Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Strange and Fishy

I haven't seen this before; evidently with the thaw yesterday a lot of the fish in the pond swam to the top of the ice and then couldn't get back under before they froze. There were several of these fishy lineups. Very strange.

Monday, December 22, 2008

After the Lord of the Rings

This post is dedicated to those that have read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and perhaps the Hobbit, and wish to dig a little deeper into Middle-Earth. Tolkien's fiction is unique in it's depth and lends itself well to further reading, but where do you start?

Tolkien's son Christopher, a professor of English Literature in his own right, has released many books relating to, editing and sometimes even finishing his father's works. The obvious first choices are The Silmarilion and The Children of Hurin. The are both indispensable, in my opinion; in particular, the Silmarillion has much of interest to LotR fans, including the origins of Sauron, an explanation of what a Balrog is, where dragons came from, and so much more, including a retelling of the creation and early history of the world, from the point of view of Tolkien's elves! It ends with the history of the events leading up to the War of the Ring itself. However, at best, it is a much more difficult read than LotR or the Hobbit, since Tolkien never meant it to be a linear story, and much of it is written in an archaic style of English.

My real suggestions are a little more off the beaten track:

  1. Unfinished Tales It contains several stories and other works relating to Middle-Earth, from what Tolkien refers to as the First, Second and Third ages. This is by far my favorite of Christopher Tolkien's works on his father. For an LotR fan it has many special treasures, including:

    • unpublished essays on the wizards (such as Gandalf and Saruman) and the Palantiri (the far-seeing crystal balls)
    • a compilation of several unfinished essays on the origins and history of Galadriel and Celeborn of Lothlorien
    • a "historical" essay about the Ringwraithes' hunt for the ring in the Shire and elsewhere
    • an unpublished story of the history of the Hobbit, from Gandalf's point of view!
    • much more

  2. Professor Tom Shippey's non-fiction book The Road to Middle Earth. Professor Shippey more or less followed in Tolkien's footsteps in academia, and has much interesting information about the inspirations for Tolkien's work in ancient English history and literature. I find this sort of thing terribly interesting. There must have been a mythology available to the Germanic inhabitants of post-Roman England, equivalent to that of the old Norse, but we only have tantalizing hints about these, evidently due to the lack of writing by the pre-literate English and also because of active suppression, first by the church and later by the Normans after the invasion of 1066. Professor Shippey shows us many of these hints and how Tolkien developed them into a new "English" mythology. Wonderful stuff.

I'd also like to mention a work with a hidden treasure, The War of the Ring, Part 3. A slim book in the series of Christopher Tolkien's books about his father's writings, it has one truly outstanding piece, Tolkien's original Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings, a sweet story from the life of Sam Gamgee in the Shire AFTER Frodo and Bilbo sail into the west.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Gen. Eric Shinsecki as Secretary of Veteran's Affairs; take that, Bushies!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Suggestion to the Car Companies

I don't want to see the car companies fail; I think the fallout would be terrible. But I do believe that there should be MAJOR conditions attached to bailing them out, including the ousting of all the current management.

However, I'd like to make a suggestion to the car companies, something that they should do without being forced to, something terribly symbolic of what their attitudes should be going forward: no more lobbyists. Fire them all, and promise to never again attempt to turn public policy in their interests.

If you think about it, the car companies have run themselves into the ground by their own inflexibility; they opposed all safety and environmental regulations and ended up making their recent money by exploiting a loophole in the current regulations, the one that allowed SUVs to exist. If car companies no longer lobbied, they would be tacitly committing to deal with the world as it is, rather than as they'd like to see it. I think that would be wonderful symbolic gesture, and car manufacturers, wouldn't that make your jobs more interesting? ;)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mini Review of the Sanyo Xacti HD1000

This isn't meant to be a comprehensive review, but I really enjoy this device and would like to share my thoughts about it.

To begin with, I've now owned three Xacti devices, and although I always enjoyed the sensation I would cause when I pulled one out, I had been rather disappointed by the performance of the cameras.

The HD1000 is another kettle of fish entirely; I am very pleased with almost all aspects of the performance of the device. Now, you shouldn't expect a $700 device to have the performance of a $3K pro HD camcorder, but I am very happy with the quality of the video. In any kind of decent light it is very nice looking and very HD. However, unlike earlier Xactis, it is not totally useless in low light; the picture degrades in a pleasant way and is still quite watchable.

The HD1000 has compromised still picture size for better HD movie quality (rightly, IMHO). However, even though the stills are limited to 4 MP, I am quite pleased with the way they look, especially the colors. If 4 MP is large enough for your needs (and I never need to blow up beyond 8x10, so I'm fine with it) I think you will be pleased with the still quality of this little camcorder.

The audio sounds good. I recorded a bunch of video at a rock show and the camcorder was able to handle the sound pressure level nicely.

I was unable to test HDMI output, but the component output from the camera dock works very well. I wish the camera had some kind of digital audio out to go with the component video (it has stereo analog only), but that's a nit pick, really; I'm out of HD inputs on my receiver and it's a pain to switch an input to analog just for plugging in the camcorder.

The PS3 is able to play the videos directly from the SD card, or from the internal hard drive. A DVD is evidently too slow; they'll play, but it'll be choppy.

If you are interested in buying a Xacti-style camcorder, you are probably (like me) going for form over function a little bit. However, you will probably be quite pleased with the HD1000.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I blush to admit how much pleasure I get from making naughty passwords and typing them in over and over again.