February 22, 2013

F5 #4: Look! Up in the sky!

I've always been a big fan of comic books, which is kind of paradoxical, because I read relatively few of them (maybe a couple of dozen, tops) as a child, and my knowledge of comic-book superheroes came more from Saturday-morning cartoons than the pages of Action Comics or The Amazing Spider-Man. On the other hand, I did read a fair number of the kinds of comics that were published as books rather than magazines—such as Tintin or Asterix&mdash (both of which I also read in the original French in high school, as a way to improve my French comprehension)—and I got interested in graphic novels while I was in university.

Comic books were marketed to people of my age back when I was 10 or 11, and they are still marketed to people of my age today—that is to people who grew up reading them when I was young. The maturity and complexity of the stories has also increased proportionately. No matter where you go, they're still age-appropriate! (And even if they weren't, I've never been ashamed of reading well-written juvenile fiction, anyway.)

So, to close off this year's installment of F5, here are:

My Four Favourite . . . Comic Book Superheroes

  • Superman: The hands-down winner. But you've already probably figured that out from my regular Saturday posts. Superman is the prototypical superhero: the first, for example, to wear a fancy costume (modeled after a circus strongman's outfit) instead of the trenchcoat and mask worn by the other mystery men of the day. In fact, I actually prefer the Golden Age Superman somewhat, when his abilities were nowhere near the godlike powers he needs today to save the world from cosmic foes. There was a time when he beat up hoods instead of Darkseid.
  • Firestorm: A nuclear accident fused teenage jock Ronnie Raymond and nuclear physicist Martin Stein into a single entity, who is capable of re-organizing matter at the atomic level. Because Professor Stein was unconscious during the accident, he can only provide advice while Ronnie controls Firestorm's body. The high point of the series was the dialogue between them; humour was a major component of the comic despite its full title of The Fury of Firestorm. Different characters have joined or left the Firestorm persona as the comic series developed; I preferred the original lineup of Ronnie and Stein, though the current "New 52" team of Ronnie and Jason Rusch does have its moments. When I first read Firestorm back in the early 1980s, he didn't have a monthly title of his own: he was, in fact, the B story in . . .
  • The Flash: As a kid, the Scarlet Speedster was always my favourite "guest" superhero on The Super Friends. The Barry Allen version of the Flash is arguably the first superhero of the Silver Age, coming on the scene in the late 1950s. As a general rule, my favourite incarnation of any given hero is the one from the Silver Age (Superman excepted), and that's certainly true in this case, too. However, give Barry the costume of Jay Garrick's Golden-Age Flash, and you'd really have something.
  • Iron Man: Yes, although clearly I prefer DC superheroes, there is one Marvel character on the list: Tony Stark, billionaire playboy and genius inventor, who fights crime in a high-tech armour suit. I was almost entirely unfamiliar with Iron Man prior to the 2008 movie, which has since become one of my favourite superhero films. I'm looking forward to this year's Iron Man 3 if only because Shell-Head finally squares off against the most significant rogue in his gallery: the Mandarin.

And that is that for another February of Fridays. Until next year, we return to the blog's usual fare of stupid criminals, drunk moose, and monkeys. Heh.

February 21, 2013

Magic in the air

Late again! This is getting to be a habit.

Anyway, after one week back at the #1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100, Men at Work were knocked off the top by "Baby Come to Me," a duet by Patti Austin and James Ingram:

While I have heard this tune many times, it's not one that I have associated with the year 1983. It's just a pleasant R&B song. Enjoy.

February 20, 2013

Yay for scammers


Guy on phone with heavy Indian accent: Hello, this is Windows Operating System technical support. There is a problem with your computer.

Me: Oh, really.

Guy: [beat] Hello?

Me: Get lost. *click*

Let me note a few items of relevance to your friendly neighbourhood phishing scammer:

  1. There is no such thing as "Windows Operating System technical support." The company is Microsoft.
  2. Microsoft has no mechanism for detecting "problems" with every Windows-running PC in the world.
  3. Microsoft does not make unsolicited technical support calls.
  4. Even if they did, they don't have this number.
  5. The computer is a Macintosh.

If you get a phone call something like the above, don't do what they tell you. This scam has been doing the rounds for a couple of years. From what I've googled so far, they will attempt to give you instructions that would grant them remote access to your computer.

Sorry, Apu. Not this time.

February 16, 2013

F5 #3: In which I get needlessly commercial

When I do this F5 series, they have a general tendency to follow a recurring pattern: movies, music, books food, though perhaps not in that order. I'm pretty sure I've never just listed a bunch of addresses of a café chain for kicks, so this is perhaps one of the quirkiest things I've ever posted to the blog. But it's partly about food (and so it sticks to the pattern), and it's also about me (and so it sticks to the purpose).

I began drinking coffee in my late teens—perhaps around 17. (I'd already been drinking tea for a few years). Living in a small town with limited opportunities, my options were whatever I could make myself (usually instant) or what I could buy in a spare period from the school cafeteria, which, suprisingly, wasn't that bad. When I moved to the city for university, I was almost turned off coffee entirely, thanks to the horrible, tar-like substance dispensed by my residence's dining room. As a classmate once remarked to me, the real advantage of residence coffee was that you could drink a cup in the morning, and if you felt drowsy during class, just lick some off the roof of your mouth later.

In fairly short order, two things redeemed coffee for me: I discovered Tim Hortons coffee (unavailable to me in my teens), and also how to make my own coffee properly, out of ground beans. I soon wanted to try something other than the usual medium roast found in donut shops, or canned grounds from the supermarket. Also, the coffee shops around campus sold flavoured coffee, something not widely available in bean form outside of specialty shops. (But try and find raspberry chocolate or orange brandy coffee today!) So it's no surprise that I soon found myself shopping at Second Cup for my beans—and, when I wasn't living around the corner from one at school, frequently sitting in one.

So, without further ado, I present . . .

February 12, 2013

I got cat class and I got cat style

Toto's "Africa" stayed at the top of the Billboard chart for all of one week, before being upstaged—again—with "Down Under" by Men at Work on February 12, 1983. So while we're waiting for something new to come around. here's another 1983 gem from somewhere in the Top 10 this week: the rockabilly stylings of "Stray Cat Strut," by the Stray Cats.

Oh my . . . that hair . . .

February 09, 2013

Superman Saturday: Hero, lands the crippled airplane, solves great mysteries

When we last left our heroes, the program announcer was mispronouncing "Superman" as two words: "Super Man." As a new Superman adventure begins, he's still doing it. I think it's going to be some time before they get a new announcer that knows the right way to say the name of the most famous comic-book character in history. Meanwhile, however, sit back and enjoy . . .

February 08, 2013

F5 #2: Bond. James Bond.

I first discovered James Bond in grade 8, sometime in 1983–84. My first experience with Ian Fleming's quintessential Britisy superspy was an airing of Moonraker on TV. (Throughout the 1980s, ABC seemed to have a monopoly on broadcasting Bond films in prime-time, and showed one every couple of months.) Not very long afterward, I hit up the public library for Ian Fleming's novel. I was surprised—but not at all disappointed—to discover that Fleming's 1955 novel was quite a different animal from its 1979 filmed counterpart, which resembled it in name only.

The result, however, was that I fell in love with both Fleming's series of novels and the movies made from them. So, as my second instalment of this year's F5 series, and in light of the 50th anniversary movie Skyfall's release on home video this week, I present:

February 07, 2013

Some old forgotten words or ancient melodies

Whoops! Little bit late this week . . .

On February 5, 1983, Men at Work were knocked off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 after three weeks. The new #1 hit was the second single from Toto's 1982 album, Toto IV. Ironically, although the band won a Grammy for their first single, "Rosanna," it only reached #2; it was the follow-up single, "Africa, that became their first and only #1 song:

I've wondered for years what "Africa" was supposed to be about. Tonight I checked Wikipedia to see what it said. Basically, it's about someone trying to write a song about Africa who has never been there. Figures, really.

February 02, 2013

Superman Saturday: Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Local racketeer Chip Donelli takes protection money from the businesses along Spruce St., including the candy store run by Jimmy Olsen's mother. Clark Kent, as Superman, has attempted to "explain" to Donelli that this kind of activity is frowned upon in polite society; however, so far the application of violence has failed to knock sense into him. In retaliation for Clark's interference, Donelli abducted Lois Lane and brought her to a remote cabin. The plucky girl reporter quickly escaped, with a briefcase containing the records of Donelli's racketeering.

Donelli hopes that a brush fire, set accidentally by his henchman, Spike, will take care of Lois and the incriminating briefcase. Meanwhile, Clark and Perry White search, not only for Lois, but for Jimmy, who has disappeared into the forest . . .

February 01, 2013

Son of F5 #1: Pop rocks!

It's February. February has four weeks. Therefore, February has four Fridays. Four, February, and Friday all start with F. Hence, it's time again to go overboard with the alliteration and announce Four February Fridays of Fabulous Frivolity the Fifth. F5 write specifically about myself, rather than my opinion about this or that: favourite books, movies, postal codes, and whatnot. This time round, instead of one topic per post, I've decided to take the "4" motif to another extreme, and list my Four Favourite . . . blank, filling in the blank with a different theme each week.

My first thought was to start off with an easy one: my Top 4 Favourite Podcasts. Then, I remembered that I did just that last year, and the list hasn't changed. Sigh. All the good ideas have already been taken.

My Four Favourite . . . Pop Albums of the 1980s

It's no secret amongst friends, family, or the Faithful Readers of this blog, that I love the music of the 80s. Heck, I'm blogging a year-long series on 1983's music alone.

  1. Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms: I wrote an extensive review of this amazing album on its 20th anniversary in 2005. My opinion hasn't changed. (Just to show how ever-changing the pop industry is: where I wrote "where will Britney or Justin be in 2025? Do we care?" how many readers forgot that Justin Bieber was as yet unheard-of?)
  2. Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual: The orange-haired, squeaky-voiced New Yorker's debut album is a quintessential part of the soundtrack to the 1980s. Lauper set a record when the first four singles from this album charted in the Billboard Top 5, and you have to be well into the second side (for all of you listening on an LP, as I did) before you hear something unfamiliar. In later years, I was surprised to find out how many of her signature tunes were actually rather obscure covers: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," for example, was originally a punk song by the late Robert Hazard, sung from a male perspective, before Cyndi modified the lyrics and turned it into a kind of feminist pop anthem. (And, to give her credit for getting it past me for so long, I didn't grasp the meaning of "She Bop" until well into my 20s.)
  3. Tears for Fears, Songs from the Big Chair: My affection for this album has less to do with the quality of the music—which is good, and indeed is the reason I ever wanted the album in the first place—but the quality of the recording. Big Chair was an early full-digital recording. Despite the multilayered arrangements saturated in reverb, the mastering is crystal-clear, and the brighter sounds blast right off the disc. The most notable tracks are the singles "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Head Over Heels," as well as the non-single tracks "Working Hour" and "Listen"—the lead-out of the latter being particularly beautiful. You owe it to yourself to listen to this album in the dark, at high volume, with headphones.
  4. Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.: I had a little trouble deciding on my fourth album, but if it comes down to the sheer volume of replays, then this one wins hands down. I wore the grooves off it: there's a permanent skip in "My Hometown." And, as I've noted in the past, I discovered Dire Straits when I mistook "Walk of Life" for "Glory Days," so I have Spirngsteen to thank for introducing me to my favourite music, sort of. Born in the U.S.A. was a stylistic departure from the Boss' previous work (especially the bleak Nebraska, its immediate predecessor), heavy on synthesizers, and featuring upbeat, anthemic songs rather than the more pessimistic fare of earlier albums. 30 years later, the title track is still a staple at Democratic political conventions—and still being mistaken for a patriotic anthem. Born in the U.S.A. was my favourite of Springsteen's albums, at least until I heard Born to Run.

I could go on; there are so many worthy contenders—Thomas Dolby's The Golden Age of Wireless, Phil Collins' No Jacket Required, Duran Duran's Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, just to name a few. For picking favourite music, the 80s was a target-rich environment.