Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Best-Ofs!

The Sixth Anniversary Best-Ofs, where your host, Hopper, bloviates, expounds, pronounces, and passive-aggressively entices you to experience what he experienced as the “Best Ofs” read, watched, listened to, and done in the year 2017.


First, a note. I am a bibliophile. As such, I read a lot. A lot. My record of complete, cover-to-cover books read occurred in 2014, where I put away 60. This year I only made it through 45, due mainly to the length of the books I chose to read and in part to the fact that doing tax returns January through April put a kink in my reading life. No matter. I put away some great stuff. A good variety of stuff. More SF than usual. Some World War II and Civil War. Some baseball, some Zen, and some baseball Zen. A summer beginning with an examination of string physics and ending with an examination of the travesty known as Vatican II – a neat Science / Religion dichotomy.

Anyway, without any further ado, the 2017 Best-Ofs!

[Cue applause and swirling spotlights]

Best Read:

Fiction = Downward to the Earth (runners-up = Nightwings, Tom O’Bedlam)

Went through an immensely rewarding tour through of Robert Silverberg’s oeuvre (love how that word’s pronounced = OOV) from May to September, traversing a half-dozen novels (and a half-dozen more remain on deck). Downward to the Earth was the best, reviewed here, only edging out Nightwings and Tom O’Bedlam. Good, good stuff.

Nonfiction = Pickett’s Charge (runner-up = Seven Brief Lessons of Physics)

Pickett’s Charge is the best book I’ve read on the Civil War dedicated specifically to one battle. Excellent for the novice, excellent for the expert (I’m somewhere in between, I suppose). I recommend it, and reviewed it here.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a short read touching on various topics in modern physics that was, in a bizarre way, surprisingly moving and respectable despite a lack of equations.

Worst Read:

Tie: The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle / The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour

Don’t want to dwell too much on these misfires, ’cuz I like both these authors. But neither book clicked with me due to … boredom. I was overwhelmingly bored reading them, which is why I finished neither. Life is too short, and there are too many books to read! But I have read great works by both these writers. Just not these.

Best Movie:


Finally, a filmed version to do the book justice. It is the #3 greatest book I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps it might not rank so high if I read it now, but I read it at a very emotional time in my young life and it resonated deeply with me. I thought the 1990 miniseries to be completely miscast, badly written, polluted with embarrassing special effects and recommend it to no one. This version, focusing on the kids’ encounter with the It entity, moved up into the 80s from the 50s, while not perfect, is probably as best as it could have been, perfectly balancing the horror with a minimum of schlock (i.e., “spring-loaded cats”) and keeping It’s true nature tantalizingly hidden. Grade – A+

Worst Movie:

Dunno. I’m at the stage in my life where if I’m watching something that sucks, I won’t continue watching it just to say I watched it. That being said, the girls and I watched in entirety more than a few unremarkable turkey’s in bad horror / science fiction. Notably 2016’s Shin Godzilla, better known as Godzilla versus Japanese Board Room Executives. Other than that, can’t really think of any off the top of my head.

Best TV / Worst TV:

Not really a TV-watcher. (And we as a family are considering “cutting the chord”, as I pay $187 a month for phone-internet-cable, of which we never use the home phone – it’s solely a telemarketer landing site – and I watch only about ten of the 400 channels I pay for with any degree of regularity).

This being said, Impractical Jokers still brings me to tears. Watched a couple of hilarious old and new Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes this month.

But the most shocking development in my TV-watching this year has to be my family’s NFL boycott. Watched the first three games of the season. Then the mass kneeling protests began, and we said goodbye to the NFL. Only watched the game where the Giants benched Eli, and realized I liked my Sundays better without the loud bread and circuses of football. So, good riddance. I watched a dozen NHL games instead, and enjoy that much better.

Oh, and the $200 we would’ve spent on NFL gear for the girls were spent elsewhere this Christmas.

Best Song:

Supper’s Ready, 1972, by Genesis

Got into Peter Gabriel / Steve Hackett Genesis back in August, listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway CD late at night on the balcony of our villa overlooking Hilton Head Island sound. The first “side” of that double-CD is phenomenal. Blew me away. A couple of weeks ago I was late-night exploring some earlier recordings of the band and stumbled across this video. Floored me. Words can’t express how unprepared I was, especially for the ending. Goose bumps along the arms that didn’t recede until I went to bed. Watched the 23-minute Supper’s Ready three times, until nearly one in the morning.

Basically, if you’ve ever wondered what a musical journey through the Book of Revelation would sound like, click on the video with some headphones on.

Fads N Phases:

   Travel (Sanibel Island, Hilton Head Island twice) – three times more vacations in one year than I’m used to …

   Robert Silverberg – great SF voyages hearkening back to my youth …

   Physics Revisited – great cutting-edge science voyages hearkening back to my youth …

   SSPX and anti-V2 Reading – eye-opening, scary, yet oddly inspiring

   Electric Guitar – my fiftieth birthday gift! Play from over 250 riffs daily to annoy the family …

   The Lower-Yer-High-Blood-Pressure Regimen – dropped nine pounds in 21 days and feel a thousand percent better …

   Civil War Redux – most bizarre topic to interest me, yet interested in it I am …

And, like last year, the winner is … them all! Loved each and every one of these fads and phases, and encourage you to dip your toes in these waters, or explore something out of left field yourself!

Have an awesome and safe New Year’s Eve and a “get better” 2018!!!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas 2017

Well, we’re wrapping up our week-long Christmas jaunt down to Hilton Head, South Carolina, visiting with the wife’s family. This is the first time in seven years I’ve been down here this time of season. In 2010 it was a mild 50s/60s experience. This time around, however, temps averaged 10-20 degrees colder, the skies being rainy and overcast the last few days (though Christmas Day was truly beautiful).

The island sans tourists is a lonely place. We rented a villa a hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean for a little more than the cost of a regular hotel room, and feel we own it since the resort is at most hovering at 10 percent capacity. On the beach, though, there’s usually anywhere from a dozen to over a hundred people meandering, jogging, walking canines, observing wildlife, communing with the Sea. All depends on the wind factor, I suppose.

Egretta thula that stalked me over three days …

Santa was, of course, good to the girls. Very good. A trip to Disney in the near future. Pajamas and gloves and bathrobes and mugs and stuffed animals and jackets and art supplies and games. Patch got a pop-up tent she’s wanted for months, and Little One got an iPhone upgrade. The wife got a gift certificate to the local fancy spa as well as some little trinkets from the girls. Me, I got clothes (desperately needed), plus another desperately needed item, a 20th-century piece of technology known as a CD player / Walkman.

No books from the fat man in red, but I have plenty to read. Indeed I’ve put away nearly two books of SF short stories – maybe twenty tales all told. Plus a book on Carl Jung (always been meaning to dip my toes in those waters) and a field guide to local bird life down here.

Also been maintaining my lower-the-high-blood-pressure routine. Walking every morning for 30 minutes. Kept up with my glass of red in the early evening and chocolate square in the afternoon. Ate pounds of blueberries and a bunch of apples and bananas, and took all my supplements. One night I had a few too many beers (really the only night I had beer) and the next morning I could literally feel the blood vessels constricting. It was a lesson learned.

Was also a bit of a working vacation, too. Spent a little over six hours finishing my pre-tax Tax Season, which involved two more online classes, registering in New York state, and studying my 120 pages or so of notes from over the past two months. I don’t feel as prepared as I should, but I’ll be in good shape when I start sitting with clients to prepare tax returns, probably in a month’s time.

What did we do? Well, my in-laws are serious gourmands, so just about every night we dined like royalty. They belong to a club down here (their house is situated on the 11th fairway), so lunch was eaten there. I’ve sampled a couple different varieties of salad. And while I don’t feel that I’ve lost any significant weight, I don’t think I’ve gained any holiday pounds either.

The girls swam in the resort’s indoor pool just about every day. One night we walked around Harbor Town and moseyed among the vibrantly-lit Christmas displays. The girls and I invented a fun volleyball-ish game to play in Nana’s driveway which entertained us with laughs and giggles for over an hour. They played their instruments for their grandparents (clarinet and saxophone). We’ve done about 75 percent of a puzzle on the living room floor. Tonight, in honor of 20 years since our first date, the wife and I are going out for a bite by ourselves.

Tomorrow we begin the fifteen-hour trek home, leaving the villa around 6:30. This time tomorrow we should be entering North Carolina. A bittersweet ending to the year. After New Years Eve and Day (which we have no plans but to rest and relax from our “restful” and “relaxing” vacation) it’s roll up yer sleeves and back to the grindstone.

Next up – Hopper’s “Best-Ofs” for 2017 …

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Three Penny Madness

Let’s say you take three pennies and toss them up in the air simultaneously. What are the odds they all come down on the same side, either heads or tails?

Well, obviously, there’s a 50/50 chance a flipped coin will result in either a head or tail. A one in two chance, or 1/2.

For three coins, the probability of all landing all the same would be

(1/2) x (1/2) x (1/2)

Which is 1/8. One out of eight times, or 12.5% of the time.

But …

When you toss three coins up in the air, at least two will come down the same, right? If they don’t all land either all heads or all tails, at least two will be heads or tails.

So that leaves the third coin in question.

It has a 50/50 chance of agreeing with the other two coins. A one in two chance, or 1/2.

Therefore, the odds of flipping three coins simultaneously and getting three matches would be


Which is 1/2. One out of two times, or 50% of the time.

So ….

Which is the correct probability? One-eighth of the time or one-half?


Monday, December 18, 2017

Pat DiNizio

Saw this in the news a couple of days ago. Pat DiNizio, lead singer of the 80s/90s pop rock band The Smithereens, died last Tuesday at the relatively young age of 62.

For a year or two (1989 or 1990 or both) I was into the band. Not as a prime source of music (back then it was Rush), but into them as a sort of background sonic pallet to what was going on in my life. Along with Kings X, REM and Queen, for example. But I liked what I heard on the radio (“Only a Memory,” “House We Used to Live In,” “Drown in My Own Tears”) so I picked up the CD Green Thoughts and played it a lot over the winter.

DiNizio was the puppy-dog eyed hapless unlucky-in-love lead singer who always was rejected, turned down, cheated on. For a while back in those days I could relate, though never to quite the elevated art form he turned it into. The Smithereens as a band, though, rocked pretty hard with pretty simple three-minute tunes, and me and my drummer often jammed to extended versions of “Girl Like You.”

A few years back I saw on Youtube that he had gained a monstrous amount of weight and would perform in fans’ living rooms. Not a good sign for even a B-list rocker. Felt kinda sorry for him. But the success he had eclipses mine by a factor of about ten thousand or so. And I, like many, many others, enjoyed his music.

Here’s a nice little ditty under three minutes, “Deep Black,” representative of a more mellow Smithereens sound. I always dug it, primarily cuz I liked the phased out riff F#-G-D-F#-G-D-F#-G-D-F#-G-D-F#-G-D-G to arpeggiated A chord with that moody slide guitar over it.

He died in Summit, New Jersey, a wonderful town I and the missus lived in 2001-2003 before house and children.

RIP, Smithereen.

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Is only your mind’s way of telling you to move your body, eat cleaner, and focus on something not you.

(1) Move your body

(2) Eat cleaner

(3) Focus on something not you

Rinse and repeat, as often as necessary.

Something I’ve experienced first-hand these past couple of weeks.

Friday, December 15, 2017

King Koontz

From an anonymous commenter, attributed to “unknown”, posted on a forgotten article I read earlier in the week:

“Stephen King is to the Rolling Stones as Dean R. Koontz is to the Beatles.”

To those in the know this makes absolute perfect sense. Over the past 35 years I’ve put away 38 Kings and 16 Koontzes – an average of one-and-a-half per year, though in the period of 1988-1990 I think I read half of those 54 books (including all but one Koontz).

My favorite King? Hands down, It. Runner-up, Tommyknockers.

My favorite Koontz? More difficult, probably a toss-up between Whispers, Phantoms, or The Bad Place.

King’s works are sprawling, ungainly, often epic, sometimes filler-filled, kinda vulgar. In other words, Rolling Stones-ish.

On the other hand, Koontz’s novels are meticulously crafted perfect-length perfections, doing what they set out to do in a very good way, the Platonic Form of mastery. Quite Beatle-esque.

Stephen King is to the Rolling Stones as Dean R. Koontz is to the Beatles.

I challenge anyone who is aware of these two writers and these two bands, who may not have stepped into the waters of post-Me Generation horror, to sample a King at random, then a Koontz at random, and alternate.

You’ll realize anonymous’s remark attributed to “unknown” is as close to Truth as Beauty.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Manned is Forbidden

Did you know the Moon was once staffed? True. I read it on Wikipedia.

Ah, Wikipedia. Encyclopedia to the masses, and, unfortunately, fastened firmly and mercilessly to the rock of political correctness. Years ago I noted their abhorrence of the word “manned,” as in, for example, a “manned” spacecraft. Back then they called it “human-crewed.”

Doubtless embarrassed by the intense awkward ugliness of that artificially-created adjective, a search was called for a new alternative to the evil vileness of the misogynistic word “manned.” Hordes of feminists and social justice warriors bent to the task, and soon it was found:


Exhibit A, bottom paragraph (click on image to enlarge it):

Love it! LOL, as the kids say (do they still say that?) Try reading that last paragraph imagining a bell sounding every time you read the word “staffed.” Or better yet, an air horn, for all its clumsiness.

O Political Correctness! Will it be you that binds me in my elder days in chains and hauls me to the executioner’s block, or are you reserving your venom for my children or my children’s children?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sheer Lyrical Beauty

“As I think of them going up and down before those schoolroom windows – the Doctor reading with his complacent smile, an occasional flourish of the manuscript, or grave motion of his head; and Mr. Dick listening, enchained by interest, with his poor wits calmly wandering, God knows where, upon the wings of hard words – I think of it as one of the pleasantest things, in a quiet way, that I have ever seen. I feel as if they might go walking to and fro for ever, and the world might somehow be the better for it – as if a thousand things it makes a noise about were not one-half so good for it, or me.”

- David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, chapter 17

My third-favorite bit of writing in Dickens’s magnum opus, just finished today, thirty-seven days spent in mid-19th century London with a cast of unforgettable characters.

My second-most-touching scene, too long to reproduce here, occurs two chapters previous, when David realizes what Mr. Wickfield’s one motive in life is.

And the best scene, for me, in the book, the best written, and though only a page it wouldn’t make sense out of context, occurs in chapter 30, when Mr. Barkis goes “out with the tide.”

Those in the know will know the sheer lyrical beauty of these little instances of literary emotion, in a book populated with them.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Kemp's Jig

Anonymous composition.

Nice piece of music I’ve been digging this past week:

Need to figure it out on the six string at home …

Friday, December 8, 2017

"Epic!" says Tetus

“The philosopher’s school, ye men, is a surgery: you ought not to go out of it pleased, but pained.

“For you are not in sound health when you enter; but one has dislocated his shoulder, another has an abscess, another a fistula, another is suffering from a headache. Do I then sit and utter to you small thoughts and witty sayings that you may praise me and go away, one with his shoulder just as it was when he entered, another with his head still aching, another with his fistula, and another with his abscess?

“Is it for this, then, that young men shall quit home, and leave their parents and their friends, and relatives and property, that they may say to you, ‘Wonderful!’ as you utter your witty sayings? Did Socrates do this, did Zeno, did Cleanthes?”

- Epictetus, Discourses, Book 3, Chapter 23.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Magnums and Melchizedeks

I’ve been drinking a glass of red wine every night the past week for medical reasons – for medical reasons! – and decided to do a little research into the whole wine thing. Back 15, 20 years ago, when engaged to the Mrs., we drank a lot of wine – for medical reasons! No, just kidding. We drank a lot of wine because we were young, carefree, and had money to spend. We ate out a lot, at nice establishments, and it just went with the turf. We kept a log of the wines we drank, our personal ratings of them, had our favorites. For our honeymoon, we spent a week in Napa Valley touring a dozen vineyards and wineries.

Now I’ve been drinking reds for a few days now, and picked up a book on the subject. Immediately, as always, I am drawn towards the esoterica. With a fascination I haven’t had since I discovered the word hogshead, I learned how bottles of wine – the actual bottles, mind you, not what’s in them – are classified.

For some reason, the dominant theme seems to be Biblical Babylonian.

Let me explain.

Your average bottle of wine is 750 ml. That’s about a fifth of a gallon or four-fifths of a quart (I’m visually comparing the bottle of wine to cartons of milk here). Or a little more than three cups. An eighth more, to be precise.

How many glasses can one get out of the standard bottle of wine? Depends. Four to six. A single drink bottle, the little bottles called piccolos, contain 187.5 ml, so there’s four of them in a standard bottle. When the wife and I split a bottle, we each usually take slightly smaller portions, about two-and-a-half glasses each. Six equal glasses of wine from a bottle seems a little amateurish to me.

Anyway, the standard bottle of wine is 750 ml, or 75 percent of a liter. I learned there’s a name for each increase in size, and, interestingly enough, the system of nomenclature revolves around either Biblical or Babylonian names. Names of kings and emperors and the like.

A Magnum holds 2 standard bottles of wine in one, or 1.5 liters.

A Jeroboam is 4 bottles. 3 liters.

A Rehoboam is 6 bottles. 4.5 liters.

Jeroboam and Rehoboam are found in the Old Testament. Jeroboam was the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Rehoboam first king of the Southern Kingdom of Judea.

At my current rate of consumption, I’ll go through a Rehoboam and a Magnum of wine a month.

Or slightly less than a Methusaleh. A Methusaleh is 8 bottles of wine, or 6 liters. I used to drink a Methuselah of Diet Coke a month, but I don’t do it anymore now. For medical reasons.

A Methusaleh is also sometimes referred to as an Imperial.

How far up the scale can we go? Oh, far. We can go far. For instance:

A Salmanazar contains 12 standard bottles of wine, or 9 liters of the good grape juice. He was an Assyrian King.

A Belshazzar contains 16 standard bottles of wine, or 12 liters. He was a Babylonian ruler.

A Nebuchadnezzar contains 20 standard bottles of wine, or 15 liters. He was a more famous Babylonian ruler.

The next size up has two names, either a Melchior (one of the traditional three wise men) or a Solomon (King of Israel, David’s son). They hold 24 standard bottles of wine, or 18 liters.
See the pattern? Every new label is an increase in 4 bottles and 3 liters.

Here’s where things break down a bit. A Sovereign is 35 bottles, which comes to 26.25 liters.

Then we return to normal. Well, normal for incredibly thirsty individuals. A Goliath is 36 standard bottles, or 27 liters. Finally, a Melchizedek – or a Midas – I can’t decide which I like better – is 40 standard bottles, or 30 liters of wine. Melchizedek was the King of Salem found in Genesis chapter 14, and Midas is that guy from Greek mythology whose touch turns objects to gold.

SCENE: local liquor store in a small, suburban northern New Jersey town

CLERK: Hey Hopper! Another Melchizedek of Sam Adams?

HOPPER: No thanks! I’m a piccolo-of-wine-a-day guy from now on – for medical reasons!

Note and Public Service Announcement: For those of you wondering, the medical reason is not entirely in jest; it’s real. I’ve been diagnosed with hypertension. “The Silent Killer” – high blood pressure. Drinking a glass of red wine a day lowers it. So does cutting back on salt, processed foods, and Diet Coke, as well as increasing fruits and vegetables, exercising 30 minutes a day, and eating a square of high-percentage cocoa dark chocolate. All of which I’ve done on a daily basis. To date I’ve lost six pounds and feel a hundred times better than two weeks ago.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Literary Swanson

“I hate metaphors. That’s why my favorite book is Moby Dick. No frou-frou symbolism. Just a good, simple tale about a man who hates an animal.”

Ron Swanson

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

T-Day Weekend Wrap Up

Yet another “my favorite holiday” has come and gone, with tachyonic speed. I’m sad, but, paradoxically, not sad.

Sad because I truly relish Thanksgiving, for a variety of reasons. We all head out of town to visit my parents in the Pennsylvanian woodland for 96 hours. I get plenty of relaxation, read a lot, buy a couple of books, eat like a king, do fun things with the little ones, watch some good movies, and even get some work done.

Let’s break that down, shall we, so you can see what I mean.

plenty of relaxation … With the exception of one night (due to Thanksgiving indigestion, no doubt), I caught up on my sleep deficit. Probably averaged 8 hours a night, as opposed to 6. Enjoyed some vivid, awesome dreams, too. I was exiled to the fold-out living room couch due to allegedly snoring, but the bed, blankets, and pillows were extremely comfy.

read a lot … Put away just shy of 150 pages of Dickens’s Copperfield, almost to the half-way point of the 920-page magnum opus. Read a couple chapters more about World War I and some Tolkien stuff, too.

buy a couple of books … Not truly inspired, but I did pick up a hardcover copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama Revealed. Never read that one, but the other Rama books intrigued me deeply in the 90s. My review of Rama is here, incidentally. The other book I bought was a potentially-schlocky The List of Seven, an occult murder mystery that blends fictional with historical figures in London around the time of the Jack the Ripper slayings.

eat like a king … Oh, man did I ever. Thursday Thanksgiving is a given, but – chicken pot pies, homemade cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken wings, Yuengling beer, turkey stew, shrimp appetizers, eggs and cheese and bacon and taylor ham and …

do fun things with the little ones … Two hours in the indoor pool at the rec center with Patch; shooting a couple games of Horse with Little One; teaching her how to play Chess; a game of Scrabble on the living room floor with both of them; hurling a gigantic inflatable medicine ball thingie to each other in the driveway.

watch some good moviesChristmas Vacation on Thanksgiving night, a tradition; Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, another newer tradition; Blades of Glory, mainly to show Little One the zany antics of Will Ferrell and the “Iron Lotus.”

even got some work done … Did some studying and got some pre-tax-season work done in my company’s intranet portal in the early morning hours, as well as doing a pair of solo walks for four miles. Plus helped Little One study for her confirmation class.

We also did the Santa breakfast thing (maybe for the last time if you know what I mean), taking photos of the little ones in the Christmas dresses in front of the club’s giant fireplace. And the wife shaved my neck beard, leaving my “no-shave November” scruff in place on the face.

Only thing I didn’t get to do, that I wanted, was attend Latin Mass in town a half-hour away.

Oh, and this was an NFL-free weekend. The parents did watch some college ball Saturday, but we all kept our boycott intact. Normally we’d have the games on Thanksgiving Day in the background, and people would shuffle in and out of the living room to watch. And Sunday afternoon would be long and lazy watching the early and late afternoon games. Not this year.

Why am I sad? Well, now it’s officially Spendmas (see here). The pressure is on to spend, spend, spend for the perfect gifts for the way-too-many people in my ever-expanding group of acquaintances. Along with that is the push to get all the preparatory tax stuff done (though in fairness this, my second, year I am in a much better place than last year). Unpleasant end-of-year tasks at the main job, plus packing everything 2017 away. It’s busy to no end – Christmas concerts, basketball practices kick in full force, a second vacation to Hilton Head in three weeks. I’m already tired.

Why am I not so sad? Well, I got a lot of good reads on the near horizon. Plus our house is being sided! Long an eyesore from flaking paint, we bit the bullet and are having the vinyl siding put up. The house will look nice and will actually be warmer, saving me $ on energy bills this winter. We’re also getting a new front door, replacing the old drafty one and the rickety glass outer door. The resale value will go up and I’ll actually be able to look at my abode with pride.

Thanksgiving! I am thankful for all the above! Looking forward to next year!

Sunday, November 26, 2017


One evening a monk approached the Patriarch Jianzhi Sengcan. “Master,” he said, “show me the way of liberation.”

Master Sengcan asked, “Who binds you?”

“No one binds me,” the monk answered.

Jianzhi Sengcan said, “Then why do you seek liberation?”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


A week or two ago I was listening to someone speak and heard mentioned that all the civilizational ills that currently befall us can be traced back to World War I. Everything – modernism, socialism, communism, totalitarianism, post-modernism, you name it. If it’s having a detrimental effect on society today, you can rest assured it found its birth in the Great War of 1914-1918.

Interesting, I thought. This I’ll have to check out.

So I’ve been casually reading up on the First World War. Not a big burning desire, just want to fill some gaps, especially after learning how big those gaps of knowledge are. Among the numerous potholes of null information I’ve manifested is the city of Ypres. I’ve heard of it in passing, and how it played a role in WWI. No – I’ve read it. I’ve never heard the word “Ypres” spoken, so I had absolutely no idea how to say it.

Not to go into too much detail (since I don’t know even “much” detail), the Belgian city of Ypres was the sight of two major battles. German forces decided to outflank French fortresses aligned north-south against their border by sweeping over them through Belgium, violating the smaller county’s neutrality. This brought Belgium’s ally, Britain, into the conflict. The German war machine stopped at Ypres, surrounding it on three sides. The British and French forces held the city (the “Ypres salient”) and attacked the German lines just beyond, over and over and over again, during the course of two battles. The use of poison gas sparked the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres.

But, that’s not what I want to write about now.

What I want to ponder is, how does one pronounce “Ypres”?

Well, at work the other day (and thus having no access to Youtube, or speakers for that matter), I did a bit of googling. And I found out that the word is somewhat open to interpretation.

In a Monty Python sketch, we’re assured it’s pronounced


Yep. Eep.

British troops back then were a little wittier. They called the city


Ha. Y-prs. I like that; fits with my sense of humor.

In actuality, it’s pronounced halfway between




Almost as if you’re going to go full “EEP-PRAY” but stop short as soon as you starting on the “AY” part.

Those of you, unlike me, who’ve taken French will have this down. Us other troglodytes may find it a bit harder.

I’m firmly in the EEP-PRuh camp, at least in my head, when I’m reading my World War I book.

Carry on.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Malcolm Young


This was not completely unexpected. Malcolm’s health deteriorated sharply about three years ago. His premature battles with dementia forced him to leave AC/DC back in 2014, leaving his nephew to fill in for him. But I don’t think anybody suspected the end to come so soon.

He was not a flamboyant guy on stage, but he wrote half the music with his brother Angus and was said to be the “brains” behind the band. I took a cue from him when I played in bands 1986-96, echoing that similar to Malcolm Young, my job as rhythm guitarist was to write half the songs and make all the other guys on stage sound good. It was a good lesson, well learned.

Along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and, later, Rush, AC/DC was a main influence on me in my early teenage years, especially when I plugged in my electric guitar the first couple hundred times. To this day I can probably play from memory 40 or 50 AC/DC songs, all riffs from the fingertips of Malcolm. The most phenomenal thing about them is that, though they’re not exotic chords in obscure time signatures, they all stand the test of time. It’s not embarrassing to listen to an AC/DC song from forty years ago. In fact, give me any random hard rock CD released in 2017, and I can guarantee you can find a riff or two that could’ve been found on one of Malcolm’s home demo tapes.

Difficult to pick a song to tribute the man with. He was a shadowy figure, ceding the spotlight almost entirely to his younger brother. But this song, “Gone Shootin’” has been in my mind all day today. I like the rhythmic interplay between Malcolm and Angus, particularly in the outro around the 4 minute mark:

Rest in peace, Mr. Young. You may not have led the squeakiest, cleanest of lives, but the music you created made millions of us feel awesome and will live on for, well, as long as people strum electric guitars. And that has to count for something.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Greatest Year in Cinema

So 1977 had Star Wars, Close Encounters and Smokey and the Bandit.

So 1979 had Alien, Mad Max, The Amityville Horror and the first Star Trek movie.

I say that 1978 is The Greatest Year in Cinema. If you were 10 going on 11, like I was, had a bunch of weird crazy friends, like I had, and had these movies piped into your house via that newfangled cable TV thing, like they were at mine, I offer up:

Capricorn One

Damien: Omen II

Dawn of the Dead


Gray Lady Down

The Fury

Force 10 from Navarone

Invasion of the Body Snatchers



Jaws 2



The Medusa Touch

Good Guys Wear Black

The Manitou




The Swarm

Watership Down

… aaaaaaaaand …

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

From the creepy to the cool to the campy, it’s all there. I’m lucky to have been around back then, for all those hours and hours and hours of fun. Often confusing and sometimes downright puzzling, but in the end, when all is said and done as they say, just good ol’ fun.