Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Media - July 31, 2007

New media arrives in stores on Tuesdays, so once a week – I try to limit myself to once a week – I go shopping for new books, DVDs, and music.

Here’s a taste of what has been added to my collection in the past week.

Books:
Bite by Richard Laymon
I, California by Stacey Grenrock Woods
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
13 Bullets by David Wellington

DVDs:
300

Magazines:
Corel Painter: Official Magazine #5

Music:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by Nicholas Hooper
Duality by Ra

Games:
Picross DS (DS)

Look for these materials to join The Stacks in the near future. Some might even sneak by The Stacks and end up mentioned here before you know it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Shrinking the Pile - July 28, 2007

pile (pil) n. 1. informal A large accumulation or quantity. 2. A whole lot of Josh – more than necessary, or healthy. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Shrinking the Pile is a record of my attempt to become a more healthy dude by losing a large accumulation of weight through exercise and a healthy diet.
---
Weight last week: 255 lbs
Weight this week: 246 lbs
Change of: 9 lbs

When I came home from RAGBRAI Monday night – after 2.5 days of riding – I was down 6 lbs. I hoped that my three days at home in the middle of the week wouldn’t ruin the loss of weight I had managed riding bike. Whether it did or not, I don’t know for sure, but I did still manage to lose 9 lbs total over the week. So, I’m not complaining.

This will be my first real week to attack the pile since I started this feature. We’ll see how it goes. I do have garage building and friend moving that will be more practical forms of exercise.

I’m just happy there was finally a loss.
---
Rat: It’s called “Box Me In.” I will sell them a cardboard box and tell them to shove themselves inside it until they see results.
Goat: That’s ridiculous.
Box Me In insert: A few days after sealing the box, you will become hungry. DO NOT BE AFRAID. The box is WORKING!
(Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis)

The Stacks - July 30, 2007

The Stacks, a weekly list of all I’m currently reading, or watching on DVD. New materials added are underlined.

Books:
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Dark Tower (Dark Tower book 7) by Stephen King
Nightwatch by Sergei Lukayaneko
On Writing by Stephen King
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel
Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowlings
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Magazines:
Paste issue 32, June 2007

DVDs:
The X-Files: Season 6 (TV series)
Eureka: Season 1 (TV series)
Weeds: Season 1 (TV series)
Deadwood: Season 3 (TV series)
Futurama: Season 2 (TV series)
Black Snake Moan
The Replacement Killers
Spawn: The Animated Collection (TV series)
Monster Squad


Comics:
Blood: A Tale (TPB)
The Other Side (GN)
Beyond! (TPB)
Pearls Before Swine: Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! by Stephan Pastis (Treasury)

Look for reviews/thoughts of selected materials from The Stacks…when I finish something. Anything.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

50th Wedding Anniversary

Not mine, you fools.

Congratulations and happy 50th wedding anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa Shaver!

That’s a little less than twice my age - a long time. I hope you have a terrific “little” party this afternoon.

Love you both.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Am Returned...Again

I am back again from RAGBRAI. And there is no more going back this year - the ride is over.

My last two days of riding were fantastic! Taking a break of three days in the middle of the week fully recharges your batteries.

I'll resume regular posting on Monday. Tomorrow is my Shaver grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary, so my catch-up posts may not be done until Sunday night, or even sometime early in the week.

I'm just happy to have survived another year of RAGBRAI. Whoo!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back to RAGBRAI

Well, I'm back off to RAGBRAI. Two more days of riding for me - about 110 miles total. They will be significantly shorter than the two days I rode earlier in the week, so we'll see if they go better. It's pretty warm out there today - glad I'm not riding right now!

Talk to you when I get back. Enjoy the end of the week!

Off to Interview
Updated July 26, 2007 1:41PM

Man, do I hate interviewing. It stinks knowing that how you answer a few (okay, 45 minutes worth) questions will determine whether or not you get a job. I'm not very concerned with the sample lesson or the letter home to a parent - at least in those two regards I'm still very confident in my abilities.

I just wish it was a simple as obtaining a degree and having jobs offered to you. I know that's not the way anything works in this world, but I can still wish.

Anyway, I'm just writing this post to keep from stressing over the interview I leave in 10 minutes for.

And it's not working...

Wishing myself all the luck in the world.

Updated 1:41PM -
I don't want to jinx anything, but I felt very good during this interview. Confident and sure in my answers, writing, and teaching. Still, waiting for a response
might just kill me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Comics - July 25, 2007


Cover of the Week:
The Immortal Iron Fist #7
by Travel Foreman
Marvel Comics

I love the colors of this cover – the pinks and greens and yellows stand out against the other covers this week. There’s a real “art nouveau” feeling to the cover that I really dig. Everything about this cover seems to work, from the sword pointed directly at the reader, to the introduction of a mysterious woman Iron Fist.

This is a weekly list of the new comics I picked up at my local comic book shop, Mayhem Comics.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #5
Countdown #40
Green Arrow: Year One #2
All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #6
Batman #666
Wonder Woman #11
Hawkgirl #66
Blue Beetle #17
The Incredible Hulk #108
The Immortal Iron Fist #7
The Mighty Avengers #4
Grendel: Behold the Devil #0

X-Men: Deadly Genesis (TPB)
Martian Manhunter: The Others Among Us (TPB)

Watch for thoughts or quick reviews when a comic requires the extra attention.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I Am Returned

I'm back from RAGBRAI a bit earlier than expected. About 5 days earlier.

I sort of knew this would happen, that I'd be called for interviews the one week of the summer I had plans. I called to check messages when I arrived in Humboldt on Monday afternoon, and found two school districts wishing to set up interviews. Strangely enough, both messages were within 4 minutes of each other.

What this means for my bike ride across Iowa...well, let's just say that it's a good thing I've done the ride before. The soonest I could rejoin the group would be Thursday night in Independence. I could then ride Friday and Saturday - about another 110 miles. I may end up just riding Saturday. I have to see how these interviews get scheduled and pan out.

I thought I would mention that I'm back, but don't expect an outflow of posts. I need to prepare for my interviews. I'll be spending my time brushing up on all the cutting edge teaching techniques and whatnot. Interviews are stressful.

I'll return to the blog full force Sunday or Monday. Sporadic posts until then.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gone Biking - RAGBRAI 2007

I’ll be taking the next week off from the blog because I’ll be participating in RAGBRAI – the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. For those of you not in the know, RAGBRAI is a huge, weeklong bike ride across the state of Iowa from the west border to the east.

This will be my fourth year doing the approximately 500-mile bike ride. It is an amazing feeling the other 51 weeks of the year – just knowing you did something so impressive. The week of riding is only ever okay for me. It’s usually very hot, sometimes windy or stormy. The camping is okay – much better since we started taking campers and support vehicles last year. I enjoy the ride because of the family I ride with – GO TEAM SHAVER.

This means that regular posting will not occur until I return late Saturday, July 28, 2007. I will post a special RAGBRAI version of The Stacks, and the New Media for the past week before I leave tomorrow morning. New Comics, Comic Thoughts, and Shrinking the Pile will all go up once I’ve returned. The Eureka review will go live once I watch the taped episode. There will be no Great Escape this week – the pirate is doing enough as it is.

I may be able to post a quick message or two while on the ride, depending on the lines at the available free Internet locations.

Have a fantastic week!

New Media - July 24, 2007
Updated July 24, 2007 2:31PM

New media arrives in stores on Tuesdays, so once a week – I try to limit myself to once a week – I go shopping for new books, DVDs, and music.

Here’s a taste of what has been added to my collection in the past week.

Books:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowlings
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
M Is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
Doc Savage #1 by Kenneth Robeson
Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

DVDs:
Mirrormask
The Replacement Killers
Spawn: The Animated Collection (TV series)
Weeds: Season 2 (TV series)
Justice League: Season 1 (TV series)
Monster Squad

Comics:
The Black Diamond Detective Agency (GN)

Music:
One Cell in the Sea by A Fine Frenzy
End of Silence by Red
Cigarettes & Gasoline by Emerson Hart
Living with the Living by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Look for these materials to join The Stacks in the near future. Some might even sneak by The Stacks and end up mentioned here before you know it.

The (RAGBRAI) Stacks - July 23, 2007

The (RAGBRAI) Stacks, the list of all I’m going to read, or watch on DVD while on RAGBRAI.

Books:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

DVDs:
Monster Squad

The Stacks look small? Well, don’t forget that 8 hours of the day will be spent riding my bike. It is quite exhausting work – not leaving much time, or energy, for anything other than sleep.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Midnight for Harry Potter
Updated July 21, 2007 2:13 AM

The release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is tonight at midnight – okay, technically, Saturday at 12:01 AM.

To my knowledge, this is the largest release of any book in my lifetime.

I think I need to be at a bookstore at 12:01 AM to pick up my copy – actually, two copies. I need one copy to take on RAGBRAI and one to stay at home in good condition. Normally I’m not so particular about things like this…heck, who am I kidding? Yes I am. I just hate to have my books damaged in any way. So yeah, two copies for me.

I came late to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. It took a pretty girl in one of my business classes at Iowa to finally get me to pick up the first three books. Since that moment, I’ve really enjoyed the series of books and movies.

Like nearly everyone else in the world, I’m anxious to see how things all end for Harry and the gang. Taking the book on RAGBRAI will give me the added incentive to make it through the day as quickly as possible so that I can grab up my copy of the book and relax until bedtime reading the conclusion of the boy-wizard’s epic saga.

Updated July 21, 2007 2:13 AM
I did manage to get my two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from the Borders in Des Moines. I definitely didn't need to show up before midnight. And since I didn't pre-order, I could have even waited until 1 to show. The line was so long that I didn't pick up my copies of the book until 1:15 AM. Oh well, I just grabbed a book - Over Stone, Under Sea by Susan Cooper - and sat down with a chai latte and read until it was time for me to get in line.

I did read the first paragraph and two lines of dialogue as soon as I reached my car. I can't believe how excited I am.

Snape: bad man or loyal?

Who needs sleep this morning?

What I've Been Building - July 20, 2007

I thought you all might like to see how the garage I'm helping to build is coming along. Here is a photo of the monster as of yesterday.

There will be no additional construction in the next week because of RAGBRAI. We've framed three of the walls and started to work on the front. Building around the garage doors and service door is slower going than the work on the side and back walls. Still, I think it's beginning to take shape and look like a garage.

Shrinking the Pile - July 20, 2007

pile (pil) n. 1. informal A large accumulation or quantity. 2. A whole lot of Josh – more than necessary, or healthy. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Shrinking the Pile is a record of my attempt to become a more healthy dude by losing a large accumulation of weight through exercise and a healthy diet.
---
Weight this week: 255 lbs
Weight last week: 255 lbs
Change of: 0 lbs

I decided when I began this feature that it would not be a list of excuses if and when I had a week of no change, or change in the wrong direction. What it will do – I hope – is motivate me to try harder.

This coming week is RAGBRAI. Now, this will be close to 500 miles of biking, approximately 70 miles a day, or about 6 hours of riding time, for seven straight days. This sounds all well and good, but it’s the binge eating of tasty food - fried crap - that usually results in very little weight change. My goal is to not gorge myself this year. Maybe this will be just the thing to kick-off the weight loss.

After RAGBRAI I will try to get this feature worked into something more substantial.
---
Rat: It’s called “Box Me In.” I will sell them a cardboard box and tell them to shove themselves inside it until they see results.
Goat: That’s ridiculous.
Box Me In insert: A few days after sealing the box, you will become hungry. DO NOT BE AFRAID. The box is WORKING!
(Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis)

Bacon and Eggs

I managed to not sleep in too late this morning. In fact, I had time to get some bacon and eggs - scrambled - and pancakes at Village Inn before running my errands.

I think I now have everything I need for RAGBRAI. After a lunch at Hickory Park in Ames with my mom, I'll work on packing everything up. The goal this year is not take as much stuff as I have in the past. I never end up reading everything I take, or wearing all the extra clothes I seem to think I'll need. I'll be trying to streamline my entire approach this year. Or maybe I'll just be taking different things, like my camera and some Cliff Bars (Chocolate Chip and Peanut).

All in all, today's going pretty swell. I got my errands run and I managed to finish a great graphic novel - Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. More on it later.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More with Corel Painter

I attempted to use the digital watercolor tools in Corel tonight.

I'm not so sure how well I like this sketch - a swipe of Andi Watson's cover from the Free Comic Book Day edition of Love Fights #1. The pencil sketch of the figure turned out pretty well, but the watercolors on top of it...well, I'm not so happy with them. I think I need to go through more of the tutorials to get the "feel" of each material in the program.

I probably won't have the time to do so until after RAGBRAI, but it gives me something to look forward to.

Tomorrow Will Be A Busy Day

Tomorrow, I attempt to do as much as humanly possible before I leave for RAGBRAI Saturday morning. It's a lot of running around, getting things ready, picking up, and writing for the blog, all while trying to cram in as much fun as possible.

Knowing my luck, I'll sleep too late, get distracted, and end up doing a quarter of what I planned.

I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope for a great day. Hey, it could happen.

The Pirate Escapes VII

Here's how it works: the pirate is given five items - as varied and crazy as you can imagine - and a single scenario of peril to escape. From there, things get...interesting as the pirate attempts ANOTHER GREAT ESCAPE.

The Items:
1. Filthy American money ($6.78)
2. Half a bottle of cheap Turkish whiskey
3. Life-sized photo of Osama bin Laden’s face
4. Some Orange Tic Tacs
5. Blanket

The Scenario of Peril:
You wake up in a Turkish prison. (Courtesy of Erica)
---
Waking up in prison never gives a person “warm fuzzies.” Waking up in a Turkish prison is even worse. Turkish prison cells have no windows, no toilets and no blankets. No blankets, you say – what’s the big deal? The big deal is that it gets wicked cold at night in Turkish prisons. I was lucky to have my blue blanket, but it was so cold that I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I decided it must be that time again, time to escape.

I stood up and surveyed my cell. It was like any other prison cell – don’t ask how I know…that’s another story for another day – even the bars were spaced too close together for me to squeeze through (sometimes you get lucky, but not today). I opened my pack of Orange Tic Tacs and shook two into my palm. I tossed them into my mouth to combat that nasty, early-morning breath. Now, fresh and clean and ready to go, I began my escape.

I used the Livestrong bracelet from my left wrist to shoot a Tic Tack off the wall in front of my cell, ricocheting it directly into the locking mechanism of the cell door. The cheap and poorly made Turkish locking mechanism shattered under the onslaught of my Tic Tac projectile.

Free of my cell, I ran down the empty hall, pulling on my Osama bin Laden mask. As soon as I entered the guard’s break room, the guards scrambled to attention. In the background, coming from a small television, was the off-key voice of Ahmed bin Yousef, the front-running contestant on Turkish Idol, butchering the Britney Spears classic, “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” The guards seemed quite nervous in the presence of their great leader. I let them sweat for a moment before producing my half-empty bottle of cheap Turkish whiskey.

-You are doing fine work, men. Enjoy your show. That Ahmed bin Yousef sure is a good-looking chap. Can’t sing worth a can of beans, but he sure looks fine.

I hand the bottle of whiskey to the nearest guard and slip out of the room. I remove my mask and stroll out of the prison.

Walking in to the Turkish National Bank next door, I hand my $6.78 in American currency to an attractive teller. The poor girl nearly fainted at the sight of such an impressive amount of currency. The President of the bank was called out to complete my currency exchange.

With my large fortune inf Turkish money, I was able to purchase the entire country and rule it as king. Wearing my blanket as a kingly cape, I recognized that sometimes it really does pay to get out of bed in the morning. I went to sleep a pirate and woke up a king. Now that is truly Another Great Escape, Pirate.
---
And that's how it is done. If you have a perilous scenario and five tools of escape to challenge me, please post them in the comments...and you will soon witness: Another Great Escape, Pirate!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hard At Play With Corel Painter

After watching my brother play around with Corel Painter last night, I had to practice with some more sketching.

I have a really cool drawing and sketching book - Drawing and Sketching by Jackie Simmonds - that teaches basic techniques throuh simple exercises. It also talks about how to use all the different materials, like watercolors, pastels, chalks, charcoals, and colored pencils. The great thing about Corel Painter is that you have these different materials at your fingertips. Now, I've stuck mainly with the pencil and eraser, but I'm still just playing around, not attempting to create a masterpiece.

Click on my tree and leaf study to view the image in more detail.

New Feature! Skillful Word-Slinging -
July 18, 2007

Occasionally I will share with you some skillful word-slinging. Here I present examples of spectacular sentences, popping passages, and delightful dialogue culled from the books, comics, movies, TV shows, etc., that I read and watch. Enjoy!
---
Carter: An A’s great.
Zoe: Yeah, you get it for putting on the stupid shorts.
from Eureka ep. 2.2 “Try, Try Again” written by Charlie Craig.
---
Stark: I’ve swung a lot of things that would surprise you, Sheriff.
Carter: What’s that even mean?
from Eureka ep. 2.2 “Try, Try Again” written by Charlie Craig.
---
If you ask Rocket Guy will take toys down off the wall and demonstrate the ones that he could never sell. “It’s tough, trying to make toys these days,” he says. “The Consumer Product Safety Administration is so anal about how something could be misused. In the good old days, you could buy toys that, if you misused them, you could lose an eye or a finger.”

“I want to do a line of toys called ‘The Better Tomorrow Toys.’ They’re going to be designed so that if a child had an IQ below a certain level, they wouldn’t survive the toy. Stupid kids are not nearly as dangerous as stupid adults, so let’s take them out when they’re young. I know it sounds cruel, but it’s a reasonable expectation.”
from “Human Error” in Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk – quotes from Rocket Guy, Brian Walker.
---
[context] The woman I didn’t know asked if I had a match. I didn’t see the cigarette she held, and thought she meant to light the piƱata.[end context] I told her, and we all doubled over picturing melting gummy bears dripping like hot wax onto the outstretched hands of the blindfolded children beneath it.
Fantastic imagery!
[context] We looked to the woods where something large was making its way through the trees toward the road.[end context] In the moment before Tony and Bruce drove up – the children’s new dog barking in the car – locals and guests, we held our breath as branches broke, the magnificent rack an emblem of need that could not wait another day.
There’s some awesome alliteration and rhythm in the second highlighted sentence.

from “The Children’s Party” in Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel.
---
By rights, Jack should have headed west when his wife, Alex, left him, but they lived in California so he drove east, folding down the visor each morning against the sun.
This is the kind of opening sentence I wish I could write.

from “Sportsman” in Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel.
---
Stark: Yes, he said “invisibling.”
from Eureka ep. 1.3 “Before I Forget” story by Karl Schaefer, teleplay by John Rogers.

Eureka ep. 2.2 - "Try, Try Again" Review

[contains spoilers for this episode]
This episode of Eureka is essentially the story of a “boy in a bubble.” Granted, this is no ordinary bubble, but rather an unstable and expanding personal force field device with Fargo trapped inside. Yeah, it’s that kind of episode.

The episode takes place on Allison’s first day as Director of Global Dynamics, the big research-and-development company at the heart of Eureka. When a new director is appointed, the entire computer system and all projects are shut down for eight hours while the transfer of power occurs. Eight hours until reactivation? A “snow day.” You just know no good will come of this.

Somehow, Fargo is slipped an unknown device. Being Fargo, naturally, he turns it on. Turns out, the device is our personal force field generator, and it will not shut off. Or stop expanding. The entire town – and world – is in danger now and it’s up to Sheriff Carter and Nathan Stark to save the day.

There is some great banter between Carter and Stark as they work their way toward a solution. These two don’t get along in the best of times, probably because they both have feeling for Allison, Nathan’s ex-wife. I’m really hoping that Nathan’s character sticks around after being ousted as the Director of Global. He’s a great counter-point and rival to Carter.

While all this is going on, Henry meets with Beverly for some required counseling after the loss of Kim. She questions why Henry is so eager to return to work when it appears he is less than enthusiastic about the way science is “used” in Eureka. I’m thinking Beverly sees Henry as a tool to exploit in her secretive dealings – and murder – in relation to the artifact. Something to keep an eye on.

I was really impressed – and should have known better – by the mystery surrounding who slipped Fargo the device. They plant such an obvious clue and suspect in the first five minutes of the show that you become convinced this Larry dude is the bad guy. Turns out he wasn’t. In fact, he’s just a loser trying to capitalize on Fargo’s “absence.” The real bad guy turns out to be some ordinary worker who simply is robbing Global of its old projects to sell off their parts. He simply needed a fall guy to get away during the computer reset.

Of course they save the day – and Fargo – at the last minute possible. Instead of dropping Fargo and the device down a two-mile shaft and detonating a nuclear bomb on top of it, they decide to shoot Fargo in the heart with a paralyzing fishing gun (yeah, still that kind of show). Once Fargo’s heart is stopped, the device turns off and they can get Fargo free. A little CPR later and Fargo is back to his normal self.

During this episode – and if I were to look back to the first episode of this season I might notice this as well – I began to hear a more developed score. Characters like Allison and Henry now have fully developed character themes. There may have been themes in the score last season, but none so impressive and noticeable as the ones in this episode. Allison has a banjo-y/folk music-esque theme that reminds me very much of the score music used on Battlestar Galactica for Adama – and for good reason, it appears that Bear McCreary has taken over the score for at least the first five episodes of this season. He’s the kick-butt composer on Battlestar. Henry’s theme is dark, moody, somewhat sinister and lovesick – fully describing the Henry of this season. I hope – pray – they release a score album for this season.

This was another great episode of TV. The second season of Eureka is starting out very, very strongly. It is the MUST watch series of the summer.

Next episode: The town of Eureka faces hostile weather and “ice funnels of death.”

New Comics - July 18, 2007

Cover of the Week:
Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #54 by Terry Dodson
DC Comics

This is a majestic shot of the new Aquaman. I like the new costume with the gauntlets and sword. The hot mermaids and the swollen storm cloud really round out the composition. It is just a gorgeous, epic cover.

This is a weekly list of the new comics I picked up at my local comic book shop, Mayhem Comics.

All Flash #1
Countdown #41
Justice League of America #11
Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #54
Catwoman #69
Amazons Attack! #4
Black Canary #2
Birds of Prey #108
Robin #164
Checkmate #16
The Programme #1
World War Hulk #2

The Hood (HC)
Intersections (GN)
Black Cherry (GN)

Watch for thoughts or quick reviews when a comic requires the extra attention.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Comic Thoughts - Week of July 11, 2007

Short bursts of thought about comics I purchased and read the week of July 11, 2007.

Punisher War Journal #9: Frank Castle does some bad stuff just to infiltrate a gang of neo-Nazis. Sure, he kills a lot of them, but to harm an innocent woman to do so…it seems to go against Frank’s typical black and white moral code. This story arc seems a bit drawn out – it could stand some compression to fix the pacing problems.

Countdown #42: The on again/off again art for this series can be a little annoying. This week featured the return of Carlos Magno’s pretty pencils – so all was well once more. The separate storylines were all touched upon briefly, but nothing much happened. Donna Troy and Jason Todd met up with the current Atom, Ryan Choi, to continue their search for the previous Atom, Ray Palmer. Pied Piper and Trickster escaped – manacled together with electric cuffs – from Deadshot’s custody, only to find themselves plummeting through the sky toward the earth below. Like gum stuck to the sole of your shoe, we have a period of stretching – this week – before a snap forward – some action – only to stretch, snap, and stretch again. We’ll get there…eventually.

X-Factor #21: This is the slow start of a new story arc. Madrox is still dealing with the ramifications of sleeping with both Monet and Siryn in the same night. Throw in a possible pregnancy – Monet as a mom; that would be interesting – and things are a bit complicated. The French girl X-Factor rescued from an assault on former mutants continues to vex Layla Miller (who knows things). Also, Rictor and Rahne become more intimate, while Guido is offered the job of sheriff of Mutant Town. This is still the only X-Men title I read monthly, and for good reason: Peter David writes an entertaining comic.

The New Avengers #32: I’m really into this whole idea of a secret Skrull invasion. Bendis does a great job presenting evidence as to the identities of other Skrull infiltrators in the Marvel Universe through the bickering of the team. Each member of The New Avengers has a weird history, making them suspect. Yu’s pencils are still some of the most energetic – even in a mostly “talking heads” issue – on a superhero book today. The plane crash at the end of the issue was fantastic. You feel almost as though you are on the plane crashing along with the team. Oohh, mystery.

Shadowpact #15: Doctor Gotham brings it but good to the Shadowpact. The Shadowpact arrives in Chicago to save a school bus of children suspended high up in the air by Doctor Gotham. A quick rescue and battle results in the “ticking off” of Doctor Gotham. And he’s one man you don’t want to upset. He decides to simply destroy the entire city of Chicago. Tell you what – I know I’ll be back next month to see the destruction and just how the tables will turn with the arrival of the JLA.

Justice Society of America #7: The new Commander Steel – now Citizen Steel – gets the spotlight this issue. Sure, he’s your typical reluctant superhero, but the notion that he can no longer feel (due to the mysterious metal alloy that has bonded to his skin and nerves) gives the character some added depth. In a book filled with “legacy heroes,” he’ll fit in perfectly. There was a nice exchange between Citizen Steel and Power Girl:
Power Girl: You’re a football player, right?
Citizen Steel: I was.
Power Girl: Stay right here. And catch what we throw at you.
Citizen Steel: What are you going to throw at me?
Turns out to be American supremacist Nazis. And everyone hates those guys!

In a side story, Superman visits Starman (from the 31st century) at the looney bin on a Wednesday – Sloppy Joe Day! While sharing Sloppy Joes and milk, Superman attempts to make sense of Starman’s – Thom’s – ramblings. The discussion ranges from Thom’s purpose in this time, to threats to the Mulitverse, and to the Legion of Superheroes in the 31st Century . A lot of this doesn’t make sense now, but it’s all connected to the DC Universe at large.

Green Arrow: Year One #1: A re-telling, a re-imagining, of the origins of Green Arrow. This is another strong work from the duo of Diggle and Jock. I expected this based on their prior work on Vertigo’s The Losers (of which I still have one tpb to complete the series). The Oliver Queen they present is kind of a jerk. He’s a spoiled rich, adventure-seeking, thrill junkie obsessed with the next high and the next supermodel that catches his eye. They throw in the requisite obsession with a bow and arrow – apparently he was trained by his parent’s friend, Howard Hill, the man behing Errol Flynn’s trick arrow shooting in the original Robin Hood movie. This re-imagining is interesting, and I’ll be anxious to see how it develops. Shipping every 2 weeks for 2 months, I won’t have to wait long.

Ryan's Masterpiece


Here is Ry's first attempt using the Graphire4 pen tablet with Corel Painter Essentials. It's a "shack" done in watercolor and acrylics. See, even a "can't draw" person can use this stuff.

New Media - July 17, 2007

New media arrives in stores on Tuesdays, so once a week – I try to limit myself to once a week – I go shopping for new books, DVDs, and music.

Here’s a taste of what has been added to my collection in the past week.

Books:
Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel
Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton

Comics:
Pearls Before Swine: Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! (Treasury) by Stephan Pastis

Music:
Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards by Tom Waits
Little Voice by Sara Bareilles
Paper Walls by Yellowcard

Look for these materials to join The Stacks in the near future. Some might even sneak by The Stacks and end up mentioned here before you know it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Josh Simpson

I have to credit Pop Candy for alerting me to this awesome site, SimpsonizeMe.com. You submit a picture of yourself and BLAMO! - you are transformed into a Simpson's character. How freakin' cool is that?!

I think I make a pretty handsome looking cartoon...

The Loss of a Night

Applying for jobs is a night-killer. I had these plans for what I'd do tonight once I got home from working on the garage. I was going to read for an hour, watch a couple TV episodes on DVD, pay my bills that are due, practice some more on my Graphire tablet, write up some of the many reviews I have pending for the blog - fun stuff, you know.

Instead, after a quick shower and supper, I spent the night filling out job applications. I've now applied in 8 different districts. It's just a lot work.

I am going to be so glad when I finally land a job. Not like I'll have more time for fun stuff, but at least I won't have to fill out any more applications (for awhile, I hope).

The Stacks - July 16, 2007

The Stacks, a weekly list of all I’m currently reading, or watching on DVD. New materials added are underlined.

Books:
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Dark Tower (Dark Tower book 7) by Stephen King
Nightwatch by Sergei Lukayaneko
On Writing by Stephen King
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel
Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton

Magazines:
Paste issue 32, June 2007

DVDs:
The X-Files: Season 6 (TV series)
Eureka: Season 1 (TV series)
Weeds: Season 1 (TV series)
Deadwood: Season 3 (TV series)
Futurama: Season 2 (TV series)
Black Snake Moan

Comics:
Blood: A Tale (TPB)
The Other Side (GN)
Beyond! (TPB)
Pearls Before Swine: Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! by Stephan Pastis (Treasury)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (GN)

Look for reviews/thoughts of selected materials from The Stacks…when I finish something. Anything.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My New and Awesome
Wacom Graphire4 Pen Tablet

I am just loving my MacBook this week.

Today, I noticed in the Sunday ad for Best Buy that Wacom Graphire4 pen tablets were for sale for $74.99. I’ve always thought it would be awesome to have a pen tablet for my computer. I would have longings for one every time I read about some artist describing how he uses a tablet to draw – and edit – his comics work. And they just sound and look like so much fun.

At a price as low as $74.99, I could not pass up the opportunity to own one myself. I did a quick search of the Internet to read customer reviews and found the reviews for this tablet to be particularly positive. I managed to snag the last one – only 10 minutes after Best Buy opened.

The Wacom Graphire4 pen tablet hooks into the computer – PC and Mac friendly – through a USB connection. The package includes the tablet, a wireless pen and wireless mouse, photo-editing software (Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 and Nik Color Efex Pro 2 GE), and creativity software (Corel Painter Essentials 2). All parts are battery-free. This is the first wireless mouse I’ve seen that didn’t require batteries - Ry didn’t believe me that this was even possible. The tablet has an active area of 20 square inches for pen use. In all, it’s a slick package.

The deal on the Graphire4 pen tablet runs this week, through Saturday, July 21, at Best Buy. If your local Best Buy is out, you can order the Graphire4 online at BestBuy.com for the same price. Even having only played with the pen tablet for a couple of hours, I can already highly recommend the purchase of a Wacom Grpahire4 pen tablet. I’m in heaven.
Here is a sketch of a lemon I drew with the pen tablet in the Corel Painter Essentials 2 program. I followed a quick tutorial and squeezed this lemon out. (It’s not the greatest, but this was my first time drawing with a pen in a computer paint program.) Click on the image to see the sketch in greater detail.

Happy Birthday, Neal!

Today, my best friend Neal takes one step closer to death at the ripe old age of 27. I hope he has a tremendously exciting birthday. I won't be there to celebrate with him, but I do have presents in mind that might make up for that fact. I just need to order them and have them shipped his way. Soon, buddy, soon.

Again, Happy Birthday, Neal!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Welcome to Bug House

We've become overrun with bugs. Tiny, black bugs. Everywhere. We're going to have to wrangle some up in a jar, or baggie, to show the pest man - to be called Monday.

And those pesky ceiling spiders are back as well.

Crap. Potential home buyers. Um, ignore that part about the bugs everywhere. We're sure to have to problem solved soon. Crap. I mean, what problem? There's no problem...

Schooled By Grandma

I hate being wrong about anything.

I was over hanging out at my grandma's after an early morning bike ride - 17.65 miles at 12.8 mph with Steve, Colby, Ry, Justin, and a buddy of Steve's- and in the course of our discourse got into a slight disagreement over the word - or supposed word - "bedraggled." She was convinced "bedraggled" was a word, and I didn't believe her.

A quick check of the dictionary proved me wrong:

bedraggled adj. Wet, limp, or soiled, as by being dragged through mud.

Oh, Josh. Taken to school by your grandma...hang your head in shame. Shame.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pretty Little Mistakes Review

I first learned about Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton on the Pop Candy blog. I do remember seeing the book at Borders a couple of weeks ago, but I ignored it because it looked chick-y. I mean, it was billed as a “Do-Over Novel.” What was I supposed to think? Turns out the whole “Do-Over” aspect of the book is another way of saying: "choose-your-own-adventure."

And holy Moses! I love “choose-your-own-adventure” books. I have tremendously fond memories of checking out Indiana Jones choose-your-own-adventure books from the library when I was a kid. Along with monster movie books, those Indiana Jones adventures were my continual library companions.

Pretty Little Mistakes is a novel written in second-person point-of-view. The story begins as you graduate high school and are forced to decide whether or not to go to college, or to travel abroad. From there, the possibilities are endless – in fact, there are 150 endings that develop from this singular beginning. Written in short, crisp and descriptive sentences, the one or two page sections move the storyline quickly along.

Having read through one complete life, I can tell you already that this is an addictive book. I went to college, became an art major and anarchist, was a victim of rape, testified in court, and then died of a heart attack while on the witness stand.
"You go to heaven through a silver stream of light and you enter a small sunny courtroom filled with case files. Tall walls lined with leather editions wait for you, and a round-the-clock butler routinely brings you coffee and cream in small porcelain teacups. You spend the rest of eternity looking up the reasons why some children are born with cancer, why humans hurt each other, where the Mayans went. It is all before you, in bound edition after bound edition. The answers."
Impressive writing for what could be considered a cheesy idea.

It was a brief life – about 20 minutes of reading – but not my only life. I am anxious to try again, to see where a different choice might lead. This might be the ultimate summer reading experience. A different – quick – and entertaining story with each read, that will keep you busy for hours as you explore the multitude of choice that exists in life – even fictional life.

New Feature!
Shrinking the Pile - July 13, 2007


pile (pil) n. 1. informal A large accumulation or quantity. 2. A whole lot of Josh – more than necessary, or healthy.
(American Heritage Dictionary)






Shrinking the Pile is a record of my attempt to become a more healthy dude by losing a large accumulation of weight through exercise and a healthy diet.

It is my hope that a weekly accounting to the world will help to keep me focused on my progress. The exact nature and content of these posts has yet to be determined. We’ll see what develops – and simply go from there.

Starting weight: 255 lbs

---
Rat: It’s called “Box Me In.” I will sell them a cardboard box and tell them to shove themselves inside it until they see results.
Goat: That’s ridiculous.
Box Me In insert: A few days after sealing the box, you will become hungry. DO NOT BE AFRAID. The box is WORKING!
(Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis)

Computer Updates

It figures. The moment I wish to turn on my computer and post a message about not posting any messages earlier in the day, I find out I need to do some software updates.

No biggie, really. It all works pretty slick with the way my MacBook is set up. It just means I had to wait even longer to make a post today.

And that post turns out to be a post about posting (and software updates). Not the most exciting.

Now I feel like eating some supper and watching a DVD. I'll get to my posting after that - later this evening. Hope you are enjoying the start of the weekend!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

100th Amazing Post - New Features

I started this blog Monday, June 4th 2007 with a post about jury duty. That seems like such a long, long time ago. Since then I’ve managed to post nearly every day – thus allowing myself an opportunity to write more and vent about all the things I do and enjoy – and, as an added bonus, have been able to keep in better contact with my friends through the comments.

And I have no intention of slowing down.

I will be adding a couple of new regular post topics to the blog. This will help fill out the week, and allow me the opportunity to write more about a couple of things that interest me. Thanks again for the attention you pay to the blog. Spread the word; I’ll be here - 100 posts strong and growing.

Here is the schedule of regular posting on the blog:

Monday: The Stacks
Tuesday: New Media
Wednesday: New Comics
Thursday: Great Escape stories
Friday: Shrinking the Pile *new feature*
Saturday: [catch up day]
Sunday: Tube Time *new feature*

Also:
Comic Thoughts
Miscellaneous reviews of books, movies, TV, etc.
Skillful Word-Slinging *new feature*

*Skillful Word-Slinging will allow me to highlight spectacular sentences and powerful passages I come across in my reading. I hope to share with you some of that skillful word-slinging that makes reading so enjoyable. (Great dialogue from movies and TV may also find its way here.)

*Shrinking the Pile - look for more information tomorrow. It’s not necessarily what you think it might be.

*Tube Time will be a weekly listing of the TV shows I’m currently watching. This feature will not start – and may have a name change – until the fall TV season kicks off. More information when the feature becomes a reality.

The Pirate Escapes VI

Here's how it works: the pirate is given five items - as varied and crazy as you can imagine - and a single scenario of peril to escape. From there, things get...interesting as the pirate attempts ANOTHER GREAT ESCAPE.

The Items (from inside your big polka-dot pockets – it’ll make sense soon):
1. Chihuahua
2. Bag of jellybeans
3. Bottle of seltzer water
4. Balloons
5. Shoehorn

The Scenario of Peril:
While walking in Chicago a mysterious black van pulls up beside you. Three men in black suits jump out, grab and toss you into the van and speed away. The men inject you with a serum that limits your mobility. You are then dressed in a clown outfit, complete with silly oversized shoes. The men stop the van and deposit you on the sidewalk in a scary-bad housing project, at night. Only then do you notice the $50 bills stapled to the clown outfit. As mobility begins to return, a group of angry youths stalk forward. (Courtesy of Erica)
---
Wearing a clown outfit outside of a circus ten is liable to get a person killed. Wearing a clown outfit with $50’s stapled to it in the projects at night is liable to get a person freakin’ killed.

Looking into the eyes of the approaching kids – and I’m sure they were all upstanding young gentlemen – I had sudden shiver of terror, and who wouldn’t? Most men would have made it in their pants, but not me. The shiver quickly passed. This was simply another night in the ghetto – in a clown suit – with a lot of money stapled to my person.

Having little time before the angry youths reached me, I quickly went to work on the balloons I found in my pocket. I assembled an army of ferocious balloon animals – a blue giraffe named Tiny, a purple monkey with an eye-patch (the result of an unfortunate accident with a blender and a banana), a red lion who was a little cowardly, a yellow seal baby, an orange hippopotamus, and a neutered green T-Rex (and believe me, there is nothing more ferocious than a T-Rex minus his marbles!). I left the army of balloon warriors behind me as the first youth stopped in front of my large, shiny red nose.

-Whatchew wearin’ my money for, clown?
-Are you on drugs?
-Yeah. So? Why you care anyway?

Instead of replying, I simply turn around and begin setting my balloon warriors between the mob and me.

-What? This ‘pose to scare us, clown?

I nod my head. I set the last of the balloon warriors at his feet. Suddenly – and with great speed – I reach into my other pockets, grabbing the Chihuahua and bottle of seltzer water. I spray the water directly into the dog’s face and toss him at the leader. I dive out of the way.

The sudden burst of water in its face sends the dog into a bloody rage. The small dog tears the leader to scraps.

Just as I suspected, the other youths – out of their minds on drugs – falsely assume that the balloon animals have come to life and are attacking. They disappear into the darkness like a candle snuffed out.

After eating such a large meal the Chihuahua staggers only a few steps after them before falling over into a food coma. I pick him back up – you can never be too sure when you might need a Chihuahua.

I open the bag of jellybeans and eat them – it is rude to not eat when others nearby are eating too. I then use the shoehorn to extract myself from the oversized clown shoes that would only serve to slow me down on my trek out of the projects. Another Great Escape, Pirate!

Oh, and you mysterious men in black. You’ve made your first and final mistake. Showing yourself to me has simply brought the pain down upon you so much sooner than you ever imagined. I will end you…you’ve been warned.
---
And that's how it is done. If you have a perilous scenario and five tools of escape to challenge me, please post them in the comments...and you will soon witness: Another Great Escape, Pirate!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk -
Review

These are dark stories. True stories. Disturbing stories. Scary stories. But through all that, there is some fun, some hope. Highly recommended.

The same can be said for all of Palahniuk’s work (Fight Club, Lullaby, Diary, etc.) This is why I find his books captivating – irresistibly good reads. I typically hesitate when it comes to non-fiction – and this book did sit on my shelf for a good long while – but once I started reading I tried so hard to read as s-l-o-w-l-y as possible so that it might last one day longer.

This collection of – true stories – is separated into three sections: People Together, Portraits, and Personal. Each section is full of tales that read like fiction, that make you question how you could have possibly not seen the world he describes. From combine demolition derbies and submarine life to castle builders and “Rocket Guy,” to searching for dead bodies in the mud and shuttling the dying around town to Brad Pitt’s lips and his father’s murder, Chuck Palahniuk presents us with a collection of tales truly Stranger Than Fiction.Chuck and Josh recommend stories by Amy Hempel – an AMAZING minimalist short-story writer. “Church Cancels Cow” - HA!

New Comics - July 11, 2007

Cover of the Week:
Green Arrow: Year One #1 by Jock
DC Comics

It’s a minimalist thing. I love the use of so much white space on this cover. The tiny pencil and ink image of Green Arrow standing ankle-deep in a lightly painted ocean just speaks of isolation. And if you know the origin of Green Arrow – shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted island – then the cover works. I’m not messing with the image quality of this one…click and enjoy.

This is a weekly list of the new comics I picked up at my local comic book shop, Mayhem Comics.

Green Arrow: Year One #1
Countdown #42
Justice Society of America #7
Shadowpact #15
X-Factor #21
The New Avengers #32
Punisher War Journal #9

Clubbing (GN)
Battlestar Galactica vol. 1 (TPB)
Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters (TPB)

Watch for thoughts or quick reviews when a comic requires the extra attention.

The Coolest Computer Program EVER

I found what has to be the coolest program I’ve ever run on a computer. The program, Delicious Library, allows me to catalog all the books, movies, music, and games I own by simply scanning their barcodes using the built-in webcam on my MacBook. The program then pulls – from a partnership of sorts with Amazon.com – all the information like: artwork, release date, stars, genres, ratings, running time, retail price, current value, Amazon customer ratings, summaries, and much, much more. This connection with Amazon provides recommendations of similar materials you might enjoy, while also allowing you to buy and sell items through Amazon with the click of a button. It’s an amazing example of synergy and only ran me $40 (I didn't cough up the extra $180 for a Bluetooth barcode reader - even though it would be really cool to have one).
I’ve only just begun playing around with the program, but it seems to be working real well and is a ton of fun. Check out the website to learn more about the coolness I’m enjoying. You poor, poor, PC-users.

Eureka ep. 2.1 - "Phoenix Rising" Review

The second season of Eureka starts out strong with this episode picking up a month after the season one finale.

As a result of Henry messing with the time stream in last season’s finale, Sheriff Carter and Henry are the only two people in Eureka who remember four years of a perfect future life. This knowledge is not sitting well with either man.

While Carter and Henry struggle to move past their memories, people in Eureka start bursting into flame. [How cool is it that I get to write about a show where people bursting into flame is just par for the course?!] While Carter investigates, Stark is released from his position as Director of Global Dynamics due to his tampering with the artifact. It was his experimenting that left Kim dead and the artifact…well, no one knows, “dead” maybe? In a surprising twist, Allison becomes Stark’s replacement as Director.

All this doesn’t fit with the idyllic future Carter once lived. Carter loses faith as Allison and he drift father apart instead of closer together. Henry cobbles together a device that will allow the two men to forget the future they once lived, and after explaining that Henry will never forgive Carter for allowing Kim to die, Henry erases Carter’s memory of the future.

Only, Henry doesn’t do the same to himself. Instead, he’s off to work for Global Dynamics, but with what sinister motives?

Oh, and the artifact? Turns out that all that energy can’t just disappear. It simply moved somewhere else. Like, inside Kevin, Allison’s autistic son. Interesting…

The visual effects in this show continue to amaze me. Just like the effects in Battlestar Galactica, I am surprised that they can do as much – and as realistically – as they can with a TV budget. I could print off screen captures from the show – Henry standing between the explosion of the artifact and Kim, for example – that are simply mind-blowing.

The show is a little unfriendly to new viewers (and my review as well – I assume in my review a knowledge of the characters and series), but I think the underlying mystery and the quirkiness of the characters could draw even those new viewers in. It also helps that the website and recaps are full of all the information you need to fully enjoy the individual episodes.

Next episode: Fargo messes around with a force-field generator and the town is in peril.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the latest adaptation of the mega-popular children series to hit the big screen.

I went to the packed midnight showing early this morning with my grandma – my midnight showing movie buddy. Playing on three screens in the theater, this was the largest audience to show up for the first screening of a movie this year at our theater. Composed mostly of high school age kids – or younger – this was the audience the movie was made for.

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. I still believe that what makes these movies so successful are the actors and actresses they cast to bring these characters to life. Each and every one does a fantastic job with their character. The new additions to the Potter universe – Luna Lovegood, Dolores Umbridge, and Bellatrix Lestrange – fit in perfectly with how I imagined them in my mind. They practically steal every scene they appear in. Luna Lovegood, in particular, is hilarious to watch on screen.

While the characters shine, I am a bit let down by the lack of a unique visual style. With the exception of Prisoner of Azkaban, this has been a consistent weakness of all the Potter movies. The style of new Potter director David Yates is serviceable to the story, but after being blown away with the world of Potter presented through the visuals in Azkaban, I suppose I came to expect more from these movies. In a world full of magic and awesome sights I simply expect to be blown away with what I see up on the screen.

Not to say I was completely unimpressed with the visual effects. I would be very interested to see the last 20 minutes of the movie in 3D on the IMAX. Even on a regular screen we a presented with a spectacular battle between Harry and the Order and Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The epic wizarding battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort shows just how awesomely powerful those little wooden wands can be.

The movie felt rushed, even at 2 hours 18 minutes. Movie freak that I am – and Harry Potter fan – I truly believe they should have started breaking each installment, from Goblet of Fire on, into two separate movies, bringing more of the novel story to the screen. Release the first part and then three months later release the second part. It’s win/win, really. The studio makes a ton more money, and we Potter fans get a more realized Harry Potter adventure on screen.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, out now, is playing in nearly every theater and well worth seeing on the big screen. This trip back into the Potter-verse has only made me that much more anxious for the final novel to reach stores July 21, 2007.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Comic Thoughts - Week of July 5, 2007

Short bursts of thought about comics I purchased and read the week of July 5, 2007.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #6: I still enjoy this series mainly for the beautiful art, because the story has been told already – with much more depth – in the Dark Tower novels. Still, what I do enjoy are the historical text pieces that run at the end of each issue, delving into the history of Mid-World and the Gunslingers. Next issue is the conclusion of this limited series, but I’ll cross my trigger fingers that we get a return – in comic form – to the world of the Dark Tower.

Countdown #43: For such a somber issue, things are finally starting to pick up. This week featured a pretty standard funeral for a hero, Bart Allen – the Flash. Jason Todd and Donna Troy are off to the Nanoverse in search of the missing Ray Palmer (the Atom); apparently he’s the key to saving the Multiverse. Trickster and Pied Piper are shot down in the parking lot outside of the funeral – although I doubt they’re dead. I am, however, curious as to what happens next with the pair of not-so-rouge rouges. It was also interesting to see Harleen Quinzel – the Joker’s former girl, Harley Quinn – hanging out with the Amazons and chatting with Holly. Jimmy decides to use his powers to become a hero instead of simply snapping photos of heroes. And finally, Forerunner learns that Monarch wishes her to lead his army against the Monitors. Oh, and that some mysterious woman has killed the rest of her race – nothing like the revelation of genocide to fully commit a person to your cause. All in all, a good week of dangling plot threads interesting enough to keep me hooked on the weekly Countdown, even if the art by Manuel Garcia with David Lopez was not so strong.

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #5: Seeing as I don’t follow the monthly Army of Darkness series, I won’t know if this crossover will have any lasting effects, but it was quite fun to read. The ending was great, but I’d heard the next Marvel adventure would feature the Marvel Apes, not Marvel Werewolves. Oh well, either way it would be a whole bunch of fun if they ran with one or the other of these zany ideas.

Justice League Unlimited #35: This story gets the series back on track after a few lower-quality issues in a row. It’s the return of kids’ comics with a message – this issue: “With time I’ll find my own place in the crazy old world.” Starring Steel, and Steel’s niece Natasha, the story also had some good old superhero fun, as well. Nice old-fashioned entertainment.

Detective Comics #834: A decent enough conclusion to the two-part team-up between Batman and Zatanna. The best thing about the issue was the nice character moment at the end where Batman forgives Zatanna for mind-wiping him, as seen back during the phenomenal Identity Crisis.

Nightwing #134: A strong issue, but nothing much to write home about. It’s just simple, straightforward, superhero-ing.

Faker #1: An interesting new mini-series from Vertigo Comics, written by Mike Carey, with art by Jock. I couldn’t begin to tell you what the comic is about. No clue. It has something to do with a group of college friends who lie, steal – fake – their way through college and life. By the end of the issue one friend finds that no one but his close friends even knows he exists, while another of the group is left shouting crazy ramblings from the top of a clock tower. Where this will all go, I do not know. And I won’t know until the trade comes out. I can wait until then, when it’s cheaper.

Black Canary #1: Black Canary has been a favorite character of mine since her guest appearance in The Ray, one of those forgotten series – but much loved by me – from the 90’s. She’s one of those “legacy characters” I love so much – her mom having been Black Canary back in the 40’s and 50’s as a member of the Justice Society. In this mini-series, Canary is attempting to decide whether or not to marry her long-time, on-again/off-again love, Green Arrow. She’s also trying to find a “normal” life for her adopted young girl, Sin – who was once being trained to replace the world’s premiere fighter, Lady Shiva, of the League of Assassins. Mix in an ex-husband and a villain from her past and this mini is rocking along (and not just because of the army of Elvis assassins, either).

Outsiders #49: The crossover with Checkmate concludes this issue, setting both series up for some major changes. Next month Batman takes over as leader of the Outsiders, and the book goes weekly while Batman selects his new team. However, if the Countdown promo piece is any indication of the new team – and it appears to be just that – then we are simply looking at two new members – Martian Manhunter and Catwoman – and the loss of Nightwing as leader and Thunder. Even if the roster is spoiled, I still look forward to this amazing series.

All Star Superman #8: An issue set entirely on Bizarro World. The thing with Bizarro is that I am easily annoyed with all the opposite talking that occurs – Bizarro is a messed up duplicate of Superman who speaks only in opposites. While this bothers me to read, the opposite version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that is sung in the issue is genius. This is a Grant Morrison Superman title, so it is well-written, but kind of out there and either amazing or frustrating, depending on your mood.

Eureka: Season 2 Begins Tonight

Finally, some TV coverage for the blog. Up until this point, there was nothing on TV that demanded my attention.

The second season of the Sci Fi channel's amazing show, Eureka, beings tonight at 9/8C. I loved watching this quirky show last summer and looked forward to its return. The show is about a small town with big secrets. Follow this link to the show's homepage to learn more about the town of Eureka, last season's episodes, and much, much more.

As if the return of Eureka wasn't enough, it appears that Sci Fi will be airing a preview of the upcoming Battlestar Galactica TV movie - Battlestar Galactica: Razor. This movie will have to keep us satisfied until the new - and final - season starts in early 2008.

I'll be posting my thoughts after each episode. Look for them the following day - unless I get swamped with work, in that case it'll be up as soon as possible.

New Media - July 10, 2007

New media arrives in stores on Tuesdays, so once a week – I try to limit myself to once a week – I go shopping for new books, DVDs, and music.

Here’s a taste of what has been added to my collection in the past week.

DVDs:
Not Another Teen Movie
Weeds: Season 1 (TV series)

Look for these materials to join The Stacks in the near future. Some might even sneak by The Stacks and end up mentioned here before you know it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Slow Day

What a day. I managed to put off any and all work. I slept until 11. I watched some DVDs, and I read. That's it. That's all I did.

I might have been better off having shoveled some more sand. At least then I'd have felt like today even happened. Not that I'm complaining. The DVDs and the reading were entertaining. That counts for quite a bit.

Tomorrow I plan to do all the work - filling out job applications, cleaning, working on my stories - I planned to do today. Also, I'll be seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at midnight. Could be a full day. Let's hope.

The Stacks - July 9, 2007

The Stacks, a weekly list of all I’m currently reading, or watching on DVD. New materials added are underlined.

Books:
Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Dark Tower (Dark Tower book 7) by Stephen King
Nightwatch by Sergei Lukayaneko
On Writing by Stephen King
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

Magazines:
Paste issue 32, June 2007

DVDs:
The Rock
Weeds: Season 1 (TV Series)
Deadwood: Season 3 (TV series)
Futurama: Season 2 (TV series)
Black Snake Moan
Venture Bros: Season 1 (TV series)
Hex: Season 1 (TV series)

Comics:
JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. vol. 1 (TPB)
Blood: A Tale (TPB)
The Other Side (GN)
Beyond! (TPB)
Wasteland vol. 1 (TPB)
Pearls Before Swine: Sgt. Piggy’s Lonely Hearts Club Comic (Treasury)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (GN)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Gone, Baby, Gone Trailer

The trailer for the movie Gone, Baby, Gone, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, is up on Yahoo! Movies. The movie, directed by Ben Affleck (and I know there are a lot of Affleck-haters out there, but give the man a chance at directing – this actually looks to be smartly made), stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, and Ed Harris, and opens in limited release October 19, 2007.

Gone, Baby, Gone, the fourth book in a series of five, features private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro searching for a missing little girl. They mix it up with the cops and the people of the streets in Boston. It’s a hard-hitting and emotional crime/mystery/thriller. I can’t say enough good things about this series of books by Dennis Lehane (author of the also fantastic Mystic River - made into a movie a few years back by Clint Eastwood). Anyway, the trailer looks great and I’ll be in line opening day – and it better open here in Des Moines, or I’ll be forced to make the drive and see it somewhere else.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Happy Wedding Day, Alissa!
Updated July 8, 2007 9:56 AM

My cousin, Alissa, is getting married this afternoon. She's the first of my cousins - she's my age - to get married.

It's supposedly a very popular day - 7.7.07 - to get married. It is a lot of sevens (good luck, right?), and it is easy to remember. It looks like it will be a beautiful day for the...mini-golfing.

Yeah. I said it. "Mini-golfing." It's not like the weather impacts the wedding that much. It is inside a church. Still, maybe there are outdoor pictures, or something. In that case, sure, the weather is beautiful for that as well.

It's a pretty sweet deal for all the wedding guests - the mini-golf. After the ceremony, but before the reception - at a golf course - we get free games of mini-golf. That's some smart thinking. It keeps our big family...occupied.

But enough about the mini-golf. Congratulations to Alissa and Mike! I hope you have a terrific day and a wonderful life together.

Update (July 8, 2007 9:56 AM):
Here's a picture of the happy couple leaving the church.

Oh. The mini-golf? It was
hot. I still managed a hole-in-one, and a final score of 5 over par - winning the game in my group.

A Good Ride

I went out this morning for a 21.03 mile bike ride with my mom (her first time out this year), Ry, Jake, and three of the uncles - Steve, Scott, and John. It felt like it was going to be a hot and humid ride, but after we started, I barely even noticed the heat or the humidity. That made for a very nice ride. We rode on the trail from Altoona to Pleasant Hill, and back.

I mainly stayed back and rode with my mom. We averaged a respectable 10.6 mph for over 20 miles of riding. That's not bad for a first ride. I was glad for the easier ride today. The past week has taken a toll - a lot of heat and a lot of hard work.

Riding bike alone is okay (as long as I have my music), but going with a group is so much more enjoyable. Without the group, the only person I could laugh at when they fall over would be me - and that's no fun. Steve couldn't get unclipped in time today, and he fell. We all had a good laugh. But I can't say much because I've come so close too many times myself.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Pirate Escapes V

Here's how it works: the pirate is given five items - as varied and crazy as you can imagine - and a single scenario of peril to escape. From there, things get...interesting as the pirate attempts ANOTHER GREAT ESCAPE.

The Items:
1. Blindfold
2. Stick of dynamite
3. Wallet made of duct-tape
4. Cassette tape of Air Supply’s Greatest Hits
5. 15 inches of rope

The Scenario of Peril:
You’ve been blindfolded and thrown out of a helicopter into the desert. Your hands are tied, and you’ve fallen from 12 feet up. (Courtesy of Erica)
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I fall and land properly, rolling to my side, and avoid breaking any bones. I drag my face over the rough ground to loosen the blindfold. It slips free from my head.

Finally able to see again, I spot a sharp rock – a rock I narrowly avoided during my impromptu crash landing – and use it to cut the rope, freeing my hands.

I now have two, equal, 7½-inch sections of rope. I stuff them in my pocket to use later.

I can see the helicopter still hovering above me. Watching.

I quickly peel apart my wallet made of duct-tape. I grab a baseball-sized rock and use the duct-tape to secure the stick of dynamite to it. I toss the rock/dynamite combination up at the hovering helicopter before the pilot can react.

The explosion outside the helicopter startles the pilot. He suddenly loses control of the bladed beast, and it gently falls to the ground.

I rush up and quickly bind the dazed pilot’s thumbs together using my two small sections of rope. I look the helicopter over and determine it is still capable of flight.

I hop into the pilot’s seat, jam my cassette tape of Air Supply’s Greatest Hits into the deck, and take off. What could have been a grizzly demise in a barren desert turned into, Another Great Escape, Pirate!
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And that's how it is done. If you have a perilous scenario and five tools of escape to challenge me, please post them in the comments...and you will soon witness: Another Great Escape, Pirate!

Best News of the Decade

It's here, it's here. It's finally here!

Monster Squad - my favorite monster mover ever - finally finds a 2-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition DVD release date: July 24, 2007. I'll be on RAGBRAI at the time, so I'll just order it off of Amazon (for $14.99). I'll make sure it's the first thing I watch when I get home.

I remember renting this movie about every fourth trip to the video store. It's right up there with Better Off Dead as one of the most rented - and watched - movies of my childhood. This is just such fantastic news for me! I'm going to be happy all day long.

Now, if Disney would just release Condorman, my childhood would be nearly captured and up on a shelf to pull out and enjoy whenever I so desire.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

New Comics - July 5, 2007

Cover of the Week:
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower:
The Gunslinger Born
#6
by Jae Lee
Marvel Comics

It could be as simple as the fact it features a girl with a gun. Oh heck, I’m kidding no one. It is because it features a girl with a gun. I have been very impressed with how well Richard Isanove paints Jae Lee’s shadow-heavy and moody pencils. This series is what it is because of the art.

This is a weekly list of the new comics I picked up at my local comic book shop, Mayhem Comics.

Nightwing #134
Countdown #43
Outsiders #3
All Star Superman #8
Faker #1
Detective Comics #834
Black Canary #1
Justice League Unlimited #35
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #6
Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #5

Outsiders vol. 6: Pay As You Go (TPB)
The Damned vol. 1: Three Days Dead (TPB)

Watch for thoughts or quick reviews when a comic requires the extra attention.

Comic Thoughts - Week of June 27, 2007

Short bursts of thought about comics I purchased and read the week of June 27, 2007.

Wonder Woman #10: While novelist Jodi Picoult (The Tenth Circle) writes a strong Wonder Woman, this whole Amazons Attack event - of which this issue is a tie-in - is playing out as only mediocre to me. The far superior levels of destruction witnessed in World War Hulk have me a lot more engaged.

Countdown #44: This was a slower week than the last couple. After a talk with Billy Batson (the former Captain Marvel – now something much more), Mary decides to pursue her destiny alone, while Jimmy Olsen seeks out trouble to better understand his random super-power appearances (this week channeling some powers that resemble those of Forerunner). And speaking of Forerunner, she listens closely to Monarch speak of her place as a warrior in the upcoming war. All this is fine and good, but what really impressed me this week was the art by relative unknown, Carlos Magno. He has some sharp-looking pencils – nice figures, dynamic poses, interesting panels. He also draws attractive women – something prevalent in this issue, especially the splash page of Holly finding help at an Amazonian women’s shelter. Here is an artist to watch. I hope he shows up in Countdown again. Soon.

Amazons Attack! #3: This issue reminds me a bit of the TV series, 24. The president has implemented the McCarran Act – allowing the government to arrest and detain suspicious individuals - any one with Amazonian ties, i.e. those women’s shelters I mentioned earlier. They did the same thing in 24 this season with anyone Islamic. What added a bit of spark to this mediocre series was the revelation of a mysterious second party urging this war on. The sudden appearance of Supergirl and Wonder Girl on the side of the Amazons – halting Air Force One in mid-air – gave us a nice little cliffhanger of an ending.

Blue Beetle #16: Another hilarious and strong issue. The issue features guest villain, Eclipso – the wrath of God – and guest star, Traci 13 – super-powerful teen magician/detective. I like how this series explores both being a teenager and a reluctant superhero. If I had to pick a book to recommend to someone new to comics – superhero comics – this would be that book. It also contained the line of the week from Traci 13’s banter with Eclipso:

“‘Cuz you suck. I’m not the only one thinks that. Batman’s file on you? ‘Eclipso. Power: Sucking.’”

It’s just funny to imagine Batman having a file that says that.

X-Factor #20: This was a good conclusion to all that’s been building over the past 19 issues. I’m a bit concerned that the big X-Men event and crossover – “Endangered Species” – is going to mess with one of my favorite Marvel comics, but I’ll try a little optimism. Writer Peter David deserves that much simply for the fantastic job he’s done with the series thus far.

The Immortal Iron Fist #6: This is the conclusion to “The Last Iron First Story.” And it’s a doozy. I love me some kung fu, and this is one superior kung-fu comic. All of it, from the tough-guy noir writing of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, to the dark, moody art of Daniel Aja – all of it works together to dropkick you smack in the head. The flashbacks and sense of history – a legacy – have fascinated and interested me from the start. It reminds me a lot of Starman or JSA because of the depth a legacy aspect adds to all these series.

She-Hulk #19: The comic finally gets back to its superhuman-lawyering roots. And that is a good thing, that is what got me hooked on the series in the first place. We have the trial of the Leader (a Hulk villain) and the upcoming lawsuit against Tony Stark (Iron Man), so I’m sure we’ll get more of that lawyer-y fun. The issue also featured the return of Pug, who has a mysterious new job. Back to its root, make She-Hulk mine!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Under A Blazing Sun

60 oz. water
32 oz. Glacier Freeze Gatorade
6-inch sub sandwich
4-pack Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies (minus 1 cookie)
snack-size bag of salted peanuts

and a 32 oz. Diet Coke while driving home

This is apparently what it takes to complete a 41.19 mile bike ride at 14.1 mph. In the blazing-hot sun. Riding for just under 3 hours.

I rode with Steve and some of his buddies from UPS and Irwin's Bike Shop. It was a pretty fantastic day - except for the heat - for a bike ride. If we had started at 5 or 6 in the morning we might have missed some of the heat, but that's fine. It's good practice for RAGBRAI - even though we will be starting early, we'll still catch some of that July heat.

We rode the Chichaqua Bike Trail from Bondurant to Baxter. I took it easy riding the first 10 miles, and then after a short rest, Steve and I kicked it up a notch. After lunch in Baxter at the Kountry Korner gas station, I rode another quick, quick 10 miles. The last 10 I cruised slowly in the back of the back.

This was a great ride for me. I didn't feel too out of shape - I hadn't ridden since June 20th - and I was able to still walk afterwards. This puts me at about 554 miles for the year. I'm too far away from my goal of 1,000 by RAGBRAI, but I might get 750. It's all gravy training after 500 miles.

Ratatouille Review

Ratatouille is a smart comedy. This seems like a weird thing to say in relation to an animated movie, but it is a Pixar flick, so I suppose that’s to be expected. I just think it funny that one of the smarter movies I saw this summer happened to be a cartoon. Not that I mind. In fact, this is the type of animated movie I prefer. I’ll take smart cartoon over a Shrek-like comedy any day.

Ratatouille is the story of a rat, Remy, who was blessed/cursed with a sense of taste and lack of fear for humans – both big no-no’s in the rat world. After being separated from his family in a hilarious incident with an old woman and a shotgun, Remy finds his way into the former 5-star Parisian restaurant, Gusteau’s. Here the movie truly beings.

Remy soon meets up with Linguini, your typical hapless – human – loser, who is happy enough to simply have his job as dishwasher and garbage boy. In predictable movie fashion, the two decide to team up: Linguini, who couldn’t cook to feed his own starving mother (if she was still alive), and Remy, the “little chef” who – like anyone (one theme of the movie) – can cook quite well. Shenanigans occur, and things end up like you would expect.

Ratatouille is another strong animated movie from the Pixar studio. While not as funny or fun as The Incredibles or Toy Story, the movie is worth seeing in the theater for nothing other than the incredible CGI animation. The rats are beautifully rendered, and the camera movement places you smack dab in the middle of all the action.

The animated short, “Lifted,” that runs before the feature is quite funny. Not my favorite of the shorts – the one with the dancing lamb still cracks me up – but still worth the price of the theater ticket alone. The short, short preview for Pixar’s next release, Wall-E, about a tiny robot “discovering what he’s meant for” looks very promising.

Whether you are a lover of food, or simply enjoy a smart, animated flick, Ratatouille is a dish worth sampling.

My Poor Hands

My poor, poor hands. It's almost as if I'd been working with them for the past week, using them to build...something. A garage? Yeah, that explains it! My hands are so dry (from being completely covered in concrete), so banged up (small, but painful, cuts and blisters), and so stiff (from just being used so damn much). They're real man hands now. They do ache, though.

And let me tell you: my job as "human skidloader" - shoveling and moving dirt - made the rest of my muscles (yeah, nearly all in my body) a bit sore today. Construction is hard work, especially if you are more than a little out of shape.

Oh well, I'm only getting stronger. Soon I'll be impossible to tell apart from a super-strong robot.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

New Media - July 3, 2007

New media arrives in stores on Tuesdays, so once a week – I try to limit myself to once a week – I go shopping for new books, DVDs, and music.

Here’s a taste of what has been added to my collection in the past week.

Books:
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

DVDs:
The Rock
The Unit: Season 1 (TV series)
Eureka: Season 1 (TV series)
Batman Beyond: Season 2 (TV series)
How I Met Your Mother: Season 1 (TV series)

Music:
Live at the Gorge 05/06 by Pearl Jam

Look for these materials to join The Stacks in the near future. Some might even sneak by The Stacks and end up mentioned here before you know it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Prime is King!
Transformers Review

I went into this movie without high expectations – a rarity for me. Ever since the first advertisement, I was a bit disappointed by the Transformers’ look. There were too many pieces. They looked too much like walking scrap metal. There was not enough of the “robots in disguise” I knew, and loved, from my childhood. I went into the movie with the expectation that I would not enjoy what I saw.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. Optimus Prime is king! Transformers is a mind-blowing, head-spinning, blockbuster success. I won't be able to say enough good things about this movie. Who’da thunk it? A movie based on an 80’s cartoon in which vehicles – and even dinosaurs – turned into robots…please.

Which begs the question: How in Zeus’ buttcrack did they pull this one off?! The movie was – in a word – frantic. The characters ran around as if fueled by liquid crack. The special effects were so impressive that you eventually just gave up the notion that these robots were not real. And to top it all off, the movie is hilarious. I was initially a bit concerned about the humor I saw in a couple of clips on TV, but man was I wrong. The humor fit and gave the movie a second level to enjoy.

It was just a few days ago that I was shoveling praise on Live Free or Die Hard. Taking nothing away from Live Free, I have to – with all the tiny power of this blog – deliver a heap of praise on Transformers, as well. The movie is flat out a-maze-ing!

Spidey, who? Pirates of what? All hail Transformers! Go. See. It.

A Whole Lot of Music - June Reviews

Once: Music From the Motion Picture
This is a great soundtrack to the indie-musical, Once. I don’t know much about the story of the movie, but the songs are fantastic. I’d guess it’s a love story because the songs reflect that love. Both the man, Glen Hansard (of the band, The Frames), and the woman, Marketa Irglova, have solid, folksy voices.

Solid Tracks: “Falling Slowly” - “When Your Mind’s Made Up” - “The Hill” - “Leave” - “Once”
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Truth in Sincerity by Amber Pacific
I first became aware of the group, Amber Pacific, while on vacation in Wisconsin. My cousin Beth was convinced that the song we were listening to was by Amber Pacific, but I doubted her – I didn’t believe there was even a band called Amber Pacific. Turns out I was wrong. And that, wow, they are pretty good. They sound a lot like Yellowcard and New Found Glory. It’s just great, rockin’ summer music.

Solid Tracks: “Summer (In B)” – “Temporary” – “You’re Only Young Once” – “Follow Your Dreams, Forget the Scene” – “Fall Back Into My Life” – “Watching Over Me”
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Riot! by Paramore
Earlier on I proclaimed my love for Paramore’s first CD, All We Know Is Falling. Their second release blows their first clean away. It’s fantastic. It’s one of those CD’s you can listen to, and listen to, and never get bored with– at least, I haven’t yet. This CD will have a permanent place in my bike tunes for the summer! (If you purchase the disc at Best Buy it comes with three bonus tracks – 1 extra track, 1 live cut, and 1 demo.)

Solid Tracks: “For A Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic” – “Hallelujah” – “When It Rains” – “Let the Flames Begin” – “We Are Broken” – “Fences”
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Icky Thump by The White Stripes
The White Stripes have always been “mood” music for me. Their brand of fuzzy rock is something I enjoy only when I’m in the mood for that type of rock. That said, this is a pretty good album. I am enjoying it more than I did Get Behind Me Satan, but not as much as Elephant. It's classic White Stripes, with a bit of a European folk sound on a couple of tracks. If you enjoy the band’s music, the CD is worth purchasing.

Solid Tracks: “Icky Thump” – “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” – “Conquest” – “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” – “A Martyr For My Love For You”
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Easy Tiger by Ryan Adams
This album falls somewhere between Adams’ more rocking sound (Gold) and his more country sound (Cold Roses). Not quite as enjoyable as Gold, I still found this to be a strong album. Adams keeps pumping the music out – at least a CD a year – and if you can handle that country/folk/rock blend, then that’s a great thing for you.

Strong Tracks: “Goodnight Rose” – “Everybody Knows” – “Halloweenhead” – “The Sun Also Sets” – “Pearls on a String”
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My December by Kelly Clarkson
It’s a shame Clarkson had to cancel her tour supporting the new album because it’s not half bad. In fact, I enjoy it quite a bit. Clarkson has a very nice voice – easy to listen to. Sure, some of the songs have lame lyrics, but I can overlook that if they sound nice to me. The album is just as entertaining as Breakaway, even if it doesn’t have as many “radio” songs on it.

Strong Tracks: “Never Again” – “Sober” – “Haunted” – “How I Feel” – “Yeah”
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Live at the Gorge 05/06 by Pearl Jam
I love that Pearl Jam keeps releasing entire concerts live on CD. This 7-disc collection covers the band's performances at the Gorge, an outdoor amphitheater in central Washington, from September 5, 2005 and July 22 & 23, 2006. I’ve only made it through the first three discs, but the band knows how to put on a live show. This feels like the ultimate collection for any Pearl Jam fan. Now, if I could just actually see them live…

Strong Tracks: every single one – it’s a love letter of sound to a Jam fan