Friday, February 29, 2008

The sweet sound of monotony

A good friend of mine, a creative guy who shares my tastes in good bourbon and better beer, recommended a band to me the other day. Actually, what he did was recommend a song, and then act all shocked when I had never heard of the band.

The band is Kings of Leon. They've been around for a while. But in the process of being around, they managed to, without any real effort on their part, slip under my musical radar. Here's a sampling of what I was missing:

So, yeah. Good stuff, right? It got me thinking: How could a solid act like Kings of Leon, who have a big label, a good story and a song in a car commercial remain unknown to me? The answer is both simple and a little depressing.

First of all, being not just a working stiff but a nocturnal working stiff is strike one. Going to shows is tough sledding unless you're willing to miss all the opening acts.

Second, radio in Chicago is bad. Borderline unlistenable. My favorite station is "scan." But even if I catch a song I do like, the odds are it's one I've heard before and already love... the radio waves have a way of dulling the cutting edge.

That leaves recommendations from friends. Some of my acqaintences are frighteningly well-informed of the latest and bestest music, so that works in my favor. But it just seems to be a topic that never comes up.

The point? I need to lean on my audiophile friends to spill the goods so I can fill up my iTouch. And thus become hip and cool, like Kings of Leon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Barbecue: A matter of taste. Cold weather: A matter of having warm gloves

In my continuing quest to find great barbecue in Chicago, I sampled the smoked wares of the Smoke Shack in Lincoln Park on Sunday. This place is brand-new, Argentinian and recommended by Chicago Magazine. A recipe for tasty ribs.

But actually, a recipe for tasty ribs is great meat, a knowedgeable smoker (the person, not the machine) and sauce you don't mind having smeared on your face.

That's what I learned after riding my bike for two and a half hours (round trip) and forgetting to bring gloves. My thumbs are still thawing.

But about that barbecue: The Smoke Shack is in the bottom third of places I've tried in Chicago so far. The sauce was thin and not particularly distinctive; the "hot" stuff barely tickeled my tongue. The pulled pork was a bit dry and not very well pulled. And the rib meat, although properly smoky and bearing the correct amount of sauce, was not inclined to easily give up its grip on the bone.

Brisket pictured was not ingested by author.

On the other hand, let's be honest, I need to try it again. Being transported on the handlebars of a bike five or so miles through subfreezing weather didn't do the food any culinary favors. Plus I didn't order the brisket this time around.

And I loves me some brisket, especially on cold winter days.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rocket porn

There are dorks, and there are dorks. And then there's me, who shot model rockets into the atmosphere above Kansas City, went to Space Camp (and Space Academy and Aviation Challenge), and is still hoping some benevolent zillionaire out there would like to send a journalist into space.

Maybe that explains why I find this so fascinating, even in slow motion. ESPECIALLY in slow motion:

And if you weren't convinced of the depths of my dorkiness yet, let me throw some trivia at you.

-Those sparks in the video are there to ignite any excess hydrogen (the fuel for the Shuttle's main engines) and oxygen that might build up beneath the launch stack. Notice how once the main engines get throttled all the way up, the sparks actually bounce off the exhaust as if it were solid.

-The engines don't ignite simultaneously. The delay--which you can see clearly in slow-motion--is 120/1000th of a second.

-When all three of the engines light and throttle up, the shuttle stack actually sways forward.

-There is a delay of a few seconds between main engine ignition and ignition of the solid rocket boosters (the big pointy things under the shuttle's wings). If anything goes wrong with the startup of the engines during those few seconds, the launch can stop. If the SRBs light, well, you're leaving the ground.

-As impossibly powerful as those engines are (each produces about 400,000 pounds of thrust), together they don't even produce as much thrust as a single F-1 engine (1.5 million pounds of thrust), five of which were used to launch the Saturn V booster that shot the Apollo missions into space.

Cool stuff, right? Right?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Not-quite-as-big-as-it-could-have-been Bang

The idea of something really big and really fast hitting the Earth is intriguing and frightening. Intriguing because it entails a bit of "elsewhere"--material that probably originated millions of miles and billions of years away--landing in our backyard. Frightening because giant pieces of rock moving at hyperkinetic velocities tend to make big holes.

Not to mention terrible movies.

That's why it's cool to get the good without the bad. Looks like that happened Tuesday in the Pacific Northwest.

I haven't heard whether anyone's found the actual meteorite. Maybe it exploded or burned up before hitting the ground--thanks, atmosphere! Or maybe it actually delivered a race of sentient robots.

We'll see....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A nicely written ending

Now that the writers strike has hit –30– (a journalism joke that three people, two of whom accidentally found this blog while searching for old Mike Royko columns, just chuckled at), I think we can reflect on what it all means.

For me, it means having to remember to tell my friend Tivo to record “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Office” and “Flight of the Conchords” again.

Flying through a TV screen near me soon. Probably the one in my living room.

For the writers, it means coming up with ways to make the Internet funny—or at least interesting—will now be marginally profitable.

And of course for the producers, it means having to pay writers appropriately for their creativity.

That’s enough of a win-win-win for me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Like Radio Shack, I've got answers

If not countless shelves of batteries and one year no-interest financing.

"Quarterdeck," the newsletter of McBooks Press, has published an interview with author and renowned CTA-curser Gerry Doyle. Besides a giant picture of me, you can hear the answers to such hard-hitting questions as, "How many planes fly over your house every day?" and "Do you really love 'Canticle for Leibowitz' as much as you pretend to?"

An excerpt:

How do you name your characters?

Step one: buy some darts. Step two: throw them at a phone book. Seriously, coming up with good names is tough. I just play around with combinations until something sounds right. It can take a while.

Do you plot out your novels before beginning to write?

Nope. I’ve found that getting too specific about plot before I write tends to assassinate good ideas. I’ll sketch out in my head what I generally want to happen, then let the characters do it their own way. A lot of this “What if?” thinking happens during my commute--thanks, CTA!

And that's just a sampling of my earthshaking insights. For more, check out the newsletter here.