28 December 2010

Tron: Legacy

Here's hoping everyone had a nice winter solstice, whatever that entails for you and your family.

The season has been busy for me, but I did have the chance to see Tron: Legacy today and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I read a lot of reviews that were middling to unfavorable, most remarking on the visuals but lamenting the "lack of story."

Truth be told, yes, the visuals were stunning, but what I found more impressive was simply the imagination.  At its heart, the original Tron was, to my mind at least, epitomized by the idea of a bunch of people sitting around, asking each other, "Hey wouldn't it be cool if..."  This is what Tron: Legacy captures perfectly.  Was the story brilliant?  No, but it was not bad, far from it, and it had some nice moments in there.  But what was truly astounding was the scope of the film, the locales they created, the sets and costumes, the world they brought to life.  I think sometimes critics forget that it's okay for a movie to be about whimsy and fun, and Tron: Legacy delivered it in droves.  I will be going back to see it again!

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Books: Finished The Hobbit, working on The Lord of the Rings.  We've just left the Midgewater Marshes.  Going a bit slower than usual, with so much else going on, but still enjoying the read nonetheless.

Bottles: Nothing of note, just Alamos Malbec as table wine with the last few meals.

Writing: Finished the novella and taking a breather before I start revision.  Will also be returning to my short story I think.

Guitar: Working on "Astronomy Domine" and continuing study of harmony.  Also got a slide guitar for Christmas, and working on the solo from "High Hopes."

18 December 2010

The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion, written by JRR Tolkien and compiled by his son Christopher, tells the tale of the First Age of Middle Earth, setting down the history which is referenced in The Lord of the Rings.  Though at times it reads a bit dry, almost like the Bible, it has some moments of absolute delight.  It reads like an anthology, telling individual tales that are woven together to create the tapestry of the First Age.  Among my favorite reads are "Of Beren and Luthien" and "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin."  Though in no way essential reading for someone to enjoy The Lord of the Rings, the richness that Tolkien imparted to his world shines through in The Silmarillion.  While I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings every year starting in December, I also read The Silmarillion every other year (alternately with either Unfinished Tales or The Tale of the Children of Hurin).

As much as I love both Harry Potter and The Wheel of Time, it is The Lord of the Rings that I can most easily be absorbed by, year after year.

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Books: About halfway though The Hobbit.

Bottles: Nothing lately.

Writing: 2800 words on the novella, finished Chapter 4 and started on the Epilogue.  I can taste it!  I might finish it tonight.

Guitar: Working on learning about Contrapuntal Harmony, using "Ode to Joy" as an example.

16 December 2010

Dashe Zinfandel 2007 Dry Creek Valley

I am a huge fan of Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2007, and when I saw their regular Zinfandel I was curious. I enjoyed it at a friend’s house with a homecooked meal.

The wine is opaque, ruby colored, with a heady, earthy bouquet that had hints of oak and smoke.

It had a warm, soft fruit that felt rich and tannic on the tongue. The acidity held the wine together, and a slight sweet note on the back of the tongue helped balance the strong alcohol content (14.5%).

The aforementioned homecooked meal was spaghetti with tomato sauce and Italian sausage. While tomato-based dishes are often hard to match with wine, the Dashe Zinfandel did surprisingly well, as it did not become bitter but more or less stayed the same. With the fennel-heavy sausage, the wine truly shone, standing up to the spice and enhancing the meatiness.

We also enjoyed some cheese with the wine. With brie cheese (covered in raspberry jalapeno compote), it helped cleanse the palate from the creamy brie, and reflected the fruit in the raspberry jalapeno compote. With the bucherolle (a variant of bucheron), the wine turned a bit bitter, but not overwhelmingly so.

Dashe continues to impress me, and it is probably one of my preferred Sonoma wineries. The Zinfandel went for about $25 at a mid-range liquor store, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

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Books: Reading The Hobbit.

Bottles: Nothing lately.

Writing: 250 words on novella, but will hopefully write a bit more tonight.

Guitar: Finally get to do some tomorrow! Can't wait!

15 December 2010

Chateau Ste Michelle Harvest Select Riesling 2009 Columbia Valley

A pale, flax-colored Riesling, with scents of citrus and stone fruits. I generally find Washington Rieslings to be more delicate than their German counterparts, and I was not surprised with the Chateau Ste Michelle. The fruit was light and delicate, with a slight acidity which balanced a mild sweetness. It had a quick and gentle finish, cleansing the palate on the way out.

An enjoyable Riesling, and very budget-friendly at around $9 a bottle, available at most grocery stores. It did not express any real complexity or terrior, but it as eminently drinkable.

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Books: Reading The Hobbit.

Bottles: Drank some Blue Nun 2007 Eiswein.

Writing: 1350 words on novella.

Guitar: None today.

14 December 2010

Caligiore Bonarda 2009


A ruby colored, medium bodied wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina, Bonarda had a bouquet of cherries and young oak.  I was unfamiliar with the wine, and could not find any information on what grapes it was grown with, but I suspect a blend consisting at least partly of Malbec, the local grape of Argentina.
It had potent fruit, but too much acidity, especially on the finish when it turned bitter.  It did not seem to express any of the terroir I enjoy from better Argentinian wines.  Overall, it was not a great wine, but not a bad one either.  Very inexpensive and okay as a table wine.  It was a gift given to me, bought at a grocery store.

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Books: Finished The Silmarillion, which was quite enjoyable.  Started The Hobbit.

Bottles: Drinking Alamos Malbec 2007.  Tonight had two wines with dinner.  Too tired to write them down now.

Writing: Wrote 250 words on the novella.  Getting to some heavy stuff.

Guitar: No chance to practice.  Worked 16 hours today.  Going to bed.

06 December 2010

Domaine Pichot Vouvray 2007

I previously wrote about Domaine Pichot's 2008 Vouvray.  I also had a bottle of 2007, which I enjoyed at the late Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, served alongside Domaine Lafond's Lirac 2007.

The 2007 was much like the 2008, so I won't go into great detail about it.  I will, however, say that it was more fruity and tart, as well as sweeter on the finish, and I think I liked it slightly better than the 2008.

I did not drink it with dinner, as it was a popular choice and I did not wish to deprive others from having a glass, but when there was some left after dinner, I availed my chance of trying it with the cheese platter.  Here are my impressions:

Walnut Gouda: Very nice combination, the wine cut through the strong cheese and refreshed the palate.
Petit Basque: Again good, it complemented the cheese, presenting both wine and cheese in their best light.
Garlic & Herb Le Roule: No interaction.
Cranberry Le Roule: No interaction.
Bucheron: The wine mellowed the potent cheese pleasantly.
Humboldt Fog: An okay combination, the cheese brought out a bit more sweetness in the wine.  Not as nice a combination as the Walnut Gouda, the Petit Basque, or the Bucheron.

Domain Pichot's Vouvray, both 2007 and 2008, remains one of my favorite wines, and it has proven to be an exceptional wine for matching with cheeses.  While I enjoy the 2007 more than the 2008, the 2008 is still enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing what the next vintage will bring.

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Books: The Silmarillion proceeds apace.

Bottles: Nothing new yet.

Writing: 900 words on the novella today.  Feeling back in the swing of it.

Guitar: Practiced soloing today, did some "Time" and "Comfortably Numb."

05 December 2010

Meyer Family Port(o)

A Port-style wine, or Porto (true Port only comes from Portugal), Meyer Family's is made from Zinfandel grown in California.

Deep crimson in color, it has a strong honey and brandy bouquet, with a heavy body.

In true California style, the fruit hits the tongue first, quickly warming across the palate, and slowly introducing tastes of honey and brandy.  The finish lingers pleasantly on the brandy note.

I enjoyed Meyer Family Port at a late Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, where it was served with the dessert course as well as the remains of the cheese platter.  Dessert was an apple crumble, with which it offered no interaction.  The cheeses had varied interactions:

Petit Basque: The Port totally overpowered this otherwise pungent, nutty cheese.
Walnut Gouda: It stood up to the Port but did not reveal anything surprising.
Bucheron: Here the Port shone, balancing nicely against the potent cheese.
Humboldt Fog: Again, the Port did nicely, smoothing out the cheese's harsher notes.
Cranberry Le Roule - Here, the cheese brought out even more sweetness from the wine, and the cranberries in the cheese mirrored the fruit well.
Garlic & Herb Le Roule - The Garlic & Herb didn't do so well, offering no interaction of note.



All in all, Meyer Family Port was an enjoyable bottle, reasonably priced ($20, 375mL).  I got mine at The Wine Cellar and haven't seen it since, but haven't been looking too hard either, since I don't drink Port very often.


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Books: Still reading The Silmarillion.


Bottles: Nothing new.


Writing: Wasn't able to do any.


Guitar: Helped my friend learn how to string his guitar.  He plays an Ibanez RG and it has a double-locking tuning system, quite different from my Stratocaster's, but we worked it out in the end.  His tremolo bridge needed adjusting due to the different string gauge he ended up with.  He seems happy with it.

04 December 2010

Stuff

Stuff, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, was a fascinating read about hoarders.  Drs. Frost and Steketee have spent the last several years studying the phenomenon of hoarding among the American populace, and this book summarizes their research for the average reader.

The book offers stories of numerous hoarders, using them to exemplify different motivations and types of hoarding, as well as explaining different ways that are used to try to treat hoarding.  They also explore the psychology of those who hoard and seek to find commonality amongst sufferers.

It was a particularly fascinating read to me, as I was able to pick out traits of both myself and others I know in the reading.  One of the hallmarks of a hoarder is a certain distractibility when making attempts to sort things: they will look at one thing, start to remember something about it, or tell a story about it, which will then lead them to another thing, and another, and before you know it, they have spent the day talking about their possessions instead of sorting them.  I've noticed this tendency in myself from time to time, especially on the several occasions I've helped my grandma move house: every time I pack away an interesting item, I stop and ask about it, or show it to someone.

Another hallmark is an indecisiveness, an inability to accurately evaluate the usefulness of an item.  Couple this with an identification of the items as a part of oneself, and it makes getting rid of things extremely hard.

At times, the book was heartbreaking, when you would see how the problem - which is as hard to control as any other mental illness - has altered or destroyed people's lives.  There are numerous stories of spouses leaving hoarders, of family becoming estranged.  And yet, there was hope, as Drs. Frost and Steketee did list several cases where therapy was helpful to people - but only if they were willing to be helped, to make the effort to change.

Stuff truly did change the way I think about stuff, and it was an immensely enriching read.  I think I will read it again in the near future.

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Books: Finished Stuff, started my annual Lord of the Rings month with The Silmarillion.

Bottles: None since the last.

Guitar: Working on "Hey You," various scales, and the new classical piece.

Writing: Wrote a little bit, only about two paragraphs, but at least I am easing my way back into the story.  I'm at a tricky point right now: I can tell which way the story wants to go but am having trouble committing it to the page.

01 December 2010

Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Lirac 2007

This wine, made from primarily Grenache grapes grown in the Lirac region of the Rhone valley, features a deep garnet color and an earthy bouquet.  The fruit and earthiness in the taste hit the palate more or less simultaneously, coating the tongue in its soft mouthfeel.  It had a warm, ripe taste, with soft tannins and mild acidity.

I drank the Domaine Lafond Lirac at a Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, where we enjoyed turkey, mashed potatoes, apple dressing, as well as a cheese platter.

It did not offer any reaction with the turkey, but it did react favorably with the mashed potatoes, expressing a creamy note I had not expected.  However, it fared poorly with the apple dressing, becoming too bitter.

The cheese platter consisted of 6 cheeses:

Humboldt Fog - A goats' milk cheese from California, with a layer of edible ash running through the center.  The Lirac paired well with the cheese, smoothly cleansing the palate from the sharp taste of the cheese.

Petit Basque - A mildly flavored, dense sheep's milk cheese from France.  It enhanced the fruit of the wine, while at the same time the wine enhanced the nuttiness of the cheese.  Another favorable combination.

Walnut Gouda - An aged Gouda, probably from Holland (though I lost the label), with walnuts implanted in it.  It offered no reaction of note with the wine.

Bucheron - Goat's milk cheese from the Rhone valley, France.  It is creamy on the outside and crumbly on the inside, with a potent floral taste.  It totally overpowered the Lirac; I think it would go much better with a Vouvray or a Riesling, something with a lot of acidity that can cut through the potentcy.

Cranberry Le Roule - A soft cow's milk cheese from France, flattened and then rolled with dried cranberries so that it forms a spiral.  It has a soft, mild flavor, with sweetness from the cranberries.  It did not offer any interaction of note with the wine.

Garlic & Herb Le Roule - Same as above but with garlic and herbs rather than cranberries.  It too offered little reaction with the wine.

Overall, the Domaine Lafond Lirac was an okay bottle, but not a great one.  I acquired it some time ago, and my tastes have evolved since then.  I have enjoyed better Rhone wines since first tasting Domaine Lafond's Lirac, and so returning to it was a step backward.  Still, it was an interesting drink, and I had fun testing its interaction with the menu.

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Books:Nearly done with Stuff, then it's time to start my annual Lord of the Rings reading.

Bottles: Caligiore Bonarda Reserve 2009 with dinner tonight.  It's a new wine for me, okay but not as enjoyable as others.  Expect a review in the near future.

Writing: No, I simply have to start doing it again.  I wasn't able to go out and write today.  I don't know what's wrong with me that I allow myself to be distracted.  Nonetheless, I'm tired and probably won't do any before I go to bed either.  I need to try to start doing it in the mornings, maybe.

Guitar: Did practice "Hey You," scales, and a new classical piece.

30 November 2010

Grand Vins de Bourgogne - Paul Pernet et Ses Fils Puligny-Montrachet 2007

Like all French wines, there is a crapload of information on the label, so hopefully what I've put in the title will enable you to find and recognize it.  It's made from the Chardonnay grape, grown in the Cote-d'Or region of Burgundy (or Bourgogne).

I first tasted this wine at The Wine Cellar (now gone, sad face), and it revolutionized my understanding of Chardonnay.  In the past I had avoided Chardonnay, but after tasting this white Burgundy I suddenly understood what it was all about, and I've been hooked on white Burgundy ever since.

The wine was clear and light, like extremely refined honey.  It had a very gentle, floral bouquet, with hints of cinnamon in it.

The taste started with a gentle, buttery hit; a mellow, supple mouthfeel accented a balanced acidity and light oakiness.  It was creamy and complex, with a bit of minerality to balance the butteriness.  The finish lingers on that buttery note for quite a while.

I ate it at Thanksgiving (on the day), with my family, and a menu that included Turkey with gravy, apple-cranberry dressing, potato casserole with Gruyere, and cranberry salad.  With the turkey, it expressed its acidity more strongly, and enhanced the meatiness of the dish.  With the dressing, it interacted favorably with the apples and dried cranberries to bring out more fruit.  It got a bit oaky with the potatoes.  It interacted very poorly with the cranberry salad, becoming bitter and acidic.

All in all, it was a good pick for Thanksgiving, and a great wine to enjoy any time.  It costs about $25 per bottle, but I haven't seen it anywhere since The Wine Cellar.



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Books: Still on Stuff.


Bottles: None lately.


Writing: No.  Tomorrow I am going to try to make a writing date with my writing buddy and get some work done.


Guitar: Lesson today, still working on "Hey You," plus a new classical piece.

29 November 2010

Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2007

I will preface by saying that Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2007 is in my top three wines, and is definitely my Number One dessert wine.  Ever since being introduced to it in late 2008 I have always bought it up on sight.  Late-harvested wines are wines that are literally harvested later than usual, which allows the flavors and sugars to concentrate in the grapes.  The technique is often used in Rieslings (indeed, Germany has a classification system for denoting just how late the harvest was), but it shows its power with the Zinfandel grape in this 375mL bottle from Sonoma.

The wine is deep ruby in color, nearly opaque, with a heavy, luscious body.  It displays a powerful bouquet of honey and cider, though it is not cloying.

The mouthfeel is silky and heavenly.  The first flavor hit is of strong berries, followed by a honey note that lingers throughout.  It's a surprisingly complex wine and expressed several fruit flavors as it travelled the palate, ending in a short, sweet finish in which one can taste the residual grape sugars.

I served the wine at the "Fakesgiving" dinner I shared with friends.  It was enjoyed with apple pie - the cinnamon of the apple pie exploded in my mouth when it met the wine, a truly delightful combination.

Right now I have four bottles of Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel left, but I believe I have found a new source and can hopefully restock.  It sells for about $25 per 375mL bottle.

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Books: Still reading Stuff.  It's a truly fascinating read.

Bottles: Nothing new to report.

Writing: Just transfered my writing onto the new computer (which I have stopped love-hating and now just love - ahh, I've given in), so plan on enjoyed it some tonight, though it depends on when I get home.

Guitar: Worked a lot on "Hey You" today.  Also broke out "Money" and "Us and Them" to revisit - I think I'm good enough now to play along to the solo in "Money" at full speed.  I will try that tomorrow.

28 November 2010

Many Waters

Many Waters, the fourth book (in publication order) of Madeline L'Engle's Time Quartet, actually takes place in the internal chronology between A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, featuring the characters 7 or so years younger than they appeared in Planet.  It follows Sandy and Dennys, the "normal" kids in the family, a pair of twins who have striven to fit in with their peers.

Following Planet, it too was more enjoyable to me, as it felt much more honest in the way it dealt with the issues it explored.  It followed Sandy and Dennys after they accidentally sent themselves back to antediluvian times when they meddled with their father's experiment, and wind up in Noah's camp in the year or so leading up to the flood.  It dealt, very candidly and tastefully, with issues of adolescence, of growing up, of the complexity of sexual relations, of betrayal, and of hope.  The version of the world it presents is fascinating, mirroring the present while preserving some of the alienness of the past.

I found it very easy to identify with the two twins, skeptics who are confronted with things beyond their experience, and I appreciated their anger at God - called "El" by Noah and his people - for drowning everyone they knew.

The science fiction elements were strongly portrayed, as was a certain element of fantasy, with seraphim, nephilim, even tiny mammoths.  The portrayal of the people of the past as tiny - most reaching 4 feet in height at best - was accurate and is something not often seen in books that delve into the past.

All in all, I enjoyed the book far more than I was expecting to, and it was an excellent follow-up - or lead-in - to Planet.


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Books: Still reading Stuff.

Bottles: Nothing new.

Writing: Nothing new.

Guitar: Nothing new...sigh.

27 November 2010

Donausonne Blaufrankisch 2008

Donausonne Blaufrankisch 2008 is a unique red wine from Hungary, made from the Blaufrankisch grape.  Light in body and blood-red in color, it had a bouquet that was sweet, like regular grape juice.

The taste of grapes was forefront throughout the experience, though it also gently expressed other sweet fruits, like apples and pomegranates.  It had a very light mouthfeel, and a semi-sweetness to it, though it did hint of tannins before its sweet finish.

Donausonne Blaufrankisch was one of my early wine experiences, and ever since it has remained one of my go-to wines when I need to provide wine for a crowd.  It is sweet enough to please most palates, but it does offer the strength and heart-healthy benefits of red wines.  Not only that, it is very affordable - I usually find it for $13 or so, and have found it at many places in the KC Metro, most recently at Bubbles.

It is one of the wines I served at the "Fakesgiving" dinner, which had usual Thanksgiving fare.  It did not offer any interaction of note with the turkey, stuffing, or mashed potatoes.

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Books: Finished Many Waters, expect to see a post about it soon.  Started on Stuff by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee.

Bottles: Domaine Lafond Lirac 2007 and Meyer Family Port from the late Thanksgiving dinner I enjoyed with friends.  Expect posts about them as well.

Writing: Hoping to do some tonight.  We'll see.

Guitar: Spent the day out and about, so no.  I know I will have time tomorrow.  I need to start doing it in the mornings maybe.

25 November 2010

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is the third book (in publication order) of Madeline L'Engle's "Time Quartet."  It follows the same cast of characters as the prior two: Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, boyfriend Calvin O'Keefe, and their family.  Planet also introduced unicorn Gaudior and Calvin's mother, who goes by "Mom O'Keefe" throughout much of the book.

While prior novels focused on Meg, Planet focuses heavily on Charles Wallace, though still uses Meg as either counterpoint or as the point of view - she spends the book "kything" with Charles Wallace, a kind of mental telepathy - so even though we are seeing what Charles Wallace sees, we are really seeing Meg see what Charles Wallace sees.

Convoluted as this sounds, it actually works out well.  L'Engle pulls it off just right, and Meg, now a grown woman expecting her first child, is much less annoying to me than she was in prior works.

Charles Wallace has to go with Gaudior on a journey through time to avert a nuclear war in the present, and does so by inhabiting the bodies of people who lived in the past.  This is some of L'Engle's most affecting work to me: she explores all kinds of adult themes which I hadn't expected to see, like betrayal, unrequited love, even domestic abuse.  One of the most emotionally intense scenes involves a young boy being pushed down the stairs and fracturing his skull when his stepfather tries to strike the boy's grandmother.

In the end, of course, things work out well - L'Engle is not the type of author to destroy the world at the end of her books.  So far, Planet is my favorite of the bunch.

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Books: Reading Many Waters.

Bottles: Drank Paul Pernet et ses Fils Bourgogne 2007 (white Burgundy) with Thanksgiving dinner.  Will be writing about it later.

Writing: Alas, no.  Crazy day.

Guitar: Ditto.

24 November 2010

Domaine Pichot Vouvray 2008

Domaine Pichot Vouvray 2008 is a wine from the Vouvray region of the Loire Valley, made with the Chenin Blanc grape.

It is clear, light, and airy, with a hint of white wine color.  It had a herbal and honey bouquet.

It was fairly heavy-bodied for a white, with a smooth mouthfeel.

It displayed a tart acidity that hit you first and lingered throughout and into the finish, passing through a strong taste of grape and then hints of stone fruit.

It was enjoyed at Fakesgiving dinner, with Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the usual.  It did okay with all of the items, neither enhancing nor ditracting.

Domaine Pichot is an excellent Chenin Blanc, among my favorites.  It sells for $15-20 a bottle and is available in many stores in the KC Metro, including Bubbles and The Better Cheddar.

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Books: Just finished A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which was highly enjoyable.  I started on Many Waters.

Bottles: None lately.

Writing: None.  Work on the Plaza Lighting was crazy the last three days.  Next several days are off.

Guitar: Not today, still haven't been home yet.  Yeesh.

22 November 2010

2006 Marsannay "Les Vaudenelles"

At the "Fakesgiving" dinner I attended on Saturday, we enjoyed several bottles, including one of my few remaining bottles of Domaine Bruno Clair's 2006 Marsannay "Les Vaudenelles."

Marsannay is a region in the Cote d'Or, part of the larger overall region of Burgundy.  This wine is made primarily from Pinot Noir, in true Burgundian fashion.

From the first pour, it was a deep ruby color, with bouquets of old oak and a tannic smell I had a hard time identifying, before finally settling on pipe tobacco, because it kind of reminded me of my grandfather's pipe.

The mouthfeel was supple and light-bodied (for a red, that is).

The first hit was of fruit on the tip of my tongue before it melted into the earthy flavors of Burgundy all over the rest of my tongue.  It was complex and took me through several taste stages - fruity, tannic, earthy - before the finish lingered for probably a minute or more on a smooth oaky note.

I enjoyed it with traditional Thanksgiving fare - turkey with apple stuffing, with which it was okay, neither gaining nor losing anything, and mashed potatoes with gravy, where it truly shone, revealing a surprising mellow sweetness.  I was actually quite surprised by the interaction with the potatoes.  There was also macaroni and cheese at Fakesgiving, and it stood up to the cheese quite well, cutting through it without overpowering it.

"Les Vaudenelles" is probably my favorite Burgundy in my collection - though I have only two left now.  I got mine for $35 a while back at The Wine Cellar, which is now gone, but I hope to find a new supply soon.

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Books: Still on A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Bottles: None.  Still recovering from the last 4!

Writing: None today.  Lots of work, plus cooking dinner (Prosciutto-wrapped steak).

Guitar: See above.  Sadly.  Lesson tomorrow, should be good.

Another note: This is my first blog post on my new MacBook Pro.

21 November 2010

A Wind in the Door

A Wind in the Door is the second book in the "Time Quartet" by Madeline L'Engle, and is the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time.  I read Wrinkle a bit before starting this blog, so I will just preface this by saying that I tried reading Wrinkle in fifth grade and couldn't quite handle it.  Now, working on the Quartet, I find I am much better able to appreciate it.

Windf once more follows Meg Murry, the protagonist of Wrinkle, along with her family and friends - including precocious psychic brother Charles Wallace, obvious romantic interest Calvin, scientist mother, and mean school principal Mr. Jenkins.  While Wrinkle was a story of space and time, Wind is a story of the heart and body.

The story starts when Charles Wallace - who is just starting school, where he is the odd one in his class - sees a dragon in the yard, though it turns out to be a cherubim.  Yes, I know - cherubim is plural.  Nonetheless the creature (singular) insists it's really more appropriate for it to be called by its plural.  Its name is Proginoskes.

Anyway, Charles Wallace is sick due to mitochondritis, so Meg goes on an adventure to save him - first by opening her heart to Mr. Jenkins, formerly her high school principal and now Charles Wallace's elementary school principal.  She has always had a hard time getting along with him, but she must find a way to pick the true version of him out from a set of duplicate Echthroi - beings who would unmake creation.

That done, Meg and company take a journey inside Charles Wallace to visit a mitochondrion and work with the "farandolae" - fictitious inhabitants of mitochondria - to defeat the Echthroi and save Charles Wallace.

So, as one can tell from this brief synopsis, the plot is complicated, but moves along at a steady pace, and is a suitable adventure story.  The science aspect of it is especially fascinating to me, and the characters are very real and well-rounded.  That said, for both Wrinkle and Wind, I have had a hard time identifying with Meg, the main protagonist and the focal point for the story - her experience of adolescence is very dissimilar to mine.  She is often conflicted, stubborn, and at times scornful - while I was certainly a stubborn child, I was stubborn in different ways.  Maybe it's just because I was never a little girl.

All told, Wind was enjoyable, and at it's heart, it's a story about the triumph of the love we hold for one another - a notion I can always appreciate.

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Books: Reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet, book 3 in the Time Quartet.

Bottles: At a Fakesgiving dinner, I enjoyed Domaine Bruno Claire Marsannay 2006; Donausonne Blaufrankisch 2008; Domaine Pichot Vouvray 2008; and Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2007.  I took notes on all four and will be posting reviews in the next few days.

Writing: None lately.  Other things have been keeping me busy.  Hope to do some tomorrow.

Guitar: Still working on "Hey You," also worked on "Sex on Fire."

19 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Last night I attended the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.  I attended it with my sister and three of my close friends, and I had a blast with them.

The movie was AWESOME.  David Yates really gets the universe, and he also gets what it takes to translate a book into a good movie - a hard thing to do.  I didn't always agree with his choices, but I could understand why he made them.

So, the movie started with the standard "Hegwig's Theme," though it sounded like a newer arrangement to me, but it may have just been the creepy sound effects that were also playing.  That theme is every bit as identifiable as the Star Wars theme is, in my opinion - it instantly sets the mood for the movie in a way that only music can.

The movie moved swiftly through the opening, skimming over the Dursleys' departure, but including a brief look at Hermione saying goodbye to her parents.  The seven Potters scene was brilliantly done, and the escape from Number 4 Privet Drive was exhilarating.  Hedwig's death in the movie was done exactly as it needed to be - while the drama and the loss is so clear in the book in the way it happens, that would not have worked in the movie, but having her come back to defend Harry after he tried to release her was far more impacting on the big screen.

The Death Eaters' conference scene was especially chilling, and truly showed off Alan Rickman's acting chops - you could see so much going on behind his blank stare.  It was truly a wonderful moment.

The film did an excellent job compressing the camping scenes of the book, which take up nearly a third of it.  They highlighted the most important points, and used visuals as only films can to give us the feeling of weeks on end spent camping without the detail that the book gives.  The only part I didn't like was the scene where Harry tries to cheer Hermione up by dancing with her.  I got it, understood it, just didn't like it.  But you can't please everyone.

The depiction of "The Tale of the Three Brothers" was one of the most unique animated segments I have ever seen, and it was so beautiful and evocative.  It may have been my favorite part.

The film's climax, in Malfoy Manor, was brilliantly done.  Dobby really and truly stole the show (as he should have).  And yet, somehow, his death was not as affecting to me as I expected it to be - certainly less impacting than the book was.  On the matter of impacting scenes, though, the moment between Harry and Hermione at Harry's parents' grave brought tears to my eyes, something it hadn't done in the book.  Perhaps on repeat viewings I will be able to identify why this is so.

I loved this movie.  What more needs saying?

---

Books: Nearly done with A Wind in the Door.

Bottles: Opened up another Alamos Malbec 2009.  Tomorrow will bring some new bottles I think.  I will take notes.

Writing: Just this blog post.  I made qottab today and that took most of my time.

Guitar: Again, qottab took precedence.  But I am going to tomorrow, come hell or high water.

18 November 2010

Mostly Harmless

I finished Mostly Harmless, the last book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series today.  There is a passage in it where Arthur Dent discusses the literature of the world he is staying on, a world where a "book" is always 100,000 words long, so every book just cuts off there, mid-sentence or mid-story.

That was kind of how I felt after finishing Mostly Harmless.  I have read that Douglas Adams was never all that into writing the Guide, that he was much more fond of writing for television, and it felt to me as if he was killing off his baby.  I can certainly understand the sentiment, and, in a way, it was a fitting end for the series - with a whimper, not a bang, it simply ended, with the utter destruction of Earth and the death of all the major characters except one, who hadn't been seen for two books anyway.

It's interesting that the genesis of the Guide was a series of radio plays he was going to write, called The Ends of the Earth, where the Earth was destroyed at the end of each.  He came full circle with Mostly Harmless.

The book returned to the satire and sarcasm of earlier volumes; gone was the sentiment and romance of So Long... All in all, it was very rewarding reading the series, but it's not something I feel drawn to re-read as I do some things.

Tonight I attend the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.  I will write about it tomorrow.  It looks AMAZING!!!

---

Books: Finished Mostly Harmless.  Started A Wind in the Door.

Bottles: None.

Writing: None today, busy with work stuff.  Taking a lot of tomorrow to write.  Might go to Panera or something.

Guitar: Practiced "Hey You" and the major blues scale today.

17 November 2010

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I finally finished So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the fourth book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series.  It was a more romantic and whimsical book than the ones that preceded it.  For the first time (it seemed to me), Douglas Adams was willing to dip into sentiment and leave satire behind at a few moments, which were thoroughly enjoyable.

So Long... tells the story of Arthur Dent after he returns to Earth - though Earth was, of course, demolished in the opening chapters of the first book in the series.  Obviously this presents a quandry, but then again, the universe is a strange place.  Anyway, he meets a girl, falls in love, manages to run into Ford Prefect and Marvin the Robot again, and there's fun to be had for all.

I think, all things considered, it just might be my favorite book of the series, though I have yet to read the final one, so it's hard to say for certain.  It was lighter on action and a bit heavier on heart, which was a strangely welcome change.

---

Books: Mostly Harmless.

Bottles: Drank a glass of Leonard Kreutsch Spätlese 2008 Riesling.  Will write a review sometime when I open a bottle fresh.  It is one of my favorite budget Rieslings.

Writing: Did some research on trees of Greece today.  Wrote 850 words on Chapter 4 of the novella.  As I expected, writing is slower for me here.  I need to find a way to duplicate the effects that travel has on my writing.  Maybe driving out to somewhere further away, like Weston, and find a little coffee shop or cafe and try writing there.

Guitar: Working on "Sex on Fire," "Hey You," and a few scales and licks right now.

15 November 2010

Pictures of Iran

Today I spent most of the day capturing video at work.  As this is a fairly mindless, though time consuming, operation, I also worked on the computer doing research for AEGIS.  During this I stumbled across a blog of a pair of travelers who had made their way through several cities in Iran, including Yazd, Esfahan, Shiraz, and Tehran.  The pictures they displayed were gorgeous, and reminded me how much I would love it if the situation in Iran would improve enough for me to be able to visit.  I would dearly love to see Yazd, where my father grew up, and many of the other cities.  I would especially like to visit the ruins of Persepolis.

It is strange that I spent so much of my childhood wishing I could blend in and be a "normal" Caucasian American, and now, as an adult, I feel very strongly the need to connect with the Persian part of me and my heritage.

---

Books: Nearly done with So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Bottles: Nothing open right now.  Once I get paid I'll be getting some new wine to try at Cellar Rat.

Writing: Wrote extensively in notes, including setting out the calendar, which was an ordeal, but I'm happy with it now.  Also wrote 550 words on Chapter 4; I'm a little behind, but hopefully I'll catch up.  So long as I am done by the end of the month, I will be happy with myself.

Guitar: Didn't make it home in time to play today.  I think I'll be okay at my lesson tomorrow though.  We will start some new stuff soon I think.  Must remember to copy "Hey You."

13 November 2010

Megamind

This evening I watched DreamWorks' Megamind in the theater.  I enjoyed it tremendously; after a week of dealing with all kinds of crap, it was nice to enjoy something funny.

Though silly at times, the heart of the movie came through just fine.  In fact, this is one of my favorite of Will Ferrell's performances in a long time, maybe even since Stranger than Fiction.  His bizarre speech pattern was delightful, as was his performance overall.  The rest of the cast was exceptional as well; I especially enjoyed David Cross's work as Minion the Minion.

This was the first 3D movie I have watched that hasn't given me a headache; I don't know if the technology is improving or if this movie was done differently than others.  Either way, it was a welcome relief, and I enjoyed the use of it.  I enjoyed the design of the movie, especially the sci-fi elements introduced by the titular character.

I laughed quite a bit during the film.  It felt really good to laugh.

---

Books: Still working on So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  So far it's much more sentimental than the others, even featuring some romance.  It keeps things fresh.

Bottles: Still working on the Alamos Malbec 2009.

Writing: 800 words today, finished Chapter 3 of the novella.  Start on Chapter 4 tomorrow; I think I will have to get out of the house to work on it, as I do better when I'm not at home, away from distractions.  Maybe I'll go to Panera, or Borders...we'll see.

Guitar: Played "Time" today, piddled around a bit.  Got to get back to work on those scales.  I also need to dig out "High Hopes" again.

Alamos Malbec 2009

I have been enjoying Alamos Malbec 2009 for the last few days.  Made from 100% Malbec grapes, grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina, tt is one of my go-to table wines, good for drinking alone or with most foods.  Also, more importantly, it’s less than $15 a bottle – recently I saw it on sale for only $9, but usually it runs $12-13.  Either way, it’s a good deal and a good wine.

Garnet-colored, it’s a medium bodied wine, with scents of cloves and berries.  It had a supple mouth feel.  It was fruit forward, with soft tannins and tastes of stone fruits.  It was not very complex, but felt very young and vibrant.

I’ve enjoyed it with a number of foods – chicken, beef, fish – and it’s held up well to all of them, though I have found it does best with beef, especially simply-prepared sirloins with sautéed vegetables.

A well made wine, it’s far from reaching the upper echelons, but it’s one of the best wines I’ve found in its price category, and that counts for a lot!

---

Books: Reading So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Bottles: Alamos Malbec 2009.

Writing:  500 words on Chapter 3.  Then the wine hit me and I got sleepy and went to bed.  Will finish up the chapter today.

Guitar: None today, I have been remiss.

11 November 2010

Life, the Universe and Everything

I'm afraid it's been several days since I finished Life, the Universe and Everything, the third of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.  I finished it Monday morning before heading to Borders to pick up Towers of Midnight, which then proceeded to consume my life.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy the book, and so far it has been my favorite of the Hitchhiker's Guide series.

While rereading a synopsis to refresh my memory of the book, I found that it had originally been intended as a Doctor Who serial for Tom Baker, which amused me greatly since I love Doctor Who and had an easy time imagining how it might have been.

So, to business.  The novel featured a bit less philosophy than the prior ones, to my mind at least, and rather a bit more of science fiction adventure.  The humor of the series was left fully intact, however, as is evidenced by the delightful use of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the novel, as well as one of my favorite moments, when the inhabitants of the planet Krikkit behold the rest of the universe for the first time and decide "It'll have to go."  Normally you would expect witnessing the beginnings of a genocidal rampage would be chilling, but the way these characters so nonchalantly decide to destroy the rest of the universe made me laugh out loud, something I rarely do at books.

The operations of the starship Bistromath were particularly amusing to me, every bit as whimsical as the Infinite Improbability Drive, and in a strange way represented some of the best sci-fi concepts to me.  I also enjoyed the bizarre space-time phenomena that were encountered, such as the floating anachronistic sofa.

I suppose, in the end, I don't have much new to contribute about the book.  I enjoyed it immensely, it made me think, but like many great works, it's hard to articulate just what it made me think about, especially several days removed.  I suppose I will have to try to be better about writing responses more immediately after finishing a book.

---

Books: Working on So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  Also making my way through Battle, a big coffee table book about the major military operations in world history, which is proving useful inspiration for AEGIS, my novella.

Bottles: Still working on that bottle of Alamos Malbec 2009.  Will probably blog it tomorrow.

Writing: Did a good bit of note-taking today, and lots of thinking.  I am going to finish chapter three tomorrow, come hell or high-water.  I have a timetable for finishing the novella in the next two weeks, and I'm going to stick to it!

Guitar: Only a little today.  It was rainy and truth be told I was rather lethargic for large parts of the day.  Lousy excuse, I know.  But I am getting better about practicing more frequently, even if I don't feel like it when I start.  I think this blog is doing its job.

10 November 2010

Towers of Midnight (Book 13 of The Wheel of Time)


I finally managed to get a hold of The Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  It’s the latest in the Wheel of Time series, book 13 of 14, written mostly by Brandon Sanderson from notes left by Robert Jordan after he passed away in 2007.

I had been looking forward to the book for some months, after completing the prior 12 Wheel of Time books in a rather intense bout of marathon reading this past summer.  Each book is intricately linked with the ones prior to it, so, if anyone actually reads this, my apologies if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

First of all, after seeing Rand’s descent into madness in The Gathering Storm, we got a wonderful pay-off in the Rand scenes in this book.  He has become what we all wanted him to be, the hero that the world needs him to be, and we got to watch his journey all the way.  It’s an immensely satisfying part of the book, and, surprisingly, I didn’t realize how wonderful it would be until I was reading it.

Large swathes of the book were dedicated to following Perrin and Galad in their confrontation, and Mat and crew in their quest to rescue Moiraine.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed these a great deal, probably because they resolved so many things, rather than creating new mysteries and questions.  It was good to see Perrin come into his own as a leader, great in fact, and good to see him stop whining.  Mat, on the other hand, whines as usual, but he seems to be growing into a somewhat more noble figure, staring a sacrifice in the face rather than merely making it as a last resort.  I particularly enjoyed the letter he wrote to Elayne.

Aviendha didn’t get much time in the book, but she did have a few very significant chapters.  I look forward to seeing her more in the next (and last) book.  Egwene had a good number of pages devoted to her, but she seemed somehow diminished to me, convinced of her own correctness and walking down the path of pride that Elaida walked before her.  It surprises me that she can be so convinced she knows what will defeat the Dark One better than the Dragon Reborn does, but it’s been a common thread in the series that those in power become smugly self-confident.  Rand did it, and now Egwene is doing it, as is Elayne to some point, though thankfully she was made to see reason in regards to the Two Rivers – by her own mother, for that matter!  And speaking of which, I was glad to see Morgase finally revealed to the world.

There was so much in the book I enjoyed.  The pacing was exquisite, never a dull moment – much like the exciting early books in the series.  It was truly a rewarding read, and I can’t believe I have to wait until March 2012 for the final book to come out.  The wait will be awful.

There is much I am looking forward to seeing resolved in the final book, and it will be very interesting to see which threads are left dangling for the readers to imagine, and which are definitively settled.  It’s been a great ride, and I can’t wait for it to continue – sad as it will be for it to end.

 ---

Books: Finished The Towers of Midnight.  I also finished Life, the Universe and Everything before starting on Towers of Midnight, but that will probably come in tomorrow’s post.  Currently reading So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Bottles: Drinking some Alamos Malbec 2009, the latest vintage of one of my favorite table wines.  I will post about it later as well.

Writing: 1600 words on the novella; finished the first half of third chapter, started on the second half of the chapter, the aftermath of the waterboarding.

Guitar: Had a lesson last night, working on “Hey You”.  Didn’t practice today since work was so long, but I’ll have plenty of time tomorrow.  I look forward to working on “Hey You” as well as more songs from The Wall.  Also studying the Major Blues scale.

07 November 2010

Back home

Well, I'm back home in Kansas City now.  Nothing new to report; it was a long drive back from Colorado Springs.  Did a lot of thinking about my novella along the way, which was good.  I'm pretty tired and have no new thoughts right now, I guess.

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Books: Working on Life, the Universe and Everything.  Buying Towers of Midnight tomorrow which will interrupt the reading schedule.

Bottles: None.

Writing: Thought a lot about the novella, made some notes.  It's at the point where the story is starting to write itself and telling me what it needs.  It's in a good place.

Guitar: Back home with it now.  Will get to practice tomorrow!  Probably work on "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)", "Comfortably Numb", and "Coming Back to Life".

Leaving Glen Eyrie

Alas, my time here in Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs has come to an end, as we loaded out our event tonight and I drive back to Kansas City in the morning.

It's been a beautiful stay, my first extended stay in a high-altitude environment, and I enjoyed the crisp air, the warm days and cool nights, but most of all the mountains, and how connected I feel to the earth when I'm near them.  It makes me miss Vancouver a great deal.

Today we took another hike, this time on easier trails that nonetheless led us very near the tops of some of the gentler mountains here, where we could look down on the entire city or look inward to the Glen and see the Castle poking out of the trees.

It was a very stimulating trip for me in many ways: professionally, it helped give me confidence that I could pursue being a Powerpoint/Keynote/Graphics op for shows and be successful at it, if I can build up a good client base.  Creatively, it was even more stimulating for me, as I was inspired to write more than I have in a long time, both on my short story and my novella, and I was even inspired to make some artwork - the Captain Picard poster I use as my profile picture.

I will miss this place but hope to come again.  Meanwhile, I set my sights on the future, which will hopefully lead west.

---

Books: Still working on Life, the Universe and Everything.

Bottles: None.

Writing: 1750 words on novella, working on chapter 3.  Main character and his lover just parted ways for a time, and though we know how it will ultimately end, I think it was a nice parting scene.  Currently writing the graduation of main character's best friend.

Guitar: N/A.  I return to it tomorrow! Yea.

05 November 2010

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

A preface: today I went hiking in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  It was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever taken.  We made our way first to a waterfall and then further up to an outcropping that looked down on the series of bowls that led to the waterfall.  It was absolutely stunning.

I find travelling to be one of the most inspirational activities I can engage in.  Even if I'm travelling for work, I feel refreshed and energized being in a new place, and it pays off in much more energy for writing.  Though the practical part of me says to save the money I'll be making working on this trip, the writer in me wants to blow that money on a trip somewhere to write more!

---

So, yesterday I finished The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second in Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide series.  Like its predecessor, it was fully of witty humor, cooky characters, and all-too-true parody of science fiction.  If anything, this one delved slightly more into metaphysics than its predecessor.

At one point, two of the main characters meet the man who runs the universe - a senile old man that lives with a cat and has serious problems with existential problems, such as whether the universe outside his door exists.  It was a terrific scene.

Another part of the book has the other two main characters crash-landing on prehistoric earth.  What I found most interesting about this part was what one of them says about the nature of time, at least in the universe of the Guide: history is like a jigsaw puzzle, it all fits together, and it cannot be changed.  I certainly cannot venture any guess as to whether this is true in real life or not, but it certainly is interesting to ponder.

I also greatly enjoyed the visual imagery of Milliways, the titular restaurant at the end of the universe, which exists in a temporal flux that constantly shifts back and forth over the moment of universal destruction.  The cow that comes over and asks how you want it to cook itself was rather bizarre and reminds me why I try not to think about where my meat comes from - it's too tasty for me to give up!

I embarked on the beginning of Life, the Universe, and Everything today, and will hopefully finish it in the next day or two.

---

Books: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe finished, starting Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Bottles: None since Wednesday.

Writing: Worked a great deal on the novella.  Wrote two thousand words, including the sex scene, which turned out nicely (I think).  It ended up being evocative rather than descriptive, and I think that suited it well.  I also then went on to write the scene where the main character is tortured (including waterboarded) and finally breaks under the torture, which is one of the most intense things I have ever written, and I hope it comes across well - it certainly made me feel as I was writing it.  I was able to wrap up chapter two and start on chapter three.  I also went through and did a bit of housekeeping, marking dates for chapters so I could begin forming a coherent calendar.

Guitar: n/a

04 November 2010

Not much to report

Well, I spent most of the day in Glen Eyrie Castle, making revisions to Keynote slideshows and rehearsing for the presentations that will be going on this weekend.  It was a daunting day, but we got it done, and tonight's opening presentation went off without a hitch.

I met Michael Card today, after several months working on various projects for him at Harvest, including some video stuff and a poster for his latest concert series.  He was very nice, good sense of humor, very friendly.  It was good to put a face to the work I had been doing.

I worked on my novella intermittently today as I had time.  After a few weeks working on the short story, I suddenly find my novella calling me once more.  I wrote about 850 words on part 2, chapter 2, leading up to my main character having a sex scene, which I haven't written yet...I may tackle that tomorrow, but we will see.  Kind of an odd environment to be writing a sex scene in, but when the muse speaks I listen.  I think it will be hard to do it well, not too graphic but not too prudish either.  It needs to be powerful and passionate but not gross.

I'm a few chapters away from finishing The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, so hopefully will finish that tonight or tomorrow.

---

Books: Nearly done with Restaurant.  Next will come Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Bottles: None today.

Writing: About 850 words on novella.  Good stuff I feel.

Guitar: N/A, but listened to quite a bit of DG today.  Yea.

03 November 2010

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Well, I finished The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy last night.  I'm reading a paperback that collects all five novels in the Hitchhiker's series, but so far I have only finished the first.

I enjoyed it a great deal.  I can see why it's a classic.  Why is it that the classics are so much harder to talk about?

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of it, to me, was the humor (or should it be humour?), which reminded me a great deal of that found in The Phantom Tollbooth, my favorite book as a child.  Witty wordplay, puns, and a delightful use of the non sequitur fill the book.

The book was a bit heavier on the fiction than on the science, but that's all right - in fact, much of the aforementioned humo(u)r derived from lampooning science and its projected future.

I had already seen the movie version of Hitchhiker's Guide, and I have to say that hearing Alan Rickman in my head as the voice of Marvin the Robot was especially fun.

I have already begun reading the next book in the series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which so far is living up to its predecessor.  I look forward to completing the series.

---

Books: Working on The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.


Bottles: Drank a glass of Two Rivers Chardonnay at dinner.

Writing: Wrote on my novella today, surprisingly.  Clocked in at about 550 words on Part 2, Chapter 2.

Guitar - N/A.

Two Rivers Chardonnay

Today I drank a glass of Two Rivers Chardonnay made at a local winery in Colorado Springs.

It was a pale yellow in color, a fairly typical chard color, with a simple bouquet of apples and oak.

It was young, with vibrant and tart acidity, very much in the Napa style.  It was very fruit forward with a pleasing but simple structure.

Overall it was a nice local wine but not much to write home about.

02 November 2010

Orin Swift Papillon 2007

I enjoyed a bottle of Papillon with some friends at The Blue Star, a restaurant in Colorado Springs, Colorado with a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.

Papillon is a Bordeaux blend from Napa, with (according to the website - I am not discriminating enough to tell varietals with such precision) 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc.

The bouquet was gentle but brought strong aromas of oak and a hint of vanilla.  The color was a deep red (the website for the wine lists garnet, and that's appropriate enough).  Its body was on the heavy side of medium-bodied.

The first taste that hit me was the fruit, in true California style - red and dark berries.  After that came tastes of the oak as well as a hint of vanilla and a slight smokiness.

The finish was long and pleasant, holding the oaky note.  It was fairly high alcohol (15.1%).  It had rich tannins that balanced the acidity in the wine nicely.

I enjoyed the wine with several tapas as well as the an entrée.

The first item was a Pasta Crostini with bolognese.  The tomatoes in the bolognese brought out too much of the acidity in the wine and killed the tannins.  It was not ideal.

The second item was Port Salut, a creamy French cheese made from cow's milk.  This pairing was exceptional, the cheese highlighting the fruit in the wine.

The third item was Humbolt Fog, a pasteurized goat's milk cheese with a layer of edible ash in it.  This cheese was very pungent and brought out too much of the wine's tannins.  Also not an ideal pairing.  You live and learn. By itself the cheese was quite nice.

The entrée was black pepper seared beef tips with burgundy demiglace and mashed potatoes.  The wine really shone here, bringing out a succulent meatiness from the meat.  It was one of the best food-and-wine matches I have yet experienced.

Overall, this was an exceptionally nice bottle.  However, given the price point (MSRP $55), it's not one that will be repeated often.

---

Books: Still on Hitchhiker's Guide.  I with I had Towers of Midnight right now!!!

Bottles: Papillon.  Amazing.

Writing: 800 words on short story, finished Chapter 2.  Story total: about 6200.

Guitar: N/A

01 November 2010

Bisanzio Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2008

Bisanzio Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2008.


I enjoyed the wine at Carrabba's Italian Grill where it is served as a house red.

The wine featured a sharp bouquet with a distinctly Italian scent - fruity and tart, with a bit of earthiness.  It was deep crimson in color.

A dry, medium-bodied red, it featured a sharp acidity and soft tannins, with berry being the dominant flavor.  There was very little depth or complexity in the wine, and no sign that aging would ever make it be more than it was now.  I ate it with salmon and sauteed broccoli (not the perfect match, I know, but salmon is good for you!), and nothing special happened - not that I expected it to.

It did not seem to be particularly high in alcohol but I'm still not very good at discerning that by a tasting alone.

All in all, an acceptable table wine, though not one I would be willing to pay more for.  Still, it's good to try something new, and it's good to be drinking wine again now that my cold is retreating.

---

Books: Reading Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Bottles: Bisanzio Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2008.


Writing: Alas, none again.  I am tired and going to bed.  Hope to do some tomorrow.

Guitar: N/A.

31 October 2010

Blink

Before I get into Blink, I really have to write about where I am.  I am at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, next to the Garden of the Gods.  It is a Christian retreat with lodges, chalets, and a freaking castle!  Anyway it is cold, dark, and utterly deserted out here, and I can't help but mentally relive The Shining as I roam the empty halls of the lodge where I am staying.

---

So.  Blink.  First off, it's by Malcolm Gladwell, and I rather enjoyed it.  It was about the various factors that influence our ability to assess things in the blink of an eye - hence the title - though really, it's the first two seconds that he studies.

The thesis of the book is that our unconscious minds use "thin-slicing" to take in only the essential data for reaching decisions, far quicker than our conscious mind does.  What he has discovered is that our unconscious minds can read situations extremely quickly and with the bare minimum of data - one example he uses is a psychologist studying marriages who has developed a way to tell if a marriage will last or not, based on observing a 2-minute snippet of conversation.  Not the conversation, though - just the body language.  (Forgive me if I've gotten the details wrong, the book is back in Kansas City.)  And he could predict it with something like 80% accuracy.  (Again, I may be fudging a bit.  I will try to revise once I get back home!)

While this is a powerful ability of our brain, it can at times be befuddled - for example, if we are given too much information, we lose the ability to focus on what is important.  Our unconscious biases can affect our judgments as well.  However, with training and experience, we can hone our ability to thin-slice, and reduce the impact of our biases.

The more I reflect on it, the more I realize how profound Blink was.  It definitely made me stop and take a long look at what things I might be biased about, whether for or against.  And I will definitely try to pay more attention to the way I analyze situations.  I'd recommend it for anyone.

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Books: Finished Blink.  Starting Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Bottles:  None.  Hope to go to a Wine Spectator Award-Winning restaurant (don't know which one yet) while here in Colorado Springs.  Will definitely share my experience!

Writing: I drove 11 hours today and am only writing this.  I don't feel like that's a lame excuse.  There's just not that many hours in the day.  Sigh...I need to learn to sleep less.  Or something.

Guitar:  Well, since the guitar is in Kansas City...

Roger Waters: The Wall Live

So, I return from seeing Roger Waters: The Wall Live at Sprint Center.  It is kind of amusing to me to see this in the same week as the aforementioned Spring Awakening.  The Wall totally washed the taste of that out of my mouth - IT WAS INCREDIBLE.  I'm pretty tired right now so I hope to revisit this at a future time, but I wanted to write about some of the highlights while they were fresh.

Unless I misunderstood what Roger Waters said during the concert, the kids singing during "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" were local kids, and he applauded them after the song before moving on with the concert, which I thought was great.

I'm pretty sure one of the guitarists (probably Snowy White) was playing a DG Signature Black Strat during some parts, which is kind of hilarious since from a distance he almost looked like David Gilmour.  Didn't sound like him though, but then, who does?

Apparently, amongst the footage they had from The Wall concerts in 1980-81, there was Roger singing "Mother," so he double-tracked that with his own archival footage.  It was quite neat.

There were two spot ops that were hanging from wire rigs.  Way to go guys!  Spending a whole show in a chair suspended on wires and running a spotlight!

The inflatable pig had fans on it like a hovercraft and must have been remote controlled.  I want that guy's job!

The wall itself - the bricks, and the projections - were absolutely incredible.  At one point, after the wall was completely built and then they began projecting images of the bricks flying away into the background, the guy next to me gasped.  "How are they doing that?!" he asked over and over.  I had to chuckle, especially when my sister, who was sitting next to me, started to ask the same thing, then said "Oh, it's graphics."

All in all, it was a wonderful experience.  Only a few little things were lacking, but that's just me.  I was, naturally, disappointed that KC wasn't the venue in which David Gilmour made his surprise guest appearance - but then, I wasn't really expecting him to, unless he has a thing for barbeque.  I was a little disappointed with the guitar effects during "Run Like Hell."  I love the delay that they use on the album and it sounded strange without.  Lastly, I was a little sad that they didn't do any sort of encore.  I was hoping to see "Wish You Were Here" live.

Greatest.  Concert.  I've.  Ever.  Seen!

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Books: Almost done with Blink.

Bottles: Still none.  Hopefully will have something in Colorado Springs.

Writing: None today.  Concert!

Guitar: None today.  Concert!

29 October 2010

Artifacts from Beyond the Rim

Finished Babylon 5: Artifacts from Beyond the Rim yesterday.  It's a special edition book from the B5Scripts series, collecting a bunch of recently unearthed documents by J Michael Straczynski and others.  Among the many things in it were dossiers by Larry DiTillio for the major characters, notes for unproduced episodes and other stories, interviews, even a collection of Starfury squadron patches!  As with all the other books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the hidden life of Babylon 5.  My favorite part: during an interview, J. Michael Straczynski relates a story about discussing with Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik the possibility of a storyline where G'Kar gets whipped (which ended up happening in Season 4).  Of course, this devolved into a discussion of whether G'Kar likes getting whipped, which ended up with Peter Jurasik demanding that G'Kar nudity never happen on the show.  "A great spotted moon rising...no, not an image I wish to consider," he says as Londo.  I nearly fell off the chair chuckling.

Babylon 5 was great.  Just great.  Reading the book makes me want to rewatch some classic episodes, like "Severed Dreams."  Actually, it makes me want to rewatch the whole series...I may have to start that up again soon!

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Books: Reading Blink.  Picked up several books at the library, including Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I will be taking to Colorado Springs with me probably.  On 2 November, Towers of Midnight comes out, but I had best avoid reading it while on the job since I will get absorbed and read it all in one sitting no doubt.  I will acquire it when I return to Kansas City, if my willpower holds out.


Bottles: Nothing.

Writing: 1300 words on short story; story total, 5300.  Still on chapter two, which is becoming immense.  May have to split it into 2.  Enjoying it a lot.  Edna Mode from The Incredibles has been on my brain a lot lately.  What a great character.

Guitar: Didn't practice today, was too busy with stuff for work.  Keynote is the devil.

28 October 2010

Spring Awakening

Wednesday night I saw the musical Spring Awakening at its tour stop at the Lied Center in Lawrence, KS.  I got home at 12:30AM and didn't feel like blogging about it, so it is now 4:00PM Thursday as I write this.

First of all, the tour was the non-equity national tour...so yeah.  A certain drop in quality from Broadway level is natural and to be expected.  I can only assume that either (a) the show kind of sucks, or (b) there as an abnormally large drop in quality of this production.  Some examples...

At one point, one character's mother slaps her in the face.  Okay, I get stage combat.  But it's an intimate space, and they're "professionals," and it's a single slap.  I say just go for it and slap her!  But no...there was the ridiculous wind-up, the long pause as they make eye contact, and then the slap, which missed by an obvious margin.  I couldn't help it and let out a bit of a laugh.  I was the only one, though apparently others wanted to but were able to contain themselves.  I wasn't.  It was sad.

A friend of mine is the A2 (audio assistant) on the show, and she's a great sound mixer.  Unfortunately, the A1 mixes the show, not her, and he is...rather less talented than she.  Mic levels were erratic throughout the show.

Performances were kind of silly, at about what I would consider a high school level.  These people get paid?

Lighting had the potential to be nice, and there were some beautiful moments, but there were lots of sloppy moments as well.  They used naked bulbs suspended on the back wall and hanging from linesets at times, and they were so bright that they contracted my pupils and made it hard for me to see the action on the stage.

The songs also seemed like they should have been good but weren't quite there, at times falling into cliche or just bad performances.  There was no dancing to speak of.

I guess my biggest gripe with the show is that I go to musical expecting to see and feel things that are larger than life, whether great joy or great sadness.  But this show somehow felt smaller than life, as if it had curled itself up into a ball and hoped no one would look at it.  Which may in fact have been the whole point.

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Book: Nearly done with Artifacts from Beyond the Rim.  A little bit into Blink.  Picking up 3 books from the library tomorrow.

Bottle: Nothing new to report.  Still have a cold.

Writing: None.  I've been working on stuff for work.  Hope to get the other half of my most recent chapter written tonight.

Guitar: Pentatonics, "Hey You".  Had to restring 2nd and 3rd strings.  I didn't wrap them very well on the previous stringing and they came out of the tuners.  Live and learn.

26 October 2010

Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy

Lost in the Meritocracy follows Kirn's journey through the American education system and examines how, in so many ways, the system is set up to advance people who are either (a) good at multiple-choice tests, (b)rich, or (c) well-connected.  He writes about learning to pepper test answers with vocabulary words which did not truly add anything to the answer but impressed the teacher into thinking he did, about how to mirror teacher's questions in the answers he gave.

Walter Kirn attended public school in rural Minnesota but did well enough on his SAT to get into Princeton, where he studied writing.  He was a poor kid at Princeton surrounded by affluent kids, and much of the book is devoted to dissecting the socio-economics of Princeton life, and the status that is conferred for someone that has gone to Princeton.

What I was more interested in, however, was his reflection on his education: how he advanced through classes more by guile and adaptabilty, by learning to give the teacher what they wanted, than by actually learning anything.  It was only after a slight mental breakdown that he began, slowly to enjoy acquiring knowledge for its own sake; only in the book's last pages, after he has finished with Princeton and won a prestigious scholarship to Oxford, does he sit down and read the classics for the first time.

It was very interesting to me to examine the author's recollections of his education and compare them to mine.  In looking back on my own time in school, I see many of the traits he exhibited: a certain level of ambition to be at the top of the class, a talent for reading teachers and knowing how to give them what they want.  At the same time, though, I see the point where I began to rebel against that part of myself.  I think my true turnabout came, much like his, after a crisis, in my case the month I spent more or less in bed due to a depression so severe I couldn't face the thought of leaving the house.

When I took up school again I was more attentive, began to appreciate learning for learning's sake, and even started enjoying homework projects.  This continued in college, where I soaked up most of my classes (though some I definitely resorted to old survival tactics).  I remember with particular fondness a World History class sophomore year and an American History class senior year, both taught by the same teacher, which were absolutely stimulating to me, and I retain fairly crisp memories of lectures and studies from those classes.  Another one I remember a surprising amount of was my Theatre History class, which is perhaps unsurprising since I was one of the few people who could handle the teacher's style of lecturing the whole class, every class, and then giving essay tests every 6 weeks.  His passion for the subject ignited my own passion for learning, and though I don't remember everything, I still find myself remembering random factoids when I least expect it.

All in all, I'd agree with Kirn that our education system places too much emphasis on "aptitude," a vague rubric of what it thinks students need to succeed in the world.  However, it is possible to go beyond that: good teachers make a difference, and so does a personal thirst for knowledge, which is something we all have to find within ourselves.

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Book: Reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Babylon 5: Artifacts from Beyond the Rim from the B5Scripts collection.

Bottle: Have a cold and have not started a new bottle.

Writing: Wrote on short story, chapter 2, 1200 words.  Story total: 4100.  Wrote a lot of exposition today.  I will have to look at how I can condense it, but a lot of it is kind of essential...I have to set up the stakes for what is to come.  The chapter is about halfway done but I think the infodump is nearly complete.  Then I get to the fun part of the chapter.

Guitar: Though I have been practicing pentatonic scales, "Coming Back to Life", and "Romance" by F. Sors the last week, at today's lesson we revisited several songs from The Wall, in anticipation of the Roger Waters concert this Saturday: "Mother", "Run Like Hell", "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2", "Is There Anybody Out There?"  Next lesson we will take a look at "Hey You" since I found some new tabs for it.  This week I am to review "Mother", work on "Hey You", and keep working on my other projects.  "Coming Back to Life" solos are beginning to sound pretty good.

25 October 2010

A Peculiar Melancholy

Preface: After much toying about with the idea, I've finally decided to start a blog.  Not that anyone really cares what I think, but I would like to catalog my thoughts a bit better.  There are several goals for this blog:

1. Develop the discipline to write frequently (I suppose it's too early to try "every day," though that is the eventual goal), even and perhaps especially when I don't really feel like it.

2. Share my thoughts on various issues of interest to myself and others, in a more refined form.

3. Provide encouragement and advice to any readers (assuming there are any) who are intersted in exploring books, or wine, or what have you, but find the idea daunting.

4. Begin tracking stats on what I am reading, drinking, and my progress on my writing projects or any other projects I take up.


I'm sure I'll come up with more goals later.  For now I think this is a good start.  Please be patient while the blog is under construction.

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A peculiar melancholy came over me today, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Part of it may have been reflection on Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy, but I'll get into that when I discuss the book in my next post.  I suspect it's the same kind of melancholy that usually comes to children after Christmas Day and they've finished opening all their presents.  One of my best friends who was gone for quite a while in Korea finally returned, and we celebrated his birthday, which I had been looking forward to; and my mother and I finally moved my grandmother into her new apartment, a much-anticipated (and bemoaned) event; and, a few weeks ago, I left my day job to pursue my dreams of moving out west.  Now I find that many things I had been anticipating have come and gone, leaving a slight gap in my life.

I'm sure this will pass; I have lots of other things that are either coming up or just beginning.  Nonetheless, I thought examining my melancholy was a good place to start for a blog.  After all, what blog is complete without a bit of whining and/or angst?  On the whole, though, I hope the blog will be full of happy, or at least emotionally neutral, thoughts.

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Book: Just finished Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy.
Bottle: On Sunday, 24 October, I shared a bottle of Saracco NV Moscato d'Asti with friends to celebrate the birthday mentioned above.  There is not yet a corresponding blog post for it but there will be some day.
Writing: Wrote a blog post.  Was going to write on my current project but got tired and am going to bed.  Had a great idea though.  Need to do some research.