Among Others by Jo Walton (☆☆☆+)

          I enjoyed this book about a child of the 1970's who loves to read SF and chronicles in her diary all she does and says for about a year, which includes all the books she reads (the novel contains hundreds of book titles).  Anyone who has read any SF in the last four decades will probably agree with most of the titles which the main character author loves/dislikes, and may even expand their 'find and read' list.

          The biggest reason this book won the 2012 Nebula and Hugo awards was because it was constructed to speak directly to the judges (SF and Fantasy writers and avid fan-readers) all of whom connect with the main character because she "thinks like they did/do" when it comes to books in general and, specifically, Speculative Fiction.

          Among Others is not an epic tale; it's a nice story.  It's not amazingly-wonderfully crafted; but it has no flaws.  It does not grasp the pit of your stomach and spin it with gusto...or even without gusto; while it does encourage the reader to suspend his belief and enjoy the ride.   It—most importantly—is not a I-can't-put-it-down book.  What it has is an interesting spin on the magic-is-real plot line.

          It gets my 3-star-forgettable rating for trying so miserably hard to depict late-70's England/Wales that it loses every bit of suspense and tension when every action a character might take, or sentence a character might utter, was run through a would-that-really-happen filter before it hit the page.  I'm willing to bump it to 3-star-plus because it lists titles which I'll put on my 'to read' list.

          It didn't deserve the Nebula.  Or the Hugo.

          Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear deserved that honor (but wasn't nominated).  I suspect there are huge machinations going on behind the SFWA and WSFS scenes that continually prevent the best of the best from ever being nominated.  For all I know, Rothfuss didn't even want to be nominated.

          It is probably just like presidential nominations.  Was John Kerry the best Democrat of all the Democrats who could have beat G.W. Bush in 2004?   Is Mitt Romney really the best Republican of all the Republicans to challenge Obama this year?  Obviously there's more going on behind the curtain than we know about.

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          Because of last week's Rodger Hodgson concert, I remembered the circumstances surrounding my purchase of this rather ordinary white agate 1⅚" (48mm) sphere.  
          In 1994, I read in a French magazine about an upcoming Alan Parsons Project concert in Freiburg, Germany, which was about a four hour drive from where I lived in Mons, Belgium.  I purchased tickets over the telephone from a woman who understood and spoke very little English (the European equivalent of Ticketmaster).  When they arrived in the mail the tickets were printed in German.
          On the day of the concert, I leisurely drove to the quaint city of Freiburg on the edge of the Black Forest with many hours to spare in order to be able to explore the city during daylight.  Upon arrival, it was immediately clear that there was no concert scheduled in the city's concert hall.  A local Freiburg citizen explained that although the word Freiburg was on the tickets, the rest of the information indicated the actual location of the concert was in Friedburg, Germany (at least three hours away).
          With more than five hours before the concert was scheduled to begin, I headed north.  First it began to rain.  Then the traffic went from bad to worse.  And then it got dark.
          The next three hours and forty five minutes are blur-burned in my memory under a deeply carved label:  stupidest/most risky.  I foolishly drove beyond my brake's abilities, beyond the limits of my tires, faster than my high-beams could illuminate...and, occasionally, faster than my wipers (on their fastest setting) were able to clear the windshield.  In other words, I reached speeds in excess of 120 mph (200 kpm) and sometimes hydroplaned in the express lane of the German autobahn around Frankfurt, while high-beam flashing and passing hundreds of slower moving cars...in the dark.
          I arrived on time.  A little early even.  No problems (except for the tiring aftereffects of a huge amount of adrenaline).  Not even any close calls (which is less the result of my abilities and more because of luck—all it would have taken is a mechanical failure or one driver not using his side mirror and cutting in front of me).
          There was a very sparse crowd around the concert hall.  A Friedburg citizen said they heard the concert was cancelled but they were staying until they got an official word.
          I counted umbrellas:  less than two hundred.
          Glanced around the venue's exterior:  it would probably hold three thousand or more.  There were no buses or equipment trucks.  There were no lights on inside.
          I returned to the Friedburg citizen and asked if he could recommend a good local Gasthäus.  He did.  I got a room, a schnitzel, and many, too many, beers.
          The next day I found this sphere in a local store.
          I was unhappy with The Alan Parsons Project and avoided their concerts for several years.  Later I learned that Eric Woolfson wasn't the lead singer at any of their 1994 concerts, so I was less upset.  I saw them in Rochester, New York, as the opening act for Yes in 1998 with Eric Woolfson (which made this my lifetime favorite concert).

Sunscreen and Insect Repellent Towelette

          Filed under:  Amazing, Highly Recommended, as well as Where has this been hiding all my life?

          I had occasion to use a SMARTSHIELD towelette yesterday.   We drove out to the forest to do some hiking, picnicking, birdwatching, and reading.

          (Why is that 'k' required when picnic is a verb?  It hurts my brain.  I'm going with picnicing from now on.)


          Since both the sun and mosquitoes were out in full force, we each used a combination sunscreen and insect repellent towelette.  I covered all my exposed skin.  Two hours of sun resulted in only a slight pink, so I would say the SPF30 worked.  Five mosquitoes successfully bit my back through my sweat-soaked shirt where I'd not wiped (and never thought to).  Not so great for my back, but it helped to prove the insect repellent was effective.

          Insect repellent:  cedarwood bark oil and lemongrass oil.  No DEET.

          Sunscreen:  2% avobenzone, 7.5% octinoxate, 5% octisalate, 1.4% octocrylene, .8% padimate (I know nothing about any of these chemicals, except that they prevented sunburn on my sun deprived derma).

          Also contains:  alcohol, aloe leaf extract, lavender oil, macadamia seed oil, wheat germ oil, linseed oil, and camphor oil.

Wizard of Meh by Pogo


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          How can one count the ways?

          To describe the woman whom I love, I could draw, paint, or take a photo of her...but I want more than to capture the moment.  I might abstract the artwork (as I did for myself) or even write a poem, but she connects better with the tangible and literal.
          I bought this 1¾ inch (47mm) multicromatic glass marble in 2003 when my relationship with Pam was in its embryonic days.
          We exchanged emails for about ten days and then phone calls and emails for another two weeks before agreeing to meet.  It was nice to get all our landmines and deal-breakers out of the way utilizing several modern marvels (today it's possible to never learn too late that you would've had a chance if you'd only known open-toed-shoes were a deal-breaker before meeting for coffee wearing Birkenstocks).
          One of the reasons our relationship is joyfully approaching the ten-year mark under full sail is that when I bought this sphere, both of us were sufficiently aware of ourselves to not only be able to recognize our own landmines but to be truthful about them; ditto with our deal-breakers.
          Email just made it easier to write my biggest deal breaker is smoking (of any kind) and one of my big landmines:  I'm a voluntarily unemployed artist living in a mobile home on a pension.
          Maybe that was actually four (or five?) landmines in one.
          So we spent almost a month probing and divulging.
          And then we decided it was time to find out if the other kissed good enough; if we enjoyed similar levels of intimacy as well as the same type of fucking; and determine if we might-could become simpatico with things like the other's snoring, farts, and idiosyncrasies.

          ADDENDUM:  Obviously, I began with a plan to describe the person I'm in love with (and maybe include some of the why I love her) but that became derailed by the sphere itself and the memories it holds.  Which is the whole reason I'm writing about some of my spheres.  So I left it as is.

Rodger Hodgson Concert

          In my teens and twenties I was impressed by many musicians but only a small number became indelibly stamped in my brain-pan...affecting who I was, and was to become, with their artistry.  Tonight I (finally) got to see a concert by one of the last holdouts:  Rodger Hodgson.

          The three bands at the top of the heap were Yes, The Alan Parsons Project, and Supertramp.  Then there were the remainder of the top five:  Fleetwood Mac and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.

          I've seen Yes three times (76, 98, 01) and was fortunate enough to see the band with the Anderson-Howe-Wakeman lineup (remove any one of them and it isn't my Yes).  In 98 I saw the only true The Alan Parsons Project (with Eric Woolfson).  And since Supertramp actually means the songs and voice of Rodger Hodgson...I've now seen all of my indelibly stamped top five*.

          * I saw ELP in 78 and ⅚th's of Fleetwood Mac in 94 (there should be more than ⅙th of a reduction for the loss of Stevie Nicks, there really should).

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          When my grandmother (whom I called Nana and have written about before) lived in New Hampshire, I found this almost two inch glass marble in an antique store in Keene, NH.  I purchased it in 1993 and was told it was about 90 years old.  It isn't a perfect sphere because the chips and scratches were buff-polished away by a previous owner (which significantly lowered its value and its purchase price).
          I have no negative memories affiliated with my Nana.  For three and a half decades—from my earliest memories of moving into her house in the early-1960's until the mid-1990's when Alzheimer's turned her into a pod person and she became lost to everyone including herself—she was wonderful.  To me.
          She may have been a royal bitch to her husband, siblings and extended family, a harridan to her children and other grandchildren, and a spiteful shrew to neighbors and others (which I occasionally witnessed or learned about afterward) but, when I was around, she was always in a fantastic mood.
          Every person I have ever known has a wonky day once in a while, or gets more than a little grumpy for a few days every month, or acts like a high-functioning petulant cunt most of the time, but I've only known two people who always have a smile to share.  Nana was one (albeit only when I was around) and the other is my fiancée, Pam.

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          The word bad in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, refers to the Dutch word for bath because the city was once renowned for its bathhouse.  Because of my experiences there—for me—the English definition of the word is more apropos.    
          When I first visited the city in 1993 I was performing a protective service mission (at that time, I was a protective services agent for the NATO Commander).  Oddly, I found this 1⅞ inch (48mm) limestone sphere and its too-large-cup-stand at a local Italian restaurant where I ate dinner.  For two days I worked with SA Nwtptg (name withheld to protect the guilty) from the two-man Bad Kreuznach CID office.  He always referred to the city by its initials, so I—also—began doing so.
          Six years and two assignments later, I took over the Wiesbaden, Germany, CID office and learned the BK office was now subordinate to me.  Oddly, SA Nwtptg was still there.  I quickly learned he was unable to perform the most common tasks (report writing, investigative note taking, collection of evidence, etc.) without constant oversight and guidance.  I documented his failings, but as is normal (not just in the US military, everywhere) he was promoted and assigned to a larger office, where he assaulted a suspect, lied to an internal affairs investigator and coerced a witness to lie for him (resulting in his extreme reduction in rank—from officer to enlisted—and removal from CID).
          I investigated numerous grisly traffic fatalities on the road between Wiesbaden and BK because several drivers took their eyes off the road to change their radio or CD; I got the biggest ass-chewing in my career (from a two-star general, the 8th Inf Div CG) because of the unprofessional actions of another subordinate assigned to the BK office; and the German civilian "translator" at the BK CID office was the highest-paid, most-worthless person I ever had the misfortune to share a room with (I'd write supervise, but she never worked...all she did was read books).  I attempted to terminate her employment and discovered it wasn't possible.  In fact, the opposite was true—authorizing an annual bonus was mandatory even though she performed no assigned duties, ever.
          Not every sphere reminds me of good places, people or times; this one elicits nothing but bad memories.  I guess that's not completely true; the lasagna at the Italian restaurant was pretty good.

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          I already wrote a snippet about my Crater Lake visit in 2009, which is when I bought this grey agate sphere.  I found in on the way to the crater in Eagle Point, Oregon, after we left The Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery.
          When one has as many spheres as I, it can be difficult to find a unique one which conforms to my parameters:
  • Between 1½ and 2¼ inches (40 - 55mm) in diameter.  Golf ball to billiards ball...not much larger.
  • One piece.
  • No intentional flat portion (they all have some form of a stand).
  • Reasonable price (relative to my budget).
          I've gone on many trips and come home without a sphere.  And not always because there weren't any for sale, sometimes every sphere I found was a duplicate of one I already had.

Top Five Posts (determined by page view) — let the avalanche begin

          There is a theory that when views are tallied by most favorited or most viewed (as they are on many shopping, video, art, porn, movie, and book sites...and now here at snapperhead) the self-fulfilling prophesy factor snowballs.  The more people search for (or look at) what has previously been searched for (or looked at) the more...well...you get the picture.  Eventually, the numbers avalanche.  "Hey this U-Tube video has 54 million views—it must be phantasmagorically interesting."  NOOOope.

          After about seven years, these are the five posts which have been viewed more than all the rest.


          Story: 

            In 2009 I wrote the short story Life Mission: Possible about signposts and totems, which have been and continue to be prevalent in my life—and those of many others.  I suspect it's my most read story not because it humorously tracks my televisions, pets, relationships, and microwaves but because people are keyword searching Mission Impossible and get snagged by the pictures.  Or maybe by the writing.  Nah.  

          Novel:

           I read this shitty book, Earth Abides, in 2005.  My review, Counterfeit Paper: A Valuable Teaching Tool, was posted here as well as on Goodreads (where it's been read and 'liked' by more than my others).  Upon re-reading it today I still agree with seven year ago self.  Good job me.

          Art:  

           I created the digital rendering pareidolia-apophenia in 2009.  It's also on deviantart where it's received ten times more views than the average of all my other art.  I don't know why.  Maybe the title is catchy.  I like the title.  Aesthetically, however, I don't like it.  But that's just me.  500 others have a different opinion (or one dingleberry views it every day).  

          Personal Perspective:

           My article Kirby Archer: an infamous friend is potent bait.  It draws in those who are curious about true crime and I can't fault anyone drawn to the morbid.  It's not only my most viewed, but also my most commented post.  Everyone who thought they knew him, once heard about him, worked with him, crossed his path, or watched a sketchy splash-bio on TV about his crime spree (and wants to know more) eventually lands on this article.

          Comic Strip:

           The attraction of the cartoon Anatomical Doll - strip, which I made from a photo scramped from Davecat, can only be attributed to the misleadingly factual titular words.

           While compiling these most-viewed posts, I realized that every one of them contains a punctuation mark.  A correlation, obviously, but could it also be causation?   Hmmm.

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          My retirement present to myself in 2001 was a month in Australia.  I found this 1¾" (47mm) sphere in a store called The Crystal Caves in Atherton, Queensland, while staying nearby (in an amazing treehouse).  Prior to that I visited/stayed at the lava caves in the outback.  The following week I was scuba diving from a live-aboard in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef.  The vacation also included stays in Sydney and Cairns; deep sea fishing from Port Douglas; a day-trip to Lizard Island for snorkeling...too many to recount once-in-a-lifetime events.  
          I like spheres which are composed of a visually interesting mix of minerals or types of rock.  This one is a combination of Australian jade and either quartz or calcite.  When turned just-so the light refracts through the crystal, bounces off and magnifies the interior side of the jade (rust-brown to green) and looks just like a tiny bit of ocean bottom through a SCUBA mask.