Monday, December 31, 2007

Elf Power Discovered at Kohl's Department Store

While shopping the post-Christmas sales at Kohl's I noticed they were playing a better brand of muzak on the in-store sound system. The one song that I captured into my memory enough to look up on the web is a nice sing-songy chant-a-long called "All the World is Waiting" by a band I'd never heard of: Elf Power. They're one of these new-fangled lo-fi indie bands, this time from the hallowed alternative haven of Athens, Ga. The video is here on YouTube, it's composed mostly of a "long tracking shot" (that's film-speak) of the singer and his guitar walking through a party (directed by Nick Canada & Tim Nackashi). It's not exactly the Ray Liotta / Lorraine Bracco Copacabana entrance in Good Fellas (Martin Scorsese, director), but it's pretty swell for lo-fi/indie. Check it out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mobiles on Her Own

Over the Thanksgiving holiday my daughter did four more "mobiles", mostly on her own: an ice rink theme, a fenced area, a sun/cloud scene and a Christmas heap.

Friday, November 23, 2007

August Rush in November

Three of us went to see August Rush the movie this evening. It was unexpectedly good. Kind of a realist fairytale about the magic of music, Cider House Rules meets Stardust. The actors for the three main characters were pretty new to me and so they were fresh: the kid (Freddie Highmore) and the star-crossed parents (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Myers). But there's a supporting cast of more familiar faces like Robin Williams as a character reminscent of The Fisher King and Terrence Howard as a very likable social worker.

The film moves a bit fast in parts -- I would've liked to savor some of the kid's musical awakening a bit more as well as his teachers'/discovers' amazement. Maybe a book version could have dwelled on these more, but what couldn't happen in a book is the magical musical integration, like where the film shows cutbacks between his mother's solo cello and his father's Irish rock band singing and guitar while the two songs play simultaneously and are interwoven. It's a nice effect. So is turning the everyday motions of wind on wheat, and people and traffic in New York City first into a symphony of joy and then into a cacophony of confusion. It's cool.

Pleasantly Robin Williams doesn't steal the show; the music does. We're already talking about picking up the soundtrack.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November Tree

Mid-November and a tree
stands alone,
in the rough between what will be a YMCA
and what almost is a savings bank.
But today the tree stands alone,
a hundred feet from anything
made by man and it doesn't care.
Nor do I at the moment.
There is no weather here, now;
the air is calm but not dead,
the sky has a high haze;
though it is mid-morning
there is no visible sun,
no light and shade.
It's not overcast
in any noticeable way,
no oppressant cloudbase.
The temperature is just right.
In my full sleeves and pants I
am not cool (much less cold) and I
am not warm (much less hot).
No leaves fall.
No people pass.
A tree stands alone.


Yesterday, a Saturday, I ignored the pile of mail that had built up over the past couple weeks. I ignored my club duties. I paid no heed to the abundance of items on my "to do" list and the other adult pursuits or lazinesses that I might have indulged in on any given Saturday. Instead I spent much of the day with my daughter creating "mobiles". She had made one during the week in her art class and wanted to do more. First we ventured to Hobby Lobby for supplies and then we warmed up the glue gun. Using that gun may be her favorite part, but that's fine, this is the first time she's been allowed to use one. It was great to spend a few hours with someone who is old enough to use a heated tool but also young enough to treat a pound of plastic beads like a chest full of treasure . There are a couple photos. The one with the green base and the doves she did in class. The white based one we did at home -- the concept was all hers, you cross under the arch to get to the glory and riches from the "poor" side. We spent hours on transient art and I don't feel guilty one whit about the time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Just Discovered! Poem Published Three Years Ago!

I was googling myself for the usual narcissistic reasons, this time in the guise of "C. R. Patton Jr.", when I found something unexpected. The top hit was to one of my poems, "Kramer's Clone Dance", but not on my ChipsterZone web site, but rather on the website of our local arts, nightlife and entertainment magazine, Valley Planet (here's the current issue). Apparently they'd published it a few issues after I sent it in but they never let me know. (Submissions to "The Deep End", the section where it ran, are unpaid.)

I wrote Kramer's Clone Dance back in 2002 with a little help from my uncle, Rev. C. Reynolds. I submitted it to Valley Planet in early 2004 and it ran in the July 15, 2004 issue. (We were also credited on the end-of-year Thank You page in the same issue. Other poems from the same issue: Anonymous is My Favorite Author by Jeremy Bradford; Slumbering by Nancy Compton Williams; untitled by Michelle P.; and untitled by Mary Susan Cannon.)

A published poet. Who knew?

Monday, November 05, 2007

First Figs

I was out in our yard yesterday, innocently killing fire ant mounds, when I noticed that some of the figs on our fig tree were turning purple. Hurray! These are the first figs to actually ripen. We've have quite a few that just got tough while still green and eventually fell off -- some last year and some during this long hot summer. It hasn't been any wetter lately but I guess the cooler temperatures agree with the fig tree.

Any way I picked 3 and ate one and it was quite good. Moist and reasonably sweet. I planted the tree almost a year and a half ago. The late hard frost this spring killed it right to the ground but it grew back quickly and is now about 5 feet tall.

Here are some pictures. This may be the first real fruit that I've planted and eaten. (Yes, I realize that tomatoes and many other things that grow in vegetable gardens are technically fruit, but here I mean traditional fruits. Like, er, figs, I guess.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Free OCR

(Warning: Geek post, little entertainment value) Once upon a time the Xerox Textbridge Classic computer program for doing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) worked for me. Even more than that it had worked recently, but it was finicky and this week I couldn't get it to work at all. It kept complaining about my C: drive being full. It wasn't. I had defragmented my C: drive recently. Maybe that was the culprit. Windows Explorer was also having issues: if I right clicked on the C drive and hit properties (e.g. to check how full the disk was), Explorer said it experienced a problem and had to close; and when it did it restarted the Windows desktop in order to recover. Swell. I did solve that problem, but it didn't help Textbridge. (When Explorer had its problem it offered to let me debug it, so I tried and that told me that there had been an access violation in neroshx.dll. I uninstalled the Nero CD burning software and that solved that -- I hadn't used Ahead Software's Nero in a good while anyway).

Textbridge had never worked that well, anyway.(For those who don't know OCR software can process a picture of some text and turn it into editable text for use in a program like Microsoft Word or Notepad. It's very handy if you only have a printout or old typewriter copy of something (and a scanner).) Textbridge tended to interpret things as all different fonts and very odd characters even when the digital image text was in one non-proportional font like Courier. But the last time I'd searched, several months ago, I hadn't found any freeware alternatives. That changed this time. I found Softi Software's FreeOCR on the ZDNet download site. It's based on the Tesseract OCR engine which is apparently Open Source (I think I found that last time I searched, but wasn't about to write my own application around the engine.). FreeOCR looks to have been posted in the last couple months. And the really good news is that it just works. At least on my old typewriter copies of text (see "The Little Wanderer" on The Chipster Zone web site).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Avocado Tips

I enjoy eating avocado on occasion. Generally I prefer it as it comes: just peel it and pit it as it is ripening -- not too hard, not too mushy. I like to slice it on sandwiches or chunk it on tacos, in wraps, etc. As you may know, however, leftover avocado has a bad habit of quickly turning brown making it a bit unsightly. It seems to be the exposure to air that is the culprit. So short of eating it all up, which is a bit gluttonous, I've found a couple things to be helpful. The first is to leave the peel on a portion of the avocodo. I just slice off as many rings as I think I'm likely to eat; leaving the pit in helps, too. But if you still have leftovers, you can put them in a rubbermaid-type container and add enough salsa to cover the avocado. This seems to prevent it from turning, at least for a day or two. Later you can just chunk up the leftovers and it becomes part of the salsa. Enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips. Yum.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lunch Run with Eagle

Since it was only 72 degrees and overcast I decided to run outside at lunch. I started out about 50 yards ahead of a group of 3 guys – they caught me after about a quarter mile, but I chatted with them for a minute and then stayed about as close behind them as I do my wife a lot of the time, 20 feet or so back, for the first 15 minutes. They said they were going 6 or 8 miles. I said I wasn’t going that far, maybe 4 or 5. I stayed with them as far as Lady Anne Lake at the back of Edgewater – they went straight on the roads and I turned right to go around the lake. I thought I’d at least go across the dam and see what wildlife I could see – maybe a great blue heron or a water snake. I only saw the more common animals: turtles, fish and ducks (including a coot) until I crossed the second bridge. I was just noticing how really low the water was when I saw a head sticking up in the shallows that wasn’t quite a turtle. When I got closer I could see it was a snake about 3 feet long. It wasn’t a Banded Water Snake, which is what I usually think I see, because I could tell that the markings didn’t go all the way around in nice bands. I looked it up later on the internet, identifying it as a Midland Water Snake. A few yards later I was still memorizing the snake pattern as I started to bend right with the edge of the lake, in the corner of my left eye I caught something swooping toward the center of the lake, maybe 100 yards from me. It was a large bird of prey that dipped its feet in the water and then flew back up with lazy but powerful strokes of some very large wings. It wasn’t a heron – all the wrong build for that, although the wingspan was about right; it was too big for any hawk and with the white head and neck and pure white fan of tail feathers this was no turkey buzzard, not that they swoop over water anyway; it was a bald eagle. Its talons were empty but it kept rising and flew off northwards over the trees leaving me just hoping it would turn around and take another pass at the fish it missed. Uplifted by the sighting, I kept going on around the whole lake and ended up with almost 6 miles under my feet.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Stardust Cuts Guessed Right

Back on August 13 in the Stardust Memories entry I said: "I wish the dead princes would have been used more as a greek chorus -- my guess is you can find a fair amount of that on the cutting room floor." And now Mr. Gaiman has confirmed it on his blog: "I'm sure there will be some stuff that was cut, but I have no idea what... (ghosts I hope. Lots of really funny ghost bits went away.)" (referring to the eventual DVD release of Stardust).

Friday, September 28, 2007

In Which Toads and Fairies Begin to Appear At Home

I made a quick trip to my parents over Labor Day, flying alone into Cleveland and driving a rental car to western New York. (For the second time in a row at CLE's Dollar Rental Car they were low on vehicles and I received an interesting car, above the class I'd reserved, this time a Jeep Liberty, again with Sirius satellite radio which is nice for the 2 1/2 hour drive). I flew up Saturday and back on Monday. I made the effort because my uncle and aunt were in from Arizona for a couple weeks and it had been too long since I spent any time with them. We had walks in the woods, chats by the vegetable garden, home-cooked meals and other fellowship.

Thinking back, once I arrived at the house the only excursion I made during the two days that went off property was the one to "Garden Image". They have great stepping stones and concrete lawn ornaments at unbelievable prices. Apparently they ship them, which is tough to imagine because they are (obviously) pretty heavy. I've looked a couple places here in north Alabama but so far haven't found anyplace with near the quality (or price); makes me think I should have tried to bring one of their lizards home on the plane . I would've liked to get one for my wife's birthday (I did get one for Mom's shrubbery garden). I settled for a life size painted toad with glass eyes and a couple terra-cotta fairies that are about 4 inches tall. I planted a purple pansy among some of our bushes a few days ago and let her know that it might attract toads and other small creatures; and then the toad appeared on her birthday. The fairies showed up over the weekend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Singular Mind Reading

I hadn’t heard of these folks, The Singularity Institute before they held their recent “Summit” (Sept 8-9 in San Francisco), although I’ve seen other envelope-is-expanding indicators, such as the recent prediction that Man will create “wet artificial life” within the next 3 to 10 years.

Of course I read Colossus (1966, D. F. Jones) in my early teens, and it was a decade old then (two giant computers hook up, go sentient and try to control the world). And I read Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1986) several years after it was published, too (computer hackers meld hardware into their brains and otherwise technologically enhance their bodies and minds). These two science fiction books cover a couple of the future paths toward “the singularity” – and here is my chief complaint now that I’ve typed it. Ironically there isn’t just one “singularity”. A singularity is a type of a thing, like a pinnacle or a sphere. There isn’t just one, every mountain is (or has) a pinnacle. All playground balls are spheres; now maybe you could say that the Earth is the sphere; but I can make a heliocentric argument that our sun is the sphere. Saying that this topic comprises the singularity is dangerous hubris, and again with some irony, it’s cyclically indicative of why humans may not be so easily subjugated in terms of the universal intelligence rankings.

And I’m using a lot of fancy words, another thing that bothered me about the Singularity folks' manifesto. There isn’t nearly enough academia-speak. Sure there are some long words, but once you’re comfortable with “singularity” and “artificial intelligence” there aren’t many mind bending concepts. Even an introductory text to such an audacious topic should be rife with the pretentious use of multi-syllabic and obscure terms.

But back to my science fiction reading: these two books covered, respectively, “artificial intelligence” and “brain-computer interfaces”; apparently the primary technology pathways to the smarter-than-human singularity.

The Introduction does eventually get around to the question of what does it mean to be a smarter-than-human brain – but at this point they throw up their hands and say that we’re not smart enough to know – it’s the singularity, get it? And I half-expect someone to elbow me in the ribs, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Why is this impossible to measure? We’ve devised all sorts of tests to measure our own intelligence, and those of animals. I’m not sure we’ve been particularly successful at it, but I don’t think we’d be particularly less successful at measuring something smarter than we are than we are at measuring beings less smart. I clearly understand what it means to run at 25 miles per hour. I can’t do it but I can measure it and observe it without blowing any neurons.

In fact, how smart are we? I’ve learned that some researchers say that adult chimps are about as smart as the average human toddler. Of course I don’t know any toddlers that can survive on the African savannah, even without predators; but I guess that’s not the kind of smart they mean. How smart are people? Some are clearly more smart than others, by orders of magnitude. So does passing this singularity mean that something has to exist in our environment that is smarter than the smartest person ever? Or smarter than the smartest potential person, that is, one who knows how to use all of their brain (the Introduction discounts as an “urban legend” the widely held belief that we only effectively use a small portion of our brain; but I’ve been taught some of the research of people learning to use undamaged portions of their brain to replace damaged portions without further loss. The conclusion consistently is that portions of the brain were previously underutilized. The Introduction also makes a big deal out of brain size. Sure people have bigger brains than mammals of comparable size – but we don’t have really big brains in an absolute sense. Check out the brain size of elephants. Also brain size is not a good predictor of intelligence among other mammals, or animals at large. Are house cats smarter than squirrel monkeys? Their brains are considerably larger so they must be.

I’m going to contend that in the same way we could recognize the smartest guy in Algebra class in seventh grade, we can recognize something that is smarter than all people. But just like most of us can’t comprehend quantum physics, or gene therapy, we won’t grok the super-brain. Should we panic? These Singularity Summit folks seem to think it’s a good idea to get to that point; that it’s some grand adventure and inevitable so let’s find out what happens in that next chapter ASAP. I’m a bit more cautious. Peter Thiel thinks it’s an investment opportunity. I agree that if we hit the singularity and the bad thing happens that losing your life savings will be a secondary concern. We may be better served by pondering how one should go about swimming in that world before we dive into it.

So what allowed humans to dominate the current environment? I propose that there are 3 pillars, 3 strengths that, in fairly equal measure, have really allowed us to rise to the top (and I’m ignoring any religious angles here; it’s not too difficult to be propelled to the top of the heap if some omnipotent deity is pushing you).
Our brain. Okay, we’re comparatively smart. Most other animals just don’t measure up (neither do today’s computers); but there are a few animals who may, or have even been argued to be, smarter in some raw measure of brain power, speed and size. Dolphins spring to mind, elephants compete here too.
Our ability to communicate. A language with a large vocabulary is a fairly recent commodity for human kind, but we had pretty indicative grunts long before that. None of the animals seem to have quite our knack for self-expression. Sure whales, dolphins, chimps and insects in some odd hive/colony way are remarkably communicative.
Our dexterity. Remember that opposable thumb you have? Right; actually you’ve probably got 2 of them, most of us do. It’s a big deal. Dolphins fall out here, they can’t manipulate their environment and build tools the way we can. Apes and monkeys almost can. Evolutionists will tell you that we’re just better apes – this is a big way we’re better. Watch out for the elephants in this category though, its trunk has more than 40,000 muscles. If they had two of them we might still be living in caves watching Dumbo pave over our habitat.

So what about a smarter-than-human artificial mind? It trumps us on number one, by definition. Number two follows suit pretty well with the internet and cell phones and radio technology it wouldn’t have any trouble talking to its neighbors. Number three is a bit more dicey. As I recall that’s where Colossus fell down; people are just very maneuverable. And we can act autonomously or in concert as a huge mother-loving team. The wet-wear singularity might have us in trouble – I see that as farther off and less significant at least initially; a second singularity and an evolutionary one. The Bionic Woman is coming back to TV on September 26; I don’t see her, even if she were real, shattering our society. Not in our lifetime.

Of course the singularists spout off about the positive feedback loop that ensues after the singularity. An artificial intelligence may be self-improving, able to “rewrite its own source code”. And that’s intriguing (again though, see pillar #3 to retain some composure). Humans aren’t done yet, not even after this singularity, but we could become more akin to pets, or beasts of burden; simple slaves, and that is a scary contemplation. Or we may be able to harness smarter minds with weaker bodies the same way we used horses through the ages with their stronger bodies but weaker minds (and weaker communications). We already do it with computers with their faster number crunching and algorithmic abilities. Just the same I think I’m going to start storing my Roomba in the pantry, safely separated from my stationary computer from now on.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"California grower recalls salmonella- tainted spinach"

California grower recalls salmonella- tainted spinach - LOS ANGELES (Reuters) "It was a long, crinkly-leafed, robust and verdant varietal that grew heartily in the moist, loose loams of the western vale -- but it's gone now; harvested, you know; every bit of it just harvested and put on the truck," sighed the grower, reminiscently.

(Okay, everything after "(Reuters)" I made up.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The light was out, the light was on; the light was out, the light was on. It was annoying. You've only read the cycle twice and I bet it's wearing on your nerves already. But finally, after almost three years of unpredicatability the light was out -- and wouldn't come back on. The light is in an exhaust fan in the ceiling in my master bathroom in my house in suburbia.

The fixture rattled intermittently; even after I had my builder come back and check it -- he just pushed it up a little so that the wedges on the edges gained some friction on the ceiling sheetrock. That lasted a few weeks. So we didn't use the fan much, but the light we used.

When it went out with no sign of coming back on I figured the bulb; a regular incandescent 60 watt light bulb, had blown. Testing it in my bedside lamp this proved to be the case. Replacing the bulb with a new one didn't help, though. The fan worked, the light didn't. (The fan and the light are separately switched.) Maybe the new bulb was bad, too? Okay, the exhaust fan is above the toilet -- a good place for it, except that you have to stand on the commode to reach the ceiling. It's a little short for comfort, but not bad the first time. But now it's the third time... (once to take the old bulb out, once to put the new bulb in and now a third time to take the new bulb out to test it someplace else, and of course that means a fourth time up in order to put the new bulb back in, assuming it works). Yes, it works; of course it works, it's a brand-spanking-new bulb fresh from GE. I put it back in the fan fixture: no dice.

Now what? Well, maybe the vibration of the fan loosened the wiring, or caused a short or something. So I broke out the step ladder, but it won't quite fit in the space where the toilet is, so it has to sit in front of the porcelain. A little better than standing on the toilet seat, but still an awkward reach. I removed the whole fixture, uncoupling the wire nuts and all -- but first I shut the circuit off at the fuse panel. Removing the fixture is a multi-step process: remove the plastic light cover, remove the light bulb, unscrew the cap nut from a bolt sticking down in the middle of the fixture (hey, the cap nut doesn't make the fixture fit snug against anything -- more on that later), then remove the fan grill and finally unwire the whole thing from the house. Oh, I had to go up into the attic to unwire the fan, couldn't reach it from the bathroom. So I had to crawl to the corner of the attic, careful not to hit my head on the nail points sticking down from through the roof, and reach across the open insulation and unscrew the fan wiring from its ground and wire nuts. Whew. (And just by the way, the "dryer duct" tubing on the back of the fan housing doesn't, as it should, vent over to the soffit under the eaves, it just exhausts the bathroom air up into the attic.... Oh, well.)

Conveniently, the light portion of the fixture actually plugs into the fan portion with a crude but standard sized plug. I put the bulb back in, plugged the light portion of the fixture into an extension cord and, voila, the light works fine. So it's something to do with the fan portion of the fixture -- or the wiring from the switches to the fixture, or....

So I break out my multi-tester and a spool of wire and start checking circuits. I open up the switch box and uncouple and recouple the switches, checking circuits as I go. I'm no electrician so I'm pretty grateful when I find that Lowe's has some nice online help for just my situation. I've got the "three wire with ground" case. But everything checks out. No electrical shorts, the switches close and open the circuits just like the diagrams say.

So maybe something was just loose. I guess I'll put it all back together and see what happens. Nada, that's what happens. Aaaargh. But I noticed, as I was screwing the fan fixture back into place that the bolt that the light portion screws onto, the one with the not snug cap nut, is just the shaft of a bolt, no head. This shaft is itself screwed into a piece of the fan housing. It's a set screw. Well, it may not have anything to do with my light problem (and it didn't, really), but at least the damn fan isn't going to rattle anymore. So I unscrewed the bulb, removed the cap nut, took down the light fixture (okay, I think I let it dangle by the cord plugged into the fan, so sue me) and adjusted the set screw so that the fixture was now snug against the ceiling and the cap nut was snug against the fixture.

This time as I screwed the bulb back in I paid more attention to the fact that the bulb was hitting the cap nut when it got nearly screwed in. I'd noticed this before but since the nut is metal there was no fire danger, but it was putting pressure on the bulb as I tightened it down. No different from before, but with my new knowledge of fans, wiring and set screws I think I had learned to learn about electrical fixtures. Anyway, even though a light bulb still didn't go on over my head, I had an idea: could the bulb just not be getting properly seated in the socket? Let's try a smaller bulb, shall we? I happened to have a couple dozen appliance size light bulbs (A15 size, I think they are) that I had ordered off the Internet. I stuck one of these puppies in the fan/light fixture in the ceiling in my bathroom in my house in suburbia and, ta-da, there was light. Yeah!

Now I'm wondering if the previous bulb had been an A19 and the new one I tried was an A21 or whether someone had just jammed the old one in enough to make good contact or what. I don't care enough to open the fixture back up and figure it out. I've got plenty of smaller bulbs, and I plan to use them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TDISMDFTG Reviewed, And it's not even Friday

I finally figured out why I'd had trouble finding The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish at our local library and it wasn't because the children's picture book section tends to be a mess, even though it does. It was because "TDISMDFTG" was shelved, or rather hanged (too much gallows imagery, make that:), or rather hung, in a bag with the audio CD of the writer, Neil Gaimain, reading the book. I just now listened and read along. It's a good, new children's book (2003), with enough repetition and things happening that you don't quite know about at first (like Nathan's little sister saying "Mumf" a few times before we know that she has been tied and gagged (by Nathan)). And engaging pictures drawn by Dave McKean. Be sure to read the "Afterword" if you're at all curious about how authorship happens (maybe you're an aspiring writer yourself), or if you've ever been to Galveston, Texas (I have). I think you'll find it interesting.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stardust Memories

I'd like to say it was a real cross-over, mainstream kind of crowd that sat with us at the early-evening, opening night showing of Stardust on Friday, but even in this geek-tilted town where rocket scientists and their sons and daughters abound, I'm afraid there was a disproportionate lot of cerebral and slightly socially fringed attendees. And more daughters than sons. Not that I really think Stardust is a chick-flick, I just think that Neil Gaiman's fan base turned out in strength here. Groups of girls from their teens to their thirties dominated the theater, some with a couple of male companions, the kind of young men that are especially glad to be hanging out with women, any women (not that these were unattractive girls, just ones with a separate sense of fashion).

At any rate, either Neil's fan base is bigger than thought or more than his fans turned out across the country since Reuters pegged a 4th place box office pull for Stardust, not bad at all.

Early in the film I had misgivings, thinking the treatment seemed very matter-of-fact, if well staged; but by the second half of the film, as the threads began to pull together and seeds planted in the early dialogue blossomed into cause and effect, I started to identify with the characters. It was my mistake to listen to the comparisons with The Princess Bride, that caused expectations for farcical wit. While a suitably broad genre may encompass both TPB and Stardust, Stardust takes itself a bit more seriously, even if its world is a bit more fantastical. There are unicorns here but no badly animated Rodents of Unusual Size, and not many one-liners. Only Claire Danes deadpan heroine performance matches Robin Wright's Princess Buttercup, other parallels don't exist. For example, Robert De Niro's Captain Shakespeare is no Dread Pirate Roberts. De Niro does nearly steal the show, but the strength of the rest of the ensemble cast holds together and Tristran's transformation (largely at the hand's of Shakespeare's shears) is both quaint and powerful. Michelle Pfeiffer well plays scary and evil; I wish the dead princes would have been used more as a greek chorus -- my guess you can find a fair amount of that on the cutting room floor. Imperfections aside (and there aren't any more here than in any movie where you've already read the book), it's a beautifully-shot feel- good film.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Kid Prep

This one is for the teachers I know on this TGIF (and the parents, and the business leaders, and...):

Check out Dan Pink’s Quote of the Week.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

All I ever wanted...

You don't make a left turn in North Jersey when you want to turn left, not off a main thoroughfare at any rate. Instead you bear right onto a little one way piece of road and that makes a little "U" turn or "T's" into a side street that you can turn left on and then you go straight across the thoroughfare that you were on thus completing a left turn, capiche? This is a bit confusing when you haven't done it lately, and I hadn't (done it lately, that is) a couple weeks ago when we were spending a Friday night in northern New Jersey prior to hitting New York City on the weekend. How-some-ever, it turned out to be a fortunate happenstance when I semi-panicked and made my right-to-turn-left one ramp too soon...

We'd driven down from upstate New York and arrived at our hotel-with-heated-pool in the late afternoon. The pool was a hit and we swam until past dinnertime and then had to scramble for someplace open past 9:00 PM, we were hoping for local Italian fare but were hungry enough not to be picky when I made my too-early right-left; we looped across an overpass and came face-to-face with a little Italian establishment -- with the lights still on.

The door said 10:00 PM was closing time and as it was coming up on 9:40 we entered a bit haltingly in case the kitchen was already cleaning up, but they welcomed us enthusiastically and ushered us into the small dining room. We were the only diners at first but as we ate a large table in the corner slowly filled up with staff and family of the restaurant. A large man conversed loudly with everyone in an authoritative voice. He didn't look like Tony Soprano, but he called people "paisan" and had a roll of greenbacks as big as my fist. He peeled off a couple and handed them out as staff left for the evening. The service was excellent, my manicotti was very nice and we all ate plenty.

Brisk and early Saturday morning found us down-slope from the Staten Island Zoo, visiting the final resting place of my in-laws. The sun shined, the breeze blew and the peacocks hollered on a gorgeous 70 degree morning. Our rented Dodge Magnum would certainly have been mistaken for a hearse had it been black instead of white. It was serene and somber; maybe a bit surreal. We reflected and then fled for breakfast (bagels and strawberries) at Island Girl's pad: very hip, very Web 2.0. The beaded doorways, the narrow kitchen with scavenged school desk, all accommodated us because we were family and the place was filled with grace and spunk.

Off again, we parked next on a residential block of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn where my college friend, his wife and young son are doing their part to gentrify the neighborhood. They've bought a row house there. Walking toward their place my 10 year old suburbanite daughter intoned: "This is insane!". She was incredulous that anyone lived like that, where were the yards, the mailboxes, the driveways, the garages? The houses were close enough on Staten Island to touch your neighbors house with a broom stick held out a side window, but here the houses actually touch each other? Pretty cool, huh, my girl? She didn't think so -- but she warmed up when on the inside it was a real house, even if an old and rather ornate one.

We walked through Prospect Park, another amazing sight for the unitiated: real streets but no cars, only walkers, joggers, bicycles and the occasional rollerblader, and plenty of trees and softball fields, right there in the middle of so much city. We walked through to Park Slope for brunch where we had to wait outside for a table at Dizzy's Coffee Shop but the host offered us gratis iced coffees and the extra time offered us a look down below the streets at the F-train stop. The walk back was just as pleasant and the talk back at the house was too short. It felt comfortably intellectual to sit in Brooklyn with shelves full of literature and modern music and my friends, and to meet their son after too long; but they were off to Long Island for the evening and we were headed up to Croton-on-Hudson for a cookout.

Our drive through Queens and the Bronx, mostly on the BQE (a misnomer where the "E" stands for "expressway") was not as bad as such drives can be. We were only nearly squashed a couple times and came to a parking lot stop on elevated highway only a few more times than that. Besides, we got a nice view of Manhattan and of Yankee Stadium. Mark's house up-the-Hudson is a great old Tudor with a slate roof, but at the moment about half the slate is missing -- seems they got hit by a microburst during a thunderstorm and 5 or 6 of his grand old trees lost their tops right onto his house and patio furniture. The cookout was cool though, they concocted some kind of grilled chicken/shrimp/vegetable and feta cheese on grilled pizza crust stuff that was delicious.

Another high school friend and family dropped by to share and so did Mark's doctoral-student-tenant, Julie. Mark and Tina have 3 kids of their own and on this Saturday night a handful of Tina's nephews were staying, too. The house is a rambler and well lived in (not only by the family, but by 1 dog, 2 cats, 3 rats, a hamster and 2 aquariums full of aquatic life forms). There are innumerable remodeling projects in process; one that has been successfully completed is the insertion of a spiral staircase at the end of the hall which now grants a second access to the upstairs, and to the loft that has a shuttered window down to the family room. Again I felt very comfortable hanging out with the nooks and crannies and our hosts' lack of formality. In the morning Mark, Julie, my wife and I ran across the nearby aqueduct and rounded back to the neighborhood through a long stretch of woods, about a 4 mile loop.

Tina shares my love of fine dark chocolate and gifted me with a box of Gustaux French Chocolate Truffles, which were delectable -- coated with baking cocoa powder they are smooth and strong. (I think that is the right brand -- I had to ditch the box when I packed for the airplane, not realizing that the inner foil had no brand information!) After breakfasting on the rest of Island Girl's bagels, plenty of OJ, some Trix and a truffle, I piled the family and a couple of the old slate shingles into the Magnum and headed west under the late morning sun.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

DR's Best Music of 2006

While not as prolific writing about music since leaving WHRW as Will Hermes, my good friend David Rawson has been making lists of the best songs each year for over 20 years, and I've posted the latest lists of the top 40 albums, top 100 songs and top 10 EPs of 2006.

As usual, many of the entries are unfamiliar to me (read: I never heard of the artist, much less the song or album), but others are better known. In any case there's quite a mix, but usually heavier on the guitars and male vocals than my primary tastes. Besides, I'm mostly exposed to middle-America radio so I have to make an effort to hear anything farther afield than "Hips Don't Lie" or "How to Save a Life"; I do come across the odd-ball cover occassionally, like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as a lounge song by Ragnar Bjarnason.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sonic Boom at the Drive-in

It was a lot more fun than Burger King's free fries day back on Jan. 2, 1998: Yesterday evening, after table tennis club, after some pizza, a friend and his son and me and my son stopped by our local Sonic Drive-in. It was about 10:45 pm but there was an uncrowded party going on. Balloons and banners and festively costumed waitri on roller skates with trays full of fresh free Root Beer Floats (yep, that's "free as in beer"). We'd hardly turned the engines off when a waitress rolled up and offered us each a free float, no strings attached. We enjoyed them at an outdoor table on an evening still warm from a day in the 90's. We chatted and hung out and watched the community college kids cavort. Good times.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Escaped Pansy

In mid-May, before the rabbits got ravenous (and so thirsty), before the sun was so high and before this was declared our driest Spring ever; one of our pansies "took a walk". It made it about 10 inches before putting down roots where it met it's fate under the blade, I'm afraid, cropped with the grass. But it was pretty and out of place -- just so slightly. See the photo.

Jicama, Can You?

I recently attended a convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. It's pretty plush, with it's 9 acres of indoor gardens and all; and the convention was swell. But my best off-topic takeaway was Wednesday's lunch salad. The lunch had a southwestern theme from mexican rice with chayote squash to cilantro basted chicken enchiladas. Also of note was their ability to feed well over 1,000 people almost instantly -- they had about 6 double sided buffet lines plus separate areas for soup and dessert. One more aside before we get back to the salad: another neat idea was tented placards placed on the round 10-seater lunch tables indicating a sub-area of conventioneers that should congregate at that table. If you paid attention to them you ended up sitting with other folks that you might not know but that you had something pretty specific in common with; not exactly Dave Winer's "unconference", but a good chance for ad hoc networking.

Remembering the Southwest theme and keeping an open mind, here's the salad, which I found surprisingly pleasing. I'm guessing at the proportions -- I made a batch yesterday and it came out pretty good:

Jicama Salad

10 parts julienned jicama (about 1 medium jicama)
3 parts tomatoes, sliced and quartered (about 2 medium tomatoes)
1 part sweet onion strips (1/3 of a medium Vidalia onion)
1 part mixed pepper pieces (canned chilis, jalepeno rings, green pepper strips)

Add oil and vinegar dressing, chill and marinate.

Pretty good, pretty healthy.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What's the Buzz, Tell me what's A-Happening

A man walked into a post office...
talking on his cell phone, as 8 or 10 of us waited patiently in line for the next available postal clerk. He was projecting rather loudly so it was impossible not to eavesdrop in that quiet space: "Okay, I didn't know if I needed to go around back or anything; okay, yep I see it." He hung up and by-passed the line, stepping over to a door that clearly went back into the sorting area of the facility. The door had a hinged section on the upper half that was made to open into a window. It was closed at the moment, blocking all view into the back area, and the man waited in front of it. The rest of us contiued to wait, now somewhat less patiently, not because of this man, but rather because the left-most postal clerk was now discussing a third movie plot with her current customer (an older Katherine Hepburn film this time, Adam's Rib). The opaque door-window opened just then, providing us a welcome distraction. A postal employee handed the man a small wooden frame, maybe 12 by 18 inches, covered with screen and a mailing label. Inside the screen were dozens or hundreds of small dark moving objects that could soon be recognized as honey bees, both by their appearrance and by the buzzing that was clearly audible as the gentleman thanked the postman and walked back past our line and out of the lobby.

The woman behind me remarked, "I didn't even know you could send bees through the mail." Nor did I, but clearly here was proof positive that you can. And apparently it's a good thing that you can, since we seem to be in need of replacement honey bees as I've been hearing and reading about Colony Collapse Disorder on National Public Radio, in the papers, and about people who are combatting it, or just trying out beekeeping as a hobby, like Neil Gaiman.

Seems like a very nice thing to do, but bees and wasps make me jumpy, even nice honey bees -- I suspect they're hive memory still holds a grudge from my kindergarten days when I would dare myself to stomp on bees that were finding pollen in ever taller flowers. Bees on flowers that were 1 or two inches off the ground were quickly sneaker-sole stains, but moving up to flowers 6 or 8 inches above the grass was a bit more of a challenge, you had to push them pretty directly and pretty quickly down into the turf, or they flew out the sides and were not happy honey-makers... so I try to show bees and their kin a bit of deference these days, lest I end up in a scene like those from the later pages of The Berenstain Bears "The Big Honey Hunt".

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wise Oak

Our Red oak seems to have been the smartest plant on our property, waiting until just about now to start to leaf out; it avoided the hard, hard frosts of a week or so ago. Okay, the persimmon tree did, too. But the rest of them were taken in by the three weeks of 70 and 80 degree days that were the end of March and first week of April. The maple trees, the hydrangeas, the fig, the pawpaws and my peas. The peas! There's a disappointment, I thought they were frost tolerant but I shoulda covered 'em up. They do seem to be slowly recovering but I planted some more, filling in where whole plants withered, this weekend. I also put in several tomato plants: Grape, Roma, Big Beef, Sweet 100, Early Girl and Better Boy. I also left a couple that sprouted on their own from last years seeds that had dropped to the soil. It'll be a surprise what grows on those plants -- these self-seeded tomato plants were a bit frost damaged, too, but they look like they'll make it..
And I started some radishes and bibb lettuce. The radishes because they're the quickest thing to get to harvest and the bibb because they didn't have "black seeded simpson", my usual lettuce although it doesn't seem to like growing in Alabama much -- too hot too early I assume.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sharing the wisdom of our heritage

Travellers to the Old Country and other Brethren,

I caught this post on ex-Brit author Neil Gaiman’s blog this morning. I’d never read the Kipling poem before, The Land, but it is excellent and at the same time reminds me of the pavilion by the same name in Disney’s Epcot Center (there’s a personal story there that involves crème brouillet in a heroic role; perhaps another time...).

(Didn't read Neil's post, or The Land? Go now, but don't be long.)
The poem’s style, a ballad of quatrain couplets with an aura of peasantry is what I was going for (decades ago) in a poem of my own (that some of you have seen, but maybe not for a while) . It doesn't have the historical accuracy, but it's here: The Tale of Dunberton.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mailbag from Snakes...

I was well-heartened to receive several positive replies to my recent "Snakes in a Blog Post" message. A couple folks were put in mind of other verses from their own encounters, from Lynard Skynard's "That Smell" to Astrud Gilberto's "It Might As Well Be Spring"!

Others, in New York state, bemoaned that it isn't exactly spring there yet; sure enough, I checked and Yahoo! says the high for the Peak'n'Peek ski resort today was 13. Uh, brrrrrrrr.

And apparently Brad Pitt's character sings along to Keep on Loving You "in the midst of a hellish car chase in the movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He just could not help himself." (Thanks, Linda.)

I haven’t seen that movie yet. I’m still PO’ed at Brad Pitt for breaking up with Jennifer Anniston. I like her, I knew a girl in high school with similar mannerisms, if not looks. But I’ll watch for this scene on the DVD. Curiously, I see Vince Vaughn is in this film, (he is/was Anniston’s boyfriend after the Pitt break up, in case you don’t follow these things; not that I do…)

I'm sure Spring, will, um, spring again for you all up north, but it's no wonder I live in Alabama these days. Of course, we have other challenges in these parts (this is where I need a photo of a bunch of pickups in the parking lot with 3-year-old “W” stickers on the back (although here around Huntsville you're not unlikely to see a car with a Jesus Fish on the back pulled up to a red light beside one with a Darwin Fish.) Yep, spring’ll be back for ya'all, but these folks are a fixture here….

Just warming up,
-- Chip

Snakes in a Blog Post

I know my hearing is actually getting worse as I age a bit, but there have been a number of songs (hang on: for a quirky effect, not that it has anything to do with anything, but try reading this first part with a valley-girl affectation; let’s try again:)

I know my hearing, is, actually – getting worse, but there have been, like, a number of saw-ungs that have been onthe rad-ee-o, and, like, for the first time ever, I’ve been able to understand the lyrics ?! (Okay enough of that.) This morning’s example of a great, previously missed snippet of lyric, like many, is about the angst of love:

“You played dead
But you never bled
Instead you lay still in the grass
All coiled up and hissin’”
That’s early 80’s classic rock – that’s what they’re calling it now – how can post-punk anything have become classic? What’s such a pointed metaphor doing in burner-rock? Anyway; that music all sounds so rich to me now; today’s tunes all sounds so, to steal from American Idol judge Randy Jackson’s most overused critique, “plucky”. There’s no anthemism, no backbeat, no continuum of reverb. Of course we would have called it banal (“baa” –naal”, two rhyming syllables, the first a sheep’s sound; (reading my crap sometimes, it’s like Americanism (from “The American President”, with Michael Douglas (parentheses nested deep enough for you yet?)) it’s advanced citizenship, you gotta want it bad)), and wouldn’t have been caught dead enjoying REO Speedwagon, or their midwestern compatriot band, Styx, or others of their ilk (e.g. Journey). But now, even the album title strikes me as great: “Hi Infidelity”.

I’ll drop the rest of the words down here, it gets a bit trite, but when delivered with that nasally-toned staccato voice (“foreverrrrr”) and all the contractions (hissin’, lovin’, wanna…) it’s a lot of fun, if not deep: missin-listen-hissin, now that’s a terrific triplet!

Keep On Loving You

You should've seen by the look in my eyes, baby
There was somethin missin
You should've known by the tone of my voice, maybe
But you didn't listen
You played dead
But you never bled
Instead you lay still in the grass
All coiled up and hissin
And though I know all about those men
Still I don't remember
Cause it was us baby, way before then
And we're still together
And I meant, every word I said
When I said that I love you I meant
That I love you forever

And I'm gonna keep on lovin you
Cause it's the only thing I wanna do
I don't wanna sleep
I just wanna keep on lovin you


And I meant every word I said
When I said that I love you I meant
That I love you forever


Words & Music Kevin Cronin
©1980 Fate Music, all rights reserved

And I love the parentheticals in the lyric text (from the official website), just in case you didn’t know, but wished you did, exactly where the solo happens. It must be Spring. I’m feelin’ Spring, because it’s Monday morning and I’m pretty upbeat. There was still frost on my windshield this morning, but there’s daffodils and dandelions and bloomin’ forsythias. (Another cliché, for me from B.C., the comic strip: “There may be frost on the roof, baby, but…”)

Speaking of Spring… a number of things are conspiring to keep us close to home this Spring Break; close to our house in Alabama, that is, I still tend to stall at calling it home; I continue to feel like an ex-patriot here, yet there are local treasures… e.g. “first Sunday” at Garden Cove, the Seventh Day Adventist-run health food store that offers 10% off their already low prices every first Sunday of the month (Saturday is their Sabbath). Great produce. But I’ve drifted. I had thought to go see a Wonder, like the Grand Canyon and visit missed relatives in Arizona. But we are busy. I’m ditching the “rat race” metaphor for one I find more insidious: a “hamster wheel” – maybe I’ll get to say more about that another time, though. There’s soccer (reffing and playing). There’s airfare that is not as low as hoped. There’s college indecisions and college finances looming. Another rant that I’ll (mostly) forego for now: saving much money for college means that the FAFSA people will have one word for you when you look for financial aid: “fuggetaboutit”. Negative motivations everywhere you turn. (Visions of an Alabama native son –er, daughter, Helen Keller, violently twisting this way, then that to get away from what she cannot see.)

But hey, I’m feelin’ Spring: let the sun hit zenith, step outside, walk onto the grass and inhale!
When I said that I love you I meant
That I love you forever,
-- Chip

Friday, March 02, 2007

Creativity to the People

“I said out loud: 'There it is, that's the moment we're reversing now. It was a mistake to believe that creativity was something you could delegate, no matter how much better they were than you, because it's an important human activity, like breathing, eating, walking, laughing, loving.'”

Dave Winer's insight after quoting a lady on "Empire of the Air"; she said there came a point soon after she started listening to radio when she realized she could stop practicing the piano, because she would now get her entertainment from better musicians.

For myself, it’s my New Year resolution to produce more creative output. Of course that was for 2006. But I renewed it. Can you do that, like a library book, without getting fined?

Lapsing into a Review

Another book review

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Just Lunch

Lunch was a little too good today at work. It was "just leftovers", things we'd prepared at home over the long MLK weekend (Martin Luther King -- I caught part of an interview with him on one of the talk shows from back in 1969 or so, Dick Cavett I think, amazing man; smart man, two (white) interviewers tried to get him riled up but he gave thoughtful, complete-yet-concise answers that were difficult to argue with to tough questions like why it wasn't an affront to the parents of black soldiers when his movement protested the Viet Nam War; no real mystery why some wrong-thinking folks considered him dangerous). Back to lunch: leftovers, but pretty good ones: brocolli with cheese sauce, about 4 oz. of NY strip steak (this thicker portion had only been grilled to about medium rare so I was able to microwave it until hot and yet it didn't cook beyond medium well -- usually you have a choice of having leftover steak either cold, or well done), a can of Fresca, and for dessert, creme brouillet. Very tasty, but it does make me feel a little guilty in the world of "Babel" (awarded best film drama at The Golden Globes last night).