Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday night update

I have shaved off my beard. We are keeping warm with emergency heat since we have a leak in our outdoor unit compressor. Erin and I went swimming today. I lost the gas cap to our van, went back to find it, and there it was-- run over and smashed to pieces. We all saw Curious George at the book store. It was sunny and felt kind of nice outside.
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I've been slowly adding to my Zazzle store.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another race horse drawing

I finished this today. It's about 8 x 11 inches. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I like the pose a little more than the last one, but I like my cross-hatching a little less.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Drawing, books, movie

I am nearly done with another horse-and-jockey drawing, similar to the last one. I am also making progress on my drawing of the YUM! Center (lest anyone think that I haven't been attempting to sell out, man.) I'm far enough along that I need to figure out what my next project is going to be. I have a few ideas, I just need to settle on something.

I've lately taken up the idea of working on two things at once, one big, the other small. The bigger ones (like the previous subjects of Farmington and Big Rock, and the YUM! Center currently) are longer-term, larger scale, and done with the intention of just looking more impressive. The smaller ones are ones I can pull out and put away again quickly and easily when I only have ten minutes at a time, or only a few square feet, to work.

I've been reading Nigel Rodgers' Roman Empire, and enjoying it a lot. I've found ancient history somewhat difficult to approach. Most books seem to either want to throw you off the deep end with contemporary, focused accounts that may or may not be very accurate and for which I have little knowledge framework to rely on for context; or they are a very dull sampling of a huge period of time and cultures with little or no attempt to give you a good sense of what life was like for any single person of the ancient world.

Roman Empire seems to bridge that gap pretty well. Comprised of fairly short articles, it gives overviews of many aspects of the Roman Empire, encompassing religion, politics, the economy, the military, clothing, etc. It pulls it all apart and then puts it all back together. It's very easy to flip through; I can read about a battle, encounter a term I don't understand, and then flip to the section on different military ranks for an explanation, then get sidetracked into an summary of some general's reforms in both military and politics. Basically put, the book is neither too smart nor too dumb for my level of knowledge.

Per the recommendation of three or four friends, I also started reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I'm not far into it, but so far it's entertaining. I'm told it's not the best of the series of books (about a wizard detective in Chicago).

With those same friends, last Friday night I watch the movie "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," and I liked it a lot. It's hard to recommend to people, though, because it's such an odd movie. I was a third of the way through it before I started feeling like I was "getting" it. The movie is sort of like if "Wayne's World" cross-bred with a bunch of video games, and the offspring somehow ended up intelligent and attractive.

edit: I should have mentioned, that picture isn't a drawing, it's a facial scan.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Little People: review

The Little People by John Christopher: my book review


This isn't a real book review because I don't want to, and I'm not forced to, write very much on the subject.  So in brief:


The cover of this book was very misleading.  Instead of an over-the-top horror romp in a castle infested with whip-cracking Nazi leprechauns, it was a well-paced, psychologically rich character drama involving Nazi leprechauns who, it's mentioned in passing, might occasionally crack whips.


The set-up: It's Ireland in the 1960s. A young English woman inherits from an uncle an isolated Irish castle (not really a castle, she learns, but a large country house built on the remains of a castle).  She considers selling it, but opts instead to run it as a vacation spot for tourists—a bed and breakfast situated in the middle of a bog.  She and her fiancé check the place out and are amused at all the little dollhouses her uncle built in his tower workshop before he died. How cute!


After running a few ads for the vacation spot, she gets some takers: A bickering American couple and their teenaged daughter, and a German couple troubled by the (figurative) ghosts of post-war German grief and guilt.  They join a young alcoholic Irish lawyer who's been staying at the house helping the Englishwoman get the place up and running, and the Englishwoman's fiancé, who is a London attorney trying to keep a lid on his own superiority complex.


Yes, it does sound like a lot of clichés, but the author starts chiseling away at the archetypes, giving them believable backgrounds and reforming them around the details of their existence.  In fact, you could edit out the whole "little people" element and still have a decent book.  They do, however, lend the novel an extra bit of depth as well as mystery (I wouldn't call it horror, exactly; I was never horrified, even when the lights went out and there was an imminent threat of whipping).


I also found myself frequently delighted by Christopher's descriptions and choice of words.  The biggest problems I found were in some of the character reactions later in the book; I'm not sure that some of the choices were entirely credible, but they weren't outlandish.  Also, what in 1966 might have passed as a novel premise in fantastic-horror stories now comes across as a little quaint, but like I said, the fantastic-horror element is only part of the draw.


This would make an excellent book club discussion book. I'm not joking!  I can easily see hours of debate about character motivations, relationship development, and other storytelling choices.


And it's a slim book and a fast read, so if you want to borrow it, I'll let you, sure.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Alien Invasion

I saw a trailer for the movie "Battle: LA" a couple of days ago. It's about space aliens attacking Earth (again).

Although it looks like it has spectacular visual effects, there is no clue given about alien motivation for the invasion, and I suspect that—as in most alien invasion movies—any reason given will be unrealistic. Maybe they won't give a reason at all. Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" was all the better for not delving into motivation or means. The monsters in that movie were a sudden cataclysm akin to a massive storm or earthquake.

So I was thinking about invading aliens, why they might do it, and how. There are very few scenarios that, in light of the tremendous effort it would take to undertake the conquest of Earth, give a realistic explanation as to why creatures from another planet would try it. But just a few minutes ago I thought of a good one which I had not considered before: to save our souls.

How is this for a great scifi premise: An alien race detects our presence and realizes that we have an intelligence similar to their own, but we're not quite as technologically advanced. These aliens are also very religious.

After a brief period of studying our culture, missionaries arrive. They might not even be very representative of the entire alien species; they might be relatively poorly equipped and underfunded due to a lack of support at home. But they are determined to save us, even if they have to kill us to do so.

There could be several religious factions, just to make it more interesting. One group establishes a stronghold on a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean and takes over most of our airwaves for religious broadcasting, but they are relatively peaceful until earth religious groups attack them. Another fringe alien group destroys Rome and installs their own alien Pope, thinking that they can just take over and convert Roman Catholics that way. Individual aliens establish compounds to preach their own versions of the truth, and look for ways to control human minds in order to reach more converts.

I think this premise is great, and more believable than most. I'm sure I'm far from the first person to think of it, but it's novel to me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Right to Left

For me, weeks start on the right and flow to the left.  That means this calendar feels more natural to me than others.  However, I could never really use it, because I'd have to switch back and forth between this format and other "normal" formats.
I'm sure there is a link, somehow, between this and my mental-year-as-a-counter-clockwise-clock imagery.

Monday, January 10, 2011



Last week I finished reading "Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose" by Lee Alan Dugatin and I thought it was pretty good.  It gave an interesting perspective on the beginning of U.S. history, tying together natural history with the politics and economics of late 18th and early 19th Century America and Europe.  It's also a small, quick read.


Over the weekend I started reading "The Little People" by John Christopher.  I picked up the book years ago because the cover art was irresistible; and didn't put it back on the shelf because I've read some other things by that author and enjoyed it.  However, I never read it, and it ended up in a storage box until I recently found it.


I'm about half way through, and it's pretty good so far, although it's unfolding slowly.


That cover art, though. Genius.

Science Cafe

February Louisville Area Skeptics Science Cafe is scheduled:
I'm looking forward to this; I enjoyed this speaker quite a bit the last time, when he talked about "Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose."  Anyone else want to go with me? Let me know.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

In Pursuit of a Fiend

The gendarme, aghast, walked into a shocking scene. The killer had taken her torso!

Wedding Photo

He's only marrying her because all the other girls he's ever met have expected him to crouch on an egg for four months during a blizzard.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

We spent New Year's Eve with Ol' One-Eye and Ms. Snuggie

A little (and I do mean a little) alcohol, combined with the excitement of Skip-Bo, makes these people go wild.

Louisville Science Center

Inside a giant bubble. Is it still a bubble if it's not spherical, or is it a soap tube?
On a space mission

Monday, January 03, 2011


I've had some discussions with family recently about top-ten movie lists.  Since I haven't blogged much lately, and movie discussions are always good filler, I thought I'd weigh in.  So, Dad and brothers, here's my list.


This is a list of just nine films, and just the ones I could think of in a short period of time.  I could easily change my mind and add or subtract from it with more thought. 


These are in no particular order, except the first one, which is my favorite.


"Miller's Crossing": This is my favorite movie.  I generally enjoy all the Coen Brothers' movies, although there are a few from recent years that I haven't seen.  They are great craftsmen, and all aspects of their work seem so well-integrated into one another.  It all just hangs together so beautifully.  I think "Miller's Crossing" is a great example of this, with the added benefit of being psychologically hard to puzzle out.  I find the main character's goals and motivations obscure.  This, combined with great dialogue, tense action scenes, and lots of plot twists, makes it a movie that I can watch repeatedly.


"The Moderns": This late-'80s film about American expatriates living in Paris in the 1920s is weird, pretentious, and full of arts-related in-jokes and caricatures.  It's probably not a movie for everyone, but I like it a lot, perhaps moreso because few people have heard of it.


"Rear Window": I've always enjoyed watching Jimmy Steward, and Grace Kelly is great.  The premise is a lot fun, the characters are a lot of fun, and some of the scenes are nerve-wracking. I think this is just an all-around fun movie.


"Jaws":  My memory of the first time I saw this—Dad took Kevin and me to see it at the theater during a re-release sometime in the late Seventies—is sort of unpleasant.  It was summer, and I was in shorts and a tank top, and the air conditioned theater was freezing.  I was very uncomfortable to start with, so when helpless innocent people started being eaten by a shark onscreen, I was pretty miserable.  Somehow, though, this did not translate into a hatred of this movie.  The first portion of the film is pretty good, I guess; but what I really like is the latter portion with the three main characters on the fishing boat trying to find and kill the shark.  It's atmospheric, tense, perfectly paced, and packed full of great movie moments.


"Star Wars": I can't not include it.  "The Empire Strikes Back" is a superior movie, but I'll have to put in this first film because it struck such a cord.


"The Wizard of Oz": Until recently I wouldn't have thought to include this, but I think I must, again partly due to re-watch potential. I've seen this plenty of times, and I still feel like I could see it plenty more without being bored with it.


"The Haunting": This was remade recently, and the remake is awful (I haven't seen all of it, and I have no desire to.)  However, the original black-and-white film from the early Sixties has what I want in a horror film, namely creepiness that plays on one's imagination.  I like the very classic haunted house setting.  Yes, a lot of the movie is kind of corny, but it's worth it to me to sit through that for the good stuff.


"Lone Star": Another film I can watch repeatedly because of the complex way the characters all relate to one another.  I've watched it with friends who compared it to watching paint dry, but I think it's a great movie that gets better with repeat viewings.


"Monty Python and the Holy Grail":  Do I really think it's funny, or do I just think I think it's funny?  How funny would I find it if I saw it for the first time today?  I don't know, but I still think it's really funny.