The Den of Ubiquity

Friday, May 30, 2003:

Quoiqu'on fasse ou quoiqu'on dise

May has been a busy month.

Nicole's birthday was last weekend, and her mom's birthday is this weekend. We drove up to see my mom in there too, and since then I have not, for instance, managed to catch up on dishes. Oh, and somewhere in there Nicole's aunt from California came up to visit.

At least TV is over for the season. We missed a couple of episodes of "24", but I'll bet they won't show up on reruns this summer.

We are entertaining thoughts of trying out "Buffy". Yes, that's right, we've never watched it, even though I, at least, even liked the original movie. By the time we decided it might be interesting, it was four or five seasons in, and there was too much backstory. Besides, we really didn't need another weekly hour-long series anyway. But now that it's over, and watching it is, at least in theory, an achievable goal, we're willing to try it.

The difficulty, of course, is finding all the episodes. I would think that at least some of them would be released on video or DVD. We don't have a DVD player yet, though, and generally the VHS tapes come with only two episodes each. Which would be plenty for us to watch in a week... There's also the daily reruns on Space, but an hour a day is way too much. Particularly since they seem to be in the fifth season right now, and by the time it rolls back to the beginning, it'll be getting too close to the end of summer anyway. Maybe we could try taping the whole first season or so, and then watch it spaced out while it reruns the rest of the seasons...but I don't know how long even "Buffy" is guaranteed to be rerun like that.

We'd also need to upgrade our cable package. Since the few shows we watch are generally on the networks, we downgraded to basic cable a year or so ago. I wouldn't mind starting to watch "South Park" again, either. We'll see how much money we end up spending on Worldcon, though, how affluent we feel. And whether we would end up watching enough TV to make it worth it. If our lifestyle changes(in the direction of having more free time)with Nicole's parents in town, and my dad moving down next month.

We have managed to see an above-average number of movies in the last couple of weeks, which probably contributes to my lack of contributions.

When we were visiting my mom, we ended up watching a movie on pay-per-view(they've got satellite up there, of necessity)called "Welcome To Collinwood". We hadn't heard of it before, but we picked it based on the description, and because nothing else we wanted to watch was coming on at near the right time. It was listed with William H. Macy and George Clooney starring, but that's not really accurate. It started out with Luis Guzman & Michael Jeter, then slowly accumulated more--Patricia Clarkson, Macy, Sam Rockwell, and a few others that I didn't know. Clooney had a very short scene as a safecracking teacher in a wheelchair. Macy's role as a photographer/crook with a baby to look after, because his wife was in jail(and with big sideburns)was neat to watch, and Sam Rockwell practically stole the show. Nothing works out for them, though, and in the end they're just a bunch of low-life losers, though mostly sympathetic ones. A decent movie, though Nicole didn't sit all the way through it.

For Nicole's birthday last weekend, we went out to a movie, and ended up going to "The Matrix Reloaded"(which was on at a better time than her other choice, "Identity"). I'd have to say that that was a film that lived up to expectations, on my part. Not that I was a Matrix fanatic or anything, but I thought that it was one of the few films I'd seen that was really SF, and not just sci-fi. It didn't reuse hoary old space-opera or space-horror scenery--it carved its own territory, and it wasn't afraid to complicate things. The sequel upped the stakes, and upped everything else, too. Even expecting certain scenes to come up didn't lessen the impact when they did. They just kept going, and going, until the mind just boggled that they could jack it up another level yet. Well done, the Wachowskis!

Last night, going in to the video store to use up a coupon that expired at the end of the month, I was looking for "Star Trek: Nemesis", but I guess that's not out yet; I settled for "Catch Me If You Can" instead. That was a compelling movie, too, fun to watch. Frank Abagnale was portrayed, sometimes whimsically and sometimes touchingly, by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Hanks's character was surprisingly subdued, letting DiCaprio be the star. I'm glad we finally got around to seeing it.

I'm eating pistachio nuts right now. Well, not right now, because I'm typing, but...

I love pistachio nuts--they're my favourite kind of nut. I don't indulge in them too often, though. For one thing, they're a bit too salty for me, and if I eat too many then my lips get puckered, or pickled, or something, afterwards.

For another, they wreak havoc on my thumbnails. Most of them, the ones whose shells split over one end, are easy enough to pry open, but some only split down one side, or part of one side, or not at all. The partially-split ones can be pried open with some effort, and that's where the thumbnail damage comes in. If I eat them with long thumbnails, then I tear them, and I have to cut them down short; if I eat them with short thumbnails, then eventually the shells will dig in under the nail and I'll start bleeding. I have done both on this batch of nuts.

There is, of course, the nutcracker. I have to use that for the unsplit ones anyway, and now I'm starting to use it for any troublesome nut. Pistachios are not shaped very well for the nutcracker I have, anyway, the V-shaped kind, because they're quite rounded, and they slip out easily. But I can usually overmaster them.

I also kind of like pistachio ice cream, when I can get it. I first liked it on principle because it was green, before I ever ate it, and luckily it lived up to my expectations. Pistachio pudding is good too, and in my bachelor days I often mixed up instant pistachio puddings for my own delectation.

I don't eat the dyed-red kind, either. That just seems wrong.

On to the countdown:

316. Barenaked Ladies: These Apples, from Maybe You Should Drive

Looking back to BNL's second album, this was the first real sign of Ed Robertson's songwriting skill developing to the heights it attained three albums later on "Maroon". It's witty, and a bit goofy, with some manic banjo in the background, not quite the confident musical hooks he'd wield later. The lyrics tell the story of a relationship with a girl with whom he can't agree on anything whatsoever.

315. Celine Dion: Je Danse Dans Ma Tête, from Dion Chante Plamondon

I really don't mind Celine Dion when she has a decent songwriter with her, and she does a great job with Luc Plamondon's songs on this album. This song is the best, with its propulsive beats, and lyrics which(if you understand French)are a vivid depiction of songwriting right up there with Joe Walsh's "Radio Song".

"It is cellular peptide cake. With mint frosting." --Worf

Aaron // 10:56 p.m. Clix me!

Friday, May 16, 2003:

The Thoughts Come Flooding Back

We're heading off to the northlands, Beaverlodge area, this weekend, since my mom didn't make it down at Easter. I'm taking Friday off, too, so we can drive up and drive down and still have two actual weekend days to spend visiting. This is the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada--probably celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday. Assuming she was born on the third Monday in May. From what I gather, this is pretty close to the American "Memorial Day", but not quite the same time. My Canadian-made calendar doesn't tell me.

But I imagine you want to hear about last weekend, which I've been heretofore mum about. Fear not, I shall not forsake thee.

Last Saturday we went to Ethan's birthday party. I think I've mentioned Ethan here before--the son of a girl Nicole used to babysit. He was turning three years old, so he's about half a year younger than Simon.

The party was held at a place called "Let's Play", which was, I guess, a dedicated children's funland. I'd never really seen one of those before. Ethan seems to be a little bit autistic, but he does like to run and play, and I guess his parents often bring him here so he can go nonstop for as long as he wants. There's a small play area for younger kids, but the bigger area is pretty amazing.

It's four stories high, with tunnels and ramps and slides, sliding ropes and pools of coloured plastic balls, and everything built to kid-scale. It's also all conscientiously well-padded--any metal struts and supports are wrapped in inches of foam, and everything else is made out of plastic. Adults can go through it, but only by crouching or crawling. I discovered that it was frequently necessary. There's also netting over every conceivable opening a child might fall out of.

The security at the place is pretty good, too, and I guess it would be. Our kids got barcodes when we brought them in, and they had to be scanned out with one of Ethan's parents, who could vouch for our identity. Just good sense, covering their legal asses, and of course trying to keep the kids who come there safe and unabducted.

Simon spent a lot of time on the third floor. I think that might be because the first two levels tended to be a lot busier, with 5- to 7-year-old kids rampaging all over the place. The third level wasn't nearly as busy; there was one big huge slide down to the bottom, one space-capsule-like bubble hanging out over thin air(but surely well-secured), and the rest of it was fairly quiet. The fourth level was just a single narrow platform, and I had to boost Simon to get up there.

It was hard to get him down there, even with promises of cake, for the party, and afterwards it was almost impossible. I mean, there was no way I could have carried him out kicking and screaming. I would've had to lure him out with more chocolate. The party was in the morning, and it was close to lunchtime before we got out. We had planned to stop at the carpet store right next door to find something to cover our downstairs hallway, but we were too tired. At least, I was, having been the one crawling around after Simon.

Then there was Mother's Day. We had won some free IMAX tickets for the
Odyssium theatre back at the "book launch", so we thought we'd use them. There wasn't an amazing selection of shows--I wanted to see the "Making of 'The Abyss'" one, but that's probably only at the commercial IMAX outlets. Here it was a choice between "Top Speed" and "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure". We tried to make it to the 11:00 show, "Top Speed", but underestimated the time it would take to drive. So we had to kill time until the Antarctic one came on at noon.

Simon was uncooperative. He had decided that he didn't want to go out at all, and when we got there he didn't want to go into any of the exhibits or have any fun at all. We did find some "Brain-teaser" games in the upstairs foyer which he liked(I still don't know how you're supposed to balance nine six-inch nails on top of one standing upright), and we managed to lure him briefly into the space-oriented exhibit. But that was it.

The Antarctic film was interesting. It was the story of a failed expedition that set off in 1914, but one that everybody managed to get home from, at least. Shackleton's ship had frozen in the ice before reaching the Antarctic shore, and then was crushed during the thaw; they barely managed to get their lifeboats off and head to Elephant Island, at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. And then, that island being uninhabited, and the currents being wrong to make it to Tierra Del Fuego(which looked much closer on the map), a smaller crew had to set out for South Georgia Island, which had a small whaling station.

Then, when they got to South Georgia, they hit a storm before they could find a place to land, and ended up on the wrong side of the island with a wrecked boat. So they had to hike across the island, through uncharted mountains, until they finally reached the station and could, at long last, get help.

Simon didn't take kindly to the IMAX, either. An old-fashioned flash-bulb effect at the beginning of the movie scared him, or something, and he had his hands up to his face the whole time. I don't think he was covering his eyes, or his ears, but he might have been peeking through his fingers, or just trying to reduce his field of vision to keep from being overwhelmed by the huge screen. He didn't do that last time we were there, but then that was probably a year and a half ago. (That film was about "Caves", and I'm pretty sure that I would've been working on The Shadow & The Flame around that time, which would make it November before last.)

For the afternoon and evening, we went over to Nicole's parents' house, which is now much more organized than it was at Easter. They've had more than a few days to unpack, for one thing. Sharna & Nick were there, too. They were quite nice about playing with Simon, which I confess takes a lot of pressure off of me. I just really don't like playing outside that much, when it comes right down to it.

There was an unfortunate incident after supper, though. Nick was taking Simon down into the backyard to play soccer. They went out to the patio and were going down the stairs to the grass. That is, Nick was going down the stairs--Simon had not started down them yet. Suddenly there was a crack and Nick(from our perspective inside)drops out of sight; Sharna grabs Simon.

The stairs broke off the patio. All but a couple of nails attaching it to the patio had vanished, probably because of wood rotting away or something. The stairs fell flat on the ground, and Nick had a bit of rough landing, bruising one foot, but was otherwise unhurt. Simon had, luckily, not been on the stairs. Since then, apparently, Nicole's dad has nailed them suckers up real good. We'll see if Simon is willing to try them again for a while, though.

Later, Nicole's mom dug out a tape she'd made a while ago of some British animated show from PBS called "Simon In The Land of Chalkboard Drawings" or something like that. "My name is Simon and the things I draw come true," went the title song. I found it pretty funny and not a little bit surreal. My favourite was the cartoon where his sister drew a rock musician on Simon's magic blackboard, and the Land of Chalkboard Drawings went to Hell in a handbasket as a result...until Simon replaced the musician's huge amplifier with a much smaller one. Very 60's, it seemed to me, and pretty cool.

Our basement is not quite back to normal yet, but at least it's been pretty much cleaned. The hallway's been mopped, and the last of the towels covering it up have been thrown out. We found the grating to cover the hole, and it's washed and back in place. The library carpet has been steam-cleaned, though there is still some debris on the bookshelves, and some grit on the books themselves. Once we do get that piece of carpet in there, it'll be mostly back to normal. Not this weekend, though, of course.

Swanwick's Bones of The Earth was pretty good, though it almost split into two quasi-independent plotlines for the last half or more of the book. The initial premise--"What if paleontologists were given time travel?"--was pretty neat, but of course you need a plot as well, or you don't really have a novel. That plot got a little fragmented after a while, as I said, but all-in-all it was okay. It will not be my #1 Hugo novel choice, though.

After that I read Lois McMaster Bujold's Cetaganda. I've been trying to read her novels in publication order, rather than chronological, and now I don't know if it was worth it. This one was set after The Vor Game but before most of Borders of Infinity and Brothers In Arms. It was pretty good, almost a Dick Francis-style mystery in some indefinable way(even with no horses...*).

But what I had really wanted was to go on to Memory. That's the book that comes chronologically after Mirror Dance, which was pretty damned good, and so I indulged myself in a way that I rarely do--I read two books by the same author back to back. I just finished Memory, and I enjoyed it immensely. In many ways, the main plot involves our hero, Miles Vorkosigan, trying to figure out what to do with his life he loses, through his own actions, the most significant part of it. The mystery subplot, which doesn't really surface until almost halfway through the book, and leaves 50-60 pages of denouement, is...not quite an afterthought, but it does not dominate the book in the same way that it does in Cetaganda.

I will try to restrain myself from going on to Komarr, though. Hopefully I have been sated for a little while. I really should work on some more library books, this weekend--Lynn Abbey's Thieves' World revival novel, Sanctuary, probably being the next one. Sometimes when I go to visit my mom, I get a lot of reading done, but last time, with Luke making strange, it didn't happen. Let's see how I do this time...

Proceeding, as per schedule, with the countdown:

318. Duran Duran:Careless Memories, from Duran Duran

This is one of Duran Duran's darkest songs, from when they were actually "new wave". I first heard it on the B-side of my brother's single for "Is There Something I Should Know?", and it is still one of the best songs of their early career. (It goes well with the book I just finished, too...)

317. Loose Ends:Hangin' On A String, from So Where Are You?

I don't have this album, but I remember this song fondly from its mid-80's heyday. The harmony vocals, the sweet R&B sound, and the melancholy "relationship-going-wrong" lyrics must make me all nostalgic or something. Solid songcraft here, in any case.

There's too much fire from a perfect match --Jefferson Starship, "Showdown"

Aaron // 12:00 a.m. Clix me!

Friday, May 09, 2003:

The Hardest Words I Know

It's been an eventful week. "Interesting", as in the Chinese curse.

We've had a house for almost four years now; we've had a car for much longer than that. To be precise, Nicole bought one after moving to Edmonton and before we got married, so about 13 years ago. So I am generally familiar with the phenomenon of "car trouble". It's a pain, an expense, and an inconvenience, but you can deal with it. You might have to take the bus for a few days, maybe even take groceries home in a taxi. But one can handle it.

"House trouble" is a whole other kettle of fish. If something happens to your house, or part of your house, then it impinges on your life more. Belongings might be damaged, for instance. Or, in extreme cases, you have to live somewhere else, which is far more expensive and inconvenient than buses and cabs. If you're just renting, then you can always pass it on to the owner, who can fix their property, but if you're the owner, the buck stops with you.

Earlier this week, I noticed that the car was acting a little strangely. It seemed almost like it had a flat tire, and I stopped it and got out and checked. Nothing. And it stopped before too long.

Then, on Wednesday morning on the way to work, it got absolutely intolerable. It was more than just a flat tire--it was like the whole front of the car was rocking from side to side as I drove. Once again, it stopped after a while, so I kept driving; it started up again when I was very close to work, though. So I bit the bullet and took it in to the Chrysler dealership service department that I've been going to. (I like those better than mechanics', in general.)

Their courtesy van gave me a ride to work, and before the day was through the car was fixed. The left axle assembly had gone out, apparently, but it was an easy fix, and not that pricy, either. I got a ride back with the courtesy van, and drove home only a little later than normal. Anticlimactic. I should have been expecting the other shoe, perhaps.

The downstairs toilet was having some problems flushing, but did not seem to be actually plugged. When the upstairs toilet flushed, I could hear distinct glugging noises in the basement. And, most damning, the wet spot in the basement corridor, right where the little water-drain was. The spot stayed small for a few days, but on Thursday morning it had grown to cover most of the hallway.

A couple of years ago, that patch of carpet had gotten soaked when our water heater sprung a leak. But that was clean water, water suitable for bathing in or boiling your pasta. Not the sewer water that was coming back up the drain.

The sewer people came to take a look at it, and there was a tree root. It had grown into the pipe, in its relentless quest for water underground. The past two years have been pretty dry in Edmonton, so it must have thought it had hit the jackpot. Who knows when it actually got into the system, but the past few weeks have been pretty wet, so now there was enough water to back up. They trimmed the root, but warned that the problem would recur unless we got rid of the tree.

In the meantime, we had a bunch of carpet that was "contaminated" with sewer water. They cut it up with an Exacto-Knife and tossed it into some garbage bags. I'd put some towels down on the carpet; they were now toast as well. It's hard not to be paranoid about anything that comes into contact with any dampness in the basement.

At least it didn't really make it into the library. Though the sewer guys also opened up another drain which was sitting right in front of one of the bookcases(cutting another hole in the carpet), to see if that was also having problems, and there were books sitting on the floor not far away, from my current reshelving efforts... Nicole says they've got some dirt on them now, but as long as they're not wet...

I dragged out the carpet, cut it up some more with the knife, and bagged it up for the garbage last night. I wore an old, very holey sweatshirt, which I had kept around mostly as an emergency backup; after the cuffs got soaked, I threw it out, too. And washed my hands very thoroughly, in the hottest water I could stand.

There are some towels down on the bare basement floor right now, with its uncovered sewer drain; somehow the grating over top of the hole went missing, or got tossed out with the trash as well. We're not impressed with the sewer guys, frankly. The floor still needs to get mopped(our mop is considered expendable, too); it's not wet, but it's doubtless covered with a layer of germs right now. And then we can try to replace the carpet, find some scraps somewhere. We're reconciled to the fact that the carpets in the basement will all have to be replaced when we sell the house anyway, so as far as I'm concerned we can just grab anything the right shape and plop it down.

The tree's days are numbered, of course. Maybe we're not going to spring for the $200 to get it cut down right now. We're not even precisely sure which tree's roots are at fault--there's a tree in out front yard, and one in the neighbour's front yard, and one in our back yard--but it's probably the one in front of our house. The tree-removal guy checked and said its an elm, which means that it has to be treated differently because of the risk of Dutch Elm Disease. I'm pretty sure we don't have any in Edmonton, or Alberta, or something, and they're trying to keep it out.

It's a pity, because I do like trees, but not enough to risk my books getting soaked in a layer of sludge. Let's face it, I like books better than trees. It would be neat if we could actually convert our tree into books, but I suspect that would be much more expensive to arrange.

I did read Black Unicorn, and pretty quickly, too, but then it's a young-adult novel and less than 200 pages long. It's interesting, because Tanith Lee does make a conscious effort to write for her audience here, so it's not as dense as some of her standard fare. But she still manages to add her unique flavour to what might otherwise be a cliched story of a bored teenage girl trying to figure out where she fits into the world. There's two more books in the series, which I'm sure I will be checking out soon.

Now I'm back into the library books; I started Swanwick's Bones of The Earth, which had an utterly compelling first chapter, but slowed down a bit after that. We picked up more today, too--Cory Doctorow's Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, and William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. I am practically going to be reading nothing but library books this month, and will still be lucky to get them all done.

I will still read some non-library books, though. And then there's all the nonfiction ones, too. Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine came in at the library, too, and Darren had lent me a couple of books a month or so ago. I've started one of them, Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, which fits right in with the books I've been reading recently about science vs. pseudoscience. It's even made an explicit reference to How We Know What Ain't So, the most impressive so far. This one feels a bit too much like preaching to the choir, though. But maybe somebody has read the book and changed their mind about pseudoscience...

The other one of Darren's is The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, And Phosphorus, by John Emsley. I'm pretty sure that this, and the Sagan as well, were bought with the Professional Development budget he had at his last position, teaching Chemistry at Red Deer College. It does sound very interesting, but I still picked up the Sagan first.

I had promised myself at some point that this month I would start on my mammoth Wheel of Time indexing project. What I want to do, you see, is go through it chapter by chapter, and note which characters appear in each chapter, and what they are doing. At the moment I have a list of character names, brief descriptions, and a few page references. I want longer descriptions, and tracking characters over time. So, yes, rereading the whole series...again. Maybe I'll get this done in time for the eleventh book to come out. I still haven't decided whether to start at the beginning, or jump around--I still haven't gone through A Crown of Swords on my first pass of name-collecting, for instance, or, of course, Crossroads of Twilight. And there are more characters to follow in later books... But I really should still start at the beginning.

I put my list of blog bookmarks into Blogrolling recently, and it seems that I just keep having to remove blogs from the list, because they keep going away.

TranceJen's journal on Diaryland is the most recent casualty(that I'm aware of--I haven't checked any of them in a few days). She didn't give many details, but it sounds like someone was stalking her or something. She pulled her journal, and deleted all her archives. I only managed to read her farewell page in a Google cache--which makes me wonder if one can get those deleted as well, since otherwise it's pretty meaningless to delete anything on the Web. I've been following her almost from the beginning, and in the last month things have taken such a dramatic upturn in her life that I start to well up every time I think of it. I mean, she thought she was on a downward spiral of deterioration into Multiple Sclerosis, and then, after finally visiting the right doctor, she was fully recovered, and in fact better than she had been for years. And then some asshole out there on the Net has to ruin that for her... I hope it all works out and she is able to return again, but if not, I wish her the best of luck with her life.

One of my first blog links, as I recall, was to "The Sex Pistols Are Alive And Well And Living In Sohatsenago". This was the journal of Acanit(not her real name, of course), an Iranian woman living in the U.S. She described her trip to Africa, which was pretty traumatic, as well as her own medical nightmares, and was just starting to come to terms with her life when she decided to pull the plug on her journal. She did a pretty thorough job of wiping it out from the Web, so I guess it is possible...though it's one of those things where I wish I had been able to mirror it for myself first, because she had some fantastic writing, and sometimes harrowing events.

More prosaically,
Quincunx has decided to stop his blog, "'twixt joy and sorrow", and concentrate on his other idiosyncratic web projects. I've had similar impulses, I have to say, especially over the past few months' drought of postings, but I still feel some level of obligation. To finish my countdown, if nothing else.* He does still have some interesting stuff on his site, but no blog any more.

Of course, there are always blogs that I just stop reading, because they grow too strident, or too dull, or too racy. And it's not like I've been keeping up with even the shortened list that I have up now... Well, if I get the urge, I read them, otherwise I don't. It's not a compulsion any more, like it might have been at some point. Sometimes it seems like if something's not a compulsion, I just don't do it.

My current compulsion is still Civilization II. I started up a new game, I think last weekend. I was still working my way through Civ II's new civilizations--yes, I have played less than seven games of it since I bought it however long ago. Before we bought our house, at the very least. I'm playing the Spanish, and I'm using a neat map that I downloaded from Civfanatics, which is drawn to look like a demon. It's very land-rich, and I started out the game following the Expansionist strategy, of basically building as many cities as I could, so of course I am kicking butt. I'm only playing at Warlord level, though. I had finally worked my up to being able to win at Emperor level in Civ 1, but now that the Despotic Conquest strategy doesn't work any more...

But that's what I've been doing with almost all my spare time this week.

Counting the continue down:

320. Thomas Dolby: I Love You Goodbye, from Astronauts & Heretics

I haven't gotten into the rest of this album yet, but this opening track is wonderful. It's very musically rich, with lots of different sounds in it, and a good steady beat throughout. The lyrics start out weird and funny, but by the end they build up an extraordinary power.

319. Danielle Dax: Pariah, from Dark Adapted Eye

I've never been quite sure what she's talking about in this song--the verses she does in a not-very-clear high-pitched voice, and then the choruses drop an octave or more, and are still not completely intelligible. But there's a clear sense of menace in the music, as well as an attractive Eastern flavour, so I'm willing to let that slide.

Chipmunks roasting on an open fire...

Aaron // 11:34 p.m. Clix me!

Monday, May 05, 2003:

Writing The Lines As They Come To Me

I went to Home Depot after work today, found the brackets we needed no problem(and ones with real screws, not flimsy nail ones like Simon's), so Luke now has a shade up in his room. Here's hoping that leads to more sleep time for us...

I am once again far behind on my library CD mini-reviews. They did a big changeover of the database system at the library, so a lot of stuff ended up due on May 3rd, after the new system went in. I'm not completely sold on the new system yet, since it's lacking a few features that the old one had, though it does have some new ones as well.

Anyway, here are the CDs:

Indigo Girls:Become You: It's been a while--"Rites of Passage", or four albums ago by now--since the Indigo Girls did any really great songs. Their last one, "Come On Now Social", I haven't even bought, and I doubt I will unless I happen across it for $1 or something. This one also falls into that category, sadly. It used to be that Emily Saliers's songs were melodic and often gentle, and Amy Ray's were harder-edged and often powerful. When the two came together it worked best. But now they are both melodic and neither of them is powerful. Only "Bitterroot" evoked some of Amy Ray's old power, and none of the gentler songs evoked the emotion of "Galileo" or "Virginia Woolf" or "Prince of Darkness". I guess they've settled down a bit too far.

Philip Glass:1000 Airplanes On The Roof: I don't mind a bit of Philip Glass on occasion, but this didn't seem to add anything new, that he hadn't done on "Songs From Liquid Days" or "Glassworks". Apparently there was supposed to be some sort of science-fictional storyline behind this, as part of some multimedia performance art or something, but if any of that was lyrical it was left out of this edition. So it didn't do much for me.

Lenny Kravitz:Lenny: I don't mind Lenny Kravitz in general, and I confess I'm amazed that after his middling debut on "Let Love Rule" fourteen years ago, he's still around. This album was okay, listenable, but not something I will want to add to my collection. "You Were In My Heart" was my favourite track, a little bit funkier than most of the rest of the album.

Chris Knight:A Pretty Good Guy: This guy's filed in Country, so I suspect that I only checked him out because of a Robert Christgau recommendation. Those have bombed out in the past, but this album was definitely worth a listen. Chris Knight is not your Garth Brooks/Alan Jackson kind of country, but closer to Steve Earle in many ways, especially on tracks like the standout "Oil Patch Town". The title track was pretty good, too. Maybe not a wishlist item, but I'd be just as willing to buy it for $1...

India.Arie:Voyage To India: Never since Erykah Badu have I come across such an overrated new artist. I tried, I really did, but I could not find a single track from this album that stood out at all. I guess it'll take more than an interesting name to make her produce any music worth listening to.

The Kim Band:Girlology: This Canadian band is fronted by Kim Bingham, whom I might have heard of before, but I wasn't sure. The album was alternative rock, and beyond that its sound has mostly faded from my memory. "Brickhead" was the most memorable track, being a little more funky, and funky is what I like. Hmmm...from checking
her website, I note that she used to be in "Montreal ska phenomenon" Me, Mom & Morgentaler. I have their "Shiva Space Machine" album, and it's...interesting. What can you say about an album whose most memorable song is a singalong called "Everybody's Got AIDS"?

Mick Jagger:Goddess In The Doorway: I wasn't expecting much from this album, since I'm only occasionally a Jagger or Stones fan, but I actually really liked it, and it should go on my wishlist sometime. Mick has gone into techno-inspired territory, like Madonna did on "Ray of Light", and for the most part it works really well. The title track and "Visions of Paradise" are the standout tracks. There were one or two songs that sounded like he should have let someone else sing them, because his voice was a bit jarring--"Hide Away" in particular. But on the whole it's a great album.

Jeremiah Freed: This is mostly just teen angst-rock, in the style of Creed et al. Credits for an interesting name, but that doesn't necessarily improve the music. Best moments come at the very beginning of the album, on the song "Stranded", where they start with a single guitar and voice, the rest of the guitars not coming in until two minutes into the song. Unfortunately the relentless crunching guitars stayed there for the rest of the album.

David Wilcox:Rhythm of Love: This is the Canadian rocker David Wilcox, of "Layin' Pipe" and "The Natural Edge", rather than the American folk musician. He swung through pop territory in the late 80's, but here he's back to a bluesier kind of rock, which I don't like as much. "Hook It Boy" was a bit interesting sonically, but the rest of the album didn't stand out for me.

Alicia Keys:Songs In A Minor: Well, I liked this album better than India.Arie's, but I guess it still isn't my thing. I still like the single "Fallin'", but the rest of it didn't stick with me.

Field Day:Dawn of A New Day: This is that punk/emo stuff that I don't like, and that's all I can really say about it. At least it was short.

Type O Negative:Bloody Kisses: I had some trepidation about this album, but it wasn't the death-metal I was expecting. It's metal, for sure, but not overpowering, so fairly listenable. They gave an indefinable impression of having fun with the whole metal genre thing, though not in any overt way. They weren't over the top, but they were certainly peeking up at it. Much more fun than I thought it would be, and I will try to check them out again.

Hooverphonic:Blue Wonder Power Milk: This was definitely a good album, probably wishlist caliber, though maybe not up to the level of "The Magnificent Tree". There didn't seem to be as many standout tracks, at least, but their alt-lounge kind of sound was still there. "Lung" was the song that most struck me.

Christina Aguilera:Stripped: Maybe this isn't any kind of creative breakthrough for her, since Linda Perry did a lot of the songwriting, but it's still far, far better than her first album. "Beautiful" was a great song, as were "Fighter" and "Make Over". Now I'm not sure whether it's her or Britney on top...

Steve Miller Band:Greatest Hits 1974-1978: I am mostly familiar with the "Abracadabra" Steve Miller, or maybe "I Want To Make The World Turn Around"(which is still my favourite of his), but I was curious about his earlier stuff. I've heard so much about "The Joker" and "Fly Like An Eagle"... Well, it turns out that those two tracks were disappointments, as was most of the album, but I didn't mind "Rock'n Me". It's one of those songs I heard all the time but didn't know who did it, so now I know, at least.

The Pursuit of Happiness:Sex & Food: Greatest Hits: I still tend to like their first album best, but The Pursuit of Happiness had five pretty decent albums nonetheless. This album is a great retrospective of their career, complete with liner notes by lead singer Moe Berg, and several bonus tracks as well. Out of those, the best are "Wake Up And Smell Cathy" and "Take You With Me". It's weird hearing Berg talk about Todd Rundgren, who produced their first album, and his "daughter" Liv--who later, of course, discovered that her father was actually Steven Tyler.

Labour of Love--The Music of Nick Lowe: Nick Lowe is one of those albums I have heard more about than I have heard. I mostly associate him with songs like "I Knew The Bride"(which I am entirely sick of--every wedding I went to for about ten years played that song), and "Teacher Teacher". But I ran across his version of "Cruel To Be Kind", which I was sure I had heard before. This album is of course cover versions, but, without having heard the originals, I still liked some of the songs; Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Cracking Up" and Marshall Crenshaw's "Television" are both good. Some of the other artists were too folky or bluesy for me, but oddly enough I liked Sleepy LaBeef & C.J. Chenier's version of "Half A Boy & Half A Man".

Look At The Sunshine: This was one of the series of compilation albums intended to cover territory that the "Nuggets" series didn't--British pop of the 60's. On this volume, they covered mostly British bands recording in the vocal harmony style of the Beach Boys et al. Mostly bands I'd never heard of, of course(there was The Knack, but I think it was different from the "My Sharona" group). Interesting, but didn't strike my fancy.

Sea Level:The Best of Sea Level: I didn't know anything about this band when I picked up the CD; now I know that it was formed by some former members of the Allman Brothers Band. There's a band I have no urge to check out...and I didn't get much out of this one. Late 70's rock-jazz fusion, doesn't do much for me.

I also picked up a few library booksale CDs...

Fred Eaglesmith:50-Odd Dollars: I always get Eaglesmith confused with Ron Sexsmith, and Darren has been trying to get me to listen to him for years. So I picked this one up, and it's pretty damn good. The sound reminds me of Greg Garing's "Lost", dark rock tinged with blues, folk, and electronic at the same time. Interesting note: Eaglesmith co-wrote several songs on the Chris Knight album mentioned above. Also, this album was produced by Scott Merritt, whose 1986 album "Gravity Is Mutual" is a favourite of mine.

Kurt Weill:The Threepenny Opera: I was mostly just curious about this, I guess. I don't know if I'll actually keep this CD, or listen to it that often if I do. It's all in German, of course, and not always that well-sung. And, let's face it, "Mack The Knife" is not on here, not in the form that was popular in the English-speaking world. Maybe this is due for an English version one of these years...

I also have a Rollins Band one that I haven't listened to yet.

Still with me? Well, now it's on to some books. Last I left you, I was reading the Universe 8 anthology. That was, of course, a bit uneven, but it had some good stories on it. Low point may have been the Michael Cassutt story "Hunting", whose plot was buried a little too deeply for my tastes. The high point was, of course, R.A. Lafferty's contribution, which may have been why I bought the book in the first place. Lafferty is(was?)a genius of the bizarre SF short story, and this one was no different. "Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies" was a humorous mock-factual account of a series of very early television broadcasts, inextricably intertwined with the drama going on behind the scenes.

Greg Bear's story "Scattershot" was interesting, but its ending came a bit too quickly--maybe it would work better as a novel. (For all I know, he's already done it...) Cynthia Felice's "David & Lindy" was spoiled a bit by Terry Carr's introduction, but was still an interesting examination of friendship and self-sacrifice when one telepath is in a coma and his best friend tries to decide if he's willing to pay the price to help him... Gordon Eklund's "Vermeer's Window" was very detached, about a rich boy who has Vermeer's personality implanted inside him and ends up reproducing all his paintings, but doesn't know why he's painting them.

After that I went quickly through Cherylyn Stacey's I'll Tell You Tuesday If I Last That Long. It's a young-adult book published by Tree Frog Press, the small press that did two of Nicole's early books. I seem to think she might have gotten it from them as a free sample or something, but I'm not sure. In any case, it's not bad for a book with a fourteen-year-old female protagonist. She matures a lot over the course of the book, and doesn't annoy me the way younger protagonists often do.

I just finished Dennis McKiernan's The Dark Tide. He's one of a few authors where I never can find a starting point to read in bookstores, new or used, so finally I got around to checking out the library. It's weird to think that when this book came out, twenty years ago or so, fantasy was not the publishing phenomenon that it is today. Anyway, while it has some very Tolkien-ripoff moments, it manages to acquire its own unique voice and storyline nonetheless. I may yet check out more book in this series.

Next is probably Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn, first in one of her trilogies. I have a wack(sp?) of library books piling up on me this month. There's Lynn Abbey's Sanctuary, which looks to be the start of resurrecting the old Thieves' World series. Then there's Kim Stanley Robinson's Days of Rice And Salt, and Michael Swanwick's Bones of The Earth, two of the Hugo nominees for best novel. We've read two of them already, and we're still waiting for the fifth one, China Miéville's The Scar--even though neither of us got very far into his Perdido Street Station. And Nicole picked up Stephen R. Donaldson's The Man Who Killed His Brother, the first book in a mystery series originally published under the pseudonym "Reed Stephens". Nicole's read three other books in the series, but the first one's just been reissued, I guess. So I might try that one, too.

I also bought War And Peace. When I saw it on the booksale table I couldn't resist. It doesn't look actually that much longer than Les Misérables, and I finished that one... So one day I will actually take the challenge, and read the book. I will be known as "the guy who actually read War And Peace". I will be a man of wealth and mystery! ...But not just yet.


322. The Bangles: Return Post, from Different Light

This is a nice bluesy song, Vicki(?) Peterson on the vocals, and the trademark harmonies in the chorus, about a long-distance relationship in trouble. A classic.

321. Tears For Fears: Memories Fade, from The Hurting

"Songs From The Big Chair" was Tears For Fears' crowning achievement, but their first album had some decent tracks too, like this one. It reminds me of Debbie Gibson's "Foolish Beat", another story of a teenager who wonders if they will ever love again. Ah, youth, and its lack of perspective... Still, Roland Orzabal brings a convincing amount of emotion to the lyrics, and the musical backing is strong as well.

Sorry, it just sort of hit me like a thing.

Aaron // 10:38 p.m. Clix me!

Sunday, May 04, 2003:

Words Are Very Unnecessary

Luke is sleeping in Simon's room tonight. In the travel crib/playpen that we got from my friend Louisa after Simon was born. (And how do I repay her? By losing touch entirely. Ah, me. So hard to stay in contact...and so hard to reinitiate contact after so long a silence. But I digress.)

See, Luke has been waking up earlier and earlier these days, and we concluded that it's probably because, with spring, the sun is rising earlier. Our latitude means that days get longer faster, you see. We had the same problem with Simon at one point, so we put in an opaque shade in his room instead of the leaky Venetian blinds. We still had Venetians in Luke's room, with a blanket hung over it to increase its opacity, but evidently it's not enough.

I hate putting up blinds. With a passion. I am not a handy person at the best of times, though I can put together a bookshelf or Ikea furniture. It's trying to use a screwdriver on something two feet above my head while standing on a chair that I find really wearing. Several years ago, when we moved into a basement apartment, after a long day of moving boxes and furniture, we had to put up blinds on our bedroom window because outside it there was a parking lot. That was awful.

Simon's blind we bought from Zellers(a Canadian chain roughly equivalent to Wal-Mart), with little brackets that nailed in. At the time I thought this was a good idea, because, not having an appropriate power tool, I found it very hard to put screws into the wall where there were no existing holes. Especially standing on a chair, etc. However, the nails are just not as secure.

It has fallen down a few times, too, but then some of that may be attributed to my attempts to raise it back up in the morning. I have never had an easy time with those roll-up shades, where you pull them down to pull them down(of course), and also pull them down to raise them up again. I can never manage to give it that little tug that loosens whatever spring-loaded thing in the mechanism brings it back up. Maybe at some point in my childhood I could manage it, but I remember pulling blinds down a fair way as a child in my grandparents' house, before asking someone else to do it.

So with Simon's, I did once end up unrolling the entire thing, all the way down to the metal bar in the middle, and one of the brackets was terminally loose by that point. So I have decided that I will just not try anymore. I have given up. This is not a skill I possess(any longer, if I once had it), and I am reconciled to it.

So anyway, when buying Luke's blind, we could not find the matching brackets. We picked out some other brackets that we thought might work, but when we actually tried to put it up this evening, we concluded that they would not work. The shade would be very precarious, and the little spring-loaded winding mechanism just would not trigger. This was, of course, several minutes after Home Depot closed for the night, and I didn't think that much else would be open later. I had already taken down the old blind when we made this determination, too, and I was vigorously opposed to putting the damn thing back up just to take it down again, even through the screw holes were already there.

Hence, Luke is sleeping in Simon's room, which has a bloody proper shade in it. The playpen fits with a few inches to spare in the entrance to Simon's room, so we won't be able to close Simon's door. We had better remember to close Luke's, so that the unobstructed sunlight doesn't sneak around the corner and wake him up at sunrise anyway. And Simon better not wake Luke up in the middle of the night. Normally Simon sleeps pretty soundly, if he's not sick, and in fact sleeps pretty late these days, sometimes until almost 9:00. So hopefully it's more likely to be the other way around.

We managed to catch a few movies this week. Actually, one of them I went out on my own, because we hadn't managed our mutual movie date this month, so Nicole let me go by myself. I went to see "Daredevil", which was something she wasn't that interested in anyway.

I never really read the comic book, but I knew of the character and his abilities, from "The Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe", as well as his guest appearances in "The Defenders". I also knew of Elektra, mostly from Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz's stunning 8-issue miniseries, which is still one of my favourites.

Anyway, the movie had the combination of goofy humour and melodrama that seems to be the hallmark of comic-book movies, and probably the comics themselves, if I were honest. I did catch a few in-jokes, like the boxer named "John Romita", and the forensics guy named "Jack Kirby", though I missed Stan Lee's cameo. Colin Farrell did a bang-up job as the Irish psycho Bullseye, and it's really a pity that he won't be back for any sequels. (I didn't know he was in the movie--he's a busy guy these days...) It was also nice to see Jon Favreau, one of my favourite "Friends" guest stars, in a decent role. I heard he's directing these days...

All in all, though, it's not a movie that I'm sorry I waited to see. It was probably worth cheap-theatre prices, but it was no "Spider-Man" or "X-Men".

We also rented a couple. "Red Dragon" was something that we had missed in theatres, but we were eager to see anyway. I'd just read the book a few months ago, and Nicole had reread it recently as well. It was pretty faithful to the book, and most of the changes, most notably an extra scene showing Hannibal Lecter's actual capture, were for the better. Emily Watson was great as the blind girl, Ralph Fiennes did a good killer, and I'm becoming a really big fan of Edward Norton, since "Fight Club". Mary Louise Parker, with whom we've become much more familiar(for a long time we got her confused with Catherine Mary Stewart and Mary Stuart Masterson)after her stint on "The West Wing", did a fair job with her role as well. Anthony Hopkins...well, he was good, I suppose, but I couldn't help but think how much older Hannibal Lecter looked than he did in "Silence of The Lambs", which is set later...

For the other movie, we wanted an older movie(=longer rental), and something a bit more G-rated so we could watch it during the day with Simon around. We ended up with "The Rookie". Now, I'm not a big baseball fan, but I know the basics of the sport; it sounded interesting from the previews, anyway, so we took a chance. It was a slow starter, and as far as I'm concerned they wouldn't have lost that much if they'd just started off in the present timeline. But no, they went into the history of the town he was living in, and his childhood, when we could probably have gotten the necessary information about his troubled relationship with his father and the like in context. But it wasn't too bad, and Simon seemed to stay interested.

I thought it was interesting, looking the actors up later, to discover that Brian Cox, who played Dennis Quaid's father in "The Rookie", played "Hannibal Lecktor"[sic?] in "Manhunter", which was the original filming of..."Red Dragon". (He's also apparently the villain in the new X-Men movie...) Oh, and Rachel Griffiths, who I first saw in "Muriel's Wedding", and was Quaid's wife in "The Rookie", was in "Hilary & Jackie" with Emily Watson, from "Red Dragon". That's a few more links than I expect from two seemingly unrelated movies...but maybe you could find it with anything. If people send me in movies--not pairs, just single movies--I'll try to pick a pair of them and see what weird links I can find.

And speaking(as I did earlier)of "The West Wing", after Matthew Perry's recent guest appearances, I can't help but wonder if he's angling to join the cast on a permanent basis. If this is, in fact, the final season of "Friends", which I am beginning to doubt. They keep introducing new plot threads that I can't imagine them resolving in only a few more episodes.

It's hard to watch Matthew Perry, without expecting him to be Chandler. In the first episode, he was being interviewed for the position vacated by Ainsley Hayes(when she moved to that Miami show), and I kept flashing to the "Friends" episode where Chandler was trying to tone down his personality for a job interview. In the second episode, he did get to exchange some wittier dialogue with C.J., so maybe he will eventually be able to establish an independent character. But it will be hard for him if he does stay on.

Continuing on again further once more with the countdown:

324. The Cure: Lullaby, from Disintegration

This song, with its refrain of "The spider-man is having me for dinner tonight", always strikes me as funny. With a strings-based background, it's a little easier on the ears than some Cure songs, too. I do have trouble figuring out what Robert Smith is singing most of the time, since it's all in a half-whisper.

323. Depeche Mode: Enjoy The Silence, from Violator

A song from the more sensitive side of Depeche Mode, from my favourite of their albums. It kind of grew on me after its first release, when I wasn't that keen on it, possibly because of the silly video.

She's been married so many times she's got rice marks all over her face... --Tom Waits, "Better Off Without A Wife"

Aaron // 11:04 p.m. Clix me!

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