Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, April 30, 2012

Robot Haiku Contest!

*** The contest has ended. View the winning entries. ***

Announcing The Wheel’s 3rd Annual Haiku Contest!

First came ninja haiku. Then, pirates. Following those, this year there was only one logical choice: Robots.

It's not difficult:
You just write five syllables,
Then seven, then five.

And it must involve robots in some way. How you incorporate them — and which variety of robot you use — is completely up to you.

To enter, write your own robot-themed haiku in the comments section below. Three lucky winners will receive money that exists only digitally $25 gift cards.

I will be selecting the best haiku in each of two categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
...and then I'll also reward my next favorite haiku, just because I can.

The deadline to submit a haiku is this Monday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time).

Robot poetry.
Let's make it happen, people.
Contest begins... now.

Official Rules:
  1. To enter, post robot-themed haiku in the comment section below. Multiple submissions are allowed, but if you submit more than five (5), you will exceed your data limit and be charged for each additional entry. And by "charged," I mean pumped full of electricity.
  2. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. If you miscount, the system will automatically detect this and break your entry down for parts. You will not win.
  3. The contest is open until Monday, May 7, 2011 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If you try to sneak an entry in after the deadline, the system will automatically eradicate your last line. Your haiku will then be one line short, and will be disqualified.
  4. Entries must be in English. (i.e. Using Japanese kanji will not help you win for best traditional haiku. If I can't understand your entry, I'll assume it's encrypted code, and for the sake of national security never let it see the light of day. You will not win.)
  5. Anonymous entries will not win. If you don't tell me who you are, clearly you are a hacker trying to infiltrate my system. I will lock you out of the system, and your entry out of the contest.
  6. Prizes will be awarded in each of three categories: Humorous/Creative, Traditional, and Next Favorite.
    • Three (3) first place winners will each receive a $25 gift card from either Amazon or iTunes (their choices).
    • An indeterminate number of Honorable Mentions will receive bragging rights over everyone who doesn’t win. Also, honor (mentioned).
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances unless some robot is sent back from the future to do so.

The End of All That Jazz

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Zoinks? Have we reached the end? Really? And did I really just say "zoinks"?

I've loved David Fincher's work ever since Se7en. This one brings us San Francisco in the grips of the Zodiac killer in the '60s and '70s, and follows three characters obsessed with tracking him down. Well-acted, well-written, and, well, a pleasure to watch. It doesn't try to dazzle like Fight Club, and didn't have the hype of The Social Network, but this is one exceptionally strong film.
I know nothing about this kids' show from the '70s, but my wife said it was fun. And my wife has good taste,1 so it must have been.
As delivery trucks bring you animals, try to plan out your zoo to get the most visitors. The male and female of a species can get you babies, or you can swipe an animal from a competitor. Just be careful not to overpopulate or have too wide a variety of creatures, or you'll have to stick some in your barn and that'll hurt your business. A fun family game for 2-5 players. With flamingos.
They started out as more of a hip-hop funk band, although they've since migrated to a more standard pop/punk rock sound. With dual lead-singers providing a back-and-forth singing/rapping dynamic, they've got a fun sound and great energy.
The Z Was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-Six Acts by Chris Van Allsburg
A creative way to teach your children the alphabet, from the writer-illustrator of Jumanji and The Polar Express.2 With each turn of the page, another letter undergoes an alliterative transformation... often with dire consequences. I like dire consequences.3

And now I'm zapped, too.

It's been a long, tiring run this month, but I've had a blast highlighting some of my favorite alphabetic hidden gems. I do hope you've enjoyed reading my letters.

1Especially in husbands.
2 Not to mention his other Z-book, Zathura. Oh, crap. I said "not to mention" and then I mentioned it. I'm always contradicting myself (except for when I'm not).
3 Dire Straits are pretty good, too, but they only help you learn the letters M, T, and V.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Age-Old Question

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Yeesh, only two letters left. Let's make it one, shall we?

Young Frankenstein
Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Frahnkenshteen) would rather not be associated with his mad grandfather. But he inherits the man's castle and equipment, and then stumbles upon his writings (as well as his beautiful lab assistant), and begins to change his mind... to the fury of the townspeople. With Gene Wilder, the amazing Madeleine Kahn, and Peter Boyle as The Monster, this is perhaps Mel Brooks' finest (and funniest) work.
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
An epic adventure each episode with the young man (or younger boy) who would become the world's favorite whip-wielding archaeologist? Yes, please.
When you move one of your rings across the board, leave a disc of your color in its place, and flip over every disc your ring jumps. You're trying to get five of your color in a row, while blocking your opponent from doing the same. And you're trying to do this three times, but with each success you get one fewer ring to work with. A wonderful abstract strategy game for 2 players (and one of six in project GIPF).
Young M.C.
The first CD I ever bought was Young M.C's Stone Cold Rhymin'. You know, back before rap went all gangsta on us. Back when it was fun. Now, some music from the '80s hasn't aged too well — surprising, I know — but this album, at least, is just as good now as then. Perhaps better, when compared to everything that's come since. So don't just stand there; bust a move.
Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson
Calvin & Hobbes is the best comic strip in the history of comic strips. If you didn't already know this, you need to go directly to your local bookstore or library (or friend's house) and start reading. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200,1 just go and fill your day with a precocious 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger. And if your friend asks why you're in their house, tell 'em I sent you. And that I say hi.

You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just may find, you get whatever the hell I decide to give you.

1Although, if you happen to come across $200 on the street, you might as well pick it up. (And as your new financial advisor, I get 10%.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Former Flame

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Mostly In Jest Edition!

X-Men: First Class
This film, about the group's beginnings, is a rare thing: A prequel that surpasses the original — and in this case, its sequels. I can think of only one other film that does the same, and it also came out last year. (Are there others? If you can think of any, share 'em in the comments.)
X-Men: The Animated Series
According to the resident X-Men expert (i.e. my brother), this series is far superior to the movies for a couple reasons. For one, it stays more consistent with the comic book characters' stories and origins. But most importantly, because Gambit was in it. And who am I to argue with the expert?
X-Men: Alert
My brother had this game. We played it once or twice. It was okay, I guess.
X-Men: The Soundtrack
It's probably decent enough.
X-Men: The Flamethrower
The kids love this one.

Okay, fine. You want some real recommendations? XiangQi is an ancient form of Chinese chess (which I have never played), and Xavier Rudd has a great folksy, bluesy sound.

The other three options, however, I'm sticking with.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The P.O.T.U.S. (#43)

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Well, well, well. Look what the Nate dragged in...

Waking Ned Devine
After their friend Ned dies upon learning he won the lottery, Jackie and Michael decide to make the best of it. All they have to do is get everyone in their small Irish village to pretend Michael is Ned when the lottery officials visit, and everyone wins. Of course, it won't be quite as easy as all that, not in this village. A fun little film.
The Wire
I'm only one season in so far, but this show is good. The Baltimore drug scene is shown from both sides: dealers and law enforcement. But in this fight, neither side is entirely clean: there's bureaucracy and corruption, informants and rivals, and people on both sides have their own agendas. Every character is complex, never a caricature, and most of all: human. The second-highest rated show of all time on iMDb.
Wits & Wagers
Behold! A trivia game where you don't need to know a lick of trivia! Do you know the height of the tallest giraffe ever recorded? Or how many of Picasso's works have sold for over $1 million? Probably not. But hey, neither do your opponents. Each game is only seven questions long, and every answer is numeric. Once everyone makes their guess, bet on whose you think is closest.1 It's the perfect combination of gambling and trivia.
For 3-7 players (or teams).
Within Temptation
For someone who became a fan of Evanescence before few had even heard of them, I'm surprised it took me so long to discover this group. This Dutch band has a similar sound, only more... epic. If you like symphonic metal at all, especially with female vocals, you need check these guys out.2
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
I first read this book in elementary school and loved it. But here's the astonishing thing: I reread it last year... and loved it. Most childhood favorites lose their shine in adulthood, but this one holds up. An eccentric millionaire has died, and sixteen unlikely characters are brought together as potential heirs. All they need to do is find out who murdered Sam Westing. A complex mystery with a sly sense of humor, The Westing Game will always have a spot on my shelf.

Wait, wait, don't tell me. We've reached the end, haven't we? Word.

1 Without going over. It's like "The Price is Right," only without some old guy telling you to neuter your pets (or that other guy from the Drew Carey Show).
2 Or, if you prefer a sound slightly weaker than symphonic metal, check out The Weakerthans. You can thank me later.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Southbound Geese

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Very fine choices, these...

The Visitor
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a Connecticut College1 professor, is basically just going through the motions in both his job and his life until he discovers two illegal immigrants in his little-used New York apartment. He invites them to stay, and connects with Tarek through music, but a misunderstanding in the subway leads to the young Syrian's arrest. Only as Vale fights against his friend's deportation does he really find reason to return to the world of the living. A fantastic film.
Veronica Mars
The high school-aged daughter of a detective moonlights as a private investigator while also trying to solve the murder of her best friend Lilly. Mars' witty popular-girl-turned-outcast is well complemented by fun, complex characters such as Lilly's former boyfriend Logan, habitually underestimated rival detective Vinnie Van Lowe, and Piz.2 The first season, especially, is some of the best television I've seen.
I've pretty much already described this game, since it's the more complex precursor to Small World, which I recommended on Saturday. But I just haven't played many V games.3
The Verve Pipe
Most people only know this group for their hit single, "The Freshman." But did you know it was actually the third song released off that album?4 Or that their other albums, although not as commercially successful, are just as good? Or how about that their only original album since 2001 is for kids? (Actually, I didn't know that last one until five minutes ago...)
The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle
My son is nine months old. He judges books by color, page-turning ease, and most of all, taste. Yet, this lesser-known story by Eric Carle (of Hungry Caterpillar fame) is perhaps the only one we own without tooth (or gum) marks; every time we pull it out, he must get to the end to hear the cricket chirp. A real page turner.


1 My alma mater! Even if none of the movie was filmed on campus... (Note: "alma mater" is Latin" for "all my mother," since my mom is also a Conn alum.) (Note: "alum" is short for "aluminum"... unless you're from England, where "aluminum" is called a "lift.")
2 Piz sucks.
3 Unless V stands for video, in which case I have played a few. But still, not many. At least not since '95.
4 And, in this listener's esteemed opinion (I esteem it, anyway), it's only the third-best song released off that album. (My opinion mirrors the order of release: "Cup of Tea," "Photograph," and then their (reworked after the album's release) hit.)
5 It's like Fin, only this way I get to end with a drink. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Ram's Better Half

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Um... uh...

Many people believe M. Night Shyamalan made one great movie and then a bunch of crap. Not so. He made two great movies.1 I realize some may not have the same love for the film's deliberate pacing, or its interplay between emotionally distant characters. But it's both a wonderful depiction of characters overcoming internal struggles and a sort-of comic book hero origin story for real life. And I think it's his best film.
When people talk about Judd Apatow's early unappreciated genius, they usually bring up Freaks & Geeks. But this — his second prematurely cancelled show — was nearly as good. A bunch of college freshman try to navigate the craziness of their first year of college. And it's especially hard for Steve Carp, whose newly divorced father won't seem to go away. It's fun, dramatic, and served with the usual dose of Apatow ad-libbing.
Choose a puzzle card, roll the die to determine which pieces you get to use, and then try to be the first to complete your Tetris-like puzzle. But that's only part of it. What you're really doing is vying for position on the main board, where you're trying to collect as many gems as you can of one color. A nice, quick abstract game for 2-4 players.
This local (CT, US) band was once voted Best Hartford-Area Punk Band despite not playing any punk. They've yet to record a full album, but their live shows are great fun, especially when they break out all the extra percussion for their finale. And best of all, it was at a birthday party for one of the singers where I first met my wife.2 If you live nearby, check them out on 5/5. And bring your dog.
Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book by Shel Silverstein
This short book (by America's favorite children's poet) suggests stealing money from Mommy's purse, freeing animals at the zoo, setting the house on fire, and telling kidnappers your Daddy has a lot of money. Oh yeah, Mommy likes the baby more than you and there is no Santa Claus! I think it's pretty obvious what I'm saying: This book is not for kids. It's just. Too. Awesome.

Until next time...

1 Then two mediocre ones, then a bunch of crap.
2 And vice versa.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Something You Put Balls On

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

T for 2 Edition!

The Thin Man
Former detective Nick Charles gets pulled into a murder case by a friend and drinks and wisecracks his way through the investigation as the bodies and one-liners pile up. The suspects are an extremely eccentric cast of characters, and Charles unveils the murderer at a dinner party where all are present.1 A classic.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
Two West Virginian hillbillies (Alan Tudyk & Tyler Labine) are enjoying time at their new fixer-upper cabin when a group of college kids mistake them for kidnappers and plot revenge. Soon the roles are reversed, and everything becomes a bloody mess. A hilarious send-up of horror films.2
The Tick
The Tick is all brawn, no brain. His sidekick, Arthur, dresses as a moth and is afraid of combat. Together with fellow super-ish heroes (such as Die Fledermaus and American Maid), they help protect The City from evildoers (such as El Seed and The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight). And every episode ends on a poignant(-ish) note. An excellent superhero satire.
Twin Peaks
Everything David Lynch does is bizarre. And this is no different. An idiosyncratic FBI agent investigates the peculiar death of an odd girl in a town with strange characters (and queer secrets). If you love weird (and I mean love it), this offbeat series is for you.
Ticket to Ride
One of the best gateway games out there. Simple to learn, yet fun for players of all ages. Collect cards to claim train routes across North America, netting more points by completing longer segments or reaching further destinations. Or, just block your opponents' routes. That's fun, too. (For 2-5 players. Other versions and locations also available.)3
I've been addicted to this game for six months.4 It's a rare breed: a partnered trick-taking game that doesn't use trump suits. Lead one card, and the highest card takes it. Lead a pair or straight or full house, the highest of that type wins the hand. You can vie for points, or bid you'll get rid of all your cards first and get a hefty bonus. Uses a standard deck plus four special cards, and although the basics aren't too hard to grasp, it's six months later, and I'm still figuring out better strategies. (Best with 4 players.)
They Might Be Giants
They've been putting out great (and slightly odd) music for nearly 30 years, but I'm highlighting them today for what they've done since 2005: kids' music. Most such music becomes grating by the second time through. As a new(-ish) parent, I'm grateful there are now at least three albums I'll be able to listen to without wanting to put my ears through a cheese grater: one each for ABCs, 123s, and Science!
The Tragically Hip
If you've never heard of The Hip, then I'm guessing you've never been Canadian, either.5 Nine of their albums have hit #1 there. And if you catch them live, lead singer Gordon Downie will rant or tell fictional stories in the middle of certain songs, unique to that show. Although they're the last band I saw in concert, I'm not that big a fan... but my wife is. This one's for her.
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Pretend, for a moment, that I’m a guy. Guys don’t read 500+ page love stories. Yet, right from the opening scene (I don’t count the unnecessary prologue as the opening scene), I was hooked. With (unpredictable) time travel involved, Clare can first meet Henry when he’s 35, and he can first meet her 14 years later when he’s 28, and it all makes perfect sense. It’s a very clever premise, and Niffenegger handles it deftly. A fantastic book.
Timeline by Michael Crichton
My favorite Crichton novel. No, it's not great writing (I assume, based on other books of his I've read more recently), but it is fun. A group of researchers use a billionaire's time machine to go back to the Middle Ages and rescue their professor, who has inadvertently gotten trapped there. Then, they inadvertently get trapped there.

Thus ends the tally of too many T titles. Ta ta till tomorrow.

1 And he/she would have gotten away with it, too, if not for Nick and Nora Charles and their dog.
2 As is The Cabin in the Woods, in theaters now. Although they are completely different styles of movie.
3 After a while, you might discover the Space Ghost method (i.e. coast-to-coast) wins more often than not. To help combat this, plays using the 1910 expansion.
4 Specifically, its iPod app. I've yet to play a real human person. The AI — on medium difficulty — is such that even after 130+ games, I still only win about 60% of the time.
5 Nor did you grow up listening to Canadian radio from just over the border, like my wife did.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Start of Something

During this year's Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, I'm highlighting things more people should know about. For the most part, I'll be ignoring the most popular and widely known items (and sometimes my personal favorites) in order to promote the unfamiliar and underappreciated.

Super-Sized Saturday Edition!

Slug-like aliens invade a small town. It's a bit gross, somewhat creepy, and fantastically funny, with great dialogue and Nathan Fillion as the sheriff. The ultimate in B-movie fun.
The Station Agent
When his only friend dies, Finbar (Peter Dinklage) moves into an abandoned train depot to enjoy a life of solitude, but it doesn't quite work out that way. Half hilarious comedy, half touching drama. 100% fantastic.
Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman's most original script (and that's saying something). A troubled theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) creates a replica of NYC and his life in a warehouse, including actors playing him and actors playing the actors playing him. Challenging and bizarre, but fascinating.
Best true reality show ever. Led by ex-spies, 8 people go through standard espionage training and undertake increasingly tough assignments. Fail, and you go home. Sadly, only 1 season on BBC/PBS, and not on DVD.
Sports Night
From Aaron Sorkin, a brilliantly written and acted program following the drama of the people behind a third-rate evening sports show. And you don't need to know a lick of sports. With Robert Guillaume (a.k.a. Benson!), Felicity Huffman, and Peter Krause.
The State
Perhaps my favorite sketch comedy of all time. A bit more immature than Python, but I was in high school when I got hooked. Of course some sketches fail mightily, but at their best they're uproarious. (Sadly, the DVDs lack much of the original soundtrack for legal reasons, but it's still worth it.)
Settlers of Catan
The first German-style game to really hit it big in the U.S. Die rolls determine resources as you build settlements, cities, and roads. But the best part is the trading... in part because you get to say things like, "Does anyone have a sheep? I've got wood." (For 3-6 players. With a plethora of expansions.)
Small World
Choose a race/power combo and start taking over this over-crowded world. When you can expand no more, or your neighbors have begun killing you off, abandon them and choose a new race to do it all again. A wonderful strategy game for 2-5 players.
Like telephone, but with pencils. Only oh so much more fun. Illustrate a sentence; the next person sees just the drawing and provides a new caption; the next illustrates that; and so on. That's how we ended up with such things as "Jesus, crucified on a brontosaurus, crashes your wedding" and "I shall defeat dwarf Godzilla with my sword and eyebrows!" Absolutely hilarious.
Sufjan Stevens
It sometimes sounds like he's working with a high school orchestra, but that rawness is part of the charm. Whether reflecting personal explorations or aspects of a state's history, his songs will grab you. If nothing else, check out his finest album Illinois.
Sigur Rós
Their songs are light and ethereal, and I don't understand a single word. Which is exactly why this Icelandic band is ideal for when I'm writing: the lyrics will never interfere with my wordsmithing. Simply beautiful.
Formed by members of Okkervil River who wanted an outlet for softer stuff; their songs have a haunting, dreamlike quality to them, yet remain compelling and intense. Powerful stuff.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Bryson wanted to learn about the Earth and all manner of science, so he did, and he passes the knowledge onto us. With a great sense of humor, fun historical tangents, and a heap of intriguing information, this is a must read.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
What happens to people after they die? From grave robbing to scientific research to decomposition, Roach investigates all the (physical) possibilities, and her wry wit makes this an engaging and entertaining read.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
In a world where color perception determines your place in society, a young Red man tries to better his future, but instead falls in love, angers powerful enemies, and stumbles upon a terrible secret. With terrific characters and world-building, and a twist that, try as I might, I did not see coming.

So, that's it for today (and thankfully so). See ya!