Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On the eve of the New Year

I wish for you that in 2015 you

find new friends

show current friends how much you care

act bravely

act wisely

read, listen to, or watch something wonderful as often as possible

summon the strength to chase your dreams

give all the love you can comfortably manage, and then give a bit more

receive all the love you can comfortably handle, and then get a bit more
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Three holiday views of Holden

When Holden is not busy trying to smooth the rough edges of the Cone Man or save our deer and squirrels from other-dimensional poachers, he spends time contemplating the universe and its many secrets.  For those willing to watch closely, he shares the answers to those secrets.

In this shot, for example, he is letting us know that, yes, there is a guiding force to the universe.

Click an image to see a larger version.

That force does not, however, bring kibble often enough.

Here Holden makes clear that vigilance is the price of freedom--and also package delivery. 

Woe be unto those who try to sneak a cardboard box onto our stoop. 

Finally, as he so often does, Holden likes to remind us that if we will only stare deeply enough into his eyes, we will realize that though the guiding force of the universe does not deliver his kibble when it should, we have free will and could fix that problem on our own.

If only we would listen and act more.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Interview

is one of the dumbest movies in a year filled with dumb movies.  Yes, obviously I watched it; I felt I had to know what the story was, and I will watch almost any film.  A small group of us viewed it using YouTube's pay service at my house, so the cost was minimal--and keeping the cost low was about the only smart choice I made involving this film. 

According to Variety, with data courtesy of the folks who hacked Sony, Sony paid Seth Rogen $8.4 million for his role in the film, and they gave James Franco $6.5 million.  So, basically, Rogen and Franco conned Sony into paying them a combined nearly $15 million dollars to film a mutual hand-job, a bromance love letter of epic proportions.  Good for them.  Sony, on the other hand, needs to find the exec who greenlighted this one and send him/her off for some sort of prolonged punishment, perhaps a hundred repeated viewings of this film.

I won't lie:  I did laugh at times during the movie.  It contains some funny bits, and even a few touching moments.  The vast majority of the time, however, I alternated between wincing and watching in stunned amazement as these two stars created this ode to each other. 

If, like me, you feel you simply must know what the fuss is all about, watch The Interview.  Otherwise, almost anything else you can do with your time is likely to be more productive and make you happier.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kindle Unlimited is bad for writers

Amazon has been pushing its Kindle Unlimited all-you-eat reading service for some time, and writers are getting upset.  The writers should be more than upset; they should refuse to participate.  This service is bad for writers on multiple levels.

John Scalzi did a good job discussing the problems with Kindle Unlimited, so I'm not going to repeat that material here; check out his summary and then come back. 

I want to focus on a few key points.

First, none of this should surprise anyone.  Amazon has a history of being a ruthless competitor that likes to control as much of the playing field as possible, and this move is in keeping with that tradition.  If Amazon can make bookselling a zero-sum game that it controls, then it can both increase its own profit and boost its already huge share of the market.

So, what to do about that?  Don't participate.  I understand that for writers, particularly self-published ones who've made all their money on Amazon, this is a rough choice, but if you do give in, you are essentially giving Amazon control of your future.  For readers, yes, it's tempting to get all you can read for one cheap monthly price, but as I've written in a recent entry, if you want to keep seeing work from artists whose creations you love, you have to support those artists.  It's that simple.

Finally, recognize that decisions like this happen all the time.  You vote with your money.  If you want to enjoy all that cheap reading, support Amazon--but expect to hurt artists whose work you like or not to find their work on the service.  The same is true with grocery stores, local shops, you name it--the most powerful vote you can cast is with your money.

As for me, well, to the best of my knowledge, none of my books are available on Kindle Unlimited or any other subscription service, and I have no plans to offer my books on any such service.  I will also not join such a service; I prefer to pay the writers whose works I read.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Drugs vs. cough: round 1 is a draw

I'm sad to report that the first round in the battle between my prescription drugs and my sinus infection and accompanying cough was very much a draw.  I feel a little better, though my body's fatigue from fighting the infection is evident.  More importantly, last night, when I had hoped to sleep all night without coughing, contained a great deal of coughing--but also, for the first time in over a week, multiple stretches of sleeping. 

I hope to be able to report tomorrow that I've turned a corner and not coughed all night, but given that I'm coughing as I type this, I don't expect that to be the case. 

Someday soon, though, the drugs and my body will team up to kick this infection and cough out of my system. 

I am very much looking forward to that. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

About that cold

A little over a week ago, I noted that I had a cold and it was making work difficult.  Well, the cold apparently took advantage of my exhausted condition and turned the evenings between that post and now into some of my more miserable nights.  I haven't slept ninety minutes straight in the intervening days. 

Today, I finally relented and went to an urgent care clinic.  I've apparently become the winner of a particularly bad sinus infection and a cough, due to drainage, that is keeping me up all night.  Thanks to the clinic's doctor, I'm already fighting the infection with antibiotics, and I am the proud owner of a cough suppressant that should help me sleep.  I am quite look forward to a long slumber, so to it I go.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

We celebrate this holiday, though admittedly as much as a family gathering as anything else.  If you, too, celebrate it, I hope your holiday is filled with joy and love.

If this holiday is not for you, I still wish you a day full of joy and love.  None of us can never get enough of either of those.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In which Holden attempts to turn Cone Man toward the light

Click the image to see a larger version.

Holden:  Over a month has it been since we last chatted, my Plexiglas friend.

Cone Man:  Not so long since you pissed on me, you fur-covered toadie for the man!

H:  Must you resort to vulgarity at every turn?  Surely you are a better cone than that.

CM:  Stick your snout in one of my arm holes, and I'll show you vulgar. 

H:  As intriguing as your offer is, I must decline it, for I venture forth this Christmas Eve on far more serious matters. 

CM:  If you think there's anything more serious than what's inside these arm holes, you haven't been paying attention to the local wildlife, you furry lackey.  Haven't you wondered why we've had so few deer in the yard lately?  Oh, yeah, who's the cone?  I'm the cone!

H:  Which brings us to the very subject I wish to discuss:  you simply must stop consuming the local wildlife. 

CM:  Consuming?  Consuming!?!  Exactly where did you go to school, my four-legged bit of fluff?  I consume nothing.  I am but a conduit for the dark lords who are are building their animal army, that one day they might flow through me, conquer this wretched planet, and appoint me King Cone. 

H:  Yes, well, about that.  My vision is far better than that of any humans, good enough that I can see through those arm holes of yours, see all the way into the dimension of your so-called "dark lords."  I'm afraid I must report that those lords are simply two thirteen-year-old boys on a distant planet, boys who have found it's easier to persuade you to lure deer and squirrels than it is to hunt for local game. 

CM:  You're just jealous, stumpy, that there's no room for you in the Cone Empire. 

H:  I anticipated you might reject reason, so I will have to resort to cruder forms of persuasion.  Exactly how long do you think it will be before your dark lords have enough animal soldiers to attack Earth?

CM:  Years, many years, they've said, but I am patient.

H:  Uh-uh.  And exactly how many years do you think your Plexiglas body will last if I raise my leg on it, oh, say, four or five times a day? 

CM:  Not many, but you wouldn't.  You wouldn't. 

H:  Not by choice, no, I would not.  But to save my fellow animals, I am prepared to make that sacrifice. 

CM:  Fine.  No more deer.

H:  No more animals of any type--including humans?

CM:  Fine.  No more animals of any type. 

H:  My work here is finished. 

CM:  Will you at least get me a fresh coat of paint, or a decent scrubbing, in the spring?

H:  If all the squirrels indeed return, I will consider it.  Merry Christmas, Cone Man!

CM:  Whatever. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What's that you say? Come a little closer,

I can't hear you, says the Cone Man, who in full festive regalia is now welcoming guests down our driveway. 

Click the image to see a larger version.

Don't worry about that red mouth, or the eerie yet welcoming glow from where his arms once were.  Approach him, listen to him, and do whatever he says.

You can trust the Cone Man. 

Come a little closer.

Monday, December 22, 2014

For me, this scene never gets old

It captures perfectly the joys and frustrations of being a dad at Christmas who is trying to put together gifts and impress his family.

Plus, I love all the lights!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Only a few reasons can explain why Peter Jackson would turn Tolkien's slight novel, The Hobbit, into a trio of long films, longer director's cut versions of which are almost certainly on the way.  Greed, of course is one of them; sequels are the surest paths to money Hollywood knows.  I'm going, though, with love, pure nerd love. 

I read The Lord of the Rings at possibly the perfect point in my life, as I was just starting seventh grade, which back then was the beginning of what we called junior high school.  I received the first book as a gift around seven in the evening on a Friday, and I read all three books straight through into Saturday.  I was entranced.  I absolutely walked right alongside the fellowship, sharing their adventures and their trials.  (I loved those books and lived so firmly in them that I have never been willing to risk reading them again; I know way too much now to be able to enjoy them as the young me did.)  As part of living in those books, like many people I also saw them as movies in my head, movies so grand that no one could ever make them fit on a silver screen. 

I like to think that Peter Jackson experienced the books the way I did, except that his passion didn't diminish the way mine did, and so one day he decided that he would by damn make the movies in his head come to theaters everywhere.  I like to think that the grand excesses of all his Tolkien films--and particularly those of this last installment of The Hobbit set--stem from his passion to bring to life all that he had seen and felt. 

When I believe that, when I picture the young Peter Jackson living inside the current one, I not only understand the overwrought, overly long Hobbit films, I actually admire them. 

This final Hobbit movie is a big one, grand in almost every shot, sweeping in scope, a film committed to repaying the ride of the previous two movies by making sure that absolutely everything in every movie comes together in a powerful conclusion--and one that, of course, leads us straight to the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring

At a gathering earlier tonight, I remarked that one day we would all have the option to take the challenge of watching all of The Hobbit and all of The Lord of the Rings movies--extended, director's cut versions only, of course--in order in an eighteen or so hour marathon.  Ben looked wistful for a second--I could have sworn I saw his early teen self in that pause--and said he would be up for that challenge. 

In the right mood, on the right day, with my young self holding sway and the world not reminding me that I am now a man with gray hair and white beard, I would be, too. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bocci Italian Trattoria and Pizzeria

Sarah had described this restaurant as serving comfort Italian food, so today was a perfect day to check it out.  A group of us tried a few different pasta dishes, some appetizers, and one salad.

Sarah's description pretty much nails it.  Bocci won't change your life, and it won't introduce you to anything new, but it will make you happy you ate there on a cold night.

The garlic knots were dripping in butter and very tasty; really, with that much butter and garlic, how could they not be?  The bruschetta was a bit moist and tart for my taste but okay.  The side portion of Gouda macaroni and cheese was wonderful, a smoky treat.  The Caesar salad was a chopped, weak example of its type, nothing worth ordering again. 

My penne alla vodka, to which I added all three optional proteins (chicken, sausage, and shrimp), was delicious.  I'd order it again--except next time, I'll share it.

As Sarah also warned, the pasta portions at Bocci are enormous.  I ate maybe 20% of my pasta.  It could easily have fed three hungry people, or two who were starving.

If you're in the mood for comfort Italian food, definitely check out Bocci--and share the pasta entrees.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Computing, talking dogs, and charitable donations

Yup, it's time for another episode of Now with PT.  I'm always proud of PT's commitment to helping local charities, and who doesn't like a talking dog?


Thursday, December 18, 2014

I have a cold

It's the first I've had in some years, and I am not enjoying it.  Rivers of snot are flowing out of my head, a problem that makes work and concentration difficult.  My brain feels like it's running at a quarter normal speed, the snot somehow interfering with my thought processes.  I can force myself to full speed through intense focus and the application of a large amount of Coke Zero, but having to do that sucks.

I recognize that as problems go, this is a mild one, but I would still prefer not to have it.

I did not order this cold.  I do not want it.  Whoever gave it to me, please take it back. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

This year's Christmas tree, naked and dressed

As long-time readers know, we have a tradition of getting trees that are on the large side and then covering them with lots of lights and ornaments.  This year, we once again followed that tradition.

We bought the tree this past Sunday.  Even with its branches still riding high, it was a lovely sight in our house.

Earlier tonight, we had our annual tree-trimming gathering, at which each year we eat and adorn the tree.  Both Sarah and Scott were able to attend, which made the evening a great treat. 

The result is, if I may say so myself, striking. 

We own so many ornaments that we aren't even close to having hung them all. 

To give you a sense of scale, I asked Scott, who's around 5'10" or 5'11" tall, to stand beside the tree. 

Yup, it's a big tree, and now it's a properly dressed one.

I do love Christmas time. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Too late for Thanksgiving, but always worth watching

My friend and colleague, Sean, reminded me today of this bit from an old TV show, WKRP In Cinncinnati.  Ignore the laugh track and just enjoy the lines.

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Oh, yeah.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Happy snaps from the land of neon

I quite shortchanged you in my recent Las Vegas trip posts, so I thought I'd make a few amends by sharing some of the photos I took while there.

I'd mentioned that our room--the party room, as we came to call it--had a window into the shower from which you could watch from the comfort of your bed as someone cleaned off.  Here's that very shower, with Lisa graciously posing inside for us. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

Sadly, only Kyle and I were sharing the party room, so this window went to waste.  (Note the blinds at the top of the shower windows; they definitely worked.)

As for the foot fetish photos over our beds, all I can say is, rock on, Cosmopolitan room designers!

The wallpaper of our bathroom was another treat, with its patterns composed of oddly jointed and strangely shaped women.

No real woman looks like those, but, hey, this is Vegas.

Is Kyle (with his back to the camera) entering a strange tunnel of Vegas love?

Nope.  He's going into the big Christmas exhibition at the Bellagio.  Need proof?  Check out this Christmas tree.

Christmas naturally makes one think of giving gifts, so if you're looking for a little special bedroom something for the person of your choice, perhaps this bit of metal lingerie might be just the ticket.

You better really want it, though, because just the chain bits will set you back $3,190 (before tax). 


While heading back from Caesar's Palace, we were treated to something you rarely see in Las Vegas:  a sky full of rain. 

The clouds were lovely, and the air smelled deeply of fresh rain.  Wonderful. 

Back at the Cosmopolitan, a dispute over the hotel room bill led me to set my army of attack stone dogs on Kyle. 

Don't worry:  we worked it out, and I called off the dogs. 

To finish off our Friday brunch at Bouchon, we opted for the bouchons, which came with an amazing pistachio ice cream.

Each little bouchon is a tasty few bites of chocolate goodness. 

Friday night, we enjoyed the finale of The Ultimate Fighter from about 25 feet from the cage.

The show was excellent.

Next year, I hope that we get to go again--and that I don't have to work while there!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Art, money, and people

In a recent article in The Guardian, Amanda Palmer discusses at some length the tricky issues of making money as an artist, why artists must now more than ever try various ways to make money from their art, and the sad fact that some of the artists who have been open online about money are getting beat up for their openness.  I share Palmer's frustration at the behavior of the people giving grief to artists who dare to be open about their finances, and I generally agree with the tone of the article. 

Unfortunately, I don't believe there's anything anyone can do to stop people from behaving badly about money. 

In my experience, the moment someone talks about how much they make, other people in the discussion can't stop themselves from reacting.  Is that all?  They pay you so much money for that?  Regardless of whether they think the amount is too high or too low, most people can't have calm conversations about money.  People also often seem to feel they could manage someone else's finances better than that person can.  I just don't see any way around it.

So, though I believe it's a great thing for artists to discuss openly and honestly the various ways they're trying to make a living, I think they will have to brace themselves for the inevitable grief they will later take.  That fact saddens me, but I believe it is a fact.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tux time again

Once a year, I don a tuxedo to attend my company's annual dinner and party, the Seasonal Celebration.  We held it earlier tonight, so I broke out my tux, complete with blue vest and blue bow tie, put on my John Lobbs, and attended in style. 

The event is a high point for me each year, because it's when the company gathers to look back at the year and to share the profits.  At PT, we really are all in it together, and everybody wins, or nobody wins. 

After sleeping not at all last night, however, I am past ready for bed.  I hope to grab at least eight hours tonight.

What a luxury that would be!

Friday, December 12, 2014

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3

It's going on five in the morning back home.  I'm on a plane to Miami, where I will catch a connection that will get me home in time for me to grab two or three hours of sleep before my company's annual Seasonal Celebration, our biggest event of the year. 

So, once again, I'm going to cut this blog extremely short.  I hope to get back to better entries soon.

Today, I awoke very early after very little sleep so I could join a work call and then do some work.  After that, I was able to doze a couple of hours, and then I did some more work. 

At that point, our little group  headed over to Bouchon for our traditional brunch, which was, as always, delicious. 

From there, we walked for a bit, I did some work, and then we grabbed a taxi to the Palms, where we spent the next six hours watching the finale of The Ultimate Fighter.  The fights were generally strong, and the evening ended with Carla Esparza becoming the first UFC women's strawweight champion. 

Now, to hope I can doze on the plane. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2

I am falling into the habit of short, disappointing posts, but I am going to have to work most of the night and will get almost no sleep, so I have to continue that habit and keep this short.

High points of the day included lots of walking, dinner at Craftsteak, and seeing the Cirque show, Ka

Tomorrow, the finale of The Ultimate Fighter!

Now, back to work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

I had every intention of writing a nice long blog entry about an interesting day, showing you several pictures, and generally being more entertaining than I have been lately.

The thing is, though, I slept less than three hours last night, and I've now been up 21 hours, so I am just too tired.  I will try to make amends tomorrow.

In case I blow it then, I will note that the day included dinner at Jaleo and my first viewing of the show Absinthe.

Now, to sleep.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Off I go to Las Vegas

I head out all too early tomorrow morning to Las Vegas, where you can count on me indulging in most but not all of the following activities:

  • Eating great Spanish food
  • Watching a spectacular Cirque du Soleil show
  • Getting so wasted that what happens in Vegas needs to stay in Vegas
  • Enjoying an amazing steak
  • Watching The Ultimate Fighter Finale live
If you don't know which of those I will not be doing, you don't know me very well at all.

I'll report back on the activities I do enjoy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chromebooks? Skiing? Sure, they go together

in this new episode of Now with PT

These shows carry a lot of good content, but we also make them more than a little silly at times, just to have fun.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Terminator: Genisys

I just know this movie is going to disappoint me, as the filmmakers try to reshuffle the Terminator cards into some new configuration, but I still can't resist it.  Just the trailer alone, with its Arnold-on-Arnold action and explosions everywhere, has me hooked.

If it wasn't enough, the fact that the female lead is Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, my favorite character on Game of Thrones, would have me ready to go. 

With luck, this film will hit around the beach next July!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The top five reasons to watch Bad Santa

every year at Christmas, as I do.

5) John Ritter's performance

I was never a fan of Ritter's, but in this, his last film, he turned in an amazing portrayal of an uptight store manager caught in a very bad position.

4) The many great lines

If you haven't seen the movie before, I won't ruin it for you, but this one is full of wonderful lines. 

3) Billy Bob Thornton's performance

With a role this broad, it would have been easy to overplay the character and turn him into someone silly, but Thornton goes the other way and keeps his performance tight and, most of the time, low-key.  A picture of dissolution, he is never appealing, and yet ultimately he wins you over.

2) You have a great excuse to make sandwiches

If you have a granny who will make them for you, so much the better, but even if you don't, a make-your-own-sandwiches dinner is always a treat.  Buy great meats and cheeses and breads, and it's even better.

And, the number one reason to watch Bad Santa every year is,

1) The writing

The screenplay by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa tells a tight, fast-paced, darkly funny, often gross, and, in the end, ultimately redemptive story.  Jokes thread through the fabric of the tale, popping up at just the right times, so that even as the protagonist is crawling toward personal growth, you're laughing.  It's a beautiful piece of work. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lustworthy holiday objects: Any Blue Rodeo album

I will never understand why this group, which I have loved since December, 1987, is not huge everywhere.  Their mix of rock, folk, country, and pop sounds like nobody else, and it's often wonderful.

You simply can't go wrong with any Blue Rodeo album.  Their first, Outskirts, remains one of my desert island top 10 discs.  Their most recent original album, last year's In Our Nature, contains this lovely song.

This holiday season, treat yourself or someone you care about to a little Blue Rodeo.  You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lustworthy holiday objects: Taschen books

If you don't know the publisher Taschen, you should check them out, particularly during this season of gift giving (and getting).  They make consistently interesting, beautiful books.  I have a wall full of them. 

I'm particularly in lust right now with this book, which features the work of amazing photographer Annie Leibovitz.  Its price is crazily high, but with luck at some point Taschen will bring out a more affordable version.

When you're wondering what to get for someone special, you could do worse than checking out Taschen.

(I own no stock in Taschen, nor did they compensate me in any way for this.  I just love their books.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The perfect song for a particular kind of mood

I almost never praise the Rolling Stones, which is a mistake on my part.  This song hits absolutely the right feeling for a particular kind of dark mood.

Plus, you get to see that amazing 1973 hair!

1973 is 41 years ago, and yet it often seems so close.

Yup, I'm old as hell, and still I'm 16 inside, always 16.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

You missed a great show

if you weren't among the sixty or so folks watching Stephen Kellogg perform earlier tonight in The Back Room of the Cat's Cradle.  Kellogg played songs from many different albums, added a few new ones, told a few stories, and generally put on a wonderful show.  With a drummer whose name I did not catch (but whom Kellogg nicknamed "Suitcase") backing him on most songs, Kellogg's show was not quite a solo performance but still far simpler than his concerts with the Sixers. 

Click the image to see a larger version.

I'd never been to The Back Room before, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it a much nicer, albeit smaller, venue than the main Cat's Cradle stage.  With a new sound system and new lights and a nicer finish than the older space, The Back Room was a great place for a show.  The speakers were clear, the mix just about perfect, and the resulting sound lovely.  I never had a problem understanding Kellogg; every phrase was perfectly clear.

His show ranged from humorous to genuinely touching.  I was pleased that he played one of my favorites, a song I've linked to before:

As I wrote in an earlier entry, we all should support the artists whose work we love.  I wish only that more people had done that for Kellogg tonight, but for those of us who did, he played his heart out and put on a great show.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The next new movie I'm actually excited about seeing

I fear it may end up disappointing me, but right now, I can't wait to see it.

Oh, yeah.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

When am I going to tell another story at The Monti's StorySlam?

Enough folks have asked me this question that I decided to answer it here:

I have no clue. 

Seriously, I don't.  I would have applied to the December 11 show, but I'll be out of town then.  I don't know when the next show after that is, or what my January will look like, so for now, I have no clue when I'll try another story there.

The next time I plan to go, I'll try to remember to post it here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Time for a little lift from Richard Curtis

Courtesy of a song I love from a movie I love, despite its flaws.

Starting a holiday season with love is a good thing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Support the artists whose work you love

As we head into the season of gift-buying, consider allocating some of your budget to artists whose works you love.  Many of them are probably doing just fine, some may even be incredibly wealthy, but it's just as likely that many of them are barely making ends meet.  Art, in whatever forms one practices it, rarely pays all that well.

I once had a client and friend say that he and his colleagues were wondering why I was still working at PT and with them when I was clearly making millions from my novels.  I assured him that if I was making millions from my novels, I would be writing full-time, but instead my sales are a couple of orders of magnitude lower.

I'm fortunate, though, to have a great job at a great company that treats me well.  Many artists are hustling all the time to make their art, and if you love their work, you should support them.

Consider, for example, Stephen Kellogg, a musician whose work I quite love.  I don't know him at all, though I've been to a few of his shows.  Perhaps he is making money hand over fist; I hope so.  The facts that he's doing a PledgeMusic drive to fund his next albums and that he's playing in the back room of Cat's Cradle this coming Tuesday suggest that he's working hard to make a good living.  If you like his music, support him.  Buy his CDs, or pick up some merch.  Come to the show Tuesday night; I'll be there. 

Or check out the work of Jain Faries, who works in fabric and found objects and other areas that rarely excite me, but who manages to produce strange, wonderful creations.  I do know Jain--she's part of my extended family--but that knowledge does not affect my opinion of her art.  She's working all day each day right now at a craft show in Greensboro, hustling with many other artists.  As far as I'm concerned, her work deserves to be in fine galleries drawing big bucks, but that's not how it's worked out for her, at least not so far. 

Aaron Vandemark, the chef and owner of Panciuto, one of my favorite restaurants, is another artist who deserves your support.  (Yes, if you haven't been paying attention to food, chefs are artists, too.)  As near as I can tell, Aaron and Panciuto are doing just fine, but at the risk of making it harder for me and my friends to get reservations, I would love more people to know and enjoy his delicious creations.  (Disclosure:  I know Aaron a tiny bit, but it's not like we hang out together.) 

I could go on and on with examples, but you get the point.  If you love an artist and want her/him to keep creating great works, support her/him as you plan your holiday spending. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you celebrate this holiday, I hope the celebration is good.

If you don't celebrate it, I still hope your day is good.

I am thankful for all the good I've experienced so far in my life, and most of all, I am thankful for my family, biological and extended, and for all the people who have loved me or been my friend or bought my books.

Thank you, all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the eve of Thanksgiving

with so much bad in the news, despair and anger are tempting companions.  Fortunately, Louis Armstrong and some footage from Good Morning, Vietnam are always ready to remind us that this world is also indeed a wonderful one.

Peace out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A bit of trivia about my fiction

My first sale was at a low word rate (I've forgotten how much) to a semi-pro, feminist, SF/F magazine, Pandora.  The story, "Back Again", appeared in the ninth issue of that magazine.

No one has ever reprinted it.

Another reason some small press should do a lovely collection of all my short fiction. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

An oldie for a gentle rainy night

Ah, I sometimes miss Annie Lennox's voice and performances.

This song is just right for a gentle, rainy fall night.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

College rape prevention training should start with men

(Trigger warning:  this post is entirely about rape and rape culture.)

A recent NPR story discussed the challenges colleges are facing in doing rape-prevention training for women.  I'm not writing this to comment on that story; you can find plenty of such commentary online.  No, I'm here to point out that if we really want to stop rape and rid ourselves of rape culture, we must start by training the source of the problem:  men. 

Let's be clear:  rape is a male problem.  The victims of rape are never, repeat never, at fault.  The men who rape them are.  Period. 

Thus, if we want to stop rape, let's train men not to rape. 

Let's train them to understand, really and completely understand, that no means no.  Let's explain over and over again that no consent means no, that drunk or stoned or unconscious people cannot give consent and so you should not have sex with them.  Let's review the criminal penalties.  Let's talk about the damage these acts do, the lifetimes of trauma they leave their victims to handle.  Let's ask them to visualize how they would feel about their mothers or their sisters or their girlfriends--or themselves--being taken sexually against their will.  Let's explain that rape is never funny, that it's never cute, that it's not a good word, that we should never ever ever do it or condone it.

Have all the discussions you want about rape-prevention training for college women, but while you're at it, train every incoming college male that only they can stop rape, that it is their responsibility to behave better and never to descend to this depth. 

Rape is a male problem.  If we want to stop it, we have to stop men from doing it.  Maybe training would help. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockinjay, - Part 1

is the beginning of a fun and reasonable end to this series of movies, but it is just that:  the beginning of the end.  It is not the end, not any sort of conclusion at all.  The movie stops simply because a little over two hours have passed and something dramatic occurred; nothing comes to any sort of real resolution.

I knew that going in, so I didn't mind, but it is the key factor to consider in whether to see this one in the theater. 

As for the half of the final film that this installment is, as I said, it's a fun ride.  Jennifer Lawrence turns in her usual strong performance.  The supporting cast is generally good, though Julianne Moore, as the President of District 13, plays the role so coldly that it's hard to imagine anyone ever electing her.  We get action and sentiment in reasonable measures, with a just barely tolerable amount of angsting to fill the spaces. 

I'm glad I went, and I'll go see the final chapter next November.  If you are like me and don't mind waiting for the last film, check it out.  Otherwise, catch it on DVD next year right before you head to the theater for Part 2.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interstellar, the Mr. Efficient take: "dumber than Lucy"

Mr. Efficient, a.k.a. Kyle, sent a comment about my review of this movie that was so long that rather than publish the comment, I am, with Kyle's permission, giving it a full blog entry. 

I think Interstellar does actually have pretty good (though highly improbable) science. My problem with the movie is that at every point every character does the most retarded thing possible. MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW.

1. The movie postulates a world in which farming monoculture has left human food production vulnerable to fungal blights resulting in mass starvation. Rather than invest in blight-resistent GMO research or improving crop diversity, humanity chooses to (a) raise all remaining children to be farmers, (b) eat nothing but corn, and (c) secretly construct a space colony.

2. As the movie opens, Matthew McConaughey discovers that gravity works differently in his daughter's bedroom than anywhere else in the universe. In the real world, this would be literally the most amazing discovery in the history of physics. This discovery upends everything we think we understand about the universe. Instead of summoning all the world's greatest physicists to study the phenomenon, McConaughey shrugs and drives to another state.

3. In that state, he finds NASA, who have constructed a launching gantry in the middle of their office space, where anyone opening a conference room door at the wrong time will die a fiery death.

4. NASA have discovered a wormhole to another star system with 12 potentially habitable planets. Instead of sending cheap probes to fly by those planets and return pictures, they've sent an expensive manned mission to each planet. Although NASA has a collection of fertilized eggs and an artificial womb that are the size of a wastebasket and could repopulate the human race on any world, they have not sent this with any of their astronauts.

5. McConaughey and three people he's just met go through the wormhole into the other star system. One of the 12 planets orbits a super-massive black hole rotating at nearly the speed of light. Unlike the other eleven planets, this one is subject to relativistic time distortion, wracked by tidal forces, and covered entirely in liquid. They decide to land there because, you know, IT MIGHT BE HABITABLE.

I could go on, but it only gets worse from there. This movie was dumber than Lucy and less fun.

Obviously, I disagree with Kyle about the movie as a whole, but there is little I would argue in the list above.  As I said in my review, how you feel about this movie will depend a great deal on what you want from it.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014


How you will feel about this Christopher Nolan film will depend a great deal on what you value in a movie and where your tolerance thresholds sit.

If you want good science in your science-fiction films, Interstellar will just annoy you, maybe even piss you off.  Kyle can argue persuasively that it's the dumbest movie he's seen in 2014, a year full of dumb movies.  The film indeed ignores all realities about how scientists work, how people would really respond to some of its key events, all serious thinking about time travel, and many, many other science-related aspects of its story.

If you most enjoy subtle portraits of slowly growing characters, Interstellar will disappoint you.  Nothing about this film is subtle.  For nearly three hours, grand gestures and soaring soundtracks are the order of the day.

If, though, you enjoy those grand gestures and are willing to let realities slide away in the face of a story set on a grand scale, if you're willing to listen to the occasional speech about the power of the human heart in return for watching humans with great heart try to rise above their circumstances, then you will love Interstellar.  I did.  I couldn't help but notice the many egregious errors, and I winced a few times at the dumb speeches, but for almost all of its 169 minutes I sat transfixed, seeing some of the best renditions yet of space, feeling that sense of wonder that led me to SF as a child.

If you're the same type of moviegoer I am, do not miss this film.  If you're in either of the first two camps, either skip it or expect to be annoyed.

As for me, I'll watch it again when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holden and Cone Man discuss the night

Click an image to see a larger version.

Holden:  On such a cold night, I fear, Good Sir, for your health.

Cone Man:  Are you freakin' kiddin' me!  It's fantastic out here.  Dark and cold bring out the best in me.

H:  If I may be so bold, my fiberglass friend, your eyes appear to be losing their color, and leaves have fallen on your head.

CM:  Leaves have fallen?  You clearly need some glasses, because those aren't just leaves; they're part of my fall wreath.  It's decorative wreath season, motherfucker!

H:   I must insist, Sir, that you refrain from such profanity.  I simply will not have it.

CM:  Oh, you won't have it?  Well, bite my curly tip, you spoiled house dog!  You'd fuckin' curse, too, if you had to sit outside all the time, with only delivery people to admire your decorative wreath. 

H:  If you cannot engage in civil discourse, and you clearly cannot, then I must take my leave and return to one of my many luxurious pillow beds--all of which sit inside yon beckoning warm home.

CM:  Fine.  Go inside and lick your junk.  See if I care.  See if I let you wear my wreath!

The moral of this story is simple:  No one can please a cranky Cone Man.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Computer servers and cooking don't normally mix

but in the latest episode of Now with PT, very little is normal.


Monday, November 17, 2014

I don't really know how to dance

but this song makes me wish I did.  When you need a cheerful tune, this one from Walk the Moon should do the trick.  (The video isn't as much to my taste as the song, but it's still fun.) 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Hero 6

is an absolute delight, a movie that will make you laugh, applaud, and maybe even tear up now and again.  It's the story of a young genius, his brother, and a group of friends who become much more than just another collection of college students.  It's silly and serious, sometimes in the same scene, but it makes the combination work.  It dances on the edge of sentimentality quite frequently, and every now and again it falls over that edge, but I didn't mind at all.  For a change, both audiences and critics agree with me on this one. 

If you've seen the trailers, you might be tempted to believe the film is simply a silly animated robot comedy, but don't succumb to that temptation; this movie is much more.  It has genuine heart, but it also boasts plenty of action and humor.  The plot is nothing you haven't seen before, but as always, that's not what matters; it's the singer, not the song, and this film sings beautifully. 

Don't read more about Big Hero 6.  Just go see it. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Have you ever heard

a song playing, just part of the background noise, and had it hit your heart, burrow into it, and take up residence there for a few days?  That's what happened to me Wednesday night, at dinner at Castagna, and the song is still inside me, not there all the time, but peeking its head up now and then, soothing me and reminding me that it's not ready to leave yet.

Fortunately, it's a good song, one that evokes lovely moments.


Friday, November 14, 2014

On the road again: Portland, day 5

Nothing starts a day better than a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call, a rushed shower, and a drive on slick streets through the dark to an airport.

Actually, pretty much anything starts a day better than that, but that's how my day began.  Lots of flying, lots of work on planes, and fitful dozing when I couldn't work filled all of the daylight hours.

I'm home now, though, and very glad to be here.

Soon, I'll resume writing more interesting posts. 

But not tonight.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the road again: Portland, day 4

Today the weather said, "You will work from your hotel room."  It backed up its decree with freezing rain, rain, snow flurries, and ice.  So, I worked from my hotel room, as we lost all our client meetings.  Nonetheless, the day was busy from very early until quite late.

The one break was a delicious dinner at Le Pigeon, where Chef Gabriel Rucker and his team always create incredibly tasty dishes.  I hope to do a full review of this meal later, but trust me when I say that if you are eating in Portland, you need to eat at Le Pigeon.

Tomorrow morning, I must get up way in advance of the sun to head to the airport, so I am outta here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On the road again: Portland, day 3

I feel bad about writing all of these short entries, but at the end of these incredibly long work days, they're all I have the energy to do.  Today was entirely work except for a lovely dinner at Castagna, one of the best restaurants in Portland.  Executive Chef Justin Woodward creates exciting, modernist dishes that evoke the area and rely heavily on local ingredients.  If you live here or are visiting here, do not miss the chance to eat a world-class meal from Woodward and his team. 

I hope to do a longer review of the meal later, but now I must finish work and finally crash.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On the road again: Portland, day 2

Wow, was today busy.  Work comprised interesting meetings, which of course I can't discuss, and a giant backlog of email.  So it goes.

Dinner was an excellent (as always) meal with colleagues and friends (same people; it's nice to be friends with your colleagues) at Ava Genes, an Italian restaurant I definitely recommend.  I've never had a bad dish there.  On a cold, windy fall night, it was lovely to be in a friendly, warm restaurant enjoying a bowl of warm pasta.

Now, finally, to crash.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Washington, D.C., day 5 /
Portland, day 1

The bandwidth in the DCA Admirals Club at 6:50 in the morning was quite a treat.  By 8:00, though, it was merely tolerable.  I accomplished a lot in the 70 good minutes.

Flights took me from DCA to DFW and then to PDX.  No complaints from me, because I was lucky to receive upgrades on both flights. 

Work filled most of the latter part of the day, but I did walk around for a bit in downtown Portland, which was a nice break. 

Dinner was at Murata, where I consumed some of the best sushi I've tasted anywhere and definitely the best sushi I've had in Portland.  I very much recommend this place to sushi lovers. 

Dessert was at Salt & Straw, where I sampled two of the odder-sounding seasonal flavors:  spiced chevre pumpkin pie, and salted caramel Thanksgiving turkey.  Both were delicious. 

Now, to crash after a very long day indeed. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Washington, D.C., day 4

Today the convention held its annual banquet and announcement of the winners of this year's World Fantasy Awards.  I enjoyed the ceremony, which is one of the more important yearly gatherings of the SF&F clan.  The food was even decent, which is both a bonus and a surprise at a banquet.

I worked for a time, chatted with some friends, worked some more, and then a small group of us headed off to see Interstellar.  I'll write a full review of it later--I now owe you two long entries--but the bottom line is that I very much enjoyed it.

I have to get up at six a.m., so I'm heading offline now. 

When I next write, I'll be in Portland, OR!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Washington, D.C., day 3

Today was, for a rare and pleasant change, more con than work.  I kept up with my various efforts, but I also managed to spend more time in the dealers' room and the art show, hit two panels, grab a quick lunch, and enjoy a dinner at a local Ruth's Chris steakhouse with a bunch of friends who also happen to be Baen folks.  I should be writing longer entries, but once again, it's late, I'm tired, and I have a bit more to do. 

So, I'm outta here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Washington, D.C., day 2

Most of today's daylight hours went to work. 

I did get to spend a little time in the art show and the dealers' room.  The Virgil Finlay original art on display here really is fantastic.  I picked up a lovely book on his work, and I enjoyed getting to see so many originals.  I also found the rest of the art in the art show to be of a generally very high caliber; it is quite a treat to see such good work.

Dinner deserves its own blog entry, but it's three a.m., and I need to finish some work and crash, so I'm going to write that review another time.  I will say that the meal was at Jose's Table within minibar, and it was not only world-class, it was also one of the very best meals I've ever had the privilege of eating.

After the dinner, I spent time chatting with friends, both old and new, and then, as usual, worked into the wee hours.

A generally good day.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Washington, D.C., day 1

Busy day.  Awoke after way too little sleep, worked liked crazy, and headed downtown to apply for Global Entry.

The folks there were pleasant and efficient, and I'm now all set.  Excellent.

Grabbed an egg salad sandwich and some salad at a food court in the Ronald Reagan building.  Not bad.


Some more work.

Did I mention work?

Toured the art show.  Great show that included over a hundred original pieces of Virgil Finlay art.  Wow, was that guy amazing!

Did a quick walk through a very nice dealers' room refreshingly jammed with books.  Very tempting stuff.

Dinner was with friends and colleagues at a nearby Italian place, Portofino.  Decent food, service that could use some work.

Got back in time to do some work and then moderate an SRO panel on "Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement."  I was there just to keep things rolling along.  The stars of the show were Griffin Barber, a cop for a major city, and Alistair Kimble, and FBI agent.  Both are friends, both are fellow writers, and both did a fine job on the panel.  It was fun.

A little time at the Tor party, more work, time chatting with friends, more work, and a jammed day comes to an end.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Washington, D.C., day 0

Driving in the D.C. metropolitan area sucks.  Most of the drive here proceeded uneventfully, the traffic never pleasant on I-95 but never horrible, either--until about 30 miles from D.C.  From that point on, it was unpleasant. 

Still, I'm safely at the World Fantasy Con in Crystal City, so I shouldn't complain.  The con cranks up in earnest tomorrow, but registration and the hospitality suite open today, and it feels like a good quarter of the people have already shown up.

Dinner tonight was a delicious meal with friends at Jose Andres' Jaleo in Crystal City.  We shared a wide variety of small dishes before waddling back to the hotel.  Any evening that includes Jamon Iberico de bellota Fermin is a very good evening indeed.

Work filled part of the drive and all the rest of my time except dinner.  Despite the timestamp on this post, it's after three a.m. in the morning, so I'm outta here.

Tomorrow, I will head into D.C. for some Global Entry paperwork, eat dinner with friends, and moderate a panel.  Oh, yeah:  I'll do a ton of work, too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

PT folks doing good in the world

As I've mentioned many times, I'm particularly proud of the sabbatical program at PT and all the good work that PT folks do while on sabbatical.  We just released today a video about the good work that my friend, Eric, did while on his sabbatical.


Monday, November 3, 2014

You want to smash pumpkins?

We smash pumpkins.

You want interesting and useful product comparisons?

Of course we have those, too.

It's all in the latest installment of Now with PT.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

St. Vincent

is a wonderful film that you should not miss.  I wanted to get that out of the way right up front, in case you decide to stop reading early. 

This movie demonstrates one of the basic truths of art:  It's not the journey, it's who's taking you on the journey.  There are no new plots, no new stories, no types of paths you haven't already seen in film.  The particulars of each story are what we come for.  St. Vincent is at one level a tale we've seen way too often:  new kid in the neighborhood helps redeem crusty old guy next door, while crusty old guy next door helps new kid grow up.  Any such summary, however, does great injustice to this movie for two reasons.

The first is the script, which Theodore Melfi, whose previous work I do not know, executed with style and infused with so many grace notes that its charms gradually win you over.  Yes, as some critics have noted, the movie veers close to--and sometimes into--sentimentality, but always in interesting ways. 

The second is the acting, which is uniformly excellent.  Bill Murray deserves an Oscar for this one.  He won't get it, but he delivers here a character who displays both Murray's considerable comic talents and a subdued yet powerful dramatic presence.  Murray nails this one and is a pleasure to watch at all times.  Naomi Watts turns in a pitch-perfect turn as a hard-bitten Russian stripper and prostitute.  Melissa McCarthy dials way down her comedic side and shows she can act in dramas as well as comedies.  Chris O'Dowd, whose work I've long admired, does a beautiful job as a schoolteacher and priest.  Jaeden Lieberher plays the boy, in many ways the toughest role, and by acting relentlessly smart, quiet, and polite, he creates a special character you can believe. 

Do not miss this film.  Yes, it's sentimental at times, but that's okay; honest sentiment is a fine thing, and this one comes by its sentiments honestly. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Start your engines

Kyle was worried that the change in directors would mean that Furious 7 would not be ridiculous enough.  The way-over-the-top nature of the last two films in this series is precisely what made them so much fun. 

This trailer puts his--and all of our--worries on that front to rest.

I am so there.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The North Carolina Democratic Party's unfortunate letter

Today, a letter to Scott from the North Carolina Democratic Party arrived at our house.  Scott had said previously that he wasn't interested in these political mailings and so we should just recycle them.  I always open envelopes before recycling them and their contents to make sure nothing inside contains sensitive personal information.  If something does, I shred that piece. 

This is the letter that awaited me.  The red is my addition.  I recommend carefully reading the first large paragraph and then the circled paragraph. 

Click the image to see a larger version.

Exactly what kind of shit is this?  As a lifelong Democrat and a strong advocate of voting (ref., for example, my recent entry urging everyone to vote), I am appalled at my party stooping to tactics that amount to blackmail.  Really?

Ms. Keever, I don't know you, and I don't know your organization's policies, but if I were in your shoes, I would be embarrassed to have my name on this offensive correspondence.  I do know that I am embarrassed on behalf of all Democrats that this communication exists. 

I am one hundred percent in favor of encouraging people to vote, but this letter simply goes too far.  Had I received this letter at Scott's age, I might have refused to vote for any Democrats just on principle. 

I hope this is the last letter of this sort the NCDP ever sends.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

May last night's fortune cookie prove accurate

Assuming the maze is the project I'm working on full-time right now, oh, yes, I would certainly be happy if that fortune came true. 

Really, when wouldn't you like this fortune to prove to be accurate?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

John Wick

Let's take a short movie quiz.  Which item in this group does not belong with the others:

A) Keanu Reeves
B) a film about an retired assassin coming out of retirement
C) tons of cheesy Russian mobsters
D) a Rottentomatoes critics rating of 86%
The answer to anyone who's been watching movies in the last 20 years is clearly D.  No Keanu Reeves action flick ever earns that high a critics rating.

Yet John Wick is all of the above.  Stylish and built to work well with Reeves' almost total inability to display subtle emotions, the film is a velocity exercise that uses a hook-and-backfill structure to engage us early and then wastes little time in moving its main story forward.  The supporting cast members, notably Michael Nyqvist as the Russian mob boss, have fun with their roles and deliver generally good performances.  Though every bit as unrealistic as you'd expect, the fighting and gun-play scenes manage to feel more authentic than most, largely through Wick's habit of making sure to shoot each bad guy in the head before moving on to the next one.

The trailer gives you the setup for the story, but in this film the ride through the plot is all the fun, so I won't tell you any more about it.  If you're in the mood for a good action film with great pacing, I heartily recommend John Wick.  It won't teach you any important life lessons or challenge you in any way, but it will deliver a good time. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Unless you've completely tuned out the outside world, you know that this coming Tuesday, November 4, is an election day.  Here in North Carolina, it's a big one, with a Senate seat, seats in the House, seats in the state legislature, and a lot of judicial seats up for grabs.  Money from outside NC has been flooding into our state in an attempt to sway the election.  Ads are everywhere.

As anyone who has read this blog for long knows, I am a political liberal.  I think the current North Carolina legislature has behaved abominably and done a great deal of damage to our state.  I fear the stupid behavior and slowdowns that will come if the Republicans end up controlling both houses of the U.S. Congress.

If you agree with me, get out and vote, and help the Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate and gain some more control within this state (or wherever you live).

Even if you don't agree with me, though, I urge you to vote your beliefs.  A lot of people over a lot of years have sacrificed everything they had to keep our country as free as it is today, and the right to vote is one of the greatest of those freedoms.  I know many people feel their votes won't matter, but election after election we encounter races so close that every vote was important. 

If an overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens vote against my positions, then I'll have to live with that or move to another country--and I don't plan on moving.  If I'm going to lose, I'd like it to be because my fellow citizens clearly spoke. 

Next Tuesday is going to be a particularly insane day for me, so I voted early.  The process was easy, the experience pleasant.  If you don't want to fight the crowds on Tuesday, vote early.  If you like being among a big group of other voters--something I do sometimes enjoy--maybe wait for next Tuesday.  Either is fine. 

Just vote. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

From over 25 miles in the air

to the Earth, via a parachute.  That's the ride that Alan Eustace, a Google senior VP, took this past Friday, October 24.  For more details, check out this New York Times article or watch this video.

As the article notes, this was not a Google project; Eustace worked with others to make this happen.  Though I'm sure he's enjoying the publicity, and the ride had to be amazing, it seems clear that he did it because somehow he had to, that the idea infected him and he couldn't get rid of it.

That's awesome.  As a lifelong SF fan, I find these sorts of grand gestures and strange actions both beautiful and admirable. 

I've long wanted to take an orbit around the Earth from space.  I would have cashed in a lot of savings to try to buy a seat on Virgin Galactic were it planning to do an orbit, but it's not--and now it's not at all clear that the Richard Branson enterprise will even make anything near its original height goal.  Still, I wish them luck. 

I doubt I'll ever have a chance to go into orbit, but if I did and could at all reasonably afford it, I'd sure try. 

In the meantime, I'll admire the exploits of Eustace and others as they explore the upper reaches of our atmosphere--and beyond.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I never served in the military.  I never had to go to war.  So, when I watch a war movie, I can never know for sure what it is getting right and what it is portraying falsely.  Given what data I have, however, Fury struck me as doing a pretty good job of showing some of the horrors, the camaraderie, the general fucked-up nature of what people on the sharp end have to deal with, and most of all, the strange mixture of adrenaline and numbness of combat and the times before and after battle.

Fury is not the sort of WWII movie I grew up watching.  Filthy, brutal, and costly to all involved, the film gives you an idea of the prices soldiers pay.  Brad Pitt is superb as Wardaddy in a performance as nuanced and complete as anything we've ever seen from him.  Shia LaBeouf, whose acting I usually dislike, here turns in an excellent portrayal of a deeply religious soldier who is also a stone killer when the job demands he be one.  Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal, the other two regulars in Wardaddy's tank, are similarly strong.  Logan Lerman, the fresh meat thrown in with them, is the weakest of the group, but he still does a good job.

The film beats you over and over with its violence, the pain we feel the tiniest shadow of what the men of the tank Fury must endure.  As you would expect, no happy ending awaits us in this movie, and what happiness we see is laced with irony.

You have to be willing to endure the ride, and it is a rough one, but if you are, Fury is a very good movie, one well worth seeing--and one well worth remembering the next time you consider what it will cost us to send anyone into battle.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

If you know Steve

you need to enjoy this photo.

Definitely click on this one to see a larger image.  That's the only way you can truly appreciate the majesty that is this outfit, or understand Steve's total commitment to the look; check out the nails.

If you don't know Steve, either you don't live around the Triangle, or you're bound to meet him soon.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kaiseki in Durham: Yamazushi

Durham's Yamazushi is a tiny restaurant tucked into a Durham strip mall.  Paper covers the windows, so you can't see the diners inside.  Most nights, the place holds only six lucky guests.  A week ago, I and a few friends were a fortunate four among those six. 

Yamazushi serves a traditional kaiseki dinner, a meal characterized by seasonal ingredients and a fixed order of styles of preparation for the courses.  We enjoyed this menu on our visit. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

The atmosphere inside the small establishment is quiet, almost serene.  All of the place settings and serving dishes differ from each other, each course's dishes similar but unique; many are pieces of pottery the chef made. 

The first course, a delicate Japanese persimmon salad served in a carefully carved Japanese persimmon, was sweet and tart in different measures, a gentle but delicious introduction to the meal. 

Every bite of the next course, a sashimi selection, was also delicious.  Even the flowers were edible.

The courses continued in this vein:  stylish, attractive, and delicious. 

To the best of my knowledge, no other restaurant in the Triangle is offering this type of meal.  At $85 per person for the dinner (drinks and bottled water, if you want them, are extra, as is tea), it's not cheap, but it's also nowhere near the area's most expensive dinner.  If you like this sort of Japanese food, I highly recommend Yamazushi. 

I am already eager to return. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Book of Life

attracted me with its unusual imagery and the involvement of producer Guillermo del Toro, whose work always intrigues me.  After watching the 95-minute movie, I left the theater with decidedly mixed feelings.

The images were indeed not like those from any other mainstream animation studio.  Playful and reminiscent of toys, they were both easy to get used to and worthy of closer inspection when the film dragged, as it did on a few occasions.  The story was a simple one made only slightly more complex by attempts to conform less to gender stereotypes than most films, though at times those attempts rang forced and almost false.  The voice actors did a fine job.  Everything was fine.

What was missing, at least to me, was any sense of surprise or real heart, something that would add to the interesting animation to create a more intriguing creation. 

In the end, I'm happy enough to have seen the movie, but I won't seek it out again, and only its visuals will stick with me.  I recommend it only if you want to enjoy those visuals and don't mind the rest being decidedly middle-of-the-road. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Poole's Diner doesn't rank with the Triangle's best

A lot of people swear by Poole's Downtown Diner.  I've heard multiple people call it one of the best restaurants in the Triangle.  Ashley Christensen, its owner and chef, runs a group of local restaurants and was the 2014 winner of the James Beard award for Best Chef:  Southeast.  The last time I went, I was unimpressed, but that was years ago, so when I found myself across the street from it after eating Big Gay Ice Cream and only forty-five minutes before it was due to seat people, I decided to give it another try.

I remain unimpressed. 

The food our group sampled was uniformly good, but never anything more.  Nothing was exceptional.  Whatever culinary chops earned Christensen the Beard were nowhere to be found in our meals.  Again, the food was good, and it was on par with many above-average Triangle restaurants, but it was not in any way a stand-out.  The heirloom tomatoes in our salad, for example, were nothing like the flavorful beauties I've eaten at multiple other area restaurants; these were as bland as what you'd find in the discount area at any local grocery store. 

To be fair, my expectations were high.  Given Poole's reputation and Christensen's award-winning status, I was expecting a meal on par with that of the Triangle's top restaurants, places like [ONE] and Panciuto and Herons and the Fearrington House restaurant and so on.  What I ate was food on par with the middle of the second string of local establishments. 

If you're looking for a good meal, Poole's will definitely do.  If you want a top-drawer local dinner, though, try the four I've mentioned or any of the other best of the Triangle restaurants I've reviewed in the past.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big Gay Ice Cream came to town

and a group of us were, of course, on hand to sample their wares.  If you don't know the Big Gay Ice Cream business, it's a New York-based small chain (a shop in the East Village and one in the West Village, with shops coming to Philadelphia and LA) that started as an ice cream truck and grew on the basis of its charm and, most of all, its delicious soft-serve ice cream.  It's done so well that it's made most lists of the best ice cream places in America--which is quite an achievement, given that the ice cream is soft-serve.

Don't get me wrong:  I love soft-serve ice cream, particularly on a warm day.  Soft-serve, though, can't have the fat content of hard-packed ice cream, and it's rarely anywhere near as delicious. 

So, I obviously had to check out this gourmet ice cream, and fortunately for me, their five-year-anniversary, Southern tour brought them to Raleigh last Saturday. 

An hour before the truck, a rental they picked up in Richmond, was due to arrive, the line had already formed. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

Fans of local ice cream will spot Yoli and Vanessa of The Parlour, makers of the best ice cream in these parts and, for my money, proprietors of one of the best ice cream shops in America.  I talked with them a bit as we were waiting.  We all agreed that truly great soft-serve should be possible, but you almost never encounter it.

The folks in the Big Gay Ice Cream truck kept everyone up to date on their progress via Twitter, and pretty much on time the truck arrived.

We decided to sample most of the major creations, so our group shared one each Salty Pimp (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche injections, sea salt, and a chocolate dip), Bea Arthur (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche injections, and a coating of crushed 'nilla wafers), Pecan Gobbler sundae (vanilla ice cream, pecans, and other stuff), and strawberry sundae (vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and other stuff). 

For ease of sharing, we had them turn the lovely cones upside down into cups. 

All four concoctions were indeed delicious, with easily the best soft-serve ice cream I have ever tasted.  If Big Gay Ice Cream were ever to open a shop or operate a truck around here, I'd definitely eat there often, particularly on warm days.

The quality of their ice cream begs the question, was it as good as the best hard-pack? 

No, at least not to me or anyone in our group.  The higher fat content and greater ability to handle complex flavors of hard-pack ice cream make it, for my taste, the clear winner.

That said, it's an "and" world, and I would love to have Big Gay Ice Cream as an option.  If you get a chance to taste their offerings, take it; you'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The State Fair report, 2014

Long-time readers of this blog know that our family goes to the North Carolina State Fair for the food.  Sure, we like walking around, we love looking at the various animals, and some of us even go on a ride now and again, but most of all we're there to sample the Fair's many food offerings.  A few years ago, I came up with a new, expensive but ultimately less fattening system:  fast for about 18 hours ahead of time, buy everything I want to sample, and take one or at most two bites, then share it with others.  This approach has let me try a ton of stuff at the Fair and not gain any weight from doing so.  (Standing and walking around the Fair for five hours also helps, of course.)

This year's outing began with the traditional pretzel dog.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Equally traditional and from the same vendor is Sarah's start-of-Fair pretzel, which she models here--and lets me eat a bite of.

A Diet Coke is, of course (there was no Coke Zero on offer), the walking-around beverage of choice.

A new vendor, Big Daddy's, contributed Scott's traditional turkey leg, which he also gives me a bite of,

and this rather tasty brisket sandwich.

I didn't eat anything from this vendor, but I loved the name, Bacon Ray's, so much, that I had to share its image with you.

At our next stop, this fryer was in heavy action at times, though here it is hosting only a few dough-covered goodies.

Those goodies included the Twinx, a surprisingly tasty concoction you build by stuffing a Twix candy bar inside a Twinkie, wrapping that in bacon, deep-frying the whole thing, and coating it in sugar.

It really was tasty, though one bite was plenty for me.  My nibble of the equally deep-fried and sugar-coated fried Oreos was also good.

A bite of a salty ham biscuit served as an excellent palate cleanser after all the sweets.

One of our non-food traditions is a visit to see the bears.  Yes, they're captive in small rooms, and yes, they're probably sad, but sometimes they are amazing to behold, as this lax bear was. 

A relaxed bear on a tire swing is a very cool sight indeed.

I'm not a chicken fan, but we always check them out, and I always find some amazing ones.  For example, the mere name "Bufflaced Polish" cracks me up, and their heads are equally entertaining. 

The cinnamon-sugar mini-donuts are another Fair staple, and they are yummy indeed.

McBride's Concessions, a Fair vendor that's been around for years, switched in 2014 to handmade onion rings using a recipe from the mother of one of the owners and a housemade dipping sauce.

The sauce was okay, but the onion rings were great, among the best I've tasted.

Scott's polish sausage hoagie with peppers, onions, and cheese was everything it should be.

So, too, were the fried bologna-and-cheese sandwich (don't hate until you taste it)

and the grilled cheese on white bread.

Oh, yeah, the bread is indeed that soaked with butter.

Did I mention giant pumpkins and watermelons?

Always a crowd-pleaser, and just kind of amazing in that "wow, people do anything and everything" sort of way. 

I forgot to take a picture of the cherry vanilla N.C. State ice cream I sampled.  I love that ice cream, and I get it only once a year at the Fair.

As we were wandering away from the ice cream, we ran cross these two fine hot dogs. 

Someday, the Motorized Hot Dog Throne of Doom will exist!

Back on the food front, another of the Fair's new offerings, the deep-fried Bananas Foster, met with mixed reviews, with banana-lovers enjoying it and banana-haters finding it disgusting. 

I thought it was pretty tasty, but I do enjoy bananas.

By the time we reached the deep-fried cupcakes, which Sarah models here,

many folks were done in, but not all of us.  Those who tried them found them basically to be fried dough, okay but no better.

All of us agreed that as disturbing as the phrase "WALK AWAY NUT SUNDAE" was, the face in the ice cream cone above it was creepier.

Sarah, Ben, and Ronnie,

as well as others in our group, rode the swings and had a grand time doing so.  I always find the ceiling of the swings to be a little trippy.

The "WIGGLE WURM":  friendly, or creepy?

I'm going with creepy.

This gentleman doesn't seem to be very happy to be at work,

but if I ever need a porn-star name, I could do a lot worse than "Jumbo Long Dogs."

A blooming onion

and a classic grilled hot dog with cheese

brought the Fair food odyssey to a close.

As we were leaving, we caught the nightly fireworks show, which was particularly gorgeous this year.  Gina took a lot of great photographs of the show, so to wrap up this huge entry, let me leave you with just a small sample of those lovely shots.


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