Monday, October 26th, 2020

There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where everybody on the Enterprise disappears by ones and twos at first, then dozens and hundreds at a time, until only Doctor Crusher is left. She tries to get Jean-Luc, Will Riker and the rest to help her figure out what’s happening, and they do, at first, but they all have a look in their eye like they think she’s cuckoo bananapants.

Turns out she’s trapped in a warp bubble her son Wesley made accidentally while she was visiting him in the engine room. Wesley was tweaking the warp engines “to increase their efficiency” when there was a flash of light and the warp bubble collapsed. 

“What was that?” Wesley asks Geordi, the chief engineer. “That shouldn’t have happened.” Georgi and Wesley share concerned looks, but the Captain is in a hurry to leave space dock, so they shrug it off. Then Wesley looks around for his mom, who was standing RIGHT THERE a few seconds ago. He has a puzzled look on his face. He wanders away down the corridor, puzzled. It’s puzzling. 

I still love Star Trek TNG, but it will never not bug me that Wesley and Geordi and Doctor Crusher shrug their shoulders when weird shit happens even though every single episode is not only about weird shit happening to them but IT IS ALWAYS SIGNIFICANT. They’ve been tootling around in outer space for years! I would expect them to know better than to shrug it off.

But no. Even thought Geordi and Wesley are totally weirded out by the flash of light, and even though Wesley is clearly concerned that his mother has disappeared, they both still shrug their shoulders and pretend everything’s normal. My warp bubble went poof and my mom disappeared! Oh well, the captain says it’s time to pull out of space dock. Let’s not tell him some weird shit just went down. 

Sorry, I’m being way too hard on them. They must’ve gone to the captain eventually because in Act Three Wesley and Geordi are back in the engine room creating a warp bubble meant to suck Doctor Crusher out of her warp bubble like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, but they can’t quite make it work. But props to them for trying.

Meanwhile, Doctor Crusher has not only figured out she’s in a warp bubble but also that the warp bubble is collapsing and chewing off parts of the Enterprise in the process, so she’s got to get out of it ASAP. She doesn’t know how to do that, maybe because that’s not something they teach in medical school, but she does manage to figure out that Wesley and Geordi are trying to get her out, and she runs down to the engine room and literally dives through the portal into reality at the last possible moment before her warp bubble collapses on her, because nobody in Star Trek ever gets anything done until they’re literally on their last breath.  

It’s not one of my favorite episodes for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s an episode that  seems to exist only so they can re-introduce a character known mysteriously as The Traveler, an alien of unknown origin who bebops around the universe using the power of his mind. The Traveler tells Wesley in this episode he can do this, too. Wesley doesn’t have much to say about this news which, to be fair, is not a completely unrealistic reaction, given that it’s a lot to process. The Captain, Doctor Crusher, and Geordi likewise seem underwhelmed. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WESLEY HAS A SUPER-POWER! WHY IS EVERYONE YAWNING? 

Another thing I don’t like about this episode is the way everybody treats Doctor Crusher. They search the Enterprise with all due urgency after she reports the first missing person, but they seem to be humoring her while they’re doing it, and each time she reports more missing people they get progressively more annoyed by her. I hate to sound like a stuck record, but this is a crew which has seen some of the weirdest shit the galaxy can throw at them but, for some reason, they believe her less and less as the episode plays out, instead of more and more. In the end they’re rolling their eyes and sighing every so tiredly when she shows up to report more missing people. 

(This is even more bizarre after The Traveler explains that Doctor Crusher’s alternate reality in the warp bubble is a product of her own thoughts. If that’s true, why does everybody disbelieve her? She doesn’t exactly have any confidence issues when it comes to her standing among the crew. They should all be as driven to figure out what’s going on as she is.) 

And finally, in the opening scene when Wesley is creating the warp bubble that will flash his mom into non-existence, Geordi enters the engine room and barks at him, “Wes, your time for the experiment is over! I want my warp engine back now!” Wes answers, “Almost done, commander,” to which Geordi responds, “Almost isn’t good enough! Do you want to be the one to explain to the captain when he says engage and we just sit here?”

Why is Geordi being such a hardass? If Wesley took the warp engines off-line, I’m pretty sure he had to get the captain’s permission to do it. You don’t just waltz into the engine room and announce, “I’ve got some experiments to run and oh I’ll have to disconnect the main source of propulsion.” (Not to mention power for life support, lights and everything else.) 

I’m also pretty sure that Wesley wasn’t given carte blanche when it came to how much time he got for his experiment. You think the captain said, “Oh, I don’t want to put you under any unnecessary pressure. Just let us know when your experiment’s done. I’ve got all day.” I kind of doubt it went down like that. The only way the captain would’ve let Wesley take the engines off-line was if Wesley was duty-bound to have them back on-line at a certain time. 

And hey Geordi, Wesley works on the bridge, right under the captain’s nose! He’s well aware he’ll wind up in a great big hurt locker if his experiment runs over time and the engines go *fart noise* when the helmsman hits the gas. So lighten up, why don’t you? 

Before wrapping this up, there were these two weird glitches in continuity that nagged at me: 

Doctor Crusher goes to the transporter room to meet her friend. He beams aboard. In the very next scene, dozens of people are walking across a gangway to board the Enterprise. That seems, well, weird. 

In the final act Doctor Crusher is on the bridge, watching a display that shows the warp bubble tearing off chunks of the Enterprise as it collapses. The edge of the warp bubble quickly gobbles up half of the saucer section right before her eyes, including the front of the bridge. Yet somehow she has time to say a few more lines before leaving the bridge, and not in much of a hurry. 

STTNG rewatch – Remember Me | 5:27 pm CST
Category: entertainment, television | Tags:
Comments Off on STTNG rewatch – Remember Me

Monday, October 5th, 2020

I haven’t done any shop work in a long time, mostly because I am very lazy but partly because every project I do generates a huge amount of dust, which makes the whole house dusty because my shop is in the basement, and the house stays dusty no matter how often I change the furnace filter because it just doesn’t move enough air, especially not in the basement. My Darling B’s allergies make it hard enough for her to breathe without me making more dust, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to get rid of it before it spreads through the house. Read the rest of this entry »

cleaner | 6:46 am CST
Category: hobby, Our Humble O'Bode, play
Comments Off on cleaner

Friday, October 2nd, 2020

“Welcome to Star Fleet!”

“Thanks! I’m really looking forward to boldly going to strange, new worlds and doing lots of science and adventure!”

“You’ll have to wear a uniform.”

“I’m okay with that.”

“Here you go!”

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“What do you mean? That’s it.”

“This is a cocktail dress.”

“That’s the official Star Fleet uniform for women.”

“A cocktail dress?”

“It’s a combination tunic and skirt.”

“This isn’t a skirt, it’s a hand towel.”

“That’s why it comes with a pair of hot pants.”

“So my butt’s not popping out all the time?”

“Exactly!”

“And what do the men wear?”

“Trousers and a pullover.”

“Why not a toga?”

“That wouldn’t be very practical, would it?”

“A cocktail dress is practical?”

“It’s easy to wear. Understated. It doesn’t take up a lot of room in your wardrobe.”

“You’re not selling this as well as you think you are.”

“Look, do you want to be in Star Fleet or don’t you?”

“Fine, whatever. Does it at least come with a wrap or a stole or something to keep me warm?”

“Sorry, no. The captain likes to keep it simple.”

“Wait, which captain? Does this have anything to do with Kirk?”

“As a matter of fact, it does. One of his yeomen came up with it.”

“Well that just figures.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s kind of an open secret that Captain Behind-Pincher is one of the grabbiest officers in Star Fleet.”

“I don’t think there’s any cause for that kind of talk.”

“Sure you don’t. The horniest captain in Star Fleet isn’t making eye tracks all over your butt.”

short skirt long racket | 7:02 pm CST
Category: entertainment, television | Tags: ,
Comments Off on short skirt long racket

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

I watched “Thelma and Louise” for the first time last night. No, I don’t know why I waited so long. Sometimes I just never get around to seeing a movie while it’s in theaters and keep putting off when it’s the most popular rental, and then it sort of fades into the background and I don’t think about it again until the brain cell responsible for remembering to watch the movie randomly fires 29 years later while I’m trying to remember why I went into the living room. It’s just the way I’m wired.

I’m not wired for 80s soundtracks anymore, though. The movie was released in 1991 but it has a soundtrack that sounds just like “Top Gun” or “Footloose.” I tried to watch “Footloose” a month or two ago and had to shut it off after twenty minutes, mostly because the dialogue was way too hackneyed for me but frankly a big part of my decision to quit was the cheesy 80s soundtrack, which is strange because I never get tired of watching “Dirty Dancing.” My weird wiring again, I guess.

Aside from the soundtrack, though, I enjoyed the movie, if “enjoyed” is the right word to describe a movie that dives straight into misogyny, rape, and murder in the first twenty minutes. I even enjoyed it in spite of the fact that the ending has been completely spoiled (not trying to point the finger of blame; it’s my own fault for waiting thirty years), the first time I believe a spoiler truly spoiled a movie’s plot point for me. I don’t usually mind knowing details about the plot of a movie beforehand. If it’s a good movie it usually stands up well enough no matter what I knew about it. I’ve known for twenty-nine years that Thelma and Louise drive off the cliff and the end of the movie. It didn’t ruin the movie for me; I still liked it, but I think I would have liked it more if I hadn’t seen that coming.

One speed bump I kept hitting: every time the guy who played the cop named Max, Stephen Tobolowski, opened his mouth, all I could hear was Ned Ryerson from the movie “Groundhog Day.” It was really distracting. But that’s not his fault, that’s my faulty wiring again. I’ll totally take the hit for that. Not for Harvey Keitel always playing the same guy in every movie, though. That’s his fault. My wiring’s got nothing to do with that.

thelma and louise | 10:12 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, movies, music
Comments Off on thelma and louise

Sunday, August 9th, 2020

I was listening to “Paper Doll” by The Mills Brothers the other day when I thought, “Hmmm, it’s been a while since I ruined a song.”

“Paper Doll,” when sung by The Mills Brothers, is one of my favorite songs ever. It might even be one of my favorite songs when sung by other groups, but I wouldn’t know because The Mills Brothers sing it so well that I haven’t gone looking for recordings by other groups. The harmonies, the pace, the phrasings are all just flawless. It’s a lot like Nat King Cole’s recording of “Stardust” – why would I go looking for recordings by other artists when I’ve heard the one, true performance?

“Paper Doll” is the classic heartbreak story: Guy feels so bad about his recent breakup that he swears he’s through with women forever, so what he’s going to do – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is just poetic license – is get a paper doll to replace the girl who left him, because a paper doll wouldn’t leave him. Of course it wouldn’t – it’s paper. Paper dolls are also usually no more than eight inches tall and literally two-dimensional, so other than the total fidelity it’s not going to be a very satisfying relationship.

I’m going to buy a paper doll that I can call my own
A doll that other fellows cannot steal
Then all the flirty-flirty guys with those flirty-flirty eyes
Will have to flirt with dollies that are real
When I come home at night, she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a paper doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl

Okay. Seems a little sulky, but who hasn’t been there? I’m sympathetic.

I guess I’ve had a million dolls or more
I guess I’ve played the doll game over and over

Hold up a minute – you’ve had it with women because the ones you know get stolen by flirty guys, but here you are telling us you’ve had a million dolls or more? I’m suddenly a lot less sympathetic.

I just quarreled with Sue
That’s why I’m blue
She’s gone away and left me, just like all dolls do

Listen to this guy – he’s had a million dolls, all of which have left him, and he thinks they’re the problem. I have to wonder.

I tell you, boys, it’s tough to be alone
And it’s tough to love a doll who’s not your own

I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s tough to be alone and to love somebody else’s doll at the same time?

I’m through with all of them
I’ll never fall again
Hey boy! What you going to do?

At this point I’m thinking: If he’s had a million dolls or more, he’ll definitely fall again. Statistically, it’s got to happen.

paper doll | 2:05 pm CST
Category: entertainment, music, play, random idiocy | Tags:
Comments Off on paper doll

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a single copy of “The Thorn Birds:”

A few minutes later, two more books have been added to the stack:

  • “The Thorn Birds 3: Things Be Getting Tornier!”
  • “The Thorn Birds 2: More Thorns”

The stack gets a little higher in the next scene with an all-anagram stack of “The Thorn Birds,” including:

  • “The Borsht Rind”
  • “The Third Borns”
  • “The North Birds”

Then the stack becomes a lollapalooza of goofy free-association versions of “The Thorn Birds:”

  • “The Born Turds”
  • “The Torn Shirts”
  • “The Sworn Words”
  • “The Thin Boards”
  • “The Shorn Brads”
  • “The Corn Nerds”

And finally, the stack turns into a random pile of books we’ve seen in previous episodes, including:

  • “The Thowd in the Bone”
  • “A Blockwork Thornge”
  • “198Thourn”
  • “The Picture of Thornian Bray”
  • “The Thord of the Rings”
  • “Thorntnoy’s Complaint”
thorn birds 6-25-20 | 12:01 pm CST
Category: entertainment, play, random idiocy, television | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on thorn birds 6-25-20

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a stack of books on the end table:

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • 1984
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • The Thorn Birds

A few minutes later, “A Clockwork Orange” has been transformed into “A Clockwork Thornge.”

After that, “The Sword in the Stone” becomes “The Thowd in the Bone”

Then “1984” becomes “198Thourn”

And finally, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” becomes “The Picture of Thronian Bray.”

thorn birds 6-24-20 | 11:50 am CST
Category: entertainment, play, random idiocy, television | Tags: ,
Comments Off on thorn birds 6-24-20

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

I’m pretty sure I’m getting entirely the wrong story from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

The story I get is: There are these two good friends, Judas and Jesus. Jesus actually has a lot of friends, twelve of them, but Judas is the one who can tell Jesus stuff the other friends won’t or can’t. 

Judas and Jesus have been best friends for quite a while, know each other pretty well and, up until now, get along even better, but it’s beginning to dawn on Judas that Jesus needs Judas to do something, mmmm, kinda bad. Judas isn’t sure at first what it might be, but he’s getting the vibe it’s something he doesn’t want to be a part of any more.

He tries to tell Jesus about his concerns, but Jesus isn’t having it and he won’t tell Judas why. Jesus will only tell Judas, over and over, “You do what you’ve got to do.” Judas doesn’t like the sound of that. It sounds like he doesn’t have a choice.

Then he makes the mistake of calling the cops on Jesus. This seems like the right thing to do because why wouldn’t the cops want to help Judas sort Jesus out? They know what’s right and wrong, don’t they? (Is this topical right now, or what?)

Well, yes. The cops know the law, and they want to sort out Jesus, but they’re thinking more like with capitol punishment than corporal. Judas figures this out too late (although the purse full of silver should have been the tipoff) and, crushed by the realization that he’s condemned his friend to death, Judas hangs himself.

But wait! There’s more! In death, Judas learns that he was right to feel he didn’t have a choice, because he didn’t! He was set up from the beginning to be the one who literally sells out his friend. This makes him a tad bitter, and why wouldn’t it? Jesus was the best friend Judas ever had, but Judas was doomed to kick that friendship right in the teeth.

It’s one of the most heartbreaking stories I know of a friendship torn apart by events beyond their control.

Jesus Christ Superstar | 6:30 am CST
Category: entertainment, movies, music, theater
Comments Off on Jesus Christ Superstar

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a single copy of “The Thorn Birds” on the end table:

In the next scene, a copy of “The Bourne Identity” appears on top:

Next, “The Thorn Birds” and “The Bourne Identity” seem to meld into a single copy of “The Thourne Identity.”

And finally, “The Torn Birds” reappears:

thorn birds 6-22-20 | 12:03 pm CST
Category: entertainment, play, random idiocy, television | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on thorn birds 6-22-20

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

I finally found a reality show I like. Not that I was looking for one. I gave up on reality shows almost as soon as they became a thing. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that stiff, self-conscious drama played by terrible actors working with practically no plot almost always added up to a show I did not want to spend more than five minutes on.

Many moons later, I’m a YouTube junkie, and it started with guys who pull junker cars out of garages that are scheduled for demolition, take them back to their shop and fix them up (the cars, not the demolished garages). The guy who got me hooked regularly drags home a Volkswagen that’s been sitting in a garage for thirty years, dumps a little oil in the crankcase, connects a spare battery and fires it right up. I binge-watched his videos for weeks. It’s hard to explain why.

I can’t remember how I crossed over from that kind of fix-up video to boat building, but however it happened, I ended up on a series of videos from Leo Sampson, who rescued a historically significant wooden boat from being broken up, shored it up in the backyard of a friend’s house and started work on restoring it. He thought he’d be able to save a lot of the boat, but what he ended up doing was tearing it completely apart and rebuilding it from the ground up. (Almost. If I recall correctly, the original ballast keel is still on the ground beneath the completely rebuilt hull.) What made it fascinating to me was how detailed his videos were and how clearly and concisely he explained what he was doing. It’s like “This Old House” but for wooden boats. I’m a complete nerd for this kind of stuff.

I tried watching several other video series about building wooden boats, but none were as interesting to me as Leo’s were. He had a special knack for shooting just the right video, putting it together in just the right way to tell a story, and then narrating the story in a way that was really engaging to me. He’s also got wicked good taste in music, which surprisingly makes the videos so much more enjoyable.

While I was searching for and watching other videos about building wooden boats, I also watched videos about sailing boats. There are a metric butt-ton of these and they fascinated the hell out of me for a while because apparently there are viewers who will pay to watch these videos! Yes! A typical video will feature a young couple who sold their house and their car and bought a boat, which they plan to sail around the world. You can like and subscribe the videos, which somehow makes money for them, and you can sign up to send them money regularly through a service like Patreon, and who wouldn’t want to throw twenty bucks a month to a couple in their twenties so they can sail to Tahiti and drink beers on the beach?

*raises hand*

Sorry. Not going to pitch in for gas money if I’m not going along for the ride.

(Full disclosure: I’m pitching in for Leo’s boat because that guy’s got moxie. Watch the first half-dozen videos in the series and try to tell me he doesn’t.)

I’ve given up watching most videos about sailing, but there’s one series I can’t tear myself away from: It’s called “Sailing Uma” and features, unsurprisingly, a young couple, Dan and Kika, and they – again, unsurprisingly – sold practically all their worldly possessions, bought a boat and sailed it across the Atlantic Ocean. What makes their story compelling is that, like Leo, they have a knack for creating an interesting video journal of their journey. They know how to tell a story. They can compose a shot and edit the shots together like the pros. And they are engaging and have great chemistry together that comes across well on the screen. In short, not only are their sailing videos are more fun to watch than any others I have seen, I even look forward to them.

a pleasant distraction | 5:36 am CST
Category: entertainment, television | Tags:
Comments Off on a pleasant distraction

Friday, June 5th, 2020

Our boss has a day planner with all our scheduled vacation time in it. At the beginning of each year, she passes a new day planner around and we all take turns claiming the days off we would like to take for the next year. I’ve been working in the fraud unit longest (that’s still weird to me), so I got to pick first. I got all the days off I wanted.

Then the pandemic came and, until today, I’ve been scratching my vacation days off the calendar, because where was I going to go?

The rest of my coworkers have been scratching off their vacations days, too, and it makes me happy to know I work with people smart enough they know they shouldn’t go hang out at Devil’s Lake with the thousands of campers up from Illinois for the weekend. But last Monday in our weekly office staff meeting, the boss wanted to know why we weren’t taking time off. There was nothing but crickets on the conference call for several seconds, so I jumped in to explain that I wasn’t taking my time off because we couldn’t go anywhere.

This weekend, though, I continued, I’m taking the vacation days I had planned, because honestly I could use a couple days away from databases and spread sheets. I’m off today and Monday and I intend to tidy up the house and wash some clothes, but mostly I’m thinking I’ll be relaxing in the shade with a book in my hand and a beer at my side. Make it a proper stay-cation. Play with the cats. Stay up late watching old TV shows.

stay-cay | 3:18 pm CST
Category: vacation
Comments Off on stay-cay

Sunday, May 31st, 2020

The rest of the country might be open, but My Darling B and I are still in isolation here at Our Little Red House – 76 days as of today. That’s a lot of days to be isolated from everybody & everything.

Full disclosure: It’s not like we’re hunkered down inside with the doors locked. Yesterday, as on most Saturdays, I made a run into town to pick up an order of sauerkraut & brats from Stalzy’s Deli and a couple cases of beer from Giant Jones brewery. We made a decision early on to support our local businesses as much as we were able to, either by purchasing from their curbside services or by donating to any of the many support groups that emerged to help them. It seems to have worked out well: Giant Jones is a very small brewery but seems to get a good response to their weekly curbside sales, and Stalzy’s was scheduled to open at the very time the governor shut down all the restaurants, forcing them to reinvent the way they served food to the public, which couldn’t have been easy.

We’ve also taken turns going to the store for groceries, each time coming home with a car jammed to the rafters with goodies (I know, cars don’t have rafters, but the metaphor seems awkward with more technically accurate terminology). Our last trip was two weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure we still have enough stashed in our pantry to go another two weeks without having to crack open the frozen leftovers that are our emergency backup comestibles.

And although I’ve been working from home, I have been making periodic trips to the office, usually once a week, in rotation with my coworkers, because somebody’s got to collect the incoming mail, send the outgoing mail, and print daily reports and other miscellaneous documents. My Darling B has worked exclusively from home these past 76 days, as is the case with most of her coworkers, I think.

Beyond those essential and semi-essential road trips into town, the only other times I’ve left the confines of our house is to stretch my legs with a walk around the neighborhood (few times a week), or go for a paddle around the lake (twice now), or work in the yard (pruned the trees on the front lawn yesterday afternoon). B has left the house only to work in her garden or relax in a lawn chair with a beer.

So we are still in lockdown because the virus is still out there and, so far as we’re aware, still as contagious as it ever was, and because the reports of the disease’s effects from people our age who contracted it make us really not want to catch it. On my trip into town yesterday, it looked like my fellow cheeseheads were nowhere near as concerned about passing this bug around. Almost none of the people I saw out & about on the pavement and in the parks wore masks, and the grand re-opening of the Tiki Bar at the East Side Club appeared to be a huge success; the lawn out back was teeming with revelers. That’s going to come back to bite them in the future, I’ll bet.

lockdown day 76 | 12:19 pm CST
Category: beer, current events, food & drink, restaurants | Tags:
Comments Off on lockdown day 76

Sunday, May 10th, 2020

I have been enjoying the hell out of The Murderbot Diaries for only about four months. I read the first novella, “All Systems Red,” in a weekend in February and liked it so much I snapped up all three of the rest of the series of novellas – “Artificial Condition,” “Rogue Protocol,” and “Exit Strategy” – intending to read them while we were on vacation in March, which meant I would have to wait and not read them for weeks and weeks. I managed to almost do that.

With a week to go before our vacation started, I broke down and read “Artificial Condition” as slowly as I could, dragging it out to three days – I could’ve stretched a full-length novel to as much as two weeks by reading very slowly and putting it down between chapters, but I couldn’t put down Murderbot because a chapter in a novella is a snack compared to a chapter in a full-length novel. Fun to read, but it just doesn’t last.

I was dying for some more Murderbot after I finished “Artificial Condition,” and I’m quite chuffed to say I managed to hold off reading the next novella, “Rogue Protocol,” until I was on a plane heading south. Finished “Rogue Protocol” in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and finished “Exit Strategy” somewhere in the Caribbean.

With no more Murderbot left to read, I did what any self-respecting reader who enjoyed the hell out of a series of books would do and started at the beginning again. And enjoyed it as much as I had the first time. Which is why I’m over the moon this week after finishing the first novel-length Murderbot story, “Network Effect,” which dropped into my Kindle on Tuesday morning. I didn’t see it there until my lunch hour and had to wait four agonizingly long hours to jump into it because my day job got in the way. I hate it when that happens.

There is science fiction and fantasy that I connect with immediately, some that I grow to like after a while, and then there is SF&F that I don’t connect with no matter how hard I try. I connected with The Murderbot Diaries right away, I think because I identify with Murderbot, which probably should be an alarming admission, considering the difficulties Murderbot has getting along with people (it calls itself “Murderbot” for reasons you can easily guess), but I can’t deny the affinity. There’s a lot about human society that Murderbot just doesn’t get, which is the way I feel about human society at least sixty percent of the time.

And yet, there is plenty about human society that Murderbot likes, even when it’s not sure it completely understands, and I think it’s the moments where Murderbot is trying to work out what it likes and why which I enjoy most. In “Network Effect,” for instance, Murderbot writes the story of its relationship with Mensah, one of the humans who befriended it, and gives the story to another sentient killer robot like itself in order to help it free itself. I’ll have to read that again because I know there are angles to that story I missed the first time around, even though I stopped and re-read parts of it.

And there are things about socializing that Murderbot seems to understand very well. It spends a lot of time trying to work out what kind of relationship it has with a sentient space ship, for instance, even while the humans in the story can easily see it’s a close, personal relationship. They enjoy watching soap operas together. They argue like an old married couple. They fight and almost die for one another. It’s really very touching.

A review of “All Systems Red” by Jason Sheehan at NPR

A review of “Network Effect” by Steve Mullis at NPR

Network Effect | 10:27 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment, play | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on Network Effect

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Neil Gaiman interviews N.K. Jemisin, 5/2/2020

Gaiman: Back in 2014, I was in Jordan in a Syrian refugee camp – I was talking to the refugees about what made them flee their homes, what made them flee their cities. In order to get to those camps, they had to cross a desert where there would be people shooting at them, where they would cross the bodies of people who had failed to make the journey. Some of them had come all the way across Syria during a civil war. I would ask them what had happened. My realization, which was slow in coming, was how incredibly fragile civilization is. We see a city and we see something immutable, we see something really solid. Then I would talk to these people and they would say, “The tanks ran through our village.” If you drive a tank through a village, everything underneath the tank in the road is destroyed, which includes the water main, so now your village has no water. All it took was a few bombs, a few land mines in the farmer’s field, and now the farmer’s aren’t farming. And very soon they’re getting permission to eat cats and dogs from their religious leaders, and then they run out of cats and dogs.

Jemisin: The part of it that’s most fragile, I think, [are] connections between people, where people are looking out for each other and willing to take risks for each other. That’s what’s kind of being eroded here in the United States right now. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to put those webs back together. Within the city, they’re still pretty much still in place, but there are cracks starting to show. Things like the concept of a nation, or the concept of a group of people being one people are actually really easy to separate and fission off, and we’ve got some parties actively engaged in trying to do that. That’s the part that I was not prepared for. That’s the part science fiction didn’t help me with. Science fiction was all about, When the plague comes, the U.S. will come together and try to fight it.

Gaiman: That, to me, has been the most amazing part. The one bit that I could never have predicted was the levels of idiocy and incompetence and the strange, sad shit show. I would’ve gone, Okay, well, there will be a pandemic, therefore all of the grownups will step up and they will do the right things. That is what grownups do. The only reason they wouldn’t is if we were writing some kind of satire intended to point out the foolishness of people, but even in that we would expect them to come together under the umbrella of sanity, in the end.

Jemisin: And the incompetent people would eventually be deposed by the heroes, and the heroes would be the grownups. Then the grownups would take over and everything would get better, and there would be a nice period of I-told-you-so when the heroes got to tell the incompetents, What were you thinking? Then we would see them all brought to justice – no, none of that’s happening here. And honestly, at the moment that the U.S. is in right now, I have some despair of it ever happening, or the justice part of it ever happening.

Gaiman: One of the things that I’ve always said is that life doesn’t have to be convincing; science fiction does. Had we written this, I don’t think you could’ve written the complete chaos, getting to the point where states are randomly coming out of lockdown.

Jemisin: I don’t think anybody was expecting the states to have to guard their stashes of PPE from the federal government, either, for fear that the feds would come steal it. Good grief! None of this makes any sense! This is all bad writing! We’re living in a really badly-written season of “COVID-19.”

life doesn’t have to be convincing | 5:13 pm CST
Category: books, current events, Life & Death | Tags:
Comments Off on life doesn’t have to be convincing

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

Our favorite restaurant in town reopened two weeks ago after a fire gutted their kitchen. Took them almost a full year to rebuild. They announced their reopening just as the governor closed everything down, so they had to scramble to set up an online ordering system that would allow them to provide curbside service, like all the other restaurants in town.

Of all the restaurants in Madison, they have our favorite Friday fish fry, so when they announced their first fish fry would be available on April tenth, we were dizzy with joy, until we logged in to their web site and discovered they were sold out. After noodling around in social media a bit, we further learned they sold out fifteen minutes after they put the fish fry on the menu that day.

So last week when they offered fish fry again, I clocked out of work early after making special arrangements to flex time with my boss. They added the fish fry to their menu at 3:03 pm; I know because I started hitting the refresh button at 2:59 pm and didn’t stop until the fish fry showed up. I added an order for two to the shopping cart and went straight to checkout. The last thing I saw was a message telling me it would be ready in twenty minutes, which is just about the time it takes to put on a pair of shoes, hop in the car and drive to the restaurant, so that’s what I did.

Turned out it would take them a little bit longer than twenty minutes for the fish fry to be ready for me to pick it up. When I pulled into their parking lot a little after three-thirty and dug my phone out of my pocket, I found a message in my voice mail from them saying the earliest my order would be ready was four o’clock. Well, okay. Not a big problem, I guess. I’ll just sit here and listen to the radio for a while.

I don’t remember what I noticed was wrong with the dashboard, but one of the displays looked screwy so I turned the key to fire up the engine so all the displays would be lit up. Well, they lit up, all right, but the engine wouldn’t crank. Turned the ignition all the way off, waited a few seconds, then turned the key all the way on again – lots of pretty lights, but nothing from the engine compartment. All the way off, then all the way on again (because three is a magic number) – still nothing. And now the clock said one-ten and the date was 1/1/2015. Not a good sign at all.

I had to pop the hood, get out and stare at the engine for several minutes, because that’s what you do when something like this happens. Don’t know why. It’s not like maybe there’s a big neon arrow pointing at the problem or something like that. Didn’t see any obvious problems; it all looked very mechanical. Tried starting it a couple more times and got the same results, but now the panel displays were all dark, including the clock.

I most likely had a dead battery, because why wouldn’t I? Car runs perfectly for years but the first time I drive anywhere in a week and I’m in the middle of a pandemic, it craps out. Of course.

I called a local garage, and they sent a wrecker out to give me a jump, which showed up at about quarter to five. After the guy got my car running and as he was running my credit card, he said let the engine run at least a half-hour to charge up the battery again, and warned that I might want to think about getting a new battery (I did, the next day). About five minutes later I got a call from the deli, saying my fish fry (remember the fish fry?) was ready to pick up. They’d been hugely overloaded with orders once again so it took them a little longer (!) than they thought it would.

dead batt | 6:43 am CST
Category: food & drink, random idiocy, restaurants, story time | Tags:
Comments Off on dead batt

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

Got my bike down from the rafters, pumped the tires full of air and took a ride around Lake Monona yesterday morning – an eleven-mile circle, the shortest route I could make – and it just about kicked my butt; the first ride of the summer season usually does. After a couple more rides I’ll start looking for longer routes, but I won’t be riding today because it’s cold and rainy and not otherwise inviting in any way. I think I’ve mentioned more than once I’m a fair-weather biker.

And except for the walks I’ve been taking around the neighborhood, that was the first time I’ve been out and about in three weeks – not counting two day trips I made to the office, and even then I didn’t go anywhere but straight to the office and straight home after work; no noodling around in town to sight-see or stop for provisions – and it was the first time in three weeks I’ve been in what I would rather loosely describe as crowds of people, really pairs or trios out walking, jogging or riding their bicycles. The only time I felt as though other people were crowding me was on John Nolan Drive, the causeway connecting the Monona area with the isthmus of downtown Madison. The trail along the causeway has always been a popular jogging and cycling path in The Before Times, and although there were fewer people on it yesterday, there’s not a lot of room to spread out, so even a dozen people bunched up together in a short stretch of the trail feels crowded. I had to follow several joggers at a discreet distance, waiting for an opening before I could pass, but after the causeway there was plenty of room again and I rode the rest of the way home without having to thread my way through clots of people.

Funny seeing all the masked people now. Some have what appear to be genuine N95 masks – where the heck did they get those? – but most are wearing home-made masks of one kind or another: simple bandannas, scarves, balaclavas, shemaghs, and one woman had what appeared to be several yards of fabric, possibly a bed sheet, wrapped around and around her head, leaving only the smallest of gaps for her eyes.

I myself did not wear any kind of mask at all, partly because I did not think I was close enough to anybody to warrant wearing a mask and partly because I don’t know that wearing anything less than a mask fitted to seal around my nose and mouth like an N95 mask would do any good. I don’t have an N95 mask but I still have the M17A2 gas mask issued to me while I was in the Air Force – the chemical warfare gear they issued to me was so old they didn’t want any of it back, and I threw everything out but the mask as a keepsake. If I wore it now, I think it would freak people out, which might be fun, in the right setting. Can’t imagine right now what that setting would be.

I unwrapped my kayak from its winter cocoon of Visqueen and stored the tarp the corner of the patio where I thought it might stay dry until I can clear a place for it in the garage – of course it got rained on before the day was done. Maybe that’ll teach me (but probably not). I briefly considered taking the kayak out for a paddle because the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm in the back yard, but after thinking it over I realized it would very likely be uncomfortably cold out on the lake. The raised seat in the kayak would keep my butt from freezing but my lower legs rest against the hull below the waterline, and I’m pretty sure the surface water is not all at all warm yet. In a couple of weeks it’ll be like bath water; I can wait a couple of weeks.

And I’m still washing dishes by hand because I don’t want to even think about what might be wrong with the dish washer yet. When it’s switched on, the water doesn’t circulate inside the tub and it makes a noise like something broken is beating or grinding against something stationary; I’m thinking maybe an impeller blade got snapped off and wedged inside a pump, possibly breaking the pump’s drive shaft. There must be a second pump to evacuate water from the tub, though, because I was able to drain the tub. I considered buying a new dish washer just so I wouldn’t have to even try to fix what’s wrong with the old one, but the cheapest new one is around three-hundred dollars and I don’t want a cheap one. I’ll have to figure out what to do soon, or just keep on washing dishes by hand, which, as it turns out, is not the worst thing in the world. I wash them at noon and again before bed, and at that pace I can keep up with whatever piles up. And it’s a big sink, so even when My Darling B uses every last pot, pan, and spatula in the kitchen to prepare a meal, the pile of dirty dishes is manageable.

what’s going on | 11:28 am CST
Category: bicycling, daily drivel, hobby, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy | Tags:
Comments Off on what’s going on

Saturday, April 11th, 2020

It’s coming. Release date April 14.

Which means I’ll be re-reading the first two books this week before my copy of the pre-ordered final volume comes in the mail. Assuming we still have mail. I will be so fucking furious if mail is one of the government agencies this administration gets rid of.

The Last Emperox | 4:03 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment
Comments Off on The Last Emperox

Monday, March 16th, 2020

So we’ve just come back from a cruise. In hindsight, going ahead with our plans to cruise was probably one of the dumber decisions we’ve made, now that it’s become clear the nation was already diving headfirst into the calamity that is the novel corona virus pandemic. At the time it seemed as though we had a month or so before things got really serious; there were reports of outbreaks in Washington state and a few very localized communities and we talked ourselves into believing that’s all there was to it, but with little to no testing going on, we were only denying the reality of the situation.

And it was pretty easy to keep on denying anything was wrong. O’Hare airport was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with travelers and the airlines weren’t taking any special precautions that were apparent to us. Fort Lauderdale airport was just as busy as O’Hare and the motel we stayed in appeared to be fully booked with people who were for the most part unconcerned about being in close contact with one another. I noticed a few people at the continental breakfast making good use of hand sanitizer, but they were just two or three out of dozens. We all happily climbed into crowded buses to take the short ride to the cruise port at ten o’clock.

We boarded in one of the early groups and although they warned us we would be subject to a stringent medical screening due to the pandemic, this amounted to little more than asking us to fill out a questionnaire and requiring us to submit to having our temperature taken. They used little plastic pistols which they pointed at our foreheads to take our temperature, and we’re a little doubtful about their accuracy — B’s temp was 91 degrees Farenheit, which I’m pretty sure is not possible for a walking, talking human being.

Sanitation is very important on a cruise ship, so the crew is used to keeping everything clean, and there was almost always someone standing guard at the entrance to the dining hall, squirting everyone’s hands with a jumbo-sized bottle of hand santizer. The people who ran the charter cruise we were on regularly reminded everyone to wash their hands and even played a couple of specially-recorded videos with catchy tunes to keep it at the front of our minds.

Nobody got sick on the cruise that I know of. Although a few people reported on social media afterwards that they were under the weather with sniffles or coughs, they attributed it to “cruise crud,” a catch-all description for the various bugs people suffer from after a cruise. B had a nasty case of cruise crud the first time we went cruising; we made sure we washed our hands more or less constantly the next two times and we avoided coming down with anything. If we’re lucky, it worked again this time around, too.

hindsight | 9:13 am CST
Category: current events, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
Comments Off on hindsight

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Tim tipped us off to a show he watches on You Tube called Hot Ones. In it, Sean Evans interviews celebrities while they eat hot wings that get hotter as the show goes on. Some of the celebrities bail out before they get to the hottest wings, earning themselves a place on the Hot Ones Wall of Shame. Others press on to the very end even while they regret every moment of it. A few endure the experience with a calm stoicism that is truly impressive to watch.

We had our own Hot Ones challenge last night, using the lineup of hot sauces the show featured in Season Nine. Well, okay, not the entire lineup. I ordered the first five sauces because, while I enjoy spicy foods, I wasn’t entirely sure I could endure the whole lineup of ten sauces, so I decided to try the bottom half to see just how hot they got.

I like a little hot sauce on my eggs and had been dabbing them with The Classic, which has lately been the first hot sauce in the Hot Ones lineup. It’s tasty and not quite as hot as Cholula, which is the hot sauce I had been dressing my eggs with because that’s what the waitress brings me when I ask for hot sauce in a restaurant. I have to say I favor The Classic over Cholula because I think The Classic is tastier and I like that I can put more of it on my eggs because it doesn’t set my mouth on fire.

I ordered The Classic from Heatonist, a store in New York, which sells most of the sauces seen on Hot Ones, and while I was on their web site I also ordered the bottom half of the lineup so we could do our own home-grown Hot Ones challenge one day. Well, that day was yesterday after dinner while Tim was visiting. B heated up some chicken nuggets and we dunked them in a dab of each of the sauces, working our way up to number five. All of them are just delicious and even the hottest one, Los Calientes, was not quite as hot as some of the Indian food we get for take-out, although all were respectably spicy.

Then, there was Da Bomb, the famously superhot hot sauce that takes down all but the most seasoned guests on Hot Ones. I think probably the best response any of the Hot Ones guests had to Da Bomb was best voiced by Trevor Noah: “It’s just pain! What? Why? This is not ‘da bomb,’ this is trash.” (His complete thoughts on Da Bomb start at 14:10 and they’re hilarious.)

I never intended to ever try Da Bomb because almost all of the guests on Hot Ones were virtually unanimous in their condemnation of it, but My Darling B bought a bottle of it when we first started watching the show and she dug it out of wherever she was hiding it and put it on the table with the rest of the hot sauces last night. It was practically a double-dog dare. I’m a great big chicken who can back away from a double-dog dare with no regrets, but I was thinking the other sauces were tolerable; how much hotter could Da Bomb really be?

Imagine filling your mouth with gasoline, then setting it on fire with a flame thrower, then instead of putting the fire out you hit yourself in the mouth with a red-hot poker while you let your face burn. That would be almost as hot as eating something with Da Bomb on it. I have never eaten anything that hot before and with any luck, I never will again. It didn’t only burn my mouth, it cranked up my heart rate, gave me the shivers, and sent my brain into orbit. I’m getting a little dizzy just recalling how hot it was. I felt the way Tom Arnold looked by the end of his Hot Ones interview. At the peak of Da Bomb’s spiciness, I had to drink ice water constantly just to keep my head from exploding. I would slurp up a mouthful, slosh it around until it was a little warmer than ice, swallow, slurp up more, slosh, swallow, et cetera. I did that through three pint glasses of ice water and I only stopped at three pints because I wasn’t sure I could hold any more.

My Darling B, the cocky little wench, had to immediately spit out her mouthful of Da Bomb and for a few harrowing moments she was sure she was going to throw up. “It tasted the way natural gas smells,” she very accurately described it.

Would I do it again? Hell no. I’m sorry I did at all. Gonna try some of the other hotter sauces featured on the show, but I’ll never try Da Bomb again. I don’t know how Sean Evans eats that crap every week.

Just FYI, we grabbed things from all over the kitchen looking for an antidote to Da Bomb and it turned out that sucking on orange wedges helped a lot. I ate the wedges because the pulpiness seemed to help mop the fiery heat off my tongue as I chewed them up.

hot ones | 11:11 am CST
Category: entertainment, food & drink, random idiocy, television | Tags:
Comments Off on hot ones

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

I had a hankering this morning for a plate of scrambled eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs in the fridge so I did what I usually do when I’m trying to figure out where to eat: whipped out my phone and began to virtually search the city for a place that looked like it served a satisfyingly big plate of eggs with their usual breakfast.

Google maps is simultaneously very good and very bad for this task. Very good because it knows where a lot of the best places to eat are, drops a pin on them in their map, and provides all the links you need to see their menu, reviews from customers, photos of pretty much everything they serve, and so on. Very bad for much the same reasons. I don’t want to see hundreds of photos of scrambled eggs. Just tell me they have scrambled eggs, thank you. Also, I don’t need to know where McDonald’s is. That should be a setting in Google maps: Chain restaurants on/off.

But on this particular morning, my search reminded me of one of the best breakfast restaurants in the city: Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room, situated right next to the flight line of the Dane County Airport and only a fifteen-minute drive from our little red house. I jumped into the car (after it had been given a fair amount of time to warm up on this fourteen-degree day) and headed north.

One critically important thing I’d forgotten about the Jet Room: How friggin popular it is. The lobby of the Wisconsin Aviation building was crowded with people waiting to get in, which gave me a moment’s pause, but I could almost taste those eggs so I went in anyway to see how long the wait was. Forty-five minutes, it turned out, but only if you don’t answer “yes” to the question “would you be willing to take a seat at the counter?” I was so very willing that I was seated immediately at the number-one spot next to the wait staff’s station — the pole position!

The service was awesome: I got a glass of water and a hot cup of coffee within minutes of sitting down, they took my order not more than five minutes later, and I was digging in to a big plate of eggs (and hash browns, and bacon) no more than ten minutes after I set foot in the place! How do you beat that? I just don’t see how. Bonus points to the wait staff for keeping my coffee mug full. And I don’t know why, but I have to mention how much I love that the mugs and plates have the name of the restaurant on them. I don’t know why that appeals to me so much, but it does.

a big delicious breakfast at the Jet Room

And here’s what my sufficiency looks like after it’s been serensified:

sufficiency serensified

jet setter | 2:08 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, restaurants | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on jet setter

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

This is too much fun:

And this is just plain cool:

See more of Laura Kampf’s work here!

beer bike | 6:41 am CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, play | Tags:
Comments Off on beer bike

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

I’m having trouble finishing “Marjorie Morningstar.” I found a copy of it in a second-hand store shortly after the author, Herman Wouk, died last summer. So many people said their favorite book by Wouk was “Marjorie Morningstar,” so I looked for it in the book stores I haunted to see if I could snag a copy, and did within weeks of Wouk’s passing. I’m about three-quarters of the way through it, but I’m finding it very difficult to pick it up to read that last quarter because so far most of the book has focused on Marjorie nursing an enduring crush on a songwriter she met while she was acting in summer stock who is such a cad that if she doesn’t stick a steak knife through his heart before the last chapter I will be so pissed off.

I haven’t read a lot of Herman Wouk; just three of his novels, in total: “The Winds of War,” “War and Rememberance,” and “The Caine Muntiny.” I thought the first two were pretty good, but I think “The Caine Mutiny” is one of the best books I have ever read. I didn’t think so the first time I read it. I thought it was pretty bad, to be honest. The biggest part of the book focuses on Willie Keith, a rich kid who tries to use his privilege to squeak out of serving in the second world war by securing a cushy spot in the Navy; he ends up on the titular destroyer Caine where he takes part in a mutiny. I thought the parts of the book describing the mutiny were superb, but I wasn’t much interested in Keith until I picked up the book a second time to re-read the part about the mutiny and even then I was a lot more interested in Maryk, the executive officer of the Caine, so I re-read the parts that dealt with him. Keith was in almost every scene, so naturally enough, I became interested in him. In the end, I re-read the book several times and damned if Wouk doesn’t make Keith out to be a decent guy in spite of his service.

So it’s not unusual for me to dislike what’s going on it a Wouk novel the first time I read through it. I expect that, even if I dislike the way “Marjorie Morningstar” ends, I’ll like it eventually. But I’m having a devil of a time getting to the end.

Marjorie Morningstar | 5:06 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment | Tags: ,
Comments Off on Marjorie Morningstar

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

I thought I would have to fire up the snow blower for the first time in 2019 when I woke up in the morning of the very last day of that year to a fresh snowfall. My snow blower’s gasoline engine is reluctant to start after it’s been sitting unused all summer, so I dressed up in my warmest winter coat, knowing I could be out in the subfreezing weather for a while. As it turned out, I didn’t so much as lay a hand on my snow blower. There was less than a half-inch of snow on the driveway; if I had wheeled out the snow blower to remove that, it would have seemed to me at least like the most egregious misuse of a power tool imaginable. It was a preposterously simple matter to clear the driveway in just five minutes using the snow shovel. I wasn’t even winded when I finished. I probably could have used a push broom.

One of my neighbors, who owns one of the largest snow blowers I have ever seen, does not have the same reservations about how and when to use it that I had about mine. He’s one of those “I paid a lot of money for this power tool and I’m going to use it” kind of guys. His snow blower is taller than he is, and has a mouth wide enough to clear half his driveway in a single pass. After a heavy snowfall, witnessing it make short work of waist-high drifts of snow is an impressive sight to behold. Seeing him use it to clear a half-inch of snow is another thing entirely. I was at the end of my drive, clearing away the inch-high ridge of snow left behind by the city snow plow crew after they cleared our street, when I heard the roar of his snow blower coming to life. I stopped what I was doing and used my shovel as a prop to rest my arm on while I watched him follow his behemoth to the end of his driveway, maneuver it through a 180-degree turn, then follow it back up to his house, all the while wreathed by the faintest haze of snow thrown into the air as a thin, insubstantial whisp that blew apart in the breeze the moment it exited the chute off the top of his snow blower. He tried to make a bigger production of it by spending some extra time at the end of the driveway making sure he got all the snow left behind by the city plow, but it hardly took him five minutes to do the whole thing. I bet the engine on his snow blower didn’t even get warm.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even bothered to shovel so little snow off the driveway because I’m pretty lazy when it comes to yard work, to be frank. I should probably hire some of the more enterprising neighborhood teenagers to cut the grass and shovel the driveway, but as well as being lazy I’m also a skinflint, so to this day I still do my own mowing and shoveling and other yard work, but only when I feel I absolutely have to. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times. Our good friends, Becky and John, were coming over later in the afternoon to go out to dinner with us, then come back to our little red house to spend new year’s eve playing games, and I didn’t want them to have to trudge through even as little as a half-inch of snow, because who would do that to their good friends?

We had a very casual dinner at a popular local pizza parlor not far from our house. We figured we’d have a quick dinner there, then return to play games while we noshed on some snacky foods and finally toast the new year, not necessarily at midnight because none of us are spring chickens any more. We ended up spending a bit more time at the pizza parlor than we had planned, about three and a half hours! I can’t account for this. It’s normally a popular place but there didn’t seem to be any more customers than we usually saw; in fact, I spotted empty tables and stools at the bar from time to time, but the wait staff were obviously running their legs off. We didn’t even see our waitress until about fifteen minutes after we were seated when she paused briefly — and I mean very briefly — to apologize for then wait, then add she’d be back in just two more minutes before she dashed away again. She didn’t give us enough time to ask for water. And she wasn’t back in two minutes.

When she did come back, ten minutes later, she stayed only long enough to get our drinks order before rushing off again. We managed to slip in a request for some fried cheese curds, too, but just barely. She swooped in to dive-bomb the table with John’s beer minutes later, explaining his order was easiest to fill because it came in a bottle. Becky got her cocktail about five minutes later, while Barb’s sat at the end of the bar at least ten minutes, for some reason. I got my beer last, many more minutes after B’s cocktail was delivered. If I recall correctly, the cheese curds arrived after we all raised our glasses to toast the new year, but the waitress didn’t take our dinner order until we were burping contentedly after finishing off all of the cheese curds and had nearly made our way to the bottoms of all of our drinks.

So you get the idea: service was slow and the main courses didn’t arrive until well past the time we thought we’d be on our way home. We weren’t in a terribly big hurry, though, so it’s not like we felt like complaining about it, but damned if we wouldn’t make fun of it a little bit.

Back at our little red house, I popped open a bottle of bubbly, poured a glass for everyone and we shared a toast to the new year, again. Then we played a very silly card game that required us to shout out words and phrases that were improbable under any other circumstances that didn’t involve prosecco, and had a pretty good time doing it.

new years eve | 1:01 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , ,
Comments Off on new years eve

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Everyone drinks coffee to kickstart their morning, so why doesn’t everyone drink it straight, dark, bitter? I don’t understand why anybody puts stuff in coffee. Milk, sugar, syrup — it all takes the edge off, so what’s the point? If you want a frou-frou drink with frou-frou smells first thing in the morning, drink tea.

coffee vs tea | 9:43 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, yet another rant
Comments Off on coffee vs tea

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

I didn’t have enough vacation time this year to take last Thursday and Friday off, which a lot of people did, so I was in the office, bleary-eyed and not especially bushy-tailed, before the sun came up on Thursday morning.

The office was silent as a graveyard. I debated with myself over whether or not to make coffee. I myself was going to drink tea that morning, and I figured that the few people who were in to work that morning would be Keurig-users. The people who drink from the pot seem to be mostly management types, and I figured they wouldn’t be around. But, what the heck, I brewed a pot anyway and made it strong, just in case there was anyone in the office who needed a kick in the pants that morning.

Lucky thing, because there was more than one. I went back to the kitchen at about nine-thirty to make myself another cuppa and saw the pot was almost empty. Must have been more than a few people who needed a jolt that morning. Brewed another strong pot that was almost gone before lunch time.

Same thing happened Friday morning. There must have been a lot more people working the in-between days than I thought, and apparently they didn’t get much sleep.

Making coffee at work | 4:48 pm CST
Category: coffee, coworkers, daily drivel, food & drink, office work, work
Comments Off on Making coffee at work

Monday, December 16th, 2019

We spent most of our second day in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry, but before that we had to find a place to get some breakfast, which I thought would be relatively easy because there is no shortage of places to eat in Chicago if you’re okay with waiting for an hour or more. We ended up at the counter of the Pittsfield Cafe, not the trendiest of places but even so more popular than the chic tea shop next door. We had to wait in a long line that thankfully moved very quickly, and we were seated in under twenty minutes. The food was hot and delicious and they served mimosas, so quite a successful breakfast after all.

An MTA double-decker commuter train whisked us south to 57th Street where we walked a couple blocks to get to the museum, where My Darling B was looking forward to seeing exhibits of Christmas around the world, mostly dozens of Christmas trees decorated with ornaments they said were most popular in each of the represented countries. B liked the tree representing Japan the best. I was there for the scienc-y stuff, so while she snapped photos of the ornaments, I ducked into the exhibit halls to watch avalanches form and pendulums swing and, while she was resting her feet near the end of our visit, I took a quick side trip to the space center to say hi to Apollo 8, the first crewed spacecraft to leave earth and fly to the moon. The gumdrop-shaped command module sits behind a high wall of plexiglass but I managed to snap a few photos over the top of the wall without dropping my phone. Might have been embarrassing.

Back in Chicago we stopped at the Adams Street Brewery for some cold suds and a pretzel before heading to a comedy show. I unreservedly recommend the Imperial Stout they brew on the premises.

Chicago day two | 10:12 pm CST
Category: vacation | Tags: , , ,
Comments Off on Chicago day two

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Got back this afternoon from a weekend trip to The Windy City with My Darling B. We’ve been talking for years about visiting the Christmas market they have there every year, and this year we finally stopped talking and did it. B did all the hard work of planning the trip and booking the rooms; I did the easy part: driving. We drove down Friday morning, arriving around one o’clock to check in at our hotel, and left at about eleven o’clock this morning. Short trip, but we got a lot done.

First thing we did after checking in at the hotel was walk down to Daley Plaza where the Christmas market takes place. It was not exactly like the Christmas markets we remembered from Berlin, but it was pretty close. The vendors sold a lot of the same ornaments and other Christmas trinkets, they served the spiced wine known as gluhwein, and there were so many people jammed into the market it was almost impossible to move.

Wandered around at the market for an hour or so before walking a few blocks north to see the sights along the Magnificent Mile. The idea is we would walk from store to store, taking in the Christmas sights and maybe doing a little shopping. Spoiler: It’s all high-end shopping. Macy’s. Saks. Tiffany’s. Not the kind of places we would be stopping to pick up a stocking-stuffer. So we finished our walk up the Magnificent Mile a lot sooner than we thought we would.

We were supposed to join up with a guided tour of the Christmas lights but it wasn’t scheduled to depart until five-thirty so to avoid getting there very early we backtracked just a bit and ended up at an Irish pub called Pippin’s where we could grab a beer while we passed the time until we could meet the bus. It was one of those buses that’s made to look like a trolley and it went out to Wrigleyville where there was another Christmas market we wandered around in for about a half-hour, then looped back to stop at Lincoln Zoo where they had draped the trees and wrapped the bushes in lots and lots of colored lights, and they gave us special glasses that made us see elves and reindeer floating around the lights like some trippy holiday hallucination.

We didn’t get to bed until ten-thirty that night. I must have been beat because I slept until seven-thirty the next morning.

windy city | 6:59 pm CST
Category: My Darling B, travel | Tags: ,
Comments Off on windy city

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

We were wondering the other day if there’s a word or phrase to describe songs you’re done with. I mean, other than the phrase I just used. I was thinking maybe there’s an already-established phrase, or one of those mile-long Latin words. That’s what we were wondering about. But “songs you’re done with” will work just fine, too.

I don’t remember which song came on the radio to make us think about this, but for instance: “Another One Bites The Dust” is a song I’m done with. I still think it’s a perfectly good song and I’m not suggesting it should be banned from the airwaves or anything like that; all I’m saying is that I’ve heard it approximately forty-two million times, so I’m done hearing it. If I’m flipping through radio stations and I hear it, I don’t even pause. There is no desire to stop. I’m done hearing it. The audio teleomere in my brain that marked the number of times I would ever want to hear that song (among others) has been set to zero.

Oh, I remember the song that started this conversation: Frank Sinatra’s recording of “My Way.” In a story on NPR yesterday morning they claimed that this was the most-requested song at karaoke bars and funerals, just one more good reason to avoid both, in my opinion.

songs you’re done with | 6:05 am CST
Category: entertainment, music, random idiocy
Comments Off on songs you’re done with

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

I spent the weekend with My Darling B doing pretty much nothing, and apparently we needed a weekend just like that because we slept like bears in hibernation.

We didn’t do exactly nothing. We did, in fact, travel to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, to attend the twentieth anniversary party of the Tyranena Brewery (long may they continue to brew the most delicious beer in Jefferson County!), an event where we mostly sat quietly sampling various wonderful brews and noshing on noshies. Low-impact events are our lifestyle now.

The beers that Tyranena makes, though, tend to be very boozy, so we didn’t drink very many of them before we had to lie down go night-night.

We spent all day Sunday just reading or watching TV, and were both in bed by eight. Lights-out for me was eight-thirty or nine, and I slept like the dead until four o’clock Monday morning, at which point my brain said AWAKEN, so I had no choice but to go make a pot of coffee and bimble about the house.

not much how about you | 6:14 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, play, sleeplessness, travel
Comments Off on not much how about you

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

The dream I was having this morning right before I woke up: Copying the names of all the people who had been turned into zombies and pasting them into a spreadsheet.

We watched “Zombieland” last night before lights out. After I go to bed I usually dream about work, which often involves trawling through spreadsheet after spreadsheet, so this must have been a mash-up of the two.

copypaste | 3:14 pm CST
Category: movies, work
Comments Off on copypaste

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

I am never going to eat fried food again. And when I say “never,” I mean that I will, on occasion, eat certain fried foods, because there are some worth suffering for, like the tater tots they serve at the Vintage Brewing Company over on Whitney Way. I don’t know how they do it, but their tots are exactly the right kind of crispy-crunchy I will always say “yes” to.

But other than a few special exceptions like those tots, I have unfortunately advanced to the age where my gastrointestinal mechanism no longer produces whatever chemicals or enzymes it used to make to deal with deep-fat-fryer grease. I used to be able to eat all the french fries. Really, *all* of them. Now that I’m apparently becoming a decrepit old geezer, I can safely eat only about half a dozen without any ill effects; any more and I feel as though I’m carrying around a bowling-ball-sized lump of lard in my belly for the next twenty-four hours. It’s not a good feeling, particularly when I make the mistake of ordering a side of fries with my dinner, thinking “It’ll be all right, I haven’t had fries in a week,” and then I have to try to sleep with that bowling ball in my stomach. Doesn’t happen. Easier to sleep with a pile of bricks on top of me.

No fried foods means that most of the food at the brewpubs we like to visit is off limits to me: it’s not just fries that bloat me up, the chicken tenders that I love at most places do the same, and I’ll probably never enjoy another Friday night fish fry, although a Friday afternoon fish fry isn’t entirely out of the question; so long as I have time to walk it off, I’m good. But other than that I’ll be eating lots of wraps and salads from here on in. So long, french fries, and thanks for the fun times!

fried | 1:22 pm CST
Category: falling apart, food & drink
Comments Off on fried

Monday, October 14th, 2019

I was today years old when I learned that the game where you throw beanbags at a board with a hole in it is called “cornhole.” That is not a word I have heard used in polite company before. My father sometimes used that word, not in public, to refer to an act of sexual intercourse that was not allowed by law when he was a younger man.

But I found out today that this is a fairly common name for the game I have always called “beanbag toss” or just “beanbags.” I found out from an email I got at work for an annual fundraiser called “Partners in Giving.” The email subject was “Partners in Giving cornhole tournament.”

“Partners in giving cornhole” was not a phrase I ever expected to see in an inter-office email.

All but one of my coworkers refer to the game as “cornhole” so they didn’t think it was as odd as I thought, but they got a good laugh out of the surprise I got from the email, which means I’m not wrong about the name meaning something else. And after visiting several web pages to see if I could figure out how this game went from being named something as innocent as “beanbag toss” to being referred to as “cornhole,” I learned that a beanbag left on the board is called a “woody,” while tossing a beanbag so it rolls over a blocking beanbag to go into the hole is called “going through the back door.” So it seems more than likely to me the game was renamed with a sly wink, and maybe some alcohol was involved.

beanbag | 5:53 pm CST
Category: entertainment, games, random idiocy
Comments Off on beanbag

Friday, September 27th, 2019

What is the cheesiest song ever written? I nominate “Afternoon Delight” as the cheesiest song in the history of cheesy pop songs. It was already so very cheesy back in the late 70s and it hasn’t gotten any less cheesy after 40+ years.

And yes, I am going to keep repeating “cheesy” until it makes you cross-eyed. The shoe fits.

What makes this song so cheesy? I am so very happy to answer this rhetorical question that absolutely nobody has ever asked me. Almost every pop song I listened to in the 70s was salted with at least a few thinly-veiled references to sex, and very occasionally a not-so-veiled reference. “Afternoon Delight” was a solid three minutes of a songwriter declaring he was in the mood for a nooner. Or an afternooner, as the case may be. Is an “afternooner” a thing? Let’s say it is, just for the sake of argument.

Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight

Ah, the 70s when we described our significant others as “my baby,” “my old lady,” or (gag) “my lover.”

I don’t know if “afternoon delight” meant something else before this song became a hit, but it’s pretty funny to me that you can’t say it now unless you’re talking about boinking, and even then you can use it only with a smirk on your face. It’s just that cliched. Funnily enough, it felt like a cliche back then, too.

My motto’s always been when it’s right, it’s right
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night

It’s almost like this song was written for horny teenage boys who are trying to sound smooth.

When everything’s a little clearer in the light of day
And we know the night is always gonna be here any way

I like boinking in the day time, you like boinking at night, let’s split the difference and boink around the clock.

Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite
and the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting

Right. Well. Where to start.

First of all, you don’t rub sticks and stones together to make sparks or start a fire. You rub just sticks together, or just stones (if flint is a stone, which I’m not sure of, but I am sure it’s definitely not a stick). Not sticks and stones. That doesn’t do a thing. I hate to … no, I love to be that guy. Who am I kidding?

But leaving out the nit-picking and getting back to the smarm:

Back when I couldn’t look up pop lyrics on the internet and mostly listened to pop music on an AM radio while driving at speed down county highways in a pickup truck with the windows rolled down, what I thought I heard in the last line was “the thought of lovin’ you is gettin’ so exciting,” which made enough sense in the context of the song that I never questioned it. (Funnier version — not mine: “the bottom part of you is getting so excited.” Check out Misheard Lyrics for more laugh-out-loud versions.)

When I looked up the lyrics today to find specific examples of how cornball this song is, I was pretty sure “the thought of rubbin’ you” had to be a mistake, so I watched the music video on YouTube BECAUSE I’LL TAKE A BULLET SO NOBODY ELSE HAS TO. Tragically, I learned they are indeed clearly saying “rubbin’ you.”

So now I’m trying to imagine a situation, any situation at all, where uttering the phrase “the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting” would spark feelings of desire in the heart of even the most willing significant other, or even in a person desperate to get laid. I’m not saying it absolutely wouldn’t, but my feeling is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred you’d be more likely to get reactions ranging from a puzzled look at best to, at worst, being left leaning on the bar alone, muttering to yourself.

But I’m afraid I have to tell you those aren’t even the smarmiest lyrics.

Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn’t bite

Wow, that’s an impressive triple negative. I guess that’s, what, something Aunt Polly used to say back on the farm?

But you’ve got some bait a-waitin’ and I think I might
Like nibbling a little afternoon delight

It’s time for me to talk about fish and bait. I really, really don’t want to, but I feel as though I must.

I know this is a figure of speech. I remember the fishing reference.

BUT.

“You’ve got some bait a-waitin'” is a wrong turn down a bad road, if you ask me. Fishing is fun only for the one with the bait. The fish doesn’t get any fun out of it, if fish can be said to ever have any fun at all. Even when the fish doesn’t meet a gruesome end (death by suffocation, then feasted upon after being skinned and fried in oil), it still has to endure being dragged through the water with a barbed hook stuck in its mouth, then having its jaw torn off when the hook gets pulled out. Doesn’t sound as super-cute as “nibbling a little afternoon delight,” does it?

And the fish itself is a problem for me: cold, wet, slimy fish; dead-eyed animals that flop around with all the self-control of grenade exploding. If I was writing a playful pop song about sex and wanted to compare it with animals I’m pretty sure I’d go with puppies or kittens, something cute and cuddly and smarmy as all get-out. Fish would not even be on my list of choices, first or last.

Finally, comparing sex to bait is all kinds of awkward. Bait is part of a trap. Why would you want to flirt with an idea like that?

Again I GET THAT IT’S A FIGURE OF SPEECH, but it seems to me that a significant part of writing lyrics for a song like this really has to be conjuring up an image in the listener’s mind that doesn’t involve stabbing, pain, bloodshed, and betrayal.

And now, the chorus:

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight!

Skyrockets in flight! Volcanoes erupting! Jackhammers pounding! Popcorn popping! Yeah. So subtle.

Just in case you haven’t had the honor of listening to this Grammy-winning song, here it is as sung by the Starland Vocal Band, the group to originally record it. (The guy in the glasses wrote the song.)

Afternoon Delight | 6:09 am CST
Category: entertainment, music | Tags: ,
Comments Off on Afternoon Delight

Monday, September 16th, 2019

I have spent the past week watching the most fascinating series of videos of a sailor and boat builder named Leo who is restoring a hundred-year-old wooden boat named Tally Ho. It was a beautiful boat when it was new but it was a rotten old scow when Leo first laid eyes on it; he could literally pull chunks of wood from it with his hands without much effort, as you can see in the first video.

Leo decided to restore it anyway. Now, when a boat builder uses the word “restore” it apparently means something completely different from what I have typically understood it to mean and I say that because, as far as I can tell, Leo is building a new boat. He’s building it inside the husk of the old boat one piece at a time, but I’ve watched 55 episodes and so far he’s replaced the keel, the stern assembly, the stem assembly, and all the ribs. The only original parts of the boat left in the spot where he parked it are a couple dozen planks clamped to the ribs.

He reckons he’s restoring it because, he says, in the normal life of a wooden boat you’d have to replace parts damaged from normal wear and tear or from extraordinary circumstances. If you replaced the mast you wouldn’t say it was a new boat or a different boat, you’d say it was the same boat. Same goes if you ran up on a reef and had to replace most of the planks along one side. Well, he says, his restoration of Tally Ho is merely the maintenance it should have had over the course of its life, compressed into a couple of years. And I suppose there’s something to that, but it still looks to me as though he’s building a new boat inside the old boat.

Regardless of the semantics, it’s an amazing series of videos, not least because in the beginning Leo was working mostly on his own. I was gobsmacked to watch him build a shed over the boat by himself, then tear off a few planks along the bottom of the boat so he could get the cement ballast out of the bilge, which he had to zap with a jackhammer until it was gravel.

The videos are also amazing because Leo has a talent for explaining things that are incredibly complicated in a way that’s not only understandable but genuinely interesting. Videos like these would be a terrible bore if he didn’t have that talent, yet they weren’t; I eagerly looked forward to each video. To make it even sweeter, he’s even got an amazing eye for framing a shot, then editing them into an entertaining video. I was smiling and laughing as often as I was staring intently.

All this to say, I recommend the series all the way to the end, or really the middle because he’s only halfway through at this point.

Tally Ho | 6:16 am CST
Category: entertainment, play | Tags:
Comments Off on Tally Ho

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

One of my favorite pop songs from back in the day is “Fantasy Girl” by 38 Special. I liked it because I could learn most of the words just by listening to the song on a shitty AM radio (the only way to do it back when there was no internet to look up the words) and because it was one of those songs that got better the louder you cranked up the volume.

The lyrics were fairly simple and there weren’t a lot of them:

Lately I’m learning that so many yearnings are never to be
Childhood illusions, merely delusions of a girl that I see
In my mind’s eye I see clearly a vision of how it could be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don’t set me free

Now I’ve had my share and sometimes I swear that I’ve had me enough
You end up in sorrow, broken tomorrows, love can be tough
But my mind’s eye sees a vision of true love and how it should be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don’t set me free

That’s it! That’s the whole song. I got a girl, she’s a fantasy girl, she’s only in my mind and I know she’s not only not real, she’s not even very realistic but I will never let go of my fantasy of true love because real live relationships mostly suck. At least, I think that’s the message they’re trying to get across. Like most pop songs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about the words too much.

Fantasy Girl | 9:04 am CST
Category: entertainment, music | Tags:
Comments Off on Fantasy Girl

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

We got a letter in the mail last week, an actual hand-written letter which My Darling B opened because who even writes letters any more? The only handwritten mail we get now is the occasional birthday card from close family. We get a lot of letters soliciting donations that appear to be handwritten but at second glance are obviously printed using a font that looks like handwriting. Not the case with this letter we got last week: The handwriting was cramped and our last name was crunched up against the edge of the envelope.

The letter itself was written on blue card paper and read in its entirety:

Hello – our names are Mike & Rose – We really like the location of your house on (name of street). If you have any interest in selling please give us a call. Thanks!

It’s not unusual for us to get offers from realtors who want to buy our house. We probably get one a month. The housing market in Madison seems pretty hot and many of houses in our neighborhood have new owners. What’s unusual is that this particular letter was addressed by hand instead of printed and the envelope was affixed with a real first-class postage stamp, not one of those fake-looking bulk rate stamps.

My Darling B and I talked it over and decided the best possible reply to this letter would be:

We accept your kind offer on the following conditions:
1. We will vacate the house in 1 week.
2. You take possession of the house & everything in it.
3. Price of the house is not negotiable: $500,000.00 cash, paid in twenties.
4. By accepting this deal you waive all rights of rescission.
5. No questions asked.

If you accept these conditions, leave the cash in a green canvas duffel bag on our doorstep Monday morning at 6:00 am. We will vacate the house by the next Monday & leave the keys on the kitchen counter.

If you attempt to contact us in any way other than leaving the cash in the duffel bag, the deal is off.

It was so much fun to come up with this offer that, if we weren’t fairly certain we’d have the police at our door, we’d answer them just to see what else might happen.

offer accepted with conditions | 11:07 am CST
Category: entertainment, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, this modern world
Comments Off on offer accepted with conditions

Three o’clock in the morning is too goddamn early to start my day, and yet here I am, banging out some more of this drivel after lying awake for an hour, reading several magazine articles, and catching up on some of my favorite Twitter and Instagram follows before making a pot of tea and sitting down at the keyboard. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

My best night’s sleep this week was in a hotel in Wisconsin Rapids where I tried and failed to stay awake long enough to watch all of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Sorry, Sam! I caught most of it, so I hope I get at least partial credit. I’m just not the night owl I would like to be, which is why I normally watch the show on YouTube, but hotels haven’t cut the cable and moved to the streaming era yet, and that’s why I was trying (and failing) not to doze off during one of my favorite shows. When I finally caved, turned off the television set and surrendered to the enveloping darkness, I slept the sleep of the just until my phone bleeped at around six-thirty. My Darling B sent me a “Good Morning!” text.

I was in Wisconsin Rapids because it’s the time of year when I drive in seemingly random circles around the state, stopping occasionally to pop into a DMV office and audit them. It’s as bureaucratically awkward as it sounds but I’m an awkward kind of guy so it’s a job that suits me, unfortunately. Some of us aspire to do great things and some of us pop into the DMV office where you are waiting to renew your driver’s license, grab the DMV employee who was just about to call your ticket number and drag him into a darkened back room for an indeterminate amount of time. All in the name of improving customer service, I assure you.

Wisconsin Rapids was littered with the branches of trees that were shattered by a line of storms that blew through the area last weekend, and I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say “shattered.” I saw oak trees that must’ve been hundreds of years old reduced to broken boughs and splintered stumps. Freshly cut-up branches were stacked along the curb of every road we drove down. I’ll bet the city lost at least a quarter and maybe as much as a third of their old-growth trees. One of the guys I talked to said in his yard alone he lost fourteen trees. He must have a pretty big yard, but still, wow. As if cleaning up all that wasn’t bad enough, the storm knocked the power out for days so a whole lot of people lost all the food in their fridges and freezers.

I left Madison with a coworker at six-thirty on Wednesday morning and drove in a big 350-mile-long circle that wound through northeastern Wisconsin, then across the midsection of the state, and finally down the middle back to Madison, where we arrived at about three-thirty Thursday afternoon. This was my first overnight trip but not my last. It’s surprising how many people I talk to believe I’m living the high life on these business trips. I can’t figure it out how they get that idea. We spend hours and hours behind the wheel of a compact car marked with The Scarlet Letter of government plates, which means we have to drive exactly the speed limit: any faster and our supervisor gets phone calls about how we drive like maniacs; any slower and she gets calls about how we’re a hazard to traffic. We have to book hotel rooms that have the cheapest rate, so we’re always next to an Interstate off-ramp where I’m jolted awake every twenty minutes or so by the explosive flatulence of a downshifting semi truck as it exits the highway. And don’t even try to make hotel breakfasts sound like a perk. I tend to go for the watery powdered eggs and heartburn in a sausage patty, but only because the bananas are usually ripe enough to attract fruit flies.

From The Ground Up coffee shop in Wisconsin RapidsWe do get to pick the restaurants we eat at, thank goodness, and we can even find a pretty good one wherever we go. In Wisconsin Rapids, for instance, we ate lunch at a cozy coffee shop called From The Ground Up. Not only did it have delicious food at a reasonable price and friendly staff who jumped to help us, it had a genuine Volkswagen bus parked on top of the rest rooms. When I asked how they even got it in there, the young woman who took my order explained they cut it in half so it would fit through the front door.

If there’s anything about these trips I might consider a perk, it’s that we frequently see something that is remarkable. On the first day of this last trip, after we’d been on the road an hour and a half or so, we passed by a farmer’s field which was apparently playing host to a meet-up of parasailers. The sky over our car was filled with dozens and dozens of wedges of multicolored nylon turning lazy circles over our heads, and more were taking off. It was magical.

on the road again | 6:51 am CST
Category: business travel, sleeplessness, travel, weather, work
Comments Off on on the road again

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The best part of the JoCo Cruise, in my very subjective opinion, will always be the great talent they somehow manage to gather together in one spot for a whole week. For example, the delightful Molly Lewis has been on every JoCo Cruise we’ve been on (and every JoCo Cruise that’s ever been, I think), and to date she has never failed to make us feel as though we made the right decision to spend our vacation time and a shit-ton of money on this cruise.

In the clip above, she teams up with the amazing Jim Boggia, who lost his voice for almost the entirety of this cruise for reasons that medical science wasn’t able to explain, so he had to express himself largely through whatever musical instrument was in his hands — in this case, a ukulele (if the JoCo Cruise had an designated official musical instrument, I’m pretty sure it would be the ukulele). Boggia is perhaps best known on the cruise for insisting that other musicians tune their instruments before each song, sometimes calling out sharp or flat from his chair in the audience; such is the curse of having perfect pitch.

I love this clip because it brings together two of my favorite musicians doing my favorite thing: having a good time. Not only do they have a good time, their good time gets the audience to have a good time, too. I love how, after the tune-up, Molly baits Boggia into playing a riff from Powerhouse, then Boggia turns it back on Molly by sucking her into playing Dueling Banjos. “This is my set! What are you doing?” Molly deadpans while Boggia is still bouncing around the stage. At this point, they haven’t even begun to play the song Molly called Boggia on stage to play.

Here’s Molly when she was first asked to join Jonathan Coulton (known among fans as JoCo, hence the name of the cruise) and Grammy award-winning artist Amee Mann on stage. They’re performing one of Molly’s original songs, Pantsuit Sasquatch, “based on a true story” as Molly says. I love how jazzed Molly is about Mann and Coulton singing her song; you can easily tell this is one of the best days of her life.

And in the clip above, Molly asks the multi-talented Jean Grey to sing another of Molly’s original songs, “All My Teeth,” much to the delight of everyone in the audience.

All these videos are the work of the doggedly determined Angela Brett, who is more or less the official videographer of the JoCo Cruise.

molly lewis | 3:08 pm CST
Category: entertainment, music, vacation | Tags: ,
Comments Off on molly lewis

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

First bike ride of the season yesterday — cycled the long route around Lake Monona and Monona Bay. Also a first: I was wearing nothing but my cycling shorts and a t-shirt (and a helmet, of course). I’ve always been way too self-conscious to wear those skin-tight shorts in public; too much like being naked. Always had to put a pair of regular baggy shorts on over them, but it was so nice yesterday that I said fuck it and went out naked.

First paddle around Squaw Bay on Saturday in the afternoon. The weather wasn’t warm enough in the morning to go out; I took a walk in the morning and had to bundle up in a winter coat, but by noon it was in the high fifties, and out on the water in the sunshine I was comfortable enough to bare my arms. Doing lots of naked stuff last weekend.

Firsts | 5:45 am CST
Category: bicycling, hobby, play
Comments Off on Firsts

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” played like a boss!

This is why it sounds familiar:

Powerhouse | 6:35 am CST
Category: entertainment, music | Tags:
Comments Off on Powerhouse

Friday, April 12th, 2019

We ran into another WFF movie-goer while waiting to get into “Pause,” a movie which My Darling B described as “a menopausal woman fantasizes about killing her asshole husband.” Without hesitating a moment, our fellow movie-goer nodded and said, “Been there, been there.”

been there | 6:48 pm CST
Category: entertainment, movies | Tags:
Comments Off on been there

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

There are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll acquire a guest room. “If you prefer a shower or a tub, I can put you upstairs in the second guest room.” I hear these words coming from my puppet-lined mouth and shiver with middle-aged satisfaction. Yes, my hair is gray and thinning. Yes, the washer on my penis has worn out, leaving me to dribble urine long after I’ve zipped my trousers back up. But I have two guest rooms.

David Sedaris, Calypso

middle age | 9:25 am CST
Category: books, entertainment | Tags:
Comments Off on middle age

It was a very good day for documentaries! Not so much for the one drama we saw.

“Hotel By The River” – A Korean poet meets his sons at a hotel. A young woman meets her sister or mother or friend (it’s not that clear and I was nodding off, to be honest) at the same hotel. The hotel is really heaven or death and the women are angels, maybe? Meh, I didn’t care much. Two out of five.

“Midnight Traveler” – A film maker flees his native Afghanistan with his family when he finds out ISIS has issued a death warrant for him. Using cell phones, he documents his family’s hardships on their long trek through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia. When the film ended, they were living in a relocation camp made of shipping containers, which they were not allowed to leave. Five out of five.

“Who Will Write Our History?” – Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto decide to preserve a narrative of their confinement and eventual extermination by the Nazis, writing diaries of their daily lives as well as collecting photographs, handbills and other paraphernalia, then burying it in steel boxes and milk cans. Five out of five.

“Screwball” – a documentary about the baseball doping scandal so outrageous, it could only be filmed as a comedy. Five out of five.

WFF2019 – day 7 | 8:07 am CST
Category: entertainment, movies | Tags:
Comments Off on WFF2019 – day 7

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

“Pause” is a look at the inner life of a woman repressed by her asshole husband, who is so emotionally abusive toward her that the minute he opened his mouth I thought, “If she doesn’t murder this rat bastard before the end of the film, I’m going to be very disappointed.” She didn’t, but I was still satisfied. Four out of five.

“Maya” A war correspondent returns to his family home in India, reunites with his mother and godfather, hooks up with his godfather’s barely-legal daughter, then goes back to work. Three out of five.

“Mr. Jimmy” A man obsessed by what he called “the magic of Jimmy Page’s music” devotes his life to reproducing every detail of Page’s performances down to the duration of each note played and the stitches in every scrap of clothing worn.

WFF2019 – day 6 | 8:16 am CST
Category: entertainment, movies | Tags:
Comments Off on WFF2019 – day 6

“Making Montgomery Clift” was a fascinating deep dive into how the public image of Clift as a man tortured by his homosexuality was fashioned over the years by misleading biographies and television programs. Five out of five.

“Suddenly, Last Summer” – Katherine Hepburn was deliciously evil, playing the role of the batshit coo-coo matriarch. Montgomery Clift was nicely understated and pensive as the brilliant neurosurgeon who dabbles in psychology in his off hours. Elizabeth Taylor was … overwrought. The film was chock full o’ homophobia and racism. I get it that homophobia was a plot point, but the racism was gratuitous. Three out of five.

“Light From Light” – a ghost story, not my favorite kind of movie, but a pleasantly heartwarming ghost story, which was unexpected. Four out of five.

And now, as is my wont, I’m going off on a few tangents:

One of the main characters in “Light From Light” is a ghost hunter who’s asked to find out if a man’s dead wife is haunting the old farm house the widowed husband still lives in. The ghost hunter attempts to find out by wandering through the halls of the dark house at night, sweeping a flashlight back and forth chanting, “If anyone is here, let yourself be known.”

Assuming for the moment that ghosts are real: Why do “paranormal investigators” leave all the lights off when they wander through old houses looking for ghosts? And I’m not looking for the movie answer (“Because it builds tension and looks spooky”) but the real answer. Why would it be easier to discover ghosts at night in the dark, than during the day with the windows open? The ghost in this film made itself known by moving things around, as many ghosts do. You’d think the investigator would want to keep the lights on for that.

If ghosts are spiritual beings unencumbered by a physical body, how do they hear people talking, and how do they move things? This is the most problematic unanswered question I have about ghosts. To hear noise and to move stuff, you have to be able to physically touch solid matter. And if a non-corporeal spirit can move stuff solely by using the power of their spirit, why do they use an awesome ability like that on ambiguous demonstrations like moving car keys or slamming doors? Why don’t they fix a delicious breakfast of bacon & eggs with a side of toast and a glass of orange juice and leave it waiting on the kitchen table with a little handwritten note that says, “Good morning! Thinking of you! (smiley face)” How would that fail to convince the most hardened skeptic, to say nothing of how nice a gift it would be?

The widowed husband makes the remark to the ghost hunter, “I think it would be wonderful if ghosts were real.” Would it really? I have a hard time believing that, because after all these thousands of years of human existence, I’m pretty sure ghosts would outnumber the living. I don’t know exactly how many billions of them there would be, but it seems likely we’d be shoulder-to-shoulder with them by now. You wouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat without hitting a ghost. Far from being wonderful, I’d think that would get old real fast, for the ghosts as well as for the living.

WFF2019 – day 5 | 7:55 am CST
Category: entertainment, movies | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on WFF2019 – day 5

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

It’s been a long, cold winter full of ice and snow
Now the spring has come and it’s time to go
Back to the movies, turn the lights down low
Turn your cell phones off and we’ll start the show

Go to Union South, grab a slice and a beer
You can walk to your seat with a volunteer
From the Capitol Theater to the library mall
Chazen, Elvehjem, Sundance, and Vilas Hall

Turn the lights down low, turn the lights down low

Turn the lights down low
Wisconsin
Turn the lights down low
Film festival
Turn the lights down low
Get out there!

Time for a film festival!

As we have done in years past, My Darling B and I took a week off from work so we could go to as many of the films at the 2019 Wisconsin Film Fest as we possibly could. Here’s a roundup of what we’ve seen so far:

Thursday
“Woman at War” – five out of five! This is one of those foreign movies that might misleadingly be called “quirky” and while it’s got a few quirks, those are features, not bugs. The story centers on Halla, who meets her cousin while she’s out hiking the countryside of Iceland and incidentally sabotaging the electrical grid.

Friday
“Good Morning” – four out of five. A look at a Japanese neighborhood in the 1960s.
“Lonelyhearts” – four out of five. A well-crafted film that centers on the writer of a newspaper advice column, played by Montgomery Clift, who can out-Shatner any actor alive, even Bill.
“Betty White: First Lady of Television” – five out of five.
“The Trouble With You” – four out of five. A police officer’s widow tries to put things right after she finds out her husband was a crooked cop. We’ve seen a lot of French cop movies at the fest, and they’ve all been goofy sendups of the genre. I don’t know if that’s how the French like them, or if the programmers at the fest only pick the wild and crazy ones.
“Vultures” – four out of five. An especially dark movie about drug trafficking. No happy ending for anybody. Still a well-crafted movie.

Saturday
“Cold Case Hammarskjold” – two out of five. Mads Brugger put a pretty zany spin on his documentary about North Korea (no, really!), and I thought he was doing the same thing here until he gave the last twenty minutes of camera time to some rando who babbled on and on about a hush-hush paramilitary organization, turning the film into a YouTube conspiracy channel. So disappointing.
“Knock Down the House” – five out of five. A documentary that follows the grassroots campaigns of working-class people trying to unseat entrenched career politicians.
“The Swimmer” – two out of five. A surreal fever dream about a rich white guy who thinks he can charm the pants off anybody but what he calls charm is mostly just cringeworthy. The dialogue is crazy and disconnected, the musical score is florid and overblown, and the acting is so over the top I couldn’t sit still.
“Bathtubs Over Broadway” – five out of five. Steve Young discovers the phenomenon of “industrial musicals” and finds his tribe at the same time. Manages to be hilarious and heartwarming at the same time.

Sunday
“Hail Satan?” – three out of five. How The Satanic Temple grew into one of the biggest trolls of state and federal government.
“Meeting Gorbachev” – two out of five. The most disappointing documentary of the festival so far. Werner Herzog sat down to chat with Mikhail Gorbachev, but we didn’t get to see much of that. Gorby was on screen for maybe twenty minutes. The rest of the film was Herzog reading the Wikipedia article out loud, as My Darling B so succinctly put it.
“Little Woods” – three out of five. Two young women in a North Dakota boomtown struggle to make ends meet.
“Styx” – five out of five. A doctor learns how cheap human life is to people who are not doctors.

long cold winter | 7:38 am CST
Category: festivals, Wisc Film Fest | Tags:
Comments Off on long cold winter

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Crusing with the Sea Monkeys on the OosterdamMy Darling B and I spent a week in the Carribean aboard the MV Oosterdam with the Sea Monkeys on a JoCo Cruise! Here’s what that means:

The Carribean: Specifically, we spent a day in Tortola, an island of the British Virgin Islands, and a day in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tortola was no great shakes, I have to say. We went ashore for maybe an hour or two, wandered around in the town just outside the cruise port, but didn’t sign up for any “excursions,” which are activities arranged by the cruise line like hiking, riding horses, scuba diving, that sort of thing. Since we didn’t go on any excursions and there wasn’t anything to see in town, we went back to the ship after about an hour and lounged by the pool in the sun with fruity drinks the rest of the day.

San Juan was pretty great. Very touristy, but not so touristy that it was insufferable. We stuck to wandering around in old San Juan, which was all Hispanic-style buildings along cobblestone streets connecting green plazas with fountains and markets. After wandering around for a couple hours in the hot sun, B wanted to sit in the shade with a cold drink and maybe get a bite to eat, so we ducked into a restaurant and passed a very pleasant half-hour refreshing ourselves.

We wandered around old San Juan just a bit more after that, but it was really hot and we wanted to clean up before the concert that night (I’ll explain in a minute), so we headed back to the ship about mid-afternoon. It wasn’t until we got back to the ship that I realized I left my backpack in the restaurant and had to run back up the hill through the streets of San Juan to see if I could find it. Luckily the staff at the restaurant found it before anyone else did and set it aside. As soon as I walked in the door, they spotted me and told me to claim my pack at the bar.

This is a themed cruise (that’s the “Sea Monkeys” part; I’ll get to that later) which featured lots of very talented musicians who played in an evening concert in a park on the waterfront not far from the ship. After cleaning up, we wandered over there to check it out. The first hour or so of the concert was just great, and really the rest of the concert was probably great, too, but after about an hour the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, and then the drizzle became rain, and pretty soon the rain turned into a full-blown downpour. Before we got soaked through we squeezed in with the crowd under the cover of the shelter where they were selling beer, then walked back to the boat to change into dry clothes during a break.

It wasn’t raining when we walked back, but that didn’t last long. I ran back to the shelter and B stuck it out in the rain a while longer (she had a raincoat), but it wasn’t long before she joined me. We stayed long enough to realize the rain wasn’t going to let up, gave up and trudged back to the boat through a steady, soaking downpour.

And that was all we saw of the Carribean! Well, of the islands in the Carribean, anyway. We saw quite a lot of the Carribean sea. Didn’t see any dolphins chasing the boat this time, though.

The MV Oosterdam is a ship run by the Holland America cruise line. It seems like a pretty big ship to me, even when it’s tied up alongside other cruise ships, which are usually at least twice as big as the Oosterdam. In Tortola, we were tied up alongside one of the Disney cruise liners, and that thing was insanely huge. The Oosterdam doesn’t have all the water slides and rock climbing walls and roller coasters that the bigger cruise ships have. There are a couple of pools on the weather deck, one on the fantail and one amidships; the one in the middle has a cover they can open during sunny weather. Other than that, most of the other entertainment is belowdecks in lounges with stages, or conference rooms, or in the main stage at the front of the ship. And there are something like forty-two dozen bars serving liquor, wine and beer. This was our second time sailing on the Oosterdam and I don’t believe we’ve seen all the bars, but not for want of trying.

[explanation of “Sea Monkeys” and “JoCo Cruise” to follow]

cruising | 6:22 am CST
Category: play, travel, vacation | Tags:
Comments Off on cruising

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Can we talk about “Sister Golden Hair” for just a couple of minutes? And by “talk about,” I mean “I’m going to ponder it in written form,” not, “we’re going to have a conversation about it,” because although this is a blog on a website on the internet, I’m under no delusions that anybody ever reads it or would comment on it. But I have thoughts, and this is how I organize them sometimes. Okay, this is getting way too meta. Let’s start over:

“Sister Golden Hair” is an old favorite from way back, maybe even from the time it was released in 1975 when I was getting into pop music so hard. It seemed like such a romantic song to my adolescent ears and for many years after, but parsing the words now it’s hard to see much romance in it at all:

Well, I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damned depressed
That I set my sights on Monday, and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar, but I do agree there’s times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine

Here’s a song about a person who had a date to meet someone, possibly a special someone, possibly even a wedding date, that the person broke off at the last minute, maybe without notifying the person they were meeting on the aforementioned date, on the excuse that they felt depressed, likely about the date itself because they use the excuse they “ain’t ready for the altar.”

First things first: I don’t think this is a song about depression. I think the first line ends “I got so damned depressed” because it scans better than “I felt so sorta down” or “the prospect made me bummed.” I think this one particular meet-up brought him down for some reason (*cough* commitment issues *cough*) and he’s begging off on the excuse that he had the sads that day. I don’t think it was clinical.

Next thing: I parsed the first verse in a gender neutral way even though I’m pretty sure it’s a guy talking about a date with a gal, because a guy wrote it and a guy sang it and he says “a woman sure can be a friend of mine,” as if that’s a far-out concept. Whether or not he jilted her at the altar is up for interpretation – I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, say he used the phrase “ready for the altar” to contrast more starkly with the “friend of mine” line, and “only” stood her up, leaving her waiting at the coffee shop or wine bar or wherever she whiled away an hour or so waiting for him.

The next verse seems to be an attempt to smooth over standing her up by a) flattering her, and b) dumping on her a little bit:

Well, I keep on thinking ’bout you, sister golden hair, surprise
And I just can’t live without you, can’t you see it in my eyes
I’ve been one poor correspondent, I’ve been too, too hard to find
But that doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind

“Hey, baby, even though I’m avoiding you and I don’t write to you, I’m always thinking about you and I can’t live without you.” Also, she should know this just by looking into his eyes, like telepathy is a real thing; it’s on her if she can’t see that.

This is a soft-rock version of the irrepressible pop-music genre “guys can’t be tied down by a one-woman relationship because they’re guys and guys are just like that, okay?” Or at least that’s how it sounds to me. Before I wrote this post I looked up other interpretations of the lyrics, which I ordinarily try not to do to avoid contaminating my thoughts, but this time around I wasn’t thinking of writing anything about “Sister Golden Hair” until I read those other interpretations because none of them came close to what I was thinking myself. “Sister Golden Hair” means she’s a nun? She’s a Christian and she’s saving herself for marriage? And he specifically mentioned golden hair because (actual comment) “the carpet matched the drapes?”

I guess everybody’s entitled to their own interpretations, even when they come from left field. I mean, mine are probably deep into left field, too, as anybody’s would very likely be when they try to find meaning in a 1970s pop music lyric. Ultimately, I’m sure the most likely explanation for any pop-music lyric is that it doesn’t mean all that much, other than the song writer was trying to paint a feeling that was, according to many song writers, very likely influenced by drugs or alcohol or both.

Sister Golden Hair | 12:20 pm CST
Category: entertainment, music | Tags:
Comments Off on Sister Golden Hair

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” and I have to give it A+++ on the chilling dystopia story about a United States falling in to anarchy and chaos, not too hard to imagine right now, honestly.

Written as the journal of Lauren, a young woman living in a walled neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles, I was swept up in the story of society falling apart and the urgency with which Lauren had to find a solution to her situation. Lauren turned out to be a very practical, very capable young woman who not only saved herself, but helped many others save themselves, and that made “Parable of the Sower” an excellent story, in my mind.

Quite a lot of the story was devoted to Lauren’s musings about god, and I have to give that part of the story maybe a D. Disclaimer: I’ve rarely read anything about god that made any sense to me, so I’m going to own this. Maybe it’s just me. Although I have read books about god that made some kind of sense within the context of the text. When Lauren talked about god, though, she seemed to be talking in circles.

Still looking forward to “Parable of the Talents,” though!

Parable of the Sower | 9:12 am CST
Category: books, entertainment
Comments Off on Parable of the Sower

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Fare thee well, Opportunity, and we thank you.

#thanksoppy | 6:12 am CST
Category: current events, space geekery
Comments Off on #thanksoppy