Monthly Archives: July 2006

Won't Get Phuled Again

Recently, I have mentioned some new series that I have been enjoying; it has been really gratifying to get the e-mails from a few of you telling me that you plan to try the ones I have been recommending.

But this post is not about those series.

Unfortunately, this post is about the opposite.  This post is about a series that I used to love, that I used to be able to recommend.  The series in question here are the “Phule’s Company” books by Robert Asprin and Peter J. Heck.  The stories are light sf, meant to be read more as comedy than as any sort of science fiction and are still somewhat funny.

But that is the problem.  The stories are only somewhat funny. 

The principal character is named Willard Phule (read fool) and he is anything but foolish.  He is the son of a multi-billionaire entrepreneur and he has joined the Space Legion.  Hilarity ensues.  Or it should, anyway, and in the first book where the cast of characters is introduced and the story revolves around the tired but still gold plot of the new Legionaire taking command of the worst outfit in the entire legion and how they learn to get along and become better people for each other’s influence.

When the first book came out, I really enjoyed it, and, in fact, it holds up to re-reads fairly well.  It is the other books in the series that do not hold up as well, if at all.  And, this week, when I read the most recent novel in the series for the first time, I had to force myself to finish the book as it just did not hold my interest.

I was disapointed, to say the least.

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QotD: You’ve got to blog!

If you could get someone in your life to start a blog, who would it be and why?

There's this old man I know.  He is in his seventies and his health is gradually failing due to a lifetime of cigarettes.  He has been everywhere and done everything and he was my mentor when I was young.

When I was at my first job, at the tender age of seventeen, this old man, whom I will call Jack although it is not his real name, took myself and my best friend under his wings.  His mission, he said, was to teach us music. 

Jack was the chief engineer at the radio station where my friend and I had gotten part-time jobs.  We liked all the people and we loved the freedom that came with being able to assemble playlists and produce music shows.  We found thousands of new bands, and discovered for the first time, the hundreds of thousands of classic songs that were unknown to us.  And Jack was right there, giving us hints or, sometimes, shoves towards music we had not tried before. 

Jack was right there, sitting on his stool, perched, we used to say, cigarette in hand and a big smile split across his ugly mug, watching me have my mind blown by Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie.  He was right there, coffe mug in one hand, danish in the other, when I put on an old 78 of Jelly Roll Morton for the first time and could not believe my ears.  And Jack was right there when I sat around the station feeling like an idiot for feeling so bad because Kurt Cobain had shot himself.

But Jack's expertise did not end with music.  He had been raised in California and Arizona and knew their histories inside and out.  He was an honarary member of one of the local tribes of Native Americans and could tell you the stories of their mythology for hours.  He played poker like a master.

The most amazing thing though, was that he had the time and the patience for you.  He would tell stories, but he would also listen.  And even though you knew he had been through the same thing as you, decades before, that fact is, he would listen to your story with fresh ears and a grin.

The point is, Jack should have a blog.  Blogs are a fantastic way of telling stories and receiving stories in turn, as I am sure you know, if you are reading this, and who better to have a blog than a master storyteller?  Who better to have as a blogger than a man who was a surrogate grandfather to everyone who wanted one? Who better to write than someone who still has a lot to say?

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Happy Little Surfers

Documentaries are, for me, one of the best uses of and examples of TV and film.  Sit me down in front of the History Channel or the Discovery Channel and I can watch TV for hours.  Better yet, show me a feature length documentary on some people with whom I have nothing in common or a slice of life I have never experienced and you’ll hold me rapt.

The past couple of decades have been especially fortuitous in that there have been so many excellent documentaries produced.  From the recent “Super Size Me” and the immediate “An Inconvenient Truth” (Which I haven’t seen yet, but from the reviews I feel safe in saying that it is well made.) and the award winning films of the past twenty years, like “Hoop Dreams”.

But none of them, no matter how compelling, grab me the way surfing documentaries do.

It started when I was in high school and when, one night, wishing to avoid doing my homework I rented “The Endless Summer” and “The Endless Summer II”.  For the three hours I sat there watching these films, I wanted nothing more from life than to be able to become a surf kid.  The whole atmosphere of the films just seemed magical.  The easy camaraderie, the banter, the beautiful locations and, more than anything else, the glory of the way they slid down the waves, making a difficult task look so easy.

The movies ended and I went back to my real life, deep in the desert and later up in the mountains, and that was that as far as surfing docs. went.

When I ended in Japan, years later, a friend recommended that I go see “Step Into Liquid”.  So I talked M into making the two hour trip into Shibuya, down to Spain Zaka, to a tiny, basement, art-house type theater to watch this film, and, boom, I wanted to be a surfer again. 

From there I began gathering as many of the other documentaries as I could.  Well, that’s not exactly true, I avoided the ones produced by competitive surf companies.  I did not want to watch the equivalent of ESPN SportsCenter, the Surfing Edition.  I wanted to see glimpses into the lives of the people who had turned this sport into a lifestyle.  I wanted to fantasize that I was one of them, even if just for a couple of hours.

I do have limited experience surfing.  In other words, I tried it a few times in high school, but never had, excuse me, never made, the opportunities to become good at it.  Instead I concentrated on other ocean sports, like SCUBA diving and a bit of ocean kayaking.  I thought about surfing but never did anything about it.

And, honestly, I do not know that I really want to be a surfer.  I mean, some of those waves are dangerous and I am not really into thrill sports.  It is the lifestyle, I think, that hits me so deeply.  The surfers always look so happy, so contented with their lot in life, like they could not ever even imagine asking for anything more.

That is what I am envious of and that is what I watch over and over. 

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QotD: Discovering Music

Go to one random page in Explore Audio. What CD do you see that you're most interested in listening to?

The Eraser
Thom Yorke

Good question.  I clicked onto the front page and saw a couple of things that looked interesting, but the one I am most immediately interested in hearing is Thom Yorke's "The Eraser".  I have been a Radiohead fan for many more years than I really like to admit to; suffice it to say that I was a freshman in high school when I first heard "Creep" and had my mind blown.

Subsequent Radiohead albums, of course, only continued that trend and they are still one of the bands I find myself listening to most often.

So, I am curious to hear this solo album from Thom Yorke.  I wonder if it will sound like a RH album.  Or will it be a departure from the sound that made Yorke famous?  Are there guest musicians? ("This Mess We're In" featuring a duet between Yorke and P.J. Harvey is one of the best songs either of them ever recorded, in my ever so humble opinion and I would love to hear Yorke working with other top notch female vocalists.)

At any rate, I'll be getting this recording at the next available opportunity.

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QotD: They’re Grrreat!

What or who is your favorite product mascot? Why?

Back in the day, there were those little raisans that sang for the California Raisan Association or something like that?  The commercials were all stop-motion animation and the raisans sang "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"?

Anyway, those are probably my favorite mascots.  No real reason other than I love raisans as a snack and when I was a kid, I would run around doing the dance and singing the song; it was not until years later that I realized they had taken a classic song and re-worked it for the commercials.

So, yeah, that's it.  The California Raisans.

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TMI Post

Enlightenment comes in many forms. 

The reason I know longer make disparaging remarks about peoples’ musical tastes is because of a time in university when a girl whose pants I was trying to make my way into, let me know just how badly I had blown my chances of doing so by summarily dismissing her choice of music while in my car.

Don’t you feel better for knowing that about me?

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The DVD Habit, Part II

This is part two of a post talking about the new DVD formats, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD, and a few reasons why I think they are completely unnecessary.

The main reason I do not think the new formats will take off, at least with me, is that I do not buy that many DVDs anymore.  I like to think I am pretty typical in that when I first got a DVD player, I bought one or two DVDs per week.  Now that number is down to one every other month or two.

There are a few reasons for this.  The first, and most important, is that I get most of my DVDs from my Mom who picks up seasons of TV shows that I do not have access to and sends them to me.  (Here is where I will completely reverse my stance on this:  if the content manufacturers begin making whole seasons available on a single disc, I may have to re-consider the whole thing.)  Which is great and proves that my mom is cooler than your mom.  However, as many TV shows are beginning to be available via legal downloads on iTunes and new services supported by the networks, Mom is going to be able to avoid the costs involved in buying and shipping DVDs in favor of making me buy my own damned TV shows.  And the point there, is that why buy a disc at all, when I can buy from a download service, which keeps files on everything I have purchased in case of computer crash or a lack of hard drive space?

A related point, is the rise of services like NetFlix.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I have not had the opportunity to try NetFlix as they are not yet available in Japan.  However, as I have heard nothing but positive reviews, I plan to try the service as soon as it is.

NetFlix, for those who do not know, is an online DVD rental service.  A user puts the movies he or she would like to see into his or her queue and the DVD is sent when it becomes available.  Once watched, the DVD is returned and the next available DVD from the queue is sent.  Many of my friends in the States use this service and all have reported that their DVD buying habit is down because there are so many more DVDs to choose from via the service that there seems to be little point in buying when it is so easy to rent.  TV shows are availabe from NetFlix as well, which relates to the earlier point, why buy the discs when there are cheaper options?

I’ll finish this post by saying that I could be completely wrong about all of this, and I could change my mind just by reading the right news story, but, at this time, I just do not see why I, or anyone I know would need to spend the money on a next generation DVD system when their are so many other options to choose from.

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