Nathan's Laserium: Robot's Cove

Ten years ago today I got married to Michelle! Yay for us! To celebrate we are heading off to Jamaica. So I will be absent from these parts for a couple of weeks. Thought I would leave you some archival footage from my honeymoon. We went to the Atlantic provinces, flying into Nova Scotia then driving the breathtaking Cabot Trail before taking the ferry over to Newfoundland then eventually back over to Nova Scotia and across to New Brunswick then ending in Prince Edward Island. Good trip!

This poem is a direct result of driving around Cape Breton Island, seeing the giant wind turbines by the coast, listening to the Gorillaz' (and Dennis Hopper's) "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head", and mulling over Dan Simmons' Ilium, a curious tale about the Trojan War on Mars, among other things. And if this reminds you of the Iron Giant, that's okay, too. Stuff written on one's honeymoon need not be very original or amazing, as long as it's about robots.

Robot's Cove

At the edge of the world

where green grass meets blue sea

a lighthouse stands

where it has kept vigil

for over a century

guiding ships safely

past the rocks

 

Then one day

with a sea storm's suddenness

a giant black robot

over a hundred feet tall

and not quite humanoid

descended from space

and landed

next to the lighthouse

 

The residents of the sleepy little cove

watched with apprehension

and wariness

waiting for the strange thing

to do something

anything

probably devour them all

but all it did

was incline its head

toward the heavens

 

Slowly they overcame their fear

and approached the black shell

the robot didn't devour anyone

it didn't react at all

the braver boys discovered

that it made a hollow clanging sound

when you hit it with a rock

and the girls drew on it with chalk

 

Inevitably the government came

and so did the tourists

while the residents went about their lives

some of them got jobs as tour guides

in the Robot Interpretive Center

all the while

the lighthouse stood guard

and the robot didn't move

though sometimes its eyes glowed

different colors

 

The government and all its

secret organizations

could not discover the robot's origins

though there were lots of books

with all kinds of

conspiracy theories

and crackpot hypotheses

sparking endless debate

and boredom

while the robot stood tall

next to the lighthouse

 

Many years later

with no warning

the robot flew away

leaving the lighthouse behind

where it remained impassive

searching the seas for ships in distress

while the citizens scanned the skies

to no avail

so they returned to their lives

in their sleepy little village

now devoid of government and tourists

and they renamed it

Robot's Cove

(Originally Posted 21st July 2005)

 

Special bonus feature: here is an artist’s rendering I commissioned back in the day

- Nathan Waddell

Pick of the Week – June 29-July 5, 2015

As a kid, I played a fair amount of Monopoly.  That’s actually something of an understatement.  My brother, a good friend of mine, and I had an epic game that lasted for weeks because we kept allowing loans from the bank when one of us got into financial trouble.  I also tried modifying the game by creating cross streets with even more properties that allowed players to take different routes around the board.

Now that I’m older I’ve come to the realization that I really don’t enjoy Monopoly.  I’ll still play it when my kids want to, but there are so many other games out there to try.  And I’m not talking about the usual standards like Life, Clue, or Risk. 

If you’ve been in a games shop lately, you will have discovered that there is a bewildering number of board and card games out now with titles like Lords of Waterdeep and Tsoro.  Faced with this, the biggest question I always have is, “Will I enjoy this game?”  This is a non-trivial question, since many of these games can cost $40 or more.

Fortunately, there is help available from my Pick for this week.  Wil Wheaton, who is probably best known for his years as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation and as himself on The Big Bang Theory, is in his third season of hosting Tabletop, a web series produced by Geek and Sundry.  In each episode, Wheaton and his guests play a different game.  Watching the interaction between Wheaton and guests like Karen Gillan (Amy Pond from Doctor Who), Grant Imahara (Mythbusters), and Bill Prady (Creator/Producer of The Big Bang Theory among many other shows.) is entertaining in itself, but the show does a great job of using graphics and explanatory segments with Wheaton to show how the games are played.

Thanks to Tabletop, I have seen a lot of games that I probably never would have heard about otherwise.  I’ve also spent far more money than I care to think about acquiring the ones that look interesting.  And now, when someone suggests playing Monopoly, I can suggest several far more fun alternatives.

And that’s exactly what I will be doing for the next several weeks.  I will tell you about a few of my favorite games that have been shown on Tabletop and provide a link to the associated episode.  If none of those strike your fancy, there are a couple dozen other episodes that you can watch for other options.  

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

 

Unintended Unconscious Consequences

I do stupid things for my kids sometimes.  Well…maybe stupid isn’t the best word, but certainly detrimental to my personal well-being.

Case in point: This past Tuesday was the release date of the new Batman video game, Arkham Knight.  For those of you not up on such matters, the Arkham game series are generally considered to be the best Batman games ever, particularly the first two, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, which were made by Rocksteady Studios.  The third game in the series, Arkham Origins, was handled by another company and was not nearly as well received.  For Arkham Knight, though, Rocksteady is back and anticipation is high.

So high, in fact, that our local GameStop opened at midnight to get the game into the hands of the eager players.  My son had pre-ordered the game and REALLY wanted to get his hands on it as soon as possible.  He’s a teenager on Summer vacation, so staying up until midnight is actually an early night for him.  As for his dad…well…not so much.  I get up for work around 5:30AM, so I try to get to bed around 10PM.

However, because I am far too nice to my children and GameStop is a whopping three minutes from my house, I agreed to let him wake me up a little before midnight, so that I could drive him down there to collect his new game.

Surprisingly, there were already at least 20 people in front of the store when we arrived.  Now I live in a small town.  I really didn’t think that we’d have so many people lining up at midnight to get this game.  I was wrong.

But, since everyone seemed to have a pre-order, the large stack of Arkham Knight games was quickly efficiently doled out to the waiting masses (A side note for anyone interested in these things, they seemed to have far more Playstation 4 copies than X-Box One.  Take that for what it’s worth in the continuing battle for console superiority.).  Not too long after that, my son was happily planted in front of his console waiting to Be the Bat, while I settled back into my bed to head back to sleep.

If only it were that simple.

Normally when I wake up during the night (Most often due to my cat), I am able to get back to sleep in moments.  I guess actually getting up, driving somewhere, waiting a bit, and then driving back threw off my sleep pattern a wee bit.

After far longer than I would have liked, I did finally drift back off to sleep. 

And then this is what I assume must have happened:

“Hey, boss.  We got that dream you ordered ready for the Decker kid.”

“Good good.  Send it on its way.”

“Yeah.  About that.  He ain’t showing up on our scopes.”

“Whaaaaaaaat?  It’s three in the morning!  Even he is usually in bed by now.”

“Not tonight.  Actually, we got a lot of no-shows across the board.”

“Must be another one of those blasted game releases.  Well, I am NOT letting this dream go to waste.  Send it to the father.  This is probably his fault anyway.”

“You got it, boss!”

So instead of whatever dream I was supposed to get last night, I ended up in a high school that looked far more like my son’s than mine, scrambling to finish my English final exam.  The first blue answer book I had already had writing in it, so I had to find another one before I could finally get started.

Thankfully, the dream fast-forwarded a bit, but then I knew I was running late for my Chemistry exam.  I raced outside to cross the courtyard (not a feature at either high school) and was waylaid by some other students made up as zombies.  They wanted me to join them in getting made up and chasing other students, but, once I explained that I was late for an exam, they let me by.

So then I breathlessly entered the Chemistry exam, which was being proctored by my son’s Chemistry teacher and sat down to work.  Again, I was lucky to get to fast forward because I remember exactly one thing about high school chemistry.  One day our teacher, who was possibly out of his mind, made us all chant over and over again, “I am a Chemistry student!  I am not afraid of a mole!”  That’s all I’ve got left.

Dream Me, however, seemed to do okay, because I jumped forward a bit in time to a restaurant where I was discussing my grades with my friends.  I’d apparently aced both exams.  Since he was there too, I did get to thank my English teacher: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

So thank you for that, my son.  I’m glad you’re enjoying Arkham Knight, but you can keep these "OH NO, I HAVE AN EXAM!" dreams to yourself!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Nathan's Laserium: Slipspeartroll

I think that more soccer moms should listen to Slipknot. I'm not saying that no soccer moms listen to Slipknot. Just that more should. Like, all of them. And not just soccer moms. Everybody. They're just an excellent band. Don't let their masks and numbers and coveralls fool you- they are quality musicians who make excellent music. Once I was watching Slipknot performances on YouTube and my daughter Pallas was fascinated.

"So that's Kripknot?"

"Slipknot, yes."

"They're not scary, right?"

"Right. They are really very friendly. And they're just good musicians."

"They're MUSICIANS???"

"Um, yes. I'm not sure why that's surprising to you."

"Like wizards?"

"Ah. Not magicians. Musicians. They play music."

"They're MUSICIANS???"

No, that's mean, she didn't actually make that last remark.  And she loves listening to Kripknot.

As you would! Hey, if I can listen to Taylor Swift, anyone can listen to Slipknot.

You want heavy, fast, aggressive stuff to get you pumped up? Try People=Shit, All Hope Is Gone, The Blister Exists and Sarcastrophe.

How about slower, more introspective, even beautiful music? Vermilion Pt.2, Circle, Til We Die or XIX. Oh and the new single, Killpop.

How about fun party tunes?

Um.

For that I'd recommend another metal ensemble, one I've only recently discovered and am completely addicted to: TrollfesT.

About a month ago I was able to direct the Vampirenomad to some free tickets to the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road. In gratitude she invited me to come. And I really wanted to. Even before the buzz about Imperator Furiosa it was a given because Tom Hardy! But I had a dilemma. There was a Finnish folk metal band called Ensiferum playing in town that same night. I really wanted to see them. But I only just discovered them, it's not like I've been waiting decades to see them and this was finally my chance. Still, Mad Max would be there all summer, and Ensiferum was her for one night only. So Finnish folk metal won the day.

It was such a good show.

And the highlight for me was the opening act called TrollfesT. They're a seven-piece Norwegian band that came out in blue face paint and labcoats and goggles and everyone was drumming and bearded and there was an accordion and it was definite Kaos. Only it was kontrolled kaos, in that they were playing really great, catchy music. I described them on Twitter as escapees from Discworld, maybe, or the Rat Queens' favorite band. They're one of my favorite bands now too.

After the show I was fortunate enough to have a couple of drinks with some of the guys. They told me their real names but their stage names are all things like Trollmannen and Trollbank and Manskow and Drekka Dag. Lodd Bolt! They perform in a sort of madeup language called Trollspråk. So it doesn't really matter that you can't understand a thing they say. Just scream along!

For starters I'd say just get their new album, Kaptein Kaos. It's so good. If you want to try a song or three first, then I'd say Ave Maria, Die Gross Echsen and the title track. And then Sagn Om Stein too! Their other albums are just as good. They do a couple of interesting covers, one of Tom Waits' God's Away On Business, and a song they performed at the show and it went over big, Toxic by Britney Spears. So there you go! TrollfesT man! You are very welcome.

And hey, speaking of Britney, and lest you think I only have extreme metal bands to recommend to you, I can also say you will get tremendous listening pleasure from a recent episode of the brand new podcast Mystery Show. Episode 2 concerns Britney Spears and I think you will enjoy it. All the episodes are good but you don't need to listen to them in order or anything. Give it a try!

Rrrrghh huff pfaw rrgh ruf stort.

(That is Bearspråk for "please enjoy and send me salmons.")

- Nathan Waddell

 

Pick of the Week – June 22-28, 2015

I became a big fan of The Flash TV series this past season (That’s not my Pick for this week.  Bear with me for a moment.), and, while I enjoyed the show immensely, one of my favorite moments had absolutely nothing to do with what was happening on screen but instead involved who was on screen.  Clancy Brown was appeared in this particular episode as his recurring character, General Wade Eiling, and I was able to turn to my daughter and say, “See that guy?  That’s Mr. Krabs.”  The look of confused astonishment on her face was wonderful as she tried to see Brown (who is a pretty imposing guy) as the animated owner of the Krusty Krab on Spongebob Squarepants.

Of course, when I was my daughter’s age, I didn’t put any thought into the fact that there were actual human beings voicing my favorite cartoon characters, but about the time I got into graduate school, I became far more interested in the subject.  This was probably because I found myself living in the same city as the 1990s voice of Scooby-Doo, Scott Innes. 

Since then, I’ve started taking note of the people who voice some of my favorite characters.  In college, my friends and I would race back from class to make sure we were back in time for Animaniacs, and I’ve since learned that the same man, Rob Paulsen, voiced Yakko, Dr. Scratchansniff, and Pinky.

Now that I have this interest in voice actors, the documentary (and, at long last, this week’s Pick) I Know That Voice, was great fun for me, since it is absolutely FILLED with interviews with the greatest voice actors in the business.  I guarantee you that your childhood (and possibly your adulthood) is in this movie.

I Know That Voice, which was produced and narrated by Futurama’s Bender himself, John DiMaggio, was streaming on Netflix last I knew, and, beyond giving you a look at everyone from Batman (Kevin Conroy) to Timmy Turner (Tara Strong), the documentary provides an incredibly interesting overview of the business of voice-acting.

As a side bit of fun, HERE is a fantastic clip of many of the voice actors from the film reading the script for Star Wars in the voices of their various characters.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter