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March 25th, 2014

08:51 pm - Cosmos 2.0
Okay, so we've been watching the new version of Cosmos. I have to admit I had a lot of trepidation about this show. I have very fond memories of the original series (and admittedly I may be remembering it through rose-colored nostalgia because I haven't seen it --except for a few short bits on Youtube--since it originally aired). Carl Sagan was (and still is) one of my heroes. The show was beautiful; science and art all rolled into one hour long package for 13 weeks. It occurs to me that it was the first soundtrack that I ever bought (on LP! Remember those?). It introduced me to the music of Vangelis. How could anything compete with that?

It doesn't. But then, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyessy isn't trying to compete with the original; it is a continuation, paying lots of homage to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (especially in the first episode), such as returning to Sagan's Cosmic Calendar. I got a chuckle as Dr. Neal deGrasse Tyson started walking toward the Big Bang, reached in his jacket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. I also got just a bit weepy at the end as he was telling about the time he met with Dr. Sagan, who gave him a copy of The Cosmic Connection signed "to Neal, a future astronomer". After the episode, I went back to the lab, rummaged around and brought out my own copy of the same edition to show to Barbara (it is, sadly, unsigned).

I had heard that historical recreations were going to be executed using animated cartoons, and I was also skeptical about this, but it is nicely done, and very artistic. It was used in the most recent episode to tell the story of Edmund Halley's diligence in getting one the most important books in the history of science--Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica published and how it almost didn't happen (the phrase "The History of Fish" still makes me giggle--and you'll just have to see the episode or do some research to know what I'm talking about).

The special effects are much better than the original, but well, there really was no CGI back in 1979, and they aren't working with a PBS budget----which leads to my one qualm:

Commercials. The original Cosmos , being on PBS had no commercials. The new Cosmos, being on the National Geographic Channel and (surprisingly) Fox, is interrupted numerous times for ads for car insurance or deodorant. I will give them credit, though; unlike shows on, say History or Discovery, the story picks up right where it left off--they don't insult your intelligence by taking 30 seconds before a seven minute long commercial break to tell you what you're going to see and then take a minute after the break to remind you of what you've already seen (Hello! I'm watching a show about science and I do not have the attention span of a gnat!). This is one of the reasons we dropped cable. BTW, I couldn't help to notice the irony that one of the commercials shown during episodes 1 and 2 were for the big blockbuster movie about Noah's Ark, but it was dropped during episode 3. Maybe it was because in episode 2, Dr. deGrasse Tyson, in talking about (gasp!) evolution pointed out that there are over 50 million species of beetles alone. Any rational person, hearing that, would have to soon conclude that a major portion of that boat must have been devoted to just to bugs (and where did they put the termites on a wooden boat?). I've heard that a lot of evangelical Christians are (not surprisingly) upset that the show is not giving equal time to "intelligent design" or creationism or whatever they're calling it now. To them I say, you have numerous whole networks devoted to your belief system, and not once have I heard of any of them devoting equal time to evolution, so until that happens, just zip it already!

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. The air is kinda thin up here anyway.

Finally, in comparison of Sagan to deGrasse Tyson, the former was like a favorite uncle saying, "The cosmos is an amazing and wonderful place. Come with me, if you will, and let's explore it." (I still think of him as Uncle Carl). The later is like a science geek who drinks a lot of coffee, gabs you by the arm and says, "Look! Those galaxies are colliding! Let's get closer!" The bridge of Sagan's "spaceship of the imagination" looked (ironically?) like a cathedral. deGrasse Tyson's looks a bit like the the bridge of the Enterprise. But I'd gladly take a ride on either one.

And, thinking about it, since Sagan descibed the cosmos as "...everything that is, ever was or ever will be," if you were on one, eventually I suppose, you'd meet the other.

What a pleasant thought. Hi Uncle Carl!

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February 16th, 2014

05:10 pm - Winter's Tale
We went out to see Winter's Tale this morning. I haven't read the book that it is based on, but after seeing the movie, it is now on my must read list. I wish I had the words to describe how beautiful the movie is--and not just visually--but I don't (I guess that's why we have authors). Maybe one reason I am impressed is that this is something that Hollywood hasn't tackled much: the urban fantasy, so it's not quite like anything else (I'm trying to think of another urban fantasy movie, but am drawing a blank. Don't site vampire or zombie movies, please; those come under the heading of, well, vampire and zombie movies--whole different critters).

Anyway, here are my reasons to see Winter's Tale:

Visually gorgeous
Lovely story
Wonderful acting
Russell Crowe as a demon
Score by Hans Zimmer
Flying horse with wings made of light
Jessica Brown Findlay
We were both weeping a bit at the end (and for me, a part of that was, well, it was over).

Why you should see it soon if you want to see it at the theater:

Nobody farts and nothing blows up, so it probably won't be there long.

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October 21st, 2013

05:53 pm - Morning commute
So, I was driving to work today, and I got behind this pickup truck. The guy (Okay, I don't know, I'm just assuming it was a guy) was driving so that both of his driver's side tires were way over the line, so that the truck was at least 18-24 inches into the next lane. Needless to say, I backed off a aways, but not before I read his bumper sticker, which might explain his driving habits. It said: "I Don't Trust the LIBERAL MEDIA!"

Ya see, I figure this guy was so far to the right he had to lean hard to port on his steering wheel to keep his truck from falling over.

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October 16th, 2013

11:31 pm - When "GRAVITY" doen't fail.
Sorry, couldn't resist a reference to George Alec Effinger's novel.

Anyway, I went to see GRAVITY tonight. Everyone has already seen the trailers and so knows what it's about (and whether they want to see it), so I won't bother telling you what you already know. There is a word that I am trying use sparingly in my vocabulary because it is WAY overused. That word is "awesome"*. GRAVITY is awesome. Visually beautiful, tense and yes, at many moments absolutely terrifying. I don't often sit on the edge of my seat clutching my hat, but I did during several sequences tonight. I'm not going to try and convince anyone to see it if they've already made up their mind, but if you're wondering, I will nudge you toward giving it a try.

This year has been interesting for movies; with the theaters filled with TV Show reboots, giant robots and yet more comic book movies, I have seen two very good honest-to-Gaia science fiction movies. Movies where you don't have to leave your brain outside. The other was OBLIVION. Very refreshing indeed.

*Awesome: filling one with a sense of awe. Examples: the rising of the sun or the moon, the night sky, seeing Saturn's rings through telescope, a thunder and lightning storm in full fury (even at a distance), the Grand Canyon, a book that changes your view of the world, a piece of art that makes you weep. Movies can be awesome(especially the first time you see them); Lord of the Rings and Terry Gilliam's early movies spring to mind. Finding a quarter is not awesome. Cheese dip is not awesome. It's good, but its not awesome.

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September 24th, 2013

08:54 pm - Nervous? No, Not m-m-m-me.
Hey Look! I'm still on Livejournal (but... is anyone else?).

So I just got my schedule for FenCon. When I filled out the schedule form, they wanted to know if there was anything that I didn't want to be scheduled opposite. I forgot to mention that I wouldn't want to miss anything that Charles Vess (the Artist GOH, and one of my [many] favorite artists), so I expected that I would find myself opposite some really cool demo he was doing or something.

Doesn't look like it.

It does appear that I am going to be on a panel with him, however.

I'll have to work really hard to not say something that makes me sound like a dork (those who know me know what an uphill battle that will be).

I also have short filk concert; it's only 30 minutes and I can pretty much do that with my ears closed, but I should start practicing anyway.

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January 4th, 2013

08:58 pm - The Dragon Song: There and Back Again
So, a few months back (August, I think it was), I’m out doing some yard work when the postman comes by and hands me the mail. In amongst the bills and the offers to join the AARP was a special delivery letter. From Australia. I look at it again. Yeah, it’s for me.

“?” sez I.

I open it up and find that it’s from a fellow (or is “mate” the word I want? I’m afraid my ‘strine is a bit rusty) named Peter Purchase. He had apparently tried to contact me online but only had a very outdated e-dress, but somehow managed to find me in the real world. Anyways, he had written a novel, The Albatross Necklace: The Last Voyage of the Zuytdorp, (which, despite the sf/f sounding title, I gather is a mainstream novel about the slaughter of about 20,000 Australian aborigines in the early 1700s—and BTW, why does spell check not put a squiggly red line under Zuytdorp?). Somewhere along the line in the course of the novel somebody starts singing (you guessed it) The Dragon Song, and Mr. Purchase wanted make sure it was okay if he used the lyrics and if I needed any monetary compensation. I e-mailed him back and basically said, “Sure. How does 25 bucks and a copy of the book sound?”

Now, you might be wondering why I asked for so little money. Well, here’s the kicker; he sent me a page proof of where the song was used in the novel and while the spirit of the song in the book is definitely The Dragon Song, and it still scans to The Irish Washerwoman, well, um, not one line in the version he uses did I write. A couple are close, but nothing is identical. Since he went to so much trouble to find me, I’m assuming that the lyrics have just evolved in its journey to the other side of the freakin’ planet!

So why did I ask for any compensation? Because the intent of the song is close enough that, had I learned of it (hard to figure out how that could happen), and if I were that kind of person (which I’m not) I, or any of my descendants (I know, I won’t have any, but you get the idea) could sue him over it. He paid me for permission—nice and legal.

So yesterday in the mail, I received a package. It was the book, and a rather handsome thing it is; about trade paperback size, about 400 pages of not terribly large print on heavy high grade coated paper. This thing weighs around half a pound. It has a map of the world circa 1712, and etchings from the time period. And my name on the title page giving me credit for the song I, *ahem*, sort of wrote.

And (in case you were wondering) I got paid. $35.00 in Australian dollars (that apparently being the exchange rate for $25.00 American). Mr. Purchase said that he couldn’t get a money order and a bank transfer would cost more than $35.00, so he just sent cash. Which is actually way cool. Ever seen Australian money? Maybe it’s just a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but by comparison, our money looks so boring. Australian money is in color! Each denomination (a $20, a $10 and a $5) is a different size (which must be handy for the visually impaired), it has little clear window thingies in it, and has pictures of sailing ships and airplanes and machinery and camels(?), and people I don’t recognize—well, except for queen Elizabeth on the fiver (okay, Barbara recognized Queen Elizabeth,--I didn’t), but who the heck is Mary Reimer or A.B. “Banjo” Patterson (don’t answer that; I know how to use Google)? Can you imagine America putting someone nicknamed “Banjo” on its money? I can’t. Admittedly, there is a small part of me that wonders if I’ve been paid in the Australian version of Monopoly money, but if so, it sorta seems like poetic justice, in that it isn’t exactly the song that I wrote twenty mumblty-mumblty years ago. I don’t know if I’ll try and convert the stuff to American dollars or just hang on to it. I’m sorta leanin’ towards the later.

I’m still chuckling over how far that silly song has gotten. I mean, Australia? Really? At this point I don’t think I’ll be surprised if the Curiosity Rover starts beeping it back from Mars.

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December 20th, 2012

09:35 pm - Why the Mayan Apocolypse ain't gonna happen.
I have seen the trailer for the new Star Trek movie that comes out next May. It's going to be in 3-D.

I can remember watching the original series when it was originally broadcast (dimly, but still..).

The Enterprise. Coming at me. Firing phasers and photon torpedoes ('cause you know it will be).

In Freakin' 3-D!

There is no way that THAT isn't going to happen.

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August 26th, 2012

07:08 pm - Mostly-True Stories About Dad
Due to *cough* over-whelming demand *cough* I submit for your perusal the stories I told about my Dad at his funeral.

I have, of course thought of several other stories since I wrote this, and doubtless will be thinking of others in the days to come, but I'll just leave it as I read it then.

Hope you enjoy them.

My Dad
A Few Reflections and Mostly-True stories by Randy Farran

We interrupt this very somber occasion so that I can tell you a few things about my dad, Ralph Roosevelt Farran.

Let me start with that middle name. Roosevelt. He never really liked it that much. I don’t think it was anything political; in fact politics was something that Dad didn’t talk about very much. Now that I think about it, that may be one of the reasons why so many people liked him. No, I think he didn’t care for the name Roosevelt because, well, it’s a real mouthful of a name to hang on a kid. But if you’re the son of Benjamin Franklin Farran, and you have uncles with names like George Washington Farran and Thomas Jefferson Farran, I guess the die has already been cast. At least he didn’t get stuck with a Franklin or a Theodore. He got just a plain old Ralph for a first name. A lot of people when they hear the name Ralph might think of that kid in the movie who wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. I remember showing that movie to Dad not to long after it had come out, and he sat there laughing all the way through it. Then he went upstairs, rummaged around in the closet—and brought down a Red Rider BB gun that he’d gotten when he was a kid.

By the way, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dad for breaking that naming tradition; considering when I was born I might have been Randall Fitzgerald Kennedy Farran. [looking at brother]. Don’t laugh, Rus; you could have ended up with the middle name Eisenhower.

Now, everybody here knows that dad was a real friendly guy. He’d talk to just about anyone. Sometimes he could talk a lot. I remember one Christmas the phone rang. It was a relative calling to wish the family a merry Christmas. Only problem was, it wasn’t one of our relatives. The guy at the other end of the line had dialed the wrong number. Dad talked to him for several minutes, so I guess he’d found a kindred soul.

Yeah, dad liked to talk. He could tell stories, sometimes over and over. Like the time he met Harry Truman. And…I don’t mean some relative named Harry Truman Farran either…but the actual President Harry Truman. Or the time he got to carry Lester Flatt’s guitar. If you don’t know who Lester Flatt is, well, I feel sorry for you. Let’s just say that Dad considered it an honor. He told me that story a lot. Never mind the fact that I was there when it happened. There was a time when he would start in on a story and I’d think “Oh, god, he’s gonna tell the story about the bucket of steam again!” This, by the way, is a very funny story about hijinks during his tour in the navy, but I won’t tell it right now ‘cause it’s kinda long. But after hearing it I don’t know how many times, I started to dread it. But then one day, it occurred to me that someday, he wouldn’t be around to tell those stories any more. I didn’t think that day would come so soon. After that, I just enjoyed hearing them…one more time. And now I wish I could again…one more time.

Sorry, I meant to keep things light. I just got off track for moment.

While he was in the navy, Dad met a beautiful girl serving ice cream at a soda fountain, one thing lead to another, and after his tour was up, they got married—a fact that I and my brother and sister are very appreciative of. They bought half of a duplex—the other half having been cut off and taken somewhere else (don’t ask me why; I’m still unclear about that myself), and Dad proceeded to make additions to it. First, he put a two car garage on it (and poured a driveway for it), never mind the fact that they didn’t have two cars at the time. Next, he put a second story on top of the garage, because by this time it was getting’ kinda crowded down below, what with three kids and a dog. Several years later, he started working on a large patio out back, but before he got finished, it had turned into a family room with about as much square footage as the original half of a duplex. He might have continued, but I think by this time he was running out of yard. He did most of this work by himself. He did have some help from mom and us kids because I don’t think he knew there were such things as child labor laws. Okay, I’m joking there. A lot of the time we were “helping” by “going and watching some cartoons and staying out of the way already!”.

After building onto the house as much as he could (without disrupting flight paths, anyway), Dad still liked to build things and could often be found out in his shop working on his latest project. Like the fold-up picnic table that has seen more than 40 Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners and I don’t know how many garage sales. Or the cases that he made for a mandolin I bought, or my autoharp. But whatever the project, one thing they all had in common was that Dad built things to LAST. Yep, everything he made was very durable, and by that I mean HEAVY. I think Dad may have working under the belief that the world was going to run out of its precious supply of gravity. But then who am I to judge; after all, nothing he ever made has drifted off into space yet.

Oh, yeah, I’m going to tell you a little secret a lot you might not know about Dad. There was at one time a television show that he would not miss. No matter what project we were working on around the house, if this show was on that night, everything had to be finished and all the tools cleaned and put away in time for the evening’s entertainment. What was this show? Gunsmoke? Nope. Columbo? No. M*A*S*H? Huh-uh. It was The Muppet Show. I think his favorite muppet was Miss Piggy. No, strike that. I know it was Miss Piggy.

Later on, Mom and Dad purchased a bit more land behind the house. I was afraid that the house was going to start growing again, but Dad decided to dedicate the extra acreage to growing a garden, specifically tomatoes. Dad spaced his cherry tomato plants so that he could drive his lawnmower between them, pull off a tomato and pop it in his mouth without stopping.

Yeah, dad liked to eat. He liked to cook too, and he was pretty good at it—as long as he didn’t have roof over his head. Outdoor grilling, he was fine, but for some reason, his culinary skills failed when he walked through the door. I remember a time when Mom was sick and Dad cooked all the meals for us kids. He had made breakfast for us and Mom came downstairs and Dad complained about what picky eaters we were. Mom looked uneasily at the… crispy eggs…and runny bacon… and said something like, “Maybe they’d like it better if it was cooked.”

Now, I won’t say that everything that Dad cooked was inedible, but it was…an adventure. One day Dad and I were home by ourselves and Dad asked me if I’d like a Reuben sandwich. I told him that sounded good. When he was done fixing them, he called me in to eat. Now, at the time that this happened, I was old enough (and polite enough) to not point out that when most people make a Reuben sandwich, they use rye bread and not white, thousand island dressing, and not mayonnaise, Swiss cheese, and not cheddar, and corned beef, as opposed to ground beef. I guess he thought that Reuben sandwich was defined as: “a grilled meat and cheese sandwich with sauerkraut on it”. It was still pretty good though, even if it only had one ingredient right out of five. Guess that proves I’m not that picky an eater after all.

Well, I think I’ve had enough fun at Dad’s expense, so I’ll leave you with a couple of last thoughts. First, Dad’s last moments were spent with a cup of coffee in his hand and a dog in his lap. I can’t think of very many better ways to go--provided the dog in question isn’t a Great Dane or a St. Bernard or some such. That might be uncomfortable.

My final thought is this: I live in Tulsa now, and the local newspaper has for the past year been daily printing quotes from Will Rogers. The day after Dad died, ironically, this is the quote they printed. Just a few words that say it so much better than I can:

“What constitutes a life well spent, anyway? Love and admiration from your fellow men is all that anyone can ask.”

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August 25th, 2012

04:05 pm - My Dad: Music and Blue Skies
Last week, I got the phone call that you never want to get.

Dad had had a heart attack.

After some odd behavior from the dog, my Mom found him unresponsive and not breathing (not that she could detect, anyway). She called EMSA, and they rushed him to the hospital, where it was quickly decided that they were not equipped to handle the situation. They were going to life-flight him to Joplin (just an hour away by road), but they're still rebuilding after last year's tornado, so they instead sent him to Wichita (two hours away).

By the time they got him there, he was pretty much on complete life support. While he never regained consciousness, at first he seemed to respond to certain words said in his presence, but that tapered off. After four days, the doctor told us that if he did wake up, he most likely would be physically impaired and and the likelihood of brain damage was fairly certain. The decision to remove him from life support, while agonizing, was unanimous. If you were ever lucky enough to meet my Dad, you know that he would not want to continue on in that condition. So, on August 18, at 4:58 p.m., my Dad died. He always did know when quittin' time was.

Most of you reading this never met him, but if you know me, you should know that Dad was a major influence on the things you might know me for. Some of the earliest memories I have are of him playing the guitar and singing songs, and of course, later on, when my family started spending summers going to Bluegrass festivals, so I owe him for my love of music.

As for art, I believe that Dad gave me my first art lesson. I remember once, when I was very young I was drawing a picture and it looked a lot like the pictures that all kids of that age draw: the sky was a blue band with the sun a spikey yellow circle below it. He asked me why I drew the sky that way. I don't remember what answer I gave him, perhaps because that's the way everyone drew the sky. He told me to come outside with him. I did so and he pointed at the sky and said, "See? The sky all the way to the ground!" Suddenly I understood what a horizon was (though I didn't have a word for it, yet). The main idea (though I didn't realize it at the time) was, don't draw what others do; draw what you SEE. This, coming from a man who never made it past the eighth grade (not by his choice; I think he would have preferred school to working on the family farm, but my grandfather had other ideas). I tried to explain this wonderful concept to my fellow students when we would do art in school, but they never seemed to get it. They just couldn't SEE. (BTW, the blue crayons were the first ones that I used up in the box, because, let's face it, there's a lot of sky).

Later on, I discovered that like my Dad, I could see things in three dimensions and translate that to paper. It was useful to my Dad because he did a lot of construction. It was useful to me because , well, I did art. But I was amazed when I found out in high school that not everyone (in fact, a lot of people) can't. I couldn't explain to them how I did it, I just could. I never really inherited his ability to build things like he did, or do electrical work, But the things I did inherit have helped me so much. I don't think he ever understood my fascination with dragons and spaceships, but he never stopped encouraging me.

Dad was rarely ever sick with anything more than a cold or flu, and he was active right up until the day he died. The day before he had been out mowing lawns and making repairs at my sister's house, so that's why it has come as a shock to all of us. As far as we can tell, the last thing he knew he was sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee next to him and a dog in his lap. I can think of a lot of worse ways to go (especially considering he had been a fireman for 27 years).

If anyone is interested, I'll post the funny stories that I got up and told about him at his funeral (because Dad was a funny guy and would rather go out on ripples of laughter than a flood of tears).

Bye Dad! You're gonna leave a big hole in the world.

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June 6th, 2012

09:29 pm - Ray Bradbury 1920-Infinity
One of the first books I ever bought was Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. I think I had bought some STAR TREK books before that, but THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES was my first, well, -real- book. It was there that I think I first really fell in love with reading; when I first realized how beautiful language could be. I could say a lot about the the man and his books (though maybe the last sentence says all that needs to be said), and I think that it's already being done by others who are far better wordsmiths than I. But I will pass on a few thoughts.

I have a short piece by Bradbury titled "Tricks! Treats! Gangway!" that I pulled out of an old Reader's Digest. It is the recollection of Halloween in 1928 and if I ever get hold of a time machine, I want to go back to then and spend that wonderous holiday (before it became so commercialized)--provided that I too get to be eight year old-- with young Ray and his decidedly weird family.

He is the only one of the GRAND OLD MASTERS that I got to see and hear in person. He was getting some award or something at the Tulsa Library and was giving a speech that was free to attend. He was delightful, charming and very funny, not to mention the very definition of a gentleman. I took a couple of his books with me thinking that I might get them autographed. I'm not much of an autograph seeker, but hey, the guy who turned me onto reading? At least I'd have that to say to him. Anyway, I wasn't sure if there would be just a few people there or hundreds. Turned out to be the later, and I decided that it was unlikely he would be sitting there long enough to sign all of the books that people were lining up for, so I let it go. Sorta kicking myself for that now, of course.

The last few years I have made it a tradition to spend most of October reading creepy stuff. Bradbury usually gets represented by at least a few short stories. Last year I re-read SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. It had been so long since I read it that I had forgotten just how scary that book is. Not nightmare inducing, just feakin' creepy. If you haven't read it and want a nice, fun little scare, give it a go.

I guess that's about it. It's just sad knowing that he won't be around anymore, but that sadness is countered by knowing how richer my life has become because of this man. I think I'll spend the rest of the evening revisiting some dead Martian cities.
Current Location: Under a Hallowwen Tree

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