Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Week Without the Internet...

...well, I don't know if it was like a week without sunshine, but it was interesting.

We spent a week at Callaway Gardens, about an hour south of Atlanta, and the high-speed connection would have cost $10 per day. Yeah, I'll pass on that, thanks.

The good news is that we're back and resuming our normal schedules. I just caught up on all my email and blog reading but my eyes are still tired from driving 12 hours yesterday, so I'm going to get started writing tomorrow. I hope everyone had a happy holiday!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Out of Town

We'll be out of town for the next week, spending Christmas at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. There is supposed to be a lot to see and do there, so hopefully I'll be able to post from there. Have a good holiday!

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Post on the Watchmen Blog

Here it is!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Better to See You with, My Dear!

December birthdays are funny things. When I was a kid, I would always get the "Well, this is your birthday present and your Christmas present combined," but the present was the same as my cousins would get simply for Christmas. I wasn't sure that was fair then, and in retrospect I am darn sure of it, but as an adult it's different. Magi's dad has always been very generous to me for my birthday, and Magi and I have a simple agreement about Christmas. We usually keep our gifts for each other down to $100 or so, and then do something together for our house or family. So this year when I wanted something a little larger, I was able to combine resources to manage that. I have to say it feels better as an adult to combine birthday and Christmas gifts!

This year I wanted a new monitor for my computer. I've been using Magi's 10-year old hand me down Trinitron monitor since she got a laptop, and it's just not big enough to effectively view the comic book DVD-ROMs she bought me for my birthday. I can see the full pages, but I can't read the printing at that size. If I enlarge the images enough to read it, I have to pan and scan over both pages, which is kind of a pain, especially when it's a double-page spread. So I bought this monitor.
It's a Samsung 22-inch widescreen LCD monitor and quite simply, it rocks! I bought it Wednesday, and in minutes I had the drivers installed and was playing City of Heroes on it. The resolution is just amazing at 1280 x 1050. The brightness is great, and City of Heroes just got a whole lot more fun. The buttons and trays that normally took up too much of the screen to keep track of what was going on in the game now take up less than 10% of the entire screen and it's easier to see details that I have been missing all this time.

Using Photoshop just got a whole lot easier, too. There have been times when an image I produced with the Trinitron didn't look the same when I got to work and used an LCD monitor, and now I can even see details that the one at work didn't show. DVDs look better in full widescreen too. I'm also seeing differences in websites that have been designed to adjust to a widescreen resolution. Some of them go to the center of the monitor, and some of them anchor firmly on the left side.

The only problem with the whole thing is that the scans of the DVD-ROM comics look like crap because the resolution of the monitor is better than that of the scans! Ironic, since that's what I wanted it for in the first place! I'm still really enjoying it, though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nightwatch #1: "The Case of the Five Strokes"

Nightwatch #1
December 9, 2007
“The Case of the Five Strokes”
Gamemaster: Lowell Francis

While on patrol, local New Orleans heroes Spectrum and Anima encountered a 45-50 year old woman who was the apparent victim of an attack by three 15-16 year old youths. Upon inspection, Spectrum discovered that the woman was not breathing. Since his energy form was not able to breathe, he convinced Anima, who was busy apprehending the attackers, to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the woman. Anima began the procedures, but the woman was dead. The pair noticed a glow underneath the dead woman’s sweater on her left shoulder that faded as quickly as it came.

Meanwhile, heroes Metalhead and Ochosi arrived at a sinkhole that had been plaguing a section of roadway for several hours. Emergency workers were trying to extract a car that had fallen into the sinkhole. Metalhead and Ochosi greeted each other and were briefed by the fire chief about the situation. Metalhead transformed his body into mercury and slithered down into the sinkhole to examine the car. He found that the car was still running, with one airbag deployed and an unconscious driver behind the wheel. As Ochosi summoned some earth to hold and steady the car, Metalhead noticed another passenger, a pregnant woman. He immediately transformed into iron and broke out the rear window.

Metalhead formed stairs with his arm while Ochosi waved over paramedics. Metalhead handed the woman over to Ochosi, then the man. The rescue was completed just as the car gave way and fell deeper into the sinkhole. Just as Metalhead was about to turn away, he noticed another person near the bottom of the sinkhole. Ochosi made his way down the iron stairs and found a Hindi man lying dead. A glowing symbol appeared on his left shoulder and vanished, just as had happened to the woman that Spectrum and Anima had discovered.

In another part of town, Domino, another new hero about town, investigated the death of Levon Grimes, a legal assistant in the district attorney’s office, who had been found dead after clearly being pushed off a six-floor parking garage’s roof. As Domino examined the body, he noted evidence of a defensive struggle. Left behind on the body’s left shoulder was a primitive, serpentine symbol that a witness claimed to have seen glow before fading out. Recalling the name of Dr. Necropolis, another local hero specializing in the occult, Domino analyzed his reported appearances and sought him out at a likely place.

Later, Domino and Dr. Necropolis went to the morgue to get a closer look at the body. Dr. Necropolis, who in his civilian identity worked at the morgue, was surprised to see the attendants look the other way as Domino led him to the shelf where Grimes’s body was located. Once he had seen the mark for himself, Dr. Necropolis recognized it as the same mark as one he had seen on the body of Jessica Lund, who was stored only three drawers away! After consulting with his texts, Dr. Necropolis tentatively identified the mark as being old Assyrian. As more bodies with the mark were brought in, they were identified. The woman that Spectrum and Anima found was named Nelvana Pride, and the Hindi man that Metalhead and Ochosi discovered was named Sanjay Rupa. In order to find the source of the mysterious mark, Dr. Necropolis suggested that he and Domino visit a man named Franklin Glass.

The six heroes converged on the Glass House, the tasteless bar/lounge owned by Franklin Glass. It was decorated in red velvet with nicotine-stained curtains. It had all the ambience of a bowling alley but without the charm. The bartender asked the unusual sextet what they wanted, and they replied that they wanted to see Mr. Glass. The bartender lifted the telephone receiver and spoke quietly into it. Soon, a short, squat balding man made his way to the front and introductions were made. He ushered the heroes into his office, which was decorated in even more tasteless red leather walls with brass buttons. Glass recognized the mark as belonging to Al Cipher, “a learned magus of his day.”

Perhaps sensing opportunity, Glass made a clumsy attempt to barter his information to the heroes in exchange for favors. He offered that there was a connection between that symbol and the city, specifically a local archaeologist named Mirren. Three weeks previously, a man had come to see Glass about the symbol and Glass told him the story as well.

About ten years before, Mirren and some of the pieces of his archaeological find disappeared from an exhibit at Tulane University. One of those pieces was the Blade of Al Cipher, which according to legend could “carve one’s destiny.” The man who had first spoken to Glass clearly had superpowers, with strange undulating arms. Glass sold him the Gem of Alea-Ur, which was capable of tracking the Blade of Al Cipher. Anima asked if he had anything that could track the tracking gem. Glass produced another gem, which he offered for sale at $3,000. Domino agreed to the price and left to get the cash. After the sale was completed, Domino turned the gem over to Dr. Necropolis.

Finding a vacant building in a heavily damaged part of the city where they could talk in private, the six heroes shared their information, looking for common threads that bound the lives of the victims together. Grimes died from the fall. Rupa died from strangulation by a hose-like object. Pride died by drowning in her own tissues after the oxygen was withdrawn from her lungs. Lund had died from an energy blast of some sort. The only connection they could find were genetic factors, which upon closer examination revealed that the four victims were genetically identical, as if they were the same person, a Caucasian male!

A more thorough background check on each of the victims showed that they had seemingly come into existence at about the same time, which happened to coincide with the disappearance of Dr. Mirren. Further investigation revealed that each of the victims had already been dead once. They had all died the week following the disappearance. One other odd death was recorded in that same week, and that was the death of Greg Matthews, who strangely enough, was also still among the living and working as a municipal engineer.

Finding references to the archaeological exhibit, Dr. Necropolis found the same symbol that had appeared on the victims also appeared on the Blade of Al Cipher. It was theorized that somehow, all the victims shared Dr. Mirren’s genetic code.

The heroes found out where Greg Matthews was supposed to be working that evening, and made their way to City Park. As they approached the park, the gem they had purchased from Glass lit up, and a corresponding flash was seen from within the park. Standing over a slumped figure were four people dressed in costumes!

Domino charged in on his motorcycle, its headlight illuminating the scene. Two of the supers fired on Spectrum, both missing. A female villain tried to suck the air out of Metalhead, but found him to be immune to her power. Dr. Necropolis and Domino teamed up on the woman called Breath, stunning her. The man with the undulating arms, called Whipsnake responded and stunned Domino. Domino shook off the effects of the attack and hit Whipsnake in the head with his staff.

Spectrum fired a blast of energy at the woman called Kinesis, but she reflected it back at him, stunning him. As Anima grappled with Snapshot, a man with a large gun, Whipsnake tried to hit Domino with his own motorcycle. “You’d better have insurance,” Domino shouted.

Metalhead formed giant cups with his hands to envelop Kinesis, while Ochosi blinded Whipsnake with a sandstorm. Dr. Necropolis took the opportunity to smash the motorcycle down on top of the blinded villain. Anima surprised everyone by inhabiting Snapshot’s body and fired the large energy weapon at Kinesis, who had broken Metalhead’s hold. Metalhead knocked Whipsnake up into Kinesis’ force field, knocking him out. Kinesis gathered her fallen comrade up into her force field and tried to make her escape, only to be felled by a stun “pip” thrown by Domino (seen at right). Anima followed up by having Snapshot blast her again, and she went down. Finally, Anima told the team what he was up to, and Snapshot was easy pickings when he regained control of his body.

Going to the aid of the fallen Matthews once the villains were trussed up, the six heroes found that he was indeed the last vestige of Dr. Mirren. He explained that when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease ten years ago, he used the Blade of Al Cipher to change his life. Unfortunately, it took five strokes of the blade to end his suffering, and each of the strokes had created a new life in the other people whose appearances he had taken. Mirren was alive, but unhappy with the results of the Blade’s effects. He described his life as misery, since he was split five ways. His senses muted, it was a shadow of life, but he had still tried to use his new lives to help the city, from which he couldn’t stray far because he needed to maintain proximity to the Blade. The heroes retrieved the Blade with Mirren’s help and Ochosi took possession of it.

To be continued…

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez"

"Let the good times roll," as they say in New Orleans!

Last night was the first run of the Crescent City campaign of Mutants & Masterminds that I have been looking forward to for so long. I was not disappointed! Despite the extremely icy roads we were all able to make it to the game and we had a great time! The game was great, banter was fun, the company was wonderful, and I left with a smile on my face thinking about the events of the evening.

I have been gaming with Eric and the gamemaster Lowell (aka Sander) for 20 years now, Rob for 15, and Scott and Derek for 10. This was my first formal introduction to Will, who was very funny and cool. I thought we played well together. There were certainly laughs. For those of you not familiar with roleplaying games, you have to play your character as if you are acting and directing. Not only do you have to describe the actions of your character, but you have to speak as your character as well. I was using a southern accent (my character is a NOLA native) but I was trying to do a Harry Connick, Jr. impression. Let's just say my accent needs work, but I'll get a handle on it sooner or later. Anyway, the funniest bits of the night came not from when people were speaking in character, but the comments that players were making that their characters might have said were they not superheroes. At one point, Will's character, Anima (sung to the tune of Van Halen's "Panama") was trying to do CPR on a woman who turned out to be dead. For the rest of the evening the running joke was about him kissing a dead woman.

When Eric's character, Metalhead (can change into various metals) introduced himself, we all made that hand sign that rockers use and started head banging. We told him he had to do that every time, but I think it would be funnier if we did it for him.

We often joke about waterboarding in our circle. We all think it's ridiculous to even consider that it's not torture. At one point, after all the bad guys were caught, Rob's character was going to interrogate them to find out who they were working for, etc. Sander said, "They won't talk." Rob replied, "Oh, they'll talk. First, I'll take one of them and strap them to a board..." Sander's eyes lit up as if he thought he was serious, and then saw that he was kidding.

As I've written before, it's the commonalities that we share and the special sense of humor that gamers have that makes these events so much fun. Good-natured ribbing is part of the game, and this one was no exception. Here's to many more evenings just like last night!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Big Boy Mexican Fiesta Omelette

Since I was a teenager, one of my favorite breakfasts has been Big Boy's Mexican Fiesta Omelette. When I was 18, we ate at Big Boy in Cadillac, Michigan virtually every night. My dad and I would take my grandmother to the end of the street where we all lived and have dinner together. I would eat this omelette even at night. It'll kill you, don't get me wrong, but it's wonderful. Sadly, we no longer have a Big Boy anywhere within 50 miles of us, so I have to make them myself!

Essentially the omelette consists of three eggs, cheese, and chili, topped with diced tomatoes and onions. It took me many iterations to figure out the process to keep the chili from mixing too much with the eggs. But fortunately, I spent many months working as a short-order breakfast cook in the cafeteria at Western Michigan University, and was allowed quite a bit of freedom when making breakfast for myself at the end of my shifts. One of the items we were always offered back then for lunch was chili, and I would grab a ladle full compliments of the ladies in the kitchen to experiment with. I finally figured out how it worked, and I have made great omelettes ever since.

Preheat your omelette pan at low-medium and warm up some canned chili in a small saucepan. Then whisk three eggs together. It is essential to get them mixed thoroughly so that they don't separate in the pan. As the eggs begin to solidify, sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese (I like Colby Jack) over the surface of the eggs. Dice half a tomato and some onions while the eggs cook. When there's no more liquid left on the top of your eggs, spoon your chili over half of them. You're going to fold the other half and you don't want to slop it everywhere!

After you fold your eggs, slide the semi-circular omelette to the middle of the pan and sprinkle more cheese on top. When the cheese is almost done melting, plate the omelette. Layer the diced tomatoes and onions over the top. The cheese will keep melting from the heat of the eggs, so by the time that you serve it, it should be perfect!

This omelette is even good with Egg Beaters, so if you avoid eggs you can still enjoy this!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Best Birthday Ever!

What a wonderful day.

First, my dressings for my wisdom teeth fell out Tuesday night and I didn't have to taste that foul clove oil all day long. Big plus to start the day.

Magi and Sera gave me their gifts in the morning. They got me the
Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer - Complete Comic Edition, as well as the
Amazing Spider-Man Complete Comic Book Collection on DVD. I can read the entire runs of both of these titles, which are my favorite Marvel books. I like X-Men as much as the next guy, but the FF has always been my favorite superhero team. I'm a sucker for matching uniforms.

My dad sent me a 12" Bowie knife, the handle of which he made from an elk antler, just what every father of a toddler needs. My father has a history of giving me gifts that only he would like. But, it's still kind of cool that he made the handle himself.

On the way into school, I heard about the trade between the Florida Marlins and my Detroit Tigers. The Tigers received pitcher Dontrelle Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabera for prospects Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and four other minor leaguers. This makes the Tigers one of, if not the best team in baseball...on paper. Is it April yet? I'm ready for opening day!

After school, I headed over to Buy Me Toys to get my comics for the week. Included in this week's batch was the trade paperback of Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons. These were classic stories in World's Finest from the 1970s where Superman and Batman had teenage sons. I remember these stories fondly, especially because Batman Jr. had a Bat-bicycle. I wanted one too! I think I actually have all of these issues, but I thought this paperback would make good reading for my classroom.

I stopped at Sam's Club on the way home to pick up my birthday cake. Last week at school, someone had picked up a cake that tasted like a custard-filled long john, my favorite doughnut. I asked where it had come from, and found one just like it at Sam's. It was called Parisienne Cream.

We headed out to dinner with most of my friends who are going to be playing in the new Mutants & Masterminds game that starts on Sunday. We met at Eddie's Steak Shed and as usual, Magi and I split the Sirloin for Two, which is a 32-oz. slab of meat that looks like it should be served with a bell around its neck. We each had the baked potato, a salad, and we shared a boat of mushrooms, sauteed with butter and finely chopped garlic. What a meal! We took a picture of Sera in front of Eddies' Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree is a pathetic-looking thing, akin to Charlie Brown's sad tree. Theirs was much nicer.

Afterward, we got Sera to bed and I dropped in on City of Heroes, where my friends Carl, Ben, and Fabian were going it alone since most of us who had gone to dinner were absent from the game. We ran a few missions and then I headed off to bed.

Magi was worried that she hadn't done enough for my birthday. I laughed. This was one of the best birthdays ever. I have a wonderful wife, a charming and beautiful daughter, good friends, a home the likes of which I never thought I would own, and a life that I would not trade for anyone else's. And it's all thanks to her. She's directly responsible for everything good in my life. Not done enough, indeed. Take a look at this face and tell me I'm not the luckiest man on the face of the Earth!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Heroes: Powerless

Spoiler Warning: Plot Details for the second season of "Heroes" will be revealed in the following post.

Last night's episode of "Heroes" wrapped up what I thought was a pretty lackluster season.

I came in late to "Heroes." When the show premiered, my Detroit Tigers were in the last month of a bid for the playoffs and when they made it, I wasn't about to miss a single game. I always intended to catch it in reruns, but it never worked out that I could start from the beginning. However, when the DVD set came out, I watched every episode from the first season in one weekend. I loved it and anxiously awaited the beginning of the second season.

From the very first episode I was disappointed. I didn't like Peter Petrelli having amnesia. It's a tired plot device that has been used so often that it's a cliche. The viewer sits impatiently waiting for the hero to get his or her memory back so they can get back to developing their character. Not knowing who you are is not how you accomplish that, especially when the audience does know who you are! It's not like Jason Bourne, where you are as clueless as he is and you learn about him as he learns about himself. No, this was just tiresome because you knew he would eventually get his memory back.

Speaking of tiresome, the "Wonder Twins" storyline was terrible! Maya and her useless brother made far too many appearances where she frakking killed everyone around her. Brother's wedding? Black eyes and death. Go to a store? Black eyes and death. Stop and ask directions? Black eyes and death. Get put in jail? Black eyes and death. I actually was relieved when she took a bullet in the chest last night. I almost cheered. I literally said out loud, "It's about time!" When they healed her, I thought aw, crap. I was finally satisfied with the end of that storyline and they brought her back to life. I mean, seriously, as a hero, what's she going to do? Make everyone around her die? What would her superhero name be, the Black Death?

Nathan suddenly becoming a useless drunk came out of nowhere too. It's almost a crime how underused he was this season, and it was a mercy killing ala Jim Starlin to put him out of his misery in last night's episode. Gunned down by a faceless assassin, bleh.

And what about D.L.? The poor guy redeems himself in the final episode of last season to save his family and he's in a grave to start the second. He got to shine for about 15 seconds in a flashback episode and that was that.

His wife Nikki didn't fare much better. After she got her alter ego under control she had doom written all over her from the beginning. It was almost like "Lost." If your storyline concludes, you'd better start digging your grave! Predictable, if she actually is dead.

If anyone did deserve to die, it was Mohinder Suresh. The guy flip-flopped so many times he should have had a hook in his mouth.

I don't know, maybe I'm being curmudgeonly, but I just didn't think there was that much to like about this season of "Heroes." Hiro's storyline at least had my interest, even if the time trip lasted about two weeks too long. That poor guy's going to have brain damage. Has anyone counted how many times he's been knocked unconscious? It was twice just last night! I think he's had probably 7-8 concussions so far. I'm not sure who is going to reap higher profits, Hiro's neurologist or the Kents' favorite body shop on Smallville. They've gone through at least as many truck accidents. One thing's for sure: No insurance company is going to touch either one of them!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Iron Man

Well, Cal Ripken I'm not. My unbroken streak of posting ended yesterday at 80 days. I sat down to write and had nothing, not a thing to write about. My brain was finally at a point where I had nothing that I absolutely needed to say. So I didn't.

I'm going to start posting less frequently, but hopefully have more to say. I haven't been satisfied with my posting of late anyway. I have an idea for a mega-post that I am going to do during Christmas break comparing the Wild Cards book series to the television show Heroes, but I can hardly work on that with a daily worry about posting that is so bad that I posted a radar screen for an oncoming snowstorm that never arrived!

So, I hope this is the beginning of a better blog. I hope there will be people reading it!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Here it Comes!

We have a winter storm warning tonight and from the picture on the left, I think it's time to take it seriously. We have plenty of provisions and a vehicle with four-wheel drive. I guess it's time to get out the hot chocolate and the snow shovel, turn on the fireplace, and sit back and enjoy the weather!