Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

I hope 2016 brings you joy, wonder, love, serenity, health, and happiness.

Though I don't indulge in resolutions, I do hope to hit some goals next year, goals that should lead to a better me.

Time, of course, will tell.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When you have five dog beds scattered around the den,

how do you choose among them?

If you're Holden, the world's greatest dog, the answer is simple:

You eschew them all for the sleek and cool wood floor.

Click an image to see a larger version.

He is just as cute from above, by the way, poised as he is, ready to leap into action at a moment's notice.

Or not.

It was that kind of night for Holden.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Super 70 film vs. digital video

In yesterday's post, I discussed the film, The Hateful Eight, which a group of us had gone to see.  Director Quentin Tarantino shot that movie on Super 70 film, and by going to the "roadshow" of the movie, we got to see it via projectors running Super 70 prints of that film.  The movie was beautiful, wide and bright and colorful and everything I remembered 70mm film to be.  As had happened at an earlier showing, though, the last reel of the film had problems, so the projectionist had to switch to a digital copy for that reel.  We thus had the opportunity to see some scenes in both 70mm film and digital video versions.  (I have to admit that at first this change was annoying, but afterward we all agreed that it was neat that we got to see the movie both ways.)

The difference amazed and surprised me.

I am a huge fan of digital films, which are usually brighter and clearer than their 35mm film predecessors.  The first 4K digital movie I saw blew me away with how much better it was than the 35mm version.

In this case, though, the digital version was a sad counterpart to its 70mm sibling.  The Super 70 version was brighter, more saturated with color, and simply better in every way than the digital version.  Perhaps this is something Tarantino arranged by doing a less than optimum digital rendering, but that seems unlikely.  Regardless of the reason, though, in at least this case, film won hands-down.  The difference made me wish I could see every movie in Super 70.

As odd as it sounds, if you make it to the roadshow of The Hateful Eight, hope for the last reel to fail again so you can see this difference.  It really was amazing.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Hateful Eight

A group of us today went to see the special "roadshow" version of this film, Quentin Tarantino's eighth.  The roadshow release runs three hours, includes an overture and an intermission, and is on Super 70mm film; the participating theaters temporarily install the necessary projectors.

The movie is classic Tarantino:  sharp-edged, funny, with dialog that's both cutting and full of foul language, and laden with moments of outrageous violence and gore.  It is definitely not for the weak of heart.

If our group is any indication, and I suspect it is, how much you will enjoy the movie is something you already know:  if you like Tarantino's other films, you're going to like this one, and if you don't like his other work, this one isn't going to suit you, either.  If you've never seen a Tarantino movie, then the degree to which you like violent action flicks is probably the best--though not a perfect--predictor of how you'll feel about The Hateful Eight.

I'm not going to say anything about the storyline, because the fewer preconceptions you bring into the theater, the better.  Just go and let it unroll in front of you.

As you might expect, I very much enjoyed this movie.  I'm hard-pressed to rank Tarantino's films, but this one was definitely a fine addition to his oeuvre.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Health update

Enough folks have emailed me about my health that I thought I'd post an update.

Basically, I'm getting better, but not as quickly as I'd like.  I'm sleeping about 14 hours a day and accomplishing almost nothing with the 10 or so hours I'm awake.  I take it easy, read, shower, watch movies and TV shows, and fall behind on my goals, but I heal.  Every day I feel a little bit better, cough a little less, and so on.  I'm still on antibiotics and a cough suppressant for sleeping, but I am definitely making progress.

The most remarkable aspect of all of this is that after all these days of so much sleep, I go to bed exhausted and have to make myself get out of bed after all those hours in it.  I'm not depressed; I'm just exhausted.

So, getting better, but not well yet.  I trust I will be well before the New Year kicks off in grand work style.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Don't watch this trailer

if violence, gore, foul language, or inappropriate comments upset you.  Seriously.  It contains all of those.

If, though, you're as excited about seeing the clearly irreverent Deadpool movie as I am, then watch away.

Oh, yeah, this looks like it'll be fun.  Even better, it's appearing in February, a month when we'll all need some action films.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have a great holiday.  Or, if you don't celebrate this particular day, then I hope you have a fantastic Friday!

I'm taking today offline and focusing on family and friends.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

An early present

The other day, a box of these beauties arrived as an early holiday gift.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Yes, that is the paperback (aka mass market) edition of No Going Back, the (now rather old but still) most recent Jon & Lobo novel.  Though not officially on sale until January 26, I am lucky enough to have my author copies now.

I have to tell you:  It is quite the handsome paperback.  Even if you have the hardback or an ebook version of this novel, you would enjoy owning one of these rascals--as would all your friends and colleagues, people you encounter in airports and at grocery stores, and strangers on the street.  It's not too early to shop for next Christmas, either.

I'm tickled to see this paperback--and I'm also rather sad at not having another one ready to appear.

I am working on it, though, and I will continue to do so.

In the meantime, you could do worse with your money than to pre-order this lovely paperback.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nothing says Christmas

like The Earred One in lights.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Sarah, as The Keeper of The Earred One, has fulfilled her holiday role and properly decorated her household demon.

The astute among you may notice that The Earred One is not sporting ears these days.  Her ears, alas, broke--as did her entire head.  She is always and forever, however, The Earred One, as she has been since she first entered our lives in this 2009 post.

Back then, she was looking strong and healthy--

well, as healthy as this demon ever looks.

Worry not, though, her power today is as strong as ever.

The Earred One is lit!  Bring on the holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

is exactly what fans want it to be, and good enough that non-fans will want to see it, too.  With enough action that you're never bored and enough character development that all the main characters feel at least somewhat like real humans, the movie delivers a near-perfect combination of sequel and reboot.  I left happy about having seen it and ready for the next one.

I credit a great deal of this to J.J. Abrams, who knows how to work with modern myths, as he has shown with his reboot of the Star Trek series, and Lawrence Kasdan, whose script blends a new story arc with a great deal of fan service.

Is it a great movie?  No.  It is, however, one of the stronger entries in the Star Wars catalog, and that's enough to make it both hugely entertaining and a blockbuster hit.

On the off chance that you haven't read anything about the film, I'm not going to indulge in any spoilers.  If you're already a Star Wars fan, you must head to the theater now.  If you're not, if by some miracle you've never even heard of Star Wars, go see The Force Awakens and expect to have a fine time watching a good space opera.

It's now definite:  I'm ready for J.J. Abrams to make Jon & Lobo movies.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Good people

In the course of a typical week, one or another of my friends is likely to say, "People suck," or "People are the worst."  They can make strong cases by pointing to horrible recent events, or the state of our planet, or any number of other bad things humans have done.

I don't hold with their perspective.  I certainly acknowledge the great amount of bad that humans have done, but I also always try to remember the many bits of good women and men have accomplished.  In my experience, the vast majority of humans everywhere are trying to live their lives, better themselves, take care of those they love, and get through what are often rough days.

Yesterday, I gave up on my body healing itself and went to an urgent care clinic.  Every single person there treated me wonderfully, with care and with dignity, efficiently but not coldly.  I left with a prescription for antibiotics and something to help stop the cough until I could heal.

I didn't go until late in the day, so by the time I finished at the clinic it was almost closing time for the local drug stores.  I hustled to the nearest one and hit the pharmacy desk three minutes before the pharmacist was due to go home.  He was kind and nice and not only filled my prescriptions, he also took the time to answer my questions.

In this short trip into the local world, I interacted with men and women, with people of many colors, and all of them treated me well.

I've certainly had worse experiences, many of them, so I acknowledge that maybe I just got lucky.  I don't care.  Good people are everywhere, and, I believe, most people are trying to be good.  I will cling to this and the many other examples like it that I've experienced, so that I can remember that though people may at times be the worst, they are also at times the best.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

If you haven't already seen this Christmas carol video

you need to watch it.

Henry Rollins, dressed in a red knit Christmas sweater with a lit-up "R", punking on "Carol of the Bells."

It's almost enough to make me start watching Colbert.

A very Rollins Christmas indeed.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

If you're thinking about giving or getting a smartwatch

this holiday season, you should check out what Bill has to say on his Tech Everywhere blog.  A lot of people test tech products, but Bill is one of the few who live with them for weeks or months at a time before rendering his opinion.  The difference between a first impression and an analysis that reflects weeks of steady usage is often significant.

Bill and I don't always agree on tech toys, but I do always find his reviews valuable.

Check it out.

(Disclaimer:  Bill and I have worked together for over 30 years, and his blog appears on the site of the company we co-own.  It's still valuable advice, and I'd say that even if I didn't know him.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Still trying to hide in the cave,

still trying to block the entrance with a rock.

Here's hoping I sleep 14 hours and awake feeling all better.

Hey, a guy's gotta dream, right?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Want to hear a radio show about PT?

Monday early evening, Bill and I appeared on the "Time Out" show on WCOM in Carrboro.  My voice during the discussion is painful to listen to--for which I apologize; I wish it was back to normal, but it's not--but Bill is in fine form.

If you'd like to learn a little more about PT and some of its history, you can listen to or download the show here.

My thanks to show host Bill Hendrickson for having us on his program.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cave, rock, sick, me

Every chance I get, I'm going into my cave, pulling a rock over the door, and crashing in the hopes of feeling better soon.  I know some people prefer lots of attention when they're sick, but I am absolutely a cave-with-a-rock-over-the-door fellow.

I do hope, though, to experience sometime soon an end to the coughing and sinus attacks.

Back to that cave.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Hateful Eight Super 70 roadshow is coming to the Triangle

and I am psyched!  Steve told me about the news tonight; for more on it, check out this page.

The roadshow version is longer, includes a short intermission, and is in glorious 70mm!  I can't wait.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Everything louder than everything else

is not just the name of a song that Jim Steinman wrote and Meat Loaf sang, it's also a good description for much of the Las Vegas strip.

Consider the case of the MGM Grand Hotel's lobby this past Thursday night.  The hotel must push its mascot, the lion.  It's chosen gold for its Christmas main color because nothing says subtle like gold.  A huge UFC fight card is going to take place in its arena in two nights, but right now, the rodeo is in town, and cowboys are everywhere.

What then is a lobby designer to do?

The answer, in Vegas, is simple:  all of it.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Oh, yeah:  everything louder than everything else.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Every kid deserves a childhood that's worth remembering"

Davey shares this thought in this video about his sabbatical charity work, and I could not agree more with him.

I'm very proud of Davey and all the other PT staffers who chose to use part of their sabbatical time to help do good in the world.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The first X-Men: Apocalypse trailer is here

and it's a doozy.  Seeing as how I'm still sick as a dog, I'll leave you with it.

Tomorrow or Monday, I hope to start to catch up on blog posts I owe.

Friday, December 11, 2015

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 4

I went to bed late and felt horrible as I crawled into the sheets.  I felt worse when I got up for good less than five hours later.  I've lost most of my voice to drainage, and tomorrow night is our big annual work celebration, at which I must speak, so I have a very short time to heal fully.

Consequently, I'm crashing.

Over the coming days, I hope to catch up on my Vegas report.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3

I have so much good stuff to write about today, but I'm exhausted, and I have to get up very early, so I'm crashing.

Sorry about that.

More later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2

I slept late today after a very late bedtime, and I enjoyed every bit of that sleep.

After some work, we headed out for a light lunch and a lot of walking, some of it through the shops in Caesar's.  Walking was a good thing, a bit of exercise in a trip with plenty of calories.

Dinner took our group of now four folks to China Poblano, a Jose Andres Mexican/Chinese fusion place.  The meal was good, though not exceptional.  That said, I sure would be happy to have one of these restaurants back home, where it would be a stand-out.

This evening, we went to see Rock of Ages, a play that was on Broadway, toured, became a movie, and now is an installation at the Venetian.  The play was very different from the movie, which I had very much (to my surprise) enjoyed, but I also had a grand time at it.  Like the musical, The Commitments, which I saw in London, the music and the sheer energy of the cast made this show a ton of fun.

Tomorrow, UFC fights!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

Kyle and I, and soon others, are here in Las Vegas for our annual trip for his birthday and some UFC fights.  I tweeted a few of the key moments from my flight, so check there for what I enjoyed experienced.

We both landed in the late afternoon, so after dropping our stuff in the hotel room, we headed to dinner at Jaleo.  The food there was as delicious as always.

Next on our plan was the Cirque show, Mystere, which we've seen before but still quite enjoy.  It was, as always, wonderful.

We walked back to our hotel and along the way stopped in the Bellagio for some gelato, another Vegas tradition.

I'm exhausted, so that's it for today.

Monday, December 7, 2015

An observation on the occasion of watching Serenity again

and having to leave the house fairly early tomorrow morning to begin the annual trek to Las Vegas with Kyle and friends:  The obsession at the heart of much of Joss Whedon's work is family, generally extended family.  The stories contain plenty of action, but at core heart is always an extended family.  Membership in that family is rarely cheap or easy, and conflict among its members is common, but when is it not in families?

This focus is, I believe, a key part of what makes Whedon's best works so memorable and so compelling.

And now to pack.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A very good fortune indeed

After watching Serenity tonight, a group of us went around the corner to Peking Garden for some perfectly serviceable (but not better) Chinese food.  After dinner, I chose a fortune cookie at random and received this delightful message.

Click the image to see a larger version.

I don't believe at all in the validity of fortune cookies, of course, but it's still fun to see one that is both an actual prediction--so many are not--and a positive message.

That said, I'd love for the universe to prove me wrong in this area, so if anyone would like to visit unexpected riches upon me and thus make the fortune come true, feel free.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Another movie I very much want to see

Kyle turned me on to this upcoming Shane Black film, which looks like just my cup of comic action tea.

May could be a very good film month indeed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Bad Santa and writing

As I've mentioned in several previous entries, one of the two movies I re-watch every Christmas season is the black comedy, Bad Santa.  Last year, I gave five good reasons to watch the film.  This year, I want to offer, intentionally without context, five lines--among many, many great ones--that always work for me.

Warning:  Bad Santa uses all the words and is full of coarse scenes.

Now, to those lines.

  1. I'm going back upstairs.  I need a melon baller and a loofah.
  2. No, I love the hat.
  3. She lives in God's house with Jesus and Mary and the ghost and the long-eared donkey and Joseph and the talking walnut.
  4. What a man does with his own penis--Oval Office, Women's Big & Tall--it's not for the American people to say.
  5. I want a gorilla named Davey for beating up the skateboard kids who pull on my underwear. He could take his orders from the talking walnut, so it wouldn't be my bad thing.
In context, they're both odder and funnier than they are here.

As long as you can stand sex and violence and trigger words and foul language, Bad Santa is an amazing comedy.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I know I shouldn't get my hopes up

and I know that a movie based on DC characters is likely to let me down, but I don't care.  I wanted to see this film before this new trailer appeared, and now I want to see it even more.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is currently due to debut a little after my birthday, which would be a nice late gift indeed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My unsolicited advice to Hollywood

Spread your Christmas goodies a little more evenly around the month!

I understand the desire to open a big film on Christmas Day, but does every studio have to succumb to that temptation?  This year, almost all of the best movies of December will open that week, while this weekend and the following one are devoid of hot films.

It's fair to want to avoid opening against the blockbuster that the new Star Wars movie will be, but it's staked out the 18th, so the prior two weekends were available for other big releases to claim.

Listen up, Hollywood studios:  If you want to maximize your revenue from movie fans, do a better job of scheduling.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

To Star Wars or not to Star Wars

The question does not refer to the upcoming new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because I am definitely going to see that film.  No, I'm pondering whether to go back and re-watch the original movies--by which, of course, I mean Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi.  (I have seen the three prequels but don't expect to watch them again.)

Normally, I would re-screen an original film series before viewing the latest installment, both for fun and so I had the originals clear in my mind.  In this case, though, the only copies available to buy are the versions Lucas bastardized with new effects, changes, additions, and so on.  I'm not interested in seeing any of those mods.  I want the originals.

Such tough choices.

(Before anyone yells at me about being insensitive, yes, I'm joking, and yes, I do understand that lots of people face real problems.  I'm joking.)

Monday, November 30, 2015

For multiple people, for multiple reasons

tonight I need to post this classic song.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Cone Man gives no thanks

At a time when we should all be celebrating the beauty of fall and giving thanks for all we have, the Cone Man is doing none of those things.  Instead, he's plotting world conquest once again, this time with his latest henchthing, the metal dragon.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Do not be fooled by the size of the metal dragon, for though it is short, it is also fearsome--and now it is under Cone Man's sway.  The damage these two could do to our world, nay, to the very fabric of our reality, is impossible to measure.

Fortunately for all of us, Holden is, as always, on the job.

At first, he tried to reason with both metal dragon and then Cone Man.

Sadly, that approach failed.

Being a prudent dog hero, Holden then inspected the perimeter for additional troublemakers--a wise move, because Cone Man has been known to summon allies from other dimensions.

Happily, Holden found no additional conspirators.

He tried once again to reason with the dastardly duo, but once again, he failed.

They were having none of reason.

Finally, forced to employ drastic measures, Holden backed up to the metal dragon and explained exactly what horrors he would rain on the dragon should the dragon not cease and desist from all plotting.

The dragon, being metal, quickly realized that Holden, being male, would be all to happy to deliver the Rust-Inducing Dog Piss Rain of Doom (TM pending by Holden), and agreed to a truce.

Metal dragon now serves as Holden's lieutenant, keeping a watchful eye on Cone Man, and the world is now safe once again--thanks to Holden--from Cone Man's machinations.

For now.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


For all that the original Rocky movie has become a frequent target of parodies, it's actually a pretty darn good film that made a lot of people root for its hero.  The many sequels must have made money, but they paled in comparison to the first, and they quickly became the province only of those seeking another action flick.  (I was one of those people, as you might expect.)

Creed, though a film in this series, is not another sequel.  If anything, it's a modern re-imagining of the original that also manages to build on the whole series.  Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler had to convince Sylvester Stallone to let him co-op Stallone's world, and I'm glad he did.  Creed tells a familiar story, but with a lot of heart and an interesting approach.

Lead actor Michael B. Jordan, who previously teamed with Coogler on Fruitvale Station, makes you forget his Fantastic Four role and see a very different and more interesting character.  Stallone plays an aging, solitary Rocky Balboa with more grace and dignity than I would have thought possible for him.  The supporting cast members generally turn in good performances, but Jordan and Stallone rightly dominate the story.

Speaking of which, I can't tell you to expect a lot of surprises from the plot, because this is a song you've heard before--but this particular version has its own heart and its own specificity.

If you enjoyed the original Rocky film--and I do mean that specific film, not the whole series--then you will enjoy Creed.  If you don't know Rocky or its sequels, as long as you can handle some boxing violence, you should check out Creed.  I definitely recommend it.

Friday, November 27, 2015

One of the most dangerous items to enter my house

in a very long time arrived in the mail, in a cardboard box, and was entirely free.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Oh, yes, this is trouble indeed.  A gorgeous book listing all the past Taschen collector's editions, some might see it as a study in excess, but I view it as a dreamy shopping list.

I must never let myself open this book after four in the morning, because that is when the shopping weirdness begins.

If you don't know Taschen and its wonderful books, head over to its site and begin browsing.  Few, if any, other publishers produce such consistently interesting and beautiful non-fiction volumes.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thank you

I try always to thank people for what they do for me, but I know I often fail.  On Thanksgiving, like many people I try to be even more thankful for what I have, for all that I have in every area.

Here in this blog, I particularly and publicly want to thank all of the people who have ever bought my books and thus let me have what writing career I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.  I am deeply grateful to you all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving

so of course our house needed an ice cream cookie tasting, because, well, it makes sense if you live here.  So we did.  I'd previously ordered all four of the ice cream cookies available online from the wonderful Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

Click the image to see a larger version.

We sampled little wedges of each of these four delicious creations.  We all liked all of them, but for sheer power alone, the chocolate hazelnut cookie won.  Rich and strong and a perfect blend with the nuts and the cookie, the dark chocolate ice cream in this one would not be denied its championship.

If you've never tried these cookies, though they are not by any means cheap, they are worth ordering.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A bit of wish-fulfillment fluff from my youth

I offer no defense for listening to this bit of pop fluff when I was young, nor for thinking of it for no good reason the other day.  I just did.

We all have to live with that.

Monday, November 23, 2015


After watching the credits roll on this film, I and several others in our group agreed to strongly disagree with the critics on it.  The Rottentomatoes critics' ranking for this movie is a dismal 27% as of this writing, and though 57% of the audience viewers did like it, overall these numbers suggest it's a loser.

As I said, several of us disagreed with these numbers.  We felt that this film was good, better than good.  I very much enjoyed watching it and was never bored.  I grant its critics that the plot is predictable, but sometimes, that just doesn't matter much.  The story of the brilliant and erratic loner burning out and then seeking redemption is a timeless one.

The leads turned in strong performances.  Bradley Cooper was both as likable and at times as distasteful as you'd expect from the trailer.  Daniel Bruhl portrayed his partner (and source of funding) beautifully and with an understated grace.  Sienna Miller turned a fairly standard character into an interesting person.  Matthew Rhys, who is very good on the TV show, The Americans, started out as a one-dimensional rival and became much more.

The food porn wasn't overwhelming, but enough was present for foodies to enjoy it.

Burnt won't be in theaters much longer.  Catch it while you can, or pick it up on DVD/Blu-Ray when it appears.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I haven't bought advance-sale tickets to a movie

in more time than I can recall, but I'm considering doing it now.  The reason?  This trailer, which for me is just that good.

I was modestly interested in the new Star Wars movie before.  Now, I can't wait to see it!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mockingjay meh

As I wrote earlier, I very much wanted to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2.  I've watched and mostly enjoyed the previous three films in the series.  I entered the theater with great hopes for this one.

I left decidedly put off by it, my attitude ranging from annoyance to indifference.

I'm quite puzzled as to why I feel this way.  I knew the setup and the poorly constructed world and the nonsensical pseudo-science that informed it, and I happily accepted those in the past movies.  The cast, including and especially lead Jennifer Lawrence, did all they could to make me care about the characters.  The multiple endings certainly didn't help my attitude, but I've been fine with those in other films.  The completely silly plot couldn't have been the cause, because I've been fine with similarly dumb plots; ref. Spectre, which I enjoyed.

For reasons I cannot articulate, even now, hours after the movie ended, I find it off-putting.

No one else in my group had a similar reaction, and several quite liked it.

I thus find myself in an awkward position, unable to recommend it wholeheartedly but suspicious of my own reaction.  So, the best I can say is this:  if you enjoyed the previous films in the series (which I did), then you're likely (based on the reactions of others in my group) to enjoy this one--even though I came away put off by it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

I am a mad, hairy beast

It's 4:45 in the morning.  I've been working since about eleven, and I have still more work to do.  On a bathroom break I noticed again what a hairy beast I have become.

I figured you'd want to see.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Why, you might ask, have I let myself become this hairy?

See if you can guess the reason(s).

I am this hairy because
  1. I've heard the ladies like the hairy man.
  2. I'm auditioning for the role of James "Bucky" Yeti in the local production of It's an Abominable Life.
  3. I've been crazy busy at work.
  4. I've learned that you can stave off hunger for hours by plucking and chewing beard hairs.
  5. I haven't felt like shaving or trimming my beard.
  6. All of the above.
  7. None of the above.
Hint:  This is not an easy quiz.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Choices, choices

Friends have criticized me for wanting to see all the movies, and that criticism is more fair than not.  I really do want to see most films.  Despite that desire, some weekends bring few movies that can lure me to the theater.  This weekend is not one of those.  This weekend is chock full of openings I want to see.

Counting only the movies opening at theaters within half an hour of my house, I am tempted by all of the following (in alphabetical order):

  • The 33
  • The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
  • Love the Coopers
  • The Night Before
  • Secret In Their Eyes
  • Spotlight (I'm not sure this one is opening, but it's new to me)
I know some of you will mock me for wanting to see the weaklings in this group, but I do.

Which one will I view Saturday night?

Most likely Hunger Games, because it's the big loud hit, and I'm in the mood for just that, but I've yet to commit to any of them.

I hope to report back on whatever I watch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I thought I really hated perfume ads in magazines

until I received a recent issue of Bon Appetit that contained such ads.  Now, I realize that my previous hatred of these agents of Satan was nothing compared to how much I loathe them after merely opening this magazine.

Whether you're scanning a how-to article, wondering if you'll really ever make that recipe, or simply drooling over the food porn, the last thing you need is the smell of Calvin Klein's euphoria flying off the page and into your nostrils.

Yes, that's a real example from this issue.

I strongly oppose scented pages, but if you must put them in a periodical, at least make them relevant to the content around them.  I wouldn't mind, for example, if an article on bread sat next to a flour ad that delivered the smell of a freshly baked baguette.

Perfume ads, though, need to vanish from food magazines.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cher is haunting my bathroom

Okay, it's not my bathroom, it's the men's restroom in my company's office building, and it's not Cher personally, it's her music, but still.  Two nights in a row, I've walked into the restroom, and Cher has been singing.

The first night it was her 1998 Auto-tuned hit, "Believe."

Tonight, it was her cover of Marc Cohn's wonderful "Walking In Memphis"--a cover that's pretty darn good.

What does this mean?  I haven't a clue, but surely it can't be a coincidence.  Surely not.

I know that if Cher is singing again Wednesday night, I'm going to have to find out who's deejaying that bathroom.

Something is afoot.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Last chance to see Serenity at the Colony

I've long loved the Colony Theater in North Raleigh.  During the many years I've now lived in Raleigh, I've had the pleasure of watching a great many wonderful films in its two theaters.  This December, alas, the Colony is closing, a development I find very sad.

On Sunday, December 6, the theater is continuing its tradition of recent years of showing Serenity, a movie I love.  I plan to be there.  If you want to make sure you get a chance to say goodbye to this old gem of an independent cinema, you might want to join me that Sunday early evening.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Friends and long-time readers of this blog know that I'm a stone fan of the James Bond films.  I've seen all the past ones, even the painfully bad entries, at least three times each.  Bill and I have closed our company for a few hours on the afternoon of the opening day of the first three Daniel Craig as Bond films, and we did so again this year.  (I went the night before in Saratoga Springs.)  So, I'm not even going to try to pretend to be an objective critic of films in this series.

I'm also not going to deny the many problems with these movies, problems that range from sexism to ridiculous plots.  I just enjoy them for what they are.

So, obviously, I entered Spectre prepared to be entertained and to like it, and I left feeling entertained and rather liking it.  The movie was classic Bond, with chases and fights and gadgets and gorgeous people in gorgeous locations.

The plot was also as ludicrous as usual, possibly more so than usual.

The cast did a reasonable job.  Craig plays Bond smoothly and well.  Christoph Waltz turned in a fine bad-guy performance; he was born to be creepy on screen.  Monica Bellucci oozed with sex appeal and actually did a good job acting.  It's a pity that the role of Bond's significant love interest in the movie went to Lea Seydoux, who was pretty but who never sizzled and never had any real chemistry with Craig.  All of them, though, were good enough in their roles to carry along the story.

Andrew Scott, who also played Moriarity on the recent Holmes' shows, rose above the rest and excelled in the role of creepy bureaucrat.  I would watch him again in anything.

Do I recommend Spectre?  If you like Bond movies, you bet.  If you just want a good action flick, absolutely.  If you want a complete film with emotional truth and great acting, think again.

Friends have reminded me that each new Bond movie from any given Bond actor demands a ranking of all of that actor's Bond films.  In this case, I think the ranking is easy:

  1. Casino Royale
  2. Skyfall
  3. Spectre
  4. Quantum of Solace
A final note:  if you're planning to catch this movie, definitely head to the largest screen you can find.  I'll watch it again at home, probably multiple times, but seeing it in the theater is important.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Holly Holm proves no champ is invincible

Going into tonight's UFC women's bantamweight championship fight, the champ, Ronda Rousey, looked to be as much a sure thing as anyone in any sport.  The oddsmakers had her at times as much as a -2000 favorite.  No one outside the fighter herself and her camp gave Holm any real chance at winning.

Once the bell rang, though, Holm showed that no champ is invincible and that theory and practice are never the same.  Holm executed the perfect game plan and dominated Rousey from the fight's start to its knock-out finish.  Like everyone, I had expected Rousey to plow through Holm as easily as she had beaten all twelve of her prior opponents, but Holm was never in trouble.  Holm put on an amazing performance.

I hope Rousey doesn't abandon fighting for movies and instead comes back better and whips Holm in a fight that I look forward to watching.  Regardless, though, Rousey has been an amazing champion, and I feel privileged to have seen her fight.

Tonight, I also felt privileged to witness the clinic Holm put on.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My heart goes out to Paris and Parisians everywhere

I love Paris, absolutely adore it.  I know many people have experienced rudeness and other bad behaviors from Parisians, but I've never had a bad day in Paris.  I went there first in 1985 and have returned multiple times since then.  I began and ended the travel parts of my sabbatical there.  We visited it when pregnant with my daughter, and many years later, she was engaged there.  I love this city and have lately been hankering to visit it again.

Tonight, as I assume everyone knows, terrorists attacked Paris and killed over 150 people in a move that will accomplish absolutely nothing other than to rally the world against them.  It is a horrible thing--but it won't make me want to visit Paris less.  To the contrary, it makes me want to support the city more.

My heart goes out to the people of Paris.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

If your sense of humor is as odd as mine

and maybe even if it isn't, you should check out the set of wonderful essays by Colin Nissan on this McSweeney's page.

Warning:  These essays and the rest of this entry use curse words.  Don't go there or read on if that bothers you.

I first encountered Nissan's work on the McSweeney's mug that bears the title of the first essay on the above page:  "It's Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers".  The title and the mug cracked me up, but when I read the essay, I laughed far harder.

Each essay I've read--and I am doling them out to myself, like expensive treats--has been at least amusing and usually far funnier than that.

My current favorite, and an essay I cannot read aloud without breaking down in laughter, is "It's Naked Time".  Many parts of this one crack me up, but the last two lines are particularly funny--if you have the same sort of (some call it "sick") sense of humor as I do.

Enjoy--but I have warned you this is not for everyone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Those who served paid--and most still pay

In the U.S., today is Veterans Day, when we honor those who served in our armed forces.

My stepfather, Ed, served.  My friend, Dave, served.  I've known many folks who did.  I did not; Nixon ended the draft before I could be drafted.

All the vets I've known who were in war zones paid not only then but afterward, when they had to carry the scars--sometimes physical, always emotional--of that service.  No one escapes a war unscathed.  Ed didn't.  Dave didn't.  No one does.

When we contemplate sending men and women to war, we should think long and hard about the costs we're asking them to bear for the rest of their lives--assuming they live through the conflict; many will not.  When those who survive come home, we should honor them, thank them, and be prepared to spend to take care of them, to help them deal with the costs they are bearing for what we as a society asked them to do.

We shame ourselves and dishonor them when we do anything less, and, sadly, we usually do far less.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A PT sabbatical with charity work in Haiti

Scott spent part of his sabbatical in Haiti helping people there.  This video tells a little bit about his time on that island.

I'm very proud of this program and of the great work that many of my PT colleagues do while on their sabbaticals.

Monday, November 9, 2015

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Saratoga Springs, day 5

Today followed the same pattern as most of my travel days in which I'm returning home:  Wake up, work, shower, drive, drop off rental car, go to airline counter, get boarding passes, go through security, eat, work, fly, work, fly, work, get luggage, go home, work, eat, work.  The pattern is boringly familiar but also necessary.  I need to think of better material for the blog on such days.

What stood out most today was that a surprisingly large number of trees in the Saratoga Springs/Albany area still had leaves, mostly yellow leaves, so I enjoyed the fall foliage as I drove.

The yucky Carolina weather was also a presence in my day, both in the bumpy flights and in the nasty drive home.  It was nothing out of the ordinary for this time of the year, but nothing pleasant, either.

I am now home, working and partially settled in, partially still unpacking.  I hope to be home for the next four weeks, which would be a lovely treat.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Saratoga Springs, day 4

The first non-work, non-sleep part of today involved paying for and packing up my art purchases.  I'm quite fortunate that friend and bookseller, Glennis, offered to drive art home for me, thus saving me a lot of packing and shipping hassles.  Thanks, Glennis; I owe you for this.

The annual World Fantasy Awards banquet filled much of the afternoon.  The food might well have been the worst banquet fare in memory, but it was still nice to chat with others in the community, commiserate over said food, and applaud the award winners.

After transferring the art to Glennis, I and a few others headed down the street to Saratoga Gelato, to get the bad banquet taste out of our mouths.  The gelato was indeed delicious and did the trick.

Later, we walked to Chianti for a dinner of Italian food.  The salad, a warm blend of lettuce and anchovies with a piece of cheese on it, was one of the weirder dishes I've tasted recently, but the pasta was quite good.  Compared to the banquet, all of it was heavenly.

Tomorrow, I journey home.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Saratoga Springs, day 3

Work kept me up very late, so I slept rather late today.  It was great to get seven hours of sleep, though my body is telling me that I could use a great deal more.

Lunch was a light meal--a small baguette with ham and Gruyere--at Mrs. London's Bakery & Cafe, an inviting little shop along the main street of Saratoga Springs.  I then spent time with friends and browsing the art show and the dealers' room.

For dinner I joined a big crowd of folks related to my publisher for a short walk to Jacob & Anthony's, where we enjoyed a meal of classic steak-house fare.  The table was too big and too full for me to be able to talk to most of the people at it, but the little conversational groups along its length seemed to be having a good time; ours certainly was.

At the art reception I settled on the art I wanted and bid on and won a piece.  I'm quite pleased with it.
After that, I chatted with friends in lounge areas and in the bars until I noticed it was after one, and I really wanted to work and then crash.

Tomorrow, the awards banquet.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Saratoga Springs, day 2

I worked a lot again today, but because I can't say anything about what I'm doing, I'm going to stop mentioning it for the rest of this trip.

Lunch took a group of us to the Putnam Market, where the crowds were hard to take but the food was very good.  Afterward, we enjoyed a light dessert at Saratoga Gelato.  The gelato there wasn't up to what I enjoyed in Italy, but it was still quite good.

My second and final panel of the con was about politics, economics, and power dynamics in fantasy realms.  We talked about many aspects of these issues, and once again the audience seemed fully engaged.

I next roamed the art show and the dealers' room for a while.  I could get in so much trouble in both of them.  This art show is strong, and I very much enjoyed getting to see so many wonderful original works.

World Fantasy Cons have a tradition of a mass signing, which normally occurs, as it did here, on Friday night.  Largely because each con-goer received a copy of the special WFC edition of Onward, Drake! in her/his book bag, I spent more than an hour straight signing books, a nice change from my usual lonely time at the signing tables.

Several of us then headed across the street to Forno Bistro for a late Italian dinner that was good, if not exceptional.

As at other World Fantasy Cons, the bar here was hopping with folks talking, and I joined that crowd and chatted with friends.

A good con day.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Saratoga Springs, day 1

I expected to dislike Saratoga Springs, but so far I've quite enjoyed my time here.  It's a nifty little town, with a fun main street and plenty of good restaurants.  I'm very happy to have been wrong about it.

My day went primarily to work, lunch, and more work until my 3:00 panel rolled around.  Lunch took a small group of us to Compton's, a little diner that appears to have no Web site.  The food was exactly what one would expect walking up to the place, so I had a completely reasonable breakfast for lunch.

On the way to my panel, I browsed the dealers' room for a bit.  It was, like most such rooms at World Fantasy Cons, full of books, which made it very entertaining and very tempting for me.

My panel today was titled, "Real World Nomenclature, Taboos, and Cultural Meaning."  We talked about the choices writers make when they create fantasy worlds and when they write historical fantasies.  The discussion stayed interesting and the fairly large audience remained engaged for the full hour, so I had a good time doing it.

I then took a spin through the art show, which proved to be very good.  I want many pieces in it; time will tell if I decide to spring for any of them.

I spent the next couple of hours working before heading to dinner with a different group of friends.  Our meal at 15 Church was tasty, and everyone left both full and satisfied.

My company is closing tomorrow at noon for a few hours to go to see Spectre, the new James Bond movie.  (We've done the same thing for each of the three previous Daniel Craig Bond films.)  Because I am here and could not go with everyone else, I instead went to see the film tonight.  I will talk more about it after the con, but I will say that I very much enjoyed it.

Work took me until late in the night, so now it's time to rest a bit before another day of work and con stuff.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Saratoga Springs, day 0

I woke up early, showered, and headed to the airport for a day with a lot of travel in it.  The first flight deposited us in Philadelphia in time for lunch.  If you go to a one-short-order-cook cheesesteak shop at the Philly airport and order (to share, of course) a cheesesteak and cheese fries, you get this beast.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Provolone on the sandwich, the whiz on the fries; it's the complete Philly cheese experience.  It's also a heart attack in Styrofoam--and tasty, too.

After a very small Red Mango treat, we boarded a plane for Albany.  A car rental and a half-hour drive later, and we reached our destination:  Saratoga Springs, New York, home of this year's World Fantasy Convention.  I registered, checked into the hotel, and settled down to catch up on the work I had not finished on the planes.

I worked a bunch for multiple hours and then joined friends for a very tasty Spanish dinner at Boca Bistro.  We shared multiple small plates, and all of them were quite good.

Tomorrow, the con begins!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A recent publication of mine that I forgot to mention

Some while ago, SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization of which I'm a member, decided to create a 50th anniversary cookbook.  SFWA had published a cookbook many years earlier, so this update had a precedent.  The notion was to invite all SFWA authors to submit recipes and short prose bits to accompany them, and then to donate all proceeds from the book "to SFWA's Legal Fund, which makes loans to eligible member writers who have writing-related court costs and other related legal expenses."  Editors Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde did the work, which made it easy for the rest of us to participate.  (Thanks, Cat and Fran, for doing that.)

I'm generally for helping writers in trouble, and I have a go-to recipe for certain situations, so I spent a few minutes writing and submitting a short contribution.

The book, Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook, is now available.  You can order it directly from SFWA here and make sure all the money goes to the Legal Fund, or you can buy it at various online booksellers.

Click the image to see a larger version.  Sorry about the glare.

My recipe is titled, "The Meaty Mess."  I've prepared it many times, always with great success.  It's fairly quick, definitely easy, and something almost any carnivore will enjoy.  It is not at all vegetarian.

You'll have to buy the book to learn just how to cook The Meaty Mess yourself.

Happy cooking!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Want to learn more about Onward, Drake!?

Want to listen to me yak about the book--and about Dave?

Want to hear other authors, including David Afsharirad, Tony Daniel, Hank Davis, and Eric Flint do the same?

I thought you did, and now you can, courtesy of the Baen Free Radio Hour podcast.  A group of us were guests on the show a little while ago, and our episode premiered on October 30.  You can listen to it or even download it here.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Escaping Austin: The Failure

Friday morning, I awoke before eight a.m. to begin what I thought would be the usual trip home from Austin.  I turned on the TV and selected my usual channel (NBC, because I hate the sound of The Today Show, so having it on encourages me to hurry).

A weatherman was speaking loudly and urgently.  "Repeat, we have a confirmed tornado sighting and flash flooding all around the greater Austin area."

These are not words you want to hear first thing in the morning.

The good news was that the tornado had touched down well south of Austin.  The bad news was that it was moving north.

I considered going right back to bed, but if the storm faded and flights were on time, I would have lost a ticket we'd already purchased.  So, I showered, checked out, and walked into the rain to load the rental car.

Just that short time in the rain left me damp, but the rainfall was still mild, so I was heartened.

Off we went to the airport.

What followed was about 45 minutes of some of the most harrowing rain driving I've ever done.  I took the most direct route--the toll road, which features an 80-mph speed limit--and hoped for the best.  I started out able to sustain 70, but by the end the rain was a thick gray wall so dense I was barely able to hold 35.  Giant trucks going 80 slalomed by me, their drivers apparently willing to risk it all to reach their destinations sooner.  Sections of different lanes proved to be flooded with a foot or more of standing water.  My rental's lights were no match for the falling water, so I couldn't see more than a few car lengths ahead.

We did ultimately reach the airport safely, for which I was very grateful.  After getting soaked walking from the rental car facility into the terminal, we stood in a long line, got our boarding passes, and headed through security.  We'd left early enough that we still were 45 minutes from departure time.

That time, however, no longer mattered, because the flight had slipped from 10:45 a.m. to noon.

No problem.  When stuck in AUS, do the sensible thing:  Have Salt Lick lunch and some ice cream from Amy's.  We did, and both were delicious.

From there, we headed to the Admirals Club, where I learned they had delayed the flight again.  No problem; I can work in an Admirals Club.

I settled into a chair just in time to hear the announcement that American had canceled our flight.

I then commenced a ritual that dominated the next many hours:  Queue up.  Wait in a slow line.  Get a new flight and new boarding passes.  Settle down to work.  Hear the next cancellation announcement.




At this point, the Admirals Club team delivered the news that prospects for anyone's departure had turned grim.  It seems, as best I could gather, that the tornado's path had changed so that it was headed toward the airport's tower.  They consequently and sensibly evacuated the tower.  The tower then flooded, so that by the time the tornado was no longer a tornado and no longer headed for the tower, no one could get into the tower.

Then the ramps to the runways flooded.

At this point, the Admirals Club folks announced that the airport would be closed for departures until at least three o'clock.

At least I then got some work done.

Sometime after three, they canceled my last flight, I did the queue/wait dance, and I learned that I was not going home that day.  Instead, I was on an eight a.m. flight the next day.

I'd been coordinating with Gina back in the office, so she got us rooms in a great downtown hotel (the Westin) and a rental car.

We collected our luggage, walked to the rental car center, and learned we had no car yet.  No people were on staff to help, because, as we later learned, most of their staff had called to say they would not be able to make it to work.

We found a young man who was in his fourteenth hour of work but who was still running hard and being extraordinarily pleasant.  He got us a car, the confirming email hit my phone, and off to the car--which was, of course, on the far side of the facility--we went.

I had just opened the car's trunk when a wild-eyed man ran at me, waving a contract, screaming, "That's my car!"  I also had an email contract for the car, but he looked crazier than I felt, so I told him by all means to take the car.  He immediately calmed and was polite and grateful.

The same young man who had helped us before happened to witness this exchange, so he pulled a car from a line, drove it over to us, and then arranged for the contract to be waiting by the time we reached the exit.

That dude deserves a bonus.  I wish I'd caught his name, but his badge had blown off.

At the checkout line, the guy helping us said, "I just clean the cars.  I don't know how to use this thing, so this'll take a while.  Me and this other guy are the only ones here."

The tablet rebooted.  Our helper ran to the other person on duty--the omnipresent helpful young man--and learned how to log on and to check us out.

We exited the airport, drove through a far milder but still annoying rain, and eventually reached the Westin.  I settled down to work not quite nine hours after I'd left my previous hotel room.

Sometimes, you just don't get to leave town.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 7

After a bit less than three hours of sleep, I got up, showered, and began the trek home.  Though the rains were falling again on the drive to the airport, this time my flight from AUS took off on time and carried me safely to DFW.  Another flight brought me home.  My luggage arrived.

This travel day went about as well as it could have.

I should write more, but I'm just too tired.

I'm home.

Friday, October 30, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 6

I was supposed to be home now.  In fact, I was supposed to hit home quite some hours ago.

I am not home.

Instead, I am still in Austin, but now in a new (and quite nice) hotel.  Today has featured more kinds of travel hassles than I've experienced in quite some time, a lot of work, and a fabulous dinner.

I'd tell you more about each of them, but I have to get up at 5:20 a.m., so I am crashing as quickly as I can.

More about today later.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 5

Yup, you guessed it:  a day full of work stuff I can't discuss.

Another Austin restaurant I had not yet tried, Dai Due, was tonight's dinner destination.  The food was good enough that I would definitely go back again.  Particularly impressive was the giant beef rib with potato and sauerlach dumplings.  They mean the dish to serve two, which is how we ordered it, but after eating too much and still leaving at least a third of the meat, we concluded that it could easily feed most groups of four normal eaters.

Tomorrow morning, I get up early to begin the trek home!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 4

Today's most unusual event occurred in the bathroom of the restaurant at which I was eating with friends and colleagues.

I was standing at the urinal, doing my business and keeping to myself, as one does in such situations, when from the stall next to me a man shouted--and I do mean shouted,

"I'm sorry!  I didn't mean to do that to you!"

A lightning-quick personal inventory reassured me that I was fine, that he had to be on the phone to someone else, and that he was not addressing me.

He continued, yelling the whole time.

"I didn't mean to hurt you!

"Just tell me what I can do to make it up to you!"

"I'm so sorry!"

I hustled out while he was still screaming.

I know I'm old, and so perhaps some of my attitudes are antiquated, but I nonetheless remain convinced that a stall in the men's room of a Japanese steakhouse is not the ideal location for a screaming apology.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 3

Another day on the road for work, another long day full of work.  No surprises there.

Dinner, though, provided one delightful taste surprise after another, as the chefs at Counter 3 . Five . VII, an excellent and fairly new Austin restaurant, created seven delicious courses as we watched.  The premise is simple:  24 diners sit at a counter around a kitchen in which a group of chefs cook your food.

Click an image to see a larger version.

You can order three, five, or seven courses, and that's it; they serve whatever menu they're making that night.  We, of course, opted for the full seven.

The chefs provided two amuses and some treats at the end, so it was really more like ten courses.

The first savory course, the divers scallop with potato and a sort of heavy potato foam,

set a high bar--it was amazingly good--that all the other courses managed to clear.  Often at this sort of place, the savories are great but the dessert is a disappointment, but not here.  No, this sweet, was both colorful

and deliciously complicated.  It provided a wonderful end to the meal.

This dinner was easily the best meal I've had in Austin in some time.  I would return here any time the menu changed.  If you live in Austin or will be visiting it soon, don't miss Counter 3 . Five . VII.

Monday, October 26, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 2

In the midst of a day that started with early morning email and meetings and ended about 21 hours later, I simply had no time for a fancy dinner.  So, I instead opted for something equally satisfying--if not as nutritious: a stress-eating blow-out at a local In-N-Out Burger. This chain doesn't exist in Raleigh, so ever since I realized Austin had one (it now has two), I've wanted to eat at it.

The restaurant was as clean and pretty as it should be.

Click an image to see a larger version.

When you rarely get to visit an In-N-Out, you really have to eat the two things that the menu will not include (actually, my understanding is that there are many options not on the visible menu, but these are the ones you must eat): the double-double animal style, and the animal-style fries.

Oh, yeah, those combinations of cheese, onions, dressing, and fat are exactly as healthy for you as they look--but they are more delicious than you would believe.

A little Amy's made the perfect dessert--and also made me glad my lunch had included salad, so that something green hit my stomach during the day.

Finally, to bed.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

On the road again: Austin, day 1

If you're a nervous flier, you would not have enjoyed today's flight from DFW to AUS.  Normally a trip with about 25 minutes of flying time, today this leg of my journey required nearly an hour in the air, as the pilot and air traffic control kept trying to find us a path that avoided the bumpy air.  They failed.  With about half an hour to go, the pilot said over the intercom words no one enjoys hearing:

"There's no way to avoid the rough air, so we're asking the flight attendants to buckle in."

Oh, yeah.

As it turns out, I didn't find the remainder of the flight to be particularly bad, though I am decidedly not a nervous flier.  Many people on the plane, though, clearly disagreed with my assessment.

Once we landed in Austin, everything went well, including my traditional dinner trip to The County Line On the Lake.  As usual, I ordered the three-meat combo with beef rib, and as usual, I ate only half of the meat and none of the sides--but a delicious half of the meat it was.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Afterward, we headed, again as usual, to the Amy's at the Arboretum for a small cup of frozen deliciousness.

The weather here is cool and windy, perfectly fall.  It's lovely.

Tomorrow, the work meetings begin!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter

is exactly what its trailers make it look like:  a big goofy movie in which Vin Diesel uses all three of his expressions in pursuit of beating bad guys.  You either want to see a Vin with sword flick or you don't, but you should know that going into the theater; you have no one to blame but yourself if you go against your instinct.

Me, I enjoy seeing Vin stomping around and waving a sword, so I generally enjoyed the movie.  Its plot makes just enough sense (don't push its edges or ask too many questions) to be fun.  Its cast is okay, with Michael Caine once again proving he will take any role, and Rose Leslie trying to look tough enough for her character.  Elijah Wood deserves a special Oscar for Most Creepy Looking Man in a Turtleneck.

Having said all this, the movie is certainly no Fast and Furious or Riddick film, and Vin's charms often feel like a poor match for the material.

The Last Witch Hunter is decidedly minor Vin, but for some people on some nights, that's enough reason to hit the theater.  You already know if you're one of those people.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin & the Guilty Ones

played the Cat's Cradle this past Sunday night, and I was lucky enough to be there.  The show was excellent from start to finish.  Dave Alvin (in the cowboy hat below) did most of the talking, some of the singing, and a great deal of excellent guitar playing.  His big brother Phil, from whom he was estranged for a very long time, stood at the center microphone and looked barely alive--until he began to sing.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Then, Phil's tremendous blues voice filled the hall, and the quiet man in the middle became a force to be reckoned with.  I've always preferred Dave's rougher voice, but there's no denying the power in Phil's.

I've been a fan of these guys--as the Blasters and singing separately--for about thirty years.  I've gotten to see Dave in concert previously, but this was the first show I've caught that included them both.  Their new album, Lost Time, is very good, but their live show is better.

Give a listen to a song or two of theirs.  If you like what you hear and their tour brings them near you, do not miss their show.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The 2015 North Carolina State Fair food report

The other night, a group of us headed to the Fair for our usual hours of strolling, snacking, gawking, and chatting.  For a few years now, I've managed the potential caloric onslaught of the Fair by trying anything I wanted--but trying only one bite of most things.  This strategy worked well again this year and enabled me to sample bites of a huge range of Fair foods.

First up was my traditional Fair starter:  the pretzel dog on a stick.

Click an image to see a larger version.

It was everything one could want from a pretzel dog and entirely delicious.

Sarah began with her traditional pretzel--salt and buttery topping this time around--and let me have a bite.

Look at that topping glisten!  Oh, yeah, it was a tasty pretzel indeed.

We then dove into the Fair and only came up for air at one of the bigger sources of fried and dipped foods.  Scott opted for his traditional frozen, dipped cheesecake on a stick.

He also let me have a bite, and it was quite good.

At that point, we hit a streak of serious fried weirdness, and the strangeness took hold.  I sampled single bites of the deep-fried moon pie (which also included more other ingredients than I can remember),

the deep-fried Reese's cup wrapped in bacon,

and the deep-fried oreos.

Each one was good enough that I enjoyed tasting it, but none made me crave a second bite.

At that point, it was time for what passes for health food at the Fair:  a ham biscuit.

Salty, fatty ham in a perfect southern biscuit; what's not to like?  It was delicious.

We hadn't planned our next stop, but the sign advertising bacon fried in maple syrup was too tempting to resist.  Here, Kyle goes in for a bite.

We did not stop for this attraction,

but we were sorely tempted.

Nor did we enter this shop,

though who wouldn't want to live in the House of Swank?

After a quick visit with the bears, a tradition Scott and I practice, the twenty-something men in our group decided turkey legs were the order of the day.

If JJ Abrams had only made the upcoming Star Wars film with glistening turkey legs instead of light sabers, no one would be able to resist the slick turkey force of their assault.

I bet you've never read that phrase before.

Anyway, Scott let me have a bite, and it was quite good.

Fried pickles have become a Fair staple,

and for good reason, because they are delicious.

What's that?  You worry that the noble tube steak has not yet appeared?  Fret no longer.  A bacon cheddar (and I use that term very loosely, as this yellow substance is more polymer than food) dog

slid down our collective gullets next.

No visit to the Fair is complete without some N.C. State ice cream, in this case a bowl of cherry vanilla that Kyle and I shared.

I did eat multiple bites of this frozen goodness.

You might wonder why this weirdly brown, oddly sauced piece of meat has chocolate-covered whipped cream on it,

but you'd wonder only until I told you the disturbing truth:  this is a deep-fried Klondike bar, a surprisingly good concoction.

Should you order deep-fried mac-and-cheese, you might expect that the combination of the already fattening macaroni and cheese with the fry dough would be enough of an artery clogger for any dish, but at the Fair, you'd be wrong.

You obviously need dipping cheese (again, a term I'm using loosely here).

My friend and colleague, Sharon, told me that the one thing I absolutely must not do at the Fair was try what she declared had to be the sickest dish yet on offer:  the pickle wrapped in peanut butter and deep-fried.

If you expected me to do anything other than run straight for that oddity, you don't know me.  The most amazing thing about this dish is that almost everyone who tried it thought it was at least okay, with some declaring it quite good.

For the last shared item of the Fair, we went old-school.

You can't go wrong with a thin-patty bacon cheeseburger.

We walked and walked, admired and bought crafts, watched with the open mouths of children as the fireworks painted the sky, and thoroughly enjoyed another North Carolina State Fair.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I need to see this movie

in part because it looks like all the right kinds of insane, in part because it stars Henry Rollins, and in part because it appears to be made of awesome.

Do be aware that this is a red-band, for mature audiences only, trailer.

Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A radio show about Onward, Drake!

Monday morning, Dave Drake and I joined hosts Sam Montgomery-Blinn and Mur Lafferty on the Carolina Book Beat show on a local radio station, WCOM LPFM, to talk about this tribute anthology, which I edited.  The discussion ran an hour and thirty-eight minutes, and now you can listen to it right here.

We covered a lot of interesting topics, both some directly about the book and some only related to it, the latter group including the first time Dave and I went out to dinner together.  We also messed up and let out a few bad words--and, to my embarrassment, I was responsible for the worst of them.  (Sorry, Sam and Mur.)

If you'd like to learn more about this book, about Dave, or about me, or if you'd like to hear Mur, Dave, or me read from our stories in the collection, or if you just have a little free time, check out the show.  I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it.

And, of course, once you've listened to the broadcast, be sure to pick up your own copy of the anthology.  I'm completely confident that you'll enjoy at least some of the stories, and quite possibly all of the contributions, in the book.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Check out the new Raleigh Grande

When the Raleigh Grande cinema opened, it set new standards for the area.  With stadium seating and a few more refreshment options than most local movie theaters, it felt like the big city had come to Raleigh.

That was a long time ago.  In the intervening years, most theaters have caught up with and in some ways surpassed the Grande, and the Grande has begun to show its age.

When I went there Saturday night to see Bridge of Spies, I learned that the Grande's owner, Carolina Cinemas, had apparently decided to fight back by investing in renovations.  Half the theater was closed.  The half that was open looked all new.  It now features reserved seating and only about half the seats it used to have--but all the seats are leather recliners with movable tray tables.  I have to admit that it's pretty spiffy.  Watching a movie from a comfortable, reclining, adjustable chair is a vastly better experience than viewing the same film from a cramped seat and fighting your neighbors for elbow room.

I'm not sure how the Grande makes money on all these changes, because at least as of last night the ticket prices were the same as in other local theaters, but I have to applaud the Carolina Cinemas folks for doing this.  They've definitely made me want to think first about the Grande when it's time to pick a theater for a movie.

Check out the Grande when you next get the chance.  You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bridge of Spies

is Steven Spielberg at his pseudo-documentary best, with Tom Hanks proving yet again that he is one of the finest film actors ever.  Mark Rylance, playing Russian spy Rudolf Abel, turns in a beautiful, understated performance that is an acting clinic in itself.  Both men inhabit their characters; their every gesture and small expression is picture perfect.  No actor in this movie goes over the top; it was a joy to watch the performances.

The script, two of whose three authors were the Coen brothers, is similarly and to my surprise understated, succumbing rarely to melodrama and often letting much go unspoken, as would happen in these sorts of negotiations.

When the film did feel like it might be overdoing it--did Donovan really see a shooting at the wall?--the scenes moved quickly past and generally came across as reasonable dramatizations of the past.

In 1990, as the wall was coming down, I rode on a train from Florence, Italy to Berlin.  For a little while, the train passed along the border between what was then the two Berlins.  West Berlin was on my left, East Berlin on my right.  To the left, life was technicolor.  To the right, it was black and white, bombed-out and apparently untouched since WWII.  (I doubt that was the case, but it looked that way.)  I was stunned.  Spielberg's rendition of East Germany exactly captured that feeling.

Bridge of Spies is an old-school, understated, excellent film about a very interesting time in our history.  I recommend it highly.


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