Thursday, December 31, 2015

Blog in Review: Top 20 Posts of 2015

I enjoy this blog quite a bit, but it can be frustrating, too.  A certain tension exists between the subject matter that I personally enjoy and the stuff that I know will bring in readers.  This is nothing new.  I’ve known for years that the parts of my own work that I myself prefer are only rarely favorites of others.  By contrast, I’ve written things that I think are obvious or pointless and had literally hundreds of people tell me how amazing they are.  This is one of the reasons why I write a lot.  I never know what’s going to strike a chord with others.
Very occasionally, I’ll write something that I like that other people also really like, and those are the days—rare though they may be—that make me love writing.  In the meantime, I hope to balance the need to write what I enjoy with what I think other people want to read.  
This list seeks that same balance.  It chronicles a very good year of blogging.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Star Wars: 10 Things I'd Like to See

The kids and I went to see the movie again on Monday, and I liked it a lot.  If anything, I actually liked it better on second viewing.  I realized that several of the things I thought were frustrating the first time out were explained—sometimes twice.  I just missed them.  
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
**Spoilers Ahead**

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: The Return of Dr. Necropolis--Chapter 15 (Part 1)

Frank McGuinness, the man who was once the notorious super-criminal Dr. Necropolis, escaped from Sing Sing Correctional Facility, robbed a bank, and got away with it.  He took a hostage named Chelsea.  Meanwhile, his former partner, the Russian super-criminal known only as the Siberian Tiger, resurfaced after years underground, with both Frank's ex-wife, Gun Girl Gracie, on his arm and Frank's greatest creation, the Neural Disruptor, wrapped around his head.

Against them stand Army Lieutenant Blaine Winters, the 
new Centurion of the N.Y. State National Guard's Enhanced Forces Division (EFD), and FBI Agent Tiffany Trujillo, once the superhero Titania. These two went with a SWAT team to confront the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie at a bank heist in Brooklyn, but they got their asses kicked. Tiffany wound up in the hospital, a bunch of SWAT officers died, and Blaine would have died too if not for the prodigious gifts associated with his extraordinary genetic heritage.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Odds & Ends: STAR WARS News is not Real News

Emo Kylo Ren: Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Polarizing Villain (Daily Beast)
[T]here are those who agree with the Vatican’s anonymous film critic, who derides Ren as a pale imitation of Vader in L’Osservatore Romano and writes that he “fails most spectacularly” as a “representation of evil.”

But is Ren meant to be a “representation of evil?” 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

finally saw Star Wars: the Force Awakens on Wednesday, and Spoiler Alert: I really liked it.  I don’t know if I liked it quite as rapturously as some of my friends did, and certainly there have been reviewers gushing about it in terms that are usually reserved for far more serious films, but it is fun and funny, and it pays off very nicely at the end.  More to the point, it succeeds in its mission to reboot the Star Wars movie franchise in a way that is decidedly nostalgic for the Original Trilogy.  It doesn’t break a lot of new ground, unfortunately, in terms of in-universe storytelling, but it does set up some story questions which ought to get asses back in seats when the as yet un-titled Episode VIII rockets into theaters in 2017.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This post is not a review of the film.  There’s no point in reviewing a movie that has already made $700M, especially since everyone I know has already seen it.  I’m assuming here that you’ve seen it, as well.  The movie has long since embedded itself into the pop-culture zeitgeist.  In fact, I bought my wife a BB-8 bead for her Pandora bracelet immediately after we left the theater, and she’s not even a Star Wars fan.  But that’s the way these things go.  
Regardless, folks have asked me what I thought of the movie.  These are my thoughts, for better or worse.  
**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,
It seems like only a week ago that spring finally gave way to summer, letting us put on shorts and t-shirts for the first time after a winter of prolonged blistering cold.  And yet, here we are again, decorating the house for Christmas and preparing for the coming of another New Year.  2015 has felt very much like a year of keeping on, of incremental growth and measured accomplishment, but in collecting my notes for this letter, it’s become clear that this is only the way that it feels, that the truth has been both happier and more productive than my poor memories suggest.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: Lords of the Sith

With Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm has come the recent, somewhat controversial decision to wipe away the Star Wars Expanded Universe in order to make way for new product.  They had to do it to give themselves room to run with the movies, but the decision undoes a huge amount of prose and sequential art storytelling, much of it beloved, starting with Timothy Zahn’s Heirs of Empire trilogy and the long-time work of Dark Horse Comics.  Under Disney, Lucasfilm has been rebuilding its mythos around the original Star Wars movie trilogy, the part of the story starring Luke Skywalker and his friends in their fight against Darth Vader.  The vast majority of new Star Wars novels and all of the comics have therefore come from the period beginning with the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope and ending in the days immediately following Return of the Jedi and the Battle of Endor.  There are a few exceptions, however, and one of these is the prose novel Lords of the Sith by lawyer/novelist Paul S. Kemp.  Kemp is a favorite of mine from his Forgotten Realms work, so when I needed an audiobook to get me through the drive from Connecticut to DC and back for a recent football outing with a friend, I decided to give Lords of the Sith a listen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: The Return of Dr. Necropolis (Chapter 14)

Sketch in My Notebook
Frank McGuinness, the man who was once the notorious super-criminal Dr. Necropolis, escaped from Sing Sing Correctional Facility, robbed a bank, and got away with it. Meanwhile, his former partner, the Russian super-criminal known only as the Siberian Tiger, resurfaced after years underground, with both Frank's ex-wife, Gun Girl Gracie, on his arm and Frank's greatest creation, the Neural Disruptor, wrapped around his head.

Against them stand Army Lieutenant Blaine Winters, the 
new Centurion of the N.Y. State National Guard's Enhanced Forces Division (EFD), and FBI Agent Tiffany Trujillo, once the superhero Titania. These two went with a SWAT team to confront the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie at a bank heist in Brooklyn, but they got their asses kicked. Tiffany wound up in the hospital, a bunch of SWAT officers died, and Blaine would have died too if not for the prodigious gifts associated with his extraordinary genetic heritage.

This week, we flash back to 2003...

Monday, December 21, 2015

I still haven't seen the movie, but...

... this is one of those things that I find myself thinking about a lot.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

I love this, but...

...I still haven't seen the movie.  :(

A photo posted by Derek Laufman (@dereklaufman) on

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Theme is Up!

Now that football season is over, I've (finally) got the new theme is up on the blog.  It's supposed to be Christmasy, so by all means, let me know what you think.  I played with it for a quite a while this morning but ultimately came down on the side of readability over holiday-power.  Hopefully it is at least readable and not too garish.

I've also been playing around with the blog's ad structure.  Yes, this blog is ad-supported, and if you're wondering, I'm about three-quarters of the way towards getting my first $100 check from Google for my share of this thing's revenues.  No, that's not a lot on a monthly basis or anything, but getting that check has nevertheless been a long-standing goal--and one that I fully intend to see through now that I'm close.

I also played with the widths this morning, and honestly, I'm not sure how they're displaying.  They look fine in the Chrome browser on my Chromebook, but Blogger is a Google product, as is this machine, so of course it all displays correctly here.  However, I've no idea how it looks on I.E. or Safari or any of those other browsers that the kids are using today.  If it looks wonky, please, please, please do me the favor of letting me know.

Thanks!

Merry Christmas, folks.

Friday, December 18, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: Star Wars Week

It’s Star Wars week, which means that we’ve spent the last few days getting bombarded with new Sci Fi movie trailers.  Is this good?  

Returning soon to a galaxy far, far away...
It is if the movies are good.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Army Football Review: Final Thoughts on 2015

I’m gonna use Army beat writer Sal Interdonato’s Navy write-up as my starting place this week.  If you’re a fan of Army Football, I urge you to read the whole article.  That said, the piece below is where I want to start as we consider where this team is headed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: The Return of Dr. Necropolis (Chapter 13, Part 3)

Frank McGuinness, the man who was once the notorious super-criminal Dr. Necropolis, escaped from Sing Sing Correctional Facility, robbed a bank, and got away with it. Meanwhile, his former partner, the Russian super-criminal known only as the Siberian Tiger, resurfaced after years underground, with both Frank's ex-wife, Gun Girl Gracie, on his arm and Frank's greatest creation, the Neural Disruptor, wrapped around his head.

Against them stand Army Lieutenant Blaine Winters, the
new Centurion of the N.Y. State National Guard's Enhanced Forces Division (EFD), and FBI Agent Tiffany Trujillo, once the superhero Titania. These two went with a SWAT team to confront the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie at a bank heist in Brooklyn, but they got their asses kicked. Tiffany wound up in the hospital, a bunch of SWAT officers died, and Blaine would have died too if not for the prodigious gifts associated with his extraordinary genetic heritage.

Now Blaine is left to carry on the investigation by himself, while Tiffany recovers in the hospital...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Final Thoughts on Army-Navy 2015

That was a tough game to watch.

Army entered the contest as 22-point underdogs, and even with the lead at half-time, I didn't truly believe that they were going to win.  After thirteen--now fourteen--years of disappointment, buying into Army Football's success is a perilous exercise.  Our family strategy was to put the game on while we trimmed the Christmas tree by way of distraction, but the game itself was so exciting that we left the ornaments sitting forlornly on the floor while I paced frantically and screamed at our TV.

I think I scared my kids a little, but oh well.  It's Army-Navy, and we can afford therapy if necessary.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Go Army, Beat Navy!

This is the greatest spirit video of all time, from our Class's 20th Reunion, earlier this year.



Friday, December 11, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: Army-Navy

It’s been a rough week on the Internet, even with the Army-Navy game coming tomorrow afternoon.  So much of the news has been either banal or outright depressing.  It’s been a struggle to find five things worth talking about.

Tomorrow!
I confess that I’m not much looking forward to tomorrow’s game, nor to additional reminders of all the ways in which this year’s Army football team has underperformed.  Sure, Army’s players are all going to serve, and CBS is going to celebrate that like it’s the most important part of the game.  It may well be.  In the meantime, though, they’re still athletes.  It’s still appropriate to celebrate—or not—the value of their athletic accomplishments.  These guys are going to be soldiers soon enough.  For now, let’s let them be football players and take the game for what it is.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

D&D: Christmas with the Orcs

Everyone in our family is required to make a gift for everyone else in our family every year at Christmas.  We do this to combat the ever-growing commercialism of the holiday, and it's been a big hit.  My gift for my kids this year is the following short D&D adventure, which I'm going to run for them on Christmas Eve.  I called it "Christmas with the Orcs: The Red Man Comes!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Two Biographies

I got asked for two separate biographies last week.   First, I'm running for Information Systems Officers (i.e. webmaster) for my West Point class, and the Association of Graduates asked for a short, fixed-format bio along with a picture as part of the election process.  The editor of the Army Swimming Newsletter then sent me a note asking for a bio and a little write up about my new book for the newsletter's alumni section.  That was really, really nice.

It was also a challenging writing assignment.  "Give me three or four paragraphs telling us what you've been up to since graduation (twenty years ago!), plus a little bit about the books and what they're about, plus your favorite memory from your time swimming at Army."

Whew!

I put the following paragraphs together in response to those requests.  I've redacted some information about where I work because that's none of your business.  I also went a little long on the swimming stuff.  They wound up cutting that a lot, but I'm presenting the full write-up because space is not an issue here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: The Return of Dr. Necropolis (Chapter 13, Part 2)

Sketch in My Notebook
Frank McGuinness, the man who was once the notorious super-criminal Dr. Necropolis, escaped from Sing Sing Correctional Facility, robbed a bank, and got away with it. Meanwhile, his former partner, the Russian super-criminal known only as the Siberian Tiger, resurfaced after years underground, with both Frank's ex-wife, Gun Girl Gracie, on his arm and Frank's greatest creation, the Neural Disruptor, wrapped around his head.

Against them stand Army Lieutenant Blaine Winters, the new Centurion of the N.Y. State National Guard's Enhanced Forces Division (EFD), and FBI Agent Tiffany Trujillo, once the superhero Titania. These two went with a SWAT team to confront the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie at a bank heist in Brooklyn, but they got their asses kicked. Tiffany wound up in the hospital, a bunch of SWAT officers died, and Blaine would have died too if not for the prodigious gifts associated with his extraordinary genetic heritage.

Now Blaine is left to carry on the investigation by himself, while Tiffany recovers in the hospital...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Morning's Favorite Stuff

It's slim pickings on the inter-webs this morning, but there are a few little things worth sharing.

A photo posted by Евгений Шмидт (@ottoschmidt) on

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Editorial on an Editorial: Supergirl v. Jessica Jones

Because we talked about this a little on Wednesday...

[Editorial] Jessica Jones & Supergirl: Apples & Oranges (Major Spoilers)
Supergirl is popularly referred to as “Girl Flash”, which is definitely true. The Kreisberg/Berlanti machine makes television shows under a certain formula that fans across their serieses can pick out – it’s not that subtly done. The problem with that qualifier is that nobody is looking to Legends of Tomorrow and calling that “Time Traveling Supergirl”. Why does WB’s female show require qualification through comparison to one of its MANY male led counterparts?

Friday, December 4, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: The Return of Darth Jar Jar

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was tough this week coming back from Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving was never much of a holiday in my house growing up, but now that I have my own household, we’ve made it pretty great.  Coming back after five full days of family and feast was not as easy as it might have been.
Well.  The work week is almost over.  That’s something, right?  
Let’s get to it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Quick TV Review: Jessica Jones

I like it. I don't know that I like it quite as much as I liked Daredevil, but it's definitely better than pretty much anything else that's on TV.  The Flash is maybe in the same general zip code in terms of overall storytelling, but though they're both comic book properties, they are otherwise so dissimilar as to dissuade anything other than the most cursory comparison.

That's not a bad thing, by the way. It simply shows the depth of the source medium.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: The Return of Dr. Necropolis (Chapter 13, Part 1)

Sketch in My Notebook
Frank McGuinness, the man who was once the notorious super-criminal Dr. Necropolis, escaped from Sing Sing Correctional Facility, robbed a bank, and got away with it.  Meanwhile, his former partner, the Russian super-criminal known only as the Siberian Tiger, resurfaced after years underground, with both Frank's ex-wife, Gun Girl Gracie, on his arm and Frank's greatest creation, the Neural Disruptor, wrapped around his head.  

Against them stand Army Lieutenant Blaine Winters, the new Centurion of the N.Y. State National Guard's Enhanced Forces Division (EFD), and FBI Agent Tiffany Trujillo, once the superhero Titania.  These two went with a SWAT team to confront the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie at a bank heist in Brooklyn, but they got their asses kicked.  Tiffany wound up in the hospital, a bunch of SWAT officers died, and Blaine would have died too if not for the prodigious gifts associated with his extraordinary genetic heritage.

Now Blaine is left to carry on the investigation by himself, but it feels like he's chasing ghosts...