Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Exoplanets

From xkcd.



I know how he feels. We don't want to leave anyone behind.

Not even trying on the fortune cookie front

Of course it goes without saying that, if you're trying to learn how to speak anything from the Chinese family of languages, you're doing it wrong if you're relying on fortune cookie slips for your vocabulary. And it should also go without saying that, if you are the one writing these little helpful nuggets of word wisdom, you should probably eschew phonetic borrowings. They are no help at all.





Reminds me of the Spanish translation for "baseball".

Friday, August 27, 2010

Façade afternoon



Function is life. The rest is just details.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier



If you've stopped by this blog more than once before (and thank you for doing so, if you have!), you'll know that I am a huge Iron Maiden fan, and I have been enjoying their music for nearly thirty years now. So it delights me to see that my favorite band is still cranking out the metal tunes even today.

Yes, that's the latest release from Maiden, and I bought it the day it came out, August 17, 2010. Since it's called The Final Frontier, I suppose this might be the last studio album the band puts out before they all retire for good. So, I'd better enjoy the hell out of it, right? No worries.

Let's start with the cover art. Here, Eddie has apparently been genetically combined with an alien species, and he's suffered some kind of damage because his cranium has been opened to space. (It doesn't seem to bother him, though.) He holds a key of some kind, and he looks over the freeze-dried carcasses of another type of alien in their ruined space vessel. Striking visuals, and very colorful in contrast to the bleakness of Maiden's previous album.

The songs: Stylistically, they cover a lot of ground. There's much that sounds like old, familiar, comfy Iron Maiden, and then there's some that goes off in different directions, even challenging the expectations of long-time fans like me. For example, "Satellite 15 ... The Final Frontier" (which is really two songs in one) sounds like nothing I've heard before, and it's a very interesting way to start the album off.

Thematically, the songs are all over the place. They deal with space travel and exploration ("Satellite 15 ... The Final Frontier" and "Coming Home"), war and religion ("Mother of Mercy" and "Starblind"), legends ("Isle of Avalon" and "The Man Who Would Be King"), old-time sea-faring adventures ("The Talisman"), fear ("When the Wild Wind Blows"), historical mysticism ("The Alchemist"), and even scam artists ("El Dorado").

And you know what? There's a lot here to like. Steve Harris and crew may be getting old, but they aren't slowing down. And they certainly haven't lost any of their creativity. It's a good listen, from start to finish, and I have the feeling I'm just at the beginning of my enjoyment of this album.


video

Monday, August 23, 2010

State quarter designer -- in Texas

Hey, guess what I found out? One of the designers of the state quarters lives just up the road from San Antonio in New Braunfels!
NEW BRAUNFELS — You may not know who artist Susan Gamble is, but chances are you have one of her drawings.

And you're carrying it in your pocket.

Gamble, who lives in New Braunfels, is one of five master designers in the country whose renderings are used as artwork on coins for the U.S. Mint.

She drew the leaping salmon in front of Mount Rainier for the Washington state quarter, the grizzly bear catching a salmon for the Alaska state quarter and the scissor-tailed flycatcher soaring over Indian blanket wildflowers for the Oklahoma state quarter.

(from the Express-News)

That's right. These are her designs:













And here are the reviews I gave them:

Washington - 2 - Mediocre
Oklahoma - 2 - Mediocre
Alaska - 2 - Mediocre

I know these are just my personal opinions, but I hope Ms. Gamble stumbles across this blog sometime and takes a moment to read my reviews. Yes, they are just the views of a regular guy who carries these coins around every day, but they might prove useful to her in any future artwork she develops. Or maybe not.

Of course, what really boggles my mind is that Ms. Gamble -- and only a few other artists -- are the ones who got to determine what went on all fifty of the state quarters. I really and truly thought the states themselves had some say in these designs, but apparently not!

And why not?

Why would the U.S. Mint rely on just a few people to design all these coins that are supposed to be representative of the states they, well, represent? Convenience? Probably so, but I wonder now if any of the states' residents actually got a chance to voice their opinions on the state quarters. If not, I'm a bit disappointed in the whole program.

P.S.: Whoever designed the Texas quarter, you did good, though, even if you didn't check with any Texans first! I gave it a 5 - Best!

Using the wrong metaphor

At St. Philip's College in San Antonio, economic shortfalls have forced the school to insist on larger class sizes in order to consolidate resources. As such, some of the smaller classes have been canceled. Students, who are often working-class and looking for a trade education, are understandably upset, as KSAT-12 reports:
Michelle Monsees, a welding student, said the consolidation of classes could affect her ability to take care of her kids.

"How am I supposed to take a class at night when I have kids to be watching?" she asked.

Another student pointed to his class schedule, "Here's four classes I needed to finish out the semester (of) which two ... are going to be canceled," said Nick Ramon.
They have a right to be frustrated, but what caught my eye in this story is the response of St. Philip's Vice President of Academic Affairs Ruth Dalrymple. She said, in considering options,
"We have a number of students who are trying to jumble working and family and classes and we'll take a look at that as well," she said.
It's hard enough to juggle work, family, and school, but I suppose it's also possible some of the students are going one step further in the difficulty department and are consciously trying to mix all these things together into confused messes.

But I could be wrong.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quote of the day

"The jet, as well as being an ambassador of death for the enemies of humanity, has a main message of peace and friendship."

Though I kind of
like the idea of an "ambassador of death" for all those pesky alien invaders, somehow I don't think that's what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant by this. And I'd be interested to know what kind of friendship this device brings.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I bought today




Oh, yes. Happy me! New Maiden, just released.

Give me a couple of weeks or so. I'll have a review ready. But I need to soak it in first.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Showing off stabby things

The Pistolero is showing off his cool knife. It's nice.

Here's mine.



It's a Buck, a brand I've always been partial to. But I don't use this particular knife very much.

Why not? you say. Well, take a closer look.




Yep, that's George Strait's mug on that blade. A special edition knife, this is. So, since it's very nice, and I don't want to subject poor George's face to any mundane nastiness, I just can't bring myself to use it like a regular blade. As such, it usually just sits inside its special sheath.




Do you have any special knives that you can't bring yourself to use?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Territory quarters

I promised I would get to them, so here they are, the United States Territories quarters. Since there are only six of them, I will cover them all in one post.

Let's begin with:



The District of Columbia




OK, D.C. is unique. It's not a territory. But it's included in this quarter series by the U.S. Mint, so there it is.

And it's not very good. To begin with, I like the concept of doing something completely different with the design (I was expecting the Washington Monument, to tell you the truth), so I was pleasantly surprised to see jazz great Duke Ellington featured all on his own. But the problem here is that this is a quarter, not a full-sized portrait. So that image of Ellington is nothing more than an amorphous human outline. It might as well be anybody, because it sure as hell doesn't look like any jazz great I know.

Overall rating - 2 - Mediocre



Puerto Rico



Puerto Rico produced a good design. The garita is a nice element to feature because it is pleasing to the eye, and it's different from what you might expect to see on a quarter design. (It reminds me of the Miradores del Mar along the seawall in Corpus Christi.) The only thing I don't like about this design is the inclusion of the flowers, but I think I can let that one slide.

Overall rating - 3 - Good



Guam




The designers of the Guam quarter also did very well. There's the outline of the territory -- a technique employed quite often in the State Quarters program -- accented by two simple, iconic elements: a sailing boat and a structure known as a latte stone. These pillars are said to be foundations for huts, or even houses, but they are obviously important symbols of the native people that live on the islands in the area. It's a unique structure, and it looks good on this coin. (I'm ignoring the text; it's small enough to be inconspicuous.)

Overall rating - 3 - Good



American Somoa



Ah, yes, American Somoa. Land of virile people like Junior Seau and The Rock. And a place that knows how to use its cultural elements. There you have the the kava bowl, the fly switch, and the staff of authority, all arranged nicely on that small round canvas. They could have left off the motto and the tropical landscape in the background and it would have been better, but a good effort nonetheless.

Overall rating - 3 - Good



U.S. Virgin Islands



The U.S. Virgin Islands! What's great about them? Tim Duncan, that's what!

But not this quarter. It's a mess of trees, flowers, a lonely bird -- all of which almost never work out on these designs -- and a frowny-faced outline above a lame motto. Not good at all.

Overall rating - 1 - Bad



Northern Mariana Islands



Here we have the quarter design for the Northern Mariana Islands, and here we have a repeat of what we've seen before on the Guam quarter. There's that sailing boat again, and there's another latte stone, so right away it's not original. And there's additional clutter in the form of birds, trees, beach sand, and some kind of foliage in the foreground. It's not completely terrible, but it doesn't quite make it to "good" either.

Overall rating - 2 - Mediocre



Well, that wraps up the Territories Quarter Program. But the fun ain't over yet!

Stay tuned for updates on the "America the Beautiful Quarters" series, which is ongoing! This series celebrates the U.S. National Parks, and there will be 50 of them as well, one for each state (Texas will feature the missions in San Antonio - yay!).

They've only released the first three quarters in this series, and two more designs have been revealed, so maybe there's still time to get to some of these committees and convince them to be very careful in their work. Know anybody on one of these committees? Direct them to this blog, and then have them peruse my coin reviews before settling on a design. They'll get some food for thought, you'll only be doing your state a favor.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What I bought today



I splurged a little and got myself this gem on CD. I was glad to get it because I've been frustrated lately. Old Black Sabbath music is hard to come by. And Ozzy Osbourne has a real quirkiness when it comes to any music he seems to have had an influence on.

For example, Ozzy went totally George Lucas on all his fans and re-recorded his first two incredibly influential (and nearly perfect on their own) solo albums, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, ending up with less-enjoyable versions after the effort. No kidding, the drum and bass tracks from the original albums were removed and replaced with recordings by other artists, and these re-releases are the only versions available if you try to buy them new. So, unless you actually own vinyl or CD versions of these albums from the 1980s or 90s, the only thing you can get these days are much weaker imitations. Even Bark at the Moon (which was only remixed, not re-recorded) sounds a lot crappier than it did when it first came out. I bought that one through iTunes, and I was sorely disappointed with what was downloaded to my computer.

And then, there's the Black Sabbath music. Ozzy seems to think only he owns anything that has to do with Black Sabbath before he left the band, and he recently fought a legal battle with Tony Iommi (the guitarist and the only member of the band to actually be in the band for its entire existence) for actual ownership of the name "Black Sabbath". Supposedly their feud is over, but, for some reason, Ozzy has been refusing on-line access to any Black Sabbath album or song recorded with him. Go to iTunes or Amazon, and you can find anything Ozzy has recorded solo, and you can find Black Sabbath material produced after Ozzy left the band, but absolutely nothing is available from the time before he jumped ship. No Paranoid. No Master of Reality. No Technical Ecstasy. No nothing.

And guess what? I've been itching to hear some old Black Sabbath, especially some things that I haven't heard in decades.

Then, today, I came across Sabotage. It has been so long since I have heard the tasty tunes on this album that I have almost forgotten what they sound like. "Hole in the Sky". "Symptom of the Universe". "The Writ". These are some of the songs that shaped my appreciation for metal and set the stage for future pursuits in the genre. This album and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath were a couple of my closest companions in my formative years, and it has been to my sadness that I have not had a copy of Sabotage since high school, thanks in part to its limited availability in music stores and its complete absence online.

But now I have found it. And now I have it! Good times for me!

Oh, and I always thought the cover art was pretty cool for this album. It shows the band members looking great in duds that demonstrate the height of 1970s hard rock/metal fashion.

Well, except for Bill Ward. He insisted on wearing his red tights for the photo shoot. With checkered underwear.



I suppose there's no accounting for taste, even in the 70s.
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Monday, August 09, 2010

Overusing "green"

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It's official. The concept of "green" now means absolutely nothing. Or it means everything, depending on your view.
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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Rear entrance morning



Cafe's around back. Knock three times, then twice. That way they'll know you're not the health inspector.
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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Correcting my mistake

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Well, it's a bit embarrassing, but I have to take a moment here to correct a mistake I made on this blog.

Some time ago I put up a post about a new piece of music I had discovered. That post (now corrected) is here. I heard the piece playing on KPAC one day, and, as I usually do when I hear something that I like and have never heard before, I waited until the end to hear the name of the piece and the composer so I could download the work later. I heard the DJ say it the Danzón No. 2 by Keri-Lynn Wilson, someone who I had never heard of before. To tell you the truth, I was a little excited to have learned of a newer piece of classical music that sounded so good!

Back in the 20th Century (way back then!), many composers took music in new directions by experimenting with atonality and alleatory music and 12-tone rows and other methods that look good in theory but that ultimately result in music that is difficult to listen to. But, beginning in recent decades and continuing today, contemporary composers seem to be returning to a mindset that music should sound good, too. There's nothing wrong with experimentation, and there are still composers that work with minimalism and atonality, but ultimately music should be a pleasure to listen to, not a chore. And I'm happy that many of today's composers seem to realize this. (Michael Torke is one of my favorites.)

So, I thought, Hey! Here's a new composer I've never heard of, but that piece is pretty cool. I'll look her up and find out a little more.

And I did. And in short order I found an album of her works, and it contained a recording of the Danzón No. 2 that I had taken such a shine to. I downloaded the piece, and I have been enjoying it immensely.

And then the other day, while driving home from work, I turned on the radio. And, happily, the Danzón No. 2 was playing. But it was a different recording of the piece with slightly different dynamics. I turned up the volume, and I enjoyed listening to how this recording varied from the one I was used to.

Then came the surprise.

At the end of the piece, the DJ announced that we had just heard the Danzón No. 2 from ---- Arturo Márquez!

What?!

As soon as I got home I logged on and did some frantic research, and this is what I found out:

1. Keri-Lynn Wilson is a Canadian conductor and flautist, not a composer (that I can tell).
2. The album I had looked at and downloaded the song from was not a compilation of Wilson's works but of pieces she had conducted. That's what the first DJ had been talking about.
3. I had spelled her name wrong initially.
4. Arturo Márquez is a contemporary Mexican composer, and he is the person who actually wrote the Danzón No. 2.
5. I need to listen to what the DJs say more carefully.

Sorry about any misunderstanding I may have caused by my previous post. I have since corrected it and linked to this explanation in case someone comes across it in the future. I will strive to do better.
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