SONGS I LOVE: “My Someday”

BlondefireIf you’re new to this blog, you might not know that one of my favorite bands is the English group Saint Etienne. If you’ve been around here for a while, you probably know that I love them in large part due to Sarah Cracknell’s voice. Her voice is soft and sultry. Comforting. And although she generally sings in an “accent neutral” voice, you can just tell that she’s English. It’s all very sexy, and combined with the band’s “electro lounge\dance pop” sound, I actually feel as though the band has become my friend. When I listen to Saint Etienne, I feel like I’m wearing an old comfy sweater. I feel like I’m at a secret “cool people’s party” in London. It’s just fun! But then… what would it sound like if Sarah Cracknell were the lead singer for early Pet Shop Boys or Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order?

Wonder no more, my friends, for I have found a band that answers the question. They’re called Blondfire, and they are the brother-sister team of Bruce and Erica Driscoll. The Driscoll children were born in Grand Rapids, Michigan to an American father and a Brazilian mother, and spent many summers in Brazil. They’re bilingual and are citizens of both the US and Brazil. Interestingly, although the band claim to be inspired by musicians like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, and Astrud Gilberto, they actually sound like a British New Wave band.

I recently stumbled upon their MySpace page and instantly fell in love with “My Someday”. Listening to the song is like eating a chocolate cupcake with pink frosting and sprinkles. It’s that sweet, comfy and just a little bit guilty. Give them a listen and tell me what you think!


The Riches: Trust Never Sleeps

First of all, I apologize for this recap coming so late. The missus and I were doing some home improvement projects last week, and much of my time was taken up with taping, painting, drilling and mounting. Because of the delay, I’m also going to keep this recap short… very short. Because, frankly, I don’t remember that much of this episode of The Riches (without watching it all over again, which is something I won’t do).


The Malloys continued to live their separate lives… Wayne is still working for the huge Bayou Hills payoff, Dahlia continues to live her triple life, Cael is now on his own (sort of) and DiDi just wants everything to be “normal” so she can live her life. Sam, on the other hand, gets closer to his Dad this week. He tells Wayne that he’s seen someone snooping through the Riches’ trash cans… and than he cleaned up a some spilled blood and put the towel into the trash. Wayne, to his credit, instantly stops everything and has a “little adventure” with Sam. He quickly figures out that the stranger is the private detective hired to find the now-deceased Pete. Sam and Wayne observe the PI in his cheap hotel room, and see him examining the blood stained towel. Wayne and Dale then hatch a plan. Wayne cuts himself with a knife and stains a towel similar to the one that Sam used. He then calls the front desk of the hotel, pretending to have an important message for the PI. The PI leaves his room, so Wayne and Sam break into his room and replace the towel. Smooth move, and it was good to see Wayne and Sam together. Plus, it’s always good to get a lot of Aidan Mitchell (Sam). That little kid is one of the few child stars that doesn’t drive me nuts, ‘cos he’s actually got good acting chops.

So yeah… Dahlia’s new “triple” life isn’t working out so well, and DiDi’s new B&E jones is kind of weird. But it’s especially weird for Cael, now that he’s back in the Traveler’s camp… with Eamon. We’ll see how that goes…

DOWNLOAD: Steelers 2008 Schedule for Outlook!

The NFL released the official 2008-2009 schedule today… and for the FIFTH YEAR IN A ROW (how time flies!) I’m proud to offer the Pittsburgh Steelers Calendar for Microsoft Outlook!

The “Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 Schedule For Outlook” is compatible with Microsoft Outlook 98 or later. It might also work with Google Calendar or any other program that can import calendar events from CSV files. It has only been tested with Microsoft Outlook, however.

The calendar contains all preseason and regular season Steelers games as well as the name of the network airing the game. All times in the Steelers Calendar are for the Eastern (USA) time zone; a reminder is also scheduled for 8:00PM the day before each game. Fans of other (lesser) teams can also download the file and use it as a template to create a schedule for their favorite teams using any version of Microsoft Excel.

A SPECIAL NOTE: games marked with an asterisk (*) are flex-time games; their start times are subject to change without notice.

Just like the 2007 version of the calendar, I have three versions of the Steelers calendar available for download: the Steelers 2008-09 schedule only, the 2008-09 Steelers schedule with the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, and a calendar with the playoffs and Super\Pro Bowls only. Pick your poison by clicking the appropriate link below:

Steelers 2008 Calendar
Steelers 2008 Calendar with NFL Playoffs
NFL 2008 Playoff Calendar only

(4KB each, and less than 1 minute to download on a 56k connection)

To import the calendar, follow these simple instructions. Make sure to read the all the directions below (especially the “Disabling Reminders” section) carefully before you begin:

  1. Download the file to your desktop and unzip.
  2. Open Outlook and select “File” > “Import and Export” > “Import from another program or file”, then click “Next”.
  3. Choose “Comma Separated Values (Windows)”, then click “Next”.
  4. Use the “Browse” button on the next screen to select the CSV file you unzipped in step 1.
  5. On the next screen make sure to select “Calendar” as the destination then click “Next” and “Finish”… That’s it!

DISABLING REMINDERS: If you wish to disable the reminders, open the CSV file in Excel and change the value of “reminder on/off” (column G) to FALSE for each game before you import the Calendar into Outlook.

TROUBLESHOOTING: If you try to import the Calendar but don’t see any of the games listed in your calendar (especially if you do not get any kind of error message), shut Outlook down completely (open Task Manager to make sure that OUTLOOK.EXE is not running) and re-open Outlook and try the import again.

VERSION INFORMATION: This file was tested on 15 April 2008 on a Windows XP Professional machine running Office 2007 and an XP Professional virtual machine running Office 2003. It was scanned with Active Virus Shield (Kaspersky 6.0.621) and found to be virus-free. It’s the exact same file I’ve used for past versions of the schedule, so it should work for just about everyone.

The Bank Job: Great Film!

I’ve loved movies far back as I can remember. But in the past few years, I’ve watched fewer and fewer movies. Part of this is because Lisa doesn’t much care for movies, so we don’t watch them as a “couples activity”. Another reason is that TV has gotten better and better. With Dexter, The Fixer, Pushing Daisies, Ashes to Ashes, Lost and a dozen other great shows broadcast directly into my home, why go to the movies?

Yet another reason I don’t watch a lot of movies these days – the main reason, in fact – is because movies don’t challenge me any more. We’re all familiar with romantic comedies, right? Boy meets girl, some problem comes up that keeps boy and girl apart, and the problem is resolved at the end of the film (which either involves driving at top speed to the closest airport or a party scene full of people dancing to classic pop songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or some such dreck). Predictable, right? To me, all movies are like that these days… unless you go the other route and watch nothing but Lars Von Trier or David Lynch movies, which are “anti-predictable”… so much so that you want to bang your head against the wall.

This is why I was so surprised by recent film The Bank Job. All I knew going into it was that it was “based on a true story” and that it starred Jason Statham (who could be one of my favorite actors if he’d stop appearing in shitty movies). Given how much I love Guy Ritchie films I figured it’d be just another Brit gangster film… and boy was I wrong!


Staham plays a guy called Terry. He owns a failing used car business somewhere in London in the 1970s. He’s apparently borrowed money from a less than legitimate resource, because two “debt collectors” show up one day and smash up the two decent cars Terry has to sell. He needs money to pay his loan shark off… and quickly.

As if by magic, one of Terry’s old flames, Martine (Saffron Burrows), shows up one day with a plan: a branch of Lloyd’s Bank on Baker Street is having their alarm system replaced, and so the bank will be without a working alarm system for a couple of days while the upgrade takes place. Terry quickly assembles a team of low-level criminals and puts the plan in motion. They rent a leather goods store a couple of stores down from the bank, then begin tunneling under a chicken takeaway to get to the vault, which is stuffed with cash, bonds and jewels.

But there’s more to the story than meets the eye. It’s neither accident nor coincidence that Martine shows up with a bank robbery plan just when Terry needs lots of money. Martine, it seems, was busted trying to bring a not insignificant amount of drugs into the country. At some point during her short incarceration, an MI-5 agent (Britain’s version of the FBI*) offers her a deal: get a gang together and rob the Lloyd’s Bank (and specifically, safety deposit box 118) and not only will they let her go, they’ll even let her keep any of the loot they take from the robbery!


One might wonder… “what sort of thing could be so serious that MI-5 would not only encourage someone to rob a bank, they’d offer immunity to them and let them keep their ill gotten gains?” How about photographs of Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, involved in an interracial orgy?

Worse yet, the photographs are owned by Michael X, a pimp, drug dealer and illegal casino operator who took up the “Black Power” cause in the UK. He was the first non-white to be prosecuted for violating the Race Relations Act when he publicly urged the shooting of any black women seen with a white man. MI-5 is desperate to lock up Michael X, but as long as Michael X threatens to turn the photographs over to the media, they’re powerless to stop him.

As happens with intricate plans, things don’t quite work out the way anyone had planned. Martine was supposed to keep her deal with M-I5 a secret and let everyone else take the fall for the robbery. When she confesses the real motive behind the robbery to the gang, everything changes. And when they find a gangster’s ledger that contains records of hundreds of police bribes and compromising photographs of a high-ranking Member of Parliament (both of which are completely unrelated to the safety deposit box with the photos of Princess Margaret)… well, things get really complicated.

I won’t spoil the movie for you any more… like I said, things do work out in the end, but like I also said, it’s not exactly in the way most of them intended. The most interesting thing about this film is the “based on a true story” label. How much of this story is real, and how much of it is mere speculation?

Much of the details that make up the movie are still classified by the British government (Michael X’s file, for instance, is sealed until 2054). The film’s makers claimed to have an “inside source”, who was identified in press reports as “George McIndoe”. And it appears that the filmmakers went to decent lengths to match what’s known about the incident with the film (the store they rented was indeed called “Le Sac”, and the takeaway was called “Chicken Express”, for example). And of course, Princess Margaret really existed, as did Michael X. So who knows. What I know is that the film is wonderfully entertaining. It far exceeded my expectations, which more than I can say about most films these days!

* – OK, the FBI and MI5 are quite different, actually. But for the purposes of this post, they’re close enough.

My Girlfriend Hates Battlestar Galactica

Lisa hates Battlestar Galactica. When I tried to watch the season 4 premiere last week, she refused to be in the same room with me. I had to change it to something else. I think she even starts tossing and turning in her sleep if I watch it in bed on my portable video player!

This is, of course, a crying shame. Battlestar Galactica is a science-fiction show, but it’s not your “usual” Sci-Fi dreck. It’s not a simple “Old West” story dressed up in futuristic design (like Star Wars). It’s not a soap opera set in space… and it’s not mindless entertainment (like a lot of Sci-Fi in the past few years). Galactica is a story about people, and how they behave and interact with each other in desperate times.

The story behind Battlestar Galactica is this: a race of human beings somewhere in the universe created a bunch of robotic slaves called Cylons. The Cylons eventually became “self-aware” and rebelled against their human masters. A war of epic proportions broke out, and neither side was able to gain a full victory. So a cease-fire was called, and for 40 years there was an uneasy peace between the humans and Cylons. One day, however, the Cylons launched a massive attack on the human settlements (called the “Twelve Colonies”). Almost all of the humans on these planets died in a nuclear holocaust. A handful of people on the various planets survived, but the bulk of the survivors were people in transit on spaceships. One of the surviving ships was the Battlestar Galactica, a giant spaceship (a cross between an aircraft carrier and battleship) left over from the human\Cylon war. The remaining ships gather around Galactica and this “rag-tag fleet” begins searching for the mythical “Thirteenth Colony”… Earth.

So… that’s it in a nutshell. But there’s so much more than that. The Cylons, you see, originally looked like robots, so much so that humans gave them the disparaging nickname “toasters”. But the Cylons have spent the past 40 years working on making Cylons that look and act just like humans. These “new” Cylons are so nearly identical to humans that “real” humans cannot tell the difference. They bleed just like humans. They have real “human” skin. They look just like a “real” human under an x-ray or CAT scan. In fact, there are only two ways to tell when a “human” is really a Cylon: the first is when\if they suddenly act crazy and try to blow up a ship. The second is when people discover “copies” of the Cylons (there are only 12 “models” of “human Cylon”, so when an exact duplicate of someone that doesn’t have a twin brother\sister shows up, you know that they’re Cylons).

As you might guess, the humans freak out when they discover that the Cylons have figured out how to make “people”. Witchhunts aplenty begin popping up all over the fleet. An “Us vs. Them” mentality rears its ugly head, and much of the first season of Battlestar Galactica will be uncomfortably familiar to most Americans in this post-09/11 world. In fact, you could substitute the word “terrorists” or “Islamic militants” every time someone on BSG says “Cylons” and you would have the same conversation that’s taking place all over America today. At some point, many “human Cylons” (and those suspected of being “human Cylons”) are tortured in scenes eerily similar to Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. Just as in todays’ America, many of the humans in Battlestar Galactica oppose profiling and torture, and there’s an ongoing battle between the military and civilian leadership for control of the fleet. Sound familiar?

And I haven’t even mentioned theology yet. The humans, you see, are polytheists. Like ancient Greeks and Romans, the humans worship a panoply of gods and goddesses. The Cylons, on the other hand, are monotheists, who believe that they were created by the humans acting through the One True God. To the Cylons, humans are imprefect, while they themselves are perfect creatures created in God’s own image. Again, does this sound familiar? Interestingly, it seems that the One True God of the Cylons also gave them a certain measure of free will. At the beginning of the series, Cylons are somewhat similar to Terminators – simple robots hell-bent on carrying out their missions. As Cylons interact with people, some of them begin to change. One of the Cylons, Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii, foe example, falls in love and starts siding with the humans. Towards the end of season 3, a chasm develops between the Cylons, where some of them continue to work towards the complete annihilation of humanity in general, while other Cylons that want to “work with” the humans to find a middle ground that everyone can be happy with.

I’ve left gigantic holes in my summary of Battlestar Galactica. I haven’t even mentioned Gaius Baltar, the show’s resident “is he evil or not?” character. Suffice it to say, if you haven’t watched Battlestar Galactica, you’re really missing out.

Current human population: 39,676

SONGS I LOVE: “Afraid of You”

Our Sleepless ForestIt’s been a long time since I’ve done a “Songs I Love” post (the last one was February 26th, 2008, and before that it was December 17th, 2007!). My apologies for that.

I have traditionally posted music from 1980s artists in these posts, and I’ve done that for two reasons: one, because I grew up in the 80s, and that’s the music I like; and two, because some tiny part of me thinks that the Music Police only bust people who post new music.

They won’t care about some middle-aged guy posting an ancient Tubeway Army track on an obscure blog somewhere… but post the latest Justin Timberlake track, and here come the guys with handcuffs! It’s silly, I know… but I just can’t help it. Fortunately, I’ve found a brand new band good enough to make me overcome this fear.

They’re called “Our Sleepless Forest”. They’re a bunch of young guys from South London (many Internet posts about them talk about how they’re barely of legal drinking age in the UK, which is 18). And the music they make is simply amazing. It grabs your attention in an instant, and holds it there until they’re done with you. As I’ve said many times before on this blog, I’m not someone that can experience “love at first listen” with most bands. I usually have to listen to things over and over before I really start liking them. Even with a song I really like (say, Tiesto’s remix of Paul Oakenfold’s “Southern Sun”), I start with “that’s pretty interesting”, then move on to “huh – not bad”, then go to “hey, I like this!” to finally, “I love this!” (In the case of “Southern Sun”, it took hours to finally reach the “love it” stage, since the song is over 9 minutes long). With Our Sleepless Forest, I has able to skip all those levels and fall instantly in love!

The music is not for everyone, however. It sounds like… well, imagine what an instrumental This Mortal Coil song would sound like on acid. There’s plenty of gentle acoustic guitar, delicate synths, and sound effects that could sound out of place, but (surprisingly) don’t. Above all, there’s an unbelievable amount of sheer beauty in their music. Imagine the soundtrack to your most beautiful dream, and that’s what Our Sleepless Forest sounds like. It’s my favorite new album of the year (by far), and I can see myself as a “Sleepless Fan” for some time to come. Have a listen and tell me what you think:


The Riches: Slums of Bayou Hills

Wow! I tried to think of a polite way to say it, but I just can’t. The shit really hit the fan this week on The Riches… and I’m not sure how the Malloys will be able to hold it together this time.

Last week’s episode ended with Dahlia confessing her parole violations to a sympathetic parole officer she learned about at Nina’s AA meeting\drug buy. Dahlia walks into the parole officer’s office, thinking that he’ll accept her story at face value… only she couldn’t be more wrong. He cuffs her and yells at her. In a surprising burst of naivety, Dahlia actually seems… shocked that the officer doesn’t believe her story (when we, the home viewers, can easily see how it could be the same line of crap that the parole officer has heard a million times). The officer then cuts her some slack, giving her 24 hours to get a place to live and a job. In yet another incredible display of naivety, Dahlia seems shocked that no one wants to hire her – not even coffee shops and dive bars. Maybe Dahlia’s never actually looked for a real job before… I dunno. But she ends up getting a job at a seafood restaurant and renting an “apartment” in what appears to be a boarding house.

Dahlia repeatedly tried to ask Wayne for help, but this guy… whew… Wayne has his own problems! The Bayou Hills development in now in motion, and some of the investors are coming in for a meeting about it. The only problem is that one of the investor’s attorneys – Barry Stone, played by Curtis Armstrong (Booger!) – went to law school with Doug Rich. The attorney is visibly confused when he sees “Doug Rich”, but doesn’t say anything… especially after Sam (looking through Doug’s papers at home) finds some dirt on Barry, which keeps him quiet. Barry quietly manages to get word to his boss – Felix Minkov – that “Doug” is a con-man. After the meeting, Felix violently confronts Wayne, and tells him that he knows that Wayne is not Doug, is not a lawyer, and that they (Felix and Wayne) will set Hugh up and take all the money for themselves:


Lest you think that’s the only thing going on with Wayne, he was also busted during the meeting by his long-suffering assistant, Aubrey. She sat quietly during the meeting, sending Wayne instant messages about legal terms he didn’t know. When Hugh and Felix announce that they’re going to screw the poor people out of the deal (Bayou Hills is to be built on what used to be public land; the government is selling it to Panco on the condition that they set aside some of the housing for poor Hurricane Katrina victims), Aubrey becomes furious with everyone, but especially Wayne. She threatens to bust him, but Wayne somehow manages to convince her not to. He says that he agreed to the plan to “evict” the poor people just to get Bayou Hills built in the first place, and that they (Wayne and Aubrey) will figure out a way to get the homes built for the poor people.


And that’s still not all. Dale’s still around, and towards the end of the episode he’s seen calling someone (we don’t know who) on behalf of Eamon and giving them information about Panco. We also see Eamon and Ginny having a conversation about education at the Traveler’s Camp (about James Joyce, of all people)… Oh, and a guy named Chet Landry is now calling “Doug” at Panco looking for Pete! Frankly, I’m surprised that Wayne’s head didn’t explode at the end of this episode. As I said, shit is hitting the fan left and right for the Malloy family, and I just don’t see how they’re going to wiggle their way out of it – especially with only three episodes left in this (strike-shortened) season.

And lastly… Cael and Didi. As we all know, Cael hates life at Eden Falls, but Didi likes it. Most of the time anyway. Didi comes home from school in the middle of all this, and finds Cael (who didn’t go to school at all). The two have a series of heartfelt conversations. Cael suggests that they go to the mall and pull off some scams to get money; Didi refuses, not wanting to be a con artist anymore. He eventually talks her in to “pulling a Molly Branigan” (which is “traveler talk” for acting like street performers). At the mall, Didi sees some of her classmates, and is genuinely embarrassed to be seen busking with Cael. Didi breaks down and admits that she just “can’t do this anymore”. She wants things to be like they were, but she’s changed. She likes life at Eden Falls. The two have a teary “goodbye”, and Didi goes home to work on an English paper.

One last thing: Dahlia was having a really bad day… and once again, Wayne ignored her troubles to get her to help him with his troubles. This echoes the first season… and I hope Dahlia doesn’t fall off the wagon again!

Geography Fun!

I know what you’re thinking… “geography isn’t fun!” And I’d actually agree with you on that. It’s interesting, sure… but fun? Yes! Geography can, in fact, be fun. Check out these bizarre geographic anomalies in the United States:

Kentucky Bend, Kentucky: Kentucky Bend is a tiny enclave of the state of Kentucky caused by a hairpin bend in the Mississippi River. It’s surrounded by Tennessee to the south and the Mississippi River (and Missouri) on the remaining three sides. Interestingly, the bend was caused by earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, and Tennessee claimed the region until 1848:

Kentucky Bend

The Northwest Angle: A tiny sliver of Minnesota extends above the 49th parallel (in fact, the Northwest Angle is the only part of the US above the 49th parallel, not counting Alaska). The Northwest Angle came to pass due to the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War. The treaty stated that the boundary between the U.S. and what would eventually become Canada would run “…through the Lake of the Woods to the most northwesternmost point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi…” The only problem was that the map the treatymakers were using was wrong. In time, the error was noticed, but not “corrected”. Amusingly, any time the Angle’s residents get angry with the United States, talk of annexation by Canada comes up, although nothing serious have ever come of such talk. The Angle is shown here in purple:

Northwest Angle

Elm Point, Minnesota: Another enclave on Lake of the Woods, Elm Point is located southwest of the Northwest Angle.

Point Roberts, Washington: Yet another enclave, Point Roberts is located on the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula. By all rights, Point Roberts should be part of British Columbia, Canada. But the Oregon Treaty of 1818 (which attempted to settle long-standing border disputes between the US and the UK), defined the border as being the 49th parallel (except for Vancouver Island, which was retained by the British). Someone, somewhere eventually noticed that a tiny sliver of the peninsula existed south of the parallel, and thus, Point Roberts became part of the United States. As in the Northwest Angle and Elm Point, you can only get to Point Roberts by ferry or by driving through Canada:

Point Roberts, Washington

Estcourt Station, Maine: this tiny town (population: 4) is located directly on the border between Maine and Quebec. Many of the (now abandoned) homes were built in Estcourt Station before the border between the US and Canada was finalized, leading to some interesting situations (your house is in the US; your neighbor across the street lives in Canada). Interestingly, there are no public roads that connect Estcourt Station with the rest of Maine – just privately-owned logging roads. The closest public road is Rue Frontière, a street on the Québec side of the border. Although part of the United States, Estcourt Station uses Quebec’s 418 area code, and relies on Hydro-Québec for electricity and the nearby Canadian town of Pohenegamook for water and other municipal services. Estcourt Station was the site of an “international incident” back in October of 2002: because the area is so sparsely populated, border agents there only work part-time. Michel Jalbert, a Canadian citizen and Pohénégamook resident, was imprisoned for three months in the U.S. after purchasing gas at Estcourt Station’s (now closed) gas station outside of normal operating hours for the U.S. Customs Service. American Border Patrol agents stated that Mr. Jalbert was a convicted felon (he was convicted of minor vandalism at age 19) and in illegal possession of a firearm; he was reportedly preparing for the local deer hunting season and had a rifle in his truck.