Burb Rocking
Monday, December 18, 2006
  "The Lost Room" hidden somewhere within Kafka's "Castle"?
SciFi - The Lost Room Promo

Has anybody seen this?

Siobhán recorded it, and I just finished watching the concluding episode a short while ago. Forced to rate it on a five-star scale, I'd conservatively award it 3 ½ and be strongly tempted to go higher.

Zap2it's Krause Gets 'Lost' With Sci Fi offers the basics of the premise without giving too much away. Do we live in a multi-sided universe with more than one history, as quantum mechanics suggests? Could such a universe have corners where some of the different sides intersect? If so, then the Sunshine Motel's Room #10 is one such corner.

Such a notion lies more within the realm of fantasy than science fiction, especially as laid out in this SciFi Channel mini-series. As I watched it, I couldn't help picking up echoes of King's Dark Tower series. And Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber (and, yes, even somewhat the farsical Illuminatus! Trilogy). But I was also reminded of a game which obsessed me once upon a time: Myst, Riven & Exile. (If unafraid of spoilers, try The Lost Room by John Joseph Adams, which touches on at least one of these connections.) That reality has a center hidden somewhere behind a locked door is an old and alluring notion. Some, for instance, reckon The Castle represents Franz Kafka's Quest for an Unavailable God. King's Dark Tower, Zelazny's Amber, and Shea's and Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy all suggest a powerful being (or beings) operating at this secret center, controlling much of what we experience in the world, responsible for glitches sometimes glimpsed by us, which cause us to worry that 'something is wrong' with reality.

Without getting too much into a favorite subject of mine, The Matrix also obviously taps into this idea: Namely, the reality that we see is but a mask for something deeper which, if we could see it, would empower us to throw off the shackles which hobble and bind us. Besides The Matrix, however, I haven't seen much on video which works this idea, or works it very well. For this and other reasons, when my objectivity relaxes even a little, I unhesitatingly give The Lost Room four stars.

The ending was not as conclusive as what I wanted. Neither is the ending of Kafka's The Castle, for that matter, nor the end of King's The Dark Tower (nor the poem by Browning which inspired King's magnum opus, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"). In this case, however, the open-ended last scene may have more to do with ambitions to turn the mini-series into a regular SciFi Channel offering rather than any ambiguity concerning the fundamental underpinnings of reality.

All the same, my respect for the SciFi Channel was reluctantly nudged up a notch by The Lost Room. Which kept me hooked right up through the closing scene, where the story doesn't exactly close, but leaves room for more.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006
  Code Monkey (RIT) & Kelly's Saloon
Back on Friday the 8th, around 3:30 a.m., daughter Siobhán (referred to previously here as "S") and Yours Truly set out on a journey of about 350 miles. $10.35 in tolls later, these people were waiting for us on the other side of the 5½ hour trip...

RIT's Surround Sound - Code Monkey

(A day or two after the trip, NPR ran a story on the Colchester Kid, Jonathan Coulton, a sometime collaborator with The Daily Show's John Hodgman. Popular Science's Contributing Troubador, he has been described as "the Internet's favorite geek singer" and is the author of songs about fractals, mad scientists, and cyborgs. It should come as no surprise then that his song about a computer programmer trapped in a boring job has caught the attention of an a capella group at RIT. Synchronicity is therefore responsible for the YouTube item above.)

This was only my second tour of a prospective university with Siobhán, and it was the first where I was an actual participant (only did a drive-thru version on the other occasion, shielding Maeve from hunger and boredom while her older sister checked the place out). RIT sits on a hill, a hill right now graced with a light covering of snow and an overabundance of wind and cold. Lacking much in the way of decent winter clothing, I had on my dark blue "Center for Coastal Studies" sweatshirt, my green "Wildlife Conservation" cap, and a tweed sports jacket. Almost didn't wear the jacket, and Siobhán asked me why.

Me: 'Cause the combination's a bit freakish.

S: I think it actually looks kind of cool.

Me: Professor Dudelarde is back on campus.

(And, no, "Dudelarde" is not my real name.)


<—When it's cold, Parking Lot G is a long, long way from here...

The ratio is something like 3:2 male v. female. As a member of the former category, I noticed a shocking - nay, appalling - lack of pulchritude. Siobhán noticed it, too. As a totally unbiased observer, I can vouch that my daughters are gorgeous. When I informed the daughter walking beside me that she would be "the queen of the campus," she agreed with a smile and an "I know." None of this caused me to find RIT very appealing, but S definitely liked it and wants to go there. While eating lunch there, we met Nathan Darling (sorry, Nathan, but there's no privacy on the internets), a young scientist who gave us the lowdown on RIT. And who added to the Institute's charm, as far as Siobhán was concerned.

We hadn't come all that way, however, just to be charmed by a TA (in this context, of course: Teaching Assistant). So we stopped at Taco Bell for some cheap disgusting food (for her soft taco, Siobhán requested they hold the E. coli and the lettuce) and then headed down the road to...

Lindsay, a counselor in the Admissions Office, met with S and myself. Friendly and buoyant, slim and blonde - Lindsay's energy was so abundant and positive that Siobhán said it was work just to keep up with her. She was very nice, however, and told S she had a good chance of getting an acceptance packet in March. We left the campus and drove down Geneseo's Main Street, not exactly starving, but restless.

Lindsay had steered us away from Mama Mia's, the pizza joint popular among the students (a bit on the greasy side, we had been warned). But S instead spotted this fine establishment:

We parked. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. And, while Siobhán investigated a sandwich shop across the street, I set out on the quest to cozy up to a mug of beer in a beautiful town at the western end of New York state. I pushed through the saloon's door. There were perhaps a dozen regulars inside. The interior was no wider than the two windows facing the street, but the length of the bar ran far enough toward the back of the building for the room to easily hold the people in it. I settled at the far end where there was a seat.

There was not a beer tap to be seen.

A bit confounded, I asked the middle-aged lady sidling toward my end of the bar where the taps were. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, indicating the space behind her, "Right there." After she moved a little farther to the right, I was able to see what she was talking about: a lonely handle of blue plastic. There were no "taps." The plural did not apply; there was just one. The situation did not improve when I read the handle's label:

Bud Lite

The lady was shrugging into a sweater and clearly heading out of the place. So, noting the cooler to the right of the tap, I asked quickly, "And what have you got there in that cooler behind you?" "You're trying to keep me here when I'm trying to go home, aren't you?" "Just one question, then: I see Yuengling down there near the bottom, but what's that to the right of it?" She sighed, looked, then opened the door so she could turn the bottle to take a look at the label. "Old Milwaukee." Then she rounded the end of the bar and left the room.

A new woman had come on shift, taller than her predecessor but about the same age, long greying hair hanging behind her in a pony-tail. She took a couple of orders from the customers - all of whom she seemed to know - and then asked me what I was going to have. By this time I had detected a label on the very bottom of the cooler which gave me hope: Labatt.

"How about that down there? I think I see something by Labatt Brewers."

"It's Labatt Nordic. Non-alcoholic."

"Wow. Man, if only you had Labatt's Blue, I'd be yours for the night."

She reached in and, to my amazement, pulled out a Blue and set it down in front of me. With a grin, she asked, "So what are we doing tonight, hon?"

"I think I'll work on the answer to that while I drink this beer," I said, and handed her a five. She accepted my answer with a smile, changed the five, and went about getting more orders ready.

While the people inside were characters in their own right, the place had plenty of character of its own. Including the sign behind the bar which read, "Serving the scum of the earth since 1978." Another sign, handwritten, read, "No checks, no tabs, no loans."

One beer was all I had wanted, anyway, and one was enough for me.

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