A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So true

A cute bumper sticker I spotted the other day:

Money talks...but all mine ever says is "good-bye".

A super team-up


While not as ambitious and sure-footed as his novel about Superman's home planet, The Last Days of Krypton, Kevin Anderson's Enemies & Allies is a fun little read about Superman and Batman taking on Lex Luthor in the 1950's. And "fun" is the key word here: encompassing the arms race, the flying saucer craze, a giant Kryptonite meteor, evil Soviet generals, mutant monsters, a megalomanical plan for world domination, and a host of other real-world and fantastical elements, the book's aim is to emulate classic comic-book story telling at its best. And it largely succeeds.

While Enemies & Allies might have been a bit more fun if Superman and Batman had established their famous alliance much earlier in the book, I recognize that this is basically Kevin Anderson's take on the origin of that fabled team. So he needed to show all the steps: how these very different personalities initially distrusted one another; then reluctantly worked together on an occasion or two; and, finally, established mutual trust and cameraderie. So, even though I was five steps ahead of these characters and knew that they'd eventually become friends and allies, it was still fun to see the individual steps occur.

Pop culture fans will also enjoy Mr. Anderson's little nods to previous Batman and Superman stories in other media. For instance, Superman's crystal-shard Fortress of Solitude is right out of the 1978 Richard Donner movie, and Batman actually uses the famous preparing-the-Batmobile spiel from the character's 1960's TV series: "Turbines to power! Atomic batteries to speed!" It's also kind of neat that Bruce Wayne enjoys Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, and uses many of Fleming's ideas in the gadgets he constructs.

While maybe not the be-all-and-end-all Superman/Batman team-up novel, I can't imagine fans of these two characters' various TV, film, and comic book incarnations not having at least a pretty good time with this story. The relentlessly upbeat Superman and the eternally cynical Batman always make a fascinating team, and that's no exception here.

Enemies & Allies is available on Kindle for $7.99.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Silver bells


Here's a special Christmas night wish for all readers of Kindle Taproom: I hope you had a wonderful Christmas day and are having a relaxing Christmas night. And a very special welcome to any new Kindle Taproom readers who have discovered this blog via the new Kindle waiting for you under the Christmas tree this morning! I don't think that's too farfetched a notion... with undoubtedly tens of thousands of new Kindles being unwrapped this morning and tried out over the course of the day, maybe one or two of you new Kindlers have found your way here to this eccentric little Kindle blog. If so... once again, welcome!

To the rest of you, enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend. And thanks for being part of the Kindle Taproom family!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A thoughtful look back


Were the 1960's really the years when everything flew in the face of the past? 1959: The Year Everything Changed is a smart, engaging book that posits that it was the late 1950's, and especially the pivotal year 1959, that ushered in new ways of thinking and behaving that ultimately shook the nation to its core. As demonstrated by writer Fred Kaplan, things may have exploded in the 60's, but the seeds were planted in '59.

I enjoyed the mix of heavier and lighter topics covered in the book's essay-like chapters: the arms race; innovations in jazz; the civil rights movement; the development of artificial birth control; the rise of Motown; the last gasp of censorship; the embracing of youthful politicians over comfortably old and seasoned ones, etc. So don't worry, if reading about the US/Russia arms race isn't your cup of tea, you'll soon be immersed in the jazz clubs of Harlem.

While some of Mr. Kaplan's assertions are stronger than others, in general he argues his case well, and I think most readers will walk away from this book with a new appreciation of an era that most of us have regarded as perhaps not the most vibrant time in our modern history. I'm grateful for Mr. Kaplan for providing the opportunity to give this period a second look.

I listened to an audio version of 1959: The Year Everything Changed, nicely read by Joe Barrett, that I downloaded from Audible.com. The book is also available on Kindle for $9.77.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cute

From California writer Mark Evanier:

The three most dangerous jobs in America are 1) defusing bombs, 2) disposing of hazardous waste, and 3) playing Spider-Man.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poor Bob


Bob works hard at the office but does arrange for some downtime, telling his wife that all he needs to relax is a little bowling two nights a week, and a round of golf every Saturday.

Bob's wife is fine with this, but still thinks he's pushing himself too hard. So, for Bob's birthday, she decides to take him to the local strip club, figuring he'd be tickled and surprised by the somewhat naughty birthday gift.

Upon arriving, however, the doorman at the club greets the couple and says, "Hey, Bob! How ya doing?"

His wife is puzzled and asks if he's been to this club before.

"Oh no," says Bob. "He's in my bowling league."

When they are seated, a waitress comes over to Bob with a bottle of Budweiser, and says with a smile, "Figured you'd like your usual."

Bob's wife is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and says, "How did she know that you drink Budweiser?"

"Uh, she recognized me," Bob stammers. "She's the waitress at the golf club. You know I always like to down a cold one after 18 holes!"

A buxom stripper then comes over to their table, throws her arms around Bob, and starts to rub herself all over him. "Hi, Bobby!" she says. "Want your usual table dance, big boy?"

Bob's wife, now furious, grabs her purse and storms out of the club. Bob follows and spots her getting into a cab. Before she can slam the door, he jumps in beside her.

Bob tries desperately to explain how the stripper must have mistaken him for someone else, but his wife is having none of it. She is screaming at him at the top of her lungs, calling him every four-letter word in the book.

Finally, the cabby turns around and says, "Geez, Bob, you picked up a real bitch this time."

Bob expects to be out of traction sometime next week.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Truth-isms

Recent bumper stickers that we can't argue with:

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.

Evening news is where they begin with "Good evening", and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

Enjoyed this


Amidst Christmas shopping and other holiday chores, we caught Tron: Legacy over the weekend. It was a pretty good movie, much more layered and nuanced than the original Tron. Interestingly, even with all the flashy graphics and 3D effects, the movie is ultimately the story of a father and a son.

I had heard that the emotional content of the film was an 11th hour addition, when an early cut of the movie proved too cold. But, I don't know, the film's emotional themes seemed pretty well integrated into the story, so if was a later addition, it was done skillfully.

In a nod to The Wizard of Oz, which bracketed a spectacular color story with a black & white opening and closing, Tron: Legacy opens and closes with flat, 2D scenes, which serve to emphasize the spectacular 3D middle section, which makes up the bulk of the film. And, by all means, if you're going to see the film, see it in 3D. The 3D is sharp, clean, very cool, and used well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good place


I have a restaurant tip for you today that's actually three inter-related tips. Instead of trying to elegantly tie them all together, I'll just list them one after the other. Hey, ultimately, it's the information that counts, right?

First, if you haven't tried your local Carrabba's Italian Grill, you should. The food is always fresh, creatively conceived, well prepared, and most importantly, very tasty. We go to our local Carrabba's in nearby Springfield, Pennsylvania, and it's always a treat. Prices aren't bad, either.

Second, if you do try Carrabba's, do so on a Wednesday. Most Carrabba's run a promotion called Wine Wednesday on that day, and all bottles of wine are $10.00 off the regular price. Check and make sure your local Carrabba's participates in the program before going, as certain states limit or prohibit promotions involving alcohol. Not that you shouldn't venture out to the restaurant if it doesn't participate, of course.

Finally, if you do go to Carrabba's on a Wednesday and it does indeed offer the Wine Wednesday promotion, try a bottle of Ecco Domani Merlot. Don't let the fact that it's one of the restaurant's less expensive wines turn you off. It's a decent Italian Merlot that will go great with the meat and pasta dishes the restaurant does so well. Normally Ecco Domani Merlot goes for an already pretty reasonable $25.00 a bottle at Carrabba's, but on Wednesdays we pick it up for a mere $15.00. Imagine that: a restaurant offering a whole bottle of good wine for only 15 bucks.

Anyway, there you have your three inter-related tips. If you follow any or all of them, please let me know how it goes!

The photograph accompanying this post, by the way, was taken during a recent Wednesday jaunt to Carrabba's. Just call it Still life of a bottle of Ecco Domani sitting on a bar.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pretty rough


Earlier today, I overheard one of the bosses at my job yelling the following at one of his unlucky subordinates:

If you fell into a pond, they'd be skimming stupid off the surface for a week!

Sheesh, and this the holiday season.

Update

Ah, there's a God in the heavens, after all. Driving home from work last night, there was an announcement on Sirius XM's Paul McCartney station that the satellite service would re-run its exclusive December 13 McCartney concert on Saturday, December 18, at 8:00 p.m., a mere two days from now. Thank you, thank you (to God, Sirius XM executives, and whoever else wants my gratitude). This time, I'll make sure I'm in my car at show time.

And thank you, Kindle Taproom readers, for dealing with my venting on this esoteric topic. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Culture corner

Here is a bit of verse to help you meditate and relax:

Haikus are easy.
But sometimes they don't make sense.
Refrigerator.

Spoiled rant


This past Monday, Sirius/XM satellite radio broadcasted a live concert by Paul McCartney, mounted exclusively for Sirius/XM subscribers (some of whom won tickets to attend the concert, held in New York, in person). I was looking forward to it quite a bit, but come Monday night, it was sooooooo darn cold here in the Philadelphia area that I couldn't bring myself to trudge out to my car at 8:00 p.m. to listen to the concert, as was my plan. You see, I haven't yet splurged for a portable unit allowing me to enjoy my satellite radio subscription inside my house.

I reassured myself, though, that Sirius/XM would be sure to endlessly replay the concert in the days following the broadcast, like any other self-respecting, capitalist media company with a popular show. After all, hasn't AMC been replaying episodes of The Walking Dead endlessly every night, to the point where they should just change the name of the station to The Walking Dead Channel? So, yeah, I didn't worry too much as I watched marginal TV in my warm house during the two hours or so I knew the concert was going on.

You can probably see where this is going. It's now Wednesday afternoon, almost two full days after the concert was held (it got some very nice write-ups, by the way, in the entertainment press), and still no re-broadcast. If there's still nothing during my commutes to and from work in the next day or two, I'm really going to be depressed. I mean, what's the point of establishing a temporary Paul McCartney-only station on Sirius/XM if you aren't going to replay the concert conducted especially for the service?

So consider this post both a gripe and an appeal. I'm griping at both my own laziness two days ago, and Sirius/XM for not arranging immediate re-broadcasts of the concert that they promoted like it was the Second Coming. And I'm appealing to the powers-that-be to correct this frustrating situation and get the darn thing on the radio again. Okay, I'm starting to feel a little better now.

Hey, if you can't use your blog to whine and complain on occasion, what's the purpose of having it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tron lives


I broke out my old DVD of 1982's Tron last night (the 20th anniversary edition DVD, which now, amazingly, goes for big bucks on Amazon), just to re-visit the world of the film before the sequel, Tron: Legacy, opens this weekend. Quick aside: Has there ever been a longer duration between original movie and sequel in the history of American film?

Anyway, just as I remembered from my last viewing several years ago, everything about the original Tron- its acting, story, themes, special effects, etc.- combines the fantastic with the clunky. Everything teases us with its potential but never quite fulfills it.

But that's okay. In the end, Tron scores enough points during its efficient 96 minutes that it remains more amazing than not almost 30 years later. I can see why there's always been some interest at Disney for a new visit to that world, and it'll be very interesting to see how the new film will pick up the baton from the old one.

I'm guessing that the original Tron will once again be made available on DVD as a companion piece to the new film, but for now the only place to get a DVD of the film is the second-hand market.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not bad


Guys, don't be afraid to see the film Burlesque with your wives. Ladies, don't feel guilty asking your husbands to go. I caught the film over the weekend with my wife Alison (her pick), and ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Christina Aguilera is both down-to-earth and sexy as the country girl who wants to make it in the big city; Cher lords it over everyone as the tough-but-lovable boss of the burlesque house; and Stanley Tucci is once again everyone's gay best friend. Making all of the preceding palatable to the guys in the audience is the general air of sexiness pervading the proceedings, in large part generated by the wonderfully skimpy costumes worn by Ms. Aguilera and the variety of women performing on stage with her. The songs are very good, too.

Trust me, guys, if you owe your wife a movie pick after dragging her to numerous sci-fi action thrillers, you can do worse than heading out to this one. Kudos to writer/director Steve Antin for delivering a fun night at the movies.

A little southern tale...


A gas station owner in Mississippi was trying to increase his sales. So he put up a sign that read, "Free Sex with Fill-Up."

Before long, a local redneck pulled in, filled his tank, and asked for his free sex. The owner told him to pick a number from one to ten. If he guessed correctly he would get his free sex.

The redneck rubbed his beard stubble, and thought a moment. Finally, he said, "Eight".

The proprietor said, "Shucks, you were close, but the number was seven. Sorry. No sex this time."

A week later, the same redneck, along with his brother, Bubba, pulled in for another fill-up. Again he asked for his free sex and, again, the proprietor gave him the same story, asking him to guess the correct number.

The redneck thought hard and finally guessed, "Two".

The proprietor shook his head and said, "Sorry, it was three. You were close, but no free sex this time."

As they were driving away, the redneck said to his brother, "I think that game is rigged! He doesn't really give away free sex!"

Bubba replied, "No it ain't, Billy Ray. It ain't rigged. My wife won twice last week!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tables turned

My insensitive friend is usually the cause of all the big fights he and his wife inflict on the rest of the neighborhood. But things aren't always so predictable, as evidenced by the following story he told me in the bar the other night...

A few Saturdays ago, I got up early, quietly dressed, made a lunch, and slipped into the garage, where I hooked up my boat to our car. I then hit the switch to open the garage, and proceeded to drive out into a torrential downpour. Not only was it pouring rain, but the wind was blowing at least 50 miles per hour. It was bad.

So I pulled back into the garage, turned on the car radio, and discovered that the weather would be bad all day. Sighing, I went back into the house, quietly undressed, and slipped back into bed. Getting a new idea, I cuddled up to my wife's back, now with an entirely different anticipation than for fishing, and whispered, "The weather out there is terrible."

Pulling me closer to her, my wife replied, "Yes, and can you believe my stupid husband is out fishing in that"?

Big fight ensued.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Roses are red...


The following are entries from a recent Washington Post competition soliciting short, two-line poems from readers. The challenge was, each poem had to combine the most romantic first line one could devise with the least romantic second line.

As you might guess, readers tend to rise to the occasion in quirky competitions such as these, as this sampling ably indicates.

My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you has screwed up my life.

I see your face when I am dreaming.
That's why I always wake up screaming.

Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
This describes everything you are not.

Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
But I only slept with you 'cause I was pissed.

I thought that I could love no other.
That is until I met your brother.

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.
But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead, the sugar bowl's
empty and so is your head.

I want to feel your sweet embrace;
But don't take that paper bag off your face.

I love your smile, your face, and your eyes.
Damn, I'm good at telling lies!

My love, you take my breath away.
What have you stepped in to smell this way?

My feelings for you no words can tell,
Except for maybe "Go to hell."

What inspired this amorous rhyme?
Two parts vodka, one part lime.


I ask you, who says poetry is boring?

Decent coffee


Starbucks Natural Fusions Vanilla Flavored Ground Coffee combines the usual Starbucks richness and "ooomph" with a subtle vanilla flavor, resulting in a more relaxing, down-to-earth coffee than non-flavored Starbucks varieties. Or to put it another way, it's an enjoyable coffee for those times when you favor a comforting coffee experience over an eye-opening one.

I also recently tried Melitta Cafe Collection Parisian Vanilla Ground Coffee, and liked that a lot, too. That one was more like a regular cup of coffee, though, less strong and complex than the Starbucks variety described here, though the vanilla flavoring had about the same flavor and strength in both coffees.

It's all a matter of personal taste. Some people like a no-nonsense coffee like the Melitta and some like the gourmet richness of a Starbucks. Myself, I go back and forth. And when I'm in the latter mood, and also in the mood for a flavored coffee, this quality Starbucks offering will do the job nicely.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The empire that was


Nelson Johnson's Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City is a decent little book that covers, in both a concise yet rich manner, the history of Atlantic City from an uninhabited wetland circa the U.S. Civil War to the present day. It covers much more ground than the HBO series based on the book: the series focuses on the Prohibition years in Atlantic City, which the book covers in roughly its middle third. So, in the book, you also get lots of stuff about 19th century investors, seeing resort possibilities, trying to convince the railroads to establish rail service to Atlantic City (then an uninhabited, mosquito-dominated wetland known as Absecon Island), and, in the later going, a detailed account of fairly recent casino developments in A.C. (lots about Resorts International, Donald Trump, etc.). It's all fascinating.

Also, for readers who live in the Philadelphia/southern New Jersey region, there's an added bonus. We learn all about political boss and central A.C. figure Frank Farley, whose name most people in our region only know from the automobile rest stop on the Atlantic City Expressway that's named for him. Well, now I know a lot more about Mr. Farley ("Hap" to his friends). After all the blatant corruption described in this book, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that an acknowledged boss of the New Jersey rackets (though one who was smart enough to use buffers to maintain a little distance) is honored today with his own rest stop on the way to Sin City East.

Author Nelson Johnson doesn't mince words or soften his presentation in his desriptions of the rackets, and their bosses, that ran Atlantic City for most of its history, but in the end, he's not overly hard on them. After all, as he points out, yes, it was an undoubtedly corrupt machine (politically, criminally, socially, etc.) that held sway in Atlantic City for seven or eight decades, but that machine kept everyone happy and built and maintained one of the true jewels of the East Coast, making it a "must visit" destination. Sadly, it was in a later era of cleaner, more transparent government and more lawful day-to-day life in Atlantic City that the resort saw its decline, a decline that not even legalized gambling and multi-billion dollar casino operations have been able to adequately reverse.

The book ends on a somewhat upbeat note, acknowledging that Atlantic city has come back at least a little from its abandoned, burned-out nadir of the 1960's, sporting once again at least a few glimmers of its Roaring 20's heyday. The final pages present some interesting ideas for keeping this former oceanside icon moving in the right direction and fulfilling its unrealized potential.

Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City is available for $9.02 on Kindle.

Boy, he's mean


Here are two final stories (for now) from my insensitive clod of a friend. He really seems to enjoy relating how the biggest fights with his long-suffering wife got started. Once again, I'll give him the floor...

When our lawn mower broke, my wife kept hinting to me that I should get it fixed. But, somehow I always had something else to take care of first: organizing my tools, shining the boat, taking a nap, making beer... you know, things more important to me.

Finally she thought of a clever way, at least in her mind, to make her point. When I arrived home from work one day, I found her sitting in the tall grass in front of our house, busily snipping away at the grass with a tiny pair of sewing scissors.

"See what it's come down to?" my wife said with a sigh. "What do you have to say to this?"

I watched silently for a short time and then went into the house. I came out a moment later and handed her a toothbrush.

"When you finish cutting the grass," I said, "you might as well sweep the driveway."

Big fight ensued.

* * *

My wife and I were sitting at a table at her high school reunion, and she kept staring at a drunken man swigging his drink as he sat alone at a nearby table.

Finally I asked her, "Do you know that guy?"

"Yes", she sighed. "He's an old boyfriend I haven't seen since high school. From what I've heard tonight, he took to drinking right after we split up, and hasn't been sober since."

"My God!" I said, "Who would think a person could go on celebrating that long?"

Big fight ensued.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More "mean guy" stories

My friend really IS a mean, insensitive fellow. Here are three more recent exchanges with his wife that brought about unpleasant results (aka huge blow-outs):

My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary.

"I think I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds," she said.

So I bought her a bathroom scale.

Big fight ensued.

* * *


My wife sat down next to me as I was flipping channels.

She said, "What's on TV?"

"Dust," I replied.

Big fight ensued.

* * *

Fresh from the shower, my wife was standing naked, looking in the bedroom mirror. She was clearly not happy with what she saw.

"I feel horrible," she said to me. "I look old, fat and ugly. I really need you to pay me a compliment about now."

"Okay," I replied "Your eyesight's damn near perfect."

Big fight ensued.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fightin' words


As a service to Kindle Taproom readers, a friend of mine, not generally known for his sensitivity, relates below how his last three major fights with his wife got started. Perhaps you can avoid the same pitfalls. I'll just give him the floor...

One year, I decided to buy my mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a Christmas gift.

The next year, I didn't buy her a gift, and she asked me why.

I answered, "Well, you still haven't used the gift I bought you last year!"

Big fight ensued.

* * *

One evening, my wife and I were watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? while we were lying in bed.

I turned to her and said, "Do you want to have sex?"

"No," she answered, only half paying attention to me.

"Is that your final answer?" I said.

Rolling her eyes, she replied, "Yes".

So I said, "Then I'd like to phone a friend."

Big fight ensued.

* * *

I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some reason, took my order first.

"I'll have the sirloin steak, please, rare."

"Aren't you worried about the mad cow?" the waiter said.

"Nah, she can order for herself."

Big fight ensued.

Worrisome

In a couple of the Kindle-related discussion boards at Amazon, I've been reading about a troubling problem with the Kindle 3: the letters and numbers on the device's buttons sometimes fade to nothingness. Apparently it's only a problem with the new graphite-colored Kindles. Which means that either the lighter-colored paint used on the darker Kindle's surface is faulty, or the darker plastic of the graphite Kindle doesn't hold the paint as well. Or possibly both of these are true.

One or two posts on the boards say that the problem has since been solved, but maybe I'll wait a while before ordering my own Kindle 3 from Amazon. By January 1st or so, any faulty Kindles should be out of the pipeline (being either sold or withdrawn from the market). With all the games of Shuffled Row and Every Word I now play, I really use the buttons on my current Kindle a lot more than I used to, and this will likely continue with a new Kindle. I don't want all that activity to rub off the imprints on the buttons!

Have any of you Kindle 3 owners experienced this problem?

Monday musings

More observations from Aaron Karo's Ruminations.com:

The President, who has arguably the most important job in the world, has nothing on his desk but a phone and a pen. I have arguably the dumbest job in the world and it looks like Office Depot threw up in my cubicle.

Movie characters are always so badass. If they wake up mysteriously in a hospital alone and beaten up, they just rip the IV right out of their arms and slip past the nurses. I would at least want to see my chart first, and maybe get some juice.

"Smooth as a baby's butt" implies too much baby butt rubbing for me to feel comfortable using that expression. I prefer "smooth as a soapy boob".

Apparently, I would rather break my teeth or put a hole in my new shirt than locate a pair of scissors to cut the tag off.

Whenever I choose to go down the stairs next to a crowded escalator, I feel the need to move faster than the escalator to prove to the people on board that I made the better decision.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Good site to visit

Author and comedian Aaron Karo's web site, Ruminations.com, features short, funny anecdotes and observations by Mr. Karo and his readers. As the site describes itself, "We're sort of a cross between Twitter and Seinfeld". Here are a few recent posts at the site that gave me a chuckle:

You know you've screwed up at work when a specific mistake gets named after you: "Okay guys, we'll have a good day as long as no one pulls another Alan."

When a friend sends me an amusing yet inappropriate reply to a mass e-mail, I like to give him a scare by responding, "Next time try not to reply-all."

I'd rather read pages of useless, random internet humor than a few paragraphs of something that would actually better myself.

Based on the cleanliness of dorm rooms in movies and TV shows, I have come to the conclusion that nobody in Hollywood has ever been to college.

Google's Driverless Car will revolutionize our highways by giving people the freedom to express themselves using both middle fingers.

Check out the site. It's a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Good tape


A post about tape is probably a strange thing to include in a blog, even a general interest blog like this one. However, as part of its Vine Program, Amazon recently sent me a supply of Scotch Tape, in return for an honest review. Since the review is already written, and freshly posted at Amazon, I might as well share it with you folks, too. Hey, I guess if I can do a post about cat treats, tape is fair game, right? Anyway, here it is:

This is the classic Scotch Magic Tape that we've all used for years, at least when we didn't succumb to cheapness and buy those other brands at the dollar store. Of course, using the cheap brands always reminds us of the quality and simple elegance of Scotch Magic Tape, and sends us back in the right direction when it's time to buy tape again.

There are lots of reasons this is a preferred tape. Myself, I always liked that it sports a decent width, resulting in a more secure taping job, and the fact that it practically disappears on contact. Also, it really isn't that much pricier than all the sub-par tape out there.

Oh, when I told my wife about my having to write this review, she said to me, "Yeah, the tape is terrific, but be sure to also mention that the cutter thingy on the dispenser always works great with Scotch Tape, and never as good with the other brands."

"You mean the serrated edge that slices the length of tape you want to use?" I replied.

"Yes, smarty, the serrated edge," she said. "It always cuts the tape neatly and easily. The dispensers on the other brands, even the brands that cost real money, just don't cut the tape as well."

Live and learn. It's funny what makes an impression on people.

Those media jackals


Billy Wilder's 1951 film Ace in the Hole is a cynical, noir-ish tale about cunning newspaper reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), who stumbles upon a rescue operation to free a man trapped in a cave, then manipulates events to make the rescue take much longer than it should. This allows him to file many more stories about the rescue effort, increasingly lurid and sensational, enhancing- as planned- his own reputation as a reporter who sells papers.

While a fairly riveting movie, laced with style and dark humor, in the end the story might be a little dark for its own good. While the film functions as one of the earliest warnings that the growing mass media of the mid 20th Century might not be entirely altruistic, by having such a bleak conclusion to both the central plotline and the path of reporter Chuck Tatum (don't worry, I won't get more specific than that), the result may have been somewhat counter-productive. The film, being perceived as too depressing, failed at the box office, limiting the effect of its message.

Also limiting viewership at the time was the possible sense that the film's criticism of the media, while worth considering, might have gone a little too far. After all, while no one would doubt that newspapers and the other major media in 1951 wouldn't hesitiate to sell more ads if a disaster they were covering increased their audiences, would they really put people's lives at risk to keep the disaster from being addressed?

Of course, Ace in the Hole is also the story of one reporter and his personal decisions, so even if the central message is somewhat overcooked, the movie still works fine as the story of Kirk Douglas' Chuck Tatum character, and the events he sets in motion. You can always enjoy the movie just on that level, and take as much of the media-criticism theme to heart as you deem appropriate.

Not surprisingly, Ace in the Hole looks and sounds wonderful on the Criterion DVD I watched, and, also not surprisingly, there are a variety of wonderful extra features on the second disc, as well as a decent commentary track by film historian Neil Sinyard on the disc containing the movie. My favorite among the second-disc special features was an almost hour-long program, produced in 1980, featuring extensive conversations between Billy Wilder and film critic Michel Ciment. Mr. Wilder tells some great stories to Mr. Ciment, providing wonderful insights into the creative process and motivations behind his many films.

If you don't feel like buying or renting the DVD, Ace in the Hole also shows up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which is carried by most cable services.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Driving with Paul


I'm really enjoying my new subscription to Sirius/XM satellite radio, which I listen to in my Hyundai Genesis. With 150-plus channels of crystal clear, commercial-free programming covering every possible mood and taste, what's not to like?

But in addition to all that regular happiness, Sirius/XM often surprises listeners with temporary "boutique" channels that set up shop for a specific period. For example, there are now a handful of channels presenting nothing but Christmas music from now to the end of the year. Each holiday channel has a slightly different flavor, some emphasizing old Christmas favorites, some contemporary holiday recordings, etc.

Another boutique channel that I'm particularly enjoying at the moment is Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" Radio, now running on Channel 27 to about the end of December. Established to simultaneously promote the re-issue of McCartney's classic Band on the Run album from 1973 and a special concert staged especially for Sirius/XM listeners on December 13, the channel is playing nothing but McCartney and Beatles music 24/7, along with interviews and "fun facts" related to Sir Paul and his vast catalog. The channel will also broadcast the December 13 concert, which will be staged at Harlem's Apollo Theater for a crowd of Sirius/XM listeners lucky enough to secure tickets- via Sirius/XM on-air and online contests- to be there.

Anyway, the Paul McCartney channel is really fun stuff, as are many of the other regular and temporary Sirius/XM channels. I'll probably do a post in the near future describing some of my favorite channels, in case you've been mulling over the possibility of signing up for the service yourself and wouldn't mind a little information from a current subscriber.

Sometimes it's the small things in life that make you want to get up in the morning. Lately my Sirius/XM subscription has been one such small, valuable thing making life fun.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ain't it the truth

Recently spotted on a bumper sticker:

You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and won't tell you where they're going.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday DVD report


With a title like Life Is Hot In Cracktown, I was mostly expecting a throwaway exploitation film with, I hoped, a tolerably engaging story. But the movie actually turned out to be pretty serious: it was well acted, engaging, and stylishly directed. As widely reported elsewhere, however, the film is indeed extremely brutal.

As described by writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo in the thoughtful "making of" featurette on the DVD, the aim of the film was to present an in-your-face, unsanitized, essentially hopeless view of life in the ghetto, but then inject as much humanity as possible into the crooks, drug addicts, murderers, and fringe characters on display. To paraphrase Mr. Giovinazzo: "I wanted to show that these people, despite their problems and situations, ultimately aren't all that different from you or me, that we're all maybe one or two pieces of bad luck away from living lives just as tragic and desperate."

This approach makes the film interesting, as normal, mundane concerns and interactions are stirred into the brutality and addictions and abusive behavior. So we end up caring for these people (well, many of them, anyway), even as we're angry at them for their behaviors. Also making the film interesting is its sympathetic view of its two transsexual characters, as the story doesn't lump them into the bad stuff going on around them (well, except for the fact that they're seriously drug addicted like so many of the film's characters), but rather portrays them as people trying to be true to themselves.

Before concluding, I should again emphasize the brutality in the film. This isn't an "afterschool special" version of drug addiction and urban blight. This is very dark material, with few rays of light, that some people just won't want to sit through no matter how well done. However, if you're like me and can sometimes embrace difficult, harsh material in order to avoid seeing the same old thing all the time, this film might be worth a look.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cheers

Just a short message to wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving! And if you're reading this message on your Kindle, be sure to pull out that invaluable little device and show it off at dinner today. We have to keep spreading the word about the wide world of fun and knowledge that our e-readers present to us every day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday grins

More silliness from around the web, to further brighten the short work week:

Don't worry: your worst humiliation is only someone else's momentary entertainment.

Just remember, the squeaky wheel doesn't always get the grease... sometimes it gets replaced.

Sex on TV won't hurt you... unless you fall off.

A husband is someone who, after taking the trash out, gives everyone the impression that he just cleaned the whole house.

How can there be self-help "groups"?

Question for the ages


Our two cats are loving and fun. But, being cats, they're also fussy and tempermental, especially in the area of food. When I give them food in the morning (refreshing their shared bowl of dry food and preparing two separate bowls of whatever canned wet food I bought that week), sometimes they'll eat right away and sometimes they won't. And when they do eat right away it's usually a semi-interested couple of bites before they walk away to stare at birds through the back window. I guess they eventually go back and eat more, because the food eventually goes somewhere (at least, a good bit of it does), and they aren't starving to death. But the point is, of all the different brands of dry and canned cat food I buy, none makes me say, "Wow, they really like that kind so I'll have to buy it again."

But here's the thing. I also buy cat treats, giving the cats two or three treats at a time, a couple of times a day. And these they really like. They scarf them down immediately. They'll even come running if they hear me opening the foil treat bag when they're in another room. The two brands they really like, by the way, are Temptations cat treats (any flavor) and Party Mix cat treats (likewise, any flavor). But I bet if I try another brand of treats, they'll love those, too. So, here's my question, if you haven't already guessed it:

In order to sell more cat food, why don't they make cat food taste more like cat treats?

My cats can't be the only pets who go crazy over cat treats. I bet cats all over America do. That's why they call them cat treats. So, shouldn't at least one cat food manufacturer- who likely already makes cat treats our felines love-- say to himself, "hmmmm, if I make our cat food taste as good as our cat treats, maybe the cats will go for it more and their owners will notice and always buy our brand of cat food, because their cats like it best." I mean, they're already halfway there with dry cat food, which already looks like most brands of cat treats.

Oh, well... I'm not sitting in the board room or test kitchens of Purina or Nine Lives, so it's mostly useless for me to make that observation. But maybe someone in the right position will have the same lightbulb moment, and then our cats and our cat food companies will together be better for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Tuesday

Here's a little silliness, gathered from around the web, to help you coast into the Thanksgiving holiday:

Who invented the brush they put next to the toilet? That thing hurts!

When you think you have someone eating out of your hand, count your fingers.

We all can't be heroes. Somebody has to stand on the sidelines and clap as they go by.

It's always darkest before the dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.

I have to take my paycheck to the bank. It's too little to go by itself.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hear me roar

Spotted on a bumper sticker this past weekend:

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Got an Ambien?


Okay, let's start off with a positive observation or two about Stephen King's ambitious 1995 novel Insomnia, which I've finally gotten around to perusing: I really enjoyed the opening chapters of the book, primarily because it was interesting to see senior citizens used as major protagonists in a blockbuster-style story. I'm not sure that's been done since the Cocoon movies. I also liked the mysterious, often scary, way King depicted the intense insomnia, and its creepy hallucinogenic side effects, suffered by central character Ralph Roberts.

But soon we're given a concrete reason for Ralph's insomnia (well, a fantasy-type concrete reason, but a concrete reason nonetheless), so Ralph's strange suffering isn't strange anymore, and- get this- gives way to him becoming an action hero and a traveler between dimensions. His insomnia, you see, was induced by inter-dimensional beings as a first step to give Ralph and his allies the powers to pull off a task to save the multi-verse, a task the inter-dimensional beings can't undertake themselves.

So, as you can see, what starts off as a spooky, fairly intimate story about senior citizens and their various issues turns into this crazy epic about parallel plains of existence, different dimensions, and preventing an event that would be a small tragedy in our world, but whose ripple effect would tear down the fabric of the universe, that sort of thing. And, if I'm honest, I have to say it all sort of works, or at the very least, never completely not works. Also, if you're a fan of King's Dark Tower series, you might give this book an extra point or two, because there are strong connections with that series, to the point that Insomnia can even be called an extra, bonus book in that saga.

But as events piled up and things became more complicated, I found myself missing the simpler, more grounded situations in the book's early going (including a heartbreaking plot involving Ralph's friend Lois narrowly avoiding being shunted off to a retirement home by her son and daughter-in-law). The inter-dimensional stuff became too dominant, with the action set pieces becoming unnecessarily frequent and long.

Still, I'll say again that the fantasy/adventure plotline certainly isn't horrible, and there's an 11th hour return to a warmer, more realistic tone to the story, so in the end I liked Insomnia. Didn't love it, but liked it. Ultimately, I just didn't think the story fully justified its length.

But just to give you a final warning: I listened to the unabridged audiobook recording of Insomnia, read by the great Eli Wallach, via a download from Amazon's Audible subsidiary. That certainly made the going easier. So my criticisms may have been even more pointed if I had to make my way through the book via my eyeballs and attention span alone.

Strangely enough, Insomnia isn't available at the moment on Kindle, so you'll have to pick up an actual paper-and-ink edition or get the audio download like I did.

Storybook time


On this fine Monday, we offer this Fairy Tale for the Modern Man:

Once upon a time, a handsome Prince asked a beautiful Princess, “ Will you marry me?”

The Princess said “No!”

And the Prince lived happily ever after, riding motorcycles, going fishing and hunting, playing golf, dating women half his age, drinking beer and scotch, having tons of money in the bank, leaving the toilet seat up, and scratching his crotch whenever he wanted.

The End

Friday, November 19, 2010

Great movie news


From Andy Propst's story that just went up on the Theater Mania web site:

Two-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis will play Abraham Lincoln in the film version of "Team of Rivals", Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of the president, according to EW.com. Steven Spielberg will direct the film, "Lincoln", which will have a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Tony Kushner.

The movie will focus on Lincoln and the powerful men of his cabinet as they struggle with the abolishment of slavery and seek to end the Civil War. The film is scheduled to begin filming in the fall of 2011, with an anticipated release in the fall of 2012.

Day-Lewis won Oscars for his performances in "There Will Be Blood" and "My Left Foot". In addition, he received Academy Award nominations for his work in "Gangs of New York" and "In the Name of the Father". Most recently, he was seen in the film version of the musical "Nine".


Pretty interesting news, no? And also pretty great. I have to say, too, as much as I was disappointed along with everyone else when the all-but-officially-cast Liam Neeson dropped out of this project due to its numerous delays, the fact that we'll now get to see Daniel Day Lewis tackle the iconic role of Lincoln is quite something.

Nice discovery


During lunch at a favorite local taproom today, I spied my bartender loading fresh bottles of wine into the fridge. One caught my eye and I asked to see it (being a sucker for cute label art). Anyway, I decided to have a glass, and it turned out to be pretty good.

The wine was a Giocato Pinot Grigio, from the Slovenia region of Italy. It was smoother and less tart than most Pinot Grigios I've come across, and, in fact, if I was in a grumpy mood I might even say it was a little too flat or bland for a Pinot Grigio. But I'm not feeling grumpy, and I also believe that not every Pinot Grigio has to have the tart/biting thing going. No, this was just fine, with a couple of shades of subtle fruitiness more than compensating for the lack of usual Pinot Grigio sharpness. It certainly went well with my Chicken Fried Chicken lunch entree (a specialty of the joint).

According to a little web research when I got back to the office, Giocato Pinot Grigio goes for about $18.00 a bottle retail. I think it's worth it. You have to love the wine reviews at online retail sites, though. The review I read had this to say about the Giocato: "A cat-like Pinot Grigio from Slovenia that is full of interest." Full of interest? Cat-like? Do descriptions like that actually guide people? Maybe the whole wine review thing isn't as indimidating as I sometimes make it out to be.

But, yeah, give this one a shot if you come across it. And thanks to my friends at the Memphis Taproom, at the corner of Memphis & Cumberland Streets in Philadelphia, for letting me photograph the wine bottle, and for the extra generous pour!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Disgraceful

Bad, bad, bad bumper stickers seen in my travels:

Hey, I may have Alzheimer's, but you know... at least I don't have Alzheimer's!

Married men live longer than single men, but they're a lot more willing to die.

Isn't having a smoking section in a restaurant like having a peeing section in a swimming pool?

If a mute kid swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?

Losing a husband can be hard... in my case it was almost impossible.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Someone likes us

A very special thank you is sent to blogs.com, which recently included Kindle Taproom in its list of the ten best Kindle blogs!

We'll try to live up to the generous compliment, guys, and keep the Kindle-centric bar chat coming!

Tinseltown update


We love movies here in the Taproom, and we think most of you do, too. So, because we also love you, here's a little movie news to brighten your day:

Director Steven Soderbergh is now in talks to direct a big-screen version of the classic 1960s television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. There are rumors of George Clooney playing one of the leads.

With the financial situation slowly improving at MGM, the release date of the next James Bond film has finally been announced: November 2012. Plans still call for Daniel Craig to star and Sam Mendes to direct.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan will star in director Baz Luhrmann's new production of The Great Gatsby. If you want to read or re-read the original F. Scott Fitzgerald novel before the movie comes out, it's conveniently available on Kindle for $10.99.

Johnny Depp is close to finalizing a deal to play vampire Barnabas Collins in a film version of the classic gothic soap Dark Shadows.

Director Robert Zemekis may soon direct a big-screen remake of The Wizard of Oz, which will reportedly stick closely to the script of the 1939 film. Already in development at Disney is another Oz project, director Sam Raimi's Oz, the Great and Powerful. If you want to go back to the source before the movies come out, you can pick up L. Frank Baum's original The Wizard of Oz on Kindle for $3.99.

We hope you enjoyed our little Hollywood newsbreak. More movie news to come.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The naked truth


Some all-natural thoughts to ponder...

Women are like roads... the more curves, the more the dangerous they are.

According to a new survey, women say they feel more comfortable undressing in front of men than undressing in front of other women. They say that women are too judgmental... while, of course, men are just grateful.

Without nipples, breasts would be pointless.

Why is it that most nudists are people that you don't want to see naked?

It's okay to laugh during sex ... just don't point !

This and that


A friend recently lent us Golden Door, Emanuele Crialese's 2007 film about the immigrant experience in the early 20th century. Combining poetic imagery with the grueling realities of taking a slow, crowded boat to the U.S., the film is interesting and worth seeing, but also a little dull and slow paced. "Deliberate," my friend corrected me when I shared my views, "not slow". I stood corrected (the best approach with my friend). Golden Door is a shade under two hours and is mostly presented in Sicilian with English subtitles. You might want to give this a shot if you come across it.

On the Veterans Day holiday, Alison and I traveled from the suburbs into Philadelphia to catch the latest Woody Allen film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. We enjoyed the film a lot, though the dark characters and situations (lightened by a little comedy, thankfully) resonated better a couple of hours later than immediately after the closing credits rolled. The film is essentially about the trickiness of hopes and dreams: how we definitely need them to get along, but the danger of taking them too far and allowing them to poison our appreciation of our current realities. Which dreams should we try to make happen? Which are best left as dreams? Could the same hope/dream be life-enhancing if indulged a little but disastrous if we fully embrace it? Through its half a dozen characters, we get some exploration and answers. This is a rich, worthwhile film if you're at all into Woody.

On the TV-on-DVD front, we're currently enjoying the ninth season of Smallville, the show that explores the life of Clark Kent in the years prior to him putting on the red and blue tights and actually calling himself Superman. During this ninth season, however, the Superman mythos is basically in place: Clark works at the Daily Planet with Lois Lane, freuquently runs off to do superhero things, and shoots the breeze with the computer simulation of Jor-El, his late Krytonian father, at the Fortress of Solitude from time to time. All Clark really needs at this point is the suit and cape and a more fully developed flying ability, and the boy-to-man journey will be complete. Anyway, the show continues to be fun, so I'm sure we'll remain aboard until the last episode of season ten, when the curtain will finally come down.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mull this one...

Spotted the other day on the outside message board of a bar I always drive past:

What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

Hey, any bar can post its happy hour specials outside. Why not have a little fun instead?

Nice day, nice wine


I enjoyed a tasty white wine this past weekend: Folonari Pinot Grigio. It's a crisp, dry Pinot Grigio from the Veneto region of Italy, born in stainless steel with a pale yellow color and a fragrant, fresh bouquet. It was both a formal and fun Pinot Grigio, kind of like a polished, tuxedoed waiter with a down-to-earth sense of humor.

The wine was doubly enjoyable because my extended family and I were enjoying it at my grandmother's 99th birthday party! The party was held at Scannicchio's Italian Restaurant, my cousin Christian's place in South Philadelphia. Check it out if you're in the area; it's a great little restaurant.

Normally a BYOB restaurant, my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Maryann (Christian's parents) made sure there was plenty of wine for the fifty or so guests in attendance. So each table sported bottles of the terrific Folonari Pinot Grigio, as well as bottles of perfectly decent Yellowtail Merlot. Both wines went well with the variety of entrees offered, with the Folonari pairing particularly nicely with the Veal Piccatta I selected as my main course.

Good wine, good food, a terrific family celebration... what more can one ask on a Sunday afternoon? But I guess we should at least try to top things for Grandmom Mae's big 100th birthday celebration next year!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Deathwatch


By the way, I forgot to mention earlier: I enjoyed the second episode of AMC's new Sunday night series The Walking Dead as much as I did the first. But, more than ever, I can only recommend the show to those who are true fans of hardcore horror. This is some intense stuff. Somehow this series is pulling off scenes and images that even R-rated theatrical horror films shy away from. Amazing.

Judging from the ratings, however, AMC needn't worry about the intensity level. There must be a lot of hardcore horror fans out there. Or, who knows, maybe a large part of the show's viewership are just people who enjoy great characters and storytelling, and those elements are making the horror go down easier.

Anyway, if you sometimes enjoy the "trying to survive against impossible odds" genre and like or can tolerate no-holds-barred horror, give the show a whirl. I'm sure the re-cap at the beginning of the next episode will nicely get you up to speed if you've missed the first two episodes.

Friday fun

More bumper sticker wisdom seen in my travels:

If Bill Gates had a penny for every time I had to reboot my computer... oh, wait-- he does.

Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

Keep the dream alive... hit the snooze button.

Expectations


We recently saw The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest at our local art house theater, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. My wife Alison, however, was disappointed that the film didn't feature a mystery story that the oddball duo of crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and punk computer genius Lisbeth Salander solve together. All it was, she said, was more of that "crazy stuff" about Lisbeth's past.

While I found the "crazy" stuff" fascinating, I could see her point. The first movie (and, of course, book) in the series introduced these two compelling characters who drew our attention, but then also gave us an elegant little mystery story for them to solve. She liked that, and I guess I did, too. But then books/movies #2 and #3 come along, and no mystery stories are in sight. I mean, wouldn't a lot of people have been frustrated back in the 1920s if, after enjoying Agatha Christie's wonderful new detective character Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the follow up books didn't feature Poirot solving mysteries but dealing with dysfunctional family members?

Myself, I don't think the second and third books/movies in this series are necessarily flawed for not giving us mystery plots like the first story did; in fact, one can give them extra points for going off in unexpected directions. And in the back of my mind I'm one of the people who do give them extra points for doing that. But, as said, I'm definitely sympathetic with the views of people like my wife who really enjoyed the dark and compelling missing person case in the first story and wanted more of the same.

The book version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is currently the #4 Kindle bestseller and is priced at $5.20. The Swedish-language movie version of the book is currently out on DVD (and also features an optional English-language track if you don't like subtitles).

The book version of The Girl Who Played With Fire is currently the #7 Kindle bestseller, going for $7.59. The movie version is also out on DVD (same language parameters).

The book version of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is now the #3 Kindle bestseller, and is the priciest of the three books at $9.99. The movie version is now in theaters (mostly art house venues) around the country, but you'll have to watch it in Swedish with English subtitles.

An American production of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is now being filmed by director David Fincher, and stars Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond) and Rooney Mara (most recently seen in The Social Network) as Mikael and Lisbeth. The movie arrives in theaters December of 2011.

What do you think of all these issues? Are you like my wife and like the first movie a lot but not the other two as much, because of her stated reasons? Or maybe you're a fan of all three books and think that the current movies- any of them- don't compare well to the books, due to all the cuts that had to be made to get the stories down to manageable length for the screen. In any event, there is no shortage of opinions out there when it comes to these stories and the several ways they're being told.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heard this one?

A man walks into a bar and asks for a beer. "Certainly, sir," says the bartender. "That'll be one cent."

"One penny?!" exclaims the guy.

"Yes," the barman replies.

Still reeling at the bargain beer, the guys asks, "Do you serve food in here?"

"Certainly, sir, we have all kinds of food," the bartender replies.

"Okay, then," the man says after a sip of his beer. "Could I have a nice juicy T-bone steak, with fries, peas, and a salad?"

"Absolutely, sir," replies the bartender, "but all that comes to real money."

"How much money?" inquires the guy.

"Four cents," the barman replies.

"Four cents?!" exclaims the guy. "Where's the guy who owns this place?"

"Upstairs with my wife," the barman answers.

The guy says, "What's he doing with your wife?"

The bartender replies, "Same as what I'm doing to his business."

Spenser's back


The late Robert B. Parker's Painted Ladies delivers another fun ride as we watch the author's stalwart detective hero Spenser both punch out the bad guys and appreciate the nuances of famous paintings of the "low country realist" school. Hey, what's not to like?

Right out of the box, the book impresses. The opening chapter of this next-to-last Spenser adventure is a master class in concise writing. In about five pages, Spenser meets his client, accepts a job to guard him during a ransom exchange involving a stolen painting, and in short order sees the client get blown up by a bomb during that exchange. Five pages! Other writers would take up to five chapters to cover that same ground. But Mr. Parker gets the job done quickly, without sketchiness or coming off as self-consciously clipped, and moves on with the rest of the story. God, I'll miss this guy's writing.

The bulk of the book, also written concisely (though maybe not in so precise a manner as the opening) nicely builds on the dramatic start as we watch a guilty Spenser try to make amends for allowing his client to die on his watch. Memorable scenes include two scary attempts on Spenser's life, a romance for Spenser and Susan's dog Pearl, a cool fistfight with the main villain's giant henchman, and several instances of Spenser taking down pretentious academics in the art world. What's fun about that last point is that, throughout the book, Spenser himself quotes obscure poetry and displays doctorate-level knowledge about poetry, art, and literature! He just does it with modesty, I smiled to myself.

I do think Mr. Parker showed a little more enthusiasm for the book's set up and characters than for the case's ultimate resolution, but that's a quibble, as the story's plot is resolved in a perfectly satisfying manner. I just would have liked a little more exploration of the driving forces behind the book's primary antagonist. After all, one doesn't often run across someone who (slight spoiler here, though the book ultimately isn't a whodunit) is devoted to things as diverse as seeking revenge for the Holocaust and making a living via art heists.

Published posthumously, readers shouldn't fear that this was a half-finished book that someone else knitted together and filled out to get in shape for publication. Painted Ladies is a polished, entertaining effort that is Robert B. Parker through and through. Here's hoping this will also be the case with Sixkill, the author's final Spenser adventure, to be released in a few months.

Painted Ladies is available on Kindle for $12.99.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sensitive

Recently overheard while standing at a crowded bar: "I should've known it wasn't going to work out between my ex-wife and me. After all, I'm a Libra and she's a bitch."

Here, try these!


Should I be concerned about what my demographic information is saying about me? Recently, Amazon asked me- based upon my online purchases and web searches, I'm guessing- if I'd like a free supply of hangover relief medicine to review.

"Hey, I bet ol' Joe might find these interesting," I can hear them saying. Actually, I'm sure I wasn't singled out (even though my blog contains the word "taproom" in its title) and the folks at Amazon asked all their prolific reviewers if they'd like a supply. Well, I hope that was the case.

Anyway, for the most part, those of us who opted to accept the product ultimately delivered somewhat weak-kneed reviews. Why? Well, in the end, how can one really tell if a hangover remedy actually works? To clarify, here's what my review had to say:


I hate to file another wishy-washy review of this product, but I seem to be in the same camp as a lot of Amazon reviewers regarding Homeopathic Labs' Hangover Relief Tablets. Namely, this purported hangover remedy seem to work a little, though I can't totally be sure. After a few uses, I'm sort of believing that they turn a potentially heavy hangover (lots of drinking the night before) into just a light hangover. Likewise, they also seem to turn an expected light hangover (only a few cocktails the evening before) into a virtually free-and-clear morning experience.

But maybe it's all psychological. After all, when one takes a remedy, one expects a result. So perhaps I am imagining the benefits. I will say this: the tablets certainly don't make me feel any worse. Oh, I guess you should know that the tablets are small, pleasant tasting (sort of sweet), and easy to chew and swallow. At least that's something concrete I can tell you.

I'm sorry if this isn't the most helpful review in the world, but I honestly don't have strong feelings about this product one way or the other. Once I run out of the 50-tablet package that Amazon sent to me for review, it will be interesting to see if I feel moved to order another supply at my own expense.

Trust me, most of the reviews posted so far at Amazon are variations of what I wrote above. At least the following review, filed by a guy named Brett in Cape May, New Jersey (hello, neighbor!), added some grins to the mix:

I think everyone hangs over a bit differently, so based on my own use, no, this did not help. But in fairness, I was really hungover. I don't drink to the point of drunkeness often, but these did not stop the headache, vomiting, or burning. Then again, I might not have had them in my stomach long enough to work, as I threw up ten minutes after consuming them.

Just so you know, God love him, but Brett is part of the same Amazon program I belong to, where Amazon sends complimentary products out to prolific reviewers in exchange for an honest review. As Brett has demonstrated, Amazon doesn't require all that much in the way of a review in order to remain in the program.

Oh, in case you're wondering, these tablets usually go for $10.00 for a package of fifty. But if you see me in a bar, just flag me down and I'll shake a couple into your hand. I've still got 36 or so of these suckers left. Hey, how much do you think I drink?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Frustrating


Now that Daylight Savings Time is over, I figured that my new Hyundai Genesis Coupe's sophisticated dashboard display, which is tied into my satellite radio system, would automatically update the time for me. But, nope. Yesterday, I had to push all kinds of buttons on the dash to figure out how to set the clock back an hour. Sheesh.

Oh, well. At least the car is nice to look at. The photograph seen here is a Hyundai publicity shot, but my car's white, too, and looks just like that one... at least when I run it through the car wash.

Cynical

A recent bumper sticker sighting: If we're supposed to learn from our mistakes, why do most people have more than one child?

Getaway


Ever have one of those weekends where you get a lot done and manage to have some fun? This past weekend was like that for us.

My wife and I took Friday off to address some mundane household stuff that needed attention (banking issues, home internet on the fritz, blah, blah blah), but only after first enjoying a nice breakfast out. That was the breakfast I told you about in the previous post. After successfully addressing everything, we enjoyed a nice dinner out, too. Then we came home and watched an interesting little Italian-language film called Golden Door on DVD (review to shortly follow). All in all, a good day.

On Saturday, we decided to do a quick overnight getaway to the seashore, as we've been meaning to take advantage of the rock bottom off-season hotel rates at some of the nearby shore points. We ended up getting a nice room with a great waterfront view in Somer's Point, New Jersey. The normally $200-plus per night room was only $80.00 this time of year. Dinner at a nice seafood restaurant next door to the hotel followed, with the evening concluding with a late-night walk on the famous boardwalk in nearby Ocean City, NJ (a short car ride away from Somer's Point). Well, the evening concluded back at the hotel, but I won't write anymore about that.

Sunday featured a nice continental breakfast at the hotel (included!) and another walk on the Ocean City boardwalk, this time under the sun and with many of the boardwalk stores actually open. Following pizza on the boardwalk, we headed back home to the Philadelphia area to catch the 3:15 p.m. showing of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which was my wife's idea. We had meant to catch the movie on Friday evening, but the errands and chores kind of took over that day, leaving room only for dinner. So it was great to be able to see the movie, after all (review soon to follow).

Sunday concluded with a nice little dinner at the bar at our local Carrabba's Italian Grill, followed by (alas, everything can't be fun) a night time trip to the supermarket to lay in some food for the coming week. But if we didn't get to the store then, we'd have to squeeze it in tonight, which would have been worse. Better to get it out of the way.

So, several productive things got done and several kinds of fun was had this past weekend. I guess, if I scrutinize things, there were a few "glass half empty" aspects of the weekend, (getting the computer fixed cost a pretty penny, the heater in the hotel room was fairly noisy, my wife didn't like the movie on Sunday as much as I did, blah, blah, blah), but we try to be "glass half full" kind of people. Also, breaking the routine is always a good thing. Don't you agree?

Pictured is the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk on the morning of November 7 (yesterday), a choppy Atlantic Ocean off to the left. For those of you reading this post on your computer, click the photo to enjoy a larger view. To my friends curled up with your Kindles as you read this: trust me, it was a wonderfully brisk, beautiful day.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Happy Saturday

I took a day off from work yesterday to get a few things done with my wife, and we spotted this on the menu of the breakfast joint where we stopped:

If your meal isn't served in five minutes... it might be another five minutes. Relax, this isn't a train station.

The lack of phony "the customer is king" rhetoric was refreshing and brought grins. There were several other comments of similar stripe scattered throughout the menu, and I'll have to write a few down next time and share them.

Hey, the food's good, so we can put up with the Don Rickles routine.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cute

Spotted on a bumper sticker in center city Philadelphia (about a block from Independence Hall), as I was driving back from lunch today:

Midwives help people out!

Clean, simple, cute. Made me smile.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More heroics


Here are two more superhero movies on the way to theaters, to complement my previous list: The Green Hornet and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I told you I suspected a couple of titles were missing from my original list. In fact, I won't be surprised if I still come up with one or two more titles. But for now, the official count for our "superhero movies on the way to theaters in the near future" is now at an impressive eleven.

Up, up, and away


I was bored in a meeting earlier today, so I began scribbling the names of all the superhero movies that were coming out in the near future. I didn't include movies that were likely on the horizon (like Wolverine 2), but only films that have definite release dates and are now in pre-production or actual production.

So, for your amusement, here are all the superhero movies that you can look forward to between now and 2013 (keeping in mind that I may have actually missed a few): Green Lantern; Captain America; Thor; The Avengers; a new Spider-Man film (as yet untitled); The Dark Knight Rises (the title of the next Batman film); Iron Man 3; the new Superman film (title still being finalized, though it will probably include the phrase Man of Steel somewhere in it; and X-Men: First Class.

That's nine definite movies on the way. I hope you're like me and enjoy the occasional superhero film, because they're certainly going to be generously scattered among your potential movie choices for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Final thought of the day

If God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.

Meet the newest e-reader


Here's a heads up to those who follow the ever-growing world of e-book readers: Barnes and Noble has just introduced the NOOKcolor, and it's a handsome little thing. From what I can tell from the promotional video at the Barnes and Noble web site, the NOOKcolor is a sort of hybrid between a traditional e-book reader and an iPad. That is, it seems to emphasize its value as an e-reader, but it's pretty obvious that it can do so much more.

Retailing at a reasonable $249, it'll be interesting to see if the bright, vibrant color display (which is also a touchscreen, by the way) will attract more people than the lack of a versatile indoor/outdoor e-ink screen will alienate others. Myself, I like the combination of an iPad-style touch screen with the portability and compactness of an e-book reader. It's one of the reasons that, more and more, I use my iPad at home and just tote my Kindle around: the big slab of an iPad just isn't as easy to carry around. But I do like the versatility and easy-on-the-eyes nature of e-ink and might miss an e-book reader without it. Good thing I'm not immediately in the market for an e-reader, because this darn thing is pulling me in two directions, at least in my first impressions.

The NOOKcolor is currently available for pre-order at the Barnes and Noble web site, and is expected to start shipping on November 19. I imagine it will become available for purchase at Barnes and Noble stores and selected other retail outlets around that time, too.

What do you folks think of it?

Friendly reminder

It's election day, so get out and vote! Don't forfeit your right to participate in the democratic process! And hey, if for no other reason, you'll be getting revenge on the candidates you hate for all the horrid, simplistic attack ads they ran during the campaign. Sigh, not that every candidate doesn't run such ads.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Deadly ads


Okay, I promise this is my last post about "The Walking Dead", at least until next week's episode airs. I just feel the need to vent a little about the show's broadcast presentation, which- like the presentation of most network and basic cable programs- was fairly horrendous.

Below is what I said on the "Ain't It Cool News" web site about the show's airing, in a fan "talkback" section. Oh, in case you're wondering what I'm talking about below when I mention a DVD "screener", a screener is a commercial-free promotional DVD of a new show sent to print and online reviewers so they can get their reviews written up early. I've gotten them in the past, but unfortunately didn't see one in my mailbox for "The Walking Dead", so I had to just tune in on Sunday night with everybody else (I know, you feel bad for me). Anyway, here's what I said:


Excellent show, but I envy you guys who got to see it via a DVD screener. I mean, so many commercials (if I see that idiotic DirectTV ad again with the stoner kid in the projection booth getting a blowdart to the neck, I'll scream), too much repeating of the "you can win a zombie walk-on!" promotion, total lack of a smooth fade to closing credits (with maybe a few seconds of moody music to let the whole experience sink in for a beat or two before the detergent commercial comes on), etc. etc.

And whose genius idea was it to show Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead immediately before and right up to the start of The Walking Dead? Wouldn't the opening moments of the show have been much more powerful if we weren't already overloaded on zombie action immediately before the show started? Now I know why I like to discover shows on DVD.

Dead and loving it

Did any of you watch The Walking Dead last night on AMC? The confrontations in the gory, intense premiere episode certainly were of a, ahem... different variety than the confrontations we were used to seeing in Don Draper's office from week to week on Mad Men. But still as good.

Looking back on my previous post, which reviewed the first compilation of comic book issues of The Walking Dead, I see that I really didn't tell you all that much about the story's plot or characters. That's because the review originally appeared on Amazon and Amazon's product description took care of that. I've since learned to put basic plot and character information in my Amazon reviews even if Amazon's own info covers those things, allowing me to reprint my Amazon reviews elsewhere and have them still be useful, or at the very least make sense.

In any event, if you watched the grim and gritty premiere of the show, you know that the initial storyline (in both comic book and television adaptation) revolves around sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes waking up from a coma caused by a gunshot wound, only to discover that while he was down for the count the world has been overrun by, well... the walking dead. He soon begins to form allies among the ragtag humans scattered about, with everybody trying to survive while forming some semblance of normal human relationships to make life in the zombie-infested world worth living. To give you a mild spoiler, seeing the shell-shocked and beaten down remnants of humanity trying to make a go of things as the months go by, often with little success, perhaps demonstrates that the title The Walking Dead doesn't just refer to the zombies.

My own take was that the opening episode was terrific: like its source material, it was scary and gory, yet also character-driven and often quite moving. But the episode was definitely intense, and I'll be interested to see if viewers can take a steady diet of Rick Grimes and his friends navigating the zombie apocalypse week in and week out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The dead walk


Today's edition of The New York Times includes a terrific, basically rave review of Sunday night's opening installment of the new horror series on AMC, "The Walking Dead". Based on Robert Kirkman's comic book series of the same name, I'm proud to say that I've been drinking Mr. Kirkman's zombie Kool Aid long before its well-deserved television adaptation was even a glint in his eye. Here's what I said on Amazon back in August of 2008 about the trade paperback compilation of the initial issues of "The Walking Dead":

Visceral horror and subtle ongoing character serial combine to make The Walking Dead one of the most engaging comic-book series currently being produced. This initial volume, Days Gone Bye, takes the first six issues of the Image Comics series and edits them together into one seamless (no easy feat when it comes to compilations) 130-plus page epic. Subsequent volumes collect later issues, with new volumes coming out like clockwork once there are six new issues of the monthly comic book to collect.

With its realistic looking characters (no abs-of-steel guys or buxom bimbos here) and gritty day-to-day situations (often horrifying but never over-the-top with silly horror movie situations), The Walking Dead is a comic book that doesn't feel "comic-booky", and would be a good title to recommend to friends who don't normally read comics. If they enjoy horror stories, that is.

Quibbles? Robert Kirkman is telling a great story here, but sometimes the word balloons can be a little dense with verbiage. These characters do go on a bit. But that's really about it.

As this is a comic book, I guess I should touch on the visuals. Tony Moore's art is wonderful: detailed, subtle, yet fast-moving, if that's a way to describe comic book art. What I mean is that the art makes your eye fly from panel to panel, drinking in the action. But his detail and subtlety make the quiet scenes resonate the way they should, too. Though Charlie Adlard's art in future volumes is perfectly fine, and has its own plusses, for my money the series never looked better than in this initial collection.

Give The Walking Dead a try. Its unusual mix of subtle artistry and firing-on-all-cylinders outright horror will grab you and keep you coming back for more.

Okay, back to 2010. "Days Gone Bye" is still readily available in most comic book shops and most Borders and Barnes & Noble locations, as are subsequent compilations of the individual issues of the series. Each compilation costs only 10 bucks or so, unless you go for the also-available larger compilations that collect 20 or 30 issues at a time.

It might be fun to read "Days Gone Bye" before tuning into Sunday night's television premiere. Though you certainly don't need to: All indications are that writer/director Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption", "The Green Mile") does a great job pulling in both newbies and fans of the comic book just fine.