Monday, August 22, 2016

Donruss Chrome!

The first Topps Chrome cards were 20 years ago, in 1996. I wonder if their patent (assuming they had one) has expired.

Of course this Panini product is not called Donruss Chrome, it's called Donruss Optic.

It has the exact look and feel of Topps Chrome. It's based on 2016 Donruss, which is a set I don't really like. I was sorry I bought this as soon as a pulled the first card from the pack. I'm glad I only bought one pack. The $9.99 for 16-cards price was another reason to only buy one.

They also have Refractor cards but they call them Holo cards.

They even have Purple Halo cards

Four of these come per pack.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Movie Review - Suicide Squad

I was warned but I went to see "Suicide Squad" anyway.

This is one of those movies that the critics hate and the fans love. The critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 26% while the fan rating is 71%.

I'm well aware that the world doesn't need yet another bad review of "Suicide Squad".  So I'll just keep this short. The first 2/3rds were kinda boring. The last 1/3rd was all bullets flying, shit blowing up, lightening bolts, and the film makers heavy handed attempts to rouse some sympathy for the psychopathic main characters.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Champion Eaters on Cards

I finally found a couple of blasters of 2016 Allen and Ginter. I'm probably not going to do an comprehensive posts on the product, but just some cards that are of special interest.

The world of competitive eating seems pretty odd to me, especially any video I've seen is pretty disgusting. It doesn't look so much like eating as shoving stuff into a garbage disposal. Anyway, this guy, whose 24, is studying nutrition when he's not shoveling food into his face. When you're a championship eater, apparently you don't specialize. By the way, his nickname is "Megatoad".

This wasn't the first time Allen and Ginter featured a hot dog eating champion. Back in 2008 they gave us this guy.

Since this card, Chestnut, also know as "Jaws", has one nine of the last ten Nathan's championships, only losing to Megatoad in 2015. He is quoted as saying ″I will not stop until I reach 70. This 'sport' isn't about eating. It's about drive and dedication, and at the end of the day hot dog eating challenges both my body and my mind.″ He's 33 years old. Wikipedia doesn't mention him having a real job. Can you make enough each year doing this to live on? Maybe he gets all his food for free.

OK, just one more.

Thomas is 49 years old and it's not clear from Wikipedia if she's still doing this. Her last listed championship contest was in 2013. What's amazing about here is she only weighs 98 pounds. One of her feats is eating 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes. Erp. She has 2 nicknames, "The Black Widow" and "The Leader of the Four Horsemen of the Esophagus"

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2016 Topps Allen & Ginter - Finally

So every blogger and her brother have already written about 2016 Topps Allen and Ginter. Well, here's my two cents.

First off, it took forever for the product to get here to my corner of SE Texas and all I finally found was one value pack. One. The pack advertised 14 cards but I only got 13, I guess because I got an auto card. That's right, I bought one lousy pack of Topps Allen and Ginter and got an auto. Go figure.

A and G doesn't change much from year, which is, I suppose part of it's charm. The three subtle changes this year were to 1) dial back the curlicues; 2) put fine lines in the background color sploch and 3) vary the color of the product name. All OK with me. I'm not going to bother to show the backs since these have not changed since 2006.

At first I though they were color matching to the team color but maybe not.

Well, maybe they are.

OK, they are not color matching. Why not?

If I'm going to pull only one Astro it might as well be Correa.

A rodeo cowboy. This guy once had his skull crushed by a horse. He spent three days in a coma but returned to competition after 8 months of rehab.

A couple of 5th round Yankees draft picks. Bird in 2011. Cotham in 2009.

This looks more like a Topps Gypsy Queen card.

There are 100 cards in this insert set so I suppose this is this year's card-in-every-pack set.

I'm going to skip the two mini cards. I'm seriously getting tired of mini cards. Here's the auto card.

Oh, yeah, Robert Raiola, the sports tax man. What? This guy is an accountant with a big accounting firm. According to his web page (no Wikipedia entry) "He provides business management services, tax planning and business consulting to high net worth individuals and their families in the sports and entertainment industries." The photo on the front comes right from his page. I imagine he's pulling down 7 figures easily.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Book Club - July 2016 Reading List

11 books this month. Too much free time? I've also, perhaps, padded the total with some comic books. But they were fat ones.

This book came out in 1985 and I probably should have read it before now. I read her new book a few weeks ago and started looking in her back catalog. "The Handmaid's Tale" supposes a future America where fundamentalist's have taken over. The Handmaid in question has been assigned to a Captain. It's never clear what this guy does for a living but for sure he's part of the ruling structure of Boston, where the story takes place. Her 'job' is to have a child by this Captain, because his wife is barren. Once a month, after a ceremony involving the whole household, he attempts to impregnate her. The population has decreased due to various ecological catastrophes and most women are barren. Since she has literally nothing else to do, she spends her time remembering her former life, with her husband, before the country went mad. If you're into dystopia stories this is a pretty well written one.

Are you a nerd? This book does two things, it traces the literary and filmed history of Batman from the first 1939 comic book to the rumors of the "Batman vs Superman" movie. He also takes up nerd culture, specifically as it relates to Batman starting from the first letter columns in Batman comics in the 1960, through fan magazines, fan conventions, early computer bulletin boards, to the Internet of today. It traces how these nerd voices, few at first, but increasing in number, have had an effect on the owners and producers of Batman material.

I've read and liked stuff by China Mieville before. I read a book of short stories by him earlier in the year which I thought were hit and miss. This book was a hard read. It takes place in a rural town in what appears to be some kind of post-apocalyptic America. It almost seems familiar but it is a society where electricity is scarce, food is scarce, where hoards of orphaned children roam the street, and where nobody really seems to be in charge. The story is mostly told in first person about a 10-year-old boy who believes that his father has murdered his mother. It's told apparently by the adult this boy will become, but Mieville changes the point of view, and the tense often to keep me confused. Even the title becomes confusing. I managed to finish it but it was a difficult read and I'm not sure it was worth the effort.

 Are you surprised that I picked up a few Batman comic books? These are the first two collected comics for the New 52 Batman series. I could explain what that means but I couldn't do it justice. If you really want to know, follow the link to Wikipedia for more information than you'll want to read. In this relaunch of Batman, it turns out that Gotham City has been controlled by a secret society called The Court of Owls. Not even Batman knew this. But when he finds out, all hell breaks out.

Now, this was completely different. The girl of the title is Constance Kopp, who was the first woman deputy sheriff in the US in about 1915. This is actually a real person who hardly anybody has ever heard of. Stewart relates the, mostly true, story of Constance and her two sisters as they try to right a wrong done to them by the racketeering owner of a local factory. Although you might think that Constance would be well known, or at least known, there isn't even a Wikipedia page for her. The only references readily available in the Internet are references to this book. It was a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.

For those who follow my book posts, you may remember that I'm following the lead of another blogger who has read every annual best seller published since 1913. "Green Light" was published in 1935. I haven't read every best seller since 1913 to 1935 but most. This is superficially about a surgeon who takes the blame for an error of another surgeon, his mentor, for the death of a patient on the operating table. But deeper than that, it's about a minister, who's believes that the story of history is the story of mankind constantly moving forward. He likens this journey to traveling on a great road with traffic lights. When the light is green everybody must surge forward. It's about the lost literal title I've ever read. This minister asserts influence (perhaps undue influence) on his closest followers, including the good doctor. There's also a complicated love story (between the good doctor and the dead patient's daughter) thrown in for good measure. I find that books from this 20-year period tend to be pretty wordy, with lots of long conversations, and long internal monologues, but mostly enjoyable.

I did this on audio book. You may remember the 1999 movie with Kevin Costner. I saw it but don't't remember much about it. One day, newspaper columnist Theresa, while on vacation to the beach finds, you guessed it, a bottle with a message in it. The message is from Garret to his dead wife. It brings Theresa to tears. If I had been reading the book, I probably would have given up there, but I'll listen to an audio book if the narrator has a pleasant voice and the story isn't completely terrible. Theresa's boss pretty much forces her to write a column on the letter. The response to the column reveals that there are at least two more letters out there. Theresa, who is a divorced mother of a 12-year-boy, is so love-starved that she has to go down to South Carolina to meet this Garret. She falls in love with him, he falls in love with her and the big problem with the book is she never tells him that she's read his letters. So here's a spoiler. He finds out about the letters and, you'll never guess, dumps her. But then he relents and realizes that he really loves Theresa, so he writes one last letter, puts it in a bottle and takes his sailboat out even though a storm is coming. And drowns.

25-year-old Timothy, who still goes by his high school nickname, Moth, is an alcoholic history major working on his doctorate. One day he finds his AA sponsor and Uncle Ed, dead in his office, apparently a suicide. After going on a 5-day bender, he finds the case closed, Ed's death ruled a suicide. Moth doesn't believe this and undertakes his own investigation. The only person he thinks he can trust is his former high school sweetheart, Andrea (who has the incredibly distracting nickname of Andy Candy, which the author calls her through out the book). She's got her own problems, having just had a abortion due to being date raped. They get some help from the prosecutor on the case, who herself is damaged, a cocaine user just barely hanging on to her job. Three damaged people trying to track down a stone cold killer. I've never read Katzenbach and really enjoyed this. Looking at some of hie other books there seems to be some common themes, notably, damaged people being menaced and overcoming their fears.

In order to explain artificial intelligence, Zarkadakis believes we have to understand how the human mind works and how our minds came to be. In order to do this he explores a lot of history. He takes us from the Lascaux prehistoric paintings to the movie "The Matrix"; from the Analytic Engine of Charles Babbage to Turing Machines; from Aristotelian logic, to modern computer logic circuits. This is about 3/2 of the book and very interesting. The last third he presents AI itself and how the approaches have changed over the years, and the current state of research. So what is his conclusion, is true AI possible? His definitive answer is probably.

I suppose that the Weldon book above has made me a bit Batman crazy. This is the first of 21 weekly comic books in the Batman Eternal series. There are 2 more just like this one in my reading pile. One of the things I learned from the Weldon book, is that comic books aren't really published for children anymore. Or maybe today's 10-year-olds are a lot more sophisticated then when I was a 10-year-old comic book reader. This was 468 pages of an extremely complicated story. There may not be anymore than a couple dozen words on a page, but you've got to follow the drawn panels as well, since I guess 2/3 of the story are carried by the art. The story is about former Gotham crime boss, The Roman, come back to town after 5 years to retake his criminal enterprise from The Penguin. That doesn't sound complicated but nearly every superhero and super villain associated with Gotham makes an appearance and there are at least 5, seemingly unrelated threads weaving through the thing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Movie Review - Star Trek Beyond

"I'm not a Trekkie, I'm just married to one" - my wife.

 If you read my blog (and thanks, if you do!) then you know that I am a Star Trek fan. I've been a fan since 1966. I don't have rubber pointed ears, nor am I a master of deep Star Trek trivia, but I'm a big fan just the same.

I liked the first two movies of the new series. I thought that they did a good job, with a clever premise to resurrect the series with a younger cast. I wrote in my review of Star Trek Into Darkness that the reviewers didn't seem to really get the movie.  I find that to be a problem in general with reviews of science fiction films.

I read 5-6 reviews of "Beyond" before we saw it today. I mostly agree with them and for the same reasons. There is a lot of action in this film, the Enterprise gets cut to ribbons, (not a spoiler if you've seen any of the trailers), and perhaps the rescue mission and getting a derelict starship to fly again were a little beyond (get it) belief, but the director and the writers got a lot right.

What they got right were the characters, and this was mostly what the reviewers liked. The emotional heart and soul of the original show was always the characters, not the techo-babble, not the aliens, not even the Enterprise. Gene Roddenberry knew that right from the start. The producers of this series know that as well, and they do an exceptional job with the characters here.

A lot of Roddenberry's vision of a peaceful future shows through here as well. The central bad guy, Krall (played by Idris Elba with 20 pounds of rubber on his face) hates the Federation.  He says "Your Union is what makes you weak". But Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise use their union as a crew to defeat him.

I also thought that the main story was resolved very well. Why does Krall hate the Federation so? It's not at all revealed in the trailers but it's a good, and believable, story. Also several character stories get resolved. Kirk, wondering what he's doing out in space; Spock, having to choose between his Vulcan heritage or staying with the Enterprise; the Spock-Uhura affair. Good, good, and good.

Some of the trailers show some fantastic architecture. These shots take place on Yorktown, a Federation built city in space, built into a sphere. You only get a glimpse in the trailers but the scenes of it in the movie are almost breathtaking.

Here's just one example of where the reviewers just don't get it. This is a minor spoiler if you haven't read any reviews. How did the the Enterprise crew use the Beastie Boys to destroy the alien drones? The reviewers were mystified. It was explained, with a lot of techo-babble to be sure, but it was explained. And the bit was set up much earlier in the movie. Dr. McCoy "Is that clasical music?" Spock, after a pause "I believe it is, Doctor".

Monday, July 25, 2016

1988 Topps Big

I pulled a sealed pack of 1988 Topps Big from a recent repack. Topps Big had a 3-year run from 1988-1990. I don't ever remember seeing them for sale. Did you collect these when they were new? Ten years or so ago I bought a box of the 1990 product, so I have quite a lot of those. I only had 4 of the 1988 set, all of which (three are Phillies, the other an Astro) acquired via trade.

The card clearly takes its design idea from 1956 Topps. All three years of the set have the same basic design, a head shot and a smaller action shot. The only real difference from year to year were the cartoons on the back. 1988 had three, 1989 had two and 1990 had only one.

Being called Topps Big you may suspect that they are bigger than 'normal' sized cards. They are about 1/4" longer on each edge. That means they won't fit in a penny sleeve and are usually too wide for a 9-pocket page.

The cards in this pack have not fared well even the pack was unopened. The cards are glossy on the front, but now the gloss is a bit tacky. And the cards have yellowed. The pack was unopened but not exactly air tight. I used some Photoshop magic to clean up the images. Here's what this card looked like right from the scanner.

I'm assuming they were really white when new. Here are the other 5 cards from the pack.

 Except for the size, and the yellowing, they are pretty nice cards. They are colorful, feature a classic design and goofy cartoons. What more do you want, anyway?