July 2007 Archives

knitting yay

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I bought Knitter's Handbook by Montse Stanley, and it is great! I started that cotton cardigan I wrote about a few weeks ago, and used the book to make a hem at the bottom. I made a provisional cast-on, which means a cast on in another yarn, that's meant to be pulled out. Then when the length of the hem had been knitted, I pulled out the provisional cast-on, put the loops at the end on another needle, and knitted both ends together. It felt weird at first to knit with three needles, but I got used to it. And voila, a neat, seamless hem!

The pattern said to just fold the hem over and sew it up after finishing the sweater. I don't mind sewing on a knitting project when it's the best approach, but the instructions in the book to knit it up seamlessly were so much tidier. I even marked the fold by slipping every other stitch in one row, instead of purling a row as the pattern said, so the fold wouldn't have a ridge. This is my favorite kind of finish for the bottom of a sweater, and I'm thrilled to have figured out how to do it so nicely. Maybe this is old hat to experienced knitters, but I felt like a knitting superstar!

the loved one


July 28 movie: The Loved One. A first for the movie list: I'm writing up a movie before watching it, and I've never seen it before. (I have written up movies before viewing them before, but always movies I'd seen so many times that I knew what I was going to say already.)

I ought to wait until I've seen the movie, but I just have to get this down before I forget. The opening credits have 3 stars and 11, count them, 11 "Cameo Guest Stars." First of all, how can a movie have a guest star? And second, a cameo is by definition uncredited. (I have to acknowledge here that Georg disagrees with my definition of cameo. He thinks a cameo is anytime a famous person does a walk-on, i.e. very small, part. I think a cameo is a famous person in an uncredited walk-on. He does agree with me that guest stars appear in TV series, not movies.)

In any case, a movie ridiculous enough to trumpet its eleven Cameo Guest Stars has got to be worth my time. And a great line up of Cameo Guest Stars, too! James Coburn, Milton Burle, John Gielgud, Tab Hunter, Margaret Leighton, Liberace, Roddy McDowell, Robert Morley, and two people I haven't heard of. I can't wait to see how the movie turns out.

the spoilers


July 28 movie: The Spoilers. John Wayne, Randolph Scott and Marlene Dietrich star in an adventure story about gold mining in Nome, Alaska. It's somewhat like Pittsburgh although here Scott is the villain. And he's a true villain, not a good guy at heart who makes bad choices, like Wayne was in Pittsburgh.

Marlene plays a saloon owner who wears amazing belle epoch gowns and a humongous Gibson Girl hairdo. Dietrich insisted on being lit from above, ideally directly over her head. (She had studied herself on film and decided her face looked "like a potato" when lit from any other angle.) Watch her in the movies sometime and you'll see it: the light source is always right above her. But this hairstyle is so huge as to shade her face when the light is above her. It's like a giant hat made of hair. It must have been quite a challenge to light her in this movie.

i am a sucker

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I just spent 15 minutes answering a telephone survey on my media consumption habits. Why? Because I felt sorry for the girl doing the survey. She sounded really young, it's probably her summer job. She wasn't very good at it, in a likeable way (for instance when I gave my profession as "web designer" she said "Really? Cool!"). And I would imagine her job performance and maybe even her pay depend on the number of completed surveys. What the heck, it was only 15 minutes of my life.

I don't think she should have done the survey on me, because the first question was if anyone in the household works for a radio station, tv station or newspaper. I told her that everyone in the household works as an unpaid volunteer for a community radio station. She stammered a bit and then said it didn't count because we aren't paid employees. My guess is that the question is supposed to weed out people who are either biased towards the media outlet they work for, or better informed about the medium than the typical listener. Both of which are probably true in this case, regardless of my pay or lack thereof. But again, what the heck. I'm happy to throw off their results.

The only thing that annoyed me about the survey was that internet radio stations didn't count. Because she asked about my radio listening yesterday. Yesterday I listened to WXDU for 2 hours, WUNC for 1 hour, and somafm.com for about 7 hours. And it kind of annoyed me that I couldn't mention the station I listened to all day. But I guess if her company is going to sell this data to local radio stations, it won't help them to know that I listened to music on the internets all day.

Just in case I started feeling like we have to go to a fancy-shmancy restaurant to have excellent food, tonight Georg made roasted tomato-basil soup, with tomatoes and basil from our garden. YUM. We roasted the Early Girl tomatoes because their skins are thicker, so they aren't as nice for eating fresh as the Better Boy. I burned the tips of my fingers a little, peeling the tomatoes. The skins popped right off, but they were still pretty hot. Should have used the tongs I guess.

The tomatoes are coming in so fast now that the cages are starting to collapse under the weight. Georg put 3 pounds of them in the soup and there are still plenty more. Maybe tomorrow we can make spaghetti and meatballs.

In other garden news, we have a watermelon! One little watermelon. And a canteloupe. They're still way too small to eat, but they look healthy.

starlu chef's table


We had a spectacular dinner last night with D. and S. at the Starlu chef's table. The chef's "table" is actually a bar at one end of the cooking area. From our seats we directly overlooked the salad/dessert station, and had a pretty good view of the grill also. The chef who cooked for us was very nice, just the right mixture of friendly chatting about the workings of the kitchen, and leaving us alone when we were talking among ourselves. Everything he made for us was plated up right in front of us, so he could tell us about the dish while he was putting it together. He also suggested wines, which I did not drink, but the others seemed to enjoy.

There were 5 courses:

  1. Black bean/pasilla chili soup with a whipped cream/sweet potato garnish. Not spicy really, just a nice zing. Simple and delicious.
  2. Caramelized onion and cheese turnovers, served with green beans and apples cooked in apple cider reduction. YUM. The sweetness was a nice followup to the soup.
  3. Polenta rounds with sungold tomatoes and creamed corn sauce. The polenta had cheese and okra inside, which gave it a nice flavor.
  4. Hangar steak rubbed with ancho chili and espresso powders, served with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and spaetzle. My beef was a bit tough -- a bit difficult to cut with the dinner knife provided -- but perfectly cooked and not so tough as to be hard to eat. The spaetzle had a strong nutmeg flavor.
  5. For dessert he gave us four to share: strawberry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream, hazelnut creme brulee, lemon baked alaska, and a chocolate plate with a chocolate macaroon, a couple of truffles and an enormous dollop of whipped ganache.

Speaking of enormous, my only real criticism of the meal was the portion size. The soup was just right, but if I had known in advance how much food was coming, I would have eaten about half of the polenta and also not finished the turnover. I was so full by the meat course that I only had a little bit of the spaetzle, and congratulated myself for getting through the whole meal without overeating too much. And then he brought out four full-sized desserts!

I had a couple of bites of each dessert, and wished I could have eaten more (especially the lemon baked alaska, that was excellent), but somehow I managed to stop just short of making myself sick. I'm a "clean my plate" kind of person, I hate to choose between wasting wonderful food and eating until I'm ill. And so I would have been happier if the portions had been a bit smaller.

Otherwise it was a terrific meal in every way. I'm really glad we did it.

the high and the mighty

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July 22 movie: The High and the Mighty. This 1954 movie must have been the model for the Airport series. It certainly seems to have established the pattern that disaster movies must follow. All the plot elements are there: the damaged airplane that doesn't quite have enough fuel to make it back to the US, the ensemble of passengers who learn life lessons from each other, the virtuous simpleton immigrants (they come across like the 50s version of the Magical Negro), the nervous captain who insists on doing things by the book (Robert Stack), the washed up ex pilot (John Wayne) who is The! Only! One! Who Can! Save! Everybody!

I enjoyed this immensely. I don't know why I used to hate John Wayne. Maybe I just never developed an appreciation for him before. I wish I had recorded Island in the Sky which TCM showed right around the same time.

the machines, they hate me

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It seems like I'm on the bad side of machines or something these days. First, two weeks ago the lawn mower died. It stalls and stalls and stalls, every couple of minutes. And we just replaced the blade and the battery. That's annoying, but no worries, I took the truck out and got a new one. Had to go to 3 big box stores to get the brand I wanted, but at least I got it, and cheaper than I had expected.

Got home and discovered that the mower was cheaper than expected because it was corded, not cordless. Dang! I was super irritated, because I checked the box with the cashier, telling him over and over that I would only buy it if it was cordless. (Our yard is way too big and obstacle-y for a power cord.) We couldn't find anything that said one way or the other, but finally he pointed to some marking about the electrical rating and said that meant it was cordless. Well he was wrong.

Again, no worries. Georg took it back the next day, and I ordered the one we wanted from Amazon. The cost was more like I had expected, almost double the corded model, but with no sales tax and free shipping we came out better than if I had found the right one at the big box store.

Okay, so the mower arrived at the mail center yesterday, Georg is going to set it up tonight and then I can mow tomorrow. Next problem: the washing machine. We have a small front-loading machine, which we love. Until last week it suddenly started making a hellacious racket. It seems to wash the clothes all right; there's just this terrible banging noise during the spin cycle.

It took us awhile to get a recommendation for an appliance repairman, but we got one last weekend. Called all day yesterday and got a busy signal, finally got through to them this morning. And guess what, they don't work on front-loading washers! She couldn't even suggest someone else; she said most appliance repairmen don't.

The really annoying part is that they would have come out tomorrow, if it had been a top-loading machine. Still, Georg searched online and found another repair service that does front-loading washers. He's calling to schedule a service call and I'll find out tonight when they're coming. Good thing there's a laundromat right down the road from us.

So that's the washing machine. Next problem: the truck. The truck has gotten a lot more use lately than normal. I've been driving it because Undersea Mah Jongg was overdue for inspection. Finally got around to dropping UMJ off at the mechanic yesterday before work. Stopped at Whole Foods to pick up lunch on my way to the office. When I got back in the truck and turned the key, it .. just .. died. All the lights, the fan and the radio went out, and after that it wouldn't respond in any way no matter what I did. No clicking, no nothing.

Okay, I'm resourceful, I can deal. Called the office, called AAA (by the way --- AAA Plus, the best thing ever), called my mechanic to let them know the truck was on its way over. If I had to break down, Whole Foods parking lot was a good place to do it. I got an iced tea and sat down outside to watch for the tow driver. I could work while I waited, using their free wireless. And I even found a table next to a power strip, so I could plug in my (nearly dead) phone and make all those calls.

The tow guy was awesome. Arrived early, and then fixed the problem! Turns out it was just a loose battery terminal, which he was able to wiggle back into place. He told me to get the terminal replaced, but that it should be safe to drive in the meantime. My only regret is that I didn't have any cash to give him a tip. He saved me a lot of hassle.

So the truck didn't have to be towed to my mechanic, but it did still need new battery terminals. I dropped it off yesterday evening when I picked up Undersea Mah Jongg. While they were at it, I asked them to check for an oil leak. We lent the truck out to a friend last month, and while he had it the oil light came on. He had the oil changed along with some other minor work, all of which I felt terribly guilty about. Then last weekend, the oil light came on again! That doesn't seem right, so I wanted the mechanic to take a look.

And that's the bad news. The oil leak is due to a bad oil pan gasket. The mechanic said they'll have to drop the engine to get to it. It will be $600 of labor to replace a $20 part. Aie!

What with the mower and the washing machine, I'm putting the truck repair off. It will have to be done at some point. Definitely by the fall when we start doing a lot of yardwork again and need the truck regularly. But not right now. In the short term I'm just going to buy a case of oil and keep adding oil as needed. The lady at the mechanic said that will work until it won't, in other words until the gasket gets so bad I can't keep oil in it. It's not an environmentally friendly solution, but it's much more pocketbook friendly. Which has to take precedence sometimes.

[ETA: the washing machine repairman is coming on Saturday. We don't have to take time off work and if he can fix it right then we won't have to go to the laundromat again. yay!]

the two mrs. carrolls

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July 21 movie: The Two Mrs. Carrolls. This thriller starred Barbara Stanwyck as The Dumbest Woman Who Ever Lived. If you just figured out that your husband (a very twitchy Humphrey Bogart) had murdered his first wife and was trying to murder you in the same way, and said twitchy husband wasn't there at the moment, and you had ample cash, which would you do:

  1. Call a cab and get the hell out of there.
  2. Call the cops and ask them to get you the hell out of there.
  3. Go into the next room where your old flame happens to be, (and he's really worried about you), and ask him to get you the hell out of there.
  4. Lie to your old flame that everything is okay, and send everyone away so you can be alone with your twitchy murderous husband.

If you picked #4, you're the Dumbest Woman Who Ever Lived! Just like Barbara Stanwyck in the movie!

neptune's daughter

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July 21 movie: Neptune's Daughter. Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban in a movie that isn't repulsive! Yay! Costars Red Skelton and Betty Garrett as the comic pairing, also Keenan Wynn and Xavier Cugat, and Mel Blanc in a tiny role doing an exaggerated Mexican accent. Sounded just like Speedy Gonzales, what a surprise!

This movie was the first place I ever heard the song "Baby It's Cold Outside," and I still prefer the Montalban/Williams version above all others. (Sorry Dino!) In the movie it's very funny, after Montalban and Williams sing, Skelton and Garrett do the same song with the genders reversed. Also Cugat does a lounge/exotica number that's very different from what I expect to hear from him. If I hadn't known, I would have guessed Arthur Lyman or maybe Les Baxter.

on an island with you

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July 21 movie: On an Island With You. Ages ago Kevin commented that some of these movies reminded him of the Onion story, "Area Man Arrested for Romantic Comedy Behavior." This is definitely one of those movies.

Esther Williams plays a movie star filming in Hawaii with her fiance and costar, Ricardo Montalban. Peter Lawford is a Navy man who saw Williams on a USO tour a few years before, decided they had Twu Luv, and becomes her crazy stalker. He follows her around demanding her time and attention, kisses her without invitation, etc. When she refuses to dance with him -- she's very clear about not encouraging him in any way -- he kidnaps her and flies her to a deserted island. Where of course she forgets all about Ricardo Montalban and falls in love with her psycho stalker. Because nothing is more romantic than the Stockholm Syndrome.

My god this movie pissed me off. I wish I had turned it off when I realized where it was going. I kept watching for the dance numbers with Montalban and Cyd Cherisse. Jimmy Durante is also in it, and Xavier Cugat.

July 19 movie: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Hope you don't mind, I'm kind of Harry Pottered out right now. The only thing I want to say is that the movie theater ran local ads while we were waiting for the movie to start, and one ad caught our attention. For a hair salon, it advertised "doobies" among other services. We all cracked up, and I'm still mystified. Is "doobie" no longer a drug reference? What the heck does it mean now?

breakfast for two

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July 18 movie: Breakfast for Two. An heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) tries to reform a feckless playboy (Herbert Marshall). The movie was pretty much "meh" except for two things: Eric Blore as the butler, and also two surprisingly early examples of slang, one verbal and one gesture. First was "pub crawling," which meant the exact same thing in 1937 as it does today. Second was air quotes (holding up your hands, and raising and lowering two fingers on each hand to mimic quotation marks). Both were novel or unusual enough that the characters explained them to each other within the movie.


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July 17 movie: Laawaris. This was a pretty good 70's Amitabh movie. Amitabh was born out of wedlock and given away to an abusive alcoholic father. Amitabh grows up to be a street-wise young man who'll do anything for a buck. Until he unknowingly meets his true father, who has devoted his life and wealth to helping the poor, out of grief over losing his girlfriend and child. (Dad kicked the mother to the curb in a particularly cruel way, Mom died in childbirth, and Dad was told the baby died also.) It's always nice to see Amitabh and Zeenat Aman (my Bollywood girlfriend) paired together. I just wish Zeenat had more to do! I know she can act from Don and Qurbani, I wish they would give her more opportunity.

There are a couple of great songs, no surprise with Kalyanji Anandji doing the music. The best one takes place in a crazy flashing disco room. I forgot to get a screen cap, alas! but I did find it on Youtube. It's well worth watching if you like the music on Bollywood Funk or the Bombay Connection series, or if you like Indian restaurants that look like a Christmas light factory exploded inside.

I did get a screen cap of Amitabh in drag, which he does in one of the later dance numbers. And can I say, Amitabh's features are not well suited for drag. He looks about as attractive as the Teamsters who dress up in grass skirts and coconut bras for the Mummer's Parade back in Philly. The most hilarious part was his hairy chest and stomach peeking out of the sari. He's quite the hirsute fellow.

Just finished reading ...and the Deathly Hallows. Just as in, about five minutes ago. Wow. No more new Harry Potter books, ever. No more having to avoid every media source or blog that might spring a spoiler on me.

potter-licious (no spoilers)

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The next few days are going to be thoroughly Potterlicious. Last night we saw Order of the Phoenix again with our friend S. More on that later when I catch up on the movie list. I'm a few days behind because I took screen caps of Laawaris, the next movie on the list, and I haven't had time to format them yet.

After the movie last night I started rereading Half-Blood Prince. A few weeks ago I had this grand plan that I was going to reread all the books in order. That plan went the way of most of my grand plans: awry. Ah well, I think seeing the 5th movie twice and then reading the 6th book will get me plenty up to speed for the 7th book. It will be a bit of a push to get Half-Blood Prince read before Deathly Hallows arrives tomorrow, but I think I can do it without too much trouble.

According to UPS, our copy of Deathly Hallows arrived in Durham last night, and is being held for delivery tomorrow. Copies, I should say: we ordered two. Yes, we are nerds! In the past we've always shared one copy, and since Georg is the one who places the order, he gets to read it first. I would spend the entire weekend nervously waiting for him to finish. I'd get the book late Sunday afternoon or early evening, stay up all night reading, and be a wreck at work on Monday. It's totally worth $17 to have my own copy that I can read immediately.

There are Harry Potter parties tonight at local bookstores, including one at a bookstore in Southern Village that sounds like a hoot. They're going to have a sorting hat, a fortune teller dressed as Madame Trelawney, a costume contest, a "Weasley joke contest," and all kinds of things. We decided not to go, mainly because this has been an active week and we both need a night off, plus I'm going to be reading Half-Blood Prince tonight. Still, I'm tickled at all this excitement over a book. I hope that other books in the future generate this kind of enthusiasm.

note: some folks (like myself) are so concerned about Harry Potter spoilers that they're even avoiding the blogs of people who might post something spoilerish. (Unfortunately that's not overly paranoid: someone on my LJ friendslist accidently read a spoiler on their own friends page. And they are really pissed off about it.) I added the "no spoilers" line to the subject of this post so those folks could read without fear.

jazz episode 3

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July 16 movie: Jazz episode 3. This one dealt with the mid to late 1920s, and covered a lot of people: Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jelly Roll Morton, and Josephine Baker among others. Plus more on Armstrong and Ellington. I can understand a little better now why some people have criticized the series for being shallow. Depth is impossible when you have to deal with the lives and careers of so many people in just a couple of hours. Still I think Jazz is doing a great job of putting these musicians into context. If all you knew about these artists was their names and maybe a couple of songs, after seeing this series you'd know which ones you wanted to learn more about.

What Jazz is best at, I think, is colorful stories about the musicians, often told by their contemporaries. By far the best story was Bessie Smith chasing away a gang of Klansmen through sheer force of will. The documentary tells this story without verification that it really happened (i.e. no documentation or witnesses). It's such a great story that I really want it to be true.

The documentary also gets into the legend about Louis Armstrong's song "Heebie Jeebies," which my dad had told me before. As the story goes, Armstrong was recording "Heebie Jeebies" and dropped his lyrics sheet. Not wanting to start over (recording being very expensive in 1926) he made up nonsense lyrics to fill in the song, thus inventing scat singing on the spot.

Alas, according to Wikipedia this isn't true. (Sorry Dad!) Wikipedia says there are earlier recordings of scat singing. But it is true that "Heebie Jeebies" was the first time most people ever heard scat.

Jazz is canny in their retelling of the legend: first they bring out someone who knew Armstrong. He says "There's this great story, maybe apocryphal, but I believe it's true ..." and starts telling how Armstrong invented scat. Then they cut to an old interview with Armstrong himself. Who, if you watch carefully, does not claim to invent scat singing, although he seems to be doing so. He says it was a thing the guys used to do among themselves for fun. Otherwise his account is the same as the legend -- dropping the lyrics sheet, spontaneously making up nonsense syllables so he wouldn't have to stop, etc. The narrator doesn't comment or provide any context (like, for instance, the factual information that there were earlier scat recordings).

My guess is that Armstrong's version of the legend is probably true. It probably was his spur-of-the-moment decision to scat on "Heebie Jeebies." He may even have really dropped his lyrics sheet. And it's undeniably true that "Heebie Jeebies" introduced the music-buying audience to scat singing. Who can blame Armstrong, a brilliant performer, for playing such a good story to the hilt?

I'm a little less forgiving of Ken Burns for the misleading, though technically factual, approach. It's an interesting example of how a documentary can propagate a falsehood without saying anything strictly untrue.

garden update

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Last night Georg and I took a stroll around the vegetable garden. Overall it's looking really good! Much better than last year. I think this is due to a couple of factors: first, mulching around the beds made it much easier to walk around them, which means we're much more likely to do the basic maintenance. Second, the drip irrigation that Georg put in. I guess it really is true that a deep soak a couple times a week is better for the plants than a quick shot from the hose every day.

Here's the plant roundup, in order from most successful to least:

  • Tomatoes. They are exploding. Much better fruit production than last year. The Early Girl is the heaviest producer so far, but the Better Boy have better flavor in my opinion. Early Girl wasn't that much earlier, and I think next year I'll skip it in favor of either another Better Boy, or something else. The Sweet 100 are just starting to produce, and have tons of unripe fruit on the vine. This is our third or fourth year growing tomatoes and the cherries always do best through the hot part of summer. We have only 2 heirlooms this year -- Cherokee Purple and Green Zebra Stripe -- and both have fruit on the vine but nothing ripe yet. We've had very bad luck with heirlooms in the past, and I'm waiting to see if this year is better.
  • Sugar snap peas: an early spring vegetable, they were done and pulled out a long time ago. But man, they were good! Pick them small and they're amazing. Almost a different vegetable from the ones you get in the store. My only regret is that we didn't plant twice as many.
  • Zucchini: were producing like mad a few weeks ago, pretty much done now. I thought they were supposed to keep producing for longer. This may be because we lost track and let a few zucchini get super huge? Maybe it's like basil, where you're done once you let it flower. In any case, the zucchini are mainly producing squash bugs now, and I think I'm going to pull them out. The smaller one at least.
  • Poblano peppers: We got a few peppers early, then the plants put their energy into growing big, big, big. Now they have tons of flowers, and it looks like we'll be lousy with peppers in late summer. The only bummer is that these aren't the least bit spicy. I don't like really hot chilis, but poblanos should have at least a little zing to them. I guess that's what we get for buying seedlings from Home Depot. Next time I'll grow them from seed again.
  • Spinach: Another early spring vegetable, they bolted as soon as it got hot. While it was still cool we got many meals out of a few plants. I'm going to plant them again in the fall.
  • Eggplant: We planted them on a lark and what do you know, the eggplant turned out great. The skinny Japanese kind, that aren't as bitter as the big rounded ones. They don't seem like big producers, just a few eggplants per plant.
  • Onions: They're smaller than I had hoped, but have a nice flavor. Next year maybe we should harvest them early and use them as spring onions. Those were really really good.
  • Too soon to tell: potatoes, melons, asparagus (maybe next year!)

Some days I really miss Spy magazine and their "Separated at Birth" feature. How else to explain the remarkable similarity between Jon Lovitz and my favorite Bollywood character actor, Pran?

Another similarity: given the opportunity I'm sure both would beat the crap out of Andy Dick. Lovitz just did, and I bet Pran would too on general principles. Even at 87 years old, Pran could take him.

comment error message

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If you get a strange error message when you post a comment, don't worry. Most likely your comment has gotten through and the error message has no purpose. (Actually it has the purpose of confusing people into thinking their comment didn't post. But it has no useful purpose.)

I'm using the Movable Type 4 beta and, well, it's still a beta. I just noticed this error message when I upgraded to beta version 6 a couple of days ago. I have a bug report in and the good news is that they are responding to bug reports. At least the ones I've sent have all gotten speedy responses. I hope they'll have beta version 7, without the superfluous error message, within a few days.

knitting: buttonholes


I'm sorry to bore the people who don't knit again, but I'm in the thick of this project so it's kind of on my mind. Besides, it's not like knitting is the only limited-audience topic I ever write about. My blog has something to bore everyone at one time or another. (or maybe all the time!)

Thanks to Raynor Grace and Bummble, I have online advice on an alternate cast off method, which I think will work much better for me. Unfortunately I didn't get that far last night for two reasons: first, I had to work. Bummer eh? What can you do, we had an idea late in the day which would resolve a problem for a tense meeting first thing this morning.

Aside from that, I wouldn't have gotten to the casting off anyway because I got stuck on the buttonholes. The pattern calls for making buttonholes by casting off four stitches, then on the next row casting them back on. This makes a buttonhole which is parallel to the edge. Which you would rarely do in sewing. A buttonhole like that would gap and be unstable. In a sewn garment you would always make the buttonhole perpendicular to the edge, so the button pulls against the corner of the buttonhole and it doesn't gap. I also like to make keyhole buttonholes for added stability on that outer edge.

I looked online for knitted buttonhole variations, and all of them were parallel to the edge like my pattern. Maybe this is just the way it's done in knitting. But I'm having a hard time forcing myself to make a buttonhole like that. Especially such a large one. It just looks like it's going to gap open and the buttons are going to pop right out.

It seems to me that it would be easy to make a buttonhole perpendicular to the edge. Just knit the area in between two buttonholes for as many rows as you need, leaving all the other stitches on holders. Do that for all the buttonholes, and then join them all together at the top. You'd end up with a slit in the fabric for each buttonhole. Does that explanation make any sense? Is there a reason I don't want to do that?

I think I'm going to try it tonight and see how it turns out. I'll only have to pull out a couple of rows.

One more knitting question: Once a circular needle is removed from its packaging, how do I figure out what size it is? There doesn't seem to be a marking anywhere on the needle.

knitting question: cast off


So I'm finishing up a sweater. Not the one I wrote about last week; this is the striped cardigan I started back when I had surgery. And I feel like I need to finish it before starting on another.

I've never made a sweater before, just simple hats and scarves, so I used super cheap yarn in garish colors. That way, if I mess it up, I don't feel like I wasted a lot of money. Just time. Of which I have so much to spare! (that was sarcastic.) In fact, I did not mess it up and it wasn't a waste of time. On the contrary, it seems to be turning out well! I like the way it fits in the body. The sleeves are big though. Not too big to wear, but if I make this pattern again I'll do the sleeves at least an inch narrower, and a bit shorter too.

Over the weekend I had to learn a couple of new techniques: sewing pieces together and picking up stitches to make the ribbing on the edge. Both of which went well. I was worried about matching the stripes when I sewed the pieces together, but it turned out to be easy. Easier in fact than sewing striped fabric. Because when you (or more to the point, when I) sew on a machine, the top fabric always shifts a bit. Not enough to mess up the seam, but enough to throw off the stripes. But since I hand-sewed the sweater, I could match up all the stripes as I went. In a way it made it easier to make sure I was sewing the pieces together evenly.

My next concern is casting off. For some reason, when I cast off the finished edge always ends up loose and messy looking. I don't want the whole front edge of my cardigan to have that messy edge. Am I doing something wrong, or is casting off just like that? Are there multiple ways to cast off, and how do I find instructions for a neater method? The only thing I could think of was to switch to smaller knitting needles for the cast off. I wonder if that would work. I'll be ready to cast off the sweater soon -- maybe tonight! -- so I hope I figure this out.

thanks for the memories

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Christa's final Divaville was weird at first, then lots of fun, then sad at the end. We both literally wiped away tears so we could take a picture at the end of the show.

It was clear that her regular listeners were feeling sad too. We got tons of requests including many for songs that were fitting for the occasion, like "We'll Meet Again" and "Go Out West." Here's the playlist.

Over the past couple of weeks we got into a good rhythm, with one of us managing the board and answering the phone, and the other handling the computer, updating the playlister and looking up songs. It's going to be hard to go back to doing it all by myself! Though I'm sure I won't get nearly so many calls, which will make it much less hectic.

It's kind of hard to believe that Divaville, the show I've been guest hosting for years and have been a loyal listener for even more years, is now my responsibility. I'm sad and nervous and excited all at the same time. It's really weird.

But Christa's Divaville isn't over. She's talking about doing the show either online or at a community station in Portland. I hope she's able to get that going soon. I want to listen to it! It will be like Divaville West and Divaville (Lounge) East.

once upon a time

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July 15 movie: Once Upon a Time. Cary Grant stars as a down-on-his luck Broadway producer who befriends a boy with a dancing caterpillar. This may be the silliest movie I have ever seen.

the power of canned food

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Thirteen's blood tests came back, inconclusive. The vet said that a few of the numbers were slightly out of normal, but nothing extraordinary that would point to a particular problem. (I didn't talk to her, she left a message on my voice mail.)

The vet suggested two courses of action: first, it might be bad teeth making it painful for Thirteen to eat. If that's not it, then we could do an ultrasound to look for "a growth" in her abdomen.

Obviously I don't want Thirteen to have cancer, but if it's the dental problem, that would be bad too. Because they use a general anesthetic to pull (or even clean) a dog's teeth. And that's dangerous for such an old dog. I hate the thought of her having constant pain from her teeth, but I hate the thought of her dying under anesthesia more.

On our next visit I'm going to discuss the options with the vet, and find out what she thinks of the risk from anesthesia. And also find out whether the ultrasound would be worth it. If we did find cancer, what would we do with that information? I don't think there really are any treatment options for a pet Thirteen's age. It might help us make decisions about pain relief though, & if that's the case, it will be worth it to do the test.

In the meantime, worrying about cancer isn't going to do Thirten any good, so I'm not going to worry about it. On the other hand, if it's her teeth then I can do her some good right now. On my way home this evening I picked up some canned dog food and some of her regular kibble in "small bites." I thought that might be easier for her to eat, if her teeth are the problem.

We gave her half canned and half small bites, mooshed together. As I expected, Thirteen lost all indifference when presented with a dish full of smelly soft canned food. She ate it all immediately, including the pills and every last little bit of kibble. Then we gave her some more kibble, and she went back and ate all that too. WHEW!


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I will be on air on Sunday from 3-5 pm, co-hosting with Christa as we celebrate her last day as host of Divaville. (On WXDU, that is; she'll be starting up Divaville again when she gets settled in out west). It's sure to be a good show, probably somewhat silly and maybe a little emotional too. Tune in if you can, and if you've been a listener of Divaville over the years, be sure to call or write in to wish Christa well in her new life. 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

(starting next week I'll be on every Sunday afternoon, as permanent host of Divaville Lounge.)

Loved it. Will write more later, behind a cut so as not to spoil anyone.

knitting opinions

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I like knitting, but I have the proverbial "beer budget and champagne taste" when it comes to yarn. In other words, I can't stomach the prices at good yarn stores, and I can't stand the horrible plasticky feel of most yarns at the big craft stores.

I've been meaning to ask the experienced knitters I know how to find decent yarn at a non-obscene price. Meanwhile, I was running errands yesterday, made a quick stop at Michael's, and discovered that they now carry a cotton blend yarn that doesn't cost a lot, feels nice and comes in colors I like. Jackpot!

I want to make a light cotton cardigan for my office, which vaccilates between really cold (when the a/c is running) and a bit warm (when it's not). Something I can throw over my shoulders when the a/c kicks on, and then easily pull off when it warms up. Spent a little time browsing patterns last night and came up with these two:

festiveBEAUTY.jpg tahoeBEAUTY.jpg

Any opinions? I like the style of the Mandarin collar one better, but it would be more complicated for two reasons: first, I want long sleeves, or at least 3/4 length, and the pattern is short sleeves. Second, the gauge is off so I'd have to recalculate everything. The blue one isn't as stylish, but the gauge is exactly right so it would be easier to do.

On a closer look, I also see that the Mandarin collar one is gapping over the model's bust, and she's not that busty, so that would be more of a problem for me. Maybe I should make the blue one, and wait until I know what I'm doing before trying a pattern that needs so much adjustment.

nutrical and timbuk2


Thirteen's weight has dropped again, down to 37.3 pounds. She has lost interest in food to some degree over the past few weeks. She'll sniff at the dish, maybe eat a bit, then wander away and lie down awhile, wander back and nibble a little more, etc. This from a dog who used to gobble down every bite and then start in on the other dog's food. At every meal we have to check her dish for her pills (they are wrapped in cheese to seem like a treat), and put the ones she missed right under her nose.

Finally it's not just me being a worry-wart, the vet is concerned too. They drew blood yesterday and we should find out in the next day or two what's up. Or at least, we'll find out the results of the bloodwork. We've run tests on Thirteen that didn't lead to answers so many times, that I'll honestly be kind of surprised if this round does tell us what's going on.

In the meantime I'm going to stop at the pet store on the way home and get her some NutriCal. We gave it to her before and she really liked it, during another period of weight loss. Nellorat asked how I feed it to Thirteen in a comment on her own LJ, and I don't think I ever got around to answering. So: NutriCal is a tube full of goo that tastes good to dogs. (Rats too, from what I hear.) Feeding it to Thirteen is easy: I just put a blob of it on her food. I like to put the goo on top of a tall pile of kibble, so it won't goosh down into the bottom of the dish where Thirteen might miss it. She really likes it and tends to eat it first, so this isn't a major problem. At least, that's how it was before when her appetite was higher. I hope she still likes it now.

In brighter news, my new bag arrived. I've been carrying my laptop to work three days a week, and I've gotten tired of lugging around my junky old laptop bag and my regular bag for everything else. Too much stuff to carry! So I splurged and got a nice messenger bag from Timbuk2.

It has a padded sleeve for my computer, and a big storage pocket where I could carry my camera. (Though I wouldn't carry both at the same time, due to the weight.) Plus lots of pockets in the front for my wallet, phone, keys, etc etc. Which was where my old laptop bag really failed. It didn't have convenient pockets for small stuff, and so I always had to carry another bag as well. I tried to take a photo of the small pockets, but I couldn't figure out how to show them all without turning the bag inside out. So you'll have to take my word for it.

Timbuk2 also has a different style called "commuter" that had more little pockets -- even a water bottle pocket on the outside! -- but there wasn't room for my camera inside. These bags aren't cheap and I need one that can do double duty as a laptop bag and a camera bag.

ocean's 13

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July 9 movie: Ocean's 13. This was great! My expectations were not high -- if it had simply been not as bad as Ocean's 12 I would have been happy -- and I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed it just as much as the first one. By which I mean the Soderburgh Ocean's 11. (The names are starting to get confusing here.) The original Rat Pack movie, Ocean's Eleven, is my favorite of all, though I have to admit that objectively, it's not that great of a movie. I love it for other reasons: the look into old Vegas and seeing all the Rat Pack together. (How can you not love Sammy as a singing garbageman?)

Moving most of the action back to Vegas in Ocean's 13 was a smart decision. Plotwise it's basically the same movie as Ocean's 11, and for once that's not a problem. On the contrary, they seem to have recaptured the fun that was missing from Ocean's 12. Without which you start to notice and be bothered by the gigantic plot holes. Watching this one, I noticed the plot holes and I couldn't have cared less. I was smiling throughout, and even laughed out loud several times. I had a great time watching this movie.

come blow your horn

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June 8 movie: Come Blow Your Horn. An aside, I have to say that I am writing this while listening to three whole CDs of the glorious George Formby, courtesy of my dear friend & music connection Sean. Thanks, Sean!

Okay, Come Blow Your Horn. It's a Frank Sinatra vehicle from the early 60s. Based on a Neil Simon play, it's about a shiftless lothario (Sinatra, natch) who corrupts his younger brother (Tony Bill), confounds his stereotypical Jewish parents (Molly Picon and Lee J. Cobb, who was 4 years older than Sinatra at the time), and fools around with women (Barbara Rush, Jill St. John and Phyllis McGuire). Sinatra's character is basically a retread of his character in The Tender Trap. Which is a better movie than this. Sinatra does sing the title song, in a montage while he and the kid brother walk around New York shopping for fedoras. And Dino has a funny cameo.

better late than never

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Remember that idiotic Green Challenge in Slate last fall? The one whose aim seemed to be creating pointless busywork that wouldn't accomplish anything except making people feel good about themselves and distracting them from genuine conservation efforts?

Well, apparently Slate remembers it too. As Georg said, it's a good sign that they let their media critic criticize them. Still it does make me wonder why the series got approved in the first place. Obviously someone over there could see how stupid it was. Too bad it wasn't the right person.

jazz, part 2

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July 7 movie: Jazz. Episode 2 of the Ken Burns Jazz documentary. Why didn't we start with episode 1? Because Netflix doesn't have it. They have all the rest; maybe the first disc was lost or stolen or something.

Anyway, episode 2 goes up to 1924, and mainly deals with the early careers of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Other figures are mentioned (like James Reese Europe, who I hadn't heard of before, and about whom I'd really like to know more) but the story is mostly about Armstrong and Ellington. At one point the narrator calls Ellington "the greatest American composer." Georg and I talked about it and we decided that statement is an arguable opinion, one that we may agree with, but as a bald statement of fact it's a bit controversial. A strong case can also be made for Gershwin instead. (We didn't consider living composers like Philip Glass, that's not really fair to compare someone who's still alive and active to someone whose entire body of work was complete long ago.)

Christa mentioned to me recently that a Divaville listener once called her up and took her to task for saying "Louie Armstrong" on the air, instead of "Louis" with an "s." She said the caller called it disrespectful and even implied that it was racist. I never heard that one before. It was interesting to take note of who said "Louis" and who said "Louie" in the documentary. In general the serious music types (like the narrator and the guy from the Armstrong museum) said "Louis." The fellow musicians who had worked with Armstrong and people who knew him said "Louie." With that in mind, unless I come across information that Armstrong himself preferred the formal version of his name or was offended by the nickname, I'll keep saying "Louie."

The next episode of Jazz covers 1924-1929. It will be interesting to see how much overlap there is between this series and the Divaville-type music I'm interested in. At some point the two will definitely diverge -- the later music we play on the show is much more pop than jazz -- but the early episodes should have a lot of interesting material.

the most helpful list ever

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I am so grateful that this exists. In fact I'm writing this post so I never, ever forget how to find it:


(thanks to Pandagon's comment section for the link.)


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July 6 movie: D.O.A. Often imitated but never matched, this is a terrific crime drama about a man who discovers he has been poisoned and has only a few days to track down his own killer.

Even if it were a bad movie (which is most certainly is not), it would be worth it for the opening scene of the hero marching down a hallway, into the police office, and announcing that he wants to report a murder. "Who was murdered?" "I was."

kabhi kabhie

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July 5 movie: Kabhi Kabhie. S. kindly left this movie for me to watch while I looked after her cat. It's one of those multi-generational romantic melodramas. Amitabh and Rahkee start the movie as star-crossed young lovers, who are forced to marry other people. Then the movie follows Rahkee's son, who's in love with a girl, who finds out she's secretly adopted, and shows up on her birth mother's doorstep, who it turns out is married to Amitabh, but the birth mother won't acknowledge the daughter, then the boyfriend shows up, and for some crazy reason starts hitting on the daughter's half sister (Amitabh's daughter), and the half sister already hates the daughter because she doesn't know they're sisters and resents the attention her mother gives her. Whew!

It goes on like that for, well, for about 2 hours and 45 minutes, being a Bollywood movie. Then everything resolves itself rather quickly via a chase scene on horseback through a bunch of explosions and a forest fire. Did I say this movie made sense? No, I did not.

My only complaint is that Amitabh is kind of a dick to his wife for most of the movie. I guess we're supposed to see that he's shut off his feelings after losing the love of his life. He makes it all up to her in the end with a heartfelt speech about how wrong he's been. It kind of reminded me of the trend in romance novels in the 80s, for a "bad boy" hero who acts like a jackass for the entire book just so that we can get a scene where he finally realizes how wonderful the heroine is, how much she's suffered, and how unworthy he is of her. I'm all for a redemptive story arc but some of these "bad boys" start out with misdeeds so extreme that redemption was't possible for me. (I'm talking drugging and raping the heroine in his first scene, no joke, that really happened in a book I read.) Of course Amitabh's behavior wasn't nearly so bad, he just sulks a lot and then acts like an ass whe he finds out his wife had a baby before she met him.

three on a match

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june 4 movie: Three on a Match. I thought this was a pre-code drama starring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, but it's actually so early that they weren't stars yet and both their parts are rather small. The stars are Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak.

The movie follows 3 women (Dvorak, Blondell and Davis) who were friends as girls. Very bad, sordid, seedy things in that special pre-code way happen to one of them, and the others pick up the pieces. According to the movie, the title refers to a WWI superstition that if 3 men lit their cigarettes from the same match, one would die (because the time it took to light the third cigarette was long enough for the enemy to aim and fire). Wikipedia explains that the superstition was not actually from WWI, but was spread by a Swedish match manufacturer trying to get people to use more matches.

the sky's the limit

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July 4 movie: The Sky's the Limit. Fred Astaire plays a Flying Tiger who meets Joan Leslie while on leave. Not one of Fred's best movies, but still well worth watching. The best part is the "One For My Baby" dance number. Which starts in a tiki bar! I didn't know they had tiki bars in 1943.

half ticket

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July 3 movie: Half Ticket. I got this because the Netflix description said it starred Pran (a Bollywood character actor I love -- he was the tightrope walking safe-cracking dad in Don). Actually it stars famed playback singer Kishore Kumar. This is the first example I've heard of where a playback singer also acted. And unfortunately, this movie doesn't recommend the practice. Kumar's hyperactive mugging and yelling was like fingernails on a blackboard to me. He's like the Jerry Lewis of Bollywood.

The plot of the movie has free-spirited Kumar getting tossed out of his father's house, and posing as a child -- a really big, really annoying child -- to get a half-fare train ticket. Pran is a jewel thief who slips his stolen booty into Kumar's bag to hide it from the cops. Then Pran spends the rest of the movie trying to get the diamonds back.

I can't tell you how it turns out, because I just couldn't sit through any more of Kishore Kumar's antics. Not even for Pran.

the refugee all-stars

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July 2 movie: The Refugee All-Stars. This is a documentary about Sierra Leonean musicians who meet in a refugee camp in Guinea and form a band. Their music gives them a purpose as they tour refugee camps, and finally return to Sierra Leone to make an album.

I don't know how they did it, but somehow the movie manages to avoid what Kevin calls "Anne Frank syndrome" (the conceit that all victimized people must be noble, gentle, kind, creative, and generally without fault). The members of the Refugee All-Stars aren't cardboard cutouts of heroic victimhood; they're just people. Who have an awesome band. And who had something horrifying happen to them and to their country.

what i learned yesterday

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Here's what I learned yesterday: first, if you have to drive to a meeting on the far side of Raleigh in high summer, make sure you're going in a car with a/c.

Second, if you have to run an errand in Pittsboro right after the meeting, and the a/c in your car somehow gets stuck on blasting hot air instead of cold, don't go. Just don't. It doesn't matter how important the errand is; it can wait. Really.

happy birthday america

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I will be on air tomorrow from 6 to 8 pm, wishing America a happy birthday with songs about cities, states, freedom, Mom, apple pie and hot dogs. 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

ride the high country

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June 30 movie: Ride the High Country. Excellent Western by Sam Peckinpah. Stars Joel McCrea as an aging former lawman doing odd jobs and trying to reclaim his dignity, Randolph Scott as McCrea's old friend, and Mariette Hartley as a young woman who complicates matters.

It always makes me sad to see an older actor I love in some terrible movie (for example, Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched, or Joseph Cotten in all those cheap horror movies). So it was really nice to see Scott and especially McCrea working in such good roles. (This is one of the things I love about Quentin Tarantino. I can even forgive him for reviving John Travolta's career, because of Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown.) In Ride the High Country the old guys look unassuming, but anyone who doesn't take them seriously learns their mistake pretty fast.

av geeks: triggerama

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June 29 movie: AV Geeks: Triggerama. We ran into an old friend at dinner beforehand and ended up so late that I almost suggested we blow off AV Geeks and go straight home. I'm really glad we went though, it was a good one! One of the better installments I've seen.

Based on the title I thought this program would be about kids and guns, and I was totally wrong. (I even read Skip's description and I still didn't get it.) "Triggerama" refers to films that are supposed to "trigger" discussion. Open-ended films with lots of point-of-view shots, to make you feel like you're part of the story, that raise moral questions but don't provide an answer. Then whoever is showing the movie is supposed to turn up the lights and encourage the audience to discuss what they would do.

When we came in they were just finishing an incredibly depressing film about visiting a home-bound old man who feels like giving up because he can't get out of his house, and the city is supposed to provide him van rides to get around, but they won't. After that was a series of films about situations that might arise while driving. For instance: you pick up your friend to go to a movie, and his brother is having a party, and they offer you a beer before you hit the road. Or, you're driving late at night, you need to get home to finish your homework, and you pass a really bad accident. Each one ended with line "Remember, you're the driver."

Next was a bizarre short about a girl who won't eat breakfast, but refuses to say why. We speculated that maybe she's a zombie. Last was the best film, and also the only one that provided answers. Called "Shoot Don't Shoot," it was an educational film for cops, explaining when they would be justified in shooting at a suspect and when they wouldn't. The movie would act out little point-of-view scenes and you would have to decide whether to shoot or not. The really interesting thing is that they'd do each scene twice, and the second time would have a totally different outcome. For instance, the first time the suspect would raise his hands and drop his weapon, and the second time he'd pretend like he was going to drop it, but then he'd shoot at the cop. Then the narrator would come in and explain whether and when the cop was legally justified in shooting. It really made you think about the life-and-death decisions cops have to make in a split second.

here come the waves

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June 28 movie: Here Come the Waves. Fun wartime movie with Bing Crosby as a movie star who joins the Navy, and Betty Hutton as identical twins who join the Waves. The movie is a promotional piece for the Waves, with lots of speeches about the meaningful work they do, big production numbers about how great they are, and nothing unpleasant like combat. The entire movie takes place in the US. In the movie the Waves run flight training sessions, work as air traffic controllers, all sorts of things. I guess it makes sense that every stateside job they could give to a Wave meant one more sailor they could send into action.

coats come from dakota

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I had a great time at Divaville this afternoon. Christa and I co-hosted, as we will do for the next two weeks. Just to help her listeners get used to the idea of a new host coming in. I had never done that before (two DJs at one time) and I wasn't sure how it was going to work, but it turned out to be easy and fun.

We did a special "Happy Birthday America" show. All songs about states, cities, a few songs about freedom and one about apple pie. The title of this entry is a line from the wonderful Blossom Dearie song "Rhode Island Is Famous For You." Here's the playlist if you're interested. The listeners seemed to really dig the theme. We got tons of calls. The best part was getting requests for songs we had already decided to play. Including once we got a request for a song we had already cued up! That has only happened to me once before. It feels great, like you're really in sync with the listeners. (One of them, at least.)

With all the calls, plus the band setting up for the next show, it was a little chaotic! Christa taught me the excellent trick of using allmusic.com to look up songs. Way more efficient than flipping through page after page in the binder trying to find a request. It may sound silly, but the Divaville library has over 20 albums of several artists (over 50 Sinatra!). Finding a particular song can take way too long if you don't know what album it's on. I'm definitely going to start using allmusic.com.

My only disappointment about the show is that we never played a song about hot dogs! We kept talking about it but didn't get around to it. Two hours really is not enough for a show like this. I'm subbing the Latin music show on Wednesday at 6 pm, and I think I may jettison the regular Latin theme (sorry, Santa Salsera) and do more "Happy Birthday America." It was just so much fun, and I have a list of tons of songs we didn't get to.

on air

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I will be on the air this afternoon from 3-5 pm, cohosting Divaville with Christa. We'll be using my CD library for the first time, the one Georg & I created with the massive archiving project, so there may be wacky hijinks if we made any copying or labeling mistakes. 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

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