Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sketch in my Notebook (Part 6): The New Centurion

One of the tough parts of doing a story like this is that you can't go back and make changes as your ideas evolve.  That happened this week, but I couldn't go back and retroactively rename last week's piece, even though in retrospect, the title for this chapter obviously needed to be "The New Centurion" rather than "The Ice Queen."  I also feel like we've spent too much time in backstory here in the early-going, but what can you do?  When I do go back and finally edit this thing, some of this stuff may well get the axe.  In the meantime, though, you're stuck with the first cut.  Hopefully it's at least the best first cut I can put out.

With all of that said, I'm inordinately pleased with this week's piece.  That probably means that no one else is gonna like it at all, but I still think it came out well.  But my opinion only matters so much; you'll have to let me know what you think.

Finally, this is it.  This version of this particular project was only ever supposed to be a sketch, and as much as I think it's going well, I know that I badly need to stick it on the shelf for a while.  I'm trying to put out a book next year, and "The Return of Dr. Necropolis" isn't going to be a part of that book, so with that in mind, I need to focus on other stuff.  I'll talk about that a little more tomorrow, but for now, what you need to know is that the Doctor is going on hiatus, and he won't be back until late Spring at the very earliest.  So get your fix now, because after this, it's gonna be all Sneakatara Boatman, all the time for the next few months.

The Return of Dr. Necropolis

Chapter 5 (Cont): The New Centurion

Despite his mother’s warning, Blaine found himself in Special Agent Tiffany Trujillo's car the next morning, cruising up the Taconic Parkway towards Sing Sing and Dr. Necropolis.  Tiffany had worn a blue pants suit and a professionally-laundered shirt that morning, and for once, she looked more like an FBI agent than one of the world’s most famous former superheroes.  She was quiet to the point of being uncommunicative, however, and after twenty minutes or so, it started making Blaine nervous.
Eventually, Blaine tried to break the silence.  “I talked to my mother yesterday.  It seemed like Dr. Necropolis scared her.  You have any idea why?  I’d never seen her like that before.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Interested in Comics? Here’s Where to Start (Part 2)

With all the comic book-based movies and TV shows in the public consciousness these days, there’re probably lots of folks who’d really like to try reading actual comic books but who don’t have the first clue about where to start.  Let’s face it: your typical local comic shop (LCS) isn’t the most user-friendly place in the American marketplace.  Faced with a giant wall of monthly floppies, another giant section of white boxed, bagged-and-boarded back issues, and a couple of shelves of trade paperbacks (TPBs) and original graphic novels (OGNs), it can be a little intimidating even considering where one might start with an interest in comics.  That’s doubly true if you don’t know exactly what it is you’re hoping to find once you get in the store.  
So.  This series serves two purposes.  If you’re a comic newbie, and you want a place to start, hopefully we can provide that.  And if you’re a seasoned pro, well, you can at least discuss why you think this list is all wrong and how you’d have laid it out differently.  
In either case, your feedback is welcome.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reasons Why People Hate John Cena

Did you see last night's RAW?  My daughter Emma has become the biggest wrestling fan, so now we have to watch it every week--at least until she goes to bed.

So anyway, the show opened with the face of the franchise, John Cena, coming out to cut a long promo about how he's back from his triceps surgery, and he's once again the Champ--the World Heavyweight Champion this time--and he's gonna be better than ever. He goes on and on and on, and the crowd's starting to get restless, until finally Damien Sandow comes out, holding the World Heavyweight Title Money-in-the-Bank contract briefcase. Damien reminds us that he can cash in the contract any time he wants, says that he thinks Cena's match with Alberto Del Rio at the Hell-in-a-Cell Pay-Per-View must have taken a lot out of Cena, who was just rehabbing his arm post-surgery, and maybe he, Sandow, should cash in now. Cena dares him to, and wonder-of-wonders, Sandow beats the Holy Hell out of John Cena. He goes to work on Cena's arm, takes him outside the ring and throws him into the steel steps, and then hits the arm with a steel chair. And then he cashes in the Money-in-the Bank contract. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

News in Review: A Look at Sunday's New York Times

I'd planned to take a couple of weeks off from working out heavy as part of my offseason plan.  But then I got sick, and since then it's been super-busy.  So while I'd planned for today's post to be about getting back into the swing of being a triathlete, truth is that I'm not back; I am, in fact, hoping to start coming back this week.

In the meantime, it's been nice having some time off.  That said, I still something for today's post, so with that in mind, here's a look at the news out of yesterday's New York Times.

In Fed and Out, Many Now Think Inflation Helps

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lucky Star

This is my daughter Hannah singing Madonna's "Lucky Star" at RVP Studios, where she takes voice lessons.  She led off the show today, which I thought was quite an honor, and I think she did pretty well with a song that was not at all her normal kind of thing.

Sally's Birthday Hike, 2013

Sally's birthday is this weekend, and she invariably wants to go hiking on days like that.  So we drove out to Redding, CT, yesterday, to Huntington State Park, and we hiked.  The hike turned out to be about 4.5 miles according to MapMyHike, and for what it's worth, we saw West Point's Orienteering Club out there working out as well.

Anyway, I took some pictures.

Hannah and Emma heading down from the parking lot into the park.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Mad Science: Arrow vs. SHIELD Revisited

Agents of SHIELD has been better for the past two episodes, but I still think it's not quite what the fans are looking for. To be a weird mystery, it's not weird enough. To be a superhero show, it's not super enough. As a thriller, the suspense is distinctly uneven.  Personally, I don't particularly care what it turns out to be, but the fact that they take super-powers--and lots of other weird stuff--for granted in the show makes it hard to keep the sense of wonder that fuels a show like that alive.  And without that sense of wonder, the show has become a kind of struggling character piece.  Granted, the characters have been a little better of late, but even so... 

Five episodes in, and I still can't wait for them to kill off a couple of the weaker cast members. 

Mockingbird, from the online game Avengers' Alliance.
Think of her as Agent Scully but with bo staves.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Interested in Comics? A Look at Where to Start (Part 1)

We’ve been talking a lot on here lately about Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the CW show Arrow, mostly in the context of the source material.  But while comics have been growing in popularity lately--sales are actually up over the last few years--they still aren’t near where they were in, say, the 1970’s.  And it occurred to me that maybe there are folks out there who would like to give comics a try, but they don’t have the first clue about where to start.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sketch in My Notebook (Part 5): The Ice Queen

I didn't have much time to work on this during the week, so this week's piece is short.  What you see here is only half--maybe not even half--of Chapter 5, and I have a feeling that when I finally sit down to revise it and cut it all into a single work, this particular piece may well get some more work.  As it is, it's hard for me to tell if the scene itself works.

Anyway, your thoughts are welcome.  Love it?  Hate it?  I'd love to hear what you think.



The Return of Dr. Necropolis
Chapter 5: The Ice Queen

Blaine Winters rolled through the gates of his family’s Mount Kisco estate a little after sunrise.  As such things went, the place wasn’t large—a mere fifty acres or so, set apart from the road by a low stone fence and a long tree-lined cobblestoned drive—but it was home.  And for better or worse, home was the only place Blaine could think of to get any perspective on what he’d seen the night before.  The world had changed a lot since Blaine’s parents’ day, but they were still connected to the ultra-human community, still the best resource he had for understanding his place in the world.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Do It Yourself Beer Tasting: Beers of CT

We had our second annual Family Beer Tasting on Saturday, and it was a heck of a lot of fun. And as I was thinking about it today, it occurred to me that maybe other folks were interested in what we did and how we did it. So here's a list of the beers that we sampled, along with my notes about what each beer was, and why I decided to include it in the program. 

This year's theme was "Beers of Connecticut."

A lot of folks really, really liked
1758 GW Beer.
1. 1757 GW Beer. We started with 1757 GW Beer, which is brewed by Cottrell in Pawtucket, CT, using George Washington's original Mt. Vernon recipe for "small" beer. I wanted to start with GW Beer not only to honor the father or our country but also because the beer itself isn't too much of any one thing. It's what we might think of as a middle-type beer, a distinctly balanced blend of malt and hops that's brewed as a session beer.  

So GW Beer is what we might think of as America's prototype beer. From here, everything else is basically kind of variation.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Four Reasons Why China Isn't Quite Ready to Take Over the World

My boss was one of the few folks who came to the beer tasting early yesterday, and while he was there, we started talking about the recent political fiasco in Washington, i.e. the government shutdown and the debt ceiling.

I said that the biggest issue with the debt ceiling crisis was that it put the U.S. Dollar's position as the global reserve currency at risk.  Which is to say that for better or worse, the U.S. always borrows using its own currency, such that--if necessary--we can (and might!) simply print money in order to get out of a potential crisis.  This is distinctly not the case with countries like Greece and Iceland, who may borrow money, yes, but not in a currency whose supply they control.  For better or worse, there is a Central Bank of Europe, not a Central Bank of Greece.  So, bottom line, they have to pay back the same amount that they borrowed--in real terms--plus interest.  They can't play the kinds of games with the money supply that the U.S. government has been playing, borrowing so cheaply that they are effectively borrowing at a profit.  But that is the kind of thing that you can get away with as long as every other currency in the world is effectively valued in relation to yours.  Hence this idea that the debt ceiling crisis risked America's place as a Great Power.

Me & Sally

Our friend Andrea took this picture last night at the 2nd Annual Head Family Beer Tasting.

The event was supposed to run from 2 to 7, with people dropping in and out as they had time. And what I've learned is that folks have time at five, 'cause nearly everyone showed up between 4:45 and 5pm.

It was a good party, though. I had a blast, and I think most everyone else did, too.

Me and Sally sitting by the fire.
The fire pit. I thought it was a little silly when Sally suggested it,
 but it was actually awesome.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I totally need to write something on here tody.

Have you guys been waiting for a post?

Sorry.  It's been a busy day.

If you're wondering, I'm thinking about calling my eventual short story collection "Danno's Tales from the Lair" or maybe just "Tales from the Lair."  And I might put something like this on the cover:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Want to Believe

I want to believe that the Army Team can make it to a bowl game this year. There are a million bowls--literally more bowls than there are six-win Division I teams to play in them--so if the team can eke out the right record, somebody ought to take them.

Saturday's game is against Temple (0-6), away. It looks like a winnable game, but for whatever reason, Temple is favored by 2.5 points. Is it morally wrong to bet on the Army Team?  I don't know. My inner sports bookie says that Army (3-4, +2.5) is a decent bet. 

A win this weekend would put the team at 4-4 with four games left to play, and frankly, if this crazy notion of an Army bowl game has even half a chance of working, Army must win Saturday. 

After that, the schedule looks like this:
--at Air Force (1-6)
--vs. Western Kentucky (4-3)
--at Hawaii (0-6)
--vs. Navy (3-2; neutral site)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Robert Galbraith is the psuedonym J.K. Rowling uses when she writes hard-boiled detective fiction.  There are several reasons why I think she decided to use a psuedonym, the most important of which is that reviews of her last book, The Casual Vacancy, all basically said, “Yeah, the book is okay.  But it’s not Harry Potter.”  Having already written and published seven mammoth tomes of Potter, that particular feedback must have been singularly maddening for Ms. Rowling, who was, I’m quite sure, looking for independent reviews of her newest work on its own merits.  So she wrote her next book under a name that no one had ever heard of, and for three months, The Cuckoo’s Calling got to stand on its own.  I know for a fact that the book’s early reviews were good, and Google News claims that the book itself sold some 8,500 copies in those first three months of annonymity, which is more than the first Potter book sold in its first three months, and if that’s not enough, it also had at least two offers for some kind of television adaptation.  Were Galbraith anyone other than a beard for Rowling, that success would have been considered truly remarkable for a previously unknown author.

The End Is Near!

I'm starting to think these assholes are really gonna do it. They're gonna let the country default, triggering a wave of shit worldwide which ultimately makes it untenable for other countries to use the US Dollar as the world's de facto reserve currency. 

So, y'know, I don't wanna be melodramatic or anything, but reality is that today may very well be America's last day as a Great Power. 

Question: How're you gonna spend these final hours?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sketch in My Notebook (Part 4): I Know What You Did That Summer

Alright.  This is a brand new chapter of "Sketch in My Notebook," still working on the story "The Return of Dr. Necropolis."  I wasn't planning to put this out, but then I had some time on my day off yesterday, so... here you are.  If you like this story, you can thank my wife Sally for giving me the time to work on it instead of finding other ways to keep me busy all day.

The Return of Dr. Necropolis

Chapter 4: I Know What You Did That Summer

Tiffany stepped into the FBI command center.  From the outside, it had looked like a fairly sizable tent, but inside it was stuffy and crowded.  A bare electric light bulb hung from a single outlet strung from the ceiling, and a handful of techs sat at computer screens around the tent’s periphery, all dressed in either the trademark blue FBI windbreakers or blue coveralls.  The computers themselves hummed with unthinking electric efficiency, but between their waste heat and all of the bodies sitting close together in such a close area, the tent itself was both overly warm and vaguely nauseating.  Casey Walcott stood on the far side of the little tent, perhaps ten feet away, hovering over a tech who was reviewing some kind of closed-circuit surveillance footage.  He was an older guy, balding and a little paunchy, almost kindly-looking with his steel-rimmed glasses and jowly cheeks.  But Tiffany knew he had a temper.  It had been years since they’d worked together, and even after all that time, Tiffany still had absolutely no desire to renew their former professional partnership.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sally's Secret Sauce

Sally's always telling me that she's a quarter Italian.  I personally think she comes across much more Latina than Italian, but she still decided to try making pasta sauce from scratch last night.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pictures from Army vs. Eastern Michigan

I finally took the family to an Army Football game yesterday.  I say finally because it's been eighteen years since I graduated, and yesterday was the first time I've been back.

It was good go back.  It's been too long, the drive wasn't nearly as far as I thought it was gonna be...  We should've gone a long time ago.  In fact, I should probably go to a lot more games and try to be a better graduate.  That was the message I took from yesterday's game.

Anyway, we also took a bunch of pictures yesterday.

A stranger took this one by Lusk Reservoir, and I touched it up in Instagram.
It's great, but that lens flare is obnoxious.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Six Reasons Why Arrow is Better than Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

This comparison may not be fair.  Arrow is in its second season, it has a well-established storyline from which nearly all of its plotlines drew significantly last night, and the shows really aren’t the same kinds of shows at all.  Agents of SHIELD so far seems content to be weird police procedural while Arrow is—unapologetically—a superhero drama.  This may well be an apples-to-oranges comparison.

And yet, I am watching both shows largely because I am first and foremost a fan of comics.  Were it not for the existence of the source material, and my interest in it, I personally would not have given either show so much as five minutes of my time.
So.  Here are five things I love about Arrow, that make it the better show, at least for me.

Writer's Frustration

I've got a confession to make.  I was more than a little disappointed at the lack of comments on Tuesday's installment from “Sketch in My Notebook.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, Revisited

We’re three episodes into Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD now, and I’m starting to feel like I have an understanding of what the show is--and what it isn’t.  And what it isn’t, unfortunately, is the best show on television.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s okay, but really, if it weren’t tied into the Marvel Universe, I’m not at all sure that I would keep watching it.  With the storylines and plotting that we’ve seen so far, the show feels more like a TV version of the old West Coast Avengers comic series that ran from the mid-1980s to the early 90s than it feels like a continuation of the triumph that was the Avengers movie, and if you ask me, that’s a problem.  It’s a problem because the bar was raised substantially when the decision was made to explicitly tie the show in with the movie universe, and it’s a problem because there are other, similar shows on TV (and in TV’s recent past) that are doing the same kinds of things to much better effect.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sketch in My Notebook (Part 3): The Owl

Response to the "Sketch in My Notebook" series has been pretty good so far, and I want you guys to know that I really appreciate it.  Your kind words have meant a lot to me.  Bouyed me up.

If you missed the start of this story, you can find the other chapters here:

The Return of Dr. Necropolis

Chapter 3: The Owl

By the time Exercise Period rolled around, Frank knew what he had to do.  The only drawback was that it was going to require some help.  And a trip to the infirmary.  And maybe an addiction to a dangerous and powerful hallucinogenic battle drug.  And that was only if he could bring off the distillation in the first place without being caught.  But the alternative was letting Draygho have everything while Frank himself rotted in prison, and that Frank just couldn’t abide that.  The man who had once been known as the infamous Dr. Necropolis was more than willing to risk a little dangerous mad science, even in the rather grotesque Hell of Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Writing Update

The good news is that I'm a little more than 17,000 words into "Sneakatara Boatman and the Quest for the Lost Lumberjacks."  That's the short novella I'm writing for my kids for Christmas.  That word-count puts me at the start of Chapter 9, maybe two-thirds of the way through what I'm hoping will be a slightly less than 30,000-word story. 

Reasons Why You Lose Football Games

Well, yeah. That and the two interceptions he threw at the end of the game. What else is there to say?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fooling Around on Instagram

This is Sally and me on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.  All artsy-like.

Saturday Morning Swim: Ugly

It wasn't my intention to write about this, but this morning's swim was such an ugly slog that it feels like it's left a mark.  If you've ever had one of those days when you feel like you're swimming in jello, when your goggles fog, and the world closes in to just the two feet to your immediate front and the pain you feel in your chest and shoulders, well...  That was me today.

Swimming this morning was like a long, slow uphill march through a haze of fog and pain, and even the echo of the effort I left in the pool feels like a part of my soul lost forever.

I haven't felt like that in a long, long time.

Understanding the Shutdown

The Washington Monument.
The problem with the press coverage around the government shutdown these days is that it over-simplifies the issues.  Reporters are looking to cover the story in fifteen-second soundbites, and because the politicians have learned that the soundbites are an effective means of controlling the message, that’s pretty much the only way that they communicate with the public these days.  Occasionally one or more will write a book or have their staffs put together a policy paper, but though the books may well be effective in illuminating the mindsets of our country’s statesmen--if one believes that they’re trustworthy narrators, that is--the policy papers are invariably a mishmash of generalities and dubious assumptions that would never pass muster a company that actually cared about the quality of it analysis.  And in any case, for all that I liked Faith of my Fathers, it didn’t do much to explain John McCain’s position on immigration.
Bottom line, the American public has shit for information.

Friday, October 4, 2013

This Week's Picks (NFL Week #5)

Last week, I again went 2-1 against the spread, but that was only good enough to hold serve against the other guys in my office, who almost all had a good week as well.  At 7-5 on the season, I'm still two games up, but now is not the time to break the pace.

That said, this week's games were not at all easy to pick.

New She-Hulk Series

Man, I sure hope I can let my kids read this.  They've even got USA Today covering the book, so who knows?  Maybe it'll even be good.

This is the alternate cover for the new She-Hulk #1.
The writer on the new comic, Charles Soule, is a lawyer by day, making him a seemingly good choice to write a story about She-Hulk, whose civilian persona Jennifer Walters, is also a lawyer.  From the interviews I've read, it seems like they're gonna run this new volume of She-Hulk in much the same way that they used to run Daredevil--as a lawyer whose cases in the court frequently inform his cases in costume.

Anyway, as I've said many times, it's difficult to find kick-ass superhero comics for girls, which sucks because I've got two girls who like superhero comics but get tired of reading stories about boys.  So here's hoping...

Friday Hair Metal: Britny Fox

This video has no redeeming values whatsoever.

I love it.  I mean, look at that hair!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

D&D Authors: Thurber House Panel

Found this on YouTube this morning, and since I have to drive to Albany today instead of taking the train into New York, you're gonna have to make due with it in place of a real post today.  The things that amaze me about this video are:

  1. Ed Greenwood's beard.  I mean, holy shit!
  2. The way Salvatore comes across as a regular dude from Boston.  He seems like absolutely the kind of guy you'd expect to meet at the gym, not at a professional writer's workshop.  Truthfully, that's part of what I like about him as an author, and it's striking every time I hear him talk.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Moral Dilemma

Woman comes up to me on the platform while I'm waiting for the train and asks to use my phone. She's well-dressed but I still say, "No". Not because I want to be a jerk but because if she takes off running, I'm the one who will wind up being arrested, plus I'll definitely miss my train if that happens. And yeah, that probably wouldn't happen, but it's New York, so it certainly could. Also, yes, my phone is password protected, but she doesn't know that, and in any event, iPhones get stolen every day. 

But now I feel like a jerk. 

Question: Was I wrong?

Felt a little better in the water yesterday

It's been a long week. I don't want to grouse too much about this Metro-North thing, but it's made my already long commute much, much longer, and that hasn't been fun. Granted, I finally managed to get back on my foldie yesterday for the part of my commute that's actually in New York City, and that helps, but it's still been a bunch of long days strung together.  On top of that, Sally called me yesterday afternoon to let me know that I had to meet her at the YMCA last night to pick up the kids while she herself attended a meeting.

So, bottom line, I capped the day with some swimming.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Look what my wife got me... the Thrift Store.  

You know you're jealous, right?  Admit it. It's okay. 

Sketch in My Notebook (Part 2): Titania

This is chapter 2 of the project I introduced last week--"The Return of Dr. Necropolis".  Hopefully you guys'll like this one.  If you do, I'll run Chapter 3 next week.  

And then that's it.  That's all there is.


The Return of Dr. Necropolis

Chapter 2: Titania

Tiffany Trujillo almost dropped her keys going into her apartment.  She’d been wearing three-inch heels for the last four hours, and it was dark, and truth was, walking in heels was murder.  It probably would’ve made more sense to glide up the stairs, but she was tired, and gliding took effort.  So she hoofed it like a real girl, but then she caught her foot on the last step before the landing on the third floor, just as she was reaching into her purse for her keys.  She cursed, and her keys went flying, but then time slowed and elongated, and she was able to grab her keys and right herself before she fell and before the keys themselves went flying over the railing and she had to trudge back down three flights just to get into her apartment.  After a day of laundry and housecleaning, followed by her sister’s baby shower--and the nearly two-hour drive each way that said baby shower entailed--the effort of super-speed left Tiffany lightheaded and exhausted.  But on the flipside, she supposed that she must’ve looked like a ninja snatching her falling keys out of the air like that, especially in a dress that made her look like Cinderella.