Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movie Review - Watson

My lady and I saw Sir Guy of Ritchie's newest movie, "Watson," and we found it wonderfully entertaining. It has little to do with the source material by the esteemed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course, but that is not the point. The movie does not try to emulate Sir Arthur's style, but instead uses the source material as a rough skeleton for telling its own tale full of delightful costumes and sets.

The lead character is played by the talented Jude Law. His character has three motivations: to marry his lovely fiance (a commendable notion to be sure), to look dashing in Victorian-era clothing, and to get away from his sidekick, Sherlock Holmes, played by Robert Downey, Jr.

Downey, Jr.'s Holmes is a frumpy man with amusing facial expressions and permanently tousled hair. Holmes's neurotic genius serves as a good counterpoint to Watson's steely cool. I fear that Sir Guy's love of macho fighting may have caused him to devote too much of the movie to the Holmes character, though this fortunately does not take the focus away from his lead.

Rachel McAdams plays Holmes's love interest, Irene Adler, whose only purpose in this movie is to pout and be American. She pouts a lot and is very American. I suspect she gets her spy gear from Wal-Mart. In any case, I am glad they chose to have this character be a romantic interest for the sidekick, as this allows Watson to have the much more interesting Mary Morstan, played by the (fortunately British) Kelly Reilly.

The villain is Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong. Unlike in many mysteries, there is never any doubt as to his identity. His villainy is over-the-top, and in some ways encapsulates what this movie is about: it is theatrical, unreserved, and shamelessly entertaining. There is a moment at the start of the movie between him and Watson that made me gasp aloud.

I would not think it is necessary to see this movie in theaters to enjoy it, but if you do, be sure to keep an eye on the sets. Sometimes it is nice to simply look around and see Sir Guy's version of turn-of-the-century London.

In conclusion, "Watson" is an entertaining, if not particularly deep, bit of cinema, and I recommend it to anyone who likes gaslights, top hats, and explosions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Graphic Novel Review: Old Man Logan

I have long searched for a Wolverine comic that doesn't bother with the tiresome backstory, the silly costumes, the countless characters that Wolverine has befriended, fought, and/or married, or the traumas his body has gone through.

This isn't that comic.

It's pretty close, though.

The story takes place fifty years in the future, after a cataclysm wiped out all the superheroes and left the world ruled by supervillains. The landscape looks like something out of Mad Max. Wolverine is a pacifist, emotionally scarred by the cataclysm from fifty years ago. He's married, with two kids, and he seems to have found peace scratching out a meager existence farming the land.

Unfortunately, his landlords are Bruce Banner's ornery, inbred grandchildren, and they demand rent money Wolverine--excuse me, Logan--hasn't got. Then, his old friend Hawkeye arrives and offers Logan $500 to drive across the country with him. Hawkeye is now a blind old man, but that doesn't stop him from taking the wheel and making Logan the navigator.

Logan goes along, on one condition: that he won't do any fighting.

Well, good luck with that.

Also, this comic has a T-rex that bonds with the Venom symbiote:

Read it already.

(I would like to add that the scene with Emma Frost was completely unnecessary. She's one of my least favorite Marvel characters, and her appearance adds absolutely nothing to the story. Also, the last fight is somewhat anticlimactic, but still cool... and I still wish the Venom T-rex would have played a larger part in the story.)

Christmas Gifts may be misinterpreted as Wedding Presents

Hi gang,

It occurs to me that some of you may have sent me Christmas presents through Amazon. If I didn't realize those were Christmas presents, chances are good that I added them to the pile of wedding presents, which we aren't opening until the wedding.

So, if you got me a Christmas present and sent it through Amazon, let me know when it should have arrived, the size of the package, and/or who you ordered it through so that I can open it on time. :)

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

New Bitey Movie: Last of the Dashkin

Most of you already know that I love Bitey of Brackenwood. Well, in the latest installment, Adam Phillips takes his already formidable talent for storytelling and animation and turns it up another notch. It's amazing. Go see it.

the Last of the Dashkin

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: At the Mountains of Madness

I finally finish H. P. Lovecraft's longest work, At the Mountains of Madness, shortly before I read Bad Magic (which has a review here). It can best be summed up like this (page values approximate):

Page 1: Don't go to Antarctica, guys. We found something really scary there.

Page 1 to ~50: We went to Antarctica and it was really cold. Also, we heard weird piping and saw a mirage of a weird city.

(seriously you guys, we saw something really scary. My buddy totally went nuts from it.)

Page ~50 to ~70: My colleagues in the advance camp found a cave full of ancient bones and some million-year-old dead creatures that looked like sea cucumbers with tentacles. Those things were tough. Also, the dogs hate their scent. We will ignore this! Onward, for science!

(I'm not kidding, something totally freaky is in Antarctica)

Page ~70 to ~80: The other camp got trashed and some of the sea cucumber things disappeared. Woa!

(Have I mentioned the freaky thing we saw?)

Page ~80 to ~100: We flew past some weird mountains and found a city that's millions of years old. We got out and explored and somehow managed to decipher the drawings on the walls to learn the history of the sea cucumber race. They created and enslaved the shoggoths, fought the Spawn of Cthulhu and the Mi-Go, and finally went underground when it got too cold for them. Let's just skip over the part where "psychic control" and "senses beyond those of humans" are somehow depicted in art.

Page ~101: We found a big hole in the ground.


Page ~103-end: Dude seriously, that shoggoth was scary. Also, my companion saw some weird city in the clouds that made him go crazy. Yeah, I don't get it, either.

The one cool part of the story was the description of the Shoggoth, which comes at the very end and, much to my dismay, I had already read on the Wikipedia page on the topic.

Some parts of this story were so typically Lovecraft that they felt like self-parody. Just about everything they come across is indescribably terrifying. To illustrate, I leave you with this:

Had it been some trace of that bizarre musical piping over a wide range which Lake’s dissection report had led us to expect in those others - and which, indeed, our overwrought fancies had been reading into every wind howl we had heard since coming on the camp horror - it would have had a kind of hellish congruity with the aeon-dead region around us. A voice from other epochs belongs in a graveyard of other epochs. As it was, however, the noise shattered all our profoundly seated adjustments - all our tacit acceptance of the inner antarctic as a waste utterly and irrevocably void of every vestige of normal life. What we heard was not the fabulous note of any buried blasphemy of elder earth from whose supernal toughness an age-denied polar sun had evoked a monstrous response. Instead, it was a thing so mockingly normal and so unerringly familiarized by our sea days off Victoria Land and our camp days at McMurdo Sound that we shuddered to think of it here, where such things ought not to be. To be brief - it was simply the raucous squawking of a penguin.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Good Weekend for Movies

Last weekend my lady and I saw two awesome movies. First was The Fall, which we got from Netflix ages ago and finally got around to seeing. My lady had seen it before, and ever since seeing the movie poster on her wall I have wondered what this movie was about. Well, I finally got to see it, and it was fantastic.

The plot deals with a little girl with a broken arm poking around the hospital where she is recovering after falling from a tree. She finds a man who is paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a bridge. The man starts telling her stories to amuse himself, but the stories start to serve another purpose as he tries to get her to bring him something. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, and besides, the plot doesn't matter.

The real strength of this movie is in the gorgeous visuals. The sets, the costumes, the cinematography all combine to make it absolutely beautiful. The highlight of this movie is the story the man tells the little girl. What we see is entirely what's in her imagination, so things change as the man's description changes, and she even misinterprets some things. For instance, the man describes an Indian brave who loses his squaw, but the girl imagines a guy with a beard and mustache wearing a turban.

In some ways, this is a darker version of "The Princess Bride." The man is telling a sick little girl a story filled with wonder and imagination. Even more than "The Princess Bride," "The Fall" explores how the listener and the storyteller create the story together.

We then saw Red Cliff in theaters, because we knew that, as a foreign film, it probably wouldn't be in theaters very long.

This movie exists to prove one thing: Chinese history is badass.

"Red Cliff" was a four-hour, two-part epic in China, which was cut down to a single two-and-a-half hour movie for American audiences. You still get more epic badassery in the first ten minutes of this movie than you get in the entirety of just about any other movie, so I didn't mind as much that they shortened it.

The plot deals with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which a powerful and ambitious prime minister tries to conquer two smaller kingdoms whom he pretends are trying to revolt against the Emperor. The two kingdoms are forced to band together: one has an experienced leader and a bunch of badass generals but with a severely diminished army, and the other has a young, somewhat naive leader with a single really badass general who leads a large but inexperienced army.

There's all sorts of intrigue and character development, but that tends to focus on only a portion of the characters. Most of the characters all but disappear during the plot-related parts and then show up again for the fight scenes. This is okay by me, since the characters the plot focuses on are fascinating and their interaction is one of the high points of this movie.

The other high point of this movie is, of course, the fight scenes. I'll try not to give away too many of my favorite moments, but I'll say this: there is a scene that follows this sequence of events:
  • a guy gets shot by an arrow

  • he pulls out the arrow

  • he runs over to the archer

  • he leaps into the air

  • he jabs the arrow through the back of the archer's throat

If you still don't want to see this movie, perhaps you should read that sentence again.

Surprisingly, the action in this movie is relatively realistic, compared to wuxia films where people go flying through the air and run across treetops. Nevertheless, you shouldn't expect anything less than over-the-top fight scenes, because Red Cliff delivers those in spades.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review: Bad Magic

You like books about magic. You like books about monsters. You like books about a ragtag group of heroes fighting impossible odds. So why haven't you read Bad Magic yet?

In Stephan Zielinski's Bad Magic, mundane reality and many competing forms of magic are all thrown together. If you're tired of those cut-and-dry books in which the real world and the magical world are clearly delineated, or you get the real world but with a single magical element (the real world and vampires, the real world and voodoo, the real world and cosmic horror, etc), Bad Magic is the cure for what ails you. All the various kinds of supernatural forces are piled in together, squeezed in like too many people trying to crowd into an elevator.

You get the raw power of elemental magic, illicit alchemy that seems more like felonious drug use than science, deep dark voodoo, magic that has you babbling in Sumerian, magic that has you weaving lightbeams and siphoning sounds, creepy ghost-like magic, and even magic that lets you talk to giant clams.

The eight main characters all have different approaches to magic, and they argue at times about how to approach and interpret what has been happening in the story. This is when Stephan Zielinski really shines. We get eight distinct characters, each with their own habits, perspectives, shortcomings, and endearing qualities:

There's Al Rider, arguably the main character, a nebbish coward who is the closest to a traditional magician.

There's Pericles "Perry" Whitlomb, who has no magic of his own but is an expert on the occult and a member of the Van Helsing Society. He also packs his father's supply of incredibly overpowered firearms and serves as a paternal figure for the others.

There's Maggie-Sue, a nearly illiterate young woman whose main means of communication are glares and profanity. Her magic is elemental, meaning it's the oldest, most basic kind of magic.

There's Joe Washington, a black dwarf who knows voodoo and Bruce Lee-style ass-kicking.

There's Chloe Lee, whose totem animal is, I kid you not, the Mollusk of Glory, the Great Geoduck clam.

There's Max Sturgeon, a large man with a serious mustache who, though he barely uses magic, leads the team based on the fact that he's probably the only sane person in the group.

There's Kris Arbeiter, the pretty-boy, East German alchemist/junky.

And finally there's Creedon Thiebaud, who's so over-the-top badass that you don't mind that he's just a tad cliche.

The plot is straightforward when you get down to it: the city is being threatened by a cult and it's up to our heroes to save the day. But the plot isn't the strength of the story: this is definitely a journey that's more important than the destination. The things you see along the way, the people you meet and the things they do, are what make this book a success. The world buzzes with energy and life, and there is no doubt that there is material here for a whole series of novels.

Unfortunately, that also makes it hard to write a review, because while I would love to go on and on about the cool things in this story, I don't want to spoil it for you, and I also don't want end up re-writing the novel.

The storytelling is very cinematic and readable. Some knowledge of the Bay Area (or Google Maps) is recommended, as it takes place in San Francisco and the surrounding area. Sometimes it can be a little bit hard to tell what's going on, but that doesn't distract from how quickly you can tear through this book.

The ending of the book was a bit unexpected and anticlimactic. There were also several elements that felt like the author expected to develop them but never got around to them... maybe he's saving them for the sequel!

Like I said before, though, you're not reading this book for the plot or for everything to be tied neatly together in the end. You're reading it for one of the most enjoyable depictions of magic I have ever seen, and that's saying something.


I had a great Thanksgiving, including great food and great company. Unfortunately, both my lady and I got sick afterward, and I'm just finishing the recovery from that now. The silver lining to that is that I had the chance to plow through a fantastic book called Bad Magic over the weekend... I should have a book review posted for you guys soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Short Post Today

I've been with the woman I love for a year and this makes me happy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Lobo comic, written by... Scott Ian?!

Despite never having had a good comic in his life, Lobo remains one of my favorite DC Comics characters. He's definitely a "B" list character, almost always played for laughs in over-the-top, violent stories with only marginal connections to the rest of the DC universe. Despite his one-sided character and often teeth-grindingly lame stories, I have a soft spot for Lobo simply because he has no soft spots: while every other DC character moans about the weight of their responsibilities and how hard it is to be idolized, Lobo just wants to get drunk and punch some goons in the face.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only Lobo fan out there, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw his face right there on the DC Comics home page, with a link to the comic.

Lobo's previous story was a Batman crossover in which he and Batman go after some sort of alien entity that possesses women's bodies and causes them to become homicidal. The story tried to be both funny and poignant, but it failed on both counts.

Well, let's hope Scott Ian can do better. Scott Ian has made a career out of being the likable guy on VH1 talking about how great rock music is. He's the former guitarist of Anthrax, which has given him just enough celebrity to be put him on TV and give him fifteen minutes of fame that he's managed to stretch into C-list celebrity status. It would be easy to see Scott as an attention-starved celebrity, but he comes across as being a genuinely cool guy.

Now we get to find out if he can write Lobo. Based on the preview I'd say we can be cautiously optimistic!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dance of the Dead

Has anyone heard of this movie? Good? Bad? It looks like it could be hilarious or awful, depending on how it's handled:

High school losers vs. zombies. At least the premise is good!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Familiar Story, Retold

A young lad was trapped in a bubble
Which cracked and he woke on the double
He was saddened when shown
That he'd lost all he'd known
But a cute girl was worth all the trouble.

A sarcastic kid from the south pole
Had meat-eating as his main goal
But you should cut him some slack
Boomerang always came back
And his jokes were often quite droll.

A girl with loops in her hair
Kept an eye on this wacky pair
She was talented and smart
And she stole the bald kid's heart
But watch out for her withering glare

The bald kid was sought from afar
By a kid with a topknot and scar
Who said, "When that kid's a goner
I'll get back my honor."
His hair got ever more bizarre.

Following that kid out to sea
Was his uncle, wise and carefree
His love for brewed drink
Is so well-known that I think
You can guess what this last rhyme should be.

They meet a girl dressed in green
Who can be prickly and just a bit mean
She's totally blind
But she'll kick your behind.
She's cute, but lacks any hygiene.

A princess who grew up quite rich
Tried to put them in a ditch
She had a heart full of ire
And could wield lightning and fire
That said, she was a bit of a jerk.

"That last line didn't rhyme."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Any interest in my friend's chapbook?

One of my friends from Utah State, Shanan Ballam, is trying to publish a chapbook of her writing. To do so, she has to pre-sell 55 books before Nov. 30. I haven't read this particular collection yet, but her poetry tends to be dark and disturbing, and it is definitely not for the squeamish. She definitely knows her stuff and most of all she has a talent for creating a strong reaction in her readers. Here is her description of it:

Title: "The Red Riding Hood Papers"
pages: 16-26 (I won't know for sure until I see format and go through edits)
themes: the Red Riding Hood Story is interwoven with another narrative about a woman and her abusive ex-husband. It's pretty dark.
cost: between $12 and $14

If anyone's interested, let me know and I'll send you her contact information. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, and I'll either answer them as best I can or pass them along to Shanan.

Some Additions to Recent Posts

First, an addition to my post about Binwin Bronzebottom and Scott Kurtz:

It seems like Scott Kurtz realized what a jerk he was to Wil Wheaton, and he contacted Wil afterward and made it up to him. I still think SK was quite rude, but it's actually quite classy of him to call WW afterward and comfort him on the death of his character.

Second, I completely forgot to mention in my APE post that we met Spike, who does Templar, Arizona. She was very cool and friendly, and the only reason I forgot to mention her was that I neglected to take any photos of her. I don't know why, as she safely fit into the "good-looking nerd" category that APE was so full of. Here is another picture of her that I found using Google Image search. Anyway, she was awesome and signed & sketched in three Templar, Arizona books that we bought. In fact, of all the people we talked to, she was probably the most relaxed and talking to her felt the most like chatting with someone you know.

Rock on.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Alternative Press Expo, or, Can My Camera Flash You?

I'd like to start by saying that my digital camera is actually quite good in most respects. The pictures it takes are huge resolution, and I have found it very easy to take pictures and download them to my computer. The one thing it can't do is function in anything less than bright lighting without the flash. In even normal lighting, like at the Alternative Press Expo, I have a decision to make: take pictures with flash (which are annoying to the people I'm taking pictures of), or take pictures without the flash and end up with a blurry photo.

I should also mention that this post links out to webcomics. If you're not familiar with webcomics, you should know that a lot of webcomics have the latest page on their homepage, so if you'd like to avoid any spoilers, click the "Archive" or "First" button as quickly as you can.

With that out of the way, let's get started.

First impressions of APE: comics are a legitimate art form. Also, there are tons of good-looking, nerdy people here. Single nerds take note.

We started off wandering separately and getting a feel for the place. It was pretty packed, as the picture above shows, with two wings and a lower main area. One cool thing about APE was that most of the tables were by comic publishers and artists. At many other cons I've been to, a lot of the tables are local comic book stores selling their wares. I noticed one of these at APE, and there were probably more, and there were also a few art schools trying to peddle their classes to would-be artists, but for the most part it was comics being sold by the people who made them, and that is awesome.

The most popular table at APE was shared by Dylan Meconis and Kate Beaton. I didn't know Dylan Meconis's work at the time (which I've been working on remedying since I got home), but I am a fan of Kate's Hark! A Vagrant, and my lady is a big fan of both of them, so we headed over.

My lady had already gotten Dylan's signature on Bite Me!, her off-the-wall graphic novel about vampires in Revolutionary France, so while we were waiting for space to clear up around Kate Beaton I asked her if she would mind a picture with my lady. I'm so sorry for using flash in your face, Dylan Meconis, but otherwise the picture was too blurry to see anything:
Remember what I was saying about all the good-looking nerds at APE? Plus, Dylan Meconis had a pile of stickers that read "Real Vampires Don't Fricking Sparkle," and how cool is that?

When we got through to Kate Beaton, she signed my lady's copy of her book and also drew us a sketch of Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe (based on this comic of hers).

And what did she charge us for this AMAZING sketch? How about FIVE BUCKS? Kate Beaton, you rock! Also, apparently my camera was feeling braver by this point, because I managed to get some pretty good pictures of Kate Beaton without having to use the flash.

The next part of our journey was seeing several examples of "it's the guy who does..." such as Matt Boyd, "one of the guys who do Mac Hall and Three Panel Soul:"
and Chris Hastings, "the guy who does Dr. McNinja:"
I basically did a walk-by photographing of those two, since I didn't have anything to say to them, or, more accurately, any money to give them. Hence, another photo safari, like my time at Wondercon.

I read Der-shing Helmer's comic "The Meek" and totally dug it. For those of you who haven't read it yet, the art is amazing and the storytelling is delightful. I'd even go so far as to say that it's "Miyazaki-esque!" Der-shing also did "Snowball in Hell," about a fluffy cat who ends up in Hell. While I haven't had a chance to read much of it yet, I love that there's a story out there called "Snowball in Hell" about a fluffy cat in hell.

At the same table we met Johane Matte, who did "Water Tribe." Now if I were to tell you that it's a fan comic of Avatar: the Last Airbender, you'd probably think that it's some earnest, enthusiastic, and terrible work of squeeing fandom. While it's definitely earnest and enthusiastic, it's also excellent. I read some of the mini-comics they have for Avatar on the Nickelodeon site, and Water Tribe is magnitudes better than them. That's right: the fan comic is many times better than the official stuff they put out. The art, the storytelling, the feel of it is perfect. If you like Avatar, you should check out Water Tribe. I could spend an entire blog post talking about "Water Tribe," and I haven't even finished the first volume yet.

Here's my lady meeting "the guy who does Rice Boy," which I haven't read yet, but it looks good:

My lady and I also met Brandon Graham, "the guy who does King City."
He drew us a sketch for free. I was going to ask him about the part of King City that didn't make any sense when I read it, so I picked up his copy and started to leaf through it, and I realized that the whole thing didn't make sense! But I really liked it. It's about a guy who has a cat that gets superpowers when he injects it with cat-juice. The art is great, and I absolutely love the way Brandon Graham does sound effects.

Which brings us to the end of APE. So, to wrap up, here are some miscellaneous observations about APE:

  • Cute is the new scary - so much of the 'dark' stuff being sold was annoyingly cute. There were at least two Satanically-possessed fluffy creatures, as well as cute dead animals, cute scary little girls, etc.
  • Zombies are the new superhero - there were sexy zombies, ironic zombies, high school zombies, crime-fighting zombies. In fact, just about every kind of zombie except for the flesh-eating, mindless zombie (but who likes THOSE?).
  • Irony is the new badassery - why write about a grim monster hunter when you can write about a grim monster hunter who's a school janitor?
Until next time, then. I had a fantastic time and I highly recommend APE to anyone who can make it out. It's lots of fun if you bring your own cute nerd to spend the con with, but if you don't already have a cute nerd, you may find one at APE!

Wil Wheaton Agrees about Binwin Bronzebottom

WARNING: Spoilers for the PVP/Penny Arcade/Wil Wheaton D&D Podcasts

In the latest episode of the PVP/Penny Arcade/Wil Wheaton D&D Podcasts (link) Wil Wheaton voices his beliefs about Binwin Bronzebottom and Scott Kurtz. This follows a particularly poorly-timed comment from Kurtz, who was probably trying to be funny but really picked the worst possible time and way to do so.

I shouldn't go into too much detail, despite my spoiler warning above, because a) I don't want to take away from the profanity-laden moment, and b) Who pays attention to spoiler warnings, anyway?

Next: Memories (and photos) from the Alternative Press Expo.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Ultimate Chronicle Gets Better and Better

If you're not reading The Ultimate Chronicle yet, you should know that the latest chapter includes this line:

“Know this, Rasputin,” said Lincoln. “I cannot dedicate. I cannot consecrate. I cannot hallow.” He put on some sunglasses. “Because Space/Time Lincoln only has one setting today: ass-whoopin’.”

So what are you waiting for? Go read it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ultimate Chronicle

Follow the adventures of Space/Time Lincoln and the preserved head of Nikola Tesla as they fight Rasputin and the forces of Mecha-Hitler. Perhaps even contribute to the story... 1024 characters at a time!

Click here already!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Squad Russian Trailer

This is amazing! I couldn't wait to post it. It's in Russian, which sounds awesome, and features guns, swords, crusaders, zombies, Soviets, Nazis, and all sorts of combinations of those elements.

The animation looks to be about the same quality as your average modern anime series, rather than a full-length movie, but the plot is so relevant to my interests that I don't care.

Kyle Talks About Ninja Pirates and Pirate Ninjas

If you're curious, you can read my friend Kyle's thoughts on ninja pirates and pirate ninjas here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frederick Russell Burnham

Imagine this: you're fighting the Boers in Africa, and you've been sent to blow up their bridge. Along the way, you run into a group of Boers and are forced to ride for your life. As you do, your horse gets shot and killed, and crushes you under it. You're knocked out for a day. When you awake, you're alone and badly injured. What do you do?

If you're Frederick Russell Burnham, you go back and blow up the bridge.

Read the Wikipedia entry. In 1901, Teddy Roosevelt said, "I know Burnham. He is a scout and a hunter of courage and ability, a man totally without fear, a sure shot, and a fighter. He is the ideal scout, and when enlisted in the military service of any country he is bound to be of the greatest benefit."

Then, in 1933, the German spy Fritz Joubert Duquesne said, "To my friendly enemy, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the greatest scout of the world, whose eyes were that of an Empire. I once craved the honour of killing him, but failing that, I extend my heartiest admiration.."

It's a truly astounding example of historical badassery.

Then, if you haven't had your fill of 19th Century badasses named Frederick, read about Frederick Selous. The man made a living hunting every dangerous animal you can think of, and died when he was in his sixties and got shot by a sniper during World War One. And get this line from his biography: "He ate less than most men, and never drank anything but tea, which he enjoyed at every meal. Sometimes he drank champagne at big dinners, but rich wines and high feeding had no attractions to him." Sounds like my kind of chap!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Something I Never Knew About My Name

According to, my name, "Benedek," is the Hungarian form of the Greek "Benediktos." Apparently, Martin Luther noted that "Benediktos" is "666" in Greek gematria.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Long Coats and Wide-Brimmed Hats

Looking over my past few posts, they have been about adorable animals, romantic flower-wielding BART people, and the path to adulthood. This must be remedied before this blog becomes too serious.

So let's talk about badassery. More specifically, the outfits associated with badassery. These outfits can be simple: a loincloth was enough for one famous badass. Then there are people who prefer outfits that are a bit heavier. I must confess, I have a soft spot for something in between: the long coat with a wide-brimmed hat.

I first started to dig this as the "Witch Hunter" look from Games Workshop's Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 lines. You can't go wrong with something like this:

But the original badass in a long coat and wide-brimmed hat was probably Solomon Kane, the Puritan monster hunter created by Robert E. Howard (you know him as "the guy who invented Conan"). And now there's going to be a movie about him. If this trailer is any indication, it's going to be badass to the brim:

And that's awesome.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Bilby: So Cute It Hurts

Based on a picture on the BBC News website, I learned about the bilby, a strange little Australian creature that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a mouse. Needless to say, this thing is painfully adorable, but sadly it is in danger of going extinct. So, since September 13th is National Bilby Day in Australia, I thought I would post something about these squee-worthy creatures.

Have a video:

WARNING: Dangerous levels of cuteness!

Here are some efforts to Save the Bilby. I hope nothing happens to the little guys, so that generations to come will be able to go all gooey at the site of their precious little ears.


Thoughts on a Guy with Flowers

A few days ago, there was a guy at the Ashby BART station holding a bouquet of flowers and nervously/anxiously checking his iPhone. Some people would look at him and think that he had done something wrong and was buying flowers for his sweetheart to make up for it. I may be a soppy romantic at heart, but I like to think that he was simply doing it as a sweet gesture for his beloved.

Either way, I hope she liked the flowers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

If My Age Were a Coin, You Could Play an Arcade Game With Me

Just over a quarter of a century ago, three people were born in Nuremberg, Germany. Well, I'm sure there were more than three people born in Nuremberg on August 23, 1984, but two of those three happened to be my brothers, and the third was yours truly.

I know that I'm 25 because, though I've been talking about "kids these days" for years now, I can no longer tell if I'm being ironic. Last night I got up at 2:40 AM to tell the college kids in the next apartment to keep the noise down. Earlier that day, the cashier at the grocery store had asked me if I was a Cal student. "I'm afraid my college days are behind me," I replied. "I'm an adult now. I don't know how that happened!" I was trying to make a joke, but she must have misunderstood. "Finally, huh?" she asked.

My generation seems to be having trouble adjusting to adulthood. Webcomics and blogs are full of jokes about people who are confused about suddenly being saddled with all this responsibility and wondering why they can't just sit around and play video games or watch cartoons all day.

Though I sometimes feel that way, myself, an even stranger thought has occurred to me: I like being an adult. I like people treating me like I know what I'm doing. I enjoy paying for my own rent and food. I enjoy having a job where I can contribute, as opposed to doodling in my notebook margins while learning what I need to ace my next test.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy video games, or comic books, or cartoons, but I can't spend a Saturday in front of a computer killing goblins and feel like I've accomplished something any more. I enjoy the same things I always did, and maybe I still wish I had a lightsaber, but those are all things that I do for fun, and I have those things firmly compartmentalized in my mind.

I know that I've got a long way to go, and I am not a wise man yet. But perhaps, at 25, I can at least be a man, and no longer a boy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Note About Firefox 3.5.2

Sorry for those of you who have been waiting for a new post. You'll be disappointed by this one, I'm sure.

But I thought I would warn you all that I upgraded my Firefox to the latest version, 3.5.2, the other day. It slows to a crawl if I have an email open in GMail in a tab when I'm working in another tab. If I open a Browse menu (meaning when I'm looking for a file on my hard drive so I can upload it), the browser hangs entirely.

That is all. Maybe I'll post for real soon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Viking vs. Samurai

Most of you have already heard my spiel about Viking vs. Samurai as an alternative to the old Pirate vs. Ninja debate. In my argument, vikings are analogous to pirates and samurai are analogous to ninjas, with the advantage that vikings and samurai were both more likely to engage in straight-up battles, whereas the ninjas and pirates preferred assassination and ship-to-ship combat respectively. I think this makes it more of an even match, so rather than debating whether the ninja would slip poison into the pirate's mead before the pirate ship's cannons destroyed the ninja village, we can debate how two warriors going head-to-head would fare. That way, it's actually a discussion of combat techniques rather than a question of which one is cooler.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I recently learned that not only is there a show on Spike TV called Deadliest Warrior, where they match up two historical warriors in a hypothetical, computer-simulated fight, but that one of the matchups they chose was Viking vs. Samurai.

You can see the whole episode for free on Spike's website.

I won't give away the ending, except to say that it was very close. I'm going to take that as an indication of how good a matchup this is! Unlike every other nerd on the internet, I am not a combat expert, and my knowledge of vikings and samurai comes entirely from video games and movies. That said, there were a couple of things that I found interesting...

  • The katana shows why everyone loves it so much. Check out 8:00 in the video to see what it can do. But, that said...

  • The katana barely scratched the viking's chain mail. Even with a beefy swordmaster swinging it, the world's favorite sword had no real impact on simple iron chain mail. It's at about 9:20.

  • The part with the samurai bow (yumi) is insanely cool. Watch that part if you don't watch anything else. It starts at about 27:00.

  • Throughout the video, there were a lot of "bro pats" between the vikings. They really didn't try to fight the stereotype of the Viking as history's frat boy.

  • They probably shouldn't have bothered with the kanabo. I highly doubt this weapon was used very often in historical battles.

  • For all their talk of viking brawn versus samurai skill, the slow motion seemed to back up that generalization. Watch the slow motion longsword at 22:40 to see how the viking longsword was simultaneously less precise and more effective than the katana. (That said, a lot of the difference in technique was probably due to people they found to demonstrate the weapons.)

  • At 24:50 they start throwing viking spears. It's badass. I don't know why they bothered with the two-spears-at-a-time nonsense. One thrown spear was probably much more common and much more effective. Maybe a viking would chuck two spears at a time against a peasant rabble, but if a viking saw a skilled, armored warrior approaching, I'm sure he'd choose to throw one spear at a time.

  • That is, if he threw the spear at all. Both vikings and samurai used spears in combat, so why wasn't regular (non-thrown) spear combat considered? I found this to be the main oversight.

  • I also suspect that the viking shield (32:00) was entered into the computer simulation as a weapon, not a defense measure. Based on the episode, I don't think the computer simulation software can account for shields properly. (That said, based on some other things I've read about the show, the Spartan vs. Ninja episode apparently showed that the Spartan shield made a very effective weapon.)

  • Yes, they pad the show with a lot of talk and they seem to happily embrace every cliche in the way American audience see these two groups. Still, I think they did a fairly good job, and I'm inclined to agree with their results.

  • Nobody ever mentions that samurai were warrior elite, while vikings were the rank-and-file. Samurai armies were mostly made up of non-samurai foot soldiers, while viking armies consisted of, well, vikings.

It's a long show, but worth watching if you have some time to spare. Either way, I am curious about what you think: viking or samurai?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On the Joys of Courting an Intelligent Lady

As it is my fortune to be courting an exceptionally intelligent young lady, I would like to take a moment to share my thoughts on the topic. Indeed, as some so-called gentlemen seem to find intelligence to be a marginal, or even undesirable, trait, I must confess that I find such an opinion caddish at best and repulsive at worse. I do not think that I can change anyone's mind, and I well know that the gentlemen (and ladies) who read this blog are of the same opinion as I, but I nevertheless would like to take a moment to expound on the virtues of an intelligent young lady.

First and foremost I would like to mention the joys of conversation. An articulate young lady with a well-modulated voice and a formidable vocabulary is a delightful partner in discussion. I have, on occasion, paused to marvel at my lady's well-spoken phrases, or to enjoy her beautiful voice and charming diction. There is a satisfaction that can only be found in using the exact right word, and that satisfaction can only be found in the company of an intelligent person.

Next I must speak of the sense of humor that intelligent young ladies possess. While any wench can chortle at a bodily noise or guffaw at a pun, it takes a woman with clarity of thought to appreciate worthwhile humor. Far more importantly, a lackwit wench might stumble to remember a basic joke, while a keen-witted lady is a constant source of original delight.

While some gentlemen might balk at the idea of a woman who corrects their mistakes, I cannot condone such cowardice. Indeed, as everyone is prone to mistakes, I have found that it is very useful to have a sharp-eyed young lady who can catch mistakes before they compound themselves. I should add that anyone who thinks that a sharp-eyed lady must also be sharp-tongued is making a dire mistake!

As we discuss these aspects, let us not forget the likelihood of an undead outbreak. I think that you will find that, when the hungry bodies of the recently deceased start to prowl, only an intelligent young lady will prove a useful ally. Though you may believe that a foolish trollop would be unappetizing to the roaming cadavers, you will soon learn that the undead are driven mad with hunger for the flesh of the living, regardless of how clever the living may be.

Insight, wisdom, and creativity accompany a keen mind and curious disposition. Any man who would pass this up for an empty-headed hussy should be pitied.

Perhaps the most egregious belief among some men on the topic of intelligent young ladies is that a woman can be either beautiful or intelligent, but never both. Anyone who would believe such utter nonsense could take the example of my lady as proof that someone can be brilliant as well as beautiful.

Before I open myself up to criticism, I should add that the reason I address gentlemen on the topic of courting ladies is that this is the area that I have experience in. I understand that my audience is diverse, so if you should find your inclinations differ from mine, I pray that you are not offended by this humble treatise.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the topic by any means, though I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about it. May you all find someone clever and charming to share your days with, and may those of you who have already found such a person never forget how fortunate you are!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zuko Shot First

Ever since the Last Airbender live-action movie was announced, I've been dreading seeing any news about it. To me, the Avatar television show was so well done that I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to make a live-action version. I even feared that, if the movie was truly terrible, the trauma it caused me would somehow bleed over into the series and make me like it less.

Then I realized something: no matter what sorts of special editions, prequels, TV spinoffs, or live-action versions they make out of things we love, they cannot take away our love for the original, or the feeling we got when we first saw it.

Of course, the ultimate example is Star Wars. First it was the Special Editions with the whole "Han Shot First" controversy. Then came the prequels with "Little Annie" and Jar Jar. Now there's Clone Wars, with its obnoxious mediocrity. But regardless of what Lucas does today, there is no way they can ever take away this:

Similarly, M. Night Shyamalan isn't going to break into my apartment, grab my Avatar DVDs, and replace them with the DVD for The Last Airbender. I will always have Avatar to watch and enjoy.

And every time I hear John Williams' famous chord, I will always become a little kid again, wide-eyed with excitement at seeing laser swords, spaceship fights, and a giant, hairy man-dog named Chewy Chewbacca. (I didn't realize that "Chewy" is a nickname for years.)

Basically what I am trying to say is:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Requiem for an iPod

Alternate titles to today's blog post:
The End of an iPod
All Good iPods Must Come to an End

Above: A boy and his iPod

My iPod was a gift from some college friends. One of them had a brother with an iPod that had been dropped and wasn't working. Her brother had another iPod, so he had no use for this one. She asked around to see if anyone else could make use of the discount Apple offers on a new iPod if you exchange a broken one. So I took her up on the offer, and she sent me the iPod.

I took it to an Apple store to get the replacement. They asked how long it had been since I had charged it. "A while,"I stammered, fearing that if they found out about the switcharoo, they'd refuse the discount. They said that sometimes charging it from a computer wasn't enough, and you have to plug the iPod directly into a power socket. They asked if I had a wall charger, and I said no, I didn't even have the charging cord.

Meanwhile, they stuck my iPod into one of the docks where they demonstrate the machines, and this scraped, scuffed, and dented machine looked pretty hilarious surrounded by the pristine show models. I was convinced that nothing would happen, but I went along with it all so that I could get my discount. Then the Apple logo came up. I was sure the device wouldn't actually play music, so I started trying to bring up a song. I must have looked pretty hilarious, trying to use this device that was supposedly mine, when I didn't even realize that you don't have to actually push down on the scroll wheel for it to work.

The Apple employee ignored the fact that I had clearly never used an iPod before in my life and took over, helping me start a song. As she scrolled through the list of artists, I suspected that either my friend had her own music on the iPod or her brother had a rather feminine taste in music1. She ended up at an Enya song, as I thought to myself, "Yep, I sure do love me some Enya." She started the song and I unplugged some headphones from a display model and plugged them into the machine. Amazingly, music came through. The employee told me to let it charge for a while, then take it home.

I dutifully waited there, listening to my Enya, then when it had charged for a while I bought a wall charger (and a cord that it turned out I didn't need, because the wall charger box contained one). I went home. iPod acquired.

At first, it seemed to work perfectly. But then, starting from the first time I fully charged it from my computer rather than plugging it directly into a power strip, it started to pick up some odd quirks. These included:
  • An odd "stutter" that would move randomly through the menus or crank the volume up and down manically, depending on which screen I was on.
  • Freezing randomly, including stopping all audio. Sometimes this lasted until the batteries gave out.
  • Pretending that it hadn't just been plugged into a computer when clearly it had. It only ever did this with computers other than my own. Maybe it was shy?
  • Going silent in the right stereo channel (right ear bud) unless pressure was applied to the headphone jack
  • And, just recently, going silent in both stereo channels unless that pressure was applied, and even then sometimes only coming back in one channel.
I plan on continuing to use the iPod until it breaks completely, and then I don't know if I'll be buying another one. Maybe I'll look into less name-brand mp3 players. But this one's certainly on its last legs, and now I have to decide when its psychoses will become too much for me to put up with any longer.

1 Come to think of it, this brother may have been the same one that apparently liked Twilight. Maybe it really was his music!

The Coolest Video Game Box Art of All Time

First, start with a giant robot. When a lot of people think of MechWarrior, they think of the Timber Wolf, also known as the "Mad Cat." It looks awesome:

Then, you make it even cooler. But how can you improve on a design like that?

I guess it would look cooler if it were, you know, on fire or had a giant explosion behind it or something. Wait, that's not a bad idea:

And there you have it. You don't know how often I stood in the video game aisle at Sam's Club and stared at this game, wishing I were cool enough to play MechWarrior 2.

Incidentally, the second coolest video game box of all time is a game we did end up getting, but that's a story for another day!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Giant Robots

What's the difference between a 'mech and a mecha? They're both types of giant robots piloted by people in fictional future universes. Personally, I've always believed that 'mechs are chunky military weapons armed with cannons, missiles, and lasers, planet-bound, and often found in video games. Mecha are more slick and human-shaped, often have swords as well as ridiculous energy weapons, sometimes can fly and/or operate in space, and are often found in anime.

I prefer 'mechs. Maybe I dig that they're piloted by grim soldiers rather than whiny teenagers. Maybe I like how real they feel. And maybe I just love things like this:

I never played the other MechWarrior games. Apparently MechWarrior 2 was amazing, though. Maybe it's time I invested in a good joystick....

In other news, there is no way my computer would be able to handle the new game. I'm not likely to upgrade soon, either, since I honestly haven't been playing enough video games lately to justify the expense. Could I be... growing up? Now there's a scary thought. I think I'll watch some giant robots shooting each other again now to put it out of my mind.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Final NIN Dates

This is it, folks. The end of NIN. I cannot remember a time when the "NIN" logo wasn't cool. I still remember seeing it on the boxes of nailgun ammo in Quake and knowing, without ever having heard the band, that Nine Inch Nails is awesome.

I saw them live during the "Lights in the Sky Over North America" tour, but I gave "NIN|JA" a miss. From the sound of it, LitSONA was the better tour. Even Trent sounds a bit disappointed by NIN|JA.

Anyway, enough about that. Go read what Trent has to say here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thoughts on a Weird Worm/Pupa/Thing I Found on My Pants Yesterday

How strange that what I had thought was a bit of toothpaste, or a piece of plant matter, or the result of a sneeze I didn't remember sneezing, would turn out to be a living thing! And how odd that something that had seemed at first to be decapitated would, in fact, had strangely soft mouth-parts that looked like torn flesh.

And how did it get on my pants? Either it hitched a ride the night before when I was out walking, and calmly dozed the night away, unseen, only to surprise me in the morning, or it crawled, wriggled, or flopped there overnight from some unknown lair in my apartment. Do its fellows wait in some hidden corner, white and writhing, waiting to pupate into who-knows-what?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

White Wedding: Literal Version

I found out about this thanks to Wil Wheaton recently linking the literal Take on Me video. Personally, I prefer the White Wedding video:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July, Everybody!

A Little Disconcerting

So there I was, wasting my morning on Apple Trailers to see what movies are coming out. I saw the trailer for Ponyo and decided to check it out. I'd been looking forward to this movie for a while, being a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki since seeing Princess Mononoke back in college, but I still hadn't seen the trailer. I realized that Apple would have the dubbed version, but I was okay with that. I had originally seen Princess Mononoke dubbed, and I was mostly wondering about Ponyo's storyline and animation.

Here's the Youtube version of the trailer:

As it went along, I thought I recognized a familiar voice. Sure enough, Liam Neeson was listed at the top of the screen as one of the voice actors. Awesome, I thought. Qui-Gon is going to be in this! But then I saw, further toward the front of the list, the name "Frankie Jonas." Hm, I thought, Jonas. I'd been seeing that name a lot lately. Surely this couldn't be one of the famous Jonas Brothers?

Well.... here's Frankie Jonas on IMDB.

Yeah, it figures.

Since I'd never heard a Jonas Brothers song in my life, I decided maybe it wasn't that bad. I'd check them out on Youtube. This is the video I ended up watching:

The video's actually not that bad. I kind of like the idea of doing a tribute to spy movies, buddy cop shows, and kung fu movies. True, all the actors have "Disney Channel hair," but what do you want from kids these days?

But the song... the song!

I can still hear it... I can still hear it in my head...

Is Ponyo still going to rock? Probably. And there's always the subtitled version. For all I know, Young Master Jonas may actually be a good voice actor. But couldn't they have picked someone else?

(While on the topic of anime, I should add that I still haven't seen the teaser trailer for The Last Airbender. I'm sure my curiosity will overwhelm my revulsion someday and I will watch that trailer in a moment of weakness. I am just as sure that feelings of regret and self-loathing will immediately follow.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fetch Me My Blade and Let the Music Begin

Last week one of my friends from high school visited, so we went to Amoeba to try to find an awesome metal CD. Like so many cultural festivals before it, the Metal CD Project seems to have become nothing more than a way to amuse the tourists. Or perhaps I used the opportunity to justify spending money on a CD based solely on its album art, album title, band name, and song titles? Either way, we hunted through Amoeba's offerings and I came up with four CDs. I ended up returning two of them a few days later, as I had bought them both new and ~$15 is way too much for a CD. These are the CDs I found:

Black Cascade, by Wolves in the Throne Room

I already own a Wolves in the Throne Room CD and I consider it to by my favorite find from this project so far, so I decided to buy another one. The cover is good and the title is cool, but I decided that, since I already own one CD by Wolves in the Throne Room, I couldn't justify spending so much money to get another one. So with a heavy heart I returned the CD, and now I will wait until it is available used.

Symbols of Failure by Psycroptic

Oh man, the album art on here is phenomenal! Google revealed that the album arsist is Par Olofsson, who is extra awesome because he shares a first name with my Planescape character.
Both the front and back images of the album are available on Psycroptic's Media Page, and they're definitely worth downloading.
Their song titles are also cool, like "Missionaries of a Future Time to Come." In the end, I decided against keeping this one because it was more sci-fi than swords-and-sorcery fantasy. If it's ever available used, you'd better believe I'll grab it in a heartbeat.

The Ultimate Destroyer, by Lair of the Minotaur

This was the one used CD I bought, and I was happy to take the opportunity to own another Lair of the Minotaur CD for only five dollars. It sounds like more of the same: loud, driving metal. Generic, mindless fun.

Finally, I give you the winner. One look at the album cover should reveal why I absolutely had to keep this album and declare it my latest selection in the Metal CD Project. So here it is. The Last Alliance, by Battlelore:
My word, people. Do you see this guy? Just look at that helmet! That sword! That ragged cape! This man is metal incarnate. Then, as an added bonus, the lyrics booklet features a quote from a Tolkien story (either Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion) before every song. And you don't get more metal than Tolkien references.

It looks like most of Battlelore's albums have great art, especially this one, which deserves bonus points for being entitled Where the Shadows Lie:

I can't top that. Rock on.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to Introduce Songs at Live Shows

Ah, this is a song called "Killers," this one. Yeah. Give me some bad dreams, this one.
--Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, introducing "Killers" at a live show

The first concert I ever went to was by Jethro Tull, and I've been to several more Tull shows since then. Ian Anderson (the guy in charge of the band, which doesn't actually have a member named Jethro Tull) always talks during the show, bantering with the audience and introducing songs. Sometimes he alludes to the songs before announcing their titles, so that the hardcore fans will know what he is talking about before the others do. For instance, he might say, "You know, people sometimes ask me when Gerald Bostock will write his next poem..." and the fans immediately know that he is referring to "Thick as a Brick."

I think this is an awesome way for a band to connect with its fans, and it sets the live performance apart from listening to the album at home. When I went to see Nine Inch Nails, I was disappointed by how little Trent Reznor talked between songs. He mostly launched from one song to the next, sometimes alluding to which album the next song would be from. Of course, Nine Inch Nails is amazing live thanks to the awesome stage show they put on, so maybe they don't need audience banter to make the experience worthwhile.

What do you think? Should bands take the time to talk to their audience at live shows, or is it something that's cool, but not vital? Also, is there a band that you think does an especially good job at talking to the audience, or a certain introduction to a song that you think is great?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

RIP Rasputin, Summer 2007-June, 2009

I came home from a trip to Utah for Chuck's funeral to find Rasputin dead in his cage. I am afraid that I do not have the time right now to properly write about this friendly rat or to do his life justice. As a young rat, he was friendly, adventurous, and fun. As an adult, he was a squishy "fatass" who endeared himself to everyone who met him. As an older rat, he was a distinguished gent, a bit bony and somewhat bald behind the ears, but great company. I will miss him.

I don't have any plans to get new rats in the immediate future. Perhaps someday I will, but for now I have to finish letting go of Raz.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Binwin Bronzebottom and the Quest for More Money

So it looks like PVP's new Sunday feature will be Binwin Bronzebottom stories. Coincidence, or a ploy to sell more shirts?

Let's see how Kurtz puts it:

The overwhelming feedback and unabashed fandom Binwin has received from the D&D podcasts I do with Los Bros Pennies-Arcades and Wil Wheaton inspired me to retool Ding! to tell the exciting stories that take place when Binwin isn’t on the clock with Acquisitions Incorporated.

Overwhelming feedback and unabashed fandom... there must be a lot more people out there who like incessant whiners than I realized. Or, there must be more people living in Kurtz's head than I realized. Well, I can't say I'm surprised either way.

As Kurtz points out, Jim Darkmagic recently appeared in his own comic over at Penny-Arcade. According to the current numbers, it looks like Jim is pretty far behind in the competition for which story Gabe and Tycho will do next. Normally I'd be pretty disappointed, given my love for all things Jim, but both of the other stories look so amazing that I'm finding it hard to root for any one. Whichever one ends up winning, the true winners will be the Penny Arcade fans.

And I take comfort in knowing that, even if it comes out last, sooner or later we'll see Jim return to spread magic (and signed photos of himself) to the people of the world.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dr. Chuck Johnson: RIP

I bet they don't mention his fireworks. There should be a verse about them:

The finest rockets ever seen
They burst in stars of blue and green
Or after thunder, silver showers
Came falling like a rain of flowers

Oh, that doesn't do them justice by a long road.
--Sam, The Fellowship of the Ring (film, extended edition)

By now, most of you know that my favorite college professor, Dr. Charles W. Johnson, passed away last week. Many of you knew him, and a lot of you who didn't have heard me talk about him. Chuck was an exceptionally wise, hilariously funny man. Please allow me to share a few memories with you.

I've always been a thin guy, and I was exceptionally skinny during the first few years of college. I think it was a combination of the stress and the bad cafeteria food. One day after one of Chuck's classes he came up to me and asked me if I was eating well. It wasn't until that moment that I realized exactly how deeply Chuck cared about his students.

Chuck was a fan of the Chicago Bears, the Army football team, Star Trek, and Jim Morrison. He had a poster of the Clockwork Orange in his living room, where he used to play Tomb Raider. He would tell jokes about dreams in which he had a jolly time with Michelle Pfeiffer. He said that he was hard of hearing because of his time in the drum corps and the artillery. When he was writing on the board and he couldn't remember if there was one "l" or two in a word, he would say, "Here, have some extra" and draw a bunch of "l's" above the word.

His favorite philosophy was Ludwig Wittgenstein, a brilliant but incredibly difficult philosopher. Chuck genuinely believed that Wittgenstein's philosophy could help people, so long as those people were stuck in philosophical quandaries. I agreed with him. Almost every philosophical conversation I have with friends becomes a game of "How long can we go before Benny mentions Wittgenstein?"

He was a skeptic when it came to the supernatural, but he was patient with students who held firmly and stubbornly to their religious beliefs without being willing to think about them. He believed that artificial intelligence could be just as sentient as humans, quipping that the only difference between the two is that AI is made by skilled labor, while humans are made by unskilled labor. The way Chuck saw it, if there was a God, He would be willing to give souls to man-made machines. This says a lot about Chuck: even his God was more generous than everyone else's.

We had all known for some time that Chuck was very sick and unlikely to ever get better. Still, his death is a blow, and doubly so because I had been meaning to write or call but never did. I was foolish and selfish and put it off until it was too late. So, in case it needs to be said, I love you all: my friends, my family, and my darling lady. And for those of you who never met him, you would have liked Chuck, and he would have liked you too.

Are you happier than you've ever been?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ficly: It's like Ficlets, but with a dumber name!

So here's the premise: someone writes a short story. It has to be very short: there's a 1,024 character limit. Someone else likes the story and thinks he or she knows what happens next, so he or she writes the next part of the story, also with a 1,024 character limit. Someone else reads that short story, but thinks that rather than following after the original short story, it should follow after a new story; so he or she writes a prequel to the second story, again, with a 1,024 character limit. On and on it goes, with the stories branching and expanding, like a game of telephone or a crystal formation.

That's what's happening right now on ficly. It's sort of a reborn "ficlets," which was a site that came before that closed down. I remember back when Wil Wheaton first wrote about ficlets, and I thought it was a cool idea and always sort of wanted to join it, but never got around to it. Then ficlets got shut down and I thought, well, too bad; I missed my opportunity. But now it's back, sort of, and I so I decided that I wouldn't let it pass me by again: I created an account and have already written a couple of stories.

Check out my stories if you have a few minutes to waste. Make a profile, leave some comments (you know I love comments!), or better yet, write some stories of your own! If you let me know what your account is, I'll add you as a friend and write some prequels/sequels to your stories.

What do you think? Sound like fun?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Binwin Bronzebottom T-Shirts...

I've met Jim Darkmagic. I've worn the Jim Darkmagic shirt and you, sir, are no Jim Darkmagic.

Of the New Hampshire Darkmagics.
He's a Dwarf!! lolz0rz!!1
Scott Kurtz announced today that there would be a Binwin Bronzebottom t-shirt, based of course on the famous second set of D&D Podcasts. Clearly he was trying to follow in the footsteps of Mike Krahulik (aka Gabe), whose character Jim Darkmagic got his own T-shirt a while back. Personally, I think Kurtz forgot one thing: that while Jim Darkmagic was hilarious and lovable and Mike was genuinely fun to listen to as he played Jim, Scott was obnoxious and whiny, and he put no effort whatsoever into developing or roleplaying the character of Binwin.

Scott crowed and gloated every time he got a good roll and complained every time he got a bad one. Infamously, he bitched about an episode when the DM told him that he still had movement points left at the end of his turn (as any good DM would) and Scott used the extra movement to unwittingly land in a trap. To be honest, this is what disappoints me most: that he complained epically when his character ran into traps, and now he's specifically trying to cash in on Binwin's trap-prone history with quotes like "He has no need for perception checks, he’ll find the trap when he steps into it" and "Let your DM know that you’re not afraid of what he has in store for you. Your Will, Fortitude, and Armor class are more than ample to withstand anything he can throw at you." You may say this now, Scott, but I seem to recall you singing a different tune when you actually played the character.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

First Squad Update

I'm sure you all remember my first post about First Squad.

Well, apparently it was shown at the Cannes Marche du Film, and to celebrate they gave us a new trailer. Check it out RIGHT NOW:

EDIT: It sounds like the story is based very loosely on some Soviet propaganda YA novels. Now that's pretty awesome.

SECOND EDIT: After spending quite a bit of time trying to hunt down the novels mentioned in the interview, this is the best I could do. It's called "Young Guard," not "Pioneer Heroes" like in the interview, but the content sounds very similar. Still, the interview says that the stories were popular in the 80's, and "Young Guard" was published in 1947, so I can't really say if I'm on the right track.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lackadaisy Volume 1, or, A Lesson in Good Timing

You may recall that, some months ago, my lady and I met Tracy J. Butler at Wondercon 2009. Ms. Butler was offering to sketch a Lackadaisy character with each book ordered at the con, so my lady took the opportunity to order one. She paused a moment to decide which character to request, but we both knew it was an obvious choice. Though she does like many of the characters quite a bit, Mordecai, the punctual, articulate, and ruthless hit man for the Marigold gang is definitely her favorite character (and mine as well). She placed the order, paid the money, and wrote down the address. She also bought a signed poster, and I bought a pin.

Weeks passed, then months, and we began to worry. My lady wrote them to see if everything was all right, and they assured her that they had her order and were getting to it. More time passed, and I started to wonder if she had written the address down wrong, or perhaps the book had been lost in the mail.

You may have noticed that today marks the anniversary of my lady and I seeing each other for six months. How fitting, then, that my lady received something in the mail today.

My lady somehow managed to resist the temptation to open the book until we could open it together. So we brought it to my apartment, opened the package, removed the book from the bubble wrap, and admired the cover. Then we saw the sketch and immediately understood why the book had taken so long.

Somebody seems to have forgotten to tell Ms. Butler how to do a book sketch. You draw a quick, loose-lined drawing of your character in about ten to twenty seconds, then move on to the next book. There is nothing wrong with this, as it allows artists who are already quite busy to create something personal for huge amounts of fans. Instead, Ms. Butler drew, well, this:

I cannot describe how grateful I am for the time and effort Ms. Butler put into creating this image.

Six Months

What can happen in six months? In that span of time, one can...

  • debate Wolverine vs Putin

  • watch Carnivale

  • find out about new comics

  • go off the record

  • learn about the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency

  • keep an eye out for stairs and other places someone can step up on

  • set up a rat oil business

  • conquer the underground kingdom of the Mushroom Men with an army of Dinosaur People and become Khan of All Dinosaurs

We'll see what the next six months bring.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

These Are The Voyages (warning: contains spoilers)

Don’t wanna sing now or play guitar
I wanna get drunk in a seedy bar
Get in a fight and kill a red shirt
And bring this f***er to red alert
--Warp 11, "Red Alert"

On Saturday, my lady and I went with two of our friends to the California Theater to see Star Trek. It surprises nobody to learn that we are all Trekkies, and we all had high expectations going into the movie. To me, this movie was do-or-die for the Trek franchise. Gene Roddenberry is gone, rest his soul, and the shows have steadily declined in quality since DS9. Enterprise was a sad, divisive last gasp of a beloved franchise that alienated its longtime fans while failing to attract new ones. Now studios seemed to be giving Trek one last opportunity to prove itself. No excuses: it would have a huge budget, J J Abrams, a large cast of good-looking, at least moderately famous people, and enough marketing to make a Ferengi blush. I felt that the franchise had woken up to find the head of its favorite targ next to it in bed. If this movie didn't work, that would be it.

Fortunately, Star Trek is making money hand over fist, and I don't think we need to worry about that dropping off any time soon. I know that my lady and I are already planning our second viewing (something we were actually doing before even seeing it the first time!), and I am sure that many of our fellow geeks will be boldly going where they have gone once before to see it again.

I could go on and on about the way this movie brought the fun and the "wow" factor back to Star Trek. There were several moments where I realized that I had been smiling without knowing it. Rather than boring you to death with endless babbling, I will share a few of the things that really made this movie, and some of the things that were not so good.

First, the good:

  • Karl Urban nailed the character of Bones McCoy, from the first moment we hear him declare off-screen that, damn it, he's a doctor. I would have a very hard time picking a favorite TOS character, but if someone held a disruptor to my head, I would probably pick McCoy, so I was glad to see him done so well. Urban nailed McCoy's quirky charm and comfortable drawl, and yes, my dear, the eyebrow!!

  • Along those lines, the parts where Spock sits down at the controls to the future spaceship and says "Fascinating" and where Scotty says "I'm giving her all she's got!" were absolutely perfect.

  • Simon Pegg played Scotty. Anyone who has ever seen an episode of "Spaced" knows why this was an absolutely inspired choice of casting. He seemed to be having a blast every single second he was on the screen, which is perfect, because one of the best things about Montgomery Scott was his joy.

  • Scotty's little sidekick alien was absolutely hilarious. If, before I saw the film, you would have told me that the movie would give Scotty a little sidekick alien, I would have told you that it's a horrible idea and I would have listed ten reasons why Scotty should never, ever have a little sidekick alien. But the second I saw that little critter's lip wobble when he thought Scotty had deserted him, I knew that these two deserved each other.

  • Leonard Nimoy was absolutely perfect. It's a testament to Zachary Quinto's acting that his portrayal of Spock wasn't completely overshadowed by Nimoy's. It was as it Nimoy was saying, "You can be Spock now, but don't forget that you have some serious shoes to fill." Nimoy's Spock was wise, kind, and full of a startling reservoir of emotion. In a word, he was legendary, which is exactly what this movie needed him to be.

  • A lot of the comedy in the film worked very well, which is good, because the amount of humor is one thing that separates the original series from the later shows. The "Weektor Weektor" scene was my favorite.

And now, the bad:

  • The villain. Nemo was utterly bland, and what's worse, I think it was intentional. I'm almost tempted to believe that the producers were afraid their villain would out-shine their heroes and thus defeat the purpose of a reboot, but if that could ever be the case, they really should have had more faith in their cast. Facial tattoos do not make you interesting or scary. You need a two-bladed lightsaber if you want to pull that off.

  • The Kobayashi Maru scene was, in retrospect, something of a let-down. As this blog points out, the Kobayashi Maru test is supposed to be about Kirk's inability to accept a no-win scenario and his willingness to do whatever it takes to overcome his obstacles. Instead, it comes across as Kirk being somewhat insufferable. That said, the movie does tell us that this is his third time taking the test. If it would have shown more of Kirk failing, fighting off frustration and defeatism and finally triumphing, the scene would have given us a lot more than Kirk sitting in a chair, eating an apple, and preening.

  • A lot of the stuff with Sulu fell flat for me. First, he forgets the external inertial dampeners when he is about to go to warp. When I was restoring my iPod just now, it warned me that I was currently syncing my iPod, and made sure I still wanted to restore. So a spaceship in the future doesn't automatically warn you that the 'parking brake' is on? Then we get the fight scene on the drill. I thought it looked really cool when he pulled out his sword (fanboy moment), then was immediately let down by the fight that followed. It was some of the worse fight choreography I had ever seen. Almost Blade-esque. (If you ever want to see how not to film a sword fight, watch the original "Blade.")

That's about all that I want to complain about. As a nerd, it is my duty to nit-pick (and there are probably more nits I could pick), but it's Star Trek, and I loved the movie, so why focus on the negative?

So here's hoping that this new cast and crew boldly go many, many more times.

As a final note, how come Star Trek gets to rock its 21st century incarnation so hard, when my most beloved franchise, Star Wars, gets Little Annie and Jar-Jar? Well, despite my love for Star Wars, I am a Trekkie as well, and it is a good week to be a Trekkie. Now, if they would only make a movie featuring Klingons and filmed entirely in Klingon....