Wednesday, July 31, 2013

San Antonio

We went to San Antonio for the weekend, a trip that was hosted by our Wyndham Getaway people and we (mostly) had a very nice time. The Hotel (Sheraton Gunter) is beautiful and in the heart of the old city of San Antonio. The interior of the hotel is absolutely lovely, and over the years hosted such celebrities as Roy Rogers, John Wayne and Mae West.
The historic Gunter Hotel was dedicated in 1909, the same year the Lincoln penny was first minted. Coincidence? (Yeah, I think so.) A murder in February of 1965 occurred in room 636 and the hotel is said to still be haunted.
"Since this terrible incident, staff and guests have reported strange occurrences in the vicinity of room 636. The seemingly restless spirit has often appeared with her arms outstretched. Strange sounds of hammering have also been reported coming from an unoccupied Room 636. Others have reported the image of a blonde woman inexplicably appearing in photographs."
We didn't see the ghost.
Thursday night was a Tex-Mex buffet, and I should remember the name of the restaurant, but I don't. Of more note was the mariachi band! They certainly loved Darling!
Friday we wandered around the River Walk, which is always a lot of fun. We heard a little about Dick's the night before, but we didn't go eat there. They specialize in insults. We aren't tough enough for that.

Friday night we went to Texas de Brazil, Churrascaria Restaurant in San Antonio.
Imagine for a moment that you are transported to a world of sight and sound and taste, a world very similar to the one you normally eat in, except for one minor detail. In this world meat is a welcome menu item. In this world you are not only allowed to eat as much meat as you like, you're encouraged to do so. Welcome to the world of Texas de Brazil in San Antonio.
Okay, that works well in my mind, where I am doing a nice impression of Rod Serling.
Our new friends, James and Kharla, warned us not to take much from the salad bar, but to save room for the meats.
That's lobster bisque in the upper left
and a jalapeno near the bottom!
Okay, I admit I must be some sort of unsophisticated country boy because I have never seen a salad bar as well stocked as this one. I took just a tiny bit of each thing – really, just a tiny bit. I did, in fact, skip a few things (like the asparagus). Even so, I was almost full when the waiters started bringing around the meats.
The waiters brought huge chunks of meat sizzling on skewers and presented them at my plate, slicing off the portion that was done to my choosing. I then used the provided tongs to grab the meat and place it on my plate. The meat did not stay on my plate for long. The waiters brought succulent filet mignon, steaming bits of prime rib skewered as chunks of meat, top sirloin dripping in its own juices, braised lamb which they carved off in long strips, bacon-wrapped chicken, Brazilian sausages and others I don't recall.
Darling's salad bar plate!

I doubt each piece of meat was an ounce; each was probably closer to half an ounce of meat. Still, I quickly became full and could eat no more.
So they brought me a key-lime pie. Thanks guys.
Without question, this was the best steak I ever had in my life. It might be the best steak I ever have. We'll see.

Directly across the street from our hotel is the Majestic Theater, which opened in 1929 and was the first theater in the state of Texas with air conditioning. We went there to see Frankie Valli on Friday night, after the dinner.
Frankie Valli is 79 years old but has the strong voice of a young man. He sang a number of his best hits. With him on stage were sixteen other people, including four backup singers (with amazing voices), a keyboard player (fantastic), a multi-talented player of many different instruments (depending on the song), two guitarists, one of whom was incredible and rivals my buddy Andrew Bateman, and eight local horn players invited for the performance.
That was the best time ever. It started at eight-ish and went until ten-ish, though I have to admit that I tired out and we left a few minutes early.

Thank you Frankie Valli for five decades of great music!
Inside The Majestic

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wolverine - a movie review

Summary: Are you kidding? If you only see one movie this summer, this is the one. (Well, except that Thor is coming out soon.) If you're a fan of the Wolverine, this is a must-see. If you aren't a fan of the Wolverine, but you love movies with action, this is a must-see. If you don't like movies with action, then go ahead and watch old I Love Lucy re-runs.

You don't even need to be the Wolverine's biggest fan. Spiderman is still my favorite of all the superheroes, and as far as the movies go, The Avengers is the most awesome movie made.
I am a fan of Wolverine, so I really looked forward to this movie. Let's face it, Hugh Jackman was born to be the Wolverine, and he's been awesome in all the previous incarnations. This is thirteen years down the road from when we first saw him in X-Men (2000). We then saw him pop up in the rest of the series as Wolverine (arguably the best character in the movies) X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), and X-Men: First Class (2011).
Jackman still looks built. For a guy who is forty-four years old, the man makes us all feel overweight and out of shape (which I am, but still...). He spends a lot of his time with his shirt ripped off. He's been working out with a trainer somewhere, and we should give the guy a medal or something. He certainly knows what he's doing.

Having said that, let's go back to the movie.
Jean Grey haunts Wolverine in this one, haunting us in the process.
We finally meet Mariko. I wanted the back-story of Mariko brought into the legacy of the movies, and this movie does it. I'm not sure it works the way I wanted it to work, but they did an overall good job with it.
We get to see the Silver Samurai. I'm not sure of the comic version of Silver Samurai story, but the movie makes me want to grab comics and read up on it. We also are introduced to Yukio and the Viper, both women I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley if they were mad at me. I know nothing of the comic lore that goes with them, but the acting was good and made me want to learn more. The actress that played Yukio (Rila Fukushima) played the part perfectly. She had just enough to draw my attention when required, but not enough to pull me from the central story.
And there was a central story. This wasn't just a mish-mash of fights with some dialogue and a vague reason to have a movie. We actually see some of the angst Logan deals with as Wolverine.
There is one thing that bothered me: during the fight with the Silver Samurai Wolverine gets his adamantium claws hacked off with a huge adamantium sword. His metal claws seem gone forever. I don't like it, but I didn't like it when Magneto pulled all the adamantium from his skeleton in the comics either.

I won't say anything more. The movie has all the things you expect from The Wolverine – explosions, tons of fights, vicious enemies and a love story (sort of). I'll leave it at that, and say one simple thing.
Go see it. Now. Skip work. I give this an eight of ten, and I'll certainly buy the DVD when it comes out.

San Antonio Zoo

Let's take a trip back in time, to when we were small and our parents didn't know what to do with us, so they took us to the zoo.
Okay, that never happened.
Darling and I had an amazing weekend away in San Antonio, and one of the things she wanted to do was go to the San Antonio Zoo. So Saturday morning, before our 2:30 appointment in the afternoon, we headed off to the Zoo.
I'm pretty sure he had bad ideas
Monkeys. Monkeys still smell bad, but they had a large selection of frantic little beasties that jump and ran and chased each other. I'm just glad they didn't throw poo at us. I think one of them was thinking about it, but we moved on.
We saw some bears. Bears in cages make me sad.
Darling said she liked the Fishing Cat best. I don't know what the real animal name was, but she got to see it dive into the water and snag and eat a fish. How cool is that?
I am and always have been partial to the zebras. If I could raise an equine, I'd want to raise zebras, but they are and should be running in herds in the wilds of Africa. Maybe I could raise zedonks instead.
As we walked through the zoo I have to admit I started formulating a story plot in my head. A story where there was a team of zoo hunters that had to travel through time and capture animals that were due to be killed in the wild. But they can't just capture them, because they had to be there as food for the predators, including the insects, right? So the team captures animals just before they die and bring them to the zoo. The animals live their lives out and when they die of old age they are returned (dead) to the spot where they originally would have died, plus or minus some poundage of protein to make up the difference between capture and death.
I'm not sure how to craft the rest of that story, but it amused me as I walked through the hundred degree San Antonio heat and we watched the zoo animals. We left there about noon, a bit tuckered out from walking a couple miles through the myriad zoo pathways.
Okay, now everybody look to the left...
On a Saturday morning the zoo is full of small groups with their identifying tee-shirts. I saw at least three different groups of girl scouts, wearing bright orange shirts with their troop names on them. What's the point of mentioning this? Remember that old song "Girls watch, guys watch, it happens every day…" (Okay, I hear it in my head.) In the hippo area Darling noticed another tour group viewing the people passing by the panes of glass. It isn't simply our side of the glass that is watching animals. One small group of fish was watching us.
I wonder if they do their own tours or something?

For the rest of the post I'll just add titles to the pictures. That's right! You get to look at my vacation photos! Lucky you!


You could get up close to the birds, but the sign said they might bite.

Darling's favorite cat in the zoo

She watched it watch

... and emerge with a snack. Nice!

They had a butterfly house. 

I didn't know anteaters were so large. This guy was huge!

Sure, the zoo has flowers too.

In the hippo house, the hippo sleeps. Underwater.

Hippos. What you'd see in the wild...

... and what you'd get in the wild. This guy was bigger than a boat.

My zebra. That's right. He's mine. I totally call it.

Things Without Number

I just finished reading Wil Wheaton's newest book, Just A Geek and I liked it, so I added his website to my list of favorite blogs. I don't always appreciate his language, but I'm more sensitive to foul language than he is. It's probably a recovery thing, but that's another story. Wil's book is really a compilation of his blog posts with some linking discourse added in. I don't mind that style, so it worked for me. He's entertaining, and insightful (at times), though you have to get a little bit past his "pity me" writing. In all fairness, that's really what the book is about - his journey from self-pity to self-actualization and it was easy to read. It's a good look at who Wil Wheaton is, and those stories are (mostly) refreshing. It isn't that long a read, not much longer than my book My Mother-in-law Misadventures and is in the same sort of writing style (Cory Doctorow, actually, ha!). Hmmm. Maybe Wil would like my book too.

I finished reading Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Though it seemed weighty at times, I liked it. It follows the life of Tyler Dupree and his two friends Jason and Diane Lawton after the stars disappear and as the end of humankind approaches. Yeah, in one way it is an apocalyptic tale, but not the normal sort of "Store up toilet paper, Louise! We got us a long haul ahead of us with no water or nuthin'!" kind of thing. It's much more thoughtful and scientific. This is science-fiction at its best. Mr. Wilson manages to weave a plot around the characters and their lives, a difficult task for a writer, but he pulls it off with a smooth style. There were a few moments when my attention wavered, but I waded through those and I'm glad I did. He brought the story back each time and the ending (though somewhat predictable) was still satisfying.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle has been around for over twenty-five years. I know I read it once, but it was almost a new read for me (thank you, failing memory), and the additional story Two Hearts makes me anticipate Mr. Beagle's next book. This is one of the original fantasy books of all time and a must-read for any lover of fantasy. I actually ordered the graphic version of the book and the movie, but don't tell Darling - it's a surprise for her. I think she'll like them both. Peter S. Beagle might be one of the most under-rated writers of our time.

Mike Resnick's Santiago took me back to the far-flung galaxies and my days of being a bounty hunter out among the stars. We searched for Santiago, the elusive and most vicious criminal that ever lived. Oh, wait, I was dreaming that bit... I can't say I didn't see the ending coming, but it was a thoroughly wonderful journey getting there. This made me want to read more of Mike Resnick's works, and that says something.
Frank Herbert, of course, is an amazing author and I've liked his books for decades (which dates us both, I suppose). His 2012 book High-Opp doesn't disappoint. When Daniel Movius, a Senior Liaitor in the far-flung dystopic future, loses his job and is Low-opped to the lowest caste of society, the future hangs in the balance, and in his hands. Every revolution needs a leader, and we constantly question whether Daniel Movius is the man for the job. Frank Herbert again crafts a complicated, believable, gritty world in which we find ourselves trapped and seeking a way out. It's a journey that's worth reading.

I'm not quite so enamored of Kevin J. Anderson's Hopscotch. I struggled with this one a bit, but muddled through. That's not a resounding endorsement. The book is well written, but loses me sometimes, and I'm not quite sure why that is. We follow the main characters as they grow up in a society where you can switch bodies as easily as changing the channel on television. The bad things that can happen, do happen. The premise is okay (and eerily similar to a book I started writing fifteen years ago) but I just never felt the compulsion to move forward in the story. The timing is good, so that isn't the issue. Perhaps I just never could relate to the main characters. In real life, that's a good thing. It's a good book, but sometimes (for me) it takes more than that.

Which, to finish this small set of reviews, leads me to In Hero Years … I'm Dead by Michael A. Stackpole. I'll admit I never heard of the author before reading this book. That's a little embarrassing, since we seem to like similar types of stories, but I guess I don't read as much as I used to. We certainly don't move in the same circles. It's my loss that I don't know his books. I liked this book almost as much as I liked Jim Bernheimer's Confessions of a D-List Supervillain. They are both geeky superhero books that don't take themselves seriously, and that is a lot of fun.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

By The Numbers

Just so I don't lose these links, and maybe so you have them too.

George Clooney is related to Abraham Lincoln. Yes, it's an advertisement, but still interesting.

I didn't create this one. I wish I had. I wish my Darling Daughter had this for her trip to England - we'd get more information! This is a Mashable review from last May.

One Source for Investing (What the Bible Says About Money)
All about Sean Hyman and his biblical investment strategies - that work.

Now someone has to put boots on the ground to confirm the possible find.

Pixlr is right at the top, of course.

That's a good deal. I might check it out if I want to get a top-rated technology degree.

Well, I don't have any decent artwork… wait, what about those vacation photos?

I backed the Kickstarter project for Legend of Aethereus and it's finally ready for release. I haven't played it yet, but I downloaded it last night.

Well, I saw one of them and wasn't impressed.

How'd they do that? Google Earth isn't that old… (They combined old Landsat images all the way back to 1972.)

2100 Dollars, 1998 Toyota Camry
We just put the Lad's car up for sale on Craigslist. Well, the car sold the first day (thank you, Lord) so there is no link! Ha! (No, we didn't get $2100, but that's okay.)

Well, it's interesting, but we can't really use it yet. Sounds like a fun way to use that excess CPU though.

There are, of course, lots of cool things on the site. At some point I am going to have to consider subscribing to these guys, except I am just not as good at making things as they are (or I'd like to be).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I Write Like...

There's a very cool website that analyzes your writing style and tells you who you write like.
I went back to an old story of mine, Psychic Toll Call and pasted the entire short, short story into the analyzer. This is what I got:

Though it is very cool that I wrote this story like Vonnegut (a literary hero of mine) I had to wonder if I still write the same way. After all, I wrote that story years and years ago. So I pasted what I've written of Zombie Apocalypse: Vampire Raiders of Las Vegas into the analyzer.

Now I get a different badge:

That's cool, too. I might never sell anything, but at least I write like people who do. Sort of. According to a computer web page analyst.

In case you're interested, here's the current text for Zombie Apocalypse: Vampire Raiders of Las Vegas.

Zombie Apocalypse: Vampire Raiders of Las Vegas

The year is 2028. The zombie movies were eerily prophetic. The virus mutated, whether in the wild or in the lab didn't matter anymore. Once the infection started, the world was turned upside down by a pandemic.
A few people prepared places of refuge, places built for defense. They knew something was coming. They just didn't know what. Nobody envisioned this nightmare.
One young man and his wife took refuge on a Colorado ranch, a place built by his parents. Jed (short for Jedidiah) and Maddie (short for Madison) learned to live in the new world, but that wasn't enough.
The world didn't need to be saved. It needed to be cleansed and remade.
Jed and Maddie didn't want the job. That made them the perfect candidates.

The room was paneled and had floor to ceiling bookshelves. A Franklin stove sat cold in the corner. Six rag-tag people huddled in the heavy wooden chairs that crowded the small space, three young women and three men. A heavy-set man in a thick brown coat got up and moved his chair closer to one of the built-in bookshelves, away from the others and further from the man sitting on the heavy wooden desk in the corner, the desk all the chairs faced.
"We're glad we managed to find y'all." His southern accent was so slight that most people wouldn't notice. "In case you don't know already, my name is Jedidiah. Last names don't mean much anymore, so just call me Jed. This place," Jed waved his hand in a semi-circle, encompassing everything around them, both in the room and the substantial number of buildings they passed when they were brought in. "This place is called Selah Ranch."
"Before we get you settled in, we usually like to do an orientation then we'll set you up in your own rooms in the main building here. You're free to stay as part of the community. We have very few rules, but we are pretty strict about the ones we have. Without rules we all die. My Dad said that, and that's sort of the overriding creed."
"If I were to sum the rules up, I guess I'd say don't leave footprints. Not on people. Not on possessions. If you hurt someone, apologize. If you break something, fix it. If you come in and make a snack for yourself, clean up the kitchen so nobody knows you were there. Leaving a mess behind for someone else is simply bad manners."
"Violate no person's privacy or try to impose your will on others. Whatever you do, so far as it depends on you, remain at peace with each other. Issues are brought to me or my wife. Do your part for the community. That's about it for rules.
"Now let's talk about the enemy." Jed shifted slightly, his long legs in front, booted feet firmly planted on the wooden floor. He made eye contact with each of the six people in the room and smiled. All but one smiled a slight smile in return.
"The thing about zombies is that you can wait them out. Most folks are in too big a hurry and they panic, which leads to errors in judgment and more zombies. Then other people panic and the entire process just spirals downward. Back in the day we called that an escalation archetype in systems. Nobody cared then. They care even less now."
"Let's get a few misconceptions out of the way, though, or you won't live very long out here in the wilds of what used to be Colorado Mountains. You might even become a liability for the rest of us, so we need good information."
"Zombies aren't dead. Oh, they're on the irrevocable path to being totally dead, but they roam around mostly dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead."
"Nobody got that? I saw Charlie crack a smile, so he got it. The rest of you just didn't watch the right movies when you were younger. I don't know. My Dad made me watch that one a lot. He could just about quote the entire movie. I remember once he said to me 'You know, I think you could go days of normal conversation and only use lines from The Princess Bride.' Thankfully he didn't do that. Well, not much."
Charlie, the man in the brown coat, shifted his weight and dug his hands in his big coat pockets, shoulders hunched.
"Sorry. Got sidetracked. Sometimes I just miss the old man."
Jed continued. "He and mom saw this coming. That's why you have a ranch house and sturdy walls around you right now. There's a series of caves, too, but we'll talk about those later."
"Okay, zombies are infected with a form of flesh-eating virus that mutated. The first thing it actually does is destroy almost all neural impulses. So once you're infected it's about thirty minutes until you're brain dead. I already know the question you have. It's the same question we all ask. You want to know what happens to the person, the personality, the soul. I haven't the vaguest notion. Dad thought the soul departed once the brain died, and the individual ceased to exist. I guess I agree. Still, that's a bad way to die, taking thirty minutes trapped in a body that quit talking to your mind."
"Other bodily functions continue, but at a greatly reduced rate. The heart, for instance, only beats about once every ten seconds. The body starts to decay. Extremities rot away first…"
The youngest girl hiccupped and swallowed a tear. The woman next to her handed her a dirty, ragged piece of cloth, what once might have been a kerchief. "I'm sorry girls, but you need to know this, too. You need to become an expert on the enemy so you know how to fight it. I'll open the window a little further so you can get a bit of fresh air. It's only about fifty degrees out, but the cool air might help you."
"Which reminds me. Cool temperatures help the zombies, too. They rot slower and stay mobile longer."
"They aren't like some of the old apocalyptic movies, either. They don't have super strength or super speed. What they do seem to have is stamina and numbers. They don't crave brains from the living. What they want is your blood. The more blood, the longer they survive."
The man in the back raised his eyes and started to open his mouth. "No, that doesn't make them vampires, Charlie. Stay focused, now. How old are you, anyway? Twenty? Twenty-five? So you were about fifteen when this started, back in 2023? Well, I was just a bit older than thirty with a wife, a couple dogs, a jeep and a jet-ski. We didn't have kids when it all started. What we had was a beach house in a warm climate and really, really nice lives."
"Yeah, I know I look young for my age."
"So let's say you get bit. In thirty minutes you're a new zombie. You're actually one of the tougher ones. You still have most of your normal speed and muscle function, but you have no cognitive abilities. You are no longer human. You look mostly human, but it isn't like the movies. You can't talk, you can't reason, you don't try to communicate. What you do is start looking for blood. At first it isn't urgent, but within a few hours your body starts craving blood."
"The sense of smell might be heightened. We don't really know that. What we do know is the zombies seem to be able to find living creatures pretty well, like trained hunters. They also don't seem to be territorial and don't mind sharing a kill, so they are often seen traveling in packs. Not always, but not unusual, either. Packs are deadly."
"They aren't fast and they aren't smart, but they don't entirely kill a victim. Once the blood stops flowing freely, zombies move on to other victims, leaving an infected near-corpse behind. A half-hour later a new recruit joins the ranks."
"You can fend off a bunch of zombies pretty easily. A thick branch, an old two-by-four, a pipe - all those work very well. You can easily keep them from catching you and draining your blood, unless you're overwhelmed. Here's the biggest problem. The virus is not airborne. The virus spreads on contact. One scratch and you lose. They can't even slobber on you or bleed on you if you have an open cut. Any open cut, any scratch and you become one of them in thirty minutes or less."
"Or your money back," muttered Charlie.
Everyone was quiet for a few seconds.
Jed didn't smile, but looked at each person in turn. "It is true that some people are immune. It seems that about one person in twenty-thousand or so has an entirely different reaction to the virus. In these people the virus has an opposite effect. Synaptic impulses double or triple in speed. Instead of necrosis in all the organs, the immune people develop a form of revitalization."
"In essence, they become superfast, super-strong, extremely smart and almost immortal. In short, they become vampires."
Jed paused and crossed his arms over his chest. "Like me."

The small room became deathly quiet. 
"I thought so. I figured you were one of them," growled Charlie from the back of the room. "So how fast are you Jed? Fast enough to dodge a .38 caliber bullet?" The click of the hammer seemed loud.
Jed didn't move. A cool breeze blew through the partially open window and his brown, almost shoulder-length hair fluttered slightly. His bright blue eyes narrowed as he looked at Charlie.
"We thought so, Charlie. It was just too coincidental that we found you running from three day old zombies in our woods. Did you find them fresh and decoy them all the way here?" Jed smiled. "Or did you use that refrigerated truck we found twenty miles out to bring them close enough to seem like you were in trouble?"
"How about I just put an end to this abomination once and for all?" Charlie sneered. "And I don't need to explain myself to the likes of you, Mr. High and Mighty, better than us. I just need to ..."
A cue ball flew through the air and stopped at the left side of Charlie's head, a solid thud resounding in the room. Charlie's eyes rolled up and he dropped to the floor, the pistol sliding from his hand as he collapsed.
"You didn't need to do that," Jed said. "I had everything under control."
"Oh, I know, but I'm tired of fixing the errant bullet holes in the decor." Maddie walked into the room, a bright smile on her face. "Besides, you usually get all the fun. I'm bored lately."
The five others in the room backed away from the blond as she moved silently toward Charlie's slumped body. Her vintage tennis shoes made no sound as she walked. She wore clean blue jeans and a faded blue shirt, tied at her slim waist. Her blond pony tail swished against her shoulders as she moved. Blue stones sparkled in her dangling earrings.
"Uhm, let's see. Nancy, Cindy, Fae." Jed pointed at the three young women in the group, each in dirty, tattered jeans and worn shirts that had seen better days a decade ago. "Ted and Sam." Jed pointed at the two young men, one in his thirties and the other in his twenties. Ted wore dockers that might once have been brown but were now a washed out grey and a matching, colorless button shirt, small twig buttons keeping the shirt closed in the two middle holes. Sam wore black jeans and black tennis shoes with a khaki shirt and a thin, but stylish down vest. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present my wife and favorite person on the planet, Maddie."
Maddie smiled. "And yes, by some bizarre twist of fate, we are both immune to the virus - vampires, as others call us." She picked the pistol up and tossed it to Jed, who snatched it cleanly out of the air and placed it in the top desk drawer of the old wooden desk he was sitting on. "By the way, Maddie is short for Madison, not Madelyn. I'd just like to make that clear up front."
"Maddie and I own this place, or as much as anyone owns anything anymore. We inherited it from my parents. Most of our family made it here during the pandemic of 2023. Most are buried out back. Maddie and I have known each other since high school."
Sam pointed at Charlie. "Is he dead?"
Maddie lifted Charlie's unconscious body by his waistband and carried him to the front of the room. "No, I didn't hit him that hard. Just enough to take him out and leave him with a headache."
"Are...are you going to drink his blood?" Fae was the youngest, perhaps only seventeen or eighteen. Her face paled and she twisted one strand of her red hair with her left hand.
"Look, we aren't the ones who call zombie-immune people vampires. Other people started that and it stuck. We don't drink blood. We eat just like everyone else does. Our bodies seem to be more efficient about converting food to energy, so we don't eat as often. That's probably how the rumors started that we don't eat, but we do. And right now, I'm starved. Jed, dear, why don't you bring Charlie in for dinner and if everyone will follow me, I'll show you where to wash up and we'll go to the dining room."
A few minutes later everyone sat around a long rectangular oak table in the middle of a dining hall. Food was piled in ceramic bowls in the center of the table. Vegetables, mashed potatoes and a roast occupied the main spot, with a small pitcher of brown gravy sitting next to the steaming potatoes. Three other people joined them after bringing in a plate of freshly baked biscuits. There were nine chairs on each side of the table. Jed and Maddie seated the five conscious newcomers on one side of the table and took seats on the opposite side, their chairs facing the main entry doors for the room. "August, Shelly and Claire." Maddie made the introductions as they all sat, propping Charlie in a chair between Jed and August. The chair at the head of the table sat empty.
All the residents of Selah Ranch wore similar clothes, blue jeans and denim shirts of some sort, all the clothes clean and neat, though showing signs of wear. Shelly and Claire were in their early or mid thirties, both with dark hair. Claire's hair was cut shoulder length. Shelly's hair hung almost to her waist. Both were thin and athletic and they smiled at the newcomers.
August was another story. Standing over six and a half feet tall, his face betrayed no signs of age. He could have been thirty or fifty. He said nothing, but nodded to the two new men and slightly bowed to the three women. His huge frame showed no trace of fat, his massive biceps stretching the fabric in his sleeves.
"The first thing you need to know is that we say grace for every meal," said Jed. "Thankfulness is an attitude we like to cultivate and when we have plenty of food, we are certainly thankful." He smiled at Maddie. They bowed their heads and Jed said a short prayer, thanking God for the food and for the newcomers.
"Normally we eat and discuss some of these issues with newcomers, but Jed had a feeling about Charlie." Maddie scooped potatoes out and dropped some on her plate, passing the bowl to Fae, who sat across from her. "Please, everyone, help yourself."
"I remember you," Fae said shyly around a mouthful of meat and potatoes, glancing at Claire. The two other women nodded in agreement.
"We were scouting east of here when we saw the smoke from your fire. You four were pretty miserable at the time." Claire's bright smile beamed. "We scout along that road a couple times a week."
"We were at the end of our rope," muttered Ted. We'd been walking for weeks or months…I don't know. We lost all track of time. Seems any time we found a place to stay for a while, Z's would show up and we had to move on. Food was scarce, too." He smiled slightly. "Thanks for this, by the way." Ted nodded toward the ranch dwellers.
"Where you from?" Shelly sat back in her chair, her plate clean of food already. Charlie stirred slightly.
Ted spoke up, stuffing a bite of flaky, steamy biscuit in his mouth. "I'm from a little town south of Chicago, originally. Stayed with a group of refugees in Wichita for a few years, but the plague hit there too. Three of us escaped, but I'm the only one left now. Been wandering ever since. Ran into these three in a beat up car just east of here…"
"Lexus. It was a Lexus once." Nancy ran her hands across her eyes. We're all from south of here, originally from the Baton Rouge area. We were safe in the swamp areas for a long, long time, but got pushed out about a year ago. The three of us, Cindy's little boy and my husband drove from place to place, looking for some sort of refuge. Radio said there were some bases in the west. Sort of thought we'd go there." Cindy said nothing, but stared at her now empty plate. "Cindy's boy died. We think a rat bit him. He didn't turn, though. Just died, like my husband, kind of coughing and choking."
Shelly stood up and spoke. "There are still a lot of old time diseases, even more so since we don't inoculate our children." Shelly started to gather the plates and Cindy got up to help, her slight hands shaking. Shelly hugged her and they took the plates out the kitchen doors.
"We know you're awake, Charlie. Have some food and we'll talk."
Charlie opened his eyes and glared at Jed, swallowing quickly when he saw the food still on the table. "I'm not sure I want to eat with your kind…"
"Sure you do, Charlie." Jed heaped some potatoes on a plate, added meat and gravy and the few remaining vegetables. "Eat up." He put the food in front of Charlie and smiled.
Charlie stared at the plate in front of him. Maddie laughed. "I think he's afraid we're fattening him up or something."
"C'mon, Charlie. We need to decide if you're going to stay or move on, but you might as well get a good meal out of it. I don't hold a grudge, especially against someone who knows about The Princess Bride." Jed sat perfectly relaxed in his chair.
Charlie picked up a spoon and shoveled the food in his mouth, his eyes shifting from Jed to Maddie.
"Claire, would you show the other guests to their rooms, please? I guess we need to talk to Charlie." Maddie smiled as the rest of the guests left the room. Charlie kept eating. Jed, Maddie and August simply sat quietly and watched him. August slid his chair back and further away from the table, facing Charlie. Jed turned his chair slightly.
When his plate was almost empty Charlie sat back in his chair, glaring at Maddie. "You're the one who hit me?"
Maddie smiled sweetly and shrugged, saying nothing, then looked at her folded hands on the table, her eyes closed.
"Who sent you, Charlie?" Jed sat back in his chair, fingers in his jean pockets and thumbs slightly tapping at his pocket seams. August just watched with sleepy eyes.
"Sent me? Why would anyone send me?" Charlie's eyebrows drew together and he narrowed his eyes.
"So why try to kill me?"
"Because you and your kind are an abomination of nature. Because you think you're so much better than the rest of us." Charlie's eyes shifted to the left, glancing at August.
Maddie shifted her chair to look directly at Charlie. "What was her name, Charlie?"
Charlie's eyebrows shot up. "Uh… what?"
"The name of the woman who died because of you?"
"She didn't die because of me. She tripped. Ellie tripped, is all."
"And you kept running…"
The muscle in Charlie's jaw tightened. "She tripped. They bit her. I didn't have a choice, did I?"
"And she screamed your name, didn't she, Charlie?" August spoke quietly, his voice low, a rumble in his massive chest. "She cried out your name and you were too afraid to go back and get her."
"What do you know?" Charlie pushed his chair back and stood up, facing August, who remained seated, legs stretched out.
Jed spoke quietly. "Did she follow you, Charlie? Did a zombie with Ellie's face come after you?"
Charlie whirled around, tears springing to life in the corners of his widened eyes. "She… she…"
He slumped in the chair, head in his hands and cried.
"We were bit and survived. Ellie was bit and died. That's not our fault, Charlie. We didn't choose." Maddie's voice was quiet.
After a minute or so, a huge hand settled on Charlie's shoulder. August's deep voice rumbled. "We've almost all lost people, man. We've all run. Maybe you could have saved her, but probably not. You have to come to grips with the reality that you have no control over life, Charlie. Just over yourself. Just over your thoughts."
Charlie wrenched away from August's hand and stood up, glaring at Jed with hate-filled eyes. "What do you people know? I hate all vampires. I'll hunt you all until I've killed every last one of you or died trying."
Jed looked briefly at Maddie and shrugged. He stood up, looking down slightly at Charlie and his rage. "Well, Charlie, I'm sorry you feel that way. I could end your mission here, but I just don't have the energy. It's been a long day." He turned away and he and Maddie walked hand in hand toward the exit door. "August will show you to your room and make sure you get on your way in the morning. Don't come back here, Charlie. I never want to see you again. I only have so much patience, even with someone that knows movies."
Charlie glared at their backs as they left the room. When the door closed he turned to August. "You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
August didn't smile. He just dropped a massive hand on Charlie's shoulder and led him from the room.

"What did you do to Charlie?"
Ted voiced the question at breakfast, but five pairs of eyes echoed it. Biscuits sat in a ceramic bowl in the center of the table and Maddie and Jed were finishing scrambled eggs as the five newcomers entered the room.
"Good morning. I hope you slept well. Eggs and other breakfast items are in the kitchen. We're a little short of meat right now, but we might have a little ham left. Make yourself something then clean up." Maddie smiled. "In about an hour Claire will get you assigned to chores around the ranch."
"What happened to Charlie?" Ted's voice didn't waver and he stood straight behind one of the chairs.
Jed looked up. "Charlie chose not to stay with us, and that's okay. Each of you can make that same decision and you're free to leave. In Charlie's case, August is escorting him to the other side of the mountains and he is free to continue as he sees fit."
"You didn't kill him?" Ted still didn't move.
Jed sat back and sighed. "Ted, he threatened me, but did me no harm. As a matter of fact, he's the one with a knot on his head. Life is a precious thing, Ted. I can fix a lot of broken things, but I cannot give life to a dead person. So I try not to take a life if I can help it. Zombies, of course, are the exception. They pose an immediate and deadly danger. Charlie was no threat and August will take care of him."
Jed stood up, his eyes narrowed. "However, let me be clear. If Charlie returns here with the intent to harm anyone, all bets are off. Then he is a danger. I won't murder, but I will protect." He picked up his plates and fork. "I have work to do, so help yourselves to breakfast. I'll see everyone around dinnertime, I think."
Claire stood quietly in the doorway. "I'll take care of your dishes, Jed."
Jed left the room. Claire picked up the plates and fork. "Here. I'll show everyone where the kitchen gear is kept."
"We have twenty-six people now. That's okay, but we need to think about sending out another mission team." Jed sat in front of the fireplace, his long legs stretched out, tired circles under his eyes. The padded leather chair seemed perfectly fitted to his body.
Maddie sat in the chair next to him, her legs curled under her. The flickering firelight reflected from her blond hair. Jed once again pondered how lucky he was that she was in his life, how blessed they were both immune to the virus.
August lounged on a long black couch, his legs dangling off the end, feet toward the fire. The flickering light deepened the dark black of his hair and he ran his right hand over the slight stubble on his chin.
"The latest bunch have only been here six weeks, Jed," he rumbled. "Ted and the ladies seem fine. Mickey is all mooney-eyed about Fae, actually, but at least he's behaving himself."
"He better," growled Maddie.
"They're all hard workers. Ted has a real knack for the bio-tanks, which is fortunate since we're running low on bio-fuel for the generators."
"I know. We're back to candles, firewood and early nights."
"Not always a bad thing," smiled Maddie.
Jed smiled in response, but the last few weeks had been hard and it showed.
"Sam is a hard worker too, but keeps to himself. I don't think he's said a dozen words to me in the last month, just nods and does what needs doing." August stretched, joints popping in his back. "I keep him away from the animals, though. They don't much get along."
"Cindy is good with the horses. She's good with all the animals, actually, but the horses really like her." Maddie cocked her head and looked at Jed. "What's really worrying you? We can't send a mission team out during the winter, and we're already in early September." She paused. "At least, I think we are. I might have lost track."
"The bio-fuel reactors are clogging up. The horses are restless and tired and we need new stock." Jed rubbed his eyes. "Okay, that's normal stuff." He reached down, grabbed the poker and moved an oak log into the center of the fireplace. "We haven't heard from Dale's ranch in three months."
Maddie sat quietly looking at Jed.

Congratulations if you made it all the way to here. I also pasted in one of my other works-in-progress, where a fugitive amnesiac searches for his identity and discovers the plot that could destroy his people. I'm 20,000+ words into it. Now the analyzer says I write like

That's pretty cool, but the diverse nature of the tool leads me to one inescapable conclusion.

I write like Vince Bernhardt.

Monday, July 22, 2013

RED 2- a movie review

Summary: I liked it. Though it seemed to wear a little thin on the jokes, and we got relationship advice from Marvin (that's just odd), it was still fun to watch.
Yeah, there are a couple spoilers. I'm not bothering to white them out. It just doesn't matter, really.
If you want a decent review of RED (2010) then go read the one at Dan the Man's Movie Reviews. I don't disagree with his review of RED, though I think I probably liked it a bit more than he did.
The original RED relied on the quirky introductions of the team, and that supplied a lot of the level of fun. This one tried to do that with a couple of the characters, most notably Katja and Bailey, but I think it failed in that. There is only a certain amount of eccentricity you can take with movie characters and I think we already reached our limit.
I certainly liked RED 2 more than Dan did (he rated it as 2.5/Crapola). I suspect that is because he is only twenty years old and in his prime, so a movie about a bunch of old butt-kickers is not very funny.
Trust me, when it is a little hard to get out of bed because of all the achy joints and creaking bones, a movie where a bunch of old folks are running around like young 007s is truly funny.
Of all the characters in the movie, Helen Mirren is the most believable, actually. She doesn't run around and try to act young. She simply sits back with her wonderful sniper rifle and shoots everyone. That's the job I want.
Unless I could have the job they gave Anthony Hopkins. Crazy man, evil genius. Yeah, that sounds fun. What is really sad about that is that it took him thirty-two years to engineer an escape from MI6 imprisonment. Genius? Hardly. A real genius wouldn't have been in that predicament to begin with and certainly could have escaped sooner. I can't blame him for wanting to blow up England in revenge though.
This movie is barely a plot, though they try pretty hard to put some twists in it. Near the beginning, our CIA agent Jack Horton (who?) well-played by Neal McDonough says to Frank Moses "Yeah, unarmed against - mumble, mumble, five six - seven armed men. Are you that good?"
Did you read the credits? Bruce Willis is the star, so of course he's that good.
I'm not sure why they brought in Catherine Zeta-Jones as Katja, though. She's pretty and we got a few jokes from her, so I guess that's okay.
For the same reason that I like Gemmell's Winter Warriors, I liked this movie. Was it worth seeing? I think so, and you'll have a good time. The hubris of the government agencies made me laugh a few times, though I'm not sure I was supposed to (and I'm really hoping that our governments are not that stupid, but I digress).
John Malkovich had some of the best lines in the film, although Lee Byung-hun had the very best of all, and you might only get it if you are old (or into movies).
Marvin Boggs says something like "If there's one thing I know it's covert ops and women." Frank Moses says "That's two things." Han Cho Bai says something like "No, that is one thing, grasshopper."
Great. Relationship advice from Marvin. They pulled that one a few times in the movie, to varying degrees of success.
I missed seeing Ernest Borgnine. According to IMDB, he was written into the plot, but he died in July, 2012. What a grand master actor he was!
Worth buying? Not a chance. I watched the original RED twice in a week (each of my youngest watched it independently, and I'm a doting father) and enjoyed it. I'll watch RED 2 when it comes on TV and I'm sure I'll like it then too.
I have to give it a six. Worth seeing at the theater, but not worth buying. Or you could wait for the rentals and you won't miss much. I'm begging Hollywood not to make a third one though.
What we're waiting for, of course, is The Wolverine next weekend. RED 2 was just a filler!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weekly Update

These look like ours, but they aren't
We have asparagus growing in our garden. Darling planted some tiny little plants at the beginning of last week. We pulled weeds on Tuesday evening and I noted the little stalks. Now they are over a foot long! Who knew asparagus grew that fast? Well, I'm sure some people did, but I sure didn't. Maybe it's really a weed.
And where does asparagus grow in the wild, anyway. Stalking the Wild Asparagus - good name for a book title, isn't it? This was actually the first book by Euell Gibbons, published in 1962. According to Wikipedia it was an instant success. Well, no wonder, with such an amazing title.
I still don't like asparagus, but it looks like I'll be eating some.

The taming of the kitten progresses, albeit slowly. Darling managed to snag the little beastie and brought him in to hold him and pet him and speak sweet things to him for almost half an hour. He then bolted when she took him back outside. His name is still pending.

Hallmark Channel has a new series on television: Cedar Cove. It stars Andie MacDowell as Judge Olivia Lockhart and has a blonde Teryl Rothery as Grace. It's Hallmark. The only reason I even mention the show (though we did watch the pilot and I like Andie MacDowell) is that the show is based on Port Orchard, Washington, up near Seattle (but not filmed there). Why is that a big deal? We used to live there. My brothers and I once decided that we would all move there when we grew up. I still have fond memories of our small five acres, our horse Cocoa and all the chickens. My brothers do too!
Maybe when I grow up I'll go back and live in Port Orchard.

So I (finally) went to the Doctor on Wednesday for my persistent cough and discovered I have bronchial pneumonia, whatever that is. It did explain the pain in my left side, though. The Doc said if I waited a few more days I'd be in the hospital. Bad news must make me feel bad, because I picked up a fever that night and stayed home from work for a few days.
I watched westerns, and since I was sick everybody just smiled and indulged me.

The Rounders has Ben and Howdy (Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda) are a couple aged cowboys who spend a hard winter gathering a herd of strays for Jim Ed Love (Chill Wills). The focus is really on their relationship with a mean-spirited, ill-tempered horse. Of course, the movie tosses a couple of pretty girls into the mix. I don't know if Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda made any other movies together, but they are a couple of my favorite actors. This was a fun movie, though a bit slow and tame for today's audiences. There is a bit of a twist at the end.
Probably my favorite part was where Vince Moore (Edgar Buchanan) is sharing his moonshine with Howdy and asks where he got his name. Howdy replies that his given name is Marion, but no cowboy can go out on the range and bust broncos with a name like Marion, so he changed it to "Howdy." Now when people say "Howdy" he already feels like they know him. The inside joke, of course, is that John Wayne's given name is Marion Morrison, and I know they must have laughed over that.

I forced the Young Man to watch Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He endured it. This is a John Ford movie. Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) and Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart - I just can't call him James) are in contention on two fronts. First, since it is a John Ford movie, they have their eyes on the same girl, Hallie (Vera Miles). Secondly, they have contrasting views on surviving in the old west. Ransom wants to bring civility and law to the Territory (as well as statehood), but Tom still believes that the gun is what maintains law and order. Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) is the villain who still rules through fear and intimidation in the small town of Shinbone.
An aged and respected Senator Ransom Stoddard has returned to Shinbone and relates the true story of Liberty Valance to the newspaper editor. At the end Stoddard says to Maxwell Scott (the editor) "You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?" In reply the editor says "No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
C'mon, that's priceless.

I also watched John Wayne in McLintock! (1963), but I didn't make the Young Man watch it. This one is typical John Wayne, who plays the wealthy cattle baron and eventually chases his wife, Maureen O'Hara, through town, a scene reminiscent of The Quiet Man (1952), though I thought the younger version did it better. I will say, that in the intervening years Maureen O'Hara lost none of her charm. Can't quite say that about the Duke.