Thursday, June 29, 2006


Happy happy joy joy!!!

One of my all-time favorite animated TV series, Futurama, is coming back. New episodes are in production and will be aired in the near future on Comedy Central.

Now there's a special Futurama video clip to promote the Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Change the Direction

I found this at Bring It On. They said take it and pass it along. Sounds good to me. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Holy Snikees

Ever wonder what would happen if a freaking gigantic meteor struck the Earth? Wonder no more.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Yesterday, the United States was eliminated from World Cup play. This was finally going to be the U.S.'s chance to shine in soccer; they entered the tournament ranked fifth in the world. Some opening game jitters and a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic. Some soul searching and a rejuvenated Team USA fights Italy to a 1-1 draw. A must-win game, a meltdown, and a 2-1 loss to Ghana (Ghana?) sends them packing.

In the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks had a two games to none lead over the Miami Heat. About halfway through Game Three, the Mavs had a 13 point lead and appeared to be well on their way to wrapping the series up. Miami rallied and Dallas faltered and the Heat squeaked out a Game Three win. Well, before you know it, those rallies and falters continued and Miami ended up winning four straight games to win the series 4-2.

Even though Team USA's and Dallas's meltdowns were on bigger stages, they are nothing compared to the meltdown the Atlanta Braves are going through now. Look at the standings in the National League East and you'll find Atlanta in a very unaccustomed spot -- the cellar. When June began, the Braves were in pretty good shape. They were in second place with a 28-25 record, just 4.5 games behind the Mets. Then the trouble started. On June 6 the Braves beat the Washington Nationals 5-3, and on June 10 they beat the Houston Astros 4-2 -- the only two wins thus far for the entire month! Yikes! The Braves have lost ten straight, 20 of their last 23, and trail even the lowly Nationals and Marlins.

Pitching, usually a Braves forte, has been their downfall. Braves General Manager John Schuerholz has been going crazy moving pitchers back and forth from the bullpen to the minors to the starting rotation, trying to plug holes and stop the hemmoraging. They began the year a man down in the rotation without Mike Hampton, who had major elbow surgery in September of 2005. He won't be back until 2007. Then Horacio Ramirez was hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Lance Berkman on June 11. He spent some time on the DL and returned yesterday. He pitched well, but failed to win.

The biggest problem has been the bullpen. No lead has been big enough that the bullpen couldn't give it away. They haven't had an effective closer, and no one else in the bullpen has been especially reliable. Chris Reitsma has had the job but hasn't been getting it done, and now he too is on the disabled list. Turns out he's been going out there with numbness in his pitching hand (ulnar neuritis.) He hasn't complained because there was no pain, but he had no feel for the ball. That's not good for a pitcher. With no closer you can count on, the entire bullpen suffers because you build a bullpen around the closer, then work backwards from there. You get some other guys you can count on to work the seventh and eighth innings, setting up the closer. Then you have some other guys to come in earlier or work lopsided games. With no closer, no one knows their role and everyone's work suffers.

This is a time of hard choices. With over three months of the season left, do you just write off this year and start making plans for next year, or do you trade away some good prospects in the hopes of getting a star that will come in and give you a shot in the arm (a la Fred McGriff in 1993.) They probably won't give me a vote, but I'd choose to hang on to what we've got and try to build for next year. I'd rather have one bad year than have this turn back into another bad Atlanta decade or two. I had enough of that in the 70's and 80's.

By the way, as I post this, the Braves are locked in a 3-3 extra-inning nailbiter against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays...and John Smoltz left early with an injury. My, how the mighty have fallen.

Update: The Braves defeated the Devil Rays 4-3 in eleven innings. The latest losing streak ends at 10, but the month of June continues.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Updated Blogroll

It took a couple of hours of coding and checking links, but I've finally finished updating my blogroll. (Thanks, Carly, for the gentle prodding.) It's a strange assortment of liberal politics, personal diaries, photography and other esoterica, but it's what I like to read. Check them out, and if yours is missing, send me a link either in comments or email.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Star Wars Awards

The Atom Films Annual Star Wars Fan Film Awards are always one of my favorite events of the year, a salute to the shorts and cartoons that lampoon George Lucas's creation. This is the fifth year of the awards. The final nominees were announced today. Check them out and vote for your favorite. Voting ends on July 5. Winners will be announced on July 20.

I haven't finished watching all of this year's nominees yet, but Cheap Seats, which won last year's award for Best Comedy is my all-time favorite.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday Photo Shoot: Still Life

The topic for Scalzi's Monday Photo Shoot this week is Still Life:

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a snap of something in a "still life" mode. It doesn't have to be a bowl of fruit, mind you (although there's nothing wrong with a bowl of fruit, if that's your thing.) But something that you can get contemplative about would be nice. Also, it doesn't move unless you go and pick it up.

This is the Dyer family cemetery. It is located in the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (the Chickamauga battlefield.) The Dyers were a family that lived on the site at the time of the battle. The cemetery is located on a main trail that circles the perimeter of the park, and I wonder how many of the people who pass it recognize it for what it is. All the headstones are what you see, just standing rocks. Some have writing on them that has been eroded away by time and the elements. Still? Yes. Contemplative? Definitely.

Click picture to see larger version. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekend Assignment: The Things We Share With Dad

John Scalzi has a Fathers' Day weekend assignment at By the Way...

Weekend Assignment #116: Tell about some personality trait or quirk you got from your father -- or, if you're a father, some personality trait or quirk of yours you see in your kids.

Extra credit: Did you ever get dad a tie for Father's Day?

My parents divorced when I was young and I went big chunks of time without seeing my father. I think my grandfather was probably more of father-figure to me during my formative years, so I'd rather talk about a couple of things I picked up from him. They're not really personality traits or quirks, more like personal preferences of his that rubbed off on me.

My grandfather was an old-school FDR-worshiping Democrat who could never understand why people didn't have enough blankety-blank common sense to go to the polls and vote a straight Democratic ticket. While he never said so explicitly, I got the feeling that he might have believed Richard M. Nixon to be the Anti-Christ. He died before the Reagan Revolution started up or that might have been really bad. He taught me that while the Democrats might not always do what's right, they certainly have more empathy for the common man that Republicans do.

My grandfather was also a die-hard baseball fan. Summer Saturday afternoons were our time together to sit down and watch the Game of the Week on NBC. (Was there ever really a time when there was only one baseball game a week on the tube? Yes, there was. And to really blow the youngsters' minds, for a while we only had three channels and had to occasionally go outside and rotate the pole the antenna was mounted on to get them to come in clearly. I think we got our first color TV about the time I started junior high school.) Anyway, there we were every Saturday. The games were usually either the Yankees or the Dodgers (the big TV market teams) playing another team in their league. We always rooted for whoever they were playing; it didn't matter who. Someone once said, "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel." My grandfather believed that and passed along to me his hatred of anything and everything connected to the Evil Empire.

Extra credit: I don't remember every Father's Day gift I ever gave my father or my grandfather, but I don't think I ever gave either of them a tie.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The World's Funniest Joke

From the London Telegraph -- We can all rest a little easier now. Seems a professor researching the psychology of humor has discovered the author of the world's funniest joke -- Spike Milligan. Five years ago, 300,000 people worldwide took part in LaughLab and voted for the funniest joke. The winner...
Two hunters are out in the woods in New Jersey when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.

The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps 'My friend is dead! What can I do?' The operator says: 'Calm down, I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.' There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says 'OK, now what?'
While watching a documentary on The Goon Show, Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire discovered a version of the very same joke...
Michael Bentine: I just came in and found him lying on the carpet there.

Peter Sellers: Oh, is he dead?

Bentine: I think so.

Sellers: Hadn't you better make sure?

Bentine: All right. Just a minute.

Sound of two gun shots.

Bentine: He's dead.

Professor Wiseman commented...
I think what is interesting here is that a joke from the 1950s still works, and how it has transformed over time from a cosy sitting room to hunters in New Jersey.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Civil War Timeline: 1865

The final installment of the Civil War Timeline. Here are links to the whole thing: 1860-61, 1862, 1863 and 1864.

January 15 - Fort Fisher, North Carolina, falls to Union land and sea forces.

January 16 - Sherman's army begins another destructive march, this time through the Carolinas.

February 4 - Robert E. Lee is named commander-in-chief of the Confederate army.

February 17 - Columbia, South Carolina, is burned. Sherman's troops and retreating Confederates are both blamed for setting the fires.

February 18 - Sherman occupies Charleston.

February 22 - Wilmington, North Carolina, the last remaining open southern port, falls to Union forces.

March 4 - Lincoln is inaugurated for a second term.
Lincoln, from his second inaugural address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

April 1 - The Battle of Five Forks (Virginia) - In the last major battle of the war, General Sheridan repels a Confederate assault.

April 2 - Lee withdraws from Petersburg, ending the six-month siege. He advises President Jefferson Davis to leave Richmond. A day later, Union troops enter Petersburg and Richmond. Two days after that, Lincoln tours Richmond.

April 9 - Surrounded and facing starvation, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. At Lincoln's request, the terms are generous. Confederate officers and men are free to go home with their horses, officers are allowed to keep their sidearms.

April 11 - In his last public address, Lincoln urges a spirit of generous conciliation during reconstruction.

April 14 - While watching a play at Ford's Theater, Lincoln is shot and mortally wounded by actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln dies the following day and is succeeded by Andrew Johnson.

April 25 - John Wilkes Booth is cornered and shot dead near Bowling Green, Virginia.

April 26 - Confederate General Joseph Johnston surrenders to Sherman at the Bennett House near Durham Station, North Carolina, bring major combat of the war to an end. Scattered resistance continues in the South for several weeks, ending in May, when Confederate General Richard Taylor surrenders to General Edward R. S. Canby, and General Kirby Smith surrenders his western forces.

April 25 - John Wilkes Booth is cornered and shot dead near Bowling Green, Virginia.

April 27 - The steamboat Sultana, returning northward on the Mississippi River with liberated Union prisoners of war, blows up with a loss of life equal to that of the Titanic.

May 10 - Jefferson Davis is captured in Georgia. He is incorrectly presumed to be a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination and is jailed awaiting trial. He is later released on bail and never tried. In 1868, President Johnson, as one of his final acts in office, grants amnesty to all Southerners, including Davis, who declines to accept it.

May 12-13 - The Battle of Palmito Ranch (Texas) - This skirmish between 80 Union soldiers and 350 Confederate cavalrymen is a victory for the Union and the last battle of the war.

May 19 - President Andrew Johnson declares that armed insurrection against the Federal government has come to an end.

(Timeline source: Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis, Harper Collins, 2003 and Everyday Life in the Civil War by Michael J. Varhola, Writer's Digest Books, 1999)

Civil War Timeline: 1864

January 14 - General Sherman begins his march across the south. His strategy is total war, destroying or taking anything that might be used by the enemy to continue fighting.

March 10 - Grant is named commander of the Union armies, replacing General Halleck.

April 17 - Grant suspends prisoner-of-war exchanges with the Confederates to further weaken Confederate forces. His strategy is successful, but leads to the deaths of Union soldiers held in overcrowded southern camps where food supplies are scarce.

May 4 - Grant begins an assault on Virginia with an army of over 100,000 men.

May 5-6 - The Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia) - Lee and Grant meet in two days of inconclusive but bloody fighting. Many of the wounded die in the dense woods in brushfires ignited by gunfire.

May 8-12 - The Battle of Spotsylvania (Virginia) - Another five days of inconclusive fighting reveals Grant's strategy: a war of attrition to wear down Lee's outnumbered, poorly fed, ill-clad troops.

May 12-16 - The Battle of Drewry's Bluff (Virginia) - Grant continues his unrelenting assault on Lee's army.

May 13-15 - Sherman launches a series of attacks against General Johnston, who saves his army with a skillful retreat.

June 1-3 - The Battle of Cold Harbor (Virginia) - Grant, ignoring horrible losses, assaults Lee's impregnable defenses. In the worst twenty minutes of this holocaust, more than 7000 men on both sides are killed. Total Union casualties number 12,000. To date, Grant has suffered 60,000 casualties in the campaign, a number equal to Lee's entire army. Although this is Lee's last clear victory, his army never recovers from Grant's unrelenting attacks.

June 15-18 - Grant begins the long siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

June 27 - Johnston's Confederates turn back Sherman at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia.

July 2-13 - A small force under Confederate General Jubal Early raids Maryland and heads toward Washington.

July 14 - General Early is slowed down by Union General Lew Wallace. Early reaches the District of Columbia, then withdraws. Wallace, later the governor of New Mexico and minister to Turkey, gains his greatest fame as the author of the novel Ben Hur.

July 17 - Johnston is replaced by General John B. Hood, who makes a foolhardy attempt to take the offensive against Sherman.

July 22 - Hood's first assault against Sherman outside Atlanta is turned back, as is a second assault six days later.

July 30 - At Petersburg, General Burnside oversees the digging of a tunnel under the Confederate fortifications. A disasterously miscalculated explosion results in 4000 casualties in his own force. Burnside is relieved of all command.

August 5 - Union Admiral David Farragut launches a naval attack on the key southern port of Mobile, Alabama. He orders the fleet to continue the attack after mines in the harbor sink one of his ships, shouting, "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" He successfully closes the port and is given the new rank of vice admiral, created especially for him. Ecstatic New Yorkers give him a purse of $50,000.

September 2 - Sherman takes Atlanta after Hood's army withdraws. The capture of Mobile and Atlanta lifts northern morale, providing Lincoln with a much needed boost in the coming election.

September 19 and October 19 - Union forces under General Philip Sheridan twice defeat Jubal Early's Confederates, driving them from the Shenandoah Valley, one of Lee's remaining supply sources.

November 8 - Lincoln has been campaigning against two generals he has sacked, John C. Fremont and George McClellan. Fremont withdraws before the election. Lincoln wins re-election by less than a half-million popular votes, but a sweeping electoral vote.

November 15 - Sherman begins his March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah. Before Sherman departs Atlanta, he orders his troops to demolish military facilities and set fire to the rest of the city. Much of the city is destroyed. His forces cut a forty-mile-wide swath through the state, destroying everything in their path. Three days before Christmas, Sherman marches into Savannah. He sends Lincoln a telegram offering Savannah as a Christmas present.
Sherman: "We have devoured the land...To realize what war is, one should follow our tracks."

November 30 - The Battle of Franklin (Tennessee) - Confederate General John Bell Hood launches a foolhardy head-on assault against Union General John Schofield's entrenched force. After fierce fighting, Schofield breaks off and heads toward Nashville, but this is no Confederate victory. Hood suffers 7000 casualties, more than three times the enemy total.

December 15-16 - The Battle of Nashville (Tennessee) - Union forces under General George H. Thomas attack Hood's line at Nashville. Hood's Army of Tennessee is virtually destroyed. The remnants of the army are pursued all the way into Mississippi.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Weekend Assignment: Things You Like Now But Not Then

Since the weekend is rapidly coming to a close, I'd better get busy on the weekend assignment Scalzi's handed out at By the Way...

Weekend Assignment #114: Name a thing you like today, that your younger self would probably roll his or her eyes at. People, places, things, ideas, philosophies -- all of it is up for consideration.
Extra Credit: Name something you didn't like then that you still don't like now.

The first thing that came to mind was music. In my high school days, I was a heavy-metal fanatic. (That was a long time ago, and doesn't mean quite the same thing that it does now.) In college, my musical tastes did an abrupt shift, and I gravitated to the new wave/alternative/punk music that was then becoming hip. I intensely dislike, loathed, ridiculed other genres of music. Somewhere along the line, I realized that almost every genre has its good and its bad. I find myself listening (and loving) music that I never would have listened to before.

But Scalzi's essay was about music, bluegrass in particular, so I decided to rethink the assignment instead of just copying Scalzi's down and passing it off as my own.

I'll let the band Jars of Clay do this assignment for me...
Call it obsession; call it fanatical
I am not trying to make this a spectacle
But I have this craving that justifies behaving
I really need some of that...

Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee
I need to have some
Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee

Oh cappuccino, double espresso
I need something with a really big kick
You ask me 'bout creamer, you ask me 'bout sugar
I tell you those things make me sick
In my...

Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee
I need to have some
Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee

Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee
I need to have some
Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee

For the extra credit, I'll return to the subject of music. I really, really, really hate almost all popular music. I'm talking about the Top 40 with or without Casey Kasem, that lowest common denominator type of music that is all the rage at any particular moment. If it's being played on the radio often, I hate it. If it's actually pretty decent and I do like a particular song, I'll be sick of it soon after they've played it 700,000 times.

Update: In last weekend's assignment, John solicited advise on good books to read while traveling. I recommended anything by Carl Hiaasen. On Sunday night, CBS's 60 Minutes replayed a profile of Hiaasen that was originally broadcast in April 2005. In the segment, Hiaasen was favorably compared with Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Weekend Photo Jigsaw Puzzle Fun

48 pieces of weekend photo jigsaw puzzle fun: "Cherokee"

Web Coolness

What a neat photo site. All the pictures are those photo mosaics composed of thousand of tiny little photos. You start with a picture of a man's face. Clicking makes it zoom in. See if you can find an end to it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Writing Links

While surfing the web, I occasionally run across sites that are full of information for aspiring writers. Here are a few that I like to refer to from time to time...

Writer's Digest has a useful website, an extension of the magazine, with all sorts of tidbits to help you write better and get published. If you're suffering from a little writer's block, they have a weekly "Writing Prompt" to jog the brain. This week's prompt: "You’re at your favorite department store buying a birthday present for a friend. As the cashier gives you change, you notice a message with specific instructions scribbled on one of the bills. What did the instructions say? Did you carry them out and, if so, how?"

Pat Holt, a book editor and critic at the San Francisco Chronicle (among other book-related postions), presents "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do.)" She says, "The list also could be called, '10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,' because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5."

Confusing Words is a collection of 3210 troublesome words for writers and readers grouped according to the way they are confused and misused. The current top five most confusing words? Affect, arroyo, canyon, its, effect.

There are several blogging agents. The most entertaining is Miss Snark, who "vents her wrath on the hapless world of writers and crushes them to sand beneath her T. Rexual heels of stiletto snark."

At the blog "Making Light," there's an old post dating back to February of 2004 that Teresa Hayden has written that dissects rejection letters and aspiring authors' reactions to them -- some insights into the Rejection Collection website.

At his Coping with Sanity blog, Bryon Quertermous has done what I've done here -- just more so. It's a listing of the 25 sites that are must haves for any fiction writer.

If you've got some favorite writing tips sites, let me know what they are.

Civil War Timeline: 1863

January 1 - The Emancipation Proclamation is formally issued.

January 4 - Grant is ordered by Lincoln to repeal his General Order Number 11, which had expelled Jews from his area of operations. He had issued the order because he incorrectly believed that most of the merchants following his army and charging excessive prices were Jewish.

January 25 - Burnside is replaced as head of the Army of the Potomac by General Joseph Hooker.

January 26 - The secretary of war authorizes the governor of Massachusetts to recruit black troops. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers is the first black regiment recruited in the Union. Eventually, 185,000 black soldiers will be organized into 166 all-black regiments.

March 3 - Lincoln signs the first Conscription Act. Enrollment is demanded of males between 20 and 45 years of age. Substitutes can be hired or payments of $300 can be used for an exemption.

May 2-4 - The Battle of Chancellorsville (Virginia) - Lee's army defeats Hooker's Army of the Potomac. Losses on both sides exceed 10,000. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson leads a rear-end attack, forcing the Union withdrawal, but is shot by a Confederate soldier. He dies of pnemonia on May 10.

May 14 - The Battle of Jackson (Mississippi) - Union General William Tecumseh Sherman defeats Confederates under General J. E. Johnston.

May 22 - Grant, working with Sherman, begins the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the key to control of the Mississippi River.
- The War Department establishes the Bureau of Colored Troops to supervise recruitment and enlistment of blacks.

June 20 - West Virginia, severed from Virginia, is admitted to the Union. The state constitution calls for gradual emancipation.

June 24 - Lee begins an invasion of Pennsylvania.

June 28 - General George Meade replaces Hooker as head of the Army of the Potomac.

July 1-3 - The Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) - Confederate troops looking for shoes run into Union cavalry. Reinforcements are poured in. The Union army takes a strong defensive position and turns back repeated Confederate assaults. The Confederates lose 28,000 men, a third of the army's effective strength; the Union, 23,000. Lee retreats. Meade fails to press him, allows him to escape back into Virginia.

July 4 - Grant's siege of Vicksburg ends in victory. 29,000 Confederates surrender. The Union now has complete control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy in two.

July 13-16 - The New York Draft Riots - Resentment over the Conscription Act turns into deadly rioting in New York City. Federal troops sent from the Gettysburg battlefield eventually quell the rioting. The crowd's anger has two sources: the idea of fighting to free the slaves, and the unfairness of allowing the wealthy to avoid service by paying a substitute.

July 18 - In a charge made famous by the film Glory, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers assault Fort Wagner, guarding the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The 54th loses half of its men in the assault, but their bravery amazes whites and encourages more black regiments.

August 21 - William C. Quantrill raids Lawrence, Kansas, and slaughters more than 150 civilians. Quantrill's raiders include "Bloody Bill" Anderson, Jesse James and Cole Younger. In October, they conduct another raid of terror in Baxter Springs, Kentucky.

Sept. 19-20 - The Battle of Chickamauga (Georgia) - Rosecrans's Union army is routed by Bragg's Confederates. Losses are high: 16,000 Union casualties, 18,000 Confederates. The Union army escapes to Chattanooga.

September-November - Chattanooga - After nearly destroying the Union army at Chickamauga, Bragg's troops occupy the mountains surrounding Chattanooga, putting the city under siege.

October 16 - Grant is given command of Union forces in the west. His first act is to replace Rosecrans in Chattanooga with General George Thomas.

November 19 - Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address to dedicate a military cemetary on the battlefield.

November-December - While Grant is breaking the siege of Chattanooga and increasing his forces there, Bragg depletes his force by sending James Longstreet's corps to drive Ambrose Burnside's army out of eastern Tennessee. Burnside holes up in Knoxville. Longstreet puts the city under siege.

November 23-25 - The Battles of Chattanooga (Tennessee) - Grant, in a series of battles, drives Bragg's Confederate forces away from Chattanooga.

December 3 - Unable to penetrate the Union defenses of Knoxville, Longstreet ends his siege and withdraws.

December 8 - Looking ahead to the end of the war, Lincoln offers a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction that will pardon Confederates who take an oath of loyalty.