Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Andy Hallett dead at 33 of heart failure

I just got the word that Andy Hallett, who played Lorne on Angel, died today after a five year struggle with heart disease.

Hallett was the perfect fit for Lorne, who was a life-loving bon vivant more comfortable with a martini in hand than the hand-to-hand weaponry favored by the rest of the cast of characters. He brought to the role a knack for comedic timing and a certain panache that made him a bright spot on a very dark show.

And let's not forget his singing voice:

He will be missed.

Google Earth and how I use it.

Google Earth is a truly wondrous device, in its own creepy little way. The first thing I did when I downloaded it was to look up my own address and boom, there it was: A top-down view of Chateau Undercity. It was a thrilling and slightly unnerving discovery.

But when spinning the world like a top with one's mouse gets old (in my case after about the third hour), one starts looking for practical applications. Some people use it to find buried treasure. Some loopy-loos seem to think they've found Atlantis (which - point of fact - never actually existed).

My use thus far hasn't been as exotic, just your basic walk down Memory Lane without having to, you know, actually grab a bus or train and darken Memory Lane's sidewalks with my shadow.

All in all, the best way, I think.

When I was in high school I lived in a western Pennsylvania factory town that up and lost it's factory. Westinghouse, I believe. They left a shell of a building that used to be the town's main source of income, PCB's in the ground, and a deeply bitter taste in the mouths of the locals.

Just the place for a boy from the suburbs of Minneapolis to get re-acquainted with his extended family. I showed up, much like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in reverse, and lightened everyone's heart as I stumbled into awkward fish-out-of-water situations and had madcap misadventures.

Actually, no I didn't. I finished high school and took the first chance I got to leave town for good. No thought filled me with more horror than the idea of staying in that undead town for the rest of my life, watching it shamble lifelessly on, never quite alive and never finally dropping dead for good.

But still, twenty years later, you get curious. My need to know wasn't bad enough to resort to desperate measures like attending my high school reunion (do ex-cons get sentimental for their cells?).

So yeah, Google Earth and Street View. I can safely say that, without awkward encounters with family and former acquaintances, the old town retains much of its old character. Which is another way of saying that it's still a decrepit shithole, only now the strip malls have closed in on the outskirts.

So curiosity sated and I never had to leave home for a reminder that sentimentality is often a highly overrated thing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finally... Feverlast

Tonight at the gym, after our regularly scheduled bouts, there's going to be a brawl staged to support the rollout of probably the most important product Averlast has ever offered. It's going to change the game as we know it, and make an Averlast fight a much more exciting show.

We're bringing in new gloves.

Those of you reading this who are not familiar with how Averlast boxing works might miss the significance of this change. The current brand of gloves, the ones that got the gym this far, are based upon a pair of freebie "gloves" that one can find inworld without too much effort. They're easy to spot, looking like a pair of fishbowls worn over the hands. Karine took the basic script, tweaked it in order to make it more suitable for competition, and then built the current gloves.

Up until now, these gloves were the heart of Averlast boxing. They triggered the animations, and were loaded with push scripts capable - at one time - of knocking an avatar clean across the gym. Then Linden Labs changed inworld physics, but that's not important right now. The point is that the push gloves have pretty much been the brand ever since Averlast started in 2007.

The Feverlast line has been in development for months. Karine hired a professional scripter and animator to make sure the job got done right. And he did a hell of a job, too.

Here's what boxers and fans can expect from Feverlast:

Resizable: The old gloves had to be "one size fits all" to make sure everyone was on a level playing field. While looking a bit on the big side for larger avatars, they looked like sofa cushions on the hands of smaller ones. Each Feverlast glove contains a "resize" script that a boxer can use to make his or her gloves more proportional without changing the effectiveness of the gloves.

More realistic animations: The "sword strike" animation that composed the old gloves' "big punch" has been replaced with a genuine uppercut. This and other changes means that the boxing looks more like... well, like boxing.

Damage and tracking of hits: The rule as it now stands is three ringouts equals a knockout win. Not anymore. Those punches actually "hurt" you now. Take enough of them and you'll be a crumpled heap on the floor. If you manage to avoid getting knocked out but still take a hammering, the system tracks that too, announcing the winner at the end. Yes, I realize that this means that "judge" will be an endangered job description after this release. [UPDATE: Karine informs me that judges will still need to be on hand and have several tasks and abilities under the new system, including being able to pause or stop fights if necessary - what, you expect me to actually know stuff?]

So tonight's the big rollout. As a special incentive to come in, the gloves will be offered at a special "one night only" discount to all who come.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Matinee at the Bijou

I saw on the news last night that one of the industries bucking the recession were the movies. In fact, apparently ticket sales are up a bit because people are looking for some kind of respite from the steady drumbeat of bad news.

As the report acknowledged, it's not an unprecedented behavior in Americans, who did much the same thing in the 1930's. Damn. That's another Depression parallel. Where'd I put that stack of dvd's?

Of course, moviegoing then and moviegoing now are slightly different species, even if you only count trips to an actual movie theater instead of watching a dvd on the couch. In those pre-television days, the movie house tailored its shows to be all things to all people. At the matinee showing, one dime for admission would get you a cartoon, newsreels, the latest chapter of the current serial, trailers (we will always have trailers), and, of course, the feature presentation. Maybe even a double feature on a good week.

Of course, those days are long gone and nobody should mistake this post for a desire to return to them (little things like World War II being foremost among the best reasons why not). But it's interesting to see that in hard times you'll find Americans taking refuge in a surefire haven for happy endings or, at least, people with worse problems than ours: At the movies.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Iron Man vs. Bruce Lee

I stumbled upon this bit of stop-motion madness and just had to share...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Speaking of female boxers...

This June, barring some unforeseen calamity, will see me at Wizard World Philadelphia. I went two years ago, and generally had a good time. The highlight at that time was meeting Evil, inc. creator and local-boy-done-good Brad Guigar, snagging a book and a sketch of Harley Quinn off of him for a modest fee.

This year, in addition to another planned meet with Mr. Guigar, I have another stop on my list: WBC lightweight boxer [UPDATE]and current International Champion Mia St. John will be appearing in Autograph Alley.

Those of you who don't frequent the convention scene might be scratching your head at the idea of a boxer at a comic con. Well, it's Autograph Alley, where minor celebrities look to make some coin on the sale of autographs and memorabilia. Last time I was there, I saw Lou ("The Incredible Hulk") Ferrigno, Dirk Benedict from the original Battlestar Galactica, and the Ghost Hunters from TAPS.

Come to think of it, looking at this year's guest list, I might stop for Jerry "The King" Lawler's autograph, too, if I can afford it.

But anyway, back to Ms. St. John. Right now she's ranked at #5 among female lightweights (scroll down). We have a couple of action and glamor shots of her hanging in the gym, so a new one would be a definite "get" for us.

Now if only I can think of a way to explain out loud how I work for a virtual boxing gym to a real boxer without sounding like an utter nerd. On the other hand, I am an utter nerd, and thus not an entirely unexpected entity at a comic convention. So I'll just work on not stuttering.

In the meantime, speaking of action shots, here's Mia St. John scoring a TKO win over Kelly Downey:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just say "D'oh!"

So it's crunch time here at the gym. I have a bunch of posters and matching t-shirts to make, along with a number of pictures for the vendors. Since my workplace would take an understandingly dim view of my completing these projects while on the clock, that means I have to grab whatever off-hours time I can to do them.

As anyone knows, when you rush like that it can lead to mistakes. Take, for instance, my poster for this Friday's title fight. Zak Renfort had been kind enough to get me some lovely photos of champion Aldbaran Galicia and his challenger, karynn Windlow. I cobbled together a kitschy '70's disco theme, and that was that. Across the top a banner proudly proclaimed the upcoming lightweight championship fight.

I'm embarrassed to say that it didn't hit me until this morning in the shower: Aldbaran and karynn are middleweights.

Can you say "oops"? Sure you can. I know I did. Actually it was more of a facepalm.

So my morning forty-five minutes on the computer was spent fixing the poster and cobbling together the matching t-shirt. I have to remember to, I don't know, take a deep breath and think before getting to work on these things.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The DFH were right.

Twice as hard.

It's an axiom that women have to work twice as hard as men to get the same amount of respect. When it comes to the world of boxing, you have to break down the respect received into fractions. From what I can tell, women are practically invisible in mainstream boxing coverage.

When I page through the Philadelphia Daily News, my final stop is the sports section. I skip past the usual calls for the summary execution of Andy Reid and/or Terrell Owens (we hold a grudge for a long time in these parts), looking for Bernard Fernandez's weekly boxing column.

This week's offering contains Fernandez's usual spot-on observations on the local and national boxing scene. It also harks back to a piece he had done about this time last year on Rochelle "Little Rocky" Gilken. Last year's column focused on Gilken's then-upcoming appearance on the new American Gladiators, and this year's is centered around her work as a journalist in the sport. Her efforts in the ring are only mentioned in passing in both.

She remains the only female boxer to get any decent coverage at all since I've started reading Fernandez's column.

I don't mean this post to bag on Fernandez specifically. His coverage of Gilken is certainly more attention given to women in the sport than I've ever seen in a given issue of The Ring or Yahoo!'s boxing page. In fact, to get any news about the distaff side of the squared circle, you pretty much have to find a site that specializes in exactly that. And as excellent a resource as that site is, its necessity only underscores the relative invisibility of a sisterhood of tenacious and dedicated athletes in the eyes of the mainstream press, and that's just wrong.

Friday, March 13, 2009

You look in the mirror and see standing behind you...

Creepy Coincidence Department: For Friday the thirteenth, both PvP and xkcd ran comics about the Bloody Mary ghost story. PvP, of course, being PvP, did their strip based on Mary's pop culture incarnation, the Candyman. It's a fun study in contrasting styles, as PvP takes on the mirror ritual as the traditional test of juvenile courage, and xkcd, of course, figures out a way to hack a ghost story.

I love these guys.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I am so good to you.

As a reward for putting up with my pointless whingeing in the last post, I'm going to let you put up with somebody else's in this one.

You're welcome.

A guy can dream, or, I am a bundle of issues on two legs

The other day I finished a project for my department: Making fliers to try to entice people into using the bookmobile. Turbo-nerd that I am, the central theme revolved around the library's extensive graphic novel collection. Leave it to your local library to piggyback on the success of Watchmen for our own ruthless ends.

I made the background graphic from scratch, and I thought it turned out okay. I borrowed Watchmen's rigid three-by-three paneling (obviously I'm talking about the book now, not the movie) and featured close-ups of some of my favorite characters. The center panel was taken up by Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Dr. Manhattan, just in case anyone missed the point.

For text, I broke down some recommendations for borrowing, after making sure that each title was available in the collection. Overall, I think it worked out pretty well: Informative, brightly colored to attract the eye, and (hopefully) enticing.

Still, I don't think I've ever drawn anything without a degree of regret. It's not even a question that there are better artists out there than me, but overall adeptness isn't my issue here.

As I drew my panels with a borrowed t-square and apologized profusely to my coworker whose computer is the only one directly linked to the office scanner/printer in order to get my drawing transferred to my flash drive, I was plagued by visions.

Visions of non-photo blue pencils while spending a big chunk of my time in the GIMP to clean up the worst of the scratchings and erasure residue left by my HB mechanical pencil. Visions of india ink and nibbed pens instead of wrestling with the mouse and "Ctrl-Z". Visions of working with bristol board instead of printer paper.

And these thoughts, of course, lead to others: Real drafting tools. A drawing board. My own scanner. On beyond zebra.

"So what's the matter, then?" pipes up the straw man at the back of the crowd. "You want these things so badly, why don't you just go and get them?"

I could answer by citing the economy and my bills, but that only answers part of the question. Sometimes I do, in fact, have the money on hand to knock a few items off of that list. Even the scanner isn't entirely inconceivable, given how much perfectly good computer equipment I've obtained at Goodwill over the years.

The main issue is sticker shock. There's just something in my overly-cautious, working class brain that recoils at the idea of paying almost a dollar per pencil. Yes, I know, these aren't the #2 leads I gnawed on in the second grade, but that doesn't stop some portion of my brain from screaming "THIS IS A RACKET!" whenever I pore through an art supply catalog.

Don't even get me started on technical pens.