Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jack of Too Many Trades

Know what I dislike about the various CSI shows? Their tendency to compress an entire chain of command in order to expedite the plot. The forensic investigator becomes the interrogator, the arresting officer, and in tonight's case the sniper who takes out a terrorist bomb-laden truck. It's not enough that they compress time, having investigator's complete DNA tests in minutes or hours rather than days or weeks; now they're turning these forensics specialists into one-man SWAT teams. Sure, real police work may not be as exciting--but it'd be nice to see something approaching reality in the depiction of a forensics investigator's duties...

I Can Remember It For You

Yesterday's UPS delivery brought a copy of the DVD-A of David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, one of the half-dozen best albums of all time. Stephen Barncard has been working on the surround-sound mix of this disc for quite a while, and I had pretty much given up hope that it would ever see release. Thankfully, Atlantic Records proved me wrong and put this classic album out in a two-fer package--one disc, a remixed version of the CD, the other a surround-sound mix on DVD-A.

Once it arrived, I decided it was time to run some errands so that I could listen to the disc in the Acura RL. When the first bars of "Music Is Love" began, I was concerned; the sound was front-channel heavy, with virtually nothing but ambient reverb in the rear channel. My worries were assuaged, though, as the song developed and Barncard began to open up the rear sound field a bit, bringing in guitars and vocals.

From there on, the disc opened up. "Cowboy Movie" is full-bodied with a wide-open field, using each speaker the way they should be used. "Tamalpais High" and "Laughing" are wonderful mixes, enveloping the listener in sound.

The real gems, though, are the final three pieces: "Song With No Words," "Orleans," and "I'd Swear There Was Somebody There." Two of the three are wordless, using David Crosby's rich voice as an instrument; the middle song is an old musical mnemonic device that is actually nothing more than a list of cathedrals. Crosby turns it into a harmonic litany that is an aural delight.

The Beatles and David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name in surround sound on the same week--what more could I ask for musically?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Deaths Come in Threes

I wrote about this before, and lo and behold if it didn't work out just that way.

Earlier this week, Jerry Bails died. Were it not for Jerry and his work that led to the creation of comics fandom and comics fanzines, I doubt that I'd own a comic shop or be doing Comic Shop News today.

Today came the news that Dave Cockrum died. Dave hasn't been active in comics for a while, but there was a time when he was a major force in the industry, before his health woes forced him to move to the sidelines. I saw Cockrum at Heroes Con and he seemed to be struggling; I knew that life had dealt him a bad hand, but I hadn't realized his problems had escalated in severity to this extent.

Talking about "death coming in threes" seems to, in some way, diminish the significance of these deaths, and that's not my intent. Of course, I sincerely hope the truism doesn't hold true...

Making a List, Checking It Twice...

Every year, Dad and Kim ask me to give them a Christmas list so that they'll know what to get that I don't already have. For some reason, there's a misconception among my family and friends that I instantly buy everything could possibly want, leaving nothing for gifts. That's wrong, of course; I'm actually quite easy to shop for and I'm sure that there are things don't have that I'd like to receive as gifts.

To give in to my family's quirks, I'm actually listing some things that I would certainly enjoy seeing under the Christmas tree--although I'm always open to surprises!

Those of you who aren't a part of my family, feel free to skip the rest of the post--move along now, nothing to see here...
•Meat Loaf's new album - Bat Out of Hell 3 (CD)
•Dark Chocolate - I like rich dark chocolates, although when the cocoa content goes about 70%, it begins to border on excessively bitter even for me
•All-cotton knit shirts - pullover long-sleeve size M in dark earth tones (browns, golds, rusts, dark greens, tans); round neck or v neck - as the folks who work with me know, I rarely wear button-up shirts and never have enough pull-over shirts
Sting - Songs from the Labyrinth CD
•Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season DVD Set (scheduled for release on DVD 12/5/2006)
24 - Season Five (scheduled for release on DVD 12/5/2006)
•Lindsey Buckingham - Under the Skin (CD)
Seinfeld Season 7 DVD Set
•Mixed nuts--I prefer 'em without peanuts, and am particularly partial to pecans, cashews, and almonds, but have little appreciation for Brazil nuts
Boston Legal Season 2 DVD Set
•Lighter-weight leather gloves - medium (I have some heavy, thick leather gloves wth a lot of insulation, but I could use some a little thinner when it's not super-cold, and leather is better for driving because it doesn't slide across a leather steering wheel the way knit gloves do)
•A rechargable cordless screwdriver (because Brett mocked my little bitty cordless screwdriver... and alas, it has so little power it's defeated by too many screws already)
How I Met Your Mother Season 1 DVD Set
•A 2007 Acura MDX with sport+technology package, grey exterior, black interior, with running boards and musiclink connector (just seeing if you were still reading)

And then there are those things I'd like to have, but they're almost impossible to find and I don't know where to begin looking--things that are on that list we all have of "dream items" that will remain dreams only, such as
•The first six issues of Witzend, which I had once but lost years ago when I loaned them to someone who never returned them, alas
•A Man from UNCLE gun set - pistol, rifle extension sight, shoulder stock, shoulder holster, etc. - I had one when I was a child, but it disappeared at some point in my teenage years
•Aurora Monster Models - why did they ever stop making these things?
•A copy of the Joe Sinnott illustrated biography of the Beatles published back in the mid-1960s; my copy is literally worn out from hundreds of childhood readings

And people say I'm tough to shop for!...

Where There's Smoke...

On Thanksgiving Day, we went to Kim's house to enjoy the holiday with our family. Kim's Thanksgiving Day feasts have grown with each passing year, and this year was the largest yet: too much food for the kitchen and the dining room table, and too many people to be seated in one room. The guests included someof the family of my niece's boyfriend and some of the family of my nephew's wife.

I noticed that several of the folks would go out onto the patio to smoke. I was glad they were outside; I would have been more glad were they not smoking at all. I am perhaps the most adamant, militant anti-smoker you'll ever find. Not only do I personally object to its offensive smell and its addictive nature, but I also remember what it did to Mom, who died from emphysema caused by decades of smoking before evidence made it clear how damaging the habit could be.

Then I noticed that one of the smokers was my niece, Jess.

I was sad and confused and disturbed. Jess was with us at Mom's bedside when she gasped her last breath before leaving a life that had become horribly painful as her body failed her. She knows what caused that death, and she knows that almost every one of Mom's sisters and brothers has succumbed to emphysema--a sure sign that our family carries a genetic predisposition for this horrible disease. And here's Jess, a member of our family, engaging in a foul and self-destructive habit that could some day put her in the same place where Mom was.

Jess is an adult now, and she gets to make her choices... but this is a choice I wish she'd reconsider.

I said something to her briefly, but she didn't respond; I'm not even sure that she heard the comment, to be honest, since someone else said something at the same time. And now I'm trying to find a way to reintroduce the subject to her.

I'd really like for Jess to live a long time--and should she have a husband and children, I hope that they never have to feel as horrible as Dad and we did as we watched a beloved woman die as a result of an incurable and untreatable illness. And I feel like not saying anything would be condoning the wrong choice...

Write On

"Do you think that professional writers don't just write things for fun?"

Whitney's question arose from a conversation we were having at the store. She had remarked that her mom didn't understand writers; I asked for details, and she told me that her mother seemed confused by the posting of a new short story at the Tanith Lee website (Whitney's a big Lee fan). Whitney's mom couldn't figure out why an author would post a story without a means of making money from it; Whitney interpreted that as an inability to understand the writer's desire to write and have fun at it.

Then I suspect I rained on her parade with my point of view. "I don't think professional writers ever write just for fun. Once they're professionals, they're always aware of the fact that this is what they do for a living. Tanith Lee posted her story on line, but I'll bet you she has plans to sell that story or include it in a collection that she will sell at some point. "

Whitney looked disappointed. We're at different points in a lifetime of writing--Whitney still enjoys doing the "write a novel in a month" events and hasn't sold words for money thus far (I'm pretty sure she will someday), while I rarely write fiction any more and spend most of my time at a keyboard writing to earn a living. Even when I'm doing "no pay" activities like--well, like this blog!--I still think of them on a professional level. I'm not doing it just for fun; there are other benefits for me as a writer that I hope will extend into my professional work.

I certainly imagine that Lee enjoyed the process of writing the story. I have strong doubts that she wrote it just because she was having fun, though. There's a difference.

And that's what separates the professional from the amateur.

Exit, Stage Wrong...

A tenant in our shopping center is in the process of skipping out on her rent, and I find the whole process both inconsiderate and distasteful.

The tenant in question is the owner of a hair salon called "Whatever It Takes," which may win the award for the absolute worst name for a hair salon I've ever heard--it's saying, more or less, "We'll Do Something No Matter How Butt-Ugly You Are." We knew she was in trouble because we could see that she sometime went for entire days without a single customer (or a married one, either!). It's difficult to make money without customers, I know, but that's a problem with her business plan, not with the landlord...

Friday afternoon, she backed a truck up to the salon and began emptying the place. Thing is, she didn't just take furnishings--she had some guys with her, and they actually took the sinks off the wall. Of course, her lease specifies that once something like a sink is affixed to the store, it becomes property of the landlord, so in doing that she violated her lease.

What made it worse, though, was that the guys who took the sinks out didn't really know what they were doing, so they didn't manage to totally turn off the water through the pipes that were once attached to the sinks. This meant that water continued to drip slowly, gradually creating pools in the floor. Those pools of water are spreading out from one side of the store to the other, and they're seeping under the wall boards separating her space from the businesses on either side of her.

Of course, she doesn't care. She's too busy trying to figure out how to avoid her lease responsibilities to actually think about the tenants around her. It's likely that someone who ignores legal obligations is bound to ignore ethical ones as well.

Apparently, "Whatever It Takes" describes her method of conducting her business as well...

Spoiled for Sound

Drove around in the Acura for a while to listen to The Beatles: Love DVD-Audio in its entirity; it was an almost mystical experience musically, a reintroduction to songs I thought I knew backwards and forwards. Then I came home and decided to listen to the same songs in the house.

First I tired the Sony system, a DVD/SACD system that only plays the standard compressed DVD-Video soundtrack. It seemed a bit lifeless and flat, so I went downstairs and used the Pioneer DVD-A/SACD system. Better, but still less than the Acura. It's sad but true: to hear music the way it was meant to be heard, I have to sit in my car.

Elliot L. Scheiner, the designer of Acura's sound system, has spoiled me for anything else. *sigh*

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Love Those Beatles Songs!

Picked up the deluxe CD+DVD-A package of The Beatles: Love, the remixed-and-mastered soundtrack to the Cirque de Soleil show currently running in Las Vegas. I couldn't care less about the show itself (for some reason, Cirque de Soleil has always appealed to me about as much as Topo Gigio on Ed Sullivan), but the music is astounding. Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles Martin have done all the remixing and mastering, adding one new bit of music--a string accompaniment to the acoustic version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Otherwise, everything you hear on this disc is comprised of tracks taken from the original recordings--but you've never heard them like this before.

Martin & Martin have taken snippets of music and reassembled them in musical layers, building something new out of something old. It's a sort of music sampler, with motifs taken from multiple songs. Bits of "The End" lead into "Get Back"; "Tomorrow Never Knows" motifs work their way into "Within You Without You." It's a fascinating blending of musical snippets, and something that I suspect John Lennon would have loved were he alive to hear it.

What's most compelling, though, is the vitality and presence of the music. I've heard "Within You Without You" hundreds of times--but never until now have I heard the subtleties of George Harrison's voice, the subtle harmonics and undertones that have gone unreproduced until now. "Strawberry Fields Forever" builds from demo to a finished mass of swirling musical fantasy without ever losing the in-front-of-you quality of John Lennon's vocals.

The absolute best place to hear this music is in an Acura with an Elliot Scheiner-designed sound system (the best sound system in any automobile, and one of the few places where your placement among the speakers is virtually contolled by the equipment--unless you're in a habit of wandering from seat to seat in your car, that is) but you'll enjoy it on any DVD-A capable system.

I'm hoping that this (and the just released Doors: Perception boxed set of CDs plus DVD-A mixes of their entire catalog) will herald a renaissance of DVD-A releases. With Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus adding DVD-A players to their vehicles, it's a shame that so little music is being released in this superior format.

Oh, what I'd give for a boxed set of all the Beatles recordings on DVD-A!...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sprinting Off Track

Spent way too much time on the phone with Sprint, my wireless provider, yesterday. Dad's phone was stolen a few months ago, so I had Sprint cancel the phone. Imagine my surprise when I downloaded my bill and found more than $100 in new charges on that phone. Turns out the thief had called Sprint, complained that his phone didn't work, and even though he didn't have the account password, they turned the phone back on "because he had the serial number" (surprise! It's on the phone!) and "because he said he needed it."

The first person with whom I talked, a useless fellow named Anthony, said that we'd have to pay $150 to have it turned off again. The second person with whom I talked was very apologetic, spent twenty minutes on the phone with me, claimed all was taken care of and said she was e-mailing me confirmation. When that confirmation never arrived, I called back and found out that the second person had done absolutely none of the things she had said she would do, the phone was still active, and the charges were still on my bill. One FCC complaint form later, I had a call from someone at Sprint who handled the matter with all the professionalism absent from the first two attempts, got it resolved, and received a confirming e-mail about the credit and the cancellation.

Oh, and shortly after that, I got a call from someone at Sprint saying that the thief was calling in again to have to phone reactivated, complaining it had been turned off without his permission. I urged them to locate the caller and have him arrested, but told them that the phone was to remain dead to me.

As of this morning, it's not on my account any longer, which I'll take as a good sign.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What a Drag It Is Getting Colds..

My friend Charles, who has launched his very own blog, commented this morning about his current bout with a head cold. That got me thinking about the infrequency of my own illnesses in my post-retirement-from-teaching life.

During the two-and-a-half decades-plus that I taught, I seemed destined to have a minimum of two severe sinus infections each year: one in the fall, the week after the first prolonged run of cold temperatures, and one int he spring, the week after the first round of warm temperatures. Now I know that sinus infections aren't supposed to be infectious or contagious per se, but it happened so regularly that I became convinced that my illnesses had to be linked to (a) my exposure to pretty much every disease known to mankind through sick kids who came to school because their parents wanted the school system to watch over them so the parents didn't have to, or (b) the wretched and abominable condition of the heating, air conditioning, and ventilation in every public school. Whichever contributed to it, the end result was the same: I was destined to experience seven to ten days of fever, sinus drainage, sleeplessness, sore throats, hoarse raspiness, and general discomfort.

Since March of 2000, the last year I was in the classroom, I have had only two respiratory infections of any sort. One of them, which began as a severe cold and turned into walking pneumonia, was quite unlike anything I had before; the other was a simple three-day run of sinus congestion, sore throat, and cough that went away of its own accord.

Since I own a comic shop, I still cross paths with a large number of people, both adults and children, but I just don't get sick the way I did when I taught. I have no amazing revelations as to why, just an observation that I happens.

Meanwhile, I commiserate with Charles insofar as his head cold is concerned, and I want him to get well before I see him on Wednesday!...