February 29, 2008

New Iron Man Trailer

Another trailer for this summer's Iron Man


This movie looks frickin' awesome. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark.

Big MacChicken

Big MacChicken assembledThis is almost too disgusting to even comprehend. I can't believe somebody thought this was a good idea - and then actually enjoyed the eating experience.

Dude took a Big Mac and three McChicken sandwiches and made his own, uniquely disturbing, sandwich.

And he liked eating it:
With the first bite I found myself going through a crunchy/juicy layer after layer and the texture was to die for. Everything just worked. Clouds split as a bright ray of sunshine beamed down to my table. The elderly couple a few tables over started playing a harp as a unicorn walked by during my second bite. I was in heaven for a few seconds then the guilt hit me. Was I really doing this? 4 sandwiches at once? I had to stop. There was no way I could finish this monster.
Of course, later he talks about his body tried to stage a revolt against the "food" he sent into his stomach.

Happy Birthday, Superman!

happy birthday supermanFebruary 29th is Superman's birthday.

Or at least at one time DC Comics claimed this to be true. The Superman Homepage has a thorough essay on the history surrounding Superman's birthday. How's it's changed over the years, and whether there actually is an actual "date" for a fictional character's birth.

Personally, I like the idea of Superman's birthday being February 29th. It just seems . . . fun.

What can't be debated or changed is the fact that the Superman character is 70 years-old this year. Action Comics #1 debuted back in the Spring of 1938 and kicked off the super hero comic book craze. I haven't seen or heard about any special celebrations planned by DC Comics to mark the main hero's 70th anniversary. Maybe they are holding out for the 75th anniversary in a few years.

How to celebrate the Man of Steel's birthday? Watch a Superman movie. Take in some episodes of either the artistically moody Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940's or the wonderful Superman: The Animated Series from the 1990's. Or you could read probably the best (and to my knowledge only) Superman birthday story, Alan Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything."

panel from For The Man Who Has Everything where Batman and WW talk about the gifts they got for Supes
Bully recaps Moore's superb Superman tale as part of Man of Steel birthday celebration, but to really appreciate the magnificence of the story you should really search the full comic out. Though, in pinch you could watch the adapation J.M. DeMatteis provided for the animated series Justice League Unlimited.

Update: According to the DC Universe Calendar (who knew?), February 29th is also Captain Marvel's birthday.

Hopefully The Big Red Cheese doesn't mind sharing his birthday with the Man of Steel

capt marvel and superman
Then again, Captain Marvel sold more comics in the 1940's than Superman, but DC Comics had better lawyers than Fawcett Comics - hence Superman became the enduring super-powered icon in America. So maybe there is a little resentment between these two.

February 28, 2008

Madness

Is President Bush the President of the same United States that I live in?

I don't think so.

Consider the following quotes from this story I found on ChicagoTribune.com:
Bush's view of the economy was decidedly rosier than that of many economists, who say the country is nearing recession territory or may already be there. "I'm concerned about the economy," he said. "I don't think we're headed to recession. But no question, we're in a slowdown."

. . .

On one issue particularly worrisome to American consumers, there are indications that paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline is not out of the question once the summer driving season arrives. Asked about that, Bush said "That's interesting. I hadn't heard that. ... I know it's high now."

. . .

"I believe that our economy has got the fundamentals in place for us to ... grow and continue growing, more robustly hopefully than we're growing now," he said. "So we're still for a strong dollar."

Maybe the situation is better up inside W's head, but in the rest of the country energy prices are up, wholesale prices are up, salaries are stagnant, jobs are declining, consumer confidence is at record lows, and in general the economy is going nowhere. Maybe the economists and the politicans don't want to call it a recession, but I think it's what the majority of American feel like we are in.

I can understand trying to present an air of confidence so as not to further spook an already economically skittish American people; but Bush's comments come off sounding like an indication that he is out of touch with the public, not a steadfast leader of the country.

To make matters worse, after he glosses over the economic challenges being faced, W keeps pushing for Congress to let him spy on everything that the American people do without judicial oversight.

I can't wait for 2009. McCain or Obama will be light-years better than this.

There's a Joke Here, I Just Haven't Thought of It Yet

Blind Irishman sees with the aid of son's tooth in his eye

DUBLIN (AFP) - An Irishman blinded by an explosion two years ago has had his sight restored after doctors inserted his son's tooth in his eye, he said on Wednesday.
Read the detail.

February 27, 2008

Trivia Games and Fatherhood

A couple of years ago my sister gave me the Star Wars Trivia Pursuit DVD game for Christmas. It was something I had asked for because I thought it would be fun to play; a good way to test my Star Wars trivia knowledge. It’s a really well designed game, and a lot of fun to play – if, that is, you have more than a passing interest in the six Star Wars movies that have come out in the last thirty years.

star wars trivia pursuit gameIan, who has become a fan of the Star Wars saga like his father, also thinks the game is fantastic. In fact, he is the one who usually suggests playing it.

Now, I’ve always been regarded as the Star Wars expect in the house. Heather enjoys the Original Trilogy, but isn’t one for movie trivia in general and certainly not Star Wars trivia. Ian is just starting to build up his store of trivial data, so his knowledge base is small. Emma and Zoe are more interested in princesses, unicorns, and rainbows. So needless to say I’ve heavily dominated the Star Wars trivia games that we’ve played.

To help level the field, I usually handicap myself by not stealing answers away from the others and letting things slide when Ian comes pretty close an answer. But I still usually have little problem being the first person to collect all my pie pieces and answering the final question correctly.

That was until this past weekend.

Ian asked if I wanted to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I agreed. And then he went out and beat me straight-up.

I still handicapped myself with not answer stealing, but Ian legitimately stole answers from me - twice, built up a sizable pie piece advantage on me, and coasted into the final answer section with me still trailing far behind.

I was stunned.

Ian hasn’t seen the Original Trilogy movies much more than twice in his life (he likes the Prequel films better), but he was answering trivia questions for all six films correctly. I suspect that it was all his time playing the LEGO Star Wars video games on his Nintendo DS that had provided him enough info to answer a majority of the trivia questions thrown his way, and eek out the victory over his old man.

Ian - Self Portrait 1None the less, it still doesn’t seem right to have him beating me quite yet. I soothed my pride by reminding myself that I wasn’t playing at 100% against Ian. But the loss also demonstrated that Ian is creepy up on me. He isn’t necessarily a little kid anymore and he will begin to challenge me more.

I believe that whether they acknowledge it or not, every son has a goal of surpassing his father. It could be professionally, athletically, financially, or any other a multitude of criteria. A son will strive to be better than his dad. It’s only logical. A son’s father is the ideal measuring stick for success. How else does a boy best determine his success at becoming a man than by looking at the nearest example of what a man should be – his father.

I know I’ve done it, and continue to do it, with my father. And I’m sure Ian will begin considering me as a benchmark that he will grades himself against.

This was just a simple game of Trivial Pursuit, but in a few years it could be academics or athletics that Ian is fighting to be better than me at. After that, it might be career success or social standing. I don’t know what Ian will consider important and how I will fit within his goals. What our simple game of Trivia Pursuit has started me thinking about though, is how I will have to be ready for his challenges. How I will need to be ready to help him with his self-imposed testing, but to let the successes (and failures) be Ian’s. I need to ready myself to be a benchmark for Ian as he becomes older and make sure that he meets and exceeds the model for being a man that I present.

And I never thought I would run through all these thoughts just because I couldn’t remember if a certain Star Wars spaceship first appeared in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith.

Justice League a Go

Before the writers strike, there were all sorts of stories and rumors swirling about a planned Justice League movie from Warner Brothers in 2009. But when the strike dragged on longer than expected, Warner put the project on hold, putting a 2009 release date in jeopardy.

justice league
However, yesterday WB announced that production on the film is now pushing ahead. The script is being polished up and the cast is in training to bring to life the finest heroes of the DC universe.

Variety gives a short list of the cast:
Adam Brody, cast as the Flash, is the biggest star in the superhero lineup. Rapper Common nabbed the Green Lantern role; other roles went to lesser-known thesps such as Armie Hammer Jr. (Batman) and Megan Gale (Wonder Woman).
An interesting mix of actors, to say the least. Ms. Gale certainly looks the part of Wonder Woman, but from what I can find, she has no substantial acting experience. And the rest of the names are actors who have some chops, but nothing to really get excited about.

So right now Warner's big summer blockbusting Justice League movie looks like a B-movie to me. Maybe the cast will evolve into something a little more meaty over the next few months. There's time to wait and see. As much as I enjoy seeing DC Comics properties brought to life on the big screen, I also don't want to suffer through crap.

February 26, 2008

Yippie-Kay-Yay, America!

U.S. Presidential elections always seem to get people's creative juices flowing.

Case in point. Someone spent a lot time putting together a site dedicated to getting John McClane - of Die Hard fame - elected President.


The site is fairly amusing, and well put together.

Now, That's a Graph!

I don't know why The New York Times spent time graphing all of this data out and making a really cool interactive feature on their website, but I like it.

The NYT takes the box office receipts for all major films released from 1986 - 2007 and created a interactive graph detailing each films theater revenue over time from when they were released.
snippet of the NYT movie box office revenue graph from the summer of 2005Amounts are adjusted for inflation.

It's painfully clear that the majority of cash is generated during the summer. But it's interesting to see how quickly those summer blockbusters drop off. Stuff I think anyone who pays a passing attention to entertainment industry knows instinctively, but a fact that is made very apparent when charted like the NYT's has done.

Obama South Side

I'm not someone who broadcasts their political views or candidate support through bumper stickers and signs, so this probably isn't for me.

But if I wasn't that sort of person, I'd be ordering me up some of these T-shirts:
The Chicago Cubs version is okay, but the White Sox version shown above does a much smarter integration of Obama's name into the old White Sox logo from the late 1970's through the 1980's.

Garfield Sans Garfield

This has been turning up on a number of different blogs I read. The more I look at them, the more disturbing they become.

The Garfield Minus Garfield blog is taking Garfield comics, erasing said cat, and posting the results.

garfield sans garfield
Just taking Garfield's comments out of the strip actually made the strip amusing. Removing the cat all together and the result is a depressing look at a lonely, sad little man.

February 25, 2008

I Know The Answer

Once again, Arthur, the duck from the comic strip Sheldon, asks an interesting question.

sheldon snippet 02.25.08This time I didn't have to look up the answer. I knew it immediately.

My wife.

February 24, 2008

Oh No, They Didn't!

Oh yes, they did.

The Spongebob Squarepants Musical Rectal Thermometer

Spongebob Thermometer
Technically, the therometer is labeled for "oral, underarm or rectal use", but do you really want the Spongebob theme song playing from your child's ass when they are sick?

February 23, 2008

Batcave Home Theater

Oooooh. I want one.

batcave home theater 1

batcave home theater 2
It was designed and built by a company called Elite Home Theater Seating.

February 22, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

movie still from be kind rewindI hadn't read or seen anything about Be Kind Rewind until I read through the review in today's New York Times. Now I really want to see the movie.

Mos Def and Jack Black re-creating popular films on the cheap so they don't upset the loosening grip Mia Farrow's character has on reality? Sounds like a fun time.

Read the write-up Be Kind Rewind received in the New York Times.

Good Question

Arthur, the duck, presents an interesting question in today's Sheldon.

Can you be whelmed
Click through for the rest of the strip and more funny, but the answer is rather boring.

February 21, 2008

My New Hero

Go watch this video snippet from when new owner/CEO Sam Zell met with Chicago-based employees of the Tribune Company. He talked to them for almost 60 minutes, but this six minute segment showcases his answer to an employee who questioned Zell on some of his comments and use of language in the first weeks of his ownership.

When you're done watching Zell response you'll understand why I think this guy is fantastic.

February 19, 2008

Wish I'd Gone to Pirate Camp

wondermark comic for 02.19.08

Read Wondermark

We Have a Winner

For what it's worth . . .
Toshiba Quits HD DVD Business

TOKYO (AP) — Toshiba said Tuesday it will no longer develop, make or market HD DVD players and recorders, handing a victory to rival Blu-ray disc technology in the format battle for next-generation video.

Go out an shop accordingly.

February 18, 2008

Little Jones

Toy Fair 2008 is in full swing in NYC this week and reports of cool toys are starting to fill up the blogs I read. A lot of Indiana Jones stuff is slated for this summer. A LOT!

Of everything I've seen, this is what I thought was the most fun. It's Hasbro’s upcoming Adventure Heroes collection. Similar to their Galactic Heroes line for the Star Wars franchise, the new Adventure Heroes takes the characters and vehicles from the Indiana Jones franchise and make them all tiny and little kid-friendly.

indiana and indian warrior
indiana and marion

Everybody at my house is probably too old or not the right demographic for these figures, so I doubt we will end up owning any. But they are sure do look like a lot of fun.

See more of them.

February 15, 2008

Howl's Moving Castle - The Book, Not the Movie

Heather and I are both fans of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. We have watched a number of his films and enjoyed them immensely. There is a level design, sophistication, and refined storytelling skills in Miyazaki’s work that you just don’t find in most animation today; though Brad Bird would probably come close in comparison.

During one of Heather’s recent weekly trips to the library, she stumbled upon Howl’s Moving Castle. The book, by British author Diana Wynne Jones, was adapted by Miyazaki into an Academy Award-nominated animated movie of the same name. Because of the connection to Miyazaki, Heather decided to borrow the book from the library. However, before she could read it (she had started on another book she had checked out), I saw the novel and decided to take it for a spin.

cover to Howl's Moving CastleTechnically the book is intended for younger readers, so it was a fast read for me. But fortunately Howl’s Moving Castle rises to the level of young adult fiction like the Harry Potter books or the Chronicles of Prydain.

The story stars Sophie Hatter, the eldest of the three girls living in the town of Market Chipping in the magical kingdom of Ingary. Sophie is convinced that as the eldest she is resigned to a dull life working in the family hat shop. However, an encounter with the evil Witch of the Waste ends with Sophie magically aged fifty years. Afraid to face her family in such a state, she searches for the mysterious Wizard Howl. He is notorious for eating the souls of beautiful young girls, but Sophia believes that Howl may be able to break the Witch of the Waste’s spell. Finagling her way into Howl’s magical moving castle under the pretense of being a new cleaning lady, Sophia becomes a permanent fixture within Howl’s life and embarks on a number of adventures on her way to breaking the Witch’s spell and discovering who she is.

The novel’s intricate plot does not pander to the reader or lead them by the nose. In fact, at times the action in the story is so frenzied that you will have to re-read certain passages to make sure you understand everything that is going on. Ms. Jones expects the reader to pay attention and participate in her story. There is no time for idle readers in Howls’ Moving Castle.

While the plot is winding and the characters colorful, Ms. Jones’ prose is conventional. She does not elaborate on the scenes or the nature of her characters. There is no flowing prose to stir up an emotional response or sweep the reader away into the magical land that Ms. Jones places her story in. Rather, she lets the straightforward writing and her ample imagination lead the reader into her fictional world.

But that proves to be more than enough. Throughout the entire novel I continually marveled at the strange and mystical twists she put into her story and her characters. Ms. Jones not only understands that magic can have no bounds, but she’s able to translate to her writing that by filling her story with remarkable ideas and magical concepts. After finishing Howl’s Moving Castle I could understand how an animator like Miyazaki would find inspiration from Ms. Jones’ text.

I’m anxious to revisit Miyazaki’s animated film now to compare and contrast the differences. Both pieces of art start off the same, and I recognized particular story beats in the novel that showed up in the film. But I Miyazaki’s second act was simpler than Ms. Jones (and I guess that’s what leads to a hectic third act in Ms. Jones’ book). I don’t recall the third act of Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle film, but I don’t think it was nearly as whirl-wind of an affair as Ms. Jones’ novel. In the final forty pages she packs in more action, more trippy ideas, and more sub-plot resolutions than I have ever encountered in a book.

Despite the frantic pace of the final chapters, Ms. Jones does provide a fulfilling finish to her story. Straightforward without pandering, she provides the resolutions fitting for her characters and her story.

After reading Diana Wynne Jones' Howl’s Moving Castle and calling on my memory Miyazaki's animated film, I can strongly recommend both the novel and the film interpretation of the novel. In either case you will be thoroughly entertained.

Batman: Gotham Knight

I know I've been posting a lot of video lately, but there has just been so much interesting stuff out there that I can't help it.

Today it's the first look at this summer's direct-to-DVD animated film, Batman: Gotham Knight. The film is an anthology of 6 Batman short films, each story scripted by a different American writer and animated by a different Japanese Anime director.

The over-arching storyline connecting the six shorts will tie the events of Batman Begins to the sequel hitting big screens this summer, The Dark Knight.


Looks good. I plan on picking that DVD up.

February 14, 2008

Indy 4 Teaser Trailer

It's available online (two places) and it is fantastic.

Or you can watch a smaller version embedded below.


"Not as easy at it used to be."

I love it!

Heather's Made Dessert Again

This is what I get to eat after dinner tonight: Heart Brownie Cupcakes

heart brownie cupcakes
Heather provides the details for this treat on her site.

Optical Allusions Preview

one page from Optical AllusionI guess it's comic preview day.

Besides Three Shadows, I also found a few pages of a new comic called Optical Allusions. Created by Jay Hosler, Phd., the book is about "the adventures of Wrinkles, the anthropomorphic brain as he takes a fantastic adventure and, in the process, learns about not only how our eyes work, but also about the power of natural selection and evolution."

One of Hosler's earlier works, The Sandwalk Adventures, has been on my "to read" list for years, but I've never searched out a copy.

I think I will be adding Optical Allusions to that list as well.

Three Shadows Preview

New York Magazine has an excerpt from French comics artist Cyril Pedrosa book, Three Shadows.

Take a read. It looks like an interesting story with wonderful artwork.

panel from Three Shadows
Three Shadows will be published by First Second this April. You can find another excerpt from the comic on the First Second website.

Is It Friday Yet?

The weekend can’t arrive soon enough; this week is kicking my ass.

It starts with a base of an amped up Chicago weather. We’ve been getting hit hard and consistently with snow and cold temperatures. I love winter, but if Mother Nature could tone down the winter weather machine for a few days I think we would all be better off.

Batman getting knocked aroundThen we layer on Emma’s current head cold. She has Heather and I up most of the night with her coughing. We’ve tried plenty of remedies for soothing the cough enough for her to sleep through the night, but now of the treatments last through the night. One of us, or in some times both of us, end up losing hours of sleep each night trying to help Emma get her rest. I think I only grabbed three and half hours of quality shut-eye Monday night.

Next, add in a ton of work at the office. I’m involved in a major project right now that is demanding almost one hundred percent of my time, which would be okay if I had the workload to do this. Unfortunately I’m also wrapped up in a few smaller projects, plus some ongoing tasks, that aggressively fight for my time as well. The result – I’m bringing more work home with me at night.

Ordinarily taking work home annoys me, but when my valuable weekday time at home is already being squeezed with late nights filled with a hacking 5-year-old, then staying up until midnight to complete a business requirements document starts to push me beyond my limits.

And for a final touch add in more little problems with our vehicles. The van’s instrument panel is lighting up a Christmas tree this week. One day it’s the ‘low coolant’ alert. The next day Heather notices that the airbag light isn’t shutting off. Oh, and remember the passenger side rear break light that’s been out for the last year? Well now the turn signal light is out on that side too. (Which reminds me, we still haven’t gotten passenger side mirror fixed)

Green Lantern gets laid outThe Neon is no better. Last night on the drive home from the train station the electrical system light comes on. Probably because the battery is about twenty years old and won’t hold a charge anymore. I had been planning on replacing it. But it could be more. Last time that light went on about five years back is was for a busted alternator. Regardless, I couldn’t well drive it to the train station this morning and leave it in the freezing cold and elements of the parking lot. So that vehicle was dropped off for a little inspection and repair, while the whole famn damily woke up early this morning to drive Dad to the train.

So this week is turning into a marathon. Not the usual sprints that I have been accustomed to over the last few months. Of course, I’m assuming that the weekend will provide Heather and I with the appropriate breather. For all I know, our water heater is scheduled to explode at 4am this upcoming Saturday morning.

February 13, 2008

Spongebob Does The Classics

Funniest thing I've seen so far this year.

Tom Kenney, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence and Bill Fagerbakke, the voices behind Spongebob Squarepants, Squidward, Sandy, and Patrick, do a spot-on job overdubbing scenes from some classic movies.

My favorite is hearing Patrick's voice coming out of Leena's mouth in the Singing In The Rain segment.

What Might Have Been

Back in 1998 Jason Geyer was working in product design when Pepsi approached the company he worked for about pitching ideas for promotional merchandise the cola company could roll out along with the upcoming release of The Phantom Menace.

Geyer and his team came up with some bizarre and inspired items - but I don't think any of them were chosen. Some of the pitch artwork survived, and he's posted them in his blog over at ActionFigureInsider.com.

I can't believe Pepsi passed up the opportunity to dump thousands of Jabba the Hut Beanbags or the AT-AT Chair Caddies on the market.

jabba beanbagat-at chair caddy

Take a look at all the ideas.

Who's a Good Doggie?

Uno is.

Not only did this magnificent looking Beagle take Best in Breed for hound dogs, yesterday he was named Best in Show at the 2008 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Uno the Beagle
My sister and dad can have their Boxer. I'd much prefer a charismatic Beagle like Uno.

February 12, 2008

What I'm Missing

I've got to start going in later to work so I can stay home and watch more of the WGN Morning News Show.

February 11, 2008

My Brother Buys a Condo, So I Write In My Blog

Talked to my brother this weekend, he’s officially talking the leap into homeownership. After some shrewd negotiation on his part, he convinced a seller to accept his final bid for a condominium on the north side of Chicago.

Not only did Kevin have to wrangle with the seller for a couple of days, the kid had to convince his own realtor to stick with the offer my brother was putting on the table. It sounds like she was ready to cave to the higher counter offer that the seller was dangling. I think it’s great that my brother stuck to his price range and played it cool. Now he can have a place to call his own, along with the stability of ownership.

photo of the inside of my brother's new condo taken from the online listing - that isn't his furnitureOf course, the new condo also comes with the frustrations of ownership. Taxes, repairs, up-keep. . . At times it all seems like a hassle that makes renting the better option, but when you balance these annoyances against the equity you are building plus the freedom ownership provides I think owning a place is still the better bet.

But it was clear that while I had him on the phone Saturday, Kevin was thinking mostly about the challenges. But that is the nature of the McKillip male – obsess over the negative aspects of any situation in order to keep any happiness or excitement in check. Too much optimism only sets you up for the big let-down.

I know, I do it plenty myself.

It is why we have to search out for friends/girlfriends/wives/etc. that are infinitely happier and cheery than ourselves. To make sure we don’t obsess too much and bury the optimism.

It’s also why I’m writing this post, so I can clearly tell my brother in big, bold words:

Dude, you’re getting your own place! Yeah, having to fix a busted toilet by yourself will be a pisser. But you can deal with that when – and if – it ever happens. In the meantime: YOU’RE GETTING YOUR OWN PLACE! Love it!

February 09, 2008

Too Cool

A company called Synthetic Dimensions is making this 3d poster based on the original Star Wars movie poster. To help drum up business they posted a short video demonstrating how their Syndimation process creates a unique 3D lenticular poster.


Looks pretty wild to me.

February 08, 2008

I Want One

My own Batphone.

batphone
It was created by RedHotPhones, a company that sells nothing but red phones.

February 07, 2008

I Hate Citibank

Heather and I recently refinanced our home. We wanted to take advantage of the outrageously low mortgage interest rates and consolidate are mortgage payments as much as possible. We ended up knocking off more than a percentage point, saving ourselves more than $150 a month, and took ourselves from three separate payments down to two. So far it’s working out quite nicely.

citibank can lick my left nutBefore the refinance, each month we paid on our tradition 30-year mortgage, a home equity loan, and the home improvement load that was used to finish the basement last spring. The mortgage and HELOC were opened when we bought the house and were obtained through a mortgage broker. When you go through a broker you really don’t get to pick and choose which institution your loans are opened through. We ended up with a mortgage through Countrywide and the HELOC through Citibank.

I’ve always liked Countrywide. I’ve had two mortgages managed through that company and they’ve been nothing but professional and helpful, with great online tools that allowed me to manage my mortgage how I wanted. Plus they’ve been fair and upfront with their business practices.

However, in the short seventeen months that we had the HELOC through Citibank they offered us nothing but frustration and headaches.

It started in the autumn of 2006 after we had purchased our current home and the HELOC was opened through Citibank. We struggled through weeks of bad customer service to try and get our address corrected in their systems. For a number of months Citibank failed to update our address despite Heather and me writing letters and making phone calls. In the meantime our statements were incorrectly delivered making our ability to submit payments more challenging.

On the one year anniversary of the HELOC we were charged $50 for simply having an account with Citibank. In the grand scheme of things, considering the amount of money we were talking about owing, $50 might not seem like a lot, but to Heather and me it was as much about the principle as the money. Why should I have to pay Citibank to have a line of credit with them? They were making plenty of cash off the interest they were charging us. It didn’t make sense. Credit card companies rarely charge annual fees. The HELOC we had through Countrywide didn’t charge us an annual fee. In our opinion, $50 a year was too much to pay for crappy customer service and a lousy mortgage product.

aww jeezThe final nail in the Citibank coffin, and the reason we will never do business with Citibank voluntarily ever, came in the mail today. It was the final statement showing the payoff from our refinance. In addition to the account payoff, Citibank lists two charges that were applied to our HELOC at the time of closeout.

One was a $40 county recording fee. Not sure exactly what that was for, but it paled in comparison to the other charge that Citibank laid on us: a $275 early closure fee.

$275 early closure fee? It was god damned home equity loan. Maybe I am a financial idiot, but I thought a HELOC was basically like using your house as collateral to secure a credit card of sorts. Countrywide didn’t penalize us when we paid off our HELOC; but when Citibank lists an early closure fee that implies to me that the loan we are paying off had a set term for scheduled repayment – like a 30-year mortgage or a 15-year ARM. At which point is repaying an open ended home equity loan “too early”? When is it “too late”? Is there a time that is “just right”? Why do I have to even deal with this sort of shit?

I’m sure buried deep in the paperwork Heather and I signed back in July 2006 there is something about pre-payment penalties with the Citibank HELOC, but now I don’t care to go find out. We no longer have a business relationship with Citibank and we never will again. They can kiss my ass.

February 06, 2008

My Day In Court

In the fall of 2006 Heather and I were in an auto accident. You can read all the details in the post I wrote back then, but the quick synopsis is this: I was headed eastbound on a one-way street. Another driver was sitting at the stop sign of a cross street and pulled out in front of me. I hit her. The police said she was completely at fault.

Heather and I have our auto insurance through State Farm, and they have been great through out the whole ordeal. They have paid things promptly and provided us with any help we needed.

The other woman – the one who caused the accident – and her insurance company have not been as accommodating. From the start they have refused to pay out the claim or reimburse State Farm for the costs they incurred handling our claim.

kane county court house in geneva, illinoisThe back and forth has been going on for the last year, and though the legal wranglings between the two insurance companies really didn’t impact my day to day, I was looking for some closure on this incident. Plus, if the other insurance company would admit fault I might get our $500 deductible back.

Finally it came down to an arbitration hearing, which was held today at the historic courthouse in downtown Geneva, IL. Despite the lousy weather, I still managed to make it to the hearing fifteen minutes before the scheduled 9:00 am start time. The attorneys and the claims investigator from State Farm didn’t show until after 9:00 am. The defendant wandered in around 9:40 am, well after the hearing had begun.

I had talked with the attorney representing State Farm and me earlier in the week to make sure he understood all the details surrounding the accident. But our preparation was for naught when the attorney forgot to bring the file to the hearing. He seemed a little frazzled as he and I worked quickly to re-create his notes, which had me a little concerned about how things were going to go during the arbitration hearing. When he asked me if I was nervous, I told him that things like interviews and Q & A sessions never made me nervous. Plus, I had re-read my post from 2006 a number of times this week; the events were almost as fresh in my head as the day the accident occurred. I would be good to go.

The hearing started when our three-man panel sat down and introduced themselves. I don’t recall their names or if they were judges or not, but they looked like three flavors of the types of guys I’ve seen hanging around my dad’s law offices and judge’s chambers for years. These guys were legal lifers for sure. Looking back I can't imagine being nervous at the hearing, it was like sitting in a room full of younger versions of my dad and his cronies – and I’ve been handling them just fine for years.

The plaintiffs went first and we flowed through the line of questioning without a hitch. Considering the hectic beginning, things went rather smoothly. After talkng to me, our attorney asked the State Farm rep a few questions and then rested his case. Then it was time for the defense to step up for cross-examination.

Car Crash 2It was clear from the opening statements and the nature of the questions directed at me that the defense attorney wanted to show that I was either 1) not paying attention, 2) driving too fast, and/or 3) did not follow a particular rule of the road to the letter.

He asked me repeatedly about the nature of the road; its configuration, flow of traffic, speed limit, other vehicles traveling in my direction, and the location of traffic control devices. He questioned me on when I first saw the defendant’s vehicle and what I observed concerning the activities of the defendant’s vehicle at the stop sign.

In all cases I think I answered the questions consistently and factually. Furthermore, I believe my testimony proved out that I was an attentive driver who was aware of everything going on in the road and side streets, was correctly obeying all traffic laws, and took all measures to try and avoid an accident that the defendant caused.

By far my favorite exchange was when the defense questioned me about what was going on inside our van before the accident occurred.

Attorney: I see from the photos that your vehicle was a mini-van.

Me: That is correct.

A: Did the van have a dvd player or other entertainment center installed?

M: No, it did not.

A: Were your children making a lot of noise or trying to get your attention?

M. No, they were not.

A: How do you know?

M: The morning my son had bought a new game for his GameBoy and he was totally absorbed in that. One daughter was occupied with the new toy she had just bought. The other daughter was staring out the window looking for a McDonald’s. I had told the kids we were going to stop there for dinner.

A: Did you know where the McDonald’s in that area were?

M: It didn’t matter. I already new which McDonald’s I was going to stop at. The one closest to our house. The one at the corner of Eola and Ogden.

A: I assume your wife was in the front passenger seat?

M: She was.

A: Were you talking to her?

M: She was probably talking to me.
After the hearing was over our attorney told me that I had done a great job. In fact, he seemed almost giddy with my performance. In particular he loved when I threw in the comments about the kids playing with their GameBoy and looking for McDonald’s. He said that answer elicited some smiles and laughter from Larry, Mo, and Curly – our arbitration board.

Car Crash 1As I mentioned earlier, the woman who caused the accident showed up almost thirty minutes into the proceedings. The defense attorney was going to have her testify, that is until he realized she didn’t speak any English. So the defense rested his case on the closing arguments and whatever he could pull from my cross-exam.

In closing the defense claimed that in any accident both parties have a certain level of culpability in preventing the accident. He argued that I should have slowed down before entering the intersection and the extent of the damage to both vehicles was evidence that I was not traveling at a safe speed. In his opinoin defendant’s responsibility for restitution should only be 70% of the incurred costs.

I understand that the attorney has got to make his play and he’s being paid to mitigate his client’s exposure, but I can’t see how the arbitration board can side with the defense’s arguments. If I was to drive in manner like that attorney claims I should have, I would be slowing down to a near stop before entering any intersection – regardless of the presence of a traffic control device/sign or not. Bullocks, I say. This girl screwed up and now it’s time for her and her insurance company to pay up.

I’ll probably find out the result of the hearing tomorrow or later this week. The best I can expect is to get my $500 back. If the ruling is in favor of the defendant I don’t know if that impacts me at all. That’s something I really haven’t thought about.

February 05, 2008

Encouraging Thought for the Day

Look at what the kids at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research are saying in a recently released report:
Marriage: It's Only Going to Get Worse

If your spouse already bugs you now, the future is bleak. New research suggests couples view one another as even more irritating and demanding the longer they are together.
I'm sure Heather will be able to provide five or six reasons why this study has no bearing on our marriage.

I hate it when she does that.

[story via: LiveScience]

An Afternoon Sledding

Go, Ian, Go!When I was a kid we lived a block away from a park with a great sledding hill. My brother and I would routinely hike down the street and spend an afternoon sledding whenever we got the chance in the winter.

The same can't be said for Ian, Emma, and Zoe. We don't live near any good sledding hills - at least none that don't empty into a pond. If they want to fly down a snow covered slope on nothing more than a thin piece of plastic, we have to drag ourselves into a car and drive somewhere.

INCOMING!But that is exactly what we did last Saturday. I hadn't taken Ian sledding in two years and was feeling neglect in my job as a dad. Last winter the Chicago area hardly received any snow, so we never went sledding. This winter there's been plenty of snow, but every great snow storm has been followed by dangerously cold weather. Which in turn gave way to 40 and 50 degree weather, turning all the snow back into water.

Lucky for us the last snow storm to hit the Chicago area dumped 10 inches in Aurora, and instead of 20-below wind chills the temperature was a more moderate 30 degrees. We bundled up, geared up, and headed off to a hill that was close to where we used to live.

Emma finishes a solo runIan and Emma had to share the larger sled (a situation which prompted Ian to suggest we invest in some additional sleds), while Zoe got exclusive use of an old Little Tykes sled we had sitting around. Ian and Emma enjoyed going down the hill in pairs or solo, while Zoe entertained herself - and everyone else at the hill - with her exciting runs down the hill in her sled.

Check out the video below to see what basically every run of Zoe's was like. Her enthusiasm was infectious at the top of the hill. People would stop and watch her take off so they could enjoy her shouts of joy as she sped down the slope.

(Hopefully my first attempt at uploading a video through Blogger works out okay.)

video

We all had great fun and agreed that it was something we should do more often (though with some additional sleds). Take a look at the slide show of sledding photos Heather snapped from her vantage point at the bottom of the hill.

I just wish that there was somewhere closer by so that an afternoon of sledding was dependent on having a mom or dad around to drive the kids to a hill.

We Need a Extreme Double Mega-Visionary Now

When it comes to what sort of candidate for President this country needs, today's Wondermark hits the nail on the head.

Wondermark for 02.05.08

February 04, 2008

What You Should Be Reading: Heather's Recipes

The blog is called Heather's Recipes. While it does feature a recipe from time to time, mostly it concerns itself with the musings and events of a stay at home mom in Aurora, IL.

In the last few days she's covered everything from chocolate chip cookies to pooping toy dogs to constructing dolls out of spet toliet paper rolls. Funny, insightful, and well written.

I think Heather's Recipes is worth your time to check out.

(Of course, the blog is run by my wife, so I'm slightly biased. But not enough that I don't recognize a good thing when I read it.)

Those Are Doodles?

I doodle in the margins of notebooks when on the phone or in a meeting, but nothing I ever scribbled down is even in the same world as what artist Josh Middleton scratches out while chatting on the phone.

josh middleton phone sketches
Then again, Josh Middleton is an amazing artist whose work I admire and enjoy immensely.

Iron Man Trailer and Pics

The Iron Man commercial that aired last night during the Super Bowl looked great. To go along with the new video, Paramount have also released some new photos from the movie.

iron man flying
Now the story could end up for crap (though I doubt it), but the video and the photos tell me this summer's Iron Man film is going to look fantastic.

February 03, 2008

Great Super Bowl

Eli Manning celebrates the Giants victory in Super Bowl XLIII started the game pulling for the Patriots. I wanted to see a team go undefeated so the sports networks would stop trotting out the graining shots of the 1972 Miami Dolphins whenever a team got halfway through an NFL season without a loss.

But about halfway through the third quarter I switched over to the New York Giants bandwagon. I didn't think it was possible, but the Giants tenacious defense and the smart, cool play of quarterback Eli Manning won me over. The Giants were playing with so much more passion and purpose than the Patriots, it was hard to not cheer for them as the game rolled on.

Overall it was probably the best Super Bowl games I've ever seen (at least one that didn't have a certain team from a certain Midwestern town located on one of the Great Lakes winning it all 46 - 10). The game was exciting from start to finish - and a fantastic finish at that. Two well-matched teams pounding at each other all night, looking for weaknesses to exploit and opportunities to grab. It's how championship football should be played.

And the commercials weren't too bad either.

Law & Order: Gotham City

I used to watch Law & Order, but tired of it many years ago. Heather still enjoys the show and watches it frequently. If Dick Wolf ever got around to producing the below, I might give the L&O franchise another try.
law & order gotham city[via]

February 01, 2008

Eustace Tilley Re-imagined

The New Yorker usually invites artist to offer their own interpretation of Eustace Tilley, the iconic dandy of the famed magazine. This year they held an open contest for submissions.

The winner (or maybe even winners) will be announced shortly, but I find it fascinating to stroll through all the submissions.

charlie brown as tilley

TCM's 31 Days of Oscar

Turner Classic Movies kicks off their annual 31 Days of Oscar movie marathon today. It's always a great time to see some of the finest films that ever graced the silver screen.

In the past TCM would group the films by categories. Usually something like a night of Best Picture nominees and winners followed by a night of Best Actress nominees and winners, and so on.

This year they switched things up, and I really like it. They have decided to dedicate the primetime programming for each day of the week to a different decade (or in some cases multiple decades). Being a fan of films from the 40's and 50's I know Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days I want to check in on TCM's lineup.

the tcm 31 days of oscar schedule
They have themes for the daytime programming (adventure, sci fi, etc.) that mix movies from different decades, but I'll be at work during the day so that really doesn't matter too much to me.

Visit the TCM website to find out when some great movies will be showing. While you are there, make sure you give the Day O Ram a try. It's a lot of fun and full of great movie clips.