Thursday, July 22, 2010

Captain America, Ice Cream, and Red-Blooded is that?

So the first images of Captain America (aka "Cap", "Wing Head") for the upcoming movie "Captain America: The First Avenger" (in theaters July 22, 2011) have been released at Comic-Con . I have to say for the most part I like it. A bit rougher and raw than his comic book costume (and a bit like the leather get-up worn by Daredevil in the 2003 film). However one thing I've always liked about Cap's gear are the wings on his head and they're missing here. No idea why I like them, but without them it just doesn't quite look like Cap. We'll see what happens when Cap shows up in the Avengers movie; maybe he'll get his wings back - given the that this happens a number of decades after his "creation" during WWII it's possible he'll have a different look (long story but he was injected with a "super soldier" serum and bombarded with "vitarays" which transformed him into a perfect human specimen...thus he doesn't age.)

The only "odd" thing about the casting of the movie is that Chris Evans has been cast in the part. Why odd? Because he also played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies...if you're not in the know, Cap and the Fantastic Four are both part of the Marvel Comics universe. This caused a bit of a stir in the Marvel fan base. Such is life, and I think Chris will do the role justice. Honestly, if I were an actor it would be the one super hero role I'd want the most and be the most afraid to play - the character has literally been around since WWII, is pretty much universally loved by comic book fans, and is the embodiment of all that is good about America - those are some big shoes to fill.

I'm a self-admitted DIY kind of guy and have a workshop full of tools to back that claim up. Power tools and hand tools. No doubt power tools make a lot of mundane jobs quick and easy - I'd be lost without my cordless drill; I use it more as a screw gun than a drill and it makes putting in an taking out screws and bolts a cinch...I remember (not too fondly) helping my father put in and take out screws by hand when I was a kid. Ugh. However, there is a lot to be said about hand tools in certain situations and I've come to see them in a whole new light. I recently bought my first bench plane - not a high quality one as I simply wanted to explore what I can do with it. I'm already hooked and ready to spend some money on a better one. This past Christmas I received a high-end dovetail saw (and wrote about it in an earlier posting). I'd also love to have a set of wood carving tools.
The short of it is that hand tools are a pleasure to use, especially when they are high quality ones. That's the key. I've discussed this before - buying cheap tools is never worth the savings. You can find a fantastic selection of high-end tools at Lee Valley. Check it out.

If you’ve ever been a tinkerer, or you’re some kind of mechanical-electronics whiz kid, or you just like neat-o gadgets, you definitely need to check out

In a nutshell, hacker-modifier extraordinaire Kip Kedersha takes fairly common household items (often electronics) then shows you how to, via a short video clip, modify, hack, and combine them in unique ways that result in cool stuff. Like a Bic lighter turned into a laser lighter that lights fireworks and cigars. Kip also can save you a load of money by, for example, modifying a $5 flashlight to outperform a $95 high-end model. With a little bit of knowledge and some extra parts readily available at places like RadioShack, Kip does some pretty remarkable things. He’s also got a few pranks up his sleeve, of course. How about a calculator that talks to the user when they hit the = button? Or a stapler that squirts blood? Brilliant.

Two of the cooler hack-tricks? Jimmying a “single-use” digital camera so that you can use it again and again … for free (instead of paying the fee to retrieve your pictures only to toss it out). And the night-vision headset was sort of bad-ass, too, with the quality far better than most commercially available models.

Granted, most of the hacks require that you have some more-than-basic tools at your disposal and at least a rudimentary knowledge of electronics. For most of the projects, he provides parts lists (and links for where to get them) in addition to the videos, along with detailed directions. Personally, I think they it’s a great way to figure out how things work, and since the projects all result in fun gadgets, it’s also the perfect way to spend time with your kids while you both learn.

I’m thinking my first attempt will be the modified flashlight. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s summer and it’s been hot, hot, HOT here in New Jersey. Like record-breaking hot. What’s a person to do to cool off other than languish in front of the air conditioner or soak in a pool till your fingers and toes become prune-like? I’ve got a sweet idea—ice cream! And not just grocery store schlock, but some of the best darn ice cream in the country. You heard me: Not just the best in the area or the state but…

The. Best. In. The. Country.

A recent ranking of the top ten best ice cream purveyors in the country gives Jersey not one but two of the coveted spots on the list (the only state with two on the list, in fact). And guess what else? One of those places is practically in our backyard, in Princeton right on Nassau Street. If you haven’t guessed by now it’s (drumroll, please) none other than Thomas Sweet, home of the blend-in and various other frozen confections.

Now, I’ve been going to Thomas Sweet since I was in college, so I’ve always known how good it is; but it gives me great pleasure that others beyond Central Jersey will find out soon, too. And with this nationally published ranking, I’m going to guess that it might get a tad busy over there on Nassau Street, especially on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer. So, you might think about heading out to the Thomas Sweet CafĂ© in Montgomery off of Route 206 North, or if you don’t mind a bit of a drive, there’s a Thomas Sweet on Easton Avenue in New Brunswick, about a block from the Old Queens building at Rutgers College (yeah, I know; technically there’s no longer a Rutgers College, per se; just a Rutgers University, but old habits die hard and I haven’t completely bought into that whole name-switch thing).

And what about that other top-ten New Jersey ice cream parlor? It’s Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream in Stone Harbor.

Regardless of your current locale, grab the family one of these hot nights and head on over for a sweet treat to beat the heat. this point the joke has been going on so long I have to continue with it so here she is...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Larissa vs. Kim, Trends and Bread Clips...

Well, 50% of the world's population is breathing a sigh of relief as Larissa Riquelme, the lingerie model from Paraguay, has announced she will run nude through the streets of Asuncion despite her home country being knocked out of the World Cup. She made this decision to give "a present" to those hard-working players who brought pride and recognition to her country. Umm...honestly, I think Ms. Riquelme brought more recognition to her country than the national futball team.
For those of you not in the know, she had pledged to run clad only in body paint the colors of the Paraguayan flag if the team won the World Cup. Upon that announcement, in addition to a world-wide drop in Viagra sales, Paraguay suddenly had pretty much the support of any man from any country knocked out of contention...and probably quite a bit of support (even if in secret) from fans whose team was still in the hunt. I can guarantee this will be a historic run, thoroughly documented by the media with the particular photo assignment being eagerly sought after by sports photographers the world over...and just about any other guy even remotely involved in media. Suddenly the lowly photographer at Sports Illustrated who has covered South American sports in backwater towns for years while suffering the teasing of his colleagues assigned to "more prestigious" assignments like the NFL Combine now has most coveted job in sports.

As usual, visit Dave over at The Savage Truth for better sports analysis and better jokes.
Your Ride: Using that amazing thing called Google, I saved at least $500 if not closer to $1000 on car repair bills. Here's the deal - the AC in my Volvo would stop blowing cold air after 15 minutes or so. If I turned if off for about 10 minutes or more, it would blow cold again for a while before stopping again. Puzzling. When I had the car in the shop for routine maintenance, I asked them to look into it but they couldn't duplicate the problem (and pretty much treated me like I was an idiot with questions like "Did you have the AC turned on?"). 
By visiting a few online forums like Volvospeed and Volvoforum I determined this was actually not an uncommon problem. After reading through a number of the postings, I narrowed my problem down to being that the AC compressor clutch was starting to wear down and the gap to engage too big. Solution: shim it. Recommended method to shim it? Use bread bag plastic clips and Super joke!! It took about 10 minutes to fix and now my car AC works perfectly...critically important since it's been over 100 degrees these past few days here in Jersey! Lesson learned? Before taking your car in for potentially expensive repairs, poke around on the web to learn what you can about the problem (especially on owner-forums), and determine if there is an easy and inexpensive way to DIY.
Trends: Speaking of Google, if for no other reason than being bored check out Google Trends. You can type in search words or terms to see how often they are being looked for, even comparing them against other words. There's also a listing of the Top Ten Trends and Searches on Google - some interesting stuff sometimes! For example, type in aforementioned model, "Larissa Riquelme" a comma and then "Kim Kardashian" and you can see that the very attractive Ms. Riquelme was not on the radar until June 14 of this year then suddenly shot up on June 28 (while Kim has held relatively steady for about 3 years), out-stripping (pun definitely intended) searches for Kim due to her announcement of a clothing-free run. The letters indicate news stories about the topic in question, listed to the right of the graph. Below there is additional info on the search term - what country, city and language for which the term was most popular. For Ms. Riquelme, not surprisingly the highest number of searches come from her home country of Paraguay, but oddly enough the language with the most searchers was not Spanish but Korean! For more mundane topics, there is often seasonality such as "Tour de France" in July, "pie" around Thanksgiving and, oddly enough, the searches for "weddings" literally spikes the day after Christmas year-after-year (guess what she got for Christmas).
Le Tour: It's been an exciting first few days of le Tour de France thus far with a seemingly excessive amount of crashes and riders out of the race already (note: anyone who thinks bike racing is for wimps should check out the crashes and the resulting blood and broken bones). On the second day of racing, after nearly 223 km (138 miles) of riding there were three major crashes inside the last 3 km, one of which blocked the narrow road entirely and brought the peleton (the main body of riders) to a complete stop! In the GC (General Classification aka Yellow Jersey aka Maillot Jaune) standings there are a few surprises at this point although Contador looks well-placed going into the Alps in a few days when Stage 7 begins. Lance is a bit further back after suffering from two punctures on the tricky cobblestone stage. Probably the biggest shocker thus far is the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, being in 36th place in the Points Standings for the best sprinter. He's figured as a major factor for the Maillot Vert (Green Jersey) but has so far been rendered impotent while his main competition, Thor Hushovd, leads in Points with 80 total to Cavendish's 15. Stay tuned!
Guy Books - Are you guys looking for good beach-reading material this summer? I've got some for you. Normally my wife (and sometimes the kids too!) likes to gently tease me about my usual reading selections and their general lack of excitement...such as Understanding Wood, The Intelligent Investor, The Handplane Book, and other such non-fiction fare. However I do have one favorite fiction author who writes action-packed historical fiction. Meet (if you aren't already familiar with him) Bernard Cornwell, one of the most prolific writers out there. For the most part he writes series - which is great since I have always enjoyed his books so much I want more of the characters - with my favorite to date being The Saxon Stories. Five books (and counting) written in the first person, the series follows the life of Uhtred, a warrior in 9th century Saxon Britain/England (or what will one day become England). Many of the characters portrayed are figures known to history and the larger framework of the books follows historical events. So if you're up for page-turning adventures back and forth across the landscape, mighty battles, definite bad guys (more often-than-not a demonic member of the clergy), switching allegiances as necessary, comely women, drunken victory's all there.