Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SAIL, the song by AWOLNATION, and my personal fantasy




 When I listen to this song, I picture a huge pirate ship made of wood with all those tall masts and black silk sails. It slips effortlessly across the ocean at night. In the breeze, you can see that some of the sails are ripped, and there's buck shot in the rails. The ship has seen some action in its day. It's not what it used to be. (Are any of us?) The crew on board is rowdy, electric, alive. They are not to be trifled with. There are small amounts of hot pink, neon blue, and electric green lights illuminating from the deck. Where are the lights coming from? I don't know and I don't care. All I want to do is jump on board and see where I end up in the morning.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Importance of Having Breakfast and Good Female Friends

No one should shop for glasses alone!
   I texted my friends to see if they wanted breakfast today, but I got up too early. It is daylight savings and my body didn't know that. What a bunch of crap this is. I took an astronomy course in college - I know how the sun and the Earth work. Remembering to set your clock forward and back twice a year is pain in the rear and it is really unnecessary.
   I enjoy having breakfast with my friends on the weekend. We are generally too busy during the week to get together, and who wants to make their own breakfast on a Sunday? It is the perfect chance to roll out of bed, shuffle to the car, and get over to Cracker Barrel before the church crowd shows up. Good sausage and as much hot coffee as you can stand. And the conversation....our topics range from raising kids to shitty boyfriends, to money and careers, build-it-yourself hot tubs, the economy, murdered beauty queens, etc.  And sometimes I discreetly take pictures of old couples who dress fashionably. They inspire me to keep trying. Perhaps they have gone through as many trials and tribulations in life as we have, and yet they still manage to look snazzy at their age. If I am impressed, I take a picture. 
I hope I look this good when I'm her age.
   My friend Amy helped me pick out some new glasses yesterday. This is significant because I am not skilled at picking out glasses for myself. You can see what I mean if you see my 5th grade pictures. My mom let me pick out my own frames. Bad idea. Lessons learned smack harder when you have photographic evidence. 
    You can learn a lot from your female friends. I'm sure you can learn a lot from your male friends, too, but I don't usually hang out with them as much. Women tend to put more thought into things, and they generally seem more observant about human behavior. I recently read Kris Jenner's autobiography, and she painted a pretty clear image of OJ and Nicole Simpson's ill-fated relationship. I had not realized that OJ had been dating Nicole since she was a teenager. Nicole's parents apparently thought she was too young to date OJ, yet he persued the pretty young waitress. I imagine the lure of fame and fortune was hard to pass up. (I can say this easily since I was a waitress for years.) Nicole should've dumped his ass the first time he beat her up. If you stay with a man like that, then he learns it is okay to hit you. But if you leave him, then he knows that it isn't okay. So many women keep returning to their abusers. Every town I have lived in has a women's shelter. How horrible is this?! (Horrible that we need to have shelters.) Shouldn't we as a society have higher standards? Shouldn't women respect themselves enough to stand on their own if their man turns out to be a piece of crap?
   I get tired of seeing news stories about young girls being abducted. It happens frequently enough that I fear we have become somewhat tolerant of it. I do not have children of my own, but if I did, I swear I would have tracking devices implanted in them. If someone took one of my kids, I'd come after them. With a gun. You don't mess with little innocent people like that. They are the future. They are our legacy. They are everything, really.
   I feel very strongly that all girls should take self-defense classes. This is a minimal-effort precaution. There was a beautiful young local college student brutally murdered in her own apartment a few years ago.  One of her best friends from grade school told me what I am about to write. No one has been convicted for her murder. It is widely acknowledged that local investigators botched the evidence, and one of the suspects had a history of violence against women (including a rape and an attempted murder.) But this wasn't discussed in court. The jury had no clue that this suspect had just gotten out of jail three months prior to the college girl's murder. He lived in the same apartment complex as the girl, and investigators found a condom in her toilet pipes with his DNA in it. He lied about his alibi. His ex-wife even testified about how much he likes violent sex. THIS MAN IS CURRENTLY LIVING AND WALKING FREELY AMONGST US. Our justice system disappoints at times. In this case, it failed miserably. In Nicole Simpson's case, it failed pretty spectacularly as well. But Kris Jenner didn't forget about Nicole. She told her story in her book. The local college girl's friends didn't forget about her, either. In quiet avenues, like small get-togethers for craft night with other women, they tell her story. Sometimes they go to her grave and pour wine on it and reminisce about old times. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sergeant Payne's Johnny Cash Story


Vietnam Veteran Charles Payne/Photo by J. Lewter 



Junior-level journalism major Charles Payne probably isn’t the only non-traditional student at Arkansas Tech who served in the Vietnam War, but he is the only vet who fought alongside world-famous musicians Johnny and June Cash. 

Payne, who is originally from Belleville, AR, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1967. He served three tours in Vietnam that stretched from January of 1968 to January of 1971. It doesn’t bother Payne to talk about Vietnam, although he laments, “We did horrible things.” Details of Payne’s time spent abroad tend to blur together, but one day will stay forever crisp in his mind: the day Johnny and June Cash came to perform for the troops. “They were both wearing military green fatigues,” said Payne, explaining that this was “SOP” (Standard Operating Procedure) for visitors to the base. Anyone wearing civilian clothing marked their self as a target. 

 The base came under sapper attack by Viet Cong soldiers with assault rifles later that night. “It happened all the time,” said Payne, who mentioned that it was annoying. The attacks always came at night, so the American troops would run to bunkers scattered around the base and fire their weapons into the dark. “We never knew (if we hit anyone),” explained Payne. 

  That night, Johnny and June were rushed to the hospital bunker “because that was the safest place,” said Payne. That was also SOP for base visitors. Payne ran to a bunker close to the hospital to help fight off the attackers. “Then ten or fifteen minutes into (the fight), here comes Johnny with a M-16 he got from an injured [soldier] in the hospital,” said Payne. Payne had been alone in his bunker until Johnny showed up. “He didn’t feel right hiding while the rest of us were fighting,” said Payne. Then, about ten minutes later, “here comes June (with a M-16),” said Payne. Another injured soldier had been admitted to the hospital, so June borrowed his gun and ran to the bunker to join her husband and Sergeant Payne. He doesn’t remember everything Johnny and June said during the gun fight, but he does remember June asking, “Where is the safety on this damn thing?” 

Payne, Johnny and June fired through the gun ports in the bunker for the duration of the attack, which lasted about thirty or forty-five minutes. Being the only soldier fighting with the high-profile singers “put the pressure on,” said Payne. Thankfully none of the trio was injured.

==================================

  Since I rarely get the opportunity to interview Vietnam veterans, I asked Mr. Payne about a bumper sticker I once saw on an office door in the Nashville Capitol Building. It read “Jane Fonda: Commie. Traitor. Bitch.”  Payne’s response was, “They were being nice.” He explained that Fonda had toured a POW camp in Vietnam where Americans were being held. While Fonda was apparently overseas protesting the war, she was photographed smiling and clapping with Vietnamese soldiers while sitting on an anti-aircraft gun. Payne seemed quite disgusted. He said he knew that some troops returning home from the war were spit on by protestors, although he did not experience anything like that. “I was from a small town. They were supportive,” he said.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"No Easy Day" is a Must Read


  I have always been intrigued by the Navy SEALs. When I heard about the controversial new book written by a SEAL who was on the raid that killed Bin Laden, I knew I would buy it. And I did buy it as soon as I saw it for sale at my local book store. The book was nearly impossible to put down as soon as I started reading it.
   The writing is smooth and easy to understand. All of the military jargon terms are explained, and it almost feels like you are wearing 60 pounds of gear and $65,000 night-vision goggles while sitting next to Mark Owen (his pen name) on a cramped helicopter flight to the next mission. I have always appreciated military culture and customs, since so many people in my own family have been enlisted. It made me want to enlist just so I could have comrades like the ones Owen writes about.
   I was particularly interested in some of the details of the missions, like how an assault team might decide to attack from the roof of a building or why they might land on the ground and sneak up on foot instead. I enjoyed reading about the specific gear and tools that the SEALs sometimes take along with them during an assault: a sledgehammer, bolt cutters, $200 in cash in case they need to bribe someone for a ride. I also wanted to read about Bin Laden's final moments. Owen describes him as a coward, not wanting or willing to fight even though his family was home and he had access to guns. The story was believable and well-told. I was particularly touched with Owen's recollection of a CIA analyst he called "Jen." She had been tracking Bin Laden for five years, and she was quite emotional when the SEAL team brought his body back from Pakistan.
   It's easy to see what sorts of frustrations elite military teams like the SEALs have to deal with when bureaucrats get involved in their missions. Owen talks about having to eventually use a bullhorn during raids to ask alleged terrorists to "come out" of their houses, only to see the same people pop up again and again during other raids. Humanity and ethics certainly have an important role whenever the military is involved, but it is easy to have empathy for front-line commandos like Owen when their lives are so clearly dependent on them being able to enter, execute, and leave quickly. 
    This book gets my highest rating: it's a must-read!
   

Friday, August 31, 2012

Al Matthews - the Real Life Marine in "Aliens"


Sgt. Al Apone "Look into my eye." (Aliens -20th Century Fox)

Aliens is, and always will be, one of my very favorite movies. The scenes with the space marines chiding each other and suiting up for battle leave a lasting impression, especially on a 10-year-old. I actually couldn't watch the movie all the way through the first time I tried. It scared me so bad I was nauseated. But, like all great sci-fi/horror movies, I grew to adore it (and have watched it countless times since my first attempt in the sixth grade.)
   Sergeant Al Apone, played by Al Matthews, is perhaps the most convincing marine in the film. My father and I have commented that he must've had previous military experience to pull off such a genuine character. I recently searched the Internet to see if I could find out anything about Al Matthews' past, and I was pleased to find this interview where he discusses how proud he was to serve in Vietnam. I am cutting and pasting the entire interview below. The original web site is here: Al Matthews Interview

  
Al Matthews, Actor, Aliens
Written by Hicks Thursday, 26 October 2006 23:03 
 
Today we are talking with a man that I am sure really needs no introduction to anyone that calls themselves an Alien fan - Al Matthews. Al played the cigar-chewing, slogan-spewing, tough-as-nails, ground troop commander Sgt. Apone. Al, thank you for allowing us this opportunity to chat with you. Let’s get to it.

Alien Experience: Are you still living in the UK, because I thought I saw on the Internet you were living in Spain now?

Al Matthews: It's not my intention to be esoteric, however, we must remember John Lennon! One morning, I awoke to find 15 people standing outside my house, trying to get a glimpse of me, neither I nor my family need that! Plus, the Net told you that I was dead, and you (fans) bought it. Where I live is not important, how I live is.

AXP: What took you to Europe in the first place?

AM: I came to Europe because I no longer wanted to live in the country that I went to war for, by the way, I did not start that war. When I came home I was not a hero, I was still a black man trying to get a job. One day I was riding the bus on my way to work, just above my head was a bus hording, asking for donations to help build a memorial to my fallen comrades, I was grossly insulted. However, right next to that sign was another, which said 'If you don't like America, leave', which is what I did.

I have been in show business since the age of 4, Cab Calloway is my great uncle, Johnny Nash is my third cousin, my family also appeared in Our Gang comedies, the parts they played were 'Buckwheat' and a character, 'Stimey', it's more or less in the blood!

I arrived in Europe with 4 sea bags and a Gibson guitar, I first lived in Morocco, where I made myself learn to play the damn thing. I first became a Folk-blues singer, it worked! But let me tell you this, it worked because I now had the self-discipline that's necessary to do anything. I got that discipline in the United States Marine Corps, and that's gospel!

AXP: What made you want to leave the Marines?

AM: I have not left the Marine Corps, 'once a Marine, always a Marine'. Sadly, I still have bad days and nightmares, I try not to think about Nam, but I find it hard not to think about that period of my life, but it was also a very necessary thing for me, I got my act together.

AXP: Are you still singing/songwriting?

AM: Yes, indeed I still write music, if you visit my website almatthews.co.uk, you can hear a few of the 5,000 songs I've written over the years. I have a song in a film at the moment. These days, I only write for films. I coed in a film called Soul Survivors with Isaac Hayes, Antonio Fargas, (whom I grew up with in NYC) and Ian McShane, I mention this because I wrote the songs for the film, again they can be found on my website.

AXP: Are you still involved in broadcasting, and to what extent?

AM: After fifteen years of broadcasting, I'd more or less had enough. I have won 'Best Gospel Music Program in Europe' five times running, I might like to do some kind of program, but I don't exactly know what, my collection is 8,000 albums strong and over 400 cd's. Do you think I might get a gig somewhere? Just kidding!

AXP: And what have you been doing since 1997 after your last two films The Fifth Element and Tomorrow Never Dies? Are you still performing theatre?

AM: I have been writing cook books and other things, I am also a journalist which is another string to my bow. Theatre is my first love, a film is a walk in the park compared to the theatre. My agent once told me something which I now know to be true, unless you tread the boards, you are not an actor. I am very proud of my work in the theater. I took the James Baldwin play The Amen Corner, from fringe to London's west-end. The Amen Corner was and is the first all black cast, in the long history of British theatre to appear in London's West, and not be a musical! I was very lucky, James Baldwin was there, he was giving a standing ovation which lasted 15 minutes, we both cried, it was very moving. There, now you've glimpsed my soft side. I did another film, which I don't want to discuss, in all, I've made 62 pictures, the last we will not talk about.

AXP: How did you land your role in Aliens?

AM: I was shooting a film called (in Europe) The American Way, in the States it's called Riders of the Storm with Dennis Hopper, James Cameron ask to see me, he read my CV, and that was that. I asked James how long did it take him to make up his mind, he said "thirty seconds".

AXP: Did your time in the military help in your performance in Aliens?

AM: Yes, I was the only person in the movie not pretending to be a Marine, in fact I taught the other actors how to look and act. Mr. Cameron was pleased with my input, in fact he said to me, he had no idea I was that good, had he known, my part would have been bigger. (Oh yeah!) You see, when you live in Europe, it is assumed that you live here because you can't cut the mustard...tut, tut! There are many more films shot in the UK, because we have some of the best craftsman on the planet, Aliens was shot at Pinewood, just down the street from my home at that time.

AXP: And is there any part of Al Matthews in Sgt. Apone…or Sgt. Apone in Al Matthews?

AM: My five and a half years in the Corps as was the Marines are so believable, I did not have to act, I was just my normal self. Al Matthews and Sgt. Al Apone (bet you didn't know his first name was Al, we did that as a joke) are the same person.

AXP: What was it like working with James Cameron?


AM: James Cameron is one of the finest directors I have ever had the pleasure of working for. A good director casts actors to help them tell their story, a great director does the same thing, but with a slight difference, a great director bothers to ask his actors their opinions. James Cameron is a great director, he let me do my thing, he place his trust in me. I am very proud of that fact. What most folk don't know is, I made up most of my own line's, James let me do that! He's the MAN! I was asked to come to the States, but declined for business reasons, plus, I do not like being far away from my children.

AXP: What is your fondest memory from your time working on Aliens?

AM: My fondest memory on Aliens, was this: We were trying to get my whole squad into the 'APC', as quickly as possible. Man, we must have done ten takes, on the very last take, we got it right. Once we were all in, in a 'military manner', we had the take, in the can, suddenly the door opened and I shouted "What the fxxk is going on?" Yes, I was tired and I knew the opening of the door would screw the sound, and we would have to go again. I turned towards the door, with smoke coming from my nostrils. There was Miss Weaver holding the biggest birthday cake I had ever seen in my life, and wearing the warmest smile ever! The whole cast and crew knew it was my birthday, and they were all in on it. I was so embarrassed, I broke down and cried. There was Sgt. Apone, balling like a baby, at the best of times, I don't like surprises, you can call it a 'Nam thing.'

I forgot to tell you about the opening shot, which was us waking from deep space sleep. A little known and never seen again actress, (I'm calling her that to be kind) accused me of taking her light. I told her I could take her light without even leaving my dressing room, (it was her first film and last, I may add) I also told her that I could make the camera do anything I wanted it to do. She said 'BS'. I said, 'ok watch this', that's when I put the cigar into my mouth, the camera was shooting from the opposite direction, James saw me put the cigar in my chops, and made them move the camera for a single on me. I just looked at the actress and winked, she could not believe it. I told her,' not to try to get where I am, because she would be where I was, because I keep moving.'

AXP: Did those missed takes in the APC inspire your line later in the movie "I want a nice clean dispersal this time!"?

AM: Sorry, the line refers to the last op we were on (not really), or the last time we tried that move or tactic. By the way, that was not one of the lines I made up, I would have said, 'spread it and keep it flat.' It means the same thing.

AXP: Which version of the film do you prefer, the original theatrical release or Aliens: Special Edition?

AM: When I saw the finished cut, I was very surprised indeed. I watched, (because, that's how you learn your craft) James shoot all the stuff that ended on the floor, which became 'The Director's Cut'. The director's cut told the whole story, but, it slowed the film down. When I saw the 'D's cut, I knew why 'Fox', put it on the floor. For a very long time, I thought that I had made all that stuff up in my head, (as actors do) what I'm trying to say is, I thought I had dreamt all those shot's, they did happened, but I convinced myself, it was all in my head. To answer the question, I prefer the original cut. the 'D's' cut was all about riding that horse into town, just one more time. By the way, I only saw the 'D's' cut 3 months ago. What is really a good laugh, is to see the film in another language, like Spanish for example. I speak 7 languages, I like to see what the translators made of my lines.

AXP: Alien is a classic, but at the time did you realize Aliens was going to be as big as it became?

AM: You know something, a hit film is like a hit record, you just know! Plus, one day I asked James if I could see some 'rushes', which he doesn't like his actors to do. James said, 'sometimes actors go to rushes and see something that they are doing, and they keep doing it through out the whole film, just because they like one thing they did.' You see what I'm saying? Anyway, I loved what I saw, it was then that I knew, this film is going to be massive. I say, 'to hell with 'rushes', just carry on having fun. By the way, I have never been to 'rushes' since, if a director tells you something, you should listen, take his advise on board, after all, it is his film.

AXP: Moreover, did you think that your role as Sgt. Apone was going to be as popular as it became?

AM: I had no idea Sgt. Apone had gotten so large, it was not until my IMDb death, did I realize how the character had grown. Which brings me very nicely to this, if they publish any more crap, there will be hell to pay! The 'Internet Movie Database' people have a lot to answer for. I have friends all over the world, they all thought that I was dead because these people did not check or verify their facts, they just printed an unconfirmed rumor. Someone thought it would be funny! Sadly for him, I know who he is, I intend to deal with him. My children, didn't find it funny either! Sorry for that, but you can see where I'm coming from with that.

AXP: Aliens grossed over $130 million worldwide, when you first set out as an actor did you ever think you’d be involved in something that big and successful?

AM: All I knew was, it's not possible to have a cast and crew this strong and not have a hit. I never set out to be an actor, it just happened. Most of my life I had been a singer, I still am, acting is just something else that I do. All the gift's that I have been given seem to get used over and over again, and in different forms. Shit, man, I never know what tomorrows going to bring. Let me give you a little tip, never leave the floor until you are happy with your work, normally, if you ask the director 'can we go again', they say 'ok'. Never call a track finished if you are not happy, because you will have to live with that for the rest of your life. Every time you see yourself, you'll think 'damn I could have done better.' 'Pain goes away, but failure lives on forever.'

AXP: Have you seen/spoken to any of the other Aliens alumni recently? Anyone specific you keep in touch with?

AM: I am in touch with Rico Ross, but everybody is so busy, it's hard to keep track of people.

AXP: If Fox asked you to do a cameo in any upcoming Alien or Alien vs. Predator movies would you be willing?

AM: I am always ready to work, I love my craft.

AXP: Hot Toys (a toy company in Hong Kong) has just released a series of 12 inch figures from Aliens, one of them is Sgt. Apone, what does it feel like to be made into an action figure?

AM: I shall mention 'Hot Toys' to my lawyers, on the one hand, I am happy about having an action figure, if it looks like me, and I get paid!

AXP: We've seen 2 Alien films and an Alien vs. Predator film since Aliens was released, in your opinion, and taking those films into account, how do you feel the franchise evolved since then? For better? For worse?

AM: Pete, I liked Alien, it was a great film, but I loved Aliens, not just because I was in it, but because of the action. That movie scares the shit out of me, and I was in it! God! I could not wait to touch the little creep that popped out of that girls chest. I first saw it undressed, but when Stan and his boy's had dressed that damn thing, I was really ready to kick ass, film or not! Sorry, it still gives me the creeps to think about it. I think the Aliens ticket has been over worked, no more, its down hill from here.

AXP: And what is your opinion of the whole Alien vs. Predator crossover?

AM: I have not seen Alien vs. Predator, not sure I want to.

AXP: In your mind has the release of Alien vs. Predator killed any chance for another stand-alone Alien film? James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver seem to think so.

AM: I agree with James and Sigourney, it's done and dusted, we all gave our best, we have no more to give, the planet has been blown up, end of story.

I would like to take this moment to thank you all for your support over the years, you are why I can't stop acting. Now that I am back from the dead, let's kick some butt! You can contact me, it's almatthews.co.uk.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rest in Peace, Sally Ride

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away at age 61 on Monday, July 23, 2012. She was a huge inspiration to me. I love what she said at a NASA news conference about her history-making flight: "It's too bad this is such a big deal. It's too bad our society isn't further along."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Books Worth Reading

Larry Lewter, circa 1990's, in the Bay Area of California.

My father (pictured above) is an avid reader with quite an impressive book collection. So I asked him to provide a list of must-reads. He agreed and submitted the following list, along with the disclaimer that these books are "in no particular order," and that the list is incomplete. So here it is:

1. Contact by Carl Sagan
   Excellent story of first contact. I believe that this is the only work of fiction by Sagan. The book was made into a movie starring Jodie Foster. The book was much more technical, but the movie was very well done. 

2. The Postman by David Brin
   One of the best post-apocalyptic stories I have ever read. Brin is an excellent Sci-Fi writer. His book Sundiver is also very good. The book was made into a movie by Kevin Costner. The movie is very good if you read the book first. 

3. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
   Bradbury is one of the original giants of Sci-Fi. Although this story is somewhat dated, it was very well done. It was also made into a TV-miniseries.

4. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
   This is a technical thriller about cold war submarines (Russia versus America.) It is a genuine page turner with extremely accurate details. It was made into a movie starring Sean Connery (James Bond.) A lot of fun to read. 

5. Shogun by James Clavell
   Clavell is a very good writer. Shogun is an extremely interesting docu-drama. The book is based on factual history of feudal Japan. It was also made into a TV-miniseries. A fascinating read. 

6. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
   Clarke was a prolific Sci-Fi writer of the old school. This book is probably quite dry to the non space geek, but I think that it has the best ending of any Sci-Fi book that I have ever read. 

7. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
   This is my favorite book by Chrichton. It was made into an excellent movie that followed the book very closely. Great story.

8. Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan
   This is the first book of what eventually became a trilogy. Any of Hogan's books are well worth reading. 

9. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
   Without a doubt, Heinlein is one of the most prolific and famous writers of the old school of Sci-Fi writers. His most famous work is probably his Stranger in a Strange Land. This book, however, is my personal favorite of all his books. 

10. Watchers by Dean Koontz
   I think that this book is Koontz's best work. It is one of the first stories of DNA manipulation. It is pure horror-adventure. A lot of fun to read. 

11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
   This book has become a classic in my lifetime. It is a study and comment on the racial and class prejudices of early 20th century life in America. It is a thought provoking guide to the range of human emotions. Very well done. 

12. More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
   A must read if you wish to establish your reputation as a real dweeb. Sturgeon was one of the original of the original Sci-Fi masters.

13. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
   Possibly one of the best stories ever written. This story defines manhood in terms that most men would like to define themselves.

14. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
   Pure entertainment. Hubbard invented and started the Church of Scientology. Scientology is absurd and ridiculous. But, man, could he tell a story.

15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
   A very new entry into the world of story telling. This trilogy, however, is one of the best adventures I have had the pleasure to read. Ms. Collins is a master word smith. 

16. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
   A classic among classics, this tear-jerker is the ultimate definition of friendship.

17. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
   Based upon factual and mythical data, this is the true story of a real female Robinson Crusoe who survived on an island off the coast of California.

18. Treason by Orson Scott Card
   All of Card's books are worth reading. This book, however, goes way outside any box you may have seen. If you think you are perverse, read this. 

19. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
   The definitive story of man against nature and his need for companionship. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Goodbye, Youth

That's me, with an Atlantic Sharpnose shark at the Gulf of Mexico. God, I love sharks!
I am spending my last evening as a 35-year-old with my friends. My computer was sick, so Brandon fixed it. Turns out my cat had been sitting on the keyboard and pushed a button that inactivated all the keys. What a relief I didn't have a virus.
   I recently went on a week-long collegiate field trip to the Gulf Coast, and I was eating lunch with a pretty young student from my school. "How old are you?" she asked me. I replied, "35." She looked at me for a second and said, "Well, at least you're not 40." I blinked at her a couple of times then continued eating my lunch. What the crap? There are worse things than being 40. I remember when I thought turning 30 would be a horrible thing. Shortly before that happened, one of my best friends from high school committed suicide. Turning 30 was indeed painless, as my 50-something friend Sandy told me. Losing my friend was what hurt. 
  I've done a few things over the past year that I really enjoy. Things that I didn't have as options in my youth. I finally made friends with some shark researchers and was invited to go out fishing with them in the Gulf. Oh, YES! I went shark fishing with professionals! (See photo above.) The pretty young thing from my school wasn't invited. 
   I signed up to go for a night scuba dive trip next weekend. Since I live in a land-locked state, scuba diving takes a bit of planning. I miss it and hope to become a lot more involved.I really haven't found much that surpasses scuba diving in terms of fun and adventure.
  I was recently promoted at work and the tech services people came to my office today and gave me a brand new desk computer with a large monitor. It was quite a nice upgrade. Now if someone would just clean up my office for me...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Physics Lab Tour at The University of Arkansas


Ph.D. candidate Robert Sleezer

                                                                                                      The closest most of us will ever get to the inside of a physics research lab is by watching episodes of the ├╝ber-popular “Big Bang Theory.”  Real life Ph.D. candidate Robert Sleezer was kind enough to show me around the University of Arkansas physics lab where he spends the better part of his days. Sleezer works in Greg Salamo’s research group, which “does an awful lot of things,” he said. The group of about 20 people conducts research that includes optics work (“lasers and crap,”) electron microscopy, growth of crystals and nanomaterials, and biological research.

   One monstrous piece of equipment was located in a clean room labeled “Molecular Beam Epitaxy.” Everyone had to put on lab coats, hair nets, and booties upon entry. The room held a vacuum chamber that contains fewer “atoms per volume than in outer space,” explained Sleezer. The machinery allows the operator to build “layer cake” out of crystals, or build semiconductors using very pure elements with ridiculous precision. The materials are assembled, quite literally, “one atomic layer at a time,” said Sleezer. The highly customized materials that can be made using this technology may be worthy of publication, or they could even be of potential interest to companies that are looking for the next breakthrough in electronics. And according to the science-minded Sleezer, it is often preferential to publish a paper on an exciting new product rather than sell the technology to a company.
   One of the lab’s main goals includes trying to find materials “other than silicone” to make parts for computers. There are limitations of silicone-based parts that make it challenging to build electronic components smaller, faster, and that use less energy.
   The five-million-dollar (give or take a few dollars) Titan transmission electron microscope (part of the University of Arkansas Electron Optics Facility supported by the National Science Foundation) that Sleezer uses looks a bit like a large periscope from the future. This microscope is so sensitive that a special “minimally-vibrating” building was constructed on the campus to house it. The scope can be used to take pictures of atoms “using the wave nature of electrons,” said Sleezer. Photos of the incredibly tiny crystal structures can be very helpful in determining if the team is on to a hot new product, or not.
   When asked if he likes his work, Sleezer replied, “Who wouldn’t?”
Graduate students Chen Li, P.C. Grant, and Sleezer

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Clockwise from top left: Nexxus Humectress hair conditioner, Michael Kors perfume, MAC Complete Comfort Cream, Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium Foaming Body Scrub, Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, Bathhouse Soapery and Caldarium Handcrafted Soap, C.O. Bigelow's "My Favorite Night Balm," MAC Brush #208, Pentel ENERGEL 0.7 mm Pen, The Body Shop Shimmer Body Butter.

    If you were going to be stranded on an island for an indefinite amount of time, and you could only take one item with you, what would it be? Since this ridiculous scenario will never happen to you or me, I'd like to share a handful of my very favorite products I have discovered during the past decade.

   Nexxus Humectress hair conditioner - I have not found another conditioner that makes my hair feel softer. It is a bit pricey, but worth it. I am sad to say that another conditioner I love, "Brazil Nut" by The Body Shop, is apparently not on the market anymore. "Brazil Nut" smelled divine!

   Michael Kors perfume - I was working on my Master's degree at the University of Arkansas when a young woman walked past me and I caught her scent in the air. It smelled GOOD, like a strong succulent gardenia. I stopped her and asked her what she was wearing, and she smiled very prettily and said "Michael Kors!"

   MAC Complete Comfort Creme - This is a new face conditioner I am enjoying. It is thick, it feels good, and it smells good. I love MAC.

   Bathhouse Soapery and Caldarium Foaming Body Scrub and Soaps - I have been to this charming little shop in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There are loaves of wonderful smelling hand-made soap throughout the store. The sales girl was delightful as she cut off  bars and wrapped up all the soaps I wanted. My favorites scents are Root, Badedas, Spearmint, and Rose. The Foaming Body Scrub is thick and superb. Order from their website and Arkansas residents get free shipping! http://www.bathhousesoap.com/

   Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Coconut Rum - Okay, so this isn't a beauty or health product, but it is delicious. My favorite nightcap.

   C.O. Bigelow's "My Favorite Night Balm" -  You cannot have too many tubes of chapstick or lip balm. It is a simple truth. I keep them in my desk, in my purse, and by my bed. This balm is a good one. It can be purchased at Bath and Body Works.

   MAC brush #208 - If you wear eyeliner and have not yet discovered the art of painting your own lids, I am pleased to recommend this small, agile, angled brush from MAC. I have tried small brushes from several high-end retailers, and this one is the best.

   Pentel ENERGEL 0.7 mm pen - The pen is mightier than the sword, and no pen is mightier than this sleek, stylish and smooth-gliding stylus.

   The Body Shop Body Butter - I first learned about The Body Shop when I was a young teenager reading Seventeen magazine. Their Body Butters have been a long-time favorite of mine. Olive is my top pick, and I like this Shimmer Coconut version a lot, too. 


   While it is probable that you could live on the hypothetical  island and survive without any of these products, the real question is, why would you want to?