Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Balticon Recap

In my last post, I fawned over Neil Gaiman at his Balticon appearance, but there are a lot of other things to do at a science fiction convention, some geekier than others. Hopefully this will be helpful to fans and non-fans alike.

Author Presentations and Signings

Balticon 14The whole point of an author to go to a convention is to get a little recognition and publicity. Because of the strict timetable and scheduling of venues at a SF convention, these are usually separate events. An author will do a reading and then if his or her stature merits, a little later a signing will be scheduled into a smaller room. Neil did two signings and they were both limited in capacity. At the end of his joint talk with Peter Beagle, I raced over to get in line for the signing. The next day I overheard some people complaining about not getting in.

Peter Beagle, whom I am unfamiliar with, was doing a joint signing and had about a third as many people trying to get his autograph. Gene Wolfe was very popular as well. Additionally, lesser known authors will get a table and pigeonhole passerbys to drum up interest in their books.

Panels and Discussions

Balticon 61The measure of a good convention is partly the quality of the guests, but also the number and depth of the panel discussions. These take place in smaller rooms and involve two or more experts in some aspect of the field. The sessions are usually arranged in tracks around common themes such as writing, costuming or science. The sheer number available makes some triage necessary when planning a day as they often interfere with other panels and events.

The Balticon science oriented panels were particularly good. I went to one on the atmosphere of Titan presented by Dr. Tim Livengood from NASA and needless to say, Kurt Vonnegut grossly misled me about the habitability of the place. My son went to one on Quantum Mechanics and claims to have understood at least the first half of it. I also heard good things about Dr. Dinosaur.

The Dealer Room

Balticon 46No trip to a convention is complete without a couple of passes through the dealer room. There is usually at least one new book seller set-up and several people selling used and collectible books. It's nice to hear someone praise an author and then be able to check their books out right away. This is where I picked up two of my signing items before they went out of stock.

The other dealers sell a lot of lifestyle accessories which tends to include leather or weapons. The guy selling these beautiful reasonably priced leather Carnival-style masks warned me about taking pictures without permission. I promised him Mythical Masks a link if I blogged about him. Jewelry and theme apparel are also popular.

My wife collects penguin figurines and found a table with a large assortment of styles she didn’t have. She also bought a rather fancy dice bag. She likes using them as camera holders because they don’t raise the suspicion of security checkers at concerts and the like.


With all the line standing and waiting, there are a lot of opportunities for talking with people that will not immediately dismiss you as a dork for being interested in science fiction or gaming or other high geek activities. I was lucky enough in the Neil Gaiman line to be in the middle of a gaggle of women that defied the shampoo-deprived stereotype of female convention attendees.

I mistook one woman's regualr clothes for a costume so that was a slight faux pas. She also had a button that said “Poly, but I would probably rather read a book.” That started a brief conversation with other linestanders that I studiously avoided. Just didn’t want to go there. Another person was a three-time NaNoWriMo participant, so I held my tongue on my opinion about that as well. I also ran into one person I know professionally. At least I wasn't using yellojkt as my ID card nickname.

None of this is particularly unusual and little different from any other event catering to a particular hobby or interest that might be booked into a convention hotel or the subject of a CSI episode. So why do science fiction conventions get such a bad rap? I’ll cover some of that in my next post. Or leave me a comment about what you think the distinction is.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Neil Gaiman, Rock Star

If the science fiction/fantasy/horror genre has a rock star, it’s Neil Gaiman. As some sort of anti-Tom Wolfe, he is always dressed in public in his trademark black tee-shirt and matching motorcycle jacket. Black is his color both sartorially and metaphorically. His writing tends towards the dark if wryly amusing end of the spectrum.

I reviewed his latest novel, Anansi Boys, awhile back. Its predecessor, American Gods, deservedly won the Hugo and Nebula awards. He got his start and early fame as a writer of comic books. His Sandman series is cited as one of the seminal works in the evolution of the graphic novel and DC comics invented the Veritgo line just to have a place for his dark visions so that children wouldn’t mistake his Sandman for the blue and gold Golden Era hero. His version of Death as a goth-clad hottie is started to supplement the traditional image of the Grim Reaper.

In addition to comics and novels, he writes poetry, children’s books, screenplays and song lyrics. His book, Stardust, is being turned into a movie starring Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro. He wrote the script for Beowulf which is being animated Polar Express-style by Robert Zemeckis. Tori Amos cites him as a major influence. There doesn’t seem to be any challenge he’s not up to. Even his personal assistant is in a goth singing duo and has her own line of jewelry.

When I heard that Gaiman was to be the Guest of Honor at Balticon, the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention, I registered the whole yellojkt family for the event. My wife is far from a science fiction fan, but she is at least peripherally aware of what a force of nature he is. Neil flew into Baltimore straight from Australia where he was at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. Despite a half-globe’s worth of jetlag, the Balticon people made him sing for his supper with at least eight public events over the four days.

On Saturday, I caught the back half of his seminar about the collaborative process, then later that day he did a joint interview with Peter Beagle of The Last Unicorn fame. I had to race out of that to make sure I made the line for his autographing session. Other than Anansi Boys, my Gaiman collection consisted of rather battered used paperbacks. Fortunately I found hardcover first editions of American Gods and Good Omens in the dealer’s room.

Stocked with the 3-item limit, I waited about two hours to get my loot signed. He was very pleasant and impressed that I had the white cover version of Good Omens. My wife grabbed a few pictures before security shuffled us off. Well worth the wait.

As a reward for indulging my fandom all day, I took my wife to a very nice nearby upscale Asian restaurant. After dinner, I was surprised to see Neil, leather jacket and all, outside talking on his cell phone. I told him how much I liked his talk, and he acknowledged me with a thanks. That now puts me within three Kevin Bacon degrees of separation with the entire comic book industry and half of Hollywood.

The next day his premiere event was a solo appearance where he read two unpublished short stories and a poem. Since he still had a half hour to go, he spread some Hollywood gossip he vowed to disavow if it were to appear on the internet. The movie moguls don’t like Stardust being described as a cross between Lord Of The Rings and The Princess Bride, since the cult classic tale of Buttercup was a box-office flop. Incon-CEIV-able. He defended the casting of Claire Danes saying that the auditioning process involved about every female actor under thirty, some of which were truly awful. He coughed one name in particular. Let’s just say he doesn't think much of a certain former tween show star.

He also mentioned that Angelina Jolie is horribly typecast as Grendel’s Mother. His dry British wit masked all sense of sarcasm. He does seem particularly amused that Beowulf will, come hell or highwater, open worldwide on November 22, 2007. I know I will be there.

Blatant Comment Whoring:
What author would you like to meet?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Prayer

I always get Memorial Day and Veterans Day a little cross-confused. Veteran's Day is to honor those that have served our country. Memorial Day is to honor those who have died in the service of our country. My grandfather fought under Patton in France and my father flew an F-4 in Vietnam. I am glad I honor them on Veteran's Day rather than Memorial Day. I am lucky that way.

I recently ran across a piece of Vonnegutia that I had never heard of before called "Tick Tock". It is a short CD where a musician named Simon Heselev has composed music that runs under Kurt Vonnegut reading a passage from Slaughterhouse Five. The passage is the part where Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time and watches a World War II documentary in reverse and giant planes suck all the flame from burning buildings into small metal containers and the containers get sent back to the United States where all the fuel is taken out of them by hard working women so that the ingredients can be buried deep in the ground where they can do no harm.

I pray for the day when we can do this for real and nobody has to die in defense of their country. Until then we must remember that there are causes worth dying for and we must honor and remember those that do.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Teenage Girl President Casting Call

Francesco “Ces” Marciuliano, in addition to being the second string replacement current writer for the comic strip Sally Forth (featuring my hero, Ted Forth) also writes a webcomic called Medium Large. One the most popular features of Medium Large is the Monday episodes of Teenage Girl President. This television show within a comic strip chronicles the events in the life of a typical blonde teenager who inexplicably is also the President of the United States. As high-concept, it is brilliant and it’s only a matter of time before a real network like CW, Nickelodeon or Disney rips off this idea.

As the Washington Post explains in their article titled Marketers Tune In to the Tween Set a lot of programming aimed at the middle-school aged crowd is completely off the radar screen of anyone not still carrying lunch money to class. These shows feature cute kids wisecracking their way through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Clarissa Explains It All was the pioneer in this genre and Hillary Duff rode Lizzie McGuire to stardom.

Viewing tastes skew in a way that kids like to watch shows about other kids their own age or just slightly older. High School Musical is huge with middle-schoolers, but musically minded high school students prefer Rent. Teenage Girl President:The Series would be just perfect for this tweener audience. Picking the right star is essential. I'm sure Hillary Duff is way too big for CW, and Haylie may be too old for the part.

Here are some of my suggestions for someone looking to cast TGP:

Jamie Lynn Spears, the star of Zoey 101, is about the right age and maybe she could get big sister Britney to do the theme song.

Aly and AJ are better known as a singing sister act, but they have both done acting. Either one could play the part of TGP, and the other could be the sister or the back-stabbing vice-president.

Ashley Tisdale is the bad-girl on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, but she might want to be a big star in the White House.

Emma Roberts, Julia’s niece, has been doing movies, but a steady starring TV role could be an enticing career builder. She'd have to bleach her hair though.

Vanessa Ann Hudgens would also need some highlights, but the star of High School Musical is on a hot streak and could definitely run for higher office.

Amanda Bynes had her show canceled. She’s a proven star with great comedy chops. Sign her up quick.

And for the TGP Chief of Staff, there is only one choice.
Alan Ruck.

Let me know which of these actresses deserve a role as the Leader Of The Free World And Queen Bee Of The Cafeteria. And if you've never heard of any of them, get a thirteen year-old to help you out.

Update (7/25/07): Many, many people (mostly teenage and younger girls) have found this post by googling something including "casting call" and have mistaken it for a real call for applications. I have no intention of ever meeting Chris Hansen in person or having to explain this post to the notoriously humor impaired FBI, so I have erased all comments with personally identifiable information. If you need examples of why I had to do that, visit my Comment Casting Couch post.

I will delete any comments that include a real name or e-mail address. If your comment has been deleted, please tell your folks to take away your internet privileges.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Search For The DaVinci Code Grail - Part 2

This is Part 2 of our story of unwittingly following the trail taken in Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. Either we were fated to follow in his footsteps or he was working from the same tour books we had. Click here for Part 1. All hyperlinks are to additional pictures from the trip.

Day 3

After two days in Paris we still had not found any clues to lead us to the Holy Grail. It was a long shot but our next location was at the Pompideau Center, which is France’s premiere modern art museum. The building itself is built inside-out. All the structure, air conditioning, escalators, and other services are on the outside of the building. From the roof, you could even see the Eiffel Tower. Inside we first found a Duchamp Urinal, but even that seemed to be too sacrilegious to count as a grail. Then we found a clue on one of the walls.

The Fibonacci Alligator is a piece of artwork that is a stuffed alligator with a series of neon letters that are in the Fibonacci sequence. We knew this was an important clue but we didn’t know what it would lead us to. Just outside the museum there is a fountain with a group of odd water feature sculptures. We took this as direction to head back to the water.

DSC00808On the Isle de Cite is the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Here we found the Point Zero which is the center of Paris. We thoroughly searched the cathedral for clues inside and out. We looked around the front, the side, and the back to no avail.

From there, we crossed over to the Left Bank and visited Shakespeare and Company, the English language bookstore featured in Before Sunset, but that is a different movie tour. From there, we found some kind Parisians to take our picture from one of the many bridges over the Seine.

SmartCarWe did run across those so cute Smart Cars. My son wants one. They would be perfect for making a getaway in the crowded Paris streets if necessary. These things were everywhere and could park in places unimaginable for any other vehicle.

Day 4

Since Paris was not turning up any clues, we decided to search further away. We knew there were grail experts living in the French countryside, but the only “chateau” we had heard of was in Versailles. Some guy named Louis used to live there, but he couldn’t have been very famous since thirteen other guys beat him to the name.

DSC00808This chateau was big. Huge in fact. We carefully combed the all the places in the house we were allowed to go. We even looked in Louis’s bedroom and his private chapel. We only had time to go on one of the four tours the palace offers, because we wanted time to explore the grounds as well. Since it was winter, the fountains were off, but we walked far enough away to need to take the tram back.

Returning to Paris after a full day, we transferred by the Metro over to the Arc de Triumph where we went to the top and checked out the Champ Elysses from the other end. Exhausted, we returned to HQ via the Eiffel Tower realizing that Paris was turning out to be a dead end.

Next: Off to London

Monday, May 22, 2006

Xeno's Donut

I picked up a dozen donuts on the way to work for a meeting I had first thing. I know, I know, I should have gone to Krispy Kreme™ instead of Dunkin’ Donuts™, but KK is not on the way to work and DD is. Anyways, after the meeting ended about 11, there were 5 donuts left. I put them in the break room on the free food counter.

I came back through the break room at about 2 and there were a couple of people eyeing this poor leftover piece of donut. I just said, “Oh look, Xeno’s Donut.” Nobody else got the joke, but it cracked me up.

Answer the following questions if you can without sneaking a peak at the answers or using Google®:

Q. What is the joke, and where did I steal it from?
A. From here, which only makes the event more pathetic.

Q. Why was I so amused, and what does that say about me?
A. This blogpost pretty much explains it.

I am such a dork.
Or a nerd. You make the call.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Brandy's Back

Update (5/5/07): Brandy Britton was linked to accused Washington DC madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey on ABC's 20/20 according to Howard Kurtz's article in the Washington Post.

Update (1/29/07): Brandy Britton committed suicide over the weekend according to a report by the Baltimore Sun

For several months since I first wrote "Really Desperate Housewife" about Brandy Britton, the Ellicott City woman who puts the PhD into prostitution, I have been waiting for the other shoe to fall. Brandy is the former college professor that got arrested at her house for soliciting under the name Alexis Angel. I blogged about it because of the very high snicker factor and the local area connection. It has also become one of my most popular archived entries, behind “Cute Baby Pictures”.

My blog post attracted the attention of at least one anonymous commenter very close to the situation that kept feeding me links and comments about the status of the case. She was the one that first alerted me that the charges against Brandy go to court this week.

It is surely no coincidence that a few days right before the case goes to court, the Washington Post in their Sunday Style section has an enormous article titled “The House With The Lights On” that gives a detailed but still incomplete picture of Dr. CallGirl. The only people quoted on the record are her mom, a former professor, and Brandy herself. Much of the rest of the article is based on court records and other information in the public domain.

A long section of the article details her running feud with the University of Maryland Baltimore County where she worked before a filing gender discrimination lawsuit, something she had done at an earlier job as well. In particular, her boss, Dr Derek Gill, is quoted third hand and never directly. This may have to do with ongoing litigation, but the Post is never shy about anonymous sources in their political reporting, surely they could have found someone to discuss her stay at UMBC that would explain why “many in her department had turned against her.” A bold claim presented with no supporting evidence. There doesn't seem to be any love lost there, somebody must be able to shed some light on her tenure, or lack thereof.

The Post article is as telling about what it hints at without ever saying it. It gives out the URL of her old site, but mentions a new site that may or may not be Brandy back in business under a new name. This newer site at The Cultured Comapanion: An Elite Escort Experience for the Mind, Body & Soul (link very Not Safe For Work (update: and now dead)) gives info for “Claire” that is very similar to the old “Alexis”. The Cultured Companion gives her stats as follows:

Physical & Demographic Details
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 125
Measurements: 38D (natural)-25-36
Hair Color & Length: blonde, shoulder length
Eyes: Green
Age: 32
Body Type: Athletic and Slender
Education: Post-graduate
Marital Status: Single
Ethnicity: Caucasian

She sure is proud of that natural D-cup. The only real difference seems to be that the new girl is about ten years younger than the old Alexis. The pictures on the website are also much more explicit and professionally done rather than looking like they were taken with a cameraphone in her living room. Claire is just as bright as Alexis/Brandy as the following blurb claims as well:

The Cultured Companion is a sexy, intelligent and passionate provider who truly enjoys her time with clients. She has long blonde hair, seductive green eyes and a tone yet curvaceous figure 38D-25-36 which is all natural. At nearly 5’ 9” her long legs are complimented by a smooth, olive complexion and full, sensuous lips. An athlete, cheerleader and dancer since childhood, Claire has continued her dance and athletic training and is extremely flexible and in excellent physical shape. She has modeled and been a pageant contestant.

The Cultured Companion is sophisticated, refined, educated and articulate. She holds a post-graduate degree from an elite university. She is a published author and a trainer for a variety of organizations. She is open-minded and analytical and at the same time sexy, seductive, playful and creative. Professional clients often say that they enjoy talking with her and that her intelligence, creativity and energy enhances their experiences.

The rates are about the same but now outcall services are available for the greater DC/VA/MD area. I guess since complaining neighbors were what got her in all this trouble in the first place, outcall is the way to go. The phone number on the website is a Virginia area code, so I’m not sure what that says except that maybe she is trying to be more discrete. I hope I haven’t blown her cover. She still insists on the paper–thin dodge that clients are only buying her time and companionship. $300 bucks an hour is expensive conversation and definitely not worth seven grand a week.


1 HOUR INCALL ~ $300
An additional travel fee may be charged for locations outside of the regular travel area
Dinner Date or Evening Out (5 hours) ~ $1,200
Overnight (12 hours) ~ $1,800
Overnight (24 hrs) $2,500
Weekend $4,500
1 Week $7,000
Weekends and Longer Periods of Companionship for Travel Are Also Available
Please email for details

The Post article tries to make a big deal that Brandy/Alexis was a madam because she offered “two-girl parties.” This shows a pretty remarkable level of naivete on the part of the writer for buying into police assertions that more hookers are involved. The “two girl” offer is similar to what the Duke Lacrosse team had at their infamous party. I doubt Brandy ever even got taken up on that offer since stripper services offer that at a much lower price. There is no evidence anywhere I know of that anyone other than Brandy answered the doorbell at Shirley Meadow Court.

The Cultured Companion, like Alexis, has an odd attachment to Greek culture, but now no longer explicitly charges extra for it. She has also expanded her offerings to include couples sessions at a slightly higher price.

There is still way more to this story than the papers have dug into. Hanging out a new shingle right before your court case is complete doesn’t strike me as a good business strategy. I’m not sure whether Brandy is trying to get publicity so she can write a book or become some sort of cause celebre for sex workers. It may be just that prostitution is her only marketable skill left. If so, why not publicize her new service a little more prominently? Let’s not be so coy. In words attributed to Winston Churchill and Groucho Marx, we know what you are, now we’re just negotiating price.

Update (5/26/06): According to the Baltimore Sun, her lawyer got a continuance on her case until August 8th, and Brandy seems to have successfully managed to avoid the paparazzi. The Cultured Companion website is now offline, which is a shame, since over 200 people have tried to surf to it from my site. I'm not sure how many were potential clients. Yes, I did archive some of the pictures from the site. No, I am not going to e-mail them to you. Go find your own porn.

Update (8/9/06): According NBC4, Brandy's trial has been postponed yet again, this time until October. This WJZ news story gives further details. It seem her lawyers have requested a jury trial which is scheduled for October 24. If you are a LostGoogler™ looking for prurient stories about hookers, try this one. If you just like my writing style, read some of my posts that don't have lascivious content by checking out either Best of 2005 or Best of 2006, Part 1.

Update (October 24, 2006): For my latest post on Brandy, see here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Search For The DaVinci Code Grail - Part 1

In a shameless attempt to capitalize on the publicity whirlwind surrounding the release of The DaVinci Code, I have dramatized the events surrounding my family vacation to France to mirror events in the book. At the time of our trip, DVC was just another poorly-written conspiracy-ridden thriller and not the phenomenon it would eventually become. I read the book after our trip and only then realized how many brushes we had with the cheesy potboiler. All links are to photos from my Flickr site that were taken during the trip. No stock photos or “borrowed” internet images are used. But judging from the fuzziness of the pictures, you would have figured that out.

DSC00808In December of 2003 I was given a secret message that I was to fly to Paris and search for the Holy Grail. I had no idea what I was looking for or where to find it, but that had never stopped me before. I assembled my crack team, which included My Wife and My Son and we flew on the custom Delta jet sent just for us and 400 hundred other people wanting to fly to Europe on Christmas Eve.

Day 1

We arrived Christmas morning and checked into our base of operations in the Seventh Arrondissement. Knowing that most things would be closed, we decided to use the day to reconnoiter. We went three blocks over to find that the Eiffel Tower was open. It gave a good overview of the entire area. We walked down from the middle level and I inspected the base for hidden compartments. Then we took a tourist bateau down the Seine and around Île de la Cité. Having gotten a good look at the terrain and obstacles we would face, we found an open bistro and prepared for the next day of heavy investigation.

Day 2

DSC00803We knew that on this search we could leave no museum untouched. We headed over to the Hotel des Invalides for Napoleons Tomb and the Army Museum. We breezed through the medieval armor to get to the main exhibit, the history of French participation in World War II. From the exhibit you would barely know they lost. But this was not getting us to the Grail.

Maybe the Grail was a sculpture. We checked the Rodin Museum for grails. A Thinker or two, some Burghers of Calais, the Gates of Hell, but no Grail. Musee d’Orsay was the next suspect sight. We flashed our Super Secret Museum Passes and walked right past the line of peons not on important missions. A thorough search revealed Whistler’s Mother, some Renoirs and lots of other Impressionists, but no religious artifacts. We dined there to refresh our energy and then moved on to our best shot: The Louvre.

DSC00822At the Louvre we knew we only had a short period of time and three checkpoints to clear. We had mapped out a plan of attack with the French military precision we had learned of earlier in the day. The first checkpoint was some painting an Italian guy called DaVinci had made. This Lisa lady (first name Mona) had to be a clue. Our spy cameras were not allowed in the gallery so all we could document was the sign to the Gallery.

This Mona lady may have known the code, but her sly smile said she wasn’t telling. Huge crowds gathered in front of her and we were only given a minute or two to survey the scene, but her eyes haunted us even more than the smile. We then rushed through two buildings and half the museum to get to our next clue. Venus De Milo should have helped us but she refused to give us a hand. In fact, she was completely unarmed. This left only Winged Victory, but that clue was stone cold as well.

DSC00832As we left through the lobby under the huge I. M. Pei pyramid we felt we were close to something important, but we couldn’t quite tell why. Maybe if we had read the dossier prepared by Dan Brown, we would have known.

Dusk was faling, so we used another line of logic. Grails hold liquids and perfumes are liquids. We went through the Tuileries Garden and Place de la Concorde then past the Obélisk de Luxor to the Champs Elysées and checked out the Sephora store. We found plenty of expensive liquids, but no Grail. Returning to our base by the Eiffel Tower, we set out to dine and rest for the night. Tomorrow we would have to widen the perimeter.

See Part 2 for a continuation of our heart-pounding adventure.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Toilet Talk

When I was in Japan last summer, we stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, which is a nice business class hotel similar to a big city Sheraton or Marriott in the States. Definitely not a deluxe luxury hotel like the nearby Park Hyatt where Lost In Translation was filmed, but still very nice with Western style rooms. What I did not expect was the space-age toilet in the bathroom.

The Japanese are nothing if not clean freaks. When you pack half the population of the US into an area the size of California, and then pack 10% of that into Tokyo, you need some well-developed hygiene standards. One of the many industries the Japanese are a leader in is plumbing fixtures. The Washington Post recently ran an article titled Flush With Success by Anthony Faiola about Toto, the leading toilet manufacturer in the world. The article quotes Kyoji Asada, one of Toto’s top designers as saying:

"Going to the toilet should be about relaxation, comfort and cleanliness," he said. "I strongly believe the Japanese have the cleanest and most comfortable toilets in the world."

Something about American prudishness makes us unwilling to spend a lot of time or thought about comfort in the privy.

In my real life I have a professional interest in toilets and had heard of the very fancy deluxe potties that are available, but had never seen any real life examples. This was the first time I was going to be able to give one a test drive. The Washlet™, as it is called, looks like a normal Western toilet except that on the side it has what look like the control panel for the crapper on the Starship Enterprise.

The buttons are conveniently labeled in both English and Japanese with pictograms as well. The pink button is for the bidet wash, which I don’t have the anatomy to make useful, but the other button is for hosing down the business end and it works like a charm. It sprays a narrow stream of warm water directly at the poopchute. I was impressed with the accuracy of the spray. There was very little collateral wetting of anything that didn’t need cleaning. The experience is delightfully refreshing and invigorating. Another button allowed you to adjust the water pressure, but I was a little nervous to mess with that too much.

The super luxury toilets are common but not ubiquitous in Japan. I did come across one or two of these outside our hotel, but the more familiar standard toilet was more prevalent. Typically public restrooms will have a series of the old-fashioned bombardier-style squat toilets (shown on the left) that don’t have a seat and one or two Western sitting toilets. Depending on how busy the place is, it can be a long wait if you insist on sitting on the throne. I was also perplexed to find at least one place where toilet paper was a coin-vended amenity. Money well spent, but I didn’t know what to do with the leftovers after I used what I needed.

According to the Wikipedia article on Japanese toilets, more household have deluxe toilets in Japan than computers. The Post article claims Will Smith had some installed in his house after a trip to Japan. On a recent Daily Source Code, Adam Curry waxed nostalgic about a toilet he once owned with the bumspray option. For an audio tour of a deluxe model, listen to this guy's sound-scene podcast. And for all of you out there giggling, I just say, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: If these were reasonably priced, say twice the cost of a normal toilet, would you want one in your house?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I changed my blog template over the weekend and I got a couple of compliments already. So far there, has only been one dissenter. Marc from Comics Roast blog liked the all-blue style better. I changed to the “old” template back in August of last year as I talked about here. I still see that style on a lot of blogs, like Stuck In The 80s. If Thisaway(blue) is good enough for a big corporation like the St Pete Times, it should be good enough for anybody.

I really wanted a new layout that was a little more discrete looking. The blue is a little garish. One option was to open the wallet and get a professional design from the many people that do them, like BabyJaneBlogs that did such a great job on Mooselets redesign. But one of my rationalizations for having a blog was that I believe in the Learn By Doing school of thought. A blog would be a good way for me to teach myself some HTML and CSS and image editing. So, getting a third party to maintain my blog would be defeating that purpose. Instead, I looked for a template that I could edit to my heart’s content so I can keep the blog a DIY tool.

The new template come from Thur’s Templates. Thur is from the Netherlands and his blog has Blogger templates as well as very helpful tips. I like the clean crisp look of this template. I also wanted a two column layout with the sidebar on the left. This is fairly uncommon, but it lets me resize the window to just see my blogroll. Three column blogs (yours in particular, trusty) look awful on my work computer which runs Windows 98 at 800x600. This blog is variable width so it can be stretched as wide as necessary for people with super high resolution screens. I imagine that may cause some interesting juxtapositions on some of my picture heavy posts. I may start doing more images centered and inline than wrapped if there is a chance of them butting together.

My one misgiving is that the header needs a little more pizzazz. My Photoshop skilz (or in my case PhotoStudio, since that came free with one of my cameras) are pretty lame. I can crop, resize and recolor, but that’s about it. I would like to add a few Vonnegut-style “ass-terisks” to the header as an inside joke. I did manage to sprinkle my sidebar with a few. I’d also like to make the header a hotlink back to the homepage. Right now I have a microscopic text that links back, but that’s such a kludge.

I think half the effect of a new template is novelty, I see this blog every day, and sometimes you just can’t help rearranging the furniture a little.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What do you like about your template and why did you pick it?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Celeb Closet Watch Update

In Sunday's Washington Post, Hank Stuever, the Post's ambassador to all things queer, writes about the whimpering end of Will and Grace titled 'Will & Grace' And Gays: The Thrill Has Been Long Gone. Stuever lays on some very heavy dollops of faint praise. It's hard to belive W&G was once the daring risk-taking post-Ellen show that was going to bring gay culture into the mainstream. Maybe it did and that's why it jumped the shark somewhere near the end of year 2 of its seven year run.

Hank Stuever has never seen a closet door he didn't want to yank off the hinges, as I have discussed before. Near the very end of the Will and Grace article he gets off some fish-in-the-barrel shots at, of all people, Sean Hayes.
Jack: FYI, most people that meet me do not know that I am gay.

Will: Jack, blind and deaf people know you're gay. Dead people know you're gay!

Another sore point for those who had the energy to feel let down in a political sense by a sitcom was the elusive refusal of "Will & Grace's" breakout star, Sean Hayes, to discuss publicly whether he is gay. This made him essentially unavailable for the marshal's float at the June pride parades, even though his logic for keeping his sexuality private would strike almost anyone as somewhat sound: Hayes said over and over again that he didn't want any role he was playing, now or later, to be overshadowed by the perception that the actor is gay.

In my Celebrity Closet Watch post, I listed Sean Hayes as the lowest of the hanging fruits to be picked in a list of potentially closeted actors. His very inclusion induced eye-rolling and moans of "Oh please, girlfriend." That Stuever takes umbrage at any gay celebrity that doesn't wear a pink Speedo on the cover of The Advocate is becoming a very weary diatribe of his.

Since this is an update post, I do have to note how many blog-hits I get from people Googling® "Bradley Cooper gay". To set the record straight, so to speak, I said I was gay for Bradley Cooper. Kitchen Confidential was a show killed before it's time and Cooper tends to get more favorable reviews than the rest of the Three Days of Rain cast. About his romantic life, I have no clue one way or another which side of the plate Bradley stands on. Obviously someone knows more than me or there is a lot of wishful thinking going on.

I missed Cooper's surprise return to the also ending Alias when it aired a few weeks back. I did catch the ABC TV streaming archive of the episode. I think it's great that Alias is trying to wrap up their astoundingly complicated plot line and giving some air time to old stories like the under-used Will Tippen character. I wish more networks had online archives. It definitely was worth a few Toyota and ATT ad screens to fill me in on everything that has happened in the past three seasons since I quit watching.

What ending television series are you sad to see leave the air this season? And which shows are you surprised lasted this long? Here's a list of other shows ending this season to refresh your memory.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

World's Biggest Cher Fan

My wife had a friend from junior high that I always viewed as a romantic rival of mine. I was wrong about that on many different levels, but that is a much longer and more complicated story than I can go into in just one blog post. This is the same guy that got me my part in a Rocky Horror performance.

In addition to having thespianic tendencies, he also was the biggest fan of both Olivia Newton John and Cher I have ever known. One day he casually mentioned that Ronald Reagan had once been on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. I believed him, but he wanted to prove it. We went over to his house and he pulled out a big shoe box filled with audio cassettes. Way before the days of VCRs and AV stereo systems, he had managed to tape the audio from every episode of both The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and The Sonny & Cher Show as well as some from their individual series. He would set a cheap tape recorder in front of the TV and record the sound. That is true fan dedication.

He pulled out from the shoebox a tape with the original airdate and a list of the guests. The bit with Ronald Reagan was while he was still governor of California and had him doing a speech he had prepared for the state fair agricultural exhibit but modified to replace “Sonny and Cher Show” for every reference to the state fair. I guess you had to be there. This episode is now available on DVD now and is also summarized on the Jump The Shark entry for the show. I hope he has this DVD in his collection.

What sparked this random recollection is a comment that my very dear blogfriend Lisa Manzi left on my blog asking me to help with a survey that will be the basis for a Cher-themed Family Feud charity fund raiser pitting CherFans against CherDragQueens. It really should be a hoot. Please go over to her post and help her out if you know anything about Cher at all. There are no right or wrong answers, although I am ashamed at getting Gregg Allman confused with Duane Allman. A real Cher fan would not have made that mistake.

And if my wife’s friend reads this (and he should recognize himself), I have this personal private message for him: Please get a hold of us. All is forgiven. I got the phone company to forgive all the 900 number calls and that is all water under the bridge. You are too big a part of our life, apart and together, to not stay in touch.

And the rest of you, search your memory banks and go help Lam(b) and all the Cher-fanatics with a good cause. And while you're at it, Courtney also needs your support.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

I'm Mad At Melissa

Back in January, I made an open offer to several celebrities to help them with any future desires to reproduce. It seems that Melissa Etheridge, who is about to become a father for the third time, snubbed me for some anonymous stud (in the broadest sense of the word) that earned a few extra bucks for what he probably would have gotten around to doing eventually anyways. At least David Crosby didn’t get the call again.

Melissa’s second wife, Tammy Lynn Michaels, is pregnant with twins, neither of which will have any genetic material in common with me. I mention that Melissa is the father because in my mind the mother is the person that carries a growing mass of tissue for nine months until it eventually either gets pushed through the vagina like a cantaloupe through a toilet paper tube or sliced out with Ginzu-like precision leaving a smiley-faced scar as a momento. The mass of tissue will then start breathing, grow-up to be a teenager, and become completely ungrateful for all the effort put out for it.

The father’s job on the other is to have his hand squeezed in a vice-grip and ineffectually lead the breathing exercises between the screams for more Pitocin. Fathers must also endure years of reminders that they have no idea about the pain and difficulty of childbirth despite having the best view of the whole process of anybody in the room. Fathers also get reminded that they had the fun part of the job, even when it’s been sub-contracted out to a turkey baster.

These rough guidelines get hopelessly muddled by adoption, in vitro fertilization, surrogate birth mothers and the myriad other forms of forming a family. Still, Tammy has conceded that Melissa is the breadwinner, which in the traditional scheme of things makes her the daddy.

Second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience but few people fault Melissa for the break-up with Julie Cypher, the mother of her first two kids. There is clearly no statute of limitations on re-declaring your sexual orientation. Besides, rock stars are supposed to keep the arm candy young and trade down in age every now and then.

Melissa as a rocker cites Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen as her idols. I just worry a little that she may also be emulating Rod Stewart, if not musically, at least romantically. Julie was three years Melissa’s junior (and roughly my age). Tammy is a good thirteen years younger. It would be like me landing Liv Tyler (or Orlando Bloom, if I swung the other way). By comparison, Rod Stewart’s latest baby momma, who made him a proud daddy at the age of sixty, is seven years younger than his oldest daughter. It seems that even in the realm of rock and roll paternity, the ladies have some catching up to do.

Melissa will have a chance to make amends to me in person when I see her perform August 10th at Constitution Hall. I really doubt that she knows or cares how badly she has shattered my hopes and ambitions. Oh, well. At least, if the audience matches the demographics when I saw her at the Warner Theater a few years ago, I won’t have to stand in line for the restroom.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Love Is Love

Mary Cheney, the daughter of the lawyer-shooting vice-president, has a book coming out about her life in politics. She is doing the full press publicity tour including ABC News, People, Vanity Fair, etc. Inevitably the topic comes up about how she reconciles being a lesbian in the political party that is trying to make gay marriage a campaign issue when she clearly disagrees with the policy. I would hesitate to call her a Log Cabin Lesbian, but that clearly is what she is.

An article in the Washington Post by Jennifer Frey points out, perhaps too subtly, the irony that Mary Cheney who has been married (her word) to Heather Poe for over 14 years is nearly invisible when in the same green room with Nick Lachey, who has made a stunningly well publicized mockery of the institution being denied to thousands of very committed same-sex couples.

The article further summarizes Mary’s very brief coming out to her parents story:

She was 16. She and her first girlfriend had just broken up. She skipped school, crashed the car, came home and decided it was time to just do it. Mom cried ("Your life will be so hard") but quickly came around. Dad said he loved her and just wanted her to be happy. The end.

I find it interesting that Mary Cheney, and her parents, knew was she was a lesbian since she was in high school or before. The high school years are very emotionally tough times for people, particularly for those establishing a sexual identity that doesn’t square with the conventional expectations. Sometimes people try on a lot of roles that don’t seem to fit until they can become comfortable with who they are.

I know that because in high school I dated a girl that in all hindsight I now know was lesbian. I don’t take credit or blame for this (although a certain amount of teen-age awkwardness on my part couldn’t have helped matters), since I know sexual attraction doesn’t work that way. We met in English class (where I met nearly every girl I dated in high school) and had homeroom together. She was funny and always smiling. Her family had moved from Texas and she didn’t know a lot of other people in Florida.

She was a big fan of Kris Kristofferson and was impressed that I knew he wrote “Me and Bobby McGee”. I had my dad’s exhaustive pirated country music collection to thank for that hook. Being from Texas, she was also a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, but I barely knew half the players she had posters of on her wall. She was way more athletic and sports-oriented than I ever was.

In the fall of my junior year we started to go on the typical high school type dates, football games and movies. On one date, we went to a mall sporting goods store looking for a gun rack for her brother’s pick-up. I didn’t find gun-rack shopping odd since there were a lot of pick-up trucks and gun racks and even a few Confederate flags in our school parking lot. Our high school band drum major knowingly and ironically kept his marching baton in his gun rack.

The most interesting date I ever had was one Friday night when we got back to her house from the movie or whatever and she got all excited because her brother’s truck was in the driveway. He had gone on a hunting trip and was supposed to be away until Sunday. Sure enough, he was back early because he had bagged a buck and had it hanging from a tree in the back yard of this suburban cul de sac house. I spent the rest of the evening watching the entire family gut and dress that deer, wrapping everything in freezer backs for weeks of meals of venison. While I knew other hunters and had eaten venison, I had never seen this part of the process so up close and personal before or since.

I tried to be a good potential boyfriend. When she had knee surgery, I bought some flowers and visited her in the hospital. That cheered her up because the knee operation had ended her career as a softball catcher. Rather than give up the game, she took up coaching some youth leagues and loved telling me stories about her girls at practice. At one point, we had an awkward conversation where she wondered if she came off as too “butch”. Being romantically interested in her, I tried to reassure her she wasn’t, but there had to be a grain of truth in there. We eventually just drifted apart, but always stayed friendly.

In our senior year, we had the same homeroom still, but she spent a lot of time giggling and talking with another girl in our homeroom that was clearly very butch. These two worked the same shifts at the local ice cream place, and I would always say “hi” when I went through the drive-thru. Any potential relationship between those two didn’t even register with me because I had moved on romantically and was dating my future wife by then.

She wrote a very sweet note in my high school yearbook and perhaps the word “smart” is code for “straight”. Or not. I was a bit of a geek in high school and a lot of other people wrote similar things. In retrospect, clues about our incompatibility should have been falling on me like anvils. She never really “came out” to me and she didn’t owe that to me since it really didn’t matter at that point. We dated, broke up, and stayed friends. Nothing more to say or do. I haven’t seen or heard from her in over twenty years since she doesn’t attend any of the high school reunions I make a point of going to, but I hope she has found love and happiness. We all deserve that. Love comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Mary Cheney knows that, and her father should too.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Angelina Jolie Update: Still Hot

Way back in September, I named Angelina Jolie the Hottest. Woman. Ever. I was not exactly going out on a limb here. After all, Esquire had named her Sexiest Woman Alive, before mistakenly dethroning her for Jessica Biel.

Since then, the rest of the world has jumped on the bandwagon. The latest confluence is Angelina being named the top person and cover girl for People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful List. Brad Pitt is included parenthetically as a member of the Most Beautiful Family.

The rest of the list is full of astoundingly beautiful people, some famous, some up and coming. People previously obsessed over in my blog include Julia Roberts (in the euphemistically labeled Better Than Ever group), Natalie Portman (Most Beautiful 24-Year-Old), and Jodie Foster (Most Beautiful 43-Year-Old). There is even a section for maiesiophiliacs featuring Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Vargas, and Mariska Hargitay. Cover girl Angelina would also top out this category by default, athough one guy's website makes a case for Gwen Stefani. There are some notable omissions. Angelina's former rival for Brad's attention, Jennifer Anniston, is nowhere to be seen. And alas for all those poor people that find my site by Googling® "bradley cooper gay", my favorite failed sitcom star did not make the cut either.

Even more intriguing to me is that Angelina is also on the cover for Diva magazine's "We So Would" list. Diva is a British magazine that caters to a lesbian and bisexual woman audience. I forget who is on the rest of list, but it includes Gina Gershon and most of the cast of The L-Word. Now AJ has been a same gender fantasy since at least 2002. Still, for a woman pregnant by the most lusted after guy in the world, being named the top lesbian film icon is quite an accomplishment.

I'm trying to figure out for what demographic group Jolie doesn't make hearts skip. Maybe the readers of Bear Magazine (link NSFW) won't put her on the cover anytime soon, but that has got to be about the only magazine immune to her charms. There is even a website that catalogs her cover features. It needs some updating since it's missing the ones I have here as well as last month's eve, which is still on the stands here in the US.

The most astounding Angelina Jolie magazine appearance for the month is her inclusion in the TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World. She isn't listed in the "Artists and Entertainers" section, but in the "Heroes and Pioneers" along with fellow Africa crusader Bono, as well as Elie Weisel and Al Gore. The illustration in the print edition is a near blasphemous depiction of Angelina as a Madonna. Somewhere in the last six months, AJ has gone from a very kinky girl to beatified world crusader. Her publicist (the one that must be owed a lot of favors by Time-Warner's magazine division) deserves her own magazine cover.

The Angelina Jolie juggernaut is steam-rolling ahead out of control. This orphan-adopting, brother-kissing, husband-stealing, knife-loving force of nature mesmerizes everyone who crosses her path. Maybe now is the time to jump ship before the inevitable fall from grace. We like to build up our celebrities just to push them over the cliff when we are done with them. Based on this latest round of hagiography, we are following the Angelina parade up a very steep precipice.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Happy Cinco De Drink Some Beer

American holidays can be divided into three categories: Gift Giving Holidays, Greeting Card Holidays, and Beer Drinking Holidays. Cinco de Mayo is definitely a beer drinking holiday. Based on an obscure Mexican-French battle, Americans have in a spirit of multi-culturalism taken the holiday as their own to tide them over through the long drought between St. Patrick's Day and Memorial Day.

Being of nominal Irish heritage (1/4 Irish on the patriarchal side), I've always wondered what they do to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day on the Old Sod, and I doubt it involves getting drunk on watery green beer. The real beer drinking holiday in Ireland is better known as Tuesday, or Thursday, and frequently Wednesday, Monday, and Saturday as well.

In some ways, I have a greater claim on Mexican heritage. I was born in the former Mexican territory of Texas. As a child, my mother used to call me Yellow Manuel Ortega Garcia Cortez McJacket. Also, I have been to Mexico way more times (well at least once) than I have ever been to Ireland. Perhaps, on Cinco De Mayo we are all a little Mexican.

I have never understood why vicious ethnic sterotypes of the Irish are allowed to persist, but those of other cultures are banned by the politically correct thought police. My favorite jingle as a kid was the Frito Bandito, a marketing mascot that was the brainchild of Tex Avery of Warner Brothers cartoon fame.

I would hum:
Aye, yii, yii, yiiii,
I am the Frito Bandito.
I like Frito's Corn Chips,
I love them I do.
I want Frito's Corn Chips,
I'll get them from you.

The Frito Bandito, voiced by Mel Blanc, was a clever desperado that always managed to get his favorite snack. I collected all the pencil toppers that had the characters. And I don't even like Fritos. The power of marketing. He was discontinued out of fear he was unfair to the image of Mexican-Americans.

How is the Frito Bandito any more offensive than Lucky the Leprechaun? Lucky has a bad sterotypical accent, a pathological greed for an over-sugared consumer product, and series of badly animated cartoons that have ingrained the catch phrase "Magically Delicious" into the collective sub-concious of generations of cartoon-adled youth.

My knowledge of 19th century Mexican culture is based mostly on a recent viewing of The Magnifcent Seven, but I am sure there were Mexican bandits, freedom fighters, and folk heroes that really did wear the bandolier of bullets across their chest. Whether they lusted for excessively salty corn chips is lost to history. I am fairly certain that are no real leprechauns, and if there were, they would be a little more savvy at keeping their breakfast cereal away from the grubby punkass kids always trying to steal it. At least the Frito Bandito, unlike the mentally challenged Trix Rabbit, got what he craved.

Forgive my rant. There is never a bad reason to pop open a Tecate and squeeze some lime into it. So help me sing along:

Aye, yii, yii, yiiii,
Aye, yii, yii, yiiii,
Oh, I am the Frito Bandito.
Give me Frito Corn chips
And I'll be your friend.
The Frito Bandito
You must not offend.

And a have a happy and not too sober Cinco De Mayo.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Bicycling Season Has Begun

Last Wednesday, I got home from work a little early, it was a beautiful sunny day, and my wife wasn’t due home from her nail appointment for at least an hour. Rather than hibernate in the den and surf the web, I pumped up the bicycle tires and went for my first ride since I got the new knee. Sunday I went out for a twelve mile ride and gave all the atrophied muscles in my derriere a wake-up call.

Ever since I was I kid, I have lived on a bicycle. Two wheels and a gear chain meant freedom. My first biking memory was when I was in kindergarten and I follwed the older kids past the end of the block where I was allowed to ride. They ditched me and I was lost and had to find my way home. That is a pretty good metaphor for a lot of my life.

In junior high I lived on a military base and our bicycles were our tickets to all the off-limits places we weren’t allowed to be. Once I got my driver’s license, my biking life took a long sabbatical. It wasn’t until about ten years ago I even owned a bicycle again. At first, I could barely make a four-mile loop through our fairly hilly neighborhood. Now I have a good half-dozen regular rides I take that range in distance from 7 miles to over 25 miles (the longer one includes a short break at a bagel shop).

My favorite rides take me down to old Ellicott City, which is a quaint not quite fully gentrified mill town on the Patapsco River that was the original terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. What goes down must come back up. There are about 4 ways to get back to my house from Ellicott City, all of them uphill. I usually take the gently sloping New Cut Road, which is about two miles of scenic woods back to the main road. Sometimes I go along College Avenue that has four rollercoaster style hills. When I am really in shape, I go for Ilchester Hill. This one mile stretch of Ilchester Road has a sign claiming an 18% grade for part of it. That will be a true test of my donor ACL when I am up to it again.

Bicycle clothing is some of the dorkiest looking athletic apparel ever devised. I have tried to make peace with my inner bike geek and I own one pair of the ultra-tight biker shorts that look good on nobody this side of the USPS bicycle team. I tend to wear padded mountain biker shorts instead most of the time. I also have two of the garish bike jerseys that are inexplicably de rigueur. One is black and gold with Georgia Tech’s Buzz on it. The other is Jelly Belly logo’ed with jelly beans patterned all over it. I love the only mildly ironic statement it makes. If I ever stumble across a Ben and Jerry’s jersey, I’m snapping it up.

Two years ago, as part of the denial process over turning forty, I rode the Seagull Century, which is a 100-mile ride around Maryland’s Eastern Shore including a stop on Assateague Island of the wild ponies fame. When the weather is nice, as it was that year, it is a very pleasant easy ride that over 6,000 bicyclists do annually. That’s me holding the souvenir tee-shirt in the picture. They give out the shirts at the end of the ride, just to make sure you really do the whole thing.

My riding season last year was pretty much shot between summer vacation and medical crises of various varieties. This year I have high hopes and the spreadsheet is all set up to log every mile in the saddle. My dream regimen would include about 50 miles a week of riding, but most of the time I am lucky to fit in half of that. I would love to do some sort of charity ride in the fall, but that is smack in the middle of my son’s marching band season. We’ll see what I can fit in. Even if I can’t get myself a $30 dollar shirt from some organization, I’ll have a fun summer.

And if you see me on the road, try not to hit me. At least not on purpose.