Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Honolulu Zoom

Inspired by the rapid in-and-out zoom shot from the opening credits of the original Hawaii Five-O, I shot this as Sylvia and I prepared to depart Honolulu. The technique is pretty simple: steady your camera, choose a long exposure, and zoom out while the shutter is open. Fun!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fellowship

Tonight I went out for drinks with some colleagues and ex-colleagues - friends, really - and as we bantered about shared workplace traumas of the past, I felt myself realizing that I don't do this sort of thing nearly enough. I am solitary by nature and socializing with groups sometimes leaves me feeling a little drained. That's not a reflection on who I hang out with; it's simply the nature of consciously overcoming the convoluted mental landscape that occupies such a large percentage of my reality. I spend a lot of time in my own head, and interacting with the physical world takes more energy than it might for naturally gregarious people.

As a consequence, I've turned down a lot of opportunities to be social over the years - parties, BBQs, after-work drinks, that sort of thing. And yet when I make the conscious choice to go out and be social, I never regret it, because I value my friends tremendously and I enjoy hearing what's happening in their lives.

I'm not sure if I'm introverted or simply selfish with my time. But I hope my friends know that I treasure every second I've spent with them.

Well, maybe not that one time I got handcuffed into a shower stall.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fire Dancer

To celebrate our honeymoon in 2008, Sylvia and I attended a luau in Honolulu. I judged the food merely passable, but I was very impressed with the show, which featured traditional Polynesian music and dance. I crept up to the edge of the stage and took a couple dozen long-exposure shots of the dancers; this is probably the best of them. Without a tripod, it's tough to capture the kind of blur you want without everything turning to mush.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gaze of the Gun

I just watched Don Siegel's 1971 cop drama Dirty Harry for probably the sixth of seventh time. People have written a lot about this film's politics, its violence, the wave of vigilante films that were made in its bombastic, blood-streaked wake. I won't retread old ground, but I did notice something interesting for the first time today: Siegel doesn't use a lot of close-ups, but when he does, they're calculated to evoke rage and fear.

An early close-up comes through the cross-hairs of a sniper rifle as Scorpio claims his first victim, an innocent woman swimming in a rooftop pool. Later closeups focus on Dirty Harry's sneering, barely suppressed rage or the sweaty cowering of the criminals he captures. But by far the most powerful closeups are those zeroing in on Harry's .44 magnum. The gun looms like a spectre, filling the frame, the black bore a yawning mouth eager to spit death. It takes on the aspect of some technological monster, barely restrained by the hand of its master. The visual impact is shocking and scary, bringing the violence of the film right into your lap.

The film's right-wing politics may make liberals like me a little uncomfortable, but as art, choices like this made the film an enduring classic. I'm in awe of Don Siegel and his cinematographer Bruce Surtees. Their mastery of the art of film was on full display here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Heck of a View, Pilgrim

I find it astounding that even the least gifted photographers (people like me) can now take half-decent photographs thanks to today's superior lenses and digital technology. With this shot of Arizona's Grand Canyon, I was trying to capture the idea of layers - layers of stone, layers of sky. It looked like a giant cake to me at the time. Grand Canyon Nature Cake!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Alcatraz the next Lost?

It's an unfair, silly question, of course; each television program, like any work of art, should be judged on its own merits. But millions of Lost fans, people like me, would dearly love to once again enjoy the experience Lost gave us for six years: a compelling mystery with engaging characters, a great central concept, sharp writing, superb acting, great music and excellent production values.

Now three episodes in, Alcatraz already possesses a few of these elements. It has a wonderful science-fiction premise: Alcatraz was never really shut down, rather, all its prisoners and guards vanished without a trace back in the 60s. Now, in 2012, they're beginning to reappear, aged not a day, and they're a dangerous menace being driven by as-yet-unrevealed masters to commit acts of crime and terror. A secret government organization has been formed to track down the time-travelling convicts. A spunky cop (Sarah Jones) and a professorial comic book nerd (Jorge Garcia) stumble upon the organization and join up, using their unique connections to Alcatraz to aid in the quest.

The show already has some connections to Lost: they share a composer (Michael Giacchino), an executive producer (JJ Abrams), an actor (Jorge Garcia). A mysterious island is of central importance to both shows.

Thus far, however, Alcatraz's central mystery and plot are not nearly as complex as Lost's. There are no smoke monsters, no strange voices, and only one credulity-stretching coincidence.

The creators must be aware of the inevitable comparisons, for in the third episode, ex-corrections officer and now head of the shadowy cabal tracking down the inmates, Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), utters the most infamous, frustrating line delivered in Lost: "It's complicated." But Reyes' riposte is a clever inversion of the Lost trope: "No, it's not complicated."

And so far, it isn't. Each episode, the protagonists track down a bad guy who gets shipped to what I'm calling Alcatraz II, an underground prison built to hold the recaptured inmates. It's an entertaining good-vs-evil formula that's satisfying on its own merits. I'm hoping - and I'm sure that the creators are planning it - that the show's storytelling will evolve in complexity. Like Person of Interest, Alcatraz isn't a great show yet - it is, perhaps, not yet complicated enough - but one day it could be. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

David Garrett: Rock Symphony

Tonight Sylvia and I went to see German violinist David Garrett and his band play with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the Winspear. I suspect Sylvia's initial desire to attend was driven by Garrett's undeniable pulchritude, but his talent proved to equal or even surpass his looks. It was a fun, stirring, powerful performance.

Opening with Led Zepplin's "Kashmir" and closing with The Beatles' "Hey Jude," Garret and his band filled the evening with covers of popular rock and classical tunes intermixed with a pair of the band's own original pieces, including the titular, powerful "Rock Symphony" and the tongue-in-cheek homage "80s Anthem." Garret's interpretations of Bach, Beethoven, Nirvana, Paul McCartney & Wings and Guns 'N Roses were all familiar yet new, each given Garrett's virtuoso touch. The man plays a mean fiddle, and his stage persona is utterly disarming: self-effacing, humble, playful, warm. I was particularly thrilled when he led the orchestra in a stirring rendition of "Swords Crossed," one of my favourite tracks from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.

Though the performance was superb, I found myself distracted by the videographers, one carrying a handheld, the other using a crane; several other cameras were invisible to me. I doubt anyone else noticed them, but as a student of film and television I found it fascinating to study the director's editing choices as he switched from camera to camera, fading between a half-dozen angles, working in concert with the camera operators to ensure that the large video screens were never too static. It became a bit of a game to predict which shot would follow which: crane, centre stage, handheld, centre stage, crane panning over orchestra, stage left, handheld, pan again, etc. I assume only one or two other people found this sort of thing interesting, focussing properly on the performance.

In any event, it was a wonderful show and another superb evening at the Winspear Centre. Edmontonians are lucky to have such a wonderful facility and a world-class orchestra.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Outlaws


Back in 1997, I picked up the latest game from the once-great studio LucasArts: Outlaws. A first-person shooter set in the wild west with astounding Morricone-esque music from Clint Bajakian and voice acting by John DeLancie and other luminaries, Outlaws offered a classic western story, nail-biting action, great level design, superb graphics for the era and most important of all, compelling gameplay.

As a lawman searching for his kidnapped daughter, your goal is to pursue outlaw gangs across trains, through frontier towns, across canyons, over rivers, through caves and sawmills. With guns, knives or dynamite (my favourite), you faced bloodthirsty foes with great AI. Prequel missions and multiplayer offered extra value after completion of the main quest. I still remember when Allan Sampson and I hooked up via modem for an evening of Outlaws, chasing each other through a map consisting of a bunch of bunkers surrounding a tall tower with crates of dynamite at the top. At one moment, we arrived at the tower's top level simultaneously, each of us grabbing a stick of dynamite and flinging it at the other. Twin explosions blew both of us backward out the tower windows, and there was much laughter echoing through our bachelor pads.

LucasArts, if you're listening, I would purchase a sequel to Outlaws in a heartbeat. (I still listen to the soundtrack, which came on an extra CD with the game!) For that matter, an updated Tie Fighter would be nice too.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Neil Mackie Deconstructs Political Ads

My friend Neil has started a new blog, one that analyzes political ads. His latest post reviews a Newt Gingrich attack ad on Mitt Romney, with abortion as its thorny centrepiece. As a communications professional, Neil offers some pretty interesting and insightful commentary, and I hope he expands the scope of his analysis beyond the USA. The website is called Greetings from Poplar Bay, and I encourage anyone interested in politics or marketing to check it out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Dice of Doom

Last night, during a frenzied session of Dungeons & Dragons, Jeff was locked in battle with a hyena. His character, an elf ranger, has sufficient skill to fight with a sword in each hand; thus, rather than rolling one 20-sided die to attack, Jeff rolls two.

Rolling a twenty on the die means your character has scored a "critical hit" on his or her opponent, dealing your weapon's maximum possible damage. Rolling a twenty is rare enough - a five percent chance on any given roll of the die - but as seen above, Jeff managed to roll double twenties, dealing out 57 points of damage in one attack and essentially carving the hyena into gory giblets.

As we all ooohed and aaahed in amazement, the question of odds came up - how likely was such a roll? I missed much of Mike's explanation in all the clamor, but it boiled down to something like this:

"It's not really that unlikely...should probably happen once every, oh, [some number of] sessions or so...um, so yeah, probably once every ten years."

It was certainly the most improbably roll I've seen since one memorable event in high school. Vern Ryan was serving as DM while Jeff, Paul and I were on the run from assassins or some similar doom. Things looked pretty bad - our party had messed up pretty profoundly, and our deaths were pretty much inevitable. We were out of options, so in desperation I called upon my character's deity.

"Fine," Vern said, rolling his eyes. "If you roll a one on percentile dice, the goddess will hear your plea and save you."

A one percent chance of salvation! Palms sweating, I rolled - and the dice came up 01. Saved! Vern was appalled, but the rest of us laughed our heads off. Geek drama!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Person of Interest

"The government has a secret system - a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect act of terror but it sees everything - violent crimes involving ordinary people. People like you. Crimes the government considered...irrelevant. They wouldn't act so I decided I would. But I needed a partner...someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us. But victim or perpetrator, if your number's up, we'll find you." 

So begins each episode of Person of Interest, now midway through its first season and the only new show of the 2011 season I'm bothering to follow. Created by Jonathan Nolan - brother to Chris Nolan of The Dark Knight and Inception fame - Person of Interest is a kind of police procedural with a post-911 twist: secretive billionaire Mr. Finch (the delightfully creepy Michael Emerson) uses the machine he built for the government to prevent crimes before they happen. Each episode the machine spits out a social insurance number, which Finch and his enforcer, John Reese (the often wooden but serviceable Jim Caviezel) use to identify the victim - or perhaps the perpetrator. They don't know which the "person of interest" is until they investigate.

I started watching partly because of Nolan's pedigree and because the series is produced by Bad Robot, JJ Abrams' production company. At first I wasn't especially impressed. The show begins with pretty standard 21st century tropes: you have your emotionally wounded ex-mercenary with a dark past trying to atone for his sins, your socially awkward but brilliant tech guy, lots of shenanigans with hacking into computer systems and cell phones, gunplay, martial arts and all the other hoo-ha common to action/adventure shows.

But as a student of serialized drama, I've kept watching because sometimes visionary creators start off using standard formulas to secure a core mainstream audience, then increase the show's complexity once they have that base of viewers. My patience is slowly being rewarded as we learn more about the characters and the world they inhabit. Through flashbacks, we learn that Mr. Finch had a business partner, an idealist whose doom is heavily foreshadowed (and in fact made explicit in the most recent episode). Reese's character is given additional nuance, his plight made more sympathetic and believable as we discover how he was manipulated by his political masters. In a couple of episodes, our heroes guess wrong when it comes to determining the nature of the person of interest - victim or perpetrator. And they even fail a couple of times, the bad guy getting away. 

Most exciting to me, however, are the subtle hints - usually embedded in computer graphics that flash by almost subliminally - that the machine itself acts to protect itself and may be developing sentience. Person of Interest is, currently, only marginally a science fiction show, extrapolating only in one sense, imagining even more public surveillance than we currently endure today. It is not yet a show about renegade artificial intelligences, and it may never be. But as a fan of SF and AI stories in particular, the creators have certainly hooked me for the duration.

The show is also starting to raise questions about the legitimacy of ubiquitous surveillance. In one flashback, Finch and his business partner have a discussion about the implications of the machine they're about to hand over to the government, and whether or not it's wise. In the end they hand over the machine, but not without turning it into a self-contained, uncrackable system with strictly limited powers of observation, answerable only to itself; even the men who created it can no longer manipulate it. All this is done rather matter-of-factly, but the story possibilities of such an act are tremendously tantalizing. And of course Finch and Reese invade privacy and break the law every week, their actions questioned only by the police detective who, in the early episodes at least, is trying to chase them down. She's recently been subverted to the cause, which may damage the ethical integrity of the show (such as it is); I hope that the creators will introduce another antagonist to replace her, because the leads really need to be reminded in real terms that the ends to not justify the means. This is a show about vigilantes, and I hope that at some point they'll get a karmic smackdown for their methods.

Larger debates aside, Person of Interest is becoming a good show. Not a great show - 85 percent of the writing remains formulaic - but a show of...interest. Emerson is fantastic, the production values are top notch, the premise solid, the potential for powerful themes just waiting to be fully tapped. I hope Nolan and his team grow bolder, because they could have a real gem on their hands.

Friday, January 20, 2012

With Eyebrows Arched

The first time Sylvia and I went to Las Vegas, this distinctive McDonald's sign captured my attention - a difficult task on the Strip, with thousands of businesses and services clamouring for every eye and ear. With ironic whimsy, I arched an eyebrow, Spock-like, and shot this photograph. I wish the lower half of the frame weren't so cluttered - I should have moved closer to the arch for a better angle of the sky - but I still love the way the red, blue and yellow - primary colours! - work together. The designers of this McDonald's knew that even their universally known brand faced stiff competition from all the other attractions, and they certainly came up with a way to arrest pedestrians. (But if truth be known, we did not stop for lunch.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Iconic Signage

A friendly fellow tourist snapped this shot of me standing below the iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign early on New Year's Eve. The shot hasn't been colour-corrected or otherwise fixed up, but if you click to embiggen you may notice something interesting: each letter in the word "Welcome" is affixed to a coin. I was already impressed by the sign's design, which perfectly captures and promises all the glitz and fun promised by the strip, but boy, that's attention to detail!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hitler Reacts to SOPA


Creativity like this is threatened by the USA's Stop Online Piracy Act. Reddit, Wikipedia and many other important sites are dark today in an effort to stop the bill (and its sister bill PIPA - Protect Intellectual Property Act), which if passed could have impacts on websites all over the world, not just in the United States. My blog in particular, focussing as it does on popular culture, could be seriously affected if these bills pass. If you're an American reader, I hope you'll contact your senator and congressman and urge them to block passage of both bills.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Colonizers of Catan

Board Game Geek has announced that there will soon be a special Star Trek edition of Settlers of Catan. It'll be released in the spring, and I can guarantee that I'll be making a trip north to St. Albert's Mission Games to obtain a copy. Sure, it's the same game but with little Star Trek ships and space stations instead of wooden roads and houses, but I can pretend that I'm a hardy Federation colonizer of Sherman's Planet, growing quadrotriticale for the hungry masses.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Unicorn Klout

About a month ago I started experimenting with Klout, an online tool that purports to measure your online influence. I signed up because social media is growing in importance to communications professionals, and I figured I'd better experiment. Based on my usage of Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, YouTube and this blog, Klout seems to think that I'm influential about five topics, as seen below:
Media, sure, video, okay, politics, makes sense, Alberta, of course, and...unicorns???

To the best of my knowledge, I've never blogged, tweeted, facebooked, Instagrammed or youtubed about unicorns. But I wouldn't want Klout to be perceived as inaccurate, so here are some things I know about unicorns off the top of my head, without googling for extra knowledge:

  • Unicorns have been featured as important symbols in at least two of the films of Ridley Scott: Blade Runner and Legend.
  • The Irish Rovers crafted a hit single in the 1970s that explains why we see no unicorns today (they missed boarding Noah's Ark). 
  • For a while Think Geek sold a pretty cool set of plush action figures featuring a unicorn and some gored humans. 
  • If unicorns existed, they would probably make pretty fearsome cavalry mounts, what with the horn and all. I certainly wouldn't mess with one.
  • Despite their fearsome nature, women and girls seem to adore unicorns, if we believe certain gender stereotypes. 
All right, can I legitimately claim to wield influence on the topic of unicorns now? No? All right, how about a movie proposal...

COMING IN 2014 FROM PARANOID PICTURES

UNICORN VS. PEGASUS

In the time of the Greek gods, demigods, titans and the mortals caught between them, two noble, fearsome beasts lifted the hearts of men with their magnificence:

UNICORN...mighty horned stallion of the deep woods, symbol of purity, wild and free, no terrestrial beast its match!

PEGASUS...astonishing winged steed of the skies, faster than the wind itself, proud and haughty, far removed from the earthbound woes of mortals!

In a time of great darkness, as the rivers and mountains tremble, the gods will pit these glorious beasts against one another!

SEE the UNICORN gore the skeleton army, smashing it to smithereens!

SEE the PEGASUS swoop down and crush the skull of the cyclops with its powerful hooves!

SEE mortals flee in terror as these unstoppable steeds clash in the streets and skies of Athens!

UNICORN VS. PEGASUS

Pegasus versus unicorn!

All right, let's see if that affects my Klout statistics.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Megacity Zero Point Five

On December 31, Sylvia and I ventured to Las Vegas' newest megamillion-dollar development, City Centre. Situated at the midpoint of Las Vegas Boulevard, this massive shopping/dining/casino/hotel complex sports an extremely futuristic look that made me feel as though I'd stepped a decade or two ahead in time. The Aria Express tram seen here links the various sections of the complex. Here are some more views, shot from within the tinted blue glass of the tram:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brian and Rick

As I've noted in the past, the only constant in politics is change. This is especially true regarding political staffs. Today we at the Official Opposition said goodbye to outgoing Communications Director Brian Leadbetter (above) and Chief of Staff Rick Miller (below).
I've worked with Rick, in different capacities, since I started working for the Official Opposition back in January 2006. Rick is fair, compassionate, smart and generous, always willing to help others and fight for better government, which he's been doing for many years - long before we met. Rick has moved on so that he can focus his full attention on his campaign to serve once again as the MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, and I hope that voters this spring take the opportunity to return this fine human being to office. He was a great MLA once, and I hope he will be again.

I've worked with Brian for a little less than a year, but during that short time I've been tremendously impressed with his professionalism, communications instincts, critical thinking, complete fearlessness, and above all, loyalty to his team. Brian was a real joy to work with, and I learned a great deal from his mentor-ship. His new employers are fortunate indeed to have him. Brian is also a great host and the snappiest dresser I've ever encountered, and I'll miss his insights and wry sense of humour.

Both these fine men deserve happiness and fulfillment, and I hope they find it as they begin new journeys. As they say in the movies, gentlemen, it's been a privilege serving with you. Excelsior!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dark Sentinel

This gnarled old tree overlooking the south rim of the Grand Canyon really caught my attention on New Year's Day, so I tried to snap a reasonably artistic photo. I'm not sure if I succeeded or not. It probably would have turned out better had I mounted a stepladder and shot from a higher angle to show more of the canyon itself. Alas...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sylvia Meets the King

While Sylvia and I visited downtown Las Vegas (Freemont Street, to be exact) on Boxing Day, we ran into Elvis himself, sadly reduced to posing for photos with tourists for tips. We were all shook up, uh-uh-huh.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Future of Photography?

Just before the holiday break, my friend Kyle told me about a new concept in cameras: the Lytro light field camera. Up until now, cameras have always focussed to a particular depth of field, but the Lytro uses new technology to capture "the entire light field, which is all the light traveling in every direction in every point in space," according to the company's website. In practical terms, this means, so the claim goes, that you can quickly whip out the camera, take a shot without the traditional delay to focus, and focus afterward - on any point in the frame. You can view some examples here; click on the portion of the image you want in focus.

I do wonder if there's a way to put the entire frame in focus, and how one goes about selecting their favourite version of each image - i.e., can you manipulate the photo and then save your preferred version as an ordinary .jpg? The website doesn't say. So far it seems as though the Lytro file format is meant for online sharing rather than archiving in your personal collection.

I've yet to see one of these cameras in action, and because of the questions above I'm certainly not going to buy one sight unseen, but I'd sure love a chance to play with one. At first glance, this looks like an important development.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Coca-Cola Christmas Company

For the last century or so, Coca-Cola has done a masterful job of insinuating itself into Christmas traditions. They appropriated and reshaped Santa Claus' iconography back in the 30s, and now they have these admittedly cool ornament-shaped bottles. I doubt they're hung on many trees (not while full, at least), but they certainly evoke the Christmas spirit. I hope whoever designed this bottle received a hefty bonus.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Blackened Cajun Strips: The Beginning

Back when I was single, one of my favourite guilty pleasures was to go to Red Robin with a book and dine on their best dish, the blackened Cajun strips. Served in a basket with steak fries, the strips were make of chicken rolled in a blend of Cajun spices and blackened. I absolutely loved them, but about a decade ago or more, Red Robin took them off the menu, and they've been missing ever since.

If you search for "blackened Cajun strips Red Robin," the results are slim; if not for a few other complainers, you'd hardly know the item ever existed.

After their initial disappearance, the strips did return for a brief time, but since their second removal from the menu they haven't been seen since, and I despair that they'll ever return. This means that I must learn how to create this item myself - a daunting proposition, since I loathe cooking. But I'll give it a try. In the near future, I'll find the recipe, ingredients and tools necessary to make my own blackened Cajun strips, and I'll share the results here.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

MSTie Mints

Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are known as MSTies. Misty Mints are a popular Christmastime confection. So this seemed perfectly reasonable...

Gypsy's pose reminds me of the time my friend Susan had a few too many Misty Mints and wound up vomiting them into the bathtub. Poor Susan.

Friday, January 06, 2012

100 Books a Year: Final Count

As noted last February, I decided to follow the lead of a couple of friends and see if I typically read 100 books a year. First, here are the books I've read since my last updates:

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline, 2011): See my review here.
Infernal Devices (K.W. Jeter, 1987): An early steampunk novel and worth reading to see the first appearance of several of the genre's tropes.
He Walked Among Us (Norman Spinrad, 2009): Black comedy about a possibly insane, possibly prophetic TV host. Spinrad pokes a lot of fun at science fiction fandom and himself, weaving in quite a bit of his own personal history in clever ways.
Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2010): The final (so far) Vorkosigan novel, in which Miles unravels an intriguing mystery.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu, 2010): Metafictional odyssey of the author's search for his time-lost father.
11/22/63 (Stephen King, 2011): See my review here.
Dark Messiah (Martin Caidin, 1990): Baffling sequel to the equally terrible The Messiah Stone. An aggravating waste of time.
The Curse of Chalion (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2001): I enjoyed Bujold's SF so much, I thought I'd try her fantasy work, and she doesn't disappoint. As always, the strength of her characters sustains her work.
Paladin of Souls (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2003): Sequel to The Curse of Chalion, even better than the original.
The World Inside (Robert Silverberg, 1971): Old-school SF that builds a premise and plot by extrapolating present-day trends, in this case, overpopulation. Most humans - tens of billions of them - live in gigantic skyscrapers in a free-love free-for-all in which having children means everything.
The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Plus...(Cory Doctorow, 2011): I haven't read much Doctorow, an SF writer and Internet personality, but I've certainly enjoyed what I've sampled so far, including this short volume that includes the title novella and some non-fiction writing on current issues.
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925): I've foolishly put this one off for decades only to discover there's a reason this is called one of the great novels. I found it surprisingly readable despite its thematic complexity. One of the great narrative voices.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B (Ben Bova, editor, 1973): Excellent collection of some of the best early SF novellas, though some of the stories seem a little overbaked now.
The Complete Peanuts, 1975 to 1976 (Charles M. Schulz)
The Complete Peanuts, 1977 to 1978 (Charles M. Schulz)
The Complete Peanuts, 1979 to 1980 (Charles M. Schulz)
The Complete Peanuts, 1981 to 1982 (Charles M. Schulz): Schulz' genius will endure, if there's any justice, for centuries. Sublime.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder, 1927): Tremendously beautiful book with lyrical prose and timeless themes.
For Your Eyes Only (Ian Fleming, 1960)
Thunderball (Ian Fleming, 1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (Ian Fleming, 1962)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Ian Fleming, 1963)
You Only Live Twice (Ian Fleming, 1964)
The Man With the Golden Gun (Ian Fleming, 1965)
Octopussy and The Living Daylights (Ian Fleming, 1966): What a pleasure to finally explore the literary Bond. I remain a fan of the films, even the worst of them, for their hyperbolic charms; the same, I find, is true of the books, which feature a more vulnerable, more human protagonist, much more grounded in reality. Intentionally or not, Fleming's Bond novels and anthologies wind up forming a very satisfying arc for the lead character and his adventures, though perhaps the denouement doesn't quite measure up to the bulk of the series - if only because Fleming died before completing the final draft of the final novel. 
Once Upon a Time in the North (Philip Pullman, 2008): A prequel of sorts to Pullman's more famous His Dark Materials trilogy. The story itself is fun, but what really sets this book apart is its physical charm; its beautifully illustrated and comes packaged with a whimsical board game.
Flatland - A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin A. Abbott, 1884): I've been aware of this book's general concept since junior high, but only this year did I crack open this slim, satiric volume; it's as much a commentary on class and Abbott's political surroundings at the time as it is a treatise on physics.

That's 27 books. Combined with my previous tally of 52, that means I read only 79 books this year, considerably short of my stated goal. Still, it was a useful exercise, and I'll continue to track my reading again this year to see if 2011was simply an off-year for me, or if my reading really has slowed down in middle age.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Up and Running

I picked up a new computer today - a Sony VAIO, a brand I've had good luck with in the past - so posts should become more substantial soon. The tech guy thinks he can save my photos and documents from the old computer, so, ultimate disaster averted. I'm grateful.

Today I'm reinstalling all my software and attending to all the other assorted tedium that accompanies a computer upgrade/replacement.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Breaking Bad

I've just finished season two, and I'm awestruck. This show is so much more than I thought it would be.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The South Rim

My computer is still inoperable, so I'm reduced to blogging from my phone; convenient, but cumbersome. Posts will be short and sweet until I'm up and running again.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Tony on Salt Lake City

It's unfair, but whenever I find myself in Salt Lake City, I remember my first passage through it via Interstate 15. 15 young people crammed into a 15-person van en route to Los Angeles in 1992 surveyed the wastelands bracketing the highway, including such charming urban design as a prison built across the street from a watermark, doubtless to taunt the prisoners. Tony Longworth summed it up best:

"Look at all the horses, dying in the mire!"