April 30, 2007

We're Getting a New Grill!

In the great gas versus charcoal debate, I’ve always firmly been in the charcoal camp. Maybe it was because my Dad has always been a charcoal guy and I grew up listening to him rage against the evils of the gas grill. Maybe it’s because I prefer cooking over a real fire that I built myself and not something that is essentially a stovetop outside. Whatever the genesis for my grilling preference; when Heather and I moved into our first house in Cleveland, one of our first purchases – even before a lawn mower – was a classic Weber kettle grill.

our old grillThat grilled served us well in Cleveland and made the trip to Illinois in 2000. The first summer at our home in Aurora, IL it rolled off the edge of our deck during a particularly windy day, damaging one of the legs to the grill and severely bending the handle on the lid. But the grill still served us well until this past summer, when the damage to the handle got to be too much for the old grill and it snapped off the domed lid while I was lifting it up. I tried grilling one more time, but lifting a hot metal dome off a flaming grill with just your hands was too much of a challenge.

It was time to replace our Weber.

About three years ago my Dad had purchased a new Weber grill that came with a gas starter. No need for lighter fluid, electric starters or stovetops; simply fill the grill up with charcoal, hit the lighter, and in ten minutes your fire would be going. Not only did it have the great little starter, but this Weber also included a work table, a super-easy cleaning system, and rack for holding the lid when it wasn’t covering the grill.

I was jealous.

Then we got our tax returns back and evaluated the where we needed to put the money.

Money to the kids’ college fund . . . Done
Money into Heather’s Roth IRA . . . Done
Seed money for a Disney World Vacation account . . . Done

our new grill - weber performerAnd while still fulfilling our monetary obligations to the funds above, we still figured we had could spare some to pick up my dream grill: the Weber Performer.

Weber has made some modifications to the design since my Dad bought his. The grill now uses small, disposable propane bottles, which can be picked up almost anywhere. They’ve also improved the work table to make it more durable and improved the charcoal storage container to make remove the briquettes easier.

I can’t wait to fire that baby up.

April 29, 2007

Chicago Bears 2007 Draft

I know now that I am becoming a hopeless Chicago Bears football fan. On Saturday I found myself alternating between watching the NFL Draft on ESPN and listening to it on the radio while I worked in the basement. Never mind that my knowledge of this year’s draft pool ran as deep as the JaMarcus Russell – Brady Quinn race for the number one pick and whatever Mel Kipper Jr. was telling me, I was still eager to learn who the Bears would select with the 31st pick in the draft.

I kinda expected the Bears to pick an offensive lineman, so I was mildly surprised when the boys on the radio were talking about how they were predicting the Bears would take the tight-end from Miami, Greg Olsen. But sure enough, when it came time for the Bears to make a selection, Greg Olsen’s name was called.

greg lsenAs I listened to the guys on the radio break things down, Greg Olsen sounds like a great pick. Pairing him up with Desmond Clark should give the Bears offense more options and open the field up. He’s gonna have to learn how to block on running downs, but I’m sure that will come. Olsen is fast and an excellent receiver. He’s gonna make Rexy better.

The rest of the draft looked good to me as well.

Dan Bazuin – a defensive end from Central Michigan who appears to be another fast defensive lineman with a nose for getting into the opposing team’s backfield quickly and disrupting plays.

Garret Wolfe – a running back from Northern Illinois who I have respected as a player for some time. Wolfe is a Chicago native who is a fantastic runner – fast and quick, a slashing-style runner – who just gains yards no matter what. I know the knock against Wolfe is that he is undersized, but I think he could be a solid addition to the team.

Michael Okwo – this linebacker from Stanford could be the replacement for the disgruntled (and remarkable misguided) Lance Briggs.

Josh Beekman – is a guard/center from Boston College whose skills were valued enough that people were projecting him to go in the first three rounds. Luckily the Bears got him in round four. This is the type of pick that I expected from the Bears early on. The Chicago O-Line is good, but they are getting old. Always best to be stocked up with solid lineman to block for the money players in my opinion.

Kevin Payne and Corey Graham – were both selected in the fifth round by the Bears. Both from small schools (Payne - Louisiana-Monroe and Graham – New Hampshire) and both defensive secondary players (Payne – safety and Graham – cornerback). Don’t know too much about them, but frequently these late round pick-ups from small school turn into big players down the round, so I will keep an eye on them.

Trumaine McBride and Aaron Brant – these two were the Bears’ picks in the seventh round. McBride is another cornerback from Ole Miss. The biggest thing going for McBride, in my opinion, is that he played in the SEC. So the guy has experience playing against top-notch wide receiver talent. Brant is a tackle from Iowa State. Not sure if he will make the team, but I liked seeing another o-line player taken by the Bears.

I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to grade this year’s Bears draft; I’ll wait to see what all the NFL pundits have to say in the coming days. However, I am excited about the prospects they are bringing to camp and how they might impact the Bears in the 2007 season.

April 27, 2007

Jim Lee Batman Goodness

I long-ago gave up on Frank Miller's and Jim Lee's All-Star Batman and Robin. Not because I didn't like it. I did. But the issues were coming out so sporadically that I gave up trying to collect the individual issues. Instead I dropped the title from my pull list and decided to wait for the inevitable collected edition.

Over a year has past since the most recent issue has been published and it finally looks like ASBR might be getting back on some sort of schedule. Jim Lee posted pencils for the covers to three issues of the series with dates attached to them - May, July, and September.

cover to ASBR number 6
As always, I think Lee's pencils look fantastic. It will be tempting to pick these individual issues up when (if) they show up in shops later this year.

Charlie Brown Circle Sandwiches

emma in a hatIn case you missed it on Heather's blog, Emma has been displaying a unique interest (and perspective) on the culinary arts. Last night she dazzled us once again with a new receipe that I'm sure will become a family favorite.

Charlie Brown Circle Sandwiches

2 slices of bread
Peanut Butter
Chocolate Chips

Generously coat two slices of bread with equal portions of peanut butter, jelly, and mustard. Place together as a sandwich. Trim the edges of the sandwich to form it into the shape of a circle. Place the sandwich into the microwave on High for 4 seconds. Promptly remove and stud the top of the sandwich with a handful of chocolate chips.


April 26, 2007

Flash . . . Aa-aah! . . . He Is a Miracle

Back in the early '80s, when my brother and I were around nine and ten years-old, there were a few movies that we made our Dad rent from the video store over and over and over. It was obscure/cult stuff like Bugsy Malone or Clash of the Titans.

Can't find most of those films on DVD. That is, until this August 7 when Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Universe Edition is released on DVD.

flash gordon cover
The cheesy acting. The outrageous sets. The music from Queen. I love it all

Flash Gordon will save every one of us.

Taking a Deep Breath

Consider this:

Your teacher in a Creative Writing course assigns the class a project to write an essay that effectively expresses emotion.

You pen an essay trying to do just that and turn it in.

Days later you are arrested outside of your school and charged with disorderly conduct as a result of your essay.

That’s what happened to Allen Lee, a senior at Cary-Grove High School here in the suburbs of Chicago. Apparently his teacher was so disturbed by his essay that she brought it to the attention of the school administrators, who in turn contacted the police.

Even though the essay is described as being “violently disturbing”, whatever actions or situations that are discussed in the essay are not directed at any specific person, group or location. But because the teacher was disturbed by what she read this was escalated into a criminal charge brought up against Lee.

While I understand the sensitivity that teachers and school administrators must take in evaluating behavior they see in the students, especially in the wake of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech University. I am alarmed by the hard-nosed zero tolerance displayed by Cary-Grove High School and worry that other schools will follow suit.

Where was the intervention by school psychologists or administrators? How about a conference with Lee, his parents, and school officials to discuss his essay? Maybe the teacher could have tried talking to the kid before they ran his name off to the precinct to sign out a warrant?

It’s the zero-to-60 escalation of this incident that bothers me. From what I’ve read in the story Lee appears to be a pretty even-keeled straight-A high schooler who took an assignment and tried to accomplish it the best he could. He doesn’t have any history of problems at school, run-ins with the law, or any blemishes to his character that have been reported. I can’t believe a single offense should necessarily lead to an immediate arrest.

Then again I could be wrong, and he could be a ticking time-bomb of anger and rage. But if that is true, what do you think arresting him and carting him off to prison after he finally expresses some of the repressed emotions is going to do for his psyche? I can only speculate, but one outcome could be further retreating into his emotional shell where these feelings will continue to burn and build into possibly something bigger. I don’t think that’s something we want to risk happening.

I could see where this incident could spin off into a discussion on civil rights and freedom of speech, but I don’t necessarily want to go there right now. Although it does concern me that having schools acting similarly to how Cary-Grove responded could have a chilling effect on children feeling free to express themselves.

Rather I’d prefer to see everyone just take a deep breath and realize that despite what they watch on the evening news, every kid drawing a picture of a gun or writing a story depicting violence isn’t a harbinger of the next school shooter. Instead talk to the kid when you see that picture or read that story. Find out why they are creating what they are creating. Engage them. First, it will greatly reduce over-reactions like Cary-Grove and second, it will help us find real trouble kids before they sink to deep.

April 25, 2007

Batman - Defenders of the Night

Greatest Batman Movie . . . Ever

And after watching that make sure to read Chris Sims' commentary.

The Batman Is Gonna Make Some Super Friends

When the cartoon series The Batman started on Kids WB fours seasons back, the two most notable aspects of the new show were the toys that were being produced to interactive with the show and the fact that the Batman in the new series would be a Batman: Year One version of the character. Bats would be rookie in the superhero biz, just starting out and trying to figure out how things were going to work.

Batman and squiresThe interactive toy angle sort of fizzled up and disappeared but The Batman series has continued on, slowly building up a new version of the Batman mythos. By starting back at Batman’s first year in the cape and cowl, the producers and writers have been able to develop their own unique interpretation of Batman and his gallery of supporting cast and villains.

I haven’t watched The Batman nearly as much as I watched Batman: The Animated Series, but when I have I’ve always been impressed with the storytelling and the characterizations. In fact, the series won a Daytime Emmy in 2006 for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program. So the creators of the show must be doing something right.

screenshot from upcoming episode of The Batman where he meets martian manhunterThis weekend the series will air the first episode in the two-part season finale which will have Batman teaming up with the Martian Manhunter – the first non-Batman related DC hero to guest star on the series.

And that’s just the beginning of the parade of DC heroes that will begin popping up in The Batman series. Season 5 promises appearances by the Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman and Superman.

Even though I don’t watch the show regularly, I’m pretty excited about trying to catch the season finale and paying more attention to what’s going on with the series this fall. I’m a huge DC hero fanboy. So if there aren’t going to be any more cartoons in the style of the DC Animated Universe, then seeing what the kids behind The Batman might do with the expanded DC Universe is the next best thing.

April 24, 2007

Dude! Where Are Your Feet?

The The Comics Curmudgeon brings a unique sense of criticism and observation into play when considering the state of comic strips currently being published.

His most recent entry in his blog calls our attention to the disturbing events that take place in some of strips published today. In particular, I found the Blondie comic the most bizarre.

blondie comic from 04.24.2007
No wonder Dagwood has that look on his face; the mailman is using the guy’s genitals as a foot massager.

Ian and My First Pinewood Derby Car

The Cub Scout Pack affiliated with Ian’s school is very small and loosely organized, but we’ve still had some fun with it this past year. Den meetings happen randomly and the Pack meetings usually lack any strong organization, but Ian and his friends have fun. And despite the Pack’s faults, they pulled together what I thought was a great Pinewood Derby this past Saturday.

The Derby was supposed to occur last month, but the Pack Leader was having some problems with the track and had to push things off. No problem, it gave Ian and I more time to work on his first ever Pinewood Derby vehicle.

Ready to RaceI let Ian come up with his own design and together we sketched it out. He grand scheme was design that created waves across the top of the car to help it cut through the air and pick up speed.

The major cutting of the block of wood was handled by me, but Ian helped with the sanding and did all of the basic painting (prime and the red spray paint). He even handled the power drill all by himself when it came time for making holes in the back of the car for adding weight via inserted screws.

After Ian painted on the number he wanted (07), I took care of the detail painting – including writing the name Ian had christened the car with – Air Ripper.

I added the wheels and lubed them up with graphite to finish the build. We had a pretty cool looking first Pinewood Derby car that we could honestly say we worked on together.

When we checked in for the race on Saturday we learned that our scale at home was off and we were nearly a full ounce over the 5 ounce limit. Thankfully all we had to do was pull out some of the screws in the back of the car to bring things back down to 5 ounces.

A few test runs demonstrated that Ian’s car was quick down the track, so Ian and the rest of us were excited about the prospects of the official races later that day. The first heat of races were within each Den. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a small Pack. Ian’s Den has three boys, and only two of them showed up for the Derby. It guaranteed Ian at least a second place finish (and a trophy), but we were all hoping for a first place showing.

He won the first race in his Den, but than the other boy – Ian’s best friend since pre-school – took the next three races to secure the number one spot. Ian was a little disappointed, but not too much. The races were all very close and I think he really got a charge out of watching his car come speeding down the track.

Showing off the TrophyOnly the individual Den winners got to advance to the all-Pack races, so Ian had to sit the next round out. The boy who won Ian’s Den ended up third in the Pack overall. Ian seemed genuinely happy for his friend’s third place finish in the Pack, which let me know that were doing some things right with raising Ian.

After all the official races were done, the boys were having fun racing their cars against each other. Against all the other cars in the Pack Ian usually did fairly well. I reckon that he was a Top-5 car there that day. Not bad for our first shot at building a Pinewood Derby car.

Oh - more pictures from race day.

Silent Kimbly

While checking out the always interesting Mike Wieringo blog, I learned about a web comic called Silent Kimbly.

Silent Kimbly is a funny and cute strip from Ryan Sias that stars Kimbly and a cast of her friends. The comic strips are always without dialogue and always involve a play of words.

I love Sias' artwork.

royal flush silent kimbly
palm pilot silent kimbly

Dick Van Patten Is Crazy

How else do you explain this:

label for hobo chiliFor Adults and Puppies! We've elevated the quality of dog food! My new Natural Balance® EATABLES™ for Dogs is so appetizing and nutritious, you won’t be able to tell the difference between my EATABLES™ and a home-cooked meal! It‘s also perfect as a delicious addition to our Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Dry Dog Food.

Adults and puppies?

There is something fundamentally wrong when your marketing plan encourages the humans to buy canned food for their animal to share with the whole family.

April 23, 2007

Captain Marvel Trivia

Eating pop rocks and Coke at the same time will make your head explode. The 809 area code scam. Some Scandinavian county banned Donald Duck because he doesn’t wear pants. Urban legends are fun.

A blog that I read regularly runs a weekly column on Comic Book Urban Legends. I find it pretty interesting because, well, . . . I love comic books. I don’t talk about the fascinating facts and obscure trivia that I learn from the running series in my own blog because I figure anyone really interested in such stuff already knows about the blog.

However, last week they dedicated a whole post to debunking a series of Comic Book Urban Legends surrounding Earth’s Mightiest Mortal – and one of my favorite comic book heroes – Captain Marvel.

They shed light on lots of wild stuff from when DC Comics was re-launching the character in the 1970’s after licensing the rights to Captain Marvel from Fawcett Comics. Apparently DC had a hard time figuring out how to position the character in context with their own super-powered demi-god with a chiseled chin and cape, Superman. All sorts of ideas were thrown against the wall to see what would stick. In the end they just let Captain Marvel come back in essentially the same format that he left back in the 1950s.

But all those ideas kept circulating around for the next twenty years, eventually making their way into one version of the character at some point.

captain thunder marvelBut one of those ideas kicked around never made it to print: African-American Captain Marvel.

Obliviously that idea never got green-lit, but it certainly would have been interesting if it had. One, it would have helped DC establish a hero that wasn't another white male. Two, if DC had later on decided to switch back to the whitebread version of Captain Marvel C.C. Beck created so many years ago, they would have had quite the revision to write themselves out of.

Personally, I wish DC had taken the chance on totally re-working the character.

If you like Captain Marvel, you would enjoy the article.

Another Reason to Not Like Indiana

I’ve never had much use for Indiana. During my days in college in Cleveland, OH, Indiana was just a long stretch of road I had to travel to get from Illinois to Ohio. Hell, it’s still that way today. Because of the lax state trooper presence on the Indiana Turnpike, Heather and I consider Indiana the “bonus round” for driving – a chance to make up time during a trip with little fear of being pulled over for speeding. Got a later start from Ohio than planned? Illinois traffic-jams put you behind schedule? No problem once you get into Indiana. Put the pedal down and earn back that time.

Illinois - Indiana - OhioBut that was really the only perk I’ve ever been able to extract from my time in Indiana.

Today I learned that this June Indiana will implement an electronic tolling system for the state toll roads using the same technology that Illinois and 10 other states use to administer their electronic tolling systems (E-ZPass). Even though the system is branded differently in each state (in Illinois it goes by the name I-Pass), the standardized E-ZPass technology means that a driver buys a transponder in their home state and it works in the other 10.

Heather and I have had I-Pass for a number of years and really enjoy it for the time we spend driving around the tollway system of Illinois. But we’ve been secretly wishing that Indiana and/or Ohio would implement something similar and on the same system as Illinois so that our drives to and from Ohio could be simplified at least from a tolling perspective. (Anyone who has had to stop a car full of sleeping children so you can roll down a window in 20-below weather so some yahoo in a toll booth can lean over and yell into your van will know what I mean)

So I thought that this news about Indiana’s launch of I-Zoom would finally reveal a perk to driving through the Hoosier state. But that hope was short lived.

i-zoom sucksWhen the Indiana Toll Road begins I-Zoom in June, fares will jump 72 percent for those who pay with cash. (Illinois did something similar. Non-I-Pass people pay 50% more than I-Pass holders) Cars with the I-Zoom transponder will get a 40% discount.

But here’s the kicker. Even though the I-PASS and I-Zoom are both E-ZPass technologies, Illinois drivers with I-PASS transponders can use I-Zoom lanes but our I-PASS accounts will get hit for the full fare.


i-pass rulesI don’t know about the other states, but I know in Illinois anyone with an E-ZPass transponder gets the discount – regardless of state of origin. Apparently the Indiana lawmakers had to add the 40% discount for Hoosier tollway drivers in order for the conversion to I-Zoom to get full approval. But because the State had already signed the lease with the new tollway management company, the State is on the hook for paying the difference in collected tolls. (Illinois cooked it in from the start)

Frankly I don’t care about Indiana politics and I’m not interested in being negatively impacted by their in ability to manage legislation and contracts with vendors. This is what I know: When I-Zoom starts in June, Hoosier drivers with I-Zoom will get to come into Illinois and pay the toll rate of I-PASS drivers. However those I-PASS drivers from Illinois going into Indiana and driving through the I-Zoom lanes will get spanked for the full non-I-Zoom rate. That is bogus.

My trip across Indiana will go from $4.65 up to $8. And frankly the Indiana Turnpike isn’t worth an $8 ride.

Luckily Brian McPartlin, the Executive Director of the Illinois Tollway, shares this viewpoint (more or less) and has already taken steps to let Indiana know that Illinois isn't going to take this sort of crap. From his letter to the group running the Indiana tollway:

"From the Tollway's perspective, it is unacceptable that ITR expects I-PASS customers to have to buy an I-Zoom to obtain electronic tolling discounts for travel on the Indiana Toll Road while I-Zoom customers can travel on the Illinois Tollway at the reduced electronic rate using only their I-Zoom. The Tollway believes that it is in the best interests of the traveling public that only one E-ZPass transponder be required to access the benefits of electronic tolling on all the roads and bridges of the IAG members.

I urge you to reconsider ITR's proposed I-Zoom only policy. If ITR persists in that policy the Tollway will have to give careful consideration to making I-Zoom holders ineligible for the electronic tolling discount for travel on the Illinois Tollway. The Tollway certainly believes that limiting electronic discounts to only holders of certain transponders is not in the best interests of the traveling public and is contrary to the purpose of the IAG and the E-ZPass system. Nonetheless, the Tollway must take steps to protect its customers and respond to the ITR's unwarranted discrimination against out-of-state E-ZPass compatible transponders."

That's right you frickin' Hoosiers! Turnabout is fair play. Make the discount exclusive to I-Zoom holders and get ready to pay a lot more when you Hoosiers go to other E-ZPass states.


April 20, 2007

Heather, Did You Read This?

picture of fruit-flavored drinksThose fruity-drinks you like to get when we go out to eat can be considered health food:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fruity cocktail may not only be fun to drink but may count as health food, U.S. and Thai researchers said on Thursday.

Adding ethanol -- the type of alcohol found in rum, vodka, tequila and other spirits -- boosted the antioxidant nutrients in strawberries and blackberries, the researchers found.
We should start eating healthy at home.

Save Our Chocolate!

The Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (??) and currently petitioning the FDA to re-classify what "chocolate" is.

Typically chocolate is made from combining cocoa solids and cocoa butter with sugar and other ingredients and then molded into a bar or other shape. These food associations want to be able to substitute the cocoa butter with vegetable fats and oils and still be able to call their product "chocolate."

What? Why?

Here, read Cybele May's editorial in the LA Times:

This is what they (the groups listed above) think of us chocolate eaters, according to their petition on file at the FDA:

"Consumer expectations still define the basic nature of a food. There are, however, no generally held consumer expectations today concerning the precise technical elements by which commonly recognized, standardized foods are produced. Consumers, therefore, are not likely to have formed expectations as to production methods, aging time or specific ingredients used for technical improvements, including manufacturing efficiencies."

Let me translate: "Consumers won't know the difference."

I can tell you right now — we will notice the difference. How do I know? Because the product they're trying to rename "chocolate" already exists. It's called "chocolate flavored" or "chocolaty" or "cocoalicious." You can find it on the shelves right now at your local stores in the 75% Easter sale bin, those waxy/greasy mock-chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped eggs that sit even in the most sugar-obsessed child's Easter basket well into July.

It may be cocoa powder that gives chocolate its taste, but it is the cocoa butter that gives it that inimitable texture. It is one of the rare, naturally occurring vegetable fats that is solid at room temperature and melts as it hits body temperature — that is to say, it melts in your mouth. Cocoa butter also protects the antioxidant properties of the cocoa solids and gives well-made chocolate its excellent shelf life.

Because it's already perfectly legal to sell choco-products made with cheaper oils and fats, what the groups are asking the FDA for is permission to call these waxy impostors "chocolate." Because we "haven't formed any expectations."

As Ms. May points out, just because the FDA might allow a company to create these false chocolates and try to sell them under the banner of "real chocolate" does mean Hershey or M&Ms is going to run out and change their recipe. But they would have the option. The associations are looking for a legal way to cheapen their production costs and still get the benefit of marketing a "chocolate" product.

Frankly I'm a little pissed that these groups think they can fundamentally change the allowable ingredients for chocolate and think the public wouldn't care. Luckily there is something you can do. On the FDA website you can submit your comments/feedback on this pending petition.

Of course, being a government agency, the process is all twisted as hell. So read these guidelines from Dontmesswithourchocolate.com first. Then submit your comments.

Don't let the Man take away our chocolate!

April 19, 2007

Spider-Man: The School Play

Probably one of the best music videos I've seen since Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice."

This video is for "Signal Fire" by Snow Patrol, from the upcoming Spider-Man 3 soundtrack

Something For Our Basement

Dad, considering you are the only person I know who has a membership to Costco, what do you say about helping a guy out:

Donkey Kong ™, Donkey Kong Jr. ™ and Mario Bros.™ Arcade by Namco
19” Monitor,
Retro-Style Cabinet
Item # 161875
Shipping & Handling included

You’ll go APE over these classics! Enjoy the same great game play that made these originals famous! These classic adventure games first released in 1981 – Mario Bros, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr – are together again in this retro-styled gaming cabinet. Enjoy the same groovy game play in these ageless titles, from avoiding fireballs and crushing barrels to collecting coins for bonus points. These titles have stood the test of time.

And Costco is selling it.

Talking To The Mirror

Growing up, my Grandma on my Mother’s side lived in a house with a good-sized dinning room. It was a rectangular room; running north-south. It was all windows on the East side of the room and the wall on the West side of the room was filled up with a handsome side serving hutch and a huge mirror hanging above it.

The running joke within the family was that anyone seated on the East side of the table facing the mirror would never actually talk to anyone else at the dinner table. But they weren’t being rude or ignoring the conversation. On the contrary, they were usually quite engaged with the topics of discussion at dinner. It was just that despite best intentions, those Eastside sitters would always end up talking to the mirror – not the people at the table. The allure of addressing the devilishly handsome or strikingly beautiful image reflected in the mirror was too strong to ignore.

Due to circumstance and birth order, I ended up sitting at the head of the table on the North end quite a bit, so I got to watch the “talking to the mirror” behavior frequently. Sure it could be annoying, but it was also really funny. Especially when you would get called on it by someone at the table.

Since my Grandma sold that house and moved into a condominium ten years ago, I haven’t seen the preening and performing for the reflection in the mirror like I did in her dinning room – until my kids all started brushing their teeth.

It is apparently popular with many of the home builders in our area to install large mirrors in bathrooms. Hung above the sink, the mirrors are at least as wide as the vanity and reach nearly to ceiling. It makes for a large reflection and plenty to look at while brushing your hair, washing your hands, or brushing your teeth.

kids on their first day of schoolAnd for little kids totally wrapped up in their own little worlds – as most kids are until they hit their late teens – the opportunity to watch themselves in a massive mirror like the ones in our bathrooms is like a little slice of heaven.

Every night is a performance of preening, dancing, posing, and face-making – all while holding a toothbrush. Sometimes the tooth brush is a prop – a microphone or a sword – but usually it is merely a distraction. Something to drag across their teeth while they jump and twirl in front of the glorious reflection of their own self.

It does frustrate me at times. Like when they are too busy trying to catch a glimpse in the mirror of how toothpaste looks being spit out of their mouth, instead of looking where they are spitting said toothpaste. But when I think back I can’t help but laugh at their performances and try to only correct the behavior when it threatens to create a mess or delay them getting into bed.

See, neither of my parents have a mirror next to their dinning room table, nor does Heather’s parents, so for Ian, Emma, and Zoe the only chance for “talking to the mirror” will come in the bathroom. It might drive me nuts at time, but who am I to deny them that fun.

Dark Lord in the Sky

Dude designed and built a hot air balloon in the shape of Darth Vader's helmet.

darth vader hot air balloon

April 18, 2007

Batman Is Back In Town

Filming for The Dark Knight, Christohper Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins has apparently started up in Chicago already. I didn't think they were coming to town until the summer, but pics are already showing up on the web proving otherwise.

photo of gotham bank from new batman movie
The most recent shots are from a staged bank robbery at the Gotham National Bank that will take place during the flick. Good stuff.

Rumors have the crew in town this week and then returning in June for an extended stay of filming.

April 17, 2007

What My Wedding Reception Should Have Been Like

I don't quite understand it - but I love it.

April 14, 2007

Chicago is U.S. Candidate for 2016 Olympics

Chicago Olympic logoWhen Mayor Richie Daley started talking about Chicago's run at getting the 2016 Olympics, I didn't think the city had much of a chance. But twelve months later I found myself watching a 3pm news conference and heard USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth announce that Chicago had earned the right to represent the United States in a bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

While it is certainly exciting news, there's still two more years before the IOC makes their decision for the 2016 games. So nothing is for certain yet. But it's still great to know that Chicago could beat out an Olympic veteran like Los Angeles in proving its worthiness in hosting the games.

I admit that it would be wild having the Olympics so close to home, but it also could be a huge pain. Never mind the inevitable cost over-runs and political wrangling that will surround the built up if Chicago is awarded the games in 2016. All I can think about is the traffic. Oy! Just the thought of a Chicago congested with visitors from around the globe is enough to make me want to spend the summer of 2016 in Des Moines, IA.

April 13, 2007

Bitting The Hand That Feeds Ya: Part 2

So the story has a happy ending. Remember the photo I posted yesterday of the crocodile walking around with the human hand he had chomped off the zoo veterinarian taking care of him?

Doctors re-attached the hand.

Chang Po-yu recovering in his hospital bed after having his hand re-attached
Taiwanese zookeeper Chang Po-yu waves from his hospital bed, Thursday, April 12, 2007, in Kaohsiung, 350 kilometers (217 miles) south west of Taipei, Taiwan. Surgeons reattached Chang's forearm Thursday after a 200-kilogram (440-pound) Nile crocodile chomped it off and colleagues recovered the limb from the reptile's mouth. The forearm was reattached following seven hours of surgery. The Liberty Times newspaper said Chang failed to notice that the crocodile was not fully anesthetized when he stuck his arm through an iron rail to medicate it. (AP Photo/Steve Chen)

The Joys of a Wiki-World

I think Wikipedia is a great source of info - mostly for pop-culture research - but I certainly understand its limitations. Or better put, I understand that by nature of how its citations are built (the collective input of thousands of Internet trolling denizens), that any entry found on Wikipedia shouldn't be considered the definitive source.

What being said, I love today's Wondermark comic.

wondermark comic for 04.13.2007

April 12, 2007

Bitting The Hand That Feeds Ya

This is photo is even more fun when you learn that the hand is real. The croc bit it off the zoo veterinarian who takes care of the beast.

human hand inside of a crocodile's mouth
A crocodile at a zoo in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung holds the forearm of a zoo veterinarian in between its teeth, April 11, 2007. The crocodile bit off the arm of the zoo veterinarian treating it, an official reported. Picture taken April 11, 2007. REUTERS/Frank Lin (TAIWAN)

Kurt Vonnegut: 1922 - 2007

Finished doing our taxes and did a quick sweep of the latest news stories when this headline jumped out at me:

photo of kurt vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut was one of the premiere writers of the 20th century. His unique voice will be missed. I've read some of his works, but now I am over come with a desire to go back and read more.

April 11, 2007

Honor Artist By Ending Comic Strip

Earlier this week cartoonist Johnny Hart died at his drafting table. Hart was the creator of “B.C.” and “The Wizard of Id”, the former produced by Hart alone, the latter written by Hart and drawn by Brant Parker.

I didn’t mention anything about Hart’s passing here because I was never a fan of either strips. Long ago I classified both in the same bucket as such newspaper comic strips as “Cathy”, “Mother Goose and Grimm”, “Shoe”, “Garfield”, “Hi and Lois”, “Marmaduke”, . . . . hell, the list is too long to write out here. Basically they are comics that have long outlived their entertainment value. The strips might have had something interesting or funny to say for a few years when they first started, but original ideas or innovative approaches to cartooning were no longer in the toolboxes of the creators behind these comics.

BC screen shotComics like “Cathy” and “Shoe” continue to coast along in syndication based on past performance with little threat of being canceled because readers have grown accustomed to seeing these sad little strips in the newspaper every day for the last one hundred years. Johnny Hart’s “B.C.” comic strip fit that mold. From what I’ve read, at its height “B.C.” was wickedly sardonic and extremely popular. But the last fifteen years or so saw Hart infuse Christian fundamentalism into the strip while recycling the same gags and observations, thus contributing to the strip decline in popularity.

The reason I bring up Hart’s death now is the revelation that one of Johnny Hart’s wishes was that “B.C.” and “Wizard of Id” continue on after his death. Creators Syndicate Vice President/Editorial Director Kathy Kei is quoted as saying Hart "had always intended for the strips to survive with the participation of his family. They have been involved for years. 'B.C.' will be continued by the Hart family -- Johnny's daughters and grandsons -- and 'The Wizard of Id' will go on as usual with the participation of Jeff Parker, Brant Parker's son, and Hart's family."

So instead of clearing the comics pages in newspapers across the country of tired, irrelevant comic strips, Creators Syndicate will continue to churn out the same lame “B.C.” gags and, presumably, anti-Semitic potshots. Legacy comic strips don’t do the art form any good. They generate stagnation as writers and illustrators mimic a style or approach invented by someone to new and innovative 30, 40, or even 70 years ago. Art should always evolve. Supporting legacy strips like “B.C.”, “Shoe”, or the “Peanuts Classics” prevents evolution.

Obviously it is too late for Johnny Hart to follow the examples set by comic strips like “The Far Side”, “Calvin & Hobbes”, or even “FoxTrot”; whose creators walked away from (or greatly modified) the strip before they ran out of ideas. But maybe Hart’s family will understand the best way to honor Johnny’s legacy as a comic strip creator is to let “B.C.” die with its creator and make room for a new cartoonist to take its place. Johnny Hart was innovative, surreal and funny in the 1970’s with “B.C.” Now it is someone else’s turn to become the next Johnny Hart for this decade.

Please Bring Back the Old John McCain

I rarely talk politics in this blog, but today I will make an exception. During the 2000 Presidential campaign one of the candidates I liked was Senator John McCain from Arizona. McCain had this sense of being a maverick that appealed to me. He came off as a smart, honest guy who was concerned with doing the right thing, not necessarily what the political party he belonged to told him to do. I thought this fierce independence in thought and position was refreshing in a political figure as high up the politico-food chain as McCain sat.

john mccainEven after he didn’t win the Republican nomination he didn’t stop challenging what his own party was doing. In particular I remember him taking President Bush and the White House to task over the capture and detainment of Taliban fighters. And McCain always seemed critical of the GOPs march into Iraq and the ensuing occupation. McCain was a man who had convictions and stuck with them

What happened to that guy?

In the past year McCain appears to have completely reversed his direction. He’s now a GOP policy puppet that was one of the biggest and most vocal supporters of President Bush’s plan to increase the war effort in Iraq.

Where’s the guy that would challenge his party’s position on policy? That seemed to have thoughts original and separate from the party line? In the time frame of about sixteen months McCain has gone from a guy who was trying to lead his party – challenging them at ever step to do the right thing – to being a simple follower of the platform.

I really don’t care if a politician is a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green. What I look for someone who is their own person, with convictions and ideals that I support, and who is ready to lead and shape the country. Not regurgitate what the policy the political party has outlined.

It disappoints me to see John McCain now from what I remember of him in years past. I kinda miss the old John McCain.

April 09, 2007

Heather Is Blogging Again

After being a little sporadic over the last few months, Heather seems to have found her blogging muse once again. In the last few weeks she's hit all the big topics: photos she's taken, fun baking projects she's undertaken, funny videos she has found, and thoughts on parenting techniques.

I encourage you to check out what she has to say.

Dreaming of a White Easter

Marriage is about compromise and figuring out what works for the two of you. Where to live, what to spend money on, where to vacation, what side of the bed to sleep on – the list is endless. But in most cases answers or solutions are arrived at that help keep the marriage moving along nicely.

Choosing a when and where for celebrating a holiday with opposite sides of your family is one of those challenging questions that every married couple has to grapple with. The decision is someone simplified when the two sets of parents live long distances apart. But should the opposing in-laws live within the same area, or as my case, are divorced, then you could be dealing with three options for where you are eating Thanksgiving dinner. Never a fun prospect.

Luckily for me, Heather’s parents live in Ohio, so a holiday visit schedule has settled into something fairly simple. Thanksgivings we stay in Chicago to grapple with scheduling around my divorced parents, Christmas is a crap shoot but with some well-established ground rules, and Easter is always spent in Ohio.

Eggs in the SnowThat’s where we were this past weekend for what was probably one of the coldest Easters I can ever remember.

Scratch that. I have never experienced an Easter with the sort of the weather we had in Ohio this past weekend. It was insane.

I should have been tipped off that this Easter would be unique while driving to Ohio late Thursday night. I came home earlier from work and we loaded the kids into the van to head out after dinner. The late departure meant we wouldn’t arrive at Heather’s parents’ house in Ohio until roughly 1am Eastern time, but the kids would sleep in the van (as would Heather) and everyone would get more time with Papa and Grandma.

After reading the weather forecasts for Findlay, OH, we had packed clothing appropriate for what looked to be cold weather, so the chill in the air didn’t surprise me. What caught me off-guard was the snow flurries I experienced around Ft. Wayne, IN around 11pm at night. The snow flying around so much I had to slow down my driving. It was nearly blinding.

Only the bundled-up kids would last to fill their basketsWhen the flurries did let up I saw snow accumulation in the grass and under the trees that lined the Indiana and Ohio turnpikes. I found it hard to believe that it was the beginning of April and we were suffering through 20-degree wind chills and snow on the ground.

All day Friday I watched snow flurries come and go. Accumulations were small, mostly in the grass under trees and in areas shaded from the Sun by the houses, but it was snow on the ground none the less. And the temperature outside was cold. Really cold.

Saturday morning, the day everyone was coming over to Heater’s parents’ house to celebrate Easter, I woke up to see about half an inch of snow sitting on the ground. The trees, grass, roads – everything had snow on it. I came downstairs and made a joke of wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas.” It was surreal. By midday most of the snow had melted, but some snow remained in shaded areas giving the outside a definite wintertime feel.

But the snow didn’t stop my mother-in-law from going ahead with the traditional Easter Egg hunt in the backyard. She fills up roughly 300 plastic eggs with toys, candy, and little messages for all the grandkids to hunt for. I think she spends 40 to 50 hours filling up those eggs, so come Hell or high water that egg hunt was going to be held. So in defiance of the snow and strong winds, all the men went outside to “hide” the eggs so the kids could have their hunt.

Is the prize in the egg worth braving the cold?The kids looked like they were bundled up for sledding, not egg hunting, but that didn’t stop them from grabbing their baskets and heading outside. They still had great fun digging through the snow looking for plastic eggs. Though I think it was the faster hunt ever. Nobody was messing around. They were snatching the eggs as quickly as possible to they could get back inside. Made for some great photos.

Later in the day, I was talking with my brother-in-law and we were remembering that when we had all gotten together for our most recent Christmas celebration (December 30, 2006) at his parents’ house, we were sitting outside on the back patio. We had spent Christmas in the backyard playing with new toys and now Easter bundled up inside shaking snow from out hats.

Hopefully, the next time around the weather will more closely match what is expected for the holiday.

April 05, 2007

Act of Cubbie Kindness?

My evening train ride home is always capped off with a hunt through the vast train station parking lot in search of my car. I usually have approximate knowledge of where I had parked that morning, so I will start out headed in the general direction of where I expected to find my car. The parking lot is too large to remember an exact location. I just point myself towards a vague point in the parking lot horizon and start walking. Eventually I spot my car. The process hasn’t led me astray yet. There aren’t any other ’96 dark green Plymouth Neons at the Route 59 parking lot.

However, this past Tuesday evening I thought I had stumbled upon a second Neon which was parking in my general parking area.

cub flag now waving from the neonFrom a couple rows back I had spotted my green Neon while walking through the parking lot. But as I got closer to the vehicle I noticed that there was a tiny Chicago Cubs flag attached to the Neon’s antennae. The Neon doesn’t have a Cubs flag on it. It must be a different green Neon with paint slowly wearing off the rear bumper and a WXRT sticker in the read window, was my immediate thought.

I walked up to the car and looked inside.

Yep, that was the Neon that I had drive to the station that morning. And I was 99% sure there wasn’t a little flag on the antennae when I left the house that morning. Where did the Cubs flag come from?

I looked around to see if other vehicles had similar flags. Maybe it was part of a guerilla marketing tactic, like when the Korean Church stuffs copies of their newspaper under everyone’s wiper blades. But I don’t see another Cubs flag anywhere. My Neon is the only car sporting a tiny little blue flag.

I gave up thinking about it for the moment, got in the car, and went home. That night at dinner I asked Heather if she had snuck the flag onto the car as a surprise. She swore up and down that she did not. The kids certainly didn’t do.

It’s a solid little flag. Real sturdy. Based on some searching I did on the web today at lunch, it looks like the flag goes for $6. So where did it come from?

Did somebody just feel like giving the flag away as a gift and my Neon’s antennae was the closest one nearby? Is it actually a covert tracking device, silently sending back the Neon’s location via GPS relay? Have I been tagged by other drivers from the Route 59 train station because of my driving practices – they want to see where I am so they can get out of my way / block me from leaving? It’s an interesting mystery.

Coffe Cup vs. Sippy Cup

Sheldon has been making fun of coffee drinkers this week. I liked the strip from Monday a lot.

sheldon strip from 04.02.2007

Single Greatest Superman Panel . . . Ever!

And it comes from the comic Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane

Superman panel from Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #99
(via Living Between Wednesdays)

April 03, 2007

New Favorite Artist: David T. Wenzel

Stumbled upon the website and artwork of David T. Wenzel after I saw a cover scan for a graphic novel version of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit; was fasinated with the cover artwork and wanted to learn more about the illustrator behind the book. What I found is an artist whose use of color gives his work a richness and depth that I find very inviting. I am looking forward to adding some Wenzel illustrated books to my collection as soon as possible, preferably The Hobbit and The Wizard's Tale.

cover art for the second edition of Wenzel's version of The Hobbit

Maybe He Needed the Urn To Take a Piss In

From an AP story:
In comments published Tuesday, the 63-year-old Rolling Stones guitarist said he had snorted his father's ashes mixed with cocaine.

"The strangest thing I've tried to snort? My father. I snorted my father," Richards was quoted as saying by British music magazine NME.

"He was cremated and I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn't have cared," he said. "... It went down pretty well, and I'm still alive."
Amazing. He snorted his dead father.

Random Comic Bits

  • Over at the ComicMix, writer Dennis O'Neil posted a pre-amble of sorts for a column he will be publishing next week that explores the influence of the early pulp novels on super hero comics books. The topic of this week’s column: The Shadow. Specifically, the fantastic Shadow reprints that Anthony Tollin has been publishing through Nostalgia Ventures since last summer.

    cover to first Shadow reprintStarting back in July 2006, Tollin has been pulling together two classic Shadow stories from the old pulp archives of the 1930's and 40's, including all the original artwork, and publishing them together in one book. These double-feature novels are roughly the same dimensions as the old pulp magazines and have the classic cover art and interior art, but are printed on quality paper with strong cover stock material. It's like getting the original but at twice the quality.

    I've bought two of the books so far and absolutely love them. The Shadow novels written by Walter Gibson are just plain fun. Action from start to finish with the Shadow always on top of the situation. The dialogue and situations might be horribly dated, but there's sincerity in the intent to entertain through the story that always comes through. That's why I find them so addictive and so much fun to read. I can't wait to expand my collection.

  • This totally surprised me. A few years ago I saw that SLG Publishing was starting a comic book called Rex Libris. It was to be a comic about a librarian who battles all sorts of evil-doers in order to maintain order in the library and reclaim unreturned books. It sounded totally off-the-wall with the potential for some great fun, so I had my comic book shop pre-order it for me.

    cover to rex libris issue number 3When the books started coming in (about once a quarter), I found the stories incredibly dense with literary references and bizarre tangents. The character with just as quirky (Rex is accompanied in one adventure by a slightly-reformed former 14th century would-be world ruler who was turned into a talking sparrow, Circe of Greek mythology manages the check-out desk at the main library branch, and so forth). It always took a long time to read and fully understand an issue of Rex Libris, but I enjoyed the series and continued to read it for about 6 issues.

    However, starting with issue 7 the comic creator switched his art style and it really negatively impacted my enjoyment of the book, so I dropped it.

    I never saw the book getting much press from within the comic book community, so I figured it was one of those independently published books with a small following that would fly under most people's radar.

    But I was wrong.

    Today I see Variety is reporting that Warner Brothers has hired a screenwriter to develop a script for the movie adaptation of Rex Libris.

    Who knew?

    Just because WB has tapped someone to write a screenplay doesn’t mean Rex Libris will be showing up on the big screen anytime soon. But if it does, I can always say I knew the book before it broke it big.
  • April 02, 2007

    Zell Buys Tribune, Cubs To Be Sold

    One of the bigger stories in Chicago recently has been the Tribune Company and its future. The Tribune Company has been in growing financial trouble for the last few years as they have struggled to adapt to the influence of the Internet in the world of media presentation. There have been all sorts of speculation on how the company would right itself. There has been talk of everything from breaking the company up into its component parts (newspaper, TV, the Chicago Cubs, etc) for sale to a massive corporate restructuring.

    Tribune Company logoIn the last month the talk had focused on a sale of the company as two potential buys of the Tribune Company had emerged; Sam Zell, a Chicago multi-billionaire and real estate guru with ever more personality than money, and Los Angeles billionaires Ronald Burkle and Eli Broad. Both buyers were presenting similar deals that would take the Tribune Company private in an employee stock option plan that I didn’t completely understand.

    The Tribune had set a self-imposed deadline of the end of March to make a decision on the future of the company, and then spent this past weekend considering the offers on the table. Woke up this morning to see this top headline on the company’s flagship newspaper’s website:

    Not only had Zell managed to take over the company, the Tribune announced that at the end of the 2007 baseball season they would be putting the Chicago Cubs up for sale.

    The Zell announcement didn’t really surprise me. I had been following the story in different papers and he seemed to have the inside track, but the Cubs sale did catch me a little off guard. There had been growing talk of the Tribune putting the For Sale sign out in front of Wrigley Field, but I didn’t really think they would divest themselves of such a proven money maker. Shows what I know.

    However, I can’t say that I’m not happy to hear that the Cubs will be owned by someone new in 2008. The Tribune turned the Cubs into a highly profitable franchise, not because of the product on the baseball diamond – but despite it. Cubs fans have been teased frequently enough with the potential for greatness over the years to keep us interested and putting down cash for tickets, beer, shirts, and hats, while the Tribune kept costs down and counted the money as it rolled in.

    Hopefully a new owner won’t just see a cash cow but also the possibility of building a team that they can be proud of owning. A team that wins multiple Division crowns and maybe goes to the World Series more than once a century. That’s what I would like.

    Cubs LogoThere’s a possibility that this new owner could be Mark Cuban. He’s expressed interest in buying the Cubs before. Plus, in Dallas with the NBA’s Mavericks he’s proven that he doesn’t buy a professional team to make money, but to build a winner. Sure Cuban is outspoken and seems a bit unstable at times, but isn’t that exactly what the Cubs could use to shake off the moss of 100 years of stagnation? I think so. (And so do some other Cub Fans) Cuban and the Cubs seem like a good fit to me.

    On the flip side, how will Zell’s acquisition of the Tribune – a business that Zell has practically no experience in – affect that company? I have really no idea. What I do know is Zell is a shred cost-cutter and will get the company’s overhead down as quickly as possible. He might move and sell off the different portions of the company – like how the Cubs are being put up on the auction block immediately. Who knows? But it will certainly be interesting to watch.