Saturday, January 28, 2006

73 seconds

I thought she was kidding. I really did.

Our teacher's aide came in around second period looking flushed. I assumed it was because it was still cold outside, but then she told us.

"The Space Shuttle just blew up!"

There were a few nervous laughs from the class. That kind of thing didn't happen, right? She had to be kidding.

We were one of the few classes that had a TV of its own; there was a fleet of older sets on wheel carts that most other classes had to share. My teacher turned on the TV, and we saw the replay for the first of many times.

I was 11 years old.

The image of the split plume is etched in my memory, and consequently, I don't need to add the picture to this entry. If you were there, you probably remember it, too.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the launch in schools across the country because for the first time, a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was part of the shuttle crew.

I had an interest in the space program. Not very strong, since I was unlikely to meet the vision requirements (The E at the top of the chart is a blur without my glasses), but just the concept of being in space appealed to me. In space, no one can flick your ear or try to trip you. Plus, you know, lots of Tang on hand. Clearly a lot of pluses here.

When I was a kid, civilian space travel was practically a given. We heard almost from the first day about how when we were grown-ups, we could be flying to work -- on the moon. It was always looming over the next hill, just somewhere down the road. Not after that.

My memory of that day -- 19 years and a day after the Apollo 1 disaster -- pretty much consists of that initial viewing, as if the rest of the day stopped at that point. I've only felt shock like that a few times since then, and both times, I heard about the event from someone else.

On Sept. 11, it was the pilot of our plane (we were heading home to SFO from our layover in Milwaukee) telling us what had happened.

And on Feb. 1, 2003, it was my co-worker at the paper I worked at, calling to see if I could come in early because Space Shuttle Columbia had just disintegrated over Texas. All of a sudden, I was 11 again.

Challenger Center for Space Science Education

NASA - Challenger STS 51-L Accident

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster entry at Wikipedia on Challenger transcript rumor

Yahoo links

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster entry at Wikipedia

NASA - Columbia memorial

Apollo 1 entry at Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I'm your vehicle, baby...

My wife and I were watching "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." In one scene, we see the title character's place, and it is stocked to the gills with pop culture ephemera, most notably, action figures.

"Is that the Six Million Dollar Man?" Andy's friend asked, indicating a toy. I squinted and saw that no, it was his boss, Oscar Goldman. I told this to my wife just seconds before it was mentioned in the movie.

"Do you realize that if you hadn't met me, that would be you?" Jen asked. She was kidding.

I think.

But then I realized that she might not be that far off. I have toys that are sealed in their boxes. Not nearly as many as Andy Stitzer, the 40-year-old virgin, but a couple. And given that I had to buy them myself, they're not really worth all that much anyway.

So I decided to liberate these toys from their cardboard prisons and let them breathe the fine air of California's San Joaquin Valley.

The two test subjects were just a tad over 20 years old; one each from Kenner's Super Powers Collection and Mattel's Marvel Secret Wars Collection. A staunch DC reader in my youth, I didn't have that many toys from the latter line; I tended to get a Secret Wars figure only if there were no additions I could make to my own Super Powers Collection.

Here they are: the Doom Roller and the Darkseid Destroyer. I don't know if you can tell or not, but I'm trying really hard to contain myself.

Test Subject 1: Darkseid Destroyer

Part of the second series in the Super Powers Collection, this vehicle was designed for the villainous Darkseid, the evil rule of the planet Apokolips. This isn't the original I had from my youth. I picked this up a few years ago when my brother and I trekked down to San Diego for Comic-Con. I saw this and the Supermobile at one of the first places we went to in the dealers room. And like and idiot, I bought them, not realizing that I'd be schlepping them around the convention floor for the rest of the day. Not that it's heavy, mind you; it's just cumbersome to carry a giant box like that in a room filled with roughly 9 billion people.

To ease myself into this, I started with the Darkseid Destroyer, as the box was already opened. I'd just never taken the stuff out. Upon opening the box, I noticed that there were a buttload of stickers for this thing. Check it out.

Just in case the stickers didn't work, I scanned them into my computer. Yeah, I'm a nerd. If you didn't know that already, I don't know what to tell you.

Hmm. Instructions. It's got to be easier than putting together furniture from IKEA.

Wow, check out the plastic. I guess the streaks are from being 20-year-old plastic stored in a loser's house.

Time to put on the stickers, I guess. Twenty years later and I still suck at this part. At least I did better than the guy who did the one for the picture on the box. According to the instructions, he screwed up.

Brody offered to keep an eye on the "spaceship" for me during the stickering process.

A-ha! Done. Finally. Check it out, yo. All the ladies in the audience, try not to swoon, okay?

Look, it even lights up.

Well, that wasn't so bad. Now for the next victim.

Test Subject 2: Doom Roller

A vehicle for the villainous Dr. Doom. The little pod fits on a loop of track and rolls around, hence the name. I picked this up on eBay years ago when I had disposable income. I didn't have this as a kid, but it looked kinda cool. I tried selling it a couple of times, but no one bid on it, so I gave up.

See, it's still sealed.

This should be a snap; there are hardly any stickers to put on, and there's very little assembly. A few guns here, a laser turret there...

Hmm. The pod doesn't want to jump on the track quite right. I managed to get it on there finally, and then I flicked the on switch, waiting for it to roll right off the table.


Well, crap.

I was mildly pleased to see that this vehicle came with one of the cool lenticular shield things that came with the figures. And then I noticed it was Kang, not Dr. Doom. You'd think with it being called the Doom Roller, you'd get Doc Doom. But no.

It's still kinda cool, though. Look:

Kang in the city.

Kang in space.

I thought of maybe cracking open the pod to see if I could fix it, but I think that might be trying too hard. Maybe I should just let it rest, you know.

That's it for this installment of Pimp My Super-Ride. If this isn't a one-way ticket to Thrillsville, I don't know what is.

Monday, January 23, 2006

If ever a Wiz there was

My brain seems specially designed to absorb useless facts and information. Consequently, I liked trivia games and trivia books.

Very rarely is this information actually pressed into service, but hey, you never know.

While going through some old crap I had in boxes, I found the mighty Coleco Quiz Wiz.

These days, Quiz Wiz sounds like a spin-off show from "Fear Factor": Get loaded up on coffee and Mountain Dew and then see how many questions you can answer before you pee your pants.

But no, this was a handheld electronic one-player trivia game. They eventually came out with the Quiz Wiz Challenger, which accommodated up to four players, but take it from me, you never get four people to play after you win too many times. They'd rather be out socializing and things like that.

The Quiz Wiz came bundled with 1,001 general trivia questions, but you could buy other modules that contained themed questions: sports, movies and (my personal favorite, naturally) Super Heroes.

Here's how it worked.

You punch in the number of the question on the keypad. You look at the question in the book and pick what you think the answer is, then you press the corresponding key (A, B, C or D). Then hit the "Answer" key. If it's right, you get a green light and a relatively pleasant tone. If you get it wrong, it's the red light and a buzz.

I thought I'd test my memory so see how much of this I still had locked up in the old noggin.

I've still got it. And let me tell you, knowing comic book trivia from 25 years ago -- much of which is now obsolete -- really impresses the ladies.

The questions -- all about DC Comics characters -- were complied by Bob Rozakis, who among other numerous comic credits, was DC's famed "Answer Man."

I distinctly remember that one of the questions in the book is wrong; I imagine it just got coded wrong in the assembly process. Alas, I don't really have time to go through all the questions.

I did, though, like the answers to choose from in this question:

57. In order to attend Legion meetings, Superboy must:

A. travel through time to the 30th century
B. travel through a space warp to the 12th century
C. use a cosmic treadmill
D. take the "A" train to Harlem

The answer is A. Or it used to be when this came out originally. If you have a year or so, I can try to explain how it's different, but I'd bet you probably don't really want to know.

I know my wife doesn't.