Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy Birthday!!!



To my niece, Lisa (my brother's daughter).

To my newborn great niece, Hannah (my brother's granddaughter from his son).

And to me.

Pretty cool, three of us in the immediate family born on the same day.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Local Amazing Race winners face toughest contest yet

By MIKE McDANIEL
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle


When The Amazing Race returns for its 11th edition Sunday, look for Houston's Joyce and Uchenna Agu and nine other teams to experience the toughest contest in the series' history.

Already millionaire winners from the show, the Agus are the only couple of the 10 with the chance to double their money in the around-the-world race. All of the other teams were standouts for other reasons, said Bertram van Munster, creator and executive producer of the Emmy-winning series.

That means the Agus will face tougher terrains and competitions with a target on their backs.

"That's an understatement," Uchenna Agu said. "Once we found out we were the only ones (who were previous winners), we knew we would be right at the top among the ones to get rid of, alongside Rob and Amber."

Yes, game-show "professionals" Rob and Amber Mariano, the couple the Agus nipped at the finish line in a 2005 Amazing Race, are back. People love them or hate them, either for who they are and how they play and/or for having appeared not only on Race but also on two seasons of Survivor, including an all-star edition that Amber won.

"The fact that no one was a virgin (to The Amazing Race), that everyone except ourselves has experienced the pain of elimination and we haven't, getting rid of us was pretty high on some lists," Uchenna said.

"This is a very competitive group," van Munster said. "Rob and Amber are fine people. What we have done is made it difficult, particularly for veteran reality stars like Rob and Amber. And hard it was. We're going through more difficult terrain and cities and countries. That makes it physically very exhausting and as a result puts more pressure on your psyche."

Van Munster, who produces the show with his wife, Elise Doganieri, said putting together an all-star show that included only previous winners was considered and quickly discarded.

"We were strictly looking for character," he said. "The winner is not necessarily the most exciting person."

Joyce and Uchenna were the only previous winners chosen because "we really thought they deserved another shot," he said. "The way they handled themselves on the first show was just extraordinary and exemplary on many levels, and we really like them very much."

Van Munster would not divulge specifics about the new series, which begins unfolding at 7 p.m. Sunday on Channel 11. He did say, though, that this year's race will swing through Ecuador and Chile, including a visit to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.

"The northern part of Chile is all desert, and the southern is basically like going to Switzerland," he said. "It's very remote and primitive and very hard to get through."

"It was quite a challenge," Agu said. "Let's just say the creators did a good job in putting together a challenging course."

The Agus spoke to the Chronicle taking care not to reveal the outcome or specific details about the race, which has been completed.

Q: Were you surprised you were asked back, especially since you already won?

A: Joyce: I was a little surprised that more winners weren't brought back.

Uchenna: We were really surprised to be the only winning couple brought back. Joyce made such a splash on the first one (she shaved her head to win one of the challenges), so I wasn't really surprised that we were picked for all-stars. We're excited that we get to represent Houston again.

Joyce: I remember after the first edition ended thinking I would never do anything like that again. Then, just like having a baby, you forget about all the pain and think about all the joy and the fun you got out of it.

Uchenna: People always ask us what we did with $1 million. The million helped out with financial things. It saved us from bankruptcy. But it was the experience, the lessons learned on the race, that changed our life.

Q: For the all-star edition, did any of your competitors come out and say they were gunning for you?

A: Uchenna: Some did, depending on their level of frustration.

Joyce: I think we're going to be surprised how many felt that way, because while you're filming you really don't interact with everyone. I'm sure it's going to come to light (as the series, which is still being edited, unfolds).

Q: Did you have a flashback moment when you saw Rob and Amber?

A: Joyce: The flashback moment came stepping into the room and seeing everybody and having the experience of "Oh my God, here we are again." To top it off, Rob and Amber are there, too.

Uchenna: It was just interesting to see all the racers who at one point we had cheered on ourselves (as viewers of the other editions).

Q: Were you guys recognized everywhere you went?

A: Joyce: Everywhere.

Uchenna: That's one of the advantages we felt Rob and Amber had in the first race. It was spread out a little more evenly this time.

Q: You guys maintained an even keel in the previous show. Was duplicating the effort a burden to you this time?

A: Joyce: We couldn't have planned to be righteous or good or any of that. As you see on this show so many times, whoever you are comes to light. You can't really avoid it. We just fell back into who we were. You can't act that.

Uchenna: You have so many things that take you out of your element: food deprivation, lack of sleep, the stress of competition, navigating in unfamiliar territory. By the time you get through all those things, you have no time to powder up and think, "I've got to say the right thing for the cameras." You forget about the cameras very quickly.

Joyce: When you're starving, the real you starts to pour out.

Q: Did you lose a lot of weight

A: Both: Yes.

Joyce: You can't help but lose weight. You have no control over when you're going to eat again.

Uchenna: You have a designated amount of money for each leg, and you're hesitant to spend any of it on snacks.

Joyce: The average viewer thinks you get a break every 12 hours, but that's not true. You get a break at every pit stop. You might not get to a pit stop for four days, and if you only have $20 or $40, you use most of that for cabs or airport fees. It gets to be a guessing game; do you eat now and hope this food and water are OK?

Q: Does the city of Houston recognize you as ambassadors?

A: Joyce: When we won the last time, we really did not do too much. We did a fundraiser for Casa de Esperanza, which helps young children. We wanted to do more (in Houston) but just didn't.

Uchenna: On Sunday, the city of Houston will give us a proclamation.

Joyce: We're starting to do a lot more.

(Since their win, the Uchennas have become motivational speakers, addressing audiences around the country. They have also invested in real estate projects, including one going up in Rockport. They also plan to participate in next month's Guaranty Bank Tour de Houston cycling event, which promotes exercise and fitness.)

Q: So you're doing both the Tour de Houston and the MS 150? (The latter bike ride, from Houston to Austin, takes place in April.)

A: Uchenna: We're not sure what we're doing to contribute to the MS 150.

Joyce: Oh, we're doing it.

Uchenna: OK, you heard it first.

Joyce: We don't know how far we'll go, but we'll do our best.

Cat takes in puppy


Charlie, a Rottweiler mix, whose own mother rejected him, snuggles Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 with his substitute mother, Satin, at the Meriden Humane Society in Meriden, Conn. The cat had just had her own litter of kittens and took on Charlie in addition.

Turtle eaten by golden retriever lives

BRANDON, Fla. - A palm-sized pet turtle and the golden retriever that gobbled it up survived the misadventure thanks to the quick actions of a 12-year-old girl, a veterinarian said.


The saga of Pepper the red-eared slider turtle and Bella the golden retriever started last week. Shelby Terihay, 12, moved her pet pond turtles indoors to protect them from a cold snap — a plan that worked well until Bella found some of the turtles in a bathtub, The Tampa Tribune reported.

A quick headcount confirmed Bella had swallowed one of the turtles. Shelby insisted on a rescue mission and, on the advice of a vet, her parents made Bella vomit. Out came Pepper, still alive despite a shattered shell and an estimated 10 minutes inside Bella's belly.

"This was definitely a first for me," veterinarian David Thomassy said.

Thomassy patched up Pepper's shell and credited Shelby with saving Bella, too.

"The turtle would definitely have caused an obstruction," Thomassy said. "Without cutting it out directly, it eventually would have killed the dog."

Review in Chronicle gives Ghost Rider 2 1/2 stars (out of 4)


By BOB STRAUSS
Los Angeles Daily News


Ghost Rider
has always been a second-tier Marvel Comics title, and there have been advantages as well as disadvantages to that. It's been able to get creepier and more peculiar over the years precisely because it didn't have to maintain an approach more popular titles such as Spider-Man and X-Men needed to nurture.

That said, it never really went all that mythically resonant, either. Satanic filigree and cowboy references aside, this literal hell's angel on wheels always seemed like a, well, ghost repeat of better-established Marvel characters.

So it's no surprise the Ghost Rider movie is just different enough from other superhero fare to be worth a look, but not a particularly stirring genre entry.

It follows fairly standard, troubled hero rules, mixed with some substandard horror-movie clich├ęs. But that's just half the story. The other half involves a full-blown Nicolas Cage oddball performance; he's more Vampire's Kiss than National Treasure here. Whether you like it, hate it or just don't get it, this at least makes Ghost Rider an intriguing, witty/nutso acting experiment from beginning to end.

As a teenage carnival stunt cyclist (played by Matt Long), Johnny Blaze made a deal with the devil to save his father's life. Of course, Mephistopheles being the jerk that he is, this bargain did not work out to Johnny's satisfaction. Frankly, Mephisto isn't very satisfying, either, since he's played by Easy Rider vet Peter Fonda, who never even sits on one of the film's monster motorbikes.

Anyway, years later Johnny, played by Cage, becomes the Evel Knievel of his generation, miraculously surviving the hairiest wipeouts without a scratch. He's quite a loner, and Cage plays him as a suppressed personality who's desperate to stay mellow but still does loony stuff like chug scalding coffee straight out of the pot.

When Roxanne (Eva Mendes), the childhood sweetheart he abandoned when the devilish deal went down, comes back into his life, Johnny's charm emerges in mysterious ways — like stopping traffic on the interstate to ask her to dinner.

This and much more inspires classic Cage goofiness, and those of us who appreciate his behavioral genius will enjoy it thoroughly. Others will find it understandably distracting from the matters at hand, which involve GR carrying out his first infernal assignment. That's to stop Meph's rebellious son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) from taking over the world.

For that business, Johnny morphs into a blazing, superpowered skeleton. Cage is, again, uncompromisingly into the early, agonizing stages of these transformations before the computer entirely takes over. Then it's all well-staged but semi-comprehensible bashing among the Rider, Blackheart and expendable hench demons.

The digital effects looked pretty cool and clever, but I wouldn't argue with a different sensibility that just sees them as cheapish. You're either into tattoo-quality fire and bone or you're not.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Replacing a Defective Head

Though not a "beginners' level" tutorial per se, this activity can certainly be performed by someone who is just starting to learn their way around in Photoshop. In working through this activity, you will gain practice with these techniques:

  • Making and altering paths with the pen tool and creating a selection from that path.
  • Using Transformations to resize and distort objects.
  • Using levels to correct lighting and contrast.
  • Using layers to make corrections to blend an object into its background.
Janee's Online Photoshop Classes

Friday, February 09, 2007

Congressman Culberson Statement on Agents Ramos and Compean

Congressman Culberson issued the following statement regarding Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean following yesterday’s House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner.

"Richard Skinner admitted yesterday under oath that his top deputies gave Members of Congress false information painting Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean as rogue cops who were not in fear for their lives and who were 'out to shoot Mexicans'.

"In my opinion, this false information was given to Members of Congress to throw us off the scent and cover-up what appears to be an unjust criminal prosecution of two U.S. law enforcement officers whose job was protecting our country’s borders from criminals and terrorists.

"Today I am calling for the resignation of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and the investigators who lied to us.

"So far it looks to me like Agents Ramos and Compean may not have followed proper procedure following the shooting, which at most should have resulted in their suspension from the force, but not criminal prosecution.

"At a time when Homeland Security has left our borders largely undefended and deployed national guardsman whose ‘standard operating procedure’ is ‘to retreat’ when confronted with armed criminals, the unjust prosecution of Agents Ramos and Compean weakens border security by discouraging all U.S. law enforcement officers from drawing their weapons in self-defense or in the defense of our nation.

"Our highest priority in the War on Terror is to secure our borders. These two agents need to be pardoned and we need to reassure our brave Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officers that we support them and want them to feel free to use their best judgment and whatever force they think is necessary to protect America."

Culberson

Have you felt the effects of global warming this winter?

No? I didn't think so. What a crock of crap?

We've had one of the coldest winters in Houston in the past 4 or 5 years.

And I know there have been records broken across the country since November.

Oh yeah, The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

N.Y. county nearing 100 inches of snow

Toy 3 Due Without Lasseter


Toy Story 3 is coming in 2009, but John Lasseter won't be the director, Variety reported. In an unusually candid presentation, Lasseter and Disney Animation president Ed Catmull provided extensive details on their upcoming slate at Disney's investor conference on Feb. 8, the trade paper reported.

In addition to confirming for the first time that a third Toy Story is in the works, most likely for a 2009 release, Lasseter said Lee Unkrich will helm it. Unkrich co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, but has never before been sole helmer on a Pixar film.

Lasseter directed the first two Toy Story movies, but is presumably too busy in his new post as chief creative officer of Disney Animation to work on individual films. Michael Arndt, the Oscar-nominated writer of Little Miss Sunshine, is penning the script.

Lasseter also revealed a behind-the-scenes shift at Walt Disney Feature Animation, which is separate from Pixar but also under the control of Lasseter and Catmull, by announcing that Chris Williams, a veteran Disney story artist, is now directing the 2008 release American Dog. Dog was developed and previously under the control of Lilo & Stitch helmer Chris Sanders, who recently left Disney.

Trek's 'Doomsday' Reborn


A digitally remastered and enhanced version of the original Star Trek series episode "The Doomsday Machine" will debut in syndication on Feb. 10, marking a milestone: It features more than 100 all-new digital visual effects shots, the most of any episode in the original series, CBS Paramount Television announced.

The centerpiece of the new visual effects for "The Doomsday Machine" is a digital rendering of the alien "planet killer," a miles-long robot spaceship that destroys worlds. CBS Digital created the new version of the massive weapon, based closely on the one seen in the original episode, but gave it a battered, more realistic appearance.

Another highlight of the episode is the depiction of the U.S.S. Constellation, a sister ship to the U.S.S. Enterprise, as a shattered hulk nearly destroyed by the doomsday machine. The hull of the damaged Constellation has been torn open, revealing details of a mangled and charred interior.

The episode features guest star William Windom as Commodore Matt Decker, commander of the wrecked Constellation. The classic episode was written by SF writer Norman Spinrad and was honored with a Hugo Award nomination by the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention. The original episode was first aired in October 1967 and was directed by Marc Daniels.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Drive

FOX, home of award-winning suspenseful dramas 24 and PRISON BREAK, revs up this spring with the intense new drama series DRIVE from executive producers Tim Minear (Firefly, Angel, Wonderfalls, The Inside) and Ben Queen.

The next time you’re cut off by a crazed driver on your way to work, cut him a little slack. He could be racing for his life.

DRIVE is an action-fueled drama following a diverse group of Americans driving for their lives (or the lives of their loved ones) in a sinister, cross-country road race. Some of them have been coerced into joining The Race; others have sought out The Race themselves, hearing rumors of the $32-million prize. Each has a reason to compete. And each must win.

Among the varied racers are a man thrust into The Race in an effort to find his missing wife; a single mother competing under great strain ... or possibly something much more strange; a buttoned-down scientist and his rebellious 15-year-old daughter; two brothers in a stolen, pimped-out Impala that carries secrets of its own; and a gorgeous and mysterious female stowaway who may well hold the key to the secrets of The Race.

There are other competitors as well, but when no one is told whom they’re racing against, or even where the finish line is, anything is possible. With each mile clocked, the drivers get closer, not only to the finish line and a critical, life-changing victory, but to understanding the mystery behind The Race itself.

Created by Tim Minear, Ben Queen and executive-produced by Tim Minear, Ben Queen and Greg Yaitanes, DRIVE is a 20th Century Fox Television Production.

2-Night, 3-Hour Premiere
Sunday, April 15th and Monday, April 16th
Drive

Cable network reups Simmons reality show

A&E has greenlit a supersized second season of "Gene Simmons Family Jewels."
Cabler has begun production on 20 half-hour episodes for a premiere sometime
in 2007.

A&E had ordered a 13-episode first season.

"Family Jewels" delivered an average 1.3 million viewers per episode. Show also improved its Monday-at-10 timeslot by 56% among adults 18-49 (766,000) and 45% among adults 25-54 (742,000) vs. the previous year.

Skein also ranks as one of A&E's youngest-skewing shows with a median age of 39.

Second-season antics -- which will continue to revolve around Simmons, longtime girlfriend Shannon Tweed and their two kids -- are sure to shock, Simmons told Daily Variety.

"People's jaws will drop," he said. Show's appeal is strong because "everyone wishes they had this family. Every guy wishes he was me. It shows how you can be happy."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

David Lee Roth rejoins Van Halen for tour

LOS ANGELES — The rumors were true. Van Halen will reunite with original singer David Lee Roth for a summer tour of North America.

"I am very excited to get back to the core of what made Van Halen," guitarist Eddie Van Halen said in a statement posted Friday on the band's Web site announcing a 40 city tour. No specific dates have been named.

It will be the first time that Roth performs live with the band since 1984, when he was replaced by Sammy Hagar. A brief reunion with Roth in 1996 resulted in two new songs but no tour.

Original bassist Michael Anthony will not be a part of the reunion. Late last year he was replaced by Eddie Van Halen's 15-year-old son Wolfgang.

On March 12 Van Halen will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York.

Friday, February 02, 2007

SATIN TIGHTS NO LONGER

"You (hopefully) heard it here first: I'm no longer slated to make Wonder Woman. What? But how? My chest... so tight! Okay, stay calm and I'll explain as best I can. It's pretty complicated, so bear with me. I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked. Hey, not that complicated.

Let me stress first that everybody at the studio and Silver Pictures were cool and professional. We just saw different movies, and at the price range this kind of movie hangs in, that's never gonna work. Non-sympatico. It happens all the time. I don't think any of us expected it to this time, but it did. Everybody knows how long I was taking, what a struggle that script was, and though I felt good about what I was coming up with, it was never gonna be a simple slam-dunk. I like to think it rolled around the rim a little bit, but others may have differing views.

The worst thing that can happen in this scenario is that the studio just keeps hammering out changes and the writer falls into a horrible limbo of development. These guys had the clarity and grace to skip that part. So I'm a free man.

Well, sorta. There is that "Goners" movie I can finally finish polishing, and plenty of other things in the hopper I've wanted to pursue. I'm as relieved as I am disappointed, and both of those things lead to drink, so that's a plus. Truly, you may be hearing some interesting things brewing in the coming months. But all potential jets therein will be visible.

But most importantly, I never have to answer THAT question again!!!! And you don't have to link to every rumor site! Finally and forever: I never had an actress picked out, or even a consistant front-runner. I didn't have time to waste on casting when I was so busy air-balling on the script. (No! Rim! There was rim!) That's the greatest relief of all. I can do interviews again!Thanks for your time. You are the people who make the world go 'round. Or, no, science does that.

-j.

ps All right, it was Cobie Smulders. Sorry, Cobes."

Joss Whedon