Saturday, March 26, 2011

What is Civilization Without Culture and Art?

I'll be headed for Venice, Florida tomorrow morning for a week of (hopefully fruitful) photography. Going to try to get as much wildlife in as I can stand. Who knows what else? Stay tuned for stories and pics next week. In the meantime, I'm starting a short story, the teaser for which, is below. 
It is inspired by the recent and increasing push to de-fund and minimize art education in the United States. Most close to home and recently for me is the closure of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music. My son is a piano student there. Here is a quick bit from our local Fox affiliate station. The young man in the video is my son. 

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

RTT: The Special, Unabridged, Author's Edition

If you like Random Thoughts Tuesday, take a look at Keely, the Un Mom. Go ahead, it won't kill you. It's way better than reading my crap. And she invented it, to boot.

randomtuesday


I love dreams. Even the super-weird ones that make no sense are cool. I like remembering my dreams. I don't over-analyze them though, because I know they're nothing mystical, but rather, they are my brain resetting, unwinding, and clearing the thoughts (good and bad, happy and sad) of my conscious self. So I take them at that and just enjoy them. Many times I think my dream world is better than my real world. Mainly because I can fly (although not high and not fast) and breathe under water. Some day I'll write about them.

One of the very best things I ever read, or ever will read, is a recent Twitter message I received. It's best if I don't explain, because the person who Tweeted it should make a blog entry about it. It goes: "iPad 2 wireless keyboard is here and is sooooo cool I sniffed it..."
This is, to me, what catnip is to cats. It just makes me feel good. It's funny, it's true, it's spontaneous, and it's endearing. It elicits the same feeling that a great minor chord in a piece of music gives me.

When you find something like the above that gives you pleasure, make note of it, comment on it, and internalize it. Keep it around for a rainy day.

I was away from home for a week, on business, and guess who missed me the most? Was it:

a) my youngest son, Wolfgang Amadeus Marshmallow?

b) my dear Mrs. Marshmallow?

c) my two dimwit Border Collies, whom I should have named "Disgrace" & "To Your Breed"?

d) the baristas at Starbucks?

I'll give you four guesses, and the first three don't count. That's love, for you.


A random shout out to a great blogger, who deserves your attention. If you like good, original writing, then you must check out dbs at think.stew. If you're reading this blog, chances are you read his, but in case you don't subscribe to his blog, go do it now.

Stop reading this.
Now!
Don't even finish my blog, just hit the link and go read. You can always come back here later to thank me.

Technically, that's the end of the random part, but there is more blogging sweetness below. The Unabridged part, in fact.

P.S. I have just been notified I've been infected with honored with a blog award, therefore, I will come back later today and add to this by spreading the infection to sharing the honor with five other worthy bloggers, one of whom I've already mentioned.

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Audiobooks. I know they have utility and many people use them, but I didn't really get into them very much. I've used two in my life. One was some Zane Grey Western that I don't remember, back in college. But I recently bought the audiobook of my favorite novel of all time, "The Terror", by Dan Simmons. Won't explain the book other than to say that it's the best ever, and it's pretty long, at almost 800 pages, so it follows that the audiobook would be long. I wanted long. I drive a lot, so I thought it might be fun to try out an audiobook to ease my windshield time. After all, I can only do so much iTunes playlist stuff. What better one to try than my favorite novel?

Here's the issue. As I listened to it, I kept thinking I was missing parts of it. You know, concentrating on driving and zoning out from the book. After almost nine hours of it over a few days, I kept having the nagging thought that even though it was perfectly narrated by Simon Vance, I felt gypped. So I listened to it again. And I realized that it was, indeed, missing parts that were in the print version. I happen to remember details of things I read, and even more so when I love what I read, and damn if that audiobook wasn't leaving out huge chunks of story!

So I did a few things. I checked with Apple's iBook store, Amazon's Kindle store, and with the author himself (via his on line forum) to see if there was a reason for the audiobook to be missing parts. That's when I learned about the abridged version of audiobooks. Sonofabitch! I didn't know there was such a thing. Worse yet, apparently the 'default setting' for audiobook sellers is abridged, unless stated otherwise! Who thinks this is normal?! Why isn't it assumed that the book is unabridged instead? Nope. If it is abridged, there is nothing printed to say so, nothing in the numerous reviews on Amazon or B&N, and nothing in the description of the item for sale saying it is abridged. That sucks. It has to say UNABRIDGED, or it is apparently the abridged version. I paid $19 for the audio version (which was 2/3 of a novel that originally cost me just $14 in soft back)!
Totally gypped!

Oh, and the author, himself, said that of all the novels he's written, "The Terror" is the only audio version he's ever listened to. If you think I felt bad listening to it, I won't tell you what he said. Sufficient to say that he was not pleased with the unauthorized (pun intended) re-write of his baby.

I did learn from him though, that there is an out of print, unabridged copy floating around out there somewhere, but that if I find it, I'll likely pay upwards of $60-$70 for it.

Those forking ice-holes! Bostitches!
(points for any of you who come up with that reference without using Google!)



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Last thing before the day ends!

As mentioned, I was given the honor of a Blog Award by none other than the wonderful Ninja Mom, who has a must-read blog. She has honored me with the Cherry On Top award, which means I get to pass it along to my favorite folks and also get to answer some rough and intimidating questions about myself. Ok, more like I have to simply write five things I like about myself. No prob'.

First my awards presentations:

1. dbs at think.stew. He's original, very witty, creative, thought provoking, and Canadian. What more do you need ? I look forward to his Wordfuse posts like a kid looks forward to Christmas morning. You must check him out.

2. My first blogger friend, my friend in real life, a stupendously talented, yet humble person...the girl with The Loaded Handbag, Nicki. I do know real, honest-to-goodness talent when I see it, and folks, she is the real deal. I'd call her kooky, but she'd blush and wonder if I meant it as a compliment or as a diagnosis. 

3. Barbara, who is currently undergoing Spasms of Accommodation is a double award winner this week, and deservedly so. She is scary, scary smart, apparently loaded with unlimited talents like building her own house (even if it was small), explaining liquefaction in a video, photography in general, and being a kick ass human being. I admire her. Really and truly. 

4. Stuperhero Extraordinaire. Her nom de plume is Raven Ridesemraw. If I have to explain why I like that, then just move along please and go ask your mother instead. She's wild, but in the most humanely cool way. I can't help but love things on her blog like the little Darwin Fish mounting the "other" fish from behind. Sorry if I disappoint anyone by liking stuff like that. Just go see the blog, ok?

5. Keely, The Un Mom. She's the creator of Random Tuesday Thoughts and a downright righteous blogger. Hers is one of the blogs I'd take with me when I'm hypothetically shipwrecked on an island. I also owe her an apology because I read her blog all the time and almost never comment for some strange reason. Intimidation? I don't know. I can never think of anything to say to her. Weird huh? Well, she wins anyway!


Five Things I Like About Myself

  1. I am resilient. Long story, read about it back in my post called Conversation With a Trophy.
  2. I have succeeded at everything I wanted to do in my life that was important to me (I plan to succeed at more).
  3. I don't quit.
  4. I helped make four amazing human beings. 
  5. My mom loved me best (had to put that in there in case my brothers ever read this).

That's it. Get lost. See you next week.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wildlife Moments

Just a couple of quickies. Had to go shoot some Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, and Canada Geese recently.  Wildlife refuge near me is loaded in late February and all of March.
I have hundreds, but just want to post a few.
Enjoy!
(Also, they're big files, even though I reduced them from the originals considerably for the web)









Nikon D3s, 300mm f/2.8 VR I lens

Etruscan Dirt and Other Coolness

Look at this picture and guess what this is. Hint: It's in the title of today's blog.



Yes, you guessed it! Genuine Etruscan dirt. Give yourself a pat on the back! "But why is it on your blog?", you ask. Thanks for asking. It's here because I have a piece of history on my desk: a broken chunk of Roof Tile from an ancient building. How ancient? Pretty ancient. This piece came from an archaeological dig in the town of Rada, Siena, Italy. The Etruscan culture is pre-Roman, and dates back as far as 800 B.C. in that region.

This was a piece that my brilliant and thoughtful second male offspring was permitted to bring back home with him from a dig he worked on this past summer. He knows I am nuts about Roman and pre-Roman culture and that I would treat this simple looking rock with extra care and attention. I have spent six months preparing and conserving it. That's a level of care and attention usually reserved for the seriously deranged stalker-types.

I used distiller water, magnifying goggles, tiny paint brushes, teensy probes, and eensy-weensy brain cells to work on conserving it. You'd think that since this hunk of terra cotta survived almost 3000 years of wear and tear, that I could just rinse it off with tap water, wipe it with a soft cloth and be done with it. And you'd be right; I could do that. And it would have taken me five minutes. I'd also be less likely to be called bad names and thought of as a total whack. But where's the fun in that?

The right way to do it is to act like I'm a serious archaeologist and dust it off painstakingly slowishly, while muttering to myself about the wonder and
beauty of the ancient people who created it. Yep, total whack stuff. Even better, I'm not finished! There's still plenty of crud to clean off if it is to be completely restored. However, I plan, in my nerdiest wisdom, to leave just a little bit of dirt on it. I want it to look as if it was of the era, but slightly used. Maybe I picture myself as an Etruscan Roof Tile dealer, and this is one of my many replacement pieces for those hard-to-fit sections of roof. Or maybe my strep and newly acquired stomach bug have addled what's left of my brain-mush.

No matter, I will press on and show off my prized dirt. It is the crown jewel in my private museum of Etruscan artifacts. Yes, it is the only thing in my collection, but one has to start somewhere. It can't all be gold and armor. I'm pacing myself. By next year, I plan to add new sections and include sand from ancient Cape May, NJ, and maybe even a little bit of navel lint I have stored up. Photos will follow, and possibly fame and institutionalization. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Supermoon*

As Promised, the Supermoon*




* I have to say, it's really just the regular old Moon, but with all the hype going on around the big unveiling of it as a Supermoon tonight, I had to post something. I expect at least some golf clapping for the effort. This is a fresh photo tonight. Hot off my CF memory card. Clap! If you don't, then I swear to god I'll make this Moon disappear.

I'll do it. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Science: The Use of Bio Weapons* To Prevent Theft of Mobile Computing And Gaming Devices: A Paradigm Shift In Personal Protection.

This just in! I have found a foolproof method (and you must trust me on this one, because a fool knows foolproof) to prevent other members of my family using my iPhone and iPad. All it took was my being in airliners for the past week and catching a streptococcus infection. Yes. You, too, can enjoy the benefits of sole user status of your mobile devices. Simply cram yourself into a giant tin can, loaded with the (often literal) unwashed masses, sit, wiggle around, touch any surface, wait twelve hours, and Presto!
You have yourself an impenetrable barrier for your touchscreen toys.


There's pretty much no downside to it, with one or two notable exceptions.

WARNING!!! READ NO FURTHER IF DESCRIPTIVE BODILY TERMINOLOGY DISGUSTS YOU!!!

The big one for me is that I woke up yesterday gagging on something. Between bouts of wanting to puke and gasping for air, I managed to get a penlight and mirror and look inside my oral cavity. Hanging from the soft palate of my mouth and disappearing behind my tongue into my throat was my Uvula, doing the damnedest impression of a deep-sea Tube Worm. The thing looked absolutely freakish! And it was attached to me. No! It was part of me! I don't know why that dongle is there in the first place, but I curse the maker who gives me one and then allows it to grow to twice its normal size - could have been three times, but there was no way I was going to attempt to put anything in my mouth to measure it.

Additionally, something resembling a kidney was growing out of my pharynx, and it looked like it meant business. It was red and white, gooey and glistening. It seemed to be pulsing with every beat of my now hammering heart. I swear it looked as if it would explode at any moment! It was one of those times when you just have to suck it up, be a stoic, and deal with it. What else could I do?

What I did was call my doctor, who was kind enough to see me right away (benefit of a small town) and who did the strep test. Thirty minutes later, I was on the way to the pharmacy for my amoxicillin.

Now I sit in repose, enjoying my total freedom from thieving paws, able to enjoy as many levels of Angry Birds as I want. I plan to milk this for all it's worth, too. I'm totally legit. Without the aseetomennaf...acetominaf... Tylenol and antibiotics, I feel like Ethan Fromme, after sledding. But with them on board, I feel just peachy.

Long weekend, here I am!


*Technically, strep is not a Bio Weapon per se but it has been known to make people curse like a sailor.

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In preparation for the "Super Moon" as it's being dubbed by the press. Really no big deal, actually. Here's a preview.





Tuesday, March 15, 2011

RTT: Don't Raise The Heads, Lower The Humor.

If you like Random Thoughts Tuesday, take a look at Keely, the Un Mom. Go ahead, it won't kill you. It's way better than reading my crap. And she invented it, to boot.

randomtuesday

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It has recently been brought to my attention that I may be failing as a blogger. I can take this several ways, starting from the point of view that I'm not entirely certain I know what a blogger really is or does anyway, and therefore, shouldn't be too distraught about this revelation. Or I can take the point of view that I simply do not have the wherewithal or chops for blogging - accept that it is possibly a younger person's turf, and shuffle along quietly into the world of has-beens and never-was-es.

Another possibility is to accept the potential fact that what I do means so little to so many who read it that it is simply not worth reading. That's no shame or anything. It would be nothing more than the way things are.

But I'm not sure what it is yet, and the reason I write all this is because, in short, and with varying degrees of tact, I have been told twice in two weeks by people who have attempted to read this blog that "it's just over my head".

The convo goes like this:

DM: Hey thanks for reading! What did you think?

READER: excuse me, I have to go pee now.

DM: Did you like the blog?

READER: Who is Sun Tzu?

DM: Ancient Chinese military dude.

READER: I was kidding. What I meant was, "Who the fuck cares who he was?" Your blog is too hard to read. I don't get it. It makes me feel stupid.

DM: Oh. Does that mean you like it?

READER: (already left me to go find a bathroom and conceivably to throw up)


So that's my random for this week. Being in long meetings all day and having planned activities at night leaves me about 10 minutes to type this, so this week it's a weak, pitiful, self-sorrowful epigram.

With no spell checking done.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

RTT: Blue, and Hints of Synesthesia.

If you like Random Thoughts Tuesday, take a look at Keely, the Un Mom. Go ahead, it won't kill you. It's way better than reading my crap. And she invented it, to boot.

randomtuesday

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  • As a child, my favorite color was blue. No fancy tints or hues, just blue, right from the color wheel.
  • Blue is a smooth word. Surprisingly, it is also the color blue. Not all the words for the colors are the color they describe.
  • Brown is clear. Yellow is White. Green is Pale Green. Red is Reddish Brown. Black is Black.
  • My first name has the same feeling as an even number. Not surprisingly, I like even numbers better than odd numbers. However, my last name is pointy, coarse, and has an odd number feeling to it.
  • All music to me is sightly flat. Or better put, my entire inner musical "ear" is sharp. I can pick out tones just fine, and can sing in tune, but my scale wants to be a quarter tone off (which is actually half way between two normal tones in a regular scale). 
  • However, both my mother and one of my sons have Absolute Pitch, which is rare for even the most accomplished musicians.
  • You don't even want to know how music affects me, but let's just say it has a multitude of smells and colors.
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Speaking of music...
Behold! The McIntosh Reference System!




This can be yours for a mere $235,000. 
Yes, you read that correctly. 
Actually, that was the price two years ago. I'm sure it's gone up a bit since then. The speakers at each end are seven feet tall. There are some drool marks on this from when I was looking it over and trying to act casual about it.

Photo by me and iPhone, March 2009.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

RTT: Leaves of Grass and Grass Skirts

If you like Random Thoughts Tuesday, take a look at Keely, the Un Mom. Go ahead, it won't kill you. It's way better than reading my crap. And she invented it, to boot.

randomtuesday



If, in your time, you have read (and who hasn't?), you may have come across a poet/essayist by the name of Walt Whitman. Oh! Sing you joy who have his words ingested for your body's amelioration!*

Thank you, Walt* - that's enough. If you ever enjoyed Whitman, then I have a book suggestion for you. One of my favorite reads is Proust Was a Neuroscientist,
by Jonah Lehrer.

The book is a wonderful cleaving together of usually disparate enterprises: Art, via writing, painting, cooking, music, etc., and Science. It is not a book of conciliation so much as a wonderful reminder that there are gray areas, but even the gray areas need not be complete mysteries. Although science may define and describe our world - and we are the better for it, no doubt - there are those outside of the sciences whose work through their art has shone a light on science and helped us advance, but who did so neither as science, nor for science.

Back to Walt Whitman we go.
When Whitman writes to us, "Come, said my soul, Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)", he foreshadowed and described part of the field of neuroscience, which understands that the body is mind and the mind is body. But not just Whitman. In the book you'll read of Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Igor Stravinsky, Auguste Escoffier, Paul C├ęzanne, George Eliot, and Gertrude Stein. It details how each of them did the same as Whitman, and either knowingly, unknowingly, or by complete random accident, discovered and described things about humans that we are only now re-discovering.
I can't recommend it enough, for those who are interested in studying humanity and what makes us us.

As for Leaves of Grass, by Whitman, if you've never read it, at least give it a try. It's beautiful. Difficult in places, but worth taking your time and working through. His I Sing The Body Electric should move anyone with a heartbeat.

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As for the Grass Skirts, I have a cool little hand-made knickknack that my father brought home from the south Pacific during WWII. It is a little "dude" (code for androgynous being, since it is impossible to know if it's a guy or girl) in a grass skirt, playing a stringed instrument of some kind. Or at least, I HAD it. The little, four-inch tall guy, made entirely out of coconut shell and husk, made it through the last year of the war, and through 60 years of moves and kids, grandkids, dogs, etc., only to be lost last week to a random, and unfortunately thorough, house cleaning.

RIP little dude.

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And just like that, I have found the little dude! It's like a Festivus Miracle, only it involved dumpster diving and cursing a lot.
Here he is, for all to see!



With Grass Skirt!


Maybe I should start a contest to name him/it/she/her/whatever (I kinda think it's a he, actually)? Suggestions?

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Stuff in the background, for the curious:

The baseball is a real MLB baseball, and is autographed by Whitey Ford and Don Larsen

The helicopter illustration is a gift to me for my graduation from U.S. Army Flight School. 

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* FYI, that isn't Whitman, if you haven't figured it out. It was me doing a mentally stunted version of Whitman, using both of my brain cells at once. Now I must rest.