Monday, October 31, 2005

This only a test.

Hey anyone out there, I monkeyed with my template a bit in hopes of making it a little spiffier. Input appreciated. Would like to make sure it looks OK on all varieties of browsers and/or if it just looks godawful. If you're reading and have a second please let me know if it looks all right, and what computer type/browser you're using, as I'm only looking from a OSX iMac using Firefox or IE. Muchas gracias.

BOOKS: What I Read, October

Hey, the month ain't even over, but I'm ready to go with my Books I Read, part the tenth, one dogged attempt to detail one wide-eyed young boy's yearly reading. Still slowed down a bit in October, reading only 6 books -- although one of them was a massive, slow read. That brings the year's total to 72 books,* or an average of 7.2 per month. You may call me bookworm.

October's books:
“Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story,” by Chuck Klosterman. Reviewed right here.

“The Colorado Kid” by Stephen King. A thin-as-piano-wire thread of plot animates this bloated-up short story about a mysterious death on the Maine Coast, part of the "True Crime" series. It's really just a 10-page tale strettttttched into 150-something pages by King's meandering, and it's one of his least impressive books, I have to say. Some interesting bits but an anticlimactic ending and general "I'm just screwing around" feel to the whole enterprise leads me to say this is for King's fanatic fans only. King tries to write it all off in a semi-apologetic afterword, but he's done mystery better in many of his other books.

“Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men And Mountains” by Jon Krakauer. I like to read about things I'll probably never do. Hence my interest in mountain-climbing literature by folks like Tim Cahill and Krakauer. I'll never climb Mount Everest, but Krakuer's "Into Thin Air," his breathtaking account of a doomed Everest expedition, made me feel like I was there. This one is a collection of several earlier magazine pieces, and most of them are amazing glimpses into extreme people in extreme environments. A piece about a "zen" bouldering expert, a harrowing ice-climbing adventure and a trek up Alaska's Mt. McKinley were highlights in this great breezy read.

“The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,” by Thomas Friedman. This was the 800-pound gorilla of the month, a hefty tome on global economic theory of all things, which sounds like the last book I'd find myself reading. But this buzzword book by New York Times columnist Friedman is actually a pretty fascinating discussion on our world and how quickly technology has changed it. I get this feeling sometimes when I'm at work busily using Google to research facts that would've taken hours to uncover a decade ago. History rarely is so immediate when you're living it, but Friedman steps back a bit to show us how quickly commerce and exchange has changed just since 2000. Image hosted by
What's interesting about it is that it ISN'T the U.S. that's really been affected so much as places like India and China, which Friedman convincingly shows us are rapidly catching up to and even exceeding the U.S. in both brainpower and willpower. Globalization isn't something that can be ignored or even really stopped, he writes, and too many folks in the U.S. seem to think harping about it will change the way technology is making everyone level players in a flat world. Instead he focuses on how to make globilization fair, humane and effective for all. He also offers a firm call for Americans to not coast on the success they had in the 20th century, because future progress isn't a guarantee.
Friedman takes a refreshingly non-political road for the most part, although he deservedly lashes the Bush administration several times, and notes how the U.S. has been so consumed by "the War on Terror' the past five years that it's missed a lot of how the rest of the world is changing. Now, you can quibble with a lot of Friedman's reasoning – and I have to admit the entire globe becoming Wal-Marts and Starbucks is an image I don't want to see from globilization – but overall it's a very thoughtful treatise that does what few books can do – make you think about the "big picture." The biggest flaw is that it's just about 100 pages too long, and after a while, Friedman's point feels redundant (drinking game: every time he says the world is flat, take a shot. Pass out at page 78). Still, it's recommended reading if only to provide you something to mull over.

"Writers on Comic Scriptwriting, Vol. 2" by Andrew Kardon and Tom Root. A fun collection of in-depth interviews with comic writers like Brian Bendis, Dave Sim, Bill Willingham and many more in this second volume of great inside-the-biz interviews by Titan Books.

"1968: The Year That Rocked The World" by Mark Kurlansky. I'm still in the middle of reading this one. It's a history of the year 1968, a political firestorm both in the U.S. and overseas. So far, it's quite a good read, taking all the varying players in protests and wars from Poland to the U.S. to Vietnam and weaving a tale about one of the more fiery years in recent times. Kurlansky admits he's not really objective about these times, having lived through them, so it has a fairly left-leaning slant, but so far it's still solid reporting and an interesting primer of recent history.

*[Fine print: The year to date posts: January, February, March, April, May , June, July, August and at long last, September.]

Friday, October 28, 2005

COMICS: Going 'Solo' with Mike Allred

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to tell you about the best $5 you can spend on comics this week: Michael Allred's SOLO #7 from DC Comics. Holy smokes, this is great fun. "Solo" is a bi-monthly book from DC that features one artist's work every issue, doing whatever they feel like doing. This is the first issue of the book I've picked up, because I'm a big fan of Allred's work, from his "X-Statix" for Marvel to his great classic "Madman" and "Atomics." He's got a crisp, retro style that's sharp and writes witty, quirky scripts full of pop culture love. With his brother Lee, Allred spins this "Solo" issue into one of the best comics of the year.

And here's something about Allred you probably didn't know - he's actually from right here in Roseburg, Oregon, of all places. He grew up here and still lives in the area, over on the Oregon Coast. There's a few nice little tributes to "Robu" that my comic shop guy Brett pointed out to me yesterday. The short wordless story "Comic Book Clubhouse" features Allred's reminiscences of growing up here back in the '70s and many familiar local locations, as well as a nice tribute to the power of comic books as an imaginative spark in a young fella's life.

There's also several other fine tales in this packed 48-page comic — a kooky 2-page "Mister Miracle" tale, an utterly hilarious story reimagining Golden Age hero Hourman (who pops a pill to get superpowers for an hour) as a kind of do-gooding speed freak, and "Doom Patrol Vs. Teen Titans," which is a warped comic blast as the Teen Titans have a wacky party at Bruce Wayne's penthouse, only to draw the ire of the Doom Patrol who happen to be staying downstairs. This free-wheeling story is funny as heck, a parody and a winking tribute ("Queen Arrow"?).

But the issue's highlight is "Batman A-Go-Go," which is utterly insane, psychedelic journey with the Caped Crusader that's unlike any Batman story you'll read this year. Set in the Batman era of the 1960s, loosely based on the TV show, Allred sends the "bam pow sock" Bats on a strange journey as he sees himself viewed as an irrelevant oddball relic in the face of grim real crimes, Robin gets involved with a crazed cult, and The Riddler becomes a kind of shaman. It's a hard story to describe, and it evokes a lot of Allred's best work by being set in a light-hearted, candy-colored world, yet with a dark edge. (Batman quotes Nietzsche?!) It's ultimately optimistic, and it also says more real about the Batman character than nearly any of the recent comics featuring Batman as ultra-grim, dark nearly psychotic madman.

"Solo" #7 just a dizzy blast, a must for anyone who loves Silver Age comics and any fan of Allred's. Check it out. Grade: A

Thursday, October 27, 2005

LIFE: Open up and say ahhh

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I think in my 34 years of life, I must've spent at least one entire year of it at the dentist's office. Went to the dentist yesterday for the second time in two weeks, one visit for the regular checkup and another to repair a filling that was going out. When I'm in that chair, it feels like I've been staring at the ceiling and that funky little light they use that looks like the head of some droid from "Star Wars" for an eternity. I float off to some magical place, vaguely aware of the buzz of the drill and the acrid smell that comes when your own teeth are burning. I go zen.

I'm very used to having people mess with my teeth... I had braces for what seemed like decades as a kid, from third grade to eighth grade, five years that felt like a freakin' infinity when you're young. I had pretty snaggly teeth as I recall, so they took a bit of straightening. (I also happen to think our orthodontist really needed a new car, but that's another theory.) I wore that damned metal garbage from the time I was playing with action figures until when I was playing with girls. For the first year or so of that treatment, I even had to wear that humiliating headgear that makes you look like something out of "A Clockwork Orange" (and if there were justice, the United Nations would pass a law making it a crime against humanity to ever make any kids wear that stuff in public).

After the braces were finally off, I had this awkward little metal brace put on the inside of my mouth along my bottom front teeth. It was meant to "keep them in place." But sometime in college it broke, I had it removed and never thought about it again. Which of course means my teeth are very slowly going crooked again, two teeth coming together in the front, barely noticeable to anyone but me. Thousands of dollars of orthodontia and this is what you get. Egad.

The weird thing is, despite it all, I do have pretty good teeth. I had a lot of cavities as a kid (too much Pepsi) but have barely had any in the past 10 years, mostly just problems with old ones coming back. I have the risk of periodontal problems in my family so the last several years I've had to be a lot more dilligent about flossing and all that nonsense. According to my dentists, I'm gifted with extraordinarily large teeth that don't have a lot of space between them. Guess I'm part horse.

Teeth are a pain, when you get down to it. If there's intelligent design, then the designer who decided all these tiny little bits of bone with gaps between them — hard to clean, harder to maintain, and at the risk of a thousand different complications – was a good idea, he needs to be let go. Teeth are inefficient.

*Ten Blogpoints* to whoever identifies the source of my photo above first. Blogpoints invalid in the 50 United States and Guam, but they are accepted for most household goods in Belgium. *Term Blogpoints™ David Hitt now and forever in the known galaxy. You happy now, NASA boy?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

MOVIES: Zombie-Rama Part 4, the grand finale -
"Land of the Dead"

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And so, appropriately enough just in time for Halloween, we come to the conclusion of our Zombie-Rama! To recap, a few months back I, a humble zombie virgin, embarked on a noble quest to see all of George Romero's classic "Living Dead" movies, one by one, and blog my novice's thoughts on them. First, I went back to the starting board, 1968's influential "Night of the Living Dead." Then I woke up for 1978's "Dawn of the Dead." Next, I had a fine old visit to 1985's "Day of the Dead.". Now, it's time to wrap it all up with "Land of the Dead"!

It has been an education. I have learned that being bitten by a zombie is unpleasant, that the human body can be torn into all kinds of gruesome pieces, what happens when a zombie meets a helicopter blade, and that a zombie with a machine gun is really not someone you want to encounter.

But all good brains must come to an end, and so this weekend I checked out the DVD of last spring's fourth and final (for now?) chapter, "Land of the Dead." Coming 20 years after the previous installment was released, it's a very different movie than the previous three -- a much higher budget, with actual Hollywood stars like Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo in featured roles. At the same time, it carries through on the social themes Romero has explored in the previous movies, with some interesting new twists.

It's some time after the "undead plague" broke out, and society as we know it is gone. The dead rule the Earth, except for isolated, barricaded refuges for normal humans. One of these societies is Fiddler's Green, a city where a rich businessman (Hopper) and fellow well-off folks live in privilege, safe and protected from the zombie menace. People will pay a great deal of money to get in Fiddler's Green, and there's a lot of tension between the rich, the poor scrounging on the outsides, and the military men who do the dirty work. Meanwhile, the zombies are starting to evolve, under the leadership of "Big Daddy," a zombie who has the disturbing ability to learn and even use tools.

"Dead" rushes by a bit fast, and while it's a fun zombie flick, it doesn't quite measure up to the 20-year gap -- I kind of wish Romero had gone all out, widened his canvas and really told an epic tale. There's glimpses of that epic here, but it's still a bit small (half the movie is about the chase for a truck, for cryin' out loud), and kind of a conventional action movie, lacking the darker edges of the previous three.

The evolution of the zombies may have offended some fans. Yet it's one of the things I admire about Romero, is that his zombie films aren't content to just stand still, that he's not merely interested in freaking us out and grossing us out. He keeps from rooting for either the humans or the zombies, showing us how warped both are. (Humans caging up zombies for amusement, or using them for "target practice," for instance.) The zombies here pine for and dimly remember their "normal lives," making their degrading feeding that much more forlorn an ending to come to.

The characters in "Land," as in most of the movies, are all fairly generic stereotypes, with Leguizamo probably giving the best performance. (But you have to love oddball Dennis Hopper, intoning lines like "Zombies, man. They give me the creeps.") The actor playing "Big Daddy," Eugene Clark, overacts a lot, but heck, it works for me (no man will ever win an Academy Award for playing a zombie, anyway).

Still, I have to admit, I liked a lot of "Land of the Dead" – I'd actually rate it as my second favorite of the group, after "Dawn of the Dead." It's fast-moving and delivers on the brain-chomping action with an apocalyptic finale as the dead have their vengeance on Fiddler's Green. As returns go, "Land" isn't a terrible sequel. If Romero ever makes a fifth "Dead" visit, I'm down for checking it out.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

MUSIC: Nik's first iPod

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Oh yeah, baby. I am now part of the iPod generation. My shiny new iPod video 30GB arrived last night, and I have been playing with it ever since trying to figure out how it works. (The "click wheel" baffled this iPod novice for a couple minutes; of course, being a man I didn't read the instructions or anything.)

First impressions of this fancy new bit of Mac hip technology - man, it's small! I knew the new iPods were compact, but I was still surprised at how tiny it is; and even so, it's still got about 5x the storage of my creaky old home 1999 iMac. I can't even imagine having one of the even smaller iPod nanos, because my gorilla-like fingers could probably barely use it. The sound quality is remarkable, better than some of my regular CD players sound with headphones. I love the shiny black look of mine, and I fondle it like a grateful teenage lover would his older mistress. (Er... was that too much detail?) It does look real easy to scratch though so I'll pick up an iSkin soon. The menu, etc. are all great to use, and the capacity looks amazing -- I downloaded about 6 albums yesterday and a video and I've used something like less than 1% of the iPod's holdings. I should be able to get 1/2 to 2/3 of my CD collection on here eventually.

The video capacity on this model is brand-new, and I dropped $1.99 for Fatboy Slim's classic "Weapon of Choice" video starring a dancing Christopher Walken from iTunes to try it out. (You might be able to make it out on the photo above some.) The screen isn't gigantic, and I have trouble imaginging watching an hour-long TV show without straining my eyes, but for a 3-minute video it's pretty perfect, great quality.

I'm diggin' it. If you need my attention this weekend, you'll have to tap me on the shoulder first.

Oh, and playing on shuffle while writing this blogpost: "In the Cold Cold Night," The White Stripes; "Theologians," Wilco; "Heroes," David Bowie; "Black Tongue" by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

BOOKS: 'Go, Dog, Go!'

Now that Peter's 20 months old, he's been really into us reading him stories and "buchs" as he calls them. It's cool to see your kid getting into the same books you read when you were a lad – "Cat in the Hat," "Ten Apples Up On Top," "Curious George," etc.

Peter's favorite book, lately, is a classic: Image hosted by
You can't go wrong with 'Go, Dog, Go!', which combines two of Peter's favorite things in life – cars and dogs! We'll read it to him several times a week. It's been fascinating to watch as he develops more and more interest in books, seeing them less as chew toys and more as objects full of ideas. He loves pointing out things he recognizes - he bleats "caaaaahhhhhhhh" whenever he sees an auto, plus "buh" (bird), "li" (light), " 'nighnigh" (bed) and more every day.

But "Go, Dog, Go!" is cool because it was also one of my favorite books when I was a wee sprat. There's something that puts P.D. Eastman's book above many others -- the colorful cast of cavorting dogs, who run around driving their cars, skiing, on houseboats and more. I used to read this book over and over again as a lad.

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My favorite part of course, is the huge old dog party that closes out the book. All the dogs pile in their cars and speed off to an enormous tree out in the middle of nowhere. Once they're there, they climb up to the top of the tree and erupt in a Bacchanalian celebration that always kind of blew my mind. Check out all the action at this gig!
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I used to stare at this activity-filled page for long minutes as a kid. There's so much going on in it it's amazing. Why did the dogs climb the tree and have a party up there? What's the hullabaloo all about? You could look close and see all kinds of wacky details.
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They're launching dogs out of CANNONS, for crying out loud! This is why "Go, Dog, Go!" rocks.

Friday, October 21, 2005

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In his spare time, Toddler Peter imagines becoming a male model.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

LINKAGE: Go read this stuff

I have nothing to say, but that won't stop me from posting. Let me be your guide, and point you toward some other fine readin' in the Internets:

Rampage, we hardly knew ye. I don't consider myself a full-time comics blogger, but the ninth art is one of the tasty pop culture things I like to write about, and my personal favorite comics blog was Grim's Fanboy Rampage, which combined nuggets of comics news with snark a'plenty, excerpting info from dozens of comics Web sites out there and giving us the weird, the witty and the just plain sad. Particularly awesome were the posts about some comic message boards, and the sad, lost souls you'll find on them (they make "The Simpsons" Comic Book Guy look like James Bond). The comments threads and their zillions of contributors often turned into a wonderful free-for-all. It was a great forum, which of course means it couldn't last. Graeme hung up his blogging hat Monday, and will be sorely missed as a one-stop site for comics insanity. Rampage on, excellent one.

With Graeme gone, I have to crown a new champion -- my revised favorite comics blog has to be Dave's Long Box, which combines snarky with serious criticism to create one of the funniest blogs I read, as one man analyzes the dogs and the gems of his comic book collection, one book at a time. If you want a fine sample post, go check out this evisceration of Batman #268 from 1975. And now that I've plugged Dave, he'll quit too. (Sad face)

I really don't watch a ton of TV, but Tom the Dog does. His ongoing review of EVERY SINGLE new TV show this fall (well, except a reality show or two - he's not an idiot) has been great fun to read. Go check out his final wrap-up post for an in-depth analysis of why most TV shows, well, blow chunks, and why a couple don't.

I do love The New Yorker, Oregon elitist that I am, and I think subscribing makes my mail carrier think I'm smart. But the most recent issue had a godawful article on graphic novels by Peter Schjeldahl, another one of those sneering rambles where some stiff academic deigns to inspect the graphic novel. Here's an actual excerpt:
"Like life-changing poetry of yore, graphic novels are a young person's art, demanding and rewarding mental flexibility and nervous stamina. Consuming them - toggling for hours between the incommensurable functions of reading and looking - is taxing. The difficulty of graphic novels limits their potential audience, in contrast to the blissfully easeful, still all-conquering movies, but that is not a debility; rather, it gives them the opalescent sheen of avant-gardism."
Egad. The New Yorker is usually better than this -- heck, they've got Art Spiegelman on staff! Comics are hard to read? Tell that to kids like me that partially learned to read from them.
I was considering writing a lengthy take-down of this blather - which basically asserts the great but critically overlauded Chris Ware is the only decent cartoonist the medium has ever produced, but Beaucoup Kevin beat me to it, and with more and better words than I would've used. Go read the original NY piece if you can, then read Kevin's cutting response to why Schjeldahl knows not of what he speaks. I swear, pomposity like this nearly makes me long for a condescending ol' "bam! bang! pow! comics aren't for kids!" type puff piece.

• I often wonder what offends the artistic sensibilities of reclusive retired "Calvin & Hobbes" auteur Bill Watterson more – the illegal car stickers that feature Calvin peeing on Ford or Chevy logos, or the illegal "response" stickers that feature Calvin on his knees praying to a cross? No wonder the man gave up. Discuss.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

MOVIES: Thoughts on 'Elizabethtown'

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Well, I liked "Elizabethtown." For some reason Cameron Crowe's latest movie is the designated critical whipping boy of the month, getting some really terrible reviews, but this longtime Crowe fan for one doesn't get it. I had a fine time with this movie — a son's farewell to his dad, an oddball love story and ode to the South. Perhaps it isn't Crowe's best work, but it's certainly not as bad as you might have heard. Orlando Bloom acquits himself nicely, and Kirsten Dunst was cute as a junebug. It features Crowe's patented mix of wit and insight, bitter pills laced with sugar much like his idol, the late great Billy Wilder.

Bloom, out of his elf ears, is really solid as the hapless Drew Baylor, who manages to lose his Oregon-based shoe company (read: Nike) nearly a billion dollars and has his father die all in the space of a few days. He's got to go to Kentucky to arrange his father's funeral, and deal with all his unfamiliar Southern relatives. Of course, he also meets a girl along the way, a forthright and chipper flight attendant played by Dunst. Bloom has got this deadpan, wide-eyed shock going on which works well for his character, yet he's more empathetic than Zach Braff was in the similiarly themed "Garden State." (Which I feel "Elizabethtown" is superior to, but that's another story.) And Dunst I found was tremendously endearing as yet another of those only-in-movies "quirky girls," and she puts her own stamp on a character that could've been obnoxious in another actress's hands.

How much you like "Elizabethtown" probably depends on your tolerance for sentiment — because it is a very sentimental movie. Yet I rarely found it to be manipulative, and that to me is a critical difference. Sentimental means the movie makes you feel a certain way; manipulative means you can feel it forcing you to feel that way.

Crowe's movies have always danced on that line between sentiment and manipulative, and almost always fall on the right side of it … Lloyd Dobler with his boombox from "Say Anything" has become an icon for romance, or "Jerry Maguire" and the whole "You complete me" speech. "Almost Famous" - his finest work to date - is riddled with moments that draw up the lump in your throat, unbidden.

Unless, of course, you're just not into that kind of sentimentalism, which is fine -– and that I think was kind of the kneejerk reaction of some critics to "Elizabethtown." It also does have its flaws -- it's shapeless, somehow, lacking a tight structure. It feels like it still needed a little editing. I didn't mind too much – if you enjoy a movie, it can rarely feel too long. Crowe's tendency to tack a rock song onto every scene also verges on overdone here (still a great Southern rock-tinged soundtrack, though). Susan Sarandon's character of Drew's mother never quite works, and a dialogue by her toward the end of the film is really awkward.

But y'know, it's still the Cameron Crowe I know, the one whose every movie I've enjoyed (even the experimental and dark "Vanilla Sky"). In the end, "Elizabethtown" is also optimistic, and maybe that turned some critics away. Optimism isn't hip anymore, perhaps. Yet it's the truest thing we've got sometimes. "Elizabethtown" is sentimental, yeah, and it even choked me up a bit in a few scenes. (Just a little - I am a manly man, after all.) Give it a chance.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

ETC.: Friday flim-flam

ITEM! Well, I went ahead and did it. I ordered my iPod yesterday - and fortunately I waited to do it AFTER Apple announced their latest improvement to the little demons. My 30GB iPod video is in the pipeline for me to get in the next two weeks or so. And I ordered the sleek, sexy black model, the better to accompany my own sleek sexiness.

ITEM! Wow, I should write about comic book crossovers all the time. Yesterday's blogpost on "Infinite Crisis" had an all-time high for hits (thanks in part to Tom at The Comics Reporter linking to me). And I broke the 25,000 hit mark, too! I feel adored. Thanks for reading my ramblings.

ITEM! So, Daniel Craig as James Bond, eh? He's not quite my top pick (that would be Clive Owen), but it could be interesting if the movies he's in are worth a damn. I thought Pierce Brosnan was an excellent Bond, mired in some of the most gimmicky, convoluted and overwrought Bond movies of all. I'd sure love to see a more realistic, less superheroey Bond, but the producers no longer seem interested in that. Craig's a good actor - check him out in "Layer Cake" or "Enduring Love" or "Road to Perdition" – but if the scripts continue to stink, there's not a lot the man in the tux can do about that. To be frank, the last Bond movie I unconditionally loved was, I'm embarrassed to say, "A View To A Kill," and that was because I was 13 when it came out and I have a guilty unseemly love of the Duran Duran theme song.

ITEM! If you're interested, you can find my full review of the new Franz Ferdinand CD over here. Dance, puny humans!

ITEM! Planning to check out Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" tonight or tomorrow... The rather mixed reviews have me a bit bummed, but I'm still cautiously hopeful. Heck, I even liked "Vanilla Sky," so I'll give this a shot. Look for my thoughts on it sometime this weekend...

Friday, October 14, 2005

COMICS: Infinite Crisis #1

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSo, "Infinite Crisis." DC Comics' latest universe-ending, world-shredding crossover, with Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and all the rest tossed together with a kajillion other characters in one of those tales that will change everything we know ... or maybe not. Hey, I have a weakness for these things. I've gotten more choosy in my old age -- no "House of M" for me, thank you -- but "Infinite Crisis" looked worth checking out.

I read this book with two minds -- my fanboy mind, which is less discerning, and the more cunning critical mind. Which is weird, because I usually don't get too into lofty discussions about the future of comics, what are 'good comics' and 'bad comics' and such. I read Harvey Pekar and "New Avengers," "Eightball" and "Spider-Man," and don't really give a hoot what the trendies think. I likes what I likes.

But in reading "Infinite Crisis" #1, I kept being struck by just how insular it all was, explicitly geared to lifelong fans with intricate knowledge of all DC Comics' 70-year history. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I remember picking up this series' predecessor, the original "Crisis on Infinite Earths" #5 back in 1985, the one with the cover that features dozens of heroes and villains all drawn by George Perez, with a "crowd scene" to defy all crowd scenes that features zillions of heroes meeting in the Monitor's satellite. And I thought that was way cool, a peep at an entire cosmos of comicsology I knew nothing about. I still love the original sprawling "Crisis" with a fan's unconditional adoration, and while I know it's no "Watchmen" or "Box Office Poison" or "Blankets," for guilty pleasure cosmic crossovers, it's right near the top.

Image hosted by"Infinite Crisis" is basically a sequel to "Crisis on Infinite Earths," 20 years later. DC's been laying the groundwork for what feels like eons. Of the several miniseries leading into it, the only one I'd been reading was "Villians United," so I had to glean a lot from Web sites and so forth. It feels like it lacks the entry points of the original "Crisis." Would a recap page have been that hard to include? Marvel has been doing it for a while, and considering this title jumps forth from no less than SIX miniseries, comics, etc. it seems willfully arrogant for DC to assume readers know everything going in. Do they just not WANT to draw in new readers? I just don't get that.

Now, I happen to be one of these preternatural obsessives who DOES know way too much comics history for his own good, whose brain is filled up with photographic-memory recollections of every single "Amazing Spider-Man" cover and the secret identity of Hawkman and so forth, which fills up the place where useful life knowledge would go. So for me, from a fan's perspective, "Infinite Crisis" did generally deliver the goods. Many costumed figures running about, ominous speeches, deaths (Human Bomb! Nooooo!) and Phil Jimenez's great, Perez-esque art. It ain't fine art, but it's enjoyably vast in scope. However, I do feel like there's too many story threads going on - wars in space, killer robots, crazed Spectres. The story needs to be radically focused in the next issue or two or it's just going to be a sprawling mess.

The big overall story is still not quite apparent, but there's a really intriguing shout back to the old "Crisis, " with last-page appearances that truly promise some interesting hi-jinks in coming issues. I also enjoy that DC is apparently reacting to the "darkening" of its comics universe in the past decade or so, and this series may bring some much-needed lightheartedness and a sense of wonder back to a comics cosmos that has gotten a little too bleak for its own good. The fan in me likes the gist of it; the critic in me is wondering how much meat there is.

Grade for #1: B-

Thursday, October 13, 2005

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Contrary to appearances, Peter really does enjoy going down the slide.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

LIFE: Way-Out iPod Weight Loss Challenge Update #1

Ah, sweet vindication. Hopped onto the scale this morning before my shower and the magic numbers read 189. I even hauled Avril and Peter out of bed to verify I wasn't cheating. Meaning I have succeeded at my Way-Out iPod Weight Loss Challenge to drop down below 190 -- and lost about 8 pounds in the last month. Hurrah for me! Sure, I fluctuate here and there and imagine if I weighed myself in the afternoon I'd be over 190, but close enough. I get to order myself a nifty new 20GB iPod sometime in the next few weeks to reward my persistence, but I'm not slacking - I'm going to do my best to shoot for 185, and maybe, if I can, 180 (apparently the weight loss slows down eventually, so I may not be able to make it that far). Not bad for someone who allegedly weighed 200+ six months ago, I think (that noise you hear is self-aggrandizing back patting).

The funny thing about the exercise is, I think I'm starting to get into it. I've never been a total couch potato but once I got serious about losing a few pounds I've tried to either walk the very steep 3/4-mile or so loop road up behind our house or ride the exercise bike for 30 minutes 5 days a week. If I miss a day, as I did a couple times in the past week because of a pesky cold, I feel antsy and guilty. ("Guilt is the best motivator," Avril told me, and once again she is right.)

I mean, I certainly won't be gracing the cover of Hardbodies Illustrated anytime soon, but have to admit being able to fit the belt a loop tighter isn't a bad sensation at all.

(Edit: it's a good thing I took a month to lose that weight - Apple just announced today their brand new super-spiffy iPod videos. For once, I won't end up buying a product just before they upgrade it!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BOOKS: Chuck Klosterman's road of love and death

'Killing Yourself To Live: 85% of a True Story' by Chuck Klosterman --
I think Chuck Klosterman is one of the more entertaining rock critics-slash-essayists today, and have pimped his books here before. He's a combination slacker and philosopher, reminiscent a bit of Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers and Lester Bangs. I like the guy's writing (he does monthly columns for "Spin," about the only reason I've really found to pick up that mag anymore), and considering during the '80s I hated most metal with a passion I still loved his big ol' sloppy kiss to the hair band era, "Fargo Rock City." He's one of the few critics who I can completely disagree with (he loves KISS, which I cannot fathom) yet I'll read every word he writes.

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Chuck's latest, "Killing Yourself To Live: 85% of a True Story," is his most honest, heartfelt book yet, a memoir and road trip that isn't really what it starts out seeming to be at all. Chuck is assigned by a Spin editor to do an "epic story" that they decide will be a massive road trip across the U.S. visiting places where famous rock stars have died, from Sid Vicious to Kurt Cobain to Buddy Holly. Great idea for a book, right? Seems right up Klosterman's alley, with his yen for pop culture and knack for making the trivial seem life-changing. "I want to find out why plane crashes and drug overdoses and shotgun suicides turn long-haired guitar players into messianic prophets," he writes.

Yet that isn't quite this book, it turns out. Sure, he visits the Chelsea Hotel where Nancy of Sid and Nancy died, the field in Mississippi where half of Lynyrd Skynyrd bought it in a plane crash, the club fire where a Great White concert turned deadly, a Seattle garden where Kurt Cobain ate a shotgun, and these trips are all rendered in energetic, anecdotal and detailed prose. But a funny thing happened along the way – Chuck Klosterman started thinking about his love life, and three women he's caught twixt and tween, each different and each unforgettable for him. The road trip serves as a kind of purgative as Chuck waxes eloquent about his life -- he's coming up on the gap, the gap between slacker 20-something-hood and what we call "real life," when things suddenly get a lot less informal and less surprising. I went through that gap myself about 7-8 years ago and know where he's coming from. "…This kind of life – a life of going to joyless keg parties and having intense temporary acquaintances and spending most of one's time in basements and tiny apartments and crappy rented houses with five bedrooms – was once my life completely," he writes. Where did it go?

I didn't know quite what to make of "Killing Yourself To Live" as I finished it. It's melancholy in a kind of deep, energetic and creative fashion. It's a "quarter-life crisis" in print in some ways, a coming to grips with mortality. While it's a fun, quirky read, such as where Chuck convincingly argues that Radiohead's "Kid A" was a prophecy for 9/11, shows us how his entire romantic history can be compared to the musical lineup of KISS, or gives an utterly sincere defense of Rod Stewart's career, under all the slacker clutter it's about searching for something true, if wondering if life means anything behind how you relate to it from pop culture.

I don't want you to think that "Killing Yourself To Live" isn't a success – I rather enjoyed it, although I don't think it's Klosterman's most enjoyable book. It ambles and rambles and is hugely self-indulgent, as Chuck himself admits in the final pages ("Exploitive, narcissistic and a bit desperate," one friend calls it all). It reads as if he's never heard of an editor. Yet he's an enjoyable companion. If you're just hoping to read about the strange death sites of rock stars, you'll be let down. But as a bittersweet road trip with one guy searching for his own peace of mind with several rock-star trivia stops along the way, "Killing Yourself To Live" works. Love, death, music and road trips. What else is there?

Sunday, October 9, 2005

ETC.: I Have Nothing To Say

Egad, I seem to be having blogging block this week. Perhaps it's October ennui or this pesky little cold. I know all three of my constant readers are dismayed at my lack of posting. So I'll steal an idea and just do a nifty list of....


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1. Just got in the mail today my DVD of "The Right Spectacle - The Very Best of Elvis Costello," a great compilation of all of Elvis' videos and even better a huge selection of rare TV performances. Elvis' videos are a bit, well, stagey and dated (he's no Peter Gabriel in that department), but still fun to watch, and the DVD even boasts commentary by the man himself which I can't wait to listen to. But the live material is swell indeed. Watched a four-song mini-concert from a 1979 episode of the Dutch program "Countdown" with Toddler Peter earlier, and it's awesome, worth the price of the DVD all by itself. E.C. and the Attractions are in top form, jittery, sweaty, manic and blasting through "Watching the Detectives," "You Belong To Me" and more with an audience of statuesque Dutch Amazon women in very dated late '70s fashions swaying about.

2. Franz Ferdinand's new CD "You Could Have It So Much Better" is great bouncy Brit pop-rock fun, filled with the same propulsive rhythms and hooks that made their first CD such a blast. Been listening to the first single "Do You Want To" a lot this week which sounds like the Knack's "My Sharona" run through a blender with some long-lost Duran Duran hit single from 1983. It won't stop playing in my head, dammit.

3. Been reading the 1950s comic goodness of Showcase Presents: Superman Vol. 1, which is perhaps the biggest comic book bargain of our time - 560 pages of comics in a huge phone book-sized tome for a mere $10 (yeah, they're in black-and-white but you really don't notice after a while). These stories are so wacked-out goofy and fun that they make most of today's self-serious, overpriced comics look like a waste of paper. Actual stories from this book include one where Superman suddenly develops the ability to shoot a midget version of himself out of his finger (I swear I'm not joking), or the one where Lois Lane accidentally knocks the bottle city of Kandor off a shelf (apparently miraculously failing to harm a single person inside the bottle in the process). Sheer gold, man. I'm only partially through reading this tome, but let me just share the cover of one of these stories with you, and you'll understand why everything was better before you were born:
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Really, for having blogging block I guess that wasn't too bad...

Saturday, October 8, 2005

MOVIES: 'Robots'

Here's a video review to liven up your Friday:


The visually amazing but story-deprived “Robots” takes place in a world populated entirely by mechanical beings, from the dogs to the postman to babies to businessmen.

In the village of Rivet Town, young idealistic Rodney Copperbottom has big dreams of moving to Robot City and working for the famed robot tycoon Big Weld.

The plucky robot sets off on his own, but discovers things in the big town aren’t what he hoped, with corrupt and secretive new bosses in control of Big Weld’s company and a brewing war between ultra-modern robots trying to make a buck selling expensive upgrades, and those who are happy just to be who they are. Copperbottom hooks up with a group of scrappy fellow robots to find out what’s up in Robot City.

No doubt about it, the computer-animated “Robots” is a visually dazzling work of art. I could have turned the sound off and just admired the retro-yet-modern design of sprawling Robot City, the slick animation and creative clanky critters on screen. Actually, I might have enjoyed it a little more as a silent movie.

I’ll never understand how zillions of dollars can be spent on a movie like “Robots,” which has a fascinating premise, and yet the story shows so little inspiration. “Robots” ends up utterly formulaic; without the stunning setting, it’s just another patented entry in a never-ending lineup of predictable cartoons.

“Robots” — by Fox Animation, rather than Disney or Pixar — doesn’t come close to modern animated classics like “The Incredibles” or “Finding Nemo.” The reliance on pandering bodily-function humor is particularly rusty — were there fart jokes in “Bambi” or “The Lion King” that I missed? Don’t get me wrong, I like crude humor like any dude, but it just seems unnecessary in a cartoon aimed at kids.

The characters are also a bit threadbare — Ewan McGregor lends a voice to Copperbottom, but there’s barely any character there for him to play, just another bland “can-do” Disney-style hero. The supporting characters are more interesting, such as a sleazy Greg Kinnear as the shiny villain Ratchet.

Robin Williams voices Fender, a wisecracking, frequently annoying sidekick robot that’s basically a metallic version of his “Aladdin” character, only not so funny.

Still, it’s kind of cool to look at “Robots,” if you turn off your brain. But it certainly could’ve aimed higher than it does.
**1/2 of four

Friday, October 7, 2005

BOOKS: What I Read, September

I know, I know, but it's been that kind of week, battling a cold, 88-page magazines to put together, stories to write, cats to shave, etc etc. Anyway before October becomes November, we must do Books I Read, Chapter 9, my exhaustive and exhausting attempt to catalogue one man's yearly reading.
Last month, I fell off the wagon and only read 6 books, way down from 10 in August. Blame TV time, my increased exercise regime and trying to spend a little more time with the boy. And crack. Crack was the big culprit, really.

Anyway, the year's total now stands at 65 books as of Oct. 1*, meaning I probably won't reach 100 by year's end but let's pretend I instead said that I was going to read 88 books in one year and that I will indeed reach that goal.

Read in September:
“Something Rotten,” fourth and final in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I've quite liked this series, which is science-fiction, lit-geek humor and a decent adventure series all wrapped together, filled with trivia for the book nuts. The adventures of "literary detective" Thursday Next come to a close (hopefully just for a temporary break), and Fforde manages to tie together the approximately 542 plot threads running through the last three books into a compelling, surprisingly emotional conclusion. More!

“She’s Come Undone" by Wally Lamb (re-read). One of my favorite books back from 6-7 years ago, decided to read it again. A comic, heartbreaking journey of one woman's journey to self-reliance, it could be all Hallmark Channel but author Lamb really balances pathos and tragedy with wit, like a young John Irving. Yeah, it was in Oprah's Book Club, but don't hold that against it. A great novel worth returning to every so often.

“Comics Creators on the Fantastic Four," interviews by Tom DeFalco. Flame on! Reviewed here.

"The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe. Been meaning to read this history of the early days of space exploration for years, and I finally saw the movie a few months ago and quite enjoyed it. Wolfe's highly caffeinated, sprawling style isn't always my cup of tea (he! writes! like! this!), but once you get into the rhythms of it, it's a zippy, fun read. It's hard to imagine what folks like Chuck Yeager or John Glenn went through in those distant days risking death at every turn, and Wolfe really brings you back into a bygone era.

"Bushworld" by Maureen Dowd. The New York Times columnist puts out a hefty tome of her writings on the Bush family, from the first President Bush on up to the 2004 election. I quite dig Dowd's style, fully of witty metaphors, indignation and insight on the Bush cartel's inexplicable hold on the American imagination these past 20 years. Yeah, it's a liberal lollapalooza, but obviously if you read this you're probably angling toward her views anyway. Still, at around 500 pages, it's a kind of thick collection – column collections work better for me in smaller doses, and after a while, the writing all blends together a bit. It could've been edited tighter into a true "best of" collection and been about half the size. That said, I think Dowd's one of the best Bush critics writing today, and she's almost always worth reading.

"The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World" by A.J. Jacobs. So one day Esquire magazine editor A.J. Jacobs decided to read the encyclopedia -- all 32 volumes, 44 million words of the 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica, that is. It's part of his semi-serious desire to improve his intelligence, and in the process it becomes a lot more in this terrific, funny and trivia-packed book. A.J. ends up meeting Alex Trebek and appearing on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", visiting other encyclopedic minds, and also dealing with he and his wife's desperate desire to have a child. Peppered with esoteric facts from his reading, "The Know-It-All" is both memoir and miniature encyclopedia on its own. The format is nice - modeled after the encyclopedia, it follows him alphabetically as he reads like a diary, cutting back and forth between his real life, his reading and pleasurable little digressions. It's a heck of a fun book, I thought.

For some reason, I really identified with Jacobs, and his veritable addiction to knowledge-gaining. I've been feeling a lot like him lately, as if I have to read all the books in the world and have only so much time to do so. Not sure if this is something to do with having a kid – I must give him all the answers! — or just a consequence of age. I feel all twitchy if I'm NOT in the middle of a book lately, like, I'm wasting time! Like A.J., when I was younger I was convinced I was far smarter than the average bear. These days, I feel a little dumber every year, when I realize the vast gap of things I *don't* know about (ask me to do some home improvement sometime, and you'll see what I mean). Anyway, "The Know-It-All" is kind of a gimmicky read, yeah, but it's aware of that -- it's both life-affirming in its weird way and doesn't take itself too seriously, and well worth reading for any book-a-holics like myself. One of my favorite books of the year.

*[Fine print: The year to date posts: January, February, March, April, May , June, July and finally, August!]

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Spotted on the AP news wire:
Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage is a new father.
His wife, Alice Kim Cage, gave birth Monday to a boy, Kal-el Coppola Cage, in New York City, said Cage’s Los Angeles-based publicist, Annett Wolf.

Now, I've joined in mocking a lot of recent celebrity baby names lately (Apple?!?!), but Kal-El -- (Superman's Kryptonian name in case you aren't versed in geekspeak) shoot, that's so uncool that it becomes cool. Nic Cage may have been all over the place in movie quality roles lately but hey, I like that name. Kal-El Cage — the kid is named after two comic book heroes! (If you didn't know, Nic Cage, born Nick Coppola, named himself after the black '70s superhero Luke Cage.) Sweet Christmas!

COMICS: Warren Ellis's three lonely men

Some days, I feel like I live in a Warren Ellis world – mean, witty, harsh and yet endlessly fascinating. Seems like every third comic on the racks these days is written by Ellis; which is a good thing if you're a fan of the man like I am. His peaks -- "The Authority," "Transmetropolitan," "Planetary" -- stand with the best of anyone working in comics right now. Ellis has his trademarks -- cynical, wounded protagonists who tend to be as much villain as hero, bursts of nasty violence, a loving eye for futuristic technology and mythic storytelling done in quasi-realistic ways. His work is both cruel and dazzlingly inventive.

Sometimes it seems like Ellis practically has a patent on the "damaged, bitter quip-tossing loner against the world" protagonist. His great misanthropic outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem in "Transmetropolitan" serves as his template. Now over just a few months' time Ellis is the writer behind no less than THREE new "damaged loner" type comic book series -- "Desolation Jones" for DC/Verigo, "Fell" for Image, and "Jack Cross" for plain ol' DC Comics. That's a lot of lone gunmen.

Yet while you can definitely make the argument Ellis is starting to repeat himself, each of these series has interesting points -- and at least two of them are well worth checking out.

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The cream of the recent Ellis crop is "Desolation Jones," starring Jones, the battered, wounded survivor of something called "the Desolation test." It's given him some unique skills, but it's also scarred him unspeakably. Now, he's been hired as a detective for a quest through the seamy underbelly of LA for some extremely valuable stolen ancient pornography -- starring Adolf Hitler. Jones lives in a world of damaged souls like him, each with their own twisted variations. The recently released #3 is a prime example of Ellis at his best -- on the surface nothing more than a gritty, X-rated conversation about the porn industry between Jones and a prostitute as Jones conducts his hunt, it's fascinating reading, packed with odd and heartfelt subtleties. The crowning grace for "Jones" is the fantastic artwork by J.H. Williams III (also of Alan Moore's "Promethea") — mixing various mediums, it's utterly beautiful, even when the subject matter is so dirty. "Desolation Jones" is bleak, even for Warren Ellis, a mucky ride through the sewers of life. Yet it's terrific, all the same. It's superbly edgy adult comics, and I'm curious to see where it goes. Grade: A

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"Fell" is all gothic and gloomy-looking, and hardly original at first glimpse -- detective Richard Fell moves to a new and scary part of town, and gets embroiled in a mystery in his apartment building. Fell's meant to be more idealistic and less corrupted than Ellis's other loners, but after one issue it's hard to tell where that will lead. Ben Templesmith's painted, impressionistic art isn't exactly my cup of tea, but it smoothly gels with Ellis's tidy, efficient story. I like the steady, repeating use of 9-panel grids, which evokes Dave Gibbons's use of the same style in "Watchmen." I really dig Ellis's back-pages essay where he talks about the theories behind the comic (part of it based on a true story). Extra points to "Fell" for being an under-$2 comic, unheard of these inflationary days, with self-contained 16-page stories. The content may be a bit on the short side, but it's more satisfying than many other comics lately. Although one issue isn't quite enough to really judge the series on, I'm definitely in for more. Grade: B+ for #1

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"Jack Cross," so far, is the least of these three new series to me. Interestingly, it's not a "suggested for mature readers" title like most of Ellis's work, which means no cussing and less ultra-violence. Set in the post-9/11 intelligence community, titular retired spy Jack Cross is pulled out of retirement to do some dirty work for the U.S. government. Over the first two issues, this includes torturing a suspect, a few shoot-outs, and lots of shadowy corrupt black helicopters-conspiracy type talk. The plot moves forward, but "Cross" doesn't quite do it for me -- the title character is yet another Ellis damaged loner with little to set him apart, and I freely admit I'm not that into the spy genre and all its twists and turns (never read a Tom Clancy novel either). There's an effort to make Cross a "remorseful," guilt-wracked killer, but there's not much heart to it so far; I get no feel for the man, unlike Desolation Jones or Spider Jerusalem. The art by Gary Erskine is smooth, but sometimes verges on stiffness, and the book has an odd attitude toward violence -- some shootouts are rendered bloodlessly, like a PG movie, while others are given gory detail. It's kind of odd and inconsistent. "Jack Cross" still feels like a comic looking for its way. It's rather conventional, really, coming from the mind of Warren Ellis. Grade: C+

Now, once you look closer, the "lonely man" prototype Ellis uses a lot has variations here – hopeful Richard Fell is meant to be less punished than the tormented Desolation Jones, while Jack Cross (does anyone do names better than Ellis?) is a fairly typical "black ops" stereotype with hidden depths. They're riffs on a theme, but it's a testament to Ellis' talent that all three work to some degree, "Jack Cross" less than the other two for me personally. Of course, where they end will determine their ultimate success (Ellis's recent miniseries "Ocean," which started so promisingly as an intergalactic mystery, degenerated into an anticlimactic, disappointing guns 'n' quips ending).

This barely scratches the surface of Warren Ellis's plan to dominate comics - he's also doing an entertaining Justice League story in "JLA: Classified" (actually written a few years back), several horror-type things for other publishers, and some work for the Marvel "Ultimate" line. I rarely pick up an Ellis comic and regret it -- I may be filled with fear and loathing (to quote one of Ellis' obvious influences), but I'm almost always entertained, too. Among comics writers, he shines his own cryptic pale light.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

LIFE: The way-out iPod weight loss challenge

So anyway, for the past, oh, three months or so, I've been thinking about losing some weight. Note the "thinking," because that's about as far as it had gotten. I had a doctors' checkup in June where I was told I weighed – ye gods! – 205 lbs., which shattered my self-image. I am 6-foot-2, so it's not like I'm a small guy to start with, but that's still a bit more than I meant to be packin' at this point. Blame having the baby – my wife didn't gain any weight in the long run, so I decided to.

Anyway. I got a bit more serious this past month. I like incentives, like the shiny gold stars or candy bars we used to get in school. So I decided, if I could drop down to 190, I get to leap boldly into the year 2005 and buy myself an iPod. I've been wanting one anyway, so now I set a little hurdle to jump before spending the cash. So I've been cutting down on the food, stepping up the walking, and trying to get in a good sweaty half-hour on the exercise bike several nights a week. So how goes?

At the last weigh-in today, I was down to 191 (from 198 or so at the start of September – I still don't quite trust that 205 figure from June, as I was wearing clothes, shoes, etc. and had just eaten a jumbo Taco Del Mar burrito for lunch [oops]). Anyway, one pound to go!

So if I get to 190 by next week or so, I'll hopefully be ordering that iPod. Then I'll see if I can keep going to get down to 185 or so... Which would be less than I've weighed since 1994 or so, at least. I'll be 34 in a couple months (in case you were wondering, Ash), so I'll take what I can get.