Jerusalem Artichokes

The Jerusalem artichokes on the property are in full (belated) bloom.  I hope for some good, tasty tubers this year.

Just a reminder:  the Jerusalem artichoke is native to the eastern United States, and its name is a colorful misnomer.  It’s not from Jerusalem, and it’s not an artichoke.

A local ditzy office worker who “knows everything” (no, really) has re-named them the “Israeli Sunflower,” even though they are native to the Ohio River Valley, and Europeans first saw them in Massachusetts in 1620–both of which, I think, are far from the Holy Land.

I’ve written before about how I have been schooled in this amazing fact.

The weird name is a historical accident.  Their Latin name is Helianthus tuberosus, and nowadays some call them “sunchokes.” (Helianthus itself is from the Greek helios, sun, and anthos, flower.)

They are tall and spindly, and have small flowers–closer to a daisy than a sunflower.  Their tubers are edible, and windy.

They are also highly invasive, which is why we have them corraled in a safe corner with no escape!

Repeat after me:  Je-RU-sa-lem AR-ti-choke.

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Novel, Symphony, Movie

I could write a scholarly piece on this if I tried.  But this morning, listening to Vincent d’Indy’s Souvenirs, op. 62, I find late Romanticism meeting and merging with early cinema, and intuit the great connection.  Perhaps the psychology of movie narrative is deeply indebted to the psychology of Romantic orchestral composition.

Then I think of Schumann’s reference (re the Schubert C-major symphony)  to “heavenly length, like an old novel in four volumes,” and I think that large-scale symphonic form owes its birth to the great novels of the 18th century.

So the novel begat the tone poem, and the tone poem begat the moving picture.  In a sense.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word begat song, and the song begat the icon.  Yes, works for Christianity.

Hell.  This is halfway between the painfully obvious and the painfully deep.


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Barbecuing in the Rain

Several times this summer I have doggedly grilled or barbecued despite rain.  Today is turning out to be one of those times.

I have pork chops on the Weber getting a bath in hickory smoke.  A few drops have fallen on the black cover.

Pork chops are easy, because the meat is tender.  No all-day babysitting is needed while the low heat sweats away the fat:  it’s just about getting the flavor right.  Right now, it’s about 3:45 PM Bulova time, and dinner will be on schedule.

Two quick-light charcoal briquets–only two–with regular charcoal forming a “snake” along one side of the kettle.  A pie tin of water opposite.  Seasoned pork chops above the water, making unhurried progress.  That’s all it takes.

You don’t need a vertical smoker, a horizontal smoker, a porcelain smoker, a propane smoker, a super-duper ex-hippie capitalist smoker, a 55-gallon drum smoker, or any other specialized product.  You don’t need a thermometer or any other specialized gadgets.  A Weber kettle or something similar will work perfectly.  Add charcoal, water, chunks of hardwood, meat, and time.

If you use chunks of wood, no need to soak them.  Chips are so small they need soaking.

There is an American fallacy about cooking:  that it’s more about tools than technique.  The truth is otherwise.  An expensive smoker is only as good as the chef.  A basic black kettle is every bit as good as the chef.

It’s a wonder that anybody discovered brisket with that attitude.

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History Is This Close

I’ve heard of a few cases like this over the years.  I am amazed that grandchildren of the 18th century are still alive in the 21st.  Amazed, and delighted.

History fascinates me, in part because it is incredibly close.  It takes a lot of distraction, and a lot of you-are-getting-sleepy from TV and internet, to make a person forget that wonderful fact.

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Dear Weather Channel…

Isn’t a hurricane bad enough?

Do you have to lie about it?

While you’re out there play-acting and bloviating like an infomercial, Fox News had several governors on TV, as well as FEMA.  Get real.

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And Now…Sega

Yes, I got a Sega Ultimate Portable too.  Essentially a white-and-blue version of the black-and-orange Atari Flashback Portable, it features a somewhat different interface and a completely different game experience.  Like the Atari, it’s a huge amount of fun in a small package.  And like the Atari, I bought it to satisfy my love of computer games and my hatred of the Google Gaze.

The biggest difference is that the Atari era starts and ends earlier.  Jumping to the Sega, one jumps ahead three to five years.  The differences are dramatic:  menu choices (options, even instructions), complexity (including novelistic verbiage as well as detailed art), music, and other things that show dramatic technical progress over a few short years.

One big surprise:  Bubbles Master.  This turns out to be Zuma!  The copyright notice doesn’t include a date, but the frog in the middle is surrounded by the words ZUMA ZUMA ZUMA ZUMA.

I could be corrected–but it seems to be that this game must be the original version.  I remember Zuma–the Pop Cap version–recently disappearing from view.  I can’t find it on the Electronic Arts website, and I wonder if there were a cease-and-desist letter involved.

I don’t think a brand-new, limited knockoff of a Pop Cap game (with a very retro splash screen) would be a likely choice for a throwback device.

Incidentally, the Pop Cap version is much easier.  I haven’t succeeded at Level One on the Sega version yet.  Much harder to make matches.

A few of the games begin to feel an awful lot like some of my early Mac favorites (Alone in the Dark and The Legend of Kyrandia, among others).

At this point, I have enough games (about 150) to hold me for quite a while.

Life is short.  Have fun.

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Fountain Pens

I really like the Goulet Pen Company.  They actively promote the culture of the fountain pen, which I have always loved.

Here is a blog post from their website about writers who prefer fountain pens to computers.


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Adventure and Adventure II

The Atari Flashback is a small device, but packed with the creativity of a decade or more.  I’m tempted to compare a pocket Bible in tiny print with a big pulpit edition.  What really matters is right there at your fingertips.

So, one might have more fun with a full screen and joystick, but the intelligence of these games is singing to me this morning.

Adventure and Adventure II are the first two games in the Flashback’s alphabetical menu.  They are quite similar.  One begins at a castle gate and navigates mazes, encountering magical bridges and gold keys along the way, not to mention goofy-looking ghosts (one of them in shape of a duck–good Lord, a dragon).

Online sources call this the first game of its kind, and the first to use Easter eggs.  Before I break down and read the spoilers, I want to have my meed of fun with it.

At first, it is hard to get used to yourself as a small black square–little more than a pixel.  It’s been many years since I traveled with Brandon (and his sandals) to get the Kyragem.  To go back, now, to a black square seems quite the comedown.

But the feeling passes in seconds.  The brain accepts that the black pixels are “you” and soon the game is utterly transparent.  As you navigate the maddening mazes–one little portion shown at a time–you find your spatial memory challenged and you remember the text-based games that came earlier.  (Which was the one where the unicorn “looks at you like the total ass you are”?)

The duck-dragon begins to take on a terrifying aspect.  The castle looks as real as Malcolm the Jester’s (returning to Kyrandia for a moment).  The need to figure out what to do, and how to do it, becomes urgent.

In short, the games loses its initial opacity and becomes simply absorbing.  Kind of like a silent movie.  And remember, these games are not retro.  They are original, representing the best of the time.  This gives them enduring value, I think.

A final note:  don’t get indigestion.  There are so many games here, released over so many months and years, and one might not have ever owned all of them.  Take your time exploring them.  Focus on one or two and figure them out, then move on.

In your own sovereign and sweet-ass time.

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An Aphorism on the End of Summer

That sweet sadness one feels at the end of summer, as shadows lengthen and yellow leaves fall on the deck chairs:  it is entirely offset by the sweet smell of the first September fire.

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Atari Flashback Review

The Atari Flashback Portable came yesterday, and of course I tried it out till the “low battery” light came on.  I charged it per instructions overnight, and I’ve been having a lot of fun since the wee hours.

It was a nice, small gift to myself.  Who knows…perhaps I deserve a present on 9/7.

I didn’t buy on Amazon, so I won’t review it there.  I avoided Bezopolis this time because, as so often happens, various releases of the same item are conflated, including their reviews, making it very hard to know exactly what you’re buying.

So, thanks to Wal-Mart, I got the precise model I’d hoped for, and twenty dollars cheaper than my special personalized and jacked-up price chez Bezos.  Next time, Jeff, redistribute your own income.

(I’m down on the guy, but Bernie Sanders’  “Stop BEZOS”  bill is an outrage, at least in its name.  It’s tantamount to a bill of attainder, which the Constitution–remember the Constitution?–expressly forbids.)

Never mind.

The little console is a heap of fun.  I give it five stars. Here:


One thing to note:  the first time you boot up a game, it tends to misbehave a little, or not function at all.  Not to worry.  Hit “reset,” go back to the main screen, and try again.  At worst, turn the unit off and on.  Pretty soon, by hook or by crook, the game should function.

The game everybody wants, Pac-Man, is a disappointment.  It flickers altogether too much and that’s one of the games I’m used to seeing full-size, so perhaps it’s partly just me.  However, I have read other reviewers having similar reactions, so there we are.

The games I remember are all there, including a few whose name I’d forgotten but which I recognized.

I do miss a lot of the music, especially for Frogger, which proceeds almost entirely in silence.

Don’t be blinded by the incredible graphic detail of even an average game today.  These old 80s titles are wickedly clever in their simplicity.  Real creativity straining at the bounds of technology.  They test memory, reflex, logic, and do it all enjoyably.

One mention:  Solaris.  The graphics, simple as they are, are really attractive, with a deep blue opening screen and lovely colors against a dark background.  The game is similar to other fly-and-shoot titles, but prettier.

Also, as far as I know there is no connectivity, no browser, no web, no WiFi, no location, no spying, no marketing, no Zuckerberg, no Google, no nobody, no nothing.  The game is as unwebbed as my feet.

As I process my initial reactions this morning, I find that this freedom from the socio-corporate surveillance state called Internet is deeply relaxing and refreshing.

I plan to downgrade my phone, and then, with this console, perhaps I can soon commute to the city and back without my tablet, and without the Big Hot Shits knowing precisely where I am at any given moment.

Can we make that six stars?

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