Welcome to our web site. For more information about Stephie's art, please also check out artbystephie.com. For Matt's writing projects, please go to storiesbymatt.net. Enjoy your visit here!
10/02/17: I've written in the past about problems I've had with news aggregators on the Internet. Whether it's truncated headlines or stale links, it seems that the material presented could benefit from some better programming, or at least someone looking at the results. I spotted another one yesterday, right in the middle of coverage of the horrifying attack on concertgoers in Las Vegas. Can someone please explain to me what the algorithm was that thought that "ashley simpson naked pictures" was somehow related to a maniac with military-style weapons shooting up the Las Vegas strip?
09/14/17: News item I saw today said that Grant Hart, drummer and co-songwriter for punk rock band Hüsker Dü, had passed away. It seems that we're losing musicians at a faster clip lately, which kind of makes sense I guess, seeing as how none of us is getting any younger, and the rigors of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle will eventually take their toll.
I was never a big fan of Hüsker Dü, but years ago, on the strength of a glowing review (possibly in Trouser Press) I bought a cassette of their then-current release Warehouse: Songs and Stories. This was back when I would buy pre-recorded cassettes of things that I figured I would listen to primarily in the car. I think I listened to it once through and put it away. There were a few songs on there that I thought were not bad, but overall I was disappointed, especially after the high praise heaped on the album in that review.
Not long after, Hüsker Dü broke up, and the other songwriter in the band, Bob Mould, released a few albums that I found to be more accessible than the Hüsker Dü one I bought. I don't know if I heard anything more from Hart, although I now see that he's had a number of releases in the years since the band broke up. In that time, however, I occasionally saw references to the Warehouse album, almost unanimously in positive terms. Sometimes when I would run across a mention of it, I would pull the tape out and give it another listen. I don't think I ever listened to it more than once through before again putting it away, many times not even listening to all the tracks.
But then a funny thing happened. A year or two ago, I put Warehouse on my phone to listen to (having converted the cassette to MP3 many years ago) and discovered that I recognized almost all of the 20 tracks, to the point where I was singing along with many of them. And I looked up the album on the web and found that a few of the songs I liked best ("Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope" and "She Floated Away") were actually Grant Hart compositions. I don't know that my musical tastes have changed all that much, or if just by giving it a listen ever few years, the album has grown on me, but I think I finally see what prompted all those positive reviews. And that makes Grant Hart's passing a little sadder to me.
08/26/17: Stephie and I went to an art fair that we'd never been to before. The Bucktown Arts Fest was held, predictably from the name, in and around a park in Bucktown, an area on the north side of Chicago. The fest was centered in Holstein Park but actually spread out down several streets in the neighborhood. It was surprisingly not that hard to find parking and there were lots of interesting art booths to see. There was also a row of food trucks and a few stages of music. It was a really nice show, and Stephie said that she might try to get a spot there, as it seemed to be more fine art and less crafts than many of our local shows.
The thing that impressed me the most, though, was the band playing on one of the stages. The tent was way at the end of one of the streets, well past the last art booth in that direction. The sign pointing there said "New Roots Jazz Stage," and not knowing what that meant, we thought we'd walk down to check it out.
When we reached the stage, there was a quartet on stage, and six people in the audience, but the music was fantastic! It was kind of vintage jazz and blues, the type of stuff that novelty acts like Leon Redbone used to play, or more recently the Squirrel Nut Zippers. There was a woman playing guitar and singing, a guy playing a washboard, another guy playing a trumpet, and a guy at the back playing what I learned was a sousaphone. The band was Myra and the Moonshiners and after their set, we bought a CD. It was only after we got home and I looked them up on the Internet that I discovered that they're from Minnesota, so the odds of seeing them again are not high. Still, at least we have the CD!
08/21/17: The last near-total solar eclipse visible in the Chicago area was in May of 1994. I remember I was working in Downers Grove at the time, and we went outside to witness the spectacle. None of us had any special glasses or anything, although some had the pinholes-in-cardboard devices, which was supposed to be the safest way of seeing what was going on in the sky. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, and I recall that pinhole gizmo not working really well, but you knew something was going on even without looking up because the daylight noticeably decreased.
It was weird because it was not dark like a bunch of clouds rolled in to obscure the sun. You could tell the sun was still shining, but the light was dim. The main thing I remember was when someone noticed the shadows on the ground. Where the sun was shining through the trees, there were hundreds of little crescents on the ground, each showing a tiny eclipse. Of course, this was before everyone had cameras in their phones (or even before everyone had phones in their pockets) so I don't have any pictures of that effect.
The '94 eclipse was 94% coverage. The eclipse today was supposed to be 87% complete, not as much as last time, and since I'm working at the Chicago Botanic Garden, there are plenty of trees around to fiter the light so there still should be plenty of examples that I can get a picture similar to what I saw 23 years ago. Near the time of totality, we emerged from our basement lair and walked the Garden. The place was packed, and most people had these cardboard glasses that the Garden was giving out in conjunction with the Adler Planetarium. It looked like we were in a drive-in with hundreds of people watching a 3-D movie!.
Alas, the weather did not cooperate this year, as just before totality, clouds rolled in and obscured our view of the sun. Just before the clouds got really thick, you could easily see the crescent shape of the sun without any protective eye-wear. Shortly afterward, the clouds took over and it became just another cloudy day. I don't know how long people stayed, hoping to get another glimpse of the last, best eclipse of our lifetime, but I was disappointed I didn't get a picture of the tiny eclipses on the ground.
08/16/17: I was at work today when I got a recorded-message call from "Credit Card Services", offering to reduce my debt. As directed by the friendly message, I pressed '9' to speak with a representative. A woman came on the line and asked me, "Are you responding to the offer of a free consultation?" I replied, "No, I'm responding to the unsolicited phone call I just got," but before I could say anything more, she hung up on me. How rude! It's almost as if she thought I was wasting her time.
07/19/17: A few months ago while I was at work, I had a brilliant idea. If you've ever microwaved a frozen dinner, you've probably overcooked some and undercooked some before finding the exact time that you need to get it just right. On most modern microwave ovens, there are a lot of factors that affect the success of your meal preparation. The cook time, the cook temperature, the wattage of the device, and if the plate inside rotates or not. The packages have now evolved so that most of them now have a range ("Cook 3 to 4 minutes") and specifically states that the directions were developed with a XXXX-watt microwave oven and that because "Appliances vary," we may need to "adjust cooking times as needed." But say you're new to the office and don't have experience with that particular device (or you're too lazy to care.) How can you ensure your frozen lunch will be cooked properly?
Here's my idea: what if there was a barcode on the package that the microwave oven can scan, or maybe you can scan it with your smartphone and link up to the microwave, that would identify the correct cooking instructions as developed by the vendor? Those cooking instructions could be interpreted by some logic in the oven that because it knows what the wattage of the oven is, and whether the platen is rotating or not, it will automatically adjust the cook time for that particular oven. Say you have a package that says to cook 3 minutes in a 1000-watt oven, but when you scan the barcode, the oven knows that it's actually 1500 watts, so it sets the time for two-and-a-half minutes. Or you have a 900-watt microwave that doesn't have a built-in turntable, so it sets the time for three-and-a-half minutes, and stops halfway through to prompt you to rotate the package 90 degrees before continuing.
When I mentioned this to the guys at work, there was some initial snickering, but then we talked about barriers to implementing something like this. The technical aspects shouldn't be an issue. While microwave oven manufacturers might not be keen to build barcode scanners into their ovens, they certainly couldn't object to developing the logic to calculate cooking parameters, and it must not be too expensive to include a bluetooth module because everything these days seems to want to talk to your phone, so they can rely on your paired smartphone for the actual scanning. I know that QR codes can hold a ton of data, so getting the details into the barcode is not a problem. The guys pointed out to me that the main flaw would be in developing some kind of universal set of instructions that all the food vendors and oven manufacturers could agree on. We thought that the food people agreeing on something would be the biggest roadblock.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked at my frozen lunch today and saw this little detail on the bottom of the package. It seems that a group of retailers and manufacturers have developed a site they call "Smartlabel" to share information beyond what is printed on the label, including "things such as nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories & safe handling instructions, company/brand information, along with other pertinent information about the product."
Sounds to me like now we just need to get the microwave oven manufacturers on board to make my idea a reality, after which we never will have to suffer through an incorrectly-cooked frozen dinner again! As a friend of mine is fond of saying, we truly are living in amazing times.
06/19/17: For anyone who's noticed, my two sites, stephanieandmatt.com and storiesbymatt.net, were temporarily off-line this past weekend because my idiot hosting company cancelled my domain just after I paid the annual renewal, and they don't have any support on the weekends so I had no one to yell at when I noticed. Fortunately, artbystephie.com is hosted elsewhere.
I've been with them since the site went live in 2003 and have not had many problems, but the problems I did have were stupid mistakes on their part, like the time they cancelled my hosting after the boneheads realized they forgot to bill me for two years, or the time they moved my domain to another server without notice and lost the entire contents of the database, which held 10+ years of posts. (It didn't help that my off-line backup was several months out of date.) It was worse this time because I was afraid of losing the domain that I've had for the last 14 years! I know I've been slow to write things here lately, but I think there's some good stuff here that I posted over the years, and a lot of people know this address. And when I decided to set up a page for my writing projects, I was able to do that inexpensively by buying another domain and pointing that to a page at my main site.
I think it's time to find a new hosting provider. I've already moved storiesbymatt.net to a free Wordpress account, which I'm not thrilled with only because I can't seem to find a template that I like, and because I will have less control over my content than I should have. (For instance, Wordpress could conceivably one day say, "We're now charging for this, and you can't get your content back until you pay. Not likely, but possible.) Plus, I don't like how the URL works when I'm on the site. I want it to show "storiesbymatt.net" instead of "storiesbymattsite.wordpress.com", but the way it's forwarded means that any sub-pages only show "storiesbymatt.net" in the URL window of your browser, and it also stays the same if I link to an external site. The only way I know of to fix that is to pay for hosting somewhere. I'm planning to do a little research with an eye to changing providers before my next bill is due.
06/12/17: Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I again packed a bunch of my books and flyers in a plastic tote and drove downtown to the to sit under the Illinois Woman's Press Association at this years Printer's Row Lit Fest. I had lots of fun last year (and a modicum of success selling books) so I was eager to go back.
There were several people under the tent that I recognized, including the woman next to me, so I set up my wares and waited for the buyers to stop by and be charmed into parting with their hard-earned cash in exchange for an autographed book from moi, but alas, it was not to be.
The first problem we had was the weather. It was a warm, sunny day, but it was windy. Very windy. Books flying across the street windy. I had secured my offerings fairly well, to where I didn't have to dive on top of the table when a fresh gust came through, but not everyone was as confident, and the people on my side of the tent spent a lot of time picking their stuff up off the ground. I think the wind might have kept a lot of people away.
Another problem was that I was flanked on either side by writers who's plan was to attack passers-by with flyers and bookmarks and cards, shoving them into people's hands without asking if they were even interested. I personally don't like when someone does that to me, and while some people may look at that material later, I am disinclined to do so. My approach, wrong or right, is to ask people passing by if they would be interested in hearing about my work, or if I may give them a flyer. I feel that initiating a conversation allows the potential customer to politely decline if they so desire, without me burdening them with unwanted paper that may wind up in a recycle bin (if we're lucky.) With these attack writers on either side of me, many people veered away from the tables, changing their trajectory so that they were too far away for me to reach out to.
Another problem was my own doing. As I wrote after last year's show, I hope that my enthusiasm will make potential readers curious about my work, to where they might take a chance in buying a book from an author they've never heard of. This year, I was also promoting my mailing list, and I'm giving away a chapter a month of my latest story called "Barnstormers". I did obtain a few new people for my e-mail list (and you can join at this link), I believe I cut into my sales by giving potential buyers a way of showing their support without buying anything. I may need to re-think this strategy.
Ultimately, though, I think we were victims of the economy. I heard several other authors say that in all the years they've been doing this show, this was the worst year in terms of sales. I heard talk of the current political climate, the large numbers of vacant shops in innumerable strip malls, and how people are keeping their discretionary spending to a minimum.
I guess all of that's true, but I had hoped to sell more than I did, which was only a fraction of last year. I did have fun, though, and talked to a lot of nice people. Hopefully all those flyers I handed out might bring in
06/05/17: I was saddened to hear today of the passing of Peter Sallis, a popular British TV actor, at age 96. I first knew of Mr. Sallis the way most of the US had learned of him, as the voice of Wallace in the fantastic Wallace and Gromit series of films. But I soon grew to know him for the part that he'd played for 37 years, the lovable Norman Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine. That's him on the left.
I can't remember exactly when I stumbled on Summer Wine, but I'm pretty sure it was on Channel 20, the "other" PBS station here in the Chicago area. While over the years Channel 11 has always shown the big name programs from England, like Masterpiece Theater, Monty Python, Are You Being Served?, and the first 20 years of Doctor Who, Channel 20 showed those and more. It was on that channel years ago that I was able to see the entire series of Blakes 7, a science fiction series held in high esteem in the sci-fi community. It's also where we discovered Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Doctor Blake Mysteries, Rosemary and Thyme, and many others.
But Summer Wine is different. Set in a small village in the English countryside, the show follows (as Wikipedia put it) "a trio of old men and their youthful misadventures." It's very low-key as compared to other British comedies, and might be a bit confusing until you figure out who all the characters are and the relationships between them, but I really fell in love with it. Even moreso because I get to see the voice of Wallace coming out of the face of its owner! And the description is right about their misadventures being "youthful." I keep imagining the episodes as acted by the Our Gang cast, and I think it would work.
I watched many episodes before showing one to Stephie. TV shows that I record on our MythTV setup do not contain subtitles, and some of the accents are difficult for even a confirmed Anglophile such as myself, but after a few episodes, she was hooked, too.
Unfortunately, Channel 20 hasn't broadcast any Summer Wine since they played two Christmas episodes back in 2015, and I only have 9 left on my DVR. I was hoping to see a marathon in memory of Peter Sallis, the only actor to be on all 295 episodes, but I've not seen anything like that listed. My DVR is still set to record any broadcast of Last of the Summer Wine, and I hope one of the bazillion channels we have on cable would find time to show episodes of this sweet and very funny series. If not, maybe Amazon or Netflix might pick it up. Wikipedia says that the entire run is available on DVD, but alas, only on region 2 discs. I guess if all else fails, we always have YouTube. Thanks for all the years of laughter, Mr. Sallis.
06/01/17: Today I released my eighth book for the Kindle. After I published my first Sleep Detectives book, I wanted to do something a little different instead of going right into book two. I thought that it might be interesting to follow one of the side characters from that story, so I had Danny transfer to another store and have an adventure on his own. Out of that came a novelette, The Lost Night, which introduced a number of people at Danny's new store. I was fortunate to have my nephew, Ricky B, available to do the cover, as he did with the Sleep Detectives.
Then I had an idea for another Danny story, so I thought maybe I'd do a trilogy, since trilogies seem to be all the rage in Hollywood and elsewhere. That second story became The Lost Girl, and it was well received, and I figured I was on a roll.
I sort-of had an idea where the third story would go, but when I sat down to plot it out, I chickened out. I was going to have one of my characters sustain life-threatening injuries, but the more I thought about it, I realized that I didn't really have a good reason for doing that. Plus, I was growing fond of everyone at the new store and didn't want to cause any of them harm. So rather than write the planned third part of the trilogy, the story for The Lost Ticket popped into my head.
The Lost Ticket is set all in one night, as Danny and Izzy attempt to retrieve a winning lottery ticket which was stolen from an elderly couple. The story occurs all in one night, and I think it's one of my better efforts. It's available now for your Kindle from Amazon.
And the trilogy? I think it's become a tetralogy (as of now) and I have a good idea for the fourth book, and I think it'll be a surprise to everyone, especially in light of what I wrote above about growing fond of my characters. I'll probably work on that in the fall, before the next Sleep Detectives novel.
05/31/17: Every so often, a news article will pop up about the blooming of a "corpse flower" in a conservatory or greenhouse nearby. I'd always been intrigued by the Amorphophallus titanum, a plant native to western Sumatra, which blooms once every seven to 10 years, and only blooms for a 24 to 48 hour stretch, giving off a scent that's been described like that of a rotting carcass to attract the flies and carrion beetles in hopes that they would pollinate it. There have been several blooming in recent years, but the short notice and short bloom time usually means that the only way to view the flower is via the Internet.
As luck would have it, I'm now working at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and earlier this week they announced that two of their titan arums, named Java and Sumatra, was about to flower! I was able to run over there at lunch time today and stood in line to see (and smell) this rare event!
The line was not that long, and I was soon walking by the two flowers as people milled back and forth and kids ran by. Both were huge, well over seven feet tall, and while Sumatra was not yet open, Java was in full bloom. The picture here does not do it justice. I'm fan of anything larger-than-life, and these two were impressive.
The only disappointment was the actual smell. One of the volunteers said that it was not as pungent as expected because the greenhouse was not as warm as the plant would have liked it, but the odor was strong. I think I was disappointed because when I worked in the Produce department, I experienced, at various times, a pile of liquefying potatoes and a bin of rotting watermelons, and both of those smelled worse than the corpse flower.
05/21/17: I really need to delete the Bat Out Of Hell album from my phone. I recently loaded it because I hadn't heard it in a while, and I read an article in Classic Rock about how its essentially the soundtrack to a musical that Jim Steinman wrote years before, and is now being staged as a musical in London. I've listened to it couple of times in the car (typically singing along at the top of my voice) but now I can't get the songs out of my head. And it's not like a typical earworm, with one song that won't go away. It's almost all the songs, over and over. At work, at home, in the shower, in the car, it's driving me nuts! It has to go.
I did, however, replace it on my phone with Bad for Good, the album Steinman recorded when Meat Loaf lost his voice after the Bat Out Of Hell tour. Let's see how that goes.
04/23/17: Another Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention has come and gone, and as usual, my wallet is a little lighter and my bookshelf a little heavier. The cool thing is two of the prizes of this year's haul I didn't even pay for! One was the fat Fredric Brown book you see in the middle of the picture. The reason I didn't pay for is at the show was that I paid for it over a year ago! It was published by this tiny press in Michigan that specializes in high-end volumes, and the first printing didn't meet the publisher's standards, so the entire run was destroyed! It took him a while to find another printer, but the results look to be worth the wait. I'm itching to start reading!
The other treasure has an even better story. At last years show, I was browsing a table of paperbacks and saw one titled Johnny Havoc, written by John Jakes, who is better known for historical novels. I thought the cover blurb was hilarious, and the guy behind the table agreed with me, so I bought it. I read part of it that night, then went back the next day to try to find the rest of the series. According to the 'net, there were four books in the series, but I could only find three.
So this year, I find myself at the same guy's table. He looks up at me and says, "Hey, you came back! I have something for you." He digs in a box behind the table and hands me a copy of the fourth Johnny Havoc book, Making it Big, and he wouldn't even take any money for it!
Over the course of my four days there, I chatted with (and bought books from) many of the book sellers and authors I've spoken to in past years. I saw a really good movie, Gambling Ship, with Cary Grant and Benita Hume, and I sat in on some panels. I didn't stick around for any of the auctions this year, but there was one item from Friday's auction that caught my eye. It was a copy of Top Notch Magazine from 1913, over one hundred years ago, and the cover intrigued me. It was up for auction near the end of the night, and I didn't want to stay, but as the weekend wore on, I grew to regret that decision. I decided on Sunday to see if I could find that issue in the dealer room. I checked every dealer selling original pulps, and found the copy at the very last table next to the door. And at what I thought was a reasonable price, too.
A few of the dealers said I should try to go to Pulpfest in July, which will be held for the first time in Pittsburgh. I doubt I can afford to go, but I certainly will be at Windy City next year.
04/15/17: I don't usually click on a link to a video when I'm meandering around the web. In fact, if I click a link on a news site and find that the link is to a video, I just close the browser tab without watching. I do this partly because I don't usually have my speakers on (I have a buzz in the speakers and it's not been important enough to me to figure out what causes it), partly because I have FlashBlock in my browser to prevent ads from auto-playing and many times the video won't even play right, but primarily because I don't want to sit through a bunch of nonsense to get the information I'm looking for. Many of the "news" articles I used to try to view (and most of the "informational" videos I've seen on YouTube) start with a commercial I can't skip, then has someone I don't care about introduce themselves and the site they're working for before telling me that I'm about to find out what I am about to see, before telling me what I clicked the link to know. I can usually read a news article or a tech tip in less time than the introduction, and I can link to a particularly useful text article easier than to the middle of a video.
So I was surprised when a news article pointed me to a video and I actualy watched the entire thing. The article was about an 18 year old college student who was interested in old computers, who had an opportunity to buy an IBM mainframe. That intrigued me enough to click the link, which turned out to be a video to a presentation he gave at a convention. I figured I'd watch a couple of minutes and move on, but I was strangely captivated by his story. He got a little technical, but I know enough to be able to follow what he was talking about, and in the end, I was very impressed by this young man. Watch the video yourself and see if you don't have the same reaction.
And a later article says he has since landed a job at IBM because of this. Good for him.
03/26/17: I finally did it. I set my netbook back to Windows 7. Stephie bought this little Toshiba for me back in 2011 and it was perfect for writing. It was light, the keyboard was good, and the battery lasted long enough. It wasn't fast or anything, but for what I wanted to use it for (writing on the go) it was perfect. When Windows 10 came out a few years ago, I read a number of articles saying that it was actually better on netbooks than Win7, so I took a chance and did the free upgrade. For a while, it was good, maybe a little better performance than Win7. But as time went on, it slowed to where it was unusable. On days when it needed to run an update, which, since I only used the thing once in a while, seemed like every time I wanted to use it, the system wouldn't even respond to keyboard or mouse while the update was downloading.
So today I backed everything up and told it to go back to factory install. It took the better part of the day, but it's back to Windows 7. It's slow, but at least it's usable. When I have time, I'm going to also install Linux Mint Mate on it and see how that works.
03/09/17: I hope I didn't freak out the people ahead of me on my way to work today, but they had some cool bumper stickers and I wanted to get a picture. Actually, I took five pictures, hoping one of them would come out clear. This is the best shot of the bunch. In case you can't make them out, there was a Night Vale sticker that read "Guns Don't Kill People. It's impossible to be killed by a gun. We are all invincible to bullets, and it's a miracle." There was also a D20 die, like you'd use to play Dungeons and Dragons, and a Science fish. My favorite, though, was their take on those goofy family stickers that you see on SUVs. You know, the semi-stick figures of Mom and Dad and however many kids and pets might be in the family. This car had a Mom and Dad, four cats, and two bags of cash. It made me laugh out loud.
03/08/17: There's a puzzling trend I've seen several times, most recently this morning. I saw a person on the tollway cut into another lane of traffic and stop for no apparent reason, then just sit there for a few seconds before continuing on. It was almost like they did this to make the car behind them slam on their brakes, then pause as a way ot taunting them. I assume this is a road rage thing, but I don't understand this at all. You're going to risk your car being smashed into for what? To prove a point? What kind of an idiot does that?
This happened to Stephie and I once. We were making a turn when the guy in the turn lane ahead of us suddenly slammed on his brakes and sat there briefly before moving on. I'm not sure what triggered this behavior. There was no one in front of him. We had the green light, and there was nobody making a turn from the other direction. I had just pulled into the turn lane behind this joker. It's not like I cut him off or anything. I hadn't even seen him before. Did he want me to hit him so he can sue me? Possibly ruin his car and maybe injure himself? What makes someone do this?
02/13/17: When I started the new job, they bought me a brand new laptop, a Dell Ultrabook. Up till now, I've mostly used it at my desk, in the dock, so I haven't used the built-in keyboard much. With last weeks run of meetings, I got to spend a lot of time working on the keyboard and I noticed something really annoying to me. There's no dedicated Home or End keys. In lieu of a Home key, I have to hold the Fn key down with my left hand, and press the left arrow key with my right. A week of this and I realized how much I actually use the Home key. The most common use for me is when I want to highlight the contents of a field, like to copy the URL from the browser. The easiest way I found is to click at the end of the line then hold the Shift and tap the Home key. Sometimes I'll click anywhere in the URL string, tap the End key, then do the Shift-Home combo to highlight the entire line. On a normal keyboard, I can do this without thinking, but I kept having to stop and hunt for the Fn key while holding the Shift with my left hand, then find the arrow key with my right. First-world problems, I know, but it was enough to break my workflow, and distract me from what I was doing.
I use the Home and End keys a lot when typing, too, to jump to the beginning and end of the line I'm working on. In that case, the two-handed Home key definitely breaks my flow. I'm not a touch typist (I frequently look a the keys) but I am usually pretty quick. This laptop keyboard is fairly easy to type on, but every time I want to use the Home or End keys, I have to stop thinking about what I'm typing and hunt for the correct key combination. I thought that I would get used to this, but after a 40-hour work week on this keyboard, it's still not natural.
This was on my mind this past weekend so I brought it up at my Writers Group meeting on Saturday. I asked everyone if they used the Home and End keys, and the answers were split almost evenly into two groups. Half the people said they use the Home and End keys all the time, and the other half asked what the Home and End keys were used for, since they never used them. Maybe they're working on keyboards without dedicated Home and End keys.
02/10/17: The job is still going well, but this week was very trying. Five days packed solid with one meeting after another. It was important that I attended all these meetings, but I literally got none of my other work done. It's been a long time since I've had that particular pleasure.
01/31/17: We watched the season ending episode of The Good Place today, and to use a favorite phrase of one of the main characters: Holy fork! I liked this show when it started, thought it might suffer because of the extended Christmas break, and after its return, I really started hating one of the characters who seemed to get stupider as the season went on. But this final episode had such a massive plot twist that made perfect sense, and now I can't wait for the second season. I worry, though, that the show will lose its mojo after the break as so many shows have (recent examples of shows I liked that came back from a summer break and disappointed are Mr. Robot, Two Broke Girls, Mike and Molly, and Castle). I think this show would be a good binge if you haven't seen it yet. It's short (13 half-hour episodes) but I thought the payoff was worth it. Recommended.
01/16/17: Today we watched the final episode of Sherlock, the Mark Gatiss/Steven Moffat updating of Sherlock Holmes starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. News sites on the Internet hint that there may be another season at some point in the future, but this is the final episode that I'm ever going to watch. This series has turned into a massive disappointment to me, and I blame Moffat. I used to be a fan of his writing. We liked Coupling when channel 11 ran it a few years ago. I lovedJeckyll and I thought that "Blink" was one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever. The first three-episode season of Sherlock was amazing, the second season was also excellent, but after that, something happened.
It started for me with the cliffhanger at the end of season 2. After waiting two years to find out how the writers were going to handle the aftermath of Holmes and Moriarty's apparent deaths, I thought the explanation was convoluted and unsatisfying. I felt that the writers just wanted to show us how clever they were, rather than tell a good story. The rest of the season (all three episodes) was just strange, and it ended with Sherlock murdering someone. This was followed, two years later, but a "special" episode that I felt was an hour and a half of my life wasted. I approached this "final" three-episode season with a little trepidation, but the first two episodes showed a little of what appealed to me in the early episodes. Unfortunately, it ended with what I thought was the worst episode of the entire series.
I had much the same reaction to this episode that I had to one of the Doctor Who episodes from the last season, which Steven Moffat (also the show runner of that series) had written. I fell asleep at one point, then when it was over, I went back to see if I missed something, and realized I didn't miss much. Irritated, I went on-line and found many people praising the episode as the best of the recent seasons.
Maybe I'm not the target audience for this any more. All I know is that I'm done with the Cumberbatch Sherlock, even if they make more episodes. We still enjoy Elementary, the CBS take on the Sherlock Holmes canon. It's not as true to the original stories as the first of the Sherlock episodes, but it's a heckuva lot more entertaining. I just worry that this might be the last season, because CBS moved it to Sunday evening, and with the time delays and cancellations because of earlier sports events running long, I worry that the public will give up on it rather than put in the extra work to watch it like I do.
I see that there's a new season of Doctor Who starting in the spring, the final season guided by Steven Moffat. I haven't decided if I'm going to watch that.
01/11/17: One of the podcasts that I've been listening to on my commute is Antic - the Atari 8-bit podcast and I've really been enjoying the nostalgic feeling of listening to people talk about my first computer, an Atari 800, which I bought for $529 in January 1983. I mostly played games on it, but it was a gateway into working with computers, something that became a hobby and a career for me.
I replaced my trusty 800 with an Atari ST in '88 or '89. Listening to this podcasts got me thinking about why I'm not as nostalgic about the ST as I am for the 800. The 800 was my first computer, but I used the ST longer and for more productive things. Yet as I think back, I was more fascinated by the 800. I bought more books about the 800 than the ST. I bought many more magazines covering the earlier computer than the latter. And I bought more games and programs for the 8-bit system. Granted, there seemed to be more material available for the earlier system, and it was easier to find. I bought Atari-specific magazines off the newsstand, and games and hardware were available at big retailers like Sears and Venture. Plus, I was living at home with my parents when I bought the 800 and with Stephie when I got the ST. My brothers were way more interested in computers than Stephie ever was.
The big thing these days regarding classic computers is running emulators on current systems. I've dabbled a bit in the past, but recently I've been playing with a few emulators with good success. I have Altirra running in my Windows partition and Atari800 available in my Linux environment, and both work really well. The games I've been playing are not as deep and graphically detailed as most of what you can run on your smartphone, but there's some kind of a thrill to be able to play a few levels of Miner 2049er or some of the great Synapse Software games like Fort Apocalypse or Pharaoh's Curse. I'm actually thinking of getting an adapter so I can use my Wico joystick to play the games exactly like I remember them.
But with all my interest in emulation, I find I'm not so eager to get an ST emulator up and running. I mean, I've had an ST emulator for years, the excellent Gemuator, but all I've done with that is occasionally bring up the emulated desktop, nod with approval that it looks like I remember it, then shut it down and move on. I think that by the time I was using my ST, I was treating the computer as an appliance rather than a toy. I had more utilities and text editors loaded on my ST than games. I used it to dial into the System36 at work from my ST to monitor batch jobs and troubleshoot issues from home. I used a Supercharger with the ST to emulate a DOS machine. I spent hours on Compuserve forums and on Delphi. I used an ST desktop publishing program to lay out the first few newsletters for the user group I belonged to. Almost everything I did on the ST can be done in Windows or Linux, and usually faster and easier, so why bother with the ST?
As we become adults, we lose the sense of wonder at the world that we had as children, when we seemed to be always finding things that are new and interesting and exciting. As I think about it, at some point I lost my sense of wonder with computers. Maybe that's why I have trouble understanding why people get so excited about getting a new computer or a new cell phone. In a way, I just see it as another chore, more work I need to do to set the new device up so that I can use it the way I used the old one. But back in the '80s, every computer magazine I bought showed me new and exciting ways to use my Atari, whether it was a new game to buy or a new programming language to try or just a new BASIC program to type in from page after page of code. I think I need to get back that feeling. I think I'll start by playing some Mountain King. Anyone want to join me?
01/01/17: Good riddance, 2016. As I started the year, I was facing a layoff, but I had a generous severance coming, so I thought, "I'll take a couple of weeks, then get a job. Maybe we can take a nice vacation on the severance money." Little did I know that it would take the better part of the year to find someone to hire me. In the meantime, we watched the checking account dwindle down, my favorite aunt passed away, the oven crapped out, the TV almost crapped out, our sister-in-law did something to her ankle that put her out of commission for most of the year (but thankfully no surgery needed), Stephie's tummy problems came back, we couldn't afford a vacation, the leak in the veranda ceiling when it rains got worse and worse, and we lost our beloved Kisu. And this was all before the election! Then, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were effectively canceled for financial reasons. And it was the first year we didn't even get a tree or decorate for Christmas. I'm thankful that I still have Stephie, we're mostly healthy, and we have a roof over our heads, but c'mon!
Now the year that Alasdair, the announcer for Pseudopod, refers to as "the dumpster fire that was 2016" is over, and things are looking up. I'm working, Stephie's feeling a little better, and we're talking about adopting another dog in the spring, after the winter slop is done. I'm optimistic about 2017, and I hope you are, too. Happy New Year!
12/28/16: The new job is going well, but the 68 mile round-trip daily commute is a little wearing. At least I have a reliable vehicle, and plenty of podcasts and old-time radio shows to keep my mind off being stuck in traffic. Many people have worse problems.
I saw an interesting sight outside my office building as I approached today, and I had the presence of mind to get my phone out and take a picture. As I rounded the corner toward the door, I saw this little cutie peeking in the window. I snapped a couple of pictures before she spotted me and took off. The building is sort-of built into a hill, and she ran up the hill, stopping at the top. She looked back at me as if to give me one more chance to take a picture, then bounded off. The picture here is from when I first saw her. If you click on it, you can see the last shot I had of her. I've set that one as the wallpaper of my computer at work.
12/12/16: The nightmare is just about over. After ten months of unemployment, I start a new job today. I'll be in a similar position, but in a completely different industry, so while the job might be the same, the place and the people and the actual work will be all new. The last time I started at a new place where I didn't know anyone was 1991. Wish me luck!
12/08/16: Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows that I rarely got to see was Thunderbirds. The reason I rarely saw it was that it was on channel 32, and the TV in my room only had VHF channels (yes, they did make 'em like that!) I could only watch Thunderbirds on the family TV, and my pre-teen self was not allowed to touch that one for fear I'd damage it. (One vivid memory of my youth was trying to watch Thunderbirds after my brother found what I recall as the dozen of knobs on the back of the box which controlled the color. Dad was steamed, and was trying to reset the colors to normal while I just wanted to watch my show. I had a flashback to that event when I got to that particular episode on the DVD set.)
Back then, I had Thunderbirds toys, Thunderbirds model kits, even a Thunderbirds board game that I got one year for St. Nick's day that I couldn't wait to get home from school to play, although I don't remember ever actually playing it. Years later, I got a Thunderbirds game for my Atari ST, the Thunderbirds game for the Game Boy, and, of course, the complete TV series on DVD. I still haven't watched the final episode on the last DVD because once I do, it'll be done and I won't have any more. I even bought the live-action version from 2004, which was not too bad for what it was.
This all comes to mind because of a YouTube video I saw this morning. I knew of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore well before Moore's Hollywood success, after I picked up a copy of their "comedy" record, Derek and Clive Live, which is one record I made sure I never played when my parents were around. (Probably still wouldn't.) At the time, I was in the market for Monty Python records, and it may have had a sticker on it that indicated that it was more British humor, or I might have heard of Pete and Dud in relation to the other people that the Python guys worked with. In any case it blew my young mind.
But as funny (and filty) as that record was, I like this clip even more. It seems like some of the best parody sketches on the original Saturday Night Live or SCTV. It looks like there are more Cook and Moore clips on YouTube. I'll have to check them out.
11/29/16: Tonight we watched the last episode of the current season of Longmire on Netflix. I'm just starting to warm up to this streaming model for TV shows (which is hard for me because I have so much content sitting on our DVR) but I still don't like binge-watching. I don't do that when I have a season of a show I like on DVD, either. I always like to enjoy a show for as long as possible because when it's done, it's done, so I rather space out my watching. The episodes were released back in late-September, and it's a miracle that I kept Stephie from watching them all in one shot. (Or maybe she did that when I wasn't around.)
Overall it was a good season. Maybe not up to the previous ones, as this lawsuit against the sheriff is seeming to drag, but we love the characters and the setting. And is it just me, or does Jacob Nighthorse remind anyone else of the "Mac Tonight" guy from the old McDonald's commercials?
11/13/16: I attended the Chicago Book Expo today with a few members of the Tamale Hut Cafe Writers Group. We had a great time, as we did in previous years, and I even managed to sell a couple of books! Thanks to Sean, Marianne, and Steve for spending the day with me.
We were again on the first floor with the rest of the vendors (and the crowds) but this year more people showed up, not having to fight through the after-effects of a snow storm like we did last year. I sold more books than I did last weekend in Wisconsin, and handed out lots of flyers about my work and about the Tamale Hut, who again sponsored our table. Owing to my year-long unemployment odyssey, my finances were tight so I didn't buy any books for myself, but I did pick up many flyers and cards and plan to purchase a few e-books to try.
At one point, I found myself promoting my e-books over the physical books I had on the table. I told the potential customers that while I would love for them to buy a paperback from me, what I would really like is for them to read my work, so while I get less money if they buy an e-book, they get an opportunity to see if they like my work. I'm figuring that If they pick up one of my inexpensive novelettes (or, as with my Sleep Detectives stories, read them for free if you have Amazon Prime) and like it, they might then want to spring for a physical book at some point, either from Amazon or from me in person at a future show.
I don't buy many e-books, primarily because I have such a huge backlog of physical books to read, but there are two instances when I will buy one. One is if the book is only available as an e-book, as many new authors are choosing to do. The other is if I want to see if I like a new (to me) author. For that, e-books are ideal.
11/12/16: I spent an interesting evening in Tinley today, reconnecting with some people that I hadn't seen in 40 years. It started a few months ago, when someone posted my third grade class picture on Facebook. That started a number of conversations, triggered a group to be set up, many friend requests being passed around, and culminated in one of my former classmates opening up her house to anyone who wanted to meet up and catch up.
I remember grammar school, but not very fondly, for many reasons I don't want to go into. I originally intended not to go, but I was interested enough to keep an eye on the posts. I noticed that girl happened to be in town for the week and was extending her stay so she could go, and one guy, who I saw a few years back at a high school reunion, was actually flying in from Texas to attend. I figured that if he was willing to travel halfway across the country to go, I could make the short drive there.
The invitation said to bring whatever we wanted to drink and some food to share. I checked Google maps and found that while it would be too far out of the way to go back to the old neighborhood to get a pizza from the local place there, their other location in Burr Ridge was practically on the way, so I called in an order, picked it up and went.
And you know what? I had a great time. Everyone seemed happy to see me, and they were thrilled when they saw the pizza (which tasted as good as I remembered.) Turns out a few people just couldn't make it, and one or two who said they were going had other things come up at the last minute, but 12 of us were there and it was nice. We laughed, we joked, we told stories of the old neighborhood, of what happened to each of us in the ensuing years, and what happened to the few who passed away. Of the group that was there, all had married (some more than once) but I was the only one who never had kids. Many of our parents are still around, and the ones who are not were remembered fondly. We wound up sitting around a table swapping stories until someone looked at the clock and it was almost 3 A.M. We quickly cleaned up and said our goodbyes. I thought I had it bad that I was scheduled to to the Book Expo at 10 A.M. but one girl had a 7 A.M. flight! I hope she slept on the plane.
In hindsight, I don't know why I was hesitant about going. As someone pointed out to me while trying to convince me to go, grammar school was a long time ago. We've presumably grown up some since then, and any emotional wounds that we might have inflicted on each other should by now have healed. And as one of the attendees wrote afterwards on Facebook, most of us spent nine years of our lives together in that class. That's a pretty solid shared experience, regardless of how long ago it was. I had a lot of fun, and if they plan another gathering after the holidays, as it seems they might, I'll probably go.
11/05/16: Stephie and I spent the day in Wisconsin, where I had a table at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. I had heard about this event the past few years, but this year I was organized enough to reserve a table. We had a great time, but I didn't sell that many books. I was in the Writers Marketplace, which was organized so that most of the attendees would have to pass by our tables to get to the program rooms, but it seemed that most of the people I saw walking by had name tags as fellow attendees to the event. I didn't see too many people who looked to be there to buy books.
That was a little disappointing, but the weather was beautiful for the drive, the table was not that expensive, and I got to hang out with Stephie all day. Plus, we stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way home, so the day was not a total waste.
10/18/16: My brother Chris is a celebrity in our house (as all of us boys are to our parents) but he's also a celebrity in the world of video games, due to his time spent as Executive Editor of Tips and Tricks magazine. I've obviously know about that for years, but it was still a pleasant surprise to hear him interviewed on a video game-related podcast about the industry and the time he spent covering it as a journalist. He really sounds like he knows what he's talking about! You can check it out at this link. (Chris comes on at the 4:00 mark) During the interview, he talks about the web site where he shares some of the video-game-related flyers, photos and miscellaneous documents that he's accumulated over the years. His site is www.video-game-ephemera.com.
10/14/16: Another picture from one of my walks through the neighborhood. This one is of some Halloween decorations that I saw in a window. It's obviously some window clings from a package, but I've never seen anything like this in the store of I would have bought it for the sheer genius of it. I mean, Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, and the Wolfman are all common faces you might see in a Haloween display, but Bud Abbott and Lou Costello? (Click on the picture for a closer look.)
10/08/16: Today we celebrated the four year anniversary of the writers group that I run at the Tamale Hut Café. Because I think like this, I calculated a few statistics for the group. In four years, we’ve had 48 monthly meetings. We have 58 people on our mailing list. We’ve had 47 different attendees at our meetings, and we have critiqued 324 pieces! Besides myself, we have three members who have attended more than 22 meetings in a row, and except for a few people who only attended one or two meetings, there is only one attendee who has contributed a story to every meeting he attended.
There were 11 people at today's meeting, so our fourth year is starting strong. We will also be the feature at the next Reading Series night at the THC on Oct. 22, where we will be presenting the results of a group project that we've been working on for the past several months. If anyone is interested in joining, check out our blog site and get yourself on the mailing list. We're having lots of fun.
10/07/16: Stephie and I were on our daily walk at about 9 A.M., piling up the steps on the ol' Fitbit, when we saw this little guy relaxing on someone's lawn. At first I thought it was someone's dog off his leash, but the more we looked, it seemed to us that it was a coyote. After a bit, he got up and walked away and we could clearly see it was a coyote. It's a little sad to see them in an urban area instead of in the woods somewhere, but I guess they have to rest somewhere.
09/30/16: Kisu would have turned 15 today. At least once a day, something reminds me that she's not with us any more. Watching someone walk their dog. Looking behind the furniture and seeing clumps of dog hair. Sitting quietly at my computer and thinking that I see some movement out of the corner of my eye like when she used to come in to see what I was doing.
Lying in bed, before I drift off to sleep, I imagine I hear tiny footfalls in the apartment somewhere. She was not a large dog, but her passing has left an enormous hole in our lives. I still think about her every day, but more so today. Happy Birthday, pumpkin.
09/21/16: Today, we went shopping at Target. Stephie had two gift cards (one for $50 and one for $7) so rather than go to our usual grocery store, we thought try the Target food section. We picked out some food items, then grabbed some cleaning supplies, and finally a bottle of wine. We hadn't been tallying up the prices, but on our way to the checkout, Stephie looked at the stuff in the cart, trying to gauge the total. We used to try to keep track, just for fun, but today we just threw stuff in the cart. When the total came up on the screen at check-out, the bill was $57.03. How did she do that?
09/04/16: We've been subscribers to Netflix since 2001. Even when they started the streaming service, we stuck with the DVDs by mail, because so few of the movies that I really want to see were available to stream. I've periodically checked, and never more than around 25% of our queue can be seen via streaming. (As of today, according to http://instantwatcher.com, only 6 of the 58 movies in our queue can be streamed.) Plus, I usually like watching the extras that come on the disks, although that's taken a hit in recent years with the disks manufactured specifically for Netflix that don't contain the extras, even though they menu options are still there. That's maddening.
A few years ago we switched from 3 disks at a time to 2, to save a couple of bucks. We usually only watch one of the DVDs on any particular day, but today, we watched both we had (one my pick and one Stephie's pick) and both were terrific. My pick was When Marnie Was There, an animated film from Studio Ghibli, the people who brought us Spirited Away and one of my all-time favorites, My Neighbor Totoro. It's a beautifully-told story about a young girl spending a summer at a seaside town, and the friendship which develops between her and another girl, who may or may not be a ghost. It's not as "magical" as other Ghibli productions, but it was a great story.
As much as I liked Marnie, I liked the other film even more. Stephie said she picked The Magic of Belle Isle simply because because Morgan Freeman was in it. Freeman plays an alcoholic writer who moves into a small town and interacts with its residents, most notably the young girl who lives next door, who wants to become a writer. I started smiling shortly after the movie began, and I don't think I stopped until it was over. It is a little corny in spots, and maybe a little predictable, but we loved it. After it finished, I looked it up on the 'net and found that it went straight to video (never a good sign, especially considering the stars and the director, Rob Reiner) and had lousy reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I don't understand it, because I thought it was funny and charming, and told a terrific story. We highly recommend it. Oh, and it's available for streaming on Netflix! (Sadly, Marnie isn't.)
08/29/16: I am done with allmusic.com. I used to use the site to see what albums a particular artist had released, or to read the band bios or album reviews hosted there. Some of the reviews were not that good, which I guess you could say about any review site, but absent of anything else, they provided some information on what albums were better or worse in an artist's catalog.
I guess I hadn't been on there in a while, and when I went there to look up something I was presented with a white box on a black screen notifying me that because of my use of an ad blocker, I would not be able to view their content. I had three choices: install some kind of browser extension, turn off my ad blocker, or pay for a subscription. Since I'm currently unemployed and I rarely use the site, a subscription was out of the question. I refuse to install the suggested browser extension, which I suspect will just open my system up to more advertising, so I figured fine, I'll disable my ad blocker.
Pardon the all caps, but OH MY GOD! The first thing that happened was that the top half of the screen was replaced by an ad. A full half-page ad! I then went to look up the information that I needed and besides the upper-third ad, there were three identical ads on the same page, all shouting at me that I "didn't need a gun if I had this tactical flashlight." I quickly got the information I was looking for, turned my ad blocker back on and deleted the allmusic link from my bookmarks folder.
I use an ad blocker (and Flashblock as well) not to deprive any web sites from any revenue they may get from ads, but to prevent the type of ads that interfere with what I'm trying to do, which is learn something or be entertained. In my opinion, ads that jump around the screen, expand to move the text I'm trying to read, play videos automatically, or overlay content on the site have no place in my browsing experience. I also object to the bait-and-switch type ads (like outbrain and taboola) that show the same thing over and over and that appear to be news stories but are actually links to an aggregating site with even more ads and may contain a link to the article I might want to read.
I apologize to sites that have respectful ads and are just trying to make a buck, but you are too few and far between in my experience. Every so often I click on a link which has content that doesn't work right in my current configuration (Facebook videos don't work for me) but I figure that missing out on another cute dog video is a small price to pay for my piece of mind. By the way, if anyone knows of a NFL news aggregator similar to the one Yahoo used to offer, but doesn't REPEATEDLY prompt me to log into their Fantasy Football game, please let me know because I'm on the lookout for one.
08/28/16: The Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series last night was the release party for my latest book, The Sleep Detectives Go to Washington. I wanted to something special, like I did with the radio show last time, so I adapted a chapter or so of the new book as a script and bookended it with an announcer in the style of Frazier Thomas on Family Classics. Well, it's more than just the style. We recorded it so you can hear what I mean. Click over to my writing web site and listen for yourself. Then you can hop over to Amazon to buy the book! It's available in paperback and for your Kindle. And if you read it, please leave me a review on Amazon. The more reviews I have, the more people can find me there and maybe buy a book or two.
08/17/16: Back when my main music listening time consisted of popping a cassette in my car stereo, there were a few tapes I had that tended to say in the player for more than a few plays. I remember listening to Lou Reed's New Sensations album front to back many times in a row when it first came out. Likewise John Fogerty's Centerfield, Tina Turner's Private Dancer, Simon and Garfunkel's Live in Central Park, Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus, and the soundtrack to Rock 'n' Roll High School all benefited from the auto-reverse feature in the car deck, playing the tape over and over for weeks at a time
The analog to that in these days of mobile devices and MP3 players are albums (because I still think of music in terms of albums) that stay on my player or phone, even as I rotate other music on and off. The foremost example is a 1999 Poi Dog Pondering concert I recorded off of WXRT. That was the first thing I loaded on my Archos Jukebox, as well as on several Nokia Internet Tablets and smartphones, and is still on my current phone as of today. There are also a couple of Captain Beefheart albums that I can't bring myself to delete.
Lately I've been listening to a couple albums by a band called Love which seemed to have taken up residence on my phone. One is their classic album Forever Changes, which shows up on a number of "greatest albums of all time" lists. But the other is a greatest hits collection called Revisited. I got my copy of Forever Changes on CD a few years ago, but my copy of Revisited is on vinyl. I remember buying it many, many years ago at Rolling Stones, a huge north-side record store. I picked it up because I wanted to hear the original version of "Alone Again Or", a song I really liked as covered by UFO on their Lights Out album. I listened to the album a few times and while I liked the original take on "Alone Again Or", I was not that excited about the rest, and it soon wound up filed in my record collection.
After I got a copy of Forever Changes, I thought I'd give the Revisited collection another try and found that I really liked most of the songs on there. There's a little late-'60s vibe to the music, but all of it is a little ... odd, I guess is the best way to describe it. Wikipedia says that the band mixed "psychedelia, folk, hard rock, blues, jazz, flamenco and orchestral pop" and it really has a unique sound. I've always had an affinity to late-'60s psychedelic music, and this is firmly in that vein, but there's other stuff going on, like the trumpet solo on "Alone Again Or". I really like it.
I was listening to it today and the very first track, "My Little Red Book", got me curious. I looked it up on-line, ostensibly to find some of the lyrics that were a little unclear, and discovered that it was a cover and that the song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I went to YouTube to try to find the original version (oddly, the reason I bought this album in the first place) and discovered lots of versions: Manfred Mann (the original), Burt Bacharach with Tony Middleton, The Standells, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Ted Nugent, and Toni Basil (although I wouldn't recommend clicking on that last one.) How odd that a song would be covered so many times, and by such a range of different performers. Check out a few and see what you think.
And if you're in the mood for another exercise like this, check out YouTube for all the versions of "Alone Again Or". I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because it is a great song.
08/16/16: Back when I was working, I did not have speakers for my computer. At home, I rarely have my speakers turned on. Since I essentially don't have audio, I don't watch many videos linked in news stories or blog posts. Part of it is also technical, since I run an ad blocker and Flash blocker to avoid things jumping around my screen when on the 'net and that confuses some pages containing videos. But mostly, it's because when I do try to watch a video I'm interested in, I typically have to sit through an ad or two, then a graphical/music introduction, then the reporter or blogger introduces themselves and welcomes me to their video, telling me what they're about to tell me and asking me to subscribe to their channel, all before giving me some information that I could have read in two paragraphs and moved on. Usually when I click on a link on Google News and it turns out that the link takes me to a video without any accompanying text, I just close the window, figuring that I didn't really need that information.
Another problem is that the video is usually linked to YouTube, and you don't need me to tell you what a time suck that particular site can be. I frequently go to view a video demonstrating a feature of a program I'm using (something that I could easily learn in a few sentences of plain text) and wind up a half-hour later watching clips of exotic animals or people doing stupid things or music videos from the 1980s.
But as much as I avoid videos, every once in a while I stumble across something that really catches my eye. For instance, I was directed to this video from a link on BoingBoing.net. I was a Hot Wheels fan when I was a kid, so I think that's why it appeals to me so much. I could put this on a loop and watch it all day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12Coi4_BVL4
I'm proud of the fact that since I started this site in 2003, only a few months have passed without at least one post. You can see that at the list of monthly links at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes, though, I'm too busy (or too lazy) to write up what I want to say at the time I want to say it, so I make a note of it and write it up later, backdating the post to when I wanted to say it. But sometimes there are other reasons why I don't want to post something on the day it occurs. I'm writing this almost two months late, because I wasn't able to any earlier.
We lost our beloved Kisu today, a few months shy of her 15th birthday. She'd been having problems for a while, not so much physically but mentally. Her vet described it as doggy dementia or doggy Alzheimer's. I started to write up the details of recent weeks, but you don't need to know any of that. I'd prefer that everyone remembered her as the sweet, friendly dog that everyone knew and loved. I'll simply say that we had an incident this morning that indicated it was time.
I'd spoken to the vet a few weeks ago when he put her on some new medicine to try to make her comfortable, and at the time he told me that when we felt it was time, I only needed to call the office. This morning I called and made an appointment for the afternoon. Kisu was fine in the car, and behaved perfectly when we brought her out and to the back of the clinic. I like to think that she knew what was coming and was ready for it. The whole process took surprisingly little time to complete, and we were with her the entire way, talking to her and hugging her and loving her. Dr. Palmer and everyone at the Burr Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Darien was terrific as the always have been. They took great care of her throughout her life, and were wonderful for us at the end.
I've said that the day Cheyenne passed away was the worst day of my life. This was easily the second, only because Cheyenne's passing was so sudden and Kisu had been in decline for a while. We miss her terribly, and while I'm sure we'll adopt another dog eventually, she'll never be replaced in our hearts. Sleep well, pumpkin.
07/15/16: From the time I set my MythTV DVR up until a few years ago, our local Channel 7 was running a package of old black-and-white movies in the early hours of the weekend. I recorded many of the films, and while not all of them were gems, they were an interesting snapshot into the way Hollywood used to work. Before everyone had a TV in their home, there was a constant need for films to show at local movie theaters, and there were a lot of people who (presumably) made a living making films that never won awards and never were on critic's year-end best-of lists. That's the kind of fare that Channel 7 used to show.
I just watched one such "programmer," as some called them. You Can't Beat Love (1937) was about a playboy lawyer (Preston Foster) who runs for mayor of his town on a dare from the daughter of the incumbent, played by Joan Fontaine, and it was a hoot. I recognized Paul Guilfoyle (not the CSI guy) from the credits, who I'd seen as the Saint's sidekick in a few 1940s movies, among other roles. But at one point, the current chief of police tries to trap the lawyer in a love nest with what I assume was a local floozie, a round-faced blonde doing a weak Mae West impersonation. For a laugh, I looked her up on IMDB, expecting her to have only a few credits and a bio that says she was pigeonholed into those type of parts. You can imagine my surprise when I looked up Barbara Pepper and the banner photo on IMDB was a scene from Green Acres, a favorite of ours, on which she played Doris Ziffel! At the time of this movie, she was 22 and four years into a career which ultimately spanned 36 years, from a few uncredited chorus girl gigs in 1933-4 to an uncredited appearance in the Jerry Lewis feature Hook, Line and Sinker in 1969. Watching her I never would have guessed. (A side note: her Green Acres husband, Hank Patterson, had a similarly lengthy career, from uncredited appearances in a few 1939 westerns to a long stint on Gunsmoke, ending in 1975. While most of his IMDB credits are westerns, he was in the Beginning of the End (1957) which you all remember as the giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago. I recently saw him in an episode of the 87th Precinct TV show from 1961.)
07/04/16: Today's the fourth of July, not one of our favorite holidays. I've had an aversion to fireworks since I was a kid, when my parents were dead set against my brothers and I playing with explosives, no matter how small. I can't see what the problem would be. As I got older, I just saw anything but the best professional fireworks display as a colossal waste of money, and of time needed to clean up the debris afterward. Don't get me started about how fireworks are supposedly illegal in Illinois, yet the people with the biggest illicit fireworks shows seem to be off-duty cops.
But the real reason why I don't like the holiday these days is the way pets are affected. Cheyenne never really cared for the local explosions, but Kisu was petrified by the smallest pop from blocks away. We would be walking and hear a firecracker in the distance, and she would immediately turn around and head for home, where she would cower somewhere near us for the rest of the day. Even the Thundershirt, which helps out tremendously for thunderstorms, did nothing to calm her down. The last few years we used tranquilizers from the vet to get us through the day.
But we don't have to worry about that now, with Kisu having lost her hearing earlier this year. The revelers actually started a few days ago, and she doesn't hear anything. She's happily walking down the block as the lunatics on the next block set off firecracker after bottle rocket after what have you. We're sad that she can't hear us any more, but it's a blessing today. Happy Independence Day!
06/26/16: There's something that Kisu has always done that I don't understand. She would walk across a lawn, and for no apparent reason, she will turn her head and dive shoulder-first to the ground, winding up on her back, where she wiggles back and forth in the grass with her legs in the air. I've seen other dogs do as well, and I understand the rolling around on her back, but the diving part escapes me. I've always wondered what triggers it. Is there a certain spot of the lawn that looks more comfortable?
Now that Kisu's getting older, she's not as spry as when she was younger, so our walks are much shorter. Sometimes we just go once around the house then back in. But she did something today that I'd not seen before. I was taking the garbage out, so I took her with. We walked into the yard, and she paused, then turned her head and did her shoulder dive into the lawn. Then she just lay there. She didn't wiggle. She didn't flip over. She didn't even seem to fuss to get a comfortable spot. She just lay there.
I saw this and waited a minute for her to get up. When she didn't, I figured she would be good where she was, so I dropped the leash and walked around the garage to put the trash in the can. When I got back, she was still in the exact same position I left her. I got a little worried, so I bent over her, and saw that she was laying there with her eyes open, breathing lightly. She didn't look like she was in any distress. She just wasn't moving.
I figured she was comfortable, and I really didn't have much to do, so I sat down next to her. I sat and watched her for around ten minutes. She didn't move the whole time. I finally got up and picked up the leash, and when I did she got up as if nothing was wrong. And maybe nothing was. It was just odd.
06/12/16: Last weekend, we hauled out the new tent and set Stephie up at the Graue Mill Fine Art Festival. This weekend, I packed a bunch of my books and flyers in a plastic tote and drove downtown to the Printer's Row Lit Fest. This was the first time I had done this show (we had attended one many years ago) and I have to say it was great fun.
I'd never really considered going to one of these as an author, mostly because of the cost of getting a table, but I got an e-mail from the Illinois Woman's Press Association, offering a share of a table for much less than an individual table would cost. Stephie and I discussed it and she convinced me to do it. I booked a place under the group's tent, found parking through Spothero and stocked up on books and handouts.
The weekend was a big success in my mind. I didn't sell as many books as I'd liked, but I sold more than I'd hoped to. I handed out all of the flyers for the two e-book-only novellas, and most of the flyers advertising my novels, and I spoke to a bunch of people.
My favorite story was from Saturday afternoon. I was set up across from a Mexican restaurant that had outdoor seating. I was just finishing my pitch to a group of people when a man and woman came over and told me they were sitting there sipping their margaritas, listening to my spiel. I apologized for disrupting their meal, but they said they were entertained by me. The woman said, "I told my husband: There's a guy who loves what he does." We chatted for a bit and they bought two books!
That was exactly the type of response I was going for. I remember several times at recent Windy City Pulp and Paper Conventions when I stopped to talk to one of the authors at their table and wound up buying a book from them, simply because they were so enthusiastic about their works. I'm glad I was able to do the same.
06/05/16: We had problems with our canopy at the last few art shows that Stephie did last year, so even though I'm still looking for a job, we decided to put a little money into the art business and get a professional tent. This year's Graue Mill show was the first event with the new tent, and it's a beauty. Although the new one has the same footprint as the old one, the new one is taller, squarer, and has four walls, so that at the end of the day on Saturday, we just removed all the art and zipped it up! That made it so much easier to set up for Sunday business.
She also bought mesh side walls which allows her to hang artwork on the sides. With her old standing panels in the back, it makes for a much better display, as you can see in the picture here. My contribution, beyond the physical labor, was to give Stephie a template in Microsoft Publisher (because she's comfortable with that program) which included squares to simulate the two side walls and the back panel, and scaled images of all her artwork. She used it to decide which picture should go where. Then we just printed the layout and used it as a plan to hand the artwork.
After all these years, I think we're finally getting pretty good at this!
05/31/16: This was an strange Memorial Day. We went to my parent's house to spend the day with family. We started by getting a little take-out, some Chinese food from a place they had never ordered from before. Food was not too bad, but not real good, either. It seemed bland to me, which was a shame because I got the combo chow mein and there was a lot of meat in it, some nice big chunks of chicken, pork, and shrimp. I thought it just needed some spices.
Afterwards, we hauled out the Scrabble board and sat around the table to play. My family loves Scrabble, but I usually don't play because there are enough other people who seem to enjoy it more than I do. This time, though, I did play, and I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered that when my turn came, I was able to put down "minister" as my first word, using all seven of my tiles and one letter off of Stephie's first word. That gave me such a huge lead that I basically cruised to victory, even though my brother commented (rightly so) that I didn't really have any major words the rest of the game.
After the game, Stephie and I went home and planned to watch a little TV. We were sitting on the couch when I began to notice my breathing. That may sound odd, but if you think about it, how often do you really notice your breathing? After a while, I seemed that it was becoming a little hard to breathe, like someone was sitting on my chest. I tried to take a few deep breaths, hoping the feeling would pass, but when it didn't, I told Stephie about it and we decided to go to the emergency room. I didn't feel that I couldn't breathe, but I thought that if it got worse, I would rather it happen where I could have someone take a look at me.
Stephie dropped me off at the ER entrance and went to park the car, which is the opposite of what usually happened when we went there. I used to joke that I took Stephie to the ER so many times that we had our own parking spot. After waiting for a little bit, we got in to see the doctor. After checking my blood work, EKG, and the other vital signs they recorded, he determined that he didn't know what was wrong. His best guess was that it was an allergic reaction to something. We assumed that it was the Chinese food, since that was the only thing new I had eaten all day.
I started to feel better after he gave me some medicine, and they let me go after another EKG showed my heart was fine. The doctor told me that they used to automatically admit anyone who had symptoms like mine, but the new procedure was to do two EKGs a few hours apart, and as long as they were both normal, they felt it was safe to send the patient home. That meant I didn't have to spend the night, but it did mean that I had to wait a couple of hours for the second EKG to show I was okay, even though I was feeling fine by that point.
It was well after two A.M. before we got home. We immediately threw out the leftovers that we had brought home. Better safe than sorry.
05/21/16: Back when I was working, I would usually take the same train home. Over that time, I struck up a casual friendship with a guy who lives a couple of blocks from me. We'd talk about whatever to kill time on the ride home. One day, we looked out the window at a stop a couple before ours and saw a bar there, and the bar had a Hamm's sign in the window. It was one of the newer, plastic signs, not one of the cool neon ones, and it was flickering like there was a short in it or the bulb needed to be changed. I wondered out loud if the bar really still had Hamm's on tap, and suggested that the sign was blinking as code to beckon us in. We laughed about it and I suggested that one day, we were going to get off the train and walk in there, and there would be two drafts sitting on the bar, waiting for us. We would then have to call one of our wives to come pick us up. We would occasionally laugh about that when the train stopped at that stop. Then I was laid off, and now they took the Hamm's sign out of the window after the bar changed its name, so that'll probably never happen.
I only mention this because I went next door to the Tamale Hut to get some beer to drink while attending this month's Reading Series night, and I bought some Hamm's as a goof. Turns out, it was pretty good. I had a couple during the event, and now I'm having another at home. I typically drink something a little more full-flavored, but for something light and refreshing, Hamm's was not bad.
05/19/16: We watch a lot of TV. New stuff, old stuff, old movies I'd DVR'd. And I'm always looking up what we are watching on IMDB to find out who plays a certain character and where we'd seen that actor/actress before. It's particularly bad with the BBC stuff that PBS shows, because it seems that we'd have seen a particular actor on nine or ten other shows that were imported to our shores.
But today we were watching the season finale of NCIS, and when they showed the little girl on the episode who might be Tony's daughter, Stephie pointed to the screen and said, "That looks like Edie from Grandfathered." I checked IMDB on my phone and sure enough, the same little actress played both roles. I think it's interesting that I can watch one of the old black-and-white films that are cluttering up our DVR and recognize some actor who has hundreds of movie credits across decades of work, but what are the odds that Stephie would correctly identify a two-year old (actually a pair of twins) who has only two IMDB credits?
05/08/16: So I guess the rumors are true that Axl Rose will be filling in for Brian Johnson on the remaining dates of the current AC/DC tour. If I had tickets to an upcoming show, I'd be selling them. But after seeing a clip on YouTube, I realized that it was my dislike for Axl that made me object to this pairing. The clip I saw had him sitting in a chair, since apparently he recently broke his foot, and that didn't seem to exciting, at least not after having seen Brian Johnson work the entire stage when we saw them a few weeks ago. But I have to say that Axl was more believable on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap than Brian Johnson was. They did that song when we saw them, and Johnson just seemed like too nice a guy to be offering to do such nasty things.
04/28/16: I know Kisu's hearing has been failing for a while, so I don't expect her to greet me any more like she used to when she heard the key in the door, but this was ridiculous. When I came home from the Job Search Work Team today, I unlocked the door to see these two sleepy-heads. I stepped back, closed the door, then opened it again and neither of them moved. I put my bag down, got out my phone and took this picture and still nothing. Only after I started to burgle the place did either of them notice I was home!
04/25/16: As usual, I had a fantastic time at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Lombard last weekend. I spent less money then I usually do (owing to the current job situation) but I think I spoke to more people then I ever had. This was because I took my second copy of Legends of New Pulp Fiction with me. This was the benefit book that came out last year, and had a boatload of new stories from many of the top current writers in the New Pulp field.
I briefly considered submitting a Sleep Detectives story when they announced the volume was being assembled, but I ultimately decided it was not 'pulp' enough. I did, however, buy two copies when it was published: one to read and one to bring to the Windy City show to collect autographs. Over the course of the weekend, I spoke to and got a signature of a couple dozen of the contributors to the massive tome. A few of them said that I was the first person to ask them to sign one of the books, but by the end of the weekend, I saw several people chasing down signatures. It was lots of fun.
I didn't stick around for much of the auctions, and I saw only one movie this year, Nightfall, which was adapted from an Isaac Asimov story. It was not very good, and I immediately downloaded an episode of Escape Pod containing the same story so I can compare. One thing new this year was I went back on Sunday and sat in on may of the New Pulp panels, as well as picking up a few bargains before calling it a weekend. I can't wait until next year!
04/16/16: Stephanie has a new web site! True, it's at the same artbystephie.com link that the old one was at, but we've upgraded to the new version of Squarespace, the all-in-one hosting/content-management service she's had for a few years, so we took this as an opportunity to re-do how the site looked and, more importantly, operated so that now it looks great no matter if you're looking at it on your computer or on your phone, which is apparently now the most popular way to find stuff on the web. I don't understand that, but as you can tell from the links below which point to content going back to June of 2003, I'm old.
04/02/16: It's April, and we got snow. Kisu's tired of the snow.
03/28/16: A few weeks ago, I was at Jewel doing a little light grocery shopping. As I wandered through the Produce section, my eye was caught by a small display next to one of the refrigerated cases. They were selling small tins marked "Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper Nuts." I like the Salt & Pepper potato chips from Trader Joe's and I like peanuts, so I figured it was worth two bucks to try. Little did I know...
The next week I went back and bought five tins. I can't stop eatin' them! The problem now is that all those are gone, and Jewel doesn't have any more! They were closeout items, apparently.
Fortunately, I found that they can be ordered on line from Amazon or from the manufacturer, The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg. The picture here is of the two one pound tins I just received from there. I plan to keep the smaller one on my desk and just refill it from the larger, because I know if I open the big one and put it within arm's reach, they'll be gone in no time.
03/10/16: When I was maybe in seventh grade, we started seeing stickers with a distinctive black and white image (like the picture here) show up in our neighborhood. I remember seeing them on light poles and on local newspaperboxes, but my friends and I didn't know what it was for nor, really, did we care. But for some reason, that image stuck with me.
A few years later I found out what the stickers were for, and the likely reason they were all over our neighborhood. I mentioned on this site back in 2015 that I had developed a fascination with a small record label named Billingsgate Records, which specialized in a form of prog rock known as Kraut Rock. Epitaph was one of the few bands who had a release on that label, so the stickers were promoting the album, which I discovered was recorded in Chicago, despite the band being based in Germany. In the process of finding the rest of the Billingsgate catalog (7 LPs, 2 45s, and at least 3 8-tracks) I found that according to the back cover of the first Neu! album, the Billingsgate offices were located on Archer Avenue, mere blocks from where we grew up. I imagined hordes of enthusiastic Krautrock fans (with long hair) roaming the neighborhood of my childhood, slapping stickers on any surface that didn't move.
Beyond the albums themselves (bought mostly at Kroozin' Music, sort of a spiritual successor to the Billingsgate operation) there really wasn't much information available until the Internet became the vast repository of our collective memory that it is today. I found out a few years ago that Epitaph is still together and playing shows in Germany and throughout Europe. They even had a web site, which does have some English content. I was poking around late one night, wandered to their site and found that they were selling, among other things, t-shirts with the "Outside the Law" cover image (no stickers, alas.) I decided I had to have one, but the store part of the site was purely German-language, no translation.
I some friends who are conversational in German, so I briefly thought that if Google translate couldn't get me to place an order, I might ask them, but I didn't know if the site would ship to me here in the US. On a whim, I went to the "Kontakt" page and wrote the band (or at least the webmaster) a note. I apologized for writing in English, explained the significance of the album cover from my youth, and asked if they could ship some merch to me. I hit Send (actually Senden) and crossed my fingers.
A few weeks later, I checked my e-mail and found a very nice letter from Cliff Jackson, guitarist from Epitaph! He wrote that since he was actually English, my message was actually no problem for him. He would indeed be able to ship to the US, and I only needed to tell him what I wanted to order and he would get back to me with a shipping cost. Since I didn't want to have him go through all the trouble of shipping for just one t-shirt, I had him send two (one as a backup) and a couple of their more recent CDs, one which was just about to be released. When he wrote that he calculated the price, I quickly Paypal'd him the money. I also mentioned that "if I could get an autograph on the new CD, that would be great!" He replied that he was meeting the band the next day to practice, and would send the package off once the CD was signed.
A few weeks later, I was going out the door when I found a package there from Germany. Inside was the two shirts and two CDs, one signed by the entire band! The t-shirts are good quality, and the CDs are fantastic. The new one, Fire From The Soul, is available on Amazon (as is a recent CD release of Outside the Law) and I recommend it highly. When I initially wrote them, I told them that I was happy to see that the band reunited and is still together. I said I doubt that I would ever get a chance to see them play, because I don't expect to be in Germany any time soon, but I wish them continued success in the future. That goes double now after the positive experience I had corresponding with them. This is how you treat your fans!
03/02/16: This week has been designated as Will Eisner Week, to celebrate and promote graphic novels, literacy, and free speech awareness. Will Eisner was always one of my favorites, going back to grammar school when my buddy Wesley smuggled some of his brother's issues of The Spirit into St. Pancratius, and I took it hard when he passed away. I've read much of his work (sometimes over and over) and can heartily recommend any of it to anyone.
Coincidentally, I recently received the copy of PS Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly that I ordered when I saw that Bud Plant had it on sale. Between the time Eisner stopped doing The Spirit newspaper strip and all the fantastic graphic novels he became known for later in life, his studio worked with the Army to produce a magazine "to teach the common soldier how best to use, maintain, repair, and requisition their equipment." I'd always heard about that work but had neer seen more than a few pages, so I jumped at the chance to have another hardcover collection of his work, at a sale price on top of it. That also means that I can finally read The Plot, which was the last thing he did before he passed away. I'd been hesitant to read it because I thought that once I did, I would never again read another new Will Eisner work. While it's still true that no new Eisner work is forthcoming, this goes to show that there is stuff that's new to me, so that comforts me a bit.
03/01/16: This year, I'm trying to take my writing a little more seriously, at least in terms of treating it like a business. Sure, I have a web site set up strictly for details of my writing endeavors, but I've never really promoted my work to try to reach a wider audience. I've been listening to a few podcasts (The Self-Publishing Podcast, The Creative Penn) for a while that are geared towards us 'creatives' and the marketing of our work. I've taken many of their suggestions to heart and I think they have improved my productivity and my creative process, but I think it's time I thought about their marketing suggestions.
One thing that the hosts of both podcasts (and many of their guests) encourage is to have a mailing list as a way of communicating with the readers. I had a rudimentary list going back when I was working, as a way of letting my co-workers know when I had something new coming out, or when I would be reading again at the Tamale Hut Cafe. I would also sometimes include Stephie's art shows and other things, but it was primarily for my writing. When I left the job, I took that mailing list with me, and have used it to start a monthly e-mail using the Mail Chimp service. The first e-mail went out today, and I plan to send out updates once a month. At this point, it's not costing me anything but my time to compose and schedule the message, so I think it's a good starting point. If you'd like to be on my list, you can sign up here.
02/22/16: Today was the 30th anniversary of our first date. The fact that I remember the date on which I first took Stephie out surprises some people, but I lucked out on that. Back in 1986, a bunch of us from the Dominick's we worked at went down to Division Street to celebrate a couple birthdays, one of which was Stephie's. I took her home that night and wound up talking to her in front of her place for a long time before she went in. I asked her to go out with me the following Saturday, so as long as I can remember her birthday, I add seven days to that and it's our first date anniversary!
Since we were celebrating thirty years, we planned something nice, but not too nice because I'm currently not working. We went to the Chew-Chew restaurant in Riverside. We had a great meal, then went home afterwards, where I noted that thirty years ago on our first date, we went to the show, then to dinner, then out dancing. This year, we went to dinner then went back home where I couldn't stop yawning because I was tired, and Stephie immediately put on her pajamas. It's good to know the magic is still there.
02/18/16: One of the benefits of not having a job is that I can stay out as late as I like since I don't have to get up early the next day to go to work, and that really worked in my favor last night when Stephie and I went to the United Center to see and hear AC/DC. Stephie always wanted to see them play, and I was "working from home" a few months ago when the tickets went on sale so I was able to get two.
I saw the band play once, back in 1979, when they opened for Cheap Trick at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds on the 4th of July. That show was right before the Highway to Hell album was released, and Bon Scott was still lead singer. (Funny side note: I remember that show being Cheap Trick, AC/DC, Molly Hatchet, and Steve Dahl and Teenage Radiation. When I looked that show up on the 'net, I was surprised that there was another band listed. Apparently The Babys played after AC/DC and I don't remember them at all! It took me a while to remember, but I think I took a nap at one point during the day-long event. We left home early that day and everyone in the car but me slept the whole way there, so I caught some ZZZs at what I thought would be a low point in the show. I think I picked the right time.)
AC/DC was in fine form yesterday, although I was not too impressed by the venue. This was the first time either of us were at an event at the United Center, and I thought the seats were uncomfortable, there was very little leg room, and on top of the expensive tickets, the parking fees were outrageous. (Granted the other show was over 35 years ago, but it cost more just to park last night than it did for me and my date to get into that show in Rockford!) We tried to buy two bottles of water and they wouldn't sell it to us in the plastic bottles. They insisted in pouring the water into a plastic cup. Still can't figure out the logic of that.
As we walked across the lot to the building, there were a few people standing around with something blinking on their heads. As we got closer, I could see that they were devil horns like Angus wore on the cover of Highway to Hell. I don't recall how much they were at the concession stand, but they obviously sold a lot, as you can see from this brief clip from the show. Almost every song ended with the stage going dark, and all we could see was the hundreds of pairs of blinking horns in the audience.
AC/DC put on a great show, and I'm glad we got to see them. Since Stephie and I've been together, I've tried to take her to see all the bands she "always wanted to see", and AC/DC is one of the few who are still touring. But as we left, we agreed it would take someone very, very special to get us to go to the United Center again. I'd really like to see Iron Maiden again, since I like their new album and I don't know how many tours they have left in them, but while I had been on the fence about going to their upcoming show, the fact that it's at the UC means that I'll miss them this year.
02/15/16: Today is a good day and a bad day. We spent yesterday at my parent's house, celebrating today's dual birthdays of Stephie and my Dad. As is the case whenever we get together with family, we had a great time. But it's also a bad day because today is my last official day at work. I've actually been home since the first of the year, only going in the office on my WITS days. (I'd volunteered a couple of years ago for that program, where they would bring third-graders into the office for an hour on Tuesdays so that we could read with them. It's a great program and I'll really treasured the time I spent with the students I tutored.)
So thanks to the Saudi's, who sunk oil prices over a year ago, I'm one of the latest victims of corporate restructuring in the wake of falling profits. Wish me luck on the job market.
02/05/16: Lately I've been in the mood to watch some serials that I'd picked up over the years and hadn't got 'round to viewing. I recently finished Drums of Fu Manchu and The Hope Diamond Mystery, both of which I got from The Serial Squadron and both of which were excellent. The Hope Diamond Mystery was silent, and was one of Boris Karloff's first major roles. Fun stuff.
A few years ago, The Serial Squadron tried something a little different when they put out a DVD "magazine" which contained individual episodes of lesser-known serials. The idea was that it was like one of the old pulp anthologies, where each issue would contain a few stand-alone stories and portions of other, longer pieces. The DVD experiment was apparently a failure, as only four "issues" were released (although their site lists issue 5 as "scheduled for future release.") One of the bits they included was chapter 1 of Adventures of the Flying Cadets, a Universal serial from 1943 starring some of the Bowery Boys/Dead End Kids, along with Eduardo Ciannelli (a favorite of mine) and the seemingly-ubiquitous (for his time) Robert Armstrong. They only restored chapter 1, but I liked it and when I noticed that someone posted the complete thing on Usenet, I downloaded it.
The serials of the day were done quickly and cheaply and aimed primarily at adolescent males, so they don't usually feature top-notch dialogue, but there was one bit in the Flying Cadets episode I watched today that I thought was great. The kids are in Africa, and are caught in the middle of a dispute between some sterotypical arabs and some stereotypical Nazis, when one kid takes off and comes running back with armfuls of arabian robes. One kid asks him where he got them, and he replies, "I took 'em off some good Nazis." "What d'you mean, good Nazis?" his friend asks. "Dead ones!" is his triumphant reply. I laughed so hard I had to rewind it and watch the scene again. They don't write movies like that any more.
01/29/16: Much as we hate to admit it, Kisu's getting up there in age. She's still in pretty good shape, but she's starting to have some health issues, and although she still loves to look out the window when she can, she doesn't get up on the bed much anymore like she used to. I was walking by the bedroom today and found that she was on her old spot, watching the world go by. I had to get a picture.
01/28/16: I've mentioned here before that my first job was McDonald's, and I have fond memories of the time I spent there, as well as more than a few funny stories. A buddy of mine said that I should use some of the characters from there as fodder for a short story or two. I may do that, but I saw something today that reminded me of one of the sillier things that happened there.
Having skipped supper, I was on my way to a writer's group meeting when I decided to swing through a McDonald's on the way to pick up something to eat before the meeting. As I was waiting to pull through, I saw the scene in the picture here -- the Clearance warning sign was crunched.
When I started working at McDonald's, no fast-food places had drive-thru pick-up windows. Everyone had to walk into the store to buy their food. The store I worked at was one of the first in our neighborhood to add a drive-thru and it was a great success. But it was not without problems. I was working in the grill area one afternoon when we heard a big BOOM, and the building shook. We didn't know what had happened, but we ran out the back to find a tall panel truck in the drive-thru, the guys from the truck standing outside, looking up at the front of the vehicle. The top was dented, and so was the fascia of the part of the roof which covered the drive-thru. They obviously didn't pay any attention to the signs warning of the height restrictions and tried to go through, only to find that their truck was too tall.
We all went back to work, laughing about how ridiculous the situation was, but Ken, the manager, had a different reaction. He was swearing up a storm about the guys in the truck. I asked him what the problem was, and he said those same guys in the same truck hit the same spot in the drive-thru the week before, and the damage from that was just fixed the day before this incident, and a larger sign was put up, which is what the guys hit this time. I wonder if those same guys were trying to get some food in Lyons tonight.
01/16/16: Before tonight's Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series event, I went next door to pick up some beer to enjoy while listening to all the fine stories being read. I wasn't sure what to get, because the store has a rather large selection, but I decided on Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery. I'd never had it before, but I read a news story about how the brewery was canning drinking water to send to the people of Flint, MI, to help out with the water crisis they are having. I thought that it was great of them to help out, so I wanted to support them with my purchase. The beer was pretty good, too.
12/26/15: We hope everyone had a great Christmas. We did, and it inadvertently became a John Leguizamo Christmas. We first sat down to watch Die Hard 2, our second favorite Christmas movie after the original, and since it had been a while since we watched it, I spent some time looking for actors that we now recognize in bit parts (I think I saw Larry Miller in a quick reaction shot in the terminal restaurant), and I saw John Leguizamo as one of the military goons.
Afterwards, Stephie said she wanted to watch something funny, and since we got a Roku this year to watch the new season of Longmire, I thought we'd see if we could find something there, and we spotted a movie called Chef that neither of us remember hearing about, but it had a five star rating on Netflix, so we took a chance, and not only was it a sensational movie, John Legizamo plays the sidekick of the main character!
Today, we went to the LaGrange Theater and saw another terrific movie, The Martian. It was a great film, but alas, no John Leguizamo.
12/21/15: PBS has been running a number of shows in the last few weeks commemorating the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra. Well, I've been scouring the listings and see nothing to commemorate today being the 75th birthday of my favorite musician, Frank Zappa. Seems like a missed opportunity to me. Good thing there's plenty to find on YouTube!
12/19/15: Just a quick note to let you know that I completed my NaNoWriMo novel this morning. I thought I had it done yesterday, but Stephie didn't like one part of the ending, so I added an epilogue to close one of the loops I left open. Final word count is 59,036. I'll be going back over it after the first of the year, but I think I'm going to take some time to read something for pleasure, which I've not done much of since November started.
12/13/15: It's 10:15 on a Sunday morning. I'm making breakfast when the phone rings. Since I'm closest to the phone, I answer it.
"Hello" I say. There is a second or two of silence, and a cheerful man with a faint Indian accent says "Hi, this is James from Windows technical support calling. How are you today?"
"I'm fine," I say in an equally cheery tone, "but I don't use Windows."
"Well, that makes me sleepy," he says, and the phone line goes dead.
I had one of these calls earlier this year, before I read about what was going on. That time, I was caught a little off-guard so wound up talking to the person for a couple of minutes. He started out by telling me that he was from Microsoft and they had a report that my computer was infected with lots of viruses. He tried to prove to me that he was legit by reading a long number to me that was supposed to be some kind of unique identifier for my system. I told him that I had security software installed and that I had not seein any indication of problems. He insisted they were there.
Then he asked if the computer was turned on, and I told him no. He wanted me to log on and let him take control. When I told him I would not let him do that, he insisted on speaking to "the person in the house who maintains the computers." I told him that was me, and he insisted that was not possible "because then I would know how serious this was." By this time, I had had enough, so I told him his services were not needed and hung up.
I felt odd after that, as if someone had tried to break into my house, which I guess is what happened. I told Stephie and my parents about it, and suggested that if anyone from Windows Technical Support calls, just hang up.
11/30/15: Success! This afternoon I hit the elusive 50,000 word goal for my novel. Unfortunately, as was the case last time I did this, the story is not done yet, so I'm pressing on. Stephie's been enjoying it, and I've sent most of it to a guy at work, who had only two words for me: "Write faster."
11/27/15: I'm on a roll! On Monday morning, I was 6600 words behind on my daily word count, but after writing 4300 words Tuesday, and 3000 Wednesday and today, I am only 145 words behind where I should be. At this rate, I might hit my goal a day early, which I believe is what I've done the other three times I tried. Still no idea how long the book is actually going to be, but Stephie is enjoying it so far, so I must be doing something right!
11/24/15: The Chicago Book Expo was lots of fun (details are on the THC Writers Group blog) but I got no writing done on Saturday, then I took Sunday off as well, which on top of last weeks deficit put me in a pretty big hole. But since I had two killer days in a row, and I'm closer to plan than I've been in over a week. Another day like today and I'll be above the line for the first time since day 1. And on top of that, I think I know where the story is going now!
11/20/15: Things are looking up a bit. Stephie and Kisu are feeling better, and I'm finally starting to catch up on my word count. (The story is coming along fine, too.)
I'll have a little setback tomorrow as I'm spending all day at the Chicago Book Expo at Columbia College, and I'll only be home in time to pick Stephie up to go to the last THC Reading Series night of the year, so I don't expect to get much, if anything, written tomorrow. That just means that Sunday I'll be digging out of a bigger hole again. Oh, well...
11/14/15: Had a rough week. Stephie's sick, Kisu's sick, the THC Writers Group met today, and I had some reading to do ahead of that. It seemed that for the past few days, everything was plotting against me getting my word count done.
But I'm not worried. I'm only halfway through the month. I'm off work Monday and Tuesday, and besides a little pre-Thanksgiving house cleaning, I hope to spend a significant amount of time writing. And the story is really getting good!
11/09/15: I looked back at my stats from the three other times I'd done this, and it seems that I fall behind a little a the end of the first week, so with that in mind, I'm right on track.
11/08/15: I had a little setback today as I broke one of the cardinal rules of NaNoWriMo and went back to rewrite something I wrote yesterday. I had a scene in which my main character was being chased by a car driven by the bad guys, but I kept thinking of the car chase I had in The Hidden Message, which I think worked so well because I had the entire route mapped out, to where I actually walked the route downtown where the chase ended. The chapter I wrote yesterday was just a bunch or random left and right turns, ending up on Lake Shore Drive, and as I went to bed, I wasn't satisfied. I got up this morning and had two thoughts. One: I need to plot out the route, and drop a few street names in, to make it more realistic to me (and hopefully to the reader.) and two: why are the bad guys chasing my hero? They already know where he lives. I should have him chase them. SO I threw away around 600 words and the story is much better for it!
11/05/15: As my old boss used to say, things are progressing along smartly with NaNoWriMo. Something new this year: one of my buddies from the THC Writers Group has also taken up the challenge, and I have him as my Writing Buddy. I don't consider myself a competitive person, but watching his word count go up makes me want to keep going, since I don't want him to be that far ahead of me. This is not a competition in the strictest sense, since it doesn't matter what the final count is (as long as it's over 50,000 words) but I'll be ticked if we get to the end of the month and he hits the 50K and I don't. I won't be able to live with myself!
11/01/15: Call me crazy, but I'm trying NaNoWriMo again this year. If you don't know (and how can you not know since you're in the Internet), that's the National Novel Writing Month challenge, in which a whole bunch of people all over the world try to crank out a first draft of a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. I actually took the challenge and "won" in 2010, 2011 and 2012. I didn't try the last two years because I was busy with other things, but I somehow felt I was missing out on something, so this year, I'm going for it. I'll post semi-regular updates here, but you'll have to excuse me if I miss a few days because, you know, I'm writing!
10/27/15: We went to visit my parents this weekend, as we usually do. They said that for the last few nights, they've heard what sounded like critters on their roof, maybe a raccoon or possum, both of which they've seen wandering in their yard at one time or another. They also told us that a neighbor warned them that he saw a hole in their roof. Dad called the guy who fixed their roof last time to come out and see what was going on up there, but he wanted to know ahead of time what they were in for. They didn't know if w were coming so they called my brother, and he and I brainstormed a bit to decide what to do.
Dad wanted to go up on the roof and walk around, but that was quickly nixed by Mom. They have a wooden ladder which would reach the spot, but neither if us is as young (or as light) as we used to be, and Mom was insistent that we don't do that either. I joked that we needed one of those goofy selfie-sticks that we could hold up there, and I could see a lightbulb go off over my brother's head.
Fortunately, he brought his wife's iPad with him, so we taped his phone to the end of a broomstick and connected a Facetime session with the iPad. I went up a short way on the ladder and held the camera up high. It didn't work at first, but after a tense couple of moments, we figured out that we had the camera pointed the wrong way. Once we turned it around, it worked like a champ. Click the picture of me to see what the camera saw.
10/03/15: I used to think that summer was over after the double header of my birthday and Labor Day, which when I was younger meant that it was time to go back to school. The calendar says that summer is over somewhere around September 21, give or take a day, but there's really nothing other than that piece of paper on the wall saying that.
Nowadays, there's only one thing that signals the end of summer, and that's the day we take the air conditioner out of the window. That day is today. Welcome to Fall!
09/25/15: We finished up our little vacation in Madison. We've been there a few times before and really enjoyed it. Being the state capitol, it's a good size city, but it also contains the UofW campus, so it's got the feel of a small college town. We just spent a couple of days looking in the book stores, coffee shops, and restaurants, and just bumming around in general. We finished the trip by attending the fabulous Farmers Market which rings the capitol building every weekend. The web site claims it's the largest in the US, and I believe it. It took us several hours to walk the entire thing, and by the time we were done, my arm was falling off from carrying all the bags! The only bad thing about it is that it's very crowded, and they have a peculiar rule there that dogs are not allowed in city parks, which the capitol square is designated. It was not a problem this time, because Kisu was at the spa, but if we had her with us, one of us would have to stay across the street at all times. We did that once and it wasn't fun. We did have fun this time, and came home with lots of good, fresh produce, and even some meat and cheese.
09/24/15: One stop on our mini-vacation was the Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. in Galena. We took the tour, and it was certainly worth the time and the small charge. It was very entertaining and informative, and since the guys are movie fans, we got to see the flux capacitor that powers the whole place (no, not really).
This is a really neat business, started by two brothers who were craft whiskey aficionados. They've only been in business a little over a year, but they've become popular in the area, making gin and vodka. They have a novel way of getting the community involved, as they throw "labeling parties," when local volunteers spend an evening at their facility sticking labels on their bottles. They turn it into a big pizza party, and there seems to be some product tasting going on as well, if you catch my drift. All the volunteers mark the labels, so they might be in a liquor store later and see a bottle that they helped get to market!
I'm not a big fan of vodka or gin, but I was interested in their bourbon. Unfortunately, they have not been open long enough to have any of their personal bourbon properly aged. They have bought aged bourbon from a reputable distillery and have blended it to approximate what they feel their end product will taste like.
One of the samples at the end of the tour was the bourbon, and it was pretty good. I planned to buy a bottle, but I saw they also carry a special Galena Reserve, a one-off batch of something interesting, and this time it was their Knotter Bourbon Madeira Cask Finish bourbon. I went back an asked for a sample. She gave it to me in a little tiny plastic cup, and when I tried it, it made my toes tingle! I promptly bought a bottle.
09/23/15: We took a little vacation to celebrate our anniversary, and our first stop was Galena. We'd been there a few times before, and always had a good time, but this was the first time we were there when the weather was warm, so we walked around more and saw much that we didn't see previously. One thing we saw was a message written in chalk on a curb directing us to the Galena Clay Works, only three blocks away. Well, they must use a different yardstick in that part of the country because it seemed like we walked a mile before seeing the building, which was this rickety shack you see here. It was wide open, shelves full of pottery, and no one was around. In the corner was a locked box marked "Pay Here" and a sign which said "Hi, thanks for shopping... I am not here right now. Leave cash, check or IOU here. Thanks for your honesty." I was somewhat astonished that in this day and age, someone is able to run a business on the honor system. We didn't buy anything that night, but went back the next day, hoping to meet the artist in person. He wasn't there at that time, either, so we bought Kisu a new water bowl, stuck the money in the box and left him a note that we appreciated his business model.
After the long trek back from the Clay Works, we headed to over to take in the P.T. Murphy Magic Show, and I have to say that I was greatly impressed. He has a little 24-seat theater just off the main street in town, and when we showed up to buy tickets at the box office, the magician himself greeted us and took our money. We had a nice conversation with him as more people showed up, and once he got started, we knew we were in for something special. Most magic I've seen has been either simple card tricks table-side at a restaurant, or one of the big mega-shows on TV or in a concert-like setting, but there we were, in a crowd of little more than a dozen people, watching a real magic show right in front of us. It was fantastic! I would highly recommend that if you're going to Galena, or are anywhere in the area, you should make it a point to get tickets for that show. You won't be disappointed.
09/22/15: Can it really have been 25 years since my sweetie and me swapped our "I do's" in front of family, friends, and the world? Apparently it has, because that's what we celebrated today. If you want to read my observations of that wonderful day, click here. Happy Anniversary, my love.
09/18/15: I got this fortune out of a cookie when I visited Panda Express for lunch. They know me too well.
08/30/15: I usually celebrate either R. Crumb's birthday, or Kankakee's own Fred MacMurray's birthday, but I just found out that yesterday would have been the 101st birthday of Willard Waterman, best known as one of the actors portraying The Great Gildersleeve on radio. He also played the Great Man on the short-lived TV version. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Waterman took over the character when its originator, Harold Peary, left the show to move to another network. They sound so much alike, though, that it was a seamless transition.
08/14/15: For the second year in a row, we took a short drive up to Milwaukee to see an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and to take in some of the Milwaukee Irish Fest. We did this last year, but tried to plan it a little better this time. We intended to drive up on Friday, go to the museum and the Irish Fest, then stay the night and come home on Saturday, but that plan went out the window when Kisu's favorite spa was booked, and while my parents said they would watch her Friday, we didn't feel comfortable leaving her there all night.
Last year, the museum had a Kandinsky exhibit, but this year it was Modern Rebels, with the work of multiple artists, including some of Stephie's favorites. We liked it so much that we became members, so maybe we'll get up there more than once a year.
the Irish Fest was mostly a good time as well, with a few hitches. Again, we got in on the cheap, taking advantage of the early-bird Friday tickets, but it was so hot that we spent most of the time looking for shade. Stephie was so warm that she bought a dress from one of the vendors, then went and changed into it! We walked around, enjoying the food and the music (and the beer!) but then the skies began to look threatening, and everyone checking their phones saw that a line of bad thunderstorms were moving into the area. We finished watching the band at the tent we were under (Ten Strings and a Goat Skin - really good!) and headed back to the car. We never did catch more than a sprinkle, but I kept checking the rear-view mirror all the way home, and it looked like the clouds were following us!
08/06/15: Nothing in any of the local papers about our early-morning excitement last weekend. I'd feel funny calling the police station, so maybe we'll never know what the full story was. All I know is that if there was a shot after that guy was yelling, we'd be looking to move out at the first opportunity. Not sure where we'd move to, though.
08/01/15: A strange thing happened this morning. We shut off the AC and opened the windows before going to bed, since the temperature dropped to comfortable for the first time this week. At 4:15am, Stephie and I were woken up by a male voice shouting, "Sir! Ma'am! Can you please help me? Please?" He said that several times, at which time we were both wide awake. I tried to look out the window without being seen, but I never got a glimpse of him, and I was not sure where he was at. I could hear Stephie calling 911, so I went back to the bedroom. After he hung up, we heard the man say, "NO! Please don't shoot me! Don't shoot!" We looked at each other as we heard the man say something else that we couldn't understand because it sounded like he was running away. Then we saw the lights in the alley as three police cars arrived.
I wasn't sure what to do, but Kisu decided she wanted to go out, since we were already up. I put her on the leash and took her out front. We saw a policemen in our side yard, looking along the bushes. He came over and I told him what we heard, including when the man said not to shoot. As I was talking to him, there was chatter on his radio, and we heard another policeman call for an ambulance for a suspect that was "disoriented". I asked the policemen if he thought that was the guy, and he said "they said it was related." Kisu and I went back in and we tried to go back to sleep.
While we were walking Kisu this afternoon, we discussed this with several of our neighbors, and nobody heard a thing. Everyone said they had their AC on and windows closed, so they didn't even know that three squad cars had been in our alley overnight. I checked on-line if there was anything in the local police blotters, but saw nothing. I guess we'll have to wait for the local paper to find out what happened.
07/31/15: I took a little staycation this week, but we didn't have a chance to go away because of other things scheduled this week, like Stephie's art class or the Berwyn Library Writer's Group. We did take a ride today to check out The 606, the new park in Chicago that has been in the paper lately. The idea of a park built on an abandoned rail line just seemed like something that we should see. So we tossed Kisu in the Escape and drove to Wicker Park, where we found parking near one of the access points.
It's an interesting idea, a long, narrow park that runs for almost three miles through several neighborhoods. The web site calls it a "recreational trail and park", which makes me think of following a trail through the woods. It's actually a long cement ribbon with some nice landscaping along both sides. We walked maybe a half-mile or so of it, and it was a little harrowing with a dog, because of the frequent bicyclists travelling along the path. Kisu is fairly well-behaved on leash, but we do allow her to explore a but, and I was more than a little nervous to let her do that, for fear a passing cyclist would get tangled in her leash. We didn't see too many places to stop and sit, and there was very little shade, a problem which will resolve itself as the trees along the path grow in.
We walked roughly from Damen to the eastern end of the trail at Ashland. There we found a nice, shady park to sit and relax, once we navigated the construction fences at that end. Since it was a hot, sunny day, we decided to walk at street-level back to the car, and I'm glad we did, because we stumbled on a nice neighborhood restaurant, Club Lucky in Bucktown, with an outdoor patio where we could have lunch with Kisu. Well, we almost had lunch with her, because she had to sit outside the fence around the seating area, but she behaved and we had a nice time, and the food was great. I'd definitely go back if we were in the neighborhood. And the 606 was pretty nice, too, but maybe not on a hot, sunny day with an elderly dog.
07/08/15: I went to the Brookfield Library today for a special event, and on my way out, I stopped at the New Books shelf, and look what I found. I had donated one copy of each of my four books to the library several weeks ago, but they were in the process of changing the database used to track books. They couldn't put the books in the system until the conversion was complete, and they couldn't put them on the shelf until they were in the system. The conversion is done, the books are in the system, and as of today, the only on on the shelf is The Hidden Message. I guess that means that the other three were taken out! If your library subscribes to the Swan system, as I believe most Illinois libraries do, you should be able to reserve one of my books and read it for free. How cool is that?
07/04/15: I have conflicted feelings about the Fourth of July holiday. While I enjoy having a day off from work, and I love waking up in the morning to see flags posted on everyone's lawn, courtesy of our neighbor, the illegal (in Illinois, anyway) fireworks continue to bother Kisu. She never was fond of loud noises, but as she's getting older, they bother her more and more. As we did last year, we got some tranquilizers from the vet and doped her to get her through the evening.
I know I'm a curmudgeon about this, but consumer-grade fireworks never interested me. We were never allowed to have them when we were kids, so they've never been a part of our holiday celebration, and now that Kisu is so sensitive that she's freaking out a week before the day, when the casual idiot usually starts making noise. I just wish there was some place we could take her so that we'd be away from them.
07/03/15: We're back to being a one car family. I had to take my beloved Focus in for a brake issue, and the estimate was more than I was willing to spend, at least for a "band-aid" fix. Oddly enough, the estimate was roughly what I spent last week, and we spent a few weeks ago on the Beetle. So we said that enough was enough. We did some Internet research and checked a few dealerships, and wound up with a brand new Escape. I've always been against owning an SUV, but as we traded in both cars, we needed something that would hold all of Stephie's art setup for when she does shows, so an SUV just made sense.
And as SUVs go, it's pretty nice. It rides more like a car, it handles well, and it has the amenities we need. We didn't get the one with the powered lift gate and keyless start. Just the basic model, and so far it's working for us. The one issue is that the back seat is too high for Kisu to jump into. We went on Amazon and bought a ramp, and she's getting used to that.
Stephie misses her Beetle, I miss my Focus, and we don't like having a car payment again, but so far, I think we made the right move.
06/29/15: I've been taking the train to work for five years now, and I really like it. It gives me a chance to read or listen to music on the way to and from work, and I don't have to fight traffic. It's a little inconvenient in terms of the times the train stops hear home or leaves Union Station, but overall it's a great way to commute to work.
I'm not usually looking out the window, but every so often I do, and sometimes I see something interesting. The other day, I glanced out the window and saw this food truck parked in the lot behind a big building. If you're not a Chicago Fire (the TV series) fan, this might look like another food truck to you, but this is the food truck that was used on the TV series. The building this is parked behind is the old Ryerson Steel facility, part of which is now home to Cinespace, and some of Chicago Fire is filmed there. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see that, because when they were filming one of the Transformers movies here in Chicago, I saw crushed cars and a Tokyo bus and other props from that movie in that same lot. But it was surprising to see something from the fantasy world of TV parked along the commuter tracks that I take to and from work every day.
06/18/15: All work stopped this morning around 9AM as everyone started lining up at the windows to catch a glimpse of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade, which was to pass right in front of the building I work in. I had some work to do, so I stayed at my desk for a while longer. At work, I have a program I can use to watch certain TV channels right on my desktop, so I launched that and connected to channel 9, since I knew they were going to be covering the parade live. I just kept working, watching the coverage until I could see the parade turn down the street by my building, then I just walked over to the window and took some pictures. They are from eight floors up, but if you click on the picture to get a larger version then zoom in, you can clearly see the cup on the back of the bus.
It's too hard to tell from the overhead view, so check this other shot to see who is actually holding the Cup. After they won the final game, Stephie and I discussed trying to see the Cup in person as it makes its way around Chicago. I don't know if I'll get a chance for an up-close look, but I was at least as close as eight floors away!
06/04/15: I was heading back from lunch yesterday at a couple of minutes before 1PM, since I had to attend a meeting at 1. As I was turning to walk to my desk, I glanced out the window and stopped, because I saw what you are seeing here. Yes, it's the Wienermobile parked in front of the Willis Tower. I took this picture, then went to try to convince my boss to postpone the meeting so we could go down and see it up close. She wasn't buying it, and when the meeting ended, the Wienermobile was gone.
Today I had some errands to run, and one of them took me down LaGrange Road. There's a resale/antiques store there that usually has a row of bicycles lined up out front. I saw this out of the corner of my eye, and had to go around to see and get a picture. It was miniature Wienermobile! I didn't have time to stop to find out how much they were asking for it. Stephie would have killed me if I bought it, but I was thinking it would be a perfect gift for my pal Randy Scuffle.
Two Wienermobile sightings (sort-of) in two days. What does that mean? We used to see one regularly when I worked in Downers Grove. We figured it was using a local hotel as a base of some kind. It made me want to have a hot dog or two, although I haven't really liked Oscar Meyer hot dogs since I was a kid. I did Google it when I got back to my desk yesterday, and found a job listing to be a Wienermobile driver. How cool would that be?
05/24/15: We spent the first day of my three-day weekend cleaning the apartment as if we had company coming over. Sweeping, dusting, vacuuming (even moving the furniture first!) and other fun activities. When we were done, Stephie suggested that I go for pizza, which was a perfect way to end the day. I ran over to one of our local pizza places, and as I was getting out of the car, I looked up at the house to see this.
We rarely get to see Billy, the cat who lives upstairs, and I think he likes it that way. They had him out in the yard one day last summer, trying to walk him around a little on a leash, but he was not having any of it. He lay in the grass and kept meowing, as if to say, "I'm done. Take me in!" But we do hear him above us from time to time. Before I saw him in person, I asked my neighbor how big he is, because when he runs across the floor, it sounds like they're rolling a bowling ball!
I'm a little sad, though, because I was looking forward to seeing him regularly this summer, now that he has such a terrific spot, but Stephie and I found out this week that our neighbors will be moving soon, having found an apartment in an area where there's more night life and excitement. They were great neighbors and we're going to miss them. I hope Billy has as good a spot in the new place to sit and watch the world go by.
05/03/15: As if my recent purchase of the entire Der Ring Des Nibelungen on Laserdisc (11 discs!) was not proof enough that I am the king of obsolete media, I was walking through the lobby of the local library when an item on the cart there caught my eye. I was a videotape of The Best Of Ernie Kovacs. I first learned of Ernie Kovacs (before the '80s retrospective on PBS) when I was a teenager by watching a tape that my dad had brought home from work of an hour-long special from the early '60s. The problem was that it was on a Umatic tape, which was never a format used for home viewing. Fortunately for me, the McDonald's I worked at had just such a system in the break room that they used for watching training tapes, so I was able to take it in there and watch it on my break. But I digress...
I stopped and looked through the tapes on the rack and found all kinds of treasures there. I picked up the two Ernie Kovacs tapes, two Buster Keaton collections, two Laurel & Hardy volumes, one of which has Flying Elephants, a silent that I always wanted to buy on super-8 from the Blackhawk Films catalogs we got in the mail. The tapes were twenty-five cents each, so I also grabbed The Wind, a 1928 Lillian Gish film, and The Miracle Rider, a 15 chapter Mascot serial starring Tom Mix. Not a bad haul for two bucks. Good thing my VCR is still hooked up!
04/20/15: The Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention is a wrap for 2015. The picture here is my booty from three days at the convention. You can click the picture for a different view, in which you can read all the titles on the books.
It's not as big a pile as I've had in the past, but there's some really good stuff. I bought a few vintage pulps, some old paperbacks, some new collections, a couple of new stories, and two hardcover comics collections.
I started on Friday, as I usually do, by just quickly going through the dealer room to get an idea of the where I wanted to spend my time. Oddly enough, I bought several books in that first hour and a half, and all were on my want list! That rarely happens, as sometimes things sit on that list for years. I also picked up the first Steve Ditko Omnibus for a third of the cover price. I thought that was going to be the bargain of the weekend, but that prize was at the next table.
I've been a fan of the original Captain Marvel ever since we were small and Dad would tell us about this character he used to read who was a kid who could become a superhero by shouting the word "Shazam!" We finally got to read stories with this character when DC got the rights in the '70s and started a monthly comic, which sometimes would reprint stories from the '40s and early '50s. I've read many stories since then, in reprints and in a few golden age comics I'd been able to afford. But one thing always eluded me. It was a hardcover book, part of a series that DC put out just before we were discovering comics in the '70s. There were four volumes, one each for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and what they were already calling Shazam, because in the interim, Marvel Comics had trademarked the name. I have the Superman and Batman volumes, but had never actually seen a copy of the Shazam book. On that Friday, there was a copy on one of the tables, with a $75 price tag.
I stopped and looked, then moved on. I had what was actually for me a substantial budget for the weekend, but $75 would take a big chunk out of it, and since it was only Friday, I figured the guy would not be open to haggling. Over the next two days, I would walk by the table, gazing longingly at the book, but just thinking it was out of my price range. But Saturday night I thought about it, about how I'd never seen a copy in person, let alone one in such great condition, and how Stephie so kindly said "that doesn't seem that expensive" when I told her about it. So on Sunday morning, I stopped at the cash station, got a couple of extra bucks, and walked right up to the table an bought it. And I'm glad I did.
Overall it was a great weekend. I got to talk to some of the writers I regularly chat with. I gave two of them copies of The Sleep Detectives last year. Ron Fortier said that he still has it on his to-be-read pile and plans to review it on his site, and Tommy Hancock said that he had reviewed it (favorably, I might add) but it seems that in his change from one hosting company to another, his site lost most of his reviews. He said he'd repost it and let me know when the review was up. I saw two movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories, looked at some fascinating original art, set in on a couple of interesting panels, watched but did not bid on anything at the Saturday auction, and just had a great time, as I have every year. I'm already looking forward to next year!
03/29/15: Several years ago, I made a couple of mix CDs of songs that I recognize as having been played on WXRT, a local radio station I would listen to religiously. That station has been around since 1972, largely playing the same style of what's now known as "adult-oriented rock", so they have an extensive catalog of songs that they choose from. Probably because of this, there is a large number of tunes that I've heard on XRT that I rarely have heard anyplace else, songs like 'Belly of the Whale' by Burning Sensations and 'Home of the Brave' by The Nails. I always thought it would be neat to have a CD (or previously, a cassette) full of these songs. Several years ago I compiled two mix CD sets, and even burned a few copies for family and friends. I have MP3s of these compilations on my phone, and I periodically listen to them.
This week, the song I can't get out of my head is from one of these collections, 'I Think She Likes Me' by Treat Her Right. It's a story of a musician who is talking to a woman in a bar, only to be confronted by the woman's husband, who is brandishing a handgun. I've listened to it several times in the past few days, and it occurs to me that this is much the same story as another song, 'Gimme Three Steps' by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I see a big difference between the two.
I'd always considered Lynyrd Skynyrd to be this long-haired, hard-partyin' band of southern hell-raisers, but in 'Gimme Three Steps,', the singer, when confronted by the pistol-wielding spouse of the girl he's trying to score with, begs the man for the eponymous three steps head start:
I was scared and fearing for my life.
I was shakin' like a leaf on a tree.
'Cause he was lean, mean,
Big and bad, Lord,
Pointin' that gun at me.
I said, "Wait a minute, mister,
I didn't even kiss her.
Don't want no trouble with you.
And I know you don't owe me
But I wish you'd let me
Ask one favor from you."
"Won't you give me three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps
Gimme three steps mister,
And you'll never see me no more."
Yet the character in the Treat Her Right song, who I somehow pictured as a somewhat clean-cut guy from Boston, is confronted with a similar situation, but his response is more than a little different:
Some guy comes over, what does he think
Intruding on our private thing
The man is looking quite upset
Wavin' 'round with his gun like that
She'd told me things about her life
She'd never told me she was someone's wife
The man with the gun says "Why'd you buy her a drink?"
I said "I think she likes me that's what I think"
Notice the tense of the reply. It's not an apology, like "Oh, I thought she liked me, but I'll quietly leave now." The response, even with the imminent threat of violence, is a defiant "F--- you! I think she likes me, so I'm going for it."
Suddenly, Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn't seem so bad-ass any more.
03/27/15: I have several bookmarks in my browser to pages that list upcoming concerts of bands that I'd like to see, or in some cases see again. I check them periodically to see if any shows are scheduled anywhere close. I had some time today so I went throught the list and was dismayed to see that Edgar Froese, the main guy behind Tangerine Dream, passed away this past January at the age of 70.
I don't remember how I first learned of Tangerine Dream, but it was probably during my first interest in the genre known as Krautrock, which itself was fostered by my fascination in the output of Billingsgate Records, a small local label which had its offices mere blocks away from where I grew up. I never really thought that Tangerine Dream fit in with the rest of the bands of that type, but being primarily instrumental, primarily electronic, and being from Germany, it was natural that they wound up lumped with Kraftwerk, Neu!, and other bands of that time.
I do remember my first Tangerine Dream record was Stratosfear, and I bought it from the cutout bin at Kroozin' Music, a local record store with a putative connection to Billingsgate. A couple of spuns on the old turntable and I was soon hunting all the record stores I frequented in search of the band's back catalog, much of which I found in no time. I soon had a dozen albums to choose from.
I stopped buying new Tangerine Dream music in the mid-'80s, around the time most of their output consisted of movie soundtracks. I think my tastes were just changing, and my interest in krautrock waned a bit, but I would still go back to my Tangerine Dream albums when I wanted some music to just relax to. Back when I was buying components of my first stereo, my dad had given me a reel-to-reel tape deck, and I would look at those tape spools, which if you slowed them down could fit several hours on one spool. I always wanted to record a bunch of Tangerine Dream on one of those tapes, so I could listen to many hours without having get up and flip the record or change the cassette. This is something that we can do now with digital files. I sometimes load up my MP3 Jukebox with three or four Tangerine Dream albums and listen uninterrupted for hours.
I only saw Tangerine Dream play live once. It was on the Optical Race tour in 1988, but the show was outdoors at Poplar Creek in late September of that year, and it was cold. The place was less than half-full, and they even announced that the people on the lawn should just come down to the pavilion, since there were so many empty seats. I remember being physically uncomfortable, but the music was great. Last year, I saw that the latest incarnation of the band, up to six members now, was playing some live shows in Europe, so I'd been checking the page occasionally to see if they would be coming to the US. Edgar Froese was the only constant in the band since it was formed in 1967, and with him gone, I assume the band is as well. At least there music still lives on.
03/08/15: I've been wrong all along. People are always complaining that the Daylight Savings Time change affected them somehow, especially in the spring, when they complain that their missing an hour of sleep threw them off for a couple of days afterwards. I never thought that it had any effect on me. Until today.
Yesterday, we had a full day of activity. I puttered on the computer all morning, carefully avoiding any attempt to do any writing. We went to visit my parents, where we played two full games of Scrabble. When we got home, we watched a movie on TV, during which I had a few small cocktails, so right around 11 PM, I could barely keep my eyes open. I turned on my alarm, crawled under the covers and was soon fast asleep.
Kisu woke me up this morning, just before 8, when the alarm was set to go off. I got up and took her for a long walk, then came back in and started a pot of coffee before turning the computer on. I checked my e-mails, got a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies, and sat back down at the keyboard to browse the news sites. After a little while, I happened to glance at the clock and noticed that it was almost 10:30. I briefly thought that I must have taken Kisu out for a longer walk than I thought, and that Stephie was sleeping really late, when I remembered about the time change and realized that the computer had adjusted its time, but I had forgotten to change the rest of the clocks.
Usually what I do is to change my alarm clock before going to bed, then I change all the rest of the clocks in the apartment on Sunday morning, but I was so tired last night that I forgot. I quickly changed the clocks, and by this time Stephie was up, and I went about my day. All day, though, I kept thinking that it was earlier than it really was, or at least as the clocks say it is. It was then that I realized that for once, Daylight Savings Time actually has affected me, but not like most people say. They tell me that they are off because they missed an hour of sleep, but by not changing my alarm before going to sleep yesterday, I feel like I lost an hour of my waking day! It's a lousy feeling.
You can be sure that I'm not going to do that again. Although now that I think about it, if I don't change the clock before I got to bed on the night we go back to standard time, will I feel like I get an extra hour of Sunday? Might be worth a try.
02/07/15: February is shaping up to be a bad month for my already overloaded MythTV DVR system. Not only are all our regular broadcast shows back after the Christmas holiday hiatus, and Stephie's favorite show, Perception, is back for what looks to be its final five episodes, but WYCC, the PBS station out of Daily College, is showing Poirot and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on its Tuesday night mystery block. We've long enjoyed Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery, and have the DVR set to record any Poirot episode, regardless if we've seen it or not.
Miss Fisher was a recent discovery, as episodes started appearing on WYCC's holiday Mystery Marathons last year. It's a show about a female detective in Australia in the 1920s. The show features interesting stories, great music, cool cars, men with hats, and a liberated lady detective who solves crimes and looks great doing it. I highly recommend it.
Also this week, the Hallmark Movie Channel is rerunning all of the Hallmark Mystery Movies from a few years ago. This won't beat up the DVR too badly, because we already have all the McBride and Jane Doe episodes, and it doesn't seem like they have the Mystery Woman pilot, which is the only one we don't have recorded. They are, however, also showing Jesse Stone reruns, and I'm not sure we've even seen all of them.
The big thing, though, and the one that had me doing a happy dance in the apartment this morning, is that the MHz network, which is the International channel for WYCC here, is bringing back Tatort: Cologne starting today. Years ago, I found a program on MHz called International Mystery, and have since seen many subtitled movies featuring Inspector Montalbano, Maigret, Commissario Brunetti, Annika Bengtzon, the Swedish Wallander, and other foreign-language mystery series. But one of our favorites was a German-language series shown as Scene of the Crime featuring a pair of cops named Freddy and Max. MHz stopped showing Scene of the Crime several years ago, and since then, I discovered that it was only one part of a rotating-cast series called Tatort, which has been running in Germany since 1970, only I could never find any way or buying or watching subtitled episodes. When I was going through the DVR listing to see if there was anything else interesting that I want to record this week, I clicked on the MHz web site and found they will be showing new (to us) Max and Freddy episodes every Saturday night in February. The DVR is now set!
I should probably also mention that February is Jack Benny month on Those Were The Days, on Saturday afternoons on WDCB. IT's not TV, so it's not going to impact the DVR, but that's more content for us to enjoy. I may need to take some time off of work this month!
02/01/15: The snow storm we just had is officially the fifth heaviest snowfall on record for Chicago. It's got me thinking, though, that I don't know how I'll remember it. After all, I now have lived through the five biggest snow storms that the city has seen.
As I wrote back in 2011, I have unique memories of each of the top four storms. From walking down Kedzie Ave. to my grandmother's wake in 1967, to forgetting my laptop at work and having to head back downtown after having made it safely home in 2011, I have a funny story for the other dates. But this one happened mostly on the weekend, and we had plenty of provisions at home, so there was no necessary travel needed. We had nothing planned that had to be cancelled.
Many people said they were inconvenienced because they had Super Bowl-related plans, but as we didn't care at all about the two teams involved, we never planned to even watch the game (we watched "The Towering Inferno" off our DVR instead), so that was not an issue. I guess this year's storm will be remembered, at least by us, as "just another snow." At least Kisu go to go out and play in it.
12/15/14: We had no hot water this morning. I stood in the bathroom, thinking about an article I recently read on the Internet advocating cold showers, and I just couldn't do it. Call me a sissy if you must, but I couldn't bring myself to step under that freezing cold water. This was not like that vacation we spent with Cheyenne in that little cabin in Lake Geneva, which had a water heater tank that looked to hold maybe a gallon. At least that water was warm at the start, and if you shut the water off while you scrubbed, and you didn't dawdle while rinsing, there was just enough to get the soap off of you before it went cold. But this was ice cold from the get-go, and I just couldn't do it.
11/03/14: I can't remember what pointed me to this picture of a newsstand from 1942 (it was probably a pulp magazine-related site) but I liked it so much that it's now my wallpaper on my computer at work. The only problem is that I have trouble making out the desktop icons over all the magazine covers.
But I don't mind, because it's an amazing picture. It's even more amazing when you consider that it was originally a black-and-white photo, and someone researched all the magazines depicted and painstakingly colored it! Check out the article for all the details. I know where I want to time-travel back to with a pocketful of dimes!
10/26/14: Many of you know that I'm a regular at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series. Once a month on a Saturday evening, we have a featured reader, followed by as many open mic readers as we have people who want to get up and read. This month was a little different. With Halloween coming up next week, they decided to celebrate the season with an evening-long, Halloween-themed open mic. Everyone was encouraged to bring in their "best scary stories, poems, and dramatic works" to share with the group. Sounds great, right?
This year, I've been focusing more on short stories than novels, both in consuming and creating. I've been listening to a number of short story podcasts, and one that I like a lot is Pseudopod, which features horror-themed stories. I figured I should be able to come up with a story for the reading series night. I had been thinking about it since the theme was announced, so a couple of weeks ago, I sat down at the computer to write a horror short story. I opened up my word processor, created a new file...
And just sat there, staring at the blank screen. I started a couple of times, but before I got too far I erased what I wrote. I had a few idea, but I just couldn't get started. After about an hour, I thought I'd just work on something else, and let the Halloween story stew for a little longer. I opened the file to work on Stalking Stan Dixon, the latest story I'm serializing at the THC, and I quickly found that I couldn't do anything with that, either. I was completely blocked. I then shut the computer off and went to watch TV.
A couple of days later, inspiration struck me as it usually does: when I was in the shower, getting ready to go to work. I held onto the idea until I was on the train to work, and typed a quick couple of paragraphs on my phone, then later that evening, when I got home from work, I sat down and the first draft flowed out as fast as I could type. The story came out pretty well, if I do say so myself. After I read it at the THC, Jenny said that I captured the feeling of the day pretty well. Read Into The Fog and see if you agree.
10/16/14: Last year, my brother mentioned that he was working on a personal project, using the on-line archive of the Chicago Tribune to compile a list of movies shown at the Brighton Theater when we were kids. The Brighton was a short walk from the house we grew up in, and in that pre-VCR, pre-DVD, pre-streaming age, we each spent many hours there, together or separately, enjoying the finest (and not-so-finest) that Hollywood had to offer. What we didn't realize at the time, and really not until the building had been torn down, was that the Brighton had a long history, not just as a neighborhood second-run house, but it was quite the movie palace, built by the prestigious firm of Levy & Klein for the Schoenstadt family, who ran many theaters on the south side of Chicago. I used a fictional relative of the Schoenstadts as a main character in my book The Opening of the Elysium, which, oddly enough, I haven't mentioned here before.
This sounded like an interesting project to me, so I suggested that he put the file into Google Docs so that I could help out. I also had a link to the Trib archives through my local library, and while using it to research details for several of my books, I had taken some detours to check the movie listings for the Brighton. We set up the file, and I added columns for the Colony and Marquette, two other nearby theaters. Then it was just a matter of us spending our spare time poring over fuzzy scans of old newsprint and noting the titles that were listed for each theater.
So last night I was up late, searching the archives, when I stumbled across the date of one of my fondest memories of the Brighton. I was looking for the first Friday in July, 1973, July 6,1973 to be precise, and discovered that was the date that "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" was released. It seems that they did occasionally get a first-run picture at the Brighton, and this was one of them. What makes this date so special was that on that date only, they showed all five Apes films in a row. What made it even more special was that we somehow talked our parents into letting us attend. By ourselves!
I now wish I could remember some of the conversation that went into this scheme, but somehow we convinced them that it was a good idea to drop off three pre-teen boys at the theater in the afternoon, and leave them there all day. I remember getting there around 2, just before the first movie started, and I don't remember moving much over the ensuing 8 hours. We went for snacks a couple of times (I don't know if we had popcorn, but I do remember ice cream sandwiches) but I don't think I even went to the notoriously scary bathroom, which was in the basement of the building, reachable only by an impossibly steep set of stairs. Chris recalls that he "did venture into the Brighton bathroom that day, and I know for a fact that it was the first, last and only time I did so. And yeah, it WAS scary! "
That's really all I have to report on the day. Nothing bad happened to us (it was the '70s after all) and our parents picked us up at 10, after the last movie. We were drained from all the Ape goodness, but excited that we attended our first movie marathon, although I don't remember knowing that term at the time. The only goofy thing about the entire day was that they showed the fifth movie first. Not only did that screw up the continuity of the series, but it also meant that the premiere showing of the one of the few first-run films the Brighton had in that stretch was at 2 in the afternoon. I wonder who was the knucklehead who planned that.
10/07/14: An interesting thing happened last weekend that I'd like to tell you about. Stephie was checking one of our credit card statements on-line Friday night and noticed something odd. As you can see from the screenshot here, we had a $1.09 charge on the card from someplace classified as a "HOME SUPPLY WAREHOUSE STORE" in "MID DORAVILLE US". This was suspicious in so many ways. First of all, neither of us remember making such a charge. I know it wasn't me, because I would never charge something for a dollar, at least not in person. Also, anyone who knows me knows that the likelihood of me patronizing a "HOME SUPPLY WAREHOUSE STORE" is slim to none. On top of that, the description of the vendor starts with "DO NOT USE THIS". Something funny was going on here.
I tried calling the credit card company, but it was late on a Friday, and I was tired, and there was a long wait predicted on the call, probably because there were few people answering the calls, so I figured I'd call again the next morning. Before I logged off, though, I Googled some of the particulars and it seems that Doraville is in Georgia, a place neither Stephie nor I had been since we attended the Olympics in 1986. That means nothing in this global economy, though, as the charge could have been placed by phone or via the 'net.
The next morning, I spoke to a very pleasant young woman at the credit card company and explained the situation. She said that the charge hasn't gone through yet (the "*Pending" on the line was an indication of that) and until it cleared, she said (or I think she said) that she would not have all the particulars of the transaction available to her. She did confirm, however, that the store in question was based in the Atlanta area, and that the physical card was not used in the transaction. We discussed it a bit and came to the decision that there was some kind of fraud going on here. I told her that I seem to remember one fo the TV news magazines recently doing a story about credit card fraud, and as an example, they sold some credit cards on the black market, then watched as the purchaser put through a small transaction to verify that the number was valid and active. We agreed that was what appeared to be happening here.
We decided the best course of action would be to cancel the card and issue a new number for us. She asked me several times, probably to have me on record, to confirm that I suspected fraud in this case, and that cancelling the card is what I wanted to do. She also asked if I wanted them to express the replacement cards, which they did with no charge to me, since fraud was suspected. Finally, the suspicious charge would be removed from our account. I asked her why they would put through a charge for a business with the name "DO NOT USE THIS", and she said that the name there is only the human-readable part of the transaction, so it's irrelevant to the computer, and that if the vendor is not flagged to not use, any transactions would be processed. I'm just glad that the name was as it was, because that was the first red flag that Stephie saw.
We soon got e-mail confirmation that the account was closed and the balance transferred over to the new account. The replacement cards arrived on Monday as expected, and we've not seen any evidence of any subsequent problems. Actually, there was one issue. We have this account as the default at a couple of web sites, one of which was eBay, for account I use for selling some of my crap, which I haven't done in years. Shortly after I changed the account there, Stephie noticed a one dollar charge pending for eBay, when I didn't do anything but change the number. A panicked call to eBay confirmed that the dollar charge was eBay's way of confirming that the number was valid, and that the charge would never be finalized, and sure enough, it disappeared in a few days.
So the takeway from all of this is two-fold: first, keep an eye on your credit card statements. Stephie is not thrilled with the on-line portion of our banking and credit card accounts, but she agrees that it helped us catch this quickly, before any large charges were made. I'm pretty sure that we would ultimately not be accountable for any fraudulent charges, but I doubt that contesting a large charge would be as easy as contesting a charge of $1.09.
The other thing to keep in mind is to keep a current list of all the places on-line that have your credit card number. I assembled our list the last time I had to update a card when the expiration date passed, and that list came in handy when we had to change each site that had the cancelled card. We don't have that many sites retaining our card information, but they are spread between two separate cards, and if I didn't have that list handy, we may not have changed all of them promptly, which may have resulted in a disruption of service if a site tried to use the cancelled account.
09/30/14: We now have a teenager in the house! Kisu turns 13 today, and as tradition dictates, we took her to McDonald's for her birthday dinner of a plain hamburger and some fries, which she consumed with little hesitation. She's been having a few health-related problems lately, but her appetite doesn't seem to be suffering at all. Happy Birthday, pumpkin!
09/22/14: Twenty-four years ago, I married my best friend. We didn't do it because we felt like we needed to. We didn't do it for the insurance, or for tax purposes. We didn't do it with the intention of starting a family. We did it because we loved each other and we wanted the world to know that we were committed to each other for the long haul. I don't see why everyone shouldn't have the opportunity to do the same. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie.
09/15/14: Last weekend was the opening of Stephie's art show at the Tamale Hut. She had a great turnout, a nice cross-section of friends, neighbors, and family members. We talked, we laughed, we drank beer and wine, we ate tamales, and Stephie sold some pieces. The art will be up until November 9, so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and see it. If you can't make it, try to go on the 8th for the closing reception. There looks to be talking, laughing, beer and wine, etc.
09/13/14: It's funny how some songs take you back to a certain time in your life. It could be a fond (or not so fond) memory associated with that song, or it could be a memory of the first time you heard that particular song. For the latter, though, it would have to be a pretty great song.
Last week I was in the car and Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits came on the radio. As happens every time I hear that song, especially in the car, it takes me right back to 1979. I'm driving down 47th street in my dad's dark blue Monaco, the one that looked like an undercover police car. It was late and I had just dropped my buddy Mike off at home, and I had on WLS, because at the time, my dad only had an AM radio, and that was the only station I could find that played any music at all. It may have been raining lightly, because the street lights seemed to brighten and fade as I drove under each one, sort of like a visual doppler effect. I remember I couldn't believe how good that song was, especially through that crappy single speaker in the dashboard, and even today, it's one of my favorites.
And then today, we had Saturday Morning Flashback on the radio while we were puttering around the house, getting ready for my writers group meeting this afternoon, and Stephie's art opening tonight. It was 1983 on 'XRT, and they played the Police song Synchronicity II. That took me back to 1983. I was working one morning at Dominick's and one of the managers came in and asked me, "Hey, Matt. What's a 'Lemmy'?" Without missing a beat, I replied "He's the bass player for Mot
09/06/14: I forgot to write about the second staycation of the year, this one in the middle of August. I've written before about Sythian, an "American celtic-folk" band that we saw blow us away as opening act for Great Big Sea back in 2009. We'd planned to see them again, but they hadn't come through here in a while, so when I saw they were playing at Mayne Stage, I got tickets. The concert was fantastic! They played several songs from their new album, Jump At The Sun, as well as a bunch of tunes from their other albums, most of which we have. Plus, Mayne Stage is a great place to see a show. I would not hesitate to go back there. And you need to see Scythian play live. Trust me on that.
A week before, Stephie told me that she found out that one of her favorite artists, Wassily Kandinsky, was being featured in a exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but the exhibit closed on Labor Day. I replied that coincidentally, I was home from work a couple days the following week, so the day after the Scythian concert, we dropped Kisu off at the kennel and drove up to Milwaukee. Stephie was thrilled by the art, and I found it to be very interesting as well. Kandinsky is credited with painting the first purely abstract works, and Stephie was right when she told me that I'd never seen anything like what he'd done. The exhibit was so interesting we went through it three times, then bought the book that documented the pieces. And I don't think I've seen Stephie so enthralled by anything since we were swimming with the dolphins in Florida!
As the museum was closing, I was waiting for Stephie to get back from the restroom and asked the receptionist there if there was anything she could suggest for us to do, since if we left at that time, we would hit Friday rush hour traffic on the way home. She said there was a custard stand down the boardwalk on the lake, there were a number of bars and restaurants within walking distance, and she said, "See that white tent south of the museum? That's our Irish Fest." So Stephie and I put the book and t-shirt we bought in the car and walked down to the Irish Fest. We found that it typically costs $17 to get in, but the first hour and a half on Friday, admission was $5! We made it with 15 minutes to spare! So we spent the rest of Friday drinking beer, eating Irish food, and listening to Irish music. The only thing that would have made it better was if we stayed later than we did, we could have seen Scythian again, as they were headlining one of the stages. Unfortunately, they didn't come on stage until after 10, and we had been walking all day and were pretty pooped. Plus we still had the long drive home.
The rest of the the long weekend was low-key, and it was topped off with a visit to the dermatologist that I'm sure you don't want to read about, but all-in-all, it was another successful staycation.
08/30/14: On August 30 each year, I usually celebrate R. Crumb's birthday, or Fred MacMurray's birthday, but this year's a little different. Today is my birthday. Tomorrow is my mom's birthday. To celebrate these two momentous occasions, I'm giving you a present: a free Kindle e-book of my first novel, Casco Cove! Just click the link to go to Amazon on Saturday or Sunday, August 30 & 31, 2014 and grab your free copy. And if you like it (or even if you just don't hate it), please leave me a review on Amazon. Happy Birthday to me!
08/07/14: I was browsing the TV listings on the 'net today and noticed the listing in the screenshot here for a show on channel 20. Unfortunately for me, one of the trains had a "pedestrian incident" on the way home, so I wound up sitting on the train for two hours and got home too late to see it. I wish I had, because I think we need more heroines in Chicago.
07/30/14: I had a nice staycation last weekend, and unlike most times when I take time off to do nothing, I didn't do nothing. I took the time because I was planning to go see Woman in the Moon at the Pickwick on Thursday, and knowing that it was a three-hour movie, I planned to take Friday off, so I extended it. I packed a lot of stuff into the six days:
Thursday, I finally pulled the trigger and bought myself a new computer. I was going back and forth over whether I should build or buy, and was leaning to building, since I built my last one and it was still running after almost 11 years. But the more I thought about it, I was looking forward to using it rather an looking forward to building it. I found what I thought was a good compromise in the PowerSpec line from MicroCenter. It's their house brand, and the machines are built from off-the-shelf parts, so I should be able to upgrade down the road if necessary, without being locked into one manufacturer's parts. And there was an added bonus that I hadn't expected. I wanted to install an SSD for the OS (Win7 and Linux Mint) since a guy at work said that the performance improvement was remarkable. I bought an SSD, and when I unpacked everything and went to install it, I found that there was a full Win7 install disk in the computer box, not just recovery media locked to the original hardware. That meant that I didn't have to move Windows from one drive to the other, and I could just install it fresh on the SSD. That worked like a charm, and I spent the rest of the weekend moving all my data over to the new computer. I couldn't be more pleased.
As mentioned, my brother and I went to see Woman in the Moon at the Silent Film Society of Chicago's Silent Summer Film Festival on Thursday. I wasn't planning to write a review of this film, but if you enjoyed Metropolis, you'll probably like this one. We're big fans of the earlier science-fiction masterpiece (I lost count of how many times I've seen it) and this one was made by the same writer/director team (Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang) as Metropolis. The three hours seemed to fly by. Also, the Pickwick in Park Ridge, where this year's festival is held, is a gorgeous classic movie theater, and seems to be well taken care-of.
Friday, Stephie and I went to Schaumburg. She needed to return some items, so I went along for the ride. We went to Ikea and Woodfield mall, and we both registered a lot of steps on our Fitbits. We even found a cabinet that will work for Stephie's studio, something we've been looking for for quite a while.
Saturday was the Tamale Hit Reading Series event for July. It was a light turnout, as the summer months tend to be, but all the open-mic readers were on the top of their game. The featured reader seemed to be a little nervous, but her story was interesting and we bought a copy. The highlight of the evening, though, was the first reader, Rod Piechowski, who read another story from his Randy Scuffle universe, and he had everyone falling off their chairs with laughter. His first collection is available at Amazon.com, and heartily recommend it.
Sunday we first went to my parents' house for a little birthday get-together for my brother. Everyone was able to attend and it was a great time.
Later that day, Stephie and I went to the Chicago Theater downtown to see John Fogerty. The show was terrific, and like the Pickwick, the theater was beautiful. As much as I'm thrilled to see one of these fine auditoriums restored and being used, even if it's not for movies, I'm a little saddened, because it makes me think of the hundreds of theaters that no longer exist, and the handful that are still standing but in dire need of repair. I didn't think about that during the show, though, as Fogerty pretty much rocked our socks off. I've never thought of myself as a CCR fan, but his Centerfield solo album was on constant repeat in my car tape player the year it came out. For an old geezer in a flannel shirt, he put on a high-energy show.
On Monday, we went to visit another friend from the Tamale Hut Reading Series. We cooked some burgers and corn on the grill and sat in the yeard, enjoying the summer weather. An extra added plus was that we got to bring Kisu with us.
We went to the Punch House on Tuesday evening to end the staycation. I don't listen to the radio much, prefering podcasts to broadcast, but a couple of weeks ago, I heard a song on 'XRT that I really liked. Turns out, "Come With Me Now" by the Kongos has been pretty popular for a while, showing up in movie trailers and (apparently) on some wrestling thing or another, but this was the first time I heard it. When I went to the 'XRT web site to find out information about the song, I saw that they were having a contest to see the band live. I never win these things, so I have long since stopped entering, but something told me I should so I did. A week later, I received an e-mail from 'XRT saying that we were going to see the Kongos! They did a short acoustic show in that intimate setting, and it was really great. What was even better was walking up to the door and saying "We're on the list!" Best of all, we were home in time for me to get enough sleep to go to work the next day.
Now this is the way to do a staycation! Sorry that some of the pictures are a little dark. The only thing missing was that I wanted to do some writing, but all my free time was taken up futzing with the new computer. I'm almost done reinstalling everything, and I only need to get the TV capture card configured to get me back to where I was.
I have another long weekend coming up in August, after the Scythian show on the 14th. It's going to be tough to beat this past weekend, but I'm keen to try!
07/14/14: I hope your July is going better than ours is. Kisu didn't handle the fireworks on the fourth very well at all, even with the tranquilizer we gave her, and now she's hesitant about leaving the house at all, because some of the morons in the neighborhood apparently still have some ammunition. I finally get her outside when one of these mental midgets pops off a firecracker somewhere in the neighborhood, and she makes a beeline to the door. I think we're going to have to take her away next year.
And as if that's not enough stress, in rapid succession we had my mom break her hip, my dad have a gall stone that required surgery, and Stephie's dad spend the night in the hospital because of spiking blood pressure. And I had to have a filling replaced with a crown. There's never a dull moment around here.
On a more positive note, Stephie completed a commission that she got from her recent display at the Graue Mill, and she's hard at work on some new art for her upcoming two-month display at the Tamale Hut Cafe in September and October. This is one of her new pieces, a diptych called 'Cosmic Rumble'. I hope to have more information on that shortly.
06/22/14: We had a fun evening last night, and got home well after 1 A.M. We started out at Aliano's in Batavia, which has what Stephie says is the best gluten-free pasta she's ever had. All the food was terrific, and we had a table visit from Jonathan Kamm, a sleight of hand artist who did a few card tricks that I haven't a clue how they were done. I thought I was watching closely, but apparently I was not, because he did the same trick several times, the last few fairly slowly, and I still didn't see what he did.
After dinner, we walked across the street to the Batavia Government Center, to see the Albright Theater Company's latest production, Love Rides The Rails. They describe it as an over-the-top campy melodrama, and it certainly was, allowing the cast to ham it up quite a bit to add even more laughs to the story. This is the second play we've seen at the Albright, and the second to have a former co-worker, Mark Dettman, in the cast. He was pretty good, and the show was great, so if you're in the Batavia area next weekend, it's worthwhile checking out.
On the way home from the play, after we joined Mark for a post-performance cocktail, we stopped at Ballydoyle Irish Pub in Downers Grove to catch a performance of the Funky Monks, who bill themselves as "The Ultimate Red Hot Chili Peppers Experience." We enjoy the RHCP as much as anyone, but the real reason we stopped was because the bass player, Jeff Genualdi, is a current co-worker of mine. I've known about the band for some time, but we never seemed to make time to go see them, and I figured they probably wouldn't play anywhere closer to our house than there, so we really had to make an effort to go. And I'm glad we did, because they were great! The only problem was that I forgot our ear plugs, and my old ears can't handle the loud rock-and-roll like they used to. Still, the band was having fun, and so was the crowd. I'll have to catch them again.
06/08/14: Thursday night, I took Stephie curling. We've wanted to do that ever since there seemed to be a sudden interest in the sport two or three Olympics ago. We saw it on TV and were interested in giving it a try, but found that there was really only one curling club in the Chicago area, the aptly named Chicago Curling Club, and their season is October through March, so by the time we started to inquire, the season was almost over and they were all booked.
This year, I thought I got started early by looking to book a curling class for Stephie for her birthday in February, but still no-go. I did put my name on the waiting list, in case any spots opened up. After her birthday passed, I forgot all about it.
Then in late-March, I got an e-mail from the Chicago Curling Club that a group of curling enthusiasts were starting up a another club in the area, and were looking for people interested in giving it a try. The Windy City Curling Club operates out of an ice rink in Bolingbrook, which is much closer to us than the CCC facility up in Northbrook, so we signed up for a class. The only downside is that they are only there on Thursday evenings, and while I took Friday off this week, if we were to do this with any regularity, it will make for some difficult Friday mornings at work, since we didn't get home until well after midnight.
And would we want to do it again? I don't know at this point. It was a lot of fun, but much, MUCH more difficult that it seems when you see it on TV. For one thing, it's really far from where you're standing to where the stone ends up. And when you see the people on TV do it, that sliding motion they use to launch the stone looks effortless. In reality, you need to coordinate your one foot sliding with almost no friction at all, your other leg pushing off to start your slide, and trying to support yourself on this plastic tube thing and not on the stone, then while you're doing all that, you need to aim the stone and make sure it has enough motion to get it to the other side of the rink. All the while, you're trying not to fall on your face doing that. I'm uncoordinated enough that I considered the night a success simply because I didn't faceplant on any of my shots. I didn't even care that my entire team didn't score one point.
Big thanks to Jeff and Matt at the Windy City Curling Club for their patience with us. There were ten in the group and none of us had ever curled before, and I don't know how many will be going back, but there's a good chance that Stephie and I will.
05/30/14: I saw this picture outside of Whole Foods today. It makes me wonder what they feed the cheddar that we usually buy.
05/12/14: Hi, all. I have a bunch of stuff that I've been meaning to post here, like the pictures from our Washington, D.C. trip or my weekend at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention among other things. But I've been too busy (or too lazy, you pick) to do that. I promise to catch up soon.
One thing I shouldn't have waited so long for is to tell you about the Bowl-a-Thon I'm participating in this Wednesday, May 14. Like last year, I wrote a little something silly for the donation page, inspired by this . If you'd like to kick in a buck or two for a good cause, please do but I'm really just posting this to amuse you. Check it out here: https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/MattBieniek/bp-city-bowl-a-thon.
03/23/14: So today, Stephie dragged took me shopping to Woodfield and the new Fashion Outlet mall in Rosemont. The only thing I got out of the deal was a lot of steps on my Fitbit and a soft pretzel with roasted garlic parmesian topping, but she got some clothes that she really needed.
When we were leaving the Fashion Outlet, I knew we had to stop at one of the kiosks near the door to get our parking ticket validated, and pay if necessary. They offer two hours free parking, but I had not remembered what time we actually arrived, so as we were heading towards the door and Stephie handed me the ticket, I glanced at the timestamp to see if we made it. What I saw made me break into a run towards the kiosk, and for the first time that day, it was not in use. I quickly shoved the ticket in and the screen lit up and said "No Payment Necessary."
I was grinning as Stephie caught up with me and asked how much we owed. I triumphantly showed her the ticket, which you can see here. We made it with one minute to spare. How's that for being a savvy shopper?
03/15/14: Sometimes I have the strangest things just pop into my head. Things I haven't thought about for years suddenly start swirling around in my brain. Frequently it's triggered by music, and results in a song stuck in my head that I can't get rid of it. Recently a friend was talking about a girl he had a date with in Kalamazoo, MI, as he put it "just like in Mr. Miller's song." Next thing I knew, I was walking around humming "I've Got a Girl in Kalamazoo" and I couldn't get rid of it. I read somewhere when you get an "earworm" like that, the best way to be rid of it is to listen to that song all the way to the end. It's supposed to give you some closure, I guess. So I went to YouTube and found this version, but it only made things worse. It wasn't until I saw the movie that this clip was from (Orchestra Wives from 1942) that I got the song out of my head. But I digress...
Going back to strange things from my past, I was in the car this morning and the song "Bette Davis Eyes" came on the radio. The very first thing that I thought of was the line "she's got Marty Feldman Eyes!" I seem to remember that as a parody of BDE, but I'll bet I hadn't heard that in 20 years. I didn't even remember who recorded it, or where I would have heard it, but that's what came to mind.
When I got home, I went to trusty Google, and found that "Marty Feldman Eyes" was recorded by Bruce "Baby-Man" Baum in 1981, and of course, there's a video on YouTube. It's actually not bad, as parodies go, but hardly something that I should remember more than 30 years later
Marty Feldman, on the other hand, is worth remembering, although he, too, has been gone more than 30 years. Most people remember him as Igor ("No, it's pronounced "eye-gor.") in Young Frankenstein. I remember him as the star of The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, a summer replacement TV series on ABC in 1972. I remember it primarily because of the opening credits, which were done in a goofy animation style, the likes of which I had never seen before. It was a few years later, when I discovered Monty Python, that I learned that they were done by Terry Gilliam. I was probably one of the few people in America who first saw Monty Python on PBS in the mid '70s and said, "Hey, these cartoons look just like the Marty Feldman Comedy Machine."
02/14/14: There's a TV on at work that's right in my line of sight, and it's pretty distracting under normal circumstances, but leading up to Valentine's Day, there was a commercial that seemed to be on constantly which made it more distracting. You've probably seen it: the one where they tell you not to give your sweetie flowers or candy, but give her an enormous teddy bear. The commercial is full of clips of attractive women being thrilled when presented with a huge, floppy teddy bear. How could that go wrong?
Well, one indication that this might not be a good idea is actually in the commercial itself. I couldn't find a copy of this year's version on the 'net, but click the picture here to see the 2012 version. Notice that every time you see any of these women after they were given the teddy bear, the guys are not in the picture. Think that means anything?
01/28/14: Suspicious character was spotted out walking his dog in sub-zero temperatures today. If you see him, don't be afraid. Offer him hot chocolate. He needs it.
01/13/14: So we were walking Kisu around the neighborhood tonight, an unusually warm night for January, and we caught a whiff of burgers on a grill. Stephie was planning salads for dinner, but being the bad influence I am, I suggested we go out for burgers. The scent in the air convinced her that it was a good idea.
We got Kisu settled at home and went to our new favorite burger place, Back Alley Burger in LaGrange. They have great burgers, but they also have gluten-free buns, which is what Stephie needs for her diet. Also, the beef is grass-fed, not a big deal to me, but a must for her. After much deliberation, we ordered and found a table to wait for our food.
I had my back to the counter, and I noticed Stephie watching the kids working in the kitchen. I asked her if she missed it, working in a kitchen. Not the hours or the hard work, but the fun you have when you're really busy and everyone is working in sync. She said that's what she misses, as well as the cast of characters she worked with.
As the discussion went on, I started reminiscing about my time working in a kitchen, at my first job at McDonald's when I was in high school. I told her about how McDonald's had a standard way of cooking the burgers, and how we had to circumvent those procedures when a rush hit. I really have fond memories of that job, and just then, I realized that today was the anniversary of the day I started at McDonald's. The day I entered the work force. It was a Friday night, and I worked two hours on the Quarter-pounder grill. It was only later that I realized how lucky I was to start my first day on the grill. Most people started working fries or (god-forbid) cleaning the lobby, only to have to work their way up to the grill.
Times sure have changed. That first day, there were only a few items on the McDonald's dinner menu. Hamburger, cheeseburger, Big Mac, quarter-pounder (with and without cheese), filet o' fish, fries and apple pies. That was it. Today, the variety is astounding. For example, today at BAB I had the bourbon bacon blackberry blue burger (1/2 lb beef on a buttery bun, blue cheese, bacon, blackberry bourbon jam, grilled onions, mustard, romaine), an order of cheese onion rings, and a chocolate coconut shake. Everything was delicious.
Another thing that's different these days, too. As I thought about it, I realized that first day at McDonald's I earned $5.30, before tax. I don't think that would have paid for my shake today!
01/06/14: Kisu says, "I don't care if it's 12 below zero. You bought me this vest so I wanna go out!"
12/25/13: We hope everyone had a great Christmas. We spent a quiet day at home, watching our favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard. I couldn't tell you how many times we've seen this, but it never gets old, and it's a favorite around here on the holidays.
The picture here is from an episode of Burke's Law, a TV series from the early 60s, that we watched this week. The show was known for the large number of guest stars that appeared each week, some we recognize because of later shows they were on, such as a very young Barbara Eden in this episode. The scene here was fairly early in the show, when Capt. Burke goes into a Chinese restaurant looking for a woman and wanders into a back room where a dancer is entertaining the guests. The other guy in the picture approaches him and they trade proverbs before getting down to business. I didn't recognize the guy, but when he spoke, I got the impression that I should. So I did what I've unfortunately been doing a lot of lately. I reached for my phone and looked up the episode on IMDB. I hate the layout of their Android app, but I keep using it because of all the information they have.
It turns out that I should have recognized him. The actor's name is James Shigeta, and while the name didn't mean much, his other credits did. He played Joseph Takagi in the original Die Hard, 24 years later! It turns out that he was a pretty popular actor around the time of this show. To quote John McClane, "Who knew?"
11/22/13: I've always had two memories that pop into my head at odd times. When I was little, I thought that they were my earliest childhood memories, but I've since discovered that one was impossible and was probably a dream, which makes me suspicious of the other.
The first is of myself as a small child, hiding from my mother. It was like I was playing hide-and-seek with her. I remember hiding in a cabinet in the kitchen of the apartment that we lived in when I was born. Although I remember hiding in the cabinet, I also saw my mother standing in the kitchen looking for me, with the sun shining in the back door and reflecting off the linoleum floor. It was many years later that I happened to be in that apartment, which was across the street from the house I grew up in, and I saw that the cabinets were too small for even a toddler to hide in, so I assume the memory was really a dream and not something that happened. If that's the case, I can't tell when I would have had the dream, so I don't know how early a memory it was.
The other memory is much more vivid, and it came back to me again today. I was again a toddler, and I walked out on the back porch to see my mother sitting in the rocking chair that my dad had built from a kit. It was a replica of the rocking chair that President Kennedy had, and it was a fixture in the house all my life as I grew up. The memory I have is my mother sitting there, crying. She seemed bigger than I normally remember her, and I walked up to her and asked her what was wrong, but I don't remember her answer.
I've often wondered about that memory, and if it was true, unlike the other one, I suspect it was 50 years ago today. At the time, she would have been pregnant with my brother, and I just checked the weather forecast for Chicago for that day in 1963 and it was expected to be 60 degrees, which would be plenty warm enough to sit on the porch, which we didn't really use in the winter. I would've been two at the time, but is it possible that I do have a memory of the day that the President was killed?
11/18/13: Last Saturday, I was the featured reader at the Tamale Hut Cafe, where I've been participating as a open-mic reader for a couple of years now. As a special event, I converted a chapter from my latest book, The Sleep Detectives, into a script and we presented it in the style of an old-time radio show. You can see more details, and actually listen to the show, at my new web site Storiesbymatt.net. On there is information about all of my books, links to Amazon.com to purchase them in paperback or Kindle, and some links to a few short stories I've written. I plan to update it regularly with more of my writing escapades.
11/03/13: You know that Audi commercial that has all those people yelling at the woman trying to put diesel in her car. Where were they when Stephie accidentally put diesel in her Beetle, resulting in a not-insignificant car repair bill?
10/30/13: I have a bunch of things I wrote this month to post here, but I've been so busy this month that I just haven't made the time to put them up, so I'll be back-dating them. But I wanted to post pictures of the Halloween decorations one of our neighbors has on her front lawn. The guys coming out of the ground here are bad enough, but click the picture to see one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen for a decoration.
09/14/13: Stephie got to meet one of her favorite authors yesterday, as we drove out to Anderson's Bookstore in Naperville to get Sue Grafton's autograph on her new book.
I can't tell you how many times I think of a band that I'd like to see, only to find out that they had just played locally a day or a week before. That's happened with a few authors, too. Last week I finished reading 'E' is for Evidence, and Stephie was in the middle of 'P' is for Peril, so Sunday I thought to check Sue's web site for any new activity. Not only was her next book, 'W' is for Wasted, coming out three days later, she was signing books in Naperville a few days after that. How about that for a happy coincidence?
09/13/13: You ever have one of those mechanical toys that were wound with a key, that had a fat metal spring inside? You know how when the spring started to wind down, the toy would just move slower and slower until it just stopped?
I don't know why, but that's exactly how I feel today.
Maybe I need a nap.
08/31/13: I spent some time today shopping with Stephie at Woodfield mall, and while she was looking at lotions and soaps in Crabtree & Evelyn, I was looking at their shaving products. They have a neat wooden bowl for holding shaving soap, and an assortment of brushes for applying lather. Having been a bearded man for nearly 15 years now, I have no use for any of this, but an odd thought occurred to me: I don't remember ever using a razor.
I'm sure that I did, back when I first started to see little tiny hairs growing out of my face. Even into the late '90s, I was never so hirsute that I needed to shave more than a couple times a week, but I have absolutely no recollection of ever putting razor to face. My uncle gave me an electric razor pretty early on, and I took to it pretty quickly. I liked the fact that I didn't have to mess with shaving cream, and didn't even really have to pay attention while shaving, only a quick check at the end to make sure I got everything. These days, I don't know how I would manage the beard off anytime soon, but it struck me as odd that I don't remember ever shaving with a razor.
08/22/13: Back when I used to buy a lot of anime dvds, I would regularly read the old animeondvd.com web site (now part of mania.com and not nearly as good.) It had the best information about upcoming releases, and the guy who did the reviews seemed to have similar tastes to mine. I may be wrong, but my impression was that he was a stay at home dad with two young girls and shelves full of dvds, and he spent all his non-child-rearing time watching anime and writing about it. One day I read that he had been to a convention and friends were concerned about his health. His weight had ballooned, and they were concerned that he needed to make a change in his lifestyle. What he did was buy a treadmill, and between walking on it and other changes in his life, was able to get back in shape. One thing that I remember distinctly was when he hit his million step milestone. He had a picture on the site of a small gym shoe charm that he got from the group helping to get him into shape. At the time, I thought that was an unbelievable amount of steps.
For the last few years at work, we've had to earn points to qualify for better health insurance, and one scheme this year is they would give us a FitBit pedometer. They announced that we could earn a big chunk of our points goal by walking a million steps before mid-December. I had used a pedometer before, to track my walking to and from the train and work, not to mention the frequent dog walks, but I never really paid much attention to total steps. I thought I might have a chance to hit the goal, but a million steps seemed an almost unattainable goal. I was wrong.
I hit my million steps today, a little over four months after starting. I'm a little disappointed that I got no feedback for hitting that milestone. On the FitBit site, I got a "badge" for my first 10,000 step day, and another when I passed 250 miles, but nothing for 1M. (I did later get a badge for 500 miles walked. Cue the Proclaimers.) I guess I have a sense of accomplishment, plus that huge chunk of points towards insurance, so I'll have to be happy with that. And who knows? There's almost four more months before the mid-December deadline, so I might be able to hit 2M before then.
08/03/13: We just had the second of two consecutive Saturdays of Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series nights, and except for Stephie not going because she didn't feel well, they were a big success, in no small part because of the PA system that I rented for them from A Sound Education, a music store in my neighborhood. It was great to be able to hear all the readers, which was not always possible, and it was also great to read into a microphone, rather than worrying if my voice carried all the way to the back, especially when the people in the kitchen got loud. This week, I read the latest Sleep Detectives chapter, but last week I read something a little different. It was a story called Mirrors, and you can read it here.
07/28/13: Warning: this can be seen as one of those "get off my lawn, you kids" style rants.
The main story in today's Arts section really hit home with me. The reporter was complaining about people chatting while performers are on stage, trying to entertain the crowd. Stephie and I have been seeing this type of behavior for years. The first time I noticed this phenomenon was at a Hothouse Flowers show at the House of Blues. We staked our spot near the back of the room, and noticed it was a little noisy during the opening act, one guy and his guitar, but figured the crowd would calm down for the headliner. We were thrilled when the band came on the stage carrying acoustic guitars to play an unplugged show, but were soon horrified to find that we could not hear the band because of all the chatter around us. Stephie took to yelling at people to shut up, but she got in return were dirty looks. A girl near us said "Well, this is a bar, you know." I replied, "Yes, it is. But do you you usually pay $35 cover charge to go to a bar to talk?" She just turned up her nose and went back to her conversation, completely ignoring the band.
Come to think of it, the problem goes back even further. I used to be a big fan of Jimmy Buffett. Saw him several years in a row at the late, lamented Poplar Creek Music Theater. Soon after Stephie and I started dating, he was booked to play Tinley Park. (I think it was called the World at that time. What'ss it now, the First National Bank of the United States of America Savings and Loan Amphitheater?) He had Little Feat as an opening act, and I was a big fan of them as well. This might have been the first time they came through the area after reforming, and I was excited to see two of my faves on one bill. Unfortunately, the pavilion was sold out by the time I found out about it, but I figured that lawn seats would be the next best thing, right? Wrong.
We arrived and planted ourselves where we had a decent view of the stage. There was some rowdiness in the crowd, but that was to be expected, I thought, because it was the lawn. The lights went down, Little Feat hit the stage, and we could barely hear them over the din of the crowd. There must have been maybe 10 people on the lawn trying to listen to the band. Everyone else was laughing and drinking and carrying on. We tried to get closer, but even at the front of the lawn we couldn't hear a thing.
After Little Feat left the stage and the lights went up, the crowd got louder. It had rained that week, and the middle aisle turned to mud, which people used to slide down the lawn. It didn't get any better (or quieter) when Buffett's band hit the stage. We left in disgust after three or four songs. Haven't been to see him since.
Since the Hothouse Flowers debacle, we've only been to House of Blues a few times. Each time we get there way early, plant ourselves arms reach from the stage, and stay there the whole time. This has served us well, but when I took Stephie to see Gino Vannelli, the songs were fine, but when he was talking between songs, we had a little trouble hearing him, even though we could practically touch the stage. I'd be hard pressed these days to go to a general admission concert because of this. It seems that when there is assigned seating, more people seem to want to listen to the music.
The thing that upset me most about the Tribune article was the attitude of the people the reporter talked to about this issue, especially the one that said he was in the "talking section". What? And the other one who said "the band doesn't seem to mind". We went to Fitzgerald's once and saw Alejandro Escovedo open for Poi Dog Pondering, a benefit concert for one of the workers there. His set started with just him on acoustic guitar and Susan Voeltz from PDP on violin. The first song was amazing, but halfway through the second, it was getting hard to hear because of all the chatter. He stopped the song and addressed the crowd. "Look," he said, "I came here all the way from Texas to play this show. If you want to just stand there and talk, I'm just going to get back on the plane and go home." There was a stunned silence in the crowd, and a few of us applauded. He played the rest of the set and it was some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard played live. The crowd was mostly quiet, but started to get chatty near the end.
Look, I know we're not going to the symphony, where they'll throw you out for opening a candy wrapper too loudly, but show some respect to the musicians, and the people who have paid (sometimes a lot of) money to see them and hear them play.
07/07/13: We had a lousy Fourth of July this year. Since it fell on Thursday, and I had to work on Friday, we decided that we were going to stay home: Stephie to paint and me to relax and maybe write. What we hadn't counted on was Kisu's increasing problem with loud noises. We've comforted her through some fairly violent thunderstorms recently, but the fireworks this year were horrible, beginning well before the first of the month. Even though we put the Thundershirt on her well before the first pop of the day, by mid-afternoon she was glued to my leg, and if I tried to get away from her, even just to go outside to clean the kitchen windows, she would start to panic. The shirt has been working well for storms, but it had little effect today.
She was never really comfortable on the fourth, but then we usually would go to my parents' house for the day. Their neighborhood seemed in past years to be quieter than ours, and they have a family room downstairs where Kisu could go where very little noise would reach her sensitive ears. On top of staying home this year, it was a beautiful day so we had the windows open, and every bang would just make her jump, then sit and tremble.
We have some sedatives that we got from the vet years ago, and we gave her one in the afternoon. It calmed her a little, but she didn't sleep. She would just look at us with this glazed look, and she would still be bothered by the loudest of the noises from outside. It wore off just as we were going to bed, after the bulk of the noises subsided. Unfortunately, some bozo must have found a spare pack, and blew them off one at a time, from about 11:30 P.M. until well after midnight. We just sat up with her until she stopped trembling.
The day had started out great, with Kisu and I greeting our neighbors, who were out putting flags in everyone's lawn, as you can kind-of see in the picture here, but it ended badly, with Stephie and I getting very little sleep because of our little scaredy puppy. I think we'll need a new plan for next Independence Day.
06/16/13: Last Friday was a milestone at this site, and I've been so lazy here lately that I let it slip right by. June 14, 2013 was the tenth anniversary of the first post here at stephanieandmatt.com. As you can read here, the site started as my final project for my final class of my bachelor's degree, and has expanded from there. Since then I've had over 9500 people look at the home page, which I think is pretty good for what would be called a personal blog these days. Sure, I've expanded it with some other pages like picture galleries for Stephie's art and Kisu's pictures, but it's still just a place for me to write about what's on my mind at the time.
I look back and there have been some lulls when I haven't posted much. Truth is, I'm in the middle of one right now. But it looks like May of 2010 was the only month in the last 10 years that I didn't post at least one article. I'm pretty proud of that.
Not much major has changed in our personal lives since this site went live, though. Stephie and I still live in the same place, Kisu is still with us, we drive the same cars, and I work at basically the same job. There have been some changes, though, and I'm not thinking about how gray my beard has become in that time. Stephie has her own web site now, artbystephie.com, and she's done several outdoor art shows, selling a few of her original pieces and many mini-prints. I've self-published two books and am working to complete the third, and I'm currently the main instigator of a writing group in North Riverside. And there's that gray hair I mentioned.
But time marches on, as they say, and I think the place needs sprucing up. I haven't done anything with the design of this site since January of '04, when I made a behind-the-scenes change so it's easier for me to post things. I don't plan any major changes to the design of the site, because I still like the way it looks, but I think I'm going to take down a few of the pages in the blue bar on the left, and maybe put up a couple of new ones. I think I need to have a semi-permanent page for my writing projects, and I need to update that Safe Computing page that I have neglected for the past couple of years. I'll probably take downt he 2007 Cicada page, because we should have another visit from them next year.
So if you've been reading my drivel here for the last ten years, I thank you, and ask you to check back in a couple of weeks. The place won't look dramatically different, but I hope I'll have some more stuff for you to read. And as always, thanks for looking.
05/07/13: (Updated)I've signed up again for the Bowl-a-Thon at work on May 15, to benefit Junior Achievement. When they asked me to participate, I promised to stink up the lanes the same as I did last year, but they said they didn't care, so I'm in. Through the fundraising site they use, I've set up a page for secure, online donations. The format was set by the site, but there was a spot called "My Story" which, of course, I took some liberties with, as I did by using the picture of the guys lawn bowling that you see here. This is what I wrote:
I really had hit rock bottom.
Things had been bad, sure, but now, the wife and kids were gone. My health was failing, I couldn't keep a job. I just didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. I felt as though I was drifting aimlessly through life. Lost. Without purpose.
Then I discovered bowling.
Bowling gave me something to live for, something to strive for. The pursuit of the perfect game. The thrill of picking up that 7-10 split. The assortment of colorful footwear. Every chance I had, I was down at the lanes, working on my hook, my delivery, my straight ball. As my game improved, my outlook on life did, too. I held my head high. I got my swagger back.
And with all this exercise, I feel better physically. I find that my pants fit better. I have more energy. My right bicep is twice the size of my left, which makes my shirts fit funny, but with these awesome bowling shirts that I now wear exclusively, no one notices.
The game of bowling got me back in the game of life. And now it's time to give back, and I'm asking you to help.
It must have been effective because several people donated, including one of my co-workers who, after hearing me read it out loud said "I'd donate to that site!"
04/21/13: I was on the train, coming home from work the day after the big rain. I was reading, so I was not paying attention to where I was at, but I put the book away after we passed the Riverside station. I looked out the window and saw that we were in one of the forested areas along the tracks, and there was standing water around the trees. I figured that the Des Plaines river had overflowed its banks due to the massive rain we had the night before, and like I ususally do after a big rain, I tried to see where the usual banks were.
As the train went over the bridge, I couldn't see the typical landmarks that marked the banks of the river. There was something there, but I didn't recognize it. Then I looked up and saw traffic lights straight ahead. I was not looking at the Des Plaines river, but was looking at First Avenue! The thing I didn't recognize was the very top of the guard rail just before the bridge.
As ususal, I didn't have my camera handy, and by the time I did, the train had moved on. I couldn't find a picture of First Ave. on the 'net, but I found this picture on the Chicago Tribune web site. This was in Lisle, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what I saw.
03/30/13: Ten years ago today, our little family increased by one, as Kisu came to live with us, and she's been a bundle of joy ever since. Stephie is always saying how much Kisu makes her laugh. Case in point was yesterday. We were cleaning the apartment ahead of having everyone over for Easter. We moved everything out of the dining room so that we could use the carpet scrubber we rented from PetSmart. We had not planned to move everything back until today, so the dining room was empty all evening except for the piano. Earlier, Kisu and I were running around, and she was clearly having fun playing indoors without having to worry about running into the table (which she has done a few times.) After dinner, Stephie was watching TV and I was working on the computer, and when I went to get something to drink, I saw Kisu, sacked out right in the middle of the empty dining room. Something about that image made me laugh out loud. I took a picture, but it was much funnier in person. She just looked up at me, wondering what I was laughing about. Today we went to McDonalds for dinner, as is our custom on Kisu's birthday or adoption day, and she seemed to really enjoy her hamburger and fries. Happy Adoption Anniversary, princess. And don't worry, you can sleep wherever you want.
02/26/13: I was recently listening to an episode of The Book Cave, one of the many podcasts I subscribe to. It's not very well recorded, but I usually am so interested in its content that I struggle through the tinny sound and audio artifacting and other technical difficulties. The hosts are very enthusiastic about their subject matter, which is typically books, comics, pulps, movie serials, or old-time radio. All things near and dear to my heart.
The guest on this particular show was one of the guys behind the resurrection of Captain Action, a short-lived action figure from the sixties. Captain Action was a G.I.Joe-sized action figure (the full-sized '60s Joe, not the tiny '80s version) that could become other characters from TV and comics. If you (or more likely your parents) had some spare cash laying around, you simply buy a costume and your Captain Action could become Batman or Spider-Man or the Green Hornet or Steve Canyon or Flash Gordon. Considering that all those characters were from different companies, I'm amazed that they got licenses to make all those costumes. To offer such a wide variety today would probably cost a fortune.
So the guys on the podcast were talking about what they remember of the figure from its first incarnation. One of the hosts said that he still had his original Captain Action figure, in the original box, and the guest laughed and said something about how he must have "enjoyed the character just the right way." That struck me as wrong.
The picture here is of Captain Action's hat. It's a hard chunk of rubber and is the only thing that's left of the Captain Action I had when I was a kid. (Truth to tell, this is a picture I found on the 'net. My CA cap is somewhere in storage, but if I find it, I'll replace this picture with a shot of mine.) I think the only costume I had for him at the time was Batman, but I remember him having many adventures, regardless of who he was dressed as.
We played with that toy until all that was left of him was his hat. I think that was the right way to enjoy the character. I sometimes wish I knew what happened to the rest of him, but considering that one of our GI Joes was doomed to have his body cavity stuffed with cheese and buried in the snow in our back yard, I have to assume Captain Action met a similar fate. We were boys, after all.
01/28/13: I checked the weather forecast this morning, and to me this week looked like something of a roller-coaster ride. We had an ice storm on Sunday, and for Tuesday, they predict a high of 63F and thunderstorms. Wednesday we have a 50% chance of snow, but Thursday night should be a low of 3F with windchills dipping to -15F, and up to a high of 18 (windchill of -8F) on Friday. When I saw that, though, the first thing I thought of was the sequence of comic panels you see here.
When we were kids, our parents would sometimes buy us Gold Key digest comics. We had little fat paperbacks featuring Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, and the Road Runner, to name just a few. We also had Dennis the Menace and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. (Actually, I'm not sure how that one got through.) But the cream of the crop were the Walt Disney collections. We read those digests until they were practically falling apart. Even after our dog Sam chewed the corners and the covers did fall off, there was still some mighty fine entertainment in those yellowing, faded pages.
One of my favorite stories in those digests was a Gyro Gearloose story called Monsterville. Gyro, if you don't know, was something of a crackpot inventor, and in this story, he set about to turn Duckburg into a futuristic city, with "built-in weather controls." As he was surveying his work, the sequence depicted here happened.
I expect the announcement from the Weather Master of Chicago any time now.
01/19/13: I missed celebrating a major milestone last Sunday. Thirty-five years ago, on Friday, January 13, 1978, I entered the workforce as I began my first day at McDonalds. I think I only worked two hours, but I remember it went by very fast. I earned $5.30 that day. Before tax, of course.
I spent almost three and a half years there, which was an eternity considering the turnover of the crew back then, but it was a great first job. What I got out of it was my first taste of independence, a sense of responsibility, a pretty good work ethic, one life-long friend, and lots of great memories.
Many people used to ask me how I could still eat there after having worked there so long. They thought I'd be sick of the food. But even though the menu was relatively limited back then, I never tired of it. Even today, I stop at McDonalds now and again, to get a Big Mac or a regular hamburger. I see all the kids working behind the counter and in the back, preparing the food. The store operates quite a bit differently than it was when I worked there, with such a large menu and less food prepared ahead of the customer ordering it, and I wonder if it's still such a good first job. I'll bet it is.
12/28/12: Stan Leeturns 90 today! I often think of who I would like to meet in person, and I usually think of people who have left us, but Stan the Man is definitely someone I'd like to shake the hand of and thank for all the years of fine entertainment, not to mention the broadening of my vocabulary. Excelsior!
12/17/12: And here's your forecast for the week:
12/08/12: Just a quick update: I finished my latest novel (this year's NaNoWriMo story) at 11:37 this morning. Final count was 55,555 words. It actually was 55,554 after I typed "The End," but I went back and added one more word to make it an easy-to-remember 55,555.
I think I need a nap now.
11/30/12: I don't mean to brag ... okay, yes I do. I won the NaNoWriMo challenge again! But there's a difference this year, and that's the fact that the novel is not done yet. 50,241 words since the first of November and I still have some story to go. Stephie says that she really likes what I've done so far, and has given me some of her theories about how it's going to end, but I'm not telling her if she's right or not. She'll have to wait until I finish. I'm hoping that's going to be tomorrow, after which, I'm taking a little break from fiction writing.
Except, of course, for my annual review at work, which is due next week.
11/26/12: Almost there! I know how the book is going to end, and I don't know that I will get there by Friday, but I do know I will be at 50,000 words by Friday (maybe even Thursday,) and that's all that's required to "win" the NaNoWriMo challenge. I'm so confident I'm going to order my winner's t-shirt tomorrow!
11/22/12: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. We had the family over, and Stephie made another amazing holiday meal. We all had a great time, and after everyone left, I got a chance to work on my novel some more. Looks like I may make my goal!
11/18/12: I had a fairly busy weekend. Saturday night was the last Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series event for the year, and my story was well received, even though it was significantly darker than my usual fare.
Sunday, we got to see the Packers on TV, since the Bears are on Monday night this week, and then started to clean the apartment in advance of everyone coming over for dinner on Thursday.
And between all that, I was able to make some pretty good progress on my novel, as you can see from the chart here. Although, looking at the chart, it seems that when it's calculating my "words per day to finish on time", they think that there are 31 days in November.
11/13/12: Last day of my November vacation, and I'm back on track, word count-wise. The story is flowing pretty well, and I like what I'm writing. Now all I have to do is keep up this pace for at least another 29,000 words. And in 17 days!
11/10/12: Still playing catch-up, but I'm getting there. The story is not flowing as easily as it did the last two times I did this, but I am still moving along. (I'm still working tonight, but I need to put my word count in before midnight or else it will look like I didn't do anything today. I already have one day of no activity this month. I can't afford another.) But I did have a pleasant surprise today, in that one of my local beer stores has received a supply of my current favorite brew, Breckenridge Pandora's Bock, which I wasn't expecting until after the first of the year since it's a seasonal item. I picked up a few, and expect it to fuel my noveling for the rest of the month.
11/07/12: As predicted, I've put myself in a hole, both with not writing at all yesterday because of watching the election results, and with a bit of writer's block today, but I expect to make up word count tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed.
11/05/12: Falling a little behind today, and don't expect to do much writing tomorrow due to the election, but I'm not worried because I have a mini-vacation coming up starting later in the week, and I expect to catch up and get ahead, once we're past the election. Don't forget to vote!
11/01/12: That's right, I'm doing it again this year. Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. So like I did the last two Novembers, I will be trying to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. What am I, nuts? Yeah, maybe I am, but I always work better with a deadline, and this is a tough one. I know from experience that if I fall behind on this, it's not easy to catch up, so I'm going to try to not let that happen. I've taken a snapshot of the nifty chart that the NaNoWriMo site provides to help you keep track of your progress. I will try to update it daily, so you can see how well I'm doing. As usual, I'm starting out a little slow, but I finished the last two years in 29 days, so I'm not worried. Wish me luck!
10/30/12: Either Google needs to adjust their program which truncates headlines on their news page, or else there's a person in their office trying to put a different spin to stories. Check out this screencap. If you were the type of person who only reads headlines, who would you say that Joss Whedon is backing in the upcoming election? Based on the sentence below, I think some of the context was lost in the headline.
10/07/12: There was no Tamale Hut Reading Series event in August, so I was able to get ahead by a month, writing my story for September a month early. But when they announced the September date, it happened to fall on September 22nd, our 22nd wedding anniversary. I thought this was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I surprised Stephie by reading the story of our wedding day. Everyone who spoke to me afterwards said they really liked it so I've posted it here, complete with pictures! Hope you enjoy it.
09/27/12: Back in July, I was the featured reader at the Tamale Hut Reading Series in North Riverside, reading portions of my recent book, The Hidden Message, and my brother was there with his trusty camcorder, capturing a portion of my story. I've converted it to a Flash video and have posted it here for your enjoyment.
If you like what you hear, you can pick up the book from Amazon, in either paperback or Kindle format. Or if you'd like a copy signed by the author and the cover artist, send me an e-mail and we can work out how to get it to you. I even have a couple of copies left of my first book, Casco Cove, if you'd like signed copies of my full output to date.
And if you do read it, would you please post a comment on the Amazon site? I've had offers from family members to write a review, but I figured it would look better if the first review wasn't from someone who worked on the book, or with the same last name as the author.
09/14/12: I used to read Yahoo News all the time, but I switched over to Google News because it seemed to me the quality of the stories they picked to feature has declined dramatically in the past few years. Google News is not as good as Yahoo News used to be (they frequently link to things behind paywalls, for instance) but overall I'm happy enough to not switch back just yet.
But one thing I kept going back to was the Yahoo TV news page. For the longest time, it was the best place to find out what's going on with my favorite shows, to get information about other shows, and to just read industry stories. Now, though, it seems like it's all reality show news and other crap I don't care about. Plus, it seems like some stories linger there well beyond their expiry date. Case in point: this screenshot of the site, taken just this morning. Why is this still the top story chronologically on the page? Beyond the fact that it's nobody's business if Anderson Cooper is gay, the byline on this article is over two months ago! Is this still headline news? Was it ever?
08/18/12: It's been a hot and lazy summer, and after the excitement of getting the new book published and finally shaking this summer cold that has been lingering in my head for more than a week, I think it's time that I get back to doing something productive, starting with posting pictures and video from our Alaska trip in June.
We arrived in Fairbanks on June 22, the longest day of the year. We arrived at 1AM, and saw the Midnight Sun firsthand. It was strange to walk outside the airport at that time and not see any streetlights on, because they were not needed. The sun was very near the horizon, giving the impression of twilight, but it never got darker than that. That night, Stephie went to bed at around 10:30 or so, and I stayed up to read. I was reading in the cabin until well after midnight, without having to turn on a light, as there was enough light outside to be able to read easily.
I wanted to have some way of portraying that to everyone back home. I took the first video you see here with my camera, just to give you an idea of how bright it was at midnight, but I thought there might be a better way of showing this. I checked the Android market and found a program called LapseIt, which claimed to be able to create a time-lapse film. I set the phone in the window (since it was the best way I could find to stand it up) and told it to take one picture ever six seconds. Except for being unable to supress the camera shutter sound that the phone makes when it takes a picture, it worked great. Here's the resulting video, taken from 10:08pm on June 23 to about 8:42AM on June 24. You can clearly see that it never gets dark but it does dim a bit after midnight. Watch for the steam rising from the small lake on the left side of the picture around 2:30am, and then the sun actually rises again around 4:30am.
07/09/12: Hi! Yes, we survived the Alaska trip. I'm waiting for Stephie to get her film developed before I begin posting stuff here, but it's on its way. In the meantime ...
My second book, The Hidden Message, is done, and is now available from Amazon.com in paperback, and the Kindle version will be available soon. I can't thank Jon, Chris, and Stephie (editor, designer, and cover artist respectively) enough for all the hard work they did to make me look good. The book really looks great.
The other big news is related the book. I've mentioned in the past that Stephie and I have been attending the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series once a month, and I've been having a lot of fun reading things that I wrote. Well, they had a cancellation for July, and have asked me to be the featured reader! And thanks to some expedited shipping, I will have copies for sale at the restaurant. So if you want to have some great tamales, tinga, and chili, and would like to hear me read from my latest book (and possibly buy an autographed copy,) come on out to the Tamale Hut on First Ave and Cermak in North Riverside on Saturday, July 14. The festivities start at 7 PM, but come early for some good food. And it's BYOB if you really want to make a night of it.
And if pick up a copy (either at the Tamale Hut on Saturday or from Amazon) and read it, let me know what you think. Better yet, write a review of it for the Amazon page.
06/19/12: The other day, I was talking to someone at work, and the subject of story lengths came up: how long is a short story, how long is a novelette, that sort of thing. So I looked it up in the Internet, and in the Wikipedia article about word count, there was a link to the list of longest novels. I followed that link to find that the current Guinness World Record Holder for Longest Novel is In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, at an estimated 1.2 million words.
When I saw that, the first thing that popped into my head was a men's choir singing "Proust in his first book wrote about, wrote about..." in a madrigal style. This, of course, is from the "All-England Summarize Proust Competition" skit from Monty Python's Flying Circus. At the same time, I also thought of the character in the "Fish License" skit, where also mentions Proust. (Favorite line: "Look, it's people like you what causes unrest.")
I've mentioned in the past that knowledge sometimes comes from strange places. When I ran across a mention of the Montgolfier brothers on a web site, I knew who they were because they were characters in a segment on Monty Python. I remember the first time I was in Wild Oats (now Whole Foods) by my house and wandered by the cheese section, I recognized a lot of the types of cheese as mentioned in the "Cheese Shop" skit. And in my second book The Hidden Message (coming soon to Amazon), I had one of the characters talk about sitting in Philosophy class, as I did a few years back, and having Monty Python flashbacks because of all the references to philosophers that were liberally sprinkled through the episodes. I may not have known who the philosophers were, like I did not know what all the different cheeses tasted like, but when I saw it was Joseph Montgolfier's birthday, I thought, "That's the guy from Monty Python. I should look him up." And I did, and I found out a little about the early days of ballooning. I think that kind of inquisitiveness is priceless.
One more thing about Proust. The Wikipedia article about "
05/19/12: So a couple months ago I got a new phone for work. I had been using a Blackberry, and while it was a pretty good phone and was great for getting my work e-mail, it was awful for occasional web browsing. So much so that I ultimately only used it for checking the Weather Underground site, which for some reason popped up almost instantaneously, when even the plain Google home page would take forever. I wasn't necessarily looking to change, but they want to get rid of the Blackberry infrastructure that the company had to maintain for the dwindling number of Blackberry users, so they suggested I upgrade.
So I was given a choice. I could get an iPhone or an Android. I know the press just fawns over the iPhone, but I didn't want to have to install iTunes, and I'm not a fan of a lot of how Apple operates, so I went with an Android phone, specifically a Motorola Photon. It was one of the only Android phones offered by Sprint which would work overseas, in case work ever sent me there, and it had more positive reviews than the others on the Sprint site, so I got one, and so far I love it. It's great as a phone, e-mail is good, the web is usable, and battery life is good.
But it got me thinking. It doesn't have a hardware keyboard like the Blackberry did, but I've gotten pretty comfortable typing on the on-screen keyboard, so I figured it might be good for some of the fiction writing I've been trying. It's too small for editing anything longer than a sentence or two, but if I could, for instance, capture a few paragraphs on the train going to work, I could just clean it up when I'm at an actual computer. Stephie bought me a Netbook for my birthday last year so I could write on the veranda or sitting in the yard, but this would be even more convenient for jotting down ideas when they hit me.
So I tried Google Docs. I'd heard good things about that for a while, it's free to use, and it's integrated in Android, so I write something in Docs on the phone, and I can retrieve it from any web browser. Turns out there are two problems with that. First, if you're in a dead zone with no Internet access, like when I took Stephie to DeKalb for her art demo last month, you can't access your documents. I sort of knew that, being that everything is in "the cloud." But I found that I could not even start working on a blank document without Internet access. Even worse that that, though, was when I was typing something on the train and my connection dropped for a couple minutes. It actually stopped me from typing, with a message that I could not work on that document any more because I had no Internet connection. I think I even lost a little of what I was working in. Not cool.
One of the things I really used on the Blackberry was the Notes feature. It automatically synced with the Notes section of Outlook at work, so if I typed something on the phone, it would automatically be in Outlook. That integration does not exist in the Android world, but there is Evernote. My buddy Dan has raved about Evernote, and I tried it on the Blackberry but quickly discarded it because of the atrocious Internet capability that it had. I once tried to create a note, but canceled it after it spun on the screen for five minutes. Now on Android I see what Dan was talking about. Creating a note was instantaneous, I could type what I want and it would be accesible from any web browser. Even better, if I was not connected to the Internet at the time, it would wait and make my updates when the connection was restored. And it was free to use. I even tried the Windows client, and it worked really well. Or so I thought.
Last week I was working on the latest story for the Tamale Hut Reading Series that Stephie and I have been attending for the last year or so, and I was working on it on the Netbook. I finished for the night and shut down, but when I went to look at it on the train the next day, my last changes were not there. The only thing I could think is that there was some problem and it didn't sync with the server. It was only a couple paragraphs, and it was probably my own fault for not noticing, but I need something that works without me thinking about it. I'm spending too much time fooling around with the programs, when I should be writing.
So now I'm trying DropBox. It's also free to use, I've heard good things over the years, and a guy at work swears by it, so I'm giving it a go. There's a folder on my hard drive and on my phone (and on my work machine, since my company says it's OK to install), and anything I put in one magically appears on the other. (Incidentally, if you want to try DropBox, use this link to sign up. You will get an extra 500MB added to the 2GB space they give you for free, and I'll have the same added to my account.) It's only been a couple days, but it seems like it might be just what I need to integrate all my writing environments.
Well, almost. A while back, I decided to save all my documents in an RTF file format. Since I happily use LibreOffice at home and reluctantly use MS Word at work (and Chris used Quark to lay out Casco Cove), I thought RTF would be the best because it was cross-platform, and didn't have the security problems that the Word DOC format has. Unfortunately, QuickOffice, the default Android document editor, doesn't understand RTF, and it doesn't look like any of the other popular editors on Android do either. Rats!
04/30/12: I had a great time last weekend at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback convention at the Westin in Lombard. I've attended this annual show several years in a row now, and I seem to enjoy it more every year. It's big enough that it attracts vendors, publishers and writers from all over the country, but it's small enough that it's not too crowded. You can take your time browsing, or engage one of the vendors in a conversation and not feel hurried. I had nice conversations with people I've met in previous years, like Ron Fortier and Rob Davis of Airship 27, Wayne Reinagel of Knightraven Studios, and Ed Hulse from Blood 'n' Thunder magazine. I also met and had nice conversations with William Patrick Maynard, who was introduced to me as the new Sax Rohmer, and Gene Christie from Black Dog Books, among others.
This years show featured Edgar Rice Burroughs and two of his most famous creations: Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars, and the film room at the con featured one Tarzan movie after another. I never really cared for Tarzan films when I was a kid, even though they were on TV most weekends back then, but I caught a few while there, and kind of enjoyed them. I'll have to look into them a little more.
But the big revelation was on Thursday night, when the con organizers booked the theater next door for a private showing of the recent Disney John Carter film for con attendees. Many of my fellow attendees read the series when they were very young and have strong opinions of how the characters should look and act. I only read the first two books in the series for the first time a couple years ago, so it was somewhat easy for me to watch the movie without comparing it to what I remember of the story, and doing so, I had a great time. I thought the actors did a good job, the CG was realistic, the action was good. Like everyone, I had read the disappointing reviews when it first came out, and I now wonder what movie they saw because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was no Citizen Kane, but it was a great popcorn movie, and I'd highly recommend it. I will probably buy it on DVD when it comes out, which, considering the reception it got at the box office in the US, will probably be soon.
03/30/12: I know I've been neglecting this site lately, but I couldn't let today pass without posting a new picture of Kisu. Nine years ago today, she walked out of the shelter we found her at and walked right into our hearts. We celebrated by going to get her traditional adoption day meal: a small hamburger and some fries. We chopped it up and mixed it with some of her dry food, and she expertly picked all the people-food bits out of the bowl, leaving most of the dry food. Just like she does every year. Happy Adoption Day, pumpkin.
02/25/12: I'm used to spam e-mail, as we all are. I don't see it too much because the spam filters in place on my ISP and at my job do a pretty good job of catching it before it appears in my mailbox, but I know it's out there, because every once in a while something slips through. But for the most part, it's not as much of a day-to-day nuisance as it was in the early days of e-mail. You don't realize how many different spellings and mis-spellings of the work "penis" there are until you try to configure e-mail rules to block it.
I am also used to junk mail, as we all are. The filter for that is not automatic, but for us is a large garbage can in the foyer of our building, where we can simply toss any unwanted mail, to be put out with the recycling every couple weeks. It's amazing how fast that can gets filled up.
But this week, I got what might be my first junk mail spam, in the shape of the postcard shown here. It just so happens that there were a number of things I've recently ordered to be delivered here, so when I got a card offering to "schedule pickup", I briefly thought it might be one of those packages.
But only briefly. When I thought about it for a second, the suspicion that I typically use with unsolicited e-mail kicked in, and I suspected fraud. Sure enough, when I Googled some of the details on the card, I found that this is indeed a scam. The first link on Google was for a mention on the Better Business Bureau web site of a complaint about this from over a year ago, and the tone of that article made me think it went back well before that.
I've repeatedly used Google to verify the veracity of some e-mail messaged I've received, but I think this is the first time I've done that with a piece of physical mail. Just goes to show you can't be too careful.
01/16/12: As you can see from the heading above, Stephie has her artwork on display at the Tamale Hut Cafe, 8300 W. Cermak Rd. North Riverside, IL. The reception is this Saturday, Jan 21 from 7 to 10PM, but the artwork is up until the first week in April, so you have plenty of time to stop by and see it. And while you're there, try some tamales. They're awesome!
12/13/11: I had been out doing a little Christmas shopping when I thought I would drive through KFC for a little snack. I don't think there's one by work, so it had been a while since I had chicken from there. Although I spotted the much maligned but extremely tasty Double Down sandwich on the menu board, I was just a little peckish, so I opted for an order of Popcorn Chicken. And when I got to the window and was asked about sauce, I went with barbecue.
I stopped in the parking lot after paying to dig my snack out of the bag, and put the container of chicken down between the seat and the emergency brake handle so I could have easy access without holding it or worrying that it would spill all over the car, but what to do about the little bucket of sauce? To hold it while dipping would require two hands, so I couldn't do that while driving.
I looked at my dashboard and I have a little drawer that they put in instead of an ash tray. I never could figure out what to use it for, but just then I realized that it was about the perfect size to hold my sauce container. As I opened the drawer and snuggled it in, a line from our favorite Christmas movie, "Die Hard", popped into my head. It was when John McClane was tying the fire hose around his waist and was about to jump off the top of the building when he mutters to himself (and I'm paraphrasing) "what the **** are you doing? This is bad idea.". I couldn't stop myself, even though I had visions of the cup popping out of the drawer and splashing sauce all over the dashboard.
Amazingly, that didn't happen, and I was able to dip my chicken safely as I drove to my next stop. I guess Hans was right when he said, "It's Christmas, Theo. It's the time of miracles."
11/30/11: I did it! As I did last year, I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge a day early, but I was so tired last night that I didn't do the verification until today. But regardless if it was 29 or 30 days, 50,054 words (which is what it turned out to be) in one month is quite the accomplishment, if I do say so myself. And Stephie says she really liked reading it. Twice she said that I surprised her, which I think is high praise indeed. So now I think I'm done with writing for a little while.
At least until the rewriting begins!
11/24/11: Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. We had a terrific one, with everyone coming over to enjoy the fabulous dinner Stephie slaved over, this after watching the Packers handily beat the Lions. The only problem was that I didn't have much time for writing. Fortunately I was still ahead from last week, so now I'm just about on track, with a three-day weekend ahead. The end is in sight!
11/22/11: I'm just about three-quarters of the way to my goal with 8 days to go, and I think I may just make it. I was a little worried I'd run out of story before then, but now I think I have enough story left without doing too much padding. Keep your fingers crossed!
11/19/11: Almost two-thirds of the way to my goal, and I'm still ahead of schedule, but I'm hitting a few rough patches. I find myself curiously less motivated than I was a week ago. I think I'm a little worried that my story will end before it hits 50,000 words, but I've just introduced another main character, and that plot tangent may be what I need to get to the finish line. I seem to be more into it than I was last year, possibly because I know I have it in me to finish. After all, I have Casco Cove to prove it.
11/15/11: Halfway through the month, and I'm more than halfway to my goal of 50,000 words. Woo-hoo! This is the first time since November 1 that I'm actually ahead of my cumulative target. The bad thing is I have to go back to work tomorrow, so I'm back to writing late in the evenings. But it's flowing pretty well, and the story is picking up speed!
11/08/11: I'm still about a day and a half behind, but I blame that on this cold I'm fighting. I've got a six day 'staycation' coming up, so by this time next week, I should be sitting pretty, well ahead of plan. At least I hope so.
11/02/11: It's November, and that means it's National Novel Writing Month. Here's my latest stats from the NaNoWriMo web site. I'll try to update this daily, so you can check back to watch my progress.
10/31/11: Google News had this headline today: Oct. 31: Jobs's Last Words and Accusations Rile Up Cain. I saw this and thought, "I wonder what's riling Herman Cain up, Jobs' last words, or some accusations he made in his last words." Then I thought, "The guy is dying and he's accusing a Republican nominee of something?" So I clicked on the link, and it took me a to the start of a slideshow with Steve Jobs' picture, and it took me a couple minutes to realize that Cain is not upset with Jobs. That's a completely different story, and there's a comma missing from the headline. Thanks for the confusion, MSNBC. And is "Jobs's" correct?
10/24/11: I'm doing it again! I've signed up for the NaNoWriMo challenge again this year. It was a lot of work, but I had such fun writing Casco Cove last year that I'm looking forward to trying pound out another 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I hope to be a little better prepared this year, so I'm spending the rest of this week doing a little research (I may even get a library card!) and trying to get my characters and plot a little better thought-out ahead of time. But the spirit of the challenge is not to start writing until the first of November, so a rough idea of my plot is all I'm working on. I'm hoping the style of this years book will be a little more like the action-adventure pulps that I so enjoy reading. I'm also going to try to link to the NaNoWriMo site so that I can share my daily word count with all of you. Wish me luck!
10/14/11: I've just had the strangest thing happen. I've been taking the train to work for over a year now, and I come and go from Union Station downtown. Today I went to the Ogilvie Station to go to the bank there, and afterwards, instead of crossing three busy streets to get to Union Station, I decided to enter at the Madison Street entrance. The Madison Street entrance looks like it would be an entrance to the station proper, but it's really just a couple flights of stairs that lead down to the train platforms. You then have to walk the three blocks underground to get to the main station. This is really handy when it rains, because that entrance is closer to the building where I work.
I've taken this path before when I needed to stop at Ogilvie after work, so I knew what to expect. In fact, I've taken to pausing my mp3 player if I happen to be listening that day, because it's so loud down there when walking by the idling trains that I can't hear anything anyway. I took this route on Monday when Stephie sent me to the bank, neither of us remembering that the banks were closed on Columbus Day. That day, one of the trains was leaving as I was walking through, and for some reason it struck me just how big and powerful those engines really are. As I said, I've been commuting for over a year, but the train pushes the cars into the station in the morning, so the back-end of the train passes us at the stop near home, and we walk past that same end at Union Station. Likewise, we approach the train from the back in the evening, and I'm usually down the stairs before it leaves the stop at home, so I rarely find myself next to the engine.
I know the passenger cars are just as big as the engine is, but they don't give off the noise and the heat that these engines do, and with all the windows in them, they could just be big buses, the kind I see just about every day on the street. Somehow, when that train passed me on Monday, I felt as if this was some big animal, slowly building up momentum to drag these big cars full of people down those narrow rails. I know I tend to anthromorphosize things, but I never thought of a train engine in this way before.
Anyway, back to today. I went down the stairs and there were two trains, one on either side of the platform, idling and ready to leave. The doors were open on both sets of cars, so they were not moving yet, but I could almost feel the power as I walked by. Like I said, it was like two huge animals waiting to move. As I passed the one on my side, I had an almost overwhelming feeling like I wanted to reach out and touch it, like you would pat the side of an elephant or a whale. But before I could, I saw this guy walking in front of me reach out and pat the side of the engine! Here I thought I was weird for wanting to do that, but I guess I was not alone.
I caught up with him and said "Excuse me." He turned and smiled. He was an little asian guy with short spiky gray hair. I asked him why he did that, pat the train, and told him I was about to do the same. He just laughed and mumbled something in broken english that I didn't catch with all the noise down there. He smiled again and walked away. As I said, strange.
10/06/11: I almost added my comments to a news story I read on the Internet today. I usually don't do that, and I should really stop even reading them, because they typically do little more than diminish my opinion of my fellow netizens, but sometimes I want to add my voice to the cacophony. Deep down, I know that posting comments on news articles will do no good other than get something off my chest, which is not a bad thing. Plus, I'd probably make some heinous spelling or grammar mistake.
The story that raised my ire today was the news that ESPN had canned Hank Williams Jr. from its Monday Night Football telecasts. They had pulled his opening song from last week's game because of some comments he made on a TV morning show, in which he seemed to compare our current President with Hitler, just for playing golf with the leader of the opposing political party. Since then, ESPN announced that the ban was permanent, but Williams posted his own spin on his web site, writing "(ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE."
I skimmed through the comments, and a number of them were complaining about the government restricting speech, and how the current administration is afraid of people speaking their minds. I actually went as far as to type a note in the little comment box below, something to the effect of "Here is yet another person who doesn't understand what the First Amendment is supposed to protect. I don't know why the government is being blamed for this. A guy says something stupid in public, his employer doesn't like it and cans him. Happens all the time. He may have a beef with ESPN or the NFL, but that's it."
Fortunately, the site I was on (ABC news, I think) wanted me to create an account on their site just to leave my note, so I came to my senses and moved on. (Well, I obviously haven't moved on or you wouldn't be reading this.) At least it prevented me from becoming another buffoon posting random comments no one cares about on a news site. After all, that's what personal web sites are for!
09/27/11: We had a nice vacation last week. It started with the annual block party on our street. Last year I picked up a mini-keg of Newcastle Brown Ale and proceeded to finish a significant portion of it. This year I found a Breckenridge Brewery sampler 12-pack at our local liquor store. I discovered Breckenridge earlier this year when a guy who was planning to consume nothing but beer and water for Lent recommended their Pandora's Bock, which was outstanding but only available in the spring. I've since tried several of their beers and have enjoyed them all. The sampler had three bottles each of their Avalanche Ale and Vanilla Porter, which I've enjoyed before, and three each of their Oatmeal Stout and Lucky U IPA, which hadn't. They are still batting 1000 in my book, as the new two were excellent as well. I would recommend any of them to anyone looking for a tasty brew.
Later in the week, we went out to dinner with my brother and his family. They took us to Chi Tung on 95th and Kedzie. We've been to other hibachi grill restaurants before, with all the utensil juggling and food tossing, and this one rates highly among them. These types of places are never inexpensive, but I think Chi Tung was a good value for the price. And the fried rice was out of this world! Recommended.
Later in the week we piled in the car and took a trip up to Kenosha. In our haste to get out of the house, we forgot Kisu's leach, and while we're comfortable with her off-leash in the yard and to-and-from the car, we didn't want to walk her around Kenosha loose and risk tragedy. Fortunately, in the trunk I still had the coated wire that the car salesman gave us to walk Cheyenne around the neighborhood the night we found her, almost 18 years ago. I don't know what the people who saw us thought, but we walked all over and she was safe. While there, Stephie checked out some of the outlet stores, and we had a great lunch at the Brat Stop. Since we had Kisu with us, Stephie stayed outside at the picnic bench and I went in for the food. While waiting for our brats, I was browsing the gift store and spotted some New Glarus Bock beer, which they fortunately had at the bar. I sampled a bottle while waiting, and went back to buy a six-pack before we left. I'll have to see if that's available around here.
Before heading home, we had to stop at the new Mars Cheese Castle, pictured here. They built this huge store behind the old one, and have really expanded their selections. We also stopped at Bobby Nelson's, which is a little store a block or so away from Mars. We were bummed to find that they don't carry pheasant pot pies any more, but we did pick up some sausages and other meats.
We finished the week by attending the monthly reading series at the Tamale Hut Cafe in North Riverside. This is the third time we've been there, and the second time I read a new chapter from the current book I'm working on. (The first time I read a chapter from 'Casco Cove'.) I got a really good response from the audience and several people came up to me afterwards to encouraging me to continue. It's fun to have friends and family members read my stuff and give me positive feedback, but it's even more fun when total strangers do that! I'm looking forward to next month's reading on Oct 15.
08/27/11: The guardian.co.uk had an article last week titled "Are books dead, and can authors survive?". I certainly hope they're not dead, because I just published my first book, Casco Cove.
You may recall that last November, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge: to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. As I mentioned in past postings here, I did complete it on time, and because of that, I was entitled to a free proof copy from a publisher with ties to Amazon.com. I asked Stephie to do some cover art, then asked Jon to proofread the thing for me (which turned out to be a little embarrassing, to be honest) and Chris did the book design and layout. I can't describe the feeling when I saw the package arrived in the mail, and then opening it up to see my book, real and in person. It was fun to write it, and even more fun to have some people read it, but the best part was working with Stephie, Jon and Chris to actually get the darned thing printed.
I had a couple copies printed for family and friends, but if you're interested in getting a copy for yourself, you can order it from Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon listing. (I know! I'm listed on Amazon. How cool is that?) Like most things there, it's available in paperback and also for the Kindle. If you like it, drop me a line. I'm interested in your comments, both positive and negative.
08/23/11: Today's video comes to us courtesy of WOOT! The topic of this video is something that has been kicking around in my head for some time now, but I hadn't decided on the best outlet to voice my displeasure. Thank goodness I have Ben, the Over-Literal Dermestid Beetle, to sound off on another of life's little annoyances.
07/20/11: approx 4:10pm CDT. Sometimes analog is better than digital:
I don't remember exactly where I was when my last car turned 100,000 miles, but I remember being on a side street where I could slow down and watch all the numbers slowly roll over. Digital just doesn't have that same effect. Blink, and you've missed it (unless you have a camera-phone handy!)
07/04/11: I hope all of you had a great Independence Day. We did, except for the fireworks. I've never been a big fan of fireworks, and I am even less so because of the way Kisu is freaked out by the noise. She's getting worse as she gets older, and now heavy thunderstorms bother her, too, but when the idiots in the neighborhood start with the fireworks weeks before the fourth, she just sits there and trembles. That part I cant wait until it's over.
But before the noise started, we had a pretty nice day. We did something that brought back a very pleasant and a not-so-pleasant memory from my childhood. The picture you see here is the Farmers Insurance zeppelin, which is on a tour of the United States this summer. They claim it's one of only two zeppelins in the world right now, and it spent the last weekend based at the DuPage Airport in West Chicago. Stephie, Kisu and I tooka nice ride out there this afternoon to stand outside the fence and see it. And no, we were not the only one's there.
It reminded me that when we were kids, my Mom and Dad would load us up in the station wagon and drive up and down Central Avenue over by Midway Airport whenever the Goodyear blimp was in town. Goodyear used Midway as a base, and usually had the blimp parked outside one of the hangars that backed up against Central. This was before airport security turned into the nightmare it is today, and all that was between the blimp and cars full of gawking kids was a couple hundred feet of pavement and an easily-see-through cyclone fence. As cool as it was to sometimes see it in the air, it was even cooler to see it on the ground, where you would have some perspective of how big it really is. It was such a simple thing to do (and my Mom points out "cheap, cheap!") but I remember it fondly.
What I don't remember fondly, and my folks reminded me of yesterday, was the time they took us out to this same DuPage Airport for an air show. We can't remember the exact year, but I was probably 10 or 11, but they thought it would be a great idea to go and check out the planes. I don't remember much of the trip, just the impression that it was hot. And since it was an airport, of course there were no trees or anything to give us shade. In fact, my sense was that the planes didn't even cast a shadow on the ground because the sun was too bright! Apparently we were only there a couple minutes before we left to find something cool to drink.
But the zeppelin was pretty cool today. It's supposed to make its way through here sometime in August. Maybe we'll go again and see if we can't get a little closer. In the meantime, if you click this picture, you'll see another one which includes people as a size reference.
06/19/11: Happy Father's Day to all you Dads out there. There was a bunch of activity this morning in and around the falcon nest that we have in the tree on the corner of our lot. I hope the falcon was celebrating Father's Day, too. If I see any indication of babies and can get a picture, I'll post it here.
In the meantime, I want to tell you about an experience we had yesterday that's bothered me. While at a family function, we had an encounter with an individual who has political views which, to put it mildly, do not align with our own. We knew this when we sat down, and if we didn't, there were a few comments which would have given us a clue, such as when he was shown an app that someone had installed on their iPhone to retrieve real-time traffic information for her daily commute, he commented "Oh, ABC News? You mean 'Liberal Media.'"
The converation was pleasant but innocuous during dinner, but afterwards, when some people left the table and started mingling, he somehow turned it political. We found ourselves on the receiving end of what I took to be a well-rehearsed (or at least recurrent) rant about things that were wrong in this state and in the country at large, complete with questionable "facts", blatant falsehoods, and lots of finger-counting of points. I'm not going to comment on anything said, because I really didn't try to refute most of what he said. There were a couple things I knew to be outright lies and I did voice an opinion on them, but it didn't slow him down. Mostly I just sat there and let him spew.
Stephie and I talked about it on the way home, and even throughout the evening. There were a number of reasons why I didn't engage this individual, basically because I am a non-confrontational person. Also, I didn't have a stockpile of "facts" that I could draw upon to defend my position, if I even had a thought-out position on the topic at hand. Besides, I felt there was nothing I could say, especially in lieu of "facts" of my own, which would have changed this person's mind.
And that's what's been bothering me since. I don't want to become one of those people who turn dinner conversation into rabid political discourse, but as I think about it, if everyone who thinks like me does what I did yesterday, sit there and not say anything, then the only opinion stated with be the one that I don't agree with. And if someone listening is undecided, they may be persuaded to that side. Which, in my opinion, would be a bad thing.
06/15/11: I saw this while I was running errands last weekend and had to take a picture. I was wondering how they use this trampoline without winding up in the tree. I thought that maybe they pull it out from under the tree to use it, but the lot that this house sits on is not that large, and they have many trees around. There's not a lot of room for a trampoline.
This reminded me of a story a co-worker once told me. She was out in her yard one day and from the neighbor's garage, she heard what she described as "rattle-thump-'Ow'-rattle-thump-'Ow'-rattle...". She looked through the open door and saw a trampoline set up in the middle of the garage. The kid who lived there was bouncing on it (rattle), but he kept hitting his head on the roof of the garage (thump-"Ow"). She said she watched for a while but then had to just walk away.
Maybe I'm getting old, but I don't get the "trampoline in the backyard" thing. My experience with trampolines was in high school, where you were not allowed on one unless the rest of the class stood around it as your "spotters." This was apparently to prevent you from getting overzealous and careening off into some of the other gym equipment. I secretly thought that we were not there to stop a fall as much as we were there to provide more cushioning for a hard landing, but when you were up there, it was comforting to know that the other guys were around.
But in your yard, you're pretty much on your own. I've seen some trampolines with what looks like safety netting on poles circling the device, but that just looks goofy, like bouncing in a silo. Although it's better than the other memory I have of trampolines. Not a personal experience, but I remember seeing Fee Waybill of the Tubes on the Letterman show back when he was on NBC. He was talking about some of the stranger things he'd seen while touring across the country, and he spoke of a "trampoline park" he once saw in Phoenix. He said it was just rows and rows of trampolines and you would pay to bounce to your heart's content. The odd thing he noted was that the way it was designed, the trampolines were actually stretched over pits in the ground, rather than raised on stands as most people know, and the surrounding area was concrete, with no padding. If you happened to bounce off, all that was there was some nice soft concrete to break your fall. I can't understand why that idea didn't catch on.
05/08/11: Happy Mother's Day! I don't know if my subconscious is keeping an eye on the calendar, but this morning I dreamt that I was listening to some Frank Zappa, who famously played the Auditorium in Chicago on Mother's Day back in the early '70's (well before my first Zappa show). So while we were having breakfast, we listened to the first two You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore sets from the fabulous "road box" I finally found on eBay a couple years ago. "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" had Stephie doubled-over in hysterics!
04/16/11: Every once in a while, I run across something on the 'net which surprises me, and reminds me of the breadth of information that is available there. Last week during my lunch hour, I was reading "Captain Hazzard: Citadel of Fear", a recent pulp story co-written by Ron Fortier, which I bought from him at last year's Windy City Pulp and Paperback convention. In it, the main characters are in a plane, following another plane containing a kidnapped scientist as it heads west from New Jersey. As they approach Chicago, one character mentions that they were going to overshoot Midway airport, which I guess in the '30s was the major airport here, and is told that they were actually going to land in LaGrange. This caught my attention because LaGrange is the next town over from where I live. They landed at "Stinson Field" and the story went on from there.
When I got back to my desk, I was curious if there was any fact behind this, so I Googled air fields in LaGrange, and discovered this fascinating site with information about defunct airports. Sure enough, there actually was a Stinson Field in LaGrange in the '30s!
I stopped to chat with Ron at this years' Windy City con, and in the course of the conversation asked him about this story element. He said that he knew that back in the '30s, it seemed that everyone was airplane-crazy, and that there were hundreds of little airfields all across the country. He knew he wanted to include that in his story, so he used the Internet to get some details, and picked Stinson Field from the information he found there. I told him that little touch made me appreciate the story more, and he said that's whay research is important, even when writing fiction. I'll have to remember that when I write my next story.
The picture here is of a new neighbor of ours. I saw this guy on the ground a couple weeks ago when I took Kisu our for her morning tinkle. He picked up a twig, hopped to a branch, then to a nest he was apparently building high in a tree on the corner of our lot. We've since seen two of what we think are falcons sitting in the tree right in front of our house, but I haven't yet been able to get the two of them in one shot. We're hoping to have little baby falcons in the neighborhood soon.
03/30/11: We're celebrating Kisu today. That's her at last year's Highland Games. Eight years ago today, this adorable little furball moved in with us and took over the place. She could be the poster-pup for adopting a dog from a shelter. She was not a puppy when we adopted her, but we took a chance (well, she really picked us) and took her home and she shortly turned into our best friend. In my opinion, pure-breeds are fine if you're going to breed or show them, but adopting an "all-american shelter dog" is a win-win for everyone. Happy Adoption Day, pumpkin!
03/15/11: Yeah, I know I've been neglecting this site lately. It's not that I don't have anything to write about, but I've been busy with other things. A couple weeks ago, while working on a major software upgrade on my home computer, I broke my CPU. I mean, it just came out of the socket! Fortunately, a quick-thinking guy at the service counter at my local MicroCenter saved me some bucks and some time by suggesting that I just buy a new chip, rather than having them check out the old one. It's a older Pentium 4, so it was only $12, but they put it in and it works like a champ. I'm still fiddling with the software, but you don't want to hear about that. (As a side note, the quick-thinking guy's name was Mike Hunt, which I did a double-take on. If you've ever seen Porky's, you'll know why.)
I'm also in what I hope to be my final rewrite on the novel I wrote back in November. As part of "winning" the NaNoWriMo challenge, I can get a free proof copy printed, so I want to get the text cleaned up, and Stephie is working on the cover art, so I soon might just have a printed copy of my book in my grubby mitts. I'm pretty excited about that. And I'm already thinking of writing a follow-up.
Other than that, we're just dragging. I've not been sleeping well for some reason (maybe the change in weather has something to do with that) and Stephie has had some tests done because she's not feeling well. Now, Kisu seems to be having a problem with her back leg after she lays on it for a while. I think with Spring just around the corner, we'll get back to our regular long walks after dinner, and that will pick us back up.
Thanks for checking in, and have a great St. Patrick's Day.
02/02/11: According to the Chicago Tribune, we've just been through the third largest winter storm in Chicago's history, at least in terms of snowfall. I obviously wasn't around for the 1930 storm, but I have some distinct memories of each of the other ones on the top five:
- The 1967 storm which dropped 23 inches of snow on the city is still number one. I have two memories of that one. The happy memory is of the gate we had on the side of the house. I'm not sure if I was tall enough yet to see over it, but I do remember the snow had drifted in the gangway then either packed or froze, so we were able to walk over the gate by climbing up one hill and sliding down the other. The unhappy memory was that my Grandmother died then, and I remember walking down the middle of usually very busy Kedzie Avenue to the funeral home, and there being almost no cars going by.
- The 1979 storm, which is now number five on the list, is memorable to me because the goofy high school I was going to was one of only two or three schools in the city which did not cancel classes, so I had to trudge to the bus and ride to school while most kids slept in. At least I had my pick of seats on the bus!
- The 1999 storm was memorable because it was just after the first of the year, and we had invited everyone I work with over for a post-New Year's party. The snow started before we went to the beer store, but we wound up with tons of food left. At least we didn't go hungry while we waited for the snow to melt. Oh, and I remember lots of shoveling.
It's a little early to tell what my memory of this year's storm will be, but I have a pretty good idea. I was at work yesterday when the snow started and I had every intention to stay until my normal time, when my boss suggested I leave early so I could cover the other guys as they left later. I grabbed my stuff and left the building at 1PM. The train was delayed, but I walked in the house at around 2:30, planning to work an hour or so and then sit and watch the snow fall. I unzipped my backpack and felt my heart drop to my feet as I realized that I had left my laptop at the office. Not only could I not cover the afternoon, I wouldn't be able to work from home today if the trains were not running.
After cursing myself for a couple minutes (and calling a co-worker to confirm that the computer was still there) I changed to some comfortable warmer clothes and Stephie drove me to LaGrange, where I caught the 3:03 train back to the city. I had a plan. I figured I'd get in Union Station at around 3:45, the trip to the office would take five minutes each way, then I'd have plenty of time to catch the 4:48 (my normal train) back home, after which it's a block-and-a-half walk home. Should be home at my normal time. Piece of cake.
The first flaw in my cunning plan appeared shortly after I got on the train, when it stopped between stations, and the voice on the loudspeaker announced that we were not going to move until they cleared a derailment from ahead on the tracks. Fine, I thought, I have plenty of time. I had my MP3 player, and I was amused watching the two guys in front of me polish off a twelve-pack of beer. We finally got going and reached the station just before 4PM.
The next flaw shows up when we had trouble getting off the train platform, because the area in front of the doors was full of people waiting to get on the train we just left. I don't think I've seen so may people jammed in there, everyone looking around to make sure that the train they were being pushed towards was the one they really wanted. I was able to find my way up and out and once on the surface, I was able to quickly make my way to the office, where I told the stragglers that they better get going because it was rapidly turning nasty out there.
I hurried back to the station, more due to the wind and cold than any sense of urgency, because I still had a half-hour before the 4:48 was due to leave. I slopped through the slush just inside the door, through the food court and down the escalator. The fatal flaw in my cunning plan manifested itself when I saw the board showing the stops lit up for the 4:48 train as I exited the escalator. I got to the door to see the train as it was pulling away from the platform. It was 4:20.
Being a somewhat novice train commuter, I didn't know that when the weather was this bad, they sent out a train as soon as it was full. Had I not dawdled at the office, I might have made it. I wound up waiting for the 5:17 train, which with delays left me off at around 5:45, so I was home around 6. Then I could relax and watch the snow.
Yeah, that's pretty much what I'll remember about the blizzard of 2011.
01/22/11: Random thoughts:
- My company is having its Christmas Party tonight, so I figure the Christmas season is not yet over, so I can get away with posting this picture of a nativity that I took a couple weeks ago in my neighborhood. I'm not sure if this is the "Christmas Spirit" or one of the "Ghosts of Christmas Past/Present/Future". Maybe he just took a wrong turn at Thanksgiving.
- I've been in a bit of a rut lately, which is why you haven't seen much from me recently. November was swallowed up with that novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo, then December was busy with the holidays (which were great this year, by the way) and now, I think it's the January doldrums. It seems like I get up and go to work when it's dark, get home from work when it's dark, watch some TV, then go to bed and start it all over again. Plus, I haven't been sleeping well. I used to hear about people getting into a funk when there are stretches without sunshine, and I never thought that would bother me, but maybe it is. Fortunately, we had some sun this week, so that's something.
- On a lighter note, Tie Tuesday continues. I've worn a tie to work every Tuesday since the beginning of December, 2009, and I don't think I've yet worn every tie in my collection. Granted, there are a few that really should stay in the back of the closet, but I'm going to have to go through them and show off some of the more ... interesting ties I've accumulated over the years.
- Tomorrow is the big game between the Bears and the Packers to see who goes to the Super Bowl. I'm rooting for the Packers, of course, but I just hope it's a good game, and that the winner goes on and stomps either the Jets or the Steelers.
- I've been keeping track of the books I've read since 1997, and last years total of 47 is the most I've ever read in one year. This is undoubtedly thanks to taking the train to work since June. It will be interesting to see how many I read this year, taking the train all year.
- I've started slow this year by taking three weeks to get through the uncut version of Stephen King's The Stand. This is only the second SK book I've read, and possibly the longest book (at 1141 pages) I've ever read cover-to-cover. Now that I'm done, though, I think I need to read something happy! (Now that I think of it, reading an enormous post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel may have contributing to my current funk.)
Merry Christmas to everyone! Here's a little buddy of ours to pass along his own special brand of Christmas cheer.
11/17/10: I have a good excuse this time as to why I haven't posted in a while. I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. It's a web site that offers a challenge to anyone foolish enough to accept: write a 50,000 word novel, from scratch, in the month of November. I ran across the concept last year, but too late to participate. Fortunately, this year something brought it to my attention in the last week of October. I mulled it over for a few days, then figured "What the heck!" and signed up. Each night since November 1, I've sat down at the keyboard and struggled to avoid the Web, solitaire, e-mail, and other distractions on and around my desk (yes, even Kisu!) in order to pound out something that I could be proud of, if not finish.
So far I've accomplished just that. At this point, I'm just over 25,000 words, so I'm halfway to the goal. I have no idea if I'm halfway thought with my novel, because I have no idea where it's going. I also have no idea what I'm going to do with it once I'm done. Maybe I'll post some of it here. Maybe I'll try to get some copies printed up to inflict on family and friends. Hey, I just had a thought. I think I may know what everyone on my list is getting for Christmas this year!
By the way, if I've set this up correctly, you should be able to click the graphic here and see my up-to-date word count.
11/29/10 Update: I Won! My novel's finished, at 50,339 words. Maybe I'll get to bed at a reasonable hour for the first time this month!
10/23/10: The other night I was taking Kisu out for the last time before going to bed, and she ran to the door and stopped, obviously looking at something outside. I looked through the window and there was this little black cat sitting at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at us. Kisu's tail was going but we just stared at each other for a bit, Kisu and I and the cat. I called for Stephie to come see but when I left the door, Kisu barked and the cat ran across the street. When Stephie got there, all we could see was this little black puff on the other lawn, apparently still looking at us. Something told me to go investigate, so I left Kisu and Stephie in the house and went across.
I don't know what made me do that. Maybe it was that the cat didn't run away, but stopped as if she was waiting for me. (Since we've had two female dogs, I refer to all animals as "she" until proven otherwise.) I approached her and she backed off a bit, running to the bushes there but then looking back to me and purring. I tried calling to her with my best "animal soothing" voice, and she came out of the bushes and approached me. I made no movements that I thought would be threatening, talking to her all the while. She was not real big and was mostly black, with white front paws and back legs, white belly, and lots of white whiskers. (Later Googling turned up the term "tuxedo cat". The picture here was from Google, since I didn't have the presence of mind to grab my camera.) She approached me and I showed her the back of my hand, like I would with a dog. She sniffed it and rubbed her head against it, and started rolling over on the grass.
I thought to myself "This is not a cat that normally lives on the street." She didn't seem afraid of me at all, as she kept rubbing up to my legs and letting me scratch her tummy, playfully batting at my hands with her white paws. I thought I should try to get her inside while we figure out what to do, so I tried to pick her up, hoping not to be bitten or clawed, but she let me do it. I didn't hold her very close, not wanting to scare her, but as I moved toward the street, she gracefully leapt/fell from my grasp and started playing on the lawn again.
At this point, I wasn't sure what to do. I tried coaxing her as I would a dog, but she just looked at me and kept doing little somersaults on the lawn. I left her there and went back to Stephie (and an obviously upset Kisu, who wanted to be involved) to discuss the situation. Stephie said she would call the police for advice, and I went back to try to coax the cat to the front porch. I picked her up again and after a couple more jumps, was able to get her inside.
The cat didn't seem upset about being indoors, but just checked out her surroundings. When I put her on the couch there, I could see she did have claws, and counted myself lucky I didn't get scratched when carrying her. She tried pawing the door open, but I held it shut. Stephie eventually came out and told me the police said we could hang onto her until the owners came looking, or we could bring her into the station. We were not concerned about Kisu, who got along famously with our friend's cat when they met, but thought because of our lack of accommodations, like a litter box for example, it would be best if we took her in. We got dressed and with Stephie clutching the little cat to her chest, we drove to the police station.
The people there couldn't be nicer. They took our name and address, and where we found the cat, and finally an officer led us back to the garage where they have several cages set up. He opened the larger of the cages and the cat jumped out of Stephie's arms and into the cage, where she went and curled up in the corner, looking a little frightened. I could see from Stephie's face that this upset her a little, but we went back to the front desk to ask what was going to happen next. We were told that they would hold the cat overnight to see if the owner would call, but she would be moved to the Animal Welfare League the next day if not. We felt a little better about that, since that's where we took Cheyenne when we found her, and that's where we adopted Kisu from. We went home and after taking Kisu out, I went to bed, but that little kitty was on my mind.
The next morning, as I took Kisu out before going to work, I paused to make sure there were no cats out there before opening the door. I expected to see a bunch of them out there, as if the cat world now would know there's an easy mark here, but nobody was there. I asked at the train station if anyone was missing a cat, but no one knew of any. That cute little kitty was in the back of my mind all day at work, and I spent some of my lunch searching missing animal web sites to no avail. Wen I got home I called the police station and was told the owner had called, and she was picked up that afternoon.
I was relieved and, oddly enough, a little disappointed at this. I'm thrilled that she's home with her family, but I feel, much as I did when we found Cheyenne, that I had developed a bond with her, despite our short time together. I can't help thinking that when she was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for us to come out, that she picked our house because she knew there were people here who would help her, either to get home or to be safe. I know that's silly, but I'm one of those people who anthropomorphize animals. And while there was really no way we could have adopted her had her owner not shown up, we do have some friends who recently talked of adopting a cat, and it would have been great if that's how the story turned out. But she's apparently home safe, so the story had a happy ending.
10/01/10: People might not know this, but even though I have a good sense of humor, I'm not big on pranks. In fact, I actively dislike the whole April Fool's Day concept. I think that particular bias came from reading too many magazines which think it's humorous to print fake stories for the "April Fool's Issue", but then I wind up reading it months later and, well, feel like a fool for wasting my time reading it. And I don't see what's so funny about wrapping someone's cubicle in toilet paper, for instance. It's a waste of toilet paper and the unfortunate victim winds up having to clean it up.
But there was this one time that I was involved in a prank at work that I thought was really funny. I wasn't the primary instigator, just the support behind the instigator. It involved a certain sound file, which I have been looking for in my backups for years, with the intention of using here as part of this story. I finally gave up trying to find it and recreated it. It wasn't that difficult.
It was the late '90's and I was working with a pretty good bunch of people. They left me out of most of the pranks they liked to pull on each other, and we got along fine. They had more work than they could handle, so there was what seemed to be a constant stream of temporary workers coming through the department, some of whom were right out of college. One of them was this smart aleck young kid named Aziz Khan. (I don't mind using his real, full name here. I doubt he would ever read this, and it's important to the story.)
He had been working there for a little while, and really didn't get along with the rest of the team. I seem to remember he had a smug attitude like he was better than the rest of us for some reason. I think his parents might have been doctors or something and maybe he thought doing PC support was beneath him. Anyway, he wasn't well liked around the office.
I overheard one of the guys one day saying that they had a clip of William Shatner screaming "Khan!" from the second Star Trek movie, and wouldn't it be funny if they could find a clip from The Fifth Element, where one character yells "Aziz, Lights!". I think at the time I was the only one with Internet access, so I ran back to my desk and in no time found the clip he was looking for. Even in the early days of the Internet you could find stuff like that easily.
I also downloaded the demo of a progrm called CoolEdit, which I had used at home to edit audio files (today I would have used Audacity) and gave the file and the program to my buddy, who in no time whipped up a sound file combining the two movie clips. I remember us laughing so hard as he played it over and over. He even had the phrase in the file twice, which somehow made it funnier. Fortunately, Aziz was at lunch, so he wasn't around to hear this. But one of the guys had an idea.
There's a feature in Windows that allows you to attach a sound file to an action performed by the user or the system. Mostly it's used for setting certain sounds to play when a dialog box opens or on a system alert, but there's a whole list of events you an attach sounds to. We were using Windows 98 back then, and I think there may have been even more than current versions have. (I seem to remember mouse click or mouse movement or something mouse related being available.) And lucky for us, back then nobody locked their system when they went to lunch. So one of the guys went into Aziz's cubicle, put the file on his PC, and attached the sound to every possible event on the machine. So when he got back from lunch and tried to do anything, his computer shouted "Aziz KHAN! Aziz KHAN!".
He moved his mouse, it played the file. He clicked the Start menu, it played the file. He tried to open the Control Panel to remove the settings, and everything he clicked, it played the file. He was cursing as he tried to undo the settings and we were falling over laughing.
I think if he had any sense of humor at all, he would have had a laugh with us. As I told someone at the time, if I had a clip of Shatner yelling MY name, I'd certainly have it on MY computer. I thought it was pretty clever, and there was no permanent damage. In fact, it didn't take him that long to undo everything, but he was a pain in the butt and (I guess) wouldn't give us the satisfation of having a laugh with us. No matter, because he didn't work there much longer and we haven't seen him since.
But I did recreate that file. Here it is:
09/22/10: "It was twenty years ago today..." is how the Beatles started their "Sgt. Pepper" album, and that has been going through my head today, as it was twenty years ago today that Stephie and I were married. I'm not a big fan of change, but some things have changed in my life since then: two apartments, five jobs, three cars, two dogs, two TVs, four VCRs, many PCs, more hair on my face, less hair on my head. But the one thing that'll never change my love for Stephie. I can't wait to see what the next twenty have in store for us. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!
09/19/10: Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle, and even high-jack,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We kindle and char, inflame and ignite,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we're really a fright,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We're rascals, scoundrels, villans, and knaves,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We're beggars and blighters, ne'er-do-well cads,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
09/18/10: I don't know if any of you remember the bad old days of car audio, when the norm was an AM radio and a tinny-sounding speaker in the dashboard. That's all we had in the cars in which I first learned to drive, and in these days of HD and satellite radio, it's funny to think that when you drove under a bridge or a viaduct, the sound faded out and all you got was static until you came out the other side.
Stephie went downtown on the train the other night and I drove down to pick her up. As usual, I didn't have a radio station playing but was listening to my mp3 player in the car, using an FM modulator so the sound comes through my car stereo. I tried several types years ago, but found that the in-line models, which plug into the radio and the antenna plugs into it, give you the best sound, usually as good or better than any radio station. Once in a while, I get static when I drive by something broadcasting a strong signal on a close-by frequency, like some of the local high schools who have radio stations that you can pick up for a couple blocks, but usually the sound is clear.
But that night, as I got closer to downtown, the static got louder and louder, to a point where it was almost drowned out the program I was listening to. But then I got off the expressway and went into a tunnel, and the static cleared up, and the program was all I heard. As I exited the tunnel, the static came back. And it happened with every tunnel and overpass I went under. Exactly the opposite of the old AM reception.
I thought it was pretty funny at the time.
And you know what else is pretty funny? This picture of my nephew Rick from when we went to Disney Quest many years ago. Last year I put up Chris' picture from that trip and here's Rick's. I need to get mine up here some day.
08/27/10: I had a strange experience the other night I thought I'd share. I was checking my e-mail before going to bed, and while waiting for the screen to load, I took a look at the DualDisc of "Angel of Retribution" by Judas Priest that my brother gave me that day. As is the norm when I'm in front of the computer, my attention to the task at hand wandered and I started thinking about these DualDiscs, which if you don't know are single discs with CD information on one side and DVD information on the other. I remember there was a lot of press when they came out, primarily because of the incompatibility with many CD players, but I haven't seen much since.
So I navigated to Google and searched for DualDisc. The first thing that came up was the dualdisc.com "official" web site. A quick look at the News section has the most recent item as being from May of 2005. I next went to the Wikipedia entry, and the text there also strangely doesn't mention anything beyond 2005. The list of releases there does not have dates of the releases, and although I don't recognise most of the artists on the list, nothing there seems current. The Wikipedia history shows that the article has been modified recently, but the text of the entry seems as though it was still 2005.
And that's the feeling I got when I looked at some of the other articles on the Google list. I went through several pages of links and there's really nothing more recent than 2005. Maybe the format died back then, but I find it odd that I did not see one link to an article about its demise. Even the Wikipedia article about Laserdiscs has a section about the rise and fall of the technology. I had this odd feeling that I had stepped back in time. Or maybe I should have gone to bed earlier.
07/17/10: I think a main reason why I haven't posted here more freqently lately is that my MythTV installation is not functioning correctly. MythTV is the open-sourceDVR that we've been enjoying for over two years now without a major problem. A couple months ago our cable company pushed us to digital, which means that I can only record broadcast channels (CBS, NBC, etc.) with the built-in tuner card. This was not too big a problem through the end of the TV season, but now that the regular season is over, it seems everything I want to record is on USA or H&G or Discovery or other "expanded basic" channels that my MythTV box can't see.
I do have a digital coverter box, which will translate the digital signal, and I bought the serial cable which is supposed to let MythTV change the channel, but I haven't been able to get the channel changing app to work. I even upgraded the OS on the box to the latest version of Debian Linux, which was not without its own challenges, but the driver still refuses to work. So for now the only way to get the shows we want to see is to record them on my desktop machine, then copy them to the MythTV box. This means that either my system is recording or I'm processing something I just recorded. This is not leaving much time for other important endeavors, such as finishing the mix CD that I've been "working on" since March, or getting the pictures from Stephie's art exhibit up on our site. My apologies to Stephie for that. I'm going to have another go at the IR control software this weekend, and maybe I can crack the problem. Immediately after that, I'm going to attack this pile of things I want to finish, like updating Stephie's art pages and finishing the story of our trip to Ireland last December.
06/08/10: It's time for another one of those anthology posts here, where I try to catch up on what's going on. We've been really busy, but I've not found the time (or been too lazy) to post anything. Sorry if a lot of this is really short notice, but a lot of it I just found out about.
The biggest thing around here, and the thing that's been taking up most of our time lately, is Stephie's upcoming one-person art at the LaGrange Art League. The art is up now, so you can stop by and see it any time the gallery is open in June, but the reception is this Friday, June 11. Here's a flyer I made from the postcards she had sent out.
I missed the early announcement of one of our traditions here because they did not send me a postcard about the Little City Book Sale, which usually signifies the start of summer for us. It occurred to me the middle of last week that I hadn't seen any mail about it, so I checked their web site and found that it was starting two days later (last Friday). Stephie and I went Saturday and had a great time. I didn't get as many books as I usually do, but I did get a couple things I had been looking for, and at least one that I wasn't. The sale runs through Sunday June 13, with the last Saturday and Sunday being bargain days. Click the link above for all the details.
We're completely thrilled to let you know that one of our favorite restaurants is back, and better than ever. The new Via Bella opened a couple weeks ago, and Stephie and I went to check it out. She had one of her all-time favorite dishes, Chicken Oreganato, and said that it was as good, if not better, than she remembers it. We'll be going back.
This is my last week working out in the suburbs for the foreseeable future, as my company is moving downtown. I'm looking forward to trading my 40 mile round-trip daily commute for a (hopefully) relaxing train ride and some extra exercise walking to the office. I'm a little nervous, though, because I haven't taken public transportation regularly since high school and even then I was rarely going at the same time two days in a row, and that doesn't work too well with trains. It'll be an adventure.
And tonight Chris and I are going to see the restored Metropolis at the Music Box Theater. I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen this movie, but with a half hour of additional scenes, I expect this to be something special.
That's all for now. The picture above is from the music shop around the corner from us. I wonder if this would have made us more eager to practice piano.
04/10/10: I was taking Kisu to obedience class this morning and had one of those moments where I thought "I wish I had my camera". I then realized that I had my brand new phone with me, and like most modern phones (but unlike my previous one), it has a camera built in. So I followed this person until we stopped at a light, so I could unlock the phone and snap this picture. You know, this "camera in a phone" might be a good idea after all!
I assume that by having the sticker on their bumper, this person is trying to make a statement, but what is that statement? "Buy American, except for cars"? "Buy American-built products, even if they have a foreign name on it", in which case, what's the point? "Buy American, even if I don't"? "I'm patriotic because I have a 'Buy American' sticker on my foreign car"? And what lesson are we supposed to be learning? It's all so confusing to me.
03/24/10: I just finished reading "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison, the basis for a sci-fi film I remember fondly from when I was a kid: "Soylent Green". I'm pretty sure I saw "Soylent Green" at the Brighton Theater, possibly as a re-release, as they did frequently in the days before cable TV and home video. SPOILER WARNING (if that's even necessary for a 37-year old film): Certain things I remember vividly from the movie: the overcrowded city, the oppressive heat, the dirt and garbage everywhere, the "furniture" that came with the luxury apartment, the "Computer Space" arcade game in the background, the "150 buck a jar strawberries", the government-assisted suicide facility, the shower scene, and of course, the startling revelation that "Soylent Green is people!"
The funny thing is, according to the book, it's not. In the book, there's only one type of "soylent", a meat substitute made of soy beans and lentils, hence the name. Also, there was no concept of "furniture", no suicide facility, no Soylent corporation. The overpopulation, the stifling heat from the greenhouse effect and the scarcity of food and water are in there. In fact, that's really the point of the book. Set in the far-off year of 1999 (it was written in 1966) the book was a cautionary tale of what would happen if the population explosion was out of control and the human race consumed more resources faster than the environment could replace them. In the midst of this is the main character, a police detective, trying to solve a murder. It's a pretty bleak, but very entertaining, vision of a future which still could happen. For the movie they moved the date out to 2022, but it's still near enough to make you think.
Harry Harrison is one of our favorite authors. Stephie and I have both read his West of Eden series and I think we have all the Stainless Steel Rat stories but the new one, so I figured I would enjoy the book, which I did. I need to watch the movie again, though, while the book is fresh in my mind. Harrison was not a big fan of the film, but in an interview, he said that they got the look of film right. He said what he, and most people he spoke to, took away from the film is "the feeling of horror of this world" as depicted on the screen. It's certainly not anywhere I'd like to live.
02/15/10: The 2010 Birthday Season has officially begun, with Stephie and Dad sharing their birthday again as they have for many years. This year I'm fortunate that my new job has given me a day off so I can stay home and celebrate with Stephie. They said there was also something about Presidents, but I know it's just so I can spend the day with my wife. Happy Birthday Sweetie, and Happy Birthday Dad.
02/10/10: Things have been kind of tough around here lately, as we are struggling with the loss of our one of our best friends, our upstairs neighbor Kevin, who passed away suddenly last week at the way-too-young age of 50 (or 32 in hex, which tickled him when I pointed that out). A talented musician and artist, Kevin was one of those guys who seemed to always be in a good mood, was always eager to offer assistance to a friend, and was just an all-around good guy. And Kisu loved him too, practically knocking him over in her attempt to lick his face when she saw him, which he didn't seem to mind at all. He lived upstairs from us for almost 15 years, and even though we didn't see him every day, or even every week, I think it's going to be real difficult for us knowing we'll never see him again. No more knocks at the door to drop off leftover pizza, or to show us a new tattoo he just gave himself, or to show us a new picture he just completed, or just to say "Hi". It's been almost a week and it still doesn't seem real.
In my effort to make some sense of this, I've been looking him up on the 'net, just to see what's out there. He was a long-time member of Johnny Justice, a local cover band of some renown. They broke up late last year and their site is gone (although you can find it in the Wayback machine) but their MySpace page is still there, although it hasn't been updated in a while. From there, I found that Kevin actually had his own MySpace page at one point. I think what he wrote in the "About Me" was great, and pretty much sums up what we loved in his character. I'm sure he wouldn't mind me quoting him here:
It's really not at all about me, it's about every one around me. It's about treating people right. Even the ones that won't get or respect others! It's about helping and listening and sharing. Knowing when to shut up and when to quit cuz you, he or she jus done had enough. Its about painting what you see in your mind, with your eyes and your imagination. It's about playing what you feel and not just what's already been it's about variance flexibility and annoyiance. It's about lightening up because the world is too effin nuts as it is. It's about respect and manners and and and...it's about playing music, which is creating and thats artistic and that's truely productive. It's productive whether you hear it or see it alone or share it with others.
He loved his music, he loved his art, he loved his nieces, and we loved him. Rest In Peace, pal. You are sorely missed.
02/09/10: It's Tie Tuesday! This started back in December when I wore a suit and tie to work because I had a job interview. Someone asked me why I was wearing a tie, and I didn't want to mention the interview, so I replied "Because it's Tuesday!" And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I have lots of ties in my closet going back to my Dominick's days (some too hideous to wear in public) and I rarely have an opportunity to wear most of them. So each Tuesday in December I wore one of my Christmas ties. I had such a good response, I've kept going into the new year. And it's catching on, too. Last week there was one other guy in the office wearing a tie on Tuesday, and today there is another. As I told someone last week, when it was just me it was an affectation, now it's a trend!
01/25/10: This is Boston, Kisu's pal from obedience class. She was rescued by her owner and is now a therapy and READ-certified pooch! She's in the running to be Top Dog on WCIU for January, and she has a pretty good chance of winning. Click here or click her picture to go to the WCIU site and place your vote. And unlike Chicago politics, you are allowed to vote more than once, but you can only vote once per day. Let's help Boston be Top Dog!
02/01/2010 Update: Boston won! Congratulations on being Top U Dog for January!
12/25/09: Kisu asked me to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.
12/20/09: I've been a fan of the Irish band Horslips since probably 1979, when WXRT was playing "Loneliness" and "The Man Who Built America" on a semi-regular basis, and I picked up a couple of their albums at Kroozin' Music on Archer Ave. The last time they played Chicago was in December of '79 at the Park West, but it was a 21-and-over show and I was not quite old enough to get in. They broke up the following year, and I figured I'd never get to see them live.
And they were supposed to be very good live. In the early '80s, I was able to get most of their records from a great used record store on Clark Street called "Just For The Record". (Legend has it that Al Jourgensen of Ministry once worked there!) One of the guys in the store said he actually saw Horslips perform at a club in Schaumburg and described them as "like an Irish Grateful Dead, real laid back and talking to the audience between songs." I figured I would never get a chance to see them, so I had to be content with listening to the albums I had been fortunate enough to find.
Then came the Internet. I searched for Horslips info, but all I could find was a general "Irish music" site which had a couple paragraphs about the band. At the same time, WXRT's web site had a message board where people could post messages to other fans, and there was a section where you could swap things you taped off the radio. I knew that XRT had broadcast that last Park West Horslips show, but I had never heard it, so I took a chance and asked if anyone had a tape of it (and of a show from around the same time featuring FM, a progressive rock band from Canada) and as luck would have it, a guy from Chicago responded that he had both shows. I don't remember what I offered him in exchange, but I soon had cassettes of both shows, which I promptly turned into CDs using the brand new CD burner I had just installed in my PC. I even made a fancy cover for the jewel case and everything! I may never find anything else about the band, but at least I had that show.
Then I got another e-mail. A guy in Ireland had seen my posting about the shows and was wondering if I ever got a copy, and I could send it to him. I was so excited! I didn't know who this guy was, but he was from Ireland! I sent him a copy of my fancy CD (which looks a little cheezy in retrospect) and he sent me a CD by Moving Hearts, another Irish band that merged Irish folk and rock. He also sent me a couple other Horslips concerts which had been broadcast on the radio. Not long after that, the official Horslips website went up, and the band announced that they would be reissuing all their albums on CD. No plans to play live, though.
Time passed, I lost track of my pal in Ireland, the Horslips site kind of stagnated for a while as there was no new news after the CDs were all released, but I still was playing my Horslips albums. I made a compilation CD for one of the other dog owners in Cheyenne's obedience class after Stephie mentioned the band to him. Then in 2004, there was a flurry of activity on the 'net. A group of fans had put together an art exhibit in Derry of all their collectibles, with album covers and concert posters and all things Horslips. And the band was so impressed that they showed up at the opening night and played a few songs live! I was stunned! And on top of it all, one of the guys that put the show together, Paul Callaghan, was the guy I had swapped CDs with! That show got the guys together and they went on and recorded an acoustic album of their old songs. There was even a DVD documentary about the band. With all that activity, there were even rumors of a tour, with a supposed stop in Chicago! But again, time passed, not much new on the site, and life went on.
I can't say what it was this summer, but something got me thinking about that art exhibit five years ago. One day, out of the blue, I thought that I would check the web site, and IF they were going to display the show again (as they had a few times since the initial Derry exhibit) and IF we had enough lead time, we should try to go to see it. We were planning on going to Ireland next year for our 20th wedding anniversary, so if we could see that while we were there, it would be almost like seeing the band. So I logged on the 'net from work and navigated to the Horslips web site, and darn near fell out of my chair. They were getting back together for two shows in December! I couldn't believe it. Wouldn't it be great to go? But no, that's silly, we can't go to Ireland for a concert...
On the way home from work that day, I dialed up some Horslips on my mp3 player and instead of hearing the music, I kept hearing something that my Mom and my Aunt Vi say many times. They would tell me that if there was something that I really wanted to do that was not illegal, and would not "break the bank" that I should do it, because life is short. I got home and told Stephie that we should really consider going.
I'll continue this later, but in the meantime, I've started to put up some pictures I took. You can see them here.
12/14/09: Well, it's back to work. As you can see, I only had 634 e-mails waiting for me when I got back!
Also, I should have the vacation pictures up in a day or so.
12/08/09: Hey, we're back! Guess where we went for the weekend! More details to follow...
11/26/09: Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. We had a very nice day, with Stephie cooking (and Kisu helping, as you can see) and my family coming over to share in the good food and good conversation. I hope everyone's holiday was as nice as ours.
Lots of things have been happening lately, but I've just been too lazy to write. I had a business trip to Calgary back in October, which ate up most of the month with getting approvals and booking the flight and room and getting a passport and everything. I planned to post stuff from up there, but the beginning of the week was extremely busy with work, then I caught a bad cold and the rest of the week was miserable. I did spend a lot of time asking people "How's it going, eh?", which really never gets old. The work part of the trip didn't go well, but everything else was fine. One thing that was pretty cool was that I used Gizmo5 ( a VoIP app) on my Nokia N810 to talk to Stephie each night from my hotel room. We didn't use the video chat, since she doesn't have a camera, but the voice part was as good as a regular phone but with no long-distance charges!
Likewise, there's been lots of stuff is going on around here. Stephie has a couple new pieces on her art page, and she had a booth at a local art show recently, but due to lack of promotion, very few people attended. It was good experience for her, with transporting all her artwork and setting up her display and all, and the people running the show were very apologetic, so if they have it next year, she'll participate. We did discover that we really need to work on her self-promotion, though. For one thing, there was no notice on this site that she was even going to be there! That's something we're going to have to improve on next year. We're also thinking about trying to sell her artwork on eBay. I'll post a link if we do that.
And Kisu's been just fine. She's still having problems with her eyes being very dry, but the drops and ointment that she now gladly lets us apply seem to be helping out a lot. We've also been letting her off the leash in the yard or when we're taking her to the car, and she's really doing well with that. Last week, Stephie took her around the block without her leash, but I'm a little uncomfortable doing that. It's not that I think she would run away. I'd actually be concerned that I would be distracted and not notice if she took off after a squirrel or bunny until it was too late. I had her in the yard once when she saw a squirrel and started after it, but I was able to call her back before she really got going. I'd be afraid of her running into the street.
Otherwise, all is well here. I'll try not to be so lazy in the future!
10/02/09: I ran across this Dilbert strip from 1991 recently and thought it was pretty funny, so I showed it to Stephie. She insisted that I put it up on the refrigerator, because it reminded her of so many conversations that we've had over the years. But the more I think about it, the joke is pretty much obsolete, because as everyone knows you can now access the works of Shakespeare or study the history of Greece on the Internet. No optical disk needed!
By the way, you should check out Stephie's Art page, because she has a cool new picture up there.
09/22/09: Nineteen years ago, I made one of the best moves of my life when I married my best friend. We were discussing this last weekend and my Dad joked "And they said it wouldn't last!". I replied "Nobody ever said that. What they said was 'What took you so long?'". It was obvious to everyone even then that we were meant to be together, and they were right. Happy Anniversary, Stephie!
08/24/09: I had the radio on last week and I heard a song that I hadn't heard in a long time. Apparently, on that date in 1969 "In the Year 2525" by Zager & Evans was the number one song in the country. Wikipedia says that it was the number one song in the country the week of the first moon landing. It was also the number one single the week that the original Woodstock festival was held. I used to like that song, but as I was listening to the lyrics, it struck me what a creepy song it actually was. I mean, I knew it was all doom 'n' gloom, but "Everything you think, do, and say, is in the pill you took today". Brrrrrr.
But it is a catchy tune, and I couldn't get it out of my head. Oddly enough, we don't have it on the MP3 jukebox at home. I could have sworn I picked it up somewhere along the way. I wanted to play it for Stephie yesterday but it wasn't there.
I did finally get it out of my head yesterday but I went into the local hardware store and went down to the lower level, where they usually have "oldies" playing, and guess what I heard. Yep, "In the Year 2525"! I don't think I'd heard it in years, then twice in one week? I guess that's a sign that I'll just have to buy it.
07/30/09: Earlier this month, I read a fascinating book about the making of, and subsequent restoration of, Napoleon, a French silent film made in 1927 by Abel Gance. I saw Napoleon in 1981 or '82 at the Chicago Theater, with a full orchestra, conducted by Carmine Coppola (Francis Ford's dad) who had written a score for the restored version. I was blown away by the film, which ran for almost four hours, even even the friend I took, who had never seen a silent movie, though it seemed like much less. This book was published around that time, and was written by Kevin Brownlow, who had almost made it his life's work to get this film restored.
The first half of the book details the making of the film. Gance used many techniques that were revolutionary at the time (many he invented himself) but have become commonplace today, like widescreen projection, extreme close-ups, hand-held cameras, and MTV-style editing. He also seemed to have pioneered going way over budget, both in money and time, and apparently made very little money for his efforts.
The second half of the book, however, was almost more interesting to me, in which Brownlow discovers the film as a youngster by way of a severely edited version, then over time assembles it back from bits and pieces to wind up with the version that I saw on the big screen. He buys, begs, borrows, and at one point secretly copies different prints of what is basically the same movie to gather all the different scenes in order to recreate the film as close to the original version as he could get. In this age of home video, where we can just get pretty much any movie you want delivered from Deep Discount or Netfix, it is astounding to me that it took him years and the cooperation of film archivists in several countries just to be able to see a movie that may still not be exactly as it was when it was first released.
Not that you can see it today. Film fans have been waiting patiently for a DVD release of this film, but as I understand it, worldwide there are three companies who claim to have the rights to it, and use the legal system to enforce their rights. Brownlow has done more reconstruction after the Coppola version and had a new score produced in 2000, but that version can't be shown in the US, supposedly because the Coppola's won't let it be seen. I have a VHS copy of the Coppola version that one of Stephie's friends recorded for me years ago off a cable channel that we did not have, but as I was reading the book I was looking on eBay for the laserdisc version that came out in the early '80s, which is the best we can get in the US without a DVD release. Imagine my surprise when I found it (reasonably priced!) at the Hillside Record Show a couple weeks ago. Now all I have to do is find four contiguous hours to watch it.
And since I'm writing about silent movies, I should probably mention that the Silent Film Society of Chicago is running their Silent Summer festival every Friday through August 28 at the Portage Theater. I may be going tomorrow by myself, but Stephie and I are going on the 21st to see Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad. I saw it years ago on TV and can't wait to see it on the big screen, with live organ accompaniment. There are worse ways of spending a couple hours on a Friday night.
06/24/09: Stephie's friend Diane, who some of you know of from their Science Fair adventure, recently earned her Master of Science degree in Plant Biology and Conservation. She followed up this amazing feat by scoring a spot on a summer-long research expedition to the Arctic Circle! There should be a picture around here somewhere of her, proving to us that she's really there. We're going to miss her, but as a small consolation, she took everyone's advice and set up a blog, so at least we can read about her adventures. And as it turns out, she writes pretty well! Is there anything this woman can't do? Click here to read about her adventures on the not-so-frozen tundra.
I, on the other hand, have just gotten off my lazy butt long enough to put up another page of vacation pictures, this time featuring our visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Click here to check them out.
06/04/09: A couple years ago, I realized that I was not putting much of a dent in the huge book collection that Stephie and I had accumulated over the years. I would try to read at night, usually in bed, but sometimes I would get through only a couple pages before I found I couldn't keep my eyes open. It was taking me forever to finish a book, so I started taking one to work with me every day. I figured it'd be better than just working through lunch or surfing the 'net while eating. That turned out to be a great idea, so much so that I completed reading 41 books last year, a personal record.
I also found that I enjoyed when people asked me what I was reading. Granted, I'm not always reading great literature, but it was fun explaining what "pulps" are (a personal favorite of mine) to people who had never heard of them. And it turns out it's great for your morale to get away from your desk for an hour in the middle of the day. Who knew?
I mention this now because coming up next week is the primary reason why I have a massive backlog and sometimes have trouble deciding what to read next. Tomorrow starts the big Little City Used Book Sale at the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie. It's a huge tent sale which benefits The Little City Foundation in Palatine, and always signals the beginning of summer for us. This year the sale starts on Friday, June 5th and runs through Sunday, June 14th. Click here to see the full schedule. As usual, they will be accepting book donations right at the sale, so we plan to donate at least as much as we bring home, probably more. Click the picture of the flyer here for more details of the sale, and plan to pick up some fine reading at some great prices.
05/31/09: I just put up the first batch of pictures from our Florida trip. Click here to check them out. The picture here is us on the Dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom. As you can see, Stephie is having a great time, but I'm not sure what I was looking at. Probably something shiny.
05/20/09: Hi, we're back. We spent the last couple days in sometimes sunny Florida. This was our first trip to Disney World and certainly is like going to another world! I will be putting some of the digital pictures up over the next couple days, as well as some of our thoughts on the experience, and when Stephie gets her rolls of film developed, I'll put some of those up as well. In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the best pictures of the trip with you. It was taken at Discovery Cove, during our "Dolphin Interaction". Yeah, that's Stephie, smooching a real dolphin (her name is Dixie). It was a great trip overall, but that experience (the whole Dolphin Interaction, not just the smooching) was definitely the high point.
05/01/09: Holy cow, it's May! Where is this year going? Time always goes by much faster when you're busy, and we did have a very busy April, but May already? Next thing you know, it will be summer!
At least Stephie's been productive. She has a couple new pieces on her web site, and they are pretty awesome. Click here now to check them out.
04/03/09: Sugar-free Peeps? Really? What's the point?
03/16/09: We had two concerts on two consecutive Fridays in March. March 13 we saw Poi Dog Pondering at the Beverly Arts Center. We've seen them play to thousands of people at Naperville Rib Fest and to hundreds of people at Fitzgerald's and they are always terrific. The Beverly Arts Center is where we saw the Ventures last year and it's a great place to see a show. Well, it is if you're not on the main floor where the drunk concertgoers are constantly going up and down the aisles while the band is playing, or standing in the middle of the aisle talking on their cell phones. And these two girls in our row seemed to have gone out and come back every other song. And what's with all the empty seats? The show sold out in two days, but the four seats in front of us and the two next to us were empty the whole time! And don't get me started on the talking between the songs and during any somewhat quiet part. Sheesh! Um, sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, the Beverly Arts Center is a great small venue, especially when you're sitting up in the balcony.
The big revelation, though, was the week before, when we went to the House of Blues to see Great Big Sea. I thought GBS was, well, great, which I expected ever since picking up their "Something Beautiful" album a couple years ago. I'd have to say that is one of my favorite albums of the last five years. And they really looked like they were having fun on-stage. A couple weeks ago we watched the DVD of 'The Last Waltz', and in it Robbie Robertson of The Band briefly spoke about what a hard life touring can really be, but when I was watching these guys, I kept thinking "That looks like a lot of fun!".
But as good as Great Big Sea was, the opening act might have been better. These four guys came out on the stage with no introduction, picked up their instruments (drums and washboard, guitar, and two violins) and had the crowd jumping from the first song, and really didn't let up for forty-five minutes! The band's name is Scythian, they're from Washington DC, and here's a clip I found on youTube (not the show we saw, unfortunately):
These guys were tremendous! Except for maybe the Lackloves a couple years ago, I never had an unknown opening act blow me away like that. After their set I went and bought all three of their CDs. Of the three, I'd recommend "Immigrant Road Show", which is the only one that contains the current lineup of musicians. They said they have a live CD coming out in the spring, and if it captures half the energy of the show we saw at the House of Blues, it will be in heavy rotation here and in the car! I'd go see them again in a heartbeat.
03/01/09: A bunch of things to catch up on:
- A couple weekends ago we went to Galena for a little Valentine/Birthday weekend getaway. One of the highlights of the trip (and the main reason for going) was the eagle-watching tour that we took on Saturday morning. We climbed on a bus and rode around the Galena/Dubuque area, which happens to be right on the migration path of the Bald Eagles as they move up along the Mississippi river to their summer home in Wisconsin and Canada. We had an unofficial count of 45 eagles, between the ones we saw in the trees and the ones we saw soaring through the air. They are magnificent animals to see in an artificial setting like a zoo, but they are breathtaking to see in the wild. The tours are held on Saturday mornings in January and February, so if you find yourself in Galena around those times next year, you can do worse than taking a couple hours to see our national bird in the wild.
We also discovered that it's best if I drive and Stephie navigates when we go places. I was not feeling well so we reversed our usual assignments for the trip out, but I thought I was paying attention. Imagine my surprise when we saw the sign that said "Welcome to Wisconsin." (For those of you who don't know, Galena is not in Wisconsin, nor is Wisconsin on the way to Galena.) Turns out I missed an exit and had been driving 20 minutes in the wrong direction!
- Galena is a cute little town, with lots of nice shops and restaurants, but in the middle of winter they don't have much of a night-life, so we found ourselves flipping through the cable channels and discovered that Comedy Central was showing "Idiocracy". I had read some positive things on this movie (in fact it's near the top of our Netflix queue) so we settled in to watch. The story in a nutshell is that a regular guy is selected for a hibernation project by the Pentagon, but instead of waking in a year he wakes in 500 years and finds a society so "dumbed-down" that he is now the most intelligent person in America.
It was not a great movie, but it made me laugh many times. I thought the premise of the movie, that dumb people are breeding at an alarming rate while the intelligent people are not, was brilliant. Maybe the execution left a little to be desired, but it was entertaining and really made me fear for where society is going. And watching it on Comedy Central really hammered home the central theme of the movie, since the commercials seemed to be part of the movie. We're watching these characters do stupid things, then the next thing you know you have Larry the Cable Guy on the screen, and you have to remind yourself that it's a commercial and not part of the movie! It looks like it's on Comedy Central again next weekend, so you can check it out for yourself.
- And speaking of movies, we finally watched "Yesterday Once More", that DVD that we received damaged from Netflix four times. So was it worth all the aggravation? Yeah, I'd say so, at least up until the ending. So many times lately we have been enjoying a movie up until the very end when something happens that either ruins it for us, or just disappoints us in some way, and this was one of them. The movie was very well done, with great scenery, good acting, interesting characters, a complex plot but not too complex to follow, and of course, the adorable Sammi Cheng. I liked it all the way up until the ending.
- Last week a guy at work told me that I had one of the coolest screen-savers he had ever seen, but what he didn't know what that it was just one of the default options in Windows: "My Pictures Slide Show". If you select that from your Display Properties dialog box, you can point it to any folder on your system, then when the screen-saver kicks in, it will cycle through the pictures in that folder. I currently have it pointed to a folder full of old pulp covers, so when I'm not at my desk you can see a steady stream of Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, Weird Tales, Operator #5, Black Mask, Captain Future, and other colorful covers. I used to have a folder full of silent movie posters, and that was pretty cool, too. All you need is a bunch of pictures (and Windows, of course) and you're all set.
- If you've been reading this site for a while you may recall that I had written about a Flash-based Theremin app that I had that required an old version of Shockwave to run. Well, for some reason I found myself on the theremin.info site and found that a guy named Jim Spinner had created a free Theremin Simulator that did more than what the Flash one did, and it ran as a single executable, so you don't have to install anything on your system. Sure, it doesn't have a virtual Leon Theremin that you can control like some kind of a puppet, but it can make some pretty cool sounds. Check it out!
- And the picture? I was digging through one of my junk drawers and found three strips of stickers that Chris, Ricky and I got when we went to the old Disney Quest indoor theme park that they had downtown many years ago. They had these vending machines that took your picture and inserted it into one of the backgrounds you select. This is the one Chris took. I could have sworn that I put mine up on this site sometime ago but I may be mistaken. I'll have to get mine and Ricky's up soon.
02/08/09: Two new pieces were posted to Stephie's Art Pages today. Click here to check them out.
And the fifth time was the charm for "Yesterday Once More", as Hartford, CT came through with an undamaged copy! We'll be watching it in the next couple days and I'll let you know if it was worth the trouble.
01/31/09: Netflix update: Erie, PA lets me down! The latest version of Yesterday Once More came from the Erie, PA shipping location, and wouldn't you know it: it's cracked as well, as you can see in the picture (click for a larger image). That makes four times this movie showed up damaged. I wonder where the next one is coming from.
01/23/09: It's a conspiracy, I tell ya...
We've had Netflix since January of 2001 and have had very little trouble with the service. The occasional missing or damaged disk, but for the most part our membership has been trouble-free. The only real "problem" we've had is every once in a while, we can't figure out who put a specific movie on our list. I don't think movies are randomly added to the list, but it takes so long for a movie to bubble to the top of our queue (usually 80 to 100 movies) that neither of us remember putting the movie on the list.
Recently, I noticed that we were in line to get Yesterday Once More, a Chinese romantic comedy starring the adorable Sammi Cheng, star of one of my recent favorites My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. It was coming from Memphis, which is not unusual when the movie is not a popular release, and I think Netflix gave us an additional movie because of the delay, which was nice. The movie arrived, and I put it aside to watch later. But when we got around to watching it, I noticed that it was split almost in half. Not a problem, since Netflix has a facility for reporting damaged disks. I did so and sent it back.
Later I got an e-mail that said that another copy was on its way, this time from Minneapolis. It arrived and I immediately checked it and it was cracked into three pieces. Again I reported the damaged disk and sent it back. The next replacement was coming from Madison, WI. It got here yesterday as we were leaving the house. I almost checked it then, but I put everything back in the mailbox until we got home. Sure enough, this copy was split, also in three pieces but differently from the other two.
I'm beginning to think that I'm not supposed to see this movie. I wonder if it has something to do with the bone-chilling cold that we've had around here lately. Or maybe the studio that put the disk out had some bad disk stock. I don't know. I just hope that Netflix doesn't think I'm breaking these disks on purpose. I really want to see this movie. Honest.
12/25/08: The snowmen on top of our TV would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. (Extra points to any L. Fish alumni who recognize the guy that's second from the left in the picture.) We had a great couple days visiting family and friends, eating too much and collecting lots of booty! Hope all of you had the same.
12/05/08: Happy "Day of the Ninja", everybody! I know "Talk Like A Pirate Day" is a lot more fun, because you get to annoy your family, friends and co-workers by being louder and more obnoxious than usual, calling everyone "Wenches" and "Scurvy Dogs" and such, when on the "Day of the Ninja" you just sneak around silently and kill them. This may be fun for you but definitely not for them. But that's what ninja do.
On the other hand, you can just celebrate quietly (dare I say "stealthily") and afterwards order take-out from Ninja Burger ("Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less, or we commit Seppuku!") and watch "The Octagon" for the 275th time.
Just be careful with your paper shurikens. You know, it's all fun and games until somebody puts an eye out.
11/27/08: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Each year we give thanks for all the good things in our lives. I'm thankful for my friends, my family, my lovely wife, my silly dog. I'm thankful that I'm still relatively healthy, still employed, still have at least a couple dollars left in my 401K. Thankful that my brothers are coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, that Stephie is cooking a beautiful bird, and it's a beautiful day outside.
But mostly this year I'm thankful that my Dad's OK. As some of you know, Dad went in for a quadruple bypass and valve replacement at the end of October and there were some complications which kept him in the hospital much longer than planned. He's home now, as you can see from the picture, and it looks like he's going to be OK. He has a sackful of medicine to take and the plan is for him to go to therapy three days a week until his body recovers from the trauma of the surgery. But he never lost his sense of humor, even when he wasn't doing too well, and I believe that's an important part of a successful recovery. It's going to be a while until he's completely back to normal, but we're willing to wait for him!
11/19/08: "The 2008 National Medal of Arts to Stan Lee, for his groundbreaking work as one of America's most prolific storytellers, recreating the American comic book. His complex plots and humane super heroes celebrate courage, honesty, and the importance of helping the less fortunate, reflecting America's inherent goodness." Excelsior!
11/04/08: OK, so Howard's not running this time, but today is Election Day 2008, so VOTE! Vote like your life depends on it. It may not, but your country sure does!
10/31/08: Happy Halloween, everyone! My costume this year was supposed to be kind of cute, but as usual, it turned out to be kind of creepy. Click here for pictures.
10/26/08: Recent e-mail exchange with my brother:
Subject: Tonight on TCM
Date: Friday, October 24, 2008, 7:47 AM
Hey, can you do me a big favor? Evanier says today that The World's Greatest Sinner is being shown on TCM early tomorrow morning. Would you be able record it for me? I've been curious about this film for years, because Zappa wrote the soundtrack, but the only time I've seen it for sale was from some shady public domain vendor. It looks like it's on at 1am for about 80 minutes.
And since you're already setting up the Tivo, they're showing 200 Motels at 2:45, and I wouldn't mind having a DVD of that, because all I have is a crappy nth-generation tape, and the Zappa Family Trust has never gotten around to putting that out on DVD!
Subject: Re: Tonight on TCM
Date: Friday, October 24, 2008, 12:30 PM
No problem! I've got plenty of space on the Tivo, and there's no Bears game to record this weekend. ;)
Subject: Re: Re: Tonight on TCM
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2008, 9:19 AM
Dude, some people should not be allowed to play with cameras. And I'm talking about BOTH of these movies!
Subject: Re: Re: Tonight on TCM
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2008, 11:41 AM
Hey, I didn't ask you to WATCH them, just record them.
Subject: Re: Re: Tonight on TCM
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2008, 2:12 PM
HA HA! Touche'!
10/24/08: Sorry, but I've been really busy lately, keeping an eye on the upcoming election. You did register to vote, didn't you? And you do plan to vote on November 4th, don't you? Remember, your guy needs your vote, regardless of which guy is your guy. (Of course, it would be best if your guy was my guy, but either way, don't forget to vote!) I'm going to try to catch up in the next couple days on some stuff I've been meaning to post, so check back.
Last week, Stephie took me to the Park West to see Alejandro Escovedo and the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, with tickets she gave me for my birthday. We first both of them (without full band) a couple years ago at Fitzgerald's at a benefit with Poi Dog Pondering. Man, I wish I had a tape of that show. For that night, the bulk of Escovedo's set was just him on guitar and the fabulous Susan Voelz on violin, and they blew us away! I'd seen her play with PDP several times, but the two together just clicked. And last week, Escovedo had his full band along (including the talented Ms. Voelz) and they were really terrific. I've only been to the Park West twice, and that was nearly 25 years ago (Uriah Heep and Marillion, not on the same night), but I really liked the place. I wouldn't mind going back if they had someone I liked.
But where I'm pretty sure we will be going back is Stanley's Kitchen & Tap, about a block away from the Park West. Stephie was a little reluctant to go in, and was even more reluctant when we saw the front of the place was a dimly-lit bar, but the hostess took us in the back to a well-lit, well-decorated dining area that made me feel like we were in someone's kitchen. And the food was fantastic! Stephie had lake perch that was so light and fluffy it seemed almost creamy, with a side order of mac-and-cheese that she initially said was better than hers! I had chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes, and it might have been the best I've ever had. And the price was reasonable, especially for the area. We've got to figure out what else to do in that neighborhood so we can go back and eat there!
If you live in Illinois, you only have until the end of the day Tuesday, October 7 to register to vote, so don't delay. As Craig Ferguson says in the clip that should be embedded here, "If you don't vote, you're a moron".
On a lighter note, here's another Craig Ferguson clip where he takes the media to task for the way the election campaign is being covered. Funny stuff, and more than a little bit true.
09/19/08: Avast, ye land lubbers! Don't be fergettin' that today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, in which we celebrate all things piratical!
Now ye might think that bein' a pirate was all Johnny Depp and Disney-style monsters, but nothin' kin be further from the truth. Sure, ye had the freedom o' the sea, but ye also had long weeks of nothin' to look at but yer tyrannical cap'n and yer fellow bilge-rats. Nothin' to do but swab th' deck and scrape barnacles, with only the occasional lootin' an' pillagin' te break up th' monotony. Weeks of nothin' to eat but sea biscuits and salted beef, if yer lucky. Scurvy! Ricketts!
Ye know, maybe the life of a pirate weren't all it's cracked up to be. But we can still talk like one today! So hoist a tankard of yer favorite grog and shout a hearty "Yo-Ho"!
09/13/08: Things we learned in Green Bay last weekend (that's us under the arrow in the picture):
They have a beautiful stadium up there. This was the first Packer game we went to at Lambeau Field since the big renovation a couple years ago, and they did a great job adding extra seats and more luxury skyboxes while still retaining the look and feel of the old stadium. The atrium they added with the Packer Hall of Fame and restaurants and other stores is really nice, and it doesn't look at all like a space ship landed in the middle of the field!
The fans up there continue to be great. Stephie brought her camera and was taking pictures of the Leinie Lodge in the atrium, when she had me stop so she could get a picture of me. After she snapped the picture, this guy got up from a nearby table, walked over and put his arm around me and said "Now, here's a picture you need to take!" One of his buddies came over and got in the picture and said "OK, go ahead!" Stephie looked a little reluctant but started to raise the camera, and I said "Hey, guys, that's not a digital camera. She's only got a limited number of shots to take." They started waving their hands at her and said "Oh, then don't waste your pictures on us! You need to take GOOD pictures!" They then offered to take a picture of the two of us with her camera. How cool is that? And there were tons of Vikings fans there, with Minneapolis being fairly close. The rivalry between the two teams is almost as strong as between the Packers and the Bears, but we didn't see any problems between the fans, just some good-natured trash talking, similar to what we saw in Indianapolis a couple years ago. Too bad the same can't be said for our experience at Soldier Field.
I really, really like when they have the fighter jets do a fly-by at the end of the national anthem. And when you sit real high up in the stadium, as we did, it's not only deafening when they fly overhead, you can actually feel the heat from the engines as they pass by!
While we didn't have one, we now know what an "Ultimate Dawg" is. Just as the game started, the two guys next to me sat down, one guy had an enormous hot dog with a bunch of stuff on it. I asked him what it was and he said a foot-long hot dog with chili and macaroni and cheese on it! I watched as he tried to eat it as a normal hot dog, but he soon gave up and used a fork. I forgot about it as the game went on, but when they came back after halftime, I asked him how it was. He said "It was awesome! In fact, he got one!" and pointed to his buddy, who was gamely trying to eat his without resorting to using the fork. As I said, we didn't have one but it looked pretty good. We'll have to try that one at home!
My birthday present works really well. Stephie got me a bluetooth keyboard to go with the Nokia Internet tablet I picked up last year, and we took it along with us. The motel we stayed in had wireless internet, so we were able to easily check our e-mail and whatever else we wanted to while we were there. I had been thinking about getting one of those Linux-based mini-laptops that the tech sites have been writing about, but with this combo, I basically have one.
Kisu has a new favorite place to stay when we're out of town. On a friend's recommendation, we boarded her at Pawsitively Heaven Pet Resort in Chicago Ridge. There she had her own room with a TV and a doggie door so she could go outside whenever she wanted. She seemed to like it a lot. She had some separation anxiety issues the last time we went out of town and left her where she stayed several times before, but no problems this time. In fact, she didn't seem overly happy to see us when we picked her up!
I think the Packers are going to be OK without Brett Favre. We were disappointed at the way that whole retirement situation played out in pre-season. We asked around up there and it seems ultimately the Green Bay fans have the same feelings about the matter as we do. At first, the fans were blaming the coach and the management about how things went down, but as one guy put it, we then saw a side of Favre that we didn't know he had. I wish him all the best (unless he's playing against the Packers, or course) but I just hope that he didn't come back just to wind up getting hurt more seriously than he had in all the time he played for Green Bay.
08/30/08: Usually we celebrate R. Crumb's birthday on the 30th, but this year, as I recently read in an article in "Films of the Golden Age, the 30th is also the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kankakee's favorite son Fred MacMurray. I mainly remember him as the father on "My Three Sons", which Mom says should be brought back on TV Land or one of the local channels, but I still remember the first time I saw him in Double Indemnity. That was not the Mr. Douglas that I knew! I also later found out that he was the inspiration for the design of the original Captain Marvel. How cool is that?
08/25/08: This good looking young guy is Sigmund, and until last weekend, he was our upstairs neighbor. He has a problem with most men (although we got along great right off the bat) and he tends to be a bit yappy (with a bark that goes right through you), but Kisu seemed to like him. At least she tolerated him well enough when he would come down to visit. But his Mom got a great job in another state, so last weekend they moved away. We're going to miss them both but wish them nothing but the best.
He came down to visit with us while his Mom was waiting for the movers, so we got some final pictures and a couple videos. Check out Kisu's page to see them.
08/06/08: Stephie and I saw "The Dark Knight" a couple weeks ago, and since then I have been struggling with my opinion of the movie. Neither of us liked it, but that's not what I've been struggling with. I just can't seem to put my finger on what it was that I didn't like.
I've been a Batman fan for a long time. I read the comics, as you can see by the accompanying picture, and enjoyed the Adam West TV series for what it was. I still remember when we went with friends to see the Tim Burton-Michael Keaton "Batman" the day it opened, and when it was over we all walked out and immediately wanted to go back in and watch it again. But this movie was a completely different experience.
To begin with, I didn't care for the Joker character. Except for the face paint, I didn't see much difference between this character and so many other "criminal masterminds" that we see on TV and in movies. To me, he didn't have the kind of obvious lunacy that I equate with the Joker character. No, I didn't want to see Caesar Romero on the big screen, and I'm not that locked into the Jack Nicholson version (although the forced grin was well done), but Heath Ledger just seemed more like a generic terrorist than the Joker I know. There were a couple things he did that fit my idea of the character, but overall, I was unimpressed with the way the character was written.
There were several spots in the movie where I didn't know what was going on, and I was a little annoyed by that. There was at least one point where there seemed to be a scene or two missing. I thought maybe I zoned out for a couple minutes, but Stephie was lost as well so it wasn't just me. Some people say that we should have seen it at an IMAX theater, but I don't think that would have helped me over the plot holes.
The acting was pretty good, although I had trouble understanding Christian Bale when he was in costume. I guess he was going for the "Clint Eastwood tough-guy" voice, but all I got was a bunch of mumbling. True, there was a great scene with Morgan Freeman and a Wayne Corp accountant, but my impression was that Michael Caine's dialog was intentionally more vague than I thought the down-to-earth Alfred would say.
This all seems like nit-picking, and I guess it is, but that's what I've been doing since we saw it because there was no one glaring thing that turned me off of the film, besides maybe the Joker character. I think it all boils down to the fact that I didn't have a good time watching this movie. We saw "Batman Begins" on DVD and I thought it was such a good movie from start to finish that I was kicking myself for not seeing it at the show, so I was expecting a similar experience with this one. But I was really disappointed. I had a much better time at the show when we saw "Iron Man", so much so that I can see myself watching "Iron Man" again in the near future. I can't say the same for "The Dark Knight".
07/30/08: I saw this listed as one of the top news items (actually news videos) on Yahoo! today. I didn't click the link. I don't know about you guys, but I don't need to see any exploding deer any time soon.
07/20/08: Last Friday evening I finished reading "The Number of the Beast" by Robert Heinlein. The book was given to me by a friend who said she received two copies from whatever book club she was in at the time, and thought I might like it. I think that was back in 1980. And it was not very good. Parts of it were, in fact, pretty bad. It started out pretty good, dragged towards the middle, started to pick up, then crashed and burned by the end. In fact, I had no idea what was going on in the whole final chapter, and couldn't wait to be done with it. When I started to lose interest the first time, I checked the 'net for reviews, and found many which recommended not reading it. But I pressed on, and can safely say that I'm never going to read this particular book ever again.
So then why in the two days since can I not get the book out of my head. Inexplicably, I actually feel a little sad that I'm done, that I won't have some of these characters to read about any more. Makes no sense, but there you go.
06/23/08: This was my Diversity & Inclusion moment at our staff meeting last week:
I always think that the D&I moment should be something personal, something that makes us different. My D&I moment today is about one of my hobbies, which is listening to radio.
My opinion is that what is now known as "Terrestrial Radio" these days is pretty much crap, especially at drive time. If you can find music that you like, and that's a pretty big "if", you typically hear as many commercials as you do songs. I've never tried Satellite radio, which is supposed to be better and have a lot of variety, but there's a monthly fee, and who needs that these days. Fortunately for us, there's the Internet.
Many things are easily and legally available to download from the Internet. Old-time radio shows have long been a personal favorite of mine. When I was a kid, my uncle gave me a bunch of tapes of shows like The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, and that got me started. For a while (pre-mp3) I would use my VCR to record When Radio Was on WBBM at midnight, then while I was getting ready to go to work, I would record from the VCR to a cassette and listen in the car on my way to work. Between that show and Those Were the Days on Saturday afternoon, I discovered some great shows like The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
Nowadays, there's lots of good OTR stuff available as free downloads, and since most shows are self-contained and around 15 or 30 minutes, they are great to listen to on your mp3 player while stuck in traffic. You can easly find them by a little searching. Here's a link to one of my favorites, the aforementioned Voyage of the Scarlet Queen. Think of it as a hard-boiled detective series on a ship as it sails from port to port. Great stuff. I had the complete set on cassette and after I listened to it, I passed it around at work and everyone loved it. Another really good series is Speed Gibson, a kid's show that has enough action for kids of all ages!
But if you'd rather listen to music, you're in luck there as well. You probably think of Public Radio as the news and information you hear prime-time on WBEZ, but there are a lot of interesting music programs in the evenings and over the weekends on 'BEZ and other NPR stations. Just a few of the shows I listen to, either occasionally or regularly, are Blues Before Sunrise, Thistle & Shamrock, Hearts of Space, and Riverwalk Jazz on WUIS from Springfield, Those Were The Days, Putumayo World Music Hour, Victor Parra's Mambo Express, and Metal Rock on WDCB in Glen Ellyn, and Sound Opinions, Prairie Home Companion, This American Life, Afropop Worldwide, Dick Buckley (big band), and Word Jazz on WBEZ. Some of these shows are available as "podcasts", basically mp3 files you can save to your computer and transfer to your mp3 player, while others are streamed over the 'net, and there are free programs you can use to capture the streams and save them to your mp3 player. I use Streamripper to record a half-dozen shows each weekend. I just created a batch file with the Streamripper command line and added it to the Windows scheduler, so I don't have to think about it every weekend, just make sure the computer is on and hooked to the Internet. You can also use the VLC media player to record the streams.
So with a little investigation, and a couple free programs, you can get more music and entertainment than you have time for, and it doesn't cost you a cent.
06/14/08: Just a brief note to recognize that today is the fifth anniversary of this site going live. To be honest, I didn't think it would last this long. I never doubted my ability to run off at the mouth (or in this case, the keyboard) but when I started this five years ago, I had no idea where I was going with this, or how long I would keep it going. Still don't, really. But even though I'm way behind, in that I have a bunch of stuff from May that I wanted to write about but just haven't got around to it, I'm still having fun with this, and I hope you find my ramblings (and run-on sentences) at least mildly interesting. Thanks for reading!
06/03/08: A regular item on this site is news of the big Used Book Sale at the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie. For the second year in a row The Little City Foundation in Palatine is running the book sale that signals the beginning of summer in this household. This year the sale starts on Friday, June 6th and runs through Sunday, June 15th. It looks like they are trying to make people come out more than once, as they will be hosting various authors there throughout the week. Click here to see the full schedule. As in past sales, they will be accepting book donations right at the sale, so I plan to weed out our collection a little, and give back some of the things that I really don't see myself reading again. I figure if I donate a box and then come home with only a bag full, I will make a little space at home and help out a worthwhile charity. Click the picture of the flyer here for more details of the sale, and plan to pick up some fine reading at some great prices.
05/20/08: We seem to have the poopy robin problem taken care of. Just after I posted the video of that nutty robin, I called the local Wild Birds Unlimited and explained my predicament to the woman there. She said that it was likely that there was a nest nearby, and that was why the robins were hanging around. She also thought that this behavior, like the reported cases of robins flying into windows, would stop once mating season was over, probably in a couple weeks.
I told her that I had seen these inflatable owls on the 'net and was wondering if they carried them, or if she thought they would work. She told me that robins are pretty smart birds, and if the owl was not moving, they would figure out that it was not a threat and ignore it. She recommended either tying some of those mylar balloons on the antenna, or covering the car with a sheet, but making sure that it was loose enough to flutter in the breeze. She thought the motion of either would be enough to keep the birds away.
So that night I got out this plastic tarp that we had in the cabinet and layed it across the roof of Stephie's Beetle, closing the door on either side. It didn't completely cover the car, but enough of the roof, and it was a little loose so the wind blew it around a bit. There were a couple spots on the car the next morning, but we left it on a couple days and ... nothing. Not on the Beetle, not on my car, not on the neighbor's car, nothing! We've since had the cars parked out there without any covering and it's been just fine. It seems that one weekend with the plastic was enough to scare them away. Thanks, Wild Birds Unlimited!
05/04/08: More Bird Fun: When I got home from work on Friday, I thought I'd switch parking places with Stephie, figuring that maybe I'd confuse the poopy robin. Apparently, she's too smart for me, but at least this time I was able to grab the camera and catch her in the act.
So yesterday, Stephie figured she'd had enough and parked in front. Judging by the shape of the cars this morning, either she parked under the wrong tree or her car is actually the object of the robin's affections, because my car (in back) is clear but hers is not!
04/30/08: Bird Fun: A couple weeks ago, I was getting ready for work and I heard a bump...bump...bump coming from the dining room. Kisu was sleeping so I knew it wasn't her. I slowly walked in there, and there was this bird (one of those little wrens, I think) on the evergreen, right outside the window. On my side of the window is also a tree, so the bird is trying to fly from the evergreen to the other tree, but he bumps into the window and goes back to the evergreen. This went on for several minutes (with no apparent damage to the bird, I might add) until I chased him away. This happened a couple more days since, and once I tried to get some video of him, but it was too dark to see anything.
Now we have a new problem. Stephie called me last Friday and said that she almost gagged when she went to her car because it was full of bird poop. I had noticed a dropping on my car when I left the house, but I didn't get a good look at the passenger side of my car, and when I checked, it was pretty loaded as well. We had a bird poop problem in the past because there are some telephone and cable lines going over where we park in the back, but we were not parked under the lines this time, and also, why her driver's door and my passenger door?
The next day, I found out why. I peeked out the back and saw a robin hopping from Stephie's car to mine, back and forth, over and over. And you know what birds do almost as well as fly? That's right: poop. Stephie had had her car professionally washed after the last coating, and it was covered with poop again! I went back to get the camera, but he was gone when I got back. I hauled out the hose and washed the new poop off, and he didn't come back for a couple days. But look what I found when I was going to work this morning. I got out there and this goofy robin is sitting on her car! He took off when he saw me, but the picture here shows that he had been there for a while.
Ain't nature wonderful?
03/30/08: Random stuff:
Today is the fifth anniversary of Kisu joining our family. We couldn't be happier, except when she's stealing the blankets on those cold winter mornings! Happy Adoption Day, pumpkin!.
Stephie has another piece in the Alliance of Fine Art's Best of the Best show, this year at the Peabody Estate in Oak Brook. Check the links in the box above for more info, and directions if you want to go see the exhibit. The reception and award presentation will be Sunday, May 18, 2008.
We enjoy live music, and we're right in the middle of three concerts in a little over two weeks. A couple weeks ago we went to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights to see Hothouse Flowers. The last time we saw them was an acoustic show at the House of Blues, and the crowd was so noisy that we could barely hear the band! Fortunately we didn't have that problem this time. Maybe it was because it was more of a theater than a bar, or because everyone had assigned seats, but the crowd was respectful of the music, and what music it is! Hothouse Flowers has been one of our favorite bands for a while, and it was great to see them in such an intimate setting. Afterwards the entire band was meeting their fans in the lobby, so we bought their latest CD and got them all to sign it. A high point of the evening was when we were talking to the bass player and he asked us where we were from. Stephie told him Brookfield, and he asked "Where the fook is that?". We highly recommend the Metropolis as a place to see a show, and HIGHLY recommend you check out Hothouse Flowers.
Last night, despite Stephie feeling a little unwell, we went to the Vic to see Poi Dog Pondering, another of our most favorite bands. They put on their usual spectacularly entertaining show, but the evening was again marred by the crowd. As with the earlier Hothouse Flowers show at HoB, to paraphrase that Volkswagon commercial, it was really hard for us to enjoy the music with all the yakkin'. This is a phenomenon we have witnessed many times over the last several years, and never ceases to amaze me. It was pointed out to me that some of these concert places are also bars (more so the House of Blues than the Vic) so some talking is expected, but using that logic, what kind of an idiot goes to a bar that has a $30+ cover charge? I'm not expecting the crowd to be perfectly silent, as at a classical concert or a movie, but several times (between songs and during some acoustic parts) I could not understand what the person on stage was saying. Fortunately for us, Poi Dog Pondering seems to be moving more towards a guitar-based with their latest album, so they were able to cut through the din for the most part. Unfortunately, God's Gallipoli, with Frank Orrall on ukulele, was pretty much lost.
Next up: Ray Davies at the Chicago Theater, which is a great place to see live music. We expect the crowd to be better-behaved, if for no other reason than we have assigned seating. We're seriously considering only going to shows where the seats are assigned, but we'll have to see how that goes. We've seen some great shows at the House of Blues, but usually we have to get there early and stand close to the stage so that we can be assured that we'll hear what we pay for. (Or maybe we'll just buy the CDs.)
More bad news last week as CBS announced that they were again canceling Jericho, one of our favorites from last season. Fortunately, the producers expected this to happen, so filmed two endings, and showed the one which tied up most of the loose ends to give the fans some closure. They did leave things somewhat open-ended as the future of the country, so I guess we can hope that there might be some future stories with these characters, but if not, this was a pretty good, albeit slightly rushed, ending to this fine series. As I wrote before, we have the first season DVDs, and although I have all the second season episodes saved, I'll be sure to pick up the second season if they release it. As a side note, Stephie now says that she is not interested in trying any new shows ever again, because they seem to cancel them just as she gets involved.
And part of the reason that I've been so lax in updating this site is because I've been spending a lot of time getting MythTV to work here, to replace our aging VCRs. It's just about up-and-running, and I hope to be posting info soon about our set-up, in case anyone's interested..
03/02/08: One of our favorite shows from last season was Jericho. We watched every episode after catching the terrific pilot, waited patiently during the almost three-month break that CBS inflicted on us before showing the second half of the first season, and were upset and heartbroken when the show was canceled. We weren't among the group that sent thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS to protest the shows cancellation, but both Stephie and I signed the on-line petitions, and I bought the DVD set when it came out. Stephie thought I was a little nuts (pun intended) for buying the series after we watched every single episode, but I figured that it was my way of directly supporting the show. Plus, I wanted to see the first season again before the second season started, and we don't get channel 2 in very well, so I couldn't really tape it to keep when they reran it over the summer.
As time rolled by, and the date of the second season premiere approached, I mentioned that I wanted to watch at least part of the DVDs before getting into the second season. Stephie was less than enthusiastic, because "we already watched them." I convinced her that we should at least watch the pilot again, and she agreed that maybe she's like to see the season finale before the new season starts, so a couple Sundays ago, I pulled out the set and popped in the first disk. After the first episode, Stephie said "Maybe we should watch the next one." Seven episodes later, she wanted to watch more, but it was late and I had to go to work the next day! We wound up watching a disk a night after that, finishing the set in a total of four days. On the fifth day, we watched the first two episodes of the new season, and now we're stuck, waiting for more!
This little marathon confirmed what I thought last year, that Jericho is a terrific show. It's a little like Lost, where you have a group of characters isolated from the rest of the world, and have to rely on each other to survive. But unlike Lost, which we eventually gave up on, there's a logical progression of the plot, and the writers actually give you answers to some of the mysteries as they add more puzzles to the storyline. And while we really enjoyed it as a weekly show last season, I think it works better when watching multiple episodes in one sitting. During last season, I thought the tone of the story changed in the two-and-a-half months it was off last year. It seemed like it abruptly shifted from the town surviving on its own to defending from hostile outside forces, but watching the series as we did over a couple days, the shift now seems more reasonable to me, and much more logical.
Judging by the first two episodes this year, the quality has not suffered much due to its temporary cancellation, although it's a little different show this season. Where last season was about the town and how it was going to survive after the bombs destroyed most of the major cities in the US, this season seems to be about rebuilding in the aftermath, and also finding who was responsible. I'm curious to see how they're going to do that while still focusing on this small town in Kansas.
But while they have announced that this second season is only going to be seven episodes long, there are no assurances that it will be back for a third. I understand that the ratings haven't been spectacular, which means that this compelling, unique show is possibly going to be canceled again. I hope that doesn't happen, because quality TV is getting harder and harder to find. We watch less network TV every season, as they cancel shows that we like and replace them with "reality" shows, game shows and other garbage. And when something interesting does find its way to the airwaves, we're hesitant to start it, for fear that we'll get sucked into the show, only to have it canceled after a single season or less, recent examples being Traveler, Invasion, Threshold, The Class, Commander in Chief, Out of Practice, The Job, Joan of Arcadia, It's All Relative, Hidden Hills, and the list goes on. Maybe these were not high art, but we liked 'em. And they were a darn sight more entertaining to us than American Idol! But I digress...
If you haven't given it a chance, try Jericho. The DVDs are available from Netflix or probably your local video store, and the entire first season is viewable on-line. New episodes are on Tuesday night. And if you like it, tell people about it, like I'm doing here.
02/15/08: Well, this years birthday season starts off with a bang today, with two of the most important people in my life celebrating birthdays today. Happy Birthday, Dad and Stephie! Looking forward to that big birthday meal this weekend!
02/11/08: This winter has been particularly brutal on my poor little car. A couple weeks ago I was driving home from work during one of our recent afternoon snowstorms when a chunk of what I'm assuming to be ice and snow flew off the truck in the next lane and exploded on the front of my car, covering every available surface in muck. I couldn't see out of any of the windows, front, back or sides, and it took three or four swipes of the wipers before I could see where I was going. Quite a harrowing experience at tollway speeds. The corpse-sized chunk of crud must have hit the nose of the car first, because it punched a hole in the plastic cover of the headlight, which had to be replaced, before splattering the windows and taking a tiny chip out of the windshield, which will have to be replaced one of these days.
Then last Friday, I was on my way to work when I came across an abyss on the tollway, with no way to avoid it. I knew it wasn't good the way the car shook when I hit it, but it wasn't until I was parking that I realized that my tire was flat. What's worse was the rim was bent, so while they were able to save the tire, I had to buy a new rim. I guess I should count myself fortunate that nothing else was damaged, like the steering or the transmission. But still...
I did have to laugh, though, when I was coming back from dropping off the damaged wheel and saw two guys changing a tire in the parking lot. I stopped and said "Let me guess: Westbound 88 right around Naperville road?" They both looked up a little startled and said "Yeah, how did you know?" At least I'm not alone.
02/05/08: It's Super Tuesday! If you're already registered, go vote today! If not, listen to what Frank says in this little video clip and register before the general election in November. You know the old saying: "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the outcome."
01/06/08: We had a quick warmup this weekend, so all the snow on the ground is gone, but we took some pictures when we were on our walk a couple days ago, including this awesome Christmas decoration. Click here to see a couple pictures.
12/25/07: We had a great Christmas morning. We put on a put of fresh-ground coffee (thanks, Julie!) and popped some cinnamon rolls in the oven (thanks, Pillsbury!), then sat on the couch and opened presents (thanks, Stephie!). Afterwards, we watched our all-time favorite Christmas (or any time of the year) movie, the original Die Hard! Life doesn't get much better than that. Merry Christmas to all!
11/26/07: It's not often that I stop watching a TV show mid-season, especially after watching one faithfully for several years, but we've finally given up on House. We're both Hugh Laurie fans, especially from his time with Stephen Fry on Jeeves and Wooster, and we really enjoyed the first couple seasons of House. But by now, the character is just totally out of control, and we don't find it entertaining any more. He's never had a bedside manner, but this season it seems like he is spending more time tormenting his new "recruits" than he is solving the puzzles that are his patients. In several episodes this season, the patient was cured really in spite of House. He should have been fired long, long ago, the Cuddy character (who I really liked in previous seasons) probably should be fired for letting him run amok for so long, and why the Wilson character is still even speaking to him after the way he's been treated, I have no idea. I also have no idea why House (the show) has ratings in the top ten each week. I can only think it's people like me waiting for someone to rap him across the head with his cane. Repeatedly. Well, we won't be around to see it.
Another show that (in my opinion) should be in the top ten, and coincidentally is on at the same time as House, is Reaper, over on the CW. It's got just about everything you need: likeable characters, snappy dialogue, slightly cheesy special effects, a monster-of-the-week, and best of all, Ray Wise as the Devil. Yeah, the "Sock" character can be a little over the top, but I think everyone else on the show does a great job, and Ray Wise looks like he's having a ball. It's one I look forward to every week. Check it out.
10/31/07: Here's something that I should have written about a long time ago. Two years ago, I got home from work on Halloween to find an envelope waiting for me from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I had been seeing mentions of their (then) new film "The Call of Cthulhu" for some time in the Silent Movie newsgroup, so I had ordered the DVD from their web site. How they timed it to arrive on Halloween I have no idea!
I've been a fan of silent movies since I was a kid (probably from watching Metropolis so many times) and I've read a few Lovecraft stories, so I figured that I was firmly in their target audience. Turns out I was right, because I really enjoyed the movie. They really did a great job of capturing the feel of a 1920s era silent movie. The story, the actors, the sets, and the music all are a cut above what you would expect from an independent film made by a bunch of fans. The special effects, while maybe primitive by todays Hollywood standards, serve the story well, and look as though they could actually have been done in the early days of motion pictures. On top of all that, the intertitles are available in 24 languages! You can watch the film in Polish, Norwegian, or Luxembourgish if you wish. I watched it (in English) the night it arrived, and several times since, and have been thoroughly entertained each time. And the "making of" featurette was almost as entertaining as the film itself. Check out the trailer if you think you might be interested. I'd recommend it to anyone open-minded enough to watch a "movie without sound".
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has since put out a radio drama of another Lovecraft story in the style of an old-time radio show, another medium of entertainment that I'm fond of, and is apparently now working on another film adaptation, this time with sound, though still in black and white. It looks this one might be in the style of those film noir B-movies that I've been taping off of late night TV. These guys really have my number!
09/30/07: Today's Kisu's birthday! She turns six today, which according to the handy Dog Years calculator on our site is the equivalent of 42 people years! I can say with some authority that she neither looks nor acts her age. We celebrated the usual way, with a nice long walk around the neighborhood, followed by a quick trip to local burger emporium for her traditional plain burger (with just a couple fries on the side). This is about the only people food she gets all year (not counting the vegetables that she likes) and judging by how fast it left her bowl, she really enjoyed it. Happy Birthday, Pumpkin!
09/22/07: We had a great Anniversary day. We (Stephie, Kisu and I) started out at a dog event along the Riverwalk in Naperville. It was a beautiful day for being outside, so after the event, we spent a leisurly hour or so strolling up and down the Riverwalk. The ducks and geese were out on the river, and as Stephie pointed out, it felt like we were on vacation.
A couple weeks ago we found a restaurant near another dog event we attended that had an outdoor seating area where we could have Kisu with us while we ate lunch. We didn't know if there would be such a place in Naperville, but while we were sitting in this little garden area, I pulled out my latest gadget, a Nokia 770 internet tablet, which Stephie presciently suggested I bring along. I quickly picked up a broadband connection and Googled "naperville dog-friendly restaurants", which gave me a link to petfriendlytravel.com, and that in turn had a listing for Quigley's Irish Pub, which turned out to be only two blocks away! We wandered over, making a quick stop at Two Bostons Pet Boutique to pick up some treats for Kisu, and had a fabulous meal. It was great to sit on the patio with Kisu, and a number of other dogs as well, and sip a pint or two and have some great food. This is by far the most pet-friendly restaurant we had ever been to, and the food was terrific. (Make sure you try the Reuben Rolls!) I would highly recommend it, whether you have a dog or not.
Oh, and the best part of it all was I got to spend all day with my two favorite girls. Happy Anniversary, Stephie!
08/23/07: We've been to a couple good restaurants in the last couple weeks and I've been meaning to write about them, but you know how things are when it's summer, and you just don't feel like doing anything.
I took Stephanie to see Wings at the Portage and she loved it! She also loved this little restaurant that we found around the corner from the theater. The awning over the Meisa Cafe and Restaurant says "serving Bosnian & American Food", so we thought we would give it a try. I had the Cabbage Rolls and Stephie had the Chicken Schnitzel and Mushrooms, and both entrees were excellent. And they server a homemade bread that was fantastic! The server was very friendly, the atmosphere was simple but comfortable, and best of all, the whole meal (with dessert!) cost less than one entree at the steak place on the corner. We plan to go back, and if you find yourself anywhere near Portage Park, you owe it to yourself to stop in for a great, homemade dinner.
And a couple weeks ago, our friends Crys and Fred called us up on a Saturday afternoon and asked if we wanted to join them for sushi. Not having any better plans, we accepted and they took us to one of their favorite places, Butterfly Sushi Bar and Thai Cuisine on Grand Ave. The place is small, but we were there early enough that we got a prime table in the front, and the food was amazing! Everything was fresh and tasty, and the specialty rolls we tried, especially the crunchy tuna roll and the "Godzilla" roll, were delicious. I had a mango smoothie that nicely complimented the meal, and was a big help when I went a little heavy on the wasabi! Best of all, we ate until we were stuffed and then were surprised at how low the bill was. Great food and a great deal! I don't know how the place is when it's busy, but we'd go back again.
07/24/07: It's that time of year again. The Silent Summer Film Festival started last Friday at the Portage Theater on North Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. I've been going now for several years, and I have to say that it's a real treat to see a silent film on a big screen, accompanied by a person playing a real theatre organ. This Friday, they're showing Wings, which won the very first Best Picture Oscar ever given out, and Stephie and I are going to be there. Click here for more information on the festival, and the Silent Film Society of Chicago, and to see the list of other films that will be shown over the next several weeks.
07/05/07: Hope everyone had a great Fourth of July this year. We did the usual, going to visit my Mom and Dad for some grillin' and chillin' (and a bit of Scrabble as well.) But one thing we did, and you don't have to wait for next July to do yourself, was to go to Librivox.org (which is the Project Gutenburg of audiobooks) and download readings of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address to listen to in the car on the way there. As the comment on the site says, these documents (along with the US Constitution, which is also available at the above link) are "the epitome of freedom and liberty" and "the legal backbone of the United States of America". Interesting listening on Independence Day or any day of the year.
06/24/07: When we were in California recently for Ricky's graduation, we had a little time to do some touristy things, and Mom said that she really wanted to see the Getty Museum. So one night while we were sitting around Chris' apartment, Stephie wandered off to the computer to get directions while Mom flipped through the channels on TV and ran across a program on their local PBS station about some art restoration. Turns out that the program was about two particular pictures that were restored by, and are on display at, the Getty. The program was fascinating, and when it was over, Stephie came away from the computer with directions on how to get there, so we decided to go.
This is a stop that I would recommend whole-heartedly to anyone visiting the Los Angeles area who has at least a passing interest in art. They charge $8 per vehicle for parking, but there is no entrance fee, and they really could charge for this because the facility and the artwork displayed there are top-notch. The view of the surrounding area is breath-taking, and the garden area is beautiful. I'll try to get some of Stephie's pictures up here once they are developed, but you really should see it in person if you can.
Oh, and we did see the two pieces that were being restored in the PBS show, and they were more beautiful in person than in the documentary. For one thing, they are MUCH bigger than I thought. The exhibit they are part of will be on display there until September 2, 2007, so if you are in the heighborhood before then, you should go check them out. And if you can't make it in person, or would just like to see the documentary, it's available on DVD. I picked up a copy in the gift shop while we were there, so that Stephie can have a chance to see it.
06/02/07: As I've written about before, the start of summer for us is not June 21st but the week of the big Used Book Sale at the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie. For many years it was a benefit for Brandeis University, but this year there's a new group benefiting from what I hope is piles of cash that people will leave there in exchange for some fine reading. The Little City Foundation in Palatine is taking up the torch and running the book sale this year, and hopefully for many years in the future. The sale starts on Saturday, June 9 through Sunday, June 17th. They will be accepting book donations during the sale, so bring the overflow from your home library pick up some fine reading at fantastic prices, and feel good about yourself for helping out a worthwhile charity. How can you go wrong? Click the picture of the flyer here for more details of the sale.
Oh, and there's more pictures and movies on our Cicada page.
05/28/07: By the way, we're having quite the cicada infestation around here. Check out our Cicada page for more information.
05/27/07: With Pirates of the Caribbean 3 opening this weekend, and Shrek 3 in its second week, we thought this would be a good time to go see Spider-Man 3. And we were right. Ten minutes before the matin
04/29/07: This has been the weekend for deals. Yesterday, our friends called us and invited us to go with them to the Abbey Pub for the last night of this years' International Pop Overthrow festival. Five bands for $10! What really hooked us was that Dan and I were both fans of the two headliners, Pezband and Off Broadway, from way, WAY back. But the biggest surprise of the evening was the opening band, The Lackloves. They played such a great set that we spent the rest of the night comparing each band (Off Broadway, Pezband, The Handcuffs, The Greenwoods) to them, and while the rest of the bands were good to great, consensus was that the Lackloves stole the show. They have a new CD coming out this summer and I'm going to have to pick it up. And we'll have to keep an eye out for the IPO shows next year, because from the looks of the program, we missed some good music this year!
And this morning, Kisu and I were out on a long walk when we passed one of the first garage sales of the season, and an item caught my eye. I checked it out, then went home and got some money and went back. Check out what I got!
04/15/07: What's the story with these guys? It's like the Bunny Peeps are marching on us! Actually, this is a close-up of Stephie's Edible Art Show entry for this year. Click here to check out the creative and delicious art that was on display!
04/11/07: Looking out the kitchen window. Second week in April. 6:30AM. Guess who's going to be late for work.
Gotta love Spring!
03/22/07: We let an anniversary pass yesterday and even though I was home all day, neither of us mentioned it, despite being on our minds all day. It was the fifth anniversary of the worst day of my life, at least to this point. On March 21, 2002, we lost Cheyenne, the best dog anyone could hope to have. No sleight against Kisu, who we were so lucky to find at the shelter a year later, but Cheyenne was the first dog that Stephie and I had together, and she was our best buddy. Those of you who may not know, her life story was the basis for starting this site, and it's still here to be enjoyed by all, pretty much as it was when it was my school project. If you haven't looked at it yet, click here to read about her.
We still miss you, Pookie.
02/28/07: I was craving a little music when I went out to get a sandwich at lunch today, so I turned on the Loop and found that they were in the middle of something called "Time Warp Wednesday". I knew they were reaching way back because they were playing "Rockin' Into The Night" by 38 Special, which I remember reading about as performed by Survivor, well before I was old enough to see them in a club. But the kicker was when I was on my way back and they said they were going to play "Wango Tango" by Ted Nugent. I was a Ted fan back then (more so for the first couple albums, well before the politics and the bow hunting) and I remember when the song first came out, so I thought "Yeah! That's what I need to get my day going."
And I turned it up loud and it was great. You don't get stuff like that on the radio these days. Sure, it's rough, crude and rude, but you gotta love lyrics like:
(I was going to paste some lyrics here, but reading them on a computer screen, separate from Ted's high-speed, somewhat unintelligible delivery ... well, they're a little embarrassing. OK, a LOT embarrassing. You'll have to look them up yourself if you don't believe me, but I wouldn't recommend it.)
It got me thinking that there are times, usually in the middle of an especially bad day, when I turn on the radio in the car and a really great song can just lift me out of my funk. It doesn't even have to be a "great" song (witness "Wango Tango") but it's really something how music can lift your spirits. The last time I remember this happening it was a sunny afternoon, I had the windows open, a cool breeze coming in, a cheeseburger and a Coke, and Cheap Trick's "Surrender" playing loud. It's like I was back in high school, cruising in my '70 Cougar with the odd-colored driver's door. I think it cheered me up for three days, just that couple minutes.
Of course, "Time Warp Wednesday" this week was playing music from 1980, which made me also think about how music can make me feel young again, and pretty old at the same time.
02/11/07: Lots of stuff going on around here, just too busy to write about it.
First, it's been cold. Mind-numbingly cold. So much so that we haven't had Kisu on a proper walk for a couple weeks, even with her booties. We have a little cupboard just outside the kitchen door (in like an enclosed back porch) and yesterday Stephie found that a bottle of laundry detergent and a bottle of vinegar had both frozen solid. And we also noticed that the radiator in the front room was not generating any heat. Made for some cold nights watching TV before getting it fixed.
With the cold came a little snow and ice, and one of our neighbors took a spill, breaking her leg and ankle. While she was in the hospital, we got to watch Siggy for about a week. Pictures (and a short video of the kids playing) are on Kisu's Pictures page. We had a great time watching him, but Kisu was getting increasingly jealous at all the attention he was getting. We tried to explain that he was a boy dog and we were just keeping him occupied so he wouldn't "mark his territory", but she was not amused. We kind of looked at this as a test run to see if we could handle another dog in the house. I'd say Stephie and I would be ready, but Kisu may need some convincing.
Speaking of Kisu, she has been having problems with her eyes recently. We noticed they were really red before Halloween and the vet gave us some drops that appeared to clear them up, but the red came back after the new year and seemed much worse. So much so that my Mom said that she was worried, since it looked like Kisu was really uncomfortable. A couple trips to the doggie opthamologist later, it turns out that she'd having a problem with her tear ducts not creating enough tears to properly lubricate her eyes. The dryness caused some crystalline build-up, which in turn caused small ulcers to form on her eyes. To make matters worse, it turns out that the stuff our regular vet gave us is probably making them sting. That would explain why she's been fighting the drops more as time went on. Some different medicine (and more fighting) and the ulcers are clearing up, and she seems a lot more comfortable.
A couple weeks ago I picked up one of the $99-after-rebate computer specials from Tiger Direct to replace our server. I got a great deal on a 320GB hard drive a couple months ago, to hold video files to feed to the MediaMVP box, but the BIOS on the old server box was too old to recognize it (and was not upgradable) so I was only able to use about a third of the capacity. Plus, I picked up a Hauppauge tuner card so that I might try to use the server as a third VCR (or second if the one acts up again) and the old server was not fast enough to do that. So I got this barebones kit. put it together, and found that Linux really doesn't need to be reinstalled when moving drives from one machine to another. I was even able to resize the partition (using a Knoppix CD) without losing any data on the drive, so we're in business! I'll let you know how the TV recording goes once I get around to setting that up.
Finally, February is Jack Benny month on Those Were The Days, the old-time radio show that's on Saturday afternoon on WDCB. We can't get 'DCB real clearly on the stereo, but since they stream it on the 'net, we listen to it that way. You can listen to the previous weeks' program on their web site, so if it's still February when you're reading this, you can listen in and hear why we're such big fans of Jack and his show. If we're not going to be home, I use Total Recorder to record the stream for later listening.
WDCB is also the new home for Blues Before Sunrise, a weekly radio program that has lots of good music week after week. I've been time-shifting it for several years now, first by recording the audio on my HiFi VCR, then using Total Recorder to record off the FM tuner in my video card, but since they were dropped by WBEZ, I found WUIS, a station out of Springfield, that has it as an MP3 stream, and found this program called Streamripper that does a great job recording the show so I don't have to stay up 'till all hours of the night to hear the entire program. I like to have it on my MP3 player, because it's good music to write programs to. I always found the blues to be entertaining without being intrusive while working, and the variety on BBS is pretty good, from the early days of recorded music to the early '60s. They used to have a complete playlist on their web site, but that part of their web site has been broken for over a year now. If you're any kind of a blues fan, or just open minded about music, you should check it out.
01/14/07: Kisu's Obedience Class had its Christmas party last week, and some pictures are on Kisu's page.
01/07/07: Had a strange thing happen the other morning. When the alarm went off, I was in the middle of a dream in which I was talking on the phone. In the dream, I had answered the phone and there was a woman on the line who spoke with an accent, possibly Hispanic. Details are a little fuzzy, since it was a dream and all, but I got the impression that she worked with a buddy of mine, and I think she was inviting us to go out to socialize with a group of people from work, including my friend. She couldn't be any one that I actually know, since I don't know anyone who works with my pal.
But when the alarm went off, I got up, shut it off, and stood there for a minute. Many times in the past I have been tempted to go back to bed to see if I could get back into a particularly good dream, but this time I actually considered going back to bed because I felt guilty that I left that woman hanging on the phone!
What is it they say about people who can't tell their dreams from reality?
12/25/06: Oh, the heck with political correctness. Merry Christmas to everyone! Here's a picture of our little Charlie Brown tree. Stephie threw out our old tree stand last year, which served us well all these years despite getting pretty nasty looking as time went by, but when time came to buy a new stand, all the she saw were stands for your standard huge tree (at least huge compared to the ones we usually get). She just couldn't find one that would work for little trees like this guy. We tried the blanket routine (a la Linus) but finally my folks came through with a stand they weren't going to use this year, saving Christmas!
12/09/06: Today, we've revived a long-standing tradition that anyone who has read Cheyenne's Pages would probably know about. As you can see from the picture here, we took Kisu to see Santa Claus! She doesn't look really thrilled to be there (and neither does Santa for that matter) but I think that was more due to her recent aversion to slick tile floors. The last couple weeks at obedience class she has been hesitant to step off the mats onto the tile, where she has problems with traction. But today she behaved well, and so did Santa.
And tonight I was able to use this really cool program that I installed a while back and really haven't spent any time with. When we got home from my parent's house, I noticed that there was a star or planet directly below the moon, and another one below and a little to the left. I immediately went inside and fired up the version of Stellarium that I installed several months ago, and it told me that the star below the moon was actually Saturn, and the other object was Regulus, which is apparently the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. Just another example of how computers can enhance your life. Stellarium is an open-source program, which means it's free for anyone to download and use, although it runs a little too slow to be useful on Stephie's computer. But if your system is up to it, you should check it out!
11/18/06: Hi. How have you been? I know it's been a long time since I've written, but I have been thinking about you. We've been real busy, but there's not one thing that's kept me from writing. Just a lot of little (and not so little) projects eating into our free time.
We're all fine here. Stephie's been working on a few new art pieces, in between the administrative work she's been doing for the various art leagues she's involved in. You may have noticed that there are a few thumbnails of her pieces at the top of our home page. She asked me to do that so that anyone discovering our web site knows that there is art to see here. I've also added a piece to her page that she had given to a friend before I had a decent picture of it. And we should have some new photos of previous works now that I've bought a pretty decent digital camera.
Kisu turned five at the end of September, and everyone at dog class sang "Happy Birthday" to her. She also recently attended the annual Halloween party, hosted by one of her classmates. It was held the week after Halloween, and like last year, it was a lot of fun. I had the new camera there and took some pictures, which I put up on her picture page. The results are decent, but I think I need to learn more about how to operate it to get the best results.
I've been busy fooling around with video on the computer, which I'll write more about later, but I recently had a virus on my main system. It's weird, but I feel like I've had someone break into my house and do things, but I don't know what. Between that and work and some really quality shows on network TV this season, I've fallen behind in just about everything, including updating this site.
I hope this message finds you well, and I hope it won't be so long before you hear from me again. I'm working on some fun stuff that I can't wait to tell you about, but with the holidays rapidly approaching, it will probably be tough to find the time. But I'll try to write more frequently.
10/10/06: As many people do these days, we timeshift almost all our TV watching. Sometimes to simply postpone a show, sometimes to watch multiple-part storylines in one shot, but usually so that we can fast-forward through commercials. So it was a huge inconvenience when one of our workhorse VCRs (no DVR for us...yet) developed a problem where it would make a funny noise and then "crash". Once in a great while it would snag a tape, but most of the time it would just shut itself off, and when started up again, the counter would be at zero, as if it rebooted itself. I was beginning to worry, because if it died, I don't know if I could have replaced it. It seems all that you can get these days is a VCR/DVD combo, or some ultra-cheap no-brand box that would probably crumble under the type of use that we would put it through.
Good thing Majer's Repair Service is still in Lombard. Scott repaired both of our previous VCRs at one time or another, as well as a few things for work when I was in the desktop support biz, and he was willing and able to fix the ailing unit quickly and for a fair price. And he's a nice guy, too. If you have any equipment that needs repair, keep him in mind. He doesn't have a web site beyond the above link from Yahoo Local, but you can reach him at 630-620-1021.
09/22/06: Sixteen is not a number that is usually recognized in society, not like multiples of five. Sure, you can usually get a drivers license at 16, and there have been some songs around the number ('Sixteen Candles", 'Sixteen Tons', 'Christine Sixteen', 'sixteen bottles of beer on the wall...') but people usually recognize and celebrate multiples of 5, whether it's years in business, years at a job, or issues of a magazine. Even those lists of traditional anniversary gifts frequently go from 1 to 15, then skip by fives: 20, 25, 30, etc. Modern lists are not much more help ("silver holloware"?)
But a sixteen-year honeymoon is something that should be celebrated. In my case, it started on September 22, 1990, and has not ended yet. I guess that's what happens when you marry your best friend. And if I had to do it all over again, the only thing I would change is I wouldn't have waited four years to marry her!
Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!
09/19/06: Avast, ye swabs! Today be International Talk Like A Pirate Day! The day when all land lubbers can feel the pull o' the sea, though the nearest shore be thousands of leagues away. If yer be needin' a little help wit' the lingo, here's a little video ter help ye along. (Not to worry, it be work-safe.) Yo-ho!
08/30/06: Happy Birthday, R. Crumb. We're celebrating this year much like we do every year, with a quiet evening at home, featuring one of Crumb's favorite meals, accompanied with opening cards and (hopefully) presents. And then next weekend we'll be joining the rest of the family for the joint Crumb/Mom birthday celebration, going out to one of Crumb's favorite restaurants and probably having cake. When I was a kid, it was always tough looking forward to Crumb's birthday at the end of August, since it also signaled the end of summer and back-to-school time. But as I get older, without a new school year looming, it's neat that Crumb's birthday is usually followed by a three-day weekend. So Happy Birthday!
08/19/06: Because we have a world class zoo just a couple blocks away, every year our vehicle stickers always have a different animal on them. I wish I had a way of saving them from year to year, because we've had some pretty neat ones while we lived here. But this year they chose one of our favorites: a cool aardvark, complete with ants. And my sticker number is 10666, so I get to drive like a demon!
08/09/06: All the unbearably hot weather the past couple weeks reminds me of the story I like to call "The Day Snapple Saved Our Lives"
It was 1995, a week or so after the big heat wave hit Chicago that killed all those people, and we were on vacation in Washington, D.C. Our impeccable timing meant that we were there at the tail end of what we just went through in Chicago. We also found that we really shouldn't have rented a car for the week, since the majority of the sites are best seen by shuttle, subway, or on foot. Except for trips to Baltimore and Monticello, the car stayed parked behind the hotel.
We had a black duffel bag that we carried with us for most of the week. In it were maps, brochures, camera supplies, panchos and whatever we thought we would need. (Funny story about the panchos: at one point we got off the subway train and were approaching the long escalator that would take us to street level, and there was a large crowd around the bottom. As we reached the crowd, we saw that everyone was waiting because it was raining like mad above. "No problem" we thought and pulled out the ponchos we had carried with us all week, and triumphantly rode the escalator to the surface. What we found on the walk back to the hotel was that it wasn't such a good idea to wear heavy plastic panchos in a mid-summer downpour. We were almost as wet underneath from sweat as we would have been from walking in the rain. Fortunately that was the only rain we saw that week.)
We had a list of things we wanted to see, and were working our way through it pretty well. One sunny day we decided to go see Arlington National Cemetery. We packed up our duffel bag, took the shuttle bus as far as we could, and walked over the bridge and down the long road to the cemetery. Near the entrance, there was parked a truck with a Snapple logo on the side, and there were several people handing out free bottles of Snapple from the back of the truck. We each got a bottle and put them in the duffel. We then entered the cemetery.
We wandered around for a while, looking at all the major sites, like the Challenger monument, the Kennedy gravesites, and the Tomb of the Unknowns. It was a very moving and humbling experience being there. We then saw a sign pointing to another landmark, and we headed in that direction. We walked. And walked. And walked. Somewhere along the way, we lost not only the signs we were following, but our sense of direction as well. And the sun was beating down on us. And it was hot.
Now there's a scene I know I've seen in several movies where the camera closes in on the protagonist walking across the desert. It then shows the sun, as the camera wavers back and forth. Then there's a tight close up on the sweat-drenched main character, looking uncomfortable and disoriented. That's exactly how we felt. We didn't know where we were (well, we were still in the cemetery) and we didn't know how to get out and we were starting to get thirsty, crabby and a little scared. Then, one of us remembered the Snapple that we got before we entered. We popped the caps and drank a little, and warm lemonade never tasted so good! It gave us the little refresher that we needed to go on. We went a little further, found a main path, and wound up at the exit, right by the Iwo Jima monument.
When I sit and think about it, I don't think we were in any danger of dying there in the cemetery, but I remember thinking at the time that Snapple saved our lives.
07/05/06: Stephie has won a third-place ribbon for her new piece "Burst Of Color #2" at the LaGrange Art League. The judge said that he "enjoyed the flare and excitement of the piece." He called it "very lively and entertaining." We don't have a very good picture of it yet, but if you saw Stephie's one-person show in June, it's the picture that was in the front window. This is a shot from that show, which we will replace as soon as we get a better shot.
Also, there are a couple new pieces on Stephie's Art Page. They may be familiar to you if you were at the one person show, but they're new here.
06/25/06: Stephanie's gallery show is only up until the end of the week, so if you want to see it, you'd better hurry. The gallery is open late on Thursday for those of you who have regular jobs!
06/11/06: It was a pretty good weekend. We had a nice crowd come out for Stephie's gallery reception on Saturday. You can see pictures of the exhibit, and some of the guests, by clicking here. And just because you couldn't make it to the gallery on Saturday doesn't mean that you missed out on the art. The display will be up until the end of June. Check out the LaGrange Art League site for hours and directions.
And I went to the Brandeis book sale on Sunday. Every year I look at the pile of books I come home with (28 this year) to try to pick one treasure that stands out among the rest. The treasure this year was not one of the books, but a card I was handed on the way out. It seems that although this is the last year for Brandeis to put on the book sale, Little City Foundation in Palatine is going to try to carry on the tradition starting next year. The guy that was handing out the cards said that they are going to talk to the Old Orchard people about using the same site, and that some of the people that help out Brandeis have offerred to stay on and help next year. I tell ya, I was thrilled. One problem, he said, is that they can't get Brandeis' mailing list, which is why he was handing out the cards. So if you want to be on the mailing list for next year, or if you want to donate books, call 847-221-7856 or e-mail them at email@example.com. And the Brandeis show runs until next weekend, with Saturday and Sunday being the bargain days.
06/08/06: We have a big weekend coming up. Saturday, June 10, is the reception for Stephie's big One Person art show at the LaGrange Art League. Details should be above or on her Art page. And if you can't make it to LaGrange on Saturday, you have until the end of the month to drop by the League and see her stuff. It's just going to be better on Saturday because we'll be there, and there will be refreshments and stuff...
And also Saturday is the start of the big Brandeis Book Sale at the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie. I've mentioned this before here, and told many friends about it, as something that I really look forward to every year, but it's going to be a little sad this year because they've announced that this will be the last one. I'm going on Sunday, because of the Art show, and being that it's the last one, I think I'm going to spend some extra time going through all the tables, just to make sure I don't miss any treasures, like the copy of Criswell Predicts that I picked up several years ago. Click the picture of the flyer here for more details of the sale.
05/18/06: At the other end of the floor in the office I work, there is a soda machine that has Cherry Coke, or Coca-Cola Cherry as it's now called. I don't drink a lot of pop at work, even though all the machines in the building give you a 12 oz. can for a quarter, but every once in a while I get a taste for a Cherry Coke, and the machine on my end of the building doesn't have it as a selection.
There's another reason why I sometimes make the trek down there. There's something wrong with the machine, in that it occasionally dispenses two cans for one quarter! To be fair, it sometimes doesn't give you anything for your quarter, so I figure that I'm probably about even over the time I've worked here.
So today, I had one quarter in my pocket, so I thought I'd take a chance. I put it in, pressed the button, and got nothing. Now, I'm not a gambling man, but I really had a taste for a Cherry Coke, so I pulled a dollar out of my wallet, fed it into the machine and pressed the button. This time, something dropped in the slot. I was disappointed when I saw that it was a plain old Coke Classic. But then I went for my change and found a dollar and a half in the tray! I guess I'm a winner this week.
05/08/06: I apologize in advance to the non-techies out there, but I got a new gadget last week, and so far, I'm thrilled with it so I had to share. If you're not interested, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.
I ordered a Hauppage MediaMVP device from Amazon.com after reading many positive reviews. It's basically a tiny diskless computer, like those thin-client devices that were all over the computer press a number of years ago. You plug it into your TV and network, and it will pull music, video and pictures off your computer and play them through the TV. I hoped it would let me watch video files from my computer on my TV without converting the files and burning to a DVD.
The thing that impresses me the most is that it took all of five minutes to install and it worked the first time. After I opened the box, I installed the software on my main system, plugged the device into the TV and the network cable that is used by the MP3 Jukebox, and turned it on. It immediately found the PC running the software, and after I went back and told the software where to find the movies and music files, I was playing a movie file from my PC in the office on my TV in the front room. And it looked just fine. I could fast-forward, pause, rewind, everything! I had one problem where I was skipping around a show too much and the audio went out of sync, but other than that, it just works! Amazing! It's a little early for a whole-hearted recommendation, but at under $100, it's practically an impulse-buy! Stephie is hard at work getting ready for her one-woman show at the LaGrange Art League in June. While she's working hard to finish up a couple more pieces before it starts, she's also planning for the reception for the exhibit. We should have dates and times shortly.
And Kisu's dog trainer, Dave Wieczorek, has a big event coming up in September, and he's asked me to work up a web site, since I've been helping him out with his site. It's pretty basic now, but he should be passing along more information fo me to add any day now. Check it out if you're interested!
04/20/06: Well. first the bad news. Stephie thought she was getting her braces off today, but apparently the orthodontist saw his shadow, because Stephie has six more weeks of braces.
The good news today, though, is actually great news. Tickets went on sale today (actually, Internet pre-sales) for Zappa Plays Zappa at the Auditorium Theater on June 17, and thanks to the dubious ticketmaster.com, I scored tickets! This is the long-promised tour of Dweezil Zappa (and possibly Ahmet) playing his dad's music! According to the site: "This is the first official live concert event of Frank Zappa's Music since his untimely passing in 1993. Joining Dweezil on stage will be a hand-picked band of new, young musicians as well as some legendary Zappa alumni including Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, and Napoleon Murphy Brock."
Stephie never saw Frank live, as I have many times, so we're really looking forward to it! I was hoping to take her to see ProjectObject, a high-quality, nationally-touring tribute band that frequently has guest artists who had played with Zappa, but I think this might be the closest to the real thing as we're going to see since the artist left us. Get your tickets today!
04/08/06: Wow, how time flies. I've been busy with other projects, and my work schedule keeps changing, and somehow I've let almost a whole month slip without posting anything here.
The TV-guide thing is coming along, and I'll probably write about that more when I'm done. I've installed Website Baker on our server, and I'm trying to set it up as an intranet portal. I used it to set up Kisu's trainer's site, and it's real easy to work with, whether you want something to work "out of the box" or you want to customize it to your personal needs. I'm trying to write a module to allow us access to our book database, as part of the big "home inventory" project.
As I mentioned, I set up the WetnoseOBT site for Kisu's trainer, Dave, and I've been doing a bit of maintenance to the site. If you get a chance, check it out and let me know what you think.
Stephie has two new art pieces completed. Go check them out on her art page. She's been very busy with her art-related volunteer work, and planning for her one-woman show, coming up in June at the LaGrange Art League. More about that as the date gets closer.
And Kisu's been pretty busy, too, just being a dog! Walks have been getting longer with the improving weather, and she's been having a great time at her weekly obedience class. We have pictures from class on her pictures page.
Finally, I know I never completed posting the pictures from out California trip. I promise to get that done as soon as possible!
03/09/06: I wrote once before about how I almost got tricked by one of those "phishing" e-mails that the criminals are now using to try to get your eBay or PayPal or other site logins, but I got the exact same message twice this week, so either someone has it in for me or there are more [insert you favorite plural expletive] out there using the same program. While this one looked a lot like your basic PayPal e-mail, it contained the following line that made me laugh: "If you choose to ignore our request, you leave us no
choise but to temporaly suspend your account." Folks, spelling errors are one of the more obvious indicators that the message that claims to be from PayPal most likely isn't.
I don't know if it's doing any good, but I always forward there (with full headers) to spoof@[whatever they claim to be].com. Maybe they'll be able to catch one or two of these idiots, although I'm not holding my breath.
03/06/06: I finally got the pictures from Sharon and Louis' Mardi Gras party up on Kisu's pictures page. Click here to check them out!
02/26/06: We didn't throw a birthday party for Stephie this year, but she got a really great present. She once mentioned to (Matt's) Dad that she would like to have a lazy susan for the dining room table, and Dad, being the amateur woodworker that he is, volunteered to make one for her. That was around four years ago. This year for her birthday, she got what he is calling a "dazy susan". Check it out here!
02/09/06: I've been trying to set up some kind of XMLTV-based TV guide system on my server at home, since none of the available paper TV guides are useful to me any more. I have the data download working, but I was looking for an easy way to display the information in a browser window. I would like to have it show a grid like you might get from Yahoo or Zap2It, but I also would like it to find things for me, like I understand a PVR will do. I haven't found anything that does everything I want it to do right out of the box (Whatson is pretty close) so it looks like I'll have to get off my lazy behind and write one myself.
But I had a pleasant surprise this morning. I was checking out how Whatson displays a programs' detail, and above it on the screen there was a list of programs to pick from. I almost fell off my chair when I saw Floyd Uncorked listed. I clicked on it, and found out that our old buddy Keith Floyd is appearing weekday mornings on The Travel Channel!
If you've never seen any of the various Floyd cooking shows, you don't know what you're missing. This is not your typical cooking show. Part food, part travelogue, with a bit of humor and a lot of drinking, the Floyd shows never fail to entertain Stephie and I. We watched him many years ago when he was on channel 11, but haven't seen much of him on TV since. One year I gave Stephie a tape of Floyd on Italy that I ordered from Amazon UK and had professionally (and expensively) converted to NTSC.
You don't have to go through that trouble if you have the Travel Channel. Tomorrow (2/10) at 9AM CST they are showing the final two episodes of Floyd Uncorked, which we have as a boxed VHS tape. Next week they will be showing Far Flung Floyd, which I believe covers Asia, and they are following that with Floyd on Italy, which we can say from personal experience is very entertaining. I don't know if you'd necessarily want to make any of the dishes he shows you, since they probably would appeal more to the European palate, but the shows are a riot. Set up your favorite video time-shifting device today!
01/24/06: Does anyone remember Rubens Baby Factory? More to the point, does anyone remember the documentary that Channel 11 showed years ago where they traced the history of the Baby Factory and showed how the babies produced there contributed to society. Yes, it was a spoof, since they (probably) didn't actually make babies at the factory, but I remember it as being pretty funny, and I'd love to get my hands on a copy. I seem to remember it being shown on Image Union.
Actually, there's a number of things I saw on good ol' WTTW that I'd love to see again. First and foremost is a 1978 Soundstage show featuring Martin Mull and Flo and Eddie. I know I saw it several times when it was on TV, but that was way before even VCRs were affordable. I have an old audio cassette with the show, taped off of WXRT as they stereo-simulcast the show back when TV was mono-only, but I'd pay RETAIL for a good copy of the show.
I also would like to see some of the British comedies that they carried. Sure, Stephie bought me the complete Monty Python set, after it was shown on A&E, but where are the reruns of The Goodies, No, Honestly, Ripping Yarns, and a favorite in our household, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin? I wouldn't mind the odd episode of Dave Allen or The Two Ronnies, either. I should probably check the 'net for import DVDs.
01/03/06: Happy New Year to all of you. We spent New Year's Eve safely tucked in the corner of the couch, watching movies. After two features, Stephie was dozing off, so she said that I could watch whatever I wanted, since she would probably sleep through it..
Being that it was New Year's Eve, I popped in "The Cocoanuts", the very first Marx Brothers movie and the first disc in the Marx Brothers box set I picked up last year. Channel 7 used to show the Marx Brothers on New Year's eve, so I thought it would be appropriate..
I was a little disappointed at the quality of the print they used. It goes from razor-sharp image to "do I need to clean the screen?" fuzzy (sometimes in the same scene) but the movie itself, while not one of their classics, was still pretty funny. I was amazed at how much I remembered of the verbal gymnastics between Groucho and the other characters, and how little I remembered of the supposed "plot", which I think was really just thrown in to bridge the scenes between the Marx mayhem..
There was one thing, though. There are a few things that I remember vividly from my childhood without knowing their origin. Snippets of music or lines of dialog are so deeply embedded in my personal zeitgeist that I can rattle them off practically verbatim, but many of them I have little recollection of the source. Sure, I can tell you where I heard about the Montgolfier brothers, or why I can still recite the preamble to the Constitution, but some things, like the phrase "I remember when tea dancing was the rage", just escape me. (Jon says it's from a commercial for a record collection.).
So it's 11:30, 12/31/2005, Margaret Dumont is throwing an engagement party for her daughter to marry some grifter, and everyone shows up dressed like they're in a Zorro movie. The house detective drops by and is promptly relieved of his shirt. He starts yelling how "He wants his shirt!" and I almost fell off the couch as the Toreador song from Carmen is sung about a missing shirt. This goes through my head any time I hear the song, but I couldn't remember where I heard it. You can hear for yourself by clicking here. I love it when this happens..
The only problem now is I watched the scene, then ran it back and watched it again, then played it for Stephie, then played it again to record the attached clip, and now it's stuck firmly in my head and I can't get rid of it. "I found my shirt. Thank God I found my shirt..."
12/25/05: Happy Holidays to all! I feel a little funny saying that, because that's what all the "politically correct" people say when they don't want to offend anyone, but I like to say it because it's easier than saying "Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, Happy Brumalia, Happy Festivus, or whatever holiday you may celebrate".
We had our traditional Christmas Eve dinner at Matt's parents' house, and one of the grab bag gifts we brought was the Finger Nose Hair trimmer that Frank got, and was happy to demo for us. Nothing says the holidays like gag gifts!
The best to everyone in the new year!
12/01/05: If you haven't heard about Emily the Stowaway Cat, you should click here to read the story. Not only is this a great animal story with a happy ending, but it's a perfect example of why you should always have ID tags on your pets. No way this kitty would have gotten home without them!
And while we're on the subject of animal news, Stephie says you should check out the panda cub at the U.S. National Zoo. She's been watching his progress on the Panda Cam since shortly after he was born, and he's getting bigger every day.
11/28/05: Today is the 25th anniversary of the first time I saw Frank Zappa live on stage. I had been a fan for a couple years, and this was my first opportunity to see him live. He was coming to town to play four shows over two nights at the Uptown Theater. Not having lots of disposable income at the time, I got tickets to the first and last shows. I was not disappointed.
This was the tour where he was urging the female members of the audience to toss their underwear on the stage. They said they were collecting "Underwear of the World", and that at the end of the tour they would have the underwear made into a quilt, what he said would be a "kind of a scratch-and-sniff tour of America". (The quilt was on display in a casino in Atlantic City for a while, but seems to have been moved to a Hard Rock facility in Orlando.) The show was great, with a lot of audience participation, and lots of great music.
A couple years later I was at a record show and was able to buy a cassette tape of that concert (as well as one I saw the next year.) Nowadays, you can go to some concerts and you can buy a copy of that show as you walk out the door, and of course you can find just about anything on the Internet, but back in the early '80s, to have a tape of a show you saw was amazing! I've since made CDs of those tapes, and I think I'll be listening to them tonight.
11/07/05: Kisu's obedience class instructor has some information about a local dog that is in need of a new home. Details can be found on his web page.
11/02/05: Stephie and Kisu went to a Halloween party yesterday, hosted by one of Kisu's obedience class classmates. Kisu's uncanny portrayal of a beagle won her a ribbon for Most Original Costume! Click here for more pictures from the party, including many of the dogs and some of the crazy people who dressed them up!
10/31/05: Happy Halloween to all you Super Saiyans out there. Be safe and don't eat all your candy today! Save some for tomorrow (or if you're like me, Easter).
10/31/05: More Halloween fun! Stephie and I dressed up as Spidey and Doc Ock back in 1989, well before even the first Spider-Man movie. My costume must have been especially effective, because we attended a party at my buddies' house, and his family still sometimes refers to me as "that Octopus guy".
10/29/05: A couple more pages went up today with pictures from our California trip, but unfortunately that technical problem from last week reappeared. If you're using Firefox (and you should) the pages will look fine, but Internet Explorer has a problem with some of them. You have to scroll to the right to see all the pictures, which is a hassle but not critical, but IE has a problem with CSS, which I'm trying to use for these pages, and it seems that text disappears at random when the page is displayed. If you scroll down and back up the text seems to magically reappear. I'm working on it, so bear with me. (Better yet, get Firefox!)
10/23/05: Had a couple technical problems with the web site in the last couple weeks, but now that they're basically solved, it's full speed ahead with the California pictures. Another page went up today, with a pretty cool family picture thanks to Chris.
10/02/05: The first of the our California pictures are up! Click the "California 2005" link in the menu bar at the left or click here to begin.
Many more to come...
09/30/05: Kisu turns 4 today. Happy Birthday, pumpkin! Now the only question is: McDonald's or Wendy's for dinner tonight?
09/25/05: We're home from California! Thanks to everyone who helped make this a really special trip. We'll be posting pictures and funny stories over the next days (and weeks, and probably months!) I took 439 pictures with the digital camera, and Stephie has almost 10 full rolls of film to have developed, so we have a lot of pictures to share.
09/15/05: A couple weeks ago, when we were coming home late in the evening, something in front of the house caught our eye. There was this big spider that had built a web between the tree and the bush next to our front stairs. I don't know how it spanned the gap, because I can't reach the two with my outstreached arms, but somehow this spider did.
We had a spider a couple weeks before that wanted to build a web in our front doorway. When I opened the door, the web covered the upper corner, where there was no way to get through without disturbing it. It reminded me of the Far Side cartoon where the spiders built a web at the base of a slide, and as the kid is about to slide down, the spider says something like "If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings!"
In both cases, we relocated the spiders to areas where their webs (hopefully) won't trap any humans. (Click the picture for a better view of the spider.)
08/28/05: The Summer Eclectic exhibit is over. Thanks to the other artists and to everyone who came out to see the art. Pictures of the exhibit can still be seen here.
Also, four new pieces have been added to Stephie's Art page. Go check them out now!
08/23/05: A bunch of art news today. The Summer Eclectic exhibit runs through August 26 at the LaGrange Art League. Pictures of the opening day of the exhibit are here. Also, there are two new oil paintings on Stephanie's Art Page so you should go check it out.
08/07/05: Stephanie and three other artists have an art exhibit coming up in a couple weeks. There is a reception on Sunday, August 21, 2005 from 2-6pm at the LaGrange Art League. Come out for "an afternoon of art, music and refreshments!" Click the picture of the postcard for more information or check the League's web site for directions. And if you can't make it for the reception, make sure you stop by some time during the week, since the art will remain on display through August 26th.
07/28/05: Judging by what we see on TV and in movies, most guys will run out to the fence if they see their neighbor come home with a new lawn tractor or power tool. I couldn't care less about that stuff. But when I saw my neighbor walking slowly through his yard, holding his open laptop in front of him like a pizza box, I told Stephie "Somebody just got wireless!" and had to go out to talk to him. Yeah, it's a sickness, I know.
I did ask him if he used the security features on his new router, and he said yes, because he "didn't want to give anyone a free ride." I've put a couple articles about wireless security on my Safe Computing page. It turns out that there are a couple relatively simple things that you can do to keep all but the most determined bad guy off of your wireless system, and these articles should get you started. I'll add more as I run across them.
By the way, I left my neighbor sitting in his yard with his laptop on his lap, and as I walked in the house, I heard his wife at the back door ask him "Are you going to eat out there?" Boy, does that sound familiar.
07/22/05: Happy Birthday, Jon! It's a significant one this year (although I won't say why) and in keeping with your wishes, your picture will not appear with this notice. Hope you have a great day!
07/11/05: They almost got me.
I got an e-mail this morning, supposedly from eBay, telling me that there was some suspicious activity on my account. At first, I thought maybe it's just because I put a couple items up for sale yesterday, for the first time in three months, and they were trying to verify it was me. But then I thought maybe there was a problem. I wasn't going to click the link in the message, since I still have a high level of suspicion about things on the 'net, but I passed my mouse pointer over the provided link, and noticed, via the status bar at the bottom of the browser window, that the link shown on the message did not match what the status bar says was the actual link. It was close, sure, but not exact. I looked again, and the link was supposed to be a site at "ebay.com", but it was actually "ebay.com.xxxxx.us" (the "xxxxx" was NOT related to eBay). I forwarded the message to eBay, and they confirmed that it was bogus.
A couple months ago, my buddy's sister fell for one of these so-called "phishing" messages (a term I actually hate) and I razzed her a bit for clicking on an e-mailed link when she admitted she should have known better, but I have to say, although I've gotten these many times in the past, this one looked so legit that I went to eBay's site to check out if there was a problem. Usually the link in the message says "ebay.com" but the status bar says "aksjdhlaskdjthlasjk.com" or something else obviously suspicious, but this one was darn close. Plus, it somehow made it through SBC's junk mail filter, which has caught all the other phony eBay messages I've received in the past. That added an air of legitimacy to the message. Fortunately, as I said, I'm highly suspicious when it comes to e-mail, and I noticed the problem before my account was compromised.
But something just occurred to me. There's been a bug in Microsoft's browser (which I'm forced to use at work) that sometimes doesn't display the status bar at the bottom of the screen. Usually it's when you click File, New, Window, but sometimes the status bar doesn't show up when I launch Internet Explorer by itself. If that bar was not there, it wouldn't have been as obvious that the message was bogus. The only way to fix this is to root around in the registry, which I can't do on my work machine. I guess that's another reason to dump IE and use Firefox.
So the moral of this story is: Pay Attention. Don't ever click a link that you get in an e-mail, even if you're fairly sure that it's legit. If you really need to go to that link, open a small Notepad session over your browser window and hand-type the link into Notepad, then copy and paste it into your browser's Address line. DON'T copy the link from the message because if your finger slips, it could register as a click. And if you use IE, make sure the status bar is on at all times. You can turn it on by clicking View, Status Bar on the menu. Better yet, use Firefox. I've got a link, along with some other safety-related info, on my Safe Computing page. I'm not a security expert, but I read a lot, and I have some links to programs I use.
And if you get an e-mail that's supposed to be from eBay, forward it (with full headers) to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will tell you if it's legit or not.
06/29/05: Happy Birthday, Rick! Another new driver on America's highways and byways. In the words of Sgt. Esterhaus: "Let's be careful out there."
06/12/05: Well, we went to see the new Star Wars yesterday.
I've been a Star Wars fan since May 30, 1977, when Uncle Tony took us to see the first in the series. (I still have the ticket!) I was a little upset that they ended The Empire Strikes Back without resolving the Han Solo issue, knowing that I'd have to wait three years to find out what happened to him. But I loved the rest of the movie and The Return of the Jedi as well. In fact, Stephie and I watch our laserdiscs of the original trilogy (without the Lucas-tampering of recent years, thank you very much!) about once a year, usually watching all three over the course of a weekend.
I was, however, severely disappointed by Episode 1, so much so that we didn't even see Episode 2 at the theater, but waited to rent the DVD. But Stephie wanted to see the new one at the show, and considering the positive reviews that it has been getting, I agreed. And I have to say, it should be seen on the big screen. This is one of the most visually stunning films I've seen in a long time. Too bad the story didn't do anything for me.
I don't know how much money they put into the CG effects, but it was money well spent. The opening scenes of the big space battle were breathtaking, and the movements of the robotic characters, particularly General Grievous, were amazing. But during one scene where Anakin and Palpatine were walking through a room, there were four huge lamps on four end tables, and I was thinking "I wonder if those were props they built or if they were computer-generated." Later, I found myself watching the way the doors closed as the ships were taking off instead of what the characters were doing, and I was watching the actors' interaction (or lack thereof) with the surroundings, trying to figure out what was real or CG. I didn't even do that during Sky Captain, which I knew was almost all CG.
Maybe if I remembered more of the last two (of which I remember almost nothing) I would have enjoyed this one more. Maybe I've outgrown this franchise. I dunno. I just hope that these "first" three episodes haven't soured me on the rest of the series.
Oh, and Stephie really liked it. So maybe it's just me.
06/01/05: Although summer doesn't officially start until June 21st, for most people Memorial Day is the start of the summer season. Some people equate the first of June with the start of summer. For us, the marker that tells us that it's summer is the annual Brandeis Used Book Sale, which starts next weekend at the Westfield Shoppingtown at Old Orchard mall in Skokie. Their web site doesn't seem to be up as I write this, but you can click the picture of the flyer here for more details.
05/06/05: When Stephie was going through Aunt Lois' things, she found an unmarked videotape. She thought this was odd, since Aunt Lois didn't have a VCR that we knew of. (Well, she had one, but I don't think she ever took it out of the box, and probably gave it away, since it wasn't in the apartment when it was cleared out.) From the style of the tape box, I can tell that it was several years old, but we had no idea what was on it, nor why Aunt Lois would hang onto it, with no way to play it.
So Stephie and I were sitting down to watch TV last week, and we figured we would see what was on the tape. I asked her if I should rewind it, since it was set about halfway through, but she said to just put it in. I popped it in and hit play.
The tape was set to the beginning of an episode of the Jenny Jones show, which went off the air in 2003. Turns out that the topic of the show that day was reincarnation! When we realized that, we stopped the tape and just looked at each other. Granted, the show started out kind of joking about reincarnation, but considering that the reincarnation episode was on a tape that we got from the apartment of Stephie's recently-departed Aunt, who didn't own a VCR, we weren't laughing.
We took the tape out and set it aside. One of these days, when we have a couple hours where we won't be interrupted, we're going to watch the whole tape to see what else is on there. Maybe there's a message of sorts on there.
04/17/05: Big news today. Stephie has won Second Place in the 13th Annual "Best of the Best" Fine Arts Exhibit at the Elmhurst Artist Guild Gallery in the Elmhurst Art Museum for her painting "Life Behind The Haze", pictured here. The judge commented that abstract is very difficult to do, and that it had beautiful colors and was "removed from life, but very lively".
Sponsored by the West Suburban Fine Arts Alliance, the exhibit featured 85 works by members of nine art guilds in the western suburbs. Only winners in the various local guild shows were allowed to exhibit, which means that Stephie's painting is truly the "Best of the Best". Congratulations!
(And I'm going to try to take a better picture of the painting, because it looks much better in real life than it does her on the web site.)
Computer Security has been an interest of mine from back in the days of floppy-disk-borne viruses (remember those?) and the Internet worm of 1988. So when Chris said Ricky's computer had become unusable because of pop-ups and other junk, I put together an e-mail with links to free or inexpensive programs that I either use or had read really good reviews, so he could try to resuscitate it. After a couple people at work asked me for the same list, I figured I'd put it here on our site for anyone who is interested.
I don't claim to be a security expert, just a well-read enthusiast, but I do know that if you take a couple simple precautions and pay attention to what you're doing when you're on the Internet, you can save yourself, and your favorite family tech-support person, a lot of aggravation. As I wrote on Stephanie's Computer Virus page, I'm just trying to do something as a Good Internet Citizen.
03/29/05: Happy Birthday, Jennie! And many, many more.
03/29/05: Happy Birthday, Laura! For once, we're not jealous of your California weather, because we're celebrating your birthday by having a 68-degree day! Hope you're having a great birthday.
03/23/05: Some bad news: we lost Aunt Lois last week. The funeral was today, and it was just beautiful. She would have loved it.
03/17/05: Happy St. Patrick's Day! Time to pull out your favorite Horslips album and give it a spin.
03/11/05: We don't go to the show as much as we'd like, and we don't have any movie cable channels, so we're usually pretty far behind in seeing new movies. We have been subscribers to Netflix for years, and find it incredibly convenient, but they have so many movies that we wind up with a mix of new and old movies on the list.
Frequently we watch a movie, then look at the year it was made and remark "I didn't realize came out that long ago." We typically don't see films until they have been out a couple years. It's rare when we've seen any of the films in the running for Oscars.
But I looked at the current batch of movies from Netflix yesterday and noticed that the combined age of the three movies is 178 years! And the newest movie is almost older than me! The latest movies we have are "West Side Story" from 1961, "The Third Man" (the Criterion version) from 1949, and "Metropolis" (the Kino version!) from 1927. I think I'll have to bump some new releases up to the top of our Netflix queue!
03/05/05: I know it's been a while, but we finally have pictures from Stephanie's birthday party on-line, along with a little note from the birthday girl herself! Click the link in the menu bar on the left, or click here to check out the fun. And thanks again to everyone who came out for her special day.
02/25/05: Happy Birthday, Chris! As usual, your present is late, but it's on its way, honest! Hope you're having a great day!
02/15/05: Happy Birthday, Stephanie!
(For you out-of-towners, and anyone else who's curious, the party was a big success. She WAS surprised, and everything went off without a hitch. I'll be getting the pictures in a couple days, so I should have them up here by next weekend.)
02/15/05: Happy Birthday, Dad! You're still the greatest!
I understand that if you get an email about a missing child, you feel like you can't ignore it, on the off-chance that it may be legit. But when you plug some of the text into Google or Yahoo, and your search finds dozens of web sites with the same message, usually word-for-word, saying that it's been circulating on the 'net for years, the odds of the contents being true drop to almost nil. And it has the "Cry Wolf" effect, where something that is real will probably be ignored as another crackpot looking for attention.
That's why I keep a couple links in my browser's bookmarks for hoax sites. Snopes.com and Hoaxbusters contain hundreds of general purpose hoaxes, and Trend Micro, F-Secure, and Symantec have plenty of phony virus-related messages. I always check there first when I get something suspicious.
People nowadays are smart enough to use the Internet for lots of things. They should be smart enough to spot a fraud. Or at least skeptical enough to look it up.
What a crummy way to start the New Year. I just found out that my favorite comic creator, Will Eisner, passed away Monday from complications after quadruple-bypass surgery. Recently (well, maybe not so recently) I mentioned here that I was going to write him a letter, to thank him for all the years of entertainment that he provided for me, but alas, I dawdled too long and now he's gone.
My first contact with The Spirit, probably Eisner's most well-known creation, was in grammar school. Literally, in school. I was sitting in St. Pancratius' library, probably daydreaming, and my pal Wesley sits down next to me and pulls out a comic book. It wasn't like any comic book that I had ever seen. It was as big as a magazine, the cover looked a little like Famous Monsters (since all Warren magazines had a similar style), and there was no color in it, but it had this great picture on the cover with this big guy with a hat, gloves, and a mask...
I was a little intimidated by it. I thought it was an "adult" comic, because it was Wesley's big brother's book, so of course it had an air of sophistication to it. Plus, I mentally grouped it with the other magazines they sold at the Music Box, which were off-limits to our little eyes for reasons that became apparent as I got older. I did flip through it a little, but the teacher came in and we had to put it away.
Years later, after amassing quite a collection of The Spirit (and other Eisner works), I still think it's an "adult" comic, but not in the same way. The artwork and storytelling still stands head and shoulders over most, if not all, of the stuff on the comic racks before or since. I have read these stories over and over and over and I'm always finding something new to enjoy in them. I would heartily recommend any of them to anyone, young or old. And thanks to DC's current series of hardcovers, they're readily available. I'm buying them again in a form that should last me well into my years when I should have lots of time to re-read them.
I have a couple signed books, and a couple prints signed by Mr. Eisner, but I bought them already signed. Unfortunately, I was never able to meet him in person. He was supposed to be at the last Comicon I went to, but he wasn't able to attend. I talked several times about writing him a letter to him, but I could never get started. I usually thought "He's probably heard from thousands of fans, some people more important than me, and I had nothing new to say, other than 'Thanks'" so I never wrote. That was stupid of me. I realize that he was in his late 80s, but I always hoped that I would be able to shake his hand and thank him personally for all the hours of joy he gave me over the years, but now I know I never will.
12/30/04: If you have Comcast Sportsnet Chicago on your cable (ours is channel 37) and you're home this Saturday morning (1/1) at 10:30am, you can see our cousin Frank on the premiere episode of his own fishing TV show "Time on the Water". Learn about fishing from one of the best!
But Frank, where's the accompanying web site?
12/25/04: We hope everyone has a happy and safe Christmas holiday. (And click the picture to get a better look at our nativity set!)
By the way, the painting behind the set is not one of Stephie's. It was done for us a while back by our friend Diane, of Banana project and Frog Listening fame. Don't you think it makes a perfect backdrop to the nativity? Thanks again, Diane!
12/22/04: As crude, vulgar and over-the-top the Father of the Pride can be, I still think parts of it are really funny.
And if they made action figures of Siegfried and Roy as they are in that show, I'd buy them in a heartbeat!
12/12/04: Earlier today, I finished reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Several months ago, a consultant at work was speaking very highly of the book when it somehow came up in conversation. I mentioned that I had it but was a little intimidated by an 1100-page paperback with tiny print, but he assured me it read fairly quickly. He went on to say that the book really influenced the way he looks at the things, particularly politics (this was before the recent election.)
So I thought I'd give it a try. I'm not the fastest reader, and I typically only read before going to bed, which means I'm sometimes too tired to go more than a couple pages, but the book is a classic, and the guy in the office said it was a pretty good read.
Anyway, several months later, and a lot of holding my eyelids open, and I'm done. All I can say is: Atlas Shrugged. And so did I.
11/28/04: We've been pretty busy lately, between projects and holidays and the new TV season, and I'm a little behind in updating the site. I have pictures of Stephanie's new painting, but I need to have her check them out to make sure the colors are true. In the meantime, we have some new Kisu pictures here for your browsing enjoyment. They are from her birthday back in September, which gives you some idea of how far behind on things I am.
11/11/04: I found this link on Mark Evanier's site. I wish I had found it last week, as it may have made me feel better.
(By the way, I'm referring to the entry, not necessarily the responses below it.)
11/02/04: It's Election Day! You know what they used to say in Chicago: Vote Early, Vote Often.
10/20/04: I was kind of bummed this week when I discovered that I couldn't find the Virtual Theremin on the Internet. Sure, I found the one that works with a webcam, and a shareware one that's mouse controlled, but I wanted the one where you actually control Leon Theremin's arms that I had downloaded at work a while back, as pictured here.
Fortunately, I still have my old PC under my desk, and I was able to grab it and install it at home. It was only then that it was clear why it had all but vanished from the 'net. The guys that developed it (for the BBC) wrote it in Shockwave 8, and for some reason it doesn't work under the latest version of Shockwave, and to add insult to injury, older versions are not available at Macromedia's site!
But you're in luck! If you have Shockwave 8 on your system, you can download the Windows version of the Virtual Theremin in a ZIP file here. And if you don't have Shockwave at all on your system, you can get version 8 here. Just keep in mind that it's not the latest-and-greatest version, but the latest-and-greatest won't run the Virtual Theremin, so how great can it be?
Good news this week, though, is that we have a couple new pieces of art by Stephanie on her art page, which you can get to by clicking here.
10/05/04: Chalk it up to the power of childhood memories: I was heading out to do some errands the other day, and my first stop was Walgreen's. I picked up what I needed there, and on my way to the checkout, I figured I'd get a candy bar to sustain me on the rest of my tasks.
I don't buy a lot of candy, but when I do, I usually gravitate towards peanut-type bars, like Snickers or Payday. But when I was scanning the rack before making my choice, one bar caught my eye. I know that there has been Wonka-oriented candy for a while, but this was the first time I remember seeing a Wonka Bar. But it wasn't the name that grabbed me. As you can see from the picture on this page, this Wonka Bar MIGHT JUST CONTAIN A GOLDEN TICKET! (You can click the picture for a better view.)
I had that baby in my hot little hands before I knew what was happening. I had visions of peeling the wrapping back and seeing that gold leaf reflect the sun, just like in the movie. I was so excited that I had my stuff bought and was sitting in the car before thinking a) I don't even know what kind of a candy bar a Wonka Bar is, and b) I don't know what I would be winning if I had the Golden Ticket!
Of course, I didn't win, but the bar was pretty good. And for a moment on a Saturday afternoon, I felt like I was Charlie!
09/27/04: Stephie and I just got back from Indianapolis, where we saw her beloved Packers lose to the Payton Manning and the Colts. We didn't mind the loss so much, because it was a really great game, the city was great, and the Colts fans were really tolerant of the thousands of Packer fans that made the trip to see the game. We did hear of an incident in the men's room between a Packer fan and a Colts fan, but we didn't even see any pushing and shoving. It was a great time.
One thing that was funny, though, was that since this was the home opener, they were handing out these big blue foam horseshoes to everyone attending the game, a picture of which should be on this page. Some people wore it around their neck like a collar, some on their head, but more people than probably they intended wore it elsewhere. You can probably figure it out from the shape, but suffice it to say that the hard aluminum bench didn't seem that hard to a lot of fans. (And I don't mean just Packer fans!)
09/14/04: We're looking forward to going to see our neighbor Kevin's band, Johnny Justice & the Southside Railroad this Saturday, September 18th, at Hedgehogs in Stickney. Stephie saw them the last time they were there, and she said they ROCKED! You owe it to yourself to see them.
08/31/04: Happy Birthday, Moms! Matt's Mom (on the right) celebrates her birthday today, and Stephie's Mom (on the left) celebrated her birthday last week, on August 26th. We love you both.
Actually, between them, Rose (8/28), Matt (8/30), and Judy (9/2), there's lots of birthdays to celebrate around this time of year. And plenty of opportunities for CAKE!
08/26/04: According to the web site I check each day for trivia to put on my voice mail greeting at work, today is the birthday of French ballooning pioneer Joseph Montgolfier's birthday. How did I know who Joseph Montgolfier was?
Because I remember there was a Monty Python skit called "The Golden Age of Ballooning", featuring the Montgolfier brothers.
Knowledge sometimes comes from strange places.
08/17/04: Those of you who have known us for any length of time probably know that Stephie and I went to the Olympics in Atlanta in '96. We got there the morning of the Opening Ceremonies, which we attended, and left the day of the Closing Ceremonies, which we have on tape and haven't quite gotten around to watching yet. In between, we saw almost an event a day. (And no, we weren't around for the bomb. We were in Tennessee that day, visiting friends.) While we weren't able to get tickets to any swimming or gymnastics events, we did see a lot of competition that doesn't get a lot of broadcast time, like fencing or team handball. And it was great!
I was looking through the TV listings for what will be on TV for this years' Olympics, and I see that MSNBC in particular is scheduled to show a lot of those "other" sports that got virtually no coverage during the Sydney games. Before we went to Atlanta, my idea of the Summer Games was pretty much track & field, swimming, diving, and weightlifting. I mean, if not for Rulon Gardner beating the supposedly unbeatable Russian, would you even know that they had Greco-Roman Wrestling?
So while the evening coverage is all over the gymnastics, the pool events and the track stuff, I suggest tuning into some of the other, lesser-known events. After all, Stephie and I saw the women's soccer team win the gold in Atlanta, but the field hockey match we attended was just as exciting, with the participants playing just as hard as in any other event. I also recommend tuning in to team handball, which was a little bizarre to watch but no less exciting, and fencing, in which I hear on the radio that there's a chance for a US medal.
08/16/04: Chris, I took down the scans I posted last week. If you need them again, let me know
08/04/04: Stephanie has won an Honorable Mention ribbon in the August show at the LaGrange Art League. Click here to see her latest award-winning piece! And remember, you can click on the picture for a much larger view.
07/31/04: Two articles in the latest issue of Comics Buyer's Guide are about the passing of a couple of people that I had been a fan of many years ago, but haven't really thought about much lately. For some reason, I'm feeling a little guilty about that.
First I read that Kate Worley passed away June 6th. She was best known as the writer of Omaha, The Cat Dancer, an adults-only comic book that Stephanie and I were big fans of. I don't remember how she started reading it (possibly by reading Chris' copies) but I know it was early in our relationship. It was one of the first (and few) titles that Stephie really read and enjoyed, and I think we grew a lot closer because I was able to share my interest in comics with her.
The book came out fairly regularly for several years, but then the time between issues seemed to be growing, and it eventually stopped. There was a time when Reed Waller, Kate's then-husband and collaborator, had been diagnosed with cancer, which put the book on hiatus. In fact, we met them at a convention shortly after a couple benefit comics were put out, and he was recovered enough to travel and to resume working on the comic. They signed some comics and were very friendly to the fans waiting to see them.
We lost track of the book, and now I read that they had a rather acrimonious breakup years ago, and only recently started talking again. The article in last month's CBG said that they had started work on some new material to try to conclude the Omaha story when her cancer, that they thought was gone, had come back. It was a little shocking to read that she was resuming therapy, then putting her name in Google and seeing all the death notices. As I said, I hadn't thought about her, or Omaha for that matter, in years, and for some reason I feel bad about that.
Then, the next article says that Rex Miller passed away on May 21. My first contact with Rex Miller was through an ad in CBG, when he was dealing collectibles under the business name of "Rex Miller Supermantiques". I can't remember if I sent away for his catalog, or placed an order first, but I loved looking through his catalog. It was a thick newsprint magazine with page after page of photocopied pictures of all kinds of collectibles that I had never dreamed existed. Stuff from the early days of comics was mixed in with stuff from movie serials, B-movies, comic strips. You name it, he probably had it. He's the guy that I bought my first copy of the 1940 Shadow serial from. I paid an arm and a leg for a third- or fourth-generation VHS copy, but it was the only place to find it at the time, and I loved every minute of the three tapes it came on.
I bought several tapes from him in subsequent years, and the catalogs were always fun to read. I should scan some of them in and put them up here. One day, an article in CBG said that he had written a couple novels that were about to be published. I picked up the first one, Slob, and loved it! It was like a cross between a detective pulp and a slasher film. It was supposed to be the first of a half-dozen books featuring the detective in the story, but the bad guy got all the praise. He even starred in a short-lived comic series.
When I would order things from his catalog, I would call the number listed, and I think it was his home. Once, shortly after the first book came out, I mentioned to him that I read it, and he asked me how I liked it. It lead to a nice discussion about some of the plot points in the book, and why he did some things the way he did, and he really seemed interested in my opinion.
Over the years, I lost track of him, as I did with the Omaha comic. I had trouble finding the last couple books in the series, and he stopped advertising in CBG, so I assumed he was writing full time and gave up the collectible business.
A couple years ago, I was on the 'net and I thought I'd see if I could find any information about him. I found out that several people were looking for him, and one finally found him living in a nursing home in St. Louis after a debilitating stroke. I briefly thought that I would send him a card, thanking him for the entertainment his novels and catalogs had given me, but it seemed, from what I read, that he was in pretty bad shape and I didn't know if he would ever get the message, so I never sent it. Apparently, he had another stroke recently and passed away.
I don't know why this news is lingering with me. Is it because I was a fan and just drifted away? Is it that I could have sent a card or something, but didn't? Is it because two of the people who entertained me as a young adult left us around the same time? I dunno, but I think I'm going to send that letter that I've been meaning to write to Will Eisner while he's still around to receive it.
07/10/04: What's this crazy dog doing? To be honest, we haven't the faintest idea. Sometimes when Stephie and I are occupied late at night, we lose track of Kisu. When we go looking for her, we often find her on the floor, at the foot of the bed, with just her head under the bed. During the day, she lays on the bed. When we go to bed, she's usually under the bed. What the deal is here is anyone's guess!
06/29/04: Happy Birthday, Rick! It's a good thing your Dad got that brand spankin' new vehicle, so that when he teaches you how to drive, you have something nice to ride around in! We hope you have a great day.
06/20/04: Happy Father's Day! Whether your kids have two legs or four (or any other number for that matter) I hope all you Dads have a great day today and every day because you deserve it!
06/09/04: Well, I just renewed our domain for another two years, so we're going to be around for a while! I've been having a lot of fun with this site over the past year, and I hope you have enjoyed it as well. I have a couple ideas for some new stuff, but I have to make the time to do it! So stay tuned...
Stephie has been given a big honor this month. Her latest picture is in the front window of the LaGrange Art League, and it's right in the center! It will be on display for the rest of the month, so stop by to see it. You don't even have to go when they are open, but I would recommend it, because there is always lots of great art on display. I need to get over there to get a picture for the site.
In more art-related news, Stephie is going to be involved in an art demonstration at La Grange's 125th birthday celebration. She'll be at Denning Park, 4903 S. Gilbert Avenue, from 4PM until Dusk. (Dusk, you know, is when all the little fat men come out. Extra points for anyone who can identify THAT little obscure reference. But I digress...) Stop by and see Stephie in creative mode, and join in the festivities.
And don't forget that this weekend starts the Brandeis Used Book Sale 2004, running until June 18 in the west parking lot of the Westfield Shoppingtown at Old Orchard mall in Skokie. Because of the weird schedule this year, this is the only weekend that it will be there, so if you're a book reader who doesn't go out during the week, this weekend is the time to go! It's a great opportunity to stock up on your summer reading.
05/27/04: Kudos to our friend Diane, who earned a B recently in Calculus. Wow, she's talented, funny, good-looking, can make a bra out of a coconut, and knows Calculus. She is the complete package! Congratulations, Diane! We're proud of you!
05/15/04: I added a couple things to the site, just because I'm a computer nut. When I converted the main page to only show the articles from the last two months, I added links at the bottom to go to back to a particular month. What I didn't do was give you the opportunity to show all the articles in the database. I did that this morning.
The other thing I did was to put a simple search field at the bottom. This way, for example, if you want to find all the places I talked about Oliver Mtukudzi, you can just type in 'mtukudzi' and it would show you all the articles he was mentioned. (Just a tip: I wouldn't search for 'Stephanie'. I tend to talk about her A LOT!)
05/07/04: We got the card in the mail this week for the Brandeis Used Book Sale 2004, happening June 10-18 in the west parking lot of the Westfield Shoppingtown at Old Orchard mall in Skokie. This is an annual event and something that we look forward to every year. This sale is one of the main reasons why we have boxes of books all over the apartment. If you're a book-lover, you owe it to yourself to take a ride up there.
04/26/04: I'm about halfway through the 8-hour BBC Radio adaptation of the first three Foundation books by Isaac Asimov, and so far, it's been terrific. The sound effects and the use of electronic noise make it a little cheesy in that early-'70s Dr. Who way, but I'm finding the story to be really interesting. Much more so than my previous exposure to Foundation.
It was the mid '70s, I was maybe 12 or 13, and the family and I were in Hyde Park. We probably were there for lunch at that place with the peanut shells on the floor, and we wandered into a bookstore in the basement level of one of the buildings. It had rows and rows of paperbacks, and I remember my parents talking to the shop owner about me. I don't recall the beginning of the conversation (I don't remember much of the conversation at all, really) but I do remember them asking the guy about science fiction books, and telling him that they were looking for something a little more "mature", now that I was getting older. Maybe they were trying to steer me away from the comic books that my brothers and I were just discovering.
Whatever the case, the guy pointed them to Foundation. He said that he thought I would really enjoy it. In fact, he said, if I didn't like it, they could bring it back and he would refund their money. So they bought it, along with another book that I picked out, the first volume of a series starring someone called the Avenger, with the eye-catching title of "Justice, Inc."
Well, we took the books home, and I started to read Foundation. Man, what a dry book! All politics and philosophy. Not exactly the thing to hold a 12 year-olds attention. But the Avenger? Wow! Two-fisted action of the highest order. I had to get more, which led me first to Doc Savage, then The Shadow, The Spider, G-8, the Secret Six, Captain Satan, and all the rest of the pulp characters from the '30s and '40s. Maybe not classic literature, but mighty fine reading, usually with a strong sense of right and wrong. Just what a growing boy needs. And they also fostered an interest in books that manifests itself in the hundreds of books that are stored away in bookshelves and boxes around our apartment.
And Foundation? We never got around to taking it back, even though I never did finish it. I know it's still around here somewhere. Maybe I'll give it another try after I'm done with the radio version. Right after I finish reading that next Doc Savage novel.
04/11/04: Happy Easter! Hope everyone has their Easter Bonnet on, except for our friends' daughter Mary, who says, "It's not a bonnet, it's a HAT!"
Also, next Sunday, April 18th, we'll be at the reception and awards ceremony for the Best of the Best exhibit at the West Suburban Fine Arts Alliance at the Fine Arts Building at Triton College. The Southwest News-Herald says:
The annual "Best of the Best" exhibit of work by artists affiliated with art guilds in the west, southwest and northwest suburbs can be seen until Sunday, April 18 at Triton College, 2000 Fifth Ave., in River Grove. All of the work displayed has been judged at the local level and received an "award of excellence." Artists will be available to discuss their work at a reception from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 18. The exhibit is sponsored by the West Suburban Fine Arts Alliance. For more information, call (630) 257-9027.
03/30/04: One year ago today, this silly puppy came to live with us, and our life is better for it. She was a handful at first (sometimes still is) but we couldn't do without her. Click here to see a couple new pictures, and a bunch of old classics!
03/27/04: What is this strange and wonderful landscape pictured here? Why, it's Stephanie's entry into this year's Edible Art show. If you were unable to attend, click here to see pictures of all the entries, and many more pictures of Stephie's creation. It will be just like being there, except without the eating!
03/24/04: For anyone in the LaGrange area on Friday night, there's going to be an exhibition of Edible Art at the LaGrange Art League. Stephanie is working on something beautiful and tasty, and from what we saw there the past two years, there is going to be some very creative stuff on display. And the best thing about the display is after the judging, we all get to eat the art! If you're in the neighborhood, you should stop by. Check the link above for more information and directions to the gallery.
03/22/04: Yesterday was the second anniversary of the worst day of my life: the day Cheyenne passed away, and next week is the first anniversary of our adopting Kisu, one of the best days in recent memory. It's funny...the latter seems like it was only yesterday, yet the former seems to have been so long ago.
It's amazing how quickly, and how deeply, our pets can worm their way into our lives. There was a story on NPR's Living on Earth a couple weeks ago about pampered pets, and the quote that stuck with me was "Dogs are the world's most effective social parasites. That is, they have brilliantly injected themselves into the social system of another species, which very few species ever do."
Don't we know it!
03/18/04: So a couple years ago, the multinational conglomerate that I worked for was bought out by a larger multinational conglomerate, and they sent us to the new home office to get our picture taken for our new ID badges. They sent us in groups, so a sizable number of us were there at the same time, lined up in the cramped office just like in high school. And just like in high school, certain people started to get silly. Well c'mon: it was getting warm in there, it was right before lunch, we had to wait a long time as they took the pictures one after another. It was a recipe for disaster.
Of course, someone said that we should make faces on the picture. Smile funny, blink as the picture was taken, hold up numbers under your chin, something! I said that I should arch my eyebrow and try to look suave. Half the people said "Yeah, Do it!" and the other half said "You're not gonna do it!" I, of course, was up to the challenge.
Unfortunately, what was suave in my head turned out a little different when it hit my face. At least they didn't make me take it over.
03/06/04: There's a couple new pictures on Stephanie's Art Pages. You should go check them out RIGHT NOW!
03/04/04: According to my favorite birthday and events page, on this day 80 years ago, "Happy Birthday To You" was first published by Claydon Sunny. Which raises an interesting question: What did they sing at birthday parties before 1924? Was there a different birthday song that everyone knew? And did they have those candles that keep re-igniting themselves after you blow them out?
Inquiring minds want to know...
02/25/04: Happy Birthday, Chris! Probably because we haven't lived in the same state for many years, I don't have any digital pictures of you, so I swiped this picture off of an interview site I found. Had I known you were coming in for Dad's birthday, I would have brought my camera! Anyway, I hope you had a great day, and your present is late (as usual) but it's on its way!
02/23/04: And we're back! The main page has been down since Friday, probably because of a user ID problem (I'm waiting for a follow-up message from our ISP) but it seems to be back up now. I don't know that it had inconvenienced anyone, but it bugged me. Thanks, Parcom for getting us back on-line.
Stephie and I spent a couple hours last night watching Junkyard Wars on TLC, and I have to say, it was pretty interesting. What got us to watch was the blurb in the TV Guide describing the show. They had teams from three Hollywood special effects houses (ILM, Henson, and KNB) building "the ultimate fighting robot — it must breathe fire, shoot bullets, and save the world from an alien invasion." It's being rerun Tuesday night (2/24) and next Sunday (2/29). We enjoyed it so much we watched it with the commercials! Check it out.
02/15/04: Happy Birthday, Dad! You're the best!
02/15/04: Happy Birthday, Stephie! You are the best, too!
02/09/04: I've noticed that a lot of people use their personal web sites to list what music they are listening to, what they are reading at the time, or what movies or TV shows that they like. Well, in addition to keeping up with our regular broadcast TV favorites, we've just finished The Adventures of Captain Marvel serial (which I bought for the second time: never did get the Laserdisc), and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (which I just recently read in paperback) that we got from Netflix.
We're now watching the late, lamented Tick TV series complete on DVD. I have to commend Fox for taking a chance on this series, but condemn them in the same breath for the way they dumped it on the market. No, it's not a series for kids (actually, neither was the hilarious Saturday-morning cartoon, really) but to delay it to mid-season, bury it on Thursday night against the last 10 minutes of the "Super-Sized Friends" nonsense, and constantly pop-up those annoying ads for "Temptation Island" over the action was just like pounding a big red "cancelled" stamp over the series before it got a chance to get going. I'm not saying that it would run longer than Gunsmoke if it had the chance, but it deserved better than it got. Just like the other program by the same producers, the criminally short-lived Maximum Bob. Quality TV like this gets dropped like a hot potato, while the networks give us the next "Who Will Survive A Fat, Obnoxious, Average Joe, Bachelor/Bachelorette Apprentice Idol Makeover?" Bah.
01/30/04: It's three degrees below zero Fahrenheit (and who knows what the wind chill is!) and Kisu wants to go outside to try out her new booties! Check out the fun.
01/28/04: I recently changed the web site to use PHP to pull these little articles from a database. Initially, this meant that I could add items without changing the page itself, which saves me some time. It also gave me the ability to make the change that I did today. As of now, the main page will show only the articles that I added in the last 60 days. This will make the page load faster, which is especially important for people with dial-up connections.
But don't worry! If you really have a burning need to read my comments about how Kisu broke the retractable leash, or anything else I posted since I started this page, just scroll to the bottom of this page and select the month that you want to see (the leash incident happened in July, by the way.) Of course, this doesn't affect any of the special pages, like the Cheyenne Story. Those are still accessible from the menu bar on the right of the screen.
01/24/04: Well, our childhood memories took a beating this week, with the loss of Ray Rayner and Bob Keeshan within a couple days. When I was a kid, I didn't know (nor did I care) that Ray Rayner was based in Chicago (as was Bozo and Frazier Thomas on the Garfield Goose show) but Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers were not. They were just my TV buddies as I was growing up. And while I haven't seen either Ray or the Captain in many years, it still saddens me that they are gone.
By the way, when I was trying to find if B.J. was still with us, I found this cool web site about Chicago Television that looks to have some interesting stuff about the local Chicagoland TV stations, including many of the kids programming over the years, even before my time! I'll have to spend some time going through it, even though it says I "must use Internet Explorer" and I don't as a rule.
(I wonder if they have anything on the theme music to the"All-Electric Magic Lantern Moving Picture Show")
01/18/04: Stephanie's Banana-project buddy Diane came over yesterday, and we went to the show and saw "Big Fish". We went to the matinee and got there as the coming attractions were showing, so we had to sit in the third row. Now, when I used to go to the show a lot, we always would sit in the first couple rows, but that was in the good old days of big screens in big theaters, where the screen was set back a little from the front row. Now, with these megaplexes trying to make use of every inch of real estate, sitting in the first couple rows is almost like going to see an IMAX film, where the screen fills your peripheral vision. It was the first time I can remember having to turn my head back and forth to follow a conversation on-screen. And there were a couple scenes were I couldn't really tell if the camera angle was odd, or if it appeared that way because we were sitting so close. But the movie itself...
It's hard to describe the overall plot without making it sound very sad. A son receives a call that his estranged father is dying, so he and his wife return to his childhood home so that he could try to reconnect with his father, and to get some perspective on parenthood, as his wife is about to give birth to their first child. The father was a traveling salesman, so was rarely home when the son was growing up. And when he was home, he told the most fantastic stories about his travels, about enormous fish and mysterious towns and giants. The son was always embarrassed by these stories, and wants to know the truth before his father passes away.
The sad scenes, where the son stubbornly refuses to believe anything his father says, are offset by the scenes of the father's stories, which are full of the fantastic imagery that you would expect from a Tim Burton movie. Some of the scenes are touching, some are downright hilarious, but all are entertaining as we follow the father from his birth, right up to the end. I can't remember the last time I heard so much sniffling in the theater at the end of a movie. This was one of the best films I have seen in a long time, and I think it's one that's probably best seen on the big screen (just not from the first three rows.) I highly recommend it.
01/08/04: For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about this little "game" we used to play back when I worked at Dominicks. Back in the good old days before the "bulk" style presentation of produce, everything had to be wrapped, weighed and priced. This meant that on busy days there were up to eight people working in the back room, at two tables facing each other.     Most of us were music fans (except maybe the guy whose only record he owned was a picture disc of Rush’s "Hemispheres" that was still in the shrink-wrap), so the game consisted of someone choosing a letter, then the two tables taking turns naming bands that started with that letter. The back-and-forth continued until one "team" was stumped, at which time the "winning team" would declare victory, briefly deride the other team, then pick another letter and continue. We obviously didn’t have access to the Internet, or any other reference materials, and there was nothing at stake other than brief bragging rights, but it was a pretty good way to pass the time while trimming cases of broccoli, or traying up grapes.     They had been playing this game before I joined the department, but the manager always counted on me as his "not-so-secret weapon". He was a music aficionado, but I was more heavily into music at the time, reading as many of the music periodicals as I could, haunting used record stores, and listening to anything I could get my hands on. As such, I knew about many obscure bands that no one else ever heard of. It was somewhat surprising that they rarely questioned me. I knew of some pretty strange band names (Ethel the Frog, Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubaten), which were real bands, but I probably could have said anything, which of course I never did.
01/06/04: Over the weekend, I was going to make breakfast, but I didn't know what I wanted to make. I really had a taste for breakfast burritos, but all we had were corn tortillas, and the last time I made them using corn tortillas, they split open as I tried to roll them.
Then I had an idea. Sure, I could have looked in one of Stephie's many cookbooks, but this is the "information age", right? So I went to Yahoo and searched on "eggs, sausage, corn tortilla, cheese, and salsa" and the first item that day was a recipe for Sausage and Cheese Chalupas. They turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. (And Stephie concurs.) Give 'em a try.
12/31/03: Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2004 will be a better year all around than 2003 turned out to be.
12/25/03: MERRY CHRISTMAS! Hope everyone's having a great day, celebrating the holiday of their choosing. We're spending the day on the couch watching movies. Considering the kind of month we've been having so far, we figure we deserve it.
12/04/03: Great News! Stephie's out of the hospital and resting comfortably at my parents' house. We figure that she will be there about a week or so to recuperate under their watchful eye, then I'll be bringing her home. Life seems to be getting back to normal (finally!) Thanks again to everyone for their support.
Also, today is the ten-year anniversary of two big events, one good memory and one bad. Ten years ago today, Frank Zappa passed away, but also ten years ago today, we adopted Cheyenne!
12/02/03: Stephanie's out of ICU as of Sunday morning, and should be done with the oxygen mask today. That means she should be coming home tomorrow morning! Thanks to everyone who has been praying for her and wishing her well. If you'd like to e-mail her any well-wishes, because she still has quite a bit of recovering to do, just click the 'Contact Us' link in the column on the left and send an e-mail. I will make sure that she gets it.
11/29/03: Surgery went well on Monday, but there were a few complications during recovery, and Stephie has
been in intensive care since Tuesday night. The doctor said today that she could probably move to a regular
room, but he doesn't like to move people out of ICU over the weekend. He also said that if she keeps
progressing like she has, she should be coming home in a couple days.
11/23/03: It's been raining cats-and-dogs all day, they are predicting snow flurries for tomorrow,
and Stephie is going into the hospital for a bit of surgery on Monday.
Yep, it's gonna be a great week.
11/05/03: It's been a couple weeks since I last updated this site, primarily because I have been
working on building my new PC, which is a late graduation present to myself. I'm also thinking about
changes to the layout of the site. I'm happy with the way it looks, but I think that I might be able
to make it easier to maintain. I also should probably read the manual for the stupid digital camera so
that I can add more pictures of Stephanie's art to her page.
And I have to admit that I don't understand the usage of the term "shout out" when one wants to single out
someone for greetings or for special recognition, and I frankly am not interested enough to look up the
etymology of the term, but since a co-worker
gave me a "shout out" on his site, I feel compelled to respond in kind. So here's a "shout out"
to Bill. And one to Jassen while I'm at it.
10/16/03: Click here to
see Stephanie in the window of the LaGrange Art League, creating art!
09/23/03: Welcome to Autumn! I put up some new pictures of Kisu playing with her new best
buddy Siggy! Click here to see the
Also, Dave Wieczorek, our dog trainer, finally has his web site up and running. The site is
www.WetNoseOBT.net. Check him out for all your dog
training needs. We can't recommend him enough.
09/17/03: The scientific results from the big banana project are in, and I have added them to the
page with the pictures. Check them out!
09/14/03: Stephanie helped her friend Diane with her display at the
Kathy and Judy Science Fair at Hoffman Estates High School yesterday. Click
here for pictures.
09/01/03: Happy Labor Day, and Happy Belated Birthday to Mom and ME! We had perfect weather
Saturday, but Sunday and Monday were gray, rainy and cold. Ah, Summer in Chicago!
One of the bad things about having a birthday at the end of August is that you don't want to look
forward to your birthday, because that means that summer is over. While it's good that the weather
will turn cooler, and the new TV season is about to start, as a kid it always meant it was back-to-school
time. Not for me this year, though!
Mom called yesterday, so we could wish her a Happy Birthday on her actual birthday (we were there to
celebrate the day before) and she said that she had a surprise waiting for her when she and Dad got home
from church. There was a bag, tied closed with a knot, in front of the house, next to the front door.
She figured someone must have dropped it off while they were at church, so she brought it into the house.
She opened the bag and found a present, all right! Turns out it was a
poopie bag from Saturday. Stephanie had taken Kisu out before we left, and didn't want to walk around
to the back of the house in the dark, so she left the bag in front, but forgot to tell anyone about it.
Mom said "Boy! Were they surprised!" I just told her that it was a present from Kisu! Good thing they
have such a great sense of humor.
08/21/03: Ah, the dog days of summer! Too hot out to do much of anything.
08/14/03: Hello, there! I have been trying to add things weekly to this page, but I had some
trouble since last week. I'm looking for a sound file on my work and home computers that is related to a funny work
story, but I can't seem to find it. And I'm trying to take more pictures of Stephie's artwork, but something in the
colors she uses, or in the capabilities of the camera, is screwing up the colors on the pictures, to the point that
she doesn't want me to post the pictures. And I don't blame her.
So I haven't forgotten about this page; I'm just a little slow. I should have something by the weekend.
07/31/03: I added a counter at the bottom of this page, so I can see if anyone besides Stephie and
I ever look at this page!
07/25/03: So a couple days ago, Stephanie tells me that Kisu has a new "trick": she likes to bite
the leash. When Stephanie takes her in the yard to play, she has Kisu on the
retractable leash. That way,
if Kisu goes into her "turbo dog" mode and starts running in circles, Stephanie can just hold on and let
Kisu tire herself out (which actually hasn't happened yet.) She says that when she's running around, she
somehow gets the cotton webbing part in her teeth. I'm not exactly sure how, because that's never happened
when I have her out. The only time I've seen her bite at the leash is when she's pulling to go after a
squirrel. She'll look back and try to bite the leash to let her go, but she's never actually nipped it.
I did see them in the yard yesterday, and Kisu was gnawing on the leash. I went out and told her to
stop. I distinctly remember saying "If you break this leash, it's coming out of your allowance!"
Today, since I'm taking a "mental health" vacation day and the weather is beautiful,
I figure that we'll take a nice long walk.
Kisu's never been to "the Lost World," which is what we call the area of
Brookfield north of the commuter tracks. (You have to go through a tunnel under the commuter tracks and
across the train lot to get there. Hence, "the Lost World.") So we get the sunglasses, bottle of water, bag
poopie papers and we're off.
We head towards Ogden Ave, the nearest busy street and one that we have to cross,
and Kisu's pulling hard; she's so excited to be on the big adventure. Just before we
get to Ogden, she stops to sniff something on the wall. I use this distraction to catch up to her and pass
her by. I get about 10 feet past her, and call her. Like usual, she runs to me, and past me, and I
call her name and press the thumb brake on the retractable leash to get her to stop, because the traffic
is whizzing by on Ogden. The line goes taut, and the cotton webbing snaps.
I look down at the limp leash on the ground, and look up as Kisu, who must have
paused at the sudden lack of tension, starts to head toward Ogden. I run after her and shout
"Kisu, Stop!" and all those evenings of obedience classes paid off in an instant when she stops, sits down
and looks at me with what looks like a big grin on her face. I grab her collar, give her a big hug,
and we go home to get the leather leash and continue our walk.
Oh, and the "Lost World" was quite nice this afternoon, but Kisu still doesn't
like to drink from the water bottle. We'll have to work on that.
Tonight is Poi Dog Pondering at
Ridge Fest. And today is week 2
of the "Silent Summer" film festival put on by The Silent Film Society of Chicago. Tonight's
feature is "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", but I think
we'll stick with Poi Dog. Next week, however, is the big "Lost World" extravaganza with full
orchestra. Check their web site for more
information. Stephie and I plan to be there.
07/17/03: We put up the first batch of
Stephanie's art today. We're still struggling with the
settings on the digital camera, so some of the pictures look a little dark. The next batch should
We were able to make it down to Summerdance last Thursday to see Oliver Mtukudzi, and we had a great
time. The music was great, the dancing was fun, and the location can't be beat, since it's right
in Grant Park. You owe it to yourself to
click here to check the schedule and try to make it down before the end of August. Hint: Thursday
night is always World Music night.
Oh, and don't tell anyone, but Poi Dog Pondering is playing
at Ridge Fest in Chicago Ridge next Friday, July 25. I say not to tell anyone
because I want to make sure that we can get in, because Poi Dog Pondering puts on one of the most
exciting stage shows that I've ever seen! The energy coming from the musicians is just unbelievable, and
the music defies you to stay in your seat! When we saw them at RibFest in Naperville last year, just about
everyone was up and dancing, and that's on a tummy full of ribs! Definitely recommended, as is
their latest CD.
07/08/03: Hope everyone had a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend. It was pretty
low-key for us, with the weather and all, but I did get going on my latest project: building
a replacement for our aging, noisy MP3 jukebox. Details coming soon!
There are a couple fun things coming up in the next couple weeks that you might not know
about, even if you live in the Chicago area. The 7th annual
Chicago Summerdance has been going on since mid-June and will run until the end of August
in Grant Park. It looks like a lot of fun, with dance lessons followed by a live concert, and
it's FREE! There has been, and will be, all kinds of different bands to see, from swing bands to
mambo and salsa, with ballroom dancing every Sunday. Not that I'm a big dancer, but this Thursday,
July 10, they will be teaching something called African Expressions followed by a concert
by a new favorite of mine:
Oliver Mtukudzi. If it rains, he's playing HotHouse
on Sunday. I hope to see him at least once, and I highly recommend his CDs.
Also coming up soon is The Silent
Summer, the annual silent film festival sponsored by
The Silent Film Society of Chicago. If
you've never seen a silent movie before, or even if you have, you owe it to yourself to try to
get to the Gateway Theatre on Lawrence one Friday between July 18 and August 22 to see one on the
big screen. It's a real treat. Special Note: on Friday August 1st, they will be showing "The
Lost World" (by Arthur Conan-Doyle, not Michael Crichton) with a 30-piece orchestra accompanying
the live organist. Don't miss it!
Hope to have Stephanie's art up next weekend. Even though I'm out of school, there's still
not enough hours in the day!
06/29/03: Happy Birthday, Ricky! That's him in the picture from a couple
years ago with me and Cheyenne. He's the one in the hat. Don't ask about the weird point on
the top of my head! Anyway, we hope you had a great day, and
have a terrific summer, because before you know it, it's High School time!
site (like Stephanie's pictures hopefully this week) I won't have to go in and edit each and
every html file in the entire site. Maybe I should look into a program to automate this instead of
hand-editing the files. Hmmm...
06/25/03: Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad! Don't know what I would do without you.
(Well, actually I wouldn't be here without you.) Hope you are out having fun.
Also, our friend Diane was on the radio last week! If you have
Real Audio installed, you can listen to her do her frog imitation
by clicking here.
06/17/03: Just back from the first day of Intermediate Dog Training class, and I
figure I should put up some pictures of Kisu. If you got the
adoption announcement via e-mail, you may have seen these before, although there are a
couple new ones.
06/15/03: Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there, regardless if their "kids"
have two legs or four. A special Happy Father's Day to our Dad, the
best Dad in the world! We're gonna give that new grill a workout today!
06/14/03: Welcome to the first draft of our web site. This site
has grown out of my final project for a web design class that I took at
Elmhurst College. I was
so happy with the way it turned out that I wanted to share it with the world (or at least with
any relatives and friends who have computers). My sister-in-law
Laura was kind enough to let me store the site
temporarily on her server, but I wanted to make it a little more permanent, and expand on it,
so I talked to a co-worker who recommended Parcom as
an inexpensive and reliable hosting company.
I waited until Graduation was over and finally decided on a name for the site. I know that .com
is supposed to be for companies, but most everyone knows web sites as .com so that's what I went
with. I sat down at work (on Friday the 13th) and signed up for this site. I filled out the form on
Parcom's site, entered in my credit card information, put in my site name ('mattandstephanie.com')
and submitted it. The form came back with none of my information, but had my order number, and
prompted me to register the domain. In the meantime, my phone rang, a co-worker asked me a question,
and I was otherwise distracted for a minute. I filled out the domain form, entered in my credit
card information, put in my site name ('stephanieandmatt.com') and submitted it.
Shortly after that, I received an e-mail from Parcom. It said "You requested that Parcom register
the domain name: stephanieandmatt.com (and approved the request). You requested that Parcom HOST
the domain name: mattandstephanie.com Which is the correct combination for hosting and domain
registration?" They must think I'm an idiot. I replied back that they should just use
stephanieandmatt.com, since I already approved it. (I later told Stephanie what happened, and she
said she liked mattandstephanie.com better. Maybe I'll register that as well and point it to the
same site. If I can't keep it straight, it's likely others will have the same problem.
Anyway, enjoy Cheyenne's Pages, and check back later for more stuff. I
plan to put some of Stephanie's award-winning art here, as well as pictures of Kisu, and anything
else that I think that you may find interesting.
By the way, the pictures on Cheyenne's Pages are randomly selected when the page loads (except for
three spots), so you may see different pictures every time the page loads. Refresh often!
While there are no ads, there are a couple pop-up windows with extra content. You may have
problems viewing parts of this site if you are using any kind of pop-up blocker, such as
Pop-Up Blocker. I recommend disabling the blocker
while viewing Cheyenne's Pages, but make sure you turn it back on before you leave! And refresh
the page for more pictures!