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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: For Your Consideration
Birding is, as much as anything, a hobby of details. As you progress in the hobby, you need to spend time learning the fine details of various birds. Most birders start out with a field guide, one that they carry with them as they bird. Rarely does it stop there, it seems.
When I’m birding, I’ve mostly switched to electronic field guides (which are a posting for a different time), but I still carry one of the standards, the Sibley Western Field Guide. At home, I have a copy of the larger National Sibley. I also have a copy of the National Geographic Field Guild. They are good examples of the two schools of guides, with Sibley being painting-based and the National Geographic being photo-based.
It may seem like a photo-based guide would be the best, but I’ve found in practice the Sibley, based on drawings, works better for me. The big philosophical difference is that National Geographic images all show a specific bird at a specific time of year, while the Sibley images are idealized images of the species, with a focus on the marks you use in the field to help you understand which identifiers are most important. Under most circumstances, the drawings help you more than photos, but there are times when only photos answer a question. The quality of a photo-based guide depends a lot on both the quality of the images, but also how well the editors choose representative images of a species.
Sometimes, however, what you need is lots of images. Nothing defines the complexity of birding more than gulls, which a few birders absolutely love for the challenges, and many birders grumble about at the same level as mopping the kitchen floor. It’s an occasionally dirty job, but you gotta do it, at least once in a while. But if you do, you’ll quickly find most general guides can’t cover the complexity. Gulls change their plumage as they mature in major ways over the first few years, and especially with younger birds, the differences between species can be subtle and individual birds vary widely from the standard. In my view, the birders who can pick a Slaty-Backed third cycle gull out of a flock of 5,000 mixed Herring and Western gulls gets nothing but respect from me (and I know damn well even if I had the patience to sort out that flock, I’d still never see that bird).
But when you start playing with gull ID (or shorebirds, another class of birds that can make you crazy), you need specialized guides with a lot more detail.And that’s why I own Gulls of the Americas and The Shorebird Guide, because somedays, you need to be able to sit down with your images and be able to make heads or tails of a 3rd Cycle Glaucous-Winged or understand the difference between a Least and a Semi-Palmated Sandpiper.
So those four books are my go-to library where I research about 95% of my birding questions, supplmented by my electronic guides I carry in the field, and resources like Flickr or Cornell’s All About Birds.
But most birders build a library of books over time, because when the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can still sit down and read up on the hobby.
If you’re just growing past the “carry around binoculars” stage and don’t really know what that means, the Natgeo Birding Essentials guide is a good starting point. Owls has been a recent fancy of mine, and so I’ve gotten a couple of guides to stary studying them. I particularly like the Field Guild to Owls of California and how it describes and discusses the birds.
Finally, you can’t find birds if you don’t know where to look, so every birder ends up grabbing a stack of these regional guides. My favorites here in the bay area are Birds of San Francisco and the Bay, John Kemper’s Birding Northern California, and for those of us here in Santa Clara County, Birding at the Bottom of the Bay, which is available through Santa Clara Valley Audubon. The more general guides are good ones to get you started and help you explore the highlights around a region, but the more you want to explore, the more you’ll find yourself drawn towards the specialty guides done by the local Audubon chapters. Many of these are now going online, and a great example of what’s possible is done by Sequoia Audubon in their San mateo County birding guide — this really is the future of birding guides, I think.
A long, long time ago, in a Galaxy far away (or so it seems), I published a science fiction fanzine called OtherRealms. At its core, it was about reviews. I also spent some time writing book reviews for Amazing Stories, back when it was published by TSR. OtherRealms was well-thought of enough to score me a couple of Hugo nominations (and I finished ahead of No Award, thank you very much!) and I really enjoy the process of figuring out how to help someone decide if hey ought to try something out.
I write reviews, not criticism. I’m not going to talk about deeper meaning or higher purpose — or even, necessarily, if something is good or bad. My goal is to help put things into context so you can make a decision if you want to buy/use/read/eat/watch/whatever something. What I try to do with reviews is help you map my experience and worldview into your worldview so you can make a judgement on something and whether it is worth investing your time in it in some way.
And ultimately that’s the issue here: time is a finite resource, and even in one small segment of the universe, if you did nothing else, you couldn’t read every book published in the SF/Fantasy universe every month (and if you tried, you’d go crazy and be committed, or should be). So given there are many more books published in a month than you have time and budget to buy and read, which ones are worth your time? I hope to steer you towards some, away from others, and hopefully make you spend your time budget in a way that you appreciate.
One reason I do this is to broaden my own universe. When I was publishing OtherRealms, one rule I had was that at least every fifth book was by an author I’d never read before. I’m going back to that rule again, and I’d like to recommend it to everyone; it forces you to explore, it forces you to sample new things and new people, and I pushes you out of ruts where you can go stale and stop enjoying what you’re doing. Revisiting the familiar is comforting and relaxing, and god knows we all need that in our life, but wading into the new and unknown is broadening and energizing, and we need some of that, too. And one small way of doing that is to always be sampling things we haven’t sampled before, so I”m going to try to help you do that by doing it again myself.
About a year ago, I made a commitment to try to stop buying dead trees. I’ve bought a Kindle, I’ve been exploring ebooks and looking into electronic publication for my own writing, and in general, I’ve stopped buying words on paper in favor of words embedded in electrons. It’s not a perfect situation yet (it’s not easy to lend an ebook, compared to a paper one), but I was clearing out my computer tech book shelves again one day and realizing just how much paper was being sent out to be recycled because after 3 or so years the books were effectively useless. That caused me to rethink how many computer books I buy (sorry, geek authors), but also made me get serious about buying books in general electronically, because I can now carry around many books in my pocket, and not throw out my back schlepping them around. The side effect of that is if you aren’t allowing electronic editions of your books, I’ll probably never read them. Sorry.
Today’s Wednesday in Review is about an author I’ve known for a while, but never actually read. I love historical fiction, and I really love when an author can write a good alternative history and make it both an interesting story and an interesting view into a period of the past — especially when there are strong fantasy elements built in; Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and her St. Germain series is a great example of this — meticulously researched historical fiction and accurate renditions of the period. With Vampires. If you haven’t tried this series, a good place to start is The Palace. But a discussion of St. Germain will wait for another day….
For some reason, I’ve never read Michael Stackpole, but when I was searching for a book to take with me on a trip, I ran into At the Queen’s Command. It’s historical fantasy set in a period rarely touched by authors (or pretty much anyone) — the time when the French and English were jousting over control of North America and the westward expansion was just starting our of the American colonies, with the colonies starting to chafe under the demands of British rule. Only it’s not, it’s his own world, and there is magic. And Dragons. and zombies, and…
And it really is rather fun. It tells of the time when two major superpowers are fighting for dominance, and this fight spills over into the new lands that are being colonized; the colonists are at that point where they’re wondering why they are still beholden to a far off land that mostly sees them as a source of revenue, and the age of exploration is just beginning as the western expansion is starting and everyone is seeing the advantage in owning and controlling the lands they’re finding out there. The indians, of course, aren’t so hot on that idea.
The story echoes some of the real happenings in our universe involving the exploration and control around the Great Lakes, and here, Stackpole writes about the creation of a fort by one power to assert control over the lakes while the other power sends people over to work with the colony to prevent this from succeeding.
It’s a well-told story based in a fascinating time period that’s been under-utilized and which most of us aren’t very familiar with Stackpole has some leeway in making events fit his need without creating the “hey, that’s not how it really went” echoes you sometimes hit with historical fiction in familiar locales. The fantasy elements have been carefully crafted into the story, but at the same time, he hasn’t made them a focal point. All in all, I really liked the quality of the writing and the story, and it’s a solid piece of world building.
It is the first book in a series, but this book tells a story in its entirety without cliffhangers. There’s a second story in the cycle — what I think is going to be a fascinating one — that builds out of the resolution of this first book, but it’s definitely a second story, not just phase 2 of this one. One of the things I hated back in the days of OtherRealms were what I called the three book novels — and that hasn’t changed much. This book isn’t one of those; it’s its own story that stands alone nicely even though it’s clearly part of a larger story arc.
So all in all, a successful and entertaining book. Well worth picking up and reading, and I’m definitely putting book 2 on my todo list. If you’re at all interested in historical fiction and historical fantasy, you’ll want to grab a copy and spend an evening or two with it.
Some days people give you a gift without even realizing it. Here is a gift I am pleased to pass along to you.
This gift started out as a tweet from Vonda McIntyre, noting that Ursula K. Le Guin is now blogging. That in itself was enough to make my day; back in the ancient of days when I was involved with SFWA and writing a bit I got to know many of the authors in the field, but Le Guin is one of those rare writers that changed how I viewed the field, and through her non-fiction and criticism also changed how I thought about life. She is one of those rare people that I bestow the “I will happily read your shopping lists” honor on (the others I’ve given that award to being Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, Terry Carr, and Damon Knight — each of which deserves its own discussion point at some point in the future). She is also one of the most gracious and nice people you’ll ever meet.
It turns out that Le Guin is blogging at a site called “Book View Cafe“, which describes itself as an online consortium of writers; effectively, it’s a shared blog and publicity resource that somehow I hadn’t discovered before today. That’s my loss, because there are a group of really interesting people involved with that site, and the blog looks to be chock full of Interesting Stuff You Probably Want To Read. A quick glance at the authors involved with the site shows a long list of names I can recommend to you as well worth your time, including not only McIntyre and Le Guin, but Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Brenda Clough, Katherine Kerr, Laura Anne Gilman, Phyllis Radford, Judith Tarr (and her horse), Sarah Zettel, and Sherwood Smith. All of which are extremely nice and interesting people to spend time with as well as writers worthy of your time.
So please consider wandering on over to the Book View Cafe blog, and attach your eyeballs to it for a while. Your eyeballs will likely thank you and ask for a return visit.
I’ve been going through my library looking for things I’ve wanted to talk about, so here are a few of my favorite photography books.
There are lots of books out there on digital photography and dealing with the workflow and post processing. I currently use CS3 on the Mac with a number of tools like Nik Software’s Viveza and DFine, with Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw doing the heavy lifting on image management. Many books do a decent job of helping you come up with a basic workflow and explaining what the knobs are and how to twaek them, but the books that actually show you how to go beyond the basics and what techniques work for making an image better (or saving a marginal image) are a lot harder to find.
That’s why I think if someone’s looking for a single “iPhoto isn’t cutting it any more, how do I take the next step?” book, I would tell them to grab Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3 (Voices). It’s very focussed on showing you a few key habits to get into on every photo and how to get comfortable with them and adjust them to maximize the impact on the image.
As the Amazon description says –
You’re not going to just learn one technique for fixing shadows, and another technique for adjusting color (every Photoshop book pretty much does that, right?). Instead, you’re going start off at square one, from scratch, as each chapter is just one photo—one project—one challenging lifeless image (you’ll follow along using his the same images), and you’re going to unleash these seven tools, in a very specific way, and you’re going to do it again, and again, and again, in order on different photos, in different situations, until they are absolutely second nature. You’re finally going to do the FULL fix—from beginning to end—with nothing left out, and once you learn these seven very specific techniques, and apply them in order, there won’t be a an image that appears on your screen that you won’t be able to enhance, fix, edit, and finish yourself!
and it’s right. This is a fairly rare book in that I’ve gone back to it and re-read it multiple times, and each time found new nuances that I’ve integrated into my photography workflow. I also like that he stays tight and on topic; there are so many features in Camera Raw and Photoshop that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and a bit lost. Here, Kelby creates a simple processing workflow that you can understand and get comfortable with quickly that is still flexible enough that you can adapt and expand as your skills improve.
This book’s for CS3, but would be fine for CS4 as well if you’ve upgraded. Highly recommended.
Also from Kelby a couple of books I like, especially to be given to new users, is his Digital Photography Book series (The Digital Photography Book and The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2). These are small, inexpensive books of tips. For more seasoned photographers, many of them may seem familiar or “simple”, but I doubt there are many out there that wouldn’t go “oh, interesting!” at least a few times in each book. Primary audience would be the newer photographer, maybe someone just stepping up to a DSLR and looking for ways to move from the “vacation snap” type photography into working towards better quality images.
If you’re looking for books to help you with creating or improving your workflow and the nuts and bolts of what you need to do from snapping the shutter to printing it out, there are two books I like.
Photoshop CS3 for Nature Photographers: A Workshop in a Book (Tim Grey Guides) (also updated for CS4 Photoshop CS4 for Nature Photographers: A Workshop in a Book) is by Elon Anon and Tim Grey. It has a Nature Photography slant, but the guts of the book are about the digital workflow and using Bridge, CS3 (or CS4) and Camera Raw. Their coverage of Camera Raw is solid, but what I really like about the book is how it helps you map out the way you manage a photo through the process. It doesn’t hurt that they have a lot of really good tips on becoming a better nature photographer, but really, much of this book would be relevant to any photographer.
Adobe Camera Raw is the real guts of any digital workflow that uses Photoshop or Lightroom. There are a lot of perfectly okay books that talk about how to use ACR, but I’ve only run into one that really dives deep and and takes you inside the tool and really help you understand the non-intuitive ways to use it. That book is Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS3 (also updated for CS4 Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS4) by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. Fraser was one of the best known geeks with Camera Raw and worked closely with Adobe on improving it, and Schewe has carried his work forward with care. This is the book for people looking to really get deep and dirty with Camera Raw and go beyond pushing sliders and seeing what happens. I’d say this is not a book for people new to the tool or for people trying understand how to use photoshop — but it should be a key reference for those photographers working to take that step from really good amateur into the ranks of the pros.
One last geeky book. As I got serious about my photography again, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of photographer I was and what I wanted my photography to be. I kept coming back to two things — Nature photography and having that photography displayed on walls; fine art photography. Printing your photographs becomes an art form in itself, which probably has something to do with cutting my teeth in high school in a wet lab darkroom and then being innoculated by Ctein somewhere along the way (seriously: check out his gallery). I ended up getting an HP B9180 printer, which I’m pretty happy with (although my next high-end printer will probably be an Epson), but once you step out of the world of “we’ll take care of it for you” printers on standard glossy paper, it gets really complicated and ugly really fast.
Fortunately, I ran into the book Fine Art Printing for Photographers: Exhibition Quality Prints with Inkjet Printers from Rocky Nook. I’ve been pretty impressed with the quality of Rocky Nook books in general, but this book did a great job of helping me through the learning curve of understanding how to control the printer and adjust the image to the paper — and what kinds of paper to experiment with and take advantage of to show off a print to best effect (for what it’s worth, I really like Hahnemule papers, but that’s a different posting). This book has paid for itself a couple of times merely from reduced frustration — but it’s also saved me a lot of time and money in reducing how many tests I make on a print, saving lots on ink and paper wastage. If this is the direction you’re thinking of going, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Finally, a couple of nice content-oriented books.
Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks is in many ways an episodic memoir of his photography (if you’re not reading his blog, you should). He talks about many of his photographs, including some that I’m sure will make you go “Oh, HE took that!”, and about why he did what he did and the underlying philosophy. It’s a great book for getting inside the head of a photographer and seeing how he sees an image and then goes out and creates it. It’s not too geeky in the gory details, but if you work through the tutorials and content on Strobist, you’ll be able to understand what McNally is doing and translate it into your own work. One thing that attracts me to this is that McNally’s strengths are very different than the kinds of photography I do, and because of that, I’ve found it helped me see how to work in those new areas and extend my own range and capabilities. A book I really, really enjoyed reading.
Finally, I first ran into photographer Harold Davis via his blog Photoblog 2.0, and the technical quality and imagery vision he showed blew me away. He’s not only an accomplished nature photographer but does some stunning studio work. His book Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is a great work if you’re trying to learn the techniques that will grow your skill from “that’s a good shot” to “this is the best possible shot”; if you’re someone who’s shifting from trusting the camera’s program mode to telling the camera what you want, Davis does a good job of discussing things like using Aperture or Shutter mode (and why you want to), adjusting exposure and white balance, taking advantage (or minimizing the damage from) existing light conditions, and using (and sometimes abusing) exposure adjustments to create specific effect. He’s a master at using studio lighting and exposure modifications to create interesting effects with flowers, and he’s also a master at near-zero-light long-exposure work, so he pushes the envelope in all directions, and this book is a nice glimpse into how he constructs those images and full of tips that’ll help you adapt his techniques into your work.
The Cupertino Courier | 0547 | November 23, 2005:
. Van Sant has spent more than 20 years working with her feathered friends, and it’s her mission in life to teach people how to treat them. Touted by some as the best bird doc around, she’s got a clinic full of squawking fowl and a loyal following of bird owners. Van Sant even flew to Louisiana to help save the birds there after Hurricane Katrina. She will take on any bird with any problem.
Nice piece on Fern Van Sant, of For the Birds. Fern’s been my bird vet for about as long as I’ve owned birds, and I can’t recommend her highly enough. When my first cockatoo, Morgan, started getting sick, Fern took it personally that we couldn’t keep her healthy, and fought like crazy to figure out what was going on (it turned out, after we lost her, to be a case of Polyoma that hid from the tests, where Morgan was basically getting just enough reduction in her immune system to allow her to keep catching bugs). Fern bought us at least a year that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. And when Tatiana ended up with Zinc poisoning, Fern and her crew were great at helping us get it under control and Tatiana back to whatever we laughingly call normal around this house…..
While blogging has been light, I’ve been spending more time away from the computer and catching up some some reading.
Herewith a few of the highlights…
I’ve struggled to find good SF or Fantasy that I find enjoyable. Fortunately, one of the folks I work with recommended Terry Goodkind, and the suggestion was a good one. So far, I’ve made it through “Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth, Book 1)” (Terry Goodkind) and “Stone of Tears (Sword of Truth, Book 2)” (Terry Goodkind), a total of 1800+ pages of type a bit too tiny for these middle-aged eyes, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, and in fact, bought the next two books in the series for holiday reading (people who remember me from my days writing OtherRealms probably remember I am not a huge fan of series books. I’m not — unless they’re well written….)
The storyline is classic fantasy. a dark evil challenges the world, and the good people (magicians and others) must struggle to overcome it and protect life as they know it. You have your wizards, and your sorcerors, your good youth who is not what he seems, a love story where fate guarantees they cannot live happily ever after (but of course, love conquers all, maybe). Dragons, great battles, death, destruction, evil beasts….
In the hands of a lesser writer, what you’d have is 1800 pages of chaos. In the hands of many writers today, you’d have 1800 pages of bloated, sloppy prose that would be much better with another round of editing and a 10% cut in word count (but in today’s fictional reality, thick books sell well, so there’s little incentive to make the book better through good editing, something that’s really hurt authors like Scott Card and George R.R. Martin, IMHO).
Each book stands alone, telling its own story within the larger story arc of the series. I found myself pulled in to each volume, sometimes reading late into the night. The characters are strong and multi-dimensional, not convenient puppets, and all have both positive and negative aspects that keep them from being stereotypes. And unlike many series, you don’t hit the end of the book feeling like it was an unresolved stopping point; each of the first two books is a proper ending, even though the larger story arc is clearly to continue.
Goodkind reminds me very much of an early Ray Feist — not afraid to challenge the reader, but not looking to show off with excessive complexity or storylines that defy your ability to keep track of what’s going on. it’s good entertainment AND good writing, unfortunately a rare combination these days. And it’s a series I’m looking forward to crawl back into….
Also on the fiction side, I’ve finally caught up with Steven Brust again, having finally finished off the Viscount of Adrilankha series (“The Paths of the Dead (The Viscount of Adrilankha, Book 1)” (Steven Brust), “The Lord of Castle Black (The Viscount of Adrilankha, Book 2)” (Steven Brust), and “Sethra Lavode (V of A)” (Steven Brust)). This series is Brust honoring a favorite writer of his, Alexander Dumas, and it’s written in the style and language of Dumas (in all it’s flowery glory). This is both the series greatest strength and it’s biggest weakness — the books are amazingly hard to read to this modern-day reader, who sometimes found his eyes turning sideways trying to keep track of what was going on, especially after a long day at work (So you say? Yes, I shall say it!). It ties into the larger universe Brust plays in, and tells the story of the end of the Interregnum and the return of the Orb to the realm of man, and the fight for control of the Orb and the throne.
If you’ve never read Steven Brust, this probably isn’t a good place to start. it’s well-written, but not necessarily easy reading, and assumes some familiarity with Brust’s universe (if you’re interested, I recommend starting with this: “The Book of Jhereg: Contains the Complete Text of Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla (Vlad Taltos)” (Steven Brust)). But with that one restriction, it’s a series I recommend highly. It’s not, though, a series I’d want to read if I was going to be interrupted or unable to concentrate on it (it’s a series for next to the fire, not for the subway…)
Also in the catching-up-with category is another favorite author, Greg Bear. I loved “Darwin’s Radio : In the next stage of evolution, humans are history…” (GREG BEAR) and the premise that our genes would evolve us into newer, more advanced forms. If you could buy into that, the storyline of fear and hatred in society is scary and gripping. The sequel, “Darwin’s Children” (GREG BEAR), however, wasn’t as successful for me. Carrying the story forward, I found it interesting, but as a sequel, didn’t stand up to the original work. the relationships seemed more awkward, the storyline forced. Here is a series where I think what really needed to be said was said in book 1 — and book 2 didn’t really add to the conversation between author and reader, it just added to the word count. While it’s not a bad book, Darwin’s Children just didn’t click with me the way Darwin’s Radio did. Read the first book, borrow the second from a friend who bought it.
Off into non-fiction land, one of the books I took with me to victoria was “Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology” (Paul Glen, David H. Maister, Warren G. Bennis) — which I found terribly disappointing. As a geek, it mostly failed the “well, duh!” test with me. I suppose if you just fell off a desert island and got hired to run a group of geeks, it might help you avoid insanity — but it really read like “how to manage programmers 101 for people who think everyone ought to be interchangeable assembly line workers without having them laugh at you and quit” — and I expect the people most likely to need a book like this are unlikely to think they do.
And as usual, I’ve been off playing in military history and naval warfare…
Starting with “Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of : American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II” (JOHN PRADOS) — An interesting evaluation of the intelligence services on both sides of the Pacific war, and how both sides benefitted and were hurt by what they knew and what they didn’t. While the intelligence operations of the US are farily well-known by now, the japanese intelligence organizations and how their navy used them (or didn’t) hasn’t been extensively studied, and this book opens the door to that side of the conflict. What I found most interesting was the look at the politics and personalities of intelligence, with the infighting and turfing that seems to happen among the various organizations. it’s a case, I think, where history can show us things we should strive to avoid, an important lesson today in a time where after 9/11 we saw similar problems between the FBI and CIA, and where we’re still seeing the government try to figure out how to resolve them…
“Battle Ready” (Tom Clancy, Tony Zinni, Tony Koltz), is another book from the Tom Clancy factory, and is primarily an interview (told, intermittently and somewhat chaotically, in both first person and third person for no reason i can figure out) with Retired General Tony Zinni. Zinni was on the ground in Iraq, involved in the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, Somalia, a former Commandant of the Marines, and carried on a 40 year career that started as an advisor in Vietnam (where he sustained serious injuries). Zinni also has strong opinions on many things, some of which got him in deep trouble with the Bush administration, and in this book, he’s not afraid to share them with you. It’s a fascinating read — his view of the reality of Vietnam is fascinating and likely to change your view of that war. After his involvement with Arafat and Israel, he came away with strong beliefs on why that process has failed, and during his time in the MIddle East, he pushed hard to prepare the military for the need to support the occupation after the war in Iraq was won — and was roundly ignored by the administration and his military peers. As we can see today, there are likely some people who wish they’d paid more attention. An interesting book that’s critical of many people (Clinton as well as Bush), likely to piss off both sides of the political spectrum, but a fascinating look into a number of areas of America’s foreign policy that have been relegated to five-paragraph explanations by the American media, simplifying them to the point of not explaining what’s really going on. Zinni does, and whether you agree with his opinons or not, he’ll give you the background and data that nobody else seems to be making easily available….
“Big Red: The Three-Month Voyage of a Trident Nuclear Submarine” (Douglas C. Waller) — ever wonder what it’s like to serve on a submarine? Times have changed since the days of the U-boats (so wonderfully described in the movie “Das Boot) — but it’s still no luxury cruise. Author Waller was given full access to the USS Nebraska, going on cruise with them and living with the crew. The Nebraska is one of the subs designed to act as a deterrent — it carries nuclear missles, and it’s primary purpose is to not be found (and sunk). it’s a fascinating look at the committment and sacrifices our military (and their spouses) make to protect us, as well as how the sub operates. An interesting perspective into the military life, and an area of the Navy that to date hasn’t been dicussed much.
If you’re curious about military (and naval) history, a good introductory piece on World War II is “War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II” (Nathan Miller) — it would make a good first book to explore this area of our past. I doesn’t go into excessive detail or get bogged down in analysis, making it accessible but still interesting and educational. For those of you (like me) who hated history classes in school, this might be a good first book if you’re curious about WW II, because frankly, history is fascinating — it’s how it’s taught that made us hate it. Make a good christmas gift for someone you know who’s curious about the past but not sure how to get started.
Finally, I happened to run into this book by accident: “Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II” (Robert Kurson) is the story of a group of wreck divers, scuba divers who explore shipwrecks. One of my programmers has recently gotten into scuba, and I’m interested in WW II Naval history and submarines, so a book on both scuba and a lost U-boat off the New Jersey Coast seemed a natural. It was — well written, it’s an account of a group of divers who discover a previously unknown sunken submarine and their search for its identification, and the changes in their lives that this search (an obsession, and not always a healthy one) caused. An interesting read on any number of levels — a non-fiction book that reads like a good thriller, it ought to be a must-read both for submarine geeks and for scuba geeks.
New submarine book: Rising Tide, the Untold Story of the Russian Submarines that Fought the Cold War by Gary Weir and Walter Boyne. Weir is a historian at the US Naval Historical center, and Boyne is a former director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The book is an attempt to chronicle Soviet military strategy for submarine warfare from about the end of World War II through the end of the Cold War and how it affected both Soviet and US policies during that time. There is some interesting material based on interviews with retired Soviet submariners, but overall, I felt the book was average — not a lot of depth, and it couldn’t quite figure out what story it wanted to tell, so it kept moving back and forth from technical to personal to political, and never really doing any of them true justice.
One of the stronger aspects of the book is discussing the problems inherent in working within the Soviet system, where quality control was many times questionable (and attempting to work in an environment that was, at best, unforgiving to flaws). A detailed discussion of the Kursk disaster also is intereting, but didn’t shed any real new information to me, and I don’t claim to have studied the incident seriously.
I useful and readable book, but it could have been much better. Not up to the quality of, say, Blind Man’s Bluff, which covers much of the same material from the American standpoint. But definitely readable. give it 3 out of 5.
As we were leaving the Clapton Concert (July 30, HP Pavillion), a woman exiting at the same time turned to her partner and said “I’m disappointed. he didn’t interact with the audience at all!”
that may have been the biggest complaint about the concert. And it was wrong — Clapton did interact with the concert; he just did it with his guitar and his voice. I can’t imagine Eric Clapton staring out at the crowd and yelling “hey, Detroit! clap your hands!” with false enthusiasm — can you?
San jose was stop 56 on Clapton’s 57 city tour. If any band had an excuse to show up tired and go through the motions, this one did. But from start to finish, it was an energetic, intense, artistic performance, starting with Robert Randolph and the Family band’s 45 minute opening act. Randolph and his steel pedal guitar pumped up the energy in the building from the first bars (Laurie is currently lusting for one. I keep pointing out that the instruments in the hands of a white person would turn out hawaiian music… snicker).
After about a half hour break, Clapton’s crew came out, and played for almost 2 hours. A good overview of the concert is here. I can’t add a lot to it. All of the artists were in good form (Branham seemed under the weather, and I never saw him sing — but he played a hell of a set, even if he seemed in pain at times. Or perhaps, that’s his zone, but it seemed maybe a bit of both); most impressive to me were (other than Clapton, of course), billy preston and chris stainton on the two keyboards, but everyone kicked.
I like to judge a concert by how the crowd reacts. If the crowd is into it, the concert’s working. If it’s lifeless, or milling or distracted (like at Fleetwood Mac), then the group isn’t doing it’s job. Not only was this crowd electric the whole evening — when Clapton went into wonderful tonight, you saw couples all over the arena stand up and sort of dance together in place…
Awesome evening. I’ve seen clapton once before, when he was touring songs of his blues roots (another awesome concert….) — first time I’ve seen him do his own material — and it more than lived up to expectations.
I need to admit this up front — I have a love/hate relationship with Fleetwood mac. I love Stevie Nicks’ voice, and Lindsey buckingham as a guitar player, and when she was with the group, Christy McVie’s vocals. But there’s another aspect of the group, when buckingham starts singing, where I just want to scream. When buckingham is doing his material, I just want to yell “Stonehenge” and go find something else to do.
So when it was announced that Fleetwood Mac would be playing San Jose, Laurie and I talked about it and gave it a miss. And then the Sharks made us an offer we couldn’t refuse — free floor seats, since we’re long-time sharks season ticket holders. At the price, how could you go wrong? So that’s how we ended up at the concert. And normally, with HP Pavilion’s wonky acoustics, I’d rather stay off the floor, anyway.
I’ve seen the group a couple of times before — the previous time in 82 or 83 in Oakland, when they were originally going to play with the Cars, and had to reschedule because Nicks lost her voice (so we ended up with Glen Frey as the opener, trying to prove he didn’t need the Eagles)
Prior to that, I saw them (sharing a bill with War) in Las Vegas, way back about 1973. And, in fact, I did walk out on them that night, thinking that the girl on the piano was pretty good, but man, I wish that guy would shut up… (some things never change….)
So back to HP Pavilion. Mick Fleetwood has grown up to look like Peter Boyle in Young Frankentstein. John McVie looks like, well, my dad, which always freaks me when I see my parents playing in a rock band (the joys of middle age). Lindsey seems to be channelling John Mcenroe. Stevie Nicks looked like if she did any more botox, she’d be immobile…
but, you know? what matters is the music…
Touring with the core members were a keyboardist (who’s name I’ve lost), two female singers (immediately nicknamed “high” and “note”), who were stuck as far to the edge of the stage as possible without having to buy tickets (their job: christy McVie’s parts, and covering Nicks’ lost range), a spare guitarist, a spare keyboardist/synth, a spare bassist, a kick-ass percussionist, and hidden way, way in the back a third drummer.
In other words, Fleetwood Mac is touring with a Fleetwood Mac cover band, on stage at the same time. Which came in handy a lot.
It was, in a word, a weird concert. Nicks started out struggling with her voice, but it finally kicked in. Buckingham seemed completely unable to match her in harmony for the first couple of songs (which had Laurie and I doing the ‘oh, oh” look at each other), but it finally more or less clicked in, although he struggled to stay in harmony all night. Nicks never had a huge range (9 notes? 10?), and it’s narrowed over the years, but who cares? it’s how she uses it, not how far it wanders….
but we (and the crowd could never quite figure out whether the group really wanted to be there or not.
You know, if buckingham wants to do the “dance the guitar riff tango” thing, that’s fine. It’s not a rock concert, I guess, unless you have someone doing the air guitar thing (while your cover is actually playing the music in the back…), threatening to trash the guitar, and overall, acting like a 14 year old in the garage pretending to be Jimi — but Buckingham did it four times during the concert. Hate to tell you this, Lindsey, but that act gets really tired. fast. (a quiet voice whispers “stonehenge”)
And that’s mostly how the concert went: when the band was doing Stevie Nicks stuff, the quality and energy ranged from “contractual obligation professional” to “pretty darn good”. When buckingham took lead (and let Nicks rest her voice), it got very, well, Spinal Tap. the band never really tried to connect with the audience, and the audience repaid the favor; lots of rustling and talking and cel phones and wandering around, and looking at watches was going on. Most of the band seemed going through the motions, except for Buckingham and Fleetwood; buckingham seemed intent on playing “look at me, I’m so great” all night (four smash the guitar ballets? sheesh), but have I noted I’m not really a Buckingham fan? (except when he shuts up and plays…)
Fleetwood and the percussion was, well, Fleetwood. kicked butt. animated. having fun. a bit scary at times, given how much he looked like Boyle… (grin). He and his fellow drummers were the best of the show most of the time (and I have to be honest, I kept hearing more drums than two guys could do, and I was wondering what was going on — it wasn’t until the end of concert intros were done that I realized there was a third drummer hiding in the back of the stage, which explained all of the sweeetening…
One of the great frustrations of the night was the percussion solo by Fleetwood. It didn’t show up until almost the end of the show, but when it did, it electrified the audience. Just turned them on and plugged them into the show — just as it was ending. And then Fleetwood carried it on, and on, and on; something like 20 minutes of watching him drum and prance (with drum machines on a vest) all over the stage. What started as a high energy, electric and great drumming turned into a painful, “how long will he carry this on?” torture; it wasn’t just me, either — I watched as increasing clumps of the audience started streaming to the exits rather than wait for the finale. my guess is between 5-10% of the audience left during his drum piece.
and that’s too bad — if he’d put that drum piece 20 minutes into the concert, and kept it to reasonable levels, they’d ahve owned that audience all night. As it was, much of the show was “going through the paces” with no real connect or energy, and when they finally did ramp it up and get the crowd going, it was way too late, and then they screwed it up again by carrying it on, and on, until we wanted to scream.
So ultimately, it was an occasionally good, mostly frustrating show. Most of the band coasted, except for Buckingham and Fleetwood, and they seemed more interested in showing off than entertaining. Maybe you like like kind of excess — but I sure didn’t, and from the number of folks fiddlign with stuff or just sitting there passive (or, later on, leaving), I wasn’t alone.
Next time, even if the tickets are free, I think I’ll pass.
in the last few weeks, laurie and I have gone to two concerts at HP Pavillion: fleetwood mac, and last night, Eric Clapton (opened by Robert Randolph and the Family band).
I’ll talk about both in more detail when I have a few spare moments (soon, soon), but coming home from the concert, laurie and I were talking about the differences in the two concerts…
Now, I admit I really like Buckingham as a guitar player (I just wish he wouldn’t sing, which explains a good part of my love/hate relationship with Fleetwood Mac).
But to explain how I feel about Buckingham vs. Clapton, here’s the best I can come up with. I believe, if I put the time and energy really trying to get good at guitar, I could become a decent cover for Buckingham.
But Clapton? I could practice every minute of my life for the rest of my life, and I’d never be qualified to carry his gear. But I’d love to get my hands on a couple of those guitars, just for a few minutes…
The latest NetFlix movie worth talking about is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring, among others, Sean Connery as Sean Connery playing Alan Quartermain, Peta Wilson as Mina Harker, Stuart Townsend as Johhny Depp, um, Dorian Gray, and some really killer special effects.
When it first came out, it got fairly weak to negative reviews.
Honestly? I’m not sure why. It’s a stirring good yarn, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Now that he’s too old to play the dashing romantic lead, Connery’s set up a nice second career as the aging hero. Some of the characters were inspired — Mina Harker and Dorian Gray and their interactions especially. Good action, the plot moves along crisply, and if it is a bit fanciful (well, Vernsian), heck — it’s got a vampire, an immortal (almost), and a submarine the size of Rhode Island in it. Don’t over-analyze the script, just enjoy.
Weakest spots? I found The Bad Guy (aka Fantom, aka other stuff that’d ruin the plot) wooden and the nazi overtones laid on him overdone. And I’m still trying to figure out what Tom Sawyer’s doing in the movie, other than being invisible most of the time. Clearly, they wanted someone that Quartermain would interact with as if he were his son — but they never really bothered to develop that relationship. So Sawyer wanders around looking like he got on the wrong set and was too polite to ask for the exit…
But all in all — a fun evening, better than the reviews led us to expect.
I’ll take it…
So the NetFlix subscription has kicked in, and we’re slowly starting to catch up on all of the movies we haven’t gotten around to for the last few years…
One of the movie’s this week was Underworld, which can best be described as Romeo and Juliet starring in the Matrix, only badly acted. Bad script, muddied plot (plot mostly left as an exercise to the reader to figure out on their own, which, unfortunately, was trivially easy to do), made-for-TV acting… Best thing about it was the special effects, which frankly weren’t all that interesting; the best effects were the lycan’s shifting to a wolf — and that was ripped right out of An American Werewolf in London, not exactly a state of the art movie for effects.
All in all, the trailers had potential, and it’s too bad they had nothing really to do with the movie, which we unplugged about an hour in when we got tired of doing the Misty-3K thing to the poor beast. That was about what it deserved, though.
Saturday was a bit of a special day, as Laurie and I wandered down to San Jose Arena (aka HP Pavilion, aka Compaq Place, aka, well, oh, never mind) for Bette Midler’s Kiss My Brass tour concert.
I’ve seen Midler in concert before, a long time ago in a galaxy far away (in a previous life, when I was small and green and really wrinkled), and she’s a great show. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. You might be familiar with her for her portrayal of a character much like Janis Joplin in Rosemary Clooney, a wonderful reflection of her roots in the field., and if you haven’t seen that movie, go find it and watch it (but be prepared to be depressed as hell). Her new album honors
But if that’s how you know Bette, you simply won’t understand the kind of show she takes on tour. Her early start was here in the Bay Area, doing, effectively, the gay bathhouse circuit. Her shows have a strong attachment back to classic theater works like the Broadway reviews of the 30′s and 40′s. Combine the two, and you have an evening of serious music and not so serious, rather bawdy and topical humor. For instance, at one point, she digressed into her views about the current political climate, and trust me, she’s not voting for Bush in the next election (and neither, clearly, is her audience). Janet’s boob, J’lo’s love life, and the war in Iraq all got put in the crossfires. As did Bette herself — always willing to throw herself on a joke to save her audience, she did a wonderful send up of herself, and her flop of a TV series, in a piece with (I kid you not) Judge Judy (on vidoe) and a guy in a CBS eye costume, which ends with her punching out the eye and being sentenced to having to apologize to every person who ever watched her TV show personally.
And then she comes out on stage to sing I’m sorry, i devil’s horns and a tail. Only she can’t finish the song, not straight. Of course.
The best way to define the Divine Miss M is a line she used during the show. She looked out at the audience and said something like:
You know, these days, it seems you can’t become a singing star unless you dress up like a whore!
And do they call me up and thank me? Nooooo!
She also did a duet with Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers), and opened up after the intermission with her latest Delores Del Lagos piece. This is a continuing theme with her, Delores being one of her characters, the epitomy of everything you could hate about Las Vegas Lounge lizards in all their glory. Delores does a nautical act, complete with mermaid’s tail, navigating around the stage in an electric wheel chair. blissfully tacky, wonderful stuff.
In this show, Bette revisits Delores in Fishtails above Broadway, in which Delores takes on the Broadway stage (and flops miserably), and given one last chance, re-invents herself (did you see the Julie Andrews movie SOB? No, pretty much nobody did, but it ties back to Janet’s boobie…), and goes on to do a Broadway review.
Which has to be seen to be believed, if you’ll believe it by seeing it. Bette goes way over the top as she and her Harlettes strap on the garter belts and bowler hats for a quick riff of Fosse (actually, they take on Fosse and Busby Berkeley at the same time; god help me, they do), then a quick snip of Chorus Line, and for the grand finale, you have Delores herself just completely demolish Carol Channing doing the Hello, Dolly entrance down the grand staircase.
Now remember, during this entire time, Bette and the Harletts are in full mermaid fins, either in wheelchairs, or madly hopping about the stage.
I swear to god the woman sitting next to me was laughing so hard she wet herself. Or came awful close.
Great entertainment, great energy, her backup band was awesome, and Bette really put a lot of herself into the concert; no opening act (who’s you get to do that?), about 2 and a half hours of concert, and it starts in high gear and ramps up from there.
If you get a chance, see it. It may not be guns & roses, but, you know? that’s another reason to recommend it…
Since we’ve decided who is going to paint the house (finally. yeah!), a few thoughts on how to hire a good contractor…
The key thing to remember, I think, is that any time you are hiring a contractor to do something, whether it’s paint your house or replace a toilet or whatever needs done, is to understand enough of what’s happening to know whether or not the contractor is doing a good job. In this situation, you are your own general contractor hiring a sub-contractor, so you need to understand what you’re hiring out.
Most good contractors will take the time to explain things you don’t understand; take advantage of that, but be aware that if you already know you won’t be accepting a given contractor’s bid, you’re wasting his time. That’s part of the reality of bidding a job and contractors factor that into their pricing, but it’s no excuse to abuse the relationship. you’re better off going back to the contractor you ARE hiring to ask questions you still have. of course, if you honestly aren’t sure who to hire, or whether the job is being bidded properly, you should keep asking questions until you do.
My first thought: “everyone” tells you to get three bids. Well, life’s not that simple. I have accepted the first bid. I’ve accepted the seventh bid. What’s important is that you keep talking to contractors until you find one you’re convinced will do the job properly for a price you feel is fair.
For instance, three weeks after we closed on the house, the furnace went kerplooey. We contacted a number of companies, and ended up working with one that could deal with the problem quickly at a good price. That led to further work — we’ve completely replaced the HVAC system, including reducting the house, and have done a couple of thousand in plumbing to the place since we’ve arrived. We don’t bid any of this out now, we call these folks; they aren’t the cheapest, but they’re wonderfully reliable, their work is first class, their systems are quality, and I can trust them. It makes no sense to go bidding for what we need these days.
Or when we re-roofed. One company has done seven or eight of the roofs on the block — the Eichler is a bit of a specialty, being a flat roof, and residential tar and gravel isn’t exactly common. But to get a sanity check on the price, we brought in a second company to bid; it was 40% higher, without the roof insulation we’d gotten added into the bid. No brainer, we went with the first company, and the R14 under the tar and gravel has made a huge difference to the livability of the house (and our energy bills… we had to spec up the air conditioner significantly when it was replaced because of the heat gain from the roof. Now, the airco is pretty bored, except on really hot days…0
And in one case — our first run at patio and hardscaping, we just gave up and put it off. That was during the high point of the dot com stuff, though, when every subcontractor was booked eight months in advance (or worthless), and people wouldn’t even come out to look at smaller jobs, and if they did, priced them high enough to make sure you wouldn’t accept their bids. ugh. These days, it’s a lot easier to find good subs…
So my point is — get as many bids as you need to get the right guy. To do that, you need to know enough about the job to know what a good one is, right? If you don’t, the sub ought to help you understand what needs to be done, but don’t completely trust them to tell you the entire truth. Try to find an uninvolved third party to help you understand what’s going on and/or evaluate bids with you.
So, here’s how I found our painting contractor. For the last year or so, I’ve been keeping an eye on paint jobs I’ve seen in the area. Residential, commercial, it didn’t matter, I just watched for jobs I liked, and tried to find out who did them. Some contractors put signs up, many have signage on their trucks or vans. it’s usually pretty easy. I tend to think contractors that use trucks with no signage at all are hiding something, because why not advertise (in many cases, they’re either unlicensed, or they’re small groups that are hired out by bigger companies as sub-sub-contractors. more on that later).
I also asked around to find out from folks I knew who were getting paint jobs who they used. In a few cases, I did it to make sure that company got thrown OFF my list (for instance, a house across the street was being repainted so it could be sold. the painters came in and prepped one day, did the main coat the next — and it rained a little that night. Next morning, they came in and did the trim. IMHO, that house needed at least 48 hours to dry before it should have been painted again — and the trim is already peeling, less than a year later. A company I definitely wouldn’t hire…). Also, I throw out companies who’s company vehicles are in bad shape. A contractor’s truck is going to be used (and used hard), and going to show wear, but a there’s a difference between a truck that shows use and one that (in the case of a painter) looks like it’s rented out weekends for paintball contests. A sloppy truck is, to me, sign of a sloppy work ethic, and that is a short walk from a sloppy job. If a sub doesn’t care about how their trucks look — what will my place look like?
I specifically look for small to medium, family or individual owned contractors who use their own crews. With big companies, you can get lost in the noise, and it’s hard to find someone who stands up and will be responsible. Many times, those big companies will hire out smaller companies to actually od the work — they’re effectively brokers, not contractors. This isn’t necessarily bad, since we did the front door that way through Home Depot and I thought the sub did a great job, but you lose some control, and you’re depending on the company hiring subs that will live to the company’s standards. the busier a company, the more likely that won’t happen. Basically, I want to know who the owner is, and how well he’ll back up the work. The closer you get to the owner of the firm, the better.
Remember that most contracting work is subjective (paint, which deals so much with color, is exceptionally so). A technically good job where the colors are off isn’t a success any more than perfect colors put on badly. So don’t minimize the need to be sympatico with your contractor on colors. A good contractor will help you get the colors you need, not necessarily the ones you want.
As I was watching paint jobs, one company kept showing up. I swear half of the jobs I saw that I really liked were done by this one firm. So they got called first. The owner came out two days later, surveyed the house, and wrote up the bid. We spent about 20 minutes discussing the prep work needed (easily 10, maybe 15 years since the last paint job, stucco with some settling cracks, a few other joys), and then another 20 minutes on paint colors, especially on the porch, we’re I’m rebuilding into a (hopeful) focal point.
He brought up certain aspects of the prep that would need special focus, and explained why he felt they ought to be done. he suggested upgrading to an Elastomer paint (basically, it covers and fills micro-cracks in stucco, and then stretches so they don’t come back), and went into some detail of what the house needed. His company is medium sized, about 50 people, but all work is done by employees, and supervised by foremen who are promoted up through the company. Those are very important guarantees to me that what the bidder says will be done, will be done. And then everything he suggested to me verbally was writen into the bid as documentation for the foreman.
The downside: he was about $700 more than I’d hoped, and about $1000 more than I wanted. Oh, and his trades vans are impeccably clean. You don’t have to wash them weekly, but it doesn’t hurt..
The second company was similar to the first — I’d seen a few jobs I liked, they advertised on the jobs. About a 70 person company. I got a full-time bid writer, not the owner. To be fair, I give all bidders the same job; even if something comes up with an earlier bid I want to adopt, I don’t add it to later bids. I want to see if other subs will come up with the same (or similar, or better) ideas. If not, you can always have them adjust the bid later — they won’t mind, and it’s fairest to all.
The second bidder had pretty much the same prep work specced out, which gives me confidence that this is what the house really needs. His bid differs slightly in a few ways, and in one major way. He doesn’t propose the elastomer paint; instead, he bids priming the entire house.
The third company I called out I called cold out of the yellow pages. I enjoy a bit of randomness, to make sure I’m not pre-judging myself into a corner. Small group, four employees, one crew. He was a no-show for his appointment (which happens); he called two days later, and it was a root canal that went bad, and he was in the emergency room. Like I say, stuff happens, so we rescheduled (but don’t expect me to call and ask why you didn’t show up.. but a contractor that calls, I’ll talk to).
We talked over the job, given the same premise as the first two.
Bid #1: 3,600
Bid #2: 4,900
Bid #3: 1,900
Same job: $3,000 difference. Makes you wonder, huh?
I really liked the third contractor — but I don’t believe he properly bid the amount of prep work this house needs, and I don’t think his crew is really up to doing it. So while he’s the low bid, I’ve eliminated him — but I’m recommending him to my neighbor, who wants her house painted, and which is in good shape bcause it’s been painted three times in the last five years (thanks to two sales…). She’s so tired of white on white, and that crew is perfect for her house. Just not mine.
The difference between bid 1 and bid 2? Once you sit down and break down the bids, bid #1 and bid #2 are exactly the same price — except bid #2 added a full prime coat to the house.
And both bid #1 and bid #2 have bid a job that’ll do what we need — get the exterior fixed up, and get a quality paint job on it.
But IMHO, I’m convinced #1 will do better prep, and is dealing with the house through prep and with a better paint, while #2 went with a lower quality paint and a more labor intensive solution. It’s not wrong, it’s a different philosophy. Either way, we’ll end up with a well-done house. But the 2nd bid is more profitable for his company than the first bid will be to his company.
Which is why you need to know what kind of job you’re having done, and how it ought to be done. There’s not a thing wrong with that second bid, except that it’s slanted more to the contractor’s benefit than mine. If you don’t know any better, it can cost you a couple of thousand dollars and you’ll be happy with the results…
Of course, before I fully commit to bid #1, I’m going to ask him his opinion of the full prime, and see what he says. I think I know what the answer will be…
Memorial Day morning, there was pretty literally nothing on TV and baseball hadn’t started. So I’m wandering around the channels on the dish (500 channels and there’s still nothing on!), and AMC is showing military films.
At that moment, the Bridges of Toko Ri. So I left it there and watched it for a while. I found out, much to my surprise, it held up pretty well for its age.
William Holden as Lt. harry brubaker, a denver lawyer now finding himself in a jet on a carrier off Korea. Frederic March as The Admiral, of course. A good supporting cast, and
Andy Mickey Rooney as, well, Andy Mickey Rooney, playing the cutup who happens to be one hell of a helicopter rescue pilot (in lime green top hat)
Bridges of Toko Ri was one of the movies early in the shift in attitude between the John Wayne School of “let’s go get ‘em, pilgrim, for mom and apple pie” WW II movies towards the more ambiguous “yeah, I know we gotta do it, but I don’t have to like it” films came later.
Personally, this movie was one of the ones that early on sparked my interest in military history, causing me to find the book, by some guy named Michener, and from there into realizing that history is really not icky, no matter how much the history teachers made you think it was…
So we’re sitting there watching it, and making snide remarks about how Korea looks an awful lot like the badlands of southern california, just like M*A*S*H did. And we were talking about how this was a movie that really set the kind of ambiguous military tone that M*A*S*H (the TV show; the movie was basically a black farce) later tuned into a find critical commentary on Vietnam, set in Korea.
And then late in the film, after Holden is shot down, Andy Rooney flies in in the eggbeater for the rescue, and I swear there’s a scene of the chopper coming in that’s a duplicate of the “wounded incoming” scene seen so often in the TV series, except Bridges predated it by many years.
Which makes me wonder whether that was a quiet way of Larry Gelbart honoring one of the movies that made doing M*A*S*H possible. One can only wonder… But it was fascinating to get that flash of recognition from two pieces that so clearly share a common attitude.
And, well, unlike the John Wayne movies, they don’t live happily ever after…. Or die heroically. But you could probably guess that (worse, by causing Holden to take flak over the seconary target, the director makes sure his death is meaningless, too — they got away from the key target scott free. I mean, you don’t need to be Fellini to figure out what he’s saying here….)
Just a little opportunity made out of a otherwise-wasted hour, snuggling up to an old friend and finding out the friendship still simmers…