Thursday, April 29, 2010

Restoring Stephen Baldwin

This Huffington Post article has some fun words to say about the Restore Stephen Baldwin website. Summary: Baldwin lost acting jobs because he's a born-again Christian, so the holy thing to do is donate money to him.

From the Huffington Post: "On the other hand, it's Stephen Freaking Baldwin. My Stephen Baldwin. What kind of America are we living in where Stephen Baldwin can't continue to preach his gospel? I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in that kind of America."

If you need more encouragement, here's a fun little tale about personal contact with a helpful Stephen Baldwin, in the wilds of New York.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions", short story from Strange Horizons

I like that Strange Horizons publishes a lot of superhero prose. I always get a kick out of superheroes and supervillains taken out of the comic book medium and thrown into others.

And I liked this story, "Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions," but I couldn't figure out why at first. The ending seemed quite odd.

But now I see it as being about despair, about being trapped in a cycle where people don't address the real problems of the world. Which is a great point to make; I saw the same idea in a StormWatch volume that I was looking at just last was expressed in the form of 'our group was just a band-aid, I want to go after causes not symptoms.' Of course, doing that led StormWatch in terrible directions; I just want to get it out there that this idea, while not new, is a great nuance on the superhero paradigm.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Three Investigators book series has worldwide appeal

I was searching for something else and found Wikipedia's entry on The Three Investigators, a book series I enjoyed as a kid.  I was surprised to learn that the books are popular in Germany, Italy, and Turkey, and that original books have been added to the series in other languages.

The books stuck out for me for the self-reliance of the characters and their codewords and gadgets: their secret  headquarters hidden in a junkyard. The kids were too young to drive, but managed to wrangle the use of a limousine--with a driver who naturally became a helpful character--through one of the character's winning of a contest...which he rules-lawyered from a 30-day span to a much longer one. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Imagining the tea party as a black movement

This post pointing out some of the more extreme Tea Party actions, and asking us to imagine the results if the actors were black, is worth thinking about.

Seems like the Tea Party phenom could be complicated. They're easy to ridicule, but Naomi Wolf thinks they need a second look.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


It's a day of milestones. For example, we now get to have an openly gay character in Archie comics. Also, today I finished The Magicians.

This is a book I expect to read fact, I'm thinking about setting a little reminder to myself to read it again in a year or so.

Fun themes include numerous references to a Narnia-like fantasy world, and a magic school that provokes comparison to Harry Potter, but with lovely differences that make it seem a great deal more mature. I haven't digested those ideas yet, but it's great fun.

There's even a sequence in the book that reminded me strongly of Dungeons and Dragons, and gave me a visceral sense of how awful it would actually be to be lost in dark tunnels full of monsters, no matter how much magic might be at your fingertips. 

The book has what I can only describe as a highly mature attitude to the concept of magic.

So this is my off-the-cuff reaction post about The Magicians. It's one of those books that's so fun you wish you could forget it and read it again right away...if that made any sense at all. :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Year of giving

This fellow (article) had the idea to give away $10 a a different stranger every day. That's interesting enough. But the fellow is out of a job, himself.

$3650 isn't chump change, but it's still something that's doable. And he's guaranteeing himself a lot of interesting encounters and tons of great karma.

He blogs about each transfer here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Feed hummingbirds with your face

...with this delightful wearable hummingbird feeder. Now, given the well-known violence of hummingbirds, you might be skeptical about the wisdom here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Squid by Chloe

Squids are the animal of the year for Chloe.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

_Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_ by Susanna Clarke; _The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I’m annoyed at myself for not already having posted a long, thoughtful, and elegant post to match the thoughtful and lengthy elegance of Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell. This Hugo-winning book doesn't need any additional acclaim from the likes of me. It's just that I worry that I don't post much about the truly excellent books, because it's harder to come up with something good to say about them. 

The atmospheric buildup in this novel is amazing, and the tension that develops between the two titular magicians just gets more and more stressful till at times I had to put the book down. 

Since I feel like I often don't post enough about the books I like best, I'm going to go ahead and mention The Magicians by Lev Grossman before I'm very far into it. I believe I picked it up from a list of lesser-known but high-quality modern fantasies. It's already an exciting book, which grabbed me from the first page, with its worried young main character who is drafted into a magic school that's already ten times as interesting as Hogwarts. Some things I've noticed so far:  our main character Quentin has to work for his all-expenses-paid scholarship to dreamland; he worries about his own performance and about competition, not stupidly vicious rivalry from a Malfoy; and he doesn't lack parents...instead, he's already disconnected from them, and so doesn't miss them. 

The book has already opened up an interesting mystery. It suggests that the kids taken to be come magicians are the best and brightest of humanity...but since they stay secret, that means the best and brightest are being skimmed off the top and taken away every year. I'll be interested to find out how that develops; so far there is no hint of what the purpose of the school might be.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My tiny lawn

Chloe, noticing that I admired the grass she grew for her science project, made me some for my own self. This was a birthday present from back in February...I'm just way behind on posting photos.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Newflash: Hedgehogs

Can swim!

Hahaha! It's all mine!

Actually these are the work of beavers not too far from our house. Took this on a bird walk a while back.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Heart art

I was rather taken with the design of this card that Tanya made for my birthday.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Curling without curling

Here is my family at the curling club in Lodi, Wisconsin in December 2009. Unfortunately my pics of the curlers curling were crappy. The picture of Tanya is particularly excellent...I don't often catch her expression that nicely.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lily at the dentist

Kinda looks like a celebrity getting work done, doesn't she?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Four Lies from the Mouth of God", short story by Megan Arkenberg

Megan Arkenberg has managed to evoke a realistic and scary future in this piece from Strange Horizons. The antihistorical elements of the establishment in this story remind me of Fahrenheit 451. I like being in this viewpoint character's head, even if I wouldn't want any part of her situation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

_Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths_ DVD

I got this direct-to-video release from NetFlix right after seeing an ad for it in a Target. I suppose I need to get on a mailing list for DC vids...they're putting out these videos pretty fast. It's a great time to be a Justice League fan.

The movie opens with Lex Luthor and an oddly-dressed Joker attacking some kind of facility, where they are opposed by strange costumed characters. When they're about to be captured and the Joker guy sacrifices himself, we realize something's off. Turns out this is a counter-earth where the bad guys are good...and the good guys, of course, are bad.

This is a good flick, and not just because it uses the counter-earth/Earth 2 characters that I like so much. Oh, wait, maybe that is it. They pretty much had me at Owlman. And if they're going to go to the trouble of having James Woods voice Owlman, and Gina Torres for Superwoman (hubba hubba!), well, it's going to be tough to disappoint me.

The storyline is fairly similar to the Frank Quitely-drawn, Grant Morrison Written JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel which I own and frankly adore. But there are significant differences, notably the ending. 

I love the way the bad guys are not simple opposites of the good guys. However, the little details that distinguish them are mostly missing from this rendition; the drug use of Owlman and Johnny Quick are sanitized out of the picture, and we don't see Superwoman at the Daily Planet, none of that stuff. 

The highlights of this animated version include a great character design for Martian Manhunter, and a fun portrayal of Good Lex.

However it's nowhere near as ruthless or dark as Morrison's story, which is surely the intent. That one was a tragedy; don't expect that here. 

If you were as sick as I was when the Justice League Unlimited cartoon ended (those were some of the best shows I've ever watched with my kids), you should make time to watch this one. Right now it's my favorite of all the followon DC movie releases; it certainly beats out the Wonder Woman movie

On the other hand, if you watch and enjoy this and want more Earth-2 action, you can  definitely get a copy of JLA: Earth 2. I've read it five or ten times and will certainly pick it up again.


As I mentioned, the bad guys have been cleaned up a bit here when compared to the Morrison story. Superwoman, for example, is much less skeevy; Owlman's drug use isn't mentioned, nor his quest to destroy his father. But these two characters have a goal that is cosmically dark: wiping out all humanity across all the alternate earths, by blowing up Earth Prime. On the face of it, this is something worse than Morrison's Owlman would ever attempt...but really, it's a clean megalomaniacal weird supervillain kind of exploit. And it's never gonna happen. There's simply no way this story is going to end with the end of all existence. 

But what if Owlman had, for example, kidnapped and raped the president's daughter to establish dominance over the government? That doesn't require the fancy tech....but that kind of seriousness, that kind of scary down-to-earth threat, is hinted at but never realized in this story.

I bring that up because they do hint at it: the conflict here is at heart the attempt of the Crime Syndicates to take over the government of Earth-2. I doubt anyone could successfully pitch a story as dark as I'm suggesting for an animated comic movie by DC...not for a while, anyway. But the the movie is serious about its issues and presentation, even if it did seem to make some compromises. It was great to hear many-worlds theory being mentioned in a comic book movie. 

The scene where Superwoman hints at doing dark sexy things to Batman is priceless; when she says "that'll cost you a rib," and then reaches out with a finger and snaps one of his ribs, that's a great way to emphasize the differenced in power levels between them...and of course it plays nicely off the way the Justice League shows are always hinting at a relationship between Wonder Woman and Batman.

I hope this movie gets the support of fans and we can see more like it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

_Vampire Loves_ by Joann Sfar

I snatched this graphic novel up at my local library, intrigued by its simple art and the artlessness of the characters' problems. It was fun. It amounts to a gentle story about the vagaries of love, whose characters happen to be vampires and ghosts and such...but that doesn't matter much.

I get the feeling the author has a good sense of how relationships actually work, but the book comes to no strong conclusions, rather ending where it began. One of the characters almost entirely lacks self-knowledge, and is a pretty good portrayal of how people often act as a result. This is worth a read, but it wouldn't earn a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Umbrella Academy, two volumes

I picked up The Apocalypse Suite and Dallas, two volumes of this comic, at the library recently.

I liked the premise and the art, but there was more death than I expected (though it was a Dark Horse release, and the art did signal to me that it was an adult book). Also, although I liked the plot, the whole thing never really gelled for me. There was a lot of backstory that felt thin; I didn't care enough about the characters. I feel like the author designed a story that he couldn't quite pull off.

For some reason this was shelved in the Youth comics section of our library, when it seems obvious to me that it's aimed at adults. 

The art was Mike Mignola Hellboy in style and level of detail. A lot of the characters had a strong Mignola influence to their designs. 

Something I noticed in these books that I've seen elsewhere, from the foreward and comments, is that comics seem to engender a sort of reverence in fans and creators, well beyond the stuff that actually happens in the comic. That is, the events and characters are often quite thin -- there aren't really many pages in a graphic novel, there's not time for all that much to happen -- but people seem to write about them as if things are happening off-camera.

I wonder if this comes from the monthly nature of comics, where readers have a whole month to think about each issue. I've been avoiding single-issue comics for years now, so I no longer consume comics that way at all: I read them almost exclusively in collections, which, if well done, contain a full storyline in one waiting. There's especially no waiting when I can read a whole graphic novel in an hour or less. 

I'll have to collect examples of's just a feeling right now. I'll pack it up with the seven or eight other literary theories I have that I can't be bothered to prove just yet. :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Carving game scenery from foam; plaster castle molds

Recently I bumped into the Hirst Arts website again, and I became consumed with the idea of buying one of their latex molds and making a bunch of castle-type models in plaster. The molds are interesting because they're designed to create building blocks rather than finished items. They're carefully set up so that one mold can be used to pour the parts for a number of different models.

Plus, I've cast plaster in latex molds before, it's really easy and the results turn out great. I've wanted to get into casting and molding for a while, but resin casting and mold making seemed too daunting and I never get around to it.

The mold I am most interested in is a fairly generic one for making random-stone walls, their first fieldstone mold on this page. You could use it to make  castles, towers, or dungeon tiles.

Of course, I could also see filling my house with these castle models and not really having a good place to store them; and I don't play enough wargames to actually justify my desire to build an entire medieval city (a city where all the citizens somehow have the money to build beautiful stone homes, of course).

And plaster models are quite heavy. One of the links I got to from one of my favorite wargame modelers' sites, though, provides an alternative that solves this problem and skips the expense of buying a mold, by virtue of directly carving sheet foam to make similar random rock walls. The link was to this German tutorial for building a 'Vampire's Castle.' The tutorial is in the form of a series of photos with German captions. You almost don't need to read it. Of course I have a live-in translator for any rough spots, but still, it's well worth a look. It's an amazing project. I can't wait to get my hands on a thin sheet of foam and try some wall carving.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Questionable Content has been unquestionably good lately

Jeph Jaques has introduced some new characters to the ongoing coffee opera that is the webcomic Questionable Content lately. I like what I'm seeing there. The longtime character of Hannelore, who is desperately OCD and whose dad is a mad scientist, has been developing some delightful spunk. Jaques has built up her inhibitions nicely, and now he can play against them, as when she resists her fear of dirt long enough to stick around and help a friend.

Ever since Adam Cadre introduced the concept of aspirational liking of a comic into my life, I've worried that I like Questionable Content because I aspire to be a laid-back college kid who hangs out in a coffee shop all day. Possibly because that is so different from my actual life. I hang out in an office all day. Lots of coffee is involved either way.

It's probably not worth worrying about. But thinking that way makes me realize that the characters in QC don't actually ever do much. It's not like I'd actually want to be a fellow who works in a dead-end job in a library. Granted, I wouldn't mind having a sexually adventurous bisexual girlfriend now and then, but somehow I think my family would object.

What am I trying to say? I like the characters, and I get a kick out of their sass, and sometimes they warm the cockles of my heart. There you go.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

_Consider Phlebas_ by Iain Banks

I've been trying to get hold of some Iain Banks "Culture" books for a while. This is the first one I was able to get from the library. I'd read one other book of his, The Algebraist, a year and a half ago.

I enjoyed this book, but it was quite different than I expected. It was less about the Culture and more about a fellow who hates it. And it was a fairly straightforward adventure romp. It had a great action opening and the action rarely let up after that.

Before I go into a list of problems I found with the novel, I should say that I still recommend it. In a way it feels like a noir Star Wars: it manages to put a highly adventurous protagonist into a flamboyant galaxy of robots and weird worlds, but instead of the adventurer striding into the crux of the galaxies problems and solving them, he's a tiny part of the big picture and he does not manage to win significance for himself. Banks has said he was writing in reaction to a lone protagonist cliche in science fiction.

Now, start with, I thought the title was quite useless. It's apparently taken from a line in T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. I felt misled. Given what I knew about the Culture, which I understood to be a highly principled and advanced society, and the philosophical sound of the title, I expected a gentle philosophical novel, whereas this was a fast-moving action movie.

The plot was a little odd in that it jumps around James Bond only with planets instead of that the antagonists from early on can't really recur later. I wanted something more like a slow build over the whole course of the novel. But I think the external conflicts were less important than what was going on inside the main character's head. And there is a character who tracks the main character throughout. This could have been developed more. There's even a character who never directly encounters the main character, analyzing him from afar, and that plot sideline was never developed enough for me to see what it was there for.

My other main complaint would be that the main character's hatred of the Culture isn't well explained or supported. It's a given in the man's personality. But the character is well drawn nonetheless, and I was fully involved in his problems by the book's end. He stuck with a mission far past its importance, though, and that never quite made sense to me.

So that's a litany of complaints, and I have to say that they don't matter much. It's a fun book and it makes you think and it takes you on a wild ride through Banks' future galaxy, and it manages to be poignant and realistic while delivering, on occasion, Mission Impossible-style action.

I'm trying out Blogger's new Amazon Associates features. Signing up as an associate makes it ridiculously easy to add links and images of products to a blog posting, so that makes book blogging simpler. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fixed some headphones

My son had pulled the wire out of one side of a pair of cheap headphones. These things break all the time, but they're so cheap I rarely think to fix them. This pair had an ear-wrap feature that he seemed to like, though, so I cracked open the casing on the speaker and discovered that the wires had simply come off their solder pads. A little wire-stripping and solder later and we were back in action. I was even able to snap the casing back together without glue.

It's not always easy to fix modern products, but when you can, it's a great feeling to avoid throwing something into the trash stream.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Simplified Capellini Pomodoro

We eat a fair amount of pasta, and most of the time what we make is angel hair. It replaced spaghetti as my favorite noodle some years ago.

Every now and then I order it as Capellini Pomodoro in a restaurant, and last week I decided to cook that for the fam. It was ridiculously easy.

I lacked the fresh basil that is normally required, and I didn't use canned tomatoes as the recipe I started with called for. Instead, I just chopped some tomatoes. I also didn't bother seeding or peeling the tomatoes. Peeling them is probably worth trying, but I've often tossed sauteed fresh tomatoes into a sauce, I'm not afraid of them.

So, what I really did is super simple: I diced some garlic and sauteed it in olive oil. Added diced fresh tomato and fried for a few minutes, dropping in some dried Italian seasonings. Then I added it to a big bowl of angel hair, added some parmesan, and tossed that together.

Tanya was working late, so I set aside some garlic after I sauteed it, and added some uncooked, diced tomato, putting the whole mixture in the fridge. I reserved some noodles for her as well. When she arrived, I was able to make up a bowl for her on the spot and serve it hot.

It was so successful, I'm considering actually adding side dish to the experience....instead of sticking with my perpetual one-dish meals.

Also, it should be noted that my cooking dinner has been greatly enhanced by having kids who are old enough to do things like start noodles boiling before I get home from work. :)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Castle Panic is as good as I remembered

I totally lied when I wrote, about Castle Panic, that I "planned to pick up a copy as soon as it was available." It's a $35.00 game and I'm a cheapskate, so I did not hurry. But my 12-year-0ld was in a hurry as soon as he saw it at Dragon's Lair. So we cut a deal and split the cost. We've played one game so far, and it was great.

It's a quick play, and it supports 1 to 6 players. That means solo games as well as 2-player. Not many games are good for two players, but we found it to work well.

This game has some neat design elements. The art is good, and I like the 3-sided monster counters that you rotate when you damage the monsters.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Holds reduced to 5 at our libraries in Austin

Wow, I almost wish I hadn't blogged excitedly about how much I love the library's system of letting you put books on hold via the net. You could put 10 books on hold before, now they've reduced it to five.

I almost wish that. But I've found that the system leads me to check out books I don't really want to read, and to check out too many books at once. I still love it, but I've had to restrain myself. I don't think the 5-limit is going to be a real problem.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A perfect month of 500 words a day

Hey, I just did a full month of writing 500 words a day without missing a single day. Though this is my running goal, it's still rare to have a whole perfect month. Congratulations me!

As a reward, I'm going to forgive myself for purchasing both a graphic novel (Ex Machina Volume 7!) and board game (Castle Panic!) in the same week. Luckily, they are both awesome purchases. ;)

It was me

It was Sunday...Tanya had bought a pack of Doublestuff Golden Oreos and foolishly left them out in the open.

I ate a whole row out of the pack in ten minutes. Later I'm upstairs changing clothes and I hear her holler about the cookies, asking who ate them.

I keep silent.

Then she starts yelling at the kids.

I start laughing, one of those uncontrollable laughs, I awkwardly get my shoes on, go down, helpless with laughter, hollering, gasping between breaths..."don't kill them, was was me."

It was me.