Monday, January 31, 2011

Various And Sundry -- End Of January Edition

I've been too busy to blog lately, for various reasons of which I'll mention just below. It's not that I've run out of things to discuss here (that would NEVER happen), but that I never seem to have enough time in the day to do all the things I need to do. So, unfortunately, this means the blog has to suffer, as it is of a lesser degree of urgency than my other real-life duties. However, I'd like to just quickly go over the most recent things happening in my temporal-starved existence. A sort of what's-what in the world of David J. Batista as of late.

First off, it seems I forgot to announce this a while back, but . . . my brother Jose (Joseph) is getting married later this year! He's younger than me by about 14 months and will be marrying his girlfriend, Catherine, of 7 years. They currently live in Houston, Texas and so this is where the ceremony will take place. This means that I'll be in the Houston area sometime around Veteran's Day this year. If any of my readers live at or near this fine city, let me know what's good in the hood over there. Particularly in terms of Mexicana or Tex-Mex eateries. Mmmm, yum! I haven't yet finalized our exact travel plans, but getting a head start on good places to eat is never a bad thing.

Following the news of this impromptu visit to the southwestern corner of this fair nation of ours, I spoke to my best friend, Tarrell, about perhaps making a road trip out of the event. Not to Houston, of course. That would be a bit much. But, rather, for after the wedding. We're thinking of making the drive to Las Vegas from there, stopping at the Grand Canyon and other attractions along the way. And after Vegas, perhaps we'll continue the drive west and hit up Tarrell's peeps in the San Bernardino/Riverside area of SoCal. It's been a while since I've been there, and wouldn't mind going back and reconnecting with these same peeps who have become my friends as well. While we're there, we may or may not relive our infamous June 2001 trip across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. Oh, did I not tell that one? Oops, my bad. Guess that's going to have to be the subject of a future blog update.

Tarrell and I might also use the opportunity to fulfill a long dreamed-of goal of ours, which is: to leap from an airplane at dizzying heights whilst nothing to keep us afloat but our bodies' own aerodynamics, the buffeting winds of the SoCal flats . . . and of course, a sturdy RELIABLE parachute strapped to our backs! Yes, we might be just a little bit insane, but those of you who know of my regularly frequent flight dreams also know that this is a big deal for me. Lisa is presently veto'ing this crazy plan of ours, though. Still, I have some time to work on her. She won't be joining us on this trip, but rightfully also doesn't have a desire to become a widow anytime soon, either. That's very reasonable of her.

Of course, more than likely none of this will come to past. It sounds like it might be costly, as well as too time-consuming to do all that we plan to do. But we're damn sure going to try and make it work, I tell ya!

On the writing front, I've been surprisingly unproductive. Oh, that's not exactly true. I've been productive, just not to a satisfying end. As you may recall, I took a brief break from novel writing to focus on some short stories. Problem is, the first of these planned stories was supposed to be a rewrite of an older unpublished work. But I've been wrestling with this rewrite for the past 6 weeks now! Och! Too long, too long. I did rewrite it once, but ended up scrapping that version into the trash. Presently I'm outlining the new draft, and I think I've finally ironed out the issues that had doomed the previous write. Hopefully I can start this 3rd attempt by the weekend and be done before the end of next week. If so, look for me to resume work on the novel right away. It's been too long cooling on its heels, so the other 2 short stories I've been cooking up will just have to wait some more.

Lastly, yes . . . I know I've been talking a lot about all things Dead Space lately. Unless you're a gamer, you just don't get it. But from now on, all Dead Space 2 news will be funneled through my "Now Playing" sidebar in the right column of this blog. Check that space from time to time to read up on my progress through this harrowing, but quite action-packed, adventure on The Sprawl. I just started the game over the weekend and already I can't get enough of it. I think all you scaredy cats out there are doing yourselves a huge disservice by not playing this game and/or its predecessor. Those of you who are gamers, I mean -- and you KNOW who you are! I'm going to need to finish up Dead Space 2 before March, since a game I've been looking forward to for over a year now, Crysis 2, will be *finally* hitting shelves then. My early buzz detectors are telling me this title is going to "pwn" HARD!

And, so, that's all the news that's fit to print in my neck of the woods! Hope you all are keeping warm and safe in this, the coldest time of the year across most of the continental U.S. and Canada. I, of course, am absolutely loving all this snow we've been getting in the New York Tri-State area. I only wish we could get MORE!!!

*ducks angry snowball thrown his way*

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Overload Of Inside-Out, Reanimated Corpses!

Whoa, it's been an extravaganza of Necromorph killin these past few weeks! Let me count the ways for thee:

Two weeks ago I blogged in this entry about the upcoming sequel to 2008's breakout horror video game, Dead Space. To prepare myself for Dead Space 2's impending release, I purchased and downloaded the short prequel puzzle game, Dead Space: Ignition. Playing this quick title set the stage for some pretty freaky things that will be going on in the sequel . . . things I'm excited for, but which my heart is not going to be too happy about. I don't think it's recovered yet from that initial foray aboard the deep space mining vessel, the USG Ishimura.

But I had so much fun playing Dead Space: Ignition, that I decided to rent from Netflix last week the animated film which serves as a prequel to the first game, titled Dead Space: Downfall (pictured above). It was an excellent movie, one that got me even more hyped to return to this universe of bizarre alien artifacts and horrible monstrosities created from the corpses of dead space miners. Kewl!

However, now I think it's getting to be too much. I mean I love it all--don't get me wrong--but the hype machine for this game series is running on overload! Last night, Electronic Arts released a Dead Space game for the Apple iPhone and iPad -- which got a pretty decent review over here. (I haven't downloaded this game yet to my phone, but best believe I will!) The Apple game is like Ignition in that it shows another side-story taking place in the events leading up to the shenanigans going down in Dead Space 2. So, yet again, fans looking forward to the sequel game will be able to get a little more back story to round out the experience beforehand. I'm all for that.

Then comes today. Today, Tuesday the 25th of January, is a BIG day! Not only do we get yet another Dead Space animated movie released on DVD--this one called Dead Space: Aftermath (pictured above)--but, of course, it is the the launch day *finally* of the game itself, Dead Space 2!!! IGN has a really nice review of it here, too.

Phew! Can you say "Dead-Spaced out"?

Luckily, this is a series I really, truly like, or else I would be in danger of severe burnout. But although it may seem like a lot of info to the uninitiated, these various smaller media tie-ins are just like appetizers--light and fluffy. The two mini games--Ignition and iPhone--are very quick, breezy numbers that drip atmosphere and great story, but don't really tax the player. For that, the real meat n' potatoes is still the proper sequel, Dead Space 2. The movies, on the other hand, serve as nice pieces of exposition for those who are either being introduced to the game's universe for the first time, or who just wanted to reinforce the knowledge they already have about the mysterious things going on in Isaac Clarke's world.

I'm about to head out to purchase Aftermath on Blu-ray. Tonight and tomorrow I'll probably play and finish the iPhone game, and then this weekend I shall crack open Dead Space 2 on my Playstation 3. I really wish my other gaming friends could join me on this adventure, but they're all either busy with other games and/or real-life issues, or are just plain chicken-shit to try. Of course, I say the latter with lots of love. :)

Anyway, if you like extremely gory and freaky jump-out horror with your sci-fi, you've just been served notice that Dead Space is where's it all happening these days. If you've been hiding under a rock all this time, you have some catching up to do, yes?

Of course, if you just want to jump headlong into Dead Space 2 from scratch, I would recommend at least searching out the story scenes from the first game online to get you up to speed. You could probably just play the sequel cold (I'm sure the back story will be explained in some form or another), but why should you when we have such wonderful modern day inventions like Youtube and Wikipedia to make life easier?

If you decide to join me . . . bring a spare plasma cutter and perhaps a few replacement projectile saw blades with you, okay? It's going to get HAIRY!!!

Behind The Scenes

Yesterday I gushed all about Keri Hilson's video for the song "Pretty Girl Rock." As you probably gathered from that rather long fan piece I wrote, I think this is one of the best music videos I've seen in a while. Click on this link to go back a day and re-watch the video if you'd like. Below I'm embedding a cool little behind-the-scenes featurette, which has Keri and the director, Joseph Kahn, discussing the message of the song and the direction the video ultimately ended up taking:

I only just watched this for the first time this morning, but of course I concur with what the real underlying message of the song is. And, yes, I completely agree -- hair and makeup deserves big praise! But also the choreographers of the different era-specific dance styles. My god, that's a lot of talent on this one little girl-power anthem track! And, as usual, Keri herself comes across so totally charming and intelligent. I still stand behind my statement that (so far) she's my breakout artist of 2011. I know her new album was released back in the tail end of 2010, but this will be her year!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is This My New Favorite Artist?

She just might be -- Ms. Keri Hilson!!!

Also maybe she's my latest celeb crush, too! She's certainly very easy on the eyes, ain't she?

But what I like the most about Keri is that she writes as well as sings and performs. In fact, she's mostly known as a writer in the industry, having written such hits as "Crazy In Love" for Beyonce, "Gimme More" for Britney Spears, and "Like a Boy" for Ciara, to name just a few.

I have much respect for artists who can actually, you know, write their own music. Not that she doesn't get help on her own works from time to time, like from such luminaries in the industry as Ne-Yo and Kanye West. But being able to write--and write hit singles to boot!--shows she has a brain, which is very, very attractive. Don't you agree?

Anyway, Keri Hilson's been behind the scenes for most of the last decade, making other artists shine bright. It's only been recently that she's ventured out on her own, and so far I have to say she's been making quite a mark. And her latest sophomore effort is an album just released last month, titled No Boys Allowed. Right now I'm getting a huge kick out of her song "Pretty Girl Rock," but even more so out of the video of the song that's been getting a lot of airplay recently. Watch it below, if you will, then read my further thoughts after the jump:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Don't Get All The Hate Over This Game

As I mentioned back in this entry, I recently downloaded the game Dead Space: Ignition, which is sort of a set-up title paving the way to the upcoming sequel, Dead Space 2. The game only costs $5 and takes roughly 45 mins to complete from beginning to end. But the story has a branching plot, much like a choose your own adventure novel, so in order to see all the possible outcomes (a total of 4 different ones), you'll have to replay the game another 3 times to get the full picture.

Got it? Good.

I don't quite understand all the backlash this tide-over title has received since its release back in October. Complaints range from the game not involving any actual shooting or other action-y bits, to the art style being underdeveloped and "blobbish."

To that I say, whaaa? I actually liked the art direction. I wasn't expecting cutting-edge graphics here, not for $5. The story is told through the "motion comics" format, a style that might be familiar to fans of the recent Zack Snyder Watchmen film, which included a motion version of the graphic novel on the collector's home video set. Basically, the cutscenes are static comic book frames brought to life by minimal movements for dramatic emphasis. If you're into comics and cinema, you've seen this done before. It's no big deal. I don't see where all the hate is coming from.

Again, five dollars people! If you want to get an idea of what I'm talking about, check out the video trailer for this game by clicking here.

As for the complaint that this is not an action-shooter game -- big whoop! Why should it have to be? You want a shooter game, either replay the original Dead Space or wait for the sequel to hit next week. I was told that Ignition was going to be a puzzler, and that's exactly what I got. You solve a bunch of puzzles increasing in difficulty throughout the course of the game, all the while being fed the story via motion comic format in-between. The story is engaging and very much in spirit of the main games, complete with graphic horror moments, plot twists, and a whole heaping of betrayals.

Dead Space: Ignition tells the tale of two CPD employees aboard a space station named "The Sprawl." I'm sure there's a more official name for this place, but I don't recall hearing it during the course of the game. Nor do we ever fully understand what the "C" in CPD stands for, but we can infer from the dialog that the "PD" portion is Police Department. So, these two police officers--named Franco and Sarah--are coworkers. But, it turns out they're also lovers on the down-low. And while Sarah is the brawn of the pair, Franco is the brains. Or, at least, the technician. He's the staff engineer and, as such, he seems to spend most of his shift fixing computer terminals throughout the station.

When Ignition begins, Franco and Sarah are called to investigate a series of corrupted automated processes across the Sprawl. Franco hacks into the systems and hauls them back online. Sarah's job, on the other hand, seems to be standing around and making smart ass cracks. The voice acting is very good, however, and you do get a real sense of chemistry between these two.

Of course, because this is still a game taking place in the Dead Space universe, eventually there is a "Necromorph" outbreak aboard the station. These appear to be the same baddies Isaac Clarke came across in the first game. Necromorphs are mysteriously infected humans who mutate and turn inside-out and go on a general killing spree of mayhem and gluttony until no one is left alive. How the infection got from way out in deep space to the Sprawl is a mystery that is never truly answered in this game. But there are hints that the same saboteurs messing with the station's computer systems are behind the outbreak. Only Dead Space 2 will provide the true revelation, it seems.

Naturally this is where the game heats up. Franco and Sarah get caught up in the melee which follows the outbreak, barely having time to make sense of what the hell's going on before they're joining the other unsuspecting citizens in running for their lives. Although you never do get to wield your trusty plasma cutter and get hip deep into killing some baddies (that's Sarah's job, handled entirely through expository scenes), your job as Franco is to hack into various barrier controls and access panels in order to effectively escape the ravenous hordes of Necromorphs heading your way. This is where the challenge and gameplay aspects kick in. As an engineer, Franco's main expertise seems to be using hacker's tricks to bypass sabotaged circuits or safety overrides. In his arsenal are three types of hacks, which he'll choose depending on the scenario: Trace Route, System Override, or Hardware Crack.

Trace Route.  My least favorite of the hacks. This puzzle involves Franco wending a light trace (orange line) through a maze of computer-generated barriers and redirects in breakneck speed. The system attempts to prevent you from reaching the mainframe core by sending out its own traces (blue lines) in a race to see who will reach the center first and unleash a quarantine on the enemy subroutine. In addition, along the way it releases various other subroutines to block and/or alter your course. I hate this hack because it's a bit reminiscent of the light cycle sequences in Tron, which in my opinion were always overplayed by fans. This hack, unfortunately, seems to be the most frequent throughout the game, though. Ugh!

System Override.  This is a curious hack. Curious in that it's far too easy. For some reason I never failed any of these puzzles, not even once. I don't even know if it's possible to fail them. Basically, it's a capture-the-flag game with the system's firewall. Franco inserts a vector (the red trident icon in the lower right) into a honeycombed software layout. Through this vector, he can release 4 different types of viral attacks. The object of the game is to get either one of these viruses across the board to attack and "capture" the computer's firewall (green fortress blob on the far left). Along the way, however, the attacks are met with swift and furious anti-viral measures. The challenge comes from judging which viruses to send out to best attack specific types of anti-viral opponents. It becomes a juggling act, but in the end your efforts all boil down to your army being bigger and better than the computer's. Through sheer, overwhelming attacks, eventually all the anti-viral measures succumb under your numbers, leaving the firewall "fortress" completely vulnerable. Quite simple, really.

Hardware Crack.  Ah, this is the mack-daddy of all the hacks! They start off easy, but then become hard as hell. By the end of the game, you're ready to tear your hair out due to the sheer complexity of this hack. Luckily, this is the least frequent of all three types. Yet, oddly enough, it's also my favorite of them all. Your job here is to redirect the two main light beams (green and red) to their respective matching power junctures on the other side of the board. Bend the beams around various obstacles just right, and you'll overload the fuses for a hardware short. At some point, however, a yellow power junction is introduced. So, in addition to finding ingenious ways to split, reflect, and redirect green and red lights across the board, you'll have to figure out how to also combine both colored beams to form yellow and route it over to the appropriate yellow receiver point as well. It can become quite the colorful mess, let me tell you!

And that's pretty much the sum of it, folks. The entire game is nothing but these 3 hacks being thrown at you in numerous variations. Some can be quite ingenious puzzles that are rewarding in the cracking, but most are annoying. To be honest, I only got enjoyment in being able to see the story progress after each solution. And trust me, the story gets pretty gripping at points.

Eventually Franco and Sarah end up in a really bad situation, which may or may not result in one or both of them meeting a horrific end. It all depends on the choices you make. Of course, if you play through all 4 possible story branches like I have, you start to see a certain pattern shared by all choices. This revelation, I'm sure (and it's quite the doozy, in fact) is going to pay dividends when it's time to play Dead Space 2. I can't wait to discover exactly how!

For your efforts at beating Ignition, you get a special hacker suit Isaac can use in the sequel. I hope the suit does what it sounds like. In the first game, you got special perks for various in-game items (like health, ammo, etc) depending on the level of your hacking abilities. So, if you're into that sort of thing like I am (hacking is always my favorite part of most games these days), this is even more incentive to play through Dead Space: Ignition.

And why wouldn't you want to? You get a pretty decent and quick offering for only 5 bucks (free if you pre-order the sequel), and the story sets up some elements for Isaac Clarke's continuing adventures. if you're a fan of the Dead Space universe and plan on returning there sometime soon, do yourself a favor and take less than an hour to try something a little different in the same milieu. Despite my hatred of the Tracer race hack, I still think the total package was well worth my investment.

Rating:  8.3 out of 10.

P.S. -- In case you're thinking of stepping right into Dead Space 2 without first playing the original, below is a video trailer which will catch you up on the back story to this universe. And, hey, it just revealed to me that the name of the space station is Titan Station, after the Saturnian moon it orbits -- kewl! Does this mean the Necromorphs are closing in on Earth? *gulp*

Monday, January 17, 2011

Another Game Of Thrones Teaser . . .

I cannot believe all the wonderfully good things I've been hearing about HBO's Game of Thrones in these months leading up to the grand premiere. Every bit of news, or clip, or interview, or collage of set pics that comes out, I'm reassured that this is going to be a show of the highest caliber. Once again I'm thrilled beyond belief that HBO is the one handling this project, and not regular network tv. With each new teaser that's released, I grow more restless for Spring to come. And, yes, the Stark family motto is: "Winter Is Coming" . . . but for me, winter's end is going to be when all the fun begins!

Anyway, to further string us fans along, HBO aired the latest teaser for the series before the premiere of the last season of Big Love last night. Check it out below--and make special note of the premiere date, which was only just recently decided upon:

For those of you who cannot access the clip above, click on this link to watch it on Youtube.

This teaser focuses primarily on the Iron Throne, and shows the various factions who are being tossed into the stew as potential claimants for control of all of Westeros. The tone is deliciously ominous and chilling, which I'm hoping speaks to how serious the subject matter is. For those of us who have read the books, we know all too well how quickly things go from grim to shit storm in the turn of a page!

I for one would not have my fantasy films or shows any other way.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dead Space 2 Is Almost Here!

Where the *bleep* have I been all this time? Oh right, neck deep in novel and short story writing la-la land for the past several months. Still, this is no excuse. I can't believe I almost missed out on the fact that Dead Space 2 is coming out in just under 2 weeks time!


Now, I know I said I was taking time off from gaming to write . . . but honestly, this is something I can't pass up. In case you don't recall, I talked about the original game in this entry back in July 2009 when I first started it up, and then this one nearly a month later when I was almost done. Wow, what a summer for gaming that was!

Anyway, Dead Space seriously impressed the hell out of me, despite initial misgivings. But words alone cannot explain how high-octane, insanely gruesome and satisfying this title is. To date, it is the one game that almost all of my friends cannot get through because it scared the living bejeebus out of them. Only two of my bros-in-arms finally mustered the courage to see it through to the end. That right there should tell you something about how seriously creepy the title is. It even had me taking breaks to catch my bearings -- and I'm a muther-effin VETERAN at survival horror games!

And now Dead Space 2 is upon us, ready to thrust poor engineer Isaac back into the fray of things. Knowing what happened during the credits scroll at the end of the last game, though, I must admit I have a few sneaking suspicions about what's up with our main dude this time around. Let's just say it's not looking good. But, hey, check out the launch trailer below and tell me you're not as psyched to play this as I am:

Awesome! I could do without the Smashing Pumpkins track blasting over the dialog of course, but other than that it looks like I should be expecting more of the same of what made the first game so damn addictive. And, hey! Isaac not only has a face for most of the game this time around, but a voice as well! He's moving up in the world.

I challenge all my gaming buddies out there to join me on January 25th and put this one through its paces. We can see who makes it the farthest and quickest. And, no, I'm not favored to win because, like I said already -- I'm a little pressed for time right now. Even if I wanted to play this every second of every day (and trust me, I will want to), I'd be lucky if I even get one hour of game time PER WEEK to fight nasty necromorphs with my trusty plamsa drill. I simply have too many things going on in my free hours this year.

We shall see.

Oh, but on a side note: apparently a small set-up game to this sequel was released on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live! last October. Dead Space: Ignition is a non-shooter puzzler done in a quirky comic-booky presentation that's more like an interactive graphic novel than a true, full-fledged game. Okay, that might be selling it short since apparently some of those interactive elements are quite puzzly and requiring you to hang on tight to your gaming hats. Still, it's more story set-up for the real meat-n-potatoes that is Dead Space 2. As such, it might be a good idea for me to download it off the PSN and prepare myself properly for the release date of the actual sequel. You can also get the download code for free by pre-ordering DS2 from any retailer.

I would hazard a guess that Ignition only needs about 2 or 3 hours to beat, tops. Which, in my world, means a good couple of days of sporadic devotion on my end. Luckily, I have a 4 day weekend starting today thanks to MLK day on Monday, so guess what I'll be doing?

Oh yeah!!!

And here I thought I would be getting back into Red Dead Redemption sometime soon. Oh well, so much for that plan.

Attack Of The 80s iPod!

I went to do my free weights workout today and, naturally, had to first pick the right playlist to run while I pumped some iron. I shouldn't say "naturally," actually, as it's only been recently that I started listening to music during my workouts. Usually I watch the news or a nature/history special on tv.

Anyway, for some reason I wanted to hear Michael Jackson's "Beat It." The song had been inexplicably stuck in my head for half the afternoon, after all. Trouble is, I didn't feel like listening to my specially made MJ playlist. Aside from that one song, I just wasn't in the mood for a Jackson's Greatest Hits type of workout.

Then I thought: well, why not an 80s workout? I haven't listened to that particular playlist in many, many moons. And I knew that somewhere in there I would find "Beat It" anyway. A lot of my playlists cross-reference the same tracks.

So, I loaded up iTunes and found the playlist appropriately titled "80s Songs." I devised this list personally with what, to me, are quintessential pop rock and metal songs of that era. Even though I was born in 1976, I didn't really become conscious of the music scene around me until roughly 1980 thanks to my mom, who was pretty young (only 21) and hip in 1980. I grew up on this music, and each selection represents a particular time or event encoded into my childhood memories of the period.

Spookily enough, when I selected the playlist and then hit "shuffle," the very first track to get randomized to the top was "Beat It!"

Holy hells! How's *that* for a sign?

Anyway, I figured it would be fun to post up my 80s playlist here for you folks. This way you can get a glimpse of what crazy tunes I enjoy from the age of big hair bands and . . . Boy George. Let me know what you think of this gargantuan list of my 50 most memorable tunes in the comments section below.

And because this is me, you'll note that my non-shuffled list is arranged in OCD fashion by year of release, earliest to latest. This is exactly the order as it appears on my iTunes.

Batista's Top 50 1980s Songs

"Video Killed the Radio Star" -- The Buggles  (1979)*

"My Sharona" -- The Knack  (1979)*

"Private Eyes" -- Hall & Oates  (1981)

"Double Dutch Bus" -- Frankie Smith  (1981)

"Down Under" -- Men At Work  (1981)

"Kiss On My List" -- Hall & Oates  (1981)

"Who Can It Be Now?" -- Men At Work  (1981)

"I Ran" -- A Flock Of Seagulls  (1982)

"Puttin' On The Ritz" -- Taco  (1982)

"Gloria" -- Laura Branigan  (1982)

"Kids In America" -- Kim Wilde  (1982)

"Maneater" -- Hall & Oates  (1982)

"Tainted Love" -- Soft Cell  (1982)

"Abracadabra" -- Steve Miller Band  (1982)

"You Dropped a Bomb On Me" -- The Gap Band  (1982)

"Girls Just Want To Have Fun" -- Cyndi Lauper  (1983)

"Beat It" -- Michael Jackson  (1983)

"Karma Chameleon" -- Culture Club  (1983)

"Mr. Roboto" -- Styx  (1983)

"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" -- Eurythmics  (1983)

"All Night Long" -- Mary Jane Girls  (1983)

"Every Breath You Take" -- The Police  (1983)

"Billie Jean" -- Michael Jackson  (1983)

"What A Feeling" -- Irene Cera  (1983)

"Owner of a Lonely Heart" -- Yes  (1983)

"Cum On Feel The Noize" -- Quiet Riot  (1983)

"Total Eclipse Of The Heart" -- Bonnie Tyler  (1983)

"Somebody's Watching Me" -- Rockwell  (1984)

"Hold Me Now" -- Thompson Twins  (1984)

"Self Control" -- Laura Branigan  (1984)

"Sunglasses At Night" -- Corey Hart  (1984)

"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" -- Wham!  (1984)

"Ghostbusters" -- Ray Parker, Jr.  (1984)

"Rhythm of the Night" -- DeBarge  (1985)

"Material Girl" -- Madonna  (1985)

"Tarzan Boy" -- Baltimora  (1985)

"Obsession" -- Animotion  (1985)

"Conga" -- Miami Sound Machine  (1985)

"Take On Me" -- a-ha  (1985)

"Everybody Wants To Rule The World" -- Tears For Fears  (1985)

"Danger Zone" -- Kenny Loggins  (1986)

"Hot Hot Hot" -- Buster Poindexter  (1987)

"Bad" -- Michael Jackson  (1987)

"Here I Go Again" -- Whitesnake  (1987)

"Pour Some Sugar On Me" -- Def Leppard  (1987)

"Welcome to the Jungle" -- Guns N' Roses  (1987)

"Straight Up" -- Paula Abdul  (1988)

"Smooth Criminal" -- Michael Jackson  (1988)

"She Drives Me Crazy" -- Fine Young Cannibals  (1989)

"Kickstart My Heart" -- Motley Crue  (1989)

* Even though these songs were released in 1979, they're inseparable from any 80s collection since, in my opinion, they helped define that unmistakable sound of the decade.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Just Have To Chime In Really Quick Here . . .

This isn't a political blog by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt I just had to take a quick time-out from tales of writerly woes and video games past and present to comment real quick on the Tuscon, AZ shooting tragedy over the weekend. Or, more specifically, comment on Sarah Palin's tragedy after the tragedy. Because, of course, she's the real victim here.

That sound you're hearing is the sarcasm alarm going off above your PC monitor -- I hope you changed the batteries within the last 6 months.

Anywho, I know I'm a little late in responding to the Palin video and Facebook page statement that's been making the rounds of, oh, just about EVERYWHERE in the past 36 hours. However, rather than dissect it piece-by-piece as has already been done by many bloggers much smarter than I . . . I thought I'd parse out one particular passage from her written statement below. The bolded sentence is what I find particularly ironic:

"After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event. President Reagan said, 'We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.' Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies … journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

This sounds reasonable, doesn't it? After all, she's only asking the rest of the country (i.e., the liberal media) to do as she has done. To follow by her example. Who can forget, when the now infamous "Ground Zero Mosque" debate was starting to boil over just before midterm elections, how Sarah Palin waded into the thick of the ignorant hatred and beseeched us all not to blame the entire Muslim world for the acts of those handful of extremist wackjobs responsible for 9/11? Don't you all remember that? How much the voice of reason Palin was during that whole ridiculous brouhaha? We shouldn't blame the many for the few, right? Right???

Oh, wait. My bad. No, that's not what she and others in her party said at all.


So I guess this idea of not laying the finger of blame for the acts of one or more individuals on an entire race, demographic, or even political campaign applies only when it aims to benefit Mrs. Palin. Color me shocked!

No, no. There's nothing to be alarmed about here, folks. Why should her reaction make anyone upset? It's not like this is a "blood libel" against an entire religion and culture, right? She's just saying that Muslims in general shouldn't build mosques at all anywhere near lower Manhattan because of what "they" did on 9/11. That's all.


A Couple Of Changes To The Sidebar

If anyone bothered to notice in the past two months or so, the links to some of my published stories listed on the side of this blog have not been working. This is because two of those stories were published in Afterburn SF, an e-zine that has since gone the way of the dodo bird late last summer. The website with my stories stayed up a little longer, but alas it is now defunct as well. Such is the world of short story publishing these days.*tear*

Anyway, as a temporary fix, I've placed the two stories in question--"Enemy of My Enemy" and "Minutemen"--into my Dropbox for the time being until I find a more permanent archive for them. In the meanwhile, clicking on the title of either story will bring up a message window asking you if you want to "open" or "save" the doc file. I know it's a little cumbersome, but please bear with me. Or you can just read "Khan Tengri" which, as of this writing, still links to Silverthought's online site with no problems.

Also, the more astute of you might have noticed a new addition to the sidebar. This one's called "The Words I've Read" because I was out of creative juice the day I wrote that and could not think of anything better to call it. Still can't, in fact. Anyway, under that title you'll find a doc link containing a list of all the books I've ever read. At least, all the ones I can remember reading from memory. I used to keep a list just like this in high school, but it has been lost to the ravishes of time and the dusty, spider-infested recesses of my bedroom closet back in the house where I grew up.

This new list has been in development since roughly 2003. In addition to regular updates whenever I finished reading a work from that point onward, I've been retrofitting the list to cover previous years based on memory alone. It's been a slow process for me, adding titles only when they pop into my head and insist that I did indeed read them at some point in my past. If I can remember where I was at the time of the reading and the basic general premise without help, then I know I've read it. Naturally, the possibility that I'm missing a great many tomes is high.

At some point, I might create another sidebar archiving all my stories which have not seen publication. Okay, maybe not all of them. Some of my shelved works need to stay hidden away FOREVAR! But I have a few stories that I am proud of and which have never seen the light outside of a slush pile. They have no further hope of ever being published, so I figure it wouldn't hurt if at lease some poor sap wanders onto this site and wants an education in what makes certain stories fail hard despite the earnest attempts of their author.

I'm charitable at my own expense, ain't I?

Anyway, that will be at a later time. In the meanwhile, I'm busy writing new additions to slush piles everywhere this year. Only time will tell under which heading these golden nuggets of writerly goodness fall under: published or unpublished.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Guess who's coming to dinner in Mortal Kombat land later this year? Why, the God of War himself -- and exclusive to the PlayStation 3, naturally! Check out the reveal footage below. As Scorpion and Sub Zero prepare to throw down, they receive a rather rude interruption. GET OVAR HERE!!!

This seems to be the trend with fighting games lately, for each console to license an exclusive guest fighter from another series specific to the console of choice. It makes sense that Kratos would be an exclusive on the PS3's version of the game, then, since he's easily the most kick-ass anti-hero around this generation. With all the gruesome, graphic blood letting the Ghost of Sparta has been the cause of in those games, methinks he'll be a natural fit among the psychopathic bloodthirsty kombatants of the MK universe. This may just be my first Mortal Kombat game in over a decade. Last time I played one was on the Sega Genesis.

Wow! Memories . . .

And, those of you who know me, let's see if you can recall my favorite fighter from the series. Come on, you can do it. Just write it in the comments section below. Needless to say, I'll be using him almost exclusively this time around. Just you wait and see!

This ninth installment in the Mortal Kombat franchise is slated for release on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles sometime in April. Word on the street right now is that X360 owners will be getting Fulgore, the cyborg fighter from Rare's Killer Instinct series. Although this is an unsubstantiated rumor as of right now, it's one that seems to be gaining A LOT of traction on the message boards today.

I say "meh." Killer Instinct was an okay fighting game on the SNES back in the day . . . but doesn't have nearly the same allure as, say, a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Hell, I'd take Tekken over it any day. Although, okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. The N64 version of KI2 was quite spectacular, to be honest.

Still, Fulgore is no equivalent to Kratos. Sorry X360 fans, PS3 fanboys win this round.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Last week I posted up this entry in memory of my mother and the anniversary of her death. It was just a link to an older blog entry I had written a few years back telling of the tragedy that took her away from me when I was only 9 years old. But in last week's entry I went and put up a couple of new pics of me and my mom, which then prompted one of my online friends to point out that we don't look related. Why, the nerve!

Actually, funny thing is, I'm told I'm the spitting image of my father. Something that, when I was younger, infuriated me to no end, as he's someone I really don't admire and have striven all my life not to become. However, I will admit that out of all his children, I--his first-born--resemble him the most. Blasted genes!

But here's the thing . . . I seem to be the only one that sees the parts of my face that are actually taken directly from my mother's features. While I might strongly resemble my father, I can look at my reflection and clearly see my mother's face staring back at me, too.

It's mostly in the expressions I make. And, also, the set of my eyes and the way I look at someone if they're pissing me off. Also, my cheeks and mouth are very similarly positioned as hers. Or so I believe. What do you think?

To help make my case, I'm offering up two pics for comparison. The first one below is a close-up of the same pic I posted last week, cropped to focus specifically on my mom's face:

It's too bad the lighting and flash hides the distinctive blue of her eyes. It's what I remember the most about her. Below is a picture of myself, taken back in 1998 over the holidays -- my first since graduating from college and moving back home:

So, now, you tell me: Do you not think I look sorta like my mom?

Of course, keep in mind that I have my father's Latin coloring (although he's several shades darker than me), while my mom was fully Caucasian (blond haired, blue-eyed, yadda yadda . . .) and burned easily in the sun. Still, I think it's clear that I'm my mother's son. Do you see what I meant about the same set expression and the eyes? Or am I imagining things?

Anyway, a funny thing happened when Lisa and I returned to Paris last year. Or, at least, my wife thought it was funny. I myself did not see what she saw. We were sitting in a café in the Latin Quarter, near the Pantheon, when Lisa pointed out to me a woman having a coffee and a smoke behind us. She was insisting that this woman was my mom's doppelgänger. She looked just like her, according to my wife. Me not wanting to turn around and stare rudely at the poor lady, I asked my wife to discretely take a pic with our digital camera so that I could get a look. Below is the pic Lisa took:

Now, I don't know. I still don't think this looks like my mom. Not exactly, at least. She does have somewhat similar features, but my mom's nose was not quite that big. It was big--my brother and I used to make fun at her expense about how pointy it was--but not the typical Gallic proportions you see in the above pic. However, this woman's startling blue eyes are almost dead ringers for the hue and intensity of my mom's eyes under natural lighting. That alone is what sold me on the possibility that perhaps my wife was correct on some level.

I wouldn't go so far as to call this stranger my mom's doppelgänger, though. But a lookalike? Yes, perhaps that.

What do you all think?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Apple iTunes Is Really Amazing!

Let me explain my problem with digital music. See, way back in 2002, my wife got me a Dell DJ 20GB HDD music player.

Back then, this was a big deal, as Apple's iPod had only just recently come onto the scene and had not yet revolutionized the way we listened to music. At the time, the majority of us were toting around Compact Disc walkmans and a portfolio of CDs in our obligatory backpacks -- which we'd have to manually exchange whenever we wanted to listen to another album.

Flash music players offered an alternative initially, but the real future of portable music storage would be the compact hard-drive player.

Flash forward to now, and the Apple machine has totally taken over. And its iTunes utility rules the roost. Dell has long since discontinued my version of their music player, but yet I have my entire library on it. It is the only way I have to listen to music. Problem is, after 8 years of continuous use, and at nearly 95% of its total capacity, my Dell DJ is finally ready to kick the bucket. It still works, but earlier this year I must have uploaded the wrong music file because now a good 30% of my .mp3s are either corrupted at the tag level -- or outright deleted. Of the remaining 70%, more than half the music files are copy-protected. Which means, if I were to buy another portable music player, I would need to find the original source for these albums and re-rip them. A major pain in the ass, to say the least.

But, alas, I have had to face reality. The writing was on the wall. Plus, with the fact that I now have a 32GB iPhone 4 mobile, realistically I knew I could port over my entire Dell DJ library and still have room to spare. And since I take my iPhone everywhere I go, I really had no excuse for not using the iPod music function built into it.

Problem is, I resisted having to use iTunes for the longest time. Lisa has had various iPods now over the years. And the few times I've had to deal with iTunes on her behalf was a big headache. iTunes really does take some patience and getting used to, though. A fact I did not realize until I recently made the decision to fully port over my Dell's .mp3 library to Apple's proprietary beast of an interface.

Still, I figured if I'm going to embrace this plan fully, I should do it right.

So over my 2-week Christmas break, I started by purchasing a Western Digital 1TB external hard drive for my home PC.

This thing's a beauty, and runs like a charm! It allows me to free up a ton of space on my existing hard drive, which in turn makes my PC run smoother.

Next, I transferred over as much of my non-protected, but occasionally tag-corrupted, music files from the Dell DJ. Because there is so much tagging confusion going on, it's been a slow process. Sometimes I have to manually open up each file and listen to the music to figure out which song it is. Then I have to research online the exact title, album, artist, year, track number, etc. Sometimes iTunes parses all this information for me from the embedded registry file. Most of the time, it cannot due to the degree of corruption. So I have to enter this information myself.

In the meantime, I've been taking every single CD album Lisa and I own and burning them on our home desktop PC. Now that I have a whopping 1 terabyte of hard drive space to play around with, I no longer have to worry about choking my PC with a blitz of new files. All the music goes immediately to the hard drive, and I've configured iTunes to redirect from there going forward. No longer will it access my PC's pitiful 120GB internal hard drive to play these files.

Burning all these CDs and rebuilding my playlists have been a time-consuming chore. But when all is said and done, I shall have a brand new and non-corrupted music library that totally KICKS ASS! And because it's all on iTunes, it's safe to say I won't be losing company support of my hardware like what Dell did to me. So my music should be totally secure for the next 10 years at least.

That is, until some other new fangled music technology comes about. Maybe everything will exist in the Cloud in a decade's time, and we will no longer need physical drives to store all our media. Who knows?

What I do know is that having all my music on iTunes now has given me a broader appreciation for how nuanced the interface really is.

It seems restrictive and cumbersome to the uninitiated, but actually it offers far more flexibility and moderation than any other music library manager I've dealt with in the past. Better than Dell's standard manager by a long shot. Much better than Musicmatch. And, surprisingly, even superior to Red Chair's "Deubox" utility, which I used to think was, like, GOD for all my file editing needs.

Honestly, iTunes is the SHIT! If you don't think so, you're not using it correctly. Seriously.

My latest squee-worthy discovery? Creating artwork for each of my ripped albums and playlists that iTunes does not already have available.

It's so cool seeing the full-color covers of all my favorite music splash across my iPhone's gorgeous liquid LCD display. It opens up a whole new world to someone who's been dealing with a green, monochromed, text-only display ala the Dell DJ for the past decade. *shudders*

These past few days I've been focusing mostly on rebuilding my gaming soundtracks. And, honestly, I have a LOT of those! All the Final Fantasy games, Actraiser, Altered Beast, Castlevania series, God of War series, Gears of War, F-Zero, Golden Axe, Metal Gear series, etc. It's been a lot of fun porting all those over and getting all the artwork.

So, as you can see, I've fully embraced my new Apple overlord. Sure, I could have gotten a Zune or Archos player or something similar. But, I'm tired of worrying about where my product support will be coming from years down the line. With Apple and its millions upon MILLIONS or rabid, adoring fans who never leave its side -- I at least know I'm dealing with a company that cares about its image and, more importantly, its customers.

I feel like I'm in good hands. And this makes me a very, very happy tech consumer!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back Into Training Mode . . .

Doc: "Faster, Little Mac. Ms. Liberty's watchin!"
Little Mac: "Dammit, Doc -- why'd you have
to buy our training gear at Lady Foot Locker?"

At least, that's what I call it. Now that the holidays are over and done with, and I must return back to the familiar drudgery of my normal work schedule, I'm also mentally shifting back into my super lean, mean, workout mode. I took a little less than 2 weeks off my usual fitness routine, but with all the revelry of Christmas and New Year's Eve behind us now, I can feel my body yearning for a return to discipline.

Yes, you heard me right. I actually *crave* routine, because like most of us I'm a creature of habit.

Unlike most people, however, my workouts are not borne out of guilt of sticking to calendar-based resolutions. I do not do this to look good for swimsuit season, nor to fit into that pair of jeans which has eluded me these past several months. No, I do this for health reasons just to be in great shape. Because I simply cannot abide a body that is not at top physical performance. That's my personal axe to grind with myself.

But, also, recently (over the past month and a half) I've been experimenting with a new diet. And by "diet" I do not intend the more modern misuse of the term, which is as a stand-in for a weight loss regimen. No, my weight is actually fine. Diet in my case simply means a meal course plan to supply my body with the nutrients it needs to survive on a daily basis. My previous diet was already pretty strict, thanks to my own devising. But recently I've begun to explore a new method of distributing calories evenly throughout the day, and not in infrequent lumps that can cause severe sugar spikes and dropoffs.

In other words, rather than eat 3 regular meals a day--and perhaps a late-evening snack when the mood strikes--I've switched to a plan of 6 smaller meals throughout the day and at regularly scheduled intervals. Each meal consists of 150 - 350 calories. None ever exceed more than 400. Each meal is also spaced between 2 and 3 hours apart, with no interval lasting beyond 4 hours.

My ideal intake is 170 calories for my "light" meals, and 320 calories for "normal" meals. In this case, light meals are healthy, high protein snacks in-between normal breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Sometimes I eat less than these amounts. Sometimes I eat a little more. But in the end, I never exceed my total allotted calories for the day.

And, oh yes, I've resorted to keeping track of my calories. Not because I'm obsessive-compulsive about them (I'm really not), but all because of a cool calorie counter app I keep on my iPhone. Because of this baby, I've become hooked on the concept of keeping record of all that I eat. And there's a reason why this a good idea for everyone to do. When you're forced to log in every single amount of food you consume each day, and gradually get into the habit of studying the numbers and charts as each meal is broken down by nutritional value, you'd be surprised how much healthier you force yourself to eat.

For me, personally, it has resulted in cutting out far more fat and carbs than I thought I was already doing. Using the app, I learned that even my normal health-conscious meals needed to be revised. So nowadays I find myself consuming far more lean protein, and a lot less rice and breads.

What this new diet and mobile app has resulted in is a faster metabolism, one that burns calories more efficiently and yet supplies me with just the right amount of fuel to get through my daily workouts. These days, I can actually *feel* my metabolism at work. No, honestly I can. It's amazing.

And as a surprising side affect of this new way of eating, I've learned recently that over the past 7 weeks I've lost 11 pounds! Now, that might not sound like much to you, but realize that I was already at an ideal weight. The upper level of that ideal, sure, but within healthy BMI range all the same. I think what the more frequent meals and high protein approach has resulted in, however, is my body burning more fat despite no major alterations to my workouts. In this sense, the way I eat alone had a profound affect on the way my body stores calories. Somehow I'm getting fitter and leaner without really breaking a sweat.

Well, any more of a sweat than I usually break, I mean.

I'm not going to sit here and espouse a new weight loss secret, however. As someone who was once in a not very good place health-wise, I don't feel like it's my place to tell other people how to go about attaining the bodies they want. However, what I would suggest is that you give serious thought to keeping a calorie log through programs like the one I linked to above. That link might be for the mobile app, but the site the app is developed for -- -- is available for PC users to login their results via any Internet connection.

Check it out for yourself and devise your own calorie plan. Like me, perhaps you'll decide to try for six smaller meals a day. Trust me, you'll be amazed by the results if you do. As for me, starting this first week of the new year I will return to my routine and continue to decrease my overall body fat percentage while increasing lean muscle mass. It was fun taking a short break from super lean, mean workout mode to relax some over the end-of-year break. . . but now I'm back with a vengeance!

Besides, I think I've eaten enough triple chocolate fudge brownies over the holidays to last me a whole 'nother year! :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Solemn Day For Me

Well, here we are. Another New Year's Day. I hope you all had a good time last night and didn't party too hard ushering in 2011.

Lisa and I took it easy. Some people think it's weird that I almost never do anything outrageous or "fun" on New Year's Eve. But then, this has never been the most fun holiday for me. Some of you know why:

My mom, brother Jose, and me on a trolley car
in Virginia Beach, circa 1982.

As usual, this time of year gets me moody thinking about my late mom. I've linked to the long and rather sad story of what happened here in this entry many times before, so click on that if you don't already know the reason for why I tend not to celebrate this time of year too robustly.

Still, I don't wish to be a downer to everyone. So, HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

I don't need to hope that this will be a good year for me, because any year forward is a happy one as far as I'm concerned. I think I've mentioned once or twice before that I'm an optimist, right? Well I am. And I also don't set any resolutions for myself because, to be perfectly honest, motivation has never been difficult for me to muster. If I have a goal, I do it. Plain and simple.

But for all of you who do set New Year's resolutions on this day: Good luck with that. I truly wish ya'll the best in all your endeavors.

Live Long and Prosper!

My mom and newborn me, circa 1976.

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...