Thursday, April 28, 2011

Third Person Thursday: Hidden Signs

“Thank you, detective,” Sara said and took the business card between her index and middle fingers. “I’ll be sure to let you know if I hear from him.” She then closed the door behind the tall man in the long brown coat as he strode down the hall.

As Sara turned the deadbolt, then secured the chain above it, she thought about how cliché the detective’s attire had been. She thought they only wore long trench coats on those cheesy shows. She stood silently at her door and flipped the card he had handed her over a few times as if she would find some secret message on the blank side if she looked at it often enough. What she was doing was waiting. She was waiting for the faint rumble of the elevator arriving on her floor.

Once she heard it, she looked through the peephole just in time to see the detective stepping in, but she still waited, peeking through the fish-eyed lens in her door to be certain that he didn’t decide to step back off at the last second.

With that bit of her surveillance completed, Sara walked calmly to her living room and picked up the remote. The television turned on to a breaking story about the escape of Kiki, the highly intelligent, sign language speaking chimp from the local zoo. Sara paid no attention to the story as she stood in a strategic position in the room. Her exact location allowed her to see the front of her apartment building and the car the detective had arrived in while still making it seem to anyone that might happen to look in from the outside, assuming they knew exactly which fourth floor window was hers, which Sara was not about to put past a detective dressed in a long brown coat, that she was merely standing in her living room, watching her television.

With her head pointed toward the television and her eyes adjusted slightly to the left, looking out the window, Sara spied the detective climbing back into the driver’s seat of his black, unmarked car. But just before he closed the door, Sara distinctly saw him point his index finger at her building and squint his eyes as he counted the windows upward then to the side, toward her very window. Finally, he closed his door and drove away.

Sara broke her stance and went immediately to shut the blinds and curtains. She walked to her door and checked the deadbolt and chain one more time just to be sure then she stood staring out of the peephole and listening for a minute. She saw and heard nothing. She sighed.

She was about to march into her guest bedroom but stopped herself. Instead, she went to the kitchen and filled the kettle with clean water. She placed it on a burner and then walked quickly and firmly to the guest bedroom where she stood with her hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath.

When she swung the door open violently, it startled the room’s two occupants who sat across from one another over a chessboard. Her nephew, David jumped and knocked the pieces to the floor and Kiki the chimp jumped backwards onto the bed and waved her arms in the air silently.

You are in big trouble, young man, Sara signed sternly to her deaf nephew. I am calling your parents right away.

Sorry, signed David in response.

I was winning, signed Kiki as she looked at the chess pieces on the floor.

Sara stared at the two of them for a while trying to emote as much fury as possible through her eyes in order to convey to David just how angry she was. David reacted by hanging his head. Kiki responded by scratching her rear.

Do you want some tea while we wait for your parents? Sara signed.

No, thank you, signed David.

Yes please, signed Kiki as she bared her teeth and nodded her head up and down excitedly.

When Sara disappeared from the doorway and into the kitchen, Kiki signed to David, I like her. I’ll miss you both when I go back.

Then David took Kiki’s hand and led her into the kitchen where she thoroughly enjoyed her last cup of tea before heading back to captivity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Dog's Age

If you want a family pet that will provide loyalty and love and that will endear itself as a lasting member of your family, I don't think you can do much better than a dog. They love to see you arrive home even when your children get over it. They can provide comfort and understanding from their soulful eyes. It's even just nice to have another living thing in the house sometimes when the rest of your family is away. Personally, I'm not sure I'd be able to fall asleep by myself anymore without being able to hear my basset hound snoring at the foot of the bed or in a nearby room.

But there is something else that comes along with dog ownership. There is another thing obtained that few people tell you about. Something deep and profound and sobering. It is a constant reminder of the effects of the aging process and, ultimately, your own mortality.

Everyone knows the term "dog years." It's meant to be a rough calculation of your dog's age in human terms. Generally, one human year is the equivalent of seven years for a dog. What nobody talks about is how this allows you to watch the aging process that your own body inevitably undergoes progress quickly in a test subject. It's like watching your life at fast forward times seven.

My dog is currently in his mid-seventies in dog years. He smells worse at a faster rate between baths. He has trouble getting up the stairs, which makes those soulful eyes more depressing than cute. He often doesn't even hear me giving him a command or even walking up behind him, then starts when he feels me nudge or pet him as if I appeared out of nowhere. He has blatantly disregarded the long standing no begging policy in our home, probably figuring he has nothing to lose anymore. It seems like he wants to go out into the yard to do his business at least twenty times a day. Then, his digestive system is obviously struggling because his "product" is far more difficult to clean up after than it used to be. It's become like trying to pick up an egg yolk.

Think that too descriptive if you will, but these are the developments in my dog's life that cause me to cringe in horror at the correlation they may have to my own. My knees are already starting to argue with me over climbing too many stairs (three stairs are too many). I sometimes don't hear a person in the same room asking me a question. My eyes are becoming droopier too. I fear it's only a matter of time before I start smelling funny and having similar bowel problems. The plus side is that nobody needs to clean up after me.

However, while I am an expert at taking the problems and life changes I notice in another and translating them into what they mean for me, I must admit that the worst part about the noticeable progression of our dog into the ranks of the canine elderly is that I still remember him as a puppy. It's a reminder that even though he's been with my wife and I since before we were married, owned a house or had children, he won't be around forever. The worst part about him seeming so old is that I know I will miss him eventually.

When that day comes, no matter how much I think about the lack of poop in the backyard, I know I'll wish he were still around.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Rix Your Reputation With Bad Pronunciation

Despite this being a decidedly geeky/nerdy blog, I have made no secret of my love for sports. The level at which I played organized sports as a kid didn't go past high school. I don't play them casually much anymore either, though perhaps that will change as my sons get more into them and I can compete against them without pretending to be a complete bumbling idiot to make them feel good. I get all fired up watching them still and I don't think that makes me any less of a geek.

On the contrary, in today's world I firmly believe that geekdom and sports can coexist more peacefully now than at any other time in history. Fantasy sports give true, completely uncoordinated geeks the chance, the kind who began hyperventilating a full two periods before Gym, to feel like they are actually part of a team. Everyone has a chance to pore over numbers and statistics and try to predict trends. On top of that, it gives everyone an opportunity to criticize the performance of someone they believe should be doing better. What could be more geeky than statistical analysis and criticism resulting from it?

Thus, for years, I have proudly considered myself both geek and sports fan and feel equally invested in both aspects of my personality. What is more, I see this trend strongly represented in the public eye. Bob Costas and Mike Greenberg are perhaps the nerdiest of the popular sportscasters. Local sports radio hosts across the country are becoming geekier and geekier too as I personally heard the work of Joss Whedon and discussion of the background history of Thor worked flawlessly into a conversation just last week.

However, every now and then, though I try hard to avoid it, I am forced to pick a side. My geek and my sports fan enter the Thunderdome. As everyone knows, when two enter, one leaves.

The word asterisk has been claimed by the world of sports. Since the MLB steroid scandal, sports casters and personalities everywhere want to talk about whose name and whose stats should have a asterisk placed next to them. I don't care so much that they have been using it a lot. That's fine. In fact, it used to be one of my favorite words, though its overuse has led me to feel similarly about it as I do a popular song overplayed on the radio. It now takes a definite back seat to riboflavin.

The issue I have with the sports world absconding the word asterisk is the rampant mispronunciation of it. I constantly hear, "asterix," or, "astericks," depending on your preferred phonetic spelling. I'm not the grammar police. I make mistakes all the time, like the fact that I probably should have just capitalized both grammar and police in that last sentence. I am a staunch supporter, however, of pronouncing words you decide to use correctly, especially if it is a part of your job.

Should you decide to say the word asterisk in relation to a conversation regarding any sport, please pronounce it right. The s comes before the k. Should you have a problem remembering it, here's a tip. Aster, like the flowering plant, and Risk, like the game of strategic conquest. If that doesn't help you say it right, I don't know what more I can do. Maybe you should axe someone else for help.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Few Tips for New Little League Coaches

A full one and one half seasons into assistant coaching little league, and as an acutely perceptive observer of human nature, I have decided to generously pass on the lessons I have learned to you now. Keep in mind, my sons are just beginning to play baseball at a level that doesn't involve a tee. Still, maybe you are considering coaching your little one next year or maybe you want to do some practice with your kids outside of their team organized activities. For those looking for such sage advice, I have developed the following tips.

Tip #1: Separate the kids whenever possible
Children do nothing better than distract one another. This occurs at any age. If you leave a few kids on the side waiting in line to participate in the next drill, they will eventually start pushing, shoving, joking around with one another and potentially end up running around the park in an impromptu game of tag. On the other hand, if you have four kids working on batting, four kids working on grounders with you and four kids playing catch in pairs, you significantly decrease the rate at which goof-off time will consume your practice.

Tip #2: Buy a few extra tees
Even if the kids you are coaching have been beyond tee-ball for several years, there are still benefits from hitting off a tee. It gives them a chance to focus on their swing and self correct. This goes hand in hand with the first tip. If you have three or four tees set up along a fence off to the side of your field, that makes that many kids working by themselves on something productive.

Tip #3: Create basic steps for each drill
Bat up. Eye on the ball. Step toward the pitcher. That's the three things that have been told over and over to my six-year-old's advanced tee-ball (that means the coach pitches to them) team. Whenever you have a few simple steps for the kids to follow, they are more likely to remember them. Before you know it, you'll see the kids start doing all three things without having to hear them said over and over. That's when more advanced tips and coaching can begin.

Tip #4: Remind at the beginning of a drill, correct at the end
When a drill starts, remind the kids of the steps and the proper way to participate in the drill at the start of the drill. Then, let them do it and when their turn is up, let them know what they need to work on for next time. Telling kids turn after turn that they are forgetting to do something wears quickly on them. Let them succeed or fail based on their own ability to perform the steps you reminded them of, then talk to them after the drill briefly about what you want to see form them next time.

Tip #5: Have running-intensive drills prepared to use at a moment's notice
Especially with littler kids, your best efforts to keep them engaged and focused on the current activities may break down into utter chaos at any second. That's when you throw your hands up and shout, "Time to run the bases!" You can then do this for a few minutes and wear them out. Then, when you see them gasping for breath, you go back to the next drill you were planning, their rebellious spirits broken, their minds like moldable Play-D'oh, ready to be bent to your will. Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaa!

Good luck fellow little league coaches. May you exert complete control over your minions...ahem, I mean team, and may you be able to keep your sanity long enough to get through however many innings your games include while trying to tune out the critical shouts of attending parents.

Post-Easter Weekly Features

I hope everybody had a happy Easter, provided it's the sort of thing you celebrate. And if it isn't, then I hope you had a good weekend anyway. With all the egg hunting, basket finding and family parties, I stayed too busy to update the weekly features, so it needs to be done now. Fasten your seat belts.

This week's top five category is catalogs I actually enjoy getting in the mail:

5. Land of Nod - Though pricey and affiliated with Pottery Barn, you can find some cool retro toys within its pages and they often carry Star Wars and superhero sheet sets.

4. National Geographic - This catalog, filled with exotic pieces of faux artifacts and ornate maps and globes, makes me long for the type of den in my home that old school explorers a la Commander McBragg (of the Underdog Show) must have had.

3. L.L. Bean - While I like the clothes, it's the cool camping, fishing and exploring gadgets that I would never use that I really enjoy leafing through.

2. Lego - New sets just do not come out often enough, and they come out pretty often. I even like just looking at the sets I...I mean my kids already have. It's like standing in the Lego Store and spinning around in circles minus the dizziness.

1. Think Geek - The most unique catalog out there right now to my knowledge, with an amazing array of products, from bacon flavored...well, everything, to office warfare weapons to real spy gear. For the home or the office, they've got something to make your day a little better and a lot geekier.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is the ever-shifting mask of Rorschach from Watchmen. By far the best character of the graphic novel (and of the movie, though it paled in comparison), it would be awesome to go into a costume contest with a mask that paid proper homage to him as it's symmetrical black designs continuously morphed into new shapes. Alas, the alternate timeline that allowed Dr. Manhattan to invent the fabric it was made from never occurred. On the plus side, we have not come as close to nuclear war and Nixon is no longer president.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that the abbreviation for the SyFy channel bothers you. I mean, do they have some sort of aversion to the letter i? I'm not that impressed with their line-up in the first place, but you could at least throw the c in there for good measure.

This week's nemesis is cold weather baseball. Nothing causes hand stingers like hitting with aluminum bats in cold weather. Plus, swinging and throwing motions just don't seem the same with long sleeves. Baseball is supposed to be enjoyed in the sun and with beer, but we have to suffer through cold, crisp days before we can get there. This is extrapolated in the considerably shorter little league season, where half the games are played in such unpredictable Spring weather.

This week's lesson learned is that the bathroom is not the best place to try and multitask. Don't believe me? Drop your first cell phone in the toilet and let me know if you ever feel comfortable putting it near your face again, no matter how quickly you get it out or how dry you get it afterward.

This week's equation...

let's us calculate the percentage of accuracy with which weathermen predict Springtime weather. You can calculate this by multiplying your distance from a large body of water in miles (d) and the number value of the current month (m, with March being 3 and April being 4 and etc.) by ten the subtracting the product of the region of the United States you live in (r, with the Southwest=1, South=2, Southeast=3, Northeast=4, Northwest=5 and Midwest=6) and the absolute value of your line of Latitude and dividing this all by 100.

Finally, this week's Star Wars quote is, "Perhaps you think you're being treated unfairly."

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, and please vote in our poll regarding the fate of our monthly poll.

TGD Grows Hungry and Desires Your Feedback

Quick question, loyal readers. I think our monthly poll needs a bit of an overhaul and I would like to have your input.

As you can see, the question this month has resulted in a fairly lopsided response. I anticipated that it might, but that was sort of the fun of asking that particular question in the first place. However, due to the fact that it is so lopsided, I believe interest in it may have wained. In order to keep this from happening in the future, I'm thinking of shortening the amount of time that our poll question remains available to vote on.

This, from now until the end of the month, I will have a second question posted in the left hand column and will bend to the will of its results. I want to know if you all would like to see our poll question continue to change monthly or if it should change bi-weekly or change even more often and become one of our weekly features.

Please let me know. Transformer Generation Dad lives to serve its readers and your feedback is as necessary to its survival as life-sustaining planets are to that of Galactus.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Here Comes Logic Reason-tail

The seeds of doubt are beginning to sprout in my sons' minds regarding the existence of such legends as the Easter Bunny. They want desperately for me to look up the Easter Bunny's exact location on the computer so that they can make sure his progress is on par with what they expect. The little task masters want to make sure their baskets, assorted goodies and eggs will be hidden in time for them to wake up in the morning and excitedly pull my wife and I from our slumber.

Yet, when they see the picture of the Easter Bunny on the same site used to track him, they scoff at it. "That is obviously a picture of some guy dressed in a bunny costume," they say. They notice the seams and the fact that he's wearing gloves and has five fingers, including and opposable thumb. They criticize the fact that he is as large as an adult human and standing upright. There are obvious discrepancies. But this simply leads them to believe that this is just an inaccurate photo. Perhaps the site's administrators are concealing the Easter Bunny's true appearance so that he might blend in and escape detection. After all, the GPS device is obviously tracking someone who is delivering eggs and baskets around the globe, so they must have a reason for displaying a bogus photo. That much is unquestionable.

They have other questions about the whole operation, too. How does Peter Cottontail carry all those eggs and baskets? Why does a rabbit have a full name? And if he does have a name, why is his last name Cottontail? Is his tail more cottony than the other rabbits? How long has this rabbit been alive? Is this now Peter Cottontail the Forty-Second?

But their most pointed curiosity as expressed in their questions to me over the past few weeks has them wondering why a rabbit is so involved with eggs. The fact that rabbits, being mammals, don't lay eggs is a hard and fast rule. "So why isn't it an Easter Chicken?" they have asked. To which I have answered, "I have no idea."

I think kids find crazy stories more believable when you as a parent can't explain away all the details. While they may look up to you as the closest thing there is to a human encyclopedia, it becomes painfully obvious to them early in life that you don't know what you're doing sometimes. The, "Hmm, good question. I don't know," approach has its merits due to this. They reason that you're just going with the flow and trying to figure it out the same way they are. If dad hasn't seen Santa Clause yet after thirty-some years, how can they expect to see him after only eight?

Kids also seem to have a sense of the fact that there are people in positions of power who make important decisions behind the scenes and will never enlighten the majority of us as to why they did what they did. Apparently, my sons chalk up the Easter Bunny over Chicken decision to poor planning on the part of the particular Illuminati that makes all the holiday mascot calls. Either that or one of the connected members of the group bred rabbits and stood to gain substantial income via contracting bids should it be a bunny instead of a chicken. Once that was established, hush money has been paid to maintain the status quo. I don't do anything to counter this way of thinking because I think it's a point of view that will serve them well in the future, especially if technology continues to allow the government to have more and more access to our daily activities and, I dare say, thoughts. But I digress.

Logic and magical belief are currently spinning about one another in a marvelous dance inside my sons' heads. This results in them outthinking their own logic. They raise mature questions then proceed to talk themselves out of their doubts in the mental equivalent of a dog chasing its own tail.

For now, it's enjoyable to watch. I'm impressed with how logic and reason have begun to arise in their minds. As a firm believer in the Scientific Method, I'm proud to see them starting to figure things out for themselves. Then there's the parent in me who feels the knife enter his heart as they come closer and closer each year to enlightenment and thus move farther from innocence.

Maybe to combat that, the Easter Bunny will leave behind some muddy little rabbit tracks on the living room floor this year leading to and from the front door. Of course, I would have no way of knowing if that were going to happen. I'm just speculating.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Timing is Everything and Sometimes the Worst of Things

Days into my sons Spring break and days before easter, as my wife and I try to prepare eggs for coloring and secretly procure items for baskets, I just so happen to get sick. Yuck.

This is my attempt at an excuse for lack of posts of over the last few days, particularly my lack of a third person story yesterday. That is one of the features on this blog that I am most disappointed in myself for letting slip from time to time because I think it's the one that makes Transformer Generation Dad the most unique.

But such is life. Just when you think you've got some extra time, you get sick. Right when you get a little extra money, your car breaks down and needs a major engine overhaul. Shortly after organizing your kids' closet, they go through a growth spurt and don't fit in their clothes anymore. It's part of life and part of parenthood.

All you can really ask for at moments like this is understanding and support. When you have a teammate who is willing to let you rest a little and have a big glass of orange juice on the couch with a box of Kleenex nearby and who is willing to put up with your foul mood that is partially due to your inability to breath through your nose properly and who occupies the kids and keeps them from resenting you for acting like a slug for a few days, then you're doing alright.

I, for one, am doing all right. Thanks for asking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Breaking the Silence

My sons are just over four hours into their Spring break. We started it out by going out for an early dinner and I haven't heard from them since. They naturally went straight to the basement upon returning home and started playing Lego Star Wars III, which they just got the other day and I plan on letting them initiate contact.

Over the next week and a half I'm sure that I will see plenty of them. Without school, they will no doubt be barging into my bedroom and asking me inane questions at ungodly hours. I will be asked if it's okay to have cookies for breakfast and in my sleep deprived state will probably answer yes. They will want to play with my iPhone and I will groggily hand it over just to get them out of the room. They wake up earlier and more alert on days when they don't have to and they use this naturally occurring phenomenon to take advantage of my diminished decision making capabilities.

Over their break, there will be plenty to keep us busy. We will be running around to baseball practices. They will have friends over with whom they will play and argue quite loudly. My day will be filled with constant requests to have something or go somewhere. No food in the house will be acceptable and they will want to go to McDonald's every night. I fully expect I will cave a few times out of convenience.

When my sons are off of school for an extended period, they think every day is a party. They will want popcorn to be prepared so that they can eat it while they watch a movie. Every. Night. They will constantly be playing hockey or football or something else that makes an equal or greater racket in the front room while my wife and I are trying to sleep. I will find myself wanting to bottle their energy over the next eleven days so that I might use it on those days when I feel I'm about to fall asleep behind the wheel on my drive home from work.

But for right now, as I type this, things are quiet. They are focused enough on a new video game that they are likely unaware of my presence in the house. I'm going to use that to my advantage and enjoy the silence. It's not going to last long and I won't be seeing much of it over their break. I have a nap calling out to me that wants desperately to be had.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Faith and Hockey

I wasn't into hockey much as a kid. I tried to watch it a few times and didn't get some of the rules. To me, the whistle would blow randomly and everyone would stop. I never had any idea why. Just when I started to think I did, Must be offsides, it would be something else. I started to get a handle on what exactly icing was but got frustrated and gave up. Not my finest moment, but I admit that I gave up on hockey early on at the first sign of adversity.

I was so into basketball at the time that I honestly didn't have much time to follow any other sport. This coincided with the height of success for the NBA. It was a good league, prior to their shortened lock-out season and prior to each and every game being hyped by David Stern as a one-on-one match-up between each team's best player (seriously, Mr. Stern, it's basketball, not boxing) and I spent my time watching the careers of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, to name just a few. Who wouldn't be mesmerized?

However, I am a big fan of my local teams. I'm a homer. I'm the guy that will suddenly show up dressed head to toe in team apparel that I didn't own the day before because I truly believe that my positive energy will somehow translate to wins by my local team. Thus, despite my lacking knowledge of hockey rules and strategy, I kept track each year of how the Blackhawks were doing. I knew if they were going to make the playoffs or not. I knew whether or not they won their playoff games even though I didn't watch any of them.

Then, in the 2010 season, even one as ignorant to the ways of hockey as I could see that the Blackhawks were on the verge of pulling off something special. I started actually watching games and saw what an exciting sport it really was. This past NHL season, thanks to a good friend, I had the opportunity to attend several games. This only served to heighten my interest, and also my woe that I could have been enjoying this sport all along.

Even though I have experienced a personal hockey epiphany, some things about the sport have not changed. I still never see the offsides call coming. I am even surprised most of the time icing is called. Penalties are only called half the time that I think something that constitutes and infraction occurred and half the time they are called, I didn't see anything wrong. This is exactly the aspect of the game that frustrated me so many years ago. I couldn't figure a lot of the rules out and I still can't now.

So what has changed? I have. More specifically, my ability to live with the fact that I do not entirely understand everything that is going on in front of me has changed. I have now developed the ability to thoroughly enjoy something of which certain aspects make absolutely no sense to me. I find this to be an important life skill. It saves me a good deal of stress, knowing that the world contains mysteries that may forever remain obscured to my logic, yet still exist whether I understand them or not. It's about having the perspective that there are things bigger than me and hockey is apparently one of them.

I attribute my newfound ability to the years of being a parent that are now tucked under my belt (maybe it's this tucked experience which has forced me to loosen my belt out to its final notch over the last few years). My sons have come home from school with artwork that looks like nothing I have ever seen before. When they explain to me in detail how what I perceive to be a bunch of random blobs of color is actually a helicopter descending on their school to bring all the children candy, I have to suspend what my eyes are telling my brain and just accept it as what they tell me it is.

Saying, "That's not what it looks like at all. You suck as an artist," really isn;t an option. And, honestly, it's not what I think. Before I ever hear the explanation, I find it beautiful and creative. I see wonder in it that might not make sense to me, but that I can recognize as being present nonetheless.

This is the kind of hockey fan I have become. I may not have any idea why the whistle just blew or why that guy just sent the puck in the opposite direction and I might not have even noticed the whole line change and spend time wondering when my favorite player left the ice, but it's awesome anyway. And sometimes seeing awesomeness in things that you don't understand can be a virtue. There are quite a few things in life that we all would be better off just accepting that we will never completely understand.

Monday, April 18, 2011

TGD Movie Review: Rio

Despite great personal strife in the form of sleep deprivation, my wife and I dragged our boys to see Rio last Saturday. It's Dreamworks' latest animated feature, powered by a plethora of voice talents including Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Will.I.Am...and the list goes on to include one of my favorites, a man who I am excited to see getting more roles lately, Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame.

We saw it on a regular screen, sans 3D glasses and I honestly didn't see much in the film that would have made the 3D worthwhile. The scenic panoramas over the city looked plenty breathtaking in 2D and the action sequences weren't so over the top or frequent that I felt it was worth the extra cash for the 3D version.

Aside from who's voice you might recognize or how many dimensions you prefer from your film experience, here's what I thought of the movie overall...

The Plus Side: It starts with the colors. I think the creators tried to make it start with the music, which is fun and lively as well, but the color, like the bright cerulean of the aptly named lead character, Blue, is what you really notice. And the color isn't just used to show off the rainforest or the downtown streets of Rio de Janeiro during carnival. The lack of color is just as craftily used as the main blue macaw contrasts with his adopted home in snowy Minnesota and also in the less festive environs of the hillside slums that the two kidnapped birds are led through. It makes for an overall visually stunning film.

Getting back to the music, there are several interludes. This isn't something I generally enjoy in animated films, but it wasn't overly obnoxious here. The music was present throughout the movie and thus blended in and became an acceptable part of it. One number felt a bit forced as Clement's evil bird character sand about himself, but it was amusing and forgivable.

Speaking of amusing, the movie pulled that off. My kids smiled and laughed throughout as there was a great deal of physical comedy and silliness. I legitimately laughed out loud a few times (mostly during the short appearances by the bulldog, Luiz, voiced by Tracy Morgan), and at least kept a smile on my face for the duration. None of the jokes made me groan or cause me to wish I could leave without anyone noticing.

The final selling point of the movie was its message. I know everything has been done before, but I still believe in a story having a moral, especially a story directed at kids. Rio carried a positive message and left you feeling proud of the main characters for being brave enough to try new things and to do what needed to be done. It encourages kids to explore and unlock their inner potential, to seek the skills they have yet to tap, yet also to value that which they already know they do well.

The Down Side: Rio was not spectacular. Worse has been said about other movies on this very blog, so that is admittedly not such a bad thing. If you don;t go to the theater expecting Toy Story, Shrek or Up, you won't be disappointed.

I can completely accept unbelievable occurrences in animated films centered around animals. I don't need to have it explained how numerous species of birds and dogs can understand one another. I do, however, have a problem when the humans involved in the movie repeated do not notice their animal counterparts doing amazingly human things. When a goose hits the window of a storefront with a snowball, I would expect a human to at least glance around and wonder where that came from. I expect the details of two birds beating the crap out of some humans not to just be glanced over and I would like it if a particularly evil bird who sides with animal smugglers to be more subtle in the way he reveals the success of his work to his keepers. This is a problem in Rio. Call me anal, but it's something that caused me to roll my eyes at times when I should have been paying attention and enjoying the movie.

The final issue is something I didn't have a problem with but some people might. While there was no offensive language in Rio and no vulgar jokes that I can recall, there was cleavage and there was cross-dressing. Again, it is done in a cartoon and I think it added to the overall humor of the movie, but I could see some more conservative parents, or even parents who don't want to have their kids ask them awkward questions afterward wanting to know about such issues ahead of time. You have officially been forewarned.

The Wrap Up: As I said, this movie is not spectacular. It will entertain your family, however, and provide you with a few lines that you may repeat throughout the following days. The colors are bright which makes the scenery probably worth seeing on the big screen, though I don't see the need for 3D. The moral of the story is positive, though the vehicle it's being carried in can be silly and unbelievable at its worst.

Overall, it's a decent family movie. While a production shouldn't be made of going to see it, if your family is already planning on seeing a movie, it's a solid choice.

TGD Rating: 2.5/5 star. Remember that is 2.5 fifths of one star. The nerd inside me desperately wanted to simplify this to 1/2 star, but I was afraid my readers might think I was rating it with one half of one star out of five possible stars. One full star is TGD's highest possible rating. It means it is the kind of movie good enough to orbit planets and possibly sentient life around.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Basketful of Weekly Features

A week from Easter, Spring weather arriving and plants budding everywhere, I find it is time to refresh our weekly features.

This week's top five suggests items you can use as filler in your kids' easter baskets other than candy:

5. Super Hero Squad figures - Though the quality of these small, chunky figures has declined, they still provide something small yet cool to use instead of that annoying plastic grass or cavity producing jelly beans.

4. Spare Nerf darts - Orange foam darts in the bottom of the Easter basket looks just as festive. The slight drawback comes if you set a particularly weighty chocolate bunny on top of the darts. It could crease them and lead to jams, which you certainly don't want in the middle of an intense battle.

3. Mighty Beanz - They have the added bonus of being bean shaped just like the candy they may be replacing. However, their cost starts to add up.

2. Hot Wheels - Inexpensive, classic, cool. They may just be slightly too large to act in the exact same manner as the candy.

1. Lego bricks - You can get them in bulk, in just about any color and size. You may spend a bit more than you would on candy, but the dentist bills you save on down the road will make up for it and the fact that your kids can then build with the items taking up space in their basket that would normally be filled with stuff they throw away is so very efficient. Think of it, a chocolate bunny on top of a bed of colorful Lego bricks. Most epic basket ever!

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a castle. Sure, they say anyone's home is their castle, but I'm talking a real castle. Not only would the structure and the countryside it most like rests on cost a fortune, but then there is the ungodly amount you'd need to spend on central air and plumbing, because you do not want to use the system that was built into the castle, believe me.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you keep just as close tabs on what the daily barometric pressure is as you do the temperature and humidity. What are you really planning on using that information for anyway?

This week's nemesis is movie popcorn. Despite my best efforts to try and eat better, I cannot resist eating that popcorn after its scent wafts through the lobby as I purchase my family's tickets nor can I resist allowing the refreshment vendor to slather said popcorn in loads of synthetic butter. I suppose all that is bad enough, but then I go and wolf the stuff down once I get to my seat, both out of a desire to eat it while it's warm and extra tasty and raw instinct to get my share of it before the bucket is empty. This results in a stomach ache after every movie I watch in the theater. Why must it taste so good?

This week's lesson learned is to try and keep the group of rambunctious kids playing in your house out of rooms with stand up lamps. Whether it be a kicked ball, a swung plastic lightsaber or a tripping body, something is going to take that lamp down eventually. Just pray it doesn't land on one of the culprits.

This week's equation helps you determine how many eggs should be hidden (by the Easter Bunny of course) on Easter morning:

The number of easter eggs to be hidden can be calculated by multiplying the number of kids the eggs are being hidden for (k) and the area of the hiding arena in square feet (a) and dividing that product by your deteriorating memory rating, a Transformer Generation Dad created stat which just so happens to exactly correspond with your age in years (m) and then subtracting from that the average age in years of the kids doing the hunting (t).

Finally, this year's Star Wars quote is one I posted this time last year, and see myself posting every time the week ahead contains Good Friday because I think it carries with it just the right mix of faith and irreverence: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

That's all for this week's features. Thanks for reading. Check back soon for another movie review.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

An Open Letter to Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

On two separate occasions during our Geek Tournament in the month of March, you commented that the television series, Firefly, should have received a higher seed. I was flattered to have anyone commenting on my blog posts, especially somebody with such an exotic name (Anonymous, is that Greek?), and appreciated your input. However, I disagreed with you and said I felt Firefly was in the place where it deserved to be, but that perhaps I would change its seeding next year.

I am still not sure who you are. I don't know if you even continue to read Transformer Generation Dad. Perhaps this message will be sent out into the cosmos, never having reached its intended target due to his/her frustration over Firefly facing Lord of the Rings in the first round. I hope you still follow this blog, because I have something important to tell you.

I have to admit that I had seen merely bits and pieces of Firefly prior to Transformer Generation Dad's Geek Tournament. It seemed alright, but from the little I saw, not my cup of tea (I prefer coffee). The reason I included it in the tournament in the first place was because I knew plenty of other geek's enjoyed it. This happened in many aspects of the tournament. For instance, I always chose Lego and Nerf over Dungeons & Dragons, but the geek status of D&D is absolutely legendary, so it was awarded the number one seed. It was not a personal preference that seeded Firefly so low, rather it was an acknowledgement of its need to be included that squeezed it in.

That was how I felt, and felt justified in feeling how I felt. I even made myself a celebratory banner out of felt (See what I did there? That's a homonym. Speaking of which, I went to high school with a Homonym. Any relation?) but soon felt another feeling that forced me to feel what I felt was not how I ought to have felt.

To be clear, I thought repeatedly of your comments and thought I should give the series I barely included in the Geek Tournament another chance. That recently became possible through the magic of the iPad's Netflix app.

Over the past two weeks, I have been watching Firefly from the beginning. I never knew what I was missing. I find myself now letting my mind drift from the current conversation I'm having with someone at work to thoughts regarding when I will be able to get some free time to watch the next episode. Having seen the series from the beginning now as it was intended, I can suddenly appreciate the characters more and the ways they interact on a completely different level. Firefly really is a rare gem, it's an incredible shame that it wasn't on longer and it sucks that the stars can't seem to align in order to get it back into production.

I don't know who you are, Anonymous. I'm guessing that we have never met, though it is possible we have. Even so, you probably do not know me very well, but if you did, you would realize how much it pains me to say the following words and what great care and irrational action I take in order to avoid uttering them. If you knew me, you would understand what a great honor I am bestowing upon you now by telling you the three words in the English language I most hate to say or write: You were right.

I'll be damned if I don't think Firefly is the best Science Fiction television show of all time. I used to think Star Trek and Dr. Who were untouchable, but Firefly has catapulted right up there in the running for the top spot in my humble opinion. I dare say, I've found Serenity (there's another homonym! I wonder what he's up to).

So there you have it, random, unknown reader. If you are still reading and can ever find it in your heart to forgive me, I would encourage an email to so that I can find out where to send you a more formal apology in the form of a Transformer Generation Dad t-shirt. You will need to answer just a few questions just to verify you are in fact the comment poster of which I speak.

Transformer Generation Dad

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Third Person Thursday, Throwback Edition: Being There For Your Team

With baseball season in full swing (pun completely and utterly intended) and with a lack of free time, the valiant blog author decided to save himself some effort and reach deep into the archives of his third person entries and repost a baseball themed story from Jun 24th of 2010. He hoped his audience would do two things in response: enjoy the story and forgive his laziness:

“You have got to be kidding me,” Bob groaned as he and his son emerged from the ramp into the daylight in section 226. “Down six runs already?!”

It was only the bottom of the second. Bob had been delayed leaving the house and then diverted to an expressway ramp that would add another half hour to his arrival time. He prided himself on being there for the national anthem of every game he had ever seen. Getting there so late made him feel partially responsible for his teams obvious troubles.

“Look, dad, the manager’s on the mound,” his son, Phillip pointed out.

And so he was. The starting pitcher Bob had specifically rearranged his schedule and bought tickets to see in action was getting the hook already.

“What the hell happened?” bob inquired of a random end of the aisle fan as they ascended the stairs.

“Took a line drive off the elbow with two men on,” the man said and shook his head. “After that he got rocked.”

Bob groaned and placed a hand on his son’s back as an indication to continue upward to their seats. “Row twenty-two,” he told Phillip. With the team’s star pitcher out, he hung his head and wondered which bullpen nightmare they were going to have the joy of watching implode on the mound instead.

“Uh, Dad?” Phillip said and pointed toward their seats.

There, in seats two and four of the shortened, four seat row, sat two heavy-set fans, each with a beer in their hands and a beer in their cup holders. Bob looked down at his tickets again before he said anything. Seats one and two. On the aisle. Row twenty-two. And he’d gotten these tickets from Sean in accounting who was the most straight laced guy he knew. Bob was certain they weren’t fakes.

“Excuse us fellas,” Bob said, holding up the tickets.

Both men turned and stared at him for a few seconds then turned back to the game.

“We’re one and two, guys. Just need you to move over one.”

The man sitting in seat four, the one not in question, turned to Bob and said, “There’s two seats left in the row three back.”

Bob looked a few rows higher. There were, in fact, two seats available in row twenty-five. They were in the middle of the longer row with the rest of it filled. Bob had purchased these from Sean because he knew they were aisle seats.

“I see those seats,” Bob said, trying to control the amount of sarcasm he let through in his voice, “but I paid for these seats.”

The man in seat two paid them no attention. The man in four said, “C’mon, man. Really?”

“Yes,” replied Bob, “really.”

With a sigh almost as large as his gut, the man in seat two lifted his girth from the blue plastic seat. As he shifted himself into seat three, pinning his associate against the wall on the other end of the row, Bob noticed seat two didn’t flip back up. He wondered to himself if it ever would after being pushed down by so much weight, even if it was only for two innings.

After taking Phillip by the arm so that he could expose himself to the displeasure of sitting next to this behemoth, Bob finally sat down and watched the new pitcher warm up. “Thanks,” he muttered to the two men, not meaning it, to which they responded with silence.

Four innings, two relief pitchers and three runs for the visiting team later, Bob was miserable. The tone was set by getting to the game late, his team's playing the worst he’d seen all season (which was really saying something), and then he had Baby Huey sitting next to him breathing audibly and, from the smell of it, sweating profusely through his replica jersey. This was the exact opposite of what he had hoped to get from a Saturday afternoon game with his son.

And it would have been another thing if Phillip seemed to be enjoying himself, but the boy took his team losing to heart. Bob’s eleven-year-old son sat with his chin in his hands most of the game, looking like he’d lost his puppy.

The single moment of excitement for the game came with a solo home run by the good guys in the bottom of the seventh. With no outs, it would have been at least a glimmer of hope that a comeback was possible.

As the ball left the bat, everyone in the stadium knew it was gone. This included Baby Huey, who shot up faster than Bob would have ever thought possible after his performance when needing to move over one seat for them earlier.

And as the fat ass stood up, his enormous thigh took his own plastic cup of beer with it. This ended up on Bob’s leg, running down to soak his sock and shoe.

“What the hell?” he would turn to Bob and say after high-fiving his fat friend and turning to see his empty plastic cup on the floor.

Bob simply stared at him. Baby Huey placed his current cup into the now empty one. After a few dramatic sighs, he sat back down.

Up to this point, Bob had been trying to stay positive. After unsuccessfully trying to burn a hole in his fat neighbor’s skull with his gaze, Bob clapped for the home run and turned to Phillip. “Let’s get a little comeback going, huh?”

A double play and caught foul ball later, his mood tanked. The glass was definitely half empty.

And there Bob sat, a lifelong baseball fan, a man who had never had a bad time at the ballpark, having what he was seriously putting in the running for his worst day ever. Maybe it was just one of those anomalies, he thought. He even used baseball metaphors of hitting streaks and bad starts to explain how things would go back to normal with the next game he attended. Sometimes you just have to accept defeat, he told himself.

He turned to look at Phillip, who was looking down at his shoes.

“Let’s go,” Bob said to his son.

“You sure?” Phillip asked, knowing his dad was one to stay to the end of every game.

“Yep,” said Bob. “We’ll get ‘em next time. Let’s at least try and beat the traffic and get something to eat.”

As he placed his hand on his son’s head, Bob looked forward to the small victory of not having to sit in his car for an hour before even exiting the parking lot. And he was awfully hungry. The nearby restaurants wouldn’t be so crowded with post-game patrons just yet.

The smile had returned to Bob’s face as he and his son made their way back down the ramp. They spoke to each other about how they at least got to see a home run. Bob asked Phillip which team he like to see play next time as he promised they’d have to attend another game to make up for this one.

And as Bob started his car and asked Phillip what he was hungry for, he felt fairly positive again, just for having survived the ordeal.

Meanwhile, over the loudspeaker, the stadium’s announcer would say something Bob and Phillip would never hear:

“The winner of the Saturday Cash $5,000 drawing is the fan seated in section 226, row twenty-two, seat two! Please bring your ticket stub to guest services to find out how to collect your prize!”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring is in the Air and Pain is in My Back

My sons are growing at an alarming rate. I'm sure every parent thinks that about their kids, but when the weather gets warmer and I start to think of how big they were the Spring and Summer of the previous year, that's when their growth really seems to be the most noticeable.

These days, I find myself trying to estimate how many more roller coasters are now in play with the inches they've grown while cooped up in the cold weather. I think their first upside down loop might be in order this Summer. I'm watching them swing a baseball bat and trying to decide if we can ride out the size they currently own one more year or if they need to upgrade to a longer, weightier model. The same goes for their gloves.

And, as I try to clean up the backyard a little so that they can get the fresh air their lungs have been yearning for all winter without fear of them tracking dog crap into the house, I'm not only beginning to notice how much more they can do this year from last year. I am also beginning to look forward to how much they'll be able to do in the coming years. As the pain in my knees and back sets in, I begin to think that very soon half of this yard work could be done by the very kids I'm doing it for.

I'm not in a hurry to have my sons start dating, rush them off to college or join the work force, but having them be just a little bigger, stronger and maybe mature enough to push the mower around the front lawn without having to worry about them losing any digits would be nice. I honestly would not mind if they were old enough to be trusted to spray the cracks in the patio with weed killer and not turn it into a toxic chemical squirt gun fight.

The more I think about the potential of it all, the easier I realize it would be to get the yard ready for Spring and keep the garage in order if I had two extra sets of hands to do the work. Two considerably younger backs to do some lifting would also be more than welcome.

But, like the potentially disastrous situations I've mentioned above, I can already picture what may result from entrusting them with such responsibilities at their current ages. Asking them to sort through old toys and decide which ones we can get rid of would only cause them to horde the previously forgotten, dusty toys in out of sight places about their bedroom. An attempt to have them help spread rocks around the garden would more than likely see one or both of them in the ER with rock battle injuries or at least a broken window. Should I ask them to paint anything, I ought to decide whether or not I would like to have the entire surface of whatever they are standing on while painting be the same color. Tree trimming would end up with me climbing up into the tree to try and get them down and subsequent call to the Fire Department to get us all down.

But I suppose I should just appreciate the ages they are. Before I know it, they'll be using my car, beating me at basketball without me letting them, stealing my beer and refusing to ask for the toys I want to play with on their birthdays and holidays. They'll probably want boring old money instead.

So here's to a little extra time of having to corral them onto the trampoline when I want to cut the grass in the backyard and having to go on dog poo recon missions half an hour before they come out to play. It's time that I can use wisely to stockpile Lego sets for the Dark Ages to come.