Sunday, December 30, 2007

Motivational Speaker Comes Back To Jefferson For A Second Go Around

Growing up is tough. Whether it be on the rough side of town in Los Angeles or even the humble suburbs of Jefferson, the years between childhood and adulthood are some of the most trenchant and trying times for teenagers, no matter what area they happen to grow up in.

And that’s why motivational speaker extraordinaire, Keith Hawkins, who’s been traveling to schools across the county for the past 15 years now, has been called in to work his magic at Jefferson High School and Middle School on the 14th and 15th respectively.

“When we get somebody like Keith to come to our school, I know the PTA is doing their job,” says Michelle Cannorozzi, Vice President of Programs for the High School Parent, Teachers, and Student Association, and Program Liaison for the Middle School.

“We really wanted to get more character based [activities] for leading your own life,” says Cannorozzi.

And Mr. Hawkins will be doing just that with his Stepping Up To The Challenge presentation, which he’ll be presenting to the kids when he swings by this year.

“The title might sound the same, but the content is different,” says Mr. Hawkins.

He says the title might sound the same because this actually isn’t his first time talking at the high school and middle school. Five years ago, he actually came by before, teaching the students about how to stay motivated and afloat of the problems that may be plaguing their lives.

“[It’s all about] the challenges they face in regards to education,” Keith says.

And Keith is definitely the right person to do it since he knows all about what it takes to exercise one’s demons.

Growing up on the harsher side of LA in a single parent environment, Keith was a leader even back when he was a child. Unfortunately, it was for the opposite side of society.

It actually wasn’t until he met a motivational speaker of his own named, Phil Boyte, that Keith decided to change his ways and get on track with where he wanted to go with his life.

And fifteen years later, he’s definitely moved on. Having spoken from everywhere to Newark to Columbine after the school shootings, Keith, who originally worked with the motivational group Learning for Living with his mentor before he moved on, has since gone on to become one of the leading speakers to the youth of America.

“I interacted with [the kids of Columbine] as if it were any other school,” says Keith on the experience of handling a tragedy. “While others were treating it as this huge thing, I went there and treated them like regular students.”

And in that way, Keith helped to make them feel normal again and not like the nation’s pariahs, which is always the case when put in the spotlight on a national scale.

“[I want to] get rid of doubt in their lives, and how they deal with fear,” says Keith, with fear being an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real (Keith likes to use acronyms a lot).

The speech on doubts and fears will especially press on an aspect at Jefferson’s school as one of the students last year actually committed suicide.

“There was a death of a student [last] year,” says Cannorozzi, “and Keith asks, ‘Do you want me to touch on it? Do you want me to leave it alone?’”

Keith will of course touch on it and other aspects of the teenagers’ and parents’ existence when he comes by and speaks on the 14th and 15th, (a parent session will also be held at night on the 14th at the high school). That is his job after all—the job of a motivational leader.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

National Treasure: 2-Disc Set Review

When the Nic Cage vehicle, National Treasure came out in 2004, nobody expected it to be the massive, worldwide hit that it was ($347.5 million dollars sure is a lot of money). Sure, it was a big and flashy Bruckheimer blockbuster, but this was PG, stuffed with history, and didn’t have a single pirate in it (Unless you count the skeletal pirates on the doomed ship, the Charlotte). But with a quest so heavily laden with conspiracy theories at the roaring time of the Da Vinci Code, how could we have possibly thought otherwise? It also helps that National Treasure never misses a beat and delivers in every single way imaginable.

The Movie: Four and a half stars

In the Nic Cage canon, National Treasure is certainly not his best film (leave that to Adaptation). That said, it may just be his most fun, as few movies have truly utilized the Nic Cage as goofy everyman/bona fide action hero as well as National Treasure has.

Playing as the aptly named Benjamin Franklin Gates, Nic’s treasure hunting tale begins with a story about how Gates’ great, great, great grandfather was told a secret by a moribund Charles Caroll, who was the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence. What he was told was about how a clandestine fortune still lies hidden, and that the current secret “lies with Charlotte.” Cryptic words if there ever were any.

This of course sends us to present day, where we find out that Charlotte was not in fact a person, but rather, a sunken vessel. And on this vessel, Gates and his genius partner, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) are searching for clues while his financier friend, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), is silently scheming on how to steal said clues. And it’s here, within the first few minutes of the movie that the little over two hour film really begins to pick up steam, as Ian Howe betrays the two of then and steals the treasure Gates’ has just uncovered—A pipe etched with a riddle on it. The wily Howe then leaves them for dead in a tundra explosion, providing the first real cliffhanger of many in this intelligently wrought action comedy.

Our heroes of course make it out alive in pure Bruckheimer fashion, and go on a quest that takes them from stealing the Declaration of Independence, to locating Ben Franklin’s special specs at Independence Hall, and even to Trinity Church in New York, where the treasure truly lies.

As great as Nic Cage is as an actor though, the film probably wouldn’t have been as good as it was if it weren’t for the outstanding costars. Besides the witty banter he has with Riley Poole and his love interest, Diane Kruger (Abigail Chase), the hammy as always, Jon Voight, who plays Nic Cage’s father, Patrick Henry Gates, is the real spotlight stealer in the film. And that’s because unlike the younger Gates’ who fully believes in the conspiracy, Gates Sr. is a skeptical, old coot who can’t imagine that there could possibly be hidden messages scrawled on the back of the Declaration of Independence. That is, of course, until he sees it for himself and winds up getting swept up into the whole mess also, which changes this film from being a standard treasure hunting flick, to a rollicking chase movie. Jon Voight just so happens to have the perfect role of looking bemused in the midst of chaos that you actually believe he can act again, which is no small feat.

It should be noted, though, that if anyone drags this film down, it’s the overly sapient, cool as a cucumber, Harvey Keitel, who plays the FBI Special Agent Peter Sadusky. His steely gaze and slow, husky voice seem to suck out all the life blood from every scene he appears in. Good thing these scenes are few and far between and that Nic Cage ramps up the energy every time he’s back on screen.

The Disc: Four Stars

To add to the whole mystery and glamour of treasure hunting is an excellent documentary on the first disc about real live treasure hunters and the techniques they use the preserve priceless artifacts. It goes to show that most of the stuff in the movie is purely bunk (as if you didn’t already know) as things just don’t happen that quickly in treasure hunting. Some of these people have been searching for close to a decade for certain treasures before they actually ever found them.

Also included on the first disk are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and an animatic clip of the opening sequence, all featured with optional commentary. The real scene stealer though is the “Riley’s Decode This!” feature, which gives you a history lesson on various hidden cyphers, such as Hieroglyphics and Morse Code, while at the same time, providing a game for you and secret clues that open up even more features when you start piecing everything together.

That said, it’s a real shame that the second disc in this 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, which is no doubt being released since the sequel, Book of Secrets is just around the corner, is not as detailed as the richly prepared first disk. Featured in disc 2 are a few more deleted scenes, none of them really that important (One featuring an even longer sequence of the dull Keitel), which is also with optional audio commentary. Also on the disc is an informative lecture on Ciphers, a history lesson on the various locations of the film, and a sequence talking about how the crew blew up the sunken ship, the Charlotte, to make for a very riveting beginning.

And though it may very well be a special, hidden feature on the first disc, I couldn’t find any sort of full movie commentaries featuring either the director, Jon Turteltaub, or Nic Cage, which would have been interesting to hear how they felt about reacting to the twist and turns of the film.

Even so, you really can’t go wrong when a film like National Treasure is as good as it is. The big question though is, is it worth buying all over again if you already have the original 1-disc set? Personally, I say no, as the original commentaries and alternate ending have already been heard and seen before. But if you want a little more history mixed in with your treasure hunting, you can’t go wrong with this special disc set.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Wii Review: Super Mario Galaxy

While you’ve probably already read a baker’s dozen of reviews for the pleasant plumber’s escapades in outer space, this one’s different. Why? Well, unlike pretty much everybody else on the planet, I actually liked Super Mario Sunshine quite a bit and don’t just jump from Mario 64 to Mario Galaxy in comparisons like everybody else. In my mind, every game has progressed to reach this very moment to craft not only the best game the Wii has ever been graced with (Sorry, Twilight Princess fans, but this one has you beat), but also the best game in the Mario series ever. Super Mario World be damned!

What makes this game such a magical adventure, from its slightly slow start to its ultra awesome conclusion (I still haven’t gotten to the Luigi game yet), is how Nintendo managed to flip, both literally and figuratively, Mario from his side scrolling days of yore to now. Sure, Mario 64 did that just fine, but beneath the veneer of totally 3-D gaming done right, it still felt like a game that could have been done in 2-D if Master Miyamoto had decided to put it in that format. Not so with Mario Galaxy, a game that utilizes the nunchuku and Wii-mote so well, that I’ve finally become a true believer.

What Galaxy does with the physics and gravity of the minor planets and the overall scope of the larger ones is simply astounding. This is the overall leap from 3-D (Running completely around some planets—King Kai style—without falling off), that Mario 64 really wanted to be, and what Mario Sunshine came very close to nailing.

You start the game off learning that every 100 years or so, stars fall from the sky with the energy to power the entire universe. These stars can be harvested and yada, yada, yada, honestly, you won’t really care about the story (Even when Bowser comes into the picture with a flying airship), and will instead want to skip right to the gameplay, where you end up on a strange planet having to run and catch bunny rabbits, Mario 64 style. This is more a tutorial to teach you that, yes, you can run almost anywhere you want at certain times without the impending fear of falling off into the quasars, as some planets just work that way. It’ll take you about four minutes to get the hang of.

But that’s not saying that you can’t fall to your doom, though. On some of the larger planets, there are black holes directed right in the middle of them that if you fall off, you’ll get sucked off the terrain right to your death. If you think about it, it’s the equivalent of missing a jump in any of the Mario games—it means game over for you, bub.

And that’s why I said that every game in the Mario series has led up to this moment as just about every title has some sort of spark in its creative crevices located in this game. You have the down to Earth style of the first title, with its, get from A to Z momentum in Galaxy. You have aspects of going down into tunnels and coming out in brand new worlds similar to Mario Bros. 2. You have the sprawling, world map like qualities as found in Super Mario World. You even have the gimmicky Yoshi as seen in Mario Sunshine in Galaxy (One of my favorite special stars was called something along the lines of, “Random Appearance By Yoshi,” which is just about how I felt in Sunshine, too). But the game that Galaxy apes the most, and veterans of the series will probably appreciate, is Super Mario Bros. 3, inarguably the crowd favorite when it comes to longstanding fans of the series. From its airship battles, costume changes, and overall sprawl of secrets and missions, some could argue that Galaxy is basically the spiritual successor to Mario 3, with no level emphasizing that more than the very early Bee Galaxy. It’s here that Mario dons his funny bee suit and has the ability to fly for a limited amount of time to reach certain objects in the level.

At one point, you even have to fly and crawl on the queen bee to pluck off little individual star pieces that are making her itchy. Immediately, memories of swimming underwater with the frog suit in Mario 3 jumped to my mind for some reason. And it’s not because the two are really similar in their objectives or anything like that, but more because that sense of wonderment and discovery, that sense that I’m having the time of my life with a plumber, overwhelmed me all over again and reminded me of just why I fell in love with video games in the first place. If anything, if you’ve become a gaming atheist and have lost all faith in the medium, play Mario Galaxy to revive that interest once again. Seriously, I had given up on Nintendo forever until I played this game. Now, all I want to do is play the Wii some more.

Another great thing is the boss battles, which I looked forward to rather than wished to avoid. Unlike in past Mario games, the boss battles in this one are abundant, and each one asks you to try something totally different to thwart your baddie. Honestly, by the time I had gotten to Bowser for the first time, I was already so pleased with the boss battles that they could have already stopped throwing them at me and I would have been perfectly happy. Similar to God of War 2—another great game that I totally urge you to play—the boss battles really emphasize the strength and abilities of the lead character as a great game should.

Never have I felt more in tune with Mario than when I faced off against the bosses in this game, and I’ve been playing with Mario since the days he was simply called Jumpman. I’d be lying if I said this game didn’t have its faults (Some of the galaxies are lackluster. I’m looking at you Ghost Galaxy), but there’s so much good going for the game, that you’d have to look far and wide to find another game of this caliber. And I mean Super Mario Sunshine far. As I said before, I actually liked that game. If you even remotely liked Sunshine, then you’ll absolutely love this one. Bar none, Mario Galaxy is the game of the year. It might even be the game of the decade.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

360 Review: Rock Band

Okay, if you read my last article comparing Rock Band to Guitar Hero 3, you might have gotten the impression that I don’t like Rock Band, which is just not true. With excellent effects, a pretty decent, albeit short, song list, and an intriguing multiplayer aspect (One of the best I’ve ever played), Rock Band offers a totally different experience than anything you’ve ever played before. And now that I’ve played them both extensively, I’ve come to the conclusion that both can share equal space of the playing field now that I’ve noticed their massive differences and sifted out their glaring similarities.

The main difference between the two is that though Guitar Hero can be played alone – and often times, should be played alone to nail those expert solos – Rock Band cannot. And by that, I mean that it can, but really shouldn’t, as playing it that way will only depress you with your $170 dollar purchase. Especially if you like to slap the bass, as there’s no single career mode for that instrument for some reason.

Also, another opinion that doesn’t change from my last preview is how much I hate the guitar for it. Anyone who has ever touched the Guitar Hero plastic ax will not want to go back, as Rock Band’s controller feels way inferior in comparison. Most of the time, the buttons feel loose and light and don’t offer the kickback you expect from your frets. Also, the extra five buttons don’t add much to the experience and feel like a waste to remove your fingers from the top five by the head when you really don’t have to.

Okay, phew, now that that’s out the way, I can finally get to praising the game for what it is: an awesome experience that might change the way you look at playing a video game in the same room with your friends forever. What Rock Band offers is a visceral experience that screams pizza, beer, and hours of good times, as no other game offers the kind of camaraderie you’d get from playing fake plastic instruments as Rock Band does.

First, I’ll talk about the microphone, as that’s my personal favorite aspect of the game. More than just a ripoff of Karaoke Revolution or Get On Da Mic, Rock Band actually offers you songs you probably like and let’s you be as horrible as you want as long as you nail that always swerving pitch meter. The aspect of singing in Rock Band is simple—find somebody in your faux band (Mine’s called The Foot Clan) who doesn’t mind sounding like a fool in front of everybody else and have them nail the words on screen, and that’s it. It could have been a lot more complicated if I didn’t know just about all of the 45 songs (More on that later), but since I had a pretty good idea of the melody of the tunes, I didn’t have much of a hard time nailing those Geddy Lee, “Tom Sawyer” notes.

But I’m sure most people could care less about the microphone (I was the only one who had the brass balls to pick it up in my band), and you’re probably more concerned about the other new rock rhythm game feature—the drums. For those of you out there who only want to play this game for that feature, I have some good news for you if you’ve got tempo, and bad news if you don’t. The drums are just plain hard for a beat retarded galoot like me who couldn’t keep rhythm if my life depended on it (Which is strange since I play the bass in real life). That being said, it’s absolutely awesome if you have the awe-inspiring ability to hit the pedal and snare at the same time, which I don’t.

Unlike the guitar or the microphone, the drums take real skill, and are best saved for people who can actually hold the drum sticks properly and still play at the same time, which I found I can’t as I constantly kept hitting the plastic surrounding the drum on more than one occasion. I also had a hard time playing it on medium, which just proves I’m not the kind of person you’d hire as drummer if you were forming an actual band.

Still, my friend absolutely loved it and had a great time pounding the skins and hitting into overdrive, which is similar to star power in Guitar Hero but much more integral to this game. As stated earlier, this is a true party game meant to be played with other people, and if one of your band mates happens to fail at a certain point in the song, overdrive, (which can be triggered when guitar players tilt their instruments upwards, or when drummers get into the free drum section), can save them.

In fact, if a member of your band isn’t saved, the crowd starts booing you, which introduces yet another element of Rock Band I absolutely adore: the presentation. And while Guitar Hero has about as much presentation as a 70 year old man wearing a diaper introducing The Starland Vocal Band, Rock Band has it by the butt loads. With its Band World Tour mode, you actually acquire more fans the bigger the venue you play at. And with more fans, that means your status increases immensely if you play well enough – fans will even sing along to your songs if you’re a hard enough rocker! Also unlike Guitar Hero’s meta-gameplay, which never really detaches you from your Les Paul, more than once I forgot I was standing in my friend’s stinky room with Rock Band and actually thought I was on a huge stage headlining for some bigger, better band than The Foot Clan. The presentation is really that astonishing.

Too bad the song list isn’t. At a meager 45 songs (plus a few bonus tracks), I must have played “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash five times in one hour. And I hate that song! Word on the street is that you’ll be able to download whole albums in the future (And Yes’s Going for the One better be one of them!), but as of right now, the replay value of this game is startlingly low with the lame set lists available. So besides the crummy guitar, lack of a career mode for bass, and the fact that few are going to opt to take on the vocals, this is my major complaint with the game. And for a game in the music genre, that’s a biggie.

Complaints aside though, Rock Band is a great game that will undoubtedly get lauded and possibly be up for game of the year by the time those votes start rolling in. I’m going to give this a clear and easy four stars just to be safe. Add a half a star if you actually have friends to play with – you can play online with others, too, just not in career mode – and subtract a star if you don’t. Solo career mode blows. This is the kind of game that brings friends back together again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why do Vampires Get To Have All the Fun? Werewolves are about a kajillion times cooler

With the recent 30 Days of Night and I Am Legend almost back to back in the cinema calendar, vampire fans have a lot to be grateful for. But then again, don’t they ALWAYS?

Going from campy (Bela Lugosi) to suave (Brad Pitt) to ravenous (er, psychotic vampire #4 in 30 Days), vampires on the big screen have evolved, devolved, and revolted audiences for decades now, and have also become a staple in any rendition of the Monster Mash you can think of.

But what about werewolves? Those sometimes horrible, sometimes huggable creatures of the night that go through horrific night time changes only to wake up in a park butt naked and in the cold never get the kind of respect they deserve, and they damn well should! Werewolves are freaking awesome!

Sure, John Landis did us all a great favor by making his lycanthropic love epic, An American Werewolf in London. And The Howling also does us a great fan service with its demented plot and terrifying events (Isn’t it strange that both films came out in 1981. A Carter Conspiracy, perhaps?)

But what else do we have to show our children, and our grandchildren, and, if global warming doesn’t kill us all, their grandchildren? Jack Nicholson in Howl? Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf? Jason Bateman in Teen Wolf Too?! Come on, pal; now this is REALLY getting scary.

And while yes, you may say that werewolves had their day in the sun (Get it? As opposed to the moon) in the recent Kate Beckinsale vehicle, Underworld, just think about what you’re saying for a minute. That was a movie about vampires…featuring werewolves. It wasn’t a werewolf film where some poor sap gets bitten by a wolf and goes on a horrible killing spree. Rather, it was a movie about a war between sophisticated vampires that drank their blood from wine glasses and werewolves that fought each other in cellars like, well, animals.

Granted, the movie touched on the point that vampires consider themselves upper-class compared to the lowly, proletariat Lycans, but still! It isn’t any less humiliating if you’re a fan of werewolves and the only other movie you can talk about features the star of Arrested Development wearing a denim jacket and a fur suit.

So, my suggestion is that we wolf fans get on the highest surface we can scale (Preferably a roof) pump our hirsute fists and howl to the moon until we get exactly what we want—a fresh new werewolf film in theaters RIGHT NOW. I mean, if that Wendy’s spokesperson can make me love their brand name again just by wearing a red pigtail wig and a utter look of confusion on his face, I certainly think that we, who have an infinitely cooler mascot, can do some pretty rough damage ourselves, don’t you think? So are you with me, or are you with me?

Great, we start our first meeting during the next full moon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Picking up the trash, cleaning up the streets

Just look on the side of the road on your drive to work and you’re likely to find all sorts of refuse laying in the wake of driver’s passing by and tossing their trash out the window. Soda bottles, White Castle wrappers, and even whole garbage bags can be seen littering the landscape of New Jersey, making the once appraised garden state look like the garbage state.

But not everybody is standing idly by on the sidelines while our world goes to waste.

“Two weeks ago, we had a clean-up,” says Jefferson Township recycling coordinator, Gino Recksiek (“But just call me Gino”), “We all help each other out with it.”

The “we” Gino is referring to are the various groups that go with him to pick up trash along the roadways—this “we” in particular being a Cub Scout organization in Hackettstown.

“I have to give credit for what they do,” says Gino, “and the younger groups are getting better knowledge of everyday recycling. Hopefully they remember it.”

And assistant Cub Master and den leader, Joe Terrezza, from Bud Lake aims to be the man to help them remember.
“We do it [clean up the roads] every year as a community service project,” says Mr. Terrezza, who took his pack this year, along with their parents, to clean up Berkshire Valley Road.

“We’re trying to teach the kids to respect the environment, and leave no trace,” says Terrezza.

The Cub Scout group, which had to actually get permission to clean up the road from the Boy scouts of America, isn’t the only organization taking time out of their busy schedules to handle some community service.

Only about a week ago, supervised children from the Oak Ridge Martial Arts Academy went out to clean Dover-Milton Road, and on Saturday, May 12th, a volunteer group of 20-30 members went to clean up Taylor Road. by Berkshire Valley.

“This area (by Taylor Rd.) is technically not something I would normally do, as I normally do public roads, not private property,” says Gino, who contributes not only to make the environment a cleaner, greener place, but also to teach a well deserved lesson to anyone who thinks that cleaning up the environment can be done in just one day.

“People will throw bottles right at you,” says Gino, who thinks it’s sad, but a good wake-up call to show these groups just how little concern some people have for the environment.
“I think Jersey is probably the worst when it comes to trash.”

Be that as it may, at least some people are doing something about it; other than just rolling down their window and throwing out more garbage.

Sticky fingers in Sussex: One Man’s Quest to Rob all his neighbors blind

It seems that Matthew Milone-Clapp, age 25, of Hamburg, was on a mission to break into every last one of his neighbor’s houses and make a break for it, as his arrest by Dt. Paul DeMott would prove as much.

Charged with 32 counts in one day in Village Drive where he lived, Milone-Capp was recently released when he promised to appear at his June 5th trial at the Hamburg Municipal Court. There, officials will know why he decided to go on such a strange spree to burglarize his fellow neighbors and also perhaps why he thought he might have gotten away with it.

“He attempted to get into 11 houses,” says Hamburg Captain Jan Wright, who alerted the paper about this felon’s actions. “So out of the four burglaries, the other seven are attempted burglaries.”

His count rate spiked with each individual action he took to intrude on his neighbor’s privacy.

“When he broke into his neighbor’s house, that was breaking an entering. If he stole something, that was burglary.”

And the counts just kept on adding up.

For every house Mr. Milone-Clapp broke into, he wound up breaking something, which adds even more points to his tally. And, when he could, he also stole credit cards and used them the next day, which is yet another crime that won’t be looked upon too kindly come June 5th.

But if anybody is furious about all this, it’s his neighbors, who are more than a bit miffed that one of their own residents is to blame for all these actions.

“They’re not too happy about this,” says Capt. Wright, who can’t confirm whether Milone-Clapp has a previous criminal history or not.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Contra 4 Review

Do you like your Contra hard as Powerthirst infused muscles? Well, if not, then please, turn the other way and close the door behind you, because it doesn’t get much harder than this throwback rehash to the original. Contra 4 is the kind of game that says it has different difficulty settings, but really doesn’t, and instead just offers you more lives when you play it on an easier setting, which means you’ll have even more opportunities to die when a red bullet slowly comes hurdling towards your face.

And when I say this game is hard, I ain’t joking. Just try playing this game for a half an hour without vehemently cursing the gaming god’s names on Mount Konami, as this is the hardest Contra I’ve played yet (I had to ramp down the difficulty to Easy just to get past the fourth level!). Maybe I’m not as hardcore as I once thought I was. Or maybe this game is just too unforgiving for its own good. I don’t know, I’m still torn on that decision.

Also of note is the fact that no matter how many different combinations of the famous (Or is it infamous?) Konami code I tried out at the title screen, I still couldn’t get my needed 30 lives. And for me, Contra without 30 lives is like Mario without mushrooms. It just doesn’t work, Bucko.

That said, veterans of the series will still gobble this one up. Taking place two years after the awesome Alien Wars (Contra 3) and three years before my personal fave, Hard Corps, 4 has you playing the roles of original favorites Scorpion and Mad Dog, and also features Lance and Bill for good measure. The story has them off fighting hordes of monsters and screen filling bosses in an attempt to trounce the evil Black Viper (From Operation C) once and for all.

Storyline aside, though (So, wait, Contra actually has a story?), what gamers are really here for is the take no frills action, and 4 definitely delivers in that department. Staying true to its stalwart 2D predecessors (And let’s not even mention the horrific 3D offshoots, yech!). the differences are what make this game really feel fresh and new.

The DS Dual screen for one, which takes a little while to get used to, adds a whole new dimension to the run and gun thrill as the firefights can get even MORE chaotic than you ever imagined when you now have bullets coming at you literally from all angles.

And the borrowed right out of Bionic Commando grappling gun, which plays a pretty intricate part in the boss battles, makes you feel like it’s a feature that should have been in Contra games YEARS ago; it feels so natural and perfect. One boss battle in particular has you hopping on rungs of a jettisoning rocket while you fight off a giant bug type thingy clawing at you while you rappel yourself up to avoid its swipes. Honestly, if that’s not hardcore, than I don’t know what is.

Actually, maybe I do after playing this game. Abandoning any sort of save feature whatsoever, this game harkens back to an age when being “hardcore” meant you could go to the arcade with a limited amount of quarters and play a game to the very end while still having enough money for the Laundromat to spare. Get to the very end of this game and lose, and that’s it, pal. Back to the beginning with ye. This game actually made me reconsider where my skills must have gone, as I found myself getting more and more frustrated at getting so far only to repeat everything and remember the rote patterns of the bosses and enemies yet again. This game takes patience, which is something a lot of action titles doesn’t ask of you these days, what with memory cards and passwords and the like.

Still, if you have a DS, love Contra, and also are a little masochistic, you absolutely NEED to get this game. Just be prepared not to play it in a swear-free zone as you might find yourself getting fined more than once for obscenities. Contra 4 is not for the poor in heart. Or spirit.

Turning Wine Into Scholarships

By Rich Knight NCAS'06 and Lori Varga RC'04

Back in January, James D. Hamilton NCAS'71, CLAW'74 was honored with the Joseph M. Nardi Jr. Distinguished Service Award by Rutgers' School of Law–Camden Alumni Association. This high honor is awarded annually to the graduate whose exemplary commitment to serving the citizens of New Jersey and the Camden Law community emulates the character of Judge Joseph Nardi Jr. CLAW'56, who died in 2003. Nardi was a highly respected retired Superior Court judge and former Camden mayor.

Hamilton has been deeply involved in the life of the law school and in the local community, providing pro bono legal counsel to area residents through South Jersey Legal Services. His advocacy and leadership have also helped the Camden County Bar Association (CCBA) and its foundation on several other special projects.

It is fitting that Hamilton received the award this year because Nardi was his good friend and mentor. It was in his honor that Hamilton, with Nardi's son Joe Nardi III, established a unique way to raise scholarship funds for Camden Law students and to honor the late judge's legacy. The pair formed the "Justice Good" winemaking group—because it's "just as good" as the commercial stuff. Participants pay to be part of the group; the fee covers all associated costs as well as a donation to the Judge Joseph M. Nardi Jr. Scholarship Fund.

"I think this is a fun way to endorse a scholarship," says Hamilton, who met Nardi Jr. during his Rutgers–Camden days in the '70s. Hamilton went on to clerk for the judge. "Law clerks became such a part of his family," Hamilton says, beaming.

Nardi often invited his current and past law clerks over to his house to see how he made wine, a family tradition that has been passed on for generations. Hamilton appreciated these experiences so much that, for the past 14 years, he has been writing a wine and food column for The Barrister, the CCBA's monthly newspaper. And in the late '90s, Hamilton wrote about Nardi and his love for home brewing, an act that solidified his place in the Nardi family.

James Hamilton works with the Justice Good winemaking group.

"[Nardi] used to love making wine at home, and the whole idea that you can make it easier for students to go to your alma mater [while having fun] is a great thing to do," he says.
And so here is Hamilton, using what he learned in Nardi's basement as a way to support Camden Law students. The Justice Good group first met on May 7 at The Wine Room in Cherry Hill. Using six varieties of red wine grapes from the Curico Valley of Chile, the winemaking process began with the crushing and pressing of the grapes to initiate fermentation.
Four months later, the group, which includes judges and lawyers as well as Dean Rayman Solomon, Chancellor Timothy Farrow CLAW'99, and other law school staff, got to try out their wine and observe the racking of the product while they nibbled on some cheese.
"It's all pretty authentic," Hamilton says.

And authenticity is the name of the game as far as Hamilton is concerned, as he wants to keep everything as closely related to the art of making wine as possible. The main objective (besides raising scholarship funds) is to make a wine worthy of the Nardi name.

And what would a good wine be without a fitting label? After voting on a series of great choices, Hamilton and Nardi III eventually settled on the Justice Good label, created by Nardi Jr., himself.

Hamilton is energized by the idea of raising money for scholarships that will help students attend Camden Law. He says he could have used more opportunities like that when he was a student. "Probably since I was in my junior year in high school I wanted to be a lawyer," he says. "I was [actually] the first to go to college in my family."

Overall, Hamilton and the Justice Good winemaking group are learning and having fun while benefiting a very important cause, something that Nardi valued.
"We're taking something that is so appropriate and hopefully making it into a school tradition," Hamilton says.

To learn more about the Justice Good winemaking group and the scholarship fund, contact Theresa McCuen CCAS'71, GSE'81 at or 856-225-6180.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Guitar Hero 3 Rocks You Like a Scorpion Induced Hurricane

With the recent Rock Band coming out oh so very soon, the brand that started it all (Ok, so yeah, Guitar Freaks REALLY started it all, but who plays that crap?) might get looked over by buyers this holiday season.

Sucks for them, as Guitar Hero 3 is just as good as (if not better than) its predecessor, Guitar Hero 2.

The question of the hour is of course whether Tony Hawk mavens, Activision, can take over the franchise properly, as the Red Octane/Harmonix split is sure to ruffle some feathers. But Activision does a great job of mixing the perfect bands (Slipknot, Metallica, Dragon Force! They’re all there) to make for a rich experience where the only thing keeping you back from rocking with your, erm, third leg, out is how quickly you can shift from orange to blue to green to yellow in the allotted time.

Also, it seems that contrary to popular belief, the track listing actually CAN get better than the last game’s, as this list here is much more diverse and spread out (Thanks for not mixing bluegrass with my metal this time, folks!). This makes for a more focused career mode, where you feel that you actually wouldn’t get a raised eyebrow or shrugged shoulders if you played these set numbers in a row at the same venue.

And then there are the boss battles. I was pretty skeptical about them when I first heard they would be in the game, but now that I’ve played them, I’m actually pretty disappointed that there are so few of them to fight through. In a nut shell, your opponent—whether it be Tom Morello, Slash from GnR fame, or even the God of Rock himself—plays a few notes that you follow off in a spiraling duet where you have to knock his rhythm off course by hitting note breakers. These “breakers” can do everything from throwing off his whammy bar, kicking the difficulty up a bit, and even overloading their amp so they get too much feedback. It’s like Puzzle Kombat only with guitar strings. Wicked.

I also really dig how Activision picked up some licensed songs and actually got the original recordings (And also some new, just added ones) this time around. Because really, who can actually match the strained intensity of Billy Corgan’s or James Hetfield’s voices? It was a smart move on their part, especially since Rock Band has a whole slew of them in their game.

But then there are the problems. And though none of them are really tantamount to hindering the game’s awesome experience, they certainly need to be ironed out by the time the next iteration (Or, God help us) side project comes out.

First, I have to talk about the difficulty—it’s too lopsided! If you’ve ever played either one of the games in the famed series, then you’ll realize that medium is the new easy, as the game is just far too slow if you’re actually used to that setting. But when you ramp it up to hard, look out, as said boss battles will KICK-YOUR-ASS (Slash offsetting my difficulty to EXPERT is not what I was looking forward to). Sure, it’s manageable, but as of this time, I STILL haven’t beaten the game on hard. You see, there’s this Slayer song, at the end, and, yeah…

Also, I’m not all that big a fan of the fact that prog-rock band, YES, has STILL not made an appearance in the series (Come on! “Long Distance Runaround,” “Roundabout,” “Going for the One.” All classics!). Of course, this is being really picky, but still. And the co-op mode is still a little lacking, as in, the song list is FAR too short (Also, I’d LOVE to play a whole game on just bass, which again, isn’t an option—I’ll have to wait for Rock Band for that).

All and all, though, these are just minor quibbles to an amazing experience. By all means, get both Guitar Hero AND Rock Band if you can afford both. But if you’re looking for the whole, drums, bass, and vocals vibe, you may want to wait. This journey is gee-tar flicker only.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Educational Maven steps down next year

Dr. Fred Podorf probably won’t get any medals, Nobel prizes, or sashes that say, “All-Star” across them when he steps down from being Assistant Superintendent of Vernon Township at the start of the next year.

But, like many educators who dedicate their entire lives to the grander goal of helping a child succeed in life, Dr. Podorf deserves many of those accolades and more as he departs from the field of education on January 1st. As he puts it, after 35 years of dedicating his life to the children, it’s finally “time to retire.”

Even so, starting out, education was always Dr. Podorf’s dream job, even back to when he was a student himself.

“I remember back when I was in high school,” says Dr. Podorf, reminiscing on his luminous past. “I always wanted to be a school principal.”

He had to go the long route like everybody else, though, and began his career as a junior high teacher in Brooklyn, New York, where he taught English to the youth. This is something he would go on to do for quite some time in other schools for a multitude of children before he would eventually move on to Montville in ’76, and then finally to Vernon Township where he is now.

And where he’s been since 1981.

“I have no regrets,” says Dr. Podorf of his life-long adventure.
But his resume doesn’t just offer a long blank dash from 1981 to now in regards to his 26 year stint in the district. Along with his work as assistant Principal, director of personnel and policy, and assistant Superintendent (which he became in 1995), Dr. Podorf also worked to open a brand new school in 1987 called the Cedar Mountain Primary School, which still stands to this day on Sammis Road.

“My heart is [still there] in the building with the children,” says Dr. Podorf.

Shortly after his stint as principal of the school he founded, the higher-ups came a calling and requested that the good doctor move up a spot on the educational totem pole.

But it wasn’t as easy as just packing up a suitcase and moving on as he had already formed a strong bond with the building as well as the people inside it.

“It took a lot of consideration, but I took [the job]” says Dr. Podorf. “The interaction with the people is what I missed the most.”

Be that as it may, he still stands by his decision that he feels no regrets with any of the actions he took to get to where he is today.

“Vernon’s been very good to me,” he says, pausing for a second to collect his thoughts, “I just hope I did a good job for Vernon.”

With that kind of humble attitude, who needs a sash that says, “All-Star” on it?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Obsessed! Facebook's Fanatic

Since its 2004 inception, Facebook has become much more than just another site to post your picture and hype your candidate. To prove it, Saudia Arabia-born student and Royal Canadian Army Cadet Imran Khan wants to take his love for the social networking site all the way to the Guinness Book of World Records. With over 48,000 members and counting in his Largest Facebook group in the Guinness Book of World Records club, the group has a long way to go in order to beat the current largest group, which already has over a million members. Via inbox posts, SMITH talked to this Facebook fanatic on why he’s hopeful he’ll take his group all the way to the top.

SMITH: When did you first join Facebook?

Imran Khan: I joined Facebook back in November of 2005.

Why are you trying to get the group into the Guinness Book of World Records?

I was speaking to a friend of mine on MSN, and we felt that since we couldn’t find a record regarding the largest group on Facebook in the books, we should create one of our own. Honestly, we didn’t know we would do so well in such a short period of time.

So is this group, then, really, about nothing? Just a large group for the sake of a large group?

No, this group has a reason for being what it is right now. This group represents a committed group of people that are willing to be noticed as they create the largest Facebook group. To me, each and every member deserves to be noticed. For some people, this may just be a large group; but for others, no!

Even so, you’ve got some stiff competition. There’s already another group on Facebook that has a lot more members than yours, not to mention the frenzy around the 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert group. How do you expect to catch up and surpass groups these huge numbers?

There are several groups on Facebook that have a lot more members than mine, but I do believe our group can increase. Knowing that the group just started a little over a month ago, I feel it won’t take long for it to get into the record books.

You don’t have a whole lot of customization on your own page. That seems surprising given how into Facebook you are.

There was a time when I was really addicted. But now that school started, I’m trying to tone it down a bit. Exams are here, so I can’t go on Facebook as much.

Fair enough. Back when you were addicted, what your obsession was like?

It was just a crave. I didn’t want to leave my house and whenever I left, I just wanted to go on Facebook. There were times when I was just irritated to leave my home and I would be on Facebook from morning to midnight. But since school’s started, I’ve taught myself to tone it down on Facebook. Life is just too busy now.

With so much going on, do you ever feel an urge to send notes and tell people about your hectic life?

Sometimes. Whenever I was doing something, I would always leave a message on my status board. But now I just try to keep my personal life away from Facebook. I mean, even now I think I have too much personal information on there, like my number and all that jazz.
But what about what’s going on in the Cadet’s?

Do you ever want to tell people what training is like?

Being in the Royal Canadian Army Cadets is more like a leisure activity for me. I’ve been in the Cadet’s since 2004, and I’ll be done in 2008. I go on my usual Tuesday night trainings and attend parades in downtown Toronto for special events like Remembrance Day or Regimental parades. We go on weekend trainings to Base Borden, where we do some skill work for living in the bushes. There is an annual summer camp for cadets and I had been chosen to attend an advance course to the Rocky Mountains, all expenses paid.

That’s pretty interesting. So how come you didn’t put something like that on Facebook?

Even though I spend most of my time chatting on MSN or talking to people on Facebook, I find it a bit too much work to write about myself on Facebook.

So what about the videos you posted, like the guy on the subway train. Why did you to decide to post that one?

I was fooling around with friends at school so we decided it would go up on my Facebook. I was coming from Rogers Centre when my brother, a few friends, and I encountered him. He wanted to tell us a story, so we said, “Sure, go ahead.”

Before he started, though, my brother took out his camera and asked to record him. He refused at first, but then my brother said, “Well, you can’t tell your story then.” So then he agreed to it. We were coming from the Argos game.

How do you think society has changed since community sites like Facebook first starting making waves? Do you think it’s made the world a smaller place or a larger place?

I believe it’s made my world much smaller. I couldn’t believe how many people I’ve found so easily on Facebook. I’ve found many friends that I haven’t spoken to for several (as many as 10) years. At times, I feel that Facebook is something positive because it brings old friends back together again.

What do you think of all the recent aesthetics and additions to Facebook? Love ‘em or loathe ‘em?

I LOVE THEM! Modifying Facebook only makes it more obsessive!

What are you going to do if you do make the Guinness Book of World Records?

I will put all the members’ names in the book. It would not happen without the members. If I can, I will ask the Record Book to send everyone a certificate because this would be a group record, not an individual record…Even if the members just receive a certificate by email, I would want them all to be recognized.

What’s your six word memoir?

Get off Facebook and do something!
To see the article on an even prettier site, check it out here:

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bioshock Staying A 360 Exclusive. PS3 Fans Shrug

According to the new EGM—the one with…Saints Row 2(?) on the cover—Bioshock, the revolutionary underwater first person shooter, will NOT be coming to PS3 as some had once surmised. While this is not so shocking to me, a gamer with the sense to know that Microsoft understands when they have a hit on their hands with sequel potential, PS3 fans holding out for the masterpiece may feel waterlogged with the immensely disheartening news.

But for those of you who have no idea why I’m making such a big fuss over such a little game (and you call yourselves gamers), Bioshock tells the incredibly immersive story of a plane crash survivor named Jack who must work his way out of the underwater society known as Rapture. The story gets all Ayn Randy on you as you wander around a John Galt society gone awry where the best and brightest have gone absolutely off their gourd.

And while there’s much, much more to the game (and also a twist around the end that will absolutely make your watermelon implode), I won’t spoil any of that in case you haven’t played the game yet. Like a good book, Bioshock is better experienced without any spoilers or inklings to the ending (which there are two of, by the way. There, I’ve already said too much!)

Honestly, though, I’m actually a little upset that Microsoft is shilling out so much money to keep 2K from porting it over to other systems. I’m tired of Tony Hawk, and I’m tired of sequels. In fact, let’s just go ahead and link those two sentences together without a comma and say that I’m tired of Tony Hawk sequels, and I’m tired of uninspired dreck. Similar to Eternal Darkness in its engrossing storyline, Bioshock proves that gamers are smart enough to handle a deep, intriguing morality trip, and that not all first person shooters have to be multiplayer friendly. That being said, I hope enough people play this game for a sequel to be made. It’s the least you could do, after all.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Local Teacher travels to Egypt for a meeting of the minds

Lake Hopatcong resident and teacher, Dr. Nancy Westerband is a people’s person in more ways than one. Currently working in New York as what she calls an “Intervener,” Dr. Westerband will soon be traveling to Egypt in November for a discussion among fellow teachers around the world in the People to People Citizen Ambassador Program.

It will be the good doctor’s first trip to Egypt, and also her first experience participating in something so grand and beneficial to the worldly educational system: “I’m really looking forward to this,” says Dr. Westerband, who sounds as if she’s smiling over the phone, “It’s a new experience in my educational career.”

New experience as it might be, it actually wouldn’t be the first time she’s been outside the fifty states of America, as she’s actually spent time across the seas in another location, this one much closer to home.

“I’ve done 32 years of teaching,” says Dr. Westerband, “ten years in Puerto Rico before I [finally] came to New York in 1985.”

Receiving her doctorate in 2005 in Supervising and Curriculum Development, Dr. Westerband currently assists her principal in New York City (“It’s better if you think of me as a mentor”), and works the supervisor support program. Still, the prestigious opportunity the People to People program granted her just didn’t land on her doorstep like a strewn newspaper. She actually had to be accepted for it, the letter coming to her in her mailbox just last summer.

“You have to apply [for it], and they either accept you or they don’t,” says Dr. Westerband.

And luckily for her, with the amount of experience she had under her belt, they took the bait and accepted her, a cruise up the Nile just being one of the many fringe benefits that comes along with the package.

As new and exciting as the People to People Program sounds, though, it actually dates back to the Dwight D. Eisenhower days, as his granddaughter, Mary J Eisenhower, is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the highly influential group that’s been in existence since the 1950s.

The original purpose of the program, according to a message given my Mary Eisenhower herself, is for ordinary people of a similar profession to travel to other places around the world to get a better understanding of how people operate underneath different cultures. This is all with the intention of discovering that while they might have a different mindset or a different way of seeing the world, they’re really not so different after all when it comes to how they would like to see the future—a better and safer place for all.

And with Dr. Westerband’s people and teaching skills, hopefully she can add to that universal mission, she’s one heck of a people’s person after all.

Monday, September 24, 2007

How to tell your significant other that they're getting a little chubby

Not on Weight Watchers yet, but soon. Soon.

Breaking Her The Bad News
Been with your girlfriend or wife for awhile now and you’ve started to notice a little increase in her dress sizes? You’re not alone as many people in relationships tend to gain weight after an extended period of time. Whether it’s because you’ve both stopped dieting because you’re not in the dating scene anymore, or that you’ve just gotten too comfortable on the couch with her to get up and go to the gym, there are many factors that contribute to gaining weight in a long-term relationship.

But if you think she’s totally oblivious to her sudden weight change and you don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, how do you go about telling her without hurting her feelings then?

Chances are, you probably don’t have to.

She Already Knows
“First, women who have put on weight don't need their significant others to tell them,” says Registered Dietician, Jennifer Nardone from the New York State Dietetic Association. “Chances are, they know it and are reminded everyday when they try to fit into a pair of jeans, a dress, etc.

“But what a woman does need is constant support and unconditional love regardless of size so not to exacerbate other underlying problems that may exist and that have led to weight gain. Some tips and ideas to try and find out what else is going on include asking how they are, asking if there has been any stress or problems they what to talk about, and simply, being aware of their emotions,” says Dr. Nardone.

But as men, we know that something as seemingly easy as being aware of her emotions isn’t easy at all, and many guys in this situation tend to either A) Tell her flat out—“Honey, hate to tell you this, but you’re getting a little chunky.” Or B) Insinuate that she shouldn’t be eating certain foods that you know will go straight to her thighs—“Do you really need that second scoop of ice cream?” Neither method is really recommended.

It’s About Health, Not Appearance
"It's important to never accuse your significant other of gaining weight, but rather, emphasize the importance of making changes together,” says Dr. Christopher R Mohr, RD of “Suggest daily activities, rather than sitting and watching TV, and join co-ed intramural sport activities in your area, such as softball, volleyball, etc.”

Another good thing to do before you start poking her in the belly is walking over to the mirror and lifting up your own shirt. If your girlfriend or wife gained a considerable amount of weight, then there’s a very good chance that you did, too

"Always support one another in trying to make positive changes,” says Dr. Mohr, who also recently filmed a Healthy Grocery Shopping DVD with his wife to teach about the right steps to make when at the supermarket, which is a good way to start the conversation about making healthy choices as a couple. “It's not just a weight thing, it's a health thing and it should be encouraged that the entire family make smarter decisions."

Think Smart, Not Low
And smarter decisions really aren’t that hard to make when the two of you are working as a team. When going to the movies, instead of buying popcorn, sneak in some healthy snacks instead. Got an urge to eat right before hitting the sack? Play a game in bed that will keep your minds off food until you fall asleep. She wants White Castle but she just had it two days ago? Suggest that you’ll cook her a healthy alternative at home that really shows you know what she likes without going overboard on the calories. The more fun it is, the more likely she (and you) will stick to it.

And most importantly, don’t let it dominate your lives.

“Should the girlfriend grab a box of cookies, don't rush to criticize!” says Dr. Nardone, stressing the importance of being her rock rather than her shadowy scale. “Let it pass, tell her she's beautiful and continue to be the support system she needs.”

What Guys Who Have Been There Have Said
Advice from doctors and dieticians is fine and good and all, but what about advice from guys who have already been there with their significant others? Here are three guy’s accounts of how they went about doing it. And to keep them out of the doghouse, we’ll only use their first names. Googling your partners kind of takes the fun out of things when your significant other can find out what you’ve said about them by just entering you name and address. Use these methods with caution.

“Travis” from Texas—“I at first joked about it and said she was fat and needed to lose some weight. But then I suggested that there was a race that I wanted to run with her and we practiced for weeks. We lost a lot of weight that way.”

“Vladimir” from New Jersey—“I joked with her and called her a fatty. We both laughed about it, but I think she got the point.”

“Ankur” from New Jersey—“In a relationship, there should be a good amount of comfort where you can directly tell them, 'look, you're getting fat.' That's what I would do, and that's what I have done in the past. I don't see what's the big deal.”

Again, use these methods with caution.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Flickr's Favorite

Back when photo-sharing site Flickr launched in 2004, Rosemea de Souza Smart MacPherson was all over it. But she wasn’t just another obsessive uploader of pictures from her daily life. The 57-year-old Northern Virginia attorney had a photographic eye that won fans from the online photo community—they voted her images best on the site in 2004. SMITH spoke with the Flickr favorite member via email.

SMITH: How did you first get into Flickr?

Rosemea: I started on Flickr because I used to publish my photos at Fotolog. I still have an account there, but I don’t have time for it, so I publish very seldom. The reason I started on Fotolog was because my niece had an account there and I just wanted to be a part of her life—just chat and see her face. But Fotolog had too many technical problems and Flickr started about that time and a lot of people from Fotolog moved to Flickr.
What kind of camera are you using?

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT 350
Sigma: macro, 50mm.
Sigma 70-300 mm.
I just bought a Nikon / Coolpix S10 because it has lithium battery and substitute the Nikon Coolpix 2220 because I needed to keep changing batteries. I still have it and post old photos that I took when that was my primary camera.
Have you ever done photography full time?
Photography is just a hobby. Even so, it has taken over my life in many ways. Full time, I am a researcher/attorney/writer, but wife is my favorite title. And right now, I’m enjoying my life more than pursuing a career at this stage in my life. But yes, it would be fantastic to be a professional photographer and get paid to just have fun!
Say somebody read this article and decided that they wanted to take your title away and have the best photos on Flickr. Would you feel the urge to compete with them?

Flickr has many other popular people and sites, and I am personally friends with many of them, such as Gary*.
But I think my popularity has to do with my sense of humor and creativity. One has to be willing to visit other people’s sites and be fair on the comments and give favorites with fairness.
I am the best that I can be, and that is all that I can do. Other people can be the best of who they are, but I don’t compare myself with other people, and people shouldn’t compare themselves with me. And let it be known that I didn’t choose the title: The best pictures on Flickr. But I am very flattered and humbled by it. Mostly because there are a lot of very talented people on Flickr. A lot.
But there is also a lot of friction about who has the most pictures on Explore, and people fight all the time to be in the top four in different groups. Personally, if I feel a hint of hostility, I quit the group and remove all my pictures. I am on Flickr to have fun and laugh with my friends—and not to compete.
Would you say you’re obsessed with Flickr?

I used to be obsessed with Flickr. I’ve read your piece on eBay and think Flickr is just as addicting as eBay. I am less and less obsessed about Flickr now, but more obsessed than I would like to be. Flickr is more than pictures. I get hundreds of emails, and people share their personal problems with me. Sometimes I feel like a therapist, and that takes a lot of time. But Flickr is a community very similar to a family. Now, I’m not saying it’s a perfect family, but it is a family, nonetheless.
Do you use Flickr as a way to tell personal stories?
That is not my goal, but sometimes I tell personal stories. If I think I have a funny story to tell I will share it. And when a photo reminds me of a situation, a line of music, or a famous line from a movie, I’ll use that, too. I have a self-depreciating sense of humor sometimes, and I usually laugh when I am writing something I feel people will also laugh about.
How do you use Flickr to document your life?
I try not to use Flickr to document my life at all.
Actually, I try to avoid it. But photos do tell a lot about who we are, places that we’ve gone to, and countries that we’ve visited. I love the change of seasons, like Christmas, and in that way, a lot of my life is revealed through my pictures.
Where do you get your inspiration?

I was born drawing and painting, and I get my inspiration from the same source. Sometimes, I might see a shadow on the wall while I’m eating breakfast and it will result in a creative picture with good composition. I feel that taking pictures of famous mountains, or rivers, or buildings is not as creative as a macro, a reflection, or a shadow. Because anybody can see a mountain, but not everybody notices reflections.
Also, my husband and I go out taking pictures over the weekend. I love where I live, I love my surroundings, I love life. I don’t even think much when I’m taking pictures. I can take over a thousand in just one afternoon and not even notice it.
Was there a photo that you ever wanted to take but got away?

Yes. I have been involved with The James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness in the last 10 years, and last year, my husband and I were supporters of the fundraising at Sundance, Utah.
Here’s the scenario: I am in line waiting to be introduced to the press and talk to James Redford, Bob’s son who had two liver transplants and we were told not to take pictures of people, you know, to just stick to the trees and nature. Well, suddenly Bob and his daughter Amy Redford came and stood right before me. One of the people from the Institute apologized and said: This woman has someone in their family just going through a transplant. I was staring at Robert Redford’s neck. When he turned, we were face to face. I pointed my camera at him and said to myself: “I’m stupid if I don’t try.” But as I tried to take the picture, I go, “Oh, no! Battery exhaustion.” Bob said: “Too bad!” I spent hours laughing, as it was such an ironic moment.
What’s your six word memoir?

She laughed about everything, especially herself.

To see the article with pretty pictures and whotnot, check the article out here:

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Buckshot interview

XXL: So, you have a new album coming out called the Formula, right? How is it different from The Chemistry?

Buckshot: Uh, [because] it’s called the Formula [and not The Chemistry]? (laughs). It’s a whole different time, it’s a different scene. It’s just different, you know what I’m saying? It’s a reflection of what needs to be said, and it’s my manifestation. I’m trying to show people that I’m actually greater at what I do than what is perceived when I come up with concepts and stories. The things I do lyrically on this album aren’t easy. That’s the whole point of hip-hop, to do what’s not easy, you know what I’m saying? When you do what’s easy, it’s like, where’s the spark in that shit, you know what I’m saying? What makes this shit worthwhile if it’s so easy? That’s kind of the reason why I do it.

XXL: And how has 9th Wonder’s production changed on this album since the last one?

Buckshot: It’s just different, you know? His beats are different. I’m not really sure how they are, but they are. They just feel different, they sound different. They have a more sinister energy to them. Some of them are commercial joints.

XXL: You said they ARE commercial?

Buckshot: Yeah, the commercial joints are commercial, and the ones that are not commercial, are not commercial. It’s just different reasons for what people view as commercial. Like, I got this one joint with Talib Kweli, and it’s not a commercial song, but we [also] know that it’s not a quote unquote, freestyle kind of thing [either].

XXL: And besides Talib, who else can we expect on this album?

Not too many people, you know? I just work with people who really want to work with me. I don’t go out of my way to buy features. (He says about four other people, but for the life of me, I can’t really hear their names) There are these cats who work with 9th on there. But other than that, there are no other features on the album.

XXL: Okay, that’s cool. So I hear you’re making a new album with KRS-1.

Buckshot: Yeah, yeah, we just signed KRS-1 to Duck Down, so he’s on my label now. And he has an album that we would call something, but I don’t know if he’s going to call it that, so I don’t want to give it no title out. But me and him, we’re going at it hard. And as far as production wise, we’re really going in it. It’s going to be, people look, when I produce albums, I’m a Quincy Jones type of producer first of all. I don’t just play the MPC drums, you know, and stay behind the scenes. I’m actually somebody who produced this. With all respect due to Puffy, he’s a producer. People don’t consider him that, and that’s unfortunate for them, because he’s a producer. And he’s living and getting paid, and he gets props and respect even though a lot of people don’t want to give it to him. You know what I’m saying? Again, I’m a producer in that form, when I put this project together, all my knowledge goes into it. All my knowledge of what works, what doesn’t work, what’s criteria, what’s not criteria, so I attack it like that.

XXL: You’ve been in the business for a really long time. I mean, the early 90s. But the fact is, the business has changed a lot since then. So, I guess the question is, what elements of it do you like right now, and what elements don’t you like?

Buckshot: I like the fact that, you know, people are more public with their opinions and point of views, and it’s more accessibility to things. I like the fact that there are more opportunities, avenues to make something happen. So, I like the fact that rap and hip-hop is worldwide now. We’re in Germany, you know, I’m big in every other country…except for America. But that’s how it goes for every artist and all the talent because it spreads like a cloud, you know? The cloud is not going to be as thick as it was when it was in the area that it first originated from. You know, that’s the purpose of a cloud, it travels. So anybody with common sense knows that a cloud is never as thick as it was in its original state. And everybody knows that, everybody knows that. So I think that’s a blessing for me. It’s the fact that I’m in this area, and I’m doing this. And I sit back, and a lot of people, and a lot of rappers that’s known, you know, they fail to realize one thing. We are known, and the bottom line is that we have such a small sense of mortality in life and have done one thing that a lot of people sit in their crib and don’t even know what it feels like to want this so bad. Like, I know the feeling because I’ve never reached that level or that plateau, but I’ve reached a level of somewhat being big. But I also know the other level. I also know what it feels like to sit at home and feel like everybody else is big, and they’re popping, and you want to be in that position, too. And you’re working hard to be in that position, but you just can’t reach it. I mean, that’s something that I want to touch on. There are certain key things that I always look for, and certain things that make more sense to me, and there are things that don’t make sense to me. There are a looot of rappers out there, a lot, man, and they just cash their check and sit at home and sleep. I’m not like that.

XXL: So…

Buckshot continues: And the bad side that I don’t like about it is, you know, I was listening to Stretch and Bobbito on the radio yesterday, and I remember that there was a time that it was not only me, but a time when people would run to their radio station, run to their RADIO, and be home at 9:00 on a Thursday night because you knew that that radio station was coming on. It was kind of like the Apollo. When the Apollo was coming on, people would run to their crib to watch it. But you don’t do that anymore. It’s not even like that anymore.

XXL: Well, because of the internet.

Buckshot: Huh?

XXL: It’s because of the internet. People can just hear it there.

Buckshot: Well, yeah, the internet does that, and…you know.

XXL: So what would you attribute the resurgence of the Boot Camp Clik to over the past two years?

Buckshot: What would I what?

XXL: Well, I mean, why do you think you guys are getting big?

Buckshot: Why did we get big?

XXL: Why are you getting big again?

Buckshot: Oh, oh, oh, well, we’re just putting in work. In that sense, yeah. We’re just putting in work.

XXL: What about Sean Price, too and the popularity of the group?

Buckshot: Sean Price having the popularity of Boot Camp? Well, that’s because he’s putting in his work! Look, everybody’s doing a lot of work, but when you see Sean Price in XXL now, that was huge for me. That was huge. Sean Price is just doing his work, man. There are very few rappers, you know, who put in work like Sean Price. And he’s putting out tapes, and mixtapes, and this after that, and these over here, and these over there. Nobody’s putting in work like him, you understand? I don’t know, man, it’s like Sean Price deserves the recognition that he has.

XXL: And Boot Camp Clik actually has a new album coming out called Casualties of War, right? Can you tell us more about that?

Buckshot: What, the Casulties of War? You know, what’s funny about that is that a lot of people know and consider that another Boot Camp album. And it’s something that we are…the Casualties album is a few songs that we recorded, the casualties, the definition of that, is the fact that there were a lot of songs that didn’t make the [last] Boot Camp album, but they were good…to us, and we still wanted to use them. So, we did that to make sure that we put out an album that had that selection on it.

XXL: And so, when can we expect the next official Boot Camp album to come out with new tracks?

Buckshot: Um, soon, real soon. This project right here [the Casualties album] is something that we really remixed.

XXL: What would you say your responsibilities are day to day at Duck Down Records? You know, like Dru-Ha does what? You do you do what?

Buckshot: I mean, it’s harder now because we don’t really have an official office, so it’s harder. Uh, I would say that, look, my role at Duck Down now is a little harder. I think all of our roles are harder because we don’t have an office. But we are dealing with Cornerstone. And I say that we don’t have an office because even though we do have an office, we actually do have an office, an office where we operate in. But we’re used to operating in a self-contained place. But the thing is, it is useful that Dru-Ha IS the vice president of Cornerstone Marketing and Production. And that means that, you know, people can really get a sense of his promotion and activity, you know what I’m saying? And people get a sense of actually what he’s made of and why Duck Down has stayed in the game for so long, you know? Buckshot is a producer. You know, I produce, and Dru-Ha does the day to day, but it’s still just so hard because we both do everything. Dru-Ha does the same thing I do. He just doesn’t do the production on the pieces that I get. And without him, I wouldn’t make the decisions that I make. You know, I’m just as good on the marketing campaign, promotional, you know, re-sales, it doesn’t really matter. P-O-P. I been doing the intern thing before I started, rhyming, rapping. So, I was working for a record label. I was doing marketing and promotional before I started rapping. So, it’s kind of a funny thing how me and him work, and that’s why we have worked together for so long. And that’s the reason why we’re still together, because what we have is not only special, but what we have is real. It’s not like we were put together, like, you put him there, and he’s the white boy and he does marketing, and I’m over here, the black man who does production. That’s just not the truth. I mean, that’s my family. He means much more to me. That’s just my homey, that’s my businessman, that’s my family. You know what I’m saying? That’s my fam, that’s my dude.

XXL: Will there be another Black Moon album?

Buckshot: Yeah, definitely. There will definitely be another Black Moon. And it will be real soon. And, um, me and E (Evil Dee) just came from doing a show in San Francisco, and Black Moon, we’re going to do our thing, but you know, it’s crazy. I was reading the 50 article yesterday, you understand what I’m saying? And I’m not going to say I’m the same because I’m not trying to capture a vibe. But when…it’s just funny because, it’s far more often that black people, our people, my own people, that make more of a big deal of why they won’t do certain things. Or like, they’ll say, ‘you have a car, so why do you take the train still?’ Like, so what? Am I not supposed to? My partner Juwan takes the train all the time. Rob Stone, head of marketing and promotion for Cornerstone Marketing, he’s worth millions of dollars, and he takes the train ALL the time. So what’s the problem? But black people, a lot of them, they’ll be like, “Oh, oh,” but that’s because we want to cut ourselves off from that sense of poverty that we came from, but at the same time, I’m reading this interview, and I’m just like, “Wow.” People hear stories that and like, this person makes $300,000, and this person only makes La La (?) I mean, people hear numbers like that and they wish that was them. But people don’t recognize that when they’ll be flying high until winds hit the kite.

XXL: You actually struck upon a good point that I wanted to talk about with the whole monetary issue. The industry right now is in a slump, and ring tones are making more money than records.

Buckshot: Why not? I say, what’s wrong with that? I keep hearing people mention that, like, ringtones…I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t it?

XXL: Well, for someone like me, that doesn’t matter. Ringtones, that’s fine and good. But what do people like you in the industry feel about that? I mean, record sales aren’t like they used to be.

Buckshot: That’s not our fault. Whose fault is that?

XXL: Well, I’m not saying it’s anybody’s fault. I’m just saying, how do you deal with it?

Buckshot: It has to be SOMEBODY’s fault. Because when you look at that, fault becomes the reason, and reason brings understanding. So we really don’t need to start questioning it, you know what I’m saying? You know what, hold up. We’re the reason why we don’t sell records anymore anyway, so why are we all asking ourselves the same question? What do we do? Where?...Ringtones are good, you know what I’m saying? Word. It’s just crazy.

XXL: Okay, that’s fine. So, realistically, what would you say the goals are for Duck Down for the next couple of years?

Buckshot: Putting out different rap artists, like now, I have a coalition, and my coalition is not the same. I fucked with a lot of people. Like now, like I said, I have KRS-1, Lost Cause (?), Black Moon, Smif-n-Wessin (Can’t make out who he’s saying), Raheem…all those are the groups that I got so far. All those groups are very, very important to me. The reason why I reach Sha Much (?) is because De Sha (?) worked with the Outlaws. What’s very, very important is that there are a lot of record labels out there, but if you’re not in XXL or Scratch, then you’re not in the game. I’m just keeping it real. Black Beat, BET, somewhere.

XXL: Since you guys have been in the game for so long, a lot of the younger listeners might not know who you are. Do you feel and urge to reintroduce yourselves to them? Or does that not really matter to you?

Buckshot: It’s funny when people say that or ask that, because what are you supposed to do? Keep re, keep re, keep reintroducing yourself? It’s all about what I do for BCC, right? It never really was about trying to reach out, and being like, oh shit, I’m losing my fan status, I gotta do that again. I’m just so caught up in life that I don’t know. I’m so caught up. Because I have a lot of things that I still want. I can’t be concerned about certain things like that, because fame without money is hell. There are a lot of great rappers who are living in hell, because ask yourself. If some of these rappers aren’t on the radio, and aren’t on TV, than how are they making money? They’re going through hell and torture. Rapping is a curse sometimes. It can be a curse. For real.

XXL: I think a big part of that is because the music has changed quite a bit since the 90s when you were really big. So what do you think is so different about rap music today than rap music in the 90s?

Buckshot: The fact that, ah, everybody is trying to shut the rappers down, and there’s nothing you can do. [These days] you can get on, and get recognized, but you’re not going to be a star, you’re not going to be that one. And that one always comes up doing something that nobody else has done. A lot of rappers, and lot of folks are saying that we’re going to start selling singles again. They’re saying that singles will be the things that sell records, because think about it. Really, really think about it. If Mims don’t do something in the next few months, we won’t even know “This is Why I’m Hot.” He has another record that’s out right now, [called] “Like This,” and I don’t think that it’s wack, but I seriously don’t think it’s going to get the response that “This is why I’m hot” got. They’re big for that moment. But that’s what people want to do. They want to be the franchise boys right now, and then people will be like, “Well, we already have a franchise boys, and they’re the Shop Boys.” And then what you going to do? When the franchise is over, what are you going to do? Are the franchise boys going to break up and go solo? Are there going to be a new franchise boys?

XXL: So, in the end, what do you want to be known for? What do you want Black Moon to be known for? Boot Camp Clik?

Buckshot: I want to be known for as the dude that held his own block, and that’s what we are known for. (I can’t make out almost the whole conversation here). Me and Puffy actually came up with the whole Street team idea at the same time, but Puffy got the props for it. I didn’t get the props for it. Who am I? I’m [just] a little thug. I mean, but obviously, the whole street team idea came from us, because people would look at Buckshot and say, “Here he comes with a bunch of dudes on the street.” Puffy had a lot of dudes, [too], but they were wearing shiny suit outfits. I brought the whole street nigga mentality. I would roll with my street teams that would promote me and myself. That’s all I had. You know, and I’ve had lots of opportunities. Like, I was supposed to sign with Dr. Dre, I was supposed to sign with Jay-Z after I was on the radio with FunkMaster Flex, and I can’t tell you why I couldn’t. When I’d actually go there—[there’d be] silence. And I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it’s because I’m not good enough when I actually come to the table, you know what I’m saying? When I get to the table, they’re all like, “Ahhhh, I changed my mind.” Sometimes, when I was willing to make that sacrifice for my team, my team was like, “let’s do it,” but it never happened.

XXL: Okay, fair enough. So, I know that Boot Camp just got with KOCH right now, right?

Buckshot: Yeah, KOCH just bought our shit. They bought our label out.

XXL: I know in the past, your relationship with KOCH hasn’t been all that great, so why did you guys get back with them?

Buckshot: KOCH bought our label, we didn’t get back with them. They bought our label out. We’re not getting back with KOCH. But it’s all good, though, you know? KOCH is my label. I was actually going to get with Universal, but Universal isn’t doing so well right now. They’re not. When it comes to making that paper, they’re definitely not doing it right now. But I’m trying to see if KOCH can do what they do, and I’m willing to stand behind them for a minute, you know what I’m saying? But right now, I’m saying that besides Universal and besides Warner, who’s out there? Def Jam is owned by Universal. So it’s like, talk to me here, who’s left, and what’s left? And that’s why everybody and their mother ran to KOCH. And you know, I mean, we know what we have now, and KOCH has adopted my concept, which is, go get a veteran, and go give them a shot. And that’s what they do. Again, I feel you, I’m a model for the legions. And even KOCH took my idea, and that’s why I don’t get no props because I don’t come out with that. People will be like, I come out with that, and I’ll say naw, I’m not going to say anything. But now I’ll say fuck that. You shouldn’t be so humble. You gotta speak for yourself or someone will walk right over you. That’s what I’m known as, a model for the legions. And that’s why I came out and signed KRS-1. And people will ask, why didn’t I sign some new hopes? Why didn’t I sign a Cassidy? Why didn’t I do that with Duck Down? Why did I get KRS-1? You know, a veteran in the game. You know, these are people who can’t make records now. And [record companies] aren’t going to sign the OGs. And then you have Large Professor? People were like, what’s wrong with you? Why would you get these people? But my whole thing is, that everybody who put out a record before in the rap game, and is not getting shit now, come on over to Duck Down. That’s my whole shit. It’s hard and it’s real. People who put out records five or ten years ago and can [only] sell 2000 records today, I’m going to give you $2000, you see what I’m saying? Everybody’s going to give them credit for what they sell. I won’t say names, but there’s a famous duo, and one of them who went solo, he dropped off, and while the other guy didn’t really pop off, as a group, they still never really dropped off as a group, but when they went solo, they flopped. But now, obviously, time went by, and as a solo artist, he wants to get back with the group one more time. And like, they want $100,000 in cash for a record, but we’re like, dude, get the fuck out of here. You don’t recognize the rap game, and you’re not in the rap game, period, and that’s why a lot of people don’t get back in the rap game. Cause listen, motherfuckers be thinking that this is 1990 something where there are budgets like 400 Gs, 400,000 thousand dollars on the table. Now, you’ll be lucky if you get 50 [dollars?], homey. And that’s for a whole project, my dude, so I’m going to leave it like that. I want people to respect Duck Down as a label that’s up and coming, man. Actually, a label and a marketing company, because we’re nice at that marketing. And I just want people to recognize that.