Friday, January 8, 2016

Peeping on the Hyades

Lately I've had a good view of Orion, Taurus, Scorpio, and a handful of other constellations. I look at them on my way home if I'm out at night. If I lived in an area with less urbanized lighting I'd be able to see more.
That being said, I was looking at the sky, and saw a cluster in Taurus. I wasn't sure what it was at first, so I looked it up on wiki when I came home. I used a star chart of Taurus to find out I'd seen the Hyades, which are 150 light years away.

The fact that I could use my tablet to look it up, and identify it, astounds me. Astronomers of the past did not have such easy tools to find objects, and their names. They may of had charts, or would have to make their own. I remember using a glow-in-the-dark "star wheel" when I was a kid. This is so much easier.

I was happy to find out that they still make those plastic star wheels. My father had an old one from the 80's, which he once remarked, "Must be really out of date." Well, not for the next 100 million years at least. The stars are moving, but not that fast! 

As for the Hyades themselves, Messier never cataloged them, so they lack "M" numbers. Instead, they are identified by the tried and true magnitude, and the Greek alphabet. Kappa Tauri, Gamma Tauri, Delta Tauri. They all sound like sorority and fraternity houses. One wonders how many gold fish you'd have to swallow to get into them! 

In mythology, the Hyades were the sisters of Atlas (that dude they named the map after). They were also the half-sisters of the more famous Pleiades (who also have a clustered named in their honor). It seems that in mythology the family tree really didn't fork much. They are rather like telephone poles. The Hyades themselves were nymphs, whose name means, "The Rainy Ones." This is derived from the myth that they cried incessantly when their brother, Hyas was killed in a hunting accident. They have since been associated with rainfall. 

Watery nymphs? If you thought astronomy was a bunch of late nights staring at heavenly bodies, you'd be right! 

Though astronomer Giovanni Batista Hodierna first cataloged them, the Hyades were known to ancient authors such as Homer (D'Oh!) and Ovid. And since then they have taken on a life of their own. 

Astronomers have looked at them for thousands of years. I'm just one of many. There are many more to come. 

Text copyright Mr. Joyce 2016

Images: Wikipedia. 

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse, 1896


Monday, December 14, 2015

Gifts of Christmas Past--Crossbows and Catapults!

Hail Fellow, and well-met! It's time to smash thy house!

I was thinking about Christmas gifts from the past. They seemed to be largely toy-based for me. Yet these days it seems like children have fewer toy choices to choose from. Yes, there is a slate of new Star Wars toys for them to enjoy. However, the majority of toys out there are for adult collectors. This is something I'll discuss later on, but suffice to say, Christmas isn't what it used to be. 

Then again, I'm not a kid during this time period. I was a child of the 80's, the best time to be a kid! Sure, we had no internet, but we had imagination. And because we had no internet, we had the time to use our imaginations. 

Case in point...

Crossbows and Catapults! 

The commercial that started the siege! Be forewarned, ye warriors of courage, for this commercial is really quiet. You may have to hike up the volume. 

This medieval bash'em up was originally created by Lakeside Games. It's undergone many a revision, and was re-released in 2007 by Moose Toys. It was rechristened Battlegrounds, and has since brought sword and shield carnage to a new generation. 

The game depicted opposing sides locked in castle siege warfare. The noble Vikings faced off against the brutish Barbarians. You even tell by their faces who the good guys were. The Barbarians had pig-like visages, while the Vikings were toned and ABBA-esque. They were of Norse origin, so I'd imagine Dancing Queen was their battle theme. 

The game was simple. 

Either side would build their respective castles out of plastic bricks. They weren't tight-fitting like Lego. Instead, they were just tight enough to stand upright, but loose enough to be toppled when struck. 

Both sides would adorn the castles with insignia flags. They would then populate their castles with these mighty warriors. 

Finally, and this was the important bit, each side had a crossbow and a catapult. Well, obviously. These siege machines fired plastic discs (caroms) with the associated colors and images. 

The Viking discs were red, with a Viking logo. The Barbarian discs were blue, with a snarling Barbarian face on them. Each side fired at each other until one of two things happened. 

1. A castle tor was knocked down.  
2. The tor was knocked down, and then a disc landed on the treasure underneath. The Vikings had a sword (which I assumed was Excalibur) The Barbarians had a goblet (which I assumed was the holy grail). 

My half-brother and I played for annihilation. Whoever level the other's castle won. 

This was a rivalry that would continued into the next century. 

It was given to my brother as a Christmas gift in the mid-80's. We played it extensively. Sometimes I'd win. Sometimes, he'd win. And other times we'd set up a massive castle for both of us to storm. And yes, we had fun storming the castle. 

As we grew older, the personal rivalry faded. However, the Crossbows and Catapults rivalry did not. Before my half-brother handed the game over to my nephew, we had one final decisive battle. As per usual, I played the Vikings. My brother played the Barbarians. And on that cold day on Baden Hill (my sister's living room carpet. If I recall the month was July, and with a heatwave) We engaged in a battle to rival the gods. 

Sir Robin would have wet himself. 

Many a Viking went to Valhalla that day (and I don't mean a trendy nightclub in the West Village). However, the stench of Barbarian dead was a perfume to their departed souls. Odin would have been proud. And whatever gods the Barbarians prayed to would have been annoyed. 

The game wasn't specific on what the Barbarians were like, since their name is a generic term. Maybe they prayed to Stretch Armstrong, Lord of Plastic? Or, perhaps it was Crom, and they had a common ancestor in Conan? Conan could have propagated the whole race for all we know. He is very virile.

In the end, both or castles lay in ruins, save for their respective towers. 

Amid the rubble of my baronial estate (with nice shrubberies out front) I picked up a red carom, and fired it with a crossbow. It bounced off a dark gray brick, and was airborne. It spun in the air, and then bounced again off another brick. My brother launched a blue carom with his catapult, but it fell short. My red carom bounced again. On the third bounce it leaped upwards, and then smacked into my brother's castle tor. It knocked the hollow facade onto its backside. 

"Yes!" I proclaimed! 

My brother replied with, "Uh, he beat me." 

He was crestfallen. And indeed, his crest did fall to the mighty Norsemen from...The land of the ice and snow, where the midnight sun and hot springs glow! 

Yes, the hammer of the gods was with me that day. And so the final battle concluded with victory for the young (20-something) upstart.

In the words of Leif Erickson, "I done schooled him, yo."

It was a good day, indeed. 

I have since discovered that sets of the original sell for big caroms! They've sold for as high as $300 bucks, or more! Sets of Battlegrounds are more readily available, but even the older sets are selling at a premium. While I'd enjoy playing this again, it'll be a long time before I can afford an original set. Still though, it's nice to know that such sets exist. 

While my affinities lie with outer space, and the promise it brings, deep inside my psyche lurks a berserker. It is waiting to be unleashed on a living room carpet! And it will sing the songs of Valhalla, all shiny and chrome! 

Uh, plastic and shiny, that is.

Text copyright Mr. Joyce 2015

Images from
video from
With some research from Wikipedia. 


Friday, December 4, 2015

Christmas Music Video Countdown!

Alright, Alright! 

After a long absence I am back from Outer Space! 

Coming to you live from Kuiper Belt is this list of Holiday videos! 

First up, we have...

Hall and Oates, Jingle Bell Rock! 

This was a seasonal favorite on MTV back in the 80's. The granny playing guitar is none other than G.E. Smith, of the SNL band fame. He also played guitar on several Hall and Oates albums. In recent years Mr. Smith has toured with Roger Waters. All in all, you're just jingle bells on my wall! 

Next up...

It isn't Christmas without DMC in the house! Santa was Straight Outta the North Pole, homes. 

We also take a Step Into Christmas with Sir Elton John! 

Why Sir Elton hasn't released an entire Christmas album is beyond me. He is Christmas! 

What Christmas would be complete without The Ramones? 

You know, last Christmas I gave you my heart. You threw it away? I needed that thing! The robotic one from the hospital is low on batteries. Never mind. I'll just kickstart my heart! 

George Micheal, and the other guy from Wham! Uh, Andrew Ridgley? Wow, I didn't have to Google that! 

I hope none see this as being in poor taste. Though Scott Weiland has passed, his music will live on. As part of Stone Temple Pilots, he helped to forge the sound of the 90's. But there's a side of Mr. Weiland that few may have seen. This next video comes from his 2011 Christmas album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Here he is channeling Bing Crosby with Winter Wonderland

While technically not a music video, Monty Python's Christmas in Heaven is the climax of their classic The Meaning of Life. Here it is in all it's glory! One of the dancers in this sequence is Jane Leeves (of Frasier and Hot in Cleveland fame) She was also one of Benny Hill's Hill's Angels backup dancers at the time. Oh, and as a side note, no real nudity was present in this scene. Sorry to disappoint you all. 

My maternal grandmother's favorite Christmas song was Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. No, she was never run over by a reindeer, but was beset by badgers once. We still don't talk of this incident, even around the holidays. Over the years I've owned various copies of this song. One of my favorites is the reindeer behind the wheel ornament that plays this tune. If memory serves Elmo went on to become a dentist. He still hasn't lived down the legacy of this song, but why would he? It's not a bad legacy to have. 

If there's anyone that should make a Christmas album, it's Lindsey Stirling. My adoration of her is well-known, and knows no bounds. Here she is performing O' Come Emmanuel with piano prodigy Kuha'o Case.

This next video is a rarity. A co-worker had this tune playing in his head for ages, but couldn't figure out what it was. Thanks to modern tech (Shazam!) he was able to find out what it is.
Captain Sensible of legendary Brit punk band The Damned brings us One Christmas Catalog

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Yak Shaving Day as well! 

Text copyright Mr. Joyce 2015 

Monday, June 1, 2015

What a Lovely Day!

It was 36 years ago that audiences first met Max Rockatansky. As one of cinema's toughest cops, he became a one man army against outlaws in The Outback. 

Now, Max is back. And he's madder than ever! 

Without spoiling too much about Mad Max: Fury Road, I'll give some thoughts on it here. 

First off, Fury Road is consistent with the other Mad Max films. It isn't a remake (thank God, and George Miller), it's a sequel. While it does reference previous films in the series, it isn't slavishly chained to chronology. Because of this it can act as a gateway to those who aren't familiar with the previous films. My hairdresser hadn't seen, or even knew of the originals. This allowed her to approach Max and savage universe with fresh eyes. That seems to be the order of the day. But I mean that in a good way. Max wasn't remade for a new generation. Instead, he was introduced to a new generation because of this film. Audiences, both veteran and rookie, have embraced him. There's no greater complement to a creator of fantastic cinema then to have your characters live on for generations to come. Well done, Mr. Miller! 

Second, the ecological message of the original trilogy is still intact. It's a message that is just as pertinent, perhaps even more so, today than it was in 1979. While '79 had the "brown outs," we now have legit concerns over global warming. To be honest, those were concerns for a long time. It's just that nobody got the memo until now. The film asks the tough question, "Who killed the world?" The answer is obvious enough: warlords like Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Toecutter in the original Max), and the big wigs who controlled the flow of oil, water, and knowledge. The world broke down because of warring, disregard for the environment; and above all, disregard for the human race. 

That brings me to my third point. The brides of Immortan Joe boldly state, "We are not your property!" No one exemplifies this more than Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Her open defiance of the objectification of women is key to this film. She doesn't need Max to save her. Instead, Max needs Furiosa to save him. In the end, the two save each other. They both learn that trust is needed to survive. It gives one a sense of hope for humanity in the Mad Max Universe. 

Theron has always played strong characters in films. And with Furiosa, she can stand along-side Lt. Ellen Ripley as "toughest woman on film." I'm a huge fan of Charlize Theron. She's one of the best actresses on the screen. She's also one of the most down-to-earth. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty, or transform herself for a role. She always proves that actresses can do more than romantic comedies and damsel-in-distress roles. Frankly, I think she'd rescue any man that was in distress. She certainly needs no saving. As Furiosa she is determined, capable, and cunning. Her mission is one of mercy. But above all, her goal is to see that women are treated with dignity. That's a message that Hollywood is sadly lacking. You wouldn't get such a bold statement in a film made by an American filmmaker. But in Australia, they play by their own rules. 

That brings me to my next point.

This film is WILD! You can't predict a single frame of Mad Max: Fury Road. I won't spoil it here, but there is a death scene that I did not see coming. It's also that same scene that drives home the point of women NOT being objects. While Immortan Joe refers to the brides as his "treasures," and sees them as breeding machines, Furiosa and her crew are worth far more. It's as if the film is suggesting what we've known all along; the value of a human being isn't monetary. That's a message we need to be reminded of often. 

I also want to give kudos to Tom Hardy. When I heard he was cast as Max, I thought, "Perfect!" I was right. He the perfect actor to wear Max's leathers; so much in fact that he wore the actual jacket worn by Mel Gibson in the original movies. As Kat, my hairdresser pointed out, "I get the feeling Tom Hardy is a man of few words." She's right. Hardy's actions speak louder than any words. I've been consistently impressed by every performance I've seen from him. The man could play anyone, or anything. My first taste of his acting chops was in Bronson. Since then I've not been able to get enough of his work. I'm eager to see him in the upcoming film about the notorious Kray twins. 

The breakout role for this film is Nicholas Hoult as Nux. The amped-up warboy is determined to reach Valhalla, or die trying (you have to one to reach the knew what I meant). He delivers the now iconic tagline for the film as well. His character arc is one of redemption. While he's full of manic human, Hoult gives Nux a very human face. He's good at injecting a sense of humanity in all his roles (X-Men, Warm Bodies). I look forward to seeing more from him in the future. 

Also of interest to note is Riley Keough as Capable. She's the stunning redheaded bride that befriends Nux. Her performance was good, and I'm curious to see her in other flicks. I also point her out because she's the granddaughter of The King himself, Elvis Presley, and his queen, Priscillia. I thought she looked familiar, but couldn't place where I'd seen her before. I think she stands on her own here. 

Speaking of rockstar royalty: Zoe Kravity, daughter of Lenny is also riding shotgun (literally). Her character is charmingly named, Toast The Knowing! Again, a good performance. Come to think of it, her dad was good in the Hunger Games movies. 

The return of Hugh Keays-Byrne is an added surprise. I saw him name in the credits, and thought, "Wait a that?" Yep, it's Toecutter! The Mad Max universe has come full-circle. 

I could go on and on about this movie. There's so much to talk about; not the least of which is the guitar-playing-flame-wielding Doof warrior! The rockin' soundtrack he provided played in my head for hours after. This is one of those movies that you'll think about for days after you've seen it. My hairdresser had the same reaction, I think you will too.

I give Mad Max: Fury Road...

Five out of five dingoes! 

What a lovely day! 

Blogger's Note: I did see Mad Max earlier in May, just days after it was released. However, I was so busy with work that blogging had to take a backseat. I'll be back with regular updates moving forward. 

Long live Furiosa! 

Text: Copyright Mr. Joyce 2015
All images are copyright their respective holders. 


Monday, May 11, 2015

Enduro! (Atari Digital Memories)

Racing, often called "the sport of kings." That may refer to horse racing, but I like to think that auto racing is really regal as well. 

Case in point: ENDURO

Made by Activition in 1983 Enduro is the ultimate in four-bit endurance racing. I'm not just whistling Dixie. It really does test you, as the race takes place twenty-four hours a day. Like it's real-life counterpart 24 Hours of Le Mans, Enduro begins at sunrise, and ends at sunset. The odometer then resets, and one must continue the race for the next day. 

Accordingly, the race conditions change throughout the day. The position of the sun changes overhead from morning, afternoon, dusk, nightfall, and then dawn. Also, one has to compete with not only A.I. racers, but also adverse conditions. Snowy mountains, fog, and night-time driving add to the challenges of this classic. 

Enduro was programmed by physicist Larry Miller (programmer of another Activision hit, Spider Fighter). It's of interest to note that the beautifully illustrated manual also contains a photo of Miller, as well as gaming tips from him. These days few gamers can tell you how programmed what, let alone what the programmer looks like. It's not the gamer's fault. It's more so the fault of the companies these days for wanting a faceless product. The game gets the fame, but not the programmers. Then again, programmers these days probably make a better living than the programmers of yore. That's another discussion, for another post.

Speaking of the manual, I LOVE the artwork in this booklet! I'm a big fan of that style of 80's pop-art. The box art is something to behold, but the manual blows me away with it's gorgeous map and trivia section. I highly recommend going to Atari Age and checking it out. It's the sort of artwork that reminds of summers as a kid. Summer in the 80's meant video games, pop music, summer movies, new G.I. Joes, ice cream, and trips to Kennywood. The artwork in this instruction manual says it all. 

How does Enduro stack up against other classic racers? Well, from my personal experience, I've never been good at racing games. Enduro seems to be one of the few that I'm actually decent at. I'll improve with more work on it, as I would other racing games. To me this game gives Atari's better known classic Pole Position a literal run for its money. While I have fond memories of the Pole Position cartoon series, I think Enduro takes the lead in term of game play. 

I also enjoy the way Enduro looks. The colors are vibrant, and do justice to the pop-art box illustration. The night time levels are especially challenging, as you can only see the purple tail lights of the other cars! And when the sun rises, and it will rise, you have to race like a bat out of hell to the finish line.

I give Enduro five joysticks out of five! It gets better with more game play. It's a classic where you can plug in, switch on, and drop out for a few hours. That's what good video gaming is about; an escape from reality. 

Go to Atari Age to see a full profile of the game, as well as the beautiful manual artwork. CLICK HERE!

Text copyright Riley Joyce 2015

Enduro is copyright Activision 1983. 


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Avengers 2: Electric Boogaloo! Age of Ultron, Too!

Hello, true believers! 

I feel it's safe now to write about Avengers: Age of Ultron. A word of caution, as I will be discussing a few spoilers. Also, I should point out that the movie has little connection to the comic book miniseries, Age of Ultron. That was a very contentious series that was issued by Marvel about a year-and-a-half ago. Few readers were entertained by it. However, the film Age of Ultron fared much better. 

Once again The Avengers have shattered box office records, and lots of robots. This is a true comic book movie, with lots of action. It also has heart, grit, and the prerequisite Stan Lee cameo! 

While I won't do a scene-by-scene review, I will instead highlight some moments that stood out.

1. Stan Lee's cameo. I won't say much about it here, as it needs to be seen. Let's just say that when Thor pours the booze, don't call him "blondie." 

2. The party game with Thor's hammer. Cap was able to budge Mojiner slightly. If anyone there would be virtuous enough to lift it, it would be Cap. Thor's eye bulge said it all. The audience said more with a gasp and a laugh. 

3. The biggest gasp came when The Vision lifted Thor's hammer. Yes, he truly is worthy. He's righteous, pure, and in his own words, "I was born yesterday." The audience collectively gasped. Well don't Paul Bettany! And well-done Marvel! The only other time that someone other than Thor lifted his hammer was when Amalgam did the Marvel D.C. crossover. Who was the D.C. character that could wield Thor's might hammer? None other than Superman! 

4. Scarlet Witch. Elizabeth Olsen always impresses me. I've been a fan of her work for some time. I was really eager to see her in this flick. While her character plays a supporting, but pivotal role in the film, her ability to bring heart to Scarlet Witch sells the character. Also, she is stunning as always! (Notice I avoided any Full House jokes.) 

5. Clint and his family. The great Linda Cardellini plays Laura, Mrs. Barton. This gives greater depth to a fan favorite that had less screen-time during the first outing. Give this guy his own movie. You want to talk about pathos? Renner and Cardellini have it in spades! 

6. Hulk and Black Widow. This is a romance that I could see happening the film universe. It adds depth to both characters. 

7. The HULK BUSTER! "Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep!" 

8. The "death" of a major character. I didn't see that one coming. I'll leave it at that. 

9. Nick Fury! He should have quipped, "I'm tired of all these mother'effin' Ultron on my mother'effin' helicarrier!" 

10. Cap and Peggy Carter's dance/hallucination sequence. Please tell me that Marvel has plans to put Hayley Atwell in more movies. Please, please, please! Give Peggy a movie! Give her a trilogy! Give her another season of Agent Carter. That woman lights up the screen! 

Finally, my own personal view...

The Avengers did what it says on the tin. It delivered action. It's the first fun popcorn flick of the summer. It's a nice ramp-up to Ant-Man, and Mad Max: Fury Road (which I'm personally super excited about). If you can't energized by this movie, then you need a set of jumper cables! 

I give it...

Five Black Widows out of Five! 


Text copyright: Mr. Joyce 

Marvel and associated characters are copyright of Marvel Entertainment group. 

Blogger's Note: How old is Ultron, anyway? Maybe I can win a "no-prize" for figuring it out. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

See Endor Play!

May the Fourth be with you! 

I've always been a fan of sci-fi. One could say that I was born to it. The first film I ever say, in utero, was Ridley Scott's horror/sci-fi mash-up ALIEN. Since then I've pondered distant worlds and strange civilizations. I sought out new life and...wait...that's the intro to Trek. I love Star Trek dearly, but this is Star Wars day after all. 

So, onto the festivities of May the 4th! 

I was overjoyed to see the new trailer for the new Star Wars film; Episode Seven: The Force Awakens. I will admit that I was misty-eyed during the whole experience. It felt like time had hurled us back to 1983. Everything that was once old was made young again. I felt the same way when I saw the re-release of Ghostbusters this past summer. That by itself is another tale for another time. 

As for the above image.

I used to spend hours looking through the toy section of the J.C. Penney catalog. I don't recall if this treehouse and swing set was among their wares, but it must have been. I remember this ad vividly. I imagined myself standing watch in the Walker Command Tower, after my rebel crew took out some bucket-headed stormtroopers. That speederbike swing must have been the smoothest ride this side of the Ewok village. I would be most happy if I could find an adult-sized version of this. 

One wonders what parents would allow their kids to play at night, while the Death Star looms over-head, but The Falcon is there to safe-guard them. The sound effects must have been stellar as well. All that guard tower needed was a working intercom or P.A. system. Using Nerf guns to defend it would have made for a boss battle scene! 

It also appears that Gym-Dandy is still around. Listings for them online show they now sell their products through the likes of Wal-Mart and Target. 

That was a time when children had imaginations. Yes, we were helped with gracious mentors such as George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, and Stan Lee (to name only a few). They were the ones that ignited the spark of creativity that we'd kindle well into adulthood. Back then, one could dream all day long. There were adult concerns to scare us all into submission. We weren't hampered by "the box," because, as Lucas once put it, "We didn't know the box existed." 

Who will be the Lucas, Roddenberry, and Lee of the next generation? Well, Lee and Lucas are alive and well, so they will hold onto their thrones as active dreammakers for quite a while. But even after one has passed; such as Roddenberry, Bradbury, Clarke their work continues to inspire both current and future generations. 

Yes, looking at that photo in the catalog provided inspiration as well. While I never did get my Star Wars treehouse, I did get to imagine life on Endor. And there was no white picket fence to rein in my imagination...and there never will be! 

May the Fourth be with you! 

Text copyright Riley Joyce 2015 

Star Wars Copyright Lucasfilm/Disney