So Much Stuff I Can't Recall

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Another Notch in My Belt

As a result of my recent 21-day healthy-eating fast, I'm back in my "less fat" jeans. Consequently, I've had to go and buy myself a new belt, which--of course--resulted in me finding an old belt that I really like.

So this morning I went and added a new hole to the belt I really like. If I need to add yet another hole to the belt (and I intend to add two by the time summer's over), maybe I'll reward myself with a new Swiss-Army Knife with an awl. Yes, I MacGyvered the belt with a nail (and then widened the hole with a large screw), but Mac made copious use of SAKs, too. Unfortunately this model doesn't come with the reamer/punch feature.

(I tried on my size-36 jeans this morning and was able to fasten the Costco-brand pair; Levi Strauss is less generous in their defintion of "size 36," but I'm within half an inch of those looking incredibly unflattering on me, too.)

Mikesell : 2:08 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Free iTunes Worth Having

Every week iTunes gives away a couple songs. Usually by artists you've never heard of; usually not worth keeping on your hard drive for any length of time, let alone transferring to your iPod. They're seldom bad songs, but I guess they either hit you right or they don't.

This week I'm digging their selections.

"Put Your Records On" by Corrine Bailey Rae has an infectious cheerfulness that fits well with sunshine-y, late Spring mornings (and it keeps your spirits up when gray clouds roll in around 10 o'clock, too).

"Aqua" by Moncef Genoud is nine minutes of up-tempo jazz (yeah, the sax comes in slowly but it's honking right along soon thereafter). Nine minutes (well, 8:58): that's like two bucks' worth of music for free. Whatabargainforme.

Not all is Peaches & Herb at iTunes, though. I'm confident this is a sign of impending apocalypes. Be very afraid.

Fortunately the two free tracks'll keep you bebopping your way through the rain of sulfurous, burning hailstones. (Little girls double-Dutch on the concrete ... Go ahead, let your hair down.) Check 'em out.

Mikesell : 12:28 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Book Chat with Kathryn Mackel

In the past month I’ve read two spiritual-warfare thriller novels: House by Frank Peretti & Ted Dekker and The Hidden by Kathryn Mackel. If your spiritual-warfare thriller novel budget allows you to only buy a single novel until the next fiscal quarter, don’t let the fact you may be more familiar with the names Peretti and Dekker discourage you from picking up Mackel’s book.

Depending on how your fiscal quarters are structured, you may be able to get both books on Thursday, but I still recommend The Hidden over House. Then again, maybe that’s not the ringing endorsement I intend: I recommend the nutrition panel on a cereal box over House (not quite as much cardboard and contents that are maybe even more scary—pyridoxine hydrochloride? <shiver>).

Set in rural Colorado (with Boston-based bookend scenes), the novel deals with a family whose emotional and psychological and spiritual scars rival those found on the back of a young man found shackled in a cave at the bottom of a ravine. The characters are complex if a bit angsty. And while some of conversations are thinly veiled “tell me your problems” info dumps, there is genuine character development and believable working-out of conflicts. Mackel spreads the grue with gusto in a few places (your mileage may vary, but I prefer extra-chunky grue on my road pizza) as a serial-killer stalks our hero(in)es, although she pulls her punches occasionally (and there’s a segment or two where the narrative gets sketchy in order to maintain the villain’s secret identity). Overall, however, there’s a lot to recommend the book (OMG ponies!!!) as a beach read or in-flight entertainment—and enough chills to suggest you not read it whilst spelunking.

I sent off a handful of questions to Kathryn, and she graciously didn’t file a restraining order:
  1. Which “darling” (character/scene/plot element) was most painful to kill?

    Interesting question.

    My original conception of the story and my pre-first draft opened with Susan dreaming she was working in a beautiful garden. We hear wheels and see three-year-old Christopher riding around on his little bike. As the scene expands, we realize it’s the rooftop garden of her penthouse apartment, a place of beauty where she feels perfectly safe because she’s literally above it all, and the walls are so high. Christopher knocks over a plant and she lovingly shoos him in another direction. She tracks him by listening to the creak-creak-creak of his wheels. Then the creaking stops. She brushes off the dirt and goes looking for him.

    She finds him, still on his bike, poised at an opening in the wall that is not supposed to be there. “No!” she cries out but he bravely puts his foot to the pedal and pushes hard. He remains suspended for an impossible moment, looking back with a sad smile. And then he falls.

    It perfectly captures Susan’s torment and sets her up for the real opening of the story. (The middle-of-the-night phone call about her father’s fall from the horse.) But it was too intense, I thought, to open the book. You might, however, see it in the movie!

  2. A major theme of the book deals with kids who feel their parents have let them down (and in some cases it's more than a “feeling,” the kids have been let down). Any advice for readers who feel that way? [Note to my parents and in-laws: this has nothing to do with you...]

    One of the hardest elements of faith is trusting in a heavenly Father when our own earthly parents may have not only let their children down but—in my character Susan’s case—actively tormented them. We come to the Father through the Son, and this is the best avenue of contact for a broken-hearted son or daughter. We can live in the Gospels and enjoy the Son of God—also known as the Son of Man—who showed such incredible compassion, tenderness, and even rebuking to those He loved.

    A practical way to help move past a rocky childhood is to connect with older ‘saints’ in our church. They become our true mothers and fathers in the best sense of the word. Eventually, they can help us come to the forgiveness that is impossible on worldly terms. In The Hidden, Susan can’t even start the road to forgiveness until she speaks aloud the damage that was done to her—and her fury at a God who allowed such damage.

    There is a time to admit such things, and a time to move past them. I’m not speaking in theory here. My parents loved my sisters and myself with a strong love. But their alcoholism created havoc for each of us in different ways. It was only through writing The Hidden that I had that “duh” moment in which I realized I needed to stop holding them responsible for what I consider the slings and arrows of my own personality.

  3. If/When a movie is made of The Hidden, which style soundtrack would you prefer: an Ennio Morricone Western score or a John Williams Thriller?

    One of the desires of my heart is to write a movie splendid enough to merit a John Williams score. The Hidden would be a quieter story than what he normally tackles, but he’d do splendid justice to the mountains and the horses. If a filmmaker could be persuaded to include Jacob’s creation and crucifixion experiences, then Williams could write on the most epic scale imaginable. Whoa...you’ve got me going now.

  4. And a another question about horses and songs, Which of the following do you like best? “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett, “One Trick Pony” by Paul Simon), “Horse with No Name” by America?

    Okay, you’ve outted me. I’m not a big music buff, except for classical music and Steve Bell. But, at the risk of inserting a plug, Victoria James has written an incredible song for The Hidden called “Be Still.” Vicki has been writing songs for my books since I needed a lullaby for The Surrogate. What’s amazing is that, when she finished the song for The Departed, she also sent me “Be Still.” She said she had no reason why she should be sending it but I nearly cried when I heard it. She knew nothing about The Hidden and yet the Holy Spirit had completely moved her to write the perfect song for the book.

    Since I’m way overdue on updating my website, folks can listen to it on hers (www.victoriajamesmusic.com). It is SO worth the visit. Sometimes I wonder how I could possibly be more blessed than through our partnership in story and song.

  5. Your story takes place in Colorado, as does Ted Dekker’s recent Showdown (pivotal scenes of Stephen Kings’s The Stand, too). What’s so scary about The Centennial State?

    The Centennial State scary? Nah. Colorado is majestic, which is what drew me to set the story here. And, to further illustrate the Lord’s provision, let me tell you this. I’m in the Northeast, near rural New Hampshire where we have plenty of horse farms. But when I went calling around for some help on my horse stuff, no one returned my phone calls or emails! Last year at this time, I had already started the book with scads of xxx’s where all the horse stuff should be. [Note for beginning/non-writers and folks who arrived at this post by googling xxx: the xxx’s she’s referring to are placeholders, not porn or anything to do with Vin Diesel, though maybe he’ll be in the big-screen, John Williams-scored version. Continue, Kathryn...] At the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, I mentioned at breakfast that I was totally out of time for finding expert help (and wondering why God wasn’t answering my prayers on the matter!) This person said, “Oh, I’ll send Jo Lauter to see you.”

    Jo was in the Arabian industry for thirty years, a fellow writer, and simply out-of-this-world passionate about horses. She leaped at the opportunity to be my expert.

    But here’s the amazing thing. I still hadn’t found a suitable locale that would combine horse farms with nearby mountains. “Easy,” Jo said. “Steamboat Springs, where I’m from.”

    Okay—get ready. Here’s the big God thing among all His glorious provision for this book. A few months earlier my husband and I had booked a vacation to follow the conference. You got it—Steamboat Springs!

    So how could I possibly think of Colorado as scary. Because for me, it’s the place where “I sing the mighty power of God, who makes the mountains rise!”
Find out more about Kathryn at her website, kathrynmackel.com and her other stops on this month’s Christian Fiction Blog Tour (the tour continues through tomorrow, so the list will keep growing over the next 48 hours).

(Other links of note: Colorado Christian Writers Conference, the music of Steve Bell.)

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Mikesell : 10:02 AM : 0 snarky remarks

Monday, May 29, 2006

Cruisin' Video

As I mentioned recently, last December my family went on a cruise to celebrate my folks' 40th anniversary. Several of us had digital cameras, so I made slideshow videos for everyone and sent them out as belated Christmas presents last week.

The discs made it to Sunnyvale, Calif., and the Dallas, Tex., area before the holiday. I checked with my folks in Los Banos, Calif., (between Sunnyvale and Dallas, much closer to Sunnyvale) and they hadn't received theirs yet, but they didn't mind if I shared Dina's and my video with y'all before they get their copy. No word if my sister in Seattle got hers before leaving work on Friday -- but she doesn't read the blog, so she'll never know...

Chris & Dina video (2.3 MB)

The background music was composed by Arthur B. Rubinstein. 30 points if you can name where it comes from. (Hint: if Dina and I had had a daughter, her name would have been Amanda Lee; that we went with Philip for our son is just coincidence (his middle name isn't Jaime).)

Mikesell : 9:43 PM : 6 snarky remarks

Friday, May 26, 2006

And Then There Were Nine

Phil is down to his final two weeks of Kindergarten. Nine more school days and he'll be a First Grader.

Things to look forward to:

Mikesell : 3:43 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Shout Outs

Thanksgiving is still six months away, but here are a few thankful affirmations anyway:

Thanks to the crew at Oil Can Henry's that diagnosed the stench emanating from under the hood of our Forester as burning axle grease leaking from a blown CV boot.

Thanks to Phil for suggesting I get the car towed into Eugene rather than drive it and risk frying things.

Thanks to AAA for covering the tow even though our "basic" coverage really only covers three miles (it's 35 miles to Eugene; the going tow rate is $3.50/mile).

Thanks to Joshua the tow truck driver from A-1 Towing in Junction City for getting me and the car safely to town, even though he'd been up since 2:30a on calls from the State Police and Lane County Sheriff -- and then giving me a lift to a coffee joint while the car was being serviced. (I bought him a big mocha, but thanks again for the lift.)

Thanks to Gary at Gary's Independent Subaru Service for the repair and the heads up on the $750+ catalytic converter replacement in the hopefully-rather-distant future.

Thanks to the crew at My Coffee on West 11th in Eugene for letting me hang out for 90 minutes on a $2 Americano purchase (yeah, I bought another drink on my way out, but there was no way of knowing that ahead of time).

Thanks to Clearwire for the free wi-fi hook-up at My Coffee.

Thanks to the jury in Houston for their guilty verdicts this morning.

Thanks to God for his assurances that this car thing would work out and I needn't worry. (Someday I'll listen and won't worry...)

Thanks to the Mystery Men and "the people in this city who are super good at their jobs but never get any credit. Like the lady in the DMV -- that's a rough job ... To the people that remember jingles from tons of old commercials ... And people who support local music and seek out independent film ... And the guy that drives the snow plow. And the school nurse--"

Whatchoo got to be thankful for?

Mikesell : 7:46 PM : 2 snarky remarks

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Anyone Speak Five-Year-Old?

Has anyone else's kid ever use the word mostentarily? Phil peppers his speech with it and even he can't tell us what it means.

It's not momentarily or mostly (or most entirely).

Here's an example from his experience at the waterpark: "I mostentarily went down the waterslide [photo] and screamed my head off like a baby." (Phil hates the sound of screaming babies; a few months ago I made him apologize for doing it, too, when he was an infant.)

Mostentarily seems to have positive connotations. It's almost certainly an adverb, the way Phil uses it.

If anyone has any insight into the word I'll mostentarily be grateful. (Or will I?)

Mikesell : 9:05 AM : 3 snarky remarks

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Making a Splash!

Phil's elementary school took a field trip today to the Splash! waterpark in Springfield. I rode along to break up towel fights in the boys' changing room. And take pictures of the boy:
After swim time I took a couple group photos:
  1. On a bench

  2. On the bus
Rates are incredibly reasonable at the waterpark, so it's quite likely you'll see more pix like these soon after Phil's birthday party next month. Stay tuned!

Mikesell : 9:46 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Impossible Dream: Fitting Maury Chaykin in My iPod

A few years ago BMW sponsored a series of short films featuring Clive Owen. Clive drove about in the Beemers having adventures and generally being cooler than you. Big name stars appeared now and again; big name directors ran the show behind the camera. They were a lot of fun.

I nabbed a DVD of the films a year or so ago, and have tried several software programs to extract the movies so I could load them onto my iPod. All to no avail.

Imagine my thrill when I found one of my favorites linked to from Google Video of the Day yesterday. (Go ahead, imagine it. I can wait.) The Hostage co-stars TV's Nero Wolfe, Maury Chaykin, and the BMW Z5. Some excellent driving here (think Bullitt does San Pedro), and top-notch storytelling, too (John Woo directs, so quality is to be expected).

On a whim, I checked Google Video for more from the series and came up with Star. I'm not a big Madonna fan (the pop star; Jesus' mom is fine by me), but she gets 53 points for her self-depricating sense of humor in this film (as well as keeping her clothes on, thankyouverymuch). Mr. Madonna, Guy Rithcie directs. (Warning: contains a very explicit fill-in-the-blank obscenity.)

Clive is all business in "Hostage," but gets to show his cheeky side in "Star." Even though he's taken a pass on being James Bond, these films (which may disappear from GV if the copyright lawyers get involved) allow you to keep the dream alive.

Hopefully coming soon: Ang Lee's Golden Child-esque "Chosen," and "Ticker" co-starring Don Cheadle (with cameos by F. Murray Abraham, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick)

Mikesell : 10:25 AM : 1 snarky remarks

Sunday, May 21, 2006

My Own Personal Biker Mama

If you go to AOL image search and type in biker mama, the fourth image that comes up is of Dina riding in the sidecar of my dad's Ural motorcycle (from this blog post).

I only point this out because my friend Renee is a Sturgis-running mama and this will seriously tweak her world (after our mutual friend Shirley reminds her that I have a blog and if she wants to keep up to date she should check in occasionally).

Hey, Renee! How ya doin?

Mikesell : 8:31 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Friday, May 19, 2006

Adventures in Marketing

The more I've worked at writing my novel (not that I've worked on it lately; I'm a bad, bad man), the more I've realized that there's more to it than just sitting and thinking and occasionally (too occasionally) typing something. There's still the whole world of marketing to conquer if (when!) your manuscript gets greenlit for production.

Fortunately, I find this marketing world fascinating. I've read a bit here and there about book marketing and guerilla marketing and this and that, but I don't have much practical experience. Rather than boo-hoo about it, I've been on the lookout for opportunities to boost my skills. I was thrilled when Brandilyn Collins offered the opportunity to audition for a character blog based on her upcoming Kanner Lake series. (Announcements or callbacks or whatnot will be issued next month.)

And now fellow-guy-named-Chris, Chris Well, has asked me participate in a "street team" promoting his Kansas City Blues series (Book 2, Deliver Us from Evelyn, came out recently; Book 1, Forviging Solomon Long, was published in 2005). I'll probably blog on my experience from time to time, both what I'm doing and what I'm learning. Should be fun.

Here's one thing I've learned so far: by selling subscriptions to CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) Magazine, Chris is able to earn credit toward buying an ad to promote his novel(s). Personally, I'd save up for the Schwinn, but to each his own.

To find out more about CCM (including how to mooch a free issue), this promotional deal, and Chris' novels, click here. If you can't be bothered by details and want to jump straight to helping Chris out, follow this link. If you want to just send Chris a bunch of money ... no, wait, I don't have a link for that (but you can send me a suitcase full of cash and I'll forward it to him; I'm sure he can use the luggage).

Stay tuned...

Mikesell : 5:05 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Thursday, May 18, 2006

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Last December my family (parents, sibs, wives, kids) went on a cruise to Baja California (with stops at San Diego and Catalina Island). I told everyone that I'd put together iMovie slideshows of all the pictures we took and burn 'em to DVDs. Just under five months later I've finally finished (almost). There are still some tweaks to balance sound, rework some sequences, Photoshop Pierce Brosnan's face onto my head, and then host a wrap party.

Of course it took an hour to burn the test disc in iDVD, so it'll be awhile yet...

Mikesell : 11:18 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Random Sampling

I first saw this suggested at Matt Bronleewe's blog via Infuze Magazine a while back, and I played along using the stuff built up on my computer-based iTunes library.

If you didn't click the blog link above, here's the deal: set your iPod on random ("shuffle" in Applespeak) and write down the first ten songs that cycle through. No fair editing out embarrassing tracks.

Here's what comes up on my iPod:
  1. Puttin' on the Ritz: Taco/After Eight

  2. Futt Futt Futt: Tonio K/Amerika

  3. Hymn to the Last Generation: Larry Norman/In Another Land

  4. Angel of Harlem: U2/Best of 1980-1990

  5. Never Leave You: Daniel Amos/Horrendous Disc

  6. Charade (Main Title): Henry Mancini/Charade Soundtrack

  7. Underwater March: Klaus Bedelt/Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack

  8. Dig My Heels: The 77s/Direct

  9. A Different Kind of Light: The 77s/Ping Pong Over the Abyss

  10. Fat Man & Dancing Girl: Suzanne Vega/99.9 F°
That's a pretty accurate sampling of what's on my iPod: 80's music and movie soundtracks.

What pops up on your iPod (or non-Apple-branded mp3 player or computer-based jukebox or actual Gee-Dad-It's-a-Wurlitzer jukebox)? No fair selectively editing; if I can admit to having Taco on my iPod you can face up to the fact you have Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe through the Tulips" on yours.

Mikesell : 1:01 PM : 3 snarky remarks

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What'd I Miss?

While the whole Wake up with the King marketing campaign is more than a little disturbing, the French Toast breakfast sandwiches Burger King was serving recently looked appetizing.

Unfortunately, now that I'm eating meat again, the limited-time-only window has closed.

Anybody try one? Got 'em stockpiled in your freezer? Or did you do a spit take and gladly go back to the Enormous Omelet Sandwich?

I think I'll give the Arby's Roast Beef Gyro a try before that goes away, too.

[Update: I had to run into town for a noontime Sunday School planning meeting. Didn't get away 'til after 2:15, so I stopped at Arby's and had a couple gyros. Not as good as Nico's Souvlaki Acropolis (the pita was more of a soft flatbread, like a gordita shell, the meat was close to right but, lacking lamb, not perfect); still they were quite tasty. One would've been plenty for lunch, but coming in at luppertime i got both meals taken care of at once.]

Mikesell : 12:05 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Monday, May 15, 2006

That Was Fast

Well--on this side of it--the 21 days just flew by. Two and a half weeks ago I was questioning my commitment to give up coffee (trade off: an excuse for afternoon napping), but I made it through and saved $15-$20 by not stopping at the drive-by espresso kiosks. And, other than reminding myself not to pick at Phil's leftovers, things never got really bad. Even without meat and caffeine (stronger than unsweetened iced tea) and fizzy drinks and candy and non-wholegrain bread there was plenty to eat (though salads without bacon bits aren't quite the same as with).

But the discipline was good. And the prayer. And the Bible reading. Even the eating of more veggies wasn't too bad (though I don't see me whapping myself upside the head and regretting my non-V8 beverage choice any time soon). My waistbands are marginally looser, so I got no complaints there, either.

Still, before leaving town yesterday I took Dina (and Phil) to a Mongolian BBQ for Mother's Day lunch (heavy on the beef/pork/chicken for me, less so on the noodles and veggies) and I grabbed a Starbucks DoubleShot and a box of Twinkies from a grocery store to enjoy on the drive home. (Well, the DoubleShot was gone before I left the parking lot and I only scarfed a couple Twinkies 'cause I like marginally-looser pants.) Ya gotta celebrate the breaking of the fast as much as the fast itself, after all.

Mikesell : 9:08 PM : 2 snarky remarks

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day Report

This was Dina's first Mother's Day with handmade gifts from Phil. In kindergarten Phil decorated an oval jewelery box with a sewing kit inside. He also wrote "Happy Mother's Day" inside a handmade card. At church this morning he made another card with the sun on the front, hearts and a "love mountain" (where a woman gets together with a man and they have hugs and kisses, according to Phil) inside. He also made a wrist corsage with a flower, some lace, and a Polaroid photo of himself stretching the sides of his mouth out with his fingers (I have no idea where he gets that from).

We went to the Mongolian BBQ for lunch (my 21 day "fast" is over, more on that tomorrow), followed by a little shopping, then back home for some lakeside relaxation

To all the moms out there: hope your day was happy, too.

Mikesell : 11:03 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Playing Evil: Recap

So, what have I learned from exploring why I enjoy playing games with not-good-guys as heroes?

Is it as Dark Helmet says in Spaceballs, "that evil will always triumph because good is dumb"?

Or am I tapping into the writerly notion that "the villain is the hero of his own story"?

Or am I closet Dark Sider hiding behind a civilized veneer, biding my time before embarking on a multi-state killing spree.

I'll go with Door Number Two, Monty.

What makes a baddy tick? How is he "in the right" from his own perspective? What does power (dark power) do to a man?

There's an underdog element to these games as well. One man against the world (or galaxy, in the case of TIE Fighter). Sure, you're armed to the teeth in the games, but you're facing down hundreds of similarly equipped foes. A bit daunting, y'know.

And then there's the vicarious thrill. It's highly unlikely I'll be an Imperial Navy Pilot, or travel back in time and sling guns in the Old West (where'd I park my Delorean?) or alter the course of history and aircraft design. And unless I have a whole Italian heritage I know nothing about, a career as a mobster is never gonna make it on my C.V. Now why would I want to experience any of these things, even second-hand? No idea.

But it sure beats solitaire and minesweeper.

Mikesell : 4:31 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Friday, May 12, 2006

Playing Evil: GTA/Vice City

First off, I'm not trying to convince anyone into liking the Grand Theft Auto series. There's plenty of stuff that's just plain nasty. There's plenty of stuff that I don't like my own self. Even so, Vice City is one of the--possibly the--funnest games I've ever played.

Gameworld: If TIE Fighter puts you firmly in the Star Wars universe and Outlaws in Old West America (or maybe an Italian facsimile), then Vice City puts you in Miami during Don Johnson's mid-80s heyday. From the sunsets on the beach to the teal and fuchsia neon to the cigarette boats to the Cuban/Haitian turf wars to Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" on the radio, everything feels believable, if not authentic (I wasn't in Miami during the mid-80s, so all I know from is Miami Vice and this feels like that).

The gameworld is huge and gameplay is completely free-form. Want to run a mission for one of the various kingpins? Go ahead. Want to just run around and explore the city? Have fun. Interested in a career driving a cab or delivering pizzas on a moped? Try it out before you quit school. About the only thing you can't do is swim; entering water over your head means sudden death.

Even the cutscenes take into account what you're wearing (from Hawaiian shirt to unstructured suit to coveralls) and sometimes even what you've been tooling around in.

Moral Choices: Of the games I've looked at this week, Vice City is simultaneously the most and least moral game of the bunch. There are consequences for bad behavior: jack a car in front of a cop, the cop'll chase you down. Kill a cop and the whole town descends upon you. From what I've heard, do enough damage around town and Crockett & Tubbs come looking for you. Good behavior, on the other hand, is rewarded: see a cop chasing someone on foot? Lend a hand (more accurately, a fist) and pick up a $50 "good citizen" bonus.

Almost anything you can do in real life, you can do in the game. Just because you can engage in antisocial behavior, doesn't mean you necessarily will. Sure, you can let a hooker "rock your car" and then kill her to get your money back ... but you don't have to (curiously, the "car-rocking" action increases your health, which should clue critics into how fictional the game really is). You can mug a guy in an alleyway for a few bucks ... but you don't have to. You can run up behind a complete stranger and whap him or her in the head just for laughs ... but you don't have to. You don't even have to do any of the story-line missions for the kingpins and the game is still a heck of a lot of fun.

Fun: What kind of fun? Well there's a treasure hunt involving 100 statues hidden around town. There are "Top Fun" vans located around the city that launch remote control car/plane/helicopter games. There are taxi missions, amubulance missions, police and firetruck missions. You can drive a Ferrari-style sports car around the mall just for kicks. Or ride a motorcycle around on rooftops. Or go crazy with a dune buggy on the beach.

Or with almost 70 songs in the soundtrack you could just park your car somewhere and let the radio play while you go on about real-life things away from the computer.

Replayability: I haven't finished the game yet (my almost-40-year-old reflexes make some of the missions more difficult than perhaps they were intended to be), so I can't say for certain how replayable the game will be. But based on the variety of non-lethal gameplay mentioned above and the fact I can go to Miami any time without going to Miami, I expect if and when I become the Vicelord of Vice City there'll still be some reason to come back for more.

Mikesell : 3:04 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Big in Canada

A search for hatari comic book on MSN Canada listed So Much Stuff as #1.

Unfortunately I don't have a Hatari comic book. Sorry visitor from Mississauga, Ontario, but thanks for stopping by.

Mikesell : 11:53 AM : 0 snarky remarks

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Everyday Magic

How does Daniel Chesterfield do it? Amazing video.

(via google video of the day)

Mikesell : 9:18 PM : 5 snarky remarks

Playing Evil: Outlaws

Ex-lawman James Anderson is the least evil of the main characters in the games I'm looking at this week. Still, he's no longer a marshall, which makes him a vigilante as he tracks down the men who killed his wife and kidnapped his daughter. And that's not good.

Gameworld: Outlaws is set in the rail baron days of the old west, and plays out like a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western. The music is reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone score, and the game includes all the staple shoot-em-up sets: gunfight on a train, a mine, an adobe fort, a "peaceful" villiage, etc.

The maps are large (though more constrained than TIE Fighter and Crimson Skies) with secret doors openng up to additional areas. The "key hunt" aspect of the game can become frustrating, but having to dig your way into the bank, for instance, or bullseye gate switches while careening around in a log sluice are nice touches.

The variety of weapons is good--six shooter, rifle (with nifty scope attachment), dynamite (lit off your cigar, of course), etc.--and compliments the setting nicely. Having to manually reload adds to the believability and encourages making every shot count.

Moral Choices: Revenge and vigilantism don't represent the angels of our better nature. But if we were in Marshall Jim Anderson's boots we'd want to do the same things (whether we'd heve the ability to do it without frequent "game saves" is a different issue). Had Michael Dukakis answered the "what would you do if people attacked Kitty" debate question with "I'd put on cowl and cape and hunt them down in the Batmobile," people would have responded to him differently.

Ever the stoic cowboy, James Anderson doesn't let the player into his head, but we empathise with him. However, when he trusses the second-most vile character upside-down above a chasm in the mine, then lights the rope anchoring him in place with his cigar and walks away, you realize that he's gone to a dark place inside.

Fun: In addition to the dozenish campaign missions, LucasArts included some "Historical Missions" (Ice Caves, Civil War, Wharf Town, etc.) and Marshall Training, which included a shooting gallery and some quirky maps--including one that recreated he South American adventure at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with squat golden idol. In the Marshall Training you score extra points for capturing the big villain by punching him (occasionally her) out rather than a more lethal maneuver.

Replayability: Along with the main campaign and the bonus missions, LucasArts allowed users to create their own scenarios making the game "infinitely" replayable. The three skill levels (good, bad, ugly) added significant challenge as you replayed through each progressively more difficult level.

Unfortunately, the graphics engine is glitchy in Windows XP, reducing the game's replayability. Yet another reason to move that Win/98 hard-drive (more accurately, for the sake of getting anything done, another reason not to).

Mikesell : 5:15 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Tops on MSN

According to my stats log, someone from Medford, Ore., stopped by via an MSN search for mount hermon calif.; So Much Stuff came in at the top of the 3,707 results.

Curiously, Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center--with the mounthermon.com and .org URLs--didn't make the top 100.

(Also, in a recent MSN search for MIKESELL I came in fourth, behind Nick Mikesell (not my nephew) and his pen and pencil dinosaur art; Brent "King of Squats" Mikesell; and a website titled Big Smokey.)

Mikesell : 10:47 AM : 1 snarky remarks

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Playing Evil: Crimson Skies

If the pilot you play in TIE Fighter develops into a stooge of the Sith over the course of the game, then Nathan Zachary is Mother Teresa. If St. Teri looted cargo zeppelins for jewels or shanghai'd a tow truck to get her '74 Pinto into the shop or boosted the Spruce Goose for the heck of it.

Nathan Zachary, the lead character in Crimson Skies, is a pirate with a heart (and probably a pocketwatch) of gold. Yeah he does some good, even noble things: protects a downed blimp full of nurses, rescues a kidnapped starlet, protects Hawaii from a British Invasion (not the good moptop kind), teams up with law enforcement to stop the really vile criminals. But Zachary's no Robin Hood. He keeps what he takes and he takes every chance he's got. Fortunately for the player, he gets lots of chances.

Gameworld: Crimson Skies is set in an alternate world where the Allies lost WWI and the oh-the-humanity Hindenburg disaster has yet to affect air travel (if such an event takes place in the CS timeline). Zeppelins are primary air transport vehicle, transporting everything from cargo to passengers to crews of mercenaries and the authorities who would thwart them.

In many cases the individual game maps are huge and the player can explore fully explore each. Some scenarios have linear plotlines, but many have objectives that can be completed in any order or in multiple ways. Most missions don't end until a) you crash or b) you return to your zeppelin, so you can explore (carefully) as much as you want.

The various planes have advantages or disadvantages in any given situation. Sometimes you need speed, sometimes maneuverability. Finding the right plane for the mission adds to the "reality" of the game. Adding to that reality is the opportunity to buy and customize planes, adorn your desktop with a picture of your dog (or an increasing number of gorgeous women if that's your thing), and a scrapbook of your derring-do complete with snapshots of the various thread-the-needle stunts you perform. Very cool.

Moral Choices: There aren't many actual choices to be made in the game; there's one forced-labor camp you can liberate, but that's about it. But the audio cutscenes keep you inside Zachary's head so you can "see" what he's thinking and understand why he behaves in certain ways. Occasionally there's sketchy justification for his actions (we need gas, they have it), but he does ascribe to some kind of pirates' code and for him it's more than just guidelines.

Fun: Want to fly through that curving train tunnel? Go ahead. How 'bout the O's in the Hollywood sign? No problem. That mountain of solid granite? No you can't, but you'll get a nifty explosion as a lovely parting gift. You can, however, drop a ladder from your plane and airlift someone off a train, blimp, or limousine.

Crimson Skies is more than just stealing stuff, humiliating Hollywood moguls, and tweaking the noses of security forces. There are stunts to perform--sometimes necessary, sometimes just for the fun of it. You can also skip the missions and go straight to immediate air action in the setting and against the opponents of your choice. You can also use the Instant Action option to practice the various stunts so you'll be able to add them to your scrapbook when you return to campaign mode.

Replayability: The instant action aspect of the game greatly adds to its replayability, but many of the missions are challenging and fun enough to play mulitple times (once you've completed a mission you can go back and repeat it as often as you choose).

Given the relative ease of gameplay (joystick and throttle control), Crimson Skies is a game that Phil enjoys, too. Am I encouraging delinquent behavior? I don't think so. The boy can say "Zeppelin" and has ho idea who Robert Plant is; that's something to be proud of.

Mikesell : 10:51 AM : 1 snarky remarks

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Playing Evil: TIE Fighter

In 1993, LucasArts released X-Wing for the PC. They followed up with TIE Fighter in ‘94. If you’re familiar with the Star Wars universe you know that in X-Wing you play on the side of the “good” Rebellion; in TIE Fighter it’s the “evil” empire. If you’re not familiar with the Star Wars universe, I just told you, so now you know.

X-Wing never appealed to me. Maybe because it was the first game out and there were kinks in the system. But things just clicked with TIE Fighter. The controls were smooth and the graphics cutting edge. X-Wing was later re-released with the updated engine, but I had already gone over to the Dark Side.

I love Star Wars, but there wasn’t a lot of mystique about the Rebellion. You got what you saw: fashion-plates (and Porkins) and a lame assortment of aliens (over- and under-grown teddy bears, fish people, and muppets like Yoda and whatever Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot was supposed to be). The Empire, however, was a bunch of average-looking guys (at best), Stormtroopers, and Darth Vader. So being average looking (at best) and thinking the trooper uniforms looked cool, I signed up for Imperial Navy (plus they had a dental plan and 401(k) participation).

Gameworld: As I said, I love Star Wars and TIE Fighter got everything right. The ships, the sounds, the explosions, the infinity of space. You were there! The main plot of the game deals with the player defending the Empire as an average pilot, but a subplot emerges where you can run scouting missions or protect Imperial assets on behalf of the high command. In secret. That little addition made running the side missions all the more irresistible.

Moral Choices: Of course, there’s a moral cost to all that. The bonus objectives come with a price, to one’s integrity, perhaps, but also to relationships with other pilots (one mission results in your wingmen mutinying). You keep playing the side missions, of course, to see where they’ll take you (and to earn special Imperial medals), but it gives you a taste of the seductive nature of power.

Fun: Which is not to say the game is anything like a round of Scruples. Blowing up X-Wings and Y-Wings is just plain fun (blowing up A-Wings is a pain, though). But if the spilling of virtual blood gets a bit too intense, TIE Fighter came with a few other components to chill with. One was a spacecraft museum, "holograms" of all the ships in the game with stats and full-3D rotation. Another was a training course with obstacles to navigate and/or destroy. The best, though, was a training simulator where you got to test-fly the spacecraft before going on actual missions. The training sims were just as intense as the actual missions, but you only spilled virtual virtual blood.

Replayability: Unfortunately with Windows XP I can’t get the game to recognize my USB joystick, so I’ve lost the replayability ability. Still, there were countless things to explore and in-jokes to find (like a shuttle from the Disney ride Star Tours in one of the missions).

Someday I’ll crack open my old Win/98 system and see about adding the hard drive to my XP computer and dual-booting the operating systems. I’ll never get any work done if I do that. Still, all that power is tempting.

Mikesell : 10:23 AM : 0 snarky remarks

Monday, May 08, 2006

Yahoo! I'm #1

Got a financial interest in getting people to "download hippo song to usb jumpdrive"? Don't know why you would, but consider buying some ad space here.

So Much Stuff... comes in first in a Yahoo search for the above quoted text.

Note to RIAA ratweasels: I do not advocate people coming by the Hippo Song via less than legal means or distributing said song in an unethical manner. However, if a person already owns a copy of the Hippo Song and wants to transfer it to a USB jumpdrive for portability or security purposes, I consider that to be covered by the Fair Use principle -- and you should, too.

I also have no idea what the Hippo Song is. Nor do I really want to know. Unless you want to buy ad space ... then it's the most crucial issue imaginable and vitally important to me and my family.

Mikesell : 6:38 PM : 0 snarky remarks

Playing Evil

I started a post this morning on the subject of "computer games I like with not-so-good good guys," but when it hit 500 words I figured I better spread it out across the week. So I thought'd I'd give y'all a heads up on what's coming and layout the criteria upon which I like the games.

Gameworld: The games let you explore realistic "alternate realities" that take you out of modern suburban life. The experience is immersive; even when playing from a third-person perspective, you believe you're the character on the other side of the monitor.

Moral choices: The games cast you as a character who has to choose between right and wrong. Sure, wrong often pays better, but you still choose your own path.

Fun: The games provide enjoyable experiences that are not just about being evil.

Replayability: Once the game is over, you still want to spend time in the gameworld. Are there still places to explore, things to try differently a second or third time around?

Now I don't only enjoy playing characters clearly on the wrong side of justice. The original Half-Life (plus the Blue Shift and Opposing Force expansion modules) scores high on all the above criteria. Even there, though, you're branded as a villain in the official government version of the "facts." Spy games like 007:Nightfire and the Cate Archer/No One Lives Forever series are favorites too; yet having a license to kill still positions you outside mainstream "acceptable" society. But I do play those games, and replay them. They just fall a bit short in the vicarious-thrill department compared to other--eviller--games.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the week: Tuesday-TIE Fighter, Wednesday-Crimson Skies, Thursday-Outlaws, Friday-Grand Theft Auto III/GTA:Vice City

So what's there to like? Stay Tuned.

Mikesell : 12:25 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Comic Book Haul

We were at the comic book store when it opened this morning. Actually, we were there about twenty minutes early, since their website didn't mention that "they always open late on Saturdays." That tidbit came from a clerk at Smith Family Bookstore, across the hall from the comic book store and a fabulous place to wait and browse.

When Emerald City Comics finally opened we nabbed Spidey and Wolverine HeroClix figures as well as the following comics:andThere were a bunch of other comic books being given away, but the shopkeep gave us stinkeye when I tried grabbing one of everything. ("Those have to last us all day" -- yeah, well maybe everyone'll show up early next year before all the comics are gone.) I put back everything I didn't recognize by name (and the Archie comic book, which I hadn't picked up in the first place).

Hope y'all had as good of luck or better. Ideally, better.

Mikesell : 4:10 PM : 1 snarky remarks

Friday, May 05, 2006

Like Old Times

So I'm sitting in the recliner with Phil this afternoon, and I look down and he's sucking his thumb. I call his attention to the fact that he's got his thumb in his mouth. He removes it and deadpans: "It reminds me of old times."

Problem is, he never sucked his thumb as a baby.

Past life, I suppose. (Or his thumb was a bit chocalatey from his after-school snack.)

Mikesell : 4:57 PM : 2 snarky remarks

Free Comic Book Day

Tomorrow is FCBD.

According to the online locator, my closest participating vendor is a 45-60 minute drive from where I live. If I were going to Corvallis anyway, it'd be one thing, but if it costs half a tank of gas for the round trip are the comic books really free?

May your closest-store search prove more fruitful than mine ... and please pick me up some goodies while you're there.

I called a shop in Eugene (a quarter tank of gas r/t) and it turns out they are participating in FCBD. The database query came back, "The code 97401 does not appear to be valid," so I figgered no one in the area was playing along. I figgered wrong. If you're picking things up for me, go ahead and still nab 'em. Worst case you can pass things on to a kid down the street. Thanks!

Mikesell : 10:13 AM : 1 snarky remarks

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Two Weeks, Two Stories

I'm about halfway through James Scott Bell's writing book Plot & Structure, which means I'll likely be restarting my rewrite next week. Bell's book and Brandilyn Collins' Getting into Character have really helped me get a handle on some of the bigger-picture things my work-in-progress is missing. If only I can translate those things into coherent (when necessary) prose. (There'll be a lot of Gaaaack!s and Urrrk!s in Part Three of the book where the zombies (or, more correctly, thrall corpses) get all chokey, so coherence can slip a little there.)

In the meantime I've been working on some shorter pieces--and submitting them for publication! Last week I sent in my contest entry to DKA Magazine. Results are expected mid-May. Last night I sent a 600-word submission about "Redeeming Peer-to-Peer Music Sharing" to The Wittenburg Door. Last time (God's Creation Blog) it took a couple weeks to find out if the editor liked it enough to send it to committee (6 weeks later), and then another couple months before it appeared in print.

I've got a couple more story ideas I want to work out before I get back to my WIP. Better get crackin'.

Stay tuned.

Mikesell : 10:45 AM : 0 snarky remarks

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

O Frabjous Day!

Callooh! Callay!

According to starwars.com, Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox will issue the original Star Wars trilogy (as they aired in theaters) on DVD this September.

No craptastic Jabba. No "Episode IV" revisionist history in the titles. And, best of all, Han shoots first!

I'm still chortling in my joy.

(via digg)

Mikesell : 11:12 PM : 3 snarky remarks

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Day Off

Phil had the day off school today. Not because of "A Day Without Immigrants" protests (though his great-grandparents on my mom's side were both immigrants, so he could've stayed home because of that), but because it was "Kindergarten Visitation Day" for next year's students.

Last year Phil attended KVD on May 17th. Since then he's come a long way. Yesterday we stopped by Borders and the boy read A Bug, A Bear, A Boy all by himself (well, 98% by himself--I helped out with a few non-long, -short vowel sounds). We wound up buying Magic Matt and the Skunk in the Tub, which he read to me last night before bedtime.

Phil spent part of today cutting out a "ghost shape" from a piece of paper, attaching it to the hook on the end of his construction crane, and dangling it in front of a fan. Spooky fun! Then he shredded the rest of the paper into snow. And transformed our living room carpet into a winter wonderland. Mrs. Swanson is soooo having him back in class tomorrow.

How'd you spend your "Day without Immigrants" in a nation mostly comprised of them?

Mikesell : 10:13 PM : 0 snarky remarks