Instrument Shopping: Dobro

0 comments

What we have here is a Regal RD-40MS mahogany-bodied squareneck resonator guitar. As a squareneck, it can't be played like a regular guitar --- it's played lap-style, with a steel slide. Quite affordable, and for around $200, Resophonic Outfitters will pimp your dobro, and that upgrade make a big difference in the sound.

I've been circling a dobro for some years . Dobros occupy a unique niche in bluegrass music because they are considered an acceptable but non-essential part of a bluegrass band. I just like the fact that I'll probably find myself as the only dobro player at the jam sessions. While there are other niches I could see myself in --- say, rhythm guitar --- there are always going to be a half-dozen guys at every jam who can play guitar better than me, so why not let them, and I'll do something else.

Yeah . . . I might have to pull the trigger and buy this one.

Why Walruses?

3 comments
A couple weeks back, CT thought an explanation of the walrus rating system would be a good idea. As I said then, it's not a terribly exciting story. Though excitement isn't a prerequisite for my posts, so here it is.

In the year or two leading up to our in-person nerd lunches and during that time, CT and I had quite a bit more free time to take in movies. At that point we were watching, discussing, and recommending enough movies to each other that some sort of rating beyond a "liked it/didn't like it" seemed like it would be useful. As complete nerds, CT and I decided we would create a formal movie rating system for our own use.

The system is composed of 3 categories:

  • Story - rated 0 to 5 - Encompasses all the elements of the narrative; characters, plot, setting, pacing, etc.
  • Presentation - rated 0 to 5 - Visual and audio elements of the film; cinematography, soundtrack, visual effects, sets, stunts, etc.
  • Rewatchable bonus - rated 0 or 1 - We came up with the rewatchable bonus as a way to quantify some of the intangibles that would make a movie worthy of repeat viewings. Our all-time favorites warrant the rewatchable bonus, but it is also given to some movies that are carried by a single great element.

We ironed out the details over a few conversations and then began to put it into practice. We'd give our reviews and recommendations to each other with a point rating. If memory serves, CT even had a spreadsheet in which he recorded some of the ratings we had doled out.

A few months after we came up with the system, I was describing it to some other friends. In retrospect I cannot imagine what these people were thinking, but one of them played along. She pointed out that points or stars were played out and we should choose something else as our metric. I had quite the thing for this friend (she would later go on to be my girlfriend and then ex-girlfriend), so I was inclined to act her advice. I passed along the suggestion to CT. After a brief period of being slightly perturbed and befuddled as to why anyone would care, CT settled on the most bizarre item that came to his mind, walruses. I can't recall the reaction of my friend/girlfriend/ex-girlfriend, but the walrus rating system lives on.

Instrument Shopping: The Republic Resonator Mandolin

2 comments


This here is a Republic metal-body resonator mandolin, modeled off of the classic National resos of the 1920s and 1930s. Republics are build in China and then set up in Texas. They are very affordable — $350 for a mando with case — and the owner will set it up as a lefty for me.

I have an interest in the lost art of blues mandolin — a lot of the old-time black string bands had mandolin players, and many of them used oddball instruments like the resonator mandolin or the dreaded mando-banjo. These things are loud, and have a unique tone quality to them . . . I’d use this at the monthly old-time fiddlers’ jam session, and in my spare time work on some of the blues / jug band kinda stuff.

How Not To Watch TV

5 comments

One of my eccentricities is that I enjoy soap operas. When CT and I roomed together in college, he had to put up with my regular viewing of As The World Turns. Since that time, my soap fandom has shifted to another CBS show, The Young & The Restless (Y&R for those in the scene). Since I'm at work during the day and too lazy to mess with the VCR and too cheap to spring for a DVR, I recently decided to start getting my Y&R fix through online, streaming video offered by CBS.

CBS offers two ways to get at videos:

  • a player page for certain shows, accessible from the VIDEO link on the CBS home page and other show specific pages
  • the Innertube site, which was how CBS packaged things for their initial launch of online video and is still accessible by Watch Full Episodes Free link on the site

Unfortunately, both options are based on the same underlying technology and both stink. Both players have trouble recovering from any interruption in bandwidth, it's impossible to resume playback if paused for more than 10 seconds or so, and the fast forward and rewind buttons seemingly do nothing. The player page has its own unique problems such as frequently corrupting if the browser window is resized and a progress slider that only works during the first segment of video (before the first commercial).

All in all, it's easier to futz around with the VCR or watch something else entirely. While it won't scratch the same itch as following the daily drama on Y&R, Hulu has a whole mess of Rockford Files episodes that will do quite nicely when I want to catch some TV on my PC.

The Nerd Store: Unique Gifts and Games

4 comments

For several years my cousin, Peeg, has used the phrase "The Nerd Store" to refer to any shop specializing in role playing games and related paraphernalia (miniatures, dice, boards games, etc.). Recently I had the chance to visit The Nerd Store in my area, Unique Gifts and Games.

oddly_shaped_diceThe owners, Ken and Kathleen, are a husband and wife nerd couple, each with their own section of the store. The husband's portion of the shop contains standard gamer faire. The variety of RPG books and card/board games is decent, but their selection of oddly shaped dice stands out. Should I need to add a status symbol to my collection, I now know where to go to get that new d20. The wife's side of the store is a bit more, er, interesting. Not my cup of tea, but they can certainly hook you up if you're ever in need of some incense, healing crystals, or books on the occult.

As is typical for The Nerd Store, they have a large space in the back of the store set up for gaming. The day I visited, a guy was setting up to run a house rules game depicting Battle of Helm's Deep. He had a several feet high, foam version of the fortress and literally several hundred miniatures arrayed on the table. It was impressive to see, but at this point in my life not something I'd want to spend 5 hours playing. They seem to have fairly active Warhammer and Warmachine/Horde groups, but no d20 System games on the store calendar. I guess the Nerd Lunch crew is now old school when it comes to RPGs.

Old-Time Music: It's Better Than It Sounds

3 comments



Me and the wife and the baby drove down to Shelbyville to check out the monthly Old Time Fiddlers jam session. Unlike bluegrass (which developed in the late 1940s), this older stuff is mainly fiddle-driven, with no improvised instrumental solos --- just variations on the tune.

So the fiddlers took turns, and there was a large rhythm section --- four or five guitars, bass, two banjos, and a couple of dulcimers --- backing them up. After a few tunes, I got the guitar out of the truck, tuned up, and played a lot of slop.

Nice bunch of folks, mostly older guys, including a ninety year old playing a nice old F-hole archtop. I was the only lefty, and about a half-dozen guys came over and joked that I was playing that thing upside down.

The default guitar style for this kind of music is alternating bass-strum ... boom - CHICK - boom - CHICK. With that many guitars, it sounded pretty muddy, and I started just hitting the "CHICK" on the 2 and the 4 as crisply as possible . . . that's the job of a mandolin in a bluegrass band, it which context it's called the "chop".

I'm eyeing a tenor guitar, which would be a nice option for hitting that "chop". It's a small-bodied four-stringed instrument that's been out of style since the 1930s or so, but it's still used for backup in certain styles of Texas/Oklahoma fiddle playing. Seems like it would be a nice addition to these sort of jams --- something that can punch things up rhythmically without sticking out too much. Anyway, I always kinda like to be the oddball. I also think I have a good shot at being the best left-handed tenor guitar player in the tri-county area...

So, I'm gonna go back next month, if the good Lord's willing and the crick don't rise.

100

4 comments
I'm not really sure where the term "Nerd Lunch" originated. For me, I guess it started when PLee and I worked together at a fairly tedious publishing gig. The two of us, joined by various others over the months we worked there, would go out for lunch and talk about the latest comics and sci-fi movies. Eventually, we began to call it "nerd lunch."

Prior to that, I had known Jeeg since my freshman year of college. Practically from the first day I got there. Jeeg and I eventually roomed together in college and quite often had our own share of lunches where we talked about nerd topics.

Somewhere along the way, I introduced Jeeg and PLee and I was fortunate to have my two good friends become good friends with each other. And there was a nice period of time where the three of us would get together on a regular basis and have the first official "Nerd Lunch" meetings.

There's something about sharing a meal and having a discussion that brings people closer together. Food is one thing we all have in common. We all have to eat. Even if we don't like all the same things, we at least all have to eat something. So, we eat together and find the commonalities don't stop there. But when you start stacking those commonalities on top of one another and begin exploring all the other areas you don't share commonalities with, that's where you begin to grow.

Unfortunately, Nerd Lunch doesn't happen as often anymore. Life took the three of us in different directions. Jeeg and PLee reside a few hours apart in Illinois and I live down in Tallahassee, Florida. We each have family and work obligations that don't allow us to enjoy the nerdity of life to the fullest extent that we once did. We're 30+ year old nerds who wish we could do a little (or a lot) more nerdin' than we're able to. We'd like to be able to game more, read more comics, or take in more movies.

But more than that, I think we'd all like to be able to enjoy those things with our friends. And talk about them over a sandwich. So, we can't do that as often, but we can still keep having those discussions right here on this blog. And with this post, we've had 100 different discussion starters. I'm not sure we thought we'd get this far.

So, to anyone who's been checking this blog out on a regular basis, or even if you just stop by, thanks for reading. And we're looking forward to writing many more posts. Now, someone pass me the pepper.

Oddly Shaped Dice: Task Force Xan

2 comments



Some years ago, I ran a one-shot we called "Steampunch," a Victorian Era "Yellow Menace" pulp game that pitted the heroes against Hanoi Xan (a Fu Manchu analogue referenced in some cut scenes from "Buckaroo Banzai"). I always thought that a nifty followup would be a John Woo - meets - Alias modern Hong Kong action movie adventure, pitting a 21st century joint task force (British, Chinese, and American) against a revived Xan. Lots of jumping through the air with both guns blazing, and probably a fair amount of kung fu. Nice gig for Jason Stathem and Ray Park as the Brits.

Frank Miller's Walrus City

2 comments

sin_city_poster Based on JPL's endorsement, I decided to pick up the Sin City DVD on a recent trip to my local library. It certainly isn't your grandfather's public library. Of the Nerd Lunch crew I have the least experience with comic books, so I approached the movie as relatively uninitiated. I remember perusing a friend's copy of The Dark Knight Returns back in elementary school and that is my only experience with the world of Frank Miller.

Story

Without foreknowledge of the comic, the stories seemed to be lacking a strong enough hook. The setting and some of the characters were intriguing; I especially enjoyed Mickey Rourke's portrayal of Marv. But overall I found it difficult to engage with much of the film. The touch points between the stories were probably cool in the comics, but didn't add much to the movie. In fact, it was confusing to see characters pop in with cameo roles after they had been killed in a previous storyline.

Another problem I had with the setting was understanding "the rules" of the world. Obviously it was comic book reality, but I could not figure out who was superhuman versus just plain tough. Should I have been impressed that Hartigan could survive 6 bullets or Marv could be run over with a car several times?

Presentation

The cinematic style was the most "comic-like" rendering I have seen in a movie. I give the filmmakers big kudos for serving up something distinctive and true to the source material. I didn't notice the soundtrack for reasons good or bad, but that may have been due to other distractions while I was watching.

The performances were middle of the road. Again I did like Mickey Rourke, but I expected a bit more from Bruce Willis and Clive Owen.

Story score--

Presentation score--

No rewatchable walrus from me. I think my time would be better spent seeing 300.

Oddly Shaped Dice: I'm the Best There Is

5 comments
This idea for an RPG one-shot is more of a “meta” hook than a specific idea. This is playing off the idea that RPGs are generally about multiple protagonists with specialized skills working together (a la Mission: Impossible) while many examples of genre fiction revolve around a solo hero who can do it all (a la James Bond).

The idea is to set up a one-shot where several solo heroes work together. They aren't necessarily carbon copies of each other, but they all have similar skills sets that enable them to handle their usual sorts of adventures by themselves (or with the occasional sidekick, tech support guy, etc.).

Maybe this means a U.N. mission so delicate that the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, China, and France each insist on sending their best agent. Maybe the world’s greatest detectives all end up on the trail of the same mystery. Maybe we're talking 1930s mystery men --- a teamup would be anachronistic, since this would be pre-Justice Society. Maybe it's a direct-to-video action movie throwdown starring Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, and Dolph Lundgren.

Farewell, Action Ranger

4 comments

gygax Around midday the news broke that Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away at the age of 69. Despite leaving TSR before many gaming nerds ever laid eyes on a d20, Gygax holds a special place in the hearts of nerds everywhere. In many ways he remained a representative of DnD and gamers, even making an appearance on Futurama as one of the ultimate crew of nerds, Al Gore's Vice Presidential Action Rangers. That role was well deserved; news reports state that Gygax was hosting weekly DnD sessions as recently as January. That's what I call love of the game.

RIP, Gary. Save me a seat at the table.

(Nerd) Lunch Special: McDonald's Shamrock Shake

2 comments
Tasty, greasy breakfast items aside, I'm not much of a McDonald's fan. In my opinion, McDonald's burgers and fries have been in slow decline since the introduction of the McDLT and the elimination of beef tallow frying oil. However, there is one thing that will lure me into Mickey D's after breakfast hours: the Shamrock Shake.

You wouldn't think that a vanilla shake spiked with mint flavor and neon green coloring would be anything special, but a cult following of Shamrock Shake fans rises up every year in the weeks before St. Patrick's Day. Heck, I've already had two of them this season. They're just that good. But don't take my word for it, listen to your pal, Uncle O'Grimacey.


(Nerd) Lunch Special: Tallahassee Chef's Sampler

2 comments
To sum it up in one word: Och. (Pronounced "ooch." Long story.)

Fifty dining establishments from Tallahassee and surrounding areas converged on the Leon County Civic Center this evening to set up the city's largest all-you-can-eat buffet. I was able to score two complementary tickets thanks to my place of employment and my wife and I decided to have the first date night we've had in awhile and enjoy an evening of fine hossin'*.

Once we finished our evening and tallied up just how many restaurants we hit, we were horrified to find that we had only sampled twelve of the fifty (thirteen if you count the table with Pepsi). CT of five to ten years ago would not have stood for that and would have mustered up the energy to at least hit the halfway point. For better or worse, I can no longer do that.

We were able to try a wide variety of options, mostly places we've never been to before. Some, we will make an effort to visit the actual restaurant some day.

Here's the alphabetical rundown of what I ate...
At Barnacle Bill's we sampled a seafood spread of some kind on crackers. I also tried an oyster for the first, possibly last time. At Beef 'O' Brady's I sampled some of the hot wings. At Bella Bella, we had some sort of pasta that had a tasty cream sauce and some cheese bread covered with marinara sauce. The Comedy Zone was there with more wings which I passed on and some sort of egg roll thing. Klassic Katering had a ton of options. It started with a half of a Philly Cheesesteak with a side of homemade potato chips and a deviled egg. Then they had a deep fried pickle with a curry sauce and a little hamburger slider. Logan's Roadhouse had hot wings as well, but a much more sizable option and very spicy. Paulina's Pizzeria had slices of a calzone or something like that and an asparagus spread on a cracker. Pepper's Mexican Grill & Cantina served up a chicken/rice/salsa plate that you could put on a freshly made corn tortilla. Riverview Restaurant & Lounge was another place that served up several things. I can't even remember everything they had. A lot of seafood including buffalo shrimp, bacon covered scallop, bacon covered shrimp, cole slaw and some seafood pasta salad. At Rubie Sky, we had a crab cake. And at Steak Out we had some items that could be found on a kabob, steak, peppers, onions, etc.

That's just what we had. We didn't hit the rib shack, the steakhouse, the other couple seafood places, the breakfast place, the other Mexican places or the many other places.

Finally, I should make special mention of Peterbrooke Chocolatier. Those guys went all out. They had a chocolate fountain, various chocolate goodies, chocolate-covered popcorn, and my personal favorite, chocolate covered rice krispie treat. Excellent, excellent chocolate.

So, again, I say "OCH!" I'm very full, but it was worth it.


* A verb meaning the consumption of copious amounts of food. Canadian in origin. Often used by talking monkeys and guys who love soup.

Netflix Notes

5 comments
I've been wanting to do some full fledged walrus reviews for some of the movies I've watched recently that I got from Netflix. I never got around to typing up full reviews, so instead, here are a few quick notes about some recent things I got from Netflix.

Man Against the Mob: The Chinatown Murders
I'm not even entirely sure what this is. I got it because it stars a post-A-Team George Peppard. It was bad. Skip it unless you really like George Peppard.

Sunshine
Since I don't really know anything about science, I loved this movie. I can imagine Jeeg sitting there squirming because the science is all wrong. It was a serious sci-fi piece with the flavor of 2001, Solaris or even Alien. I dug it a lot. I'll be looking out for this one to hit the cheap bin at Wal-Mart someday where I will probably purchase it.

Meet the Robinsons
I call this movie "Diet Pixar." It was entertaining and a good one to watch with the family. Something the kid could enjoy, but still good enough for mom and dad.

MI-5, Vol 4
I can't say too much about this because Jeeg would travel hundreds of miles just to kick me in the teeth if I spoil anything. Thumbs up. Way up. Volume 5 is at the top of the queue.

Watching Now:
On the "Watch Now" feature (which has begun acting funky), I have been watching through Rockford Files season 3 and watched the original Knight Rider pilot. I love the Rockford Files. They don't make TV like that anymore.

Do you have Netflix? Add CT as a Netflix friend and keep up with what he's watching through the Netflix community tab.

Walrus League: New Frontier

0 comments
It's probably odd to come to this blog and read reviews about relatively recent things. A review of the new Knight Rider and now a review of Justice League: New Frontier that just came out a few days ago. Don't get used to this.

Story:
It's hard to rate this movie because I feel like I can't really rate it on its own since I have read the original comic story. The movie is very faithful to the book, so things that might be lacking in the movie, I was able to fill in on my own. Overall, the story suffers from being too compressed. This is a limitation put on them by the studio. I wish it could have been expanded from a 75 minute length to at least 90 minutes, if not two hours. It sure could have used some more moments to let the story breath. Really, they should have expanded it and tried for a theatrical release.

That said, the original story was great, full of all kinds of DC obscurity. It had a great sense of scope while zeroing in on just a few main characters. The movie does the same, but has a problem with balance. The story has to keep moving so much, that some of the relationship scenes are lost. The connection between Martian Manhunter and King Faraday is especially hurt without another scene or lengthier scene to give them the history they share by the end battle.
Despite that complaint, or maybe even partly because of it, I was left wanting so much more. And not in a bad way. In a "that was great, I wish this was a series and not just a movie" kind of way.

Presentation:
I loved the stylized animation and the fluidity of it. The design is largely inspired by or in some cases, done by the genius that is Darwyn Cooke. I loved that it was a period piece and that everything had the look of a late-50s sci-fi movie. Excellent voice work. I was extremely impressed by Jeremy Sisto as Batman.

The next DC Universe animation project is a Batman DVD featuring six short stories. I'd love to see this Universe revisited with several characters getting their own 10-minute short. I'd especially look forward to a Batman story.

Story score--
Presentation score--

I won't give it the rewatchable, although I have another commentary and a half to listen to and I look forward to just seeing the movie again and taking in the visuals.

As a little bonus, the two-disc edition at Best Buy came with a little Green Lantern figurine in the New Frontier style. Well-sculpted and currently sits on my DVD shelf guarding the DVDs from anything ready to harm them.

00Walrus #3: Goldfinger

2 comments
GOLDFINGER
Bond: Sean Connery - 2 tusks
Much more polished by this point than he was in the previous two films and he really shines in this one. It looks like Connery is having fun with the character unlike in the previous movie. I love the way he emotes better in this one. When each of the Masterson girls get killed, he shows a genuine loss. And he displays brilliant coolness during the golf game with Goldfinger.

Girl: Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore - 2 tusks
A great departure from the two previous Bond girls and a character that could have even inspired her own series of movies. Speaking of the two previous Bond girls, Goldfinger contains two bonus Bond girls, Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson and Tania Mallet as Tilly Masterson. In a way, each is like one of the previous Bond girls. Eaton having similarities to Honey Ryder and Mallet having similarities to Tatiana Romanova.

Gadgets: Tricked out Astin Martin- 2 tusks
In this movie, we got the first appearance of Q Branch. The main gadget in this movie was the "supercar" Astin Martin with all "standard" spy gadgets we've come to expect in cars: radar screen, ejector seat, oil slick, smokescreen, bullet shields, tire puncture devices, and so on. Apparently, the actual car was designed with even more gadgets that were never shown. This is about the extent of what I like to see from gadgets though. More than this, as we eventually get, and it's too much.

Opening Theme: "Goldfinger" performed by Shirley Bassey - 2 tusks
Here's the first main theme song featuring the title and setting the tone for all Bond movies to come. While not my favorite song to listen to of the Bond themes, as a Bond theme, this may be the best.

Villain: Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger - 2 tusks
A well-written and well-performed villain. He's the kind of guy that you believe can actually win. And, if it weren't for a last-minute change of mind by Pussy Galore, he would have won. He's a very real villain. Very proud of his plan and maintains and incredible amount of cool during the times that Bond taunts him. It is interesting to note that the voice of Goldfinger was done by someone else. Both Fröbe and the voice actor deserve high praise, although the voice actor delivers some great lines such as "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

Henchman: Harold Sakata as Oddjob - 2 tusks
Sakata sets the standard as the first in a string of "super" henchman.

Pre-title opening sequence - 2 tusks
Possibly one of the best opening sequences from a Bond film, this is like a mini-adventure. I love that it's like a Bond film crammed into five minutes. And I also like that it's not connected to anything that happens later in the movie. Just a great bonus. And while it kicks off the absurdities of Bond with the gags like the tux under the wetsuit, it hadn't yet gotten to the level it gets to in just a movie or two.

Story:
After a rocky second film, this movie picks up the pieces and gets back to basics and truly establishes the formula. The movie is bigger than what has preceded it, but doesn't lose the focus on Bond. I love the simplicity of the story, yet the complexity of the characters. Placing all the elements I've already mentioned makes this the perfect Bond movie in every way.
Up until now, Goldfinger hasn't held that high of a place of esteem for me. In the past, I have felt it to be overrated. And I don't mind saying that I was wrong. Upon my quest to rewatch all the Bonds, I have found new respect for the first three movies and what they bring on their own and as the forerunner to what the franchise goes on to be. When I initially watched the movies, I watched them out of order, so some of the typical elements felt tired to me. Now, I realize that they weren't worn out, but everything that comes after these first three movies just apes what has already come. From here on out, the stories lose something as they continue to try to top the previous movies. I wish this was as outlandish as it ever got and that it fluctuated between the movies like Goldfinger and the smaller stories like Dr. No.

Previous Bond Movie Reviews
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
Copyright © Nerd Lunch