Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vampire Reunion

College Humor imagines a vampire get-together. I love how every new vampire novel reinvents the rules of vampires; this uses that idea.

Image by user FriedC from Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license

Fierce competition for 'favorite halloween costume ideas as shown in a webcomic'

Diesel Sweeties combines Marvel Comics and reality television frighteningly

The webcomics have outdone themselves with great costume ideas this year. First of all, a big thank you to Diesel Sweeties for "Doctor Octomom".

Then, Girls With Slingshots hits the internet memes with a 2 Girls thing. Link IS safe for work.

But the best I've seen was the pun-combination in PVP: Brent and Jade BOTH dressing up as Starbuck. It's not just a fun idea, it also fits the characters well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

_Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?_ by Bendis and Oeming

Image from the Amazon page for the book, and linked there.

I recently reread this volume 1 of the Powers comic series written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming.

I've been reading Powers for years now, faithfully buying each trade paperback volume as soon as it's available, and every book sustains multiple reads, some of the best value I get for my comics dollars.

Also, I like cop stories. The Powers premise is that it follows a couple of homicide detectives who investigate superhero-related murders. Underlying that is an anchoring of superpowers in everyday life; seeing superheroes with their pants down; hearing them curse like drunk sailors whose ship just sailed without them.

The Retro Girl story remains a great standalone book, showing off Bendis' dialogue and Oeming's cartoony style well. If you're just now cottoning on to the idea that comics aren't just for kids anymore, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween card

At work we have stacks of old branded blank cards. The other day, I realized that if I fold the front of the card, I can cut out the company logo, leaving a bat shape.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


A photo from 10/12/09. I grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One thing that's different about Austin is the fog. Several times a year we get this very dense low fog that really deserves the name. On this day, I was straining to see the traffic ahead of me when I drove to work. This is a scenic view of my office's parking lot.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Star Guard handles character death differently

On a tip from Metafilter, I tried the free arcade shooter Star Guard (downloable installs for PC or Mac available). On my PC it runs in an Adobe Flash Player.

It's got super-simple graphics and gameplay, which appealed to me. In it, you run through a maze populated by various space monsters and try to shoot your way to the end of each level. What's unique is that when you die, you simply restart at the last flagged location you passed (each level contains many of these automatic restore points. So death amounts to just a minor setback. There's no limit of lives, and you don't even have to restart the current level. It's very player-friendly.

Monday, October 26, 2009

_Class: A Guide through the American Status System_ by Paul Fussell

Picture from the Amazon page for the book

Mr. David Cramer recommended this to me a while back. I had it on my list for a long time before I finally got a copy from the library.

This is an interesting book for its exploration of class signifiers and its acknowledgement that Americans don't want to admit they have class distinctions. It was hard to read, though, because Fussell is disparaging about the habits of every class, and it's unsettling to view everything in your life through the lens of class. In some ways it was one of the most depressing books I've read, aside from David Simon's The Corner.

I know I should list some specific details from the book, but now I don't have it handy to refer to. Many of the class signifiers were out of date, and of course they change with each generation, but it was still an eye-opener of a book. Oh, I know: he analyzes the style of each recent president in class terms. That was fun.

I checked out too many books this time, and this was one I had to return before I'd quite finished with it. Also lost in that shuffle was a thick tome about genocide and several books about the Middle East. I've been abusing the library's hold system and it caught up with me.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The secret is in the spinning

I don't have a photo of this, wish I did. Yesterday I spent a lot of time running the cotton candy machine at our elementary's Fall Fest, and I got covered in sugar floss.

We had few instructions but it didn't take long to figure out that it's important to spin the paper cone a lot, to wind the floss onto the cone nice and tight. I got to teach a few rounds of volunteers the tricks of the trade.

It wasn't too bad being by the popcorn machine, either. I did not go hungry.

This is the first time I haven't juggled at the event, which was kind of a load off. When I wasn't making food, I wandered around and had a good time. Of course, our friend Marie was taking Lily around the fair, which made things easy. Ethan and Chloe are big enough to wander on their own in that environment.

Chloe's cactus costume attracted plenty of attention. As predicted by Doug, some thought she was Gumby.

We like pie

Tanya made a beautiful pie recently. We all like pie and yet pie is a problem. Nobody ever seems to want more than one piece. This gorgeous apple pie fared better than most. Only one piece was left to hide in the back of the fridge until I threw it away. Bye, pie.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chloe's spelling sentences

We were kind of blown away by these sentences written by 9-year-old Chloe on the back of her spelling test recently.

Asked to write complex sentences using their 4th grade spelling words, she came up with these....

1. Hacking through the rain forest the adventurer began to doubt see anything at all but, He saw a Black Panther prowling on a tree!

2. The farmer went to mount his horse once on, the trail finally got some hoofprints, in its dirt, but when they arrived in town it was the same as always on Satardays.

3. It was dawn when the artist set about painting the picture he had drawn, but a frown crossed his face when he heard a knock on the door, to his surprise it was not who he expected.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chloe's Saguaro Cactus Costume

Chloe and I have been having fun making her costume. She wanted to be a saguaro cactus. I'm not making this up. She came up with the idea all on her own.

Of course, from someone who was a funny hat for Halloween last year, it's not so surprising.

Here are two work-in-progress photos of her costume, which is basically eggcrate foam. We folded the foam in half, flat side out, and had her lie down on it, and I drew the basic shape with a marker. Then we sewed it with big stitches, cut it out, and turned it inside out. We took turns sewing and she worked hard on it. Then I fixed all the holes from where our stitching was bad. Then I sprayed it green. These pics are pre-painting.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lily starts to get into the Halloween spirit

Changing clothes

Changing clothes this weekend after church, I told Tanya, "Brace yourself, I'm about to disrobe."

But I'm considerate about it: "To help you control your passion, I'm leaving my socks on."

Tanya: "That'll work."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wishing well

Seen around the neighborhood. Looks carved, but I bet it's molded from a resin or something. Maybe bought from a catalog? From a garage sale trip around the hood, 9/19/09.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

_How We Decide_ by Jonah Lehrer

Cover photo from the Amazon page for the book.

This book was chock full of great stuff. I love books about how the mind works; this one focuses on making decisions with either your head or your heart, with a thesis that each method has advantages in different situations.

It has stories of people making tough decisions in crises, like the firefighter who realized that the fire racing towards him was moving faster than he could run, or the pilots who invented a new way to control an airplane when the triply-redundant hydraulics powering all their control surfaces failed. It describes lots of ways to make bad decisions by letting your reasoning reason you away from good gut instincts, and ways to choose whether to go with your gut or your genius.

Highly recommended.

Monday, October 19, 2009

_How to Build a Dinosaur_ by Jack Horner and James Gorman

Subtitled "Extinction Doesn't Have to be Forever," this book talks about ways and means of reverse-engineering a dinosaur from a chicken. The author is dead serious, and transmits a lot of interesting science, but the path is meandering.

I love pop sci books, and this one, like a lot of them, turns science into a narrative. I went along with most of that, but I wasn't always sure where we were going. The main thing this book did for me was to introduce me to evolutionary development ideas. It also brought home the close relationships between dinosaurs and birds.

It puts the ideas from Jurassic Park into some perspective. Jurassic Park's method of getting DNA from insects that sucked blood from dinosaurs was far-fetched. But some of the real science outlined in this book is mind-blowing.

The basic idea is to analyze evolutionary developments and reverse some of them. There's no magical rollback, no turning people into rats the way the High Evolutionary sometimes did. But there have been discoveries of identifiable biological molecules in fossils. There's an exciting bit about cutting open a bone to split it in half for transport and finding organic material inside. It's a fun read.

Great green goblin costume

Here's a great goblin costume that I bumped into on Flickr, taken at Dragon*Con 2008.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When Thunderbird's e-mail address completion offers you an address you don't find in your address book

I discovered the other day that Thunderbird was offering me two addresses for an old friend I hadn't e-mailed in a long time. I checked them both and found out that one of them was defunct.

So I went to my address book and tried to delete the offending address. But I only found one entry for her, listed with the address that worked. I'd assumed there were two entries for her in the address book.

There weren't. Instead, the bad address was in the Additional Email field....which isn't listed with the person's name in the table of addresses in the address book. You have to display the full details of the entry to see it.

I use the Portable Thunderbird version of the app. I'm very happy with it. I keep files on two different systems and sync them with each other daily. This way I have backups and easy access to my files in two locations.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lily and a friend enjoy a doughnut

From 9/19/09.

_Sandman Slim_ by Richard Kadrey

Cover art is from the Harper Collins folks, who presumably would love for you to click on it and go visit them.

Lessee....I devoured this one in just a few days. I liked the premise immediately: dead guy comes back from hell to get revenge on those who sent him there.

It's rather well done, but not too deep. By the end, it resembled the Dresden Files more than I liked...the main character ends up with a situation that seems designed to set him up as a wizard-solver-of-problems, with a sidekick quite similar to one of Dresden's.

However, I thought Butcher's books took several goes to get good. I thought the third Dresden book was fantastic, but was lukewarm on the first. This book was a wild ride from the start. And the Dresden correspondences didn't strike me as being too close until I got near the end.

I label stories like this one "celestial", because I needed a label in my database/journal for stories about angels and devils and the hierarchies of heaven and hell. As with vampire books, the fun of these is that every author essentially sets out to reveal to you the true story of these supernatural beings, with the result that the author comes up with some new twists on the standard genre rules for them.

Here, the charm lies in having some details about hell, which is given a language and denizens called Hellions. The main character has brought some tools with him from hell: a magic item so powerfu as to make you wonder how he was allowed to steal it, and some hellish magic. In fact, he used to be a fancy wizard on earth, and now has trouble with ordinary earth magic, which is a nice touch.

I enjoyed this book, but I never quite understood why it's called Sandman Slim. I mean, the main character eventually gets labelled that, but I don't recall a reason for it, so the connection never resonated with me. And since that became the title, it ought to have been a stronger connection.

Friday, October 16, 2009

_The Family Trade_ by Charles Stross

Pic is a slice of the Amazon photo of the book, and used to link there.

I've been trying to blog about EVERY book I read lately. This has not been easy. But I found I was waiting for 'enough time' to 'do justice' to the better books, and I decided to try someting that would get me to write SOMETHING about the books.

I liked this book a lot. I'd ready a couple of Stross books and enjoyed them, and Doug had recommended them once or twice. This one, I liked mostly because of the very strong female protagonist. Ahem. That is, the kickass lady main character rocked. She's a journalist, so, of course she rocked.

The plot revolves around the main character A) losing her job because of zealous journalism that reveals her companies' crimes then B) discovering she's related to a family of dimension-travelling smugglers.

There's a repeated theme of finding out she's a long lost princess, and then being FORCED to go live the life of a princess. It's a great idea and it works well, because our kickass main character is so up to the challenge.

It is, however, book 1 of a series, and it isn't one of those relatively-self-contained book one items. Nope, it's 1/3 of a plot. Things are just getting started when it ends, so I was kicking myself, because I don't have the next one handy, and I don't know when I'll be able to get it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Easy Money board game

Sometimes, you go out garage saling, and you find great stuff. One weekend last month there were garage sales all over the neighborhood. Here's a little gem I picked up for practically nothing: a fairly pristine copy of a clone of Monopoly that I'd never heard of.

I guess by the time I started playing board games, Monopoly's monopoly of monopoly-style boardgames was complete. So it seems very odd that Milton Bradley would try to put out a game that is nearly identical. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there was a lawsuit about it.

This version does have some interesting points. For example, you don't worry about color groups of properties; instead, you just try to collect one property on each side of the board. When you do that, you can start building houses on those properties.

And fully half the properties on the board have no set price. They go up for auction every time someone lands on them. I played it with Ethan, 12, and we got into a bunch of bidding wars.

To some extent, the design was done to make game play easier: rent prices are printed right on the board, and you mark your properties with a token, eliminating the need to deal with property cards at all.

Boardgame Geek has more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Voyage of the a blog

Image is Super Beagle from Wikimedia Commons, by Jeff Pierce, used under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Someone is posting Darwin's journals from his famous voyage, rendered as a blog.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why can't women find sexy costumes?

I suppose there is nothing new in inappropriately sexy costumes for women. This video from CollegeHumor, though, does a great sendup of the trend. And this post describes a new set of Marvel-branded Halloween costumes, where someone felt it was necessary to make inaccurate costumes of Marvel characters to make them sexy. Really. They couldn't find sexy enough costumes in the comics as they were. It somehow made sense to pay a designer to change the designs.

We were in a Jo-Ann Fabrics store this weekend, and they had costume patterns on the shelf. One of them was a set of women's costumes from The Wizard of Oz. All sexed up. Really.

Probably it's just survival for the costume companies. Costumes like those should be in demand year round.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Burnt Orange Gnome

Saw this at a garage sale on September 19, 2009. What IS that other gnome doing behind the dignfied lady wearing Longhorn orange?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

_Ultra: Seven Days_, by The Luna Brothers

Image taken from the Luna brothers Ultra page, and used to link back there. :)

I've been ransacking my comic book collection for books that I could let my 12-year-old read. As a result, I've been rereading a lot of old favorites.

This one didn't make the cut for pre-teen consumption, because the Luna brothers have somehow perfectly channeled the inner lives of hot 20-something superheroines, and I'm not ready for him to read that. Granted, I've never lived the life of a celebrity/supermodel/superhero as depicted here, but even though no one else has, I am fascinated by this take on what it might be like to be a superhero.

In the world of Ultra, superheroes work for agencies that get them endorsement gigs as well as liaise with the police. The story is so much not about the superpowers that we don't see an origin story for any of the characters. In fact it's about the personal life of Ultra, a young woman trying to date again after a five year lapse.

I've probably read this story a dozen times; it remains one of my favorites. Three thumbs up, and I have pal Mikael to thank for pointing me at this book way back when.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Photos from Glen's 40th birthday in Dallas

Longtime friend Glen was surprised by a trip to see a Dallas Stars game this past weekend. Here are a few pics I shot with my phonecam of the event.

Friday, October 09, 2009

_War for the Oaks_ by Emma Bull

Photo by eschipul under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0; Source

I can't remember precisely why I got on an Emma Bull kick, but I had previously read and enjoyed Finder, a 1994 novel of hers, and this one, from way back in 1987, was good as well.

I got behind on my bookblogging; I finished this one a week and a half ago. It had some nice rules-of-faerie stuff going on, a nice love was nice.

I never quite understood why it was called War for the Oaks, though. I mean, there's a faerie war, but oaks never seemed to be that important. Rock bands. Rock bands were important in the story. Bull wrote in the intro that she herself didn't actually play in a band until after she wrote this book.

I wasn't quite as happy with the ending as I'd hoped, but it ended up in a good place. Check it out.

Sculptures at our local library, the Milwood Branch

I love our branch of the library. I love living close enough to bike to it, of course, but the staff is dedicated and helpful, and for a small branch, it's gorgeous. I like these sculptures that decorate the garden in front, too.

Today I went in to pick up a book I had on hold, and the librarian said there was a second hold that was ready but not on the shelf yet. I think the computer told her that. She found it in a heartbeat, in a stack near her. Saved me a trip.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"Oh Happy Day" by Geoff Ryman, from _Interzone: The First Anthology_

I got Interzone: The First Anthology at the library. I almost didn't pick it up....I'd just read a fun adventure novel and I had an intuition that this book was likely to be heavy.

This collection of stories from the magazine Interzone was published in 1985, and edited by John Clute, among others, whose scifi novel Appleseed I enjoyed in June 2008, but somehow forgot to blog about.

Today I finished reading the first story in it. It was heavy. But I'm glad I didn't skip it. "Oh Happy Day" paints a grisly picture of life in a death camp whose inmates are gay men made to unload and ransack the bodies of other men after they are killed. A revolution of women has taken over the country and is shipping off all men deemed violent...and they aren't being too discriminating about it, either.

I'll say no more in detail about the story, save that it goes to a place worth visiting.

The story is frighteningly realistic, and worth pondering. It's not that I think a revolution of women is particularly likely. It's that a story like this makes you think about the mistakes we make when we try to make things better; about the excesses of revolution and idelogical fervor; and about the danger of labelling someone as other.

Whitewashed fence bed

Tanya designed it. I engineered it. We built it together. Neighbor Karl Hansen helped me carry it upstairs: a whitewashed headboard and footboard built like fencing. These pieces are heavy, because it's a king-size bed.

We haven't had a real bed -- something more than the metal bedframe that comes with the mattress and box spring -- since we've been married. It was fun fixing that problem with this project.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

In other D&D things I won't get to do...

Image of a fantastical dragon costume from a renfaire is from Flickr

...there's this news from BoingBoing: that Wesley Crusher himself, Wil Wheaton, is running a couple of Dungeon Delves at the Child's Play game con, for charity purposes, and $50 gets you a seat at the table. This is endlessly cool because Wil is endlessly cool. I still feel bad for hating Wesley Crusher. Well, Wesley Crusher was a dick, but that doesn't stop Wil Wheaton from being awesome.

A delve is basically a short dungeon adventure where the gamemaster tries to kill the players and the players try to complete some goal, in a short period of time ... 45 minutes in this case.

I dunno. Celebrity stuff usually does not appeal to me. But you don't have to read much of Wil Wheaton's blog to want to meet the guy.

Oh, yeah, this also brings up how conventions have always had these pseudo-competitive delve things. Roleplaying is so subjective, I never understood how you could compare any two gaming sessions, but from looking at GenCon catalogs of yore, I saw a lot of things like that, where multiple game sessions running the same scenarios would be competing against each other.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wiki Invaders, typing game that uses live Wikipedia content

Here's a nice idea...a free typing game, written in Flash, that pulls the content you type from Wikipedia. You get to choose a Wikipedia topic, too. This means you can read whatever you want, while you're practicing your typing and trying not to get blown up.

More...Another interesting thing about this game is that it was written in 12 hours, for a contest. There are a lot of game design contests out there, not just for vid games, but for RPGs and others. I like how they generate a lot of interesting content. It must be satisfying to come up with a playable game in so little time. For info on how the game was written, see this page.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Reverse trick-or-treat for halloween

Image is 'Behind Door Number Three', a Creative Commons image from Flickr

Oh, man, I love this idea. It's a very meta sort of costume. I found this on MetaFilter, posted by "np312":

Here's a spin on reverse-trick-or-treating that I got a kick out of. I grew up in a college town, and one Halloween our doorbell rang and we opened the door expecting to see trickortreaters-- but what was in front of our open door--was another door! Like, a full-on wooden door, that had a sign that said "Please knock." So we did, and the door swung open to reveal a bunch of college dudes dressed as really old grandmothers, curlers in their hair, etc, who proceeded to coo over our "costumes" and tell us we were "such cute trick or treaters!" One even pinched my cheek. Then THEY gave US candy, closed their door, picked it up and walked to the next house.

It was amazing.

If you're interested in doing this sometime, let me know. Maybe I'll look for a free door on FreeCycle. (There's been word of controversy over FreeCycle recently; wikipedia has some info on it.)

My mind immediately turns to practicalities: doors are heavy, and you kinda need a frame. Maybe a set designer would have some good ideas. The door should probably be on wheels. Foamboard would be nice. Somebody should have a pickup truck. Have 'em drop you at a street or two, do about 10 houses, end up at a vehicle with a cooler full of drinks, and call it a night.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

They had D&D camps and I didn't get to go?

This is a dragon of a type I used to doodle a lot in high school. Looks better in pencil, I assure you.
Here's an article about going to Dungeons & Dragons camp. It's fun for a bit of nostalgia for a time when D&D was really super popular...but also contains an interesting revelation re: why the camp was eventually ended.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Japanese mystery cafe

This blog post tells a fun story about an unusual cafe the writer encountered in Japan. Via Metafilter.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Grand Unified Theory of Superman's Powers

Art from cover of Superman: Red Son, by Mark Millar; link is to the Amazon page for that book

I could not let this important research paper go by without a mention.

In this paper we propose a new unified theory for the source of Su-
perman's powers; that is to say, all of Superman's extraordinary powers
are manifestation of one supernatural ability, rather than a host. It is
our opinion that all of Superman's recognized powers can be unied if His
power is the ability to manipulate, from atomic to kilometer length scales,
the inertia of His own and any matter with which He is in contact.

Note the use of capitalized His, describing Superman as like unto a god.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On the yodeling of veterinarians

In honor of Veggie Tales' star Larry the Pickle, a link to a Kool Aid pickles recipe.

One of the better things about having small kids is that you get exposed to some good kids' music and shows. And good kids shows have catchy songs with easy-to-sing lyrics...I sometimes get frustrated with hard-to-sing pop songs.

Yesterday morning, the Veggie Tales song "The Yodeling Veterinarian of the Alps" (youtube) was in my head:

There lived a man so long ago, his memory's but faint
Was not admired (did not inspire) like president or saint
But people came from far and near with their afflicted pets
For a special cure (they knew for sure)
wouldn't come from other vets
(rest of the lyrics here)

Veggie Tales shows are vaguely religious. But they have a saving grace, their unrepentantly nonsensical Silly Songs, and this is one of them.