Where have I been?

Gene, January 2011
Christmas armor

Readers of my blogs may have noticed that there’s a six-month gap in posts, from September 2010 to February 2011. What happened?

Fortunately, it was nothing catastrophic. I had become frustrated with how text and images appeared on my Yahoo 360 and MySpace blogs, and I had gotten busier with work and various games.

At TT, I moved from an associate site editor position to associate managing editor within the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. I’ve had the opportunity to work with more people and learn new skills. I’ve been juggling some of my old responsibilities of editing and calendaring business information technology articles for online with new ones at the e-publications and special projects unit.

Janice recently changed technical writing jobs and now works in Cambridge, in the same building where her employer was when we moved to Massachusetts more than 10 years ago! She’s getting used to the longer commute by train, and I’m getting back to cooking dinners.

After going to San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, and London last summer, Janice and I took fewer trips, visiting her family in Upstate New York for Thanksgiving and mine in Virginia for Christmas. We did, however, host several college friends, including Steve M.R. and his young family, Stuart C.G., David I.S. at New Year’s, and Erik B.L. and family a few weeks ago.

Janice and I also went to concerts, local attractions like the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum, and regular seasonal festivals, such as the King Richard’s Faire, Phantom Gourmet Food Festival, New England Comic-Con, and Super MegaFest. While I enjoy celebrating Halloween, we didn’t have a big party this past autumn.

Unfortunately, I spent most of January recovering from bronchitis and dealing with several snowstorms. Most of the movies I’ve seen in the theaters lately were not big winners at the box office or the Oscars, but I enjoyed espionage drama The American; fantasies Legend of the Guardians, Harry Potter [7] and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, and The Chronicles of Narnia [3]: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; as well as belated cyberpunk sequel Tron Legacy.

French animated film The Illusionist was good, coming close to last year’s favorites of The Secret of Kells and How to Train Your Dragon (I may eventually repost reviews of these). Thanks to movie channels on cable television, I’ll gradually catch up with other flicks, but I haven’t yet had time for a Netflix subscription.

Speaking of genre TV, the current season marks a changing of the guard. I’ve enjoyed the latest wave of shows loosely based on comic book superheroes, including The Cape, No Ordinary Family, and the surprisingly long-lived Smallville, but they’ll probably all be gone soon. Animation has fared somewhat better, with Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Young Justice as more serious successors to the campy fun of Batman and the Brave and the Bold and Marvel’s Super Hero Squad. I’ll review direct-to-video releases separately.

As SyFy’s Warehouse 13 and Sanctuary cycled out of their midseason schedules, I’ve been watching the V remake, Fringe, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Sym-Bionic Titan to get my speculative fiction fix. Doctor Who has been going strong after the lead character’s latest regeneration, and I look forward to more Torchwood and the excellent BBC/PBS modernized Sherlock.

Speaking of fictional sleuths, Psych, Castle, and White Collar have been successful in their niche, even as the more action-oriented Chuck, Human Target, and Undercovers have struggled for ratings. I’m glad that caper show Leverage has hung on (and provided inspiration for a good tabletop role-playing game).

In a somewhat more adult direction, Spartacus: Blood and Sand/Gods of the Arena, Pillars of the Earth, and Camelot have satisfied any yearnings for swords, sandals, and sex better than Legend of the Seeker and Robin Hood did. Being Human has replaced the late Reaper and Eastwick as my supernatural melodrama of choice. I plan to blog in more detail on these and upcoming shows, current comic books, and my “Vanished Lands” and “Vortex” campaigns more regularly. What are you reading, watching, or playing?

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Holiday update 2007

December 2007
Holiday 2007

As I prepare to move my blog from MySpace and Yahoo, here’ s a look back at one of my first posts (note that some of the links may be broken):

Friends, I hope that your holidays have been happy thus far. Instead of sending out the usual annual update letter, I hope that people are reading this blog.

The week before Christmas was busy, even though Janice and I had finished most of our gift shopping. Working on two issues simultaneously to get most of this week off kept CW‘s copy desk humming. On Saturday, 22 December 2007, we went to the local dump and post office, and I got my car inspected (which went more quickly and was cheaper than the previous week’s repairs). 

We also had a Chinese-American buffet lunch at the Hunan New Taste, stopped by the Walpole Mall and the Big Y supermarket, and picked up my subscription at the New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts. 

On Sunday, we stayed in because of the latest snowfall and caught up on television. What are your favorite holiday specials? Mine include classics such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and various versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Janice’s include A Garfield Christmas, Bill ‘n’ Opus: A Wish for Wings That Work, and Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas.

Of course, numerous Rankin-Bass cartoons and stop-motion specials have marked the holiday for generations, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. More recently, we have A Muppet Family Christmas and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Robbie the Reindeer, and Shrek the Halls

I also had a quip-filled City of Heroes (CoH) virtual session with David I.S. and company, and Janice baked in preparation for seeing her folks. We plan to have a relatively quiet New Year’s Eve, since we’ll both be working that day. 

We drove to Upstate New York on Monday, Dec. 24, first to Janice’s parents’ home. Like my parents, Marvin and Linda M. live atop a hill on five acres in the country. Unlike my family, they have numerous pets and a steep, icy driveway. Janice’s middle sister Shelly was already there with her husband Melvin W. and children Rebecca, Laura, and David

I checked out photographs of friends on teenager Becky’s Clie handheld device, played chess with tween Laura, and played pool with 9-year-old David and his father. Shelly told us about her missionary work in inner-city Utica, and after a tasty lasagne dinner, we drove down to Janice’s youngest sister’s home, where we were staying.

We joined Melinda and Gary L. and their children Amanda and Joshua for Christmas Eve. I helped keep the kids occupied while the other adults finished wrapping a pile of presents. Amanda demonstrated her recent violin lessons, and I talked with 6-year-old Josh about various superheroes. Their cat Chocolate kept us company as we slept.

On Christmas morning, unwrapping continued, as the Manwillers and Wrights reconvened at the Lewis home, which has the most open space. Among other things, we got DVDs and an electric snow shovel. We had a ham luncheon, followed by Laura and 8-year-old Amanda playing with animal toys and David and Joshua playing with action figures and videogames. Becky is old enough to participate in most adult conversations.

Thanks to Gary’s PlayStation 2 and Xbox, I played an off-road racing videogame with Melvin, as well as Justice League Heroes with Josh. Although I don’t have the money or time to add console systems to my crowded tabletop (pen-and-paper, dice-and-pizza) role-playing, teleconferencing, and CoH PC gaming schedule, it was nice to try them out once in a while. Josh also demonstrated Spider-Man and Star Wars Lego II for us. (Lego Batman and Indiana Jones games are coming!) 

I telephoned my family in Virginia, but I still missed being with my parents, brother Peter, sister-in-law Kelly, and nieces Ava and Lili. I hope to see them sometime in spring of 2008. But first, we’ll be at Dexter V.H.’s latest wedding in New York City in just over a week!

We returned to the Boston area on Wednesday afternoon after taking out the Lewises and Janice’s mother to lunch at Applebee’s. On Thursday, I caught up on e-mail and prepared for various games, including last night’s D&D3.5 “Vanished Lands: Holy Steel” teleconferencing team and tomorrow’s D&D3.5 “Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains” holiday makeup fantasy session. I’ve got to work today. 

Of course, no year’s end blog post would be complete without a set of “best of” lists. IGN.com has a pretty good rundown of movies, genre television, and comics, but here’s my abbreviated version for 2007:

Favorite movies: Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Ratatouille

Favorite SFTV shows: Avatar: the Last Airbender, Doctor Who, and Pushing Daisies (Fellow blogger Ken G. has also noted the untimely demise of the underrated time-travel drama Journeyman, but at least Pushing Daisies and Reaper got picked up.)

Favorite comic books: Captain America, Detective Comics, and The Spirit

Favorite musical singles (and videos):Gone Gone Gone” (Robert Plant and Alison Kraus), “Rehab” (Amy Winehouse), “Umbrella” (Rihanna)

Favorite RPG releases: D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed.: Ultimate Power, A Practical Guide to Monsters (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5/4e), D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition

What were your faves? I look forward to blogging about such entertainment and more in the coming year, and may it bring good health and prosperity for all!

5 August 2010: Chicago family reunion

Chicago's Willis Tower

On Wednesday, 28 July 2010, Janice and I took a JetBlue Airways flight from Boston’s Logan Airport to Chicago O’Hare to visit part of my mother’s side of the family. We rented a car and drove to the Marriott Northwest before grabbing dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. The dry-spiced boneless Buffalo chicken tenders were particularly good.

The next morning, Janice and I drove to the Barrington station of the Metra (commuter rail), which we took into the city. When I helped out at BriForum in June, I noted how Chicago’s urban density reminded me favorably of my hometown of New York, just as San Francisco is a bit like Boston. Unfortunately, the sprawl around Chicago, in which good arable land is being turned into subdivisions and strip malls, reminded us of Northern Virginia.

Janice and I walked through “the Loop,” Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods, and we saw the giant bean sculpture at Millennium Park. We also enjoyed the galleries and café at the Art Institute before heading back out to the suburbs, stopping at a Graham Crackers, a comic book shop, on the way.

My younger brother Peter, his wife Kelly, and their children arrived from Virginia that evening. We went to my cousin Cristina‘s home for dinner, meeting her husband Arnold and their daughters Marjorie and Meg, plus Marjorie’s boyfriend Joe. For the first time, Janice, Kelly, and the girls got to partake of a Filipino feast, including Pancit Molo (a variation on wonton soup), not prepared by my mother. It was great to reconnect with some family members after more than two decades!

The next morning, Peter and I picked up our parents, who had been delayed by bad weather. Although plans to go into town had to be postponed, we rejoined the Tan family for lunch. For dinner, we dined at Le TiTi de Paris, a fancy French restaurant. I had steak stuffed with prosciutto and cheese.

On Saturday, July 31, we drove to the Navy Pier, whose attractions included a carousel, a Ferris wheel, jugglers, a stained-glass exhibit, and a large food court. I had a proper Chicago hot dog. By now, you’ve probably noticed that, like most families, eating is a major activity during any reunion. We took a river cruise focusing on the city’s diverse and historic skyline, followed by deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s. Marjorie proved to be indispensable in getting us around.

On Sunday, Janice and I returned to Boston after just scraping the surface of the things to see and do in Chicago. We mowed the lawn, bought groceries, and began catching up on e-mails and recorded television. Our travel done for now, we’ve gotten back to work.

As you may have seen from other posts, my role-playing games have also kept me busy. The Sunday night Pathfinder teleconferencing team has started a new adventuring party in my long-running “Vanished Lands” homebrew fantasy setting, and the Monday night local face-to-face group is gearing up for my “Vortex” space opera campaign. I’ll try to blog more about them, comic books, and other stuff soon!

1 July 2010: English vacation, Part 2

London
Janice and Gene at the Sherlock Holmes Museum

In a previous post, I blogged about the first few days of Janice’s and my vacation in England. The Internet enabled us to act as our own travel agents, conducting research on sites to visit and helping us book travel through Expedia. The London Pass program allowed Janice and me to get into museums (although most were free) and other attractions without waiting in line/queue for tickets.

On Wednesday, 23 June 2010, Janice and I went to the Tower of London. Janice remarked that it isn’t so much a tower as a castle (based on a Norman keep). We saw the crown jewels and Traitor’s Gate, and I noticed that the armor exhibit had changed since my previous visit 24 years ago. We had lunch at the Armories Café and then walked past the Golden Hinde (Sir Francis Drake’s ship) to the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

We weren’t able to tour the theater because a production of Macbeth (the “Scottish play”) had just begun, so we walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral, observing a range of architecture on the way. The church is as much a testament to British nationalism as to the Anglican faith, having been redesigned by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666. St. Paul’s magnificent crypt contains grave stones of numerous notable scientists, artists, statesmen, and military leaders.

Janice and I then strolled by the antique stores of Portobello Market and Notting Hill, made famous by movies. Many of the stores were empty, but the pubs were overflowing with fans and spectators of soccer’s World Cup. The Wimbledon tennis tournament was also occurring that week, but we couldn’t tell if it affected traffic or tourism. We later enjoyed Indian cuisine at Masala Zone, which I liked even more than Wagamama because of a friendly and informative staff, healthy and tasty food, and reasonable prices.

The next day, Janice and I went to the grand British Museum, which had a special exhibition of Renaissance drawings. We also checked out the significant collection of artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt (such as the Rosetta Stone, mummies, and statuary related to my Pathfinder: Holy Steel” campaign), Greece (including the Elgin Marbles or contested sculpture from Athens’ Acropolis), Rome, and several other civilizations. We could easily have spent more time exploring London’s many museums and palaces, just as there are other sites in the U.K. that would be worthwhile destinations for day trips.

Janice and I had dinner at Pret a Manger, which is similar to and slightly nicer than Au Bon Pain in the U.S. We then walked through Bloomsbury and Soho (no relation to Manhattan’s Soho, other than being a neighborhood frequented by artists). Among other things, we stopped in at some comic book shops, including Gosh!, Comicana, Orbital Comics, and the multimedia extravaganza of Forbidden Planet, which has few equivalents here at home.

On Friday, June 25, I mailed two boxes of books and a few souvenirs home to lighten our luggage for our return. Since Janice and I had been unable to get inside the Globe Theater two days before, we returned for a tour. Whenever we return to England, Janice and I would like to try to take in a show.

After a simple but good lunch of wine and cheese at La Fromagerie, we walked to the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street. Janice and I are both fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, so it was fun to enter a replica of Holmes’ Victorian apartment. In nearby Covent Garden and Marleybone, we liked the markets and had a decadent snack of Nutella and peanut butter at Crème de la Crepe. We browsed at Daunt’s Books before dinner at Café Pasta, a local chain.

Janice and I flew back to Boston on Saturday, June 26, watching most of Up in the Air on the way. (I screened the OK juvenile fantasy Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief on the flight to Chicago.) After “comfort food” at Wild Willy’s Burgers in Needham, Massachusetts, we began catching up on chores such as mowing the lawn, doing laundry, and grocery shopping.

In addition, I’ve enjoyed the latest episodes of Doctor Who (continuing our Anglophilia) and Leverage. I’ll have to try to post more soon about the end of the regular television season and this summer’s genre shows.

On Sunday, June 27, we met Janice’s middle sister Shelly, her husband Melvin, and our nieces Rebecca and Laura for lunch at a Chili’s in Worcester, Mass., after they dropped off our nephew David at a summer camp for kids with diabetes. We had seen them a few weeks ago at Becky‘s high school graduation party in Utica, New York.

This past week, the “Holy Steel/Dragonslayers” teleconferencing team and face-to-face group skipped more sessions, but we’ll soon be getting back to the fantasy game, a few more one-shots, and the upcoming “Vortexspace opera (about which I’ve been blogging).

This coming weekend, Janice’s parents and the family of her youngest sister Melinda will be visiting us around Independence Day. College chums David I.S. and Dexter V.H. also hope to visit the Boston area. So much to do, so little time!

18 June 2010: Chicago conference

Cubs game This week, I helped TT’s events staff at the BriForum event in Chicago. Aiding in setup has been different than my experience as an attendee at Citrix Synergy in San Francisco last month, but I’ve again learned a lot more about desktop virtualization.

On Monday, 14 June 2010, I took an early flight from Boston’s Logan Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport with colleague Colin S. We stayed at the swanky Palmer House hotel on the first night, and I got to explore the neighborhood a bit after orientation. It was my first time in the Windy City. Just as San Francisco reminded me a little of Boston, so did Chicago remind me favorably of New York, with gothic architecture, an impressive skyline, and bustling streets.

During one of my few breaks, I walked around the neighborhood, and saw a scale model of the city and Graham Crackers Comics. Colin and I joined co-workers Bridget B. and Michelle B. and had fresh sandwiches for lunch at Corner Bakery Café and a deep-dish pizza dinner at Lou Malnati’s. The rest of our generous meals were provided at the conference. We later moved to the Hilton Downtown Chicago, which hosted BriForum.

After Tuesday’s breakout sessions, we went to Lucky Strike, an upscale bowling alley/nightclub, where we feasted on fried macaroni and cheese balls and drank beer from bottles shaped like bowling pins. When my family meets in Chicago in late July for my mother’s birthday, we’ll have no shortage of dining options or things to see and do!

On Wednesday, Colin and I went to a Cubs game at historic Wrigley Field. Although I’m not a huge baseball fan, the weather was less muggy than it had been during the rest of the week, the Old Style Beer and bison hot dogs were good, and the Cubs beat the Oakland A’s!

The sports news this week was also dominated by the World Cup for soccer/football. Unfortunately, the Boston Celtics didn’t defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, which ended just after we landed last night. I tended to go to sleep around midnight Central Time and wake up by 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

I won’t have much time for work and e-mail, though, since Janice’s and my vacation is coming soon! I plan to blog in late June 2010 about England, more gaming and genre entertainment reviews, and the implications of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.