A wing and a prayer

I recently accepted a new job, and am taking with it a giant leap of faith.  While the job looks very promising, it has it’s highly scary parts.  I will be selling life insurance and the like, for a very large national company.  They work strictly on commission starting out, so I will not have any guaranteed income.  The “potential income” is quite high, but will rely on my skill, persuasiveness, and a bit of luck.  I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn’t making enough where I was at to get by.  Since that time, they further cut my hours in half (taking me to between 9 and 15 per week).  The reason, they stated, was my “lack of production.”  My wife and I were quite angry at first, but it soon became comical.  You see, in a job where they want you to register new customers for services, I wasn’t being given any prime shifts.  Saturdays were the days to work, and I worked one in a month.  And while working a lot of Tuesdays and Fridays, I was doing OK.  Having my production compared to other people working 20 hours or more, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays, didn’t seem logical to me in any way, shape, or form.

Sometimes you just want your stapler.

Sometimes you just want your stapler.

So the new job seems like a much better endeavor.  They are sending me for a week of training in Chicago that they are paying for.  They also have a lot of online training I’ve been working on completing prior to going up north.  Not hard, but time consuming.  So my hope is that it is going to work out.  However, my hopes generally don’t come to a whole lot of fruition.

I again have the massive feeling of fear and doubt creeping in on me.  Seems like I can never shake it.  Having basically had my last endeavor see me fall flat on my face it seems normal to feel the way I do.  I just have to continue to push through.  As long as I have family behind me, it’s all I need.  Right?

The one funny thing, however, is the idea of a “leap of faith.”  I’m nothing close to a religious person.  Not even really spiritual.  I have a strong belief that the universe has a path for us, and we generally never know what it is, but everything we do leads us to choices.  Those few key points, those are when we make the difference.  Where we go, who we meet, what we do, most of it is preset in the skein of Fate.  But there are a few chances we have to nudge the course one way or another.  That is when we must take the reigns and guide our own destiny.  This feels like one of those moments to me.

Sappy and metaphorical?  Sure, but we can be every now and then.  My hope is that when given the choice, I went left instead of right, and that was the right way.  Because I don’t want my adventure to end early, and unlike those books we read as kids, we can’t go back to page 37 and pick the other one.

An Amazing Movie

The end of 2012 was a pretty tough year for one of the great icons of comics, young Peter Parker, the amazing-spectacular-ultimate-superior Spiderman (or Spider-Man as some prefer).  The Marvel comics reboot called Now! (I believe it is) caused some turmoil for the classic character.  While I’ve not read the last few issues of one of the longest running comics ever (Amazing ended with issue 700), I have read the story in summary.  I think it’s one I will likely pick up in trade in the near future.  He also saw another reboot, in the form of the movie baring the same name as the long running comic.  I’ll be discussing it in some detail, as well.  We also got the Ultimate version of Parker from Disney XD in cartoon form, with the second season premier last week.  All in all, one would think, not a bad year for your friendly neighbor… oh you know how it goes, right?

What do we want? MARVEL!  When do we want it?  Now?

What do we want? MARVEL! When do we want it? Now?

When Marvel announced it was rebooting the universe, many felt it was a cheap ploy to do what the other “big boy” was doing (DC rebooted their universe in 2011 with “The New 52″).  Many have bantered about the point of the reboots.  Money coming in with sales?  Cutting cost by decreasing titles?  Drawing in new readers?  In truth, I think it was most likely a little more #2, a fair bit of #1, and a surprising amount of #3.  I’ve read comics off and on since about 1993.  The times that I was “off” were not generally due to bad stories or art, but mostly due to fluctuating income levels.  Hard to support a habit of anywhere from 10 to 20 bucks a week when your other bills are both all over the place and much more important.  I will say that I read some of the DC reboot stuff, and quite enjoyed it.  There were some great writer/artist teams on stuff I was reading before (Green Lantern, Batman, Detective) and I picked up a few things I’d never read before (Wonder Woman was especially good).  Will Marvel’s reboot be the same?  I have no idea, and I’ve not heard much either way, but for them, I hope nothing but the best.  I love comics, and comic characters, and don’t want to see them go away.

Don't know half of them?  Neither do most people.

Don’t know half of them? Neither do most people.

2012 also gave us the new Ultimate Spider-Man carton, from Disney XD.  While it does combine various parts of the Marvel U (the ultimate line of comics, characters from the movies, some new characters).  Many of the stories are very familiar ones we’ve seen in almost every version of the character to date.  To me, that’s not really a bad thing.  Just because we’ve seen it before doesn’t mean it’s the worst thing ever.  With some interesting twists on characters we’ve known forever, and some great voice casting, I find the show highly enjoyable.   They pepper in some great guest stars as well, from Captain America to Doctor Strange.  Seeing the “next group of Avengers” coming of age is fun.  It’s also nice that I can watch it with my kids, who I’m trying my hardest to turn into little geeks right along with me.  If you are a fan of animated fair (and please understand this is not anything close to anime, this is purely American style) I’d say give this a shot.  For me, it’s as good an animated series as Marvel has put out since the old x-Men show on Fox in the early/mid 90’s.

On to the final “new” bit of Spidey we got in 2012- the Amazing Spider-Man movie.  At first I wasn’t happy about this at all.  I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s take on the wall crawler, as well as Tobey Maguire’s role as Spidey/Peter.  Kirsten Dunst I could take or leave, but she was an OK Mary Jane.  The villains made the movies for me, except for the dreaded 3rd of course.  But that’s another blog.  So, new film we get relative unknown Andrew Garfield.  A Brit.  Playing one of the most American characters in comics.  Sigh, OK I’ll roll with it.  Then I hear they got Emma Stone.  I am really enjoying everything she does.  Easy A- outstanding.  Zombieland- quite good.  Crazy, Stupid Love- great work from her, as well as Steve Carell and Julianne Moore as her mom (perfect casting to me).  She’s fun, she’s feisty, she’s nice to look at, she’s ginger. She’s gonna be a great MJ!  Wait, she’s gonna dye her hair and be Gwen Stacey?  Hrm…if we must.  Dennis Leary as hardened police Capt. Stacey?  Love it (and maybe the highlight of the film if you want to be honest).  And our villain that we pull from a list almost as long as the Caped Crusaders is…The Lizard?  What, were Rhino and Shocker busy or something?

To me, this film was doomed from the start.  It did well at the box office (262 million) but not as well as any of the previous Spidey films ( part 1 403, part 2 373, part 3 336 per box office mojo).  It did well enough to get a second film green lit.  I guess that’s good.  Rumors abound that we’ll be getting Jamie Foxx playing Electro.  While I like Foxx, I don’t really see him as Electro (and no, it’s not a black/white thing).  Truly, I don’t see Electro as a villain that can carry a film.  So we need another one, you say?  The internet says SURE! and gives us this gem: Paul Giamatti as The Rhino.  Wasn’t I just making fun of the Rhino?  I think I was.

Can you see him bulky and smashing stuff?  I just see him smashed from Sideways.

Can you see him bulky and smashing stuff? I just see him smashed from Sideways.

So then, we need a respectable villain.  Someone that we can have some great action with.  Someone we can see thinking.  Forming a plot to bring our hero to his knees.  Who do we use, you ask?  Doc Ock?  Green Goblin?  No, they’ve been done before.  Some better then others, but we’ve seen them once already (and I think we’re going to see Norman again in these new films sooner then later honestly).  Who is my choice?  One of the most underrated villains of Spidey’s rogues gallery.  Kraven the Hunter.  Don’t know much about Kraven?  Hit wikipedia.  Smart, tactical, agile, strong.  All things that can give Spiderman fits all day and night.  And throughout comics history has.  He’s also given us the best story involving Spidey ever, Kraven’s Last Hunt.  One of my top 10 greatest comic stories of all time, and something I give people to read because it shows that comics can be more then “funny pages.”  So who do we get to play this menace to the hero?  I’ll tell you- Oded Fehr.

You can see it.  You know you can.

You can see it. You know you can.

Why this guy who you’ve also never heard of?  How about this.  Kraven is Russian, and in the comics normally had an accent.  Oded is from Israel, and while that’s not Russia it is exotic enough to work.  Super hunter, leaping from place to place?  Oded is likely best know for his role in the first two Mummy films, which were filled with action sequences both against green screen/cgi enemies and straight up fights.  He’s also done work in the Resident Evil series of films, another action platform.  He’s done a variety of other film and tv work.  To me, the guy can act pretty well.  And let’s face it, a lot of what we’ve seen from comic movies aren’t gonna be compared to Bogart in Casablanca or Freeman in Shawshank.

End of the day, 2012 wasn’t a bad year for our arachnid pal.  My hope is that 2013 is better, with a new comic Spiderman, more film and tv works.  Maybe some other stuff we aren’t even looking for.  Let’s just hope, for all our sakes, we don’t get more stuff like Topher Grace’s Venom.  *shudder*

What’s a little weather?

Here in the STL, as with most of the lower Midwest, weather is all over the place.  You never know what you’ll get day to day, much less week to week.  The next few days are a prime example.  Today, I sit here with cloudy skies and near 25 degree temps.  Tonight, sleet/snow/rain move in, and we’re being told that the weathermen are going into “STORMWATCH MODE!”  This does not, sadly, refer to the Wildstorm comic of the same name, but the panic mode the local news goes into when weather happens.

They are also saying that STORMWATCH will be back on Monday or Tuesday, as we climb into the 60’s and could see severe (possibly tornadic) weather.  Most likely, we’re not going to see anything but rain, panicked weathermen with their ties half undone, and loads of pretty colors on the 3D Mega-Doplar Stormtracker X39.  We’ve seen it all before, and it does get a little old sometimes.

This is not to say that when there really are weather issues, I don’t appreciate very active coverage.  We’ve had some tornadoes around here in recent years, and I like to think that proactive weather watching helps to save lives in times of emergency.  I do not, however, believe that strong rain equivocates to thundersnow (which may, or may not, be a strictly Midwest term).  But does this affect me, really?  Not in the least.

Tomorrow, about 4am, I’ll be rolling out of bed to start the smoker and will be cooking some of my famous butt (it’s a pig’s shoulder, really, but for some reason people enjoy saying they eat my butt.  I know weirdos).  It’s a long process, usually around 12 hours, so to have it for dinner I have to start early.  I really enjoy the process, and have liked the outcome each time I’ve done it.  Some have said it’s BBQ restaurant worthy, which I enjoy hearing.  Mostly I just want it to be good.  So when I wake up, all I want to know is do I need the golf shoes with spikes to walk across the yard, or will my house shoes do the trick?  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Some people ask me why I go to such an extreme to do something that could just as easily be done in a crock pot, the oven, or a pressure cooker.  While these methods are all fine and dandy, to me there’s nothing like slow smoked large hunks of meat.  The flavor long hours smoking gives can’t be replicated by any other method, no matter how much liquid smoke you use.  Food, for me, is a craft I take pride in.  Much like a carpenter (not a singing one or a preaching one), I put time and effort into what I cook.  Sure, sometimes I just make some pasta and throw sauce on it, but most days I’d rather create something from scratch with a hint that is uniquely me.  It’s fun, and when it doesn’t turn out like it should (green bean casserole at Thanksgiving), I get annoyed.  I think most artists do.  If you didn’t want every thing you create to be great, you wouldn’t do it.  I don’t know a lot of successful people that got that to the top by doing “ok” stuff all the time.  So I do crazy things sometimes.  Like cooking in the snow and sleet.  The end result is normally pretty good.

The end result of my slow smoked, pulled pork butt.  Best without sauce.

The end result of my slow smoked, pulled pork butt. Best without sauce.

Board of games?

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I have been a fan of board games for a long time.  I’ve always enjoyed them to a great degree, and as I’ve gotten older my mind has been opened to a huge variety of new games.  There are a huge number of great games, many of them incredibly complex.  I like the idea of a game that takes a few plays to really start to get the hang of, especially when you have a group of people that are learning the game together.

Recently, Wil Wheaton created  a show all about tabletop games on youtube.  Featured on the Geek and Sundry channel, Tabletop is a wonderful show for people who are fans of board games and want to find new ones to enjoy.  Many of the games featured so far are ones I have played, and even a couple I already owned.  The show has also lead me to purchase a couple games, because they looked like so much fun (in truth, I’d have purchased a lot more if funding wasn’t so scarce).  This show has also created an increased sales boost of the games on sites like Amazon, where after appearing on the show some games have seen an increase in sales of 1000%.

Much to my surprise, it has also spawned sales of some of the games at Target stores.  I was shocked when, before Christmas, I found copies of Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, and Dixit sitting on the shelves.  There was even a spot for games “as seen on Geek and Sundry.”  Color me totally shocked by that.  One little web show (not really so little getting 250k views per episode) was causing waves across multiple marketing outlets.  Good for all involved, if you ask me.

Yesterday, I saw this: http://t.co/QPW6Ewvo  The forum post made me chuckle some, then really got me thinking.  My oldest daughter is 11.  She has played a few of these types of games with me and has caught on pretty quick.  She is a straight A student, and tends to be (to me at least) a little smarter then the average 6th grader, so maybe her picking up the rules quickly isn’t too much of a shock.  More shocking is our younger, who is 7, was also able to pick up both Ticket to Ride and Munchkin pretty fast (other then some trouble with reading the cards).  In fact, the first few games I played with them I didn’t win, not for a lack of trying.

Too tough for the average kid?

Too tough for the average kid?

So what does that forum post really say?  Are kids these days not smart enough to get the complex rules of a game like Power Grid?  Or do the parents just not want to spend an hour or two playing something with their kids that isn’t something familiar to them from when they were kids?  I highly doubt, for most kids, they aren’t smart enough.  Kids today, as I see quite a few of them with my kids, aren’t dumb by any stretch.  This isn’t to say that they are all 130+ IQs.  Like everything else, they are all over the place.  But most kids today know how to do a lot of things with computers.  Install software, reboot, basic trouble shooting, etc.  There are more great shows that teach all kinds of cool stuff that we didn’t have 20 years ago, much less the “dark ages” when our parents were young (I’m looking at you Mythbusters).  Each generation seems to come out of the womb smarter then the one before, so this isn’t a shock.

Could it be the attention span?  Most kids play video games these days, and have little to no desire to sit around a table of any kind and actually interact with other humans face to face (gasp!).  Unless you’re telling a guy in Rhode Island that he can’t hack it at Halo, you don’t want to play a “game” with a “person.”  This doesn’t bode well, as most of our elders already feel that in the modern culture we are becoming too “wired” and most human interaction is lost (I do see this, as I have been job hunting lately you cannot walk into a place and apply, everything is done online, to the point that some places are doing first and second interviews either over the phone or via online chat programs).  Since there isn’t a tutorial that will explain the game step by step via your HUD, kids are skipping the game.  This is a contributing factor to me, without a doubt. So what’s the real issue?

Parents.  We are the real issue with a lot of this scenario.  We want to spend less time doing things with our kids, and more time sending them to the Xbox/Playstation/PC as opposed to sitting down and talking, reading, or playing a game together.  I will not devolve this into a rant about how the lack of parenting nation wide is causing massive issues everywhere (most stories you see on the news, in my mind, could be prevented by a little more active parenting), but I really do think we parents can all do a better job.  While I dislike most of the games that Hasbro produces (as I think they take little to no thought or skill), I do think their “family game night” idea is a great one.  Even if you just set aside one night a month, sit down and play something with your kids.  Interact with each other, not NPCs.  Play cards, dominoes, or any of the wonderful games I mentioned above.  Watch an episode (or all of them) of Tabletop and see how a game plays.  If you like it, get it.  Play it.  Have fun.  It gives you, and your kids, something to look forward to.  Make it a night you eat out.  Order pizza and play Catan.  Get some Chinese food and sit down to a game of Tsuro.  Grab burgers at a fast food place and hop a train with Ticket to Ride.

I think you’d be amazed at how smart your kids are, how much fun you can all have together, and how much they’ll open up when they have you by the jugular.  Parenting can be hard.  It can be a chore.  It can be the hardest job you’ll ever have.  But you can make some parts of it fun too.  And when you do, your kids will tell their kids about all the crazy games you played together, the times they won and lost, but mostly all the fun they had.  Make some memories.  It’s all life really is.

Work and working

As I sit here at work today I wonder about where I am going. This isn’t a bad job, but we are given a very small pool of hours to be divided between basically 4 employees. To say that fairly handing out, say, 90 hours for 4 people doesn’t work really well. It’s especially hard when two of those people are supposed to be full time ( min 35 hours). To be frank, it doesn’t work. So we do a lot of different things, and to say that it’s not working for me is an understatement. I’m having a hell of a time making ends meet working between 18 and 24 hours a week. The bills don’t care that I’m not making money.
So, I have been thinking a lot lately about where I am in life. I never finished college, which sadly limits job possibilities. There are a ton of places that won’t even look at you without a degree of some kind, which is killer (so go to college kids out there, even if you don’t follow in that field). So I think of doing something on my own. I have some skills that could be used somewhere. I have dozens of ideas going through my head. I have novel ideas, script ideas, and board game ideas. So what do I do with all this junk?
I am considering a kick starter. The game idea I have would take some cash to get it up and running for the prototypes and things like that. I thin its something people would enjoy and play, but I tend to be odd. And that, my friends, is when fear creeps in. The dreaded “what ifs,” and not the cool Marvel comics ones. What if I do all of it, and no one likes it? What if I can’t get a company to pick up the game and distribute it?
I fear failure. I think all people do. The great people, who I admire, have ways to push through it and do great things. Being that I often feel like I’ve not accomplished much in life anyway, the dread that creeps in is that much greater. So how to get through. The only thing I can think of is simply to push through. Just sit down and do it. Beyond that? I got nothing.

The way one’s mind works…

My mind, it seems, is a lot crazy these last few days.  I’ve barely slept the last week.  My job is slowly killing me I think.  I need massive change.  So I think.  It’s something I do, from time to time.  Ponder the world around me, and try to think about how I can make my section better.  To say recently I’ve been dumbfounded doesn’t really express it.  So, what is it I think about?  Started thinking about going into business for myself.  There’s not much I know how to do, but I know a couple things.  I’m thinking of doing a kickstarter to design a game I have in my head.  My hope is that soon I can make enough cash on my own that I won’t need someone else (other then my lovely wife) telling me what to do.  So here I will write, because it’s something I enjoy.  I’ll put things out there.  I’ll put myself out there.  Not something I normally do, but how else is one to grow?