Sunday, January 28, 2007

Almost out of Antractica

Everytime I wake up on a day off I evaluate the PoA (Probablility Of Awesomeness) index for that day. Evaluating PoA index accurately is crucial because if a day fails to meet a minumum level of potential awesomeness then I have no choice but to go back to bed. For example, Saturday's PoA index was very low and consequently I spent 17 of 24 hours from that day totally unconscious. However, Sunday held much awesomeness potential so I decided to wake up.

There was much Antarctic experiencing going on that day as I went for a short trip aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea up and down McMurdo Sound. With a little over three weeks left here it was kind of nice to break the routine by getting out away from the station and the airfields. Thanks to the Polar Sea cruise I feel a little recharged and able to tackle the rest of my remaining time at the space station.

After the ship ride I took a tour of Crary mad scientist labratory but I didn't get any pictures of that. The Sunday night science lecture about meteorites in Antractcia was pretty great. All in all it was one of the best days off I've had down here.

Of course there are pictures. I've been pretty behind in updating my Flickr Macrocrania updates here so there's two new pages in the Antarctica Summer '06-'07 set. So check out page nine which features me at work one day when the C-17 came and went. Then see page ten with shots taken aboard the Polar Sea.

The rest of the week for me looks like very low PoA index, but unfortunately I have to be awake for most of it. Snow isn't in the forecast anytime soon so the snowflake project is hurting. I'm almost out of podcasts so my remaining shifts out on the ice will be either very quiet or there will be much singing of songs written by Rob Thomas. Please save me internets!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Important information for Iron Maiden collectors

I want to point out really quick that there is a promo CD out there for "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" that contains a "Rock Club Version" of the song that is a full two minutes shorter than the album version. In case you were wondering what exactly is different between the regular version of the song and the "Rock Club Version", I can tell you that all they did was chop off the first two minutes of the song. There is no other significant difference beyond that. It's not like the Wicker Man CD promo where there was a whole different chorus line than the regular release version of that song. So do with this knowledge what you will. I wish someone had told me that before I bought the 2 track Breeg promo on ebay for $20 (which was a steal considering I've seen it go for $35-$40 US). Not that I wouldn't have bought it, but I would just have liked to known beforehand what the "Rock Club Version" was.


One of the webcomics I love is Shortpacked!, which is more or less about a toy collecting guy who works at a toy store. But it's so much more than that because it examines on a personal level the psychology of someone with a passion for a hobby I somewhat casually engage in. So I find it one of those webcomics where the artist is almost communicating personally with me through their work. It's written and drawn by someone who has a lot of geek credibility in my eyes. I've never really met David Willis aside from seeing him at a Transformer convention here and there, but when I read Shortpacked! I get the feeling we're more or less on the same wavelength when it comes to the whole toy robot thing. HE DOES STRIPS ABOUT GOING TO BOTCON.

So recently one of his characters came out of the closet in his strip and I wrote a response at the strip's blog because I thought that was a pretty significant event and it was being overlooked by the readers. Because you see, instead of functioning as a blog about the events in the Shortpacked! comic, the Shortpacked! blog mostly serves as a place where David and his friends get together to write about what Transformers they bought that day. It kind of sucks because I think the way he writes about his love/hate passion for action figures in his strip is more thought provoking than whatever new toy came out. But whatever. I guess in that situation it's impossible to seperate the two types of commentary.

Jumping into Shortpacked! at this point probably wouldn't grab you because the strip is in the middle of the latest story arc, but if you go back to the strips from 2005 you'll be in for some good reading. Like I say, the strips that focus on the psychology of grown men collecting action figures are my favorite. When I last saw David at a Transformer convention, I bought the raw pencils to my absolute favorite Shortpacked! strip, which demonstrates exactly the kind of writing that really connected with me. At the moment I feel that David has moved away from focusing on those topics I find interesting and I kind of wish that he'd return to that, but hey-it's a strip mostly about being a fan of transforming robots. It would be unfair to expect it not to change.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

We Can't all be Rob Thomas

A webcomic I read recently 'died', its creator quitting it and moving on to other endeavors. His name is Michael Zole and his thoughts on the demise of Death to the Extremist really got me thinking about the nature of success and what it is to have accomplished something. I consider myself an expert on quitting, obscurity and failure, having made no mark or difference in the world and affecting nothing throughout my lifetime. So when I find people writing about giving up dreams and stuff, I'm all up in that.

It is a given that life is essentially pointless, senseless, and devoid of meaning but that doesn't mean you can't go to furry conventions. I consider any self expressive endeavor, no matter how small, a big F.U. in the face of the Scooby Doo costume of hopelessness that is human existence. Sure there's no point to waking up on any given day because we will all die eventually, but in the meantime if you want to go to furry conventions or wear Optimus Prime costumes or make webcomics then I salute you. And if your webcomic is about your adventures at the furry conventions where you cosplayed as Optimus Prime then holy crap send me the link.

To be honest, I wasn't a regular reader of Death to the Extremist. I only went there infrequently but there was one DTE comic called Coin Toss that I thought was pretty profound. So much so that "and I've got a good feeling about tomorrow" is something that floats around in my head and automatically pops up in random thought situations to this day. So when I read that Death to the Extremist ended I thought, fuck, the crushing despair of life claims another victim. I was kind of hoping Mike would have gone on to webcomic fame and fortune with DTE. Heck, I thought he was already there. Actually, I may have a distorted perspective because I just assumed anyone who did more than 100 of anything was succesful.

But what is success really? I thought success was influencing the lives of countless people. At his blog Michael wrote something to effect that if his work touched even some degree of people that he didn't know personally, that was his success. I thought success was being prolific and having an unending supply of boundless creative energies. The great Bruce Dickinson said that some bands only have four good albums in them. I'm just kind of confused right now about what exactly words like 'success' or 'good' mean. Also, 'albums'. I thought being good at something guarenteed success. Michael quitting DTE shocked me because I thought he was meeting all the criteria. He had everything I wish I could have with a webcomic-good layout, lots of good ideas, and actual readers. I just thought DTE was already doing good by my definitions. In in the end I realize I'm not the best judge of what 'good' is. Hell, you know that if you've ever tried reading anything I write.

Michael's definition of success in regards to webcomic readership totally had me reevaluating how I define my own idea of accomplishment. By his definition, I am his success. He got through to me with that one line that haunts my thoughts. But isn't this a lowering of standards by at least some measures? Sure influencing one person is great and all, but who wants to stop at just one or 10 or 500, especially when the more people that 'get' you the more positive encouragement you get? I am assuming things like thousands of vocal supportive fans would have kept DTE alive. But what happens when nobody lets you know you're getting through? I know from experience that a lack of positive support from one's intended audience tends to kill my enthusiasm for my own projects. I guess I am complicit in his decision to give up if that's the case because I never let him know how even that one Coin Toss comic affected me. It is also possible that I am overanalyzing things and the truth is that he just got tired of doing it. But I always prefer the perspective where I am a little bit closer to the center of the universe and my action or inaction influences people and events in several dimensions.

I think I am guilty of romanticizing failure and negativity. I think I am more interested in reading the creative fruit of tormented, conflicted people in depressed or downtrodden states. That's probably why I love the Declarative Sparrows and Porn Addict blogs and The Fart Party webcomic. Judging by how many people leave comments on those sites I know I'm not alone in that. Failure is sexy. I think these interesting blog writers and webcomic artists accept their personal melancholy, define themselves by it and the resulting creative work is so real to me I wish I could express myself like that. DTE never really concentrated on themes of angst and depression, though, so I don't know where the hell I was going with this paragraph.

I was surprised the day that I found out that Rob Thomas, Jeffrey Rowland and I are only about a year apart in age. I consider them huge successes and people I wish I was instead. I see them and I think-hey, they made it by now so why did my life end up being a more colossal disaster than when that meteorite devastated South Atalia Island? So I draw all these parallels between myself and other guys in the same age bracket. But aside from being male and sexy and in our early 30's, we really have nothing else in common career wise because Rob Thomas and Jeffrey Rowland didn't a) join Air Force, b) end up in Antarctica or c) waste their potential making all the wrong decisions in life like I did. MESSAGE TO ROB THOMAS AND JEFFREY ROWLAND: You were smart dudes who got it right! Good job!

So while the loss of Death to the Extremist makes my bulb somewhat dimmer, here's congratulations to Micheal Zole for achieving his personal definition of success. Also, thanks for making me think twice about what my own ideas of success are. Maybe I can find some measure of self worth in knowing that I am part of the internet validation process that makes other people feel successful. That admittedly is a somewhat low standard to measure one's sense of accomplishment by. But it's the only thing I've come up with so far today. And I've got a good feeling about tomorrow.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Silver Balls

I listen to a lot of podcasts, hence the list of podcast pages on the right of this page. While I'm down here in Antarctica I can't download podcasts due to bandwidth restrictions imposed on me by the computer people. Fair enough. So my sister rips all my favorite podcasts to DVDs and sends them to me. One night a few weeks back while I was at work I was listening to Big Kev's Geek Stuff and I wrote them an email about how I was a fan of their show and I mentioned where I am now. Well they thought that was cool and as I was listening to episode 38 of their show last night, they mentioned me! Well sort of-they kept calling me "that guy in Antarctica" and Kev goofed on how I was probably the last person in the world who saw the latest Fantastic Four 2 trailer. How can you not love Big Kev? I just about fell off my chair laughing it was so cool. So big ups to Kev, Matt and Mr. Fantastic and thanks for making a show that helps me pass the time down here.

I have just a few quick updates to Flickr Macrocrania. There's like 8 new pictures in the Antarctic Summer '06-'07 set at the bottom of page 8. I also made a new album named Antractic Plastic with pictures of me and toy robots in Antarctica, most notably Tarmac the traveling Transformer. Oh, and Lotor shows up, too.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anuncio de periódico a partir hace de 20 años de la semana-Autobot cars

KMart 23 September 1984
Although my mom and dad are native spanish speakers and I grew up on the border (El Paso, Texas), there was a strong emphasis on english in our house growing up. It was very important that my sister and I be fluent with english speaking and writing. So strong was the english I dare say I grew up a bit ashamed of my mexican heritage. But I didn't let that stop me from watching cartoons on spanish television channels, which often had a wider variety than what the english stations had.

In terms of english television when I grew up there were only three main networks plus the local UHF channel that ran syndicated cartoons. Then you had a buttload of spanish television on the upper UHF channels. What kind of sucked was that when the Transformers cartoon first aired, no english television stations carried it. It was only on spanish television that I was able to get that show. Consequently my first memories of the voices of the characters are very different from what the average english speaking kid in the US grew up with. To this day I can do a spot on impression of spanish Optimus Prime. That came in useful during this past Botcon when I got to demonstrate what he sounded like to some japanese friends.

I was very aware that the Transformers were a United States centric property and the proper canon was the english media. Although I was watching the show in spanish I still felt like my cartoon experience wasn't as 'real' as that of people who got the cartoon in english. I felt like the spanish dubs were a substandard way of experiencing the fantasy. So although I was missing out on the 'real' english cartoons I kept up with the comics and those became my primary source of 'authentic' Transformer entertainment. I should have just been happy to be experiencing the cartoon at all.

Campbell Supply 30 October 1984The Transformers cartoon was already well past the second season when Family Home Entertainment released VHS tapes of the first season TF episodes. I think they started popping up in stores in late 1985. All that was available at the local Winn's store was SOS Dinobots, Roll For It, and Transport to Oblivion. I was so happy to finally have the chance to see the cartoon in english. I watched my F.H.E. tape of SOS Dinobots like five billion times although I had already seen it several times in spanish dub repeats.

My dad would take me to Juarez, Mexico to get my haircut as a little boy. After the haircut we'd go to the little mexican retail stores and it was there that numerous times I'd see the IGA licensed Transformers. To me they were little better than knockoffs because of their spanish packaging and numerous coloring errors. What stuck out in my mind especially strong were how Prowl's doors said 'Policia' instead of 'Police' as they did on the Hasbro version and how bizarrely colored some of the minibots were. To some collectors mexican TFs are highly sought after nowadays, so do I regret shunning them because I was so US centric as a kid? Not really. Considering how badly I treated my toys it's probably for the best that I never owned (which in my case means "destroyed") some rare mexican variant TF. But I do remember them and my negative attitude towards non-english versions of toys at the time.

Hardware Hank 30 October 1984

Nowadays, outside of Japan Transformers aren't packaged with text that's exclusively in the language of the country that they're marketed in. It's all either multilingual packaging or plain english. So it did kind of suck to me when I was in Germany or Turkey or wherever else in Europe and I couldn't get souvenier TFs with totally foreign language packaging like I could when I was a kid. So much for second chances. I noticed that all Turkey gets in regards to native language packaging is an occasional lame sticker on the box written in Turkish that says the toy has sound effects. Maybe this is why Transformers aren't as popular with kids in non-english speaking countries. I know the selection of TFs in the average US WalMart or UK Toys R Us is always light years beyond what stores have in other countries (with the exception of Japan, of course). Maybe Japan, the US and the UK all have wider selections (and possibly larger fanbases?) because Transformers are packaged in the dominant language of those countries.

How to Save (what used to be) a Snowflake for Decades

My blog's popularity peaked when I participated in that bizarre WalMart Nazi shirt meme. But I don't want that to be my online legacy, especially since my mom wasn't happy to see my picture online associated with an evil empire that oppressed millions of people. So I'm kind of scrambling to do something online that'll impress her by distancing myself from WalMart. Then I found this article from Popular Science about how to preserve snowflakes for eternity and I thought, hell-there's gotta be a way to leverage this snowflake collecting into positive internet fame. Because I tell you, putting condoms on ATATs ain't exactly endearing me to my mom.

But wait! You say, "Isn't Anarctrica technically a desert with very little to no precipitation?" That's true only if you are far inland, nearer 90 degrees south latitude. I'm living at McMurdo Space Station, which is on Dinobot Island at 77 degrees south latitude. McMurdo is far enough from the pole to still get some weather, although it never rains here and the clouds are incapable of producing thunder and lightning. Antarctic clouds are the atmospheric equivalent of erectile disfunction. What we do get occasionally by way of precipitation is snow. Buttloads and buttloads of beautiful mom pleasing, exotic Antarctic snowflakes, hopefully awesome enough to get me noticed on DigBoing or Farkfark or whatever site is popular with internet compatible cool people.

So deceptively simple is the procedure described by the Popular Scientists that I figured I could do it with a minimum of collateral damage to myself and Antarctica. It seemed no more difficult than my science fair projects in grade school. The only problem was that I didn't have the required microscope slides, slide covers and super glue. Although I live on the largest Antarctic research facility in the galaxy and there's shit tons of microscope stuff like that at Crary Mad Scientist Lab, unfortunately I do not have access to Crary because neither the National Science Foundation nor NASA consider me a) popular or b) a scientist. They must have heard about all the lame crap I entered into the science fairs in grade school. Their resources understandably go to somewhat more important scientific research like finding the Savage Land and getting all the Kryptonite from Mount Erebus.

Once my wife sent me the necessary materials (Thanks Shanda!), I went for it. I waited for the snow and I tried catching snowflakes on a slide. I'm currently still trying with mixed results, so what I would like to highlight here are some of the problems I have had that other people may encounter when they first try saving snowflakes. Although the project is rated super easy by the Popular Scientists, don't feel bad if you try it and it doesn't exactly work the first time. There are a few things the article doesn't address that complicate the process a bit but I think there are workarounds to some of these issues and at least knowing about them may fend off some frustration anyone has with the process. Maybe it's easy if you're a popular scientist?

First off, snow doesn't fall straight down. It blows around a lot. On windy days with very light snow it's nearly impossible to get flakes to land on the slides. Forget about doing it on days when the snowfall is best described as "a flake an acre". But there shouldn't be problems when the snowfall is decent. Snow trajectory is also a concern because the surface area of a microscope slide is pretty small-it's like 2.5 centimeters wide by 7 centimeters long. Even smaller is the area of a cover slide, which is what I have to put on top of the flakes once they land on the slide. What I am unclear on is whether or not the intention of the article is to capture one snowflake or multiple flakes on a single slide. In order to maximize my success I try to let as many flakes as possible fall on the slide, but this takes time and depending on the rate of fall of your snow, that can be tricky because by the time you get a decent number of flakes, some may have begun melting already.

The second and perhaps worst problem I've encountered is that snow down here falls in clumps. This is the single biggest obstacle to my success. Instead of nice individual flakes, I get huge clumps of multiple flakes smashed together. I never thought about this before and I have found no workaround to this problem. A continuous fall of nice individual flakes is surprisingly rare down here. But I don't give a crap and I just put drops of superglue on the clumps and we'll see what happens once the slides are ready.

Third problem is that I SWEAR SUPERGLUE FREEZES. They don't mention that in the article. In fact, they say keeping it chilled at -20 is ideal, but my experience is running somewhat contrary to what they're saying. I don't think keeping superglue in your freezer is a good idea. I say leave it outside somewhere so that it gets as cold as the outdoor temperature when it's snowing. You also don't have to freeze your slides beforehand. Leave them outside, too. It's good enough. You'll be ready when the flakes that fall on your slides don't melt, which only takes about 20 minutes or so. But do not let them get so covered in snow that you lose sight of them. A clear glass slide is hellaciously difficult to find once you've lost it.

Fourth problem is that the slide covers may not lay flat on the slides, usually because of some sort of contamination like dust or dirt specks. Make absolutely sure the slide covers are clean before you put them on the slides because if they're not, you'll experience what I call 'lifting' where the slide cover won't stay flush with the slide. The more you push it down the more likely it is that you'll damage the snowflakes.

The final thing I don't quite understand about the process as outlined in the article is that the slides need to stay frozen for two weeks(!) after the flakes are captured. It doesn't seem reasonable because unless you live in Antarctica, at some point you have to bring the slides into the house to put them in the freezer. That brief warmth from going inside can be enough to melt the flakes. So what I did was wait two days before bringing them inside. We'll see if it worked.

In the end I think practice and repetition will yield good results. At this point I think I'm saving partially melted and mangled snowclump carcasses instead of actual snowflakes, but I'm still trying. While you would think doing this in Antarctica would be ideal, I think I'll have more success once I get back to South Dakota, where winter brings a lot more snow. Even if none of this worked I did have a good time trying. If I get even one good Antarctican snowflake it'll all be worth it. From the bizarre patterns I've seen on my slides so far I'm guessing there's at least something interesting to look at on them.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Better (Antractic) Bloggers than Me

I am getting a few emails asking why I don't concentrate on writing about my Antactric experiences and instead spend so much time writing about toy robots and Skeletor. Well this is because I live my life like Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine, wandering the snowy Antarctic wastelands like a solitary hermit and fighting Sandpeople while practicing the Force. I am quite aware that there are tons of more social and interesting Antarcticans doing a great job of documenting their human interactions and other fantastic uplifting experiences on their Antarctic blogwebs. So what I want to do is point out places on intertron where you can get a good picture of what it's like to be down here and be all friendly and shit.

So check out the following three blogs-they are guarenteed to be the most interesting and wonderful Antractic sites made by beautiful people doing fantastic things. They will fill your compruter screen with breathtaking images of sexy penguins and they'll tell you heartbreaking tales of love and pretty rainbows. Because you know, baby Jesus loves all teh pretty rainbows.

Sandwich Girl is somwhat of a McMurdo celebrity (at least in my eyes). When I first heard I'd be working down here, hers was the first good Antarctic blog I found. The realness and humanity of her writing was comforting to me. She's here now, or at least someone who looks a lot like her is.

Greg McQuoid was one of my coworkers. He's still here and his Antarctic blogging is fun to read.

I just think this guy's writing is interesting and it's worth reading. I see him a lot around the station.

Antarctic Mike is not here now but he wintered over in 2005 and wrote some good stories.

By the way, there's new pictures up at Flick Macrocrania in the Antarctica Summer '06-'07 album. Check out pages seven and eight.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Groceries of the Damned

I have to relate this all before it erases from my memory in 24 hours as all my memories eventually do. I dreamt I was living on the bottom floor of some sort of apartment or small room and it's really dark because it is night time. There is some light from the streetlight nearby and it makes everything slightly glow but I dream mostly in black, white, and shades of grey so everything is still like grey wash even when illuminated brightest.

So I'm in my dark apartment crouching on the ground and all the blinds are pulled shut when I'm peeking out them and I notice a shadowy figure on top of one of the adjacent buildings about two blocks away, carrying his groceries. Why he is carrying his groceries on the roof of the apartment building is not clear to me so I keep watching him. Then I am aware of another person in the room with me and they say, "That guy with the groceries-It's Skeletor!" And I'm like, "HOLY CRAP IT IS SKELETOR! HAND ME THE SNIPER RIFLE!"

Skeletor and his groceries really stuck out because that was the only part of the dream that was in full color. His blue suit and the brown paper bags stood out in stark contrast to the dark grey wash lighting of the rest of my dream.

Why my first inclination was to grab the sniper rifle is beyond me. I guess that ever since I met Darth Vader I have been wary of evil superstars of my childhood. So whoever it was in the room with me hands me the sniper rifle and the next thing I know I'm looking through the scope, aiming at Skeletor and his groceries. For some reason I remmebered the M-16 training I got in Air Force (or was it the owner's manual to Rebel Strike on Gamecube?) about how you have to "lead the target". That means you have to not shoot at exactly where your target is now, but a little bit ahead because that's where it will be when the bullet meets up with it. So I'm aiming and aiming and finally I shoot, but all i do is shoot the bottoms off the grocery bags and all the groceries fall out!

Then Skeletor turns and looks straight at me even though he's two blocks away and like five stories up and he's got this really pissed off look on his face. He just stands there, his chest heaving with his groceries all falling out of his bags, kind of shocked but mostly pissed off at the same time. I can tell he's mad because he doesn't let go of the grocery bags. He just clutches them tighter and tighter to his chest as he stews with rage and I'm thinking, "Oh crap can he see me through the blinds?" YES HE CAN.

So then Skeletor pulls out his own sniper rifle and starts going to town on me and my windows. It's a fierce sniper rifle battle with all sorts of glass breaking and debris flying and loud noises and all hell breaking loose. It is really intense. He has me pinned and I notice he's not only shooting at me, but he's left the roof of the apartment building and he's coming for me on foot! I then lose sight of him and I've run out of bullets! Then everything goes quiet and for some reason I open the front door to my apartment and peek out the corner. SKELETOR IS THERE AND HE HAS BULLETS STILL!

So Skeletor is shooting at me like crazy but luckily my front door is made of bulletproof glass. But it makes little difference because he's just walking right up to me, sniper rifle blazing and he's about to kick my ass. Then at the exact second that he's right on me and all the bulletproof glass from my door shatters, I stick out my hand in slow motion and with one smooth, fluid, ninja-like gesture, I stick my hand in his mouth and grab his spinal cord through his skull and rip off the top part of his head! Whoa! IT WAS THE COOLEST DREAM EVER!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Boats and Buses and Blades OH MY

PAGE SEVEN of Antractica Summer '06-'07 is up, featuring all sorts of flying, floating and fast and furious vehicles made of various materials including cardboard.

Better coping through 4-bit gaming, plus robots

I know I used this picture already.Oftentimes I am asked by my fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Macrocrania-"Evil King Macrocranios, how can I do what you have done-how can I become the mexican Luke Skywalker?" Well it's not easy. First you have to learn to look beyond your current state of abject failure and mind numbing mediocrity to see the tangled mess of emotional baggage you have become. Then you have to take all your negativity and self loathing and rip it from the hopelessly scrambled Rubik's Cube of your mind and you gotta solve that cube-you gotta get all those feelings in the right places and align them like multicolored Rubik squares. You gotta solve your brain. Only then can you begin living your life the way Luke Skywalker wants you to.

In 1993 the owner's manual to my brain was published by Defiant comics in the guise of a comic book called Dark Dominion. In it, the fears that plague men's minds were given form, and those forms were ugly leech looking monsters that only the character Michael Alexander could see. Michael could see the self destructive thoughts that each person had as if they were demons consuming people as they went along with their lives. Since this was a sci-fi fantasy superhero story, Michael's power was that he could rid each person of their demons and I envied the characters freed from the tortures of their own personal hells. Reading the book gave me a new perspective on my own self doubts and fears. Seeing emotional negativity literally eat away at men's souls helped me understand an important lesson about life-that Dark Dominion was a damn good comic book.

But you don't have to read old comics from 1993 to get a grip on your life. You can pull the essential weapons in your war against self loathing out of all sorts of places. Once I understood how to look at video games and cartoons as more than just diversions from a life I wanted to escape, they became powerful coping mechanisms that helped me battle the very problems that made me want to run away. People who consider video games and other pop culture entertainment nothing more than mindless distractions are not seeing the power of those mediums to change the lives of mentally unstable persons like myself. I do not use Tetris to run from my problems, I use Tetris to confront them. I turn my problems into Donkey Kong and then I beat Donkey Kong's ass.

No one video game is more responsible for my transformation to weather observer stud wonderboy than Tetris is. Tetris is the game where you get points for arranging little falling blocks that henceforth I will refer to as "tetrads" because I read the manual. One thing they don't tell you in the manual is that Tetris is not at all about falling blocks-it's about each man's battle to come to terms with their horrible shameful past.

Each falling tetrad in my interpretation represents a shame, regret, or anxiety. One tetrad could be the argument you had with your boss that made her cry. One could be the shame you felt over being attracted to your hot cousin and your frequent masturbation sessions where you visualize hot cousin sex. Or worse, a tetrad could represent regret over not being an early adopter of high definition television technologies. The falling tetrads are whatever bizarre mental fetish dramas you want them to represent. When you place the tetrads in such a way that they form rows and dissapear, that represents the mental resolution of particular anxieties. The lesson being that if you don't come to terms with each little emotionaly embarrasing thing, then your brain will lock up like a solid wall of bricks. So I don't call it "Tetris", I call it "Peace of Mind Head War".

You can only play Tetris for so long and then you have to watch robot cartoons. When one of the opposing forces in a cartoon battle resembles a large sphere, I instinctually gravitate towards the side with the ball shape because big round things remind me of my head. So it's my head personified by the big round thing against the other armies attacking it, which represent my anxieties. In the case of The Transformers: The Movie from 1986, the big battle at the end has a giant satanic looking robot named Unicron trying to eat the entire planet of Cybertron. Cybertron was very nice and round like my head. The movie includes fantastic imagery of this big Unicron robot punching and clawing the planet Cybertron with his enormous robot hands as he tries to devour it. Ultimately he is defeated when one of the citizens of Cybertron named Rodimus Rod opens up a little box called the Matrix, which is like crystal meth to Unicron and then he blows up.

To me Unicron represents the one huge mind fuckingly horrible event in a person's life that eats away at them daily, threatening their sanity and very existence. It could be the death of the friend who got you into Iron Maiden, the car accident where you ran over the fire hydrant, getting inappropriately touched by penguins or not getting Playstation on the day it came out. Whatever it is, that's your Unicron. You gotta open up the matrix on its ass or else it will consume you. (On a related note, in high school I lettered in gymnastics. Specifically, the pommel horse. I did not do the floor dance because that was a little too effeminate for me. When I would finish my routine on the manly pommel horse I would do a gay little motion that emulated Rodiumus Rod opening up the matrix. Most people confused my little nerdy display for me imitating Hulk Hogan ripping off his shirt. But whatever, in my mind it was an awesome victory celebration. I stayed virginal all throughout high school.)

Thanks to the uplifting inspirations I have gained from comics and various electronic entertainments I decided not to kill myself as a teenager, but later on when I am 50. It's a success story, I know. Perhaps no other Megadeth song lyric resonated with me more than when Dave Mustaine sang "The only way out of pain is to run through it, man." While not quite as eloquently put as Dave Mustaine, podcaster Mick Aloha said "I can't promise it'll get better, but it'll get better". This is what I have learned from 32 years of digital entertainment. You gotta solve your Rubik's cubes, you gotta beat Donkey Kong's ass and you gotta open the matrix on all your problems. Your homework now as a citizen of the Kingdom of Macrocrania, dear reader, is to play Game Boy Tetris, buy all of Megadeth's albums, and listen to the Moon Masters podcast. Not because I said so, but because Luke Skywalker wants you to.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Real Estate Assassin Tourists from 2038 Can't Get Here Fast Enough

KMart 30 October 1979When I was five I really really wanted to have super powers. I tried doing everything those hero freaks in the movies and cartoons did. I would close my eyes and lift my hands up in deep concentration, believing I could use the force to raise my dog off the ground. My mom saw me doing this once and she thought I was pretending to be a blind little boy with a seeing eye dog so I got grounded. I tried sticking to walls like Spider-Man but that never worked and I fell down a lot from high places like the sofa. Although I wanted to jump off the roof and fly like Superman, I knew that wouldn't work because I was sure his powers came from his red cape and I didn't have one. Then after reading X-Men comics I realized my superpowers wouldn't manifest themselves until I was a young teenager because that's just how it worked in the Marvel Universe (which is apparently where I thought I lived). I waited in anticipation for my 13th birthday.

My teenage years came and went and I never got useful mutant powers like bone claws or running. Thankfully my imagination was extremely useful in deluding myself and I came to believe I had the ability to detect time travellers. Once I came up with that psychotic belief my life became wonderous and exciting and although I was a little bit paranoid about who those time travellers were and what they wanted, it was cool knowing I was a mutant. I guess the key to happiness for me was the ability to confuse subtle mental instabilities for ambiguous super mutant powers.

Have you ever thought that you saw a person or group of persons that seemed out of place? Like at some random point in your everyday routine you spot somebody that doesn't quite fit within the context of the place you are? I see people like that all the time. They trip me out because they seem to be observing me and they have this obvious way of diverting their eyes once I've noticed them. I have this theory that these guys are time travellers from the year 2038 and they're either a) tourists on a budget, b) suicidal assassins, or c) real estate agents running email spam operations. It is also possible they could be any combination of the three. I understand I don't really have useless super powers but I enjoy some mildly delusional thinking like this on occasion. I like to think I'm not crazy, I'm just giving crazy a test drive.

I've thought a lot about why tourists from the future would come to see me. If you could go back in time as a tourist I guarentee you'd want to experience great moments in history like the Gettysburg address or the moon landing or when Yoda lifted the X-Wing out of the swamp. But if I was running the time travel store, those would be the vacation packages I'd charge the most for. Consequently these budget minded tourists I see everywhere have picked packages on the more affordable side of things. If you wanted to observe some other random moment in the life of Lincoln or Neil Armstrong or Yoda the cost would be much less. So I think they've picked me to observe before I became famous for doing something incredible, which apparently happens in the future. Otherwise they wouldn't be paying good money to travel back in time just to see me walking to the gas station on a porn run.

It is also possible that I do nothing great in the future, which, looking at my life now, seems REALLY REALLY LIKELY. What's scary is that a lot of times I see these out of place future people that look like older versions of myself. Possibly I do something bad in the future that shames my family, like moving to Canada. In that case I think the time travellers are probably me or my children looking to kill me before I really blow it and make the future generations of my family Canadian. My dad tells me of my great-great grandfather, Portfolio De Anda, who lived with the other affluent De Andas in Mexico but who got bored with the life of luxury so he headed off to America and abandonded the family fortune to seek a life of travel and adventure. What an idiot! His wanderlust doomed me to my crappy existence now. I could be a rich corrupt Mexican policeman or something great like that. I should soo go back in time and beat his desperado ass right at the border.

2038 can't get here fast enoughOr judging from the spam I get, the future people are real estate agents from the year 2038. I've already written about those nutcases sending me mortgage refinancing emails although I don't own a house now. Apparently in the future, mortgage refinancing is a more lucrative business than tourism based time travel. It makes no sense but I'll admit I don't have it all worked out exactly. I don't have all the answers. This is how I know I'm not totally a paranoid schizo, but hot damn, 2038 can't get here fast enough for me to find out.

Without having actually talked with a future person, I've deduced just from their very existence that in the future I have a) done something fantastic b) shamed my family worse than this blog does already or c) put down money on a house. It is also possible I have done some combination of the three. I've decided that I will put my theories to the test and confront those future people the next time I see them. It's about time I try to leverage my future fame into some personal favors with the tourists. If I suspect they're assassins, I will hand them a little red cape and say "You know what to do." If they knowlingly nod then all of my suspicions will be validated in that instant as I fade from existence. But if I find myself in the likely scenario where the total stranger I've confronted is freaking out and looking at me like I'm some sort of weirdo, a different truth will be revealed and I swear I will scream "STOP SENDING ME THE SPAMS!"

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Antractic Again

FLickr Macrocrania gets updated with Page 6 of Antarctica Summer '06-'07. This round features a penguin picture or two, me out at Pegasus and the arrival of the Swedish Icebreaker Oden.

Friday, January 05, 2007

28 years ago in a Sears far, far away...

Mills Drugstore 05 December 1978
Mills Drugstore 05 December 1978
The first celebrity I ever met in my life was Spider-Man, who did a signing at KMart in 1979 when I was five. I remember he signed a copy of the Amazing Spider-Man comic for me. In hindsight it's pretty stupid to have a copy of Amazing signed by Spider-Man because that devalues the book by about 5,000 percent. But as a kid I didn't think about it from that perspective. This is one of the reasons I cringe when I think about the fate of all the toys I had when I was a kid. Even when I thought I was taking care of my childhood possessions I was doing really really stupid things to them.

'79 was a celebrity studded extravaganza for me because I also got to meet Darth Vader that year. My parents took me and my sister to Sears for one of those in-store events where there was a "special appearance" by Darth Vader. At first I was all excited to meet him because Darth Vader was a couple steps up the celebrity ladder from Spider-Man. Hell, he was the top rung of awesome because although the Death Star was all blowed up in '79, he was technically still presiding evil king of the universe. When I got wind of what was going on I was sooo hyped up excited. So was my sister, who was a year younger than me but about 200 times more brave.

Midland Mercantile 05 December 1979
Midland Mercantile 05 December 1979

We got to Sears a little bit before Vader made his appearance and this gave us time to see that the employees totally pimped out the Sears toy section in grand Star Wars style. There were tons and tons of Star Wars figures and spaceships and crap. It was fantastic. The selection towered above me (which wasn't too hard to do because I wasn't much taller than the box the Millenium Falcon came in). I swear it seemed as if they had Star Wars toys for miles. In actuality it was probably just two four foot sections plus an endcap, but when I was five even that much was a vast endless supply of bounty stretching far beyond the limits of human comprehension.

Mills Drugstore 09 December 1979
Mills Drugstore 09 December 1979
So then it's Vader time and the other children and parents crowded around the small stage the Sears employees set up. There were smoke machines going off and then the guy dressed up as Vader came out and the kids got in line to meet him. I was so excited. I could not believe this was happening, me being all ate up about Star Wars as I was. Then it was my turn to shake hands with the galaxy's most twisted master of evil himself. I don't remember much about what happened because shortly after I came face to face with him I passed out from fright. There is a polaroid snapshot my mom took that shows the moment I began crying because I was so scared shitless. Also I peed myself. This was apparently amusing to all the other children and parents because everyone is laughing in the photo, including my four year old sister. I think this painful event in my life is why I am in Antarctica right now 27 years later, still trying to outrun the shame.

Sears 13 December 1979
Sears 13 December 1979

Well once I regained consiousness and the bad Vader man was far far away, my dad tried to make me feel better and he told me I could pick any toy I wanted from the Star Wars aisle. He wasn't too happy when I picked the Millenium Falcon because it was like thirty bucks. But he got that for me and my sister got the 12 inch Princess Leia doll (which I secretly wanted too). I just wanted to grab my Millenium Falcon and get the hell out of there, away from the laughing employees and cruel other children and that bastard Darth Vader. But as we were driving home in the family van I opened the Falcon and discovered it was missing a piece, namely the little blue seat in the gunner's turret. My mom was insistent that we return to the store and exchange it for a complete Falcon but I didn't ever want to go back there and I think my pants were still wet. I guess me pleading "NO NO MOMMY" a billion times wasn't enough to get her to forgive crappy Kenner quality control. We went back to the store and got another Falcon. Or at least my mom and my sister did while I cowered in the back corner of the van and wept uncontrollably while I combed Princess Leia's beautiful Star Puffs hairdo.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

R2-D2 is Birth Control and other Lessons from Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Stikes Back was the very first movie I saw in an indoor theater as a kid back in 1980. Before 1980 my dad would take us to the drive in and that's the way I saw the first Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the greatest movie ever, Laserblast. I was six years old when ESB came out. Six years old was a magical age when I was old enough to understand that the sequences of events in movies were connected and the larger whole of those sequences was a story. At five years old I really had no concept of continuity. At five years old every movie I saw I percieved as a wild series of explosions caused by talking dinosaur aliens in UFOs blowing things up (which coincidentally explains in a nutshell the greatness that is Laserblast).

At six years old I could make judgements about whether or not I liked characters in movies, and with Empire I decided that Ben Kenobi was a big dweeb. Up until that point Ben Kenobi gave desert hermits a good reputation in my boy mind. Growing up in El Paso meant I saw lots of strange old men in the desert when I was walking to first grade. Thanks to Star Wars I was not afraid of wandering desert vagabonds. But then I fell out of love with that liar Ben Kenobi halfway through watching Empire and thus began my rivalry with the desert people that continues to this day.

As a kid I was aware that adults were constantly lying to me about important things like Santa Claus and baby creation but I felt that no matter what, I could believe in the internal consistency of the story of the Force and Luke Skywalker. I identified with Luke so hard because we had the same haircut and we were both from Tatooine. Star Wars didn't try to convince you that it happened, unlike the Santa Claus crapola that they embellish with actual earth locations and technologies that really existed like the North Pole and flying reindeer. It was easier for me to emotionally invest in a story like Star Wars because there was no expectation that I believed any of this crap actually happened. I'm glad Star Wars let ME decide if it was true or not and at six years old I concluded that it did. But even at that age I figured that the legend of Santa Claus was a total crock of shit.

Then Darth Vader drops the bomb and it turns out Luke's dad is not dead and Ben Kenobi is a big liar. Adults in real life had lost all credibility with me and now adults in Star Wars World where I spent most of my time were at least suspect. From the moment Darth Vader revealed the horrible truth, I decided he was the only trustworthy person left in the galaxy, which is something I still believe to this day. My mind reeling from the possibility that Star Wars could be a fictional story made up by some guy, I decided to try to salvage any sort of truth I could from the fragments of my childhood that lay shattered in the wake of that desert bum Kenobi's multiple reality disorder.

This makes total sense from a certain point of view.So if Star Wars didn't mean what it meant, then what did it mean? After Return of the Jedis when Kenobi said you can make up crap to fit your point of view, it dawned on me that Empire Strikes back could have whatever meaning I wanted it to. I in no way am implying that Lucas intended my views as the only possible interpretations of the characters and events in Empire, but I do think that approaching from a subjective reality standpoint yields certain alternative interpretations of ESB's themes. All of this may not be canon, but interpretation is entirely supported as suggested by Ben Kenobi's "certain point of view" speech in Return of the Jedis. In fact, if you wanted to stay true to the spirit of Kenobi's argument you are almost obligated as a fan to come up with the most batshit crazy interpretation of Star Wars that you can. So in light of Ben's unraveling of the story's credibility, the only salvageable lessons I get from Empire Strikes Back are that girls are furry, angry monsters and masturbation will turn you into a robot.

So here's miscellaneous hidden meanings and lessons behind many of the events in Empire Strikes Back. You don't even have to try very hard to see it my way. A lot of this just pops out at you once you realize that many of the characters are metaphors for venereal disease and masturbation.

What I have figured out is that Luke and Han are the only characters that represent actual human people like me. The other characters are all abstractions of intrapersonal relationships or they represent women. For example, as the film opens Luke is riding a Tauntaun and he gets attacked by a Wampa monster. In my interpretation the Tauntaun represents his hoochie girlfriend and the Wampa is a wife or jealous other girlfriend. So Luke in essence is caught riding a hoochie by his wife, who then proceeds to knock him out. So she takes both of them to her cave and she starts eating the Tauntaun, which admittedly is hard to make fit in my analogy but it drives home the lesson of this scene, which is that bitches be hatin'. Don't get caught messing around! So then Han comes around and saves Luke by stuffing him inside Han's own tauntan. This noble act reflects an admirable sharing of girlfriends that really does happen in real life. Lesson? Bros before Hos. If your friend gets kicked out of his cave by his jealous woman, you have to be a man and share your tauntaun.

Again, this is totally logical from a certain point of view.I think the battle of Hoth with the big ATAT and the snowspeeders is a portrayal of each man's fight against venereal disease. The snowspeeders are those germs that make herpes and the ATATs are penises. If you wear your 'armor' on your ATAT it will be too strong for the 'blasters' of the herpes snowspeeders. Plus the lasers from the ATATs are spermies. You need the condoms to keep the spermies from reaching the power generator. So the condom is protective on a number of levels. Lesson? If the herpes gets you the head of your ATAT explodes. I don't know for sure if that's true because it's been a long time since I've had herpes.

R2-D2 I think can be seen as the hobbies and interests a nerd has throughout his life that he proudly shows off with outward displays of geekiness. It could be wearing Star Wars shirts or costumes or sharing your blog where you write about your collection of toy robots, but whatever you do that belies your enthusiasm for geeky things is your personal R2-D2. Never show a woman your R2-D2 if you intend to hit that. Notice how C-3P0 takes R2-D2 everywhere with him at the beginning of Empire and is rejected by girl robots. No girl robots are anywhere to be seen. It is only after R2 leaves with Luke that C-3P0 starts making genuine female robot contacts like that silver girl robot in Cloud City. Once Luke starts hanging out with R2 all his luck goes right down the crapper the whole rest of the movie. At first Princess Leia is all kissing him and then he gets R2 and his life turns to crap. This is perhaps the most important lesson of Empire Strikes Back, that R2-D2 is birth control. When I say birth control I mean you will never have to worry about getting anyone pregnant if you constantly remind everybody what a big dork you are.

Having decided to carry R2D2 around, Luke finds himself learning stuff from Yoda. Yoda is obviously supposed to be porn and Dagobah is the bathroom. I figure the Force is the mysterious chemical reaction in your pants that gives you a hard weiner. You can learn a lot from Yoda about the Force but you will be all alone in the bathroom a lot. It will just be you by yourself fighting your Darth Vader in the tree. Darth Vader is a metaphor for masturbation. I am so sick of Darth Vader and all the fist shaking and other hand gestures he does that are reminiscent of masturbatory technique. So he gets the wank metaphor. When Luke fights him in the tree it is his victory against wanking. But that victory would be short lived. At Cloud City Luke tries valiantly to fight Vader but in the end of the movie when he's on that plank and Vader is bearing down on him Luke learns a powerful lesson. And that lesson is masturbation takes your right hand. Ultimately Luke gets a robot hand, which is sort of a 21st century take on the idea that masturbation will make you go blind. In Star Wars, masturbation turns your hand into a robot. And that's the only reason Star Wars is better than Laserblast.

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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.