Monday, November 28, 2005

Full Wine Rack

I love having a full - no an overflowing - wine rack, it makes me feel so Bohemian. Thanks go out to Kybecca for having a (hopefully) awesome deal where you get six bottles of wine for 60$. I know, it sounds pricey, but this is enough wine to last us for several months.

Each month is a different location - November is / was California. It's all discounted, plus you get the benefits of having someone pick out your wine based on something other than which label is prettiest, which is nice. It comes with a printout with descriptions and what to serve with what, etc etc. Hopefully the wine doesn't suck; we're still working on a bottle of Fat Bastard, so it is a mystery thus far.
It's very colorful, though.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Manly Banister Does It Again

Burdened with a preponderance of Incomprehensibly capitalized Nouns, non-sensical dialog, and an aimless, desultory plot, Conquest of Earth, by the amazingly, and, I'm sure, accurately named SciFi author "Manly Banister," is a torturous trek through a future where the empty, desert surface of Earth is just about as fun as it sounds. It's also proof that you can't judge a book by its awesome, awesome cover.

Spoilers within, not that it matters. Even if you don't listen to me and you try to read this, the book is out of print anyways. As if that weren't enough, the copy that I have is quickly disintegrating.

We begin at the final examination of one "Kor Danay," Scarlet Sage. We quickly learn that he is pretty much Neo from the Matrix sequels. He can fly, explode things with his mind, harness the power of the sun, that sort of thing. He can sense the presence of other humans by listening for their "vibrating electrons." He can stop time by performing a specialized technique which basically boils down to "thinking really, really, really fast."

A member of The Scarlet Order of Men, his Divisible Mind allows him to harness the powers of the Third Order of Logic. The Men are based in the city of Den-Ver, where they, along with the Blue Brotherhood, plot the destruction and eventual defeat of the invaders and rulers of Earth, the Trisz, with their followers, the Triszmen.

The Trisz, you see, are energy beings who rule the Earth with an iron fist. In the beginning and the back of the book, they are described as "the Trisz... the benevolent Trisz" (Manly is very fond of ellipses), but why they might be described as benevolent is never really explained, as all they ever seem to do is execute people randomly and rule through fear and overwhelming technological superiority.

In any case, they have been stealing all of the water from Earth for centuries, also for reasons that are never really explained. What an entity of pure energy could need water for is beyond me, and, judging from the lack of explanation, beyond Manly himself.

The first section of the book is reminiscent of A Wizard of Earthsea, as Kor is appointed to a priesthood type position in a town on the Mis-Zou River. He has amazing but seldom used powers, and his position is primarily one of guidance and help for the townspeople. Then, he pays homage to the Trisz rulers and falls in love for no reason with the daughter of the human Lord of the town after evading several assassination attempts from the Triszmen.

Manly fools you into thinking that this will be a book about undermining the all-powerful Trisz, working against them in the shadows while evading discovery and capture. A few chapters later, though, Manly gets bored and introduces the quickly discarded gigantic computer that predicts the future. There are some rhyming prophecies involved; I won't bore you with the details, but I'll just say that the phrase "pots and pans" makes an appearance and Kor escapes from the vaporization chamber by teleporting himself back to the underground city of Sub-Den, under Den-Ver. Using his mind.

Kor lives here for a while with his girlfriend Soma, the personalityless love interest mentioned above. The Men perform some experiments on him, and Kor grows bored, much like the reader. He dreams of being a Searcher, like his father. Maybe you are confused, because I sure was at this point. The Searchers are Men who fly around outer space looking for places to put human colonies (since Earth is dying from lack of water). His father is someone who has never been mentioned up until this point. Finally Kor gets the job, and sets off in a spaceship propelled by the power of his mind to a tropical paradise where he honeymoons with his new wife.

It isn't long before she is eaten by a Trisz (who are here too, apparently). Kor goes crazy and the third section of the book begins. This section is about how Kor has amnesia and becomes the "Great One" for a tribe of cavemen. He uses his powers to bring deer and rain to the cavemen, and they worship him and give him cavewomen to have sex with. This continues for several agonizing chapters until Kor kills a bunch of Trisz with volcanoes after his cavewoman dies in labor.

Thus begins the fourth and final section of the epic struggle. Kor is swept away to a space station where he is nursed back to health by his friends from Sub-Den. Here, Kor develops a non-sensical plan to stop the Trisz, who now apparently are from another universe where they ate all the stars. They are now in our universe, stealing all the water from Earth, because, well, maybe they are tired of the taste of stars or something? I dunno, it's not important. The Men start a giant construction project, building giant towers on burnt-out stars, and they fight off a fleet of Trisz starships using Kor's sun controlling powers. Then he goes into the Trisz universe and sucks them all up into his mind. The End.

All of this takes place in a scant 125 pages. The entire book seems rushed and disjointed - it's as if Mr. Banister had four or five great ideas for SciFi books, then, instead of fleshing each of them out and making four or five decent books, he lumped them all together into a single really bad one.

In the end, it comes off as one of those stories that really give SciFi and Fantasy a bad name. It's a mediocre plot, with mediocre characters, dressed up with future of the 50s names (like Kor Danay) and future of the 50s concepts (like "vibrating electrons," "divisible minds," and building-sized computers that can tell the future, but in riddles). Skip it, unless you're doing a research project on early SciFi novels or if you want to punish yourself for something. This could probably make up for kicking a small puppy, or robbing a bank.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Quasar, Shmasar; Flat Earth, Shmflat Earth

Well, after a long and thouroughly enjoyable detour into Final Fantasy X, I finally finished Isaac Asimov's The Universe. I'm sorry to say, it was not a page-turner. Also, fair warning: equal time is not given for Pastafarianism (or Flat Earthism).

You might know Issac Asmiov from the recent Will Smith movie about robots, which stole the name from one of his books in an ironic fashion, or from watching the Star Wars movies, which stole their entire universe from his Foundation series, only in a shameless fashion. Well, now he is back, with a popular science book about astronomy, subtitled with "from flat earth to quasar." No one, to date, has stolen this book to make a movie (email me if this is wrong).

It starts out well enough, with a section on the Ancient Greeks and all their crazy ideas about the universe. This is pretty interesting, and reading about how these guys measured the circumference of the earth using 2 pointy sticks is like watching someone build a computer out of Legos (WARNING: link is not as interesting as it sounds). The book then moves on through the years and on through the cosmos as mankind discovered more and more of the universe and all the crazy stuff that resides therein.

Unfortunately for the narrative, something like 95% of the history of astronomy as a hard science has happened in the last 50 or so years (from the publishing of the book, 1960 or so). So it is heavily weighted away from high-minded men struggling to overcome the limitations of their time, and heavily weighted toward high-minded men completing tasks successfully and meeting deadlines. It's not snobby, those are my words, but it just gets a bit dry after a while.

One thing that is more interesting than those boring things that I just spoke to is the crazy links of observations and extrapolations that allowed us to divine all that we know about our universe. For instance, have you ever wondered how in the world we know that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy? You know, we are in it, and it's not like there is a giant mirror out there for us to look at ourselves in. Well, if you read this book, you will find out (if you care to know).

This book would be an excellent book to read if you are a science teacher, wanting to bone up on your material before the one week where you teach the kids astronomy - it covers just about everything you learn in school about the universe, and it explains everything in an adequately acessible fashion. Likewise, if you are a person who wants to remember how galaxies are formed, or if you are a person who wants to know why they are called "galaxies" in the first place, this might be a good book for you.

If, however, you are looking for an entertaining bedside read, or a book where you will learn lots of new and interesting things (assuming you paid attention in science class the first time around), you can probably skip this one and never regret it for the rest of your life.

Anyways, the best part about the book for me, was that it reminded me of this picture:

So there, I just saved you 300 pages. You're welcome.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"Well, what are we protecting you from, a wrong cheeseburger?"

This is just great - I ran across it while browsing the poe-news forums. It is a 911 call from a lady upset because Burger King keeps making her cheeseburger wrong for her hungry kids returning from Tae Kwon Do lessons.

Snopes labels it as "undetermined," but they did confirm that the call is real - they speculate that it might be a prank call. It sounds pretty authentic to me, though. Yes, there is an audio recording (as well as a transcript). It is pretty funny.

Dispatcher: Okay, what exactly is it you want us to do for you?

Woman: I . . . send an officer down here. I . . . I want them to make me . . .

Dispatcher: Ma'am, we're not gonna go down there and enforce your Western Bacon Cheeseburger.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Freelancestar Goes High-Tech

Wow, Fredericksburg's very own newspaper, the Freelancestar, finally added RSS feeds. They even have it split up by subject. There's so rarely something eventful happening in this town that it will be nice to not have to load the whole page just to find out that High School Team A won Sports Challenge Z.

Now that they are so tech savvy, hopefully they will be able to figure out that taking a picture, shrinking it down to thumbnail size, and then blowing it back up again to post on their articles leaves, well, something to be desired in the final result. Here's a great example, where they have used their unique method on an expenditures chart (look for it on the right below the ad). Very helpful.

The high school sports article (above) has another gem. I love how the "zoom" actually makes the picture smaller.

It's Never the Pretty Ones

It's just... too horrible for words.

It's not often that Fredericksburg makes the "news," but... good god. Make sure you scroll down for the picture. I'd post it here, but frankly I don't want to look at it anymore.

Extra!: Freelancestar article.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Virginia Reels From Lack of Attorney General

Wow, I didn't realize that this was still going on. Still counting the Attorney General votes, and can I just say that 446 votes is not very many? What drama!

When they get around to doing a recount... well, I voted for Deeds (after much agonizing) and I think I put my ballot into the machine upside down - so if that turns into 445 then you know it was me. Crazy newfangled technology.

Monday, November 14, 2005

me @ crim dell

Posted a couple of pictures from W+M Homecoming on the Flickr page.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Come On and Pierce My Heart With Your Love!!

Just watched Disc 4 of Full Metal Alchemist. It continues to be an awesome show. I was a bit dissapointed with Mustang in the highly-anticipated (by me) duel episode, cuz he kind of turned into a loser. But then he redeemed himself to me by doing his little snapping fingers thing and exploding the world. But man, I still can't believe that guy exploded that other guy's brains. Nuts!

Also, what's up with the new theme song? It sucks!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Smart People Are Stupid

Here is an article.

It is about anti-intellectualism. I've only so far read the first section, but it is pretty entertaining and punchy, but only I suspect if you are sympathetic to the point of view presented.

Articles like this are fun, because they let you get Outraged!, but then when it's done, you have to remember the whole non-black-and-whiteness of the world type thing. It's like watching action movies.

An enjoyable quote:

And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and,in every real sense, sums it up:

"We've been attacked," he says, "by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

And there it is.

From Esquire, I think, originally.

Karaoke Revolution Partaaay

Well, it has been a busy week for Harmonix. In addition to the apparently excellent Guitar Hero, they've come out with the also pretty good Karaoke Revolution Party. As you may have heard, ihd went out and bought this the other day. It is pretty good.

There is nothing revolutionary about this, the 4th Karaoke Revolution. Rather, it's sort of a streamlined, polished roundup of the previous three games. All the menus have been redone and they are a lot cleaner and easier to navigate. Instead of playing that annoying song with the camera shutter noises, it plays a random song from the song list over the menus. This is more refreshing than you might expect. It's got an astounding 40-some songs to choose from, with a few returning from previous installments.

I think that the people at Harmonix finally realized that nobody sits at home by theirselves and plays Karaoke Revolution. Thus, they have removed the Arcade / Career mode. This mode was retarded, because in previous games, it was the only way to unlock new songs, etc. Now, there is a handy list available in game of what you have unlocked, what you have to do to unlock new things, and all that jazzy stuff.

There is much ado about the Dance Pad support. Basically now you can play DDR and Karaoke Revolution at the same time! This is a really crappy mode and is about as lame as you are probably imagining it to be.

The game also supports the EyeToy, which is where the fun comes in. First, there's "EyeToy Theatre," which is a venue in the game which basically just puts the output of the EyeToy on the TV screen. Now you are looking in the mirror while making a fool out of yourself. Also, your audience can see you, and you can see them, which is one of the main drawbacks of the normal game, since the singer is normally facing the TV screen to see the notes. So you know, that's cool.

But you can also map your own face onto a polygon body! There's some crappy 3rd party software that takes your picture, then builds a 3D model of your face. Then you can decorate your freakish horror movie character with things like cat suits, parachute pants, and, yes, tophats:

Flickr Photo

There's me. But you really don't get the magic of it until you see your little avatar "getting busy" at the beach party. I giggled in delight, I will say that much. It's amazing the difference it makes watching yourself being cheered by adoring fans versus watching that robot guy get cheered by adoring fans. It's emotional. Here's me dancing after earning a Platinum record on "Fame (I'm gonna live forever)."

Flickr Photo

Anyways, if you like Karaoke Revolution, this is a game to pick up. Even if you don't have a dance mat, it is still worth it, since you will prolly never use it anyways. The EyeToy... well it is an awesome addition, but the game is still extremely playable without it; it's a great gimmick, but it's still a gimmick.

It is heads and tails better than the previous editions, except for the lack of "Under Pressure." Don't worry though, it's got "Take on Me."

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pinch Me

Here is why my life is great. Come home from a long day at work, expecting an empty house and a dinner of poor man's tacos (tortillas with shredded cheddar cheese, not heated up), and what do I find but this:

Flickr Photo

That's right, instructions on how to heat up the leftover homeade French Onion Soup from last night, lovingly written down by my fabulous domestic partner, along with fresh made homeade crutons made from homeade bread. Just for me! Anyways, I was touched and pleased.

And to think, today I come home and she's got Karaoke Revolution Party waiting for me / us! Jeez, pinch me.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Speak of the Devil, and the Devil Doth Show Up In a Giant Spaceship

Latest off the skillet is Childhood's End, by the eminent Arthur C. Clarke (entertaining picture alert). As part of the spoils of the Friends of the Library Booksale, it began with the twin desirable qualities of being virtually free and having a campy 1970s SciFi cover, pictured below:

Additionally, this was a book that I had been wanting to read for some time, after stumbling upon it while reading Wikipedia, probably rooted from this article about "The End of History." That's a tiny little spoiler right there, and before we go any further, let me just warn you that many more will follow forthwith.

This book is pretty amazing. There's two kinds of SciFi in the world: one is Star Wars style, where a bunch of cowboys and Indians shoot lasers at each other In Space, and the other kind is this. It's about imagination, the future, and, yes, the human condition. This book makes you think, which, while cliche, is absolutely true - you will be thinking throughout the duration of this book.

The beginning is about this question: if you could have world peace, end world poverty, and world hunger, and make everyone happy, but it was all imposed at the point of a gun, would you take it? It's about the end of all sovereignty, the end of democracy, and the end of all say over your own government. But you and everyone else gets to be completely happy.

When the UN rules the world and the new "World Constitution" goes into effect, you're sympathizing with the resistance groups, but then you start to think - maybe everyone really is better off this way. The only negative aspect is one of principle; humanity isn't free du jure, but it is free de facto - and with all the problems of the world solved anyways, what is the point of principle? Clarke keeps you teetering right on the knife edge here; it's really difficult to decide who to root for. In the end, it doesn't really matter - the outcome is inevitable, when faced with The Overlords.

The second part is about a Utopia, and all the philosophical questions that are standard for the idea. Humanity is faced with a world where no one has to work unless they want to, where the average American watches (gasp!) three or more hours of TV a day (circa 1950, this was a big deal), and no one has really done much of anything in the realm of science, art, or just about anything else for quite some time. There just doesn't seem to be any point anymore. Again, you sit right on the edge of this section - you feel pity and envy for the people of this time. Life is wonderful, but they have nothing to live for.

I won't spoil the end, because it is fantastic and partially dependent on suspense, but it deals with the end of childhood (as you might guess from the title), for humanity. Much is gained and much is left behind and lost forever - again you are left wondering if it was all worth it, if it wouldn't have been better to stay the way it was... but, as with the rest of the book, the change is inevitable. You still can't help but feel a little sad, though.

If you're not interested in the thinking stuff or the mushy stuff, the core story is still probably enough to pull you through the whole book. Clarke keeps you going, gradually revealing secrets about The Overlords, their motives, their plans, and their nature. The characters are interesting enough and less stuffy than typical 50's SciFi people. Since humanity is still in "modern" times and all of the technology is alien and intentionally kept behind a veil, it doesn't suffer from the quaintness that a lot of old SciFi does.

Yes, that's right - this book has everything. It's a recognized classic of SciFi, and with good reason. The proselytizing blurb on the back of the book is spot on when it says:

In the literature of our time, CHILDHOOD'S END will surely stand as a landmark. And it is not any accident that it is science fiction. For science fiction, more than any other literary form, truly expresses the ambiance of the 20th century. The authors of [a bunch of scifi books], and many more brilliantly perceptive novel, write from an awareness and sensitivity that illuminate the human condition.

Okay, maybe that guy went a little overboard there, but seriously, read this book.