monday, March 03, 2008

The new face of music piracy

Since I have it on good authority that all blogs are improved by more Kasey Lansdale content, I offer up another shot taken during the Lone Star Sleuths extravaganza last week. Again, I was trying to get a little artsy with this one. I tried to get close to the stage by shooting between a speaker and the wall, and noticed an interesting vignetting effect around the edges of the shot when I examined the resultant shot. So I pulled back, using the light-and-dark contrast to frame the shot.


Of course, there's always that one drunk at every concert who feels the need to scream out "Freebird!" In this instance, that role is played by Bill Crider. No, Crider didn't call out for "Freebird," but he did make a show of his mad piratz skillz, recording poor little Kasey's show on his stealth bootleg device.


No doubt Chinese sweatshops will begin producing illegal DVDs of the performance Any Minute Now.

Now Playing: Roy Orbison In Dreams