Friday, November 28, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cybertron Primus (Black Friday edition)

In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as "Black Friday." The idea is that the day after Thanksgiving is supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year (this usually isn't technically correct--that honor going to one of the weekends just before Christmas--but it's certainly near the top of the list every year). Merchants often try to take advantage of the high volume of potential customers by doing special promotions. In 2006, Wal-Mart did one such "Black Friday" promotion by releasing the then-current Cybertron Primus toy with four previously unreleased Mini-Cons as a bonus. Since I didn't yet have the Primus figure, I took advantage of the offer.

Like Unicron, this is a figure that homages Transformers history going back all the way to Generation One. As the story went back then (in the Marvel comics), Unicron is a "god" of chaos from whose existence predates our own universe, and whose only function is destruction. When our current universe was created, it sought to defend itself by creating a corresponding "god" of light, called Primus. They battled for ages, never able to destroy the other. Eventually, Primus tricked Unicron by fleeing into an asteroid. Unicron did likewise, believeing that Primus had found some advantage in this celestial body. But what really happened was that both were now trapped in their respective asteroid prisons. Over time, both found themselves able to shape the worlds in which they had become embedded. Unicron became a giant planet capable of consuming other worlds and of transforming into a gargantuan robot form. Primus, on the other hand, became the planet Cybertron, homeworld of the Transformers.

This origin was modified a few times over by the time the Unicron toy was created for the Armada line, and again by the time Primus was actually created as a toy for the Cybertron line a few years later. For one thing, the Marvel comics never gave any indication that Cyberton/Primus (or "Cybertron Primus," as the toy was called, although that gives the impression that the two-word phrase is the character's name) was able, itself, to transform into a robot. Rather, the origin at the time suggested that Primus' creations (the Autobots and Decepticons) were given abilities that mimicked Unicron's ability to transform, implying that Primus himself was unable to do so. But this toy transforms, and in order to do that, you need this device, called the Omega Lock. You don't really need to have the Cyber Planet Keys shown here in order to make it work, and in fact, I don't have the specific keys you're "supposed" to have if one goes by the storyline (I never got any "Giant Planet" toys, and therefore don't have the key for the Giant Planet).

Basically, the Omega Lock serves as a key to unlock certain parts of Primus' transformation to robot mode. It does a few other things, too. For example, here you can see how the Omega Lock lights up when you stick in the hole at the top of Primus' planet form (although, technically, this is still supposed to be the planet Cybertron, it's still hard for me to reconcile this ball with the planet I always knew in Generation One, and it's easier for me just to refer to this as the "planet mode" instead of calling it "Cybertron." Just bear with me...).

If you move the key forward, parts of the planet slide away and two massive cannons flip out. With a couple of slight modifications, this may be considered an "attack planet" mode (The instructions don't actually give it a name). I shudder to think of what all these transformations must do to any Transformers unfortunate enough to still be on the planet's surface!

But I'm nowhere close to done yet! When preparing this entry, the instructions reminded me of yet another mode that I'd completely forgotten about, and will likely never, ever use again. This is Primus' "battle station mode." I'm not at all sure what viable function a planetary body needs with a "station" mode, nor can figure out how this mode is supposed to be demonstrably more "battle ready" than the "attack planet" mode earlier. Indeed, it seems to me that the Death Star did just fine without constantly reconfiguring. Or, at least, it used to....

All this finally gets us to Primus' robot mode. As planetary Transformers go, I actually like this transformation better than either Unicron or the Darth Vader/Death Star. It's an actually spherical planet that turns into a robot with a minimum of shell-forming. Not that a robot mode at such a scale makes much sense, of course. I mean, with Unicron, whose purpose was destruction, you could at least get iconic images like this one of Unicron about to rip into the surface of Cybertron (Note: at the time of the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, Primus as a character wasn't even established, much less the idea that the planet Cybertron was Primus!). But what's a "good guy" planet-sized robot supposed to do?

As is typical of Transformers toys of this size, Primus has gimmicks besides the actual transformations. Here, for example, we that Primus has robotic arms embedded within the giant robot's feet, perhaps intended to interact with Transformers at something somewhat more closely resembling their actual scale (although still way too large to be useful, realistically speaking).

If you plug a Cyber Planet Key into Primus' arms, they each can release a double-barreled weapon that, presumably, can be used to attack planetary-scale threats.

So, that's Primus. So far, we've covered the basic toy, which any non-Black Friday-shopping fan would have been able to pick up. The "Black Friday extra" was this set of four Mini-Cons. From left to right, these are Strongarm, Offshoot, Knockdown, and Nightscream.

These four Mini-Cons were released with the "Black Friday" Primus set for the first time, but were made more widely available when the "Classics" line came out more properly a few months later. However, when the Classics versions of these Mini-Cons came out, some of the names were changed. Offshoot became Dirt Rocket, and Nightscream became Thunderwing. Nightscream can be especially confusing, because an entirely different toy, sold with the now-named-Thunderwing toy, was called Nightscream.

No one ever said that keeping Transformers toys straight was easy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Being Thankful in All Things

There's a verse in 1 Thessalonians that is often pulled out at this time of year:
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
When circumstances are good, of course this instruction isn't difficult to follow. But when times are harder, as I expect they are for many this Thanksgiving season, I expect that it's not only hard to follow this word, but the advice can sound both unrealistic and trite. We all know the usual platitudes: "You should be thankful for life itself!" "Everything you have is a gift from God!" And these are true. But if a person doesn't think much of his/her life, or doesn't see anything good that he/she has, hearing platitudes like this can be more than a little offensive.

Sometimes it helps to remember that Paul himself didn't exactly have an easy life. Indeed, his physical well-being might well have been better had he never come to know Jesus Christ. By following Christ, Paul found himself subject to imprisonment, beatings, a shipwreck, and was almost certainly executed for his attempts to spread the gospel. But to say that a person who suffered in these ways told others to "give thanks in all circumstances" isn't necessarily to say that "if he could do it, anyone could." We could just as easily claim that Paul was insane!

Whether or not Paul was insane, or whether we should follow his advice in Scripture, is ultimately up to each individual believer to decide. For me, it helps to note that the words are not "give thanks for all circumstances," as if to emphasize the fact that God can use even a horrible situation to some ultimate good (I did find one translation that attempted such a rendering, but I think it's just plain wrong at this point. All 19 of the other translations I consulted are in general agreement). Even if I'm thankful for that ultimate good, I don't think I should be thankful for the horrible situation itself. Rather, Paul says "give thanks in all circumstances." Yes, times are hard. But we have ultimate hope. God cares about us, and promises to help us. God proved this by sending Jesus for us. Even if things are hard now, we can give thanks for that hope.

It definitely takes effort to give thanks in all circumstances. It can be hard to remember the evidences of God's love and care for us. But that's also why this holiday exists. It's not really there so that we can spend time visiting with family and eating turkey, as good as those things can be. The Thanksgiving holiday exists because there are times when we need to be reminded that we still have things to be thankful for, even if times are rough. I pray that we will have eyes to see those good things, that we will have hope in what God will continue to do for us, and can find ways to give thanks for it all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Doctor Who at 45

Yesterday was Doctor Who's 45th Anniversary. There's not a whole lot to say that a lot of other folks won't be saying more of, and better, but I couldn't just let this kind of an anniversary go by without so much as a mention.

But while I'm at it, I should include a link to the web comic "The Ten Doctors." Yes, it's got pretty much every fanboy dream crammed into the story, but it's surprisingly well done for fan fiction, and is worth a look. Be warned, it's already made it up to 145 parts, so you have a fair bit of catching up to do if you want to go back to the beginning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's Not Just True for Biblical Materials: All Translation Is Interpretation

This past weekend on NPR, I heard a report on some of the issues inherent in translating works of literature from one language to another. Although there were no issues of religious doctrine involved, some of the comments sounded remarkably similar to concerns over biblical interpretation.
"There is no such thing as a literal translation, by nature of choosing one word or another, you influence the next step," (Bea Basso, an Italian translator) says.
If people are saying this about works for which lots and lots of native speakers can still be found, just how much worse must it be for works that are at least 2000 years old?

Of course, finding native speakers can be a problem for more recently-written works, too.
...regional linguistic differences can factor into a work, too — which is why Basso (who's from Venice) found it odd when she was asked to translate plays by Neapolitan author Eduardo De Filippo.

"Every region in Italy is so dramatically different ... the dialect, the customs, the food," says Basso. "Eduardo De Filippo uses an old dialect [from] the late 50s, so not even my Neapolitan friends would always know, they would have to ask their grandmothers. That happened several times."

This just underscores what I say all the time: "all translation is interpretation." There's simply no way around having to make choices as to which word most accurately represents the original intent. And one person may well make different (significantly different) choices than another person.

Here's another example:
"Rabelais, the author of this very strange book, ends the chapter with a sputtering iteration. I believe it's something like 43 different words in French for s- - -,"* says Raffel. "My problem was finding 43 different words because English is not so plentiful in these things."
I wonder if the French have greater or less difficulty finding an appropriate translation for σκυβαλα as found in Philippians 3:4b-14?

*That's not my censorship. NPR did that themselves, both in the text link and in the article heard on the radio.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: World's Smallest Transformers Thrust

In 2003, Takara developed a new line of Transformers designed to take advantage of the ever-present popularity of the Generation One characters. This line is referred to by fans as "World's Smallest Transformers" (the TFWiki indicates that this name is erroneous, preferring "Smallest Transforming Transformers," but I have to admit that I've never heard that phrase, and since we're talking about a translation from the Japanese anyway, I'm going to defer to widespread use over strict accuracy just this once. However, instead of writing out "World's Smallest Transformers" each time, I'll just use "WST" hereafter). These figures were sold blindpacked, meaning that you actually didn't know what toy you were getting until you actually opened the box. This is a strange concept to most Americans, but is actually fairly common on such small items in Japan. Still, if one thinks of these figures as being sold similar to how trading cards are sold, and how people will buy up multiple packs hoping to get a particularly rare card, you've got the concept pretty well.

WST Thrust Vehicle ModeWST Thrust is not one of the rare figures, but rather is a figure you're likely to get lots and lots of copies of if you buy boxes of WSTs hoping to find a less common one (say, Jazz or Bluestreak, for example). This toy is, basically, a scaled-down version of the Generation One original (as, indeed, are all WSTs). Thrust's modified F-15 fighter jet mode is shown here alongside a quarter to give you an idea of just how small this toy is. I should note, for the sake of accuracy, that the square "heat sticker" seen on the figure isn't something that the toy came with originally, but rather is something I bought from Reprolabels to evoke the idea of a "small version of the G1 toy" even more.

WST Thrust Robot modeThrust transforms almost exactly the same as his larger-scale counterpart, although the WST toys tend to rely on pegs rather than screws and such, so parts are a bit more likely to just pop off. No real harm, though. Just plug the part back in and you're good to go. Cartoon-purists often like to flip the plane's nosecone up on top of the head to give Thrust the "conehead" appearance he had back in the original cartoon, but I've never cared for that look at all. It looks pretty dippy on the cartoon, and even worse on the toys, which were simply not designed with this transformation in mind.

WST Thrust Custom BoxSince these toys were sold blindpacked, the box they originally came is pretty generic, and doesn't really make for a good display item. For this reason, I decided to make my own. I've shown this box before, but here's a shot of just my custom WST Thrust box on its own. I still have the Photoshop files in case anyone would like to try their own skills, but be warned that the files are quite large, so if you have a specific character in mind, let me know when you try to contact me by e-mail, so I can send you just the most appropriate files, rather than clog your e-mail server more than necessary.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reflections on Stewardship and Giving

At most churches I've ever been a part of, the season just before Thanksgiving is devoted to Stewardship. In a lot of cases, this is translated as "that time when the church doesn't only ask you to put money in the offering plate, but asks you to tell them how much money you're going to put into the offering plate over the next year." Needless to say, such a characterization makes Stewardship season somewhat unpopular. This sentiment seems to be shared by membership and leadership alike.

Especially given the economic difficulties throughout the news these days, with so many people not even sure how secure their jobs are, I expect that the difficulty is even more pronounced in 2008 than it is most years. But, as hard as it is for most of us, times are tight for churches, too. And since churches do depend on donations from the people who attend, there's little avoiding the need for churches to ask for those donations.

There are, of course, Biblical instructions on giving to God, but I'm not really looking to argue whether or not people should be giving tithes (generally understood to be 10% of one's income) or some other "expected" formula. Rather, I'm thinking about how a church that wishes to be sensitive to the needs of its people (including those to whom giving any amount, let alone 10%, might well be an excessive burden) yet also faithful to the mission God has given to it, not to mention just faithfully paying whatever staff works there (Let's be honest. It takes money to do these things, and besides my reflections on this matter in the past, I'm reminded of Luke 10:7, which tells us that "workers deserve their wages") manages to juggle these responsibilities.

I'm a strong believer that how one asks for money can make all the difference. I've seen some attempts that were downright insulting, and which certainly didn't encourage me to give, no matter how much the money might have been needed. I think that a successful request for funds (or, more properly, pledges to give in the future) must acknowledge that giving can be difficult, and won't lay on the guilt too thick (there are those who argue that tithing, let alone giving, is an obligation. Even so, I don't think guilt is the way to go if you're looking for people to actually do it!). Moreover, I think that giving is (or at least, should be) an act of worship, and so a Stewardship letter does well to acknowledge this.

My wife was asked to compose a Stewardship letter for the church in which she works, and I think she successfully kept all these concerns in proper balance. With her permission, I share the text of that letter below:
The month of October is a time when we give greater attention to what is commonly called “Stewardship.” While considering how to wisely and thoughtfully give of our money, time, and abilities is a year-round activity and an integral part of our life of faith, October is when we as a community will consider this more deeply together. On November 2, you will be invited to respond to the invitation to be a part of our vision of “Building Up, Reaching Out” by making a financial commitment to the ministries of (our church) for the coming year.

As I write this, I am particularly mindful of headlines these days. Talk of money is in the air in unprecedented ways, and many of us are doing an extra review of our budgets to make sure ends meet. While talk of Stewardship may seem insensitive at this time, please consider this season an invitation to consider how our faith and our money relate to each other rather than as a burden. Committing a portion of our financial resources to the Church is an important way to recognize the connection between what we believe and what we live. If you have been especially hard hit by current financial circumstances, please consider this letter instead an invitation to receive prayer, the love and concern of our community, and the further pastoral support that (our church) can offer you.

Our Stewardship theme—“Building Up, Reaching Out,”—sums up a critical aspect of what it means to be church. Through our learning and response to Scripture, through our sharing the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and through sharing life’s ups and downs, we become able to reach out and offer Christ’s love to our community. While pledging is about giving money, it is also on a deeper level about giving of ourselves. Pledging is also the primary way that we address the very real budgetary needs that must be met in order for (our church) to continue its vital ministries. Every pledge towards this end helps, big or small. Thank you for taking the time to consider how you can make a commitment to the ministries of (our church).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Choosing Bible Translations

Scot McKnight has a piece today on choosing the "best" translation of the Bible. Like other pieces I've read/studied over the years, McKnight starts out by asking the question, "What is my purpose in reading the Bible?" This may seem like an obvious question, but give it some thought. Are you reading to study specific passages? Are you reading for comprehension of the Bible's "big concepts"? Are you looking for a translation appropriate to use in the pulpit or some other public speaking venue? Different translations may well be better for some of these tasks than others. I'm glad to see that, rather than just leave us with that question, McKnight actually does give something of a list, suggesting possible translations for different goals. It's worth a read.

This discussion got me thinking about the various translations I've used over the years. The first translation with which I have any solid memory is the "Good News" translation, sometimes referred to as "Today's English Version." This was the Bible that was always in the pews of the church in which I grew up, and almost anyone who has used this version remembers it for the quaint little line drawings used as illustrations throughout. This version is definitely a product of its time (the 1960s and '70s), and I don't know how common it is these days (although I know it's still published). Although the publishers insist that it is a translation, rather than merely a paraphrase, it's a fairly loose translation, and I really don't recommend it for serious study anymore, although I expect it's probably fine for readability if you're just looking to understand what the Bible's about in a "broad strokes" sense. I notice that McKnight doesn't mention this version himself, although it does get a brief "shout out" in the comments.

When I was in college, the NIV was the translation that was "in vogue," perhaps because of its strong evangelical ties. I still consider it a good translation, although I agree with the sentiment behind the comment of one of my Bible professors of the time, who would often refer to it as the "Nearly Inerrant Version." Not because he actually thought it was, but rather because it was so uncritically accepted by so many. It's still a very good translation (he thought so, too), but it must be remembered that it's not perfect. No translation is.

The PC(USA) uses the NRSV in many of its churches and conference settings, and it is a rather good translation. One of the benefits to it is that it is one of the first translations to seriously consider the question of whether gender-exclusive language accurately conveys the sense of the original text to the modern reader. Of course, the fact that it does try to render certain terms in gender-neutral terms has caused this translation to come under attack from some, such as Wayne Grudem, who consider such rendering an unfaithful translation philosophy. His basic argument, as I recall it, is that it is inappropriate to add a layer of the translator's own interpretation to the text. Put another way, even if a gender-specific term may have been intended to refer to both men and women in the original text, it is inappropriate to "remove" that gender-specificity by translating it with a gender-neutral term in English when a more "precise" gender-specific term in English exists. Defenders of gender-neutral translations (such as myself) do so on the basis that, if readers see a gender-specific term in our time and culture, they are less likely to understand that the term was intended to include both men and women in the original time and culture, and it is important that such barriers to comprehending what the Bible is trying to convey should be removed when such can be done faithfully.

In my lectionary reflections (both here in the past and, now, over at the Presbyterian Bloggers site), I tend to use the TNIV. The TNIV is also a "gender-neutral" translation, but I think it is a bit more restrained than the NRSV on this matter, while also making a few other interpretive decisions that other translations may not, in the effort to maintain readability for the modern reader. On the whole, I consider it a more "literal" translation than the NRSV, while still being free to translate whole phrases (rather than word-for-word) to convey concepts more clearly to the reader. Besides the "gender-neutral" controversy, faithful Christians do still have differing opinions on whether these decisions are the right ones, but all that means is that it is still good to have multiple translations available if one wants to seriously study the Scripture.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: God Ginrai/Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor (Reissue)

I confess that I was a little bit surprised to see that more than 50% of those who responded to my poll last week asked to have the God Ginrai reissue featured, but I suppose I shouldn't have been. As my brother pointed out, it was the only Generation One option available. This toy was originally made available in the United States in 1988 as Powermaster Optimus Prime. The Japanese version of the toy, for some reason, doesn't even represent the same character, despite the toy's obvious resemblance to Optimus Prime. Their version of the fiction has a convoluted explanation for the resemblance, but I'll leave that for the Wiki article. Despite the fact that the toy pictured here is the 2002 Japanese reissue, I'll for the most part refer to this toy as "Optimus Prime," using the 1988 American version as default.

God Ginrai Vehicle ModeThe basic vehicle mode is a tractor trailer, similar to the original Optimus Prime, with a bit more weaponry added on. The 1988 American version of Powermaster Optimus Prime does, however, have several differences from the Japanese God Ginrai. Most obvious here is the addition of a second trailer behind the first one. I'll say more about that later. Less obvious is the fact that the Japanese versions of this toy have shorter smokestacks than the 1988 American version (a reversal from what normally happens: American toys getting shorter smokestacks due to safety regulations).

Ginrai Robot ModeThe cab transforms into the basic Optimus Prime robot, but this is where the "Powermaster" gimmick comes in. Like Headmasters and Targetmasters, Powermasters come with a small Nebulan figure. For Powermasters, the Nebulan turns into the engine (you can see it attached at the front of the vehicle mode above), and is necessary to unlock the transformation of the vehicle to robot form. In the 1988 American version, the Nebulan was named "Hi-Q." The Japanese "-Masters" followed a different storyline entirely, and these small robots weren't called Nebulans, and indeed weren't independent entities. Rather, the small robot was the "real" character, and controlled the larger Transformer body. The Japanese character's name was Ginrai. (And, just to make matters even more confusing, they weren't called "Powermasters" in Japan, either, but rather "Godmasters." I'm not sure if there's supposed to be some religious element to these characters, but I didn't come up with the name.)

God Ginrai Base ModeThe main trailer transforms into a battle station, which can be used with other figures. Hi-Q fits rather nicely in the "seat" of one of the weapons in this mode, but due to the distinctive transformation Powermaster Nebulans have, definitely looks as those he's doing splits! Perhaps Hi-Q was a cheerleader in another life? ;)

Super GinraiThis trailer and the cab can combine to form a "Super" Optimus Prime (called "Super Ginrai" in Japan). The "Super Prime" head is just a separate part added on, apparently due to a late decision made in the planning process, whereby Prime was also going to be a Headmaster, in addition to being a Powermaster. I'm sorry that this intention was never fully developed. This mode provides an example of another difference between the 1988 American version and the Japanese versions, as the cab was made with die cast metal in Japan and had real "windows," whereas the 1988 American version used plastic and stickers.

Super Ginrai Powermaster Prime armsYet another difference between the 1988 American version and the Japanese versions was that the Japanese versions have these nice slide-out fists in this mode. Here's a picture alongside an old 1988 American version to see what I'm talking about. The fact that the American version had those non-sliding fists meant that the fists were obviously visible in battle station mode. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many fans are convinced that Japan always gets the better toys (Transformers fans are always complaining about this. Especially when a given Optimus Prime toy in America gets shorter smokestacks. This is why it's worth emphasizing that the original American toy actually got the longer smokestacks in this instance!).

GodbomberAnyway, that was entirety of this toy in America for many, many years, until this reissue was also made available in the States as "Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor" in 2003. The 2003 American reissue is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the Japanese reissue pictured here. However, even back in 1988, the Japanese version had an addition to this set called "Godbomber." Godbomber is that extra trailer I mentioned at the beginning. Basically, you can take that trailer apart, then reconfigure the parts to form this robot. It's not really a "Transformer" in the conventional sense, since there's no folding up of still-connected parts involved. Rather, it's a disassemble-and-reassemble process, as was the case with Metroplex's "Sixgun" robot. The American reissue called this robot "Apex Bomber."

God Ginrai Super RobotIf you take Godbomber apart yet again, you can reassemble the parts on top of Optimus Prime's "Super" mode to make an even more powerful (presumably) robot. This is the "Apex Armor" mentioned in the American reissue, which was called "God Ginrai" in Japan. Now fully armored up, Optimus Prime stands ready to take on all threats!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pardon Me, But Have You Seen Our Church Building?

I was a bit surprised when I heard about this news story today on the radio. Apparently, an abandoned Orthodox church building in Russia has turned up missing. That is to say, it is simply no longer present at the location where it was last seen in July.

My first question was "How on earth does something like this even happen?" How does one lose something as big (and as stationary) as a whole building? (Let alone a church building)

The article suggests that villagers may have sold the building (which apparently was already stripped of any items of value) to a local businessman. Naturally, these people had no legal authority to do this, although whether or not they realized exactly what they were doing is unclear from the short articles I have access to (here are a couple of others). In any event, the lost church building is stolen property.

Assuming that this is true, the question seems to me that the Orthodox priests and officials aren't so much looking for the lost building as what became of its components, or perhaps the identity of the businessman (again, the article isn't clear on whether or not this identity is known).

It would seem that the moral of this story is "Don't take your church buildings for granted. If you neglect them, they may not be there when you need them." Or, perhaps even more important: "Don't neglect the spiritual well-being of the people in your community. If so few of them are committed to going to church on a regular basis, why should anyone care what happens to the building?"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Art of Derek Yaniger

Transformers fans know Derek Yaniger as one of the artists behind the Transformers: Generation Two comic. BoingBoing highlights this book of Yaniger's artwork. I thought Transformers fans might be interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teenage Mutant Jedi Turtle

My brother's been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) for many years. One of the many (many, many) TMNT figures he got as a kid was a 1990 Giant Donatello figure, standing about 13 inches tall! He got the toy second-hand from a flea market, and so it didn't come with the plastic "bō" that was originally packaged with it. Never one to just leave things be, he actually had our Dad make and stain a wooden rod of the appropriate diameter to fit in the toy's hands, thus creating a more accurate version of Donatello's signature weapon.

More recently, my brother picked up a "mini" lightsaber from Master Replicas. The lightsaber is just the hilt--no blade attached, but my brother found out that it fit quite nicely in the Giant Donatello's hands. Thus, with a little Photoshop wizardry, the following pictures were created:

Monday, November 10, 2008

iPod Old Time Radio

Back when I was growing up, I got into the habit of listening to the radio as I went to sleep. I would typically set the radio so that it would play for only an hour, after which time it would shut off automatically. That was usually more than long enough for me to drift off, and I always found listening to the radio to be relaxing.

When I started seminary, I discovered Old Time Radio downloads on MP3, and learned about shows such as The Great Gildersleeve and the old Abbott and Costello Show. I also found I was able to locate old Doctor Who audios from the 1960's, for which the video no longer existed, and was able to enjoy them as audio programs in a similar vein, using the computer or CD player in my studio apartment at the time.

But when I got married, I had to quit that habit for a while, since I would no longer be the only person subjected to such nighttime indulgences. And although my wife and I share some fairly similar attitudes towards social values today, I think it's safe to say that I hold a greater tolerance for outmoded attitudes being depicted in entertainment of the era. As it has been said elsewhere, some of these attitudes "were wrong then, and are wrong now," but it's important not to forget that they ever existed. Even so, I am often embarrassed by some of the more racist or politically incorrect depictions that sometimes come up in these old stories.

But even while acknowledging that some of these depictions were wrong, these shows also contain some wonderfully entertaining writing that can often transcend their era, and I do enjoy listening to them. Thankfully, when I finally got an iPod about a year ago (Yes, I know. "What took me so long?"), I was once again able to indulge in my Old Time Radio hobby at bedtime.

The Apple iTunes Store has a number of podcasts available dedicated to Old Time Radio, but I quickly found out that a number of them aren't updated very often any more. Among those that are still releasing "new" episodes from the era weekly (or even more often), I enjoy Dragnet, Superman, and Case Closed!, a crime stories anthology that shares examples of a number of old shows.

For those of you who have an interest in "the way things were," I'd recommend giving these shows a look, or rather, a listen!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: San Diego Comic-Con 2005 Skywarp

For Transformers fans, BotCon has been the "big thing" in terms of conventions for over a decade, but for fans of science fiction franchises in general, the annual San Diego Comic-Con is much, much bigger. Well over 100,000 people attend over the course of a given year's festivities, whereas BotCon only regularly started breaking the 1,000 attendee point fairly recently.

Comic-Con Skywarp Robot ModeAs with BotCon, one can find a lot of exclusive merchandise at Comic-Con, but Transformers exclusives through Comic-Con are a fairly recent development. This version of Skywarp is the first, to the best of my knowledge. Standing at just over 3 inches tall, it was actually given away for free to attendees who stopped by the Hasbro booth. Skywarp is a redeco of the "Legends" version of Cybertron Starscream.

Comic-Con Skywarp Vehicle ModeSkywarp turns into a Cybertronian aircraft, based on the "War Within" design for Starscream, which itself was based on the "tetrajet" type of aircraft that Starcream-type robots used while on the planet Cybertron in the original G1 cartoon series.

Cyber Planet KeyAs part of the Comic-Con promotion, Skywarp also came with a unique "Cyber Planet Key," which didn't actually do anything for the toy itself (it's nearly half as large as the whole robot!), but has a code on back that unlocked a "sneak peak" of one of the posters that would eventually be packed in with the toys (no, I don't know why they gave us a key with an Autobot symbol on it, given that Skywarp is a Decepticon).

Comic-Con Skywarp WeaponsDespite the toy's small size, it has a couple of flip out weapons patterned off of the much larger "Supreme" Starscream toy. These can be deployed in either vehicle or robot mode. I don't tend to use these much, myself, but they do add an extra layer of play value to the mold.

This version of Skywarp is fairly rare, but I don't know how many copies were made, and I would certainly assume it was made in greater numbers than most current BotCon exclusives. Given it's small size, I really wouldn't recommend paying more than about $15-20 for it if you can find it on eBay.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reflections on the Obama Victory

I went to a church Christian Education committee meeting last night. Obviously, the election results were of interest, so we watched the television a bit while we waited for the rest of the committee to arrive. I hedged a few of my statements while watching the results at first, not sure where people stood, and not desiring to get into an argument, but it soon became clear that people either were more or less on the same side as I was, or at least were respectful in their disagreement. We had to turn off the news in order to conduct the meeting, so by the time we were done, it was already clear that Obama had secured more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. At least one person present expressed excitement over this victory. This was such a refreshing change from what seemed to be a predominant atmosphere of "Christian=vote against Obama" (more than "vote for McCain" to be honest) that I was seeing through so much of my online reading, both generally and also among old friends and acquaintances via Facebook.

I enter the post-election era with excitement, myself. I truly didn't believe, only a few years ago, that I would see an African-American voted as President of the United States within the next couple of decades, let alone just a couple of years later. While I don't agree with Obama in all respects, I truly believe that he can lead our nation through some of the difficult times ahead, if only he is given a chance to do so (I still remain concerned about assassination attempts in the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead, and would ask that Obama's safety, and that of his family, be in your prayers. Even if you didn't want him as President, I think that such prayer is the proper Christian response, and ask for your support in that area, even if you don't feel you can support him or his policies as President).

I also enter this era afraid for other reasons. I mentioned a weeks ago that I'm concerned about keeping the peace within my family. I don't want to get into fights, but as a recent weekend visit proved, political discussions pretty much always come up, and to the extent that hateful or unfair things are said, it really goes against my grain to just "let it go." I'm constantly reminded of the quote attributed to Edmund Burke (although he seems not to have originated it) "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing." (Yes, I have referenced this before. I think it's an important thought to remember.)

On the other hand, I'm reluctant to push back too hard if there's no chance that the family member will be impacted by my resistance. Is it really worth it? Part of "moving on" would also be to let non-essentials pass without a fight. But what are the non-essentials here? If a certain family member insists on saying that Democrats are responsible for all the economic ills of the country (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), or that Obama will cause us to be attacked by terrorists again, what is to be gained by pointing out that there is little merit to these claims, now that the election is over? What is to be gained by pushing back if someone questions my faith (despite the fact that I'm the one who studied in seminary, got an MDiv, and is still pursuing a call to church ministry) because I supported Obama? (There, I said it.) These are issues that go beyond mere disagreement, and into very personal areas.

Craig Detweiller seems to have heard many of the same kinds of attacks I have, and wonders if we are ready to be agents of reconciliation. But there's a lot of pain to work through--on both sides, I expect. Although this election wasn't as close as either of the last two elections (in terms of the popular vote, that is), I feel that it was far more vitriolic. Can we get past that? I hope so, but my hope is still infected by fear.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008: Some Presidential Thoughts

Despite mentioning yesterday that I used to be a president, I'm not talking about "Presidential thoughts" in terms of thoughts by a president. Rather, I'm referring to thoughts about presidents. I did a series three years ago looking at "Fantasy Presidents" in various media. I figure that today's a good day to call attention to those reflections again:
  1. Mackenzie Allen, of the short-lived television show Commander in Chief
  2. William Harrision, of the novel The President, by Parker Hudson
  3. Lex Luthor, of the Superman comic books
Shortly after that, I shared a reflection on the live debate by the fictional presidential candidates from The West Wing. I was surprised to learn yesterday, during an NPR interview with the actors in that debate: Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, that the characters they were playing: Arnold Vinick and Matt Santos, respectively, were actually based in part on John McCain and Barack Obama. Of course, the writers of The West Wing had no way of knowing that these two would be the actual nominees running two years later. But apparently they both had qualities that the writers particularly admired. That's a good sign for today, I should think. (I'll provide a link to the NPR interview if I can find one)

Finally, I want to share a link from a few years ago that I've been sharing elsewhere these past couple of days. I want to share this for two reasons: 1) This has been a very divisive election cycle. A lot of tempers are short and passions are high. This was the case in the past few elections, too, and I think that humor is a good way of dealing with that kind of situation. 2) I'd like to encourage everyone to vote (if you haven't already). To the extent that it depends on you, don't let this kind of "American Tie" situation happen again!

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Top Ten Signs That Your Chapel Speaker is Nuts

Back when I was Student Body President in College, I was asked to deliver the chapel message on one occasion. As part of that message, I shared a David Letterman-style "Top Ten" list: "The Top Ten Signs That Your Chapel Speaker is Nuts!" I've mentioned this list before, as part of a post that looked at how my thinking has changed over the years, but I didn't share the list. The fact is, most of the items on that list were very "Montreat-Anderson College 1995"-specific, and would make no sense to readers today. But it seemed to me that the list was something I could update and modify for my current audience, especially in light of the fact that I have new insights into chapel services from my time at Fuller and, more recently, from seeing my wife's experiences as Assistant Director of Chapel (although I promise that nothing here will get her into trouble!).

So, with that disclaimer, here is the new "Top Ten" list of "Top Ten Signs That Your Chapel Speaker is Nuts!"
  1. Begins with an IQ test to determine if the congregation can handle what is about to be preached.
  2. Thinks Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the original Beatles.
  3. Says "Chapel is like a box of chocolates."
  4. Preaches entire sermon in koine Greek.
  5. Starts installing automatic seat belts in pews to ensure that no one leaves before the sermon is completed.
  6. Begins the Scripture reading by looking up a passage in the book of Hezekiah, before realizing that there is no such book in the Bible!
  7. Suddenly screams "Hallelujah!" every time a cell phone goes off.
  8. Entire sermon consists of songs from the musical Cats.
  9. A large digital countdown clock is lowered from the ceiling as the sermon begins.
  10. After the sermon is finished , orderlies come down the aisle to fit the speaker in a straitjacket.

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