Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Geek Out On This

My daughter has been playing at the Cotati Accordion Festival for... oh, a number of years now. Up to now, she's always played stuff that she's learned from going to her accordion lessons. You know, traditional stuff. Polkas and tangos and things like that. The kind of stuff that people automatically associate with the accordion and gives the accordion the reputation it has.

Which makes me want to go off on a tangent about Weird Al, whom I love and is probably the most well-known accordion player ever. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what he's done with his accordion playing has helped legitimize the accordion as a modern musical instrument. Which it totally should be, but I'm not going to go off defending the accordion, right now. Anyway...

This year is the first time my daughter has picked up music to learn outside of what she does in her lessons, and she's done all of this on her own. Needless to say, I love her choice of music.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Orange Something-or-other

As I do every year around this time, I'm going to offer up a few pictures of The Great Morgani from one of his appearances at this year's accordion festival. The name of this costume was the Orange... um, well, I don't remember. The Orange Something-or-other.
[Make sure you come back tomorrow for an actual recording from the festival!]
[No, seriously, you don't want to miss it. You'll be surprised.]

Friday, August 16, 2019

A Plague of Angels (a book review post)

I'm going to lead with the fact that I haven't quite finished this book; however, I'm within 20 pages of the end, and I'm fairly certain that nothing can redeem it at this point, so I feel pretty safe in all that follows.

But let me remind you that I like Tepper and think of The Gate to Women's Country as a must read. Or, at least, a should read.

And I love A Plague of Angels as a title. However, it seems to have no connection to the book other than as a title, which is more than a little disappointing.

As is common with Tepper, this is a post-apocalyptic style novel. It's not quite post-apocalyptic because there doesn't seem to have been what we would think of as an apocalypse-level event, but the effect is the same. Man, after having used the Earth harshly, takes off for the stars in hopes of finding a better place to live than what they're leaving behind. Of course, not everyone goes, and this is a story about those left behind and putting together the pieces of the world into something livable. Except this story takes place so far after the exodus that it's a legendary event to most people. A story passed down and passed down and passed down.

So far so good, right?
That's what I thought, too.

The first bit of oddness is the Archetypal Villages that are scattered around the land and populated by Archetypal Characters. These people have no names, only titles: Orphan, Oracle, Hero. There can be only one character of any given type in a village. Now, these villages seem to have some relevance or importance early on in the book, and maybe they did when Tepper started the writing, but the whole thing about them gets shrugged off later on when one of the apparent masterminds of the world states that they are only places for misfits to live who have no other place in society. Not only that, but some of them are largely populated by androids.

So, you know, in a world where civilization and society have collapsed, some group of people decided to go around gathering up all of the orphans and creating a whole village for each of them, because it does seem that each village must have an orphan. But only one at any given time. And, when the village could't be supported by enough other misfits, this group of people supplied androids to fill the roles.

No, this whole premise is in no way supported by the text, especially the fact that this group of people supplies these android play-actors to these villages but seems to make no other use of them. For anything.

And then there's the part where mythological monsters spring back into being after the exodus. Why? No reason is given, though there's an implication that they were called forth so that the Heroes would have things to fight. Called forth from...? Yeah... No idea.

And talking animals show up, oh, somewhere a bit after halfway through the book.  Why? Because some guy started teaching them to talk.

But all of this is supposed to be coming out of the ruins of our own world so, well, I think if animals could learn to talk, it would have already happened since there are plenty of people who spend a lot of time trying to learn to speak with animals.

Oh, plus, there's a very convenient "battle of five armies" at the end of the book that's so contrived that the author has one of the characters state that it feels contrived but decides that it's okay because he was not the one that contrived it.

And I haven't even mentioned the "walkers," because, as it works out, they're too stupid to bother to mention.

This whole book, by the time I got to the end, felt like some kind of sweep-the-kitchen pizza. But, you know, not in a pizza kind of way. Unless that pizza was literally made from the sweepings of the actual kitchen floor, including dog and cat hair, stray coffee beans that bounced into corners, and bits of dry cat food that cat sticks into odd places probably to see if the dog will find them.
Not something you'd ever actually want to eat, is my point.

And this is the first book of a trilogy!
One that I will not finish, because I'm not going onto anything built off of this story.
In fact, this one is so bad that it's put me off of Tepper for a while.
To say that it was a disappointment isn't saying enough.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rebels: "Secret Cargo" (Ep. 3.18)

-- "I've begun to see this fight cannot be won in the Senate."

One of the things I've enjoyed most about Rebels (and Clone Wars to some extent, though this has been much more prevalent in Rebels) is the introduction of characters that we have known from the movies and getting to see where they came from and how they ended up who they are, especially with the more background characters. It gives an interesting perspective on how things turn out and gives us the opportunity to get to know some characters that we never had a chance to get to know before they died. They've brought in quite a few characters from red and gold squadrons that die in the assault on the Death Star. Gold Leader is in this episode, for instance.

But what we're really getting to see is Mon Mothma coming into the rebellion and pulling all of the disassociated rebel cells together into what will become the Rebel Alliance. I'm going to admit here that I have never been a huge fan of Mothma. In Return of the Jedi, she's overly stoic and devoid of charisma, enough so that it made me wonder (even when I was 13) how it was that she got to be in charge. I always felt that Leia would have been a much better choice. This episode, though, gives us some insight into how Mothma got to be in charge, and it makes much more sense with this as background.

Plus there's a lot of fun as the Empire pursues Mothma in the hopes of capturing her alive.
Most importantly, there's what may be the best animation sequence in one of these shows that I've seen. I don't want to give anything away, but it has to do with igniting nebula gas as a weapon. Really, so cool.

And, as I said last review, things are getting serious. It's time for you to start watching.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Rebels: "Through Imperial Eyes" (Ep. 3.17)

-- "I haven't been summoned by a ranking officer since that incident with the princess from Alderaan."

We're closing in on the end of season three, and things are beginning to get serious. Which is not to say that things haven't been serious, but there's a real lack of the overall humorous tone developing.

Thrawn has decided he has a mole and even knows that mole's call sign: Fulcrum. Have I mentioned who Fulcrum is? I can't remember, so I'm not going to give it away just in case I haven't mentioned it before. Not that it actually matters, I'm sure, but that's the way I am about it.

Ezra heads up a mission to get Fulcrum out before s/he's discovered while Thrawn brings in Colonel Yelaren to help ferret out the mole. Hmm... Do ferrets eat moles? I actually have no idea what ferrets eat, now that I think about it. As it turns out, Yularen was one of Kallus' teachers at the Academy.

Mostly, this was a very interesting episode. Tense. I have just one quibble, which I could probably solve by doing some research but, instead, I'm going to let it nibble at me because I don't care to go to the trouble to look it up. In the episode, Thrawn, unarmed, takes on a couple of assassin droids all by his lonesome. Thinking back to Zahn's books, the ones that introduced Thrawn as a character, I can't think of any precedence for him being any kind of physical personality. He's a cerebral character; at least, that's how I remember him, so I'm a little annoyed by them making him some great hand-to-hand combatant, too. Seriously, Thrawn doesn't need to have all the skills.

Or, maybe, he has always been that way and I'm just not remembering it. I suppose it doesn't matter, since those old novels have been kicked out of the canon. But Rebels is canon, so it is as it is.

Anyway... Interesting episode. Can't wait to see where it leads.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Mendocino and the Didjeridoo: Part Three

By the way, Mendocino is full of water towers. It's even kind of known for it. The Dreamtime even has a room in their old water tower, but so do many of the B&Bs. I kind of want to stay in a water tower, now, just not the one at the Dreamtime.

Where I never want to eat again.
Or sleep.
Or not sleep, as the case may be.
But we were going to talk about the "breakfast."

Every B&B I've stayed in prior to this one -- and there have been more than a few -- have been very accommodating about breakfast. Either they have taken a time request and had your food available at the time requested or they've had a large window of time in which you could come serve yourself buffet-style or... well, some variation on those themes so that you could get up when you wanted to get up and have some kind of choice in the meal or whatever. The Dreamtime was no dream when it came to breakfast: Breakfast will be served at 9:00am. If you want it, be there.


Okay, so we got up for what we thought would be coffee at 8:30 so that we could sit around and relax for a bit with our "coffee" before breakfast. So, you know, there was the whole coffee thing...
Then, there was no dining area. There's a room with a dining table, on which all of the food for breakfast is set, but the table has no chairs, not that there would be room on it for people's plates as it's a fairly small table. Rather there are some sofas and other chairs scattered around the room and TV trays on stands for people to eat at. TV trays. There are a couple of patio tables with chairs out on the deck if you don't mind sitting in dew and fog moisture, which we did the second morning. We sat outside the second morning because the eating accommodations inside were so... lacking. And just a gentle brush against one of the TV trays could cause a disaster, as we discovered with a cup of what-should-have-been-coffee on that first morning.

Now, let me give you a mental picture of the breakfast...
There were blueberry pancakes: They were made with tiny from-frozen blueberries and were mixed into the batter so that the pancakes were purple and the blueberries themselves almost non-existent. I get this mistake; it's how most people make blueberry pancakes. It's how I made them the first time I made blueberry pancakes. So these were perfectly adequate. They didn't taste bad or anything; they just weren't great.

There were fried potatoes: These were from small potatoes (probably "new potatoes," if you know what those are) cut in half. They were only lightly seasoned so a bit bland and probably slightly over-cooked. Not so much that they fell apart, but some of them were blackened on the outside. They were perfectly fine, completely edible, just not great.

There were scrambled eggs: As I wrote just a few weeks ago, eggs are difficult. Good eggs are difficult. Adequate eggs are fairly easy, and these were perfectly adequate. They were a bit overcooked but only in that they were too firm; they weren't burned or anything, and they tasted fine enough, like eggs. They were the kind of eggs that you're likely to encounter in any old diner.

There was also a bowl of yogurt and a bowl of those same from-frozen blueberries used in the pancakes which weren't quite thawed and somewhat runny, and probably some other stuff though I'm not remembering what at the moment.

What I'm saying here is that the breakfast was fine. There just wasn't really enough of it for the number of people present. But here's the real issue:
The cook, after placing the food out on the serving table, gave a run down of what he had provided. He seemed like a really nice guy and, like I said, the food was perfectly adequate. People started getting their food while the cook stood in the doorway chatting to people as they served themselves. While this was going on, the owner of the place came out and... well, while the cook was standing there, he apologized for the food. Evidently, the owner usually does the cooking but is "training" a new cook (the man who made our breakfast that morning), so the owner felt that he needed to apologize for the breakfast not being up the usual standards. He did this right in front of the cook, which I found to be incredibly rude. Incredibly. It was fucking rude and it really offended my sensibilities. I really can't put into words how abhorrent I found his behavior.

I made sure to personally thank the cook after breakfast for the very fine meal he had provided.

But here's the real kicker: The next morning, the owner did cook the breakfast, and it wasn't as good. It was the same breakfast, too! Other than some French toast strips (which may have been from a box; I couldn't tell) being subbed in for the pancakes, everything was the same, just more bland than the day before. Much more bland. Which really makes me wonder if the cook-in-training wasn't actually a much better cook than he appeared and just hampered by having to cook to the owner's specifications.

And, you know, maybe I would have let all of the breakfast issues slide if not for the thing with apologizing for the food of the other cook. I get that I have high food standards for food and have difficulty finding places to eat that I think are worthwhile, but I tend to take all of that into account and realize that I'm actually a damn fine cook and it's not exactly the fault of the other places, but, come on man, you don't stand there in front of someone and apologize for their work as if it's substandard. Especially if your own doesn't rise to the same level.


It might sound, with all of this, as if it was a bad trip, but it really wasn't. Granted, this is the first place we've stayed (both the B&B and town) where I didn't say, "I'd really like to come back here some day," but it wasn't a bad trip, just the least good of the trips we've taken and the places we've stayed. But we got in some great hiking, including up to see a cool waterfall in Russian Gulch; ate at one of our favorite restaurants, which is too far away to go to on a regular basis; and had a use of an un-jetted two-person soaking tub; not to mention sitting above glass beach and watching the sunset. It was a good time.
I just don't need to go back to Mendocino (the town) to stay again, and I certainly don't need to stay at the Dreamtime Inn again.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mendocino and the Didjeridoo: Part Two

Fortunately, Mendocino (the town, just to be clear) has a decent coffee shop. It may be the only real redeeming quality about the place. Other than a few scattered houses, the rest of Mendocino is made up of B&Bs and little touristy shops full of junk. We seriously didn't go into even on shop while we were there unless you count the cafe. Okay, we did go to the chocolate shop but only to get some treats to bring back for our kids. After trying the one thing they had out as a sample, I decided we didn't need any chocolate from there.

But back to the coffee...

The coffee at the Didjeridoo was piss poor. It brings to mind the idea of watering down alcohol to decrease your costs and make your customers buy more at the same time. It was weak-ass shit, like trying to wipe your butt with wet toilet paper. Vaguely brown water. And, amazingly, it was even worse the second morning! That was like drinking warm, watered-down cream. There was no other actual discernible flavor. As my wife said, providing adequate coffee should be the least you are able to do. It's really not difficult and, if you can't manage that, it says a lot about your establishment.
Not in a good way.

So we were very glad to be able to walk over and get real coffee after breakfast before heading out to do our fun things for the day. Hanging around in Mendocino wasn't a part of the "fun things" for any of the days.

You know what? Mendocino is a fucking loud little town. It's less than 1000 people, not counting tourists (and who knows how many of those there are at any given time), and they seem to not ever sleep; at least, judging by how many times I got woken up each night, they don't. And I don't mean just noises from inside the B&B -- though there were plenty of those, too -- I mean noises from out in the town: loud traffic (though it's far enough away from the highway that you can't hear the highway traffic) in the middle of the night, distant crashes and clangs, people being outside at 4:00am making lots of noise. It was the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear in a city, not in what is supposed to be an idyllic seaside village. I'm on vacation; let me get some fucking sleep! If I want to be woken up at 4:00am, I can stay home with the fucking cat.

All of which was made worse by the owner of the Dreamtime (sorry, I'm not going to type out that stupid misspelling anymore) being incredibly noisy every morning when he came in to start doing whatever it is that he does at the buttcrack of dawn, like dragging trashcans around outside. I'm sorry but, if you have people staying in your house, be courteous and don't crash around waking them up before the sun is even up. If I want to be awake at 5:30 in the morning, I can do that home. I'm away from home so that I don't have to get up that early. Probably all the noise he was making was associated with the shitty coffee.

Also, turn off the fucking porch light at night. If not that, give us some curtains for the room so that we can shut out the light.

See, our room was at the front of the house with a big window looking out into the yard. With no curtains. This was problematic in so many ways. For one thing, the bed was against the window and set up so that the head of the bed was at the window. The porch light was just between the front door and our window, so the light shone in right in my face. Did I mention the lack of curtains? Oh, yeah, I did!

Of course, the real problem with the lack of any curtains is that it makes the room feel very... exposed. Especially with the bed against the window. We did have a big butterfly bush growing up under the window which blocked some of the view into the room. In the evening, between that and the reflection of the fucking porch light off the glass, you couldn't see into the room from the street or the yard or anything. I know; I checked. However, anyone on the porch or at the door, if they glanced over to the right, had a clear view of the our bed and anything happening in it.
What did I say about providing some fucking curtains?

Our room also came with a jetted, two-person tub. Except the jets didn't work. When I was on the phone making the reservation, the woman told me the jets didn't work and made it sound like a recent problem that they just hadn't been able to fix yet. As she said, they hadn't been able to get anyone out to the town to fix them because Mendocino is so out of the way. I shrugged that off at the time because we don't care about jets anyway. Later, though, we discovered that none of the jets in any of the tubs in the whole place work and that it's been that way for years. And years. I think reviews going back more than a decade mentioned the broken jets in the tubs.

Here's the thing, Fort Bragg is, like, 10 times bigger than Mendocino, and it's only about 15 minutes away. I feel fairly certain that there's someone in Fort Bragg who both has the skills and the desire to do the work. If not Fort Bragg, certainly Ukiah, which, also, isn't that far away. The real issue here is that the owner doesn't want to put any effort into the upkeep of the place.

For instance:
The tub is in a separate room than the bathroom. The bathroom has the toilet, the shower, and the sink. You come out of that room into the main room and around to the room with the tub. To cover all three of the places where you would normally keep a bar of soap, we got one tiny disc of soap that was about the size of a silver dollar. "Annoying" does not properly convey the emotion for this situation. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the owner does not have just one bar of soap in his house that he has to move to wherever he needs it at any given time.

Also, not that we used it, there was a TV in the room. The TV was on a stand against the wall facing the open space between the end of the bed and the far wall. There was no way, really, to arrange the TV (an old tube model, not a flat screen) so that you could see it from the bed; even if you could have, it was a small screen, so you would have needed to be able to put the bulky TV right in the bed with you. There were no chairs in the room...
Do you see the problem here? If one had wanted to watch the TV, one would have been obliged to either sit on the floor to watch it or to watch it standing up. Probably people don't much use the TVs there, but, come one, I'm not five; I don't want to lay down on the floor to watch television anymore.

I mentioned this was a bed&breakfast, right? I'm being facetious; I know I did. There was no dining area...
I'm going to let that sink in for you until next time...

Monday, August 5, 2019

Mendocino and the Didjeridoo: Part One

First things, first: I know that "didjeridoo" is misspelled. It's not my misspelling, but I'll get to that in a moment.

My marriage to my wife just became legal. No, no, no... It's been legal, but, now, it's legal drinking age! So, you know, my marriage can legally go out, now, and get shitfaced.
Wait! This is coming out all wrong. This joke was so much better in my head. Which is what my wife said after I made it the third or fourth time.
Look! It's funny to me, okay!

For our anniversary, we decided to go spend a couple of days in Mendocino (the town, not the county, though the county, too, since Mendocino is in Mendocino county (go figure, right?)). The process for this decision is rather longer than can be explained easily since it's actually the culmination of years, but it boils down to the fact that I had only ever been to Mendocino (town) once, because we stopped there for coffee on the way to Fort Bragg some years ago. Mendocino is an ultra-popular tourist spot, and my wife figured I should experience it at least once so that I could understand...

Let me be clear, she didn't want me to understand why it's so popular; she wanted me to understand what I can only call her disdain for it. Her way of saying it is, "Mendocino is extremely overrated."

However! It is on the coast, and the coast out here is beautiful, so there would be that, at least.

My wife had a specific set of desires from the place where we stayed but, without going into that story, I messed all of that up by being distracted by the cost on the places we were looking at despite the fact that she told me not to worry about the money this time. 21 years of marriage doesn't happen every day, after all! We ended up staying at the Didjeridoo Dreamtime Inn which, really, had none of the things she wanted beyond the fact that it was a place to stay.

The short of that is that the Didjeridoo is a bed & breakfast, and I have developed a thing for B&Bs over the last several years, and the reviews for the breakfasts at Didjeridoo were pretty good despite an overall average rating, at best. To be fair, none of the places we were looking at got better than an average rating unless they actually crossed the don't-worry-about-the-cost line to where we had to actually worry about the cost. [I'm sorry; there's no place in Mendocino (the town) worth $400/night. Or, really, even $200/night. (I'm not really sorry.)]

So let's break all of this down...

First, there's the issue of the name: Didjeridoo Dreamtime Inn. Why is it misspelled? I don't know. And I don't know if the name came with the inn when the current owner came into possession of it or if he named it that. I know two things:
1. The inn has a funky room numbering system that the owner says was in existence when he got the Dreamtime. He left the room numbers on the doors even though they make absolutely no sense.
2. So, maybe, the inn was already named "Didjeridoo" when he got it? But, dude, correct the spelling. Seriously. And, if it was his misspelling: Correct the spelling. It's not quaint; it's stupid.

And, yet, it was my suggestion as a place to stay. I don't know what I was thinking, because the misspelling should have been a hard no for me, but, for some reason, I let it slide.

Second, there's the issue of parking. In looking at various places to stay, one of the amenities many of the places mentioned, including the Didjeridoo (though I can't remember where I saw that, now), is that they include free parking. Or just parking. Or some such. I found that a bit weird because what place wouldn't have parking, right? Sure, there's no street parking in my neighborhood but, then, my neighborhood isn't a tourist attraction, either. If it was and we were making money from people coming to our neighborhood, we'd figure out some way to accommodate the parking issue. That's just good business.

At any rate, we got up to Mendocino on Wednesday night, but relatively early Wednesday night, and found parking on the street in front of the Dreamtime and I didn't think much of it. I did wonder in passing where this available parking for the B&B was supposed to be because I didn't see anything that looked like parking for it, but we'd parked so I shrugged it off.

The next night, though (that would be Thursday for those of you paying attention), we had been abroad during the day and, when we got back, there was no parking near the inn. In fact, we had to park three blocks away and walk back. And here's the thing: There's no parking anywhere in Mendocino. Nor are there sidewalks. Which means there are no curbs. Which means parking "on the street" is actually only parking partially on the street and the rest in a ditch by the side of the road. It also means that you walk in the street when you walk through town... because the side of the road is taken up with cars parked in ditches. And there are no sidewalks.

That places were calling attention to the fact that they offered parking suddenly made sense. Except that none of the places in the town actually had any parking to offer. The only places that had put in parking lots were the larger hotel like places that weren't actually in the town itself.

Maybe some people consider this whole lack of sidewalks and curbs and parking "quaint" and "rustic," but I find it to be inhospitable. I really don't think it would ruin Mendocino's image for them to spend a little of their tourist money on providing sidewalks for people to walk on so they don't have to walk in the street when coming back from the coast after sunset.
But maybe I'm crazy.