Sunday, April 27, 2008

Local Man Works To Better Community, World

For those who have never heard of the altruistic, non-funded group, the Kiwanis, it means “We trade,” or, “We share our talents,” from the American Indian expression, Nunc Kee-wanis. And for anybody who knows Paul Kull, current member and founder of the Randolph branch of the organization, they already know that that’s a pretty apt description of a man who’s been with the club for over 37 years.

“I joined because somebody asked me to [do it], and I thought it would be a good way to gain visibility in the town,” says Kull, who first joined the club back when he lived in Livingston.

But what started out as a way to get his face out there more to the public turned into a lifelong commitment to people in the community at large.

“I happened to have in my mind [that helping was a good thing to do], and nobody told me that I have to do it,” says Kull, who reflects on his many years of service in the Kiwanis’, “It was the public spirit-y thing to do.”

Back in 1971, it was Mr. Kull who picked up and moved, along with another member, from Livingston and started anew in Randolph, where they gained the charter they needed to get started and begin their process.

“The other guy transferred somewhere else when he got a new job,” Kull says, amusingly, “[so] I was left to finish the job.”

And in that job, Kull did a lot. Starting out as Charter President (A position that he would have one other time from ’98 to ‘99 in his years of service), his first job on the agenda was renovation of the town library, where they helped install pieces in the building and spruce it up to make it more presentable.

Or, as Kull puts it, “We did physical labor.”

Physical labor in the Kiwanis, though, means many different things, such as supporting other groups like the Dover and Randolph High School key clubs, ushering at Special Olympics events, and even staging war reenactments such as the one the group held for seven years in honor of the anniversary of the Revolutionary War.

“It was something to do to remember the people who fought for this country,” Kull says.
Retired now from his job of being a management consultant in the field of human resources and recruiting, Kull also takes upon another role in the club besides just showing up and helping out at events—garnering more and more members to aid in the cause.

“We have over 50 members [in the Randolph Kiwanis’] and are just processing three new members,” Kull says.

Not bad for a group that gets no money from the state or town and raises their own funds from events such as the Morristown Craft Market and the Freedom Festival held at the County College of Morris.

“Our work is local, and our ideas come from the bottom up, instead of top to bottom,” Kull says on how each Kiwanis’ group is different in its own special way.

“We raise the money, and we do what we need to do [to get things done].”

Sharing one’s talents, indeed.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Burnout Paradise Review

Four Stars out of Five

For those of you who love racing games but have never picked up a Burnout title before because it was too, “destruction derby,” for you, shame on you, because Burnout, especially this latest game in the slamtastic series, is every bit a racing game as Forza or Gran Turismo. It’s just more arcadey and with about a million times more RPMs added to it for good measure. Seriously, this is the fastest game I’ve ever played in my entire life, blowing F-Zero out of the water completely. So for those of you who haven’t played Burnout before, you’re in for a real treat with Paradise, which is as close to a sand-box, four wheel version of GTA as you’ll ever possibly get in a racing game.

It’s the die-hard fans of Burnout that I’m actually worried about here. Paradise, while still maintaining all the fun of jumping off of miniramps and locating obscenely obvious shortcuts, is a pretty big departure for the minimalist series. So much so, in fact, that it’s bound to either make fans true believers that Burnout Paradise really is the second coming of (choose diety of choice here) or the end of days as we know it for the series altogether. Personally, I love the fact that this Burnout is so open-world and free, and it leads me to believe that this is where most street oriented games will be turning to in the next few years or so.

Similar to past games, you’re tasked with smashing up cars (But good!) and racing others to some random check place to the end of the race. Simple, right? Indeed it is, but this time around, it seems like you have more options, as the vast Paradise City, so named for a terrible Guns N’ Roses song, is an open world where you start your races by halting at stop lights and finding out what challenges await you. It may sound like it wouldn’t cause much controversy to the unitiated, but for those familiar with the game, this changes everything. In the past, the game basically gave you the option to choose whether you wanted to just smash things up or race, and this game says, why not just let the gamer decide in game what they want to do, meaning, that you can either just drive around and smash things, or, you could actually choose what missions you want to do on the fly, which makes the game much larger than smaller, something some fans might not appreciate all that much (Why fix something that’s not broken, right?).

But this game is fixed, and proof of that is in the new Showtime mode, which is basically just crash mode except it can be pulled off anytime you want by pressing the top two shoulder buttons. In this mode, you actually just start flipping across the screen, trying to nail as many different vehicles/signs, as you can to rack up your score and add even more chaos to well filled streets. Since the game’s been out, I’ve heard some say that they think it’s a little ridiculous watching your car continuously spinning all around town like some kind of katamari ball being rolled about, but I think it adds a great deal to the fun factor and really emphasizes how large Paradise City really is (You can roll around for quite some time, you know).

I also like the new radio feature, it adds a nice touch to the fact that you’re actually in a living, breathing world, heavily populated and loaded with opportunities to destroy the whole city if you’d like. And online play is fun, too. Finding people to play in Easy Drive mode is simple, and all you have to do is hit right on the D-pad to find other people to play. The modes available vary in fun (Stunt run was a little, bleh, for me, but I really love Marked Man), but similar to all past Burnout games, all the fun lies in how you make it, and there’s plenty of fun to be had if you have quick reflexes and eyes to make all the sharp turns you need to make exits and leaps that are on the map.

But that’s actually where I have a problem with the game—with the reflex part—as I find mine just aren’t fast enough to meet the demands of some of the objectives. Often times, the game is just too darn fast, and I feel that I’m missing out on a lot of the action because I’m flying down the streets at such break-neck speeds. And while I know you’re probably shaking your head and muttering, “n00b,” in my direction, it’s true, the game may be too fast for some (like me), killing the fun a bit if you can’t manage to drft your car into the tight turn you want to nail in time for a massive jump. There seems to be too much going on for my brain to possibly capture everything.

That’s small potatoes though to an overall great game and shouldn’t detract from everything Paradise has to offer. Pick it up if you haven’t already, and give it a try. Very few games can really match the speed and intensity of this game.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fire From Above

It’s been a whirlwind weekend for Jefferson resident, Cheryl Angle (or just “Cher,” as her friends call her), the mother of Cassandra Gadow, whose roof was blown right through by a projectile shot from Picatinny Arsenal last Friday, on April 11th.

“I’m overwhelmed…exhausted,” Angle says over the phone, her voice tired and rough from lack of sleep and constantly being interviewed since the event occurred.

“I was up at a quarter to six this morning, Angle says, talking about her visit to The Morning Show on April 14th. “CBS picked me up.”

It was around 2:30 PM last Friday when the piece of artillery went hurdling through Cassandra’s ceiling and landed on her bed, where she just might have been if she hadn’t been picked up twenty minutes early for a sleepover that night.

“She spends a lot of time in her room,” says family friend and neighbor, Tammy Kersten, who has a personal connection to Cassandra when she saved her own daughter’s life from a copperhead snake, “It just goes to show you how precious life is,” Kersten says in reference to how close the shell came to landing directly on Cassandra.

Angle and her 14-year old son, Brandon, were downstairs when the 5 ½ inch long projectile went through the roof of their house. Angle likened the sound to the crash of a door being slammed.

“It was a close call,” says Kersten, who heard the entire story straight from Angle once she had gotten home from picking up her daughter, who is also named, Cassie.

“Cher said, you won’t believe what just happened,” Kersten says.

Still, while Cassandra luckily made it out of harm’s way, the family cat, Sarah, had to be euthanized after it was in the room and struck by some of the scorching shrapnel.

In a press release sent out on the very next day, Picatinny Arsenal apologized for the incident, and added that they were “extremely sorry that the family’s cat, Sarah, was put to sleep after being injured.”

The voice behind the press release is Picatinny Arsenal Commanding General, Brig. Gen. William N. Phillips, who was first to respond with his sentiments for the cat and also for the fact that such a horrible mistake could even occur.

“The investigation team headed by the general officer will determine what caused the fragment to leave the installation,” he said.

Not in the mood for just waiting around for answers, though, Angle’s picking up where her life left off before the incident, as at press time, she was taking her son to Pequannock for a game he was about to play.

“[I] need to lay down,” Angle said in between the phone making clicking noises from people trying to get through to her on the phone.

Looks like she won’t be getting that much needed sleep.

Not anytime soon, at least.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kids Share Stories To Get Stories

In these modern day times, if it doesn’t say, Harry Potter and the whatchamacallit, or, The Chronicles of Narnia: insert the subheader of your choice here, on the cover, then many kids across the country are probably not going to read it.

With video game sales at an all time high, and the internet providing ample entertainment for children, both parent-friendly and not, it would take a miracle to get children back under a lamplight and absorbed in the latest book from their favorite author.

Or maybe not.

Enter Storytube, a national contest that utilizes the internet itself to get kids back into books, similar to ye olden times when cable modems and Playstation 3’s weren’t so prevalent.

“We’re hoping that it’s pretty successful,” says senior librarian, Debbie Jack, who happens to be promoting the event. “It’s a way to get children interested in books.”

This is all part of the Sussex County Library’s sponsorship of Storytube, which has involved putting up flyers and informing members of the library of its presence. But since it’s so widely spread out across the country, from town libraries to schools, there’s no telling how far any of the Sussex County Library children will go, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

“Because it’s a national program, we don’t know what our chances are,” says Ms. Jack.
But while judging the overall outcome of the winners of Storytube might be difficult, the general rules of the competition are simple. Using the video friendly site, YouTube, as its start-up hub, kids, from grade levels 1-6, upload two minute videos of themselves reviewing books they might have recently read. These books can include poetry, graphic novels, and everything in between.
There’s a twist though that lies in the categories that can be reviewed. Out of the four categories that are eligible, there’s, “Hair-Raising Tales” (Think R.L. Stine’s, Goosebumps), “From or For the Heart” (Sentimental stories), “Of Heroes and Heroines” (Stories about heroes, real or fake) and “Facts, Fads, and Persons” (This is where non-fiction fits in).

After the kids post their review on Youtube, they then send the web-address to Storytube where the voting begins on May 5th all the way through June 1st. The deadline for submissions ends on April 20th.

Kids better get on the ball though for submissions, especially if they want to win that $500 prize of free books that the competition is offering. The Sussex County Library is also set to receive $1000 in books if somebody registered with the library happens to win the competition.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Being A Highlander Fan Sucks

Man, it really blows being a Highlander fan, especially when all your friends are Star Wars nerds. I mean, the fact that our fan base is like a gazillion times lower than Star Wars isn’t so bad, really. But when the last good offering in the franchise is 1994’s, The Final Destination, I think that’s really saying a lot about clinging on to a dying series. I mean, that’s a whole FOURTEEN freaking years ago, people!

And that’s a shame, really, because I’ve always been a firm believer that Connor and Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod have always had the potential to trounce Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in coolness if they just got their act together once in awhile

My love for Highlander actually started back in 1995 when my dad took me to go see Mortal Kombat, the movie. Marveled by how awesome Raiden was in the film, my dad nudged me in the shoulder and said, “You should see the guy (Christopher Lambert) in Highlander, “to which I asked, what the hell’s a Highlander?

From that day forward, though, I became totally immersed in the story of Immortals chopping off each other’s heads—the only way to kill an Immortal, of course—so they could “win the game,” and finally become mortal for the very first time. I was equally impressed with Connor MacLeod swinging about his sword and flitting through history to fight off some giant brute named Kurgan while he waxed philosophical with Sean Connery about the feelings that come about from being around other Immortals. This urge to fight is called a “Quickening” in our universe, and Connor MacLeod had an itching for the Quickening quite a bit back in the day.
See? That sounds pretty cool, right? Too bad we followers don’t get NEARLY the fan treatment you Star Wars geeks get. Sure, we’ve had a television series or two (or three, if you count animated ones), a large collection of books, and even a pretty nice toy line to boot, but does any of that really equate for diddly squat when the movies we’re greeted with are utter and complete garbage? I mean, even the second movie, Highlander II: The Quickening, was a piece of rubbish that basically conflicted with everything you learned from the first movie—Aliens? Really?—making it hard to swallow nearly everything that would follow in the outrageously all over the place series.

But the final insult to injury is definitely the latest Sci-Fi channel movie, Highlander: The Source. Seriously, Phantom Menace holds nothing to this disaster of a film, and I can admit that even my enthusiasm for the franchise is waning.

So, while you Star Wars fans can rejoice at Lucas’ announcement that you’ll be enjoying a brand new TV series in 2009, I have to deal with the fact that my franchise might be on its last legs.
Sigh. It really DOES suck being a Highlander fan. One thing’s for certain, though: We’ll always have 007, Sean Connery, in our legacy.

But you’ll always have Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford.

Oh, won’t you shut up, Star Wars geeks?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Group of Women Give Food and Hope to the Needy

Beyond a brown door, situated between two shutters housing ambulances, is the Chester Food Pantry, a small space on 100 North Road dedicated to helping the poor and the needy.

“The township of Chester has been tremendously good to us,” says Jacki Spinelli, who spearheads the project and makes sure that the deliveries get out on time once a month to a wide assortment of people around the area, “I want to be sure we are helping everyone that needs the help," Spinelli says.

Jacki actually works with a group of dedicated workers who come in every Wednesday (“Hell or high water,” she says) to receive the food, check for expiration dates, and build up the well adorned shelves and tables inside the Pantry that contain the items and foods that many residents within and outside the township of Chester need.

“If they’re [the needy] referred to us, we help them,” says Spinelli.

But as an organization that gets all of their items donated from outside sources, the women at the Pantry consider it more of a team effort rather than any individual mission.

“We depend on the generosity of the local people,” says Joyce Casillo, who’s one of the workers who comes in on Wednesday mornings from 9-11 a.m. to help fix the shelves. Joyce, who shares the space with about eight or nine others, admits that some of the people who donate are affluent, while others are just scraping by like everybody else. “[There are] some people who donate who don’t have much themselves,” Casillo says, “[And] these are everyday people who count their pennies like everybody else.”

In a way, it only seems fitting how much this is a community based effort when one considers the origins of the small location.

Given to the women by the Chester Township, the Pantry started out as basically a small space on the floor of a restaurant no longer in business anymore once called, “Larison’s.”

“There were under ten [different families and people receiving food] at the beginning,” says Spinelli.

But ten blossomed to more due to economic conditions and the fact that more people were finding out about the pantry.

So they moved, and they never turned back since.

“The township bought this [the Pantry] and gave us the two bays,” says Spinelli.

Some of the groups that have donated over the eight years that they’ve been in operation are the local churches, ShopRite, and especially Mendham high school, which has a drive of their own every year that pits classrooms against each other to see which can amass the most goods for the Pantry.

“I like to think of this as by the people, for the people,” says Spinelli.

And with the amount of food that the Pantry has to offer, delivered by the people, for the people, she has it exactly right, the Pantry belongs to the community. She just happens to be a part of it.


Finally--My Smash Bros. Review

Four and a half stars

Did you like the last Super Smash Bros. game? You know, the one on the failed Nintendo Gamecube. Yeah, of course you did, who didn’t, that game was a monster on the sales charts. Well, if you liked that game, then I’m sure you’ve already picked up the sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and beat it five times over already. But for the sake of having a review (and for the sake of the unintiated, you poor, misguided souls, you), here’s my take on the biggest game of the year…Until GTA IV comes out, of course.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl, if it is to be believed, is even better than the last game, and by better, I mean, bigger, as the last game was just about perfect in every way. In the continuing saga of Nintendo characters (I’m sorry, tropheys of Nintendo characters) duking it out for the sake of, well, duking it out, we have Smash Bros. Brawl, which boasts a numbing 35 characters, some familiar, some just plain out there (Um, Captain Olimar from Pikmin?), and some pretty much the same exact character but with a different outfit, such as Lucas and Ness from Earthbound. Seriously, these two guys have no discernable difference besides hair color and color shades. But to be completely honest with you, as much as this game is French fries with gravy and cheese good, I’m not entirely thrilled with all of the new characters on the roster. Like Sonic, for instance, who’s a character I was highly looking forward to that turned out to be an uncontrollable mess. Or Wario, who’s so bad he’s almost unplayable. This game surprisingly doesn’t seem as balanced as the last one, if that’s even possible as some of the characters in the last game were incredibly lopsided (Like Jigglypuff, if you knew how to use him/her), and that somewhat hinders the game a little bit.

Still, the characters that are good are REALLY good, like Solid Snake, Kid Icarus, and, I can’t believe my eyes, Meta Knight, who was far and away by favorite character in the game. With these characters, you can either take the rounds in classic mode, which is everything you’d expect it to be—multiple battles followed by fight with a floating hand in the end—or, you can take them through the new and improved Adventure Mode, which is called The Subspace Emissary. In this mode, you basically take on the role of multiple characters in a quest to thwart the main badguys, Bowser, Wario, and King Dedede, who are shooting a weird laser gun that transforms everybody it touches back into trophies. It’s a fun, little diversion from classic mode and there are definitely a few loopy twists in the story that really make it worth your playthrough, especially since you can unlock more tropheys and items along the way. Honestly, I think the game is worth playing for this mode alone, but that could just be the rantings of a fanboy again who just loves hearing all the classic songs again.

It doesn’t stop there, though. There are of course other modes, including the homerun derby game where you have to slam that weird, phallic shaped thing out of the park (Note to reader: Don’t choose R.O.B. the Robot for this one, he sucks), and many others, and also, most importantly, a mode that can make the game playable for a thousand years—on-line play, which is a key one-up in this seminal series. During my playthrough, there was no lag at all and no problems, save for getting more of my friends to give up their friend codes so we could play against each other. There’s also the level editor feature, which I’m not really all that fond of, but my little brother loved it, so I guess it can’t be all that bad

And then there’s the vault, which has always been a coveted feature in every Smash Bros. game. In it this time are of course the regular batch of tropheys and goodies you’ve uncovered in Adventure Mode, but there’s also some brief, Virtual Console moments in there, too, where you play some of the games that these characters made their first appearances in. Some are very short, while others are about four or five minutes long. And, as you could probably guess, this, to me, was the most important feature in the entire game, as so many kids born in the 90s have no idea how these legends became legends in the first place. It makes this old, Nintendo fanboy/historian proud.

There are of course other little tools to tinker with, such as Assist Tropheys (Whoo hoo, ‘Lil Mac! Though, I still wish he was a playable character…), new items, and super smash balls, which allow you to initiate your Final Smash. But let me tell you, out of all these new items, the best out of them all was the super smash ball, where you basically had to hit it multiple times just to open it.

Hitting an oscillating ball multiple times may not seem like all that much fun, but when you’re playing a four way brawl, it’s the most competitive thing in the world as three other people will practically run right over you just to open the ball. That’s because once it’s opened, all Hades breaks loose, as these attacks can knock every single character right off the screen if you connect with it. I swear, Solid Snake will pwn you all

Overall, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the quitisential Wii game where you can either play it with friends and have a complete blast, or play it alone and plumb the depths of its intricate adventure mode. Either way, if you have a Nintendo Wii and already beat Super Mario Galaxy—twice—then you owe it to yourself to pick up this masterpiece. There really is quite no other game like it on any other console. GTA IV be damned!