Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Shawn Colvin's been knocking around Austin for years, and is a talented singer-songwriter. It's a little bittersweet that her breathrough hit, "Sunny Came Home," was also pretty much her only national success on a commercial scale, although she continues to garner critical acclaim and does quite well for herself with live shows. If you haven't checked out her music before, you might want to give her a listen.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Autograph.

Now Playing: Eurythmics Greatest Hits
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SFWA announces 2010 Nebula Awards final ballot

CHESTERTOWN, Md. -- Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., has announced the final Nebula Awards® ballot for 2011.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The awards will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet the evening of May 21 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. Other awards to be presented are the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Science Fiction or Fantasy for Young Adults, the Bradbury Award for excellence in screenwriting and the Solstice Award for outstanding contribution to the field.

Short Story
“Arvies,” Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine, Aug. 2010)
“How Interesting: A Tiny Man,” Harlan Ellison (Realms of Fantasy, Feb. 2010)
“Ponies,” Kij Johnson (, Jan. 17, 2010)
“I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno,” Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed Magazine, June 2010)
“The Green Book,” Amal El-Mohtar (Apex Magazine, Nov. 1, 2010)
“Ghosts of New York,” Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith, Dec. 2010)
“Conditional Love,” Felicity Shoulders (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Jan. 2010)

“Map of Seventeen,” Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride, April 2010)
“The Jaguar House, in Shadow,” Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 2010)
“The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara,” Christopher Kastensmidt
(Realms of Fantasy, April 2010)
“Plus or Minus,” James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Dec. 2010)
“Pishaach,” Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride, April 2010)
“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” Eric James Stone (Analog Science Fiction
and Fact
, Sept. 2010)
“Stone Wall Truth,” Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Feb. 2010)

The Alchemist, Paolo Bacigalupi (Audible; Subterranean, July 2010)
“Iron Shoes,” J. Kathleen Cheney (Alembical 2, June 2010)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2010)
“The Sultan of the Clouds,” Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Sept. 2010)
“Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance,” Paul Park (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science
, Jan.-Feb. 2010)
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window,” Rachel Swirsky
(Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2010)

The Native Star, M.K. Hobson (Spectra, Aug. 2010)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US, Feb. 2010)
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor, Aug. 2010)
Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov. 2010)
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW, June 2010)
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra, Feb.-Oct. 2010)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Despicable Me, Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul, screenplay, Sergio Pablos, story, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, directors, (Illumination Entertainment, July 2010)
Doctor Who: “Vincent and the Doctor,” Richard Curtis, screenplay, Jonny Campbell, director, (BBC, June 2010)
How to Train Your Dragon, William Davies, Dean DeBlois, & Chris Sanders, screenplay, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders, directors, (DreamWorks Animation, March 2010)
Inception, Christopher Nolan, screenplay, director, (Warner, July 2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright, screenplay, Edgar Wright, director, (Universal, Aug. 2010)
Toy Story 3, Michael Arndt, screenplay, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee
Unkrich, story, Lee Unkrich, director, (Pixar/Disney)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown, May 2010)
White Cat, Holly Black (McElderry, May 2010)
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK, Aug. 2010)
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet, Nov. 2010)
The Boy from Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen, Nov. 2010)
I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper, Sept. 2010)
A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow, March 2010)
Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK, Oct. 2010)

The Nebula Awards Weekend will be held Thursday, May 19-Sunday, May 22. Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning author Michael Swanwick will serves as toastmaster.

The Nebula Awards Weekend is open to the general public. Event registration and hotel information may be found at The discounted room rate of $129 (plus tax) per night single/double is available from May 16-26. Room reservations may be made directly through the Washington Hilton Hotel by calling (202) 483-3000 or fax (202) 232-0438 using the group code “SFWA.”

About SFWA
Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, February 21, 2011

The exciting world of screw-type caliper piston tools

I'm not a gearhead. Never been a fan of NASCAR. I appreciate nice styling and clean design on vehicles, but most modern cars leave me cold--they're a monoculture of blandness, the only goal to be as inoffensive to the greatest number of potential buyers possible. So I don't tinker. Getting grease up to my elbows isn't my idea of fun.

Sometimes it can't be helped. The brakes on The Wife's minivan were in sore need of changing, and as I am pathologically averse to paying the extortion rates of a garage to have such a basic service performed, the only option was to do it myself. I've changed the front disc pads on countless cars, so this couldn't be much more difficult. Oh, have I mentioned that the brakes needing attention were the rear ones? This, I have since learned, makes a great deal of difference. Firstly, the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan The Wife drives is not equipped with brake drums and shoes like normal vehicles are. No, the 2008 model sports rear disc pads. Which, I'm thinking, simplifies matters. Silly me. Changing the front disc pads is relatively straightforward, in that once you have the wheel off and the brake assembly detached, you simply replace the old pads with new ones and then use something like a C clamp to compress the caliper piston so you can reassembly the whole shebang. I found out right away that I couldn't do this with the rear brakes, because the rear caliper piston--for some unfathomable reason--is a screw-type assembly. Which means that not only do you have to press it in, you have to rotate it simultaneously to get it compressed enough for reassembly. I read online that some people have had success using needle nose pliers to affect this pressure/rotation trick. I am not one of those people.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this tale. Autozone will rent--for free!--a simple threaded caliper tool that makes the task a straightforward effort. They took a $50 deposit on my credit card, I took the tool home and finished the frustrating job, then took the tool back and my deposit was refunded, simple as that. And the minivan has brand-new brakes now. Yay!

Join us next month when I purchase a brake spoon with which to replace the brake shoes on my PT Cruiser...

Now Playing: The Kinks Low Budget
Chicken Ranch Central

Weekend bridal show recap, followed by a bit of a rant

This past weekend was one of rushing hither and yon, the highlight of which was spending Sunday in my hometown at the Columbus Bridal Expo. The Wife and I were there, of course, representing Lisa On Location photography. The Wife had a mighty impressive display set up, complete with gallery wraps and a flat-screen television playing a dazzling slideshow of her wedding-themed "Greatest Hits." As was not entirely unexpected, the parade of perspective brides "oohed" and "aahed" over The Wife's inventive and eye-catching trash the dress portraits. Those shots really stand out, and The Wife even blogged about it. She spoke with pretty much every bride that came through, the only exceptions being those who regretfully admitted they'd already book a photographer prior to the wedding show.

For me, however, there was added incentive in participating in this particular wedding fair. You see, despite growing up in Columbus, I'd never set foot inside the historic Stafford Opera House before--the venue of said expo. Hard to believe, I know, but all the years I was growing up in Columbus, the Opera House was always in a state of perpetual restoration, with fund raisers being the norm. It was until 1990 that the decades-long restoration was complete and the venue opened for performances. I was eager to see what the inside looked like, and I have to say I came away impressed. First of all, the second-floor theatre is much larger than it appears from the outside. Secondly, it's not anywhere near as ornate as, say, the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, but it's got a restrained elegance all its own. I can imagine photographing a wedding reception here would be quite fun.

Overall, I was impressed by the quality and quantity of the vendors who turned out to this event. There were impressively upscale venues and caterers and florists and even a wow-your-socks-off destination wedding provider. But one element utterly baffled me--the number of photographers there selling wedding packages who had absolutely no wedding experience. Now don't get me wrong--there's plenty of weddings in this world to go around, and The Wife and I generally try to go out of our way to meet other wedding photographers, network, trade war stories and compare notes. But wedding photography isn't something you just jump into on a whim, because if you screw it up, you have botched someone's wedding day. There ain't no mulligans, folks. Consider that The Wife has 20 years of photographic experience, having cut her teeth on film and spent many, many hours in chemical-laden dark rooms prior to making the switch to digital imaging. And how, even then, she attended multiple weddings as a second shooter to learn the ropes before daring to book even a single wedding on her own. And invested considerable amounts of money into professional level equipment--including backup equipment--to ensure she could do the job right, and continue to do the job even if some disaster befell her primary camera. And how she continues to work to better herself as a photographer, studying and learning constantly (as evidenced by her recent ass-kickery during the PPA certification exam) and her memberships in Professional Photographers of America, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International and the Texas Professional Photographers Association. She's got her state business operating permit, pays her sales taxes quarterly and has insurance and indemnification.

Contrast this with one photographer who was proudly showing off their equipment, which consisted of a Canon Rebel, pop-up flash and a kit lens. Now I don't want to come off as a snob or anything, but I see a huge train wreck in someone's future, akin to this sad episode of Judge Joe Brown:

The first wedding The Wife ever shot as the primary photographer, the officiant came up before the ceremony and announced she wouldn't allow any photography. At all. The bride and groom had attended months of pre-marital counseling with this pastor, and not once did this little tidbit come up. Yet The Wife, with her years of photojournalism background and experience as a wedding second shooter, was able to calm down a livid bride and groom, recreate the "forbidden" shots after the fact, produce a stunning wedding album and save the day. Far more common is the officiant who allows photography, but not flash in poorly-lit church interiors. In these instances, The Wife's knowledge of ISO, aperture and shutter speed allows her to manually adjust the settings to capture the shot. Of course, she's using expensive "fast" glass with a wide aperture that allows the camera to take in more light, and also her beloved Canon 5D mark II, which has a full-frame sensor that captures gorgeous color as well as offering amazing low-light performance. Then for the reception she breaks out the shoe-mount speedlites for either off-camera lighting triggered by remotes, or on-camera bounce flash with an array of specialty diffusers to choose from. She's used my Canon Rebel as a backup body in the past, and while it is wholly capable of taking fine photographs, it has very clear limitations, even when coupled with fast, professional lenses (which an inexpensive kit lens is not). I am utterly and completely baffled as to why anyone would trust something as important as wedding photos to someone with little or no wedding experience, but moreso, how anyone so ill-equipped and inexperienced could offer themselves up as a professional to trusting brides. Honestly, it boggles the mind.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear
Chicken Ranch Central

About those greedy, money-grubbing teachers

My dad was a teacher for 22 years before he threw in the towel and went into private business. Ross Perot made his choice easier, but for nearly 20 of those years he worked his own business on weekends and the summer to make ends meet. He employed many high school and junior high teachers/coaches over the years who also needed to make ends meet. And I know two highly respected teachers quit to sell insurance during my school years because their salaries weren't enough to allow them to raise their families. So whenever I hear pundits and politicians and members of the general population (who've not set foot in a classroom since they departed high school) hold forth about "greedy teachers" I pretty much automatically hate them for the bald-faced liars they are.

Now Playing: Various Celtic Moods
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, February 18, 2011

In which NPR joins the mindless masses

For years now I've listened to NPR on the commute in to work. I like catching up on the news of the day, and often it sparks interesting conversations with Monkey Girl before I drop her off at middle school. In general, I find the reportage top-notch, their accuracy better and presentation of stories much more thorough than you'll ever find on television news, and even in print on some occasions. Except today. This morning's Marketwatch segment, a report from CBS Moneywatch specifically, utterly botched reportage of the ongoing protests up in Madison, Wisconsin. In a nutshell, the reporter said the state was facing a massive budget shortfall, and unions were protesting because they didn't want to pay a larger percentage of their retirement and healthcare costs. The overall tone was one of tsk tsking teachers for not recognizing the seriousness of the problem.

Except that the reporter was wrong. Scratch that. She was so off-base, her commentary doesn't even count as wrong. As reported in the Washington Post, the protesting teachers aren't happy about benefit cuts and having to pay more, but that's not why they're protesting:
Walker tries to sell the change in collective bargaining as modest. "State and local employees could continue to bargain for base pay, they would not be able to bargain over other compensation measures." But that's not really true. Read down a bit further and you'll find that "total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum." In other words, they couldn't bargain for wages to rise faster than inflation. So, in reality, they can't bargain for wages and they can't bargain over other forms of compensation. They just can't bargain.

The proposal doesn't stop there, though. "Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues." These rules have nothing to do with pension costs or even bargaining. They're just about weakening unions: They make it harder for unions to collect dues from members, to negotiate stable contracts or to survive a bad year.
I've said before I'm not a huge fan of unions. Like politics, concentrating that much power and money among a handful of officials invites abuse and corruption. But that's neither here nor there. Unions are necessary, a necessary evil if you will, to prevent far greater abuses. The fact that Governor Walker is being disingenuous with his true intentions is tremendously offensive. I despise hypocrisy above all else. The Wisconsin Legislative Financial Bureau actually predicts that the state will have a $56 million budget surplus this year, a significant difference from the $137 million deficit Walker is using as justification for his union-busting legislation. But even if Walker's worst-case scenario of a $137 million deficit accurate, it's one of his own making because of hastily-passed tax breaks in January totaling $140 million. To Wal Mart, among others. That hardly sounds like greedy teachers driving the state into bankruptcy, does it?

I'm the child of a long-time teacher. The salaries and benefits of teachers are hardly lavish even in the best of times. Almost every teacher I knew growing up worked summer or side jobs to make ends meet. I know of two, specifically, that quit teaching to sell insurance, because they couldn't afford to raise their family otherwise. So I have damn little sympathy for Rush Limbaugh or anyone else who starts attacking them for being arrogant, greedy or elite. And yes, I wrote to MarkeWatch, although I hold out little hope for a positive response:
I was very disappointed with the CBS Moneywatch report this morning on the situation in Wisconsin. The report cast the situation as Wisconsin facing a crushing budget deficit and greedy teachers refusing to make any salary and benefit concessions. The reality of the situation is far removed from that. The official state financial office has concluded that there *isn't* a budget crisis. Governor Walker *isn't* proposing emergency austerity measures, but actually engaging in ideologically-driven union busting by trying to strip away collective bargaining rights:

This political overreach is already generating a backlash against the governor from the general popluation:

I'm from Texas, a right-to-work state, and have no affinity for unions. But as a journalist, I strenuously object to the "dumbing down" of complex news stories. I certainly expect better from you.
Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass The Lonely Bull
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

In the mid-to-late 1980s one of the biggest Russian rock bands during the Glastnost era was called "Autograph." This isn't them. This is the American proto-hairmetal group by the same name. I don't know which came first, and frankly, I haven't ever heard a single tune by the Russian band. To be perfectly honest, this video for Turn Up the Radio is the only thing I've ever heard from the U.S. group, so career-wise, it's pretty much a wash. Still, I always thought that robot hand at the beginning was nifty, and the beat and admittedly simplistic lyrics make this one the quintessential teen anthem--at least for the summer it was popular, anyway.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jim Croce

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore West

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A line in the sand

I've told anyone who'll listen, for the past 6 years or so, that Rick Perry is the worst governor Texas has ever had. If you know anything about the sorry bunch we've had in Austin for the past 150 years or so, you'll know that's saying something. Texas peaked with San Houston, ran him out of office in order to join the Confederacy, and it's been downhill from there. Perry is currently obsessed with courting the tea party-types so much that he's in denial about Texas' $27 billion deficit and has decided to balance the budget by gutting education funding. The fact is, under Perry's slash-and-burn, my way or the highway approach, Texas' already underfunded schools will not be able to deliver quality education to Texas students. This isn't just the poor school districts--even the traditionally wealthy, high-performing districts will be staggered by these draconian cuts.

Fortunately, there may be signs that Texans are finally waking up to Perry's snake oil and realizing that destroying an entire education system to prop up a run for president probably isn't a good trade-off. And educators--even those with genuinely conservative political outlooks--and seeing Perry's plans and saying "That dog won't hunt." Perrin-Whitt CISD Superintendent John Kuhn makes a particularly eloquent plea to stop the madness, one that should resonate with all Texans:
From: John Kuhn, Superintendent, Perrin-Whitt CISD
To: Senator Estes, Representative Hardcastle, Representative Keffer, and Representative King during these grave times:

I am besieged, by a hundred or more of the Legislators under Rick Perry. I have sustained a continual Bombardment of increased high-stakes testing and accountability-related bureaucracy and a cannonade of gross underfunding for 10 years at least and have lost several good men and women. The ruling party has demanded another round of pay cuts and furloughs, while the school house be put to the sword and our children's lunch money be taken in order to keep taxes low for big business. I am answering the demand with a (figurative) cannon shot, and the Texas flag still waves proudly from our flag pole. I shall never surrender the fight for the children of Perrin.

Then, I call on you my legislators in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy of public schools is declaring that spending on a shiny new high-stakes testing system is "non-negotiable"; that, in essence, we must save the test but not the teachers. The enemy of public schools is saying that Texas lawmakers won't raise 1 penny in taxes in order to save our schools.

If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and fight for the kids in these classrooms like an educator who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his community. Make education a priority!

With all due respect and urgency,

John Kuhn
Perrin-Whitt CISD
Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers The Last DJ
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, February 14, 2011

And the greedy shall profit

Happy Valentine's Day, folks! Now, I know this isn't Christmas, but I made out all right this holiday season, if I do say so myself. The Wife hit me with a trio of gifts this morning before I headed off to work, and they were keepers, every one.

Firstly, she got me the Samuel French edition of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Broadway script. If you're unfamiliar with the original musical, it differs significantly from the Burt Reynolds/Dolly Parton movie. I like the stage version better--there's more depth and nuance to the characters here, and the sheriff isn't quite so much Burt Reynolds playing Burt Reynolds. The significance of this gift is the fact that I've let this Chicken Ranch book project consume the better part of the previous two years of my life. Luckily, we're moving into the endgame phase and I should have the book wrapped up later this year.

The next gift was another book, Strobist Photo Trade Secrets, vol. 2. Whenever I get clever, photographically speaking, I'm usually attempting some sort of Strobist shoot. That is, using small camera-mount flashes off-camera and remotely triggered to create more complex lighting setups. The book has scads of tips, advice, examples and lighting diagrams to inspire lots and lots of experimentation. Actually, this is probably a gift as much for The Wife and her photography studio as it is for me.

The third and final gift I can categorically say is not equally for her. It's Joe R. Lansdale's Flaming Zeppelins. It's a collected volume of two gonzo bizarre Lansdale novels, Zeppelins West and its sequel, Flaming London. As Joe tells it, he originally started the first as a short story for an anthology, but the story "kept getting longer and longer, and dumber and dumber." So he made it into a novel, in which Buffalo Bill's head is kept alive in a jar atop a steam-powered robot body, his Wild West Show flies around in zeppelins, and they encounter all manner of historical literary figures, such as the Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, Captain Nemo and a host of others. All of whom die in horribly funny and offensive ways. Except for Ned the Seal, who apparently survives to make his way to London just as the Martians attack in their great tripod war machines. I haven't actually read Flaming London yet, so I don't know if that's canon or not. Either way, somewhere Alan Moore is weeping.

So, that was my Valentine's Day haul. It's okay to be a little jealous.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, February 12, 2011

That 7 Year Itch

Well, that was interesting.

Today has proven to be one of those days that are exceptionally packed. I woke up this morning, hit the ground running, and am just now starting to slow down. I'm bushed. It may not sound like much on the surface, but today I cleaned Fairy Girl's bunny hutch, vacuumed the house, scrubbed the bathtub in the master bath, re-tagged all the grafted bear branches because the labels I'd attached last week were starting to come off (and amazingly enough, all the grafted scions still appear to be alive), sold Girl Scout cookies with Monkey Girl for two hours in front of Wal Mart, and re-designed The Wife's blog. That last one came about because of a wholesale, professional redesign of her website for Lisa On Location which is approaching completion. The blog wasn't hosted on-site, so it wasn't included in the contract, hence, it fell unto me. One might think this is no big deal, but keep in mind my knowledge of HTML and web savvy is state of the art circa 1998. All the clever, later additions to the web, such as CSS and XML are utterly beyond me. So it was indeed a chore to muddle through, but I managed and The Wife seems reasonably satisfied with the results.

That accomplished, I finally bit the bullet and tackled my blog. I launched Gibberish in March of 2004, which means we're fast approaching the 7 year anniversary. Unlike many folks, I haven't changed the format or design a single time over that span, except to add folks to my blog roll on occasion. I'd become relatively comfortable in customizing the template used for The Wife's blog, so I decided to adapt it to my own uses. Since I'm all about the Chicken Ranch with my website, Chicken Ranch Central, it only made sense to carry those design elements over to the blog. The first thing I discovered in the redesign, oddly enough, is that somehow, somewhere, my Title and Labels had been set to automatically transliterate into Hindi. No joke. For the past two years I'd had to jump through hoops to post coherent titles to blog posts, because if I'd type them normally, they'd switch into a random assortment of squiggles. Not anymore. A small thing, maybe, but my life just got easier.

Unfortunately, since my blog is indeed 7 years old and had never been updated, quite a few Blogger improvements have passed me by in the interim. In fact, the structural underpinnings of my blog were woefully obsolete. When I made the conversion to the modern template, quite a few custom design tweaks I'd implemented were lost. Wacky stuff, like my blog roll. Ouch. Blogger claims to have saved my old template, but I can't find it anywhere, so I've been reduced to using the Wayback Internet Archive to reconstruct my blog roll. Except the most recent of my blogs it has saved dates to 2007, which is not entirely a completed list. So if you notice your blog was once part of my blog roll and is no longer, don't take it personally. My list of publications vanished as well, but I'll stress over that at some later date.

The long and short of it is, change can be good. I've got spiffy "Share This" buttons now so you good readers can re-post my clever wit to Facebook and the like, and I'll shortly begin importing my Twitter feed as well. I'm picking up steam on the Chicken Ranch book, even if agents are still lining up in droves not to rep me, and I'm confident we'll have a publisher and a publication date before the end of 2011. Good stuff's happening folks, and this spiffy new blog design is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Now Playing: The Kinks To The Bone
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Night Videos

It has come to my attention that there is not enough Jim Croce featured on my blog. Consider that oversight rectified with his touching, heartfelt ballad, Roller Derby Queen.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Foreigner.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Update on the pears

You folks will be happy to know that a full six days after my grand foray into the grafting of various pear cultivars onto by backyard trees, the grafted scions still look for all the world to be alive. They haven't turned gray or withered or anything. Granted, the cold weather has contributed to the non-failure of the grafts in immediate and spectacular fashion, but given my inexperience at this, I halfway expected them to, you know, explode or burst into flame or something. All the grafts could still easily fail, but every day that they don't, I take as a positive sign.

Now Playing:

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Grafting pears

So, grafting pears. That's what I did today, after replacing a headlight bulb in my PT Cruiser and getting it inspected. Which is neither here nor there--I just wanted you folks to know I've had a productive day.

I have two 7-year-old pear trees in my back yard, planted back the first January after we moved to New Braunfels. One is a moonglow type, which I originally got because it is reputed to be a good pollinator with good, dessert-quality fruit. The other is a Warren type, which I got because of its reputation as producing the highest-quality eating pears. I love fresh pears, so I hunted high and low for a Warren, choosing it over an Ayers pear, which is regarded as the second-best eating pear. Well, that turned out to be a mistake on my part. These past two years my moonglow has flowered, but the Warren has not. Since pears are not self-fertile, I've had no pears, even though the moonglow is ready and willing. This past spring, I gathered some branches from flowering pears here and there and tried a little hand pollination with the moonglow, and was rewarded with half a dozen fat, delicious pears in late summer. They are irregular, unattractive things, but the flavor and smooth flesh is far superior to anything in the grocery store. Which led me to wonder: What the heck is up with the Warren?

A little (well, a lot) additional research revealed some disappointing facts. The Warren, while recommended for my area and praised for its high quality fruit, is a late bloomer. Literally. Whereas the moonglow will flower at 5 years, the Warren takes 10, 12 or even longer before it will flower and set fruit. Well, crap. What's worse, I soon discovered, is that the Warren's flowers do not produce pollen. That's right, it's sterile. So even if it starts flowering this spring, the moonglow still won't produce any fruit. I'd initially made my choices by following the recommendations of the Texas A&M horticulture website--if the Aggies don't know plants, who does, right? But I dearly wish they'd have included that extra bit of information about the Warren, as it'd have saved me a bunch of hassle.

Down the road a ways is an elderly lady who has two pear trees in her yard (well, one's in her yard--the other straddles the property line and might belong to a neighbor). The big one in her yard produced many round, yellow pears last fall that had a crisp texture and a mild, apple-like flavor. So many pears were dropping and rotting on the ground that one day I stopped and asked if I could pick some. She told me to take all I wanted. Although she didn't know what kind of pear tree it was, I'm thinking it's a Garber type. The other, on the property line, is much older and gnarled, with a large part of its original trunk dead and cut away. Although I didn't sample any of these pears before, I'll wager it's a Kieffer pear, normally used for baking because of its toughness. I asked the lady if I could take some cuttings in the winter, to try and graft on my trees at home. Again, she said take as many as I wanted. So today, on my way home from getting the car inspected, I stopped and took several cuttings from each tree.

The reason for grafting the different pear types onto my tree is to produce an array of blooms on each which will ensure pollination every spring, regardless of whether the Warren ever blooms or not. I took the scion branches and, using a wedge graft technique, forced them into slots I'd cut into the stock branches and lining up the cambium layers (the living, growing outer layer of the wood). Then, using rubber electrician tape, I wrapped the graft very tightly, forcing the wedged pieces of branch to press into each other very tightly. Ideally, the tree will pass nutrients up into the scion and keep it alive, while the wound of the graft heals and the two branches grow together into one. If the graft takes, in a year or so the scion branch will start flowering on its own and eventually producing fruit as well. I also grafted several branches from the Warren onto the moonglow as well, reasoning that because the moonglow is already mature and fruiting, it might force the grafted Warren branches into fruiting as well. Or not. I've never tried grafting trees before, so I have no idea if they will take, or how long before I'll be able to tell one way or another. But just in case, I grafted a like number of branches--including several pruned from the moonglow--onto the Warren, so to increase the chances that something, anything, will pollinate my pears if the opportunity arises.

I'm still keeping an eye out for flowering pear trees this spring, though. Just in case.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Okay, after the morning's snowball fight and slippery freezing rain overnight, it's pretty much Cold as Ice outside, which means I gotta go with Foreigner for today's video. Enjoy, and stay warm.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Huey Lewis and the News.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Pampa's a long way from La Grange

In our current popular culture, driven by 24-hour media and populated by "celebutantes" who are famous only for being famous, it's easy to lose track of the fact there are often real people behind the persona. Take the Chicken Ranch for instance. The first thing that comes to mind is Dolly Parton as the madam, Miss Mona Stangley, and Burt Reynolds as the sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd. They're both larger-than-life characters from the movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a hyped-up, unsubtle adaptation of the original Broadway musical, which itself is a very loose interpretation of what really happened in La Grange way back in 1973.

But Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd is not the same person as Sheriff Jim Flournoy, who the character is based on. And Miss Mona Stangley is not Miss Edna Milton, the last madam at the Chicken Ranch. I can't count how many times people have asked me if Miss Edna looked like Dolly Parton, as if Hollywood producers cast famed country singer Parton solely on a coincidental resemblance to a madam few people had ever heard of. For the record, I can't imagine anyone who looked less like Dolly Parton than Edna Milton. That Miss Edna is defined in the public consciousness (when she's noted at all) by Dolly Parton and her operation of a brothel is one-dimensional at best. Miss Edna, after all, didn't aspire to prostitution. As I've researched this book, I've learned a great deal. It's easy to overlook, or ignore, that Miss Edna, as a 16-year-old girl in Pampa, Texas, dreamed of an entirely different future:
I wanted a good education, but I knew I would have to work like hell to get that, too. It wouldn’t be just a gift to me, you know. I knew I wanted it. I wanted to be a straight-A student. You know, if I had been, if I’d finished high school, I might’ve gotten a small scholarship or something. That’s what I really wanted to do. I never knew what I wanted to do with it after I got the education, though. I thought, well, you can make up your mind—-you’ll have more knowledge about what in the hell’s going on in the world, then you might know.

Coming from a poor family, this sort of dreaming isn't surprising. It's worth noting that she didn't long for an education and a chance to go to college instead of a life of prostitution and brothels. At the time she had not the faintest notion where her life would take her. But manipulation by people she trusted and her own naïveté soon ended those ideas for good and put her on a slippery slope that led her, eventually, to the ownership of Texas oldest continually operating brothel in La Grange. Even so, she was quick-witted enough to make friends with some of the most powerful politicians in Texas history, performed on Broadway and toured England as a celebrity. Once all is said and done, I suspect Miss Edna made out all right.

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