Saturday, September 26, 2009

Comics: Willie & Joe

I was at Half Price Books today and was looking through the comics section and I saw this cool, brand-new, slip-cased two-volume set: Willie & Joe: The WWII Years by legendary comic artist Bill Mauldin.
It is a very attractive set: Hardcover, cloth bound in khaki-green, and quite sharp looking. I instantly started drooling over it (thank heavens I was alone at the moment). It was really impressive and -- I must admit -- expensive looking. Furthermore, it was the only copy on hand and it was still in its shrink wrap. Alas, I was certain it was out of my price range, yet nevertheless I picked it up and got a wonderful surprise. It was only $19.95! Less than 20 bucks. That couldn't be right. I quickly looked for the regular price and, sure enough, it was listed at $65. That definitely seemed like a fair price for such a slick looking product. Ah, but I was in Half Price Books, and it's not uncommon to find an amazing deal tucked amidst their dusty shelves.

So, needless to say, I grabbed it. And, to sweeten the deal, I got another 10% off with my faculty ID! (I mentioned that discount to a friend the other day and his eyes opened wide: "You mean you get a discount if you're a teacher?" I assured him that was true, and that it even works when they are having other sales and promotions.) So, all in all, I walked out with the books for about $18 and a smile on my face.
The sweet deal is not the reason I'm excited. This is a great book. It's almost 700 pages of great comics, many of which have never been reprinted before. And they are FUNNY. I've laughed out loud a dozen times since I opened it. Bill Mauldin really knew his stuff, and this is a worthy treasury of his work.

My two favorite strips:

Page 79
Willie tells Joe: "Joe, yestiddy you saved my life and I swore I'd pay you back. Here's me last pair o' dry socks."

Page 154
Joe is talking to a corpsman: "Just gimme a coupla asprin. I already got a Purple Heart."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go put on some Andrews Sisters and big band music and finish reading about Willie and Joe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movies: Sayonara Jupiter -- Japanese Sci-Fi DVD review

Sayonara Jupiter
Actor/Actress: Tomokazu Miura , Akihiko Hirata
Director: Koji Hashimoto , Sakyo Komatsu

Year: 1983 / 1984
Runtime: 129
Rating: Not Rated (but it has nudity, sex and medium violence)
Language: Original: Japanese; Dubbed: English; Subtitled: English
Color: Yes

Sayonara Jupiter is a wonderful example of the type of work that Japanese film giant TOHO Studios was attempting to do in the 1980s: Grown up, mature, and well made. At least for its time, that is. When this movie came out in the early 1980s, the first two Star Wars movies were out and they had forever raised the bar for special effects. TOHO did their darndest to meet the challenge, and by the standards of that time, they mostly succeeded.

Unfortunately, the effects and costumes do look very dated right now, and there are some long, verrrrrry slow shows of space ships docking. Things that we would speed up now, but back then looked kind of cool and had a "2001: A Space Odyssey" vibe. Nowadays we routinely see cooler stuff on TV shows like Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek, so we tend not to linger over simple scenes like docking a shuttle to a space station.

The plot is really simple, but fairly well executed:

It's the 22nd Century and we've colonized the solar system. In order to provide more solar energy to the outer systems, they're going to turn Jupiter into a small sun. However, right before they do this, a terraforming project on Mars reveals something astonishing. While melting the polar ice caps on Mars, the water washes away a lot of dirt and debris and reveals huge carvings on the Martian surface -- that look exactly like the carvings at Nazca! These carvings indicate that aliens may have left something on Jupiter.

The movie takes off from there: Earth puts the Jupiter solarization project on hold while they investigate what seems to be an alien artifact hiding in the storm-tossed clouds of our system's largest planet. Some space hippies show up to protest and cause some damage (they don't think anyone should ever leave the earth, and if I lived with them in their little island paradise playing beach blanket bimbo, I'd be happy on earth, too). And did I mention that the leader of the solarization project used to date one of the hippie terrorists? Oh, and there's something about a black hole racing toward our sun and they need to blow up Jupiter at just the right moment to deflect it...

You know, the usual plot stuff you need to put between the special effects shots and the space nookie.

That's right, there are a few things you need to know before you watch this with the kids. There is nudity and a sex scene ("Sex in spaaaaace!"). There is also violence: as people are shot by lasers, blown up by space hippies, and meanwhile, on earth, a dolphin dies in a shark attack. Most disturbing of all, though, if you do let your kids watch this, you might just have to pause the movie for hours while you try to explain why our hair looked like that back in the 1980s.

This is a good Japanese sci-fi film, and I would recommend it for fans of the genre. There are plenty of space ships, laser blasts, and fun to keep things moving, but this actually is a fairly serious film and it does give you some things to think about.

Also, I would suggest you watch this in the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles. This is not because I'm some fanatic purist who hates dubbed movies (AIP did some great work on the Godzilla movies in the 1960s and 1970s). No, my reason for preferring the original soundtrack is because the movie is only half in Japanese. Many of the characters speak English (US and UK varieties), as well as German, French, and a smattering of other languages. There are several scenes where one character is speaking Japanese and the other responds in English. In the future, it seems that everyone is multilingual and this sort of babel is common. So, unless you totally hate subtitles, give the Japanese track a fair chance.

So, it's a good movie, I recommend it to fans of TOHO Sci-Fi. And good luck getting that song, "Sayonara Jupiter" out of your head!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Books: Back to the library

I used to haunt the library in Mineola, Texas. As a kid I was desperate for any sort of escape and the library was a great place to find it. For a small town, it had some interesting stuff. A bit weak on sci-fi and I doubt there was a single tome by H.P. Lovecraft, but there were books by HG Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others.

In general, though, I prefer to buy my books. It keeps them around for when I'm in the mood to actually read them. You see, I might pick up a book and leave it on the shelf for a year or more before the mood strikes me to read it. Those moods are frequently striking me at 2 a.m., so the library really isn't the best option for me.

However, my wife has recently started listening to Books on CD during her commute. Since she's in the car about two hours a day, that means she's going through those CD Books pretty fast. About one a week, in fact. So, we've gone to the local library to get some new ones.

The Barbara Bush Library is fairly near our house, so that's where we go to pick up and drop off our stuff. And to browse a bit. You see, you don't have to "prowl the stacks" any more (as old grad students used to call it) to find what you're looking for. You can just go online, select your stuff, and they'll pull it and have it waiting for you when you get there. There's even a self-serve line to check out. It's all pretty cool.

Now, I just got a library card, too. I'm starting to do some research on a topic for a book I'm working on. Now, usually I prefer to have my research books on hand, but in this case I just want to skim them. So, in a way I'm using the library as a "try before you buy" system.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the library.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Books: My life in a spy novel...

I buy a reasonable number of used books. Mostly from Half-Price Books, but I also hit a few other stores around town. Right now I'm reading some "Da Vinci Code" like stuff by other authors. You know the kind: thriller/mysteries based on ancient secrets and stuff like that.

Right now I'm reading my second novel by author Steve Berry. The first book I read was The Alexandria Link and it deals with the hunt for the Library of Alexandria. Now, in this thriller, the library was spirited away by members of a secret society and hid it somewhere in the Middle East. The Library holds secrets that, in the right hands, could destabilize current world politics. Not great fiction, but it was certainly good enough for me to pick up another one of his novels: The Amber Room.

The Amber Room is about people hunting for the eponymous chamber that had once existed in Catherine's Palace in Tsarist Russia. It's an entertaining novel, but a bit slow in places. I definitely preferred The Alexandria Link. Still, I suspect I'll read another one after this. They're pretty good.

But back to what I found in the book.

You see, over the years I've found the odd scrap of paper inside a used book before: Business cards, receipts, a movie ticket once (though I can't recall the movie right now -- I think it was a chick flick). This time, however, I actually found something VERY odd. This time I found a taxidermy receipt.

This is a small printed receipt of the type that you would get from a shop. It's obviously a standard receipt: it's got spaces on it for names, phone numbers, drop off date, pick-up date, and so on. In the upper right corner it's been numbered by a machine (0085, in this case).

It's from a taxidermy shop in Ingram, Texas. It's dated two years ago, and it's go instructions to "Mount for -----" (I'll redact their names). And a bunch of phone numbers.

Even though it doesn't say what kind of animal they're talking about, I'm going to guess it's deer, since it's dated in November (that would whitetail season around these parts). And I can easily imagine some guy packing a paperback to take along with him to his deer lease to kill some time out there, taking it easy with a six-pack (or maybe something stronger). It sounds like a nice, peaceful getaway. Definitely nothing to really catch my attention.

Except one thing: The receipt has a note to package and send the meat to someone in Iraq.

Again, I can easily imagine someone sending some nice deer sausage to a buddy or son stationed in Iraq. But there's just something odd about it. Maybe I've been reading too many thrillers, but this sounds like a weird coded message that you'd find in a novel like I'm currently reading. I can see it now...

[Cue wavy lines and weird music as we slip into a fantasy sequence]

The agent has collected the information, but his enemies are closing in. He's got to ditch the clues, so he grabs a taxidermy receipt and puts it into the paperback he was reading. The names are really code words, the phone numbers are hidden clues. The only word he can't risk being misunderstood is "Iraq." He enters Half-Price Books and slips it onto the shelf, then gets word to a fellow agent where he's hidden it.

But it's too late. They find him and, refusing to compromise his mission, he fights to the death. He dies thinking that the information is in good hands. Hundreds of lives will be saved...

Then I walk into a book store, buy a used paperback, and leave with the only copy of the clue. I don't even find it for a week until I get to the middle of my book. I look at the weird paper, note the word Iraq, and make up some back story in my head about a bored hunter reading a paperback and shipping some deer sausage to his son serving in Iraq. I continue to use the slip as a bookmark because it's convenient.

Meanwhile, the other agent arrived, bought every copy of Steve Berry's "The Amber Room" and couldn't find the coded message she was expecting. She is stalled and the bad guys get away with whatever evil thing they were planning.

Thus ends the worst spy movie ever.

Oh well, at least I'm enjoying my used paperback. I've got about 90 pages to go and, if I continue reading at a leisurely pace at night before I go to sleep, I'll probably finish it this weekend. I'll start the next one sometime next week. Who knows? Maybe this next book has a receipt to that will help thwart some Bongolesian gun runners!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Today is my 10th wedding anniversary

Wow. July 3, 1999. This time back then, I was soooooo nervous. I think Murphy was crashed over at Paul's house with Eric and they were actually out, around this time in the wee hours, hitting Wal-Mart to buy the stuff to "decorate" my car. I still owe them for that! At least Murph insisted on writing this on the side: "She got hers, tonight he'll get his!"


Our wedding was followed by a GREAT party. DJ. Keg of Shiner beer. Margarita machine. We all danced the night away! It was awesome! One smart thing we did was stay in town the next day so I could have brunch with my grandmother and family, visit with her folks, and take our time packing. Then we flew out the next day. Seeing everyone outside of the service and reception was nice, and I'm glad we did it.

As for the marriage itself? Without doubt, it was best danged thing I ever did.

Today I've got a few neat gifts for her, including one she only slightly suspects. I digitized our wedding videos and have put them on DVD. This will make it much easier for us to watch them, considering we retired our VHS player about two years ago. Right now our plans for the day are to enjoy some romantic time together. Then we plan to hit The Melting Pot restaurant for some fondue.

We definitely plan a nice, lazy day with each other, just enjoying each other's company.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I just found out what blood type I have

Until tonight, I had no idea what my blood type is. Nope. I've never had it typed. Not in high school, not in college, never by a doctor. I was never in the military, so I had no idea what it is.

I don't know why, but that bothered me. So, I bought a home test kit on ebay and just ran the test. It was an Eldoncard kit and I paid less than $10 for it on ebay (and yes, that includes the shipping).

The test itself was very easy to do, I just needed four drops of blood, a little water, and the stuff that came with the kit:
  • 1 Eldoncard 2511-1
  • 1 lancet (needle)
  • 4 Eldon sticks (mixing sticks)
  • 1 alcohol swab
  • 1 cotton ball
  • 1 plastic pipette (eyedropper)
  • Instructions
  • You also need some tap water (not included)
The procedure is simple. Swab the area you want to poke. Get some water and fill up the mini dropper. Place four drops of water into some circles printed on the card (inside each circle has a different antigen in it. You then stab yourself, get some blood flowing, and using those mixing sticks, add the blood to the water and mix 'em up. It's important that you do NOT cross-contaminate the drops of blood or move the Eldon stick outside its own circle. If you do, the stick will carry the antigen into another circle and mess up your results. After you mixed your blood into the drops of water, you carefully rotate the card around and hold it for 10 seconds (up 10 secs, down 10 secs, left 10 secs, right 10 secs). This allows the blood/water/antigen solution to mix up a bit and spread out into the whole circle.

You then look for clotting and compare the results to the chart that comes with the instructions. The results were instantaneous. One of the circles instantly started forming big, messy clots. The others did not.

And now, the mystery is solved. I am A negative.

It's funny, but my older brother (a dentist) predicted that would be the result, based on heredity and that being the type my three brothers have. I don't know what blood type my sister has.

Here's the info on the procedure:
(check the Video/Procedure link at the bottom of the screen)


You can see a higher quality version on You Tube:

I bought the kit on ebay for under $10 (including shipping).


Funny thing: the kit comes with a pop-out lancet that you're supposed to just jab yourself with and it will poke in the appropriate amount. But I couldn't make myself use it. I guess it's because I'd never used one on myself before and wasn't sure how deep it would go, how much it would hurt, etc. I was more comfortable getting a fresh Xacto blade and using it to poke myself (and make a small cut) because -- having done that COUNTLESS times while working on miniatures -- I knew exactly what it would feel like. It didn't really bother me at all.

By the way, Donna is so needlephobic that I didn't tell her about this. I didn't want her to get all worked up thinking about me poking myself with a needle. I'll tell her sometime tomorrow.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mixology - Frozen PAMAmosa

I whipped up an interesting little drink tonight. Bur first, the backstory.

A few weeks ago we were at Lin's and Crystal's house and had some Mimosas (sparkling wine and orange juice). Very yummy. And, by the way, when you're mixing the wine with juice, a cheaper wine usually does better. Cook's Spumante is our choice at home -- at least for mixing Mimosas, the added sugar helps make for a sweeter drink. The drinks were good, the company great, and we had a wonderful visit with them.

Now, I've always liked mimosas, but seeing as it's hot as you-know-what outside, my wife and I decided to add a little chill to our version. So we bought some orange sherbet to add to the sparkling wine. It's actually quite yummy, but it's not quite perfect. There's just something missing from it... a certain bite or flavor that would take it over the top. My first thought was to strengthen the orange flavor with some triple sec, but alas, we're out (yes, I need to hit Spec's and restock). So I thought about it a bit and then decided to try adding some Pama liqueur to it. Pama is a very sweet pomegranate liqueur that is a very pleasing mix of sweet and sour. And with it, a little bit goes a long way. So, I poured the sparkling wine, added half a glass of orange sherbet, mixed (use a fork; it helps break up the sherbet) and then added a nice shot of Pama. Then I tasted it, and liked it. I took it into the living room and gave it to my wife to taste. She took a sip, sat there with an odd look on her face, and then took another sip. I couldn't tell what the heck she was thinking, then she said, "It's not bad. In fact, I like it."

She liked it, but I could tell she didn't love it.

I couldn't blame her. It was good, but not great. It needed something else, and I couldn't get it out of my head that what it needed was some citris. So, I added a nice squeeze of lime juice (I also had lemon juice, but thought the lime would be a little sweeter, which was what I was trying to enhance). I sipped it and really liked it this time. But, it needed to pass the taste test of my wife. She's much more discriminating about subtle flavors than I am. So, I presented it to her and she took one sip, and her face lit up!

"This is good," she delcared, and proceeded to drink about half the glass.

Like me, she was quite surprised at what a simple shot of lime did to balance the flavors. This is a very sweet drink with a strong orange flavor, but the Pama and the lime really help balance the sweet and the tart.

So, preserved for posterity, here's my recipe for the Frozen PAMAmosa

  • Start with a wine glass.
  • Fill it halfway with orange sherbet
  • Slowly Fill it with Cook's Spumante
    (stir occassionally to blend, and let the sherbet foam die down)
  • Add 1/2 - 1 oz. of PAMA liqueur
    (this is a strong liqueur, so start small and experiment to find what tastes good to you)
  • A squeeze of lime juice
    (garnish with a lime slice, if you're using fresh lime)
Although I didn't do it tonight, I suspect this drink would taste great with a rim of sugar.

If you make one, let me know what you think of it.

External Links:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

I'm having a good birthday weekend. Friday my wife took me out to dinner at the restaurant of my choice (I chose Donarake's @ 1960 & Champion Forest). The food was great, and so were the two margaritas I had (with Sangria, of course).

Giftwise, Donna got me exactly what I wanted. The Shine On book that covers the history of my favorite beer, Shiner:

She also got me the Star Trek Communicator Phaser two pack:
This is a very cool reproduction of the phaser and communicator from the original Star Trek series (and yes, the Mark I mini phaser detaches to form a separate unit!).

When I told her what I got, my sister asked, "Oh, you didn't get any Spock ears to wear with those?" Heh. To which my wife replied, "Of course not. He's Kirk."

All in all, a great weekend (and so was today -- we just stayed in and got a little romance going).

Incidentally, my birthday was June 26.