Monday, December 31, 2007

My Tornado

After a relaxing six days in Michigan, my life has become a bit of a whirlwind over the last four.

First, the relaxing part. As usual, Michigan with my family was great. We brought Zelda along like we did last year, so the car ride was a little cramped (11 hours now, since we're an extra hour north after the move). She likes meeting new people, or remeeting old ones as the case may be, so it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

We celebrated Christmas three times in total. Despite my earlier naysaying, the last of them ended up being white after all as we passed over the rain/snow line on our way up to Midland Christmas afternoon. Being one of those families that still celebrates with presents, I got a few things worth mentioning: a new microwave (Thanks Mom & Dad); an assortment of music, TV, and movies to add to our sensory entertainment choices; a D&D mega-adventure (anyone up for a little Elemental Evil?); and enough food to last me until June. In a bit of a surprise, no one hooked me up with any comics or video games (staples of the last few years). That's probably all right as I have a bit of a backlog in both categories right now.

When we weren't hanging out with extended family doing Christmas related things, we spent a lot of time relaxing. It was nice to not be sitting in front of a computer for most of my waking hours. I worked on the Hitchhiker's Guide omnibus I brought with me and we finished watching "The War" which we had started back at Thanksgiving. It's a lot to take in over such a short period of time, but to those with a DVD rental service and a passing interest in the last great World War, I would highly recommend it.

Anyway, the tornado took over starting with Thursday's trip back home. On the way into Chicago, our windshield got struck by a large piece of debris from the truck in front of us. Nothing too serious, but bigger and way more annoying than a little pebble impact, especially since it's right in the driver's eyeline. Incidentally, let me know if anyone knows a reputable auto glass place in Minneapolis. When we got home, we found ourselves locked out of the house because our catsitters had inadvertantly locked the part of the door that we only have one key for (and they currently had it). So we had to make a 45-minute side trip over there to pick it up, meaning we got home around 8:00, but didn't get into the house until 9:00.

The next day we had plans to drive down to Iowa to visit with some of Meaghan's high school/college friends. The weather was pretty lousy on the way down, but after skating by numerous ditched cars for 4+ hours we made it safe and sound. Among others, we got to see Mike & Andrea (our Jersey friends) which is always a good time, and as a special bonus got to see Meaghan's friend Austin. He won some kind of lottery to come home for the holidays from where he's currently stationed in Kuwait. We got back from all of that sometime around 3:00 AM. 20 hours of driving in two days is officially a lot.

Sunday was our own private Christmas. Meaghan and I typically wait until some date when we're not around all the rest of the family to exchange gifts. This meant that Saturday had to be used for putting the finishing touches on those gifts (wrapping, shopping for stockings, even some construction). We were also invited to a wedding reception at the Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul. Two of our local friends, Kate and Nolan, tied the knot after 3+ years of dating, so we popped over there for a couple hours of merriment. After finishing my Christmas preparations, I crashed and burned around 9:00.

Yesterday was fantastic: we opened presents, watched more episodes of the Gilmore Girls (now on season 5) than I'd care to admit, listened to music, watched Pan's Labyrinth. We basically just had a completely lazy day. I won't share all of the presents that we got for each other, but I will introduce you to the newest member of our family.

This is our new gerbil, Sylar. He spends his time digging, eating, and serving as eye candy for the cats and dog. Despite the name, he's a very friendly guy.

The tornado started up again today. I ran out of vacation so I have to work, and we have two New Year's Eve parties to go to tonight (one of them down in Rochester). To top it all off, I was woken up not once, not twice, but three times this morning by the sound of horking pets. (Seriously, who wants to be fed at 6:45?) Ain't life grand?

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, too.

Monday, December 24, 2007

So Much For Our White Christmas

When we arrived here at my parents' in SE Michigan on Thursday, there was a wonderful 4-6 inch layer of snow on the ground all but ensuring us with a "White Christmas" this year. Two days of 40+ degree weather and a half inch of rain later, and all that beautiful snow has disappeared.

To add insult to injury, AccuWeather tells me that we've gotten over an inch of fresh snowfall back home in Minneapolis since we left. Oh well, I guess that's a price worth paying to be able to celebrate Christmas four times (one down, three to go) with my family.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Whee! Sledding!

It's continued to snow off and on throughout the week (8 inches total so far), so we've done our best to get outside and enjoy it as much as possible despite the bitter sub-freezing temperatures.

If anyone's partial to sledding, we've got a saucer and some nice hills over in Powderhorn that you can come enjoy. We've only been out there twice so far, but it's been a lot of fun. Even Zelda likes going down the hill. Don't worry, she's not in the sled... just next to it. If I were one of those people with a cool digital camera, here's where I would upload pictures of winter fun. Instead you'll just have to use your imaginations. (Note: I do have a digital camera, but it's not very cool and I don't know where the USB cable to upload pics to a computer is.)

Oh, and if anyone was interested we made it through two LotR movies over the weekend: Fellowship on Saturday, Two Towers on Sunday. I've never seen the extended version of Two Towers and Return of the King before, so I'm loving how seamlessly all of the additional footage fits in.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

We're in the midst of a Winter Storm Warning here today in Minnesota, as a few of the 6-12 inches of snow we're supposed to get has already fallen. Here's hoping my landlady shows up to plow the driveway like she said she would, otherwise I guess I know how I'm spending my day tomorrow.

We're going to celebrate by playing outside with the dog and then warming up with a bunch of hot chocolate and tales of Middle Earth. I just got "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" for my birthday (thanks, Ma & Pa Horvath), so we're going to see how many of the extended editions we can get through. I suspect just one, but we'll see. Nothing says winter like hobbits.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

Considering I was planning on posting a lot in November, I'll confess that only managing one measly post was pretty pathetic. Here's to turning that around this month.

To that end, I'd like to wish everyone a belated Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you all had a wonderful time wherever you spent it. After an aborted attempt at hosting the holiday for Meaghan's family this year, we opted to go back to my parents' in Michigan where we always have a good time.

This year was no exception, as we got not one but two turkey dinners (neither of which my mom had to cook - although she helped with one). On Thanksgiving day we went to Mount Pleasant for dinner with my dad's side of the family. It was a crowded affair, as there are an awful lot of my generation's children running around these days, but it was a good time. We got to watch the Lions lose (as is tradition), and I got to catch up with cousins, aunts, and uncles. We didn't make it back to Michigan at all this summer, so I hadn't seen any of them since last holiday season. A lot of them didn't even know I'd moved to Minneapolis (they're apparently not reading this blog). I'll need to try to fix that.

On Friday, we went to the "Grand Eye-Opening" of the new Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA has been undergoing extensive remodeling over the past six years, creating unique new spaces and ways to view and become engaged by art. They celebrated completion of the project by hosting a giant 32-hour party and giving free admission to anyone who wanted it. As a fan of art museums, I thought this one was pretty cool.

They don't really have any extra-special exhibits on display just yet, so the star really was the museum itself. Absolutely none of the exhibit halls was your standard rectangular room, as walls arced and jutted all over the place. Couches and benches were the norm to ease your feet while still being able to enjoy the exhibits, and they came complete with companion art books so you could learn more about the types of art you were seeing. Some rooms were even themed (a bit like being at Disney World, but not in a bad way): the religious art exhibit halls were like walking through the inside of miniature Gothic cathedrals, there were multiple plazas for resting and eating that looked like European courtyards surrounded by many-windowed buildings. All in all, a very neat place to go and spend a day from time to time. I hope it works out for them.

Saturday was our second Thanksgiving dinner. This one was up in Midland with my mom's side of the family. There weren't so many people at this one, as only one of mom's siblings has kids and they all live out on the East coast. So after helping lug a vintage 1986 TV to the basement (to replace the 1985 TV that had burned out a few months back) I spent some time down in the "Man Cave" with my Uncle Bill watching football and chatting about life. Good times.

We actually watched a lot of football over the weekend, much to my sister-in-law's chagrin. There was the Lions game on Thursday, state high school championship games on Friday and Saturday (as is tradition), and some college games on Saturday, too. It was a pretty rotten weekend for teams I was backing: the Lions lost, Kansas lost, Tennessee won (the luckiest sons of a gun in all of college football), the Midland Chemics (Uncle Bill's alma mater) lost in the Class 2 state final. Of teams I cared about, only Hawaii (I love to see those small conference teams get into the BCS) came away with a victory.

I would be remiss if I ended this without mentioning a couple more things:

1) Ken Burns' new documentary "The War" is as good as they say. I only watched the first episode of my mom's newly purchased DVD set so far (I'll watch more at Christmas), but I felt that I learned more about WWII in those two hours than I'd known previously. It's one thing to know of a lot of things (Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, German aggression in Europe, etc.), but it takes something like this to really fit it all together in a way that makes sense. It's similar to a radio documentary I just heard the other day about Eugene McCarthy's (who I'd never heard of) bid for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. It really put the events of that tumultuous year (MLK Jr. assassination, RFK assassination, Chicago protests, etc.) together for me in a way nothing had before.

2) I already knew this, but hadn't written about it here before. I'm going to be transformed into an uncle in March! My brother Steve and his wife Mandy are slated to have a son, Søren (like the Danish Existentialist) in March. I don't know if they're actually going to use the cool 'ø' with the stroke in it, but I think that would be pretty neat. A hearty congratulations goes out to them. I'm looking forward to meeting the new addition early next summer. Maybe he'll even change my opinion of kids younger than the age of 5. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's Hoops Time

It's that time of year when we turn our attention from our alma mater's struggling football team (despite the nice win last weekend over K-State) to the hardwood floors. College basketball season is officially upon us with last night's start of the Coaches vs. Cancer classic. In the first game of the season, those pesky Richmond Spiders downed Maine in a 44-42 shootout. Their reward? A matchup with #3 Memphis. I wish I got ESPNU. It seems like there hasn't been nearly as much college basketball on TV since ESPN signed a deal with the NBA.

My Iowa State Cyclones start their official season this Friday (they've already won two exhibition games, destroying the University of Dubuque and sneaking by the EA All-Stars) with their own Cyclone Challenge, in which they invite three of the worst teams in the nation to Ames in order to pick on them. This year the opposition consists of Winston-Salem State (a 2nd year Division I program), Centenary, and Lipscomb. They ranked 304, 294, and 179 respectively in last year's RPI ratings (out of 336 schools).

Going to Hilton Coliseum with my friends is one of the things I miss most about college, especially the Cyclone Challenge. We used to go to the early games that didn't involve Iowa State and pick a random team to root for. Traditionally, less than 100 people show up for those games as they're during dinner and no one cares about the teams, so we found that if you're really loud you can make a real impact on the game.

One year we made signs for a bunch of SW Texas State players (mine ended up becoming an Indiana Pacer). Another year, the North Texas coaching staff offered us free beer if we could cheer them on to victory (they lost). Other times, teams would go from hearing our cheers one day to our derisive jeers the next when they faced off against the Cyclones (Boney Watson, anyone?) If I were there this year, I think we'd definitely have to pick Centenary. Gentlemen beat anyone who thinks that the correct pluralization of Bison is Bisons any day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nicole Atkins and the Sea

I don't normally talk a lot about music (as evidenced by the fact that I had to create a new category just to write this), mostly because although I like music I often just don't know what to say about it. I'm going to do my best to tell you about a new artist that Meaghan and I saw a couple weekends ago at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis.

The band we actually went to see is The Raveonettes, a Danish noise surf duo with 60s sensibilities. They're one of my favorite groups, and did not disappoint. If you want to hear what they sound like, check out their old Columbia Records site or their MySpace page. I'm not here to tell you about them, though.

One of the groups that opened for them was Nicole Atkins and the Sea. Nicole Atkins is a singer/songwriter from just outside Asbury Park, NJ (home of Bruce Springsteen), and the Sea is her Brooklyn, NY based backing band. From the very first note to the end of their rocking set closer, we were completely blown away by her voice. In reading I've done since the show, I've seen it compared to greats like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Roy Orbison, and they're not lying. It was completely refreshing to hear someone who can actually sing, unlike most of the weak-voiced waifs that litter today's pop landscape.

We bought her EP "Bleeding Diamonds" at the show, and it's almost as good as the live performance was. Unfortunately, the vocals and arrangements are a little more subdued on the studio recording than they were in person. Rather than have me ramble on poorly, here are a few places you can go to check out their sound.

Official Site - click the Launch Jukebox record in the upper right
YouTube - music videos & videos of live performances (unfortunately the YouTube quality obscures the depth of her voice)

To hopefully get the full live sound, check them out on Letterman tonight (Tuesday - 10/30). If you like what you hear, think about getting their major label debut "Neptune City" through whatever means you normally acquire music. It's out in stores today.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Birthday That Keeps On Giving

I mentioned earlier the birthday get together I had back in September at Dos Amigos. Well here's proof for you non-Minnesotans that it really happened. I was ambushed by a sombrero and whipped cream.

Little did I know at the time that I had already missed getting one of my birthday presents. Apparently, my parents had shipped a package to me so that it would arrive on Thursday, the day before my birthday. Despite the fact that we were home at the time, the UPS guy inexplicably opted to leave it out on the back steps of our house instead of delivering it to us. As a result, my birthday present walked off with some not so friendly neighborhood person instead of going inside with me.

After wrangling with UPS for awhile, my mom tried again last week. This time she told them to hold it at their delivery center so I could come pick it up. I finally got it last Thursday, making me the proud new owner of Guitar Hero II for the PS2 (Yes, I do have some game systems that were released in this decade). Don't you just love late gifts? It's like you get a whole month of birthday goodness.

We were out of town over the weekend, so I just got the chance to try it out last night. I'm starting out on Medium difficulty (4 buttons only) which I'm decently good at, but instead of just blasting through the game I'm trying to work up my technique for the Hard (and Expert?) times ahead. I've played 7 songs so far and have 5-starred 4 or 5 of them. For those who don't know what it looks like, here's me playing at the baby shower we went to in Dallas back in August that I never wrote about.

Here's hoping I don't end up too addicted.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Rush to Judgement

In the event that work keeps me from making detailed posts in time, here's some quick opinions about other shows that I've watched but not talked about yet.

Reaper - Tuesday 8:00 on the CW
Funny dramedy about a slacker whose parents sold his soul to the devil. Not as flashy as Chuck, but probably funnier. Ray Wise (Leland Palmer) as the devil is a fantastic bit of casting. I'll keep watching this.

Cane - Tuesday 9:00 on CBS
Take Dallas and replace Texans with Cubans and oil with sugar and you have Cane. Whether that's a good thing or bad thing is up to you.

Dirty Sexy Money - Wednesday 9:00 on ABC
Despite the horrible title, this show is a fun drama. Stars Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Sportsnight) as lawyer for a rich family full of hilarious miscreants. Has a slight Desperate Housewives vibe to it, if you're into that sort of thing.

Moonlight - Friday 8:00 on CBS
A vampire PI solves crimes in LA and tries to keep vampire society a secret. I thought the pilot was really bland, despite liking the premise. Hopefully it'll receive an acting infusion between the first two episodes.

I still need to watch Bionic Woman, Life, Big Shots, and Private Practice (the Grey's Anatomy spin-off) from last week. I'm beginning to agree with Urrv. This is a lot of TV.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Almost forgot this was on Monday

The Big Bang Theory: Mondays on CBS, 8:30/7:30 Central

I don't have a lot to say about this run of the mill sitcom. It's about two young, nerdy physicists who share an apartment. They talk about math and physics for fun and play things like World of Warcraft and Klingon Boggle in their spare time. Their life is changed forever when a beautiful woman moves into the apartment across the hall from them.

And as far as I can tell, that's all the show is about. Whereas Chuck is about a nerd who is funny, this show's jokes all come at the expense of nerdom. Didn't you know that nerdy things were inherently funny? Physics? Funny. Computer games? Funny. Star Trek and Star Wars fans? Funny.

Or maybe not. The humor on this show is very hit and miss. After watching the first four minutes, I declared this to be the least entertaining television show I'd ever seen. It didn't end up being that bad once the girl was introduced, but therein lies the flaw. I don't think the paper thin premise has all that much mileage to it. Eventually you're going to run out of things in the nerd subculture to mock.

I actually liked that I recognized a lot of the physics concepts they talked about, and I even laughed a few times while watching, but it's probably just not enough to make me want to keep watching (despite the theme song being performed by the Barenaked Ladies). If it sounds like something you might enjoy, though, you can check out the pilot episode on the CBS website.

The Best Laid Plans...

Sometimes life gets in the way of goals that you set for yourself. In this case, the goal is the rather dubious one of watching as much television as is humanly possible and then writing about it. Unfortunately, it's been an unexpectedly busy week at work. C'est la vie. I figure if I get my summary out there before the 2nd episode of a show airs, I'm still doing my public service, right? So without further ado...

Journeyman: Mondays on NBC, 10:00/9:00 Central

Journeyman is the nightcap to the great new Monday night lineup on NBC. Dan Vasser has it all. He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and has a lovely wife and son. Then one day, he hops in a cab and finds himself in 1999, 8 years in the past. Throughout the episode, Dan uncontrollably jumps back and forth between the present and seemingly random points in the past. This causes stress in his personal life, as when he travels to the past he is missing in the present for days at a time. Ultimately, through being in the right place at the right time (preventing a suicide, preserving a relationship, and preventing a murder -- all surrounding the same person) Dan subtly changes the present so that six kids are saved at the scene of a school bus crash.

Now, if every episode ends up being like this: Dan travels through time, changes the past, and makes the present a better place, it might not be a very interesting show. But there's something I haven't told you yet. We learn that Dan had a different fiancee, Livia, prior to marrying his current wife, but that she died in a plane crash years ago. In one of the best scenes of the episode, while in 1997 Dan visits the apartment that he used to share with Livia to change his clothes and runs into her. After leaving the apartment he immediately runs headlong into another Livia, the present day version. Their conversation is brief and cryptic, but we learn that she's a time traveler, too, and never died in the plane crash. In fact, there seems to be someone behind all of the time travel nonsense, making it perhaps not as random as it first appears. This overarching story line is what's going to drive the show, and make me tune in every week.

I should temper my enthusiasm by letting you know that I'm a sucker for stories centered around time travel. From Back to the Future to Prisoner of Azkaban to Quantum Leap, there have been countless brilliant movies and shows using it as a central plot device. I especially like that when Dan changes time periods it doesn't immediately tell us when he's gone with a large "1987" scrawled across the screen, leaving us as disoriented as him initially. There are little clues provided that tell us when he's jumped to (do you know when the NFL strike was?) before a newspaper headline or conversation outright tells us what year it is.

Add in a secret organization that may be behind the entire thing and the fact that Dan could inadvertantly meddle with his own past (since he can only jump around in San Francisco within the span of his own life), and you have a recipe for an intelligent and fun drama. The acting and production is strong throughout, too, making this the complete package.

If you missed it last Monday, you can catch up by watching the pilot on NBC's website. If you give it a try, I urge you to stick it out for the entire episode. It's hard to see the whole picture until you've made it at least 30 mins in. Then tune in to NBC tomorrow night at 8:00/7:00 Central and don't change the channel.

Monday, September 24, 2007

NBC Monday Night = The Place to Be

Last year, Heroes was my favorite new television show. This year, it may not even end up as my favorite show to air on NBC Monday nights. The new lineup of quirky, genre-bending shows got off to a terrific start tonight, and it only looks to get better over the coming weeks.

Chuck: Mondays on NBC, 8:00/7:00 Central

Created by Josh Schwartz (that guy is everywhere) and directed by McG, Chuck is half witty comedy/half action spy romp and totally awesome. Chuck Bartowski is the leader of a "Nerd Herd", the tech support arm of nationwide electronics store chain "Buy More". Nerdy and socially challenged, Chuck spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend and co-worker Morgan (an even more hopeless case) and his sister Ellie and her husband "Captain Awesome". Chuck's last major relationship was in college, and ended badly when his roommate, Bryce, stole her away from him.

Little does he know Bryce has since become an operative for the CIA, and he's gone rogue. Caught hacking into the one computer that holds both the CIA's and NSA's data (a result of the information sharing mandate of the 9/11 Report), before he's shot and killed Bryce sends all of this data to the first name that comes up in his e-mail client, Chuck. The government info is encrypted in a long series of visually stunning images that dazzles Chuck into unconsciousness when he opens it. He awakes to find all of the government's secrets implanted in his memory and both the CIA and NSA hot on his trail.

There are so many good things about this show, that I don't know where to start. Schwartz definitely knows how to write the funny, dorky outsider. Much like The O.C.'s Seth Cohen, Chuck Bartowski has a dry, subtle wit that's really enjoyable to watch. Effortlessly funny, it's the opposite of most of the comedy on TV today. Meanwhile, McG counterbalances this with his bombastic action set pieces and slick MTV-generation directing. This episode alone featured tremendous explosions, a 007-esque escape, and all sorts of super spy martial arts. Think of it as a toned-down version of his Charlie's Angels movies.

The world of Chuck is preposterous: all of the stores are parodies of real life businesses (the aforementioned "Buy More" is right next door to a "Large-Mart"), every CIA operative has crazy gadgets and skills, and a single computer holds all of the government's data, but it all adds to the show's rich backdrop. Being a first class nerd myself, I can't help but enjoy all of the obscure pop and tech references sprinkled throughout. Within 10 minutes, there's a Zork reference for goodness sake. The cast (which includes Firefly's Adam Baldwin -- for any Browncoats out there) also seems to have good chemistry and solid comic timing. Coupled with the razor-sharp script, Chuck is definitely a show to watch this year.

I don't want to come off as gushing, but it really is that good. Tune in, don't take it too seriously, and strap yourself in for the ride. Chuck is highly entertaining, and really that's the point isn't it? If you missed it tonight for whatever reason, you can't catch up online (at least not officially) as NBC doesn't make very many of its shows available on their website. Don't worry, though, there's an encore presentation this Saturday at 9:00/8:00 Central. Don't miss it.

I'll get to the surprisingly good Journeyman tomorrow. I may even talk about Heroes if I feel up to it, but I have some catching up to do on the online comic first. I sort of forgot they were adding new ones all summer.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

100 channels and something on...

I promise I won't talk about everything in the same detail that I did Kid Nation. It just seems like the kind of show where you have to explain what's going on in order to talk about it. With that in mind, here are some hopefully quick reviews of the other new shows that aired last week.

K-Ville: Mondays on Fox, 9:00/8:00 Central

K-Ville is a new police drama set on the mean streets of a New Orleans trying to rebuild in the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Anthony Anderson (right) plays an officer doing his best to get the city back on its feet. Being a lifelong resident of the Lower 9th Ward, he has a lot of personal interest in getting the job done. Cole Hauser (left) is his new partner (his old one having deserted during the height of the storm), a man looking for redemption from his secret criminal past.

You can probably see from that attempt at briefly describing the two main characters what one of ths show's main flaws is: it just tries to cover too much ground. There's a lot of material to be used simply from the show's rich and unique setting (and believe me, they're already starting to get into major issues in the first episode) that the addition of such complicated characters is overkill. It can either be an issues show or a personal drama, but will likely be too muddy if it continues to attempt both.

There's plenty of pulse-pounding action as our officers run and gun through the city streets trying to solve the mystery of who's behind a series of attacks on a local charity, and the backdrop in virtually every scene is wonderful as the show is actually being filmed in New Orleans. Despite this, its shaky-cam action sequences and spastic cutting from scene to scene make it difficult to watch. Pilot episodes are often very different from the way shows end up being. Hopefully that will be the case here, too.

If you like cop dramas, the sights and sounds of New Orleans, or the high concept of the show, then you should give this a shot. Otherwise, you probably won't find a whole lot to like. You can catch up with last week's episode on the Fox website.

Back to You: Wednesdays on Fox, 8:00/7:00 Central

Back to You is a TV news sitcom starring Frasier's Kelsey Grammer (Chuck Darling) and Everybody Likes Raymond's Patricia Heaton (Kelly Carr) as the co-anchors of the Pittsburgh nightly news. Darling has returned to the station that launched his career 10 years ago after an explosive on-air tirade in LA has gotten him fired. Little does he know, he's also returning to the 10-year old daughter that he's never met, the result of a fling with Carr on his last night in town.

If there's one thing that can be said about this show, it's that Grammer can act. I never cared for Frasier as much as some, but here he brings a gravitas to the role that makes every scene he's in credible... and funny. Unfortunately, he can't be the focus all the time, and everyone else seems to make appearances solely to deliver bland and/or inappropriate one-liners. The Latina weather girl (played by Studio 60's Jeannie) is especially cringeworthy, as she singlehandedly delivers or receives every bad sexist joke you can possibly think of.

A lot of the comedies that I've been watching recently (The Office, Scrubs, My Name is Earl, Arrested Development) are not filmed in front of a studio audience, so returning to this format was a bit jarring for me. It's never entertaining to hear so many people laughing to something that you find patently unfunny. With that being said, there were enough laughs in it to make me give it another try... maybe they'll tone down the stuff that's not working.

If you still like the old-fashioned sitcom format or can't get enough Kelsey Grammer, then tune in. You can watch last week's episode on the Fox website.

Kitchen Nightmares: Wednesdays on Fox, 9:00/8:00 Central

Chef Gordon Ramsay has brought his popular British reality show to America. You may already be familiar with Ramsay from his other Fox show Hell's Kitchen, in which he does something that involves running a kitchen and yelling at people (I've never seen it, but this is what I've gathered from commercials). Each week in Kitchen Nightmares, Chef Ramsay visits a different failing American restaurant. His goal is to identify its problems, fix them, and reinvent the restaurant to make it successful. After seeing the first episode, let's hope he doesn't visit anywhere I've ever eaten.

In the first episode, he visits a stereotypical Italian family restaurant on Long Island. The kitchen is barely functional, they serve rotten food, and one of the owners skims money off the top. After a lot of yelling and cursing (surprisingly little of it by Chef Ramsay), the restaurant has a working kitchen and a new menu. Everyone is all smiles.

Essentially, it's Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. If you're into that sort of thing or just want to hear a lot of inventive swears, then this is the show for you. You can catch the first episode on the Fox website.

Gossip Girl: Wednesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

Gossip Girl is one of two new shows (the other is NBC's new Heroes lead-in, Chuck) starting this fall that are written and produced by O.C. creator Josh Schwartz. It's based on the popular teen book series of the same name and features a behind the scenes look at life in an upper class NYC prep school. The Gossip Girl (voiced by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell) is an anonymous student who sees everything that's going on at the school and writes about it on her blog, that all the students just happen to subscribe to.

Serena van der Woodsen (isn't that an awesome name?) used to be the most popular girl in school until she secretly went away to a Connecticut boarding school. One year later, she's back and trying to pick her life up where she left it with her best friend Blair and Blair's boyfriend Nate (who we learn Serena had a brief fling with prior to leaving). Through a chain of events, she instead ends up starting a relationship with friendly outsider Dan while befriending his younger sister, Jenny. Sleek, sexy, funny, Gossip Girl is exactly the kind of show you would expect to see come out of a marriage between the CW and Josh Schwartz.

However, this being the CW you're going to run into some familiar pitfalls. Most of the main characters are supposed to be juniors or seniors in high school, but they're played by 22-year olds. It's not a big deal, if you're used to watching shows like this. Heck, the actor who played Ryan on The O.C. was 28 by the time that series ended. The main problem is that the younger sister, Jenny, is played by an actual 14-year old (Cindy Lou Who from The Grinch movie), so when the story calls for her to kiss one of the older cast members it creates a whole extra level of uncomfortableness.

There are only 11 books in the series and they seem to have already gone through most of the plot of the first one, so it'll be interesting to see if the quality of story goes up or down as they're forced to stray from established canon. If the creative team behind the show stays focused, I have no doubts that it's only going to get better from here.

If you're a fan of other guilty pleasure shows (and you know who you are), I strongly urge you check this out. If you give it a chance, make sure to stick with it all the way to the triumphant end of the episode. If I'd been on the ball, I would tell you to catch up by watching the encore presentation of the pilot that aired tonight, but since I'm too late for that you can watch it on the CW website. While you watch, you can even click links to buy clothes that the characters are wearing or to listen to music featured in the episode. What is the world coming to?

In other news, new Heroes tomorrow night! Woo!

Friday, September 21, 2007

What Would Piggy Do?

A new television season is upon us, so I thought I'd do a public service by taking a look at some of the new shows debuting this year. I'll start with what is probably the most controversial reality show ever, Kid Nation.

In case you haven't caught any of the news stories about it, Kid Nation involves 40 kids (ages 8-15) being let loose in a New Mexico ghost town for 40 days. They have to successfully organize and run the town using late 19th century technology without adult intervention. It is equal parts fascinating social experiment and despicable child exploitation with splashes of "Lord of the Flies" and "Brave New World" thrown in for good measure, and as such makes for an absolute train wreck of a show that is nearly impossible to stop watching once you've started.

It's important to know from the outset that the concept of the children organizing and running the town completely on their own is a farce. The structure of the show imposes itself on them in many ways before they're able to come up with anything organically. That doesn't make it any less of an interesting social experiment, it just means that they likely won't be coming up with many novel solutions to real world problems on the show.

At the very beginning, 36 of the kids are literally dumped out of a school bus and left standing alone in the desert a few miles away from Bonanza City, an artificial reconstruction of a real New Mexico ghost town. In the first blow to the show's "reality", we learn that the other four kids have been appointed as the town council by the producers. Rather than having any sort of election or just seeing who bubbles to the top, these are the people who will be leading the effort.

Mike: an 11-year old Boy Scout from Washington

Taylor: a 10-year old "beauty queen" from Georgia

Anjay: a 12-year old spelling bee champ from Texas

Laurel: a 12-year old student leader from Massachusetts

Aww... just look at those kids. (exploitation, exploitation, exploitation)

Their first task is to haul six wagons full of goods (complete with chickens and goats) down the muddy track to town, and let me tell you... nothing beats watching kids haul heavy things miles across the desert. Dissension sets in immediately as one of the leaders, Mike, doesn't do a lot of the physical work on the trip. He spends a lot of his time waving his arms and yelling instead. One kid in particular, a tall 15-year old named Greg, takes considerable offense to this, and starts a petty rivalry the likes of which any viewer should recognize from their middle school days. We can only hope that he'll smash Mike's glasses with a shout of "Sucks to your ass-mar!" at some point in the near future.

Once they reach town, we begin to see the lack of usable skills that American kids have in today's world. Despite the fact that they "find" a cookbook in the mess hall, none of them are able to do much with it. Their attempt to make macaroni and cheese is laughable. We hear kids utter "that looks like it's boiling" as the camera shows a completely still pot of water, and we watch them fill the pot at least 2/3 full with pasta. I guess Home Ec really isn't a mandatory class anymore when kids can just feed themselves with microwavable meals.

The next morning, when not everyone gets their allotted ration of one pancake for breakfast, the council realizes that without organization they'll be in trouble so they throw an impromptu town meeting to try to sort things out. Unfortunately, the meeting quickly gets out of hand due to said lack of organization. Kids yell at each other, tempers flare, and Mike and the aforementioned Greg nearly have a scuffle before Greg and his toady decide to walk out. Just as everything is about to break down completely, 14-year old Michael saves the day with an impressive speech about cooperation and working together to achieve their goals.

I've read commentary in various places that call the show fake because of speeches like this, "Nobody would ever talk that way", "Kids don't act that way", etc. I think people are overlooking two important things. One, some kids are more well-spoken than you think, and for every impressive speaker they've shown there's been an equally inane kid. Two, these aren't kids in a school yard. They know they're on national TV, and that's bound to create subtle pressures to do the right thing more often than not.

At this point, everything begins to go all "Survivor" for awhile. The leaders read a book in the town chapel that encourages them to split the kids into four different districts: Blue (Anjay), Red (Mike), Green (Laurel), and Yellow (Taylor). As soon as Meaghan finishes telling me about how breeding competition between kids that should instead be working together creates a dangerous social environment, the proof is in the pudding. Chants are started to pump up one district at the expense of others while Greg and his toady (both now in the Blue district) scrawl "Go Blue!" on every surface in town with chalk that they've found. You know that when a 9-year old is calling your behavior juvenile, you're probably not doing the right thing.

The show continues to impose its organization upon the kids, as the next day they compete in an inane challenge to see which district is assigned to what job and how much pay they receive each day. Despite its artificiality, it proves to be an interesting idea. Demonstrating that it's usually luck that determines what socioeconomic class a person ends up in and that the hardest workers don't always get the biggest reward are both important life lessons for these kids to learn.

The Green district gets last place, making them the Laborer class earning 10 cents a day for hauling water and cleaning the lone latrine. Yellow comes in third, so they become the Cooks earning 25 cents a day for preparing all of the town's meals. Blue stumbles down the stretch to finish second, earning them jobs as Merchants making 50 cents a day for running the town's general store and saloon. Mike leads the Red district to the win, meaning that they become the Upper Class getting $1.00 a day for doing whatever they want (helpful or not). The consequences of this social stratification hasn't really been explored yet, but hopefully issues of fairness and social conscience will arise in the future. I know if I were in the Upper Class I would spend all day in the saloon guzzling root beer and playing cards.

The saving grace of the competition portion is that if all of the districts complete the challenge within the allotted time, the entire town will earn a special reward. It was refreshing to see the concept of the whole town banding together to survive not be completely discarded in favor of a more traditional reality show approach. The Green team finished the task with 14 seconds to spare amidst cheers and encouragement, giving the town the choice between seven additional outhouses or a television set. In a shining moment of lucidity, the town council chooses what they need, not what they want, and goes with the additional outhouses.

It doesn't last, though, as none of the kids show any amount of fiscal responsibility with their daily wage. The ones with money blow it quickly on frivolities like candy and pop, and the ones without don't really have enough to buy much. Just when you think someone is going to show some discipline and save over the course of the experience to buy an expensive item, they end up somehow getting the money out of all of the other kids. Sophia, a hard-working Laborer, wants to buy a $3.00 bike so she tries to make money by busking in the street. In no time flat, she's able to get the $2.90 she needs by dancing (badly, I might add) in the main crossroads. You could either view it as an overwhelming act of charity or a horrible misuse of funds, but somehow Sophia was able to get over 15% of the town's money in that single day. It just goes to show you that if charitable organizations had worthy goals (like getting a bike) people would be more willing to give to them.

The show ends with an official town meeting. During these, kids get the option of leaving the show to go home if they think it's too hard for them. Did I mention that there are a lot of crying kids throughout? Homesickness and loneliness make for some horrible television (exploitation, exploitation, exploitation). In the end only 8-year old Jimmy, the youngest kid in the show, goes home because he misses his parents too much.

The leaders also get to hand out a gold star to the hardest worker (as decided by them) at each town meeting. The stars are made from real gold and are worth $20,000 each. The first one is awarded to the street dancing Sophia for her hard work and ingenuity. It's a shame that the creators of the show felt the need to introduce a reward system like that to encourage good participation, but you could see the attitudes of everyone in the room change noticeably once the stars were unveiled.

Poor Jimmy

Dancing Sophia

Despite my better instincts, I'll probably tune in again next week to see if it fulfills any of its sociological promise or if it simply devolves into a sensationalistic nightmare. I don't know what new wrinkles will be thrown the kids' way now that the basic structure of the show has been established, but there's only one way to find out. If you want to check it out yourself, you can watch the first episode on the CBS website. Otherwise, you can tune in on Wednesday nights at 8:00/7:00 Central.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


The Last Round Draft Picks (my touch football team) continue to live down to their name, as we dropped a 19-13 heartbreaker last night. After surging out to a 13-0 halftime lead, we sputtered miserably after the break. It probably would've helped if I'd been able to catch anything at all in the 2nd half.

The nail in the coffin came when the other team's best player ran over Urrv to make an interception and return it for a touchdown. But hey, a guy could really get used to this whole playing a full game without the mercy rule coming into effect thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kirk Cameron is God!

This is where I type about Growing Pains. Woo!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Great Weekend

Let me tell you about the great weekend that I just had.

Friday was my birthday, so to celebrate Meaghan and I took over the basement of the downtown Dos Amigos with 22 of our friends for a dinner party. Thanks for the wonderful turn-out everybody, I really appreciate it. I had a great time, ate good food, and even got some fun presents (comics, DVDs, lunchbox, etc.) out of the deal. We didn't bring our camera, but if you were there and you happen to have some pictures to share from the event, they could soon be featured here.

Saturday was "Get Together Day", the 6 year anniversary of when Meaghan and I started dating. Since our real anniversary fell on a Monday (today) this year, we decided to use this occasion to celebrate instead. We used our "Great Escape" package that we won in the Rochester Library's Amuzing Race, so we enjoyed a relaxing night in a suite at the Kahler Grand Hotel. I won't bother telling you what our presents for each other were, but we both managed to (sort of) integrate the traditional and modern 2nd anniversary gifts of china and cotton.

Meanwhile on Saturday, just one week after stating that I thought they wouldn't win a single game this year, my good ol' alma mater was kicking the pants off of Iowa 15-13. Apparently any sports prediction I attempt to make will quickly be proven wrong in all cases. From now on, I promise to only present the facts and offer no opinions. I'm still not confident that the 'Clones are going to win much of anything this year, but this at least prevents the first year of the Chizik era from being a complete failure.

In the NFL, the Lions managed to beat the Vikings in overtime 20-17 in what was possibly the ugliest football game I have ever seen. Play was marred by 10 turnovers, countless penalties, two potential game-winning field goal misses, and general ineptitude al over the field. A win is a win as they say, so I guess the Lions will take it, as that brings them to 2-0 in a season for the first time since who knows when. My research department tells me that since 1990 (the start of the wildcard era), 65.7% of teams starting 2-0 have made the playoffs. I expect the Lions to help decrease that number a little this year.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that the Tigers swept the Twins in the dome again over the weekend. We all know what happened last time, so I'll keep my mouth shut. Big series against the Indians starts tonight. If you can watch it, please do, and be sure to root for the good guys.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Long Season

The game's not even over yet, but I can definitely state with authority that Iowa State is going to lose to Northern Iowa tonight. We could be back to the days of 0 wins here as I'm not sure there's anybody on the schedule that the Cyclones could beat. I don't know what defense they're trying to play, but UNI has rolled up 265 yards of offense through three quarters while completing 83% of their passes.

Did you watch this one, too, Nate? What are you seeing?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Never mind, we don't deserve fans

The Last Round Draft Picks successfully demonstrated last year's form by being shutout via the mercy rule. It's a good thing nobody came out to see us as there was a ridiculous amount of mosquitos out there. Even the wives' club couldn't be enticed out of their car.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

We Need Fans!

My Rochester city league touch football team, the Last Round Draft Picks needs fans. We're taking the field tonight for our first game of the season, so if you'd like to show your support by coming out to the game or lending moral support in the comments section here, we'd appreciate it.

Last year, we only managed to win two games (one by forfeit) so we're looking to improve on that this time around. Game time is 9:00 PM under the lights at McQuillan Field (Field #1). Look for us in the bright yellow shirts. Be there or, uh, don't be.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

#93: David Lynch's Lost Highway

A mere two months after watching Lost Highway a first time, Meaghan and I sat down Saturday night to watch it again. You may ask what took us two months? Well in the interim, we took advantage of our Lynchian mood by watching the entire second season of "Twin Peaks" which I received as a present sometime last year. Allow me a quick digression before I get back to movie #93.

For those not familiar, "Twin Peaks" is possibly the greatest television show ever. Critically acclaimed and much loved by fans (just check out that 9.5 rating at IMDB), it aired on ABC back in 1990 and 1991. Sadly it only lasted 30 episodes before ending due to poor ratings. I actually watched it when it was originally on the air (somehow my parents decided it was fit for a 12 year old -- thanks Mom and Dad). Counting that, this was the third time I'd watched the show.

The show's hook in the beginning is the mystery of "Who killed Laura Palmer?", the homecoming queen in the small Washington town of Twin Peaks. From that humble beginning, we spin into a surreal and supernatural world where we explore the very nature of good and evil. The show follows the investigation of the FBI's Special Agent Dale Cooper (expertly played by Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan -- now seen on "Desperate Housewives") as he delves into the world of Twin Peaks. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. If you want to borrow it, let me know. If you want to watch it with someone to help you make sense of the trickier bits, let me know, and we can try to set up screenings somewhere.

If you've seen "Twin Peaks" and think it's strange, it is nothing compared to David Lynch's movies. Free from the constraints of ratings-driven television, his movies are entrenched in the surreal as they jump from one mind-blowing scene to the next. I saw it described somewhere that he makes extremely right-brained films. Attempts to break apart and analyze the plot can leave one frustrated. Instead, you almost have to feel the movie instead of think about it. Being a left-brained person, this is hard for me to do most times, but there's no denying the visceral impact of many of his works. Lost Highway is no different.

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a jazz saxophonist, living a quiet life with his beautiful wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). Like all husbands who marry above their level, he's suspicious, paranoid, and distrusting of her. He "sees things his own way, not necessarily the way they happen". After someone begins leaving creepy videotapes on their front steps that show various parts of their house in the middle of the night, including the couple sleeping in their bed, they go to a party where Fred has a run in with a mysterious man (Robert Blake - yes, that Robert Blake). After that, his life is never the same.

Obviously, that 2nd grade reading of the plot doesn't begin to tell the full story. Without giving too much away, Lynch has said in recent interviews that the film was unconsciously inspired by the O.J. Simpson murder trial of 1996. Keep that in mind if you see it, and you're probably well on your way to understanding most of it. Aesthetically, the movie's spartan sets are shot beautifully and the script and sound design creates a duality between different parts of the film by reusing songs at key points and repeating entire sections of dialogue. In short, it's a masterful, but difficult movie that deserves a watch.

If any of that sounds good, or you just want to see a lot of naked Patricia Arquette, then you should see this movie.

Next up is #94, the 1997 special edition release of The Empire Strikes Back.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Road Trip Pt. 1: Nebraska Wedding


The first leg of our three part August road trip took us to a friend's wedding in the tiny northeast Nebraska town of Bazile Mills. We started out Friday night by staying another night at the wonderful HarrisWorld B&B where we would be leaving Zelda for the duration of the trip. Many thanks to Mike & Kim for continuing to look after her whenever we leave town.

We left Rochester early Saturday morning in order to arrive with enough time to secure our lodging and change before the 5:00 ceremony. We knew there weren't a lot of places to stay in the area, so we opted to camp for the night at the nearby Willow Creek SRA. We don't take the time to go tenting often enough, so this seemed like a good excuse to get out there for a night. The catch was that Nebraska state parks don't take reservations on the weekend if you're only planning on staying for one night, so we had to get there as early as possible.

We made it all the way to South Dakota before we realized that we had forgotten to bring any of our cameras, so we stopped in at the Yankton Wal-Mart (the first time I've set foot in one since the great Boo-Berry search of 2006) to get a couple disposable ones. As a result, we had no zoom, and everything you are about to see looks like it was taken from at least 100 yards away. We tested it out with this picture of a bowling alley/family fun center there in Yankton. Only in the heartland can you get away with painting the word "SH-BOOMS" on the side of your business.

We made it to the state park in no time, but that's where the trouble starts. It would seem that the park system doesn't receive a lot of funding in Nebraska, especially the ones in extremely rural areas, so the signage was poor to nonexistent, there were no maps anywhere, and everything is self-service (meaning that there are no offices or rangers where you can get help). I had looked at a map of the park while drawing up this plan and had picked out the tent campground on the NW edge of the lake as our destination, but when we got there all we found was a barren loop with a bunch of signs saying, "Do Not Camp Here".

I hadn't brought a map of the park with me and there wasn't one to be found, but I luckily remembered that the main trailer campground was around on the south side of the lake. I just didn't know how to get there. After many false turns due to poor signage, we made it there and picked out a site by around 3:30. That left us about half an hour to pitch our tent, fill out all the forms, pay for our park pass and camp site, and change into our nice clothes for the wedding. We managed it in about 40 minutes and bent a few speed laws to get to the church on time. (I understand they're loosely enforced 'round those parts anyway.)

I suppose I should probably tell you whose wedding this was we were going to. The groom, Brett, is a friend of mine from work. We play on the same Rochester city league football and basketball teams, are bitter foes in the work volleyball league, and have been to each other's game nights, etc. He was marrying his lovely girlfriend since college, Sarah, whose father presided over the ceremony. The ceremony was in the lovely little 19th century Lutheran church where Sarah essentially grew up. Here's the happy couple now, being bombarded with bubbles on their way out of the church.

Their getaway vehicle was a school bus (which we somehow managed to not get a picture of) with enough room for the entire wedding party and more. I landed a seat on it, and we whooped and hollered through the streets of nearby Creighton (where Brett grew up). It was fun to see how they knew everybody that we passed on the streets. There was even a sign congratulating them in the window of one of the local businesses. I guess that's small town America for you.

The reception was relatively uneventful. Instead of a toast, Brett's best men (his twin brothers) sang him a song to the tune of "Don't Worry Be Happy". Thank you for not doing that, Steve. As you might expect, the DJ played a lot of oldies and country music. Despite the urgings of our friends, Meaghan and I managed to not find a song worth dancing to before retiring to the campground relatively early. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day.

Before hitting the road the next morning, we took a quick spin down to the beach and took a walk out on the stone jetty that protects the swimming area. It reminded us of the much longer jetty protecting the much larger beach in Pärnu, Estonia that we walked along on our honeymoon. Here's me with proof that there are bodies of water in Nebraska (even if they are man-made reservoirs).

I'll continue with the next leg, visiting with Meaghan's family in Pflugerville, TX, sometime in the next couple days.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Coming soon: Road Trip Review

We just got our pictures back from Target yesterday, so a big overview (with pictures!) of our sprawling road trip across the country will be coming soon. For now, I'm off to the Mall of America to meet up with friends and partake in my 2nd of a possible 4 fantasy football drafts. For a guy who doesn't like it that much, that seems like an awful lot of drafts. Oh, well. Keeping true to form, I'm selecting 10th out of 10 in this one.

Lollipops for the Homeless

Last night we watched a quirky little movie from Netflix called LolliLove, directed by and starring Jenna Fischer (Pam from "The Office"). It's a pretty funny mockumentary that satirizes charitable organizations that take people's donations and don't actually do anything worthwhile with them.

In this case, Jenna and her husband James Gunn create a charity called LolliLove whose goal is to produce and distribute lollipops with custom-made inspirational wrappers to the homeless to make them feel better about themselves. The movie is hit and miss funny throughout (and incredibly dark from time to time), but the big treat is the end where there's 5-10 minutes of the cast handing out lollipops to real homeless people in LA. Some of the reactions are priceless.

If you're at all a Pam fan, I would recommend checking it out. Fans of Christopher Guest movies would probably enjoy it, too.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Are you ready?

Since my Tigers appear to have already gone south for the year (15-26 since I posted about them having the best record in baseball), after struggling gamely with injuries and a makeshift pitching staff all season, it's time to turn our attention here at the Tower to football.

To those paying close attention, college football season already started last Thursday with a slate of Division II games. If you must know, the Glenville State Pioneers ran past the Bowie State Bulldogs 29-19 in the first official game of the season. However, the big boys start to take the field tonight with 18 of the teams from the division formerly known as I-A in action, including my alma mater Iowa State.

Tonight marks the first game of the Gene Chizik era. If they can't handle the Golden Flashes of Kent State (a middling 6-6 in the MAC last year), I have concerns for the rest of the season. Sadly, I don't have season tickets this year so the Cyclones will have to attempt to win without me.


I was trying to think of some way to come back to the Tower with a splash, and it took care of itself when I had dinner on Tuesday night.

After three months of living in Minneapolis, I have finally been to Seafood To Go. Most who have seen the shabby facade, adorned with outrageously bright posterboard ads are afraid to enter (you know who you are), but not me. I snuck in the door Tuesday night right before the closing time of 8:30 to partake of some fine aquatic cuisine.

Ambience is not the strong suit at STG. The insides consist of a very small room, a counter where you order food, six chairs for waiting, and dozens more garish posters advertising the various contents of their menu. If I didn't think it was rude, I would take a bunch of pictures so you could see what I'm talking about. Instead, you'll just have to get food with me next time you're up in the big city.

I thought I had maybe taken a wrong turn at the ammo shop and gone to Jan's Chow Mein instead, as I was greeted at the counter by a small Asian woman. It turns out that STG has more worldly cuisine than you would expect. In addition to standard seafood fare (shrimp, fish & chips, etc.), there are Cajun, Southern, and Asian foods on the menu. They also claim to have the best chicken wings in the Cities since 1990. Here's the takeout menu as proof.

I'm a sucker for food from the American South, so I got the cajun red fish dinner with a side of one of my favorite foods in the world, hushpuppies. The fish was just so-so, but the puppies were dynamite. Even Meaghan agreed that we'd have to go back for more some time. When we do, I'll be sure to try those wings instead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

On the Road

Well, I made it on the bus this morning. In fact, I'm writing this from my Wifi-enabled bus as we speak. How cool is that? There are only 9 passengers on this first day, but the administrator who took our pictures as we boarded seemed pretty excited. I'm fairly certain that I'm the only paying customer, as the 8 other folks are freeloaders from Mayo. (Boy, I wish my employer would pay for bus passes.)

Anyway, time to get that hour and a half of sleep I sacrificed to get on this thing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BBQ at HarrisWorld

Just wanted to give a quick shout out to the folks over at HarrisWorld for another fabulous Saturday barbeque. Despite the fact that their place was literally swarming with tiny tots, Meaghan, Zelda, and I managed to have a good time.

I rocked it as Moon Knight (who knew that guy existed?) in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance with Mike, Chris, Tony, and Kim's brother, Jay. Think Double Dragon with superheroes, if you're not familiar. Incidentally, I stake my claim now on Amethyst, Princess of Gem World (just check out that winged horse) if a DC version of this ever comes out.

We also broke out our German card game Bohnanza, in which you trade, plant, and sell different kinds of beans. I think a good time was had by most, even though we'd never played with 7 people before and inadvertantly made a mockery of the rules as a result. We'll get them right next time, I swear.

I don't get to see a lot of the people that spent a significant amount of time hanging out in my dorm room very often as they're all spread out so far across the country (it turns out that people don't often want to stay in Iowa), so it was good to see Jay again. I'll have to see if I can dig up some embarrassing photos that prove that I knew him my freshman year at Iowa State.

Go Get 'Em, Tigers!: an addendum

Apparently my praise of the Tigers is solely responsible for their recent four game losing streak (at least my mom says so). With this knowledge, allow me to give my true opinion on the matter.


The Detroit Tigers are the worst team in baseball.

Thank you.

The Wheels on the Bus...

Thanks to this hot tip from Tony, it looks like I'll be doing my part to save the polar bears. Rochester City Lines finally has bus service to Minneapolis, and it starts tomorrow. I have to get on a local bus at the ridonkulous time of 5:20 AM to make it there, but that's why they make those commuter buses so plush and cozy, right?

I'll try to make it and let you know how it goes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Spicing Up the Morning Routine

Speaking of the Detroit Tigers, I've started getting back into them over the last couple weeks because I've developed a new morning routine. I used to roll out of bed, eat breakfast, shower, and start working, but now I've found a better way to kick off the day.

It took us awhile, but as of last weekend we've managed to officially complete a room in our new place, the kitchen. Everything has been unpacked from boxes and filed away in a drawer, shelf, or cabinet. (I would provide pictures of the house as we round it into shape, but I have no idea where the cable to connect our digital camera to the computer is -- I'll have to buy a replacement.) Most of the other rooms are close (80% or so), but this is the first that's completely done.

Now if anyone is not familiar with the way our kitchen's operated in the past, let me fill you in. We haven't had one of them new fangled dish washy thingers since we moved out of Quarry Ridge in Jan 2003, so the goal has usually been to see how expertly we can pile all of our dirty dishes on the various counters and side tables without breaking any of them. Two weeks of this is typically followed by a back-breaking day that we like to call "Dish Armageddon" in which they all find their way back into a cabinet to restart the cycle. (Coincidentally, we tend to have a lot of "Laundry Armageddons", too, especially when it requires a trip to the laundromat.)

With the new kitchen looking so fresh and clean, I decided that I wouldn't stand for it this time around. So now, my new morning routine consists of rolling out of bed at 6:00 (when Meaghan gets up for class), having breakfast with my lady friend, taking Z dog out for a morning run in the yard, and doing the previous day's dishes while listening to the most recent Tiger game on MLB's Gameday Audio on my laptop. I usually have time for all this, other random chores, and taking a shower all before 9:00 when I start my work day.

It's only been a week, but so far so good. Hooray for me and clean kitchens!

Go get 'em, Tigers!

It's a good time to be a Tigers fan.

Three days, three games, three one run wins over the Twinkies at the dreaded Dome. Good pitching, timely hitting, and a whole lot of choking by Minnesota = a recipe for success. Combine this sweep with some shocking results by Boston and LA (losing twice to cellar dwelling Kansas City and Tampa Bay, respectively) and Detroit now has what they had most of last summer: the best record in baseball.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Sound and the Fury

Over the past five days, we've been treated to a lot of spectacular light and sound shows. On Wednesday, of course, we walked the two blocks to Powderhorn Park to catch one of the two official 4th of July fireworks shows in Minneapolis. If memory serves me correctly (and feel free to correct me if you know) this is the first official state-sanctioned fireworks show I've ever been to, and it did not disappoint. The crowd literally ooohed and aaahed at the impressive variety of shells that were fired off.

Normally, we go back to the old cottage on Blue Lake in upstate Michigan for the holiday where we put on our own considerably tamer display and watch other people launch big stuff around the lake. We had to stick around this year as Meaghan had classes on both Tuesday and Thursday, giving us no time to escape for the holiday. I hope everyone had a good time at the lake without us last week.

This is also the first year that I've been in an urban setting for the holiday, and let me tell you it felt like we were under siege after the show finished. There were rockets, bombs, and firecrackers going off in all directions around our house well into the night. Needless to say, the animals were not the happiest of campers. There was a lot of hiding and nervous panting going on.

Yesterday we were treated to another tremendous display, this one of the thunder and lightning variety, as a thunderstorm materialized right over our neighborhood around 3:00 in the afternoon. Luckily the hail missed us, but around 3:30 a distinctive sizzle accompanied a particularly loud thunderclap, and our electricity was reduced to brownout levels. Did I mention that it was in the 90s and extremely muggy yesterday?

Needless to say, being thrown into the dark without AC or fans on a day like that is no fun. After making sure the pets were well watered and transferring the contents of our fridge to a cooler, we decided to seek the cooler climate of our local neighborhood Perkins for dinner and a Dinkytown coffee shop for a nightcap once we realized that the power wasn't coming back anytime soon.

We literally burned dozens of candles before leaving Rochester because we didn't want to tote them around anymore. Unfortunately, we didn't save any for emergencies so we had to make a trip to Target to stock up. In proof that Murphy's law works for the forces of good, too, seconds after getting all of our candles lit and situated the power flickered back to life at about 10:30 last night. Oh well, at least we'll be prepared for next time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

They Said It Couldn't Be Done

It only took ~16 hours of game play spread over four days, but I managed to beat Ghosts 'n Goblins this afternoon.

For those not in the know, G'n G is renowned as being one of the more difficult games for the NES. Funny that I started playing this because I was finding Gradius to be too difficult. There are six grueling levels, and you have to beat them each twice to rescue the Princess. Apparently the first time through the game is just an illusion created by Satan himself.

The game plays a bit like Castlevania, only you don't have a whip, and instead of a life bar your heroic knight has a mere two hit points to get him through each level. You start with a suit of armor, and if you get hit once you have to finish the rest of it in your skivvies. Luckily there's a replacement suit in at least four of the six levels.

The game truly would be impossible if it weren't for the fact that you have unlimited continues, and let me tell you... I used a bajillion of them. By today, I was getting significantly better at the game, though. It only took me one continue to reach level 5. I won't tell you how many it took to get through level 5.

Anyway, now that the Nintendo portion of my vacation is complete, it's time to move on to other things... like going to the fireworks show tonight in Powderhorn Park.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

#92 - Message to Love

For those of you not in the know, I started a silly project a few years back when Meaghan went off to Bemidji State. The idea was to keep our Netflix queue occupied while she was gone, but not watch many (or any) movies that we were interested in. So to meet this end, I arbitarily picked a year (1997) and decided to watch as many of the movies from that year as I could in rough chronological order.

Needless to say, Meaghan has long since returned from the Great White North and the project has continued. To date, after nearly four years I have watched 91 movies as part of this endeavor and I'm only about halfway through February. It turns out there are a lot of films screened at the Sundance Film Festival. So many that after 30+ of them I decided to proceed with the chronology and go back to Sundance films when I feel like it.

Anyway, without further ado... #92 - Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival

What, you may ask, is a documentary about a music festival from 1970 doing in a list of 1997 movies? It apparently took 25+ years for the director to get enough funding to complete the film, but I'm glad he did.

Even just for the footage of the music, this movie is worth watching. Among many others, you get to see The Who (with Keith Moon), Jimi Hendrix (in his last major performance before dying), The Doors, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez -- truly outstanding stuff. This was the last and largest of the big festivals (Woodstock, etc.) other than benefit concerts (Live Aid anyone?) up until the '90s when Lollapalooza was born. It was the last because it didn't make any money, despite 600,000 people being in attendance.

The film, as well as providing concert footage, focuses on the conflict between the artists, the promoters, and the concertgoers. You see, despite 600,000 people attending, only a mere 10% of that actually paid the £3 ticket price. The promoters lost money trying to pay all of the artists who appeared over the four day event. Many of the hippies, etc. who attended the festival thought that it should be free, so they all sat on a hill outside of the grounds where they could watch and listen to the music. The promoters built a fence to keep them from seeing, the mob tore the fence down, guard dogs were employed... crazy stuff. Interesting as all of this was, this movie was all about the music for me.

Next: #93 - David Lynch's Lost Highway
I've actually already watched this once, but want to view it again before attempting to write about it.

Amuzing Race

So I'm not sure how it managed to happen, but the powers that be here at the Amber Tower and over at HarrisWorld have both neglected to comment on the funnery that was The Amuzing Race (brought to you by the Rochester Public Library). I'm positive Kim took pictures at some point, but maybe all evidence has been erased by now.

It turned out to be a great way to spend a Saturday morning, that is if you find things like running through a dealer's lot looking for a car with a specific VIN, running up a large hill to the edge of a quarry, shagging flyballs whilst attached to your spouse, constructing the world's flimsiest birdhouse, and flying paper airplanes to be fun. There were a few rough spots, but that's to be expected given that it was their first try at it. Luckily, they let us submit constructive criticism afterward. My biggest disappointments were that there really weren't any puzzles (most clues told you exactly where to go and what to do) and that we never left Rochester (the propaganda said it would span across Olmsted county).

Scavenge Like the Dickens managed to take home 16th place out of 35 teams, and for some reason we're still waiting for our trophy in the mail. We did somehow win the Grand Prize during the door prize drawing at the end, a night's stay in one of the better suites at the Kahler Grand in beautiful downtown Rochester. The Harrises graciously let us keep it, as we no longer live there and could perhaps one day be seeking lodging there.

Speaking of lodging, this marked the first time that Meaghan and I had ever stayed overnight at the HarrisWorld B&B. I must say that we heartily enjoyed our stay and hope to be able to visit again sometime in the future. I recommend the room they call "Kim's Mom's Room" to anyone thinking about staying there.

Oh, and unless I'm misremembering, people were talking about how cool it would be if there were something similar in Minneapolis only you were restricted to using public transportation. It turns out that already exists. Thanks Salvation Army! Maybe we'll try this one next year, too, when we know Minneapolis a little better.

All in a Fortnight's Work

It's over.

It's finally over.

As of 8:30 this morning, my responsibilities surrounding a certain release of a certain piece of software have finally been completed. As a token of appreciation for making myself available virtually 18/7 over the last two weeks, I've been given next week off completely without having to use vacation. I'll still be on call Monday and Tuesday in case there are any disasters, but I'm not anticipating receiving any phone calls.

It'll be good to relax and get back to some fun again. It's been two weeks since I've been able to go with Zelda on her walks, two weeks since I've read anything, two weeks since I've picked up a Nintendo controller. I'm hoping to get most of the rest of the house organized this week, too.

I haven't been completely devoid of activity over the last two weeks. Let me fill you in on what you've missed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Big Move, Part 2

Only a month late. Oh well.

5/19/2007 - Loading and Unloading

After averting a near disaster by picking up our U-Haul truck on Friday, all that remained was the physical loading of said truck, driving to Minneapolis, and unloading the truck. Now I know that Meaghan and I must be two of the strongest people in the world, but we have a lot of stuff. More stuff than we could probably shuttle in and out of a house twice in one day. So in order to manage the job, we enlisted the help of 12 extremely nice friends. Thanks Brett, Jeff, Mike, Kim, Tony, Urrv, Andy, Brett, Matt, Laurel, Chris, and Alaina. We really couldn't have done it without you. (Thanks, too, to Carol and Isaac for moral support and mad sidewalk chalk skillz.)

The help was so incredible that we managed to tightly pack the entire 24' truck with all of our earthly belongings in a mere hour and a half. Chris and Urrv's pack job was amazing, especially given how few things we had available to provide padding. After a quick lunch at Subway, the caravan hit the highway.

This possibly took longer than either the packing or the unpacking phase. I don't know if you've ever driven a fully laden U-Haul before, but man does it chug up hills. There's not exactly any Pike's Peak in between Rochester and Minneapolis, but we were topping out at 45 MPH trying to get up some of the larger rises. As a result, the first part of the caravan got to our new place a good half hour before the truck did. To kill time, the early arrivers apparently had some adventure trying to help a random woman turn off her two car alarms... or something like that. I wouldn't know, I was driving the truck. (Incidentally, not a day has gone by without a car alarm going off for minutes at a time at some point.)

Once we finally got there, it only took another 90 mins to unload everything into the house. Well... almost everything. Our new house was built in 1907, so it's safe the say that the width and angles of various doors and halls aren't up to modern building standards. Miraculously, with a little cajoling everything fit with the exception of our queen-size box spring. We figured that might happen, so it wasn't a big deal. It was only another week of sleeping on sleeper sofas before we were able to get our half-queen springs from Slumberland.

After a day's hard work, we all went over to Pizza Luce on Lyndale. (Thanks for the idea, Kim.) They have an interesting array of pizzas to choose from, all of them good. We'd been to the one in St. Paul before, but it's good to know one is so close by if we're ever in the mood.


It's been a week since I last posted, but luckily you haven't missed much of anything. I'm pretty sure I've worked 10+ hours every day (including the weekend) since then. While that means there hasn't been much new to write about, it also means that I haven't done any catch-up writing at all. Sorry 'bout that.

More interesting things coming soon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Don't Fly Too Close to the Sun

I made a special trip to St. Charles after work today. Last night, I "won" (those quotes are for you, Tony) an auction for Kid Icarus for the NES on eBay. It went for pretty cheap compared to the $20-$30 this game typically goes for, plus I didn't have to pay for shipping. I was planning on picking up the manual by itself later since it wasn't mentioned in the auction anywhere, but it came with one anyway. Too bad it looks like it's been partially eaten by a dog and then taped back together. Oh well, I guess that's why it wasn't advertised.

After cleaning it for awhile, I got it to fire up. Turns out I've never played or even seen anyone play this game, but people tell me that it's one of Nintendo's finest. I tried it long enough to discover that you get one life, and when it's gone you get a whopping Metroid-esque password. Looks both fun and hard, the best of both worlds. We'll have to see if I'm able to build up any skill at it.

In the meantime, I've been working on Konami's classic horizontal shooter Gradius for the last week or so. With or without the Konami code (in its first appearance on the NES), I can only make it to level 3. I need to develop a better way of fending off the giant Moai heads and their oh so deadly ion guns. Don't ask me why the ancient statues from Easter Island are an enemy in this game, I have no idea.

Busy Busy

I'm trying to catch up. Really... I swear. It turns out that this whole move thing coupled with the busiest couple of weeks at work in recent memory makes for not a whole lot of free time. I've started a few posts, but haven't finished anything yet (obviously).

Have no fear, some stuff should be appearing tonight.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Our First Houseguest

For the first half of last week, our friend Andrea visited us all the way from Hoboken, NJ. The digital camera is still in a box somewhere, so I have no actual proof of this. You'll just have to take my word for it. I was working most of the time, but she and Meaghan have known each other since 7th grade so they didn't really need me anyway. Even so, we managed to do quite a bit.

Here are the highlights:

- Shopping for furniture at Ikea: I didn't go, but my misgivings about that place proved true. Meaghan and Andrea picked out loads of stuff on the showroom floor, but arrived at the buying floor to discover that only a single piece of the furniture that they had picked out was actually available. The rest had been discontinued, and they refused to sell the floor model. Which begs the question: why keep it on the showroom floor if you have none to sell?

- Went to see Waitress at the Lagoon: Great little romantic comedy of sorts chock full of interesting characters. I highly recommend it to everyone as it's now showing at regular theaters, too. If you're at all a fan of Nathan Fillion (Mal from Firefly/Serenity), you should love it. Best use of Cake in a soundtrack ever.

- Watched a lot of the first season of the Gilmore Girls: Turns out that Andrea's only pretty much seen episodes of this from season 4 onward and we happen to have seasons 1-3 on DVD, so it was fated. I'm not entirely sure what I like about this show, as I seem to enjoy it in spite of itself. As a general rule, I dislike the fast talking, the constant pop culture references, and I don't find either of the two main characters all that sympathetic. I must like the supporting characters.

- Learned we can get to the airport in about 30 mins without walking much more than a block in total, all for the low price of $1.50 per person. How cool is that?

A good time was had by all. Hopefully, we'll be able to see her (and her husband Mike) again before too long.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Welcome to the Hood

Thanks for all of the additional grocery store ideas everyone. We opted to ride the bus to Rainbow Foods this time around, and it actually turned out to be pretty nice. Maybe we'll expand our net a little bit more next time. There's a Kowalski's and a Lund's in Uptown and the Wedge isn't too far away. Trader Joe's is a bit farther afield (St. Louis Park), but probably worth checking out. Meaghan's sister raves about that place all the time.

One place we probably won't be looking at too seriously is Cup Foods. It's only three blocks south of us on Chicago, but we haven't taken the time to stumble down there yet. When we do, it will apparently be in the middle of the afternoon on a bright, sunny day. Google is a wonderful tool. I also found something out about that place on the corner that we went to earlier last week, Toni's. Now I don't want people to start freaking out or refusing to come visit us because they think it's too dangerous. These are simply the kinds of things that exist in fair cities like this one.

On the other hand, we're literally right across the street from our neighborhood association and the Pillsbury House Community Center and Theatre. Over the next few weeks, I hope to expand my exploration beyond our block and the nearby corner. There's bound to be tons more cool (and not so cool) things to do and see in the neighborhood. Maybe I'll even get to eat at Seafood To Go.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Grocery Store Ideas?

I'm going to resume with current topics now, too. If I only tried to play catch up, I don't think I'd ever make it.

Does anybody know of a good grocery store up here? Today's mission is to find something nearby where we can get most of what we need in one trip. After searching for the usual suspects, I've found a Cub Foods, a Rainbow Foods, a Whole Foods, and an Aldi. The nearest Hy-Vee is in Faribault. Are there any other big chains that would be up here in Minneapolis that I don't already know about?

We're planning at shopping some at the little neighborhood groceries and delis, but unless we want to eat nothing but canned and frozen food all the time that's probably not going to work all the time. We stopped in Toni's Market & Deli (which is literally right down the block) on Thursday to look around. We managed to scrounge together enough food for Meaghan to slap together some yummy tostadas for dinner, but the possibilities weren't exactly endless.

Please hit me up with ideas, and I'll keep you posted.