Sunday, January 22, 2006

Skating With the True Star

How about this for a day? Wake up, and coach pee-wee floor hockey with my friends Mike and Katie. Watch as the kids run around with sticks and pucks and then head home for a round of playing video games with Joe. Head out to lunch at Panos with my Aunt Claire, then end the day with taking the boy out to ice skate for the first time.

That's right, his first time skating. Forget the first time he walked. This is the first time on skates. My retirement plans are simple. Teach him to the the next Wayne Gretzky, then sit back and watch the checks roll in. It's the perfect plan. Nothing can go wrong with it.

Well, we have a way to go, but he enjoyed his time greatly. He has pronounced ice skating "better than skiing" and suggest that we go every day. Who can argue there? His ankles were strong, and once we work on balance he'll be the king of the rink. A good day, indeed. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

New Years

My name is Joe, and just because I'm 5 doesn't mean I don't like a good party. I got my natty duds, I got my bling, and I'm the only one who seems to be carrying around a party robot. What kind of person doesn't bring a party robot? Time to teach these big people how to party!

Not a party unless you dance. Shake it!

Don't you hate it when you go to a party and someone wears the same outfit you do?

Time to throw down some cards with the ladies!

Christmas Time

Break out the loot. It's Christmas time!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Review of the Tuesday Screening of Serenity

Either you get why cowboys in space are cool or you don’t. It’s just that simple. If you need to make a decision on if you should see Serenity or not, then that’s the question you’re going to have to ask. There are some who will groove on the mixed up pop culture jambalaya that makes up the world of Firefly. For them, the mixture of Mandarin curses, evil space empires, cute girls, tough guys, six shooters and space ships clicks, and for them Joss Whedon made this movie.

Serenity is a movie based on the canceled television show Firefly. The show was created by Joss Whedon, best known for bringing Buffy the Vampire slayer to life. It’s the story of a jaded space captain who was on the losing side of a civil war. Picking up the pieces after the war, Captain Mal Reynolds assembled a crew, found a ship and set off to make a dollar any way he could. Along the way he picked up a young girl on the run from the government, and her brother. The actors from the television show resume their roles, and story picks up where he had left it. Browncoats, as fans of the show call themselves, helped to keep the show alive, and if pop culture wasn’t broken, it never would have happened.

The tragic flaw of pop culture is that in the digitized, on-demand world of the twenty first century, no aspect of culture is really all that popular. It hasn’t been for years. Gone are the days where a generation might find a voice in a single band, like the Beatles or where a nation might all tune in to see who shot JR or how Mary Tyler Moore is going to end. "Popular" is no longer 75% of a generation, but instead only a small part. What we have in it's place is a post-post modern culture where every individual finds his or her own voice, and what resonates for them will either bore or repulse the person down the street. It’s a culture built upon the trash heap of a hundred years of American culture, where we all scavenge bits and pieces that we find shiny, and assemble something cool out of the results. Writer and director Joss Whedon is the personification of a broken pop culture. He’s also an example of why a broken pop culture isn’t a bad thing at all.

The mind of Joss Whedon is the mind of “geek culture”. It’s a world that’s created when you grow up on comic books, Star Wars, the information age and television. It’s a world where you can be ironic, campy, deep and shallow, and sometimes all of them at once. It’s a world where you have all the accumulated knowledge of the human race at your fingertips, but odds are you’re just going to use it to debate the meaning of what Han Solo meant when he said that he “made the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs”. It’s a world where you can make television shows about vampires or cowboys in space, yet even if you can't take the subject matter seriously, you can still find the emotional center of the characters and tell a story that’s as deep as anything you’ll find in “high culture”.

Serenity is all these things. If you’re on the same wavelength as Joss you’ll laugh, cry, be scared and be entertained. It’s a movie that will shift its gears in a heartbeat, and if you’re not hanging on to the concept it’ll knock you right off. Those people who stay on will be rewarded. Serenity is shock and awe, and somehow it manages to be something better than it really should be. Still, if you didn’t have a love of both space battles and cowboys in the first place, there’s no way you’ll make it to the end of the line.

Audience reaction in Buffalo was a strange thing. Everyone laughed together. Everyone jumped in fright together. Everyone cheered together, and yet by the time the credits rolled everyone had a different reaction. Some walked out in disgust. Some scratched their head. Some cheered. Like some bizarre cinematic Rorschach test, how you feel about the movie may depend more upon how you view the material than the quality of the material itself.

Universal may have made a brilliant decision by inviting bloggers to the review. It’s really the perfect medium to review a movie where the perception of it hinges so much on the individual. It’s a movie for a segmented audience, so a segmented media might be the perfect place to advertise it.

Will you like the movie? Who knows. Do you like sci-fi movies with cowboys?

spoilers in the comments section

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Finished Novel

There are those who knock J. K. Rowling as being a pedestrian writer, cranking out predictable drama that resides in the ranks of literature somewhere slightly above the average comic book. With the novel "Half Blood Prince" it's clear that Rowling has accepted the gauntlent, and created a piece of post-modernist avant garde surrealism for her latest novel. How so? By Pushing the boundaries of what makes for a great novel. You see, in most works it's assumed that the main protagonist will, at some point, engage in some activity that puts him or her in the center of the plot. Cliches such as this are avoided in this book, where Harry Potter manages over the course of nearly 650 pages to do absolutely nothing other than to follow people around and complain about his life.

When reading "Half Blood Prince" I would propose the following thought experiment. Imagine Harry being replaced by a puppet. Would the plot change at all? Let's give it a shot, shall we?

"Harry! Voldemort is on the loose We need to examine the memories of those who knew him so we can discover his weakness."


"You know there's a Quidditch match this weekend."


"Right. Hey, Dumbledore is about to go on an amazing adventure. Care to tag along?"


With the exception of taking a luck potion that allows him to stumble upon a little bit of information that Dumbledore should have had anyways, poor Harry Potter is relegated to the role of being "Mr. Exposition boy" where his only job is to stand still while other people explain what's going on the world. One wonders if Ms. Rowling is simply tired of the character, or can't quite figure out how to move the plot along to get to the end of the series.

Then again, this may be the point of the whole novel. It's really nothing more than a set-up to the final book. Why give us in two chapters what you can drag into a 600 page book that will sell millions? For the next three years we'll be debating minor plot points, and placing our book orders in advance. On the bright side, however, Ms. Rowling can now roll around in a brand new pile of money, since her old one must be smelling a bit rank by now.

Despite all this, it's still a fine read for the summer. Making fun of Harry Potter might be the "new black" this season, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that with each book she crafts a corner of the universe that provides more entertainment than most novelists create in a lifetime. Like all great entertainers, there is something intangible she posses that elevates the material. You can study the book page by page, and still not find what it is that makes the books so enjoyable.

Laugh at the Harry Potter fans if you must, but I doubt you'll find many who will care. I'm a chain smoking, bitter cynic and even I will admit that one of my highlights this week was picking up my copy at midnight and reading it before the sun came up. I can point to a dozen faults with the book, but in the end that doesn't matter when weighed against the joy I get from reading it in the first place. It's just that good.

In other words, despite all my complaints, let's gather 'round and discuss that spoilery stuff. If you haven't finished the book yet (and to be honest, why the heck not?) then stop reading.



Damn. We all knew Dumbledore was going to buy it in this book, but who saw it going down that way? When first reading the book, I was impressed with the way that J.K. made us distrust Snape again. Let's face it, it was starting to become old hat. Harry and crew think Snape is working for the Dark Lord. Every assures them Snape has changed. Harry and Crew find the real bad guys and it turns out Snape was innocent all along. With that early chapter, we begin to have doubts. With the end of the book, he's back on all of our bad guy lists....or is he?

Dumbledore was always firm in his conviction that Snape was a changed man. The story now is that Dumbledore was just blinded by his trust in human nature...but does that fit? Dumbledore was many things, but it was clear that he wasn't half as dim as most of the characters in these books. He's supposed to be on top of this sort of thing. What if Snape is still working for the good guys? What if Snape was following orders?

Let's look at the death. What are his final words? "Servus....please..." We know that he's not a man who would be begging for his life. He doesn't ask Snape "how could you?" Only the request "please".

Snape doesn't kill Harry after. There's no reason to think that Voldemort had standing orders to leave Harry alone, otherwise it would have been mentioned during the battle at the Ministry of Magic in the last book. Snape has sorts of reasons to want to kill Harry, and yet he doesn't. He merely deflects Harry's curses and wanders off.

So why would killing Dumbledore be part of the plan? Well,, he knew that in the end it would be Harry facing the Dark Lord on his own. Could his dying have been to release some kind of magic that will help Harry in the next book? Could it have been a plan that not only helps Harry, but makes sure that Snape would be in a position to help in the end? I would bet money on it.

hat else have we learned this book? Well, for one thing that Voldy has split up his soul for immortality. The soul can be placed in an object either living or dead, and all must be destroyed for Voldy to die. A living thing, eh? What living thing do we know of that is connected to Voldemorts soul?

Yeah, good ol' Harry. It's been established that a bit of Voldemort remained behind in Harry after the attack. It's also been established that to split off your soul it requires a human death. What if the attack on Harry's parents was really a sacrifice to transfer his soul into some other object? What if it backfired, and Harry is the seventh horcrux? What if Harry has to sacrifice himself for the enemy to be defeated.

Good way to end of the series dontcha think?

As for the mysterious Aunt Claire writes the following;

Re RAB's identity -- gotta be Regulus Black. Remember how Sirius told Harry that his brother had become disillusioned with Voldemort and had tried to leave the Death Eaters, but it's like the Mob, you can never leave, so Voldemort ordered him killed. I think what disillusioned Regulus -- besides the absolutely stunning level of violence, depravity, murder, and torture required of Death Eaters, of course -- was when he discovered Voldemort's secret, that he was trying to make himself immortal by the use of Horcrux. I mean, it's bad enough to finally realize your sworn leige lord is a genocidal psychopath, but if you think he's found a way to make himself IMMORTAL ...

Also, I suspect Regulus discovered that Voldemort was a Mudblood, and he(Regulus) was going to be damned before he let some Mudblood rule forever as the wizarding world's king. It also must have really galled him to think that one of the wizarding world's most sacred relics, the Slyterin necklace, had been polluted by the piece of soul of a Mudblood. He'd want to either rescue the relic or destroy it just for that reason."

No argument there....except one wonders why the brain trust of Harry and crew didn't notice it in their search for the identity.

Is it 2008 yet? Get off your rump, J.K. and start writing.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Joe and Dad Explore

The weather was in the 90's and the humidity hovered at around 75%. While others lounged around the house under their fans trying to get cool, Joe and I decided it would be a good time to go hiking. What a trip. We followed the stream that runs behind our house and into the industrial wreckage of Blackrock, an area of Northern Buffalo. Along the way we discovered a small hole in a fence and a trail leading into an empty lot. There's no way a person can ignore that kind of invitation. Stepping over torn up green carpeting, we soon realized that this was an abandoned miniature golf course. It had been taken over by skateboarders, as graffiti and used bongs littered the ground.

What was the course doing here? It was connected to a gigantic field, with rolling hills and knee deep weeds. A rusted metal fence extended around the area. We would need to find a trail if we were to get to the bottom of it.

Joe never ceases to impress me. Marching his little legs as fast he could, we covered close to two miles of trails, weeds, and abandoned buildings.

We finally found our answer. A quick peek at the satellite image of the area confirmed that this area was once a golf course. More research is needed, but it looks like a failed eighties land development attempt. The miniature golf course was once connected to a larger golfing complex. I'm halfway tempted to buy some carpeting, a weed wacker, and make myself my own private course.

Joe was just happy to solve the mystery of abandoned Putt-Putt.

Scenes From Summer

Can there be any, and I mean any, better season than summer? Baseball games, bike riding, berry picking, exploring, parks, zoos and cramming as much fun in as one can.

It's the 21st century and that means being safe. No unsafe playground equipment, no fatty foods, and be sure to be protected if you're doing dangerous activities like going outside. The safety vest is for, I assume, the dangers of flash flooding.

Sitting in the stands as the Buffalo Bisons played the Durham Bulls. A warm summer night, with a cool breeze coming off the lake. A boy on the lookout for foul balls, and a beer in hand. There's a reason, you know, why this kind of evening is classic Americana.

I'm jealous of kids sometimes. When I'm driving to work and I see a sprinkler, my first thought isn't to hop out and get soaked. My loss. Doesn't it look refreshing?

This is what really matters. A day spent with my son. Good times.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Living Here in Allentown....Well, the Art Festival At Any Rate

For 48 years now, Buffalo has held the Allentown Art Festival. For a city more known for it's decaying beauty, it's food and it's blue collar work ethic, it may come as a surprise how active the local art scene is. I've lived in a number of cities, and few do art festivals better than Buffalo. Despite oppressive heat and sweltering humidity, hundreds of thousands of Buffalonians headed downtown to view art and listen to music. That, and eating from one street booth to the next. It is Buffalo, after all.

How can you tell it's Buffalo? Well, one booth advertised psychic readings, new age wisdom, palm readings and doughnuts. One stop shopping for the overweight and gullible. Now, I didn't ask, but I assume they must have been really good doughnuts to lead one on the path to spirituality. Only in this town could Homer Simpson be a guru.

Joe, armed with his lightsaber, helped us to part the sweaty mobs. Even a 4 year old jedi comes in handy. We walked for hours, seeking shade and rest.

Buffalo is a town that often gets knocked around. Our next door neighbor summed up the city for many when she said "I love Buffalo! It's just like Bosnia!" Now, to be fair, she was from Bosnia, and I think she meant it as a compliment, but it's not like anyone would think it odd if we put it on our street signs. The town is just in that kind of shape.

Still, there are days when the city is out in force and you can't help but love this town. The buildings are falling down, and we don't have money for even basic civic needs, but at least we can still celebrate a summer afternoon with the arts.

Plus our policemen have horses. Think of the gas savings!

How Fast They Grow up

Graduation day. The day where a person enters the world of adulthood, armed with a diploma and ready to take on the world.

Unless it's Pre-K graduation, in which case he receives a balloon and we eat cake.

Either way it's pretty cool.

This week Joe took his first steps on his journey as he graduated from Pre-K. Joe has only been going for about half a year, as his parents suddenly realized that in New York State he would be entering kindergarten a full year older than we had been anticipating. Not having spent any time in day care, Joe would not have been ready for school, so we turned to the local YMCA for some much needed pre-school experience.

The very first morning he tried to skip school, informing us that he would rather sleep in. Only 14 more years of that to go. Seems he takes after his Dad in that regard.

We celebrated his graduation with a cook out and Star Wars toys. His Grandparents and his friends came over, celebrating the whole day until we turned off his video game machine....then he melted down and freaked out. Time for the guests to leave. Wait until he finds out that he doesn't get a graduation party at the end of every school year. We'll never hear the end of it.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Memorial Day Cookout

It was Memorial Day, and we had an invitation to our friend's house for a cookout. We arrived to find that the poker game I had left the night before was still going on into it's 17th hour. Not many had remained, but thanks to booze and the promise of money, the chips were still flying.

For Joe, visiting Mike and Karl beats Disneyland. Joe has a ball, playing hockey and playing with action figures. He's one of the guys, although the crowd made him feel a bit uneasy. Everyone enjoyed the jar of BBQ sauce we had whipped up together earlier in the day.

Good eating and good friends. You gotta love the start of summer, no matter what the weather is like.

Joe even scored a goal on Nick, who used to be my main nemesis at the poker table.

Don't Judge a Man Unless You've Walked a Mile in His Pumps

When I was used to make video games, I never gave much thought to what it must have been like to be a female working in a male dominated industry. Video Game companies are the ultimate expression of a work environment where the boys never had to grow up and give up their toys. Now I work in the Romance publishing business, and it's clear that the high heel is on the other foot. Our customer base is predominately female, and the makeup of the workforce reflects this.

Let me give you an example. When we had a company meeting at Origin, we would roll in a keg of beer and finish up the meeting by dropping pumpkins off a roof, watching them explode. How do we end a company meeting in my new job? By knitting blankets for kids with cancer. One may debate the relative virtue of charity vs. produce destruction, but at least with alcohol fueled vandalism, a man knows where he stands.

After an overview of company performance, one of the companies more well known authors introduced a winner of a public service award, which recognizes women who make a positive difference in the world. After hearing the tragic tale of her daughter's fight with cancer, and how she turned the tragedy into an opportunity to do good, we retired to the cafeteria where we were given yarn and some needles. For reasons beyond my knuckle dragging male comprehension, we were given the opportunity to make squares of a blanket that would be donated to a teenager with a deadly disease.

On the bright side I managed not to poke my eye out on the darn things.

Like many of the male employees, I sat there dumbfounded as the process of knitting was explained. Like listening to a magician explain how his slight of hand is performed, the theory makes sense but the practice of the theory is where it all breaks down. Having failed miserably at my first attempt, I decided to pick up a knitting manual that had been brought in. The instructions made computer manuals look like Dr. Suess. The first row failed as I tied it together too tightly. Look, if you're going to tie a grill on to the top of a car, you make sure the knots are nice and tight. Tying something together loosely just feels wrong. By the time I got to the second row, I began to have fantasies of hiring some cheap Malaysian workers to finish the job for me.

The knitting project now sits on the computer desk, it's unfinished state taunting me.

I work for a company that is caring and sensitive to the needs and well-being of it's employees. A company where people ask questions about each other's personal lives, and show interest in the families of their coworkers. It's a company where people are considerate, honest and hard working. It gives me the creeps and makes me feel downright uncomfortable. For a bitter, chain smoking cynic it's a bit odd at times.

Give me booze and explosives any day. I may have to go buy a pumpkin just to feel more balanced.