Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Batman and the Power of Wealth

VegasBitch198I'm still recovering from a week-long vacation, but have been trying to keep up with what's going on in the outside world just a bit. Before the recent release of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Returns was overshadowed by the opening-night shooting that left a dozen people dead, and scores more injured, its coming was anticipated as an enjoyable escape from the realities of every day life.

Friday, July 27, 2012

California and its Culinary Curiosities

My wife and I have been traveling along the California coast this past week. One of things we've been impressed by is just how much of this state is devoted to food. We passed through a region calling itself a "salad bowl," and a city proclaiming itself to be "the artichoke center of the world." We visited one city just before it could celebrate its garlic festival, and another on the edge of celebrating an olive festival. We regularly travel down highways that run parallel to cattle farms, and see various forms of grain and produce being grown, and often sold at small wooden roadside vendors. It is hard to escape the reality that food is a large part of California's identity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Transformers Feature: SDCC 2011 "First Edition" Optimus Prime

The longer the Transformers franchise stays alive, the more toys with the same name are created. The single most egregious example is, of course, Optimus Prime. The TFWiki page for Generation One Optimus Prime toys lists dozens upon dozens of items. While G1 is certainly the largest offender, when you add all the other continuity families that Transformers has embraced over the years, it's easy to see how trying to come up with a concise way of naming each specific Optimus Prime toy can become a challenge. This problem was not helped when the name of the most recent iteration was announced: Transformers: Prime. If I really wanted to be glib, I could call this toy Transformers: Prime Optimus Prime, or perhaps worse yet "Prime Prime" (although these admittedly would work equally well for several other toys, not just this San Diego Comic-Con exclusive).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trekkies, Trekkers, Evangelicals, and Labels

If you follow almost any science fiction genre at all, you're probably aware of a long-standing debate on what to call fans of Star Trek. Pretty much everyone knows about "Trekkies," but every now and again, someone will pipe up and comment that this term is incorrect, informing the misguided individual that the proper word to refer to fans of Star Trek is, in fact, "Trekkers."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Yet Another "Call Me Maybe" Parody

Obviously, I'm jumping on the bandwagon a bit here, as there are tons of parodies of the Carly Rae Jepsen megahit "Call Me Maybe" out there already (I'm particularly fond of the Cookie Monster one). But I couldn't resist this take that, I hope, is rather unique. It tells a story that should be familiar to most Christian ears, if probably never quite like this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Give Me a Reason

When writing Monday's entry, I was reminded of a song that I hadn't heard in a while. It was recorded by Christian contemporary musician Al Denson. One of my college friends (we ultimately were roommates for a year) had attended a music camp Denson had coordinated a few years previously. As I understand it, this camp was a fairly exclusive gathering for talented young Christian musicians, and thus my friend got to know Denson in person. Through my friend, I got to meet Denson myself, and even enjoyed one of his concerts backstage on one occasion. In 1993, about the time we were finishing up our first year, the Reasons album was released. I think Reasons may actually hold the distinction of being the first CD I ever purchased (it was certainly before I had a CD player of my own. I had to play it on the computer at first). The song in question was the title track to the album. Here is the chorus:
Just give me a reason
And I'll come running
When I have reasons
I know the way
I'm pointing my feet in the right direction
Give me a reason*

Monday, July 16, 2012

We Need to Offer Something the Secular World Doesn't

As part of her weekly "Sunday Superlatives" yesterday, Rachel Held Evans mentioned a New York Times editorial by Ross Douthat as "Most Likely to Start a Big Ole’ Argument on Your Facebook Page When You Share It." Since my Facebook account is one the primary venues whereby family and friends read my blog entries, I am probably therefore asking for trouble by commenting on it here. Arguments tend to flare pretty much whenever the labels "conservative" and "liberal" are tossed around, and although I try to be consistent about pointing out that the definitions of these terms depend on who's talking about what and in relation to what, they remain well-worn labels that convey some semblance of meaning in discussions about religion and politics. With that in mind, despite the fact that my positions tend to make liberals ill at ease whenever I try to claim to be one of them, and despite the reality that I'm increasingly suspect to certain circles within conservatism... here I go again.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Time to Relax

It seems like the past few weeks have been a flurry of activity. Between holidays, and weddings (and major weather events that happen while attending such weddings). And in just a few weeks, we'll be heading out for another go-round. So, for right now, I'm going to take a cue from this lizard I found sunning itself on a wall near a local restaurant, and just enjoy not having anything to do for next few days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Video Game 30th Anniversary of the Month - Popeye

When Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario (and many of Nintendo's most popular games) was working on Donkey Kong, he wasn't originally looking to build a game around a giant ape and a carpenter with a propensity for jumping (only later did Mario become a plumber). Hoping to develop a game to combat the seemingly-insurmountable popularity of Pac-Man, Miyamoto had originally intended to license existing popular characters that would provide an immediate draw to game-playing audiences. Those plans fell through at the time, and Donkey Kong became the history-making game we know today. However, in 1982, Miyamoto was finally able to acquire the license he had been seeking, and thus Popeye and his friends became video game icons, in addition to comic and cartoon favorites.

Although Popeye isn't as ubiquitous these days as he has been in previous decades (I'll have something to say about the possible reasons for this at the end), if you know anything about Popeye, you can expect at least four elements to almost any Popeye story: the "sailor man" himself, his girlfriend Olive Oyl, his rival Brutus,and a nearby can of spinach. All of these elements are present in Nintendo's game, as can be seen in this image of the game's opening moments.

The object of the game is to move Popeye around the board collecting various tokens of Olive's affection (hearts in the first round) as they fall toward the water below. Objects at higher levels are worth more points, and if a fallen object stays in the water for too long, it sinks and Popeye loses a turn (it's not good to anger Olive!). Of course, Popeye must do this while avoiding contact with Brutus. Brutus will pummel Popeye into the icy waters if he makes contact, which he will attempt to do not just by chasing him, but also by jumping up to tackle Popeye if the sailor is above him, and by reaching below should Popeye be underneath. If that isn't enough, Brutus can send a volley of bottles flying towards Popeye to knock him out. Popeye can avoid this fate by punching the bottle at just the right moment.

Once per board, Popeye has the option of eating a can of spinach, which generally can be found on the side of the board. To grab a can of spinach, Popeye "punches" it, and he immediately turns red and the famous "Popeye the Sailor Man" song starts to play. The song will play through exactly twice, to indicate how much time Popeye has to use his spinach-powered super-strength to knock Brutus flying into the waters for a temporary cool-down. During this time, Olive's hearts will hover at the height at which they were when the spinach was eaten, and are worth twice as many points as normal.

Another way of stunning Brutus for a few moments is to punch the barrel at the top of the board (only in round one). If you time it just right, it will fall over Brutus' head, and he will be unable to move until it is removed. In theory, Popeye can touch Brutus without harm while Brutus is thus incapacitated, but I don't recommend it. The effect really doesn't last all that long, and it's a pretty senseless risk with absolutely no payoff.

As Popeye collects one of Olive's tokens, it appears at the top of the board. Once Popeye has collected enough of them, he completes the round and moves on to the next one. There are three boards in the game, which repeat in cycle after you have completed them, getting harder to pass each time (and they aren't exactly easy to begin with!).

Other famous Popeye characters make appearances in the game, as well. The Sea Hag appears on the sides of the board (Often two of her at once! Apparently she creates a clone) to throw bottles much as Brutus does, and Wimpy and Swee'Pea appear on the second board, although neither play an active role.

The character of Popeye first appeared in 1929 (just months after Mickey Mouse), and was an enduring favorite for many decades, as the existence of this game attests. He hasn't been quite as popular in years since, possibly at least in part due to changing attitudes about the value of telling children that they can solve their problems by punching out bad guys. I'm certainly sympathetic to concerns that children should not be taught to use violence, but Popeye's had some very positive effects on children, as well. Spinach consumption was reported to have gone up by 33% in a five-year period coinciding with Popeye's animated introduction in the 1930s, and it seems that even as recently as 2010, a study showed that children ate more vegetables after watching old Popeye cartoons (I'd link to the study, but it's apparently one of those things accesible only on an academic database). Surely this a character worth keeping around! Perhaps the recent comic series from IDW (the same company that produces Transformers comics) or the upcoming movie to be directed by Genndy Tartakovsky might help restore Popeye's popularity.

*I'm having trouble finding a definitive source to say that this name, rather than the character's original name of "Bluto," was the one used on the Nintendo video game, but that seems to be the general consensus. For those who don't know, the name "Brutus" was created back in the late '50s when King Features (wrongly) thought that they didn't own the rights to use the "Bluto" name. The character has swapped back-and-forth between names ever since, although some more recent interpretations have suggested that the names refer to twin brothers.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Transformers Feature: Dark of the Moon Rav

When I was a kid, I would always get a thrill out of walking through the aisles of a toy store and discovering a Transformer on the shelves that I had never seen before. In this information age, whereby the Internet usually informs fans of upcoming releases months before they arrive in stores, this experience is much less common than it was 25+ years ago, but it still happens once in a while. I mentioned one such experience a couple of months ago with the Speed Stars Leadfoot toy. It happened again a few weeks ago with Rav.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Remembering "With Ears That See" - Part Two

As I demonstrated in Wednesday's post, we spent roughly 18 months working out details in preparation for the 1992 Montreat Youth Conferences, and I have been led to understand that this is the pattern for most years. We also depended on a number of people to make all this work. Besides the Planning Team members themselves, and the up-front Leadership already discussed, we recruit a number of other behind-the-scenes workers to help us keep the nuts and bolts of the conference running smoothly, including someone to help us with child care, to manage the office, to take pictures of the many events during the week, to run back and forth to nearby Black Mountain (and occasionally elsewhere) to gather supplies, and many other roles. Thanks to the advent of social media such as Facebook, I've been able to regain contact with several of these people, but not nearly enough!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Remembering "With Ears That See" - Part One

Twenty years ago today, on July 4th, 1992, a pleasant Saturday morning, I was privileged to be able to celebrate Independence Day in what is perhaps my favorite place in the entire world: Montreat, North Carolina. I had recently arrived in town to begin the final preparations for the first two weeks of "With Ears That See," which was the theme we'd chosen for the Montreat Youth Conferences for that summer. I've given a bit of background on the experience before, but I couldn't let this anniversary go by without doing something special. But before I can discuss those two weeks themselves, I need to describe some of the work that led up to that time.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Wedding that Survived the Storm

I just got back from a weekend in Alexandria, VA, attending the wedding of a friend I've known for nearly 25 years. He and my brother (who served as one of the groomsmen) have been close friends ever since my brother was perhaps 10 and the groom was maybe 3 years old. Although I wouldn't make the trip from California to Virginia for just anyone, this friend was definitely worth it. The weekend turned out to be an epic story that demonstrates just how much things can change in the time between one day and another. I only saw a small part of everything that happened, and therefore can only paint a partial picture, although I hope that what I have included gives an accurate idea.


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