Sunday, October 31, 2010

I died a little inside . . .

Remember that post I made a while back, how some Irish filmmaker claims to have caught sight of a time traveler caught on film in a '20s movie? Yeah, the experts have weighed in. Turns out the most likely explanation is that she was hard of hearing and had a compact ear trumpet.

Yeah, I know, I'm disappointed too. I mean, I'm well acquainted with Occam's Razor. Still, just a tiny little part of me is sad that the whole thing was debunked.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beethoven's Imperial March

Gotta love classically trained pianists. To wit: The Imperial March (a.k.a. Darth Vader's theme song) as if written by Beethoven:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Want to colonize a planet?

NASA and DARPA are apparently working on a Hundred Year Starship to send humans out to alien worlds . . . and leave them there.

No, this isn't some new funky political prison. It's the first step of a colonization program.

Now we may never see the culmination of this project in my lifetime, but if they were calling for colonists, I'd be tempted. A little. Of course, I just asked my wife if she would come with me and she shot me down. So I guess I'm staying on Earth for the foreseeable future.

But it's still a cool story.

Would you go?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CDC Reports Drop in Teen Pregnancy

A few days ago, I saw an interesting article. The CDC apparently has reported that the teen birth rate has dropped to the lowest point in the last few years. That is good news. I hope it means that teenagers are making better decisions when it comes to sex and being smarter if they're making . . . well, how shall I put this? Less sanctified choices? Is that a clear enough euphemism?

But at the same time, a part of this report made me a little sad. Apparently Minnesota and Wisconsin have two of the lowest rates in the country. Good for us.

Unless you're a family waiting to adopt.

Can you help us? My wife and I have been waiting for over a year. If God wants us to wait longer, we will, but I also hope that right now, someone is reading this post and knows of a young lady who is considering adoption. If that's you, please pass along our contact information. We are home study approved and have a four year old son who is eager to have a little brother or sister (although he recently told us that he's sure we'll find him a little sister; we're fine either way).

If they want to contact us directly, they can send an e-mail to johnorjill (at) live (dot) com (replacing the words in parentheses with the proper symbols; we don't want to be inundated with spam). Or they can contact our agency, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota.

Come on, how can you say "No" to this face:

His, not mine, obviously.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shakespeare in the Original Klingon . . . er, English

Okay, so I shouldn't go quoting Star Trek movies when I want to talk about something really cool.

When you think of William Shakespeare and read his plays, how do the characters sound in your mind? Pretty posh, right? Good, proper English accents. The sort you'd expect to hear while having tea with the Queen, right-o?


As it turns out, the English of Shakespeare's time sounded an awful lot like ours. And a professor at the University of Kansas is mounting a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the actors doing original pronunciation. If you're lazy and don't feel like clicking the link, just watch the video below:

Something that I haven't really brought up before on this blog is the fact that I majored in theatre when I attended Concordia University in St. Paul. My third year there, we did a Shakespeare festival called Lovers, Heroes, and Fools. I played three fools. I tried to not take it personally.

Watching this video takes me back. And it makes me wish I could slip off to Kansas to take in a play. Looks like it would be a fun time.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Have a Bad Feeling About This . . .

Rumor has it George Lucas might be cooking up more Star Wars movies, set 100 to 1,000 years after the original trilogy.

There's a massive disturbance in the Force. Huge. Sad thing is, I know I'd probably go to them. At least once.

Because I just can't help myself. George Lucas, why do you insist on hurting us?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Season in the Mist

Okay, so I took a chance with this one. I just finished reading Seasons in the Mist by Deborah Kinnard.

It's basically the story of a young woman named Bethany Lindstrom, a graduate student from Chicago who flies to England as part of her studies. But instead of heading to Oxford, as she plans, she winds up taking a trip to Cornwall, where she stays in an ancient manor. While there, she stumbles into a portal that sends her back in time to 14th century England. There she finds herself caught up in some sort of political imbroglio and attracted to Baron Michael Veryan.

Okay, so here's the good stuff. Kinnard nailed the voice of 14th century England. At least, I think she did. As near as I can tell, no modern anachronisms sneak into the text (unless they come from Beth, which makes sense). It's very obvious that Kinnard did her research when it came to 14th century Cornwall and England. I got the feel that I was there.

That said, though, I don't think this book was for me. Sure, the time travel element is speculative fiction but I'm not sure that it's what you would call central to the plot. Sure, Beth is a classic "fish out of water," but thanks to her studies, she adapts quickly. In many ways, this is just a historical romance with some spec fic window dressing.

In the end, it was an okay diversion but I think I'll get off here (since this is listed as Book One of a series). Maybe this would be better for those who want more romance in their spec fic. But it's not for me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time traveler caught on camera

I just came across this YouTube video. It's interesting, to say the least.

Now I have my doubts if this is really a time traveler. There's probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for what's going on. But it's still kind of creepy, right?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hitler's War

I think I'm almost done with Harry Turtledove.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved his stuff in the past. I devoured his counterfactual history novels and simply adored what he did with the Confederates-as-Nazis series (I don't remember the name of the whole series; there were lots of smaller ones. American Empire?). He's also written some dynamite short stories that I've stumbled over in different anthologies. Yet the last few books of his I've read haven't wowed me.

So I thought I'd give Hitler's War a try. Like the cover blurb says, Turtledove was the master of alternate history and this seemed like an interesting concept. What if, instead of caving in to Hitler in 1938, Neville Chamberlain had refused to sign the Munich Accord? What if World War II started early?

In Turtledove's version of events, it doesn't really seem to have mattered that much. At least, I can't tell what the difference is. Oh, sure, Poland isn't conquered by Germany and instead sides with the Reich against the Soviets. And apparently some Spanish guy named Sanjurjo lives instead of dying in a fiery plane crash. But part of the problem with this book is that we don't have a broad view of the historical changes. All we see is battle after battle after battle. I suppose someone more familiar with the early stages of World War II could spot the changes better than me.

More problematic is Turtledove's character bloat. Rather than focus on one or two people, Turtledove slams together a cast of hundreds and sends the plot ricocheting through each of their viewpoints. I suppose this is helpful for us to keep track of the global scale of "the war that came early," but an unfortunate by-product is that we don't get to know any of the characters well. Simply put, there's no attachment point for the readers. It might have helped me if there were only two or three characters to follow. Granted, I would have lost the global view of the war, but I'm not sure said global view helped me all that much.

And I know I've said this before, but Turtledove seems to love repetitious phrases. There are certain turns of phrases that he overuses throughout the book. One of his pets, variations of "tell me I'm wrong," aren't as plentiful, but still creep up. Several characters pray to "a God they weren't sure they believed in anymore." That sort of thing. Rather than find fresh ways of saying something, we simply got characters repeating the same phrases in radically different situations.

I think this is intended to be the first book in a new series. I wish those who continue on luck, because this is where I get off. This war started early; my trip with Turtledove ends the same way.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Skipper Dan: The "Weird Al" Musical

Okay, I should probably be lying down and watching more episodes of Battlestar Galactica right now (I guess being sick has its perks), but I have to get this off my chest. Part of this stems from the fact that I haven't posted a blog entry in close to a week. I think I may be developing "the shakes," man. Or I feel obligated to the few people who come and visit my corner of cyberspace.

Anyway, regardless, the other day I had an idea. And by other day, I mean twenty years ago. When I was in high school, I discovered the joy that is theatre. And one day, it occurred to me that someone could take the music of "Weird Al" Yankovic and turn it into a stage musical. Sure, you'd have to stitch together the songs in a new way, but it could turn into something fun.

But at the time, I dismissed the idea, because no one would ever want to go to a musical based on the collected works of a particular recording artist. Right? Right? I'm right, aren't I?

Eventually this nascent idea vanished into whatever fog occupied my mind when I was a teenager. But funny thing about me: my mind is a big sponge. Stuff gets soaked up into it and then resurfaces at the oddest time. So this past week, as I was going about my business, the idea resurfaced.

So I decided to Tweet about it:

I don't know for sure why I did that. Maybe I was hoping that the Weird One himself would notice and respond. No such luck.

In spite of that, though, the idea wouldn't leave me alone. And so, the other night, I printed out a list of every song that "Weird Al" has made (I have them all on my iPod, so it didn't take long). I immediately eliminated his parodies and his polkas. As great as they are, I suspect that licensing the original music for a musical would be cost prohibitive. Then I started looking at the songs and playing some of them to see if any connections or ideas jumped out.

And wouldn't you know it . . .

Now I'm not saying that what I've come up with is necessarily great. This is barely a first draft, if that. I'm open to suggestions. But without any further ado, I give you:

Skipper Dan: The "Weird Al" Musical

Our protagonist is a young man named Skipper Dan, a high school thespian with large dreams that crashed and burned badly. As our musical opens, Skipper Dan laments about his career path ("Skipper Dan" from Internet Leaks).
He yearns to recapture his lost glory and escape the jungle cruise ride he now helms.

His friends, naturally, don't think that it's that big of a deal. There's Wally, his oldest and best friend who's a little off. There's Julia, his platonic female friend who works in the local nursing home. And then there's Gary, a slimy ladies man who has a somewhat genuine heart of gold. As they gather at Wally's house to enjoy Wally's superb waffles, Skipper Dan laments how his life is going. Gary tries to sympathize, saying that he doesn't think he'll ever achieve his dream of finding the perfect woman. The others scoff at this, pointing out that Gary has never had any success with women. Gary responds by detailing the faults of his previous romantic conquests ("Close But No Cigar" on Straight Outta Lynwood). Skipper Dan says that at least Gary's making some headway. He wishes that he could break free from the Jungle Cruise Ride. Gary and Dan ask Wally if he has any dreams. Wally responds by saying that his life is perfect the way it is. He's happy and the others should be too. The three boys press Julia if she has any unfulfilled dreams. She demurs, but it's pretty obvious that any dreams she has involves Dan.

Dan goes to work, settling into his usual routine of helming a boat through the Jungle Cruise Ride. But today, something is different. For starters, Dan's boss, Mr. Howler, explains that he's going on vacation and is leaving the park in Dan's hands. That would be momentous enough, but there is a stunning girl named Melanie at the park, a woman so beautiful that she has suitors lined up to express their affection for her ("Melanie" on Even Worse). Melanie has eyes only for Dan. She explains that she works for a Mr. Krog, a Hollywood producer, who wants to meet with the manager of the park. Of course, that would be Dan himself.

They go to a restaurant to meet Mr. Krog, who makes a big entrance, promising the world to the people gathered in the restaurant("The Check's in the Mail" on Weird Al Yankovic). Mr. Krog then explains that he is putting together a new horror movie, one he wants to shoot in the Jungle Cruise Ride. It would mean closing the park for the shooting schedule. Dan isn't sure, so Krog sweetens the deal by offering him the lead role. Dan is naturally interested; it would mean a return to the spotlight for him. He finally dares ask about the title and Krog tells him: Nature Trail to Hell . . . in 3D! ("Nature Trail to Hell" on In 3-D) Krog paints such a brilliant portrait of this movie, Dan immediately accepts.

Excited about his news, Dan rushes to tell Wally. Wally is unimpressed. He thinks that Dan is fine as he is. Dan moves on to find Julia at work at the nursing home. The residents aren't helpful; instead of telling Dan where Julia is, they badger him about how things used to be("When I Was Your Age" on Off the Deep End). Dan breaks away from the chorus to find Julia sitting with her favorite resident, Mr. Frump, an elderly man hooked up to a breathing apparatus. Julia is excited for Dan until she hears about Melanie. That upsets her but Dan, so excited about his big break, doesn't notice how hurt she is.

As the shooting at the Jungle Cruise Ride begins, Dan is in seventh heaven. He's sure that this is going to be his big break. He's especially flattered since Melanie seems to be lavishing a great deal of attention on him. But all is not right. Krog seems to want to tear up a lot of the Ride for the shooting. When Dan protests, Krog gives him an invitation to an exclusive Hollywood party. Melanie agrees to accompany Dan and his friends.

The party is great! For starters, Dan runs into a friend of his from college, a kid he knew as Jimmy the Geek who is now a huge Hollywood star ("That Boy Could Dance" on In 3-D). The only one not having a good time is Julia. She's upset by the way the way Melanie is treating Dan. Dan seems to think that she's in love with him, but it's pretty clear she's not.

Wally, in the meantime, overhears Melanie talking to Krog on her cellphone. It becomes pretty clear that Melanie and Krog are up to no good, that Melanie's job is to pretend to like Dan to keep him distracted. Wally tries to warn Dan, but Dan is too starstruck to listen. So Wally does the only thing he can: he tricks the party's DJ into playing polka to break it all up (NOTE: I'd love it if this polka could be one of the parodies, but there's that whole copyright thing).

Once the party is over, Dan confronts Wally. Wally points out that he's hurting Julia. Dan retorts that Wally is just jealous because Dan is finally achieving his dream, something Wally will never do because Wally is stupid. Dan is going to stick with Melanie and fulfill his destiny. Wally responds by saying that he lives his life the way he wants to, without compromise. In short, he dares to be stupid (What else? "Dare to Be Stupid" on Dare to Be Stupid).

ACT TWO: Julia is at work, sitting at the bedside of her favorite patient, Mr. Frump, and she expresses her love for the old man ("Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung" on Weird Al Yankovic). Wally and Gary visit her, mostly to make sure she's okay. Dan may be clueless about her true feelings, but they've known all along. It turns out that after the party, Wally did some digging on Krog. It turns out that Krog was never a Hollywood producer. Instead, he was partners with a land developer, a man who has wanted to tear down the Jungle Cruise Line for years to put up another strip mall. Mr. Howler had never wanted to sell. Wally suspects that Krog is going to wreck the Line in the bogus shooting of the movie, leaving such a mess that Mr. Howler will have no choice but to sell. This steels Julia's resolve. They have to save Dan.

Dan doesn't want to listen to Wally. Julia forges ahead, laying out the evidence. Dan doesn't want to listen to her either, saying that Melanie would never do anything to hurt him, that they're in love. Julia retorts that he wouldn't recognize someone who loves him if she were right in front of him. Wally and Julia leave. Dan is angry, but the seeds of doubt have been planted.

Dan realizes what a tool he's been. He confronts Krog, who admits to the truth. Why not? He signed a contract with Dan. He has the right to do what he wants. And if Dan does anything to break that contract, Krog will sue him ("I'll Sue Ya" on Straight Outta Lynwood). Dan is sent reeling, especially when Melanie treats him like garbage. She reveals that her job was just to keep Dan busy while Krog did his thing. Dan laments the death of his "relationship." ("You Don't Love Me Anymore" on Off the Deep End)

What can Dan do? Mr. Howler will be heartbroken when he discovers that his beloved Jungle Cruise Line has been wrecked and will probably take it out on Dan. Worse, Dan has wrecked his friendships with everyone. He's alone and unsure of what to do.

But his friends haven't abandoned him. Not at all. They rally around him, even Julia. But when Dan remains just as clueless around her, Julia can't take it any longer. She releases her pent up feelings ("You Make Me" on Even Worse) and kisses him.

With his friends at his side, Dan rallies. He steels himself by thinking of what his favorite celebrity would do ("Who, Chuck Norris?" "No, Charles Nelson Reilly!" ("CNR" on Internet Leaks)) and comes up with a plan to get Krog out of the park . . .

[NOTE: I have no idea what this plan entails. Just a few thoughts: it involves Gary putting the moves on Melanie ("Wanna B Ur Lovr" on Poodle Hat). Or maybe getting some help from their friend Jimmy, the actual Hollywood star. Beyond that, I don't know.]

In the end, Krog is defeated, and when Melanie tries to come crawling back to Dan to save her rear end, Dan responds by either telling her that he hasn't missed her since she's been gone ("Since You've Been Gone" on Bad Hair Day) OR he tells her he doesn't want to spend one more minute with her ("One More Minute" from Dare to Be Stupid) [NOTE: It's a toss-up on these two].

But what to do about the park? Well, as it turns out, Mr. Frump, Julia's favorite resident, recently passed away and his will stipulated that his massive fortune be left to whatever nurse showed him the most affection. Julia gives some of it to Dan so the park can be fixed.

When Mr. Howler returns from his vacation, he's none the wiser about what happened. Dan tenders his resignation. Mr. Howler is surprised and wonders if it's because Dan will finally pursue his dreams. Dan says that he will, but not his old dream. He's found a new one.

It entails using the rest of the Frump inheritance to help Wally open a Waffle House ("Waffle King" on Alapalooza) and, in the end, Dan realizes that sometimes the "stupid" dreams are the best, especially if it means being true to yourself, prompting the cast to reprise Dare to Be Stupid.


Yeah, I know. It's not perfect. It'd need a lot of work. But what do you think? How would Dan and friends evict the sinister Krog and his sidekick? Have I missed any part of Weird Al's catalog of original songs that should be included?