Saturday, December 31, 2022

Studicus Selects 2022

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason. 

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2022 picks):

Studicus Selects 2021

Overall, 2022 was a decent year filled with some notable events. I wrote and released a book! We bought a new car! Thanksgiving was normal with no overarching concerns about COVID-19 like in 2020 and 2021. It wasn't the best year ever. Anne and I suffered the heartbreaking loss of our beloved leopard gecko, Lenny. Winter weather and illnesses prevented us from following our usual Christmas traditions. Oh, things also got way more expensive thanks to the economic body blow brought on by the pandemic and the resulting chaos in the supply chain and workforce.

All in all, 2022 was a year that felt a little more stable in the Adams household. Here's a look back.

Rest easy, sweet boy
Farewell, Lord Leonard. I'll start off with the saddest development of the year. Our leopard gecko, Lenny, started to go downhill. We took him to the vet and made some changes to his diet and habitat. Unfortunately, it didn't help. We had to put Lenny down in November. It happened very quickly. The vet's office provided us with an imprint of his tail and little feet. We miss the big guy, but we're also glad he's no longer suffering. We still included him on our Christmas card for 2022.

An imprint of Lenny's tail and feet
Our 2022 Christmas card featured an appearance from the late Lord Leonard
Best Howard, Howard Category. Howard had a pretty eventful year. He HATED the recent winter storm and didn't want to go outside--not that I could blame him. He had a growth removed from his neck, although it turned out to be benign. We had to put the poor guy on anxiety medication. He has also developed high blood pressure, requiring further medication. He got a rawhide chew that's bigger than he is for Christmas, so he's got that going for him.
Always let a sleeping Howard lie

The candy cane was bigger than him! We couldn't let him have the whole thing, however
Best Turtle, Northern Map Turtle Category. A much quieter year for Willy, who turned 20 in October! We got her in 2017 when she was 15. At the time, we also believed she was a dude. She is not a dude, the exotic vet informed us last year. We still get her out of her tank on a weekly basis; Howard's been better about not bothering her, mostly because she pretty much ignores him. Our favorite thing: when Willy's on a walkabout, she'll come up to you and tap on your foot if she wants you to pick her up.

Willy takes great offense to being photographed while basking
Hello, Elantra. I have a 30-minute commute to work. It's not the best and certainly not the worst, however, I started having trouble with my reliable Hyundai Sonata. In May, we decided to replace Sonata with a new Hyundai Elantra. It's got Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera, heated seats, lane assist, blind spot alerts, and auto start. It also gets really good mileage and I'm happy we pulled the trigger.

The new car got a professional detailing job from one Mr. Ted Adams (pictured in background)
Best Novel Written by Matt Adams, Sega CD Summer Category. I still write! I tried an experiment this year and released a book on my own. Sega CD Summer tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who takes on a paper route to earn enough money to buy the Sega CD add-on for his Sega Genesis. Oh, he also has to endure youth baseball season and deal with a former-best-friend-turned-bully. The book is out now on digital and paperback. Learn more here. I was even on a podcast!

Copies still available! Tens of people have enjoyed it, and you can, too!
Best Streaming Option for Indiana Pacers, Mostly Because It's the Only Option, Sports Category. The Indiana Pacers were supposed to tank this season. Instead, they've been surprisingly good and fun to watch. For those of us without cable, however, watching games (legitimately) isn't easy. Bally Sports+ launched this year for $20 a month. It's worked pretty well, aside from one game in which the feed cut out and the app wouldn't load. Seeing the local teams shouldn't be so hard, professional sports leagues.

When you pay $20 a month for a service that exists solely for the purpose of streaming NBA games, this shouldn't ever happen
Worst Indianapolis Colts Team of 2022, Indianapolis Colts Category. I had high hopes for the Indianapolis Colts this season. I was mistaken. Moving on.

How bad were the Colts this season? This hat is better than the team
Most Time Consuming Xbox Game, Assassin's Creed: Vahalla Category. When November rolls around, I suddenly remember I have an Xbox. I've played a ton of Assassin's Creed: Vahalla over the past few weeks. I think I enjoyed the Greece-set AC: Odyssey a bit more, but I've still gotten a ton of fun out of the game. I'm not sure I'll get to 100% completion because there are a lot of collectibles and DLC packs. I will, however, finish the main game and collect stuff until I get tired of it.

Most Frustrating Insanity Mode, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Category. I played a lot of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition during the summer. I was mostly determined to finish all the games on the hardest mode ("Insanity"), which was something I didn't accomplish with their original releases (I beat the first and third games, but ME2 was just too hard). Getting through the "Insanity" difficulty on Mass Effect 2 is one of the most frustrating gaming-related things I've done in my life, but I finally managed to do it. Man, it's really tough. I'm not ashamed to say I exploited a few glitches here and there to get it done.

Best Holiday Prime, Non-Amazon Category. Everyone should have an Optimus Prime Christmas figure. Thanks to Brian Krilich for this one!

An action figure masterpiece
Movie Year in Review. I'll split my long list of entertainment stuff into two sections: movies we saw at the theater and stuff we watched via streaming. Let's start with the movies first. As usual, there may be some spoilers.

The Batman. We probably don't need another Batman movie, but people love the Bat and Warner Bros. wants to make money, so we will inevitably get more Batman stuff. Thankfully, this one was really good. I liked the idea of an early Batman flexing some of his detective skills. The film is beautifully shot and atmospheric. I would've cut maybe 10 minutes, but that's a nitpick.

Uncharted. I kind of forgot we went to see this one. It's fine--the kind of movie you'll find unobjectionable on cable on a Sunday afternoon and watch for a bit. 

The Lost City. I enjoyed this one more than I expected! It got off to a great start when Channing Tatum's mimbo character came onto the stage and got his wig ripped off. Good chemistry between the leads.

Morbius. "It's Morbin' time!" Please, Sony. Just stop trying to make movies out of ancillary Spider-Man characters just because you have the license. You have no idea what to do with any of these characters and you're simultaneously damaging your own brand with this nonsense.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I liked it, but I expected more of a madcap romp through the multiverse in this one. We kind of spent time in a couple places and that was about it. I enjoyed the characters, though, and some trippy visuals.

Fantastic Beats: The Secrets of Dumbledore. This was another "movie that happened." I barely remember a thing, other than Eddie Redmayne mumbling his way through the proceedings and wondering why we've had our third different Grindelwald in three movies (oh don't worry, I know why).

Jurassic World: Dominion. Imagine bringing back the cast of the original Jurassic Park and having them fight giant locusts. Then re-read that sentence, add the cast from Jurassic World, and realize that's what the plot was. I wanted an exploration of a world with dinosaurs run amok; I got prehistoric locusts.

Top Gun: Maverick. This shouldn't have worked, right? I mean, a sequel to one of the eighties-ist eighties movies ever, made some 30 years later? Yet, it's great. Tom Cruise is fantastic and we get a great, heartfelt appearance from Val Kilmer plus some of the best aerial stunt work ever. Absolutely floored by this one.

Thor: Love and Thunder. Maybe my biggest disappointment of the year. When you don't rein in Taika Waititi just a little bit, things get too broad and silly. All the basics are there, including a compelling villain, but it just didn't come together for me.

Elvis. Austin Butler turned in an Oscar-worthy performance in this one. I can take or leave Tom Hanks' Foghorn Leghorn act. This movie is always moving, thanks to Baz Luhrmann, who's never afraid to just spin things around for whatever reason. It's worth seeing, though.

Black Adam. The box-office disappointment really did change the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe. It's an okay movie, made interesting by Pierce Brosnan's casting as Dr. Fate. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. How do you make a Black Panther sequel without Chadwick Boseman? You craft a movie about loss and moving forward in which he rarely appears on the screen but is always there. A couple story elements were shoehorned in (paging Agent Ross), but this was an admirable accomplishment and the best MCU movie of the year.

Avatar: The Way of Water. I will jokingly refer to this one as James Cameron's Three-Hour Video Game Cutscene, but it is remarkable in its visual presentation. I'm not an Avatar hater, but I'm pretty "meh" on the first one. The sequel had a better story while making a big leap in terms of visual storytelling.

Streaming Year in Review. We spent a lot more time watching stuff at home than we did at the theater! Here's a look at some of the shows we streamed in 2022.

Abbott Elementary. We have absolutely fallen in love with this ABC sitcom. Some of it hits really close to home because my mother is a retired teacher (although in a much different kind of school district!). The characters are wonderful and have great chemistry. The episode about the egg drop is one of my favorites so far ("It's okay, Ralph, you just have to believe!")

Vatican Girl. This multi-part documentary about a girl who disappeared in Vatican City in 1983 is absolutely packed with jaw-dropping twists and turns. The saddest of those twists, however, is that the case remains unsolved after all these years, leaving a grieving family with no answers in the decades-old mystery.

Andor. This is the most mature Star Wars show we've ever seen. I didn't think I'd care all that much about a show featuring Cassian Andor, the one-and-dead protagonist from Rogue One. But here we are with a terrific, tension-filled series about politics, espionage, and betrayal. The "prison arc" is some of the best storytelling of the year. The stellar supporting cast includes Andy Serkis and Stellan Skarsgård, the latter of whom delivers an absolutely amazing monologue about the cost of sacrifice.

She-Hulk, Attorney at Law. One of the many MCU shows from Disney Plus, this one took a lighter approach into straight-up comedy. Meta and a little uneven at times, I still enjoyed it for the most part despite some of the wonkiness of the not-quite-movie-quality CG effects for the main character. If you can make me laugh with some fun superhero antics, I'm there.

The Bear. This show about the restaurant business got a lot of love over the summer, so Anne and I decided to give it a try. Did we enjoy it? Yes, chef!

We Own This City. The Baltimore Police Department didn't cover itself in glory, that's for sure. This series based on a book about corruption in the department follows a special unit focused on guns and drugs. The problem? The members of the unit like to fudge how much money they collected during raids to take a cut of it themselves and were cozy with the bad guys. Oh, they also had racist tendencies and lied about overtime to make a lot of extra cash on top of it all.

Better Call Saul. I watched the first season of Better Call Saul and fell behind. Then, the series finale came and people were talking about it. I wanted to know what happened, so I shotgunned the first five seasons on Netflix and bought the digital version of the sixth season. Great character, great supporting cast, great show. Give these guys some Emmys already!

Reservation Dogs. This FX show follows a group of tight-knit Native American teens who endure life on the reservation and dream of a better future. Another show featuring great chemistry and plenty of humor, it'll also surprise you with its heart and commitment to character development. All of that is wrapped up in some true laugh-out-loud moments.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Amazon paid a lot of money to produce this show (and promote it on Thursday Night Football). I thought it started out pretty slow in its first couple episodes and got progressively better. I definitely tuned in every week and looked forward to it, even if I don't have strong feelings about the material itself.

The Dropout. I read the book about Elizabeth Holmes and watched the HBO documentary about the Theranos scandal. This Hulu version with Amanda Seyfried provided a pretty good distillation of the whole sordid affair. The leads gave great performances (Naveen Andrews brought a lot to Sunny Balwani). I still can't believe people gave her all that money.

Peacemaker. A lot--I mean A LOT--has happened with the DC Universe this year. This show premiered waaaaaay back in January on HBO Max. It featured Peacemaker, John Cena's character from James Gunn's The Suicide Squad. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the show was a blast with an absolutely hilarious finale.

Bullet Train. I meant to catch this in the theater but never went. I settled for watching it on Netflix. A fun, breezy, twisty heist movie with lots of style and character, it's definitely a ride worth taking. Brad Pitt is solid as usual, but I was absolutely floored by Aaron Taylor-Johnson's performance.

Nope. I don't know what I expected here, but it wasn't quite as creepy and unsettling as I thought it would be. Probably the most disturbing part of the movie involved the scenes with the chimp (if you know, you know). The main plot itself wasn't all that mysterious. Still worth seeing, I think.

Moon Knight. Another MCU show on Disney Plus, Moon Knight involves a guy with a split personality. My only previous exposure to the character came via Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the Xbox 360 (seriously), but I always thought Moon Knight looked cool. I'm glad they cast Oscar Isaac because the man can literally do anything.

Dopesick. Much like the Theranos case, I devoured some books and a documentary about the opioid scandal and the Sackler family's involvement in aggressively marketing the drug. The Hulu series shows the heartbreaking reality of the opioid crisis and how greed drove the whole thing. Tremendous performances here, especially from Michael Keaton as a doctor who starts out as a skeptic about the safety and efficacy of oxycodone before becoming an addict himself.

Only Murders in the Building. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez blessed us with a second season of the Hulu murder mystery-comedy series. The characters play off each other really well, the mystery keeps you guessing, and the snark makes things worth watching. Sometimes I find myself humming the theme song for no reason.

Stranger Things 4. The characters went out with a bang! Wait, there's more coming? This is such a fun show filled with great characters and nostalgia. It does a good job of managing unsettling imagery with humor and likeable leads. I may not be a member of the Hellfire Club, but Eddie Munson is a freaking legend. 

Under the Banner of Heaven. I jokingly referred to this show as "Andrew Garfield's Mormon Jamboree." It follows an LDS detective who's investigating a homicide. The perpetrators turn out to be members of a radicalized branch of the church, leading Garfield's character to question his faith and the role of the church. It's the only thing I've ever seen in which Sam Worthington displays an ounce of charisma.

The Offer. Making The Godfather was a legendary Hollywood story in its own right, and Paramount Plus gave us a version of that story. While I've never been a big Miles Teller fan, he was good in this show. Matthew Goode, however, made the show as charismatic producer Robert Evans. Remember this man for awards season, please.

The Righteous Gemstones. An absurd show with an absurdly stacked cast, this HBO series tells the story of a dysfunctional family made rich (and morally bankrupt) in the megachurch world. John Goodman anchors things as the family patriarch while Danny McBride shines as his moronic son. Some memorable side characters, like "Baby Billy" (Walton Goggins) and Keefe (Tony Cavalero), really make the show.

Belfast. This movie won Kenneth Branagh an Oscar for best original screenplay. The coming-of-age drama chronicles the life of a young boy during "The Troubles" between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Good performances and a heartbreaking story make this one worth the watch.

House of the Dragon. For many, Games of Thrones ended in a rushed spectacle of ineptitude. Did people really need more from the grim world of Westeros? These things make money, so of course we're getting more of them. Thankfully, the first season of House of the Dragon turned out pretty well, mostly on the strength of great casting. 

A Christmas Story Christmas. Legacy sequels are the thing in Hollywood--a way to take an existing property and milk more money out of it. Sometimes they work (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Top Gun: Maverick), sometimes they fail epically (Independence Day: Resurgence, The Matrix Resurrections). This follow-up to A Christmas Story does a good job with callbacks to the original movie without remaking it. Funny and genuinely touching, it misses Jean Shepherd's narration, although Peter Billingsley, the original Ralphie reprising his signature role, holds his own.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. James Gunn brings the MCU's odd bunch to Disney Plus with an enjoyable holiday romp in which Kevin Bacon (Peter Quill's hero) gets kidnapped as a surprise Christmas gift. My favorite part: Drax going off on an actor dressed as Cy-Kill from the GoBots, set up by this gem of a line from Mantis, "I'm sorry. GoBots killed his cousin."

Murderville. A spoof of procedural cop shows featuring hardboiled protagonists, Will Arnett stars as hard-luck homicide detective Terry Seattle, who brings in a guest star protégé to help him solve a crime in each episode. The gimmick is that the guest stars don't have a script and are supposed to just follow along with what Seattle tells them to do. It makes for an absurd, wildly entertaining show.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Sega CD Summer on the Stone Age Gamer Podcast

I had the opportunity to talk to the Stone Age Gamer Podcast about Sega CD Summer!

Hosts Kris and Dan cover retro video games on a weekly basis. I reached out to them about my book, and they were kind enough to read it and offer some feedback.

It all resulted in a fun interview in which we talked about the book's inspirations, video games, baseball, publishing, and more.

You can listen here or find the show on your favorite podcast app. I'll give you fair warning that there is some salty language here and there!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Lenny's Last Ride

This is my all-time favorite picture of Lenny

In May 2018, Anne and I welcomed a leopard gecko into our home. The little guy was named Lenny, and we christened him Lord Leonard Attenborough Adams, Viscount of Quail Run. We believe Lenny was 6 years old at the time. 

He was uncertain about us. We were uncertain about him.

Eventually, we bonded, mostly because Lenny liked wax worms and dubia roaches and we could provide them.

Rest up, sweet boy

Lord Leonard was a mostly nocturnal creature, sleeping during the day and becoming more active at night. His habitat required daytime heat lamps and a heating pad for night. Before I'd go to bed, I'd see him pressing his little belly against the heating pad, which kept him warm and aided in digestion.

Sometimes, he liked to hang out in a pair of nets Anne had put in his tank. Sometimes, he sought refuge in his "moist hide," a little retained moisture to help him stay hydrated. During the day, Lenny spent most of his time inside his little cave, where he slept until he was ready to get a drink of water or grab some food.

Lenny in his moist hide

Reptiles aren't exactly known for being warm and cuddly, but Lenny eventually opened up. He'd let us hold him and sometimes liked to amble across the top of the couch when he was out of his habitat. Before we got our dog, Howard, we'd let Lenny clamber across the carpet. We had to keep a close eye on him, though, because he was tiny and could be easy to lose!

Once, he climbed underneath our recliner; we lifted the footstool to see him hiding proudly behind the chair's wooden foot. Another time, he got into our coat closet. Thankfully, we quickly found him and returned him to safety.

Unlike our other pets, Lenny didn't make much noise. Our turtle, Willy, has a shell and tends to bang it against things when she walks. Howard, our dog, barks and sniffs and snores on occasion (it's really cute). You didn't hear much from Lenny's tank, which we always took as a good sign. The only real sound we ever heard from him inside the tank was his little footfalls as he ascended the top of his tiny gecko house or perhaps the gentle lapping of water from his bowl.

Getting a drink

Honestly, the only time we ever heard him make an actual noise was the first time we introduced him to Howard, resulting in a high-pitched squeal we tried to avoid ever repeating.

In recent months, we noticed little changes in Lenny. He started to have some trouble shedding, so we tried to make sure his habitat had a little more humidity and also helped him pull off some of those difficult-to-shed pieces of skin. We noticed he wasn't eating quite as well and realized his night heating pad wasn't getting as warm as it should.

We ordered him a new pad just a few weeks ago, and it seemed to help. We also took him to the vet a couple times in the last two months, which was alarming. Of our three pets, Lenny seemed the heartiest, kind of like a tiny gecko tank with the constitution of a vending machine.

The noblest of geckos

But over the last few weeks, he didn't seem as active. A sure sign of a healthy gecko is a nice, plump tail. We noticed he was losing weight and his tail had thinned out considerably. He rarely ate his wax worms, one of his favorite foods, and the vet gave us some medication and a special diet powder.

We were hopeful these things would help him get back to normal. The new heating pad seemed to help. Just a few days ago, he actually ate a wax worm!

But those hopes were dashed over the last few days. Lenny was lethargic and his breathing was labored. I don't think I realized how bad it had gotten until I saw him in his tank last night (Nov. 9), where he barely moved and his breaths seemed sporadic.

Anne and I took him out of his tank and tried to get him to eat. He didn't want any of the powdered food, which you mixed with water to make a paste. He had loved the stuff. Last night, though, he refused to eat it. He showed absolutely no interest.

This picture is from Oct. 22, 2022, just about three weeks before we said goodbye

Usually, when I held Lenny, he'd climb all over my hands, up my sleeve, up my shoulder, and around my neck. He'd climb up and down my shirt, always exploring. But last night as I held him, he just sat in my palm, eyes closed, as if to say, "Thanks, Dad, but I don't feel good. I think I'll go to sleep right here."

He showed brief spurts of activity, but his breathing became labored and we called the emergency exotic vet. We had previously scheduled an appointment for him for today (Nov. 10), but we felt like it couldn't wait. We put him in his portable habitat and drove him 40 minutes to the north side for emergency care.

It's a funny thing: while I don't really remember the drive, I'll also never forget it. Anne, in the passenger seat, held Lenny's habitat on her lap, hands atop it as she whispered encouragement to our little leopard gecko. I would, on occasion, take my right hand off the steering wheel and place it atop the container, just hoping it would provide Lenny with some reassurance.

It was Lenny's Last Ride.

Comin' at ya!

When we arrived outside the vet's office, they took him in for an examination. He was breathing on his own, still, and his heart was still going. His breaths came slowly, however, and his heartbeat wasn't very strong. They could try to take life-saving measures, the vet told us, but we felt Lenny was suffering and wouldn't recover. The vet also noticed a mass that hadn't been there last month when they'd last seen him.

So, with heavy hearts and more than a few tears, we decided to let Lenny go. We didn't want him to suffer, and it would be selfish for us to try to prolong his life when he clearly didn't feel well. It is a sudden, devastating loss. As I type this, his habitat sits empty. We had his lights and heating pad on smart outlets that turned on and off on set schedules. Perhaps the hardest part was turning off those schedules last night, knowing our little gecko didn't need them anymore.

The vet took impressions of his little feet and tail so could take a part of him home with us.

A beloved gecko will forever live here

The worst thing about pets is their generally transitory nature--we will, in most cases, outlive them. But the best thing--and the thing I will remember most about our strong, gentle Lord Leonard--is how much we love them and how much they love us.

Right now, Lenny's loss is a gaping hole. In time, however, we'll heal and have a lifetime of memories about the leopard gecko who spent more than four years of his life with us in a loving home, his belly pressed up against his heating pad at night as he awaited his next adventure.