January 31, 2012

There Is Justice In The World

It's no secret to readers of The Pond that I am a fan of the Chicago Cubs.  By extension, therefore, I am a detractor of the St Louis Cardinals.  It's as natural as breathing, which Cardinals fans tend to do through their mouth.  One cannot be a Cubs fan without hating the Cardinals.  I assume Cardinals fans feel the same way about the Cubs, though to be honest I've never met one articulate enough to voice such things.  But I digress.  Last season, the Cardinals won the World Series, and it would be churlish of me to not congratulate them on having done so.  One of the heroes of their run was Skip Schumaker, a 31 year old utility player who still goes by the nickname "Skip."  Schumaker, whose name bears a startling resemblance to that of Mercedes F1 driver Slappy Schumacher, was at bat in Game 4 of the NL Divisional Series against the Phillies when a panicked and frightened grey squirrel dashed across home plate.

Yes, this was a real commercial.
Unsurprisingly, St Louis went completely gaga for the squirrel, nicknaming it "The Rally Squirrel" and practically deifying the rodent.  T-shirts, songs, plushies, you name it, the Cardinals milked it for all it was worth.  Never mind that they had a good team on a hot run, The Rally Squirrel was the MVP.

Today, Topps Inc released an image of Skip Schumaker's 2012 baseball card.

As with most people involved with the St Louis Cardinals, Schumaker has zero sense of humor.  "I'm not frustrated, I just think people are going to look at it and laugh and that's ridiculous," said the 31-year old who still goes by Skip.  "I don't care about what I look like or anything but it's literally just a squirrel that has nothing to do with me.  It's not disappointing, it's just ridiculous"

You just won the World Series, Skippy.  Lighten up a bit, particularly since it's a limited edition card that will be replaced with a regular one in a short while.  It's funny... get over yourself.

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January 28, 2012


Seventeen years and one day after the tragedy of Apollo 1, the American space program lost another crew.

McAuliff, Jarvis, Resnick, Scobee, McNair, Smith, Onizuka
The story of the Challenger disaster and the associated fallout has been often told, and I won't repeat it here.  What I do want to mention is that I'm one of those few people who was actually watching the launch live on CNN when everything went pear-shaped.  The three major networks were showing normal programming; Space Shuttle launches had already become old hat by 1986.  To CNN, then only six years old and not the monolithic success it is now, launches were still important news. 

And to a young Wonderduck, they were all fascinating.  That I had the flu, or something flu-like, was only a minor impediment.  I had stayed home from school and was sacked out on the couch, covered with a couple of blankets, as I watched the whole terrible event live.  Some say that the loss of the Challenger was my generation's Kennedy Assassination.  I suppose that's so.  It certainly changed me.

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January 27, 2012


45 years ago today, the US space program suffered the first fatalities of its history.  Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died during a routine training mission when their Apollo capsule caught fire.  The conflagration was aided by a 100% oxygen atmosphere in the capsule.  A single ignition source was unable to be found.  A study did find, however, that the standard nylon astronaut pressure suit of the time could generate enough static electricity to create a spark just from regular movement in the capsule's flight seats.

Grissom, White, Chaffee
Their mission was officially designated Apollo-Saturn 204, or AS-204, until April 24, 1967.  At that time, NASA retired the name Apollo 1 in their honor.

Sadly, they would not be the last to die in mankind's quest for space.

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January 24, 2012

From Daylight to Warbonnets

A lot of railfans love the locomotives.  They like being able to look at these huge pieces of machinery and be able to rattle off statistics about how much horsepower it has, or how much it can pull, or how many of them there are, or whatever.  And who can blame 'em?  One of the (few) things I appreciate about diesels is that the railroads realized that they could be painted in company colors... and so they were.  And what colors!  Everywhere you went, the most boring of engines could be made interesting by the various liveries.  For example, as a young duckling here in Northern Illinois, one of the most common railroad lines to see was the Chicago Central, a junior member of the Illinois Central company.  They ran from Chicago to Iowa with a spur going north to Albert Lea, MN... a more boring trackmap would be difficult to find.  But then you saw the locomotives.

Cardinal and White, and they look glorious.  I don't even know if the company is around anymore or if they were om nom nommed by CN when they took the Illinois Central, but I still remember the plain but beautiful look of the engines.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Let's take a look at some of the better known and beautiful liveries throughout rail history, shall we?


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January 19, 2012

But Wait, There's MORE!

Dragging my food-poisoned butt to the car this morning, I breathed in the refreshingly cold air.  When it's  12° with no wind to speak of and the sun shining, it's actually rather pleasant assuming you're dressed correctly.  Got in the DuckMobile and she started right up, no problems!  I let her warm up for a couple of minutes as I caught my breath (I'm still kinda shaky after the events of yesterday), then headed off to work.

As I pulled into the main lot at Duck U, the DuckMobile suddenly started to jerk and, well, chug, particularly at low RPMs.  Rubbawhut?  I pulled into a spot, shut her down, went into the Duck U Bookstore and immediately called Ricotta's Automotive, official mechanic of The Pond. 

It only felt like this.
A few hours later, the owner hisownbadself calls.  "Well, you've got an ignition problem; there was an oil leak into the distributor.  When I called Toyota, parts would be $1000 and take 3-5 days for shipping."  *pause* "Then I called a local parts guy, he's got a new one for $400 and it'll be here on Friday.  The only difference is that it doesn't say Toyota on it.  Oh, and it'll void the warranty."

Cue peals of laughter; the DuckMobile first took to the roads in 1996.  She'll be repaired Friday afternoon, probably.  Weather permitting.

Food poisoning and car problems; two lousy tastes that really suck together.

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Food Poisoning

Tuesday night I had soup and sandwich for dinner.  Around midnight, I started getting stomach cramps... and then all hell broke loose.  For the next 15 hours, my life consisted of the bathroom and my bedroom, trying to get some sleep.

After she got out of the library, The Librarian brought over more bottled water, some gatorade and most importantly, pepto-bismol.  By 7pm I was feeling better.  By 8pm I was able to get up the energy to turn on the computer and chat with Brickmuppet, who'd gone through the same thing recently.

I finally managed to fall asleep at 10pm.  I'm still weak and shaky, but things are pretty much done, I think.

I don't recommend the experience.

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January 16, 2012

Ph.Duck, re: Our Lunchtime Conversation...

...Albert Einstein was born in 1879, Adrian Sutil still has not found a drive, and here's the Wikipedia entry for "visual novels" (per our discussion of Katawa Shoujo).  Not re: our lunchtime conversation, over at FARK, someone photoshopped a picture of Rumpole!

Pretty darn cool, eh?  Not that he was ever that energetic, but it's a neat bit of art.

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January 14, 2012

Preach It, Sister...

I feel much the same way right now.  Tuesday is the start of Spring Rush, yet we're already stupid-busy at the Duck U Bookstore.  Part of that can be marked down to being a smidge shorthanded, but it really does seem like we've gotten more customers through our doors of late.  But there's a deeper, darker thing going on as well.  My knees are killing me.  Last Wednesday both of them hurt badly enough to make me weep when I got home.  Unfortunately, there's no position that I've found that makes them not hurt, just some that hurt less.  That'll make Rush Week particularly spicy! 

As you can guess from the picture above, I'm still playing Katawa Shoujo.  I've finished two paths, just stumbled into a third, and have the instructions on how to get into a fourth sitting here next to me.  Based on the two routes I've completed, I'll temper my excitement for the game a bit.  It's no longer "brilliant", just merely very very good indeed.  However, considering that it's an independently produced game made by a collection of amateurs working for free and released for the price of nothing, it's really quite astounding.

On a different note, I've now gone well over a month without a cigarette.  I think I'm handling it fairly well... I only occasionally want to massacre entire villages with my bare hands and drink the blood of my victims.

My ALCO PA post seems to have nudged my "I trains" button again.  Here's the image I'm currently using as my computer's wallpaper:

Inside a Chicago & Northwestern roundhouse, circa 1942.

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January 11, 2012

What Could Pull Wonderduck Away From Skyrim?

I really didn't think it was possible, but I've actually not played Skyrim for the past four days.  I've been busy cheating on it playing a different game.  It doesn't look anywhere near as good as the latest entry in The Elder Scrolls series.  It doesn't get the adrenaline pumping nearly as much as a dragon swooping down on you.  There's no fireballs flying around the screen, no flashing swords, no murky dungeons or scary monsters.  But still and all, I have had my entire gaming time consumed utterly and completely by this markedly low-rent game... perhaps because I've been waiting for nearly three years for it to come out.  And what, you may ask, is this true paragon of gaming virtue?

It's been released... and it's brilliant.  I reviewed the demo here, and none of Act I has changed... except that they've regraphicalized Emi, for the better might I add.

A review of the full game will be forthcoming... as soon as I get another path or two under my belt.  I've only done one so far, and while initial signs are positive ("...and it's brilliant."), I've seen some thought that the route I've played was the best of the bunch.  We'll see.  In the meantime, if you're interested the full game can be located for free torrent-based download right here.  No matter what, it's already a remarkable achievement, one that was five years in the making: a complete and total ren'ai game, in English, that's at least as good as any Japanese ones I've played.

UPDATE: Brickmuppet and I get all recursive and stuff.

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January 10, 2012

The "Acceptable" Diesel

I'm a railfan.  Not a particularly well-educated one, I'll admit, but I have a huge soft spot (my noggin, most like) for trains.  Like many uneducated but well-meaning rail buffs, I miss the steam era though it was already over before I came around.  I also think that diesel locomotives all look the same and are boring as heck because of it.  Yeah, like nobody has ever said that before, right?  Even the cutesy nicknames given some of the diesel trains of today don't help: "Jeeps" and "Torpedo boats", feh.  No, there's no way a diesel-electric engine can be as interesting as even the most humble of steam trains.  One of the best moments of my life was riding on top of the coal tender of a steam loco at the Illinois Railway Museum whilst Larry, the husband of my cousin, played engineer for a time.  Sure, once I took my glasses off I looked like a negative raccoon, and I stank of smoke like I'd just walked out of the Towering Inferno, but it was a wonderous experience, one that's long gone.  For that alone, I feel like all diesel locos are evil.

This is how trains should look.  Streamlined, steaming, and in black and white.
Except for one.


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January 06, 2012

Argentinian Racing Pigeon?

Growing up in Duckford, Sunday night was PBS night.  Masterpiece Theater (Danger: UXB for the win!) went into Monty Python's Flying Circus, followed a half-hour later by Doctor Who (Fourth Doctor will always be the best).

In between Python and Doc was the incredibly unfunny The Two Ronnies.  The show, which ran from 1971 to 1987 on BBC1, is a perfect example of how the humor from one country may not translate to another, even if they nominally speak the same language.  Ronnie Barker (the stout one) and Ronnie Corbett (the short one) are apparently revered as something akin to comedy gods in Britain, with the show consisting of sketch comedy, opening and closing news parodies, and the legendary catchphrase "It's good night from me."  "And it's good night from him."  Some FIFTEEN MILLION PEOPLE tuned in each week to The Two Ronnies, a number which I can scarcely credit.  Perhaps they included dead people in the count.

I believe Official First Friend of The Pond Vaucaunson's Duck will agree with me when I say that it was the single most disappointing British TV show of all time, at least until Are You Being Humiliated Served? came on.  Having said that, it wasn't entirely awful.  Every now and again, they would manage to drag  a laugh or two out of us there in our cozy midwestern homes as we stayed up too late on a school night.  For example, allow me to present this:

To be sure, it's no Fawlty Towers, but this particular sketch is the closest to "funny" I've ever seen from The Two Ronnies.  The "black moon rock" gag actually made me laugh.  Well, enjoy, won't you?

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January 05, 2012


There's stuff coming on The Pond.  It just ain't here yet.  Trying to get the motivation going.  Have a picture:

More than this, deponent sayeth not.

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January 01, 2012

Touring Skyrim

I've played a good 25 hours of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim over the past week, and will freely admit that I'm just agog over the thing.  The music and sound is astonishingly good.  Voice-acting is excellent for video games (average for just about any other form of entertainment, though).  The action is entertaining, puzzles are hard without being impossible, and Bethesda seems to have fixed the horrible level scaling problems of Oblivion (and to a lesser extent, Fallout 3).  No more bandits wearing Ebony armor and carrying Daedric longswords!

Where the game really impresses, however, are the graphics.  I'm not talking about the amazing vistas (which are rightly jawdropping), but just the incidentals.  For example, this scene:

Yes, that's right: it's a Skyrim chicken.  But look around the scene, too... everything looks so gosh-darned gorgeous, it's breathtaking.  It goes without saying that motion is everywhere: the waterwheel is turning, there's a little bit of smoke from a campfire wafting by, the chickens walk around, and on and on.

It's not all chickens and woodpiles, though.  The above is inside a watchtower that, over time, collapsed into the nearby lake... and was taken over by a few necromancers.  Poor guy up there was just looking for a place to keep the weather off his head while he slept.  The atmospherics make the scene creepy as all heck when you walk into the room: water leaking in, odd lighting, and echoing sounds just made me want to turn around and walk out.

They say that Skyrim has a history of amusing glitches.  I've only seen one, the conjoined guards there in the lower right.  Both heads turned to follow me around, too, so it's not "just" a glitchy graphic.

This?  Oh, just another piece of glorious Skyrimic scenery.  One of the moons with the Northern Lights shining nearby... it goes without saying that they shimmered and moved just like the auroras I've seen in real life.  I spent a good 10 minutes of real time watching them, until I was attacked by a pack of wolves.

A dragon, shortly before it decided that it really wanted nothing more in life than to kill me and chew on my bones.  It didn't get a chance to, though, as during the fight, I fell off a poorly-placed cliff.  Oops.

I may have mentioned this, but Skyrim does "big" very, very well.  Above, watching the sun rise from atop a mountain peak near Azura's Shrine.

No sad girls visible... lots of snow, though.
I've tried very hard not to gush about Skyrim for the past week, I'll admit.  Either you're already playing it and don't need me to, or you don't play videogames and won't care about that sort of thing.  I'm sure there are others out there who have done a better job of gushing than I ever will.  Still, I couldn't not do it.  So there you go... a whole buncha Skyrim love.

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