Interruptions and Distractions

I've always struggled with focus. Had I been in elementary school now instead of the ‘80s, I'm sure someone would have “diagnosed” me with A.D.D. and prescribed something. Back then, they just told my folks I was hyperactive and needed to have my sugar intake limited. My mind was always going and I had an active imagination, even when mimicking my favorite television shows on the playground and delegating roles to my friends. Teachers constantly had to separate me from the other kids so I wouldn't talk or be distracted, and in fourth grade I found myself sitting in the back of the room at my own desk while other kids sat together at larger tables. At some point I got bored, noticed an open window and a beautiful day to my right, and climbed out on to a second story ledge. Not seeing any safe way down and concerned that aiming for the yews would hurt, I proceeded to climb back inside where my forearm was greeted by my teacher's fingernails, far sharper than any pine needle. My brain was my best friend and my worst enemy.

Over the years, I've made improvements and accomplished a lot more than the staff of my elementary school probably thought I could. I survived a tough Catholic high school, and actually made it through four years of college. Granted, a Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design isn't exactly rocket science, but the fact that I focused on my studies, got good grades, and learned how to use computers would definitely impress anyone who knew the little idiot that ran through the halls with the hood of his brown sweatshirt pushing his ears forward in a Dopey impression. I was always something of an enigma though, my emotional and physical traits lagging years behind my intellectual ones. My mom fought successfully to keep me from repeating first grade. In Middle school, when I found myself in advanced academic classes but a special ed gym class, my mom had to come to my defense once more. I think that was one of the many nails in the coffin of my public school career.

It took effort, but by the time I was done with school and working in an office, I managed to sit in the same place for eight hours doing repetitious work. It went against my nature, but a radio helped until someone complained about the music and our boss took it away. Still, I was productive, fast, and eager to please. After four years I moved to a larger company with more distractions, including friends and internet access. Somehow I survived for over seven years there. As time wore on, I wasn't as fast I once was. My attention span was also a problem. If anyone came to visit, I'd stop working and give them my full attention. There were days when anything that anyone had to say was more interesting than what I was supposed to be doing. I still made all my deadlines, through a combination of speed and working a little later. I just wished I could multitask. At my first job, I'd sometimes work on three computers at once. Back then though, the machines were so slow that it was a necessity. While waiting for photos to finish scanning at one station, I could work on documents and print them out at another, and on a third save files to the slow and unreliable media of the day, SyQuest cartridges. Those removable spinning hard drives would sound like lawnmowers after repeated use, and I was constantly sending new files to our printers in Hong Kong when we'd get a fax about them not being able to read a disk. I digress though, tangents as inviting as an open window on a Spring day.

I'm not a machine. I make every effort to remain focused and professional, but I think the mind wearies like muscles. Some days I don't even realize it. One minute I'm working, and the next I realize I have a web browser open and I'm checking for personal e-mails. I still give visitors my full attention, though after five months I don't have as many as I had after seven years at my previous gig. And then there are work-related distractions, those emergencies and revisions that can't be helped. I can make a list, plan out what I want to accomplish on any given day, but I need to accept the reality that old tasks will always return to haunt me, and just when I think something is finished is when someone will want to make a change. Hours slip away when I’m not watching. It's the nature of my business, and I suspect the nature of most fields where the end product is subjective. Obviously, if a doctor removes an appendix, he won't be asked to put it back in three days later.

I've been watching a lot of old episodes of Scrubs lately. Sure, I have stacks of DVDs that need watching and several games, fake cities or quizzes online that I need to “win”, and yet I spend time looking at things I've seen before. It's probably why I haven't read more books, because I spent a lot of time reading the ones I liked more than once, most of which were comic books. Anyway, in one episode Dr. Cox decides to take the advice of a minister at a friend’s funeral, and take 20 minutes for himself each day. It's a good suggestion, but impossible to implement. Every time he sits down, a beeper goes off or an intern runs in. Though he later is forced to admit that, deep down, he enjoys being needed, ignoring the various emergencies is never an option. No one will die if I don't change the color of a box to red the second I get an e-mail asking me to do so, but in medicine you don't have the luxury of delaying or ignoring. It puts things in perspective and reminds me I have no true stress in my life beyond the minutia my weird brain magnifies.

At the end of the day, I'm still haunted by unchecked boxes on my to-do list. Personal or professional interruptions and distractions can be managed, but not avoided entirely. My real concern is that I don't get to a place again where the stuff I'm supposed to be thinking about during the day spills over into my evenings and weekends. I think distractions actually are important for our sanity. They give us a break and remind us that we're human beings. They're challenging when they rise up during the day, but essential when I'm not at work. The list lingers as I drive away from my office, soon drowned out by the sound of my voice screaming along with my radio. By the time I'm home and watching television, checking out a movie, or surfing the web, the focus has rightfully shifted. Work still peeks through a bit at night just as life peeks through during the day, but it's all a matter of balance. I didn't have that when I was younger, had no self-control whatsoever. I did what I wanted when I wanted, kicking and screaming when others held me back. I do worry as I get older that I'll not only get slower but the amount of time I can focus on any given task before needing a break will decrease. Gone are those early days where I'd sit at a computer for eight hours without taking lunch or even a bathroom break, but that's not a bad thing. If I can just hang on for another 30 years without regressing to my hyperactive and unfocused younger alter-ego, I'm going to be just fine. Yep, no distractions...

Oh hey, check out something I saw when I got home from work and not at all during the day: Cap got a gun! Thoughts?


PBW: Am I Blue?

I am not. As for Photo Blog Wednesday though...

Will this chromatic trend continue?



The Cat on the Ice

Driving around the circular driveway in front of my office on Monday, I noticed some movement on the pond in front of our building. Back when I started working there in the Summer, I once saw landscapers on a small boat tending to some trees on one of the islands in the center. But the water was frozen over, and what I saw wasn't human, it was a little black cat.

I slowed down to watch as it calmly strode across, occasionally stopping to look at what I can only assume were fish swimming underneath. I couldn't stop completely though and block cars behind me, and soon the scenario was shrinking in my rearview mirror. I hoped the cat would be okay, and wondered if I should go back. What if he fell through in a thin spot? How deep was that manmade structure anyway?

I wrestled with the moral dilemma, as though I were some superhero in a comic book. I'm not, and I can't be everywhere at once. The world was probably full of frozen bodies of water, animals of various species walking along safely. I'm sure at the exact moment I was pondering the fate of that little cat, somewhere in the world an animal was drowning. Somewhere in the world people were drowning. I didn't have the power or resources to save everybody; did I have the responsibility?

As I sat in a Taco Bell Express, feeling guilty about once more ordering the Mexican equivalent of three sandwiches and fries, I played out the scenario in which I returned to work. Would the cat be underwater? Would I see the hole in the ice? Would he even still be there? He was almost all the way across the full 100 feet or so. He had probably finished his shortcut and returned to one of the houses in the surrounding neighborhood. If he was still there, would I spook him? If he ran out to the center, could I follow? It might support his weight, but not my 200 pounds, especially after three different kinds of tacos and a side of nachos and cheese. In “helping”, I probably would have made the situation worse.

I cut my lunch short, partly because I had a lot of work to do, but also out of concern for the fragile feline. As I circled the pond, the ice remained smooth and unbroken, and the cat had hopefully continued on his blissful stroll unharmed. Soon, I was immersed in more mundane challenges, using my talents to make a difference in the world of junk mail. I didn't think much about the cat until I was leaving, driving slow in case it was still wandering the grounds. When I got home, our loyal but slightly feral step cat was waiting as always, on our step.

The ritual is the same every night. I approach; he utters a mournful cry. I get closer and he reluctantly abandons our front mat, hissing as he goes. I put the key in and pause, and I know he's followed me back up the walk. He looks up expectantly for food, and I call in to my mom. “All he wants to do is eat...fine, give him the rest of what's on the landing.” I head back out with a spoon and a pot of heated cat food and scoop it into his dish as he meows impatiently. He doesn't approach until I move away from the dish, at which point he begins ravenously devouring, occasionally and suspiciously looking over his shoulder. He still hisses if we even reach out to him. While our food and front step are welcome, human contact may never be.

One of our indoor cats is a little more comfortable with people, curling up on my chest while I recline and try to watch a movie around the ebon ball of fur now in my field of vision. He gladly walked in to our house and made it his own one snowy day several years ago, and has shown nothing but love ever since. A priest spoke in my church this past weekend about helping people, how we do it because we're Christians and not because we seek reward or appreciation. We can't help everyone. Not everyone wants or appreciates our help. Not everyone expresses gratitude when grateful. Sometimes they do, and it's those rare occasions that remind us that we do matter, and can make a difference. It's not much, but it will have to do.


Phantasmic Links 1.28.08

The Simpsons have now been around since the late ‘80s. Because the characters never age, at any given time a flashback episode might go against previously established “canon”. If Bart, the eldest child, is always 10 years old, then any story about his parents from before he was born will always be 10 years ago. So it is that the latest episode, That ‘90s Show, takes a look back at the decade before Homer and Marge settled down, contradicting previous flashback episodes as well as the fact that the show has been airing since 1989. Of course, once you get past that bit of continuity smudging, it was a pretty funny episode. My favorite part would be when Homer starts a grunge band and, while playing on a college campus, inspires a student to call his cousin: “Hey Kurt! It's your cousin Marvin...Marvin Cobain. You know that new sound you've been looking for? Well listen to this!”

That Back to the Future reference will never get old for me, no matter if I've seen it before. What is old is me. As I wondered how we could be looking back on the ‘90s already, it occurred to me that it's 2008 and we're almost through whatever we're calling this decade. A few days ago I read about the resolution of a 15-year-old X-Men plot thread and couldn't believe that it had been so long since I read those stories. While I'm pondering the increasing speed with which time passes, let's all pass some time by clicking this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Myclofigia has now passed 100 citizens and we're building up our transport network! Your clicks will help our city become #1!

(2) I loved this impressive list of 117 ways David Banner was made angry enough to change into the Hulk on The Incredible Hulk television series. Isolated like that, it really makes it seem like the show was slapstick. I lost it by the time I got to "I DON'T HAVE TWENTY-FIVE CENTS!!!" Classic.

(3) My Cloverfield review is one of many in this week's Carnival of Cinema. Be sure to visit and check out the others.

(4) In possibly related news, is one of our satellites about to fall to Earth?

(5) ‘90s nostalgia is rampant lately. Check out what the internet looked like in 1996. Wow.

(6) This artist uses lookalikes to make her photographs seem real. Question the paparazzi; it's easy to fool our perceptions.

(7) The 100 Greatest Movie Posters of All Time are an inspiration. My personal favorites include #s 2, 3, 7, 10, 14, 28, 42, 45, 66, 84, and 95. I've seen a little more than half of these, so the advertising may be effective.

(8) I am officially dumber than a chimp. I got 2 right to the monkey's 8 on my first try and 6 on my second.
Hat Tip: Darrell.

(9) This is another reason why Jerry O'Connell is my hero. Take that, Scientologists.
(Darrell and Lyndon also posted that same video this week).

(10) Hitler sure has strong feelings about football.
H.T.: Otis via Darrell.

(11) Bill Clinton nods off during an MLK speech. Classy.
H.T.: Cube

(12) 33 Weird Statues from Around the World make me wish I'd traveled more, but reminds me how the internet can bring the world to us.
H.T.: B13.

(13) Cross-medium advertising is alive and well: Lost references appear in Marvel Comics.

(14) Cultural icons gather for a very exclusive party. That's an amazing painting.
H.T.: Rey.

(15) Finally, since I still have hard feelings about losing to that monkey, I'm going to take his muffins.

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!




anathematize • \uh-NATH-uh-muh-tyze\ • verb
: curse, denounce

Earlier this month, Lorna focused on this word, followed by a list of things she would curse, denounce, or just plain dislike. Now, you can anathematize the theft of a great idea as much as you want, but I'm still going to do it. Here's my list:

[1] Reality Television.

[2] People in SUVs who tailgate during my evening commute and blind me because their brights are on and at just the right height to white out my rearview mirror. I often have to hold one hand up to shield my eyes until we get to the bottom of a hill where a one lane road becomes two and I can slow down so they pass me.

[3] The nagging feeling that there's something I'm forgetting.

[4] Broccoli.

[5] Girls who make a face like you've offered them broccoli when asked out.

[6] Hillary Clinton

[7] Bill Clinton

[8] Badminton.

[9] Martha Plimpton.

[10] Traffic.

[11] Vandalous disrespectful skater punks.

[12] The nagging feeling that I've missed out on some things in life.

[13] Good writers who abandon their blogs, notably but not limited to Curt, Jerry, Kelly, Wendy, and The Incredible Hulk.

[14] My increasing “Dunlap”. I need to start doing some crunches...

[15] Death.

[16] Taxes.

[17] People who cheat and continually survive and prosper by doing so.

[18] The fact that there's never enough time to see and do everything.

[19] Intense cold.

[20] Extreme heat.

[21] Encountering insects indoors or while driving.

[22] The drunk guy with a beer in a paper bag who insisted on sitting next to me when there were plenty of other seats on the train.

[23] The sound of my own voice.

[24] Talking on the telephone.

[25] Terrorists.

[26] Liars.

[27] Atheists.

[28] People who trust or believe the Clintons.

[29] Infinite loops.

[30] Fruit Loops.

[31] My inability to dunk hoops. Stupid genetic lack of height...

[32] Al Sharpton.

[33] The End of Spider-Man's Marriage.

[34] Chris Crocker.

[35] Betty Crocker. (See #14)

[36] Most seafood.

[37] The cost of gasoline.

[38] The price of fame.

[39] The growing realization that the sinners are much more fun...

[40] Change for the worse or for the sake of change.

[41] People who wait for your parking space directly behind your car, so you can't back out.

[42] People in general, outside of my friends and family.

[43] Restructuring, Redundancy, Downsizing, and other synonyms companies use to avoid the word “fired”.

[44] Guest speakers after a mass. It’s not that I ever disagree with a fundraising effort, encouragement for parents to send kids to a Catholic school, or any other topic that might come up. I’d just be more receptive before mass because there’s nothing worse than thinking you’re free after an hour only to be told to have a seat. It feels like being asked to stay after class.

[45] My mostly self-imposed limitations.

[46] The writer’s strike. Pay them so I can get back to wasting my life with television shows!

[47] Dry skin in Winter. I feel like Sandpaper Man.

[48] Lack of Willpower.

[49] The Dreaded Blank Page, daunting to writers and artists alike.

[50] Pointless lists.


Stupid Ideas

• It's time for a shocking confession. I was a little preoccupied on Monday night, looking for something quick to post for Tuesday that wouldn't require a lot of heavy thought, and the best I came up with was KEYWORD ROULETTE. Having had a few days and finally a few moments to look at the idea, I realized it didn't make a lot of sense, or was in some way incomplete. Somewhere in that rough concept there is a good game, but I think I need to remove some of the random elements and narrow down the focus of it. It's definitely not the next Blog Party, M.C.F.A.T. or Perilous!. It's barely the next M.C.F.A.D., MCF LI, or MCF Might Know. I'm man enough to admit that they can't all be winners, and I'm putting this one down mercifully two days early. I will come up with a great new game or feature this year; this just wasn't it:

1) raid barrier bolt fleet dream

2) bright neighborhood adjacent street wealth

3) robot cape duck splash monkey

4) sun cathedral flower light said

5) toe mall giant wagon see

• • •

• Speaking of stupid ideas, not only did a FOX news anchor make a Brokeback Mountain joke in reference to Heath Ledger's death, but an MSNBC reporter mentioned Owen Wilson's near-fatal overdose last Summer as a “dress rehearsal” for what happened to Ledger. Too soon or too stupid? You decide.

• • •

• This one is kind of cool. Back in the late ‘80s, Dwayne McDuffie once pitched an idea to Marvel for a team book featuring ”Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers”. That pitch is hilarious and, as Comics Should Be Good explains, was done in response to the fact that Marvel had not one but two skateboarding black superheroes in prominent roles at the time, Night Thrasher and Rocket Racer. I think it's great that he was able to poke fun at that, although he definitely ran the risk of a joke being picked up and suddenly going from satire to stupid reality. And to be honest, if that book did come out back then at the peak of my addiction, I totally would have been collecting it. McDuffie went on to greater things in animation and his own comics, and it's notable that his most famous African American hero was known to zip around on manhole covers or garbage can lids.

• • •

• Finally, I'll share a stupid joke I heard in a bar this week:

Chelsea Clinton is speaking with a tough-as-nails Marine, and asks him if anything scares him. He replies, “Ma'am, I'm only afraid of three things: Osama, Obama, and Yo Momma.”

Hey, it made me laugh.



275 Movies

I've done some rough math that may be slightly off. I average about 5 movies a week at home, and I make it to the theaters at least 15 or 20 times, more or less. So I figure I watch 275 movies a year. And yet, every year, when Oscar nominations are announced, I find that I've not only missed most of the movies, there are a few I haven't heard of. I'm still catching up on previous years, and I may or may not do Myclofig predictions/awards when we get closer to the actual ceremony next month. Since I saw the list over at Swimming In Champaign, I decided I'd weigh in and see which I've seen, which I want to see, and which ones I didn't even know about:

ATONEMENT Want to See It
JUNO Want to See It

Johnny Depp - SWEENEY TODD Saw It
Tommy Lee Jones - IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH Never Heard of It
Daniel Day Lewis - THERE WILL BE BLOOD Never Heard of It
George Clooney - MICHAEL CLAYTON
Viggo Mortensen - EASTERN PROMISES Want to See It

Laura Linney - THE SAVAGES Never Heard of It
Marion Cotillard - LA VIE EN ROSE Never Heard of It
Ellen Page - JUNO Want to See It
Julie Christie - AWAY FROM HER Never Heard of It

Javier Bardem - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Want To See It
Hal Holbrook - INTO THE WILD
Philip Seymour Hoffman - CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR Want to See It

Amy Ryan - GONE BABY GONE Want to See It
Cate Blanchett - I'M NOT THERE Want to See It
Ruby Dee - AMERICAN GANGSTER Want to See It
Saoirse Ronan - ATONEMENT Want to See It

PERSEPOLIS Never Heard of It

Joel and Ethan Coen - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Want To See It
Jason Reitman - JUNO Want to See It
Paul Thomas Anderson - THERE WILL BE BLOOD Never Heard of It
Julian Schnabel - THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY Never Heard of It

Joel and Ethan Coen - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Want To See It
Sarah Polley - AWAY FROM HER Never Heard of It
Christopher Hampton - ATONEMENT Want To See It
Ronald Harwood - THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY Never Heard of It
Paul Thomas Anderson - THERE WILL BE BLOOD Never Heard of It

Diablo Cody - JUNO Want To See It
Nancy Oliver - LARS AND THE REAL GIRL Never Heard of It
Brad Bird - RATATOUILLE Want To See It
Tamara Jenkins - THE SAVAGES Never Heard of It

* * * * *

I watched about 275 movies last year, and only one was nominated for an award. I have, as always, some catching up to do...



Technical Life

Technology makes our lives better. It's so easy to keep track of appointments, save our favorite shows when we're not around, pay bills, and stay in touch with friends wherever they live. What did we do before the internet and e-mail? I honestly don't know how I functioned. What did people do before televisions and telephones? It seems as though whenever there's a leap forward, we absorb and accept these things as though they were always with us.

When things go wrong, it can be scary. On Tuesday, I tried to log in to my computer. It didn't recognize my password. I retyped it more slowly. I still couldn't get in. The box on the screen shook angrily each time I entered a word it didn't accept, as though making an offering to a fussy pagan god. I tried typing everything lowercase. I tried all capital letters. I tried my full name. I even tried some of my online identities. If “Whorenelli” worked I probably would have had larger issues. But nothing worked, so the only “logical” conclusion was that I was fired.

I looked around nervously, trying to think what I could have done in a few short months. Had I spent too much time checking my e-mail or reading news articles in my down time? Sure, I had one or two slow days, but the “feast or famine” work routine I had recognized allowed for that. After three weeks of nonstop work, there's always a day or two before a new assignment hits and I'm churning out work once more. I was only a day away from a big meeting and more work. I've actually been remarkably productive, and in filling out our yearly review form I was surprised how much I'd accomplished in a few short months.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There were no security guards, and my boss was doing his own work. Everybody was working, and I'd probably jumped to an illogical conclusion. I restarted my computer, which is the universal solution to most technical glitches, and when I typed in my username and password exactly as I'd done the first time, I got in on the first try.

Obviously, the resources do exist to lock out employees who are undesirable for one reason or another. In the dwindling days of my previous job, one of my friends in the tech department scared me one day by remote accessing my computer and literally locking me out of everything. By this I mean there was an actual giant lock against a black background ominously keeping me from clicking anything. When I called it in, the laughter that answered solved that mystery. More often than not though, technical difficulties are the culprit and I shouldn't jump to the worst conclusion.

On Wednesday, I was reminded how human error and technology of any era can combine. The phone rang, I answered and gave my name, and after a minute a woman began telling me she was calling from the pediatric dermatologist and my wife had called in an appointment for our child. I had to interrupt her and point out that she had a wrong number. It was really weird to hear someone talk about my wife and kid. Obviously, it's not outside the realm of possibility that I won't get a phonecall like that in the future. I've got another six years before I'm as old as my dad was when he got married, and about ten or eleven years before I'm as old as he was when I was born.

Some days though, I just can't imagine how people juggle work and family. I see it all around me. At the end of each day, my boss calls his wife, asks how the kids are doing, and lets her know when he'll be home. They briefly discuss their day and what they're going to have for dinner, and it's really nice to see someone with a good career and good family priorities. Mothers in the office come in late if their kids have doctor's appointments or leave early if they have to pick them up from school. Fathers make it to baseball games and other activities. All these people have a full schedule outside of work, and yet manage to get a lot done within the office. I honestly don't know how they do it. I suppose when the day comes and the life I've been saving for is finally mine, I'll find a way to deal with it. Maybe I miss a show or movie, or spend less time writing. Maybe I'll actually have a real reason to use a vacation day, and I won't schedule them around meetings and deadlines. At my last job, I once put off going to the doctor for what turned out to be a serious ailment, because I didn't want to miss a meeting. But we're all human, and we all have lives. I've always been afraid of losing my job or falling horribly behind. Someday it will be more important to go to my kid's game or be somewhere for my family, and I might have to miss a meeting or get someone to cover for me. Chances are, I won't get fired for that either. People do it all the time.

Our minds are similar to computers, but we're not machines. I was reading an interesting discussion related to the new Terminator series about how we possess necessary safeguards against getting caught in infinite loops. Examples from various science fiction shows were given in which a human outwits a machine by giving it a problem that can't be solved, like calculating Pi to the last digit. A person gets bored or frustrated or tired, and knows when to stop. We have our limits for a reason, and I guess that's how we get away from the technical side of our existence, and have time for the living. I shouldn't worry about the day when I have concerns outside of my job; I should look forward to it.


PBW: Red

Before we get to this week's Photo Blog Wednesday, a collection of images bound together by a common color, I should note Heath Ledger's untimely demise. Found dead in his apartment near a bottle of pills on Tuesday, details are still sketchy as to whether the 28-year-old actor committed suicide or suffered from an accidental overdose. Other than recent comments about having trouble sleeping while working on his soon-to-be legendary final role, and a video of an interview in which his behavior seemed erratic, there aren't many clues. Whatever the reason, it's sad when we lose someone so young, and all too common in the entertainment industry. I hadn't even heard that Brad Renfro was found dead at the age of 25 just one week ago until I came across it today. Both actors were also fathers, and my thoughts and prayers are definitely with their families.

It seems as though Death has been working overtime lately. A friend lost her father over the weekend. On Tuesday morning, a company e-mail announced the unexpected loss of an employee's mother. Tuesday night, a neighbor called, and when my dad handed the phone to my mom and I heard her gasp “Oh my God”, I knew it was more bad news. One of her friends lost a son to Leukemia, and he was only 49. “This is why I don't like to answer the phone,” she quipped grimly. Make the best of your time, folks. Even though we all know what will happen to us and our loved ones, we never know when.

Sorry to lead on such a down note. Let's just look at some pictures now:



Keyword Roulette I

It's a brand new year, and I've yet to come up with a new game for the Nexus! I'm in the mood for a new game. Who wants to play?

I'm not sure if this will work, but playing off of variations of classic themes, I present the debut of KEYWORD ROULETTE. Below I will list FIVE sets of somewhat random keywords. Plugged in to Google™, they'll reveal a site of my choosing. The tricky part of course is the thousands upon thousands of results one might find from any five words. To make your lives(and mine) easier, I'll limit my choices to the first three pages of results. At ten results per page, this means for each set you will have a one-in-thirty chance of choosing the same web site I do. Hopefully there won't be too much variation from location to location and we all get roughly the same results.

Obviously, it would be very surprising if anyone matched me five for five. I'll be impressed if anyone gets one. But whoever gets the most matches will earn a fragment of the Mysterious Master Prize™. Yes, there are still about two of those things floating around unclaimed. In the likely event of a tie, all parties with matching highest scores will get a prize.

Post guesses in the comments or post on your blogs, whichever you prefer. I'll reveal the answers in one week. Good luck, and good clicking!

1) raid barrier bolt fleet dream

2) bright neighborhood adjacent street wealth

3) robot cape duck splash monkey

4) sun cathedral flower light said

5) toe mall giant wagon see



Phantasmic Links 1.21.08

I can't believe how cold it is. I tried to take some photographs on Sunday, and couldn't stay out of my car for more than five minutes. I stopped for gas, and nearly froze to death watching the gallons slowly tick by while the cost ticked by much faster. I did get all my shopping done for my mom's birthday next week, so the cold didn't destroy my productivity entirely. And, as always, I did gather PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Myclofigia is nearing a population of 100! Let's keep our buildings growing!

(2) After almost a year, Platform the Game reaches its conclusion! I've linked to this weekly game in the past, and this week they've finally posted the last installment. The denouement lacks action and closes up the story thread, so you might want to check out the boss battle first, or if you haven't been playing at all, check it out from the beginning.

(3) Politicians talk about change a lot, and one brilliant video editor captures the song between the lines.
Hat Tip: B13.

(4) Viral backstory fills in Cloverfield tale. Scroll down past the video only if you've seen the film, because this contains major SPOILERS of course.

(5) Jewel Miner has been my new game obsession this week. After clearing ten levels you get this:

And after clearing twenty, it just asks you to order the full version. It's a great addition to these mining games though, especially once you figure out the various bonuses for speed and matching 4 or 5 jewels instead of the minimum of 3.

(6) Over the years, firecracker labels have displayed some interesting art, albeit with the occasional copyright infringement...

(7) Virginia declares war on (truck) testicles. Don't let them find out about this comfortable looking couch.

(8) Ant parasite turns the host into a berry to entice birds. Nature is sick and weird and cool.

(9) Man hits head; forced to endure rectal exam. Yeah, avoid that hospital...

(10) My only complaint about Filler is how much of your life it can fill. It's very challenging at first, but since your lives are equal to your level, I realized by level 30 that I could well be in the middle of an infinite, albeit fun, game.

(11) Lasagna Cat is a bizarre Garfield tribute.

(12) We'll conclude this week with the world's 10 youngest professionals. I feel like such an underachiever...

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!



Reset Button

After church on Saturday, my mom asked me if I'd be able to feed the cats and take care of the house if she and my father took a trip. I reminded her that I'd already done so about seven years ago when they went to Florida for three or four days. I was a lot younger and a lot more irresponsible, and I didn't throw a wild party, burn down the house, or forget to feed the cats. I asked her where they were thinking of going, and she simply mused, “maybe we should go to Italy before it's too late.”

My dad never really liked to travel and I don't think he'd been out of New York before that Florida trip on his 70th birthday. My mom went on one or two vacations when she was younger, all on or near the East coast. Their honeymoon was spent in Pennsylvania in scenic Amish places, and was only a few days because my dad was concerned with getting back to his garage. If anyone deserves a real vacation it's my folks, and they've talked about Italy for years. I hope they do make it happen, and I'll do my part to hold down the fort at home. Lord knows they need to go somewhere other than supermarkets and doctor’s offices.

No one gets younger. Most of us stay busy enough that we don't think about the fact that we're dying from the moment we're born. There's no reset button like in video games, and no magic way to wipe the slate clean like in bad comic books. Deterioration is all around us, from minor cosmetic concerns such as increased weight and decreased hair, to more serious mental and physical reductions. My mom called one of her brothers on Saturday morning to tell him she'd be bringing over rice pudding and birthday presents. About ten minutes after they left, he called and left a message, a faint voice wondering what she was baking and where she was. “I...guess you're on your way...” he finally concluded, trailing off. Within seconds of hanging up, the phone rang again. Soon he was leaving a very similar “where are you?” message, as though he completely forgot that he'd already done so.

On Saturday night, I watched 1991’s Regarding Henry, definitely one of Harrison Ford's finer non-franchise roles. He plays a lawyer, and generally not a nice guy. He defends big business against the little guy, barely tolerates his daughter, and puts on a facade of a happy marriage when going to dinner with his wife and her friends. When he's shot in the head by John Leguizamo during a robbery, he's forced to start over. It's the ultimate story of a reset button, a rare opportunity in tragedy. He must learn to walk, talk, read, and meet people he doesn't remember. In a tale I later learned was penned by J.J. Abrams, a clean slate proves to be the best thing for Ford's character and those around him.

We don't get to start over, and life is a one way street. The past shapes us, and it’s important to remember, but there are dangers in dwelling on our history too much. I wouldn't sacrifice any of my memories to start fresh. Much like Robin Williams in The Final Cut though, I think we tend to snip and edit and focus on the good times, as well we should. Second chances are rare to nonexistent. Enjoy the good times of yesterday, and plan good things to look forward to tomorrow and beyond.


Monster Takes Manhattan

After months of anticipation, I finally know the secret of Cloverfield. I wasn’t sure if the artist’s rendering I came across the other day was accurate, but what i saw on screen was in fact a far more horrifying version of this sketch:


I’ll actually try to avoid true spoilers and stick to vague allusions. The much-anticipated J.J. Abrams project lives up to the hype, though the shaky camera movements may cause dizziness and nausea for those prone to that sort of thing. Half the people I saw it with were fine. I found relief by occasionally focusing on something stationary in the theater and looking away for a few seconds, but that’s my only complaint.

If you don’t own a television or a computer, you might not be familiar with the film. Otherwise, you’re aware of the shaky footage that shows New Yorkers fleeing as the head of the Statue of Liberty crashes on to a street and buildings and bridges collapse. We see people running and we see military firing up at something. What are they running from? What are the army guys shooting at? Do you actually catch a glimpse in the movie? More than a glimpse?

The premise is interesting and the film doesn’t deviate from the limitations of it. A going-away party goes horribly wrong when this thing arrives, and the guy filming it keeps rolling. The entire movie is from this point of view, which puts you directly in to the action. It’s like a roller coaster, but mercifully short. At about an hour and fifteen minutes, I’d say it was the perfect length. And because the taping is being done over an old tape, they slyly work in “flashbacks” from time to time whenever the taping stops and the original footage comes through. Watch carefully, as there are clues in the background that even I missed.

My only complaint outside of the film was the young audience, rowdy high school kids who reeked of marijuana and were giggling and making comments. This subsided once the film made the transition from character development party scenes to fleeing and survival. Apart from the durability of the camera and the nature of the threat, the film is otherwise “realistic” in its depiction of how a disaster like this would go down. Characters do make some irrational, emotional decisions, but their motivation kept me on the edge of my seat. As a general observation of films, I realize I’m more invested in the fate of couples. Once someone’s mate is taken out of the equation, I lose interest in the survivor, like there’s no real reason to keep him or her around. As long as there’s even the slimmest chance of a reunion though, I’m hooked on the tale.

Abrams has always done well with twenty-somethings, and the cast of relatively new faces is very convincing. Their journey through hauntingly familiar ruins is made lighter by Hud, the character carrying the aforementioned indestructible camera. A lovable loser, his comments and narration were great. In one scene, he gets a little too eager when the girl he’s crushing on references a comic book character. If I had a nickel for every time...

In the end, Cloverfield delivers. Without deviating from that single tape, we get a complete story of friendship, love, and horror. I’ve read complaints that the film lacked answers, but these were probably from teenagers cracking wise instead of listening to key bits of dialogue and watching the background carefully. All the information we need is on this tape, even if the main characters lack the omniscient point of view a mainstream monster movie would have presented. Some stuff can be pieced together, some can be theorized, and some isn’t important in the grand scheme of the experience. Experience is the key word, and the key to appreciating Cloverfield.


Nappy Thoughts

At our last family gathering, my 80-year-old uncle pointed out the value of his daily afternoon nap, which has recently become a solid part of his routine. I remember college used to throw my schedule off, and I'd get home at different times each day depending on when different classes were. Freshman year, I'd often come home and nap for a few hours if I got done in the early afternoon. Back then I needed eight hours. As the years have passed, I've needed less and less sleep, or at the very least I'm resistant to go to sleep at night and end the day. These days I average about five hours a night, which has been fine for years.

Twice now this week I've fallen into old habits. On both Wednesday and Thursday, I dozed off after work. Wednesday I slept for about twenty minutes before my dad woke me up for dinner. I was groggy and disoriented at first, but once I woke up I felt like I had more energy, like the nap had been a gateway to a brand new day. On Thursday however, I fell asleep after dinner, and had some internal mechanism not brought me back to consciousness, reminding me I had to finish watching a movie and get some writing done, I may have been out for more than two hours. As it is, while the twenty minute nap the day before proved refreshing, passing out for two hours turned my brain to mud. I'm struggling to write something cohesive and coming up blank.

So, Thursday wasn't terribly exciting nor do I have anything major to report. I'm just going to throw down some random thoughts from throughout the day before going back to sleep:

Why am I always so tired in the morning?

Ten minutes. I just need to leave ten minutes earlier. Why is it that when I wake up ten minutes earlier, I end up taking an extra ten minutes to eat breakfast or take a shower or play a video game?

Oh, I hope this artist's rendering of the Cloverfield monster is just fan art. I've made it almost seven months without spoilers...

Hello, random attractive girl standing in line in front of me at the pizza place. In a parallel universe, I'd probably be striking up a conversation with you instead of staring like some quiet psychotic.

Damn, that post was removed from the thread where I saw it. I bet that was the creature design. That thing looked sick. I kind of hope that's it now....

I hope this snow turns into rain and doesn't stick...

How is Scientology
not bad ‘50s science fiction?: ”These included memories of being ‘deceived into a love affair with a robot decked out as a beautiful blond-haired girl,' being run over by a Martian bishop driving a steamroller which transformed him into an intergalactic walrus that perished after falling out of a flying saucer, after which he was ‘a very happy being who strayed to the planet Nostra 23,064,000,000 years ago.'”

These Swedish meatballs are awesome!

Wait, Earth Girls Are Easy was a musical? Why did I rent this?

These people were so young back then. I guess this has value as an ‘80s nostalgia piec--

--huh? What time is it? I better finish watching this movie.

I really need to write something. First, I'll play through my daily round of Twilight Heroes.

What am I going to write about? Hey, it's almost time for another rerun of Scrubs! Yesterday they showed the finale to season five, so they should be up to last season now. Those super-sized 45 minute episodes really get mutilated in the editing process though. I wish they had been one hour episodes so they broke into two neat half hours. I'm definitely getting only half of the jokes here. A Floating Head Doctor bit without the body? Inconceivable!

OK, they've skipped season six and gone back to the pilot in rotation. It's one of the best first episodes of any television series, but I really don't need to waste time and watch it again.

Wow, that's a great episode. They really knew who those characters were and where they were heading right from the start.

I can not do another meme, and a post about a nap will bore people to tears. What the heck am I going to write about? Coming up with stuff to say on a daily basis is getting hard!

Ah, so Ethan Haas had nothing to do with Cloverfield after all, simply a viral for a game that also released on 1.18.08. You win this round, internet.


Yeah, I think it was definitely better when I got a boost of energy after work by exercising.


Religious Nuts

I was once in a meeting in which someone wanted to promote a sale in an ad as coming from “a higher power”. One of the executives objected, pointing out that it could offend some of those “religious nuts” out there. Though phrased as a joke with a laugh in his voice, it probably wasn't the right way to point out why claiming divinity in advertising would be a bad idea. Some chuckled, others like myself forced a small polite smile and sat quietly taking notes.

Society presents a division not just between people with different beliefs, but between those of faith and those who believe it's all nonsense and fantasy. In a decade in which some very bad people crashed planes into buildings and killed thousands in order to be rewarded with virgins in the afterlife, people are more hostile than ever toward religions. Any belief system can and has been twisted over the years, the potential validity tarnished by those who would use it to manipulate and control people, or simply for financial gain. Scripture is taken out of context all the time to suit the ends of believers and nonbelievers alike. As a Catholic, I might think some jokes are in poor taste, and if I received an ad in the mail with the headline that had been proposed it might raise an eyebrow, but I'd recognize the ignorance in which it might have been conceived. Some mistakes are harmless, and it's important to choose our battles.

Some see science and religion as opposing forces. Some sects refuse medical care on the basis of their beliefs. I don't necessarily see the disconnect. If we were created by God in his image, then we're his instruments. A doctor's skills would then be an extension of the Lord, so long as the goal was saving a life. All life on this planet had to be traced back to some source, some force that guided energy and matter in a precise and planned way. There are too many patterns in nature, too many perfectly functioning ecosystems and interactions for there not to be a design behind it all. We might disagree on the nature of the architect, but the concept of one shouldn't be too far-fetched. Some might say it's all fantasy, that the Son of God walked the Earth over two thousand years ago performing miracles, that the divine made human died and came back.

I respect that others believe different things. I'm a little more puzzled by those who believe nothing at all, but I can understand why some things are hard for people to accept, and why they might prefer a life of license, living for themselves. I might disagree, but I'd never mock. I might say “you're wrong”, but I'd never say, “you're crazy.” Of course, this assumes that I'd never have a conversation with Tom Cruise:

There are those who believe in things others might call Fantasy. Then there are those who practice Scientology, which some might call Science Fiction. Younger by far than the world's religions, it sprang forth from L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 and has been embraced by Cruise and other high profile celebrities who can afford the dues needed to “level up” and climb the ranks as they try to become an ”Operating Thetan”, getting in touch with their immortality and cleansing themselves of the material things which drag them down in this world.

It's hard to respect or understand something that involves an alien frozen in a volcano, and people tapping in to dormant alien abilities. Some of Cruise's statements are downright frightening. Is he really the only person who could help if he drove past an accident? They can rehabilitate criminals? Bring peace and unite cultures? As someone who's always been taught humility, the amount of ego stemming from this belief system is overwhelming, at least the amount of ego flowing from Tom Cruise. I have no idea what he's laughing about at the 4:35 mark in that video, but it was scary.

I first heard snippets from this video while listening to Opie and Anthony, and one of them astutely caught something near the end around 8:15. He starts to say “...people who are depending on...” and pauses, as if he was about to say “me”, before switching to “us”. I don't think I would call him a “religious nut”, because that would entail referring to Scientology as a religion. I'm not sure the author even considered it a religion, and it's safe to call Cruise simply a nut promoting a cult.

“Look, I wish the world was a different place. I'd like to be able to go on vacation, to just...romp and play...and just...do that. You know what I mean?”

No, Tom, we have no clue.

UPDATE: It seems the thousand Thetans of Xenu's army have descended upon the above video. You can find it(while it lasts?) at this link. Thanks, B13.


PBW: New Winter

I intended to make the best of Winter’s Return this week. As much as I hated the idea of snow after the tease of a few unseasonably warm days, New Positive MCF focused on the images that would result from a white blanket over familiar surroundings. I could return to places I’d visited on my lunch hour in the past, and get all new views. Two weeks into a new year however, New Positive MCF is getting a dose of reality. No man’s attitude controls the weather. Flurries Sunday night gave way to slush by Monday morning, and by lunch slush had given way to a cold, gray mist. I turned off my lamp and left my cozy office nonetheless, to see what I could see for Photo Blog Wednesday. Somehow, though it wasn’t cold enough to snow, cold and damp were worse, and I couldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Even amid the murky and dismal atmosphere, I found a few potential desktop pictures, “Bruce Goose” and “Short Pier”:

I need Spring. I need to explore and wander and get outside and get lost. I don’t like this New Soggy Winter. If it’s going to snow it should snow, otherwise bring me warmer days...



Faking The Band

Lyndon recently posted an interesting method of creating a fake album cover:

1. The first article title on the Wikipedia Random Articles page is the name of your band.

2. The last four words of the very last quotation on the Random Quotations page is the title of your album.

3. Any appropriate picture in Flickr's Creative Commons licensed photos will be your album cover.

4. Use your graphics program of choice to throw them together, and post the result.

I've decided to try my hand at creating not one group, but three. This will increase the chances of my music career taking off and give me a chance to get some design exercise. I'm going to use my own photos, but otherwise follow the instructions above.

National Insurance Academy, “Credit, They Eventually Find”.

Fiery Browed Myna, “Called Me A Quitter”.

Kyr, “Why I Have One”.

Now all I need is a little music, and a lot of luck....


Phantasmic Links 1.14.08

There are so many things in this world I wish I was better at, things I need to be better at. I can be very patient and diplomatic with most people, but that facade tends to crumble with my parents. I try to honor both of them, but I don't know what to do when they disagree on something. On Saturday, I was helping my dad clean the gutters. He'd already lugged half of an extending ladder outside while I slept, which to me is the part he needs me for the most. We have a flat roof and the walls extend above it, with only four points for water to escape. Leaves collect in at least two to three of these spots depending on the wind, so from time to time I need to go up there and take care of the problem manually. Ironically, though I once climbed out on a second story window ledge in the fourth grade, I'm not a fan of heights.

Still, I manage, and as long as I know my dad is down there holding the ladder and I don't look down, I can focus on my responsibility. No, the problem arose after we finished the gutters and my dad asked me to help him bring up the other half of the ladder to cut some branches from the top of a cherry blossom tree on our front lawn. As we headed downstairs, my mom popped her head out and said she didn't want the tree cut, that it's best to wait until it blossoms. “If we wait for you nothing ever gets done!” said my dad, trucking onwards while I suddenly found myself in the middle. There was no way to obey one without disobeying the other. My mom knows as much about botany as my dad does about automobiles, so I recognized it as her field of expertise and asked him to wait.

Growing up, my dad was always “good cop”. I've seen him lose his temper maybe four or five times in three decades, and only once or twice was the anger directed at me. As a little boy, I'd usually be misbehaving, my mom would yell, and then he'd come home from work with a comic book for me. So it's a rare thing, and when he does get mad, it's huge and I know I've gone too far. When he finally threw down the ladder he was struggling to lift and sputtered, “I'll kill ya! I swear to Chr*st I'll kill ya'! I’ll do it! I'm 77 years old; I got nothin' to lose!” while making a throttling motion with his hands, it wasn't as funny as when Homer does it. I raced upstairs and closed the door, while crashing sounds resumed as he dragged the ladder up on his own. “You'd better help him,” sighed my mom, giving me the unanimous direction I could have used five minutes earlier.

“I don't need you,” he grumped, though it was obvious the opposite was true. We got the halves of the ladder together and worked a rope through a pulley to connect them. The two of us together were barely strong enough to stand it up, and rest it on one of the thicker branches. Call me a wuss, but I didn't like the look of it. The walls of the house are flat, so the two sides of the ladder touch it and I feel more stable. We were resting the top rung on a cylindrical branch, so the whole thing kept turning left or right as I shifted my weight.

“Where are you going? I just need you to hold the ladder; you don't know how to use a saw.” My father's son, I took that as a challenge and kept climbing, barking at him to just hold it steady. I don't like being told I can't do something any more than he does. Thirty feet up, I was still shy of the branches growing straight up, and extended my arm to reach. “You're taking too long and you're shaking like a leaf. Come down and let me do it.” I told him again to hold it steady, but he was right. I didn't like being that high, and I didn't like the way the ladder was rotating back and forth against the branch, and making a sawing motion straight up with a hacksaw while holding on to the ladder with my only free hand wasn't helping. I'm ashamed to admit I was actually trembling and couldn't stop myself.

I managed to get through one branch, though my hand cramped up a few times. I never stopped shaking, and finally had to admit defeat. I climbed down and the old man went up, making short work of three branches in the time it took me to get one. When did he learn to do that stuff, the simple basic stuff that comes with owning a home? Did he have it when he was my age, or did it come later after he got married and had a family of his own? Most importantly, when am I going to learn, and get over various paralyzing phobias that keep me from functioning at my full potential?

Oh well, at least I'm good at finding PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) There have been several sequels and spin-off versions of this game, but this week I found myself oddly addicted to the really basic original Gold Miner.

(2) This is awesome: One guy sings Bohemian Rhapsody as 25 (occasionally annoying) well-known singers.
Hat Tip: B13.

(3) Here's a truly epic mashup of trailers. I would pay so much money to see the feature length version.
H.T.: Sean.

(4) Behold Crystal Island, towering soon over a Moscow near you.

(5) Having problems settling differences with someone you're just not hip enough to understand? Maybe you need...The Negrotiator.
H.T.: B13.

(6) A Boy Scout foils an assassination. Maybe he should become the next Cap.

(7) How will you fare navigating the long awaited Fancy Pants Adventure World 2?. There are some tricky bonus moves and you have to be fancier than ever.

(8) Good at puzzles? Can you solve the various Picross levels and find hidden images using only numbers?

(9) This is cool: In order to clear all 16 levels of Cursor*10, you need to cooperate with your past selves. It can't be done in one try, but your actions are replayed each turn so if you held down a button for stairs to appear with your first cursor, when you go through again with a second cursor a ghost of your first one repeats that action so you can move a little further. It makes more sense when you play it, and it's a great concept.

(10) Excelcior! Check out some trippy re-interpretations of Stan Lee's Marvel-ous creations!
H.T.: Lyndon.

(11) Tremble, ye scoundrels, against the might of the Steampunk Justice League.
H.T.: Curt.

(12) Finally, don't forget to continue supporting Myclofigia! Your clicks make our city grow!

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!



Lurking Television

Who knew Earl and 30 Rock were new this past week? As I was rewinding my weekly tape, assuming there were only reruns and bad reality shows, something made me stop and hit play. When I saw a scene with Jason Lee that I didn't recognize, I rewound some more and found a commercial declaring all-new episodes of both shows. Lucky for me I keep the VCR programmed, as I would have missed some of the funniest moments in 30 Rock history.

What else is lurking on television? The holidays and the writer's strike have completely thrown off my sense of when stuff is on and even what day of the week it is. I need a fixed schedule again. After watching the tape on Thursday, which turned out to contain the final episodes of both sitcoms filmed before the strike hit, I checked out some late night television. Letterman had a new episode, and he was interviewing Tracy Morgan:

I wasn't sure if he was drunk, drugged, or simply in-character. I've come to think of him as Tracy Jordan so it wasn't until he made the joke about people booking “Tracy Morgan” and expecting an Irish woman that I was reminded of his real name. I thought some of his bits were hilarious, assuming it was part of the act. They actually incorporated the DUI bracelet mentioned at the beginning of the interview in a 30 Rock episode, and I think it's a blurry line between the character and Tracy in real life.

Over on Leno, another new episode led to an astounding discovery: Arsenio is alive and well. Who knew? He was of course more coherent than Morgan, talking about topics ranging from the upcoming presidential election to an old contest where people had to phone in and identify a “mystery celebrity” dancing in shadow. They showed the clip, and it was obvious it was him, especially when the light actually catches his face at one point. Everyone from his buddies to his kid razzed him about that one. But my favorite part of the interview was at the end, when Jay showed an old photo of Arsenio sitting with Johnny Carson. Suddenly, both comedians were humble equals, talking about what it was like to get called over for an interview after doing a stand-up routine on Johnny's show, and how all of the late night leaders were Johnny's legacy. Arsenio even recalled the joke that made Johnny lose it in the photo Jay showed. He had spoken about different careers he considered before comedy, and while he wanted to be the first black astronaut he was too proud to go into space and radio back to Earth, “Yes, NASA. No, NASA.” I wish I could find a clip of this week's interview or the one they referenced; that was some classic television right there.

So what else is on the horizon? The Sarah Connor Chronicles begins this Sunday, with a second episode on Monday followed by an all-new Prison Break. I'm looking forward to the former and glad the latter went on hiatus a few months ago to save the last few completed new episodes for this year. I think Smallville and Supernatural return on the 31st, which would put them on against the new season of Lost, inexplicably moving to Thursdays this year. If not for the strike, I'd have three networks competing for the same timeslots. As it is, I think Scrubs starts airing new episodes January 24th, so by the 31st there will be at least one half hour where I have three channels to worry about.

In a way, the break has been a good thing, though I haven't taken full advantage to delve into my endless stack of DVDs. The next few months will prove interesting as dwindling gems of new shows lurk amid a sea of sports and bad reality television.