Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"When I Played in the Sandbox, the Cat Kept Covering Me Up." -- Rodney Dangerfield

Greetings, y'all! Dave the Troublemaker here, with another exercise in vapidity.

Thought I'd wait a couple days for the uproar to die down a bit before moving on with life. It certainly has been an experience. It certainly hasn't been limited to the comments section of my blog. Over at the EatFeats site, the thread discussing this issue is about to top 100 comments, and is still growing, including comments from most of those that participated in the event. Very interesting to me. The most interesting details of this "controversy" I don't feel comfortable mentioning yet. Some behind the scenes stuff going on that I don't want to jinx by blabbing about it out of turn. I'm sure I only know a tiny bit of it in any case. I mean, who am I other than just some schmoe that happened to be filming the right thing at the right time? If something good comes out of this for the industry, then I'll consider it a good thing...

Making progress on the camp video already. It would be cool if I could get it done in the next week or two. If I do get it done soon, you should all chip in and get me a prize or something...

I finished The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert V.S. Redick last night, and let's just say, by biggest fear was realized... here's the review...

The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert Redick: A Review
This will be a strange review for me to write. The bottom line could be summarized thus: the first 85% was among the very best novel reading/writing I've ever fed to my brain. It was terrificly written: great characters, terrific setting, wonderful action, an awesome sense of internal consistency, and was written with confidence and clarity I haven't seen anywhere else. I was all set to give this book the highest of possible praise, and implore you all to drop everything and find a copy.

Then the bottom fell out...

It was almost as if another writer took over. I feared the possibility that the tale would fall apart, but the closer I got to the end, the less likely I felt that would be. I mean, it just was such a great read, and showed no signs of stopping. Imagine my shock when one baffling storyline choice sent the tale careening out of control, only to be sewn up nicely (and quite unsatisfactorily) in a nice little bundle. I don't know what happened! How could the author go from such overwhelming quality and success to tripping and falling down the rabbit hole? I've never seen such a turn-around in a book before. I've had books fail to hook me, I've seen books that hiccup and stumble and finally peter out, I've seen books start off slow and build up to a wonderfully fulfilling conclusion... but I can't think of another example of a single book starting off so well, holding onto that level for so long, and then dive-bombing into the abyss like this one.

So, do I recommend the book, or not?

There are many, many characters... usually, that is a negative with me, but Redick is so masterful at introducing them and making them ridiculously memorable, I had no problem at all tracking the characters (literally a couple dozen major characters). It was like an ensemble movie done right... like a Murder on the Orient Express, where many different characters are introduced and then thrown together in a single place - in this case, an ancient, oversized, magical boat (the Chathrand) sailing on a multifaceted mission. It is a fantasy tale, complete with magic and kings and villains and grit and intrigue. Plots intertwine, wars are planned, attacks are survived, lies are told (and unraveled) and difficult situations overcome. To try and talk about even a sampling of the characters would take way too long.

But a point is reached where it turns from the sublime to the ridiculous, almost on the turn of a dime. For those that have read this before, it was where the youths dive on the shipwreck. Let me leave it at that. That won't spoil anything for anyone else, I don't think. From that (ridiculous, incongruous) point onward, loose ends are tied up so neatly and with such speed, it left me crestfallen. The ending was just silly to me. Silly and forced, and it just felt different than the rest of the book. It left me wondering if a different author took over the book. Or maybe for some reason the author was forced to change the ending he had in mind. Or maybe he just grew sick of the story and felt compelled to force an ending. There must have been a very strong reason for the story decisions that were made at that point. It truly left me baffled.

So, again, how do I present a review? Do I recommend the book? Most definitely. An incredible, complex, highly successful story, with outstanding characters, deftly handled. Just prepare yourself for what might be a precipitous drop toward the ending. Perhaps you'll be just fine with the ending, who knows? All I know is, at this point, while I can solidly recommend this book based on the strong positives, I am very hesitant about reading the next book in the series, The Ruling Sea, which just came out in hardback in February.

Summary: 4/5 In spite of (what I felt was) a shocking drop in storytelling in the end, I still think the strengths of the book make it as close to a "must read" as possible, to my mind. It would be interesting to hear the author speak on the writing of this book, to see what the dynamics were behind the story choices he made in the ending. He obviously is a terrific, confident author.


So that's that.

I have so many projects going now, that I'm trying to juggle, it's crazy. Not sure what to address next... I'd flip a coin if there were only two choices. Guess I could roll a 20-sided die...

I better head off for now. I trust all of you are doing well. Lots more to talk about, but I'll let it all cook more before spilling it here.



Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Inside Every Cynical Person, There is a Disappointed Idealist." -- George Carlin

Greetings, all!

Back from my week away at camp. Didja miss me? I enjoyed the week away. I brought my laptop but never fired it up once... 5 days is probably the longest I have gone without being hours-a-day on my computer in perhaps a decade or more. It felt great, actually.

It was a good camp. The video camera behaved itself for me this year, so I got a lot of (what I hope is) good video. Next, I'll gather hundreds of pictures from everyone, and then cobble together a camp video. Yes, I remember the problems with last year's recap DVD, don't remind me! Hopefully, I won't have the same problems this year...

I went paintballing again, with basically the same result. I got shot head to toe so often it must have set a record of some kind. Of course, my paintball philosophy has everything to do with that. I just can't stomach crouching down and hiding behind obstacles and peeking around them to squeeze off shots now and then, like everyone else does. I can't help it -- I just stomp down the field, firing and moving forward, never stopping, like some brainless terminator robot. It really is a highly ineffective strategy, but that doesn't stop me. Hiding is for sissies. Come out and play! That's my motto...

...and I have the welts to prove it!

Before... confidence is high, ready to rumble!

After: Winded, sweating like a pig, peppered with welts. 

Can't really tell, since I took the blue vest off, with all the paint blotches on it. You can see the yellow paint on my favorite hat, however. Head shot! Two of them, actually. I have a welt on my forehead, right where my receding hairline is! Mr. Bushy Beard didn't take too many down with him, but he did put the fear of God into more than one... there's something about knowing someone is moving inexorably toward you, keeping you pinned down, knowing any moment he's going to be right there. MUAHAHAHAHA!!!! I just can't sit still. Must be all the years of deathmatch I play on the PC in FPS games. In those, if you sit still, you die. So it's ingrained in me to keep moving. Once I get some video from Abbie, I'll post it. It's amusing, methinks.

My good old, worn-out pair of hiking shoes finally fell apart during the paintball match.

Detached soles! How sad!

They were worn slick in any case, so they had to go. I kept them since they remind me of my brother. I got them right after my brother Bryan died, in 2000, right before my first trip with Tony up to Bear Flats. I've worn them for a decade! During the match, the sole on the left shoe just detached halfway, from the toe to the arch. I got some duct tape and taped it up on the fly. Shortly thereafter the same thing happened to the right shoe. Odd that it would happen to both at the same time like that. Must be because I kept them in my car the whole week before I used them, and the heat weakened the glue.

Other than that, it was a good week. Lots of good teaching, which (surprise!) resulted in numerous questions on my part. If something doesn't make perfect sense to me, I can't rest until I figure it out. At the same time, I realize how annoying that must be for everyone else (especially when people are trying to teach something), so I try to keep my questions to myself. Mostly theological stuff, really.

Once I gather my thoughts (and pictures) on camp, I'll post more.

Summary: Camp was good. Glad I went.

Also, I got to make a good dent in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert V. S. Redick. What an OUTSTANDING book. Absolutely exceptional. I will withhold final say until I finish the book, but man o man, this is up there with the best books I've ever read, easily. Wonderful, wonderful book. I can't imagine it tanking before the end, so really, I feel already I can easily recommend it, but I'll say more about it once I finish it.

On another note, Steam decided to put everything under the sun on sale! I thought the previous weeks' sales were terrific... you should have seen my jaw drop when I saw how they went all-out to make the most amazing deals I've ever seen, not just on individual games, but they've also made numerous bundles of games available, either by series or by developer. You can buy all of the Call of Duty games for $30!  That's just one example. I thought for sure I'd be able to resist, but today I had to pull the trigger on Left 4 Dead 2, for only $10. Couldn't pass that up. I also got the complete Commandos catalog for $5. Insane.

I hope to resist the other dozens of games I'm tempted to buy... I just KNOW that I won't play many of them! Still, I can't help but want to buy them! HELP!!! Star Wars Force Unleashed for $7? Supreme Commander 2 for $7? Ghost Recon 2 for $13? The entire THQ catalog (20 games) for $50? The entire id catalog for $35? Almost 600 games and bundles on sale! HELLLPPP!!!! I can't resist! I want them all!!!!1!

I also went to the Nathan's hot dog eating contest at the mall today, but I thought that warranted its own post, so read that after this post.

I'll be back to my normal goofy self soon, posting odds and ends and curious things, maybe in a day or two. Until then, I hope life is good for you!


Scandal! Controversy! Was Crazy Legs Conti's Victory Legit?

Went to the mall near my house today, to watch the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Qualifier, which was apparently one of three qualifying matches held around the country today, to determine the final contestants in the big event on Coney Island on July 4th. I was hoping to see Joey Chestnut or Kobayashi for some reason, but I guess I hadn't researched the event enough ahead of time to realize that they don't all just tour around eating... they obviously must have qualified earlier in the year elsewhere, and now are training for the big event, their slot in the championship already secure.

Not that there weren't some ranked eaters there - there certainly were. Crazy Legs Conti, Adrian Morgan, Damon Wells, Kevin Ross and a guy nicknamed Wrecking Ball (who proposed to his girlfriend before the event - she accepted) were among the competitors.

Preparing to get their feast on...

For some reason, I've always found the world of competitive eating fascinating - but no more so than any other of my long list of fascinations. What can I say? My mind cycles through many different interests, but when it settles on something, it has my full attention. So, I went a bit early, thinking the place would be swarming with spectators. I wanted a good spot on the 2nd floor rail to watch/video tape the event from. Turns out I didn't need to worry, really... it was nowhere near as packed as I thought it would be.

That's me, in the hat, in case you couldn't tell! With me are the Wagner Girls and Erick, friend of family.

They had a kids round before the main event, but that consisted of kids eating a single hotdog, with ketchup and/or mustard, with one hand in 2 minutes, and the cleanest eater won the prize. Then they took a good long while trying to whip up the meager crowd, introducing the main event eaters, listing qualifications and impressive records. The PA system wasn't all that effective, so I couldn't really understand much of what the MC said - it was too garbled.

The combatants had 10 minutes to eat as many hotdogs as possible. The closer a person stood to the center of the table, the higher the rank he was. So Crazy Legs Conti, being ranked #14 at the moment, had the center spot. For some reason, they put the trophy right in front of his spot before the event began.

I fired up the camera to get the initial countdown to begin, and my LCD screen informed me that I needed to clean the heads on the camera! Are you kidding me! All this time waiting, and now that I'm ready to tape, I can't! WHAT THE! I didn't have the head cleaner with me, and the contest began, so instead of getting crazy-pissed, I ejected the tape, popped it back in, and hit record. After a moment, it seemed to be working, so I just left it record the rest of the time. I wanted to post a video of the whole ten minutes, but alas, the first minute or two is not recorded.

Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!

So I just did my thing, moving the camera up and down the table, watching the eating machines do their thing. I noticed something odd about Mr. Conti... first, before the event began, he took great pains to set up about a dozen cups full of a dark liquid - a tea of some sort, I supposed. He mixed things into the cups, like a mad scientists [EDIT: which I thought was very cool, actually]. I figured, being the front runner, he must know some secrets about what to drink (other than water) to help it all go down. I know enough about the contest to know that many of the eaters dunk their dogs to moisten them before cramming them down.

I didn't think anything of it until I watched him cram his mouth full and then appear to spit great mouthfuls of food into the dark cups of liquid, and then immediately cram more dogs into his mouth. From my angle, I could see how full the cups were he was picking up, and the angle that he tilted the cup, and how wide he opened his mouth when he "took a drink" seemed obvious to me that he was spitting food into the cups. This seemed confirmed when I saw big chunks of bread floating in the cups afterwards...

Check out this close up of the cups in this picture... Conti is the one in the hat, with the dreads...

Yeah, I know, it's gross... still, you can see the bread in those two cups there, at least. He fished them out after the contest ended, and appeared to fold them into one of his gloves as he removed it.

Anyway, the contest ended, and I just kept the film rolling, zooming in to look around. Everyone else stopped eating, but Conti seems to take another minute or so, working on getting the last mouthful to go down his gullet, including a couple moves to a cup. Everyone else milled around, while he hovered over his station, picking things up, brushing things onto the floor, checking out his station. Seemed really odd to me, but really, I didn't think much of it until I came home to review the tape.

Well, check it out for yourself. Here's the video I edited together. I was going to make a tight two-to-three minute clip, but I thought I'd keep a lot of the more suspect behavior in the clip, just to see what you think...

Maybe the whole Competitive Eating world is structured like Wrestling, where it's a mix of sport and show, with certain outcomes determined ahead of time. I mean, the judges were all volunteers, who signed up on the spot, to get a free T-shirt, I suppose. Just folks from the crowd. And really, in the grand scheme of things, who cares, right? Still I feel bad for the third place finisher... the top two will go to the big July 4th event in NY. If they checked those cups, I'm quite sure they would have found a good amount of food in the bottom. It wasn't water, it was dark, like tea. If Conti was spitting food out into the cups, he should have been disqualified, and the third place guy should be going to NY next month, not him.

It just seemed odd. One suspect move I could dismiss. So many of them? I don't know how seriously they take the rules in the world of Competitive Eating. If they do take them seriously, I think they should review my footage! I feel like an investigative reporter! All I was doing was grabbing footy for my blog! You'll have to call me Scoop Wagner now!

Anyway, afterwards, they tossed frisbees out to the dwindling crowd (Middle Daughter got one) and also gave away the rest of the hot dogs they'd cooked (wifey snagged one for me)...

I finished with one hot dog down!

All in all, it was a cool event. I'm glad the video camera worked for me. It's silly to think people might cheat at something like this - and maybe he didn't. Or maybe it doesn't matter. But it was a curious wrinkle to the event nonetheless...

And that, as they say, is that!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, to all you fathers out there that read this blog!

Actually... I may be the only one! O_O

Any other dads out there? Come on, don't leave me hangin' like this...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"It's Always Funny Until Someone Gets Hurt. Then It's Just Hilarious." -- Bill Hicks

It's the weekend! Yay!

Completely out-of-the-box day for me today (Saturday) so far... I actually went outside! Are you proud of me? I helped the Wagner Women wash my car, much to their utter surprise. They wanted to wash it for me for Father's Day. I normally stay safely ensconced in my office, like a timid gopher or something, and only come out for the occasional meal and facility break. PLUS: I went down to the pool with them for a while! Hey, I lasted maybe 15 minutes, but, that counts as a "while" to some people...

I started Storm Front, by Jim Butcher, and was immediately disheartened - and I mean, as I read the very first sentence, my spirits dropped. It's written in the first person. NOOOO!!!1!!!  But, I persevered and moved forward into the book. However, it wasn't long before I realized that this book and I were just not going to mesh well. It's really just not a very good book, I'm sorry. I made it about 50 pages in and then shrugged my shoulders and filed it on the Shelf of Unfinished Books, next to the rest. Sorry, Mr. Butcher. I guess I'm not your target audience. Bottom line, it was corny and unconvincing - a mediocre read. Sorry, no time! Gotta move on to other books!

So I picked The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert Redick off the shelf... even a dozen pages in, I can tell it's going to be a great book. Isn't it odd how a book makes a subconscious impression on a reader from the get go? I wonder what's up widdat? A cool thing about this book: In the beginning pages, where there are quotes from important people about how awesome the book/author is, there's a quote from Adam at The Wertzone! How cool is that! I wonder if any author would ever pick a quote of one of my reviews to put in his/her book?

"Mediocre tripe, but I managed to finished it."
-- Dave Wagner, My Little Cornhole of the World

Then I could show my wife that my opinion was quoted and printed in a book, and she would love me again.

Actually, I did something with my wife the other night that we haven't done together in a loooong time. So long, in fact, that I'd feared I had forgotten how to do it. But I made it through with minimal embarrassment, and it was actually quite enjoyable! She even said she wouldn't mind doing it again some time this year...

Yes, we went shoe shopping for me! Check it out!

Nice eh?

Well, of course I meant shoe shopping... what did you think I meant?


That? Oh, heck no. We don't do that. We're married, remember?

So this will likely be my last post for a week. I'll be leaving Monday morning for church camp. Yes, they asked me back this year again! Can you believe it? After last year's debacle? Where I made them wait half a year to get the camp slideshow? Remember? But they asked for me to go again - it's so nice to be needed!  So, yeah, I'll be gone until 6/25. Don't know if I'll squeeze another post in between now and when I leave on Monday, but if not, have a great week, eh!

I have the US Open golf tourney on the TV in the other room. I know, I know... "boring!" I get it. That's why it's on in there and I'm in here! Duh! Still, it's nice to drop on the couch for a few minutes now and then and watch a couple shots. I played golf for years as a youngster. I get it. It's a hard game. Plus, there's always that outside chance that someone will fall into a lake. I need to be there watching when that happens. I know you understand.

The ultimate test of marksmanship...

You'll be happy to know that since my purchase of Bad Company 2 on Tuesday, I haven't bought another game! Are you proud of me? No? Well, then check out how long and scraggly my beard is getting, eh!

Well, Logan says "the beard makes the man", so I'm hoping that now, finally, I am a man... at long last... after all this time... I've faked it for so many years... but now... I have a real beard... and thus, I am a man...

Plus, I'm growing out my armpit hair so I can tease it into some pit dreadlocks. Ya mon!

As of right now, I have absolutely nothing left to say... so farewell!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Remember: You Can't Beam Through A Forcefield. So Don't Try It!" -- William Shatner

"Car wash" or "war cash", you decide...

Greetings, fellow space travelers! Captain Dave here, pilot of the Good Spaceship Ne'er-Do-Well, with a travel update. We've still got many months before we reach Mars, but not a problem. We've got thousands of in-flight movies and TV shows available for viewing, as well as numerous games to play on the LCD panels built into the seatback in front of you. I've taken off the No Smoking signs, so feel free to light up, as long as you keep it legal. Remember: It is against intergalactic law to tamper with the video cameras in the lavatories.

And now, points of interest.

If you look out the starboard side windows, you'll see a fun video that will make you hearken back to the days of your childhood, as a group of folks add a slide to the stairs at a subway terminal.

Very cool. It's a VW commercial, actually. Those crazy Germans...

Also out of the starboard windows, you might catch a glimpse of a literalistic interpretation of Dr. Suess' "The Cat in the Hat"...

There! Did you see it? Yes? No? Meh, o well...

If you'll check the in-flight magazine under your seat, you could take a peek at an admittedly quite lame T-Shirt design I whipped up for Patrick Rothfuss' T-shirt contest he's having. I'm a sucker for a good play on words...

Of course, it's supposed to be "Lyre, Lyre, Pat's On Fire", but it's probably too far "out there" to score any points except from those with a likewise simplistic sense of humor. I still have a few more days to submit a design, I may do another. I was thinking of a girl's T-shirt design that has a big lyre on it, with the words "Play Me Like Kvothe" on it... That might be a bit too risqué, however...

Also in the in-flight magazine, you'll find my thoughts on a couple games I've tried out lately. Oddly enough, they are both 3rd person sci-fi action shooters that take place on disabled starships, with requisite swarms of insectoid aliens running amok and begging to be shot. One is called Dead Space, the other called Alien Breed: Impact. The first is a big budget shooter that got tons of good press, the other is a cheapish indie game. Too soon to tell on both, at this point... they're both solid performers, but really, 3rd person games don't do much for me, unless they are pure RPGs. I much prefer 1st person action in a shooter. Stay tuned!

Now, if you pull up the rear-view webcam shot on your LCD screens in front of you, you'll see, drifting in the debris behind us, the recently jettisoned 3rd book in the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, which I simply ran out of steam on, and decided to toss out mid-read. Yes, I've given up on it! I hope no one on board wished to read it - you'll need a space suit with a built-in hyper-drive on it in order to bail out to retrieve it, and then hope to catch up with us... cuz I ain't stopping! Next on my read list are:

Storm Front by Jim Butcher. He's a paranormal detective, apparently. Sort of a magician, in a hybrid fantasy-noir type of setting. I guess they made it into a series for the Sci-Fi channel, but I never watched it. There's over a dozen books in the series, and this is book one. We'll see.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. It's a non-fiction book that my sister gave me, dealing with making changes in life, when changes are hard to make. I'm the target audience! I'm forever wishing I could spend my time differently. I hope this book can help. I made an initial dent in it Wednesday night. It's an easy read.

OK, if you're sitting on the port side of the vessel, a glance out the windows might reveal a pair of crazy-cool videos. The first is an insane hiker navigating a "trail" that I'm sure required a change of underpants afterward... it's a 10 minute video - feel free to skip around a bit, if you have not the patience. But it's definitely worth a look...

The second video is a mini-film (4 minutes) of a free diver plunging to incredible depths, in a beautiful little piece of filming/editing...

Whenever I watch stuff like that, I try holding my breath as long as the people do... forget it... not to mention the bends he would get if that were real... still, it's pretty!

For those of a scientific bent, ask a passing stewardess to see the poster of the complex anatomical diagram of the inside of a goldfish cracker. Very fascinating. I usually just chomp them by the handful without giving much thought to the anatomy of those tasty little suckers....

And finally, watch your seatback monitors for a second... I'm going to upload a hilarious picture my Middle Daughter took recently...

That's my crazy-goofy 4-year old daughter Mags making that Epic Face in the corner there... also pictured is my Middle Daughter (ironically enough, in the middle), and her school-friend on the right. Every time I see this picture, I laugh until I can't breath no mo'... omg, I love it. Lest you think that's what Mags normally looks like, let me assure you, she's a sweet, beautiful little kid... as evidenced in this picture of her, Wifey and Eddie Guerrero...

OK, that's all for this update. I'll have another update soon. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the flight. Captain Dave, signing out...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Anything is Good if it's Made of Chocolate." -- Jo Brand

Tuesday is here "to stay"! BUAHAHAH!!! O, man, I'm so clever...


OK, so there were a couple big birthdays since last we spoke... Abbie turned 21 and my mom turned 60! Here's a cake shaped like the Millennium Falcon to celebrate!

See? That's the kind of in-depth, hard-hitting info you can only get on this blog. That's why you all come here, and check the blog so often every day. Now, you can be informed and clever too! So when I ask you, "Hey, you know who turned 60 recently?" and you can say, "Yeah, I know who turned 60... your mom! Ooooh, burn!"

Then I'll high-five you... in your face!

Good, now that THAT's out of the way...

Watched that Travolta movie the other night, as I threatened. And now, a brief review.

From Paris With Love: A Review
Summary: Meh.

There. That's a quality review right there! Well, brevity being the soul of wit and all... I suppose I could elaborate a bit more...

Travolta was annoying. His co-star (Meyers) was mis-cast. They had bad chemistry. And Action Tropes were everywhere. The most egregious tropes were that Travolta killed everyone he wanted to, while avoiding getting shot by dozens of machine-gun toting baddies, even mere feet away. Nothing new there. Getting sprayed with machine gun rounds, eh? Well, just hide behind a flimsy table for a second, then pop up and fire once with your handgun and kill the baddie. Rinse, repeat.

The worst scene (for hapless, inconsistent realists like myself) was where Travolta was hanging out of the passenger side window of a speeding car (which was pursuing the bad guy) while shouldering a rocket launcher and talking on a cell phone. While weaving in and out of traffic, Hollywood style. My first thought, of course: "He would fall out". Nope. They struggled to catch up to the bad guy and get into position to blow his car up, but couldn't get the shot. So get this... lol... he tells the driver to race ahead and get on the next overpass, so he could shoot the bad guy as he passed below, lol. They couldn't catch up to the baddie, so the solution was simply to race way ahead of him! Why didn't I think of that! So they did! Raced up, had enough time to park on the overpass and then pop the baddie as he passed underneath, before he could get to the motorcade with dignitaries in it... lol.

New Summary: Pantload.

OK, enough of that.

I also watched Midnight Run with Deniro and Grodin last night. One of my favorites, although I'll never understand why a movie needs to be saturated in profanity. It just doesn't do anything for the film! Why put it in there? Every other word starts with an F! I'm hardly a prude, but come on! It taints an otherwise awesome film!

And now, wicked-cool optical illusions...

I hate those stupid little pop-up ads on videos. I'd uninvent them if I could... ah, well.. there's worse problems to have, I suppose...

I bought yet another game yesterday! What was I thinking! It's called Alien Breed: Impact, and it was a great deal ($15). Steam is having great sales on different games each day this week. CRAP! I just checked today's sales, and they have Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for only $33. Dangit, I thought I was done buying games... It's going to be a long day trying not to buy that one... wish me luck... [EDIT] I made it until 5:15 pm Pacific Standard Time before making the mistake of watching Gamespot's video review of BC2... they had me at "hello"... game is officially bought.[EDIT]

The fantasy blog world is all abuzz over the teaser trailer for the coming HBO series Game of Thrones. Hearing Sean Bean mutter "Winter is coming" admittedly gave me chills! And at the same time cemented my status as a nerd. Mixed blessing, I guess. You can read about it and find links to watch it over at Wertzone (among dozens of other sites). It's worth a peek for the quick rush...

So I'm 180 pages into book 3 of the Night Angel Trilogy. The third book is better than the second in many ways, as I'd hoped. Still, the magic systems are a lost cause, I think. Here, let me show another example of how free-form and void of internal logic they are. It's from pages 134-135 of Beyond the Shadows...

They rode together through the rain and soon the city emerged from the low-lying cloud. "It's called Laketown," Sister Ariel said, "for obvious reasons."
The city and the Chantry rested at the confluence of two rivers, which made a reservoir above Vastacchi Lake. All of the buildings of the city and the Chantry rested on islands in the reservoir, the nearest of which was fifty paces from the shore. Arching bridges connected every island to its neighbors and several to the shore, but streets themselves were absent. Instead, low, flat punts navigated the waterways. Some of them were covered against the rain, others exposed. Regardless, the punts moved far faster than they should have.
Vi and Ariel entered the part of Laketown that had grown on the shores by the bridges, but all the merchants seemed to be huddled in their daub-and-wattle homes, with their chimneys smoking.
"By some ancient magic we still can't duplicate, the islands are actually floating," Sister Ariel said. "The entire dam can be opened and the islands flushed out into the lake in times of war. Of course, we haven't had to do that for centuries. And a good thing, too. I understand towing all the islands back up here is a lot of work."
"It's beautiful," Vi said, forgetting herself. "The water is so clean."
"The city was built at a time when magic was used to benefit farmers and fishermen. There were special streams in every city that would take the stains out of your clothing. There were plows that could be pulled by a single ox that would break six furrows in a single pass. There were free public baths with water as hot or cold as you wanted. Charms that kept meat from spoiling. People thought of magic as a tool, not only as a weapon. In Laketown, the slops and nightsoil are supposed to be thrown into these pipes that -- see, no smell? -- that take them directly to the dam. Of course, you can never get everyone to obey even a sensible law -- like not throwing nightsoil in the water you drink -- so the lake itself has spells that cleanse it."

Then the two characters get into one of those punts, and it magically moves itself swiftly through the waters, to the destination they wanted to go to. It's almost like the author was challenging himself to find the most obscure, wild things he could imagine, and attribute it to "magic". I can't help but chuckle. And again, that's just one small example; the series is packed to the gills with such things. And again, there's no explanation of exactly how the magic system operates. Stuff just happens, and it's called magic. Period.

In related news, Vye cut his hair! Vye's long, heroic, flapping in the breeze or pulled back smartly into a raging ponytail hair is gone! Gone! I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with his upcoming wedding. I don't have a picture of the newly-shorn Vye the Conqueror, sorry. I'm sure he still has the strength of 8 men, so it's all good.

On a personal note, I've been growing my beard out. It's a furry, unruly mess and I love it!

OK, one more video and I'm out. This one made me smile inside, so I thought I'd post it...

OK, that's it for now. I hope your week is progressing well.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shadow's Edge, by Brent Weeks: A Rant

Shadow's Edge, by Brent Weeks: A Rant

OK, by nature of the fact that I am reviewing Shadow's Edge, which is Book 2 in the Night Angel Trilogy, there will, of necessity, be implicit spoilers. I mean, if I talk about a character in book 2, that means he/she survived the first book, which may ruin a surprise or three for you if you have yet to read the series! That being said, I trust your better judgment, as far as if you wish to read this review.

This is NOT a traditional review! It is more of an extended rant! Please don't scold me for not being more professional. If you want to read a level-headed, professional review, Google the book and take your pick.

OK, let me start by saying that it is really evident that Weeks was a newbie author in this book. The first book had enough polish to show signs of a debut book that took time to cook, and went through rewrites and editors, etc. The Way of Shadows (book one) is still sloppy in places, especially toward the end, but it held together enough that I finished it with a positive vibe, and decided to move forward into the series. From the start, Shadow's Edge shows signs of being rushed through. Very predictable, shallow, easy decisions were made with the story line and dialog that left me either scratching my head or rolling my eyes with such regularity, it made me wonder what bizarre magical forces were at work to keep me reading.

I won't recap the storyline in all it's detail, since I don't think it would be appropriate at this point. Rather, let me point out my major niggling issues.

1) Take a young assassin who achieves immortality and unbounded magical abilities and make him promise to give it all up for a woman. His childhood sweetie (if you will) makes giving up "wetboy" work for good a condition for her staying with him. Seriously! What, may I ask, is that!? I'll tell you: it's a blatant attempt to try and manufacture some tension. The guy was born/destined to be an assassin-superhero type! That's what he is and does! Are we (as readers) really to believe he would give it all up right after attaining mastery and preeminence, just because his sweetie thinks killing is yucky? It's obvious on the face of it that we will eventually see him choose what he is over who he wants to be with... except Weeks drags it out for over 300 pages first. In the interim, Kylar is a broke working man (in a little herbalist shop) who resorts to selling his master's beloved magical sword to get some money to support him, his future wife Elene, and the little girl (Uly) that they adopted. Weeks even has a scene where Kylar is in the kitchen cooking dinner, wearing a lacy apron with flour on his nose, because it amused Elene and Uly. GOOD LORD. Is the guy a peerless assassin or a pantywaist?

2) OK, so Mr. Superhero lets himself be emasculated and stripped of his beloved heirloom (the sword) -- which, by the way, he sells and uses the money to buy magical wedding bands. O_O

3) The dialog is rife with corny lines, as well as anachronistic phrases - such as the time a street ruffian was threatening a female character, and said he wanted to rob her and then wanted "a little something something" afterwards. He used that exact phrase... a little something something. Why? Why have your fantasy character say something stupid like that? It isn't even cool in our "real life" society! "A little something something"... wow...

4) Another odd style quirk is the juxtaposition of strong language with direct quotes from the Bible. Yeah, our Bible, word for word, quoted and attributed to one of the Gods in the fantasy world. I wouldn't so much mind the scripture quoting if he wasn't also so free with the F-bombs.

5) The magic system has no rhyme or reason to it. Anything the author can imagine, he mixes in without explanation. At one point, the fabled sword Curoch is revealed to be a shape-changing weapon, automatically having the ability to become a different shape/style of sword as its drawn out of its sheath. First, it bummed me out because I had contemplated making a shapeshifting weapon for my own fantasy story, only different. I didn't kid myself into thinking it was an original concept, but it was sad to see the idea so poorly implemented. For almost two full books, there was no hint that the sword (Curoch) had this ability. It was revealed in a quick, off-handed way in one sentence, right before it was modified for the first time. "Oh, by the way, the sword can change shape too... yeah, because right now, it would be handy if the sword could do that!"

It was the tacked-on and shoehorned things like that which rankled me more than anything. It reveals a lack of depth, and smacks of "winging it". Another example is this weird, monster super-beast thing at the very end, which is built out of people parts using "magic", and it grows by attacking and absorbing more people into it. It can modify its own shape at will as it add new materials. It rampages across a battlefield, covered with little mouths, and when it touches people, it attaches to them and consumes them and uses their bones/muscle to grow bigger and change it's shape. First it's a big centipede-thing! Now it's like a big bull! Now it's a dragon! Now it's a giant troll! Now it has 30 long arms, reaching out, grabbing soldiers, sticking them to its body, absorbing them! It's a free-form, shape-shifting puppet for the evil dude that controls it. It may work in theory; in execution, it was poorly explained and implemented, and showed no internal logic (as a concept) or restraint on the part of the author that created it. Like the magic system itself, it is so open-ended that it can do whatever the author wants it to do, without explanation.

6) There are plenty of other characters. WAY too many for me to track. I was constantly trying to remember who was whom. Weeks eventually killed tons of characters off, so it was starting to get manageable, but then toward the end of book 2, he introduces a slew of new characters. It was so disheartening. Because there were so many characters, there were also way too many storylines going on. Here I thought having 4 or 5 storylines in my own tale was going to be too confusing. Weeks left that number in the dust, three-fold times over.

Believe it or not, in spite of all of this, the book managed to salvage itself by the end, and set up a third book. As hard as I've been on Shadow's Edge, the eternal optimist in me can't help but hope it was a learning experience for the author, and that perhaps by the time he wrote Beyond the Shadows (book three), he'd learned some things that helped him construct a tighter book. If the quality of the first couple chapters of Weeks' latest offering "Black Prism" are any indication, he's certainly stepped his game up a notch or three in the interim. So I will likely give Book 3 a shot, hoping book 2 was a misstep and no more. We'll see.

Summary: 2.75/5 Barely managed to salvage itself. Different in feel and quality from The Way of Shadows (the first book), full of corny, forced situations and dialog, without a sense of depth or constraint or discipline.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"A Bachelor is a Guy Who Never Made the Same Mistake Once." -- Phyllis Diller

I can't tell you how many times I've pulled up a new blog post over the past couple days, and just stared blankly at the empty box. It's disconcerting, to say the least. I never feel like I'm short of things to say... yet I keep browsing away from the empty blog window, shrugging my shoulders, thinking I'd "get to it later". Well, several "laters" have come and gone.

Makes me wonder if perhaps I've wrung all I can out of this blog. I mean, what else is there to say or to post? I'll always have funny pictures archived... but there are a hundred other blogs and sites that you could go to to see funny pics. Same with funny videos. Same with comics. Blah.

I guess I'll just drop some bullet points and see if any of them trigger a tangent worth ranting on...

  • Going to watch From Paris With Love tonight. Got it in the mail from Netflix. I usually don't do Travolta films, but this one was recommended to me, and I do have a jar of Tums handy, so we'll see.
  • Almost finished with Shadow's Edge, by Brent Weeks... by all rights a grossly mediocre, disappointing book. I had to wade through almost 300 pages of a maddening literary mix of mud and cotton candy before it showed sparks of life. I'll likely finish it tonight, after the film. If I can summon the strength, I'll write a review over the weekend. But be forewarned: it will not be kind.
  • My sister's back in town, for another rug care workshop she's doing with my mom on Saturday. I'll be on hand to photograph the event. If I catch any amusing pics, maybe I'll post them here. I'm sure I'll update Rug Care Central with a more professional recap of the event. My sister also has grand, ambitious plans for the future, involving many projects and big new directions, which will (hopefully) give me so much to do, I'm sure I'll need to assemble a team to help out. Big stuff. I may be contacting a couple people I know soon with a job offer...
  • Still gorging myself on stand-up comedy, from the Comedy Central Presents archive on NetFlix Watch Instantly. Several awesome comics I'd never heard before, and several that suck, and many mediocre ones. Man, that gig must be hard. Like everything else, I guess. Oh, and Logan was right; Demetri Martin is a terrific comic. All kinds of quirky, just like I enjoy...
  • Father's Day, church camp, 40th birthday, 20th Anniversary... boom boom boom boom... line them up and knock them down.
  • Got some new games on sale at Steam. Man, they have amazing sales, if you stumble on them at the right time. Got the GOTY edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum for $20. As of this second, there are terrific deals on Bethesda games (Fallout 3 GOTY $25, Oblivion GOTY $8.50, Morrowind GOTY $5), as well as Metro 2033 $25. Also got a couple map packs for my favorite tower defense game Defense Grid. That, and I've been playing Freecell like a lunatic...

OK, here's something hilarious for those of a methanic bent...

I wish that had happened to me. That would be amazing.

I guess I'm going to run now. I'll tell John Travolta that you said hello...


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"People Will Pay More to be Entertained Than Educated." -- Johnny Carson

OK, quick update today, only 'cuz I'm feeling weird...

Wife Ran Around Town On Me: OK, so Wifey ran her marathon on Sunday 5 hours and 1 minute finish time. Of course, it didn't seem to matter than she beat her previous best time by 24 minutes -- it was all about that one minute over 5 hours. "Why didn't I run just a bit faster!!" Wild. Marathon Summary: crowds, sunburn, long wait, 100 Elvis's, loud music, trolley rides, crazy-expensive celebration lunch.

All in all, a good time.

Second Time Around Is Ungood: So I'm 160 pages into Shadow's Edge, which is part 2 of the Night Angel Trilogy, and I am thoroughly underwhelmed, to the point where I almost want to pitch the book and read something else. Man, would I love to rant about it... in fact, I'm going to.

SPOILERS, YOU ARE FOREWARNED: So what to do when you've become a peerless super-assassin? Well, that means you can ignore your master's Rule #1 about never falling in love, of course! So just when you can put your superheroic-assassin Night Angel skills to use for your country in their time of need, your woman makes you promise not to be a killer anymore, cuz it's yucky, and convinces you to settle down and be a giggling, soft, simpering family man. And then you can get all angsty about how you're not doing what you were meant to do. Hilarity ensues! Dang, if it wasn't for the fact that Laythe told me to stick it out and keep reading, I would have filed this book away on the shelf with a fart and a scowl. I want to read about this guy cutting loose and working to undermine the baddies, all while doing the Batman thing with the local scumbag population. I don't want to see him running a little herbalist shop and going home to snuggle with wifey, while she says "now, you remember your promise, right? Right?"

Spare me.


Make Me Laugh: So I found a treasure cache on NetFlix the other day. I love watching stand-up comedy, but there are things that bother me about it. The language, of course, and sex humor, I could do without. So trying to find a comedian I can laugh at who isn't crude is often a crap shoot. So when I found the collection of Comedy Central Presents episodes, I was thrilled. First off, there are 216 of the 20-minute episodes! Yes, 216! Most of these comedians I'd never heard of before, too. And since these are all episodes that went on TV, the material is cleaned up. So crazy variety, good production, relatively safe material, and 20 minutes at a pop. Perfect! I can pull them up in the background as I work, instead of music.

Although I've watched enough stand-up comedy to wince when I hear certain topic starters come up. "So I recently got married" or "I recently had my 5th/10th/20th wedding anniversary" followed by applause... this is the signal that we will now hear 15 minutes worth of marriage humor. "I recently had a baby" or "I have 3 kids" followed by applause... this signals the "raising children" humor. "Where are the single people out there?" followed by applause... here comes the "dating/relationship" jokes! Whee! Observational, 'round-the-house humor seems to be the defacto go-to joke source for many. Also huge is racial humor, hinging on the race of the comedian. I've noticed that only the bravest of the white comedians do "racial differences" humor, while most black and latino comedians spend the bulk of their time there.

Anyway, I dig stand-up. I wish I was funny enough to do it, actually. Looks hard, but rewarding. Like acting, I suppose...

I hear ya, Keanu. I hear ya.

So I have a broken link on the right side there. For the past week or so, the blog This Is Why You're Fat has been down. It's either dead outright, or it's been moved without a forwarding address. Maybe it's just going through a massive redesign, I don't know. I mean, they just released a book - you'd think that would be a signal that things were good (and getting better) for the site, as opposed to a sign of doom... I guess I better nose around on Google and see where they went. Their facebook page is still up...

Still haven't had the mold thing taken care of, but the home management place is supposedly sending someone by today. I hope it's an easily-fixable problem and not something that will cause a major uproar to rectify. Otherwise I'll whine! And God forbid, I do that!

OK, a comic strip, and I'm out...

That's from Left Handed Comics. Click THIS LINK to go there and read, as though you've got nothing better to do...



Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks: A Review

The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks: A Review
This book is the first in a 3 book series called The Night Angel Trilogy, by fantasy author Brent Weeks. I bought the set outright instead of my usual route of buying book 1 only (until I see if I like it or not), since I read so many good things about the series, and I had read a sample chapter of the author's new series starter (Black Prism), and liked his writing style. So I had complete confidence that I would enjoy this series, and so far, I wasn't wrong.

I shall do my best to keep this review spoiler-free, but there are some general fantasy tropes I want to talk about that will likely tip my hand, as far as the direction the story goes, since I probably wouldn't bring up certain tropes if they weren't present in this book! To be on the safe side, if you intend to read the series, perhaps you should skip reading this review.

Of course, the first trope is the ever-present "cloaked figure" on the cover. Usually when I see a cloaked person on the cover, I wince and want to turn away, but really, that has little to do with the author him/herself and more to do with the decision of the publisher and the cover artist they hire. So I'll usually grit my teeth and proceed.

The summary of the story is thus: Tough, scrappy street urchin with soft heart decides the only way to save himself and his pals from starvation and death in the mean streets is to try and apprentice himself to the city's legendary assassin. He then becomes better than his master, since he is "special". Hilarity ensues.

Lest you feel this will be a negative review, be assured, I enjoyed the read. The fact that I'm posting a review so soon after beginning the book should let you all know how quickly and thoroughly the book hooked me and pulled me along. The story's been done before (in pieces, by other authors/novels) so really, not much new under the sun with this book. But much like my review of Legend by David Gemmell, I can let a lot of the clichés and tropes slide since the book is really well done. The action is strong and steady throughout and there's good character development with many of the main characters (some of the minor characters suffered from lack of development, probably to keep the page count down, and ended up blending into one character in my mind. "Wait, who is that guy again? The Count, the General, the spineless Lord or the Blacksmith?).

There's plenty of good dialog (a moderate amount of profanity), some thwarted love and love triangles, palace intrigue, threatening hoards of invaders, plenty of grungy settings, and more death-by-sword than I have seen in a good while. Weeks gives Abercrombie a run for his money, as far as deaths per page. There's plenty of magic, too, of both evil and good varieties. The magic system is illogical to me, however, and seemed to be structured in such a way as to allow for anything the author's mind wished to shoehorn into it, from standard fireballs and invisible shields, to summoning big ethereal hands for holding people in place, to summoning gigantic sea creatures to swallow ships whole, to delicate medical maneuvers (such as magically stemming the flow of a severed artery and keeping people from dying), to enhanced senses and strength, to invisibility, all the way to enchanted items which are able to channel unimaginable power and destruction. Of course, the big one is the ability to resurrect, but I won't tell you how that plays out.


I guess herein lies my main grievance, if you want to call it that. WARNING: this will in some way spoil the ending, so don't read it! The main character evolves from a hapless street kid to (basically) a superhero. He becomes a peerless, invisible, invincible killer/warrior. This is by the end of the first book. He's basically destroyed in the climax, but is soon restored, unscathed, and far more powerful than even before. Where on earth could the author take the story now, for two more books? I found myself not even wanting to read further! Why bother? He's already survived every imaginable difficulty and come out on top, stronger and more potent. What can stop him now?


Summary: 4/5 So, while I'm certainly glad I read it, and have already cracked open Book 2, I wasn't blown away, but actually a bit miffed at the clichéd story/cast, and nebulous magic system. There's not much in here that I haven't read elsewhere (and I'm hardly the most well-read person, when it comes to Fantasy), but what is done is solid and the action well done. If this title is on your TBR pile, it deserves that slot. It's a good, solid read.

"It's Easier to Put On Slippers than to Carpet the Whole World." -- Al Franken

GAAH!!! Help!

Mold: Part 1: I found out where that slowly-increasing moldy smell is coming from in my office! Under my plastic chair mat! It is cracked in places, so there's a chance something was spilled on it and seeped through, getting on the carpet beneath. Or perhaps the carpet wasn't fully dry when I put the plastic mat down after the carpets were cleaned... when was that February? O_O I've been catching whiffs of it for weeks, walking around my office, smelling stuff, trying to find the source. GROSS!!! Now I need to call the carpet cleaner back and see if it's something that can be cleaned again, or if I need to have the carpet pulled up and/or replaced. The thing is, there's no visible mold... but I can sure smell it...

And here's Mold: Part 2: We had a hose pop off the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink on Memorial Day, while Middle Daughter was doing dishes. It flooded the area beneath the sink. We tried to dry it out, got the hose fixed, etc. But now the smell of musty moldy yuck is in the kitchen too... DANGIT ALL! I hate that smell! If you were to drop by our house at the moment, you'd be all "You disgusting, sick pigs, living like this!" So don't come over... we've tried disinfecting and spraying bleach, etc. (which just adds a second strong, unpleasant smell) but it ain't working.

So, two unrelated mold events combining to make me want to run away! Hopefully, the carpet guy can fix my office, and the homes management place can send someone to fix under the sink, and things can get back to normal. Until then GROSSSS!!!!!! I hope it doesn't get anyone sick... maybe the mold is giving me those brain flash things I mentioned a few posts ago. Oh, well, it's just death, what's the big deal, right?


I thought for sure the Travel Post would get a large response. But Logan and Havah were the only souls to chip in input! I guess it makes sense that everyone would slowly cease reading my blog, except the Die Hard's. Logan and Havah love me; everyone else is sick of me. And here I'm about to turn 40! Abandoned and unloved! Well, there's only one solution... yep, special content just for Logan and Havah! Yay!

Logan: Hey Logan, I saw a cool video of some guy summarizing LOST... now it makes sense! Tell me if he gets it pretty much right or not...

Still ridiculous, but now it makes sense!

Havah: Sorry, this is the best I could do. An April Fool's prank on the set of Bones.

I know you dig that show.

GAH! Make the mold smell go away! It's making me INSANE!!!

OK, so I'm almost done with The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks. It's a very well written book, if stories of political intrigue, assassins and magic are your thing. Nicely written, good characters, yadda yadda yadda. Solid effort. I'll let you know the full skinny once I finish it. So be patient!

Went Friday night to my good pal Carey's 40th surprise birthday party. He was sufficiently surprised. He's a good egg. Got to see his folks, whom I haven't seen in over a decade. Some good food, nice group of friends/relatives. I wish him the best. Now my 40th approaches!

You're supposed to say, "Gee, Dave, really? I didn't know! It's not like you mention it all the time or anything!" Then you punch me in the bread basket, and while I'm doubled-over, coughing, you continue, "What's the big deal? So you're turning 40! Embrace it! Take it like a man! Stop whining about it, you simpering, spineless, feckless gollywomper! Grow a pair!"

How cool is that! Flower Grenades, for guerrilla gardeners. Run by, heave a plant grenade, and it breaks open, and hopefully takes root where it lands. The grenade itself is biodegradable, the soil fertilized, the starter plant inside, ready to live. Just chuck it and run! Cool concept. I wonder if it really works.

So Wifey will run the Rock n Roll Marathon this Sunday. You know how I am with crowds! I'm practically soiling myself just thinking about it... the finish line is at Sea World this year, which presents a conundrum. The usual finish line was at the Marine Corps Training Center near the airport, and they had big bleachers, and lots of grass to kick back on while you wait for your loved ones to finish. But this year it's at the main parking lot of Sea World... and it's going to be hot. No grass, just standing around on a sea of asphalt... will they have bleachers, or places to sit? I wanted to go a bit early and read a book for a while. But now I'll have the kids with me... and who knows what the finish area will be like! Everyone has to take the trolley there - can't park there, it will be closed off. Do I tote around folding chairs? Or just wing it?

Ah well, worse problems to have, I guess.

Admit it: that's funny.

OK, well I guess I'll stop for now. Thanks again to everyone that reads and leaves comments. If I could give you a nice gift and/or a big sloppy kiss, I'd do it. Well, the gift part at least...

Wait, before I go... a Giant Friggin Moose...

O M G....

Ok, now I can go. Wish me luck on the mold thing...


Thursday, June 3, 2010

"I Can't Be Funny If My Feet Don't Feel Right." - Billy Crystal

Half-way through the week. Watching yet more travel shows (more No Reservations, actually), so my thoughts have been leaning toward travel the past few days. I thought I'd whip out a list tonight....

Places I'd Like To Visit (in no particular order):

Osaka, Japan

The city itself is a bit too day-glo for my tastes, but man, it seems like they have more places to eat per square foot than any other place I've seen - and it all looks yummay! Man, I'd definitely learn to use chopsticks for a trip like that. I realize the purpose of those travel shows is to only show the positive stuff, I get it. But it's not just the amazing food spread that seems appealing. The suburbs look beautiful, the people seem to enjoy baseball like it's a religion, and the vibe seems fun and relaxed. I'd probably not want to live there, but I'd sure like to visit.

Osaka Castle, eh!

Of course, there are other cities in Japan I'd like to visit, but just saying "I want to visit Japan" is kind of lazy writing...

That having been said...

Berlin, Germany

So, what to do when you want to travel but not just be another nameless, faceless, annoyingly ever-present tourist? I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I'd like to go to Berlin and see the Reichstag, the Brandenberg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Tiergarten... all the touristy stuff. And anything related to World War 2, really. I'm not sure I'll ever understand my boundless fascination with World War 2. There's just something about it that runs so deeply in me, it almost defies explanation. And to go, as it were, to the heart of the Axis machine... I don't know. It would do something for me. I really couldn't care less about the famed Berlin nightlife. I don't care for clubbing at all, period. It might be fun to go during Oktoberfest and have some bratwurst and a giant stein of beer and drink in the atmosphere (as it were), but really, this trip would be more about history than food.

"Hey, is the war over yet?" "Nein!"

Again, plenty of other cities in Germany I'd like to visit, but I'm trying to narrow the discussion a bit...  I'd like to learn German before going, though. Don't know why, really; it's not like I feel a need to learn Japanese to go to Osaka.

While I'm on my WW2 Axis theme...

Venice, Italy
Grand Canal, eh!

Granted, I can't help but want to go to Rome as well, but there's something about Venice that I've always found fascinating. Mostly, the history of how it was founded (and why), and how they built it. Yeah, and it's sinking, I know. I'd like to see it before it's gone, like Atlantis. Yeah, I know they have great food if you know where to look. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be romantic... too bad I'm not romantic, eh! I can't imagine going there with Wifey. She'd probably just want to buy shoes. I think to me, the strongest appeal to Venice isn't even the canals. It's the art and the peacefulness. Perhaps it's able to be so peaceful and laid back because of the canals (as opposed to little European cars and scads of bicycles tooling around). Plus, every building is so friggin old, and has so much history attached to it. Dang, all kinds of scandals and political nonsense went on there, around every corner.

Anyway, yeah, Rome certainly has its appeal for me, and I'd like to waste an afternoon wandering around Pompeii, but I think if I could chose one place in Italy to visit, I'd pick Venice. And I'd bring a sketch pad.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list. The places I'd love to visit are too numerous to list here. All kinds of places around the Mediterranean and western Europe. I suppose I could risk offending random readers by making a similar list of Places I Would NOT Want To Visit (for various reasons), but that's probably in bad taste. Let's just say I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the Middle East, Russia or South America... and there are plenty of cities in the US I'd rather not stop in as well!

In fact, even in these places that I'd love to visit, I realize that it's not all sunshine and roses. There's always a dark underbelly, wherever you are. Even here in sunny San Diego (a place, I'm sure, on many people's lists of places they want to visit) there are places I prefer to avoid whenever possible. I get it - people are people, and if you've seen one tourist trap/ruins, you've seen them all. Still, I think there's something to be said for getting out and seeing a bit of the world around you. With the advent of the internet and cable TV, I can visit the world through someone else, but it's not the same.

Part of me would love to visit Egypt and see the statues and temples and pyramids... but another part of me would be simultaneously scared and embarrassed. Plus, I know I'm a Christian, but honestly, I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I really have no desire to visit Israel, thank you very much. I know, walk where Jesus walked, and all that. Really, it has no pull for me. And as cool as Machu Picchu is to look at online, I'll pass on visiting in person, thanks. I'll stick to Discovery Channel shows, thanks.

Well, I was also going to segue into other stuff tonight, but I think it would make more sense to close it here, and then open it up for comments. So, where would you like to travel to, eh?