Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Hair Metal: Vixen! Live!

When I was a freshman in high school, my high school had a lip-synching contest.  A few of the popular girls got together, put on some super-short skirts, and lip-synched this song.  To that point, it was easily the most erotic thing I'd ever seen in my oh-so-innocent life.

I've posted the live version of this song because my late-thirty-something ears think it needs a little gas in order to kick ass.

Friday Mad Science: Nothing but Tebow

So, truth is that my prayers were answered when Tim Tebow signed with the Jets.  I mean, I don’t root for the Jets or anything, and I haven’t since the Herm Edwards/Chad Pennington era, but I love a good media circus, and of course, the New York area tabloids are great for that.  Moreover, since he came to town, current Jets’ coach Rex Ryan has actively aided and abetted the media circus, to the point where he’s often more entertaining personally—in an unintentionally hilarious way—than the team is on the field.  Add in the fact that Tebow is himself a fully functional media circus all on his own, and what we have here is a recipe for an awesomely entertaining football season in New York—at least for Giant fans.  Hell, my favorite game of the entire year last year, at least during the regular season, was the Jets/Giants game, and that was beforeTebow parachuted into the picture.  Now?  I think most Giant fans are looking forward to entire season of schadenfraude on a heretofore unheard of scale.  Given the way last season ended, that’s an awful lot of friendly ribbing around the water cooler.

Jets fans, meanwhile, are left wondering what the Hell happened to their beloved hard-luck franchise.  Despite the fact that this thing with QB Mark Sanchez still looks more than a little unsettled, the team still gave the guy a pretty nice extension.  Well, maybe that was the best move after Peyton Manning turned them down.  A lot of Sanchez’s money is supposedly not well-guaranteed, and more to the point, it didn’t look like the Jets had much chance at getting anyone better this season—and probably next as well, baring catastrophe on the field.  They brought in Drew Stanton to back Sanchez up, and I think most fans were mollified.  After all, Stanton was a high draft pick himself, and in recent years, he’s played pretty well when given a chance.

So then… Tebow?  Despite what the team argues, they do not need him to run the Wildcat.  First off, they don’t run  it nearly as much as they used to, and even if they did, they already had a couple of guys on the roster who could run it.  Bottom line, I don’t think there’s an actual football need for the guy at any level.

But if football’s not the answer, what is?

Tebow is already selling a Hell of a lot of Jets jerseys and related Jets-type paraphernalia.  And bottom line, I think that the Jets like having that money-making presence on their team.

* * *
My daughter Hannah says that when she grows up, she wants to be a scientist who does science-y type things and casts spells.

Yes, that’s right.  I’m raising a young, girly-girl version of Doctor Doom.  Now all I need to do is find her some armor that flatters her figure and a pink cape.

* * *
The only other thing I’ve got this week is this: a piece from Yahoo about a new tourism experience in the UK—the Zombie Apocalypse!  Yes, now you too can experience the thrill and horror of humanity’s extinction at the hands of the undead.

You laugh, but a friend in my office is so excited about this that I think he might actually go over there and give this a try.  How do you like that?

* * *
And that’s about all I’ve got.  Don’t blame me!  It was a slow news week, and I’ve got a race coming up.  I’ll leave you with this, a piece of good running form.  Running is one of those sports where form and technique are under-appreciated, I think, so hopefully this'll help.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Triathlon Week in Review: Getting Ready for the Boogie

After three solid weeks of training, this week is a Rest Week, thank God. 

I haven’t been putting in quite the same level of total aerobic training this year that I did last year, but it’s felt like more because I’m doing a lot less swimming this year, and that’s put a lot more stress on my legs and lower body.  As a result, I’ve had to rest more to recover.  But I feel like it’s paid off, and I’m settling into it, finally.  I’ve been through three complete four-week training cycles, and at some point during this last one, Ifinally started feeling like myself again.  I’m riding better, running comfortably, and swimming at a level that I can live with, especially given that this season calls for a grand total of three hundred yards of swimming in competition.

Brian’s Beachside Boogie is this weekend, and as always, I’m looking forward to it.  I’ve run it twice, and every time I do, it ends up being one of my favorite races of the year.  The race is a duathlon—two-mile run, ten-mile ride on trails (fat tires mandatory), two-mile run—and as such, my expectations are low.  I just head out there to do what I can do, and that’s what makes the race awesome.  Plus, it’s short, so it’s not like it’s gonna kill me. 

Last year I came in at an hour and seven minutes, netting 38th overall but still 7th of 14 in my age group, and that was okay but obviously not a standout performance or anything.  This year, the weather calls for significantly more wind, so I doubt I’ll be faster.  As for placing… it’s hard to have goals for placing without knowing who’s going to show up.  On the other hand, Sally’s doing the race with me again this year (she skipped it last year), and we’re taking our kids for the first time, so that promises to be fun.  Plus the race is out at Hammonassette State Park, one of my favorite places in all of Connecticut.

Beyond prepping for the race, it’s been a quite week, tri-wise.  I finally got my folding bike back from the shop on Monday, which meant that I had to ride it back home in thirty to forty mile-per-hour wind gusts, and then I ran a little yesterday, but I was taking it easy.  Still, it was a nice day, and I ran the southern loop in Central Park, and there were a bunch of cute girls out there.  It gets worse than that.

These pics are off the official race website.  I'm using them for promotion,
so hopefully no one minds.
Anybody else got any training updates?  Anybody sign up for any races?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Comic Review. Avengers: The Initiative, Volume 1

The cover for Avenger: The Initiative, Volume 1

Written by Dan Slott
Art by Stefano Caselli
Published by Marvel

As we’ve covered here before, I skip most comic Events.  First off, they always strike me as a money-grab, and on top of that, I find it endlessly annoying when they interrupt the storylines in my favorite books.  Plus, many big company comic Events are billed as “world-changing,” only to be undone by editorial at the end of the current story-arc, so that it’s often hard to see in retrospect what the point of the event was in the first place—besides driving sales. 

With that in mind, I was more than a little dubious when I saw Avengers: The Initiative (Volume 1) at my local library over the weekend.  But as we discussed last week, I’m reading up a bit on The Avengers in anticipation of the movie this summer, and more to the point, now that Marvel’s big Civil War event is dead and buried, I find myself a little curious to see what, if anything, all the fuss was about.  And then too, I noticed that Dan Slott wrote The Initiative, and I figured, What the Hell.  He sure is kicking ass on Amazing Spider-Man.

The story here—and it seems in Civil War, as well—is a political allegory based in large part on the policies of the Bush Administration post-9/11.  The 9/11 stand-in event is a superhero battle that destroyed the city of Stamford, CT, killing some six hundred civilian bystanders and a small collection of no-name heroes operating under the banner of the New Warriors.  Soon, the U.S. Government passes a law requiring all super-humans to register their powers with the federal government and report for official training, after which they will be inducted into The Avengers Initiative, now operating as a branch of the U.S. Army.  Super-humans who refuse to serve are de-powered in one of a variety of ways, and voila!  We have a human rights story set in the midst of the Marvel Universe.

All of this is set in backstory in the inside cover of the Volume 1 trade.  The story itself starts with the forcible recruitment of some teenaged and early-twenties-aged super-humans, and it proceeds through their initial training and their first few deployments with The Initiative.  And a lot of it is standard-issue basic-training stuff, but it’s cleverly executed, and it gives us a chance to get to know some folks who’re either completely new Marvel characters or who are, for the most part, utter nobodies.  It’s a mark of the quality of the writing on this book that it got me totally interested in the lives of Hank Pym (as Yellowjacket, no less), James Rhodes (aka War Machine, but without Tony Stark to carry his characterization), and a couple of Peter Parker’s clones!  At certain points of the day today, I’ve found myself reading for backstory on Wikipedia, trying to figure out how we went from the “outed” Peter Parker of this story to the one in Slott’s current Amazing Spider-Man (ASM) run along with, well, when the Hell did Hank Pym start sleeping with Tigra?!

Which brings us back to the Event comics, of course.  Because although The Initiative seems to have been its own title, it spun out of Civil War—and seems to have been undone in large part in the Brand New Day event in ASM.

Still, taken as a single piece of work, this first volume of The Initiative was outstanding.  The story is full of quasi-military anti-governmental paranoia, mixed liberally with coming-of-age anxiety, and seasoned with a dash of bureaucratic in-fighting, all of which keeps it hopping without making it either confusing or overly-busy.  I mean, all these characters are screwed from the get-go, and even the ones who’re supposed to be in charge really don’t know what the Hell they’re doing.  Just as in real life, The Initiative’s leaders spend as much time covering their own asses as they do actually working, and it’s always their personal goals and agendas that drive their actions.  I loved it, really, because sadly, that’s the way life is a lot of the time.  Yeah, folks want to do the right thing, but it always seems like the truly successful people are at least as concerned about how it’s going to look as they are with how it’s actually going to work.  And with lives on the line in this book, it doesn’t take long before that pervasive attitude of professional selfishness takes its oh-so-delightful toll.

The art here is strong.  Expressive, wide-screen stuff that effectively highlights the action.  My one critique is that Caselli has a tendency to draw lined, pouty faces with outsized puckering lips, but that’s more than forgivable, especially since he spares us all the gratuitous tits-in-chainmail-bikinis that have become the norm in so many comics these days.  Indeed, most of the girls here are wearing tee-shirts and baggy camouflage fatigue pants, and in fact, even when Hank Pym and Tigra are talking about getting it on, the artwork stays tasteful.  All things considered, that’s probably the most amazing thing in this entire book.

So.  Volume 1 of The Initiative was terrific.  I liked it, and I recommend it strongly to folks who like comic superheroes but who could use something that’s a little stronger than the standard good-vs.-evil that’s at the heart of most superhero tales.  This one’s kind of an Avengers-meets-Full Metal Jacket, with a side of Orson Wells’ 1984 thrown in for good measure.  I dug it the most and am really looking forward to reading Volume 2 on the train ride home tonight.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Saturday Group Ride

Had a better weekend this past weekend than I have had over the past few weeks.  Friday was kind of rough day, as you may have read, but Saturday was better.  I changed the tires on my road bike—not just the inner tubes but the actual tires themselves—and then went out for a group ride with my new triathlon club.  The ride was a blast, and the new tires were awesome.  They’re slightly smaller than my old ones, and they seemed to hold their pressure a little better over the course of the day.  Plus, maybe it was just me, but it seemed like they rode better, too.

I rode from my house to the YMCA and met the group starting at about eight.  There were four of us on Saturday—me, Chris, Steve, and a new person named Kim.  Once we’d stretched and kind of hung out for a while, we headed out with Chris in the lead, going around a few long, looping back roads to a pair of short climbs, all of which led to a long pedestrian bridge over the Housatonic River that runs next to the Merritt Parkway.  Igotta say that it was kind of a mistake letting Chris take the lead.  He was the most familiar with the route, but he’s also the best rider in the group, and after struggling a little with the later half of last week’s group run, Chris was eager for a little payback.  

Needless to say, we all suffered.

Our ride route from Saturday.  Note that I've only included the part from the YMCA out to Stratford.  I left
off the ride from my house to the Y.
We got to the bridge maybe eight miles into the ride, and that’s where Steve and Kim turned around.  Steve’s still getting back into shape—in fairness, his wife just had a baby—and Kim was on her mountain bike—all things considered, I was amazed she hung on as long as she did.  But once they were gone, I was left alone with Chris, and let me tell you, that’s when the gloves came off.  I took the lead over the bridge and into Stratford, and as we climbed the last hill into town, I felt Chris come up behind me, looking a little frustrated.

“Don’t you want to push a bigger gear?” he asked.

Ummm… no?

Needless to say, Chris took the lead from there, and I latched onto his wheel and clung on for dear life.  And I was fine like that for maybe the next four or five miles.  But as we left Stratford proper and headed out towards Lordship, I felt myself starting to crack.  By that time, I was well past any concern for my pride as coach of the team.  I’d gone through all through denial and bargaining and was well into acceptance.  Chris was breaking me.  He was doing it effortlessly.

So I cracked, and we slowed down, pedaling around Stratford’s tiny airport and out through the marsh flats and around Russian Beach.  With me broken, Chris got chatty, and we talked man-nights and beer, kids and golf.  That was my favorite part of the ride.  We rode like that for maybe another four or five miles, and when we got out near my house, I pulled off and let Chris go.  I don’t know how much further he road, but for me, that was almost exactly thirty miles on the day.  An awesome ride and at a much higher tempo than I usually hold.

The rest of Saturday was pretty lazy.  I took the kids to the Milford library and then to our local comic shop, and when we got home, I kicked back with a beer and read comics.  The kids played and read comics of their own, and that was pretty much it.  A very nice Saturday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monster of the Week: Calloch, the Vampire Dragon

Like the man says, sometimes two great things go great together.  In that spirit, behold!  Calloch, the Vampire Dragon.

Calloch, the Vampire Dragon.  Created using WotC's Adventure Tools program.
Granted, there are already several cool and entirely serviceable dracolich builds, and there's at least one build for a zombie dragon as well.  But.  I like vampires.  Not fuzzy, Vampire Diaries vampires, but the real, conquer Wallachia and put half the population onto stakes kind.  I like that stuff.

Truth is, I read a really cool comic adaptation of Dracula last week, and this idea's been brewing in my head ever since.  I loved the way the vampire of Stoker's story is a psychological monster.  The way he manipulates and controls his victims.  The way he's a capable combatant but more than that, he's a master manipulator.  And I thought, would't it be cool if we had that in a dragon?


I considered making this a Paragon Tier monster, but all the cool kids are innovating monsters for the Epic Tier, and more to the point, I don't have time to work ol' Calloch into my campaign right now.  And that's a problem because a monster like this, in my opinion, needs to be a real focal point of the campaign.  Just as he manipulates the combat, so too he needs to control the PCs, set them to do his bidding, and really work towards their eventual destruction.

So, what do you think?  Viable villain here, or is this just too, too much all at the same time?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Comics, Day 9. Bronx Angel: Born Leader (Page 8)

Bronx Angel: Born Leader--Page 8.
Click here to view page at full size.
As a storyteller, one of the best ways to convey information to your audience is to allow the reader to overhear characters giving an opinion on something.  For example, want to get across the idea that some female character is promiscuous?  Have a couple of the jocks call her a slut while they're changing in the locker room after football practice.

Here, I wanted to get the idea across that Angel's unit is taking heavy fire.  That's the purpose of this page.  In storytelling terms, it's Development.  Which is to say that this is the part where things get worse for the hero.

As always, click the Sunday Comics tab below to read the story from the beginning.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Article on PTSD

A friend of mine posted an article out of the NYT today on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I think is interesting.  The article makes the point that today's young Americans are a trophy generation, used to being placed into circumstances where nobody loses and nothing ever goes wrong, and then they get a trophy at the end just for participating.  And I suppose I see the point in that statement, but I also think it probably only applies in selected cases.  I mean, that's certainly true for most upper-middle class white kids.  But having walked and ridden through Harlem almost daily for the past two years, I can tell you that the city kids aren't getting an excess of either praise or trophies, and more to the point, they're the ones who're are FAR more likely to join the Army.

Be that as it may, the point of the article is that being mentally and emotionally resilient is at some level a state of mind.  You have to learn to focus on the positive, not obsess over potential negative outcomes, and basically learn to believe that This Too Shall Pass.  And that's fine.  I think it's great that the Army is trying to teach people to overcome their adversities, especially given the unprecedented number of times they're sending their people into harm's way these days.  With that said, I think it's worth asking how this stuff applies in real life too.

Personally, I've been struggling a little bit lately.  I mean, I feel a little like a thoroughbred racehorse.  When I'm on top of my game, well, that's been pretty good.  I got the best evaluation of my professional career--of any of my careers--last month, and I expect to do fairly well at raise time next month, and basically, there's not a lot that I can complain about these days professionally.  When the crisis happened yesterday, I can say without exaggeration that I was a significant part of making sure that no one ever noticed.  Especially considering that I'm an historian working as an electrical engineer, I feel like I'm respected at work and that what I say matters.  I feel like folks think I'm a smart guy, and that's no mean thing, all things considered.  Moreover, after about seven weeks of concerted effort, I finally feel like I've got my riding fitness back.  In fact, physically, I feel great most of the time.  I'm running well, riding well, and swimming well, and (finally) sleeping a little better.


I also feel like the slightest thing pushes me over the emotional cliff right now.  And I can't find much of a reason for it.  I mean, yeah, yesterday was a tough day.  But it was by no means the toughest day ever.  And yet, there I was, thinking, "Wow.  This is my life, and since my folks died so young... Man, it's almost over for me.  And what do I have to show for it?"

The NYT article talks about folks who experience stress now and folks who experience it later.  I'm definitely in the Later camp.  I'm great in a crisis.  But a month afterwards... watch out.

I don't know.  I guess what I'm saying here is that all the crap with my mom and my dad and my grandfather...  That stuff all happened about a year ago, and it's only now (finally) catching up to me.  I feel like I've put off dealing with it for so long, but now I don't have much choice.  However, I do know that I need to find some more of that resiliency for myself because what I've got now is no good.  I mean, yeah, it's great to be good in a crisis.  But I also want to be good for my wife and my kids on a lazy Saturday morning.

Eh...  Maybe the problem is that we just haven't had enough lazy Saturdays lately.  But this particular one has been pretty nice.  I road thirty miles with one of the guys from my triathlon team this morning--and he smoked me!--and I've now been sitting here banging away on this for some twenty minutes.  Life's not bad.  But like they say in the article--and like I always tell my wife--you have to be smart enough to know when you've got it good.  And that's a challenge for everybody, not just soldiers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The "There Is No Tomorrow" Edition

Whew!  It’s been some kind of day today.  I mean, I don’t talk about my work to much—that’s done on purpose—but I will say that some days are more exciting than others, and today way, for better or worse, one of the more exciting days.

I hate it when that happens on a Friday.

* * *
Sorry for all the crazy videos today, especially the last one, the one with the bikini girls.  Frankly, I didn’t even watch that one save to see the one girl with her ass-cheeks hanging out.  I mean, I like ass-cheeks as much as the next guy—and maybe even a little more than most—but I’ll be honest: I have no idea what that contest was even supporting.  I turned the sound on it off and scrolled through it with this morning’s Tesla songs as my optional soundtrack.

Good old Tesla.  I almost feel like I should apologize for putting up Modern Day Cowboy, too.  Not my favorite Tesla song, that, but Tesla is far more known for their power ballads, and I didn’t want to start my day with one of those.  So… Cowboy it was.  But while I like that song okay, the video was nigh-unwatchable.  Those guys look so ridiculous when they try to act tough.  Not for nothing are all their good songs about love.  They’re practically French that way.

* * *
We hear a lot about the Haves and Have-Nots in America.  The so-called one-percent and the other ninety-nine.  This week, ran an article/slideshow about employment in the developed world that I think nicely highlights some of the issues involved.  I particularly liked the slide on Page 2 that shows the change in jobs (by millions of employees) in the U.S. between 2001 and 2009.  Bottom line, employment is fine for folks who can manage complex interactional tasks that are difficult to code into some kind of computer language—because, let’s face it, finding folks who can actually do those tasks reliably is a serious challenge—but if you do something that is essentially repetitive in nature, i.e. assembly line worker and/or bank teller, then the odds are corporate America is looking to replace you with a machine of some kind or ship your job out to some kid making $.08/hour in a suburb or Taipei.  For example, ATM Machines have replaced lots and lots of bank tellers.

The Teller's Office from the Queensland Nation Bank, circa 1922.  They
don't build 'em like this anymore because they don't need to.  With ATMs,
the truth is that they don't need nearly as many tellers.
The other interesting thing in the report is on page 4, where we learn that that nation’s unemployment problems are largely regional, but unfortunately today’s workers are less likely to relocate for a better job than were past generations.  That might seem strange to you—I personally find it downright bizarre—but I think the issue here is really one of real estate more than unwillingness.  Which is to say that folks would be happy to move in order to get a better job, but right now, they can’t sell their houses for enough to cover the remaining principles on their mortgages, and it takes a lot of gumption—and quite a bit of savings—to take a loss on your house’s principle.

In any event, I’m not particularly worried about my kids doing well enough in school to find decent jobs when they get older.  Both my girls are smart, motivated people, and we’re very tough on them.  However, I do worry about the country as a whole because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of other parents out there with the intestinal fortitude to teach their kids life’s hard lessons.  So many parents just want to throw their kids in front of the TV or the X-Box just because they don’t want to deal with all the headaches and the incessant questions, and frankly, the idea of saying “No” to their kids—on anything—is a totally foreign concept.  Sally and I see these wimpy parents all the time, even in “nice” families, and it drives me crazy.  It makes me wonder who among my girls’ generation is gonna have the sheer motivation and stick-to-it-iveness to do the hard jobs of the future.  What kind of future are we building here?

* * *
I read a crazy article on small-time semi-pro MMA fighters on SB*Nation this week.  Who even knew there was such a thing?  I certainly didn’t. 

At any rate, reading the article reminded me a bit of the small-time pro-wrestling scene, save that the fact that these are actual fights—with both more realism and more real bloodshed and bodily harm—seems to have made small-time MMA a better draw.  For example, the article itself is about an event in Colorado, and it seems to have been well-attended despite the fact that there was no one of note on the card, and in fact, virtually all of the fighters have actual jobs in addition to their activities with MMA.

Personally, I can’t understand what would make a guy with a regular job get in the Octagon more than once or twice, but y’know, what do I know?  I mean, I know we live in a society that increasingly devalues the manly arts of fighting and physical conquest, so maybe that right there is enough to explain it.  Maybe guys are just looking for a way to be, well, Men.  Nothin’ wrong with that, I suppose.  Certainly, it’s a big part of what keeps me in triathlon year after year.

* * *
Teen Titans: A Kid's Game
Finally, I finished reading Teen Titans: A Kid’s Game this morning, and I think I now understand DC Comics’ desire to move Cyborg up to the Justice League.  I mean, aside from the fact that the Justice League obviously needed a token black guy.  A Kid’s Game sees Cyborg take a leadership role in the Teen Titans, and it really works.  Not only is it development for that one particular character, but the book as a whole has a kind of High School feel that is, I think, totally appropriate to what is—or ought to be—a core DC Young Adult (YA) title.

In the story, we see the core members of the Titans—Cyborg, Beast BoyStarfire, and eventually Raven—trying to integrate with new members since some of their old members have recently graduated on the bigger and better things.  For example, Nightwing, their old leader, is now firmly established as an adult and a member of the Justice League, and he is apparently also the commander of the Outsiders (although I don’t remember “Nightwing and the Outsiders” ever being a thing), and the old Kid Flash is now the Flash—and also in the JLA—while Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) is dead.  So the Titans have to bring in some new members, which makes sense because in the time that the title was apparently out of print, a lot of the primary heroes have taken new apprentices, none of whom have ever been Teen Titans.  Tim Drake is now RobinConner Kent is now SuperboyCassie something is now Wonder Girl, and I’ve no idea what Impulse’s secret identity is, but by the end of A Kid’s Game, he’s the new Kid Flash.  And it’d be weird in the extreme to just throw those guys onto the Titans without even noting that, hey, Robin and Nightwing aren’t the same guy. 

In any event, A Kid’s Game was released in trade paperback in 2004, meaning that the individual issue probably came out in 2003.  So that’s almost ten years.  Assuming the Cyborg continued to grow as a leader and lean more towards the role of Troop Leader than towards that of Boy Scout, it only makes sense that nearly a decade on, he’s ready to follow Nightwing’s lead into the Big Leagues. 

Now granted, DC just re-booted the whole universe, and they could’ve used that to de-age Vic Stone and stick him back in the Titans, but that re-boot was selective.  The Bat titles, for example, got only a mild updating.  And though I don’t know what the plan was for Cyborg, I can well imagine that his fans from the Titans are more than ready to see him finally grow up, move out of the Tower, and get into the Majors.  If that’s the case, then kudos to DC for keeping something that was working in the midst of their re-boot.  Certainly the re-boot itself seems to have been a good idea, but it that’s so, it’s only because it was done selectively and intelligently.

* * *
So like I said, today was a day.  And yeah, I still don’t wanna get into it, but I will say that I think it’s important to live in the moment.  You get maybe seventy-five years, and of those, you’re pretty useless for the first five and last five.  That gives you a very limited span… not enough time that you really want to waste any of it.  So it’s not like there’s a tomorrow.  In a cosmic sense, there isn’t. 

Live in the moment, and live the best life you can.  That’s all I’ve got. 

Hell, that’s all any of us have.

Beer Geek Nation: Sierra Nevada's Summerfest

My wife Sally really likes this beer.  And what with the warm weather we're having, it seemed like an appropriate review to run.

Friday Hair Metal: Twofer from Tesla

Friday Mad Science is liable to be a little late today, so in the meantime, here's a couple of my favorites from Tesla (hair band extraordinaire).  Enjoy!  And check back later, because if I can find something else that's cool, I stick it up for a mid-day update.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Comics in Review: Moon Knight and Other Things

It’s been a while since I’ve done either a book review or anything substantial on comics, so while we’ve got a day free from craziness, let me tell you a little about what I’ve reading lately.  I’ll preface this by saying that I was in the Milford, CT, library last weekend when I discovered that they had a pretty well-stocked graphic novels shelf buried in the back of the Young Adult section.  They didn’t have a lot that was new, but they had a substantial selection of modern classics, and I grabbed big fistfuls of stuff I’d always meant to read but had never quite gotten around to.  Amongst those was Avengers ForeverCrisis on Infinite EarthsTeen Titans: A Kids’ GameUltimate Spider-Man Vol. 1Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol. 1, and a digest-sized comic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Avengers Forever
I started with Avengers Forever.  I’ve been on something of a Kurt Busiek kick since reading Trinity Vol. 1 a couple of months ago, and more to the point, I’ve been trying to bone up a little on the classic Avengers stories these past few months in anticipation of this summer’s movie.  As it turns out, AF is an incredibly cosmic story from 1998-99.  The story is about a war between Kang the Conqueror and Immortus, Kang’s future-self alter-ego, with Captain America, the Wasp, a couple of versions of Hank Pym, and a few others running around through time trying to alternately save Rick Jones’s life and prevent massive continuity problems in the time stream due to the war’s interference. 

It’s a cool enough story, and the art is very, very nice, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it owed A LOT to Jim Starlin’s work on Adam Warlock even though the influence is never credited, and having met Mr. Starlin, I can only imagine that the success of this story—which is so clearly based on his long-ago story concepts—must have driven him crazy.  And then, too, what’s an Avenger’s story without either Thor or Iron Man?  Or even The Vision?  Those guys all make cameos, but the core cast here is a bunch of oddballs, and it’s a little off-putting.  That said, the Wasp has a leading role, and it works so nicely that it makes me wonder if the folks at Disney/Marvel haven’t made an error is keeping her out of this summer’s movie.

In any event, I liked Avengers Forever okay, but I certainly wouldn’t go out and buy it.  It’s definitely a library-type read.  The fighting-your-future-self thing is always cool—and in fact, I’m thinking about introducing it as an angle in my D&D campaign The Sellswords of Luskan once the heroes reach the Epic Tier—but as a story, I kind of thought this one was missing something.

So.  If Avengers Forever was good but not great, Crisis on Infinite Earths was a straight-up disappointment.  I remember it from when I was ten years old, and it was coming out at roughly the same time as Marvel’s also-classic Secret Wars.  But where Secret Wars is pretty much just a straight-up fanboy smackdown, Crisis, I thought, had delusions of grandeur.  The heroes never fight the villains, the series’ over-arching villain isn’t really established until near the close of the book, and most of the action is of the nebulous save-these-people-from-falling-rocks-and-burning-buildings variety.  Not what I was expecting at all.  I grant you that the sequence where Super Girl dies is pretty good, and the art is exceptional, especially for a book from the early 1980s.  Beyond that, however, there’s not a lot to like here, at least for me. 

Having been frustrated with trades, I headed to the local comic shop and picked up my usual stuff, along with a few other things.  I got the new Brian Wood/Becky Cloonan Conan, I got the two most recent issues ofAmazing Spider-Man, and I picked up issues 8, 9, and 10 of the new Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev Moon Knight.  Conan was disappointing while ASM—where Spidey and the Human Torch go into space together—was good, as always, but maybe not quite as good as the last couple of arcs have been.  So, more good but not great. 

The cover for a recent issue of
Moon Knight.  A groan-worthy
cover for a groan-worthy concept.
Amazingly, however, the book
itself is very good.
Thankfully, it was at this point that I read Moon Knight, and my faith in comics was restored.
I know what you’re thinking.  Moon Knight?  I was kind of thinking that, too, which is why I’ve been avoiding this book despite the fact that it’s done by my all-time favorite creative team.  But what are you gonna do?  I wanted something that wasn’t just good but was actually gonna be great, and bottom line, I trust Bendis and Maleev to deliver.  And they did.

The story here is that Moon Knight has developed multiple personality disorder, that the extra personalities think they are Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America respectively, and that in addition to all that, Moon Knight has started dating Echo, who you might remember (but probably don’t) as one of Matt Murdock’s ex-girlfriends from right before Messrs. Bendis and Maleev took over Daredevil way back in, like, 2005.  All of that, at least in concept, is utterly groan-worthy.  And it only gets worse when you factor in that the book is set in Los Angeles, and that the big-bad is Count Nefaria.  Who the fuck is Count Nefaria?  Seriously, I have never heard of Count Nefaria, and I think of myself as something of a nerd about these things.

All of which just goes to show you that storytelling is all about execution.  Because this is—as expected—a four-star book.  I don’t want to get too far into how the story plays out, but I will say that the multiple personality thing is actually kind of a stroke of genius.  What we’re seeing here is a guy, albeit a superhero, having a nervous breakdown.  And it’s executed in such painful, agonizing detail that we can literally feel him failing apart around us.

Seriously: four-star book.  Not for nothing is Brian Michael Bendis my favorite comics writer.

Needless to say, after that experience, I skipped straight to Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1.  Why?  Because it’s also a Bendis book, and in fact, it’s famous for being Bendis at his absolute best. 

Well.  Personally, I don’t know that I liked it better than I liked his grittier, more-classically-Bendis crime-fiction stuff, i.e. that Daredevil run I’m always talking about, but USM is definitely a good retelling of some of the classic Spider-Man stories.  For as much as I’m still not sure that the whole Ultimate Universe was actually good idea, this series, at least, is the best example of why they thought it might be.  Granted, the stories are recycled.  The execution is still absolutely first-rate here.

At this point, I’ve still got Ultimate Fantastic Four, that Dracula thing, and A Kids’ Game to read, as well as a single-issue comic based on the TV show Fringe that I picked up at the shop last week.  And if anybody’s got any suggestions, go ahead and give ‘em to me.  And thanks in advance!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday Stray Voltage

I got nothin' today.  Here're a few things that've caught my eye recently.

1.  An episode of TriCenter from late last summer:

If you watched that, and you're now wondering what happened at the Las Vegas 70.3 World Champions, you're not alone.  I wondered that too.  The race write-up is right here, courtesy of SlowTwitch.

2.  The newest edition of MusicCityMiracles Radio, discussing the fall-out from Peyton Manning signing with the Broncos:

3.  Finally, the latest Critical Hits podcast, covering adventure design.

And that's it!  Enjoy!
Listen to internet radio with MCMJimmy on Blog Talk Radio

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hannah's Evil Wizard

My daughter drew me this super-awesome EVIL WIZARD!  How  cool is that?

This dude needs a name.  Any suggestions?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monster of the Week: Icefire Penguin

In honor of my daughter Emma's 7th birthday, this week's Monster of the Week is the Icefire Penguin.

We celebrated Emma's birthday on Saturday with a penguin-themed party, and with all those 7-year-old girls running around here--all playing with stuffed penguins--of course, the only thing I could think about all party long was how cool it would be if have MY party got attacked by a pack of vicious primordial penguin monsters.  I mean, you don't typically think of penguins as horrifying dealers of death and destruction, but...

The always terrifying Icefire Penguin!
Created using WotC's Adventure Tools.
If you're curious, I'm planning to run the new Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl in my game, The Sellswords of Luskan soon.  The story here is that the Sellswords are on their way to the frost giant enclave, where they will confront the leader of the giants who've pledged allegiance to the Spine of the World's now infamous Cult of Fire.  The Cult of Fire is a longstanding enemy group in our game, and it dovetails nicely with the base story used in the rewritten Against the Giants campaign Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is running in Dungeon Magazine right now.  The only issue is that my giants are Fire Cultist Giants, but the campaign as-written doesn't have any fire cultists or elemental fire-type critters anywhere in it.  So I'm editing it a little, adding in some new critters and basically tailoring the campaign to my needs.  The Icefire Penguin is a part of that effort.

With that said, Icefire Penguins are really best used in areas with a mix of aquatic and icy terrain.  They'd be most effective in the Elemental Chaos, playing among the icebergs of the Endless Sea, maybe guarding some kind of fiery citadel nestled deep in the heart of a giant floating icy Hell.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Comics, Day 8. Bronx Angel: Born Leader (Page 7)

Bronx Angel: Born Leader--Page 7.
Click here to see the page at Full Size.
So here's the thing.  We talked a little on Friday about the costs of war, and that's basically what this story is about.  It's not so much about any specific war or conflict as it is about impacts that those conflicts have on the guys who serve in them.  The issue impacted my life mostly through my father, who was never able to come to grips with his demons.  

Now maybe Dad could've made something of the rest of his life if he'd attempted to get some help and treated that help with enough sincerity to give it a chance of working.  But he came out of a school of thought that said that real men never admit to feeling crappy.  They never ask for help, never make excuses.  Instead, they put up a good front.  They answer the bell.  And he did that while he was still in uniform.  It wasn't until afterwards that things fell apart.

Enough.  We'll see all of that play out here soon enough.  For now, Angel's in a bad spot, and he's realizing for the first time in his life that there's no one there for him to turn to.  He either has to solve his own problems or die trying.

As always, if you want to read the story from the beginning, click the Sunday Comics tag down below.  That's what it's there for.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Round Up

We had Emma's birthday party this afternoon, and now I'm exhausted.  I started the day with a one-hour run with my triathlon team, which was great but a little tiring.  Came home and had shower and some leftover breakfast before heading out to grab Emma's balloons.  Sally'd ordered twenty-four, so needless to say, I needed the big car to get them all.  After that, I came home, and we finished decorating.  We've got some pictures, and I'll post a few once I get a chance to pull them off the camera.

Little girls started showing up for the party around one.  The party had a Penguin theme, and frankly, I'm not sure I've ever before seen that many stuffed penguins in one place in my entire life.  Our first activity was Build-a-Bear stuffed penguins!  All of the girls got one, and we all sat there and put them together as a group project.  After that, Sally had set up a bunch of games, and we ran the girls through their paces for a couple of hours.  In the end, a good time was had by all, I think, but it was tiring for the adults, and if you ask me, more than a little over the top.

But what are you gonna do?  Seven-year-olds LOVE birthdays.

In any event, now things are done, and we're kind of cleaning up a little, but I still managed to break away and get up to the liquor store for some beer.  I've got about a half-case of Sierra Nevada and a six-pack of various pilsners in the fridge, but I wanted something with some hops.  Ended up grabbing a four-pack of Dogfish Head's 90-Minute IPA along with a four-pack of their new Aprihop.  Aprihop is a spring seasonal that I saw reviewed on Beer Geek Nation last night and decided to see if it was as good as Chris Steltz seemed to think it was.

That said, frankly I don't feel like reviewing the beer myself right now.  So I'll let Steltz tell the story:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Mad Science

I don’t want to get too much into the details of what looks like a tragic incident in Afghanistan this week, but I will say that I feel bad for the guy involved.  He’s been in the Army for about ten years, and this is his fourth combat tour.  He’d been wounded twice, including once when it required partial amputation of one of his feet.  He didn’t want o go back, but they sent him back—again.  And that sucks. 

All of that sucks.

If you don’t know—and considering that less than one percent of Americans actually serve, you probably don’t—four combat tours in ten years is virtually unprecedented as a requirement for service in this country’s history.  By comparison, Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell each only did THREE combat tours in Vietnam when they were junior and field grade officers.  Hell, today’s soldiers are seeing more combat under worse conditions than practically any soldiers in American history, probably since the Revolution.  I mean, yeah, the Revolution lasted fifteen years, and I dare say that those years sucked.  But since then, we’ve had very few wars go longer than four years, and of those, many have involved either widely separated combat tours or sporadic camp-like conditions between periods of what were, admittedly, very intense fighting.  Still, back in the day, you could at least get away from it without worrying about getting mortared in your own cantonment area.

The crazy thing is that this is the kind of soldier
we have to use to measure the experiences of
those serving in the modern U.S. Army.
In fact, the comparison between then and now is striking.  Let’s take Robert E. Lee for comparison.  We’ll use him because he is perhaps the most talented, most successful soldier in American military history.  No one’s gonna argue he was a panty-waist who didn’t do anything during his time in uniform. 

As a junior officer, Lee saw maybe eighteen months of on-again, off-again warfare during the Mexican American War, punctuated by two or three large engagements.  He was an Engineer, which at the time meant he served as a scout of terrain and was trained to make maps.  He was very good, went WAY forward, and saw real Mexicans who tried to kill him several times.  Based on the accounts that I’ve read, in eighteen months of campaigning we’ll be generous and say his life was in danger… maybe eight times.

Thirteen years later, Lee again sees prolonged action as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, the principle combat command of the short-lived Confederate States of America.  That command lasted four years, from 1861 to 1865, and according to Wikipedia’s informal count, there were about a dozen major engagements, among them the bloodiest day in American history (Antietam) and the bloodiest battle (Gettysburg).  And yeah, that was bad.  Real horror.  Lee’s probably in real, personal danger  at least twenty times in four years, and in general, anyone serving during that war would have seen some legitimately awful stuff.  No argument.

Say what you want about the Battle of Veracruz.  At least there we knew
who the enemy was and why we were fighting.
On the other hand, Lee’s serving in an Army he understands, with men he trusts—at least not to shoot him in the back—and the guys he’s fighting against are all wearing uniforms that he can easily identify from a distance.  He sort of knows who he’s fighting and why.  This is decidedly not the case today.

Also: this is Robert E. Lee we’re talking about.  One of the greatest soldiers in American history.

Contrast that with today’s soldiers, today’s officer corps.  Many joined for college money.  Maybe they found a home in the military, maybe they stuck around because the job market sucks.  Regardless, they’re on their third, fourth, fifth deployment in at most eleven years, and the danger they face is—or at least appears to be—near constant.  There’s no camp.  No rest in the combat zone.  And lately even their supposed allies have been murdering them in cold blood.

And yes, today’s soldiers are not deployed for the extremely prolonged periods that yesteryear’s soldiers saw, but on the other hand, today’s soldiers have no real hope of peace, either.  A hundred years ago, wars ended.  Soldiers went home.  Life returned to normal.  Today… not so much. 

Moreover, a hundred years ago, war was an event for society as a whole.  Soldiers fought as an extension of the people for whom they fought.  Today, however, soldiers are providing something that has almost become a niche service.  One piece of a theoretical “security portfolio”.  I mean, I don’t want to get negative here, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the leaders of today’s America understand ALL of the other options more intimately than they understand the use of direct military intervention with ground troops.  That gives them—and the people that they represent—a certain remove from the guys who’re actually trying to execute policy on the ground. 

It’s that, I think, has caused a real loss of understanding of the true long-term costs of war.  Without that understanding of the costs, we’re making bad decisions.  Looked at via the “security portfolio” model, we’re not investing wisely because we’re not asking enough return in exchange for the size of the risks we’re running.  Or, to put it another way, there’s a real risk of making things worse here, long-term.  Given that, you have to ask yourself what the potential upside is—and be realistic about it—before deciding whether or not something’s worth doing.

That’s another point that’s worth bringing up: something’s not worth doing if it’s impossible.  I mean, I get it.  The situation in Sudan is terrible, and if you’re George Clooney, you want to use your fame to try to change the world.  But.  Before we can even consider what actions we should be taking, we have to first ask ourselves what our real chances of success might be.  What the risks are in the event of failure.  And if the answers are that we probably can’t succeed no matter how hard we try because it’s just too much, and it’s too far away… well, don’t get pissed because the answers given were honest answers. 

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.

* * *
Depending on your thoughts on the purpose of the strategic oil reserve, the fact that President Obama is considering releasing some of the strategic reserves is either good for the economy or entirely self-serving for a politician running for re-election.  I personally think that the reserve is meant to keep tin-pot Mid-East dictators from dictating the direction of the U.S. economy via their control of a precious internationally traded commodity, but… I also think the whole debate serves to illustrate the difficulty in unseating an incumbent president.

* * *
3.5 stars (out of 4) for 21 Jump Street?  I find that amazing.  First off, because the 21 Jump Street that I remember wasn’t even all that popular.  Along with the Simpsons and Married with Children, it was pretty much the only thing on back when Fox was a new network. 

And then, too, I don’t remember it being funny.  At all.  I remember it staring a super-emo Johnny DeppDom Delouise’s kid, and a girl who looked like one of the original MTV VJs.  The fact that somebody took thatand turned it into a comedy is mind-boggling, and the idea that the resulting comedy is actually good is just beyond belief. 

In fact, I don’t believe that.  Somebody go see this movie and tell me what you think.

* * *
I'm not doing Rush next week, so we gotta get it all in now.