Friday, February 29, 2008

4 Minutes: An initial reaction

Much sooner than I had expected, a French radio rip of Madonna's forthcoming single "4 Minutes" (or is it "4 Minutes To Save The World"?) has leaked onto the mighty internet. I was in Des Moines tonight when the first flurry of activity hit my inbox, and you can bet that downloading that sucker was one of the first things I did upon arriving home.

So what do I think? I'm not sure. It is not as instantly classic as "Hung Up" in that it didn't grab me by the shirt collar and demand to be heard. But I had already resigned myself to the fact that it was not going to be a retread of Confessions. To do so would be, well, very un-Madonna. The song does, however, have a killer chorus. There is a hook in there that snuck in and got me on the very first listen. Madonna's vocals are also very good. Despite my misgivings, pairing her vocally with Justin Timberlake was apparently a good idea.

OK, what don't I like about it? Oddly enough, the horns. It also has this odd marching band quality to it, so much so that I keep expecting to hear "just tell me that you love me....TUSK!" sampled into the song.

So it'll be interesting to hear it in high quality, but I think it'll grow on me. If for no other reason than that chorus.

God, I love it when Madonna releases new shit. It's so damn much fun.

UPDATE: I've listened to this about 6 times in a row now, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. She might just pull this crazy hip-hop record off.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A rack of Dolly

So in the original version of the universe, Heidi and I would have been headed up to Minneapolis to see the one and only Dolly Parton live in concert on the opening show of the Backwoods Barbie Tour. But, showing once again how any publicity is good publicity, Dolly's famously well-endowed chest caused some back problems that forced her to postpone the concert. This proved to be quite fortunate for us because we are stuck in the middle of a winter that will not end. On a day that we would have had to trek north several hundred miles, it snowed. Again. And the wind whipped that snow all around making driving less than fun.

I noticed this blowing snow as I left to head to the cafeteria for lunch today. Stopping back from lunch a few minutes early to check my e-mail, I found the following in a message from Heidi.

And thank Dolly's rack for the backache, because have you seen the snow?

Seriously, that quote is well positioned to finish in the top five of the year. It nearly beats her comment about Debbie Harry being Anne Murray gone hard!

But props need to go to Mary who first referred to Dolly's breasts as a "rack" a couple Oscars ago. While I was lamenting her loss of the Best Original Song Oscar, Mary, ever the optimist, stated "Yeah, well at least she has a nice rack."

In other news:

After tempting fate all winter, I finally slipped on the ice on the way home. I could practically hear Nelson Muntz' "Ha! Ha!"

Our tax refund is scheduled to be deposited into our account on March 4th! I was starting to get worried about it. Anyone up for Guitar Hero?

I found myself in an e-mail conversation tonight with two very good pals and in it, we eventually began discussing Paula Abdul's "Vibeology." Call me crazy, but I kinda like that song! Not only does it have a super cool/cheesy spoken part (Vibeology/Now you ask "what does it mean?"/Why, it's the study of the chemistry between you and me,") but it also is the only song in which the horns are referred to as horny. Classic.

News of Madonna's new record is coming at us fast and furious now. We have an album title (Hard Candy) and a track listing. I even heard a VERY low quality 17 second leak of the song "Give It To Me" but I cannot discern my reaction to the song as I can just barely hear Madonna's vocals on it. No matter, the album will be out the last week of April and because I have been a Madonna fan, I am required to be excited about it. Despite my excitement, Heidi smells a stinker on its way. She's much more objective than I could ever be, so we'll see. The next things to leak will be the first single and the album cover.

As predicted

Here I am at 6:40AM and I didn't sleep nearly enough. However, Heidi forwarded this to me this morning and I nearly split my side open laughing. I have never heard this song before, but the juxtaposition of the song on the video really got to me!

One more song

I am "one more song"-ing myself into not going to bed tonight. This is proving problematic as it is now 12:08AM and I have to be to work at 8AM tomorrow (or rather, later today.)

The current song is the ever popular "Us Amazonians" by Kirsty MacColl. I just said to myself, "One more song, and then it's time for bed." I already know that's not going to happen.

As I have blogged before, but it bears repeating, this song always reminds me of Heidi. And not just because she's The Amazon Iowan. She really did "fall in love with a real city boy/Who was afraid of his nature/Afraid of his joy."

Those Amazonians, just like Madonna, always get their man.

So now I've listened to "Us Amazonians" three times. I am holding true to my one more song vow. I'm just not changing the song.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Up on sugar pills, we go walking

A study published on Monday by British researchers has apparently shown that antidepressant medications are effective, but only in people that have the most severe forms of the disease. Predictably, this has been spun by the mainstream media into something that it is not. A quick Google News search turns up some of the following headlines:

Antidepressants just a placebo: study
Study concludes that antidepressants are ineffective

Antidepressants 'have no impact'

And my favorite: Antidepressants don't work.

As a health care professional, it's not the turning on the ear of commonly believed medical conventional wisdom that bothers me. That happens all the time. Case in point, when I was in pharmacy school, I was docked points on a case presentation I did because I did not recommend hormone replacement therapy to a 94 year-old female nursing home patient with severe dementia. Now, you rarely if ever see HRT given to any post-menopausal woman. (I'd like those points back, please, for being ahead of the curve.) But what does bother me is the misrepresentation of the data by news outlets that just want to sell papers, get ratings, or generate traffic to their web site.

While the caveats to the "antidepressants don't work" headline are in the articles, they are usually buried about a paragraph or two from the end. Most people don't bother reading newspaper articles past the first couple paragraphs, so for the majority of people the take-home message is "Antidepressants: They're Utter Shit."

The thing about the actual study is that it's a meta-analysis, which means that they took data from other studies and pooled them all together to create one big gargantuan study, hoping to glean new information. What the researchers did here was take clinical trials for three of the most common antidepressants (Prozac, Effexor, and Paxil) and one that does not enjoy the popularity of the other three (Serzone). All this data was pooled into one big pot and statistics applied to them. I'll be the first to admit that I'm no statistician, so I don't know much about what tests they applied to the data. When the data came out the other end of the statistics, the researchers found that there was no statistically or clinically significant difference between the antidepressants and placebos in all groups studied except for the most severely depressed patients.

This is all well and good but one thing is missing out of the mix here. Drug efficacy studies are not done by meta-analysis. They're done by randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Whenever an efficacy study fails to meet these criteria, you can bet that there will be a slew of letters written to criticize the design of the study. Now, that having been said, it is exceptionally unlikely that we'll ever see a new round of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials because it is not financially advantageous to the drug companies. Sad, but true. And don't even get me started on studies that show negative results being buried by drug companies. That is truly shameful.

The other thing I will say is that, as someone who lives with depression and has a nearly 10 year history with antidepressants, the idea that the drugs will cure people is sadly misguided. They are but a component of a comprehensive treatment plan. For so many people, they have been miracle workers, yours truly included. My experiences with depression have mostly skewed toward the mild-to-moderate end of the spectrum. When I read Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, his experience with depression made mine seem like Sunday afternoon in the park. But nonetheless, I know that I personally benefited from drug treatment. However, the drugs will only take you so far. There's work that you have to do and that does not fit in very well with our "a pill will fix you" culture. You have to do the mental work, you have to make the changes in outlook and mindset that are needed. What antidepressant medication does, in my opinion, is give you the boost out of the mud. When I was at my worst, getting dressed in the morning required incredible effort, let alone doing my job and being a functional partner and parent. To even begin to think about trying to make the mental changes in mindset required to lift myself out of the muck was more than I could bear. But once the drugs kicked in, that kind of mental effort was easier to bear. Relying on the drugs to fix everything would have been foolhardy.

We've known for a long time that the combination of drugs and talk therapy are more effective than either of the two on their own, which was conveniently ignored by the meta-analysis and the mainstream news stories that followed. In my estimation, what we need to take from this data is that folks who suffer from depression can't expect a pill to do all the work.

But they do work. I've witnessed it. I've lived it. That may be anecdotal evidence (which is held in even lower esteem than meta-analysis) but it is some of the most powerful evidence I have. They work but like everything else in life, you can't have unreasonable or unrealistic expectations regarding their abilities.

(Props to Dolly for providing the inspiration for the title of this post. I've had that damn song stuck in my head for days!)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Post Oscars

Well, the Oscars are over for yet another year. Despite the fact that I can't remember a year in which I have cared less for the Oscars, I also can't remember a year when the party has been more fun. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it was more than just Heidi, Jeff and me. For years, the three of us were the extent of our Oscar party. Over the years, we've had other folks (Mary has been another frequent attender) and now Caryle is a welcome addition. But this year, we added Kathy (a friend we met through Caryle), Matt and his daughters (his wife was, unfortunately, ill) and a Jess (whose husband was, unfortunately, ill as well.) Food and good company were in great abundance. Even Anna, who is usually bored beyond tears or angling like crazy for attention from everyone was in heaven because of the presence of Matt's daughters, ages 7 and 5.

Surprisingly, the awards ceremony was not overcooked or bloated. I'm a fan of those film montages and always get a kick out of seeing footage from previous years' Oscars. I just love all those clips from the Academy Awards during the 70s! This year's ceremony made me want to add a lot of movies to my Netflix queue since I didn't really get to see many of the movies that we nominated this year. We did manage to make it to Michael Clayton at the dollar theater on Saturday night, which we enjoyed quite a bit. Very subtle and character driven. Clooney was quite good and he continues to astound me by the fact that he really has made a very successful transition from television acting to movie acting. That is not an easy transition to make successfully. Additionally, he continues to provide hope to men like me because he just seems to look better the older he gets despite a significant amount of gray hair. Believe me, if you'd been going gray since 18, you'd feel the same way!

But the guests are gone now. Heidi's at work and Anna's at school so I'm enjoying some peace and quiet and the joy of having the house to myself. I love having people over, especially all the good friends we had yesterday. But because of my introvert, I enjoy the time of solitude after it's all done. I'm especially glad now that I'm not working till 2 today, even though it seems like I've been doing a lot of evening shifts these days.

Anyway, enough of that. Heidi did a post about her iMovies that she made for the Oscars, which is wonderfully written and gives great insight into how she writes her novels. The movies are basically 6 minute mash-up trailers, and she has them embedded on her blog, but I thought I'd do the same since we don't get all the same traffic. She was very proud of herself (as she should be!)

Daddy Dearest (Joan and Denethor - a love that dare not speak its name.)

8-5:30 (which casts Zod, Non and Ursa from Superman II as the good guys and some very unexpected people as the bad guys!)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Nerdery Week: Thank you for the Nerdery

...if I may be so bold as to paraphrase ABBA.

I've bitten the bullet and done a video blog. There's nothing like watching a video of yourself to notice all the nervous tics you have. So far, I'm up to about 14.

In this video, you see my Oscar, Devastator and single most expensive CD I have ever purchased in my lifetime.

So YAY for Nerdery Week! It's been a great bit of fun in this otherwise cold and almost completely unbearable Iowa winter.

(hitting publish now before I decide to delete the video.)

Nerdery Week: The undead

We've come to the last day of Nerdery Week. What in the world will I ever find to write about next week? It's been great fun showcasing the things that solidify my nerd cred as well as seeing other peoples nerdery on display. Big thanks to TKT for coming up with the idea and kudos to everyone who played along.

What would a Nerdery Week post be without one devoted to my beloved zombies? Truly, they are the best of all movie monsters. They are shambling and slow-moving (well, the old school zombies anyway) and don't use weapons, yet they are every bit as lethal as other movie monsters. For me, there's something about the mob mentality of a zombie horde. They are a mass of undead beings with one purpose in mind - the consumption of human flesh. Gross, I know, but so many cool things walk the line between cool and gross.

As you might expect, my work area has a few zombies. Oddly enough, for all the pop culture figures I've managed to collect over the years, it wasn't until 2006 that I got my first actual zombie figure. I found it at a comic shop in Chicago, and it was Plaid Shirt Zombie from the original Dawn of the Dead.

Not long after, I discovered that there was also a Flyboy Zombie (also from Dawn of the Dead), but sadly, everywhere I looked online, he was either sold out or not available or prohibitively expensive. Leave it to Heidi and Anna to find it. It was a Christmas present from Anna a couple Christmases ago. Just as she had done with the Queen Alien, she had wanted to get me "something scary."

Anna's best comment on Flyboy Zombie is regarding the dead guy on the floor. Upon noticing him, she said "Dad, that guy doesn't have any legs!" Yeah, and he doesn't have much of a back either.

I also noticed recently that a third zombie in the Dawn of the Dead line has come out. This time, it's Hare Krishna Zombie. Undoubtedly, I will attempt to get that one as well. Could Nurse Zombie be far behind?

And as I blogged just after Christmas this last year, Anna's gift to me was Zombie Hulk from the Marvel Zombies line. Anna and I have a soft spot for the Hulk, mostly because when she was quite a bit littler, we used to watch Ang Lee's movie version of Hulk together (OK, we just watched the Hulk parts.) And since Zombie Hulk was one of three figures from the Marvel Zombies line, I used a bit of Christmas money to pick up the last two, Zombie Spiderman (complete with detachable leg) and Zombie Colonel America (when did he stop being Captain America?)

So today, as Nerdery Week wraps up, we may or may not have one final post. I'm seriously pondering doing a video blog entry (I have never done one of those before!) but I'm just not sure. We'll see how it goes. One thing I know for certain is that it is past time for the latest Marvel Zombies 2 issue, so I think Anna and I will head to Mayhem to see if it's there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nerdery Week: Big Gay iPod

There's a long running joke in my house that for a straight man, I have the gayest iPod around. And it's true, my iPod is completely and utterly gay. It is gayer than a rainbow flag. A friend of mine, when asked on Facebook to describe how he met me/knows me said the following.

* You met randomly in 2007: How did we meet? I think it's because Dan writes a really good blog that I began reading...and also he has the gayest taste in music of any straight man I know! :-)

There was a time in my life when a statement like that would have bothered me. No longer. I relish it and embrace it for the fabulous compliment that it is. Back when I was growing up and I was starting to really come into my own musically, I naturally gravitated toward the divas - Madonna, Cher, Olivia Newton-John, Tina Turner, and Cyndi Lauper among others. Pretty much if it was a female artist, it got my attention. At no point in time did I realize that most of these artists had large gay followings; it just happened. When I finally figured this out, at first, I was mortified. OMG! What did that say about me? Did everyone in the world think I was gay? For the longest time, I wouldn't tell people that I was a Madonna fan because I figured it was tantamount to hanging a sign around your neck saying "I'M GAY!" Looking back, I realize how utterly ridiculous that was, but hey, it was part of my path and I dare not regret my path. If I hadn't followed that path, would I be as awesome today as I am? :)

As I've gotten older and realized that people that think something as complex as sexual orientation can be determined by music listening habits are terminally simple minded, I've (obviously) mellowed out a lot. And let's face it, gay men have great taste, and some of my best friends are gay men. Their friendship has enriched my life (and my musical tastes) tremendously, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Now, if I hear that an artist has a gay following, I'm more likely to search it out because I know that there is a good chance that I will like it.

Because I am who I am, I have made it completely possible for the entire world to witness my music listening habits thanks to (Seriously, if you're not on, you really should be.) Go ahead and take a look at my profile page. And scroll down to look at my top artists. It is, by and large, a list of stereotypically gay icons. Madonna, Cher, Dolly, Olivia, Barbra, Kylie, Debbie Harry and even Stevie Nicks to a smaller degree. Regardless, these ladies make up the soundtrack to my life. And while not all qualify for that classification, the lion's share do.

And unlike how I was when I was in college, I am now extremely proud of all of that. For they make me who I am, and many people think I am fabulous.

Let's look at my iTunes for more evidence. We've already seen my Madonna collection in my iTunes. No other artist even comes close when it comes to sheer volume, but here's a couple others.



This is the music that gets me going, that lifts me up when I'm down and can also subtly manipulate my emotions when the demented part of me that wants to be sad sometimes wins out. And because of that, I no longer classify them as guilty pleasures, but as things that make up the better, more interesting part of me.

And I still cross my fingers for Guitar Hero: Divas Edition, although cold fusion has a better chance of becoming reality, plus it would certainly be the lowest selling entry into the series!

After writing this post, I realize it's not so much nerdy as it is just showcasing atypical music tastes in a 35 year old guy. Well, fear not. I made an admission on e-mail the other morning that I was told I could only purge from my soul by blogging it. So I will do it. Witness my page from the other morning.

I don't know what got into me. But I kind of like that song!

Okay, that's enough embarrassment for one night. Back either later tonight or early tomorrow morning with zombies. And then a possible video blog to finish up Nerdery Week, although I make no promises.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The King of Kong

(Warning: This is long, or at least has the potential to be.)

When I was a kid, I loved arcade games. I spent more time and money in the back of our Hy-Vee store than I care to think about, plunking quarters into Frogger and Mario Bros. and Sinistar. On my first trip to Adventureland, I nearly fell over dead from excitement when I saw a whole arcade devoted to these games, many of which I had only read about or seen played on Starcade. For a brief moment, while walking down their old Main Street mock-up and seeing the sign "Penny Arcade" over the arcade, I thought that the games really would take pennies. Sadly, no.

Anyway, yesterday on my day off (when I couldn't even be bothered to take a shower or comb my hair) I watched The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters which arrived from Netflix a full day ahead of schedule. Because of my love for retro games and Donkey Kong in particular, I was really looking forward to watching it. It had played at the Varsity here in Ames for a while last fall and several times, I was tempted to go see it. For all the usual reasons, it never happened (no money, no time.)

The documentary looks at the intense rivalry that develops between Billy Mitchell, a retro gaming celebrity and Steve Wiebe, an recently laid-off engineer from Redmond, WA, thanks to Wiebe's attempt to break Mitchell's long-standing world record Donkey Kong score. Wiebe, faced with all this time on his hands gets an actual Donkey Kong arcade game and sets out to best Mitchell's record. I'm not spoiling anything by saying that he does it. What follows is worthy of being called high drama.

It's funny, this little movie about Donkey Kong, classic game competition and (honestly) macho posturing really affected me on a deep level. As with all documentaries, it is written from a certain vantage point and with a certain agenda. Billy Mitchell is portrayed very negatively in the film, and so much of that is his own fault. He comes off as a cocky bastard that the audience desperately wants to see get his comeuppance. He is elusive and seems to live in a world that he has constructed around him, reality be damned. Wiebe, on the other hand, is the Everyman in this story, the one we're all rooting for even though I'm certain there is more to the story than was presented in the documentary.

Perhaps I have my own prejudices to deal with when watching a movie like this. Guys like Billy Mitchell (or at least how he came across in the documentary) really piss me off. At the end of the day, it's a fucking score on a video game, not the cure for cancer. It is kind of, in my mind, what happens when you get too much of your identity caught up in one thing. That one thing can be a job, a marriage, a blog, a whatever. Mitchell's entire raison d'etre seems to be having that high score on Donkey Kong, come hell or high water. And when Wiebe threatens to take that away, his world crashes down around him. Watch the scenes where Mitchell's protege Briah Kuh is giving Mitchell the play-by-play of Wiebe's Donkey Kong game at Funspot in New Hampshire. It's almost comical how seriously Mitchell takes it.

Wiebe, on the other hand, was the kind of guy I'd like to go out and have a beer or lunch with. He's seems so unassuming, so down to earth. He seems like, well, a geek like me (and many others that have come out of the geek-closet this week.) While there's no denying that he takes Donkey Kong every bit as seriously as Mitchell, it doesn't seem to dominate his life or define his identity as it does for Mitchell. In the same way that guys like Mitchell piss me off, guys like Wiebe are the kinds of people that I really like to get to know. I almost can't put into words, but he seems like a kindred spirit. Of course, I can't know that from the movie, but I'm sure that many of you know what I mean. The people that attract me the most are those that have a veneer of ordinariness, only to find out upon closer inspection, their real selves are at severe odds with that projected ordinariness.

So as you might expect, I saw a mirror of myself in that movie. While I am certainly not a Donkey Kong aficionado (I can barely clear 4 boards on a good game), I am not that which so many would assume from outward appearances. Yes, in many ways, I am. But that's the part of me that's the least interesting, at least to me. Certainly, it is not just an important but an essential part of who I am, because it's the part of me that is a good husband and attentive father and hard worker at my job. But as I am so fond of saying, there's a lot more to me than that. Those closest to me know that for certain. Many who read this blog see shades of it. I am probably not nearly as enigmatic as I think I am, but hey, what can you do?

This week has been all about embracing the inner geek. I remember being a kid and just being deathly afraid of that word. Nothing was worse than being a geek. Or a nerd. And then along came Revenge of the Nerds in 1984 and while it is ultimately about nerd-empowerment, it also scared me because it seemed like even as an adult, nerdery would follow me everywhere I went. As I've grown older, I've come to embrace the nerd in me. Really, I had no other choice but to do so. I am who I am, and can be nothing else. The harder you try to be something you're not, the more it sneaks up on you and demands to be heard. I have never been unhappier in my life than when I am trying to be something that I'm not. As the old adage says, honesty really is the best policy. But I am also not stupid. I realize that blazing honesty and wearing your heart on your shirt sleeve is not appropriate in every situation. But being who you are, even when it means not being what your outward appearance would lead other people to believe is at least being true to yourself.

That's a lot to get out of a movie like The King of Kong. It probably helps that this week has been Nerdery Week. I can't think of a more appropriate movie to have watched during this week.

Now excuse me, I'm off to play Donkey Kong.

Apropos of nothing, when I told Anna what the movie was about, she shot up out of the chair and went over to her computer, loaded up MAME and announced that she was going to get the world's highest score on Donkey Kong. Rock on, Anna.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More snow sculptures

I haven't accomplished anything today except blog posts and laziness, which I guess is something, but still! On my way to work yesterday, hot on the heels of the discovery of the frozen phallus, I happened upon another snow sculpture that was less X-rated, but just as cool. It was Snow Godzilla!

I can't decide what's cooler about it, the windows etched into the building, or the screaming snow people on the ground.

Between the nerdiness and the snow sculptures, this has been a week to remember.

More pictures:

Nerdery Week: Linkage

I have been terrible about linking to other people in the last few days, so here's a post (a la Caryle) full of links to all the other nerds and nerderies participating.

Tappity Tappity (TKT)
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Blue Birdland (Matt)
Day 1
Nerdy Media
The Video Game Situation
The Oaks

Caryle's Corner (Caryle)
Day 1
Day 2

May The Force Be With Y'all (Jeff)
Day 1
Day 2

The Poisoned Apple (Catherine J. Gardner/Phoenix Rendell)
Day 1
Day 2

Susan Sandmore
Day 1

The Musings of Wendy Withers
Day 3 (which is Day 1)

Uvulapie & His Amazing Hillbillies
Day 1

That's all I can find right now - if I left you off the list, please let me know. And please, everyone go tell Heidi that she needs to get in on the act if for but one post? She's intimidated by the nerdery that is her husband (I'm fond of telling her that she is Mrs. Nerd.)

Nerdery Week: Through the wilderness

As I'm sure anyone can tell from my Nerdery Week posts, I am completely and utterly free of all obsessions. OK, that's more than just a little white lie. Perhaps my biggest obsession is with her Madgesty, the Queen of Pop music, Madonna. Love her (like I do) or hate her (like many others do), there's no denying her marketing savvy, ability to do a pop song like no other, and her natural tendency to have her finger on the pulse of what is up and coming (although that seems to have faltered a bit in recent years.)

As a teenager, I had a poster of Madonna from the Who's That Girl tour book on the back of my bedroom door. It featured the look that I now profess to like the least - the platinum blond (almost white) hair with the dark eyebrows. That poster has disappeared without a trace, but here's the image - how young she looks! An iconic picture, but I still hate the look.

But enough about Madonna stuff lost in the shuffle! What Madge items can be found in my office now? Ask and you shall receive. Probably the best place to start is my iTunes. Limiting artist to "Madonna" this is what you get (you'll have to click on the image to get anything out of it):

Granted this contains some mash-ups, 5 different Blond Ambition Tours, 3 different Confessions Tours, 4 different Re-Invention Tours, and a bazillion and one fan-made mixes, but still. It's 1535 items, SIX DAYS worth of Madge. But perhaps the most embarrassing thing about posting that is the fact that I was actually listening to "Hey Poo You" at the time.

As you walk into my office you see this in the corner.

The picture on the left is a puzzle that my parents picked up for me somewhere when I was in high school. As we did with a lot of puzzles in our house growing up, we mounted it on a piece of plywood and hung it up. The only problem was, I never actually put it up on a wall. Part of the trouble was it was so dang heavy!! The puzzle is quite big (not sure of the actual dimensions and too lazy to go measure) but damn, talk about another iconic photo of Madonna. The only way it would have been better is if it had been this one (probably my all time favorite photo of Madonna) or this one. The second image on the wall is an official Confessions Tour poster, the only official tour poster that I have. (I had a Drowned World one, but it was crunched when we moved.) Framed and containing the tickets to prove we were actually there, it took me forever to actually get it on the wall, but it hangs with great pride now.

Speaking of tours, whenever you go to a Madonna tour, you are inundated with merchandise. Most of it is shoddy tour merchandise to be sure, but that has never stopped me. I am not a big fan of tour shirts (seriously, they're paper thin and so damn expensive) but the tour book is always a must-purchase. Each of the tours I have been to, I have picked up one of these. Usually they are quite pricey, in the neighborhood of 30 bucks, but they are far and away one of the more durable tour souvenirs.

(left to right, Drowned World Tour, Re-Invention Tour, Confessions Tour)

Also from the Confessions Tour and frequently found in my office, is the Confessions Tour mug. It is my coffee cup of choice - if it's clean, I'll probably choose that one. If it's dirty, I'm liable to clean it so I can use it. I am a huge mug enthusiast (and if that doesn't ratchet up my nerd credentials a few notches, I don't know what will) and usually pick one up from just about everywhere we go. Sadly, this is a replacement mug from the one I actually purchased at the tour because of an unfortunate run through the dishwasher by the former.

I alluded before that I have very few true Madonna collectibles. This next item is one of the few. I blogged a while back about how I came to own Madonna's Sex book. And the French version, no less. Take a few minutes and read that if you like, because I really do think it's a great story. But here's the Sex book, as it appears in my office.

I will not post any of the pictures from the actual book as this is still a somewhat family friendly blog, but perhaps most importantly, I have friends that read from work and I would hate for them to get fired because of the Sex book. But if you are curious as to what my favorite photos are look no further than here (link NSFW!! but hilarious!) or this one (again, link NSFW!! but hilarious!)

One final Madge related item. It's Moodonna. Complete with cone bras on her udder. Found this in a toy shop in Iowa City (OK, didn't exactly stumble upon it. I went searching for it.)

Her tag has the following poem in it: "Like a beanbag, (whoo!) stuffed for the very first time, Her music is great, but her acting's a crime. Now check out those udders, She's the talk of all Mudders. This material cow is way past her prime!" Even then they were declaring Madonna "over."

I could go on and on (and, arguably, already have) but that's enough for now. Suffice to say, my Madge love is one of my least cool things, but it is not one I would trade for the world. The woman has made music that is the soundtrack of my life. It has seen me through incredible highs (not that kind!) and equally incredible lows. And based on that alone, I will buy the new album, no matter what the CW says about her attempt at hip-hop.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nerdery Week: The itsy bitsy spiders

Tonight's Nerdery Week post is going to be a quick one as I'm wiped out from work today. But fear not! I have tomorrow off work so I am going to endeavor to post several times. Until then, this will have to tide you over.

Matt asked me after I posted my second Nerdery photo (the one of the shelf in my office above the TV) what that big spider on the top shelf was. Why, it is none other than Shelob from The Lord of the Rings.

Shelob is yet another gift from my daughter (and my wife), who found her on clearance at either Target or K-Mart shortly after we moved to Ames. I have a special soft spot for Lord of the Rings stuff (but that's another blog post altogether) and Shelob is probably one of the coolest of the LOTR figures I managed to get. Although there is a Balrog for sale as well, but at $130, I just don't think it's worth the money!

However, Shelob is not the only spider-like creature taking up space. If you look carefully, you can also see a lesser known, but no less cool spider in the Empress of the Racnoss. This insane looking creature was the villain in the Doctor Who Christmas Special "The Runaway Bride." The Empress is probably the best thing about that episode, and the figure they created based on her is gorgeous. Oh, and did I mention, HUGE?

And a side view as well, to show what a big butt she has.

I bought the Empress at Mayhem Comics here in town just after Christmas with some Christmas money that was burning a hole in my pocket. I had wanted Heidi to pick her up in London, but the exchange rate was so bad, plus there was the whole having to bring her back to the States on a plane thing. Oh well, good thing I ended up finding her in town anyway.

That's it for tonight. Better posts tomorrow, I promise!

Winter frolics

It's no mystery around these parts that we're IMMENSELY tired of winter. This morning, it's 1 degree F. With the wind chill, it's nearly -10 degrees F. And I have to walk to work. Fun times.

Anyway, Heidi took Anna to school this morning and, upon her arrival back she said "There's a snow penis on blahblahblah Avenue." I did a bit of a double take a said "What did you say?" She replied, "There's a snow penis on blahblahblah Avenue. You can see it from 13th Street. It's in front of someone's door, almost as if whoever did it was mad at the other person."

This I gotta see, even though I was certain there was a more logical explanation.

I rush through my shower so that I can drive out to the scene of the crime. This is what I found. (house number purposely hidden to protect the innocent.)

If that is not a snow penis, I don't know what it is.

Wow. What a way to start the day. Although I'm sure it's nothing compared the shock the people living in that house will start their day with.

Things like this make my inner 12 year old boy laugh with great delight.

Let's see it again, just for fun.


Nerdery Week: In the Nerdery, no one can hear you scream

I have an incredible fondness for all things Alien, even though it is probably not cool to like Alien any longer. But when have I EVER been about liking things that are cool? Regardless, there is no denying the coolness that is the Xenomorph, if for no other reason than the thought given to the life cycle of the thing. In the Nerdery, there are many things devoted to the Alien. Here are but a handful.

My most prized Alien possession is the original Kenner 18" Alien figure that was available for a very short time in 1979 before pressure from parents led to it being pulled from shelves. This was actually given to me as a Christmas present from my folks that year (were they cool or what?) In mint condition and in the box, these things sell for upwards of a few hundred bucks on eBay. Of course, mine went in the sandbox too much to be worth much of anything money-wise, but as far as sentimental value goes, it's priceless.

As you can tell, it is nowhere close to mint condition, but it's mine! And all the pieces are still there.

More recent acquisitions include this Warrior Alien that I picked up at Toys R Us in Cedar Rapids on a random stop. He doesn't stand up very well (much to my chagrin) but he does come with eggs and facehuggers. I still remember Anna being 3 years old and playing with this, calling the facehuggers "spiders" and the Alien "that scary guy."

And then, one Christmas, Anna gave me the Queen Alien. Her goal that Christmas was to "give Dad something scary." She had help from Heidi, naturally, but the Queen was a perfect addition to the collection. It was more an Alien vs. Predator Queen than the Queen from Aliens, but it got the job done. I have been known to tell people reaching out to touch the Queen "Get away from her, you BITCH!"

The next item was purchased thanks to a bonus check from work. Since I think that money like that is meant to have a least a small percentage of it spent on fun stuff, I decided to splurge and spend the nearly 30 bucks on a plush Chestburster. I love the Chestburster, making quite a splash upon its entry into the world and running completely on instinct, it's easily one of the best stages of the Alien's development. And what better than a plush Chestburster to cuddle up with? Well, suffice to say I have NEVER cuddled up next to the Chestburster. Instead, he is on display in the Nerdery, where Anna famously referred to him as "the baby scary guy."

One final Alien related item, and another that dates back to my childhood. In my room that I shared with my brother growing up, this mounted Alien puzzle hung on the wall. My mom is forever sending stuff from days gone by my way so that I can make up my mind what I want to do with it. However, the Alien puzzle was one that I claimed quite vehemently. It now hangs right next to my desk. You can spot it in one of the first Nerdery posts I did, but here's a closeup for you. It has a companion puzzle in the King Kong one that hangs next to it (also from my childhood bedroom) but that's another post.

I also have a few Alien books as well (mostly the novelizations of the movies and a few of the original stories written based upon the movies) as well as the essential Alien Quadrilogy, which features a highly superior extended cut of the much maligned Alien3. Seriously, if you have a chance, check out that version. Even though David Fincher didn't participate so it's not truly a "director's cut", it's the closest thing we'll ever get to one.

So that's it for today. I promised myself I would be done with this at 12:30AM and it's now 12:31AM, so not too shabby if I do say so myself.

Monday, February 18, 2008

King of swords

Heidi is really the Tarot expert in our house. She's read tons of books on it and has a very good understanding of the cards. A few weeks ago, she gave me a spare King of Swords card that came with a deck that she purchased and told me to put in on my desk. (You can see it in the first picture in the previous post at the very left edge of the picture. Hint: it doesn't look like the picture in this post. That King of Swords is from the classic Rider-Waite deck.)

She's told me what it means a hundred different times and I can never remember. So I did a little reading this morning and this is what I get out of it. It's a good card for me to keep in mind. I swear that "he was gonna do that!" will be the epitaph inscribed on my grave stone. I am full of good intentions, but because I am easily distractable, I frequently lack follow-through. This is to my detriment, not only in social situations, but in work situations and other arenas as well.

So for me, the King of Swords represents the action needed to back up those good intentions. There are times in life when you just have to buck up and do the things you have to do regardless of how little you actually want to do them. The King of Swords provides that reminder to me. In fact, I finally got my flex benefits stuff taken care of after the e-mail has been sitting in my inbox for weeks. Mostly, I just didn't want to deal with it, but it was getting to the point where I really needed to, and my desire to not do it was going to cost some money. And since we can use every little bit we can get, I finally got it accomplished. And that is such a mirror to so many things in my life: I just don't want to deal with it, so I'll push it off until it goes away (which never happens.)

The King of Swords has earned its spot on my desk. He is a gentle reminder of what I aspire toward. It is on days like these (not the most fabulous) that I need that kick in the pants a bit more than usual.

Work beckons.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nerdery Week: The desktop

A man's nerdery is his castle, or something like that anyway. For all the pop culture things in the room, the anchor of the room is my desk. There's no doubt about it. So no Nerdery Week would be complete without a look at the desktop (and the desktop on the desktop, of course.)

OK, you're reaching my inner sanctum at this point.

This is the spot from which I do 98% of my blogging, surfing and music listening. I'm not sure that anyone else on the planet has a desk just like this one. And for that, we should all be thankful.

One's choice in desktop wallpaper says a lot about a person. Mine is, naturally, Madge gyrating on the mechanical horse during "Like A Virgin" at the Confessions Tour. This is one of my favorite wallpapers to use because it is such a fantastic shot from the tour and I always love it when she dusts off the moldy oldie hits for another go-round.

Some of the things you see here are permanent items. For example, the three items taped to the side of my monitor have been there for quite a while. The top item is one of my favorite zombie cartoons that I clipped from the Toons (an independent Ames publication featuring cartoons, mostly of the political variety) a few years back. The second is a love note from my daughter. The bottom is a quote by which I attempt to live each and every day (presented to me by my lovely wife.)

Additionally, there is also an action figure of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor from the long running British series Doctor Who. Heidi bought this for me when she was in London this last summer. If I have a mancrush, it is probably on David Tennant. He is so damn nerdy cool!

Other things on the desk that you can spot are various pictures of Anna, a cup from a drug company that I've been carting around for years (Floxin - the caffeine compatible quinolone!) But one thing that's hanging out on my desk right now that is decidedly in transit is that Madonna single. It is limited edition blue vinyl pressing of "True Blue" and I've blogged it before, but I am still thinking of having it framed so that I can hang it up on the wall. It's truly one of the few Madonna collectibles I have (more of those coming later in the week.)

It will probably be framed sometime in 2038. For now, it's on my desk.

Anyway, that's it for tonight. Am I really going to have to do multiple posts a day to get everything in?

Nerdery Week: Welcome to the Jungle

My Nerdery is in the basement in the back of the house. Half the basement in our house is finished, and in this finished room is where you will frequently find me either surfing or blogging or just listening to iTunes. It is not much, but it is mine. I don't have a whole lot of time to post this morning before work, but I thought that this would provide a good overview before I delve into the specifics of the Nerdery.

So, as you come down the basement steps and round the corner, this is what you will find.

That crappy paneling was there when we moved in. There are plans to paint it eventually. There are also plans to replace the carpet. This will begin once it becomes legal for me to use Monopoly money at Lowe's.

And here's a shot from another angle.

See anything intriguing? Rest assured, explanations are forthcoming. But it is now time for me to head out into the ice and snow and put in my 8 hours. (or 9 or 9.5 as the case may be.)

In the meantime, here's a link to other Nerdery Week posts today (updated as they come in):
  1. Matt's shelf in his home office
  2. Caryle and her books
  3. TKT's desk

Friday, February 15, 2008

How will we feel 20 years from now?

It was 20 years ago that I first started listening to Stevie Nicks. She had always existed on my periphery prior to that, but in the winter of 1987-88, I bought up her solo albums and really started listening to her, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Her music is a huge part of the soundtrack of my sophomore year of high school. Listening to the first three albums (Bella Donna, The Wild Heart, and Rock A Little) is like stepping into the Tardis and being magically transported back to those times. That is not all good, but it is what it is.

Matt and I were discussing "Illume (9/11)" the other day which is a Stevie track from Fleetwood Mac's Say You Will album. For me, that's an example of a song in which Stevie is being deliberately spacey and obtuse. While at times, that is exciting and cool, there are also times that it is highly annoying and I'm all "just stop that already!!" So it got me to thinking about what makes my favorite Stevie Nicks songs my favorites. What better time than a Friday when I don't work to ponder Stevie songs? I limited myself to her solo work, as including Fleetwood Mac would have rendered this list an impossibility. So, here they are (in no particular order as is usual, and links to YouTube videos where I could find them):

Dan's 12 Favorite Stevie Nicks Songs

1) "Stand Back" - (from The Wild Heart) - If a gun were held to my head and I was forced to pick my #1 favorite Stevie Nicks song, it would be "Stand Back." Stevie talks about how it has an energy that comes from nowhere, and it's true. Those big synths, the driving drums, it's near perfect. Without a doubt, the best dance song Stevie has ever done, even though the video is VERY swing choir (but still infinitely better than the scrapped Civil War one.) Not as crazy about it live as, despite what Stevie says, I feel like she's a bit bored with it.

2) "Blue Lamp" - (from Heavy Metal: Original Soundtrack) - A fan favorite, and certainly in my top five. It's an incomprehensible song about God only knows what (although this is interesting.) I love this song because it's a straight on rocker with a great melody. One of the highlights of the Crystal Visions DVD is watching her lay down the vocals for this song when it was slated to be on Bella Donna. Those very vocals I swear are the ones that we hear now on the song.

3) "Think About It" - (from Bella Donna) - Featuring a lyric that got me through my overly dramatic, melancholy-for-no-real-reason teenage years ("Even when you feel like your life is fading/I know that you'll go on forever, you're that good/Heartbreak of the moment is not endless/Fortune is your life's love.") this is one of my favorite album tracks on Stevie's stunning debut album. A demo version of "Think About It" showed up on a expanded remaster of Rumours from a few years back and I almost like that version better!

4) "Blue Denim" - (from Street Angel) - Another straight forward rocker, but this time from her critically maligned 1994 Street Angel album. What I love about it is how it hearkens back to early Stevie, especially at the end of the song when she speak/sing/yells "Well, I'm going away for a little while to remember how to feel!" While the album itself has not aged well, this song is a good addition to her catalog.

5) "Nightbird" - (from The Wild Heart) - Written in the aftermath of friend Robin's death from leukemia, I listened to this song time and time again as a 15 year old trying to figure it out. The funny thing about The Wild Heart as an album is how it is such a bridge between Bella Donna and Rock A Little, almost as if it is the offspring of those two albums. It has both the acoustic/classic rock sound of Bella Donna, but is also quite synth heavy (although not as much as Rock A Little.) "Nightbird" is, I think, a good example of this.

6) "Greta" - (from Street Angel) - Another one from that critical and commercial misfire, but when I first heard this song, it had a classic Stevie sound about it, including speak-sing (Ooh, she's got a movie star view!) Well, behold the power of the internets because "Greta" is actually a song Stevie wrote for The Wild Heart. No wonder it had that classic Stevie sound! The demo is much cheesier, but Stevie is not in a daze on Klonopin in that one, as she is on the version on Street Angel, so really, it's a toss-up as to which is better.

7) "I Can't Wait" - (from Rock A Little) - Oh, how I love this song. Rock A Little as an album is rather dated (in a good way at least for me), but for some reason, "I Can't Wait" is just timeless. With vocals famously laid down in one take and the fabulous "how will we feel 20 years from now?" break-down, I just love this song from start to finish. I am also especially fond of the pseudo tongue twister "In secret she says she needs to see him but no words are spoken." "Stand Back" was given the remix treatment last year. I think "I Can't Wait" should be next.

8) "Trouble In Shangri-La" - (from Trouble In Shangri-La) - After the duds of The Other Side of the Mirror and Street Angel, Stevie was back in her finest form since I can't even remember when with this album. And this song is a latter-day classic for her. Having Sheryl Crow produce was a stroke of genius, even though Lindsey Buckingham is still her best producer. It's always great when you've kind of written an artist off as never being able to top what they've done, and then they prove you wrong.

9) "Mirror Mirror" - (B-side to "Blue Denim" single) - A leftover track from the Rock A Little days, it sure sounds the part. But since I have such a soft spot for Rock A Little, it's not surprising that this song makes the list. It was the B-side for the cassette single (those were the days, my friend) of "Blue Denim" and truthfully, it was the only reason I bought the single!

10) "Bella Donna" - (from Bella Donna) - This song gets me with the first 5 notes. Those ascending piano chords that open the song and the album are among my favorite musical moments. I think what makes Bella Donna such a great album is that it was her first solo record and she just had massive amounts of unreleased material to choose from. I also think she benefited quite a bit from Jimmy Iovine's production. I remember reading in Rolling Stone that he was very unforgiving with her, telling her that she needed to stop thinking that she was a part of a supergroup and think of herself as completely unproven. And really, as a solo artist, she was at that time. (The song in the video linked is actually a demo - the finished version is much more epic.)

11) "If Anyone Falls" - I played this song till my ears bled when I was 15. It is heavy on the synths, some guitar (not much) and a classic Stevie vocal. Plus an extremely cheesy video. Enough said.

12) "The Nightmare" - (from Rock A Little) - There are many that think this song should have been jettisoned from Rock A Little in favor of "Mirror, Mirror" or "Thousand Days." I would have to disagree vehemently, as it was, after "Talk To Me" and "I Can't Wait" the third Stevie Nicks song that I really "discovered." It is spacey and out there and Stevie at her most coked-out, but it starts out with an energy (perhaps left over from "Stand Back") and it never lets up. And it contained yet another line crucial to my adolescence in "This is not the world, not the world, not the real world!"

Yes, I was a handful as a teenager. But not in the ways you might imagine.

There were so many good songs that did not make the cut. "Edge of Seventeen", "Talk To Me" and "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" are notably absent. It's not that I don't like them, it's just that these are the ones that, when I listen to Stevie, are likely to get the most play. You'll notice that it is heavy on the first three albums. There's something about that trilogy of albums, the ones that were already released when I discovered Stevie's solo work, that is magical.

Wow, this has been kind of fun, even though it has sucked up my entire morning!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Myers-Briggs introvert

I've noticed that I'm tracking more serious these days, which does not bode well for Nerdery Week. But fear not, I will pull my 12-year-old boy out and he will be on full display next week for all the world to see. But in the meantime, you're just going to have to deal.

I haven't taken a Myers-Briggs personality test in a long time, so when I stumbled across one tonight quite by accident, I thought I'd try it again. It's been so long, that I couldn't remember my MB type, although I distinctly remember the "introverted" part. This is what came up.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Wow, I had no idea I was THAT introverted. One of the things I remember most is that when Heidi and I were engaged and had to do the required pre-marriage counseling at the church, the pastor had us take the Myers-Briggs personality test. If I recall correctly (and Heidi, correct me if I'm wrong on this one), it was one of the first times that Heidi realized that I really needed time on my own, to recharge my batteries so to speak. Who says those pre-marriage counseling sessions are a waste of time.

I remember Heidi testing on the extrovert side of that, although I think she would argue that she is more introvert now than extrovert. Exactly how these two introverted people birthed a phenomenally extroverted child is either evidence of God's sense of humor or karma coming back at me.

And even with 100% introvertedness on that test, I like to think that I can still overcome my natural tendency toward keeping to myself. Keeping this blog is a huge exercise in that, for I am constantly pushing the envelope in my own way. The funny thing about me is that I really am an introvert, shy by nature and more likely than not to keep on keeping on and not seek out something new. However, those times that I have stepped outside my comfort zone I have more often than not been rewarded by the universe.

I may always be the introvert, but watch out for introverts. Still waters run deep, or so I've been told.

And seriously? Artist, creator? I don't think so.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

He's listing

TKT did this little list thing over on his blog, and since we'll practically be blogging in tandem next week for Nerdery Week, I thought I'd give it a go. It was harder than I thought it would be!

- Twizzler's Pull and Peel Licorice, cherry variety.
TV Show - Doctor Who, Tennant version.
Movie - Between movies right now. The next one I want to see is King of Kong. Wil Wheaton said it made him want to spend about a hundred dollars in an arcade.
Breakfast Meal - Twin Cities Blend coffee from the co-op and those greasy hashbrown potatoes in the hospital cafeteria.
Lunch Meal - Whatever the hospital cafeteria ISN'T serving.
Dinner Meal - Tamale soup (at least that's what we had tonight.) It was yummy. Even Anna ate it!
Vending Machine Purchase - Dr. Pepper. It's not in the fountain at the hospital cafeteria. If it were, I'd probably weigh 500 pounds.
At This Point I Should Point Out - I generally don't drink regular pop. I will make exceptions, but it's liquid candy, empty calories and is bad for your teeth (says the coffee drinker.)
Pen - I'm grooving on the green Sharpie at work quite a bit. It's fun to write with.
For Laughs - Red Pen, Inc. Just discovered it, so it may get old fast, but I got some good laughs out of it today.
Don't Like - Robyn. In my circle of pop bloggers, that is complete and utter heresy.
Don't Care - College sports. In this college town (and as a man), that is complete and utter heresy.
Cartoon - Powerpuff Girls. Girl power rules.
He Who Can Do No Wrong - David Tennant. Seriously, the new Doctor Who? Fantastic. And he can even pull off drag convincingly.
She Who Can Do No Wrong - Madge. Even when she's bad, she's pretty good.
Best Monster - I'm with TKT on this as well...zombies! Like there's even any competition.
Worst Monster - Godzilla from the 1998 Godzilla movie. Heidi was seriously MAD at that movie. I like the movie for what it is (bad), but the monster. Dumb.
Most Over-used Monster - Killers in those torture porn movies. Thank God that genre has about run its course. Not scary, just gross. OK, except the Saw movies are not bad.
Best Natural Disaster - Hot Hail. There's just not been enough of it since Ming's death.
Worst Natural Disaster - Avian influenza
Shoes - Slip on shoes that need no laces. Shhh! I can't tie my shoes.
Tattoos - None for me. None EVER for me. Although I did say that at one time about piercings. So never say never, I guess. Although if I were a betting man, I'd bet on the no.
Neck Tattoos - Um, heck no.
Worst State in the Union - I can't do this! I'm sure they all have their fine points.
Best State in the Union - Ditto, I haven't even been to all of them yet!
I Wish I Had - PS2 so I could be playing Guitar Hero THIS VERY SECOND. See what has been unleashed?
I Wish I Didn't Have - so dang much debt.
Reading - The Other Side of the River. A book about race relations between two sister cities set against a backdrop of the death of an African American teenager in the early 90s.
Also Reading - Nothing else at the moment, although Monster Island is waiting in the wings.
Last Best Book I've Read - I totally dug The Rising. A cool twist on the zombie genre.

Fellow bloggers, give this a go if the spirit moves you.