Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Finally...

I’ve toiled for the past few days to update my grossly neglected photosite, which was months behind. Nothing too spectacular lately but it’s a load off my mind for now...

Obscursion

Thursday, December 14, 2006

#25

I’ve been a bit behind in my hockey lately and I was sad to discover that my favorite hockey player Joe Nieuwendyk had recently retired because of back issues.

Nieuwendyk was part of the Dallas Stars roster that became perennial Stanley Cup contenders and finally won it all in '99, with Joe getting the Playoff MVP Award.

I was a rabid Stars fan around that time. There are still vivid recollections of staying up late in my dorm room in Lubbock trying to listen to games being streamed on the internets because there was no TV coverage (the bane of U.S. hockey fans). Even more conveniently, the Stars finally won the Championship in triple overtime at 2:00 in the morning. I was so bleary-eyed that my only reaction was a brief fist in the air and then clicking off the TV.

Nieuwendyk had come off serious injuries to both his knees the previous season, raising speculation that his ability to play the game was gone. It was a classic underdog story.

From the start of the playoff run, I could sense his focus and determination to win. That playoff season was a rollercoaster ride of triple overtime games and a memorable seven game clash against the Avalanche, with Nieuwendyk scoring game-winning goals in several.

Mike Modano will always be considered the superior talent and the face of the Stars, but Nieuwendyk to me was the heart. I was angry to hear that he was traded a few years later, but happy that he won another cup in New Jersey and a Gold Medal playing for Canada.

What a class act and a fearless player. He’ll be missed.

A better article on Joe’s impact in Dallas can be found here (but you need to sign-up though it’s free).

Aaaaaaaaaand we’re back

I don’t think anyone wants to gloss over what South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson and his family are going through with his apparent stroke and surgery, but the political implications must be what’s really on everyone’s minds on Capital Hill.

After the Senate race, all the Democrats celebrated a great (albeit narrow) victory to wrestle control back from the GOP. Even President Bush came out to admit that it was a message from the citizens that the Administration needed to listen and cooperate with the Democrats.

Now I’m imagining (somewhat sarcastically) that Bush is thinking that this is a message from God that the Administration doesn’t need to change and that the Democrats need to die.

Alright, that was pretty bleak.

I’m just very disappointed in how this will likely play out. If Johnson is unable to resume office, then the Governor (a Republican) appoints his replacement. If there are ties in the Senate then the decision is differed to VP Cheney, the idea of which makes me oh so cheerful.

I bet walking into a bar full of Democrats this weekend in D.C. would be a sad, depressing sight.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Light up some grass (and burn some fat too)

Ever on the lookout for alternative energy sources, I discovered that switchgrass is becoming an interesting solution.

Biofuels have been looked into but have been largely problematic due to the fact that they can't output a rate of energy higher than the energy it takes to process it. Plus the amount of carbon produced isn't a significant improvement over fossil fuels.

Switchgrass on the other hand is a hearty crop that grows relatively easily in less than ideal conditions and actually absorbs more carbon than it produces (when converted to ethanol).

ABC had previously reported that ethanol could eventually account for a significant (though not majority) of the nation’s energy needs and that the economic adjustments wouldn’t be very drastic.

Switchgrass is also an attractive solution because it’s resources wouldn’t have to be divided between fuel creation and food consumption, unlike other crops able to convert to ethanol (like corn).

Other resources can be Googled or found here.

Another, less orthodox energy source is in the form of Philadelphia’s Fry-o-Diesel, which somehow converts oils, grease and other waste.

I can’t imagine this being a pleasant endeavor, but hey, if it brings us closer to a Utopian dream of clean, renewable energy, I’ll scarf down a few more Phillies for the cause.

Solar power, using grass, converting fat... It amazes me the ingenuity of people sometimes.

Now if only we could allow this technology to flourish without being hindered by politics and corporate greed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reviews: Daredevil and Y: the Last Man

Two of the best stories I’ve read in a long while come out of the comic book industry. While I’ve resigned from collecting comics, these two books shouldn’t be dismissed just because they fall into a stereotyped genre.


After years of hearing how Daredevil was the best comic on the shelf, I became curious enough to check out what the hype was all about.

During the height of my comic collecting years, I never strayed too far out of the X-men circle so Daredevil was a character that I didn’t have much exposure to. I wasn’t the only one either. The blind lawyer with heightened abilities in a red suit was mainly regarded as a B-level character in the Marvel Universe.

But in 1979, Frank Miller created a run on the book is now a hallmark story because it took the medium to places it normally didn’t go. Good guys actually died, heroes actually killed and it wasn’t a happy ending. He did such a good job that no one could follow up his act for another 20 years.

Now, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev take over the title to combine a tense, compelling story and gritty yet sweeping visuals to create a great, cinematic noir style unlike anything I’d seen in comics before.

Bendis sculpts a 3-dimensional character that doesn’t speak or act in a clich├ęd comic book fashion. I discovered that Daredevil is infinitely more interesting than the likes of Superman. Daredevil is a hero but is also an arrogant asshole. He protects innocent civilians but also jeopardizes his friends and family. His actions are never purely black and white and his thoughts never fall into easily discernible emotions.

In contrast, Kevin Smith (of Clerks fame) wrote the preceding story, which relied on lots of dialogue and cheesy villains standing over our hero and explaining his evil plot like a 007 villain. Smith gets credit for revitalizing the interest in Daredevil, but I think pales in comparison to Bendis’ efforts.

In the storyline, Daredevil’s secret identity is revealed to the world and we observe the aftermath. Each time the character seems to find a way to snake out of his predicament, the writer throws another wrench into the gears and you wonder again how things will turn out. The focus away from costumed antics and deals more on how his “normal” life is affected. The plot is truly intense and engrossing.

Needless to say, I’ve become a fan of this comic. I just hope that Bendis’ contribution, like Miller’s work, doesn’t become such a juggernaut that no one can maintain the level of quality. I’ve read a few issues by the next writer, Ed Brubaker, and it seems like he’s doing just as great a job.


The other title that has me hooked is Y: The Last Man. Written by Brian K. Vaughn and penciled by Pia Guerra, there are no costumed heroes with super powers or evil villains. Like Bendis, Vaughn injects as much realism as possible into the book. The greatest strength of the book is Vaughn’s ability to write modern, realistic, natural dialogue. No cheesy super hero one-liners, except in self-aware sarcasm. The characters act and speak in a manner that can easily be scripted from my own circle of friends.

I don’t find anything spectacular about the art, but no crippling flaws either. Guerra’s visuals seem to merely support the story, which is fine since the story is amazing. But after seeing how Bendis and Maleev created such a perfect union of story and art, it’s hard not to wonder what other level this book could’ve been taken to.

Now, on to the actual plot...

Due to unknown circumstances, all of the world’s males (animals included) die in an instant, throwing the entire world society and infrastructure into chaos and panic. Yet we find out that one man, Yorick (and his pet monkey) somehow survived.

The book follows Yorick, a scientist and an agent of a shadow government operation race to find out the cause and the cure for the catastrophe.

Vaughn expertly handles all of his characters, never relying on the obvious. You’d think that as the last man, Yorick would be in a Male Paradise and go screw as many women as he could. Yet Vaughn creates a man is actually a romantic and goes looking for his girlfriend (conveniently halfway across the world).

Vaughn treats the remaining women with dignity, not falling into a Helpless-Without-Men mentality. Not that a lot of crazy shit doesn’t happen. Think about half the world suddenly dying a horrible death, with planes falling from the sky because both the pilot and copilot were men, or how the government would cope with the Presidential line of succession landing on a low level Congresswoman.

The story is planned to last for 60 issues and while I’m only halfway through, I can sense that the story is dragging out a bit in order to cover the amount of pages. Probably reducing the number of issues to 40 would’ve helped keep a good pace. Still, it allows the book to create and fill out great characters.

Even with the lags, there are some great cliffhangers throughout the story. I don’t want to spoil any of them but will say that the writer has done a masterful job of crafting and executing a unique idea.

The first issue pacing is unparalleled and will have any person hooked into the story. The publishers are so confident of that fact that they have the entire first issue available to download in PDF format (which I’ve also provided a link to at the end of this post). Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Most people will scoff at the idea of reading comics, but these two books are examples of how far the medium has come. Yeah, originally it was to entertain kids with the visuals, but over the years the story has taken precedence and, like anime, has hooked in an older audience. I find myself not even looking at the art and jumping to the next line of dialogue because I’m completely invested in the story. Definitely worth checking out.

Y: the Last Man #1

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dual Screens, double the dorkiness

Last weekend I purchased the Nintendo DS, my first game system in 14 years. I popped in the game cartridge and had flashbacks of the days when I spent all my time with my equally nerdy friends playing video games and reading comic books.

And I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t more of a chick magnet.

While I unwrapped my DS, I was surrounded by a roomful of people watching a friend play the latest iteration of Grand Theft Auto on the PS2. While everyone else was shouting out advice on how to chase down a pimp or gun down passing whores, I played math and verbal games on Brain Age.

It occurred to me that I’m not the neo-punk cool nerd type that plays first-person shooters on the next-gen game consoles. No, I’m the non-threatening old-school nerd that no one would ever confuse as cool.

That’s okay. I’m not the only one. Nintendo is definitely seeking out a different audience for their game systems than Sony or Microsoft. A few nights ago I caught a commercial for an XBox 360 game, (I’m guessing) Gears of War, wherein a live-action actor in a futuristic Aliens-esque soldier outfit runs around in post-Apocalyptic ruins and shoots at a half-cyborg dog and its master, an alien soldier. Nice.

Then I saw a commercial for the Nintendo Wii, featuring a suburban living room with the parents and kids playing sports-themed games with the new interactive controller. The focus was definitely more on the family cheering each other on rather than how many pixels were on the textures of the video game characters.

I enjoyed the bloody games such as CounterStrike or Diablo but I know that I’d rather be leveling up in the rerelease of Final Fantasy III (or IV or V or VII which are all on my wish list).

So you won’t be seeing me sitting outside of a BestBuy for three days waiting for a $600 PS3. Though, in retrospect, those guys were pretty smart since they could turn around and sell it on eBay for a few grand. I heard the highest offer has been $20,000!

I’ll be enjoying my DS through the cold of winter and on those holiday travels, but I hope that it doesn’t keep me from enjoying the non-virtual things in life, like wandering around the city with my camera or swinging a golf club at Chelsea Piers or just having a few drinks over a pool game.