Watch City Festival 2013 and food outings

On Saturday, 11 May 2013, Janice and I met Beruk A. and Ken G. for the annual Watch City Festival in Waltham, Mass. We also ran into other acquaintances at the steampunk fair.

Beruk chatted with various exhibitors and fellow attendees, and Ken took pictures of people in neo-Victorian garb. Unlike past years, Janice and I tried to attend more panels and performances. It was interesting to see an academic track at the “Author’s Den.”

We sat in on “Ay-leen the Peacemaker’s” (Diana M. Pho’s) panel on “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana.” Her discussion of the multicultural aspects of the burgeoning subculture was interesting, and I was glad that Avatar: Legend of Korra was among the many works she cited. Exploration of social issues is part of the “punk” in steampunk.

We enjoyed a little of Shin Daiko’s drumming as we went to Margarita’s for lunch. We then browsed a bit among the vendors on the Waltham Common before attending artist James Gurney’s excellent discussion of “Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination.” Gurney’s talk was a master class in how to combine elements for fictional world-building.

Ken left for another event, and we then went to “Seeing What the Old Masters Sought: Thoughts on 19th Century Design,” by Steve Ebinger. It was a good analysis of how real-world architects, painters, and inventors reacted to the politics, trade, materials, and expectations of their time and how they’ve influenced the do-it-yourself ethos of those developing the alternative styles of steampunk.

Overall, the turnout for the International Steampunk City was good, but the cool, damp weather may have turned some people away on Saturday. Janice and I had dinner at City Streets Restaurant, one of our regular haunts.

The next day, we returned to downtown Waltham after Janice’s usual stint volunteering at the animal shelter, and the sun shone on a crowd that included families celebrating Mother’s Day. It was much easier to be in costume.

Steampunk fair May 2013
At the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

We went to Brandon Herman’s panel on “Clockwork Beyond Thunderdome: Steampunk in the Movies.” While I think that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome shares only a few aesthetic elements with steampunk and dieselpunk, the genres are inclusive. Granted, there have been more bad movies and TV shows — such as Wild, Wild West — than good ones — see The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

I do think the literature (including some tabletop role-playing games) is ahead of other media in terms of quality. I have fond memories of Tim M.B.’s GURPS 3e “Arth” and my “Gaslight Grimoire” scenarios. Speaking of RPGs, Janice and I then had an early dinner at the Skellig before heading home for the latest “Vortex: Terra’s Pride” telecom space opera.

In the past week or two, I’ve also eaten lunch with co-workers at the Newton St. Deli, Coconut Thai Café, and Taqueria el Amigo. Although I didn’t run the “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus” fantasy campaign for my regular Monday night group this week, we did go out for dinner at Angelo’s House of Pizza and Seafood, watch the amusing animated Despicable Me, and discuss upcoming games.

The “Escapists” book club of former co-workers had dinner at Habaneros, one of Janice’s and my favorite Mexican-American restaurants in the area. At Lizzy’s, we had dessert and discussed Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I liked more than everyone else.

This coming weekend, I look forward to hosting Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area social/gaming groups who now lives in St. Louis. But first, I’ve got to survive the workweek!

Will work for food

At Bertucci's
CW copy desk reunion

On Wednesday, 2 November 2011, I had lunch with colleague Matt G. at El Pelon, near Boston College. We enjoyed the pescado (fish) burritos. Although there are several good burrito chains now in the area, including Chipotle, it’s nice to get something more authentic from a restaurant that isn’t part of a chain. Our group at TT has been dealing with some turnover lately.

That evening, I met several former IDG/CW co-workers for dinner at Bertucci’s in Framingham, Massachusetts. While I get along well with most of my current team, it was nice to recapture some of the camaraderie of the past 10 years and find out what people are doing now.

After getting our Verizon FIOS restored the next day, I met current co-workers at Union Street in Newton, Mass., for the going-away party of Alex H., with whom I went to Chicago this past summer. I’ll miss her, as I do Bianca S., Jess M., and others, and I hope to continue to meet and help train talented young staffers.

Speaking of Chicago and work, Janice and I ran into Colin S. and his girlfriend at the Christmas Craft Fair in Boston this past weekend. As usual, we enjoyed browsing among the paintings and photography, jewelry and clothing, and of course, food! We picked up a few pieces of dragon artwork from Ruth Thompson, as well as some soups, homemade soaps, and baked nuts (you are what you eat).

In addition to a Rotary Club pancake breakfast at Needham High School, Janice and I tried out Tavern in the Square in Central Square in Cambridge. It’s apparently a sibling restaurant to Union Street, and the food and drinks were similarly decent. The portions (and corresponding check) were a bit large, however.

We also stopped at Rodney’s Bookstore, the Compleat Strategist, and Pandemonium Books & Games. Among other things, I picked up the latest edition of Star Hero, but I resisted the temptation (for now) to also buy The One Ring or Airship Pirates in hardcopy, since I’m not running a high-fantasy Middle Earth or steampunk game right now.

In between preparing for my regular games (updates to come) on Sunday, Nov. 6, I picked up Beruk A. at the Riverside “T” station and drove to Thomas K.Y.‘s condominium in Lexington, Mass. We and Thomas’ girlfriend Kai-Yin H. watched 13 Assassins, a violent but well-choreographed movie in the style of Seven Samurai, one of my favorite films.

Thomas and Kai-Yin graciously shared a Chinese “hot pot” with lamb and pork for an early dinner with Beruk and me. We talked about upcoming movies, political and economic news, and Byron V.O.‘s planned visit.

For a few years now, our dinner options during weekly role-playing games were limited to Oak Hill sandwiches and Stone Hearth Pizza. During the past few weeks, we’ve added Indian food to the places we can order from, with Masala Art and Pronti Bistro. Variety is good!

Although Janice and I are bummed that the chocolate and baking classes offered through Needham Community Education were canceled, we won’t run out of things to do or places to eat anytime soon!

Early fall 2011 travels

Janice & Gene
Janice and Gene

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been busy during the past few weeks shepherding some big projects to completion at work. I’ve also been fighting a recurring sinus infection, no doubt aggravated by seasonal allergies and fatigue from travel.

In the last weekend of September, Janice and I flew down to Virginia to see my family. We were originally scheduled to attend Nathaniel L.’s bar mitzvah in Brooklyn, New York, but since an ailing uncle of mine was visiting from Belgium, my folks took priority.

We joined my parents and uncle for lunch at Café Indigo before checking into the Courtyard by Marriott at Battlefield Park in Manassas. We stopped by Game Parlor in Chantilly before a hearty dinner at Cracker Barrel.

On Saturday, 24 September 2011, my brother and his family joined us for the Rappahannock County Farm Tour. My nieces enjoyed the hay ride, got to saddle up for the first time on a horse rather than a pony, and watched in awe of a beekeeper using smoke but no protective gear. We had lunch at Belle Meade Farm, listened to some music at the Link, and had dinner back at my parents’ home.

That Sunday, we attended mass at the Church of the Nativity, where Lili had been baptized, before another big meal at Peter & Kelly’s. Janice and I returned our rental car without incident, but we were held up at Dulles Airport because of a temporary security lockdown.

Despite predictions of rain, Janice and I enjoyed the Needham Harvest Fair on Saturday, 1 October 2011. The highlight of the annual festival is the “Souper Bowl,” in which local establishments compete. The weather was even nicer this past weekend, but we decided against the long drive to the King Richard’s Faire, instead visiting local Halloween shops.

On a more serious note, I hope that my uncle and my brother-in-law Gary feel better soon. Although I won’t be attending my 25th anniversary high school reunion this coming weekend, Janice and I will be going to a bed and breakfast in Providence, Rhode Island, in the coming weeks. After that, we’ll see what’s in store for Halloween and Thanksgiving!

Escaping reality

Post-apocalyptic Lego at BrickFair 2011

Although I’ve had difficulty posting to this blog regularly lately, being busy with work and travel is nothing in comparison with what some friends have been dealing with lately: David I.S. getting mugged in Rochester, N.Y.; Corbin A.Y. and Ron J.K.‘s ailing family members; and riots in the Middle East and London, as well as economic and political struggles worldwide.

On a lighter note, after considering controversies, cartoons, and live-action promotions around this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, it’s time to look at toys and games. I’m typically more interested in role-playing games (RPGs) and action figures than in video games. Fortunately, there was something for everyone, with some Web sites providing galleries to rival the numerous ones for costumed fans.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that toys based on the animated Justice League Unlimited continue to be made, even if they’re hard to come by. We’ll see how the latest costume variations from DC Comics’ September renumbering look in plastic, but I suspect that the classic superheroes will remain popular.

I was also pleased to learn that Lego has won the rights to characters from both the Marvel and DC universes (it previously sold only Batman sets). As a longtime collector of minifigures and comic books, I think this is a match made in heaven!

On a related note, while visiting my family in Virginia this past weekend, Janice and I went with my brother Peter and our nieces to the fan-run Lego BrickFair in Chantilly, Virginia. We saw many impressive models and dioramas created by fans of the Danish building blocks, including train sets, replicas of world landmarks, towering cranes, and multimedia tie-ins.

Unfortunately, the festival was crowded, so I didn’t get to see college chum Ben P.S. and his son Finley, who were among the exhibitors. I haven’t had time to check out the Lego Universe massively multiplayer online game (MMO), and it would be cool if Lego came out with a Justice League vs. Avengers game!

I’m still digesting the news from Gen Con, but I plan to blog soon about various RPGs, my travels, and food and drink!

Kung-Fu Panda 2 review

Wallpaper for Dreamworks' latest animated movie
Kung-Fu Panda 2

On Friday, 3 June 2011, I met former co-worker and fellow blogger Ken G. to screen Kung-Fu Panda 2. While not as clever as its predecessor, the computer-animated martial arts comedy was still entertaining.

Kung-Fu Panda 2 has a similar plot to the first movie, in which a pudgy panda (played by Jack Black) must find hidden strength to fight a nasty villain. As before, Po has a strong supporting cast voiced by Dustin Hoffman as red panda Shifu, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, James Hong as adoptive father Mr. Ping, Lucy Liu as Viper, and Seth Rogen as Mantis.

New characters include Michelle Yeoh as a goat soothsayer, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Master Croc, and chameleon Gary Oldman as peacock dictator Shen. While Black doesn’t get to improvise as much as he has in other flicks, the other actors are well-chosen and don’t distract from their roles.

The martial arts choreography was strong, with each animal demonstrating a different style, and for once, I thought the 3-D helped rather than hurt the viewing experience. The writers and animators also expand the story’s venue beyond the monastery and village to the wider countryside and a city in ancient China. Ken even noticed that in one scene, funky music underscores a scene similar to 1970s action movies.

The movie is framed by animation resembling paper cutouts, and it clearly leaves an opening for another sequel. Overall, I’d give Kung-Fu Panda 2 a B or B+, 8 out of 10, or three and a half out of five stars. It’s rate PG for violence. I haven’t yet seen Pirates of the Caribbean 2: On Stranger Tides (which has gotten mixed reviews) or X-Men: First Class (which has gotten surprisingly favorable reviews). Ken and I also had dinner at Fresh City, which was OK.

On Saturday, Janice and I attended the Needham Street Fair and the Cambridge River Festival. Both had interesting vendors and varied cuisine (Thai and Indian were popular), and the latter had performers and several tables for progressive political causes that I support, such as Amnesty International.

After browsing at some of our usual book shops in Harvard Square, Janice and I had dinner at the Border Café, which is one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants. On Sunday, between a car inspection and picking up my comic book subscription at New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts, we had lunch at Conrad’s, a good family/pub-style eatery.

I’ll be busy with work and travel in the next few months, so I may not be able to blog as regularly as I have been doing, but have no fear, gentle readers — I’ve got more ideas coming!