Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pumpkins in Plastic

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Show us your Halloween pumpkin! This year's pumpkin is preferable, but if you've not managed to get yours for this year, go ahead and pick one from your photo archives.

As you can see above, our pumpkin isn't carved yet. I'm hoping John will carve it in the morning, before he leaves for work. I'm no good at pumpkin carving. Some years we never do get the darn thing carved.

Maybe that's part of why we've bought several artificial jack o' lanterns in recent years. Somewhere we have a Mickey Mouse one, and a Donald Duck one. John bought those, but I think I bought this one.

This other one (above and below) is an old trick-or-treat bucket, with the back and bottom cut off. We hang it on the light fixture by the door.

I can't write a long entry tonight. I've been working on treat bag and decorations all night, it's very late, and I was exhausted before I even started. Catch you later. Good night!


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Monday, October 30, 2006

Wanted: 40-Hour Days

Good grief! This day went by far too quickly. I got up, tried again, unsuccessfully, to get my Saturday night entry to post, went to church and coffee hour, dropped off Eva and Kevin, came home and finally got the entry published. That took me to 1:30 PM. Next I drove across town to pick up a friend for lunch, but she flaked on me, so I returned to this part of town and treated myself to a soup and salad special at Applebees. Got home at 3:30 PM, spent about half an hour online, and went to bed. I had to, because last night I tried to go to bed five times from 4:30 AM on, and ended up with less than three and a half hours of sleep.

So I napped from a little after 4 PM to about 8:20, and then rushed off to the gym for another session on the treadmill before L.A. Fitness closed at 9 PM. I just barely got it done by closing time, right to the minute. This time I set the Weight Management - training mode for 26 minutes instead of last night's 25. It was less pleasant than last night, possibly because I didn't grab my iPod, and at one point my heart rate jackrabbited to the high 160s or more, faster than the program could compensate. But the machine credited me with 226 calories instead of last night's 198 or whatever it was, so I'm very pleased. It left me puffing like a steam locomotive, though, and I had to reassure the security guard in the parking lot afterward that I was all right.

I got home and watched a tv show on John's computer, came in here, read some AOL Alerts and blog entries, tried to look something up in the Wikipedia article on Back to the Future and ended up working on that article a little bit. Then I started this entry. And here I am - 1:30 AM, still exhausted, dirty clothes in the other room and dishes in the sink, weekend over.

I need my own personal flux capacitor, or a TARDIS, or a time-slowing watch, or maybe an agreement from the Earth and the Sun that henceforth each day will be 32 hours long. I could do it all in 32 hours. I could sleep for a full eight hours and still have a full 24 hours a day to write in my blog and on Wikipedia and work on my novels, to clean the house, work out at the gym and and catch up my email.

Hmm. Better make that a 40-hour day. 48 on weekdays.


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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Endorphins, Seduction and Motivation

Fly By Night Airlines witch, circa 1988
Can you believe that's me? I know there are other old Halloween photos around here somewhere, all from the 1990s, but this is the one I found tonight. It's from about 1988, when I was still a travel agent at Travel Tree on Broadway. You can't read the sign in the picture above, so I rescanned it larger and darkened it up for you:

Now you know why the witch is wearing flight goggles.

Seeing myself that thin is a bit of a shock for me - it's been quite a while since I was merely fat instead of obese. So this photo is a bit of a motivator. I've had several nice bits of motivation in that area tonight.

I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of going to the gym earlier this evening, but having missed a couple of days this week due to sleep deprivation and working late, I knew I had to go. So off we went. I'm so glad we did!

John's been advising me about not pushing too hard on the treadmill, and to extend my time on it; but so far, I hadn't managed to get a good, long session in without my reported heart rate spiking above 160. So tonight I tried something different. All this time, I've been pressing the Start button, setting the speed, the incline (if any) and the time (20 minutes, at most), and pretty much sticking with that. Nobody, not even the trainers, ever showed me anything else, although John had me start slow and work my way up. But the treadmill has a whole panel of programmed workouts, so tonight I thought I'd try out one or two of them.

First thing I found was a submenu called Weight Management. One of the choices for that was a fitness test, and I figured that was probably a good place to start. It had me enter my age and my weight, and advised me that when my heart rate got above 150 for more than a minute the test would end. It then started out slow, only to rapidly increase in speed and incline. I didn't get up to a run; in fact, I only lasted about five minutes before the heart rate monitor ended the test. I was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that it gave my fitness level as "0." That's a zero, folks, not O for Outstanding.

I stepped off the treadmill until it reset, and then went for a program of interval training under that same submenu. Again it asked for my weight and age, and this time it also asked for a minimum and maximum target heart rate and target duration of the workout in time, calories or distance. I set it for a heart rate of 130 to 150 and a duration of 25 minutes.

And you know what? It was great! It started off slowly as John wanted me to do, built up to a maximum speed of 3.4 mph (my previous best last year was 3.3 for part of a workout) and an incline of 2.0 (previous best: 1.0), and then cut back each time my heart rate hit 146 or so. I would get a bit of a rest while still continuing to walk, still keeping the heart rate above 130. Then we'd be off again on another "climb" in difficulty. It was interesting, it was fun, it didn't hurt my lungs and my back nearly as much as usual, and I made the 25 minutes easily. Plus, knowing my age and weight, it credited me for twice as many calories as my old routine, almost 200. Yeah! I love it! I'm actually looking forward to doing it again tomorrow.

Then I sat down and read for a few minutes while waiting for John, and had a bit of a coughing fit. Exercise gives me mild asthma, and my lungs never recovered from my cold of a few months ago. (This is unfortunately my usual pattern.) But that's okay. Topping off the unexpected pleasantness of the evening's workout, I weighed myself and discovered I've lost another three pounds, for a total of six so far. That's not much compared to my overall goal of 100+, but it's a good start. Someday when I'm braver and thinner, I'll tell you what my starting weight was.

The dieting is getting easier, too. I'm no longer automatically giving in to thoughts of ice cream or chips or candy. The refrigerator is full of celery and low carb food, and it's all tasting pretty good to me. It also helps a lot that John and I are on the same page on both the food choices and the length of the workouts. That certainly wasn't always the case. John has tried a number of regimens over the years, and I - well, I haven't always managed to get very far in my many dieting attempts. But sometimes I do. It's early days, but nevertheless it's becoming clear that tis is going to be one of my more successful efforts. Hooray!

So happy days are here again on that front. Now I need to get other parts of my life under control. There's cleaning to be done, and email to be read. So what did I do today, besides sleep in, work out and shop? Well, mostly I worked on Wikipedia. I know, I know. It's undisciplined of me to spend hours working on the entries for Mickey Mouse Club, The Aristocats and My World and Welcome to It‎ when I have other obligations. But darn it, it's fun! It pushes all my buttons: the drive to write, the drive to synthesize and share knowledge, and my love of fondly-remembered bits of literature and pop culture. It seduces me with promises to let me do all these things I enjoy. So I researched the early history of The Mickey Mouse Club, rewrote that article's introduction, and added an "infobox." For My World and Welcome to It I got the two screen captures above from an old videotape, and scanned in the book cover shown here to the right. The opening title screen capture wasn't good enough to use, but I uploaded the "Home" one, which is based on a Thurber cartoon, and the heavily cleaned-up book cover. I also learned about a 1959 precursor to the 1969 tv series, moved boxes so I could get to my Thurber collection and bring it in here, hunted for Thurber's three stories about the Monroes (but only found two of them), and added to the article based on all these activities.

I don't know much of anything about endorphins, those fun brain chemicals that are supposed to make you feel good when you exercise or have sex or whatever. But it seems to me that my brain has a great time when I write for Wikipedia, a little less when it's for this blog. It also rewards me for the fiction writing, when it's going well, but it's a little hard sometimes to get started and reach that happy moment. And reading email, well, frankly, that's mostly a slog. It also doesn't help that Blogger's been unreliable all week, and barely worked at all last night. I don't feel guilty about not blog jogging tonight, because Blogger was apparently down anyway. I'll be lucky if I even get this entry to post. So far I've tried about a dozen times, over a period of five hours.

Tomorrow evening, though, Blogger permitting, I will be visiting some of your blogs for the first time in weeks. It will be interesting to see what my brain does as I finally renew contacts with online friends. Be seeing you!


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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dead Tired

This afternoon I struggled to stay awake as I worked on an urgent project at the office. So you might expect that when 5 o'clock came, I was ready to go home and start the weekend. Nope. First of all, since I don't come in until nine (pretty much everyone else comes in at eight), I normally work until six. Second, when I finished that project, I had another one that was equally urgent -and had to be finished tonight.

Third, I noticed when I got back from lunch today that my right rear tire was well on its way to being flat. I needed to get to Sears and fix or replace it. So a little after six, I grabbed what I was working on and headed out to the mall. The tire had a nail in it, so they thought they could repair it. Great! So I sat in the mall, ate teriyaki and worked. When I got back to Sears, the car was still on the rack. The nail wasn't the only problem with the tire. It had to be replaced after all. So I sat and worked some more. It was getting on toward 8 PM when I finally left the mall and headed out - back to the office.

I actually do like working at night when everyone else is gone. For one thing, I can play Revolver and A Hard Day's Night as loudly as I want (which is only moderately loud) on my office computer's rather iffy CD drive. There are no interruptions except those I create myself - stopping to take pictures, for example. This was a rare chance to get a good look at the ghouls on these two office doors. During the day the doors are usually both open, which rather spoils the effect.

And speaking of effects, I couldn't resist editing the heck out of this photo tonight, long after I left the office sometime after 10 PM, and watched a little Doctor Who, updated my billing info with AOL, whittled my KFB of PQL email from 102 messages to 19, got the Mavarin email from 141 to 99, and cleaned up Annette Funicello's article on Wikipedia. Why else would I be finishing this entry after 4 AM, twenty hours after I got up this morning, when I'm well and truly dead tired?

With any luck, though, I won't be conscious again until at least 2 PM. Good night! Or should I say good morning? Good afternoon?


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Friday, October 27, 2006

A Gallery of Halloween Costumes Past

Weekend Assignment #136: What was your favorite Halloween costume ever? Whether it was from your childhood days or something you put together for that party last year, share the costume you liked the most.

Extra Credit:
Well, obviously, a picture of the costume would be lovely.

I don't think I had a single good costume in all the years I was growing up. When I was a kid, almost all children's Halloween costumes were Ben Cooper style. This consisted of a one-or-two-inch deep face mask with an elastic string to hold it on, and a plastic jumpsuit with a vague suggestion of the character's design printed on it, along with the character's name. After all, Casper always wears a jumpsuit with his name on it, doesn't he?

Cindy M. horns in on Mom's photo of me
in the ill-made reindeer costume.

Add to that the fact that my mom wasn't much better at sewing than I am (check out the reindeer costume she made for my Happy Holidays dance recital in second grade), and was concerned about having me in an appropriately feminine costume, and it's clear that my situation was hopeless. One Christmas I asked for a cowboy outfit, and got a cowgirl outfit instead, its skirt too small for me. I remember spending an October afternoon with my mom in a big costume shop near Syracuse University. Everything I liked was "for boys." Everything for girls was pink - either a fairy or a princess or a ballerina. Period. We both left the shop frustrated, with the choices and each other. In desperation, my mom proceeded to make me a costume - a pink toga, a crown, a flashlight "torch" and a sash that said "Miss Liberty." She had to explain that it was the personification of Liberty, as in the Statue of Liberty - and that Miss Liberty herself wasn't green. Uh-huh. I kind of appreciate the idea now, but back then it didn't go over well with me or my peers.

The last year I would have trick-or-treated, I was sick and wasn't allowed to go. I answered the door with a blanket draped over me as an "Indian"costume. The year before that, Sue K. and I were hippies, complete with heavy wooden signs extolling peace and love.

I've actually scared children and teens
with "Not Rani", growly voice and all.

So as an adult I've made an effort to do something good every year, repeating myself as seldom as possible. I'm planning a rerun this time - actually, two reruns for two venues - but I try never to do the same thing two years in a row. Over the years I've been the following, with varying degrees of success:

The large number of Doctor Who-related costumes is due to the fact that United Whovians of Tucson used to have a Wholloween party every year.

I may be able to dig up a few more photos for this entry from the 1980s and 1990s, but for now let's go with the usual suspects from this decade. I like these pretty much equally well, for different reasons. (If I actually divulge my very favorite, Black Rose Kate will be angry with me.) For me the real hook is developing a character to go with the costume.

I think Kate kind of liked the werewolf costume.
I call it "Not Rani"
because it looks sort of like
a tengrem's head without the horn.

John liked the cleavage on Queen Cathma.

I did a little photo editing on this one. Can you tell where?


Clearly the stress is getting to me. As recounted on Chuck Ferris' Dream Depository, I only had a little over four hours of sleep last night, and much of it was spent having nightmares. Neglecting my mom (who is, after all, dead) was a stand-in for neglecting the church blog and web site, my email, my blog jogging, house cleaning, dishes, and sleep itself.

Tonight, determined not to have more guilty dreams, I spent most of the evening reading AOL alerts (got my mailbox down to 110 emails from about 135), downloading, installing and troubleshooting Firefox 2.0, and updating the church schedule page. I couldn't find the crucial page of current announcements to work from, and I probably spent an hour looking for a good image to promote the English Tea at St. Michael's on November 4th. I ended up with this:

Doesn't look all that remarkable, but it was tricky to do. The teapot was too bright, the top of the picture too dark, and the napkin too stained. I managed to even out the lighting a bit, and cloned away most of the stain.

Enough. Good night!

P.S. John Scalzi is right about the new Firefox. I can see that the spelling feature is going to help a lot with my typos!

Update: I see that my sidebar is pushed down below the main section this morning. None of the photos are wide enough to cause that, so there's nothing else I can do right now. Sorry for the inconvenience!

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

When the President Called...

The President of the United States called the house today, but of course I wasn't here to take his call. No, not the current President; I don't know what would happen if I got a call from him, but it would be unlikely to enhance my opinion of the man. No, this was President Clinton. He didn't identify himself in the voicemail (the beginnings of automated messages are often cut off in my experience), and for a moment I thought I was listening to President Carter; but I soon realized who it was. He was talking about fiscal responsibility, going from budget surpluses to terrible deficits, and how he's counting on me to help turn things around on the first Tuesday in November. You got it, Bill; I'll be doing my part. I just wish I weren't hearing from every Democrat in America right now. I had four new messages in just over 24 hours - all of them involving the upcoming election.

But fiscal responsibility isn't exactly my strong suit. When I got off work today, I headed over to Best Buy and took care of a couple of my more urgent technological needs. I got a second decent set of $15 headphones, so that I can leave one pair at work and still have some available to use at the gym with my iPod. The ones that came with the iPod are too big for my ears, and too awkward and uncomfortable. They actually hurt when I try to jam them in so they'll stay, and then they fall out about five seconds later anyway. No. It's just not worth it. So I've been doing without my iPod at the gym, because I never remember to unplug the decent headphones from my computer at work. Now I don't have to.

Next up in terms of personal expenditure is my new mouse. It's not worth a picture; there aren't many choices for a wireless mouse designed for use with laptops. Meet the new mouse, same as the old mouse. The difference is, this one works. I saved the old actual mouse, and threw away the USB stick thingy. Ironically, I caught myself using the touchpad instead of the mouse several times tonight, and also had to unplug the new USB stick twice to use the port for my camera. See, the other two USB ports are currently 1) charging my iPod and 2) interfacing with my big purchase of the night.

The new scanner / copier / printer etc.

And here it is: a Canon Photo All-in-One Pixma MP 460. What the heck is that? You may well ask. It's the replacement for the $109 scanner that I bought three years ago.

Okay, the dust didn't look this bad. "Confetti" effect.

The old Canoscan has been putting dust motes on the scans for quite a while now. I think there was dust inside it, but it wasn't possible to open it up for cleaning. John borrowed it to take a look, and when I plugged it in again it didn't work at all. (This was almost certainly my fault, not John's.)

Impressionist Fine Art effect. Not exactly Monet.

So I needed a new scanner. Plus my printer was a $50 Canon i250, three years old. It still works fine, except that it's very slow, and when I print a page I have to try to catch it before it hits the floor. No tray, you see. Plus people at church always want me to photograph something for them and give them copies, but my printer just wasn't good enough for that. This new one will print photos. The ink cartridges I bought tonight came with 50 sheets of 4x6" photo paper. I can pop my camera's memory card directly into the MP460, I can scan stuff, and I can print either photos or conventional pages. All for $20 more that I paid for my old scanner-only, three years ago. I call that a bargain!

And there's one more important feature. The cheap photo software I use for effects and color saturation and tone balancing and perspective-fixing, ArcSoft PhotoStudio 2000, came with my Canoscan. Just as I'd hoped, the new scanner/printer came with an upgraded version, PhotoStudio 5.5, along with new versions of several other programs. A few of the effects don't work right in PS 5.5, but that was true of PhotoStudio 2000, too. And the update has many more effects to choose from. So I played around a bit with them, as you can see.

But now it's time to stop playing with my new toys and go to bed. Good night!


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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oh! It's Raining

I'm going with annotated pictures tonight.

This was my first photo of the day. Where was I? Can you tell? I darkened the highlights a little of this one, but still didn't manage to get the same color of sky that I saw with my eyes.

Sometime during the day, someone on Wikipedia (a teenager, I'm guessing) wrote a two sentence stub article for A House Like a Lotus, the same L'Engle novel I've been rereading for the last couple of weeks, and then left a note on my Talk page asking me to expand it from there. Since I was planning to write about the book in a few days anyway, it was not big deal, but I was a little annoyed that someone else started the article and then left me to do the work. Also, her note to me was a mess, full of bad formatting in Wikicode and HTML. When I went to her Talk page to reply, I was redirected to a page with a silly picture of Bill Gates and a little note that said, more or less, "Ha-ha! Fooled you! There is no such page!"

This strikes me as a bit juvenile, and John suggested to me that this may be her way of enticing me to write something she can use in a school assignment. After all, in the nine years or so since I started my online bibliography of L'Engle, I've had lots of requests for answers to what were very obviously study questions. In case this kid is trying to read a Wikipedia article instead of the book, I'm going to hold off writing the synopsis for a week. That'll show her. I also made only oblique reference to the fact that two of the characters are lesbians, not because I'm squeamish on the subject (I'm not), but because that plot detail belongs under a spoiler alert - in the synopsis I'm not writing yet.

When I emerged from the accounting department at work tonight, it was nearly 7 PM. I reached the big windows near the stairwell, glanced out, and thought, "Oh! It's raining." Rain in October isn't exactly unheard of in Tucson, but it's not common, either.

Neither of these two shots is quite what I saw. There was a lot of glare and reflection from the overhead lights in the hallway, but I've darkened these and boosted the contrast (and messed with the saturation on the second one) so we can see the rain and the outside lights better. I like the way the second one turns the rain into something like pointillist fireworks.

I wasn't looking forward to crossing the parking lot in the rain, although doing that is a lot easier and safer and drier than traversing the Crosswalk of Death in the same conditions. I'm quickly becoming accustomed to parking in the main lot, one of the perks of having been with the company almost a year and a half. It's very full, though, and since I come to work later than most people I'm often stuck parking way in the back, beyond a berm, and sometimes technically in front of the building next door.

But then I remembered what happened when I returned from lunch this afternoon. I had almost despaired of finding anything inside the berm when I suddenly noticed that the second closest space to the employee entrance was empty! Woo-hoo! So before I walked the ten steps (yes, I counted) from the door to the car, I took a few pictures as evidence. Here's the car, as seen from just outside the door.

And here's the door, seen from just inside the car. By the way, the only thing I did to this picture was crop it.

This cloud picture is nothing much, but it represents an experiment. It's a night shot of a sky that was spotty with clouds. I took it by laying the camera on its back on the roof of my car (this was after the rain stopped), pressing the button and letting go. That leaves the camera entirely stationary as it does its two second exposure. Unfortunately, the clouds directly above the camera at that moment weren't very interesting.

Good news and bad news: I got to the gym again tonight, managed to extend my time on the treadmill to 25 minutes, and even discovered that I've lost a few pounds. My high level of edema right now says that the loss probably isn't just water. On the other hand, my pulse spiked up to 174 in the last couple of minutes on the machine. Also, unrelated to the gym but definitely annoying, my mouse has stopped working entirely. So if there are typos in this entry - and there always are - I'm sure you'll forgive me if I wait until I get to the office tomorrow to fix them. It's late anyway. Good night! (Update: Yes, there were lots of typos.)


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Monday, October 23, 2006

MPS Cover Me

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a picture of something you've made. Pottery, cookies, a drawing or painting, a poem or a pipe cleaner stick man -- it's all good, it just has to have been made by you. Show off your creativity.

First of all, John Scalzi, Carly, Steven, Pat and I want you to know you've put us in a bit of a pickle with this one. Compare your topic with the one announced this past Thursday for the next Round Robin Photo Challenge, entries to be posted on Wednesday, November 1st:

Pat (Deslily) author of the journal, "Here There And Everywhere 2nd Edition," has chosen "The Creative Side Of You" as our theme for the challenge.... Show off your creative side, by posting photos of anything you have created from scratch.

See? Pretty much the same thing, isn't it? You've kinda stolen our thunder here.

Of course we'll forgive you if you plug the Round Robin Photo Challenges. We've being doing these for a year and a half, and you haven't mentioned them yet, perhaps because we didn't ask! Well, we're asking now - nicely, even. Pretty please, beloved Blogfather? Hey, you can even be a Robin yourself if you want to!

While our favorite Campbell Award winner is mulling that over, let's get on with posting a few pictures of things I made. These are three issues of The Observer, the Quantum Leap fanzine / newsletter I used to edit. I designed all of these covers (and many others), wrote much of the stuff inside and edited the rest.

This first cover doesn't look like much, but it's from the first issue of the zine, back around Christmas 1990. It's also an almost exact replica of the cover of a report issued to members of a Senate Committee deciding the fate of Project Quantum Leap in the second season premiere episode, "Honeymoon Express."

This cover is from the fourth issue. I didn't take the photo, and I certainly didn't create or design one of the premiere news magazines of all time. But I did design this parody of their distinctive covers. It refers to a line of dialogue in the pilot episode, in which Al tells amnesiac Sam Beckett that "Time Magazine even called you 'the next Einstein.'" I sent a framed copy of this to the show's production office, back in the day.

Now we come to the best cover I ever did, certainly the most ambitious and labor-intensive. Back in 1993 I did have access to PhotoShop, unlike now, and worked on a Mac. On the other hand, it was 1993, a long time ago in terms of technology. I replaced every face, every object on the cover of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with someone or something Leapish. I had trouble photographing the glossy cover well, but you get the idea. Click on the photos for much larger versions of the Observer 9 (Number nine, number nine) cover.

The four Beatles in the center are QL creator Donald P. Bellisario, stars Dean Stockwell and Scott Bakula, and writer/co-executive producer Deborah Pratt. The four waxwork Beatles to the left have been replaced by the four founders of Project Quantum Leap the club. The rest of the cover has guest stars, writers, producers, fans, a crew T-shirt, Dean Stockell's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Panavision camera. And Look! Teresa Murray's holding a copy of Observer 4 in her waxwork hand!

If you'd like to join in on the Round Robin topic, we'll be delighted to have you! Please see the Round Robin blog for details. The posting date for entries about "The Creative Side Of You" is Wednesday, November 1st.


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Back on Track? and The Well of Anacreon

Once again I'm in imminent danger of blowing the benefits of this afternoon's badly-needed nap by staying up too late. Maybe bullet points will help me keep it brief:

  • Yesterday we filled the fridge with low-carb food. We proceeded to polish off the celery in under 24 hours, which is no bad thing. Not having anything bad around to eat does seem to help, and John promises to pick up more celery. And dill pickles.
  • We also went to the gym last night and tonight, with a plan to go every evening. Maybe not tomorrow, though, because of Heroes and Studio 60.
  • John seems to have become my personal trainer for the moment. I told him about recent pulse readings on the treadmill over 150 (one was 166), and even though we know the numbers aren't always accurate it's clearly too high. So tonight John had me start at an appallingly slow 1.5 mph and build up from there. He wants me to work on getting up to 30 minutes instead of 20 (or last night, 15), rather than pushing myself on speed and incline.
  • I've gained 20 pounds this year. Let's see how much of that I can undo by New Year's!
  • I'm getting further behind on my email and blog reading,but I have a cunning plan. I'm going to start reading blogs at work - not during the day, but at 6PM when my work day is pfficially over. I can read through a month's worth of a friend's blog fairly quickly at the office, whether the page doesn't take half an hour to load. A week of that should put a big dent in my backlog!
  • I'll post the third installment of Lore Goes to Mâvarin on the fiction blog as soon as I'm done with this entry.
  • I'm terribly behind on the church blog and schedule page. I didn't even post that ballerina picture over there! Oh, well. Tomorrow!

Saturday night I was driven out of bed by an attempt to build a poem out of that spam phrase, "of previous Anacreon a Well." I'm not happy with the result, but here it is anyway:

The Well of "Anacreon"

A poem of flag and rockets
Was unlocked by an anxious Key.
Now in music, we admire it and mock it,
Forget words, and say what we see.

What we hear through a tricolor prism
Came from taverns, or so scholars tell.
Bitter drafts, and ill-sung patriotism
Share of previous "Anacreon" a well
Of fuddled emotions, and death's mystery,
And loyalty, half-blind but true.
So we lift buckets of doomed history:
Key watching as glaring bombs flew.

KFB, 10/23/06

Well, actually, the revision came out pretty well. Do you know what it's about?

I'll see what I can do with some of the other nonsense another time.


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Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Disney Version

As usual I'm making a late start on tonight's entry, so as usual I'll make a (probably doomed) attempt to be quick and concise.

Back in 1969, Life Magazine film critic Richard Schickel published a book called The Disney Version. I've never read it, and probably never will, because I don't like getting angry and upset. From what I've gathered, reading about the book and glancing over the book itself several years ago, it's largely a hatchet job. It appears to be about how Disney - the man, the studio, and the company - exploited and helped to define lowbrow pop culture, while espousing conservative values and ruining good source material with its vapid screenplays. It was the first serious critical study of Disney, which makes it important, as unpalatable as it may be to Disney fans. In the 1997 third edition, if I recall correctly, Schickel admits that he may have been a bit harsh in his earlier assessments.

You may have notied by now that I mention Disney a lot around here, usually in some form of "rah-rah" mode. Despite the most recent visit being less than wonderful, I love Disneyland. I love Walt Disney World, Mary Poppins, the Mello Men, Mulan, Lady and the Tramp, and on and on. I love So Weird, the Disney Channel series from nearly a decade ago. I love the music of the Sherman Brothers, and the art of Marc Davis and Mary Blair. Don't worry uf you've never heard of some of tese. Trust me. They're all great.

But even I know that Disney isn't perfect and never has been - not the company, not the man, and not the studio. As innovative as he was (and he was, in many ways), Walt Disney was a product of his time. At the studioin his time, the men were animators; the women (with very few exceptions) were "Ink & Paint girls" who colored in the cels. A strike was handled badly, resulting in emnities that never really healed. Yet after Walt died, the studio floundered, making shallow and derivative work that deserved the poor reception it mostly got. Two men helped to save it: Frank Wells and Michael Eisner. Wells died in an accident, and Eisner ultimately became part of the problem. Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew, feuded with Eisner foryears, and ultimatel won.

But that's mostly behind the scenes stuff. I want to talk about the movies and tv shows themselves. For every masterpiece, Disney has had maybe a dozen movies or tv episodes that were mediocre at best. Oh, they're mostly pleasant and watchable, but too many of them have certain conventions that I learned to recognize decades ago. The kids in the story are nearly always the protagonists, smart and brave. If they're not kids, they're princesses, good and virtuous, resourceful but still ultimately in need of rescue. Adults are either nefarious villains or well-meaning, foolish and slightly stupid. Parents are usually absent, sometimes dead.

And yes, the books and stories adapted for the films and tv shows are greatly changed in the process. That's almost inevitable, given the different mechanics and dramatic requirements of the two media, but it's especially true of Disney compare to other studios. Sometimes, as with Poppins, the Disney version is better than the book, or at least as good but in other ways. Other times it's not.

Tonight I finished re-watching A Ring of Endless Light, a Disney Channel adaptation of a multi-award-winning book by Madeleine L'Engle. It wasn't exactly terrible, but it suffered from many of the problems I associate with Disney at its worst. Most of what made the book special is gone, replaced by watered down versions and an extraneous plot about dolphins being threatened by illegal fishing nets.

Sure, there are dolphins in the book. But
they're just part of the story - and no drift nets.

In the book, Vicky Austin, her parents and three siblings come to Seven Bay Island with their parents to help take care of Vicky's grandfather, Reverend Eaton, who is dying of leukemia. The book opens at a funeral for Commander Rodney, a Coast Guard officer who died trying to save a reckless, possibly suicidal rich kid on a boat. The rich kid turns out to be Vicky's sometime boyfriend, Zachary Gray. Over the summer Vicky sees a lot of three different boys - Commander Rodney's son Leo, Zach, and Adam Eddington. Of the three, it's Adam who doesn't want to pursue the relationship, having gotten burned the previous summer trusting a girl, which resulted in a friend's death. Vicky also seems to find death and impending death at every turn, including the stillbirth of a dolphin, and culminating when a child dies in Vicky's arms in a hospital waiting room. It's a powerful, sometimes almost overwhelming book. The most joyful elements of the story are Vicky's ability to communicate with dolphins and the development of Vicky's writing as her grandfather encourages her.

Vicky talks with dolphins as Adam looks on

Compare that to the plot of the Disney version. Vicky and her two siblings come to visit their grandfaher for no particular reason. Vicky is under pressure from her parent to study science so she can get into an elite school, but her grandfather encourages her to continue to write poetry. Adam introduces Vicky to the dolphins, and she discovers her ability to communicate with them. Adam is interested in Vicky, and spars a bit with Zach, whose father owns a cannery and a fleet of fishing boats. One of these boats is using drift nets, which are illegal because they're not dolphin safe. Zach teams up with Adam and Vicky to prove the ship is using the nets, just in time to save on of Vicky's dolphin friends. Grandfather Eaton, who only a day or so before finally admitted to Vicky that he has leukemia, dies that night, and Vicky's parents arrive shortly thereafter to take the kids home. Vicky tells Adam that she's not going to that schience-heavy school after all, but will pursue her writing itself.

Blah. How predictable. We have the absent parents, who functuon mostly as obstacles by wanting Vicky to study science. We have cute dolphins threatened by villainous adults, but the kids save the day. No Commander Rodney or Leo. No John Austin, Vicky's elder brother. No Binnie, dying in Vicky's arms. It's safe. It's shallow. It's action and adventure, with a by-the-numbers conflict about pursuing your own dreams, and only a tiny echo of the much tougher one about continuing to survive and appreciate life when you're surrounded by death.

Phooey. It isn't even cast terribly well. Ryan Merriman is a little young for Adam, and Mischa Barton is too old and too confident in manner to play Vicky. James Whitmore Sr. is great as the grandfather, though.


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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Tech Marches On - Babbling All the Way

When I got to work today (not having returned to work after taking delivery on the fridge yesterday), I immediately noticed that someone had been at my desk since I left at 2:45 the previous afternoon. I knew this because there was a bottle of Propel water with calcium near where I usually put by Diet Cherry Pepsi, and a clean space in front of the monitor. But why? Did my boss need a spare computer so badly as to put some temp in my cubicle for two hours?

Wait a second, though. Wasn't that a new monitor? It was! The spirits did it all in one night!

The reason I suddenly got a new monitor while I was home getting a new major appliance was that on Thursday afternoon someone from IT was making the rounds of Accounting, installing a patch on our newly-upgraded software. He was annoyed by a horizontal line that appeared across my screen wherever the cursor was. I hadn't really noticed it. But I did tell him that the monitor's screen was always too dark, and I'd never been able to brighten it. He checked it out, said my monitor was probably dying, and said he'd see what they had in stock. What they had, it turns out, was a flat screen CRT, no bigger than the old one, but quite a bit brighter. For the first time, I'd be able to look at photos on blogs without them appearing several shades darker than they should. That's why I've seldom done my blog jogging at the office after work - not when photos were involved, not unless I was desperate.

I've had terrible trouble at home recently (and outside Disneyland!) getting photo-heavy pages to load in less than 20 minutes. But now I could take atvantage of the faster connection at the office (during lunch, on a break or after work), and actually see Round Robin photos properly. So at lunch today, I breezed through the rest of this week's Round Robin entries, a task that would have taken hours here at home.

And that faster loading time gave me the luxury of glancing as a few other entries. Over in Blah Blah Blog, Linda (Lou) had an entry that reprinted the text of a delightfully nonsensical bit of spam:

There was a lack of communication with a notoriously difficult neighorhood association.
When it hits, I’m knitting all the time, starting and finishing projects with passion and single-minded focus. and I want one so so badly in my neighborhood!

Yeah, me too.

The text was there basically to fool the spam filters, while the email delivered the written advertisment in a graphic that the filters can't "read." But it's beautifully silly, this spider-assembled nonsense. In a comment, I expressed my appreciation of it, and suggested that turning the crazy quilt of words into coherent fiction would make an interesting exercise.

So tonight, while looking for something to write about, I hit on the idea of exploring that idea a bit further. My AOL spam folder had no promising subject lines, just phishing and Nigerian scams and such. So I decided it was time to check my Yahoo email, something I don't do very often at all.

When I signed in, I was offered a beta mail reader, and an animated tutorial, hosted by a little guy who celebated with confetti when I finished. Okay, fine - except that the loading is kind of slow on dial-up, the mouse clicking is rather counterintuitive, and the screen kept jumping a bit. Is that a bug or a feature?

And when I got to the spam folder, most of the headlines toward the top weren't even in an English alphabet. But I had 1666 of them to play with, so I scrolled down. I found these:

headline a devil 6
check out volume
Improve your carreer (sic)
I do for heavenSo I were.
Oxygen from the heart is.
Obesity is dangerous, stop it
Hey, pattern designer
You offend our chief 6
News, ocean-borne
Hi, paper hanging
swift teardop
Entity Now

Well, I'm not going to do anything with these tonight except grin and snicker, but watch this space.

I empied the Bulk folder and went on to the other and in the other 96 emails in the normal in box. Most of them wanted me to buy stock, get a free watch or gift certificate, or enlarge and use a body part I don't have and don't want. Among the spam items the filter missed were these:

what time you thinking
Serious letter. You must to read.
right front [from "is different"]
anything compress photos
motive Loving someone just
house arrest solicitous
finical Schoolgirl so triumph and .

I opened chromosome, and the serious letter. They were disappointing. But there was also this:

Well! Perhaps! He laughed loudly, for since over

Aha! That looks promising. Inside it said,

Well on it things I still a joint ultimatum is, of previous Anacreon a Well (luxury of nuclear weapons they sent me on). The

...but that's all there was to it, other than the graphic advertising drugs or stocks or something.

Still... "of previous Anacreon a Well." There's poetry in that, surely.

Stay tuned. I'll se what I can do with this stuff over the weekend.


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Friday, October 20, 2006

Classic Spooky Music!

Weekend Assignment: We're making a Halloween Music Mix! Suggest a song. The song can be scary, spooky or silly, but it should fit into Halloween somehow. All genres are acceptable; indeed, I'd be very interested to know of a country or samba song that would work. Extra Credit: Are you spooked easily?

You know, I could swear I've written about this before, complete with posted photos of my Haunted Mansion and Buffy Once More With Feeling CDs. But Google says no. AOL Journals search says no. Actually reading titles on the Musings archive pages for 10/05 and 10/04, and looking at any entries that sound as though they might contain what I remember, I still can't find it.

Yes, well, okay, I did find my "Haunted by the Mansion" entry, but that wasn't so much about the music. I don't care. I remember writing about party music involving Disney attraction music and Buffy and Quantum Leap...oh. Okay, that's the problem. It was party music in general, or sf and fantasy party music, not specifically Disney or Halloween. Even if I still haven't found the entry.

So, for the record, I'll just recap the Halloween standards around here before moving on to some other selections:

The Haunted Mansion 30th Anniversary CD. Features the entire Disneyland attraction narration and music and effects, outtakes by Paul Frees and others, a clip from the Florida one, a Vincent Price narration for Phantom Manor, and even a Japanese Ghost Host. But the main drawing card is still that great song, "Grim Grinning Ghosts," with Thurl Ravenscroft as one of the singers.

Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. I don't actually have this on CD, but I used to play the sound effects side of this Disneyland record every year when I was a teenager.

Pirates of the Caribbean CD. Same kind of deal as the Haunted Mansion one. It's not as overtly Halloween, but you gotta love Paul Frees intoning "Dead men tell no tales!" On the CD, several dead men proceed to tell tales in outtakes.

But, as I say, I've already expressed by appreciation for these recordings. Let's change the channel - literally.

The new Frigidaire arrived at 5 PM today.

This afternoon, as I waited for the refrigerator to arrive, I turned our digital cable on to the music channel labeled "Sounds of the Season," and immediately got to hear "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon. 11 hours later, that channel is still on, on its second run through its surprisingly large Halloween playlist. I've heard three different songs by Bobby "Boris" Pickett (two of which are boringly derivative of his one real hit), soundtrack music by John Carpenter, Elvira sounding a little like the funny Julie Brown, "Bewitched" (the tv theme) by Peggy Lee(!), a parody song called "Drac the Knife," two songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, songs by the Ramones, the Cramps, Bing Crosby, Andrew Gold, Michael Jackson ("Thriller," of course) and whatever unknowns someone called Drew recorded on surprisingly decent cover versions of songs for Halloween party CDs. Good stuff, some of it, plus a lot of forgettable stuff, and a few clunkers, such as "Dracula's Theme from Swan Lake," in which a silly, badly acted scenario in a graveyard is combined with Tchaikovsky.

Still, classical music does deserve its rightful place on the Halloween playlist. On the Fantasia soundtrack alone (which I bought on LP back in college, and had to exchange several times due to a bad pressing) has Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the quintessential spooky organ music, plus Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. (Actually, I was reading today that the Fantasia version of Night on Bald Mountain I know was heavily revised by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Leopold Stokowski.)

But my favorite spooky classical piece (albeit less so now than when I was a kid) has always been Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns.(Listen to it here.) It's based on a medieval allegory about dancing skeletal figures from all walks of life - the rich and the poor, the powerful and the peasants - all called by Death. (Hey, these people were dealing with the Plague.) I remember being exposed to this musical masterpiece back in elementary school, and even seeing a cartoon that went with it. But like that blog entry about spooky music, I can't prove that what I remember ever existed. Yes, there's a great Disney cartoon called The Skeleton Dance, the first Silly Symphony ever made. I've even read claims that the music for that was the Danse Macabre, or, at least, that brilliant cartoon composer-arranger Carl Stalling adapted the Saint-Saens for it. But it just doesn't sound like it to me. Ah, well. Next you'll tell me there is no wooden bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland that depicts the Dance of Death on its wooden panels. But there is. I photographed it when I was 15 years old. And no, I don't have the pictures.

Extra Credit: well, I am a little spooked that I can't prove what I remember, and also that it's past 2:30 AM already!


Update: a year later, this entry is getting a lot of hits as people search for info on that Danse Macbre filmstrip and such. And guess what? Someone tracked it down! Please see the comment thread for further info, and thanks for stopping by! - KFB, 10/28/07

One frame of the c. 1965 Danse Macabre filmstrip,
with art by Harold Dexter Hoopes.
I've boosted the colors and adjusted tone to
try to restore the time-faded image.

UPDATE: It's here! It's posted! Hooray! The artwork is great, albeit faded and could use a bit of restoration. Thanks to all! KFB 11/1/10

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Thursday, October 19, 2006


Tonight it's all about the leftovers - leftover pictures, leftover tasks, leftover smells, leftover obligations, leftover blog reading to be done, leftover fatigue from lost sleep.

I've spent most of the evening leaving comments on Round Robin entries - the ones from two weeks ago, that is. I'm almost done with that now, and made a dent in the responding to your current entries. I've also worked late at the office, plowed through about thirty more emails, gone to Wal-Mart (theoretically for a dolly to put the new refrigerator on when it arrives tomorrow, but da guy said that a) it wouldn't work and b) refrigerators come with castors nowadays), helped someone with a minor technical issue, read a little, and found out what the construction crews were working on at Hoover Dam when we drove through there a year or two ago. They were building a huge, almost impossibly difficult suspension bridge, according to the Discovery Channel. I wonder whether they've finished it. I didn't actually watch the show.

Anyway, it's almost 1:30 AM, so I'm calling it a night. Here are some also-rans in last night's photo editing for the Round Robin Photo Challenge, "Very Scary." And be sure to stop by the Round Robin blog to see what the next topic is!

Oh, and the food and the smells? Well, last night I had to clean out the dying refrigerator. John took out the bag I filled with spoiled salad and formerly frozen food; but there's still some odor in the air, darn it. Now I've got to scrub the dead fridge before I go to bed. Good night!


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