Shadow Unit eBooks

I've mentioned before my new reading addiction: Shadow Unit, episodic short fiction (think, TV show) about a team of FBI agents who investigate crimes that are associated with a paranormal illness (?) called the Anomaly. I got sucked right in, mostly (I think) because of the interaction of the team.

At any rate, the season has been long gone and I've now plowed through all the episodes. And new episodes aren't coming until March 1st! What am I to do in the meantime?

Well, I spent the time learning how to make an eBook. So, if you haven't watched read the series, yet, and you have an iPod Touch or iPhone, you can download the Stanza software and then go to my website to read the show right on your portable device. I found that a lot easier for the finale, to be honest, because it was a longer show and I found the laptop cumbersome in bed.

I think that the format will work with other readers, but I don't have any to try on it.

I wrote a Perl script to create each episode in ePub form by reading out a DIV from the actual Shadow Unit website. It was fairly easy to do and I should be able to do the same for the new series when it begins. (Did I mention that wasn't until March 1st?) Once again we see the power of the Creative Commons license: the show is licensed in such a way that I could repackage it like this with little fear of hearing from lawyers and so I hope that means it gets an even wider audience. Isn't that cool?

If you like their show, go donate.

Update: So, if I had just done some searching around, I might have found this, a version in mobipocket format. I like the Stanza, because it's straight text and so it's easy to fit pages on the iPod and it's fast, but this other person has made a nicer experience that keeps the links and Easter eggs. So, if you have a mobipocket enabled (not iPod/iPhone) device, try over there.

Ink Spots

Inkheart Adaptation of the fantasy novel about readers who can bring the characters from books into our world.
Theater Location: Centerpark 8 (Calverton/Beltsville)
Noise Level: Fine.
The Skinny: Mildly diverting, but missing some logical consistency.

Pluck, Yes, I'm Excited

Pluck is coming! Pluck are coming?

I don't have strong feelings one way or another about classical music, but this string trio from the UK is an awful lot of fun to watch. We saw them at the Fringe Festival several years ago and have been waiting and waiting and waiting for them to come to the US. Imagine what it must take for a string trio to grab attention in the middle of a crowded Royal Mile.

(The Fringe Festival is an explosion of art in Edinburgh every year. There are so many performances (music, comedy and drama) going on pretty much all the time all over the place -- from theatres to book stores to churches to clubs. I remember one play performed in a public toilet. During the day, the performers try and grab attention for their performance by hawking the crowd jammed along the street from castle to castle. It's incredibly loud and distracting.)

These kids more than stood out in the middle of all the hubbub.

And in February, they'll be coming to the DC Area. I already have our tickets. You really shouldn't miss these folks. They are funny and fun, even for those of us who are the great unwashed.

I'm looking forward to Requiem for a Dead Chicken.

Hooked on Classics

So, there's this little book meme center kind of thing called "Weekly Geeks." I don't know how I stumbled upon it, but it seems to have been going for a little while. The idea is that they think up a book-related meme and then anyone can answer and link up over there. It's nice because it's voluntary and I don't have to tag anybody.

I thought I'd give it a whirl. This week's is a two-parter.

(It's actually a four-parter that you can choose two parts of. Does that make any sense? If not, go look over at the site's own explanation.)

The first question (number three for them) is:

Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any reading done! What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?
Hah! As if I knew anybody named Myrtle. That name always makes me think of really old television shows. There was one where a little sister carried around a doll called Myrtle. Was it A Family Affair? Maybe it was more recent than that, something like The Brady Bunch. I can't remember. Oh, dang it, I'm not going to sleep tonight.

Oops, got distracted there. Sometimes that's what classic literature feels like to me. (The definition of "classic", for the purposes of this discussion, by the way, is that the thing was written more than a century ago. It isn't directly associated in any way with a level of quality.) That is, my facile gloss of anything pre-1900 is that it has a tendency toward losing its train of thought or over-thinking small episodes or over-explaining little details with long parenthetical asides. I wonder if it isn't because so much of what I think of in this vein was originally serialized?

At any rate, I've gone and wandered off a tangent again. I think the obvious choice is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, a fantasy set in an alternate Victorian England. It has a very formal style and a sort of meandering quality. It's also full of footnotes. The other option that springs to mind is also in the SF/fantasy realm: Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, which is a fabulous book that features some of the standard 19th century themes: distance between rich and poor, fear of being moved to a lower class, emerging capitalism and its effect on social structures. If I can convince Myrtle to work through the science fictiony bits and hold on for the ride at the end, I think it will change her life.

The second question is:

A challenge, should you choose to accept it: Read at least one chapter of a classic novel, preferably by an author you're not familiar with. ... Write a mini-review based on this chapter: what are your first impressions? Would you read further?

Since I was in New Jersey without a car, I had to pick my classic book from feedbooks and read it on my iPod. I downloaded Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, first published in 1848 (first published as a serial 1847-1848). I've never read anything by Thackeray and I think after the first chapter of this book, I'm sorry to have waited so long to pick up one of his books.

The book begins on the grounds of a girl's school and two young women are finished with their education and about to leave on their own. We get a quick introduction to the girl everybody loves (Amelia) and the girl everybody either dislikes or ignores (Becky). Becky seems a bit sullen and rude, but it's pretty clear from the start that we are supposed to like her, and I think I will. But so far there is no reason to not like Amelia; it isn't her fault she's so wonderful, after all. As one expects from a book of this time, Amelia is not just well-liked, she is also from money, while Becky is not so well off. So the issues of class and economy are set off right from the start.

I enjoyed the first chapter and expect to continue reading this if I can ever get through the Baltisar and Blimunda sitting on my bedside table. The tone is light, though we can foresee some serious topics to be addressed. I am enjoying the narrator (and hope that he does not become annoying). He has a tendency to interrupt the narrative and demonstrate a kind of self-awareness for the book that I did not expect. At one point, after a detailed listing of all these girls who love Amelia and how they show it, the narrator interrupts himself to say:

All which details, I have no doubt, JONES, who reads this book at his Club, will pronounce to be excessively foolish, trivial, twaddling, and ultra-sentimental. Yes, I can see Jones at this minute (rather flushed with his joint of mutton and half pint of wine), taking out his pencil and scoring under the words "foolish, twaddling," &c, and adding to them his own remark of "QUITE TRUE." Well, he is a lofty man of genius, and admires the great and heroic in life and novels; and so had better take warning and go elsewhere."

I find that very comfortable in small doses. We'll see how it goes.

Oh Yeah!

It's been a while since I've been so interested in the upcoming release of a book (aside from my own, of course), but here ya go:

Coming soon from Chronicle Books.

I Only Stepped Out for a Moment

Well, it's been quiet here because I was sent to New Jersey to provide some ClearCase training/mentoring. Since I'm a public transportation freak (and, really, all CMers should be), I took the train up to Newark and a set of buses over to East Hanover. It really wasn't a bad run, but I wound up doing a lot of walking once I got there. Everything is paved in New Jersey, but there were very few sidewalks.

At any rate, I'm exhausted.

You might remember that I trapped a stuffed frog in plastic a little while back:

Apparently, the frog is alive, because while I was gone it tried to do a somersault:

Can't Find my Marble

Yay, in the studio two weeks in a row. Must be a record.

I have learned that I'm not so good at painting marble.

Do We Need...

...a search engine that only searches blogs and/or twitters (twits? tweets!)? You can get this from Google, right?

What we definitely need is a way to link to a particular point in any given web page, not just the top or something defined by the author. For example, I'd like to point you all to the point midway down this page where the cat is giving another cat a massage. Maybe it could use XPath somehow.

Everyone Knows

7.75/39°F

It was a little windy today.

I hadn't noticed this sign in front of the veterinarian clinic on Good Luck Road:

I'm not sure which holiday. I guess our animal companions can celebrate Presidents' Day as much as we do, even though they can't actually vote yet.

What is "gland expression"? No, don't tell me, I don't want to know.

A Second Look

Here's another view of the glasses for your guess.

Where East Meets West in a Maze of Pleasure

Paul Blart Mall Cop Overweight sad sack mall cop tries to win the heart of his true love by saving the day when a mall is taken over by hostage-takers.
Theater Location: Beltway Plaza (Greenbelt)
Noise Level: Fine, except for the horrible movie tickets dot com lady. I hate her. Also, it smelled like a hospital.
The Skinny: You might not believe it could be worse than you expect, but it can. Also, there were lines in the previews that were not in the movie.

Pop Quiz

Tell me what is unusual about these glasses (aside from the fact that the lenses are monster thick -- and that's my prescription from 15 years ago) and I will tell you the true story about it.

I went to the eye doctor Monday and have ordered new glasses for the first time in 15 years because I've been dropping my contacts a lot lately and if I lost or damaged one, there is no way I could get around using this old pair. I certainly couldn't drive and I might even have a hard time recognizing anyone.

The doctor told me that Lasik is an option for me only if I'm wanting to get down to a thinner pair of lenses in my glasses. He can't get me contact/glasses free, that's how bad my eyes are.

Well, at least I can still see.

Excuses Excuses

I got all gussied bundled up and walked down to the garage to get out the bike. (Our garage is a little walk away from the row houses.) It's a might bit warmer today (38°F), so I was looking forward to another attack on the hill. Sadly, I found this little bit of glass sticking out of my tire.

Why are the flats always in the rear tire (the more difficult one)?

Sure, it's 10° warmer, but it's still too cold to be mucking around with this thing. I noticed the flat right away, of course, but I didn't actually see the glass at first. I pumped up the thing and as I turned the wheel I could feel the little jet of cold air as it passed my face.

There's nothing interesting in this post. It's just a record of why my bike chart is looking so dismal.

Obligatory Inauguration Day

While the Brunette ventured downtown with her father to brave the crowds, I visited with friends at the New Deal Cafe with something like a gazillion other folks while the Inauguration played on borrowed television sets.

Aside: I just looked at the website and saw that tomorrow is Birthday Cake Day. If your birthday is in the month of January, you can eat at the New Deal and you, (and everyone at your table) get a free piece of cake. It doesn't say what you have to do to earn the cake or whether it will be that great flag cake they had today...

In this picture, I was trying to give a feeling for the hope for a light at the end of the tunnel. No, actually, every one who orders is given a little number on a stick to hold until the food arrives and the people at this table had #44. But it didn't show in the picture. So, you'll just have to trust me. Really. Be mellow, yellow.

This crowd did two things that surprised me: First, someone kept taking pictures of the television while President Obama was speaking. I can't imagine those pictures turned out well. Is she going to tell her kids she was really at the inauguration and try to pawn off these photos of the TV as proof?

The second thing that surprised me was the clapping. These folks clapped for everything: the musicians, the speakers, even the prayers -- though a nice little cheer went up when the President mentioned non-believers in his list of all us people (you don't hear many politicians in this country admit that there might be people who don't believe in any gods). At any rate, when they clapped for the setting aside of childish things I thought to myself: Why are you clapping? He can't hear you.

But that was just the curmudgeon inside. I am proud today. Although I am mightily disappointed that I haven't gotten the Socialist state the Republicans promised me, I am awfully glad to have a president for whom I will no longer have to cringe every time he speaks. A president who can say something intelligent, even in an unexpected event with no time for speechifiers to prepare him.

Snow Bikes

Snow covered bicycles

The temperature climbed back up to 32°, so it was warm enough to snow. This morning's bout was just a small dusting, nothing like the picture above, so I hopped on the bike and attacked the hill in the park. It's not getting any better, but it hasn't been more than a week yet. I'll keep at it.

Unless the company sends me away to Lynchburg or something.

Actually, by the time I even got to the park, the snow was already disappearing from the ground, with just patches here and there. These are my tire tracks at the top of the evil hill.

Bike Tracks in Light Snow

Because the National Park is pretty dry, the ride on the other side of Kenilworth was actually prettier. Ice is encroaching on the various branches of the Anacostia River. This shot looking downstream on the Paint Branch hardly seems to be a part of the DC metro area, at least to me.

And Lake Artemesia has its own ice.

Artemesia on Ice

Why isn't anyone hanging out in the pavilion?

The Pavilion at Lake Artemesia on Ice 9.9 miles

Unfurl the Canvas

After a pretty long break from painting -- because of the holidays and the break between seasons, the Community Center wasn't hosting open sessions and then birthdays got in the way -- I return to find my paintings all fallen off the board and curled up. I guess that's what I get for cheap tape and canvas paper instead of canvas.

They smoothed out OK, I think, and I added a couple of stools and the stove to the painting on the bottom. It is now at this point:

I had expected the studio to be freezing, but it was actually more comfortable than our house. Also, they've bought some nice new wheelie chairs. Whee!

Oh, and thanks to the Zombies for giving us more stuff: this time some emergency kitty litter. Saved me from trying to get to PetCo so early on a Sunday morning -- I cleaned out Tubby's litter box and threw everything away before checking to see if we had anything new to actually put in the thing. But the Zombies caught me in the cold air outside and gave me their litter. Yay!

Chieftain of the Bloggin' Race

How sweet. I (along with other lads) have been immortalized in verse as Fiona prepares for Burns Night. Long time readers might remember that we decided to host an alternative Poe's Night instead last year, since the birthdays were so close and this is America after all. You'll also remember that it didn't go so well.

I'm never drinking Cognac again, I can tell you that right now.

'Tain't no Rebecca's Wedding

Last Chance Harvey Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman are sad sack old people who might find love together in London when everybody else is ticking them off.
Theater Location: Silver Spring Majestic 20
Noise Level: Very Good (We were actually worried that the sound would be too low while watching the previews.)
The Skinny: Half of the movie is painful, half is cute/sweet. In that order.

Froggy Went Nowhere

Tubby (the cat) is not happy because I've sealed the back window off with shrink-wrap plastic (courtesy of the Zombies, thanks Zombies!) and so he cannot sit on the sill and complain about the birds and squirrels in the back garden. I don't see what the big deal is; he can still sit on the desk next to the window and tell the squirrels to get off his lawn.

I feel a little more for the stuffed frog that I sealed in there, trapped until spring. But the electric bill went up by $100 last month, so action must be taken.

We're slowly turning the house into a terrarium.

Wax On Wax Off

flickr photo: Three men at dusting books

I think I mentioned before that LibraryThing is having a contest to find ways to use its data together with the uClassify engine to do something interesting. The way uClassify works is: you decide on a set of categories that text can fit into and then train the engine by showing it examples of each category.

I decided to see if it could identify positive and negative (and ambivalent) book reviews. LibraryThing is full of all kinds of reviews provided by its subscribers and each reviewer can also provide a rating along with the review. So, set 1 to 2 stars to mean "negative", 2.5 to 3.5 stars to mean "ambivalent" and 4 to 5 stars for "positive". uClassify claims that 20 of each category should be a good start, so I popped up the reviews set for The Hobbit.

I had a high ole time cutting reviews out and pasting them into the uClassify engine. There are 203 reviews of The Hobbit, and many of them also contain a rating (I skipped reviews without a rating and reviews that were not in English). Unfortunately, very few people were ambivalent about this book and almost nobody hated it.

So, I turned from a book I loved to a book I hated. I got this:

I didn't enjoy reading this book. I honestly found it boring beyond belief.

This was an amazing, life-changing story. I have taken stock of my life and find I need to make some changes.

Jackpot! This is the kind of mix I'm looking for: love and hate sitting side by side.

UPDATE: Ok. I entered all the reviews of the two books into the classification engine and am going to see what it thinks of a review from Ender's Game. Here's the review:

[Ender's Game] is completely plot driven and thus moves the reader forward quickly. Unfortunately, that's about the best thing I can say for it. Poorly written in a mix of styles (not driven by character's speech or p.o.v.); implausible at best, since Ender is perfectly compassionate, perfectly brilliant, perfectly soldier-like (did I mention that Ender ages from 6 to 10 in the book?) and in the end, perfectly unbelievable; an obviously tacked-on, hoked-up ending that attempts to mitigate the book's emphasis on the value of violence--this is just a mess.

What did the classification engine think?

  1. Positive Review (96.2 %)
  2. Ambivalent Review (2.6 %)
  3. Not a Review (0.7 %)
  4. Negative Review (0.5 %)

It couldn't have failed worse. Ah, well, maybe it just needs more data. I'm going to work on automating the harvesting of reviews for its training.

Brrrrrrrrr

OK, so it's nearly noon and the temperature has crept up to 16°. I'm not going biking in that. Sorry. I'll just have to keep getting fat. There's no other alternative.

Baby It's Cold Outside

7.75/26°F(-3°C)/The Piggy Ride

What a difference 10 degrees makes! My toes are freezing in spite of doubling up on socks. Otherwise, though, the hood and other core body clothing bits I picked up are helping keep me warm for the trip and it doesn't hurt to breathe yet. But I never got to a point where I wanted to take the hood off this time around and it was more than halfway before I lowered the face guard part of the hood.

I really didn't want to go out there today, but I have to go in to our headquarters tomorrow, so there won't be enough daylight for me to bike tomorrow. I can't give up after only two days.

I think.

Too Late for Christmas

You know you want one of these!

It even has a remote control!

BARC East

Another short one: 9 miles.

Pass The Dutchie 'pon The Left Hand Side

The Piggy Ride.

Now that I'm older than I've ever been (and now I'm even older...), it's time to buckle down and get back in shape. I've let myself go to pot, which is fine in Boston, but we're not in Boston. Really, if you were trying to convince someone that smoking pot was a good thing, would you include this quote?

"It’s super-relaxing," said one 31-year-old professional as he fired up a joint in an East Boston park yesterday. "It's just a lot more easy. I'm super happy this happened. It's kind of like, "What's the big deal?"

Super.

Where was I? Dang brain cells keep dieing. (Or is it "dying?" Is that only if they're turning pink?) Oh, right, getting in shape. The real problem is that it's so dang cold. Well, that's my excuse when it's not raining. So I bought a nice new hood:

Classy looking, huh? Except mine is orange. I only look a little like I'm going to hold up a liquor store. It has a nice flap that can come up over my nose or pull down and just cover my neck. It is warm.

In fact, it is dang hot after a few minutes of exercise.

Since I spent money, I had no choice but to get out there on the road today. I'm going to try to alternate days of hitting that stupid hill with days of riding in the farm land. We'll see how that goes. I give it a week before I give up. I hope to have a new graphic up soon showing my biking progress. Wish me luck.

Update/Pop Quiz: Stare at that picture of hoods and tell me which one is not like the others and why.

Did I Ever Tell You My Father was Struck by Lightning Two Times?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Short story adaptation (FS Fitzgerald) wherein a man is born in an aged body and dies in a baby's body.
Theater Location: Arundel Mills
Noise Level: Fair
The Skinny: Interesting special effects, especially the wide shots of older metropolises. The frame story was awful. Read The Time Traveler's Wife instead.

Oh Owings Mills, We Hardly Recognize You

When I was younger, the Owings Mills Mall was called "The Fashion Centre" or some such fancy nonsense. In the big theatres outside the mall, half the building was devoted to a luxury cinema experience. I loved that theatre. For a bit extra, you got one of 60 reclining leather seats, could treat yourself to self-serve popcorn during the movie (a tiny glass salt shaker provided by the management), and could order real knife and fork food for delivery right before the movie started or drink a nice alcoholic beverage during the movie. Oh, an no kids allowed.

On Sunday we met the family at the Famous Dave's in Owings Mills for my and my sister's birthday celebration. The Brunette and I got there early and cruised the mall. It is a shell, very nearly literally. I don't think more than 60% of its retail space is in use: so many stores were closed and a lot seem to be on their way out. The luxury move theatres have been gone for quite some time. I don't know when the fancy name got dropped.

What has happened to you ole Owings Mills Mall?

Mortal City (Dar Williams)

Oops. I had forgotten that I never finished this challenge! A few more songs are left. Good thing I was on the bus Friday.

Warning: this is the saddest and creepiest song on my iPod.

The challenge: Set your iPod on shuffle, listen to the first song that plays, write something. The written thing can be an essay, a poem, a story, whatever. It might only be tenuously related to the song, but it has to be written in a timebox. No editing later, no polishing forever. It is what it is. (Well, okay, spell checking is allowed.)

I'm randomly trolling through my list of songs from a morning's commute. (There's still time to go and guess what the songs are!) The other stories so far are available at the MusicTale link.

Timebox: This item's timebox was the duration of the train ride from New Carrollton to West Falls Church.

Senga added another layer and examined the result in the full-length mirror next to the apartment's front door. She shook her head at the sight. I look like a hairy coo, she thought. But what could she do? She was always so cold in this city. It didn't matter that the rain never turned to snow -- or maybe it was because the rain never turned to snow -- Senga's very bones had been replaced by ice. She shivered.

I guess I could do something about these bangs, she thought, brushing at the locks that reached her eyebrows. She swept her hand left and right across her brow, rearranging hair that refused to cooperate. She scowled and increased the ferocity of her cosmetological efort until she was slapping her hair with enough force to brighten her forehead.

People will notice, she thought and held her hands back. Who cares about People? She shook her head angrily, picked up her bag and stomped out the door.

The hallway was lined with a dozen anonymous doors. Senga walked shakily down the passage. This had been her home for six months and she could not name a single family hding behind these unadorned entrances. Senga clenched her fists. Her family had told her to be careful of Americans:

"They're all so friendly," Jimmy said and wrinkled his nose. "All up in your business, like."

Senga barked.

Outside, in the car park, Senga's fists compressed and she drove her nails into her palms. It was raining. Cold and constant. Dark and dreary. Dreich days happened at home, sure, but the rain did not fall so adamantly, not with such purpose -- such evil intent.

Senga clutched the top of her coat and slogged down the pavement sidewalk toward the distant bus stop. Five blocks at the other end of this dead end street. She cursed these people and their inadequate public transportation and their stupid language disguised as words you thought you knew well enough until you made yourself vulnerable to them and they leapt up to strike you with angry claws.

The bus stop had a wee wooden bench under a wooden canopy. There was already a man sitting on the bench -- first human of the day. There was room to sit, though. He was a skinny man with skinny arms sticking out of a short-sleeved shirt.

He greeted her cheerfully. I'm so lonely, she thought, but she kept her strong face on and nodded only. She sat. Why not? Her life was about sitting. She sat at home. She sat at the bus stop. She sat on the bus.

She sat at the hospital next to her silent husband.

The man in the bench pointed at Senga's coat and said, "I can't put my arms down!" He laughed.

Alarmed, Senga jumped up and stood next to the bus stop sign and waited for the R12. In the rain. Alone.

Co Co Sala

For the record, in case you were wondering, I don't like chocolate-covered bacon. I think it is still true that pretty much anything can be improved by the addition of either bacon or chocolate, but they don't do anything for each other.

The trip down to this fancy-pants restaurant in DC was an experience and I'm glad we did it, but I don't see it joining our list of regular haunts. The tandoori chicken slider was delicious and (aside from the chocolate covered bacon that came on the side) the mac-and-cheese was good. But the portions were small, the check was big, and the chairs were uncomfortable.

The restaurant failed the butt test.

It might just be that I'm getting too old for trendy, noisy bars. It'd be nice if the birthday dinner wasn't a reminder of that. But again, it was well worth trying out as an adventure.

This is Too Hard!

Since I've got nothing new to say today, here is a picture I took a while back in the DC Metro System.

Provide your own caption.

An Addiction

I'm hoping that, much like getting a song caught in your head, perhaps the best way to get rid of an addiction is to share it with others. Over the last week, I have spent every free moment poring over Shadow Unit, a television show ... well, actually, it's not a television show because there are no actors and there is no filming. It's not really scripts for a television show, either. But it feels like a TV show.

Says the man who does not own a TV.

Let me try again: Shadow Unit is an ongoing series of regularly-released short stories structured in the format of a television show (five acts, continuing characters, self-contained plots plus a seasonal arc) written by Emma Bull, Will Shetterly and Elizabeth Bear. The first season of episodes were released biweekly from February to May last year. I understand that a new season begins next month. There are also "DVD extras" and a novel-length season finale, not to mention character blogs and artwork.

The show follows the members of an elite FBI team who are tasked with protecting the public from the "anomaly", a not-understood mechanism that uses an emotional crisis to take over a human host and turn it into a serial killer – it feeds on pain. To the outside world, these seem like "normal" serial criminals, but the anomaly generally manifests with some extra supernormal skill, like the ability to control radio waves or fire invisible bullets.

It's a bit like a mixture of X-Files and Heroes, with some Dragnet and CSI thrown in for good measure.

I think that one of the fascinating things about this show is the way the team works together and apart. I'm really drawn into the way the team functions as a set of individuals and as a cohesive entity. They are dropped into dangerous situations and rely constantly on each others' special skills and enhance this with strong non-verbal communication during the investigation. The non-verbal communication is a natural manifestation of the training and performance that they've done with each other over and over. They rely and trust each other and know where to turn for what responsibilities, and they know (or are working hard to know) that their skills and actions are understood by their team members. I think I have a little bit of a hero complex that this show feeds, but I want to be on a team of heroes, so I can both rely on someone else's skills to fill the gaps I have and so my ego can be soothed by peers. I want to be on a team like this, don't you?

I'd also like to write stuff like this. Why couldn't we have an entire of network of episodic short fiction? Maybe a couple of westerns, a sit-com or two, a hard-boiled detective show, a quirky British thing. Actually, the options would be limitless without the need for a huge audience or even a technical or acting budget. How would an series about pirates look? Or a regular show about the adventures of a 15th century monk?

What would you want to watch that is never allowed the chance to thrive on "real" TV?

The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

So I'm standing with my imaginary great uncle (on my sister's side) on the bridge that Greenbelt Road uses to cross the Baltimore Washington Parkway. We have paused to watch the cars that are lined up waiting to head north because Great Uncle Leadbelly likes to yell insults down at the trapped motorists. We usually do this from the Spellman Overpass, but today he got it into his head to walk west from the Denny's after our lunch.

After a moment or two of silence, I ask him if he is okay.

"Yes," he grunts. "Why wouldn't I be?"

I know better than to bring up his age. None of us know what it is anyway, and his stories of "the war" could put him anywhere between 54 and 161. It's a generally touchy subject, so I only ask why he isn't mocking the cars on the parkway.

"It's that book you made me read," he huffed after a few more moments staring down at the parkway. He's talking about The Road, a post-apocalyptic father-son novel. My great uncle thinks I make him read books he doesn't want to read.

"You don't have to read," I point out.

"Yes I do," he insists. "The moment I stop, you and my sister will have me hauled off to a nursing home. I have to pretend to stay engaged just to keep you people off my back, so I read your hippie book."

"Hippie book?"

"At any rate," he goes on. "Imagine what it would be like if there weren't any cars down there." In the novel, the father and son spend most of the time walking along a highway. The silence, the lack of cars, the lack of other people, and the dead plant life all combine to build up the creepiness of a lonely planet.

"Yeah, pretty boring."

He shoots me a look. "What are you talking about?"

"Sure, I hate our auto-obsession," I say. "It'd be nice to have some breatheable air for a change, but if it's anything like that book, then it would be one long boring life. Nothing happens in that book."

"Nothing is supposed to happen. It's the story of a father's love for his son and the consequences of disconnectedness."

"Boring," I repeat. "I can't imagine what the movie is going to be like. I'll take a pillow. If you want a great post-apocalyptic novel, go with Parable of the Sower."

"You are missing the point. I thought you pinko Commie hippie freaks were supposed to worship this book. It's not really about any apocalypse. It's about people and relationships. "

"You don't like people," I point out. He grunts. "You don't." He is silent, so we both stare at the cars below. The traffic flowing south is intermittent, but something must be going on on the northbound side because the traffic is stopped all the way back to the Beltway. I have no idea what he's going on with about the hippies. I'm not really old enough to be a hippie. Really.

"So many people alone in their steel universes," Great Uncle Leadbelly mutters.

"C'mon, Great Uncle. Shout something at them. It'll make you feel better. How about, 'Looks like you can park on the parkway after all!' or 'Passing only in the left lane, buster!'"

Great Uncle only shakes his head. So I suggest we walk on home. He starts walking west.

"No, no," I grab his sleeve. "We can't go that way."

"Why not? You're only half a mile that way."

"Because the sidewalk ends at the end of the bridge."

"What?" He walks to the end of the bridge to verify my story. Sure enough, the sidewalk does not go further than the bridge. "Why would anyone end the sidewalk there? What idiot would want to walk to that spot and back?"

"The sidewalk to nowhere," I say.

"Of all the cockamamie..."

"Come on, Great Uncle," I say, but it is too late. He has stomped right out into Greenbelt Road. It turns out that there is sidewalk on the other side. Unfortunately, Greenbelt Road is a four lane near-highway. "You can't cross here!" I shout, but he is clearly proving me wrong. Cars and trucks from both directions stop to let him by as he shouts and gesticulates wildly. I suppose it makes him highly visible, all that hand-waving and fluttering about.

"If you don't seize your rights, you'll lose them," I think I hear him shout and then he is safe on the other side of the road, where he is grinning wildly. "Showed those losers," I imagine him saying.

Meanwhile, I stand on the other side of the bridge wondering what to do next. It is clearly not legal to cross here, but it is likely a mile further to walk the other direction. I look to Great Uncle for direction.

"Hippie Beatnik!" he shouts at me and starts walking toward my house. I'm pretty sure Leadbelly is humming that 10,000 Maniacs song...

"That's a different book!" I shout and start to cross the road. My great uncle is smarter than he looks. Why did the blogger cross the road? To explain something that doesn't need explaining to a doddering technophobe who doesn't care.

Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind

I forgot to share a few other signs we saw in Chestertown. First up is an interesting bit of history for nearby Baltimore:

(Baltimore is about 75 miles away by car, though it might have seemed closer when more of the world moved by boat.)

Chestertown, I have to tell you something about this sign:

Bikes don't have feet.

They can't walk.

And, of course, the obligatory dog sign for my collection:

Chestertown, Maryland

You want to see pictures from our recent trip don't cha? don't cha? Sit back there all comfortable like and I'll set up the slide projector.

Wait, where ya goin'?

...remember to click on any picture to see it in its biggness

We had to postpone my sister and my shared birthday lunch because my nephew is suffering from the same stomach virus everybody else seems to be hit with. Poor wee lad. Still, I'm glad I'm done with my bout. At least, I hope so.

At any rate, we took the opportunity to be spontaneous and drive off to a random Maryland town that we had never visited before. We chose Chestertown. Chestertown is a small, very colonial town, with brick buildings and walkways and such.

It actually has a High Street for the businesses, which feels all British and junk, not to mention the fact that Chestertown sits on the Chester River.

There's a pier with several interesting boats.

 

That first one is a skipjack, used for dredging oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. According to a sign we read, you must be under sail to dredge oysters in Maryland.

I particularly liked this scary boat:

In addition to boats, other transportation modes are represented in Chestertown. For example, there are these rail cars and caboose. More than 10 feet of either side of these cars the rails have been removed, though there's a pretty good stretch of empty ties.

I think the cars must have been used as apartments at some point:

We liked Chestertown a lot, but there really isn't much open on a Sunday in January. Nearly everything was closed in the afternoon, though we did weasel our way into a bookstore. One thing Chestertown has a lot of is churches:

Not sure why a small town needs two different UM churches across the street from each other.

At any rate, we had a nice dinner at the one restaurant we found open in the evening: a tapas place that also serves brick oven pizza. Chestertown, I think we'll be back to visit later in the year.

Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome)

"I'm not sure about this restaurant," Bertie said as he, Bob, Tubby and I sat down at the table at Honoré's. Bertie and Bob are my imaginary friends. Tubby, however, is all too real.

"It's good home cooking in a nice atmosphere," I said. "Considering it's in a Kmart strip mall."

"Borderline fancy," Bob said.

"Food you eat with a knife and a fork anyway," I said. This, to be honest. was probably Bertie's problem with the place: it's hard to surreptitiously mooch from a plate of sautéed spinach and Chicken Santa Fe.

"Can we get back to planning our trip?" Bertie asked impatiently. Ever since we read Three Men in a Boat, we've been planning a canoe trip on the upper Potomac.

"Oh, wait, I have to go to the bathroom," Bob said. Bertie groaned.

"Don't forget your song," he said sarcastically to his brother.

"Song?" I asked when Bob was gone.

"He heard somewhere that you should sing a song when you wash your hands to make sure that you've scrubbed them enough."

"Out loud?"

Bertie just rolled his eyes. Tubby yawned.

"He's right," I said. "Let's get back to the planning. I think we should put in at Paw Paw and camp somewhere before Little Orleans."

"Do you think this trip is going to be like the book?"

"What do you mean?"

"It seems like they spent more time planning than actually boating."

"Sure," I said. "But they had fun when they finally -- "

"Having fun and being funny are not the same thing."

"I suppose not. But I think this canoe trip will be a lot of fun and we won't go off on tangents like they did."

Tubby sneezed.

"We might need some monitoring for that," Bertie said.

I put my finger on the end of my nose.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Tangent button," I said.

"Yeah. Where is my brother anyway?"

"He went to the bathroom."

Bertie rolled his eyes at me and went to investigate. He returned in a few moments dragging his brother by the ear.

"What happened?"

"I was just singing the hand washing song," Bob whined.

"There was a line waiting for him to finish. Tell him what song." Bertie shook his brother's shoulder.

"Well..."

"It was the Song that Never Ends," Bertie answered for him.

"Yes, it goes on and on my friend," I said.

"Stop that!" interrupted the waiter.

"I'm sorry, what?" I said.

"You cannot have a cat in a restaurant!" he said.

We all looked over at Tubby who rubbed his chin on a salt shaker.

"He isn't doing any harm," I said. Tubby started chewing on the flower in the little vase. This seemed to infuriate the waiter and he chased us out of the restaurant.

"Well," I said, picking up the carpet bag the waiter threw out behind us. "Maybe we should try a different trip."

"We could base it on a Connie Willis book instead."

"I am not learning how to ring bells," I said. Then I looked at Bertie who was putting his finger on his nose. "What is it?"

"Tangent button. We've forgotten about the most important part of this meeting."

"We're still talking about a trip --"

"No, no no, the food!" Bertie said and stomped over to the Five Guys, where there were plenty of peanuts and fries for mooching.

Is that so Terribly Strange?

Here's a song for you. Married by Elvis:

Pick Me! Pick Me!

Two contests I'm interested in, both with deadlines in February.

1. LibraryThing is hosting a mashup contest for its data and the uClassify system. uClassify is an engine that you train to analyze text. Typealyzer and GenderAnalyzer were written on top of it. (BTW, GenderAnalyzer thinks that maybe this blog is written by a man, but it's not sure: "We guess http://theabbotofunreason.blogspot.com is written by a man (56%), however it's quite gender neutral.")

The prize is a $100 amazon or Indie Bound gift certificate and a book.

2. DC is getting into the David Byrne act. You remember those bike racks I saw in New York?

The Villager by David Byrne

The Golden Triangle area (the one in DC, not the one in Greenbelt) is holding a similar design competition for artsy bike racks down in the bustling business heart of DC. (Oddly, the Golden Triangle is not shaped like a triangle.) This is our chance to provide a little less objectionable shape than Byrne.

The prize is $1500 and a stay in the Mayflower Hotel.

Bedtime Stories

Gosh, I hope 2008 is healthier than the last few months of 2009. We're still a bit wobbly from some food poisoning or a virus or something, though we felt safe enough to wander into public last night.

Bedtime Stories Usurped motel manager finds out his niece and nephew can tell stories that come true.
Theater Location: Beltway Plaza (Greenbelt)
Noise Level: Too Loud
The Skinny: Totally ridiculous -- nothing made sense at all. Who would leave their kids with that man after a four year absence? Who would leave their kids with that man at all? Why did that man never learn anything? Still, it was cute if you checked your mind at the door.

I swear. I am never going to do any business with movietickets.com as long as that annoying screeching woman is played so loudly on the movie screen. It hurts my ears and makes me angry.

Oh, I Forgot

To wish everyone a happy Hogmanay.

A You-Tube Greeting from Scotland

A New Day

Well, it's a new day. As you all know, this day begins a brand new cycle that is very exciting for me. That's right, for you see today is the first day of...

My Birthday Month!

Most people are excited to have a birthday day and others might even stretch it out to a week, but I go for the big prize. I'm celebrating all month long!

W00t!

'Cause otherwise I'd just cry.