Thursday, January 31, 2008

Finding Its Direction

Lost returned tonight. And from the first episode, it appears that the show's writers are back on the path that they strayed from midway through season two.

There were several strong twists in this episode, and the focus returned to the core characters rather than the second-stringers. Some questions were answered, many more were introduced, and the series actually seemed to have the energy and momentum that made it a favorite in its first season.

It's too early to say if it's going to maintain this energy for the remaining seven episodes, but I certainly hope so; it would be nice to be able to look forward to each episode again, rather than lamenting the show's stumbles...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Persistence of Motion

In discussing my exercise program, I mentioned to a friend that I have for the past seven and a half years exercised twice daily--walk a couple of miles, then spend about twenty or thirty minutes doing light weights, situps, pushups, and the like.

"But how frequently do you exercise?" he asked.

"Twice daily," I repeated.

"Yeah, I know... but how frequently?" he asked again.

"Every day."

"How many days a week?"

"Every day."

"Every day?"

"Every day."

"But what if it's..."

"Every day," I reiterated.

"Even it it's cold or raining or..."

"Every day."

That's the persistence of motion. I exercise twice a day, every day, 365 days a year, 366 days on leap years. The only exception to this have been two days after oral surgery, when I was bleeding heavily (thin blood and all that) and unable to walk without exacerbating the problem, and one day when I was ill with some sort of virus and unable to walk across the room. In those cases, I exercised an extra session each day for a few days after to make up for lost motion.

On Christmas, I exercise twice a day. When Mom died, I exercised twice a day. When Dad died, I exercised twice a day. When it snowed, I exercised twice a day. I think you get the picture.

The only way I can feel certain that I'm doing what it takes to stop myself from getting as out-of-shape as I was before April of 2000 is to make a commitment to myself that I will exercise every day.

Dr. Mike tells me I'm the only patient he has who has made such a promise after heart surgery and then kept it for years afterwards. I'm willing to be the exception in that regard.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quick Ending

Fans of formulaic slasher films--and those who like to mock them--should get a smile or two from this ad:

Slasher film?

Be sure to watch the whole thing. The teaser line at the end is great--and this is a real company, by the way!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Key Accomplishment

As much as I disliked Cell... that's how much I liked Duma Key.

There are times when Stephen King seems like more than one author. Cell, the last work published under his name (since then he did another novel, Blaze, under his Richard Bachman pesudonym), was a meandering, pointless, dissolute novel that went absolutely nowhere. I was wondering if King had lost the drive to tell a story.

But Duma Key proves that he still has what it takes.

King said that, where Lisey's Story was his novel about love, Duma Key is his novel about divorce. That's an oversimplification, though: Duma Key is also a novel about love, and it's a novel about art and the drive to create and the hidden place from which many artists derive inspiration... and it's a novel about change and the interrelationship of person and place and the dichotomy of change.

When King focuses on characters, he shines--and he shines a lot in this novel. I came to care for these characters and their triumphs and travails, and that drew me into the hefty tale. It's a novel that demands time, and it deserves it.

This is the Stephen King I first became enthused about more than thirty years ago. Welcome back!

The Agony of da Feet

A posting at Charles' blog reminded me of something...

Jeff Jones hates feet.

I have been a big fan of Jeff Jones' work for decades, since he first became the go-to guy for paperback companies who couldn't afford to hire Frank Frazetta to paint a cover. While Jones' work lacked the fine detail that was a hallmark of Frazetta's paintings, it had the moodiness and the sense of light and dark that made Frazetta's work so striking. And, similar to Frazetta, Jones also had an ability to present the lithe, sinuous (and often sensuous) human form.

But he apparently had no idea what to do with feet.

The cover for Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse is a great example; notice how the main figure's feet simply vanish into an obscuring mist. What is this mist? Why is it there? If the smoke from the nearby censer is rising, why isn't the mist rising? I have no idea, and neither does Jeff Jones, I'll bet; the mist is an artistic tool that allows him to avoid painting feet.

Here's another painting, from the superlative and underrated Peter Saxon Guardians series; again, the figure dissolves at about ankle-level, with no feet anywhere to be seen.

Jones isn't alone in this; a lot of artists, both paperback illustrators and comic book artists, go out of their way to avoid drawing feet. (Rob Liefeld will actually depict the curvature of the Earth in order to obscure the feet of his running characters.) Apparently, there is something about the tarsals that is either unattractive or incomprehensible to many artists.

But it always struck me as odd that Jones, who seemed to have such artistic mastery of the human form, was flummoxed by feet.

Thanks, Trish!

For the first time in my life, I actually know how to use a knit scarf to keep my neck warm!

I walk outdoors a lot, in all sorts of weather, so I frequently am wandering through sub-freezing breezes. (Like tonight, for instance, when it was 25 degrees with a 20mph chill wind over snowy ground.) A warm knit scarf began to sound very appealing after the first year of my winter walks, so I got a couple of them as Christmas gifts. Problem was, I had no idea what to do with them. Oh, I knew where they went, but I ended up wrapping them around my neck multiple times so that they either bunched up, became tourniquet-like, or flopped loose in the breeze.

Then, at dinner on Wednesday night, I saw Trish preparing her scarf before she went outside in the Wednesday night snow and chill. She folded the scarf in half, put it around her neck, tucked the ends loosely through the loop, and adjusted. Bingo, she had a scarf that kept her neck warm, looked good, didn't choke her, and didn't fall off the first time she moved.

I tried it, and it worked!

For the past few nights, my neck has actually stayed warm and I was comfortable--thanks, Trish!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Repeat Performance

When I went out for a walk at 8:30 this morning, there was no snow, in spite of the weather forecasts indicating that the snow would begin between 3am and 6am. I began to wonder if this would be a repeat of the 1976 "snow-fake," when weathermen predicted such a heavy blizzard that schools began sending kids home at 10am so that no one would be snowbound in the school building... but the storm dissipated at the Alabama line and we didn't get a single flake.

Turned out that wasn't the case; the snow was just running behind schedule. About 9:30, it began to sleet lightly; by 10, that had switched over to big wet flakes of snow. That continued for about two hours, at which point the snow turned to fine, tiny flakes. So far, we've had about an inch or so of snow, but it's supposed to continue for the rest of the day.

Six years with no significant snow, and now two measurable snowfalls in three day!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Snow Must Go On

After more than six years of virtually no snow, we had almost 2" of snow (measured at my house--your snowdrifts may vary) yesterday, and every weathercaster seems confident that we're going to have that much or more again late Friday night/early Saturday morning (it's Thursday evening as I write this).

"So exactly how long has it been since we had significant snow?" you ask the ol' weather record-keeper. The answer is "four years, two weeks, and one day." We had a heavy 6" snowfall on January 2nd, 2002; all of our snowfalls since that time have been light dustings of 1/2" or less... most of them, in fact, were so light that they didn't even cover the roads evenly. (We've had freezing rain twice since then, but that's not snow, is it?)

Last night's snow was the kind that drives students insane: it snowed heavily starting about 6pm, snowed for three or four hours, then warmed up, shifted to rain, and the snow was so diminished by sunrise the next morning that kids had to go to school. I'm sure that, had I been outsite at sunrise, I could have heard the communal groans of teachers and students echoing over hill and dale...

And to prove that nature can be twice cruel, this next snowfall is predicted to fall on a weekend, thereby impacting students' time off but not their school schedule.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Now and Then?

Is this the abortive version of John Lennon's "Now and Then" that the Beatles reportedly considered for completion after "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love?"

Probably not. There are a few "Paul is dead" references here that I don't believe the real Paul McCartney would include in a video; the sound has no elements of the Jeff Lynne production style that characterized the other songs; and the contributor at YouTube is not listed as PaulMcCartney (with an l), but as PauIMcCartney (with a capital "I").

Even so, it's cleverly done and has a certain Beatles sound; worth checking out, at least. The same contributor has also done a remix of Lennon's "I Found Out." Follow the links from the "Now and Then" video if you're interested...


Okay, the announcements are made, and I'm just sort of ehhh... about the whole thing. Maybe I expect too much. Here's the rundown on my earlier-posted rumors and the veracity thereof:

•MacBook Air: it's there, but no induction charging at all, just a standard magsafe adapter
•Mac OSX 10.5.2: not specifically announced, but it sounds like they may roll it out with the new base stations
•New AppleTV: announced, but no optical drive, no announcements of more storage space, no tuner
•New iPhone with faster 3G network accessibility - no such luck, as iPhone users are still saddled with 21st century accessibility in a 21st century machine
•Updated MacBook Pro - nope
•DRM-free iTunes - not announced
•Movie rentals through iTunes - yep... ho hum...

Now, what wasn't rumored:
•New Airport Extremes with built-in hard drives--500gb for $299, 1TB for $499. That sounds very good, and it may lead me to upgrade one of my units.

No major surprises, a couple of minor letdowns. I had higher hopes...

Air-ly Warning

This is one of those days when I find my attention split. Normally, I focus all my Tuesday energy on processing new books at the store. However, today's also the day that Apple makes its big MacExpo announcements, and I have hopes that Apple will dazzle with some major product announcements. Last summer's Macworld announcements were relatively minor and failed to live up to the hype; however, Apple already announced a new MacPro last week, which leads me to suspect that they have so many big things to announce today that they needed to "clear the deck" a little bit by making their least important announcement ahead of time--the equivalent of letting a child open a small Christmas present a day early.

So what's coming? Here's what the rumor mills suspect:
•MacBook Air (or some derivative thereof): a wireless sub-notebook (and by wireless, some suspect that it may even use no-wires induction charging)
•Mac OSX 10.5.2 (desperately needed, since 10.5.1 is largely nonfunctional)
•New AppleTV with optical drive and expanded storage (and possibly a tuner)
•New iPhone with faster 3G network accessibility
•Updated MacBook Pro
•DRM-free iTunes
•Movie rentals through iTunes

Will all of these happen? Almost certainly not--but I'll be splitting my attention between funny-book processing and checking for computer updates this afternoon, since I'm certain that some of them will happen, and I can't wait to find out which ones.

(And a big razzberry to, a site I used to frequent when it actually posted timely rumors; now they wait until things are announced and then post the backdated news as if they actually broke the story ahead of time.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008


For some reason, it seems that the media has decided that it's somehow unacceptable to point out that Barack Obama was a drug user, including marijuana and cocaine, at a time when he should have been old enough to know better.

The New York Times reports that the founder of BET made a veiled allusion to Obama's drug use, at which point he felt obligated to backpedal awkwardly to claim he was referring to something else in Obama's past. This ignoring the 800-pound powdery-and-addictive gorilla wasn't sufficient, apparently:

Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman said: “His [BET founder Robert L. Johnson's] tortured explanation doesn’t hold up against his original statement. And it’s troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton — who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing.”

Why should the remark be condemned? The fact that a man running for President is a confessed illegal drug user is pretty important, as far as I'm concerned, and I think it's something that every opponent of his, both Democrat and Republican, should hammer him on. (They should also point out that he remains a tobacco addict to this day, which shows a similar but less criminal lack of judgment...) If he made the decision to use illegal drugs when his life was relatively stress-free, who can predict what lapses in judgment he might make if he were to occupy the White House?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chromosomal Get Out of Jail Free Card?

From an AP story:

"No woman is illegal," Clinton said...

And there you have it--the laws of the nation won't apply to some citizens if Hillary Clinton wins the White House.

Should she win, she would have to lie in order to complete the oath of office...

The End of Days--and Armageddon Tired of It

Sometimes musicians are inspired, and sometimes they overplay the same riff to an audience that nods indulgently as they already know the next note.

Sometimes authors do the same thing.

Zechariah Sitchin is an author whose early work intrigued me, even if it didn't really convince me. Sitchin built his career around the premise that the Sumerian and Hebrew gods were really alien beings who came to Earth to reshape our planet; that the tales of the Torah and the Enuma Elis were actually human retelling of alien conflicts; and that much of early Middle Eastern culture developed due to direct alien intervention. Sure, it's Erich Von Daniken territory, but he pulled it off with a clever blend of innovative interpretations of seldom-referenced Sumerian myths and insightful looks at archeology, anthropology, and history.

The problem is, Sitchin became so popular with a devoted group of readers that what started off as clever, insightful "speculative quasi-history" deteriorated into the literary equivalent of playing the same riffs to an audience already overly familiar with every note. In his latest book, The End of Days, Sitchin no longer tries to sell his ideas to new readers; instead, he's going through the motions, referencing his own works and repackaging his old ideas for a readership overly familiar with the concepts. I once was intrigued and amused; now I'm bored, and I think that Sitchin is, too.

I still recommend his early books for readers who can enjoy this sort of far-reaching fantastic reinterpretation of history and mythology... but I can't recommend this book at all, even to his fans.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Midnight's Beckon

Walking after midnight, I find a tranquil pleasure. Gazing at eternal skies, time loses its significance, and I feel as if I'm all ages at once. I belong at midnight; the darkness and I renew old friendships and share memories of lost loves. I discern tenuous connections that are ephemeral and elusive by daylight's glare.

I turn towards home reluctantly in the starry darkness. Some nights I wonder if I'll turn back at all.

My Mercurial Nature

In an e-mail to my old friend Bob Wayne, I wrote a sentence about my state of mind that, I think, is more insightful into my nature than I had initially realized:

Sadness and sorrow drape over me inextricably for many months, and even when I think they've finally slipped off my shoulders, I find myself from time to time entangled in their folds.

In an older exchange, Bob referred to me as being particularly empathic, which is also a particularly appropriate observation. This results in my emotional balance often being influenced by those around me.

No great conclusions drawn here, just an observation...

Finding the Right Man with the Right Plan

My dear friend Janice pointed me towards this polling site that helps to determine which candidates most closely reflect your views; my results are listed below. No major surprises; I thought that Rudy Guliani might rank a bit higher on my list, and I figured that Obama would come in higher than Edwards or Clinton, but the differences aren't enormous percentage-wise.

71% Mitt Romney
68% Fred Thompson
64% Tom Tancredo
62% John McCain
56% Rudy Giuliani
53% Ron Paul
52% Mike Huckabee
40% Bill Richardson
39% John Edwards
35% Mike Gravel
35% Hillary Clinton
34% Chris Dodd
32% Joe Biden
32% Dennis Kucinich
31% Barack Obama

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

All Creatures Great and Small

Today, we noticed that two rather sizeable opossums (heretofore to be knows as possums, because I feel pretentious typing an "o" that serves no pupose) had taken up residence atop Stumpy, the tree that's next to our deck. (If you forgot, here's the short version: Stumpy is a tulip poplar that was damaged in the storms of 2000, so rather than have it cut down entirely, we had it cut off about twenty-five feet off the ground, which is about ten feet above deck level. The three has thrived since then, putting on some twenty feet of limb growth--but you can still see the level-cut part of the tree in the center, and hence the name "Stumpy.") Since the possums were scaring away birds and squirrels who came up to the deck to eat, I decided to try to chase 'em away.

I wish I hadn't.

In the process of trying to chase them away, I managed to scare off the larger male, but I somehow injured the medium-sized female... not a life-threatening injury, but she was hurt and was bleeding. I felt truly awful about it; even an oversized rodent like a possum simply wants to exist, to eat, to find companionship... She was scared, and rather than vacating Stumpy, she went even higher, where I couldn't get to her. There she sat all day long, staring dolefully at me whenever I'd look out on the deck to see if perhaps she'd come down and gone away.

If I had it to do over again, I'd leave the possums along entirely; I'd much rather have them there than have one of them hurt--and I hate knowing that it was my fault that she's injured.

This evening, the large male came back, climbed the tree, ignored the food I'd put out in hopes of luring her down, comforted her, then led her down the tree and off into the woods. I was glad to see him back--but looking into those round black eyes, I felt intense sorrow knowing that I had caused one of them harm. They may not be sleek or appealing or attractive, but they're creatures trying to find a home for themselves in a region increasingly occupied by people, and they had no intention of doing anything bad.

I'm glad he came back for her, and I'm glad they're together--and I have vowed that if they do return, they'll never have to fear being hurt by me again. They deserve better than that...

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Devil's in the Lack of Details

Sometimes we regret what is... and sometimes we regret what might have been but isn't...

Marvel had a genuine opportunity to do something significant and meaningful with J. Michael Straczynski's "One More Day" storyline in the various Spider-Man comics. The story itself was forced and contrived (for those of you who aren't up to speed, it existed for only one reason: by editorial fiat, EIC Joe Quesada had declared that the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane had to be undone, and the story was constructed for that purpose), but JMS found a way to turn it into something big... only to have his plans negated at the last moment by Quesada himself.

In his earlier miniseries Bullet Points, Straczynski offered glimpses of the direction in which he hoped to take "One More Day." Bullet Points postulated on how much the Marvel Universe might be changed if one significant event was altered--in this case, the event was the shooting of the scientist who administered the formula that transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. From there, everything rippled into new patterns, and the Marvel Universe was reshaped in myriad ways.

In "One More Day," Straczynski had constructed a plan that would have the same effect on the Marvel Universe. (If you haven't read the storyline and don't want details revealed to you, then I'd quit reading right now. Still there? Don't say I didn't warn you...) Mephisto, the necromantic Marvel version of Satan, offers Peter Parker a way to save his nearly-dead Aunt May: he will restore her, but in exchange Peter Parker must give up his marriage to Mary Jane. It never happened. Why? To be honest, it doesn't make any sense--the "why" is gibberish constructed because an editor decreed that this must be the result of the story.

(I'm reminded of the story of the Beatles' recording of "A Day in the Life." At one point, they wanted a huge orchestra to make a great deal of unfocused, disorganized noise for a preset period of time before they all came together on a single note; many in the orchestra had problems doing this, because they weren't accustomed to working without a logical musical "plan," or score. Likewise, Straczynski was told to make a lot of storytelling noise without purpose to get to a final note--but Straczynski, being a storyteller, tried to create his own "score.")

What Straczynski wanted to do, as I was told when I first learned about this story more than a year ago, was toss in a universe-reshaping twist at the end: in the final pages, he would have the unmarried Peter show up at a party, where several changes would have been revealed, culminating in the most significant of all: Gwen Stacy, the woman whose death in Spider-Man's arms paved the way for all sorts of changes (including his eventual romance with Mary Jane), would show up at the party, alive and well.

This was an interesting and provocative twist. The storyline held the promise of all sorts of changes; from this event, all sorts of things would ripple differently. It would be possible to construct realities from there in which the New Avengers were never formed, in which the Civil War never took place, in which Captain America never died... in which the Marvel Universe was closer to the inviting place it had been for its first twenty-five or thirty years. Suddenly, there'd be a reason to read every Marvel book again, just to see what new reality Mephisto had initiated.

A couple of years ago, DC had a major event called Infinite Crisis, followed by the addition of a "One Year Later" tag to all of their DC Universe titles. The premise was that the universe post-Crisis would be significantly different, and all these books would pick up one year after the end of that series; another series, 52, would reveal how those bold changes came about. Problem is, the potential of "One Year Later" was absolutely squandered, with bold changes reduced to insignificance or totally abandoned within months as the universe fell into humdrum. Here, though, Marvel had a chance to go even further, challenging the imaginations of its writers and its readers as they reshaped the Marvel Universe, discarding pointless storylines like House of M and reimagining poorly-conceived events like the tawdry affair between Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn.

And Quesada, whose only desire was to end a comic book marriage, said "no." He threw out the Gwen Stacy appearance (the pointless appearance of an attractive blonde character near the end of Amazing Spider-Man #545 is the instance at which Gwen Stacy should have appeared) and reduced the ripple effect to near-nothingness. The changes are minimal: Peter isn't married, Mary Jane is a costumed character (apparently--that hasn't been established yet, but I suspect it will be in the near future), Harry Osborn is still alive, no one knows Peter is Spider-Man, Aunt May is still around, and the old status quo is restored for no reason at all.

There's no motivation for what Mephisto does; even his explanation seems contrived and pointless, because the man putting the words into his mouth couldn't understand why Mephisto would want to do such a thing. Straczynski even requested that his name be taken off the story, but Marvel insisted it remain; after having read the neutered version of his story, I can see why he'd want to be disassociated.

What a shame that something that could have been a major Marvel turning-point has been reduced to nonsensical noise-making that exists only to reach one closing note...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Philosophically, Trying...

2008 is underway, and I'm optimistic that it'll be a good year. Things are already showing promise for some of my friends and family, and that's good; I am hoping to make it a more focused, fulfilling year for me as well.

I can't say that I'm unhappy with the way that my life has gone--although unappy things have happened during the past year, I still come away feeling positive overall. I think a lot of that comes from my situation almost eight years ago; there's something about dying, even if it's for only a few moments, that makes it much easier to find happiness in each extra day.

At the same time, I feel like I spent a lot of time this year reacting to things rather than directing my life. I'm hoping I can change that in the upcoming year; while I enjoy much of the routine in my life, I'd like to enjoy more freedom to break from that routine if I feel so motivated. That means making a few changes--a bit less time in the store, more time devoted to new things.

Maybe I'm a little restless. Maybe I'm trying to avoid falling into the trap that Dad fell into in the last few years, when his world began to shrink a little more each yeaer, shutting out people who knew him and loved him and admired him.

Can't say for sure that things will change; we'll see over the next few months...

And yes, this has been vague--because in large part I'm feeling sort of vague right now. I feel like I'm in transition, and I'm curious to see where that takes me...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Got up at about 6:45 this morning to discover that it had actually dropped to 19 degrees overnight; that's surprising, since it was still 30 degrees when I went to bed at 1 a.m. The sun was still below the horizon line, so the trees were silhouetted in diffuse light as I headed eastward to begin my walk. When I made my first turn to the northwest, though, I discovered just how frigid a fifteen to twenty-mile-per-hour wind can feel in the pre-dawn cold.

Even so, I enjoyed the walk; this was the first morning that truly felt like winter, and I found the change to be invigorating. (As an added treat, I got to see a moment or two of brief snow flurries while I was out walking; the sudden cold managed to squeeze a little bit of moisture out of the overhanging clouds, creating a few moments of "phantom flurries" that sublimated as soon as they fell.