Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye, 2012

To say this past year has been mixed is to commit grievous understatement.  Towering over it all is the death of my mother on February 11.  Tonight is the last of the big holidays for me to celebrate without her, without our annual call and chitchat about nothing whatsoever.

Many grand things happened, of course, including the publication of my fifth--and best, so far--novel, No Going Back.  As if to keep my ego in check, the world largely ignored the book, though I shouldn't complain in that it sold enough to keep me a hardback author (I think and hope). 

I could go on and on with the year's ups and downs, but I haven't the heart right now.  Instead, I'll go spend time with family and a few friends, think of Mom often, and resolve at midnight to do better next year on so many fronts. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Support Jain's art!

Long-time readers may recall that I am a huge fan of the work of local artist (and friend) Jain Faries. Jain is best known and makes her living from her work in fabric, which you can see here and which though I appreciate it is not the sort of thing I seek. The art she creates that I love is her weirder stuff, some of which you can see on her personal site and at the occasional convention.   She gave me one of her "balls onna stick," and I adore it; for more on them, read this earlier post

Lately, though, Jain has expanded into small, hand-built libraries, one of which she made for me and gave me as a Christmas gift.  Here it is standing up; sorry for the crappy photography and the glare off the protective plastic sheet, which I left in it.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

For a sense of the size of this wonderful creation, here's a (less glare-covered) picture next to a Mac Magic Mouse.

Every compartment in the library is a little box that you can remove.  On the back of each box is a burlesque image.  Jain made every single wee volume, each of which features different texts or images and a variety of binding styles.  Yes, that's a skull in the lower center, and an acorn above it. 


What does it all mean? 

What I love about this piece of art is that I suspect no one, including Jain, can definitively answer those questions.  Each viewer mixes her or his perceptions with what Jain builds to create her or his own meanings. 

Jain's weirder art generally does not sell as well as her more conventional stuff.  That's a damn shame.  I think this little library and others like it should be going for many hundreds of dollars in galleries and at conventions. 

If you like what you see, contact Jain, bring real money, at least a couple hundred bucks, and commission her to build something for you--but leave the commission just that vague.  You'll be glad you did.

This is not, by the way, a paid advertisement.  I even violated my own rules for the blog and wrote this without first consulting Jain.  Jain's first knowledge of this blog entry will come when she stumbles upon it.  I simply feel strongly enough about the quality of her work that I wanted to pimp it.  If she's a bit embarrassed by this post, she'll just have to get over it. 

Imagine the hours of enjoyment you could have exploring your own little library. 

Now, make that dream a reality. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Two upcoming movies I really want to see

I caught these trailers at recent films, and now I'm hooked and ready to see them.

First, this offering from Guillermo del Toro. 

How can you not want to see giant, remote-controlled robots fighting giant sea monsters?

Second, on a completely different note, we have this crime comedy.

Just the scene of the Rock (sorry, Dwayne Johnson) encouraging Marky Mark (sorry, Mark Wahlberg) to get his pump is enough to get me to the theater.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Four movies I want on Blu-Ray

that are almost certainly never going to appear in this format:

  1. Streets of Fire

  2. LA Story

  3. The Serial

  4. Whiffs
I'll defend the first three, though you can make strong cases against any or all of them.  I'm not sure it says anything good about me that I love the fourth, but there you go; it's a sick movie that somehow works for me.  It worked for my mom, too, for whatever that tells you.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

After-Christmas health food

Today for lunch a group of us decided to seek food elsewhere, so after a quick consultation we headed to OnlyBurger for what was sure to be a healthy lunch. 

Oh, it so was--as you would expect from the OnlyBurger restaurant.

My main dish was the fried green tomato burger with bacon.

Click on the image to see it larger. This beast gets better the closer you look.

Yes, this monstrosity contains a burger, a fried green tomato slice, a fried egg, a couple of pieces of bacon, and pimento cheese.  Hey, it has fruit and protein; that's healthy, right?

My side dish was equally healthy:  the bacon-wrapped macaroni and cheese squares, three to an order (one disappeared down our yaps before I could snap this photo).

I love that they completely wrapped the macaroni and cheese; no bacon stinginess with these folks!

Perhaps a salad is in order for dinner....

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Imagine going to the grocery store...

...with these bags.

You're being a responsible, Earth-loving shopper, so you're carrying your own reusable bags.  I've been doing that for some time; my two large bags have PT logos on them and are gifts we once gave staff.  Now, though, I can stroll into the store and plop down on the counter, courtesy of Scott, this bag with Holden's alert face.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

Sure, the bagger is likely to remark on the bag, but in a good, "what a cute dog" sort of way.

Say, though, that the purchases won't fit in one bag.  No problem; I pull out the other bag from Scott.

Now, the bagger is going to start looking around nervously, wondering where the lone security guard is and whether that old dude is going to be any help against the serial killer asking to have meat and veggies and muffins crammed behind his plastic head.

Oh, yeah, I'm looking forward to my next trip to the Whole Foods.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas is a time

for me, at least, for spending time with family and those close friends who feel like coming by, for giving gifts and opening those you receive, for making food for others and enjoying the food they make, for sleeping late (at least now that the kids are older), and for being lazy. 

I'm doing all of those things today.

I hope you are, too.  If you have to work, or if you don't celebrate the holiday, or if you're alone, I hope the day is kind to you and brings you joy.  (I hope that for you every day, but particularly today.)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Four things Christmas dinner must include

around here, anyway, speaking solely for myself, and in no particular order:

  1. A luxurious cut of beef

  2. Rolls with butter

  3. Mashed potatoes with butter

  4. Banana cream pie

To be sure, Christmas dinner around here typically contains many other items, including salad, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a chocolate dessert, and so on.  I simply consider those four dishes to be the bare minimum essentials.

Having said that, all I personally do is pay for provisions and cook the beef.  Others do all the hard work--and they do it better than I would.  I am grateful to all who provide food, at Christmas and always. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What does it say

about me that my friend and colleague, Sean, texts me this picture

Click on this freaky thing to see it bigger. Don't blame me if you do.

with the note
I saw this and thought of you.  :)
I don't really know, but I'm pretty sure it's not anything good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where the hell did we hang that pickle ornament?

Click on this picture to see an obscenely large image of my head.

Oh, yeah.

There it is.

You'd think I would have noticed it banging against my neck as I walked.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

The tree, she shines and sparkles

One decorating party and hours of work from many different folks later, this blank tree

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

metamorphosed into this shiny one.

I love the look and the smell of decorated Christmas trees.  I particularly like the way a tree looks as it glows late at night in a darkened room, its colors and twinkles happy harbingers of good things still to come. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

You need a little from the Mountain Goats

Some days, you just do.

Let's start with this recent song.

Now, let's flash back six years to this melancholy tune.

That should do us for now.

Back to your regularly scheduled holiday music.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The first Christmas without Mom

As regular readers know, my mother died last February.  As the year has worn on, I've experienced a lot of key events, such as my birthday, the family beach trip, and Thanksgiving,  that are different for her passing. 

Now, it's Christmas' turn. 

Christmas was always a big deal when I was growing up.  No matter how poor we were, it was the year's biggest blowout, with presents for all and a grand meal in the late afternoon.  After Mom married Ed and we had more money, Christmas became even more extravagant.  I've certainly carried that tradition into my life, as anyone who's been here at Christmas will attest. 

Mom used to come to Christmas here occasionally, but she hadn't made the trip in recent years.  She'd call, and if I missed her, I'd call back, often reluctantly.  On more than one occasion, I got so busy with our Christmas that I forgot to call until the next day--an occurrence that frequently led her to call here first.  Now, I'd give a lot to be able to make one of those calls.  

She wasn't a big presence in my adult Christmases, but her uncanny ability to give truly amazingly bad presents (e.g., the James Bond wallet holster) made each package from her just a little more interesting for what oddness it might contain.  She spent a lot of time shopping for those gifts, and she always preferred to finish before December or at least as early in December as possible.  She liked stores and mail-order catalogs; Internet shopping was never her thing. 

This coming Christmas, there will be no gifts from my mother under the tree. 

There will be no call. 

I know all this is natural and the way of the world, and most hours of most days, I don't think about it at all. 

Sometimes, though, I feel the loss like a hard punch to the solar plexus that leaves me unable to breathe and waiting, waiting for the moment when air will rush back in and I will be okay again. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

All my books are now available on Amazon's Kindle Store

I apologize up front for the spambot-like headline, but this news is exciting enough that I didn't want anyone to miss it.  As of a couple of days ago, you can now buy all of the fine ebooks from Baen, my publisher, not only on Baen's own wonderful store but also via Amazon's Kindle Store. 

As you'd expect, when you now see a book of mine on Amazon, you'll see it in Kindle editions as well.  Here's a not-very-well-done (sorry about that) screen shot of No Going Back on Amazon.

Note the Kindle, Hardcover, and Audible options; nifty!

You've always been able to download my ebooks to your Kindle, because Baen sells all its ebooks in seven different formats, including the Kindle's.  That process, though, did require a tiny bit of work.  Now, you can choose to have the benefits of those many formats or the ease of buying it from Amazon. 

Either way you buy my ebooks, you can be sure they will be DRM-free.  Baen has long stood firm against DRM, and I have for just as long supported that stance.  All of Baen's ebooks on Amazon's Kindle Store are thus DRM-free.

I'd be failing as a self-promoter--a role I find awkward and so do frequently fail at--if I didn't mention what fine Christmas gifts my books would make, so now I've done that.

It's great to see my books have more ways to connect to readers!

Monday, December 17, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 4

I am home, which is a very good thing.

I am behind on Christmas shopping and planning, which is a very bad thing.

So it goes.

Today's travel was exactly as it should be: smooth and straightforward, with the added luxury of first class on both legs. Princess Fancy and I quite enjoyed having friendly people offer us more beverages and food than we wanted as we lounged in comfy seats. I wish I could afford to fly first class all the time.

Poor Kyle, on the other hand, ended up stuck in Newark and ultimately driving a rental car many hours home. I doubt he's home now (and it's well past what the timestamp says). I do hope he arrives safely.

I'm still sick, and I expect to take more days to heal, so I'm going to wrap this up and then crash.

I hope to be more interesting tomorrow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3

We slept in a bit, which was great for me, and Kyle and Sarah grabbed brunch from the Bouchon Bakery.  I was still full, so I skipped the food.  We then headed out for a day of sightseeing at casinos and stores entirely too hip and expensive for my taste.  Such places, do, though, yield many photo ops.

Such as this one, of Kyle and Sarah standing near a water tornado exhibit that sits for no good reason on the floor of one shopping area in Crystals, the fancy shopping space between Aria and Cosmopolitan.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

Later, at Cosmpolitan's rooftop club and skating rink, Princess Fancy (so self-named after I declared myself, "Mr. Fancy") reclined in the best outdoor snuggling seat in Vegas.

Later, she tried on a very special red shoe.

Kyle tried on the same shoe, but he declared it not to fit him very well.

In the course of the day we also enjoyed gelato (twice), caught up with some friends of Kyle's who had just landed, watched the wonderful Cirque show Zarkana, and had a great dinner at Jose Andres' Jaleo.

A very nice day again.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2

I logged a lot of rack time last night, which was great.  I also woke up every hour coughing and wheezing, which was less great.  Still, the time in bed had to help.

Brunch today was at the delightful Bouchon, where we all ate entirely too much and left feeling distended and sated.  From there, we headed to the Hard Rock for The Ultimate Fighter 16 finale.  As it turned out, the time on the tickets was when the doors opened, not when the fights started, so we spent more time there than was necessary, but we amused ourselves with conversation and the superb people watching. 

We even had time for a few happy snaps, such as this one of Kyle with the UFC "ring girls."

As always, click on an image for a larger version.

The fight card was excellent, with almost all of them finishes and very few boring rounds.  We had excellent, cage-side seats, so the MMA celebrity viewing was superb. 

Afterward, we cabbed to the Bellagio for a little sightseeing, dinner at Fix, and dessert gelato.  Here's Sarah in front of the hotel's enormous Christmas tree.

A long day, but a good one.  Now, I see if I can sleep.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

The cold I've been unsuccessfully fighting threw me to the ground last night and started beating on me.  My nose is like a faucet, and it and my lips look like someone took sandpaper to them.  So, I did the only smart thing:  slept four hours and got on planes for the whole day!  Shrewd, I am, shrewd.

The flights were good, though.  I dozed a lot on the first and worked for most of the second.  First class is always a treat and makes every flight better.

After we secured our room, we hung out a bit as I worked, then ate a decent Italian dinner at one of the many restaurants here in the hotel.

I'm too tired to write more, so I'll leave you with this photo of one of the many understated Christmas scenes the hotel and its shops have created.

When it comes to subtlety, you can't beat Las Vegas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Running out of headroom for the tree

The spot where we put our Christmas tree is quite open and under the highest part of a high ceiling, so we usually aim to get a tall tree.

This year, we definitely succeeded.  To give a sense of scale, Scott (left and looking unhappy) and Aidan (right) are 5'10" and 6' tall, respectively.  They're holding onto the tree so they can crowd into the photo.  (That they are out of focus is entirely my fault.)

Click on the image to see a bigger picture.

Bagging the tree to make it easier to put on top of the van was a challenging process that took half a dozen of us. 

Next week, the decorating!

Tomorrow, though, the Vegas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A sure-to-be-bad movie I have to see

Long-time readers may recall that I'm a big fan of the 1984 Walter Hill cult film, Streets of Fire.  If you've never heard of it, check out this incredibly dated trailer, forgive it its weaknesses, and then go watch the movie. 

Sadly, you can't buy this one in Blu-Ray, but deal with the sorrow and watch it anyway.

Now, a completely different director, Albert Pyun, has made a sort of spiritual sequel to this 28-year-old movie, Road To Hell.  The IMBD entry for the film lists it as a 2008 piece, but this article says it won nine awards, including Best Picture, at the recent PollyGrind film festival.  As this trailer demonstrates, the movie is almost sure to be bad.

I don't care.  I have to see it.  Jim Steinman's back on board for music, the plot again makes no sense, and the visuals look weirder (and worse) than the original. 

Yup, I have to see it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why is this shoe on the table at Jaleo?

You have to wonder.

(Click on it to see a larger version.)

We did, but we didn't worry about it for long, because the croquetas in the paper in the shoe were so amazingly good that their container didn't matter.

I'm sure Jose Andres meant something by it; I just don't know what.

Perhaps we'll eat there again this coming weekend, when I will be back in Vegas.  I have to hope so.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Killing Them Softly

I know many folks who have praised this film, and in some ways I can see their point.  It is a character-driven movie with genuinely interesting, if in every case unlikable, characters.  It doesn't given an inch in its relentless pursuit of its political agenda or its dedication to unflinchingly and accurately portraying its sorry characters.  Director and writer Andrew Dominik gets great performances from every single actor in it.  Brad Pitt, Scott McNairy, James Gandolfini, and Ben Mendelsohn are hard to take your eyes off in even the most routine moments.  The movie is even interesting, in a watching-the-inevitable-collapse sort of way. 

It's also a step up from Dominik's previous work, the seven-day-long, excruciatingly dull failure of atmosphere over everything else, The Assassination of Jesse James by the who gives a fuck will this fucking movie ever fucking end? 

All that said, Killing Them Softly is ultimately as empty and predictable and telegraphed an empty work as the worst Adam Sandler flick. 

Yes, these are mean, petty people walking mean, petty streets.  Yes, they're all screwing each other even as an invisible overarching corporation is screwing them.  Yes, we get the analogy with America; how could we not, given that Dominik has TVs and billboards screaming his message in almost every shot?  What we don't get is any sense of suspense, or even a hint that someone in the film might gain redemption, or any reason to care.

If you enjoy Dominik's camera work, which I wavered between liking and finding so ham-handed as to be annoying, then check this movie out.  If you feel like spending time with some genuinely bad and stupid people, head to the theater.

Otherwise, give Killing Them Softly a pass. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lee Child on creating suspense

If you don't know the Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child, you should.  Entertaining, fun, and always page-turning reads, these books keep you moving forward like no other.  Child has published seventeen of them so far, and the franchise still has plenty of legs.  Plus, the first movie based on one of his books, Jack Reacher, which comes from the novel, One Shot, debuts December 21.  (I'll comment later on whether the relatively short Tom Cruise manages to pull off the role of the 6'5" Reacher, but I certainly have my doubts.)  Child's writing has many strengths, but chief above them is how much they keep you reading. 

Kyle pointed me to this New York Times article from Child, in which he tackles the question of how to create suspense.  I won't attempt to summarize what he explains in relatively short order, but if you're at all interested in writing suspenseful books or understanding how they work, I recommend you check it out.

I am greatly interested in a secondary aspect of the article, which is that we so often ask the wrong question.  More on that in another post. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

27 years

That's how long Bill Catchings and I have worked together.  Through multiple companies, several years of full-time freelancing, and, for the last decade, Principled Technologies, our partnership has held strong.  Tonight, we celebrated the end of PT's tenth year at our annual Seasonal Celebration, the holiday party for the entire company.

This party is definitely a dress-up affair, which is why the two of us are in tuxes.

(If you're a glutton for punishment, click on the picture for a larger image.)

Wow, do I find it hard to look at myself!  The flash was blinding us, which is why our eyes look as they do.  I have no excuses for the rest.

We blew it out on this special tenth-anniversary party.  We even went for a commemorative cake from Sweet Memories Bakery

Not only was the cake over the top and festive, it also evoked images from the signature video on our Web site. 

Cake was not the only dessert, of course; we also had our traditional dessert bar.  As one of the two owners of the business, I felt I had to try each dessert in case one of them sucked and I would need to warn the others.

Fortunately, none of them sucked.  In fact, they were all delicious.

The party was great, and everyone had a wonderful time.

I am fortunate to work with the best team in the world at the best fact-based marketing company in the world.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dialog-free pivotal moments

I'm always surprised by how many times otherwise good books and movies spoil key moments by explaining them to us, as if we audience members can't possibly understand what's going on from actions alone. 

When a work gets it right, though, it's a beautiful thing.  For no good reason, a little bit ago this lovely scene from Houseboat came to mind.  Watch as Cary Grant and Sophia Loren come to fully realize how they feel about one another, even though they don't speak for long after they begin dancing. 

Never mind that last bit of painful dialog; I won't be spoiling the film by telling you that Grant and Loren will eventually end up together. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Magic on command

Sitting in the Cirque theater in the Mirage last week, watching Love, I was once again struck by how good the Cirque creators are, how they manage in show after show to transport us to magical places, to deliver magic on command. 

As I was walking out, I decided that at least in part that's what all of us, every artist, needs to strive to do.  Reading a book, staring at a painting, listening to a song, watching a movie--however we're experiencing art, there's at least a moment when we're open to magic, when it could flow through us and fill us and make us feel as if we're going to burst.  Most art doesn't deliver this effect, and doing so is, of course, not the only goal of art, but it is an opportunity art presents us. 

As I walked out of the casino to the taxi line, I realized how much I want to do better at taking advantage of that wonderful opportunity, how much I, too, want to deliver magic on command.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why "thank you" matters

When people do things for me, I try to always remember to thank them.  Whether what they're doing is holding open a door, cooking a meal, or giving me a present, I say, "Thank you."  Even if the action is part of the person's job--a waiter serving a dish at a restaurant--I say, "Thank you."  I believe that this small courtesy, this tiny societal norm, is vital.

I don't hold this belief, however, simply because I was brought up to behave this way (I was) or because it is (or, at least, it was) a normal part of civil social discourse.

No, I cling tightly to the importance of this simple phrase because it acts as a reminder to each of us to be grateful, to be genuinely thankful for what others do for us.

Gratitude is so very easy to avoid.  Is it really, after all, necessary?  We did it ourselves. We worked hard.  We earned it.  We paid for it.  We deserve it. 

Except, of course, that we almost never do anything entirely by ourselves, or earn something entirely on our own.  Yes, we may pay for a service, or we may feel that we deserve something from someone else, but in the end the others have the choice not to participate, not to perform the service or give us the thing, and we should be grateful when they act for us.

I'm constantly surprised by how few people these days seem to share my feelings in this area.  Maybe it's always been this way and I just thought things were different.  Dunno.

What I am sure of is that we could all stand to be more grateful and to show that gratitude regularly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A sense of scale

You know the Hoover Dam is big before you see it, but once you're there, you start to get a sense of just how large the whole construction is. 

Here's a view of the bottom of the new bridge from the dam.

As always, click on the image to see a larger version.

If you look very closely at the structures on the right and left, you can see trucks that give you a sense of how enormous even the outlying structures are.

Now, here's a view of the dam from the top center of that bridge.

Yeah, we're talking really big. 

Small parts of the inside of the dam are huge.  Check out this one section of turbines. 

I didn't expect to have a great time at the dam, but I ended up finding the entire experience not only informative but oddly compelling.  I definitely recommend a visit to it. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 5

I'm home after a long day of traveling that included the worst food anyone has ever served me on a plane and an hour-long flight delay, yet was generally a good trip.

Catching up on work, however, has kept me up until nearly six a.m., so I'm skipping out.

For your amusement, here's me next to one of the fine items Las Vegas has to offer.

(As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)

Okay, you can have Kyle, too, with bonus demon eyes, as he checks out the box on stage at the Penn & Teller show.

Fine!  You want more; you got it:  a salt-crusted entire foie gras at e by Jose Andres.

With that, I go to bed. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 4

A marathon shut down the Las Vegas strip for much of the afternoon and evening today, so getting about town was more than a bit of a struggle.  None of that mattered, however, because today's only travel challenge was one I was sure to meet:  Getting to the Cosmopolitan casino for dinner at e by Jose Andres

e is to Jaleo, where we ate last night, as minibar is to Cafe Atlantico: a restaurant within a restaurant, a small space in which a team of chefs perform feats of food magic using the latest modernist tricks.  In the case of e, the goal was to serve entirely Spanish cuisine while using all the techniques that Jose Andres learned at el Bulli--and more.  The space seats only eight diners, and e offers only two seatings a night.  As you can see from the Web site link above, you email for a reservation and then hope for the best.  I was lucky enough to get in tonight. 

The meal itself was 27 small courses, many of them only a single bite, each of them wonderful.  I didn't taste a single bad thing.  As modernist meals tend to do, this one surprised us and made us laugh even as we were oohing over how good each taste was.  From the first warm-up appetizer to the last of the several desserts, every single dish was delicious, beautiful, and surprising. 

I could go on and on, but I have work to do, so I'll end with a simple bit of advice:  If you're in Las Vegas and can possibly get into e by Jose Andres, do it.  The meal is not cheap, but it is worth all you'll pay for it and then some.  It's one of the very best dinners I've had. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3

Any day that begins with brunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro immediately has an edge over most other days.  Eating perfect eggs, some of the best bacon ever, delicious sausage, and amazing pastries was just a wonderful way to start the morning.  Of course, it also left us all insanely full, so we spent the next several hours wandering the high-end stores and watching people.  People-watching is amazing here.

We then taxied over to the Bellagio for more gawking and a small amount of tasty gelato.

Dinner was at the absolutely wonderful Jaleo, Jose Andres new restaurant here.  The food was beyond good; it was full of joy.  We found ourselves smiling uncontrollably.  Kyle likened biting into a croqueta to being hugged and made to smile by someone who loved you, and he wasn't exaggerating; it was that good.  I've tasted more different croquetas than I can remember, and this one completely redefined for me how good this wonderful little item can be.  The flan was similarly amazing, a dish I thought I knew redefined and made more perfect than I thought it could be.

More walking, a few art galleries, and then we hopped into a cab to the Rio to see Penn & Teller.  I've seen them multiple times before, but this might have been my favorite show.  They're both so very good and so very smart.  I highly recommend this show if you haven't seen it.

Tomorrow, I hope to sleep a great deal, because the downside of working and also sightseeing is that I am getting very little rest.  The results are worth the cost, but I do look forward to sleeping without an alarm. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2

Today began entirely too damn early for my taste, because we wanted to make sure we hit the Hoover Dam in time to catch an early tour.  We did, and that choice proved to be wise, because not longer after our tour the lines were long, but I hate getting up early.

The Hoover Dam itself was impressive indeed, a huge structure that stands as a monument to what humans can accomplish when they work in large groups. 

I worked for a big chunk of the afternoon, though I took a break with our group to grab some food.

Evening brought an outing to the new Cirque show, Zarkana, which I hugely enjoyed.  It focuses heavily on acrobatics but makes more use of projection technology than any other Cirque show.  Very cool indeed.

Dinner was our traditional great steak meal.

I'd write more, but I'm exhausted; Vegas is fun, but Vegas while doing a full day's work is an odd mixture of fun and exhausting. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

Each year around this time, a group of us journeys here to Las Vegas to celebrate Kyle's birthday with him.  Today's trip began after 2.75 hours of sleep, which is just too damn little.  I ended up dozing through most of the first flight, which made it a fine time.

I expected to have to sprint between gates in DFW, but instead we got off the plane, waited half an hour, and got back on it.  Would that every connection were so simple.

The second leg of the trip went as smoothly as the first, with the added bonus that I was able to get and stay current with work thanks to the plane's bandwidth.  After getting luggage and checking into the hotel, I passed most of the daylight hours in work.

The evening, though, brought one of my all-time favorite Cirque du Soleil shows, Love.  Marrying Cirque's trademark magic with the songs of the greatest band of all time, The Beatles, Love is an amazing, uplifting, wonderful ninety minutes.  I spent much of it smiling without even meaning to.

Afterward, we headed to the MGM Grand's Emeril's restaurant.  I had a salad and some delicious macaroni and cheese with ham, but the real treat was the banana cream pie, which remains the best I've ever tasted.

Though work filled the day and the hours after this evening interlude, the evening was wonderful indeed.

I wish I could take every person I know to see Love.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another great writing song

and a pretty spiffy video, too. 

Of course, it probably wouldn't work as well if I knew what the words meant, but fortunately for my writing, I don't.

When I watch that video, I can't resist thinking of this one. 

That's how late-night playlists are born, so I'm going to stop myself now.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Push down pussycat

This past weekend, we visited with a friend, her daughter, her son-in-law, and their two children.  Sarah was sitting with Zoe, the older child, a lovely and very smart four-year-old (or is she five?  I think she's four) on the sofa.  I was listening to their conversation.  Zoe mentioned a game they played in school that she liked.  Sarah asked its name.

"Push down pussycat," Zoe said, her focus never wavering from the bowl of cheerios she was eating.

"What is that?" Sarah said.

"You push down someone," Zoe said, a very matter-of-fact expression on her face, "and they have to be a pussycat."

Sarah couldn't help but smile and laugh a little. 

Neither could I. 

What an imaginative, wonderful, simple game.  No rules, because at least at that age everyone can figure out what to do.  No one wonders what it means to be a pussycat.  No one argues about duration.  No one complains about being pushed down.  You get pushed down, you're a pussycat. 

I was talking with a friend at work about it.  We agreed that many offices could be improved by a few--safe and gentle, of course--rounds of Push down pussycat, maybe followed by a little milk, some cookies, and a story while you rest for a little bit on your mat. 

I have zero, absolutely zero memories of any time in my childhood when we played that sort of game, but I wish I had them, and now I do have the memory of Zoe's face as she told us about the game.  I'll treasure that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stuck in my head

Playing over and over.  Not new, not hardly, but relatively new to me.

I can write to this, oh, yeah, I can. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ah, Christmas movies in America

For no good reason, I love that the Hollywood powers that be thought these two movies should not only open against one another but also premiere on Christmas Day.


As you might expect, the Hollywood moguls were right in one way: I very much want to see them both.

Of course, I will watch almost any movie.

Any, that is, except the Twilight films.  

Even I have limits.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Cosmic Christmas is here

Actually, it has been for a while; I've just forgotten to mention it until now.

In any case, this fine book of awesome SF Christmas stories is now available at your favorite bookseller, physical or online.  As just the list of authors on the cover should tell you, you need this book. 

If you're a Jon and Lobo fan and you don't own Jump Gate Twist, you particularly need this anthology, because it reprints the Lobo Christmas story (yes, you read that right:  a Christmas story starring our own favorite killing machine), "Lobo, Actually."  It's quite a good story, believe it or not, and with apologies for saying so myself. 

Of course, with other tales from Connie Willis, Larry Correia, Mercedes Lackey, and many more writers, even if you do own Jump Gate Twist (and, really, you should), you still need this book. 

What are you waiting for?  Go get it!

Tomorrow, we return to my normal, less-comfortable-at-promoting-himself me.  I rationalize this shameless exercise in hucksterism as being okay because my friend, Hank Davis, edited this book, so it's really his, not mine. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Red Dawn

Walking out of the theater the other day, having spent almost two hours watching this fine piece of American patriotic theater, we worked together to craft a review that could capture the essence of Red Dawn. In the end, though, we were able to agree only on a few key points:

  • It was a movie.
  • Images indeed moved on the screen. 
  • Shit blew up. 
  • Director Dan Bradley and the various contributing writers are honey badgers when it comes to such minor details as logic, reason, continuity, sensibility, believability, and so on.
  • Josh Peck is so annoying, so very, very annoying, that from here on if we notice a new movie includes him, we'll probably give it a pass.  I was rooting for the North Korean and Russian invaders to kill his character. 
  • The movie utterly wasted Chris Hemsworth's greatest talent by never having him take off his shirt.
We were unable to agree on many other notable issues, including
  • The single stupidest scene in the movie.
  • Whether the filmmakers completely ignored technology and did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, or if they simply were that ignorant of how tech works.  
  • Whether Adrianne Palicki or Isabel Lucas could show more teeth when she smiled. 
  • Whether there is any movie Chris Hemsworth won't make for a paycheck.
  • The best way to kill Josh Peck. 
Amazingly, we had a pleasant time watching Red Dawn, particularly once we realized it was an unintentional comedy. 

Decide for yourself whether to go, but if you do, leave your brain at the door.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks

Today is one of my favorite holidays, because it reminds us of how very much we have to be thankful for. I try hard to remember every day how lucky I am and to thank each person who does something for me, but I know I sometimes fail.  I hate when I do. 

I hope today to thank those who help me, feed me, transport me, house me, and care for me. 

I thank all of you who buy my books and make it possible for me to keep selling them. 

I am forever grateful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Want to watch me talk about finishing a novel?

A few weeks ago, Todd Frei, a librarian who is also a videographer, asked if I'd be willing to let him video me for a NaNoWriMo series the Wake County Public Libraries are doing.

I said, sure.

They'd scheduled my segment to appear today, November 21, so he asked if I'd be willing to discuss how to finish novel.

I said, sure.

Here's the result.  I can barely stand to see myself on screen, so I've only scanned this video, but Todd did a good job of cutting my talk to the time limit he had to obey.

If you're working on a book, I hope the advice proves to be useful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NaNoWriMo at the library

Our local libraries support aspiring writers who participate in NaNoWriMo by setting up sessions in which published writers talk with them.  Last year, I led two of these sessions.  I hadn't planned to do any this year, but when Sue Scott very nicely asked if I'd come to the lovely Cameron Village Public Library for one session, I agreed. 

I showed up five minutes late last night due to traffic being way, way worse than I had anticipated. That's no excuse, though, and I was quite embarrassed, so I began the session by apologizing to the folks there.  We then launched without hesitation into a story-creation game I call "Ask the next question."  (I borrowed the basics from sessions Orson Scott Card described and then customized them a bit.) 

Courtesy of Gina, and only because readers keep bugging me for photos, here I am talking to the group early in the process. 

As always, click on the image to see a larger version.

As you can see from the words on the board, we're starting by creating a character and have only just begun to dig into his background.

I'm never sure how much anyone can help another writer, so I don't know how useful this was for the folks who came, but our time together ran to nearly 90 minutes and passed quickly.  We created characters, from whom a story began to emerge, for about 50 minutes, and then I answered a variety of questions. 

I wish all of them well in their writing. 

Monday, November 19, 2012


Superb. Marvelous. Amazing. Wonderful. Words like these were all our group could say at the end of two and a half hours of watching Lincoln and his world come alive on the screen. I loved every second of this movie. I can't wait to see it again.

Daniel Day-Lewis was everything you've heard and more. If the Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe awards don't already have his name on them, there's no justice in those awards. No other performance I've seen in recent memory even comes close.

The rest of the cast was also uniformly superb, even Sally Field rising to the challenge of Mary Todd Lincoln in ways I didn't think she could manage.

Tony Kushner's screenplay moved effortlessly between the human and the mythological, giving us a complex man making difficult and sometimes almost (if not definitely) illegal choices in the service of a greater good.

Steven Spielberg delivered his A game as well, making us see both the man and the legend.

I could go on and on, but let me stop with this:  Go see this movie. Take your friends. If you have children, definitely bring them. Do not miss Lincoln.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

UFC 154: How we fared

UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre claimed he felt ring rust in his first fight in nineteen months. It's been nowhere near that long since Kyle and I picked fight winners, but we were most certainly rusty as we called many fights wrong.  Let's start with the Facebook fights and see how we did.   

Steven Siler vs. Darren Elkins

We began the night with a thud as we both chose Siler in a fight that, from all I've read (I did not get to see it), Eiler dominated.  The judges certainly agreed, as all three scored the fight 30-27 for Elkins.

Ivan Menjivar vs. Azamat Gashimov

At least we nailed this one: Gashimov looked good for a couple of minutes, even being on top of Menjivar.  At that point, though, Menjivar quickly locked on an arm bar, and Gashimov tapped. Another rude welcome to the UFC.

Kyle and I were 1-1 at this point.

Matt Riddle vs. John Maguire

Maguire was game, but Riddle kept doing just a little bit better as he notched all three rounds on the cards of two judges and two rounds with the remaining judge. We move to 2-1 as Riddle wins and are beginning to feel we're back in form. 

Antonio Carvalho vs. Rodrigo Damm

This fight stayed close the entire time. For most of the three rounds, both men stayed very conservative, with Carvalho turning Damm's left leg into hamburger with kick after kick after kick and Damm frequently swinging for the fences.  Near the end of the third round, Damm turned very aggressive, but it proved to be too little, too late.  The judges also saw a close fight, but two of them gave it to Carvalho--as we had predicted.

We were 3-1 and feeling pretty good heading into the fights on FX.

Sam Stout vs. John Makdessi

After Stout's strong victory over Spencer Fisher, both Kyle and I thought he had stepped up his game and would beat Makdessi. Instead, the fight looked the complete opposite, as Makdessi was the smoother, more controlled fighter, his jab a weapon for which Stout had no answer. Makdessi scored the unanimous-decision victory, and we dropped to 3-2 heading into the only fight on which we disagreed.

Mark Bocek vs. Rafael dos Anjos

I figured dos Anjos would win a decision victory in a fight that would go the ground regularly. Kyle chose Bocek due to Bocek's grappling abilities. We were both wrong about how the fight would go, as these two fine BJJ fighters chose to put on what was almost entirely a kickboxing match. When Bocek did try to take down dos Anjos, he almost never succeeded.

dos Anjos fought the best we've ever seen him, looking as fresh at the start of round three as he had at the fight's beginning. He dominated Bocek for all three rounds and earned the unanimous-decision nod from the judges.

I moved to 4-2, while Kyle fell to 3-3.

Cyrille Diabate vs. Chad Griggs

Chad Griggs, whom we both chose to win, spent about two minutes of this fight looking like he didn't belong in the cage with Diabate, and then in the last half minute Diabate beat on him, took his back, and choked him out. I'll be surprised if Griggs has a job with the UFC for another week.

I dropped to 4-3, and Kyle to 3-4.

Patrick Cote vs. Alessio Sakara

We both expected this one to be a slugfest, and it was. We both also called it for Cote, and he won...but in an odd way.  He rocked Sakara, but then Sakara turned the tables and dropped Cote with elbows. At that point, Cote tried for a single-leg take-down, and Sakara rained down hammer fists--most of which were illegal strikes to the back of Cote's head. The ref correctly disqualified Sakara, and Cote won.

Kyle evened his score to 4-4, and I bumped up to 5-3. I was feeling pretty good moving into the main card.

Mark Hominick vs. Pablo Garza

Hominick started pretty strong, and late in the first round he even dropped Garza. That was as close as he got, however, because Garza then hurt Hominick, cut him, and poured on the pressure from there. Garza won by unanimous decision over our pick, Hominick, and we both dropped another one: Kyle 4-5, Mark 5-4.

Francis Carmont vs. Tom Lawlor

Kyle and I saw this one going down a clear path:  Carmont out-muscling Lawlor on the way to a submission victory. Instead, the fight was tight the whole time, Lawlor looked stronger, and no one was sure what the judges would say. In the end, Carmont got the home-boy split-decision nod in a fight I think Lawlor won. Still, it helped my record move to 6-4 and evened up Kyle at 5-5.

Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann

We expected a war as two superb welterweights faced off. We both figured Hendricks to win via superior wrestling. Instead, Hendricks won by knocking out Kampmann with a short left had a whole 46 seconds into the fight. Wow, can Hendricks hit hard. 
I moved to 7-4 and knew I'd have a winning record, while Kyle climbed over .500 to 6-5.

Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit

This fight was everything any fan could ask for. GSP won most of the rounds and dominated most of the fight, but Condit was always in it and in the third round dropped GSP and had the champ in trouble. Both men gave it their all, and neither was able to finish the other. After 25 minutes as bloody and full of determination as any Rocky movie, Georges St. Pierre emerged the champion once again and proved that he was indeed back and at top form.

I finished the night 8-4, not great but respectable, and Kyle lagged me only a little at 7-5.

As always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

UFC 154: Kyle and I pick 'em

Many, many months have passed since Kyle and I last posted our UFC picks, and many, many months have passed since UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre has defended his title.  To celebrate GSP's return, here are our picks for tonight's thirteen--yes, thirteen!--fights.

We start with the undercard fights that will be available only on Facebook. 

Steven Siler vs. Darren Elkins

Mark:  After three rounds of high-energy striking and the occasional take-down, neither featherweight will be breathing hard, and Dana White will be wondering why his company led off with a fight that has no chance of a finish. Siler will win a decision via landing more strikes. 

Kyle:  He doesn't look much like a fighter, but Siler's crisp combinations and decent take-down defense should let him take this win.

Ivan Menjivar vs. Azamat Gashimov

Mark:  Gashimov possesses the better record, but his victories were all back home in Russia against fighters many steps down from UFC-level competition. Menjivar knows he needs a victory, so he'll come out aggressive.  Expect Gashimov to experience a rude welcome to the UFC and Menjivar to emerge victorious. 

Kyle:  Menjivar's coming off a loss in his last fight to Mike Easton, but Gashimov is taking a big step up in competition after going 7-1 back in Russia.  Expect Menjivar to make his welcome to the big show a rough one.  Menjivar for the win.

Matt Riddle vs. John Maguire

Mark:  Maguire is a Brit taking this fight on short notice. Riddle is a big 170-pounder who with any luck will have remembered to stay sober long enough to pass his inevitable drug test. Riddle will win, though probably in a safe and thus somewhat boring style. 

Kyle:  Matt Riddle just wrapped up a suspension after testing positive for marijuana in his last fight.  Here's what he had to say about that:  "To be honest, this drug tester tested me right after the fight. I was super-dehydrated. My pee was brown. It was the pure essence of Matt Riddle. They got the concentrated Matt Riddle in a cup, and I popped."  Pure essence of Matt Riddle is straight THC, and if he can beat up Chris Clements high, I bet he can beat John Maguire sober.

Antonio Carvalho vs. Rodrigo Damm

Mark:  Damm won his octagon debut, as did Carvalho, so both men bring a 1-0 UFC record to this matchup. Damm, though, has lost most of his previous fights, while Carvalho has done rather better of late. Expect Carvalho to notch another victory for Canada.

Kyle:  Does it feel like we've been here for a while?  Well we're still not even halfway through the prelims!  I've seen Damm fight since back in his BodogFight days.  At the time, he impressed me less than his sister did.  His stint on the Ultimate Fighter Brazil didn't do much to change that.  Carvalho should win in front of his Canadian countrymen.

FX will be broadcasting four additional preliminary fights.

Sam Stout vs. John Makdessi

Mark:  Sam Stout beat Spencer Fisher six ways from Sunday back in June and in the process looked like an old dog who had definitely learned some new tricks. Makdessi should serve nicely as the next act in Stout's personal renaissance. Stout for the victory, most likely by decision. 

Kyle:  Makdessi's never beaten a recognizable name in the UFC.  Stout looked really impressive in his handling of Spencer Fisher back in June.  I think Stout's stepped up his game enough to beat Makdessi and send him packing out of the UFC.

Mark Bocek vs. Rafael dos Anjos

Mark:  dos Anjos has the power to knock out Bocek, but a knockout is unlikely in this one. Instead, dos Anjos will try to take the fight to the ground where his great BJJ skills will give him the advantage.  Bocek will, of course, fight to stay on top when the fight goes down, but expect him to score little as he does so.  dos Anjos will emerge victorious, though probably via decision and not submission. 

Kyle:  dos Anjos has some impressive jiu jitsu and brutal striking, but I like Bocek for this one.  Bocek's a good controlling grappler.  I think he can hold dos Anjos down and avoid submissions to get a decision.

Cyrille Diabate vs. Chad Griggs

Mark:  The only parts of Chad "the Gravedigger" Griggs that were big enough for heavyweight, his former weight class, were his huge sideburns. They should survive the cut to 205, which is a much better weight for Griggs.   Cyrille "the Snake" Diabate is a taller fighter and so should be able to keep Griggs on the outside for a while, but in time Griggs will close the distance and take down Diabate.  At that point, expect the Gravedigger to bury the Snake and Griggs to walk out the victor.

Kyle:  Finally, some normal-sized human beings!  Maybe even a little above normal, in the case of 6'6" Diabate.  Diabate's a throwback to the early days of the UFC when fighters were one-dimensional:  his striking is awesome, but his grappling is barely rudimentary.  Diabate's been tapped out in two of his last four fights, and that's Griggs' path to victory, if only he can make it past Diabate's long reach and lightning-fast kicks.  I think Griggs will manage to clinch and take Diabate down before he gets knocked out, and it should be a short fight from there.  Griggs to win, but either way, this one's not going to decision.

Patrick Cote vs. Alessio Sakara

Mark:  Early next week, the loser of this fight is probably going to receive his walking papers from the UFC, and both fighters know it.  That level of motivation is going to lead to a hard-hitting fight, which is exactly what Canadian Patrick Cote needs to put him back on the winning list. Matchmaker Joe Silva knows all this, and he also knows it's good to have the homeboys win a few. Cote will walk away with the win, probably by some form of knockout. 

Kyle:  The real winners are the fans with this one, because both men like to stand and bang.  Cote's curse is that he wins all his fights outside the UFC and loses all his fights in the UFC.  He's probably still a tougher opponent than anyone Sakara has managed to beat before.  I think Cote's the better striker, and he'll earn his first UFC win since July 2008.

To catch the five fights on the main card, you have to pop for the Pay-Per-View event.  

Mark Hominick vs. Pablo Garza

Mark:  Hominick stood at the edge of stardom and fought the champ, Jose Aldo.  He lost--everyone has when facing Aldo--and then Hominick went on a bit of a skid.  Garza is a very tall 145-er who debuted strong but then fell quickly against good competition. As long as Hominick plays it smart, which he will, because his UFC career may well be on the line, he will walk away the winner. Hominick by decision. 

Kyle:  We've gotten to the main card!  So exciting.  Hominick shouldn't have any problem handling Garza, just like he shouldn't have had any problem handling Eddie Yagin in his last fight (which he lost) or Chan Sung Jung in the fight before that (which he lost).  Well, this time we mean it.  Hominick to win and get his career back on track.

Nick Ring vs. Constantinos Philippou

Mark:  I really wanted to see Philippou again, but the UFC had to cancel this one.  Darn.  This probably means that the UFC will shuffle the card a bit and move one of the above fights to the main card, so don't be surprised if our ordering here ends up being off.

Kyle:  Oops!  Cancelled.  Too bad, I was looking forward to this one.

Francis Carmont vs. Tom Lawlor

Mark:  Carmont is a home-town man who trains with GSP, has a great physique, is incredibly athletic, and has two consecutive submission victories.  Lawlor is good enough to make the main card but just so; he's on this one to make sure that at least one person from GSP's gym goes home a winner.  Carmont for the victory, almost certainly by submission. 

Kyle:  Carmont is an amazing athlete who's submitted his last two opponents.  Lawlor has good hands, but has lost two of his last four fights by submission.  Carmont should be able to muscle Lawlor to the ground and choke him out for the win.

Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann

Mark:  Two great welterweights face off in this battle for number-one-contender status.  Both have fought many of the best at 170, and each has fared well. If you study their records alone, you could make a case for either to win. Kampmann is the more well-rounded fighter, but Hendricks is a superb wrestler whose ground game will be too much for Kampmann. Though both have the power to end this one, both are also likely to play it safe. Expect Hendricks to win a decision victory through pure wrestling dominance. 

Kyle:  The top ten fighters at 170 pounds are an amazing study in parity.  As you go down their records, you see one split decision after another.  You see loops like:  Kampmann beat Rick Story who beat Johny Hendricks.  But Hendricks beat Josh Koscheck who beat Diego Sanchez who beat Martin Kampmann.  This is really anybody's fight.  But I give Hendricks a slight edge.  He has momentum coming off a couple of really impressive wins over Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck.  And his strong wrestling base should be an advantage; Kampmann's good at everything, but not great at anything.  Hendricks, probably by split decision.  In theory this fight will determine the next welterweight challenger.  Whoever wins should be hoping that Georges St-Pierre loses, since a GSP victory will mean sitting out a year while GSP goes up to 185 to fight Anderson Silva.

Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit

Mark:  Questions surround this fight:  Will GSP be the champion of old or another great athlete brought down by a torn ACL?  Will "The Natural Born Killer" show up, or will the Carlos Condit of his early, split-decision UFC fights step into the octagon after nine months of inactivity?  Is GSP going to unify the belts and once again make everyone at 170 wish they could fight higher or lower, or is Condit the new sheriff in town?  My money's on GSP, and not just the GSP of old, but a better, stronger GSP. GSP has a luxury most fighters don't: huge income streams that allow him to get the best possible medical care and take as long as he wants before fighting. Condit at his best--and we will see him at his best tonight--is a great fighter, but GSP is something else, another step beyond great. After five rounds, GSP's hands will be up in victory, and we'll all be waiting to see if the Anderson Silva indeed steps into the octagon and challenges him to a superfight--and if GSP accepts.

Kyle:  This is why we have fights.  Georges St-Pierre is coming off a year and a half off recovering from a torn ACL.  Is he still the same man that he was when he left, head and shoulders above the rest of the welterweight division?  For that matter, is Condit, who hasn't fought since winning the belt nine months ago?  Condit's first couple of fights in the UFC were struggling split decisions against Martin Kampmann and Jake Ellenberger.  Then he turned on the octane and finished Rory MacDonald, Dan Hardy, and Dong Hyun Kim in dominating style.  Which is the real Carlos Condit?  The one who's just part of the 170-pound pack, or the one who dominates the other fighters in that pack?  Before a fight there are only hypotheses.  A fight is an experiment that brings answers.  My own hypotheses are that Condit really is that good, but that GSP hasn't lost a step, and that GSP at his best is even better than Condit at his best.  GSP for the win.

Finally, nicknames from tonight's show:  Super.  Deep Waters.  The One.  Pato.  Pride of El Salvador.  Tough Guy.  Hands of Stone.  The Bull.  The Grave Digger.  Snake.  The Machine.  The Scarecrow.  Limitless.  Filthy.  Bigg Rigg.  Hitman.  Rush.  Natural Born Killer.  Pick your favorite!  Try to match the name and the fighter!

Tune in tomorrow to see how we did.

As always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

Friday, November 16, 2012

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 5

All of my daylight hours today went to travel.  I left the hotel at 6:15 a.m. in the rainy darkness, and I arrived in Raleigh at 6:15 p.m. in the cool darkness.  In between, I saw daylight only through airplane and airport windows and, twice at DFW, directly through small openings in the seal between the jetway and the plane.  An odd way to pass a day.

In between, I sat in exit-row seats--good for leg room and working--but not on the aisle, which meant that by the end of the day my shoulders and back were sore from curling inward to try to avoid invading the space of my seatmates.  That part sucks.

The best parts of this trip were that both planes offered bandwidth and the first was early enough that I had time to enjoy a delicious Red Mango parfait at DFW. 

Now, to catch up on the mail and bills and other life that happened on this coast while I was on the other one. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 4

Work and driving between meetings ate almost all of today.  Lunch was a half hour at a small but busy taqueria in Palo Alto.  Dinner was a pleasant couple of hours with Gina's daughter, son-in-law, and their kids in Oakland.  All else was work.

Some days are like that.

Some days you get to stick your fingers in the ocean.  Some days you work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 3

Let's skip the vast majority of the day, which went to work, and focus instead on a slightly less than three-hour period.

We were heading north on the 101 in the worst of the rush-hour traffic, our last meeting over and a ton of backed-up email ahead.  We'd already bagged a late dinner reservation at a great place in favor of more time for email.  We'd gone less than nine miles in forty-five minutes.  I saw a sign saying the 92 exit toward Half Moon Bay was half a mile ahead, and suddenly I knew it was time to change the plan.

Years ago, we came out here a week a month to work with a group here that reported to me. Every now and again, we'd go to Half Moon Bay for dinner.

I took the exit and headed over the mountains toward the sea.  Two resolutions filled me instantly:  I would eat again at Mezza Luna, and I would put my fingers in the Pacific Ocean. 

And so I did.

Dinner was lovely, exactly what I wanted.  Mezza Luna has the feel of a large, family-oriented Italian restaurant, with lots of local patrons who seem to all know one another.  We chowed down on bruschetta, caprese salad, Caesar salad, and gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce.  I'd remembered the food as being good, but I've eaten at a lot of great places since my last time there, so I was concerned that I'd be disappointed.  No worries.  The food was excellent, the gnocchi as good as any I've ever had.  I recommend this place highly.  I left with a smile on my face.

It happened to be the first night of crab season, so we moved down the road to the marina, walked to the end of a pier, stretched out on the wood, and I put my fingers in the Pacific.

 Yeah, the picture is fuzzy--we're talking an iPhone with flash at night--but it's at least a vague proof.

Back in the car, back over the mountains, and back to work.  I had to stay up super late to finish, and I won't get much sleep, but it was worth it.

Every now and then, you have to stick your fingers in the ocean.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 2

Work dominated almost all of my waking hours, and, as usual, I can't talk about it.

I did get to have lunch at a local favorite of mine, the Pancho Villa taqueria in San Mateo. The food is nothing fancy, but, man, is it delicious.  I particularly love the Al Pastor Super Burrito, which is a thick tube of tasty goodness.  (Hold those dirty jokes.)  This restaurant also makes one of my favorite beverages, the almost-too-sweet, made-fresh-there mandarina.

While driving around the area to meetings, I saw my first Tesla Model S.  Wow, is that a gorgeous car!  I almost wish I hadn't seen it, because I'd made peace with not getting one, and now I'm lusting for it again.

Dinner was at another long-time favorite, a little strip-mall restaurant where I ate monthly for over five years, Tokie's.  The sushi is still good, and the atmosphere is that of a neighborhood bar.  I definitely recommend it if you're in the area.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On the road again: Silicon Valley, day 1

I slept very little and rather poorly last night, so when today's first flight failed to deliver on the bandwidth it promised, I mostly dozed and twisted and turned in my oh-so-comfy exit row slice of space.  I'm sure if I was under five feet tall and less than 100 pounds in weight, with shoulders no more than a foot wide, that my seat would have been luxurious; alas, I am none of those things.

We had to rush between gates at DFW, but we were able to make the second flight in the half hour we had for the task.  This plane's in-flight bandwidth setup was actually working, so I worked pretty much the whole time.  That's a good thing, because it meant I wasn't as far behind when I landed as I would have been.

As is my habit when staying at this particular hotel, I drove by a nearby Safeway to pick up some Coke Zero and pretzels for the room.  The Safeway was no longer there, though construction was well along on the replacement bigger store.  Fortunately, a nearby Walgreens offered the same merchandise, albeit at a higher price.

Dinner tonight was at Max's, where once again I ate the patty melt and sent a photo of it to Elizabeth, a woman who loves a good patty melt as much as I do.  I'm sure she appreciated the photo.

Most of the rest of the evening went to work.

Tomorrow, meetings I can't discuss!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Support John Picacio's calendar Kickstarter

Let's get the disclaimers out of the way first, so no one can rationally accuse me of hiding anything. John Picacio is a friend of mine.  We're not super-close guys who live in the same city and hang out together, but we're pals, and I like him.  He did the cover for my most recent novel, No Going Back. In case you've forgotten, it's an awesome piece of work.

(As always, click on any image to see a larger version.)

I love John's work, which is sensible of me, because it's amazing.  So do a lot of other people:  he's won pretty much every major SF and fantasy art-related award there is, including this year's Hugo for Best Professional Artist--on his eighth nomination, after seven losses.  I strongly supported him winning this award, as I made clear in this earlier post.  I'm even going to get my birthday in his 2013 calendar; I've pledged to his Kickstarter program at the level to enable that. 

None of that, however, is why I'm supporting John's newest effort, a Kickstarter program to allow him to create an amazing 2013 calendar and a new company, Lone Boy

No, I'm getting behind John for three reasons. 

First, I want this calendar.  Its cover is beautiful.

The rest of the months aren't too shabby, either.  (Yes, that's sarcasm; they're amazing.)

The printing and design are cool; check out this January layout. 

Gorgeous, just gorgeous.

Beyond simply wanting the calendar, though, I'm supporting John's Kickstarter and his company because he's trying to do something cool:  connect directly with his fans and other art lovers.  John's a canny guy, and he understands that disintermediation is a trend that started with the Web and is continuing for the foreseeable future.  I want to see his company do well, and I'm more than a little curious to watch its progression.  I care enough that I pledged his Kickstarter at the $250, "Art Warrior," level. 

Finally, I want John to succeed because I want him to create the Loteria deck that he dreams of making. I firmly believe all artists do their very finest work when they set themselves to some task they desperately want to do.  When John and I were discussing No Going Back, I said that I thought the cover he most wanted to do would be the best one.  He went that route, and the result is the best it could be, simply wonderful.  I am sure of it. 

If you like John's art, or if you just want to buy a cool calendar for $25, go here and pledge at least that amount.  You'll get to see a different wonderful piece each month for a year, you'll be helping an artist reach his goals, and maybe, just maybe, you'll help me encourage him to put the No Going Back artwork in a 2014 calendar.

Hey, a guy can hope.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Embarrassed for my demographic group

With hopes that the folks at BuzzFeed won't be mad at me for incorporating their graphic, here's their take on how this week's election would have gone if only Caucasian males had voted.

Click on the image to see a larger version.  For the full analysis and BuzzFeed story, go here.

Considering that I voted for and donated to and am a staunch supporter of President Obama, I definitely do not belong in my demographic group.

Further, given the sheer number of stupid, offensive, homophobic, and anti-woman positions that are key parts of the Republican platform, I'm legitimately embarrassed for my demographic group.

Having said all that, my more considerate self, the one that has always stopped me from being a truly successful columnist, the one that knows the world is not black and white but rather far more complex, insists I note that I know many good Caucasian men who voted for Romney after considering a wide range of issues.  I don't agree with their choice, but I know them to be good people.  I find their decision as puzzling as they, no doubt, find mine.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Skyfall: a great Bond movie...
and more than it appears

Regular readers know that I'm a huge fan of Bond movies.  I've enjoyed even the worst of them--which are, of course, the silliest of the Roger Moore entries--and I've loved many of them. Until Daniel Craig took on the role, I was a staunch defender of Sean Connery as the best Bond; now, I think Craig may well own that title.  So, I entered the theater this afternoon expecting to like Skyfall

I didn't like it.  I loved it.  I loved pretty much everything about it, from the amazing action scenes, to the cinematography--both in them and in the quieter moments, to the characterization (yes, there is quite a bit), to the way the movie handles the Bond tradition.  I'm not going to tell you about its plot, nor do I recommend you read any reviews that do.  Just go see it.

What I do want to comment on is how much more this movie is than simply another Bond flick.  Skyfall is also a meditation and a conversation with all of the franchise's history, with the very real question of whether this type of movie and this type of character has any relevance today, and with all the Bond films that have come before it. 

Oddly, Skyfall is the most meta-fictional film of the year.  Directly and indirectly, in structure and in camera shots, in plot and in characterization, this movie digs up the roots of the franchise and of its characters, asks if anything good can still grow from them--and then convinces us that the answer is, yes, oh very much yes.  

I'm stunned that a movie with three writers, usually a sign of trouble, could be so cohesive and so complex.  Maybe Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan worked that tightly and with that coherent a vision.  My guess, though, is that the credit belongs most with director Sam Mendes, who from what I've read appears to have been in tight control of the movie.

I've only seen Skyfall once, so I'm not willing quite yet to declare it the best Bond film of all time, but I think it very well may be. 

Do not miss this one. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Not a normal movie ticket purchase

Tonight, around ten o'clock, after stopping on my way home from the office at our local cinema.

16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (nodding his head) Dude.

Me: I'd like 41 tickets to the 1:00 show tomorrow of Skyfall. 

16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (stopping the nodding and staring at me) Dude?
Me:  I'd like forty-one tickets to the one o'clock show tomorrow of Skyfall.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter: Seriously?

Me:  (nodding my head) Yes.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  Dude.

Me:  (sighing)  I'd like forty-one tickets to the one o'clock show tomorrow of Skyfall.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  Wow.

Me:  I'd also like to get home and eat dinner.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  There's no show right now.

Me:  (sighing) I know. I meant that I'd like to buy my tickets so I can go home.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (nodding his head)  Right.  How many?

Me: Forty-one.  I'd like to buy forty-one tickets to the one o'clock show tomorrow, Friday, of Skyfall
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  I've never sold that many tickets.

Me:  That's okay.  I've never bought that many tickets, either.  I'm sure we can handle it. 

16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (smiling and nodding) Yeah.

Me:  (handing over my credit card and cinema club card) Forty-one tickets.  One o'clock show tomorrow. 

16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (interrupting me and nodding) Skyfall.  Right. (punching in numbers, swiping my cards) You must really want to see that movie. 

Me:  I do.  So do the other forty people.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (nodding his head)  Right. (tickets start to print and then stop) Dude.  Even the printer can't handle it.

Me:  It probably jammed or needs more paper. 

16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (nodding his head) Good one.  (checking the printer and fixing it) Yeah, that's it.  (tickets finish printing and he stares at them) Wow, I've never seen that many tickets print at once.

Me:  Neither have I.  May I have them?

16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (nodding his head, tearing off the tickets, and handing them to me) You should probably count those, what with it stopping and all. 

Me:  I planned to.  (counting tickets) You should probably have me sign the credit card slip.
16-year-old guy at the ticket counter:  (nodding his head)  Dude.  Good one.  (handing me the slip)  You need to sign this. 

Me:  (signing the slip) Thanks.

Sometimes, I'm deeply thankful for the glass partition that separates ticket sellers from ticket buyers.

In case you're curious, I bought so many tickets because we're mostly closing our company tomorrow for a few hours to take to this newest Bond film everyone who can afford the time away from the office.  We did the same with the last two Bond movies.

I can't wait to see it!


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