Friday, November 27, 2009

What it was was football

Despite what many folks have assumed, I'm not in a bad mood today. Nor was I last night after the football game. I'll not go so far as to say I'm happy--that's just silly. I very much wanted the Aggies to upend the sips, and from the way the team played, they very much wanted the same thing. So a loss is a loss, and that stinks. No moral victories, etc.

But if there's such thing as an honorable loss, this was it. The Aggies, picked "Most Likely To Be Lambs At The Slaughter" by pretty much every sports pundit in the nation, traded haymakers with the no. 3-ranked sips all night long and refused to quit. That fumble by Christine Michael's second-half fumble turned into a 14-point swing, robbing the Ags of a potential touchdown while allowing the sips to score one of their own. A rare Jerrod Johnson endzone interception also hurt, as did the missed chip shot field goal near the end of the game. But those were all legitimate mistakes, as opposed to blown calls or other unsavory developments. And the Ags worked their way back into the game each time, except for the final minutes

But how about Jerrod Johnson? Wow! His numbers matched those of Heisman hopeful Colt McCoy, with one difference--as Colt was shredding A&M's young, slow and bottom-ranked defense, Johnson was picking apart one of the nation's most highly-touted. I woke up this morning to see national as well as state media mentioning Johnson as one of the top Heisman candidates for 2010 based on a losing performance. I don't know if I've ever seen that before.

So no, I'm not happy with the loss, but it came against an undeniably great team that may well end up national champions. But watching that game, I saw a lot more good stuff than bad from all those underclassmen Coach Mike Sherman threw out there on the field, and with another strong recruiting class coming in, for the first time in many years I believe the program is headed in the right direction, and eagerly look forward to A&M's bowl game and the start of next season.

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Friday Night Videos

From around 1983 to 1989 I was a huge fan of Exile. I'd grown up on country music, and after the former rock group--led by songwriting talent J.P. Pennington--redirected itself toward the country charts following a string of artists including Alabama scoring big hits with covers of their songs, I jumped on the bandwagon. I even saw them perform live at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in 1984. They simply wrote good, catchy music, and would continue to do so until an awkward single "Super Love" broke a string of half a dozen consecutive no. 1 hits. Shortly thereafter, most of the core lineup left the group, the ensuing albums flopped and by the early 90s Exile disbanded.

None of those songs are featured on today's installment of Friday Night Videos. Instead, we're going to enjoy their first--and biggest--hit from the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a disco-era power ballad that was a no. 1 hit for four weeks in 1978. The band actually re-recorded a country version for their 1986 greatest hits album, but for my money the original is still the best.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Davies.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Half moon with seas

I shot this half-moon image using the eyepiece projection method (which I used for the photo in the previous blog entry as well). The eyepiece used was a 15mm GSO-manufactured SmartAstronomy Plössl. You can tell by the purple fringe and lack of sharpness in the southern region how the seeing conditions were not optimal. Still, I think it's a decent representation of the lunar seas of the eastern hemisphere, starting with Mare Imbrium at the terminator, then as we go clockwise, Mare Serenitatis, Mare Tranquillitatis and the small Mare Nectaris, with the larger Mare Fecunditatis directly to the east and the circular Mare Crisium off there by its lonesome.

This next shot was taken of the moon's heavily-cratered southern polar region with that same 15mm lens coupled with a 2x Barlowe.

With the 50D's Live View and high resolution, I hope to try my hand at some longer exposure deep-sky objects before long. Provided I can find some skies with less light pollution, and can manage a decent polar alignment, of course.

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Mare Imbrium at the terminator

Encouraged by a forecast of good conditions from the Clear Sky Chart, this evening I set up my 6" Newtonian telescope with the hopes of testing The Wife's Canon 50D on some astrophotography. Before sundown I attempted to set up a proper polar alignment for the tracking motor. Alas, my polar alignment wasn't spot-on, as there was some obvious drift in the viewfinder. And double alas, as high, thin clouds swept through around 7 p.m., degrading viewing just enough to make it frustrating. And triple alas, because by 7:30 p.m. the temperature had dropped to the dewpoint, and everything started getting wet as the sky grew hazy. I finally gave up and packed it in.

I did manage to fire off a few shots of the moon before things got too bad, however. The Wife's Canon 50D was pretty darn impressive. The Live View feature is a wonder for focusing. I'd struggled mightily in the past, but by zooming in 5x on Live View, I was able to manually adjust the focus until the craters looked tack sharp, as the popular saying goes. Conditions weren't optimal for great photos, but I did get a few of moderate quality. Below we have Mare Imbrium at the terminator:

This is the northern region of the moon. The mountain range sweeping up from the terminator is Montes Apenninus. The broad, flat area to the left is Mare Imbrium, and the one to the right is Mare Serenitatis. The large crater in the center of Mare Imbrium is Archimedes, with the smaller craters to the right Autolycus and Aristillus, in order. The mountain range that arcs back toward the terminator is Montes Alpes, and the crater right there at the far end, bathed in shadow, is Plato, a whopper more than 60 miles across.

Now Playing: Dave Davies Unfinished Business

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Piggyback mount

Get your mind out of the gutter! I posted a year or so back regarding my refurbishment of my Meade 465 Newtonian telescope, a long, involved process made even more long and involved by my obsession with detail, due no doubt to daddy issues (relentless criticism of project flaws will scar a fellow for life, I tells ya). With my telescope in serviceable order, I've begun thinking more about astrophotography, which I've attempted off and on for more than 30 years with varying degrees of success. I mentioned earlier this summer that I was beginning construction of a home-built Piggyback mount, which would allow me to attach my Canon XTi (or The Wife's 50D) to the tube of my scope and let it ride "piggyback" for long-exposure tracking shots.

Now, most of the astrophotography I've attempted has been through the telescope, either "prime focus," in that the telescope itself is used as a large mirror lens (f/5 fixed aperture, 762mm focal length I think), and also "eyepiece projection," in which an eyepiece is inserted between the camera and mirror to project a magnified image onto the camera's sensor. Those are great for Deep Space Objects or planetary photography, but some sky elements, such as constellations, the Milky Way or Banard's Loop are so large they won't fit in the field of view. Because they're faint, they benefit from long exposures, which means tracking is necessary. Hence, piggybacking a camera on the scope is an ideal solution.

Well, after I started this project in June, I set it aside after cutting and drilling the block of wood that would serve as the piggyback base. I'd bought the screws and cinch to attach to my scope, but that's as far as it went. As these things are cyclical, yesterday I pulled out the supplies for this project and sanded the block down and puttied in many grooves and imperfections of the wood, then sanded it smooth. Today I layered on several coats of primer, sanded it down once more, then applied several more layers (stopping only because the can of primer emptied). After a suitable drying period, I sanded it smooth with 600 grit paper. I have to say it's not perfect--there are still imperfections--but I decided to rein myself in and say "close enough" is a better allocation of my efforts than obsessive perfection. It is pretty darn smooth, however, and once I start layering on the Claret Red Metallic tomorrow--I've got two cans' worth, matching the color of my scope--I'll wager that few people will be able to recognize the humble 2x4 origins of the base. The mount could reasonably be finished by Thanksgiving, but realistically, I'm shooting for the first of December, considering all the travel and other demands on my time I'll be facing over the next few days. Still, the thought has me excited. I expect good things from my EF 50mm 1.8 mk I lens, or The Wife's Tamron 28-75mm 2.8. Both are very sharp and fast, and should excel at starfields and big, faint objects like the North American Nebula and Banard's Loop. We'll see. Winter has some of the best astrophotography targets, and if the weather cooperates, I'll share my efforts here.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Night Videos

A bit of Ray Davies brilliance for the season, since we haven't had any Kinks-related content for quite a while. This live version of "Thanksgiving Day" is great--Ray's instincts on acoustic arrangements are always spot-on--but the studio version is even better, if you can believe it. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Drive safely next week!

Previously on Friday Night Videos: Jet Screamer and the Violent Femmes.

Now Playing: Dave Davies Rock Bottom: Live at the Bottom Line

Night shoot

I had a night shoot with the model Violet Grave tonight. She's done a bunch of goth work, and wanted something more glam for her portfolio. I've been following Dustin Diaz's photo blog, and wanted to try some nighttime strobist-style shots. Violet and I got together right after sundown, along with her son, and trouped about New Braunfels looking for the perfect shots. It's late, and I'm tired, but I think we got at least a few keepers. Here's the last shot we got right before the rains chased us indoors.

Maybe I'll get the hang of this photography thing yet.

Now Playing: The Kinks Kink Kronikles

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So... the wedding

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: If someone suggests that simultaneously being in a wedding, riding herd on three kids and photographing said wedding in an official capacity is a good idea... it isn't. Can't say as I recommend that degree of multitasking. It's Wednesday, and I'm still exhausted.

The wedding itself was very nice. My brother John and his bride Tami were perfect hosts. More importantly, they enjoyed themselves. With all the stress they were under planning this thing in the months leading up to it, there was real concern they'd have a heart attack, mental breakdown or both. But starting Friday with the rehearsal, they were in full-on blissful enjoyment mode. Which is the way it should be. All of our extended families were there (and got along) and friends and acquaintances from all over attended, having themselves a grand old time from what I could tell. I ate and drank and fixed flat tires and chased little ones and on more than one occasion I slipped away from the wedding party to take pictures. Here's one I'm particularly pleased with, of the ceremony inside the new St. Mary's Catholic Church in Fredericksburg.


I also managed to work in a few infrared photographs. No, none of the wedding party--we're not ready for something like that yet--but I got this nifty false-color image of the old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, significant in the fact that this is where John proposed to Tami.


I'd like to point out that the old church was build in 1861, while the new church was "only" built in 1908. They're both mighty impressive buildings. The entire wedding gallery can be viewed at Lisa On Location.

Now Playing: Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Night Videos

A little retro-future rock to set the mood for this fine Friday: Jet Screamer from The Jetsons doing his all-time classic "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah," a catchy ditty with lyrics penned by Elroy Jetson.

And here's something to wrap your heads around--even though this wasn't a hit until the year 2062, the Violent Femmes actually covered the track in 1995. Give a listen:

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Hall & Oates.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

A question for journalists...

Does anyone else out there find themselves compulsively correcting their typos, tense, capitalization and punctuation in emails, blog posts and even Facebook/Twitter updates? Even in informal communications where it shouldn't matter?

Dear Lord, I can't even bring myself to "LOL" online with a straight face...

Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Journalism, I shall avenge thee!

So I got a call this evening from a young student working for the Association of Former Students at Texas A&M. I listened to her spiel as she worked up to asking me for money. As soon as the invitation to make a financial gift left her lips, I countered by asking if Texas A&M had re-instituted a journalism degree.

I know what you're thinking: This was an unfair ambush I'd been prepping for years. And yes, it was. But I was nice. We have students just like her at Texas State who have the thankless job of manning phone banks to try and get alumni to give back to the university (and I have to say, the A&M students have a much easier time of it). So I was nice to her. I waited patiently as she checked with highers-up to find out that no, there is currently no journalism degree at A&M, but there are some classes that can be taken. I kindly informed her--pointing out that I had nothing against her personally--that the program had been dismantled in 2004 and until the university re-instituted a meaningful journalism program I would be withholding any direct financial support. She asked if it might have been a state-wide initiative across all universities in Texas. To my credit, I did not laugh (as all you University of Texas, North Texas and Texas State journalism graduates are now doing) but instead gave her a history lesson, how Robert Gates killed off journalism at A&M back in 2004 in an effort to rid himself of an unwanted dean of the College of Liberal Arts. How A&M was made a laughingstock in media far and wide as it was pointed out the school had abandoned the field to the perceived "Burnt Orange conspiracy" in journalism.

Yes, five years on, the bitterness is still close to the surface with me. I suggested she pass my screed along to those who take note of such things, pointing out that many A&M journalism graduates from years past may well harbor feelings similar to my own. Once the university does revive a journalism program with an honest-to-goodness bachelor degree--not, I hasten to point out, a minor or "specialization"--then I will once again be happy to lend them my financial support. But not before. It actually was quite a pleasant conversation, and she confessed to not knowing A&M ever produced journalists at all.

For those of you who might be curious about such things, I did not get into the whole Cepheid Variable can of worms. Yes, I'm bitter there as well, but an entire department/degree carries more weight than a student organization, even one that was so influential on me.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Let me up! I've had enough!

Talk about a packed weekend! Friday was a Girl Scout sleepover at the Girl Scout house in town, and I was recruited to give an astronomy presentation. I took the moon and Venus globes along, but more importantly, the Maroon Barsoom telescope. On the downside, seeing conditions were horrible, as there is an unbelievable amount of light pollution in that area. Also, there was little to see in the sky that would interest adolescent girls, as the moon didn't rise until well after we'd packed everything away and it started getting foggy at that point as well. Deep space objects were out because of the light pollution, and aren't that exciting to kids, anyway. Luckily, Jupiter was available with all four Galilean satellites lined up to one side, and this seemed to impress the troop sufficiently. After that, it was home for me and the Bug, who didn't really appreciate being stuck with Daddy for the night, and made it clear he'd trade me in for Mommy in a heartbeat.

The next day, after picking up the women folk, we packed up and headed to Columbus for a photo shoot. It was an extended family group shot, with some break out sessions included. Some of the participants were obviously more into the session than others, but by the time the sun went down The Wife had gotten several hundred good shots and was feeling pretty positive about the keeper-to-delete ratio. We crashed pretty hard that night. Sleep comes easy when you're exhausted.

Sunday we were up bright an early to do a morning bridal shoot. Yeah, we pack a lot into our trips. The shots came out very well, but during the outdoor session I made the mistake of walking away from the light stand just as a gust of wind (it'd been very still all morning) came up and blew it over. Nothing was damaged except for the shooting umbrella (which, fortunately, looks like a straightforward fix) but the lesson was learned--always anchor the light stand when shooting outside, windy or not.

Following the bridal shoot, we gathered the kids and were on the road to the Texas Renaissance Festival by 9 a.m. We arrived shortly after 10:30 and gave each child a limited amount of spending money, all of which was gone within the hour. At this point I realize my camera's batteries were almost dead. I'd forgotten to recharge the night before. Joy. Fairy Girl got a few shots during the parade and mud show for school (she's doing a report on medieval life, which isn't the same as Renaissance life, but her teacher thought it a good starting point) but it finally died just as the joust was getting under way. I did manage to get this one shot of an actress blowing bubbles to the delight of hordes of children and many adults as well. I had to wait almost 20 seconds before I had a clear shot, but sometimes one is all you need:

By the end of the day, it was starting to sprinkle with the promise of heavier rain in store. I found Istanpitta, a medieval music ensemble that I enjoy, and picked up their CD "C'est la fin," a collection of dance music from the middle ages performed on period instruments. After listening to it on the drive home, I'm thinking I like their other album, "Chevrefoil," a tad better, but it's still a fascinating collection of ancient music.

We rolled back into New Braunfels around 8:30 p.m., and The Wife dropped me off to pick up my PT Cruiser, which had been in the shop for the past week (and parked for the prior 6 weeks) because of a bad wheel bearing. They finally had to resort to cutting the old, decrepit bearing away (so mangled it had become) to replace it, but the long and short of it is that I have my car back. Then the family unloaded from out expedition and collapsed into bed. Exhaustion will do that to you.

This morning I figured out that the gas gauge in my brother's Blazer is inaccurate. In that the Blazer was out of gas despite showing an eighth of a tank remained. This is good, because the alternative was a ruined on-board computer, which is much more costly to fix than an empty gas tank--I just wish I'd known this a week ago when the darn thing stranded me on I-35. Ugh. Fingers crossed that this week is somewhat more sedate and restful by comparison.

Now Playing: Istanpitta C'est la fin

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Night Videos

Hall & Oates were really, really big by the time I started high school, but with their album "Big Bam Boom" they broke away from the strict blue-eyed soul sound they were known for and rocked a bit more. Their video for "Out of Touch" was (and still is) pretty darn impressive, and it actually gives viewers a bonus song, opening with the instrumental "Dance On Your Knees." Great stuff. Enjoy!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Parker, Jr..

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Politics as unusual?

There's been a lot of commentary in the media over this off-year election cycle, referring to the results as a "Referendum on Obama." Republican candidates captured the governor's office in purple Virginia and solidly-blue New Jersey, and GOP commentators are spinning this as the nation turning its wholesale back on Obama and the Democrats.

Or not. It's possible, just possible, the Republican gubernatorial candidates were the better candidates in these elections. In Virginia, the popular McDonnell led Deeds pretty much wire-to-wire and was expected to win, whereas in New Jersey, incumbent Corzine had become a symbol of Wall Street excess and stayed in the race even after Obama and other party officials tried to talk him out of it. So, in essence, we have two Republican victories that have been pretty much anticipated for months.

I find it curious, however, that GOP spinners aren't mentioning results from New York's 23rd Congressional District. What? You haven't heard of it? That's the district where national GOP blowhards like Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson and Rush Limbaugh attacked the official GOP nominee Dierdre Scozzafava for not being right wing enough, eventually driving her out of the race (!) in favor of third-party wingnut Doug Hoffman. This falls in line with the talking points coming out of last fall's Democratic landslide, in which unrepentant right-wingers insisted the reason Democratic moderate and liberal candidates won was because Republican candidates weren't right-wing enough. In the following year, we've seen the Republicans tack a hard right, purging their ranks of moderates, most notably seen in the defection of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to the Democrats.

So the national GOP talking heads drove the moderate Scozzafava from the race, paving the way for "ideologically pure" Hoffman to roll to victory in a Republican stronghold has elected a Republican congressman in every election for the past 100-plus years.

Except that Democratic candidate Bill Owens, a retired Air Force captain, won NY 23 despite Republicans outnumbering registered Democrats in the district by a 45,000 vote margin. And overlooked in all the hoopla surrounding the GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey, this congressional victory actually increases the Democratic Party's margin in the House of Representatives. Ouch. How's the Pyrrhic victory feeling now, Hoffman?

The long and short of it is, I don't think any national trend can be determined by these off-year elections. The country's uncertain, but the universal groundswell the Tea Party crowd would like us to believe is sweeping over the country simply isn't there. If unemployment is hovering around 10 percent this time next year, then yeah, the Democrats and Obama are going to be in trouble. But with signs of economic recovery coming with more regularity (Ford made a profit?) I would expect jobless rates to show at least moderate improvement by mid-2010. And if health care legislation is passed--in whatever form--charges of the Democrats presiding over a do-nothing congress will be blunted. I still expect Democrats to lose seats in the House and Senate come 2010, simply because that's what happens in mid-term elections with a new president, but I anticipate that it'll be more in line with historical norms as opposed to the Gingrich revolution 15 years ago.

Guess we'll find out how much of a guru I am 12 months from now...

Now Playing: Blue Öyster Cult Workshop of the Telescopes

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bloom County

Ain't It Cool News is a mixed bag at best for me these days, what with its crudity and self-importance, but every once in a while they come up with well-written content that reminds me why I bookmarked them a decade ago and have been a regular visitor ever since. Today they have a new interview up with Scott Dunbier, editor of the new Bloom County: The Complete Library.

My love affair with Bloom County dates back to 1983, before I'd ever read a single strip in any newspaper. Growing up as a book-loving kid, Columbus was a virtual wasteland. No bookstores, unless you count the best-selling paperbacks at the checkout lines in Wal Mart or the Brookshire Brothers grocery store. The local library had an anemic SF section, and I lived for visits to Victoria, so I could spend my carefully hoarded dollars at Waldenbooks. In this context, imagine my delight when a bookstore opened up in downtown Columbus! Unfortunately, it didn't last long, due probably in no small part to the fact that it carried very few actual books. But as I was perusing their selection--single books arranged on sparse shelves like some museum display of rare crystal--I came across "Bloom County: Loose Tails." I'd never heard of this before, but flipping through I was taken with the artwork and found the content hilarious. In fact, one of the opening strips--cited by Breathed in the interview linked above--in which Senator Bedfellow meets up with a farmer who's doing great business growing marijuana instead of corn and invites the senator to "Take a few pounds home to the wife." Man, that was comedy GOLD, and the joke still holds up. Brilliant timing and execution, not to mention fine artwork. I bought the book on the spot and still have it on my bookshelf to this day.

It was shortly thereafter that I discovered Bloom County in the Houston Post. Needless to say, that became my favorite newspaper for the next decade, and I don't think it entirely coincidental that the Post went belly-up shortly after Breathed ended Bloom County. I became a genuine devotee of the strip. I clearly remember Breathed lampooning Texas A&M during the whole mid-80s "Let women into the Band" controversy, with the punchline of "Mainly manly moral values." Those strips have never been reprinted, although presumably they will be now in this "complete" collection. As a junior in high school, I got a Bill the Cat tee-shirt that I wore for years until it disentegrated, ala Jerry Seinfeld's "Golden Boy." I bought every collection as they appeared, and even had a Breathed-signed copy of Bloom County Babylon, which a guy named Paul "borrowed" and never returned my freshman year of college. He cheated at Dungeons & Dragons, too, so that tells you his moral character. I had a Bill the Cat for President poster on my bedroom door throughout college, which I believe my brother John inherited eventually. In high school I bought a plush Bill the Cat doll, a scraggly thing, which I had up through my years in Temple on a perch of honor atop my bookshelves. Somewhere between then and now it vanished, which blows because those same dolls go for $100 or so on Ebay today. The Wife remembers it, so it either walked off with a visitor at some point, or it may be packed away in a long-forgotten box from our various moves over the years. Either way, I miss it.

I have the floppy 45 rpm single of "U Stink But I Love You" and "I'm a Boinger" from Billy & the Boingers Bootleg. My fave college band, Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones, made "U Stink But I Love You" a staple of their playlist back in the day, although they didn't have a tuba solo.

The current prize of my Bloom County collection, however, isn't Bloom County at all. It's volume 2 of Berke Breathed's Academia Waltz self-published while he was a student at t.u. That's right--my favorite cartoonist of pretty much all time (tough call between him and Charles Schultz, but Breathed was more of my time, you know?) is a tea-sip. Horrors. But I'm not alone, as Bloom County was the most popular strip in Texas A&M's student newspaper The Battalion for many, many years until it ended. It's also the only syndicated one the Batt ran--after Breathed pulled the plug, the Batt comic page was strictly local. Academia Waltz ran for several years in The Daily Toxin and is somewhat crude in content and execution as you'd expect a student comic to be. But flashes of genius are also evident, as is Breathed's cynical with and sense of the absurd. Early incarnations of Steve Dallas and Cutter John are present, and Breathed recycles several strips later on in Bloom County. I stumbled upon my copy at the Half Price Books off Broadway in San Antonio back in 2002. I normally don't look through the humor section, but for some reason that day I did--it was a very small set of shelves--and Academia Waltz immediately caught my eye. I had to look at it for several moments before it actually sank in what I'd found. And the price was $2.50--for context, these go for hundreds to collectors these days. Needless to say, I've been exceptionally happy with the pickup, and even emailed Breathed to express my pleasure and request he put out a collected volume of his early Academia Waltz strips for us die-hard Bloom County fans. Alas, his response was negative, although he congratulated me on my find, pointing out that it was "worth a lot of money."

So now IDW has released the first volume of The Complete Collection, with Volume Two due in April. Finally I'll get to see those long-forgotten Aggie strips. There will be some Academia Waltz as well, but only a taste. Most importantly, there will be many early strips that have never been collected, strips that predate my discovery of this great comic strip, which means there is new Bloom County for me to read for the first time in decades. Yay!

If anyone is stumped as to what to get me for Christmas, consider this a big hint.

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