Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shark Week-ly Features

One of the best parts of the dwindling days of summer vacation is Shark Week on Discovery Channel.  That starts today for those of you who were not aware and our weekly features are so shark-centric that they are practically made out of cartilage.

It starts with our top five list, which, simply enough, is my top five favorite sharks:

5. Basking - With an average size slightly larger than a Great White this otherwise intimidating shark looks comical as it glides through the water with its gaping mouth open, looking like a predatory windsock.

4. Hammerhead - One of the most unique looking species of any animal on the planet, it was also the inspiration for one of the Mos Eisley Cantina patrons and one of the action figures we had about five extras of for some reason when I was a kid.

3. Thresher - This one gets included because it gave Quint that impressive scar on his leg that he was able to reference during the all important bonding scene below deck in Jaws.

2. Whale - The world's largest fish and a filter feeding, it also has a bad-ass blue and white pattern.  In fact, I think I have a new Shark Week idea for my desktop background.

1. Great White - Is there any need to argue?

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is your own Ampillae of Lorenzini, the shark's electroreception organ.  Being able to sense magnetic fields would come in handy while navigating, playing hide and seek and trying to locate your lost cell phone.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that, if you were unfortunate enough to be the victim of a fatal shark attack, the last thought that ran through your about to be devoured head would involves how statistically unlikely it was that you were just the victim of a fatal shark attack when only 464 people from 1670 to 2009 died in such a manner.

This week's nemesis is the movie Jaws.  The problem I face this week is that I will more than likely waste hours of my time this week watching my favorite movie of all time on the various other channels that will undoubtedly run it to compete with Shark Week.  I've already noticed six airings scheduled on Encore.  I also think this is the best movie to ever have so many terrible sequels.  On top of all that, whenever I see it now I am reminded of how I missed out on snorkeling into deeper water in the Pacific ocean due to the images from it being laser burned into my memory.  Hooper in the shark cage seeing that shadowy mass in the distance before it closed in on him, that was my mind.

This week's lesson learned is that leaving baked goods unattended in a house with children will result in a feeding frenzy.  It may be the safest way for the average person to observe anything close to typical shark behavior.

This week's equation shows just how unlikely it is that you or anyone else might die of a shark attack:

The likelihood of a person dying in a shark attack (s) is compared here to the likelihood of a person dying in a dog attack (d).

This week's Star Wars quote is from Episode I (my apologies): "There's always a bigger fish."

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned as our monthly poll will be completed soon and there should be some other exciting new here in the month of August.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

Plenty of posts on this blog have dealt with my relationship with my dog.  Most recently, I have managed to internalize the struggle that he is having with old age.  I have made it my problem and a way to frame my concerns over my own mortality.

However, the events of this summer have shed new light on my worries over my dog’s gradual decent from active, curious puppy to area rug.  Instead of spending time missing the rambunctious, squirrel chasing scamp that barked at every passing pedestrian from the gangway next to our home and used to bound through foot high snow drifts with what I would have sworn was a smile on his face, I have learned to see the silver lining on the grey clouds developing in his eyes, which are probably a sign he is developing cataracts.

Several times over the last two months, my wife has let my dog out the front door on purpose while we have allowed our sons and their friends to run around well into the late twilight hours.  Normally, this would have resulted in my chasing him through the neighborhood for an hour until he ran out of steam and laid down for a belly rub or found a group of playing children that he was convinced he was one of.

To my surprise, my now elderly dog slowly descended the front porch steps and wandered slowly about the front lawn, returning just as casually as he had wandered away anytime his name was called.  It would seem that the extra effort that he causes me to expend by needing to be let out to go to the bathroom more often and the increased difficulty that the consistency of his leavings now present in cleaning up have been made up for.  Now we can let him out of the front door without fear that he will turn momentarily into a blur of white, brown and black and enjoy a summer evening as a family. 
This unexpected side effect of his advanced age has caused me to notice other positive aspects emerging in my mature dog as well.

He has become a better communicator in that he growls lowly to remind us it is time to feed him.  There is far less need to explain to our sons’ new friends that he will not bite but is just excited to meet them since he barely raises an eyebrow when they enter the house.  The presents that he leaves in the yard are grouped together better than they used to be because he has apparently become too tired to venture any further into the grass than necessary to find an appropriate spot to conduct his transactions.  I even find that his snoring has changed into a wheezier sounding rasp that fondly reminds me of the dying Darth Vader’s breathing sound immediately before asking Luke to remove his mask.

I know now that my dog’s senior years are not ones to be sorrowful over.  On the contrary, they are to be celebrated.  In fact, since he has just come over to sniff at me and see what I am doing as I write this, maybe I’ll take him for a little stroll without his leash on.

Oh, never mind.  He fell back asleep.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Retro Night

With my insane work schedule and my sons wanting to spend every waking hour terrorizing the neighborhood with their friends, it has been some time since I've spent some quality father-sons time with them.  We used to build Lego sets together or watch Star Wars movies or have Nerf wars on a regular basis.  Lately it seems that I'm trying to catch up on stuff around the house when I'm not so tired I'm catatonic.

But with my wife having busted her ass over the last week to get some things taken care of and my having written a few blog posts ahead, I suddenly found myself with a little free time last night.  I made my sons milkshakes and hot soft pretzels and we hung out past midnight.  Just spending time with my sons is one thing.  What we did during those late night hours, however, ought to be noted on Wikipedia's profile page for "awesomeness."

We hung out on my bed all night.  They first asked for me to show them Punch-Out on the original NES.  Never wanting to deny anyone the opportunity to watch my video game dominance (just ask my brothers), I obliged and plugged in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out and, to even my own surprise, easily made it to Mr. Sandman without a hiccup.  After my defeat, my oldest son took over from the beginning and didn't run into a problem until King Hippo.  I was impressed.

Next, my younger son decided that his turn would be spent on Super Mario Bros. 2 where he happily ran about uprooting turnips and radishes and throwing them at Shy-Guys.  The music and sound effects alone from these games really take me back and I remember how nervous I used to get about passing the next level yet how willing I was to start completely from scratch should I fail.

While I played retro NES game after retro NES game, including Tetris, Urban Champion and Spy Hunter (damn that helicopter), my sons alternated between watching my performance and playing various games on our iPad.

Eventually, my oldest opened up Netflix and another blast from the past hit my eardrums.  It was the theme music to Ren & Stimpy.  While few things could make me put down a video game controller, especially the NES controller in all its boxy simplicity, I had to shut the old system down and watch along with them.  We all laughed hysterically as the Ask Dr. Stupid feature played between episodes and sand along to the Log commercial.  I was very proud.

A good time was had by all and we continued watching Ren & Stimpy and laughing our butts off until young eyes began closing.  As I tucked them into their beds, I was reminded of the influence I really have on the two of them.  When they are running around with their friends and doing things to impress them, they want nothing to do with their parents.  It allows me to forget sometimes that they are my little budding nerds whose interests I still have dominion over.  I saw that they are still on the path to becoming virtual little clones of myself.

And isn't that what being a parent is all about?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Third Person Thursday: Suspect Ted (Part One)

Instead of working into the wee small hours of the morning to create one massive story, I decided to leave this one where it's at and make it a serial.  Tune in for part two next Thursday.

Nobody had seen the new owner of the fifty acre patch of wilderness prior to the beginning of autumn.  In fact, none of the residents of the nearby, secluded Montana town had even had a chance to talk to Paul Jenkins about the identity of who he had sold the land to over the summer because he had rushed off on a hastily planned trip to Europe with his wife immediately after it sold.

They had, however, heard a circular saw buzzing and a hammer falling consistently echoing through the valley on the quiet mornings.  Whomever it was that had bought the land, they were busy doing something with it.

The mystery of the new owner was not solved in the least when a bearded man in a dirty flannel shirt, slightly torn blue jeans and a faded baseball cap concealing his eyes pulled into town one day.  He parked the mud splattered Jeep with the Virginia license plate directly in front of the hardware store.  He walked in and, across the street, the lunchtime patrons of Edna’s Diner watched in anticipation from the windows.

“That must be him,” John said to everyone.

“He looks a sight,” Helen said, the coffee pot still hovering above John’s cup where it had been, about to pour, when the event began, “what with that beard and all.”

“Whattaya suppose he’s been doin’ up there?” wondered Elmer aloud.

This was met with silence.  Everyone else in the diner had been wondering the exact same thing for the past several months.  Elmer was simply the first to ask it aloud.

That silence hung in the air and, in the minds of every man and woman present, began to take on a more sinister tone the longer it remained there.  It was broken finally when Helen exclaimed, “He’s comin’ back out,” and the patrons all rushed back to acting naturally in case the stranger happened look toward the diner.  They all wondered who he was, but courtesy dictated they at least behave normally as far as he knew.  Once the Jeep disappeared around the corner, the diner’s occupants resumed their speculations.

“He’s gone,” Helen announced.

“Wonder what part of Virginia he’s from,” Elmer said as he folded up his napkin and tucked it into his shirt pocket.  He wasn’t sure if anyone noticed him jot down the Jeep’s license plate.

“Anybody see what he come out with?” Edna herself asked from behind the counter.

“Two paper bags,” John said.  “Not sure what was in ‘em.”

“Probably some hardware,” came a voice from the rear corner booth.  Everyone turned to see Carl, the only one of them who hadn’t disrupted his own meal to watch the show, with his face down in his meatloaf.  “He did go into the hardware store, after all.”

Everyone guiltily went back about their business, except for Elmer.  He stared out the window at the hardware store.  He wanted to know who the new man with all that land was and what exactly he set his mind to doing with it.  He’d be damned if he wasn’t going to find out.

Elmer stood up defiantly.  He looked at Carl and announced, “I’m going to see what Bobby has to say about our new neighbor.”  He strode confidently across the diner floor.  “I’ll be back to finish up and pay my bill, Edna,” he said as the bell above the door jingled.

Most of the patrons watched him go as Carl mixed his corn into his mashed potatoes.  He was beginning to feel full and had slowed his pace.  Despite Edna’s massive portions, he refused to ever let a scrap of food on his plate go to waste.  Still, he only had a forkful or two left by the time Elmer was seen exiting the store across the street and almost falling over himself in his rush to get back to Edna’s.

Elmer’s face was practically white as he rushed into the door and sat in a breathless heap on one of the stools at the counter.  Those curious enough to have watched him come in, which included everyone but Carl, waited to hear what he had to say.

“Helen,” he gasped.  “Can you get me some more coffee?”  Without a word, she rushed to get him a clean cup and fill it.  Elmer leaned heavily onto his elbows and took a few sips of the black coffee.  Everyone continued to wait, staring at Elmer.

“Dammit, man, what’d he say?” John exclaimed.

Elmer took a deep breath.  “Told Bobby he’s building something.”  He took another sip.  “I asked Bobby if he found anything out about him.  He said his name’s Ted and he’s an engineer from the Washington DC area.  Works for…” he dramatically looked around the room, “…Boeing.”

“Airplanes?” asked John.

“That’s what Bobby asked him,” Elmer replied.  “Said he worked in the securities division.”

“What’s that mean?” asked Lucy.  "Like a banker?"

“Military,” said Elmer into his coffee cup.  “They make fighter jets and,” he gulped another mouthful of black coffee and finished the cup, “bombs.”

Everyone, except Carl, turned their gazes from Elmer to one another.  They hoped against hope that someone else would have an answer to their concerns.

“Well…that don’t mean,” John began feebly, but Elmer cut him off.

“He bought some sections of pipe.”

As the diner exploded into whispered murmurs, Carl stood from his booth and walked toward the counter.  He slapped a ten dollar bill down.  “Thanks, Edna,” he said.  “Great as usual.”  Then, as he walked toward the door, he called behind to Elmer, “So you got a bomb builder named Ted with a bunch a’ pipes and a whole lot a wilderness around him livin’ up on the hill.  Good luck crackin’ the case, detective.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Best News I've Heard In...Ever?

Earlier this week, I was perusing The Brothers Brick and read some news that caused me to choke on my coffee.  Thankfully, I repressed the sudden urge to spray it comically from my mouth in surprise.

I hadn't been on the site in over a week at that point and was trying to catch up on all the amazing Lego news that the fine contributors at that blog publish.  All my excitement over the release of Captain America left me little time to focus on anything else.  Had I just checked in on TBB, I could have passed this news and my reaction to it on to you all sooner.

Apparently, at the annual epic San Diego Comic Convention, Lego announced that they had secured the license to produce Lego minifigures based on DC Comics characters.  They were passing out limited edition Batman and Green Lantern minifigs.  That's exciting.

But that's not the most exciting, beverage choking news.

Immediately following this announcement, Lego revealed that they also obtained the license to produce sets and minifgures based on the Marvel Universe.


It seems that Lego is primed to begin producing sets and minifigs based on the upcoming 2012 Avengers movie and you can see prototype pictures at the link listed above.  I suddenly find myself unable to think of anything else.  I have a foot tall Captain America action figure, a 3.5" figure, a Mighty Mugg, two different Super hero Squad versions and another large round headed figure i picked up at C2E2 on my shelf.  Yet I anticipate that the future flagship of my collection will be the smallest of them all, the upcoming minifigure version of Cap.

The problem that now presents itself is that I will have to clear space on said shelf.  Of course, the minifigure itself will take up minimal space and can no doubt be placed on the shelf in its current arrangement without having to move a single item.  It's the special stand, glass case and 24-hour display lighting system that will require added space.

Healthy = Happy, But it Doesn't Work the Other Way Around

I heard news yesterday that McDonald’s has decided to change what is included in its Happy Meal.  The main course (burger, cheeseburger or McNuggets) will now be accompanied by a much smaller portion of fries and a package of apple slices.  Health activists everywhere are celebrating their victory.

But I say, hold on just a second, oh proponent of proper eating.  Not so fast you lunch room lobbyists.  Remove that congratulatory hand from your own back and vigorously pat a different demographic on the back, a group of which I am a proud member: lazy parents.  Yes, we of the Lunchables and the prepackaged serving sizes made this all possible and I’ll tell you why.

McDonald’s did not change their Happy Meal line-up in the interest of making our children healthier.  Nobody in their offices woke up and exclaimed, “Holy crap!  We’re making kids fat and need to do something about it!”  No amount of pleading the case regarding the prevention of American obesity (see this month's poll to your left) could motivate the McDonald’s corporation to do anything.  Rest assured that if they received money based on the weight of the customers rolling through their restaurants every day, they would be sprinkling protein powder onto the burgers and their fries would still contain animal fat, as would the Diet Coke.

McDonald’s, as any successful corporation, is motivated by the dollar.  If a decision makes business sense, that is to say, if it will make them or save them money, then they will choose it.

Up to this point, McDonald’s had been selling convenience just as much as it had been selling food.  They produced the product that you chose to buy at the lowest possible cost so they could make the most money.  Even if the food quality or customer service has increased, it is because increasing that quality points toward more return customers, thus better sales, thus more money in the mind of the corporation.

So I say again, the credit belongs to the lazy parent.  For a time, we woke up and became a little less lazy. We started straining our backs picking up our four-year-olds, we became nearly deafened by the heavy footfalls of our toddlers as they ran through the house and began cringing in disgust at our own waistlines as we saw what eating our children’s unfinished fries had wrought. So, we lazy parents lowered the priority of convenience and decided that we would start purchasing healthier food options for our children.

We decided enough was enough and maybe we ought to eat a little healthier for long enough to make McDonald’s notice.  At some point McDonald’s (and/or the outside consulting agency that they hired to investigate) determined that they would make more money if the Happy Meal was a little healthier.

Notice I say “a little” healthier.  That is all that has happened here.  Your kids are still getting French fries.  They are still getting a greasy burger.  They are probably still getting a Coke or some other beverage laden with high fructose corn syrup.  But now they have some apples too.  Someone in an office somewhere said, “Put in apples and take out enough fries to make up for the apples.  Charge a little more, though.  Healthier stuff is supposed to be more expensive.”  And thus you have a healthier Happy Meal.

Go ahead and rejoice in your victory all those who feel they had a hand in affecting change.  But you parents out there, lazy or not, should take a valuable lesson from what has happened here.

Remember this: The activists don’t feed your kids.  McDonald’s doesn’t even feed your kids.  You do.

Monday, July 25, 2011

They May Have Silenced Tom & Jerry...

With the lack of Looney Tunes cartons on syndicated television and the more politically incorrect portions of Tom & Jerry being edited out of the episodes they do allow to air, I have found that my sons have an underdeveloped sense of ethnic satire. The stereotypes of various ethnicities have not been made clear to them the way they were to me as a child.

They are mostly Irish and Polish yet can’t appreciate a good joke about an Irishman drinking or a Pole doing something backwards. Likewise, they have never been exposed to their favorite cartoon character being struck on the head with a garbage can lid then breaking into an offensive Japanese mockery, complete with Fu Manchu mustache.

However, where I have been lacking in their education relative to these matters, Nintendo has been gracious enough to help.

When I bought Punch-Out for the Wii, the redesigned homage to the classic 8-bit NES game, I didn’t expect it to teach my sons about the differences they are supposed to notice in others. I had assumed that aspect of the game would also be redesigned or at least toned down a bit.

Had it been redesigned along with the rest of the game play, my sons might not know now that German people are robotic and militant. They would not have thought that every person they meet who happens to be from India should be wearing a turban and practicing some sort of mystical art. They never would have equated the Irish with bar fights or the Japanese with compulsion. They never would have thought that all Spanish men dance around with roses between their teeth when they aren’t fighting bulls.

Now, since they have discovered the game that I purchased and defeated a year ago and left sitting on my shelf, they are skilled in the ways of ethnic diversity. Bugs Bunny didn’t have to make any WWII era jokes about the Germans or Japanese. Punch-Out was there for them in their time of need. Sadly, like the original, there is no Polish fighter to instill any valuable lessons regarding that portion of their heritage (Soda Popinski is Russian).

But the most important lesson of the game is still included. It is right at the very beginning as it ought to be, just like it did back in my day, when you fight Glass Joe. It is one of the most important life lessons of all:

The French are pansies.

Weekly (adj.) Features (n., pl.)

It’s time to update the weekly features just as we try to do every Sunday, or Monday when we don’t get around to it Sunday, so let’s start the way we always do, with this week’s top five list. This week, the list consists of Transformer Generation Dad’s favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs:

5. Preamble – Any song that can take the words of the Constitution and make them into a memorable song is awesome.

4. I’m Just a Bill – The song and story of this episode wasn’t necessarily my favorite, but it is definitely the most recognizable of the songs performed by Jack Sheldon, whose voice became a steady and memorable portion of the show.

3. Conjunction Junction – Another great one performed by Sheldon and I am always partial to the Grammar Rock portion of the show.

2. Three Is a Magic Number – This was the first Schoolhouse Rock song ever. The trailblazer deserves recognition.

1. Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here – I absolutely (adv.) love how the technical aspects of adverbs are so very (modifier) accurately (adv.) explained via song. The spoken parts and the fact that it’s done as a commercial also make it exceedingly (adv.) awesome. To top it off, it is the only song I know of that mentions nut gathering.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is physical evidence of the Loch Ness Monster, which is a shame because it would provide you not only with fame and fortune, but would ensure that you never have to pay entrance to a sci-fi or comic convention for the rest of your life.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that people avoid sitting next to you during movie screenings. It’s not because you look creepy or smell, but because the person avoiding you isn’t interested in having the historical background of the minor detail just featured in the scene whispered excitedly (adv.) to them. All discussion of the film’s references should be held until the end.

This week’s nemesis is cheese curds. If you aren’t meant to eat an entire bag in one sitting then they shouldn’t be bite size. Furthermore, I think that the consumption of cheese that has not been allowed to fully (adv.) mature is barbaric. This is the dairy world’s equivalent of veal.

This week’s lesson learned is to regularly (adv.) reapply sunscreen. I always suspected that it was the same routine as shampoo, which obviously (adv.) just tells you to “repeat” because the politically (adv.) heavy lobbyists in the shampoo industry want you to run out faster and have to buy more. Sneaky bastards. Turns out one application legitimately (adv.) does not create a lifetime barrier between you and the sun’s rays and you will burn if you don’t keep refreshing your layer of UV protection. Who knew?

This week’s equation is my latest effort to save time and resources by combining two nearly identical things into one:

This week’s Star Wars quote is, “Right now I feel like I could take on the whole Empire by myself.”

And that concludes our weekly features. Thank you for reading.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Play it Cool. Cold Even.

For quite some time, I have employed the technique of subtle encouragement with my sons. I resist the urge to show them something they have yet to be exposed to in an attempt to pique their interest. Instead, I participate in related activities, talk about the subject at hand with someone else in their presence and leave clues lying around the house where they are sure to notice them.

For instance, if there is a game I want them to start playing so that they will play it with me, I silently sit down in the same room with them and start playing it. If it’s a video game in another room, I make a point of telling them where dad is going to be if they need him. My activities remain a mystery, no display made of them. Eventually, they want to come see what I’m doing. When I give them the “What, this old thing” routine they instantly want to know more and my hooks are in them.

The reason I have to play this game is because they have already begun to refuse to do things or admit they like them just to spite me. Case in point, they have begun talking smack about Captain America over the past year. This cuts me to the core and they know it. They enjoy it, in fact.

The problem lies in that I let them know it gets to me. I make it clear that Cap is my favorite superhero and that I want them to like him too. Once they know I care, they know precisely what to deny me. But acting as if I don’t care about Captain America isn’t an option. They would call my bluff. Awareness of my love for Ol’ Stripes is like knowing that the sky is blue or that two plus two is four. It is a scientific fact.

Thus, I had a challenge to face in getting my boys to attend a viewing of Captain America: The First Avenger on opening day. How could I get them to go see it without them purposely whining about it and then nudging me throughout the movie to ask if it was over yet or tell me they had to go really bad even though I knew damn well their bladder could withstand at least another twenty minutes worth of pressure?

When I have dragged them to see movies that they should enjoy but I know they want to get under my skin by complaining about in the past, I’ve tried to reason with them. I told them they would enjoy it once it started. This was not a tactically sound move. They went into the theater with something to prove. Thus, they claimed to have hated Thor but loved Hop. These were not the kids I raised.

So I treated it like business. We were going to see the movie. They could get a box of candy each as payment for putting up with it. I accepted that they would certainly not enjoy the movie, but told them they had to see it anyway. Once they thought I didn’t care if they enjoyed Captain America, once they had been paid off for their troubles with candy, things went smoothly. Only one of them needed to use the bathroom. However, he did it during the slow parts and he intentionally asked my wife to take him. I looked over at several points, unbeknownst to them, to see their little faces fixed on the screen, eyes wide open behind the 3D glasses that they didn’t take off like they would normally threaten to and mouths agape.

I could tell they became interested of their own free will and enjoyed the film. There in lay the final challenge. I could not acknowledge victory or they would resist even harder the next time such a situation arose. So, I never bothered to even try and fulfill our post-movie tradition by asking everyone what their favorite parts of the movie were. I acted as if I knew they had hated it and would not want to discuss it with me. I talked about it with my wife, left them out of the discussion and life went on.

Then, a few hours after returning home, my oldest son approached me. “There was actually one part of Captain America that I liked, dad,” he said to me and proceeded to describe it. It was met with a rather cool reaction. I nodded and humph-ed and went about my business. Since then they have each mentioned several other parts of the movie they liked.

And that, as they say, is how it is done. Check and mate, boys. Check. And. Mate.

Friday, July 22, 2011

TGD Movie Review: Captain America

I went into a nice cool movie theater honestly expecting to be disappointed today. The hope that my favorite superhero’s origin story would be tastefully done rested on the slim chances that Hollywood could resist the urge to over stylize Captain America and make him hokey and cartoonish. The embodiment of my fears would have looked something like an elephant balancing on a toothpick.

There were all sorts of ways I thought this production would go south. I feared that the military theme would adopt a done before, ad nausea tone the way Battle: Los Angeles did, with soldiers telling their brothers in their dying breaths that they have to be the hero they were always meant to be or that they had to promise to tell their sweethearts that they loved them. I feared the reds, whites and blues of Steve Rogers’ uniform would blind me. I even feared Chris Evans did not look blond enough in a rare “stick to the comic book” geek moment (I’m usually not that way, honest).

What I watched unfold before me on the big screen was a classy, inspiring , artfully told story of a man (albeit a fictional man) who makes you want to strive to be better than you are. It captured the sense of what Captain America means to this country and the values he truly represents. Below you will find my glowing review.

The Plus Side: The first thing I noticed about Captain America: The First Avenger was the color. I expected bright blues and reds. Instead, I saw muted tones and authentic WWII era style. To its credit, it looked more like an episode of M*A*S*H than it did the previous Marvel films. With the setting being one of the bloodiest wars of all time, vivid colors and celebratory themes were not appropriate. The brightest red in the movie came from the exposed face of the Red Skull.

The story behind Steve Rogers is what makes Captain America special. Cap has always been a hero due to his virtue and his strength in mind and spirit. His enhanced physical abilities merely make him better able to use those gifts for good. The movie stayed true to this. Steve Rogers was portrayed as a man with a load on his shoulders that he accepted.

The performances were outstanding. Chris Evans was, surprisingly, an excellent Steve Rogers. The audience watched him go from scrawny service reject to hopeful recruit to science experiment to celebrity to true leader and hero. Each step took its appropriate amount of time. The movie never seemed to dwell too long or brush over any part of Steve’s maturation process too quickly. The result was a well told, engaging story. You hoped for Steve, you trusted Dr. Erskine (played well by Stanley Tucci) and you feared Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull.

There was also plenty of action. Tanks, planes, guns, specialized weaponry and, of course, the shield. It was intense and gripping without being overly comic book like. The subdued colors worked well as Cap bounced his shield off the side of a tank to take out one bad guy while “Dum Dum” Dugan and the gang pushed their way through the enemy, firing in all directions.

The Down Side: While the story was expertly told, there were some slight flaws as with any movie. We were never told who the men fighting alongside Cap were. Sure, this avoided a cheesy introduction scene, but cheese sometimes has its place: on a good burger and in WWII combat films. There is no shame in taking a minute to introduce each character (“Meet Johnny ‘Boom Boom’ McTavish, explosives specialist”) so that the audience identifies with them just a little more. If you didn’t know who “Dum Dum” Dugan was prior to this film, you still wouldn’t have by the end.

Also, for all the well-done action sequences, there were a few moments that made you roll your eyes. Cap jumps just a little too high or too far. He out-swims a submarine. He sneaks too easily around behind enemy lines with a red, white and blue shield shining on his back.

On top of this, the action, while within PG-13 guidelines, involved a lot of shooting. This was nothing my sons could not handle, but I know some parents might cringe at this thought. While the bad guys were masked and anonymous enough to dilute some of the violence, there were American servicemen being shot and evaporated by HYDRA weapons. I could see some younger kids being upset by this and perhaps even seeing the Red Skull’s face in their nightmares.

The Wrap-Up: Overall, this was a great movie, one that you and any of your children who can handle mild military combat scenes are sure to enjoy. Of the Marvel films since the first Spider-Man, I think it is by far the best but also the least kid-friendly. You’ll laugh at the humor at times, be on the edge of your seat for the action and maybe get choked up. I know I did. Captain America: The First Avenger hits the mark, which is impressive because I personally set it awfully high.

TGD Rating: I admittedly have been leery to give deservedly low ratings to movies (See my Green Lantern review). I’m trying to break that habit, but I am so incredibly excited about how this film played out that the best I can do is keep myself form giving it a perfect rating of a full star. Instead, Transformer Generation Dad bestows on Captain America: The First Avenger nineteen twentieths of a star and also unveils the new rating icon. You can see that parents will like it, kids may or may not, and the rating all in one quick glance. Congratulations are in order for those of you who cannot be bothered to read an entire blog post.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Third (Cap) Person (Cap) Thursday (Cap): H(c)a(p)ikus

Every now and then, when pressed for time, the blog author turned to the haiku for quick, topical, third person posts. Today was one of those days and the subject on his mind was none other than his favorite super hero:

Shield, mask and courage.
The weapons of Cap are few
yet he fights many.

Hydra and Nazis.
They are all the same to me.
Cap still kicks their ass.

Get in the car kids!
Have all the candy you want,
just no bathroom breaks.

Three (four?) haikus done.
Sleep and tickets to arrange
for the morning...[squeeee!]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Try Not to Think About It

Regular readers of Transformer Generation Dad may already recognize that I have exercised a great deal of restraint in not posting every day in July about the month’s most anticipated event. In fact, I’ve only mentioned it in passing sometime in June and have allowed my excitement over it to languish near the bottom of our left hand column.

Regardless, it casts a shadow over everything I do lately. It is always there in the back of my mind. All of my willpower has been summoned just to avoid making too big of a deal out of it.

If you haven’t figured it out already, I am, of course, talking about this Friday’s release of (deep breath)…



While I may look calm, cool and collected on the outside, save that patriotically colored outburst above, I am an emotional wreck on the inside. I am expecting an absolutely magical event. Picture Gandalf flying the Millenium Falcon flanked by Beholders and an army of Hawk Men from Flash Gordon armed with lightsabers through space and blasting crossed proton streams into the eye of the Kraken who subsequently explodes into red, white and blue fireworks that spell the word AWESOME. Did I mention there was a leprechaun riding Pegasus that you couldn’t see because he was wearing an invisibility cloak? Now imagine something ten times as magical as that and that’s how freaking magical I’m talking.

I fear I’m setting myself up for a crushing blow to my psyche should I be even slightly disappointed in the film’s quality.

I’m already looking up show times and waiting for them to be updated at my favorite theater before committing to purchasing tickets. Should they not be available there come Wednesday morning, I will have to go with my back-up theater just to ensure I see it on opening day.

Meanwhile, I plan on going out today and buying the Xbox 360 version of the Captain America: Super Soldier video game just to whet my appetite for all things Captain America. It’s a decision I’m likely to regret as I haven’t played a superhero movie based video game to date that I’ve been happy with, but it’s less expensive than purchasing that custom Captain America costume in my size on Ebay so I can wear it to the premier and far less damaging to my reputation.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Welcome Ho-meh

As a kid, I used to bemoan the seemingly unending journey to our vacation destination during road trips. It took forever. The anticipation of the arrival left me unable to sleep in the car and being awake while being too young to drive was like torture.

Eleven hours in a car far exceeded both the attention span and battery life I had in my Game Boy and my musical interests were not well rounded enough to provide me with albums to keep my headphones on the entire trip. In order to keep myself from burning out on the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana, I was forced to turn off my Walkman and submit to the selection my father chose to bring along. I think he refused to bring his more widely appreciated collections of The Beatles, The Rolling Stone, The Doors, Springsteen or his Atlantic Rhythm & Blues anthology out of spite at having to listen to the music of three teenage boys filling the house throughout the rest of the year. Instead, when I had listened to Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic for the third time and couldn’t take any more, I was treated to big band music or the Everly Brothers.

After starting a family of my own, this perspective drastically changed. Packing has become a major pain in the ass (I miss the days when I threw some clothes in a duffle bag and was ready to roll) but getting on the road and embarking upon the trek to our chosen haven of bliss for the week is something I now greatly enjoy.

On the contrary, I now dread the return trip.

On the way there the road rushes beneath me and I feel fully in control of both my vehicle and my family’s aspirations. On the way back, the hours left before my inevitable return to work are the only things rushing past me. When leaving home, relaxation and the promise of a memorable trip glow on the horizon like a thousand glorious lakeside sunsets. Coming back, each passed landmark takes me further away from the peace I just enjoyed and I feel I’m forcing my family back into the foul, dank monotony of the real world. On the way there, I seem to constantly comment on how we are making great time while the trip back always meets some horrific traffic jam.

When I was younger, I was eager to return home and see my friends. I enjoyed the week away, but I knew there was summer left to make the most of when I got back. Now, while I can still appreciate my own bed and a decent shower, I also retroactively appreciate the fact that my mother took care of all my dirty laundry and restocked a refrigerator that suddenly contained nothing but expired food.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you realize that you are late for your final exam? The one that you realize you never studied for? Then you rush off to take it and burst into the crowded lecture hall with five minutes left to make a feeble attempt at picking up at least a handful of points and suddenly realize you’re in your underwear? While I still have that dream from time to time to today and it remains as terrifying as it was the first time, it is always such a relief to wake up and realize that you are an adult now and not even going to school anymore.

Driving home from a decent vacation carries the exact opposite feeling for me. The vacation itself seems like it was only a dream. Instead of waking up to the relief of finding yourself still in the hotel/cabin/bed & breakfast with a few days remaining to enjoy, you realize that it was real and it really is over. What lies ahead is the nightmare that is the real world, the job and the responsibilities that you, against all probability, managed to shirk for a week while you sat on your backside somewhere much prettier than the area to which you are headed back. They had the courtesy to wait around and pile up while you were gone. When you open your front door, they jump into your face immediately like a lonely puppy that had been left behind.

And somehow, despite your best efforts to remember, you always end up showing up for your first day back to work in just your underwear.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

New Weekly Features

Throwback week has ended. Having served its purpose, I no longer need it and have banished it to the frozen wastelands from whence it came. I now feel relaxed and refreshed and am prepared to provide the throngs of Transformer Generation Dad fans with the meaty, bloggy sustenance that they so desired in the form of brand new posts. And what better way to achieve that than by updating the weekly features? That was a rhetorical question. If there is a better way, I don't want to know about it because I've already decided this is the best way.

Our new top five lists chronicles the top five things that can ruin a fishing trip:

5. Lack of fish - Whether it is due to the lack of optimal breeding spots on the particular lake or your lack of angling prowess, taking a trip expressly meant for fishing and then catching next to nothing can be pretty frustrating, but by far not the worst thing that could happen provided the scenery is still good.

4. Surplus of insects - Particularly mosquitoes and biting flies. Gnats and ants are just annoying and dragonflies are actually welcome because they eat the biting and stinging varieties of bugs and look cool as hell.

3. Humidity - Humidity results in more bugs and packs the extra sucky bonus of causing sitting on a lake in the sun to be absolutely miserable. Good luck if your lodge/cabin isn't air conditioned.

2. Crowds/Water-skiers/Tubers - And I ain't talkin' 'bout potatoes! Fishing, in my mind anyway, is about patience and serenity. Few things interrupt that like a speedboat zipping by with screaming water-skiers and people on giant inflatable tubes dragging behind.

1. Running out of beer - Nothing kills a fishing trip like opening the fridge/cooler and finding no more beer. If you are really out in the wilderness where buying more is impractical, you might as well just pack up and head home.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a private lake. You could control at least two of the above five issues by stocking it regularly and restricting access. The closest you may get is the little pond behind the houses in your gated community, but you don't own it exclusively and it's probably not large enough to make it satisfying even if you did own the whole thing.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you refer to aquatic plants by their proper names. It is unacceptable in your mind to call them all seaweed. Even being more specific and saying reeds, cattails and lilly pads isn't enough for you. Instead, you comment on the Typha latifolia near the shore, the Nuphar Lutea that the bass might be hiding beneath and the completely submerged Myriophyllum hippuroides that might indicate larger predatory species are lurking nearby to feed.

This week's nemesis is people who drive slowly in the left lane. This holds true particularly on two-lane highways. If you're not passing somebody, get in the right lane! I've got a kid in my back seat who is going to soil his shorts if I don't make that next rest stop five miles away in under two minutes!

This week's lesson learned is that packing extra beer at the start of your road trip is always a sound technique. You end up with extra space on the way home for souvenirs, you are less likely to have to interrupt your family fun to restock in the middle of the vacation and you have an excuse to drink more beer. "Honey, I don't want to have to take this back home."

This week's equation is a refresher algebra lesson that comes in handy on road trips:

Distance (d) equals rate (r) times time (t). I've even taken the liberty of converting it to the other potential equations. Now you are sure to be able to approximate how long it'll take you to get somewhere, how far you've already been and how fast you need to go or have been going.

This week's Star Wars quote is: "They must never again leave this city."

That's all for now. Expect new posts for the rest of the week. It's good to be back. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Throwback Week: Joining a New Con-munity

While the beginning of this blog served as an announcement to anyone that cared that I was officially embracing the nerd within, I had never attended a comic convention. That changed last August when my wife, proud of the unapologetic nerd I had blossomed into, suggested we attend one together with our sons. The following post resulted:

When I started writing this blog in February, it was an exercise in self-exposure. I was admitting that there was a long-suffering, stifled nerd inside of me that I was ready to let peek out. I suspected there were others that felt the same way and hoped to reach them and encourage them to let their geek-ish alter egos shine rather than keep them locked away in the dark recesses of their psyche.

At the same time, I was well aware that I was no pioneer. There existed a life path that one could journey as an adult nerd with kids. Plenty of people were on it. I just wasn’t one of them yet. I lurked in the shadows of said path, watching the nerds who bravely and proudly strode along the adult nerd trail from the brush.

From time to time, I would sample the fruits of life as a public nerd: a
Star Wars marathon here, a Lego set purchased for myself there, gifts of action figures to my brothers. But I always had my true nature shielded from scrutiny by the fact that whatever I was participating in could be deflected onto my sons. I had an out.

I’m just doing this because my boys like this stuff.

To be honest, as much as I feared those who make fun of nerds pointing their fingers at me and laughing, I was just as intimidated by not being able to hang with the true nerds. I worried that should I step out from the overgrowth into the sunlight of the nerds’ path, I might not even be welcomed by the nerds traveling upon it. My lack of knowledge in the realms of
Battlestar Gallactica and inability to speak fluent Klingon could be my undoing.

Despite these fears, with my wife’s urging, I found myself and my family attending my first comic con yesterday. My standard self-defense mechanism prepared, I dressed my kids in their Halloween costumes from last year: Boba & Jango Fett. If I could divert attention to the innocent youth then I would be fine.

I am at once ashamed and proud to admit that I gave the nerds of the world too little credit. Within a few short minutes, I was receiving passing compliments from complete strangers on my Mega Man t-shirt. My boys shied away from would-be high fives regarding their costumes.

The convention as a whole was a very welcoming atmosphere. It seemed everyone there was happy to just be in the presence of others who shared their interests. Nobody was excluded. All were welcome.

Instead of bring criticized by some real life version of the Comic Book Guy from
The Simpsons because I didn’t know exactly which issue Wolverine first appeared in, the gentleman running the booth which sold loose action figures watched me and allowed me time to answer my own son’s question.

“Daddy, who is this guy?”

“That is…” I paused and could see him from the corner of my eye, prepared to lend a hand. “Titanium Man.” We then made eye contact and I received a nod that said to me, “Nice job.”

My fears had been eased. I was holding my own.

We walked about and enjoyed some other booths. I bought various items I didn’t need but had to have, like t-shirts and glass tumblers featuring Marvel characters. We unsuccessfully tried to convince my six year old to go stand next to the most realistic Boba Fett costumed man (I assume it was a man underneath) that any of us had ever seen. If it was a man, he gets extra credit for the costume because the strap running from his jet pack beneath his crotch to his belt looked awfully uncomfortable. We ran into Ghost-Busters and complimented an age accurate Hit Girl on her costume, much to her mother’s apparent joy.

And the people sitting behind each table, manning each booth were not pushy. They would very much like for you to purchase their wares. But if all you wanted to do was check them out and say, “That’s awesome,” as you picked up the bust of Zombie Spider-Man or leaned in close for a better look at the Chewbacca painting, they were pleased. As long as you could appreciate what they brought to the show, they were happy.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this was our stop at the Nerd Buttons table (I would link to their website here, but I seem to have lost the business card amongst the other paraphernalia I collected). The buttons featured quotes from classic movies and my wife frequently asked me which movie each was from. I was proud to explain in front of the booth occupants that the amp knob set at eleven was a reference to
Spinal Tap. I told her “We’re on a mission from God,” was from the Blues Brothers. I then received their clarification on whether, “This is my boom stick,” was from Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness (it’s from Army of Darkness).

We even had a discussion over my Mega Man shirt (which I decided yesterday I’m going to wear out in public more often). The man behind the button manufacturing said he wanted to create a button with the iconic image of Mega Man leaping but hadn’t due to obvious copyright infringement. For those that don’t know what that looks like:

We then shared a good laugh when I told them I always made a point of hitting the boss doors in mid leap in such a way to momentarily suspend Mega Man in this pose as the screen panned right. When I looked over at my wife, I was well aware that she had no clue what I was talking about, but the smile on her face showed she enjoyed being there and watching me be a nerd with other nerds just the same.

And that was the overall feeling I left the convention with: one of acceptance. My intimidation was misplaced. I walked into my first comic con and was welcomed with open arms. There was no nerd threshold I needed to meet. Nobody ever cared to ask if I knew the slightest about the bridge layout of either the original
Star Trek or The Next Generation. I enjoyed all there was to take in and everyone there enjoyed sharing it.

I decided I will not shy away from such events in the future as I have in the past. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll even wear a costume. The only challenge, at six-foot-six will be finding one in my size.