Monday, December 30, 2013

"Star Trek" revisited

After reading the flawed but highly entertaining and informative "These Are The Voyages" book about the development of the first season of the original "Star Trek" TV series, I was inspired to watch that first season again. I picked up a new release of the original show on Blue-Ray disks, with the option of watching them with the original special effects or new, enhanced effects. I chose the latter.

Of course, I could not just stop at the first season -- I had to watch all three. It took me about three weeks to watch them all, including the special features, and -- for the first time for me -- the original pilot episode "The Cage", parts of which were later edited into the two-part season one episode "The Menagerie".

And it was very interesting. Here, in no particular order, are a few observations:

1.) Casting Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock was either one of the most incredible bits of luck ever, or an act of sheer brilliance, or maybe some of both. Nimoy played the role to the proverbial "t". The closest to this nearly-perfect meshing of actor to role that I can think of right now is a toss-up between Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

Nimoy played Spock with a pitch-perfect blend of gravitas, humor, and passion (those last two qualities extremely difficult to pull off with a character such as the half-Vulcan Spock). It helped that he had excellent foils in William Shatner and DeForest Kelley, but Nimoy's Spock would probably have been intensely watchable had he been the only crew member on the U.S.S. Enterprise. (I am speaking of Spock as he appeared in the body of the series, NOT in the first two pilot episodes -- therein Spock was still very much a work in progress.)

2.) Some of William Shatner's former "Star Trek" castmates have bitterly complained about him stealing lines from them. Watching this series again, I have to say in my opinion that Shatner deserved every line he had, and THEN some. That guy had so much passion for what he was doing -- his performances in that series was the absolute antithesis of "phoning it in".

3.) Fans who have not watched the original series via the Blue-Ray disks, on a high definition TV of a decent size (something forty inches or greater) have not really seen the original series. There is a wealth of heretofore unseen color, detail and texture that comes through in this new presentation. It gave me a much greater appreciation for what the craftspeople who created the show were able to do with their relatively skimpy budgets back in the late 1960's.

4.) Except for a few obviously dated bits of technology (for example, the oft-referred-to computer "tapes") and social and sexual mores, the show feels amazingly fresh and contemporary.

5.) I've read many times about the unusual genesis of the original "Star Trek" series, and how Gene Roddenbery somehow managed the rare feat of getting two pilot episodes made for one series, the first pilot ("The Cage") being rejected by the network allegedly because it was "too cerebral".

I'd never seen that first pilot episode in its entirety, although I had several times watched the two-parter "The Menagerie", which incorporated quite a bit of the footage and story from "The Cage" in a very clever manner. But this Blue-Ray set includes the complete "The Cage", so I decided that I would watch it. I came away with the impression of another, perhaps more important reason the network rejected it: It wasn't very good.

Especially when compared to the other episodes in the first season, "The Cage" just feels old-fashioned and stilted. The lantern-jawed Jeffrey Hunter as captain of the Enterprise doesn't help, having about one-tenth the charisma of Shatner's Captain Kirk. Design elements of parts of the ship's interiors, such as the little gooseneck-mounted gizmos on the bridge, feel like they're from the era in filmed entertainment when spacemen carried "rayguns" and spaceships were powered by rockets. There's a real dullness to the look of the show, exemplified by the boring colors chosen for the Enterprise's interiors.

It's really amazing to see how much had changed and evolved for the better between the time the first pilot had been made and the first series episode was aired. The ship was brighter and more appealing, the technology sleeker and more future-oriented, and the cast much better. My gut feeling is that if the network HAD bought that first pilot and had gone to series with that as the template, with that original cast, we would not be talking about "Star Trek" in 2013. 

5.) The "space hippies" episode ("The Way to Eden") has not aged well, and I suspect it never will.

6.) It's probably a good thing that the use of new character Chekov as comic relief pretty much ended about halfway through the second season.

7.) The characters in this series seemed like real adults doing real adult jobs... which is probably one of the reasons I disliked the two recent "Star Trek" feature films, in which the characters seemed more  like poorly-trained squabbling teenagers trying to fly their parents' starship.

8.) DeForrest Kelley's Dr. McCoy -- referred to as "Bones" through much of the series -- really is one of the coolest characters ever. -- PL

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Green Christmas part 2

It's not as warm today as when I posted the previous entry, but new snow has not yet fallen. I took a walk around the center of Amherst this afternoon, past the Emily Dickinson house, and stopped on the Amherst College campus to take some photos which I later turned into a panoramic view. This is looking north towards the town green.

I was struck by how much this did NOT look like a scene observed the day before Christmas. It looks much more like a spring day, perhaps sometime in April, right down to the scrubby, stubborn piles of snow -- the ones compressed into hard lumps by snowplows... the last holdouts, grudgingly melting into the warming earth.

I know it's not spring... and we very likely have a whole lot of white stuff left to fall on top of us over the next few months... but I still like this green and pleasant vista. -- PL

Monday, December 23, 2013

Green Christmas

I know the classic "white Christmas" look has its charms -- the land draped in a blanket of glistening white snow, the outlines of fir trees and rocks and cars and houses (everything, really) softened, transformed by their white frosting, and so on.

However, as I approach my seventh decade of life in this corner of the world, winter has lost a significant part of its appeal to me... not that it ever had THAT much appeal, I have to say. It is with a certain sense of dread that I watch those first white flakes falling, usually in late November or early December. I start thinking about shoveling, snowblowing, slipping on ice, worrying about heat, and so on. And having to give up motorcycling and bicycling and eating outside, to name but a few things, for three or four or more months.

That's why I was quite tickled to get out yesterday in the 53 degree weather, drive downtown through thick ground fog coming form the sublimating snow, and actually go for a bicycle ride. It was warm enough that I knew I'd be comfortable, but I wasn't sure if the bike path would be clear of snow. The first section -- the little switchback path access ramp behind Fitzwilly's in Northampton -- was not encouraging, as it was still mostly covered with icy, rutted snow. However, when I walked my bike up to the actual path, I was very pleased to see that it was completely devoid of snow!

I ended up having a lovely ride up to Florence, where I had lunch at the Cup and Top restaurant. I was actually a little too warm during the ride in the winter gear I'd chosen, but I wasn't about to complain.

What a treat, to ride the bike path two days before Christmas! I know this is not the end of the snow -- we'll likely get hit with a bunch more over the next couple of months -- but for this moment, it's sweet. I like looking out from our breakfast table and seeing a wide swath of green instead of white.

With apologies to my dear wife, who mentioned a couple of days ago that she hoped we'd have enough snow to make it a "white Christmas", I wouldn't mind if it stayed this way for a while. -- PL

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A blast from Christmas past

I was looking through my hard drive for something Christmas-appropriate to post here, and came upon this black and white version of the drawing I did for the official 2007 Mirage Studios Christmas card. I don't think I've ever posted it here or on my TMNT blog, so...

The idea here was to create a believable Turtle head-shaped door knocker looking like it was somewhat  crudely cast in brass. (The door knocker idea was probably meant to evoke the one which played an important -- if brief -- part in Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol".)

I'm not sure if I succeeded if making it look like metal, but I like the overall look of the drawing. One thing I wish I had spent more time on, at least in the design phase, is the part of the bandana which is meant to be the surface upon which the striker of the door knocker hits -- if you glance at the drawing quickly, it kind of looks like a big tongue.

If memory serves, the finished card featured computer colors by me and some added snow effects by Eric Talbot.

Merry Christmas! -- PL

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nice ice

I've never been much of a fan of winter, and the snow and ice and cold it brings, and even less so now that I am approaching the beginning of my sixth decade of existence in this form. 

(Seconds after I typed that last line, I glanced up from my keyboard and saw out of the kitchen windows that new snow is flurrying down.


However, I also admit that winter, brutal and nasty as it can be, also occasionally brings with it some beautiful sights, large and small. Case in point: I was checking on some stuff in my barn, and noticed a lot of ice forming on the evergreen shrubbery next to the barn door, from water dripping off the edge of the barn roof.

I've always liked the look of things encased in ice, especially plant life -- there is something magical about it, as if the ice is some kind of transparent chrysalis for the vegetation, which will somehow be transformed when spring comes and the ice melts away.

Here are a few shots I took with my pocket camera, trying to get in close and at different angles to capture the look of this phenomenon. -- PL

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Floating on a sea of green

As winter arrives in earnest, I thought it might be nice to take a brief -- and somewhat surreal -- look back at this summer. -- PL

Monday, December 9, 2013

Wreath making party!

Once a year, in early December, our house gets very noisy. People talking, walking around, eating cookies and cake and vegetables with various dips, wrestling pine boughs into wire wreath frames, hunting down just the right shiny bits to brighten up their wreaths -- yes, it's Jeannine's annual wreath making party. 

She's been doing this since our daughter was an infant, and although I am not at all what you would call a party person, this is one party I enjoy. It's tiring, but a lot of fun, and the house smells great -- all those pine branches and the delicious cooking aromas. And we get to see people we don't see as often as we'd like.

Plus, we have the opportunity to view all kinds of unique and creative wreaths. Here's a shot of my relatively staid one:

This year, I actually got started on and finished my wreath before guests started to arrive, allowing me more time to walk around and chat with friends and family. I think I'll make that a tradition. -- PL

P.S. Jeannine and Emily did a lot of baking and cooking, but I made one contribution to the food spread -- these fruit plates. Love the little shiny plastic forks!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What are these?

While walking around the yard yesterday, I noticed these intriguingly-shaped brown objects.

Can anyone identify them for me? -- PL

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Help Stan Sakai!

I was just made aware, via a comment posted today in my recent "Ask PL #11" blog entry, that CAPS, the Cartoon Art Professional Society, has started a fund-raising effort, though direct donations of money and donations of original artwork which will be auctioned, to try to help out Stan Sakai and his wife Sharon with the many expenses they have incurred recently as they have struggled with Sharon's health issues. 

For more information, go to this link:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Norman Witty

A few days ago, I was apprised via emal that my old friend Norman Witty had passed away this week.

Norman (I never called him -- or heard him called -- "Norm") was a collector of and dealer in comics, records, books, magazines, and original artwork, among other things, operating out of his building on upper Main Street in Northampton, MA. I met him during my college years, when I would occasionally come over from Amherst to Northampton to shop for second-hand comics (the ones I could afford, that is) at his store, Omega Books. I remember that Norman was an admirer of Jack Kirby's work, and this led me into conversation with him. Eventually, I guess Norman thought I was smart enough to work for him on a part-time basis as a clerk in Omega Books, which was kind of a dream job for me.

I learned a lot from Norman in those years about comics, and comic art, and things collectible. I remember him showing me old magazines he would buy and sell to collectors, pointing out the beautiful painted artwork by illustrators such as J.C. Lyendecker. The first comic book convention I ever went to was in New York City, and I went there with Norman to work at his table in the dealers' room. I think it was at that convention where, with Norman's assistance (he pointed me in the direction of the dealer who had the art), I got my first piece of comic book art, a page from "The Mighty Thor" featuring artwork by Jack Kirby (inked by Vince Colletta), a page which I still have and still treasure.

I think I worked part-time for Norman for a couple of years, and during that period I would occasionally do drawings for him to be used in advertisements for Omega Books. Norman encouraged me in my pursuit of an illustration career, though he was always frank about when a drawing of mine was substandard, and I appreciated that.

One thing I remember doing for Norman during those years was helping him make the store sign for Omega Books which hung on the facade of his building. At the time, I still had access to the wood shop over at UMass, and I used that access to the power saws there to cut large letters out of masonite, letters making up the words "Omega Books", which would be mounted on a long strip of masonite and painted. (If memory serves, the "O" in "Omega" was actually the Greek symbol for Omega, Ω.) I think that sign stayed on the outside of the building for several years, and I remember looking at it from time to time and wishing I'd been more precise about the cutting I'd done around some of the letters.

When I moved away to New Hampshire and then to Connecticut, I lost touch with Norman, but when I moved back to the Northampton area I would occasionally run into him in town. He was getting increasingly hard of hearing in his later years, so it was harder to have a conversation with him, but it was always worth it, as Norman always had something interesting to say. -- PL

P.S. The photo above is of Kevin Eastman and Norman at a San Diego Comicon, probably in the mid-1980's. I apologize for the poor quality and wish I had a better one of Norman, but that's actually the ONLY one I have of him, as far as I know.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sunset clouds, downtown Northampton, November 14, 2013

Getting ready to head home from downtown Northampton yesterday, I was struck by the beautiful colors in the sunset sky. Unfortunately, quite a few telephone poles and wires impinged on the view, but I managed to find an area of the sky view which was not so cluttered.

I like the way it came out.  -- PL

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Jeannine Atkins' "Views from a Window Seat" -- now in print!

Almost since Jeannine and I got together thirty-plus years ago, I have been bugging her about self-publishing some of her wonderful writing work. I doubt that the following is solely the result of my pestering her over the years, but it probably had some kind of effect. (At least I would like to think so.)

Jeannine just finished the final approval stages for her first self-published book, a collection of essays about writing and life from her blog, "Views From A Window Seat", aptly titled "Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life" and it is now available through I'm proud to say that I helped her out a little with the  book design and layout, including her new "Stone Door Press" logo. (I wish I could take credit for the gorgeous photo of flowers she chose for the cover, but that's right from Jeannine's camera and her artist's eye.) -- PL

P.S. Here's a view of the back cover:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seen in Maine...

... scene in Maine. -- PL

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A review of ""These are the Voyages: TOS Season One" by Marc Cushman

I just finished reading a very cool book, "These Are The Voyages" by Marc Cushman. It's a hefty tome -- 580 pages within its hard covers -- and is a fascinating look at the day-to-day creative process which went into making the first season of the original "Star Trek" TV series (also referred as "TOS", for "The Original Series"), using material culled from the extensive files of those who worked on the show, primarily series creator Gene Roddenberry and producer Robert H. Justman. Even if you are not a fan of that first "Star Trek" series, this book is worth reading for insights into how a television series of the 1960's was made. I suspect some of the same issues arise even now when TV series are being produced, more than four decades later -- the rewriting of scripts, the constant battles over budget, and the need to keep things workable on a practical level, to name but a few.

The book isn't lavishly illustrated, and there are no images in color, but there is an entertaining sprinkling of black and white photos throughout, many dealing with behind-the-scenes stuff, some of which I'd never seen before.

Unfortunately, this otherwise wonderful book is marred with what seemed to me to be an overabundance of typographical errors and odd misspellings. My guess would be that much, if not most, if not all of the proofreading was done with the spellcheck function on someone's computer -- leading to some goofy stuff like "breading" for "breeding" in the caption to a photo on page 62.

And there is a very odd line in the author's credit on the back cover, which reads:

"Gene Roddenberry took the pitch from Marc for "Sarek", the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to include a character from TOS and thereby link the two series together."


According to Wikipedia, "Sarek" was the seventy-first episode of "Next Generation", and appeared in the third season of that series. But… a principal character from TOS had already appeared in "Next Generation", in the very FIRST episode of the first season, no less ("Encounter at Farpoint"): Dr. McCoy. DeForest Kelley appeared in this pilot episode as the aged Dr. McCoy, now an admiral, in a lovely, touching scene with the android character Data. 

For a book as seemingly well-researched as this one, that seems like an egregious mistake.

However, it does not put me off recommending this book highly, especially for fans of TOS. And I will certainly be purchasing the promised following volumes, dealing with the second and third seasons of TOS, when they are released. -- PL

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Stick, walking

I was enjoying reading my new "Star Trek" book, "These Are The Voyages", on our front porch swing yesterday. The weather was mild, the late afternoon light was adequate, and I was ensconced in the swing in a posture which Jeannine often chuckles at when she sees me there -- it's not a large swing, probably about four feet wide, so I have to scrunch down a little and hang my legs off the end railing with my knees bent.

It was starting to get a little cool, so I shut my "Star Trek" book and untangled myself, preparing to head inside and maybe read a little more... when I glanced over at the small table next to the swing and saw this:

These insects are so weird and cool. They really do look like some kind of alien species. And I rarely get to see them, probably because they spend most of their time being very well-camouflaged on the branches of bushes and trees.

I don't know why this one in particular thought it would be a good idea to emerge from such a safe haven and crawl over next to me, but I'm glad it did. -- PL

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bruce Laird art in new exhibit

My brother Bruce, prolific painter/photographer/collagist, has two pieces in an upcoming show in East Norwich, Long Island. Here's the poster for the event:

Apparently, the show is only a week long, so act quickly if you want to see it! The artists' reception is October 17. -- PL

Monday, September 30, 2013

Things seen in Fall by the falls

Yesterday was one of those Fall days which inspires me to wish that Fall lasted half the year, or more -- crisp, clear air, bright sunshine pouring through leaves doing their annual costume change. I took the opportunity to bicycle up to Florence, where I picked up a sandwich for lunch, then continued on to my old stomping grounds of Leeds, where Jeannine and I lived for a few years. My intention was to sit at one of my favorite spots and eat my lunch, and that's what I did, perched on the old stone work wall above the Leeds dam and waterfall.

I spent most of that time gazing at the lovely reflections in the river…

... and for a short time was mesmerized by the pattern of the spray of water off a log which had gone over the dam and lodged in the falls below...

… but I also got an unexpected treat, due to the fact that I had picked just the right time to see INTO the river -- the sun was at the perfect angle to allow me to look down into the water and see the bottom of the river quite clearly from my seat on the edge of the dam, without reflections getting in the way.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the water below me, something swimming, something large. (It's visible just to the left of center of this photo.)

I managed to get a fairly decent shot of it -- a large fish, which I think was a trout. 

I rarely see these, especially the big ones, as they tend to be wary and keep to the deeper water. -- PL

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Goofy things you hear on the radio

While driving today, I was listening to an author (whose name I forget) being interviewed on a National Public Radio program, and at one point laughed when she spoke of someone working "24/7, five days a week".

To quote the Robot on the old "Lost in Space" TV show, "That does not compute." -- PL

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sad monster

Something recent, and as yet unfinished, from my sketchbook... -- PL

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Inking by the ocean

I don't draw much these days, so I sometimes forget how much fun it can be to open a bottle of ink, sit down with a fine tip brush and do some inking… especially when someone else has already done the heavy lifting, i.e. the penciling.

This past week, when Jeannine and I were spending some time at the new place in Maine, I drove up to Wells to visit my pal Steve Lavigne (something I will be doing again this coming Saturday, the 14th, when I join Jim Lawson at Steve's "Shellback Artworks" store from noon until 4PM to do a signing). Steve showed me a cool drawing he'd done of Casey Jones, and I asked him if I could ink it. Steve not only agreed, but gave me a bottle of ink and a brush right off one of his store shelves.

I decided to work on it in a space I'd set up in the new house specifically so Jeannine could sit at a window with a great view of the ocean while she writes or reads. I figured it would probably be a good place to draw as well, and I was right. I had a blast inking the drawing, and occasionally looking up and seeing the waves. 

Here's a vertical panorama I made from some photos I took about halfway through the inking process. -- PL

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A short review of "Pacific Rim"

I intended to write a brief review of "Pacific Rim" right after I saw it about a month ago, but it is a measure of just how underwhelmed it left me that I neglected to do it until now. Part of it might have been due to a certain reluctance on my part to criticize too harshly a movie which was clearly made with all good intentions.

I went into the theater expecting to enjoy it, having gotten revved up for it from the various trailers I'd seen before the movie's release. Plus, earlier in the summer, I'd had the great pleasure of meeting some of the guys who'd worked on the visual effects for "Pacific Rim"  (as well as "The Avengers" and several other effects-heavy blockbusters) -- they were alumni of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (as am I) and had come back to UMass as part of an event held at the school. It was very interesting to talk with them about CGi and special and visual effects. They were really nice guys who patiently answered all of my geeky questions.

So I was jazzed for the film, and enjoyed it, but came out of the theater even more convinced that we live in an age where way too much thought and effort is put towards how things look and far too little energy is expended on the story those effects are being used to support. "Pacific Rim" has some fantastic imagery -- in fact, much of the movie is simply crammed with a level of detail and realism which is staggering. It's all well done… on a visual level, at least.

I just wish more care had been taken to craft a story worthy of those effects. And in a film like this, which -- let's be honest now -- exists mostly because the director really, REALLY wanted to make a big-budget "giant mecha versus giant monsters" movie with state-of-the-art visuals, I don't think it's too much to ask that the action -- which is, after all, the main raison d'etre of the movie -- make sense and not be silly. Here's an example that really struck me as particularly dumb: One of the giant monsters, or Kaiju, is fighting one of the giant mecha, or Jaegers, in the ocean. The Jaeger grabs the Kaiju, and in an incredible display of power,  lifts it out of the water, over its head, and throws it…

… into the ocean.

That's right, it throws the monster back into the water. How, I ask, is this sort of move supposed to harm or even slightly slow down a giant creature which is totally at home in that environment? I'd have to watch the movie again to be sure -- and I won't be doing that until it comes out on DVD -- but I think this silly move is repeated one or two more times. It's just… dopey.

For whatever reason, the director -- Guillermo del Toro -- decided to not have the Jaegers stuffed to the gills with what you might reasonably expect giant mechanical fighting mecha intended to battle to the death giant creatures to be equipped with -- stuff like lots of stabbing and slashing and cutting weapons, missiles and rockets and artillery and other projectile weapons with explosive ordnance, high-pressure injectors to force bubbles into the Kajjus' bloodstreams and cripple them, electro-shock devices, flamethrowers, high-powered lasers, super-tough cable loops to strangle and decapitate, and so on -- all those wonderfully nasty bits of killing hardware you might expect to be created by imaginative weapons designers who want to WIN this freakin' war with the giant monsters. Every available surface (except those which have to be kept clear for smooth operation and movement of the Jaegers' limbs) should be studded with impaling spikes and ripping blades made to inflict maximum possible damage on the Kaiju during the Jaegers' close-in battles with these monsters. (Yes, I know there are a few such weapons on display, occasionally, but they are ludicrously few and far between.)

Instead, the Jaegers are treated for the most part like big boxing/wrestling robots -- punching, kicking, throwing and grappling with their opponents. It makes for some fun visuals, and they are amazingly well-done (it's quite incredible, for example, how realistic water simulations are these days, and a lot of the fights showcase these visuals as the Jaegers and Kaiju duke it out in relatively shallow water near the shore), but it's also… well, stupid. -- PL

Monday, August 12, 2013


Some years ago -- it might have been as many as ten, perhaps even more -- I saw a nifty pocket tool online and purchased it. Called the PenTool, and made by KeyGear Corporation, it immediately became one of my favorite gizmos, and to this day, I carry one with me in my shirt pocket, every day.

It's gone through at least two iterations that I know of. That first one I purchased had a yellow barrel, and with the PenTool's hexagonal cross-section, resembled a standard yellow pencil… which was a little odd, because it had nothing in common with a pencil outside of that shape and color. The later models -- one of which you see in these photographs -- were all black, except for the tips, and they also incorporated a new bit of functionality in the form of a swing-out blade, partly serrated, in the cap.

The ToolPen in the above photos functions as a pocket knife, a flat-bladed screwdriver, a Philips head screwdriver, and a ballpoint pen. If you keep the cap on the flat-bladed screwdriver end, it depresses a small button on the barrel of the ToolPen, which retracts the pen point into the Philips head end, protecting the point until you want to use it, at which time you just pull the cap off the flat-bladed screwdriver end, and the point pops out about a sixteenth of an inch.

On one face of the hexagonal plastic cap, the name of the product -- "ToolPen" -- is molded into the cap, and two faces away from that is the name of the company which made it ("Key Gear Corporation"), also molded in.

Except for the body of the cap and possibly the pen reservoir which is hidden (and I've never taken one of these apart to see what it looks like), the ToolPen is all metal. While not a heavy-duty tool, it is solidly built.

It's also incredibly convenient, and I have used it hundreds -- no, probably thousands -- of times since I got that first one. 

Unfortunately, since I bought those original ToolPens (and one year I purchased about a dozen or so to put in Christmas stockings), the product seems to have disappeared. I can't find a site online which sells them, and while I haven't done truly exhaustive searching, it seems that Key Gear Corporation is no longer in business.

Being a big fan of handy pocket tools, I have collected a number of them over the years, and have yet to find one as simple, convenient and useful as the ToolPen. I would hate to think that when the one I have wears eventually wears out or breaks, I won't be able to replace it. 

So we come to the point of this entry -- I'm asking my blog readers if they have seen any ToolPens for sale anywhere online or in a brick and mortar store. If you have, and can point me in the right direction, I'd appreciate it! -- PL

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lazy, stupid misuse of great words #1: countless

I'm not sure if this will become a regular feature of this blog, but I thought it was time to rant a little bit about something that aggravates me every time I see it, and I see it a lot these days. I am referring to the egregious misuse of the word "countless", which is defined by as follows:

too numerous to count; innumerable: the countless stars.

numberless, endless, myriad, unlimited.

For some reason, in recent years, many writers have decided that rather than say "many" or "dozens" or "hundreds" or "thousands" or "millions", which would be far more appropriate and accurate in each respective case, they will use "countless", which is essentially saying that there is an infinite number of __________ … which, unless you are talking about, for example, stars in the infinite universe, is at the very least a WILD over-exaggeration.

And it gets to a sublimely ridiculous point with some of these misuses of "countless", like the one I saw on the back cover of a DVD at Barnes and Noble yesterday. I'd never heard of the group "Lady Antebellum", was intrigued by the name, and picked up the DVD to see what it was about. I flipped it over and read the following bit of copy on the back:

Really? "Countless" awards? Too many to count? I went to Wikipedia and looked up "Lady Antebellum", and in the entry for this group, there was a helpful listing of the various awards they have won since the group was formed in 2006. I counted forty-five -- a very impressive record, to be sure, but not even REMOTELY coming anywhere close to being "countless". I think pretty much anyone can count to forty-five in under a minute.

Why couldn't the copy writers who worked on this DVD just say "dozens", or "more than forty", or even just accurately say "forty-five so far"? How about the old reliable, which served well for a lot of years (and still does, in my opinion): "many"? I think it is due to an all-too-common phenomenon of our age which I think of as "witless exaggeration", a close relative of "ludicrous hype". This grotesque misuse of "countless" seems to be creeping into text everywhere… and it makes me cringe every time I see this great word so poorly, stupidly used. -- PL

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A brief review of "Man of Steel"

Here's my short "Pro/Con" review of the new "Superman" movie, "Man of Steel", which Jeannine and I saw today:


-- Special effects are well done.

-- The explanation for the "S" on Superman's costume is slightly clever.


-- The movie is too long and too loud.

-- It has about one percent of the charm of the first Christopher Reeve "Superman" movie. A lot of that is due to the lack of chemistry among most of the major characters, and the general humorlessness of the script. Kevin Costner gives it his all as Jonathan Kent, Superman's adoptive father, but he isn't provided much to work with, script-wise. (There is one moment near the end of the movie, when in a flashback there is a nicely-lit closeup of Costner, and it struck me that if an "old Superman" movie were to be made in the next few years, he would be well cast in the lead role.)

-- Amy Adams is horribly miscast as Lois Lane. I like Adams as an actress, but she just cannot pull off the worldly, tough-as-nails reporter thing that Margot Kidder did so effortlessly in that aforementioned first Christopher Reeves "Superman" movie. 

-- The storyline is gibberish. This is supposed to be a "realistic" treatment of the Superman mythos, and it fails miserably on almost every count. To pick one supremely ridiculous moment: After people have seen young Clark Kent demonstrate bizarre abilities like extraordinary strength (as in the scene where a whole bus full of his school mates are saved from certain drowning when Clark lifts their bus -- which has plunged into a river -- out of the water, and in other scenes which we don't see but which are referred to in dialogue), Pa Kent -- who is about to be killed in a tornado -- waves Clark off, telling him with the gesture that Clark can't take the risk of revealing his special abilities… even though he already has. So Clark lets his beloved father die when he could have easily saved him, and probably in a way which would be no more outre than any of his other exploits up to that point in his life. It's a hugely stupidly contrived moment.

-- Here's another head-scratching bit: There is something on Krypton called "The Codex", which supposedly contains all of the information for the DNA of every  Kryptonian yet to be born, and before he sends his newborn son off in the little spaceship which will save him from sharing the destruction of Krypton, Jor-El somehow transfers this information into the genetic structure of baby Kal-El's body. So… in this highly advanced, star-faring super-technological society which is Krypton, we are supposed to believe that THEY DIDN'T MAKE MORE COPIES OF THIS CODEX THING??? Its data can be somehow stored inside the body of a baby without taking up any significant space therein, but it can't be copied onto the Kryptonian equivalent of a thumbdrive or DVD?

-- This supposedly "realistic" treatment of the "Superman" mythos couldn't come up with a satisfactory way to explain why at some points Superman can do anything and at others he is too weak to do what needs to be done… relying instead on the audience being expected to believe that all Superman needs to do to overcome occasional weakness is to grit his teeth and put on a pained expression, and somehow he will find the requisite strength.

-- We're expected to believe that the people of Krypton have the ability to construct and operate starships which can fly all over the galaxy… but they still can't find enough natural resources to save their planet? And they can't save anyone when Krypton is in its death throes except for baby Kal-El and the mooks on the "Phantom Zone" prison ship? What -- were all their space-capable vehicles in the shop or something?

-- Superman's red and blue suit looks NOTHING like any other Kryptonian garb we see in the movie, with the exception of the shield-shaped emblems on various chest pieces. And it's just suddenly THERE -- no explanation, no rationale… nothing you might reasonably expect from this much-vaunted "realistic" version of "Superman".

I don't think I'll be going back to see this one again. -- PL

"GOLDEN DREAMS: The Art of Ruth Sanderson"

I've admired Ruth Sanderson's beautifully-painted fantasy artwork for quite a few years, but only got to know her recently. Over ice cream cones at the local sweet shop near her studio in Easthampton, MA, Ruth told me about her plans to self-publish a hardcover volume reproducing much of that artwork in a retrospective of her more than thirty-five years as an illustrator. The book will be titled "GOLDEN DREAMS: The Art of Ruth Sanderson", and Ruth has begun a "Kickstarter" campaign to get this project rolling. You can find it here:

It looks like this will be a gorgeous book, and there are also some nice goodies associated with the various pledge levels, including at the higher end some original paintings! I've just signed up, and hope you will as well. -- PL

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Some thoughts on "Star Trek: Into Darkness"

(Some people have asked whether I've seen "Star Trek: Into Darkness" yet, and if so, what I thought of it. I think the question arises from my strongly negative and disappointed reaction to the first J.J. Abrams attempt to do a "Star Trek" movie. (You can find these comments in three separate blog posts:,, and Well, I have seen "Into Darkness" -- twice, in fact, to try to give myself the opportunity to see if what I perceived on first viewing held up on the second -- and the fact is that this movie just left me… dispassionate. I just couldn't get myself too worked up about it. Perhaps it's because it almost exactly fit what I was expecting, after the first one. Anyway, I suppose I should say something about it, if only to go on record. So here goes…)

Ever have a "jaw-dropping" moment? You know, when you see or hear or read or realize something so momentarily stunning that your mouth opens involuntarily, your jaw literally pivoting downward? It happens sometimes in movies… like back in 1976 when the first "Star Wars" opened with that amazing scene of the rebel ship fleeing before the Imperial Star Destroyer which looms onto the screen from above, and just keeps coming, and coming, and coming… or when the Tyrannosaurus Rex steps through the ruined security fence in the first "Jurassic Park"... or when the armies of men and elves clash with the forces of Mordor on a huge, teeming battlefield in the prologue to the first "Lord of the Rings" movie.

Sadly, these days, it all too often happens not because something is visually stunning or conceptually mind-blowing, but because it is just staggeringly stupid. Or lazy. Or both.

I had at least one of those jaw-dropping experiences a few weeks ago when I went with my wife to see the new movie with the title "Star Trek: Into Darkness". Sorry… I just can't bring myself to call it "the new "Star Trek" movie", because -- like J.J. Abrams first attempt -- it is not, to me at least, a "Star Trek" movie. It embraces practically none of the essential spirit of "Star Trek" as I comprehend it. Instead, it strikes me more like a movie made by someone who has had "Star Trek" described to him a few times, so he gets some of the basic stuff (there's a spaceship called the Enterprise, it's captained by a guy named Jim Kirk who has a Vulcan first officer named Spock, and a ship's doctor named McCoy, and there are enemy aliens called the Klingons, and so on) but he doesn't really grasp the whole picture.

Much like the first of J.J. Abrams' movies with "Star Trek" in the title, his second one -- "Star Trek: Into Darkness" -- is a noisy, fast-moving, entertaining mess. I have to praise the visual effects and special effects artists working on this movie, as they did some great stuff. The shots of the Enterprise emerging from the ocean were quite spectacular, for example. However, as very often happens these days, the visuals far outstrip the story and the script in quality and coherence. I'll try to touch on a handful of examples. (This is by no means an exhaustive list.)

In the beginning of the film, as Kirk is running through the red jungle, a large creature rears up in front of him, and he stuns it with his phaser. Dr. McCoy steps up from behind the downed creature and says "You just stunned our ride!" Then they continue to run through the jungle for another minute or so before deliberately leaping off a cliff into the ocean, following which we see them zooming under the surface (using some kind of turbo-boots or something) toward the submerged USS Enterprise. The question then arises: If that beast Kirk stunned was their "ride", where -- given what followed that scene -- were they planning to ride it to?

(I should also make note of the bizarre throwaway line from Kirk, referring to the scroll-like artifact he's carrying as he runs from the alien natives, about how he earlier saw them bowing and/or praying to it... so he just stole it. Huh?)

I won't go into detail about how stupid the "Cold Fusion" device to stop the volcanic eruption is, except to point out that if you are going to invent a ridiculously dubious, mostly magical technology, perhaps it would be a good idea to create a name to go along with it which does not already exist and which refers to something completely different.

While the hand phasers still have the physical parts which spin around to change power settings, at least in this movie they don't show this dorky bit of pointless action happening.

There are still some shots of what is supposed to be the engineering deck of the Enterprise which appear to be filmed in some kind of lightly redressed brewery. This was beyond ridiculous in the first film, and seems even more so here.

What the heck IS "transwarp beaming", anyway? I thought that it was established in the first movie as a way of successfully beaming someone or something onto a ship traveling at warp speed. Well, in this new movie, it apparently has evolved to the point where it allows someone to be beamed from Earth all the way to the home world of the Klingon empire, which I believe is way the heck off in space. (Of course, maybe it isn't, in this new and illogical "Star Trek"-inspired universe, as -- near the end of the movie -- it only takes the Enterprise and that other ship (the name of which I forget right now) a few minutes to travel by warp all the way from that Klingon home world to Earth.)

The Spock-Uhura romance thing is just as silly as in the first movie -- maybe even a bit sillier, with their relationship basically played for a few lame laughs as they bicker pointlessly.

Abrams seems to think that having the characters in this movie shout their lines most of the time and spend a lot of their time on-screen running around really fast and shooting big guns that make loud noises is a great way to make an action-packed movie. Well, I guess for some people that is exactly the way to go about it. I prefer a little more thought to be put into my action movies. For example, when someone yells "Fire phasers!", I expect to see beams of light blaze forth from a starship's phaser emitters -- NOT some silly-looking rockets trailing smoke. This actually happens -- in a scene near the end of the movie, I think it's Admiral Marcus who, on the bridge of the USS Bigger Than The Enterprise yells out "Fire phasers!", and the very next shot is a cut to the exterior of his ship… and a bunch of what look like little rockets, trailing smoke, come zooming out of his ship toward the Enterprise. How does something that dumb make it through to the final edit of a film like this?

So we get near the end of the movie, and the Enterprise is going to be destroyed unless Kirk can kick -- yes, literally KICK -- a misaligned piece of hardware back into place, hardware which is unfortunately inside a chamber flooded with dangerous radiation. Set aside for the moment the incredulity you might feel about this highly advanced starship not having remote-controlled devices which could accomplish this basic physical act without exposing any of the crew to fatal doses of radiation… and instead marvel at the fact that J.J. Abrams somehow got the "powers that be" who own the "Star Trek" property to agree that ripping off the key, climactic moment from the earlier (and far superior in almost every way) "Star Trek" movie "The Wrath of Khan" and pasting it into the end of his movie was actually a good idea.

Seriously, as I watched this bit, my jaw literally dropped. The only significant difference between the actions in this scene and the one from "Wrath of Khan" is that it is Kirk, instead of Spock, who sacrifices himself to save the ship. And then, watching Kirk die (well, he is really -- as famously described in "The Princess Bride" -- only "mostly dead", saved by an injection of Khan's "super blood" moments later), Spock, the emotionless Vulcan CRIES. He's only known Kirk for a few months, maybe… and he CRIES??? Everything about this scene is forced. Everything about it feels contrived, and not cleverly so.

It worked wonderfully in "Wrath of Khan" because it made sense, and because it built on three years of the original "Star Trek" TV series and the relationship of respect and affection between Kirk and Spock which was developed over those three years through multiple adventures. In addition, it dovetailed beautifully into the advancing age of both the characters and the actors playing them, with the subtext of how one faces death. It wasn't a forced cheat like it is in this new movie.

I hope I live long enough to see this "rebooted" "Star Trek" rebooted yet again by someone who actually cares about the universe of "Star Trek" which existed before and also cares about good storytelling. I am not going to hold my breath, but who knows? As the line from "Wrath of Khan" goes, "There are always possibilities…". -- PL 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Elementary Class Solves One Of The World's Biggest Mysteries In 10 Minutes"

Sometimes the stuff you see on the Internet -- and on Facebook, particularly (or it least so it seems to me) -- is pretty silly.

Okay, let's be frank -- sometimes it's just downright stupid, and leaves you scratching your head and thinking "Huh? What was the point of THAT?"

Before rolling out of bed this morning, I did my usual quick email check on the iPad I keep next to me, and also quickly looked at Facebook. There I saw a link from someone -- I can't remember who it was, some Facebook "friend" I barely know, most likely -- which had a very intriguing headline: "Elementary Class Solves One Of The World's Biggest Mysteries In 10 Minutes", followed by gushing praise from a number of people about how amazing it was.

So I clicked -- or rather, touched (this IS an iPad, after all) -- on the link, and watched the short video.

To spare you the few minutes you might otherwise waste looking at this thing -- time which might be better spent pulling lint out of your navel, or something -- here's what the video showed: 

It starts out with a message from some company stating "Our clients want us to do more work in less time. How do we make them understand that for new, effective ideas we need more time?"

Then an "experiment" is shown, in which a class of elementary school children are each given a partial drawing of a clock face and asked to complete it in ten seconds. As you might guess, that's only enough time to do a rudimentary finish, adding a round outline, some numbers, and so forth.

Following that, the students are given the same incomplete drawing again, but this time they are given ten minutes to finish it. The predictable result is that the drawings are much more elaborate and detailed, some even incorporating whimsical elements which have nothing to do with clocks per se but are fun to look at.

I watched this thing twice, trying -- and failing -- to see exactly which of the "World's Biggest Mysteries" was "solved" through the efforts of this elementary school class in ten minutes. What am I missing? -- PL