Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007, Part 2

Best of 2007, Part 1 was posted back in June. This post covers July through December.

As I look over my posts since mid-year, I noticed that I have a couple of formulas I follow and several topics I tend to return to over and over again. Here’s my breakdown:

Politics. As the Dubya Administration winds down and the 2008 election gets in gear, I find myself doing more and more political bits. I had a long running feud with Alberto Gonzales beginning with the Torqueberto Top Ten. I also mocked other torture advocates, closeted congressmen, bug-eyed candidates,

Sex, Sex, and More Sex. I found newsworthy blog pegs to talk about sex by college kids, teenagers, senior citizens and porn stars.

Stalking Celebrities. I managed to hunt down William Gibson and Jennifer Garner.

Pop Culture. I handicapped the promising shows of the new season, only one of which stayed on the DVR to the end of the year, but I added Big Bang Theory because it gets the geek right. I also tried to predict the next geek icon to come out of the closet.

Comics. I find myself doing fewer and fewer comics related posts. With the Foobiverse grinding to a halt, my only major snark on it was about the Foobocalypse going out with a whimper. But I have immortalized my hero Ted Forth with his own Wikpedia entry.

Tweener TV. Every time I do a post that references obscure Nickelodeon shows I get a few concerned comments. What can I say? My obsession with the 10-14 demographic started when I discovered Clarissa Explains It All while watching my infant son when my wife was at night school classes. These shows are proving grounds for stars (and scandals) of the future. In my defense, even I was creeped out by the dozens of aspiring underage starlets that mistook one of my posts for an open casting call. Undeterred by this, I did a Sally Forth satire for the New Delhi Monkey Gang. And Jamie Lynn Presley’s condition made me ponder some Very Special Episodes.

Side Projects. I also started two more blogs in the past few months. My intermittently updated China Sights blog was an outgrowth of posts about my trip to China this summer, where among other things, I climbed the Great Wall. I have also made my obsession with Maureen Dowd into a continuing preoccupation with the Dowd Report.

Family Milestones. My son is a senior in high school and marched his last season. I try not to brag too much about him but sometimes I can’t hide my pride when things happen like getting accepted to my alma mater. November was rough on me. I had to say goodbye to my dog just after Thanksgiving and then just a little over a week later my grandmother passed away. That double punch hit me hard, but I’ve shaken off the funk and look forward to a better brighter 2008.

Stay with me. I’ve got plenty of ideas for the upcoming year and hope to even up my game a little.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Let me know what your best post of the year was.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

NaJuReMoNoMo 2008

Two years ago I invented a semi-parody of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo that I called National Just Read More Novels Month or, for not-so-short, the unpronounceable NaJuReMoNoMo. It’s only a semi-parody because I am completely serious about wanting people to read more novels. January is the perfect month for this sort of internet meme. It’s the middle of winter and doesn’t conflict with any major holidays. January is 31 days long, giving people plenty of time to read a book. Folks are flush with cash and gift cards from holiday giving, And they are burnt out from the endless November challenges that require too much work.

Best of all, NaJuReMoNoMo is astoundingly easy. All you have to do is read any novel from start to finish within the month of January. You can read memoirs or non-fiction in January, they just don’t count towards your NaJuReMoNoMo total.

Since this is the third annual NaJuReMoNoMo, I had expected it to be an internet-wide sensation by now, but participants seem to be limited to my regular readers. I thought long and hard and realized that the impediment to its breakthrough was the lame logo. The old logo was something I slapped together and it looked it. This year I ran it through Photoshop Elements and enhanced it. The logo now has a transparent background so it doesn’t clash with people’s templates. The dark letters are embossed with white outlines so they will look fine on dark backgrounds as well. Take a look at the improvement:

Old Lame Logo

New Super
Cool Logo
Updated: You can find all the official NajuReMoNo winner badges here.

I also need to up the blatant meme plugging. I apologize in advance, but I am going to be relentless on book blogs and literary sites. If you found this site from a spammish link I have left somewhere, remember that it is never too late to start NaJuReMoNoMo. All you have to do is finish reading a novel by the end of the month.

And if you have a blog that does book reviews or know someone with one, either drop a hint or pass it on to me and I will make a nuisance of myself. Get the word out this year and next year will be even bigger than ever. We’ll get mainstream media attention and in-store promotion from BigBoxOfBooks and OtherBigBoxOfBooks. Maybe even prizes, but don't hold your breath.

Once you have read the novel, you are entitled to post this spiffy badge on your page. Either cut and paste the image or insert the code.

style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100"
src="" border="0"
alt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>

And since my mad graphix skilz are woefully inadequate, anyone with real talent (I’m looking at you, Dave) is welcome to improve on it. Just leave comments or links or e-mail and we can talk. If I were anywhere decent at it, I would have all sorts of buttons and badges and blinking doo-dads. But I’d rather spend my January reading novels.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Hook Up

Major plot developments in Liz Patterson's love life tend to occur around the holidays. For quite awhile Liz would run into Anthony at holiday parties and his life kept getting more complicated. He married Evil Theresé and had a kid and still kept making muppet moon eyes at his childhood almost-fling.

Two Christmases ago, Flyboy Warren took Liz up to Mtickitacki to see Paul and she says of the rivalry between the two that Paul had won. This triumph was short lived since Paul moved on once Liz fled back home.

This year Anthony gets taken to Christmas dinner at Mike and Deanna’s new digs (which is a result of the fire last Christmas Eve, my how time flies). Rather than dropping Liz off at her apartment, Anthony drives her home. Take that anyway you want.

It’s hard to believe that thirty years after Joanie Caucus and Rick Redfern did the dirty in Doonesbury, comic strip characters still play coy. At least the long running debate over the state of little Lizzie’s chastity will finally end. Or will it?

Lord, just hook these two up, run the wedding special, and be done with it already. It’s not like we don’t know they haven’t done it already. Little Francie must know by now where all that headboard knocking is coming from once she's put to bed.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is this latest development the other shoe dropping or just more reason to bang the head on the table?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Last Christmas Tree

It hit me in early December that this was to be the last full Christmas season that my son would have with us. After he starts college, he will be coming home on breaks, but it won’t be the same. For one thing, we don’t want to put up a huge tree display anymore. So this year, we spent an unusually amount of deference to his wishes for Christmas. Many years we put up an artificial tree that we’ve had for a long time. Years where we were away for most of the season, we have done without a tree at all. This year he wanted a real tree, but didn’t want to go to the trouble of stalking a tree out in the woods like some bloggers I know.

We went to BigBoxOfLumber and looked over their rapidly diminishing stock and found a tree that wasn’t too tall, but was still full enough to avoid references to Charlie Brown. My son in a fit of bravado single-handedly carried it through the door and into the loving room, just to make like of my complaints about its weight. Once set up I did the annual checking of the lights and patiently replaced any burned out bulbs. For all the trouble that is, I think buying all new lights every year is the way to go.

We also used this opportunity to do a triage pass through the ornaments. Twenty years of marriage and twelve years with a teacher as a spouse can collect some truly hideous examples. Anything made of pipe cleaners or with magic marker labeling went. Ornaments with a connection to my son went in a separate box to serve as a starter set for if and when he has his own tree.

(click on image for a barely readable version)

The ornaments that made the cut for tree hanging were the ones that either commemorated an event or a place or a special memory. The hardest one to hang was the English Cocker Spaniel that my wife had hand colored to match the markings of our dog. He is watching us from Doggie Heaven this year. An a brighter note, at my son’s insistence, The Defiant made its return to the tree after several years of being vetoed by my wife as too geeky. The concept of a Star Trek ornament itself is nerdy enough, but this one has blinking running lights that plug into the tree lights.

Last night my son, who has been threatening to bake Santa some chocolate chip cookies since he knows those are my least favorite, instead left out egg nog and slices of raw sugar cookie dough. I went down to inspect that the snacks had been placed where Santa could find them. My son yelled down to check on me and I could only reply with a muffled “Mmmmph.” Needless to say, Santa enjoyed his snack. A kid is only a kid once, but Christmas will always bring out the kid in anyone.

Merry Christmas To Family and Friends,
Real and Virtual

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Gong

The other morning I picked up on my front steps a large four page glossy flier for something called the Holiday Wonders Show presented by New Tang Dynasty Television and featuring the Divine Performing Arts Group. Intrigued by the colorful brochure and a professional looking website, my wife ordered tickets for the whole family.

Even before we went to China last summer, our family has enjoyed seeing touring groups of Chinese dancers and acrobats. This looked very similar to ones we had seen before and for the most part it was. The dance troupe featured a couple of dozen young talented Chinese American performers that presented a wide variety of ethnic dances, some in styles that we had never seen before. The dance where all the women have a stack of three ordinary Chinese soup bowls stack on their head for the entire number is particularly impressive.

The audience (which barely half-filled the Lyric Opera House) was at least 60% Chinese and each act was introduced by a bilingual pair of MCs. The only Christmasy or holiday-ish feature of the show was the stage patter of this couple. At one point the guy came out in a Santa suit and towards the end of the show they mentioned that the holiday season stretches until Chinese New Year in February.

Ticket prices were fairly high, well into Rockettes Holiday Spectacular or Broadway touring company prices, so I was expecting some spectacle. The costumes were stunning. Each traditional number featured bright colorful highly detailed traditional dress. These compared favorably with a very extravagant dinner show we had seen in Xian, China at a Tang Dynasty theme park. Rather than sets, they used stunning impressionistic projection screens of Chinese scenery and landmarks. The projections had some animation within them and reminded me of the similar concept used in the Broadway production of The Woman In White.

While the overall production met my expectations for a touring show, what I didn’t expect was the frequent and occasionally rather blatant promotion of Falun Gong. The only reference in the promotional material to this persecuted Buddhist sect was a Falun Dala banner in the lobby. Within the show, at least three of the production numbers referenced directly or indirectly Falun Gong beliefs. In one scene, a pair of mohawked punks find a decrepit temple and the statues come to life. One of the beautifully dressed temple idols gives the boys a religious book that they read with fascination while the Buddhist statues dance around them.

The other two modern-dance influenced bits were less discrete. Black-clad jack-booted thugs with red sickles on their backs harassed and beat the conservatively dressed common people until they drove the villains off in a show of choreographed non-violent solidarity. The music and dance style for these acts was far more influenced by West Side Story than Peking Opera.

Between the dance pieces there were also several soloists that sang beautiful songs in Chinese that, as the translated lyrics shown on the backdrop said, warned oppressors that they would get their due in heaven. Since the show is produced by overseas Chinese that support Falun Gong, it was clear just which oppressors were being called out.

My overall impression of the show was very mixed. I appreciated the high production values but was a little dismayed to have spent so much money to be subjected to obvious proselytization and propoganda. This show is currently being staged in New York and is also on tour to other cities such as St. Petersburg, Minneapolis, and Boston. After Christmas, the name of the show changes to Chinese New Year Spectacular, but I suspect most of the show remains the same. According to their website, the show is also slated for Japan, Europe, Australia and Canada. If you like this sort of ethnic showcase, enjoy the production, but be aware that the group supporting the show has a hidden message and agenda.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Very Special Episodes

How fast they grow up. It seems just a little while ago that Jamie Lynn Spears was in the running to be Teenage Girl President and now she is Teenage Girl Pregnant. Taking the career ending move that Vanessa Hudgens pioneered one step further, she announced that she will be having a kid on or about her seventeenth birthday.

Back in the day, family shows like Facts of Life, Blossom, and ALF used to have Very Special Episodes where kids learned important facts about serious issues. Modern tweener shows on Nickelodeon and Disney steer away from controversial topics and focus more on “problems” like lying to your parents and not getting your homework done on time.

In order to provide a more realistic set of issues I propose some Very Special Episodes for some current shows popular with the tweener set:

Zoey 101 – Zoey’s new boyfriend (guest star Zac Efron) talks Zoey into one night of sex to prove he isn’t gay, but she ends up pregnant. The rest of the season is spent with her hilariously hiding her condition from her friends until in the series finale double episode her water breaks on prom night. There may be some copyright issues to iron out.

Suite Life of Zack and Cody – The school wrestling coach singles out Zack for extra practices because he claims that Zack has a good shot at the state championship. Cody is bringing by a homework assignment when he accidentally sees what moves the coach is really teaching. Meanwhile, Maddie and London have been using empty hotel rooms to film amateur porn with Mr. Moseby.

Life With Derek – The whole family is excited when Derek shows a sudden interest in Chemistry class. Casey finds a grocery store receipt with psuedophedrine and batteries on it and realize what sort of experiments he is really doing in the basement. Meanwhile, Lizzie accidentally does a Google Search for “Jordan Todosey naked” and ends up here .

Hannah Montana - Hannah goes on tour with the Nickelodeon rivals Josh and Drake. When she returns, she starts acting strange and drinking heavily. Thinking that she is hiding something, Lilly and Oliver search Miley’s purse only to find a bottle of Valtrex. They both get real nervous. Hilarity ensues.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Pitch your own ideas for an episode.

Update (4/30/2008): For more tweener Very Special Episodes, see the Miley Cyrus inspired sequels.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Al Franken Decade

Al Franken was the subject of a long piece in today's Washington Post about how he is having to cut back on the political satire in order to be taken seriously as a politician. He has had a long career in comedy including a archetypally bad SNL-based movie featuring his Stuart Smalley character. He has also written several books taking pointed jabs at blowhard right-wing radio and television pundits before becoming a laconic left-wing Air America pontificator himself. But I first remember him in December of 1979 in a segment on Weekend Update with Jane Curtin:
Well, the "me" decade is almost over, and good riddance, and far as I'm concerned. The 70's were simply 10 years of people thinking of nothing but themselves. No wonder we were unable to get together and solve any of the many serious problems facing our nation. Oh sure, some people did do some positive things in the 70's - like jogging - but always for the wrong reasons, for their own selfish, personal benefit. Well, I believe the 80's are gonna have to be different. I think that people are going to stop thinking about themselves, and start thinking about me, Al Franken.

That's right. I believe we're entering what I like to call the Al Franken Decade. Oh, for me, Al Franken, the 80's will be pretty much the same as the 70's. I'll still be thinking of me, Al Franken. But for you, you'll be thinking more about how things affect me, Al Franken. When you see a news report, you'll be thinking, "I wonder what Al Franken thinks about this thing?", "I wonder how this inflation thing is hurting Al Franken?" And you women will be thinking, "What can I wear that will please Al Franken?", or "What can I not wear?" You know, I know a lot of you out there are thinking, "Why Al Franken?" Well, because I thought of it, and I'm on TV, so I've already gotten the jump on you.

So, I say let's leave behind the fragmented, selfish 70's, and go into the 80's with a unity and purpose. That's what I think. I'm Al Franken.
Two girls I knew in high school took him literally and decided that they would do their part for the Al Franken Decade. Back in the early 80s, before the internet, stalking becoming a fan of a minor celebrity was much harder. They wrote some fan letters and then took to harassing calling the NBC switchboard until they put them through to Al Franken's office. After a few calls, they earned his trust enough that he appointed them co-presidents of his fan club. The calls became a weekly event and the girls would invite friends over to say "hi" to Al. I once mumbled something incoherent enough to stun him into silence, but that was my only direct contact with him. It was these two sophomore girls that did all the heavy lifting.

As the fan club officers, their duties included sending out the replies to the other fan letters he had gotten. He sent them a huge envelope with the mail and a bunch of signed black and white headshot glossies of himself. For most of the fans, he just signed generic messages. For the fan club girls he personalized them with witty messages. One read:
Let's have
sex again
real soon.
Al Franken
This is when they realized that they had never quite gotten around to telling Al that they were sixteen-year-old high school students. And they realized they would never be able to display that picture anywhere their parents would be able to see it.

Now that Al has moved on from being a coke-snorting writer of a late night sketch comedy to candidate for national political office (not really that much of a direction change) some enterprising muckraker could hunt down these youthful fans that are now in middle-age like me and dig up some dirt. But I don't think anything from over 25 years ago can count as a scandal since the 80s were a time of open indulgence. And Al Franken. Afterall, it was his decade.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What fan group have you ever been involved with?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Waitresses

Two of my favorite blogs, Midvale School For The Gifted Alumni Association (I have a MVSFTG tee shirt, and now that my wife is no longer a G&T teacher, I can wear it more often) and A Little Night Music (or is it Dance As Though No One Is Watching, I get confused), are linking to Christmas tunes all through December. I love listening to them while I am blogging or paying bills. So thanks to HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything and The Mistress of the Dark for brightening my holiday season. In the spirit of giving back, this is my favorite Christmas song which is by the archetypal 80s one-and-a-half hit wonder band The Waitresses:

Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Christmas time is about the only time to ever hear The Waitresses on the radio, so that makes the season doubly special. They also did the theme song to the Square Pegs, the too-cool-to-last 80s high school show that showcased Sarah Jessica Parker long before she started having sex in the city. And that show STILL is not out on DVD yet. Maybe next Christmas.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite obscure holiday song and/or forgotten 80s band?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quick Hits

To break my blogger-block, here are some quick hits to refresh the feed:

Led Zeppelin is reuniting with 87.5% of the genetic material of the original line-up. If a friend had seats either on the floor or in the first 10 rows of the lower bowl, how much would you pay to see them play?
"Torqueberto" Gonzales has been named Lawyer Of The Year by the American Bar Association. In other news, Michael Vick has been named Pet Owner Of The Year and Lindsay Lohan is Motor Trend's Driver Of The Year.
The definition of chutzpah: Drew Peterson, the former cop whose fourth wife disappeared after she wouldn’t eat her toadstools, has set up a website for donations so that his kids can have presents this Christmas.
Jessica Alba is now added to the list of celebrity MILFs-to-be that failed to include me in their plans to start a family. I feel like revoking her Hottest Movie Stripper award.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What scary street corner preacher does Robert Plant resemble in that photo?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

BooksFirst - November 2007

Books Bought
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

Books Heard
I Am America (And So Can You) written and read by Stephen Colbert

Books Read
Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

This edition of BooksFirst is late because of the loss in my family and because I didn’t really finish reading any books in November. I completed both books listed here last night, but I’m counting them towards November anyways.

Normally I eschew abridged audiobooks. If I’m going to listen to a book, I want to hear every word. For the I Am America book I made an exception because one of the conceits of the book is that Stephen Colbert didn’t actually write the book, since he hates book. Instead he claims to have dictated it and sent it to the publisher to turn into a book. It shows.

Part of the advantage of the audiobook is that you get that smarmy Colbert delivery. And at over three hours, a little Colbert goes a long way. He has guest readers as well, but it's hard to identify who is doing what bit. Each chapter is a single red meat topic that he attacks with his “modest proposal” deadpan satire. This approach works more effectively on some topics than others. The chapter on Hollywood is side-splittingly funny. The chapter on/against illegal immigration is too close to actual Republican talking points to be inherently funny. Maybe that says more about the xenophobic state of affairs than the humor potential of the topic.

I read the Harry Potter books out of order just to drive Potterheads nuts. If you remember my review of Deathly Hallows, I took a lot of grief in the comments for skipping the middle five books. My son’s favorite book in the series is the fourth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so I decided to tackle that one next. I intended to just breeze through it like I had the first and seventh, but it just dragged out. I found it hard to read more than a chapter or two a night. Towards the end as the action picked up, I got more engrossed and knocked off the last quarter in just a few sittings.

I’m figuring out that the books follow a formula of several hundred pages of clever detail about the events going on around Hogwarts. Some of this is integral to the plot, some is just funny episodes scattered about for window dressing. Then there is a hundred pages of real action involving the latest threat to Harry followed up with about fifty pages of wrap up that explains the clues, macguffins, and red herrings that had been sprinkled about the first part of the book.

J. K. Rowling is a genius with character names and jargon and also writes clever dialog in a variety of voices (I really wish Goblet of Fire had more scenes with those sexily voiced Beauxbatons). The plots are deceptively intricate in that all the odd filler sounding parts do tie-in in some way. I still think you could trim these books by at least a third and not lose any of the magic.

Incidentally, the version of Goblet that I read was a British trade paperback my son bought at Waterstones in London several years ago. It is nowhere near the weight of the doorstop hardback American edition. The only Britishism I kept stumbling on was the odd spelling of "pyjamas".

Speaking of both magic and audiobooks, my previous exposure to Terry Pratchett was as audiobooks. I had listened to both The Thief of Time and Small Gods and enjoyed them immensely. Earlier this year I had read Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, and felt that it was more Pratchett than Gaiman, but still very good. One of the problems with Pratchett is that his vast body of work is a daunting barrier to entry. Recently I stumbled onto his official site which had a good guide to the entire series and all the minor subthreads that run through the oeuvre. I went out and bought a couple recently so I could get a representative sample. I included the first Discworld book just so that I could compare the later books with the first entry.

The Color of Magic is a good introduction to Pratchett’s satirical world because it is a episodic picaresque tour of the world literally to its very edge. It also features recurring character Rincewind, the universe’s most incompetent wizard. Each of the four chapters is a stand-alone adventure that satirizes a different fantasy sub-genre. I clearly identified the references to Friz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, the Stormbringer series, and the Perniverse. I had to go to Wikipedia to catch that there were also digs at Lovecraft. Wikipedia also tipped off me to the fact that The Light Fantastic is the continuation of the story. I may have to go back and get that one since the ending of this volume does not end in a neat tidy manner even by Pratchett standards. The book is not nearly as funny as the more directly satiric later books, but it shows that all the elements were in place.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Remembering Grandma


Grandmothers are the gold standard of relatives. Their love is unconditional. Their generosity boundless. Their affection undying.

My grandmother was all these. As a kid I always looked forward to the week or two with my grandmother. While my grandfather gave me yard chores, my grandmother took me to the science center. She taught me cribbage. She was always up to Scrabble® even though she never seemed to win. And the baking. While Jewish grandmothers have the “eat, eat, eat” reputation, my grandmother could give any bubbie a run for her money.

During my college years she became logistically and emotionally my closest relative while my father was stationed in Italy. For Thanksgiving she became the default destination. When some medical tests made me too ill to attend class, she dropped everything and drove from Huntsville to Atlanta to care for me for a week. She was a nurse by training, but her care came coated in comfort. She cooked for me and became housemother for both me and my roommate.

Inspired by her hospitality, I embarked on a career of mooching Thanksgiving dinners from indulgent relatives. For many years I trekked annually on the busiest travel weekend of the year from Baltimore to Boston just to be with her and my New England relatives. These were more than holiday meal, they were a weekend of activities and traditions including candlepins and concerts and chili. When she became too ill to travel, I transferred my attentions to equally generous but much more geographically desirable relatives, but I still fondly recall the Boston Bacchanals as the ultimate family feasts.

It was just a week after Thanksgiving that my father called to warn me that she had taken a turn for the worse. The next morning he called to tell me that she had passed away in her sleep after 94 years of event-filled living. She was born while automobiles and airplanes were still in their infancy. In his tear-filled eulogy my father related that her family was the first in their town with an indoor flush toilet. As a newlywed she sent her husband off to fight World War II while she raised a family. My grandfather’s career both in and out of the military took them Florida to Alaska, from California to Massachusetts, and even to Japan. She had four children that are scattered up and down the eastern seaboard, but are knitted together with a bond stronger than love.

My grandmother was tireless and seemingly timeless. I never saw her age or grow tired. When I last saw her in July she had somehow become weak, frail, and forgetful. She was a shell of the vibrant woman that had watched me grow up, marry, and start a family of my own. Even in her infirmity she was cheerful and glad for the company.

Now that she is gone, her legacy is the love of her four children, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandkids. She lives on in each and everyone of us.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Life Intrudes

National Blog Posting Month Day 30

Today is the last day of National Blog Posting Month and I had a mental draft of a clever witty synopsis of the whole phenomenon and how it has changed my life, improved my outlook, and made my teeth brighter.

At 6 am this morning, my father called and said that my grandmother had passed away. This was neither sudden nor unexpected. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in June and had been resting at home until Tuesday when she had to be moved to a nursing home.

I dare not even begin to detail or chronicle the many wonderful ways, both large and small, that she had impacted my life for the better. Let it suffice to say that she was nobler and kinder than anyone not a grandparent could possibly be.

Now that I have fulfilled my contractual obligations I will take care of the many logistical and emotional challenges ahead. Until then, thanks for the support of my many friends, real and imaginary.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lucky Pearls of Wisdom

National Blog Posting Month Day 29

Lucky Cow - 05/30/07

Pearls Before Swine - 11/28/07

Click on images for bigger version.

Pretty much says it all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

iTunes Info

National Blog Posting Month Day 28

I got this meme from Blogography who traffics in only the highest quality memes. I'm very proud of my iTunes library which is nearly all completely legal.

One weird quirk of iTunes is that it places numbers at the end of the alphabet instead of before it. I also wish that it was smart enough to alphabetize by last name and band name without "The". I had a dBase compatible catalog a long, long time ago that I customized and it was able to put Bruce Springsteen between Spandau Ballet Steely Dan.

It annoys me that the Gracenote database is not smart enough to know that AC/DC is the same band as AC-DC. I also hate that iTunes places all the collaborations as separate artists. Jimmy Buffet's License To Chill album has a bunch of different duets that shows up as eight different artists. Mega-annoying.

Enough bitching about iTunes, here's the meme:

How many total songs?
6050 items including podcast episodes and books on CD chapters. They aren't all unique since I buy a lot of 80s music one-hit wonder collections, so I end up with duplicates that I'm too lazy to eliminate.

Sort by song title - first and last...
"A.D. 1928" by Styx to "78% H2O" by Ani DiFranco

Sort by time - shortest and longest...
"Wherever" by Ani DiFranco and "{Silence}" by The Dixie Chicks tied at 7 seconds
"False Echoes" by Jimmy Buffet at 15:55 barely edges out "Telegraph Road" by Dire Straits. I don’t count a 30 minute hidden track on Oh No by OK Go.

Sort by Album - first and last...
Abbey Road by The Beatle to 80s Movie Hits.

Sort by Artist - first and last...

a-ha is first, and 4-Non Blondes is last.

Top five played songs...
They’re all tracks off of Bruce Springsteen’s new Magic album. For some reason the track count keeps resetting itself, so I don't really trust those numbers.

Find the following words. How many songs show up?
Sex: 10
Death: 20 but 11 are Death Cab for Cutie tracks
Love: 328
You: 781
Home: 58
Boy: 125
Girl: 153

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle...
“Long, Long, Long” The Beatles
“I Just Want to Have Something to Do” The Raisins
“Can’t Cry These Tears” Garbage
“Le Bel Age” Pat Benatar
“Good Day Sunshine” The Beatles

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What's on your music player?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance

National Blog Posting Month Day 27

I want to thank everybody for their kind words and sympathy on my memorial for Chessie. The most difficult thing I've ever done was going to the vet that morning. I would have done anything for one more day and one more walk, but I had to do what was best for him, not me.

The hardest part of the loss has been adjusting my habits with him not around. There is emptiness in both my heart and my day. My morning and evening routines revolved around his routines. He had a rhythm and pace. If we were slow in moving upstairs at night he would let us us know it was time to go to bed.

My wife who was always jokingly dismissive of the dog is taking the transition to a pet-free house harder than me. She was the one that spoiled him rotten, teaching him to jump onto the bed and buying him rolls as treats. We had just bought a doggie step stool to help him climb onto the couch that he will now never need.

She can't walk into a room without a flood of tear-welling memories. Our housecleaners have dogs, so we gathered all the pet beds and dog dishes and accessories to give to them. Chessie traveled light and didn’t have a lot of toys or doodads. We are trying to find that fine line between memorializing him without being constantly reminded of his absence. We have saved his collar and the bumblebee costume we dressed him in every Halloween.

One strategy to keep him off our minds has been to keep busy. On Saturday, friends invited us to their family’s late Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was sympathetic and uplifting. We cleaned out the coat closets to have something to do. The outdoor Christmas lights went up in record time without the complications of my always underfoot companion.

It's the little things that keep hitting us. Yesterday we went to OtherBigBoxOfBooks to buy a different calendar to replace the English Cocker Spaniel one we had already bought for the upcoming year. I had to change the wallpaper on my work computer so that I didn’t get hit with a pang of grief every time I minimized Outlook.

I make fun of young newly married couples raising puppies. I call those dogs practice kids. At the other end of the lifespan, pets are also lessons in life. Their limited lifespan makes tragedy inevitable. The death of an animal will never be as tragic as the loss of a loved one or family member, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt any less.

BlatantGriefTherapy™: Tell me a happy story about a pet you've had.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nerd Night

National Blog Posting Month Day 26

When you have a seventeen-year-old son, there are few father-son bonding experiences left to exploit. Fortunately I have found one. On Monday nights, my son and I drive my wife out of the bedroom where the HDTV is and watch two of the nerdiest shows on television back to back.

Since they are both on at the same time on separate networks, it takes the miracle of DVR to make this happen. Sometime between 8:00 and 8:30 we fire up Chuck, skipping commercials, and then roll right into The Big Bang Theory. Chuck was a dark horse on my Show Killer Shortlist but it’s the only one of the four I’m still watching, mostly because it appeals to my kid enough to make it appointment television. Neither show is flawless, but they have something in common that makes them worth watching. See if you can figure it out:

That's right. Both shows have seriously talented actresses that give Meryl Streep a run for her money. Seriously, we watch the shows together for the geek humor as much as for the eye candy. My wife gets a little worried when we are cracking up over some obscure string theory joke. Of the two shows, Big Bang gets the geek right and Chuck teeters a little closer to guilty pleasure territory. The plots on Chuck are hokey and formulaic (Drink a shot whenever someone tells Chuck to stay in the car), but the light-hearted goofiness works in its favor. The endless Moonlighting-lite will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension gets a little sophomoric, but you have to admire a show that puts it’s heroine in pigtails every week.

Big Bang has a little more, well, banging. By my count, three of the four chief geeks have gotten lucky already. Leonard the glum goofball geek’s big score was with fellow physicist Leslie. Leslie is played by out-lesbian Sara Gilbert who was Johnny Galecki’s TV sister girlfriend/sister-in-law/wife on Roseanne which makes the hook-up doubly meta-ironic or just uber-creepy depending on how twisted your sense of humor is. Put me down in the ultra-hilarious camp.

Over on Chuck, neither Chuck nor co-nerd Morgan have gotten past second base, but supporting character gum-snapping quasi-harajuku girl Anna has a past that needs more exploring. Adding to Chuck’s nerd cred is the casting of former Firefly crewmember Adam Baldwin as chief cockblocker John Casey who is a complete 180 degrees different from Jayne Cobb. The slapstick action sequences are barely tolerable, but the endless innuendo keeps things amusing.

Both shows are trying to get a lot of mileage out of nanotube thin premises and part of the fun is figuring out which show will run out of steam first. Until then, my son and I will be chuckling along with every nerdy double entendre.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Elementary My Dear

National Blog Posting Month Day 25

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I've been saving this meme that I found at Doghouse Riley's blog for a day when I really didn't feel like blogging and today is that day.

When I first tested my blog a few days ago it rated as Junior High, so I've slipped a little since then. I'm a afraid to run across a Genius blog out of fear I couldn't even read it.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your level?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Good Dog

National Blog Posting Month Day 24

April 25, 1995 - November 24, 2007

I don’t write about my dog much. I wrote 100 Things About My Dog and about him hunting bread, but I didn’t write a lot of boring things about our everyday routine. Blogs with annoying stories about every cute thing their pet does are tedious.

But my dog was part of my life. And he did a lot of cute things. When we were about to leave the house he would sit at attention at the stair landing and cock his head because he knew we gave him a treat as we walked out the door. He would go upstairs and howl at the bedroom door because he liked the water bowl in our bedroom better than the water bowl in the kitchen.

We went for a walk every morning and I would read the paper while he ate breakfast because he liked company while he ate. He liked company period. He followed me from room to room as I did things in the evening. If I snuck upstairs without waking him up my wife would ask where my shadow was. We would time how long it took for him to realize I was gone and come find me. It usually took just a few minutes.

As he got older he would whimper if I wasn’t around. About three weeks ago the whimpering became so constant that I took him to the vet to get medicine to clear up the skin conditions that seemed to be causing him discomfort. She gave him some pills that cleared up the skin and his attitude perked up. But then he quit eating his dry dog food and I kept having to mix rolls in with it to trick him. Then he started eating just the rolls.

His stomach became distended and yesterday we took him to the vet who took some x-rays. His abdomen was filled with fluid that had drained from metastasized cancer in his chest. The vet said there was less than a 5% chance of being able to treat cancer that advanced successfully. After a night of quiet cuddling with him and one last walk to the elementary school where I always let him run off leash, we took him back to the vet this morning to put him out of his pain. It was quick and peaceful and now we miss him incredibly.

Having a pet is a bargain you make with an animal. You give them food and shelter and they give you loyalty and love. It hardly seems like a fair trade. And when they are gone, all you can do is remember them in your heart. Chessie was better than a friend. He was a good dog. And that is the highest compliment I can pay him.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Day Comics

National Blog Posting Month Day 23

Josh Fruhlinger, THE Comics Curmudgeon, has taken the weekend of to stuff his face full of leftovers. As a public service, I am filling the breach with my own comic strip deconstructions.

What goes together better than turkey and Thanksgiving? Pilgrims and football! Two comic strips pastiche all our great traditions together.

Rhymes With Orange 11/22/07

First, we have sideline footage of the first meeting of the Plimouth Plantation Pilgrims facing off against the Wampanoag Warriors. Goody Elway is calling a Hail Papist Heresy pass.

Bound And Gagged 11/22/07

In addition to stealing maize, cranberries, and lacrosse from the first inhabitants of North America, we also stole the idea of halftime. And it seems the Puritans borrowed the Santa Maria to make their first voyage. And if that is really Christopher Columbus interrupting the big game, shouldn't this cartoon have run last month?

Hat tip to 2fs for recommending me go with comics commentary for a cheap quickie post.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are historical anachronisms inherently funny or just lame?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Back

National Blog Posting Month Day 22

This year my wife made a lateral career move and became a teacher in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. When she arrived in America in 1972 as a seven-year-old child with little English, the only system for immigrant children was the “throw them in the deep end” approach to English immersion. Since then, as a new flood of residents have joined our country, the system has learned how to streamline the assimilation of those not born here. This is her chance to make a difference to kids that are now in the position she was in so many years ago.

In today’s slightly xenophobic atmosphere, ESL (also called ESOL or ELL) is a much misunderstood approach. It is not bilingual education. It can’t be. Among the twenty-five students my wife works with, there are over a dozen nationalities and languages represented. The goal is to get children that don’t have English as their native tongue up to speed in the regular classroom as quickly as possible. Speaking a foreign language is neither mandatory nor necessary to be an ESL teacher, although my wife’s degree in French, her high school Spanish, and some leftover childhood Vietnamese help.

The other day one of her students, a little Vietnamese girl the same age my wife was when she came to the US, insisted on showing my wife her class assignment. The work involved putting different paper feathers on turkey cut outs. The girl had done the assignment fine, but didn’t know what a turkey was. My wife asked if she ever ate turkey at lunch. The girl had always eaten pizza, the universal food, because it was familiar and safe. They looked up “turkey” in a Vietnamese-English dictionary and the literal translation was “American chicken.”

My wife took the girl to the cafeteria where they were putting together a turkey lunch. The cafeteria lady took time to put together a little sampler platter with turkey and the fixings so the girl could try the meal. That day, my wife passed on a small sliver of our American culture to one of our newest members. It’s these small moments that despite the increasing hassle and frustration of being a teacher keeps teaching fresh and rewarding.

Our one true nation holiday celebrates sharing culture and welcoming new people. And it is about more than thanks, it’s also about giving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hitting The Wall

National Blog Posting Month Day 21

IMG_3283About twenty miles into a marathon, runners hit what the call The Wall. The body runs out of fuel and it must begin burning body fat to continue. Runners get an extreme sense of fatigue and struggle to continue. Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never run a marathon.

Twenty days into NaBloPoMo, I’m running out of fuel. Normally I have three or four blog post ideas running around my head. Right now I have one idea for Thanksgiving Day and a meme I’m holding in reserve for when I’m flat out mentally bankrupt.

The difference between blogging four times a week and every day is enormous. I’m constantly preparing a blog entry or thinking about the next one. I have about three hours a day that are mine. One in the morning before work and two in the evening once dinner is cooked and other chores are done. Since a really good blog entry takes me up to two hours to research, write, and edit, that is cutting it thin. Here is what has suffered while I’ve been running this virtual marathon.

Reading. I’m not even half way through the one book I’m trying to read this month, and while it’s physically heavy, the reading isn’t that difficult. It’s just that after a chapter or two, the eyes can’t stay open.

Television. I’m not getting the full benefit of my new DVR because I don’t get time to catch up on the recordings. This weekend I plowed through the backlog of 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother but I still have three weeks of The Office and My Name Is Earl to go through. I figure the writer’s strike is going to give me plenty of time to catch up.

Dog Walking. As my dog gets older, he becomes more and more reluctant to take long walks in the morning. On weekends, we still make it to the site of the bread dump, but on weekdays, it’s a quick jaunt around the block. Especially if it’s rainy of extra cold.

Newspaper Reading. If I’m almost done with a post in the morning, rather than saving a draft and working on it later, I take my breakfast downstairs and rush it out before I have to leave for work. This cuts out the time I have for the front page and the editorials. Some days I don’t even finish the comics. Horrors.

Other Blogs. I feel I'm giving the blogs in my blogroll short shrift. Especially the ones that also post every day. Sometimes I find three or four new posts and even though I would have something witty to say on the older ones, I feel the moment has passed. I haven't even updated my blogroll to the new Masters of Gilligan page.

Romantic Activity. This blog stops at the bedroom door. I’m no Mitch McDad. However, proximity is 90% of seduction. If I’m downstairs in basement tapping out a draft of the next day’s blog and my wife is upstairs reading trashy romance novels, there have to be some missed opportunities happening.

So why am I doing it? To prove I can. But that is the topic for Post 30. I’ve got to pace myself if I’m going to make it to the end.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: I need ideas. Give me some.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ugly Betty Friedan

National Blog Posting Month Day 20 Bonus Post

While I’m doing silly comparisons today, Joel Achenbach has a column on the Achenblog that cites some wingnut survey that declared The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan to be one of the most harmful books of the last two hundred years, up there with Mein Kampf and Das Kapital. Judging by the column and the completely looney commenters, these folks would have problems with any books not written by Fox News talk show hosts.

Besides, I think Betty Friedan looks a little like another Betty trying to enjoy the fruits of the feminist revolution:

Beauty is in they eye of the beholder. And the idea that women are the equals of men is one of the least harmful idea of the twentieth century. Methinks the wingnuts want to turn back the calendar a few decades. Perhaps even centuries.

Pretty Portman

National Blog Posting Month Day 20

Maybe I'm a little too worked up about Natalie Portman doing a nude scene for Wes Anderson in a 17 minute prequel for The Darjeeling Limited called Hotel Chevalier. And I still fondly remember her work as a movie stripper in Closer. So when I saw the movie poster for squeaky clean kiddie movie Mr Magorium's Magic Emporium, I was reminded of the pose by that famous movie hooker.

Yeah, It's just me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

3D: The Eyes Have It

National Blog Posting Month Day 19

I don’t do a lot of movie reviews here on Foma because not only am I not very good at it, there are a lot of people that do it very well. I saw Beowulf this weekend up in Pennsylvania and the Stephen Hunter review in the Washington Post is very good. There is no way I could match a line like "Ma is Angelina Jolie as interpreted by someone who apprenticed by doing airbrush portraits on custom Harley gas tanks." For a ordinary viewer’s opinion, Ivansmom at the Achenboodle sums up my opinions pretty well.

What I will discuss is the technical features of the movie. I had seen The Polar Express in 3D Imax a few years ago and was a little creeped out by the woodenness of technology. Part of my desire to see Beowulf had improved the state of the art. My other purely prurient reason was to see if it was possible to make Angelina Jolie look hotter than she does in real life.


I was tipped off to the movie over a year ago when Neil Gaiman discussed it while at Balticon. He mentioned that the motion capture software had been improved by at least two generations. In particular he mentioned the eyes. The eyes in Polar Express were cold and soulless and made all the characters look like zombies. In Beowulf, not only are the eyes much, much better, they actually do some extreme close-ups just to show off the verisimilitude.

Hair and skin

Hair and skin are the bane of CG movies. That is why Pixar tends to stick to things like toys and cars that are supposed to be shiny and smooth. In Beowulf, the male characters tend to be suitably craggy and hirsute. The female characters and the queen in particular still suffer from a botoxed Princess Fiona sheen.


The real irony of motion capture animation is that it tries to be realistic, but the point of animation is to do things that can’t be filmed in real life. In Spiderman 2, anytime Spidey had his hood on, I feared I was watching a cartoon instead of an actor. And it looked it. In Beowulf, the level of detail keeps shifting back and forth.

Motion Capture

The alleged advantage of motion capture and rotoscoping is too add a level of realism pure animation can’t attain. Even with the finest actors lit up like a Christmas tree and Tron, they can’t capture everything. Every now and then a “character” will jerk around like an extra in a Thunderbirds puppet movie.


Three-D is and always will be a gimmick. The scriptwriters of anything 3D always think of as many was as possible of having things point or fly at the viewer. This always breaks the forth wall and disrupts the suspension of disbelief.

Depth of Field

A problem related to 3D imaging is that the “camera” seems to have an infinite depth of field. This ends up making the screen have a layered look that reminds me of prismatic books I used to read as a kid. When the background is as sharp as the spear pointing out over the audience, the emphasis becomes fuzzy instead of the scenery.

Peripheral Vision

The Imax screen has its own issues. The screen is so huge, it’s hard to see everything going on at once. In particular, things in the foreground at the edge of the screen catch the eye. At times the glasses (especially, if like me, you have to wear them over regular glasses) don’t cover enough of the field of vision to avoid fuzzy artifacts at the edge of you field of vision.

I really liked Beowulf, especially the meta-epic subtext that questions the entire mythmaking process. The motion capture technology is really maturing fast. Animation lets directors tidy up even Angelina Jolie’s few flaws. Her fluid gold skin is really no more revealing than Mystique in the X-Men movies, which is to say she is easy on the eyes. And the eyes are the windows to the soul.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Will CGI ever get so good it will replace real actors?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Imax In Demand

National Blog Posting Month Day 18

This weekend was time for the Fall Philly Road Trip. Last year we went to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair. This year we went to catch Beowulf in Imax 3D. My son began broadly hinting that he wanted to take some friends to see the movie a week or so ago.

We usually take him out to a fancy steak dinner for getting a good report card, but we decided a road trip with three of his friends was an excellent alternative. Since none of the vehicles in our current fleet will fit six, I got a Grand Caravan for the day and we all hit the road. And just so we didn’t neglect the steak part of the tradition, we hit Pat’s in South Philly to school the kids in what real cheesesteaks taste like. They all agreed they were infinitely better than the pale imitation the school cafeteria serves.

But why did I rent a minivan and drive two hours to see what is showing just down the street? Because the closest theater with an Imax screen is in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, home of what must be the biggest mall on the eastern seaboard.

I can’t believe that the greater Washington/Baltimore area can’t support a commercial Imax theater. There is no shortage of museum affiliated screens including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the Udvar-Hazy Center, and the Maryland Science Center here in Baltimore. Some of these dabble in commercial releases after hours, but none show them on a regular basis.

A few years ago while killing time during the holidays down in Tampa we caught The Polar Express in 3D Imax at the otherwise nearly deserted Channelside Complex. If Tampa can support an Imax theater, I don’t know why this area can’t. You expect to find Imax theaters in big cities like New York, San Francisco, and Dallas, but according to Wikipedia, other US cities with commercial Imax screens include Nashville, Fresno, Colorado Springs, West Palm Beach, Boise, and dozens of others.

The movie chains need to get a clue and tap a market that demands it. If I can drive a hundred miles to see an Imax movie, think of the thousands that would drive across town.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Would you pay more to see a movie in Imax? Would you drive a hundred miles?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Hour Hijinks

National Blog Posting Month Day 17

Never let anyone convince you that teachers can’t party. One of the schools my wife works at has a happy hour party every Friday. Last night it was at one of the teacher’s house in Arbutus. Let’s see what I remember:

Mai tai
Pomegranate martini
Another pomegranate martini
Three or four mudslide shots
Jello shooter

And I met a lady that truly can tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. I had hitherto thought that was just a sleight of hand parlor trick. Now I’m a believer that it can be done. Not sure what value that skill has, but it does fascinate people.

There is also one disappointed husband out there. He had stayed at home to watch their seven and four year olds while his wife, Teacher A, stopped by the party. Teacher B stole her cell phone and started hot-texting the husband in guise of Teacher A. The first message was “If you’re not up when I get home, you soon will be.” His reply was “Oh my!” It went downhill from there. At one point I was looking the wrong way to catch a particularly spicy cell phone picture being taken.

Unfortunately for her husband, Teacher A was just a little too shnockered to drive home and deliver on any implicit promises made on her behalf. Fortunately for me, my wife is a very dedicated designated driver. On the way home, she noticed that my drivers side mirror had been clipped just enough to spiderweb the mirror. Having some experience with mirror replacement during my son’s student driver days, I know this will exceed my deductible but not be worth filing a claim for. Makes for a very expensive happy hour.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How was your Friday night?