Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pinball - Don't Call it a Comeback

Don't call it a comeback, pinball has been here for years.  It never really went away...but it does seem to be having a bit of a resurgence.  

You can witness the near end of
pinball in this documentary
10 years ago, pinball was basically considered on death's door.  My brother Kelly, and I started collecting machines because you could barely find a place to play in a public setting.  What was out there was beat to shit and just made you angry because it wasn't kept up.  We got pretty good at looking over machines and determining how well they worked before putting our money in...however we were still surprised at times (never once did we think to check whether the actual button for the flipper was there - lesson learned).

Replacement parts and used games were getting scarce and expensive...after all, in the previous decade Williams/Bally, Gottlieb, Capcom, and Data East had all stopped manufacturing pinball machines.  Luckily there was still one Stern Pinball.  Unfortunately, their games sucked at the time...their flippers felt lethargic, their designs uninspired, their sounds very repetitive, and they just didn't feel right...they felt cheap and like corners had been cut.  We still went out and played but it didn't satisfy.  Stern kept at it though and their pins steadily improved.  I think all the Stern machines from the past few years are pretty great.  They have fixed almost every issue that I had previously had with their machines.  I am not a huge fan of Stern putting QR codes all over the place and when they use photographs instead of artwork, and the playfield toys and artwork runs the gambit from being too sparse to too crowded...but those are all personal aesthetics.  I don't think any have reached the level of some of the classics from the mid-90s (I'm talking Addams Family & Indiana Jones) but they stand up very well next to most of the games from the period.  That is saying a lot and 10 years ago didn't think I would ever be able to say (but am glad that I can).  I hate to say it but Gary Stern really did save pinball.

Good quality, fun pins from Stern is just the tip of the iceberg for the beginning of this pinball renaissance. A new company is starting to make machines too.  Jersey Jack Pinball's first machine (Wizard of Oz) is set to start rolling off the line next month, and they just announced their second machine (The Hobbit).  The Wiz looks really good and looks like it has some cool innovations, I can't wait until I see one in person and get to try it out.  I am sorely tempted to pre-order a Hobbit pin.  It doesn't stop there though, a lead designer fromWilliams/Bally, John Popaduikis also starting to do small run original pinball machines.  I really wanted to pre-order a Ben Heck's Zombie Adventureland, but couldn't make the finances work out in time.  They are also planning on releasing plans so that you can 3D print your only pinball replacement parts.

Looking pretty good JJP.  Can't wait to play.

The influx of new games has caused the prizes on used and older games to dip a little and the pinball community has sprung up to support and improve all the old pinball machines out there.  New replacement parts are being produced...often times improved over the original parts.  And not just a few items here and there...tons of items are being reproduced - artwork, plastics, mechanics, and circuit boards.  Enthusiasts are designing their own products to add to their pinball machines and make them even more attractive...more toys, better lights, and even color replacement screens.  I think you can find more parts now than when there were five pinball manufacturers in operation.

In the virtual world, Pinball Arcade is busy recreating all your favorite tables from the past onto virtual platforms.  From Xbox Live to your iPhone and Android Phones, you can now play many pinball tables faithfully recreated all in the palm of your hand.  I hear the iPad format is pretty darn amazing.  Meanwhile, Pro Pinball are creating original virtual titles that can both be bound by a real physics engine or be something that can only exist virtually.

It is more than just a distant movement though.  Here in Iowa there are many changes taking place and I will talk about those in a future post real soon, but includes Iowa's first pinball show, pinball leagues, and a pinball club.

If you have been interested in pinball, now is a great time to jump in...the future is looking bright from where I stand.  Hope to see you at the the link on the right to find pinball machines to play in Iowa.

Friday, November 30, 2012

All Out of More

Driving home last night, I saw this storefront sign for Lights & More that made me giggle.  I don't know why but I always find the irony of a Light store with only half of its sign lit to be hilarious.  The only thing better is a sign store that has sign problems.

At least the Light has light.

Stopping to take a picture, I was then a little saddened to see that the Lights & More store was closing.  I had never shopped there and probably never would, but it was still a little sad.  Maybe it was because people didn't trust a light store that couldn't keep their own sign lit.  Maybe they were already on the way out and knew they wouldn't get a good return on investment for fixing their sign.  My favorite theory is that they have sold of of the More and only have the Lights left.

Sorry you are closing, but thanks for the laugh.

Lit up in its former glory

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thank God I'm a Zombie Boy

In case you didn't realize, John Denver is now a zombie.

I love John Denver.  A lot of people think that is weird since I am mostly known as a heavy metal guy.  Admittedly, it was a little strange seeing both a John Denver concert and a Megadeth concert within the span of a month or so.  However, I have liked John Denver since I was a kid.  I am not sure when I first came across JD but I know I was young.  I know my mom had Take me Home, Country Roads 45 record and I am sure I listened to that (I still have it actually), and I remember him being on The Muppet Show several times.  But, I think I was familiar with him even before The Muppet Show appearances...and of course there was the movie Oh, God, and of course the John Denver Christmas Specials.  I'm not sure which influenced me to enjoy John Denver but I have for as long as I can remember.

I saw John Denver in concert 4 times...and one of those concerts probably ranks in my Top 10 concerts (maybe if I ever get around to writing that list sometime I will know for sure).  To me, John Denver just has this pureness to his sound.  I loved his voice and his guitar work.  I think he was a talented songwriter with songs that could be haunting, or beautiful, or both.  John Denver had more variety than most people gave him credit for ranging from his well known folk and country to jazzy bluesy work to children's music to comedy (seriously the Ballad of Spiro Agnew and his stuff with the Chad Mitchell Trio is hilarious).  I find his music uplifting and peaceful and still listen to it when I am looking to relax.

When John Denver died, I was sad that the world lost a musical talent, but also that it lost someone that really cared for the Earth.  

However, Ticketmast sent me an email last night alerting me to a John Denver: Rocky Mountain High Concert.  What?  It was the middle of the night and I was half asleep and just deleted it (as I do), so when I woke I wondered if I had dreamed the whole thing.  No, it has to be a tribute or something and I just missed that part of it right?  I hit up and searched for John Denver.

What?  John Denver has a concert on Feb 12th, 2013?

Who is in that picture?  John Denver really changed when he became zombie.  After looking into it, I figured out that this picture is a band called the John Adams Band.  They are pretty famous for doing a John Denver tribute.  I've listened to them before on youtube...they are OK, but for me there is something missing.  I think the John Adams Band plays everything a little slow, while John Denver often tended to play it a little fast live. (And the peculiar thing is this my friends,The song we sang on that fateful night,It didn't actually sound anything like this song!).  So you messed that up too Ticketmaster...this is not what is happening at this show.

Doing more digging, I found out that these Rocky Mountain High Concert is actually video of John Denver singing on big screens while some members of his original touring bands play live.  Not a bad idea, pretty cool actually and I would probably go if it was a little bit closer.  However, I strongly disagree with the way that they have it listed...and $50 (minimum) seems a little steep.

Dear Ticketmaster, 

This is not John Denver.  JD died in 1997 (unlike Elvis who is with the aliens).  Really this is not how you should advertise a show.  Are you really trying convince us that this is John Denver live?  Because the comparison isn't even close.  Think if you bought tickets to a live show and they set you down in front of a TV and said enjoy.  It could be good...but it is not what you expected.  Video is not a live concert.  You really need to say tribute.  Obviously, it is a tribute since John Denver is dead...a little clarity on this event is in order.  Please correct this in the future...otherwise I damn well expect to see the reanimated corpse of John Denver up there on stage performing.

People Who Care About Semantics

Thursday, November 8, 2012

When the Sky Falls

Last night, CT and I were able to attend a free sneak preview of the new James Bond film Skyfall.  I enjoy James Bond films (and books and video game) quite a bit, but I wouldn't categorize myself as a fanatic.  I'll watch the movies when they are on TV but rarely do I just suddenly feel in the Bond mood and need to seek out a DVD (although I do own a few).  In fact, most people think my favorite Bond film is an odd choice...On Her Majesty's Secret Service (with the oft forgotten George Lazenby as Bond...thank you Marge Simpson for remembering George).  It's just such a unique and interesting Bond story.

I did want to see Skyfall in the theater when it came out, but it wasn't something that needed to be done on opening fact, on our weekly movie night for next week I would have put it in about the fifth position after Argo, Flight, Cloud Atlas, Man with the Iron Fists...and possibly even Wreck-It Ralph.  Part of that has to do with fact that it is a new movie and I knew that it would be in the theater for a while, but part of it was also that I find it difficult to get super excited about a new (and the 23rd) Bond movie.  Eventually, it feels routine.  I know I will see it, and I know it will be good but the urgency just isn't there.  But I received free passes to a sneak that changes the movie priority list some...and once that change happened, I did start to get excited.  Plus it was at Jordan Creek Cinema and they have the best lineup in town of pinball machines.  When I walked the arcade before the show 3 pinball machines (out of 3) were being played, 0 video games (out of 20ish) were being played (hint, hint bars, restaurants  arcades, etc...when you keep your pinball machines in nice condition they will make you money).

You do pay a small price in convenience for these sneak previews...mainly, they give out more passes than seats or tickets because they want a full theater.  So you have to get there early and stand in some lines for a bit...but hey, I am hanging with friends so it is all good.  Sometimes you will even have to surrender your phone or leave it in your car because they are afraid of piracy (I guess)...we had to do that for Looper.  At Looper, Cam telling the rent-a-cop security checking people's phones "Well, I'm certainly not leaving it with you..." was so dripping with disdain that it still makes me giggle to think about.  At Bond, there was not a phone surrender (thankfully because that was a slow process) but the security guards were watching the people in the theater to make sure no one was filming...of course, they could use their phones and cause the annoying glow in the peripheral of your vision several times throughout the show.

Skyfall was good.  Really good.  At the time, I thought a few parts dragged a little; but I think that more had to do with me being incredibly tired from barely sleeping the night before.  Skyfall is gritty and action packed like all the Daniel Craig Bond movies have been.  If you like Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace, you should love Skyfall.  Skyfall did have a few things that I found interesting and somewhat unique for a Bond movie.

  1. Skyfall doesn't really have many gadgets.  All the Daniel Craig movies have tended to have fewer Gadgets than the movies of 70's, 80's, and 90's (which were getting a little ridiculous at times)...but this takes it to even another level.  Bond's gadgets consists of a radio transmitter (with a single button to turn it on and off) and a Walther PPK pistol (which is coded to James Bond's palm print so that only he can fire it).  That is pretty much it for gadgets.  Bond (and his cohorts) have to make due with their surrounding and Macgyver-izer their surroundings for their defenses.
  2. Skyfall tells more about James Bond's past than I think the the previous 22 films have ever told.  Truthfully, I am not one hundred percent sure how I feel about this.  I mean Bond was always kind of an "every man" in my mind precisely because I didn't know anything about his past before joining MI-6.  It did make the movie interesting though, so I guess my judgement will probably have to wait to see how this plays out in the future.
Skyfall has a lot of classic Bond in it too.  Bond being cool under pressure; crazy, creepy villains   Bond doing whatever it takes; amazing locations; Bond butting heads with M, lovely ladies who want to get on James; and Bond just being a total badass.  Skyfall did a good job of expanding the Bond timeline to the past while setting it up for a bright future.  However, I think my favorite part of the movie was the theme song/credit sequence in the was just totally epic and awesome.  Really well done and interesting...and I even appreciated the Adele song (which I had avoided up to that point).

You may have seen this Heineken/James Bond commercial...CT and I were pleasantly surprised to find out that Heineken was not only a Bond sponsor, but was also having a premiere after party at the local Champps restaurant.  Everyone who attended got a free Heineken and then had special pricing after.   I didn't even have to ask to have my Heineken given to Cam when I ordered a Pepsi, the waitress/bartender did it automatically.  It was nice to sit and chat for a bit after the movie, a nice end to a good evening.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gory Days are Here Again

Stage West Iowa (you may remember them from my post on Hedwig and the Angry Inch) is currently performing Evil Dead: The Musical.  You should go see it.

I've wanted to go see Evil Dead: The Musical since I first heard about the Canadian production in 2003.  Being a big fan of the Evil Dead movies and musicals in general, it seemed like something made just for me...but also one of those things that is such a strange abomination that it would die shortly after birth (I'm looking at you Lestat).  But it didn't, much like a Kandarian demon infected college student, it would not die.  I remember looking a few years later and being very pleasantly surprised that Evil Dead the Musical (EDTM) was still playing in Canada.  Ah Canada, you are so, curling, and EDTM.  

I kept trying to find a way to justify a trip to Toronto to see the Evil Dead, but it just wasn't happening...someday Canada, someday I will ride a moose.  Finally in 2007, Evil Dead made the jump to Off-Broadway.  From there, EDTM has had all kinds of productions across the US.   But not Iowa.  I kept hoping but was continually let down by the lack of demon possessed plays.  Finally, this was announced.  Evil Dead the Musical would be coming to the Stoner Theater.  I was very excited.  Les Mis and the Evil Dead within a month's time...amazing.  I set out to buy tickets as soon as I could...but for which performance?  That is always a tough question for me, but this was easy.  Of course, I would have to see it Halloween!  Oct 31st, what better day to watch the Evil Dead.  

I was sure it was going to be awesome, Angie was not so sure...but willing to give it a try (this is just one of the many things I like about her).  Unfortunately, Angie has some unavoidable business come up and was forced to miss the show at the last minute...luckily my brother Ryan and his wife Hedda were happy to step in.  We had a great time and laughed throughout the show.  I would suggest you check it out within the next week (performances end Nov 11th).  

If you are unfamiliar with the Evil Dead - it is a horror movie about teenagers who stay at a cabin in the woods and inadvertently conjure demons when the find the Necronomicon.  Then it is a fight for survival with shotguns, chainsaws, and lots of blood...your typical, scary stuff right?  Not really.  It does have some scares and creepiness but it has even more campiness (on purpose) and humor.  The musical adaptation expands on the camp and the humor to make it a very fun viewing.  It isn't just sex jokes, foul language, and blood tries to answer the tough questions in life like "How did a housewares employee land the perfect girl?" and "How did the perfect girl land a housewares employee?"  OK, it is mostly just sex jokes, foul language, and blood...but the show knows that is all it is and owns it.  You'll enjoy songs like - What the Fuck Was That?, Bit-Part Demon, and Do the Necronomicon.

Check it out for a laugh, I don't think you will be often do you get to see a singing moose head?  Not enough, in my opinion; so you shouldn't pass up the opportunity.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Les Mis 25th Anniversary Production

Spoilers Below - If you don't know the story of Les Miserables and want to be surprised, you will want to skip this post.

Tuesday night, Angie and I went to opening night of the Des Moines performance of Les Miserables.  I was very excited as this is my favorite musical by far and it had been a long time since I had last seen it (2004 or 2005 I think).  I did make Angie go see the 25th Anniversary Concert at the movie theater last fall, but instead of satisfying my appetite for Les Mis, it just made me want to see it more desperately.  At the time, the 25th Anniversary National Tour was just getting underway and wasn't scheduled for any place close to Iowa.  As I read over the announcement of the Des Moines Civic Center's 2012/2013 schedule a ray of light shone down and choir of angels sang in the background as I read the two words I most wanted to see: Les Mis.  There were also many other great shows - Book of Mormon, War Horse, Beauty & the Beast, etc..., I was a little disappointed in the lack of The Addams Family, but all I really cared about at first was Les Mis.

Actually, I at first thought my brain was just messing with me and I had to read over the list a couple times to make sure that I actually read Les Mis.  After that it was a long month waiting to get my season ticket renewal form, and then another long couple months waiting for tickets to be finalized, another long couple months to receive my tickets, and finally a relatively short wait (only a couple weeks) until the show.  It was a good thing that I was so paranoid because even though I went down and handed the Civic Center my ticket order form and payment information in person - I spent almost 45 minutes that day with the ticket teller making sure that everything was handled and good to go; and they gave me all assurances that it was.  But they ended up losing my information.  Luckily, when they said cards would be charged on a certain date and mine wasn't;I checked back and they confirmed that they started the renewal/order process for me, but it was never completed.  If I hadn't had checked, my tickets would have been released for sale to someone else at the end of the week.  I was a little miffed at the time, but I am glad it was all able to be worked out in the end.  Thanks for the near heart attack!

This isn't the performance that toured the country for nearly 20 years.  This is the new reimagined & restaged 25th Anniversary Production.  I had a little trepidation...would they ruin it?  Would they cut or molest a lot of the scenes that I loved?  Would the actors be any good?  Attending a pre-show presentation about the history of Les Mis and it's journey from book to screen, it was mentioned that this production got rid of the stage turntable.  I groaned a little.  I loved the turntable and thought it was unique and a really interesting aspect of the staging of the show.  I was a little bummed but told myself that it is the story and the music that make Les Miserables so great.

There were a lot of changes to the show.  Did the old production need to be retooled?  Emotionally, I don't think so...but intellectually, I know that the old production was big and expensive.  It all just felt heavy (as I am sure it  physically was) and for me that increased the feeling of epicness.  I knew there had to be changes for a new production...I just don't think a current production could easily survive in this economic climate with that type of show...especially a show that is 25 years old.  I am not sure how many semi trailers the old show used, but I am sure it was a lot...the turntable, the barricade devices and the rest all had to be very expensive to transport (and maintain).   Again, I told myself that it would be better to have a stripped down show rather than no show at all.

The new production uses a lot of projected backgrounds which I wasn't thrilled about but I do think it is pretty neat that they used some of Victor Hugo's own artwork in creating the backgrounds.  Also the projected backgrounds did a good job of creating movement in some scenes - like walking through the sewers or down a lane.  I still liked the old turntable better but this did a really good job in certain scenes - Javert's death was also particularly well done with the projected backgrounds.

There was also a lot more color in the new production - costumes, backgrounds, all have a little more color in them.  Cosette doesn't just wear black.  Color is not necessarily a bad thing, but for it can definitely change the tone of a play.  I thought it lightened the tone a little but I think it also diminished some of the dramatic uses of the student's red flag when they take to the streets.  I also thought some of the colors looked a little too bright and clean - like Jean Valjean's soldier uniform.

I was disappointed at the lack of the turntable being able to show the different sides of a scene (especially the wall scene between Cosette and Marius.  It was a novel way to see both points of view.  But I really missed the mechanical barricade machines that would turn and twist, construct and deconstruct, and show different views of the action.  The first time I saw these amazing machines, I was worried that one of the actors was going to get squished as the machines rapidly transformed while the actors climbed around on them.  I would also have to say that the new production almost completely ruined Gavroche's death scene...hiding it completely behind the barricades.  Yes, you know he is shot, but it doesn't have the impact that it had previously.  Somehow, the stage felt really small...this was the exact opposite of the feeling that I got from the previous production (due to the turntable and awesome barricade mechanics needing room).  It worked well in some the barricade where it seemed cluttered and cramped but much of the time I just wanted the cast to spread out a bit.

The performers and the performances were good but not great.  Peter Locklyer was just too slim to be the muscular Valjean of my mind.  Peter had a really strong voice and could nail the loud and forceful parts.  He was decent at the soft parts, but couldn't come close to matching the delicate and heartfelt-ness that Randal Keith was able to achieve.  Andrew Varela as Javert matched my physical image perfectly and he had a good voice...when the song was slower.  However, when the lyrics were fast paced, I thought he was a little mumbled and difficult to understand.  There was also a lot of different stressing of words or changing up styles that I am not used to...for example in one part of a song, I thought Valjean was supposed be more melancholy but in this production he came off as more angry.   Same with the staging...I think they were trying to show that he was working harder than everyone else so should be outraged when offered half the wage, but it kind of came off like he was a dick, taking people's work.  It wasn't necessarily bad...just not the choices that I would have made with the characters.

It sounds like I had a lot of problems with this production...and it is true I didn't find this production as amazing as the previous.  However, I  still think it is a very good show and encourage everyone to go see it.  It plays in Des Moines through Sunday evening.  It is a very epic story and an epic play and well worth your time.  If I had the money right now, I would be going again this week...but for now, I have to console myself with the movie that comes out in December (which looks amazing check out the trailer below) and the  knowledge that Angie and I are planning to go see it at Theater Cedar Rapids in 2014.  Kind of excited for that, I haven't seen anything in person besides the Broadway tours.  I'm interested to see what a small local production can be.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Challenge Accepted

It wasn't the classic "eyes bigger than stomach" scenario.  I knew from the menu that the sandwich was way too much food for me...but I wanted to see one in person.  Had I known that every other table around us was also going to order at least one and I would end up seeing quite a few before mine even arrived, I probably would have opted for something else.

Last night, Angie and I met a couple of friends went to Bennigan's.  For being a chain restaurant, I think Bennigan's does a really good job of providing tasty food.  Their Monte Cristo, Pub Bites (sliders), Fish & Chips, and  Pot Roast are all very good...but their Chicken Tenders are completely amazing.  Their chicken tenders pretty much ruined everyone else's chicken tenders/fingers for me for a couple years.  Going in, I knew it was going to be a tough decision.

That's not forced perception photography.  This
burger is big and taller than your beverage glass.
I don't make it to Bennigan's often...and it had been about a little over a year since the last visit.  Last time, the menu was all about mini-food - sliders of 4 or 5 different varieties, sampler sizes of a lot of different foods.  I wholeheartedly support this...I love mini-food.  I don't know the science but miniaturization makes food delicious.  However, this time it was all about the Big Irish...a doubling of their hamburger.  I am not usually one that goes for what I call "Hardee's/Carl's Jr Sizing" but for some reason this struck me as something that I wanted to put in my mouth.

So what's a Big Irish?  Basically Bennigan's takes any of its burgers and doubles them - two 8oz beef patties, double the toppings, with a club bun between them like a Big Mac.  I chose the Guinness burger - bacon, cheddar cheese, crispy fried onions, and a Guinness stout glaze.  I was surprised that it looked pretty much like the picture.  Good advertising there, that doesn't happen often.

This thing is big...about the size of my head.  The sad thing is that I wasn't extra hungry.  I just wanted to see it.  Angie ordered a regular Guinness burger, so I was able to make direct comparisons...and my burger was the big brother who played football and weight lifted in high school but now 15 years later is just a giant slab of a human...not fat, just thick and meaty and huge to her regular sized burger.

I wasn't really even sure how to begin with such a tower of meat.  I held it up to my mouth and tried to figure out the best way to eat this monstrosity.  After running the calculations in my mind, I determined that there was no good way to eat it and just started in.  I tilted the base toward me, figuring that the base bun is smaller and therefore I would be able to take a bigger vertical bite on the burger.  Opening as wide as I could and slightly smashing the burger, I still didn't even make it halfway - my teeth just barely nicked the middle club bun.  As I set it back down, I could feel the burger silently, Jabba laughing at my pathetic attempt to eat it.

I felt small and weak, once again mocked by the larger kids around me.  Fuck you burger!  I was determined, this burger was not going to ridicule me with contempt in its burger eyes.  I was going to stand up to this bully of a burger and I was going to eat the whole thing.

It wasn't easy...taking as large of bites as I could, I still only made it 90% through the sandwich in 2 bites.  I had to take 3 largish (but closer to normal) bites vertically to make each horizontal bite depth through the sandwich.  Each time I took a bite, it felt like I was smearing the burger across my face.  About 40% of the way through the sandwich, structural integrity started to fail and it quickly started becoming harder and messier to eat.  Much messier.  Around the 3/4 point, I was full and my delicious side of sweet potato fries was virtually untouched.  I thought about quitting but I continued the fight.  The last two bites were the hardest...I literally had to psych myself up to eat them.  I felt like that triathlete or marathon runner who collapsed within site of the finish line. You can see the finish line and you think the last stretch would be easy, but instead it just reminds you that you have more to go.  But I ate them, finishing the burger and declaring myself a fat guy in training.  My entire head and arms felt sticky from the Guinness glaze...but man that was a tasty burger.  Seriously, it tasted delicious the entire time...even when I was feeling stuffed and dreading the next bite, the burger still tasted great.

I was very full but, but I wasn't so full that I felt sick (surprisingly).  I totally thought I was going to be the guy from the AlkaSeltzer commercial, but after sitting and talking for about 30 minutes, I felt pretty decent.  Still very full but not uncomfortably so.  I usually don't eat a lot.  I am the type of person that can go to McDonald's and be perfectly happy with two regular hamburgers or gets the smaller 8 oz steak when eating out.  It may have only been a 1 pound burger but for me that is quite a lot.  A competitive eater I will not be. Adam Richman I tip my hat to you.

I just looked up the calories:  a regular Guinness burger is supposed to have 915 calories, so I would say 1830 - 70 (because of only a partial second bun) = 1760 calories.  Bleh.  On the bright side that was 20 hours ago and I am still not even remotely hungry.  I am both proud and sickened by myself for eating it won't happen again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shut Up and Take my Money pt 2

SPACE ELEVATORS!  An elevator that can take you into space!  Ok, not least not yet.  We (the human race) are however, on the technological cusp of being able to create such a thing.  Why would we want to do this?  Many reasons: experiments, science, ease of launching future missions to other planets, not as much waste as rocket launches, etc...  But really, I mostly dream of affordable space tourism, would it still be expensive - yes.  Would it be cheaper than launching a rocket or even a space plane for short trips out of the atmosphere- almost certainly yes, and by a lot (instead of millions of dollars or even hundred thousands, a space elevator could be in the tens of thousand and possibly even less).

I liked this kickstarter because it wasn't just a "one and done" program.  It has a short term goal (as all kickstarter projects must) but the company also has long term visions.  Plans for not just next year, but 10+ years down the road.  Development.  Maybe I will be around when this all comes to fruition, maybe I won't; but we need to start somewhere and at some time.  I am willing to jump in and help and follow this project as it develops.

It probably won't actually look like this,
the cable will more likely be about the
size of a sheet of paper.
Imagine - regular & routine trips being available to Earth orbit, the moon, Venus, Mars, asteroids, and beyond.  All without the extreme g-forces, noise, and pollution of a rocket launch as your elevator car quietly climbs a cable through the atmosphere.  It could happen some day.   Government is not supporting as much research as it once did, so it is up to us - the citizens, the dreamers, the believers.  This is a project that I believe in and something that I believe could change humanity's relationship with space forever.  The space elevator has been a dream of visionaries for 150 years, but now with carbon nanotubes it could finally be possible.

If you dream of the stars, join me in supporting the Space Elevator kickstarter

Friday, September 7, 2012

What I Got for the Money

Bags of Crap have still been slipping through my grasp...oh, I have been tantalizingly close a couple time.  Woot people (wooters?) know what I mean...seeing the Crap and submitting Your order only to be told it had sold out in the past 5 seconds that it took to process your order.  It is so frustrating...but then the feeling of supreme triumph when you finally do snag a bag of crap wouldn't exist if it was easy.  However, just because I understand that the rarity of getting a BoC is one of the things that makes it special; this knowledge does not allay feelings of frustration and disappointment from missing out.

Luckily, Graveyard Mall (GYM) was there for me once again to provide a sense of mystery and gambling into my life with their Custom Mystery Box.  GYM's mystery boxes are popular that they keep making new versions:  Kitchen Mystery Box, Women's Mystery Box, As Seen On TV Mystery Box, Candle Mystery Box, etc...  Those are all well and good, but they don't hold the same draw for me as the Custom Mystery Box.  I think it is because the other mystery boxes are so limiting on what they contain.  As I have said before, what you are really buying is hope and a sense of anticipation...there could be anything in the box before it actually arrives.  It's the whole Schrödinger's Cat syndrome...until you actually check, it could be your dreams (or crap).  The Custom Mystery Box is unique in that, you tell GYM a little about yourself and they try to pick items that will suit you...although I am sure some (most) items are overstocked and everyone probably gets them.
Anytime I get a box, I reenact scene
from Seven in my mind:
"What's in the box? What's in the box!"

Once again, I was surprised how big the box was when it came.  I think it was bigger than last time, although not quite as heavy.  It didn't have as many items as last time either, although a couple were definitely bigger ticket items.  Here is what I got for $30 + $6 shipping (in the order that they came out of the box).  You should be able to click to embiggen all photos.

Reflection of me not included...
that costs extra.
1)  Iowa State Cyclone Scoreboard Clock (with date & temperature) - I am not really a Cyclone fan.  Not through any fault of theirs.  It is just that I am not much of a sports fan at all (except for hockey) and when people are talking sports I mostly just think "Go sportsball team!" or "He excels at the game in which he plays."  This is the large wall clock version that they had a couple years looks to be around 13" x 9", not the smaller desk clocks available now.  My brother has a Hawkeye version that he got for Christmas a few years ago...I am pretty sure at that time these clocks retailed for around $80 (but I think have been on clearance since then for about half that).  When unboxed for the picture, I did notice that a small part of the plastic housing had broken.  It was on the back though and wouldn't be visible and could easily be fixed with a little super glue.  This is a really nice clock...just not for me, so my friend Cam (who is a big cyclone fan) just got a bonus birthday present.  Happy Birthday Hetero-Life Pal.

A little creepy and!
2) Littler Dippers bunny airfresheners by Ganz (2 pack) - Fabric rabbits that have a wax base and smell like "Fresh Peaches."  And yes, yes they do smell like peaches.  When I first opened the box it was a little over-whelming (and this is with the bunnies still in their plastic wrap), but they smelled pleasant once the air moved around a little and dispersed the aroma.  I can't imagine working in a store with a bunch of these on the shelf, I think it would make you want to vomit, especially if it was a bunch of competing smells.  Hmmm, I am not really a rabbit guy, so maybe one will get gifted to my niece...or maybe they will get thrown in the back of a closet to freshen out of site (waiting quietly in the dark, eyes slowly going blind, waiting for their chance to attack).  I couldn't find this model must have been a limited run!  Amazon sells a puppy version though (that has a springtime floral scent) for around $10 each.  I have to think these were overstocked and just thrown in the box without looking at the "custom" info.  Oh, well.  I didn't want to open the plastic, so I am not sure if just the wax base was smelly or the cloth too.  It kind of looked like the cloth fabric had a bit of a wax coating so that the rabbits could be posed a little bit, but I am not sure...if so, the thought of touching them creeps me out.  On second thought, these will be given away.

yep, that's what it does.
3)  Hoselink Quick Connect System - Designed in Australia, this is a quick connect/disconnect system for your hose and outdoor faucets.  Which is pretty cool, although I probably don't change my hose and accessories enough to justify this.  Since I didn't plant a vegetable garden this year, I don't even think I have used my hose more than once.  However, my nozzle did break last fall, so just getting a new nozzle is nice.  This kit sells for $25 on Amazon.  Looking at Hoselink's website, it almost looks like hoses down under don't come with the typical threaded ends we see here, and you just push the end of an unfinished hose onto a push-on hose fitting.  If that is the case, I can see how this quick connect system would be really useful there.  And if that is true, I consider it information learned and knowledge is priceless...I will now consider myself a well informed connoisseur of Australian hose workings.

Yes, a nuclear blast just went
off outside my window.
4) Black Leather Desk Clock with Double Pen Stand by Buddy Products - So yep, it is a black leather desk clock with double pen stand, not much else to say about it...oh except "Leather...nice. Leattthhhaaa!" <said in Tin Tin's voice>.  Oh, did I forget to mentiion that it is from the Roma Collection.  THE Roma you know it's quality.  OK, I have no idea what the Roma collection is, but this thing seems like a decent enough clock and pen's just not my style.  I don't believe in putting personal belongings on my desk: A) it often just looks messy and unprofessional, B) if I have a reason to quit I want to be able to just walk out without worrying about personal belonings, and C) I know someone would steal one of the pens and then I would have a sad empty pen stand always taunting me about the absence of the pen.  It's decent enough I guess, but it reminds me of something that a kid would get for his dad for Father's Day.  Holy crap - Amazon sells this for $40. I really figured that it would be $10...Roma Collection indeed!

Have some pride in yourself.
5) Coralite dust-away Sweeper (2 pack) - generic sweeper brooms similar to Swiffer.  No cleaning cloths were included...but sounds like they work with pretty much any generic cleaning cloth.  This actually is pretty good for me, I have hardwood floors throughout the house and my Swiffer broom broke a while back.  I've been meaning to buy a new one but always forget.  My one problem with these is the lack of confidence...not by me, but by the company.  Shouldn't your product's name be capitalized?  It should be "Dust-Away" like you mean it, instead of "dust-away" kind-of, we think, maybe.  Plus you capitalize Sweeper?  That is the part that isn't part of the proper noun.  It's like calling myself michael-gubby Human.  Capitalization - you are doing it wrong.  dust-away you will be considered inferior until you get some pride in yourself and capitalize correctly.  These run $6 on Amazon.

a secret weakness
6) Common Sense Socks, Black (12 pairs) - I believe GYM sold these a while back as "12 pairs of brand name socks for $15."  Yes, I guess they do have a brand name on them, "Common Sense", but it is not a brand name that I have ever heard of, nor did a 5 second internet search yield any results.  A little known fact about me - I love new socks, but at the same time hate buying new socks.  I don't know why but for some reason I have a hard time just randomly buying new socks.  So, I usually wait until all my current socks are completely destroyed and have holes before breaking down and buying new socks.  For this reason, I am actually pretty happy about this item in the mystery box.  I usually get athletic style socks in either white or black...these are not as thick as those (I am trying them out today), but are much thicker than your standard dress socks.  So although I wish there was a little more padding for my tender, baby-like soft feet;  these are pretty comfortable and surprisingly warm for their thickness.  Also made in the USA, so I am literally standing on other citizen's hard work and it feels like...Freedom!  Not really, it feels like 85% acrylic and 15% nylon elastic.

pretty happy with this
7) Dickies TW769 Storm Fleece Pullover - This is my favorite item out of the box.  I don't need another hoodie as I have many, but this is a good looking unit and pretty darn comfy.  Water resistant fleece with a quarter zipper for easy of dressing and removal (looks closer to 1/2 zipper to me, but whatever, it works nice).  Laminated forearm for increased water protection.  Kangaroo pocket, as well as, zippered pocket in front; and small zippered pocket on bicep.  Looks good and feels warm.  Retail was originally $52.  It is slightly big on me, so I am deciding whether to keep or give as a gift.  I know it probably ruins my hipster cred, but I am usually not a Dickies fan...but this is really nice item.

Adding it all up (at original MSRP or the best price that I can find) that makes this box worth about $240...that makes it 87.5% off retail.  Not too bad.  I got some things that I like and some gifts for others.  I felt like I got a pretty good deal.

Win! Win! Win!'s a profit deal. Takes the pressure off!
I do have a few things that I can't use (i.e. - desk clock, smelly bunnies, and a handful of other stuff that I have gotten from mystery boxes and bags of crap in the past) - do you want a chance to win a crap item that I don't have a use for?  It's easy - just send me an email with the subject "I want crap!" and your name in the body...just so I know who I am talking to.  I will randomly select some winners from all entrants at the end of September 2012...and I will send you FREE CRAP.  I paid for this crap, but will send it to you for that you too can know the anticipation, hope, and eventual disappointment of expecting crap in the mail.  Sorry, this offer is only limited to those in the United States, and if you win I will need a physical address to ship to (sorry - no PO Boxes or  APOs).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shut Up and Take my Money pt 1

I am a big fan of Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  Being a fan directly supporting musicians, artists, movie makers, designers, etc.. is what I have always wanted to be able to do.  Not being like a full time philanthropist (I wish I had that kind of money) but just telling someone that I really like their work and hope they make more.  I would always try to buy a t-shirt or CD from a live show or from their direct website (even if I already had it).  I figured that this was the best way that I could support them the most.  Sure, I could buy the CD at the store or even a used CD shop for cheaper, but I knew that the artists themselves would get little or no money from that sale.  If I liked a band, I wanted them to be successful and be around for a while.

Sometimes, I wished I could do more.  Sometimes, I even tried...but it was always awkward for all of us.  Most bands/artists, just don't expect someone, even a fan, to come up and try to give them money.  They weren't sure how to react, and usually just refused.  If taken, there was no guarantee that the money would actually be put to a use for the good of the band.  I like to thank that it helped the band record their next album, get to their next show, or even eat a healthy meal on the road...but I was often afraid that it went to alcohol or worse.  There just wasn't a better way to support someone at the time.

There have been many times I have thought to myself "I would have bought that."  After hearing about some band that broke up because of money stress, leaving an album have finished and unreleased.  Or the great movie that never got made...but they couldn't find a studio to support them.  Or that idea that sounds awesome but its such a niche product that it doesn't get made because of the risk of a small market.  I used to think this all the time, but thanks to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others; I can now say "Shut up and take my money."

Here is one of the projects that I am currently supporting: Is This Heaven?

This is a film about Frank Meeink, an ex-skinhead who became a civil rights activist, going on a journey of spiritual discovery and examining different faiths and religions (feeling conflicted with rise in hate speech used in religion nowadays).

There are several reasons that I am supporting this film.  One of the biggest is that I have met Frankie and find his story of overcoming hate to be inspiring and optimistic for the human race.  The second reason is that it is a local project, I like supporting local projects because I think we need to nurture our local culture and artists.  Finally, I just think it could be an interesting film...I am not religious but can see religion used for both good (hope and helping people) and bad (fear and denying people rights).  I think Frank's journey will be interesting and show that people of different religions have more in common than not.

I think it is a worthy project.  Join me in supporting it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We Need Your Help...

We need your help to defeat Moon Nazis!  We are trying to get a screening of Iron Sky at the Wynnsong Theater.

What if a group of WWII Nazis escaped and built a base on the dark side of the moon?  For the past 70 years, these Nazis have been building an army to conquer the earth...they are now ready to begin the invasion!

This movie looks like awesome fun.  Please help us get a screening in Des Moines...just pre-order tickets (we need less than 30 more people to RSVP) through Tugg.  Only $10 each.  Please RSVP, there is only 2 days left to do so (RSVP ends Aug 17th).  It will be worth it...Moon Nazis!  How can you refuse?  Please click here to order your tickets: Iron Sky - Des Moines.  This event is pending and you will only be charged if we get enough people to go and the screening takes place.

Please join us! Iron Sky - Des Moines

Moon Nazis!  If you don't go, the Moon Nazis have won.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Slowly Healing

Right Leg, from the top
A couple weeks ago, Angie went back to the surgeon for a check up and x-rays.  The good news is that her incisions are healing really well...although we had to deal with a slight infection in one the past week.  The bad news is that Angie's bones are very soft - "mushy" in doctor speak.  This is due to her poor circulation, depressed nervous system, and bone density loss due to being non-weight bearing...all side effects of her paralysis.  Unfortunately, that means that the bones healing is going to be a very slow process and while she is healing there is always the possibility accidentally pulling one of the screws out of the bone.  Her right leg also has a couple bone fragments jutting out, but since her legs will not be weight-bearing the doctors have decided not to worry about them at this time and let them heal however they will.

Here are some scans of the x-ray printouts so you can admire her new hardware in each leg.  We asked to have the x-rays emailed, but instead they handed up printouts, which we then the quality is not the best.  Sorry.  You can click to see them larger and in more detail.

These are the right leg, which was the worse of the two (it was a compound fracture).  The left leg has a similar plate and screws.  In the picture to the right, I have zoomed and highlighted the actual fracture and pointed to one of the bone fragments on the right.
A side view of the steel plate holding Angie's bone together

On a little bit of a happier note - Angie has found and purchased a new van...well new to her.  It is a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan that has already been converted with a ramp and chair restraints.  At this time, this vehicle will only be for transporting Angie, but we hope to have it converted for her to drive once all the insurance gets figured out.  We do hope to have an EZ Lock docking system installed soon so that Angie doesn't always have to have to go through having the ratchet strap Q'Straints attached and removed each time.  The Q'Straints are great, but if the person hooking it up isn't paying attention or doesn't attach to the right location on the chair, they will not work to their fullest (yes, this is user error and avoidable...but would be nice to eliminate the possibility and a dock is faster).   Unfortunately, installation of a dock is not cheap (around $2000 which isn't outrageous but also not pocket change).  Is anything related to wheelchairs cheap?  I've come to determine that no, no it is not.

Angie's new van

Thanks to everyone who donated to Angie's fund...this was extremely helpful in allowing Angie to have a good sized down payment on the van, so that arranging financing was much easier.  Really, thank you everyone...otherwise we would probably have to wait until insurance is figured out (which sounds like it is heading to arbitration and could be 6 months to 2 years before finalized).  Donations are still welcome...we still have a long way to go before life is normal and Angie is living as independently as she can.

Angie Plager Recovery Fund
32541 585th Ave
Cambridge, IA 50046-8568

Thank You Everyone!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How My Life Has Changed in 17 Years

Being somewhat of taco snobs, my friends and I usually went to Taco Bell instead of Taco John's (honestly, I don't think there is much difference although the Doritos Locos at TB are pretty tasty), but there were a couple times during college when a Six-Pack and a Pound would hit the spot.

It happens even less now...but it happened this past weekend.  Here are the differences that I observed:

  • A 12 hour shift in the time of eating
  • Females want to spend time with me
  • Much less hair involved
  • Hercules or Xena was NOT being watched
  • Tacos & Potato Oles still taste the exact same

Don't be envious of my rock & roll lifestyle.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Welcome Human

My brother, Kelly and his wife Holly have successfully added another human battery to the matrix.  Although it is nice to see that our computer overlords have now developed wireless technology to harvest his body's energy.

This is Jack Rockwell Hulsebus (named by his 3 year old brother, Braeden).

Baby Jack was freshly squozen on June 21, 2012 at 3:38am.  This energy cell array weighed in at a decent 8 pounds even.  We look forward to much energy production from him.  Nephew Baby Jack, I hope you enjoy your simulation.

Congratulations Kelly & Holly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Angie Is Finally Back Home

After 16 days in the hospital, Angie is finally back home.  It's is still a long road for recovery but this is an important step.  I can only imagine how much nicer it is for Angie to be able to recover in a familiar atmosphere and not be awoken every hour by nurses taking blood, vital readings, etc...  I know they were just trying to take care of Angie...but there were a couple nights when I wanted to shout "Really? I just spent 45 minutes trying to get her to relax and sleep!"

Angie in hospital...Day 9, the first day
she got to wear clothes (well, scrubs)
instead of the hospital gown.
Angie has the bandages off her legs, the staples removed from the incisions, and is healing slowing but steadily.  Still lots of bruising and swelling in her legs and hips.  Still must be very careful, but can at least have her legs bent to sit (almost) normally in a wheelchair.  Her pain is mostly controlled with Extra-Strength Tylenol, and only has bouts here and there and during transfers when there seems to be a lot of pain, although there often seems to be a lot of discomfort and some dysreflexia throughout the day.  All and all, I think she is doing wonderfully.

Angie, her family, and myself would like to sincerely thank everyone who came to visit, who donated money, sent cards, flowers, well-wishes, thoughts, prayers, and who helped out in any way.  Your kindness and thoughtfulness have been amazing and have really helped everyone keep in high spirits.  The family feels very blessed to have such incredibly kind people in their lives.  We would also like to thank all (ok, only MOST) of the doctors, nurses, therapists, techs, and staff at Methodist hospital for taking care of Angie the past couple weeks.  Most of you were incredible, caring, and gentle people who would help in any way possible (except hooking visitors up with morphine. Come on, I was hurting too...some of those chairs were uncomfortable after being there all day with a bruised buttocks) and also listen to Angie's ideas and thoughts about treatment.

We are still in limbo (and could be for a while) in regards to insurance payments and what they will cover as far as Angie's van and wheelchair.  With 9 cars involved, and almost as many insurance companies it sounds like it is going to be a big screaming match between them.  All of your donations are especially beneficial to the family during this time of waiting and uncertainty.  It has allowed the family to rent a ramp van for the next month for Angie's doctor appointments and just to have in case there is an emergency.  It was a pretty unsettling feeling knowing that if something went wrong, there would be no easy way to get her to help, so although renting a van is pretty expensive, we felt it had to be done while the insurance fight continues.

Donations are still very welcome and appreciated. Every little bit has helped.

or mail to:

Angie Plager Recovery Fund
32541 585th Ave
Cambridge, IA 50046-8568

We would also appreciate you keeping a look out for a late model, ramp van in good condition and reasonably priced (unless someone wants to cut Angie a really good deal on a MV-1).  It would just be used for transportation at the moment, but the hope would be to eventually have it modified for Angie to be able to drive.  If you happen to run across anything, please let me or Angie know.  We will look into and consider all leads and offers.

Thanks again, everyone...we really appreciate all the support everyone has given.


Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Been a Bad Week

On June 1st 2012, my girlfriend Angie and I were in a pretty serious car accident.  I can't get into all the details at this time (due to ongoing investigations), but I can say that it was bad.  9 cars totaled bad, getting hit 4 or 5 different times at interstate speeds bad.  It may sound cliché, but we are lucky to be alive.

I was fortunate to limp away from the accident, with bumps, bruises, small cuts and scrapes.  I was checked out at the emergency room and had x-rays taken of my knee, which was a little banged up.  I have bigger and more hideously purple bruises than I have ever had in my life, but all turned out to be just minor battering from the collisions and I was given ibuprofen and sent on my way.

Angie, did not fair so well.  Angie was thrown from her wheelchair and broke both of her legs.  But not just any broken leg, she broke both of her femurs...her thigh bones, the largest bones in the human body (go big or go home I guess).  One break was a compound fracture with the bone poking through the skin.  She also had a concussion, cuts on her face, and bruises that make mine look like a kid with a scraped knee.

Angie was in the intensive care unit for 3 days and had surgery to insert steel plates and screws into her legs.  Thankfully, surgery went well.  Angie then spent several more days in a standard hospital room, before just being transferred to the in-patient rehabilitation center.  She is doing well but is still having a hard time with the pain, nausea, and just plain uncomfortableness.  She also gets hiccups a lot (possibly due to medication) and it shakes her whole body as she grimaces in pain.  It is horrible to watch.  Angie is far from out of the woods, due to her normal poor circulation and weak immune system, but so far she is doing well.  We are not sure of anything of her treatment future, but it could only be a few weeks or it could be all summer.  It all depends on her healing progress and what the doctors say.  It is going to be a long and expensive recovery.

If the pain and hospital stay wasn't bad enough, we are also pretty sure that her adapted van is totaled, as is her power wheel hair.  We are not sure what insurance is going to cover - supposedly only the van itself is able to be covered under a normal insurance policy, not the ramp, kneel kit, hand controls and computers that she needs to ride and drive...unfortunately all this equipment is very expensive (around $100,000 without the van itself - it may have looked like your typical 2002 maroon caravan, but it had as much equipment as a James Bond car and was in the price range of Bentleys and Porches)...but even before getting her up and driving again, her family will need to get a transport van for every day travel - get her home, to doctor appointments, to church, etc... We are also not sure how much of her powered wheel chair will be covered, and surprising to most people these chairs cost more than many cars (around $35,000-$40,000), but the are a necessity for the people that rely on them for every day functioning.  It is amazing technology that has allowed Angie to live a relatively normal life these past few years.

A small selection of the flowers Angie recieved
But we are doing OK, we are alive and that is the important thing.  We appreciate all of your thoughts, prayers, and well wishes.  Angie has already received many visitors, cards, and flowers and is grateful for all of the friends and family that have been there for her in all shapes and forms.  It has really helped Angie keep her spirits up!  Something that we need to do to help her stay positive and focus on healing and just feeling better.

We hate to ask for money, but if you would like to donate something, it would be much appreciated.  All donations will go to help Angie with medical bills, a new wheel chair, and new transportation.  And more importantly, it will be one less thing she has to worry about so that she can focus on her healing and recovery.  Below is a Paypal link for donating (it processes through my account since Angie really isn't in shape to set up her own at this time), please pass along to everyone that knows her, every little bit helps.

or mail to:

Angie Plager Recovery Fund
32541 585th Ave
Cambridge, IA 50046-8568