Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Squid Eats: The Boardroom

Image result for boardroom burlington
via Facebook
As discussed in this post, our game-playing group has been in search of a new home.  I believe we have found it!  The Boardroom recently opened in Burlington and, if anything, it's a huge improvement on the mead hall that closed.  The food is significantly better and the in-house game collection exponentially better.  They also have beer on tap, which I'll take over mead anytime.  There is a $6/person table fee and while nothing on the menu is too expensive, it can add up if you're sitting for a while - best to go in with a plan for food if we're to become regulars, I think.

I've been twice now, once with the boys and once with the family.  Menu highlights: grinders (subs), milkshakes and an especially enjoyable orange freeze.  A lot of the offerings are, quite frankly, stoner munchies though I suppose that's fitting.  One particularly welcome improvement on the mead hall: coffee!  The old place didn't have anything with caffeine.  Crazy, right?  The java at the Boardroom is $2/cup.

The staff is well-informed about the games and prepared to jump in for a quick tutorial if needed.  Our favorites, so far:

Team 3 - A wonderfully silly cooperative puzzle game for three players - perfect for our family!  One person sees the shape to be made but may communicate through gestures only.  A second person interprets the signals verbally for the third person who builds the shape while keeping their eyes closed.  Sounds crazy but it actually works and it's loads of fun.

Wingspan - Can't imagine that a game about building a wild bird sanctuary would be engaging?  Well, you'd be wrong.  Even if I weren't already a bird enthusiast, I'm sure I would love this one.  Plus, the artwork is stunning.  The game has been so popular that the initial printing sold out.  New copies will be available next month.

Takenoko - In this one, you build a captive panda enclosure - similar animal concept, though game play is quite different.

Happy, Healthy Squid

I lost my FitBit.  I put it in one of the bins at airport security over Christmas and completely forgot about it until it was too late.  I was definitely disappointed as FitBit's gamifying of fitness has been a meaningful motivator for me.  On the bright side, I'd gotten mine for free and have since realized that my phone has already been tracking most of the stats without my realizing it - Big Brotherish, yet handy as I nearly always have my phone with me.  I am going to increase my daily step goal to 11,000.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Star Trek: 11001001

Episode: "11001001"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 1, 1988

Image result for 11001001
via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise is in dock for repairs and a quartet of Bynars are brought aboard for the job, essentially overhauling the ship's computer system.  First, the Bynars - a species evolved to better interact with computers - trick the crew into abandoning the ship, except for Riker and Picard who are lured into a Holodeck fantasy.  Then they take the ship to their home world which requires a tech reboot from the Enterprise computer or the entire race will die - an understandably desperate mission.

"11001001" (201 in binary, in case you're wondering; I was) is definitely a highlight. In fact, many point to it as the first season's best.  I'm not convinced of that yet but one can definitely sense more secure footing here.  The Bynars are cool, one of the more interesting alien race ideas for the franchise.  There's some excellent Riker development with some nice moments for Picard as well.  Most importantly, the story is tight - uncomplicated, flows nicely and the nagging questions are answered succinctly.

Q: Why didn't the Bynars simply ask for help rather than hijacking a ship?
A: The answer might have been "No."

Q: Why did the Bynars keep Riker and Picard aboard while kicking everyone else off?
A: They knew they might die en route and they needed someone to execute the reboot just in case.

It's a good storytelling lesson: often the most satisfying solution to a problem is the simplest one.  In the end, the Bynars turn themselves in, aware of their guilt but without regret for the choice made.  It's easy for the crew, and the viewer, to forgive them.  This was also a favorite episode among cast and crew, a nice change from the many clunkers that came before.  Trust me, as someone who has directed a lot of plays, there is no substitute for investment in material.

As noted above, "11001001" is a great Riker story.  The holodeck fantasy is a lure designed for him.  Snatching Picard was an unexpected bonus.  The scene is a New Orleans Bourbon Street jazz club.  This is where we first learn Riker is a stellar trombonist.  And, of course, there's a woman: Minuet, designed to suit Riker's fantasy parameters.  She's not only beautiful but also dynamically conversational in multiple languages, equally at ease with Riker in English and Picard in French.  Both our heroes are easily hooked.

Minuet and Riker have a telling exchange...

R: I'm going to have to leave for a while to see to my duties.

M: Your work's very important to you.

R: It is me.  It's what I am.

More than anything else to this point, we have seen that duty and responsibility are Riker's drivers.  If the previous episode, "Angel One," provides any long-term value, it's the revelation that he is not a live-and-die-by-the-regulations military man.  There is a deeper moral code that supersedes.  However, women are his weakness.

Meanwhile, Picard is exposed once again as a romantic of a different nature.  Hard to believe a space traveler would be a sucker for further fantasy but both this story and "The Big Goodbye" betray his fascination with the holodeck and the many escapist possibilities it provides.  He is less captivated than Riker by Minuet's beauty, more so by her ability to engage.  There's also a wonderful moment in the opening scene when Picard congratulates everyone on the bridge for a job well done.  Always an important theme for the series: the Enterprise is a great place to work.

Acting Notes

Image result for carolyn mccormick
via Memory Alpha

Carolyn McCormick (Minuet) was born September 19, 1959 in Midland, Texas.  She was an academic superstar: valedictorian of her high school class and graduating with honors from Williams.  She also has a master's degree from the American Conservatory Theater.

She's had an extensive career on both stage and screen.  Her biggest role was as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, a recurring character on Law & Order, logging 96 episodes in the original and spin-off series.  She's been successful in voice acting as well, most notably as the audiobook narrator for the Hunger Games series.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Jolabokaflod: Evolution

Title: Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth
Writer: Jay Hosler
Artists: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon

Image result for evolution jay hosler
via Amazon
Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic Christmas Eve tradition in which loved ones give one another books then spend the evening reading them.  You can learn all about it here.   This was our second Jolabokaflod as a family.  We did a simple circuit: I got a book for my wife, she for our daughter, our daughter for me.  The artwork for Jay Hosler's excellent graphic novel account of the history of life on earth was done by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon, college friends of mine whose work I pursued with great interest when I first jumped into the comic book hobby. 

Just so there is no confusion, yes, I believe in evolution.  The science is rock-solid on this one.

Hosler is a biology professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.  He, with the help of the Cannons, presents his material in the form of a lecture by an invertebrate scientist on another planet to two royal dignitaries of his species.  Sure, it sounds hokey but it helps lend a fun and conversational atmosphere to what could just as easily be rather dry material.  Evolution covers a lot of ground: 4.5 billion years of Earth history.  There is considerable terminology to absorb: names of eras, names of species, etc.  The artwork, the flow and the not infrequent humor make it all accessible.  It's the sort of presentation that makes me think that if I'd had more engaging science teachers at the right age, my own life might have followed quite a different path.  Mind you, I would need to read it at least once more to remember it all but that would not be such an arduous task.  I will encourage my daughter to read it, too - definitely up her alley.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Squid Mixes: The Bar Spoon

I have a new toy.

Contrary to what James Bond might have you believe, some cocktails should be stirred rather than shaken, including 007's own beloved vodka martinis and my own favored Manhattans.  The basic rule: if a drink involves fruit juices, you shake it.  If not, you stir it.  We have a fine stirring glass but, to this point, have made do with iced tea spoons which are not quite long enough for the job.

Bar spoons are long indeed.  The one I just got is 12 inches in length.  The more skillful bartenders I've watched set the tip of the spoon on the bottom of the glass, then swirl the stick.  The trick in stirring, you see, is to do so without chipping the ice.  The OXO SteeL Spinning Bar Spoon I've acquired has a swivel handle so one can simply set the back of the spoon against the side of the glass, then stir without having to change the grip.  Observe:

And here, with the ice and booze:

Ideally, one shouldn't touch the ice at all with the spoon.  That'll take some practice!

Squid on the Vine

Fratelli Antonio & Raimondo, Piemonte Dolcetto 2017
My Rating: 8.0

Fratelli Levis, Piemonte Barbera 2018
My Rating: 8.3
Floral nose
Starts sweet, finishes bitter.
Touch of spice

Monday, December 23, 2019

Sunshine Blogger Award


A huge thank you to thehappinessboxproject for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. 
The rules:

Awards are certainly flattering.  I also like having the opportunity to pass on the goodwill to those who actually take the time to read my drivel.  I will change the rules slightly for my own honorees:

  1. You don't have to display anything you don't want to.
  2. You don't have to pass on the award to others in order to accept it for yourself.  You are thoroughly deserving without having to jump through any hoops.
  3. You also don't have to answer my questions, though I hope you will.  I am genuinely interested in your responses. 
  4. Simply know that I am grateful for our blogosphere friendship.  

My nominees:

My answers...
At the stage you are at in your life…what’s…your own personal definition of the word “Love?”

I've had an interesting year in the realms of love and friendship - way too interesting to dig into here.  Suffice to say, I've put a lot more thought into such questions than I have in a long time.  No scandal. Just complicated.  I'm a deeply lucky man and I've lived a very good life.

Love is commitment.  I have planned the past 21 years of my life around two women: my wife and daughter.  The rewards have been immeasurable.

Love is life narrative.  Sometimes we choose love.  Sometimes it chooses us.  I love a lot of people and have been well-loved in return.  There are people who haven't been a part of my daily life in decades who are still profoundly important to me.  It's been long enough that I know they always will be.  Sometimes it makes me sad that they live far away.  It would be easier not to miss them but I appreciate them as part of the broad tapestry that is me.  To take anything away is to deny myself.  They also encourage me to invest more in those who are a part of my daily life.

Love is devotion.  I have a cat who loves me completely and without condition.  That's a beautiful thing.

Would you entertain…you…10 years ago…now?

I'm not sure how different I was 10 years ago.  My daughter was 10 years younger which, of course, makes for a different parenting adventure.  I suppose I am more comfortable in my job, if not always exactly happier.  I worry about some things more, other things less.  Overall, I suppose I'm more content with who I am.

Entertain is an interesting choice of words.  I suppose he and I would be happy doing things together: watching a baseball game, playing cards, sitting and reading our own books.  Parallel play.  Yes, I suppose that would be entertaining.

Where’s the place…or places…you feel most at peace…at one with existence?

I am proud to say it: my own couch at home.  I suppose I could come up with sexier, more vacationy spots but Dorothy was dead on: there's no place like home.

If you could take a personal life lesson…then turn it into a quote that connected with and helped others…what would it be?

"Don't take yourself too seriously.  Nobody else does."

What’s your favourite smell?

Garlic cooking in olive oil.

What’s your favourite sound?

Honest, genuine laughter.  I have many loved ones with wonderful laughs.  My wife's is delightful.  My friend Mock's is both distinctive and infectious.  Back when we worked together, I could hear him coming from halfway down the hall, through a closed door.

At the stage you are at in your life…what’s…your own personal definition of the word “Success?”

Contentment.  I don't need much stuff.  I don't need much in the way of recognition.  I just want to be satisfied with the efforts I have made.  Life is too short to agonize over dumb things.

Sum up your blog space in 5 words?

Come geek with me.  Drink?

You’re fighting…professionally…for sport…for the championship of the world…and…you win it. Did you highlight reel your opponent in the first round…out cold…or…win on points after warring with each other the entire distance?

Interesting question as I'm reading a Muhammad Ali biography right now.  He was arguably the greatest boxer ever and undeniably the most famous.  More often than not, he had to work a lot harder than he expected, even against over-matched opponents.

There aren't a lot of KOs in life, few indeed in the early stages.  Even the most extraordinary success is only ever temporary.  I probably imagined the future differently at a younger age but now I know better: we're definitely going the full 15 rounds!

If I turned your life so far…into a blockbuster movie…what would it be called?

Love Deeply, Live Deeply

You’re writing a best selling book…fill in the blank. “10 steps to……………”


Now, my eleven questions for each of you...

  1. If you could live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose and why?
  2. If you could learn to be an expert at something without putting in the work, what would it be?
  3. If you could learn a new language instantly, which would you choose and why?
  4. If you could give $1 million to any charity, which would you choose?
  5. When was your Robert Frost moment a la "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."?  The poem (read it here) says you can't go back and that is true.  "Way leads on to way" and so forth.  But if you could, would you?  What is the difference you think it would have made?
  6. Time travel: where would you go and when?  Why?
  7. Who would you want on your fictional character bowling team?  You get to pick four.
  8. What would you want for your last meal?
  9. What's your favorite song?
  10. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  11. If you came over to my home and I offered you a drink, what would you want me to serve you?

Friday, December 20, 2019

Star Trek: Angel One

Episode: "Angel One"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date:  January 25, 1988

Image result for tng angel one
via Memory Alpha

Our heroes face two crises at once.  An away team visits the female-dominated planet Angel One in an effort to rescue survivors of a freighter over seven years after it crashed.  Meanwhile, the crew aboard the Enterprise is hit by a debilitating virus.

This episode is another popular choice for all-time worst lists.  What was intended as an allegory for South African apartheid falls apart into a sexist, gender-reversal mess with Riker as sexual ambassador.  By the end, both cast and production staff were making objections but it was too late. 

TNG quality runs the opposite pattern of TOS.  The originals start strong in the first season, then turn frequently awful by the third and last.  Alternatively, TNG starts weak, then gets gradually better.  The sad truth?  Limited involvement of Gene Roddenberry seems to be the key to success, just as it was with the movies.  The previous episode to this, "Datalore," was the last on which he had a writing credit.  Apparently the mess "Angel One" became was largely due to Roddenberry's rather aimless input.  Like George Lucas, Papa Gene needed someone to say no.  There are some nice moments in the story of crew members expressing strong faith in one another - Geordi being left in command for the first time, Riker articulating his trust in Tasha to lead the away team - but overall, "Angel One" is a dud.

Acting Notes

Image result for karen montgomery
via Memory Alpha

Karen Armstrong (Mistress Beata, the Elected One on Angel One) was born November 28, 1949 in Chicago.  She grew up in California and graduated from UC Berkeley.  Other television credits included Kojak, Nero Wolfe and L.A. Law.  Later in her career, she worked as a producer in both television and independent film, titles included Diary of a Hitman, 'Til There Was You and Row Your Boat.

Armstrong died of breast cancer in 2015, age 66.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Squid Cooks: Taco Rice Bowls

Taco rice bowls are one of our family staples.  They are wonderfully easy to throw together: steamed rice, black beans, whatever protein we have on hand - in this case, a very nice sausage, onions, tomatoes, avocado, parsley, salsa, hot sauce and/or whatever else strikes our fancy.  It's also quick, easily wedged in between work and getting the girl to her clarinet lesson.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Star Trek: Datalore

Episode: "Datalore"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 18, 1988
Image result for datalore
via Memory Alpha
Data gets an origin story and a brother.  The Enterprise visits Omicron Theta, the planet where Data was first found by Starfleet.  In a hidden lab, the away team discovers a disassembled android essentially identical to our friend.  They bring him back to the ship and put him together.  He is just like Data, except evil...

The idea of an evil twin was actually Brent Spiner's.  The initial plan was a female android who would become his love interest, an idea which would be reworked as Data's child in "Offspring,"  The Lore concept is fun, sort of a "Mirror, Mirror" story for a single character.  However, much as with Q and Lwaxanna Troi, I find the character grating - a bit of a theme with Season 1 and recurring characters thus far.  It's fun to watch Spiner switch back and forth between the two brothers and the camera and editing work are effective in generating a believable double.  The scene where Data finds his own face mold is genuinely goosebump-inducing.  Even so, I can't help wishing Lore was permanently removed from the saga as promised.  Future Lore stories will be better.  I know that.

We've gotta talk about the contraction thing.  Much is made in both this episode and Season 3's "Offspring" of the fact that Data cannot use contractions such as you're, we'll, I'm, etc.  Both Lore and Lal (from "Offspring") can which is meant to establish them as more advanced androids.  The thing is, Data uses contractions all the time.  He even does so in this episode.  It's the sort of character wrinkle that could have been really cool if they'd been consistent with it.  But they weren't.  Writing staff fail.

Acting Notes

Image result for young biff yeager
via Memory Alpha

Biff Yeager makes the second of two TNG appearances in "Datalore" as Lt. Cmdr. Argyle, the chief engineer who oversees the reassembly of Lore.  Other television appearances include The Wonder Years, Scrubs, Seinfeld and Gilmore Girls.  Film credits include Repo Man, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Edward Scissorhands.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Squid Mixes: Old Overholt vs. George Dickel

Let the whiskey battles begin!

We picked up a bottle of George Dickel rye this weekend in order to commence side-by-side comparisons.  Dickel is the challenger in this case, the defending champ our long-standing favorite, Old Overholt.  Three rounds: the Manhattan Test, the Highball Test and the On the Rocks Test.  Important weigh-in factor (can you tell I'm reading a boxing book right now?): the Dickel costs $8 more for a 750 ml bottle.  However, it is on sale this month.  So if it is better, is it $8 better?  Or is it wait for it to go on sale better?

An important bias going in: my wife recently learned, or just recently told me, that the Old Overholt formula changed when Beam Suntory took over the label.  Basically, it's not much of a rye anymore.  There's only enough rye wheat in the recipe now for it to qualify as such.  Dickel, on the other hand, is 95% rye.  The bottle claims that's one of the highest percentages on the market.

For whatever it's worth, Dickel has a higher alcohol content.  Dickel is 90 proof (45% alcohol).  Overholt is 80.

On the Rocks Test

This was the last round we performed but it seems appropriate to begin the narrative here.  My analysis, beginning with the reigning champ...

Old Overholt is smoother with a more floral flavor and a bitter finish.  George Dickel is darker in color, a touch more reddish.  It's bigger, with more dimension.  There's more of a burn, probably due to the higher alcohol content.  The taste is sharper, spikier, though that was more evident in the Manhattans than it was drinking it straight.  Both whiskies had a sweet aftertaste, though the Dickel expressed more vanilla.

The Manhattan Test

My wife wanted a blind test for each.  She is the supertaster, after all (see here) and tasting is actually part of her job.  She was able to pick out the Dickel each time and for me, too, this is the test in which the differences were most evident.  That sharpness came through most pleasantly, not unlike rye bread.  I'm not sure it would be for everyone and to be completely honest, I don't know if I'd want my drink so sharp all the time.  But it's certainly fun for variety.  Forced to choose, I would have to say that yes, the Dickel Manhattan was superior.

Side note: we also tried Luxardo cherries with this most recent round of Manhattans - lovely indeed!  Are they worth four times the cost of a cheap jar?  Probably not.  But they're fun to try.  If nothing else, they've furthered our curiosity about making our own.

The Highball Test

With a strong flavor heavyweight such as ginger beer to compete with, neither of us could taste much difference in the whiskeys.  The lessons here: where highballs are concerned, picking the right ginger beer mixer is the more important consideration.  We used Otto's this time as it's what we had on hand.  It's fine but a little too sweet.  As for the whiskey, no it's definitely not worth spending more if you're only going to use it to make highballs.

The Decision

George Dickel is the more interesting rye whiskey.  There is simply more flavor and I like flavor.  I would say it's wait until it's on sale better.  My wife concurs.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Star Trek: The Big Goodbye

Episode: "The Big Goodbye"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 11, 1988

"The Big Goodbye" is the first major holodeck episode.  Captain Picard is a fan of the Dixon Hill stories, a meta-fictional mystery series.  The newly updated holodeck generates an entire 1940s San Francisco scenario for him to explore as Hill.  Data, Dr. Crusher and Dr. Whalen (David Selburg), a visiting historian, join Picard on the adventure.  Naturally, something goes wrong.  First, our heroes are trapped in the holodeck.  Then the safety controls go off.  Whalen is shot by one of the gangsters in the story and is left in genuine peril.

The episode was the first of three in TNG's first season to win an Emmy, in this case Outstanding Costumes for a Series for Bill Theiss.  It's interesting that he should win for this one as his creations for the story are uncharacteristically modest by his standards.  Maybe it was the Academy trying to tell him something as it was the only Emmy he ever won over a long career in television.  "The Big Goodbye" is also the only episode in the entire Star Trek run to win a Peabody Award.

Screenwriter Tracy Tormé - son of legendary songwriter Mel - incorporated film noir elements drawing most of his inspiration from the classic Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon, in turn derived from a Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name.  The title, however, is likely a mash-up of two Raymond Chandler books: The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.  

The holodeck episodes are fun.  It's amusing to think that people embarking on what could only be one of the greatest adventures imaginable still have need for an active fantasy life.  It's interesting to learn over time, too, of the many practical applications for the technology.

Acting Notes
Image result for cyrus redblock
via Memory Alpha

Lawrence Tierney (Cyrus Redblock, the gangster boss) was born March 15, 1919 in Brooklyn, New York.  He made a long career out of playing mobster tough guys and the like.  He broke through as the title character in 1945's Dillinger, bookended near the end of his career with the role of crime lord Joe Cabot in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1991).

If anything, Tierney was even scarier off the screen than he was on.  He battled alcoholism for years.  As he put it, he "threw away about seven careers through drink."  He also had numerous arrests with charges of assault and drunken disorderly.  In 1951, he spent 90 days in jail for breaking a man's jaw.  Late in his career, he made a much-heralded appearance on Seinfeld as Elaine's father.  While he was considered for a recurring role, everyone was terrified by him so they never asked him back.  Apparently, at one point he pulled a knife on Jerry.  In jest?  I don't know.

Tierney passed away in 2002 at age 82 in a nursing home in LA.  He'd been in poor health for many years after a mild stroke in 1995.  Pneumonia was the cause of death.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Squid Mixes: The Right Balance and a Good Rye

Image result for dad's hat rye
via Dad's Hat
Thanksgiving is, of course, a grand harvest feast.  Alcoholic beverages are by no means necessary accompaniment but they're certainly enjoyable.  We went to visit English Prof for the holiday and, as luck would have it, she loves a good Manhattan almost as much as I do.  She also had a fine whiskey to try...

Dad's Hat hails from Bristol in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Their rye is their flagship product and a fine, flavorful liquor it is, too - great in a cocktail.  Alas, it is not available for sale back here in Vermont!  Vermont, you see, is a control state which in our case means the state has a wholesale monopoly over liquor.  If the state stores don't sell it, there are no other options.  It may be just as well.  Looking online, it would appear Dad's Hat is significantly more expensive than Old Overholt, our standby.  I suppose it is good to know that the difference in price could be worth it.

I feel I have settled on a good proportion for my Manhattans: 3:1 rye to vermouth.  That's the same as in The New York Bartender's Guide but I've upped the bitters to 3 dashes rather than 1.  Against the Dad's Hat, I could probably have gotten away with more but then I think one risks making it syrupy as it is in many restaurants.  I might have to go down to 2 with the Old Overholt.

It's definitely time to start experimenting with different whiskeys, though better to focus on ones easily acquired, I think.  I have my eye on George Dickel, which costs a bit more than Old Overholt, and Ezra Brooks, a new product to Vermont stores, which costs a bit less.  Stay tuned.

Squid on the Vine

Château Combel la Serre, Le Pur Friut du Causse Chors Malbec 2017
My Rating: 8.1
Starts sweet, then a little sour.

Free Run Cellars, Dry Gewürtztraminer 2017
My Rating: 8.5
Grape juicy
Starts bitter, finishes sweet.
We visited the winery in Michigan last summer.  That's right, Michigan.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Star Trek: Haven

Episode: "Haven"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 11
Original Air Date: November 30, 1987

Image result for tng haven
via Memory Alpha

Surprise!  Deanna Troi is to be married.  Her mother, her betrothed and her future in-laws come aboard the Enterprise for the festivities.  None of her colleagues had any idea this arranged marriage was coming and it's instantly clear she's long been dreading it herself.  Good half-Betazoid that she is, Deanna expresses willingness to set aside her own career to meet the obligation.  It helps that Wyatt, her intended, is awfully dreamy.  Unfortunately, he's in love with some girl out of a cheesy music video.

"Haven" gets mixed reviews but it is important long-term for several reasons:
  1. It's a good development episode for Deanna.  For the first time, we get to meet one of the TNG principals' families.  The only family we met with the originals was Spock's and that didn't happen until Season 2.  We learn of her difficult relationship with her mother and her personal dilemma of meeting the contradictory expectations of her chosen career and her culture - not a sci-fi contrivance.  Real people, especially women, face that dilemma every day.
  2. The introduction of an important recurring character: Lwaxana Troi, Deanna's eccentric and overbearing mother.  Lwaxana is performed by our old friend, Majel Barrett, wife of Gene Roddenberry and a Star Trek veteran from the very beginning (see here).  Also introduced is her attendant, the enormous and mostly silent Mr. Homn (Carel Struycken).  As with Q, I find Lwaxana annoying - too much like people I've actually known.  But just as with Q, life is never dull when she's around.
  3. Development of the Troi-Riker relationship, to this point the closest thing to genuine office romance among the TNG principals (the Tasha-Data tryst clearly a one-off).  We know from the first episode that there's a history but details are scarce.  They still are but we see the emotional landscape, ultimately more important.  There was sex.  There are genuine feelings still, likely stronger on his side than hers.  There was a career/relationship choice for him, too, once upon a time and he chose the job.  Being just friends is a challenge - again more for him than for her.  Long-term, it's admirable that they're able to set it all aside in their working relationship.
Always appreciated, genuine comedy:

Acting Notes

Robert Knepper (Wyatt) was born July 8, 1959 in Fremont, Ohio.  He went to Northwestern for college but dropped out to pursue a full-time acting career in New York.  While he does have some film credits, most of his high-profile work has been on television, especially the role of T-Bag on Prison Break.

Image result for robert knepper young
via Wikipedia

Full disclosure... in 2017, five different women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Knepper.  The incidents cited spanned several decades.  Knepper denied the accusations and nothing has been proven.  I am not going to imply judgment one way or another.  However, this is a reflection of an important reality for TNG, especially as we get towards the end of Season 1: television is a very tough industry for women.  It was in the late '80s and it still is.  Maybe the #MeToo movement has improved the situation or at least brought more awareness.  Regardless, there have long been men willing to take advantage of a perceived difference in status for their own sexual gain.  It's disgusting and it's real.  There are other ways women are marginalized, of course.  Sexual assault is one of the uglier means.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Fade Out, Act Two

Title: The Fade Out, Act Two
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips

Image result for fade out act two
via Amazon
The Brubaker/Phillips 1940s era film industry-based comic noir continues (see my thoughts on Act One here).  This is the second of three books, collecting issues 5-8 of the original series.  The murder mystery introduced in book one proceeds relatively slowly here in favor of much needed development for Charlie, our protagonist.  He falls in love with Maya, the blonde starlet who has risen to take the place of Valeria, the murder victim.  The portrayal of the naivety of new romance is quite convincing.  A blackmail subplot is emerging as well.

I'm waiting for the twist.  Charlie's suspicions have yet to move beyond the obvious and there has to be a twist at some point.  I'm looking forward to Act Three.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Squid Mixes: Hunter Variations

Last week's Hunter's Cocktail was highly successful in that my wife asked for the same a few days later.  I'm always happy to take requests, though I had in mind a couple of variations.  One was out of necessity.  I only had rye enough for one drink so the second would have to be bourbon.  Also, I wanted to include Angostura bitters this time.

A rye, bourbon side-by-side comparison is always meaningful.  My wife definitely preferred the rye and chose that one as hers.  The bourbon felt bigger, more bitter perhaps.  I went with one dash of the bitters for each and didn't really taste it - might try two next time.  It might also be interesting to toy with the whiskey/brandy proportions so as to bring out more cherry flavor.  I don't mind the whiskey taking prominence but it might distinguish the drink more from others with a stronger cherry flavor.

Now the question: does altering the ingredients change the name of the drink?  In this case, I would say no.  Looking online, I found Hunter Cocktail recipes with bourbon and with bitters, though interestingly orange rather than Angostura - something else to bear in mind for next time.

It did make me wonder, though, is there a word for a bitter hunter, one who didn't come back with anything to show for his/her efforts?  I couldn't find such a term.  Does anyone know of one?

Squid on the Vine

La Masseria, Puglia Primitivo 2017
My rating: 8.2
Jammy nose
Opens sweet, then bitter.
Sweet aftertaste

Monday, November 25, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Witch Week

Title: Witch Week
Author: Diane Wynne Jones
Image result for witch week diana wynne jones
via Amazon

Witch Week is either the third or fourth book of Jones's The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series, depending whom you ask.  All of the books are connected through a single character, Chrestomanci, more a title than a character actually - one assumed by various people throughout history.  Otherwise, each novel is stand-alone so the order really doesn't matter.  Jones suggested one order, various publishers a different one.  It is my fantasy-loving daughter's favorite book series and generally a satisfying one for me, too.

Witch Week takes place at a fictional boarding school in a world where, unlike other dimensions we visit throughout the series, magic is outlawed.  The story's two main characters, Nan and Charles, discover separately that they are, in fact, witches with considerable powers.  They must hide the fact as witches, once revealed, face arrest and burning at the stake.  Alas, neither can resist testing their newly found talents.

J. K. Rowling had to have read this book before creating Hogwarts.  Influence from earlier fantasy writers is inevitable, of course.  This is the first time I've seen obvious links with Jones's work: boarding school setting, adolescent social struggles, tensions between the magical and the mudane.  Charles, like Harry Potter, wears distinctive glasses.  Like Harry, Charles and Nan are both orphans.  There's even some of the goofiness that Rowling incorporates: at one point, characters can't find brooms to ride so they must settle for a mop and a hoe.  From what I've seen of her writing so far, Jones never quite matches Rowling's world-building but her characters are well fleshed out and her language a touch more sophisticated. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Star Trek: Hide and Q

Episode: "Hide and Q"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 10
Original Air Date: November 23, 1987
Q is back!  This time, he gives Riker Q-powers as a "gift" but really more of a moral test.  The "What will you do with the powers of a god?" question veers closer to Star Wars territory than Star Trek usually trends.  In true Trek fashion, Riker learns about the limits of seemingly limitless power, particularly when it comes to giving people exactly what he imagines they want.

I have to admit it.  I don't like Q.  Yes, I can acknowledge John de Lancie is a thoroughly gifted actor and Q stories provide wonderful verbal sparring opportunities for Picard.  But the character is off-putting for me.  He is a cat toying too long with his mouse before he finally breaks its neck.  I know there are better Q stories to come but I have no problem listing other recurring characters I prefer.

The story pokes at a question I plan to devote much thought to as I embark on this latest re-watch: what's the deal with Will Riker?  For me, he is TNG's most puzzling character.  It's not that I don't like him.  I do.  It's not that I don't like the actor, though Frakes is definitely the one who follows the Shatner Scenery Chewing principles of acting most closely.  He's also the first actor who made me think of "handsome" as a verb.  Gaze upon me as I handsome proudly.  Henry Cavill handsomes, too.  But I'm going off point...

What does Riker add to the broader story?  When I do a mental rundown of TNG's principals, I usually remember him last, sort of like Happy among Snow White's seven dwarfs.  I appreciate his professional relationship with Picard.  He's the last filter of everyone else's input before the boss makes the call.  He's a good friend and confidant.  Everyone needs that, even starship captains.  He's mentor to one, yet protégé to another.  As I've hinted at before, he eventually develops an interesting duty vs. honor dichotomy with Worf which is more like the Spock-McCoy relationship than any other on TNG.  But there's more, and yet somehow sometimes less.  Occasionally, I feel he merely serves as the young man alternative to Picard when the writers want a sexier leading man for a particular story. 

As you can see, I already have some ideas percolating.  But I'm not quite there yet.  Several of the episodes upcoming are meaningful Riker development stories.  And yet, I think it could take a while before I can stick a pin in this guy.

Acting Notes

Image result for young wil wheaton
via Wikipedia

Wil Wheaton (Wesley) was born July 29, 1972 in Burbank, California.  His mother was an actress which perhaps explains why he was encouraged in the business from a young age.  His career on screen began at age eight with the TV movie A Long Way Home.

For me, Wil Wheaton will always be Gordie.  As I have written before (here), Stand by Me has been a deeply important movie to me from the night I first saw it.  I followed the careers of all four lead actors with great interest so I was delighted to see him turn up on the new Star Trek series.  To put it bluntly, there is a large contingent among the devoted who despise the Wesley character.  For many, he is Star Trek's Jar Jar.  Because of my love for the actor, I've never counted myself among the haters.

Of course, Wheaton is well aware of the hostility and resentment.  Frankly, it's hard to hide from it in the Geekverse, a world where Wheaton has established a prominent presence for himself in adulthood.  Obviously, he is more charitable towards those critics who distinguish between the actor and the character and he is also grateful for the many fans who have told him how important Wesley was for them.

There's strong evidence that Wheaton is a genuinely decent guy in real life.  He has been married to his wife since 1999 and helped raise her two sons from a previous relationship.  At age 19, one of the sons asked Wheaton to officially adopt him.  Naturally, he accepted.  At 19... sniff...

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Squid Mixes: Hunter's Cocktail

A Hunter's Cocktail combines rye and cherry brandy, mixed in the glass plus a cherry garnish.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  Though I didn't plan it this way, it seems an appropriate choice for the start of deer season here in Vermont.  It is highly unlikely I will ever take up hunting as a hobby but it's a big deal around here, very much a rite of passage for the age group I teach.  

Getting back to the drink, it's nice enough.  If one wanted to make a Manhattan but had no vermouth yet amazingly did have some cherry brandy, it would do in a pinch.  I missed the Angostura bitters, though - no reason one couldn't add it, but then you might have to call the drink something else.  A Cherry Manhattan?

From my walks:

Friday, November 15, 2019

Star Trek: The Battle

Episode: "The Battle"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 16, 1987
DaiMon Bok, a Ferengi captain played by Frank Corsentino, offers Captain Picard an extraordinary gift: the USS Stargazer, Picard's old starship.  In time, we learn Bok's true motivation: revenge upon Picard for the death of his son in a famous battle.  Included with the gift is a mind-control device intended to manipulate our poor captain.

As noted before, with all of its early stumbles, TNG still managed to quickly outpace TOS on character development from the beginning.  To be fair, character was never the point of the earlier show (see here).  We learn precious little about the past of even Captain Kirk.  Here, in Episode 9 of the new series, we are granted insights into the heroics of Picard's previous military exploits.  We see his ability to be self-effacing in recounting the tale of his most famous (or infamous, if you ask Bok), career-making moment.  We are able to understand important aspects of his crew's deep admiration for him.

This story is also a big improvement for the Ferengi.  They still don't work as the primary adversaries but we are offered a clear demonstration of their driving motivation: profit.  Eventually, this characterization will allow for a more meaningful narrative role for the Ferengi within the Trek universe.  Also, the sincerity of Kazago's "Good luck, First Officer Riker" sign off late in the story is far more worthy of the "Balance of Terror" legacy than anything in "The Last Outpost."

Alas, "The Battle" is a disastrous episode for Wesley Crusher.  Wil Wheaton points to this story as the one that cemented Wes as a hated character rather than a merely annoying one.  After showing off his know-it-all, save-the-day prowess with his mother and Deanna Troi and receiving an inadequate pat on the head, he slumps against the wall and whines, "You're welcome, ladies.  Adults..."

The trouble with Wesley, for me, is that he pulls me out of the moment and cuts into the credibility of the world.  Even when I know he's going to be there on the bridge in the thick of things, there's always a little voice in my head asking why.  Sure he's smart but he doesn't deserve his honorary promotion and we all know it.  The shame is the lost opportunity: the life of an ordinary teenager aboard the Enterprise could have been genuinely interesting.  It's the wunderkind characterization that doesn't work.  One can imagine not only fans but crew members being resentful: "I bust my hump every day for years and never get within ten feet of the bridge.  Yet Picard hands Crusher's brat kid the steering wheel because he solved a problem once."

Again, it's not the actor's fault.  It's the writers' fault.

Acting Notes

Image result for young brent spiner
via Wikipedia

Brent Spiner (Data) was born February 2, 1949 in Houston, Texas.  As a high school student, he won a national championship in dramatic interpretation as a member of the speech team.  For college, he attended the University of Houston.

Once again, success came first on the stage.  Pre-Trek Broadway credits include Sunday in the Park with George, The Three Musketeers and, one of this blogger's favorite musicals, Big River (see here), based on Mark Twain's Huck Finn.  In fact, there's a deep connection between Big River and Trek, particularly through Spiner's part, that of the Duke.  The original Broadway actor in the role was Rene Auberjonois who would eventually play Odo in Deep Space Nine.

In 1981, Spiner had a starring film role in Rent Control.  Numerous television guest appearances included a recurring role on Night Court as Bob Wheeler.  In addition to Data, Spiner has played the parts of his twin brother Lore and his creator, Arik Soong.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me

Title: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me
Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: J.T. Waldman
Image result for not the israel my parents promised
via Amazon

Harvey Pekar made a name for himself within the comic book industry as a writer of graphic novel memoirs.  Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me is one of several published after his death in 2010.  It tells of his personal history with Zionism.  Born into a Jewish family in Cleveland, his Communist mother and religiously devoted father both supported the Israeli state, though for different reasons.  Harvey's own attitudes changed a great deal as an adult, eventually developing great sympathy for the Palestinian side of the issue and questioning the moral justification of the Zionist claim. 

The book covers the history of Israel from Abraham, through the diaspora to the present day, an impressive scope for 176 pages.  Interspersed are glimpses of Pekar's own history and then-current life in Cleveland.  Particularly satisfying are the changes in art style from one era to the next: Islamic art for the rise of said empire, medieval style for the European diaspora, Bauhaus for post-WWII, etc.  Full credit to collaborator J.T. Waldman for that. 

The book fits comfortably on a shelf with Joe Sacco's Palestine and Filiu and David B.'s Best of Enemies as top quality graphic novel examinations of the Arab-Israeli conflict.