Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I've Never Had a Helicopter

I don't know if you caught this exchange between McCain and Obama about the cost of his new helicopter, but I thought you might enjoy it...

If Only God Could Do This Every Day

No (Gifted) Student Left Behind

Yesterday the New York Times did a piece on No Child Left Behind. There's a move afoot to "rebrand" the program (how about dumping and starting over?), and a website has been set up where people can suggest new names for the program.

Well, there are some spectacular names. A few good ones:

The No Child Gets Ahead Act.

The Act to Help Children Read Gooder.

No Child Left Untested.

The Double Back Around to Pick Up the Children We Left Behind Act.

And my personal favorite, from a guy named Joe Williams:
It should be named Caitlin. Everyone seems to be naming things Caitlin these days. Or Caleb.

If you need to vent your spleen, give it a whirl.

PS Someone offered this one seriously: BLESSED -- The Building Learning Environments, School by School, Education Act. It's nice isn't it? If we could get the proper programs to go with it, I'd vote for it!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Brain Freeze


Hi all. It's been about two weeks since I posted anything. I'm sorry about that. The waters have been running dry. I have newfound admiration for bloggers, let me tell you. How do they do it, day in day out? It's amazing.

While my own wells renew themselves, one really neat thing: my brother and sister-in-law had a baby! Patrick Scott McDermott, born a little over 6 pounds last Wednesday. Julie says she thinks he's a red head, and apparently everyone says he looks just like his dad.

Julie had a photographer take some great newborn photos. To see them, go here, click on "website", click on "client" and enter patrick (no caps) into the empty box.

(He really does look like his dad!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Heat Wave Photo Shoot

I don't know if you've heard, but Australia has been suffering a terrible heat wave the last few weeks. Last weekend, in fact, this led to a horrible set of bush fires in the southeastern state of Melbourne that ended up killing over 200 people. It's the worst natural disaster in the country's history. (I guess between the dryness and the wind, the fires would literally rush across parts of the state like a wave. Things would be fine one minute, and ten minutes later, darkness, soot, fire. Really terrifying stuff.)

Anyway, a friend of a friend sent some photos of some creatures that were looking for respite in the midst of the heat wave. Thought you might enjoy them.

The first set -- Koala!










Second Set: Kangaroo!





















Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Days of Rest

I'm chillaxing a little after the Comicon (fun, but phew!). Probably a couple light posts the next couple days.

This one is from a website called "Cyanide and Happiness" that had big crowds around it at the Comicon. A little dark.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blogging the Comicon: PHOTOS

JIN'S ALIVE! (Spoiler.)


We got Chewbacca in the hizzouse.



Who's daddy's cutest little vigilante?



I just love this costume. The kid did it himself.



Carrie Fisher would be so proud.



This is a: what Spider-Man looks like when he first wakes up in the morning; b: Spider-Man's poor Scottish cousin Spidie; c: me in costume.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blogging the Comicon: Poets and Dreamers


As the convention slowly came to a close on this unexpectedly brilliant, warm day, what stood out to me were the little things that are easily overlooked in such a loud, crowded space. The creators who didn’t have long lines of people waiting to get autographs, like penciller Kevin Maguire (right). In the late 1980s, Maguire drew a wildly popular comedic version of the (a.k.a. Super Friends). He has a unique capacity for using facial expression to capture the width and humor of our humanity. You can learn (and laugh) a lot, reading his stuff.

And then there are the many people at the convention writing very small, personal stories, like Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. Ladowne is an illustrator who met homeless man Anthony Horton on a subway in New York City and wrote and drew a story with him about their interaction. It’s a lovely, atmospheric piece drawn in black and white which Ladowne laid out in a longer format, almost like a movie screen, to try and recreate that sense of the point of view of a subway car. Or Meredith Gran, a web cartoonist who writes a daily cartoon called octopus pie, about life in Brooklyn.

And there are the small presses trying to become something more, like Nemo Publishing in Portland, Maine, which was at the convention pitching its line of children's cartoon books about the undersea adventures of a kid called "Cap'n Eli" and a time traveler called "Commander X". The cartoons look like animation, and they hearken back to an earlier, non-self conscious, non-post modern cartoon era.

And then above all there are the dreamers like Will Clark, who produces a daily web comic called laughingboycomics.com, and aspires to produce even better material. I asked him if there was money to be made on the web; he told me he almost broke even, almost, but it wasn’t about that. The characters he had created had a sort of life of their own now, and he had to respect that. He wanted to respect that. When he didn’t produce new material, he felt guilty.

On the one hand, some of what I’ve seen this weekend fits the basic socially-awkward stereotype of comic book/sci fi/fantasy convention attendees. On the other, I’ve witnessed a very male, chummy business appealing to a largely male audience, with the big companies trying to drown out the rest.

And yet, in the center of all that are these gifted storytellers, who whether they work for for the Big 2 or self-publish put themselves out there every day. There’s a fragile beauty to them that makes the whole landscape much more humane.

Blogging the Comicon: Family Day

Today was kids’ day at the Comicon, and with it came many fantastic costumes and events. I saw an 8’ Chewbacca that, except for the slightly pug nose, you would have sworn was the real thing. He even communicated only using the classic Chewie purr.

There continued to be many celebrity signings, as well. Robert Culp and William Katt (both from the 1970s show “Greatest American Hero”) sat at their table signing autographs, taking pictures and charging for them for three days straight, from what I can tell. (Cost for a photo with Mr. Culp: $15.) And just to get a picture with Mr. Culp cost $15. Jin from “Lost” was also in the house for an hour, as was Lou Ferrigno (big line), and film, TV and comic book creator Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly”, “Toy Story”) who filled an entire theater to talk about his newest project, the new TV show “Dollhouse”. And a Marvel panel featured surprise guests Seth Meyers and Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live, who are writing a Halloween issue of Spiderman called “The Short Halloween.”

The line of the day came from one Frank Tieri, a Marvel comic book writer who specializes in pretty violent storylines. In a packed session – and again, on kids’ day -- he had this to say of his new project about the Punisher (a Marvel vigilante who kills people for breaking the law) -- “After all the murders and the maimings and the decapitations and the exploding body parts, it’s really a story about a father and a son.”

Blogging the Comicon: Getting Into Character

At the NYCC the space is divided into two main sections. The lower floor has the panels. And the upper floor offers a massive chamber in which some 400 or 500 booths have been set up. This is the massively oversaturated, overcrowded heart of the Comicon. In many ways it’s like an indoor version of the classic Middle Eastern bazaar: a million little shops sell everything from back issues of comic books to autographed pictures, film posters, knick knacks, games and swords, with packed narrow alleyways in between; hucksters try to draw attention to their wares with costumes, gimmicks and swag; artists in the Artist’s Alley sign autographs and try to sell sketches; and above all spectacle prevails -- giveaways, celebrity signings, films to watch, test rides of the newest video games; and oh-so-unusual costumes. Today’s specialty seemed to be manga gear; if you didn’t recognize a costume (or if it had animal ears, or whiskers), it was definitely manga.

But I also saw a heavyset Spiderman, half of whose homemade costume was sewn from an argyle print; yet another slave dancer Princess Leia (they and stormtroopers really are de riguer at these festivals); a number of zombies – zombies are very big in the comic book world right now; and two girls wearing wonderful old fashioner bomber caps and goggles.

As I walked around I talked to a number of the costumed about why they had chosen to dress up today. Two things really struck me; first, many of the people I spoke to said it was a way of making friends. People who liked your character would come up and talk to you about them, as would other costumed wonders who represented characters from the same set of stories.

Second, some articulated a sort of self-identification with the character that they were playing. One woman in particular talked about how dressing up gave her the chance to be her favorite character. And on the panels you would see something similar at work when panelists, much to the delight of everyone in the room, would address people asking questions while in costume as though they were the characters themselves.

Somehow for me this circles back to the question I was left with yesterday – why are we all sitting here listening to person after person ask for information that no one is going to give them. Perhaps people stay because they identify with the characters being discussed. Any scrap of information that might be tossed out is a possible window into one's own soul. And into theirs, as well; we suffer through the sometime tediousness for the love of the character and for the love of the universe that they inhabit.

Watching this now for two days I have this funny image, which may not fit, that certain characters– be they comic book, novel, television or film – are like really good friends we only get to see every once in a while. When they’re gone, we really miss them, but we have to wait for them to come back. And interacting with creators is like talking to someone who has seen them more recently; we like it because they can tell us, at least a little bit, of how they’re doing.

Blogging the Comicon: Food Party

As part of an effort to reach out to aspiring artists, the NYCC also offered this year a session with the director of the New York TV Festival (NYTVF). The NYTVF is an independently sponsored that aspires to be the Sundance of independent TV, a festival that puts the work of independent TV creators into the hands of TV executives. Between January and May, the festival accepts pilots of 4 to 22 minutes in length, from any genre – sitcom, drama, game show, soap opera, animation or whatever; the best of the bunch are screened in September at the festival itself and also sent to executives from the major television production companies, many of whom come to the festival and solicit pitches from winning teams.

After the panel, the NYTVF screened a number of its chosen pilots from last year, the craziest and most wonderful of which I have included below. “The Food Party” is an absurdist puppet show/cooking show starring creator Thu Tran, “Yolk O. Oh No”, a French baguette, an ice cream cone and Satan himself. In 2008 it won the “Out of the Box Pilot” award, and it truly is impossible to classify. Also impossible to resist. Give it 2 minutes and you will be hooked.

Blogging the Comicon: RVRs and PVPs and PQs, Oh My!

The New York Comicon features any number of panels about comics, but it also has a tremendous amount of content devoted to other industries, including television, film and video games.

While I hear from time to time about different video games, my own personal experience with them pretty much stops circa 1991. So, just for the heck of it I stopped by a panel about Warhammer Online, a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) – that is, a game accessed online which allows people from all over the world to interact with (and, to put it bluntly, to kill) each other. From the images presented the world of Warhammer appears to be a fantasy land in the vein of Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons, with the added bonus of military hardware. I was particularly taken with the shot of an enormous orc-like creature toting a bazooka.

When I entered the room I found that the panel had already begun and that the panelists had decided to speak to the audience while standing on top of their table, which stood on top of a platform. The two had a great thing going on, “Paul”, a Brit, sporting white sunglasses and red sneakers, offering a hysterical non-stop commentary about the things that needed to be fixed in the game and the crazy stuff you’d find in the new version, while “Jeff”, dressed in a more serious button down shirt and dark jeans, responded to complaints and reassured the audience.

Or at least I think that’s what he was doing. To be honest, all I had to go by was his soothing, gentle tones. Other than his repeated refrain, “We’ve heard your concerns and we are addressing them,” I barely understood a single word that he said. I will say there were lots of initials, PQs and PVPs and RVRs and ZIRGs. And a number of concerns. Some people apparently feel that they don’t have enough opportunity to PVP in certain places, and that really concerned him. He wanted people to be able to PVP wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and the designers were going to work to make that happen. He’d also heard the complaints that there’s some of weirdness in Tier 3, and so they’ve already increased the speed by 35%-40%. As he put it, “We’re dedicated to make sure that the Tier 3 experience is as good as any other.” The keeps were also getting a big upgrade, bigger ramps, additional ramps, to which someone replied, “Hell, yeah.”

The best line of the event, though, came from a young woman interested in the changes that had been made. I could not see her over the throng of people who had lined up to ask questions, but from the lightly ironic, seasoned tone of her voice I wondered if she was not a gamer but a mother of one. “What are some adjectives you would use to describe the new dungeon?” she asked. Paul said, “Adjectives?” “Yes,” she replied, “Words that describe nouns.”

Reporting live from Von Mythia, this is Urkon Slaymaster, PVP, signing out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blogging the Comicon: Overheard

Kid: I tried to add you on my X-Box Live and you wouldn’t accept my friend request.

Writer: Who are you? Is this seriously your question?

Kid: Seriously, Matt, why don't you respond? What’s up?

**

People said Goku should be Asian. He’s a freaking alien. Dude’s got a tail!

**

We are about to embark on a world where nothing that you think you know applies any longer. I dare you to guess what will happen next, because none of you will even have a clue.

**

That's Loki, he’s a girl now, it’s pretty cool.

**

I like the scene where he put the puppy in the oven.

**
Hey, if it came out when you were 7, you’d obsess about it too.

**

There are stories that work better by starting from the beginning -- -- as goofy as that sounds.




Tomorrow is another day!

Blogging the Comicon: Panels

I attended three comic book panels today, two Marvel and one DC. Panels=public relations; they bring together writers, artists and editors connected by some sort of umbrella project, like a big event, or a product line (such as the X-Men line, which contains about 10 distinct titles within it), who tease developments in upcoming issues and field questions.

Today’s panels were sprawling affairs of 10-12 staff members each and a standing room only audience of three or four hundred people. Some are dressed in every stereotype we have of comic back conventions; I saw 2 Princess Leias in sultry Tatooine love slave outfit, one Flash, about 6 Wonder Women – apparently she’s making her comeback -- a girl with flight goggles and a guy wearing his underwear on the outside – who then asked a very serious question. (One of the panelists said, “Dude, how can I even hear your question when you’re dressed like that.) On top of this, there are a million guys wearing T-shirts bearing the insignia of their favorite character, a few girls and, believe it or not, a whole bunch of others who are well-dressed 20somethings, 30somethings, 40somethings…I even saw some older married couples.

No matter who’s asking, though, the same basic questions recur: 1) Is “X” going to happen? 2) When are you bringing back “X”? 3) What’s up with “X”? And the answes are all the same, too: Wait and see and/or read the book. It’s a bit of a paradox really, everyone’s here to ask questions, but virtually none of those questions can get answered. At times I could just feel waves of boredom wash over the crowd. And yet, everyone stays.

I want to know, what are they waiting for?

Blogging the Comicon: Lay of the Land

The world of comic books today is dominated by “The Big 2”, Marvel Comics and DC. Here’s a thumbnail on each.

Marvel

Main heroes – Spiderman. Iron Man. The X-Men. Wolverine. The Incredible Hulk. Captain America. The Avengers. Thor. Punisher. The Fantastic Four. Daredevil.

Big Idea/Foundational Concept: Superheroes are human beings just like us, living in our own tensive, complicated world and struggling with the same issues we face (like family, self-identity, commitment, discrimination, disability, government, anger management and loss).

Early History: The company now known as Marvel Comics began as “Timely Comics” in 1939. During the war its superhero stories, which featured among others Captain America, quickly caught on. After the war interest faded for a time, then exploded again in the late 1950s, early 1960s with the resurgence of Superman at DC Comics. Duirng this era editor-in-chief/writer Stan Lee, working usually with popular artist Jack Kirby, created most of the major characters and conflicts still found in the Marvel Universe today. Lee also came up with endless slogans and gimmicks to fan reader interest, including the idea of teasing upcoming storylines and offering space for reader mail.

Last Big Brand Storyline – Secret Invasion. Aliens with the ability to look and act like human beings have secreted themselves into every level of the world. Once the heroes discover them, can they be stopped?

Next Big Storyline – Dark Reign. The heroes overcome the aliens, only to find in that a very bad guy posing as a reformed hero is put in charge of all of them in the aftermath.

Marvel has a healthy lead in market share.



DC

Main Heroes – Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. Green Arrow. The Justice League of America (i.e. the Superfriends).

Big Idea/Foundational Concept – Heroes represent our ideals; they call us to our best selves.

Early History: DC Comics got its start as “National Allied Publications” in 1934. In 1937, NAP published “Detective Comics” (DC) which in 1939 began printing stories about a man who dressed like a bat in order to frighten criminals. One year earlier, NAP started Action Comics, which presented the adventures of Superman, a superhero born on another planet. After interest in superheroes flagged in the late 1940s, editor-in-chief Julius Schwartz overhauled its linchpin characters, in some cases completely recreating the backstory of the character, to great success. His work revived the comic book superhero industry. Schwartz also introduced the concept of a superhero team, and in the 1960s imagined an alternate reality version of the different superheroes called “Earth 2” that became the basis for fundamental concepts in the DC Universe today.

Last Big Brand Storyline – Final Crisis. The DC Universe’s version of evil incarnate, a cosmic being known as “Darkseid”, takes over the universe and overcomes the human spirit. Tag line: Evil Wins.

Upcoming Storyline – Darkest Night. Dead superheroes are resurrected to form an army of the dead which attacks their friends and family.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sick Days



Been sick since Sunday. Apparently my intestines make for a really fun water park. It's not exactly the weight loss model I had been working with, but still, it could be worse.



I've posted a bunch of things below, including what makes banks magic. Enjoy. (And this weekend, if you're interested, I will blogging frequently; I'm going to the New York City Comicon for the magazine. Should be fun... (Seriously, sci fi, writing and comic books -- SCORE!)

Four Words I've Been Waiting My Entire Life for a President to Say



Thank you, Barack Obama, for saying you made a mistake. It's a nice change.

I Just Want to Be a Part of It

Last night on the way home from work I happened to scan the National Jesuit News, which is the in-house publication for Jesuits of the United States. Yeah, we cool, we got our newspaper. In general it's just like any other paper --news stories, features, commentary, interviews, as well as updates from the 10 different provinces of the United States.

Today's issue has a new feature -- "Jesuit blogs". Here was the first entry:
So, just to recap, walking in many parts of Manhattan is basically like agreeing to be the ball in a game of pinball. You thought flashing lights, loud noises, fun. But then, after a couple minutes, you're saying to yourself, getting smacked from bumper to bumper is really a lot less fun that I thought it would be. Please, Lord, please help me get down a gutter or down the hole.
Yes, it's a quote from my blog of about 2 weeks ago. I had no idea that someone over there was reading it, let alone liked it, so it was kind of neat.

Except as I'm standing there it hits me, hmm, I wonder how this particular quote, pulled out of context, will play here in New York City. And suddenly I've got Robert DeNiro in my head: "Hey, yoo. Yoo don't like New York; so what's keepin ya? G'on, crybaby, go back to your driving cities. G'on. Boo hoo."

You whinin' at me?

Then he pushes me down, spits on me and mutters "ingrate". I am the biggest loser (and not in a good way).

In the meantime as I'm reading and imagining all this I'm literally living the pinball experience once again, having to dart among fast walkers who simply can't be bothered to slow down or just adjust their trajectory. (My new theory: the underlying problem here is false urgency. Many people seem to think, I have to get there NOW, or I have to catch THIS train. And in some cities, that might be true, the next train might not come for 20 minutes. But in New York, especially weekdays, 5 minutes between trains would be a long time. So, other than in rare circumstance, that push to hurry is all in the head. It's one of my Zen phrases -- there will always be another train.)

And then having actually been like a ping pong ball between these fast-moving bumpers, I'm stuffed into a train compartment that is FULL at the doors, but not in the middle. (Another very interesting reality, probably in most subway towns -- we're willing to stand at the doors packed like sardines, but usually about 5 feet away, there's plenty of room to stand comfortably. Human beings -- what's up with us?)

ARGH.

The very special afterschool Hawaiian island Brady Bunch special moral of the story is this: the things you write when you blog are more public than you know. Way more public. When I was in Australia working in Cobar, that very, very remote outback community, someone came in one day and said, a lady told me you don't even like Cobar. (In point of fact I had been there a week, and was LOVING it.) And the weird thing was, this lady and I had never met. BUT... yep, you got it...someone had googled me, found this blog and read something that they thought was negative, probably comments that I had posted from other Australians about the unattractiveness of visiting a place as remote as the outback (which I was contrasting with my own excitement).

It really is amazing.

So, as I did then, before someone here decides to hock a loogie in my direction, let me clarify my position slightly:


We good?