Monday, June 30, 2008

I am agog

A.T. Campbell was kind enough to point out to me that my publisher, the University of Nebraska Press, bought the inside cover of the Apollocon program book to promote--among other titles--my book, Voices of Vision. In all honesty, I'd figured they'd forgotten all about my little book, so seeing effort on their part to market it (even though it came out in '05) makes me all giddy inside.

Needless to say, I'm polishing my proposal for the follow-up volume, Voices of Wonder, as I type this. Well, maybe not simultaneously, because that's physically impossible, but you get the idea.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Eponymous

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Guess who I interviewed this weekend?


That'd be Allen Steele, the Apollocon GoH. Fun interview. Who knew rabid skunks could be so tenacious?

I'm back from Apollocon, obviously. Excellent convention. I took my camera and managed to piss off a whole lot of people with it. Still not improving on my Sturgeon's Law ratio of decent vs. crappy images though, so I'll have to continue working on my shooting skills. Will be posting images over at No Fear of the Future later, and will also give a more detailed convention report once I rectify this sleep deprivation I'm suffering from.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass The Lonely Bull

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night Videos

Ah, Sheena Easton. There's so much I could write about this Scottish singer and her career choices. But not right now. Suffice to say "Ice Out In The Rain" is my favorite song of hers, with a killer baseline and wonderfully understated vocals from (in my opinion) her best album by far. The accompanying video is also her most accomplished, a perfect marriage of style and mood. So naturally the song failed to chart, the album tanked and the future of entire career came into question. Ah well, no accounting for taste.

By the by, in the early 90s one of her former record companies released a "techno" remix of this song and overdubbed it to the original video. The results were pretty wretched, all things considered.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Laura Branigan.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton Madness, Money & Music

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Apollocon 2008

Tomorrow I'm hie me over to Houston for Apollocon. This has become one of my favorite conventions of the year, and they always do a bang-up job. If you see some idiot (as George Carlin would say) puttering along at 45 mph on I-10, that'd just be me, trying to save gas money so I don't have to sell the kids off to medical researchers. Here's my schedule:
When You Don't Know What Else to Do, Throw a Dead Body In
Fri 9:00PM - 10:00PM Tucson
Steven Brust, C. J. Mills (M), Gail Dayton, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Panelists should discuss various tricks and devices for moving a story forward over unexpected plot hurdles and dry spots. Topics might include (but are not limited to):
Being willing to turn left when the map says right. The freedom planning to revise allows. Devices that can change the situation (deaths, births, letters from abroad, sudden discoveries, legacies, etc.). How to keep on track through dry spots and pump priming.

Comparing SF Lit & SF in other Media
Sat 10:00AM - 11:00AM Tucson
Tim Miller, Beverly A. Hale, Maureen McHugh, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Jayme
Lynn Blaschke (M)
Panelists discuss the differences between SF in literature and SF in other media. Topics might include (but are not limited to): Are there obvious differences and what are they? What are the other, less obvious differences? What influences these differences? How do the differences affect the audience and/or audience perception?

Readings: Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Steven Brust
Sat 11:00AM - 12:00PM Phoenix
Steven Brust, Jayme Lynn Blaschke 25 minute reading session in 50 minute shared slot (I'll probably read a section of "The Whale Below," forthcoming in Jeff & Ann VanderMeer's pirate anthology).

Besides Blood, Sweat, and Inspiration: What Does It Take to Be a Writer
Sat 1:00PM - 2:00PM Seattle II
Martha Wells, Bill Crider, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Gail Dayton, Maureen McHugh, C.
J. Mills (M)
A variant on Writing 101, this panel should explore some of the talents, personality traits, lifestyle factors, and circumstances that "make" a writer, or at least aid a writer's development.

The Portrayal of Texas and Texans in Spec Fic
Sat 4:00PM - 5:00PM Scottsdale
Scott Cupp, K. Hutson Price, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Lawrence Person, Bradley Denton, Derly N. Ramirez II (M)
Panelists discuss how speculative fiction portrays Texas and Texans. Topics might include (but are not restricted to): What works have Texas or Texans appeared in? Is "Texas" or "Texan" a cultural shorthand in our genres, and if so, for what? Is the treatment the same or different in fantasy, science fiction, and horror? Is the treatment in our genres different than in the mainstream?

Spec Fic, Social Networking, and the Blogosphere
Sun 10:00AM - 11:00AM Seattle I
Jayme Lynn Blaschke (M), J.M. McDermott, Thomas M. Wagner, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Panelists discuss the proposition that new and emergent technologies offer avenues for authors and publishers to lower the threshold of access to their readership, but it's a two-way street with potentially unexpected results for the field. Topics might include (but are not limited to): What opportunities do new and emergent technologies offer writers for promotion, audience interaction, and community development? What are the benefits and drawbacks of community development and audience interaction in the new online environments? Does the ease and speed of feedback change the nature of the writers process and product? Are social networking sites effective marketing tools? How do blogs, websites, and thing like book trailers interact? How do they work? How do they impact the author's primary work: writing?

Now Playing: Salsa Del Rio

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I shot this little guy over at Aquarena during lunch. It was quite windy, so I had a difficult time framing it quite the way I wanted. This is one of the better images. Thought I'd share with you folks.


Now Playing: Sheena Easton Freedom


Folks, my review for the DVD release of Jumper is now live over at RevolutionSF. What did I think of it? Well, here's a hint:
Listen up, kids: If a movie tie-in is better than the actual movie, you’ve entered serious red-flag territory.

Hmm, kinda cryptic there. I wonder to what I could be referring?

Now Playing: Sheena Easton Freedom

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin

I'm still a little shocked at George Carlin's death. I hadn't known he'd been suffering heart problems for years, so from my perspective, he seemed in great health for a fellow his age. One thing I loved about him was the fact that he came across as so affable, even when he was holding forth with his glorious brand of caustic umbrage. Other people are posting tributes referencing his most famous bits, such as the "7 Dirty Words" or the like. I'd have liked to post the hilarious F-bomb sequence from his early 90s sitcom on FOX, but that doesn't seem to be online anywhere. So instead I'll present this obscure bit from early in his career--when he was still a buttoned-down, upright fellow--that just happens to be the first Carlin bit I ever heard. It's not caustic, but it's still funny: Wonderful WINO.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton Madness, Money & Music

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Went with the Wife to see "Spamalot" at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio Saturday. Holy crap, it was funny!


I went in thinking it'd be Eric Idle's version of "The Producers," basically the movie on stage, with more songs. Very wrong. There's a reason this isn't called "Monty Python & the Holy Grail Live!" The show is very heavily bases on the original movie, sure, but it's more of a spoof of Broadway conventions than a different riff on that classic film. The show lifts great bits from "Flying Circus" (the fish slapping dance!!!) and "Life of Brian" ("Always Look on the Bright Side of Life") and references more modern pop culture, such as "What Happens in Camelot Stays in Camelot" as well as older pop culture (Carmen Miranda!?). An inspired bit of lunacy came with a nod to "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," when the actors on stage sang out "The Stars At Night, Are Big And Bright..." with the quick-on-the-uptake audience responding just as you'd expect them to. Another inspired bit involved audience participation in the finale, where a guy unfortunately-named "Houston" was taken onstage and told "Houston will be honored in San Antonio forever more" or words to that effect, prompting the audience to snicker knowingly. Hey, at least his name wasn't "Dallas."

The long and short of it is, this ain't what you're expecting. Some of the big set pieces--the Trojan Rabbit, the Black Knight, Tim--are all there, but shuffled and tweaked considerably. And there's a heck of a lot of new stuff. The best comparison I can make is this is "Flying Circus" as compared to "Live at the Hollywood Bowl." Different contect, different delivery and a lot of new stuff besides. Only "Spamalot" is moreso. I never thought I'd be saying this, but the original "Holy Grail" movie has a far more coherent plot than the play. Doesn't matter. You'll laugh your ass off. Highly recommended.

Now Playing: Wynton & Ellis Marsallis Joe Cool's Blues

Friday, June 20, 2008

A foul and evil mood

One of the basics of Journalism 101 is learning what different journalism terms mean. It's not complicated. I mean, it's not rocket science. Simple things like "EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 A.M. JUNE 23." That's a pretty straightforward way of saying "DON'T PRINT THIS NEWS RELEASE UNTIL MONDAY, YOU STUPID SHIT-FOR-BRAINS!"

Breaking an embargo is either 1) a ballsy, arrogant thing to do or B) a moronic, ignorant high schoolish thing to do. In this case I'm leaning toward B. Strongly toward B. There will be consequences. Oh, yes. Believe you me there will be consequences. I have a long memory.

Now Playing:

Friday Night Videos

Laura Branigan's best-known for her early 80s uber-smash "Gloria," but she had a long and productive recording career even after her chart success faded abruptly in the late 80s. I'm not entirely sure why she fell out of favor, since even her singles that failed, such as "Shattered Glass" had a catchy, radio-ready quality to them. And her voice was strong and distinctive. She died abruptly of a brain aneurysm in 2004, which is sad, but she left us with some great videos, such as this one from one of her last U.S. hits, "Spanish Eddie." I'm not certain there's ever been such a fusion of Flashdance and West Side Story before, and it's doubtful there ever will be again. But man, dig them crazy leg warmers!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Joan Jett.

Now Playing:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moon shot

Once, long ago, I tried to get into astrophotography. This didn't last long because of the cost of film and my ignorance of photography--those rolls of blurry pics got expensive. But I've been restoring my telescope of late, and my XTi has reawakened that desire in me. Sans telescope, I decided to go out the other night and experiment. This is the result.


This was taken using my Canon Rebel XTi with a EF 75-300mm lens (this is the original one, folks--no USM, no IS) on a tripod. I played around for a while, trial-and-erroring it until I settled on an aperture of 20 with a shutter speed of 1/160 and ISO of 400. RAW mode. Mirror lockup was on, and I triggered the shutter remotely with the Canon RC-1. I shot several dozen images. This one was arrived at by selecting eight of the best looking individual shots, adjusting the histogram for each RGB channel on each photo, and averaging the shots two-by-two and stacking in Photoshop, then sharpening. The final step was cropping the frame down by 75 percent or so.

It's not a great lunar shot, but it's pretty darn nice considering the 75-300's reputation and the horrible light pollution in my skies.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear

Monday, June 16, 2008

Close call

In photography circles, there's something of an eternal, low-level debate over the value of attaching UV filters to lenses. Such filters are marketed as improving image quality by eliminating UV haze from photos, but I don't know of anyone who uses them for this reason. Instead, they're used as a transparent shield to protect the exposed glass element of the (expensive) lens. Those who disdain UV filters claim they negatively affect image quality and that protection is unnecessary with proper care and behavior.

Over the weekend I took the camera out at night to play around with some long-exposure night shots. After an hour of trying--all my shots were pretty much washed-out blue because of the fairly intense light pollution my neighborhood boasts--I packed up and headed in. Only I apparently didn't buckle the camera bag properly in the dark. As I'm opening the front door, the 75-300mm telephoto drops out of the open bag with a sickening whack on the concrete front porch. Now, the 75-300 isn't a high-quality telephoto zoom lens. It's not even that expensive as such things go. But it is the only long-range zoom I have and there isn't any money budgeted for a replacement. I did not greet this event with great joy.

So I picked up the lens, fearing what I might find. The UV filter was shattered most spectacularly--the lens had fallen almost straight down onto it. But the underlying lens was unscathed. Only a small scuff mark on one side. I popped it on the camera and took some test shots--autofocus, zoom and everything else seemed to check out fine. Bullet dodged.

But I will be purchasing a new UV filter for it. Count me among the true believers.

Now Playing: Antonin Dvorák The Best of Dvorák

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Page 123, Fifth Sentence

I've been tagged for a meme by John at SF Signal. As far as memes go, this one's pretty off the wall. Neat, but off the wall.

"To participate, you grab any book, go to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and blog it. Then tag five people."

The following is the 5th complete sentence from Howard Waldrop's Howard Who (1st Ed.):

I fought my way through the worst traffic jam in the city's history, got to the hotel (without a room) at 5 p.m.

Which brings up a bit of information I don't believe has been widely disseminated: Howard's in the hospital. From what I understand, sometime last week he came down with some discomfort and was admitted to Seton in Austin for tests. At which point they scheduled him to undergo angioplasty. The prognosis is good, but I haven't heard yet how Howard's doing at this point...

Oh, and I tag Bill Crider, Jaquandor, Mary Robinette Kowal, Chris Roberson and Russell Davis. Poo-ya!

I tag:Now Playing: Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto Getz/Gilberto

Friday, June 13, 2008


For those loyal readers who have interest in such things (all six of you) episode 15 of my ongoing online serial MEMORY is now live at No Fear of the Future. If you'll remember from last week's installment, Flavius and Parric have set out to pay a visit to the Tricentennial Emperor, the jolly fellow who killed Flavius not so long ago and set all these various wheels in motion.
The Palace of Un-pic Ja’ab floated before Flavius and Parric, the honey-soaked rays of the late afternoon sun glittering across the many-faceted towers in a prismatic spray. Pale yellow lights flickered from a thousand windows as well as the promenades that ran weblike among the towers. Great loops and whorls of no discernable purpose decorated the skyline and reached far beyond the balconies and retaining walls, casting surreal shadows over the valley a thousand feet below.

Beneath the palace, running the length of the perimeter was a colossal Ketza’qua. The yellow-bronze specimen was old and reeked of power. The trusses and cables holding it in place groaned and cackled every time the serpentine body flexed, but showed no signs of breaking.

Suffice to say, things don't go as smoothly as our intrepid duo may have hoped.

Now Playing: Derek & the Dominoes The Layla Sessions

Friday Night Videos

I kinda miss Joan Jett. As far as rocker guitar lesbians go, she couldn't be topped. Sure, "I Love Rock & Roll" is over-played to the point of nausea even today, but she put out some great guitar-driven singles back in the day. "I Hate Myself for Loving You" is pretty much her last hurrah, unfortunately. I though at the time of its release that it signified a resurgence in her career and willingness to get down and dirty with her riffs once again. Alas, those hopes were pretty much shot with her follow up single, the distressingly limp "Little Liar." And that pretty much ended it for her as a commercial artist.

"I Hate Myself," though, remains an overlooked gem. No, it's not particularly deep or contemplative. It doesn't take on any pressing social issues or break new ground with its musical arrangement. But damn, she can infuse the simplest, most contrived lyrics with character and weight they have no business having. She sells this song like no other, and for that I'll even forgive her that goofy '80s hair band look she sports in this video...

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cheech & Chong.

Now Playing: AC/DC Who Made Who

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A gallon of gas

Gasoline hasn't topped $4 a gallon for me, yet, but this morning the local stations had it going for $3.89 so it's only a matter of time. It's so nice to see President Bush's cozy relationship with the Saudis and Big Oil paying off for the average American, isn't it? I think the great Ray Davies said it best with lyrics he penned 30 years ago:

Soaring gas prices have hit the ol' Blaschke family budget pretty hard, as it has mostly everyone in the country. The family minivan--which isn't SUV awful in the mpg category, but still isn't great--remains parked most of the time now. We usually shoehorn everyone into the PT Cruiser when we have to go somewhere together, which isn't that comfortable for the children considering how much space the Bug's car seat takes up in the back seat.

Sadly, the Cruiser doesn't get as good gas mileage as it should for a car it's size. It's too heavy, and not very efficient. A redesign could help it out immensely as far as weight and mpg goes, but Chrysler shows no interest in that--only in building gas-guzzling muscle cars. Go figure.

I've got a 20-mile commute (each way) and that takes a toll. It can't really be helped. Mass transit and carpooling options are quite limited. We live where we do because of 1) affordable housing and 2) quality schools. Moving closer to my work would force us to abandon both of those things. So I do all the standard mileage tweaks to try and coax more fuel efficiency out of my car. Tires slightly over-inflated? Check. Clean air filter? Check. Clean out excess clutter and weight? Check. I just shelled out cash to get the engine tuned up, replacing the spark plugs and whatnot to improve performance above what it'd become (the engine was obviously missing when idling). But that's not enough.

Three years ago it cost me $25 to fill up the Cruiser. Now it costs $45-50. Ouch. So I've taken steps. I've slowed down to 65 mph on the highway. Throttling back from 70-75 doesn't sound like much, but it's reduced the engine rpms from 3,000 to 2,500, and that's had an obvious impact. I've also adopted some of the less-radical driving habits popularized by the so-called hypermilers. I turn the engine off if I expect to be stuck at a stoplight or in a drive-through line for longer than 10 seconds. I park face-out if possible so as not to waste gas in backing up. On downhill slopes, I hit the clutch and coast with gravity and inertia providing the power, not stepping back on the gas until I've slowed to 55 mph or so on the highway (I've gone half a mile at a stretch). I don't draft, though. I've tried it, but it simply strikes me as too dangerous and unpredictable to be a viable alternative for anyone but hard-core hypermilers. And I'm not looking to tick off other drivers with fuel-saving obsessions. I also run the AC or drive with the windows down, because I'm simply not going to bake in a sauna to shave a few pennies off my final gas bill. But hopefully, the steps I'm taking will add up over the long term.

There's one more thing I'm doing because of the spiraling fuel prices: I'm donating plasma. Yeah, twice a week now, I'm getting stuck with a needle and using the resulting cash to gas up my car. Somewhat surreal when you consider the fact that college students donate plasma for beer money, whereas an old fart like me is using it for gas money. That's progress for you, I suppose.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge No Reason

Paging Peter Beagle

I've learned a good deal about cervids (deer) over the years, due mainly in part to my family's involvement in raising exotic livestock. Antlers, in particular, are a fascinating and complex phenomenon, affected by many factors including genetics, environment and diet. So it didn't surprise me at all when I found Single-horned 'Unicorn' deer is found in Italy in my in-box this morning, courtesy of my mother.

ROME (AP) — A deer with a single horn in the center of its head — much like the fabled, mythical unicorn — has been spotted in a nature preserve in Italy, park officials said Wednesday.

"This is fantasy becoming reality," Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Sciences in Prato, told The Associated Press. "The unicorn has always been a mythological animal."

The 1-year-old Roe Deer — nicknamed "Unicorn" — was born in captivity in the research center's park in the Tuscan town of Prato, near Florence, Tozzi said.

He is believed to have been born with a genetic flaw; his twin has two horns.

Here's the thing: This isn't a big deal. The growth mechanism of antlers is poorly understood at best, and gives rise to all sorts of bizarre and counter-intuitive growth patterns. For instance, when an antler is growing--"in velvet" as it were--the bone tissue is soft and covered in a fine, velvety covering rich in blood vessels. Antlers are, essentially, annual bone growth which is shed following rut only to begin the process anew. Since the velvet antlers are soft, they are easily damaged and somewhat susceptible in infections and the like, which can cause odd, asymmetrical and/or downright surreal growth patterns that deviate far from the norm. We know from our old buddy Mendel that injuries or physical trauma sustained by an animal or plant isn't passed on to future generations, since such afflictions don't extend to the genetic level. One would expect this to hold true for antler growth, since the afflicted antler is shed and an entirely new one is regrown the following year. One would think. Strangely enough, this isn't always the case, and new antlers can show signs of that same trauma in subsequent years.

If you think that's strange, try this on for size: Physical injury to a deer's legs can manifest in antler growth. Deer aren't like horses--they can break a leg and survive, although the odds of doing so aren't great. But if a deer, hypothetically breaks it's right hind leg, it's the left antler that would be affected. And, like the trauma sustained by an antler directly, trauma sustained by a leg can manifest in subsequent years' antler growth. Crazy stuff, man.

I don't know a lot, specifically, regarding the roe deer itself. It's a smallish species with relatively tiny two- or three-pronged antlers, so it's not a popular game animal for either meat or trophies. The antlers grow from bony knobs on the top of the skull called pedicles, and in roe deer these are somewhat closer together than in other species. In older bucks, the base of the antlers can actually grow together to for a solid, knobby mass with the individual antlers projecting up from. Because of this, if ever there was a candidate deer species to have a single antler jutting up from the center of the skull, roe deer would be my choice. That photo above could easily be Photoshopped, although I have no reason to believe it's not real.

I do have reason to believe the reporter who wrote the original piece was a moron, however. Deer have antlers, which when mature, are non-living bone. Antlers are shed and re-grown annually. Deer do not have horns, which are keratin sheaths over a core of living bone. Horns are not shed, and generally grow throughout an animal's life. That is the end of today's lesson. Class dismissed.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge Across the Water

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I want one

Considering how I've just put up a fairly extensive telescope-related post over at No Fear of the Future, so the fortuitous coincidence of this NASA release is too much to pass up:

NASA Scientists Pioneer Method for Making Giant Lunar Telescopes

This isn't the first time researchers have speculated on the pie-in-the-sky dream of a lunar telescope, but the construction approach to this particular monster is intriguing. I mean, nanotubes and the use of on-site materials is the stuff of science fiction, no? If they could somehow automate the process, it might actually happen within the next 50 years or so:
For years, Chen had been working with carbon-fiber composite materials to produce high-quality telescope mirrors. But Chen and his colleagues decided to try an experiment. They substituted carbon nanotubes (tiny tubular structures made of pure carbon) for the carbon-fiber composites. When they mixed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and epoxies (glue-like materials) with crushed rock that has the same composition and grain size as lunar dust, they discovered to their surprise that they had created a very strong material with the consistency of concrete. This material can be used instead of glass to make mirrors.

They next applied additional layers of epoxy and spun the material at room temperature. The result was a 12-inch-wide mirror blank with the parabolic shape of a telescope mirror. All of this was achieved with minimal effort and cost.

"After that, all we needed to do was coat the mirror blank with a small amount of aluminum, and voilà, we had a highly reflective telescope mirror," says Rabin. "Our method could be scaled-up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust, to create giant telescope mirrors up to 50 meters in diameter." Such an observatory would dwarf the largest optical telescope in the world right now: the 10.4-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands.

They're talking about a 50-meter telescope, for crying out loud. Multiple 50-meter telescopes. Operating as an array. Egads, we could probably see back to the beginning of time with something like that. Or beyond. The mind, as they say, boggles.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Pandora's Box

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back after the crash

Windows XP did a number on me this past weekend. I can't say I was entirely surprised. Various instabilities had manifested themselves in various maddening ways over the past couple of months, culminating in the system refusing to recognize USB connections a while back. Which prompted the now-infamous Best Buy incident and its unexpected aftermath. Ultimately, I did get all of my data transferred onto an external hard drive, with the plan being to reinstall Windows XP as soon as I took care of a few details.

Well, Windows decided to save me the stress of taking care of those little details that I'd been putting off. Powering up on Saturday resulted in the "Blue Screen of Death" with critical errors in the operating system. Nothing for it but to reinstall. Everything. So for much of Sunday and a decent chunk of Monday we've been rebuilding and restoring all the programs, plug-ins and whatnot that once populated my desktop. All seems in order, but if McAffee pops up one more time demanding I register, only to tell me I've already registered at the end of the process, I may just chunk it all.

Now Playing: Ravel The Best of Ravel

Friday, June 06, 2008


Sorry for the two-week delay on the latest installment of MEMORY, my online serial over at No Fear of the Future. To be honest, I had some paying deadlines that took priority. And I'm lazy, too, but that goes without saying.

You know that odd mountain range with the weird purple sky Parric took Flavius to after escaping from the Moironteau? Flavius discovers just where that exactly is this episode. Let's just say it's not the locale he would've picked had he his druthers. You can discover where he is, too, simply by clicking here.

Now Playing: Rush Chronicles

Friday Night Videos

With immigration being a hot topic this political season--particularly with certain folks here, there and everywhere looking for convenient scapegoats to blame the economic recession on rather than the Bush administration's disastrous fiscal policies--it strikes me as apropos to feature Cheech & Chong's "Born in East L.A." on today's installment of Friday Night Videos. Interestingly, this is more of a Cheech Marin vehicle than a true Cheech & Chong collaboration, even though it originally appeared on their final album together. Cheech is testing the social commentary waters here, taking his first tentative steps toward breaking out of the drug-joke schtick that'd defined him up to this point. The video eventually spawned a surprisingly entertaining--if uneven--movie that is a full-blown political statement from Cheech. The video itself is interesting in itself, from the Jan Michael Vincent (I think) cameo as the immigration agent, to Cheech's great taste in cars (a 1955 Chevy Bel Air convertible), to a subtle allusion to the Oscar-winning 1983 film El Norte which gives a subtle hint as to what awaits the viewer in the coming big-screen adaptation.

But enough in-depth, overblown analysis. It's a fun video. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Blue Öyster Cult.

Now Playing: Billy Joel A Matter of Trust

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Stop and smell the flowers

On Friday I got in, via the USPS, a couple of packages relevant to projects I'm currently working on which I will share with you good folks in due course. This is incidentally relevant to the story which I am about to relate.

When I got home on Friday, I noticed a musty, closed-up smell in my office. It hadn't been there that morning. I didn't like it. Since the above-mentioned packages had arrived during the day, and since the Wife had stored them in my office, my natural inclination was that the persistent stench was emanating from them. This made sense if the contents or boxes had been taken from, say, a dedicated storage area infused with mothballs. Because mothballs was the smell I had in my office.

I hate mothball odor. It is wretched and vile. If I need moth repellant, I'll go with cedar every time.

So I remove all packaging from my office and throw it away. Then I moved the contents of said packaging into the garage. The odor lingered in my office, but that was merely the lingering remnants, surely. I closed up and went to bed.

The next morning I opened my office door and was bowled over by a wave of mothball stench. What the heck was going on? I searched in vain for any packaging I might have missed the day before. Nothing. I searched my office for an obvious source--again, nada. The stink seemed to be coming from every corner. I burned incense in an attempt to cover it up. The mothball smell laughed at my feeble smoke. I turned on the ceiling fan. That only made the smell stronger and spread it around. I literally couldn't stand to be in my office, the smell was so strong. What's worse, the smell was permeating the rest of the house, even with my office doors closed.

Did I mention how much I hate mothball smell? We were doomed.

In desperation, I opened the windows in my office to let in some fresh air, and then I saw them:


One of my passiflora mexicana plants, which I'd nurtured through the winter and protected for all manner of plant-killing hazard, had bloomed. It was showing off two pretty little 1" flowers. Attractive, isn't it? Don't let it's looks deceive you. This one's a evil little thing, I assure you. That's it--two little flowers putting out more odor than any other passion flower I've ever had.

I'd heard that mexicana smelled unpleasant, but hadn't worried about it. After all, I'd heard the same about passiflora foetida, but my gossypiifolia growing in the back yard is only vaguely musky in a greenish sort of way that is pretty much inconsequential. But wow, this mexicana wasn't playing games. I extricated it from my office and moved it outside, where it proceeded to open four more flowers the next day. Took several hours for my office's air to clear afterwards, even with windows open and fans blowing.

I worked a long time to acquire that plant and another just like it. There's a lot to like about it, and it's very rare in the nursery trade--practically non-existent, in fact. So I'm happy as a hog in slop that it's finally blooming but man, it's strictly an outdoor plant. And a downwind one at that.

Now Playing: Clannad An Diolaim

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Racking the mead

I racked the current batch of mead over the weekend, finally. If you'll recall from the last installment, I'd racked and added medium toast French oak chips to the mead, with the intent of letting it age two weeks before racking. Obviously I overshot the mark by about a week. Hopefully, that's not going to adversely affect the final taste--as I've never played with oak before, I'm uncertain how long is too long, or too short for that matter. We shall see what we shall see.

As for the mead itself, the maypop is clearing out very easily. It's a pale yellow, and growing more transparent by the day. There are very few suspended solids in this one. It'll be ready for bottling soon. The blueberry, on the other hand, is going to need some help. It's clearer than it was last time around, but is still closer to translucent than transparent. The color is a lovely reddish-purple, however, so I'm going to have to collect a good number of clear bottles in which to show it off.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

12 and counting

Yesterday was my 12th wedding anniversary, a date of some significance I coincidentally share with the Wife. Saturday night we had dinner at the Huisache Grill, a great restaurant in New Braunfels we'd talked about trying out for years but only got around to trying out. Sunday we went into San Antonio to goof around. We ended up doing a little shopping at Central Market and picking up some wine and exotic cheeses. Of the half dozen bottles we bought (you get a 10 percent discount with 6), I got a bottle of Dry Comal Creek's White Black Spanish, which is close to my all-time favorite wine, along with a 100 percent pomegranate fruit wine (!). The Wife grabbed a bottle of Monchhof Estate Riesling, which she'd had a glass of at the Huisache and really liked (not terribly sweet, with a crispness and well-balanced flavor. If you've ever suffered cheap riesling, you know how significant that balance is) and a peach wine as well. Needing one more bottle to fill out our purchase, the Wife grabbed, on a lark, a bottle of Moxie a so-called "Sparkling Red" on sale for just $10. Identified as Pinot Noir on the advertising, the bottle itself said it was a Shiraz from Australia. Which concerned me, as I don't generally find Shiraz to my taste. But last night we popped the corn anyway. In the glasses, it fizzed aggressively at first, and subsided quickly. Expecting the worst, we tried a sip and were pleasantly surprised. It had great red flavor and mouthfeel without bludgeoning us over the head with tannins. The carbonation gave it a frothy, playful texture. And it packed a wallop. After one glass I felt a distinct buzz, and the Wife agreed it was strong stuff that snuck up on you if you weren't careful. The next time we're at Central Market, we're definitely stocking up on this stuff.

Gifts were also exchanged. I got the Wife a Canon FS10 digital video camera and extra memory cards, since our old camera is pretty much obsolete with a rapidly dying battery. She, in turn, presented me with some undeniably cool presents: Several books--The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography by Joe Farace, Digital Astrophotography: A Guide to Capturing the Cosmos by Stefan Seip and The Chicken Ranch: The True Story of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas by Jan Hutson. How cool is that? She capped it off with a DVD of Justice League - The New Frontier two-disc special edition. So, I think it's safe to say my evenings are full up for the next week or so...

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