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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thoughts on being 45

Hey, I'm 45.

Ayup.

But I had cake, so...ayup.

She must have died while frosting it! #cake #yum #happybirthdaytome

That's all I got. Off to do stuff!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Alexander Borodin only wrote two complete symphonies and fragments of a third. In discovering this wonderful composer of late, I'm at the same time heartbroken at his relatively small output, but also amazed at its quality. This is a man who seems to have pulled in so many different directions in his life of only 54 years that he's lucky to have got any work done at all, much less work this good.

Borodin's Symphony No. 1 in E-flat was premiered in 1867, after Borodin spent nearly five years working on it, after his initial training by Mily Balakirev. The resulting work shows the seams of an inexperienced artist at work, and various critics have noted a debt to Robert Schumann in terms of style, but Borodin's melodic gifts and knack for exotic color in his orchestrations is already evident.

Here is Borodin's Symphony No. 1.


Next week, the Symphony No. 2.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Football fandom is weird.


Here’s some math. An NFL game takes roughly three hours to play. So if you watch every single play of each of your team’s sixteen regular-season NFL games, at season’s end you will have watched 48 hours of football. That’s two entire days of your year, spent watching the games.

And if you are a Buffalo Bills fan, and if you have been faithful enough over these sixteen years to watch every Bills game even while they’ve been mostly stinking the whole time, that’s two days spent per year for sixteen years. That’s thirty-two days of watching mostly bad football. Which is more than a month.

Hey, it's your time. Far be it from me to suggest that you might consider spending it doing something that doesn't bring more annoyance than joy.

Bad Joke Friday

Q: How do you fix a brass instrument?

A: With a tuba glue!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Myself in Three Fictional Characters

So there's a meme going around the various social media sites in which you pick three fictional characters to depict yourself. Here are my three:

Myself in three fictional characters.

How about yours?

Something for Thursday

One of the most beautiful songs I know: "Scythe Song" by Dougie Maclean. The song is about the long work involved in learning to do a thing and do it well, and the way you need to ideally spend time in the company of a master of the thing you're trying to learn, and how when you know how to do a thing well, it becomes something you feel rather than something you do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Conning!

This past weekend was Buffalo Comicon! And yes, we attended. Lots of fun was had by all, and some geeky stuff was acquired, as you might expect. My haul included the following items:

Comicon Find I: Catbus! #buffalocomicon #totoro #catbus

Comicon Find II: Tororo! #buffalocomicon #totoro

Comicon Find IV: The Enterprise. Ship Number Two of my Holy Spaceship Trinity (the other two being Serenity and the Millennium Falcon.) #buffalocomicon #StarTrek #SpaceshipsAreAwesome

Comicon Find VI: Nifty pocketwatch! #buffalocomicon #pocketwatch

Comicon Find V: A Groot t-shirt! Yay Groot! #buffalocomicon #guardiansofthegalaxy #groot #iamgroot

Not bad, eh?

I'd like to have my own vendor table at a future con, once I have enough books available to make it work. I'm probably a year or two away, but I'll get there! As for other Cons in Buffalo...well, I'm wondering if the local con market isn't getting oversaturated. A new Comicon just launched to compete with Buffalo Comicon, and there are several other cons as well (Eeriecon, UB Con, et cetera). Of course, I'd love to see Buffalo gear up and host a Worldcon. They held Worldcon in Spokane two years ago, so Buffalo has got to be able to do it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tone Poem Tuesday

I hated Debussy for years, but I started coming around a decade or so ago, when I began to appreciate his atmospherics more than I had before. La mer is, quite simply, a musical depiction of the sea, in three parts:

"From dawn to noon on the sea" or "From dawn to midday on the sea" – very slow – animate little by little (B minor)
"Play of the Waves" – allegro (with a very versatile rhythm) – animated (C sharp minor)
"Dialogue of the wind and the sea" or "Dialogue between wind and waves" – animated and tumultuous – give up very slightly (C sharp minor)


Debussy's intent is not at all to meditate on humans and their relationship with the sea, but on the sea itself. Like a lot of Debussy, the work is haunting and evocative, sweeping the listener along on a series of orchestral "images".

Here is La mer.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Let's back up in time a little bit, shall we? I just heard this captivating piece a week or two ago on the radio. Luigi Boccherini was a cellist and composer during the Classical period, roughly contemporary with Franz Joseph Haydn. He was highly prolific, but his music was neglected for many, many years, overshadowed by the likes of Haydn and Mozart. In all honestly, I'm not sure if I've ever heard anything by Boccherini aside from this piece. He composed when the orchestra was still very small and evolving into something more than a large chamber ensemble, which gives this symphony the chamber-like air that it has. In fact, when I joined the work in progress, I wasn't even sure if it was a symphony at all, or a guitar concerto, or some other chamber hybrid work. It is, however, like all fine works of the classical era, a beguiling and even refreshing listen.


Next week: Back to Borodin.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Something for Thursday

I've been posting an awful lot of classical music lately, so...let's go with something from one of the great musicals! Here's "There's No Business Like Show Business", from Annie Get Your Gun.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tone Poem Tuesday

Closely related to the tone poem is the Concert overture, which is the forerunner of the tone poem in many ways. Also a single movement work, a concert overture was often intended to kick off a program of symphonic music, much in the way a standard overture does for an opera. Here is one of the finest such concert overtures: the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms.

Brahms composed this work as a "thank you" gesture to the University of Breslau, after the school awarded him an honorary degree. Displaying humor that's fairly rare for Brahms, the work is mainly a collection of light-hearted tunes and even drinking songs, richly orchestrated in vigorous fashion. I can never help, when I hear this piece, wishing that Brahms had managed to tap into this part of his own psyche a little more often. Alas!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen years and counting

I took this photos last year when we visited NYC at Thanksgiving.

Taken a year ago. #worldtradecenter #911memorial

Where one stood. #worldtradecenter #911memorial

The return of life always begins with the rush of water. #worldtradecenter #911memorial

Names in granite #worldtradecenter #911memorial

One thing I remember thinking, standing there by those square gaps in the ground where towers once rose, is that the buildings weren't quite so wide as I thought. They were immense and tall, but more slender than we often think. I remember wondering if there was really enough space on so small a bank of granite to engrave all those names. But of course, there must be.

Our country was deeply wounded that day, and I'm not sure how well we're healing. Sometimes I wonder if we're healing at all. But making something beautiful out of a scar is a good place to start.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Something for Thursday (the Happy Birthday STAR TREK edition)

I obviously have to feature some Star Trek music today, but choosing which to use is a daunting task. Then I found these "Mega Suites" that some kind soul already compiled, so...start boldly going, people!











STAR TREK and me



And you people, you're all astronauts on...some kind of star trek?

--Zefram Cochrane, Star Trek First Contact

Wow. Star Trek made its official US debut fifty years ago today. That’s...amazing. (The show aired for the first time anywhere on September 6, 1966, in Canada.)

Star Trek came and went and was already in syndication when I was born, but my sister loved it, so I quite literally do not remember a time when Star Trek wasn’t a thing. One of my earliest teevee memories is, in fact, the brief bit at the end of the episode “Friday’s Child”, when Dr. McCoy is saying “Oochie woochie coochie coo” to a newborn baby, to Spock’s great confusion.



It’s often taken as an article of faith in the geek universe that one is either a Star Wars fan or a Star Trek fan, and I can kind of see why. It’s a Yankees-Red Sox kind of thing, I suppose. Or Bears-Packers. But for me, it’s complicated. I have to be honest: push me to answer, hold a gun to my head, and I will almost certainly choose Star Wars. But the margin of victory is not large, and in truth, there’s no way I’m the writer I am now without both of them.

"Let me help." A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over "I love you."

--James T. Kirk, "The City on the Edge of Forever"

Star Trek shaped my view, in a lot of ways, of what the future can and should be. It should be a time when humans are not afraid to explore the universe and, in fact, do so with enthusiasm. It should be a time when the diversity of humanity should be celebrated and not resisted. It should be a time when beautiful ships fly the stars, instead of rusting dingy hulks. It should be a time of wonderful cities, not dystopic nightmares. It should not be a time of universal peace without conflict, because that’s almost certainly impossible, but it should be a time when we approach conflict from a much more mature standpoint than we do now.



Of course, when I was a kid, Star Trek was none of that. It was just a show about nifty adventures in space, a way for me to scratch that particular itch in the years between releases of Star Wars movies. It didn’t ever occur to me back then that I was supposed to like one over the other; they were different things, and I liked ‘em both. If Star Wars hit me like a bolt from the blue, Star Trek was the thing that was there, day in and day out. Star Trek was what was on during the afternoon hours after school. I’d get home and watch it and thrill to the adventures of Captain Kirk and crew on the black-and-white teevee set I had in my room. This was before the Internet, obviously, and I didn’t have any access to an episode guide, so the only way to learn the episodes was to watch and watch and rewatch them as they came. I got pretty good at recognizing the episodes by sight, usually within seconds. (Often I had to wait until the first shot after the obligatory opening shot of the Enterprise.)

I don’t know if the station had some kind of plan for airing the episodes in any particular order, but I recall that you could go upwards of a year without seeing “Mirror, Mirror” or “The Trouble with Tribbles”, but other episodes – “The Return of the Archons”, “Errand of Mercy” – would show up more frequently. A certain “This one again?!” factor crept in at times, especially with some of the crappier episodes. (I can live the rest of my life to a rich old age and never watch “The Alternative Factor” again.) But the great episodes? Those live on forever. I still laugh at “The Trouble with Tribbles”, and I live for a moment when someone near me uses the phrase “storage compartments”, so I can respond as Kirk does: “STORAGE compartments? STORAGE compartments?!” And I still feel that sense of doom slowly unfolding as “The City on the Edge of Forever” spins its tale, toward the awful moment when, in order to fix history after it has been changed, James Kirk must stand and watch as a 20th century woman with whom he has fallen in love is killed.

MCCOY: You deliberately stopped me, Jim! I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?

SPOCK: He knows, Doctor. He knows.

--”The City on the Edge of Forever”

As a kid, I attended two Star Trek conventions with my older sister – or at least, one Trek convention and one general sci-fi convention. At the latter, “The Trouble with Tribbles” was aired, followed by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those were fun. George Takei was the guest of honor at the first one, in 1977 or 1978. I was in first grade at the time. I remember Takei wearing a gleaming white suit. (Peter Mayhew was guest at the next one.)

I eventually lost track of daily Star Trek reruns by the mid-1980s, but also by this point, the movies were a thing. I remember being terribly excited for The Motion Picture, and even though I didn’t quite understand all of the plot, I have never – not once – disliked that often-maligned film. I recall being mildly disappointed that the Enterprise never fires its phasers once in that film, and in fact it only dispatches a single photon torpedo, and that’s at an errant asteroid that’s about to collide with the Great Bird. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think The Motion Picture is the first real science fiction story I saw on the big screen that wasn’t about a galactic war or some other action-based adventure. I wasn’t thinking in those terms, but yes, the movie primed that particular pump.



I liked all of the movies that came, and I saw every one in the theater over the next decade. This was an odd time for Trek, when a movie every couple of years was all there was. Sure, every once in a while there would be a tidbit in Starlog (the late, great SF fandom magazine) about how somebody somewhere wanted to make a new Trek teevee series, but it never amounted to much until we learned that we were finally getting The Next Generation. This was for several reasons, not the least of which was that Paramount wanted to keep making money off Trek but the original cast was starting to show its age.

Through the 1980s, as Star Wars seemed to fade away, Trek was still there, churning out a movie every couple of years and then a new teevee show. That’s what Trek always was for me. It didn’t fuel my imagination in quite the same way that Star Wars has always moved me at a very basic level of storytelling taste, but Trek has always been around. Always, always there. In fact, it was always there to such an extent that in the late 1990s, I started letting Trek go...but I’m getting ahead. During this time I read a number of Trek novels, and there was a fanzine called Trek that would annually publish a paperback book filled with its best articles. These I read with zeal, and I’ve lately started regathering them all via eBay. Maybe this winter I’ll spend some time reliving some fine old fan writing.



I loved The Next Generation, and watching it religiously formed a tradition in college among my mates and I. TNG aired reruns every weeknight, and the new episodes ran every Sunday night after the 10:00 news. That station even went so far, as TNG’s popularity grew, of including a very brief astronomy segment in its 10:00 Sunday newscast – “Tonight you can see Mars in the eastern sky!”, that sort of thing – complete with an Enterprise fly-by animation. And then, in our senior year, the next show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, arrived. That premiere was an event, and I still think that premiere was an amazing episode.

Never trust ale from a god-fearing people, or a Starfleet Commander that has one of your relatives in jail.

--Quark, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

It took a little while for TNG to really get going, but once the writers had the chemistry down, the show was more than ready to carry on the Trek tradition, with many a fine and thought-provoking story, about love and loss and what it means to be human even as we take to the stars.

If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid.

--Q, Star Trek: The Next Generation

And still the movies came. The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, which I saw with school friends. The Voyage Home, with its goofy and infectious joy. Even the much-maligned (and mostly deservedly so) The Final Frontier had its charms for me. That poor movie may have failed, but I really give it credit for trying to be about something.

The Undiscovered Country came along in 1991, when TNG had hit its stride. We saw it in the theater the night it opened, which happened to be the same night as our annual Christmas concert performance at a big church in Cedar Falls, IA. We did the concert, quickly changed clothes, and bolted down the street to catch the show. I loved that movie, and in fact, to this day Star Trek VI is my favorite Trek film. I remember a lump in my throat at the closing scene, which boiled down to just the classic crew onscreen (minus Sulu, who finally got his promotion to Captain and got to fly away on his own ship, the Excelsior), followed by the animated signatures of the original cast. Their time was done. (Although, in classic Trek and science fiction fashion, not quite.)

CHEKOV: Course heading, Captain?

KIRK: (smiles) Second star to the right...and straight on ‘til morning.

--Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

College ended and the real world began, and there was still Star Trek, even as Star Wars started making rumblings again. The TNG crew graduated to movies, and DS9 soared in quality. Another series began, Voyager...which is when I started to lose a bit of energy with respect to Trek. For one thing, I had a lot of other interests by this time, but for another, it was pretty clear as Voyager got going that the creative folks behind Trek were starting to lose steam. I stopped watching Voyager about the fourth season, and the next series? Well, to this day, I have never watched a single episode of Enterprise.



But now Trek is coming back. Three new movies, with varying degrees of success. A new series on the way, reimagined to seasons of thirteen episodes each. The Trek continues. (I haven’t seen Star Trek Beyond yet. It came and went from the theaters too quickly this summer, and it came out during our busiest time of the summer as well, so I simply was never able to squeeze it in. Beyond and Nemesis are, to date, the only Trek films I did not see in the theaters.) Will Trek eventually reach similar heights again? Are there more stories in the offing to match tales like "The Devil in the Dark," "The Doomsday Machine," "A Piece of the Action," "The Best of Both Worlds," "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Tapestry," "The Visitor"? Who knows...but I look forward to finding out.




Star Trek is, was, and has been many things. It will continue to be many things, too. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the same old investment in it that I did in the late 70s and through the 80s. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that same enthusiasm for Star Wars either, so the two tentpoles of my science fiction life have that much in common, don’t they? But I’ll always owe a debt to Star Trek. It shone a bright light on a future that doesn’t have to be awful, and it showed beautiful space ships. It put a new light on the idea of space adventure, and it showed a military organization that was devoted truly to peace. Star Trek did time travel better than just about anybody else. Star Trek gave us amazing characters, and it let those characters do amazing things.

They used to say if man could fly, he'd have wings, but he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn't reached the moon, or that we hadn't gone on to Mars and then to the nearest star? That's like saying you wish that you still operated with scalpels and sewed your patients up with catgut like your great-great-great-great grandfather used to. I'm in command. I could order this, but I'm not because Doctor McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this, but I must point out that the possibilities - the potential for knowledge and advancement - is equally great. Risk! Risk is our business. That's what this starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her.

--James T. Kirk, “Return to Tomorrow”

Star Trek is fifty. Amazing. Long live Star Trek.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Good luck is finding a new composer to explore and love! Bad luck is finding out that that composer didn't compose a whole lot of music, because of insane demands upon his time and because he didn't live terribly long. Alexander Borodin matches all of these. I've been aware of his music for years, but only in the last year have I really started to seize upon how wonderful he is. Sadly, Borodin's output is relatively small, because he wasn't just a composer. He was a teacher and a writer and, interestingly, a chemist who actually did some very meaningful work in that field. He was also a feminist for his day, supervising the establishment of medical education for women. Composition was never Borodin's main focus, and what I've heard of his music leads me to wonder just what might have come from his pen had he been able to focus all his energies thusly. Of course, we'll never know, and it could well be that his limited opportunities for composition are what allowed his existing output to be of the high quality that it is.

Borodin was also not the healthiest of men, and he died suddenly while overexerting himself during a bout of ballroom dancing. His heart gave out on the dance floor and almost just like that, he was gone. He left behind this symphony, his Third, with only two movements that weren't even complete. A shame, that.


Next week...well, apparently I managed to not include Borodin's First or Second symphonies in this series! Now what to do about that....

Thursday, September 01, 2016

"Lib Gothic"

I saw this on Tumblr, and since Tumblr is designed for sharing and propagating stuff out into the Interwebs, I figured it would be OK to share it here as well, because it's a nifty bit of writing. Say, the adventures of a library worker, if the library is the Public Library in Stephen King's fictional city of Derry, Maine.

The story appears to have originated from here.

:: “Do you have that book?” a patron asks. You reply, “I’m sorry, could you be more specific?” “The book,” is the only answer you get. This happens with three more patrons today. “I’m sorry,” you say to them all, “I don’t know what book you’re talking about.” The book. The book. The Book. Should you know The Book? Should you have The Book?

:: An elderly couple comes in every morning for the newspaper. Nobody remembers a time that they didn’t. They have always been elderly. There’s a faint foul smell in the library when they’re in.

:: There is a branch on the system map that you’ve never heard anyone talk about. You’ve never seen books with their branch sticker come in and you’ve never sent books to them. You asked a co-worker about it once, but they just smiled and asked how much shelf reading you got done that day. You tried to find it once, but kept finding yourself in the same grocery store parking lot over and over.

:: You weed for hours. There are no fewer books on the shelves. You weed for days. There is still no room for the new books that have come in. You weed for months. You feel like you’ve withdrawn a lot of these books already. You know you threw this stained, tattered, moldy copy of Bleak House in recycling a while ago. You weed for years. You weed forever.

:: (You never weed books on witchcraft. In fact, you put ten brand new ones on the shelf yesterday. They have already disappeared.)

:: One day the elderly couple doesn’t come in. The library has a much fouler smell than usual during the time they’re regularly in.

:: You go through a box of donations and at the very bottom you find a copy of Ramona Quimby, Age 8. You loved that book as a child, and it looks like the same edition. You open it to check the publishing date and there is your name and childhood phone number written in purple crayola marker in your 8-year-old self’s handwriting. You did not grow up around here. Your family is not close.

:: You go through a box of donations and at the very bottom you find a book with a photo used as a bookmark. You take it out to let the patron know they left it in there next time they come in. The photo is of a child at the beach and you would swear that it was a picture of you, but you have no memory of that swimsuit and no memory of that beach. The patron does not return.

:: You go through a box of donations and at the very bottom you find a book written in a language you can’t identify. You pass it around to your coworkers, and none of them know either. You upload a picture of the cover to reverse google image search and there are no matches. You open the book to double check for copyright information and you don’t know how you missed it until now but there is your your name and childhood phone number written in purple crayola marker in your 8-year-old self’s handwriting.

:: “Do you have that book?” a patron asks. You reply, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what book you’re talking about,” even though this time you get the nagging feeling that you do.

Something for Thursday

I don't often share bad music intentionally, but I'm really curious, after reading this entertaining article last night: How many of you would agree that this is "the worst song of all time"? Or that it is, at least, "in the conversation"? I do think it's a pretty bad song. The lyrics are incomprehensible gibberish. The tune, however, does have an oddly compelling sound to it. I mean, hell -- there's got to be some reason that it's still heard quite frequently. Bad songs don't often have this much staying power. So, is this a bad song?

Here's Starship and "We Built This City".


My opinion? Yes, this song sucks. It's just plain old bad.

I think I'll play it again.

(Shades of Data on Star Trek, the first time he sampled alcohol after installing his emotion chip:


I hate this song! It's revolting!

Play it again?

Yes!)