Friday, July 31, 2015

Battles with Blarg.

The former host of the Vitamin Fred site, Blog.com, is still making me nuts a year after I switched over to Blogger.

When I started doing this mostly useless but occasionally entertaining feature more than three years ago, I wanted to go with an outfit that wasn't an overbearing Silicon Valley Internet Death Star, but maybe a plucky bunch of guys who had the smarts to reserve a great domain (blog.com seeming to be the perfect place for a blog, n'est-ce pas?) and, being number two (or three, or 23,412) would try harder.

Didn't work out.

Many were the days that I would get the dreaded 502, the bad gateway that meant that my site was down, and sometimes that the entire Blog site was down---all two million users, according to Blog's home page. This often came at the most inopportune times, such as smack in the middle of one of my serialized stories, or when the great IMAO was planning put up one of my pages as the Link of the Day.

And let me point out that I was paying actual cash money for the privilege of using the site; it's generally free to use, but I paid a fee so I could post Amazon ads for my books.

So last May I threw in the towel and made the switch to the Internet Death Star. When my subscription ran out on Blog.com the Amazon ads went away, but the rest of the site remained up.

But when I checked in to reference an old entry---after the 502 error cleared up---I found that now all the pictures are gone. Every image I posted on the site: gone.

Which sucks. Because there were a lot of cartoons up there. And product humor. So now there's a lot of pages like this:

Found this in the dollar store! For reals! Can you believe it? Look at this thing!!!!1!!!!!

Har har! That's the most amazing thing I ever saw! 


Yeah, so I'm a little peeved.

I'm planning to take the damn site down, after I save some entries that might be worthwhile. I'm sure that will mean a lot of dead links from this site, but I'll fix whatever I find.

Not sure if there's a takeaway from all this, except to say that maybe Twitter would have been a more appropriate site for the semi-ephemeral nature of the Internet. If there's a video online of me getting my face shoved in a cake, it will be posted for all to see for the next century; but if there's a cartoon I'm really proud of, it will vanish into electronic dust at any given moment. That's e-biz.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Updates on the week that is.

You know how, just on Monday, I was kvetching that there was candy corn in the dollar store advertised as Halloween candy, right? And in July, more than three months before the actual holiday of Halloween?

One of the objections I anticipated was that dollar stores are notorious for selling whatever they have whenever they have it, and I can't expect seasonality there.

Well: Tuesday, at PetSmart:

Really, PetSmart? Really?

Look, I understand that pet shops can't quite get into the Back-to-School swing that every other store is; after all, obedience school is every day (or for many dogs, never). But do we have to jump all the way over a quarter of the year to start with the orange and black? Please.

And yet, I was in a supermarket yesterday and also saw Halloween candy. I would have taken another picture but I was too depressed. IT IS STILL JULY, PEOPLE.

On another topic, I fear I owe a minor apology to C. Howard and Company, makers of this stuff:


On Sunday, I said that Choward's Scented Gum was "very strong ... if someone [is] indulging in the gum or candy you can smell him coming. I have no evidence to prove this, but my anecdotal experience says that in the greater New York area in the 1970s, sales of Howard's violet candies shot up as marijuana use became more common." Well, I happened to be in a tobacconist's on Tuesday that sold the gum, so I bought a pack. 

I was chewing a piece last night not five feet from my wife, and she did not catch the scent. The dog did, but he's got a superhuman nose---or he just saw me chewing something and wanted to know what it was. (His current life goal is to lick the inside of my mouth while I'm eating, something about which we do not see eye-to-eye.) Furthermore, I found the flavor quite enjoyable, much less perfumey than I remembered. Either the gum is smaller or less potent than I recall, or the air quality much different from the days when I would be knocked back by a guy chewing it. I can believe that my taste has expanded to include floral (violet-flavored) candies, as opposed to just mint or fruit flavors. 

So there is my update: Halloween co-conspirators with the dollar store and an apology to Choward's. At Vitamin Fred we don't wait more than 40 years to disavow errors, unlike some lesser news outlets

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The dog is relatively cheap.

I've always thought that a good hobby ought to be enjoyable with very little money or a whale of a lot of money, or any amount of money in between. 

You can try fishing with a string, a stick, a worm, and a pin, or you can have a giant sport fishing boat with mounted rods and $500 lures and God knows what else. Maybe a private chef to cook your sailfish. You can take up shooting with a Walmart pellet gun for plinking in the yard, or get a gun collection with a walk-in safe, indoor range, and black-market weaponry. You can homebrew with a big jug, some empty bottles, and cheap ingredients, or turn your cellar into a brewery. You get one cheap HO scale set with an engine and two cars, and before you know it there's a room with fifteen tracks and a roundhouse and every Christmas you get Lionel-themed gifts from everyone. 

I guess pets are like that a little. You can get a goldfish and enjoy it in a vase for five days. Or you can get a horse.


Not my car. No horse.
Most of the time the wise hobbyist will start small---perhaps a pair of knitting needles and a couple of skeins of yarn, rather than jumping in all at once with the yard ball winder and knitting machine and spinning wheel. It takes time for a hobby obsession to build.

The dog is a little like a hobby in that regard. When we got Tralfaz I knew we'd have the cost of him, his medical care, his food and treats, his license, and his toys. Then came classes, and possible dogsitting (which we haven't needed, but a friend of mine drops $5000 a year to have someone come to play with his dog for an hour a day). Then the possibility of fencing off the backyard, which we have not yet done, but probably will when we have the dough on hand (buy my books! Help give my pup a big playpen!). And then maybe a homemade agility course to keep him trained. And THEN a second dog, or third....

Still, it's cheaper than a horse. So it could be worse.

I've always kind of wanted an elephant, and that would be worse. An elephant might be lonely here, though; not a lot of other elephants to play with. Besides, New York probably has some stupid law against keeping elephants in the yard. Stupid New York!

Hey, do they breed dwarf pygmy elephants?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Boo! (Hoo!)

Seen yesterday afternoon, Sunday, the 26th day of JULY:


Now, since I can't hear you screaming, I have to assume what your response might be. Perhaps it's one of these:

* "Oh, Fred, what do you expect these days? No one cares about the calendar; they just want to be the first to get in on the big Candy Corn Bonanza, even if it means putting out Halloween candy more than a quarter of the year before Halloween."

* "Oh, Fred, you went to the dollar store again, didn't you? You know ordinary rules of time and space don't apply in the dollar store."

* "Oh, Fred, everyone loves Halloween! What's the big deal?"

* "Oh, Fred, Halloween is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know."

* "Oh, Fred, show some kindness toward the Halloween candy loving community, which has suffered these long nine months, waiting for the first candy corn like a tired Alaskan looking for the first crocus of spring."

* "Oh, Fred, it's the dollar store, right? It has probably been sitting there since last year. Blecch."

* "Oh, Pete -- wait, your name is Fred? I thought it was Pete."

* "Candy corn? AIIIIEIEEEEEE!!!!!"

I complained a couple of weeks ago about companies pushing the hands of time, specifically starting back-to-school sales in July and, in the case of Hallmark, Christmas ornament previews. But school is starting in August for a lot of kids, so it was a short jump from July compared to Halloween, and Hallmark --- I sometimes think they sort of consider their stores to be Christmas-themed shops that just happen to have other stuff. (If you've been in the kind of American town that has lots of pricey little stores you know there's always a Christmas shoppe running all year long.)

There is no reason to whip out the Halloween candy at us before September, I say. Mid to late September at that. And I don't think it was leftover from last year. Maybe the dollar store in question was too eager, but I'll be on the lookout in other stores. Don't make me write a nasty letter to the local paper, stores!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mint condition.

Here's a candy you do not see every day, unless I guess you sell them or work for the company:




Choward's Peppermints.

Choward's is an interesting brand. The C. Howard Company has been making Choward's candies since 1934, according to the company Web site. They make candies in flavors like lemon, guava, and spearmint, but they're probably best known, when they are known, for these:

Scented Gum and Violet candy.

"Mr. Howard, in search for a 'unique and different flavored candy', concocted a delightful confectionary mint called, 'Choward's Violet', in a small industrial loft on Broadway" in New York, says the company, whereafter he sold it on street corners. The Scented Gum is also violet flavored, says Amazon. If you've never tried them, or eaten an actual violet, you probably have never had anything that tastes quite like these.

Personally, I never cared for them. The violet flavor is very strong (the company uses natural oils where possible, it seems), and if someone in indulging in the gum or candy you can smell him coming. I have no evidence to prove this, but my anecdotal experience says that in the greater New York area in the 1970s, sales of Howard's violet candies shot up as marijuana use became more common.

The peppermint is not nearly that strong, but it sure is nice. Made with genuine sugar, these classy little mints are delightful. They don't try to blow you away with mint like Altoids, but they give you tons of flavor.


Think of the best mint you ever got at a diner's cash register --- granted, a low bar --- and trust me when I say this is much better. Just too easy to eat. That square roll may not last very long. And I adore the package design, which looks unchanged since the 1930s.

I salute you, C. Howard! I love small candy companies, particularly guys who go back to the pre-WWII days of the American candy industry. But I'll probably still always give the suspicious eye to any guy who comes up smelling like violets. Just let me check those pupils, son...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Boom boom, ain't it great?

I'm very disappointed in myself.

I took this "How Neurotic Are You?" One-Minute Personality Test the other day, and I was disappointed in the results. First of all, it took me more than a minute. Me! Is this the same guy who once finished the SAT so fast he had time to bite all ten of his fingernails and all ten of his toenails? Am I slipping?

And what did I get?

"You are more neurotic than at least 70% of people"

(That's from the Personality Test, not the SAT, by the way.)

As I said, I was very disappointed in these results. In truth, I am more neurotic than far a much larger percentage than 70. This is so unfair.


I should note that the results also said, "even more than that if you scored higher than a 29."

That made me feel a little mollified. After all, I scored 35 of 40, and "The closer your score is to 40, the more neurotic you are." The average score being 20.

Still, there's obviously room for improvement. If I buckle down, get off the stick, pull up my socks, get my rear in gear, and start walloping the ol' watermelon, I'm sure I can score 40. Granted, I haven't had a perfect score since I aced the shoelace tying in kindergarten, but this is right in my wheelhouse.

It's time, people. Time for all this worry, delusion, and misery to pay off. I know you're all pulling for me.

Uh... you are, aren't you?

Oh, you're one of THEM.

[hides under sofa]

Friday, July 24, 2015

I Man.

The other night I was having trouble sleeping, and I started to make a mental list. Trivia lists help me fall asleep sometimes. State capitals, nations of the world in alphabetical order, New York Mets who didn't suck, that kind of thing.

I started to think of comic book heroes, and began an alphabetical list of DC superheroes. No villains. No Marvel. And no Legion of Super Heroes! (I've had to expel most of them from the memory banks over the years anyway; they really are legion.)

Tough challenge? Surprisingly. At D I hit my first snag, having to resort to Deadman. And I had thought I could coast just using Justice League members for a while.

But at I, I was totally stopped. No I heroes? It would seem not; having dissed the Legion I couldn't use Invisible Kid. No Marvel, so no Iron Man. I finally had to give up.

In the morning, a check of the DC Comics character database (which, admittedly, is far from exhaustive) showed no I heroes.

This seemed to show a dearth of imagination. I figured I'd come up with an I hero for DC, which they might choose to use in any way they like, so that I could complete my alphabet.

I couldn't come up with a name for the guy---well, beyond the first letter, anyway:


You think about it, DC, and get back to me. Hey, if the character sucks, maybe people will pick on him and leave Aquaman alone for a while. Win-win.

---

P.S.: I mentioned my I dilemma to the highly intelligent Mrs. Key, who immediately said, "Isis." Isis was indeed a DC character back in the '70s, concurrent with the Saturday morning live-action show that ran for two years. Filmation did the series, and I'm not sure that they didn't own the character. Nevertheless, the comic book ran eight issues, and the character has appeared since, in altered form. I think I would have been reluctant to use Isis as the I---not because of the terrorist army that has used that name, but because of her peculiar history in the DC universe. Still, my wife beat me at my own game, and she's a total non-dork, so big props on that.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Termator: Genisys.

Yep, harvest time's begun at Ol' Fred's Big Termator Ranch.


Very first 'mator of the year, by cracky.
I don't grow a lot of vegetables, actually, or anything else. I just put out a few pots. I'm not one for grubbing around in the backyard; God bless every Italian grandfather I ever knew growing up, whose little outer-borough backyard had a plot for plum tomatoes, right by the bocce court and the aboveground pool. Amazing what they could squeeze into a small chain-link fenced yard.

But no, I've never been temped to turn up the soil for a vegetable garden, because then I would have to go to total war against the bugs. And worse, the critters and varmints. We do have our share.

Rabbits, groundhogs, deer, skunks, field mice, coyote, and bears have been spotted around here, and any of them could make hash of a garden in minutes. So that adds another layer of effort to the process---fencing, repellents, traps. And even then your more motivated animal might win through. So you blast it to hell with your Elmer Fudd weaponry and you feel terrible for killing Peter Rabbit. Or you might. I feel terrible probably because I shot my foot off.

So I'll be content with a handful of tomatoes and red peppers, grown on the deck or porch. If the government says I have to start a Victory Garden to help whip our enemies in World War III, I'll take the fight to the critters and varmints, but not before. I like having two feet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Moloch issues an apology.

Ninth Circle, Hell---Moloch today issued an apology, with clarification, for the recent events surrounding his office regarding the .release of an undercover videotape.

"Believe me, I am as shocked as you are," said the one-time pagan god, currently chief among Satan's angels. "Those of us who take very seriously the concerns of our worshipers know that we do not treat such things and the concurrent accusations lightly."

Moloch's office claims to have been "completely unaware" that some of its priests, after having sacrificed children on the altar, were then selling the parts of the children for use as food, fertilizer, or diabolical research.

"Boy, is my face red."
"Our priests are specially trained to have the victim's spotless flesh completely consumed by flame," said the evil creature of the pit. "In no way are any bits and pieces supposed to be leftover for sale to pad their own pockets." Moloch maintained that "Our top priority is the compassionate care we provide by the killing and destruction of sacrificial victims. Destruction really is Job One here."

The current controversy was sparked by the emergence of a secret video of one of Moloch's priests, Dr. Splackworth, who thought he was lunching with a diabolical researcher from New York University. The undercover videographer claimed to be interested in buying "leftovers" from Moloch's sacrifices, which Splackworth enthusiastically supported. In a second video released today, Splackworth was seen haggling over prices with the videographer, hoping "to get a new chariot out of this, something racy."

"The heavily edited video, concocted for political gain, in no way reflects our way of doing business here," continued Moloch's statement. "Although admittedly Dr. Splackworth's behavior was a bit embarrassing, rest assured that we aim to completely annihilate the children we kill."

In a followup statement, Moloch's office noted that "No one profits from our killing, except of course those who send the kids to extinction requesting our help." The statement added that Dr. Splackworth has been relocated to a new office in Hell, pending outcome of Moloch's infernal investigation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PSA from the dog #2.

Hello, friends. It's me again. The dog.


Friends, I'd like to talk to you today about a horrible scourge that is destroying civilization. I am, of course, referring to this:


Yes, the "No Dogs" sign. Placed there to tell you that your playful little chum, your furry little companion, is not welcome at this establishment. That they hate your fuzzy little buddy so much they would draw a red circle line thingie over him.

What kind of a mean person would do a thing like that?

Friends, let's face it: Hard as it is to believe, some people don't like dogs. They don't understand how important it is to have your wee merry canine pal with you! They say, "No dogs in restaurants, you stupid dog lover!" They say, "Remove that beast from the library, you illiterate nincompoop!" They say, "Hey! This is the operating room! Get that dog out of here!"

How can they expect you to recover from your surgery without your puppy to cheer you? To remind you how much he needs you? Don't they know dogs help people recover from trauma and nuttiness? It's true! Purina says so!

Friends, we pups would never suggest you go and actually punch restaurant owners, health inspectors, supermarket managers, allergists, and other anti-dog types in the nose. We just ask you, with our soulful puppy eyes, to not frequent such establishments that post signs like the one above. In time, maybe they'll come around. Or we can bite them.

Thank you for listening friends! And remember:

A no-dogs sign you should see 
Then send your dog to go and pee 
On it. 

This has been a public service announcement from the dog.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Secret installations.

We know that the suburbs are full of secret spy stuff. Oh, yeah, we do.

After all, when you're planning your secret installation, whether for the CIA, U.N.C.L.E., Dr. No, the FBI, CONTROL, SPECTRE, the Слу́жба вне́шней разве́дки, SMERSH, Chinese Ministry of State Security, KAOS, or anyone else, you want to be out of town so no one sees you digging this big hole in the ground, but you don't want to be so far in the countryside that it takes your top agents eight hours just to drive their sports cars there. You want the suburbs, where there's not much going on, someone's always building something, and people schlep from there into town every day. 

Things are quiet in the 'burbs, and there's tons of nondescript wilderness around to build in. 


Blah, wilderness.


Another advantage is that everyone drives in the suburbs, so no one will come across the secret entrance to your lair.

No one... but the DOG-WALKING GUY!

(Me, that is.)
Secret entrance hatch.
I was rather surprised that they didn't even bother to put any signs around the hatch, like "KEEP OUT" or "HIGH VOLTAGE" or "NOTHING TO SEE HERE" or "PERFECTLY ORDINARY CIVILIAN HATCH HERE." Don't they know how suspicious things are when there's no signs?

I'm hoping it's CIA; at least they'll be on our side. Not evildoers like SPECTRE or the NSA or the IRS. I totally would expect the IRS to have secret headquarters where they bury incriminating hard drives.

But I don't know who it is. Not that they aren't clever, despite their lack of signs. I saw a big tank truck with "markings" from the county "sewer department" running "hoses" down the hatch. Yeah, right. Maybe delivering stolen gold through those hoses. Or maybe delivering SECRETS!

So the takeaway now is that you need to be alert to these kinds of installations in your neighborhood. There's plenty of Web sites for UFO sightings; bah! We need to start monitoring secret installation locations. Maybe if we can mark them, we'll figure out what they're up to. Pay especial attention if your suburb has features that are particularly attractive to secret lairs, like abandoned mine shafts, or volcanoes. Especially volcanoes.

We'll get to the bottom of this. The truth is down there.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lazy bags.

The lovely and talented Mrs. Key wanted to pack up some beautiful baby clothes for a baby (well, for the baby's parents, who would at a suitable time stuff the baby into them), and to that end wanted a nice shirt box and some wrapping paper. Hubby to the rescue!

Or IS HE?

Four stores later I'd seen plenty of bags. Bags, bags, bags, bags. Bags to shove birthday presents in. Bags to shove wedding presents in. Bags to shove Just Because presents in. Bags small enough for a charm, large enough for a full-grown medium dog. Bags for every occasion. Boxes for none.

What the hell?

Is that all anyone does anymore? Ball up your gift, chuck it in a sack, and cover it with tissue paper? Some of the four stores also had gift wrapping paper, but I don't know why. If you can't box it, you can't properly wrap it. If it comes in a box (say, you're buying someone the game of Monopoly as a wedding gift in hopes it will cause them to divorce), you can just find a big enough bag to throw it in. God knows there are enough of those.

PaperMart.com has a few.
It just seems like we're getting a little lazy here. Twenty years ago we were making fun of the Martha Stewart types who were nesting presents in handwoven raffia, wrapping them with hand-stamped paper; now we can't pack a shirt box?

(Not that I'm not lazy; the wife's present is being shipped, though, and packing a gift bag always ensures the gift will look like crap when it gets where it's going.)

I don't know. Sloth is a deadly sin, and we need to pull up our socks and make the effort. Avoid the bag trap! Wrap your gifts!

Or just send a gift card and the hell with it. Gifts are a lot of work, you know.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

No s'more.

Longtime readers will remember by strange relationship with s'mores. Or not. Or maybe it wasn't that strange after all. 

The strange relationship was that I never had an actual s'more until last year. We were not a camping family. Our idea of roughing it was a motel with no ice machine. There was no rustlin' up a mess o' catfish in our house. Mom would go to the A&P and rustle up a mess o' canned goods. Sure, we had Hershey's chocolate, and graham crackers, and sometimes even marshmallows (sometimes toasted on sticks over the BBQ grill), but they never came together in that grand concoction of summer called the s'more. 

But over the years I tried a number of s'more-flavored things. Well, this was a recent one. 



Balance Bars come in many flavors, and s'more is one of them. Others include Cookie Dough, Dark Chocolate Peanut, Chocolate Mint Cookie Crunch, and Caramel Nut Blast. Glorified candy bar, you say? (And you say it like it's a bad thing.) I say: Hey, I could have had an actual s'more instead, if I wanted to go to the trouble of making one.

And the real s'more would have been better, because this just sort of tasted like something that could vaguely remind you of s'mores. I could barely taste the graham or the marshmallow. The chocolate is so-so. If I hadn't read the label, I don't know that I'd have guessed what it was.

Really, it must be good for you, because it doesn't taste that great. (And it does have 14g protein, 3g fiber, 23 vitamins and minerals, so maybe it is good for you.)

Bottom line: Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby. Sometimes the real thing is not healthy, but it's real. And now I'm getting hungry thinking about it. (And not for a mess o' catfish.)

Friday, July 17, 2015

The big clock.

My wife enjoys watching remodeling shows on HGTV, and I prefer it to the stupid stuff that clogs up the rest of the channels. While I'm composing brilliant blog entries like this one,* she may be watching Fixer Upper or The Property Brothers or something. As long as I don't have to adjust our house for every idea that comes down the pike, I'm glad.

One idea that seems to be popping up on all the shows is the Giant Clock. You'll see a living room or a dining room when it is staged for the big reveal; in such rooms where you would once only see a grandfather or mantel clock, you now see a clock on the wall with a four-foot diameter. Maybe five.

These seem to be all the rage. The million home decorating catalogs that clog up our mailbox all have big clocks. The Wayfair site has almost four thousand wall clocks listed, and it appears that hundred upon hundreds of them have a diameter of 40 inches or more. Mostly distressed to look old.

I like clocks. I like to be on time. I like to know what time it is. But I think having a big clock would make me distressed after a while. I would think it was bearing down on me, reminding me that life is fleeting, that time waits for no man. That no matter how on top of things I think I am, I am already late.


When you think about it, in a way, clocks are silly. I mean, I know it's important to know what time it is. You don't want to miss your train, be late for your colonoscopy. And it is extremely difficult to figure longitude by the stars without a sea clock. But as a device, the clockwork does nothing but move. It doesn't push a vehicle or drive an assembly line belt. It just moves hands around and around. In a way, it does less than all other machines, all of which have to power gears and wheels in a rhythm, but they do it so they can do something else. The clock does it so you can see how long it's been doing it.

Anyway, I'm glad that the big clocks I see on TV are all analog. Wayfair only has 64 digital wall clocks, and few of them are gigantic. Maybe they sell those to stadia.**

--------------

*Warning: Contains no actual brilliance. 

**One stadium, two stadia, yes? No?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

iPromise iFulfilled.

I said the other day that the new novel, MacFinster II: MacFinster's Folly would be available soon on iBooks for your Mac stuff (iPad, iPhone, iVacuum, iBowlingball, etc.), and I was right! In fact, it is up now, sooner than I expected.



Here is the direct link. Or, you can search for "MacFinster" or "Frederick Key" on the iBooks app.

Please do. I will be crushingly grateful. I will embarrass you with my gratitude. I will come to your house and walk your dog. I will do your grocery run for you. If you buy it and like it and write me a good review, I will take your car for an oil change. I will drop off your laundry at the cleaner's. (I'd wash it myself, but that might seem a little weird, wouldn't it?) I will spend an hour with your elderly grandpa at the home, and if you want I will disguise myself as you. I will casually mention to your boss that you're the bestest ever and deserve a humongous raise. I will give you my bottle cap collection. I will cut your lawn with my own lawn mower, using my own gas. I will bring you candy. I will make you a nice casserole. I will teach your children arts and crafts so they will spend hours gluing things and give you a little peace. I will come to your house and walk your cat.

No, I'm absolutely non-desperate, thanks for asking!

It's always exciting and nerve-racking---are these things ever exclusive? Maybe not after a certain age---to launch a little book boat on the waters of public opinion. Once it is out there, you can't do anything more with it. It has to go out and make its own fortunes. You may think it's the greatest thing since buttered toast, but if no one comes across it, it might as well be moldy bread. I think that's about as many metaphors as I've ever mixed for anything in one paragraph in my life.

I guess I mean to say, I love this book and I hope you will give it a try, and I hope you will love it too. What more need be said?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Movie cereals.

I know, I know; I had a coupon, all right? And it was doubled by the supermarket. Do I make fun of what you eat?


Okay, let's see what it looks like out of the box...


Fairly typical General Mills cereal, I'd say. Crispy things with marshmallowy things.

Let's see what GM has to say about this:

"'The ideas stemmed from our team’s desire to bring even more fun to the cereal aisle,' says Alan Cunningham, innovation marketing manager. 'Star Wars is as big as it gets and continues to thrive in appeal to fans young and old.'”

Fun! The boxes are out in Darth Vader and Yoda versions now, R2D2 and Storm Troopers next year. No actual actors' faces, which would require money changing hands.

General Mills has been touting its sugar reduction program, but this stuff still kind of tastes like Froot Loops. I don't know if that's a win for the flavor scientists or a reflection of how little they've really accomplished.

Let's have a look at those shapes:


Okay... This is all I could find, but there were more on the box. Looks like we have a TIE fighter and maybe an X-Wing in the top row... A couple of ice cream cones fighting as if they were light sabres, and an AT-AT Walker in the second... a Storm Trooper, a... Yoda head? And obviously that last shape is a combination of Pinky and Inky from Pac-Man.

Well, it was all right, but I know I'm not the target demo. Still, cereals like this never really were super awesome. If you didn't know what these shapes were supposed to be, you'd be nearly indifferent. Especially with less sugar.

And no secret toy surprise. Really, might as well just eat Grape Nuts.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pluto speaks!

If you used Google recently you know that we have been breathlessly waiting for word from Pluto. If you were in a cave instead, you may be wondering if we'll be hearing from Goofy and Donald next. Or if Pluto is so embarrassed by the Greek bailout that he's refusing to go by Hades anymore.

No, silly, it's the planet Pluto! Wired announced "Pluto Will Send Earth a Love Letter Tomorrow." What does this mean?

Well, Pluto apparently has a heart-shaped feature on it, and when the New Horizons probe flew by it was expected to get a good shot of it. Awww, cute, right?

WRONG!

My NASA contacts have managed to get me the actual "love letter" from Pluto picked up by the probe---not only is there no heart-shaped nothing, but the message from Pluto was less than loving:


Also heard was "Come out here and say it, punks!" and "I'm moonin' you with all five moons! You only got one! And you call yourselves a planet? Hey, you know what we got in common? No intelligent life!"

They get pretty touchy out there in the Kuiper Belt, don't they?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Good news and delayed gratification news.

The delayed gratification news first: The new novel, MacFinster II: MacFinster's Folly, is still not available on iBooks.

But it will be! I promise!

Now, I know this is a crushing blow to those of you who are Mac aficionados; you may even think I am some PC fanatic, opposed to Macs and discriminating against their owners. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, I use an iPad and an iPhone, although I use an excellent-ish PC for work. (The -ish because the "pointing device"---mouse pad---bites so hard it could break steel.) (And I've made peace with Windows 8, although we'll never be friends.)

There is good news, however. With the latest iteration of the iBooks software, books previously only accessible through the iBooks app on the iPad can now be accessed on the iPhone. So my first four books (MacFinster, Faster & Closer, Cobalt Agonistes, and Larry & the Mascots) can now be on your phone, ready for you to read when you're not crushing candy, ordering pizza, or using Siri to settle bar bets. (Like, "I'll bet you can't get Siri to answer a question in a useful manner!")


And actually, if you download free Kindle software for your iPad or iPhone, you can get my new book right away. Of course, you may think that is redundant since Apple forced---uh, gifted you with the iBooks software; why have two book apps on your device? I do, but I'm in the business. Anyway, it's one answer, and I think it proves that the news isn't all bad.

In fact, if you do buy the new book, or any of the others, I'd say the day has turned out to be pretty darned good all around! And I'll even say THANKS!

Not bad for a Monday after all, huh?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fugit.

I know I've complained about the overwhelming cross-promotion of the Minions movie (which is a huge hit already, but not universally loved). And yet that's not why I'm complaining today. Today I'm complaining about this:

Seen at Walmart yesterday.
"Back to School"? Seriously? Or as the Minions would say, WTF?


Couldn't you at least wait for the All-Star Break? Or Bastille Day?

It's not that I'm going to miss vacation; I'm self-employed, so I never GET vacation. It's not that I'm going back to school; I would be happy to go back to school in September if it meant I could fart around for two months before then. It's that I'm mad on behalf of the kids, who will freak out when they see Back to School sales (although it may be softened by the soothing presence of those little yellow pill-like Minions).

I'm also at that age where time is moving fast enough on its own without any pushing from the retailers, thanks very much.

Tempus fugit, I guess, and all that, but come on---at a local Hallmark later that morning:


Yep---Christmas ornaments. I've seen this kind of behavior out of Hallmark before, but it always comes as a rude surprise.

Come on, Time, can't you ease it up a little bit?

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

Starting to feel like the Bird of Time has crapped all over town. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bird fight?

It seems like a peaceful moment in the wilds of outer suburbia, but somewhere in the depths it sounds like a big fight is going on:


I'm just imagining a couple of turtles shaking their heads. "Birds are fighting again."

"Yeah."

"You'd think they'd try to keep it down for the kids."

"Ain't hatched yet."

"I coulda sworn---"

"That was the Jays' kid."

"Oh, okay. Maybe that's why they're fighting? Kid won't leave the egg?"

"Could be. Couples always fight about the kids."

"That and money."

"Birds ain't got no money."

"Really?"

"Well, aside from a little nest egg."

[rimshot]

Friday, July 10, 2015

Frodo Baggins of the NFL.

With the Mets hanging in there shortly before the All-Star Break, for the first time in years I'm not looking past July to the start of the NFL's preseason in August. The Mets have a winning record---not much of one, but a winning record---despite scoring fewer runs than anyone but the White Sox. In a weak division, that puts them in second place and just 3 games out of first.

Actually, now I have another reason not to look forward to the start of preseason NFL.

Apparently Jason Pierre-Paul, Pro Bowl defensive end for Your New York Giants, managed to mangle his right hand by playing with fireworks on the Fourth of July, resulting in the amputation of his right index finger.

Oh, no big deal---a football player's hands aren't important!

*sigh*

After a couple of truly sub-par seasons (to say the least) it looked like comeback time for the franchise. But JPP is one of their star players, or was. Now what?

A lot of Giants fans are sore about this, feeling betrayed by stupidity. Kind of like Redskins fans felt on November 23, 1997 when QB Gus Frerotte celebrated a touchdown by banging his head on a wall, injuring himself out of the game. But at least that was in a game; this freelance stupidity seems less justifiable, somehow. Maybe it's more like when Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg in 2008. But that could heal; he didn't lose any toes.

The general feeling is: You're a pro athlete; your job requires you to stay in shape; "in shape" means normal human shape with all the original parts. How could you be so stupid?

JPP, after the full Black Knight treatment

Like no Giants fan has ever done something stupid.

One time, decades ago on the Jersey shore, I wandered out on a jetty in an advanced state of intoxication. No one knew where I'd gone. My foot went straight between the rocks, and if my right hand hadn't slapped down on a flat surface I could have been injured pretty nicely. As it was, I must have sprained my hand, because it hurt for months. I've done much stupider things while drinking, but that was one of the times I came close to really getting messed up.

I don't know if alcohol or anything else was involved in the Pierre-Paul incident; I don't know if Pierre-Paul was the victim of a faulty firework. I do know this has got to be a terrible blow for him. I also know that his new nickname is probably going to be Frodo.

They say he'll be able to return, but who knows if he can, or how well he'll be able to perform. Are the Giants going to stink now? You like to think that your team has enough depth to survive the loss of a solid player, or even just the diminishing of his abilities, but the Giants have not demonstrated anything like that for years.

Well, at least the Mets are doing okay....

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Compare and contrast: thing I shouldn't eat edition.

Something I was quite surprised to find in my local supermarket:


What is that thing? Some kinda bait?

No way, man! It's chocolate! Moreover, it's chocolate and caramel! Hey, wait---it's chocolate, caramel, and crispy rice!

Say, wait a minute, that sounds a little familiar...


Interesting....

Of course, the Nestle $100,000 bar (which Wiki tells us got its name from "a series of successful game shows," which tells us very little*) is now the $100 Grand bar. Still rocks the house, though.

Let's have a look at the Catch bar, seated on my knee,


Not... not ooey gooey caramel, for one thing.

But I ate it.** It was okay. It really was like a poor man's $100,000 bar. In fact, that's almost exactly what the Catch bar is.

It may have been born in Ireland in 1976, as this site says, but is now produced in Trinidad & Tobago and is shipped to lots of other countries. That could account for a bit of the disappointment I felt -- we all know that the better the chocolate, the lower the melting point, so the more difficult and expensive it is to ship. (There's a lot about Hershey history linked to this---if you don't know the history of Milton Hershey's chocolate, I recommend you find out---very odd story***.)

Anyway, the Catch bar was chocolate---how bad could it be? So maybe it's just a $10,000 bar---that's still pretty good in my book.

--------

*Speaking of poor: The $100,000 bar was introduced in 1966, and the only game show with a name anything like that was the flopperoo 100 Grand (3 episodes in 1963); Wiki tells us that "it would be over a decade more before six-figure jackpots returned to television." So I unless Nestle adapted the name from a Swiss game show or something, I have no idea where the name of the candy actually came from. 

**Duh.

***In a nutshell: Hershey, who'd had multiple and awful failures already, was so taken with the new Swiss milk chocolate that he sold his successful caramel company to go into business making it---and he didn't even know how. The Swiss wouldn't tell anyone. (How hard is it to make milk chocolate from cocoa beans? You'd be amazed.) Hershey had to reinvent the wheel, as it were, coming up with his own unique method, which gives the Hershey's chocolate its distinct tang---it was not intended. Hershey's chocolate could ship well, but even it could not survive fighting in the South Pacific; what the GIs got was rather different from what we know of as the Hershey bar. For one thing, it was heat-resistant to 120F.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I miss ties too.

Clark discovers a problem with Casual Day at the Daily Planet.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

It's TODAY!



Hooray! Today MacFinster II: MacFinster's Folly has been released electronically at the following locales:

For the Kindle and Kindle software, go here!

For Google Play, go here!

For the Nook... should be later today. Will update ASAP.

UPDATE: For the Nook, go here!

For iPad... well, you'll have to wait. I'm sorry, it's out of my control---at least, my editor has not responded to any of my slobbery outbursts. Should be soon.

But lest you get too crazy with eagerness, I'm happy to include a sample chapter for you. Enjoy!


---------------------------------

Chapter Five

Why Darmo Does Not Get Brilliant Ideas More Often

I had to wait until my next day off—Wednesday—to put my brilliant idea into action. And even then my father almost ruined my day.

But it started off really nice. I had stopped trying to call Erin, for one thing. Not that I wasn’t sore, and I did miss her, but I’d resigned myself to letting her be and just hoping she’d come around. It was a beautiful spring morning, more like summer, and I actually went to the store and bought some food. We were getting low on crackers and peanut butter. The only other things in the house to eat were a dead rubber plant and, inexplicably, a can of water chestnuts. Once the larder was full, I brought the truck around to the back of the house and got to work.

I don’t know a lot about engines, but I have to say this monster was the biggest lawn-mower engine I had ever seen. But that was good; I wanted a challenge. First I had to get it working, which turned out to be easier than I’d thought. It just needed a good cleaning, especially the fuel line, and the replacement of some minor components—primarily the battery. I did have to remount the gas tank to get it out of the way of the other attachments I was planning to put on there, but once I gassed it up it kicked right over.

When I turned the engine off and could hear again, I realized someone was shouting my name. I turned to see my old man in the upstairs window next door. Retired, you know.

“What are you doing, George?” he yelled.

“Building a pitching machine,” I said.

“What?”

“I’m building a machine to pitch baseballs.”

“Why?”

“Because my talentless father never taught me how to hit them!”

“I’ll be down shortly.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

It's tomorrow!

YES! Tomorrow is the day!

The day for what?

The day you can get my latest novel!


Yes, folks, I'm sure you'll enjoy MacFinster II, the sequel to MacFinster. You don't even have to have read the first book, although I'm pretty sure if you like one you'll like the other.

What's the new one about? Let's read the blurb:

The new owner of the minor league Measleyville Snails, Richard Klade, intends to promote his team with an unbelievable contest: One lucky fan will have a chance to hit a home run to win one million dollars!
George “Darmo” Darmowycz is the worst baseball player in Measleyville history. Any time he has picked up a baseball bat, an embarrassing scene ensues. Fortunately he can usually suffer the shame in silence—until he is selected to be the main clown in the Snails’ media circus.
It’s just happenstance that causes Darmo to be selected for the home run contest…right?
Fortunately Darmo has his best pal, the unsinkable Rex MacFinster, to help—except that MacFinster is sinking, desperately trying to save his failing furniture store. A failure that may be playing into the hands of one R. Klade.
Soon Darmo and MacFinster are embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game against Richard Klade and his family, as well as a menacing figure from their own past. Can they turn the tables against their enemies? Will MacFinster’s business be ruined? Will Darmo become a national embarrassment due to his baseball ineptitude? Or will his crazy father, Ralph, embarrass him to death first? And how do a dead rubber plant, an overpowered pitching machine, and a guy named Iggy figure into all this?
Plots are twisted, hot dogs are consumed, and at least one girlfriend gets really mad in the comedy adventure MacFinster II: MacFinster’s Folly, the thrilling sequel to MacFinster.
As you can tell, there's a lot of baseball-related stuff going on (the cover may have conveyed that a little too) but I don't think of it as a real sports novel. Of course, if you only read sports novels, then hell YA it's a sports novel.

Check in tomorrow when I'll be posting a sample chapter on this site. I hope you enjoy it. I know I had a lot of fun writing it, which I think always shows in the work.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Church and state.

I ask your indulgence; I don't write much about religion, and I haven't written a book about it to date, but this has been on my mind for months.

Last Lent I mentioned a book I had started to read (as I usually try to do some devotional reading during Lent and Advent) but put down a few chapters in. It was by a well-known and extremely well-meaning layman about spreading the faith and helping bring others to salvation. I know he is well-educated; I think he is also wrong-headed. 

Here is the problem: His premise is that young people are hungering for authenticity above all things; they hear lots of words from their elders but see few actions. The way to bring the faith is to put our love into action and demonstrate that we are what we say we are---we must feed the hungry; visit the homebound and sick; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; show mercy to all; love those who hate us.

You can't argue with that, or at least you shouldn't, right? This is our mission statement as Christians. This is the Imitation of Christ. In fact, it's not what we must do to spread the faith; it's what we must do, period. 



My argument is: It is not going to work. 

Of course it will work in one sense, to help those directly affected. But as a means of teaching others that here is the spirit of authentic goodness for which you long; here is the faith that works? I doubt it. 

Political writers (I don't know who first) have long noted that politics is downstream from culture. We think that it was political machinations that cause major upheavals in our cultural landscape, but it's the other way around. Have we become a people hopelessly and helplessly addicted to government largess, like My Big Fat Greek (But Not Yet So Far Along) Twin? This theory says that it's not the politicians who led us in like a guy with a ten-dollar bill on a fishhook; it's us who voted for the politicians who promised the free stuff, because our culture said it was our right to demand it. And now it's we the people of the United States who will fight anyone that threatens to take our freebies away, with viciousness and invective and verve we should use for nobler and more useful things. 

The same goes for religion. As David French recently wrote, as regards the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision:


For many believers, this new era will present a unique challenge. Christians often strive to be seen as the “nicest” or “most loving” people in their communities. Especially among Evangelicals, there is a naïve belief that if only we were winsome enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough, the culture would welcome us with open arms. But now our love — expressed in the fullness of a Gospel that identifies homosexual conduct as sin but then provides eternal hope through justification and sanctification — is hate. 

French doesn't go far enough, in my opinion; the problem was deepening before the culture made a major shift on the definition of marriage. Any faith requires belief in its tenets, but nobody believes anything. We could be an army of Mother Teresas, but someone who refuses to even consider accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ is not going to come within a mile of us unless they plan to take something and get away. Having come through a long and hard road of agnosticism, paganism, and half a dozen other -isms, I'm amazed to find myself standing amid many people who claim to want to make up their own minds, but whose interest in educating those minds so they can make them up is zero. In truth, they think they have no soul to save, or that God is nice and will save them no matter what. 

That's the culture; that's what we're up against. Be as authentic as you want; the moment you explain that our faith requires Shirley to stop doing something Shirley likes doing (random sex with strangers, drinking to excess, ignoring church services, ruining the reputations of others online)---especially if it's something of which the culture tacitly or implicitly approves---we've lost Shirley. In other words, people may claim to want authenticity in others, but I suspect it is really a cover for not wanting to have to be authentic themselves. And that's a problem no matter who the church says you can marry.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Coke, what the hell?

A manly man goes to grab himself a manly can of Coke Zero from the fridge, and what happens?


Excuse me? "Sis"?

Look, I don't want to get into any kind of Bruce/Caitlyn thing here, or be accused of being sexist, but come on. This can was clearly meant for someone's sister. Well, suppose my sister isn't here. Okay, now what, smart guy? Am I supposed to go thirsty while the can earmarked for my sister gets warm? Maybe she likes Pepsi. Maybe she likes Pepsi One! I suppose someone did.

That's not the point. The point is, Coke, you have forced me, a manly type of man, to drink from a girly type of can, or use a glass, which is also girly. Putting identifiers on cans makes them useless to certain populations. Are you trying to be divisive, Coke? Trying to set Bro vs. Sis here?

What if you buy a 12-pack, and by chance there are seven Sis cans and five Bros. Someone's getting hosed, bro.

Yeah, this won't cause any fights.


Even dumber are the individual bottles with the names on them. Who wants to buy someone else's bottle? This is the second summer you've done it, so I suppose someone likes it, but I don't know why. And I'm not just saying that because I have yet to see a Fred. In fact, it turns out there IS no Fred. You have Quin AND Quinn, but no Fred. Is the idea that I'm supposed to see a bottle for my friends Felix or Perla (made the list) (unlike Fred) and be overwhelmed with the desire to buy him or her a Coke? What if Perla's my ex, and now I'm plunged into misery? What the hell is going on down there in Atlanta?

I'm very disappointed in you.

I guess I can settle for one of the more lame-o cans, and leave the Sis can to stew until she shows up. Here's one.


Wingman. Which means, basically, sidekick. Probably the comic relief. The one whose job it is to occupy the unattractive girl.

Who's being sexist now, Coke?

This whole situation saddens me. Do they still make RC Cola?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

On HGTV: The Property Pups.

[Property Puppies on HGTV features litter mates Jocko and Duke, who make over houses each week for lucky canine homeowners.]

hgtv


Season 5, Episode 3: Wolfgang & Aurora

[Reveal scene]

Duke: And here is your fabulous new kitchen.

Aurora: Omigod! It's just what I always wanted!

Wolfgang: Wow!

Jocko: You see we ripped down the dividing wall to open the space up, then we replaced the slick tile with roughed-up hardwood so your nails can get a grip.

Wolfgang: Boy, I sure hate running in to dinner and flying into the cabinets.

Jocko: Not a problem now.

Aurora: I love the barn door!

Wolfgang: Me too! I was raised in a barn! Really!

Duke: Us too!

Wolfgang: And that bag, that comes with the kitchen?

Jocko: Yes, we replaced the old sink and oven with a ripped-open 40-pound sack of kibble and a continuous water feature. You'll have to replace the bag every now and then.

Aurora: Every couple of days, the way he eats!

(chuckles)

Wolfgang: Hey, let's have a little bite right now!

Duke: Not right now! We have to go look at your master bedroom!

[in bedroom]

Aurora: I LOVE it! Look at those beds!

Wolfgang: Comfy.

Jocko: We pulled up the old carpet and ripped down the wallpaper, then added two dog beds. Quick fix and under budget.

Aurora: And these beds are machine washable?

Duke: Yep, never have to use the vacuum cleaner on them.

Everyone: YAY!

Duke: Let's have a look at the master bathroom.

[in bathroom]

Aurora: Oh, my gosh, it is HUGE!

Jocko: Yes, this half acre of nature was the backyard, but we repurposed it into the master bath by tearing down the deck and adding some trees, a wading pool... and that's pretty much it.

Wolfgang: This is awesome. No bathtub?

Jocko: No.

Everyone: YAY!

Duke: We'll leave you two to get settled into your new home.

Aurora: You guys are the greatest!

Jocko: Good luck with your litter!

[Duke and Jocko outside]

Jocko: Well, that went pretty well. All that work and I didn't muss a hair.

Duke: Except for that cowlick.

Jocko: That's not a cowlick, that was from Mom.

Duke: Mom always licked you best.

[credits, promo]

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

And here's to you, Mrs. Robin.

If you've been following Nature Blog here, you know that I have a robin's nest under my deck (deck, that is, not desk) (although that would be interesting) that has a robin that flees whenever I or the dog draws near. Until recently it also had a bright blue egg. Now:


That little spike was twitching around, and I'm pretty certain it was the beak of a baby robin, waiting for Mom to come back and hurl some lunch into it.

Congratulations, Mrs. Robin! It's a... robin!

I knew something was up because there were at least two angry robins peeping at me when I took that picture, and boy were they mad. Got to protect the baby!

I think the robins may also be a little on edge because this nest is right near the A/C unit. Maybe that thing going on and off has made them a little deranged. Poor robins! Oh, well, they should have built next door. The neighbor's unit is around the corner from their deck.

On the topic of nature: You may also recall that I have a 15-year-old azalea that I was pretty sure had croaked during our second consecutive brutal winter. Well:


He showed me! Well played, azalea! There wasn't a lot of flowering this year, but there sure as heck been a lot of leafing. So good job!

And that's our nature report today, except for this guy:


You'd better believe the dog was fascinated by this interloper. He wanted to go nose-to-nose with him, And although he has a hundred pounds on the turtle, I knew he would keep at it until we had to make a trip to the vet with a nipped and bleeding nose. Seemed that Shelly here was trying to get across the street for mating purposes (not mating porpoises, which would be ridiculous) (but interesting). Once I got the dog away, I shoveled up Shelly and deposited him across the street. I didn't want him getting run over along the way either. Turtle Pancake would have also attracted the dog.

So that's your suburban nature update for the week. Back inside to the A/C!

UPDATE: Baby bird? Looks kind of big. Maybe they brought in a babysitter.