Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review

On January 1, I set goals instead of making resolutions, and although my goal of blogging every day didn't pan out, it's understandable why. This year has been painful, one of the most painful I've experienced. The death of my father is something I never quite overcame. It hit me far harder than I would have ever thought possible.

But through it all, I've had my family. My wife and my daughter are always there for me. They are the ones I rely on, the ones for whom I live and work. Watching my daughter grow daily is a thrill for me beyond anything else I can imagine. Seeing her change before my very eyes is more than I could ever have hoped for in becoming a father. My wife is fulfilling her life's dream of being a mother and it is a role for which she is perfectly suited. Every day that I am with them is a day of joy and a reason to celebrate.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

PlayStation 3

"You bought a PS3?"

Those were the words that my niece said to me when I told her what I thought of my birthday purchase. My in-laws sent me money as they always generously do, and I thought the best use of it would be something for our family. Now, don't be snide. When I say that it's for the family, know that it resides in the living room where we can all enjoy it. That said, I can honestly say that I want another one!

The PlayStation 3 is a complete entertainment machine. Those who think of it as simply a videogame console are seriously underestimating its value. The PlayStation 3 is a Blu-Ray player and an upconverting DVD player. That means that it not only plays high definition Blu-Ray discs, but also takes normal DVD's and converts them into a format more easily viewable on high definition televisions, making them look even better than they do on normal TV's. I didn't buy a hard copy of "Watchmen" until we had the PS3, and I was right to wait. The Blu-Ray is as close to watching it at the IMAX theater as one can get and still get up to go to the bathroom whenever one needs to. We've rented a number of Blu-Ray movies from Netflix and wow, does it ever make a difference. When we are able to get a bigger HDTV, I doubt we'll ever go to the movies again. You can't beat the seats of our living room sofa, and when you add the open-flame oil popcorn popper that my wife bought me for Christmas, we won't be missing a thing by staying home. Plus, no one talks during the movie! Heck, we'll be saving a load of money even if we buy the Blu-Ray of every movie that we would normally go out to see.

The PS3 also connects wirelessly to your home computer network and herein lay one of its greatest values to us: As Netflix subscribers we can use our existing Netflix account at no additional charge to instantly view several thousand Netflix programs, some in high definition. They have movies, and best yet, episodes of many of our favorite television shows in HD, like "Lost" and "Star Trek." We can watch any episode of those shows in seconds on our television in HD just by clicking a few times. We've been using that to watch the fifth season of "Lost" on Tuesday nights and we have it timed so that if we now watch two episodes every Tuesday night, we'll be ready for the new season on February 2.

We also use the PS3 as a videogame system, though not to play the typical fare that most people would expect. As a family Christmas gift, we bought Rock Band 2 and for the past two days, we have been playing the heck out of it. Sera sings into the microphone (though we don't plug it in) while Magi plays bass, my niece Theresa plays drums, and I play guitar. We're not great, but it sure is fun!

I don't know what the future holds for home entertainment, but I bet it looks a lot like Sony's PlayStation 3.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Logan's Run

Great article about one of my favorite novels, Logan's Run, over here. Lots of information about the movie, TV show and comic book, too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Four Days

I'm about to have four days off and I need it. After a week of graphing on the coordinate plane, using myriad examples of how two things relate at the same time, my students bombed a quiz last Friday. I had used Black Friday sales to illustrate the rising costs of a single DVD player and multiple DVD's purchased as an example. I used purchasing two differently-priced kinds of meat for a barbecue to show the ways that increasing the amount puchased of one necessarily leads to a decrease in the amount purchased of the other given a set budget. I had them each plot their own points in the relationships on the dry-erase board with magnets to ensure that no one was just sitting back not paying attention.

After the quiz I spent two more days talking about it and most did exactly the same today if not worse. I reached a few who doubled their scores, but for the most part, my extra effort went for nothing. When I reprinted the quiz, I changed the numbers and that was all the modifications I made. A kid turned his in and said, "When can I re-take that first quiz?"

And the next time I point to a horizontal or vertical line and ask what kind of line it is, and I get the answer, "Straight," I'm going nuclear. No Child Left Behind can kiss mine. That isn't my fault. How in blazes can 13- and 14-year olds not know what vertical and horizontal mean, especially after a week of instruction???

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Star Trek, Part 1

One of my earliest memories is of watching the "Operation: Annihilate!" episode of Star Trek--what people now call Star Trek the Original Series. Since it was broadcast on April 13, 1967, I was only two and a half years old. The show was very appealing to a young child such as myself because there were lots of garish colors, both in the uniforms and the sets. I remember my mother babysitting for a pair of twins named Matt and Mark, and they had shirts with traffic lights on their left breasts. I used to call them their Star Trek shirts. I had one with a bear on the left breast, but the shirt was black so it didn't qualify.


In the 1970s, Star Trek made a big comeback in syndication. Daily reruns allowed those of us in Mrs. Burkholder's third grade class to discover Star Trek's imaginitive adventure and to recreate it in pretend play. We used to take the cardboard backs of our notebooks and draw phasers and communicators on them. Then we would cut them out with scissors and use them as props on the playground at recess. We were even more excited when the cartoon began that fall, as if it had given us license to create our own Star Trek adventures. We loved the fights, the ray guns, and the action of Star Trek. We didn't get that the point of science fiction was to create allegory and parables from which to learn, but the show gave us plenty of excitement nonetheless.

My brother and I, on one of our trips to our grandparents' house, received matching Mego action figures of Kirk and Spock, and together we had many adventures on distant planets. I don't know how many times we re-enacted "Amok Time," but it counted in the hundreds. We also got one of the first trade paperbacks when we found the Enterprise Logs in a bookstore. The trade reprinted the old Gold Key Star Trek series. We read that thing dog-eared.

For Christmas in 1976, Jeff and I got matching phaser pistols from our father. They were the coolest toys for the time. When you pressed the trigger, it made a chirping sound, which was more like a communicator than a phaser, but we didn't care. The phasers were also projectors that, using a cutout that you slid over the lens, projected a picture of a ship on the wall. I remember they took a nine-volt battery in the handles for the sound, and two double A's in the back for the light. My dad probably regretted getting us noise-making toys for Christmas, but the phaser remains one of my favorite toys of childhood. When I moved in with him a month later, Star Trek was still in reruns and I was lucky enough to find a book from the library, called The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen Whitfield. My dog ate the cover of the paperback so we had to buy the book, but I sure didn't regret it. I was able to check off all the episodes of Star Trek that I had yet to see. We only had a black and white TV, but it didn't matter. I knew what color everybody wore! In my spare time, I created my own starship based on some of the production drawings in the book. I crewed the ship with superheroes, so that made for some interesting daydreams, to be sure. It wasn't until later that I started to get the deeper meaning behind the show, but that time would come. And that understanding only reinforced my love for this show.

More to come.












Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old Time Radio, Part 2

My interest in old-time radio and radio dramas waned in my college years. There just wasn't anything going on in my world. But when the Batman craze of 1989 came along, a couple of different items came to my attention and sparked my imagination. First, there were some cassette tapes adapting comic book stories that came out. The associated comic books came with them, and the tapes served to add an audio soundtrack. The first one I bought was an adaptation of the Untold Legends of the Batman. It was like the old Power Records, but there was no album cover.

As the next decade progressed, DC, Marvel, and even Disney kept putting out audio dramas. Stories like "Superman Lives!" as well as the "Complete Knightfall Saga," along with the Rocketeer were all adapted to audio dramas. Later on, we would even see one for "Kingdom Come." But the real fun came in 1994, when the theatrical version of "The Shadow" was released.

As I wrote about here and here, I loved the Shadow, on radio, in the movies, and in the pulps. But when the Alec Baldwin version came out, the radio shows made a huge comeback. A company called Radio Spirits started releasing audio cassettes and CDs of the old radio shows and I bought several sets of them. Then with the advent of the mp3 file format and the Internet, old-time radio was everywhere. Streaming sites popped up, and suddenly the world of old-time radio was no longer restricted to small gatherings with tape exchanges. Suddenly you could buy hundreds of episodes of long-forgotten shows on CD for pennies and listen to them on a computer.

When the deluge began, I started doing research on this. My limited exposure to War of the Worlds, the Lone Ranger, the Shadow, and Superman, suddenly expanded. I started listening to Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, The Saint, The Whistler, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, The Green Hornet, and more. I found books on the subject, and read the history. The more I learned, the more I loved it. I started making connections

One of Jack Benny's supporting cast was lecherous bandleader Phil Harris, a bawdy southerner who constantly kept Benny, whom he called "Jackson," on his toes. The first time I heard the voice, I just about jumped out of my chair. It was Baloo the Bear from Disney's "The Jungle Book!" Not only was the voice the same, but the character was very much the same, a jazzy, hedonistic fun-loving guy who could sing scat. Amazing! Then, when listening to another episode, the unmistakable tones of Mel Blanc appeared in a voice similar to Speedy Gonzales. Then it hit me. The mice in "The Mouse that Jack Built," a 1959 Warner Brothers cartoon, were the characters from this same Jack Benny radio program! When I saw the cartoon as a kid, I had no idea that Jack Benny was a radio star! On the Fred Allen show, I caught Foghorn Leghorn in the form of Senator Claghorn. Then the floodgates came open. Many cartoons, whether on television or feature films, featured radio performers of old, many doing the same characters or voices that they were famous for decades before.

It wasn't only voices and characters that were brought back for cartoons. When Mr. Whoopee's closet would open on Tennessee Tuxedo and everything would fall out, I thought it was hilarious. Imagine my surprise when I was listening to Fibber McGee and Molly from decades before and heard the same thing happen!

Just this past year I was rummaging through stuff in my basement and found cassette recordings of a role-playing game session from 1988. As I thought more about it this past week, I realized just what we were doing. The gamemaster describes the action and plays the part of the characters not portrayed by the players. The players describe their action verbally and act out their characters' roles, often using voices not their own. We're not dressing up and acting things out (like LARPers do), but we are doing radio drama. There are a few static images and figures on a map to keep track of where everyone is, but otherwise everything is done by voice and description. They called radio "The Theater of the Mind." I think it's still alive and well. It's just taken a new form.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Overheard

"It's been said that an infinite number of monkeys typing for an infinite amount of time would eventually recreate the works of Shakespeare. The Internet disproves that."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Old Time Radio, Part 1

When I was a kid, I spent some weekends with my mother's youngest brother Mike and his family. I still remember the first time I heard an old time radio show. My cousin Peter had a reel-to-reel recording of War of the Worlds, by the Mercury Radio Theater on the Air. I had never heard of radio drama before, so we listened to it. I remember sitting transfixed while the drama played. My mind conjured images of the Martian invaders and their three-legged war machines. After that, we listened to the Lone Ranger, who was my dad's favorite hero. The episode he played for me was the origin of the Lone Ranger, and again I was fascinated. The story of how the masked man came to be unfolded and I was hooked for life. I happened to have a cassette recorder that I had received for Christmas that year, and recorded both shows to take back home.

When I was a much younger boy, I had always enjoyed comedy albums. Bill Cosby, the Smothers Brothers, and Homer & Jethro were among my favorites. Bill Cosby, in his "Wonderfulness" album, used his old time radio experiences to great effect in his "Chicken Heart" routine. He also references the Green Hornet and Lone Ranger in the go-carts routine. Suddenly, these references began to make sense.

I soon started seeking out radio drama, but there was really nowhere to turn. There were the nighttime shorts on local radio featuring Chicken Man, the White Winged Weekend Warrior, but it was tongue-in-cheek. Once I saw that there was a Superman radio show from ads placed on the back of Kellogg's Corn Flakes for a record giveaway, I was really interested! I never had a chance of getting those records, of course, but that didn't stop me from looking longingly at it every morning during breakfast.

Then there were those great Power Records, which combined a large format comic book with an audio drama, remember those? Featured at right is a Star Trek book and record set that I used to have with cover art by Neal Adams. I used to get these whenever I could, especially when they came out with one for the Six Million Dollar Man. There's a guy who has a whole blog about just these items!
It wasn't until I was in high school that I really got a healthy dose of radio drama. That was when our local NPR station started broadcasting the Star Wars radio show. What's that? You didn't know there was such a thing? Oh, yes. I hurried home each night to listen to it on radio in 1981. It took the Star Wars story and expanded it, filling in gaps where the movie had been edited. There was the usual clumsy expository dialogue that radio has to use to paint the images in your mind, but it used the original sound effects and some actors from the movie, including Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels. The actors who replaced the originals were no slouches, either. Brock Peters took the place of James Earl Jones, for example. You'd be surprised how good it really was!
More on this subject later. This is too much fun!













Catching Up

Things have not exactly been looking up since this post. So, here I am sick at home. First, my wife Magi had minor surgery, then Sera caught H1N1, then Magi caught H1N1. Somewhere in there, I probably had it too, but with lessened symptoms. After, let's see, two trips to urgent care, one surgeon's visit, and three other trips to the doctor and pediatrician, we can look forward to all of us being healthy for the first time since the beginning of October--maybe by this weekend. I guess it's a good thing I had a lot of sick days saved up, because I've taken at least two per week for four straight weeks. And health insurance? Yeah, it's paid for itself in the past month. I can't imagine what we would have paid out for our all-too-frequent visits these past weeks, between urgent care, ordinary doctor's visits and the subsequent prescriptions. It would have been quite the kick while we were already down.

The bright side of it is that I get to drink Mountain Dew mixed with orange juice and not feel guilty about calories. I've been catching up on TV watching and DVDs that I've been saving, including the DVD set for the 1973 Star Trek cartoon, which I dearly loved as a kid but seldom got to watch. Twenty-two episodes were made, and I bet I haven't seen half of them! It was a big hit with Mrs. Burkholder's third graders in the fall of that year, and when we went out for recess I always got to play Captain Kirk. Why? For the same reason Bruce Hartman always got to be Batman when we were the Super Friends. For a reason that only third graders could invent. Because my name is Jim.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coffee

I started drinking coffee when I was 12. Living with my dad and grandparents for a while after my dad divorced wife #3, we used to sit around the table in the winter and Grandma would make a pot of coffee. We'd have cookies that she would make, and everyone would chat about our days. I started with milk, but wanted to fit in so I asked for coffee. I drank it then like I drink it today, one cream, two sugars.

My dad bought me a coffee maker for my 18th birthday so I could take it to college with me. It sure came in handy, as whenever I had to pull an all-nighter, I would take my coffee maker down to the study room at the end of the hall in our dorm. It was while I was in college that I discovered good coffee. There was a Gloria Jean's in Crossroads Mall in Portage, and I would occasionally splurge on a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain or some other outrageously priced coffee, just to see how the other half lived. Now, overpaying for coffee is a national pastime. Stop at any Starbucks to watch.

When I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, I had to quit drinking the real stuff. I switched to decaf, but unless you make it at home, it's not usually that good. Almost every time I order at a restaurant, it tastes like it's been sitting for hours. Sometimes, the wait staff tell me that my palate is correct, they apologize, and make a fresh pot. A couple of years ago, though, we were on vacation in Gulf Shores and Magi's dad had some decaf in his office that was just out of this world. It was from Royal Cup, a coffee service and distributor in Alabama.

We have tried various methods of taking coffee to work. We've made it at home and used air pots to keep it warm, French presses to make it on site and while camping, and our newest coffee maker seems to do a pretty good job, making the coffee and putting it directly into travel mugs. But a recent stop at Starbucks gave me the opportunity to tri their new instant coffee called VIA. I know, instant coffee stinks, but this is actually good stuff. Tear a packet open, add eight ounces of hot water, cold water, or milk, and voila! It's good coffee, if a bit pricey. I won't drink it every day, but man, if I'm living out of a tent or at a boring in-service at work, I'll have an option that I'll look forward to using.
No, they didn't give me any for free, either, not that I would be opposed to that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Does Borders Know Anything about Teachers?

This ad came with a subject that said, "Teachers, Save on Holiday Gift Giving."

We can save big on gift cards and the discounts are incremented in purchase sets of $20,000. Uh, yeah.

Question of the Day

Superman's heat vision was invisible before the Crisis. Is it still invisible? I notice that artists draw him with these insane red eyes all the time now when he's mad.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Lost Symbol

I read The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown this week. Dan Brown is also the author of The DaVinci Code. Even if that fact hadn't been explicitly stated on the cover, I would have been able to tell quickly by reading the first few chapters.

In his previous book, Brown paints an opening scene with a dead man in the center of a round room with clues. This book features an amputated hand in the center of a round room with clues. In his previous book, Brown describes in detail the symbolism in the art and architecture of Rome. In this one he describes in detail the symbolism in the art and architecture of Washington, D.C. In his previous book there was a secret society called Opus Dei operating to protect secrets. In this book there is a society with secrets (the freemasons) operating to protect secrets. In his previous book, Brown describes a singularly focused villain, steeped in ritual and obsessed with his target. In this book, there is a singularly focused villain, steeped in ritual and obsessed...Okay, do you get the point yet?

This book WAS The DaVinci Code. It is so similar in structure and plot, that Brown refers specifically to the familiar beats of his previous work whenever (and it happens often) his hero, Robert Langdon encounters identical situations. I could almost hear Dan Brown, as Chris Farley saying, "Remember that part in the DaVinci Code where Langdon does X? That was awesome. I think I'll do it again."

I admit that there's only so many ways you can go with a hero with such a limited scope of expertise, and that just means perhaps it's time to write about something else. If you liked The DaVinci Code, you should like this book. But only if you enjoy reading books twice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Lost" in Space

My buddies are big "Stargate" fans. I hated the movie so I never watched the TV show. They have followed all of them, so there must be something to them. Having recently switched to Comcast for my television service, I started checking out the On Demand feature when I needed something to watch during my daily exercise yesterday. Since the newest Stargate TV show had been a topic of conversation at dinner the other night (I thought it would be an appropriate time to use the restroom since I hadn't seen it) I gave the pilot episode of "Stargate: Universe" a shot.

I liked the show well enough. It's just that I'd seen it before. The premise is simple: There are stargates that go to various places and planets and people on Earth have figured out how they work...mostly. The stargate in this show is on a planet that has unique properties seemingly designed to operate the mysterious "ninth chevron." I'm guessing that the other eight have been solved in previous incarnations of the show. Young Eli Wallace, a normal civilian video gamer, solves a puzzle in a game. Of course, it turns out to be the key to an alien code that the smartest guys on Earth couldn't figure out, so they embedded it in a video game to find someone smarter than they are. Eli is recruited to join the Stargate folks on the alien planet in exchange for health care for his mother. If that doesn't say something about our health care system, I don't know what does. This is just a little bit like "The Last Starfighter." Eli is played by a previously undiscovered clone of Jonah Hill, because he is most definitely a Jonah Hill character. He is the awkward smart guy with no confidence, formerly known as the comic relief.

Eli finds himself on the alien planet, consulting with Dr. Smith--I mean, Dr. Rush. Dr. Rush is the scientific genius who twists the stargate experiment to his own ends and no one knows whose side he is on. I fully expect he will call someone a "bubble-headed boobie" before all is said and done. Dr. Rush is also a retread of Baltar, from the newer version of Battlestar Galactica, with his hairstyle, sideburns, and British accent.

The stargate experiment is interrupted by an alien attack. It's probably not relevant who is attacking, but it is critical to the plot that the planet is attacked, and so it is. Dr. Rush is ordered to set the Stargate to return the people on the base to Earth, but he decides to push forward and sets the Stargate to go to wherever the ninth chevron is supposed to take them. So, the ragtag assembly of military personnel, scientists, politicians, and bureaucrats escape into the Stargate and end up on an ancient space ship. The ship is travelling at faster-than-light speeds, and in short order our heroes find that they are several galaxies away from Earth on a course away from it. And their doctor is dead. It's too bad they couldn't have borrowed an Emergency Medical Hologram as long as they were borrowing "Star Trek: Voyager"'s (formerly "Lost in Space's) plot anyway.

The story is told in clips alternating between the present and flashbacks to the past, not unlike "Lost." The only difference is that the flashbacks on this show serve no other purpose than to tell us where the characters came from. They do not, upon first viewing, reveal anything about the characters that would advance the plot.

I'm going to watch this show because a few of the characters intrigued me, even though we've met before. I'll be interested to see if they move further away from their archetypical doppelgangers or closer to them as the plot advances and the characters grow.

I am not naive enough to think that borrowing doesn't occur between television shows. I guess, though, that I am too familiar with the source material and too cynical because I recognize the source of so many plot structures and character types. I hope more episodes will change my mind about it because the real "Lost" doesn't start until January.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sponge

Sera sings. She sings a lot. From "Twinkle, Twinkle" to "Old McDonald" she has a repertoire of standards that is unmatched. But more and more often she rewrites the lyrics to suit her. Improvisation is the name of the game with my daughter on the morning drive.

But the cutest thing ever happened this morning on our way to daycare, when in the midst of a classical rendition of "Old McDonald," out came this gem, from the musical stylings of Nathan Fillion:

"Stand back, everyone! Nothing here to see..."

Magi looked at me and asked, "Did you hear that?"

I admitted that I was lost in thought and my inner filter had been turned on. "No, what?"

"Sera, sing that again."

From the back comes the tiny, sweet voice: "Stand back, everyone! Nothing here to see..." I laughed. Magi laughed. Sera, not knowing what was funny, laughed with us.

My daughter loves her "Captain Hammer Song," as she calls it. We play the soundtrack to "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" whenever we're on a trip that's longer than an hour and I admit, I enjoy belting out Captain Hammer's signature piece. I didn't realize she had been listening that carefully, but now I'll have to make sure I'm leaving out the juicier parts of the soundtrack. I really don't need my three-year old going to daycare finishing her cute little song with the exclamation, "Balls!"

Friday, October 09, 2009

Math is Hard

"Math class is tough" was the actual phrase that the 1994 Teen Talk Barbie doll uttered, but "Math is hard" will do for our purposes.

I'm crushed over the end of the Detroit Tigers' season this year. The Tigers had a seven-game lead on September 6, and the Minnesota Twins caught them on the 161st game of the season. They remained tied through the last game and had to play a 163rd game on Tuesday, which the Twins won in extra innings, 6-5. The Tigers finished second to the Twins for the third time in four years on the final day of the regular season. It's something to behold, reading fan reaction to the end of the Tigers' season. Words like "collapse" and "choke" dominate the message boards and blogs. But when it comes to actually understanding how baseball works, you have to have a basic understanding of mathematics, which most sports fans apparently don't. Math is hard.

To win a division of Major League Baseball, a team has to win more games than the other teams in the division. It doesn't matter if the games are won and lost in April or October, because they all count the same. I keep reading about how Miguel Cabrera was drunk on the morning of a big game with the White Sox during that final weekend. I don't question that his state of mind was the reason he went 0-for-11 for the series with the White Sox, but I do question that it was a big game. They're all big games. Angry fans are writing that the Tigers went 11-16 after September 6, which was the date of their biggest lead over the Twins. They fail to mention, however, that they were coming off a six-game winning streak in which they swept both the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays. When you take a look at the normal split of September/October, the Tigers were 17-16, above .500. But some people never let facts get in the way of a good story. Math is hard.

To really look at the season objectively, all we have to do is take a good look at July. In July, the Tigers went 10-14, losing no fewer than six games by scoring only one solitary run in each. In five consecutive contests, the Tigers lost by a score of 2-1 in four games. Five relievers from the bullpen lost games in that month. Not only were our starters not getting any run support, but our bullpen couldn't hold leads and we couldn't score late in games when they did get run support. One could easily argue that the season was lost more in July than October, but it would be lost on the media and angry fans. Why? Math is hard.

If the Tigers had won any one game that they lost during the season, there wouldn't even have been a one-game playoff in the Metrodome. Any one misplay gets fielded cleanly leading to a loss, or any swing and miss on a hanging curveball that a batter should have knocked out of the park for a walkoff win and the whole season could have a different complexion. It didn't come down to the last game, last series, or last anything of the season. In a 162-game regular season, any one loss turned into a win would have given the Tigers the divison title. But there are some people who just can't see past the heartbreak of that final week. Why? Because math is hard.



Wednesday, October 07, 2009

No Wonder...

It's no wonder we didn't get a really good view of the new Enterprise in the Abrams movie. It's ugly.


Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Seriously Tired of This

So where have I been for four weeks? I think I'm still dealing with my dad's death and battling a bit of depression. Here's why:

We've been fighting financial problems since my dad died. It started with a tax problem brought on by TurboTax. Somehow, TurboTax left in a previous deduction from 2007 that we no longer had coming to us and the mistake was only discovered this past year. Naturally, we got nailed for a year's worth of penalties and interest at a time when we were not able to pay. By the time we had the money to pay for it this summer, the amount had grown by leaps and bounds. It took one of my entire summer school sessions to pay this bill. We didn't feel right asking for help since we have already been helped so much by our families. We were determined to take care of it ourselves, no matter the consequences.

The other shoe dropped when my dad died. It was unexpected, and right in the middle of that first summer school session. You know, the one I had to work to pay off that tax bill? Because I couldn't leave my job when he was really, really sick that last week, I was not there to see him before he died. I then had to use my second session of summer school to pay for the trip to Utah. My brother and I split up the family photos (our father owned nothing of monetary value) and said our last goodbyes. I arrived home to find that between the trip, the tax bill, and paying off our second mortgage, we had basically half our normal pay coming in for the rest of the summer. Bills piled up, and we tried to hang on for dear life, doing virtually nothing that wasn't already paid for or hadn't been promised like bringing my niece, Theresa, out to visit.

We have cut back on our monthly bills by nearly $700 a month. We canceled DirecTV and XM Radio, so no more Tigers games for me unless I listen on my phone. We disconnected our land phone line, because the only reason we had it was to support DirecTV service. We lowered our daycare bill, got rid of our second mortgage payment, and have cut back everywhere we can. We applied for and received an educator's discount on our cell phone bill. The bottom line is, in a month or so, we should be back up to date on all of our monthly bills.

The third shoe dropped when we disconnected DirecTV, because they used a clause in the contract to instantly withdraw all the money owed (including a $200 early disconnect fee) directly from our checking account. That caused checks to bounce and more fun to occur. Then the fourth shoe dropped when dealing with the water bill.

Apparently being 30 days late on a $33.00 monthly bill is cause to shut off the water without notice. Then you are required to pay $45 to have them come turn it back on after work hours and pay a $100 deposit to have your service reinstated. When I went to pay the bill the next morning in cash and the eventual return of the deposit was in question, I was asked if I wanted to see a supervisor. When the supervisor arrived, I was told in polite words that I was a liar and that the water company doesn't operate like that. After a quick check of computer records confirmed that I had already undergone this exact process when we had our house built and that I was in fact right, she explained that when I overreacted to the phrase "Everyone has their story," that she was misinterpreted. I asked for the other interpretation of "Everyone has their story," and it was not forthcoming. When I talked to her supervisor, an apology was made. I calmly explained that if they were not the only game in town I would gladly dig a well by hand before I used a drop of their water.

The fifth shoe dropped this weekend when I got a low-grade fever on Friday afternoon that persisted throughout the weekend. Despite the fact that I had already bought my ticket, I was not able to go to the last Tigers game of the regular season because Swine Flu is going around my school and I could be contagious.

The sixth shoe dropped today. Since we disconnected our landline because we no longer need it, American Electric Power did not inform us that they were going to cut down all the trees behind our house. Apparently they are entitled to a 15-foot easement on either side of the center of the power pole that is 15 feet inside our property line. So, they are able to come 30 feet onto our property without our knowledge or consent and today cut down all the trees that blocked our view of the train that has been parked on the "dead" tracks behind our house. We are left with this splendid view out of our back windows:


Where there was once lush foliage blocking our view of the train, now we have a white metal canvass featuring a spray-painted mural of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television. I'm sure Sera can identify all of the letters right now, and will be able to read the words before the train is moved.

I really need something to go right. And for insects to stop wearing shoes. Six is too many.

Stop the Presses!

This article makes the bold statement that reducing class sizes raises achievement levels. Thank goodness someone is out there with a 21-member research team studying this subject! We teachers never would have known that, otherwise.

My favorite part, though, is where the guy from the think tank says he's not so sure about that. I wonder if he's ever had to try to think in a metaphorical tank with 30 kids ranging in age from 13-14 years old. I'd be willing to bet that it's easier with 15 from the same group!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Question of the Day

If teachers' unions are so powerful, how is it that Labor Day is an unpaid holiday for us?

Happiness is...

A campfire in the back yard.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Brilliant!

That's what this is. Trust me, if you've seen Inglorious Basterds you will laugh.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Top Ten Results of Disney Buying Marvel

Top Ten Results of Disney Buying Marvel

10. Wolverine now has feathers for claws.
9. Howard the Duck and Donald Duck revealed as longlost cousins.
8. Ant-Man and the Wasp now hosts of “It’s a Small World” ride.
7. Every blogger in the universe coins phrase, “Mouse of Ideas” simultaneously.
6. The Starjammers are the new Pirates of the Caribbean.
5. Super-Goof now known as Spider-Goof.
4. Mickey’s Clubhouse now has a Danger Room.
3. Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire is the newest Disney princess.
2. “Beauty and the Beast” has to be recolored to make the Beast blue.

1. “Steamboat Willie Lumpkin.” ‘Nuff said.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Swiped!


On the left, the cover art for the upcoming DVD release of the 1988 Ruby-Spears Superman cartoons. On the right, original art from John Byrne's 1986 Man of Steel miniseries. I'm sure Byrne is being paid for that...right?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

500

500 posts. That's a lot of writing. I've spent a lot of time writing on this weblog and I'm glad I've done it. I've spent time writing about my family, about baseball, comic books, roleplaying games, movies, TV, books, education, technology, travel, food, photography, radio shows, toys, and pretty much everything else I could think of. I even wrote about the weather once, when I was running out of ideas. When I look at the various topics I've written about, they create a pretty reasonable mosaic of me. I'm sure my friends have learned things about me that they never knew, for better or worse.

I have different sets of friends, as Facebook recently reminded me. I have Tigers fan friends, I have high school friends, I have gamer friends, and I have coworker friends. There's very little crossover. The only thing these people have in common is knowing me, but none of them really sees the whole picture unless they read my blog! It's not often that I would discuss comics with one of my colleagues, and I sure don't mention roleplaying games to my Tigers fan friends. I'd be kicked out of the club! But this blog is the one place I can go and feel free to write about whatever I want--well, subject to review by my employer, so there are certain topics I avoid. I don't have an editor to tell me what to do. I don't have a publisher who can reject my ideas. I don't have advertisers that I have to worry about offending. I don't care how many readers I have or where they come from. I answer to no one here but myself, and I have to tell you that it's a great feeling of freedom.

While sitting here stewing over what to write about for the next 500 posts, I realized just how much there remains to write. I just realized that I have never written much about old-time radio shows (OTR), which I dearly love. There are a thousand movies to review. I started thinking about Fast Times at Ridgemont High the other day and watched it again. The opening credits scene is like one big flashback of high school for me. I've never written about Gargoyles, a cartoon from the 90s that I think stands out as an animated show that has adult appeal. I mean, there's a convention attended by thousands in its honor every year. I could write 50 blog posts about my junior year in high school, from 1981-1982. It was a year that defined who I would grow up to be. I wrote recently about music, and it made me realize how much it meant to me. Wait until you see my freshman band picture with me and my tuba. I haven't written about the Tigers this year at all on my blog. They're really having a good season, but you couldn't tell it by reading their website's message board or the comments in the Free Press site. And I have thousands of family photos to go through now, and the memories they bring, some good and some bad.

The next time I start writing about the weather, I guess I'll have to revisit this post!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to School

Well, we've just completed our first week back at work after the long summer break. Oh, wait, I didn't take a summer break. I worked 7 out of the 10 weekdays I had off so I could hit the ground running.

My classes seem pretty good, although large. We lost a half-time math teacher to a transfer, and they just decided to split his classes between the remaining two 8th grade math teachers. We have constantly heard throughout my 12 years at this school that we do everything according to best practices. It's the reason we lost our block scheduling and team teaching, which coincided with us getting our prep time cut in half along with a reduction in staff. It's the reason we went to trimesters instead of semesters, which coincided with another reduction in staff. And now we face increased class sizes, which everyone knows is the best practice when teaching children. Now I don't have a problem with any of these cost-cutting moves. Our economy is in bad shape, the worst in the state. What offends me is how we are told such obvious falsehoods. These are not best practices for teaching middle school children, but unfortunately they are necessary at this point. Please just don't candy coat why we have to do this. We're adults, and unlike Tom Cruise's character in "A Few Good Men," we can handle the truth.


I was so tired last night after a week of getting no more than six hours of sleep each night, I crashed as soon as I put Sera to bed and was asleep before 8:30. I awoke at 5:30 AM and thought, "Weird. I'm awake, but not exhausted!"

I have missed my bike this week. Last week I was riding across the construction zone by our house to get to my normal riding neighborhood, when I heard two pings. Turned out I had broken two spokes on my back wheel. I took my bike in, and they said they could replace the fragile aluminum spokes in just two days with steel ones, which would last forever. Well, two days apparently meant seven, because I just got my bike back tonight. Is it weird that I had an emotional reaction when they rolled my bike out of the garage section of the bike shop? It was like a friend I hadn't seen in a year. Of course, I gained five pounds this week. I ate right, but with no exercise that's not very effective for me. So I'm back up to 291, but determined to let it go no further. Tomorrow I'll probably ride 10 miles just to get back in the saddle.


We've cut back on our monthly bills with the new school year. Using TurboTax cost us a ton of money when it automatically kept a deduction from a previous year to which we were no longer entitled. By the time we paid the tax bill (along with penalties and interest) and made an unexpected trip to Utah when my dad died, we found ourselves in a big hole. We cut out XM radio earlier in the summer, and tomorrow we're consolidating our communication bills. We're abandoning DirecTV in favor of Comcast digital cable, from whom we already receive Internet services. We're also cutting our landline for telephone service, since the only thing we use it for is connecting to DirecTV. Losing DirecTV means I won't get to watch the Tigers anymore, but it's a difference of over $120 a month with all the cuts, and for that much money I can make do listening to the radio broadcast on my phone and watching video highlights. Our daycare expenses are lower now because Sera is potty-trained, and we paid off our second mortgage in June, so that payment's gone as well. I'll probably be taking on a second teaching job in the evenings again just to get caught up. There always seem to be students who need homebound instruction because they can't manage a classroom environment. One-on-one they're not that bad, generally.
It could be a lot worse. I know a lot of my friends are out of work, and the community in which I teach is still desperate for jobs.

Okay, I have "Twister" on in the background while I'm writing this and I have strong memories of liking this movie. But now it's really puzzling how the bad boy team of storm chasers get surprised by a tornado at a drive-in movie. It's almost like they didn't have five trucks filled with weather-sensing equipment that could have let them know that a frakking tornado was right on top of them. And why is it that scientists would use an aerodynamic shape, a sphere, to get sucked into a tornado so that they were forced to add aluminum wings (made exclusively out of Pepsi products. Holy product placement!) to create enough drag to be pulled into the vortex? Seems like the guys in the black trucks who used cubes were a little smarter. And seriously, is that Academy Award-winning Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the stoner guy in a baseball cap? "Heh heh heh. We're gone." He's a chameleon, that guy is.

Well, I guess that catches everything up for a whole week! It's been busy, and I've been too exhausted to write. It was so good to see my colleagues back at work. We had fun Monday catching up and exchanging reading and movie lists. I borrowed the first season of True Blood on DVD from Traci the Twilight Lover, and I look forward to watching it.
If you can't enlarge the image, go here!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Green Lantern: First Blood--er, Flight


Yeah, this was the way I grew up on Green Lantern...or not. DC is shrinking their already dwindling market AGAIN with a level of violence that will not fly with good parents or teachers who like their jobs. I can't show this crap in my classroom as a way of introducing even 14-year olds to one of my favorite characters. And there's no way I'll show this to my daughter. They blew it again as far as I'm concerned.

The End of Summer

Summer is over again. It's back to work full-time tomorrow, and I never really stopped. Over the past two weeks I had off, I went to my classroom to work on seven out of the 10 weekdays, and really didn't take any time off. Vacation is for sissies anyway.

I'm going to go at this school year head-on. I've not been satisfied with my results lately, and it's time to try something different. I'm going to throw my textbook out the window. It's a useful tool to provide problems for the students to practice, but the textbook we have been using is written far higer than our students' literacy level. Its content also assumes knowledge that is most definitely not in evidence. So I am going to shake things up. As I understand it, we are to begin a cookie-cutter checklist this year that supposedly keeps all teachers of the same grade level on the same page at the same time. I'm not going to participate unless I am told to directly by my supervisors. I won't be insubordinate, but if I have my way my students won't start messing with variables and equations until I am absolutely confident that they can manipulate whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percents with grade-level competence or better.

I'm tired of hearing the old argument that they'll get practice with computation as we move along. They surely don't. You can't practice what you don't know how to do. I am going to administer direct supervised learning of those basic skills for the first three or four weeks of school. How can I justify that? For the past five years we have been directed to spend the first month of school reviewing for our high-stakes standardized test. Well, this year the test is only given in the spring so I figure I have that month to take care of it. Computation is Indiana math standard 8.2 and I am going to beat the holy crap out of it until my kids' first move when confronted with a problem is no longer to reach for a calculator. It's not going to be all drill, athough I'm tired of hearing that drill doesn't work. It does. We've got some new technology in the classroom, including a buzzer system that lets kids ring in like they're playing Jeopardy. I'm going to use competition, games, and teacher-created activities to bring these kids up to speed.

They're going to calculate 15% and 20% tips mentally. They're going to make change from a cash drawer. They're going to figure out discounts and sales tax. They're going to develop a list of prime numbers up to 250 and be able to break down any composite number into its prime factors. When they're done with that, they're going to be able to tell whether a fraction is fully simplified by whether the top and bottom of the fraction are mutually prime. They're going to figure out, given a speed and remaining distance in a trip, how much longer they have to travel at that speed. And they're going to do it mentally! They're going to use the Pythagorean theorem to find hypotenuses to the nearest whole number in their heads. My kids will be able to read a frakking ruler, unlike my kids in years past.

I'm tired of trying to teach kids who can't reliably multiply 8 X 7 in their heads how to solve multi-step equations because someone who hasn't evaluated my students tells me it's the day that it has to be done. These kids are not stupid, but we are if we keep doing things the way we have been.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inferno

Insert your own "flaming" joke here. I cannot believe DC is actually publishing a book named Inferno with a character who looks like a gay porn star...or Kevin Youkilis, take your pick. Same difference.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Scott Said!

(click to enlarge)



PVP is a great online comic by Scott Kurtz. It's about people who work at a gaming magazine and their hilarious interactions. At the Chicago Comic-Con I picked up the first four trade paperbacks of the printed version of the strip and it made me laugh like nothing has since Knights of the Dinner Table. If you are a gamer, a comic book lover, or just a person who enjoys movies, you'll find something to enjoy about PVP.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Are We in the 1980s??

If the double feature I wrote about last year was the coolest thing for a Marvel Comics fan last year, this one is the coolest thing ever for an 80s cartoon kind of person! Our drive-in really knows how to match them up.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Chicago Comic-Con

I took my camera and didn't take a single picture. Oh, well.

If you're headed to the Chicago Comic-Con this weekend, look out for the $5 trade paperbacks. Lots and lots of dealers had softcovers and hardcovers alike for just five bucks! The ones who didn't have them out for that price marked them to half price or buy one-get one free. There was a little air of desperation as the convention started out very slow. By noon, however, the hall was teeming with activity and dealers seemed to calm down.

My five dollar choices:

Showcase Presents Metal Men
Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes #3
Thor Visionaries-Walt Simonson
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (Wieringo art, had to do it)
Nightwing: Renegade (Hester/Parks art, once again had to do it)
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man #1 hardcover
Dynamo 5 Post Nuclear Family
Amazing Spider-Girl #1
PVP Books 1-4 (love Scott Kurtz)
Ultimate Spider-Man Collecion en Espanol (my Hispanic kids are going to love me for that one)
X-Men First Class--Tomorrow's Brightest
Number of the Beast (Sprouse art, had to do it)

If you're a fan of J. Scott Campbell, I got two sketchbooks from him and walked right up to him to have him sign them. No line!

My niece, Theresa, had her sketchbook and some colored pieces of art with her, and received very positive reviews from artists in Artist Alley, and even one job offer! Special thanks to Paul Sizer, for taking a lot of time to describe the ins and outs of the self-publishing business.

Sera loved watching people in their costumes, especially the Star Wars stormtroopers. She wanted to say hi to them and give them high fives, which is high praise for her. I guess we can't let her watch Star Wars now because all of her new friends die, whether by blaster or one big explosion.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

PEDs in the Marvel Universe

From the "A picture is worth a thousand words" department: Sad news from the world of Marvel these days, as it appears the male members of the Fantastic Four are guilty of juicing. Seen here, courtesy of artist Dale Eaglesham is what appears to be Ben Grimm applying what Gary Sheffield once described as "The Clear" to Johnny Storm's shoulders. Evidence suggests that Reed Richards has made it so that unstable molecules pass THG through the material and onto the skin. It is possible that Dr. Richards is holding a portable steroid-producing laboratory in his hand in this picture and has himself used performance-enhancing drugs to improve his physique to the point where he is bigger than an NFL linebacker. Susan Richards does not look like she approves of this practice, but one must remember that Reed's stretching powers could theoretically compensate for some of the side-effects of steroid use.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Backbirths

There seems to be a movement in this country by some delusional paranoids (called birthers) to prove that President Obama was not born in America and is therefore not eligible to be President. I don't like to get political here very often, but this is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Question policy, words, actions, and it's all fair game. But for crying out loud, there was a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, a local newspaper. I suppose that was faked? That was some forward thinking by the Obamas to put a birth announcement in a newspaper in another country so that their foreign-born son could someday be President.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheers!

From the Much Ado About Nothing Department comes an article from the New York Times's health section, railing against the alcohol consumption in the new Harry Potter movie. It raises the question of whether or not butterbeer is alcholic, and I have to laugh. The kids in these movies (and books) consume potions that alter the structure of their very bodies when they drink Polyjuice Potion! Felix Felicis is the ultimate doping solution, and in the same movie they are expected to produce a Draught of Living Death!

Harry, Ron, and Hermione face the dangers of torture murder in their lives DAILY and have wielded deadly weapons as a matter of course since they were 11 years old. And the NY Times is worried that they're setting a bad example for children by drinking butterbeer?

Riddikulus!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Toast

I am toast. My patience is gone, and I am ready to be done with summer school.

When summer school began, it was explained--twice--by two different people, including the summer school principal--that the law states that you cannot miss more than eight hours of summer school. If you miss eight hours and one minute, you cannot pass. Period. End of story. Whatever you do miss has to be made up with a teacher licensed to teach the subject you are taking, but you cannot miss more than eight hours. Very simple, right? Wrong. Here's how the conversation went today when a student missed her second day:

Me: "Student X missed again today. That's too bad, because now she's missed nine hours and she can't pass."

Them: "But she made up that first day."

Me: "You have to make up any missed time, but you can't miss more than eight hours."

Them: "But she made up that first day."

Me: "It doesn't matter. The law says you can't pass after you've missed eight hours, no matter how much time you make up. She has missed nine."

Them: "But she made up that first day."

Me: "You're not listening. This is the law, not a personal decision. You can't get a credit if you miss more than eight hours."

Them: "But she made up that first day."

Me: "It's not like a counter that resets when you make up time. It accumulates, and when it exceeds eight hours, you fail."

Them: "But she made up that first day."

If anyone out there thinks teaching is easy, this is the mentality we have to deal with day in and day out. I've had enough. Time tomorrow to give a final and be done for 19 days of vacation. After this summer, I could use it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Other Side of the Mirror

If I haven't mentioned this before, I am a huge Stevie Nicks fan. My fandom dates back to an Elias Bros. Big Boy restaurant in January, 1977 when my dad and I were having dinner after seeing King Kong, which was a weird thrill all on its own, and worthy of a later blog post. No one else in his third wife's family wanted to see it, so he and I went by ourselves. Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" was on the jukebox next to the booth. Big Boy used to have little jukebox selection boxes in each booth in their restaurants. It was really fun when you were a kid. Anyway, I loved the song and when my aunt bought "Rumours" on cassette later that year, I listened to it over and over and over again. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting in my grandma's living room with headphones on, reading comics and listening to "Rumours." Stevie Nicks had written and sung lead on three songson the album (remember when we called them albums?): "Dreams" (my favorite), "I Don't Want to Know," and "Gold Dust Woman."

When Stevie Nicks' first solo album, "Bella Donna," came out in 1981 I was a junior in high school, having the greatest year of my young life, and some of my friends had it on 8-track and played it in their cars. I recognized her voice immediately, but it was hard to reconcile her light, dolce vocals on "Dreams" with the hard-driving "Edge of Seventeen," which remains one of my two favorite songs (I hover back and forth between that and the Eagles' "Hotel California.")

When "The Wild Heart," her second solo effort was released in 1983, I listened to it for the first time on Christmas break from my freshman year in college. I had just gotten a strong message in the form of my grades that I actually had to work in college and couldn't coast through schoolwork like I had in high school, when my focus was more on sports. I sat in the dark, listening, waiting for a friend to come pick me up so we could go out to a bar in search of college girls who would be on break like us. I had become enough of a fan of Stevie Nicks that I had sought out hers and Lindsey Buckingham's "Buckingham Nicks" on vinyl at a local discount record store. I still have it, and it has still never officially been released on CD. One of these days I will have to get one of those USB turntables and transfer it to my computer so I can have it on my iPod.

By the time "Rock a Little", Stevie's third album came out in the winter of 1985, my then-fiancee bought it for me for my 21st birthday. I was a college junior, well on my way through my math program, and looking forward to graduating in just a year and a half. I didn't really care for the synthesized drums that pervaded the album, but I still loved her songwriting.

1987 brought "Tango in the Night" from Fleetwood Mac, which was the first CD I ever bought. My mother and stepfather had bought me a Sylvania CD player for a college graduation present for the princely sum of $300. It had a remote control and everything! I still have that wonderful old machine, and I think I will hook it up today to our surround sound receiver because our last DVD player pooped out and I don't think I'll replace it until we buy a PlayStation3 for Christmas. I remember reading about the album in Rolling Stone magazine while tanning on Bronco Beach (the south bank of Goldsworth Valley Pond) at Western Michigan University, and anxiously awaiting its release. Do you remember caring about music that much? It seems strange now.

The title of this post is a long time in being addressed, I know, but the stuff I just wrote goes to put it in perspective. I was listening to my iPod the other day while riding my bike in the neighborhood after watching some TV specials on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, and I decided to listen to "The Other Side of the Mirror." I probably hadn't listened to that album since the early 1990s. Like the previous Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac albums I mentioned, I remember well the first time I heard it. It's funny how memory works. Anyway, the first time I listened to "Mirror" was July, 1989. I had been substitute teaching for two years, while working at Pizza Hut and a local ice cream place called The High Wheeler, working 60-70 hours per week and making less than $11,000 a year. My fiancee and I had waited to get married until one of us had a job in our field, but didn't want to wait any longer. We set a date and were about to have the wedding when I got my first full-time teaching job! My first contract was for $19,900 a year and I thought I was going to be rich! My two roommates and good friends had just moved out of the apartment we had shared for two years and my fiancee had moved in new furniture that she had saved for while living with her parents. I had cleaned the place up and I was relaxing on July 20th while watching anniversary specials about the first moon landing. I was feeling on top of the world, finally starting my career in earnest, preparing for a new life in a new town in a new state with a new wife.

So as I was riding my bike, listening to this album and reflecting on the first time I heard it, I thought to myself what a weird coincidence it was (or was it?) that I was listening to the same album almost 20 years to the day of the first time I listened to it, and that it had been on the 20th anniversary of the moon landing, which was one of my first memories. The day I listened to that album for the first time serves as a nearly perfect line of symmetry between the parts of my journey into adulthood that I actually remember and the rest of my life as I've lived it since then. I guess the last 20 years have truly been the other side of the mirror.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interesting Point on Wednesday Comics

Steven Grant, in his Permanent Damage column, brings up a very interesting point:
"But where do new WEDNESDAY COMICS fans go next? Will anyone
intrigued by, say, the Flash or Green Lantern strips find anything remotely
similar, besides the costumes, in THE FLASH - REBIRTH or BLACKEST NIGHT?
Theoretically, WEDNESDAY COMICS should be making more than just WEDNESDAY COMICS fans. It should be making DC fans, or what's the point in exposing them to a host of DC characters? But DC's superhero comics don't publish any material like you find in WEDNESDAY COMICS! Innovative concept aside, and the deserved pride of producing it, what long term benefit does the project even bring the company?"

In this, I absolutely agree. I would buy everything DC puts out if the stories and art of their regular titles matched those or even approached those of their Wednesday Comics. Today's comics are so mired in retro-continuity and crossover events, a "civilian" (as John Byrne describes non-fans) would walk into a comic book store and not be able to find a single DC title that remotely resembles what we fans are going crazy over in Wednesday Comics. DC is successfully turning their franchise into a niche industry appealing only to that dwindling number of fans who still buy their monthly comics. As I noted here, their products are only currently made to appeal to the smallest minority of fans, when brilliant work like Wednesday Comics could lead to new readers and new customers, there's unfortunately nothing there for them to buy when they dare to walk in the local comics shop for the first time. They'll take a look at DC Zombies--sorry, Blackest Night, and walk right back out of the store.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday Comics II

Okay, is it wrong that I'm excited today? It's Wednesday and that means new comics. I don't buy many anymore but what I do buy, I really enjoy.

I have really enjoyed DC's Wednesday Comics (wordless preview at right) so far, thanks to a recommendation by KC Ryan. It's in newspaper format and does cost a bit, but having full-page comics, advancing the story one page per week is kind of fun, and reminds me of the Sunday Prince Valiant strips of my youth. The first page of this 12-page story appeared full size in USA today two weeks ago, and the rest of it, as it is published, is available on USAToday.com. I especially like the Metal Men story drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, one of my all-time favorites. There is a Batman feature, as well as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, Metamorpho, and Teen Titans. It's almost like the late 60s until you get into Kamandi, plus The Demon & Catwoman (?). Good stuff!

Then, the one I've been waiting for: Invincible #64. As much as I criticize DC for their apparent bloodlust in their comics, Invincible is ten times as violent as anything DC has ever published. The difference is, Robert Kirkman created and owns Invincible, and he can do whatever he wants with the character without tarnishing my childhood memories. At the end of #63, Mark (Invincible) Grayson has just suffered a major personal loss. He has been beaten. He has multiple compound fractures, and is barely conscious. Then he comes up with a great line: "I don't care how strong you are. I don't care how fast you are. I can see the future...you don't live to see tomorrow." Chapter 4 of "Conquest" should be great! If you don't read this book, start with the first trade paperback, or better yet, the Ultimate Collections, and don't stop until you're caught up. This is seriously good stuff. I'm talking about Judas Contract quality. If you were reading comics in those days, you probably remember when that 1984 Teen Titans annual was going to come out and you couldn't wait to find out what happened. This is just like that for me. Check out the power of these pencils from artist Ryan Ottley's deviantart page:




Who knew that comics could be fun again?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Watchmen Dilemma

What to do, what to do? I want to have Watchmen available to see in my home immediately, but I don't want to shell out the money multiple times when each new, exclusive version of the movie is released on DVD, Blu-Ray, et. al. and be left with a disc that I no longer want. The "ultimate" edition of the film is supposed to be released around the holidays, intercut with the "Tales of the Black Freighter" animated video, and clocking in at around 3.5 hours, with documentaries and motion comics and presumably everything else involved with the movie. For the "director's cut" being released today, which is still longer than the theatrical release, I understand that the Blu-Ray has a special commentary feature with picture-in-picture commentary, which sounds really cool. The only problem is that I don't have a Blu-Ray player, nor do I plan on buying one before Christmas, when we are thinking of getting a Playstation 3. So, when I received the email from Fandango suggesting that I download the movie on iTunes, the solution presented itself. In the short term, I can download the movie to my video iPod and plug it into my TV to view. Magi hasn't even seen it yet, so it will be immediately viewable. Then I simply have to wait until we have the correct player for the "ultimate" Watchmen home-viewing experience, and hopefully have the equipment to support that experience. And the best part is that I won't have an annoying, inferior disc taking up space in my video cabinet.

Anyone want a previously viewed copy of the first version of "Serenity," by chance?

Update--I just read that this version of the director's cut comes with a $10 coupon for the ultimate edition to be released later, so if you're considering doing what I'm doing, I just wanted to make you aware that the inferior version won't be worthless.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Moon Isn't the Only Place with Reduced Gravity

I wish comic book artists would look at real women once in a while. If you rotate the image 90 degrees clockwise, it's fine. But since it appears she's on her shoulders...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hot Serial

In the late 70s, I used to watch a show on WGTU channel 29 called "Hot Serial." Shown at 11:00 each night, "Hot Serial" featured a nightly chapter in an old movie serial, like Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, or Radar Men from the Moon, featuring Commando Cody. It was a great show to watch when you only had a 9" black and white television, since the serials were filmed in black and white anyway! The titles for the syndicated program always started with a bowl of steaming cereal suspended by wires, flying around the screen.

I received a set of Flash Gordon serials that I had purchased for my dad, and I'm watching them now, thinking back to when we lived in my grandparents' basement. Good times, hot serial.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Separated at Birth?

On the left, Draco Malfoy. On the right, Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias.

"I'm not a comic book villain, Potter. Do you seriously think I would explain my master stroke to you if there were even the slightest possibility you could affect the outcome? I triggered it 35 minutes ago."

He's the Best There is at What He Does...

...But what he does is not costume design. The latest results are in from Project Rooftop's Wolverine project, and I have to say that these results underwhelmed me. I mean, this is Wolverine. Why in the world does he need kneepads and elbow pads, not to mention an underlit chest plate? Half of the designs make him look like a half-baked samurai and the other half like a commando. One of them is simply a retread of Sabertooth's costume from the 90s. Oh, well. I still like the project.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The Haunted Lighthouse"

Spoilers follow.

In the second episode of the "Adventures of Superman," "The Haunted Lighthouse," Jimmy Olsen vacations on Moose Island, an island off the coast of Maine, where he visits his Aunt Louisa. Jimmy explores the island and hears a woman's ghostly voice crying out that she is drowning. Jimmy encounters a stranger named Mac who tells him to go get his cousin Chris because they have something to load. When Jimmy gives Chris the message, Chris is enraged at Jimmy, accusing him of spying. His aunt calms things down and encourages him to forget about the encounter.

Later that night, Jimmy sees the lamp in the lighthouse lit, despite the fact that it's supposedly been shut down for 20 years. Being the good reporter, he investigates. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Chris is following him. As Jimmy tries to open the door of the lighthouse, Chris throws a knife into the door, over Jimmy's shoulder. Chris threatens Jimmy, who goes back to his room. In his room, he finds a note from his aunt, asking for his help. Jimmy's cousin finds him knocking at the door to his aunt's empty room and leads him outside. Aunt Louisa surprises them and sends them back to their rooms.

Jimmy calls Clark Kent, back at the Daily Planet, and tells him to come right away. The call is disconnected, and Clark takes to the skies through the window of the storage closet. Arriving at the door of Aunt Louisa's house in his guise as Clark Kent, he runs into Jimmy, who tells him the whole story. Jimmy leads Clark to a cave, where they find the tide coming in. Kent clearly suspects something as fog starts rolling in. As Jimmy goes back to the house, Clark changes to Superman and flies out to a Coast Guard boat where he enlists the commander to help.
Meanwhile, cousin Alice brings Jimmy a note from Aunt Louisa which makes Jimmy go to her aid. He makes his way into the cave, followed by Chris and Mac, who he spots too late. They knock Jimmy out and turn a hidden lever, trapping Jimmy behind bars in the cave. He comes to, but can't escape as the tide is rolling in. He then hears the voice again.

Back at the house, the horn of the Coast Guard cutter is heard. Mac and Chris leave with a gun, hoping to hold them off. Back on the cutter, Superman spots Chris and hears Jimmy. He rushes to his aid, bending the steel bars aside. As they exit the cave, Mac tries to kill them by pushing a large rock down, then tries to stab Superman with a knife. Mac finally tried to crush Superman's head with a large rock, but Superman sidesteps, and Mac misses, him, falling to his death off the cliff.

Superman explains to Jimmy what's really going on as Jimmy compares a note written by Aunt Louisa to an old recipe she had sent him and finds out that the Aunt Louisa he had met was an imposter! The real Aunt Louisa is freed from the lighthouse, and captures the imposter, now revealed as Mrs. Carmody, her former housekeeper. Chris is brought in by the Coast Guard, and the smuggling operation is revealed to the Coast Guard by Clark Kent, as he joins them in the house. Then the secret of the drowning crier is revealed has Aunt Louisa's parrot, who's been shut outside all the time. A good laugh is had by all. Well, all except Mac.


A couple of interesting things about this episode: Superman allows a man to simply fall to his death by sidestepping an attack that would not have harmed him. I'm not quite sure how this fits Superman's current code against killing, but I thought it was based on the idea that life is sacred. This must have been more of the 1930s Superman, who routinely did such things.
This episode is also narrated by Superman/Clark Kent. I don't remember that being a common device in this series, but we'll have to see as we go through more episodes.