MCF's 2006

”No one ever keeps their New Year's Resolutions, do they?”

With that thought in mind again last year, I looked back on 2005 and didn't even consider making any resolutions for 2006. I didn't concern myself with having something to do on the last night of the year, because as we get older, crowds become less appealing and it really is just an arbitrary flip of the calendar. In my youth I'd already had at least two great New Year's Eves that would be hard to top. But the start of a new year is as good an opportunity as any to look back as well as ahead, assess where one was during one time period, and where one will be in the next.

While I didn't make any firm resolutions, I loosely pondered things I might do in 2006. As I read my old words, I'm happy to find that I actually did some of the things I considered. I did lose some weight, unfortunately after gaining some first. I continued writing and taking pictures, and I got a new camera for the latter. I even incorporated the idea of a to-do list into my weekends, and while the list consists of things like “go to church”, “go take pictures”, “do laundry”, or “watch these movies”, it still gives me a sense of structure and helps keep the days from blurring or vanishing. Toward the end of 2005, theGreek had advised using a printed list to get a handle on my job, and throughout this year its really helped, with the exception of a few busy times when things got too crazy. Even then, when I had an overwhelming amount of work to do, I knew what I had to do by just glancing at my list and my priorities by deadline. I started my current job at the very beginning of the year 2000, so as of now I've survived for SEVEN years. It hardly seems that long, and at the end of every I'm aware that, maybe for better or maybe for worse, I'm still employed.

Kev Bayer came across a great list of questions that I think will help me organize my thoughts, as I now look back on my 2006:

1) What did you do in 2006 that you've never done before?
I watched The Prisoner. I got Tom DeFalco's autograph at the New York ComicCon. I took a ten-week online Science Fiction writing class. I had a real Philly Cheese Steak in Philadelphia. I went on a blind date. I went to a dog show. I took pictures of a fox in the wild. I went to a NASCAR race. I went to a renaissance fair. I entered my company's Halloween costume contest, and actually won a prize! I watched every James Bond movie, most of which I hadn't already seen, in chronological order.

2) Did you keep your New Years' resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I've decided to make it an annual tradition not to make resolutions I won't keep anyway, but in general leave myself open to the new possibilities another year may bring.

3) Did anyone close to you give birth?
At least five of my friends, or their wives in the case of male friends, had babies this year, three for the first time. I also have two friends whose wives are pregnant now, and one whose dog may be pregnant. It's been a fertile year.

4) Did anyone close to you die?
Sadly, we lost my Aunt Irene this year. I was also saddened to learn of the untimely demise of a former coworker. For me the saddest celebrity loss was Peter Boyle. In this past month, President Ford and James Brown have left our world as well.

5) What countries did you visit?
Like my dad, I'm not the type of person who travels and I've never had the time, money, or courage to leave the United States. Therefore, my answer to this question is “Pennsylvania”.

6) What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?
Wealth, a house, a new car, an athletic physique, tallness, and a girlfriend, necessarily in that order. What? Nothing says my answers have to be realistic.

7) What date from 2006 will remain etched in your memory and why?
Saturday, December 30th, the day Saddam Hussein was executed. As far as I know, no villainous world leader has ever been brought to justice and punished in such a public fashion. Hitler, for example, took his own life. I'm concerned what consequences and precedents will arise from this development, and some scary times are ahead. Hopefully his death serves as an example to other would-be dictators and doesn't make him a martyr. It's tricky ground.

8) What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Without question, my best achievement was running a race and doing almost as well as I did when I was in much better shape a few years ago.

9) What was your biggest failure?
Wow, there are far too many to mention, and three or four I don't plan on sharing. I'll go with a safe one and say that I haven't been able to lose as much weight as I wanted to, and I've stalled at 190 pounds. At least I'm not going back up over 200 where I was earlier in 2006, but why can't I lose weight and keep my hair? Getting old sucks.

10) Did you suffer illness or injury?
At the guaranteed risk of jinxing myself in 2007, I had no major health complaints last year. I guess vitamins and regular exercise are good for something. Other than nearly wearing a hole in my foot, slicing a finger on a soda can at an Italian feast over the Summer, and slicing my finger on a metal lid yesterday, I avoided injuries too. I'd knock wood, but with my luck I'd only break my knuckles.

11) What was the best thing you bought?
The best thing I bought was my aforementioned Canon PowerShot S2 IS.

12) Where did most of your money go?
Between renting and buying, I'd say most of my money went toward DVDs. I'm sure if I looked carefully at my credit card statements though, gasoline might rival or exceed movies.

13) What did you get really, really, really excited about?
I could give an inappropriate JNovian response of “no comment” I suppose, but instead I'm going to go with the trailers for a lot of next year's movies, including Transformers, Spider-man 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Within the year, there were road trips, a bowling night, a paintball excursion and happy hours that I met with great anticipation.

14) What scripture is a theme of 2006?
Well, apparently ”God helps those who help themselves.” isn't actually in the Bible, so I'll have to look one up. On the plus side, I guess this means my bad luck isn't all my fault.

15) Compared to this time last year are you:
a. Happier or sadder? Happier.; b. Thinner or fatter? About the same, maybe slightly thinner.; c. Richer or poorer? I've saved more, but my salary isn't much higher.

16) What do you wish you'd done more of?

17) What do you wish you'd done less of?

18) How did you spend Christmas?
In the morning, I exchanged gifts with my parents. My uncle came over in the afternoon and my mom served both pasta and chicken as well as assorted side dishes. Later dessert included cookies and cannoli. Between meals I watched DVDs on my computer.

19) Did you fall in love in 2006?
In high school I was taught that most people mistake infatuation with falling in love, and actual commitment and sacrifice comes from standing in love. So ultimately, I'm avoiding this question. Look, bunnies!

20) What was your favorite TV show?

21)What was the best book you read?
In 2005, the answer would clearly be Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. 2006 is a little tougher. I finally finished reading Wolves of the Calla and I read Song of Susannah, both from the Dark Tower series. I've now read nearly 400 pages of The Dark Tower, half of the final book. I'm not likely to finish that before next year, so if it's between Wolves and Susannah, I'm marginally going to go with the former. The latter was good too, but much shorter by comparison with fewer plot developments. It could easily have been folded into one of the other books.

22) What was your greatest musical discovery of 2006?
I didn't discover anything new, though I did enjoy both Trivium and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, both of which were brought to my attention by B13. My favorite new song was Chris Cornell's “You Know my Name”, though I've been a fan since college so that doesn't really qualify as a discovery.

23) What did you want and get?
See my answer to #11.

24) What did you want and not get?
See my answer to #6.

25) What was your favorite film this year?
It's a tie between Casino Royale and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

26) What did you do on your birthday?
On my actual birthday my mom made steak as she always does, and later served cake. Since my birthday fell on a Saturday this year, my friends at work took me out to lunch the day before. And a week later, I went to a few bars in the city with a bunch of friends.

27) What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Super powers.

28) How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?

29) What kept you sane?
My friends, and my blog.

30) Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Pam Beesley(Jenna Fischer).

31) What political issue stirred you the most?
The freshest one in my mind right now is the Hussein thing.

32) Who did you miss?
I miss my aunt. I think when we finally get together with the rest of her family, her death is going to seem real. Right now sometimes there's still this sense that she's still around to go visit. I also miss all my old friends that have moved or become busy with work and family life. Thanks to the internet, I still stay in touch with everyone, and recently was able to contact an old high school friend that I hadn't heard from in two years. This was the year Rey moved out of state, and our office is definitely a different environment without him there. Of course, he still finds ways to alternately entertain or torture me as though he were still sitting a few feet away.

33) Who was the best new person you met?
Tom DeFalco was pretty cool. I was also extremely impressed with how my deceased friend's mother-in-law took charge at her Shiv'ah; that was one strong lady.

34) Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006.
Never dry off anything with a metal edge using only your bare hands.

35) Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
”To be yourself is all that you can do”

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everybody!


MCF's Year in Review 2K6

It's hard to believe that yet another year is almost behind us, is it not? As I sit here, I can't help thinking how hard it is to type with my index finger bandaged up. I rinsed the metal lid from a peanut container and decided to roll it up and fold it so no one got cut when I threw it in with the recyclables. Cuts from thin metal are worse than paper cuts. They go deeper and don't hurt as much, and you might continue working before realizing, “Oh, I'm losing blood here.” It’s ironic that I’d cut myself while trying to prevent that very thing.

2006 was a year full of similarly improbable and ironic injuries, mishaps and disappointments. Some were chronicled, while others I kept filed away in my brain, never to be opened. I'll probably take a more personal look back at my 2006 tomorrow. 2006 had a lot of great moments too though, and surpassed 2005 in some ways. Last year I chose some very subjective “bests”. This year I'm more accurately describing my picks as “favorites”.

My favorite new movies were Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Casino Royale, Superman Returns, X-men: The Last Stand, Over the Hedge, Mission Impossible III, Borat, Saw III, and Monster House. Through Netflix, I probably average about 200 movies a year, so it's understandably hard for me to narrow down my favorite old movies that I've finally seen. The top three most recent standouts though are The Apartment, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Magnolia.

My favorite new television show is, without question, Heroes. I've also enjoyed 30 Rock. The only other new show I started watching was Day Break which, alas, has been canceled. I did add both The Office and Battlestar Galactica to my regular rotation, and I'm extremely glad I did. I'm now completely caught up with The Office, I'm working my way through the first two seasons of Galactica, and I've seen all of Galactica's third season thus far. My favorite returning shows were How I Met Your Mother, Prison Break, Lost, Scrubs, My Name is Earl and Supernatural. I can't wait for 24 to return in January. I'm also looking forward to the concluding episodes of The Sopranos.

I can't really list any favorite moments in politics or sports, because I don't follow either all that closely. It's probably one of the many reasons I never have anything interesting to say at parties but, as Darrell would say, “F' it.”

I haven't read any new books, and I'm still reading The Dark Tower, the final in that series and now nearly three years old. Similarly, I haven't read many new graphic novels or trade paperbacks, so I'm not up on the major sagas that took place at the two major comic book publishers. I suppose I may have to get to Infinite Crisis and Civil War at some point.

My favorite internet games have been Dragonfable, Dice Wars, and Tower Defence, all of which have proven far more addictive than they should be. Surprisingly, I don't think I picked up any console games this year, though there are at least four I had my eye on.

Finally, there's the Blogosphere. Last year, I gave everyone on my blogroll an award. While I'm not doing that this year, rest assured that if I link to you and read your words regularly, you're all my favorites. That being said, I am going to list my ten favorite posts from this year, in no particular order:

”MCF Revealed!”
Newcomer Otis comes frighteningly close to discovering my secret identity.

”Intergalactic Planetary”
Janet offers a teacher's perspective on the demotion of a planet, one of 2006's more significant developments.

”My Art Final Project”
One of the first things Wendy does after returning to blogging is share some charcoal renderings...of toilets.

”Non-Geeks Need Not Apply”
Darrell gives his opinion of the legitimate trailer for the most anticipated comic book movie of 2007, and shows off an awesome figurine.

”Silly Moving Story #1”
When Lorna moves, will the tale of her lost cat have a happy ending?

”Survival of the Fittest Ex-New Yorkers”
My old friend Rey and his wife do battle with horrendous insects in their new home in the woods.(Honorable mention goes to ”The Battle of Dogwood Tree or Robin-Home Defense”, in which Rey and his son later face off against some angry birds as they continue to adjust to life in the country--it was tough for me to pick just one of his war narratives.)

”Or is Your Entire World Just Crashing Down All Around You?”
The Fifth Column's Schad tackles the year's biggest meltdown on stage.

”Video Blog Wednesday”
Waterfalls and mountains abound in a scenic vacation compilation from film industry professional Jeff(Honorable mention to his Empire original and special edition comparison).

”Wonder Woman Day”
Swanshadow became one of my regular reads this year after I discovered his impressive collection of original comic book art(this year's highlighted in his most recent post). I chose this collection of the gorgeous Amazon, but it was hard to narrow down just one post. I liked the pictures but stayed for the words too, and he writes some of the best obituaries on the internet. There are plenty of cheerier tales as well, from heroic children to televised Heroes.

” To Buffalo, Niagara, and back again...”
Real-life pal and relatively new blogger B13 shared a massive and impressive collection of breathtaking photos from a trip he and his wife took upstate this Summer.

* * *

It really was a great year of reading, and don't feel bad if you weren't included in the list of highlights above. I know there are countless posts I've missed even from the bloggers I included, and it's impossible to recall everything from 2006. I wisely didn't list any of my posts, as I did that already on my blogiversary. I hope everyone keeps up the good work and continues to provide great words and pictures for me in 2007! I’d also like to thank Rey for the MCF artwork in the graphic at the beginning of this post.

Tune in tomorrow, when I take one last look at my 2006...


Fantastic Silver Screen

The youngest of my four cousins, about ten years older than I, briefly collected comic books during the ‘70s. His favorite was The Fantastic Four. Whenever we'd visit their family for the holidays, and I'd be bored, my aunt let me read his old issues. It was one of the first sparks that led me to collecting comics of my own by the time I was in high school, a habit I didn't break until after college, and an interest I'll probably maintain at the very least an awareness of for the rest of my life.

I personally didn't see the appeal of the FF at first. Perhaps it was the hype. The cover of every issue boasted “The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!” above the logo. I wasn't sure it was, and the teams I favored were The Avengers and the X-men. I will say that The Thing has always been one of my favorite Marvel characters, and I'd put him in my top three alongside Beast and Spider-man. Monsters, outcasts, and/or nerds rank high for me; go figure. I also think The Thing's real name, “Ben Grimm”, is one of the best names in comics.

Eventually the team grew on me. They could be a little bit campy at times, then swing too far into melodrama. There was an attempt to modernize them in the nineties, a period during which their arch-nemesis Doctor Doom had blown himself up apparently, killing team leader Reed Richards in the process and taking his hated rival down as a final act of defiance. Reed's widow, Sue, at the time sporting a skimpier costume closer to something one of the female X-men would wear, took charge of the team, refusing to believe Reed was really gone. After about two years, our time, she was proven right. The storylines during this period actually weren't that bad, but they didn't fit The Fantastic Four. They're not the X-men, nor are they Avengers(although technically, 3/4 of them were on the Avengers team at some point, but that's another story). As Tobey Maguire's character aptly muses in The Ice Storm, the FF are first and foremost a family. It's part classic science fiction, and part superhero adventure, but really it works best as a blend of sitcoms and soap operas set against a backdrop of those other genres.

I guess that's why I enjoyed the first movie. The ending was a little rushed, and they unfortunately butchered Doom, the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe. But what they got right was the family dynamic, the unique personalities and the way the four related to each other. The friendly rivalry between the Thing and the Torch was particularly spot-on, lifted right out of the comics.

Next year, the team returns to the big screen in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. As with the first film, I wasn't planning on getting my hopes up. Adapting the origin of The Silver Surfer from issues #48-50 in the mid-'60s is certainly an ambitious undertaking. I can understand why the Surfer wouldn't get his own movie, since his comic origins were so closely tied to the FF. Norrin Radd of the planet Zenn-La made a deal with Galactus, the devourer of worlds. Galactus spared his planet, but Norrin became his herald, and was granted the power cosmic as Galactus turned him into the Silver Surfer. With his new ability to soar the cosmos and control energy, he sought out worlds, uninhabited ones, for his new master to sate his appetite.

The arrangement worked out fine until the fateful day when Galactus was depleted of energy, and the nearest world that suited his needs was Earth. The Surfer was faced with a difficult choice, and eventually was swayed into helping the Fantastic Four against Galactus. For his betrayal, Galactus allowed him to keep his powers but fashioned a barrier around the Earth that he couldn't penetrate. The world would be his prison, and he'd roam the galaxy no more. Eventually Marvel let him out when he got his own series in the ‘90s, one that was quite successful thanks to major crossovers such as Infinity Gauntlet. It was around this time that the character became another of my favorites.

The other day, B13 sent me a link to the first trailer for the new film. I must have watched it about fifteen times by now. The beginning is a little light, focusing on the wedding of Reed and Sue, one of the better stories found in my cousin's collection of comics. Blink and you'll miss Brian Posehn marrying the couple, casting that earned the film major geek points. There's a sitcom-esque quip from the Torch about his tux right before Reed sends him to investigate the streak of light overhead, the newly-arrived Surfer. The moment Johnny shouts his trademark cry of “FLAME ON!”, it's all action. Insanely good, T1000 on a flying surfboard action at times looked like comic panels from my childhood were moving on my screen. The teaser trailer is better than the first film already, and if the rest of the movie is that good, with that proportion of humor and action, then I think I'm in for a treat next year. I can't imagine how they'll adapt Galactus though; I think a literal translation of his costume with the giant helmet might look stupid on an actor. Maybe it won't follow the comic arc at all.

It's really great how far special effects have progressed, and how comic book movies can now look this good. Between this movie, Spider-man 3, and Ghost Rider, 2007 could be a very good year for Marvel.


Give it...

In my head, I know Christmas is over, and it's time to focus on other things. It's easy to slip into the mindset of my childhood though, and consider this whole week a holiday. A lot of people are off from work, and the office is very quiet. I learned that one of the major comic book companies we deal with is closed completely this week, which will delay crucial approval of one of my designs. I just have to wait until next week. And though things are otherwise calm and I should be able to use the three days I am working this week to finally get caught up, I find myself getting distracted, drawn into conversations or surfing the web. Just don't tell my boss, on vacation himself this week, that I spent part of my day Wednesday reading comic book previews at PopCultureShock. I'll deny it, or say I was looking for inspiration, which I have been encouraged to pursue. Hopefully Thursday will be more productive, or else I'll be drowning again next year. I can't believe I can legitimately say “next year” at this point.

Well, the lights are still up at our house and around the neighborhood, and since I can't get out of my slacker mindset, I might as well tackle Janet's latest “Tell It To Me Tuesday”(uh huh, uh huh). This week, the inquisitive teacher from New Jersey asks, “What are the favorite gifts you got (or gave) this year and why?”

At some point, as I got older and my living quarters got smaller, the idea of getting a nice haul for Christmas has faded. I peaked with Castle Grayskull, the last gift that had me literally running and jumping with joy. I buy games or DVDs myself as soon as they come out, so for presents I actually appreciate useful things like clothing now. My mom has a friend that consistently gets me a new dress shirt and tie every year. My parents got me a brand new jacket this year among other things, and actually surprised me with something fun. It was a beautiful hardcover edition of Superman: The Sunday Classics, 1939-1943. I wasn't expecting it, I didn't know it existed, and my mom packed it in a shirt box too, so when I moved the tissue paper aside it was a marvelous (DC-ous?) revelation. She packed a lot of my gifts in deceptive boxes; when I saw the huge box the jacket was in, I feared it was a television set or some piece of furniture that I didn't have room for.

My parents are hard to shop for, and I don't think I ever get either of them one good gift. There's a basic assortment of food that's standard for every holiday. With my dad's heart condition and limited diet, I'm safe getting unsalted pretzels, low-fat graham crackers, rice cakes, and bread sticks. I sometimes “cheat” and buy my mom cookies or other snacks that I like too, so I try to find things she likes that I won't end up stealing. I've already had like three of the miniature chocolate covered Milanos I bought her. Thus far, her Petit Ecolier are safe. It helps that they got me a ten-pack of Kit-Kat to keep me distracted.

Other standard gifts I buy them include various kinds of puzzles. I've had numerous requests not to buy any more jigsaw puzzles, as my dad tends to hog them and spend three consecutive days finishing one to “get it out of the way”. So instead I get them books to occupy themselves individually, crosswords and word finds for my dad, and Sudoku books for my mom. Sometimes I'll find something related to sports or crafts, and I got my mom a pretty nice needlework book this year. I got them both hats and gloves for the cold weather this year as well, but surprisingly it was the items I spent the least on that made the biggest impression. My dad thought I spent way too much on a roadside emergency kit, complete with tools, flashlight, and reflectors, and didn't believe that I'd gotten it for only five dollars on sale from my company.

The gifts I most enjoy shopping for though are toys, perhaps vicariously living through my cousin's children and buying things I would like. I was thrilled when I learned that his five-(or six-)year-old son had gotten into Batman, mostly through watching old Adam West reruns with his dad. I got a great playset with a Batman and a Joker figure, based on the current cartoon, and I hope he doesn't have it already. His grandparents, especially my late Aunt, always got me the best toys when I was a kid, but it was hard to get me action figures from any series I was a fan of since there was a risk of me having it already.

I also got him a set of giant inflatable insects, because every little boy loves bugs and because I'm cheap and those were also on sale at my company. I even have one of my own that I hung over my cubicle. Their daughter is a little tougher to shop for, and in past years I've gotten her electronic toys aimed at girls, like a cell phone game or a Barbie digital drawing/horseriding game. This year I got her a realistic battery-powered kitten that moves its head and meows. I also found a crystal “zoo” complete with a sign and various animals that can be colored with included paints. Hopefully it won't be something too messy or her mom will kill me. We haven't gotten together with them yet this year, but I can't wait to give the kids their gifts. Last year a Playmobil pirate castle was a big hit with the boy.

In the end, I guess the gifts I most like getting are the ones I got when I was a kid, and the ones I most like giving are the ones for kids. Fun stuff is the best. There was a whole phase in college when my friends and I were all exchanging action figures around the holidays. Kids really have the best reactions when they get something they really like. As adults, we tend to be more restrained, even when it is something good, and it might as well all be socks.

That's all for now, and remember, there are only 363 shopping days left...



PBW: Annual Miracle

The holidays can be a stressful time, can they not? Every year around this time, in the days leading up to Christmas, I wake up to yelling. My dad becomes a little kid again, and starts putting every decoration up that we own. He asks my mom her opinion before she's had breakfast or is fully awake. She hates some of the tackier cardboard decorations he hangs, and the fact that in a few weeks he's not going to remember which ornaments came out of what boxes, and he'll be bugging her with more questions.

I fought with my dad on Friday about trimming the crooked tree he had cut from our yard, and resolved to control my temper on Saturday when it was time to bring it in the house and put it in its stand. As I sat in my room watching a DVD and idly twirling a plastic coat hanger around my big toe, he came in to summon me. I tossed the hanger aside as I leapt to his aid, but he misread the gesture and stormed out. “Fine, if that's your attitude!” In his defense, a day prior I had thrown a plastic bowl in anger, so I could understand his misinterpretation. Setting the tree up was actually quick and painless for a change, though. It was so crooked that the long process of adjusting screws in the base and taking a step back to see if it was straight would have been pointless. We just found the angles where it appeared the least crooked, and made sure those faced away from the wall.

Sunday morning, well before anyone else woke up, my dad had the tree decorated and was relaxing, watching a football game. It was a peaceful day, until the fire alarm went off. I raced to the kitchen, but my mom had merely burned a batch of cookies. I opened the skylight, and fanned the smoke detector until it stopped beeping. I reached for a cookie, but she warned me there were raisins in it, which I don't like. The batch was for one of her friends. About an hour later she came in and asked me to do something with the tree. I looked at it, and it seemed pretty much done, except for tinsel, garland, and the top. My parents and I differ on tinsel. I like to take handfuls and drape them in spots. They like to painstakingly take one strand at a time, and make sure there are no empty spots.

I said the tree looked fine, which set my mom on a rant about how she's baking cookies, and making another batch without raisins just for me, and slaving and we weren't doing anything. This led to a long and pointless argument which I won’t go into. Basically, she was stressed and needed to vent, something I understand all too well. Afterwards, I put garland up and my dad turned off the game to help me, and while I thought it looked good, she gave me a dig of, “I thought you were supposed to be an artist?”

Later that evening, after dinner, my dad asked me to cut some of the extra needles so we could fit the top decoration. He said to do it after mass, as we were getting ready for an 8 PM, but I knew I wouldn't feel like climbing up on a stepstool later that night. If I was going to get sap on me, I also wanted to do it before I took a shower and put on a suit. “I didn't say right now! We have to go somewhere! You are stubborn!” My dad gets very nervous about getting places on time, particularly church. Most of the year, he goes to church at 7 AM, as he's done for 76 years, and God willing will do so for years to come. My mom and I are the opposite, and usually go to a 5 PM on Saturday, or occasionally a 10:15 AM on Sunday. I'm not a morning person, and I like being able to sleep in on the weekend. We also seem to be consistently five minutes late, which drives my dad crazy. He stopped going to our parish when they canceled their early morning mass, and though he goes to a different church at 7 AM, the mass technically doesn’t start until 7:30. He just sits there for a half hour. So when he has to go to church with us, he stresses out about walking in after the ceremony has started. Often he's out of the car before I've turned the engine off, and we have to walk fast to catch up to him.

So, by 6:30 Sunday night I sanded the top of the tree down, shaking off and breaking one small ornament in the process. We were on time for church, and on Monday morning everyone was in a much better mood as we gathered in the living room to exchange gifts. There was no more stress, and no more yelling, and the only criticisms to be heard were, “Oh, you shouldn't have! Why did you get us so much?” or “Why did you use so much tape? You really wrapped these GOOD!” The tree didn't look so sad once all the decorations were on it and the lights were lit, and later my uncle came over and we all had a massive dinner of pasta, potatoes, chicken cutlets, and more. Dessert consisted of Italian pastries, homemade cookies, ice cream, and sherbet. We'll have leftovers for a long time. The cats enjoyed the tree as well, and while they didn't climb it they slept in close proximity to it. Chirp even “played” the piano, which I'll have to catch on video the next time he walks across the keys.

Yes, the holidays can be a stressful time, but the miracle is that after the preparations are complete, a family comes together and the festive environment somehow makes all the petty arguments meaningless and forgotten. I hope everyone had a great one. Today's Photo Blog Wednesday chronicles the journey from a sad tree to a Christmas icon



MCF's Perilous! III

Now that the holidays are winding down, in the calm before the storm of another new year, it's time for the third round of MCF's Perilous!! Things were pretty exciting last time, and can only get more exciting. Below, you will find 20 answers. You will have one week to come up with the corresponding questions and post them on your blogs, leaving a link to your post in the comments below. Next week, I'll reveal the questions I was thinking of, along with everyone's scores.

As of right now, the points finally matter. That's right, I've thought about it, and asked myself what the one thing is that most people who read this blog are looking for. The points carry over from one installment to the next, and I've decided that after five rounds the person with the most points can redeem them for this nifty “prize”, a piece of an important puzzle. It would spoil the fun to reveal what I'm giving away, but I will say it won't be valuable alone, and the winner will have incentive to keep winning. How's that for cryptic? After five rounds, the scores will reset, and every five rounds a new winner could potentially gain a piece of the Mysterious master prize.

To continue to be fair to newcomers, I've raised the bonus this week to 15 points for what I subjectively deem the best question. Make me laugh in a creative and clever way, and you have a shot. I'm sure it will be a tough decision as always. Here's the current scoring system:

1 pt=each question
2 pts=each question that matches MCF's
-1 pt=not posting in question form, forgetting a question mark, or including a statement with your question
15 pts=Bonus for the Best Question

Will you face the perils below and attain the maximum points possible? I can't wait to read your questions. Here are the next 20 answers:

1. Cosmos.


3. Blixem.

4. Donna Dixon.

5. Sleepy

6. Doc

7. That was how he got to Luchow's.


9. “Did they teach you that fancy psychology in college?”

10. Haim Saban; Paul Dini; Bruce Timm

11. Alfred E. Neuman.

12. Because I threw his leather coat out of the car when he dared me not to.

13. Rey.

14. They make saliva.

15. “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”

16. Hyperballistic.

17. A single, thick eyebrow.

18. It could summon help, warn of danger, grow in size, cast energy blasts, act as a shield, and unlock an ancient tome.

19. Eye contact.

20. Lettuce, Flan, and genuine Chinese food.

Good luck, people...



Phantasmic Links 12.25.06

Before we get started, I'd just like to say:

And now, here are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

This week, Janet covered the Christmas songs she likes. I skipped this week's topic since I already went through my picks.

And in this special holiday season, here's the best gift to give to that special someone in your life. The hilarious, explicit lyric goodness was brought my attention originally by Rey, although I see Sean since linked to it as well.

Now anyone can design the ultimate weapon of mass destruction with the Death Star Designer. Thanks, Rey! If there are any design flaws that would allow rebel scum to blow it up, clear funds weren't distributed properly.

That reminds me, last week Otis found Tatooine.

How many of the top ten horror movies of 2006 have you seen? I've seen 2, there are 2 on there I want to see, and 5 or 6 I hadn't heard of. This frightful list is courtesy of B13. I just noticed another top 10 on the page that includes Silent Hill which I loved, and Snakes on a Plane which I may see when it comes out on DVD. Don't tell anyone I admitted that.

Earlier this week, B13 also brought my attention to the new Transformers trailer, and I geeked out completely. I watched it repeatedly. I posted the link on message boards. I told people I was giddy. After I returned to Earth, I discovered the official site had added a certain phrase to the end of the trailer, read by Peter Cullen. If you collected the toys in the ‘80s, and clipped all the tech specs from the back of the boxes, then you'll probably be as excited to hear this slogan spoken as I am. Basically, this whole paragrah says “I'm a loser and I don't care because OMGGIANT1337ROBOTSLOL111!!!” Oh yeah, Scott posted a link to the trailer this week as well, without embarrassing himself.

If the preceding paragraph didn't make you recoil in horror, chances are you'll have the same appreciation as I do for this Lil Formers web comic I found.

I scored 36 when differentiating between Star Wars® characters and Web 2.0 terminology. It's another good one from Scott.

Have you seen the 50 Greatest Cartoons? I've seen a lot but I don't think I've seen them all. Hat tip to Curt.

Dare you face the 10 creepiest fast food mascots? I think one of them was even lurking around here recently...

Stationary Movies is brilliant and frustrating, and thanks to J-No it's been bouncing around in my subconscious all week. Famous movie scenes are recreated using ordinary office supplies. Initially, I got 14 of the 20. My brain's been processing it in the background and every few days I pop back on the site and try again. Fortunately, it keeps track of where you left off. Currently I have 17 right, with #'s 2, 8 and 9 still stumping me. I was kicking myself when I finally got #'s 5 & 6, and I suspect when I do get #9 I'll realize I should have known that one as well.

Here are some great night shots of the City. I really need to start shooting stuff like that; I love the lit cityscape.

These James Bond errors on film are great, and I wonder how I didn't notice some of them. It's another hat tip to B13.

Flatland is a fun little pixel shooter, with an interesting concept. At first I avoid the debris of the...things...I destroyed, until I realized they added to my ship's size and fire power. It's a fun no-commitment time-waster.

Finally, here's an hilarious sequel to the Lost Rhapsody, courtesy of theGreek. I don't think Rey liked it, but I loved how it showed all the stuff that happened in season two, more than I realized, and thought the medley was great! I had never heard that Weird Al tune before, so as I was watching it I was crediting the film makers. Still, I liked how they synched key lyrics to key events on the show.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



Who Wins?

There's a very important debate going on right now over at Rey's right now, at least if you're as big of a lifeless geek as I am. He has pitted the four main fictitious science fiction universes against each other, and asked the deceptively simple question of “who wins?” Since I've spent the last few hours wrapping presents, and I'm sure everyone else is pretty busy right now as well, I decided to take the idea and run with it, on a much smaller scale. You might disagree with my picks, and I'd love to hear why, but I'm pressing forward with some hypothetical confrontations, and their inevitable outcomes:

1) Sophia Petrillo vs. Marie Barone
In a showdown between Italian sitcom moms, Marie might have a physical advantage over the diminutive Sophia, as well as the ability to shout over her, but in a battle of wits the little Sicilian Golden Girl would keep her cool and shut down her opponent with some sharp observations. Winner: Sophia.

2) King Randor vs. the Burger King
Randor might have been a warrior in his prime, but as a king he let himself go, and couldn't even figure out his own son was He-man. The creepy mascot in the porcelain mask that can sneak up on anyone would totally own him. Winner: Burger King.

3) Gaius Baltar vs. Professor John Frink
Gaius is a genius, with no morals and an egotistical desire to survive at all costs. Whether he's a Cylon or just a human, his mind, cunning, and luck have allowed him to escape the destruction of cities on his home planet, avoid punishment for his role in that destruction, and to hook up with not one but two gorgeous girl robots. His downfall could only come from the most unlikely source, the bumbling Simpsons inventor who in the present day has accidentally created technology far ahead of its time, though rarely under his control. I predict an upset. Winner: Professor Frink.

4) Harry Potter vs. Presto
Harry is going to school to hone his magic, now for nearly seven years. He has a wand, a flying broom, a cloak of invisibility, and peers and professors backing him as he triumphs again and again against the darkest and most horrific forces imaginable. The young D&D wizard that bears a slight resemblance to him(and possibly The Happy Husband) could never predict what would come out of his hat next. Like Frink though, he might conjure a dragon or something else accidentally, making this match hard to predict. Luck would be a very high factor here, but I think even if Presto pulled the five-headed dragon Tiamat from his hat, Harry would find a way to win. Winner: Harry Potter.

5) Rattrap vs. Master Splinter
This is a tough call as well. Splinter is much smaller than the robotic Maximal, but his martial artistry has served him well against larger armed foes before. Rattrap is a master marksman, and has wheels in some incarnations, but I think he might underestimate his opponent and hesitate. In the moment where he could shoot or squish Splinter he'd instead pause to make a wisecrack, and that's when the ninja master would strike with stealth and speed. I'd be rooting for the robot, but as I play this out in my head I don't think my favorite would win here. Winner: Splinter.

6) Hiro Nakamura vs. Illyana Rasputin
Hiro can manipulate time and space to teleport, travel to the past or future, and freeze things around him. In the future, he'll even master a sword. In the present, he's still learning his abilities and doesn't always have control when he attempts a big leap through time. He also doesn't have his sword yet. Illyana meanwhile had a sword and demon armor, and could use the sword to cleave time and space and travel through discs when and where she pleased, with a demonic limbo as an intermediate zone. There was a price to her demon enhanced mutant abilities though, and when she eventually regressed to being a little girl(long story) she would soon succumb to a mutant virus(another long story). I'd have to judge these characters at their prime, and pit the future Hiro against Illyana before she regressed. While Hiro is an idealist and an innocent, Illyana is a corrupted innocent, and each use of her demon sword cost her a piece of her soul. This is yet another tough call, but I'd have to say for now that Hiro would come out on top. Winner: Hiro.

7) John J. Rambo vs. Rocky Balboa
Well, Rocky has a lot of heart and spirit, and he defies the sports world by fighting again and again well past the age of retirement. Rambo on the other hand is a master of armed combat as well as unarmed maneuvers, and has single-handedly toppled nations. Against a guy who could cauterize his own gut wound in the field by filling it with gun powder and setting it on fire, I'm not sure how well even the most spirited boxer would fare. Maybe I should have sent Judge Dredd after the Vietnam veteran instead. Winner: Rambo.

8) Michael Scofield vs. '60s Batman
Michael is focused and determined, and his keen analytical mind can get him out of any tough situation, albeit with some compromises and ad libbing when things don't go according to plan. Batman is equally driven, but his television incarnation had a few advantages. Not only did he have a utility belt that had a weapon, device, or spray for nearly any situation, but his enemies would often give a speech then leave him alone and unsupervised to escape, something Michael's enemies never do. Batman could get out of any jam within 22 minutes, but it could take a whole season for Michael to make a successful Prison Break. Winner: Batman.

9) Abu vs. Apu
That monkey from Aladdin is crafty, and has eluded authorities while robbing markets in Arab nations. I'm pretty sure his cartoon speed and agility would serve him well, and he'd take what he wanted and be out of the Kwik-E-Mart before Apu could shout, “Thank you! Come again!” Winner: Abu.

10) Unicron vs. Michael Moore
Honestly, this is no contest; it’s just something I want to see. While one only looks like he devours worlds, the other actually does. Sure, Moore is on our world, so we'd all be in trouble if the planet-eater cast his shadow here. I wouldn't mind seeing Moore become an hors d'oeuvre before the rest of us went, and I figure he'd either satisfy Unicron's appetite or give him such indigestion that he'd do Matrix level damage and destroy the chaos-bringer. Our problems would cancel each other out! Winner: Unicron.

* * * * *

That's all for now! Let me know what you think; maybe we'll see more ultimate showdowns in the future.


Christmas Frenzy

Friday was a crazy day. Using up one of my remaining vacation days for the year, I planned to finish my shopping and start my wrapping. That's not as last-minute as it sounds. Some members of my family didn't want to exchange gifts this year, especially after my Aunt passed away over the Summer, and while I only bought presents for my cousin's children, I decided I should have gift cards ready for the adults anyway. I also don't buy food items for my parents until a few days before the holiday, for obvious reasons.

When I was a kid, this time of year represented getting things, and not having anything to do. Homework could wait a week, and even though my parents encouraged me to get it out of the way first, I always found myself in a panic the night before I was to return to school. As an adult, the schedule is shorter and the to-do list is longer, and the magic of decorations suddenly feels like another chore. When it's time to trim the tree, I feel old and tired, and I think my mom does too. “Can I finish my breakfast?!” she snapped at my dad, as he asked her if she'd come outside to give her opinion on the tree before he cut it. My dad has the opposite reaction to this time of year, and in decorating he becomes a little kid again.

As much fun as listening to an old married couple bicker on my day off might be, I was anxious to have my own breakfast and get out to the stores before they got crowded. My dad reminded me that I promised to help him with the tree, and I cheerfully agreed that I'd help when I got back. He was a bit more insistent, citing his concern that it was going to rain. Still keeping my cool, I asked if I could have breakfast first. He began moping and grumbling about how nothing gets done around here, and I had one of my moments. A spoon and an empty (thank God) bowl flew from my hands across the room and into the sink. “FINE! I don't have to eat. Why does everything have to be right away?”

The last time I got irrational and lost my temper with my dad, my friend B13 gave me some good advice about patience. I took his words to heart, as he lost his own father a few years ago, and I had managed to avoid further outbursts for a while. I have to appreciate my parents while they're still here. The second that bowl left my hand, I caught myself and calmed down, wishing I could recall it. I don't just feel guilty when I have a tantrum; I feel embarrassed. If I could step outside myself and see what I look like, I'd probably never blow up without good cause ever again.

“Eat your breakfast,” he said, in a tone I knew all too well. I held my ground, saying I'd take care of things that needed to be done before I relaxed. Half-joking, my mom chimed in that I also promised to put the heavy suitcases with her Summer clothes back on the top shelf of the closet. As a show of good faith, and to give my dad a few minutes to cool off, I took care of the suitcases. Then I returned to my dad, both of us more calm, and got him to show me what he needed.

This year he'd cut the top of one of the taller trees in the yard, but the trunk wasn't straight. Between the piano and all the other junk finding its way here on a near daily basis from my uncle's old house, I was surprised my dad was even considering putting seven feet of potential kindling next to the rest of the flammable new additions. My mom may be getting rid of things eventually, but it's a slow process. Just a few minutes ago, she interrupted my typing and asked if I had any use for a plastic cube with shelves, fake wood grain and a spinning base. “What is this anyway?” she asked, and I silently wondered why she'd taken it from my uncle's in the first place. I thought it was a cassette holder, but the slots were square and taller. My next guess was that it was for Beta cassettes, and she could definitely get rid of it.

I didn't want to push my suggestion of a small, table-sized artificial tree too much on my dad. I knew it might trigger another rant about how much garbage my mom is bringing home and how the house is going to burn down. As he held a tree with a curvy trunk and asked where he could cut it so that it would be straight and not an “S”, I couldn't help thinking how much trouble we were going to for a pagan tradition. I didn't say what I was thinking in that moment, instead pointed out that where he wanted to cut it would leave us with a three-foot Charlie Brown Christmas tree. He began to disagree, so I went inside to get my mom and a pair of gloves. I wanted her opinion before I took a saw in hand, and while my dad insisted we didn't need gloves, the skin on my hands aren't as tough as his. Years of being an auto mechanic have left him with numb mitts, but my cushy office work makes me a wimp with that kind of stuff. I would feel the needles.

My mom agreed that we should cut it much further down, and with a yardstick I determined the seven foot mark. My dad thought it would still be too tall and crooked, but my mom and I pointed out that we could always cut more, but not add if we cut too much. I sawed off the base and the lower branches, and prepared to carry it in the house. He wasn't ready yet though, and all he needed me for was my opinion and to saw it since his grip isn't as good as it used to be. And so my responsibilities at home, the very frustration I had snapped about, amounted to little more than a half hour dent in my plans. I think a big part of that character flaw comes out of being an only child. I possess a selfish world view, in which I look at everything in terms of how it affects me first. Maybe I'll get a handle on that and grow up at some point in my lifetime.

The stores weren't crowded yet, but the same breed of holiday shoppers still plagued the aisles, albeit in smaller numbers. People rolled wagons in front of me, cut me off in the parking lot, and generally got in my way. Don't they know the world revolves around me and my misadventures? Stupid extras. By 3:00 I was home again, and able to relax and watch a movie about a guy far more neurotic than me. At times I felt dizzy for some reason, and dozed off once or twice. I’ve been fighting the onset of a cold for days. My parents meanwhile had returned from shopping of their own, and my dad asked me to mail some letters for my mom since he doesn't see very well at night. When I got back from the post office, I ravenously devoured two plates of pasta, and realized it was the first meal I'd had all day. Amid the frenzy, I never did get back to my breakfast. It's too bad eating a heavy dinner to make up for lost time probably negated any weight loss from missing a few meals.

So far, my dad has put lights up in our yard. He's posted flyers all over town to help one of my friends sell ornaments. And while my mom and I were stuck in the routine of any other day, he was cutting and measuring and champing at the bit. Christmas isn't over yet. The living room still has to be cleared of all the junk to make room for the tree. The process of balancing it in its base lies ahead, along with more yelling. Hopefully, by being aware of my tendency to snap in advance, I can keep a cooler head and be a calming influence on my parents, should they lose their patience at any time.

I actually did mention the whole pagan thing to my dad after we were done cutting the tree. “All I know is MY parents always had a tree. Were THEY pagans?” I didn't want to be more of a Grinch than I'd already been, so I let it go and went on to my shopping at that point. I realized in that moment why he gets so upset, and why he goes to so much trouble. The tradition has nothing to do with its origins. Tradition is a personal thing, a reminder of our past, and he's honoring and remembering his childhood with his parents. In the MCF-centric universe, it used to be about my parents seeing their little boy's eyes light up along with the Christmas lights. Now I realize it's something more important, about seeing the light of a little boy's eyes return to those of a 76-year-old man. I guess that's worth a little hard work and sacrifice, after all.


Creative Surge

I don't know if this is something unique to myself, or if other artistic types experience it as well, but I find that being creative is never a switch I can simply flip on. In college, I had to isolate myself in the basement, and there would be bad nights when things were going horrible, when I wanted to rip the paper up as soon as I made a mark, and felt like I had forgotten everything I learned and was wasting my time. But there were also good nights, where things started clicking and as an image took form before me in paint, pencil, charcoal, or ink, I was pleased with it. I used to call those moments my “groove”, and a lot of times music helped. I'd throw in a Metallica cassette and lose myself in the process. A lot of times it was like a trance, and an interruption killed it. If my parents shouted down that dinner was ready, it was all over. Sometimes I'd snap in frustration, but every time was like waking up from a really good dream. I can never go back to sleep and pick up where I left off, and the same seemed to be true of my pictures.

Putting this all into words, it's no wonder that my parents thought I was on drugs in those days. Besides the crazy facial hair, flannel shirts and torn jeans, when I was working on a project I was like someone on a trip, in my own zone. Creativity would arrive in a surge of inspiration, and I had to ride it until everything was down on paper. I didn't always succeed, but I kept working at it, believing that effort and practice contributed as much as inspiration and natural ability. I find I'm like that with writing as well. Some nights I force myself to say something, and it shows. Other nights, words spill out of my brain as fast as my fingers can dance. Just as with drawing, interruptions would break my concentration and snap me out of my groove. Many is the time my mom would start telling me a story about some cute thing her friend's cat did, and by the time she was finished I realized I'd started typing what she was saying, instead of what was in my brain.

Professionally, an art director doesn't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike, or long stretches of uninterrupted time. In the commercial field, deadlines must be met, at times with unfortunate sacrifices. There are twelve months in the year within which I create nineteen catalogs, not counting book jackets, assorted flyers, side projects, and twelve issues of another catalog. With such a mathematical dilemma, and a routine finely developed over seven years, I invariably get lazy and fall into a rut. Design gets reduced to a boring formula. I put a picture of a book on the right side of a spread. I put words next to it. If there's room, I blow up a detail of the illustration on the book jacket, then run a headline in a bold font over everything. Maybe I'll do something fancy and make the type metallic or shiny or put a shadow under it, but I spend fifteen to twenty minutes on an unoriginal composition at most, then move on to the next two pages. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It's rare, but sometimes that creative surge slips in to my work, and I'll spend time making a page or a book jacket look really special. These are wonderful times, when I lose myself in what I'm doing, and sit back and admire it when I'm finished. There's no greater feeling than surprising oneself, than staring at your computer screen and thinking, “I did that?” It's in these moments that I remember why I went into this field. Sometimes the surge creeps up on me, and other times I'll need a little push. Criticism can be a challenge, and in adversity I find fortitude.

About two weeks ago, I dropped off a few pages for my boss to approve. I had rushed, and followed my formula, but handing it in sooner would allow me time for any revisions. I really had fallen into a pattern, and he finally called me on it, explaining that I needed to redo the pages and in general, do a lot more than I had been doing since, after all, it was my job. Again, creativity is not achieved by flipping a switch, but in an office environment an artist may be challenged to do just that. He showed me examples from magazines for inspiration, and though I was feeling defeated and dejected as I returned to my desk, I was oddly fueled to attack the pages, and really do the job right. Sometimes I just throw page after page together, my only goal to get to the next page. I wanted to get to the next page, and hated having to go back and work on pages I thought were finished. Hours vanished as I fell into a zone though, dare I say even a groove. When I reemerged, it was one of those rare times that I didn't mind working late. I looked at the screen and thought, “I did that?” But art can be somewhat subjective, so I hoped others felt the same way. I left printouts on my boss' desk and headed down to gym for the evening.

The next morning he called me in to his office. “What happened?” he asked, beaming, “These pages...this new cover...these are all GREAT!” I had succeeded in what was expected of me, and broken out of my mold. The rest of my team were pleased when they saw my work too. It's tough to force oneself to break habits, especially within a rigid structure. Sometimes a successful creation can arise out of an angry, competitive desire to prove oneself. Other times, all it takes is a little caffeine. I hit Starbucks during my lunch break on Wednesday, and though not in the mood for an afternoon meeting to start my next issue, found myself bursting with ideas when I returned to my desk after the meeting.

I've never done drugs, but I can see how artists fall in to the trap of using artificial stimulants, such as the painter Isaac on the television show Heroes, or the musician Charlie on Lost. There are natural ways to be creative without relying on chemicals. I think those creative surges must be some kind of natural chemistry, some endorphin the body is producing, triggered by the right thought or mood. The best thing to do is relax and go with these moments, and appreciate their rarity and accept their brevity. Some nights, driving home, I'll get the urge to draw something. By the time I get home, have dinner and unwind with a DVD or television show, I'm too tired to pick up a pencil. I guess that's why real artists, full blown illustrators, carry a pencil and paper at all times. A true photographer is never far from his camera, any more than a musician is far from his instrument. My old music teacher used to keep all his cases open in his studio, so at any moment he could pick up any instrument without effort and play something when he was in the mood.

You never know when or where a creative surge of inspiration might strike.


I blame Adam Baldwin.

Don't get me wrong. Adam Baldwin is a great actor that I enjoy watching, whether he's good, evil, sarcastic, dimwitted, ambiguous, or any combination of the above. But he doesn't have a good track record with television shows staying on the air. I first noted his work in The X-Files, playing sinister super soldier Knowle Rohrer. He appeared toward the end of the 8th season and had several more appearances in the ninth and final season, including a prominent role in the finale. Of course, nine years is a good run, so at the time I didn't note any connection.

Baldwin, no relation to Alec's clan, then went on to stand out in the ensemble cast of Firefly. It was a brilliant, well written science fiction series with Western elements and great characters, and it was completely mishandled. The episodes were aired out of sequence, relegated to Fridays, and not every episode produced was aired before the network pulled the plug. Fans rallied, and eventually got a conclusion of sorts to the adventures of Baldwin's Jayne Cobb along with his captain and crewmates in the form of the film Serenity.

Adam Baldwin kept busy between his doomed series and its cinematic follow-up. He joined the cast of Angel as the sinister Marcus Hamilton, just in time for that show to abruptly get axed in its fifth and possibly best season. At least he got a memorable fight sequence with the title character in the final episode. For the second time in his career, he had joined a popular series in time for it to end. Around this time he also appeared in two episodes of Stargate SG-1, which has been canceled as of this year, and he did some voice work on Justice League Unlimited, right before that was canceled last year.

In the Summer of 2005, a few months before the release of Serenity, The Inside debuted. It was a pretty dark crime drama about FBI profilers who get inside the minds of the most twisted criminals and try to figure out their next move. I didn't have high hopes for a show that started at a time of year when no one was watching TV, but I got sucked in to it nonetheless, as much by the attractive lead Rachel Nichols as the complex and creepy boss played by Peter Coyote. And of course, amid this great ensemble in a series which had only 8 of the 13 episodes produced actually air, was Baldwin playing sarcastic agent Danny Love. A pattern was most definitely forming.

When Day Break premiered six weeks ago, I gave it a chance because I had nothing else to watch on Wednesdays until Lost returned. The concept of someone reliving the same day over and over again is not original, and has been done in everything from Star Trek to Lois and Clark to the movie Groundhog Day. People most familiar with the concept from the latter film, compared the series to it before it even aired, and dismissed it. Yet in its execution, this crime drama starring Taye Diggs as a cop framed for the murder of a senator as part of a larger conspiracy bore more of a resemblance to 24. I remember a time when I was skeptical that the gimmick of a show about one day in which each episode is an hour of that day seemed iffy to me. Then they pulled it off, and I wondered how they could possibly do more seasons. Well, the same thing happened with Day Break. The changes Diggs' character made each time the day reset lead to very different outcomes, and the consequences of his decisions lead to a new path each time, sometimes dangerous. The biggest hook for me was when it was revealed that while the day reset, he did not, and injuries sustained on one day would carry over to the next reset. He could die. It also didn't hurt that the newcomer Moon Bloodgood, playing his doomed girlfriend, was a unique and exotic beauty. After she's brutally murdered on the first day, and he wakes up in bed with her alive at the beginning of the same day, the high stakes are established. He must not only solve the case and clear his name, but keep her alive and hope that when tomorrow finally comes, it's after a day in which he gets everything right.

Even X-Files alumnus Mitch Pileggi had a role amid the ensemble of interesting characters, and the more I got in to the show I had only one concern. Playing Diggs' ex-partner, his wife's ex-husband, and troublesome internal affairs agent was none other than Adam Baldwin. My first reaction upon seeing him was positive, followed seconds later by the realization that the show would be canceled. Yet while three of his previous shafted series were on FOX, notorious for not giving shows a chance, this was ABC, a major, reputable network. More importantly, the show was designed as a finite series, with 13 episodes already filmed, and a story arc that would conclude at the end of those episodes. It was an interesting approach to television, rather than extend plots to keep shows going, it could have a good ending before it was forced to drag the story out or end prematurely. So when I read rumors online and saw a ”Save Daybreak” page, I was hopefully skeptical.

I tuned in Wednesday night at nine, anxious to see where the show went after a shocking revelation last week. To my horror and disgust, I watched a few minutes of Jim Belushi in a rerun of his horribly formulaic and dated sitcom, the kind that still relied on one-liners and a laugh track. He played the ignorant husband, eating junk food with his fat buddy and making derogatory comments about women and finance before his too-hot-for-a-guy-like-that-in-real-life-wife™ zinged him by pointing out that Oprah owned an island and she was sick of stereotypes. She then ironically zinged herself by asking another woman if she'd like to throw on an apron and help her bake cookies. The canned laughter really loved that one, while I searched frantically for a fork to remove my eyeballs.

So apparently, even though there were only 7 more episodes left of Day Break, the network decided the ratings weren't good enough, and they'd be better off with reruns of a crappy comedy. They might be airing the episodes online, and if they do I hope the hits they get on their website prove that they made a grievous mistake. The Nielsen system is horribly outdated, and it seems there's more and more of a disconnect between the shows people watch and the shows networks think they watch. I thought the system relied on some device attached to select viewers homes, which of course wouldn't know if someone recorded a show to watch later, or had the television on and left the room. In my research, I found that they mainly rely on a written record from viewers, and I came across comments from one former Nielsen participant who said he'd sometimes mark down that he watched a show, even if he taped it and watched something else, because he didn't want a show he liked to be penalized for that. It's a ridiculous method of research, and in no way really reflects what's happening.

So maybe it's the Nielsen's fault, or maybe it's Adam Baldwin's. I like his work a lot, but I'm starting to think that either he has bad luck, or he is bad luck. Maybe the masses writing to ABC will get those final episodes to air after the holidays, or maybe Day Break is finished. If it is, then Baldwin's reign as a great actor, but a serial show killer, will continue....


PBW: Art Hike

About eight years ago, I took my girlfriend at the time to the Nassau County Museum of Art to see an exhibit on Surrealism, arguably my favorite form of fine art. These were the days before the internet, at least before I had internet access, when I had to look through the newspaper to see what was going on and figure out something to do on a date. I remember it was raining when we finished our tour, and I had her wait while I ran for the car. After I picked her up, she said one of the older museum guards told her I was a “keeper” for that simple act of common etiquette. I probably could have used that guy's help making my case when she was breaking up with me a few years later, but hindsight's generally good for little more than agita.

After getting most of my shopping done on Friday, and getting fresh air while raking up leaves in my dad's lot on Saturday, I was looking to take a little time for myself on Sunday. Surfing the web for interesting sights on Long Island, I came across the museum, and remembered the various sculptures on the grounds, the ones I'd only seen in passing because of the rain on my prior visit. I thought it might make a good Photo Blog Wednesday, and so my trusty camera and I were soon on our way, while the weather remained unseasonably warm and the sun peeked out from behind clouds. As it turns out, the grounds were actually huge, with eight different hiking trails, a lake, a ravine, a sculpted garden, and more. It took a few hours, and I had to rely on my zoom lens for areas of the lawn riddled with goose droppings, but by the time the sun was almost setting, I think I had a nice set of images. Hopefully, you'll agree:



MCF's Perilous! II Questions

Hello, and welcome to the results for the second round of MCF's Perilous! As before, I provided 20 answers for which my readers had to come up with the corresponding questions and post them on their blogs. Scoring was as follows:

1 pt=each question
2 pts=each question that matches MCF's
-1 pt=not posting in question form or forgetting a question mark
10 pts=Bonus for the Best Question

Because I don't think the rules were clear, I'm not going to penalize anyone for using a combination of a statement and a question(e.g. “That sounds good. What is a question?”). Going forward though, there should only be questions or I will deduct a point. If someone didn't use a question mark at all though, I'm afraid I did deduct points this round. I'm also considering a reset every five rounds, and naming a champion at that point before starting fresh for everybody. What do you all think?

Let's see how everyone is faring so far:

Round 1: Darrell R1 21
Round 2: Darrell R2 20
Total: 41

Round 1: Scott R1 20
Round 2: Scott R2 22
Total: 42

Round 1: *NAME HIDDEN* R1 21
Total: 21

Round 1: Lorna R1 20
Round 2: Lorna R2 21
Total: 41

Round 1: Kev Bayer R1 20
Round 2: Kev Bayer R2 11
Total: 31

Round 1: Otis R1 21
Round 2: Otis R2 29
Total: 50

Round 1: Rey R1 21
Total: 21

Round 2: Wendy R2 20
Total: 20

Otis got the 10 point bonus for question #4 and the accompanying image. Well done!

And now, here are the questions I was thinking of:

1. Darrell
Who is Larry's other brother?
(I realized too late I misspelled it)

2. Wendy
What is the name of Dave Thomas' daughter?

3. Lorna
What is the mutant mistress of magnetism Polaris' real first name?

4. Joseph
Who was the long-haired clone of Magneto that ran with the X-men for a while?

5. Kevin
Who is Julie Strain's husband Eastman, and the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

6. Michael
What is the name of the Knight who drove KITT?

7. Kelly
Who was Woody's girlfriend on Cheers?

8. Dave
Who left blogging for another virtual world?

9. Hal
Who is the Linden who played the title role in Barney Miller?

10. Nicholas
Who did Adam Rich play on Eight is Enough?

11. Matthew
What is the superhero Daredevil's real first name?

12. Clint
What is the Avenger Hawkeye's real first name?

13. Jesse
What was the name of Christina Applegate's short-lived NBC sitcom?

14. Sean
Who was a “Young” actress who once aggressively auditioned for the part of Catwoman?

15. Cristina
What's that talk show lady's name on Univision?

16. Arthur
Who is The Tick's sidekick?

17. Whorenelli
What is the absolute worst pronunciation and spelling of my real last name?

18. Ray
Whose thoughts conjured a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?

19. Kurt
Who do some people think may have been killed by Courtney Love?

20. Jury
What were the 12 Angry Men?