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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. I just wanted to share with you the film that my wife and I saw this past weekend: The Adjustment Bureau.

Last year, over on the Something Wicked This Way Comes blog, we were asked to submit what film we were eagerly anticipating for the coming year. I know I should picked out some horror film, intriguing drama or Marvel film, being that I was such a comic book nerd when I was a kid. I still have a shelf full of X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, to name a few. with all of the Marvel Studios films that have been coming out these past few years, you would have thought that I would have been stoked for one or more of those for sure.

Instead, it was this film that caught my attention. It had little to do with Matt Damon starring in it, although I do like his work. Though I am enamored with Emily Blunt, she wasn't necessarily the reason either. I'm not a huge Science Fiction guy, so the fact that the film was based on the writing of Phillip K. Dick, the great writer whose work eventually brought us the films, Blade Runner and Minority Report also wasn't the big factor. So what was it exactly?

I'm about to tell you...

The Adjustment Bureau, for those who are unfamiliar, is the story of a secret group whose sole purpose and responsibility is to keep tabs on human kind and make sure that they do not destroy the world. Okay, that might be overstating things a bit, but one of those chasing Damon's character and Senate hopeful, David Norris, told him exactly this as they revealed themselves to him.

The man, played by Mad Men's, John Slattery, tells him that when their group stepped back and allowed humankind to govern themselves, it led to the dark ages. Stepping back once again much later led to wars, the great depression, etc. Had they not stepped in that last time, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, mankind might have finally done themselves in.

You see, David Norris, is four elections away from the white House. He was directed to bump into Emily Blunt's character, Elise, only to give him the necessary push to help him deliver a great speech on the eve of an election loss, thus propelling his career. He was never supposed to see her again.

When he does bump into her again, it supposedly causes ripple affects which the bureau cannot allow. They reveal themselves to him, and warn David never to reveal their group to anyone, lest they wipe his mind. Not only this, but promise that seeing Elise will ruin her "plan" as well as his own.

The reason that I loved this film was because it had a perfect balance of drama, humor, intrigue, science fiction and romance. I love that! It had good direction and quality, but not overdone special effects. It also had a great supporting cast which also included Terrence Stamp, and a scene-stealing Anthony Mackie, as well as some cameos from well-known personalities from the world of politics and the news.

If you like stories with a great combination of everything like I do, then I think you should plan to see this film. It has been out for nearly a month now in the US, so don't take too long.

We'll talk soon.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Computer Problems

Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. I have a question for you: how much would you just love to meet a hacker in a dark alley and give him a pounding that he would not soon forget?

I ask this question because after much work and heartache, my laptop is finally working well once again after being a problem for nearly a month.

It all began earlier this month when I caught a virus called: System Tools 2011. It acted as if it was an antivirus program that had detected a virus. It claimed that my laptop was infected with multiple viruses. It immediately attempted to get me to go to a website which would allow me to purchase the software which would solve my problems.

Yet, the main problem was that it itself was the virus, and it was simply trying to get money out of me.

It took me three afternoon/evenings to be rid of the virus. I'm not much of a hacker myself. In fact, I love to quote Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park in these areas: "PLEASE! GODDAMMIT! I HATE THIS HACKER CRAP!"

After I was rid of the virus, it took me many attempts to clean the laptop because I began to have consistency issues. I would run a scan of the machine, only to find issues, but not be able to fix them all. Just when I thought it was working perfectly, it would lock up on me or act extremely slow. It was quite frustrating.

If you have noticed how inconsistently I have been posting or commenting on the posts of others, this issue is the cause of most of this. We also had a New York City trip which began just days after the virus attack, followed by my allergies flaring up. I'm hoping to be back to my old self with regard to blogging, etc. We'll see.

For those of you who might have been like me, a bit slow to double-check the security of your machine or home network, do so. If you have yet to back up your hard drive, do that , too. I got lucky...this time. You never know what might happen, especially with how busy most of us are. For me, I work too many hours (11) and have to get up too early in the morning at 3:00 am. This gives me precious little time for blogging, Promotion and post/article writing. When I want my laptop, I don't want to worry that it might not be safe.

It is a lesson for us all.

We'll talk soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sammy Hagar Autobiography

“Hello, Baby!”

I’m, sorry. Today’s post is about rock musician Sammy Hagar, so I couldn’t resist borrowing his opening from the song, “Good Enough”. It was the first song on the first album that he made with Van Halen, 5150. For some of us, we had yet to hear anything from the new group and many were unsure whether they would be any good anymore without Diamond David Lee Roth. When those two words opened the album, followed by Eddie’s horse-sounding guitar effect, it really grabbed our attention. Speaking for myself, I recall being shocked at how fantastic the album was. I started calling my friends before I had even flipped it over to side two. [Editor’s note: I know Sammy stole the idea from The Big Bopper, by the way. Please, no hate mail.]

In any event, I just bought and devoured Sammy’s autobiography, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. It only took three evenings for me to finish that book. I grew up listening to man, so I was keenly interested in everything from his stints with Montrose, Van Halen, Chickenfoot and all of the solo work that he has done. I have seen him perform in the Fresno, California area four times: the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour with Van Halen, the Balance tour with Van Halen, the Marching to Mars solo tour and last year at the Big Fresno Fair. I didn’t see him there, but I have had the pleasure of visiting the Cabo Wabo Cantina down in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I have nearly every album/CD of his, and where I don’t, I have all of the best cuts from iTunes.

The above photo was taken behind Fresno's Selland Arena. The band is standing across the back row from left to right, Eddie, Sammy, Michael and Alex. That's me kneeling in the middle of the front row. Standing on my left shoulder is my wife's niece, Lee, followed by my sister in law, Imelda. Kneeling on the end and in front of Alex Van Halen is Lee's husband, Daniel. I just wanted to give them a shout-out.

The book was an extremely fascinating read and went very quickly. I suppose many books are really simply recordings that are later transcribed and this was no exception. The co-author, Joel Selvin, seemed to simply write what Sammy said and cleaned up very little, if anything. Having heard many interviews and attended many of his shows, I am extremely familiar with Sammy’s conversational style, so it did not take long to put myself in the room with the man as he recounted his life’s story.

The book begins with a foreword from Michael Anthony, the long-time, but now former base player for Van Halen, who became fast friends with Sammy. In it, he details how he met the brothers and then eventually Sammy, and how it all fell apart. “He is the most upbeat, positive guy in the world. He loves life. He only happens to be a singer and play music, too. And another thing-he’s no bullshitter. If Sammy says it happened, it did.” I knew before beginning the book that it was something that was only going to tick off Eddie Van Halen further, but after reading what Anthony had to say, my appetite for the book was whetted.

It is hard for me to believe that Sammy does anything but tell the honest and bitter truth, whether it be the amount of partying, his life with his first wife that was so difficult for everyone, the dirty details on all of his philandering, to the relationships with all of the rock royalty that he came across over his long and continuing career. When I read those words, it seemed to me to be one of the most genuine things that I have ever encountered; he sugar-coated nothing. When he was an absolute idiot, he told us so. He details his bad decisions and seemed to give all credit where it was due.

What I really loved about the book was the behind the scene moments, such as when he bumps into famous rockers like Van Morrison, Sly Stone, Miles Davis, Stephen Stills and a couple of the members of The Grateful Dead which were fairly hilarious moments.

Other things that I ate up were the moments of inspiration when a creative spark brought a song out of nowhere. “One night, on the drive home,” Sammy said. “I was listening to this tape where Eddie had written the music and noodled the verses on guitar. He was trying to show me the phrasing of the verses, but he couldn’t, because he couldn’t play the rhythm of the thing, and I started singing it in the car. We didn’t have a chorus, and I just busted out with it, 'Best of Both Worlds'. It hit me hard, right when I was pulling in the garage. Bang. The chorus hit.” I would have loved to have seen more of that, but overall, Sammy does a great job of going through all of the highlights of his career.

I was amazed that Sammy totally expected the phone call that he received from Eddie Van Halen. He told his wife about it. "'They're going to call me, you watch.' Who else were they going to get? There was Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, and me."

If you follow music closely, you no doubt have already heard the stories that Sammy claims to have been visited by aliens and that they either uploaded or downloaded something into his brain. It has been all over the Internet and social networking. When I got to that part of the book, I had to stop and make certain that I had read it correctly. I'm rather indifferent to the whole alien question, neither believing or disbelieving, so I just giggled and continued on my way. I just wanted to know about the music!

I loved the book; however, I cannot recommend it for everyone. It is definitely not for anyone under age because it was definitely uncensored. In fact, I wish it had been a bit censored. I could have done without all of the sordid rock star/groupie details! I couldn’t have also done without the rock star language, but I suppose it is what it is. If you are anything like me, and love Sammy’s music, whether it be in a band or as a solo artist, grab a copy of this book, pour yourself a Waborita and sit back and relax. You won’t be getting up for a while.

Unless it’s to pour yourself another drink.

We’ll talk soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Author Leigh Russell

Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. As I have often lamented on this blog, I do not have the time to read as often as I would like. I was never one to swallow multiple books whole each and every week, but there were most definitely several authors that I would read faithfully and would indeed devour their books just as soon as I got them into my hands.

Over the years I have tried to stay current with Patricia Cornwell, Michael Slade and Clive Barker. I fall on and off of Uncle Stevie’s bandwagon, picking and choosing as he releases new novels or novella collections. Recently, I have begun to reading the works of those of us newbie authors. I have read Michelle Stinson Ross, Carole Gill, Jennifer Wylie and Talli Roland to name a few. And there’s many more I want to read, just as soon as I can make time for them.

This month I have had the pleasure of reading an author who I think must be well on her way. Her name is Leigh Russell. Leigh has a blog and can be found on the other social networks as well. I follow her and she has been kind enough to say hello on a couple of occasions. From what I understand she is doing very well and it will not be long before we will have to be contacting “her people” should we wish to reach her.

But enough of that. Let’s get to the books.

The following is the synopsis that can be found at Barnes & Noble: "D.I. Geraldine Steel expects the quiet town of Woolsmarsh to be dull. She quickly discovers she is wrong. The park is a place where children play, friends sit and gossip, people walk their dogs, or take a short cut to avoid the streets. But in the shadows a predator prowls, hunting for victims. A woman sees the killer and comes forward as a witness—someone whom the killer must stop at all costs. For D.I. Geraldine Steel, it is a race against time to find the killer before he strikes again, as public pressure mounts with the growing death toll."

Leigh’s debut, Cut Short introduces us to Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel, who works major crimes in England. She is a tenacious inspector who treats her work as more important than herself; yet, she longs for a regular life as most of us do. She’s simply torn. We are also introduced to a well-rounded cast of characters that continue on along with her.

In this story, the serial killer terrorizes a community, across both classes and multiple nationalities. I thought it was a great touch. More than that, I appreciated that we did not walk with a doppelganger Sherlock Holmes, more brilliant that anyone else on Earth, able to hunt down the killer by clues that not even we can see. Instead, we have a flawed and troubled person, following dead-end clues until she ultimately latches onto the real ones that close the case. If you are interested in real detective work, where the police actually sit through stakeouts and gain little; or seem to be grasping at straws more often than not, then this may be your writer.

I found Cut Short to be a fantastic read, taking me only days to finish. I thought it to be well-written and well-paced, with a fresh batch of intriguing characters to go along with a fresh tight plot.

Her second novel is Road Closed.

Once again, from Barnes & Noble: "When a man dies in a gas explosion, the police suspect arson. The Murder Investigation Team are called in to investigate, but the case takes on a new and terrible twist when a local villain is viciously attacked. As the police enquiries lead from the expensive Harchester Hill estate to the local brothel, a witness dies in a hit-and-run. Was it coincidence—or cold-blooded murder? The Murder Investigation Team has problems of its own—and so does Geraldine Steel. A shocking revelation threatens her peace of mind as the investigation races towards its dramatic climax."

It took longer for me to warm up to this story, but by the time I had finished it, I got it. And I felt I got Russell. I realized what the author was doing with her two novels. The second one had its big opening, but then it moved methodically, slowing building to that crescendo. This wasn’t an author who had struggled to find a “good idea” for her second novel, but one who was intent on keeping everything real. Once again, no Sherlock Holmes, but real police procedure and tenacity. We got thieves who baffle the police, eventually committing murder and then degenerating further, seemingly doing anything they please and well beyond the grasp of investigators.

During it all, we find our troubled heroine continuing to deal with personal loss and troubles of the heart, seemingly married to her work, pushing everything else away.

Just as the original police had been unable to crack the slew of robberies, so the team of Detective Inspectors struggle solving the murder case. From dead-end clues to witnesses who refuse to cooperate, the action slowly builds to its proper conclusion. I daresay we do not get many plots like this one. From serial burglaries that eventually graduate the thieves to murder; from victims that begin to take matters into their own hands, albeit only partially successfully – I look forward to what Russell has up her sleeve with the third installment, Dead End.

Being from the United States, and a Californian at that – remember that Lead Zeppelin removed the “a” from their name so the "thick" Americans wouldn’t pronounce them as Leed Zeppelin – I found I did trip a few times with some of the “British” words or expressions; however, I eventually caught on and it certainly did nothing to dissuade me from continuing. You shouldn’t have any trouble either.

We read Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series faithfully in my house. This Geraldine Steel is just as three-dimensional; someone that you are equally pull for as well as want to sit down and give a lecture to, especially as she works herself ragged and drinks entirely too much.

Well done, Leigh Russell.

Before I go, I shall leave you with a taste of what it coming later this year...

"When the corpse of Abigail Kirby is discovered, police are shocked to learn that the victim's tongue was cut out while she lay dying. Then, shortly after coming forward, a witness is blinded and murdered. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel's work life helps her cope with the personal, as her flirtation with the pathologist on the case is helping her to deal with the the newest shock in her life—finding out she was adopted at birth. When Detective Sergeant Ian Peterson uncovers a shocking secret about the serial killer they are pursuing, will the discovery come soon enough to save Geraldine Steel from a similar dreadful fate?"

We'll talk soon.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Morning Musings

Hello, Fire Enthusiasts! How have you been?

I was going to wait until Monday to post; however, too much has been going on, so I decided to start a day early.

I apologize for having made myself scarce of late. Allow me to explain.

First of all, we just got back from New York City!! My oldest son's high school Wind Ensemble were invited to send in an audition cd for the opportunity to be selected for the 2011 New York Wind Band Festival at Carnegie Hall. They did so and Kingsburg High School was officially invited. We have known about this trip for nearly a year, and it seems as if we have been fund-raising since then as well. Lol! [That's the four of us at The Statue of Liberty and my youngest and I on the Bow Bridge in Central Park. The original Highlander was filmed there, so I had to visit].

I will not recap all of the trip for you in these pages; I am in the process of writing a journal/article of the six day adventure for the magazine that I write for, Kings River Life. When it goes on-line, I will be sure to post a link for those who are interested. Not only did they perform at Carnegie Hall, but we visited The Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, Ground Zero, The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, they performed in Central Park and we attended The Phantom of the Opera.

Let me tell you that it isn't easy to chaperon groups of students when there is so much to distract; however, even though my wife and I often ended up with large groups, it was a lot of fun. You haven't lived until you have tried to navigate 60 people (46 students) through the New York Subway System.

Three days before we began our trip, with an magazine article deadline staring me square in the face, my trusty laptop caught its second virus. The first one I caught took a quick check of my iPhone and an hour to be rid of. Unfortunately, this new one took three afternoons before I had gotten rid of it. Trusty laptop is still a bit slow and locks up on me on rare occasions, but for the most part I am back in business. Being really busy, I had allowed my security to lapse and had failed to keep up on updates and preventative maintenance. If you have been like that, too, I would suggest rectifying this immediately.

In the meantime, I hope to be getting back to a regular schedule soon. I have one article appearing today on Cancer Volunteers in my hometown, I'm finishing my journal on the trip for next Saturday's edition, I know that many of you will not believe it, but I have actually been reading lately. I am reading Leigh Russell's novels (Cut Short & Road Closed) and am nearly finished with the second one. You should see a post mid-week with those details/reviews.

Lastly, I might need to go back to New York. I didn't have any issues there, but once I got back to the California Central Valley I certainly do. The blossoms are killing me!

They're beautiful, but deadly.
Sounds like some of you. ;) JK!!

We'll talk soon...