Saturday, July 30, 2011


Another day, a lot more missed forecasts.

Today's high was 87 (in fairness, it might have gone higher had a cloud front and scattered rain not moved in at about 2:30, dropping temperatures into the low 80s and the high 70s for the last part of the afternoon). Here's what AccuWeather forecast for today:

80 - 83 - 95 - 91 - 94 - 94 - 94 - 95 - 96

And once again, the actual high was very, very near the midpoint of the lowest high forecast and the highest high forecast--and once again, AccuWeather never once forecast this as the high. The shotgunned all around it, but thus far not a single one of their forecasts has been accurate. Not one.

Pretty pathetic, isn't it? And these guys have the audacity to include "Accu" as part of their name...

Jobs for All...

Steve Jobs, that is.

I see in a recent news report that Apple actually has more cash on hand than the US government. That got me thinking about the benefits of having Apple take over the government; maybe having Steve Jobs running the US wouldn't be so bad after all.

(1) The US government would be offered in an improved version for a lower price every twelve to sixteen months.

(2) We'd each be able to buy the level of government we wanted.

(3) For the first twelve months, if the government failed to work, there would be geniuses on hand to fix it or to advise us on what to do to make it function properly.

(4) The general trend would be for the government to get smaller and lighter as time went on.

(5) We could invest money in the government and we'd actually make a profit on it.

(6) When the government held press conferences, people would be so eager to hear what they had to say that they'd have people fighting for the right to live-blog the event.

(7) Best of all, the government would just work.

More Forecasting Folly

July 29th came and went, and with it came a high temperature of 87 degrees once again ( I thought it would get up to 88, but some afternoon clouds held us at the 87 mark). So what were AccuWeather's forecasts for 7/29?

80 - 84 - 92 - 93 - 93 - 93 - 92 - 94

Once again, their forecasts ran the gamut from 7 degrees too low to 7 degrees too high--but never once did they forecast 87. Even more interesting, they get no better at weather forecasting as the date gets closer. They're just as far off a day or two before as they were a week earlier... just in the other direction.

Must be nice to have a job in which the only accuracy you display is in your trademarked company name...

Friday, July 29, 2011

An Unpleasant Anniversary

Today is July 29th (just barely--I happened to be up past midnight, working at the computer, when I noticed the date). It was four years ago on this date that I got a call from Floyd Medical Center in Rome informing me that Dad was there, and that he had collapsed at WalMart. I won't run through all the details of that horrible day; you can read about it and the subsequent sorrows by going back to my 2007 blog entries.

But I will always envy my sister Kimberly on this date. You see, back on July 29th, 2007, she and Cole and Jessica had a very pleasant lunch with Dad--they got to see him smiling and happy on that last day, they got to talk with him, they got to do all the things that I wish I could have done one more time. I will always envy that.

I miss you, Dad. You left us far, far too soon...

More Weather Numbers

I'm not going to continue to list AccuWeather forecasts, but I will do a running tally of their predictions vs. weather reality for a few more days.

Here were their predicted highs for 7/28:
80 - 81 - 93 - 92 - 92 - 92 - 90 - 92 - 95

And what was the high? 87

Once again, almost exactly in the middle of their high and low forecasts. And once again, it was a temperature they never forecast--they had a few temperatures significantly lower and then a whole bunch higher, but I'd give them a FAIL on this forecast, too. Keep it up, AccuWeather, and you're going to have to change your name!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weathering the Data

Okay, let's take a look at the "accu" part of AccuWeather.

High temperature for Marietta 30066 - 89° (measured with three separate thermometers--two wireless and one standard thermometer, all located outdoors but out of direct sunlight). Forecast highs:

82 - 94 - 94 - 95 - 93 - 93 - 93 - 95

So, by predicting a 13-degree range between the highest high prediction andt he lowest low, they managed to more or less miss it totally, since it was almost exactly midway between the two extremes. At no point did they ever forecast 89.° I'd say that they failed the "Accu" part today.

Now, as for their forecasts:

7/28 - 95° (3° higher than yesterday)
7/29 - 94° (2° warmer than yesterday)
7/30 - 96° (1° warmer yesterday)
7/31 - 96° (1° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/1 - 96° (2° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/2 - 95° (2° warmer than yesterday's forecast!)
8/3 - 95° (5° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/4 - 96° (16° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/5 - 91° (9° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/6 - 97° (14° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/7 - 93° (6° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/8 - 96° (8° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/9 - 97° (5° warmer than yesterday's forecast!)
8/10 - 88° (and once again, the coolest forecast temperature is 15 days out)

Fourteen and sixteen degree jumps in forecast temperatures? Over a 24 hour period? If that doesn't qualify as random guessing, nothing much does...

More Meteorology

I'm aware that some of you are horribly bored by this, but rest easy--I'll be done with this weather stuff in a few days. I just want to see if my suspicion is correct and AccuWeather's 15-day forecast is nothing more than random guesswork.

Now let's look at the forecasts as of 7/26 (I'm not posting 'til 7/27, but I did a text capture of these in mid-afternoon Tuesday).

7/27 - 95° (2° higher htan yesterday)
7/28 - 92° (2° higher than yesterday)
7/29 - 92° (1° cooler than yesterday)
7/30 - 95° (2° warmer yesterday)
7/31 - 95° (2° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/1 - 94° (1° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/2 - 94° (3° cooler than yesterday's forecast!)
8/3 - 90° (3° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/4 - 77° (6° cooler than yesterday's forecast--and where di these 70s come from?)
8/5 - 82° (4° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/6 - 83° (7° cooler than yesterday's forecast)
8/7 - 87° (1° cooler than yesterday's forecast)
8/8 - 88° (1° warmer than yesterday's forecast)
8/9 - 92° (a very hot forecast for 15 days out--surprising!)

Tomorrow I'll actually compare the 7/27 forecasts for the last week or so with the real temperature and see how far-ranging their forecasts were, and when they were closest to the real temperature.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weather or Not You're Interested

Another day's worth of Accuweather forecasts; with 7/27 only two days away, they're starting to settle in on a more specific forecast, but there's still time for them to change everything.

7/27 - 93° (same as yesterday)
7/28 - 90° (2° cooler than yesterday)
7/29 - 93° (same as yesterday)
7/30 - 94° (same as yesterday)
7/31 - 92° (2° cooler than yesterday's forecast)
8/1 - 93° (9° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/2 - 97° (13° higher than yesterday's forecast!)
8/3 - 87° (11° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/4 - 83° (3° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/5 - 78° (9° lower than yesterday's forecast)
8/6 - 90° (3° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/7 - 88° (wow--there are no cool temperatures in AccuWeather's forecasdt, which is a first!)
8/8 - 87° (another aberration for AccuWeather--the cool day comes 12 days out, not 15)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More Meteorology

Another day of AccuWeather forecasts... and as I had predicted ahead of time, as we get closer to 7/27 (the first day I began tracking in my blog posts), the warmer the forecast is. Here are today's forecasts for 7/27 through 8/7:

7/27 - 93° (same as yesterday)
7/28 - 92° (same as yesterday)
7/29 - 93° (same as yesterday)
7/30 - 94° (same as yesterday)
7/31 - 94° (11° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/1 - 84° (5° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/2 - 84° (2° lower than yesterday's forecast)
8/3 - 86° (same as yesterday)
8/4 - 80° (same as yesterday)
8/5 - 87° (10° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/6 - 87° (11° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/7 - 88° (wow--there are no cool temperatures in AccuWeather's forecasdt, which is a first!)

Summer Samhain

Forgot to note this last week: on Sunday, July 17th, I saw the first Halloween candy of the season (can I say "of the season" when it's still the middle of the summer?). At the local Walgreen's, they were putting out bags of Brach's Autumn Mix--the cousin to candy corn that includes pumpkins, corn, and other autumn-themed candy. If you want to be a stickler, I guess we can call this "autumn candy" rather than "Halloween candy," but seeing as how they only put it out during the pre-Halloween period and they mark it down the day after Halloween along with all the other Halloween candy, I think I can make a convincing case that this was indeed Halloween candy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Scents of Summer

This afternoon, I did something a bit different as I enjoyed an afternoon walk through our neighborhood. Rather than using the walk to catch up on email and do a little reading on my iPhone, I put the device in its belt-clip and actually paid attention to the walk itself. Not with my eyes, however; instead, I closed my eyes for a few seconds at frequent intervals and enjoyed the varied scents of summer.

It's amazing how redolent the season's smells can be, and how little attention I normally give them. The heavy, loamy smell of wet earth following yesterday's rains, underscored by the subtleties of molds that accompany the wet soil and leaves and pine straw; the muskiness of the flowers and fragrant plants along the route, accented by the sweetness of recently-cut grass; the slight tang of the the light breeze wafting through the woodland area around the creek; the distinct woody smells of oak and poplar; the sharp scent of pine. And of course, there were the other smells--the colognes and/or soaps, floral and sweet, from the two women joggers who passed me heading in the opposite direction; the heavy, overhanging smell of diesel fumes from the truck that drove by on Gordy Parkway; the sulfurous smells of auto exhausts; the acrid odor of cigarette smoke that trailed from the window of a passing truck, hanging along the roadway for almost a hundred yards; the heavy smells of animal droppings from an area frequented by dog-walkers; the immediately identifiable odor of death from the roadway remains of a small animal (probably a squirrel) hit by a car a day or two earlier; the bouquet of fabric softener wafting from a house where someone was drying clothes; the distinctive smells of grilling hamburgers and grilling chicken from two different houses where lunch was obviously being prepared. I noticed that the air even smelled different in shady areas and in areas that had been in full sun for a while; it's difficult to define, but the smells were subtly distinct. All these scents, fragrances, and odors were there this afternoon, just as they probably are every day. The difference, of course, was that this day I paid attention to them, and I remembered what it was like when I was young, not so jaded, and these smells seemed such a vital part of being outdoors.

More on Not-so-Accu-Weather

Okay, another day has passed, and here's the Accuweather forecast for 7/27 through 8/6. Notice that once again, there are very cool temperatures forecast at the end of the 15-day period.

7/27 - 93° (2° lower than yesterday)
7/28 - 92° (same as yesterday)
7/29 - 93° (same as yesterday)
7/30 - 94° (3° higher than yesterday's forecast)
7/31 - 83° (6° lower than yesterday's forecast)
8/1 - 79° (same as yesterday's forecast)
8/2 - 86° (2° lower than yesterday's forecast)
8/3 - 86° (same as yesterday)
8/4 - 80° (9° lower than yesterday's forecast)
8/5 - 77° (9° lower than yesterday's forecast--and once again, there are very cool temperatures at the end of the forecast period)
8/6 - 76° (AccuWeather's wondrusly cool 15-days-out forecasts return!)

When I'm 74

As part of a complex series of negotiations that I'll discuss in more detail further down the line, I've proposed a lease amendment that would allow me two six-year options for renewal of the Dr. No's lease--one at the end of 2015, when the current lease expires, and the other at the end of 2021, when the first option would expire. Can't say for sure if those negotiations will come to fruition or not, but it was a bit sobering to realize that, if they do, I'm talking about lease options that will continue past my 74th birthday.

First off, it's hard to think of myself as 74 years old--although to be honest, I rarely think of myself as being 57 right now. And it's even more startling to realize that, if the lease amendment goes through and I choose to take advantage of those options, I will have been a comic book reader/fan for seventy years at that time (got my first comic when I was four years old... oh, I was three months away from five at the time, but that's still four...).

It's also a bit off-putting to be making any sort of plans that will run through the time I'm 74. I've learned first-hand that life has an interesting way of re-mapping your plans for the future, so who knows what might happen between now and 2027.

Even so, the fact that I'm even negotiating something that involves me and 74 years old is proving a bit difficult for me to fully accept...

Boocoo of Blues

I haven't been satisfied with eBay for a long while--too many charlatans and scam artists, too much merchandise that doesn't live up to its description, too many fly-by-night sellers. But everything that's wrong with eBay is amplified exponentially on Boocoo, an auction site that I've dealt with once and will never buy from again.

Whereas you always have nagging doubts about some eBay sellers, it appears that the honest legitimate vendor is the exception on Boocoo. I bought a single item--a USB flash drive--and even on something that mundane, what I got was a bootleg flash drive that didn't actually offer the storage space that was indicated. I sent it back to the vendor, who promised a refund, but nothing ever came of it. I contacted Boocoo, who ignored me. And I wasn't even able to post feedback regarding this, because Boocoo had (until today) a rule that you couldn't post feedback after fourteen days. However, it took me longer than that to discover the crooked nature of this seller.

The fact that Boocoo not only failed to deal with my problem, but let this seller continue to post more dishonest auctions for a while, implies that they prefer to look the other way as far as unscrupulous sellers are concerned. Of course, the seller is no longer active on Boocoo, so now that I can post negative feedback, it's irrelevant. He may be operating on the site under another name, but I have no way of knowing that.

I find myself buying more and more from Amazon retailers and less and less from auction sites; Amazon seems to have a higher standard of conduct for their retailers, and they are very helpful when a problem does arise. If you do have a desire to take part in online auction sites, though, remember that Boocoo is the poorly-lit back alley of the internet...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ah, for the days of a VCR

Remember the VCR? Oh, the picture quality wasn't great, but it had one major advantage: you could record a show on a physical medium that survived even if the device that recorded it failed.

Today, we have the DVR--a totally device-dependent means of saving shows that makes it impossible for you to create useable backups that can be viewed on other media. Unless you have the means to record programs on your computer and then back them up, there's no practical way to save programs from your cable DVR, satellite DVR, or Tivo in any form other than on that machine. And that means that it is absolutely guaranteed that, at some point, you're going to lose some of the programs you want to watch.

So far, in the almost ten years that we've had DVRs, we've had six units fail. Some of them have failed in less than two years, some have lasted almost seven before going dead. (Oddly enough, the longest-lived unit we have is a Motorola DVR from Comcast; we got it in 2002 and it's still plugging along, so that probably means its days are numbered.)

"But we have DVDs and iTunes and the Amazon store," people will say to me. Yes we do... but I can absolutely guarantee you that there are shows on some of my DVRs that have not been (and most likely never will be) offered on DVD or via digital download. Conversely to what many people would like to believe, not every program attracts the sufficient number of viewers and/or audience demographic to make it worth producing for sale--and in some cases, rights issues make sales problematic. Also, news programs are hardly ever offered for sale on DVD, because most people have no interest in viewing old news broadcasts. Same for a lot of local programming.

While I have the ability to dub off some of my DVR programming as an AVI or M4V file, I would venture to guess that about 90% of all television viewers have no ability to do so, nor the slightest inkling of how they'd go about doing it.

It's ironic that I still have a large library of programming from 1977-1985 that I can view when I wish to, but I have no handy, convenient way of maintaining such a library today. Of course, that's just what the networks and programming providers wanted, I'm sure...

More Forecasts, Weather You're Interested or Not...

And here we are, one day later and ever-closer to 7/27, when we'll see which of AccuWeather's many divergent forecasts is the proper one. In the meantime, let's see how their forecasts have changed from yesterday:

7/27 - 95° (1° higher than yesterday, 9° higher than Wednesday's forecast)
7/28 - 92° (a1° down from yesterday)
7/29 - 93° (1° higher than yesterday, 9° higher than Wednesdays forecast--notice the AccuWeather trend to promise cool temperatures, then continue to push them back?)
7/30 - 91° (4° lower than yesterday's forecast, 11° higher than Wednesday's forecast!)
7/31 - 89° (8° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/1 - 79° (1° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/2 - 88° (6° higher than yesterday's forecast, 10° higher than Wednesday's)
8/3 - 86° (10° higher than Wednesday's forecast!)
8/4 - 89° (3° higher than yesterday's forecast)
8/5 - 86° (don't worry, that forecast will increase as the date gets closer)

When 7/27 gets here, we'll also look at their forecast trend for that date and see how far-ranging their forecasts were.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Overly Colorful Look Back

Yesterday DC released the first three of their DC RetroActive oneshots; these books, which featured Batman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman, were more or less written and illustrated to capture the look and feel of a bygone decade. Batman was quite well done, Flash slightly less so, and Wonder Woman read like a 70s "Emma Peel" issue, but the art looked was far too cartoony and animation-influenced to properly evoke the era.

I was surprised to see that DC chose to use contemporary coloring for the books, though; the more nuanced computer coloring seemed out of place. I think the RetroActive concept would have been much better served had the colorists been told to imitate the color palettes, styles, and limitations of the appropriate decades. Apparently DC didn't agree with me there, and I'm sure they had their reasons--but it seems to me that if you're trying to coney the spirit of a bygone era, you should try as much as possible to make it look as much like a previously-unpublished work from that period.

More Not-So-Accu-Weather Stats

Continuing to monitor the incredibly changeable Accuweather weather forecasts for Marietta, just to investigate my hypothesis that not only are their 15-day forecasts inaccurate, they're also totally inconsistent with their own forecasts as each day passes.

7/27 - 94° (same as the adjusted forecast from yesterday, 8° higher than Wednesday's forecast)
7/28 - 93° (a sudden 8° forecast jump from yesterday)
7/29 - 92° (an 8° forecast jump from yesterday--gee, the cool weather forecast is fading away!)
7/30 - 95° (12° higher than yesterday's forecast, 15° higher than Wednesday's forecast!)
7/31 - 81° (4° lower than yesterday's forecast, 1° higher than Wednesday's--and as I had mentioned before, the cool weather is always lurking at the end of the 15-day forecast window)
8/1 - 78° (6° lower than yesterday's forecast, 2° lower than Wednesday's forecast)
8/2 - 82° (3° higher than yesterday's forecast, 6° higher than Wednesday's)
8/3 - 83° (7° higher than yesterday's forecast!)
8/4 - 86° (well, at least there's not danging the mid-70s meteorological carrot before us 15 days out)

And this all tends to support my theory that there isn't the slightest bit of accuracy and/or science to a 15 day forecast--pure guesswork, apparently. And with temperature swings as much as 12° in the forecast temps for the same date, no matter what the weather is, they can point to one of their guesses and claim it was right.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No-So-Accu-Weather Stats

This will be going on intermittently for a few weeks, so just skip the weather reports if you're bored (and you probably already are). My goal here is to see if my suspicion is correct, and Accuweather does indeed tend to offer impossibly rosy forecasts 10 to 15 days out, pushing them back with each passing day.

Accuweather's forecast highs as of today:
7/27 - 94° (eight degrees higher than yesterday's forecast--and notice that the cool temperatures are now forecast to arrive one day later than they were yesterdays))
7/28 - 81°
7/29 - 84° (four degrees higher than yesterday's forceast)
7/30 - 83° (three degrees higher than yesterday's forceast)
7/31 - 85° (five degrees higher than yesterday's forceast)
8/1 - 84° (four degrees higher than yesterday's forceast)
8/2 - 79° (three degrees higher than yesterday's forceast)
8/3 - 76° (golly gosh, there's that 76° forecast, 15 days out, just as it was yesterday!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And Now, a Weather Report

Almost 11pm, and it's still 81 degrees. Welcome to Georgia summer.

And I've renewed my habit of following Accuweather's "back 7" weather prediction just to see how phenomenally wrong it usually is. You see, Accuweather is the only site I know of that offers a 15 day forecast; however, I'm convinced that they pull the predictions for the last 7 of those days out of a box, because they hardly ever have any relationship to reality. For instance, they're now telling me that we're in for highs in the upper 70s to 80 degrees in that period. As we move along, I suspect that those 70s and low 80s will continue to remain 7 to 10 days out, but will never actually get here.

Just for posterity, here's what they're saying for the highs a week or so out:
7/27 - 82°
7/28 - 80°
7/29 - 80°
7/30 - 80°
7/31 - 81°
8/1 - 80°
8/2 - 76°

(For the next two weeks I'll continue to list those forecast highs a week out, along with the real highs for those days, so we can see how their long-range predictions reflect reality. If weather forecasts bore you, you'll probably want to skip these posts. If weather forecasts and prediction accuracy intrigues you--well, you're probably related to me.)

Taking Good Financial News Wherever I Can Find It

Today, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved two new businesses in the shopping center near my house: a Chik-fil-A and Kroger Fuel Center, both to be built in the upper parking lot of the center where Kroger is located. I walk through this area every day, and the area has seen no real growth in several years; this is the first significant addition of businesses, and I'm hoping that's a good sign.

Through the 1990s and the early/mid 2000s, there was a lot of business churn; some new businesses came in, a smaller number faded away, and the area grew. Then came the Era of Economic Turbulence, and new business growth pretty much disappeared, while several established businesses struggled and failed.

Like many other communities, Cobb County has struggled as well. Business failures mean a diminished tax base and decreased sales tax revenues, and that strains the county's budget. As a result, county services have been cut, budgets are tight, and there's talk of a tax increase in the immediate future. Two new businesses certainly won't be enough to end the county's problems--but if this is a sign that business growth is starting to return, then perhaps we are in the early stages of an era of improvement.

I've lived through several eras of economic turbulence--the wage and price controls of the early 70s, the stagflation of the late 70s, the recession of the early 80s, the recession of the early 90s, the recession of the post-9/11 period... but none of those have had anywhere nearly the societal impact of the current recession. I suspect that, years from now, this will be viewed in the same way that the Depression was viewed historically in the decades after it ended. I know several people who have been out of work for far longer than I (or they) ever imagined they would be. The people I know who have weathered the recession best are those who have been willing to abandon their old professional views of themselves and take new positions in new (and often less rewarding fields)--but "weathering the recession" certainly doesn't mean "thriving in the recession."

I'm always looking for good signs--and I'm convinced that they're going to have to come from the private sector. Locally, the addition of these two businesses is just such a good sign. I've heard rumors of other business expansions in the area over the next few months as well; if they come to pass, it may signal a true turning point.

(Several of my neighbors were less thrilled than I with the addition of a Chik-fil-A and a Kroger Fuel Center, fearing that they would create traffic problems and be a nuisance to the neighborhood. I don't dismiss their concerns, but I think the benefits of these businesses far exceed any potential drawbacks. Hope that's the case, because the businesses are definitely coming!)

Earth One=Earth Lost?

Now that DC is relaunching the entire DC Universe with an updated comics continuity, younger heroes, and a more contemporary take on the whole line, what happens to the Earth One graphic novel line?

Last year, DC launched the line with Superman: Earth One, an original graphic novel by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis that proved to be such a successful seller that JMS abandoned his Superman comic book arc in mid-story to devote himself to telling the story of this younger Superman in a world that has had no prior heroes.

Geoff Johns & Gary Frank were already working on a Batman: Earth One graphic novel, while Straczynski & Davis were making progress on the next volume in the Superman: Earth One saga. But now that we're resetting the DCU in this post-Flashpoint relaunch, what is the purpose of the Earth One graphic novels? Is there any need for these books set in a quaint continuity that seems absolutely irrelevant in the light of September's New 52 from DC?

Even more importantly, if it is published, will there be an audience? The first book sold surprisingly well because it was something different--a sort of Ultimate Superman, so to speak, using the same formula that made Ultimate Spider-Man the best Spidey book in the past thirty years. People were drawn to the book because they wanted to see how it changed the Superman mythos.

When the second volume comes out (if the second volume comes out), however, it will be the "old guard," so to speak. Its continuity will date back to the bygone days of 2010, while DC's New 52 will reflect the hot new continuity of 2011 and beyond. Will readers want a "retro" book that takes them back to that quaint continuity reboot of a year earlier? Will they care about a continuity that they can only visit for an hour or so every year or more, when they can get 52 invitations to DC's new continuity every month? (That's the biggest problem as I see it: you can't build "brand loyalty" to a graphic novel line that comes out so infrequently that it doesn't seem to be anyone's first priority... Even if the New 52 hadn't happened, I'm not convinced that a second Earth One graphic novel could have recaptured the cultural gestalt that made the first one so surprisingly successful.)

Can't say for sure, but I suspect that the Earth One line may have already seen its shining moment; if it continues at all, I think it'll be difficult to convince anyone they should care. Like the ill-fated and haphazardly executed All-Star line, it's one of those great ideas that got lost along the way, and it already seems like it could become a footnote in DC history.

Monday, July 18, 2011


And now comes the news that Reader's Digest is up for sale, and the company may break itself up (Reader's Digest publishes a large number of magazines), and there's no guarantee that Reader's Digest itself will continue.

From the time I was old enough to read, Reader's Digest was a mainstay in our house. Not only did my parents subscribe to the magazine, but both my parents and my grandparents had a selection of Reader's Digest Condensed Books on the shelves. (For those who missed out on that unusual bit of publishing history, Reader's Digest Condensed Books were just what the name implies: they offered abbreviated versions of recent books, generally edited to about half or two-thirds their length. I thought of it as the book version of a fast-forward on a VCR or DVR--it made it possible for people to condense the entertainment experience. Sure, authors hated the idea that someone else had thrown away portions of their work... but I guarantee you that it led to a lot of casual readers discovering authors that they liked enough to buy in individual volumes later on, because my parents and grandparents did just that.)

A lot of people described Reader's Digest as the best family magazine ever--lots of short articles on a variety of subjects, which meant that almost every family member could find something to read. My parents always kept a copy of Reader's Digest on the magazine rack for just that reason--if anyone in the family was bored, Reader's Digest was guaranteed to offer a few minutes of idle entertainment.

And Reader's Digest was a neighborly institution. When everyone was finished with an issue, it was never thrown away--instead, it was given to a neighbor so that the magazine could entertain others.

Today, if we want a lot of brief articles on a variety of subjects, we just click on internet links for a while--but in the pre-internet days, Reader's Digest was the best source for diverse reading. And I appreciated the fact that it, like the comics that I read as a child, it instilled positive ethical values and educated while entertaining.

Not sure that Reader's Digest will fail, but it's just one more bit of bad news for readers and for the publishing industry... and it's another part of my childhood that may be fading away.

No Bookstore Is An Island

"Guess you're glad to hear that Borders is going out of business, huh?"

The customer who asked that seemed a little surprised with my response. "No, not at all," I told him. "I hate to see them go."

He couldn't believe it. "But they're your competitor--that's good news for you, isn't it?"

I explained to him that, first of all, I didn't consider Borders to be much of a competitor. That's not intended to be arrogant or dismissive--simply a statement of fact. Borders was a full-line entertainment store, we're a specialty comics store. Their entire selection of comics, graphic novels, and collected editions wouldn't fill even a small corner of our store; our selection in those product areas exceeded theirs by at least thirty times, probably more--and that's not counting backstock comics (ever try to find a Silver Age Flash #123 at Borders?).

But Borders was a great bookstore. They made it possible for people to walk into a store with money (or credit cards) and walk out with books. Making it easier for people to buy books is always a good thing. Also, Borders enabled kids to discover the allure of comics--and then, when they were hooked, we did everything we could to make sure those kids could find us.

I shopped at Borders. When they were in their prime, I preferred their selection to Barnes and Noble; they seemed more diversified, and maintained a larger number of titles in inventory (in the Marietta area, at least--can't say if it's true everywhere).

But most importantly, they employed a lot of people. They pumped money into the local economy. I know that we had customers who worked their as cashiers, as inventory stockists, as media specialists... and now those customers are out of work. That's not a good thing for any of us.

I know that many people buy books online, and many others buy ebooks. None of those do much to put Marietta people to work. None of those do much to excite young readers (and would-be readers) about the wonders of books. A bookstore does that, and much more. It helps to build a community of readership, and it helps to develop a dedicated clientele that supports that bookstore and its staff.

That's not to say that I liked everything that Borders did. One of the most grievous of all Borders sins (and I blame Barnes and Noble for this as well) is that they convinced many that bookstore was just a library where readers could go in, manhandle the merchandise, read the books without paying for them, and leave. I blame Borders for the eventual collapse of a large part of the manga market, because they convinced manga readers that no one should ever have to pay to read manga--they should just go into a store, grab the book they want, then sit down in the floor and start reading, bending the pages back and mauling the book in the process. Borders could do this, of course, because they paid nothing for damaged merchandise--they just returned it and took full credit. But they devalued the books in the minds of their readership, and that was devastating.

But that notwithstanding, I think the bookstore market was better with Borders than without it. And I'm not convinced that the collapse of Borders will do anything to help assure that Barnes and Noble will survive--they have their own business demons to exorcise. And should Barnes and Noble fail as well... let's just say that it will be a dire day for the bookstore market indeed. The big-box bookstores largely destroyed the independent bookstore market, and I don't think that there's anything that will bring that market back to health. I think that this is the latest bit of bad news for a business that I love, and I lament Borders' passing.

It's a Smallville, After All...

DC has put a lot of effort into their major relaunch of the entire DC comics Universe beginnning in September. One of the characters most affected is Superman--in this continuity, he will be single, Lois will be dating someone else, his parents will be dead, and he will be as much isolated alien as ethical human. For a lot of people, this will be a Superman so unlike the one they've known in the past that it'll seem like a totally different character.

I wish DC the very best of luck with this, but I find myself curious as to why they're embracing a concept of the Man of Steel that seems so different from the concept we saw in the most popular Superman project in the past couple of decades, Smallville. In fact, I wish they had used Smallville's alien-instilled-with-American-values-and-ethics concept as the model for the DCU. The series focused on the "nurture versus nature" argument, coming down strongly on the side of nurture--it was the Kents that made Clark a true superhero, not his alien background.

I had suggested at one point that DC should do a Smallville Season Eleven comic, continuing where the series left off. I still think it would be a great idea--and I have to admit that I find that vision of Clark Kent to be closer to the Clark that I've known than the version I've been reading about in news reports recently.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I am convinced that, if Dante Alighieri were to wander through an IKEA store, he'd throw away his draft for Inferno, muttering, "Oh, this is a much better design for hell..."

We made our first (and presumably last) trip to IKEA today. I was perfectly content never to set foot in the store, since I had read unfavorable review after unfavorable review about the store and the customer experience, but there was a $6.99 cutlery tray that Susan was looking for, and the IKEA people assured her they had ten of them, so we decided to drive down there, just to see what it was like.

Wretched, that's what it was like. (And no, they didn't have the tray Susan wanted, even though their system said that they did. Apparently, what IKEA has and what its system says it has are two totally different things with little correlation...)

IKEA has tens of thousands of square feet of space--but rather than opening it up, they block it off to create a rambling maze of a store, with arrows encouraging customers to move in only one direction. Along the way, there are kiosks where you will find employees steadfastly determined to offer no help whatsoever, even if you ask.

What I saw there were hundreds of furniture items and home goods, the vast majority of which I'd have no desire to own. IKEA's style reminds me of the blond Scandinavian furniture set my parents had when I was about eight years old--not unattractive and fairly functional, but cold and sterile and uninviting.

We did see the cateteria style restaurant, and it was busy. I had heard from others that the restaurant was the only redeeming feature of IKEA, but for me, it couldn't sufficiently redeem that store. If I wanted adequate food at a reasonably low price, I could always buy food in a hospital cafeteria--it looked like the same quality food that I got at Floyd Medical Center when Dad was there after his stroke, at only about 25% higher prices. (Yes, I know they have a 99 cent breakfast, but I can't think of any crime deserving a punishment as severe as having to be at IKEA at 9:30 in the morning.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blood Disorder

Remember when Twin Peaks was the show that had everyone talking? Then it was X-Files, and Ally McBeal, and Sex and the City, and House... there are a lot of shows that present such strong characters and such a distinctive narrative voice that not only do they burrow into the popular culture collective unconscious, they become an avatar of media coolness.

True Blood was just such a show. For the first couple of seasons, it was the show that everyone felt they should watch, even if they didn't find it particularly appealing, because it had become a trendy cultural touchstone.

Problem is, a lot of writers and producers have no idea what to do with this onset of trendy fame. And Alan Ball is having just such a problem with True Blood. The show was supenseful, with a unique narrative voice, in its first season. It began to digress a bit in the second season, losing some of its edge but still retaining its pop-cultural prominence. Each subsequent episode has seemed to drift farther and farther from the show's original intensity, however. Three episodes into its fourth season, True Blood has become a parody of itself. Many speculated that the series "jumped the shark" (thanks, Happy Days, for giving us this delightful term for a series that has gone too far from its original focus, passing the point of no return) near the end of the third season; the fourth season proves that to be the case.

I'm still watching, but only intermittently--that is, I listen as much as I watch, using the show as background entertainment while I'm working on Comic Shop News. In its first two seasons, I couldn't do that; True Blood demanded your attention. Now, an hour with True Blood is like an hour with an addled friend; you listen to the rambling in hopes that something meaningful will come out of it, and afterwards you find yourself wondering what led to such a sad state of affairs.

When You're Smiling...

Jim Moore has been a friend of mine for a long, long time—and as long as I've known him, Jim has been a writer. I witness his career even before it was a career--when it was a dream that he was determined to make real. And with each book, Jim has become more skilled at his craft. Smile No More, his latest novel, demonstrates just what a powerful storyteller he has become. This novel brings back one of his most popular creations, Rufo the Clown. This is Rufo's story—a story of a quest for vengeance, of a bizarre bond between hero and villain, and of the strange interrelationship between life and death (a relationship that takes several surprising twists and turns in this tale).

Jim utilizes one of my favorite story structures in Smile No More; since I was a teenager, I'd described it as the "braided rope" approach, because that's the way I visualize it as I'm reading. He presents the reader with what seem to be three unrelated story lines; soon, he begins to braid these three storylines together until, by the end of the book, his story has become a single tightly-woven rope of a tale.

Jim also mixes narrative voices; one of his storylines is told in first person--narrated by Rufo himself, in fact. The others are told in third person, sometimes from differing points of view. It's a complex narrative approach that many could prove too challenging for many writers; Jim makes it work well.

The story follows Rufo as he sets out to find his sister, whom he hasn't seen since his death a half-century earlier. Rufo soon learns that there are multiple generations of family on his sister's side--but the discovery proves to be bittersweet, launching him on a mission of vengeance and discovery.

While there are portions of the book that will lead the reader to sympathize with Rufo, Jim never lets the reader lose sight of the fact that Rufo is inherently evil. There may have been an essence of goodness here once, but this is a being who found a way to escape death itself... but in doing so, he left his humanity behind.

Rufo fans will love the revelations that Smile No More offers regarding the evil clown's origins and the nature of his seeming immortality. And the book's final chapters establish a nemesis for Rufo--a man whose future seems inexorably linked to Rufo's, no matter how much he wishes it weren't.

Smile No More is currently available as a limited edition from Morning Star Books; I certainly hope that a mass-market publisher makes a mass-market edition available, because fans of Moore's Serenity Falls tales are most definitely going to want a copy of this dark, twisted tale.

Apples & Spice

Everyone who knows me well can attest to my intense affection for spicy foods; one of my guilty pleasures is a hot pepper raspberry jelly that Susan found for me years ago. It's intensely flavored and pleasantly hot--not "burn your mouth" hot, but "my, that jelly had a kick!" hot.

I've tried for years to find a way to create a hot apple jelly that has the same heat while maintaining its rich fruit flavor. My first solution was to blend jalapeno jelly with apple jelly. Alas, it didn't work very well; no matter how careful I was to find a jalapeno jelly that had no other ingredients but jalapenos, sugar, and pectin (you have to watch out--a lot of companies put bell peppers, onions, and other ingredients in their jalapeno jelly, probably because they never imagined that someone would try to have it on a bagel or a biscuit for breakfast), I still noticed the jalapeno taste blended with the apple taste. Not what I was looking for...

Last week, on a whim, I tried a different approach--and lo and behold. it worked! I took crushed red peppers--the same stuff I apply liberally to my pizza--and crushed it even finer with a mortar and pestle. I then mixed that with a flavorful apple-cinnamon jelly I found at an Amish bakery in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Bingo! The end result was a spicy jelly that delivered a kick while maintaining its apple and cinnamon taste. No adulteration of flavors at all--just what I was hoping for!

Yeah, I know that I'm probably the only person in the world who will celebrate my culinary discovery... but I'm quite pleased, and will soon try the crushed red peppers in peach preserves and other jellies.

Chill Out

...And as if the weather actually reads my blog, the very next day after I talked about maintaining my exercise routine even in Georgia's summer heat, we have a surprise cool spell that kept Friday's weather in the low 70s and gave me a Saturday morning temperature of 67 degrees as I set out for my morning exercise. All good things come to an end, of course, and this afternoon it warmed up to a closer-to-normal 85 degrees, but oh what a wonderful day and a half it was! This must be what life in San Diego is like...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Exercising My Demons

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am truly committed to exercising. While I don't overdo it--I walk far more than I jog, and I work with light weights rather than doing heavy lifting--I am dedicated to a twice-a-day exercise schedule. Except for the few times that I physically couldn't (once when I had pneumonia, and once when I was recovering from oral surgery), I haven't missed my two-a-day schedule since May of 2001, when Dr. Mike first cleared me to begin exercising after my heart surgery.

(At one time, Dr. Mike said, "If every patient who promised me he'd love weight and exercise regularly actually did as well as you, I'd have a lot more free time...")

Georgia summers can be a little challenging, though. I don't mind exercising in Georgia heat, but I really try to avoid prolonged exercise periods in direct sun. I have a relatively shady morning route mapped out (it's just half my full route, but I walk it twice to avoid the sunny half of the circle), but the afternoon route still has more summer sun than I want, so I've begun walking in the evenings instead. By 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening, the sun is low enough on the horizon that the route is warm but comfortable, there's little direct sun on me, and I can enjoy the time outdoors.

An evening walk is almost a victory lap. It's a way of celebrating the fact that you've successfully conquered another hot, humid Georgia day. There's a feeling of accomplishment, as if you're proving that even oppressive Southern summers can't stop you from living up to your personal obligations... nor can it stop you from enjoying them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

War Is Over

"War of the Green Lanterns" ends in this week's Green Lantern #67... and what an ending it is! There are two major game-changing events in this issue, and I only vaguely foresaw one of them; the other (the most climactic of the two) took me totally by surprise. And when you've read as many comics as I have, that's an accomplishment! I understand that there will be relatively few changes in the Green Lantern family of books when DC does its relaunch in September, and that's a good thing; I have a feeling that Geoff Johns has a long, complex storyline planned that builds from this, and I want him to be given as much time and space as he needs to tell that tale!

X Marks the Spot

I can't tell you how long it's been since I really enjoyed an X-Men comic book--or maybe I can, since the answer would be "since Joss Whedon wrapped up his Astonishing X-Men run." I've found the tangle of continuity threads that intertwine the X-family since then (and even before then in virtually every other X-Men book) to be impossible to sort, and for me they haven't been worth the efforts. Many of the characters who have played important roles are virtual cyphers as far as I'm concerned; I couldn't even bring myself to try to remember who they were, much less why they should matter.

But I can't say enough good about X-Men: Schism #1. Jason Aaron has done the virtually impossible: he's constructed a well-crafted, plot-driven X-Men story that makes perfect sense to someone who has found most X-Men books incomprehensible.

The story, which deals with human mistrust of mutants and the desire of some mutants to push back against the bigotry and discrimination, is deal with in a manner that no one has touched on since Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson's God Loves, Man Kills. Even better, though, Aaron tells his story without mimicking theirs; he takes a different approach, laying the groundwork for the inevitable split that will be at the heart of Schism. (That split is no secret; Marve has already revealed that the mutants will break off into two teams, one led by Cyclops and one led by Wolverine, and the differences will be both philosophical and operational.)

I'm thrilled that Marvel has put together a new X-Men project that's so accessible to those who have been shut out of the X-Men in recent years. I'm equally thrilled, though, that Marvel has put together a book that is so integrally focused on plot rather than on characterization nuances and continuity threads. Aaron has a story to tell, and he tells it remarkably well.

If you ever enjoyed the X-Men before, X-Men: Schism is the book you should read.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sepulchral Ruminations

From time to time, late at night, my thoughts turn to the time when I will cease to be.

Death and I are not strangers; we met for a brief time just over eleven years ago, but we parted again soon after. I know that we'll meet again sometime--and I don't fear the meeting, although I would just as soon our reunion be delayed.

My mind always works with numbers and patterns, though, and I find myself calculating even in thoughts of my own passing.

Should I live as long as my mother, I have already passed the halfway point between my first death and my next. Every one of those days that I remember--every morning walk, every waking, every sleeping, every accomplishment, every failure--those would be how many days I would have left to me still.

Should my years equal my father's, then I have still seventeen years left--but seventeen years ago was only 1994, and I feel like 1994 was so little time ago. I remember 1994, not as a distant time, but as a distinct, almost tangible series of moments. I recall the house in Rome, and I remember the hot dry summer, and I can recall the Christmas tree and the ornament that broke when Asia knocked it from a lower branch, and I recall Friday night meals when we arrived at our second home in Rome, and I remember Susan's look of happiness as she drove her Miata for the first time... how can seventeen years seem so brief?

Mr. Steele lived to be 92; if I am granted that same number of years, then I have 34 more years to fill. 34 years ago, I had just moved to Marietta with Susan, filled with enthusiasm and optimism at our new life away from the confines of Cedartown. We were still relatively poor, but we were too happy with what life had given us to fully realize it. I remember weekends with friends, trips to Rome, excursions in our yellow Honda (my first new car), explorations of Marietta, snow days that were promised by prognosticators and never came... Could that really have been 34 years ago? And if so, how quickly will the next 34 years pass by?

One of the gifts that death gave me eleven years ago is that I no longer fear the end of my days; I have been there once, and there was nothing frightening or terrifying there. But I also have seen others die since then--my mother, my father, my cousin Frank, friends, other members of my larger family--and I know the emptiness that their passing has left in my life. Some of the holes left by their absences are vast abysses, unfillable and impassable; others are smaller chasms, but they are holes nevertheless. It is the worry that my passing might leave such yawning holes in the lives of those I love that worries me far more than death itself.

But sometimes, late at night, it's the nagging worry that my passing might leave no holes at all.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

In Memoriam, Mr. Steele

While I was at my high school reunion, Deb Johnson told me that Mr. Leroy Steele, father of my old friend Gary Steele, died a short while ago. I was taken by surprise by the news, although I shouldn't have been; Mr. Steele has been in increasingly poor health for several years, and had finally been forced to leave his house and stay in the care of others. Even so, I had assumed he would improve under the watch of people concerned about his health; apparently he went into a rapid decline, however, and passed soon after.

Deb and I went to school together, but I got to know her even better because her family lived right next door to the Steeles. Gary and I were steadfast friends through high school, and I spent many weekends at Gary's house; as a result, I got to know Deb relatively well, even though she didn't have many classes with me.

Ironically, I had spoken to Deb's mother just after Mr. Steele's health forced him to leave his home; when I was unable to reach him, I looked up her number and called, and she told me about his condition.

I wish now I had left her my phone number so that she could have called me when he died; I would have liked to have been at his funeral to show my appreciation for all the role he played in my life. I frequently benefited from his hospitality, and I learned a number of skills from him.

Deb's husband told me that he thought Mr. Steele was in his 90s, which may be true; he was older than my father, and I sometimes wondered if those extra years contributed to Gary's emotional rejection of his parents. I will never know; Gary is no longer in contact with me or any of his old friends, and in fact Deb said that finding him to let him know that his father had died was next to impossible. They got the feeling that he had no interest in ever returning to Rome again, and they did not anticipate his accepting any attempts at contact from those of us who once knew him.

Thanks, Mr. Steele; know that you were never forgotten.

Journey Through the Past

Tonight I spent a few hours with friends from my days at West Rome High School. Each year, an impossibly energetic woman named Deb Joyner Denneman puts together an All Chiefs Reunion (West Rome High School's team was the Chieftains, thus the name). There is no West Rome High School any longer; Rome City Schools sold the land for East and West Rome to Kmart and Walmart respectively, creating a single Rome High School located on the outskirts of civilization so as to be near neither East nor West Rome (it's better to be inconvenient to everyone, apparently).

It was wonderful to see so many old friends again--and in particular, it was great to see some of those I knew best in high school: Pam Astin, Greg Carter, Jamie Cook, Ken Barton, Mike Blanton, and Nancy Corlew. You'll notice that all of those last name begin with the first three letters of the alphabet. That's apparently a side effect of alphabetical seating throughout junior high school and high school: the people you get to know best are the people who sit near you, so we tend to develop friendships with those in our alphabetical vicinity, apparently.

Pam, Greg, Jamie, and Ken were particularly close friends during school, so we spent some time catching up. Jamie is the only person I knew well who was in class with me from the first grade at Garden Lakes through the twelfth grade at West Rome; Pam was my best school friend of the opposite gender; Greg and I were such good pals that he was in my wedding; and Ken and I had about eight million things in common. It's nice to see that life has treated them all well; everyone seemed happy and settled into a comfortable life. That's what we all hope for, isn't it?

I also saw a favorite teacher of mine, Ann Spears; Mrs. Spears was an English teacher who always made English both challenging and fun, and knew better than to let me coast. When I got a job teaching at East Rome High School a few years later, Ann was working in the city school system office, so I got to know her professionally as well. She remembered me as a student and a teacher, and was most gracious in her comments regarding both.

There were many others there, but I spoke to very few people other than those from my class; I hope no one took it as aloofness on my part, because it wasn't. In the eleven years since I quit teaching, I have become less comfortable speaking in crowded situations, and sometimes feel a bit awkward in social situations as well. It's not something that bothers me when I'm around friends, but it results in my sometimes seeming a bit withdrawn.

I've come to the realization that I really loved my high school years. Don't think that high school was all great for me; I had a number of unpleasant experiences, mostly brought about by high school athletes who frequently targeted me for their frustrations when my sports-editor dad picked another team over theirs in his weekly local sports predictions. But I also had hundreds of great experiences, and I have come to realize over the years that everything that was really important in shaping my life I learned in my public school years. West Rome inspired me, educated me, andinfluenced me. I always feel bad for people who talk about how miserable their high school years were; I wish they could have shared my high school experiences instead.

Mono a Mono

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I love multi-channel music. I've bought a lot of stuff in surround sound--even music from groups I don't normally follow--because I think that 5.1 channel music has an enveloping quality that is positively captivating.

So it might be surprising to some that I've been listening to a lot of stuff in mono recently.

I credit the superlative sound quality of the Lexicon system in the Equus for part of that. Mono sounds so good in the Equus that I decided to transfer a lot of mono recordings to mp3 so as to hear how the Lexicon could play up the nuances of mono from music that I normally preferred to hear in stereo. So the Beatles Mono Box Set got transferred to my iPod, as did early Dylan in mono, early Association, early Stones... and I've been doing a lot of listening.

When the Beatles CD's first came out, there was a lot of controversy over the first four being in mono, but the explanation given was that the Beatles put a lot of time into supervising and approving the mono mixes, but had little to do with the stereo mixes. The problem with that logic was that the early Beatles CDs weren't taken from those mono mixes, but were mono fold-downs from the stereo mixes. But the 2009 mono box set is the mono mix as the Beatles approved it way back then. In many cases, these are different takes and/or different mixes, so there are musical differences as well.

I compare it to fine reproductions of classic comic art. Sure, in the new high-resolution reproductions, we appreciate the fact that the detail is so fine that we can see the yellow and cyan dots that comprise the green field. But sometimes we just want to see the green field. So as much as I appreciate the fact that stereo and multichannel sound allows me to hear every instrument, the multichannel mixes also give me some after-mastering control. I can adjust balance to left or right, boosting one channel over the other; I can even turn up the volume to the individual channels, boosting the instruments in the right rear, or the voices in the center, to create a customized mix that lets me hear the music in new ways.

In mono, though, I have no control other than volume. However I play the music, I am hearing the instruments mixed exactly the way the artists wanted them to be heard.

I still prefer multichannel, but there's something about mono that's appealing, too. So for the next few days, I think I'll be listening to a lot of Beatles in mono, savoring the differences between these recordings and the stereo versions I've loved for so many years.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Clear No Longer Clear

For the first year or so that Clear offered 4G coverage in metro Atlanta, there was no coverage at my house. I have a portable Clear MySpot modem that I would occasionally bring home from the store to see if it worked at the house; the service would get weaker and weaker, finally ending two or three houses away from me.

Last November, the Clear modem began to work from the upstairs rooms of the house, offering second-string backup internet service that worked tolerably in the event of a power failure that took out the other internet services.

But this week, the MySpot modem is once again blinking red, indicating that whatever tower Clear had activated that offered service at my house is gone. Why they've shut it down is not Clear, however...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

In Short There's Simply Not...

... a more frustrating King Arthur interpretation than Starz' short-lived Camelot series.

I see that the series has been cancelled after its first season, and I completely understand why it failed to thrive. The show butchered the Camelot legend, transforming Arthur into an ignoble king responsible for the flaws that would ultimately lead to his kingdom's downfall. Morgan becomes the true necromancer of the series, while Merlin is for the most part a charlatan and buffoon with only the slightest skill in magic.

While the series had two superlative cast members--Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and Eva Green as Morgan--the rest of the casting was far, far less impressive. Jamie Campbell Bower was wholly unsatisfying as Arthur; he was awkward, wooden, unheroic, and uninspiring as the king who would become England's inspiration. For the most part, he would have been more suited for a dinner theater version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Fiennes, though, was brilliant, pulling every nuance out of Merlin's character. I admit that he showed all the subtlety of William Shatner in his portrayal... but the brashness was a part of Merlin's nature, and it fit in perfectly. Green was for the most part captivating as Morgan--alternating between regal and conniving as the role demanded. And she was far more entrancing on screen than was Tamsin Egerton as Guenevere--a bad bit of casting when Guenevere's Helen-esque beauty is supposed to be the cause of Camelot's downfall. Green's only distracting screen moments come when she is at her most machiavellian, at which point her voice drops to a coarse, nuanced growl that sounds amusingly like Fringe star Anna Torv doing her Leonard Nimoy impression.

I watched the entire series, because I'm an Arthur devotee... but I have to confess that at times I found myself hitting the fast-forward button a couple of times to get through some of the series all-too-frequent moments of tedium. Alas, it didn't help that much...

Let's hope that, after a few years passes, someone will realize that there is still a good Arthur story to be told in television series form... but neither Merlin nor Camelot have succeeded...

Kindle Not So Hot... least not for me.

I'm aware that a lot of folks love Kindles, and I can foresee situations in which the kindle would be quite beneficial. I'd much rather have a textbook in ebook format with full searchability, for instance.

But I have to confess that I find the process of reading a book on a Kindle to be a poor substitute to reading a book.

Now let's be fair. I love books. I love the artistry of book design, I love to elegance of printing, I appreciate the variety of fonts, I like the sumptuousness of superlative bindings, I like the heft of the book itself. That probably makes me the anomalous audience as far as the Kindle is concerned.

I certainly appreciate the light weight of the Kindle; it's a great way to carry a number of books for reading while traveling, I'm sure... but I don't travel that much for health reasons.

What I don't appreciate is the Kindle's off-putting way of creating a brief inverse image whenever one "turns the page," or does whatever passes for turning a page on a Kindle. It's distracting; it takes me out of the world of the book and into the world of inelegant electronics with every page advance, and I find it distracting.

I also find the all-black-and-white display of the Kindle to be tolerable, but just barely. It's like appreciating the linework fo Gustave Doré via a mimeographed image of a Doré illustration. You get the idea, but it fails to capture the vitality.

I own a Kindle, thanks to an amazing offer that made the device available to me for not much more than the price of a single hardcover. I also own a Nook, due to a similarly irresistible offer. I like the Nook's color display better than the Kindle's black and white, but the display is still less vibrant and engaging than the image I get when I read a book on my iPad... and the Nook has a disconcerting habit of "squishing" some images to make them fit the unusually tall proportions of a Nook screen. And the Nook has its own software problems--it's kludgy and non-intuitive and sometimes cumbersome to use.

I also have an iPad, and I've probably read ten times more books on there than on the Kindle and the Nook combined. The iPad has glare issues, of course (but so does the Nook), but it's still closer to the book experience than either the Nook or the Kindle. I credit Apple's superlative software engineers for that; they have an amazing ability to recreate the human experience--but even then, I find the experience to be secondary to the book experience.

And those who know me are aware that I love signed editions of my favorite books. I have a feeling a signed Kindle, Nook, or iPad would be far less enticing...

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

God Save the Queen

Trying to catch up on some of the shows that we enjoy, we watched "10 Li'l Grifters," the second episode of the new season of Leverage. The case takes the team to a party where the characters are supposed to come dressed as characters from mystery novels, films, or television series, and Timothy Hutton arrives dressed as Ellery Queen. I was amused, since I have fond memories of his father Jim Hutton playing Ellery Queen--and I was even more amused that Timothy Hutton was wearing a unstructured, slightly floppy hat, a red sweater, and a tweed jacket that looked exactly like his father's wardrobe from the old NBC series. I had just purchased Ellery Queen on DVD last spring; it was surprising to see a television nod to the classic series.

Justice Dis-served

The verdict is in, and the jury has found Casey Anthony not guilty of murdering her child.

In related news, chloroform and duct tape are apparently acceptable parenting tools in Florida.

(I suspect that even OJ Simpson is asking what was wrong with that jury...)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Dear Neighbor...

...who insists on buying out the entire fireworks inventory from Three-Finger Stumpy over in Inbred, Alabama, then bringing them back here to detonate them in the middle of a quiet subdivision:

I have no problem with you setting off your fireworks. I do request, however, that you carry out your fireworks extravaganza within the confines of your own home. With the doors and windows shut. The blasts will seem much more impressive then...

Tuesday, Tuesday

Tomorrow is the Tuesday after a Monday holiday, and the Dr. No's schedule remains unaffected. And anyone who knows the comic book business understands why that's a Big Thing.

For those who are not privy to the inner workings of comics distribution and retailing, here's a quick rundown. (And for those of you not at all interested... well, this is going to be one of those posts you'll want to skip...) As of January 2011, comic shops have had the option to sign up for Day Early Delivery. That means that shops like Dr. No's, who've chosen to pay a $4 per week DED fee and abide by certain terms (no selling books any earlier than prevailing business hours on Wednesday is the prime requirement) can receive their books Tuesday to allow them to process books, report shortages or damages, and prepare for the next day's business. Prior to 2011, a few stores got their books on Tuesdays, but most stores received their books on Wednesday and then had to scramble to unpack, count, and rack them for sale as quickly as possible.

The new system makes for a much more civilized, professional approach. However (you knew there was going to be a catch, didn't you?), when there was a Monday holiday, books ran a day late. Stores could still sell on Wednesday, but they were also receiving on Wednesday, so we were all back to that hectic rush-unpack-count-and-rack scenario.

But Diamond has boosted the professionalism of the entire industry by arranging to ship comics to most accounts in time for them to receive on Tuesday in spite of the Monday holiday, meaning that Tuesday is business as usual. That's a major step forward; it allows comics retailers to operate with the same sort of professionalism that is evidenced by book retailers, music retailers, and other entertainment media retailers. Books can be properly processed and racked, special orders can be pulled, shipping materials can be removed form the sales floor, displays can be prepared... it's a tremendous benefit to retailers.

This required Diamond Comics Distributors to reinvent their system, which is no small feat. Diamond keeps their distirbution system profitable by operating a relatively efficient, tightly scheduled operation. In order to get books to stores on Tuesday in spite of a Monday holiday, they had to ship everyone's books one day earlier than usual, which means that books had to be ready one day earlier, which requires either (a) overtime, or (b) an even more efficient system. I'm not sure whether Diamond opted for A or B or came up with alternative C that I haven't considered--but however they did it, the end result was we get to treat Tuesday just like any other Tuesday, in spite of the Monday holiday.

So, comics fans, when you go into your local shop on Wednesday and everyone looks just a little more relaxed and ready for business, you'll know what's going on, and why something that seems so trivial to non-retailers is such a big thing to the guys who sell comics for a living.

Musical Grammar

Twenty-six years as an English teacher lead me to notice grammtical errors and oddities in the music that I enjoy. I can't help it--even some of my favorites have some grammatical oddities that stick with me.

Take Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die," for instance. I enjoy the song, but there's one line that bugs me: "in this ever-changing world in which we live in." There's one "in" too many in that song. I tried to give Paul the benefit of the doubt, assuming he was singing, "in this ever-changing world in which we're living," but then the lyrics were published, and it was clear that the last words were "we live in." Ever since, I've enjoyed the song just a little bit less.

I'm one of the four people in the world who bought Frijid Pink's first album. The album was the source of the group's only major hit, "House of the Rising Sun," but I got the album when I was a teenager with limited resources, which meant that I played the whole album again and again to get my money's worth. And as much as I enjoyed the ballad "God Gave Me You," I was bothered even as a teenager by two mispronounced words: "perform" and "miracle." One of the lines of the song is "Let God perform a miracle." Alas, the singer mispronounces those words as "pre-form" and "mir-ee-kul." It's hard to fully appreciate a seemingly heartfelt ballad when you want the singer to stop and do another take.

And then there's the oddity of a song that changes person. This isn't an error per se, but a distinctive part of the lyrical structure. The best-known example is Elvis Presley's "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear." When Elvis sings, "Oh let me be," the chorus responds with "Oh let him be," shifting from first to third person. There aren't many songs that do this, and it always catches my attention. Iron Butterfly does it in the song "Flowers and Beads." While Doug Ingle sings the line "Girl, I just know I love you now," the chorus responds with "Girl, he just knows he loves you now." It's such a distinctive lyrical quirk that it catches my attention every time it plays.

(And I'm ignoring songs that have intentional grammatical errors or lyrical slurring, such as Led Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," which wouldn't work quite as well if it were "Babe, I'm Going to Leave you.")

Yep--once an English teacher, always an English teacher...

Dead Air

What you're looking at here is a dead air conditioning unit. One of the four units that keep Dr. No's relatively comfortable during the hottest Georgia summers has finally given up the ghost; looking at the photo that the Coolray tech took when he was up on the roof, I'm surprised that the unit had functioned as long as it did! This is one of the original units installed when the store was first built in 1977; in HVAC terms, it must seem almost immortal!

The wet stuff you can see around the unit? That's oil from the compressor, which ruptured in a most dramatic (and unrepairable) way. Now we have to get a price on a new unit, wait for them to get it in, have a crane scheduled to hoist it up on the roof (how else did you think they'd get it up there?), and then get it hooked up. Oh, and pay them thousands of dollars.

Nothing else to do, though; we gotta have air conditioning! Right now, we can keep the store tolerable so long as the other three units keep working (and we use fans to move cool air from the three functional zones into the non-functional zone). I am keeping my fingers crossed that those units continue to perform their cooling duties well--however, as the tech pointed out, two of those three units are just as old as the one that failed!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Just Shooter Me

If you're not reading Jim Shooter's blog, you really need to quit reading this and go there right now. Here's the link. I'll wait.

Now you see what I mean. Jim is doing a remarkable job of chronicling comics history--and he knows it quite well, having been a part of that history for more than a third of a century now. I find his posts regarding his early days as Marvel's editor-in-chief to be positively fascinating, and his insightful comments about comic book writing and storytelling demonstrate again and again why Shooter remains one of the most skilled writers in the business--he truly understands how the story and the visuals have to work together.

Again and again, Shooter reminds us how much he values the integrity of the characters-both the visual integrity and the narrative integrity. I only wish that more of today's editors had the same loyalty to the characters they oversee; in a field where too many editors hold the characters in contempt and are more interested in being an iconoclast rather than a protective guardian of established characters. The industry could benefit from many more Jim Shooters, believe me.

I am fully aware that there are some that will not agree with Shooter's takes on comic book history; I only hope that they will be motivated by Shooter's writing to share their own memories of those events. As someone who was an observer, a retailer, and a reporter during the years that many of these events were occurring, I can say that Shooter's blog almost always aligns pretty well with what I remember of those events at the time. At the same time, he introduces some pretty insightful new bits of information that let his readers see what was going on from a more informed perspective.

(As an aside, I will mention that I was fortunate enough to be on hand for the Jim Shooter roast, held at an Atlanta convention back in the early 1980s. It was a hilarious event that underscored the affection that many creators had for Shooter at the time--and the standard-for-all-roasts sharp tone of the presenters never seemed to bother Shooter, who smiled and laughed and seemed to have a great time. I know there was once a full videotape of this event; I hope that someone has transferred it to digital form. I've seen bits and pieces of it on Youtube; if you run across it there, watch it and appreciate the fact that even as late as the early 1980s, Marvel had a true bullpen sense of camaraderie that comes through very clearly.

Kane Not Entirely Able

The recent Solomon Kane film has been adapted into a novel courtesy of horror writer Ramsey Campbell. Campbell is a superlative horror writer and a man with great expertise at creating mood, but he has never impressed me as a writer of action adventure. As a result, his Solomon Kane seems to move forward in fits and starts; the parts that are horrifying are really powerful, while the segments in between seem to be constructed in a more workmanlike manner, moving the story forward in a capable fashion but never fully drawing the reader into this fictional world.

I don't really fault Campbell for the fact that it's an adequate book; I am convinced that novelizations are inherently problematic, since they require an author to tell a story that's not his, trying to adapt its visual construction into a prose narrative. In this case, it's even more complex, because we have  screenwriter Michael Bassett trying to capture the tone of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane, then handing the story off to an acclaimed novelist who has to then translate that into a prose style that's not really Howardian. The result is a story that isn't Howard, it isn't Bassett, and it isn't Campbell; instead, it's an amalgam of the latter two trying to capture the feel of a character created by the former.

(The worst example of a novelization of this sort was the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula, which was then novelized by Fred Saberhagen, creating the seemingly absurd book "Bram Stoker's Dracula by Fred Saberhagen based on a film by Francis Ford Coppola.")

There are moments where Campbell shines through, and his storytelling sense makes this an above-average novel, but I'm not sure that it's a book that will really satisfy fans of Robert E. Howard or Ramsey Campbell. Fans of both (like me) will appreciate it as an intriguing experiment, even though it doesn't fully coalesce.

(The fact that Bassett's script doesn't adapt a tale by Robert E. Howard doesn't mean that the film is bad, mind you; I truly enjoyed Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans, which has very little to do with James Fenimore Cooper's novel of the same title and much more to do with the 1936 Randolph Scott film. Truth is, a film and a book are totally different creatures, and in some cases the very same elements that make a good book are impossible to translate to film, which is why I'm convinced there will never be a truly good, faithful film based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe.)

People Find Strange Ways to Celebrate

'Cuz, you know, nothing captures the joy and optimism of a wedding like an H.R. Giger wedding cake. Look here and you'll see what I mean... Here's a quick look to prove that it's worth the jump. App[arently these folks at Jet City Cakes have some pretty unorthodox offerings!

Comics Five-O

Over on Facebook, Jack C. Harris has created a fascinating album called "On Sale Fifty Years Ago Today," depicting five DC books that were on sale this week in 1961. I have distinct memories of buying all five of those books, although probably not at the same time (and probably not fifty years ago today, since books tended to get staggered release dates in Rome, depending on when the magazine distributor serviced each store on his route).

My favorite cover of the bunch is the Gil Kane cover for Green Lantern #8, finished in an ink-wash by Jack Adler that was designed to give the book a painted look. It's a remarkable cover that's every bit as distinctive today as it was the day I bought it, and no colorist working (or overworking) in Photoshop today can come up with anything half as eye-catching.

But the cover that most appealed to me as a reader was the cover for Flash #123, "Flash of Two Worlds." Two guys called the Flash? What the heck was going on? Earth-One and Earth-Two were new concepts back then, and this was an incredibly exciting innovation for a young comics reader like me.

Thanks for stirring up some pleasant memories, Mr. Harris--please keep it up!