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Sir, this is horrid...and yet, I cannot refuse.
20 most recent entries

Date:2012-08-05 01:41
Subject:Lets hear it for Mithras!
Security:Public

So. I am now 3 weeks FaceBook free, and I feel *alive*. Mentally and intellectually invigorated. I have been more productive, more creative, and more literate. I need to rave up the book I'm reading now: Pagans and Christians, by Robin Lane Fox. What a fine work of historical narrative. To be brutally reductive, it's a concise history of the transition from the world of gods, the Greek (Pagan) world to the modern age of monotheism (Christians). It's gripping and unfailingly interesting. I commend it to everyone.

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Date:2012-08-02 18:07
Subject:Life is an ongoing process
Security:Public

(And I am still learning the rules)

This is not in and of itself a bad thing. I consider myself an enthusiastic amateur - which is appropriate in this Olympic season. This evening I will collect our Au Pair from the airport. Her long journey ends and ours begins!

Onwards!

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Date:2012-07-25 21:14
Subject:Buona sera, Zuckerberg.
Security:Public

I have said goodbye to all that as far as FaceBook is concerned. There are many, MANY reasons behind this, but chief among them all, it was making me feel miserable. I decided to give it up for a week. I feel like I've taken the cure! Every aspect of my life has improved. I am not quitting social media altogether (QED!) but FB is no longer for me. My life is much better without it.

Quite apart from anything else, my reading has increased exponentially! I just finished "The Old Curiosity Shop". I read it in 9 days. The last Dickens novel I read took *three months*. Next up - "Barnaby Rudge" (I'm currently engaged in a quixotic project - to read all of Dickens' novels in one year - his bicentennial year.)

I think I may be using LJ more than I have in donkey's years. Onward!

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Date:2011-09-05 23:27
Subject:Austerity
Security:Public

Is our great nation now with us no more?
The shops are all closed, the empty halls still,
The cupboards are bare, we now close the door.

On terror and drugs we had declared war,
On poverty too - but can't foot the bill.
Is our great nation now with us no more?

Where once we had hope, our hearts they did soar -
Ground into dust by life's merciless mill.
The cupboards are bare, we now close the door

On unfulfilled notions, on anymore
Dreams of grandeur. We must close up the till.
Is our great nation now with us no more?

We sacrifice to Mammon, greedy whore
Demanding fealty, act of pure will.
The cupboards are bare, we now close the door

On all our horizons, upon the shore
We lay. Then suddenly all things are still.
Is our great nation now with us no more?
The cupboards are bare, we now close the door.

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Date:2011-01-04 04:57
Subject:Reflections on my 15 films (1)
Security:Public

1.) The Empire Strikes Back (Dir. Irvin Kershner)

Strangely, I feel that i need to begin this essay with an apology. This will lack structure, is guaranteed to meander, and if there is a point, I encourage readers to pass it along. So, as a piece of professional writing, this is an absolute shambles. I can only hope that those of you who read this are indulgent, patient, and perhaps above all, nostalgic.

So, the first stop on this journey is my relationship with the Star Wars films. The first film I ever "saw" in the cinema was Star Wars. My dad brought me as a mewling infant. (don't bother reflecting on that…I can't establish that any permanent damage was done…to the best of my knowledge.) But I saw "Empire" in the theatre, at far too young an age. But I *adored* Star Wars from the point of being aware of it. Star Wars became an indelible fingerprint, or perhaps a watermark on my psyche. I loved it without reservation.

I think that my first strong memory of the Star Wars films was on primitive VHS. I remember our first recorder…it was like a Cessna engine. It fired the cassettes out with violent and entertaining force. We had HBO at a time when they incessantly repeated "The Private Eyes", "Flash Gordon", and "Star Wars". But I digress. My father loved Star Wars and found it worthy and therefore, so did I. We owned the double LP of the score which I listened to repeatedly - though privately I loved the Cantina Scene music the best.

Growing up with Star Wars as part of my psychic landscape, I had no introspection about it until much later, but one thing did hang with me. The Empire Strikes Back bothered me. It was upsetting in a way that the first and third films weren't. It was frightening. It clung to the inside of my imagination in a strong way. When I was very young, I felt partially relieved when it was over, for I could then travel to the cozy world of the ewoks, where there was no peril.

Now that I am grown (or at least suspect I am) I realize that of those films, the Empire Strikes Back is the masterpiece, it has the best dialogue, the best direction and the best tension of all those pictures. I love it unreservedly, and revisit it often with fondness and happiness.

(next installment coming...when I get around to it.)

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Date:2009-09-04 18:25
Subject:A random thought
Security:Public

Here's an odd thought. The only two cool things ever written for the harpsichord are:


  • Golden Brown: The Stranglers

  • High Wire (The Danger Man theme): Edwin Astley



Discuss. (Or don't!)

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Date:2009-06-06 18:43
Subject:Poem - "Modern"
Security:Public
Mood: good

After the end of the violence
When we clear away the plates,
All the rest is silence.

And we lay down a sixpence
Upon the good eye. The hand creates
After the end of the violence

A small stir, a brief nuisance,
The force of anger still gestates
All the rest is silence.

The last chance to air a grievance
Against the dead. We open the last crates
After the end of the violence

The champagne cork pops! Then a steady cadence
Of forced merriment. We enjoy our stalemates,
All the rest is silence.

The metronome beats with utter menace,
The piano lid shut, all left to the fates.
After the end of the violence
All the rest is silence.

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Date:2008-12-11 20:48
Subject:Here's a nascent meme for thought
Security:Public
Mood: good

Here's an interesting thought. In the process of preparing for the big move of our family to Bavaria, I've been winnowing out great big chunks of my media collection that I've accumulated over the years. This led me down an interesting avenue of thought. I'm absolutely mad about books, movies and music. Those three things represent my primary avenues of recreation. Now that we have a house (or perhaps I should say a Haus,) I have some breathing space, and even possibly a little alcove that can be der neues Manneraum (Sorry dear, an appalling invention, I'm sure!) However, I've been thinking of creating three lists. My personal top ten. What are the ten movies, ten albums, ten books that I can utterly not live without owning a copy? This is my first pass at the list. I'm going to start with my Ten Films I Can't Live Without™.

(disclaimer: there is no particular order, or preference. These are ten films which are absolutely essential to me. Incidentally, I am going to cheat once. See if you can spot it.)

1.) The Duellists: A perfect movie, a small immaculate gem by Ridley Scott, paid for with his blood, sweat, tears, and own pocketbook, ultimately. A story of obsession, passion and understanding what honor is and what it means to be honorable, all told with astounding craftsmanship and absolute control. A perfect short story transformed into a perfect film.

2.) Heat: Michael Mann is a director who embraces Style (with a capital S) in every aspect. All of his films have a cool surface, the graceful execution of industrial design. Like Jonathan Ive's sleek immaculate designs for Apple, Michael Mann creates a cinema of smooth beauty, like cut glass or crystal. Anchored by two strong leads, Heat creates a vortex, where violence spirals downwards - until an ultimate ascension, set to the most soaring music Moby ever set to pixels.

3.) Ratatouille: It's awful to have to pick a single Pixar film. I'd take them all, but this is an exercise in reduction. Of all their great films, this is the one I treasure most - particularly for its eccentricity! I adore France, great cuisine and the history of cinema. This film has all three, and for the third, check out the sequence where Remy is racing through the roof of the building on his way to the roof to discover Paris. Joyous!

4.) The Lord of the Rings: (no. Not Ralph Bakshi.) Peter Jackson achieved what I would have considered impossible - a reverential, mostly-faithful, utterly cinematic and totally entertaining adaptation of Tolkien's mythic maze of a novel. Is it perfect? No. Is it wondrous? In my view yes. And though some of my (ok one of my) dearest friends will disagree, Howard Shore created a score for the ages, a grand leitmotif that invokes Wagner and is transcendent.

5.) Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler: Now we're going Alte Schule. I have a great passion for German Expressionism and particularly for the silent films of Fritz Lang. I'm biting my nails awaiting the rerelease of the finally complete Metropolis, but my favorite Lang film is Mabuse. It is the prototype for the police procedural, the heist film, and the gangster saga - all wrapped into a thrilling 4-hour epic.

6.) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Sergio Leone created a total of 6 great films. They are all of a piece, instantly recognizable, the brush-strokes of a maestro and perfectionist. This is my favorite (probably everyone's favorite for that matter). Remarkably, it was recently restored with Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood redubbing their lost scenes. Instead of feeling gimmicky, it gave the film a greater sense of completion.

7.) The Belly of an Architect: Peter Greenaway is the great chessmaster of European art-film (his only rival for intellectual chilliness is Michael Haneke). After his first two (very good) films, he needed to cast an American actor to be a chess-piece in his next cinematic game. Happily for us all, he cast the mighty Brian Dennehy, who is no-one's pawn. Instead of a stylized metaphorical game, The Belly of an Architect is transformed by Dennehy's performance into a mighty tragedy - a grand man of vision brought low by fate.

8.) Stalker: Andrei Tarkovsky must be reckoned with. A severe moralist, an absolute perfectionist, and seemingly unapproachable. I first found out about Tarkovsky from a book about Sci-Fi (R.I.P. 4E) films edited by David Wingrove which praised Solaris and Stalker to the heavens. I spent years looking for either of them and Stalker was the first one I found. What a mesmeric film. The ten minute shot of the three characters entering the zone contains all the poetry and intensity that great film acting can possibly convey.

9.) Porco Rosso: Ahh, Hayao Miyazaki. The great man of Anime, one of the genuine auteurs of animation, like his countryman Akira Kurosawa, he's made a multitude of masterpieces. But little Porco Rosso is his film that I cherish the most. A small film with a magnificent heart and a great moral core, Porco Rosso is a very fine children's film, but also a great film about fascism, moral decisions and most interestingly, about regret. Only Soderbergh's Solaris compares as a portrayal of a man so consumed by regret that it transforms him.

10.) Amadeus: Every so often, Oscar gets it right, and this is one of the greatest. The staging is perfect, in that it takes you to the period instantly without making you feel like you're watching a stage play. It's a magnificent portrait of a vain monster and the angry, jealous sycophant whose character is devoured by jealousy and impotence. And hey, the soundtrack is really, really good.

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Date:2008-11-07 23:56
Subject:Villanelle - Shame
Security:Public
Mood: melancholy

We look upon a blackened face,
A bleak rebuke, a blackened bone.
And in the mirror we see disgrace.

Our home is now an empty space,
Time collapses within the zone -
We look upon a blackened face.

A sweet young boy, a pretty face,
Lots of petrol, some cordite, a phone,
And in the mirror, we see disgrace.

I scattered the ashes, left no trace -
My friends and I shall not atone.
We look upon a blackened face.

Now we forget, and we brace
Ourselves. But at night we may prove
That in the mirror, we see disgrace.

A boy aflame, burning off in space,
And those behind, completely alone.
We look upon a blackened face -
And in the mirror we see disgrace.

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Date:2008-11-04 22:15
Subject:Electioneering
Security:Public
Mood:Democratic!

there's something profoundly uneventful about the absentee voting process. The drama of opening the envelope, the suspense of finding a pen that hasn't run out of ink, the climactic application of the stamp...

The feeling of casting this vote, though...It's been a long time since liberal Hoosiers have had any political power on a national scale - and to those of you who scoff at my use of "liberal", I've a leftover Weisswurst from supper, and I'd be delighted to let you know where you can put it. It feels damn good to be excited to vote.

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Date:2008-10-28 22:35
Subject:This is not my beautiful house...
Security:Public
Mood: calm

A bit of boring stranger in a strange land blogging, so if you don't give a toss about my life, tune out after this sentence.

So, here I am. Where is here? Mannheim, Germany, about one hour from Frankfurt. A robust, industrial city, one of the chief centers of chemical engineering on the planet. Why am I here? Work, although soon enough, perhaps too soon, I will be relocating to Upper Bavaria, about thirty minutes from Munich. This is also because of work. A very interesting sequence of events have occured in my professional life, the end result of which is that I feel a bit like someone whose managed to escape from a nuclear explosion on a bicycle. ("Radiation! Run for it!!!") Happily, I've come out of it a bit stressed, but still with a career, unlike an appalling number of my US colleagues. The impact of this reorganizational decision will probably last for a decade, if not longer. Fortunately for me, that means there will be plenty to do and opportunities will arise. Why else am I here? leftyviolist speaks wonderful German and our 6-month old daughter hasn't got much to say as of yet. I've had a lot of time to think about it, and one thing that was an external influence was Bill Buford's magnificent book Heat. It's a tremendous story about his adventures "re-booting" his life, as it were. But one thing that really struck me was the story of Mario Batali, the famous chef and restaurateur. When he was very young, his father Armandino Batali, who was an engineer with Boeing at the time received an expat contract for several years in Italy. The thing that impressed me in the story was that the family was game, and overall, it was an adventure. Now, I'd like to think that I'm clever enough to recognize once-in-a-lifetime opportunities when they hove into view. Faithful leftyviolist readers will fondly recall our top-secret Mission to Deutschland (Which is behind a barrier, I regret to say.) Long story short, we decided as a family to go for it! So, Thursday, I'm off to a party in Duesseldorf (which I hope won't leave me worse for wear on Friday!) Then in the next two weeks, back down to Munich to find a house!

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Date:2008-10-28 10:33
Subject:A perfect short story
Security:Public

In a wonderful article about Munich that Frau Trout sent me, there was embedded this small paragraph that made me smile right down to the tips of my toes.

Another example of Munich's openness is the city's great Englischer Garten (English Garden), one of the largest urban public parks in the world. It was designed in 1789 by Benjamin Thompson (later Count von Rumford), a polymath from Woburn, Massachusetts, who also brought the cultivation of potatoes to Bavaria, where he invented a double boiler, drip coffeepot, kitchen range and "Rumford Soup," a nutritious broth for the poor.
. Read the whole thing as they say!

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Date:2008-10-26 20:40
Subject:A sonnet for the financial crisis
Security:Public

My love and I, we had but nought to sell
But our home, aye, our shelter above
Our heads. It was a pittance true to tell,
But ever so hopeless, a home to love.
You know, I gave this everything I could,
I suppose that my best couldn't suffice,
I believed that our accountant was good,
Oh god...I took his financial advice...
Now there's nothing left but the horrid shell
Of our home, house lost on a roll of dice.
All that's left, some rats and mice, a strange smell.
And a dark color on the wall, a trice-
We could catch a film at the Hippodrome,
Give us a chance to forget about home.

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Date:2008-10-26 19:25
Subject:A Fedora, a cigarette, an alibi, an excuse, a pistol, one bullet...
Security:Public
Mood: happy

Hello from Germany! Things are well here, although in my pseudo-bachelordom, I've been marinating myself in movies and books. This weekend, I had a back-to-back doozy. Upon my doorstep (after the outrageous customs cost!) arrived two sui generis films from the great French master of crime, Jean-Pierre Melville: Le Doulos and Le Deuxiéme Souffle. I was in noir gangster heaven, I may tell you. But these were strikingly different pictures. Le Doulos was very much an impressionistic tone poem of death, much like Le Samourai. Le Deuxiéme Souffle was different sort of beast, a fearsome moody gangster epic, very much an antecedent of Michael Mann's magnificent Heat. I live I survive, I thrive.

Alles in Ordnung!

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Date:2008-08-09 01:26
Subject:Adventures in Customer Service
Security:Public
Mood: aggravated

So, tedious news first...

NOT DEAD.

That covered, I can carry on and move forth. So I suppose that I must blow my cover, uncover the lid and let it all loose. It's official. In one month and six days, I shall be away. As in gone. No longer here. International, me. I could be coy, but the contract is signed, sealed and en route. Shortly, I shall be an expatriate. An American abroad (not to worry, my English and Irish accents are up to snuff. My Scottish accent is shite, but I'll worry about that another day). Soon I shall be living in Germany. Frau Trout will be coming later, but hopefully not too much later. However things happen to work out, we shall make it work. At any rate, we are quite excited and I am giddy, pumped, terrified and elated about our future.

But that's not what this post is about.

As a result of my posting, I've been researching a new *proper* bicycle for commuting to work and back. In Germany, this is actually doable, since they have both bike lanes and drivers who are aware of cyclist's rules of the road. Now. My sister-in-law who is super and happens to be a bike dealer recommended a certain model of bicycle. A Cannondale, so it happens. She didn't have one in stock in my size, but she recommended that I try an alternative store, in my neck of the woods, to give it a test ride to see what I thought.

Well.

I will not name this establishment, owing to the risk that doing so might encourage a casual viewer of this blog to stop in and purchase a sweat-sock. I can say with absolute confidence that in my whole life, I have never been treated as miserably as I was in this establishment. First, I spent 7 or 8 minutes browsing, at first window-shopping and by the end hoping that someone would ask me what the f*** was wrong with me. Neither happened. I decided to persevere and went to the front counter and requested assistance. They were tremendously nice to me at the front desk. I should have know that this would be an anomalous experience. Gradually, I was introduced to my salesman.

He looked me up and down, the way one would evaluate a cast-iron skillet caked in filth. "So. What can I do for you sir?" he asked, the stain of boredom already coloring his voice.
"Well, sir, I need a new bicycle..." and I proceeded to tell him my story and situation, and he just looked at me.
"mmm. Well, I know that you think you might want to commute to work. Perhaps you should consider one of these (he displays the cheapest, crappiest street bikes on display)."
"Um...yes, um, you know I actually do commute through Fishers backroads on a Trek 800 right now...I actually do know how to ride a bicycle." His gaze transforms from passive contempt to active hatred.
"Well, I'm not sure that we have anything that would suit your needs."
"I need to ride to work!!!"
"Mmmm. Oh and would you need a spare tire? Oh, no...I can see that you already have one." *Smirk* At this point I am thinking...murderisillegalmurderisillegalmurderisillegalmurderisillegal...I take a cleansing breath.
"I had a budget of $1,000.00, but I suspect I should possibly come back some other time." He grins nastily at me.
"Whenever you're ready, but I won't hold my breath." I took seven cleansing breaths and walked out.

Now, if I had been the manager of that establishment and had witnessed that exchange. I would have taken the salesman in the back and demonstrated that the head and the arse can be made as one.

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Date:2008-06-11 18:59
Subject:V for Veronica.
Security:Public
Mood:awake

I've been working up the various reasons that M. and I settled on Veronica as a first name for our daughter. My first criteria when brain-storming names was that I didn't want a name possessed by any living member of our family. I'm normally a very ecologically minded person, but that was one bit of recycling I'm not keen on. Secondly, I wanted a name that would work equally well in our three household languages - English, French and German. This consideration may become more immediately relevant than I could ever have possibly forseen. Veronica hit me as quite a good name actually for several reasons.

One big plus for me was that Veronica is not a made-up name. In fact, apparently, Saint Veronica offered succor to Christ on his way to the cross. I didn't actually know that until I started poring through baby-name websites. Originally, coming from Greek, it means Bearer of Victory, and an old fashioned variant is Berenice or Bernice.

Another definite perk that was a happy accident was that M. has never had a student named Veronica. I am not a teacher, so this is less of a concern to me, but apparently it is a very good thing that there are no school associations with Veronica.

Although Veronica is a bit old-fashioned, I find that is much better than being overly fashionable. There are going to be a cluster of of Campbells and a mob of Mackenzies and only a select group of Veronicas in her peer group. Additionally, Ronni is a very good, cute shortened name for Veronica.

No, I wasn't thinking of Veronica Mars, nor was I thinking of the lyrics of Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song for that matter. I don't think that I had given any thought to other famous Veronicas or references to pop culture. Veronica Lake, I suppose may have been in the back of my mind, but that's unlikely.

Hopefully, she will like her name as well as we do.

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Date:2008-04-13 21:57
Subject:tee hee hee...
Security:Public
Mood: ecstatic

Not yet a father and already I need to arrange a sitter...why, you ask?

This is why.

(Not sold out yet - astonishingly!)

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Date:2007-11-19 22:47
Subject:Go on...do have some more.
Security:Public
Mood:accomplished

Here's a first for me - food blogging. As those of you who know me will be aware, I'm a wee bit of a foodie, and lately I've been expanding my skills in the kitchen under the watchful and generous eye of leftyviolist . On my last birthday, I received the mighty Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. I asked it because the man is a genius writer and I knew I'd get at least one good laugh or insight on every page. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find that this was a usable manual for the amateur gourmand. So I have been slowly learing the art of French Bistro cooking. Our last meal that I made from this was such a success that I have to share the recipe:

Daube Provençale

The best cut of meat for this dish is the neck, we got ours from an awesome local provider: Royer Farms. You want to get the meat with the bone still in, and carve your chunks yourself. Otherwise, just get lamb or mutton shoulder cubed by your local butcher. Here's the skinny on what you'll need:

Software:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3 lb lamb neck and shoulder (cut into approx. 2-inch pieces)
salt and pepper
1/2 lb slab bacon cut into lardons
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 celery rib (finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
1 tbsp tomato paste (we used a *heck* of a lot more than this, but you don't need to)
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup wine (original recipe says white, we used red.)
1 cup strong, dark veal, chicken or lamb stock (add a spoonful of demi-glace if available)
1 small carrot (finely chopped)
1 bouquet garni
Zest of 1 orange
2 potatoes (peeled and cubed)
4 sprigs of flat parsley (chopped)

Hardware:

Dutch oven with cover
tongs
wooden spoon
serving bowl

Stage 1: Prep the lamb/mutton

Heat the olive oil in the Dutch oven on high heat. Add the butter. Foam it. Let it subside. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Sear it on all sides in the hot pan, in batches if necessary, until all of it is deep, dark brown. When browned, remove from the pan with the tongs and set aside.

Stage 2: Operation Stew

Add the bacon to the still-hot pan and cook until it's crispy and has rendered out its fat. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Discard most of the fat (but don't throw it away! You might need it) and then add the onion, celery, and garlic to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables have caramelized, about 5 minutes. Using the wooden spoon, stir in the tomato paste and cook it for about 1 minute. Stir in the flour and cook for an additional minute. Stir in the wine and scrape up all that brown stuff. Bring the wine to a boil and reduce immediately to a simmer. Add the lamb, carrot, bouquet garni, orange zest, and bacon. Season with salt and pepper, cover the pot, and simmer over low heat for about 90 minutes, occasionally skimming the fat from the surface of the stew.

After 90 minutes, add the potatoes to the stew and cook until they are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Skim the stew a final time, making sure there's no film of fat floating on the surface, then serve in a big old bowl, garnished with the chopped parsley.

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Date:2007-10-23 23:56
Subject:Oh hell...
Security:Public
Mood:accomplished

Thanks to Charlie Stross, a bit of my hard earned spondulix is going to be shortly spent on the PRS-505. This is a device that I've been waiting a *long* time for - a truly good e-reader. I suffer from severe G.A.S. (Gadget Acquisition Syndrome) but lately I've been very good at avoiding those things which shine and go BEEP. This, however, I am powerless before. I do my fair slice of business travel, and I hate porting around 5 or 6 paper or hardback books. This would obviate that instantly. I shall keep my faithful reader posted. Until then, excelsior!

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Date:2007-10-14 22:54
Subject:Signed, sealed and...and?
Security:Public
Mood:accomplished

Well, how to deal with this one? I subconsciously knew that it was coming, but nothing could really prepare me for it. I mean, after this past Wednesday, it's real. I do mean really real. This is the real thing, you know. The ultimate result. What we are here for...and I mean that in both the divine sense as well as the Dawkins sense. My genes (such as they are) and my soul (such as it is), are no longer solely my own, insofar as leftyviolist and I shall have a child. Nothing can really gear you up for the sheer reality of that. It's quite a thing...one might say that it's the absolute thing, the ultimate thing.

Personally, I'm a trifle concerned, in as much as I am plagued with a deep compulsion to trivialize rather serious things in an effort to bring them down to earth. Allow me to give an example: I can easily envision a pair of imploring eyes gazing up at me (hopefully attached to a rather cute child. If they were disembodied, that would be more than a bit creepy.) ...and listening to me telling the story of brave Flopsy the Bunny who had crept into the farm at night to bring some carrots home to Mrs. Flopsy and their twelve children (bunnies, you see.) The problem is, I'm the sort of man who would interject:

"Suddenly, a shot rang out!"

I'm either going to be the best dad ever, or Children's Protective Services has already flagged me for observation.

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