Friday, June 26, 2009
This story starts on a playground. A young mother has run and errand and left her son at the local playground with friends and their moms. As she rounds the corner at the end of the block, she sees a teen on a bike pedal over to her son. This teen looks her in the eyes, glaring with hatred, reaches into his jacket, pulls out a handgun, and shoots her son through the head. The murderer pedals off down the street unchallenged. The mother rushes to her son, gathers him up, and through sobs heads for the emergency room.
My friend, on duty as chaplain assistance that day, sits with that weeping mother after she receives the news. Her son was dead before he hit the ground. His death was senseless. All that my friend could do was be a support for this grieving mother and be there for her in her darkest hour.
We hear a lot of hollow rhetoric these days. We are told we all need our weapons to keep us safe from the bad guys. Folks, there is absolutely nothing that mother could have done differently if she had been armed. Was she to act preemptively and gun down the bicycle rider for his glare before he acted? We've seen as a nation how well preemptive violence works. Was she to commit rough justice in the streets, sending a hail of bullets after that deranged kid while her son lay bleeding on the ground? Our current laws are not enough. Policemen and women are gunned down regularly by people carrying armor piercing rounds in weapons that have the police far outmatched. Lunatics steeped in hatred are arming themselves and setting off to shoot down the innocent in public places like schools and the National Holocaust Museum. This is all madness. If for no other reason that for the sake of your own children, demand better, more effective gun control for our nation.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
We've learned a lot from the ISS. Science is conducted there each and every day. We have learned that humans actually can build complex structures in orbit and that the components made by different nations will function together when assembled. For those of you who have attempted to put together anything with badly translated instructions originally written in some other language, you know this is no small feat. Recently, ISS astronauts captured an erupting volcano in its earliest moments and Earth scientists are scrambling to study the photos and learn new things. The ISS is also equipped with robots. They may not be "Robbie" or "Gort" but the robotic arm and the more massive robot for swapping out batteries and other massive objects are saving ISS inhabitants a lot of time on spacewalks these days.
On a light note, the ISS crew enjoyed this year's blockbuster movie, Star Trek, from 220 miles high. That's got to be a first of some sort.
Each and every day, this construct of the U.S., Russian, European, Japanese, and Canadian space agencies orbits at 250 miles above the Earth at speeds of 17,500 miles per hour, completing sixteen trips around the planet daily.
For much more about the ISS at ten years old and its rapidly approaching completion, go to: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html Of particular interest is the fly through one of the astronauts provides. The early components have a small, cramped feel about them while the most recent Japanese science lab has a large, spacious, Sci Fi feel to it. The trip is fascinating.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
- antiques and collectibles
- military history
- the arts and artists
- how to carving, wood turning, scroll saw art, and various craft books
- lifestyles topics including home improvement, landscaping, etc.
- regional ghost investigations and ghost stories
Schiffer Publishing is the place to go. You can check them out at: http://www.schifferbooks.com/ There you will find instructions for writing a book proposal for the publisher. My advice to you is to follow those instructions carefully and to the letter.
There are a few things to remember if you propose a book project to Schiffer Publishing or any other publisher. First, remember to include your full name and all contact information with your proposal. Your proposal will not be pursued if the publisher doesn't know who you are or how to contact you. If you submit a proposal via email, make sure to include an obvious, clear subject line with your name and the fact that this is a proposal letter included. Remember, publishers get as much junk mail as you do. Without a clear subject line, your wonderful proposal could very well end up in the SPAM folder and will never be seen again. Make sure your proposal letter is clear, direct, and to the point (see my previous post on how to write a successful proposal letter). Make sure you have read and reread your proposal letter (don't just use spell check and let it go ... there are way too many mistakes spell check can't catch) before you send it out. A poorly written, badly spelled proposal letter will get all but the very best ideas pitched into the circular file without strong consideration. Make sure any promises you make in your proposal are promises you can fulfill. Finally, once you have submitted your proposal, resist the temptation to follow up with additional emails or phone calls asking whether your proposal has been considered yet or not. Schiffer Publishing gets many proposals and it takes a while to give each proposal due consideration. You do not endear yourself to a publisher by nagging them for results and will more than likely be rejected if you follow this course of action.
If your proposal gets you a book contract, make sure you can fulfill the contract before you sign it. Take it very, very seriously as your ultimate goal is to develop a long and healthy relationship with your publisher that will net you more than one book!
Good luck to you in your efforts to find a publisher.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
- Canobie Lake Park: Salem, New Hampshire
- Quassy Amusement Park: Middlebury, Connecticut
- Midway Park: Maple Springs, New York
- Sea Breeze Park: Rochester, New York
- Dorney Park: Allentown, Pennsylvania (if you're a Pennsylvanian, you're in luck, you have more former Trolley Parks than any other state)
- Lakemont Park: Altoona, Pennsylvania
- Waldameer Park: Erie, Pennsylvania
- Kennywood: West Mifflin (read as outside Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania
- Bushkill Park: Easton, Pennsylvania
- Camden Park: Huntington, West Virginia
- Oaks Amusement Park: Portland, Oregon
These parks were established from as early as 1879 (Sea Breeze Park) to as late as 1908 (Quassy Amusement Park). We're going to focus on Kennywood. Why? Because my family and I have been there. Also, my parents went there when they were dating. Furthermore, as a one time archaeologist I have an affinity for old things and Kennywood, located outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is on the National Register of Historic Places for the number of wonderful, perfectly preserved and fully functional old rides dating back to the early 1900s to go along with their rides of much more recent vintage. Finally, check out the prices. You can get in for under $35 a person, which is a pretty good deal for an amusement park these days.
Go the the Kennywood website and you'll be able to find hours, rates, and directions, so we won't bother with that here. Here's what you need to know about the park. Kennywood is located in a town with some age on it and it shows a bit. The parking area also provides you with a view of the park that is ... well ... a bit underwhelming and may concern you a bit. The worry is dispelled when you enter the park. The grounds are beautifully maintained, the rides are wonderful, and there is no difficulty in finding ways to keep yourself busy all day long.
Leave your sense of twenty-first century sophistication at the gate and try out some of the classic rides. Take a spin on the Kangaroo. This is a simple, early twentieth century rides where the cars roll around a circular track, rise up one slope, and go airborne for a few moments. Sounds simple, possibly even dull? Yes? No! It's been around for close to a century for a reason.
For me, several trips to the bumper cars are mandatory after a long drive to the park. It's cathartic for any driving adult and great fun for kids who get to drive and crash all at once. I saw one dad ride the bumper cars with his cute little two year old daughter. She was blissfully oblivious to the Mr. Hyde-like transformation that took place behind her. Daddy helped her into the car, strapped her in with him, and then his hands curled around the steering wheel and he let out a deep and heart-felt "bwa ha ha" laugh as he prepared to leave the world of careful adult driving behind in favor of the demolition derby. Trust me, the simple pleasures can be the best, especially if you have a long daily commute to work. Make sure you have family and/or friends in the other cars. It's more satisfying to have people you know to take aim at!
Check out Noah's Ark while you're at it. Thought the Ark was stuck on a mountain top half a world away, right? Not at all, it's at Kennywood. A classic walk through fun house sort of thing that rocks back and forth as you explore, it also has a surprise ending. I'll never tell, so go see for yourself.
But you really want to know about the coasters, don't you? Kennywood has plenty of them. In the 1990s, they built a steel coaster to keep up with the times called the Steel Phantom. The most interesting feature of the Phantom is it makes use of a natural ravine in the mountain side Kennywood is perched on, yes Pittsburgh is located in the mountains, to create a drop of 225 feet that is a little startling. However, the older wooden coasters are the stars of the show in my book. The Thunderbolt, built in 1968, makes good use of the ravine as well. In fact the Thunderbolt takes you from zero to full speed immediately as you car drops off into the ravine right at the start, which is a blast.
For a classic coaster ride, check out the Jack Rabbit, built in 1921. It's over 2000 feet of wooden fun with a 70-foot high hill to keep things interesting. Restored in 1991, the ride is beautiful. However, for showmanship, check out the Racer, built in 1927. The Racer has twin tracks that keeps two trains running parallel to each other for much of the ride. Kennywood claims the Racer is one of the most beautiful of the racing coasters ever to have been built and I'm not going to argue. The loading platform facade is also magnificent. It is a large structure that is impressive to look at and cleverly hides much of the ride from future riders until they are getting close to trains themselves. You hear the roar and the screams but you don't see the ride.
I have a special fondness for Kennywood as this is the first park where my daughter rode roller coasters. The beauty of the place is they have a lot of entertaining rides, with many of them being not too intense for younger children. There are also a carousel and water rides, and much else you would expect from an amusement park. But, let me stress once again, check out as many of the old rides as you can. They may be quaint compared to the high tech rides at the giant parks and may not do barrel rolls or vertical cork screws, but they will make you laugh, especially if you take a teen along who feels it is beneath his or her dignity to ride such a contraption. The grumbling only adds to the fun.
Have a great time this summer with the family. And in the evening, read the youngsters Michael and the New Baby. Hey, I've got to try to sell my book, don't I?!
If you have great memories from Kennywood or one of the other former Trolley Parks, write me, I'd love to read about them. I'll post the best.
[Historical information for this post came from http://www.kennywood.com/ and http://www.themedattractions.com/ Opinions and personal experiences related are entirely my own, provided without any prodding or guidance from any outside source.]
The photo is of the Kangaroo in action.
If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishingllc.com/index_files/OldLinePublishingChildrensMichaelandtheNewBabybyJSBrooks.htm
Monday, June 15, 2009
Now that we've gotten started, this is not so much a movie review as a ... well, call it more of a comparison of the original series (Star Trek TOS to the faithful) and Director J.J. Abrams' new offering. First of all, the new film defies the Star Trek movie curse of the odd numbered film. Over the years, every other Star Trek movie offering, the odd numbered films, have been less than wonderful and a few have been real stinkers. Find a true fan for details. Here Director Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman use the old time traveling chestnut to breath new life and license into an aging series. Leonard Nimoy (Spock in the original series and films) plays an aging Ambassador Spock who partially fails in a rescue mission, which leads to time travel and a change in the timeline and early career path of the Star Fleet academy near graduate James T. Kirk. This shift in the timeline allows all sorts of wonderful little differences between the original series on TV and the 2009 movie to occur.
Here's the comparison: in the original series, Gene Roddenberry (ST's creator) had to work on a shoestring budget. His ship looked terrific for its day but the new ship has a more streamlined look and does not have the old 1960s toggle switches on the command consoles or the static photos of space phenomena pasted to the walls of the set.
In the 1960s aliens were anthropomorphic and occasionally actors dressed in some pretty bad costumes like the Gorn lizard man outfit. Today, the sentient aliens are still human shaped, but the makeup is definitely better and the details a little more lifelike. Non-sentient aliens received a big boost from CGI (computer generated imagery) effects. Back in the 196os one such beast was a guy in a white gorilla outfit with a horn attached to its head. In the 2009 offering, ice planet beasties are dramatic and convincing, one with a nightmare maw of a mouth that has Kirk hightailing it across the glacial terrain in full retreat.
In the 1960s, when the Enterprise was damaged in attacks by nafarious enemies, the ship was show to be damaged by tilting one way or the other on your screen. How do you know a ship is tilted in outer space where there is no up or down? Never mind, it was a basic effect to get across the idea that our heroes' ship was in bad shape. In the 2009 Star Trek, hull plating fractures and flies loose while destroyed vessels leave massive debris fields behind them to create navigational nightmares for anyone who follows. All in all, the modern space battles (which Gene Roddenberry in 1960s sensibility hoped to avoid) are most satisfying.
Saving the best for last, in the 1960s a small trio of crew members (Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy) had fairly developed characters, while the rest of the crew (Sulu, Checkov, Scotty, and Uhura) were left with sketchy characters and somewhat limited roles. Not so in the 2009 offering. Everybody gets interesting stories, a variety of skills that they put to good use (for example Uhura's character goes from 1960s switchboard operator to full-blown xeno-linguist and main squeeze to the young Spock). There are wonderful tributes to the original cast and the characters they developed and then there are some differences in this alternate universe for older fans (not that old mind you) to enjoy such as the young Dr. McCoy liking Spock on first meeting while James T. Kirk finds him truly annoying, and later in the film where in the original series McCoy would have been snarling that Spock was a heartless pointy earred hobgoblin, it is Kirk that gets the job. Spock has a good deal less success controlling his emotions in this movie, which leads to some surprising advice in a gratifying moment when he first turns his back to the bridge view screen to give the young Captain Kirk some timely advice. In fact, the character development and story line is so interesting, their adversary almost seems irrelavant.
If Paramount was looking for a way to revitalize an old franchise, they've found it. Where they go with it, only time will tell. This is a young and talented cast who could play the roles for some time to come. Whether they are able to do so or not depends on fan reaction. Ardent fans have sunk the series in the past with a wide variety of complaints. Hopefully, they will not do so this time and the fun will continue.
Live long and prosper Star Trek.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I suggest, and this is purely mercenary and I willingly admit it, that you link to Old Line through the picture of my book in the upper right hand corner of this blog, buy a copy of my book to support this new and promising publisher, get their address, and quickly propose your professionally assembled and marvelously crafted work of fiction while Old Line is still young and hungry. Now is the time.
And, if they accept your book, tell them I sent you.
Monday, June 8, 2009
However, the husband and wife team who own and run Majolica are also well aware that these are hard times. If you scrimp, you can order only the main course and two diners can come away paying under $50 for the experience. Further, when you call for reservations ask about the fixed price menu we noticed offered several nights of the week. As we understood it, the offerings that night had a set price of $25 for a three course meal per diner ... well worth taking advantage of in my estimation. Sherry and I will be checking up on that offer soon.
Majolica is also a BYOB establishment ... but with food like this, the "B" isn't necessary!
Make sure to call in a reservation as that is the only way you'll get a table. Come early and stroll the main street of Phoenixville. There are any number of pleasant little shops to visit while you're there.
If you read this and are inspired to dine at Majolica, write me and let me know about your dining experience ... once the afterglow dies down a bit. Enjoy!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
In London there is a special place in one of the public parks where anyone can speak their minds and whoever wanders by and is interested can stop to listen. Those who don’t care for the speaker or the message simply keep walking by. This is my speaker’s corner.
However, writers and speakers take note. Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 8:9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” Read the passages around this admonition and you will see the situation is not identical but analogous to the one I address here. Certainly you have the right via the First Amendment to say and write what you wish. However, you also are a member of a community, a society, and a human civilization. You have a higher responsibility, a moral calling, not to say or write material that strongly encourages the weak to commit atrocities. Of course you can quibble and fuss over where exactly to draw the line. However, in your heart and soul, you know where the line is. You know when the level of discourse has become so outrageous it has crossed the line. These so-called entertainers know as well. But they have been lured by fame, money, and power to cross the line repeatedly chasing after these fleeting and ephemeral prizes, prizes that in the long run amount to nothing, particularly when they lead to murder or mayhem. So, when you pick up your pen, fire up your computer, or turn to face microphone or camera, have a care. Go against the trend of society and look out for the weak when you speak.
I’m stepping off the soapbox now. Have a blessed day.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
NOTE: Our son is now 22 and daughter 16. Now they have begun to reminisce about days gone by and some of the things we've done. You learn surprising things about yourself that way sometimes. You also find out how you're being portrayed to your son's fiancee from time to time. She, God bless her, added to a now time honored family tradition started by my wife before we were married. Our son told his girlfriend and his now fiancee repeated history ... she beat him to the marriage proposal just as my wife had beaten me about 21 years ago.
- In a graveyard in North Carolina, an old sea captains tombstone from the nineteenth century reads: "To my wife and children: don't cry for me. You'll be here soon enough." For years I thought this was a harsh message from a bitter old man. I discovered later it was an example of "memento mori," the idea that you needed to keep reminders of your mortality around to get yourself right with God while you have the time. Still, it sounds nasty in this case.
- For years I drove passed a town called "Accident, Maryland." Being a Stephen King and Dean Koontz fan I'd entertain myself coming up with all sorts of dark tales about how the town got that name. The real story is ... well ... disappointing to say the least. You don't want to know.
- There is a small graveyard beside a little country church in western Maryland that reads "Absolutely, positively no unauthorized planting or digging." What do you suppose led to that?
- At Disney World, there is a steel roller coaster that spins like a Tilt A Whirl while you ride along. It sounds like fun, combining speed with whirling, but ... Anyway, when exiting the ride, there is an announcement that comes over the speaker system that my son and I found pretty insulting. It declared as we pulled up to the platform, "Please stand up before exiting the ride." Sounds like a no-brainer ... but after all the dipping and spinning, you gotta wonder exactly what led to that announcement in the first place. It's heard nowhere else in the park!
- Finally, in a small town I travel through regularly is a pet store that for years was advertised with a most unfortunate sign. I kick myself for never having taken its picture! The pet shop, catering to dog's needs, was located at the back of the parking lot you entered off the main street. To express this fact, the sign for the Love Your Dog pet shop read, "Love Your Dog/In Rear." Hmmm. Not the intended message I imagine.
Keep you eyes peeled. You never know what signs of the times you'll see.