Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 May, 2006

Beer Addendum

As an addendum to my previous entry, I'd like to direct beer lovers to a recent entry by fellow Madisonian jabartlett at The Daily Aneurysm. He notes a few recent mentions of local breweries in newspapers. Capital and Sprecher both won awards last week at the U.S. Beer Tasting Championships in Chicago.

Also, Sprecher recently bottled it 5,000th batch and will be bottling their IPA shortly.
|| Palmer, 12:16 PM || link || (2) comments |

Some New Summer Brews

Tomorrow marks the start of June. Named after the Roman goddess, Juno who was the goddess of marriage, and thus June being the traditionally preferred month in which to get hitched. Depending on how you view the seasons, either summer begins late next month or perhaps you celebrate Midsummer's Day on the solstice. Either way, the weather outside is warming up and we'll be in need of refreshing beer. Here's a look at some summer seasonals from local breweries.

Capital's Fest beer is now available. Unlike a lot of breweries' summer seasonals, this beer is all malty goodness.

The Viking Brewing Company has two varieties of summer suds for June.

The Lime Twist is a wheat beer with lime. I'm not the biggest fan of personally don't care much for lemon or lime in my beer and, if I must have it, I prefer to have it fresh from a piece of the fruit. So I'm a bit weary of Lime Twist though I'll admit I've never had it. Queen Victoria's Secret is an India Pale Ale. IPAs were invented in the late 18th century by English brewers who needed to get ale to countrymen in the far corner of the Empire in India. Beer would spoil during the long voyage east so brewers jacked up the hop and alcohol content so the brew could make the trek. And thus was the IPA born.

Sand Creek Brewing is advertising their new Wild Ride IPA as being available soon. I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

Falls Brewing has an IPA as well called Fuggled Up IPA. The name comes from the brewer's use of fuggle hops, an English variety. I'd never heard of them until I read about this ale. Definitely want to try the stuff out.

City Brewery in La Crosse also have a Pale Ale but theirs is an American Pale Ale. APAs use American hop varieties which tend to have citrus characteristics and this generally distinguishes Yankee pales ale from their brethren in the UK.

Out east in Milwaukee, Lakefront gives us their White Beer. It's their version of the Belgian wit which is a wheat beer that is flavored with orange and coriander.

Lastly, local micropub J.T. Whitney's is serving up their Heartland Weiss ("traditional German Wheat Beer with spicy notes of clove) and Badger Bill Wit ("A Belgian style wit ale that is light and crisp with classic notes of coriander and orange peel).

On Sunday I threw a little bash and had friends over for a cookout and suds. I decided to try some brews I'd never had before: Pangaea Lilja's Pulling Boat Pale Ale, Leine's Sunset Wheat, and Hausmann's Pale Beer. The Pangaea was tasty though I admit that I was expecting (and hoping) for a bit more hop bitterness. I thought it would be a good choice for introducing someone who is only familiar with American lagers to the IPA. The new Leine's variety was mediocre. Since it was a hot & sunny day, I found it to be quite refreshing - in the same way soft drinks are. The orange was very prominent; so much so that it was kind of like drinking Tang. I found it to be fairly heavy, indeed, almost syrupy. Finally, the Hausmann's. It wasn't bad but it was certainly nothing special. To me, it tasted like Old Style. Very watery and only faint traces of grain flavor. It went down smoothly and was refreshing, to be sure, but it's nothing more than a thrist quencher on a hot day.
|| Palmer, 11:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

Call a Spade a Spade ("Dairy-Free Cheesecake" Is Not Cheesecake)

Last week some co-workers and I hit the Wednesday Farmer's Market off The Square during our lunch hour. We walked by the stand of one Lori Christilaw, the proprietor of Grace Cheesecakes. The samples she had laid out on the table were mouth-watering. While I was not able to actually purchase a slice, I did take one of her handbills. The thought of chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and Chocoholic cheesecakes had me drooling like a Pavlovian dog. Then I noticed that she makes dairy-free cheesecakes. What in the name of fuck is a "dairy-free cheesecake"?! How can it be a cheesecake and have no dairy products in it? Ms. Christilaw, I refuse to buy any of your products – even the traditional variety – until you rename your dairy-free cakes. I get enough Orwellian doublespeak bullshit every night on the news. Either the Bush administration is pulling some lexicological sleight of hand regarding torture and domestic spying or the deaths of children in Iraq is euphemized away by some Army spokesperson as "collateral damage". I neither want nor need someone who can satisfy my chocolate craving to engage in the same purveying of bullshit. I have no idea how large a market there is for such stuff as "dairy-free cheesecake" or why you would even consider such a product here in the Dairy State. If you're missing enzymes and this precludes you from eating dairy products, then accept that the gods have not smiled upon you and suffer your fate. If you are just not wanting to eat all the fat & calories of a "traditional cheesecake", then go eat something else. I think Ms. Christilaw should stop using Orwellian doublespeak and just name the product differently. Perhaps she can take a page out of the Kraft playbook and call it Cheese Food Product Cake. Or perhaps she can try "A Dessert Product Which Is Almost, But Not Quite, Entirely Unlike Cheesecake". Better yet, leave the word "cheese" out of it altogether and give it a new name. "Tofucake". All the recipes I've seen for this item all use tofu. So call a spade a spade, Ms. Christilaw, and rename your product what it is: tofucake. Stop this fakery and this butchering of language that is worthy of the Bush administration. I would urge those in Madison who do not want to make their own cheesecake to instead buy from Wisconsin Cheesecakery which uses dairy products in each and every cheesecake they make.

I was dismayed at the Brat Fest on Saturday to find that they were serving Boca Brats. Again, more Orwellian bullshit thrust upon the culinary world. Bratwurst is made of animal flesh. Soy protein isolate is not animal flesh. This is bullshit. Get a new name. I never want to hear another fucking hippie make the lame joke about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron when they let "dairy-free cheesecake" and "soy brat" pass.

While I'm on this topic, I want to mention the Willy Street Co-op. I never want to read another blurb in their newsletter about how the FDA is in the pockets of Kraft, Archer Daniels Midland, etc. as long as there's shelf after shelf of herbal supplements. These supplements are expensive and make all kinds of claims about their health benefits – everything short of curing disease. From the Complimentary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog:

Essentially, the DSHEA (Dietary Supplements Health Education Act of 1994) affirmed that dietary supplements were to be regulated as “foods,” and not “drugs.” This means that as a general proposition, so long as they do not make impermissible claims linking their products to treatment or cure of disease, manufacturers of dietary supplements do not have to prove safety and efficacy prior to marketing and distributing dietary supplements interstate.

Manufacturers do not need to register themselves nor their dietary supplement products with FDA before producing or selling them. At present, no FDA regulations specific to dietary supplements establish minimum manufacturing standards.

So anyone can make pills with a bit of St. John's Wort, print a label full of puffery that makes near-miraculous claims about them, and the Co-op will happily carry them on their shelves. Great. An organization that does more than the average bear to instill fear into people with terms like "frankenfoods" in regards to genetically modified foods seemingly has no compunction about selling you 50 pills for extraordinary sums that have been proven neither safe nor efficacious.

How about some more info here, Willy Street Co-op. I can get the full lifestory of the organic produce you carry so how about you let us in on these supplements. Instead of just saying "use at your own risk", why not have a three-ring binder on a string in the pill aisle giving summaries of studies that find that the supplements you peddle are not efficacious?
|| Palmer, 7:25 AM || link || (2) comments |

D.I.Y. Brewing

Last Friday, my friend & co-worker Ed dragged me out to his car to grab this stuff:

Yes, it's homebrewing equipment! Notice the wort cooling device that Ed made. He claims it can cool 20 gallons of wort in 15 minutes. Hydrometer, stock pot - now I need to buy some ingredients. Since I'm just beginning, I'm going to get me a kit to start off with. He also has a grain mill should I get adventurous and want to create my wort from scratch. Check back for reports on my first batch later this summer.
|| Palmer, 7:07 AM || link || (0) comments |

Word of the Week

misoneism (miss'-oh-nee'-iz-um, my'-soh-nee'-iz-um) n. hatred or fear of change or innovation
|| Palmer, 7:00 AM || link || (0) comments |

30 May, 2006

On the Gramophone

Try this combination on for size: Nick Cave & Enya doing Blue Oyster Cult. I shit thee not. "Don't Fear (The Reaper)".
|| Palmer, 6:42 PM || link || (0) comments |

WORT Block Party

When I got to the WORT block party a couple weekends ago, Yid Vicious were starting things off with some klezmer. It was a very pleasant day two weekends ago for the shindig. The sun was shining, there was food, beer, and music. The Dulcinea and I grabbed some brews to start off the party. We were both pleased the Ale Asylum was providing some suds for us to try. I had their Hopalicious and was quite pleased. I was also pleased to see a couple belly dancers performing after Yid Vicious.

One of them looked curiously like a former lover but, since I think belly dancers are just attractive a priori, I shrugged this feeling off as wishful thinking. As Rockin' John introduced The Midwesterners, The Dulcinea and I decided to brave the concessions area to get some grub.

We went with Buraka - African food. I had the chicken stew with peanuts and was sure to load up with the Extra Hot sauce.

We sat down at a bench and listened to the band play as we filled our gullets.

I just couldn't get into The Midwesterners. It's not that they were bad, it's that I found them to be rather dull. I like rockabilly a lot but they just never came across as anything more than a cover band you'd find at Badger Bowl. The music just had no balls. The hot sauce, however, did. I want to thank Buraka for having really fucking hot hot sauce. It was very tasty. And sneaky too. It didn't have a very sharp flavor. Instead it was cool and mellow like a cucumber is cool and mellow. Then the heat snuck up on me. Oh man! My cheeks got all flushed and I started crying. Now, that's good stuff. Here's the jar of the stuff:

I don't know why, but it's really difficult to find a restaurant in this town that aids and abets the diner in torturing him or herself like Silas in The Da Vinci Code. I mean, my grandmother can handle the vindaloos in this town. If I want spicy jerk pork, I need to give it a very large douche of the sauce on the table. And try getting a hot habenero sauce at a Mexican restaurant in this town. Somebody tell me where I can get it. Las Palmas had the wimpiest hot sauce I've ever gotten when I've asked for the really hot stuff. Christ, I think The Great Dane of all places, is the only joint where you can get some habenero sauce that will make you breathe fire out of your ass. But I digress.

With the meal being done, we returned for more beer. I had the Ale Asylum's nut brown ale and it was good.

At some point, The Dulcinea wandered off to go to the bathroom or look at some jewelry and I found myself standing alone. It was at this point that I was approached by one of the belly dancers - the one that looked familiar. She asked me my name and it was then that I realized that it was her. I hadn't seen her in 14 years or so. She was married with a son and still living in Stevens Point. She was also still keeping bees as she was selling lip balm (and other such accoutrement). It was nice to see her again and to hear that things were going well for her. Plus, having had intimate relations with her, I felt OK ogling her cleavage

The next highlight of the day was walking up to the beer line and meeting Rick Tvedt, editor of the local music rag, Ricks' Cafe. Here we are:

He approached me after seeing my Porcupine Tree t-shirt. Rick was an incredibly nice guy and, since we are both fans of progressive rock, we had much to talk about. And we did. I can only imagine how boring it was for The Dulcinea to stand there while we blathered on. He and I chatted for a while and then it was time to mosey around and use the head. And The Selfish Gene came onstage.

While I'd heard of them, I'd never heard them and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't exactly traditional progressive rock but their brand of rock had enough twists & turns to make it interesting and good melodies to boot. Plus they gave away free copies of their Self-Defeating Human Beings promo.

The last band that we witnessed performing was Charlemagne. A few clips from their performace can be found at Civility in Public Discourse and, personally, I don't see what all the hubub is about.

After their set, we headed out lest I be unable to actually drive my car. Beer is just too tempting for me.
|| Palmer, 4:58 PM || link || (0) comments |

26 May, 2006


Please welcome Neko - all 8 pounds 5 ounces of ya! I presume that The Dulcinea will approach me tomorrow about making a trek to Milwaukee for a visit...
|| Palmer, 10:08 PM || link || (0) comments |

Adventures in DVD Authoring

I was thrown into the world of DVD authoring a couple weeks ago when I found myself with a clutch of various television shows and webcasts from the UK that have not been released here in America. While watching them on my computer was not a problem, I much prefer to watch television and movies on my TV. I have a 20" monitor attached to my PC, but my TV has a 52" screen. Plus the couch upstairs is much more comfortable than my chair here. And so it was with these factors in mind that I set out to put my newly-acquired shows on DVD. Unfortunately, each program presented a different technical challenge in addition to the one they all shared – being in PAL format. PAL is an acronym for Phase Alternation Line. It's a method of encoding television images and is used by a large chunk of the world (including Greenland – I didn't know they had broadcast stations there…). Here in the States, we use NTSC or National Television Systems Committee, named after the standards body that chose it. The main differences between PAL and NTSC are the frame rates and the resolution of the picture. And so, in order to create a DVD of these UK TV shows, I had to change the frame rate from 25fps to 29.97fps and bump the resolution down from 720x525 to 720x480.

At my disposal was NeroVision Express and Sony's DVD Architect Studio. Both applications are aimed at the home user and I've had luck with NeroVision. I was directed to a tutorial which required various pieces of software such as DGIndex, DGPulldown, and TMPGEnc. And so I went out and acquired them. The first video I'd tackle would be Richard Dawkins' examination of religion, The Root of All Evil?.

It came to me as a DVD image – an .iso file. There were two options before me: A) rip the video & audio directly from the iso file using a utility such as ISOBuster or B) burn the DVD and then rip it. I chose the latter as it gave me the opportunity to use DVD ripping software and see how it works. The author of the DVD did a neat job. For the menu, he used a picture of flames as the background and set it to the "O Fortuna" section from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. I ripped the DVD using DVD Decrypter. This left me with some .vob files. Vobs are just mpegs – a term you'll probably recognize. They're files with the audio and video together. Dutifully I followed the tutorial. Using DGIndex, I separated the video and audio from the vobs and was left with an ac3 file which was my audio and a d2v file for the video. I processed the video further with TMPGEnc which changed the resolution of the picture. The last thing was to change the frame rate to 29.97fps and this was done with DGPulldown. If you've never processed video with a computer then understand that all of this re-encoding takes a long time and by "a long time" I mean hours. I'd get the process going before I went to bed and let it run overnight. While I was asleep, my computer's processor was pushed to its limit. Finally I was left with my ac3 audio file and a new m2v file. The m2v is only a video stream – no audio.

One thing about DVD authoring software aimed at home users is that they don't accept m2v files and usually require the purchase of a separate encoder to handle ac3 files. And so I went out and got a high-end bit of DVD authoring software – DVDLab – with its 30-day trial period. DVDLab is much less user-friendly than NeroVision Express or DVD Architect Studio. It's like being used to Microsoft Paint and then having Photoshop thrust upon you. DVDLab has separate windows for everything. One is a flowchart showing your labyrinthine menu system, others have your menus, while there is also a timeline for video & audio. Although I had another handy tutorial at my disposal, it was rough going. I was used to having separate files for each episode but, in this instance, I had to contend with both episodes being run together in one huge video file and one huge audio file. Thusly I had to place a make a couple chapters. And so I placed chapter markers at the very beginning and in the middle of the timeline at the beginning of the second episode. Having some non-linear video editing experience, I didn't find this bit to be very difficult. The concept was easy to understand so it was just a matter of learning DVDLab's interface. The major problem I had was in creating the menu.

(Thanks to the guy at VideoHelp.com.)

Now, this project didn't require a complicated menu and menu construction started off easily enough but digressed into a right royal pain in the ass. I set a frame from the first episode as the background image and used the main theme from The Name of the Rose for music. But I had to get used to dealing with all these separate objects. Each bit of text was a different object but what really threw me off was dealing with the little screenshot – a link - that highlights indicating a chapter. I was used to it and any frame around it being one object. But here, the link was distinct from the frame. Instead of the application placing the frame around the link and resizing automatically, I had to do all that by hand. Uff da! It took some doing but I got it how I wanted and then burned the project.

I didn't find out the results until the next day and was dismayed to find that the menu had no music on it and my highlighting color was a light purple instead of gray. Quite irritated, I went back and did some reading. The lack of music was a dumb mistake on my part which was quickly resolved. But the highlighting color was altogether different. On one tab, there was a trio of color adjusters and one just happened to be the same shade of purple as my menu highlight. There was no text description to be found; #3 was the highlighting color and that was that. After making the adjustments, I burned another copy and it turned out well. My ratio of coasters to watchable DVDs was 1:1. This was soon to change.

Next up was a DVD of the Doctor Who webcast, Shada. It had been made into a bit of Flash animation by the BBC and the folks at Big Finish who make the Doctor Who audio dramas. I got a hold of it on DVD – vob files encoded in PAL. I could skip the DVD ripping bit here and go right to converting the vobs. The time involved aside, it was easy. I took my m2v and ac3 files and put them into DVDLab. Shada consisted of 6 episodes so there was more chapter marking involved and a slightly more busy menu. While there was a bit more work, no new concepts were introduced. I slapped it together and burned. I put the DVD into a case on onto the shelf in the living room preparing to move onto Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. A day later when I actually watched the DVD, I noticed that the chapter markers were off. The first 3 were fine but the last 3 were off a bit so that, when you started one of these chapters, it would actually begin a few seconds into it. While this wasn't a really big deal as all you'd miss was the first few seconds of the opening title sequence, I wasn't prepared to settle for second best. And so it was back to the drawing board. The online help for DVDLab mentioned this problem – "chapter lag" as it was called. This happened, so it was explained, because the user marks chapters via timecode while the program counts mpeg frames. But it had a feature where you could shift a chapter marker a second ahead or behind. The problem was that the last couple chapters were more than a second off and I couldn't find a way to shift things more than 1 second. Frustrated, I applied the fix and burned again. It cleared up the problem with the fourth chapter and made the final two better but it was not perfect. I settled anyway.

Next I took on another Doctor Who webcast - Real Time. I wussed out here and burned it using NeroVision Express. This was partly out of frustration and partly because of the format. Instead of vobs, I had multiple avi files. NeroVision is a nice little program but you trade control for ease-of-use. But Real Time was to be a pretty straight-forward project. The menu was simple and I just wasn't quite ready to deal with converting avi files to some mpeg variation that DVDLab could accommodate. And that whole chapter lag issue loomed in the background.

The last project I attempted last week was Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. Like Real Time, I had multiple PAL avi files. This time I decided to go for it and convert the avis so I could work with them in DVDLab. I found a utility and converted them. But, when I tried to import them into DVDLab, I got an error saying that the ratio was 1:1. WTF? I went back and checked. I had set the program to convert to mpeg2, the DVD format. What happened? While I would eventually go back and find that there's a DVD setting in the program which output vob files, I instead moved on to DVD Architect Studio.

DVD Architect Studio is the little brother of DVD Architect and is meant for home user schmucks like myself. I got it when I bought Vegas Studio and hadn't used it until this point. While it had a slightly longer learning curve than NeroVision, it allowed more control over things. I acclimated to the interface fairly quickly and then decided that I wanted to create custom backgrounds for these DVDs. I went out onto the Net and grabbed some pictures of pages from the Book of Kells, a gorgeously illuminated manuscript from c.800 B.C.E. I decided to create backgrounds which had the illustration at the left-hand side with a big blank space on the right. Cheapie DVD authoring software doesn't allow much manipulation of text and I wanted to make sure that the readability of the text here was hampered by being set on top of some funky multi-colored illumination. That and I wanted the image to be seen in all its glory. In Photoshop, I created a blank image that conformed to the NTSC resolution. I shrunk the images from the Book of Kells so that they took up a bit less than half of the left-hand side. Using the eye dropper tool, I filled in the remaining area with an appropriate shade of brown culled from the illumination. Finally, I used the blur tool to lessen the sharp contrast of the two images at the seam where they met. The result was passable but I wanted more. Again going out onto the Net, I found a little tutorial for making an aged parchment look in Photoshop. I'd never really dealt with layers until this point so the whole exercise was quite a nice learning process. While not perfect, I felt the right side would be hidden enough by text and chapter links to make it decent enough. Here's the result:

I was reluctant to just repeat the process for the second DVD as I wanted some variety. So I found some medieval clip art on the web. I grabbed some heraldry and modified it to fit my image. This involved cropping the clip art and filling in the spaces with the appropriate color one pixel at a time. Here's the result:

Again, not perfect but quite passable with text and links.

I'd be making three DVDs so the question of menu music came up. With the Doctor Who discs, it was simple enough as there was only 1 DVD involved and using the Doctor Who theme for the corresponding Doctor was easy enough. The Root of All Evil? required only 1 song. What to do? My first thought was to use some music from Gryphon's Red Queen to Gryphon Three. Gryphon were a progressive rock band that combined Medieval & Renaissance music with rock. I went up to my room to grab the CD only to recall that I didn't have the album any longer. I used to have it. On vinyl. So I stood there staring at my CD racks with a blank look. Then it occurred to me that I had a wonderful replacement in The Bones of all Men. Medieval & Renaissance music buff Philip Pickett got Richard Thompson and some friends from Fairport Convention and did an album of popular music from the 13th-17th centuries. Just as I had tried to match the illumination with one of the episodes on the DVD, so too with the music. DVD 1 had "The Damsel" so I used the rather stately, yet ethereal "My Lady Careys Dompe" here. For DVD 2, I used the rhythmic and aggressive medley of "Le Forze D'Hercole/Lo Ballo Dell Intoria" as this disc contained "The Knight". The final DVD had "King" so I used "Tutte Venite Armati" which sounded a bit like a fanfare. With everything set to go, I burned the first DVD.

I had burned it overnight and so I watched it the next day. Much to my disappointment, the left and top edges of the menu had been cut off. This flummoxed me as the picture hadn't gone beyond the borders of the menu layout in DVD Architect. However, the music on the menu played fine and the first episode looked to be OK and the program had preserved the aspect ratio just fine. I couldn't find anything in the manual or in the online help to explain why this had happened. So I went back into Photoshop and retooled the background images so that I had more room for the text and linking objects. Rather than trying to fix a problem in a program that Sony no longer updates, I decided to work around the issue. I grouped objects in the menu a bit closer and burned again. I found that I hadn't quite grouped things closely enough together and just the very top of the title text got cut off. I wasn't keen on making any more coasters so I said good enough for government work and added the DVD to my collection. After a couple repetitions, I finally had them all done.

Last weekend The Dulcinea came over and we decided to watch Medieval Lives, DVD 1. The menu worked just fine and the first episode, "Peasant", was a hoot. I eagerly played the second. And then the sound took a digger. For some reason, the sound was out of sync. Not only that, it would stutter and get worse. I checked the other discs and they were the same. The first episode on each was fine but the succeeding chapters had audio that was a complete fucking mess. This irritated the living shit out me.

I went back to NeroVision. While my control over text wasn't as good, at least the sound remained in sync. Another gripe, although much more minor than the aforementioned audio problems, was that I couldn't find a setting for what to do when a chapter ends. I like to have control over this so I can set it to go back to the menu or to play the next chapter.

And so that's where I stand. It's been quite a neat, if periodically very frustrating, learning experience. I've decided that DVD Architect Studio is for shite. Along the way, I learned how Easter eggs are put onto DVDs. What you do is create an object that is a link but you make it invisible. I like DVDLab a lot. I like the control you have over minute details plus its ability to really manipulate text – make it 3D, et al. It's just that the chapter lag thing is a real snag. Next up I need to learn scene selection. With Shada, the chapter lag wasn't a big deal as it would just jump a couple seconds into a title sequence but I want to get more precise if there are none the next time. Another aspect I need to learn more about is the bit rate. Bit rate is, in the simplest terms, the quality of the video. I have a single layer DVD burner so I've got a bit shy of 2 hours to work with on a disc. I have crammed more than 2 hours on a DVD – with Real Time. But it was Flash animation and a series of still images with little movement and what movement there was not smooth by design. Ergo I didn't lose a lot of quality by shrinking it. I will, however, need to figure something else out when it comes to jamming a lengthy live action video onto a single DVD.

The moral here is to practice, practice, practice and not be afraid to make a whole boatload of coasters along the way. NeroVision offers ease of use and reliability. But other DVD authoring programs such as DVDLab gives you more control over everything and allows you to make much snazzier menus. I'm about ready to return to it in order to suss out this whole chapter lag thing.

Lastly, a note about the latest NeroVision. I had absolutely no problems with NeroVision Express 2 which came with Nero 6. I recently upgraded to Nero 7 with its shiny new version of NeroVision and ran into a problem when making the menus for Medieval Lives. The program will put up a menu link for each video file you put into the project. You can then go ahead and use a frame from the video as the picture of the link. With the old version, I had no problems using the slider to find a suitable frame. But with the newest version, it gave me black screens. The very first frame of the file showed up fine, but, if I moved the slider, the picture just turned black. Luckily the program would randomly decided to show the frame you hit on and I was able to fiddle around enough and get things right. Still, it was very frustrating. This problem did not crop up again on the next project, however. Both projects were PAL-encoded but I'm wondering if perhaps NeroVision just doesn't play well with DivX or who.
|| Palmer, 8:33 PM || link || (0) comments |

Terry Jones Gets Medieval

I recently acquired a copy of Terry Jones' mini-series, Medieval Lives. Originally broadcast on the BBC a couple years ago, the series looked at the lives of members of eight different groups of medieval society including the peasant, the damsel, and good Sir Knight. In a piece he wrote for the UK paper The Observer, Jones related why he wrote the book and made the accompanying series:

The distortions, obfuscations and downright lies which they and admirers of the Renaissance ever since have fastened onto the Middle Ages still infect our historical vision. The very fact that we call that period (whatever it is) 'the Middle Ages' is but one example. The idea that it is a limbo between the bright lights of the classical World and the even brighter lights of the Renaissance is enshrined there in the very title.

But the medieval world wasn't a time of stagnation or ignorance. A lot of what we assume to be medieval ignorance is, in fact, our own ignorance about the medieval world.

While it eventually made its way across The Pond to the History Channel, it remains commercially unavailable here in the States.

I bring this up for two reasons. Firstly, because it foreshadows a pitiful entry I am going to write on my foray into the world of DVD authoring; secondly, Jones has a new book out called Terry Jones' Barabrians. Well, it's currently out in the Untied Kingdom, anyway. And like Medieval Lives, there's a TV series to accompany it. In fact, the first episode aired about 3 hours ago on BBC2. Also like Medieval Lives, Jones' new opus takes a rather contrary view to established history and says that the Barbarians weren't such a bad lot after all and, in fact, the Romans were a bunch of cold-hearted and ruthless bastards. From The Independent:

To say that his project aims to cast doubt on the virtue of the Roman Empire and the value of its legacy is rather like suggesting that Queen Boudica of the Iceni - inevitably, one star of this show - had a few tiny contractual niggles with her overlords. After almost two millennia, it's payback time.

This is popular history with an edge, and an agenda. Jones gleefully and wittily takes the side of the maligned Britons and Persians, Goths and Vandals, to argue that "the story of a descent from the light of Rome to the darkness of Barbarian dominion is completely false". The "barbarian" hordes so slighted by victor's history emerge as more sophisticated, humane and resourceful than the Roman killing-machine that marched out to rob and ruin them. Take the quite un-vandalistic Vandals: when they entered the chaos that was Rome in 455AD, "not a single building was destroyed". So there.

No doubt the TV series will be available at the same spot I grabbed Medieval Lives shortly after it has finished airing. Due to some snags with a certain bit of DVD authoring software, I've only watched the first episode of Medieval Lives and it was excellent. It concerned peasants and the worst part of it was that it only lasted twenty some-odd minutes. The show is a mix of Jones lecturing, talking to experts, recreations including Jones in drag, and cartoons all done in a very irreverent manner. He began by explaining that the people in involved in the Peasant Revolt of 1381 were actually quite well-organized with an explicit agenda. He proceeded to drive to the village of Laxton which still had vestiges of the Medieval peasant way of life. The fields were still divided up into strips and still had an elected courtleet(?). Back in the day, the courtleet formulated by-laws, collected rents, and maintained law & order. Today, however, these gentlemen ensure that farmers are adhering to land boundaries.

I highly recommend check out Medieval Lives if you get the chance. For me, it was a no-brainer as I love Monty Python and am a medieval history buff. It was directed at a general audience so no knowledge other than when the Middle Ages were is required.
|| Palmer, 6:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

Blue-Collar Taverns Close

A couple taverns here in town that cater primarily to the working class have closed and the owners say it's because of the smoking ban. First it was the VFW canteen down on Lakeside and now the venerable Ole and Rick's on the north side. The proprietors of both taverns say that folks have stayed away since the introduction of the smoking ban.

Why does the city council hate veterans? OK - just kidding. Gone are the days of heading to the VFW after the Great Taste for a nightcap and helping out the bartender by answering the phone. To quote Howlin' Wolf, who will be next? Wiggie's?
|| Palmer, 4:33 PM || link || (0) comments |

Friday Skin

Since ShibariCon starts today...

|| Palmer, 10:28 AM || link || (0) comments |

Brat Fest '06

This year's Brat Fest (the largest in the world, mind you) starts within the hour down at the Alliant Energy Center. I think I'll be heading out there for lunch. Today looks to be the best day for celebrity Cashiers as a couple pulchritudinous editors from Madison Magazine will be behind the counters. And although Fred Risser isn't really my type, he is a good godless heathen like myself. Ergo, I'd be proud to have him serve me a brat or 4.
|| Palmer, 10:24 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 May, 2006

Word of thd Week

In honor of last night's LOST season finale:

anfractuous (an-frac'-choo-us) adj. full of windings and intricate turnings: tortuous.
|| Palmer, 4:02 PM || link || (0) comments |

23 May, 2006


Prior to my encounter with Beethoven in Milwaukee, I went to a performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. It was the weekend of their season finale with a programme featuring:

"Concerto No. 4 in C Minor" by Camille Saint-Saens
Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony
Igor Stravinsky's Suite from "The Firebird" ballet

Entering Overture Hall, that feeling of ambivalence returned. Part of me thinks that, if a symphony plays indoors, the hall should look like it was constructed in the 19th century. This part of me thinks Overture Hall came out of an Ikea catalogue. If you can't film a scene for a Beethoven bio with only minor modifications to the hall, then it just doesn't cut the mustard. I am old school in this respect. On the other hand, the place is really nice. The sound is fantastic and I think the lighting is perfect and really sets a great mood for MSO performances. And so this side of me is always in conflict with the antiquarian side on this issue.

I sat next to an elderly couple and struck up a conversation with them. They have been buying season tickets for ages but were going to give them up due because it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to get to their seats. However, they were pleased to see a young person taking an interest in the symphony. The paucity of the under 40 crowd at classical music performances is a shame. While I understand that symphony tickets are pricey, I get the feeling that the audience is composed primarily of middle-aged and older folks because of the music. The MSO has this group called Club 201 which is an attempt to get people 21-39 to the symphony. I hope I don’t come across as too much of a Negative Nelly, but I'm skeptical since the club is associated with Madison MAGNET, a group that appears to be a yuppie networking outfit. I am genuinely curious to know about the Club 201 members. Do they really get into the music or are they just there to be seen and to network?

A review of the Friday MSO performance appeared in the Capital Times. I have to say that pianist Stephen Hough appeared at the Saturday performance that I attended in the same Mandarin shirt and red velvet loafers. He was a bit of an odd sight considering all the suits and tuxes onstage but his playing was great on the Saint-Saens piece. Listening to Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, I realized that much of it was familiar. This made me feel that I really ought to bone up on my classical music as attending the symphony can, at times, make me feel woefully ignorant.

I chose this performance because of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. While I can't lecture you on the ballet, I just like this piece. Just as in the Cap Times' review, many folks in the audience were jolted awake when "Infernal Dance" began. The "unified down-strokes of the strings and beats of the drums" really got me going. I know that there are many classical fans that don't like modern and contemporary pieces. Stravinsky is often too "primitive" with those heavy beats. But I love 'em. I love the contrast that rhythm-heavy sections give to the more melodic bits and Stravinsky is good that way. Really good. I didn't listen to it trying to find recapitulations and thematic development, but rather it was to find out where the piece would go next.

I am really looking forward to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring next month in Chicago.
|| Palmer, 9:46 PM || link || (0) comments |

Joy, Beautiful Spark of the Gods

A couple weekends ago, I spent Saturday with The Dulcinea in Milwaukee. While the occasion was to attend the symphony, we also availed ourselves of the opportunity to visit my friend, Miss Pamela, who was heavy with child. It was the first time I'd seen her in a few months and she had really ballooned up since our last meeting. On the drive over, The Dulcinea rehearsed her lines of advice for new mothers but, when it came to crunch time, the only bit she offered was to sleep when the baby does. That weird feeling came over me as I was again confronted with a friend from high school soon to be a parent. Despite this feeling of having gotten old, I was tremendously happy for her. And so was The Dulcinea. In fact, I think she was happier than Pam. Whereas the mother to-be was keen on just getting it over with, The Dulcinea was giddy with excitement. Miss Pamela revealed that her hubby wasn't particularly receptive to her carnal overtures since she became pregnant. This led to jokes about my fondness for Shakespeare's phrase, "She takes passengers even when the boat is full". While I've had sex with a pregnant woman, I've never had sex with one who actually had a bulge. Maybe someday...Before heading out, we spent a few minutes watching Zoe play with a box.

Our destination was the Milwaukee Public Market.

MPM is at the corner of Water and St. Paul. Stepping inside, one is treated to a bounty of smells and sights. Twenty vendors proffer their wares which include produce, candy, wine, hot meals, meat, seafood, et al. The market is fairly open due to the high ceilings so it didn't have the feel of a grocery store and each vendor's stall was a bit different than the rest.

I began my purchasing by heading to the confectioner, Kehr's Candies, and eating dessert first. I had these cookie-like hoolies of dark chocolate and sunflower seeds in a gooey mess. For the meal proper, I got some Hawaiian pulled pork and, because the Hawaiian joint was next to a sushi stand, I also got some of that. I just couldn't get the taste of wasabi and pickled ginger out of my mind.

The 3 of us took our meals to a table on the second floor which had a great view of the Marquette Interchange construction. The area looked like a war zone. I am hoping that the project will be done before I am of retirement age. On the way into town, a sign said to follow 794 via the left lane when, in fact, the right lane was the way to go. This led to a wee detour which eventually led us to the area by Shank Hall. Once in that neck of the woods, it was pretty easy to get to Pam's house. Slowly but surely I'm learning my way around Milwaukee.

While I'm on the topic of Milwaukee, did anyone got to the "I-94 Outreach: Mayors Tom and Dave" discussion last week at the Overture Center?

I ate enough for an army and then, much to my dismay, Miss Pamela bought dessert.

After eating and talking plenty, we made a stop over at the Milwaukee A Woman's Touch to look at all things naughty.

I think it's highly unfair that Milwaukee – the 2nd AWT – gets a much larger store. Having been to an AWT with The Dulcinea & Pam previously, I knew exactly what to expect. First there was some noodling in the book section and some glances at the titles in the pr0n video shelf. This was followed up by those two spending a lengthy period of time checking out the vibes & dildos. While there's the token toy or two directed at men, it's the frauleins that have shelf after shelf of pleasure devices. I could see the naughty looks in their eyes as they surveyed plastic phallus after plastic phallus. This, in turn, led to naughty thoughts in my own mind…We returned to Pam's house and chatted for a while before it was time to head to the symphony for a little bit of the old Ludwig van.

In addition to taking in some great music and pretending to be all cultured & civilized, attending the Milwaukee Symphony also gives me a chance to ogle the only violinist on whom I have ever had a crush – Associate Concertmaster Samantha George.


Oh Samantha, let me catch a ride on your violin strung upon your bow. I'll float on your melody and sing your chorus soft and low. (Hopefully Ms. George, the folks at the MSO, and everyone she knows is Internet-challenged – she must not know of my secret love for her!)

The full programme consisted of the world premiere (OK – the second world premiere) of Lowell Liebermann's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Beethoven's 9th. I was totally unfamiliar with Liebermann which shouldn't be surprising as, like 99.9% of the population, I am lacking in familiarity with contemporary composers. One Jeffrey Biegel would be tinkling the ivories. While I enjoy Western art music, I am not so immersed as to be able to critique the performances of various orchestras performing the same piece. I know what I like and it doesn't matter who the conductor is or what symphony is performing the piece. And so with a limited vocabulary and the distance of over a week, I am going to have a hard time describing the piece. However, I do recall thinking at the time that parts of it reminded me of Alberto Ginastera's 1st Piano Concerto. While I'm sure that any musicologists that happen to be reading are laughing their asses off at my analogy but there's nothing I can do. Perhaps the pieces were composed in completely different manners and have dissimilar structures, but, if nothing else, they share mood. A bit somber with some very abrupt and jarring – almost angry - passages. The notes for the programme indicated that Liebermann wrote the piece about the feelings he has for certain current events. With our country embroiled in war, the somber tone of the piece is to be expected. On the whole, I quite enjoyed the piece and hope to be able to purchase a copy of a performance of it someday.

After the intermission, the chorus came out and took their seats on the bleachers (what's the high-falutin' name for them?) at the back of the stage as they would be needed for Beethoven's glorious 9th! It would be my first time seeing it live to boot. While the piece is a magnificent listen on the stereo, experiencing a live performance of it is absolutely extraordinary. It brought tears to my eyes a few times. Sitting there, I heard the motifs in embryo develop during the first three movements and then came the rousing fourth. If you know nothing about the piece, I recommend the Wikipedia article on it for a start. But the kernel here is that the final movement features the chorus in all its glory singing part of Friedrich Schiller's An die Freude or "Ode to Joy". There was a section in the final movement where the orchestra does its thing – playing the melody fast and with great force. Then it gets quiet and they repeat another musical theme in hushed tones. Then BAM! All at once, the whole chorus stands up and they start singing at the top of their lungs as the orchestra kicks it up a notch or ten. We were sitting in the sixth row and I could feel their voices as they blasted into me like a tidal wave. My eyes immediately welled with tears as a shiver ran down my back. I mean it was really a powerful moment. Brilliant!

I left the hall with a real high. How can people either hate classical music or just be indifferent to it? I think every genre or type of music has pieces where the composer/performer just does everything right and she or he taps into that Universal Chord. Those songs transcend everything. It's moments like I had that night that make me forget how much I paid for the ticket, for gas to drive to Milwaukee, and all else. I got so lost in the music, in the moment that nothing else mattered. It was a nice gestalt - the joy I felt for my friend who was about to become a mother and the joy of the music.

We wandered down a block to the Water Street Brewery where I had a tasty pale ale with my dinner before we headed home.
|| Palmer, 4:57 PM || link || (0) comments |

"A Feminist Utopia in Madison?"

A Feminist Utopia in Madison? Global Communities, Science Fiction, and Women
A Celebration of WisCon's 30th Anniversary Year

Panelists: Justine Larbalestier (moderator) science fiction historian, critic, and author); and science fiction writers: Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Joy Fowler, Meghan McCarron, and Elizabeth Bear.

Wednesday, May 24, 7:00 PM

Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium


This event is presented by the Center for the Humanities in partnership with WisCon. To learn more about WisCon, visit their website at: www.wiscon.info.
|| Palmer, 2:34 PM || link || (0) comments |

On the Gramophone

Since The Dulcinea has been lamenting the loss of Toad Hill and wanting to hang out with Toby, I present this little ditty which has a connection, of sorts, to the coffeehouse I once called home.

This week it's The Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet featuring Toby's sweetheart, Henry, on bass. Check out "Mambo Leah".
|| Palmer, 2:07 PM || link || (0) comments |

Paramount Redux

Last week I wrote a post about how Paramount Pictures is starting a new division to distribute indie films called Paramount Vantage. A reader named Jon from Strategic Name Development emailed me saying that his company's blog has an entry about this as well. Not only does it comment on the Paramount change but it also discusses the arms of other major studios that deal in indie/arty fair. Check out "Product Naming: Paramount Gets Arty".

Obviously Jon and his fellow workers at SND know a helluva lot more about brand-name development & recognition than I do but I agree with this comment at the blog wholeheartedly:

This seems like a tortured name architecture to me. Or a typical "split the baby" corporate name decision.

I highly doubt that the majority of the movie-going public bases their decisions about what films to see based on distributor. Even I, a guy who took many film classes in college and is a bit of a film snob, don't look at distributor that much in making my choices. (However, if I see, say, Channel Four or National Film Board of Canada listed as one of the production companies, this will catch my attention and make my ears perk up.) I will admit, though, that Sony Pictures Classics gives me the warm fuzzies because they tend to be responsible for re-releasing, um, classics back into the theaters that I go see - the most recent being The Passenger. So I guess it's fair to say that Sony has all the name-brand recognition I have to offer to a major film distributor.

Going back to Paramount, I'd opine that changing a name won't do much alone for business - they've also got to choose films differently and/or market them more effectively. But this is my view from without the film industry and I'm sure that Paramount has a desire to foster name recognition with those within the industry and I would imagine that personnel changes are going to be the marker of improvement for these people.
|| Palmer, 11:01 AM || link || (0) comments |

Goodbye Sconnie Ales, Hello Ale Asylum

Last month I gave a rundown of spring brews made here in 'Sconsin. A reader recently related that William Kuether Brewing is no more. The commenter, "The Enemy", remarked:

Don't hold your breath for the Tamarack Timber. Looks like Kuether Brewing went under. Rumors of a sale of premises and/or assets, phone disconnected, local taverns confirming their Sconnie Ale accounts are no longer serviced, basically everything short of an official confirmation from Bill Kuether himself.


In other beer news, my friend Charles and I stopped in at the newly-opened Ale Asylum yesterday evening after work. The spartan industrial exterior belies the wonderful tavern inside. There was a handful of folks bellied up to the bar when we walked in. Although it was bright & sunny outside, the lights were down low inside. If it was any darker, I might have had a flashback to Jocko's. OK - I exaggerate. Don't get me wrong, though, I liked the dim lights as it lent the joint a moody atmosphere. Interior walls were painted a lightish red-brown and they had some really nice wainscotting. The bar top was steel with a funky swirly pattern in it and trimmed with wood. I felt the walls were on the bare side but Charles liked the minimalist look. The wall next to the men's room's door had a photo of Clint Eastwood from one of his spaghetti westers while the walls inside had some great photos including pictures of Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. The area around the bar is on the small side but the main lounging area off of it was great. The room is quite long. About two-thirds of it is dotted with tables while the far end has leather couches and chairs with a pool table in a little cove. The brewery can be seen through windows and a glass door on this end as well. Charles and I plopped ourselves down in a couple of the leather chairs and propped our feet up on the footlocker which served as a table.

So, how is the beer? I had their Hopalicious American Pale Ale and the nut brown on Sunday at the WORT block party. Yesterday I had the hefe weizen (no lemon, thanks) and it was excellent; a nice pint of cloudy wheaty goodness! It had a very full flavor - less watery than some weizens I've had. A good malt underpinning.

Although we didn't have much interaction with the staff, they were quite friendly. There is small patio outside which I presume will be populated with chairs at some point. Oddly enough, there was a couple at the end of the bar drinking cocktails. I saw only a modicum of spirits behind the bar and find it odd that someone would go to a micropub and eschew the brew.

My only gripe is all bare walls. I'd like to see more pictures as it would give some more character to the place and transform it into a watering hole. Other than this, I'm very happy to see that the place is finally open. I live on the far east side of Madison which makes the Great Dane a bit of a hike for me and, although I've got nothing against J.T. Whitney's, I try to avoid the west side, if I can. So it's nice to have a brewpub close to where I live. My final observation is about the patrons I saw. The Great Dane & J.T. Whitney's seem to generally be populated by folks that I don't really feel all that comfortable around. Either it's people in formal business attire or yuppies. I don't want to stereotype and say that these kinds of folks are bad or evil or any such thing, it's just that walking into a tavern and seeing people clad in suits & ties or a gaggle of the Urban Outfitted just gives me the willies. No doubt many such people are really nice and I'd get along with them very well. But I just ask myself where are all the folks like me clad in jeans and a t-shirt? Yesterday at the Ale Asylum, I walked in and found people there that wouldn't look out of place at the Eagle's Crest or Wiggie's. Yeah, I know it's early in the game but I felt at home surrounded by people in jeans, t-shirts, and shorts. This is my Studs Terkel Factor. Would Studs be able to walk into the joint and find a Joe Six-Pack to bullshit with? And, as of now, it seems that of the brewpubs in Madtown, the Ale Asylum is the only one that's got it.
|| Palmer, 7:47 AM || link || (0) comments |

22 May, 2006

Ale Asylum Open for Bidness!

The Ale Asylum quietly opened last Friday evening. Apparently word went out on a beer-related mailing list last week and so the opening was primarily attended by beer geeks and member of the Madison Homebrewers & Tasters Guild. AA sold suds at the WORT block party yesterday and I got to sample their Nut Brown and IPA. The Nut Brown was tasty - smooth and not too sweet. The IPA, Hopalicious, was fantastic! I had more than 1 cup of it at the party. I'll be swinging over there later this week to check out the joint.
|| Palmer, 10:26 AM || link || (0) comments |

20 May, 2006

Germans Not Happy With the "King of Beers"

German beer fans who also like football (soccer) are kinda peeved about Budweiser being the exclusive suds at the World Cup.

The Germans are furious that Budweiser will be the official tipple for the World Cup, which starts next month. The American lager has secured a near-monopoly of beer sales inside World Cup stadiums and within a 500m radius of the grounds, supplanting more than 1,270 domestic breweries.

Budweiser’s World Cup status is a slap in the face for a country that attaches such importance to beer production. When Germany was a patchwork of principalities and duchies, a sponsored brewery was seen as the stamp of in- dependence. German pride at hosting the tournament is being dented by the fierce marketing of the American beer.

"Most pubs don’t even stock it," groaned Walter König, of the Bavarian Breweries’ Association. "Bavarian beer should be available in a Bavarian stadium — Munich — for the first kick-off. But what can we do? Budweiser paid $40 million for the concession even before Germany had been chosen to host the tournament."

|| Palmer, 12:32 PM || link || (0) comments |

Happy Syttende Mai!

It was 192 years & 3 days ago that Norway gained its independence from Denmark. And the Syttende Mai celebration is underway in Stoughton. So head on over there to get your fill of parades, music, dancing, lefse, lutefisk, and beer!
|| Palmer, 11:19 AM || link || (0) comments |

"Frozen Angels"

Before I went to bed last night, I set the TiVo to record a few things. One of the shows was an episode of the PBS series Independent Lens called "Frozen Angels". The show looked at the assisted human reproduction industry at its epicenter, Los Angeles. From the broadest view, the documentary split the topic in two: it examined the industry, i.e. - what the businesses do and how they do it; it also looked at the people involved, both on the business side and the people who donate their gametes & benefit from the technology. The personal or human element was juxtaposed against some long sequences of the hustle & bustle of urban life in L.A. This involved shots of traffic jams on the freeways, cityscapes focusing on the tall buildings, etc. with music overlayed and an interviewee telling his or her story. These sequences reminded me of the work of Errol Morris, especially with the Philip Glass-like music involved.

While many people were interviewed, a select cadre of folks had the focus upon them. There was a surrogate mother & the couple who hired her, a young woman who donates ova to In Vitro Fertilization clinics, a man who was the result of IVF that used sperm from the Nobel Sperm Bank, as well as a trio of people from the industry - a bioethicist & a couple men who run businesses in L.A.

The surrogate mother and the ova donor both came across as being altruistic. There was definitely money involved but their comments regarding their motivation all centered around a desire to help people who cannot have children the old fashioned way. I like the way the filmmakers juxtaposed these sequences with others in which these women basically discount their biological roles in the process of reproduction. While they are contributing ova and the surrogate is carrying the child to term, they both came across as very business-like, they both distance themselves from the lives that result from their activities. Being a man, I'll never be able to become pregnant, but even I was a bit shocked at how the surrogate brushed off the notion of any emotional attachment to the child she was carrying. I don't mean to disparage her - I was just surprised at her lack of ambivalence.

The interviews with the ethicist & the business folks and the man who was the result of IVF introduced, among other issues, eugenics and the notion of designer children. The one thing the business folks had in common with the women I talked about above was how, well, business-like and non-chalant they were in talking about what they do. The filmmakers did not interview anyone who came out firmly against the kind of eugenics these people practice. The people in the industry were, unsurprisingly, gung-ho about the potential of being able to choose a child's traits. The ethicist, while not against the practice, urged caution and wanted people to think about the consequeces instead of just rushing headlong into profit.

Money was not brought to the fore much but it was talked about and hinted at by various people. One man did say that, when the technology comes which will give a doctor the ability to "design" a child, a couple will come to him and come to him with a very big check. Another entrepreneur described how 40% of his business comes from outside the United States. Unfortunately, I was left to ponder whether this is because of a rise in infertility or because, as it was noted, many countries are restricting this kind of technology. There is definitely a whole lotta money to be made when dealing with what is perhaps the most basic instinct we have.

More than one interviewee noted that blonde hair and blue eyes was by far the most requested genetic combination. A doctor also talked about the primacy of physical beauty when choosing a gamete donor. She noted how Harvard professors would approach her and talk about how they wanted a well-educated donor. But, when given the choice between an average-looking donor with brains and a gorgeous donor with less education, pulchritude wins out every time.

The film addressed the nature vs. nurture issue by giving a brief profile of a young man whose name I forget. His mother conceived him using the sperm of a donor to the Nobel Sperm Bank. So the guy had a huge IQ but he didn't grow up to be a physicist or a doctor. Instead he lived a bohemian lifestyle playing sitar. He came across as being very happy with his life and he emphasized in his interviews how great a role nurture has to play. While the industry is keen on letting people pay for being able to determine the gender of their child or the kid's eye color, it came across as leading people on into thinking that parents can choose everything about their child. Not just physical attributes but also temperament, intelligence, and other intangibles. Puffery, in other words. They played up the ability to have a blonde, blue-eyed girl but ignored the role of parenting and environment.

There was a general agreement that rooting out genes that cause debilitating physical maladies was a positive development of assisted reproduction. The trouble came, as one man pointed out, when you find out an embryo has the gene for mild Down Syndrome. It's not physically debilitating and only mildly mentally debilitating. What to do?

Lots of questions as we enter a brave new world.

I realized that, as I began watching, that my friend Miss Pamela in Milwaukee is due today. She and her hubby are the beneficiaries of reproductive technology. It took them about 5 years and thousands of dollars to get to this day when their child is to be born. I'm so happy for them! And they have modern reproductive technology to thank. This being the case, I certainly cannot take a position wholly against IVF and whatnot. My main concern from having watched the program was that people who want to pre-determine some traits of their child might have unreasonable expectations. By this I mean that I hope clinics inform potential parents about what their services can actually do instead of just showing them pictures of beautiful women with blonde hair and blue eyes and saying, "This could be yours!" And what is up with this blonde/blue preference?
|| Palmer, 11:00 AM || link || (0) comments |

ShibariCon '06

For anyone into rope bondage, especially the Japanese variety, Shibari, note that next weekend brings ShibariCon in Chicago. It is billed as the largest rope bondage convention in the world. The con will be held at The Purple Hotel which is technically in Lincolnwood, but it is within spitting distance of the city limits. (And there's a 24-hour bagel/bialy bakery just west of the hotel on Touhy Road!)

Shibari, as I noted above, is a variety of rope bondage from The Land of the Rising Sun. It involves tying someone up in such a manner that he or she derives pleasure from the pressure of the ropes.

No doubt you'll see fellow Wisconsonian, Graydancer, there. Graydancer is a shibari expert and he has his own podcast on the subject, Rope Weekly.
|| Palmer, 9:25 AM || link || (0) comments |

19 May, 2006

Getting Totally Naked With a Bitter Woman From Hell and the Fargo Brothers

I see today that New Glarus Brewing's webpage has been updated for the first time in a few years. The list of beers has been cleaned up to reflect the introduction of Yokel and Road Slush. Gone are Native Ale and Black Wheat. And I thought the coffee stout was coming back; maybe next year. Note that Totally Naked is now in stores. Lastly, the site notes that Dan's next Unplugged variety will be out in October nad I believe that the brew is currently known as "Enigma"...

Over at Tyranena, brewmaster Rob Larson notes that the next beer in his Brewers Gone Wild series, Bitter Woman From Hell Extra IPA, is bottled and being shipped.

So look for the construction yellow 4-packs soon.

Also, Rob's Fargo Brother Hefeweizen is due to ship on Monday.

Mark your calendars for the 27th of this month as there will be a party over at Capital. To celebrate the brewery's 20th anniversary, brewer Kirby Nelson has whipped up a batch of Eisphyre which is like their Autumnal Fire doppelbock but "kicked up a notch or three".

Lastly, Madison's weekly, Isthmus, reports that the Ale Asylum is due to have its grand opening the first weekend of June.
|| Palmer, 2:04 PM || link || (0) comments |

New Art House Division @ Paramount

Paramount Pictures is aiming for the indie film market with its new Paramount Vantage division.

Film studio Paramount Pictures on Friday unveiled a new division called Paramount Vantage aimed at releasing low-budget films with broad appeal to capture audiences in the expanding independent film arena.

The low-budget, or "specialty" divisions of major studios have become increasingly important in recent years because the movies they produce and release are made for relatively small amounts of money, but can reap huge profits if successful.

The studio already has the Paramount Classics division for specialty films but it too now is getting revamped.

As part of Friday's announcement, the company said Paramount Classics would continue to exist, but now focus on films with a more narrow appeal such as foreign-language movies and documentaries like the upcoming global warming film "An Inconvenient Truth," which also is screening at Cannes.

I took all of this as good news as it increases the odds of local cineplexes offering more options than films from the non-blockbuster piece of crap adapted from a comic book ilk. However, this little bit flummoxed me:

Paramount Vantage aims to release eight to 10 films a year, ranging from low-budget comedies and horror films to sophisticated art house fare such as "Babel," starring Brad Pitt, which premieres this week at the Cannes film festival.

"Brad Pitt" and "sophisticated art house fare" just don't seem to be able to co-exist in the same breath, do they?
|| Palmer, 9:47 AM || link || (0) comments |

12 May, 2006

Amazing Juggling Finale

Chris Bliss can juggle like nobody's bidness! This has, no doubt, been floating around the Net for a while but it's new to me. Check out his routine done to the strains of The Beatles.

And, while we're on the topic of juggling, I came across a little ditty called "On the Symbolism of Juggling: The Moral and Aesthetic Implications of the Mastery of Falling Objects". So, if you wanna get all metaphysical on the subject of tossing balls in the air, there ya go.
|| Palmer, 10:20 AM || link || (0) comments |

11 May, 2006

Word of the Week

geek (gheek) n. [archaic] a carnival performer often billed as a wild man, whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
|| Palmer, 2:44 PM || link || (2) comments |

On the Gramophone

Since I'm all excited about GenCon after having registered for events last week, I'm dedicating this week's OtG to a local boy, The Great Lukeski, a staple at gaming conventions everywhere.

Check out "Bring the Joy", a song that's a parody of Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" and is about The Ren & Stimpy Show. It's from his latest album, unCONVENTIONal. No doubt I'll be seeing him at GenCon in August.
|| Palmer, 2:42 PM || link || (0) comments |

08 May, 2006

Mr. Arkadin Is Now Complete

Orson Welles' 1955 film Mr. Arkadin has now been released on DVD with royal treatment. Like pretty much every film Welles made after Citizen Kane, Mr. Arkadin was tinkered with by others and never released during Welles' lifetime in the form that he wanted. However, we get 3 versions of the film here so we presumably get as close to Welles' vision as we're ever going to get.

The set includes three versions of the film. The first has been dubbed the "Corinth Version", so called because Corinth Films held the rights to it. This is considered by some the closest in structure to Welles' own final concept. Next is the European cut, re-titled Confidential Report. This one features some material not included in the Corinth version, and vice versa. This cut had work done on it by producer Louis Dolivet after Welles had been kicked off production. Finally, Stefan Drössler of the Munich Filmmuseum and Claude Bertemes of the Cinématheque municipale de Luxembourg are behind the third version, dubbed the "comprehensive edition." This version combines as much unique material as possible from each existing cut of the film (including the Spanish versions), hewing as closely as possible to what Welles' presumed version would have been. Viewers may begin wherever they like, but newcomers may find it more useful to watch both of the original release versions included before the comprehensive cut, to get a better idea of how the material was combined. If you have a copy of the dreadful public domain version that completely does away with the flashback structure, then you'll really have an idea of how the film has been messed about. For those familiar with the previous versions however, a jump straight into the comprehensive version will likely be in order.

While it's not the best film he ever made, Welles was a great director and every film in his ouevre is worth watching at least once.
|| Palmer, 6:06 PM || link || (0) comments |

Bourbon Barrel Plot Foiled at Tyranena

As I wrote yesterday, I spent some time in Lake Mills over the weekend, including a stop at the Tyranena Brewery. Never having been there before, I was fired up to check the joint out and quench my thirst.

Parking the car out back, one can't help but notice the huge silo of malt.

Walking around the side of the building, we are greeted by the friendly sign.

Walking inside, we were once again greeted but this time by a couple hounds.

The smaller one's name was Barley but I can't remember the name of the larger dog. Cereberus they ain't. These fellas were hyper-friendly - always sniffin' your feet and looking for a friendly hand to pet them. I didn't get a good picture of it but the larger hound had a mini-church key dangling from his leash. Once we gave the hounds some affection, we looked up to see the brewing room directly ahead of us through glass doors. To our right was the tasting room.

Charles ordered something I can't recall (the 2005 Peated Wee Heavy scotch ale available only at the brewery?) and The Dulcinea had me order her a beer too but I don't remember what it was. However, I recall my pint of Three Beaches Honey Blonde Ale well. We retired to the beer graden.

It was a nice sunny day and the beer went down well despite that bloated feeling from having eaten too much lunch. When I went back for a second pint, I had the Bitter Woman IPA. It had been a while since I had one - a few years, in fact. There was a summer back in aught two or so when I was all over IPAs and I drank every one I could find. That fetish died down but, after enjoying the bitter flavor of Bitter Woman and reveling in its fruity palette, I'm thinking I might have to increase my IPA consumption. The tour of the brewery was to start at 3:30 but it was running late as the brewmaster had some cleaning to do first. But that was done quickly and we were called in from the bier garten soon enough.

Our guide was a woman whose name escapes me from the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. She was friendly and proved knowledgeable as she led us around brewing area. The first thing we noticed upon walking in was the sweet, sweet smell of barley. Rob the brewmaster was cooking some up with a spot of yeast for a base hoolie to be used in future batches.

We got to poke around the equipment and check out the magical vats which give us our elixir.

Ooh! There's the new fermenting tank in the foreground which just got delivered on Friday. All of the fermenters had women's names. For instance, one was named Kathy.

All the beer is put into kegs and bottled at the brewery. Here's all the empties.

And here's the bottling line. ("Schlemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated!")

You throw the bottles in here.

They get washed in this contraption.

And then they're filled by this device.

And then we were lead into the cooler. Just look at all the beer!

Just look at all the bourbon barrels aging the precious porter! Mmmm...Now here's your humble narrator plotting a little subterfuge involving one of those barrels making its way into the trunk of my car.

Unfortunately, my plan didn't, um, go according to plan. And so, after another round, we headed back to Madtown but not before buying some merchandise including a nice Bitter Woman thong for the little lady.

Til next time...
|| Palmer, 12:57 PM || link || (0) comments |