Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Soundtrack

If I'm going to speculate about who I want to play me in a movie, I might as well continue the fiction and provide the soundtrack. Here, then, in no particular order, is My Soundtrack: all the songs listed below were very important to me at some point in my life. I narrowed the list as much as I could, and had to drop many good candidates.

Losing My Religion - R.E.M.
1979 - Smashing Pumpkins
Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
Home for a Rest - Spirit of the West
What's My Age Again? - Blink 18
Message in a Bottle - The Police
Closer to Fine - Indigo Girls
Bad - U2
The Old Apartment - Barenaked Ladies
Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel
Black - Pearl Jam
Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye
Welcome to the Jungle - Guns N Roses
Lauryn Hill - Can't Take My Eyes Of You
Hey, You - Pink Floyd
London Calling - The Clash
No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley
Jesus of Suburbia - Green Day
What's the Matter Here? - 10,000 Maniacs
Suedehead - Morrissey
Master of Puppets - Metallica

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Casting Call

This is one of those entirely self-indulgent and nonsensical posts, but I was wondering who I would want to play me in a movie. Instead of focusing on actors who look like me or maybe have similar mannerisms, I picked actors who I enjoy, are close to me in age, and who I think in various ways represent my personality.

The candidates to play me are:

Zach Braff

Why? He can likely portray my nerdiness while still being funny. Plus, his star is on the rise, so he would be a big box office draw.

John Cusack

Why? With The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead, and the classic Say Anything, John Cusack has already played me, or played a version of myself, just as he's no doubt played versions of countless other men who grew up in the 80s. And this was before he did High Fidelity, and anyone who was the lead in that movie would definitely nail the part of me.

Joaquin Phoenix

Why? The sleeper pick of the bunch, Phoenix brings intangibles and an intensity to his craft that few other actors can match. Plus, he's already shown that he can pull off the biopic role.

Who would you choose to play yourself in a movie?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box is a horror novel about an aging rock star who buys a ghost on the Internet.

I don't read that much horror or dark fantasy, but, I have to say, I was struck by how fresh and inventive Heart-Shaped Box felt. The book was fast-paced and combined a creepy realism with just the right amount of traditional absurd horror tropes. Gothic elements and strong themes of redemption and the road further helped lift the book from set genre trappings.

Highly recommended.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Unposted

I've posted very little to this blog in the past six months. This has not been due to a lack of ideas, but a failure on my part of follow through. That said, while I haven't and likely won't post anything about any of these topics, I want to at least post about what I would have written about, had I more time, ambition, talent, and will.

So, in the spirit of almost posts and ungestated threads, here is my "Unposted" list for 2007:

Darwin Martin House - I had planned to write something about a visit my wife and I made earlier in the year to the (Frank Lloyd Wright) Darwin Martin House, currently under restoration in Buffalo, NY. Since I didn't, you can learn more about this major renovation effort here.

Paring Down - I have too many books and was going to post about the frightening prospect and process of paring down. Though I wasn't successful in writing about this, I have made progress in paring down my books, mostly through donations and ebay sales.

Siriusly - When we bought our GTI, we recieved a free three month trial of Sirius satellite radio. I was going to talk about the service and why it wasn't for us.

Three Days of Rain - Early in the year, we went to the theater and saw Three Days of Rain (a play by Richard Greenberg). I was going to comment on the play, but have long since forgotten what I was going to say.

Technorati Blog Post - I had planned to say something about Ravenweb's ranking on Technorati.

New Yahoo! Mail - As a Yahoo! mail user, I was going to write about Yahoo's updated webmail, and how I thought it was a kick-ass application.

Superhero Movies List - Not that the world needs any more of these, but I was considering making a list of superhero movies, and calling out the best of the bunch (Spider-Man 2) and the duds (Superman Returns).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Just wanted to take a little time out today to acknowledge how very thankful I am for everything that's happened this year. It's been a year of huge change, with a new house and baby, and I'm really thankful we've had the means to purchase and remodel a house and the good fortune of a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

Ten Little Indians presents ten stories that explore a range of contemporary Indian characters.

Though each story stands on its own, the collection as a whole is unified by common themes and tropes -- the romanticizing of Indians in American culture and deconstruction of these sentimentalized attributes, the importance of ceremony, and confessional narratives.

Well-crafted and thought provoking, I recommend Ten Little Indians and am eager to read other texts by Sherman Alexie.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sacred Heart Is Open Again

Hooray! We finally get Scrubs back. Sadly, tonight's episode also marks the countdown to the end of the show, as this is the seventh and final season. I guess we can enjoy it while it lasts.

On the topic, I stumbled across a link to a Scrubs production blog. Lots of production videos here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Fall TV Shows

It's been a unique fall viewing season for me this year in that there's a lot of time now where I'm restricted in my movements because of the baby. However, this has unexpectedly given me much more time to watch TV and try out new shows. Below is a list of the new shows I've watched and my initial reactions.

Mondays

Chuck is an entertaining but flawed spy / nerdboy mashup about a computer tech who ends up with a database of government secrets downloaded into his brain. I like the casting and setup and am interested in watching at least through mid-season, but I have a problem with the show's uneven tone. At times, it tips toward campiness and humor (which is fine given the implausible storyline), but then at others it steers back toward dramatic realism, with faraway looks, contemplation, and musical scores. It's a tough line to walk, and I wonder if Chuck can pull it off for an extended run.

Tuesdays

I initially thought CW's Reaper was the most promising new show of the season. The pilot was the right blend of funny and irreverent, and the show's casting is very fresh. Tyler Labine and Missy Peregrym are great and will no doubt succeed to promising careers in television or movies, and Ray Wise is brilliant and perfectly at home as the Devil. Bret Harrison, who plays the main character Sam Oliver, looks like he will grow into the role as his character develops.

After having watched four episodes of Reaper now, I'm still enjoying the show and will definitely keep watching. However, I am a little worried that the show's reliance on the set "capture an escaped soul" plot device present in every episode so far will make the show too formulaic. Some additional character development and interaction between Sam and the Devil will help break the formula.

Wednesdays

Bionic Woman is okay, but not as good as it can be, and certainly not the "television event" of the year. To start, the pilot should definitely have been two hours; as it was, it felt too rushed and compressed. One minute we're being introduced to Jaime Summers and the next she's the Bionic Woman. I'm also not sure about the casting, although I did like the choice of Miguel Ferrer as Jaime's handler and Katee Sackhoff as the bionic villain. We'll see how the show develops.

Life is my pick of the fall lineup and is distinguished by its intriguing premise (police officer returns to the force after years of false imprisonment with a very different zen-influenced outlook) and the engaging acting of Damien Lewis.

Original and a little bizarre, Pushing Daisies is a romantic drama about a man who can bring dead people back to life through the power of his touch. With its broad visual strokes, visceral colors, and mix of comedy and pathos, the show reminded me of Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish. From what I've heard, it also shares some aspects of creator Bryan Fuller's previous shows, especially Wonderfalls.

Fridays

Moonlight is the new vampire detective show on CBS. I recorded the first three episodes but never got around to watching any, and decided to dump the show a few days ago due to new show overload and the fact that I realize I'm probably not cool enough to understand this whole vampire fetishism thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore

In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore examines the recent trend in U.S. politics -- especially in the current Bush administration -- of ignoring facts and analysis when making policy decisions.

Impassioned and fiercely critical of Bush and the state of public discourse in America, this is the Al Gore I wish we saw more of in 2000.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a funny collection of essays in which Sedaris writes about a variety of true life experiences.

He devotes space to his Greek-American family (especially his father), employers, tourists, nudists, speech therapists, and himself. The best essays in the book are the pieces that focus on France and the author's attempts to learn to speak French.

Having also recently read Barrel Fever, I would say Me Talk Pretty One Day is definitely the better of the two books and that Sedaris is clearly at his best writing non-fiction, where his cranky humor really shines. From what I've heard, these essays are even funnier when heard aloud, with the delivery raising them up a notch.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's a Girl!

Please join us in welcoming ....

Cecilia Eve Gullo
















Born: September 9, 2007 at 9:30 pm (est).
Weight: 7 pounds, 1 ounce
Length: 20 and a quarter inches

We are overjoyed.

Frank and Cecily

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Summer Movie Roundup

I didn't see that many movies over the summer, mostly due to the time sink of extensive home remodeling. But I did watch a few (mostly DVD rentals) and wanted to provide some capsule opinions. The titles are listed in the order in which I saw the films.

Blood Diamond

This was very good, much better than I thought it would be. A fast-paced thriller set amidst the gruesome Sierra Leone Civil War, Blood Diamond deftly managed to combine a traditional action plot within the moving context of a broader historical arc, in this case, unsavory diamond-mining in Sierra Leone.

Djimon Hounsou was superb as a fisherman captured by Revolutionary United Front rebels who eventually finds a huge, rare pink diamond. Leonardo DiCaprio was effective (despite the accent) as a Rhodesian merecenary who trades arms for diamonds but eventually makes the moral choice.

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Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

I group Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 together because both films were letdowns: not horrible but mostly flat and not nearly as good as the previous films in their respective series.

- - - - - - - - - -

Children of Men

Children of Men
is an achingly grim dystopian vision of a future where humanity can no longer have children. Brilliant visuals play off the film's slow pacing to lend it a calibrated realism. Very well done. For a more detailed take on Children of Men, check our Ranting Nerd's post about it and other movies here.

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Catch and Release

I rented Catch and Release thinking Kevin Smith wrote and directed the film. As it turned out, he did neither and was only a supporting actor in the film. Not surprisingly, my reaction of the movie was about the same as when you order your favorite Chinese take out dish (shrimp and broccoli) only to discover at home that they gave you something else (steamed vegetables). Ultimately, the movie was okay and it was nice to see Jennifer Garner in something new, but it wasn't shrimp and broccoli.

- - - - - - - - - -

Knocked Up

I found Knocked Up very funny -- with humor reminiscent of The 40 Year Old Virgin -- and the perfect midsummer movie for me and my wife, a couple expecting our first child.

- - - - - - - - - -

Zodiac

Zodiac was about the Zodiac murders that occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 60s. Though compelling, while watching the film I kept thinking it was a lesser version of Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, which I thought did a better job of showing the pervasiveness of serial killer murders and how they can spread almost virally throughout the psyches and surrounding communities.

- - - - - - - - - -

The Ex

I liked The Ex and was pleased to see Zach Braff do a big screen comedy similar to what he's done in Scrubs. Jason Batemen was also very good as the nefarious paraplegic out to steal Braff's wife.

- - - - - - - - - -

The Perfect Stranger

The Perfect Stranger
was a pedestrian thriller that never came together for me despite the star power of Halle Berry and Bruce Willis. Perhaps this is because the film seemed forced and way too intent on redirecting for a surprise payoff that wasn't believable.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris

I finally got around to reading some (David) Sedaris. I had heard good things about his prose and essays, and had been meaning to pick up one of his books. Fortunately, a friendly neighbor recently loaned me two of his books as a housewarming present.

I started with Barrel Fever, which was the author's first book, and consists of essays and short fiction. I enjoyed the book and the author's mordant humor, but thought the writing was definitely characteristic of a young writer trying to find his voice. For the most part, the essays were better than the fiction. Of all the pieces, I probably enjoyed "SantaLand Diaries" the most, which humorously recounts the author's experiences working as an elf at Macy's.

Overall, I'm glad I read Barrel Fever and look forward to reading later, more polished writings by Sedaris.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Optimistic Curmudgeon

The Optimistic Curmudgeon is an engaging personal blog by freelance writer Nick Zaino. The site includes numerous music and book reviews and some very funny slice-of-life pieces, including an article in which the author ruminates about his first job copy editing manuscripts.

Nick also is distinguished for having once lived and worked in my home city of Buffalo, and then relocating to Boston, adopted home of my good friend, Ranting Nerd.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a grim, post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son hazarding across the bleak, demolished ruins of the southwest in hopes of reaching the ocean.

The novel is definitely effective and worth reading, but I wondered a bit at the hype and what distinguished the text from other recent books with similar themes. Was it just (as Ursula Le Guin has implied) that some critics honestly believe that The Road is not SF and therefore deserves additional praise?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Realtor

This is long overdue, but I wanted to go on the record and acknowledge the excellent service we received from our realtor when we bought our home.

In the spring, shortly after we learned that we would be expecting our first child in September, we decided that we would buy a home. Enter Debra Sheehan, from Hunt Real Estate, who we had heard about from a co-worker at my wife's company.

From the start, Debra was great. She met with us for an initial consultation, answered all of our questions, and never made us sign a binding document. When we started looking at homes, Debra quickly acquired a sense of what we wanted and directed us toward properties that suited our preferences. Never once did she try and force us to look at a property or steer us away from a house we really wanted to see.

As we expressed interest in specific properties, Debra's knowledge and experience were really apparent. She informed us about the many little things to watch for, talked to us about the offer process, and answered all of our ever-growing questions. And when we decided to put in an offer on a house, Debra guided us through every step of the process and helped us land the property we wanted with minimal fuss or stress.

So, if anyone in Western New York has need of a realtor, we enthusiastically recommend Debra Sheehan from Hunt Real Estate.

Thanks, Debra!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Moved!

We have moved and are now living in our new house!

Not all of the renovations are complete yet, but we're nearly done and think we just might have everything finished before the baby arrives.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ravenweb After Dark

It's been six weeks since we closed on our house and began renovations. While we've made strides, there's still a lot of work to be done, enough so that my blogging hiatus will continue, probably until the fall.

To that end, I was wondering if anyone who checks Ravenweb regularly is interested in doing a guest post? You can write about anything you want, although keep in mind that historically I've mostly focused on books, movies, and video games.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi

The Sagan Diary is a novelette set in Scalzi's Old Man's War universe and is presented as a series of diary entries by Lieutenant Jane Sagan.

I really loved Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, but I thought Scalzi whiffed with this one. The novellete is neither interesting as a stand-alone piece nor does it add anything substantive to the character of Jane Sagan or the series storyline. What it most felt like was Scalzi trying to write like a woman and resorting to generalities and stream of consciousness prose.

I suggest steering clear of The Sagan Diary unless you must read everything that Scalzi puts out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Closing Time

We closed on our home last Friday (6/8) and are now property owners!

Now the fun begins as we prepare to replace all the flooring, paint, clean, and cram in a kitchen remodel in three months before our baby arrives.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is an elegantly crafted vision of a bleak, near future in which humanity has all but succumbed to an engineered mutagenic virus.

Here humanity is survived by Snowman, who scavenges and sleeps in trees, and watches over a group of bioengineered humans (the Crakers), who were created to succeed humanity and thrive in the new world of modified species and radical climate change.

Through flashbacks, we eventually learn that Snowman was once a man named Jimmy, and that the world before the cataclysmic event was characterized by social inequity, genetic technology, and climate change. We also learn about the two people who figured most prominently in Jimmy's life: Crake, Jimmy's oldest friend, who is brilliant and egotistic and has plans for a better world; and Oryx, who Snowman loves and who serves as agent and muse to Crake.

I liked Oryx and Crake a lot and thought Atwood did a good job of melding a standard apocalyptic SF setup with a literary story about flawed characters.

It's kind of interesting that Oryx and Crake is yet another recent apocalyptic novel by a literary (or at least non-SF) author. Atwood's novel joins Kevin Brockmeier's A Brief History of the Dead and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. For my part, I find this noteworthy because I've always related apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction with science fiction.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony is the concluding novel in Scalzi's loosely-connected SF trilogy that began with Old Man's War and continued with The Ghost Brigades. From the start, the novel is fast-paced and fun, and fans of the series will be pleased that the new book focuses on two of the main characters from the previous books -- John Perry and Jane Sagan.

The premise of The Last Colony revolves around Perry and Sagan agreeing to run a new colony for the Colonial Union, in defiance of an alien confederation called the Conclave that has forbidden the creation of any new unauthorized colonies. Political subtext and many twists follow as Perry and Sagan discover that the Colonial Union has not told them the truth about their colony, the alien Conclave, or their chances for survival.

As a big Scalzi fan, I was happy for another book in this series. I'm not sure how this book ranks with the first two or even how well it stands on its own. I know I didn't like it as much as the other two books, but I certainly enjoyed it and read it compulsively through two days. I guess, ultimately, if you like Scalzi's SF, you will almost certainly enjoy reading this, even if you don't rate it as the author's best work.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy 30th Birthday, Star Wars

You are my root movie and have been a seminal influence.

Thank you.

See also: Young Jedi.

Unelectable

I met up with a friend of mine last night. We've known each for a long time, and we try and get together two or three times year. We have a few beers, provide updates on our jobs and lives, and talk about any number of topics, including books and authors, current events, politics, and local sports teams.

Last night we spent some time considering the upcoming 2008 presidential election and the prospect of the Democrats winning. It turned into a hard realization for both of us that the Democrats face an uphill battle and may likely lose the election, even with the support of crossover voters abandoning the Republicans because of the many blunders and disasters of the current administration.

The reason, we purported, is that the top democratic candidates, for one reason or another, are all unelectable and would not beat Rudy Giuliani or John MCain. This notion was hard to swallow but, as we discussed each of the likely candidates, also hard to deny.

Barack Obama, with the best message and moderating platform, lacks experience and has not yet formed the body politic partnerships you need to win an election. Needless to say, he also would not win the south.

Hillary Clinton is not Bill and is so reviled in much of the country that she will be hard-pressed to make inroads in any Republican states.

John Edwards is susceptible to some of the same criticisms facing Obama, and one can only imagine the mileage the Rove machine would get out of the $300 haircut.

John Kerry was effectively neutered as a viable presidential candidate in 2004. He would fare no better in 2008.

Is it that bleak and hopeless then? Not exactly. As we listed the Democratic candidates, we kept coming back to one name -- the only name -- that can win the 2008 election as a Democrat. He's not on the ticket yet, but it's likely he's biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity to announce his intent to run, to save the party and the country.

Who is it?

Al Gore.

Think about it. He has the experience, the political relationships, and the growing momentum from his climate change activism. I also think Gore feels he still has something to prove after the 2000 election and will see no greater opportunity for vindication than a presidential election win and cleaning up the messes Bush has made.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rereading Old Man's War

So, I'm rereading Old Man's War now (I also plan to reread The Ghost Brigades after I finish it) in preparation for Scalzi's concluding novel in the series, The Last Colony, which I recently ordered and should arrive for my consumption soon.

I've already praised Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades in previous posts, but as I was reading Old Man's War a second time, I started thinking more of the military SF sub-genre and wondered what other readers consider to be the best books in this category.

For my part, though my reading of SF is by no means exhaustive, along with Old Man's War, I would list Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Haldeman's The Forever War, and Card's Ender's Game.

What do the rest of you think?

Monday, May 14, 2007

New Rules by Bill Maher

Those familiar with the HBO show Real Time already know about Bill Maher's funny and biting collection of "New Rules".||For those who don't of for those who want a written sampling of the material, the text New Rules collects some of Maher's best "New Rules" rants and also includes new material, including a few some longer form editorials.

Like most texts collecting funny short-bit stand up material, New Rules is a very fast (too fast) and fun read.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Frank Rich

The Greatest Story Ever Sold is a damning, step-by-step chronicle of the Bush administration's many propaganda campaigns to manipulate and distort truth.

Laboriously researched, the text covers the administration's Iraqi WMD claims, Bush's "Mission Accomplished" triumph, the intimidation of the press, the Swift-boating of John Kerry, and much more.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

The Audacity of Hope is an accessible and expressive exploration of some of the major problems facing America today and Senator Obama's thoughts about possible solutions.

While this is clearly a positioning piece in which Obama works hard to speak to a large cross section of Americans (including Republicans and others who may have never heard of him), the book doesn't descend into safe answers and campaign stumping. On the contrary, throughout Obama maintains a sincere voice, speaking as a father and husband as often as a politician, and providing honest answers about his beliefs to a wide range of political questions.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Al Gore

I saw Al Gore on Friday (4/29). Gore was in Buffalo as part of SUNY Buffalo's Distinguished Speaker series and he delivered, with some modifications and updates, his global warming lecture that was featured in An Inconvenient Truth.

Seeing Gore live was interesting. He projects so much more humor, earnestness, and passion in person than I ever picked up before from his televised speeches or interviews. I guess this shouldn't be too surprising given how much spin and character assassination, there is in politics today. Still, you could literally feel Gore's outrage from the 40th row when he referenced the current administration's poor tract record on the environment or when he cycled through some slides he and Tipper took during a recent visit to New Orleans -- pictured that showed a New Orleans still sagging and anything but recovered from Katrina.

I'm glad UB invited Gore to speak and very pleased I was able to attend the event.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Excession by Iain Banks

Excession is set in author Iain Banks' multi-volume Culture series and tells of a mysterious black-body alien artifact.

The novel turns out to be less about the titular alien excession than the responses the artifact provokes, especially from the Culture's Minds and a sadistic species, the Affront.

Stylistically, the novel is dense at times, with alternating narratives and facsimile electronic correspondence from many different Minds and the principal human characters. Still, Excession comes together and, in a sense, the novel's elusiveness fits well with Banks' signature theme of ambiguity (moral and otherwise).

The Hulk

It looks like a Hulk sequel is in the works, with Edward Norton to play Bruce Banner!

I'm not sure how I feel about the casting of Norton yet, but I'm thrilled that director Ang Lee and writer James Schamus will not be involved with the new movie. What a disaster their imagining of The Hulk was, with a plodding story, too much deviation from the source origin story, and an unforgivable over-reliance on CGI.

Good luck to Louis Leterrier and the new creative team on the sequel. Get it right, or Hulk will smash!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Grindhouse

I saw Grindhouse last weekend. From the start, I enjoyed the double-feature setup with fake trailers and celluloid cigarette burns that led into a full-bore, over-the-top pastiche of 70s action/horror schlock.

I especially liked the Rodriguez's "Planet Terror", which came first, and featured an insane mutant-zombie attack fest. The Tarantino feature, "Death Proof", was good too, but this was more of an ode to gearheads and muscle cars, and is not a genre I enjoy quite as much as the first one.

Grindhouse is worth seeing in the theaters, and I recommend the film, but there are some caveats:
  1. You really have to buy into the premise of the film, that the features are both cheerfully imitating and mocking their pulp predecessors.
  2. Humorous or not, the film is gory, and if you've been turned off by the violence in previous Rodriguez or Tarantino films, you likely will feel the same about Grindhouse.
  3. You'll need some movie theater stamina, as, combined, the features are over three hours long.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

First Look

We took some pictures of our new house during the home inspection last week. Enjoy!

Some pictures of the front. Trees!







The attached garage:



Two views of our yard:



Friday, April 06, 2007

Sold!

As I mentioned a few days ago, we bought a house. The property is in West Seneca, NY (a suburb of Buffalo, NY), just a few blocks from where we live now. The house is a 1700 square feet raised ranch, with three bedrooms and two and a half baths on a nice over-sized corner lot. I'll post some pictures soon.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

We Bought a House!

Details to follow.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Phoenix by Steven Brust

Phoenix is the fifth book in Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series and centers around Vlad receiving an assassination job from his patron goddess, and the consequences that follow after Vlad commits the act.

I enjoyed the novel and the familiar humor, characters, and fast-paced action that have been present throughout the series. I also enjoyed that Brust was willing to move the series along, with Vlad's renunciation of his position and role in the House of Jhereg and departure from his wife and the city of Adrilankha at the end of the novel.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

GTI Racer

As much as I like our new 2007 Volkswagen GTI, I was surprised and bemused to see that the GTI and VW brand have inspired a PC racing game GTI Racer. Too funny!


Taltos by Steven Brust

Taltos is the fourth volume in the Vlad Taltos series but is chronologically the earliest in sequence.

This is a simple novel that details a very young Vlad and his first encounters with many of the recurring characters in the series. The text alternates between vignettes that precede each chapter, the main narrative about Vlad's journey to the Paths of the Dead, and anecdotal stories about Vlad's first forays as an employee in the (criminal) "organization" arm of House Jhereg. The three narratives come together by the end of the text.

By this point in the series, you'll likely only find yourself reading (and enjoying) Taltos if you've read the other books in the series. If you are a fan of the Vlad books, you'll find this a light but enjoyable addition that nicely fills in many of the gaps in Vlad's backstory.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives collects his short novel The Atrocity Archive and the Hugo Award winning novella, The Concrete Jungle.

Both stories provide a fun blend of nerdboy tech and supernatural espionage. In addition to the Lovecraftian elements like mathematically brewed gates to other dimensions and transmutative security cameras fitted with gorgon-harnessed firmware, Stross also mixes in very funny asides, mostly in satire of federal and office bureaucracy.

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow

Eastern Standard Tribe is an entertaining but flawed near-future novel about online "tribes", the convergence of new technologies, and a corporate conspiracy. The book's strong points are its ideas and extrapolation, which come through despite a conventional and rushed plot.

The entire text of Eastern Standard Tribe was released under a Creative Commons license on Doctorow's website and is free to be read without the publisher's permission.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Calling All Homeowners!

As many of you know, my wife and are looking to purchase a house. In the interest of choosing wisely, I wanted to reach out to those of you who own a home and ask for your suggestions and tribal insight. We know the basics, but we were wondering about the lesser known truths, for example, anything you learned about your home or the purchasing process after you bought your home, but that you wished you knew beforehand.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ghost Rider

As comic book movie adaptations go, Ghost Rider was a middling effort, with good action sequences but a weak plot, uneven pacing, and forgettable villains.

The CGI was imaginative but not as good as it needed to be to really sell the flaming skull and bike scenes. I did think the penance stare was pretty cool.

The actors did the best they could with the material and the film fortunately didn't take itself seriously. It even featured a number of intentional camp humor bits where it seemed to be making fun of its own schlock.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla is the third novel in the popular Vlad Taltos fantasy series, and much darker in mood and style than its predecessors, Jhereg and Yendi.

The novel begins as Vlad learns that his wife Cawti has joined a group of reformists, who are actively pushing for greater rights for the underclasses in Dragaera. Vlad struggles greatly with Cawti's new affiliation, as he does not share her political ideals, and the two argue bitterly and drift apart through the course of the narrative. Their dissolving relationship is paralleled against the rising reform movement that threatens to become an all-out insurgency.

Atypical themes (for fantasy) of personal dissolution and political unrest combine to make this a very memorable novel, with genuine emotion and verisimilitude not characteristically found in books of the genre.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kathy Griffin

I had an opportunity to see Kathy Griffin live last week (on February 12th, actually) at Shea's Performing Arts Center in Buffalo.

I must say, her stand up is even more snarky and irreverent as her television routines. Maybe it's a guilty pleasure, but I enjoyed her riffs at Paula Abdul, Donald Trump, Star Jones, and others and succumbed to many delightful paroxysms of laughter. I also liked when she showed her serious social political side, and skewered George Bush and Mel Gibson.

All proceeds from the show went to a local Buffalo AIDS clinic. Say what you want about Kathy Griffin's style and celebrity-baiting humor, but that was a very cool move on her part.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yendi by Steven Brust

Though released after Jhereg, Yendi is a actually a prequel and recalls a younger Vlad in a turf war with a rival crime boss.

Like its predecessor, Yendi is a lot of fun, with rich characters, witty dialogue, and an enthralling fantasy world.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jhereg by Steven Brust

Jhereg is an entertaining, fast-paced fantasy that introduces Vlad Taltos and his constant companion, a leathery-winged jhereg.

I recently reread Jhereg, and though I hardly read any fantasy anymore, I was pleased that I still enjoy Brust, and his humorous, anti-epic, wry blend of fantasy. I'm looking forward to finally reading the rest of the series.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a superb, captivating novel about Christopher Boone, an autistic boy, and his quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog.

What makes this novel so amazing is its narration. Told completely from the point of view of Christopher, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time illuminates and makes real a complex mind that knows geography, math, and science exceptionally well but that cannot relate well to people or understand human emotions.

If you haven't read this yet, go read it right now.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End is a near future SF novel about a dawning virtual age and the threat of a deadly biological weapon.

I had mixed reactions to the book. While I liked the main character Robert Gu (a former Alzheimer's patient now cured and younger thanks to breakthroughs in medicine) and his attempts to assimilate to a new world where people interface directly with computers and silent message each other, I found myself wondering at times if the novel's setting, circa 2025, was far enough in the future for the kind of deep medical and software innovation present in the book. I also thought Vinge's use of markup to denote silent messaging was awkward. I know what he was trying to do, but markup is for web geeks and programs to process it, not prose!

Still, you could do far worse than reading this novel. The story is engaging and the technological extrapolation is always interesting though unlikely to happen in the next twenty years.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Last Kiss

I recently saw The Last Kiss. I'd wanted to see this when it was released, mostly because I like Zach Braff in Scrubs and enjoyed his performance in Garden State but also because I knew Paul Haggis wrote the screenplay, and his work in Crash speaks for itself.

Mostly, I feel lukewarm about the film. On the one hand, while I appreciated the honest look at issues of relationships and commitment, I thought most of the characters were too unlikeable, with little to contrast or balance out the negativity and emptiness they felt in their lives and relationships.

Overclocked by Cory Doctorow

I'd wanted to check out some of Cory Doctorow's fiction for a while and finally did so, picking up and reading Overclocked last week.

It's a good collection. I liked the stories and Doctorow's hipster-meets-techno-nerd style that's a lot of fun and really energetic. The stories in Overclocked recall old SF tropes and current and near-future technology concerns. "When Sysadmins Ruled the World" pivots around the traditional SF apocalyptic story and focuses on two sysadmins and their efforts to keep the servers online as the world goes dark. "Anda's Game" deftly shows how a shrinking, flat world will likely extend to computer game virtual sweatshops, and "I, Robot" and "I, Row-Boat" are interesting Asimov-inspired robot stories.

Congratulations, Thurman Thomas

Congratulations to former Bills running back Thurman Thomas for being elected today to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thomas was a consummate Bill and the linchpin of the great Buffalo teams from the late 80s and early 90s that won four straight AFC titles before losing in each Super Bowl.

Though Thomas had some tough moments in big games, including when he misplaced his helmet in Super Bowl XXVI and when he fumbled in Super Bowl XXVIII, he had a great career, amassing 12,074 yards rushing and 16,532 yards from scrimmage. He always played hard and gave everything he had. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is richer for his inclusion.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Serena Williams

Ravenweb visitors know that I have been a fan of U.S. tennis pro Serena Williams for years.

With all of her past accomplishments, though, it was nice to see her rise up from the unseeded ranks this year to beat Sharapova to win the Australian Open. This -- an eighth Grand Slam tennis title -- after she recently announced that she is planning to make a movie about the life of trailblazing black tennis player Althea Gibson. Very cool. Congratulations to Serena Williams.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Scrubs Musical

Big props to Scrubs for going with a musical episode ("My Musical") last night.

The episode was hilarious and provided an irreverent pastiche of Broadway musicals while staying within the familiar tone of the show. "Guy Love" and "Everything Comes Down to Poo" were the best songs, with the latter number going to show that fart and crap jokes are always funny if done right.

Let's hope this musical episode is a sign of better things to come for Scrubs this year. Season six prior to this episode has been a disappointment with too much focus on the baby story lines and not enough crazy stuff like this.

See also:

Scrubs' takes a turn for the better with musical
by Matthew Gilbert (The Boston Globe)

Why You Must "Tune" In to the Scrubs Musical!
by Matt Mitovich (TV Guide)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others

Ted Chiang is one of those writers who's so good and whose stories are so well-crafted and compelling that you find trying yourself to prolong and savor the reading experience. As a speculative fiction writer, Chiang is particularly effective at melding accessible and cogent scientific extrapolation with seamless prose. But you don't need to be an SF fan to enjoy Chiang's fiction. Anyone who enjoys good writing and thoughtful stories should find something in Chiang's fiction to satisfy.

All of the stories in Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life and Others are good, and some are great. I especially enjoyed "Hell Is the Absence of God", a fantasy novella about a world where angels and God exist and intervene in the mortal world; "Understand", a fun SF story about heightened intelligence in the tradition of Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon"; "Story of Your Life", a poignant story about a linguist trying to learn an alien language and how her exposure to the language changes her perception of being in time; and "Liking What You See: A Documentary", an insightful examination of appearances and beauty.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

At the Gates of Oblivion

Well, actually (and fortunately), no -- but I have finally gotten around to playing Oblivion, after having received it as a Christmas gift from my wife. For those of you who don't play computer games, Oblivion is a popular fantasy-themed role playing game that was developed last year by Bethesda Softworks. It is the fourth installment in Bethesda's continuing Elder Scrolls series of games, and its predecessors include Daggerfall and Morrowind.

Before I detail my observations of Oblivion, I should point out that of the previous Elder Scrolls games, I've only played Morrowind, which I loaded up shortly after it was released in May 2002. I remember being initially thrilled and very impressed with Morrowind for many days and weeks, perhaps too many of both as it turned out. I was struck by the spectacular visuals and the then state of the art character facial animations, draw distance, and water rendering.

I also liked the game's first person view that was reminiscent of good shooters like Half-Life and the immersive free-form mode of play that let you embark on the main quest or deviate from the scripted quests and explore the expansive game world as you chose. After a fair bit of exploring, I ended up performing the game's main quest and that led to a long sequence of addictive game play in which I completed minor and major quests until I was -- done, and quite exhausted by the end, as if I had just run a marathon while carrying my computer. As soon as I completed the main quest in Morrowind, I lost all compulsion for the game and felt no further desire to explore or continue playing, despite the two official add-ons and countless modifications released by the fan community. To this day, I have never replayed Morrowind and still feel some fatigue when thinking about the latter stages of the game quest.

So it was with both excitement and some trepidation that I installed and began to play Oblivion. I was able to get into the game right away, as it builds well on Morrowind, with the same kind of wide world sandbox and main quest that you may or may not undertake as you choose. The updated engine boasts very nice character and environment graphics, and, from what I've heard, it degrades well on lower end machines. For the record, I'm playing Oblivion on a PC, with an AMD 3500+ 2.21 GHz processor with 2.0 GB of RAM and an Nvidia 7800 GT PCI Express graphics card.

The game play itself is fun and it's made me remember why I play fantasy role playing games. The quests are interesting and varied, the combat provides a good rush without becoming gratuitous, and the large, detailed game world is as good as it gets for a fantasy role playing game.

I've also been able to enjoy the game without becoming addicted to it or playing it for excessive lengths of time. So in this regard, so far, so good. Perhaps having a wife now helps, as opposed to when I was single and playing Morrowind and could stay up playing all night.

I do have some problems with the game's inventory and quest UI tabs, which look great but only show information in an impractical, list view, which you must constantly scroll up or down to view additional information. A larger grid view for at least inventory would have been much more usable than the default display setup.

The game also doesn't share resources well. A spyware scan, a firewall alert, or an automated update check will cause the game to minimize and crash. I've discovered that I have to lock my firewall to get the game to play without issues.

Overall, though, Oblivion is very much a success and a lot of fun to play.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Adverbs by Daniel Handler

Adverbs is a series of interconnected short stories or vignettes all of which are titled after an adverb.

It becomes pretty clear soon after beginning the novel that love is intended to be the overarching theme. The problems here are the prose and plot devices the author uses to keep his notion of love in the subtext.

For example, many of the stories feature characters with similar names, but it's not often apparent whether these characters are supposed to be the same people or different people with the same names. Similarly, though intentionally done I'm sure, the character dialogue is purposely exaggerated and full of strange connections and phrasing, and hard to follow at times. The use of adverbs themselves is tightly controlled and reserved for specific instances of important characters development.

Now, Adverbs as a complete text may work well for some readers who will enjoy that the characters, pieces, and themes introduced in the novel never come together, paralleling perhaps how love often never culminates or wraps up neatly in our lives.

For me, though, reading the book did not evoke any feelings of pleasure, wonder, or loss that I would expect to feel from reading about love; instead, reading Adverbs was too much like plowing through a graduate school literary experiment, interesting and enlightening at times, for sure, but ultimately unsatisfying.

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

The Android's Dream is a light and fun SF novel by John Scalzi.

A departure from the serious military SF in Scalzi's Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, this book is more in the vein of SF satire, and, in this fashion, is reminiscent at different points of early Neil Stephenson (Snow Crash) and Douglas Adams. As an example, the novel begins with an extended fart joke that runs through the entire first chapter. That's the kind of book this is.

Though not a perfect or substantive SF novel -- see Ranting Nerd's nice review of the book for a flushing out of some of the parts of the novel that may grate some readers -- it is a funny and entertaining novel and, in this sense, definitely succeeds.