For more information on my writing, please visit my official author website!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sub-optimal function

As a rule, the underground pipe that supplies water to your domicile should not be doing this:

Welp. Water main break on my street. Supposed to go to a party later, but if I can't shower.... #argleblargle


Showering is postponed indefinitely. Luckily for you all, who are reading this on a screen.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

It's not a bad joke, actually. Seen on Twitter:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Something for Thursday

( often happens, saved as draft and forgot to actually publish.)

Continuing our month of spooky, scary is a suite from Bernard Herrmann's seminal filmscore, Psycho. No intro needed other than that!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

At least THAT happened in 2017!

Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself, tweeted my name.

Here's how it happened.

It began with, surprisingly enough, William Shatner:

Mark Hamill, cited by Mr. Shatner, replied:

Funny reply! Until, that is, a Star Trek geek from the Buffalo, NY area felt the need to point out that Mr. Shatner never faced the Borg on Star Trek. They came along for Patrick Stewart's tenure as Enterprise captain.

Sayeth the Trek geek from Buffalo:

And then, replyeth Mr. Hamill:

Squeee! Proof for eternity that for a period of time--who cares if it was mere seconds long--Mark Hamill was aware of my existence!

I, of course, couldn't allow Mr. Hamill the last word, so:

And as of this writing, there we stand.

Sometimes the future is kind of cool, in amidst the moments of existential dread and the ongoing awareness that everything is terrible.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Here's something I've never heard before: The Mask of the Red Death, a work for harp and string quartet by Andre Caplet. Caplet was a French composer and a contemporary of Claude Debussy, and in fact his most noted work seems to have been orchestrations of the great master's works. Caplet's work here is based on the famous story by Edgar Allan Poe, and it is an eerily effective piece of mood music, employing a number of sonic effects throughout in addition to tonal moods that suggest atonality.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Something for Thursday

For the month of scares, here's one of John Williams's rare forays into the world of horror: a suite from his score to the movie Dracula.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

On the Pleasures of Raw Denim

Obviously denim is one of my favorite things on Earth. Few things are more comfortable than well-worn denim that has been broken in over years.

Reviewing my notes. Parts of this book flow wonderfully; others, not so much. #AmWriting #overalls #DoubleDenim

But lately I've discovered another pleasure: raw denim. I know, I know -- raw denim is stiff and unforgiving. Its color is uniform, with none of the wear of use. Wearing it, raw denim doesn't hang correctly and doesn't conform to your body the way broken-in denim does.

Raw Lee overalls

That, however, is part of the charm.

I have, of course, discovered this by several lucky purchases of raw denim overalls.

You can find raw denim overalls pretty easily. Any Tractor Supply store or other workwear establishment will have them. (A good local place is McKay's Work Clothing in South Buffalo.) Vintage raw denim overalls are another matter. They often go for princely sums that are way higher than I'm willing to pay for such things, but it's always the case with places like eBay that you never know. You might go months without seeing a good deal on the thing that you want, and then one day, there it is, and for a decent price, too. This happened for me twice in the last year, when I was able to buy two different pairs of raw denim Lee overalls for a song (both for less than what a new pair of Carhartts would set me back these days).

The Lee overalls of the "vintage" era, roughly the 50s through the 80s, have always been my "platonic ideal" of what overalls should be. I love the shape of the bib pocket, the shape of the back part, even the shape of the back pockets and the brass hardware. When I think of overalls, this is what I tend to picture.

(Photos chosen via a Google image search.)

I've owned several pairs of Lee overalls for years now, two in blue denim and one in hickory stripe.

Detail. This outfit made me happy. #ootd #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #scarf

Red and blue: classic combo! (Waiting for my grilled cheese sandwich to heat. Also, I read a fascinating article yesterday that suggests that humans might NOT have been able to perceive the color blue until fairle recently. Science! #overalls #vintage #Le

Another good writing day in the books. G'night, world! #amwriting #overalls #vintage #Lee #HickoryStripe

These were all nicely broken-in when I bought them, but now I've acquired two in unworn, pristine raw denim. They even came with the tags attached:


What's so great about raw denim? Its deep blue is almost black, and the fabric is stiff. Oh my, is it stiff! But the denim is a wonderful super-dark blue with no fade at all, and no creasing anywhere. The pleasure, here, is in the working with "raw" material (hence the name!). It's the denim equivalent of cooking from scratch, or building a piece of furniture not from a pre-cut kit but from uncut lumber. As another writer puts it:

Raw denim is a true nerd’s category of clothing, the rare subset of fashion that is the domain mostly of men, and thus overrun by complicated terminology and geeks eager to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Basically, though, what “raw” amounts to is denim that wasn’t washed to soften it up (and remove excess indigo dye) before it was sent out into the world — though mine had been Sanforized, or soaked, to pre-shrink them. Raw denim is also usually made of nearly pure cotton — so minimal-to-no Lycra or spandex or what have you, the stuff that gives stretchy jeans their elasticity. What you lose in immediate flexibility, you gain in durability: They’re harder to stretch, but also harder to stretch out. My pair arrived on my doorstep deep blue, stiff, and difficult. Then it became my job to find the patience and persistence to wear them into shape.

There's a process with raw denim, it turns out: you're actually not supposed to just toss them into the washer and dryer right off the bat, nor are you supposed to wash them frequently. An initial soaking-and-drying, without soap, followed by wearing a lot with intermittent re-soakings and gentle washings (hand-washing in a tub with a bit of soap is recommended) followed by line-dryings only, is what's called for. In this way the denim will slowly break in and wear in exact ways that correspond to your body and the way you wear it.

Here's how the ran denim overalls compare, side-by-side with one of my long-broken-in pairs:

Raw Lee overalls

Step one is to put them in the bathtub and hose them off to rinse out as much of the extra dye as possible (I'd have done this outside but the weather was crappy on the day in question):

Raw Lee overalls

Raw Lee overalls

Then I soak them in a bucket for most of a day, periodically wringing them out and changing the water.

Raw Lee overalls

(I was doing to same treatment with a new pair of hickory-striped Dickies.)

Last, they hang on the line to dry. This takes forever. When you thoroughly soak denim, it holds water for a long time. This is not a process for the impatient.

Raw Lee overalls

The result of all this? Well, once dry, you can wear them. The look is great, in my opinion: the denim is still new and dark, with some new wrinkling already starting after the initial soaking and rinsing of the dyes.

Raw Lee overalls

Think Pink! The pinkification of my wardrobe commences! I've been looking for a pink dress shirt and finally scored this banded collar one on eBay. Score! Pink is awesome! 😊 #pink #thinkpink #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawd

New overalls V: Head to toe! #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawdenim

From the back #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawdenim

Remember the raw-denim Lee overalls for a great price on eBay that you were all supposed to talk me out of getting? Yeah. Heckuva job, Internet. #nofilter #lovethem #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawdenim

Now, if I could just get the weather in my neck of the woods to dip reliably into the 60s, I'd be all set!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

It's October, which is usually my favorite month of the year. We're off to a rocky start this year, aren't we...but life still must go on.

I'm doing a theme to the Tone Poems for this entire month, starting today. Since we're approaching Halloween, we'll be doing spooky music, or music that meditates on life's darker aspects. Here is one of my favorite works of all time, by one of my very favorite composers of all time: "The Isle of the Dead" by Sergei Rachmaninov.

(The performance and sound are terrific here, but the accompanying movie may or may not work, depending on personal taste.)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

Seen on Facebook and now stolen.

Visit the cartoonist's website! His name is Kaamran Hafeez. I've probably seen his work before, as he has been published in LOTS of places.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday (the Happy Birthday edition)

Happy birthday, George Gershwin!

And also, Happy Birthday, Jim Caviezel!

And Happy Birthday, Olivia Newton John!

Also, happy birthday to me, but that's not so important.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three Years!!!

Three years and a couple of days ago, someone joined our family.

I do not know what to make of this development. #NewDog #greyhound #RetiredRacer #HolyShitThatIsABigFrakkingDog #omg #aieee #OhNoes

The dee-oh-gee. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram

I continue to be a big fan of "inside with the cats". #Snowmageddon #Cane #DogsOfInstagram

This dee-oh-gee can give coolness lessons to The Fonz. #correctimundo #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound

Muddy dee-oh-gee needs to realize that when he gets muddy, he can't come in right away. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound

Cane found the lake bed a bit rocky for his liking. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #BuffaloNY #lakeerie #greatlakes #outerharbor #wny

Mud freckles. He gave himself MUD FRECKLES, you guys! He's a bad dog. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound

Two adventurers crossing the Dumas Bridge #KnoxFarm #EastAurora #wny #autumn #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #overalls #vintage #Lee #HickoryStripe #dungarees #denim #biboveralls #doubledenim #ootd

Obligatory me and the dee-oh-gee #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #overalls #Dickies #vintage #bluedenim

He may be welcome to stay now. I mean, the jury's out, but I'd say that things are leaning in his favor.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

THE HOBBIT at 80! My current collection of copies. Bilbo lives! #thehobbit #lordoftherings #lotr #tolkien #books #bookstagram #reading #fantasy

I didn't know this until I saw it online today, but The Hobbit was first published 80 years ago today.

At no point have I not loved this story (except for the handful of years I was unaware of it), and I don't expect that I will ever not love it. The Hobbit and its more noted follow-up, The Lord of the Rings, are on my shortlist of the stories that have shaped me the most: we're talking Star Wars territory here, to be honest.

I knew the story of The Hobbit -- well, most of it, anyway -- several years before I actually read the book. That's because my first encounter with this story was via the Rankin-Bass animated version that first aired in 1977. I don't recall if I saw it then or on a subsequent re-run, but it didn't matter: I loved this story quite intensely, and when I read the book a few years later, I was done for.


The Hobbit is often seen as a children's tale, inessential to the greater work that followed it, but I've never viewed it that way. Reading The Hobbit is as essential to the experience as anything, and I never ever re-read The Lord of the Rings without reading The Hobbit first. There is so much in The Lord of the Rings that simply doesn't make sense, or at least has the impact blunted, if one hasn't read The Hobbit. The eagles arriving at the Black Gate; the tonal shift about halfway through Fellowship into a more heroic mode; the history behind Sting and the mithril coat.

More than that, though, the adventure story that comprises The Hobbit contrasts greatly with the world-wide import of the events to come. The focus in The Hobbit is intimate, and the focus never wavers from this little hobbit named Bilbo who is ensnared in events larger than he can comprehend, and his efforts to make his way in a world he doesn't understand and barely wants to. The Hobbit is an adventure story, but it's an adventure story that ends somewhat ambiguously with the treasure won but one of its seekers dead. This anticipates the moral direction of what is to come, when the fundamental quest is not to find something but rather to lose something that is already found.

And it is, really, one hell of an adventure story.

Long live The Hobbit! It's been a few years since my last re-read, so...I think that I may be quite ready for another adventure!

Something for Thursday

This is weird. I never knew this song existed until the other day when I heard it as part of the soundtrack to one of The Daughter's video games. It's a peppy, zippy pop song from the 1950s...singing the praises of uranium. I am not making this up.

"Uranium Fever". As the kids say, I can't even.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On 'ownership'

In the course of a long post about Twin Peaks (of which I know nothing and cannot comment), Sheila O'Malley says this:

In today’s day and age, where every fan feels a sense of “ownership” over the thing they love – to an annoying degree – something like Twin Peaks was refreshing. Lynch/Frost knew the fan base was still there. That ground was set. But after THAT, they owed us nothing.

This is the proper attitude of artists. I realize that’s not a popular sentiment. But I am suspicious of popular sentiments, in general. More so now than ever.

I tend to agree with this. The most an artist owes is gratitude for good will offered their way, but that's about it. This sense of ownership can become deeply obnoxious when fans start to turn on their particular artist because they haven't been getting what they feel they are "owed". Of course, this goes the other way, too: the fans owe an artist not a hell of a lot beyond an honest attempt to approach and engage with their work.

I think that art is best when there is less feeling of being "owed" on both sides.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Got a spare two minutes? Give this a listen, then. It's a very short bit of tone painting, in the form of a folk dance, by Percy Grainger. Here is "Shepherd's Hey".

Friday, September 15, 2017

Something for Friday: Farewell, Cassini

The Cassini mission has ended with the space probe's final plunge into the Saturnian atmosphere. We learned a great deal from Cassini -- and we will continue to do so as more and more analysis of its data is done -- and I find it somewhat of a bright moment in a world where science itself is being deeply undervalued at precisely the time when we need good science most.

Thank you, Cassini.

Bad Joke Friday

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

It's increasingly clear that this feature is really "Whatever piece of one-movement classical music I want", because this isn't a tone poem but rather a selection of ballet music from an opera. Specifically, the opera is La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, and the ballet suite in question is the "Dance of the Hours". This is one of the most familiar pieces of music in the classical repertoire, mainly for having been parodied by comedian Allan Sherman in his summer camp song "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh". If you can manage to listen to the actual Ponchielli suite with fresh ears, it's really a wonderful and evocative work of classical dance music.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sixteen years....




I wrote this story not long after the events of 9-11-01. It is not the story I would write today. How could it be? I was on the cusp of turning thirty, and at that point the scope of an attack of that magnitude was nearly impossible to process.

The City of Dead Works

There is never any rest for me, the Ferryman of the Dead.

I pole my barge across the black waters and up to the pier. So many wait this time, many more than usual. I wonder what has happened, what event has sent me this many. "Come aboard," I say. "I will take your coin for passage." One by one they file past me, each handing to me the coin that they never knew they had. It is the coin which determines where they shall be taken to rest, its metal shaped and determined by life. The coins of these dead are gold, every one of them purest gold. Six thousand come aboard my barge, and each has passage for the farthest and greatest of destinations. In that moment I know that something truly dark has happened; the gold coins are always forged in moments of darkness. I am the Ferryman. I can give them no answers to what lies behind their haunted, questioning eyes. I can only take them on this, the last of all journeys.

When they are all aboard I take up the pole and push away from the pier. The barge always feels the same, no matter how many stand upon its decks. Whether six or six thousand, it is all the same to me. I guide us out onto the River Styx. Some of the people look worried, but there is no need for fear. This river can do them no harm. They are already dead.

This is to be a long journey, I know – it always is, to this destination. As I guide the barge through the black waters, I look on the faces of those who have come to me. As different as these people all look, they all have the same expressions of shock, disbelief, and withering sadness. Here is a man of business, talking into a cell phone. He is trying to call someone, anyone, who will tell him that it’s all a dream, that it didn’t happen, that he didn’t die in a blast of fire, smoke, glass and steel. There is a mother who is explaining to her daughter that they won’t be going to Disneyland after all. And there, a group of firemen stand together, realizing that soon they will meet all their brothers-in-arms who have gone into the infernos before them. So many now – colleagues once in business and now colleagues in death, people who have never before met but now have the gravest thing in common. As the current takes hold, I look back at the pier. There are more gathering there. There are always more. They will wait. Time does not exist for the dead.

"Please," a young man says as he turns to me, "I have to go home to my daughters."

"You are going home now," I reply. "To the home where all eventually return." Two black rocks slide past on either side, the rocks that mark the passage of the circling Styx.

"This can’t be," a woman cries out. "My mother needs me."

"She will be with you soon enough."

"When?" Her voice pleads, and yet there is no solace that is mine to give.

"I cannot say," I reply. "The Ferryman has no hand in Fate."

The tears come then, tears from the six thousand that run over the gunwales and into the river which has been fed by tears for centuries. All tears are born in the River Styx.

"Where will you take us?" someone asks.

"To the place you are promised," I answer. I recall the words of a poet: Will there be beds for all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come.

One our left we approach the Hills of the Damned, an endless stretch of shattered lands which reach away into the blackness. The waters echo with the cries of all those who have been taken to the Hills for the agony they have brought on the living. I consider the bag of six thousand gold coins, and I realize that I will have to journey to the Hills this day. There will be a person, perhaps more, who will pay me with a coin of black tin; but not on this journey. As the hills recede behind us, the unending cries of the damned become fainter and fainter until they are drowned out by the lapping of the waters upon the sides of the boat and the marker stones that we pass. The six thousand fall silent, each realizing that it is not a dream. I would offer solace, but as ever I cannot. I am the Ferryman.

We come around a particularly dark bend, and before us lies a very wide expanse of water, as if the Styx has become an ocean – which in some sense it probably has. And beyond that expanse are the thousands of twinkling lights that I have come to know so well. One man, a fireman, sees them too. "What is that?" he asks.

"It is the City of Dead Works," I reply. The lights of the city glow on the horizon, and every one of the six thousand turns toward them as the Styx impels us onward. As we come ever closer to the city, the glittering lights reflect off the black water.

"I don’t understand," someone else says. "The City of Dead Works?"

"Aye," I reply. "Behold!"

From behind us, golden light: the Sun of the Dead is rising as it always does when the dead come near the City. Above us the firmament is turning purple, then blue; soon the light of the Sun will illuminate the City of Dead Works. As the sky lightens, the true scope of that city becomes plain: it stretches away into the land, farther than any eye could see. Not even the highest-soaring raven, cavorting in the breezes and zephyrs of the dead, could take it all in. It is bigger by far than any one city ever built by the hand of men, because it encompasses some part of all of them. Perhaps it is bigger than all of the cities ever built. Now the sun’s first rays come up behind us, and the first buildings can be seen down by the water.

"That one looks Egyptian," a woman says.

"The Great Library of Alexandria," I tell her. "Once the greatest repository of learning the world had ever seen, now only a memory to the living and a reality only to the dead."

A man points to a building high upon a rock. I nod.

"The Temple of Solomon," I say.

"There are ships in the harbor," says another. Thus for him I name the ships: Arizona, Indianapolis, Lusitania, Bismarck, Wilhelm Gustloff, Cap Arcona. And many, many others. I scan over the impossibly vast city and spot Dresden, as it was; and beside it the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And how many smaller villages, tucked into the hills beyond the City? None can say. The Sun of the Dead shines upon those hills now, and the great stone statues in the likeness of Siddhartha Gautama.

"I don’t understand," a young man says. "Why this City? Why here?"

I only shake my head as we continue to float by the City. I do not point out the fairly small, nondescript office building that sits near the water. It is not a particularly remarkable building; nor was it, really, until the fuse was lit. The six thousand almost don’t recognize it.


Not one word is uttered as we slide past the Alfred Murrah Federal Building. Then we turn away from the City of Dead Works, and head again down the waters of the Styx toward distant hills and the place where these people will join their brethren.

"Who lives in that city?" It is a priest in a fireman’s coat.

"No one lives there," I tell him. "The City of Dead Works is not for people. It is for the buildings and the ships. It is for the books and the music, the sculptures and the paintings which are gone forever. It is for everything destroyed by craven people in the name of foolish wars, for everything judged forfeit in the face of transitory desires."

The Styx takes us into the Golden Hills. Soon we will be there, and the six thousand will go where they belong. And then the Styx will complete its circle, taking me back to the pier where more dead await.

"We will be there soon," I say. "Soon we will be at the Elysian Fields, where all heroes go – for that is what you all are. It is what you have bought with your lives, with the shaping of your coins into gold." No one replies. We near the last bend now, and before us lie the Elysian Fields, where peace reigns and where heroes dwell; where all is light and voices are always raised in song. The Sun of the Dead shines warmly on Elysium.

But they do not see it. They, the six thousand, all gaze back behind us upon the City of Dead Works. It will soon be behind us forever as we round the last bend of the River Styx into Elysium. I know they all need one last look upon that City, and I do not grudge them that. For myself, I do not look back; the eyes of the Ferryman are ever forward. But I know. I know that the City of Dead Works is different now. I know that it has changed. I know that the people who come with me now to Elysium, the dead around me, look back on the two soaring towers of steel that now rise above the City where there had been no towers before.

I know these things.

I am the Ferryman of the Dead.

The Secret to Maintaining Canine Happiness

Have cheese in your hand.

Attentive dee-oh-gees are attentive. (Also, I had cheese.) #Cane #Carla #greyhound #pitbull #dogsofinstagram

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Symphony Saturday

Still not ready to discuss Mahler's Second yet, so meantime, we'll go back 120 years or so to Mozart. Here is his Symphony no. 29 in A major. This performance is on period instruments, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. This symphony is a short and fascinating listen. Mozart was eighteen when he wrote this, and on the cusp of his mature period. The music has lot of forward momentum, as does much of his best music, and it also blends youthful optimism with hints of the profundity that is to come in his later works.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Something for Thursday

Think Pink!

Why this? Well, I noticed a couple of years ago that my wardrobe is heavily representative of dark colors. Not all black, mind you, although I did have my all-black phase in high school like everybody (and black is a fine color anyway). But I decided I wanted to start brightening things up, slowly but surely.

Which brings me to my goal for wardrobe improvement now:


Now, I'm not going to flood my clothes with pink, but I'm adding a few items here and there, starting with this dress shirt I found on eBay. (I rather like the banded-collar look, too.)

Think Pink! The pinkification of my wardrobe commences! I've been looking for a pink dress shirt and finally scored this banded collar one on eBay. Score! Pink is awesome! 😊 #pink #thinkpink #overalls #vintage #Lee #bluedenim #dungarees #denim #rawd

Hooray for pink!

(The song, by the way, is from the Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn film Funny Face, which I believe is the first thing in which I ever saw Ms. Hepburn. I've loved her ever since.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

On Immigration

As His Malevlonece, Mr. Trump, the President, is preparing to enforce an immigration policy that only a person who thinks that America is at its best a "Whites Only" club could love, here are my thoughts on immigration.

I believe that our nation's immigration policy should make it easier, not harder, for the peoples of the world to come here.
To work here.
To learn here.
To raise families here.
To find safety and shelter here.
To live here.
To practice their religions here.
To continue to do as immigrants have always done: enrich the country and make it wiser and better.

This I believe.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

OK, this isn't a tone poem, it's a piece of film music--but it's a classic by John Williams, and as such it is as cohesive and well-constructed a piece of music as any great tone poem. In honor of having seen the movie on the big screen yesterday (the first time I've seen it in a theater since I was nine), here is the finale and end credit music to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Here's a blog post of mine about Close Encounters. My thoughts on this film have not appreciably changed: it's still a beautiful, magnificent film.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Something for Thursday

This is probably the Platonic ideal for the love theme from a sad melodrama:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Adventures in Junk Food

So, let's talk Combos!

I first remember Combos showing up in the 1980s, but from what I'm reading online they actually came out in the 1970s. Maybe the 80s were when the first big marketing push happened. If you've never had Combos, really need to get out the cave you're living in. They are a salty snack made by filling little tubes of either pretzel, cracker, or tortilla with some filling or other. Usually it's cheese-related.

SeriousEats offers this, by way of description:

Created in the '70s, Combos have become a staple of rest stop gas stations. They're marketed as the perfect driving food—75% of all Combos sales occur in gas stations**—and those marketers may well be right. They're baked, so they don't get your fingers greasy the way potato chips do, allowing you to maintain proper grippage on the steering wheel as you maneuver through perilous long, straight, highways. They're heartier and more texturally varied than most bagged snacks. They provide just enough interesting structural and procedural challenges to keep you occupied until the next game of Mad Libs, while not so many that you get distracted from driving. They also come in over a dozen flavors that range from "That makes sense" to "WTF, buffalo?"

**According to the statistics I just completely made up

There's a lot of truth to this. Combos really do taste better when eaten in a car, preferably with something carbonated with which to wash them down. I'd estimate that over 90% of the Combos I've ever eaten were consumed in the car. My favorite flavor is the Pepperoni Pizza version (not to confused with Pizzeria Pretzel), but really--I'll pretty much eat any flavor of the things. Cases in point:

I love Combos and I am not ashamed! #yum #junkfood #combos


Of the two, I prefer the Seven Layer Dip ones to the Buffalo Blue Cheese ones. You might find that odd, given that I live near Buffalo and am thus supposed to be enamored of all such flavors, but in my experience, the "Buffalo wing" flavor doesn't always exactly translate to other snack foods very well. It's hard to get the vinegary-spicy flavor of the wings AND the blue cheese in there at once; usually what results is too much spice or salt, or the sour flavor of the blue cheese profile overwhelms everything. The Combos fare better in that regard, partly because it's just the filling that's flavored, so the outer pretzel covering ends up "absorbing" some of the overwhelming effects.

Meanwhile, the "Seven Layer Dip" Combos mainly taste like mild salsa and sour cream. Obviously you're not going to get all seven layers in there! The idea is to hint at the flavor of the stuff, not capture it straight out. So these Combos (with their tortilla shell) are more suggestive of a seven layer dip than actually taste like one outright. And I can respect that: This is a bite-sized snack food, after all.

So there we are! What snack foods shall I try next? It's a wonderful salty munchy world out there!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

I've featured this work before, but on my way to work yesterday I heard it played and I was already thinking that hey, I can just run it again...when I heard something new. Turns out there's a choral part that isn't always performed, and it adds a very nice dimension to the work. So here, again, is Jean Sibelius's wonderful Finlandia, this time with chorus when the big hymn tune starts.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Symphony Saturday

I'm not ready yet to talk about Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (when you hear it, if you haven't, you'll understand why), so meantime let's turn back the clock and hear a work at the opposite end of the symphonic pool. It's the Symphony No. 104 by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Haydn isn't heard much these days. He has long been nicknamed "Papa" Haydn, and he does seem to be viewed as a lesser-talented contemporary of Mozart, someone who is primarily famous for being one of the better placeholders between Bach's death and Beethoven's rise. This is, of course, totally unfair. Haydn is a composer of unappreciated depth, which I think shines forth in this, his last symphony.

During the Classical era the symphony settled into pretty much the form in which it would exist for most of the coming hundred years, the efforts of composers like Berlioz aside: four movement works, sonata-allegro form in the first, and so on. Haydn was deeply prolific, as just his production of over a hundred symphonies attests. But the work itself is the thing, and it glows throughout with classical restraint and an almost folkish feel at times. Even some of Haydn's joking manner comes through, as the symphony opens with a minor key introduction before settling in to a cheerful major-key allegro.

It's particularly interesting, when I've been listening to so much Mahler, to go back and revisit the earlier days of the form that Mahler would stretch farther than nearly anyone else. Here is Haydn's 104th Symphony.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bad Joke Friday (Good Joke Edition)

I thought I'd take a break from the usual groan-inducing content that regularly characterizes this feature, and post something genuinely funny. He's a brief bit from George Carlin! This is part of a longer bit he did about some of the odder phrases in our language. Cheers!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Something for Thursday

I had a number of friends in college (still friends, but this is about the time in college) who were big fans of the "new age" music group Mannheim Steamroller. I was never as big a fan of Mannheim as they were, but I did like quite a bit of the music from their Fresh Aire albums (less so the Christmas stuff), and a few of us actually heard them live in a concert in Minneapolis. This track was performed at that concert. Here is Mannheim Steamroller's "Come Home to the Sea", from Fresh Aire VI.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Happy Birthday, Gene Kelly

As much as I love Fred Astaire, I will always be a Gene Kelly guy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

This is a cool video realization of one of my favorite marches of all time, the "Children's March" (subtitled "Over the Hills and Far Away"), by Percy Grainger. It's one of those videos that allows you to follow along with the shape of the music. These are always fun to watch and use to appreciate the structure of a musical work. As for the Children's March itself, its mood shifts and changes, starting off in jaunty fashion but occasionally becoming stormy or pensive, all the while maintaining a healthy sense of a child's optimism as he or she sets out on the path to Adventure.

Monday, August 14, 2017

2017: Year of the American Nazis

I don't have anything eloquent or insightful to say on the subject, but I feel that I should say this: to hell with the white-supremacist Nazi subculture that is thriving in my country today, and to hell with anyone who either supports them directly or offers them de facto shadow support by offering arguments like "Sad about what happened but Antifa is worse", to hell with a major political party that decided that its ensconcement in power was a sufficiently worthy goal to ally with such people, and to hell with a moral midget of a President whose election is manna from heaven to these people and in whom they find a father figure.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

Submitted by a reader:

Why do fish live in salt water?

Because pepper makes them sneeze.

Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Something for Thursday (Glen Campbell edition)

There are four songs I remember from when I was just a very small child: "Country Roads" by John Denver, "Song Sung Blue" by Neil Diamond, "Love's Been Good To Me" by Frank Sinatra, and "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell. My very earliest musical memories involve these songs.

Glen Campbell died the other day. He was a wonderful musician, and the world is poorer for his passing...but so much richer for his having been here at all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

OK, this is pretty cool. I'm not the biggest fan in the world of Pachelbel's Canon in D, but I suppose it's iconic enough and this video is pretty neat: it's a scrolling score of the piece. The YouTube channel has a lot of scrolling score videos if you want to see how some musical selections work. The channel is heavy on Bach, but Bach is great, so check it out!

Meantime, here's Pachelbel's Canon in D.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Adventures in Junk Food

For several years now, the fine folks at Lay's have been coming up with interesting potato chip flavors. Some are OK ("Garlic Cheese Bread"), and some are...not ("Chicken and Waffles", which I tried, and "Cappuccino", which I did not).

This year is no different, and I was very much intrigued by these:

A possible future regret. #potatochips #waitwhat

I've only had fried green tomatoes a few times, and not in quite a few years. I like them, but they're not anything I would go out of my way to eat. The chips, though? They're actually pretty good!

The Fried Green Tomato chips. I actually liked these! #yum #potatochips #junkfood

I like that they did this with the Wavy style chips, which are my favorite: they're more crisp than crumble, and the wavy texture stands up a lot better to robust flavoring. These have a nice savory flavor, with enough spice to add just a bit of smokiness and heat, and they're not super-salty, either. Do they taste like tomato? Why yes...but only just a little. It's a very mild flavor, which is good because I suspect that it could get overwhelming.

Nicely done, Lay's! I'll be buying more of these. (And then, as always seems to happen with "specialty flavor" things to which I take a shine, they will almost certainly vanish from the market never to be seen again. Alas!)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Fifteen Greatest Science Fiction Movies (according to me)

Not long ago the awesome folks at The Geekiverse posted their Top Fifteen Science Fiction Movies.

Their list is, for the most part, a pretty good list! And yet, I disagree with it! Naturally! So, let’s have at it: here is my personal list of the top fifteen sci-fi movies. I will go in reverse order, with comment.

15. Flash Gordon

Recently seen and written about! This is almost my platonic ideal of an afternoon fun movie, the kind of thing I watched on a Saturday afternoon as a kid with either a bowl of popcorn or a can of Planters Cheez-Ballz. I have never not loved this movie.

14. Galaxy Quest

Some people actually include this in their ranking of the Star Trek movies. I don’t, but if I did, it would outrank quite a few of the actual Trek flicks. Yes, it’s parody, but it’s parody with some real stuff to say, genuine heart, and an understanding of what really made the object of its humor so worthy of a devoted fan base.

13. Forbidden Planet

To modern eyes it’s a clunky and slow movie, full of clichΓ© and occasionally almost laughable in its depiction of a future humanity where everyone dresses the same and follows the lantern-jawed blond leader around. This was a very effective game-changer back in the day, with its Shakespearean-inspired story and that electronic score.

12. The Iron Giant

Made when animation was just starting to shake off its cultural ghetto of only being suitable for telling Disney-style fairy tales, this movie is something of a Cold War analog to ET, with sadness at the end that is every bit as earned as in the other film. The Iron Giant tells an amazing story with economy and humor.

11. Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day

OK, sure, I’m cheating naming two movies under one entry. It’s hard to separate these two, though, as they really combine to tell a single larger story very effectively. They are both amazing techno-thrillers with time-travel and a seemingly unstoppable enemy; they are also deeply human movies and the second one adds incredible visual effects to boot (the T1000 is every bit as convincing now as he was then).

10. TRON

I still remember my keen disappointment in 1982 when TRON came out. I loved it, saw it twice that summer, yada yada. I assumed that it would be the next Raiders or ET, the next thing that every kid saw. Instead, I got to school that fall, and nobody had bothered to see the movie about “the world inside the computer”. Alas. I still love it, for all its nifty world-building and videogame lingo.

I also enjoyed the sequel a great deal, which again does not seem to have been a universal opinion.

9. 20000 Leagues Under the Sea

I read some Jules Verne as a kid. I didn’t really understand him, but I could sense that there was some neat stuff going on there. This movie clears up a lot of it, making for a voyage into the unknown on our own planet that is fraught with wonder, danger, and a little madness. Like all sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s it takes a bit of willingness on the part of the viewer to go where it’s taking us, but it’s a grand adventure of a movie.

8. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension

For sheer gonzo weirdness, I don’t think this movie will ever be beat. It’s just fun, with characters that are a hoot to watch from start to finish. Jon Lithgow’s villain is over-the-top goofy hilarity, and Peter Weller balances everything with an understated performance as Buckaroo that somehow makes the entire thing believable. The movie also gave me one of my favorite obscure quotes (which nobody ever gets when I say it in real life): “Whoa, don’t tug on that! You never know what it might be attached to!”

7. The Day the Earth Stood Still

Sure, it’s heavy-handed messaging about nuclear war, and I’m not usually a fan of heavy-handed messages in stories (“If you want to send a message, use Western Union!” the saying goes). But this one is crouched in eerie mystery, and the iconic visual of robot Gort on his relentless march of destruction sticks with me even now.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey

I saw this at a science fiction convention in Portland, OR when I was in fourth grade. I didn’t understand most of it...or rather, big chunks of it. I read the book a few years later, and then I watched it again on home video, and it never fails to engross me when I watch it. Huge and epic, and yet with only a handful of people in it; ambiguous and yet full of strange wonder. What does it mean? I dunno, really, although I do think it’s a story of unnamed aliens encountering humans at various stages in development over the millennia and performing uplift on occasion. I think.

5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Such a fantastic film this is! The tale of the aliens who implant strange visions into the minds of ordinary people for no other reason than to screen them for purposes of finding out who gets to make the first contact is still incredibly effective, drawing on the late 20th century UFO lore to tell a tale of optimistic meeting with aliens for the first time. I can’t wait to see this when its reissue comes out this fall. (Yes, the story has problematic elements regarding Roy Neary’s family life and the morality of Neary just leaving them to go fly with the aliens. Steven Spielberg has even admitted that he would end the film differently if he made it today. Still, those problematic aspects of the film raise important questions.)

Previously written about here.

4. The Abyss

What a ride this movie is! Again with the Cold War subtext, this time with aliens under the oceans. The version to watch here is the Director’s Cut, which restores a subplot that, yes, does hearken back to The Day the Earth Stood Still. But the way it all turns out is well-earned (even if James Cameron’s complete lack of subtlety does let him down a little bit). The film’s main mystery is fascinating to behold as it unfolds, and the film’s villains are also interesting people whose fears and aims aren’t entirely unjustified.

Previously written about here.

3. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

This movie is near perfection, from its relationships to its pacing to the design of ET himself to the incandescent score by John Williams. Just listening to the music from the last scenes of this movie has been known to make me cry.

2. Castle in the Sky

This is almost my favorite Hayao Miyazaki film, but it’s here on this list because Princess Mononoke is a fantasy. Castle is an adventure-filled wonder-fest that involves a young girl with secret powers who may fulfill prophecies, the various groups looking for her, and...a castle in the sky, floating forever hidden beyond a bank of clouds. Hayao Miyazaki’s films have influenced my storytelling in ways that I haven’t even figured out yet. (BTW, this one is playing next month as part of the Fathom Events roster of great movies! If you’re interested, check out for info on screenings in your area.)

1. Star Wars

Oh, come on. Was there any doubt?

Now, this raises a question: can I name just one film? After all, I did cheat with the Terminator movies. But Star Wars now stands at eight movies, with the ninth on the way at the end of this year. Plus, they don’t all combine into one story as seamlessly as one might like. These tend to get made one-at-a-time and aren’t always conceived with the greater story in mind, which leads to tonal inconsistencies and a few lumbering plot points.

But I don’t care.

Star Wars (or, A New Hope) made me the storyteller I am today, which means that maybe it made me who I am today. More on this in this essay I wrote on the fortieth anniversary of the first film.

Honorable mentions:

Here’s a list of movies that I considered but which did not crack my top fifteen, for one reason or another. Titles marked with an asterisk came this close to the Top 15.

This Island Earth
Battle Beyond the Stars
(written about here!)
Blade Runner
(I’ve tried, folks, really. I don’t think I’ll ever care about the characters in this story, though.)
Apollo 13 (Might not be science fact, it probably isn’t)
The Black Hole (written about here!)
Journey to the Center of the Earth
The Last Starfighter
Night of the Comet
Heavy Metal
Back to the Future
The Fly
Guardians of the Galaxy*
(again, not sure if it’s SF or Superhero)
Batteries Not Included
The Rocketeer
Jurassic Park*
Demolition Man*
(Yes, it’s crappy 1970s disaster porn. I still like it.)
Space Battleship Yamato (written about here!)
The Postman (Not great, but not nearly as bad as its mega-flop reputation has us think)
Contact (written about here!)
Men in Black
(This movie is not good, and I can’t not watch it when it shows up.)
The Fifth Element (I need to see this again; it’s been fifteen years or so)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The Incredibles
Independence Day
John Carter
(written about here!)

Here are some prominent SF films that I haven’t seen and yet need to:

War of the Worlds (Spielberg)
Planet of the Apes (the new ones)
Treasure Planet
(Technically I’ve seen this and I disliked it, but enough people have told me otherwise that I’ve wondered if I owe it a rewatch)
Edge of Tomorrow
Minority Report
Jupiter Ascending

The Mad Max movies (Seen so long ago that at this point it's easier to just say that I haven't seen them at all.)

And finally, what of Alien and The Matrix? I dislike both, as movies and as franchises. And no, I don't subscribe to the whole "Well, I don't like it but I have to grant that it's a classic" thing. Dislike is dislike for me, period.

Oh, and I cannot hate Starcrash, even though it is really, really, really really really bad.

What say you all, folks?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

New to me is this work by Georges Enescu, Vox Maris. I know nothing at all about this work, or what the vocal element is singing about. While much of the Enescu that I have heard is heavily reflective of Enescu's Romanian folk heritage, this work sounds almost entirely atmospheric and haunting, bordering on pure impressionism.

Here is Vox Maris.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tornadoes in the Forest

The week before last, there was a day of very stormy weather in Western New York. On that day the Erie County Fairgrounds and Chestnut Ridge Park--both favorite spots of mine--were hit by tornadoes.

Tornadoes aren't unheard of in this region, but they are much more uncommon than in other parts of the country. When one hits here, it's usually news. We were very lucky that no one was killed in these events, which did serious damage to the Fairgrounds (where a lot of people were passing the afternoon in the casino there). The damage at Chestnut Ridge hit me even closer to home, because that park is one of my favorite places to go on my Sunday nature walks with the dee-oh-gee.

I plan to write a longer "Chestnut Ridge Appreciation Post" at some point later on, so for now all we need know is that the park is the largest of Erie County's county parks. It resides in the hilly country south of the Buffalo Niagara region, and its trails feature steep climbs into and out of valleys and ravines and deep forests of old pines. The tornado struck down a lot of those trees as it cut its swath through the park, leaving some still broken and twisted as the clean-up crews haven't gotten to them yet.

Yesterday morning was my first visit to Chestnut Ridge since the tornado hit and even though I expected to see the damage, it was still stunning to behold once I finally got there. The most surprising thing was how localized it was. Most of the forest looked perfectly normal, and then I rounded a bend in the trail to see these landscapes.

Tornado damage 1. Chestnut Ridge got hit by a tornado week before last. This was my first visit since. One day nature will swat humanity aside like a fly and not even realize she's doing it. #tornado #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #summer #hiking #natur

Tornado damage 3. #tornado #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #summer #hiking #nature

Tornado damage 4. Broken like pencils. #tornado #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #summer #hiking #nature

Tornado damage 5. Trees pointing in all the wrong directions. #tornado #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark #summer #hiking #nature

Nature will recover, in one way or another. It always does. Still, stark reminders like this of nature's power are always humbling.