Quote of the Moment

"Beep Industries currently has no openings. This is a good thing. Any number of career paths are better than game development. Lots of jobs are more lucrative and far less work. We hear marketing and animal husbandry are filled with potential."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Review: Burn Notice Pilot

The Mrs. and I watched the pilot episode for Burn Notice last night on USA. I liked it enough to do an initial review on it. My plan for shows like this is that I'll do an initial review, then around the middle or end of the season, come back and revisit any issues that I brought up in the initial impression.

Show: Burn Notice
Genre: Action
Network/Timeslot: USA, 10pm Eastern & Pacific
Appropriate for: Probably 14-15 and up. I'd say most anyone who's up at 10pm on a school night.

Burn Notice is USA's latest "Quirky Character" show, following in the similar vein of Monk and Psych in this regard. In this case, the lead quirky character is a CIA freelancer named Michael Westin who receives a "burn notice" while on a mission in Nigeria. Apparently, in the Burn Notice world, spies, at least those who don't officially work for the government but are contracted unofficially, don't get fired, they get burned. Meaning that since you can't remove the knowledge of how to operate from a spy's head, you take away the tools he uses to do his job. No money, no supporting agents, etc.

It's a pretty good setup, but fortunately for our hero, he apparently graduated from the McGuyver school of spying, since his suddenly limited budget only makes him get more creative with his tools. In the pilot alone, we see him assemble a bug out of cell phones, a pipe bomb out of household implements, and convince a drug dealer to leave using duct tape, a stud finder, a coffee can, and a .45.

It also bears noting that one of the supporting cast members is none other than Mr. Bruce Campbell, playing a burned (and burnt out) friend of Michael's. Bruce "If Chin's could kill" Campbell apparently put on a few pounds for the role, but he still manages to steal pretty much every scene he's in.

It's not all rosy in this show though. One of my biggest complaints is that everything Michael does gets a voice-over explanation. I don't mind a little bit of this (it works well in Psych), but I swear, everything he does has to be explained in the manner of
"When you're a spy, you can't just go to the bathroom. You have to check the exits, make
sure there's no one with a gun lurking in one of the stalls, then pick a urinal with an easy path
to the exit just in case. Oh, and once you finish, don't forget to wash your hands."
The deadpan delivery isn't bad, but by the end of the episode, I really didn't want to hear any more explanations.

Still, I remember that Psych took a while to come into its own, and the premise here isn't bad. It's been a long time since we've had a good McGuyver type character on TV, and if the show sticks to the spy out of water and making do formula, preferably toning down on the voice-overs, I think they'll have another hit on their hands.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Aggressors in Odd Places

About a week ago, while trying to find something on TV to watch while I fed The Girl and rocked her to sleep, I came across Fire Birds on Comcast's free movies On Demand service. Since Monday night TV is a vast wasteland of drivel (at least until Ani-Monday comes on at 11), and I hadn't seen a decent aviation movie in a while, I figured I'd give it a go.

What I learned is that Fire Birds basically attempted to be Top Gun, only with Army AH-64 Apache helicopters instead of Navy F-14 Tomcats. Unfortunately, it does so in a way that makes the plot and dialog in Top Gun seem Oscar-caliber. Aside from Tommy Lee Jones, who basically plays the same grumpy old guy character that he plays in every movie, nobody seems to know what they're really doing. Still, just like in Top Gun, the actors aren't the real stars, the aircraft are. And if you're into lots of footage of Apaches doing Cool Things, this isn't a bad movie to watch.

It also, and this brings me to my real point, used the Saab J-35 Drakken, one of my favorite aircraft of all time, as the Bad Guy "aggressor" fighters.

I've always been a fan of Sweden's Saab jet fighters. Most countries Sweden's size long ago abandoned any home-grown military fighter development in favor of buying other countries' designs, but Sweden keeps on going, creating enormously capable aircraft that are designed to operate off roadways all over their country, and that can keep up with the current fighter generation.

The Drakken is one of those jets that looks fast sitting on the ground. I know there are a few in private hands here in the USA (imagine if they went after warbird owners the way they go after gun owners!) and if I had the money, this is definitely the ex-military bird I'd buy. (Anyone got a few million bucks around they'd like to donate to me?) Just watch the video below, and you'll understand.

Oh, and for a bonus, here's the Drakken's successor, the Viggen, doing a maneuver I'm pretty sure makes F-16 drivers green with envy.

Watching something like that, their "Born from Jets" car slogan actually does makes me want to buy one.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rocket Hijinks with Top Gear

I was going to do a Friday review post for kids shows today, but it'll have to wait until next week. Sesame Street, the Wiggles, et all will still be doing their thing then, I'm sure.

However, after the last post and the discussion on model rocketry, I have to direct your attention to these videos. Courtesy of The Highly Official Weblog of Phillip A.V. McCarthy, I give you

Rocket Robins

In the words of Calvin: "Why can't my successes be as spectacular as my failures?"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Father's Day 2007

Sunday was my second Father's Day where I wasn't just giving attention to my Father, but also a dad myself. I think most of my Father's day present to my dad was providing tech support for their computer (Office 2003 suddenly decided it wanted to be installed again), but I got a couple of great gifts.

First off, my kids (as directed by my lovely and gracious wife, since the kids are still much too little to make these kinds of decisions) purchased a ticket to a Mariners - Indians doubleheader in September. I think I've made my abundant love of the American National Pastime clear, and while I'd still rather watch a National League game, spending the day at the ballpark and taking in a pair of games is something I've wanted to do for a long time.

The second gift was The Dangerous Book for Boys. Just skimming though it, I think it's an absolutely phenomenal tome. When I was a certain age (about 8 to 13) this kind of book, with its wide range of subjects from great historical battles to instructions on the proper hunting, skinning, and cooking of rabbits; would have been poured over countless times. I look forward to sharing much of the knowledge contained therein with my son.

After all, looking back on my childhood, what do my brothers and I reminisce about? It isn't the time we spent all day sitting on the couch watching TV, it's the time we chased one of Birdy's (my second brother) rockets down the street after it underwent a somewhat less than optimally successful launch.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Stupid Aviation Tricks: Citation II Roll

Far too many aviation accidents have started with words to the extend of "Hey guys, watch this!"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Food is not that expensive!

Courtesy of Ahab's blog commentary on fat folks, I linked over to this wonderful post by Zuska on the trials of being a person of larger than socially acceptable size.

Other than to say that Ahab and I are pretty much in agreement, I won't say much about the fattism (is that really a word? I weep for the English language) debate in and of itself. However, one of Zuska's comments really rankled me because I've heard the argument before and it's demonstrably untrue.

Here's the quote from Zuska's post that really knotted my knickers (bolding added by me for emphasis)
"I do not, however, hold any bitterness toward the person who is working from 8-5 and rushing to pick up her kids from day care and who potentially can't afford to shop at Whole Foods, and who does stop at the drive through window at McDonald's because a Happy Meal costs $1.99 (or whatever they cost these days) while cooking a decent meal costs at least $30 ..."

$30 for a "decent" meal? If that was the case, my family would starve, since we're blessed if we can spend $50 a week on groceries. Seriously here, a "decent" meal for a family of 4 (what we have) can be easily done on $10 or less, and still leave leftovers for lunches the next day. For example, here's a common dinner at the Caster residence: Spaghetti ($.99 for a box), spaghetti sauce ($3.50 for a jar), 1/2 a bag of frozen veggies ($1.99), and juice (from concentrate, $1.25 for a can).

I get seriously irritated when I hear the argument about how much home meals cost. A loaf of wheat bread is 99 cents. A jar of natural peanut butter that'll make 20+ sandwiches is 4 bucks. Apples range from $.99 to $1.5 per pound. A big sack of flour, from which you can base tons of meals, costs $5.

Do you know what's expensive at the supermarket? Twinkies. Ding dongs. Ice cream. Convenience foods like Pop-Tarts, Hot Pockets, and frozen pizzas. Basic staple foods are not expensive, and the people who claim that they are obviously haven't spent any time in the grocery store buying them.

Book Review: Ten Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships

Author: Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger
Genre: Self Help / Relationships
Appropriate for: Probably 15 and up.

First off, I have a confession to make: my wife and I received this book as a wedding gift more than five years ago. To whomever gave it to us, and took the time to get it autographed and personalized, I'm sorry it took me this long to read it. Had I done so sooner, perhaps my wife and I would have had a bit less Stupid Pain.

This is a book for anyone who's in a relationship, or looking to be in one. Basically, if you're fifteen or older, and not a priest or cloistered monk, this should be a must read. It's sprinkled heavily with anecdotes of callers and e-mailers from Dr. Laura's radio show, which typically are either examples of what not to do, or examples of people who "get" it, and have fixed whatever the problem was.

Inside, the book breaks down the ten stupid things by chapter. While I, fortunately, haven't been guilty of all ten, I do have to admit that at one time or another, I've been guilty of at least five of them, and recognized certain thoughts or tendencies of mine in some of the others. For me in particular, Stupid Secrets, Stupid Priorities, and Stupid Happiness were all things I saw to work on, and in a funny way, the sections on Stupid Mismatch and Stupid Breakup actually served as a validation of sorts, that I really am married to exactly the right woman and not guilty of these particular stupid things.

To me, a marriage is kind of like a car: preventative maintenance is a lot cheaper and less painful than fixing something when it breaks. You change the oil in your car regularly because it's cheaper than sitting by the side of the freeway waiting for the tow truck after your engine seizes. Likewise in a marriage, where stopping problems when their small can prevent them from growing bigger. My wife and I have always had a good marriage, but with two kids and the pressures they bring, it's easy to get a little out of focus sometimes. This book helped me get back on track, and I think my wife's been happier because of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Squirrel Wounds Three.

Okay, this is why we need more people keeping the local squirrel pest population in line with .22 caliber justice. Sure they're just in Germany now, but how soon will the Squirrel Commandos arrive on our shores? No park will be safe! Dogs will cower in terror! Be prepared. Buy a varmint gun today, or suffer the wrath of our Para-squirrel commando overlords tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New Update Schedule

Okay, I give in. Unlike Ahab, who's able to string together amusing and thought provoking posts on a daily basis, I can't seem to do quality posts quite so frequently. I blame my two kids, and the fact that Ahab's always been one of the few people who can make me seem taciturn.

So it's time to shoot for a new, and hopefully more workable update schedule, with posts every Tuesday and Friday, plus stupid aviation tricks every weekend. If I have something really interesting to say I'll do an additional post, but for sure content on those three days.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Entertaining Updates

No update yesterday was caused mostly by needing a day to recuperate from the weekend with friends. While I realize that just hanging out, playing CCG and board games and watching movies is pretty boring fair, it was fun and relaxing for all of us.

You may notice that I've updated the Now Reading/Playing/Watching sidebars. Having finished the 10 Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships (review coming Friday), I'm off to lighter fare, namely burning through the first volume of Full Metal Panic. It's manga, it's funny, and one of the trigger-happy main characters alternately reminds me of Ahab and the prototypical mall-ninja.

Sam & Max is done for the season, so I'm experimenting with the free side of Gametap's service and trying out Tomb Raider Legends. I don't play many 3rd-Person action titles, so I'm having a fair amount of fun with this one, despite irritating little details like the game not saving my custom control scheme after each session. Still, it runs well and looks good on my 3.5 year old PC, and it was free, so I can't complain too much.

Finally, with Shin-Chan in re-runs on Cartoon Network for the next few months (but showing at 11:30 on Saturdays now) I've dropped it from my watch list. It'll go back on when (if) they start airing new episodes again.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Stupid Aviation Tricks: Midair Bird Strike

Here's what happens when a Canadian Hawk trainer ingests a bird shortly after takeoff. Technically not a stupid trick, but definitely worth watching.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Momentum is easy, gaining it is hard

My best friend from college, along with his wife, are coming for a visit to Casa de Caster this weekend. I've known R.S. for ten years, and if it weren't for him, K.F., and D.L., I probably would have been among the freshmen at my college who simply disappear after one year.

The short version of the story is that my freshman year was miserable. One roommate was genuinely evil, another was an Alabama redneck named Bubba. Most of my classes were boring. The rules annoyed me.

If it weren't for my five friends, all of whom I knew would be back, and who I knew I'd miss if I bailed, I would have quit. Maybe I'd have a good job doing something else, but if I'd quit after a year, I would have missed out on building the great friendships I still have, and I never would have met my beautiful wife. It would have been the biggest mistake of my life.

Since R.S., myself, and both our wives are graduates of the same school, we'll probably spend the weekend joking about our alma mater, complaining about how things have gone downhill since we left, discussing kids and playing lots of games. It's good to have friends. It's better to be friends.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Video Game Review: Sam & Max: Season 1

Having recently finished playing through the last episode of the season, it's time to take a few moments and review the aggregate first season of Sam & Max.

A little background before I get started, I first encountered Sam & Max in the back of the LucasArts Company Store catalogs that used to be packed in with games purchased in the pre-internet dominant days of the early and mid-nineties. Not too long after that, I found that our local library had a copy of the Sam & Max graphic novel. I was hooked. That book became pretty dog-eared over the years, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the readers were my brothers and me.

A couple of years later I got my first computer, and acquired a copy of Sam & Max: Hit the Road. Arguably the pinnacle of the LucasArts SCUMM engine games, Hit the Road was an instant classic with lines I still quote to this day. If you ever walk into a room and someone says "You're back! And you're bigger than a breadbox. Three breadboxes even!" then you're in the presence of a Sam and Max fan.

Thus it was with great joy that I learned that LucasArts was going to resurrect the six-foot dog and three-foot rabbitty-thing for a new adventure, and great sorrow when I learned that they'd canceled it. Telltale Games announcement that they had picked up the license, and would be publishing new Sam & Max games in an episodic format was met with cautious optimism. Hey, it was new Sam & Max, and they were working with the original creator, but episodic? I wasn't convinced.

I'm convinced now. Each of the six episodes, taken alone, play out as short 2-3 hour games. Some are a bit better than others (Episodes 4 and 6 are my favorites), but each can stand alone. However, much like a good TV drama (Firefly, SG-1, ER) where individual episodes stand out on their own merits, but full seasons weave more complex plots and over-arching stories that cary from episode to episode, so it is with Sam & Max. The first three episodes serve to establish an overall conspiracy and introduce the cast of characters. Things take a dramatic turn in the fourth episode though, and the remaining two are madcap jaunts through ever-growing weirdness before reaching a conclusion of truly global proportions.

For those who aren't familiar with the previous incarnations of Dog and Bunny, here's the ADD summary: Sam is a six-foot dog, and the nominal voice of reason for the duo. Max is a three-foot rabbitty-thing and the voice of insanity and mindless violence. They're private detectives, and freelance police. Each episode opens with a call from the commissioner, providing them with some new case to look into. In each episode they also have encounters with Bosco, the owner/operator of the local Inconvenience store, and Sybil, the job-hopping careerist down the street.

The first episode revolves around a plot to take over the world hatched by the washed up stars of a '70s children's TV show. Of course, they must be stopped, but this is only the grease-tipped tail of the massive rat called Conspiracy.

The games are available now on Gametap or from Telltale Games' website. If you fondly remember the original game, or just want to try a great new adventure game, give these a shot.

For an additional taste of weirdness, check out http://www.maxforpresident.org/

Genre: Adventure Game
System: PC
Rated: T (Ages 13 and up)
Appropriate for Ages: Probably ten and older, although at that age, they may not get some of the more obscure or esoteric humor.
System Requirements: If you've bought a new computer in the past three years, you should be fine.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

D-Day Rememberance

Take a moment today to remember that 63 years ago, 155,000 American, Canadian, British, Free French, and Polish volunteers landed on the beaches of Normandy, on the North coast of France, to begin the great push to free western Europe from the Nazi war machine. The crosses, tombstones, and other markers that now show their passing are reminders of a time when battles were fought with the expectation of a minimum 10% casualty count, and when friendly troop deaths for single battles were measured, not in tens, but in hundreds or thousands.

Let's also be grateful that the modern media and opposition did not have the power then that they have now, or the invasion plans would have been leaked and published in the New York Times two months before the invasion began, and political commentators would be calling for a pullout and impeachment of President Roosevelt after the casualty reports of the first day.

Finally, remember that there are still young men and women serving now, in Iraq, Afganistan, Germany, Okinawa, South Korea, aboard ships, all over the United States, and scattered in countless other deployments that we may never know about, who still serve to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Fallout 3 Trailer

Back in 1997, I picked up a bargain bin game from my local software shack for my shiny new and expensive Pentium 200 computer. The game was Fallout 2, and it included, as a bonus, a copy of Fallout 1 as well.

And thus was an obsession born. I had never really played any RPGs prior to Fallout, and this was like handing uncut Jet to a virgin user. I was hooked. In the ensuing ten years, both my brothers and I have played countless hours in Fallout's post-nuclear world, and experimented with pretty much every character you could think of. Even now, I get the periodic urge to go back in and lose myself for a week.

All that to say why I'm extremely excited and happy to see Bethesda's Fallout 3 teaser trailer. While the pessimistic game developer I've become warns that it's entirely possible they'll still screw things up and make the game suck, the optimistic fan in me says "Look at that trailer! They got the atmosphere exactly right!"

If this won't run on Buuthandi (my current computer) I'll just have to upgrade. Fallout 3 is that important.

Starting to Believe

My brain tells me it's foolish optimism. It's June, the season's not even half over. Sure, the Dodgers are in first place, but look at where the other teams are in the standings. Sure the Mariners have won three straight, four of their last five, and had a winning road trip, but they're playing teams they ought to be beating, they're still 5.5 games out of first place, and they've only won two games against the Angels this season.

Still, I'm starting to believe it might be a good year for Dodgers and Mariners baseball. I grew up a Dodgers fan, and thanks to Al Gore and the series of tubes known as the Internet, I'm able to listen to the audio broadcasts live or the next day. Of course, I live near Seattle, so much like I'd become a Royals fan if I lived in Kansas City, or an Astros fan if I lived near Houston (the exception being that if I ever have the misfortune of living near San Francisco, the only Giants games I'll be attending are when the Boys in Blue are in town, and I'd be there with every scrap of Dodger apparel I own), I'm now a Mariners fan. Back in 2001 and 02, being a Mariners fan was easy, since they were good teams. It hasn't been so easy the last few years, but this year, I think things are different.

Last night, with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Mariners were down by a run. The teams of the last few years would have simply rolled over and died. The team of this year put together five consecutive hits, two of them pinch hits off the bench and one of them being the third hit of the night for a sub who'd been batting .225 to put up four runs and ultimately win the game.

So it's June, and if the Mariners can put together a good run, and figure out how to beat the Angels, they've got a shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. If the Dodgers can keep it together and stay ahead of the Padres and Diamondbacks, they will make the playoffs for the second year in a row. All I know for sure is that I'd better stalk up on antacids, because it's going to be a wild summer and fall.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bleeding is Easy

Before work today, I headed into the local blood center and had them take a pint of O+ out of my right arm. I try to do this every eight weeks or so, assuming my health cooperates.

It tends to leave me feeling a bit light-headed for a day, and I hate being stuck by needles, so why do it? Simply put, it's any easy way to do something good. I'm not a cop, a fireman, a soldier, or an ambulance driver. While I'd be willing to do so, I'll probably never rescue someone from a burning car, use the Heimlich to save a choking person at a restaurant, or stop an out-of-control bus carrying nuns and orphans from crashing into a gas station.

But I can do this. I can get up a half-hour earlier on a Monday morning, answer a bunch of check-box questions about my travel and sexual history, and sit in a chair while someone sticks a tube in my arm and drains out some a pint of blood. And maybe, for somebody, somewhere, one of those pints of O+ has been the difference between life and death.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Which Star Trek Character are You?

Because Ambulance Driver and Ahab did it first...

Your results:
You are Uhura

James T. Kirk (Captain)
Geordi LaForge
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Jean-Luc Picard
Will Riker
Beverly Crusher
Deanna Troi
Mr. Scott
Mr. Sulu
You are a good communicator with a
pleasant soft-spoken voice.
Also a talented singer.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

I'm so humiliated. I should at least be Geordi. Then again, I use Scotty's advice about giving time estimates to your superiors on a regular basis.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Weekend Aviation Fun: Stupid Citation Tricks

For my new reader(s), here's a weekend feature I'll try to keep going: Stupid (or sometimes cool) aviation tricks. For this week, though, it's definitely stupid: video of a pilot trying to land a Citation CJ 525 on a wet 3000' runway near Atlantic City. Note, the Citation model in question lists 3250' as the minimum runway distance.