Vegas FTW

Debbi and I are back from a three-day trip to Las Vegas. This time around we went to meet up with her parents, who are spending the week there. We flew in Sunday and had an evening to ourselves before they arrived, and had our usual dinner at Bally’s Steakhouse, which was delicious as always. The waiters there are also terrific: Low-key yet entertaining. Ours introduced himself and said, “I’m here to bring you whatever you want.” Whatever we wanted was an appetizer of beef short rib ravioli, two steaks, sides of asparagus and onion rings, and a very rich chocolate hazelnut praline dessert. Oh, and two glasses of wine. We rarely indulge in these sorts of restaurants, but we do like this one.

Monday morning we gambled at the MGM Grand, where Debbi hit a royal flush on a nickel video poker machine:

Debbi's royal flush at video poker

Since it was a nickel slot it wasn’t the ginormous win it could have been, but still: It may be years before either of us hits another of those.

Deb’s parents, Jerry and Sis, arrived in the early afternoon. They’re not the big walkers that Debbi and I are – we regularly walk all over the Strip and are usually pretty pooped by the end of the day – so we cut back on our perambulations some. We did head up to Treasure Island where we had dinner at Kahunaville, an island-themed restaurant we discovered a few years back. They were a bit short on staff so we had a longer wait than we’d expected, but the food was still good. Jerry got a huge drink in a souvenir glass which we all shared, in addition to our own drinks.

Then we went to Harrah’s to see comedian Rita Rudner, who was very funny. I think I’ve seen a little of her in the past, but not a whole lot; her material focuses on gender differences. If you enjoy stand-up comedy, I recommend her.

We went to a few other hotels to see some of the sights. After brunch on Tuesday at the Bellagio cafe, we visited their conservatory, which right now has an autumn theme, like so:

The Bellagio conservatory in fall

We also went to the Flamingo where we looked in on their reserve of birds and fish, and their elaborate network of pools. Next time we go during warm weather (highs were in the 80s every day we were there) we might stay at the Flamingo and use their pools.

Debbi and Michael at the Flamingo hotel

On the gambling side of things, Debbi picked up Pai Gow Poker, since she’d been getting frustrated with not winning much at the slots or video poker machines. She thinks she’s found her game now, since she was winning or breaking even almost every time she played. I played too and finished up slightly at the game. We played a couple different (though slight) variants of the game, though they’re all basically the same. At one table a fellow sat down and made a big bet on the bonus circle and was dealt a royal flush, which won him five hundred dollars instantly! Yoiks!

For myself, I played regular poker, and had my winningest time ever in Vegas, even factoring in a poor first day there. I mostly crushed the low-limit games, which was satisfying since I ought to be able to crush those games at this point. I also played my first casino session of no-limit poker (at a 1/2 table) and won there, too, mainly on the strength of a 20-minute run of good hands. I saw a few tables where the betting was crazy before the flop, but this table was relatively sane: Some loose calls before the flop, but a fair respect for raises after the flop. I’ve been nervous about playing no-limit in the casino for a while, since I’m sure it can be very different from our fairly disciplined home games that I play in (for much lower stakes – on a really bad night you might lose all of $60, but that’s pretty rare), but this makes me think perhaps I should be playing no limit more often.

As usual, it was a trip of good food and good times. I think Deb’s parents had a good time, too. But certain furry friends were very happy to have us get back home:

Happy to be home

Congratulations to the Phillies

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans (including my cow-orker Todd, and my sister and her son) on winning the World Series! After a 2-day rain delay (no, really!), they beat the Rays 4-3 in the clinching game, winning 4 games to 1.

The Phillies are a long-suffering team, having existed in the shadow of the Philadelphia Athletics until the A’s left town in the 50s. They’re the only team in existence with more than 10,000 (that’s ten thousand) losses. And they’ve won a single World Series in their 126-year existence, back in 1980. But they’ve been a pretty good team in this decade, and they finally managed to vault past the Mets and Braves and push through the playoffs for the win.

In a sign of my own prognosticative skills, I did pick the series to end in 5 games – but I predicted the Rays would run over the Phillies. Instead the Phils won both of Cole Hamels’ starts, won a close one in game 3 in a wild 9th inning, and brought out the big sticks to club the Rays in game 4.

As for the Rays, well, they’re going to be a good team for years to come, so I don’t feel too badly for them. They’re going to make things tough for my Red Sox. But it ought to make for some exciting games.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #4 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Superman: New Krypton Special #1, by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Sterling Gates, Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jon Sibal & Wilson Magalhaes (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #8 of 12, by Jan Jurgens, Wes Craig & Dan Davis, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Hulk #7, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • Longshot HC, by Ann Nocenti & Arthur Adams (Marvel)
  • Echo #7, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Invincible #54, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #4 In this week’s installment of Final Crisis, basically nothing happens.

By which I mean: Darkseid has essentially taken over the world through judicious distribution of Anti-Life (but that happened last issue), the heroes fail to mount an effective defense or for that matter really do much of anything at all, and Darkseid manages his own resurrection.

This may be the slowest limited series ever.

I mean, c’mon; the series should have gotten to the final page of this issue by the end of issue #1, or maybe issue #2. And, geez, I don’t really have anything to add to that, because basically nothing happens in this issue. And to the extent that it seems like something happens, none of it is new: At best this is sort of a lead-in to the dark future portrayed in Morrison’s old JLA yarn, Rock of Ages. The heroes pulling together evokes Crisis on Infinite Earths. And although Barry Allen coming back is hands-down the best part of the book, we’ve seen it before, too, several times.

As has been widely reported, artist J.G. Jones is not going to be drawing the final issue of Final Crisis, and indeed he splits time here with the always-terrific Carlos Pacheco (his replacement for #7 will be the less-terrific Doug Mahnke). While I like Jones’ renderings, I think his static layouts have slowed the story down even further.

I joked in a comment in Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog that I’m enjoying Marvel’s Secret Invasion more than Final Crisis even though I’m not even buying it, just thumbing through it in the store. But at least stuff is happening in Secret Invasion. Final Crisis is thoroughly, resoundingly, a storytelling train wreck.

In very, very slow motion.

Superman: New Krypton Special #1 I’m not sure why I picked up the New Krypton Special, since I was underwhelmed by the “Brainiac” story in Action Comics, and because I really have a hard time seeing them doing anything new and innovative with the story of a city full of Kryptonians arriving on Earth and gaining super powers.

This special starts with Jonathan Kent’s funeral, which is rather well done; Johns and Frank nail the emotions Clark must be feeling, and his memories of his dad are genuinely touching. It still feels a little gratuitous that they went this avenue in the first place, but at least it’s been tastefully and touchingly handled.

The rest of the book has two threads: First is a government project to interrogate Brainiac, a project which is concerned both with how to deal with Superman should it become necessary, and more urgently to deal with thousands of other Kryptonians who have recently arrived on the planet. The other thread involves Superman and Supergirl visiting Kandor in the Arctic where they meet Supergirl’s parents, Zor-El and Alura, and see that the Kandorians are developing super-powers. Unfortunately (but predictably) they don’t really have much interest in integrating with human culture, and instead see Earth as “New Krypton”.

Certainly there’s some promise here, but I can’t shake the notion that the story is just going to be a big disappointment. To some extent this is the drawback of being in the DC Universe: Not only are there thousands of superhumans on Earth, not to mention plenty of big guns which could probably do some serious harm to the Kandorians, but there are groups like the Green Lantern Corps out there who would certainly have an interest in reining in the Kandorians if they behave badly. Will the story deal with these issues head-on? Hard to say, but I expect various contrivances to avoid (for example) a Kandorian-Green Lantern Corps showdown.

Actually I think the best outcome for this story is to sidestep the expected attempts by various Kandorians to do as they wish on this planet of Kleenex-people and go in some other direction. For example, the Kandorians might actually end up being more socially sophisticated and understanding than humans (presently) are. But what fun would that be?

Anyway. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep buying the New Krypton stories. I might, since it’s just another book a month, but I can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just a Bad Idea. But perhaps I’ll see if they can prove me wrong.

(Oh, one thing I don’t understand, having just read the Supergirl/Raven story in The Brave and the Bold, is why Supergirl has this huge animosity towards and fear of her father in that story (it was what was driving the story, actually), but is delighted to see her parents still alive in this one. Seems like someone somewhere in editorial dropped the ball on that one.)

Tangent: Superman's Reign #8 I was enjoying Tangent: Superman’s Reign for the first few issues, but my interest has been flagging lately. Partly the story feels stretched, with characters running to and fro without much sense of drama. But the big blow has been the artwork, especially in the main series: We got several issues of the polished and elegant art of Jamal Ingle, but the last two issues have features Wes Craig’s much sketchier style, which just doesn’t work for me. I speculate that the comic hasn’t been doing well in sales so editorial reallocated Ingle’s time elsewhere. That’s just a guess, though.

The series is still somewhat entertaining, though nowhere near as much fun as the original Tangent comics, which were a “skip week” project back in the 90s (and which have been recently reprinted and are worth seeking out). But it feels like it could have been a lot better.

Hulk vol 4 #7 The “red Hulk” series is heading off the rails in the hurry. Publishing delays haven’t helped, of course, but the story’s losing direction fast. This issue is split into two parts: Bruce Banner returns to Las Vegas and turns into the gray Hulk, where he runs into Moon Knight. And She-Hulk recruits Valkyrie and Thundra to go after the red Hulk. So both stories end on cliffhangers, and naturally we have Frank Cho drawing the story with the three statuesque women, a cliche that seems like it’s even older than I am. So we end up with a ridiculous splash page like this:

Holk vol 4 #7 splash page
(click for larger image)

(Is this panel better or worse than the cover to Tangent: Superman’s Reign above? Arguably they’re about the same, but at least I got more value from the inside of Tangent, whereas the second story in Hulk is completely gratuitous.)

Plus, the dialogue is so bad I had to wonder if it was written by Cho, too. Ugh. (You know, I used to be a fan of Cho’s, back when he was doing Liberty Meadows. But in my opinion he hasn’t really developed much as an artist since then, and the quirks of his writing and layouts became repetitive and tiresome.)

This series was entertaining when it was big monsters smashing each other, with a hint of mystery about the red Hulk. But that’s basically gone. And certainly there’s no sophistication to the story – that got left behind when Greg Pak ended his run. Now it’s just a mess.

On the bright side the gray Hulk half was illustrated by Art Adams, which is always a treat. Speaking of which…

Longshot premiere hardcover This week saw the publication of the Longshot hardcover collection, reprinting the mini-series from 1985. This is notable because it was also Art Adams’ first major comics work.

Longshot is an amnesiac freedom-fighter from an alternate dimension, stranded in our world and trying to both adjust to it and deal with some of the stuff from his world that’s chasing him. Longshot is a true innocent, but he’s also got boffo acrobatic skills, and the ability to twist probabilities around him to his advantage. The whole thing is a fun ride, weirdly quirky, slightly existential.

Watching Adams develop through the six issues collected here is a revelation. The first two issues are very rough, clearly someone still finding his voice, and struggling with facial expressions especially. By the fourth issue, many of the trademark Adams poses and stylistic flourishes are there, and by the sixth he seems nearly like the Adams we’ve known ever since. Okay, he’s honed his craft and become a better storyteller since then, but the fundamentals of his style, what makes his art his, are all there.

Nocenti was clearly a relatively novice writer when the series was published, and it shows around the edges: The dialogue is rough at times, and the narrative can be difficult to follow. I think this is partly deliberate (Longshot’s memories of his pre-Earth life are deliberately dreamlike) but partly because Nocenti is taking a pretty challenging route in telling the story and it’s not quite smooth enough. Still, seeing something that’s this good yet still this rough makes it both an intriguing read and an interesting historical document. It’s a very distinctively told story, and nothing else I’ve read in mainstream comics is quite the same.

Longshot somehow ended up being shoehorned into the X-Men, which always seemed like a big mismatch to me, since he’s not a mutant, he’s very much a loner struggling to find somewhere to fit in. It’s always been disappointing that Nocenti never had the opportunity to follow up with some more solo adventures of the character. But that’s all water under the bridge now. This series stands not so much as a reminder of what might have been, but rather of the strange wonderful comics that were published by the big two back in the 1980s. Days like that don’t come around very often.

The Veteran

Last night kicked off this year’s ultimate frisbee season. The theme for this year’s teams is 80s video games, with the usual “ultimatizing” of the names. So my team is Dumpy Kong (this is the second time I’ve been on a team with the word “Kong” in it; back in our “12 Monkeys” season I was on King Kong). Other teams are Clogger, Stack-Man and Hammeroids.

When our team got together the manager had us go around the circle and state our names, and how long we’d been playing ultimate and how long we’d been in SBUL. I knew this was going to make me uncomfortable, as we went around and people said they’d been playing ultimate for a year, or three years, or six or seven years. And then we got to me.

“I’m Michael, and I’ve been playing ultimate off-and-on since high school.

Which was twenty years ago.

This does not mean that I have 20 years worth of skills.

Oh, and this is my tenth year in SBUL.”

I feel like a fraud when I say it, because I’m maybe an average player in SBUL (which is not a “high skills” league), but I really was playing ultimate over lunch in high school back in 1985/86.

Afterwards I was throwing with two women on the team, and we had an exchange something like this:

Woman One: “When you said you’d been playing since high school, I thought, ‘Did they have ultimate back in the 80s?'”

Woman Two: “He probably invented it.”

Me: “You know, I have some co-workers who would probably lo-o-ove to hear this conversation. Really the only thing you get for playing ultimate for 20 years is you get to be forty.”

Anyway, I did show my MAD SKILLZ by catching the first score of the season, and by executing the first of a three-throw score later on (with a forehand, no less – my forehand is not exactly my best throw). I also learned that even though there are people on the team who are better than I am at both running and throwing, experience does count for something: Someone asked what a “poach” is. (Here’s a glossary if you really want to know.)

I got pretty sore by the end of the night, and remembered that I don’t really use my quads for bicycling, but I use them a lot for running. Fortunately I didn’t pull anything, but I’m pretty stiff this morning. (This is where Debbi says, “That’s because you never stretch afterwards!”) It was fun, though! Yay, another season of SBUL!

And So It Ends

The Red Sox almost did it again, having forced Game 7 after falling behind 3-1 in this year’s ALCS, but it came to an end last night when the Rays beat the Sox 3-1 in the decisive game.

Ultimately, the Sox just had too many injuries to overcome: David Ortiz hasn’t been the same since he hurt his wrist, Mike Lowell went out for the year at the end of the ALDS due to his hip problems, Josh Beckett wasn’t the same for whatever reason (whether his oblique injury or something else). The Sox had – and used – a lot of depth this year, but they just didn’t have enough to cover for all of that. Despite those problems, they nearly managed to pull it out and go to their third World Series in five years, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.

The Tampa Bay Rays are young and talented, and most of their players are locked up at bargain prices for years to come, the product of years of drafting near the top of the amateur draft combined with a front office that finally knows what to do with all that talent. Reversals of fortune can happen suddenly in baseball, but as things stand the Rays could be the class of the American League for the next five years. The interesting question will be whether they can build a loyal fan base in Tampa, or whether Florida just isn’t a baseball state.

They’ll face the Phillies in the World Series starting on Wednesday. The Phillies are a pretty good team, but I think the Rays will dismantle them pretty handily. The National League’s teams just haven’t been as good as the American League’s in recent years, and I think the Rays will tee off the non-Cole Hamels pitchers in the Phils’ rotation, while Rays manager Joe Maddon will deploy his formidable bullpen to take advantage of the Phillies’ offensive weaknesses (expect to see David Price strike out Ryan Howard in close-and-late situations a couple of times).

Of course, in a short series, anything can happen, but Rays in five games looks like a good prediction.

Obviously I think Sox/Phillies would have made for a more exciting series. Not least because I could’ve traded jabs with my boss’s boss all week! 🙂

Charles Stross: Saturn’s Children

Charles Stross’ new SF novel heads in a different direction from his earlier ones: Rather than exploring the near future of humanity, or the far future after the singularity, Saturn’s Children considers a future in which humanity has died out. Before we went, though, we created some awfully sophisticated robots, and they continued on and built their own culture on the bones of our own once we were gone. (Thus humanity is the Saturn of the title, and the bots are our children.)

The narrator, Freya, is a model built as a sex companion for humans, based on a model named Rhea. Life is hard in this society of constructs, since most robots are enslaved – legally and through controlling hardware or software – to the few aristocrats who run things. Additionally, since their role as companions to humans is well-and-truly obsolete, Rhea’s Get have the additional challenge of finding a reason to live. Indeed, when the story opens Freya is contemplating suicide while living on Venus, but she’s instead derailed by running afoul of another humaniform construct called the Domina, whose animosity makes Freya think she’d better leave the planet fast. Through her contacts, Freya hooks up with the Jeeves corporation, which run a shady import/export business. Hired to run a package to Mars, Freya gets caught between factions trying to fundamentally change the balance of society in the solar system.

The thing that keeps me coming back to Stross’ science fiction novels is the inventive ways in which he dances around the edge of the singularity, acknowledging perhaps more bluntly than any other writer that the transcendence of our species can take many forms, and that there will still likely be unlifted individuals around to view what happens next, even if they don’t understand it. While Saturn’s Children doesn’t see the transcendence of humanity as is typically envisioned, it does see us supplanted by our own creations, even if they are as flawed as we are despite the advantages of being advanced computing machines gives them. They are literally “posthumans”, if not the sort we usually think of when we hear the term.

The machines are caught up in a web of rules which have echoes of Asimov’s Laws, but are more rooted in the nature of programming rules and human laws: The less-advanced robots have no choice but to follow them, while the more advanced ones – ones which aren’t controlled by slave chips – use their smarts to get around them and use them to their benefit. And as always there are the many who fall between the cracks, who aren’t controlled but who are also ignored by those in power as long as they don’t get noticed. Freya meets many such people, from the Jeeveses who have their own power but who operate in the shadows, to some sad, damaged beings who live on the fringes of society, all of whom seem a little human, but also rather inhuman.

Although there’s a lot of intellectual chewiness in Saturn’s Children, the narrative often drags. I think the core problem is the main character: Freya is introspective and occasionally snarky, but perhaps due to her background as a, well, sex robot, she’s a pretty passive figure, more of an observer than a difference-maker.

The plot is similar to Freya in this way, as the stakes are high, but it splutters out in the resolution. It’s not a difference-maker of a story, rather it feels like it falls a few years before the developments that are really going to change things in the solar system. So the book feels more like a tour of this unusual future with a story grafted onto it, and while Freya’s own situation is a tough one for her to get out of, as a novel it lacks weight.

I think Stross intended the nature of identity and freedom in this post-human world to be where the book’s weight would lie: Freya spends much of the book working out her identity as distinct from her mother and sisters, which is tricky since she has her sister Juliette’s memory chip sitting in a socket for much of the book and experiences some of Juliette’s own adventures when she dreams. And the nature of slavery for both tightly-programmed bots and for bots wearing slaver chips comes into play a few times. But these elements seemed more like plot devices to me than really deeply-explored themes. I actually found the nature of the Jeeveses and their company to be more interesting on both counts, perhaps because despite being stereotypical butlers, they seemed more vivid characters than Freya.

Stross is rarely lacking in the ideas department, but as a reader I sometimes find that the story is lackluster compared to the backdrop, as here and in Halting State. Stross can tell a rollicking adventure story with a big payoff in the end, but neither of his last two novels have lived up to the likes of Singularity Sky or Glasshouse. I guess that’s just the price he pays for trying new stuff with each book.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #13, by Rick Remender, Pat Olliffe & Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #18, by Marv Wolfman & Phil Winslade (DC)
  • Fables #77, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #19, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Book One TPB, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mike Perkins, Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba, and Christos Gage, Mike Lilly & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men #27, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • RASL #3, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Lauren Pettapiece (Red 5)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 For sure, Legion of 3 Worlds is one of the most fanboy-geek-wankery type books ever published. Still, if you’re a Legion fan, then issue #2 is almost as much fun as issue #1. If you’re not a Legion fan, then you probably won’t care and you’ve already moved on.

The opening sequence catches up with some of the characters from the later days of the Legion: Blok, the White Witch, and Rond Vidar, who’s now the last Green Lantern in the universe. (The fate of the Green Lanterns was one of the more interesting threads from the Levitz/Giffen Legion, which I mostly found to be greatly overrated.) After that, the story is partly watching the new Legion of Super-Villains organize itself around Superboy-Prime, and partly Brainiac 5 executing his plan to bring the Legions of two other worlds in to help them, using – get this – the crystal ball that the Justice League used to contact the Justice Society from Earth-2 in Justice League of America #21 back in 1963.

(Aside: Okay, the multiverse continuity at DC is completely screwed up at this point, but this does seem to suggest that the classic Legion shown here is not from New Earth, but it from some other Earth-1, since the JLA from New Earth would have had no need to contact the JSA from Earth-2, since New Earth already has a JLA! No doubt Geoff Johns thought using the crystal ball was just a neat in-joke, though, rather than an actual clue as to the current state of things.)

Other than the obligatory in-fighting among the teams (used to comedic effect among the Brainiacs here), it’s hard to imagine a single Legion of Super-Villains putting up much of a fight against them. Only Prime, Validus, Earth-Man and Mordru have any hope of standing up to the heavy hitters. So presumably there’s going to be something else going on to complicate matters.

Pérez’s artwork is terrific, as always. I’m especially impressed with how he makes the classic Legion look like adults, while the other Legions are still kids; they’re all recognizably the same characters, yet all distinctive. You’d think most artists would be able to do this, but no one equals Pérez when it comes to this sort of stuff. Legion of 3 Worlds doesn’t quite measure up to his JLA/Avengers work, but it’s still outstanding.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 Despite being a Secret Invasion (yawn) tie-in, Guardians of the Galaxy is still really cool: Drax kills everyone on the space station the Guardians are based on (which is the severed head of a Celestial floating beyond the edge of the universe), because that’s the easiest way to find out who the shape-shifting Skrulls on the station are, because when they die, they change back to their natural form, right? Fortunately, in this case death wears off after a little while, and it turns out the Skrulls aren’t what everyone assumes they are, and Cosmo, the station’s telepathic Russian canine security chief, persuades everyone of who they are. (Touch little pooch!)

And then everything hits the fan when the other Guardians find out what Star-Lord has been up to in founding the team, and Mantis reveals that the future she’d divined has gone off the rails – probably because of the arrival of Vance Astro and Starhawk from the 31st century Guardians.

More fanboy wanking? Unlike Legion of 3 Worlds, this series is basically self-contained, and I think it can be understood and enjoyed by people who aren’t familiar with the backstories of the characters – it might even be more fun for those readers. With this series, Abnett and Lanning are proving to be first-rate ideasmiths; I just hope they can be given enough latitude away from the cockamamie event tie-ins to really put on a show in this series.

Astonishing X-Men #27 Astonishing X-Men hasn’t been especially astonishing, but Warren Ellis does his best to make it entertaining by writing some of the funniest dialogue I’ve read in superhero comics in recent memory. For example:

Cyclops: What’ve you got?

Wolverine: Something from the bad old days, maybe.

Cyclops: Logan, this is us. The “bad old days” could be as recent as three weeks ago.

Or, when the Beast – a half-human, half-cat mutant – is talking to Cyclops with his girlfriend, Agent Brand, who I guess is an alien:

Beast: …Actually, what are you? “Girlfriend” doesn’t sound quite…

Brand: “Xenophiliac experimentation partner”?

Beast: […] Girlfriend.

Anyway, the story is shaping up to involve mutants from parallel worlds, and mutants impacted by the climax of House of M, when the Scarlet Witch turned most mutants back into normal humans. Ellis gets high marks for being an ideasmith himself, and I am enjoying the dialogue. He always seems to keep corporate-owned characters like the X-Men at arm’s length, though, so it’s hard to feel like we really know these characters. But at least this promises to be an interesting mystery and adventure.

Articles about Nate Silver

An article at New York magazine about Nate Silver, the brains behind Five Thirty Eight, the election web site we’ve all been reading daily of late. (via Daring Fireball)

There’s also an article at the University of Chicago Magazine on Silver’s baseball analysis exploits, as well as his Wikipedia entry.

Since Silver’s stock-in-trade is statistical analysis of real-world phenomena, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he also made a living playing poker during the Internet poker boom. (Maybe he still does, I dunno.)

Newton News

Home sick today. Caught a cold yesterday afternoon, and it took me an hour to get up this morning. I would’ve just gone back to bed except I had a vet appointment for Newton scheduled in the morning. I was wiped out enough from just that that I called in sick and stayed home. Ugh.

Anyway, the appointment was to check Newton’s thyroid, since his blood work last month showed that it was extremely elevated (after having been mildly elevated last year). And he’s been gradually losing weight for a few years, from a high of close to 10 pounds to just under 8 pounds. So he’s been on meds for his thyroid for the last 3 weeks.

The results were – fortunately – nothing but good news: His thyroid is well down into safe levels, and he’s put on half a pound in the last month! He’s also been very snuggly lately, not really lethargic, just very greedy for attention. It’s cute, actually. Anyway, the vet says as long as he’s not behaving strangely then we’ll re-test him in 3 months, and check his kidney functions, too.

Fortunately, Newton loves taking his pills in pill pockets, whenever I take out the pockets he trots right over. So that’s a good sign for the future.

If you didn’t already knew, Newton and Jefferson are over 14 years old, so these things happen. But they’re otherwise healthy, so I’m hoping they’ll be around for years to come.