Archive for March, 2006

Friday Night This & That

Friday, March 31st, 2006

1. About a year ago I looked into podcasting, but the whole learning curve seemed to exceed what spare time I would be able to muster up. In addition to thinking up regular content and committing it to audio, I would also have to learn the whole startup process. The total amount of work involved was daunting.

Now, some people at our church want me to help with podcasting the preacher’s sermons, and that just might be doable, since the content comes to be almost completely done. I’m going to record a short welcome statement (including the name of the church and its website, and the date and title of the sermon), and a closing statement. That shouldn’t take too long, and I’ve got audio software that will let me add that to the beginning and end of the sermon MP3.

That leaves just the registering with a podcasting site and uploading, and learning how to tell interested people (starting with those at the church) how to tune in.

This way, I’ll have this much of the process learned, in case I ever decide to consider pondering my own podcast again …

2. When my wife got off work today, we went out to eat, for the first time since before the surgery (almost exactly a month ago). I do get out of the house some, for 15-minute walks, and to go to doctors’ offices and drugstores, but I’m still not driving, and I eat all my meals at home, so sitting in a restaurant was a nice change.

I sure will be glad when I can get off these pain pills so I won’t be so groggy, and can stay out for longer periods of time, but for now they’re a necessary evil.

3. We also stopped by the video store, but I couldn’t find anything that interested me. My wife rented Derailed, but I’ve already seen one too many sexual suspense-thrillers starring a droopy-eyed Clive Owen — not too mention way too many attempts to try to make serious movie stars out of the former Friends cast.

And speaking of cinematic duds, I hear that Basic Instinct 2 is a big fat stinker, and after I read some of the details of the doomed sequel’s troubled history, I can start to understand why.

Still, though, it seems like some of the problems could have been avoided. Some mistakes that could have been sidestepped include: a) Moving the story to London; b) Making all of Sharon Stone’s co-stars actors that nobody has ever heard of (with the mild exception of the Charlotte Rampling); and c) Making a sequel to Basic Instinct.

Hair Today …

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

It’s a measure of how much I’m slipping in my blogging duties that I failed to note when was the last day I shaved.

Not that that would be of interest to you, but one of my reasons for keeping a blog is to be able to look back on it later and see when things happened.

So here I am with a maturing beard on my face, and I’m not really sure how long it’s been growing. With no work week and thus no weekends, days are just blurring together for me; I can’t even estimate when it started.

At first I was shaving every 2 or 3 days, whenever I had a chance to get cleaned up, but once I got off the epidural drip and sort of came to my senses, I realized that I would (hopefully) never have a better chance to see what my beard would look like — that is, to grow a beard with a minimal number of people to see me during the scraggly, Miami Vice stubble phase.

And never a better chance to not have to scrape my face with sharp metal every day.

So a week or so (or more) ago, I went to just trimming my beard — shaving my neck, to just under my jaw — to make it clearer that this was an actual beard project, and not just a case of severe shaving neglect.

I grew my first beard when I was 27, during my bout of hepatitis. After 6 months, I shaved off everything but the mustache. In 1985, I re-grew the beard during a vacation, only to have to shave it for a new job less than a year later.

I kept the mustache for a couple more years, until my allergies started getting worse (I had been in Dallas for two years) and I realized that a mustache was a bad combination with a constantly runny nose.

Anyway, this time I’ll probably shave it all off when I go back to work, even the mustache. Mustaches aren’t in style like they were in the Eighties — click here to see how “disco” mine looked.

Although some fluff news pieces have remarked that the mustache “might” be coming back in style, thanks to Jason Lee and others, and to a mild wave of 60s-70s-80s nostalgia …

But personally I don’t see it happening.

And anyway, another reason I kept the ‘stache back then is because it seemed to make me more successful with the ladies than when I was clean-shaven, which is something that’s totally not an issue now.

As for my wife, I have a feeling that she’ll be glad to see the whole mess go, but that she’s indulging me for the time being, seeing as I only have half a lung and all.

And for myself, it’s starting to itch, so my own tolerance for this experiment may soon be coming to an end.

For now, though, the chin and mustache parts are coming in nicely, but the sideburns are still pretty thin.

You know how thick Kevin Kline’s beard was in Silverado? Where he basically looked like a Brillo pad with eyes?

Well, that’s not me. My beard grows well on my jaw and chin, but mostly avoids my cheekal areas — sort of an Abe Lincoln thing. I could just shave the ‘stache and go Amish, but my wife has expressed an active lack of interest in that idea.

Anyway, we’ll just have to wait and see how long it lasts, and I’ll definitely get a picture or two along the way.

Catch-Up Surfing …

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

With all my spare time you’d think I’d do nothing but web-surf, but that’s turning out not to be the case.

So today I’ve been trying to catch up on at least my BoingBoing reading, and here’s three cool things:

1. A (supposedly) actual WWII Enigma machine for sale on Ebay;

2. This is for co-worker and reader Fract_L: How to make a fractal chandelier.

And finally:

3. Someone has started a hilarious parody website aimed at roasting Xeni Jardin, the media-darling geek hipster who posts on BoingBoing. Xeni is laughing along with the site, and wants to appear to be taking it well, but you just know it’s gotta sting — especially since the jokes are so dead-on target.

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Okay, that’s all for tonight, maybe I’ll get started earlier tomorrow …

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Bloggerhood

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

Before my surgery, I’d spend close to eight hours during the day at the computer, then come home and be at my home PC at least a couple of hours more.

Today, before 9:00, I had spend a total of about 20 minutes on the computer, and that’s just from checking my email a couple of times.

I’ve just been worn out from the past couple of days, so I’ve done a lot of resting today. Plus, my normally comfortable computer chair doesn’t do so well against my incision, and having my right arm at my keyboard and mouse tends to hurt my back even more than normal.

Maybe that’s another Grand Purpose behind my tumor: To take some of the momentum out of my computer habits.

Or not. But it sure has curbed my blogging spirit, even while giving me lots of ne material.

Anyway: For today, let’s see what some of our blogging friends are up to these days:

Yay Kim wrote a song for an independent film a couple of years ago, and the film is now released, and that song (plus another of her songs) are being featured in the movie’s trailer. Way to go, Kim!

So go check it out.

Steve at Look at This has assembled some great links on British History, so check that out as well.

Pamibe is still taking a break until after Easter, but hopefully she’s still checking in here. (Hi Pam!)

Logtar’s Mom has e-mail, and he has some thoughts on having friends who are new to the Net.

And Nels Lindahl, the walking brain, ponders the paths we take in life.

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I’ll be glad when I have more energy to post more myself, and not have to lean on my fellow bloggers for material …

Recovery Update: The Downhill Slide

Monday, March 27th, 2006

We met with the surgeon today, three and a half weeks after the operation, to get his appraisal of my recovery efforts so far, and it’s good news: The world of hurt that I could expect to be in at this point exceeds what I am currently experience.

More importantly, it looks like nothing has pulled loose, come unstitched, or gotten infected.

Best of all, he said that I no longer need my dressing.

I’m referring, of course, not to dressing along the lines of Thousand Island, Buttermilk Ranch, or Balsamic Vinaigrette, but rather the type that uses sterile gauze to keep wounds clean.

The dressing has been a pain, because whenever it gets wet, it has to be changed, and whenever I shower, it gets wet. Thus, I’ve been limiting my showers to one every two days, in order to minimize the amount of time my wife has to spend changing my wound diaper.

Fewer showers also cut down on my tape rash, which is one of those things you don’t always anticipate in situations like these.

Anyway, I’m now free of my cotton-gauze prison, so I can go back to cleaning myself like a conscientious human being should.

Seriously, my hair is so fine-textured that it not only soaks up all my skin oils, it actually pulls grease molecules out of the air.

After I wash and dry my hair, it looks like a haystack; the next morning it looks like it was painted on with a brush.

You can imagine, then, what it looks like after the second night unwashed.

I’m supposed to take 15-minute walks to get my lungs back in condition, but I get self-conscious strolling through the neighborhood looking like I’ve been dipped headfirst in a vat of bear grease.

As if I don’t look enough like a vagrant with my week’s worth of stubble and my Lortab stagger.

Anyway, I learned something else about my health today: That I’m nowhere near ready to go back to work. All it took was a car ride (20 minutes each way), walking to another building to get x-rayed, and waiting around for a couple of hours to wear me completely out.

So much for driving twice that distance to work and sitting at a desk all day.

In fact, I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it.

TV Notes: Recovery Edition (Pt. 3)

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Even 100 channels aren’t enough when you can do little other than watch TV, so the occasinal DVD is required to fill all the couch-spud time:

Yesterday we watched The Ice Harvest, and here are some notes:

1. Don’t go into it thinking that it’s the crime caper comedy as was strongly implied by the commercials when the movie was released last December. The ads would show bumbling criminals going through all these slapstick motions, with Christmas scenes in the background, and wacky comedy-movie music playing, and the announcer rattling off the names of several comedy movie stars (Billy Bob Thornton, John Cusack, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt), and pointing out that the movie is from the director of Caddyshack and Analyze This.

So now I know why the movie bombed at the box office: Bad word of mouth from disappointed moviegoers.

It wasn’t badly done, and had few dull moments, but it was dark, bleak, depressing, cynical and bloody, and anybody paying theatre prices and battling theatre crowds, hoping to enjoy a Christmas-time comedy, was probably bitterly disappointed, and probably complained to everybody they knew.

But that’s just a guess.

2. Billy Bob Thornton is billed as one of the co-stars, but he disappears after the first few minutes, and stays gone for half the film.

I guess they thought Cusack couldn’t pull in an audience all by himself.

3. In the early 80s, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny released an album called “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls”. I bring this up because this movie, which takes place in Wichita, Kansas, seems to be obsessed with a clumsy bastardization of the sentence (“As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls”), which appears as bathroom graffiti throughout the movie.

Why? Maybe the director thinks it’s clever because it repeats words, and that one of those words reminds the viewer where the movie is taking place. I can’t figure out any other reason.

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To sum up: Not a bad movie, necessarily, just a vile one, with an irritating catchphrase and a deceptive advertising campaign.

On the other hand, it did kill a couple of hours for me.

If you’re interested, read some of the other reviews that are out there; the critics either love it or hate it.

TV Notes: Recovery Edition (Pt. 2)

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Another TV show that I couldn’t easily watch when I was working is The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. I got a chance to watch him a couple of times over Thanksgiving last year, and I noticed that his mohologues were of a completely different format from all the other talk hosts.

Late night hosts have dug themselves into a deep and monotonous rut with their monologues. Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel all use the same formula: Mention the most prominent current news item, then do a couple of punchlines about it; mention another aspect or two of that item, do a couple more punchlines. If there are any more sensationalistic news items (sex scandals, for instances) from the past few days, do a couple of punchlines. For the rest of the monologue, do one setup/punchline combination for each of several older news items from the past week.

Bill Maher, on the now defunct Politcally Incorrect, had a particularly inept approach to the formula: Do a long, boring, detailed explanation of a news item, pause a second, then deliver a four-second punchline. Repeat for three other news topics.

You always hear about how much competition there is between the talk shows, especially between Leno and Letterman, the Big Two, but other than Leno’s addition of short skits and sight-gags between jokes, none of the shows have seen the opportunity to break out of the narrow constraints.

That is, until Craig Ferguson came along.

This 43-year-old Scotsman is transforming the American talk show format by making the monologue his own: Instead of the tedious grind of setup-punchline-repeat, he picks one topic and riffs on it, and related subjects, for ten minutes or so.

One night this past week, for instance, he started with a mention of the new series of The Sopranos, then rambled on about the show (“I love big fat guys with little feet!”), and then about organized crime.

Another night, he noted that plans are being made for a Lord of the Rings musical, and made a few observations about the humorous possibilities of such a combination, then went on to joke about movies in general.

Not all of the jokes work, but he makes such a great effort, and the approach is so fresh, that it comes off as more entertaining than the scripted, paint-by-numbers approach used by all the other hosts.

Why is innovation so hard to achieve on American TV? Why is it so rare that somebody is able to bust out of a rut?

TV Notes: Recovery Edition (Pt. 1)

Friday, March 24th, 2006

I’ve been meaning to do a post about a lot of the TV shows I’m discovering now that I’m able to do little else besides sit on a couch and watch TV, but my list of topics has outgrown my present computer-work stamina, so I’m going to have to do this one item at a time.

First up: I’ve come across an animated show (it seems to good to call a cartoon, even though it’s on a kids’ network) that’s been around for about five years (and it only ran for about two), and that I’ve only been vaguely aware of. It’s called Invader Zim, and it’s easily one of the most bizarre and innovative animations I’ve ever seen.

It’s about a pint-sized alien, who, because of his status as a troublemaker on his home planet, is assigned to infiltrate the most backwater planet available, which is, of course, Earth. Zim sets up his ridiculously elaborate underground lab and poses as an Earth kid, while hatching his schemes to weaken our planet’s defenses.

If that doesn’t sound too intriguing, it’s because nothing I can say could do this show justice. The true appeal is visual, as you can tell from this picture; the character and background design are the true stars.

But that’s not to say that it’s not well written: In a time when most animation is either obsessed with cultural references and movie parodies (like Shrek), or dependent on ad libbing by the voice actors (like most of the original material on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, like Aqua Teen Hunger Force), Invader Zim features some truly mind-blowing story lines.

So don’t take my word for it: Check it out on Nicktoons, at midnight Central time, and prepare to get your brain twisted.

And in the meantime, check out Bad Bad Rubber Piggy, a great IZ fansite whose screenshots gallery can give you some idea of the weirdness you’ll be in for …

Recovery Update: Doctor Edition

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

I had to go see our family doctor on Monday for my first post-surgery checkup, and he said that I’m recovering every bit as good as — or even better than — could be expected, considering how drastic the operation was.

That’s good to know, considering that I feel like hammered crap on a daily basis; I’m glad this is normal.

More importantly, he confirmed that he’s been consulting with oncologists since the surgery, and it looks like the cancer is completely gone. We’ll need to do CT scans every six months for a couple of years to confirm this, but so far I seem to be in the clear.

Here’s the bizarre part: It was two months ago today that I got the x-ray that started this whole ball rolling. I didn’t even know that there was a suspicious looking spot on my right lung, which would turn out to be a “mass”, which would turn out to be a carcinoid neuroendocrine tumor — and now, 60 days later, it looks like I’m a cancer survivor.

Man, talk about getting in the Express Lane. If I had to have something this serious, this is the only way to go.

(And while I’m thinking about it, thanks to everybody out there for the comments, emails, get-well cards, flowers and visits, for both myself and my injured wife. It’s really helping with our recovery process.)

Game Time

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

With all this spare time on my hands lately, I’ve been pulling out a bunch of my computer games I haven’t played in a while, including Dungeon Siege, The Simpsons: Hit and Run, Rise of Nations, and Civilization III; on my older laptop, I’m rediscovering Age of Empires, Sim City 3000, and Zeus. Now, just in time, came some new developments:

Download.com is hosting free demo downloads of the nominees in the top six categories for this year’s Independent Games Festival.

I already mentioned a couple of these games, (Tribal Trouble and Professor Fizzwizzle), last year in this blog, but most of the rest are new to me. The ones that really look interesting are Dofus, Weird Worlds, Braid, and Wildlife Tycoon.

So check it out, and discover life beyond Halo 2 and all those other major-manufacturer products.

My new issue of Wired arrived today, and the guest editor is Will Wright, creator of Sim City and The Sims. Wright uses the issue to explore the future of electronic gaming, and gives a preview of his upcoming epic creation, Spore.

If you spot this issue on the newsstands, definitely pick it up.

I’ve also been taking this opportunity to play a demo of a game I’ve been wanting to experience for a long time: City of Heroes, in which I get to design and play a superhero. I intend on playing just until I get the ability to fly (level 12, I think), then fly around for a while, then move on.

Or not. Depending on how much variety appears in the game at that point. Right now, the game is just a bunch of repetitive thug-bashing.

But at least it beats vegging out to daytime TV …