Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today’s my seven-year anniversary with Debbi! Where does the time go?

As always we reenacted our first date by going to dinner at the same place.

Well, minus some smooching in the parking lot, since I’m still weighed down by my cold. Better than yesterday – I went to work today – but we’re trying to avoid my passing it on to Deb.

But we had a good time anyway. And hopefully I’ll be over my cold for Debbi’s upcoming birthday!

Happy anniversary, Deb!

The Seasonal Bug

I’m home today, nursing a cold.

As my colds always seem to, this one heralded itself with a scratchy throat mid-afternoon yesterday. And as I always seem to, I shrugged it off as some random throaty soreness, perhaps a delayed reaction to casino smoke, or perhaps drinking too much coffee and not enough water.

But by the evening I was getting congested, and by 9:30 I was feeling decidedly tired. So I went to bed at 10 with Debbi after taking some Nyquil.

This morning my throat was still sore and I was still congested, so I called in sick. No sense in getting all my co-workers sick, too. This feels like it will be a relatively mild one, so I hope to be back at work tomorrow. (A far cry from bygone days when I’d sit through a whole fantasy baseball draft while sorely beset by a cold. Ugh, I can’t believe I did that.) More to the point I’ll hopefully be healthy for my and Debbi’s anniversary dinner tomorrow night.

Anyway, I’ll be ensconced on the couch for most of the day, I expect. Which isn’t a bad thing since I have The Iron Dragon’s Daughter to finish, and then Alastair Reynolds’ new one to read.

I seem to get sick every spring, usually when the weather changes. This one faked me out by arriving a few weeks late, though.

Cache Creek

We wanted to do something more than just going to dinner for our upcoming anniversary, so yesterday we took a day trip to Cache Creek indian casino, which is about 2 hours away, outside Sacramento.

We headed out a little before 10 am and got there just before noon. It was a sunny, warm day, a nice day for a drive. We were fortunate to have good radio reception almost all the way there, so we were able to listen to all but the last few minutes of Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, which was a particularly good episode, too, with Drew Carey on the panel, and Moby as the guest, both of whom were hilarious.

Anyway, Cache Creek has lots and lots of parking, and is in pretty much the middle of nowhere. After getting off the freeway onto Route 16, we drove through some truly small towns: Madison seemed to be little more than a general store a few roads; Esparto is bigger, and you drive right through their downtown, past their school and post office (note to self: they have a shaved ice stand along the way); and Capay seems even smaller than Madison, but features red-brick shoulders down their main street. But mostly it’s just farmland and grape vines. Pretty, but very, very rural.

We easily found parking in the garage and went inside. I took a couple of pictures of the lobby before a security guard came over and told us that we couldn’t take photos pointing the camera towards the casino. A little strange, but oh well. Their lobby is pretty impressive, though:

Lobby of Cache Creek casino

The casino is much the same as a Las Vegas casino, maybe about average by that standard (bigger than Bally’s, not as big as the MGM). It’s a big room of slot machines and tables games with restaurants around the edge, a nightclub/concert venue on one side, and a large poker room. To my surprise, they even had some penny slots. They also had video poker machines with better payouts than we usually find in Vegas.

We both played some video poker during the afternoon. I had a surprisingly run of luck, getting four-of-a-kind twice. Debbi was not so lucky, which is too bad since she plays a lot more video poker than I do. She could use a run of luck.

The main disappointment for me is that I had heard that they have no limit Hold Em here with 1/2 blinds, but when I asked they said they only had 2/4 blinds. Since I haven’t played NLHE except with my friends at our home games, I wanted to start at the lowest blind structure when playing in a casino. Oh well. Also, one of the room managers told Debbi she couldn’t stand behind me and watch me play one time when she came in, which is different from every other room I’ve played in. I’m not sure what the motivation was there, but whatever.

Anyway, I played 3/6 limit hold ’em instead of no limit. Which even though I ended up down a little was a lot of fun. I made full houses three times and won a number of other hands, going on quite a roll in the middle of the session. Unfortunately the winning stretch was bracketed by a period of making the second-best hand a bunch (a good way to lose a bunch of money), and a card-dead period. I would have finished up a little except that twice a woman managed to make her flush on the turn or river to beat my flopped two pair. But, that’s the way it goes.

We didn’t try any of their sit-down restaurants, instead doing the grill and the deli. The grill was pretty good, the deli was pretty mediocre. The dessert place served great milkshakes, though.

The drive home was uneventful (setting aside the amazing number of bugs which hit my windshield), and we got home almost exactly 12 hours after leaving in the morning.

There’s not quite enough to keep us occupied there for a whole weekend, so I’m glad we didn’t get a room to stay for the weekend, but it should be fun as a day trip a couple times a year. I think leaving just a little earlier would make the trip a little smoother, but this trip went well, and we had fun!

Mixed Results

Yesterday was a day of mixed results. Mostly good, but with a down ending.

My crowning achievement of the work-day was reading a bug and figuring out what was going on without actually looking at any code. This got a “Yep, that’s exactly what’s happening!” comment from the engineer who’s working on that code. It’s a good feeling when your guesses turn out to be correct (not least because a good guess is worth several hours of digging).

In the evening I joined the guys for some low-stakes poker.

The first couple of hours I could do practically no wrong. I was hitting straights and flushes left and right, bluffing people off hands, etc. One hand I went all-in on the turn on a board of K-7-5-K, and my opponent thought for a long time and finally called with 7-5, for 2 pair. I was trying to bluff him off and showed A-T. I rivered the Ten for a better two pair and stacked him. I felt a little bad that I sucked out to win, but was pretty happy with how I played anyway.

I went card-dead for an hour or so but still scratched out a few winnings.

By midnight I had tripled up on the evening, and looked down at pocket Kings in a raised pot. I reraised and got two callers. The flop was 6-5-4 with two diamonds. I bet, got raised, and reraised. My opponent – the other deep stack at the table – thought for a long time and went all-in. I called immediately and she showed 4-4 for a set of 4s, and I missed the turn and river and got stacked.

I realized that I’ve lost more money against sets than any other hand in our no-limit hold ’em home games, and that I rarely win much money with sets. I think I have a blind spot when thinking about whether I might be up against a set (although to be fair, the power of the set is that it’s well-disguised). In this case I certainly thought I had an excellent chance of being good on my first bet. When I got raised I thought there was a good chance he had anything from Aces down to Tens, or was even trying to bluff me off with two big cards (e.g., A-K). I didn’t really think he’d called with a small pair (even though I do myself sometimes) and made a set. By the time he went all-in I felt pot committed, so it was too late to back out then. I guess I could have called his raise, or even checked the flop, although the latter seems very risky on that board. Maybe there was just nothing I could do here.

One thing I keep thinking of is that when you get down to it, Kings is still just one pair, and losing a huge pot with one pair is lame. So when faced with a big bet, I should certainly be thinking that my opponent can beat one pair. Maybe that’s the mindset I need to be in.

Anyway, despite going down I played for 5 hours in twenty bucks, and that’s cheaper entertainment than a movie. Others at the table had worse luck then I did, so I shouldn’t complain. I’ll get ’em next time!

It was fun, tho. We have a pretty competitive group, and none of us are easy marks to any of the others, which makes for some lively sessions.

This Week’s Haul

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #1 of 51 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Keith Giffen, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #8 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Fables #72, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Hulk #3, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Thor #8, by J. Michael Straczynski, Marko Djurdjevic & Danny Mika (Marvel)
Countdown to Final Crisis #1 Finally, mercifully, Countdown comes to an end. Even worse, apparently it was originally slated to run for 52 issues, but they decided to end it with #1 rather than #0, so it only ran 51. Small loss. (I guess #0 is being replaced with next week’s DC Universe #0.)

I had thought of running through the storylines from Countdown to examine how pointless and unsatisfying they were, but Brian Hibbs has already done just that over at Savage Critics. He also discusses from a retailer’s standpoint what a mess Countdown has been for DC, and what a shambles DC’s editorial direction seems to be in after these last few years, starting with the repulsive Identity Crisis, through the pointless Infinite Crisis, the fun 52, the even-more-pointless One Year Later, now Countdown, and soon Final Crisis. (Final crisis? Yeah, right.) It’s been crossover-mania, and crossovers have always been a questionable effort at best; for the most part, these projects have done nothing but undermine the enjoyability of the characters while hanging these changes on exceedingly thin stories. The emperor not only has no clothes, he’s started to flay himself.

Anyway. Countdown didn’t even have much of a story. What little there was mostly played out in The Death of the New Gods (see below), and everything else here was completely superfluous. I wonder what the original idea behind this series was? I haven’t been impressed with Paul Dini’s comics writing, but surely his original pitch actually had some sort of point, rather than just trailing off into nothingness like this.

DC’s next weekly series will be Trinity, focusing on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I have fairly little interest in any of these characters; Superman is occasionally fun, but neither Batman nor Wonder Woman does much for me, especially these days when Batman is relentlessly grim and Wonder Woman is a cipher. So I’m going to skip it, even if Kurt Busiek is writing it.

The Death of the New Gods #8 For some reason, this issue takes place before Countdown #2, but was apparently intentionally published a week later. Huh?

Anyway, I probably should have guessed that this series would be little more than a side matter to Countdown, and although Jim Starlin does his best to make something worthwhile out of it – mostly by playing up the tragic figure of Mister Miracle – in the end it comes down to another stupid fight with Darkseid, who at this point might be DC’s most boring villain. A while back I speculated that this would end up being a Superman story, bearing witness to the end of the New Gods, but Superman stood on the margins in this issue and really didn’t serve much purpose.

So what’s the point? In order to get any of this to pay off, DC really has to do something major and earth-shaking, the sort of total reworking of their line which was promised back in Crisis on Infinite Earths but which never came to pass. But I think DC doesn’t have enough of a vision to pull off such a thing, to actually wrap up all of its current titles are start afresh. And it’s hard to see how doing otherwise would make this worth it.

If there’s one thing more frustrating than a status quo which never changes, it’s dangling the promise of some real change without ever following through. And that’s where I think DC is now. And so the loss of the New Gods will likely be both pointless and ephemeral; everything will likely be back to normal in a few years.

Wussed Out

I’d originally planned to bike into work today, but I wussed out. It was cloudy and cold this morning, with a chance of rain in the forecast. I knew if I drove in then it would be nice and sunny out, but if I biked in then I’d get rained on going home.

Well, it was nice and sunny over lunch, but it’s glowering pretty good out there right now, so I may have made a good call.

Well, maybe later this week.

Weekend Wrap-Up

That’s another busy weekend in the books.

Saturday I suggested that we go play minigolf. We ended up making it a little date afternoon, having lunch at City Pub, then golf at Malibu. Then we drove up a little farther to Redwood Shores where we tried out the Milkshake Werks which was quite yummy, and recommended for anyone who’s not getting enough ice cream in their diet. I actually found this place because we recently got a card at work with which we can get discounts at many area restaurants and services, and they were listed at the card’s web site. I probably would never have found it otherwise! Good deal.

Sunday was the final tournament of this year’s ultimate frisbee season. It was cool, sunny, and quite windy, which made for some very long points and erratic throws. I didn’t play my best, but I had a good time anyway. Our team won a game by 4, lost a game by 4, and lost a game by 1, so we were pretty much the average team. I was wiped out by the end, but then I always am if I play the whole tournament. Debbi came with to watch me play, and we stayed for the post-game barbecue. At home we collapsed on the couch for a while; I ended up getting a little sunburned during the game, which probably wiped me out even more than just running around.

In the evening I managed to get up long enough to put together a bookcase we bought Saturday at Ikea to replace some plastic cubes we’d been using to store some stuff in the corner. It fit perfectly and gives us a little more space to store things. We’re definitely getting a little cramped in my house, and are thinking a little about looking for a new house, although not really doing anything about it yet. (The main deterrent for me is not getting a new house, but preparing the old house to be sold. I predict it’s going to be a pain in the ass.) Anyway, we keep doing little reorganizations and getting rid of stuff and it’s worked out so far. But it’s a temporary solution.

We both ended up coughing a bit in the evening, and today Debbi reports that she feels like she’s coming down with a cold, which is no fun. Hopefully it will blow over quickly.

I remembered to do some stretching last night, so I wasn’t as stiff this morning as I usually am. I could still use a walk to limber up the muscles, though.

For my next trick, I’ll start biking in to work again!

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #12, by Mark Waid, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #2 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Salvation Run #6 of 7, by Matthew Sturges, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #8 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #2 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest #6 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Perhapanauts #1, by Todd DeZago & Craig Rousseau (Image)
The Brave and the Bold #12 The second story arc of The Brave and the Bold wraps up in disappointing fashion: George Pérez left the book after #10, and while Jerry Ordway is another of my five favorite pencillers, I don’t think he works as well with the madcap adventure yarns that Mark Waid is writing here as well as Pérez did. And this six-issue arc wasn’t that interesting: It involved a villain named Megistus collecting mystical artifacts in order to reshape the universe, which is not exactly a new storyline, and served to be little more than an excuse to romp randomly through the DC universe – much less interesting than the coherent single story of the first six issues. Worst of all, Megistus’ motivations are supposed to be an attempt to avoid the upcoming Final Crisis (assuming he was telling the truth, that is), which is as disappointing a tie-in as I can recall in recent memory. Sigh.

Not that it hasn’t been an enjoyable arc on some levels – there have been some good character bits and the gorgeous artwork – but it’s just not nearly as good as the first arc. I can see that Waid was trying to do something a little different, but I think a multi-character team-up book needs a tight framework in which to operate or else it just falls apart. Indeed, I think such books succeed best when a hodge-podge of characters are pulled together into a very tight, sensical story, but the loose framework of this second arc made it feel much less coherent, and thus much less enjoyable.

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #8 Two other series concluded their arc this week, with much greater success. Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag marks John Ostrander’s return to one of his more artistically successful series. The Suicide Squad is a covert government organization which forcibly recruits villains to go on missions; if they succeed, their sentences are reduced; if they fail, they probably end up dying on the mission anyway. This series picked up where the original series left off, even bringing back a character long assumed deceased. After careful set-up taking us back to the days of the earlier series, we’re also introduced to the tension between Amanda Waller, the leader of the Squad, and General Wade Eiling, an SOB who eventually had his brain transplanted into the body of an invulnerable, super-strong android.

Ostrander always made the Squad work because not only was his unflinching in killing off some of the characters – including the occasional major one – but he maintained a careful balance of distrust and respect among the main characters, both heroes and villains, and dug deeply into their motivations. Everyone here has some sort of pathology, as you might expect from people who dress up in spandex to commit or fight crimes. A couple of the heroes attached to the Squad are a little less nutty than the others – Bronze Tiger is arguably the most ‘pure’ of the heroes – but everyone has a point of view of an agenda which brings them into conflict with the others at some point.

Anyway, this story wraps up with a mission – to which Eiling is now attached as a convicted villain – going horribly wrong. Of course, this being the Squad and not the Justice League, a decidedly different form of mayhem ensues, and it all wraps up rather neatly. Nifty character bits abound, especially those involving Deadshot and the new Captain Boomerang, the writing is sharp, and the art is mostly terrific, although inker Robin Riggs pencils a few of the last pages, and they’re noticeably stiff next to those of Javier Pina.

But all things considered, this series is made of win. If it results in a new Suicide Squad ongoing series, I would totally be on board with it.

Annihilation Conquest #6 The first Annihilation series was totally awesome, and consequently was a hard act to follow. Annihilation Conquest doesn’t quite reach its heights, but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun.

Basically, the Phalanx takes over the Kree empire, seals it in an impenetrable bubble (dozens of light-years wide!) and starts infecting all beings inside with its technovirus, including Nova, Drax, Gamora, Blastaar, etc. Pockets of rebellion persist, primarily a team of misfits led by the former Star-Lord who seek to bring down the Babel Spire which is generating the field. Meanwhile Quasar – sister of the most recent Captain Marvel – find the High Evolutionary and a resurrected Adam Warlock (again?) and strives to enlist them, but the Evolutionary betrays her and puts the mind of the Phalanx’s leader – whose identity might elicit a groan from longtime Marvel readers, but seems almost obligatory to me – in Adam’s body.

In the conclusion, Nova shows up with the cavalry, Star-Lord’s team makes its last stand, and Ronan the Accuser implements his final solution to the problem of the Phalanx infestation. As grand, “last, desperate hope” climaxes go, this one is pretty good. A lot of people really loved Star-Lord’s strike force, especially Groot and Rocket Raccoon, but I enjoyed the weightier characters, such as Nova and Wraith (I wish we’d seen more of the latter). I appreciate Star-Lord as a sort of tragic hero, having lost all his powers in defending the galaxy from an insane Herald of Galactus, but I don’t think the rest of his team is a very good foil for his character. I guess we’ll see how well it works in a longer form in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy series, though.

Overall, Marvel’s revitalization of their space characters has been a smashing success, relying on good stories, clever plotting, and well-defined characters who stay in character. The mess which is the rest of Marvel’s line of titles would do well to watch what these guys are doing, because they’re doing it right.