Monday, January 31, 2011


At last! The entire table of contents for the forthcoming Lambshead tome has been unveiled at io9. I can't say how jazzed I am to be a part of this, even though my contribution is miniscule compared to that of the other contributors. Jeff and Ann run a first-class operation. I'm always excited by the prospect of participating in one of their madcap publishing endeavours.

Exhibits, Oddities, Images, & Stories from Top Authors and Artists

Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

A showcase for some of the world's greatest imaginations, copiously illustrated…

A stunning find beneath the famed Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead's house years after his death: a basement space lost under a collapsed floor, in which were found the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities. Containing artifacts, curios, and keepsakes collected over Dr. Lambshead's many, many decades, the cabinet of curiosities took over a year to unearth, document, and catalog. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambshead and his exploits, we are now proud to present highlights from the doctor's cabinet, reconstructed not only through original visual representations by the likes of Mike Mignola, Greg Broadmore, and Jan Svankmajer, but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure. (Sumptuous title pages provided by John Coulthart.)

Introduction: The Contradictions of a Collection, Dr. Lambshead's Cabinet (by the Editors)

Holy Devices and Infernal Duds: The Broadmore Exhibits

The Electric Neurheographiton - Minister Faust

St. Brendan's Shank - Kelly Barnhill

The Auble Gun - Will Hindmarch

Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - Ted Chiang

Honoring Lambshead: Stories Inspired by the Cabinet

Threads - Carrie Vaughn

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West - Garth Nix

Relic - Jeffrey Ford

Lord Dunsany's Teapot - Naomi Novik

Lot 558: Shadow of My Nephew by Wells, Charlotte - Holly Black

A History of Dunkelblau's Meistergarten - Tad Williams

Microbial Alchemy & Demented Machinery: The Mignola Exhibits

Addison Howell and the Clockroach - Cherie Priest

Roboticus the All-Knowing - Lev Grossman

Shamalung (The Diminutions) - Michael Moorcock

Pulvadmonitor: the Dust's Warning - China Miéville

The Miéville Anomalies

The Very Shoe - Helen Oyeyemi

The Gallows-Horse - Reza Negarestani

Further Oddities

The Thing in the Jar - Michael Cisco

The Singing Fish - Amal El-Mohtar

The Armor of Sir Locust - Stepan Chapman

A Key to the Castleblakeney Key - Caitlín R. Kiernan

Taking the Rats to Riga - Jay Lake
The Book of Categories - Charles Yu

Objects Discovered in a Novel Under Construction - Alan Moore

Visits & Departures

1929: The Singular Taffy Puller - N.K. Jemisin

1943: A Brief Note Pertaining to the Absence of One Olivaceous Cormorant, Stuffed - Rachel Swirsky

1963: The Argument Against Louis Pasteur - Mur Lafferty

1972: The Testimony of a Respected Lichenologist - Ekaterina Sedia

1995: Kneel - Brian Evenson

2000: Dr. Lambshead's Dark Room - S.J. Chambers

2003: The Pea - Gio Clairval

A Brief Catalog of Additional Items, Featuring Micro-Fictions by:

Hugh Alter, Charlie Jane Anders, Julie Andrews, Christopher Begley, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Nickolas Brienza, Tucker Cummings, Kaolin Imago Fire, Jess Gulbranson, Jen Harwood-Smith, Willow Holser, Rhys Hughes, Incognitum, Paul Kirsch, Michael J. Larson, Therese Littleton, Graham Lowther, Claire Massey, Tony Mileman, Adam Mills, Annalee Newitz, Ignacio Sanz, Steven M. Schmidt, Grant Stone, Norman Taber, Brian Thill, Nick Tramdack, Nicholas Troy, Tom Underberg, Horia Ursu, William T. Vandemark, Kali Wallace, Tracie Welser, Amy Willats, Nadine Wilson, and Ben Woodard.

Over 60 images, by: Aeron Alfrey, Kristen Alvanson, Rikki Ducornet, Greg Broadmore, John Coulthart, Scott Eagle, Vladimir Gvozdariki, Yishan Li, Mike Mignola, Jonathan Nix, Eric Orchard, James A. Owen, Ron Pippin, J.K. Potter, Eric Schaller, Ivica Stevanovic, Jan Svankmajer, Sam Van Olffen, Myrtle von Damitz, III, and Jake von Slatt.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Security

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt burning

So, after Tunisians revolted two weeks ago to overthrow a corrupt, autocratic ruler, Egyptians appear poised to do the same. Overnight, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (president for 30 years now due to rigged elections and the crushing of opposition parties) sacked his government and created the position of vice president for the first time in an effort to appease the protesters. The Shah made similar appeasement gestures in Iran back in 1979, which only signaled his weakness and emboldened the opposition. I've seen reports this morning that Mubarak's sons--one of whom he's groomed as his successor--have fled to Britain, but these reports seem to vanish almost as quickly as they appear. If true, this raises the Egyptian revolution to a whole other level, but events are so chaotic, and communications in and out of Egypt so spotty that it's well nigh impossible to tell what's going on.

In an interesting development, reports are emerging that the U.S. has encouraged and supported Egyptian opposition groups, although the extent of this support isn't entirely clear.
In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”

It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.

This isn't entirely surprising, considering the United State's advocacy of freedom and democracy worldwide. The Obama administration's more nuanced response, however, dominated by calls for restraint on both sides, pretty clearly shows that dramatic regime change in Egypt probably wasn't the desired goal. Modest reforms and incremental change appears more in line with the goals of U.S. foreign policy, as Egypt has been, and remains one of the United States' crucial allies in the Middle East. Despite the fact that President Mubarak is an autocratic dictator who is not above brutality to protect his rule.

The U.S. has a centuries-long habit of supporting despots, as long we viewed them as "better than the alternative" and willing to accommodate our national interests. We supported the Shah of Iran as a proxy against Soviet interests until that blew up in our face. Then, for more than a decade, Saddam Hussein wasn't such a bad fellow as long as he was fighting the Iranians. Mubarak doesn't seem to be as bad as Chile's Pinochet, for example, but if you're Egyptian, does it really matter?

Ultimately, on a wider scale, I see Israel as the big loser no matter how this shakes out. If recent al-Jazeera reports that the Palestinian Authority offered bold concessions in secret negotiations with Israel in 2008 and was still rejected, the Israelis are probably going to seriously regret the missed opportunity to further isolate and marginalize Hamas in the Gaza Strip and bring some stability to their border.
Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator, alleged that the papers were leaked by someone who wanted to embarrass his team. “The idea was to show that, yes, we sold out and got nothing in return,” Shaath said today in an interview with Israel Radio.

I view this, rightly or wrongly, as analogous to the Palentenian's "Arafat moment" more than a decade ago. Behind a heavy lobbying effort from the Clinton administration, Israel offered a generous compromise framework for a final, two-state solution. Among other things, the proposal would've given the Palestinian State sovereignty over Islamic holy sites within Jerusalem, and allowed the Palestinians to expand non-Israeli sections of East Jerusalem and claim that as their capital, among other things. Yasser Arafat, former terrorist and the Palestinian leader at the time, rejected the proposal because 1) it didn't concede to all Palestinian demands, and 2) even though his stature was such that he could've pushed the deal through, his power would be greatly eroded because of hard-line opposition. Ultimately, he put his personal interests ahead of his people. Israel's stance hardened after that, sensing that the Palestinians had no serious interest in compromise, the result being a decade of unparalleled suffering for the Palestinian people, the rapid weakening of the moderate (though corrupt) Palestinian Authority and the rise of the radical Hamas and subsequent capture of the Gaza Strip.

The tables seem to have turned, now. Why would Israel have rejected Palestinian concessions out of hand--concessions so close to Israel's own positions--if not for hubris? The belief that a weak Palestinian Authority could be strangled and squeezed to cave in to all Israeli demands? That's not negotiation, that's not compromise. That's arrogance. At the very least, the Palestinian overture offered a new, realistic starting place for negotiations, untainted by Arafat's destructive self-interest, a chance to establish the West Bank as a Palestinian nation and stabilize--at least to a degree--that source of tension on the Israeli border and marginalize Hamas. That opportunity looks to be all but lost now. If Mubarak falls, then there is indeed hope that Mohamed ElBaradei, the pro-reform leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, can pull together a coalition and turn Egypt into a stable democracy. Such a system has succeeded in India despite crushing poverty, population and environmental challenges, so it's not an impossible dream for Egypt. On the other hand, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood could well rise to power and radicalize Egypt. That, in turn, would turn Egypt into a hostile neighbor sharing a long border with Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The Muslim Brotherhood is sympathetic, if not outright backers of Hamas, and that would spell the end of the Palestinian Authority and even threaten Jordan's stability. This isn't a powder keg anymore, its Mutual Assured Destruction with Iran and Israel more than willing to lob nukes at each other in a suicidal fit of ideology, with the apocalyptic-minded religious right in the U.S. cheering them on.

There is opportunity here for great good to come out of these events. There is also the opportunity for much horror, and difference between tipping one way or the other is scant. If, by some chance the world avoids disaster, I would hope that all leaders of the respective nations and factions involved recognize tragedy they've avoided, and make the most of second chances.

Now Playing: The Kinks Something Else

Friday, January 28, 2011

Remembering Challenger

Today has seem folks across the internet offer moving tributes to the seven astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion 25 years ago today. Many have pointed out that this was the "Kennedy moment" for Generation X--one of those events that cruelly burned itself into our collective memories forevermore. I am no exception to this. At the time, I still aspired to be an astronaut, the harsh reality that my hopeless math skills effectively precluded me from realizing this dream having not yet burst this particular bubble. I was a sophomore in high school, in the chemistry lab waiting for class to begin when Tony Pierson wandered in from the hall with the awful news, leavened with the gallows humor "I guess this means teachers aren't meant to go into space."

Like many others, it took me a a while to process the news, and still longer to get over the shock. Disasters like this didn't happen to NASA--spaceflight was safe. Hadn't we proven that with the 24 previous flights? Now, with the hindsight of 25 years and much additional learning, I understand that it is inherently unsafe, and that hazard was compounded by the terrible, mind-bogglingly inefficient design of the shuttle itself (which I've complained about in previous blogs). At the time, however, I bought the hype and believed that the so-called reusable shuttles were getting the U.S. into orbit quickly, cheaply and safely. The disaster was a glass of cold water thrown in my face. I'm not certain, but I believe my dream of becoming an astronaut died shortly therafter.

A few years before, while I was still in junior high, I attended a summer camp Texas A&M put on at the Galveston campus. It's focus was space science (not to be confused with Space Camp put on in Florida) and it was run by June Scobee. June is an engaging, enthusiastic woman. The first day of camp she greeted all of us with a hearty "Howdy!" as all good Aggies do (although I have no idea if she ever took a single course hour from A&M). She won us science geeks over with tales of her introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. The next two weeks were an amazing behind the scenes look at the U.S. space program, and it took me many years to realize how privileged I was to partake. You see, June was married to astronaut Dick Scobee, and pretty much had an all-access pass to the Johnson Space Center. We spent a day with noted Russian space program expert James Oberg. Another day, we went to a NASA image processing lab and got to select some archival photo prints as a souvenir (mine was an orbital shot of the lunar lander Spider as taken from the command module Gumdrop). We visited the original, circular wet-F tank, which was housed in the converted centrifuge building. This was a work area, strictly off-limits to tourists. I loved that fact. We learned that the astronauts had a rubber shark they'd hide in compartments to spring out at unexpected times. When the shark eventually disappeared, as such toys are wont to do, a rubber alligator soon appeared to take its place. We visited and went inside the massive vacuum chamber, the door of which looks for all the world like it should be the entrance to Superman's Silver-Age Fortress of Solitude. I noticed, taped near the doorway of the room that housed this enormous chamber, a brittle, yellowing newspaper cartoon that appeared to date to the late 60s. When The Wife and I returned to the Johnson Space Center around '97 or so and took the official tour, I was delighted to see the cartoon still in place. Alas, the vacuum chamber is no longer on the public tour. But the best had to be meeting Dick Scobee himself. He was every bit as friendly, patient and enthusiastic as June. In my Hollywood-tinged view of space as a roiling maelstrom on non-stop action, I asked him what would happen if the shuttle were hit my a meteor and damaged.

"We'll fix it and come back down," Scobee answered.

"But what if you can't fix it in orbit?" I demanded, expecting to hear of some elaborate rescue mission with a second shuttle.

Scobee merely smiled. "We come down anyway."

So yeah, the Challenger disaster struck home for me. Scobee was my astronaut. And he was taken from me. My loss didn't compare to that of the astronauts' families, but awkward, geeky teens aren't known for their grasp of the big picture. I went back to that summer camp at Galveston several times more, but never took the space science track again. I don't even remember if they offered it after that.

I saw June just once more, years later. It was the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and I took my younger brother Jim to a Houston Astros game at the old Astrodome. They were giving out commemorative baseballs to the first 5,000 fans, signed by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (I know they were machine signed, don't be a party pooper). We got our baseballs, and in fact, I'm playing with mine right now. It's a little scuffed up from the kids playing with it off and on over the years, but I still have it. June Scobee threw out the first pitch. I remember she got a standing ovation. There was an introduction, and she said some words. I can't remember what, but I do remember choking back tears. I really wanted to go and introduce myself, and thank her for everything she did during that camp years before, but of course that was impossible.

Every year I remember, and every year I pray that someday we'll get it right before apathy sets in and we, as a nation, turn our backs on the stars. My eldest daughter professes the desire to be the first person to set foot on Mars. I hope there are no more disasters between now and then to wither her dreams.

Now Playing: Love and Rockets Sorted!

Friday Night Videos

Huey Lewis and the News were major players in the soundtrack of my high school years. I confess I always liked their earlier, raw work more than the slick, studio-polished tracks from the album Fore! on. Their modern take of 50s rock and do-wop struck a chord with me, and their first hit, Do You Believe in Love, is a favorite. The video, on the other hand, is a real melon scratcher. It looks as if nobody from the band to the director to the film editors had any clue about how to put together a music video. So they mashed a few ideas together, wedged in some performance clips and generally mugged for the camera. Does anyone else find it disconcerting that the woman in bed remains utterly oblivious to the band throughout the piece, despite their singing and stalking? I think I've figured out the meta-narrative, though. She's a groupie, and Huey and the boys all died at some point between the show where she hooked up with them and the video. That's right, they're ghosts, following her around, even though they don't know they're dead. It's like The Sixth Sense, only without Bruce Willis and that kid who sees dead people. Kinda sad to realize M. Night Shyamalan biggest hit was ripped off from an 80s music video, but looking at his recent films, it kinda starts to make sense.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jon Astley.

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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Apfel wein!

This is really a late post, but I'm finding it hard to make time for blogging lately. Not that you really lose sleep over it, but still. I bottled my 2.5 gallon batch of German-style apfel wein last week. This is good. As it was supposed to do, the Montrachet yeast had settled out since the initial fermentation ended, forming a compact, solid layer of sediment in the bottom of the vessel. After sanitizing my bottles and equipment, I set to work, ending up with nine 750ml wine bottles of apfel wein. But I wasn't done. I had eight 12 oz. beer bottles that I primed with sugar then filled with apfel wein as well. The remaining yeast in the wein will cause natural carbonation, resulting in a fizzy drink. We'll see how that works.

Apfel wein is traditionally drier with a higher alcohol content than the alcoholic ciders people are more familiar with. The Wife and I had some apfel wein while visiting EPCOT last summer, and liked it, so I'm eager to see how close I come to replicating that. I didn't have a hydrometer (mine being broken a while back) so I couldn't take gravity readings, but final alcohol content should be in the 8-9 percent range, which is close to a German riesling. That's too low for long-term storage and aging, but appropriate for a wine that is to be consumed "young." There was a full glass remaining after all the bottling was finished, and it didn't taste half bad even at this stage. It was very, very mild--the apple flavor was very weak, in fact--but I understand that the apple character begins to reassert itself after 3 months of aging and hits its prime at about six months. I made some cyser (apple mead) a little over a year ago, and remember how disappointed I was at the bland character of the batch. Perhaps it's time to revisit those bottles I put up and see if time has allowed the apple to come through more strongly.

Now Playing: Stevie Ray Vaughan Live at Carnegie Hall

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Night Videos

This is about as close as I'll ever come to RickRolling anyone. Jon Astley isn't Rick Astley, but they'll always be linked in my mind. I don't know if Jon ever had any actual hits, but during my college years his video for Put This Love to the Test played heavily on MTV for a while. It is, I'm sure you'll agree, one of the silliest concept videos ever. And it's not just the intentional humor that is funny, but the unintentional stuff as well. I mean, Jon and the object of his affection have something approaching one facial expression between them! The freaking chickens have more range. Enjoy!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Def Leppard.

Now Playing: The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Monday, January 17, 2011

Imaging USA

This has been an interesting six days. The Wife is attending Imaging USA in San Antonio, one of the largest photography conferences in the world, put on by Professional Photographers of America. She's taking her certification exam, and cramming in all manner of seminars offered during the week.

I've blogged before how the La Leche League conferences she attends share an uncanny similarity with the science fiction conventions I attend, save that their dealers rooms are smaller, there are far more women in attendance and pretty much nothing in the way of parties. Well, Imaging USA is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It compares more with Worldcon or DragonCon. There are 10,000 photographers attending. Something along the lines of 400 will take the certification exam over that span. Their equivalent of the dealers room--the expo--is enormous, but the cost of the cool toys for photographers start in the hundreds of dollars and quickly scales up to the tens of thousands. Even at a behemoth genre con like Comic Con there are only so many Action Comics no. 1 to go around. In addition to the expo, there are huge seminars--roughly equivalent to panel discussions--attended by hundreds, and unlike SF cons, the programming begins at 7 a.m. There are also huge parties put on by Canon and Nikon, with a host of smaller, off-site and private parties hosted by smaller outfits like Animoto. And there are galleries of award-winning photography on display. All in all, it's very, very cool.

Sadly, I didn't get to see much of it at all. Although I have a recently-acquired affinity for photography, The Wife is the pro in this case, and this week is hers. I managed just an hour or so wandering the expo floor, engaging in full sensory overload, before The Wife went off to her next scheduled seminar and I returned to riding herd on our kids. Despite my brief cameo, I still ran into one good photographer friend there and had a couple of laughs.

The Wife, though, had something of an opposite experience. During a particular gathering, a local photographer sidled up and addressed her in an overly-familiar way (his schtick was reading her name off her name tag). He looked familiar, but she couldn't place him, so she just acknowledged his greeting and didn't offer any further small talk. Rebuffed, he performed a great Ron Burgundy impression and moved on to the next unattached woman available. Shortly thereafter, The Wife caught sight of his name tag, and realized who said photographer was. So in an effort to be friendly, she went up to him and greeted him, saying "I thought you looked familiar!" to which he replied, "Of course I do. I just said 'hi' to you a few minutes ago." The Wife then explained that she was from New Braunfels, and his chummy, smarmy attitude instantly changed to contempt. "Not another one," he said, then curtly turned and stormed off, leaving The Wife standing there, stunned. She called me a few minutes later, boiling mad, and I don't blame her. Conventions are all about networking, but some photographers obsess over the perceived "competition" to the point where common decency takes a hike. The Wife's on good terms with a number of pros in the area, and has gotten referrals from them, as well and passed along referrals to them. It's fun to talk shop and draw inspiration from one another. This guy was apparently willing to do that, but only as long as The Wife wasn't from around these here parts and therefore no threat to his "territory." Can you imagine Elizabeth Moon and Lois McMaster Bujold refusing to speak to each other because they both write space opera and fantasy adventure? Or William Gibson and Bruce Sterling refusing to sit on the same panel discussion because the other cuts into his market share? Unbelievable.

Note that I'm not calling this jerk out here beyond the unidentifiable events posted above. Had it happened to me, I'd be roasting him alive. But The Wife is more circumspect and diplomatic. Genre cons have their jerks, too, but their jerkiness tends to be somewhat less... calculated, shall we say.

All in all, it was a fascinating, stimulating event from what I saw of it. The Wife certainly is inspired, and already she's booking shoots to try out new techniques. I'm hoping to get a bigger taste of Imaging USA next year, when it's held in New Orleans. As of now, we plan to attend together, and the chance to do some street photography in the Big Easy is something we've both wanted to try for a long time. Hopefully, when the time comes, there will be a few more friendly faces and at least one fewer unfriendly one.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Since The Wife is off at ImagingUSA this weekend, I'm almost duty-bound to go with Def Leppard's "Photograph" as today's featured video. And what a video it is! That hair! Those clothes! Prancing and posturing! Women in cages! Nonsensical narrative thread! Fake video snapshots! Seriously folks, this is pretty much the quintessential '80s hair band video. Enjoy!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Roger Creager.

Now Playing:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wear Joe out!

Now folks, I suspect that if you're reading this blog, you have the good taste to appreciate the literary stylings of Joe R. Lansdale, His Ownself. And for that you are commended. But for the average person passing you on the street, there's been no clear way to broadcast this deep-seated appreciation for Lansdale's prose, save for dressing up in a Bubba Ho-Tep costume or quoting the finale of "The Night They Missed the Horror Show" verbatim. Until now:

Yes, what you are seeing is the fine apparel on sale now at The Runaway Mule in beautiful downtown Nacogdoches. Why am I writing about this, worthy subject though Joe may be? Well, I'll tell you. That image of Joe's visage upon the woven garment is one of my very own, taken under the auspices of The Wife's photo studio, Lisa On Location, and licensed to Tim Bryant of Runaway Mule for a very special cause--the proceeds from sale of these shirts will go to benefit PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children, an organization Joe is strongly involved in.

So there you have it, your chance to display your unambiguous love for all things Lansdale while at the same time doing some good in the world. Order yours now, so that you too can look cool like me!

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua!

Friday, January 07, 2011

A new Fran's in town

I know everyone is expecting me to post something about the Cotton Bowl, and I might, but I'm too wound up over that game to think straight. So instead of the Aggies, I'll talk about Texas State football instead. I just attended quite possibly the most energetic and positive press conference I've ever seen at Texas State. It certainly boasted the most media, and about 200 people filled the endzone complex for the announcement, which is a really good turnout.

The enthusiasm was for Bobcat football and the announcement of the team's new head coach: Dennis Franchione.

Franchione, who has served as head coach at New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M, is making a return to Texas State where he coached in 1990-91, earning a 13-9 record. His overall career record is 187-101-2, and that includes his ill-fated stint in College Station.

“Kim and I loved our time at Texas State - the people, San Marcos and the University, but we have often said it was too short,” Franchione said. “We feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return."

The press conference was attended by quite a few former players from Franchione's first stint with the Bobcats, plus--in a good recruiting move--several area high school coaches. Also in the audience was Franchione's son, Brad, who recently resigned as head coach at Blinn College, where he led the Buccaneers to two junior college national championships in 2006 and 2009. Heavy speculation has Brad coming to Texas State as defensive coordinator:

Franchione beat out what has got to be the most talent-laden applicant pool Texas State has ever seen. THe prospective candidates included former Boise State and Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, former New Mexico head coach and current San Diego State assistant Rocky Long and Oklahoma assistant Bobby Jack Wright. At various times, former Tennessee head man Phil Fulmer's name was in contention, as was former A&M coach Jackie Sherrill. Texas State's impending jump to Division I-A is partly responsible for the interest, as well as the serious facilities upgrades the athletic department is investing in. Ultimately, Franchione will coach in a Bobcat Stadium that looks like this:

It won't be the biggest--less than 50,000 capacity when all is said and done--but that's definitely going to be a nice stadium. Fran's five-year contract with a base salary of $350,000 per year and other incentives ain't bad either. Despite inconsistent performance on the field at his last coaching gig, Franchione still posted a winning record at A&M and beat Texas twice in his final two years. I suspect he'll be a much better fit in San Marcos. He has the advantage of already being familiar with the area, and he has established recruiting ties with high schools state-wide. His name recognition alone will earn Texas State consideration from some players who'd never have given the Bobcats a second thought in the past, and the move up into the WAC (even though that league is but a shadow of its 80s glory days) will attract others. I am cautiously optimistic that this will pan out well for all parties. Go Bobcats!

Now Playing: Pink Floyd The Division Bell

Friday Night Videos

For those of you who don't view the world through maroon-colored glasses, you might want to avert your eyes. I (and about 200,000 other A&M grads) have been looking forward to tonight's Cotton Bowl against LSU since 1995, when that school in Louisiana broke off our annual home-and-home football series. The reasons the Swamp Kitties gave for this move are many, but it all boils down to the fact that A&M was beating them too much. Here's a little ditty by Roger Creager:

And here's something a little less musical, and a little more football-centric. I tried to find Larry Horton's 98-yard kickoff return from the '89 game, but it doesn't seem to be available on YouTube, alas.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd The Wall

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Just because you CAN do something...

...doesn't automatically mean you should do something. Case in point: New Braunfels Canyon High School's new artificial turf football field:

The whole sordid story came out in today's Herald-Zeitung. Imagine my horror this morning when I opened the paper to have that scald my eyes! Apparently, somebody somewhere thought this would be a good idea. Ultimately, we have to curse Boise State for that damn blue field up in Idaho for giving people ideas, but this takes things to a whole other level of abomination. Apparently nobody thought that the garish train wreck that is Eastern Washington's red turf was actually a garish train wreck. Indeed, they seem to ascribe some sort of mystical qualities to the crimson rug, since Eastern Washington hasn't suffered a home loss since it was installed two seasons back. Here's a theory: Maybe opponents are too busy retching or laughing to play. My money's on both.

I spent the 90s working as a sports reporter, and I covered countless high school football games--sometimes several a week. Never once did I hear anyone say "You know, Texas high school football is pretty good, but what it really needs to go big-time are football fields in eye-watering, day-glo colors!" Of course, back then pretty much every high school played on natural grass--Groesbeck was pretty much the only ISD with turf, and they were viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion. Canyon has taken that idea of turf to a painful extreme. I can't imagine anyone willingly staring at a field that looks like a bad Photoshop job for more than a few minutes without getting a headache, much less two-plus hours. I know the Comal ISD Athletic Director, Jim Rodrigue. I covered him for years back when he was the head football coach in Belton. I'd have thought he had more sense than this. Apparently not.

You know what the greatest tragedy is? That rug's got an 8-year lifetime, and my eldest daughter starts attending high school there in two years. Time to invest in polarized shades...

Now Playing: Billy Joel KOHUEPT

Monday, January 03, 2011

The wino and I know

To celebrate the new year (and fit in one last hurrah for our holiday break) The Wife and I made the short drive over to Dry Comal Creek winery on Sunday. There was a surprising number of people there for a Sunday afternoon, and they'd expanded considerably since we were last there several years ago. The Wife kept ogling one customer there, who was walking around with a Canon 5D II and EF 24-70 2.8 L held very conspicuously. This guy was there with some friends who were taking photos with Canon Rebels and point-and-shoots, but we never once saw this fellow take a single shot. Yet he walked around with it held like he was about to start firing away. A poseur? Maybe. The Wife still wanted his lens.

We each had a full tasting, and I generally liked their whites better than their reds, although I normally prefer red wines. The exception was their $30 Spanish Black, which has an unusual, intriguing flavor for a red. Another fun wine was their Frizzante Rose, which was essentially their popular White Spanish Black which had undergone an unexpected bottle fermentation. This dried out the normally semi-dry wine considerably and made it very light and fruity. We eventually came away with a case of 2008 Savignon Blanc (at a steep discount!) along with assorted odds and ends. Suffice to say, our wine racks at home are brimming over.

Upon our return home, I turned my sights toward the 5 gallons of plum wine I've had fermenting since early December. For those of you keeping score at home, my last attempt at plum wine didn't go so well. This time, however, I was determined not to let the stuff oxidize. The wine needed to be racked off the old, spent fruit, so I devised a clever plan in which I'd drain the wine into one of my 6-gallon fermenting buckets, then back into the original 6-gallon fermenter once I'd cleaned it out (it was in one of the buckets, you see, that my last attempt oxidized in. So I wasn't taking any chances). Alas, such a well-laid plan had no hope of succeeding. My fermenter has a bung spigot, and when I rack or bottle mead and beer, this works great. However, with the plum wine, the spigot clogged in about 1.3 seconds. Hrm. Okay, I've got a racking cane designed specifically for racking wine. And this fool-proof design proved its worth by lasting 8.6 seconds before it too was clogged. I cleaned it out. The next go lasted 5.2 seconds. After much futile struggle (all the while acutely aware of the nasty atmospheric oxygen coming into contact with my virgin wine) I gave up. Brute force was my only option.

I got a colander and laid cheesecloth in it. Then I poured the wine through it, into the bucket. Not great for preventing oxidation, I know, but what choice did I have? I ultimately had to break it down into four pours, as the cloth would quickly become fully clogged with decomposed, fermented plum matter. Then I cleaned out the original fermenter and into I added roughly a quarter pound of sugar and a couple teaspoons of yeast energizer before returning the wine to the container (this time, thankfully, the bung spigot and hose from the bucket worked fine, with no clogs!). My concern for oxidation is such that I wanted to spur another, secondary fermentation to force out all the oxygen from the vessel and wine, replacing it with a shield of protective carbon dioxide. I hadn't seen any activity in the airlock for several weeks, and worried that the original Lavin 71B-1122 yeast had gone dormant (tasting the proto-wine revealed an alcoholic and pleasantly fruity taste, but more residual sweetness than should be present after a month of fermenting). So for insurance, I took a straw and siphoned up some active yeast from the sediment of my apfelwein. This second yeast introduced is Montrachet, a versatile yeast good for fruits with a high alcohol tolerance. It won't be able to out-compete any of the 71B still active, but it will ensure the wine ferments dry and drives out the oxygen.

Horror of horrors, thought, once I closed the vessel back up and installed the airlock, I saw no activity. None. Wait, that's not right. At this stage of a wine's fermentation, it's not unusual to see little activity, even with added sugar. What I saw was the opposite. The vodka-filled airlock (normally I use water, but because of the disaster last time, I chose to use vodka this time. Bacteria and other things that do bad things to wine can't live in vodka, and again, I'm taking no chances), when I pressed the sides of the vessel, bubbled and the fluid level changed due to the change in pressure. But as I watched, it slowly returned to equilibrium. Which is good, if yeast is producing CO2, this is what you want. But once it reached equilibrium, it stopped. No positive pressure came from inside the container. Which meant I had an air leak--the seal wasn't good. I wrestled with that thing for an hour, and slowed it, but didn't stop it. This meant that my wine would continue to be vulnerable to oxygen! Finally, desperate, I took a second 6-inch circular gasket from my 1.5 gallon fermenter and layered it inside the lid, doubling the gaskets, then screwing that down. Guess what? That did the trick. Positive pressure built up, and the air lock began to bubble. Yay! Let's see if we can maintain that airlock integrity for another couple of months, and (fingers crossed) the wine clears enough for bottling without another racking.

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