Where's MCF?

As some of you may have noticed, today's post is a little late, roughly 8 or 9 hours to be exact. And while possibilities from late Summer night with friends to alien abduction might reign among conspiracy theorists, the truth is something a little more ordinary and less exciting.

I got home from the gym a little after 9 PM last night. "Phones been out most of the day," said my dad, "Any messages on your cell phone from anyone from the bands?" I was tired and grunted a response before shuffling to my room to boot up my computer and turn on my modem, a several day-old post idea finally ripe enough to write. A few months ago our phones were down for about a week before Verizon finally addressed the problem, which turned out to be at the pole, not in our house. But my DSL continued to work so it wasn't much of an inconvenience.

This was not the case. None of my browsers would load anything. The DSL light on my modem kept blinking. And the clock edged ever closer to my midnight deadline as my panic rose.

I checked all the filters. I went in the basement and looked in the main phone junction box, realizing I knew very little beyond seeing if jacks were plugged in or not. I disconnected all the other phones to reduce load on the line, and still couldn't get online.

As of this morning, we're still down. I have about 30 great pictures for this week's Photo Blog Wednesday, but I didn't have the foresight to upload them in advance. I could probably burn a CD or put them on my thumbdrive, but I really don't want to abuse my office connection. Hopefully by the time I get home tonight the problem will be resolved, or at least improved enough for me to get online.

I thank you for your patience in this time. I'll keep you all posted, whenever I have access to post. I very nearly came back to work at 10 PM last night to deal with the withdrawal. I never realized how blind and dumb I am without internet access. I'm so used to having answers at my fingertips that I've gotten lazy and stupid. How could I look up a solution to our dilemma when not being able to look stuff up was my dilemma?

I'll be back....sooner hopefully than later...


Phantasmic Links 6.29.09

As June comes to an end, we finally had a somewhat nice weekend! After playing a gig on the tail end of a thunder storm on Friday, I found Saturday almost unbearably hot, but forced myself to mow the lawn. It needed cutting and I need the exercise if I'm going to survive a three mile race at the end of July. Sunday was a beautiful day for playing as well, but the gig we had then turned out to be indoors at a high school where various dance schools were gathering for a year end performance. We hung around in the lobby with Mr. Pizza, until 16 other acts were done, then we played him up to the stage where he performed his own famous dance as a finale. Other than having to wait around for two hours, it was a great job.

Who knows what this week will bring? Heat? Humidity? Sunshine? The return of the eternal clouds? I can only accept what I can't control, and control what I can, such as this week's selection of PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Scientists are going to detonate a rocket on the moon, to check for water. Didn't any of these guys ever watch Thundarr?

(2) Behold the Latin Motto Generator! Mine is “Ex fato, spes”(From fate, hope).

(3) Reload the terrible crossover fanfiction idea generator and find inspiration for the awesomely horrible(or horribly awesome). Here's what it gave me: ”Your challenge is to write crossover fanfiction combining Thundercats and Charlie's Angels. The story should use alternate dimensions as a plot device!” That story practically writes itself! Maybe we'll even see it, depending on how my week goes...

(4) Here's a diagram showing how people get to credit card hell. I pay every month and I'm still scared...

(5) Around the world, people react to Michael Jackson's death.

(6) Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the supermarket, look what's in the canned food aisle...
Hat Tip: Krispy.

(7) Cloaked UFO or ridiculously large smoke ring? Either way, I wish I could see stuff like that in real life.
H.T.: Curt.

(8) It's the Master of the Toothpick. Now that takes patience and skills...
H.T.: B13.

(9) Blue spiral? Green? This optical illusion will surprise you...
H.T.: Krispy.

(10) Finally, how cool would it be if these 65 ancient video games existed?
H.T. : J-No.

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!



Between the Lines

The other day, after showing one of my writers a program feature she wasn't aware of, she asked why I know everything. It was a statement born of hyperbole, in that I actually to know the least out of all my friends, and there's a variety of subjects I know very little about. Real estate. Travel. Relationships. Modern television. Web design. Brain surgery. Rocket science. Quantum physics. Etc. But it did lead us down the road of the topic of knowledge in general, and all the things our brains soak up pertinent to our careers that will probably be useless or outdated by the time we retire. My dad was an awesome mechanic in his day, but as cars became more reliant on computers it changed the game. He can still diagnose and fix most conventional problems, but if something is related to a faulty code he needs help. I'd still trust my car to his knowledge and guidance, but there are times I've had trouble with other electrical devices such as my computer and his solution was to get a voltmeter and “check the amperage”. It's great if there's current and the little bulb lights up, but that may not remotely be related to the solution I need.

At least my dad worked with practical knowledge. When I'm almost 80, I doubt if knowing hidden key commands or the best way to search a company's digital archive of files will be all that necessary. I think about all the codes rattling in my brain from every job I've ever had. “Hey, have you done a coin flyer recently?” asked one of my friends the other day. “09-NP285, M3123” I rattled off, without actually looking up the file. It's a little scary. There's so much information that's important right now, to get through each day. My calendar is filled with milestones, meetings and deadlines. Sometimes it can be overwhelming and foreboding, but I've learned that these goals are met and passed so quickly, that there's no point in getting all that worried, especially since there will always be a new batch around the corner.

One thing about me is that I have a natural curiosity. When people ask me questions, I don't just answer because I enjoy helping them. I want to reinforce the knowledge I already have, and when I don't have an answer I'll take the time to find it, because then I've learned something new as well. I think there's a point we all reach in life where we stop trying to learn new things, when we become indifferent or frustrated. I have a hard time believing that the same man who'd sit in my passenger seat and tell me my car needed a new part based on the sound it was making is the same one who will come to me with a handful of remotes and ask, “How do I get channel 11?”

On the way to a movie a few weeks ago, I was telling one of my college friends about the problems my uncle has been having with dementia, how after he aimlessly drove to Staten Island one day we had to confiscate and eventually sell his car, and how he'll soon be going into a nursing home. “You know what the problem with the rest of the world is, that India doesn't have?” he asked, “Turmeric.” Apparently this spice, a key ingredient in curry, is helpful in preventing the degeneration of brain tissue. It can't reverse the damage, but it would keep it from getting worse, in theory. My dad is already taking it in vitamin form for other reasons, but I wonder if it his keeping him sharp. He might not be getting new knowledge, but he hasn't lost an ounce of what he already has.

My mom and her other brother have been taking turns visiting my uncle to give him his medication and make sure he eats, which he'd forget otherwise. As I drove her to church on Saturday evening, she told me about the day they'd had. I'm sorry to admit that sometimes on weekends when I'm feeling tired or cranky I might tune her out, but this time I was listening. “We colored, today.” she told me. An 80-year-old man and his 70-year-old kid sister sat down with coloring books and crayons, her idea to keep him sharp. He didn't question it, and went along with it. There were some puzzles in the book, and he couldn't solve word problems with missing letters, but he did a good job coloring between the lines. They colored in some drawings of pigs, with my uncle making some unique choices of green and purple mixed in with the pink. When they were done she asked him to sign it, and he still possesses enough of himself to know his own name. She added a word balloon to her pigs and made them say “oink, oink.” As she watched, he took up the crayons again and also made a word balloon. When he was done, she took the book and saw that his pig was saying, “Wowee!”

It's a strange cycle this life, how we live bookended between the lines of childhood and the second childhood that old age might be. There was a time in his youth when my uncle tried his hand at art, and he still has most of his abstract paintings. He settled into an engineering career, drawing up floor plans and wiring diagrams, but the art is still within him. Ultimately, when we do begin to lose pieces of ourselves, we can only hope to hang on to the most important ones. As it turns out, everything we know now is probably not as important as we think.



Sturm und Drang

It's been raining around here. A lot. I can't really dress up the statement any more than that, as I'm wholly burned out on the subject. It's unusual for it to rain this much in New York any time of year, especially in June. I imagine there's a hot, humid Summer lurking above the constant cloud cover, and I'll probably wish for rain once I'm sunburned and sweaty. It just seems like for the past month and a half, we haven't had a day without rain. We've had days where it's not raining for a few hours, but it never lasts. And so, we adapt, and life goes on in New York, as it does in London or Seattle or any other locale unaccustomed to the sun.

After getting drenched at a parade last weekend, I'll endure just about anything short of hail or lightning strikes. I had lunch at the beach one day this week, sitting on a covered deck as a fine mist turned into a few scattered droplets, and of course a full downpour by the time I finished my last slice of pizza and had to begin my twenty minute walk back to the office. Ten minutes in, the rain vanished and was replaced by brutal, suffocating humidity.

On Friday night, I had to play a small procession with one of my Italian bands. As lightning danced from the ground to the clouds and between clouds, and buckets of water fell on my car, I wondered if the thing was going to be called off. By the time I got home, there was no news, so I changed into my uniform, grabbed my horn, and rolled out. A funny thing happened on the way to the gig. The rain still fell, to a lesser degree, but the setting sun was at a point below the clouds. As 8 PM rolled around, the day got brighter and it might as well have been 8 AM. It was very surreal.

Tony, our leader, was frantically waving his arms and whistling to various band members making their approach to the church from different directions. My dad, still taking a break from music, had come along for the ride, and was able to park my car while I hopped out and joined the group. We weren't late; the procession was just starting early while there was a break in the weather. After a few tunes, one of the church officials silenced us while the congregation behind us began a rosary. We occupied our time discussing current events, from Michael Jackson's untimely demise to the Tony's son's daughter getting her first two teeth. Every now and then Tony had to shush us, but what finally brought everyone to silence was the sky.

There was pink and lavender and orange and none of the edges were all that well defined on the clouds. There was an eerie red glow over all of it, and I made out various forms, from what could be the face of God in the traditional bearded old man envisioning, to just fragments of faces and more demonic shapes. None of it looked real. It was like a backlit painting in the sky. It was like the climactic showdown in Ghostbusters. I regretted that I didn't have my camera with me, but not only is it too unwieldy to carry with an instrument, there are rarely photo opportunities on gigs and it's not practical or possible to split my focus. Maybe I need a cell phone with a camera, or a smaller point-and-click just so I always have something on me.

We finished the procession without getting hit by a single drop of water. Driving home, there were a few sprinkles but mostly there was lightning in the sky, dancing from deep purple cloud to cloud. I'm not sure when Roland Emmerich started directing this part of the world, but as long as things don't get destroyed I can definitely appreciate some of these visual effects.


Talent in Heaven

It's been a rough week for the entertainment industry, most especially for the family, friends, and fans of three stars whose lights were extinguished this week. First we lost the legendary Ed McMahon, beloved former Tonight Show sidekick and announcer. Besides Johnny Carson, Ed also frequently collaborated with Dick Clark, from their Bloopers show to commercials for American Family Publishers. 86 is a respectable age, but we're always sad to say goodbye to anyone, especially someone as amicable as McMahon was. A few days ago I caught his Lotto commercial which included the late Don LaFontaine, and thought how strange it was to be watching one of the deceased. May Ed be sharing coffee and stories with Johnny in heaven.

The next death was the lovely Farrah Fawcett. At 62, she was too young, but the former Charlie's Angel had been battling cancer and, unfortunately, it was a battle she lost.

Death, they say, happens in threes. I've heard this expression from my parents and many others, and for some reason the pattern always works, whether or not I'm looking for it. In this case, it was the biggest shock of the week, as Michael Jackson was reported dead at the age of 50, from apparent cardiac arrest. I remember sitting at my desk at work, chatting with a coworker, and casually opening another friend's web page only to read the words “R.I.P. MJ”. Further research led to conflicting reports. Very few had him dead, and most only said he'd been rushed to the hospital. Flipping around channels at the gym only brought more confusion. CNN had him in a coma at one point, while Wolf Blitzer filled air time by asking another correspondent to explain to viewers what a coma was. Seriously. I can't stand that guy. FOX News was marginally “better”, in that they had the correct and tragic information, at least based on a story the LA Times was reporting. A few other channels had similar information, and eventually CNN caught up, with the disclaimer that they themselves hadn't confirmed everything. Seeing all the helicopter shots of news vans and other vultures hovering outside the hospital made me feel unwell.

As I write this, I still don't know the complete details. We're all hungry and curious for information, as is human nature. But this is a time for Jackon's family to regroup and deal with the shock, and grieve. His later years were full of controversy, from accusations of child molestation to invasive reports of his art and memorabilia collections and general eccentricities, as well as his ever changing appearance. Like Elvis, I think Michael was always going to burn out and leave us young, as the brightest do. I remember buying a couple of paperback biographies in fourth grade from the school's Scholastic catalog, by an author named Mark Bego. At the time, I didn't know all that much about Michael but, having a crush on a girl who did, I needed to do my necessary homework. That was 1984, when the King of Pop was still very much alive, and very much at the height of his career. That's the icon I'll mourn and remember, from the rising star from The Jackson 5 to the moonwalking solo sensation. R.I.P., M.J.

Heaven got three times more talented this week, and our world a lot dimmer.


My Transformers Voice Actor Five

I haven't seen Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen yet, but rumor has it that even more of the voice actors from the original series will be lending their vocal talents to the film. Because I'm in such a Transformers mindset right now and probably will be stuck like this for a while, I'm going to take a look back at my five favorites from the ‘80s cartoon:

5) Scatman Crothers:
This legendary multitalented actor and musician loaned his distinctive chords to Jazz, appropriately enough. While older folks might recall his role in The Shining and children of the ‘70s remember him as Hong Kong Phooey, for ‘80s brats like myself he'll always be that smooth Autobot with the built-in shades and sweet Porsche mode. Crothers passed away in 1986, making The Transformers: The Movie one of his final roles. In the 2007 film, Jazz was voiced by Darius McCrary, of Family Matters fame.

4) Chris Latta:
Chris Latta died at the too young age of 44 in 1994, but his legacy as the traitorous Decepticon lieutenant Starscream. Starscream felt he should lead the Decepticons, and despite being almost completely unqualified, he barely hid his contempt for Megatron. Every syllable dripped with sarcasm when he wasn’t sniveling, and Latta fit the role perfectly. I don't think fans even minded that he used the same voice for his other famous role as Cobra Commander, with extended “S” syllables replacing the electronic distortion of his robot character. On Transformers, he also portrayed Wheeljack, an Autobot known for his experiments and good nature, and Sparkplug, one of the Autobots' human allies. Later in his career he did some voice work for The Simpsons, and I don't doubt that we'd still be hearing him on cartoons if he were alive today.

3) Casey Kasem:
Yes, that is Casey Kasem the Top 40 radio DJ, but did you know he also had a career in animation? Shaggy is probably his most recognizable role, but on Transformers Kasem Cliffjumper, the hotheaded red robot whose gun fired a gas that turned metal to glass, and Bluesteak, named for his tendency to keep talking rather than for his hue. He also played a key role as Teletraan I, the Autobots computer which often warned them of Decepticon activity and basically provided exposition for the viewers. Kasem, of Lebanese descent, left the show in its third and final season, after taking offense at the stereotypical way some Middle Eastern terrorist characters from the fictional nation of “Carbombya” were portrayed.

2) Peter Cullen:
Cullen is an ‘80s icon, and it was his portrayal of Optimus Prime that forever landed him a place in the hearts of Transfans. Though he basically portrayed Prime as though John Wayne were a robot, he defined the character so well that he reprised his role for the live action film, the best and logical choice. Cullen also portrayed the gruff and tough Ironhide, a red van with a Southern drawl and a penchant for “bustin' Decepti-chops”. Outside of Transformers, I would say KARR is his most famous role, in stark contrast to the heroic characters he played.

1) Frank Welker:
Finally, we come to the living legend voice actor. I'm not even going to try and list his 1,200+ characters; you'll have to spend some time on his IMDB page for that. I can guarantee this; if you've ever watched cartoons, you've heard Welker. On Transformers he played the Decepticon leader Megatron, a role that went to Hugo Weaving for the 2007 motion picture. Of course, considering that Welker provided voices for 8 of the original 14 Decepticons, there's plenty of opportunities for him to appear in Revenge of the Fallen. I've read slight spoilers/rumors to this effect, that I'll neither divulge nor confirm for myself at this time. My favorite Transformers character of his, other than Megatron, was Soundwave, who had without question the coolest voice with vocoder distortion. I've tried to simulate the effect by talking into fans, but to this day I'm not certain how much of that voice was electronics and how much was Welker himself. I also enjoyed his portrayal of Rumble, one of Soundwave's cassette soldiers with a sneering Brooklyn accent and the power to shake things up by turning his arms into piledrivers.
Here's a clip from 2007 of Welker, with Cullen, talking about how their adversarial characters' voices came to be:

And here are some clips of Soundwave from the 1985 movie:



PBW: Central Perks Part I

I love New York City. It's a great place to visit, although I don't know that I'd want to live there. I'm pretty sure I couldn't afford to live there. And I doubt I'd want to commute in every day crammed into a train car with other human sardines. But from time to time, it's a wealth of architecture, sculpture, history, and hidden surprises waiting to be explored. Last week, after a less than exciting business convention, my friend “Triathlon” and I headed uptown to Central Park and more. It's funny; though I often walked past the park in my younger days, stories of muggings were enough to keep me from venturing more than a few feet in. It's huge and it's amazing that so much wildlife, plant life, art, and more are preserved in the midst of the manmade canyons of Manhattan. Even though it turned out to be an overcast day, I still ended up with enough photos to fill two Photo Blog Wednesday posts. I'll definitely be back on a nicer day to revisit some of the places I saw and hit all the places I didn't get to, and I hope you'll all be back next week for the next batch of photos.



Since Transformers...

I'm excited! Are you excited? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens this Wednesday, and I'm starting to have that same giddy feeling I had when I was 10 years old. A lot has happened in the world since the ‘80s. Actually, a lot has happened since 2007 when the first live action Transformers debuted:

* The world lost the immense talent of one Bernie Mac. The late comedian played a small but memorable key role as a used car salesman who unknowingly introduces Shia Labeouf's Sam Witwicky to his first Autobot.

* I lost my job of seven years. This actually happened prior to the film's July 2nd release, but no one was laid off immediately, only told that their last day would be in two or three months. So when I saw the film, I was in that strange limbo period between having that job, and starting my new one. I know I had interviewed by that point, but I'm not sure if I'd gotten news that my current company had hired me yet. As this robot franchise has done for most of my life, the film was a light in my darkest hour, and seeing it with many of my soon-to-be-former coworkers felt like a good way to say goodbye, even if it was only “see you later just not every day”.

* I've watched the original animated The Transformers: The Movie at least three times since 2007. I watch it at least once a year, and pretty much have it memorized. I loaned one of my copies to the friend who helped me get my new job, after finding out that he'd never seen it. For about a year, I didn't bug him about it, since he'd helped me out and I had other copies of the film since I buy it every time it comes out in a new format or edition. Now I drop hints; it's only an hour and twenty minutes, for Primus' sake.

* I got rearended on the way to my new job by a lawyer's unlicensed foreign au pair, who had his screaming kid in the back in a child seat. After getting the guy to replace my bumper, I finally caved and bid farewell to my old ‘89 Mazda 626, which I had secretly nick-named ”Bluestreak”, and got myself a 2005 Honda Civic, which among other improvements boasted working air conditioning and a CD player, in contrast to my old car's nonfunctional AC and tapedeck. The best Transformer name I could think of for this one is ”Blackjack”, and I haven't thought of a better one yet. I do keep the soundtrack to the original animated film in my CD player more than any other disc, though.

* Amaury Nolasco, who played a soldier in the first Transformers, left the small screen when his show Prison Break concluded after four exciting seasons. Though I don't see Mr. Nolasco's name among the credits for the new film, and probably should doublecheck if his character survived the first one, I hope his career continues to offer him roles as a likable hispanic who peppers his American with Spanish words like “Papi” and “Maricruz” to remind viewers of his ethnicity.

* Tyrese Gibson, who also played a soldier in both the 2007 movie and this year's sequel, is going to be writing a series for Image Comics. His geek cred goes even further as it has been announced that he will portray Luke Cage. Sweet Christmas. As far as I know, he did not reprise his role for this year's Fast & Furious, but he's clearly been busy.

* The legendary John Voight, who played the Defense Secretary in the first film, showed up as a prominent villain in this season's 24. 24 itself ended up not airing a new season in 2008 due to a combination of the WGA strike and its star's brief jail time. Fan-favorite Glenn Morshower returned this season as special agent Aaron Pierce, and Morshower also starred in both the first Transformers and the upcoming sequel.

* Michael Bay claimed that this will be his last Transformers movie, and that he's tired of being the director whose movies have all those explosions. I don't think anyone, including myself, believes that, and even if Bay does, his tune may change when the movie makes a ton of money.

* Megan Fox got hotter. Just look at her in her costume from the upcoming Jonah Hex. Wow. It's probably all types of wrong for me to be looking at her in that way considering she was born the same year a 10-year-old MCF was watching the original animated Transformers in a movie theater, but I can't help it. I'm 34; I'm not dead.

* A bunch of other stuff happened since then: new American president, something with pirates, some bad movies, some good movies, my uncle was diagnosed with dementia, my dad nearly died from a bad shoulder infection and spent a month in a nursing home, some other celebrities left this world including Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman and David Carradine, I joined a new gym and started running again, and the seasons seem to have shifted by about three months. Other than that, I guess not all that much happened since July of 2007. Really, the only thing I need to do is watch Transformers again, and try to contain my geekitude when I'm out in the world among normal humans.


Phantasmic Links 6.22.09

My dad is the best guy I know. I remember my glee when he'd come home from work and let me stand on his feet while he walked me around. He brought home my first comic book, an issue of ROM: Spaceknight that he'd gotten from a coworker. He supported me in my music and encouraged me to practice, and he tried to teach me to be as good a mechanic as he was, though it's only been recently that I've finally taken an interest in learning. So far, I'm capable of doing an oil change and replacing brakes, thanks to his guidance. On Father's Day, we spent the morning honoring his father, whom I never had the pleasure of meeting, and took care of my grandfather's old lot in the town where my dad grew up. After squaring off hedges and mowing the lawn, we headed back home while my dad told me for the umpteenth time about how the neighborhoods we were driving through were all sandpits when he was growing up and the work my grandfather did.

When we were almost home, my dad told me about an incident earlier in the week, while he sat in the parking lot of a local shopping center waiting for my mom outside the supermarket. He saw another guy around his age roaming the lot, looking disoriented. My dad asked if he'd lost his car, and when my mom came out they drove the guy up and down the rows of cars until they located his vehicle, an older model that didn't have the option of beeping the horn with the key remotely, a feature I think we've all used at one time or another to find our cars. That's the kind of guy my dad is, someone who will see someone who needs help and who will offer it. He's been a great example I hope to live up to someday, and though there are times we might bicker I'm glad he's still around. God bless all the fathers out there, on Earth and in Heaven.

Okay, now that I got that mushy crap out of my system, we can move on to this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Who are the 10 Best and Worst Dads in Comics? I might have moved Ben Parker up one on the list, but for the most part I have to agree with those choices.

(2) Witness the heroics of the American president in this 100% factual video footage.

(3) Here's a ridiculously comprehensive account of the origin of video game names.

(4) Civilization is a very cool video installation that takes viewers on an elevator from hell to heaven or vice versa.

(5) Pixar grants a dying girl's last wish. Sad, but mighty decent of them to do what they could.
Hat Tip: Jerry.

(6) Celebrities with Upside Down Faces=More Disturbing than You'd Expect.

(7) Here are 9 fictional characters who really should have looked both ways before crossing the street. After a while, you start to see that coming in shows...

(8) If you're ever in need of a new euphemism, try this Euphemism Generator. You'll be taking the four-legged Mexican minnow before you know it, whatever that means...

(9) A man in California has a life size statue of the Autobot Bumblebee on his lawn. The only way I'd be more impressed is if it actually transformed into his car.

(10) From to the present, TV and film makers have really evolved the designs of spacecraft. When are we going to start seeing some of these for real?
H.T.: Jerry.

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!



The Soak Must Go On

The nice thing about fire department parades is that, if they're called on account of rain after everyone in the band has shown up to play, we still get paid. And so, under a grayish white sky amid dripping leaves on Saturday afternoon, we all awaited news on a corner in a small Long Island neighborhood that we could pack up our instruments and go back home.

A few years back, with that particular band, we sat in our cars as it poured for a good half hour before they finally called it off. With other bands in the past, I've actually played parades in the rain, once or twice in March when it was still chilly out. And on one frightening occasion amid lightning, I was very much aware of my metal horn and wondering if brass was a good conductor of electricity. There's some knowledge I prefer to obtain academically rather than firsthand.

It seemed like we'd be lucky on Saturday. Despite the fact that, within the last 2 or 3 weeks, there have been maybe 2 or 3 days where it didn't rain, I've been lucky with my music. Last week, while it poured on the North shore, the South shore stayed dry for the duration of a parade. And it hasn't rained at all on days on which I've had gigs with my Italian bands, which would either be canceled or moved indoors in instances of inclement weather.

At least I didn't have to worry about my father, who was prepared with an umbrella, jacket, and spare keys if he needed to seek shelter in my car. While he continued to take an extended break from marching, the rest of us had little protection from the elements outside a short sleeved blue fireman's shirt and brimmed hat. The parade began promptly at 6 PM, just as the drizzle turned in to droplets. And our division, the last to step out, began marching just as sheets of rain fell from the sky.

I learned an interesting thing being in the rain, that while it may be startling and uncomfortable at first, once your clothes are soaked you can't get wetter. After a while, the drops are a minor annoyance, and two miles later we were still playing at full capacity, maintaining rigid military formation and step. And, as my luck would always have it, the rain tapered off again.

In waving the females, elderly, and people with wooden instruments on to our firetruck ahead of me, I ended up not having a seat. I handed my music book up to the band leader and set about the long walk back, all the while wondering what I'd do if the rain returned. My father doesn't carry a cell phone, and the buttons are too small for his fingers to operate anyway. I kind of knew the area from having worked a few miles away for seven years, so a few side streets made the walk back to my car a little shorter. Even so, most of the musicians had left already, save for one trombone player who rolled down his window when he saw me walking by and asked, “Did we lose you?” I explained that there had been no room on the truck and it was fine, and as I rounded the corner I saw my dad standing on the next block waiting for me. Like pretty much everyone else around here, I'm sick of the rain. Hopefully, I won't get sick from it....


M.C.F.A.T. Volume XXVIII Answers

Last week I posted the TWENTY-EIGHTH batch of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test questions. Here are the answers you came up with:


And here are my answers:

1) How has the forced transition to digital television affected you?
There are definitely some flaws in the system, and most of the champions of the switch are people who were already paying a monthly fee to watch television via Cable or some other pay service. The way a digital box works is that it translates the signal coming to an antenna so a regular television can pick up digital broadcasts. Changing the channel on a TV or VCR is now pointless, as they must be set to either 3 or 4 while the box is set to your desired station. Since the VCR can't change what the box is set to, programming shows is now impossible. You can set it to tape channel 3 or 4 at the desired time, but you need to manually set the box to the channel you want to be taping. This means that the only way to watch one channel while taping another is to have two boxes and split the coaxial cable leading to the roof antenna, so one box goes to the television while the other goes to the VCR.

I've also noticed that digital signals are weaker than analog. Our television in the living room only picks up about a 22% signal, and while most of the stations are crisp, CBS occasionally breaks into squares and I've yet to get NBC at all. Oddly enough, the smaller television in my parents' bedroom does get NBC and about 5 or 6 other channels that the living room TV does not, even though both are connected to the same antenna. My dad's theory is that the cable leading to that television may be shorter, and there's less resistance. I tried switching the boxes, since I had an Insignia in the living room and an RCA in the bedroom, but both locations still got the same channels. It's not the brand; it's the location(or the television). I left the Insignia on the bedroom TV since I had another Insignia on my VCR in the living room that kept picking up the remote signal for the Insignia attached to the television. The only other thing left to try is to rotate the antenna, which I found to be very tightly bolted to our chimney. There are a lot of tall trees in our neighborhood and it doesn't take much to interfere with a digital signal.

Ultimately, I don't see it as an improvement. I'm not opposed to paying for a service if I want all those extra channels, but on principle it doesn't seem fair for the government to make free television so unreliable that it forces people to get Cable whether they want to or not. Television was always free; that's why there were so many commercials. Advertisers paid for the programming. I'm going to look into other options for recording shows as well. I know some require Cable or a subscription service like TiVo, but I've been trying to figure out if a DVR exists that will work like a VCR, picking up the shows through an antenna and just saving them to a hard drive rather than a cassette, which is a dated technology. I'm wondering how the millions of Americans who either can't afford or don't understand this switch are managing. We're adjusting, but there's nothing I really watch during the Summer so I think it's going to hit me a lot harder in the Fall, especially if I can't watch NBC unless I use my folks' television. I miss analog. Sure, we didn't have subchannels that broadcast weather or traffic cameras 24/7, but I'd trade all the dash-2, dash-3, and dash-4's for a television that got the basic stations I wanted.

2) If you could wield any fictional weapon for one day, what would you choose?
If it's only for one day, then it has to be the Infinity Gauntlet, which would make me the supreme master of time, space, mind, soul, power and reality. With the Reality gem I could make my life as good as my dreams, while the Time gem would be the key in stretching out that one day to an eternity of happiness. I'd probably use the Mind gem to move my memories of that day deep into my subconscious, so the transition back to ordinary life would be more bearable, but I'd have an inexplicable feeling of content deep down.

3) Do you ever lose focus and “crash”, and how do you regain productivity and momentum?
I was hoping for some advice here. There are some days when I just can't focus on my work, and find myself checking my e-mail, reading blogs, or playing a game. I'll go back to what I'm supposed to be doing, work for a bit, and then my low attention span kicks back in. Early in my career I had days where I could sit in front of a computer for eight hours straight, skipping lunch, and get a ton of stuff done. I guess it helped that we didn't have internet access at my first job. I think part of the problem is that I've been in a bit of a slow season. I know I have time to slack off and will still get my work done. When I'm under pressure and have a lot more projects going, I tend to focus more. Of course, when I have TOO MANY projects the same thing can happen when I have too few, and I'll get sidetracked until I make a list and just start tackling things one at a time. I guess as the brain ages, it needs more variety. Maybe the key is to take smaller breaks and time myself, allow five minutes to check my e-mail or talk to a coworker, then go back to my tasks. I can probably vary my work as well, when I feel my attention slipping from one flyer, move it aside to work on another flyer, or an envelope, or something else that needs to be done. Basically, I need to take a planned “channel surfing” approach to my day.

4) What was your favorite made-up or modified childhood game?
When we played “tag”, we played it on our bicycles. And you didn't have to touch the other person if you were “it”; you had to hit them or their bike with a tennis ball. We very quickly upgraded that model and switched to using a frisbee, shades of Tron, and I never had a better time than I did when I was playing that game, even the time I flew over my handlebars when my front tire hit a root while I was flinging the frisbee and not hanging on with my hands. I hit the pavement palms first, skinning my hands, and my bike ended up landing on me. But I hit my target, and I was happy.

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: What late comic book editor maintained an unprecedented knowledge continuity among his company's vast assortment of titles?
I was referring to Mark Gruenwald, an editor with an encyclopedic knowledge of his company's history. In his own writing and that of the writers he oversaw, Marvel enjoyed the greatest sense of a shared universe. Past stories and characters were remembered and integrated seamlessly into new ones, and events in one book affected plots in others. You didn't have to read every comic they made each month, outside of crossover events, but it made for a much richer tapestry if you did. Since Gruenwald's demise, Marvel's bankruptcy, and subsequent rise thanks to renewed interest in the medium due to their film projects, some of that continuity has been lost. From what I've read, companywide arcs like Dark Reign and others have begun tying the Marvel Universe back together the way it was in Gruenwald's prime.



Michael Bay Go Boom.

There are great directors who specialize in a certain style or genre, and have spent an entire career honing their specific skills. Other directors are great for their versatility and ability to put their mark on a variety of genres, and can do a lot of different types of films well.

And then there's Michael Bay.

Bay, often partnered with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, has brought us some of the greatest action sequences and blockbusters of our time. Spinning camera shots and sweeping fanfares accompanied by explosions and unlikely acts of heroism and survival have become his “thing”. You can criticize the Summer popcorn model as an art form, but for what he does, he does it well, and always entertains. Except now he's looking to move past what he's known for: ”I need to do something totally divergent, something without any explosions.”.


I doubt Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will be his last entry in that franchise, though in his interview he suggests otherwise and says he won't be back if there's a third installment. Perhaps it's just my fear of someone like Joel Schumacher coming along and ruining the sequels. Nipples on Optimus Prime's windshield? Chris O'Donnell coming out of retirement to play Chip Chase? No thanks. As bad as Bumblebee relieving his oil on to John Turturro might have been, it could get much worse.

Bay is good with machismo, camaraderie, and patriotism. His movies often have scenes of the troops being rallied, whether figuratively or literally, and it's easy to get swept into it. Other things he doesn't do so well. Attempts at romantic subplots dragged down both Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. The scene in Armageddon with Affleck and Tyler and the animal cracker was physically painful. The movie handled other relationships much better but stumbled with the romantic one. As for Pearl Harbor, focusing on a love triangle with war and explosions and actual (approximated) historical events as an aside made for a poor hybrid. Nehring's Short Review always summed that mess up perfectly for me. I suppose some blame can fall on Affleck, who was involved in both fiascos.

Perhaps Bay just needs a break after this film, as he did with the last one. It certainly is a big undertaking. And I hate to be cynical, but if he's not the “explosions guy” then I'm not sure who he is. On the production side, he seems to be going down the dark path of remaking the horror movies I grew up with. Friday the 13th was just bad, and while I was never a big fan of that series, the remake does have me concerned about A Nightmare on Elm Street, the next remake he's producing. The originals are probably my favorite horror series, so there's more at stake for me. And in general, it seems like remakes and sequels are dominating where original films once thrived. The problem is lack of quality more than lack of originality. Also, expectations are higher when you attempt to repeat or continue something that was done before, and done well. Perhaps a break is a good thing, and will give Bay the time he needs to come back and do the best possible job on a third installment. If he doesn't come back, hopefully we get someone better than Schumacher, if we're lucky. And if we're really lucky, maybe Bay will miss his signature style so much that we finally get a third Bad Boys.

There's nothing wrong with a little wishful thinking...


Once Around Manhattan

I've always enjoyed my visits to New York City, whether for business, school, or socializing. It's a nice escape with high energy and different scenery from Long Island, but it's definitely a tiring experience that makes me appreciate home. Early in my career, I only applied once for a job in the city which I didn't get, and had I been among the lucky few my former company retained after their last major layoffs, there's a good possibility I would have had to commute in when they moved a portion of the staff to Manhattan.

I don't know how people go to work in the city every day, packed into trains like sardines. On Wednesday, my current company sent myself and another art director in for a direct mail convention, which is about as exciting as it sounds. It's basically a networking venture in which people who provide various services from printing to special formats to database management meet with companies they'd like to do business with. From the artist's standpoint, since we're not in the position of hiring outside services, it's more of a research venture, seeing what's out there to get ideas and make suggestions to our superiors that hopefully fall within our budget. Also, we get to collect a lot of nifty promotional materials ranging from the ordinary like pens with company's names on them to stress balls or light up yo-yos. Probably the best item I got this year was a stuffed penguin, but for the most part the smaller space and fewer booths and freebies seemed to be a sign of our struggling economy.

So, we only spent about an hour there, not much longer than we'd spent on the train. We managed to get one of our former coworkers to meet us at a diner for lunch, and after he went back to work we decided on our next course of action. One of our supervisors who was at the convention had “joked” about people going back to the office in the afternoon, but the company more or less gives its employees a whole day out for these types of things. My friend, whose name would be “Triathlon” if he were a superhero, wanted to stop and get a new spandex top for his next race, possibly because his current one made him look like something out of Youngblood. I was tempted to just catch a train home and avoid the crowds of people leaving work, but promises of photo opportunities at Central Park, which was near the store he wanted to go to, coerced me.

The store proved to be a waste when they didn't have what he was looking for and charged too much for similar items, but the park proved to be a good call. I've only really explored the Easternmost margins of the sprawling rocks, water, and greenery in the middle of the greatest city on Earth, fearing muggings in my younger, more innocent days. I've never been there with my camera, and though my luck powers were causing clouds to roll in on what started out as a clear, sunny day, I still got at least two week's worth of decent images. It was also nice, after navigating crowds and intersections and trying to keep up with Triathlon, to find so many open spaces, as well as ridiculously tame birds and squirrels that came right up to people.

The walk back was a little rougher, as time slipped away and people were leaving work. I was feeling drained by this point but managed a few more shots before putting my camera away. At the station we timed our train pretty well, though I hated the disorganized crowd of people cramming into the stairwell to get down to the platform. My friend teased me about nodding off on the train, but I was wiped out. I estimated we'd walked about 10 miles, and had been off our feet for less than an hour at the diner before resuming. Back home, Triathlon's wife picked us up at the station, sparing us the walk back to their house. He said he planned to go for a bike ride, but I'd be surprised if they didn't just collapse on the couch in front of the television with their dog. I know there was no way I was going to the gym after hiking through uneven terrain and climbing a castle, among other adventures. All in all, it proved a nice way to break up the week, and dealing with any crises that sprung up in my absence will be a relief, since I'll be able to do it in comfort behind my desk. Once around Manhattan was fun, but once was enough, at least for this week.


PBW: Under the Bridge

I know today's title is just inviting a slew of “troll” jokes, but it's a fairly good description of this week's Photo Blog Wednesday, in which a walk through a park led me to a large bridge which has been under renovation for some time now. “Under and in the Vicinity of the Bridge” would have been more accurate a description but way too long, and not as catchy as the Chili Peppers reference. Enjoy!