Sitestuff: Blue Zinfandel

I’ve tentatively chosen Blue Zinfandel 2.0 by Brian Gardner as the base theme for the blog. I had about a half-dozen themes selected as possibilities; Blue Zinfandel is the one Laura liked best. One thing Laura doesn’t like is the typesetting in the header and the general lack of color throughout. I can see what she means, but I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet.

A couple of days ago, I read an article over at The Thinking Blog about David Airey, a creative designer and blogger who updated his site design based on feedback from his readers. I’d like to do something similar here. Unfortunately, I’m not a graphic designer and my HTML/PHP/CSS skills are intermediate, at best. Nonetheless, if you’d like to provide feedback and suggestions, I’ll see what I can do to make things better.

Sitestuff: Design Changes

If you’ve been visiting the site over the past couple of days, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve been playing around with different WordPress themes. If you haven’t been visiting the site over the past couple of days, are you trying to hurt my feelings? I’ve been very happy with the Tarski theme for the past six months or so, but I’m starting to feel that the site has outgrown the single sidebar.

Alas, there’s no 3-column version of Tarski at this time, so if I want a third column I’ll either have to dive into the code behind the Tarski theme or select a new theme with the desired number of columns. I tried Mollio for a day or so, but I’m not thrilled with how it renders in Internet Exploder. I’ve got a couple other potential themes but each one seems to have one little annoying thing about it that brings me back to Tarski.

I’ll probably keep messing with things over the next couple of days and when (if) I settle on a new theme I’ll post again looking for feedback.

Music: Dylan Hears a Who

Now here’s something you don’t see (or hear) every day: Seven Dr. Seuss poems — including “Green Eggs and Ham”, “Cat in the Hat” and my second favorite Seuss poem ever, “Too Many Daves” — as Bob Dylan might have performed them in the 1960s.

Not only can you listen to all the songs, you can download a ZIP file containing the individual MP3 files. You can also download jewel case inserts and a CD label. Truly excellent.

Kudos to Eye-Berried Pall (whoever they may be) for creating this and thanks to Jason Penney for linking to it.

Welcome to Parenthood: Fourteen Months

The boy is dangerous. They all sense it, why can’t you?

When Jedi padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke those words to his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, he was referring to Anakin Skywalker, whose passion and anger would eventually turn him to the Dark Side.Or perhaps he was trying to warn George Lucas about casting Jake Lloyd as the boy who would grow up to become Darth Vader. That is a discussion for another time. My young apprentice has not yet started down the path that will forever dominate his destiny, but since we began weaning him off baby food and feeding him “real food”, Laura and I have witnessed the Dark Side.

I’m talking about poop. Specifically, the ever-intensifying foulness of that which darkens the diaper. In the beginning, the diaper biscuits were largely odorless, but as we slowly change the nature of what goes into Kyle’s mouth — abandoning bland jars of baby food in favor of more interesting fare like spaghetti with meat sauce, ice cream and peanut butter — so do we unwittingly change the nature of what comes out the other end.

Where the diaper change was once a thirty second affair involving — at worst — a vaguely unpleasant odor, a few moist wipes and the danger of an unexpected golden fountain, today the affair might potentially involve an eye-watering, tongue-shriveling pungence, a half-dozen or more moist wipes, a kicking, flailing child whose mood changes from unbridled glee to unrestrained outrage and back four times in as many seconds, and the danger of an unexpected golden fountain.

Diaper changes are often preceded by a faint odor that inevitably leads to a period of denial, wherein the parent who must ultimately perform the task attempts to assure the other parent that the growing stench is “just gas”. To be fair, Kyle does seem to be propelled by rapid-fire flatulence at times. As with most denial, this is a defense mechanism, for with every diaper change there is also the threat of that most disastrous and unpleasant event, the Blowout.

The Blowout is exactly what it sounds like: the capacity, fit or structural integrity of the diaper is exceeded by the viscosity, volume or sheer tenacity of that which fills it, resulting in failure of the containment field. When this happens, plasma is vented into space, Yes, it’s a euphemism. There are only so many times I’ll use the word “poop” here. necessitating special hazardous materials cleanup processes. It ain’t pretty.

Thankfully, there is more life with my young apprentice than the occasional journey to the Dark Side of the Diaper. In early January, he made a sudden transition from crawling around on his belly to pulling himself up on furniture and “cruising” around the living room, dining room and anywhere else he could get. The amount of stuff he could reach tripled and end tables were no longer safe havens for keys, iPods, cell phones and the like.

Right around the time Kyle started “cruising” he also, much to our surprise, began climbing stairs, which necessitated the use of a second baby gate in the living room (the first preventing a fall into the downstairs hallway). Now, when it is time for a diaper change, a bath (one of his favorite activities) or a nap, Laura and I simply remove the second baby gate and follow Kyle upstairs. He has not yet learned that sometimes a climb up the steps means it is time for a nap (by far his least favorite activity).

As Kyle’s mobility has increased, so has his curiosity. The farther an object is out of his reach, the greater the lengths he will go to retrieve it. Objects with many buttons are particularly alluring, as the connection between pressing of buttons and something interesting happening is one that Kyle made several months ago. The object he most desires is the remote control, and if it is on the back of the couch or on the bookshelf near the couch, he will climb over Laura and myself to reach his prize.

When not attempting to steal the remote control or “pet” the cats, Kyle researches new ways to foil the latches on our kitchen cabinets. His library is vast, and he will sometimes roll around in a pile of Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street books, much like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin. While the wealth of knowledge at his disposal may not help much in the realm of breaking and entering kitchen cabinets, Kyle has learned much about the BTFD (Busytown Fire Department), the challenges inherent in keeping oversized pets, the folly of trying to touch the moon, and the ticklishness of crocodiles; information which will undoubtedly prove valuable in years to come.

The next big adventure for Kyle will be walking without hanging on to a couch or coffee table. As with most of his advances, I have mixed feelings about Kyle walking. I am at once excited to see him learning and growing every day and saddened that it seems to be happening so quickly.

Just this week, Laura and I stopped giving Kyle a bottle before bed, and I felt strangely wistful when I put him to bed. I miss cradling him in my arm as he drinks the day’s final bottle (which, in the past month, had become the day’s only bottle). I’ll miss his Army-style belly crawl when he starts walking, and I’ll miss his enthusiastic chanting of “dada” when he really starts to talk.

I won’t miss changing the Diaper of the Dark Side, though. Not one bit.

Netstuff: The 50 (or so) Most Important People on the Web

PC World has published a list of The 50 Most Important People on the Web. There are 62 names on the list. It seems that folks like Google ((You don’t really need a link to Google, do you?)) executives Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin only count as a third of a person each. Good news for TWiT‘s Leo Laporte and Digg‘s Kevin Rose, though, they both count as a full person. So does Tina Tequila, a singer/model/actress who apparently has 1.6 million “friends” on MySpace, which must make for one hell of a Christmas card list.

I’m not on the list, but that’s a topic for another day.

Netstuff: Stranger Things premieres with “Sacred Cow”

Stranger Things is the brainchild of writer/director Earl Newton. With the help of some very talented people, Earl has created a free monthly television series that can be downloaded with software like Democracy and iTunes and viewed on your PC, iPod, or other media player.

Each month, Stranger Things will present a 30-minute story “about ordinary people stumbling into the secret worlds of the demons, aliens, shamans, and angels. The stories expose the bizarre and the extraordinary things happening all around us, everyday.”

The first episode, “Sacred Cow”, is based on an original story by Scott Sigler, author of the podcast novels Earthcore, Ancestor, Infection and The Rookie. In the realm of podcast novels, Sigler is arguably king; he was recently featured in a New York Times online article ((Newman, Andrew Adam. “Authors Find Their Voice, and Audience, in PodcastsNew York Times 1 March 2007. 1 March 2007)) about Podiobooks.com, where his first three novels are available as free, serialized downloads. If you’re the type who prefers ink-and-paper novels, Earthcore is available in paperback and Ancestor is slated to be released in paperback next month.

Gordo Gordon (David Chancellor) is an autistic genius who has been in the care of Father Ralph Antonini (Elliot Stegall) for the past twenty years. When Gordo learns of research proving that prayer causes specific chemical changes in the brain, he creates a device that can “see” and record the flow of energy created when the parishioners in Fr. Antonini’s church pray during mass.

When Gordo discovers that the prayer energy is focused upward by the high, pointed ceiling in the church, his quest to discover where the energy goes uncovers a horrible truth that could undermine the faith of billions around the world.

“Sacred Cow” is an excellent debut for Stranger Things, showcasing the level of quality that Newton and company can deliver. From a disturbing story to fantastic special effects, an eerie theme song by cellist Zoe Keating and solid performances by the cast, the show’s production value rivals that of most anything found on network television today. I’ll definitely be tuning in next month for the second episode, titled “Discontent”, about a man whose wife wants him to clone her dead mother.

Game Night: 27 February 2007

Marvel Ultimate AllianceThe evening began with Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which may be the last great game for the Xbox Classic. Miscellaneous G™ and I continued our assault on Atlantis with our Femme Fatale squad (Invisible Woman, Marvel Girl, Spider Woman and Storm). S.H.I.E.L.D. sent the heroes to investigate a coup in the undersea kingdom that appeared to have ties to Doctor Doom’s new villainous organization. The heroes found that Attuma, a warlord who believes he is fated to rule Atlantis, had stolen the throne from Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Attuma was using sonic emitters — devices apparently supplied by Doctor Doom — to play havoc with the Atlanteans’ emotions and turn them against Namor and all surface dwellers.

At about 9:30, our special guest gamer, Gus, arrived. We turned off the Xbox, examined the vast array of board and card games at our disposal (most contained within Miscellaneous G™’s awesome Geek Box) and Monsters Menace America, which none of us had ever played (in fact, it had not yet been removed from its cellophane womb).

Monsters Menace America
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Monsters Menace America is a board game in which players control giant monsters rampaging through North America. Each player also controls the deployment of one branch of the military. The object of the game is to gain health and Infamy by stomping cities, military bases and other locations (typically tourist attractions and monuments such as Carhenge, Graceland and Mount Rushmore) in preparation for the Monster Challenge, a monster-on-monster brawl that determines which monster reigns supreme.

We started out slowly, fumbling through the rules a bit and not certain what our strategies should be, especially around the deployment and movement of military units. I played Toxicor, a towering radioactive purple blob, and controlled the Air Force’s fighter jets and cruise missiles. Toxicor first appeared near Lake Ontario and stomped all over Cleveland and Detroit, completely ignoring the smorgasbord of cities along the eastern seaboard.

In Florida, the monocular menace known as Zorb (played by Gus, who also controlled the Army) trashed Tampa and mauled Miami, then started making its way up the east coast toward Boston and New York. Each stomped city grants the stomping monster additional health points, and larger cities provide big bonuses. Zorb was heading for a veritable feast and there was nothing to slow its progress, save a handful of National Guard units.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Gigantis (an oversized praying mantis played by Laura) destroyed Los Angeles, Phoenix and several military bases, despite the brave Air Force pilots’ valiant efforts to stop the insectile marauder.

Miscellaneous G™ quickly learned that Megaclaw’s lair near Montana wasn’t an ideal starting point, due to a lack of major metropolitan areas in the region. His plan to amass Infamy tokens (which could be traded for extra attacks during combat) was working well as he demolished Carhenge and other nearby attractions, but Megaclaw’s health was not rising as quickly as those monsters who were decimating the coastal regions. Unfortunately, Miscellaneous G™ had to leave before the game was over, so the hideous Megaclaw was retired, as were the Navy’s fighters and nuclear submarines.

Realizing too late that Zorb was on his way to becoming unstoppable, Laura and I sent our combined military forces to the east coast. Again and again Zorb was attacked by Air Force cruise missiles and Marine Corps rocket launchers and fighter jets, but city after city fell to the creature’s deadly gaze and it grew ever more powerful. Even the mighty Mecha-Monster, a special unit I drew late in the game, proved to be little more than a minor annoyance to Zorb the Inexorable.

After twenty locations had been stomped, the Monster Challenge began. Zorb challenged Toxicor, who was sorely outclassed. The poor toxic blob had a mere 8 health points (not to mention zero Infamy tokens) compared to Zorb’s 40, and was soon reduced to a purple stain that stretched from Syracuse to Rochester. Gigantis put up a much better fight, cashing in six Infamy tokens and beating Zorb to within an inch (or perhaps a dozen Health points) of his life. The awesome might of the terrible eye proved too much for the massive mantis, however, and Gigantis was ultimately destroyed.

I have to admit that I completely dropped the ball in terms of strategy with Monsters Menace America. I don’t know what the hell Toxicor was doing, but it sure wasn’t collecting Infamy tokens and increasing his health in preparation for the Monster Challenge. Granted, I had a few unlucky rolls after destroying Detroit and Cleveland that resulted in Toxicor getting almost no benefit from their destruction, but it was foolish not to sweep over to New England and start wreaking havoc.

Even though my strategy was lacking (okay, nonexistent), I still enjoyed Monsters Menace America a great deal and would definitely like to play it again. It’s a welcome addition to Game Night, which is itself mutating into something new; once 4+ hours of video gaming every other Tuesday after work, its scope has expanded to include board and card games and a growing list of attendees. An epic game of Arkham Horror looms on the horizon, but Doctor Doom and his Masters of Evil cannot be allowed to succeed in whatever fiendish plot the masked monarch of Latveria is hatching.

Netstuff: Podiobooks article in the New York Times online

There is an article in the Books section of the New York Times online today about one of my favorite websites, Podiobooks.com.

Podiobooks combines the concepts of audiobooks and podcasts to deliver free, full-length novels (fiction and non-fiction) in regular, bite-sized installments to your favorite podcatcher (I use iTunes).

After signing up for a free account, you can browse the site and subscribe to more than 90 titles. Once you’ve subscribed, chapters from the novel(s) are delivered to your podcatcher on a weekly basis. Feeds are customizable, so if you want to receive chapters more frequently you can tweak the delivery settings to meet your preference.

With most podcasts, when you subscribe your podcatcher downloads the latest episode; if you go to J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son website right now and subscribe to his feed, you’ll get the latest episode of the second novel in his trilogy, which is definitely not where you want to begin listening.

On Podiobooks, when you subscribe to Hutchins’ first novel, 7th Son: Descent, (and you should), you get a custom feed that starts from the beginning of the book and delivers a new chapter on whatever schedule you like. That’s what makes Podiobooks unique.

Read the article, then go sign up for an account at Podiobooks.com. If you want some recommendations, I can suggest a few titles:

  • Ancestor by Scott Sigler.Am I the only one who finds the idea of Scott Sigler recording in a closet absolutely hilarious? I hope not. I want a poster made of that photo! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read the New York Times article, dammit! Most of the action Sigler’s second podcast novel takes place on a fictional island in Lake Superior, where scientists are hard at work creating beastly critters that want to eat us all. I enjoyed the hell out of this book, but I have one bone to pick with Mr. Sigler: No self-respecting Yooper would name his dog “Pasty”.
  • 7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins. I’ve talked about this book on KJToo.com and on The Round Table more times than I can count, and with good reason: it rocks. After a four-year-old boy kills the President of the United States, seven men are suddenly ripped away from their ordinary lives to discover that they are all clones of the man responsible assassination, and only by working together can they stop him.
  • The Red Panda Adventures by Decoder Ring Theater. Radio drama in the style of The Shadow and The Green Hornet. The Red Panda and The Flying Squirrel use clever gadgets, hypnosis and fisticuffs to fight crime on the streets of Toronto. By day, the costumed vigilantes are actually one of the city’s wealthiest menUnless I missed something, The Red Panda’s alter ego is never named throughout Season One. I only realized this about halfway into the season, so I’ll admit I wasn’t listening for the name in the first few episodes. Very clever. and his sassy driver, Kit Baxter.
  • Voices: New Media Fiction edited by Mur Lafferty. A collection of previously-podcasted short stories from authors like Cory Doctorow, Tee Morris, James Patrick Kelly and Patrick McLean (whose “Death of a Dishwasher” is one of the collection’s highlights).
  • The Curious Education of Epitome Quirkstandard by A.F. Harrold. How to describe this one? At the risk of insulting the author and the citizens of the United Kingdom, I’ll call it “very British”. Epitome Quirkstandard is an English dandy who — thanks to World War I — finds himself without a cadre of servants waiting on him hand and foot. Simone Crepuscular ran away from home to join the circus and accidentally joined the army, instead. After a long tour in India, Crepuscular leaves the service and travels across Asia and Europe, eventually returning to England where he self-publishes an astonishing number of pamphlets that contain the length and breadth of his considerable knowledge and experience. When the clueless Quirkstandard passes out near Crepuscular’s pamphlet shop, it marks the beginning of his curious eduction.