Monday, February 27, 2012


Sparse posting hereabouts for the past couple of weeks, due mostly to the fact that my family and I are moving from the Frozen North to the Land Down Under in just a couple of days. It's been extremely busy as our "To-Do" list was chock full of items, but they've been slowly whittled away and everything seems to be on track for our departure on Thursday. I know the whole process has been hard on The Wife, as she's leaving her parents, cats, friends, and hometown to move with me to a new place a hemisphere away. I'm extremely greatful for her love and support. For everyone staying behind in Kingston, I feel bad for taking such joy away from them by moving Boomer away, even though I know longterm this is in my family's best interests.

Personally, I have no hesitation and I can't wait to arrive and get started in a new career and a new life. This is what I've been working for over the last several years, and there were definitely times when it seemed I would never get a position like this in academia. I intend to make the most of it, and hopefully, when all is said and done, those around me will agree it was the right choice.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Daily Bugle (Ltd. 1996) [COMICS]

Apart from DC Comics' Daily Planet, the most famous fictional media outlet in comic books is probably Marvel's Daily Bugle. As the employer of Peter Parker, the Bugle has served as the springboard and setting for Spider-Man stories for decades, and became enough of an institution that other series set in New York often make use of it. In a 1996 three-issue limited series, the staff of the Daily Bugle got a chance to star in stories not dominated by Parker & his alter-ego.

In the first issue, reporters Ben Urich & Angela Yin uncover a crime cartel that is blackmailing a cheating Congressman, Ken Ellis is disappointed to realize that a tip about illegal "aliens" was made by a UFOlogist, and secretary-turned-reporter Betty Brant interviews one of the proprietors of a potentially mob-controlled restaurant in what will be mini-series' continuing story.

Issue # 2 has a fun story where J. Jonah Jameson decides that if his staff can't discover proof that Spider-Man is a menace, he'll just have to stop being editor-in-chief for a day and pound the pavement himself; the reader gets to see just how out of practice he is as a reporter, but he still gets a story even if it's not the one he expected. Meanwhile, Brant gets kidnapped, and Issue # 3 details her rescue and the suicide of the restaurant-owner who did it.

The artwork is black-and-white which actually works well to give it a different feel than normal super hero comics. Overall there's a couple of good scenes but the mob-centric main story didn't rise above the level of mediocrity. A good premise for a comic, even if the execution didn't quite make it work.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Justice Inc. (1975) [COMICS]

Justice Inc., a short-lived (4 issues) 1975 DC series, featured the exploits of a crime-fighting hero from the pulp magazine era named The Avenger. The Avenger is a funky dude. After some sort of disfigurement, his face is pale white and lifeless, but with the consistency of putty so that he can manually re-arrange it to disguise himself as other people! He carries a tiny 4-shot revolver named Mike and a knife named Ike. He starts his own group of like-minded allies, including a veritable giant who is actually a genius. He fights villains who discover ways to turn airplanes invisible, cause earthquakes, and turn men into grotesque beasts. It all sounds like a lot of fun, and perhaps presented in the right way, with a sense of humor and a knowing wink, it could be. Alas, it's played deadly straight and just comes across as . . . old-fashioned and dumb. Kirby art on issues 2-4 though!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Clone Wars Campaign: Session # 51

I was really happy with how session # 51 turned out considering it starred an NPC and involved everyone playing their back-up characters, two of whom appeared for the first time (Arresta's player running Emony, and A'tel's player as a really interesting autonomous droid named Naught). This odd result was due to the group facing a major choice of which adventure hook to take last session, with everyone in the group but one going one way and the other going . . . here! I always tell my players to have their characters do what their characters would do, regardless of meta-game consequences, so I can't hold anyone responsible for the unusual result but myself. The most ironic thing, of course, is that the player (running Daal) who made the choice necessitating this special session ended up being unavailable the night we ran it! It's sorta like planning the entire menu for a dinner party around one guest's dietary restrictions and then that guest not showing up, but that's okay--fun was had by all and that's what matters.

The setting for this session, the jungle planet Haruun Kal, comes from the Star Wars novel Shatterpoint. It's an excellent novel, though very dark and dense compared to most others. The planet Haruun Kal is an interesting and imposing setting, but the PCs were high enough level I felt justified in ramping up the difficulty. I quite liked how the particular environmental dangers fit together organically to make a trek through the jungle a dangerous thing in itself.

A memorable in-game conversation took place when Tarn asked for "a woman's point of view" from Emony on what he should do about Arresta. Not only did The Wife have a chance to influence a major love interest of her primary character, but the other players revealed themselves to have opinions on the love triangle as well.

The ending to the session, literally a cliffhanger, was pretty exciting if I dare say so myself. As always, I don't pre-determine what is going to happen, and I was equally prepared for the thought-spores to be destroyed as recovered--though in the former case, the campaign may have reached a very different (and more tragic!) conclusion.


For over thirty years, Haruun Kal was a world at war. The native Korunnai, jungle dwellers, fought to maintain the traditional feeding grounds of their herds of massive grasser beasts, against the Balawai, settler outsiders that clearcut the jungle to build modern cities. Just two years ago, the Jedi negotiated a tentative peace agreement between the Korunnai and the Balawai. But tensions remain: on the entire planet, only a single continent-sized plateau rises high enough in the atmosphere to escape the dense cloudsea of toxic gases that render the rest of the world a wasteland. And it was here, on this forbidding world, that an ancient Sith priestess known as the Plaguewomb hid her most precious possessions . . .

[1074 A.G.]

The Flaming Halo drops out of hyperspace, preparing to drop its passengers on the jungle planet of Haruun Kal so that Jedi Tarn Tamarand can find a weapon of terrible power to use against the Accelerated: thought-spores. Having spent the journey considering his options, Lucef approaches Tarn and informs the Jedi that he would like to accompany him and assist in completing his task. Tarn is grateful for the assistance as Master Creen has informed him that he will remain with the ship, in anticipation of the ‘darkness’ that is coming to the planet.
On the planet below, a non-native guide named Emony Wynn waits for The Flaming Halo at a small landing pad and outpost that serves as the central headquarters for Shey Tepani University’s research expedition into the forbidding Haruun Kal jungle. Wynn finds a native Korunnai operating a small stall selling portaak amber, the native plant that, when crushed, can be spread on electronic equipment as partial protection from the jungle’s metal- and silicate- devouring fungi. While in the local market, she also encounters a heavily modified entertainment droid named Naught who is seeking a guide into the jungle. Emony informs him that she already has a commission – but that if there are no objections from her employers, she is open to him joining their party.
On arrival at the planet, Lucef sets passwords to prevent Master Creen from moving the ship on him. Meanwhile, Tarn discovers that Daal hasn’t responded to various communications recently. When he finally (along with Lucef ) forces his way in to Daal’s cabin, he sees that the Duro is unconscious and feverishly tossing and turning on his bunk, mumbling something about an “oracle.” Tarn and Lucef realize that they will have to leave Daal behind on the ship and in the care of his loyal medical droid, Scraper.
In the marketplace, Tarn and Lucef quickly locate their guide, Emony, and she advises them on the need to purchase portaak amber to protect their electronic equipment. She draws a map of the area and they decide to strike out for the Joint Anthro-Archaeological dig site some days distant. Emony introduces them to Naught, who explains his desire to travel with them. Lucef agrees, providing the droid can pass a combat drill and that he is willing to delay any of his “personal objectives” for the mission until their own mission is served. While Tarn and Emony purchase supplies of the amber, Lucef takes Naught through an aggressive combat drill and pronounces himself satisfied.
The jungles of Haruun Kal prove an inhospitable place. The terrain is difficult and there are many dangers, including fever wasps, Akk dogs, thornbushes, flooded streams, and more. The oppressive heat of the jungle makes it difficult to sleep, and dehydration and exhaustion quickly take their toll on the travellers.

[A.G. 1076]
On the third day of their trek through the juggle, the travellers arrive at the dig site only to encounter a surprising scene. Instead of scientists and labour droids, the ruins appear deserted and there are signs of struggle. Suddenly, blaster bolts ring out, but after a few tense moments, the group manages to disarm the lone woman remaining at the site. She reveals that some of the native Korrunai inexplicably attacked the site and kidnapped the others, stealing their tools, droids, and the artifacts that had been unearthed. She believes that they are heading towards a deep chasm, some days journey from the dig site. Tarn realizes that the item he needs, a Sith artifact, is likely to be lost if they don’t follow the attackers. Lucef calculates that the Korrunai have a short head start on them, but if he and the others can push themselves, they should be able to catch up.

[A.G. 1078]

One night, after the others are asleep, a Korrunai Lor Pelek (shamanistic leader) arrives and speaks to the camp’s sentry, Naught. The Lor Pelek demands that the pursuit be halted, as he intends to cleanse the evils unearthed by the archaeologists when they breached the walls of the Plaguewomb’s vault. The Lor Pelek states that every tainted thing and person from the dig site will be thrown into the great chasm, “Fall-Lasting-Night-and-Day,” and that any who try to stop him will be deemed enemies. After the Lor Pelek leaves, Naught wakes everyone and informs them of what transpired. The group remains undeterred. During the discussions, Lucef manages to provoke Tarn’s temper by commenting on the fact that Jedi are celibate and do not have children--something that the young Jedi seems to take personally.
[A.G. 1079]
After several hours of walking, Emony spots the signs of a fever wasp nest and leads them safely around it. The next obstacle will not be so easily avoided, however. Razor-sharp thornbushes stand in their way, extending deep into the jungle. Though Tarn is able to use his lightsaber like a machete to cut a path through, it is very slow going. Things go from bad to worse, when massive armoured beasts suddenly attack. In the frenzy, Tarn loses his lightsaber and one of the dogs seizes the droid Naught in its mouth. Lucef once again saves the day by killing one of the Akk beasts with his bare hands and forcing the other to flee.
Later that night, once the group has made camp, Tarn approaches Emony and asks for her “advice as a woman” about a matter that is troubling him. He explains that he is at a loss for how to proceed when it comes to Arresta and their daughter. He does not know how to express his feelings for her, he is unsure what she is thinking, and he is deeply concerned about her relationship with another man. He is also under obligation to his Master and to the Jedi Order. Naught and Lucef quickly join the discussion and Lucef clarifies that the “other man” in question is both Arresta’s husband and a noted criminal figure. Both he and Naught advise Tarn to leave well enough alone, telling him that unless he is prepared to offer Arresta complete commitment, he should step aside. Tarn asks what Emony thinks. She tells him that he needs to do two things: decide what it is that he really wants; and find out the same thing from the girl that he loves. Naught is amused by the plight of the “meat sacks” and a different discussion begins about whether droids are sentient and have rights.

[A.G. 1081]

Having pushed themselves hard through force marches, the group reaches the edge of the great chasm well in advance of the Korunnai. They prepare defensive positions around what appears to be a ritualistic site and wait for the planet’s natives to arrive. When three massive Akk dogs, mounted by Korunnai warriors, storm out of the jungle, it’s clear that the time for conversation has passed. Lucef almost single-handedly defeats the entire invading force, but the Lor Pelek grabs the small orb containing the thought-spores and sprints to the edge of the chasm. Just as he leaps to throw himself in, however, Tarn manages to grab him at the last second and recover the orb. After the prisoners are subdued and the kidnapped workers released, Lucef asks Tarn, “What are you going to do with that thing?” Tarn’s response is to gaze deep into the depth of the small object. “I’m going to do a very bad thing.”


How to Slash Healthcare Costs? Drink Tea!

This past weekend, The Wife and I went to a spa resort for a night. It was all-around excellent, with great food, great massages, and a relaxing atmosphere. It also featured the long-sought solution to the health care crisis: rainforest chai tea! Not only does this tea "have many positive effects on human health", "it is used against infections, bronchitis, asthma, stomach complaints and even cancer"!!!! Now, you may not have realized that the best way to deal with cancer is to knock down the rainforests to harvest bark for tea (just add vanilla!), but fortunately the good people at this spa resort did.

I guess I might as well start smoking and take that asbestos scarf out of the closet, as long as I've got a kettle nearby . . .

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World [GAMES]

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World was an entertaining and original adventure game that hearkened back to some of the classic games of the late 80s/early 90s. In true adventure game style, you come across a bunch of obstacles and objects, and have to figure out how to combine the objects in order to make it past the obstacles. The premise is that Kaptain Brawe is a somewhat muscle-brained space captain in a quirky, intentionally silly galaxy and has to escape from space pirates and even his own treacherous lieutenant. For the most part the puzzles were fair, though there are a couple of spots where I had to get a clue online because if you don't put the cursor in exactly the right spot you'll miss an important object. The game has a good sense of humor and interesting artwork, though lines of dialogue do not receive audio support. All in all, a fun entry in the genre.

Friday, February 10, 2012

NFL 2011 Super Bowl Round-Up

The final results are in, and I didn't lose! I didn't win, either, but I came in safely smack dab in the middle. That means that Steve will be able to get The Wife to write a blog post on a topic of his choice, and I'm quite curious to see what he'll pick.

Patriots vs. Giants
The Wife: Patriots
Me: Giants
Steve: Patriots
WINNER: Giants


The Wife: 159-111
Me: 160-110
Steve: 172-98


It's been an exciting and busy last couple of days, as our long-awaited visas finally arrived. We'll be departing the Frozen North for The Land Down Under in just a few weeks time, and I can't wait! It is a big change though, and one especially hard on The Wife who will be away from her hometown, friends, and family, and for Boomer's grandparents who are going to miss him terribly. It's one of those rare life-changing opportunities that are just too good to pass up, but I've been fortunate to have such considerate loved ones to support me in the transition.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Le Livre d'Or de la science-fiction: A.E. Van Vogt

Normally I’m pretty proud of my self-taught ability read French, but the first story (Le fantôme) in this collection of works by A.E. Van Vogt (an author I’ve never read before) made me feel as though I might as well have been reading Greek. I had absolutely no idea what the heck was happening in the story and I dreaded having to slog through the rest of the book. Fortunately, for whatever reason, subsequent stories made more sense to me, even if they still presented far more of a challenge than, say, reading Harry Potter in French. I think the one I enjoyed the most was Le premier Rull, which is a prequel of sorts to a series of Van Vogt novels--it sets up a good sense of dread at how deeply and easily Earth has been infiltrated by aliens they don’t even know exist. The other stories didn’t do much for me, but again that may be partially caused by my partial inability to figure out what was happening. I did enjoy a short essay by Van Vogt included at the end of the book, in which he reveals his iron-clad rule of how to write good SF: every scene should be about 800 words and reveal something important about the story.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box [GAMES]

My Nintendo DS sat pretty much untouched for well over a year before I finally got around to finishing Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box--not because it's a bad game, just because I got busy. Like its predecessor (The Curious Village), this is a puzzle-based game with charming animation and voice work that helps carry things along. One of the best parts about the game is that all but a handful of puzzles are optional, so you rarely if ever get stuck--and there's plenty of mini-games and things to stay busy with if you ever do need some time to figure one out. The Wife, who is an avid player and finished the game before me, was a bit skeptical of the somewhat cheesy ending, but we've already picked up the sequel (The Unwound Future) and are looking forward to playing it.