Friday, September 30, 2011

Halloween Cinema Fodder

Yay! Paranormal Activity 3 is coming out ten days before Halloween, and I think I’m going to try to convince my buddy to see it with me. (The first Paranormal Activity scared the living daylights out of the wife, so she refuses to watch any sequels.)

Yeah, there’s a kind of been-there-done-that aspect to these movies. But I graded the first one A+ (review here) and the second one B+. Hopefully there’ll be something new. If there is, it’ll get the second derivative into A territory. But even if not, it’ll be better than nine-tenths of the “scary” Hollywood movies out.

Here’s the trailer. It does have a degree of spookiness to it, though what I fear most is that it reveals too much.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Learn About Your Host!

I took one of those Myers-Briggs personality indicator tests the other day. If you have never done this, I highly recommend it - the results have always been eerily accurate. Way back in the early 90s, searching for something to do with my life, I first read about Myers-Briggs and took the test. In the years since, family members, friends, and my wife have taken it, and they all come away astounded.

For more background info on Myers-Briggs, you can see here.

Anyway, I am an INFP.

There's a pretty interesting website out there on the sixteen personality types used by Myers-Briggs (which builds on the work of famous psychologist Carl Jung) called, simply enough, the Personality Page.

Here is their summary of the INFP individual:

The Idealist

As an INFP, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is external, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.

INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves.

INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP's value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life. The goal at the end of the path is always the same - the INFP is driven to help people and make the world a better place.

Generally thoughtful and considerate, INFPs are good listeners and put people at ease. Although they may be reserved in expressing emotion, they have a very deep well of caring and are genuinely interested in understanding people. This sincerity is sensed by others, making the INFP a valued friend and confidante.

An INFP can be quite warm with people he or she knows well.

INFPs do not like conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. If they must face it, they will always approach it from the perspective of their feelings. In conflict situations, INFPs place little importance on who is right and who is wrong. They focus on the way that the conflict makes them feel, and indeed don't really care whether or not they're right. They don't want to feel badly. This trait sometimes makes them appear irrational and illogical in conflict situations. On the other hand, INFPs make very good mediators, and are typically good at solving other people's conflicts, because they intuitively understand people's perspectives and feelings, and genuinely want to help them.

INFPs are flexible and laid-back, until one of their values is violated. In the face of their value system being threatened, INFPs can become aggressive defenders, fighting passionately for their cause. When an INFP has adopted a project or job which they're interested in, it usually becomes a "cause" for them. Although they are not detail-oriented individuals, they will cover every possible detail with determination and vigor when working for their "cause".

When it comes to the mundane details of life maintenance, INFPs are typically completely unaware of such things. They might go for long periods without noticing a stain on the carpet, but carefully and meticulously brush a speck of dust off of their project booklet.

INFPs do not like to deal with hard facts and logic. Their focus on their feelings and the Human Condition makes it difficult for them to deal with impersonal judgment. They don't understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment, which makes them naturally rather ineffective at using it. Most INFPs will avoid impersonal analysis, although some have developed this ability and are able to be quite logical. Under stress, it's not uncommon for INFPs to mis-use hard logic in the heat of anger, throwing out fact after (often inaccurate) fact in an emotional outburst.

INFPs have very high standards and are perfectionists. Consequently, they are usually hard on themselves, and don't give themselves enough credit. INFPs may have problems working on a project in a group, because their standards are likely to be higher than other members' of the group. In group situations, they may have a "control" problem. The INFP needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives.

INFPs are usually talented writers. They may be awkard and uncomfortable with expressing themselves verbally, but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they're feeling on paper. INFPs also appear frequently in social service professions, such as counselling or teaching. They are at their best in situations where they're working towards the public good, and in which they don't need to use hard logic.

INFPs who function in their well-developed sides can accomplish great and wonderful things, which they will rarely give themselves credit for. Some of the great, humanistic catalysts in the world have been INFPs.

Now, my wife, who knows me better than anyone else on the planet, thinks this is about 75 percent me. Me, who knows me better than anyone else knows me, thinks this is about 85 percent me.

In the past, I've always been an INTP. "T" for Thinking rather than "F" for Feeling. That "T" makes me of the type "Scientist" rather than "Idealist," or at least according to those who've written the Personality Page. I think the reason why I've transfered over to INFP from INTP is probably due to the way I've answered some of the more emotionally-charged questions on the test. Over the past two-and-a-half years I've been on quite the roller-coaster, physically, mentally, economically and financially. Existentially, you could say. The dispassionate physicist-wannabe has now been replaced by a man battered and bruised a bit by life, and feeling it (or at least admitting to feeling it on an anonymous online test).

Still though, with the exception of the overtly touchy-feely passages in the quoted paragraphs above, and noting that I generally avoid normal (read: extroverted) sociological interaction, that's a pretty accurate assessment of the traffic that habitually flows between my ears, twenty-four hours a day, sixty minutes an hour, sixty seconds a minute.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


One of the things I fantasize about is what I would do with a gazillion dollars. Let's assume I pay off all my debt, set up my children's education, provide for me and wife's retirement, blahblahblah. What would I spend my time doing?

Most simply, what would give me the maximal joy, would be to research. I'd research, then I would write my conclusions.

Now, I've written before about respectable things I would study, had I the time, money, resources, and brainpower at my disposal. You could read all about that list, here.

This post will focus on the semi-respectable.

By semi-respectable, I'm talking mostly about fringe stuff. Unsolved mysteries stuff. Conspiracy-type stuff. In other words, stuff that held me enthralled from my youngest days exploring the library my mother worked in to now, when Science-with-a-capital-S dewey decimal 500s, or Sci Fi with the little rocket ship on the book spine, wasn't commanding my attention.

Stuff like this ...

What happend to Amelia Earhardt?

What happened to D. B. Cooper?

The myth and lure of Atlantis

Hollow Earth theories (I know, I know)

The Oak Island treasure trap (thanks, Leonard Nimoy)

What was housed at the Library of Alexandria?


The fate of the U.S.S. Scorpion

The decisions behind the A-bomb drop

The Lincoln assassination

The Rosicrucians (this stems from a childhood incident)

Nostradamus (thanks, Orson Welles)

Nikola Tesla and his assorted technological fringenesses

The Philadelphia Experiment

Mimetics and "mind viruses" (and the "Plato Truth Virus")

The Voynich Manuscript

Is there any sense in all that "Ancient Astronaut" stuff?

The legend of the Holy Grail

The Shroud of Turin

The Son of Sam / Jonestown / Three Mile Island / Love Canal / and/or other things that scared the heck outta me as a little kid

So many dots to connect, so little time!

Those of you who stop by here regularly know I like to read a book about the JFK assassination every November. I usually alternate between lone nut and conspiracy theory books each year. But I just realized something this past weekend. I skimmed through a book on "great mysteries of the 20th century" while watching the games last Sunday. The obligatory JFK stuff kinda bored me this time around. There was a 40-page chapter on Hoffa, but that made me feel somewhat dirty. So this November I'm seriously thinking about edumacating myself on something else a bit more fringe-y. Something that could very well be true ... and still raise the hair on my arms.

I'll let you know what it is, once I figure out what it is.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roswell and Other Visitations

Saturday afternoon, post-soccer game and post-pizza celebration, Little One and I are driving to one of my local libraries. After discussion over a variety of topics, we turn, inevitably, to spooky tales of the paranormal and / or Unexplained.

I regale her with the fortieth or forty-fifth telling of the scariest moment of my childhood: when I mistook Grammy, taking out the trash, for a Sasquatch. Despite her bout of giggles, she is a tough crowd. Less than a minute later she is demanding more. More spookiness, more paranormal, and more Unexplained.

So I decide she's old enough to learn some American mythology. I start with Roswell.

"There are some people who say," I began in a conspiratorial drawl, "that a spacecraft from another world crash-landed on our planet in 1947."

She's hooked.

"One dark stormy night in July a flying saucer crashed in New Mexico. The army came out and gathered up all the wreckage, and trucked it all back to one of their secret military bases."

Wide eyes in my rear view mirror.

"But a crashed flying saucer isn't the only thing they found."


"No." I pause for suspense.

"Well, what else did they find?"

"They found bodies. Alien bodies. Three of them. Two dead on the scene, but one alien ... he was still alive when the army found him."

I tell her that the creature lived for another five years, hidden away in an underground government bunker. Then I tell her that this started a whole wave of UFO sightings, over the next twenty years or so, so much so that the government started a special program called Project Blue Book to investigate all the UFO sightings and UFO encounters people were reporting all over America. Hundreds and thousands of reports of flying saucers - some by multiple witnesses, some with accompanying photographs, some with actual film footage.

After a moment, Little One suprises me, as she often does, with an insight way beyond her years. "I know why there were so many sightings," she announces.

"Oh yeah? Why's that?"

"Because they were looking for their friends. The three aliens that had crashed."

Wow! Tell me Little One isn't going to be a writer when she grows up ...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reread Retread

I appreciate a good re-read.

Over the lifetime of this blog, I've reread a whole score of books. Mostly SF stuff I read as a kid, stuff that either moved me and influenced me in some small way (Killerbowl) or some great way (The Lord of the Rings) or stuff that just floated my way via fate (The Black Hole).

Currently I just started re-reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I first read it as a pagan, way back in college nearly thirty years ago, so a lot of the medieval scholastic philosophy and history went over my head. I'd sneak away to the campus library, open until 1 am or so, primarily to escape beer-free communication with my floormates. And I would stay until 12:45 or so not studying my course notes but reading this strange tale of monastery murders.

On deck (meaning, on the shelf behind me as I write this) I have three other books I plan on re-reading. The first is Voorloper, an illustrated SF novel I recall reading at about age 12 but nothing else. Found it for a buck somewhere. There's also Roger Zelazny's award-winning what-if epic Lord of Light, something that gave me a dozen hours of enjoyment and escapism a decade back. Finally, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness beckons. That one I read back in the late 80s, but I read it in such a rush anticipating a childish, Apocalypse Now climax that I missed what the entire story was about.

I'm a listaholic, and I actually have a list of Future Re-Reads. Would you indulge me?

- Watership Down. Richard Adams' classic rabbit tale. Read twice so far, in 1978 and 1988.

- The Bicentennial Man, Nine Tomorrows, and I, Robot. Asimov's classic collections of short stories, of both the mechanoid and non-mechanoid type.

- Roller Ball Murder. Bunch of short stories, of which the 1975 SF flick is based on the first. Don't remember a single one of them, though I do remember I was slightly disappointed with that first story. But I was like ten, so, I'd like a crack at them again.

- Time for the Stars. Heinlein's classic, one I read one winter at my Grandma's house in western New York. Loved every page, especially on that four-hour drive home, but I don't remember a single detail about the plot.

- Planet of Death. Remember reading this delightful Silverberg tale in my town's library when I was a wee little one. Maybe one of the first SF novels I ever read. Wanna check it out again.

- Disposable People. My first plague story! Read way before King's The Stand, Crichton's Andromenda Strain, and the handful of Robin Cooks I read in the 90s. There's a vivid scene where the effects of the disease are described - something moves in the victim's wound! - that I've never, ever forgotten.

- Brave New World. Cuz we're mostly heading in that direction than an Orwellian 1984 direction.

- The Time-Swept City. Dystopic short stories that depressed me in college. I'm curious to see whether they'll depress me out of college.

- The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills. Okay. I had to read 'em for high school, maybe you did too. Merlin, backstory of the Arthurian legends. Point is, I enjoyed them way back then, and I still think about the handful of scenes I remember. If that's not a reason to re-read a book, what is?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

He's Got My Vote

I love him! Navy veteran. Self-made man. Successful CEO. Cancer survivor. When I learned, way back in May, he had a degree in mathematics, I was convinced.

I watched the Republican debate last Thursday, and of all the candidates, my gut tells me only Herman Cain can utterly and effectively destroy and deconstruct Obama in a debate. As CEO of Godfathers Pizza he's created more jobs than the amateur president's wildest dream spins. And he effectively handcuffs the Obama Machine's use of the Race Card to deflect criticism of the God King.

Did I mention I love him?

Well, we'll see how it all plays out. I've heard it mentioned from several sources that this time four years ago the top two Republican contenders were named Giuliani and Thompson. Regardless of who wins the GOP nomination, I'll vote for him (or her) in a heartbeat over this ideological failure we currently have steering us right into the rocks.

Viva la revolucion! Be part of the counter-culture! Vote for Cain - not more of the same!

(Now, no more politics for a couple of weeks - I promise!)

Saturday, September 24, 2011


... is good for the soul.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bond 23

About two years ago I posted some thoughts at length on how to resurrect the James Bond franchise. In fact, I wrote up a ten-point plan for making the next Bond movie – the 23rd by canon count – a solid box office smash. Soon after, I posted a list of outside-the-box supervillains that would spark genuine interest and excitement, in direct contradistinction to the bland euroweenies the producers currently favor as 007 foes.

It seems, perhaps, the powers that be are paralleling some of my ideas. There are hints that the Bond 23 villain will be … Blofeld.


May I make another suggestion though?

To update Blofeld, to make him a real, true bad@ss, there’s one person you need to cast in the role.


Think about it. First off, he’s bald. Check. That’s all you really need to establish the connection to the Donald Pleasance Blofeld. But the newer model has to be a 21st-century magalomaniac. Seal’s got that look: the facial scars, the musculature to combat Bond one-on-one, and the studio wouldn’t even need to hire a wardrobe department to fit him out in bad@ass clothing. Plus, it’s been something near to forty years since Bond has faced off against a black supervillain.

And while I was thinking about this, I came up with two more scenarios worthy of a megalomaniacal genius bent on global domination.

Have him create some esoteric belief system – a “mind virus” – that converts the listener into suicidal, crazed, over-devoted semi-automatons. Now, it sounds crude spat out into that sentence, but I think it could be done without hokiness or Anton Mesmer-like tricks or 1950s spinning sci-fi devices. Kinda like Heinlein’s Puppet Masters without the slimy slugs. Or maybe throw something slimy in. Handled delicately, in the loving arms of a capable screenwriter and director, without revealing too much too soon, it could be a great ticking time-bomb for Bond to diffuse.

Keeping with the SF theme, why not have reports of super-stealth objects shooting down our aircraft and maneuvering about at impossible speeds. Gradually it’s revealed Blofeld’s behind it all, and gradually it’s revealed he’s responsible for a years-earlier raid on … Area 51! Now, you don’t have to show ETs and you don’t have to go too overboard with the conspiracy theory, nor show too much of the flying saucers our evil genius has reverse engineered. It’s a MacGuffin. But it will intrigue audiences with something unexpected, hopefully in an unexpectedly cool way.

So, producers of Bond 23, consider this, my gift to you, as a fan of old-school Bond!

Your father’s Blofeld:

Your Blofeld!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Got me an interview later this morning, so I spent the last day prepping for it. Plus taking care of other unimportant but essential (or is that important but non-essential?) tasks and chores.

Lotsa stuff on deck, just none of it finished yet.

Check back to-morrow for regularly scheduled programming!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Priest (Movie Review)

Okay, first things first. I knew about this film before going in. Second thing next, not a single penny of my hard-earned income went to the makers of this travesty.

For those who may not know, this is a [yawn] vampire flick. The protagonist is a Catholic priest who wields knives, guns, and razor-sharp disk thingies, each a cross between a … uh … cross and a Chinese throwing star. He knows Hollywood jujitsu, which enables him to defy gravity, to be impervious to inertia and wind resistance, and to shrug off falls that would break leg and arm bones of lesser, non-Hollywood mortals like you and I.

My buddy rented Priest from Netflix. When I told the wife I was going to see it with him, she gasped, aware of my sensitivities toward any blasphemy of the faith of my youth, the faith that truly, deeply sustains me through hard times now. But I laughed it off. I looked toward the evening as a combination of getting outta the house to hang with a pal and watch some real bad cheese.

It was real, bad cheese.

I won’t go into the plot. I’ve seen it before, in different movies. The set-up was ho-hum, riddled with clichés. The scares were of the superloud interruptory kind. In other words, cheap and easy, more “jolts” than “scares.” The bad guy was extremely disappointing and overwhelmingly underwhelming. Just a typical Hollywood bad guy. Note: a big black coat does not a bad guy make. Just sayin’.

To be diplomatic, there were a couple of things I liked. And by couple, I mean “two.” First, the backgrounds struck me for some reason. The cities were Blade Runner-esque, the deserts gray-washed. I liked the hundred-foot stone sculpture-towers and the giant crevasses left over from some unimaginable apocalypse. Second, the movie was short, mercifully short. An even eighty minutes, if you could believe the time on my buddy’s DVD player.

As for blasphemy, well, it’s there if you look for it. A message repeated at least five or six times (by characters and background voices) is: “If you disobey the Church, you disobey God.” Or something like that; blessedly my memory of the dialogue is fading fast. The Confessional is rendered a mind-control device you might find in North Korea. “Monsignors” are black-robed judgmentally eeeeevil figures. There is a preponderance of Catholic symbols throughout the film, but absolutely no Grace.

The vampires [yawn] are exceptionally disgusting in slimy ways. Not good slimy, like, say, Aliens, just repulsive slimy, like seeing two slugs doin’ it in your garden. And these vampires move blurringly fast like the Tasmanian Devil from old Bugs Bunny cartoons. [yawn]

Now, I know I’m not the target audience for this piece of crap. I’m about three decades beyond it. But I do enjoy a good SF flick as well as a good horror flick, and I could have appreciated Priest if it was just done with any degree of competence.

For example, since the flick is set in an alternative reality, why the digs at Christianity? Why not create a completely original man-made creed to fight the vampires? Frank Herbert of Dune fame would have done so and indeed did do similar things. Any why vampires? The producers obviously selected them for the current hipness factor, but these bloodsuckers are more Aliens than Twilight. Make the vampires some new breed of monster. Rethink the premise of the film, and you’d have a better film.

I give it a D-minus. Would’ve flunked it, but I had a good time hanging out with my friend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Hands-down funniest thing I’ve seen on the Internet in a long, long time.

Especially funny if you’re an old-school Star Wars aficionado. Like me, sorta.

Turn up the volume, follow the links and laugh. I still am.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Divisible by 4 and 8

How do you know if a very large number is evenly divisible by 4?


The last two digits of the very large number must be divisible by 4. If so, the entire number is evenly divisible by 4.

Let’s look at an example. Oh, say,


That’s evenly divisible by 4 because 48 is evenly divisible by 4. That’s all you need to know. (The full answer is 1,294,462.)


Here’s the rationale. The next place to the left from 48 in that original number is the hundreds tally. The 8 is the ones place, and the 4 is the tens place, and, in this case, the original number has 8 hundreds. A hundred is always evenly divisible by 4, and, ergo, any multiple of a hundred is evenly divisible by 4.

How do you know if a very large number is evenly divisible by 8?

By the same reckoning you can figure this out. Now, a hundred isn’t evenly divisible by 8, but a thousand is. 1,000 divided by 8 is 125. So, any multiple of 1,000 is evenly divisible by 8. All you need to worry about is the last three digits in your very large number.

In the case of our example above, 848 is evenly divisible by 8 (the answer’s 106). Aiiiiirggggo, the example is completely evenly divisible by 8. (That answer is 647,231.)


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ride On

Best guitar solo ever ... by an eighteen-year-old kid.

(begins at 3:40. N.B. Bon Scott's vocals have never failed to raise goosebumps on my arms for the past 25 years or so...)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rack of Ribs

So me and the Little One are at the grocery store, doing some last minute shopping. We’re at the meat counter and I’m examing some one-pound lean chop meat packages for Taco Night when my daughter hauls a big rack of ribs up over her head to show me.

“Daddy, is this a rib?”

“It’s called a rack of ribs. It’s a whole side of ribs.” I select some 93-percent ground meat and head off to another aisle, expecting her to follow me.

She drops the ribs, asking, “Do people eat this?”


“Is this an animal?”

Uh-oh. She’s just recently learned – or at least realized – that humans eat animals. That chicken she held at the petting zoo last week could be related to the rotisserie chicken we ate as a family last night. Hamburgers come from cows. Her beloved turkey and cheese sandwiches contains meat from, well, Tom the Turkey.

“Yes, sweetie. We eat animals, but only very old animals who have lived long lives.” My standard white lie for her sensitive psyche.

No more questions as we pick up a few more items: some soda (gotta have soda with tacos), milk and cereal for tomorrow morning, a trio of tissue boxes as we’re all still a bit under the weather. Finally, heading to the check-out, Little One blurts out:

“I know what that animals was!” She’s still focused on the rack of ribs.

“What, honey?” And I’m still distracted, trying to remember what items I’ve forgotten.

“A lion!”

For a second nothing registers, then I come out of my reverie. I give her a reassuring hug. “No, my dear. We don’t eat lions. The word you saw on that package of ribs was LOIN. L – O – I – N. Lion is spelled L – I – O – N. Loin is another word for meat.”

“Oh!” she gushes, a little embarrassed. “Sometimes I get me OIs and my IOs confused.”

I tussle her hair and we get on line to pay for the food, both of us chuckling.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Super Biz-Zay

Just a quick update, all I have time for.

Looking for work again. Back on that merry-go-round, but this time I have a new-found passion to find dignified, meaningful work. Especially after three months of the exact opposite. Up to day three of my job search, I’ve applied to six online postings, mailed out three resumes and introductory letters to decent leads in my industry, spoke with two headhunters and visited one in the Big Apple. Updated the resume and reference list and made a whole bunch o’ copies at Staples. More planned next week.

This weekend is a mess of activity. Tonight’s Patch’s birthday, tomorrow’s mine. Saturday is bills, soccer, errands, cleaning up the house. My in-laws are flying in on their return flight from their Italian vacation. They’ll be in for a day, taking me and mine out for dinner Saturday night. Sunday brings CCD, more errands, and, finally, Patch’s family birthday party at our house in the afternoon.

Very tired. Been reading a very inspirational book that was big in the 1930s, I Dare You. Go ahead, google it. I dare you. A lot of it’s sinking in, which is why I’m not in my outta-work funk. Very motivated, but very, very fatigued. The book addresses that, too.

This all being said, I do have some witty-funny-cool posts (at least to my ears) on deck. Keep coming back as I’ll keep posting every day, no matter how super biz-zay I get.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Handyman Jack

Don’t know why I entitled this post “Handyman Jack” except that “Jack” sounds like a manly handyman’s type of name.

Anyway, here’s proof I do know how to do some handy stuff.

Exhibit A:

The power-washed backyard deck.

Exhibit B:

The redwood-stained backyard deck.

Exhibit C:

Handyman Jack runs a child labor ring!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Unbreakable Glass

The day of defending your present possessions is gone. From now on you are not going to worry about holding your job. Put the worry on the fellow above you holding his. From this day onward wrong things are put on the defense. You have marshaled right things for the attack. Your eyes are turned toward your strength, not your weakness. Henceforth you will wake in the morning thinking of ways to do things, rather than reasons why they can’t be done.

When Henry Ford wanted to get an unbreakable glass for his new models he wouldn’t see any of the experts. They knew too many reasons why it couldn’t be done. “Bring me eager young fellows who do not know the reasons why unbreakable glass cannot be made. Give this problem to ambitious young fellows who think nothing is impossible.” He got unbreakable glass.

- from I Dare You, by William H. Danforth, December 1985 edition, pgs 22-23.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apollo 18

[minor spoilers]

Okay – right after me and my pal saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes we decided to sneak in to see Apollo 18. Now, I haven’t snuck in to a movie in almost thirty years, so that in itself was comical. And something to mention next time I’m in Confession. Chalk it up to peer pressure. Normally I’d feel guilty about depriving the producer and director some well-deserved royalties from my ticket price.

Not this time.

Since seeing the trailer for Apollo 18 over the summer I’d been mildly interested in seeing the flick. Kind of a haunted-house-in-space theme, or in this case, on the moon during the lunar landing era. Perhaps moreso than the premise itself, I was curious to see how the premise was executed.

Verdict on that: not so good.

I was really, really impressed with the movie Paranormal Activity, as you may have read, here. To a lesser extent, it’s sequel, too. Evolved from such predecessors as The Blair Witch Project and Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, these faux documentaries are usually exponentially scarier than typical, plot-plodding Hollywood horrorfests.

Apollo 18 is built right out of that fabric. This time it’s “recently discovered footage” of the “top secret Apollo 18 mission” to the moon, uploaded onto some conspiracy website. Okay. I’ll buy into it and suspend belief for ninety minutes. [Considering 99 percent of the public doesn’t know that Apollo 17 in 1972 was the last lunar mission, is it any wonder NASA apparently had to release a press statement disavowing the movie?]

However, the whole thing just didn’t work somehow. Driving home and pondering the movie, I realized that the story just plain didn’t make any logical sense. The whole reason behind the mission was stupid, the “cover-up” was stupid, the “aliens” were stupid. The whole movie hinges on a couple of WHAM! scares – something creeping about in the background of a shot (hello, Paranormal Activity), something crawling in an astronaut’s suit, something dead on the moon that shouldn’t be there.

There were a few things I enjoyed about it, though. The opening ten or fifteen minutes of can-do Apollo spacecraft and astronauts never fails to bring shivers of pride up and down my arm. And the Russian spacecraft looked very, very cool, too; props to the filmmakers for envisioning what the Soviet manned program might have developed.

Overall, though, the movie stunk. Chatting with my buddy on the way out I graded it a D, and I see no reason to upgrade it a week later.

Monday, September 12, 2011


On a much, much lighter note, I think I've just discovered a few simple ways to always remember a simple piece of historical geographical trivia. You may never had to answer this question before, but if you have little ones about, or had them, you probably will if you haven't already. I myself have had this question posed to me twice, and both times I had to bluff my way on to another subject.

The trivia? Alaska and Hawaii are the last two states, both entering the Union in 1959. Which was the 49th and which was the 50th?

Seems there are three ways to never forget the order of their statehood.

First, the longest, most roundaboutest way.

You may recall the great gold rush in the middle 19th century. Thousands of young men went west in search of gold, gold that was discovered in them thar hills of California. Happens to be the year was 1849, and those prospectors became known as "49ers." There's an NFL team that bears that name, too. You may also remember that gold was later discovered in the Yukon, prompting a second gold rush up to the northern territory known as Alaska. So, by remembering gold in the Yukon and the 49ers from the previous gold rush, you can remember that Alaska is the 49th state.

Complicated, huh? Especially if history's not your thing. Okay, I get it. Let's turn to pop culture.

Remember the old police show Hawaii 5-0? It's been remade the past season (or two?) and my wife likes to watch it, and I watch it with her every now and then to nitpick it. Anyway, this show simplifies matters so much that you should never, ever forget which state was the fiftieth. Hawaii, the 5-0th state.

Finally, I realized that the order of statehood for these two exactly coincides with their alphabetical order. That's probably the simplest way to remember 49 and 50.

There! Bring on the little ones and their little books of States and Capitals! Daddy's ready for that pesky little question.

Of course, I may be forty years too late to this discussion. It's possible. Even probable. If so, I don't mind. These dopey little musings brought a smile to my face yesterday afternoon while I was suffering through the Giants game.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9 / 11 / 11

The first and only thought that’s been going through my mind last night and today:

Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God: believe also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself: that where I am, you also may be. And whither I go you know: and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him: “Lord, we know not whither You go. And how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father, but by Me.”

- the Gospel of St. John, chapter 14, verses 1 to 6

. . .

* There is Evil in this world
* Good will ultimately triumph over Evil
* Evil will ultimately be punished
* Those on the side of Good will rise one day with Christ

That’s all you really need to know. The question is one of internalizing it and truly believing in it.

. . .

Non turbetur cor vestrum. Creditis in Deum, et in me credite. In domo Patris mei mansiones multae sunt; si quominus dixissem vobis : quia vado parare vobis locum. Et si abiero, et praeparavero vobis locum, iterum venio, et accipiam vos ad meipsum : ut ubi sum ego, et vos sitis. Et quo ego vado scitis, et viam scitis. Dicit ei Thomas : Domine, nescimus quo vadis : et quomodo possumus viam scire? Dicit ei Jesus : Ego sum via, et veritas, et vita. Nemo venit ad Patrem, nisi per me.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Grammer of Macbeth

About a dozen years ago, just before I won that trifecta called marriage, house, and children, the wife and I - excuse my, my girlfriend-slash-fiance and I - would venture into NYC with another couple every year to see an off-Broadway play. Then we'd eat and drink at a fine-dining establishment and have a grand old time, a money-no-object type of time.

We did this three years in a row. First year we saw Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh. Good, if a bit longish and verbose. Good enough to inspire me to borrow and read O'Neill's play. Next year we saw Quentin Tarantino and Marisa Tomei in Wait Until Dark. Kinda corny but fast-paced and loaded with more than a few genuine scares.

The third year we saw my one and only Shakespearean play: Macbeth.

Starring Kelsey Grammer in the title role.

I am unqualified to make any critical judgments here, other than as a Shakespearean newbie accessing a decade-old memory. But I will tell you what my gut is telling me: somehow it didn't work. Too lazy to research reviews from the time period, but I don't think they were glowing.

Still, I give Frasier credit for tackling the role.

Why don't I think it worked?

Well, most of all, it was trying to be "modern," I suppose, "modern" meaning "edgy" and "avant garde." I'd prefer something more traditional, something closer to the way Shakespeare staged it. But I was seeing it in New York City and not the Globe Theatre in London, so that's to be expected.

Here's what I remember most. The stage was completely black. The curtains were black. Everyone (except Lady Macbeth, who wore a white nightgown) was costumed in a drab, black uniform. There were two ladders on either side of the rear stage, both leading up to a horizontal ladder connecting the two. It looked a lot like a depressing playground where Dieter from SNL's Sprockets might bring his children.

This was the first Shakespeare in fifteen years for me, since my high school class plodded through Romeo and Juliet. What surprised me - what really, truly surprised me - was how foreign the whole thing sounded to my unschooled ear. English four centuries old could have been Sanskrit or Mandarin Chinese for all I knew. I caught every tenth word and lost myself puzzling out a phrase while the fast-spoken dialogue raced lines ahead of me. The only way I knew what was going on was to "read between the lines" observing the characters' actions.

Grammer himself threw himself into the role, but, you know, all I could see was Dr. Frazier Crane. I give anyone who can memorize and perform a thousand lines of spoken dialogue super-props. However, he was a little on the paunchy side in a too-tight black uniform, so convincing as a Scottish warlord he was not.

I was aware of the whole Lady Macbeth-guilty conscience theme, but the actress just seemed a tad too histrionic for my tastes. I was like, come on, Lady, get to the knifing scene already.

The length was not too bad (lines must have been cut from the play to keep it at about three hours). My wife had to suffer, though. Some corpulent bozo behind her decided to noisily suck on a bag of cough drops, one after the other, all through those 180 minutes. But she came out okay. A stage-door hound, she managed to have Mr. Grammer autograph her Playbill (as did Mr. Spacey two years prior).

Thinking about this all in depth for the first time in a decade, I'd grade the experience a solid-C. Still, that being said, I would not mind seeing either Macbeth again (preferably in a more traditional staging) or Kelsey Grammer tackling another Shakespearean role.

How's that for an open mind?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bunnies Fight Back

Exhibit A: see that little feller over there on the left, just below my pasty mugshot?

Exhibit B: see here.

Again, that’s –

Tic … tac … toe

Gimme an X … Gimme an O

Gimme three in a row …

Bunny got shot by a U. F. O.!

Now, my question is –

What happens when the bunnies fight back???

[Cue The Who ...]

We’re not gonna take it!
We’re not gonna take it!
We’re not gonna take it!
We’re not gonna take it!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Alien Way

(c) 1965, by Gordon R. Dickson

I really enjoy reading these types of books. But I don't read them often. After some reflection, I've come to an unsettling conclusion: they belong to the open-ended set of books that makes me mentally flail my hands about and scream at the sky, "How can I ever write like this?"

"Like this" doesn't mean a style of writing. It means a subject. This subject's a surprisingly niche one when it comes to science fiction. Surprisingly niche because it's not done as much as you think (or as I'd have thought). Surprisingly niche because when it is done, it has to be done full engines ahead. Nothing held back, nothing held in reserve. The writer's gotta give it all he's got.

"It" is the bringing of an alien culture to life.

"It's" not an easy thing to do. I could probably count on one hand (maybe, maybe two) the books I've read where this was done masterfully. Off the top of my head, the earliest exploration into an alien way of life would have to be Asimov's The Gods Themselves. This past decade I've read a couple of Philip Jose Farmer and Hal Clement works where life was similarly breathed into an extraterrestrial culture.

I would put Gordon Dickson's The Alien Way into that illustrious class.

The aliens here are the Ruml. Best envisioned as anthropomorphized bears, theirs is a society whose morality initially seems perpendicular to ours. Well, even after initial delvings Ruml ethics make us flinch. But Dickson provides a rationale that intellectually we can understand, if not emotionally. Wanna know what it is?

Read the book.

If not, here's the SPOILER: Ruml society is built on the concept of Honor the way our society is built on the individual love of a parent for his or her child. Exactly the same, but coming from different roots and having very different consequences. One of these, which I still don't understand despite spending a few minutes meditating upon it, is that the Ruml act logically where we act emotionally, and vice versa. Dickson's characters spout it and believe it, and that's enough for me, I guess.

How do we come to know the Ruml? Here the novel's science is a little sketchy, though the science fiction is marvelous. In some indeterminate future (I got the impression of a black-and-white 1950s Washington DC teleported a century ahead), we send out decoy or bait ships towards star most likely to have civilizations amongst their orbiting worlds. Extraterrestrial scout ships investigate the decoy, and virus-like entities enable us to live vicariously through those that take the bait.

In The Alien Way, the ensared is Kator Brutogasi, a young Ruml with a severe Napoleonic complex. Indeed, as discoverer of the decoy ship (quickly determined by alien scientists to have originated from Earth), he has dibs on conquering our humble planet. Moving up the food chain expertly navigating the Honor code of his species, Kator soon becomes a very dire threat to our way of life. It's up to the lone human contact, linked mentally to this warrior, to save mankind from both the Ruml and mankind itself.

It worked. There was a great climax, followed by a very satisfactory denouement twenty pages later. A twofer! All the lose ends were tied up and, yes, I felt a pang of sadness knowing I would spend no further time with my vicious furry Ruml friend.

Grade: A-minus.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011



Forgive the brevity of this post, but a quick update:

I’m trying to untangle a Gordian knot.

This knot involves about three-quarters of my life. My work, my finances, my psychological and physical health, my short- as well as long-term future.

Like most Gordian knots, you can examine it all you want from various angles. Read books about it, how it was formed, the man who formed it. Read about men who’ve tried to untangle Gordian knots similar to yours. But the Gordian knot will remain knotted until you actually grab it with both your hands and begin the process of deconstructing it.

That’s what I’m doing tonight.

Better stuff tomorrow, lots on deck. Do me a favor and check back, okay?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

So, after much indecision, I finally went with my friend to the movies over the weekend to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much going in. Well, that's not exactly true. I was expecting a bad story, some bad acting, and plenty of cheesy bad special effects.

It turns out I was wrong. Quite wrong.

I loved this flick!

Once I got over my initial suspension of belief watching James Franco portray a brilliant genetic bioengineer, the movie drew me in. Totally, completely, thoroughly, wholly and entirely. The story seemed more than plausible - if you forgive a plot hole or two. And the apes - CGI but based on the yogic movements of Andy Serkis (he who gave life to the recent computerized creations known as Gollum and Kong) - were without doubt totally, thoroughly, and entirely believable. They display an otherworldly quality - not quite CGI, but not quite from-our-world, either.

In fact, the lead monkey, Caesar, was incredibly fascinating. What an emotional palette Serkis and the computer wizards working on the film were able to draw out. Fear, uncertainty, indignation, homesickness, love - and anger - all on display in the fine movements of his eyes or the lines around his mouth. An intelligent monkey is indeed a dangerous thing.

As most brilliant genetic bioengineers do in Hollywood movies, Franco is researching a cure for Alzheimer's (cf. Deep Blue Sea) by experimenting with his special drug on animals. His beloved father is living lost as a victim of this terrible disease, and through a couple of not-completely-ethical decisions Franco is able to resuscitate him - and save a young chimp also on the drug. A few years pass as young simian Caesar grows up and into trouble.

Legal repercussions ensue and Caesar is sent to a monkey sanctuary. Initially intimidated, he quickly discovers his intelligence can give him the edge and before long he's top monkey in the cage. This happens and that happens, some more of this and some more of that, and before you know it, monkeys are singing Revolution Number Nine.

The hundred-five minutes will speed by, especially as you're on the edge of your seat for a good deal of it.

I was also highly appreciative that the producers decided to forgo the gore. There were a couple of scenes where they could have gone in this direction (hello! we do spend a lot of time in a biological engineering laboratory), and other, lesser filmmakers would have, but they chose not to, and the movie does not suffer. Come to think of it, there's more ape-on-ape violence than man-monkey, but nothing that's too violent for the squeamish.

If you rent it (which I recommend once it's out), be sure to watch past the ending credits, where you'll find out exactly how the Planet of the Apes rises.

Also, there are two clues for the discerning viewer where the sequel will be coming from. See if you can pick them out; they flash by pretty quickly on the screen.

So, I liked it. I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes a solid A. Good movie, surprisingly so.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Made of Different Wood

“A poet understands that the mast of a ship, a gallows and a cross are made of different wood. He understands the difference between a stone from the wall of a church and a stone from the wall of a prison … this poetical understanding of the world should be developed, strengthened and fortified, because only through it do we come into touch with the truly real world. And in the real world, behind phenomena which seem to us the same, there are often concealed noumena so different that only our blindness can account for our idea of the similarity of these phenomena.”

- P. D. Ouspensky, Tertium Organum, chapter 14.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Just spent four hours power-washing my back deck. Then I power-washed my back deck furniture. And then I power-washed the brick walkway on the side of my house. And for an encore, I power-washed my cement front steps.

You know what? I enjoyed it.

Now, I don't have a blue collar bone in my body. I don't say that in a snobby way; it's embarrassing to constantly have to ask my buddies or my brother or my stepfather to help me out with simple household repairs and maintenance. In fact, the power-washer nearly brought me to tears on two separate occasions: the two separate occasions I attempted to put it together and get it operational.

Finally, early this afternoon, I was able to apply a simple piece of common sense to the power-washer and was able to get it working. Four hours later, I sit here typing this, enjoying a well-deserved beer, exhausted.

One thing I don't like about it is that you have to hold the trigger for the gun nozzle in all the time you're using it. It's a safety device, I get it. But man is the lower part of my right hand, from my thumb to my wrist, throbbing sore. I don't think I'll be able to hold a pen tomorrow.

So, if I disappear one day with what little money is in my checking account, have the detectives search southern California and focus specifically on power-washing companies. There you might find me, with the name "Kunu" on my driver's license, making a modest living power-washing decks, foundations, and brick stepping-stones, working on my tan and enjoying the fresh air.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Nature's Soft Nurse

How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lulled with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common larum bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the shipboy's eyes and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafing clamor in the slippery clouds
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And, in the calmest and most stillest night,
WIth all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

- Henry IV part II, Act 3, Scene 1, 4-31

I love nothing more so than a sound night's sleep. Thursday night Patch, affrighted by a bad dream, awoke us at 1:30, a recurring nightmare (which recurred a half-hour later), and I was up. It might be psychological, it might be physical based in my biochemistry, but I knew I'd be up. I tossed and turned for forty-five minutes, then went downstairs to the couch. There I had the patience for only thirty minutes' tossing. Then I went down another flight to the basement, to the writing office, and surfed the web for three hours. Back upstairs to the couch and - wouldn't ya know it? - I fell asleep twenty minutes before the wife gets up and into the shower.

Add to that six hours sleep the previous night, five hours the two nights before that, and, well, I am at wit's end. Though I be not a king, I sympathize greatly with Henry's abovementioned plight. You could have a kingdom and a million pounds, and despise it all without good night sleep. Converse holds true, too: the sleep of my daughters - free of visions of ghosts and vampires, that is - brings home ever so true the value of nature's soft nurse.

Lots of sleep in my forecast for this holiday weekend. And I wish plenty for you, too.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Killer Thing

by Kate Wilhelm

Captain Tracy has a problem: A ten-foot-tall, laser-wielding, clawed-waldoed, tank-treaded mechanical machine that only knows one thing: self-preservation. And in its quest for self-preservation, this coldly logical robot has marked all mankind as its enemy.

The real problem is, though, that Tracy is more-or-less marooned on an unpopulated and unforgiving desert world, injured, delirious, running out of food and fresh water, with the voices of dead friends and lovers to keep him company. All while narrowly keeping a few miles ahead of the nonstop killer thing. Kill-or-be-killed. Cat-and-mouse. Man-and-murderous machine.

This simple premise fleshes out in three dimensions as the novel unfolds. I liked it more and more as I read it. The first chapter set the setting, and I thought: Okay, let’s see where this goes. It continued and became a little tedious, and I then thought: Hmm. How much effort do I want to put into this?

Then, quite inexplicably and quite enjoyably, the universe Captain Tracy and the killer thing inhabit expands at Guthian speeds. Through a half-dozen or so chapter-length vignettes we learn the backgrounds of our pair of killer things: Tracy and the robot. The wheres and the whys and the whos and hows are methodically filled in for us, rewarding the expectant reader.

There is an undercurrent of pessimism or maybe cynicism, at least in the background, and even though the book was written in 1967, I got a full frontal Vietnam metaphor early-on. You know, Americans bad, indigenous jungle-dwellers good, industrialization bad, bamboo radios good. But it kept in the background and did not become overtly obnoxious in a James Cameron sort of way. Midway through I actually felt it helped a bit, giving our hero Trace a touch of the anti-hero, as he never really “reforms” his ways by becoming disloyal to his planet-country-warrior brotherhood.

No, there’s nothing worldshattering or goosebump-inducing in the novel. But it is a good li’l adventure story set in an intriguing future.

I liked The Killer Thing a fast, lean, mean, macho read writ by a chick. I give it a solid B.

PS – Kate Wilhelm also co-wrote one of my fondly-remembered reads as a kid – The Year of the Cloud, reviewed here a coupla months ago. Plus she was part of the whole Milford PA science fiction writers writing group in the 50s and 60s.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Token and Sign

Psalm 86, verse 17, King James version:

Show me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast helped me, and comforted me.

Psalm 86, verse 17, New American Bible version:

Give me a sign of your favor: make my enemies see, to their confusion, that you, LORD, help and comfort me.

Means the same thing, essentially, though how much more poetic, noble, and majestic is the former against the latter!

A verse I've been thinking about a lot, lately ...