Thursday, July 23, 2015

Favorite Quotes

Once in awhile I hear someone say something I think is particularly cool, witty, funny, or absurd, or formulate something that I think is a good maxim, but almost as often I neglect to write it down and then only remember that something notable was said but not what it was. With that in mind I have started a post for material of that sort and attempt to update it periodically.

"Advice is just ego and ignorance disguised as helpfulness." — Dilbert/Scott Adams, in a July 15, 2015 comic strip

"There are no IT limitations, just personal limitations." — IT expert Brendan Cass (This comment was in response to a remark by me about his ability to accomplish information technology tasks that were beyond the ability of other people I had worked with.) 

"Do you understand how much I hate you?" (Uttered by the woman cited in the quote below. The person who told me this assured me that he probably does not understand how much his wife hates him, or even entirely why, but that he is dedicated to making every attempt to.) 

"I hate you so much that I can't even describe it!" (This was uttered unprovoked to a friend by his maladjusted and apparently inarticulate spouse and he, knowing she would later deny saying something so hideously inexcusable, asked me to commemorate it here. I advised him to repurpose it as a daily affirmation.)

"Sometimes the only reason I don't kill myself now is because I know I can always just kill myself later." — Anonymous (Undeniably grim and clearly born from deep unhappiness but also fairly philosophical and amusing in its way.) 

"What we say about what we do is as important as what we do." — Michael O. Varhola (This is my own debatably cynical observation on the importance of promoting our own work and efforts if we want others/the public to notice them.)

"I didn't know we were going to be walking." — Diane K. Varhola (My wife has made this assertion multiple times every year for the past 25 years. We always end up walking, often in stupid and inappropriate shoes, so the basis for this assertion has been questionable for a couple of decades now.) 

"We are most inclined to be creative when we are least able to be."

"I should be able to visit my parents without having to die!" — Hayley Waters (Who says so? This was, in any event, my daughter's unhappy reaction to visiting a house full of cats that she is allergic to.)

"When I found inversion it changed my life forever, and I believe it can change yours!" — Dr. Roger Teeter (I actually own a Teeter Hang Ups inversion board and think it is great. What makes this quote amusing to me, however, is that "inversion" was historically used as a synonym for homosexuality, which can make its modern-day use hilarious when considered in that context.)

"Watch out for the poop!" — Carter Valentine (This sound advice was given to me by my grandson during a walk we took together in 2013 and can certainly be viewed as a profound allegory for the human condition overall.)

The following interchange occurred between my grandson and wife on Sunday, August 18, 2012:
Diane: "What kind of chicken do you want?" (While carving up a roast chicken we picked up at Costco for dinner.)
Carter: "The chicken nugget kind." (A statement met with laughter and us letting him know this chicken did not have any such parts.)

"Ah, the plot thinnens!" (This clever twist on a common phrase is one that I use whenever appropriate. I heard it for the first time in a movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, although the phrase certainly does not actually appear in any of the author's stories.)

"Hideous ... ugly ... freaks!" — Denis Leary/Gil Mars, Small Soldiers (It is amazing how often one is in public that this phrase seems apropos.)

"I'll tell you what!" (This common Texas phrase is used to express agreement with something someone has said, such as an observation about the weather. I noted during a recent trip to the East Coast that, after hearing it, people unfamiliar with this expression will pause and wait for you to "tell them what.")

"Not anti-Christian, nor un-Christian, but most decidedly non-Christian." — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"What I do now I do alone. I could not do it well with thee." — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (I often irreverently use this quote, either just the first part or in its entirety, to announce my departure for the bathroom.)

"There is a fine line between being a romantic and being delusional, and I often tend toward the latter." — Michael O. Varhola (my own observation of my tendency to view life as I want it to be, rather than how it really is.)

"Oh, so you want to play the truth game?" — Anonymous (In response to my asking someone why they sometimes deliberately lie to their friends as a device for manipulating them.)

"We are all so lucky to live in this God-forsaken place." — Anonymous (A resident's comment upon observing the natural beauty of Canyon Lake, Texas.) 

"Crazy is as crazy does" — Michael O. Varhola (my observation upon already-crazy people who deliberately do things geared toward making them even crazier and more unhappy.)

"You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." — David Crockett

"No one ever died from a gut wound." — Michael O. Varhola (I picked this up from an Army buddy of mine c. 1986-87 and use it a lot. I don't think it's true.)

"Teeheehee! I told you about it!" — Chick in an Activia yogurt commercial

"Och, Hungary! Our dogs are from Hungary!" — Richard Allan (in response to a barmaid at the pub in Paddington Station, London, reveal her country of origin; "Och" is a Scottish word that means "yes," unless you use it in conjunction with "no," in which case it means "really no!")

"I do not presume that other people's problems are harder on me than they are on them." — Michael O. Varhola

"You need to scare kids, not scar them." — Lindsey Valentine

Overheard around 8:15 p.m. near the Hoffman Center 22 cinema in Alexandria, Virginia:
Him: "Damn hippies! I'll hacky their sacks ... " (in response to some kids in shorts and tie-dye shirts crossing the street in front of him)
Her: "Uh, do I need to remind you that you just smoked dope, that you're still in your sleeping shirt, and that it shows people partying on it?"

"That was pretty metal!" — Rico Nardini, Gen Con 2011 (in response to me downing a dirty vodka martini in one sip when he said it was time for us to get going)

"Put the boots to him — medium style." (coopted from Metalocalypse and used by me and friend Jon Reichman as a catchphrase during Gen Con 2011)

"Get the butter." — Marlon Brando/Paul, Last Tango in Paris (this line can be interjected for hilarious effect in any number of circumstances, as my friends Jon Reichman, Chip Cassano, and I have all aptly demonstrated over the years)

"In a respectable household, it's useful to have a weapon." — Gitt Magrini/Jeanne's Mother, Last Tango in Paris

"Fun was had by all." (common phrase brought to my attention when it was applied to a school play in The Simpsons, and used by me since then in writeups of events I have hosted or run)

"This one goes to 11." (coopted from Spinal Tap and applicable more often than you might think; used as one of our group's catchphrases at Comicpalooza 2012)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Top Twitter Fails

For the past several months I have been building a presence on Twitter and learning how to effectively use it as a tool for promoting my various projects, notably those with Skirmisher Publishing LLC, the d-Infinity game franchise, and the America's Haunted Road Trip series of travel guides. One thing that continues to strike me in the course of these efforts is how poorly a great many organizations manage their Twitter presences, even though it is clear that they want to use it as a tool. 

Following are the first of numerous common "fails" by Twitter users -- labeled as such primarily because they impeded growth or simply do not ultimately accomplish anything useful. Note that I am posting these for the benefit or individuals, businesses, and other entities that have a message they want to get out to an audience. If you don't care whether people follow you on Twitter, whether you can reach them about what you are doing, etc., then the following information does not apply to you, because it is kind of irrelevant to the world at large whether you are on Twitter or not. 

* Talking about things that are "coming soon"! It is hard enough to get people to genuinely pay attention to what you are doing and to get out the word about your existing products, projects, etc. Promises about things that do not yet exist, especially if they appear in your bio, look justifiably weak and just make the people who include them look silly — and this is all the truer if the promises are about something like a crowdfunding project! No one will ever say, "Oh, wow, these guys are going to have a Kickstarter 'soon'! That really makes me want to keep coming back and seeing this message again and again." 

* Misspellings in your bio. This is not particularly important in personal accounts but can be the kiss of death in professional or business ones. No one is going to buy anything from you if you can't spell, especially as this will raise the suspicion that you are running a scam and don't really have a real business at all.
* No Bio. Don't forego including a bio! Bots and other spurious users often do not have one and this is the kind of thing that can make people opt not to follow you and make it difficult to tell whether or not they should. A lot of accounts with no bios will also have no tweets, and this is indicative both of bots and of people who have set up accounts and then promptly abandoned them. 

* Failing to promote your own interests. It is amazing how many people indicate some economic motive for being on Twitter but will not actually take the most rudimentary steps to serve their own interests. If someone claims to be a "freelance fantasy artist" but does not follow back a fantasy game publisher, then you can be pretty sure that they are really much more likely to be a Starbucks barista. And a Twitter account that has something as blatant as a Kickstarter project associated with it that does not immediately follow back every legitimate follower is simply poorly run -- and if they can't even run a Twitter account properly, how can they be trusted to manage the project for which they want your money? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A War of Many Names (Life In Civil War America)

Was chatting recently with my friend Pierce Tomas about some of the different labels that have been applied to what is officially called the U.S. Civil War. That prompted me to recall the following item, "A War of Many Names," which I wrote first for my Everyday Life During the Civil War and which currently appears in its successor, Life In Civil War America

"Few wars have been referred to in quite so many ways as this one, and its various names reflect a wide range of attitudes toward the conflict. The official name given to it by the victorious Federal government is, of course, the Civil War, a term that came into use in 1861. In the Southern states, however, the terms used in 1861 included the Revolution, the Second War for Independence, and the War of Secession.

A variety of other names came into use during the war and in the decades following it, most of which reveal partiality to one side or the other, a tone of reconciliation, humor or an emphasis on some aspect of the conflict. These include the Great Fratricide, the War of Northern Aggression, the War for Constitutional Liberty, the War Between the States, the War Between the North and the South, the War for Southern Independence, the Second American Revolution, the War for States’ Rights, Mr. Lincoln’s War, the Southern Rebellion, the War for Southern Rights, the War of the Southern Planters, the War of the Rebellion, the War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance, the Brothers’ War, the Great Rebellion, the War for Nationality, the War for Southern Nationality, the War Against Slavery, the Civil War Between the States, the War of the Sixties, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Yankee Invasion, the War for Separation, the War for Abolition, the War for Union, the Confederate War, the War of the Southrons, the War for Southern Freedom, the War of the North and the South, the Lost Cause, the Late Unpleasantness, the late Friction, the Late Ruction, the Schism, the Uncivil War and, especially in the South in the years since it ended, simply as the War. 

Overseas, the conflict was given still other names. For example, contemporary German writers refer to it as the North American War." 

Hopefully I have included some names for the Civil War that you had not yet heard before — and if you know of any that I have missed please add to the list by posting a comment here! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Wine Tasting: Vallebelbo Moscato d'Asti

Vallebelbo's Moscato d'Asti is a deliciously sweet Italian white wine that prominently features flavors of fig and honey and has some trace bubbliness, which gives it a somewhat festive feeling. 

I am not sure where the bottle I found in my refrigerator came from and it did not have a year on it, something that is not altogether uncommon with white wines, which are generally intended to be consumed sooner rather than later. 

I enjoyed this vintage as an aperitif but think it is perhaps a little too full-bodied for these purposes and would be best suited as a desert wine. It would pair nicely with any sort of fruit, especially dried pineapple, but I would not by any means drink it with most entrees (although people who like sweet wines with their meals might enjoy it in this way). 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Exercise in Resolve, Month 2

Was pleased to have achieved my goal of exercising outside every day, rain or shine, every day but one in January! For me that means walking a distance of from at least 0.6 miles on my worst days (i.e., just up to the mailbox and back) to as much as 3.25 miles on my best day, and generally with some sort of a load that might include a walking stick, messenger bag, and/or backpack and has thus far weighed up to 23.5 pounds total. February has, unfortunately, been a very stressful month and everything has been much more of a struggle. For the most part, however, I have largely managed to match the frequency if not the intensity of my walks. 

February 1 (Sunday): Walked 2.5 miles but, as my hips were hurting and I wanted a break for them, left the backpack behind and carried only about 8 pounds. Diane carried her daypack but was unhappy with how it felt. 
February 2 (Monday): Walked 2.5 miles with full load of c. 22 pounds. Diane switched over to a full-sized pack and was pleased with how it felt. 
February 3 (Tuesday): Pretty cold and wet and pushed off the walk until fairly late and then just knocked out a minimum walk of 0.6 miles to mailbox with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 4 (Wednesday): Cool and gloomy but good weather for walking and got in a 2.5-mile walk with about 22 pounds. 
February 5 (Thursday): Walked our regular 2.5-mile route with about 22 pounds. 
February 6 (Friday): Were on the road, did not get home until after dark, and did not get our walk in! (But did get some incidental walking in the course of our errands.) 
February 7 (Saturday): Walked up to mailbox, 0.6 miles, with about 6.5 pounds. 
February 8 (Sunday): Walked c. 1.5 miles, about a third of it through woods and over rough ground, with about 8 pounds of weight. 
February 9 (Monday): Walked 1.8 miles with about 8 pounds of weight. Warm and sunny! 
February 10 (Tuesday): Another beautiful day! Walked 0.6 miles with about 6.5 pounds. 
February 11 (Wednesday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 12 (Thursday): Walked 1.8 miles with c. 7 pounds. 
February 13 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles with c. 22 pounds. 
February 14 (Saturday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 15 (Sunday): Walked at least 1.2 miles with at least c. 8 pounds. 
February 16 (Monday): 
February 17 (Tuesday): 
February 18 (Wednesday): 
February 19 (Thursday): Walked 2.5 miles with c. 9 pounds. 
February 20 (Friday): No walk. 
February 21 (Saturday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6 pounds. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Love Texas Hearts

To me, Texas Hill Country is a place that is very romantic, in the broadest sense of the word. With its rolling hills, deep wooded ravines, and slow-moving rivers, it seems as mysterious, ancient, and alluring as any rural Mediterranean province in Italy or France.
     This romantic sensibility is most profoundly expressed, I think, by the local custom of referring to indigenous clam fossils as “Texas Hearts.” (OK, so fossilized clams might not be the most romantic thing I could have written about in recognition of Valentine’s Day, but the only other thing reminiscent of Texas I could think of would have been something related to beef hearts, to which my wife responded with “Yuck!”)
     During the Cretaceous period (c. 145 million to 65 million BCE), the area of south-central Texas that we know today to be profoundly hilly was instead part of a warm, shallow sea, and inhabited, among other things, by a wide variety of now-extinct shellfish. The calcium from the shells of such creatures is what ultimately formed the native limestone that characterizes the area  to a depth of more than 1,000 feet in some places  and over the millennia it was uplifted by geological processes and gradually formed in to the land we know today.
     Texas Hearts are, in short, fossilized bivalve clams that date to this extended geological period. And they do, in fact, look very much like actual hearts, and even a little bit like the stylized images that appear on Valentine’s Day cards and are used as used as shorthand for the word “love.”
     The term “Texas Hearts” is sometimes also applied to fossilized sand dollars, sea urchins, and other marine organisms, but these do not actually look much like hearts at all, and are more properly referred to in my mind as “Texas Stars.” All such fossilized remains are, in any event, fairly common throughout Texas, from San Antonio to Fort Worth, and are a selling point for visitors.
     “If you pay attention to where you walk in these limestone hills, you’re pretty apt to find all sorts of fossils,” the Bandera Convention and Visitors Bureau says on its website. “If you are lucky, you may even find what we call a ‘Texas Heart,’ which is a fossilized clam and looks just like a heart. Usually, they are about the size of a large apple.”
     “One of the best places to fossil hunt is along the creek and river beds where the water has washed away the soil,” the Bandera CVB advises. “Another good place is along the road where the earth was cut back to build the road.” Anyone who has driven along appropriate roads on nice weekend days has very likely seen people applying this methodology.
     And anyone taking an observant walk through Hill Country can find Texas Hearts and other fascinating evidence of its ancient and very different past; beyond the fossilized clams I have discovered over the last year-and-a-half, the most prized treasure I have found is the fossilized tooth of what must have been a gargantuan shark.
     Not everyone’s own heart is, of course, stirred by such things … But, if yours is, then you will likely enjoy Texas Hill Country all the more.
     Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wine Tasting: Oak Grove Vineyard Zinfandel 2010 Reserve

As far as I am concerned, there is no variety of wine that is generally better suited to pair with a steak than a red zinfandel, and the Oak Grove Vineyard Zinfandel 2010 Reserve is a very nice exemplar of the type. This pleasing, medium-bodied vintage has a velvety texture, rich color, an almost gummy viscosity, aromas and flavors that distinctly feature fresh plum, and hints of pepper. 

"Our winemaking staff takes pride in searching out the finest grapes from California's cool coastal regions," Oak Grove says. "Anything off the grill, from sausage to fish, will make this wine shine." 

We enjoyed a bottle of this red zinfandel as an ideal accompaniment to a dinner of marinated sirloin and rice followed by a nice piece of blue cheese (and I am looking forward to trying it again with a ribeye, which I think it would complement nicely).