June 30, 2008

'Compulsory Reading,’ by Alison Bechdel

Comic writer/artist Alison Bechdel created this funny four page comic for the 1,000th issue of Entertainment Weekly.

I think avid readers and college English majors (like myself) will appreciate the humor the most.

snippet from Alison's comic

Quantum of Solace Trailer

It's a horribly awkward movie title, but I love the promise of a new Daniel Craig-starring James Bond film this fall.

I Did It Again

It's been a year, so I guess it's time for me to break a toe again.

I did it last night while walking through the living room. I caught the outside of my left foot on the wooden foot of our couch.

My little toe on my left foot is now a bloody and bruised mess.

Still amazes me that a little thing like a broken tow can so screw up your day. It's painful for me to walk, muscles in my legs cramp up because I'm over-compensating for the pain in my toe, and I get random shots of pain in my foot through out the day. All because one little toe.

On the bright side, my injury does provides me an excuse to sit on the couch all evening watching TV. Unfortunately, I don't have the personality for doing that. Too restless when I'm at home. There's always work to be done. So I'll probably end up walking on the damn thing all night and prolonging the time it takes for the bones to heal.

June 29, 2008

It Wasn't Worth It

Wizard World Chicago was this weekend up in Rosemont, IL. Though I never had any plans or interest in attending part of the three day comic book and pop culture convention, when I saw that Toon Tumbler would be giving away these glasses as a promotional item I almost reconsidered.

Almost.

toon tumbler promotional cup
Having a glass adorned with that great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez artwork would be fantastic - especially considering it's of DC's Big Three. But the change at owning one cup not worth enduring the shlock-fest that is a Wizard-run convention.

June 28, 2008

June 26, 2008

The Dark Knight Movie Stills

Photos from The Dark Knight are flying onto the web this week. You can find them everywhere - if you are looking for them.

My favorite from the new bunch that popped up today - Harvey Dent, James Gordon, and Batman

harvey dent, james gordon, and batman in The Dark Knight
Good stuff.

Can’t Have It Both Ways

I’m not in a ranting sort of mood, so this will be short. There is something I just can’t seem to wrap my head around, and I thought maybe writing things out might help make sense of things.

In today’s Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that the Bill of Rights, namely the Second Amendment, protects an American citizen’s right to own a handgun.

Yet, that same Bill of Rights, namely the Fourth Amendment, apparently does not protect individual Americans from having their personal property seized when they travel on international airline flights or protect them from having the government listen in on their phone conversations or read their email.

How can the current White House administration claim that affirming the Second Amendment and ignoring the Fourth Amendment is 1) allowable and 2) makes America safer?

I know I'm glossing over a lot with these statements, but the problem as I see it is this: out of one side of their mouth the Bush administration says it is good for Americans to have the full protection of the 2nd Amendment to ensure our personal safety and out of the other side of their mouth they claim that Americans need to forfeit the right protected under the 4th Amendment if we want to remain safe in our country.

The government needs to be either honoring the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, or ignoring it. The Constitution is not a buffet.

First The Dark Knight Review

photo from The Dark KnightThe first official review of The Dark Knight has hit the streets. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone weighs in on the movie I am most excited about seeing.

In a nutshell – Travers loves the film. His closing paragraph says it all:
“No fair giving away the mysteries of The Dark Knight. It’s enough to marvel at the way Nolan — a world-class filmmaker, be it Memento, Insomnia or The Prestige — brings pop escapism whisper-close to enduring art. It’s enough to watch Bale chillingly render Batman as a lost warrior, evoking Al Pacino in The Godfather II in his delusion and desolation. It’s enough to see Ledger conjure up the anarchy of the Sex Pistols and A Clockwork Orange as he creates a Joker for the ages. Go ahead, bitch about the movie being too long, at two and a half hours, for short attention spans (it is), too somber for the Hulk crowd (it is), too smart for its own good (it isn’t). The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It’s full of surprises you don’t see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams”
I can’t wait.

June 24, 2008

Why Heather Makes Sure Ian Gets to the Library Every Monday

Otherwise, something like this would eventually happen.

sheldon comic for 06.24.08

Where I Finally Start Making Sense of at Least Part of My Childhood

According to the Smithsonian (and the photo below from their Flickr stream of photos), it’s been illegal to send a child as postal post item through the U.S. Postal Service since 1913. Apparently after parcel post service was first introduced, at least two children were sent by the service after their parents (presumably) stuck a bunch of stamps to the child’s clothing.

The Postmaster General quickly put the end to the practice.

mailing the baby
Despite it being outlawed in 1913, I believe that parcel post is how my baby sister arrived at our house. As a youngster I don’t recall my mom being pregnant, nor can I find any photographs from 1979 of my mom being pregnant. Yet my sister showed up at our house to take up residence in the spring of 1979. I went to kindergarten class one day, came home and there was a baby sister.

Once or twice my dad explained that he and my mom had bought my sister from gypsies; but I never saw gypsies having around our neighborhood so I dismissed my father’s claims. But I never considered the possibility of someone mailing my sister to our house until now. Mail order babies from gypsies suppliers. It all makes sense now.

Sure, the Postmaster General says that people can’t send babies by mail, but that doesn’t mean people still don’t do it. You’re supposed to pay somebody whenever you play/sing “Happy Birthday to You.” It is a copyrighted song. That doesn’t stop people from belting it out and Grandpa’s birthday shindig.

So I guess my dad was right. My sister was bought from gypsies. They just mailed her to us.

June 23, 2008

Cubs Sweep White Sox

I wish every game could be the Cubs versus the White Sox at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs could go 162-0, Aramis Ramirez would hit 216 home runs, and Ryan Dempster would be 32-0.

Russian nurses surround giant enema monument
And every game would end with a team of unicorns leaping over the scoreboard, farting their rainbows of victory for the Cubby faithful to bask in.

ANOTHER Reason I Need an iPhone

3G iPhoneThis Reuters article points out that reading comics on personal electronic devices like cell phones has been growing in popularity with the rise of larger screens, faster connections, and more comic material being digitized.

Although I’ve read that the iPhone isn’t hailed as the Second Coming in Japan like it is here in the States – the Japanese already expect their cell phones to do five times as many things as the iPhone currently does and they don’t mind stumbling through an interface five times more complex than the iPhone – I can’t help but think that the Japanese will take to the iPhone intuitive touch-screen manipulation of data for reading comics on their mobile device.

I know I certainly could get used to reading the newest issue of Batman on my iPhone – if I had one.

June 21, 2008

You Keep Your Paperclips in WHAT?

I can think of one product designer who will be turned away by St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
Holy Grail paperclip holder
Yes, this actually being made and sold.

June 20, 2008

Enema Monument?

I would like to meet the guy who stood up in front of the board of directors at the Mashuk Akva-Term Sanatorium and said, “You know what this place needs? A giant bronze enema syringe being held up by three naked babies!”

Russian nurses surround giant enema monument
AP caption for the image: In this Wednesday, June 18, 2008 hand out photo, nurses are seen, posing near a monument to enemas at Mashuk Akva-Term Sanatorium in the town of Zheleznovodsk, Russian Caucasus Mountains region. Alexander Kharchenko, director of the Russian spa says the world's first monument to enema treatments has been unveiled at the spa in the southern city of Zheleznovodsk. The bronze syringe bulb, weighs 800 pounds and is held by three angels.(AP Photo/Mashuk Akva-Term Sanatorium, HO)

Cool Space Photos

I discovered that NASA has an “Image of the Day” feature on their website. Most of the photos seem to be of past explorers or shots of moments in NASA history, but every few days they throw in breathtaking space photographs like this one.

example of light echo
This is photo, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the star V838 Monocerotis, captured an example of a astronomical event called a light echo – “light from a stellar explosion echoing off dust surrounding the star that produces enough energy in a brief flash to illuminate surrounding dust.”

There are plenty of fascinating photos over at NASA’s site.

June 19, 2008

Cyd Charisse

Cyd Charisse passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86. Over the past two days I've read plenty of stories reflecting on the life and work of this fantastic dancer who made a name for herself in the MGM musicals of the 1950's.

And thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can also watch clips of her dance numbers to understand what made Cyd such a dancing superstar.

Here is a number from "Meet me in Las Vegas" that I enjoyed watching.


Yowza.

Turner Classic Movies will be honoring the memory of Cyd on June 27th by airing a number of her movies.

June 18, 2008

The Post In Which I Reveal the Full Depths of My Geekitude

My dad surprised me with a Father’s Day gift this past Sunday. I thought the gift was undeserved considering the reason he was at my house on Father’s Day (other than to celebrate all things Dad) was to help me move the 4 ton, partially built wood playset sitting in my backyard to a better location.

I give him a bad back and achey arm and leg muscles. He gives me a present. Doesn’t seem fair, but then again, I don’t think I would do any less for Ian if I was in my dad’s position.

Indiana Jones fedoraAnyway, the gift he gave me was a replica Indiana Jones fedora. 100% wool felt and sturdy construction. Looks just like the hat Harrison Ford sports in the films. For an Indy fan like myself, it’s the ultimate in cool.

Now, I’m sure that my baby sister will say she’s known this since the late 1980’s, but I have now realized the full extent of my geek existence. It’s not enough that I quote dialogue from Star Wars movies, struggle to suppress the urge to lecture for thirty minutes when I hear someone innocently ask, “Are there any other super heroes, other than Batman, who don’t have super powers?”, and still have my 20-sided die sitting around here somewhere; since receiving that Indiana Jones fedora from my dad I can’t help but want to wear it whenever I can.

Wearing the hat is fun. I hear the John Williams-penned Indy theme music running through my head. The experience of wearing the Indy hat reminds me of playing Indiana Jones with my brother when we were kids. I was always Indy, dressed in an old fedora my mom had sitting around, a rope “whip”, and a shoulder bag that was really a schlocky American Indian-themed canteen holder that we’d bought in the Wisconsin Dells. Kevin was always the bad guy I was beating the crap out of. Good times.

Indian Jones wearing his hatThe fedora was on my head all last night while I did the dishes, watched the end of the Cubs-Rays game, hauled all the trash out to the curb, and cleaned up the downstairs. In and of themselves boring tasks – with the exception of the Cubs game – but with the hat on it brought a little fun to the work.

Is a married thirty-five year-old father of three running around the house in a replica Indiana Jones fedora an indicator of an emotionally stunted man-child? Maybe.

Is it geeky as all hell? Definitely.

But I don’t care. I wore the hat last night because it was fun to do so, and I’ll do it again tonight if the feeling grabs me. Because it isn’t just any old hat, it’s Indiana Jones’ hat.

Napping – What You Need To Know

Boston.com breaks down everything you need to know about napping – why it’s good for you, when you should nap, how long you should nap, and how you should nap.
the art of nappingIt’s the perfect napping primer. Everyone should have a copy.

June 17, 2008

Your Depressing (Gas) Story for the Day

The Chicago Tribune website has created a Gas Gouge-o-Meter.

Enter the amount of miles you plan to drive, the current cost of fuel, and your car’s M.P.G. rating, and the calculator spits back how much it will cost you to take that trip.

I learned that with gas at $4.15 a gallon (which it is around by us) it will cost Heather and me about $51.80 to drive to see her parents in Findlay, OH. And that’s before I factor in the price of the tolls in Indiana and Ohio

A year ago, when fuel prices hovered around $3.15, it would have only cost us $39.31

Oy.

Your Depressing (Medical) Story for the Day

After reading this essay published in today’s New York Times I challenge you to have anything but a pessimistic view of the U.S. health care industry.
As a physician, I could empathize. I too often feel overwhelmed with paperwork. But my friend’s discontent seemed to run much deeper than that. Unfortunately, he is not alone. I have been hearing physician colleagues voice a level of dissatisfaction with medical practice that is alarming.

In a survey last year of nearly 2,400 physicians conducted by a physician recruiting firm, locumtenens.com, 3 percent said they were not frustrated by nonclinical aspects of medicine. The level of frustration has increased with nearly every survey.
And that’s the happy part at the beginning of the essay.

June 16, 2008

I Actually Watched Golf on TV

I’ve never been a fan of golf.

I’ve played the game a few times and found it enjoyable, though not enjoyable enough to pursue it like so many other guys seem to do. I own a set of thrown-together clubs that I’ve cobbled from a number of different hand-me-down sources. But they pretty much just take up space in my garage.

That doesn’t mean I ignore the sport, though. I will read an article from time to time in Sports Illustrated. Linger on SportsCenter when tour highlights are being shown. This passing interest has at least informed me enough to know who the major players in the sport are, appreciate the skill involved in playing the game, and allow me to carry my own in a conversation with golf enthusiasts.

But as for watching golf, I can usually find about two dozen things I’d rather do than watch men walk around a park chasing a white ball while guys talk in hushed tones. Golf on TV is never at the top of my “To Do” list. So I surprised myself when I sat down to voluntarily watch the U.S. Open Sunday afternoon.

Tiger Woods on Saturday at the U.S. OpenFirst lets jump back to the night before. While Heather and I were cleaning up the house in preparation of having my Dad, sister, brother-in-law, and their dog over for Father’s Day, I turned on the Open. It was being televised in prime time and I figured Tiger would be playing late because of where he was in relationship to the leaders. I knew this tourney was Tiger’s first since having his knee surgery and there was all sort of speculation on how the layoff and the condition of his healing knee would affect his game. I was curious to see how things were playing out.

I didn’t expect to watch for too long, just enough to see if Tiger had overtaken the leader already or slipping away to the middle of the pack. When I turned the tournament on, Woods was finishing up on the 16th. Watching Tiger march through those last two holes – the unbelievable chip shot for birdie on 17 and the eagle putt on 18 to secure a one-stroke lead – hooked my for the final day. It was amazing to watch Tiger battle through the obvious pain he was feeling in his knee to make perfect golf shots when he needed to. It wasn’t only the physical discipline, but the mental discipline that impressed me about Tiger’s performance. He never buckled to the pressure or the pain, and just kept fighting. I had to see how this story was going to end on Sunday.

He continued his superhuman performance on Sunday, even after losing the lead. He never stopped fighting to keep himself in position to win. And when it came down to having to sink one putt to force an 18-hole playoff, he drops it like he was playing mini-golf.

Golf fan or not, how can you not appreciate that sort of talent and that sort of sports performance?

Tiger on the 19th holeBy now you probably know how the stories eventually ended. Today, Tiger not only takes Rocco Mediate the full 18 holes for the play-off (which makes it five rounds of pro-caliber / pro-intensity golf for these guys over the last five days), but Tiger then pushes it to a 19th hole overtime sudden-death situation. A U.S. Open championship reduced to one hole of golf – winner-take-all – after already playing 90 holes. And Tiger – bum knee and all – walks out on top. The guy is amazing.

As exciting as this U.S. Open was to watch, I don’t expect to be spending many Sundays in the future sitting in front of the tube watching the PGA elite go at it. What grabbed my attention and compelled me to spending time watching this tournament was Tiger’s particular situation. Unless he plans on establishing a physical or mental handicap before every major tournament, I still think I will have a difficult time finding golf on TV compelling entertainment.

Flooding in Iowa

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for the people in Iowa. Especially after seeing this AP photo showing houses - houses - bunched up against a railroad bridge like trees in a log jam.

AP photo of houses floating in Iowa
What do you do when you house literally floats away?

June 14, 2008

Wordle

Wordle: making art with words.

Give it a try. It’s fun.
my wordle

June 13, 2008

POTC: At World’s End – Review

I know the movie bowed on theaters over a year ago and was released on DVD six months ago, but I finally saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End last weekend so you get my thoughts on the film now.

Last summer I had read the lukewarm reviews and heard the less than flattering plot points, but the first two films were so much fun to watch that I figured number three would still deliver some reliable, if superficial, entertainment for me. After all, it still had Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush was back as Barbossa, Keith Richards makes a cameo as Sparrow Sr., and the whole damn movie is about pirates (or pirate wannabes).

POTC: At World's EndI guess I was asking for too much.

While the stories of Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead’s Man Chest were fast and frantic, including plenty of exciting pirate action like sword fights and at-sea battles, At World’s End lumbered on for most of the movie like a foreign espionage film. The film was scene after scene of talking heads scheming and planning on how they can double cross someone else in the movie. Blah, blah, blah, blah!

It’s a movie about pirates and we have them sitting around a table debating if they should go to war and then voting on the proposal. Pirates! Sitting at a table! Discussing in committee! Voting!

That is not what I signed up to see. What happened to, "Take all you can and give nothing back!"

Yes, the end of the film with the whirlpool and the ships and the fighting and the stabbing – that’s all good. But it comes too late in the movie. By then I had become bored with trying to keep up with all of the double-crosses and a list of characters that would make Tolstoy squirm.

Really, the only time I felt At World’s End captured the spirit of fun and adventure that I enjoyed so much in the first two films was the very last scene. Captain Sparrow, with a girl on each arm, is walking down the dock and stumbles upon Mr. Gibbs asleep on a pile of rope while the Black Pearl sails off into the horizon. That hit the spot. That felt like a pirate movie wit Captain Jack Sparrow in it. Too bad there were more scenes with that sort of spirit throughout At World’s End, I could haven't written a nicer review.

Why I'm Getting Excited About Blackhawk Hockey

patrick kane of the chicago blackhawksChicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane won awarded the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year yesterday.

Kane just beat out his teammate Jonathan Toews for the honor.

I really haven’t been very interested in Blackhawk hockey since the days of Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour, and Chris Chelios in the early 1990’s. But this past season rookies Kane and Toews and a team that, despite missing the playoffs, showed more energy and competitive fight that I had seen out of a hockey team wearing a Blackhawk sweater in a long time came along to force me to start paying attention to the franchise.

It also helps that team is now under the guidance of Rocky Wirtz. Not to be disrespectful of the dead, but if there was ever a list of the wrong decisions to make when running a professional sports franchise, Rocky’s deceased father, Bill Wirtz, was guilty of committing most of them. Bill Wirtz destroyed all the love this city had for the Blackhawks back in the 1950’s and 1960’s with his boneheaded decisions in the 70's and 80's.

Now, not only does Rocky have Blackhawk home games on TV, an outdoor hockey game between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings in Wrigley Field in 2009, and Blackhawk greats Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito back in the ‘family’; he’s got a team of hungry hockey players headed up by two star talents in Kane and Toews. You can feel some of the excitement coming back to the franchise.

I’m actually looking forward to hockey season.

Batman Notices Everything

One of the things that I think is so great about Batman - he notices everything

batman notices ear lobes
[via]

No Wonder My Dad’s Generation Turned Out So Goofy

Look at what a bunch of them were reading:

The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism

scan from the catechism

June 12, 2008

Meow Meow

Tonight, Heather was grocery shopping, so I was on my own getting the kids ready for bed. While reading the girls their stories, I somehow ended up on a tangent telling them about the Meow Mix cat food commercial I remember watching as a kid.

They didn't believe my claim that such a commercial existed. Especially the part about the cat singing.

So while they brushed their teeth, I searched YouTube.

Good 'ole YouTube



Halfway through the first viewing, Emma and Zoe were laughing so hard I thought they were going to fall out of their chairs. I think we watched the thirty-second commercial five or six times before I ushered them off to bed.

Tomorrow, maybe, I'll show them this site.

The Puzzle Apartment

When Steven B. Klinsky was having his Fifth Avenue apartment with the Central Park views renovated he came up with a simple, and slightly romantic, idea: to have a poem he had written for and about his family be worked into the architecture somehow.

one of the puzzles in the houseArchitectural designer Eric Clough, who had been hired by Klinsky and his wife because Clough has ideas different from the cookie-cutter ideas other architects had presented for the 4,200-sqft space, found a peculiar inspiration in the poetry hiding request. Clough, using donated time from some insanely creative people, weaved a complex series of scavenger hunts, games, and puzzles into the apartment for the enjoyment of the family.

A year and half after the family moved back into their apartment, Clough sent them a short poem in the mail. Deciphering the clues in the poem lead them to a secret compartment in their front hall that was concealing a book. The book contained a narrative that lead them through a scavenger hunt in their own house with all sort of puzzle and riddles to be solved.

The New York Times story tries to explain some of the puzzles.
In any case, the finale involved, in part, removing decorative door knockers from two hallway panels, which fit together to make a crank, which in turn opened hidden panels in a credenza in the dining room, which displayed multiple keys and keyholes, which, when the correct ones were used, yielded drawers containing acrylic letters and a table-size cloth imprinted with the beginnings of a crossword puzzle, the answers to which led to one of the rectangular panels lining the tiny den, which concealed a chamfered magnetic cube, which could be used to open the 24 remaining panels, revealing, in large type, the poem written by Mr. Klinsky. (There is other stuff in there, too, but a more detailed explanation might drive a reader crazy.)
That’s fantastic. I can’t help but be envious of how much crazy fun that family has had in their apartment.

If you go read the story on the NYT's website, make sure you spend time looking at the slide show. It shows many of the amazing puzzles and clues the family had to figure out.

Baconhenge

Earlier this week Heather asked me if there was anything special I wanted her to cook as part of our Father’s Day celebration this upcoming Sunday.

Because Heather is a certified wunderkind in the kitchen, I told her that I would leave the menu in her capable hands. I wouldn’t muddle the situation with my pedestrian culinary suggestions. In thirteen years she hasn’t let me down, and I expect her to deliver this Sunday once again.

However . . .

I ran across this little item this morning while perusing the interwebs. Knowing our family’s love of bacon (The Candy of Meats!), I think it would be a surefire winner.

baconhengeBaconhenge – bacon and french toast sticks arranged majestically over an egg and potato frittata.

That's the way to celebrate Father's Day.

June 09, 2008

iPhone . . . Too . . . Hard . . .To . . . Resist . . .

The new iPhone was announced today. While the latest version of the device has got some tricked out new features that make the iPhone the clear mobile king, what impressed me is the new subsidizing plan that Apple is allowing AT&T to implement.

iphone now only $199
As long as you sign up for a two-year agreement through AT&T, your 8 GB iPhone will only set you back $199.

Wow. $199 for an iPhone.

I've used guys iPhones at work. That's a steal. As long as you can swing the phone and data plans from AT&T, I don't see why anyone would pass that up.

Time to Cut Cedric Benson

cedric the idiot bensonWhen I saw Cedric Benson’s glassy-eyed smug-faces mug shot from his recent arrest in Austin, Texas, on charges of driving while intoxicated, my first thought was, “Damn, I sure miss Thomas Jones.”

It wasn’t because Benson failed in one season as the Bears starting fullback to generate a quarter of a percentile of excitement that the departed Jones did in one game as the starter (though that certainly contributed). No, it was that Benson has demonstrated that he doesn’t possess a quarter of a percentile of the class and maturity Thomas Jones has. That’s what bothers me the most about still having Cedric Benson on the Chicago Bears as a running back while Thomas Jones was traded away a year ago.

With a running back tradition that includes Red Grange, Walter Payton, and Gale Sayers, Thomas Jones fit in perfectly with the Bears. He played hard every down and contributed to the overall team success. Off the field he was a classy individual who understood how blessed he was to have the opportunity to play professional football for an organization like the Bears and made the most of that opportunity.

walter payton - finest football to ever take the fieldBefore Benson’s problem this summer figuring out when and where to be drinking, he had already made a name for himself as a selfish football player who was more concerned with his playing time than his team’s success. And when the playing time did come, he dazzled us with 3.4 yards per carry and a propensity for falling down when the opposing team came near him. (Has he even rushed for 100 yards in a game?) Now multiple problems with the law within the span of a few weeks demonstrates that not only is Benson a selfish football player, he's a dumb, immature one as well.

Benson is a football bust regardless of how you define the term.

Benson also doesn’t deserve to be in the same list as Payton and Sayers. Hell, he doesn’t deserve being mentioned alongside Neal Anderson and Raymont Harris. The Chicago Bears need to make the correct move now, before training camp begins, and cut Benson. Make room for Matt Forte, the rookie from Tulane they picked up the draft this past spring, to take on the starting role. The Bears’ coaches seem to think he can handle it and I know I’d rather see someone else in the Bears’ backfield.

Earth and Moon

This is a photo of the Earth and the Moon as taken by a camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

the Earth and Moon as seen from Mars
Besides it just being wicked cool to have a photo snapped from another planet, I love seeing the scale and distance between the Earth and the Moon that this photograph captures.

The image makes me contemplate and appreciate the enormous amount of work that went into the Apollo missions of the last 1960s and early 1970s that sent a man from the little blue mass on the left all the way across the miles of nothingness to the little white mass on the right. And they did it with a fraction of the technical advances we have today. Hell, the computer I am typing up this blog entry on has more juice in it than the computers that ran the Apollo spacecrafts.

June 06, 2008

Tornado Season

This is one of my least favorite times of the year – tornado season.

Ahhh! A tornado!Chicago isn’t the hot spot of tornado activity that the Great Plains are, but a twister has been known to touch down from time to time in Northern Illinois. During my lifetime (that I can remember) no tornado has come closer to the greater Chicago metropolitan area than DeKalb to the west and Plainfield to the south (and I’ve always lived within that geographical ring), but that still doesn’t stop me from being absolutely terrified of them.

As soon I learn that the weather is ripe for a tornado I begin obsessively watching the Weather Channel and checking weather websites. I want to see radar, hear reports, understand what is going on outside, and can’t stop until I feel that any threat (real or imagined) has safely passed.

And if there is an actual Tornado Watch announced? Then I am in full emergency alert mode until the expiration time for the watch has passed. If the expiration time is two or three in the morning, then I am up until at least 1am watching the radar loops on nbc5.com and mentally reviewing my plans for evacuating everyone in the house down to the basement. I am afraid to go to sleep, less I fail to hear the warning sirens should an actual tornado materialize.

(One of the worst nights in recent memory was the tornado watch that went until 6am. I was exhausted the next day at work.)

Now, there aren’t any traumatic episodes from my youth that have fostered this almost paralyzing fear. I’ve never been in a tornado. I’ve only ever seen them on TV and in movies. In the end, I think the root of the fear springs from the realization that there is little I can do to defend or protect myself, my family, and my property from the destructive force of a tornado. I can’t tie anything down or board anything up. Pretty much all I can do is run and hide and hope that any damage is minimal. That sense of helplessness bothers me. I want to be able to do something directly to impact the outcome.

a tornadoIn fairness to myself, I have mellowed a bit from where I was a few years ago. I still keep the Weather Channel tuned in when severe weather is rolling in, but I’ve learned that the weather is what it is and I can’t change it. So where as I used to sit and do nothing but continuously check reports, now I just let the weather reports broadcast in the background and I go about whatever it is I’m doing at home. I still get to monitor the situation, but keeping busy diverts my mind from obsessing over what might happen.

Still, I can’t wait for tornado season to blow out of town.

A Question in Need of an Answer

The Chicago Sun-Times, the city’s bastion of hard news and sobering commentary, continues to ask the difficult questions: Which sports team has the hottest fans: Cubs or White Sox?

Duh! Cubs fans are hotter
Before you vote for the obvious choice, make sure to at least review both galleries of user submitted photos.

I Might be Adding The Incredible Hulk to the List

the incredible hulk posterEarly sneak-peak reviews are starting to trickle in and from the looks of things The Incredible Hulk might be poised to surprise the summer movie going public.

I have to admit that I hadn’t given this “do-over” movie much of a chance of being something I would want to watch. However, between the trailers, video segments, and what these reviewers are saying, Edward Norton’s turn as Bruce Banner is winning me over.

The Incredible Hulk might deserve a viewing - though probably on DVD.

June 05, 2008

He's Pulling a What?

The meaning behind slang terminology can change over time. Nowhere is that more apparent when you consider this card from the 1941 Blondie comic playing card deck.

Blondie playing card
After you pull you mind out of the gutter I just dragged it into, bounce over for a look at the artwork for the whole set of cards. There is some pretty neat cartoons there.

June 04, 2008

Bad Yeti

bad yeti
I thought it was funny, and really enjoyed Jessica McLeod's simple but playful artwork.

Read it

Read At Work

This is one of the most inspired ideas I’ve come across in a long, long time.

The people at the New Zealand Book Council have come up with a deliciously devious way for people to read more at work. Their Read At Work website turns your desktop into a realistic looking Windows PC desktop with folders, icons, etc. Except the folders all contain writings of famous authors and poets. Open one of the works and it is presented in a PowerPoint presentation.

So to the random corporate lackey wandering by your cube it may look like you are reviewing another in an endless stream of mind-numbing PowerPoint slides, you are actually enjoying Virginia Wolfe’s “A Mark on the Wall.”

Genius.

June 03, 2008

I’m Just Saying . . .

Chicago Cubs history factI read this little factoid yesterday, but then forgot to bookmark it.

Tracked it down today (luckily the Cubs won yesterday against the Padres, so it still holds true) so I could share.

ESPN points out that the last time the Chicago Cubs entered the month of June with the best record in Major League Baseball was 1908 – the year they last won the World Series.

Is history ready to repeat itself?

But Can They Make Your Lower Intestines?

balloon magic
I know that if you are going to call yourself Balloon Guys Entertainment you have to demonstrate mastery of your art, but this is just a little too weird.

HOLY CRAP!

bike accident in mexico
A car collides into cyclists participating in a race in Mexico's northern border city of Matamoros, Sunday June 1, 2008. At least one person was killed and 14 injured when a drunk driver slammed into a bicycle race.

(AP Photo/Jose Fidelino Vera Hernandez)

This Ain't Beantown

My whole professional career has been about designing, building, and managing web sites. I even have considerable experience targeting and serving website banner ads. So I feel fairly confident in calling the ChicagoTribune.com out on this:

There is no reason to serve up an M&M’s ad showcasing the Boston Red Sox on the Chicago Tribune website.

M&M ad on Chicagotribune.com
That’s just wrong.

June 02, 2008

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

Once, it was my intention to write a review of something every Friday. In my head I put together a loose writing schedule that went something along the lines of Monday - sports, Wednesday - family stuff, and Friday – reviews.

Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekends were freebie days; times when I could just post goofy photos or previews of comics or movies that I found interesting. I haven’t kept to that schedule as well as I would have liked, but I am always trying to recalibrate my habits to fit that sort of writing regiment in.

So let’s play a little catch-up on the reviews (on a Monday no less) with a scatter shot of capsule comments on some of the movies and books I have experienced over the last month or so.

sweeney todd coverSweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Knowing almost nothing about the stage production, earlier film versions, or even the story, my interest in seeing this film sprung solely from two names: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Separately these two create wonderful work. Together, the film art is extraordinary.

I enjoyed the songs and lyrics considerably, and the performances were all top notch (with the exception of Helena Bonham Carter, who didn’t seem to have the same singing chops of the other actors).

I thought Depp did exceptionally well with his singing. He successfully reinvented himself as an actor who portrayed his character through song, in contrast to Ms. Carter, who appeared more like an actor who would sing from time to time. There is a big difference when you are performing in a musical, and Depp nails it.

As is customary with a Burton film, the production design – the sets, the costumes, the make-up – was pitch perfect in creating the creepy world of Sweeny Todd. Highly recommended if you don’t mind a lot of singing in your movies.

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The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett – For Christmas, my mom gave me this book and gave Heather Hogfather, also by Pratchett. Both books are from his Discworld series of fantasy/humor novels. Apparently my mother had read a novel by Pratchett and really enjoyed it. I don’t know if either of the books she gave to us was the one she read, but no matter. A few years back I had read Good Omens, a collaborative effort between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett about the bungling of Armageddon, so I had someone what of an idea of what to expect.

True to form, The Fifth Elephant is dense with British humor – which means I either laugh heartily at the jokes or feel stupid for not understanding the jokes. (Sometimes I think British humor can be too subtle for its own good.) It took a while for me to find the groove of the narrative and the many characters and subplots, but once Pratchett stopped jumping around from location to location, storyline to storyline and spent more than 20 contiguous pages focusing on the main plot and characters, the book settled down for me and was quite entertaining.

I particularly liked the main character, Samuel Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. He is equal parts introspective idealist and bruising realist, which makes any scene he appears in crackle with anticipation of how he will respond. Terry Pratchett said of the character, “He fears he may be a bad person because he knows what he thinks rather than just what he says and does. He chokes off those little reactions and impulses, but he knows what they are. So he tries to act like a good person, often in situations where the map is unclear”, which I think gets to the root of the character’s appeal for me.

Unfortunately Pratchett has written 36 Discworld novels (which this book is number 24) and Commander Vines only appears as the main character in 6 of those books (not counting The Fifth Elephant). On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing. Instead of hunting down thirty-five other books to read, I’d only have to find six other ones if I wanted to explore more of Vines’ adventures.

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3:10 to Yuma cover3:10 to Yuma – Just saw this movie this past weekend. It popped up for Heather in the library reserve lottery. We might have to wait a bit to see films when we reserve them through our library, but it sure makes things more fun. We never know when the movies in our queue will sudden become ready for pick-up.

3:10 to Yuma is a solid old fashioned Western movie; light on action overall, but with a slow-cooking morality play story that delivers the big shoot-out to close the movie out. Christian Bale is good, Russell Crowe is good – hell, all of the performances were top notch in this film. The more I contemplate the film, the more I consider it one I might like to add to my home collection of DVDs. Highly recommended

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Superman / Batman: Saga of the Super Sons, by Bob Haney (writer) and Dick Dillin (artist) – Bob Haney wrote almost every sort of comic story imaginable during his time at DC Comics, and is credited with creating the Teen Titans, the Doom Patrol, Metamorpho, and few other the publisher’s lasting characters. He is known for his fantastically warped story ideas (Batman dies and the Atom shrinks down to enter Batman’s brain and reanimate him) and his bizarre dialogue. By far his grooviest creation was Bruce Wayne, Jr. and Clark Kent, Jr. – the Super Sons. They were Batman’s and Superman’s sons (we never learn or see who their mothers are) who wanted to strike out and make a name for themselves outside of their famous fathers’ shadows.


saga of the super sons coverThe stories are quintessential Haney with everything from Superman flying faster than the speed of light to create a parallel version of the existing world so Bruce Jr. and Clark Jr. can practice being superheroes in a controlled environment, to Bruce Jr. and Clark Jr. imprisoning their famous fathers on the charge of being heroes simply because their dads crave the public’s attention, to Superman faking his own death so he convince Clark Jr. that he shouldn’t give up the “family business” of superhero-ing. The man could not write a boring story.

All through-out the stories we are treated to classic Haney dialogue and over-the-top late-1960’s slang while Bruce Jr. and Clark Jr. travel across America on Bruce Jr.’s orange motorcycle. It’s one goofy, warped story after another and it’s pure bliss.
Saga of the Super Sons was great fun to read, but I don’t think it would appeal to anyone who wasn’t already a comic book fan and didn’t enjoyed some kitschy/campy super heroics in the same vein of the 1960’s Batman T.V. show.

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Enchanted – we reserved it from the library because both Emma and Ian asked Heather to, but in the end I think Heather and I enjoyed this film more than the kids did. The story is thin, but the performances from the leads are earnest and fun. Disney shows that they aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves, even creating parody Disney songs that are as strong as any they have created in the past.


amy adams in enchantedAmy Adams wonderfully creates the live-action personification of a Disney princess. The bubbly personality, wide-eyed innocence, helium-stretched voice – she delivers them all. Plus, the makers of the film loaded up the movie with subtle riffs on scenes from previous Disney movies. So for a movie trivia buff, the film is a treasure hunt to find the little references to Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and more.

The kids didn’t necessarily get all the jokes, but they enjoyed the story and the music. Heather and I enjoyed it as well. Enchanted is a quality family movie that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the adults (or kids) watching it.

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The Red Blot – A couple months ago I got another Shadow 2-for book - two novels in one book. The first story is The Red Blot. A mysterious criminal mastermind seems to have found a way to allude not only the New York City police, but the Shadow as well, as he stages crimes progressively more daring then the previous one. His calling card is a piece of paper with a red blot of ink on it.

The story isn’t anything particularly new to the Shadow mythology. I’ve read similar sorts of plot setups. What made this one unique is that Walter Gibson was able to keep me fooled on the identify of the Red Blot until the end. Besides stopping the bad guy, there were two mysteries to the story: who was the mole within the police department tipping off the Red Blot and who was the Red Blot.

It was painfully obvious that the police mole was Detective Hembroke, who from the very beginning of the story has the stink of a character being set up for a fall later on, but Grant successfully provided enough misdirection and red herrings to keep the identity of the Red Blot hidden until the very end. I appreciated that. It made reading this Shadow story just a little more enjoyable.

June 01, 2008