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Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Who am I going to choose as my champion tonight for Friday Night Fights?

How about the Greatest?

He starts like this:

And it can only end like this:

Ouch! That had to hurt.

From one of the greatest comics of all time, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.

Bahlactus's head is spinning!

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Interview with Richard Dansky

Richard DanskyOne of the nicest aspects of getting a book published is the chance to meet new people. The talented Richard Dansky is the author of Firefly Rain, the first book to be released as part of the Wizards Discoveries imprint. Richard's web site describes him as a "horror writer, game designer, and general cad." Richard has several other books to his credit, but Firefly Rain is his first original novel (the others have been in shared universes or with existing properties). Richard is a game design manager for Red Storm Entertainment where, I was delighted to find out, he has played softball with my cousin-in-law. Small world.

At any rate, Richard agreed to an interview on this blog. So here goes. Read this and then go pick up Firefly Rain. It's a good read.

Firefly RainRichard, I just finished reading Firefly Rain, which I enjoyed a good deal. Can you tell me what sparked the idea for the book? Was there a particular concept or image or thought or incident that led to this story?

The image that really sparked the book came from visiting my wife's family farm for the first time. It's out in the middle of nowhere in Missouri, and the closest I'd seen to something like that growing up was the golf course across the street from my parents' house. So that first night out there, when we went for a walk, there was a full moon and the light in the fields was so bright you could read by it. Off in the distance, you could see the treeline, and that was absolutely pitch black. And it was that image, that stark juxtaposition of light and dark, that turned into the core image at the heart of the book. I ended up reversing it – in the novel, it's Jacob Logan's land that's dark, and everything around him is lit up – but the sense of that clean cutoff is still there.

In the acknowledgments for Firefly Rain, you mention one person "for much-appreciated assistance with shotguns." I ended up getting assistance from a friend for a scene in Devil's Cape involving a shotgun, so this one caught my curiosity. What kind of shotgun wisdom did you receive?

The shotgun in Firefly Rain (not to give away a plot point or anything) is a far cry from the sorts of guns I usually end up referencing in the Tom Clancy video games I worked on. Those guns, I can write about with a fair degree of confidence, but the sort of shotgun you'd find out on a farm, well, not so much. The gun in the book is actually based on a shotgun that my father-in-law had owned, and Geoff Grabowski was kind enough to double-check what I'd written about it to make sure that it actually behaved and was built the way I thought it was.

What's your favorite moment from a video game? This can be either a favorite moment from a game you played or a game you worked on.

I think the video game moment that resonated most with me actually came during the development process for Ghost Recon: Desert Siege. I was playing the Ghost Town map, which had a deserted shantytown of corrugated tin and whatnot in it, and we'd just put the full sound treatment in the level. So there I was, creeping through the abandoned shacks, pretty sure that I'd cleared the area out, when suddenly a sniper took a shot at me. The shot missed and hit the sheet of tin next to my guy, and it made this tremendous, shocking SPANGGGG sound that spooked the hell out of me. I think I went about a foot straight up in the air. Mind you, I kept my hands on the keyboard & mouse and managed to take out the sniper, but even so, that was just an amazing moment, one that really brought home how immersive video games can be.

With a background that touches on role-playing games, computer games, book publishing, horror, and beyond, you must end up at a variety of conventions. What's your favorite convention story?

The best thing that ever happened to me at a convention is that I met my wife at one. If the folks who organized Gateway, in St. Louis, back in 1999 are reading this, thank you. I owe you one.

On a lighter note, I have a ton of great memories (and wacky hijinks) from various conventions and conferences over the years, some of which are barely printable, illegal in fourteen states, or the sort of thing that involves jumping naked into a large body of water in Scandinavia. If I had to pick just one, it would probably be driving Gahan Wilson to a miniature golf course at NECON a few years back, and then playing 18 tiny, astro-turfed holes with him. We had a wonderful conversation about synagogue architecture and how the air conditioner may be responsible for the decline of the American neighborhood, and all the while a little piece of my brain was screaming "Oh my God! I'm talking to Gahan Wilson!"

And for what it's worth, he's not half-bad on the putting green, either.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Just that I'm very much looking forward to reading Devil's Cape - it looks fantastic.

Thanks, Richard!

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It's doughnut. Not donut.

It's kind of fun when my workday includes me needing to look up (for legitimate business reasons) the proper spelling of doughnut according to AP Style.

I'm a little surprised at AP, actually. It usually favors shorter spellings. And usually, if Rob's instinct is to do A, then AP tells me to do B instead (I'm more of a Chicago Style boy myself). This time, AP and I are in sync.

And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that that won't happen again soon.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Jimmy Kimmel, Ben Affleck

I posted here about Sarah Silverman's now-famous "I'm F*cking Matt Damon" video, which aired on Jimmy Kimmel's show. It seems like the video's been pretty popular--a lot of people have found this site looking for it.

So I thought I should post Jimmy's follow-up video, which aired last night after the Oscars. It features Kimmel, Ben Affleck, and a huge cast. I don't think it's quite as funny as the first video, but it's worth a chuckle or three.

The video itself starts at around two minutes in if you want to skip Kimmel's build up.

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Medieval Times

Our family went to Medieval Times last night to celebrate a buddy's birthday. This is like the third time I've been there (once for my birthday, once for Alex's, and this time for my friend's) and I always enjoy the experience. This was Zack's first trip there, and even at age 3 he really seemed to take to the whole experience, enjoying the swordplay and the food and the spectacle. He compared the knights to Power Rangers, which I guess isn't much of a stretch, come to think of it.

The experience reminded me of an anecdote my father-in-law shared once. He teaches court reporting at a local school. One of his students, who worked at Medieval Times, came into class one day. "Mr. Don," he said, "I made knight!" And that was pretty much the last time he came to class.

I don't know--if I made knight, I might drop out of school, too.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008


I went to ConDFW on Saturday (just a short drive from my house) to celebrate the publication of Last Dragon by fellow Discoveries imprint writer J.M. McDermott. It was really one of my first opportunities to go "behind the scenes" as a professional writer and meet other authors and sci-fi pros, including Rachel Caine, Chris Roberson and several others. It was also my first opportunity to meet Joe McDermott in person, which was a blast--he's a heck of a nice guy and a savvy marketer. Just about everyone I met seemed nice, really.

I received a casual invite to be a panelist at FenCon; I hope that that turns into a firm appearance. It's eye-opening to watch other writers at work promoting their books in different ways, networking, supporting each other. I was able to spread the word about Devil's Cape and pass out a few copies. Promoting myself isn't exactly second nature to me. It makes me a little uncomfortable, like I need to step past some shyness. More than once on Saturday, Joe reached out to tug a copy of Devil's Cape from under my arm to get me to show it to someone--this at his own party. But I'll learn.

Nothing too profound to say here, but it was a good experience. I hope to see some of the same faces again and look forward to similar experiences.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yumei Callahan and "Jungle Jack" Keller

The last two potential PCs for my Pulp Hero game, Yumei Callahan and "Jungle Jack" Keller, after the jump. By the way, we've now had volunteers on both of these two (practically sight unseen), Delaney Fist, and Lady Evelyn, so those are the PCs (plus the other player with his own PC, if he gives me a background).

Yumei Callahan: The daughter of an Irish cop and a Chinese beauty, Yumei grew up just outside of San Francisco's Chinatown, never fully comfortable with people from either of his parents' cultures. An uncle somewhat reluctantly schooled Yumei in the art of kung fu, warming to her somewhat when she seemed to develop a strong talent for it, and in particular a strong awareness of what was going on around her at all times. Yumei is quite observant and has a sort of gut feeling about mystical matters. Although she is a strong enough fighter to handle just about anyone, she tends to be extraordinarily polite even to her opponents, at least until combat proves necessary. Yumei was on Lombard Street walking home from a shopping trip when she caught sight of Bessie McCaffrey (rich daughter of Morgan McCaffrey, who is hosting the party on the RMS Melpomene) driving by in a convertible. Miss McCaffrey was wearing the famed Dragon Eye Emerald on a necklace. The gem filled Yumei with dread and danger, convincing her that it was cursed. Feeling that she must do what she could to help protect McCaffrey and others from the gem's power, she took a last-minute job as waitress on the ship, hoping to find an opportunity to get close enough to McCaffrey to warn her about the gem.

Signature quote: "The bamboo bends before a mighty storm. But the bamboo may break stone if applied with the proper force."

Character traits: Martial artist, half Chinese, mysterious, brave, mystical, polite, fish out of water.

"Jungle Jack" Keller: A crime boss with operations across the globe, especially at the edges of civilization, "Jungle Jack" Keller was a force to be reckoned with--smuggler extraordinaire, dangerous bandit, stealer of antiquities. Then his organization was attacked simultaneously from two sides: by Li-Ming Jade, the "Pirate Queen of the South China Sea" in the East and by Al Capone in the United States. That sudden loss of control cost him everything, as even his men in Europe, India, and Africa went rogue. Now on his own for the first time in years, Jack is looking to build a new empire. And the Dragon Eye Emerald might be a great start, if he can only manage to glaum it from the McCaffery family. He's disguised himself as a sailor and made his way onto the RMS Melpomene.

"Jungle Jack's" real first name is Dieter, but he chose the name Jack for himself and that grew into Jungle Jack because of his many forays into the frontier. He's originally from Chicago, but has come to San Francisco with his last stash of dough. His organization might be gone, but he's still connected around the world. "Jungle Jack's" world and his position in it have changed substantially lately. It's possible there's a chance for redemption for him. But only a chance.

Signature quote: "Zulus, Yanomamos, Formosans, Eskimoes, or palookas from Gary, Indiana. They all fall in line as soon as they see a roscoe pointed at their kissers."

Character traits: Smuggler, crook, explorer, thief, contacts around the world, knows the jungle, blackheart with some small hope of redemption.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Delaney Fist and Jimmy Lincoln

Two more potential PCs for the pulp game, Delaney Fist and Jimmy Lincoln.

Delaney is cribbed off a PC from the JI games I played at GenCon. Jimmy's new.

Read them after the jump.

Delaney Fist: A big, strong guy with an ugly mug, Delaney Fist is rich as Croesus, the favored son of the Fist family of shipping magnates. What he lacks in looks, Delaney makes up for in style: he's suave and upper crust, at home with fine champagne and monkey suits, but just as comfortable in a seedy dive with a mug of beer. Delaney has a long fuse, but when he finally does get mad, the explosion can be debilitating to any thugs around him. Delaney is good in a fight, having some experience in the sweet science (boxing). But his big fists don't seem to mesh well with gunplay. He was invited to the party on the RMS Melpomene as a matter of course and decided to attend on a whim.

Signature quote: "Break it up. You goons had better clear out before I play you some chin music."

Character traits: Rich, big, ugly, boxer, suave, fast driver, well-connected, bad shot, even-tempered.

Jimmy Lincoln: Eleven-year-old Jimmy Lincoln sells copies of the San Francisco Chronicle and packs of Lucky Strikes just off Powell Street in the Tenderloin. His great grandfather was a freed slave who named himself after the Great Emancipator and then set off for the Wild West. Jimmy ostensibly lives in an orphanage, but spends a lot of time in the streets hustling his papers and cigarettes and saving up his dough for a big break. An affable, street-tough kid, Jimmy makes friends easily and is a consummate salesman. Wherever he goes, he seems to connect well with other kids, especially other newsboys. Jimmy's quick thinking and quick feet help to get him out of a lot of jams. On the day of the party on the RMS Melpomene, a strange-looking goon swiped Jimmy's morning take and kicked his pile of papers into the gutter. Jimmy gave chase and followed the guy to the ship, stowing aboard to try to figure out how to get his cabbage back and seek his revenge.

Signature quote: "Hey, mister! You don't want to go through the day without reading the tips on the ponies on page three!"

Character traits: Newsboy, fast talker, smart, kid, lucky, quick, tough.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Breaking news: Champions Online

I just noticed this on the Hero Games site, the announcement that there will be a Champions Online game from Cryptic Studios (who created City of Heroes).

Here's the info:

We’ve interrupted our regularly-scheduled programming for this special Monday news announcement! Hero Games and Cryptic Studios are proud to announce that they recently concluded a deal for Cryptic to create the Champions Online Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game!

The basics of the deal are this. Cryptic has bought the Champions and Dark Champions intellectual property from us — the characters, places, events, and so on — and licensed back to us the right to produce Champions RPG books. Cryptic has not bought the HERO System rules, and the Champions Online MMO will not use the HERO System rules for character creation or anything else (though it may use a lot of HERO System terminology). You can read more official information, including the press release, on the “Champions Online MMO” forum of our Discussion Boards. The first post on that board includes a link to the new webpage for the MMO. We hope all you HERO/Champions fans out there are as excited as we are about this, and we look forward to seeing you in the world of Champions Online!
Check out more detail at the Hero Games site or the new Champions Online site. I've stayed away from MMORPGs up until this point, but this might draw me in.

On the positive side, it seems like a cool game. On the negative side, it seems like the Champions Universe as we know it is likely to be completely dominated by this.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Autism group vs. Big Brother

An autism group is going after Big Brother (the TV show, not the Orwellian concept):

Autism Group Demands Apology From CBS

Feb 18, 8:45 PM (ET)

NEW YORK (AP) - A national autism advocacy group is demanding an apology from CBS over a disparaging remark a contestant on the reality show "Big Brother" made about people with the disorder.

John Gilmore, executive director of Autism United, said Monday that his group has been trying to speak with CBS executives since last week's broadcast.

On that episode, a contestant named Adam, who claims to work for an autism foundation, said he would spend his winnings on a hair salon for people with developmental disabilities "so retards can get it together and get their hair done."

His partner, Sheila, told him: "Don't call them that."

Adam responded: "Disabled kids. I can call them whatever I want. I work with them all day, OK?"

The show's Web site describes him as a 29-year-old public relations manager from Delray Beach, Fla.

In a statement released Monday, CBS condemned Adam's comments, saying they don't represent opinions held by the network or the program's producers.

"We certainly find the statements made by Adam to be offensive but believe they were countered by the immediate reaction of shock and condemnation from a fellow houseguest, Sheila," the statement said. "Adam's remarks would not have been permitted to air unchallenged."

"Big Brother" also has been condemned for contestants' remarks on incest, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Some contestants have been removed following incidents that were deemed violent or racist.

The premise of the show is that contestants - or "houseguests" - are isolated from the outside world while under constant surveillance. Once a week, they vote to evict a member of the group.

When just two people remain, a jury of voted-off contestants picks the "Big Brother" winner of the $500,000 grand prize.

Autism is a complex disorder featuring poor social interaction and communication skills.

You know, I don't want to appear unsympathetic here. The remark was ridiculous, immature, etc. But the whole demand for an apology seems to show a complete lack of understanding of television in general and reality television in particular. This guy is not representative of CBS or even the show he's on. He's one guy on a reality show who made a stupid remark, a remark that was criticized by those around him. There was no endorsement of his stupidity. He said something offensive and was criticized for it. The message on the show was pretty clear: Calling people that name is a bad idea." I'm with CBS on this one: "We certainly find the statements made by Adam to be offensive but believe they were countered by the immediate reaction of shock and condemnation from a fellow houseguest."

Demand an apology from Adam when he gets out of the house (it doesn't seem possible he'll stay in there very long). But making a big issue out of it with CBS is just silly.

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"Awesome" Michael Bay ad for Verizon FiOS

I'm not a huge Michael Bay fan (although I think I enjoy him more than my buddy Spork Boy), but this Verizon FiOS ad is fun and nicely self-deprecating.

And, um, Mr. Bay, if you're interested in making a Devil's Cape movie, I'd be delighted for your people to talk to my people.

Hmm. I wonder if Verizon FiOS works better with TiVo than U-verse does.

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IKEA meets Rube Goldberg

This site, which looks at first glance like it's for an online retailer called HEMA, turns into more of a Rube Goldberg-esque take on an online order page for a site like IKEA. It's pretty cool and gave me a chuckle. Thanks to Twenty Sided for the link.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Flu! Flee!

Sometime late Friday night, "allergies" turned into full-blown flu and proceeded to smacking me around like a dragon turtle smacking around a level-one character.

In other words, I'm not quite myself. The good news is that I did get my flu shot this year. The bad news is that there's a strain going around DFW not quite covered by the flu shot. To use the doctor's colorful similes, full-blown flu would have felt like being run over by a truck. The flu shot makes it feel more like I was sideswiped.

Another piece of good news, though, is that I saw the doctor within 48 hours of the flu really hitting. That means I was in time to start a round of Tamiflu and have a good chance of it being effective, limiting the duration of the sickness. Rob's tip for the day: If you think you might have the flu, don't delay. Get to the doctor and ask for Tamiflu ASAP.

Anyway, I'm likely to be posting slowly for a couple of days.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Lady Evelyn Stanhope and Colonel Winthrop Rothschild

I really need to come up with a cool name for this Pulp Hero game.

Here are the first two PCs I'm going to suggest to my players (yeah, "the Colonel") is pretty much a complete pull from a PC in the HAC games I played in:

I said that most of the PCs would be American, and I meant it, but these two are both Brits. They're both after the jump.

Lady Evelyn Stanhope: Hard-drinking, hard-fighting Evelyn is the daughter of a renowned Egyptologist who died under mysterious circumstances tied to a mummy's curse. She resented her father's fascination with ancient Egypt when he was alive and that turned to a genuine antipathy toward "relics of the past" after his death. A skilled aviatrix, Evelyn plans to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, several failed flying ventures and her own "live for the moment" lifestyle have left her nearly penniless, playing on her title and family name to cobble together the cabbage she needs to get another plane. Her social standing landed her an invitation to the soirée on the RMS Melpomene, where she hopes to convince some of the wealthy party-goers to support her next expedition.

Signature quote: "If it's got ammo, I can shoot it. If it's got a kick, I can drink it. If it's got wings, I can fly it."

Character traits: Ace pilot, good mechanic, decent brawler, high society, broke, attractive, hard drinker, knows a bit about archaeology and Egyptology, goes through men like a poker dealer shuffling cards

Colonel Winthrop Rothschild: Known to most simply as "the Colonel," Colonel Winthrop Rothschild has seen it all--war, weird mystery, exploration, and more. A veteran of the Second Boer War as well as the Great War, he's physically past his prime, but still a crack shot, at least when he's wearing his spectacles. The Colonel is incredibly brave, a great supporting force for any group, with a wealth of experience. He's also one of the most loquacious people on the fact of the Earth. Well-respected for his adventurous past and his wildly incredible stories, the Englishman was invited aboard the RMS Melpomene because of an old friendship with Dominic Malonee, the tycoon throwing the party.

Signature quote: "There we were, surrounded by hostile cannibal Pygmies, our ammunition expended, our canteens empty, our clothes half-shredded by the underbrush. Fortunately, just as they aimed their bows and arrows at us, I recalled that as a young man, the Pygmy chief had spent a brief, but meaningful semester at Eton, and I broke into a rousing chorus of the Eton Boating Song: 'Jolly boating weather, And a hay harvest breeze, Blade on the feather, Shade off the trees....' The chap wept with joy at the fond memories the song carried to him, and by nightfall he had embraced us and called us brothers, inducting us into the tribe."

Character traits: Veteran, explorer; army man; crack shot; near-sighted without his glasses; incessant talker and story-teller; seen it all; full of aplomb; brave; avuncular

Players, if any of you want to call dibs on either of these, feel free. Dave, nothing personal, but I think you'd be a great Colonel.

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Pulp gaming

Justice, Inc.As I touched on before, I am fired up about playing in a Pulp Hero campaign and so I am going to run a short series of adventures for some of my friends, probably starting next week. I jotted down some of my thoughts about the campaign and figured I'd include and refine them here. Essentially, I'm trying to re-create the type of experience I've had at GenCon, run by an excellent group of gamers who used to be called the Hero Auxiliary Corps (HAC) and now go by Infinite Imaginations, Inc. When I talked in my recent interview with HeroPress about my favorite role-playing game experience, I was talking about one of their games.

The situation will be a little different, of course. III uses multiple GMs, has the players moving around in somewhat larger areas (it's a little like low-key LARPing), and puts more time into planning than I'll have for any one adventure. Also, my own players lean more toward strategy than role-playing, so this might be testing their comfort zones just a bit. Anyway, we'll see how things go.

More detailed thoughts after the jump:

  • The adventure will be set sometime in the mid- to late 1920s. It will likely start out in America (or at least feature mostly Americans), but there will definitely be some globe-trotting.
  • It might be helpful to give everyone a centralized city, but not absolutely essential (the first adventure calls for everyone to be on a luxury cruiser in the Pacific, although each character will be on the ship for his or her own reasons). Do I create a city out of thin air for this (that's certainly something I've used in my writing), or use an existing one? I'm leaning right now toward using San Francisco, but I'm not married to that.
  • I'm looking at a rules-light style of gaming. I want the character sheets there and will refer to the books from time to time, but a lot of times we'll just roll a few dice and see what happens.
  • I'm emphasizing character and fun over stats.
  • I almost definitely won't be using battle maps or figures, at least for the initial adventure.
  • The feel will be lots of action and cliffhangers, cinematic with occasional dramatic cuts to change scene or switch from one character or group to the others. Some humor, but not completely over the top. If we reach a point where a scene isn't entertaining, we switch to a new scene.
  • There might be some kind of mystical element to things from time to time, but for the most part, the PCs won't be mystically oriented. I'm thinking of Indiana Jones kind of stuff here.
  • I like the "cut!" and "end scene!" and "rolling!" types of callouts that the III team has used in adventures. I think I'm likely to try those unless they prove too jarring for the players.
  • At least for the initial adventure(s), I'll come up with characters for the players to run. That'll help in a number of ways:
    • Giving the two players who are new to the Hero System more of a level playing field
    • Establishing the type of mood I'm going for
    • Keeping the players from being too invested early on, in case the campaign doesn't pan out (I feel guilty about losing interest in the last face-to-face campaign I ran, even though it did run for several years)
    • Helping with character balance
My next step is to create brief sketches (in words, not images) of some potential characters for the players to choose from. I'll do that here on the blog. Stay tuned.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull trailer

Oh, hell yes.

I'm looking forward to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull more than any movie in years.

Check out the teaser trailer below.

Go, Indy, go!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Iron Man fan film trailer

This trailer is all kinds of awesome. Go check it out.

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American Idol tonight

We're watching American Idol right now. Dude, what is up with all the green tongues? Were they giving out popsicles? Is there a green-tongue tattoo parlor down the street?

Also, too much Bryan Adams.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

What Veronica Mars character are you?

Sigh. I miss Veronica Mars.

Wallace Fennel, huh? Could be worse.

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Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, Matt Damon

This video has been just about everywhere, but even though I'm not a big fan of Sarah Silverman or Jimmy Kimmel, it cracks me up every time I even think about it. Matt Damon just comes across as very cool and a good sport for making it.

A little background for those not in the know. Sarah Silverman (comedian) is dating Jimmy Kimmel (talk show host). Kimmel has a running gag involving Matt Damon (actor)--this quote from that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, elaborates:

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel often says: "Our apologies to Matt Damon, we ran out of time" near the end of his ABC television show Jimmy Kimmel Live, a gag lampooning instances where shows cannot feature their last guest due to time constraints. On September 12, 2006, after a segment highlighting the running gag and a lengthy introduction by Kimmel, Damon finally appeared on the show, only for Kimmel to apologetically cut his interview and head to credits, as Damon cursed him. Kimmel later confirmed to USA Weekend that the skit was entirely planned and Damon willingly played along.
Anyway, here's the clip, from Jan. 31's Kimmel (it's probably not safe for work):

I think my favorite bit starts at around 2:45 on this clip, with the M.C. Hammer riff.

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TiVo and U-verse

Okay, now that I've gotten that rant off my chest, I'd love some guidance.

We have two TiVos. We love our TiVos. TiVo is the best invention since the television. So in other words, I want to keep our TiVos.

AT&T has been pushing U-verse in our neighborhood. The price seems okay. The customer service can't possibly be worse than Time Warner. But I'm concerned about its interaction with TiVo. Some sources tell me that they can play nicely together. Others tell me that it's difficult getting them to work. AT&T won't hook the TiVos up to U-verse and get the system working. It's up to me, I'm told, to make that work out after I get U-verse.

That's my main concern. What if I can't get them working right? I'd like to try out U-verse, but it's not exactly like taking a test drive. I'd have fiber optics hooked up to the house and (I think) my cable would be disconnected, so I'd be pretty committed to the whole thing at that point.

Anyone out there have great suggestions? Is the interaction easier than I think? Is there a knowledgeable service that would come out and handle my hookups for me without it costing me a fortune? Should I wait for some kind of agreement between TiVo and U-verse? I'd been leaning toward the last option, but I'm hacked off enough at Time Warner now that I'd like to make the switch sooner rather than later.

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Sensory deprivation (or, Time Warner kicks me hard)

Warning: long, rambling, rant-filled post ahead.

A couple weeks back, we had a bad windstorm that knocked our already rickety fence askew. After some deliberation (I don't feel like pulling the trigger and getting a new fence right now and I'm not too skillful with things like fence posts), we decided to have a local fencing company patch it up. The fencing people came and did their thing, and at 1:22 p.m. (we can pinpoint it because of the point at which our TiVo stopped recording a show), our cable went out.

It took us a while Friday night to cotton on to the fact that we'd lost all of our service. The first symptom was that the Internet was down, but that happens fairly frequently, and it's generally just a matter of swearing a little, unplugging the cable modem and wireless router, plugging them back in, and rebooting the computer. After that failed a couple of times Friday night, I put the television into live mode (with TiVo, we hardly ever watch live TV anymore) and realized that everything was out. I called the cable service, expecting for some reason that they would send someone out that evening. Of course not. The earliest that we could get anyone out was Sunday. I groused a little--okay, a lot; I'm not proud of it--and took the appointment: sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday morning. It was the first window available and I didn't think much about it. I hadn't made the connection with the fence yet and figured that it was probably a neighborhood outage and that I wouldn't need the appointment.

Lots of ranting after the jump.

This is the sensory deprivation part: It freaked me out. My anger during that initial phone call with the cable company was probably symptomatic of it: I wanted my Internet fix and I wanted it RIGHT AWAY. Our phone is Internet-driven, too (Vonage), so that was an additional pain. Our calls were automatically routed to my cell phone in the case of an outage (great feature), but it was just a different process. Dina's birthday was Saturday, and we were both afraid that we'd miss calls somehow. It's funny (or not) how dependent we are on the Internet. Saturday morning, Dina was attending a baby shower. The address and specifics were in a work e-mail. We had to take my laptop to Starbucks so that she could find out where she was going and the directions. We felt just weirdly out of sync with the world all weekend. I was the last to know that poor Roy Scheider died.

Anywhere, here's where we get to the part that had me about ready to strangle some people from Time Warner/Road Runner. Since the cable never came back on of its own accord (not a neighborhood outage), we were stuck with the 11 to 2 window on Sunday. Sunday we were supposed to go to Dina's parents' house to celebrate her birthday. I tried to reschedule the cable appointment, but by that time there were no more openings until Monday. I can work from home sometimes, but that's because I can connect to work via the Internet. Monday with no Internet would have meant burning vacation time. So we decided to keep the appointment with the hope that Time Warner would arrive early or at least promptly and I'd leave immediately afterward to join the family.

Side rant: I had lots of conversations with Time Warner over the course of the weekend. Each time I did this, I had to walk through a long menu. One of the steps was entering my phone number. Despite this, every time I reached an actual person, I'd need to repeat my phone number and also provide my name and address and the last four digits of my Social Security number. This is to ask sensitive personal questions like "why isn't the technician here yet" or "is it possible to change my appointment." And actually, after the first call or two, the last four digits of my Social Security number weren't good enough for Time Warner. I was told that, per FCC regulations, I now had to create a special "PIN number" (I refrained from telling them that "PIN number" is redundant since the "N" already stands for "number"). "Fine," I vented in frustration. "Use XXXX" (the last four digits of my Social Security number). "No, sir," I was told. I could have any "PIN number" but that. Grrrr. Time Warner, once I enter my phone number, every representative I talk to should damn well know my phone number. If I need to provide some other proof of identity, fine, but making my give you my name, my address, and a stupid PIN that you expect me to remember is too much. Pick one please.

Okay, back to the "action." Since Dina wanted to know when to expect me at her parents' (about an hour away from our house) I called Time Warner a couple of times to try to pinpoint the time better than 11 to 2. One rep was polite and suggested I call back at 11. The next rep was just rude about it, taking umbrage at the very concept of me wanting to know something beyond a vague three-hour window. No joy.

I puttered around the house, working on converting what has been a zero-car garage (way too filled with stuff) to a one-car garage. At about 1:15, the cable guy called to tell me that he was running late and that he'd be at the house sometime between 2:30 and 3. Or so. At this point I was hacked off. "I made my plans around you being here in the window I was promised," I told him. "I'm sure you can reschedule if that time doesn't work for you," he said smugly. Here's the thing. I was annoyed, even angry. But I never raised my voice to him. I never swore at him. I just said that I needed him there as soon as possible and said, "I'm just feeling frustrated because I've been waiting here for you to show up and if someone had let me know you were going to be late I could have been doing other..." That's as far as I got before the son of a bitch hung up on me. Hung up on me.

Look, folks. You never hang up on a customer. You certainly don't hang up on a customer who you've already inconvenienced, who has a legitimate beef and is keeping relatively calm about it. It's ridiculous, it's unprofessional, and I'm angry again just thinking about it.

I called back, but of course I was dumped into the basic Time Warner menu. I got through to a rep, explained the situation and told her that under no circumstances did I want my appointment canceled (because I figured that someone who hung up on a customer would also screw with him by canceling the appointment). She said that she understood and would enter something to that effect in the record, but that I should call back again at 2, after the official window was closed, to verify that the appointment was still open. Now this is patently ridiculous. I'd been clear. I'd complained about the technician who'd called me. The onus should have been on Time Warner to make things right, not on me to call back again to check. But at this point I was feeling kind of helpless. If I wanted the cable fixed, I needed to play nice, regardless of who was right and who was wrong.

I called back at 2. The appointment had been canceled. Whatever notation the rep had put in the system didn't prevent that. The rep I spoke to this time put me on hold for a few minutes, talked to a supervisor or something, and assured me that someone would still be out "today." He was putting the order back in the system, he said.

I sighed and went back to working on the garage.

A few hours later, no sign of Time Warner. I was wary of calling--the last rep had seemed to be on top of things and I didn't want to upset the apple cart. Plus I was sick to death of talking with Time Warner. But I eventually, a little while after Dina and the boys got back to the house from the excursion it turns out I could have gone on anyway, I broke down and called.

No, I was told, I didn't have someone coming out. The appointment had been canceled. I went through it all again. Near as I could understand from this rep, the appointment had been canceled again, for unknown reasons, between the last call and this one. No explanation for why it had been canceled or why no one had called me to inform me. I was polite, but firm. This was unacceptable. I needed a manager and I needed this handled. She agreed with me and said she'd get her supervisor for me. She put me on hold. I was on hold for close to 20 minutes, waiting for her to come back.

She didn't. Somehow my call was dumped over to another department, an Internet service center. The guy who picked up the phone was a techie. I still wanted to get a manager to deal with the situation. He wanted me to reboot my modem several times so that he could check the connection. I played along for a while and he finally agreed to shepherd my call through to someone who could help.

I finally got through to some saint named David who listened to my story patiently, agreed that I should have never been treated the way I was, and said that he become my ombudsman and help to resolve things. It nearly brought a tear to my eye that someone at Time Warner actually knows what an ombudsman is. He gave me enough information to be able to reach him directly again, then said someone would be in touch shortly, that he'd flagged my situation as "escalated."

Of course, no one got in touch.

I reached David again and he got his supervisor to talk to me. She apologized, but said that it was past the time when she could order a technician out. I could choose any time I wanted on Monday, and she'd credit me for half a month's service, but that was the best she could do.

The hell with it. I took it. I scheduled the appointment for the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. window and called it a night.

I got a call from another technician this morning. I'd been booked for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. slot. Ye gods.

The ultimate happy ending here is that the technician was polite. He talked through the cable problem with me on the phone, agreed that it was probably a result of the fence people cutting the line, and told me I didn't even need to be there for the appointment. Why the hell couldn't someone have figured that out earlier in the process?

The cable was fixed when I got home. I've got no idea whether I'll stay with Time Warner after this. What a terrible, stupid system.

End of rant.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Cool Google logos

Have you ever been to Google's home page and noticed a different logo there, commemorating a holiday or special event (like the one above commemorating the 50th anniversary of Legos)? They're pretty cool, huh?

You can see old ones at this page.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Teen Titans Year One: Haven't I seen this before?

I'm enjoying the Teen Titans: Year One miniseries, although I find some elements a little distracting. Yes, Aqualad's back story had him afraid of fish, but it wasn't this over the top, plus he never looked like a zombie. And Kid Flash's constant connection to the Internet (jarring, I guess, because I think of him as a character from the 60s) and general impatience make him resemble Impulse more than the young Wally West.

Regardless, it's a fun story so far. I liked the fact that the latest issue (#2) had an actual note from the editor referencing a comic book from way back in the day. And it's just fun reading about these characters again, even if it isn't in exactly the way I remember them.

But the pieces I've read about the comic itself make it come off like a new story about the team's history, not a retread of an old comic.

Am I the only one connecting this storyline to the old Teen Titans #53 that came out back in 1978? It's been a long time since I read the issue--probably at least 20 or 25 years (damn, I'm feeling old again). And I know I've got it in a long box in the garage somewhere, but darned if I could lay hands on it without a major effort. But isn't this the same story so far? With the JLA mentors turned evil and the kids forced to stop them? I even remember them talking about contacting Superman and then being afraid that he'd turned evil, too (as reflected in a conversation in issue #2 of the current series).

I'm trying to remember how the whole thing turned out. Is this six-issue miniseries going to parallel the done-in-one story from 1978 via decompression? Or is there more going on. Have others pointed out the connection between the two stories and I've just missed it?

I don't mind at all if it's an homage to the old story--I'm just curious, that's all.

If anyone knows, drop me a line.

EDIT: Follow-up: I found a little more background on the old comic here.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sawyer said it...

From now on, I'll answer to "Haus" in addition to "Rob" and "handsome."

To get your own Lost nickname from Sawyer, check this page.

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Thriller turns 25

They're releasing a 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson's Thriller this week.

Damn, I feel old.

I wasn't much into music when I was younger. Thriller was the first tape I ever bought for myself.

A quarter of a century ago.


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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Images from my hard drive

This kind of post seems fun on other blogs, so I thought I'd try it myself. Here are some images I've saved over the years, but haven't ended up blogging about yet.

I liked some parts of 52 better than others, but you can't get much cooler than Dr. Magnus firing tiny Metal Men bullets.

I've got more after the jump.

Here's a demented Mickey Mouse image. I've go no idea where I found this. It's a little unsettling, to be honest with you.

Chill's Isle of the Dead module was one of my favorites of all time. The carnival atmosphere was a blast (and probably one of the many reasons why a carnival plays a role in Devil's Cape) and the adventure just had a lot of fun elements. I ran this one in high school and I remember my players screaming "fear check!" every time they met something creepy.

This Rorschach image is pretty cool.

Here's an image of Doctor Arcane from the Champions adventure The Coriolis Effect. Pencils and inks by Glenn Johnson, colors by me (with Pentels in the module itself) at a much younger age.

Halftrack from the great Storn Cook. Halftrack was an NPC in the Global Guardians universe.

I support Heroes.

Superman told Obama if he held the pose long enough, he'd get the Kryptonian endorsement.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

New interview with HeroPress

The Acrobatic Flea, AKA Tim from the UK, recently interviewed me for his very cool blog, HeroPress. I talk about Devil's Cape, my favorite role-playing moment, the best comic books going today, superhero movies, and more. Please go check out the interview, then stick around Tim's blog for lots of other good content.

Thanks, Tim!

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Couple quick updates

Devil's Cape got a shout-out at the cool "Comics Should Be Good!" blog over at the Comic Book Resources site. Thanks, Brian Cronin, for mentioning me. If you came here from that site, thanks for visiting!

I also added a new Devil's Cape banner to the top of this site. Like it? Hate it? Think it should be slower or faster? Let me know.

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