Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Orchid abuse

See, this is what happens when you shove a plant into the back row so it gets enough light, but then you keep forgetting to hit it with the watering can, and the plant food, and also you forget to repot it even though it came to you with clear signs of needing new mix. (Like old mossy bits of bark, and half the roots being exposed.)

Nice flowers, a rich dark velvety red. Too bad they're on a growth half the size of the old ones, and they're barely out of the sheath while the old browned flower stalks are several inches long.

I won this plant in a GNYOS raffle last year. As there's no label, I've no idea what this is, my only clue being the $45 price sticker on one leaf. It might be Pot. Ching Hua Flame 'Red Rose.' I mainly doubt it's Jewel Box because of the price; "Dark Waters" is a good match for the color of the flower, but also the plant is too compact and upright. Jewel Box is a sloppy plant that gets rather large if allowed.

I'll repot the poor thing as soon as I see a new growth with new roots. Meanwhile it's getting plenty more water, along with all its mates in the back row.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil not cool yet

Has anyone tried Cuil yet?

So far most of the picture links are missing, and for several searches I ran this morning it didn't pick up even a small percentage of the hits I get from Google.

Thinking of my Yarn Archive blog, I typed in "missoni yarn knit" and got 4,850 hits in Google (including, thank you, my yarn blog). I got 3 in Cuil.

For a laugh I typed in "cuil blogs" in both engines.

Google returned a load of blog pages referring to the new search engine.

Cuil returned a load of pages...about a town in Ireland.

Ha ha.

Heckboy II

I don't consider myself a "fan" of too many artists, musicians, actors or directors, but I suppose having seen The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and now Hellboy II I've probably seen a larger proportion of Guillermo del Toro movies (relative to total ouvre) than most.

PL, the first of his films I saw, perhaps set my expectations pretty high. The grim story, the unflinching magical realism, the (for American audiences) exotic setting, the superb acting and everything about it was a real treat. (Never mind disagreements I've had with a few people over a couple of plot points.)

DB was next (though an older film I only saw it on cable about 18 months ago) and I was blown away by its very human story and characters: people behaving badly in terrible circumstances, some rise above and others sink deeper than ever. The supernatural element was important but not dominant, the acting again superb and the directorial challenge of having a lot happen in just a few tighly-controlled sets worked really well.

Hellboy was a wild thrill-ride romp. I'm glad to have read GdT was a fan of the comic before he directed it. Unfortunately my indie comic-collecting days waned a couple of years before that series began, so I missed its debut and never followed it. I might have to fix that wee oversight, as the tropes and characters are certainly right up my alley, sort of Alan Moore-lite.

I liked the film's grim cocky humor, I liked the characters even if I didn't understand most of the origin stories, and I liked the silly plot just jumping right in with both feet. I definitely felt like I was being brought into a well-established universe with its own rules. And I never would have guessed the same director created DB or PL.

Hellboy II...blah. I wanted really badly to like it. I've read more of the comic but was fine with this Golden Army thing being an original plot devised just for the movie version of Hellboy. I was anticipating European legend being stirred into the American-slanted mix in interesting ways, especially with The Hobbit looming in GdT's future. But...blah.

What it is, I'm really tired of BIG BIG BIG SETS with BIG STUFF HAPPENING that makes no sense. After a promising start setting up Big Intrigue and lost magical talismans, the fantasy elements became soooo generic I found myself longing for even a few Celtic knots and claymores. I mean, Elfquest is more true to source! And please, I had a real problem accepting Elvish golden robots. And if you're going to have the entrance to the Otherworld near the Giant's Causeway, then show the bloody landscape properly! If there's a Celtic mythic connection, use it! (An army of the dead risen from Arawn's magic cauldron would make better mythical sense and be much creepier...but that's my movie, not GdT's. Sigh.)

That said, Johann Krauss stole much of the middle of the film. Great voicing, and really great puppet work humanizing his robotic suit. The opening puppet-story sequences are brilliant as well. GdT just does that sort of animation better than nearly anyone.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sudden flashes of absolute genius

I'm sure I'll later go looking and find this advice on a dozen other knit blogs and forums, but here goes.

When knitting the two fronts of a cardigan at the same time -- because not doing that is just plain lame -- and knitting the button-band and buttonholes into the front edges, do yourself a huge favor and knit a "reminder" stitch into the band where the button will be attached.

This occurred to me the old-fashioned way, i.e., I made a mistake. I knitted a buttonhole on both bands of my current project, and didn't realize it until many rows later. I decided it wasn't worth doing a tedious undo-three-stitches-crochet-upwards-after fixing thing, since I would be able to just sew the button right over the hole -- BING! In the case of this project, a lacy scrap of stuff made slinky and exciting with Classic Elite Cotton BamBoo, the button band is 5-stitch wide garter and I am now using a single centered purl stitch on the same row as the buttonhole. I will do this for the rest of my knitting life. It is SO much easier than tying in a yarn marker.

(I think I recall reading someone's clever advice -- probably Elizabeth Zimmerman's -- that when knitting a baby sweater in advance of the happy event, you should knit buttonholes on both bands and then sew the buttons over the appropriate side once the gender is known. Frankly I've lost track of what's male/female sided any more. I have jeans that zip one way and shorts that zip another. I've never been too good with gender-assigned clothing convention, other than Real Men Don't Wear Lace.)

Vina Aljibes Rosado 2006

Another intriguing Spanish rosado came to our table tonight. Vina Aljibes, "vino de la tierra de Castilla" looks elegant with its silver label trappings, and provides surprises in the glass. "Obtained from our best Syrah grapes, this rose is produced using a low temperature fermentation process." I've had Syrah-based roses before and quite liked them, so here goes.

First off the color is not the typical rosy pink of a rose or rosado. It's dark in the clear bottle and in the glass, the color of mixed fruit juice like a cherry-cranberry mix. The bouquet is rich, fruity, spicy. Chilled, the flavor is dry and spicy, very distinctly mingled cherry, black-currant and blackberry, but not jammy like a full Syrah or sugary like some roses. I think there's some black-pepper notes too.

Spouse thinks it would go very very well with lamb but might overwhelm beef unless it's richly sauced! (I'd rather have a red with beef, hands down.) Also he suggested glazed ham and chicken mole, but not any plainer version of chicken. And veal stew or veal parmesan, richly seasoned, would work well. Perhaps a rich vegetarian curry, or one of my fave pasta/bean/bacon dishes. Definite no to fish or seafood. I think tomatoes would clash, but Spouse disagrees. We'll have to try.

We drank this with irresistible pork chops I found on sale, very simply browned on both sides in olive oil with salt, black pepper and oregano crust. The key to really tasty pork chops is to get that fat well-browned, if only on one side. Sides of organic broccoli, organic golden haricots vert, final sugar snap peas of the season (what kind of microclimate does that one Greenmarket farm have, for heavens sake?? all the other ss-peas were gnarly and looked inedible) and an heirloom striped/ridged zucchini sauteed in the pork drippings with sliced red pepper and Vidalia onion. To follow, a peach/white peach/raspberry/blackberry pie.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Transmogrify Pesky Stomach Fat Into Gold!

How perfectly lovely that the first "sponsored ads" that popped up as I perused Arthur Waite's Collectanea Chemica under Forgotten Books/Google Books were for oil management systems, potassium permangate by the pound and only secondarily for tarot and mastery of the astral plane. Woo. And pyrotechnic supplies. Woo. And, of course, how to lose stomach fat. I think stomach fat ads are guaranteed to pop up regardless of the subject. Woo. Although as the early pages of the Hermetic Tracts concern themselves with the Alkahest and the superiority of human urine above all others for alchemical purposes (good as then there's no need to go bothering any other beasts for some), well, I suppose fat reduction and colon cleansing ads are just possibly appropriate...woo woo.

And of course, a peek into The Corpus Hermeticum yields ads for spiritual guidance, and Hermes boutiques. Woo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Summer in a Glass

Screw recipes. See what's good in the fridge. Take down a pint glass. Add: a few strawberries cut in pieces, mostly ones that aren't perfectly ripe and might otherwise go to waste. A handful of fresh blueberries. Enough chunks of watermelon to overfill the glass. Pour contents into blender jar. Add a couple small extra chunks of melon for their liquid content. Blend till frothy. Drink. Ahh. Bonus points: calculate # of servings of daily 5 fruit/veg that were just consumed without any added fats or sugar. Three, I think, as the pint glass holds about 3 cups. Ahh. That pluot eaten just before the smoothie, that was pretty damn good too. Nearly the size of a baseball, weighed nearly a pound, deep ruby red flesh, juice explosion...ahh.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Con, With Occasional Musings

Readercon 19 is over. Saturday morning, following 3 panels that covered, in order, neuro-biological responses to fantasy-fiction tropes, neglected historical periods for fictional settings, and philology's role in worldbuilding, I felt I was back at Brooklyn College where my first two years in the experimental New School of Liberal Arts consisted of a 4-hour seminar class every day, 4 days a week. I often feel like that at Readercon.

Jonathan Lethem and James Patrick Kelly were Guests of Honor. I don't read much short fiction these days aside from ancient anthologies I feel compelled to collect so I'm not familiar with most of Kelly's work. Lethem's written prose is terrific, and the two hour-long interviews with him were insightful, entertaining and encouraging. (Gordon Van Gelder managed about three questions edgewise, and Rob Killheffer I think managed four.) I admire Lethem's indifference to "genre" boundaries. I never understood the need for critics and analysts nurtured in tiny narrow academia incubators to succumb to the worst impusles of human nature and slag any writing that doesn't quite fit through the mail slots of their artificial habitats. I'm glad authors like Lethem -- and Atwood and Salman Rushdie and Michael Chabon and whoever else -- enjoy challenging the NYT and NYRB and other reviewers simply by being good regardless of the odd tropes they use to tell their stories. I'm glad the book-reading public now and then removes its head from its romance/chick lit/thriller/extruded fantasy product-saturated behind and gives something new a chance. (Why anyone might still give a damn what newspaper critics think of JK Rowling and the Harry Potter books, for example, baffles me...the millions of people who bought and loved the books certainly don't care whether Rowling is a woman or a man, and what is the opinion of someone educated to think only books with angst-ridden modern couples being unfaithful to each other are worth reading.)

James Patrick Kelly comported himself nobly during the Kirk Poland Bad Prose Competition, but I think it was Patrick O'Leary (in absentia but author of Seuss-like "A Yak of Siam" that blended beautifully with the chosen Bad Ending) and Yves Meynard (once again champion! and author of the amazing "Alphabetical Torture" segment) who I stole the show.

The book dealer tables were fruitful, the freebie book tables were generous (I think we now own half of Daniel Dern's former collection -- thanks, Daniel!) and the general vibe was as always awesome. There were familiar faces I missed but many new ones I very much enjoyed meeting. (Michael Kandel, on the very off-chance you see this, I forgot we own Captain Jack Zodiac!)

The lobster salad rolls at Travelers Food and Books were as superb as always. The Long Trail Hefeweizen was cold and refreshing. Chipping sparrows played on the lawn by the wooden moose. I found a hardcover copy of Allingham's Tiger in the Smoke for $2.50 in the basement bookstore. Win.

And thanks to the (beta) launch of TOR.com, I now have Dave McKean’s cover art for Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow, as my wallpaper. Sweet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Follow the Reader

We're pleased as punch to be attending Readercon again this year. I'll likely write about it next week, and whatever goodies we discover at the Food and Books diner by Mass Rte 30. (They make a rockin' lobster roll, much better than Legal Seafoods, I hope it's on the menu Thursday.) I've been catching up on reading GoH Jonathan Lethem, even though Spouse is very impatient that I finally finish The Execution Channel so he can crack jokes about stuff in it. Hell, I still have to go through the bagful of old books we bought last year and haven't yet read so we don't accidentally buy them again...

Whither July?!

I really don't understand where the past 2.5 weeks went. We kept busy enough, we were even social -- good grief, we attended seven separate social events, some of them involving more than one person! -- and yet I scarcely can account for the time without my datebook. Besides visits with friends and lunches, Spouse also played a lot of chess and saw the dentist twice. (I saw the dentist once, but that was Only Yesterday and the memories will surely linger.) I saw a friends' photo exhibit opening, saw "Wall-E" and visited Dave & Busters with another friend, saw the Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and generally had a pretty good time (aside from seeing the dentist yesterday).

Food and wine have been a bit dull, as poor Spouse has been avoiding alcohol and chewy foods as part of his ongoing dental treatments. The prospect of a summer without corn on the cob depressed him, but I promised corn every other which way which cheered him. I have a dozen lovely ways of preparing fresh corn. I eagerly await the first full-sized ears at the Greenmarket.

Been knitting, of course, lots and lots of knitting, mostly baby stuff for my twin-laden friend. I have discovered I adore using sock yarn, but I am sooo not a sock knitter. Knitting socks is...well, at the end, I've got something to wear on my feet and frankly I'm really hard on my clothes and especially on socks, tending to shove them into boots and shoes with less delicacy than perhaps some people. My nice thick warm angora-wool blend socks from the Gap collect pills like mad. Lesser socks simply go holey. And as I really prefer very lightweight socks and stockings anyway -- the days New York goes utterly sub-arctic these days can be counted on the fingers and toes of one side -- and the socks are utterly hidden by my pants legs and shoes or boots, well what's the point in knitting them?? I know lots of people walk around their house in socking feet, but with cat fur and litter a constant threat I prefer slippers. So lovely handmade socks are not for me. Besides, I really hate knitting in the round at the diameter of a sock. The needles get in each others way. The yarn gets tangled. The circular needles method is too complicated for my poor aged brain. So no. It's cheaper and easier just to buy stuff!

But I did make a very happy discovery that avoided wasted knitting: in digging up my oldest yarn stash the other month, I unearthed a pair of ribbed pieces still on needles, made of Encore DK, that were an actual if reluctant attempt to create ribbed flat-knitted socks (to eventually end up in the round as the heel approached). This ridiculous project, entirely in the wrong yarn and gauge, sat unmolested and was about to be unravelled until I realized the width of each panel was perfect for infant hats! And so I only undid a couple of inches of each panel until the proper height (length?) remained, put the panel back on needles, did 4 rows of k2tog decreases, and viola! Near-instant snug little hats! By "near-instant" I mean "about twenty minutes" including unravel and final stitch-up.

Been writing my novel too, chugging along, weaving together sub-plots and finishing chapters and coming to blinding realizations such as one particular character holding the key to a more satisfactory conclusion if only I make him the son of X & Y instead of nobody in particular. Amazing. Working at novel length is entirely new for me, even after two and a half years of this project. My years of dedicated if misguided study of "how to write a novel"-sort of literature didn't really prepare me for the reality of characters who pop up out of nowhere, say Ahem and proceed to take over scene after scene in utterly ruthless fashion. Or for subplots that invade my weary head after I thought I was done for the night.

All my most satisfactory Trek-zine experience was humorous short stories. The one time I attempted to work at a bigger story, a three-part series, the results were...mixed. I had a tendency at that time in my late teens to zone and drift through life, sometimes for months on end. I wrote and we published part one, I worked diligently on part two, sent it to my zine team for the next issue...and um they had to break it to me gently that I'd already written part two and it was in the previous issue. The previous issue I'd also forgotten existed and added to the pile of stuff on my desk without a second thought. Huh? But dang, they were right. There was part two, following one, just like they said. Dang. And of course, the two versions of part two were entirely different! And the second one was a bit better. So with a few tweaks that became part three and all was once again well. And I woke up a bit. And I mourned that the only computers I had available were the highly-sought terminals at school. Re-writing all those pages would've been sooo much easier on a word processor...