Instrument Shopping: The Weissenborn acoustic lap steel

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Behold the state of the art in slide guitar technology, circa 1922. This is what you call a Weissenborn-style lap steel guitar, closely associated with Hawaiian music but also suitable for blues and certain styles of early country. They were largely replaced by resonator guitars, which were replaced by electric lap steels, which were replaced by pedal steel guitars, which were replaced by...Rascal Flatts, I guess.

These babies have a beautiful tone, and they meet one of my current criteria for new instruments: I want something I can play just sitting around in the living room without disrupting the whole house.

This particular model is a discontinued spruce top model, and it just so happens that the last one the seller has in stock is set up for left-handed play. It's sort of one the upper end of what I'd like to spend, but still...

(Nerd) Lunch Special: Fodrak's Gyros

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Back during our in-person nerd lunches, we had to meet at a place which was convenient to our places of employment and/or study. Those logistics ruled out our favorite fast food joint, Niro's Gyros. Niro's was the choice for hossin' during our day long sessions of DVD watching or D&D playing and the gyro was the sammich of choice.

Gyros are typically on the menu at sit down Greek restaurants, but within Chicago's sphere of influence they are a fast food staple as well. After leaving the old Nerd Lunch stomping grounds of central Illinois, CT challenged me to wait several months before cheating on Niro's with another gyro provider. I honored the gauntlet which had been thrown, but after 6 months the siren call became too strong and I headed out to Fodrak's Gyros.

I ordered a gyro meal, which is a standard sammich, fries, and drink combo. The pita, meat, onions, and tomatoes were fine, but the tzatziki sauce was very runny and unsatisfying. The fries were nothing to write home about, though french fries are a roll of the dice at most places. All in all, Fodrak's provides an acceptable gyro experience, but Niro's is still the king.

Comic Book Throwdown: JLA

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Here's the challenge...the Big Seven members of the Justice League each get to pick a backup, who can either fill in when the A-list hero is unavailable or show up for big end-of-the-world stuff.

Superman picks Captain Marvel . . . similar power set, and Marvel is even more of a boyscout that Supes.

Batman is going to want some more brains on this team for when he's not around. The obvious choice would be Nightwing, the original Robin, but those guys have a complicated relationship... Mr. Terrific of the JSA is the world's third-smartest man, although Dr. Midnite is another contender. I could even see him going with Sandman for his detective skills.

Wonder Woman picks Power Girl, to ensure the presence of a strong woman on the team.

Green Lantern [Hal Jordan] goes with Green Lantern [John Stewart], because the Green Lanterns have this backup stuff all figured out.

Flash [Wally West] is tricky . . . does he pick another speedster? An old buddy from the Titans? Since I can't think of too many other speedsters, I'll say he goes with Cyborg from the Titans.

Martian Manhunter is even more tricky . . . another alien? Another telepath? Just to mix it up, Jonn picks Firestorm as his substitute . . . extremely powerful and in need of some mentoring.

Aquaman gets a lot of flack, sure, but he's a pro. He might pick another longtime B-lister like Green Arrow, Hawkman, Zatanna, or the Atom, but I like the notion that he'd go with his former sidekick Tempest, formerly known as Aqualad.

Instrument Shopping: The Miniolian

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This is a little Chinese-made, Texas-finished resonator guitar. Small body --- what they call "parlor size." Gets excellent reviews for the price --- $299, plus $25 to get it set up as a lefty. I always liked resonator instruments, and this would be something comfy for living room playing. But this is a roundneck instrument, and I'm thinking about taking the plunge into squareneck lap-style playing...

Instrument Shopping: The Acoustic Archtop

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Got a little money in my pocket right now, and I've had the notion that either around my birthday in May or around Christmas 2008, I might get a new instrument.

Acoustic archtop guitars were among the loudest guitars of the pre-electric era, and I've always liked the look. I play a little bit of guitar, and I've thought about getting into swing rhythm guitar --- no solos, just nice backup for my singing.

Yesterday, I made an impulsive bid on Ebay. Having some second thoughts, just because it's a right-handed instrument, and I'd need to have it switched to a lefty, and that's some additional time and hassle. But it's a beauty.

Knight Walrus

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Even though I'm generally opposed to viewing "appointment television," I decided to check out the new Knight Rider movie last night. Having been impressed with both new Doctor Who and new Battlestar Galactica, I decided to give this a chance.

Story:
This story suffers from the same things most pilots suffer from. There is a lot of set up and not much in terms of payoff. Nothing really happens for almost the first hour. The villains of the piece (a vastly inferior, evil version of the A-Team) are inconceivably one step ahead of the heroes despite them having the supercar (or with Val Kilmer doing the voice, is it batcar?). The story wasn't very inventive and I was continually hazy on how it fit in with the original series despite references peppered throughout. Just as the show could have gotten interesting, it ends. There was also a subplot that was set up early in the show that was completely resolved with just one line of dialog. Completely pointless.

Presentation:
The worst thing about this was the acting. The lead of the show was very unlikable and had no great screen presence. This was made very obvious once The Hoff shows up for his cameo and the two share a scene. I'm tired of pretty boy, surfer dude protagonists. The rest of the cast was weak. The main girl was okay, but Sidney Poitier's daughter shows that acting ability does not run in the family.

I've read complaints about NuKITT being a Ford. I don't really care. Cool looking car with some swanky interior designs and graphics. Val Kilmer does alright as the voice, but he's no William Daniels.

Story score--
Presentation score--

No rewatchable. If it gets picked up as a series, I'd be curious to watch it again, but I can't imagine it'll be all that much better.

Abracawalrus

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Prestige_poster I finally got around to seeing The Prestige a few weeks back. It came very highly recommended by CT and was also something my wife was interested in seeing, so I was especially excited for movie night. Though as I've mentioned in other reviews, my opinions as of late seem to be more affected by mood and energy level than I would like. So I'll admit up front that some of my impressions may have been affected by starting the movie at 8:30 PM on a weeknight. As lame as it may be, that's getting close to my bedtime, folks.

Story

I found the storyline to be original and well crafted. The story twist and turns were entertaining and anything but trite. While the film was darker than my wife would have liked, I actually enjoyed the tale of obsession and vengeance. Unfortunately I did have some trouble following the stories at times, but I'll attribute that to some presentation issues and my own inadequacies.

Presentation

We're steampunk fans around these parts and I felt The Prestige offered an excellent portrayal of a steampunk world. I knew very little about the movie going in, so the steampunk elements were a pleasant surprise. The performances from the main players were solid. I've come to expect good things from Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, but even David Bowie impressed me. My feeble mind would have appreciated some stronger indications that a scene was a flashback or journal entry.

Story score--

Presentation score--

I'm sure a bit would be lost by knowing the ending, but I'll tack on the rewatchable walrus since I undoubtedly missed some things.

Random Thoughts from a Starving Sick Man

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I put together a quick photo illustration of Chris Eccleston as Destro. Still not sure he's the best choice, but I like him and look forward to see him in the movie...even if the director is no one to get excited about.

I've been home sick today. I've been feeling better today than I did last night. I've mostly slept and watched TV. Although in the last few minutes I've been feeling well enough to try to get some work done. Viewing choices today were Star Trek III and an episode of MI-5, vol. 4.

I'm hungry but have no appetite for anything. I'll probably have soup tonight for dinner. Soup is supposed to cure all ails, right?

I've been selling stuff on eBay recently and I have done pretty well for the most part. Although, I'm trying to decide if it's worth my time to continue. With eBay changing their rate structures and policies, I'm not sure I'll make CT any money, just eBay. And, I've got my first report of a potential lost package which could translate into having to give my first refund.

I've been buying some of these Marvel Comics on DVD-Rom sets with my eBay winnings. Basically replacing the comics I've been selling. So, instead of having several hundred heavy comics taking up space in large comic boxes, I have every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Silver Surfer, and even Ghost Rider on five DVDs. I wish Marvel would keep making these. And I wish DC would make them, too.

Okay, it's time to make soup.

I did not say anything!

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I've been to a few conventions in my time spent as a nerd. It's been a long while since I've been to one and I don't foresee going to one again anytime soon, but I wouldn't rule it out. The smaller ones are still kind of fun. Or, going to a larger one on an off day is okay. Last time I went to Wizard World in Chicago, it had just gotten too packed to be enjoyable.

These cons are frequented by sci-fi genre stars, past and present. An old friend of mine gave me a blank book which I could use to collect some autographs and sketches.

My first convention was a Star Trek con in Chicago when I was a freshman in high school. There, the special guests were Nichelle Nichols and Marina Sirtis. During her talk, Marina Sirtis complained about being thirsty. One of the other guys I had traveled up to the con with had a mad crush on Counselor Troi. So, we all tried to convince him to go back to the complimentary table of water and get her something to drink. In order to egg him on, I told him that if he didn't, I would. So I did. In the middle of her talk, I ran up and gave her a cup of water. Later, in the autograph line, she signed my book, "To the water boy...". Proud nerd moment there. Nichelle Nichols was also very nice and I have her autograph as well.

David Prowse signed my book "David Prowse is Darth Vader" in case I forgot who he was. He was nice enough and told me all about how he trained Christopher Reeve for the Superman movies. He did seem a little starved for attention and I did try to avoid his table as the day went on.

At one convention, Claudia Christian was sharing a table with Robin Atkin Downes. My wife and I splurged and bought a signed photo of Claudia Christian's. She was extremely nice and that might have been largely due to us shelling out the dough for the photo, but still, that's hard to fake after sitting in the stinky room for hours. We observed a sad Downes trying to sell not so much photos of himself, but photos of him with other people. "Here's a picture of me with Bruce Boxleitner. He's already signed it." I don't think he really understood that people largely hated the character he played enough that having him in the picture with Boxleitner only ruined what might have been an already good picture.

Walter Koenig was at Wizard World one year as one of the higher-billed guests. He wasn't charging for autographs, but was charging for photos. They were nice glossy photos of him as Chekov or as Bester from B5, but they were $5 each. So instead, I went into the dealer's room and found someone who was selling a $2 photo of him as Chekov from Star Trek II, just before the worm comes out of his ear. Perfect, because I love Star Trek II. I buy the photo and then get in the autograph line. When I finally reach Mr. Koenig, I hand him the photo and hear him mumble something under his breath as he takes the photo. I thought he might be asking me a question, like "Who do you want me to make this out to?" as often celebrities will do in that situation. But I didn't hear what he said so I asked if he could repeat it. He signs his name and flings the photo back towards me and exclaims, "I did not say ANYTHING!" Thankfully, I'm secure enough in my nerdhood for that to not shatter my nerdity.

There are other sci-fi "has beens" I've seen at the cons but haven't talked to, among them Erin Grey, Peter Mayhew, and the guy who played Uncle Owen in Star Wars. I once had a brief conversation with Lou Ferrigno. I didn't get his autograph or anything. The man is huge. He's the size of about two and a half CTs. I've never seen Gil Gerard in person, but a former co-worker saw him one year. Also about the size of two and half CTs and was sweating just as much as all of the other nerds in the room.

My second biggest regret was not making more of an effort to see Mr. T one year while he was promoting a comic book he was starring in. I don't mind admitting that I was intimidated by him because his schtick consisted of simply yelling at people who walked by. I should have walked by so he would have yelled at me, but the guy was so intense, I thought he might snap me in half. While not con related, my biggest regret was not making a greater effort to see Bruce Campbell when he came to town last year. I attempted to use my loose press credentials to snag an interview with him. That didn't pan out and car trouble kept me from going to the event.

Other actors I'd like to meet: Bruce Campbell, anyone from the cast of Firefly, Jonathan Frakes, Mark Hamill (not from a Star Wars perspective but just because he seems like a great fellow nerd), Nicholas Brendon, and any surviving members of the A-Team, even Frankie, just to name a few.

We got the band back together

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Since my old trumpet-playing buddy has the cancer, I made a bunch of phone calls and managed to round up almost everyone from the old band, plus most of the guys from sick guy's spinoff band, and a couple of outright ringers. Still haven't heard the tape of the show, but it sure felt good.

Robert Cray, Comic Hero

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One of my early influences as a musician was Robert Cray. In the mid-eighties, he had a couple of big crossover hits that put blues into the Top 40, and did a couple of videos that really made an impact on me --- just a guy and a guitar, no pyrotechnics or other 80s excess.

When I started playing sax, I listened very closely to a song called "Stop Acting This Way" featuring the great David Sanborn on alto sax just blowing like crazy. I worked out a very simple version of his solo in a few different keys, and that really became the basis of my whole style as a soloist.

So I was surprised to find out, 20 years later, that there's a video for the song --- and it's inspired by old romance comics of the 1950s. Interesting choice...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjSpqPGSito

00Walrus #2: From Russia with Love

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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Bond: Sean Connery - 2 tusks
Continuing the great portrayal of the character from the first movie. Connery here seems a little less raw than he did in Dr. No and that is missed. But still, he has that sense of cool under fire that's hard to pull off. And he's still fairly edgy, if not a little toned down from the first outing.

Girl: Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova - 1 tusk
Maybe it's a bit of the Lazenby Effect going on here, but Bianchi doesn't live up to the bar set by Ursula Andress. Maybe it's because she comes across as too reliant on Bond and falls for him too quickly. It could also be the fact that her role in the plot is not entirely clear for quite some time thus making her hard to trust.

Gadgets: Briefcase - 1 tusk
First "gadget" so to speak in a Bond film. Sometimes the gadgets make an appearance and then there's this idea that we have to see them in use later in the movie. And I agree with that. It's the old "show a gun in act one, it better go off by act three" thing. Here, the briefcase becomes too convenient as the knife, tear gas and coin aspect of it all get used in one scene.

Opening Theme: Instrumental version of "From Russia with Love" - 1 tusk
Later in the movie, the opening song is heard sung by Matt Monro. Not especially appealing to me.

Villain: Robert Shaw as Red Grant - 2 tusks
Good main villain. Over the course of the movie, proved himself to be a worthy adversary to Bond. The best kind of villains are the one you believe can best the hero. This movie also has other villains such as Klebb and the introduction of Blofeld. All of them well-played.

Pre-title opening sequence - 0 tusks
Since Bond doesn't appear in the movie for something like 20 minutes, the producers use this little trick to get Connery seen before the movie opens. Kind of pointless and builds up tension only to have it fizzle out. I guess it's supposed to make the villain scary, but when it turns out he doesn't actually kill Bond, there's no real reference to compare his abilities to.

Story:
Starts out slow, but builds to some great scenes. Just a great classic Cold War spy movie. There were some great characters in the movie and the multiple villain approach worked out well, too. Once the action starts, there are some great scenes. Despite the convenience factor of the briefcase, the final fight between Bond and Grant was good.

All in all, another good Bond film, although, the pressure of producing a good sequel to a great first movie causes this movie to falter a bit. And, another good restoration job on this film. And some more great extras to boot.

Previous Bond Movie Reviews
Dr. No
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