Thursday, July 31, 2003

The Thursday Threesome::Three Dog Night::
Onesome: Three - Lucky happenings are supposed to come in threes... What else comes in triplets and trios in your experience?

I'm not superstitious. It takes creative counting and self-fulfilling prophecies to make anything come in threes.

Twosome: Dog - Dogs and cats... Got a preference? ...and how about pedigree vs pound puppies/kittens? What do you think?

I'm not a pet person.

Threesome: Night - Hey, do you ever do a Sports Night and head out to watch a local team/event? What draws you out? Is it baseball, football, hockey, racing, lacrosse?

Nope. Hey, that's three for three: This week I'm an official party pooper.

New technology is a mixed blessing
TelevisionWeek | Saving Face in Hi-Def
Cameron Diaz is beautiful, right? After all, the green-eyed blonde has been a regular on People magazine's list of the most beautiful people in the world.
However, the magazine's editors-and most of the Western world-do not have a high-definition TV. If they did, they would see that Diaz's face is spotted with small pockmarks, the unfortunate consequence of a longtime acne problem. The actress recently discussed her skin troubles in the U.K. edition of Glamour.
"I want girls to realize that nobody looks like the women in the glossy photos without the help of a load of talented people," said Diaz, who reportedly had to skip a Gangs of New York premiere because of a new acne outbreak.
When seen on film, Diaz's skin imperfections are not noticeable, thanks to Hollywood's talented makeup artists. However, with HDTV, the picture is so precise that the acne damage cannot be hidden. In a high-def broadcast of Charlie's Angels on HBO, Diaz looks like a different person. She's still very pretty. But to be very frank, I doubt that she would make People's most beautiful list.
I am writing this not to discount the considerable charms of Cameron Diaz. But the story illustrates the impact that HDTV is having on the Hollywood glamour machine. As stars run for cover-literally-the industry is searching for new makeup techniques that will combat the evils of digital television. With high-def now in fewer than 6 million homes, the problem is under control. But if new solutions aren't found-and millions more get HDTV, as expected-the technology could change our perception of who's beautiful and who's not.
People sometimes say that an actor looks better-or worse-on TV than in person. Well, there's a reason for that. Heavy makeup-combined with the imprecise picture of an analog TV channel-can make an average-looking person look attractive.
However, HDTV's ultra-realistic picture is the great equalizer. Someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has naturally beautiful skin and hair, looks even better on HDTV while Diaz suffers in comparison. Younger actors look more vibrant while older actors, such as Becker's Ted Danson, look their age or worse. Sorry, Ted. | Playboy in HDTV: Not Looking Good
Playboy TV President Jim English says his company is not planning to launch a High-Definition channel anytime soon.
English says that some adult film stars would not look very attractive through the naked lens of HDTV. The technology delivers a picture so clear that many have compared it to looking through a window.
The problem is not new in Hollywood. reported last month that make-up artists are searching for new techniques to cover up the facial imperfections of celebrities when they appear in high-def.

Tell you what, here's a wild idea: What if, and of course I'm just talking through my hat here, but what if viewers are actually able to accept that not everybody has flawless skin? What if the rest of us know what Hollywood's forgotten: That the contents matter at least as much as the package, usually more.

After all, if Humphrey Bogart could become a movie star, then Cameron Diaz might be able to do it too--if she works as hard on her acting talents as she does on covering her acne.


Y'ever heard of anyone having a "face for radio"? Soon we'll be speaking of a "face for low-rez".

The last time I went to (of all places) Sears, I saw a high-definition TV on display. I hadn't seen one before, and I was expecting to be underwhelmed. When Every New Thing claims to be the beginning of a revolution, you get jaded after a while.

I was stunned. Mesmerized. Compared to regular TV, it does, as advertised, look like you're looking through a window. As I walked up, it was a shot of tropical fish, and I thought it was a real aquarium--until the camera, and my point of view, moved.

I thought I'd fallen in.

I'm serious. If you're not prepared to drop the money on one of these things, don't go see for yourself, I beg you. Must...forget...

LATER: Good heavens. I forgot to compare this situation to its obvious analogue, in the early days of sound pictures, when actors' careers folded because their speaking voices didn't match their looks.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

How time flies
New York Times | As Clock Ticks for Hubble, Some Plead for a Reprieve
Since it was launched in 1989 with a flawed mirror and then repaired by spacewalking astronauts, the Hubble, floating above the murky atmosphere, has been a matchless time machine, providing astronomers with views of unprecedented clarity deep into space and time. "The Hubble is the single most important instrument ever made in astronomy," said Dr. Sandra Faber, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
But its days (and nights) have always been numbered. NASA has long planned to end Hubble's spectacular run and bring it down in 2010 to make way in the budget for the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2011.
Still, some astronomers are urging that Hubble's life be extended. They argue that the telescope has grown even more productive in its years in orbit, thanks to periodic service calls by astronauts.
These astronomers say that killing Hubble in its prime makes little sense, either scientifically or from the standpoint of public relations. "Hubble is by far the best news NASA has now," a senior astronomer said.

It will cost $600 million to keep Hubble up for a few more years. You know, in governmental terms... that's still a lot of money. I'm afraid they are going to have to decide whether they want Hubble or Webb up there: Maintaining the one will delay the other. (I mean, I'm sure I could find $600 million worth of government spending I'd be willing to forego--why, that's only just over one million dollars per congressman and senator--but that wouldn't put any more cash in NASA's budget anyway.)

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Friday Five: This week's questions:
1. If your life were a movie, what would the title be?

"The Day After Groundhog Day".

2. What songs would be on the soundtrack?

Oh, lots of classic sappy love songs by Paul Williams, Carly Simon, or maybe Harry Connick Jr. It should include "It Must Be You" by Stephen Bishop, "Out There" from Hunchback of Notre Dame and "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" from The Muppet Movie. Maybe even "If You Believe" from Prince of Egypt, which I just heard yesterday for the first time in a while, and which broke my heart all over again.

3. Would it be a live-action film or animated? Why?

Live action, I think. Nothing happens that is sufficiently improbable to need animation. Maybe muppets.

4. Casting: who would play you, members of your family, friends, etc?

"The good news is, they're making a movie of your life. The bad news is, they've cast Bob Denver as you."
I think Richard Karn is the best we can do for me. Amanda Peet is my wife (or maybe Ashley Judd). I'm stumped for anybody else.

5. Describe the movie preview/trailer.

...Sorry, I'm drawing a blank.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

The Thursday Threesome::Chicken Pot Pie::
Onesome: Chicken - Chicken, beef or pork? What's in the barbeque or on the grill this summer? ...or is it just too hot and a salad is all you're up to putting together?

Hey, I like salads. If I must grill a piece of meat, it's beef. However, not being a gourmet, it's either hamburger or a beef hot dog. If someone else is cooking it, I'll take a brat.

Twosome: Pot - Okay, really, did you inhale? I mean, what happened to all the side dishes that were served with the meat? ...and what side dish is essential to make your meal complete?

Assuming we're still grilling, get chips and potato salad.

Threesome: Pie - Hey, are you a pie or cake kind of person? ...or is it ice cream that 'floats' your dessert boat?

There are specific kinds of pie (chess) and cake (red velvet) that I'll always go for, but as a general rule I prefer ice cream.

EXTRA: The topic of the week at the Back Porch: Lights, camera...
We all have those scenes in our favourite movies that we wished turned out differently. If you could change a scene, what would you do to it? How would it affect the outcome of the film, if at all?

In Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame", Esmaralda really should have died. (Hope I'm not spoiling anything to point out that she does in the book.) It would have turned a good movie into a great one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

This-or-That Tuesday: Audience Potpourri Participation!:
1. DVD or VHS?

DVD. It's just plain better. And I can live happily without all those "extras", just give me a good movie with clear sound and a sharp picture.

2. Best Literary/Movie Villain: Voldemort (Harry Potter) or Sauron (LoTR)?

One of these days I guess I'm going to have to watch that "Ring" thing. The book bored me to tears. Voldemort's okay, but Goldfinger's got 'em both beat, so far. "You expect me to talk, Goldfinger?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

3. Meat: rare or well-done?

Well done. Civilized people cook their meat. Raw is for vegetables.

4. High Speed Internet-Cable or DSL?

We've had DSL for about a month and a half now, and Cable is looking better and better.

5) Women: 1-piece bathing suit or Bikini?

That depends on the woman in it. I do recall a certain black bikini, though...

6. To be fair--Men: Boxers or briefs?

Boxers. You're never going to catch me in briefs again. Now will someone please tell me what that is supposed to "say" about me?

7. Beer or Liquor/Wine?

Nope. Don't drink. I've sampled both: Must be an acquired taste. I'll be fine with a 7-up.

8. Coke or Mountain Dew?

Coke. This is Atlanta.

9. In honor of my 10/18/03 nuptials: Morning or Afternoon/Night Wedding?

Afternoon. Everyone will smirk if your "wedding night" is a nooner. And who ever heard of a night wedding? If you don't get to bed until 2am, you might do something you'll regret... like go to sleep.

10. Carpet or Hardwood Floors?

Hardwood. Low maintenance, allergy-friendly, beautiful hardwood.

11. American cars or foreign?

In this household we're three for three: Foreign.

12. Cutest TV Twin: Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen?

You. Must. Be. Kidding.

13. Coffee: Caffeinated or Decaf?

Coffee? Bleaugh.

14. Thought-Provoking Question of the Week: Computers: Do they make life better or worse? Why?

Better. I think. Sometimes I wonder.
No, better. I remember what writing was like with a manual typewriter. (You young people, you don't know what it was like. You try typing a term paper on a manual typewriter. Even better, try to produce an original and two clean carbon copies. I'll bet you don't even know what carbon paper is. Yes, they still make it.)

Sunday, July 20, 2003

The Friday Five: This week's questions:
1. When was the last time you cheated?
2. When was the last time you stole?
3. When was the last time you lied?
4. When was the last time you broke or vandalized another's property?
5. When was the last time you hurt a loved one?

You know, I don't think I want to answer these questions. Where the answer is "never", it sounds sanctimonious. Where it isn't, there is no good that can come of reopening a wound. Ancient history and lingering regrets. The only reason I'm acknowledging the questions at all is that it would be at least as conspicuous not to.
I started answering these weekly memes in order to discuss subjects it wouldn't ordinarily occur to me to discuss. In order to play the game fairly, I have answered some questions I didn't particularly want to answer. But there's a point beyond which I'm not prepared to go.

Friday, July 18, 2003

France bans e-mail
Not the concept--just the word.
AP | France Bans the Term 'E-Mail'
PARIS - Goodbye "e-mail", the French government says, and hello "courriel" - the term that linguistically sensitive France is now using to refer to electronic mail in official documents.
The Culture Ministry has announced a ban on the use of "e-mail" in all government ministries, documents, publications or Web sites, the latest step to stem an incursion of English words into the French lexicon.
The ministry's General Commission on Terminology and Neology insists Internet surfers in France are broadly using the term "courrier electronique" (electronic mail) instead of e-mail - a claim some industry experts dispute. "Courriel" is a fusion of the two words.

The French people, on the other hand, "insist" that the Culture Ministry has its t�te up its �ne.
What's the point...?
...of stealing somebody else's page and posting it as your own? Stevland Ambrose of SuperFastComputer has busted a few of his least imaginative imitators. Some of them might be in the intermediate stages of using his template as a starting point... but some of them are just, how should I say it, unauthorized mirror sites.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

They x-rayed a teddy bear?
And a good thing too.
Yahoo! News / AP | Airport Workers Find Gun in Teddy Bear
ORLANDO, Fla. - Airport security workers found a loaded handgun stuffed inside a brown teddy bear that a 10-year-old boy was carrying on a trip home after his family's Florida vacation, authorities said Thursday.
The FBI is investigating how the gun got inside the teddy bear.
A Transportation Security Administration worker noticed the outline of a gun when the bear passed through an X-ray machine at Orlando International Airport on Saturday.
The TSA found a loaded .22-caliber gun after the bear was opened. The boy's family told investigators that the bear was a gift from a girl at the hotel where they stayed during their Orlando vacation.
The Thursday Threesome::Bell, Book and Candle::
Onesome: Bell - Belling the cat: What have you taken on lately that you really, really didn't want to do? ...and did it get taken care of?


Twosome: Book - What was the last radical departure in your reading habits? I mean, you were reading one genre for a while, what did you switch to?

My reading habits are so eclectic that it's hard to say which direction is a departure. But the last book I finished was Red Thunder by John Varley.

Threesome: Candle - Do you burn candles around the house? use them for decoration? ...or are you more into flowers and tablecloths?

Candles? Flowers? Tablecloths? We only use candles when the power goes out. Flowers... die around here. We do have a tablecloth on the dining room table...

EXTRA: The topic of the week at the Back Porch: The Patronus
�The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very thing that the Dementor feeds upon � hope, happiness, the desire to survive � but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the Dementors can�t hurt it.�Each one is unique to the wizard who conjures it�.(It) will work only if you are concentrating with all your might on a single, very happy memory.�
(Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 176)
If you have read the book, you will know that Harry�s Patronus took the form of a stag, which was the animal his father would transform into.
If you were to conjure a Patronus as a guardian, what would be the single, very happy memory you would use? And what form do you think your Patronus would take?

For a happy memory, it's hard to top the births of my children.
What form? What else? Moo.
Think happy thoughts
Jerry's dad was scheduled to undergo open heart surgery (two bypasses and a valve reconstruction) when his heart stopped. Because he is in a first-rate heart facility, they got it started again.

Several times.

There appears to be no brain damage, and they intend to go ahead with the surgery as planned. The risks just increased dramatically, but there is really no other option.

Jerry is in Albuquerque now. Prayers and happy thoughts are encouraged.

(I've just posted this same update to Milblog: I imagine further updates will appear there as well.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

This-or-That Tuesday: Summer Re-run!:
1. Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck?

Daffy Duck. Oh, yes, Bugs was day-in and day-out more consistent, but when Daffy was at his best he was sublime. Duck Dodgers; Robin Hood; and alone on a white background. And the sheer audacity of removing Bugs' drag disguise in front of Elmer!
2. Tom or Jerry?

Tom. It wasn't always his fault.

3. Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck?

Mickey Mouse. Donald is a one-note character at best, only funny when he fails. The Mouse is the Man.

4. Rocky & Bullwinkle or Boris & Natasha?

Rocky & Bullwinkle. Although it is Boris and Natasha that give the show a spine, it is Rocky and Bullwinkle that give it heart.

5. Road Runner or Wile E. Coyote?

Wile E. Coyote. Unlike the Road Runner, there's not a shred of cruelty or viciousness in him. He just wants to eat.

6. Sylvester or Tweety?

Sylvester. His best moments are without Tweety (a handful of 'toons in which he's Porky's silent, terrified pet). After seven minutes of Tweety's annoying voice I'm ready to shoot him myself.

7. Popeye or Bluto?


8. South Park or The Simpsons?

The Simpsons.

9. Jetsons or Flintstones?


10. And finally, the eternal question asked by all good Scooby-Doo fans: Velma or Daphne?

Oh, Velma!

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Friday Five: This week's questions:
1. Do you remember your first best friend? Who was it?

Yes I do, but you're not getting his name. He was a next door neighbor.

2. Are you still in touch with this person?

No. That's why you're not getting his name. And I'm not telling you why, either.

3. Do you have a current close friend?

I have several friends to whom I am close, and whom I trust explicitly, but not a "best friend"...unless you count the one I married.

4. How did you become friends with this person?

Magic. I have no better explanation.

5. Is there a friend from your past that you wish you were still in contact with? Why?

There are plenty of people I don't see enough of, but I'm hard pressed to think of someone I don't see at all that I wish I did.
The Thursday Threesome::From the Summer Picnic Basket!::
Onesome: Honey - Hey there! Not that you personally need any sweetening, but just in case: what goes in your summer drinks to sweeten things up? Honey? Sugar? Artificial sweetener? ...or are your taking things straight up this time 'round?

Splenda. It's the only artificial sweetener that actually tastes like sugar.

Twosome: Mustard - Okay, what condiment has to come to the table for that burger or hotdog? Ketchup? Mustard? Salt? Pepper? Just what is it you 'relish'?

Heinz 57 sauce or something like it.

Threesome: Sauce - ...and along with that, which sauce do you simply have to have around? BBQ? A-1? That special sauce you learned to make when you worked fast food at the mall? How about it? You brought those napkins along for a reason!

See above. I find that Heinz 57 sauce improves almost everything it touches, from ground beef to chicken nuggets.

EXTRA: The topic of the week at the Back Porch:
Lining Up - Anyone here so desperate to get their hands on a copy of the new Harry Potter book that they lined up overnight to get it?
Or have you ever camped out in sleeping bags with a thermos of hot coffee on a cold Winter's night for concert tickets for your fave band?
Share your stories about the times your obsession with a book, band, sporting team or anything else has seen you spending an obscene amount of time in line.
What did you do to pass the time? What were the people like around you? Who were you with? And would you do it again?

As mentioned previously, I was part of the entertainment at the Harry Potter release party at the Perimeter Mall (Atlanta) Barnes & Noble. If I hadn't been part of the show, I have to admit, I wouldn't have been there.
I don't recall waiting in line overnight for anything. My wife has, though: Atlanta Public Schools makes the process of requesting an out-of-zone transfer far more work than it needs to be. And although they say you have a month to apply, in practice if you aren't there when they open the doors on the first day, you won't get it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

I saw this and thought of you
Hey, Ha, is this you?
Britney Spears isn't a virgin!
I'm sure, somewhere, there must be somebody who cares.

Actually, I find myself sympathizing. Adolescence is hard enough without being famous, too.

What do you mean, she's twenty-one?
Late last night, I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

You know, it's hard to argue with success, and Rowling has gone from being a struggling single mom to being richer than the Queen on the strength of this continuing story. But I can't help thinking this would have been a better book had it been about a third shorter.

UPDATE: My wife reminds me I said the same thing about Goblet of Fire. Yeah, well, ok. Make it one-half. (C'mon, it's not like she's being paid by the word.)

Friday, July 04, 2003

The Friday Five: This week's questions:
1. What were your favorite childhood stories?

Much to my wife's astonishment and dismay, I never read children's stories as a child. They bored me. I remember being particularly unimpressed by "The Cat in the Hat", which character I found intensely annoying. (The hero of the book, it seemed to me, was the fish.) I read comic books. I read anything Batman was in.
Well, I must have read some. I remember ordering regularly from Scholastic Book Services, and reading them until they fell apart. Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars. The Boy Who Stole The Elephant. The Thinking Machine (not really a children's book, but an edited version for young readers; I've since re-encountered these stories in the unabridged Dover editions).

2. What books from your childhood would you like to share with [your] children?

See above. But they're old enough to appreciate Robert Heinlein's juveniles. It may be time to introduce my son to the Thinking Machine. "Two and two make four, not just sometimes, but all of the time."

3. Have you re-read any of those childhood stories and been surprised by anything?

Most of the stories I'm reading to my kids now, I'm reading for the first time, so re-reading is not an issue. If I'm surprised by anything, it's that some of them actually are decent reading.

4. How old were you when you first learned to read?

I don't remember learning. I know my grandmother taught me to read on TV Guide. I think I must have been around three.

5. Do you remember the first 'grown-up' book you read? How old were you?

Good heavens, no. Again, see above. But Tarzan of the Apes must have been among them. I was enthralled by Burroughs' storytelling, and disappointed that the Tarzan movies were so much simpler than the rich, multi-threaded pulp originals.
The Thursday Threesome::Celebrate!::
Onesome: Celebrate - What's your favourite way to celebrate? Do you go out for a meal at a nice restaurant or head out to the local bars and blow off some steam with your friends and a few drinks? Or maybe something quiet, like a nice meal at home with the movie of your choice in the DVD player or VCR? Or something completely different? Tell us!

Generally I go out to eat, somewhere a step or two up from McDonald's.

Twosome: Independence - How old were you when you declared your independence and left home for the first time? Did you go back temporarily? Are you still there? ;)

I was 21 in 1976 when I got married and moved into an apartment. I've never lived at "home" since.

Threesome: Day - As in, "Day-o!" (Cueing up Harry Belafonte!) Hey, what are you singing this summer? Last year it was Sheryl Crow "Soak up the Sun"; what's working the beat for you this year? Is there a favorite song or two on your hit list?

Last year I was in and out of the hospital all summer, and wasn't singing much. (I wouldn't know Sheryl Crow if she bit me.) This year... Hm. For some reason I'm not listening to a lot of music these days. I'll go with, of all things, Olivia Newton-John, "I Honestly Love You." (The original arrangement, not the lush treacle on the soundtrack of "The Wedding Planner.")

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Better late than never?
Yahoo! / Reuters | 'Luftwaffe' Scrubbed Off German President's Planes
The name "Luftwaffe" is being replaced on two official German government planes more than half a century after the Nazi air force terrorized Europe's skies.
..."Obviously when the president flew to countries where there are certain historic resentments against the Luftwaffe, he didn't exactly get off to a good start when the plane landed with that word dominating the plane," said one government official who asked not to be identified.
Rau has decided to have "Bundesrepublik Deutschland" (Federal Republic of Germany) painted on the planes instead, modeling them after U.S. presidential aircraft.

Well, it's German for "air force", what are they supposed to say? Fliegengnugen?