"A Christmas Story" cookies

Merry Christmas!

These are some of our low-sugar sugar cookies made with Splenda and Splenda-based frosting. Alas, the label on the decorating gel reads, "corn syrup, sugar, water, ..." so we can't call them sugar-free.

This was my wife's first attempt at frosted cookies, made trickier for trying to use Splenda to make the frosting. The frosting turned out a bit grainy but it's delicious. She's sure she can correct the process next time she tries it, to achieve a smoother frosting. Also, we found the frosting a bit tricky to spread upon, without breaking, the cookies. We lost one bunny ear and two bunny feet before we figured out the best way to do it. Be generous with the frosting. Rather than spreading it onto the cookie, like butter, we put on too much and sculpted away what we didn't need. I managed to give the turkeys and the leg lamps a nice 3-D impression by using the sculpting method. Having never done this before, I'm fairly pleased with the results and look forward to trying again.

Next, we tried to add details. Neither of us had used decorating gels before and we found them a bit tricky to manage, made no easier by the rough frosting. First off, the gels seem to separate a bit inside their tubes which makes the first bits to come out runny, rather like the watery stuff that comes out of a mustard bottle. Some of the mistakes are evident in this photo, particularly the red on the candy cane, the yellow on the bright tree, and the blue on the same tree and the teddy bear eyes.
I tried mushing the tube of yellow around a bit to blend the gel but it didn't seem to help. Best bet is to simply squeeze out the runny part onto a paper towel or something until the thickened gel comes out. Also, it's a good idea to let the frosting dry well before applying gels. Shaped or sculpted frosting tends to have rough edges which can make applying fine lines of gel difficult. Perhaps our future frosting, being smoother, will help alleviate this problem. It's worth noting that yellow, blue, and purple were the runniest colors in this project. I believe the red on the candy cane only bled because the frosting was still moist when the gel was applied.

These cookies aren't perfect, but my wife always does a great job in the kitchen. She normally won't let me near anything she's working on, but this time was different and I think we'll be collaborating again. We're proud of our sophomore effort and these cookies taste great. I'm sure they'll go over well with the family tomorrow. They're meant to be a special treat for Dad, but I know he'll share. ;-)

Once again
Merry Christmas!
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9. Speed Racer - The Top 10 Everything of 2008 - TIME

9. Speed Racer - The Top 10 Everything of 2008 - TIME: "Speed Racer is the future of movies" - Richard Corliss
Go, Speed Racer. Go!

Obsession? Perhaps.

I've only seen the movie twice (on opening weekend and again upon the DVD release).
I will absolutely be enjoying it again, many, many times.

"Speed Racer" was such a gem, and so poorly received, that I am determined to defend and recommend the film every time it comes up.

As for the ranking... I wonder where "The Dark Knight" is and why I've never heard of the movie at #10. I'd have to place "The Dark Knight" above "Speed Racer" on my movie list. Included would be "Kung Fu Panda", "WALL-E", and "Burn After Reading", but not in that particular order.

For the rest of TIME's Top 10 lists for 2008 visit:


R.I.P. - Forrest "Forrie" J. Ackerman (old post hiding in draft until now 1/30/09)

There is no shortage of information about Forrest J. Ackerman. I've spent most of my life either admiring or envying the man... I'm not really sure which feeling is most accurate. The only thing I have to add is my remembrance of his influence on me. I never met the man, though I would certainly have enjoyed doing so. Until the announcement of his passing, the last thing I'd heard about/from/of him was an interview in the "Geeks On" podcast. He seemed a warm fellow, but a no-nonsense sort... he put me in mind of my Grandpa.

When I was a kid I was an avid reader of "The Monster Times" and I dutifully disemboweled each issue to place it's monstrous centerfold somewhere in my bedroom. Back then I didn't actually read much in the issues but I would pore through every page for cool pictures of things both familiar and never before imagined. Star Trek and Godzilla were familiar to me. I loved "sci-fi" and all the gigantic beasts from Japan, but the horror movies and monsters were new to me.

I remember being easily and frequently scared when I was little. Steve McQueen's nemesis, "The Blob", prevented me from ever developing a taste for puddings. The mere sight of Phyllis Diller on TV caused me to hide in another room, away from the set. I don't know when it happened, but I somehow got over my frights and "The Monster Times" was a big part of that.
Later came Starlog. I collected Starlog from issue #1 through issue #43. By this time I was doing a bit more reading. I would flip the pages of every issue and try to learn about only the things that caught my eye. "Sci-fi" was my primary interest, having been groomed with Trek, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Space: 1999, UFO, Silent Running, and that damned Blob.

Starlog is where I became aware of Forrest Ackerman. I seem to remember a photo of him standing next to Robby the Robot but I could be mistaken about that. I had only seen Robby once before, versus B-9 (aka 'Robot') on "Lost in Space", but this photo of a regular man standing next to a menace out of space and time finally broke the spell, the horror was gone, and new ideas were planted in that freshly tilled soil of imagination, mystery, and fear. Forrest Ackerman was playing with toys, just as I did. But, his were the coolest toys in the history of Humanity.

With Forrie serving as a mental ground-wire for my imagination, I began to learn a little bit about how these cool movies were made. He reminded me that these monsters and aliens weren't REAL and allowed me to tremble with other fears, like UFO's, Bigfoot, and the supernatural.

I owe you a big load of thanks Mr. Ackerman. You were a sort of lighthouse, steering this man's young mind away from the rocks of childhood horrors. Thank you.


Name the Holiday Characters Quiz

I've created my first ever Holiday logo from a photo of the hutch on my desk. To celebrate the occasion I thought I'd have my first quiz, too! Can you name every figure in my 2008 Holiday Banner? Begin on the left with the snowman under the starship Enterprise.
The green box* under the Enterprise isn't clearly visible, so don't worry about it.
The boxed figures near the right end of the image are not holiday figures, so they don't count either, but feel free to name them if you can. Finally, finish up with the last character on the right. They do not have to be in order.
Answer by leaving a comment.

My comments are moderated. I won't post any for a while so don't count on taking advantage of other people's answers. In the event of a tie... well, I guess multiple people will share the pride of being "BonK's Biggest Christmas-Special Geek" of 2008.


*It's the 2001 Holiday Hot Wheels diorama with surf theme called "Santa's Holiday".
Santa's "Surf Crate" Hot Wheels car is painted holiday chrome red with white 'frost' detailing for that North Pole touch. Not shown, behind the car, is a chubby bearded Elf, wearing shiny blue trunks and a white hat, lugging a boom-box on his shoulder. Jolly old Saint Nick is first to the surf, board in hand, wearing his hat with marine-green trunks and a red t-shirt. Another hefty holiday helper is wearing a green hat and pink old fashioned-style swimsuit, lugging a white surfboard overhead with the help of a holiday hottie in a Santa hat and teeny-weeny red bikini bringing up the rear. Santa's bag is nearby, spilling a beach ball, umbrella, and other goodies onto the sand. All of this and a nice wint'ry snow-covered village scene in the background. Aw, what the heck. Here's a view from the celly.


50 jobs in 50 states

50 jobs in 50 states Livingthemap.com


***Dave :: Movie Review - Speed Racer

***Dave :: Movie Review - Speed Racer: "This is not, 'How can we re-imagine Speed Racer into something different?' but 'How can we make something that is Speed Racer, only more so and new?' Just what I look for from a remake."

Arts: It’s What’s for Blog » Art, or Why I Loved Speed Racer

Arts: It’s What’s for Blog » Art, or Why I Loved Speed Racer: "dive headfirst into your source and, rather than force it into a mold you like, feel it’s metaphorical pulse and think about what it wants to be. Do what the Wachowski’s did."


Fire pit... yay!


Ike in Ohio

Power to our neighborhood was knocked out by Ike's remains on Sunday afternoon, around 1pm. My wife and I were getting ready to leave to attend a wedding. High wind often knocks out our little corner of the electrical grid so we believed everything would be working by the time we returned from the ceremony and reception. We were wrong. Power only came back a short time ago, around 11pm Wednesday night.

What I love most about Dayton and the Miami Valley in Ohio is exactly what has created the biggest delays in restoring power here. The trees. Ike took care of a lot of overdue trimming, topping, and clearing of deadwood, and deposited most of it in area utility lines. Nearly two-million Ohioans were left without power after Ike's passing.

The loss of electricity was a big inconvenience for most of us, but only an inconvenience. In many areas it became something of an adventure, and in other areas it was a great excuse for block parties and blow-outs, you know... since all that food in the fridge is gonna go bad anyway, unless we eat it all now!

Here are some photos taken at the wedding during Ike's passing and the day after at my mother's house. Best wishes to everyone whose path Ike crossed.



If you know me you know I like to photograph cicadas and you know I enjoy watching "Attack of the Show" (AotS). AotS includes an occasional segment called "What's up with Japan?" highlighting the strange and fascinating Japanese culture. A J-Pop star known as Shokotan was shown having adorned herself with cicada shells and throwing the shells to her fans during a performance.

When I searched for these strange photos I found them hosted on PinkTentacle.com. Despite the implications of it's title PinkTentacle is a fascinating site; from cicada-wearing pop stars to dome homes and more.

Here are some interesting things I found at Pink Tentacle*:

I liked these images of large concrete things used in Japan to prevent land erosion.

Cicada shell cosplay

Unique method of building demolition

Floodgate photos

and much, much more*.


*You may notice I am interested in unusual structures and feats of engineering.


Flaming Turtle @ The Melting Pot

Flaming Turtle
Milk chocolate, caramel and
chopped pecans, flambéed tableside.

Fresh strawberries, banana, cheesecake, tasty marshmallows, pound
cake and brownies for you to dip into any of our decadent chocolate
fondue creations.

Flaming Turtle

Samuel Adams Boston Lager Cheddar Cheese Fondue @ The Melting Pot

Pictured here are:

Boston Lager Cheddar Cheese Fondue
Aged cheddar cheeses blended with Samuel Adams Boston Lager,®
Tabasco,® Worcestershire sauce and chopped chives.
Bread and apples for dipping.

Strawberry Basil Lemonade
Nothing like Mom used to make! Smirnoff Strawberry
Twist vodka, fresh strawberries, basil and lemonade.

The Melting Pot in Centerville



[Click the title of this Blogger post to go directly to my Picasa Gallery and view these images (and more) in greater detail.]

I've been busy shooting but haven't had time to post much. I've been shooting for fun, but I've set random goals here and there to test myself. The Air Show set features attempts to convey the scale of one of the huge cargo planes on display. The City Life '08 night shoot wasn't very successful because I strongly resisted the urge to use the flash. Well, here are some of my latest sets:

7/16/08 - Wednesday Afternoon at demolition of "The Coop", Patterson Cooperative High School

7/18/08 - Friday Evening at Great American Ballpark for Cincinnati Reds versus New York Mets


7/20/08 - Sunday Afternoon at Dayton International Airport for Dayton Airshow

7/23/08 - Cicada Hatchlings

8/10/08 - Sunday Afternoon at Montgomery County Fairground for the German Picnic

8/17/08 - Sunday Morning at Fraze for Breakfast with The Beatles with VenusLoveCircus

8/18/08 - Monday Night at Riverscape with the City Life '08 statues


My first hummingbird shots

At the pool today, I spotted what I thought was a butterfly. Then I noticed it wasn't moving like a butterfly. Then I noticed it was a tiny bird! I thought hummingbirds were larger, so this tiny avian really took me by surprise. I went home to get my camera and tripod and probably got some strange looks from other folks at the pool while setting up... I was too concerned with getting my shots to actually notice. BTW, there were originally two hummingbirds, but I only saw one, or one at a time (who can be sure from 20 feet away) once I had the camera ready.

I had to keep my distance so I wouldn't scare it/them, so I used full zoom and tried to pre-set my focus on some of the floral clusters they were frequenting. Check out the slideshow below. The images aren't great, because of their size, my distance, and the fact that it was necessary to severely crop the images. Prior to cropping these photos were like a "Where's Waldo" picture, Waldo, in this case, being the hummingbird. I'm excited to have caught my first hummingbird photos. If you click to visit my Picasa gallery, you'll find my other recent collections from my first Reds game at Great American Ballpark, the 2008 Dayton Airshow, and some pretty cool new cicada images. Enjoy!


Geekstravaganza! [Title of post added using Nintendo DS Browser]

[This introductory text posted/updated via Blogger]
Some time ago I purchased the Nintendo DS Browser, which consists of a version of the Opera browser on a 'game' chip and a separate 'accessory' chip with some extra memory. For those who don't know it, the Nintendo DS has built in WiFi, which came with neither my mobile phone or my handheld. I have wireless access at home where I was able to test and play with it. It works, but not extraordinarily well. I took it downtown to try and access the free wireless in Dayton's Oregon District. The signal is very hard to pick up even right out on Fifth Street. So, now, at work, we've added a private wireless network, so I had to test the DS again. The signal is exceptional, but still, the experience of Nintendo DS browsing leaves much to be desired. So, I visited my blog, this blog, BonK!, and took a photo of it with my mobile phone, as shown below.

[This photo and the text following the photo were posted here from my LG 8300 via Blogger Mobile]

Budget browsing & technolust

[This text added/updated using Blogger]
I did all this silly stuff just because I could. Posting blogs from my cell phone, an LG VX8300, isn't very convenient because it doesn't allow for subject lines, but if I want to share a photo or thought here when I'm out and about I can do it quickly and come here to edit it later, as I'm doing now.

The Nintendo DS Browser can't do Flash video or streaming music, it can't even handle graphics heavy pages very well due to it's limited memory, but if I need to look something up in a pinch I can Google or visit Wikipedia or IMDb or even check mail or make a blog post, provided I have a good signal. A Nintendo DS costs about $129 (the last time I checked) and the Nintendo DS Browser is about $40, so, for $160 you can have a semblance of portable internet if you've got access to WiFi but no equipment to get online, not to mention an excellent game system.

WiFi can be found just about anywhere these days. For those not into coffee shops, check your local McDonald's. Grab something off the Dollar Menu and get online while you have lunch. As I mentioned before, the DS Browser isn't much good for Java, Flash, and media files, but you can keep in touch - check/send mail, read/post blogs, visit news sites, etc.

So, in conclusion, this is a "Geekstravaganza!" because I used four separate input sources to complete this ridiculous post. Nintendo DS w/Browser add-on, LG VX8300 camera phone, the Dell computer at work and it's wireless network, and finally my Dell home computer on it's wireless network.

"Budget browsing" is important to all this. I've told a number of people I know who are not as geeky as I am that this might be a viable alternative. I would never recommend these methods to anyone who has an actual computer handy, but, as you can see, it's possible to stay wirelessly connected on the cheap.

As for "technolust"... well, that's not so applicable. I like my electronic toys, but first and foremost they are tools to help me do things. I can't afford things that aren't useful in some important way, and that's the REAL point of this post. I'm exploring the possibilities and I've found this inexpensive way to be connected, even if you're not the "high tech" type.


Big Fun Movies of 2008

I've finally seen Cloverfield! Because of all the fuss over the movie's release date, 1-18-08, there has been something of a common presumption that the events of the movie took place on that date, which is not so. At the end of the film Rob states that "it's 6:42 AM on Saturday, May 23rd," a date which won't occur until 2009. Details in the film, like the cars on the streets and the phones and cameras being used throughout, preclude this film from taking place on the previous occurrence of Saturday, May 23rd, which was in 1998, but, because Cloverfield is a fictional experience, who's to say how calendars work in that world. Perhaps months only have 23 days. ;-)

I enjoyed Cloverfield and I'm pleased to have finally caught up with my anticipated movie watching for 2008. I'll probably fall short again with the pending release of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and then "The Incredible Hulk." There are simply too many movies coming out this year for me to keep up with. Narnia:Wardrobe was a good enough movie, but I'm just not stoked to see Narnia:Caspian. I left it and many other movies off of this list intentionally.

Viewed - Title - Theater/DVD - Notes
20080429 - Iron Man - 20080502/ - Sneak preview @ Showcase Dayton South w/son
20080511 - Speed Racer - 20080509/ - Showcase Huber w/wife & son
20080517 - Cloverfield - 20080118/20080422 - DVD home theater-solo
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 20080522/
- The Incredible Hulk - 20080613/ -
- Get Smart - 20080620/ -
- WALL-E - 20080627/ -
- Hancock - 20080704/ -
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army - 20080711/ -
- Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D - 20080711/ -
- The Dark Knight - 20080718/ -
- The X-Files: I Want to Believe - 20080725/ -
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - 20080801/ -
- Quantum of Solace - 20081107/ -
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 20081121/ -
- The Soloist - 20081121/ - [a friend is an extra in this]

As you can see, there are more movies than months on this list, and it's hard enough to afford a single movie a month, let alone FIVE! I mentioned there are big, anticipated releases that I'm just not interested in seeing, but there are many lesser known movies I'd like to see that have been left off the list as well. C'est la vie.


What is it about automobile racing that I love so much?

I've never owned, built, or raced a real hot rod or a muscle car. I've never watched an entire Indy 500 and I've actually tried to avoid NASCAR.

My race influences are Hot Wheels, banana-seat bicycles, SSP Racers, slot cars, skate boards, Speed Racer, and an album of hot rod music that I've been unable to track down because I don't remember it's name or any of the songs or performers on it, but I remember the cover, and if I ever see it again, it's mine... it had the sounds of revving engines and other car sounds between the songs. Good stuff.

As I mull it over a bit, I'm beginning to realize there's a primal 'something' about racing. Quick and skillful mobility is probably our first greatest cumulative asset as human beings. When it comes to the fight or flight reaction, flight isn't much good if it's not successful, therefore, outrunning or outsmarting a predator is probably the handiest and oldest skill that we have, because such competitions were truly the difference between life and death.

Racing taps that primal instinct, turning it from life-and-death struggle into competitive entertainment and a display of prowess. In today's racing world, that prowess isn't limited to the speed and skill of the individual racers; it takes the skill of engineers, mechanics, pit bosses, and even the people behind the office desks to get into the winner's circle.

As ever, since prehistory up to the closed oval tracks of our present day, there's still the chance that something could go wrong; from an errant piece of timber tripping up the next meal of a sabre-toothed tiger to blown tires and pit delays; no matter how controlled the arrangement becomes, there's still the chance something could go wrong.

I've been looking forward to the upcoming Speed Racer film for some time. I haven't been this excited about a new movie since the original Star Wars first hit theaters.

I grew up playing with all sorts of toy cars but even as a small child I knew there were no better cars than Hot Wheels. Sure, Matchbox cars looked more realistic. But, realism is for replicas not for racing!

Another company once tried to knock Hot Wheels off the top spot with a brand called "Johnny Lightning". Johnny Lightning cars (JL, for short) were fast, and my brother had one that could beat some of my Hot Wheels, but there were a few problems with the line. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty certain that the 'lane' of a JL track was wider than that of a Hot Wheels track. I also remember two-lane track segments which were probably meant to speed up assembly time of dual straightaways for impatient kids, but that's beside the point. The wider lanes of JL track allowed them to make slightly wider cars, though they didn't always design their cars to 'fill' the lanes. If memory serves, most JL cars would not fit on Hot Wheels tracks and many Hot Wheels cars had too much room on a JL track, allowing them to bounce side to side. Naturally, bouncing side-to-side down a track isn't going to give you a good race.

My connection to facsimile racing is as old as I can remember. Even now, as an adult, when playing with tracks on the floor is too hard on my knees to consider doing, I still collect a few Hot Wheels cars. I'm no completist in this endeavor. I don't care about 'Treasure Hunt" cars or classic "Red Line" collector's items. I just want the cool cars.

I'll buy versions of real cars, I'll buy fantasy cars, I'll buy versions of customs and hot rods, even those silly blimps. I don't generally spend time playing with them though. As I said, the tracks and floor based play would be too tough on my knees. But thanks to modern electronics I have a compact and exhilarating alternative. Video games! I have a PS2 and a slew of original Playstation games including "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing" which features digital versions of some of the best Hot Wheels cars ever on digital tracks, performing jumps and loops and crazy stunts the way only Hot Wheels and Speed Racer ever could. Speed Racer and Hot Wheels are the perfect match of all perfect matches if there ever was a perfect match.

I also have a "Speed Racer" game made for the original Playstation, but frankly, that game sucks. Sure, you get all the Mach 5 gadgets and fitting courses on which to use them, but the courses are barely a worthy challenge. "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing" has thus far proven to be the ultimate in Speed Racer-esque craziness.

A close second to "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing" is the physics-defying wonder called "Beetle Adventure Racing" for the Nintendo 64. This game includes only the New Volkswagen Beetle in a variety of racing configurations that must be unlocked through gameplay. The tracks are crazy with jumps and hidden shortcuts and all the great race locales found in the Speed Racer cartoon... There's 'Coventry Cove', a peaceful and quaint village thrown into chaos by turbo VW Beetles roaring through the streets. 'Mount Mayhem' is an Alpine race setting with snow covered bridges and turns and a hidden ice cave containing a frozen UFO... there's an MIB black helicopter flying overhead to prove it! Next up is the exotic jungle island setting, the name of which I can't recall, featuring a hungry T-Rex, a watery beach, a hidden tiki village, and the caves around an erupting volcano waiting to swallow your car whole! 'Sahara Sands' is a desert level reminiscent of Egypt in which you have to avoid falling ruins, wind your way through ancient tombs, and try not to get stuck in the sand. If you've survived all that you get to a track called 'Metro Madness' which is a cityscape with highways, drainage ditches, warehouse districts, parking garages, and glittering skyscrapers to drive... through! But wait, there's more! There is a sort of haunted psychedelic track that I have yet to unlock. There are also at least three versions of the New Beetle I haven't acheived, yet. And still, there's more...

If you have a Nintendo 64 with "Beetle Adventure Racing" and 4 controllers, whip 'em out, hook 'em up, and call your friends over for an outrageous Beetle Battle! The Beetle Battles take place on one of six closed courses, Airport (basic driving with a few tricks, no planes), Parking Garage (speed and control are essential here, no parked cars), Lava Cave (concentration and control to avoid lava traps), Ice Flows (lots of sliding and jumping), Dirt Track Arena (my fave, learn the terrain!), and Medieval Castle (confusing and dark, makes me grumpy). The 4-way split screen view can be difficult to see on screens as large as 26 inches diagonal (4:3 ratio). 2-way battles are easier to see but not nearly as exciting. The goal for each level is to collect a full set of multicolored beetles then race to the finish. Naturally, it's not as easy as that. If you crash or suffer enough damage to make your car blow up you will lose collected beetles. To make matters worse, there are weapons and tricks available to thwart your enemies, and vice versa. If your cars' demise is the direct result of an enemy attack, that enemy steals a beetle away from you. It's not as insane as Super Smash Brothers but it's kinda like that, on wheels. Literally hours of fun, many times over. If you're an N64 owner, find this game. You won't regret it.

Action, competition, insane courses! Project Gotham Racing? Gran Turismo? Who needs 'em? With old-school treasures like "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing", "Beetle Adventure Racing", and "F-Zero"... let's not forget that SNES classic, who needs realism? ;-)


SPEED RACER - Setting the record straight

Speed Racer was the first glimpse of anime for most of us 'round eyes'. We were unaccustomed to this type of artwork and dialog, but I never thought about that. It was a cartoon about cool cars, it had relatable characters, and it had a monkey. What more does a little boy need for quality entertainment?

OK, Speed had a head-start in my cultural experience. Almost everything I liked involved cars in some way. Hot Wheels were indeed HOT and nothing was faster, except one car my brother had from Johnny Lightning, a competing toy race-car line. Speed Racer was and still is a great cartoon. If you didn't like it, that's fine. It simply wasn't your thing, but no matter how much you disliked it, it was far better than you remember. With a full-fledged family as the main characters there was a bridge of familiarity that made their world of insane racing and marvelous cars feel like it was just another day in the 'Brady' household.

The races took place in volcanoes, under water, in the desert, on tight-ropes, and often in the air for short spells. It's a fantasy racing world... exciting, dangerous, crazy, and ultimately ridiculous, but I learned that one monkey in the trunk of a car is more fun than a whole barrel of monkeys.

As a teen I sold off most of my Hot Wheels cars and tracks, but when I had a son there was an excuse to begin buying cars again. Alas, I hadn't considered that I grew up in a distinctly different setting than he, and cars just weren't going to be as cool for him as they had been for me. I grew up in a house with no carpeting.

NO carpet! Hardwood floors and tiles throughout made any room in the entire house a potential adventure speedway, whether we had those plastic orange tracks* or not! And our driveway was something of a secure area. We would spend hours drawing chalk roads and cities for our cars to inhabit. The driveway my son grew up with held 4 cars, max, and so was too crowded and close to the road to allow any lengthy playtime.

So, how does this all 'set the record straight' on Speed Racer? Well, Speed Racer is a fantasy world that related directly to one of our primary entertainment options, toy cars. Fights would break out over these cars, and occasionally they would be thrown as weapons... it was that important. Back then, before Star Wars, Transformers, and video games (two more things I enjoy), Speed Racer was the pinnacle of our car racing imaginations... and there wasn't a Mach 5 toy to be had, but we all wanted one. The Mach 5, like the TV Batmobile before it, became the ultimate driving machine at a time when we had only the vaguest idea what a driving machine was. So, here we are, 40-some years later, and I've finally got the greatest race car ever imagined in the form of the fastest toy cars ever made. Just what I've always wanted!

Counter-clockwise beginning in the lower left:
The red car is the Mach 4, possibly the car wrecked by Rex (get it?) Speed's missing brother.
The Mach 5 needs no introduction.
The Mach 6, star of the Speed Racer movie, appears here twice.
The dark purple car is the GRX, a car that has killed it's driver more than once.
And finally, #9, The Shooting Star, driven by the mysterious Racer X.

I still feel I haven't adequately 'set the record straight'. I'm experiencing B.A.D.D., Blogger Attention Deficit Disorder. These cars, as Hot Wheels, are a dream come true. As I've said before, every Hot Wheels kid wanted the Mach 5 and couldn't have it. Mattel created a copycat vehicle named "Second Wind" that was clearly meant to fill that gap, but without the tail-fins and that red and yellow 5 on the side it simply wasn't Speed Racer's car. It's the dream of owning that toy and racing it through the wild loops and jumps of a genuine Hot Wheels track that makes the Speed Racer movie such an exciting thing for me.

The Wachowski's didn't simply update an old cartoon and bring it to the big screen. They tapped into the childhood dreams of my generation! This movie puts that car on those tracks, all the while staying faithful to the history and fantasy of the cartoon, plus casting the whole thing into a future world where racing is everything, just like it was on my living room floor. The Wachowski's clearly shared this dream with me or knew very well someone who did.

And THAT, my friends, is setting the record straight, and why "Speed Racer" is the most exciting movie for me since the original "Star Wars". I'll be first in line to see this film!

*I've been remembering the tracks lately. [This post was started in the past but only posted today 4/23/08] Another post of mine, begun last night [4/22/08] and currently in draft, mentions Johnny Lightning tracks, which were red, perhaps with white stripes, and as I wrote the above bit about orange tracks I recalled the patriotic red, white, & blue Hot Wheels tracks released sometime around America's Bicentennial. Since then many colors of Hot Wheels track have been made.

"The Mist", Cloverfield, and More Monster Stuff

I'm glad I haven't seen "The Mist". The air is so foggy outside right now that I'd be too scared to walk my dog. Even button "E" (for "special illumination") on Speed Racer's steering wheel would have trouble with this "pea soup". The air is so damp that my lungs reacted to it, creating the sensation that I needed to cough.

I hear there's a giant monster in "The Mist", kinda like the Cloverfield monster. Cool. I'll have to check it out.

I still haven't seen Cloverfield, so I'm really looking forward to the DVD and it's bonus features. There has been much speculation in various Cloverfield forums that New York is too populated to have had only one idiot filming the devastation. Also, such hints have been dropped in interviews with production staff, and in the wording of ads for the DVD that there is more to come, either in the form of alternate footage of the same event or with follow-up stories. Only time will tell, and there's certainly no rule saying they couldn't make an actual movie based on Cloverfield, in the fashion of classic giant monster movies, instead of in shaky-cam style. We'll see.

BTW, or the record, it seems silly, even to me, that I should be so interested in something I didn't get to experience in theaters, but I've always been a giant monster fan, and I guess I always will be. Tyranosaurus Rex was always my favorite dinosaur, Fin Fang Foom is my favorite Marvel Comics monster, (Japanese) Godzilla IS the King of the Monsters... it's just my way. Vampires, werewolves, mummies, and the many incarnations of the Frankenstein monster all have their place in the world, but you know, even when they've been giant-sized, Godzilla still kicked their asses.

I'm big fan of Hellboy, Cthulhu, and the modern Mummy movies, even Underworld was big fun, and zombies are always good. I guess the classic Universal Monsters are just too cheesy for my tastes. But I love cheesy entertainment! Which begs the question, "Why do I scorn the classic monsters so?" Perhaps I'd like them if I gave them another chance. I haven't seen them since I was a kid when I only watched them because there was nothing else to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and back then I was genuinely afraid of monster movies. As for what scared me most... It's a toss up between the original Blob and Phyllis Diller. I was cool with The Munsters, but they had that sweet dragster...

Perhaps the idea that something has a (pseudo-)plausible connection to the world as I know it makes the ultimate difference in whether I like it or not.

What I'm trying to do here is whittle down my tastes into a unified theory of personal fandom. Next up, Speed Racer!

Out of Hibernation


The satellite map indicates an incoming storm of posts on the following subjects:
Cloverfield DVD, Danica Patrick, Hot Wheels, LEGO, and Speed Racer. There is also a strong likelihood of superhero movie commentary. Remember, posting storms are unpredictable and readers should be prepared for personal photography and items of local interest.

Thank you.


"The Soloist" a new film by Joe Wright

A family friend recently had a job as an extra in the upcoming film "The Soloist" from Joe Wright, the director of the multi-award-winning films "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice."

"The Soloist" is about a homeless schizo musician, played by Robert Downey, Jr., with a dream of playing in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Catherine Keener, Stephen Root, and Jamie Foxx round out the cast.

We've all enjoy R.D., Jr.'s work, right? I mean, he's a genuinely fine actor.

[Blame IMDb for this next bit.]
I've seen "Up the Academy" but I don't remember anything about it off the top of my head. "Weird Science" is a kind of a classic, I can't say I really remember him on Saturday Night Live, but that's because I wasn't watching it much during that time, "Back to School" is at least a cubic zirconia in the history of filmdom, and then a flurry of films which I've missed because I was more interested in raising a kid than watching movies [The Pick-Up Artist, Less Than Zero, Johnny Be Good, Air America, Chaplin, Short Cuts, Natural Born Killers, Only You, etc.], but "U.S. Marshalls" dragged me back because Tommy Lee Jones had been so good in "The Fugitive", and then I saw "Bowfinger" (a fave), "Wonder Boys" (another fave), and I watched a lot of Ally McBeal but I don't remember R.D.,Jr. in it. Another short lapse follows until "A Scanner Darkly" (yet another fave), the upcoming "Iron Man" (sure to be a fave, I mean, could casting be any more authentic?), "Tropic Thunder" (sure to be a riot), and then squire D-Day [from the old homefront that we rocked so well] calls my brother and says, "I'm gonna be an extra in 'The Soloist' with Robert Downey, Jr." Then, a few days later, "We're on a break from shooting and I'm having a smoke six feet away from Robert Downey, Jr." Too sweet.

I'm happy for him, D-Day that is (BTW, he was known as D-Day before "Animal House" came out). He signed up for 'extras' jobs on a whim and got called in for a good one. He was always the best looking guy in our clan. He was the guy that never had to pick up girls because there was a line of them waiting for a chance. I'm fairly confident he'll keep his looks as he grows older. If he's got the acting chops he could land himself a good gig on a series or as a character actor, provided he wishes to pursue such a course. Look for him. He'll be one of the guys in the background wearing a tux.


Florida Boy's "Growing Up in 1970's Florida"

Thanks to Star Trek I've found a fellow blogger going by the name 'Florida Boy'. 'Florida Boy' appears to be very nearly the same age as me because he mentions that he was 12 in 1976. I was 12 in 1976 and that was one of the first years that I remember nearly in it's entirety.

The memories of childhood are important to everyone, for better or worse, and I've always felt that some of my memories were slipping away. I know for a fact that my father and grandfather both failed to remember things from their childhoods that seemed to me things one could never forget. I don't want that to happen to me. 'Florida Boy' is experiencing something similar and has begun his blog in an attempt to regain some of those missing pieces in order to pass them on to his future generations. His focus in his endeavor is admirable. In my case, I'll simply integrate such things here, for now.

Small portions of my own blog already serve a similar purpose. Particularly, my "Things I've Enjoyed Since Childhood" list which can be found in my sidebar. Thanks to 'Florida Boy' I can now expand my list based on reminders I found in his blog's first post.

I had a number of bikes when I was a kid, but the best ones both met with disaster. First, my brother and I got matching white Apollo Racer bicycles one year. I can't remember if it was for Christmas or birthdays, but it was probably birthdays because they occur 1 month apart, in spring, just in time for bicycle season!

The Apollo Racer was a unique machine in that it's frame was constructed of flattened tubes, giving it a very space-age look. What would normally have been a banana seat was a squared-off thing, tapered for comfort, covered in black vinyl with a white bead along it's edges and lines sewn across the seat, all down it's length, to give it a high-tech look. Also, the rear seat support (we always referred to them as sissy-bars back then, but I'm not sure where that came from) was a metal tube that was bent at 90 degrees twice, to fit the squared seat, instead of bent in a 180 degree semi-circle as most 'sissy-bars' were made. Single gear, pedal brake, and APOLLO RACER painted in black down the outside of both upper frame posts.

We lived on a dead-end street with a perpendicular cul-de-sac we called 'the circle'. 'The circle' was directly across from our driveway. One evening when we had been called home (my memory says it was for dinner, but the rest of the memory doesn't jibe with that) we jumped on our bikes and raced to see who could get home first. Being a dead-end street there was very little traffic and we all played in the street, a lot. I was in the lead and planned to race right down the driveway, but a VW bus was crossing at the same time. I was hit. It was entirely my own fault, and thankfully, the driver wasn't speeding on our 25 MPH dead-end street. He was probably going slower because he was on a slight, but lengthy, incline. My bike and I experienced asphalt the way neither were meant to and I went blank for... I don't know. 911 and cell phones didn't exist yet, so when something happened everyone ran to the scene to help instead of calling in the medics. I opened my eyes to find my mother and a crowd standing around so I must've been out for at least a minute. I got up, a bit dazed, considerably scraped, but with no permanent damage (of which we are yet aware), but the Apollo Racer didn't fair so well. The rear wheel and 'sissy-bar' had been seriously bent. For all intents and purposes, it was dead.

I don't recall being punished for my foolishness. Mom knew that she had taught us to learn from our mistakes. Besides, she was probably so thankful I wasn't seriously hurt that a grounding never crossed her mind. My punishment was to be the only kid without a bike for at least the remainder of that year. It was a very long year. I remember that my brother and some of the other kids would occasionally let me use their bikes if our play demanded it, which was rather frequent. I also remember picking up bikes and taking off down the street without the owners authorization. Keep in mind, picking up a bike like this wasn't theft, nor was it ever assumed by anyone to be so. If the chase was on you grabbed the nearest bike and rode! It was a short street and cul-de-sac, and everyone knew and watched out for everyone else... but the snatch-n-ride was usually pretty stressful for the owner of the bike at that moment, at least until the bike was returned, and they always were.

Believe me, the loss of my own bike was a terrible experience. I felt it deeply and would never inflict that loss on any other kid. That thought was somewhere in my mind every time I was using someone else's bike and I took care when using other people's bikes. And you can bet I never crossed a street without looking ever again.

These times were probably the closest memories I have to anything that Norman Rockwell ever painted. I don't have a solid reference for how old I was at this time, but I was probably 10 or 11 years old. Eventually, with the help of neighbors, my Apollo Racer was Frankensteined using spare parts from other kids' dead bikes. I now had a racing slick rear tire and a rounded sissy-bar which had to be forced to fit on the squared-off seat. Other Franken-bikes followed. We began experimenting with chopper-style forks by sawing forks off of old bikes and pounding them onto the ends of our forks as extensions. These things were hard to get used to, as far as steering was concerned, and, due to road conditions, would eventually vibrate loose, leading to very graceless wipe-outs.

As I'm sure most other kids did, we loved doing wheelies, brake skids, gravel spin-outs, and... (drum roll) ramp jumping! I mentioned earlier that our driveway was the best in the neighborhood. It was, bar none. Where the drive and the street met was the 'top' of the driveway because as you entered the drive it immediately began a downhill slope. I've never tried to determine the angle, but it's nearly 30 degrees from horizontal, and the slope alone is 4-5 cars long, depending on the cars. The driveway widens at the bottom and adds another 2 car lengths to the distance traveled before encountering flat open yard. We would build ramps at the bottom with cinder blocks and whatever wood was available then race down the driveway and see who could jump farthest, highest, etc. Sometimes we didn't even care about skilled landings, letting the bikes go in mid-air and trying to land on our feet for distance. Sometimes we used skateboards instead of bikes. Sometimes we used our Tonka Trucks or Kenner SSP Racers on the ramps rather than endanger ourselves and our bikes. Oh, the flat part of the driveway had a one car garage on the left, used for storing anything except the car, and an extra space on the right side for turning around. My dad had a black and white Nash Metropolitan for a while and it fit very nicely in that side space. As I mentioned before, 4-5 cars could fit on the slope of the driveway, while another six could fit in two rows of 3 each in the flat area at the bottom, plus the garage, plus the side space... at least twelve cars could fit in our driveway and garage! The importance of this large driveway will become apparent when I reminisce on my later teen years.

[This post was written months ago. I just found it hiding as a 'draft' in my blogger bin. I don't know why it didn't get posted then, but it's going up now with nary an edit. I added labels.]


Dandelions are UNSTOPPABLE!!!

It's mind-boggling how dandelions are so pertinacious. Near the center of this photo can be seen the yellow heads of two dandelions surrounded by three others which never fully opened but turned to dandelion fluff just for spite. I sent this image directly here from my phone so I didn't have opportunity to tweak it for better visibility. Anyway, a few weeks ago we had a couple of days in which the temperature reached above 50 degrees fahrenheit. Two warm days and these little yellow weeds popped their heads up as if it wasn't early January. The next couple of days saw temps drop into the teens and single digits for a few days followed by a week of never-above-freezing temps and then more single digit temperatures. The photo here was taken on the last day of single digit temperatures, which has raised a few questions in my mind.

Clearly, it was the short bit of warmish weather that inspired these plants to burst forth. I am very surprised that mid-50's temps was all it took. Until now I would have expected mid-70's to be the trigger point. So, once their heads pop up, even if they don't really open, is the dandelion life-cycle time sensitive or triggered by further weather events?

If it's time, then a blooming dandy apparently takes about 2 weeks to turn poof, regardless of conditions. If it's weather, perhaps the extreme cold froze all moisture out of the air, simulating a dry condition which caused the plants to go poofy. I don't know. I enjoy speculating but I don't really care enough to Google the correct answer.

The truth is, I'm quite awestruck by the amazing powers of plants. Plants take back what we leave behind, so long as what we leave behind doesn't kill them first. Even so, in the long run it's plants that take eventually take it back. Beware of that fern in the corner. It's plotting against you.

What's a po' boy ta do?

[I began this post on Friday night~Saturday morning, January 25~26. Little did I know that a few short days later, Monday, January 28, 2008, would mark the 50th anniversary of LEGO. Thanks Google, and thanks LEGO!]
I'm in deep entertainment trouble this year. I'm already behind schedule, having missed "Cloverfield" on opening weekend. As a kid I always preferred monsters that were genuinely terrifying, like Godzilla and other giant Japanese monsters, or "Alien" and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Werewolf, the Mummy... they just never clicked with me. I suppose there are sub-genres within the horror movie genre and the more science-fiction type creatures appeal to me best. So, here I am trying to figure out how and when I'll be able to see Cloverfield, because you have to see a giant-monster movie on the big screen. It's a rule. But what lies in store for me when the summer movie frenzy begins?

I'm also looking forward to the "Speed Racer" movie, but, to further complicate matters, Variety is reporting that Warner Brothers has licensed $80M in deals for toys and product placements and two of my favorite toy lines of all time have deals to make Speed Racer products. LEGO has signed on to make at least four playsets and Hot Wheels, who've issued an unlicensed version of Speed Racer's car, the Mach 5, many times over (see below), has official authority to produce vehicles and a themed playset or track is also likely.

LEGO is the single greatest toy brand in all of history, IMHO.
According to Wikipedia, the company began making wooden toys in 1932 but they didn't take the name LEGO until 1934. They didn't start making plastic toys until 1947 and even then they didn't make building blocks. In 1949 they began making a type of interlocking building block modeled after those made by a British company called Kiddicraft. Over the years LEGO tried different kinds of plastics and different styles of bricks. Finally, in 1963 - just in time for my lifespan, they developed the LEGO System we all know and love. Bricks made in 1963 will still work with bricks made today!
At some point in recent history LEGO began licensing popular properties such as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter, SpongeBob SquarePants, and now Indiana Jones! The combination of Star Wars and LEGO** bricks has turned out to be one of the best ideas since the plastic bricks themselves. And now, Speed Racer will be coming to LEGO*. Also, LEGO already makes Batman kits, but a new slate is due out for the release of "The Dark Knight", also this summer. LEGO sets are a bit on the pricey side. I hope I'll be able to take advantage of this rare opportunity for high quality authorized Speed Racer merchandise.

Speaking of "The Dark Knight", R.I.P. Heath Ledger.

Speaking of comic book characters, let's not forget movies for "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk" are also due out this year, as well as"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Hellboy 2". My favorite heroes merchandised into my favorite toy lines. I'm screwed all the way through Christmas when the reboot of "Star Trek" will finally hit theaters... and then... and then... and then, what? A remake of "The Sting" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Emile Hirsch or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with Emile and Shia LeBeouf, or... nevermind, I'll stop. What else could there possibly be after a year like this? Perhaps new and original ideas will make a comeback. Meanwhile, I'll be over here reliving the very best parts of my childhood. :-)

*Someone has already built a Mach 5 using LEGO bricks. The pictures at this link are NOT from an official LEGO kit. They are samples of skilled brickwork by a talented fan.

**Let's not forget that LEGO and Star Wars have teamed up to release some of the best fun you can have with your favorite videogame systems! And, Indiana Jones appears in "LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga" as a teaser for the coming "LEGO Indiana Jones" videogames. AND, Speed Racer has had a videogame or two in the past so why not LEGO Speed Racer? AND, Hot Wheels is famous for videogame versions of their great cars and tracks, so why not a Hot Wheels Speed Racer videogame, or a Hot Wheels Dark Knight video game, OR a LEGO Hot Wheels team-up allowing us to build LEGO cars on those speedy Hot Wheels chassis? If I don't stop now I just might wet myself.


Big Screen Movie Theater Blues

[UPDATE (added 20080215): Link to Official Star Trek movie site]

After months and months of investigation and anticipation it looks like I won't get to see Cloverfield on opening weekend.
This also means I have to settle for this poor quality bootleg of the Star Trek teaser until an official version is placed online.
Double Fudge.

On a better note...

The online image of the new version of the original Enterprise NCC-1701 has alleviated my fears that the movie would be ruined by the mistake of updating the legendary ship. They've tweaked the look of it's hull surface, but they haven't changed it's structure.
The saucer section appears to be a circle, the domes on top seem to be about the right shape and size, the warp engine nacelles are cylinders, and the scale seems to be right. All of this comes as quite a relief after that trick pulled on us with the Jupiter 2 in the "Lost in Space" movie.
I enjoyed the "Lost in Space" movie enough to have watched it a few times on DVD. For me it's a cinematic equivalent of comfort food. But, in case you haven't seen it, when we first see the Jupiter 2 it appears much as it did on TV, a basic flying saucer with a little bubble dome on top. In the movie the trick was that the flying saucer was nothing more than some sort of launch booster which blew apart to reveal the updated spacecraft hiding underneath.
Retro Fudge.



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"ATONEMENT" Showtimes:
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Through Thursday, January 17th, 2008