Thursday, June 24, 2010

I can't run but I can walk much faster than this

PhotobucketSo I haven't been writing as much lately, as I've been running for my life. Well, walking really rather fast.

We finally bit the bullet and bought a treadmill a couple of weeks back, as I try exploring that foreign concept called "exercise." Walking is generally my favorite way to ease the stress a bit, but between early working hours, minding the boy after school and now, winter and darkness by 5pm, it's hard to fit it in, and not at the sustained pace I need to lose some weight. Now we can go for a walk whenever we want, in the scenic environs of our humble garage.

And once you get used to the treadmill, it's not bad at all. You have to keep up with it, in a way that forces you to sweat, but you can also lose yourself in your thoughts or some music for a spell. I've been going for a fast walk on it mostly -- gingerly building up speed. I've been having a bit of a sore back because I'm not quite stretching enough, but for brief (very brief) stints I've been managing a wee spastic jog as well.

Truth is, I'll be hitting 40, dear god in heaven, in a little over a year, and things don't bounce back like they once did. For my first 30 years or so I didn't have to do much of anything to maintain myself, and I was in pretty decent health. But then I had an emergency appendectomy in 1999, and boy, I tell you it's been all downhill since then. I'm fortunate I'm still in relatively good shape considering my near-total lack of exercise in recent years, but I could still stand to lose a good 10-20 pounds. Time to do something about it before it's more than that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brevity is the soul of something or other

...Sorry, not a real post, but a few of you might find this other blog post interesting as it talks a bit about what I'm doing in my day job, as a visiting US journalism professor interviewed me and visited my workplace:
A visit to New Zealand’s biggest sub-hub

Monday, June 14, 2010

Superheroes I Love No. 3: Doctor Fate

PhotobucketSometimes, when it comes to superheroes, it's all in the name and the look. Everyone made up their own goofy superheroes when they were kids, combining two words or more to make up awesome-sounding good guys and bad guys -- Robotron! Mister Amazing! Super Ant! Whatever it is, a good name can help make a hero cooler. And so it is with today's Superhero That I Love, Doctor Fate.

Who: Dr. Fate, a sorcerer of immense power who first appeared in More Fun Comics in 1940, and who's been bopping about in DC Comics in one form or another ever since, mostly as a member of the Justice Society of America.

What: An archaeologist's son, Kent Nelson discovers a mystical helmet possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian wizard, and becomes all magical and stuff.

Catchphrase: Who summons Fate?

Why I dig: This one's simple, really -- it's the name and awesome costume. I think the visual of Fate's gleaming golden helmet, streamlined blue and gold costume and cape are just Superhero Classic 101 -- it sticks in your head. Fate's typically been played as one of the big guns in DC comics, right about up there with Superman in terms of power. He shows up, speaks in mystical epigrams, and battles forces of dark and mysterious power. I think maybe it was this sense of mystery that attracted me to Dr. Fate -- and the more routine his adventures become, the less appealing he is. He's had quite a variety of solo series in the 70 years since his creation, but few lasted too long and he's never quite been "A-list". Frankly I think the character works best in tandem with other superheroes.

PhotobucketThere have been a few good runs, including his longest lasting solo series, the 41-issue "Dr. Fate" series in the late 1980s that at least at first managed to combine Fate with a fair bit of humour and still respect the character's mystery. Theres also a nice Walt Simonson run and a Keith Giffen miniseries that had some great abstract art. But honestly, since the 1990s Fate's had a rough run of it, being replaced about 10 times (today's Doctor Fate is apparently the original's great-nephew -- really?) The character's nadir was an utterly infamous mid-1990s run where Fate was reinvented as a big hairy guy with a knife. I don't know if the character's full potential has ever been met. Dr. Fate has never quite gotten the "ultimate" story such a good-looking gent deserves. But sometimes it's just enough to stand around looking cool, I suppose.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Lady Gaga works for me

PhotobucketMost Top 40 pop music these days tends to make my teeth itch, and I've never made it through more than 30 seconds of watching "American Idol." But I have to admit, I do kinda dig Lady Gaga.

I'm not like gonna follow her around and stalk her or anything, but I do admit to owning her debut album The Fame Monster and paying far more attention to her than I have to the Katy Perrys and Rhiannas of the world. Gaga has managed that trick of combining a sex-soaked image with bouncy hummable tunes without looking like a flailing lost child. Just google Gaga wardrobe and you'll see a kaleidoscope of bizarrely brazen outfits that make her look like a Martian visitor, a post-millennial love child of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.

It doesn't hurt that Gaga does put out some decent tunes amid all the spectacle. "Bad Romance," with its rollicking hook and thumping insistence, is as good a single as I've heard in a while, with a video that manages to channel none other than Marilyn Manson in the service of a pop jingle. "Telephone" is another cheekily overwrought club anthem, with Beyonce pitching in for a song far more memorable than anything I've ever heard her do solo. "Paparazzi" manages to take a narrator from the world's most annoying profession and make them a wee bit sympathetic.

The former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (imagine that on an album cover!) has got a hint of David Bowie about her (although her music is light-years behind Bowie's innovations, of course), in that you're never entirely sure who's the character and who's the performer. Her increasingly elaborate, over-the-top videos show her trying to lay claim to that elusive King of Pop trophy (a nine-minute saga for the "La Isla Bonita"-lite piffle "Alejandro"? Egad!)

PhotobucketGaga's main flaw is that her music lacks any real emotional weight -- when Bowie sang "Five Years" or "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," you believed him, but when Gaga sings about what a bummer it is her cell phone doesn't work in the club, well, yeah, I suppose it might speak to the young folk but it doesn't really move you, does it? But it's pop. I suppose "Thriller" was a pretty darn stupid song when you just read the lyrics, too.

Gaga has embraced the inherent artifice, the fakery, of being a modern pop star, rather than trying to pretend she's "keeping it real." That in and of itself seems a bit like a breath of fresh air in the age of Auto-tuned insincere "Idol" aspirations. Whether she can sustain it for the long haul isn't certain; she's just 24, after all, and it's a fine line between being a star and being overexposed. Pop does eat itself.

Britney, for instance, immediately became uninteresting when her personal life mattered more than her music. I've enjoyed a Britney tune or two (especially "Toxic," a great James Bond theme song wanna-be) but she's such a tabloidy mess that I'd never classify myself as a "fan."

If Lady Gaga can come up with music that truly matches her knack for spectacle, it could be something. But if Gaga is smart, she'll also stay behind the masks for as long as she can. We don't want to know about her secret travails. We just want to dance, dance, dance.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Things that cheer me up today

Ah, it's Queen's Birthday weekend. Yes, that's right, I'm officially a subject of Her Majesty (a factoid which never fails to amaze this proud American) and this is the time we pay honour to her 502 years on the throne. In tribute to HRH, let's talk about the finer things in life...

Photobucket* That courtesy of the Queen, we can now call him SIR Patrick Stewart. Engage!

Winter may be irksome, but y'know, we don't get 8 feet of snow in our yard like we did in Northern California.

• That four+ years after buying this MacBook I finally got around to setting up a wi-fi connection. Freedom!

• The boy doing a dead-on Iggy Pop impersonation, without clothes on just before bedtime. When he's a teenager the video goes up on YouTube. Or whatever tube we have then.

Nick Tosches' biography of Dean Martin, "Dino: Living High In the Dirty Business of Dreams" -- Martin's an entertainer I've never really cared about, but Tosches' apocalyptic Lester Bangs-meets-Cormac McCarthy prose really puts a jolt into this tale of fame and folly.

• Re-reading Brian Bendis's "Alias" series and being reminded that he really can be a pretty fine writer when he abandons his tropes and quirks.

Woody Harrelson in "Zombieland." Redneck awesomeness.

• It's a little "Cathy," but warm cats purring on your chest.

LCD Soundsystem's burbly, brooding new album 'This Is Happening.'

Matt Smith as the new volatile Dr. Who, and even more so, chirpy redhead Amy Pond the companion.

• Hot coffee and waffles on a rainy Sunday morning.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Things that annoy me today

Winter, which is like all of two days old already.

Photobucket• New comic books shooting up from US$2.99 to US$3.99 in price. Yeah, that'll help a struggling industry. Already paring back my monthly reads list to about as low as it's been since the mid 1990s "Dark Ages" of gimmicky comics.

• That despite trying to more or less stay off the Internet for several days I didn't entirely avoid a spoiler about the "Lost" finale in the week between when it aired in the US and when it aired downunder.

• People who go on about the idiotic "celebrities die in threes rule" every time a couple famous people die. People famous and not die every single day and it's a sad thing, but you can find whatever pattern you want in it. Celebs die in sixes? Three people born in 1980 died this year, it's a curse? Sure, why not.

• That MGM has managed to screw up its finances so badly that both the next James Bond and the "Hobbit" movies (set to be filmed in New Zealand) are being delayed.

• How I didn't try to grow really really long hair back when I had a full head of hair.

"Special edition" CDs that come out like 6 months after you first bought the CD and make you annoyed you didn't wait longer for the extra tracks. (Yes, I still buy CDs, as I am a living fossil.)

• Spoken word tracks on albums. They really don't work unless you're Bob Dylan.

• News organizations that continue to write about the Internet in a vaguely condescending, elitist tone, when that ship has sailed long ago and it might be good to get with the program rather than fight change.

• How ridiculously expensive and small in quantities over-the-counter medicine such as Tylenol is in NZ compared to the US.

"Reboots" for movie franchises. For every solid move like "Casino Royale" you get a bunch of needless "Nightmare on Elm Street" remakes. Why does "Spider-Man" need a reboot, set for 2012, just 10 years after the first Sam Raimi movie? Ugh.

Coming soon: The flip side.