Wednesday, February 29, 2012

There's Something About Books

Every so often something pops up around The Web comparing books and e-books.  Do I want to dive into the middle of that hornets nest?  Hell no.  But as someone who, obviously, loves to read, I feel like offering up some quick hits on the three main book delivery mechanisms.

Paper Books.  Love them.  I'll never give them up.  I like the weight in my hands, the different textures of the covers, the fact that I can get away from my computer and e-mail for a little while.  As a software engineer, I stare at a monitor all day long, so I'll take advantage of an opportunity to get away from one.

E-Books.  Learning to like them.  The one-click and it's in your possession is nice.  The fact that you can get any available book you want (and not have to wait a week for it to be shipped to you) is awesome.  But I find myself skimming more than with a real book.  The first couple books I read this way didn't stick with me, but I'm adjusting.

Audiobooks.  I think I've discovered I'm a visual learner.  Or it could just be that I'm always doing something else (driving, cooking) while listening to one.  I've picked up a couple just so I can get through more books and not waste my morning drives listening to the same song for the 5000th time.  They stick with me even less than e-books do.

It all comes down to what you like.  As long as the content is good, it doesn't matter which delivery mechanism you choose.

What say you, Unsquare followers?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Song of the Week: Devil's Daughter

Silvertide was a band from Philadelphia, PA.  They had a pretty good local following and got some airtime on WMMR (generally on Jaxon's Local Shots).  In 2004, they released a full-length album called Show & Tell.  The band then went on tour, but eventually cancelled some dates with a vague message that implied they had returned to the studio.  In 2006, their lead guitarist left to join Shinedown.  Officially, the band still existed, but was pretty much running on fumes.  They officially dissolved in 2010.

Their music was a mix of classic rock and southern rock.  Show & Tell was a solid album that should've gotten more play than it did.  This week, we feature the first song of theirs I heard:  "Devil's Daughter".

A couple other songs I really liked were "California Rain" and the ballad "Nothing Stays".

Friday, February 24, 2012

Alone Again (Naturally)

Look how quirky and awesome, or awesomely quirky, people who live alone are.  That's the thesis of a recent puff piece from The New York Times titled "The Freedom, and Perils, of Living Alone".  The piece is heavy on the freedom, light on the perils, and uses the words "quirky" and "eccentric" when "slovenly" and "unhealthy" would be better suited.

Early on the writer says,"[T]he benefits of living alone are many: freedom to come and go as you please; the space and solitude to recharge in a plugged-in world; kingly or queenly domain over the bed."  One could add total control of the remote or the freedom to experiment with cooking new dishes.  There are a host of things others could add if one was so inclined.  But instead of continuing this thread, the writer talks to people whose ideas of freedom involve using your dryer as a makeshift dresser, talking to your pets, and using the toilet without closing the bathroom door. One of the people interviewed has a live-in girlfriend, but celebrates when she goes out of town by drinking champagne in the shower at 8 a.m. and eating three meals a day of French bread pizza.  One woman says she'll make "dinner" that's just a sweet potato...and nothing else.

What these folks do in the privacy of their own homes (and in these cases, they really are their own homes) is all fine and dandy, but do they really need vindication from The New York Times?  I've lived alone for a number of years, and, yes, I've done a couple of the things mentioned in the article.  Call me stuffy or anal if you will, but some of these "quirks" I can't stand.  If I don't eat a proper meal, I get hungry and graze (not to mention feel like crap).  When the clothes or dishes are done, I put them in their proper place right away.  I don't leave piles of bills and junk mail and clothes all over the place.  One of the things I like about living alone is that everything is squared away and I know where things are when I look for them.

What of the perils?  The article shares some of the common ones.  Amy Kennedy, a 28-year-old schoolteacher, says the longer she lives alone the less flexible she becomes. Steve Zimmer, a 40-something computer programmer, said he is also conscious of becoming too set in his ways, especially where sleeping is concerned.  But there's no mention of the higher rates of depression for those living alone.  The worries of never "finding someone".  The fact that you could fall, become injured, and not be able to get help for days.  A recent study showed that people under the age of 65 are 21% greater chance of dying, from any cause, than those living with someone.

An article about the pleasures of solo living (of which eating a roasted sweet potato and nothing else for dinner is not one) would be an interesting read.  But to write a puff piece about the joys of doorless bathrooms without either digging into life as an introvert or the downsides associated with living alone is dangerously counterproductive..

MST3K Friday: Devil Doll

"That sucked.  Even I didn't believe I was talking."
"I bet someone sent me a birthday clown."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After America, by Mark Steyn

In his first book, America Alone, columnist Mark Steyn predicted the collapse of the Western world and said that only America stands as a bulwark against the onrushing horde. In his follow-up, 2011’s After America, Steyn argues that America’s decline has accelerated and we are nearly at the collapse of the United States as a hyperpower. Armed with statistics and a preponderance of anecdotal evidence, the picture he paints is grim and greatly depressing

In a very effective framing device, Steyn frequently invokes H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Imagine someone from 1890 traveling ahead 60 years to 1950. How astonishing our technological achievements must seem! We have refrigerators, ovens, radios, televisions, indoor heating and cooling without the need of fire, cars, and airplanes. If he jumps ahead another 60 years to 2010, would he be astonished or disappointed? Our refrigerators are sleeker, but about the same. Televisions are smaller and in color, and our music is more portable. Cars use less fuel, but don’t go any faster. Where are the giant leaps in technology? One observation that struck me is that it now takes longer to fly from New York to London today (2012) than it did in 1950. Our planes don’t travel any slower, we just need to get to the airport two hours before our flights for our TSA pat downs.

If we haven’t had much in the way of technological breakthroughs, maybe we’ve had societal breakthroughs instead. Yes, there is greater equality for minorities and women since 1950. We treat those with mental illness much more humanely and with more understanding. But there has also been an infantilization of society, the delaying of adulthood, and a stronger sense of entitlement. What do we know of the goals of Occupy Wall Street other than getting college loan forgiveness? One example Steyn uses is the free condom program in Washington, D.C., schools. High school and college students registered complaints that the condoms being passed out were inferior in quality and were too small. Take this excerpt from a Washington Post story:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bob Hope Double Feature

The common complaint from moviegoers these days is that Hollywood is a sequel machine.  Everything is a sequel to something else or a remake or a remake of a remake.  You can hardly go to the multiplex these days without seeing a 2 or 3 or even a 6 after the movie title.  It's much more noticeable these days, but it's been around since the early days of movies.  In the 1930's and 1940's, when movies or the pairing of stars worked, a direct sequel wasn't made.  Instead, another movie was written with the same general formula.  Take the two movies I watched this weekend:  The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940).  Both movies star Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.and both have the same general plot outline.

In The Cat and the Canary, Hope plays radio actor Wally Campbell and Goddard plays young socialite named Joyce Norman.  Joyce's uncle instructed his lawyer to assemble all the Norman heirs at his home in the Louisiana bayou on the tenth anniversary of his death.  The entirety of the uncle's estate is left to Joyce with the caveat if she dies or goes crazy within 30 days, the estate goes to a second heir in a second envelope.  All six of the assembled Normans (and Hope) must spend the night in the creepy mansion.  Of course there are secret passages, things that go bump in the night, and hidden treasure.

In The Ghost Breakers, Hope plays radio actor Lawrence Lawrence and Goddard plays a young socialite named Mary Carter. Mary is the sole heiress of a wealthy family and has just taken possession of her family's castle in Cuba. The castle is supposedly haunted, but Mary wants to spend the nigh there.  Again, things that go bump and hidden treasures.  One interesting thing about this movie is Hope's character is not as cowardly as he usually is.  Very funny and there are some impressive special effects.  Unfortunately, Hope's manservant is a very broad, very bad racial stereotype.

Of the two, I think The Ghost Breakers is the better (and funnier) movie.  Any Hope fan is sure to enjoy them.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Song of the Week: Hug You, Squeeze You

Before I heard the Frank Sinatra tune I used last week, I had this penciled in as the Song of the Week for Valentine's Day.  It was completely unintentional that the ramp-up was all blues, but it's funny how that worked out.  In 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan played a gig at Toronto's El Mocambo club.  There's a recording of it which I have, but haven't seen yet.

Here's Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble playing "Hug You, Squeeze You":

Friday, February 17, 2012

MST3K Friday: Revenge of the Creature

Take a close gander at a young Clint Eastwood!
"Hey they're serving monkey brains and...."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It Just Keeps Growing

I found this entry posted at the old blog on 12/13/2005.  I was shocked and appalled then, and things have only gotten worse.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government spent nearly $2.5 trillion during the 2005 fiscal year. This means that, on average, the federal government spent nearly $6.8 billion each day, or $78,418 per second. The Census Bureau estimates that in 2004 (the latest year for which data are available), median household income in the U.S. was $44,389.

In short, the federal government spends almost twice as much money in only one second as a typical American household earns in an entire year.

If we update these numbers for fiscal year 2010, we see that it's gotten even worse.  The CBO reports that the federal government spent $3.5 trillion in 2010 (an almost 40% spending increase in 5 years).  That breaks down to $9.5 billion each day and $110,984 per second.  Median household income has gone up, too, but only by 11% (up to $49,445).  Now the federal government spends two and a quarter times as much money per second as the average American makes per year.

A lot of folks these days like to talk about things that are "unsustainable".  I find this unsustainable.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Song of the Week: Can I Steal a Little Love

How about some Ol' Blue Eyes for Valentine's Day?  Here's a lesser known song "Can I Steal a Little Love".

Friday, February 10, 2012

MST3K Friday: Leech Woman

"..and under the couch and in the toilet tank and..."
"Could you provide a map of liquor stores in the area?"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Score, by Richard Stark

If there's one man you want to have your back while knocking over a huge plant payroll, it's Parker.  If there's one man you want to have your back while knocking over a bank, it's Parker.  If there's one man you want to have your back while knocking over huge payroll, two banks, and a couple jewelry stores, you better believe it's Parker.

In The Score, the fifth book in Richard Stark's Parker series, our anti-hero and thief extraordinaire is pulled in by an old friend to help a man named Edgars knock over the entire town of Copper Canyon, North Dakota.  The heist goes against any number of Parker's rules (don't work with amateurs, never go into a place where there's only one exit, etc), but he's itching for a score and the setup is too enticing to pass up.

This was my first time reading anything by Richard Stark and I enjoyed it.  Stark's style is clean, crisp, and goes down smooth (it's like I'm describing a beer here).  Even though it's description light and dialogue heavy, you get a good sense of the main characters.  There's Parker the pro.  There's Grofield the actor who's always quoting dialogue.  There's Paulus, the one who's always worrying.  Even the more minor characters are given depth by the choices they make (one safecracker likes using tools and looks at the others who like to use nitro as uncivilized).

The book reads like a good heist movie.  There's the pitch, the plan, the execution, the unexpected, and the fallout.  The unexpected could be anything from the plan going wrong to the double- and triple-crosses that occur after the heist.  I won't spoil that element for this book, but let me say it was very exciting.

Good, fast read.  I blew through it in two days.  Thanks to The University of Chicago Press reprinting the series,  I see more Parker in my future.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Three on a Light by, Victor Gischler

One of the nice things about e-readers is trying out new authors.  For the low-low price of $0.99 (or sometimes $1.99), you can read something from someone you've never read before.  Some of my friends have been singing the praises of Victor Gischler (Shotgun Opera, The Deputy) for a while, so when he announced his sort story collection Three on a Light was going to be available for free for a limited time, I jumped on it. As the author of a book called Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, you can expect that things aren't going to be run-of-the-mill.

A cool thing about this collection is the stories are interconnected.  It almost reads like a season of an FX show with both serialized and standalone elements.  Private eye Dean Murphy picks up a fancy looking Zipo lighter at a flea market.  Once he returns home, his cases take on a weird (read: supernatural) flavor.  Instead of unfaithful wives and insurance scammers, he's now beset by werewolves, changelings, and witches.  We find out later that all this is happening to him because the lighter was cursed by a gypsy mechanic.

I typically don't go for supernatural, but since it's tied to a familiar genre (the PI story) and handled with humor, I really dug it (like I used to dig The X-Files).  Gischler mentioned he wrote these stories as a grad student as an exercise in putting multiple genres in a blender and hitting "frappe".  They certainly don't read like the brain droppings of a grad student.  Like in all short story collections some are better than others, but they are all handled with aplomb.

The collection is fast-paced and fun and worth your Kindle dollar.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Song of the Week: Deja Voodoo

A third straight week of blues.  I would post a link to the official video, but embedding is disabled (it can be viewed here).  What I can embed is a live performance from London of last year.  The original version was sung by the first lead singer of the KWS Band, Corey Stirling.  The live version is current frontman Noah Hunt.  I'll let you decide who you like more.

Friday, February 3, 2012

MST3K Friday: City Limits

"City Limits? That sounds like a clothing store for high school girls."
"I like the skull better."
"This is F-U-N."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Notorious (1946)

Over at Big Hollywood today, John Notle talks about one of my favorite films ever:  Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious.  His article is basically a love letter to the movie and I agree with it whole-heartedly.  From the tight story to the three leads (how can you go wrong with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Raines?) to Hitch's masterful direction, this is a movie that never fails to grip.  If you haven't seen it, go do it now.