Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not Surprised by Debut

My wife alerted me last night to the headline on Yahoo - "Idol Album Bombs". And I'm not surprised. The album debuted at #10 on the charts this week with only 119,000 copies. That's less than half the debut releases of season three winner Fantasia (240,000) and barely a bit more that the previous season's runner up Katherine McPhee (116,000). Not a very good start.

Jordin Sparks, in my humble opinion, was not the best of the pack in last year's American Idol crop. Sure, she was cute and young and has a lot of potential, but she still has a bit of a way to go to be a true super-star. I heard her first single a number of times on the radio last week "Tattoo" and I was not impressed. It sounded exactly like every other young teen song on the airwaves to date - and it was hardly catchy. It failed to stand out. It was okay but not extraordinary.

My money last season was on the number 2 and 3 placers - Blake Lewis and Melinda Doolittle respectively. Both had unique stylings or at the very least stylings that would help them stand out among the pack of today's radio artists. Some didn't like Blake's beatbox skills, but the man knows how to work a tune and make it fun. His CD drops next week - and I am planning to pick it up. I have a past history of supporting the #2 placers (Bo Bice, Diana DeGarmo and Clay Aiken). As for "Mindy-Doo", there is no question that she has the chops to have a long musical career. Her work as a back-up singer for many top performers of the years has shown her how to step out and be a star. Every week she delivered a flawless performance in musical abilities that seperated her from the crowd. I know she'll be recording for many many years to come.

As for Jordin, well, she is the type that would best benefit from a relationship with the folks from the Disney Channel. She's got a nice look, a nice personality and a good voice. Give her a show like Miley Cyrus and watch out! Jordin would probably be ecstatic to sell concert tickets for hundreds or thousands of dollars a pop like Miley does.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Recent Commercials

As a DVR user, I typically don't catch a lot of commercials. Though, sometimes when we're out for wings at Buffalo Wild Wings where they have a lot of sports on big TV's on around the place, you can't help but see a few ads. Here are two of my favorite current ones:

1) A car commercial with a guy driving down a country highway, windows and sun roof open. He's singing along to Andy Kim's "Rock Me Gently" on the radio when a squirrel jumps in the passenger seat and starts to sing along (yes, a cute CGI done thing). Now, I won't spoil the rest of the commercial but I find it fun and funny every time.

2) Another car commercial with two guys driving in one guy's new car. The driver is showing off the voice activated systems that allow it to play his MP3 files. Again, I won't spoil it for those not having seen it.

What do these two commercials have in common?

No, not the car products. I can't even tell you what cars they were advertising. Honestly, I didn't care. I'm not in the market for a car so why would I take notice.

Nope, what stuck with me was the use of older popular music. I guess I'm in a music mindset right now so that's what catches me. Go figure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Writer's Block

Hey, readers! Sorry I've been busy of late to work up any decent blog entries. I've been taking a lot of files from our CD library to prepare for the iPods at Christmas. It has been keeping me very busy and thus little time to think about other stuff. Couple that with a huge loss in TV watching due to the Writers' Strike - and, well, I just am out of topics for the moment.

Hopefully I'll get inspired. Meanwhile, stay well, stay warm and stay happy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to Routine

After a nice, well-needed four day weekend it is time to get back to work this morning.

Actually, we got a lot accomplished this weekend all things considered:

- a nice Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family
- some quality time for just our little family of three together
- a majority of our Christmas shopping done
- a lot more scanning of our CD libraries for both my wife and I, in anticipation of the iPods we're giving each other for Christmas

Sure, we didn't get any decorating done - that'll come next weekend. I'll probably start the gift wrapping then too, once more of our orders come in.

I figure all this rest will keep my battery charaged until about four weeks from now, when I have scheduled the rest of my vacation usage for the year. That'll be a nice long break.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Comics of the Week (11/21/07)

Action Comics #859 - this is part two of the Superman/LSH arc. Geoff Johns is really working hard to restore the past continuity that was wiped out between these characters back in the late 80's, and I am loving it! I would so pick up a monthly LSH title with these characters - things are that intriguing. This is a storyline that should not be missed.

Batman and the Outsiders #1 - this first issue of a new team book takes on the name of a classic comic titles from the 80's. Like that former book, Batman now leads a team that takes on missions that he and the Justice League can't. It is definitely more of a cut-throat, espionage type of book. While the first issue was okay, I don't know if I'll continue to pick it up or not.

Countdown to Final Crisis #23 - once more we focus on Superman-Prime with the same art and writing team as last week. S-P gets a little payback for his actions, or at the very least some major derailment of his plans.

Countdown to Mystery #3 - more on the trippy Dr. Fate written by Steve Gerber, and the back-up series featuring Eclipso and the side effects of her corruption of others. I have to admit, I am enjoying this mini-series a lot more thanks to the back-up. I guess I like the idea of getting two features in one book as well - it reminds me of the old anthology books I grew up on.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #8 - another fun issue of the animated LSH. This one shows the beginnings of the Bouncing Boy/Triplicate Girl relationship that many of us old-time Legion fans remember from the 60's and 70's. The book puts a nice spin on it for a new generation, which is really a strength of this book.

the Brave and the Bold #8 - Waid and Perez are back for another outstanding issue in this series. This is a done-in-one with Flash and the Doom Patrol. It spins out of events from the Flash book which Waid is writing (a book I dropped mostly due to the art but also the slow story telling). Here Waid's use of the Flash's kids are enjoyable. I guess Perez's art makes them more easy to take. Then again, Perez can draw anything and I'd love it! The framing pages with the Challengers of the Unknown and the Book of Destiny is also intriquing. I'm betting this all culminates in issue #12 which is supposed to be Perez's last on art. I hope he's having too much fun and stays longer.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday

Did you dare venture to the shopping mall or other retail outlets yesterday?

We didn't - or at least not at the crack of dawn. First, what's up with all these folks hitting stores at 5am or 4am or (as some of the malls in Charlotte did near us) midnight? Yes, they had amazing doorbuster deals at those hours, but is that enough to lose sleep over? Not for me.

We actually started some of our Christmas shopping online on Thanksgiving night. We ordered from a number of things for our son and our nephews, all from the comfort of the couch. And then we put in another order from Dell, again from the couch. No fuss, no crowds, no lines, no out of stocks.

On Friday morning, instead, we hit the YMCA for a morning workout. I'm happy to report that even with the wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws, I managed to not add any weight (wooohooo). After the workout, we came back home to shower and change. Then we went out to lunch, and then we hit the mall.

Yup, even at 1pm it was still swamped, but there were signs of the crowds thinning. After a couple hours and getting a few more gifts knocked, we went over to the plaza with Best Buy. Didn't buy anything but were happy to find decent parking. Last year that place was a madhouse all day.

Today we're looking to hit shopping some in Charlotte to try and finish up the holiday gift hunt. It would be nice to be able to kick back and relax, knowing we have no gift pressure for a few weeks as we finalize our holiday plans.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sleeping In

You know what's nice on a day off? Sleeping in.

On normal work days, my alarm is set to go off at 4:50am. I usually snooze it twice and am up by 5:15am. So, on weekends and days off from work like today, I don't have to set the alarm and can just get up whenever. That usually means I get to sleep in until 7am or 7:30am.

What? You thought I was going to say sleep until noon. I haven't done that in decades. Back in college when I came home on break, I'd sleep until maybe 11am, but that was usually because I was out with my friends until 3am. No, these days the only way I'm in bed late into the morning is if I am sick or something.

For me, I just feel like I waste so much of the day if I'm not up reasonably early. I get a lot done in those morning hours.

Now, I'm not against the occasional afternoon nap, but that's another story for another time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. As is tradition on this American holiday, besides eating way too much and watching a lot of football, we give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives.

I am thankful for:

family - my wife and my son, our parents, her grandparents, our brothers, our sister-in-law, our neices and nephews, our aunts and uncles and cousins.

friends - those whom we work with, those whom we know through our neighborhood and community activites, and those we can only keep touch with through cyberspace.

health - my heart is solid, my weight is going down at a reasonable rate and my tryglicerides are under control.

work - I really enjoy what I do and the company I work for. I plan for it will to be the place I stay for a long long time.

home - a roof over our heads, food and loving pets.

Everyone have a safe, enjoyable holiday. Call someone you haven't spoken to in awhile, just to say hello and that you're thinking about them. Oh, and save a drumstick for me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who You Gonna Call?

I opened our mailbox today and there was a copy of the newest issue of GameInformer magazine. On the cover, large and in charg, was that old familiar red and white iconic logo. Yup, that's the one - Ghostbusters!

Seeing that logo instantly took me back to 1984. Ray Parker Jr.'s theme song instantly jumped into my head (I can't tell you how many times I danced to that at parties and such in college).

Of course, there's the films, both very quotable. ("When someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes!", "I've been slimed!", "I am the Keymaster."). They were a nice mix of comedy, action and just plain fun. The characters are iconic - anyone on the street can recognize pictures of the guys in the brown jumpsuits with proton packs on their backs.

And I remember the Activision game for my Commodore 64 computer. Even with the limited graphics and sound capabilities (compared to today), the game captured the look, feel and sounds of the films perfectly. Spent many hours playing that game in college.

And I had a painted T-shirt, custom made for me by hand by my good friend Kathy, with the logo on it - big and bold. I wore that thing out over the years. Sure, I was a bit of a geek with it but I didn't mind. It was a wonderful gift from a wonderful friend, and I was proud of it.

So, it looks like the Ghostbusters are coming back to all the video game platforms in 2008. The previews look good. The actors are all back for voice-overs. Harold Ramis is even heavily involved with the writing of the game's storyline. If anything, this is like the third film that fans have always wanted but aren't likely to ever get - not in live action format.

Who you gonna call? ... I can't hear you! ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christmas Angels

At work every year, our combined department of about eleven or so people usually decide to forego Christmas gifts to one another and instead donate that money to a worthy cause. The cause is Christmas Angels, a program where needy children are put on a list and names are assigned to those who want to give. Our group usually gets two children in the same family to contribute to.

Two of the women in our department are the focal people - getting everyone involved and collecting our donations. The donations are anonymous - just an envelope that they keep and we can put in whatever cash we like. The money is gathered over a week's time. Then the fun starts.

With each angel/name comes information about that child. Things like age, clothing sizes, interests or wish-list types of toys. The women (and whoever else wants to help) then go out and shop for your children - to get gifts for them. They usually try to get at least one full outfit of clothing as well as some toys for each of the kids. Then, they wrap up the gifts and drop them off at the collection point who, in turn, makes sure the gifts get to the kids for Christmas. The kids just know they have some 'angels' that were watching over them this year.

I've been here for three holidays now, and I think it is a neat thing to do. Often it is a much better use of the money rather than us getting each other little knick-knack type gifts. This way the money can go to some good use - helping make the holidays a little brighter for a few children in need.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Polished Armor

With everything going on of late, I forgot to review an acquisition that arrived the last week of October. Ironically, given the news I talked about yesterday, this review is a bitter sweet one. The Invicible Iron Man: the Complete Collection DVD-ROM, it turns out, is the last of the huge runs that GIT Corp is putting out. What a way to go.

Iron Man is actually billionaire industrialist Tony Stark who created a fantastic suit of armor in part to help with his weak heart. He ends up becoming a hero, using his brains and inventive skills to come up with a wonderous arsenal of weapons to fight evil. Along the way he fights the likes of the Mandarin, the Titanium Man, the Melter, the Living Lazer and many many more.

As a kid, I mostly knew Iron Man from the cartoons and his appearances as a member of the Avengers. I never got into his solo book much. I think part of that was due to poor distribution of the title on the local newsstands. So, a lot of this collection is new to me, so I look forward to diving headlong into it. Lots of good reading of storylines I've heard about for years (like Tony's wrestling with alcoholism, the replacement years with Jim Rhodes, the Armor Wars and more).

If you're an Iron Man fan, like my good buddy Tim Watts is (shout out! "Typhoooooon!"), you can't miss this one. Nothing like over 500 issues of Iron Man on a single disk for less that $50. And, you better snag them fast. GIT has said that they can produce any more of this or any of their other Marvel sets - so once supplies run out they are gone forever!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Marvel Pulls the GIT Plug

After five years, Marvel Comics has decided to not renew the licensing agreement with GIT Corp. GIT was the company that would produce CD-ROM and DVD-ROM collections of Marvel comics, providing full cover to cover scans of books (all pages, ads, letter columns, etc.) which are readable with Adobe Reader (a universal PC document reader) at a super affordable price.

Marvel has decided to instead to get into providing digital comics for reading off of their website. For a monthly fee (or annual one), a person can subscribe to the service, log on to the Marvel site and use their cumbersome viewer to look at the books. The books on Marvel's site only have the story pages and covers - no ads, no letter columns. And the kicker: you don't get to actually download the file on your PC. Nope, you can only view it online.

Now, what I love about the GIT collections is that I can read them anywhere. I don't have to have an internet connection. I just need the disk and my PC. That means I can read them on a plane. I can read them on vacation where I might not have an online connection. It doesn't matter.

Marvel, in my opinion, is cutting of their noses despite their faces. They see the money being made by iTunes and other folks and want a piece of the download pie. But, they are not in the same pie. The end user does not get to keep anything when they use the Marvel service. If you quit after a year, then you have nothing to show for it. Nothing.

GIT also provided full runs on titles. Marvel is putting up books piecemeal to their site - about 20 books a week. And they appear to be random. Parts of mini series but not all. Jumping around on main titles. Basically the reader is now at the whim of whatever Marvel wants to put up.

It sucks that GIT could not get out their Thor and Daredevil sets before the license got pulled. They were on the slate for 2008. However, GIT is not down or out of the game. Their president said they were closing the deal on doing their product magic with the Archie line of comics. I'll be happy to get those types of collections in the DVD-ROM format if they are affordable. I'm betting they will be.

So, the loser here is Marvel. Now they get less of my money than they did before. I don't get any current books from Marvel, only reprints in Essentials. I may stop that, just to vote with my wallet. If what I've read in the past 48 hours on message boards, I'm not the only one.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Comics of the Week (11/14/07)

Teen Titans East Special - Cyborg can't get his old teammates back into the group, so he decides to train some second-string teens into a new unit. However, a little training exercise ends in very very disastrous results! The first half of the book is more like a flashback or untold tale of the New Teen Titans line-up from back in the 80's. Still, it didn't feel "right" - even down to the teaming of Joker with Bizarro (why why why team those two up?). Since this special is a prelude to a new #1 issue coming soon with a team returning to the classic line up, I am concerned that the writer can make it work given this issue's look at his using those characters. I'll give the first issue a shot, but it will be with a wary eye.

Captain Carrot and the Final Ark #2 - Frogzilla is back! And so is Alley-Kat-Abra! This middle issue of the mini-series moved things along, but there are lots of elements going on in this book. In fact, it might be too much and that's making this return to a classic a little less fun than expected. It is almost like the writer knows he only has a mini to work with, so he's throwing everything and the kitchen sink in just in case the book doesn't do well enough to warrant a new ongoing title.

Salvation Run #1 - The premise behind this seven issue mini-series is that DC's nastiest villains are gathered up by the government and deposited upon an alien world, left to their own devices. They can either work together or take each other out. It starts with the Flash's Rogues Gallery, a group of villains I've always enjoyed. Before the end of the first issue, we get a lot more villains on the playing field as well. And the final panel hints at who is really behind this whole operation (I'm looking forward to finding out why they are doing it). I felt the art worked well enough and the writing was good. Since I've always enjoyed spotlights on the villains (I wrote enough fanfiction starring many of them for years), I think I'm in for the long-run on this run.

Countdown to Final Crisis #24 - as much as I wasn't thrilled with the book last week's issue, this week's offering redeemed this book in spades! The story focuses mostly on Superman Prime, a sole hero from a parallel Earth long since gone. He continues to search the multiverse, looking for the perfect one that is close to his own home. However, when he fails to find it, look out! He is so unworthy of the Superman title it is not funny. How he destroys a world's heroes and people is a textbook example of power gone wild. A very solid story with great art and the introduction of a true threat to this storyline that could make the finale next year huge.

Booster Gold #4 - Booster run into, literally, the Flash (Barry Allen) and Kid Flash (Wally West) as part of his time-travel adventures. These two guest stars work well in the story - to serve as a catalyst for the events - without any overshadowing of the book's main stars. Booster, Skeets and Rip Hunter all get into the action as they fight those who are trying to obilterate the JLA members from the timeline. There are more ongoing subplots as well, and that final page has a gorgeous pin-up picture of one of my favorite heroes ever! I can't wait to see how next issue plays out - I'm really hoping for a certain kind of ending, though I might not get it as it would totally throw the status quo of things. I hope they deliver - that'd be an awesome Christmas present for 2007.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rant: Censoring Santa

I read a story yesterday out of Syndney, Australia, that said Santas in the big city down under were being strongly urged not to use the traditional "ho ho ho" greeting because it could be considered offensive. Yeah, you read that right. Santa Clause is being censored.

Give me a break! The line for political correctness has gone way too far when something like this happens. Santa Clause is a cherished icon of the Christmas holidays and is known the world-over as a bringer of joy and good cheer to the young and the young at heart. To imply that his most recognized greeting has any kind of slanderous implications towards women is ridiculous!

What's next? Will the Hostess company need to rename their chocolate treats? Will garden supply stores need to advertise certain tools under a less offensive name? Will rural western communities need to come up with another name for certain gatherings with music and dance? If we're going to censor Santa Clause, how can any of these other things be allowed to exist as is? (yes, I'm being sarcastic)

This is stupid. Enough is enough. People do not need to be protected from the different uses of similar sounding syllables. They need to get a better education. Put words and sounds into the context of their usage, and you'll see that none of this should be offensive in the slightest to anyone.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Alarm Clock

This past weekend when we went shopping, I was waiting outside the dressing rooms at one of the department stores while my son was trying on pants. I happened to spy one of those displays with gifts that often are out at the holiday times, so I walked over to check the stuff out. Among the various things were boxes of alarm clocks.

Now, my current CD player alarm clock is one I've had for over 15 years. The CD player actually gets stuck a lot and the face place has come unglued over time and slides down. It isn't a bad clock really. However, these new ones had something interesting going for them - they could work with an iPod!

Yeah, the wheels were turning. I was thinking "well, if I got an iPod for Christmas, I'd need someplace to charge it". This GPX clock radio could do that, and you could actually awaken with music from your iPod as a source. We got my son a similar type of clock for his birthday with his iPod, and this one was a much better price - and it had a $10 mail in rebate to boot.

I picked up the box, trotted over to where my wife was and asked if I could get it. I think she followed my silent thinking and said it was fine. So, I got myself a new clock and have something to dock my iPod I should be getting at Christmas. Win-win.

Or so I thought. Turns out this clock has a few fun features I did not know about.

For example, it has a lighted display with three settings - dim, brighter and super-nova bright. Okay, no problem. I can put it on dim. Well, damn if that dim isn't bright enough to act as a beacon for those return trips from the bathroom in the middle of the night. Seriously, all it needs is a fog-horn and it could bring in the ships. Okay, I can live with that. And, yes, I have to now roll over and fall asleep the other way to avoid the "dim" light in my face. Not a problem.

Next comes the alarm. You can do radio, iPod or buzzer. I've never been a buzzer person and since no iPod yet, I go radio. That's cool. Found a station I like that comes in and set the volume. Good to go. Well, not quite. When the alarm goes off, hitting the snooze is easy (biggest bar and all). Even without my glasses on I can hit that without a problem. But, the display goes from "dim" to super-nova when the alarm goes off and stays that way. I guess it is to help further wake you up. Gak. So, I hit snooze, roll over and avoid the interrogation lamps beating down at me.

Now, I'm a three snooze kind of person (my old clock each snooze was eight minutes). Guess what? This clock's snooze is nine minutes. So, I have to recalculate the first alarm time so I am up when I want to be (no later than 5:15am). Grumble grumble. Okay, just a minor annoyance. Most likely I'll switch it over to two snoozes and move on.

Lastly, turning the darn alarm off. On my old clock, it was easy. Button just up and to the right of the snooze. Actually, that was too convenient as you could hit the off by accident. Not so easy on this new clock. The off button is the power button on the upper left. A small button. Not something I can hit easily from lying in bed. I've found I have to snooze it first, sit up, put on my glasses and then locate the power button to turn it off. I guess that's a motivator to get me out of bed on time.

I guess I'll just have to adjust to the changes. Change is good. Or, at the very least, change keeps us on our toes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Soup For Supper

Last night we had for dinner some homemade chicken soup that my wife cooked up in the crockpot during the day on Sunday.

She boiled up some chicken we had in the freezer and then deboned it. She carmalized some onions, celery and carrots. Then, all of that went into the crock pot along with some of the water from the chicken boiling and a container of chicken broth (for flavor). She let it all simmer all day on Sunday.

Last night, we took that and brought it to a slow boil in a regular pot. To that she added some frozen peas and corn to thicken it up. She cooked up some rotini pasta in another pot (she doesn't like the noodles to cook in the soup as they get too soggy for her taste that way). She then served up the bowls by putting pasta on the bottom and then adding ladels full of goodness on top.

I've always been a huge soup fan, so I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I ended up having seconds along with finishing my son's bowl when he was done (he picked out the chicken and noodles and had most of the broth - he's not huge on vegetables). Along with that we had some nice bread with rosemary and olive oil baked in. A very nice, light dinner.

The best part: there is plenty of soup left-over so I can have another meal of it late in the week (or to cover my lunches on the weekend).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Morning Routine

Anyone who knows me knows I'm pretty much a creature of habit. Order and routine are the norm which I don't often variate from. In the first twenty minutes of any given day after I awake, here's the order of things:

- bathroom
- take my morning aspirin (for my heart)
- put on clothes
- wake the dogs and take them for a walk
- take my daily TriCor pill
- make my lunch for work (if Monday through Friday)
- feed the dogs
- feed the tortoise

Only after that do I hit the computer to check email, message boards, post in my blog, etc.

I'm like the military, I do a lot in the first twenty minutes of my day. ;)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mighty Sore

Well, it's a good thing it is a holiday today - and that I took a vacation day to be home with my son who is off from school. After the weekend I've had so far, I'm ready to just kick back and do nothing today.

It started of Saturday morning after the cable guy left. While my son had his tennis at the YMCA, my wife and I went inside to work out. I did my usual 45 minutes on the cross-training machine. Lots of leg and arm work. I enjoy that workout routine, even if I only get it in once a week.

After we got home, showered and changed, it was back in the car. We drove the hour to one of the shopping malls near Charlotte. My son needed long pants since he outgrew his ones from last year. So, we walked the mall - for about four or so hours. Okay, walking is good. No problem.

Woke up Sunday morning a little sore, but I had to suck it up. My wife wanted us to have a few hours on a family activity for Sunday, so around 10:30am we took off and drove to South Mountain nature park. Now, one of the pluses of living in Hickory is being close to a lot of wonderful nature in this part of North Carolina. The mountains are very close, and the leaves are still in the color changing phase so it was a perfect time to go.

Well, we first did the walk of about 3/4 of a mile to the various trail starts. That was flat - no problem. Then we started on the trail up to the falls. Lots of rocks, roots, rises and such. After about an hour, we got to the look-out point below the falls. That was a good run for our first trip, and then we started back. In total, we walked for a good two hours. Not sure how far - I'm thinking a couple miles easy. Whew.

So, today, I'm doing nada. Sitting on my butt in front of the computer or TV. Maybe I'll get a nap in too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

...Long Live the DVR

On Thursday I told you how our old DVR went on the fritz. Well, the cable guy came yesterday morning. Yup, it was dead.

Good news is he brought us a replacement DVR. Yeah! I can't tell you how different our house was without a working cable box in the family room this week. My wife and I spent a lot of time doing other things - mostly on the computer. It is nice to have the box back.

The bad news is that it is not a MOXI box which we were used to. It is still a Motorola box, but it does not have the same interfaces. To trade off, though, the hard drive is twice as large.

The program search is a bit harder to set up. The program record functions are missing the option of "first run only" - it has "new episodes" instead. Now, that's pretty much the same for network shows, but it gets dicey on cable shows that run the new episodes multiple times a week. I guess I have to watch what I set for series recording now on.

I had to, of course, re-enter our recording schedule as this was a new box. Side effect of all this: in asking my wife if she wanted the soaps added back in, she said no. She liked not feeling the 'pressure' to watch what was recorded. If they weren't there, oh well. So, that frees up time on our schedules a lot.

And I liked that the cable guy hit our house fifteen minutes after 8. When they give the block of 8-12, it is usually my luck to get the last appointment of the day. We got the first and that allowed for us to have more time with our Saturday scheduled events. That was a nice way to start the day too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Adventures with iTunes

Last month I mentioned that we got my son an iPod nano for his 12th birthday. He's really enjoying it - takes his music when we go places or visiting family so he can listen to the songs he likes. He's even done some downloading of music from the iTunes Store site with the giftcards he got on his birthday as well.

I had set him up with about 80 or so mp3 files myself from files I had stored on his computer. That computer was my old desktop model which I had used for many years. Still stored on it were fourteen directories filled with mp3 files of songs I pulled from our CD collection. I had them organized by year (1970 through 1983) and I actually had burned a copy of each directory onto CDs for storage purposes.

In setting him up with songs for his iPod, it got me thinking about all those files again after a long time. I took the CD back-ups and put the files onto my laptop. Then I installed the free iTunes software from the Apple site. Now the iTunes software can work independently of an iPod; one can use it really just to organize music files, video files, photograph files, etc. on your computer. It's pretty slick for some free software. Apple's goal, of course, is for you to use their iTunes Store to pay to download music, videos, etc and/or to get an iPod to take those things with you.

I'm mostly playing with it for the music files. One of the fun things you can do is update the details on the music files. You can modify the attributes like artist, song title, and music genre. You can also update the data from which album the song came from. When you do that, you can also click the mouse and have iTunes sync up with the iTunes Store site to download the album artwork, if they have that album on the site. How cool is that? Since the iPod will display an album cover when it plays a song, you can have a visual touch to go with the music. That appeals to me a lot.

Now, I have noticed that some albums aren't there. There tend to be more greatest-hits type collections. I'm really trying to sync my songs with artwork from the albums the songs first appeared on. So that takes a little longer to get the exact album. In fact, I've gotten obcessive over the past few weekends and started to clean up my files. I've updated artist names and albums and then pulled in the album art for many of the songs I had. It's been time consuming but a lot of fun too. One of the other neat features on the iPod is to scroll through the Album Art. It reminds me of flipping through albums on one of those CD jukeboxes.

I also noticed a number of artists, surprisingly, did not have any songs in the iTunes store. Sure, some are one-hit wonders so I would expect those not to be there. But, also, some bigger names: Led Zepplin, AC/DC, Bob Seger - to name but three.

My goal for all this? To have my files set up perfectly for when I get my own iPod. It's on my Christmas list - actually the only thing I'm really interested in getting. We might break down and snag one sooner, just to be sure stores don't sell out too close to the holidays. That's okay though - it has been many many a Christmas since I've had any big surprises under the tree. In any case, I'll be ready to roll with my music collection when the time comes. Yeah, I'm a huge plan-ahead kind of person. Can't you tell? ;)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Comics of the Week (11/07/07)

After last week's avalanche of books, we're back to a lighter week. Here's what I picked up:

Countdown to Final Crisis #25 - After last week's solid issue, this week was back to so-so land. I think it was the artwork. It seemed very rushed to me. It was nice to see the storyline focusing, however, on Karate Kid. Also, it wasn't lost on me the point that all roads are leading to Apokolips (three of the plotlines ran that direction this week).

Justice League Unlimited #39 - a fun issue featuring the great detectives - Batman, Elongated Man and...Detective Chimp??? Very fun read from the animated universe. I know these books are more targetted to kid readers, but even those of us that are still a kid at heart can enjoy them. It wasn't predictable either so that means the writer isn't "dumbing it down".

the All-New Atom # 17 - Gail Simone is back to writing, and she's bringing along the elements of the Wonder Woman book which she is now writing as well. That's a good thing. The interaction between the Atom and the amazon were fun, as were his interactions with Giganta. The art was appropriately pin-up in style without being overtly trashy. Definitely a fun read. And, lots more bizarre happenings in Ivy Town (this place makes the town of Twin Peaks look like Hooterville).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

DVR Is Dead...

Tuesday night I went in the family room after dinner and noticed an odd sequence of numbers on our cable company provided DVR box. Turning on the television, I could sit and watch the box go through a sequence of trying to start up and connect to the network, only to fail and reboot. This happened over and over. Not sure when it started per se. It was fine Monday night. I'm thinking at some point during Tuesday.

So, I called the local cable company and first tried the automated service route. You know the ones - where you speak answers to the prompts and it gives you other prompts. I should have known that was a recipe for wasted time. Sure, I can see it helping with a lot of simple problems but mine clearly wasn't so. Finally, I got to an agent. I gave him my info and details of the problem, then he said he would have to transfer me to an expert on our particular box. Fine.

Then we got disconnected.

I called back again and luckily got a person right off the bat. I explained what the problem was briefly and how I was going to be transferred to an expert on my box when the call got dropped. Turns out this guy was the expert. Lucky me, and lucky him. Saved me going on another tirade while being on hold, a tirade which my wife just tuned out entirely.

Anyway, we tried a few things only to conclude that, yes, the DVR seemed to be suffering a hardware failure. He said a tech would have to be scheduled to come out. The earliest was Thursday morning. Ugh. Couldn't be out of work so we took Saturday morning instead. We first however signed up for the $4.95 monthly line service contract so that we would not have to pay the technician for a service call (they get covered by that).

So, I got done with the phone call just in time to turn on the tiny TV in the kitchen so we could watch our Tuesday night shows on FOX (since the cable still worked on other sets in the house). No pausing though or rewinding. Kind of missed that already.

I'm going to assume that also gone was anything recorded for the week. Bummer. My wife did not see most of the Monday comedies so we'll have to wait on the reruns. Gone too were the two days of soaps. Oh well. We had been talking about making a break from them anyway. Perhaps the DVR failure was a sign - a way for us to quit cold turkey. I'm also going to assume I'll have to reset up my "to record" list should we require a new box - I'm thinking that's going to be the case. Again, probably a good thing. A good time to reassess viewing habits.

Maybe my DVR box knew about the writers' strike and was just trying to throw me into the "no new TV" deep-end. ...nah...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the Writers' Strike

The Writers' Guild, whose members provide the scripts for television shows and movies, went on strike this week. As with all kinds of work walkouts such as this, they are looking for better financial compensation - in particular in the areas where new revenue streams have come in for the studios thanks to advancing technologies (DVD releases, internet feeds, podcasts to phones, etc.).

The last time that the Guild went on strike was back in 1988, and that strike lasted 22 weeks. However, the impact was not as severe since the strike was between the end of one television season and the beginning of the next; the impact to viewers was that it pushed back the Fall Season debuts a bit. Clearly, this time things were a bit more calculated - with the shoe dropping just in time for November sweeps. While most shows have a few scripts in the can in advance for shooting, talk shows and nightly shows are hit first as they tend to be rather topical and written much closer to air time. The movie studios have a less of an impact as they tend to have their 2008 shooting scripts already in hand.

This really kind of bums me out a bit because a lot of the shows I've been enjoying are really starting to click nicely. After about three or so slow weeks, Heroes has been coming back hard in the past two weeks with that "wow factor" that it had from season 1. Still, the planned spin-off/hiatus-filler show Heroes: Origins appears to have been put on hold. The writers' strike might have been a factor in that. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother has been picking up again after a slow transition out of last season's storylines. These past three weeks or so they've been back in the comedy style that made the show a hit in recent years.

Other shows have been solid all along, and the strike putting them on hold will be felt in our household. Bones and Two & A Half Men have been pretty solid all season. And freshman comedy the Big Bang Theory has been knocking it out of the park weekly, in our household, since its debut. I will be very disappointed if the season-interuptus is long on these shows.

The networks figure they'll be able to counter with reruns or by pumping up the schedules further with non-scripted shows (reality shows and game shows). I'm not a mega fan of reruns but I will support my favorites by catching them as they show (my DVR is only set for recording first-run episodes though). I guess, too, if the writers' strike lasts a long time that the daily soap operas will get quickly derailed (they too only shoot about four or so weeks in advance). I guess if that happens I'll have more free time on my weekend nights - less programming to catch up on if I can skip the weekly five-block of Guiding Light.

The silver lining, I guess, is I can do over the winter what I do over the summer - catch up on other things and hobbies. I have a couple things that I've been neglecting of late - books to read, films to catch up on, etc. So maybe this won't be such a bad thing. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Joy of Catalogs

Okay, I know this'll put me in the "old fogey" category (as if my other interests haven't already), but this time of year gets me to thinking about catalogs. Now, I'm not talking about those twenty page fliers for clothing and such that inevitablly you get any time you sign up at a retailer with your name and address. Sure those are okay, but that's not what I'm thinking about.

I'm thinking about those thick, square bound ones that came in the mail or your parents picked up at the store. You know what I'm talking about. The Sears Wishbook, or the JCPenney holiday catalog or the Montgomery Wards book. The front cover would have some nice family scene under the Christmas tree. Everyone would be smiling. The kids would be in green and red.

And what did we do? We skipped that whole front part - skipped the clothes for women and men, barely stopped for a few moments on the kids clothing (unless you were looking for that real cool Superman t-shirt or Hot Wheels pajamas). You skimmed past the hardware and home furnishing sections. No, your goal was in those 300 or 400 page sections. You, my friend, wanted to see the toys!

It was like magic, seeing all those things in full color. You wished you were that kid going down that slide, or that you had the complete set of Star Wars action figures. You wondered what pictures were on those Viewmaster reels. You couldn't wait to build something as cool with your Legos. It was such a thrill and it would keep you enthralled for hours on end. You would even go back and look at the book again and again as November turned into December.

As a kid, I would get out a sheet of notebook paper and start making a list for my parents. I'd note which book and what page the items were on. If it had an item number, I'd list it with the description and the price. If it had different choices, like with action figures, I'd carefully list which ones I was interested in. I mean, really, who's mother actually could tell the difference between R2-D2 and R5-D4? Mine couldn't. And I would prioritize items as well - just so they'd know which items were top choices and which were secondary.

Kids today don't get that joy any more. Most of the big retailers who did catalogs like that either are out of business or just don't put out the books like they used to. It's an internet-age. You can pretty much do the same thing on with a quick click of the button to put items into your 'wish list'. I use those functions as an adult to earmark things I'd like - but it's just not the same.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Comics of the Week (10/31/07) - part 2

Rounding out the rest of this week's huge haul of good reading from the comic shop, here is the second batch which features the shorter mini-series and one-shots.

DC Infinite Halloween Special - this book has thirteen tales of horror and suspense to celebrate the holiday. With a book such as this, with various writers and artists, you can end up with some hit-and-miss results. For the most part, this book was more of a miss for me. A lot of the art was very stylistic and scratchy. The stories are told from the perspective of the villains from Arkham Asylum (Joker, Riddler, Poison Ivy, etc.) so they tend to be more dark and the heroes less heroic. I did enjoy the tale about Blue Devil though.

Countdown to Adventure #3 - The lead tale focus on the plague hitting Earth and Rannagar, a plague that one of the space heroes picked up when facing Lady Styx during 52. The backup heats up with Forerunner encountering a world of magic heroes.

Countdown to Mystery #2 - the new Dr. Fate muddles his way through his first fight. It was a good example of how a neophyte must learn their way with their powers, and it is done in Steve Gerber's stylistic form of writing. The backup story with Eclipso continues to grow its cast, with appearances by Darkseid, Plastic Man, the Spectre and it looks like the Creeper.

Death of the New Gods #2 - Another solid issue by Jim Starlin. The story and the art are moving along nicely. Definitely a mini-series that fans should not be missing.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Comics of the Week (10/31/07) - part 1

Lots of good reading came from the comic shop this week. So much so that I felt it best to break it up into two editions to the blog. Here's the first grouping - with regular ongoing titles.

Countdown to Final Crisis #26 - With this issue, the weekly title crosses the halfway point - and changes it's title a bit too boot. Now it is clear that the countdown is leading to something major, and this issue gives a nice narrative recap of things. However, it isn't a fast read. In fact, it is quite wordy which is a nice change of pace. And behind those words are some wonderful art that moves a lot of the subplots silently along. Definitely a solid issue.

Teen Titans Go! #48 - this nice done-in-one tale of the animated heroes deals with Killowatt and the attempt to send him back to his homeworld. However, something goes amiss and he ends up in a "Mirror-Mirror" sort of world (that reference for all my Trek friends). The Titans here are tyrants (with some mega-red glowing eyes so you know they're evil). An enjoyable read with nice artwork by Todd Nauck (if I can't get any more of his solo Wildguard title, at least I am happy he is still doing work here).

Action Comics #858 - I gave up regularly getting the Superman titles a few years back. However, I will drop back in for certain story arcs that interest me. This one definitely does! Geoff Johns is attempting to reconcile once more Superman's past connections with the 31st Century's Legion of Super-Heroes. And for those readers as old I am, this is very much the Legion we grew up with - or very close to them. I am happy to see them back in whatever capacity possible. I'm not a huge fan of Gary Frank's artwork (some of his females' had very plastic looking faces in this issue) but his attention to detail on fabrics and such is quite good.

Justice Society of America #10 - this issue is part one of the "Thy Kingdom Come" storyline, which brings the regular DCU and the cast from the Kingom Come mini-series into direct contact. The cover and some of the interior pages even feature work by Alex Ross, the artist on that famed min-series. The story definitely looks to be a fun one, and once again Geoff Johns is at the top of his writing game here.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tangled Web

Spider-Man III, this summer's installment in the film franchise, just came out on DVD this week. While I own DVDs of the first two films, I think I'm going to pass on picking this one up. I just have mixed feelings about the film which we did see in theatres.

While I loved the Sandman (I thought Thomas Hayden-Church was perfect casting for the character) and the visual effects with that character were wonderful, I felt disappointed with how the story didn't feature him more. His story easily could have been enough to carry a solid 1 1/2 hour or so film. The problem came into with throwing Venom and the whole symbiote thing into the mix. Again, the effects worked for this character and Topher Grace was okay in the role (he'll always be "Eric Forman" to me - so that is distracting) but this plotline and Peter's struggle with the symbiote in his life again could have made a decent film on its own. Slamming these two plots together made the film disjointed. Add to it the closing arc of the Harry Osborn story plus the introduction of Gwen Stacy plus Peter and MJ's rocky engagement, the film was just trying to cover all the bases, at times failing to make me care truly about any of them. It was almost as if the folks behind the franchise were trying to get everything in just in case this was the final hurrah for the series.

The series in general has been a little hit and miss for me.

Spider-Man started out well enough with a nice retelling of the origin. I didn't even mind the liberties taken with storylines to make a solid Green Goblin tale as well for the film. Where I was let down was the whole Goblin mask. It was too "Power Ranger-ry" for me. Here they have Willem Dafoe, a wonderfully expressive actor, and they tie him down with an unmoving mask. That is so wrong. The Goblin needed a skin-tight yet fully expressive mask. That's what made the character so memorable in the comics.

Spider-Man II really worked the best of the three films. The origin was out of the way so we got to see Spidey doing what he does. Doc Ock was brought to life wonderfully, and the battles in this film were outstanding. It clearly is up there on my list of the top super-hero films to date. Maybe that's why the third film didn't work as well for me - the second film was such a peak that anything that followed was going to have its work cut out for it to match the excellence.

Yeah, the third Spidey film, much like the third and fourth films of the previous Batman franchise, put too many villains into the pot in hopes to amp things up further. Bigger casts does not always mean better films. Give us a solid story. Make us connect with and understand fully the villains brought in. Give them a chance to strut their stuff as one film is usually all any of them will get. I'd rather have 90+ minutes of a solid film rather than 120+ minutes of a film that's all over the map.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Education Motivation

This week my son was able to get an XBox 360 game system which he had been asking about for many months. Initially we told him that we had enough game systems in the house and that we were not going to purchase another one for him. This wasn't the first time we had this stance with him.

About three or so years back, he wanted to get a Playstation 2 - mostly because he saw a cool game come out exclusively for that system. Up to that point, he had an original Playstation with only a couple games and a Nintendo GameCube, bought mostly because of his interest in Pokemon games which were pretty exclusive to that platform. We told him that if he wanted a Playstation 2 that he would have to save the money for it himself. Well, he did just that. He gave up spending his allowance from the beginning of the year through Lent. By Easter, between his allowance and other saved and earned money, he had enough to buy his PS2. We figured that was a good lesson for him at age nine - that you need to save your money for what you want.

Jump ahead to this summer. While he liked his Ninetendo Wii well enough, he really really wanted to get the XBox 360. Again, we said we would not buy it for him just because he wanted it. We decided to strike a deal, given that the new school year was coming up. We told him that if he could save up half the money for the new system (those suckers are very expensive) AND if he could earn A's or B's in all of his classes for the first nine weeks of school that we would pay for the other half of the new game system.

Report cards came home on Wednesday of this week, and he managed to pull straight A's. So, we picked up the new system and one game (again, he paid half on this first game and we paid the other half) - Madden 2008.

But, there was also an additional condition to this deal. Should his grades slip out of the A/B Honor Roll during subsequent grading cycles, that would mean that the system would become off-limits for him until the next report card period completed. We will expect the grades to be back up into A/B Honor Roll in order for him to re-earn the priviledge to use the system. In short, by paying for half the system, we reserved the right to repossess our "half" the system until the grades were again acceptable. And, not surprisingly, the parental "half" of the system consists of the power cable, the controllers and the video input cables to the television. Amazing how that worked out. ;)

Hard-ball parenting? Maybe. I like to think of it as more of creative parenting, providing a way for rewarding positive behavior (in this case, good grades). So far, he earned the grades to get the system. That means he'll have it to play for the next nine weeks - up into the middle of January. I'll keep you posted on whether or not he'll be playing any of those new games he'll want at Christmas by the time Valentine's Day rolls around.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Zero My Hero

USA Today reported earlier this week on how Coca-Cola has managed to turn its Coke Zero product into a success by targeting men of all ages with “black packaging, a different sweetener and irreverent marketing.” Coke Zero, the story noted, “is Coca-Cola's first new product hit after a long list of attempts - from lime to vanilla flavors - that started strong and fizzled fast. Zero, out two years, is still growing. Sales volume is up 34% in North America year-to-date vs. the same period in 2006 … (men are) about 55% of Coke Zero buyers. It has a stronger, more Coke Classic-like flavor and seems to be holding onto male customers who've become more calorie-conscious with age but still want more flavor than most diet colas.”
Now, I have to say that I have been an avid regular cola drinker for many decades. Coke or Pepsi, I did not have a preference. Only two criterias had to be met: it was not a diet version and I would buy whichever was on sale in the grocery store for home consumption. In restaurants, they were interchangible as far as I was concerned.

However, two months ago I made the switch to Coke Zero for home consumption. I had tried it and found it tasted close enough to Coke's flavor that I could accept it as a diet drink. The zero calories was something I found I was needing, given that I was looking for ways to tweak my caloric intake now that I am in my early 40's. Clearly I am falling right into that target demographic that Coke is following with the product. I have even forgone my second criteria (price) in favor for the dietary benefits. Now, I just watch the sales in the grocery store and will stock up on 12-packs whenever the price is good (usually every four weeks or so). I've even gotten it so that my parents and my in-laws will have Coke Zero in their houses for when I visit - meaning I can stick to the drink even away from home.

The only challenge is when we go out to eat, which for the diet isn't a good thing to do in general anyway. When we do go out, I'll drink regular soda (Coke or Pepsi) but I have found I drink much less than I used to. Something about the regular soda seems "heavy" to me. Maybe it's subconscious; I know it isn't as good for me thus I tell myself it tastes "different" and thus I drink less. The mind is a powerful thing. However, I have found a restaurant or two that carries Coke Zero. The Hardees chain does that - so we actually have made a little switch when it comes to a fast burger run. We'll go to Hardees instead of McDonalds or Backyard Burger. Okay, my son prefers Hardees hotdogs too - but he's not the one driving and making the dining decision.

I am very pleased to hear the sales numbers are growing stronger; I would really hate to find another alternative. That one can of cola a day is my caffene fix (I've drank coffee and don't plan to ever start). As long as the Coca-Cola company keeps this product on the market, they have a sold-consumer.