Friday, April 29, 2005

Coherence 1, Jerome James 0.

There's a very amusing article over at about Jerome James, who's having a breakout week in Seattle's first-round playoff series. I'm posting this because James says absolutely some of the funniest things I've ever heard. He makes Yogi Berra sound entirely reasonable.

Here's one classic from the article:
This is a man who once answered coach Nate McMillan's accusation of a selfish attitude by saying, "I don't even know what he is talking about, I just worry about Jerome."

Here's another:
"But it is something special when you actually believe the stuff you say out of your own mouth."

I couldn't say it any better myself. Here's the link:

Darth Vader 1, Jedi 0.

Thanks to all the DQ readers who submitted this link:

It's Darth Vader's blog, and it's very, very clever.

Valve 1, Vivendo 0.

It's scoreboard day, apparently.

Valve and Vivendi have settled their lawsuit, and it looks like a slam dunk for Valve. Here's the press release (from Blue's News):
Bellevue, WA and Los Angeles, CA – April 29, 2005 -- Valve and Vivendi Universal Games (VU Games) today announced the settlement of a pending federal court lawsuit filed by Valve in August 2002. The parties have resolved their differences, and the settlement provides for the dismissal of all claims and counterclaims. Under the settlement agreement, VU Games will cease distribution of retail packaged versions of Valve’s games, including Half-Life®, Half-Life 2, Counter-StrikeTM, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and Counter-Strike: Source, effective August 31, 2005.

Additionally, VU Games has notified distributors and cyber cafes that were licensed by VU Games that only Valve is authorized to distribute Valve games to cyber cafés and grant cyber café licenses. Cyber café operators that were licensed by VU Games have also been notified that any license agreement from Sierra Entertainment, Vivendi Universal Games or any of their affiliates or distributors that may have granted rights to use Valve games in cyber cafés, whether written or oral, is terminated.

Ouch for Vivendi. No more retail distribution of any Valve games after August 31, and they also got smacked over the cyber cafe issue. Basically, they're admitting that licensing Valve products to cyber cafes was illegal. They're not paying damages, but that's probably been factored in to the end date for Vivendi retail distribution.

So Valve products will be available through digital distribution only beginning September 1. I think Steam made that an inevitability, but now the date is set.

Sanity 1, Dvorak 0. It's a Shutout.

I thought I didn’t have much to write about when I woke up this morning. Fortunately, John Dvorak opened his mouth. Problem solved.

John Dvorak is allegedly a “technologist” who is considered a guru by people who don’t understand technology. For anybody who does understand technology, he’s a towering mound of asshead (note the use of the officially approved new phrase). He could inflate a dirigible with his hot air, but wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to fly one.

My favorite Dvorak moment was with HDTV. For years, Dvorak absolutely railed against HDTV. It was obscenely expensive and unnecessary, he’d say. He would cite “current” prices for HD sets as proof, the only problem being that the prices he cited were thousands of dollars over what people were actually paying. It’s as if he was in a one-person, clueless time warp.

This was a technologist condemning a technology because he didn’t understand the production curve. How remarkably, um, stupid. He’s been totally off-base with so many technologies and trends that I don’t even keep track anymore, but if he bets against it, bet the house in the opposite direction as fast as you can.

So here’s the lead to the genius column he wrote today
(available at,1759,1784975,00.asp):
Am I the only one who expects a collapse of the gaming business soon? Does anyone else think that it is overdue? It has happened before, and I can't see how people will keep shelling out $50 or so for a video game when the games have hardly changed since the invention of the first-person shooter.

Let me quickly answer those first few questions.
--Am I the only one who expects a collapse of the gaming business soon? Yes.
--Does anyone else think that it is overdue? No.
--I can’t see how people will keep shelling out $50… That's a problem with your vision.

Here’s why Dvorak totally misses the point: he doesn’t play games. He doesn’t understand them as a cultural phenomenon. Most importantly, he doesn’t understand the cumulative impact of gaming by generation. If you looked at people who consider themselves gamers by decade, there would be a steady rise in every decade. Twenty years from now, guys like Dvorak who write about games but don’t play them won’t even exist anymore. He is uniquely ill-suited to understand what’s going on.

Gaming is no more likely to “collapse” than movies are, because it is embedded as a cultural element. Ten years from now, the vast majority of people under forty will be gamers. The question “Are you a gamer?” won’t even be relevant anymore. It would be like asking someone “Do you go see movies?” No one even asks that question, because for almost everyone, the answer is “yes.”

Here’s more:
I'm not the only one who thinks there's a problem. When Nintendo president Satoru Iwata spoke at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, he discussed the lack of new game ideas. He saw the same things that I see: There are four or five simple game categories and nothing really new or different.

The categories are shooters, puzzles and mazes, adventure games, sports games, and simulations. That's it.

Outstanding. Way to hitch your analytical star to a magic mushroom, John. Nintendo isn’t exactly the clear-thinking, analytical type of company, really. They don’t understand industry trends as much as they try to create them, and they fail as often (or more often, in the last ten years) than they succeed. Now anyone who games and follows gaming knows this, but Dvorak doesn’t. Trying to validate your own opinion by citing Iwata is like an economist trying to validate his theory on money supply by citing a hippie who’s lived in a commune since 1975.

Congratulations are also forthcoming for your keen understanding of gaming genres. I had no idea that role-playing games and real-time strategy games had disappeared overnight. Man, I’m going to miss those.

If you analyzed the content of popular films, would you come up with more genres than Dvorak came up with for games? No. The film, industry, though, doesn’t appear to be on the verge of collapse.

Iwata mentioned that in almost all the big games, the so-called boss characters are all beginning to be pretty much the same: big, creepy monsters. If you want to see exactly how inane this is, go out and rent the brain-dead Paul Verhoeven film, Starship Troopers. The movie stank so bad that nothing came of it after its release. It's essentially a video game turned into a movie—all the elements are there, including an idiotic "boss" that is just some huge flabby bug—and it shows you just how lame these games actually are.

This is sheer genius. Dvorak wants to condemn the quality of games because of a film. That’s so illogical it’s stunning, really. Oh, and dude, I hate to mention it, but that “idiotic boss that is just some huge flabby bug” is modeled after you.

Let me get to his conclusion, because it’s just as brilliant as everything else he’s written:
None of this will save a doomed industry. The business is going to attempt to sustain growth and creativity by making game players buy newer and newer machines. Computer gaming has always been sustained by never-ending improvements in resolution and realism. But once we get to photorealism, what is going to sustain growth?

Um, stories? Experiences? Immersion? If gaming consoles produced photorealistic graphics, how many people would rather “play” a movie than watch one? Dvorak, not surprisingly, has this totally backwards. A film is far less diverse in the kinds of experience the technology can offer. A photorealistic gaming console, on the other hand, has the ability to create an unlimited variety of experiences. Again, because he doesn’t enjoy playing games, he doesn’t understand why we play them.

We are already getting pre-hype for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 2, as well as the new Nintendo. All this will do is make the visuals more lifelike and the blood and gore more realistic and nauseating. While the kids who are used to this "progress" may not be put off by it, newcomers may be repulsed and skip these new generations of machines altogether.

There we go. John, the only “newcomers” left are gasbags such as yourself who hate games to begin with. You just don’t get it. It’s not just “blood and gore” that will be more realistic—it’s environments. That’s a crucial concept, and one that you miss entirely. People who would be “repulsed” by blood and gore aren’t playing blood and gore games. There are plenty of other games to play, and they are all going to feel more real.

Partly, this is a generational gap. John is part of a generation that “watched” their entertainment. We “do” our entertainment, and the number of people like us is growing every year and will do so for at least the next twenty years, as people who never had the chance to play games are replaced by people who do. If anyone should be concerned at this point, it’s the film and television industry, not the gaming industry.

If that doesn't flatten the market, the never-ending need to satisfy the demanding full-time game-player should do it. Some of today's games are ridiculously hard to play—unless gaming is your so-called life—and so daunting to casual players that they will quickly reject them. Who needs to devote themselves to a game just to play it once in a while? I'll take Spider Solitaire instead.

I really can't imagine this scene continuing as it is for much longer. I suspect that the next generation of machines will be the last—or at least the last in the current boom market. It will be downhill from there.

Yeah, I’ll bet you’ll take Spider Solitaire instead. Thanks for clearing that up, because I assumed you were a hardcore Halo 2 player.

This really is pretty simple, at its core. Dvorak doesn’t like games and doesn’t understand why anyone would. There are literally thousands of games that don’t need “devotion” to be enjoyed. Remarkably, there are shocking technological innovations like “levels of difficulty” that enable newcomers to play games.

I wouldn’t have gone on so long about this, but Dvorak’s column is probably the most poorly-written column I’ve ever read about gaming. He makes so many fundamental errors in his reasoning that it wouldn’t even qualify as a competent blog entry. It’s going to get big play, though, because like I said, for people who don’t understand technology, Dvorak’s a guru.

Here’s the future, and I’ve talked about this before: games will be projected in high-resolution 3-D and will scale to fill whatever size room we can open up for gaming. That’s where we’re going. And when we get there, Dvorak will be bitching that games in 3-D aren’t any fun, and how he thinks this is definitely the end of the gaming industry. Enjoy that ride on the crazy train, John.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Devil's Teeth

Every fall, one of the world's largest and densest congregations of great white sharks assembles in the waters surrounding the Farallones, a 211-acre archipelago of 10 islets 27 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge...At the Farallon Islands during September, October and November, your chances of meeting a great white face-to-face are better than 50-50, should you be crazy enough or unlucky enough to end up in the water.

That's an excerpt from a riveting article in this week's Sports Illustrated about the Farallon White Shark Project, a study that has been ongoing for the last fifteen years. It is absolutely sensational reading, and it's part of a book ("The Devil's Teeth," which is the nickname of the Farallon Islands) that's coming out in June.

If you subscribe to Sports Illustrated, don't miss this article. If you don't subscribe, it's worth buying a single issue just for this article alone. I'll check the SI website every few days to see if it goes online.

Oh, and if you're wondering just how big a great white can be, consider these dimensions from the article:
The first thing I noticed about the shark was its immense girth. I had known that a shark might be as long as the Whaler, but I didn't expect it to be as wide too. A 20-foot shark is eight feet wide and six feet deep.

Eight feet wide and six feet deep. Yikes! Here's one last excerpt (they use surfboards as decoys to get the sharks to surface, because the silhouettes resemble that of a seal's ):
According to Scot and Peter, the Queen Annihilator of Surfboards was a shark named Stumpy. Stumpy was 19 feet long and weighed 5,000 pounds, and when she was in residence, she ruled the Farallones. "She was the only shark that I think understood what we were trying to do," Peter recalled, "and she didn't care for it. When Scot was first putting out the decoys, Stumpy would just come up and destroy them, more because she didn't like them than because she was fooled by their silhouettes."

Stumpy patrolled a swath of sea near the main boat-launching spot at East Landing. For prey, this was not an advisable route onto shore. "No seal gets by her," Peter said. And while other sharks would take 20 minutes or more to consume their kills, Stumpy could polish off a 500-pound elephant seal in three minutes flat. Though the distinctively cropped tail fin that earned Stumpy her name hadn't been spotted for several years, Scot and Peter still talked about her with awe. "Stumpy was a goddess," Peter said. One time, Scot rigged a video camera under a surfboard to determine the angle from which the sharks attacked. He set the board adrift off East Landing. Right on cue Stumpy went at it with everything she had. The resulting footage was stunning, all teeth and whitewater and smashing noises that brought to mind a subaquatic train wreck. It was the first time anyone had successfully filmed a great white shark underwater in California.

You Knew This Was Coming

Top Five Things Toads Say Before They Explode:
5. Hey, did anybody see that kid who was passing out Alka-Seltzer?
4. I don’t know, really. Just kind of a bloated feeling.
3. I think I saw a crow.
2. Look, everybody! Dig Dug!
1. I couldn’t eat another thing. I’m absolutely stuffed. Buggar off.

A new city ordinance in Hamburg has banned the sale of wafer-thin mints until further notice.

Reader's Choice

All kinds of interesting things are happening in the world today, important issues that demand our attention. And interesting things are happening in the gaming world as well--new consoles, disillusionment with WOW, Pariah going gold, an old-school RPG I'm playing called Mount & Blade, plus a ton of other things I haven't even mentioned.

So in the midst of all these important and interesting developments, what do you people want to talk about today? Exploding toads. That's right--based on the volume of e-mail I've received, nobody gives a damn about anything but exploding toads.

Here's an excerpt from a BBC article:
Toads in an area of northern Germany are being killed off by a mysterious disease - they are exploding.

Thousands of the amphibians have died in recent days in a pond in Hamburg's Altona district, with their bodies swelling to bursting point.

The toads' entrails are propelled for up to a metre (3.2ft), in scenes that have been likened to science fiction.

That was the sedate article. Here are some excerpts from an article in the Times Online (UK):
An outbreak of exploding toads is perplexing the residents of Hamburg. The affected creatures seem to behave quite normally, croaking and languidly snapping up flies. Suddenly, after nightfall, they start to balloon to more than three times their normal size and can barely crawl before popping. Their entrails are expelled distances of up to one metre.

I personally had absolutely no idea that frogs were languid. Plus, the ominous "Suddenly, after nightfall..." is positively Poe. And this article only gets better.

Heidi Mayerhofer, a biologist who has been called in to find an answer to the riddle, said: “The worst thing is that they’re not dead immediately. They have to fight for their lives for minutes on end despite the fact that their entrails have been shot across the park.”

Okay, I really hate to quibble, but once your entrails have been shot across the park, you're not "fighting for your life." You are, in fact, dying, or, more accurately, dead.

Don't think I'm done. Here's the absolute masterpiece paragraph.
Other explanations are a virus or a new breed of aggressive crows. The birds have been seen attacking toads and one theory is that the toads swell up as a defence mechanism which then gets out of control. Alternatively, the toads could be committing suicide in order to protect the toad community as a whole. Attacks by crows have certainly diminished since the toads started to blow themselves up.

That may be my favorite journalistic analysis of all time: Alternatively, the toads could be committing suicide in order to protect the toad community as a whole. That's a relief. I thought I was the only one familiar with the advanced "suicide to protect the community" behavioral response of toads.

Listen, I know what happened here. Those toads had all recently been to the San Antonio zoo.

And I think I speak for all of us when I say: WHERE IS THE VIDEO?

Core Dump: Follow-Up

One question I didn't discuss yesterday was the Catch-22 with high-definition technology in consoles. The wow factor of this generation of consoles is going to revolve around HD.

Here's an example of the problem. The debut of Xbox 360 is going to be on MTV, but MTV isn't a high-definition channel. How are we supposed to really see just how fantastic the next generation will be? It's going to be far less dramatic and persuasive than it would be in high-definition.

Last night I was thinking about those little LCD stations they have in Electronics Boutique and Gamestop. It would be expensive to use HD screens in those stations, but if Microsoft doesn't, how are they going to wow consumers? Then I wake up today and see this item from Voodoo Extreme:
The next-generation Xbox/Samsung HDTV combination is designed to deliver the most advanced and realistic high-definition experience to gamers worldwide. To promote the HD Era, the companies plan to place over 25,000 Samsung high-definition televisions in Microsoft Xbox retail kiosk locations across the globe.

Like I said yesterday--doing the right things.

And working in Microsoft's favor are the absolutely PLUMMETING prices for next-generation televisions. I saw a Panasonic 42" ED plasma over at Visual Apex today for $1,595. That is INSANE. That same screen cost $2,295 six months ago. That's over a 30% drop. Yes, I know that ED (852x480) is not "true" HD, but I guarantee you that in screen sizes of 42" and lower, 90% of people can't tell the difference between an ED screen and an HD screen. High-definition programming on a 42" ED set looks spectacular.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Core Dump: New Consoles

Instead of discussing every breathless headline announcing an “authentic” photograph of the left-top-corner of the new Xbox 360, I decided to wait until the dribbles of information had accumulated to a reasonable degree. Which they have, so I’d like to do a core dump on what we know and what it might mean.

First, the Xbox 360:
--At least two shipping SKU’s; one with hard drive, one without (hard drive can be added later)--720p support for every game--Xbox Live support for every game--Full screen anti-aliasing for every game--backward compatibility via optional hard drive--wireless controllers
--64 meg memory cards

Most of this has not been officially confirmed by Microsoft, but there’s a high degree of probability that each bullet point is correct.

I’ve been contacted by two people working for companies with development kits and they are both completely blown away by the capabilities of the console. So I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed at E3. It’s a phenomenal piece of hardware.

Second, the PS3:
--incredibly powerful Cell processor

Now both of these consoles are debuting at E3. All right, that’s not technically true—Xbox 360 is debuting on MTV on May 12. They’re going head-to-head at E3, though, and Sony must have Mr. Jack and Mr. Crap in charge of marketing, because that’s what they’re doing right now.

Look. Sony hasn’t been a great marketing company for years. They’re just not. And they’re really showing that now. Microsoft has a viral marketing campaign, a debut on MTV, and buzz. Sony’s got zero buzz right now, and they’ve backed themselves into a corner, because no matter what they do at E3, they’re not going to have a unit for sale in North America for eighteen months. Microsoft will have units in six months. So showing the PS3 now may steal some of Microsoft’s thunder, but there’s still a huge gap that they have to fill between debut and market. This wouldn’t matter much if Microsoft wasn’t an excellent marketing company, but they are, and I think being the underdog (a tremendous rarity for Microsoft these days) has energized that division of the company, because everything I see them doing is right on target.

Sony, in their public statements, has a kind of diffident arrogance about them. It’s the same thing they did before the debut of the PS2, and they got away with it, but they were also competing against two companies (Sega and Nintendo) that couldn’t execute. Well, Nintendo could, if it’s a portable. Otherwise, they’re clueless. Sega was dead the moment EA said they wouldn’t make games for the Dreamcast. In other words, the initial console wars of the PS2 generation were over before they began.

Sony announced earnings for Q1 today, by the way, and lost $533 million. Sales for the company dropped over 4% from last year. Sales in the game division decreased 6% from Q1 of 2004, and operating income decreased by 36%. PS2 shipments decreased 20% compared to Q1 of 2004.

Do you remember just six months ago when Sony was loudly proclaiming that they didn’t need a new console until 2007? Are you kidding me? They are desperate for a new console.

And there’s one more potential factor at work here: the value of the dollar versus the yen. Sure, a weak dollar will hurt Microsoft in Japan, but Microsoft’s console market share in Japan is miniscule anyway. Sony, on the other hand, has the dominant market share in the U.S., and a weak dollar is going to cause them a huge amount of pain.

I can understand how some of you would get the impression from my last few columns about this that I’m a Microsoft proponent. I’m not. I want the best games, and whoever can give them to me gets my money. I just see Sony making some familiar mistakes that I’m not sure they can afford to make this time, and I see Microsoft doing almost everything right. That could change at any time.

Jade Empire (Xbox), Psychonauts (Xbox): Update

I finished Jade Empire last weekend. It's a wonderful game, and while I don't think it's worthy of the 9.9 awarded in the IGN review, it's certainly a 9 out of 10 under almost any standard.

I had two additional comments to add to the initial impresssions I posted last week. One, I think the new real-time combat system, although not revolutionary in itself, does enhance the flow of the game, which was more important than I first realized. Not pausing in combat makes the world itself feel more dynamic and immersive. Second, I've seen quite a few people complain about the ending. They have a point--it's certainly not one of the strongest aspects of the game. The process leading up to the ending is quite satisfying, but this is a game heavy with cut scenes, some of them remarkable, and the cut scenes accompanying the ending are almost bare in comparison. However, the game was such a compelling experience that the ending in no way diminished my enjoyment.

As to Psychonauts, I settled on the Xbox version and I've put in almost ten hours of play time. Importantly, there's a "save anywhere" feature now, and it greatly reduced the frustration that accompanied jumping puzzles in the demo. Plus the world is so rich with humor that it's a very enjoyable place to explore. However, it's not making me play it for any length of time. I'll play for fifteen or twenty minutes, then go do something else, and return later for another short session. The levels are beautifully and cleverly constructed, but inside an environment there might be four stages based on the same theme, and so far, that's been too many for me. The last one or two stages begin to feel repetitive, and it interrupts the flow of the game. So it's very, very funny, and the world is jam-packed with personality, but at this point game flow seems to be a bit "sticky." I'm going to play for another 5-10 hours over the next few days and I'll have more for you then.

Men and Cartoons

Gloria gave me a book of short stories for my birthday by Jonathan Lethem. Men and Cartoons is very thoughtful and well-written, but I'm mentioning it because several stories reminded me of Philip K. Dick. In fact, one story--"Access Fantasy"--is eerily reminiscent of him. So if you liked Dick's work, I'd highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Idiot on Display

I just did some research on the Mennonite story and I didn't have the details of the newspaper story correct--I think once I saw the word "killed" in the headline and glanced over the story, I was so shocked that I scrambled up the facts.

There were ten members of the family, not seven. More importantly, only one of them was killed--Isaak Friesen Dyck, who was twenty. The other nine suffered broken bones and other injuries, some of them serious, but only one is in critical condition.

Oh yeah, and here's the personally tremendously embarrassing part--I had the wrong Mennonites. I must have. That was an Austin story because it happened in a city north of Austin (Jarrell) at 5 a.m. last Thursday. We left for San Antonio about 10:30 a.m. on Thursday (hadn't seen the papers--I don't know if it was in the Austin paper that morning or not). We went to Sea World on Friday. I don't know why it didn't show up in the San Antonio paper until Saturday morning, but it didn't, and when I read the story it somehow sounded like it happened on Friday (my error, I'm sure, due to how shocked I was).

So the "dead Mennonites walking" story is inaccurate. And I'm amazed that there were two other Mennonites in San Antonio, because I've never even seen one down here in twenty years, at least not if they were in traditional dress (which I verified from a website). So Joseph and Sarah Plain and Tall are still out there, and I hope they get to go to Six Flags this weekend on their continuing tour of America's Greatest Theme Parks.

And while I feel like an idiot (no, wait--I AM an idiot), I'll happily trade that for knowing that six more people are alive. So, red-faced, that concludes my public caning.

Ten Hours of Sleep

For some reason, I've been exhausted the last few days. More exhausted than my usual level of exhaustion, anyway. So last night I decided to go to bed at 10:00 p.m.--at least three hours earlier than usual. For the first time in years, I'm going to get ten hours of sleep, I thought to myself.


What follows is a transcript of what happened during that ten hours. Each entry (except the first) represents me waking up.

One note: our cat is named "Sprout," in reference to her diminutive size as a kitten, although a more appropriate name for her now would be "Field." I have translated Sprout's repetitive cries into my best approximation of what she was trying to say.

10:00 p.m.
I go to bed. I'm asleep within minutes.

10:35 p.m.
Thunder. Thunder. THUNDER.

11:17 p.m.

11:31 p.m.
Thunder. Thunder.

12:15 a.m.

1:20 a.m.
Sound of sawing wood, coming from an undisclosed source.

2:25 a.m.
Undisclosed person goes to bathroom. Undisclosed person flushes undisclosed toilet.

3:30 a.m.
Eli 3.9: Mommy. Mommy, wake up! I fell out of bed. Daddy, did you hear what I told Mommy? I fell out of the bed.

4:40 a.m.

4:45 a.m. Sound of bear scratching in gravel pit.

4:47 a.m.

5:30 a.m.
Sound of cassette player being turned on.
(from cassette player)
Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?
We got some work to do now.
Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?
We need some help from you now.

Eli 3.9: Let's move out, people! It's go time! My Daddy, I played the Scooby-Doo song when I came down here. I am cracking me up! Let's get up now!

Ten hours of sleep. Fresh as a daisy.

Mars and Venus

There's a fascinating article in this month's issue of Scientific American
(available here: about the differences between male and female brains. In the article's own words, "...over the past decade investigators have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical and functional variations in the brains of males and females."

Like we all didn't know that.

The article is a general survey of those differences, and it makes for terrific reading. Here's one excerpt:
Baron-Cohen and his students went a step further. They took their video camera to a maternity ward to examine the preferences of babies that were only one day old. The infants saw either the friendly face of a live female student or a mobile that matched the color, size and shape of the student's face and included a scrambled mix of her facial features. To avoid any bias, the experimenters were unaware of each baby's sex during testing. When they watched the tapes, they found that the girls spent more time looking at the student, whereas the boys spent more time looking at the mechanical object. This difference in social interest was evident on day one of life--implying again that we come out of the womb with some cognitive sex differences built in.

All right, since you're all going to e-mail me if I don't mention this--I know that it matters if the female was hot or not. I know the experimental setup should have included both a hot chick and a non-hot chick, along with a mechanical object, to obtain accurate results for the boys.

Check out the link if you're interested. It's excellent.

The Rest of the Story

I mentioned yesterday that part of the weekend's disaster involved a trip to the San Antonio Zoo. Today I'll share the rest of the story, and it's unfortunately not another setpiece of dark comedy.

Believe it or not, it involves Sea World.

We were on our way to the White Whale and Dolphin stadium to see a show. I had briefly separated from Eli 3.9 and Gloria because I wanted to get a drink, and on my way back I saw them.

Not Eli and Gloria, even though it reads that way. Clearly, I have sentence construction issues.

No, "them" were two people walking quickly to get to the stadium before the show started.

I saw her first. One look and I knew she should have been wearing a t-shirt that said "I Heart Churning Butter." It was Sarah Plain and Tall, standing right in front of me. She was wearing a forest green dress, as anachronistic as it was striking, and on her head was a white bonnet.

A BONNET, people. She belonged in an episode of The Land That Time Forgot.

I think she was about twenty, maybe not quite that old, and she was with a man who was about her age, a boy who had just recently become a man. He wore blue jeans, but he also wore suspenders and a straw hat, and his uneven beard made it clear that he was Joseph Plain and Tall.

As I was watching them, they smiled at each other and gleefully headed for the show.

For some reason, the only word I could think of when I saw them was "Mennonite."

I had a surprising reaction--for me. I didn't immediately think about how I could write about them. I do that now--the first thing that comes into my mind is how I'll write about something. It's an auto-pilot mechanism, one I'm very familiar with, but it didn't engage this time. Instead, the one word in my head was "comfort." It was very, very comforting to see these people who lived so simply, who were so innocent compared to the rest of us.

If you don't life in the U.S., it may be hard to understand. Let me briefly explain how it is in this country now. 45% of the country bitterly hates another 45%, and vice versa. Only about 10% of the country has any sensibility left whatsoever, and this 10% is hated by the other 90%. In this environment, it's very difficult to read the national news without getting nauseous.

And it's overwhelming. The partisanship saturates almost everything. It's why I don't talk about politics in this column, because this is one place where I (and you) can get away from them. I only mention it now to help you better understand my frame of mind when I saw Sarah and Joseph. There was a lightness about their naivete that was deeply compelling. It was happy. I felt happy just seeing them happy. It was a wonderful moment, one that stayed with me for the rest of the day. Everything about those few seconds was so sharp and clear.

The next morning I see on the front page of the newspaper that seven Mennonites, traveling from Mexico to Canada for a wedding, were killed by a drunken driver just outside San Antonio.

As soon as I read the headline I knew that the two happy people I'd seen the day before were dead.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Curse You Electronic Arts!

Look at this Sony press release. Sorry, it's long, but believe me, it's worth it:
FOSTER CITY, Calif., April 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. announced today the launch of Road To Sunday, exclusively for the PlayStation®2 computer entertainment system. Built from the ground up, this new franchise incorporates innovative game designs, new Artificial Intelligence (AI) and graphics, a compelling story and a variety of gameplay features. Slated for release in winter 2005, Road To Sunday is poised to present an all-new sports videogame experience that goes beyond the traditional on-field action.

Defining the next evolution in gaming, Road To Sunday presents a unique, sequential, episodic storyline that will provide both sports and entertainment videogame fans with the first ever sports entertainment drama. Blending on- and off-the-field action, Road To Sunday delivers a unique cinematic football experience where gamers must complete various missions, moving from setting to setting and character to character as dictated by the story.

The storyline revolves around Blake Doogan, an affluent sports mogul who inherits a professional football team after his father dies in a suspicious explosion while vacationing in Jamaica. Blake learns his father borrowed large sums of capital from a Jamaican kingpin to purchase a professional team. Doogan's father's debt is now his debt. The gameplay follows the owner, his sidekick Harry and seven football players as they put it all on the line in order to accumulate enough money to pay off the Jamaican kingpin and win the championship.

Players not only compete on the gridiron but also gain exposure to an underworld of questionable characters, gambling, and an underground fighting league run by the corrupt Jamaican kingpin. The players' world off-the-field involves high-stakes fighting tournaments, betting, gambling, and training, all of which increase player attributes for future missions and football games.

The on-the-field experience is best characterized as mission-based football, in which the objective is to both win the game and achieve on-the- field goals related to the team or specific players.

So the "next evolution in gaming" involves BLAKE DOOGAN, Jamaican kingpins, and and underground fighting league. And it's a football game. Wow--it's Grand Theft Football! I have so not been wanting that to happen.

And why does the title of this post mention Electronic Arts in the cursing category? Because this is the kind of crap we're going to see from now on because no one else can make a licensed football game. EA is going to blow snot on a napkin and charge $60 for it, because they can, and everybody else is going to make bizarre football-related games like Road to Sunday, Tailgaters: The Road Trip, and James and the Giant Football.

Welcome to the Third Circle of Zoo

"Daddy, why are you SCREWED?"

Eli 3.9, scoring with the question of the weekend.

Let me say this about the San Antonio Zoo, because you might find yourself in San Antonio some day, looking for something to do, and you might see a brochure for the zoo and think "Hey! That would be fun!"

Hey! You would be wrong!

The fun, as it were, exists only in the brochure. The actual zoo, in contrast, was apparently designed by Joseph Conrad, who must have decided after writing Heart of Darkness that he wanted to create a zoo with the same basic themes.

The animals know this, even if they are not fans of Conrad. There are only three states in which animals exist inside the San Antonio Zoo: dead, diseased, or demoralized. It’s Dante’s version of car bingo.

To be fair, that's only true for mammals. Fish, blithe idiots that they are, just F. Scott Fitzgerald across their ponds, waiting for food to be lobbed at them by disgruntled zoo patrons. They have always relied on the kindness of strangers.

Yes, it’s remarkably inconvenient that Tennessee Williams wrote that line instead of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

The birds? Well, they're birds. Some of them acquire an English vocabulary consisting of several hundred words, but they still foul their cages with impunity, being totally unable to learn the intricacies of a toilet, let alone a bidet. So they also don't seem to mind.

The mammals, though, are miserable. They seem to uniformly exist in small, inadequate spaces, most seem underweight, and almost all have a glassy glaze over their eyes. They have the health and motivation of the bums who sit on the sidewalk outside the liquor store. I assume their living conditions were sponsored by some pharmaceutical company testing anti-depressants for animals, because the entire population would need heavy, and daily, dosage.

Except, of course, for the bees. While the actual residents of the zoo seem uniformly ill and dispirited, the feral bees are in extravagantly robust health, congregating by the dozens near every drink stand and trash receptacle. A promising zoo mini-game involves lobbing a drink container into a trashcan and then running like hell as the swarm emerges from the dark interior once the lid is opened.

This is the condition of the zoo: we were there for two hours, saw hundreds of animals in that time, and not once did we see an animal run. Depression does that to you, clinical studies confirm, and when we saw a snow leopard sleeping on its back, meaty paws in the air, a spirited discussion ensued over whether the animal were sleeping or dead, although in this zoo, the answer hardly mattered.

We tried to "sell" the zoo to Eli 3.9, but it wasn't easy. Statements like "Hey! There's a malnourished elephant" or "That kudu could really use some Prozac," while accurate, seemed less than enthusiastic.

In the end, we decided to do something we very, very rarely do with Eli 3.9: we lied. We said that we’d seen all the animals, when in actually we’d barely seen half, and we went instead to a play area at the front of the zoo. As it housed no demoralized animals, it was delightful in comparison, and Eli sprinted around the open, green spaces, as happy as a boy can be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Shamu, Ho!

We're headed to San Antonio for the spring Sea World/Zoo trip. Eli 3.9 has been quoting random dialogue from Scooby-Doo at the oddest times, so I assume at some point this weekend he'll suddenly shout "Crazy stove! Giant burritos!" Or we'll be standing in line and he'll say "This place is INFESTED with MONSTERS.

My personal favorite: "It's a FLAWLESS reproduction, except for one thing: President Lincoln never wore a turtleneck sweater."

As usual, I will threaten will you with the possibility of either an audio update (two words: Carrot Top) or possibly an old-fashioned typed post (if the wireless access on my notebook is functioning properly). If neither of those work out, I'll have something up after we get back.


I have been absolutely floored this week by Freakonomics, one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in years. It's written by Steven Levitt, one of the premier young economists in the country, and his remarkable ability to analyze data results in real insights to a wide variety of social issues. It's sure to piss off both liberals and conservatives alike, because he has no political perspective on these issues--he just explores the data.

If you're thinking that a book about economics sounds hopelessly boring, don't worry--it's not about economics. Not really. Here's the first paragraph off the book jacket:
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?

Every one of these questions (and more) is explored with an analytical style that is brilliantly clean. Truly, the book is sensational.

Brothers In Arms

I've had detailed impressions of several games in the last week. I planned to also write about Brothers in Arms, and I've spent nearly five hours with the game, but there won't be any extended impressions.

It's not the game, necessarily. The ability to controlt he movements of your squad through a thoughtful interface is nifty, and the framing of the missions is done very well. It's just that the FPS WWII genre is so beyond stale for me at this point that I can't face going through another game. Even with the nice touches offered by Brothers in Arms, I was bored senseless in no time. I don't think I'll be playing another Medal of Assault Brothers game anytime soon.

In truth, the most intense experiences I had in a war game were with Vietcong. Yes, not a WWII game, but it shared many of the same basic play mechanics. Having said that, Vietcong was so deeply flawed that I never even finished it, but there were some unbelievably fine moments. Other than that, though, my enjoyment of this genre peaked with the first game I played--Medal of Honor, in spite of it having the worst ending I've ever seen--and has gone steadily downhill since.

33:40--bring on that Phelps kid

I did something remarkable yesterday--for me.

Please note the "for me" qualifier. This is otherwise known as "dramatically lowering the bar."

For totally unknown reasons, I swam a mile today in 33:40. That included three hundred meters of breaststroke and was only part of a longer workout.

That's a very poor time for a good swimmer, but for a poor swimmer (me), I felt like Mark Spitz on the Wheaties box. Before that image makes you feel panicky, let me assure you that the visual does not include a Speedo.

And we all breathe a huge sigh of relief.

That's still a long way from 30:00, which is my target for this year, but it's over a minute closer than I was a month ago.

Assortment O' Links

I've seen some very interesting things today, and here they are.

First off, a fascinating article from CNN:
Eight bonobo apes will take part in a long-term experiment that will study the abilities of apes to learn "human" behaviors (language, arts, music). This study is designed to last decades and will provide some unique opportunities to study apes across several generations.

Then there's something I stumbled upon by accident--an article about the life of John Kennedy Toole, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Confederacy of Dunces," one of the finest novels ever written. I've rarely seen anything written about Toole's life, which ended tragically in suicide. Here's a link to the article:

Why, Kiss My Grits

Eli's "Nana" (Gloria's mother, from Shreveport) came to visit last weekend for three days. She has a very, very exaggerated Southern accent.

Much to our surprise, Eli now has a heavy Southern accent, or at least his approximation of one. It takes him five seconds to say one-syllable words like "bad" or "that." Saying "why" takes several minutes, seemingly, enough time to assemble a grill, or alternately, to bleed to death.

We're hoping this winds down of its own accord, since we both have neutral accents (or so we've been told).

A few months ago, a waiter said something to us that made us both laugh. I forgot to mention it then, but listening to Eli 3.9 made me remember. We went to an Outback one night, sat down, and the waiter walked over and said "Would ya'll like something to drink, ya'll?"

Batten Down the Baffled

Akella, official butchers of the lamentable Pirates of the Caribbean (popularly known as "Piece of Total Crap"), have announced their E3 lineup. The reason I mention this lineup is because they've apparently created a new boutique division called "The Worst Game Names in History." Take a look at these beauties, all scheduled for release in 2006:
Hard To Be God

Dead Mountaineer Hotel

Wow. Those names are a big pile of, well, smersh.

I'm just still bitter because POTC should have been a Game of the Year candidate instead of an alpha/drink coaster.

And in other news related to E3, I'm now seriously waffling on going. I had planned to attend to check out the new consoles, but there's no way I'll get a media credential this year. In years past, you could show up unaccredited, go to the media center, smile winningly, flash a little copy, and emerge with a badge. I am totally confident, however, that blogs will generate nothing but laughter and pointing. Sure, I'm used to that on a daily basis anyway, but it still won't get me a media pass.

There used to be a non-media "civilian" pass that you could just shell out some shekels for, but I don't see that on the E3 website, and it's possible they've removed that option due to the presumably heavy attendance this year.

In truth, the worst place to know what's actually happening at E3 is to be at E3. It's just too sprawling to grasp as one person. And the videos of presentations, etc., seem to be on the Web within days, so the actual incremental value of attending is low. It's fun, though, especially eccentric Kentia Hall, so I'm still looking at my options.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Computers Obey Brain Waves of the Paralyzed"

Thanks to DQ reader Owen Sullivan for this link:

The article discusses the advancements being made in using electrical signals from the brain as direct instructions to computers and other devices, enabling paralyzed people to do some absolutely incredible things. Here are a couple of excerpts:

--A quadriplegic man in Massachusetts has shown he can change TV channels, turn room lights on and off, open and close a robotic hand and sort through messages in a mock e-mail program.

--Seven paralyzed patients near Stuttgart, Germany, have been surfing the Internet and writing letters to friends from their homes.

It's brilliant research and the the possibilities are so awesome that I don't think they even fit on the scale.

The Blue Meanie, 3.9 Style

Gloria was going to go with Eli to get the mail. “I don’t want to go with you anymore, Mommy,” Eli 3.9 said. “I want to go with Daddy.”

"I thought we were going to go,” Gloria said.

“I want to go with Daddy instead,” he said. His voice had a dismissive tone to it—somehow the words sounded uglier the way he said them.

"Eli, it makes me feel sad when you tell me you don’t want to do something with me.”

This is one of the differences between men and women. If he looked at me and said that, I’d go “Woo hoo! I’ll be in my study!” and I’d be off to play Jade Empire or write something for your alleged amusement. I’ve got so many things I like to do that if one doesn’t pan out, I just cue up what’s next and off I go. I have the emotional attention span of an ant, and not a sensitive one.

“Do you understand?” Gloria asked him softly.

”I guess,” Eli said. “Let’s go, Daddy,” he muttered. Yes, 3.9 year olds can mutter. And grumble. Especially boys. It’s almost impossible for them to empathize with anyone’s feelings, which means my boy is well on his way to becoming a man.

“Little man,” I said, “That was not a nice way to talk to your Mommy. Can you think of something to say that would make her feel better?”

“Hmm, let’s see,” he said. I can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s already back to normal. Little kids just have these fractional moments where they want to be mean. It’s like they’re experimenting with how they can make other people feel. “Hold on, I’m thinking…I know! Mommy, I’m sorry. I won’t talk that way again.” He ran over to Gloria and gave her a hug. The model boy returns.

We started walking toward the mailboxes, which are about half a block away. Then he had a revelation.

“Daddy, it makes me feel bad when I say something mean to Mommy.”

”I know, little man. Saying mean things to people makes them feel bad, but it makes you feel bad, too. That’s why you shouldn’t say them.”

“I know what!” he said. “The NEXT time I say something mean to her, I’m going to say sorry RIGHT AWAY.” Okay, I know it's not exactly the right hill, but I was still proud that he planted a flag.

Later, when we come back, I stop to talk to Gloria.

“You know he didn’t mean that,” I said. “He just doesn’t understand how to say things.”

“I know,” she said. “It just made me feel like the only things I’m good for are cooking and finding things.”

“Actually, you kind of suck at finding things now,” I said. It’s true. Two months ago, I couldn’t find an elephant in a wading pool, while Gloria could find a flea on a football field. Suddenly, though, Gloria’s lost her locating mojo. I’ve found three things in the last two weeks, in seconds, that she couldn’t find after an extended search. Two more weeks of this and I’ll be buying a cape and a squarer jaw.

She hit me. She does that. Unless I duck.

I'll Have a Weber Grill and Two Pints of Blood, Please

When Mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, as usual, I had absolutely no idea. I’m not a high scorer on the impulse control test, so I usually don’t have a list of suitable gift items at the ready. Gloria wanted to get a grill, though, and I’d read somewhere that that Weber One-Touch Kettle Grill was an excellent choice, so I blurted that out.

Regular readers of this column should be able to establish, very quickly, that I’m not a griller. I don’t long to stand in front of a burning hot metal grate, smoke pouring onto my sweating face, as I rearrange raw meat and wienies into pleasing patterns. Not to mention that I have no desire to accidentally start a fire with a stray spark that will burn down ten thousand acres or so. So I have no genetic desire to grill, but Gloria, oddly enough, has a genetic desire to see me do so.

“When Chromosomes Collide,” reads the film title.

As a compromise, then, I grill. Occasionally.

The box arrived today. Eli 3.9 helped with the opening, and with the pieces spread out in the entryway, I looked at the assembly instructions. The assembly instructions entirely in pictures, as it were. Cartoon Confident Man was missing, that high-waisted 2-D fellow in unwrinkled trousers and crisp haircuts that symbolizes assembly as a kind of recreation, but the usual assortment of curving arrows and cryptic spatial relationships were present. One of the things that I absolutely cannot do (and never could) is translate 2-D images into 3-D space, and I’m referring particularly to assembly instructions. It is a strange, inter-dimensional kind of hell for me when I have to do this, and in most cases I will put something together backwards, if at all. Of this, though, I am fully aware.

This implies, as foreshadowing, that there is something of which I was not aware.

Indeed there was. I was wholly unaware that Weber grills were favored by assassins and secret agents as a highly efficient way to murder their enemies. I saw no indicator on the box, no sticker loudly proclaiming “PREFERRED BY SECRET AGENTS FOR ASSASSINATIONS OVER POISONED UMBRELLA TIPS 3-1!” In fact, the real ratio may be 5-1 or even higher, for as far as I could determine, there is absolutely no more efficient way to bleed to death than assembling a Weber grill.

How sharp were some of the pieces of this grill? I cut myself, and fairly deeply, in the first five minutes, just by grazing a razor-sharp metal burr. After the initial blood-letting, I made a careful inspection of every piece and actually wound up sanding down three of them, both so Eli 3.9 couldn’t cut himself and so I couldn’t bleed to death in the future. These were longer, curving surfaces, and they were wickedly sharp. The Kettle Grill of Bloody One-Touch Death, as it were.

Insidiously, when the grill was finally assembled, these surfaces were actually snug against each other or the bottom of the grill and posed no imminent threat, but there were various maintenance procedures that would have periodically exposed them. So they still would have been dangerous in the future.

I’d like to see the Weber people use this feature to their advantage, packaging their product with a gift certificate to a local blood bank, for example. The blood bank could capitalize by running ads about the need for donors to build up their personal supplies of blood before grilling season. Weber could bundle a t-shirt that shows Cartoon Confident Man, covered in blood, holding up a tray of cooked meat with the caption “I May Be Bloody, But the Meat is Perfect Every Time!”

And if you work for Weber, please e-mail me. I've got some ideas for action figures.

Tho Fan

DQ reader My Mom sent me a link to a New York Times article about the creation of Tho Fan, the unique language used by certain characters in Jade Empire. It's a very interesting read (registration required):

Monday, April 18, 2005

Jade Empire (Xbox)

I intended to have Jade Empire impressions up on Friday, but I was stopped by a serious problem: I couldn’t stop playing the game long enough to write the column. I wanted to get in ten hours of play before I wrote anything, and when I did I thought fifteen hours would be better. But if fifteen is better than ten, twenty is obviously better than fifteen, right?

Yes, it’s that good. It’s so good, in fact, that I hardly know where to begin.

For Knights of the Old Republic (my favorite game of 2003), Bioware brilliantly reinterpreted the Star Wars universe, maintaining fidelity to the canon while still creating a unique and fascinating world. Jade Empire is a different undertaking, a world influenced by Chinese mythology (and, to a lesser degree, kung-fu films) but essentially created from scratch. It is convincing and captivating and entirely beautiful.

The best way I can describe the world in Jade Empire is to compare it to Morrowind, which is one of the finest (and best-written) RPG’s I’ve ever played. In Morrowind, the history of the world is substantiated by hundreds of volumes that are available as one progresses through the game. It’s remarkable, to feel like a historian in a game world, but at the same time, the empire of Tamriel is most fully-defined by the written word. The world itself, though brilliantly done, is of a paler shade.

The history of the Jade Empire, in contrast, is sketchily defined by texts that are barely better than pedestrian. Yet in motion the world is beautifully dynamic and immersive, defining itself beyond the written world, which I see as a remarkable accomplishment. I experience the Jade Empire most fully not by reading, but by being.

Bioware excels at telling stories, and Jade Empire is no exception. The main story is deep and rich, and the side-quests are just as good. The side quests are truly remarkable because they are so deeply personal. Fear, anger, love, greed—they are all on display. It’s a vibrant world, bursting with life, full of both detail and astonishment. Yes, it’s a Bioware game, but there are certainly moments when I think of a game like Final Fantasy VII because of the sheer spectacle involved.

Visually, the world is beautiful and richly detailed. Some reviews have groused about the level of detail, but I don’t see how the existing Xbox hardware could be pushed any further than it’s gone here. I never get the feeling of being in a world that lacks dimension, which is also one of Bioware’s finest qualities—nothing about the world or the people in it feels flat.

One of the important reasons that people don’t feel flat is because they speak. Just as in KOTOR, the voice-acting is brilliant at times, and thousands upon thousands of lines of dialogue have been recorded. There are some inconsistencies in the voice-acting, but they relate mostly to style. Some characters speak with what sounds like (to my very clumsy ears) a Chinese accent, and some of these same voices speak just slightly more quickly, enough so that it almost sounds like a sly homage to English translations of kung-fu movies from the golden era of chopsocky. It never sounds ridiculous, but it’s a very distinctive style. Many other voices, though, have no accent at all. On paper, this sounds like an enormous incongruity, but as spoken it’s only slightly jarring. It is, however, there.

The basic dialogue mechanic hasn’t changed from KOTOR, or indeed, from the beginning of time. The dialogue tree convention has been around for twenty years (at least), and they’re very long in the tooth, but the voice-acting is so good that it makes up for the stale mechanic. The only time it wavers is during exposition—there are so many questions that can be asked by your character that “draining” a single NPC of information can take far too long. There is a more elegant way to handle that, which I’m not going to discuss now, but the dialogue tree is a convention that is badly in need of permanent retirement.

Much has been made of the fighting mechanism, and it’s certainly fun, but it hardly feels revolutionary. It’s real-time, and you can combine different styles during combat (selectable by the D-pad). The diversity of opponents and their styles, however, is extremely well-done. There’s an arena section in the game, not unlike the arena in Fable, but the intrigue behind the scenes and the wildly divergent nature of the battles are far, far more satisfying.

One other very important design element with this game is that it can be played. I know that sounds ridiculous, but so many games lock difficulty at inception. If you find yourself in a battle that cannot be won, the plot cannot be advanced. It might take sixty tries, but that battle must be won. It essentially represents the same kind of dead-stop situation as a difficult jumping puzzle in a platform game. With Jade Empire, the difficulty of both the fighting sections and mini-games can be changed at will, with the only exception being that difficulty is locked during combat. I’ve had two battles (on regular difficulty, which is called “Master”) that were tremendously difficult, and after attempting each one about fifteen times (and these weren’t short battles, so it took quite a while for this to play out), I reloaded a save, lowered the difficulty level, and was able to finish them both. It kept the story advancing and my frustration level down, and I was able to go back to Master level afterwards.

I get no sense of accomplishment from trying the same battle (or jumping puzzle) fifty times. It’s a fundamental tenet of game design that a player can’t experience the game if they quit playing, but I’m amazed by how many games don’t seem to embrace this principle. I don’t mind different endings, or lowered experience points, but there should be some way to progress through the game.

So as a game, Jade Empire is certainly not revolutionary, but the remarkable ability that Bioware has to balance a game is on full display here. They do an extraordinary job of creating cohesion and balance, and they’ve done it again. There’s so much here, and it all fits together beautifully.

And above all, a Bioware game is personal. The interactions between characters are filled with emotion, and the voicing of dialogue only enhances this feeling. Jade Empire is deeply immersive, almost encompassing, and a step beyond KOTOR in my mind, at least during the first twenty hours of play. I find it particularly interesting that Jade Empire, like Darwinia, is a triumph of a kind, but for deeply different reasons. Darwinia’s design is so clean and sharp and it could be written on a single piece of paper. Jade Empire’s design probably filled five hundred pages. Yet each game, for its own reasons, manages to be involving and authentic and, most importantly, a true pleasure to play.

A wonderful game. A wonderful experience.

Gamestop Buys Electronics Boutique

I guess this means that having an EB or Gamestop every two blocks between here and forever is going to stop.

From Marketwatch (excerpted--full release at
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- GameStop Corp. acquired rival Electronics Boutique Holdings Corp. in a cash and stock deal worth about $1.44 billion, the video game retailers said Monday.

Under terms of the agreement, each Electronics Boutique share will be exchanged for $38.15 in cash and 0.78795 GameStop shares.

Based on Friday's closing prices, Electronics Boutique shares are being valued at $55.18 each, or at a 34% premium.

The combined company, to be named GameStop Corp., will generate annual revenues of approximately $3.8 billion, with over 3,200 stores located in the United States, as well as nearly 600 international stores, wrote Michael Pachter, analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, in a note to investors.

GameStop expects the acquisition to begin adding to earnings in the second half of 2005. It said the deal was attractive because it provides an opportunity for entry into new international markets.

I'm not sure I understand the need for this deal, except that both of these companies seemed to be opening huge numbers of locations very close to each other, and somebody was going to lose. I wouldn't be surprised at all if 500 of the 3,200 locations were closed, since they're all probably within walking distance of another, now non-competing store.

This can't be good news for gamers. Less competition on pricing, fewer locations, no diversity in the commercial approach. Blech. Given how many exclusive licenses EA has snagged in the sports world, I now see a future where something called "FOOTBALL GAME" is released each fall and it's available for purchase at "THE GAME STORE."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

HL2 Music Video

Thanks to DQ reader Brett Sherman for sending me the link to an excellent piece of machinima based on Half-Life 2. You'll see some amazing in-game footage and extensive use of the Face Poser tool (lip-synching). The video sequences are actually taken from the game, so they could be considered "spoilers," but the individual shots are so brief that I don't think anyone who hasn't played the game would have any idea what's going on.

Here's the link:

Apollo 13

Here's a link (courtesy of Slashdot) to a sensational article about Apollo 13 and how the crew was brought back home safely:

And "sensational" is not an exaggeration. It's a tremendous read.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Dinosaur Eggs

Dinosaur eggs have been discovered inside an oviraptorosaur. The eggs were "bird-like." This continues the trend of an amazing discovery related to dinosaurs seemingly every week now. Here's the link:

Psychonauts (Demo)

I would normally never give impressions on a demo, but Psychonauts is the exception. For one, the demo is unusually long—I played it for over three hours and didn’t even finish the level. It’s also the new game by Tim Schafer, whose last bit of brilliance was possible the finest adventure game of all time: Grim Fandango.

Psychonauts has a twisted history—five years in development and a publisher change. None of that matter when we play the game, but I think it does demonstrate Schafer’s unwavering commitment to his vision.

Like I said, I spent over three hours on the demo, and it’s certainly one of the most substantial demos I’ve seen in a long time. It’s full of over-the-top, genuinely funny moments, and the writing and voice-acting are top notch.

If you’re wondering what the game is about, let Schafer tell you. This is an excerpt from an excellent interview at Computer Games Magazine Online

Psychonauts is about a powerful young psychic named Razputin. Raz runs away from home to train to be a Psychonaut—a group of international secret agents with paranormal powers. But when he sneaks into their training compound he finds it to be a Psychic Summer camp for kids. A Psychic summer camp with mutant animals, an abandoned insane asylum across the lake, and legends of a giant monster that comes out of the lake at night and eats children’s brains. Soon Raz finds himself the only kid (or adult) left at camp and it’s up to him to hunt down the missing brains, and stop the dark plot of the madman who stole them.

The first sentence of his description sounds dark and serious, but trust me, this is a silly, cartoony game, and I mean that in a good way. It’s a very vaudevillian approach—gag on top of gag, and even if you don’t laugh at everything, the sheer lunacy of it all grows on you.

Those are the positives, and they’re strong.

The graphics are not one of the positives. They’re very stylish, and that style is perfectly suited to the game, but they’re also very dated. Actually, not dated so much as limited, since it’s a console port. I think it matters more with this type of game because presentation is such an integral part of the experience. The graphics don’t actually detract from the experience, but they could have significantly enhanced it, and they don’t. Like I said, though, the style is absolutely top-notch.

There’s one more, potentially serious, issue: gameplay. Here’s another quote from Schafer:
Psychonauts seems really different to me than anything that’s out there. Mostly because there is an adventure game in there, hiding (at first). In the beginning there is a strong platformer feeling and that sets up the world and all the gameplay mechanics, but then that shell is filled in with characters and stories that you would normally not see in that genre.

It’s certainly hiding in the demo. The demo is absolutely a straight platformer, complete with jumping puzzles and cheap deaths. Yes, you’re “reset” into the world, but not always at the same point. It’s an incredibly annoying convention of the platform genre. It’s also why I didn’t finish the demo—I reached a point where I was jumping blind onto a platform, kept dying, and finally gave up. Some platformers have levels of difficulty for certain components, including jumping puzzles, and that option is needed in Psychonauts. Desperately.

Platform games are essentially a genre created by the limited powers of consoles in the Nintendo/Genesis/Super Nintendo era. Its creation was due to hardware limitations. So while platformers have gone 3-D, the limited gameplay mechanics that were a product of now-obsolete hardware have survived, and it usually results in a very mixed experience. 2-D adventure games, Schafer’s specialty, were also created in response to hardware limitations, and, like platformers, have struggled to make the transition to 3-D. So Schafer, in essence, is combining two genres that are struggling with obsolescence.

It’s an odd choice, particularly when you consider the respective audiences for the two genres. The audiences for platform games and adventure games could not be further apart—they are absolutely on opposite ends of the spectrum. The core audience for this game is people who played the classic LucasArts adventure games. I’m guessing that a high percentage of those people don’t play platform games, or if they do, they haven’t played them in a long time. And in Shafer’s own words, the adventure game is “hidden” at first. Adventure gamers might not be willing to fight through the jumping puzzles and the occasional cheap death area to reach the adventure. I really, really liked the demo, and even I reached the point where I wasn’t willing to put in any more time to continue.

Platformers will be very happy, at first, and they’ll definitely reach the adventure section of the game, but what happens then? I think that both platform gamers and adventure gamers are relatively genre-exclusive, and I’m not sure either one is going to like their chocolate bar falling into someone else’s peanut butter, even if it makes for a great taste together.

Having said all that, I highly respect someone with the stones to try this. It’s both high concept and slapstick, and even the demo was more interesting that most of the full games I’ve played in the last six months. Tim Schafer’s track record must absolutely be respected, and it’s clear that his creativity has not diminished in any way.

Psychonauts ships on April 19th for PC and Xbox.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Worst Sportscast in the History of Television

This clip is all over the web, but it's so funny that I'm going to put up the link in case you haven't seen it:

I cannot possibly prepare you for this. I will say that you should listen carefully for the phrase "Boom goes the dynamite," which I've now heard on ESPN.

Somewhere, the Star Wars Kid is celebrating. His fifteen minutes are over.

Candy #2

The second story related to candy was sent in by Daniel Quock. Now to understand this, you'll need to go check out this link:

That's quite an eyeful, isn't it?

It seems that Haribo, the manufacturer of "Maoam sweets," has redesigned its wrapper to show a lemon and lime, well, getting some citrus on the hang low. Grating some peel. Getting their fruit on.

I’m stopping there, even though I don’t want to.

Graduates of St Blasien Jesuit College (near Freiburg, Germany) sent a protest letter to Haribo. Here are two excerpts from the article:
The students were especially opposed to the lemon flavoured chews, which "undoubtedly show a green figure having sex with a lemon.”

"The lemon, which from the drawing looks female, is obviously enjoying it with the greatest of pleasure."

Hey, maybe the lemon’s just faking it.

Then there’s the other wrapper, which shows two cherries and that lucky, lucky lime engaged in something that common decency forbids me from mentioning by name. Although I will say that it rhymes with “cunnilingus.”

Damned typos.

On top of all that, I think those cherries are twins. Man, I hate that lime.

Candy #1

In a remarkably strange bit of coincidence, I have two items related to candy for you tonight.

The first is from DQ reader Scott Moore:
Riley 6.1 saw an old Almond Joy/Mounds commercial on TV. The one with the song, "Almond Joy's got nuts, Mounds don't." Well, he's started sing that catchy tune, the only problem is it comes out, "Almond Joy's got nuts, males don't." I guess they haven't gotten to anatomy in kindergarten yet.


This game is like opening a door and feeling a huge gust of fresh, cool air in your face.

Is it really that good? Yes. Hell, yes.

Darwinia was developed by Introversion Software, who obviously didn’t get the memo about innovation dying in game development. They have developed one of the most conceptually beautiful, visually striking games ever made. A decade from now, it will still be mentioned in reverent tones, a game so good that it is beyond time.


I’ll tell you, but this will be in no particular order, because so much of the game is so good that it’s difficult for anything to stand out.

For starters, the world of Darwinia is breathtakingly beautiful. Jaw-dropping. In one of the most stunning visual representations I have ever seen, Darwinia is a totally artificial world that feels totally organic. It feels far more “real” than games that purport to represent reality. It’s all-encompassing—it’s retro and futuristic and old-school and new-school. The world is so beautiful and so internally consistent that it’s conceptually one of the finest designs I’ve ever seen.

It’s also alive. There are a staggering number of visual details that make the world flesh. It’s a living, breathing place, and that’s always foremost in my mind.

Then there’s how the game feels. It feels like Pink Floyd and Rube Goldberg—at the same time. It’s trippy and funny and always, always internally consistent. There are a variety of units that can be created (only a limited number at any one time, though), and with these units you must repel invading forces, repair giant machines, and staff these machines to re-enable the industrial production of the world. If that sounds dull, believe me, it’s not. The organic feel of this game makes it almost hypnotic to play. It’s one of those games where you stand up and realize you’ve been playing for three hours without even shifting in your chair.

The gameplay is a fusion of almost everything you can imagine. It’s real-time strategy and squad-based combat and a puzzle game. The levels are puzzle-based in the sense that there are many ways to achieve your objectives on a level, and the cleverest solutions are far, far easier than the brute force approach. Brute force can be successful, but elegance is rewarded. It’s very satisfying to avoid the angry hordes by thinking about how a level works and why it’s set up that way.

Sound? Wonderful. There is a dizzying array of sound effects for units and events, many of them subtle, and they all contribute to the dynamic nature of the world.

I would tell you more about the plot, but the plot is really not important in the context of what makes the game so special. The world itself is so rich and full that it’s almost self-sustaining—any story is going to feel cobbled on to some degree. It’s not that the story isn’t interesting—it is—but what drives me to play is not the story. The world itself is so beautiful and fascinating that exploring is its own reward.

In a word: sensational. It’s the best PC game so far this year, and there isn’t a second place. It’s a game from an independent developer that is wildly ambitious, which is not so unusual, but what is unusual is that it fulfills its promise, and does so magnificently. I would very rarely use the word “triumph” to describe a PC game, but Darwinia is a triumph, the stunning result of untethered imagination.

Here’s a link to the website (and a demo is available):

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Ultimate Something or Other

Thanks to DQ reader Justin for sending me a link to a very funny story over at Something Awful. The "Communications Director" for ex-wrester The Ultimate Warrior threatened to sue Lowtax, and the correspondence between them is absolutely outstanding. Here's the link:

Sudden Surge in Hat Sales Surprises Experts

Do you remember when you first went to school? Do you remember the excitement when your first grade teacher told you about reading? Do you remember how she told you about all the wonderful things you would discover?

Well, she lied, damn her. Because if I had never learned to read, I never would have seen this headline on MSNBC yesterday:

It might well be the first time in the history of the written word that the words "muddled" and "licking" were used in close proximity. And I think once is enough.

The "licking" in question might or might not have occurred during a plane flight, where it is alleged that Michael Jackson licked the top of a boy's head.

As Daffy Duck would say: Shoot me. Shoot me now.

It's hard to quantify Michael's Jackson level of weirdness. I think after reading this story, though, I can safely say that if aliens from space ever reach our planet, they will be less weird than Michael Jackson.

I have no idea if he's guilty of anything besides being weirder than a space alien. You can read a bunch of ranting about that in a million other places, so no need for it here. And the quality of the prosecution, which is abysmal, doesn't mean that he's not guilty, only poorly prosecuted. But has anyone ever seen a worse collection of witnesses in the history of jurisprudence? These half-wits and village idiots are so inept that they almost have to paw the ground to respond to questions. I've seen tic-tac-toe playing chickens that were more convincing.

Actually, I think we'd all be far better off if there were more headlines about tic-tac-toe playing chickens.

Everybody Run--Betty Crocker's Got a Gun

I went to the grocery store today for a chicken breast.


I've been working on my column leads. I think it's going well.

I'm in line at the checkout and somebody behind me slams down two items on the conveyor belt. I mean SLAMS. I turn around and it's a young guy, maybe twenty, talking on his cell phone.

"Yeah, I left," he says. "Why? Because everybody pissed me off, man. I am so pissed off right now. I swear the next guy that pisses me off, I'm going to bust a cap in his ass."

So immediately I ask myself the only logical question in this situation: what does a guy who's about to bust a cap in somebody's ass buy at the grocery store?

A bag of chocolate chips and a can of Crisco shortening.

Dude, you aren't busting a cap in anybody's ass. You're BAKING COOKIES.

I didn't say that to him, of course. I didn't want him to bust a cap in my ass.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Terrifying World of the X Chromosome

Gloria went to have lunch with one of her best friends last week. “I took her some scented soap,” she said, “rosemary mint,” she pauses, preparing to blow me away, “and then—she gave me some, too! White tea and ginger!”

“Wow!” I said. “The X-Chromosome: Unfathomably Strange. A twelve-part documentary.”

“Oh, and I gave her a card for her and Julio’s anniversary.”

“So it’s come to this,” I said. “Now women are giving each other cards about their anniversaries with other people.”

“Well, she gave me one last year,” Gloria said.

“She gave you a card for our anniversary?” I asked. “Who ARE you people?”

“You’re just jealous,” she said.

“Yes, I am,” I said. “I long to spend half an hour a day picking out greeting cards and smelling soap.”

“Watch it,” she said. “I’ll have a grilling party and invite all our friends.”

"If they’re really my friends, they won’t come,” I said.

Paul Shirley

Paul Shirley is a bench warmer for the Phoenix Suns, and he kept a blog for one week on a recent road trip. He's very, very funny. And thoughtful. Even if you're not a basketball fan, this is a terrific read. Thanks to new father Glen Haag for sending me the link.

Oh, and thanks for the e-mails about using Tiny URL when needed in the future. Duly noted.

Great. Just Great.

Electronic Arts (otherwise referred to as "Mounds of Assheads") have secured an exclusive six-year deal with the NCAA for college football titles.

I will refrain from using the word I'd like to in this space, but the last half of the word is "heads." That is all.

Here We Go

All right, it's officially on.

Last week, Sony tried to junior-high Microsoft by scheduling its official launch for the PS3 three hours before Microsoft's launch of Xbox Next.

So now we get this (Reuters):
LOS ANGELES - Microsoft Corp. Monday said it would unveil the next generation of its Xbox video game console in a May 12 special on cable music and entertainment channel MTV.

The unveiling will be a first, as video game companies usually take the wraps off their new consoles at the industry trade show E3 -- which will be held the following week in Los Angeles.

Microsoft said the special would also air in Japan the morning of May 13 and across Europe that evening. Actor Elijah Wood will host the show.

The special will include footage of next-generation Xbox games and also online play, Microsoft said.

Sony should be moving up their date in another hour or so. By next week, both companies will have announced that they're officially launching their consoles last October.


On Sunday I’m in the icy waters again. Icy, I tell you.

About four hundred meters into my workout, I’ve finished a set and I’m waiting about thirty seconds to start another. A teenager walks into the pool area with his girlfriend. It’s in the high seventies—above water, anyway—and he’s wearing shorts and no shirt. He’s sort of strutting around the pool with his girlfriend, then he gets a running start and jumps into the pool. “OH MY GOD!” he yells. The girlfriend laughs. Seconds later, he’s gone.


I’m not much of an athlete, but I’ve always had this conceit that I’m as tough mentally as anyone. And being an idiot and swimming in sixty-five degree water just reinforces that. So I’m feeling pretty good about myself after seeing that guy scream and run from the pool.

Tough. Tough, I tell you. That’s me.

I hit one thousand meters and pause at the end of a set. I see a little girl, probably about ten, standing by the pool with her mom. I already know how this is going to turn out, so I don’t really pay attention, but just as I get ready to glide from the wall, I hear “AIEEEEEE!”
I guess she got in the water.

Tough. That’s me. Go home, kid. This pool is for real men only. Come back in June.

I swim two laps, which is a hundred meters, and as I reach the wall I see something in the water, so I stop and stand up.


I’m tough. I’m very tough. I’m swimming with a ten-year old girl.

“Are you cold?” she asks.
“I am. Did you see the penguins?” She laughs.
“It’s cold but it feels great!” she says. My core temperature is plummeting. I’ll be spending hours under the blankets. Meanwhile, she’ll be at t-ball practice.

I make it another five hundred meters. At that point, my arms and legs have only the vaguest relationship with me. Time to get out while I can still walk. Meanwhile, Miss Mentally Tough is frolicking.


I’m glad I’m mentally tough, so I could make it home without crying.

v2 Player Progression Mod Released

v2 of the player progression mod for MVP2005 has been released. It's available for download over at (Downloads/MVP Baseball 2005/Miscellaneous/Player Progression Mod V2).

That means that things are going back to normal around here as of now. I have lots and lots of content for later today, and absolutely none of it has anything to do with this game.

Overall, I am really, really happy with how this turned out. No v3. I'd like to start playing games again instead of modding them. This should be playable for 100+ seasons, which should take care of everyone.

I did include some variance numbers below for those of you who were following the math after the post last week. Walks have more variance in the end than I expected, but to close that gap would have meant making other categories less accurate, which is something I didn't want to do. this is not far away from text-sim accuracy over 20-40 seasons, and traditionally there has been a huge gap between the statistical accuracy of graphics-based games versus text-sims.

After one season ("MLB" is MLB2004 totals):
SB....... 2589;...-14.14%;...-16.96%

The mod is more accurate, but only very marginally. Only park factors can be adjusted for the first season--the rest of the mod has its effect over time as players work their way through their careers. The default settings are far better than usual for a non-text sim.

After 20 seasons (variance from MLB2004):
BB.........-3.04%... -18.85%........-8.65%

You can easily see how v2 of the mod is more accurate, and often significantly so (walks, steals, home runs, triples), than v1. The home run problem kills the default settings--there are over 30 players with 40+ home runs. Another side effect of the default progression settings is ratings inflation for position players--after 20 years, 99/99 (contact/power) players are commonplace, so there is no ratings separation for superstars.

After 40 seasons (I didn't run the EA default for another 20 years due to the home run problem). The variance is from MLB2004:

Hits...........1.14%........ 2.76%
Runs......-12.91%....... -7.00%
HR..........13.22%........ 5.03%

Like I said, I couldn't be happier with how this turned out. There's a point beyond which it isn't that much fun anymore, and I reached that point about a week ago. So I'm glad it's over.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Links (courtesty of Slashdot)

I've piled up some links from Slashdot in the last few days that make for excellent reading:

A Korean research team has developed a way to selectively age and kill cancer cells for the first time in the world.

A Business Week article on Gary Stern, the owner of Stern Pinball, the last pinball manufacturer in the world.
This URL is going to blow up the page formatting, so I'm putting half on one line and the rest on the second line.

An article from The Economist on the use of computers to generate mathematical proofs.

Finally, from Wired, Jacques Cousteau's grandson has built a submarine that is, by all appearances, a great white shark. Genius idea and a fascinating article. The pictures alone are amazing.


Jade Empire Review

I am normally the last person to reference a review, particularly a review by IGN, but they gave Bioware's Jade Empire a 9.9 tonight, which is so unbelievably high that I thought it was worth noting. And it's a six-page review, far more detailed than their usual.

Here's a link:

It's shipping next Tuesday (April 12) in the U.S.

E3 Console Announcements: I Know You Are, But What Am I

Sony announced that their unveiling of the PS3 will take place at a pre-E3 conference that will take place, conveniently, three hours before Microsoft shows the Xbox 2. Remember a few weeks ago when I said this was going to be like fourth graders hurling insults at each other on the playground? Well, here we go. This is just the beginning.

'Just a Minute' Update

This just in: I have received confidential information that Matthew Kreuch's status as an on-timer may be in some dispute. So our data may still be flawless.


And one more on-timer submission: 59.25 seconds.

'Just a Minute' Results

Thanks for all the submissions I received for the “Just a Minute” survey. Here are the results:
For the people who identified themselves as always (or almost always) being early, they thought a minute lasted::39, :40, :43, :45, :47, :47, :48, :48, :50, :51, :52, :54:, :55, :55, :56, :58, :58, :59, :59.5, 1:00, 1:02, 1:03, 1:07, 1:25.

No pattern there or anything. Not at all. If it wasn’t for Matthew Kreuch’s 1:25, it would be almost flawless.

Robert Brand was the perfect time, by the way.

For the people who identified themselves (or were identified by others, in most cases) as “laters,” here are there times:1:06, 1:09, 1:12, 1:14, 1:15, 1:18.

I’d like to say that’s a perfect score, but I left out one entry. This last entry serves two purposes: one, it proves that not all laters think a minute lasts longer than it does, and more importantly, it proves that Matthew Kreuch’s watch wasn’t slow, because this time is for his wife:


Being a later and thinking a minute lasts forty-seven seconds is a combination worthy of a Möbius strip.

The best story, though, was submitted by DQ reader John DiMinno:
My wife is a later. She knows it. I know it. She hates that I know that she knows that I know she knows.
I read her the “One Minute” blog although she was getting a kick out of it the look I was getting was priceless.
So I asked her I did, “Would you like to test how long your minute is?”
With a big grin and a flick of ‘the bird’ she said…”This is how long a minute is.”
I couldn’t stop laughing.

My Wife: Appearing Every Night This Week

We were watching “Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster” yesterday. As a family.

Eli 3.7 really enjoys watching Scooby-Doo. And, like approximately a hundred million other men in this country, I do a flawless Scooby-Doo impersonation, which he just thinks is hilarious.

So we’re all watching this cartoon, and five minutes into the show, the Harlem Globetrotters show up in Scotland. I’ll be damned if I know why.

Since it’s a Scooby-Doo cartoon, and since this a feature-length show, there’s a triple dose of chicanery. At one point, there are three different Loch Ness monsters at one time, all being piloted by various real estate developers and amusement park owners and bitter caretakers and whatnot.

And they’re all on land.

Gloria looks at me and says “Do you think everyone has a bumper sticker that says ‘My Other Car is a Loch Ness Monster’?”

Technical Difficulties

Okay, now THIS is a late start.

Blogspot’s puked, so I may not be able to post this until Friday morning, but it’s being written in the wee hours. I’ve been testing a release candidate of the MPV mod and it turned into a long night. If it looks as good at 40 seasons as it does at 20, then it’s finished and I’ll release it tomorrow.

I could not be happier with this version. After twenty years of a Dynasty, walks are within 5% of 2004 MLB totals, home runs are within 2%, hits are within 2%, and runs are with 1%. It’s more accurate than I even thought was possible. Next week, everything goes back to normal, and I’ll be posting earlier than I have been this week.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Dear Insert Name Here

DQ reader Jason Cross sent me this classic story (also available in a very funny discussion over at -- look for the "Dear John Letters and Gmail" thread in the Everything But Gaming forum):

So last night the girl I've been dating decided to break things off.

In and of itself, this is no cause celebre, because that happens all the time. However, this one was interesting in that it came in email form. I haven't had an email breakup in 9 years . . . it's not like I'm dating teenagers. This woman was 29! Not only that, but it seems that she downloaded a template from or something, because it included all of the

* - Gratuitous overuse of my first name
* - " I like you and I think you are a great guy"
* - Completely hollow "Let's be friends" offer

Whatever happened to "Hey, I think you're annoying, and I just don't like you?" I can handle that . . . I expect it. This brings back oh-so-fond memories of college. Bad times.

Plus, thanks to the greatness of Gmail, I was presented with the following targeted ads:

Sponsored Links
Test Your Relationship
Is it healthy or not, get a reality check.
Do they really love you?
Do they treat you bad? This love advice can change that.
I Used to Miss Him
But My Aim is Improving: Not Your Ordinary Breakup Survival Guide

Pretty nice, eh? It's good to know that Gmail cares about my emotional well being.

New Language Alert

I'm reading a book now called "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber," which is a non-fiction account of a Hungarian hockey goalie (and a lousy one) who becomes a legendary bank robber. It's one of the wackiest true stories I've ever read, but that's not why I'm mentioning it here.

No, the reason I'm mentioning it is because of the word "asshat." I've occasionally used it in my column, and I've always wanted to use it more often, because it's a brilliant advance in language.

Until now.

Here's an excerpt from the book in which a member of the local police force was described:
And then there was Lajos's loyal stumplike sidekick, five foot three Tibor Vagi, who had an unparalleled gift for rendering police cars utterly unusable, often through the misapplication of the gas pedal or emergency brake, and thus went by Egy Rakas Seggfej, or Mound of Asshead.

I think I can safely say that "asshat' has been permanently replaced. Please update your rules and regulations notebook at your convenience.

Also, in sponsorship news, has offered me fifty dollars to rename a body part. So if I ever mention my prostate again (and we're both hoping I don't), I'll be referring to it as "my"

The Time Traveler's Wife

I bought Gloria a book for Valentine's Day titled "The Time Traveler's Wife" and promptly forgot all about it. Chick book, I figured from the title. Gloria finished it last week and said that she thought I would like it. Grumble, grumble. All right.

Freaking brilliant. I didn't realize it was science fiction, at least nominally. I can't even describe it adequately, except to say that it's one of the best books I've read in years. I read it in two days--it was absolutely impossible to put down. Brilliantly written and plotted, it is an absolutely wonderful experience.

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