WebChess Returns

WebChess

That’s right, WebChess has returned! Click the link in the Features section or just click here to register for an account.

Please note that WebChess stores passwords in plaintext, so don’t go using any of your favorite, hyper-secure passwords. I’ll see if I can’t fix this in the near future.

Comics: Iron Spidey

Apart from the occasional Ultimate Spider-Man trade paperback, I don’t pay too much attention to Spider-Man comics these days. I know there was some “Spider-clone” hubbub a few years back, but I had long since stopped buying the comics, so I didn’t get excited about it.

This morning, co-worker Chuck (AKA gator) tossed a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #531 onto my desk. The first thing to catch my eye was Captain America sitting next to two other guys on a couch, apparently watching a little teevee. The guy on the other end of the couch looked an awful lot like Tony “Iron Man” Stark, but who the hell was the evil Iron Fist wannabe munching popcorn in the middle?

Well, that’d be Spider-Man, in his new “Iron Spidey” costume. Seems Tony Stark is now Spider-Man’s “boss” and he gave the webslinger a new, upgraded costume. The new duds are red and gold, which makes for some nice color coordination with Iron Man’s armor (can you say “branding”?), and it was built by Tony Stark, so it’s got all sorts of gadgets and gizmos built in. You know, a nice Heads-Up Display, on-board computer, glider wings, and stabby arms that shoot out of the back.

Wait a minute. Stabby arms? Yep. Think Doctor Octopus, only… well, stabbier. I counted three golden, multi-jointed arms jutting out of a golden circle on the back of the costume, stabbing Titanium Man right in the face.

Now, granted, Titanium Man was kinda asking for it, and he is wearing a full-face, armored helmet, but the whole stabby arms business just doesn’t seem like Spider-Man to me. For that matter, neither do the on-board computer and HUD. Spidey has always relied on his radioactive-arachnid-given abilities and sharp wit to get by; using technological gizmos — with the exception of the web-shooters he designed — has always been a last resort. For a fine example of this (not to mention an example of Spidey’s bad luck with new costumes), see the alien costume saga, in which Spidey ultimately turns to Mister Fantastic and a sonic cannon to help him fight the symbiote.

New costume or old, I don’t plan on reading any more issues of The Amazing Spider-Man any time soon, and as long as Joe Quesada (Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics and apparently the brains behind the new costume) doesn’t mess with Ultimate Spider-Man or (even worse) the Spider-Man movies, I’m okay.

But damn, that’s an ugly costume.

Mammoth (2006)

MammothMammoth (2006)

Starring Vincent Ventresca, Tom Skerritt, Summer Glau, Leila Arcieri, Cole Williams, Charles Carroll, Andrew Peter Marin, Marcus Lyle Brown, David Kallaway and The Big Bad Wolf.

Directed by Tim Cox.

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch every one of the “SciFi Original” movies that premiere Saturday nights at 9:00 on the SciFi Channel. It’s not an easy admission to make, but it is—sadly—true. I became aware of just how lax I’ve been in this regard while I was doing my post-viewing research ((Yes, research.)) on the latest SciFi original movie, Mammoth. It seems that Tim Cox has directed at least two other SciFi original movies in the last several years, Larva and The Man With No Eyes, neither of which I’ve seen. It’s an embarrassing deficiency, but I hope it does not disqualify me from rendering an opinion on Mammoth.

Because you know I’ve got one.

How many times has this happened to you? After five years of intensely scrutinizing a woolly mammoth entrapped in a multi-ton block of ice, you drill into the frozen mass to extract a small, blue object suspended near the ancient beast’s preserved body. The object, about the size of a pebble, turns out to be an alien homing beacon; a homing beacon that sends a powerful signal across the reaches of space to activate the opening credit sequence.

A silver flying saucer ejects a silvery, spherical probe that sprouts twin antennae and whisks its way through an asteriod field. After darting between tumbling rocks, the probe dives into one of the larger asteroids to reveal cave drawings on the walls deep inside. There, animated cavemen flee from a marauding UFO, then retaliate with their spears. The credit sequence is important because it sets the tone for the movie, which is definitely not taking itself too seriously.

Mammoth isn’t quite a spoof (at least, not on the same level as Mars Attacks!), but it’s not anywhere near a serious sci-fi/horror flick, either. It’s somewhere in the middle, with bumbling deputies, surreal flashbacks, snarky dialogue and, of course, an alien-possessed mammoth. It’s not as clever as Army of Darkness, but writer-director Tim Cox and company were most likely thinking along the same lines as Darkness director Sam Raimi when they created Mammoth. Vincent Ventresca (formerly the star of the SciFi Channel series “The Invisible Man” ((Ventresca played Darien Fawkes, a criminal who had been “recruited” by a secret agency to help them study a “quicksilver” gland they’d developed. The gland excreted a substance that rendered Darien invisible, but had some unusual and potentially dangerous side-effects. Though I wasn’t a regular watcher, I thought the show was well done.)) is no Bruce Campbell, but there definitely seems to be a Campbellian influence in his character, Dr. Frank Abernathy. Abernathy is somewhat socially inept and a bit of a bumbler, which might also describe Ash in Army of Darkness. Thankfully, Abernathy doesn’t come off as an Ash-wannabe played by a Campbell-wannabe. ((And honestly, after seeing The Man With The Screaming Brain and Alien Apocalypse, does anyone want to be Bruce Campbell?))

The other Mammoth headliners are Tom Skerritt and (as SciFi Channel incessantly pointed out in the week leading up to the premiere) Serenity‘s Summer Glau. Glau plays Jack, Dr. Abernathy’s sixteen-year-old daughter, while Skerritt is Frank’s father, Simon. Their family is falling apart, and only a prehistoric nightmare brought to life by a malevolent extraterristrial can bring them back together. Nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before on “Picket Fences.”

As with most SciFi original movies, the special effects aren’t exactly top caliber. The mammoth looks decent, but not great; in the big chase scenes, the lumbering, bellowing beast looks out of place in the frame. There seem to be some lighting and texturing tricks CG artists use to magically make their creations seem a part of the “real” world, and whatever those tricks are the artists who make movies for The SciFi Channel haven’t quite mastered them. That said, mediocre special effects can be forgiven if there’s a well-crafted story being told by talented actors under the guidance of a gifted director.

Whether the story of a rampaging prehistoric mammal possessed by an alien and sucking the “organic energy” out of the residents of a Louisiana town could be considered well-crafted is certainly open to debate, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Mammoth just a little. Yes, I scratched my head when a creature that leaves eight inch deep footprints the diameter of dinner platters managed to sneak up on the heroes in broad daylight not just once, but twice. ((This is even more headscratchworthy when one considers that the beast bellows almost incessantly.)) I also winced on the few occasions when the Lifetime Channel rapped on the window while Frank reminisced about his departed wife and tried to mend his fractured relationship with Jack. Despite a few plot holes, awkward emotional moments and some groan-inducing dialogue, Mammoth was a fun flick; certainly no worse than the bulk of The SciFi Channel’s original movies.

That’s not exactly high praise when you consider such duds as S.S. Doomtrooper (Ben Cross, your chariot is officially doused), but unlike Doomtrooper, I have no intention of demanding that The SciFi Channel reimburse me for the time spent watching Mammoth. I think the best thing I can say is that I’d watch the sequel so subtly hinted at before the end credits rolled.

Travelogue: Monroeville, PA (Part the Second)

The team went out to dinner at DeNunzio‘s last night, despite the fact that someone in the office claimed Johnny Carino‘s is superior. The fact that Johnny C didn’t send some of his boys down to make sure the DeNunzios slept with the fishes last night (at least, not while we were there) leads me to believe that he’s no capo.

I enjoyed a cup of the wedding soup, some fried calamari and the chicken saltimbocca, all of which were pretty tasty. During the meal, I was filled in on some of the antics that occurred after I retired on Tuesday night. Listening to the tales of drunken revelry, I determined that there is one advantage to returning to the hotel at 10PM instead of staying out at the Tiki Lounge until 3AM: plausible deniability. Everything I “know” about what went on after I left is hearsay, and will never hold up in court. What happens in Pittsburgh stays in Pittsburgh until the special task force is assembled.

After dinner, we said farewell to three of our elite shadow force and they vanished like the colony of Roanoke. Then the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the X-Men teamed up in an unprecedented across-the-aisle effort to defeat the forces of Apocalypse. That went on for about two hours before the involved mutants got sleepy and went to bed.

The other apprentice and I will be fleeing the state this evening, but I did add two of Monroeville’s more exotic locations to my “Been There, Done That” list. The first is a local eatery called Quizno’s, which features a menu chock-full of delectable sandwiches. After your chosen ingredients are piled high atop whole wheat (or white, if you must) bread, the entire assembly is placed on a conveyor belt where it descends into the very bowels of the Earth and is cooked to perfection by molten lava. They have raspberry lemonade, too, which is made by either faeries or elves, whichever is less likely rile the lawyers at Keebler.

Finally, there is The Exchange, an establishment spoken about only in hushed whispers behind tightly closed doors. So secret is this place that even The Internet has never heard of it. There are wonders to behold behind the doors of The Exchange (provided you can actually find the damn place) the likes of which my tripping fingers cannot begin to describe. I will say only this: at The Exchange, you can purchase a Shadowrun SEGA Genesis cartridge for a mere two dollars and fifty cents. Well, actually you couldn’t, because I did.

I have uncovered all the secrets this town holds, I fear, and soon it will be time to journey westward once more. The final stop in this town of hidden treasures and ancient mysteries will be a gas station, where the MVoD will drink deeply of the enchanted elixir that is the lifeblood of Monroeville, PA.

Travelogue: Monroeville, PA

I was in bed by 11:00 last night, which is apparently four hours earlier than the rest of the team. We all ate at Fat Heads, but I bailed early in order to get one more dose of Advil Cold & Sinus and seven hours of fitful sleep. I will say that the Pittsburgh skyline after dark is very nice when approaching on Interstate 376, and the Bay of Pigs sandwich was pretty tasty, if a bit spicier than I anticipated.

While eating raisin bran and drinking orange juice in the hotel breakfast nook this morning I saw (but did not hear) part of a morning show piece concerning out-of-control snakes on a plane, presumably in Florida. They showed the results of a confrontation between a 6-foot alligator and a 13-foot python wherein both critters died; you may recall the incident from last year. That’s just the sort of random stuff that’s likely to make it into my dreams tonight. If I wake up tomorrow morning to find that my pillows have eaten me, I’ll be all sorts of upset.

Today and tomorrow, we’ll be in the Monroeville office. I’ve now visited five locations in Monroeville: the hotel and the adjoining Outback Steakhouse, Eckerd pharmacy (Riiiiiiicola!), John Harvard‘s microbrewery and restaurant, and GameStop (X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse: $17.99 used). Though I’m far from an expert on the area, I feel fairly comfortable declaring that the traffic around here is off the colloquial chain. When one is mired in the seemingly endless river of fiberglass and sheet metal, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the length of time a given light remains red can only be calculated by measuring radioactive decay in the vehicle’s occupants.

On the bright side, we figured out the quick (if not intuitive) method to get the hotel television to use the auxiliary RCA input jacks. This has resulted in many of my curvaceously polygonal avatars falling before the awesome power of Kilik‘s mighty man-stick.

On the not-so-bright side, my coughs have chunks. I’m pretty sure I have a pallor, too. In my experience, there are three types of people who can be said to have a pallor: goths, the sickly, and corpses. As I have no inclination to dye my hair black and begin listening to The Cure, I’m pretty sure that eliminates the possibility that I’ve somehow contracted the goth (which doesn’t necessarily preclude the goth from being communicable). Also, I’m definitely coughing, which is a form of breathing I guess, so I’m probably not dead. I am, therefore, the sickly. Excuse me while I rasp pathetically and mewl about “the vapors.”

Travelogue: Penn Hills, PA

Penn Hills and Monroeville are both suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to the local news, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season opener yesterday resulted in significant employee absenteeism and cost local businesses a number of dollars that would probably have left a lasting impression had I not been hacking up my left lung at the time.

My other apprentice and I are in Penn Hills and Monroeville for the purpose of a software upgrade pilot, I’m coughing up gobbets of rainbow-hued phlegm and I’ve all but lost the ability to speak. When you put it all together, that spells F-U-N.

I can’t tell you a whole lot about Penn Hills or Monroeville, except that there’s an Outback Steakhouse next door to the Hampton Inn in Monroeville. The Outback (and the nearby Max & Erma’s) both close before 11:00 on Sunday night, so 10:09pm isn’t the ideal time to arrive in Monroeville if you’re hungry. Also, trying to take a left onto Rodi Road between 5 and 6pm is a fool’s errand.

Last, but not least, trying to get the hotel television to use the auxiliary inputs is a royal pain in the ass. This is important because my Xbox connects to the auxiliary input, and I’d rather play Soul Caliber II than try to find something to watch on hotel cable. I can’t watch television without TiVo anymore, anyway.

Podcast Stuff: Recording the Round Table, Addicted to 7th Son

Last night Mick Bradley, Max Massey, Chris Miller and I recorded episode 2-4 of The Round Table podcast, with special guest host J.C. Hutchins. I expect the episode will be available for download in the next day or two.

J.C. Hutchins is the author of the podiobook 7th Son: Descent, a tale of assassination, conspiracy and cloning. Given the subject of my 2004 NaNoWriMo novel, Bubba, I suspected that this might be right up my alley, so I subscribed to 7th Son: Descent at Podiobooks.com. I’m three chapters into the book and it has not disappointed in the slightest. The story opens with the assassination of the President of the United States by a four-year-old boy and launches directly into the abduction of seven men from all walks of life who all turn out to be clones of an eighth man. How are the assassination and a top secret cloning project related? I have no idea, but J.C. Hutchins has got me right every author wants their audience: I am hooked and I want to find out what the hell is going on.

After we finished recording the show, Chris and I recorded some new bumpers for Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast and one for Dragon’s Landing that I really hope Chuck and Lonnie play in their next episode. We had a blast recording the thing, and I think it turned out really well.

Chris and I also began work on a little side project we’ve codenamed Free Eggroll. I’ll release details as we declassify them.