Friday, December 30, 2005

Back and Beat

Man, I am just beat. And as soon as we got home, I had to turn into Toilet Repairman--which, as you can imagine, is one of my very special skills. So instead of writing something in the fog tonight, I'm going to get some rest. I've got plenty of notes from the trip and I'll work them up over the weekend, as well as work on the Games of the Year column.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year to everyone.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Bus Is Leaving and I'm On It

We're headed to San Antonio for something or other, but we'll be returning tomorrow afternoon, and I hope to have a games of the year post out by Friday evening.

Global Wisdom, or Ron Mexico Meets Ron Canada

The second Christmas gift for Eli 4.4 that deserves special consideration is the Leapfrog Explorer Globe II.

We got II, because II is always better than I.

It's a very nice globe, attached to a base that is full of controls. You can find out all kinds of information (via a decent voice chip) about different countries by selecting a category from the base and then using the touch-pen to select a spot on the globe.

Eli 4.4 decided he wanted to check this out on Tuesday (bikes and dinosaurs kept him busy until then). So we sat down and looked at it together. Eli loves to stay busy, and he would often use the touch pen again before the current information had completed, changing categories and locations constantly.

Then, at some point, we got really, really lucky.

Maybe it was Eli touching all over the globe with the touch pen. Maybe it was him turning the dial every five seconds. Whatever it was, though, we hit the jackpot.

Eli pressed the touch pen on the United States.

"Canada," said the globe.

He pressed the pen on Mexico.

"Canada," said the globe.

I burst out laughing. "Little dude, that's not Canada," I said. "That's Mexico."

"It is?" he asked.

"That's right," I said. He looked at me, then pressed Mexico again.

"Canada," said the globe. This time, we both burst out laughing.

I moved his hand down and he pressed on Columbia. "That's Columbia," I said.

"Greenland," said the globe.

It was the greatest globe ever. We started using the touch-pen all over the world. Central America? Canada. Algeria? The Arctic Ocean. China? Russia. Poland? The Arctic Ocean again.

It was brilliant. Eli was laughing so hard that he was doubled over. He ran into the bathroom, where Gloria was taking a shower, and shouted "Mommy! MEXICO IS CANADA!" Then he cracked up.

We tried other options. For a while, most of the countries in the world were identified as either the Arctic Ocean or Andorra--population 2.2 million. At least, I think it was Andorra--we were laughing so hard that I could hardly pay attention.

At one point, after another few billion people were consigned to the Arctic Ocean, we were both laughing so hard that we were both on our backs on the floor.

"That is the best Christmas present EVER," I said, when Gloria came out of the shower.

"I can't believe it's broken," she said. "I'll send it back."

"NO, Mommy. NO!" Eli 4.4 looked like he was about to cry.

"All right," she said. "We'll keep it." Eli started jumping around doing his happy dance. I might have been doing mine, too.

Now I wish this story had a happy ending, but sadly, it does not. The next morning, one of the first things Eli did was run over to the globe and turn it on. He touched Mexico.

"Mexico," said the globe.

"Shoot," Eli said. "Daddy, it's working now. Can you fix it?"

How I wish I could. Instead of our beloved Marx Brothers geographer, we now get boring and entirely correct facts about countries we no longer care for. Eli wanders over several times a day, touches a country, and when it's identified correctly, says "Oh, it's working" in a disappointed tone.

We both still hope, though, that one day, if only for a few minutes, Mexico and the United States will once again be part of Canada, as we all know they should be.

Quantum Trickery: Testing Einstein's Strangest Theory

There's an interesting article over at the New York Times about the "cat state" ("...the condition of being two diametrically opposed conditions at once, like black and white, up and down, or dead and alive").

I thought that was called marriage. Kidding.

Freaky. There's also information on synchronized atoms, which bad-ass Albert Einstein called "spooky action at a distance."

It's an excellent read. Here's the link:

Gaming Magazine of the Year

Well, they're crap, mostly. Almost all of the gaming print magazines are totally irrelevant now--in the United States, at least.

However, the debut of The Escapist this year was a breath of fresh air. It has more interesting content in its weekly online issue than the other computer magazines have in three months.

Three good months.

So The Escapist is my choice for gaming magazine of the year.

Play is also worth reading, but I think it must be in deep financial trouble. I just received the January issue today--78 freaking pages. Including back cover, etc., there were 21 pages of advertising.

What the hell?

Play makes every effort to have relevant content--they have tons of interviews with developers and do a far lower percentage of preview pages than any other magazine out there. And the layout of the magazine is freaking fantastic.

To the best of my knowledge, though, the amount of content that a magazine produces each month is directly related to how many advertising pages they can attract, and apparently Play is getting killed. I hope this is a one-month aberration, because if it's not, they're in the death spiral.

For PC hardware, there's Maximum PC, which is always an enjoyable read.

Anything else worth reading? Computer Games magazine, on a good month.

Anything else? Not really.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Rest of the Christmas Story

So here's what happened after I posted the machinations I'd gone through to try to find an Xbox 360 for my friend before Christmas. And this is a story about how unbelievably generous you guys are.

Within the hour, I had multiple people e-mailing me about WebMon and other tracking programs. I installed the program and just barely missed (by two minutes, in one case) several times that day ordering a system.

On Thursday morning, I had people e-mailing me with confidential information about trucks headed to certain retailers in the Austin area--in addition to which stores were getting units, how many they were getting, and an estimate of when the trucks would arrive. And that information helped two of my friends locally get 360's for Christmas.

I also had several people e-mail to tell me that they were able to order online that morning, were getting overnight delivery, and would turn the system around and ship it to my friend overnight. They were willing to ship a $400+ system before I could even send them a check.

As it turns out, that's what I did. And my friend's wife called me on Friday with the most exuberant phone call in recorded history.

Damn it, I was in a horrible mood all December and you bastards got me in the Christmas spirit anyway.

Now for those of you who still haven't gotten a 360 and want one, another little bird e-mailed me yesterday to say that Wal-Mart has been stockpiling systems. They're under lock and key until January 1, when a new circular gets dropped. So look in the paper on Sunday morning to verify that the ad is being used in your area, and you might be able to start off the New Year with a new console.

An Xbox 360 in every pot. Or something.

Top 50 Inventions

DQ reader and Undergraduate Most Likely to One Day Win a Nobel Prize Brian Pilnick sent in a very interesting link today.

And by the way, after he wins, he can nominate me. Boom goes the dynamite.

The link is to a Popular Mechanics Story on the top 50 inventions of the last 50 years. Here you go:

Weird Worlds:Return to Infinite Space

Kieron Gillen, who in my mind is the most interesting writer in gaming today...

Let me explain that a bit. "Gaming journalism" largely consists of gamers who write about games. Kieron Gillen is a damned good writer who just happens to be a gamer. If he didn't, he'd be a damned good writer writing about something else.

And if you want to see what he's written, just head over to and search on his name. He also has a work blog over at, and he recently contributed to a top-fifty albums of the year article over at New Noise
( He only has a small piece of that top-fifty article, but if you like music, it's a very funny read.

What the hell was I talking about? Oh, yes--Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. Gillen is raving about it (see his review here, and when he raves about something it's worth checking out. Here's a link to the game page over at Shrapnel ( and there's a demo available as well.

Guitar Hero and the post-holiday death march is taking up all my time right now, but this is the next game I'll be playing.

Take a Quiz, Get a Rating

Here's something fun to do if you're sitting at work trying to find a distraction.

Wait a minute, that's what you're always doing.

It's called "Go Ahead, Rate My Life" and you can find it here:

Civ IV

DQ reader Andrew Borelli sent me an excellent description of why Civ IV is such an outstanding extension of the franchise:
If you really want to talk about the effort Firaxis put into Civ IV, consider this: right now I'm playing the game fanatically. Generally I go from one civ to the next on a week by week basis. I'll start playing in 4000 BC, and I won't even save the game until 1500 AD. What's the punchline? A month ago, I hated the franchise. My friends were all Civ fanatics in the halcyon days of Civ II, but I just didn't "get it." They are all still Civ fanatics. I was so disheartened by my constant lack of success at Civ that I skipped Civ III and have no idea why people did or did not like the game. I only know that this version of the game has me by the guts and won't let go. I love the interface, I think it makes it easy for new players to dive right in, and it certainly redeemed me. Unlike Civ II, where I was hooked for a little while and then got sick of being stuck in the stone age while everyone else had flying cars and laser beams, this is a long-term affair that's fun every single time.

One Sentence Comedy

The rogue MSNBC headline writer must be ghosting over at New Scientist. Here's a headline from their site yesterday:
Moongazing reveals the chaotic world of Uranus

I can't help it. That's funny.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Civ IV 1.52 Patch

It looks like Firaxis snuck out a patch on the 23rd that I didn't see. There are memory optimizations with this patch, which should have a big effect on performance. Thanks to the Quarter To Three forums for this information.

Read me file plus download links here:

Or, if those forums need registration (not sure), here's a direct link to the patch:

I think Firaxis has clearly demonstrated that they are totally committed to this game. Their support has been extremely impressive.

The Snowman

Here's a terrific Christmas story from DQ reader Johnathan Sullivan. Chloe 2.3 sounds very, very cool.

Chloe 2.3 is enjoying the first Christmas where she's fully engaged, really understands the holiday, and actually knows what's going on. We took her to an event at our local church called "Breakfast with Santa." Chloe 2.3 has a curious holiday-related brain fart where she identifies Santa Claus as "the Snowman" (not "Snowman" -- always "the Snowman"). On the morning of this particular event, however, she seemed to have it straightened out. Our dialogue went something like this:

"Daddy -- Chloe sit on Sanna's lap?"

"That's right."

"Canny cane?"


"Sanna Claus give Chloe a canny cane?"

"You know it. It's going to be awesome."

"Awesome! Deeee-licious" ("Deeee-licious" is her favorite word).

When we arrived, there were about fifty kids there, all of them jacked up on sugar and running around; Chloe joined the throng and my wife and I sat at a table where I could keep an eye on her (and, more importantly, throw down on any kids who messed with her). The hall was decked out with tinsel and lights, the kids were happy, and Bing Crosby was singing "White Christmas" in the background. All was right with the world.

Fifteen minutes later, all hell broke loose.

After an announcement, Santa made a triumphant entrance, to the cheers of kids and adults alike.

All but one. My daughter let loose the most bloodcurdling scream imaginable, crying and shaking. I've never seen her (or any kid) freak out this badly. She was absolutely horrified that this guy she'd previously seen only as a cartoon-shape had somehow been translated into a human form.

She looked around, saw me, and darted towards us, bowling over four or five smaller kids in an effort to get to us. When she got to me, she jumped into my arms, and I could feel her heart beating like a little piston. She was legitimately frightened.

Deanna (my wife) and I decided to get her out immediately (both for everyone else's benefit and our own). As we headed towards the door, though, Chloe (her head on my shoulder) said, "Chloe wanna talk to the Snowman. Don't leave."

We didn't really know what to do; we didn't want to make others uncomfortable, but she seemed like she was alright as long as I was holding her. So I carefully approached Santa (the poor guy looked pretty upset, because obviously Chloe's reaction wasn't part of his Christmas plan). When we got within ten feet of him, Chloe asked me to put her down, and I did.

She edged towards Santa, the two of them eying each other warily. She was moving with the shambling gait usually reserved for lion tamers at work. When she had reached what she seemed to assume was an appropriate distance (probably half a foot from the now-sitting Santa), she looked back at me. I nodded reassuringly.

She looked back at Santa. With slow deliberateness, she raised her hand and extended an accusatory finger, and enunciated perfectly:

Santa held out a candy cane. She snatched it and said:

"The Snowman scared Chloe. SPANKING AND GO TO BED!" And then she backed up towards me, always keeping Santa in front of her.

We didn't hang around for the picture.

Dig a Wooly Mammoth

I mentioned yesterday that Eli 4.4 received two Christmas gifts that deserved special mention.

Do they ever.

First is the Dig a Wooly Mammoth Skeleton kit. It sounds perfect for Eli 4.4--just check out the description:
Be a paleontologist. Dig and excavate the skeleton of the giant creature which roamed on Earth during the prehistoric Ice Age: the wooly mammoth.

Why, it comes with everything: plaster block, a "specially designed digging tool," a brush, and detailed digging and assembly instructions.

Um, plaster block?

Open up the package and there are two columns on the first page of the instructions: on the right side--instructions. On the left side--warnings.

1. Do not place the material in mouth.
2. Do not inhale dust or powder.
...5. Do not pour powder down the sink as it may clog the drain.
6. Plaster may stain some clothing. Wear a working cloth or an apron before playing. Do not mix with other laundries.

Holy crap! Is this a children's project or do-it-yourself silicosis?

So here's what you get: a block of plaster that's a bit smaller than a brick. It's plaster, but it's the color of red clay. Oh, and that "specially designed digging tool"? It's a plastic knife. I guess it is specially designed, though, because it's kind of a crappy plastic knife.

Well, get to work, man!

Take that specially designed digging tool and start scraping plaster. Dig! Dig! Look out for those giant clouds of plaster dust. Can't see any fossils after a thousand scrapes? Keep scraping, man--this is real paleontology! Hands shaking, arms aching, twelve million scrapes later--I think I see the tip of a fossil.

Sixteen more to go.

Estimated time to completion: 5,000 hours.

Ice Cream: It's What's for Breakfast

It's 11:10 a.m. I'm eating ice cream. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Wearing shorts and my dress socks from work. And Eli 4.4 and Gloria are out having lunch, so the house is quiet.

Hate me if you must.

Here's #17 in the List of Amazing Things I've Noticed About Guitar Hero: the difference between precision and speed. In the early levels, the game is about speed. The note combinations (in retrospect) aren't complicated, but as a new player you have to train your brain to respond to the notes on the screen. You don't need to be efficient at all--sheer speed will get you through. And while Medium level is considerably more difficult than Easy, it's still all about speed.

That works for a while on Hard level. I've completed twenty-two of thirty songs. There comes a point, though, where some of the songs have notes coming so blindingly fast that speed is no longer enough. It sounds like a Zen Rock parable to say that the notes are coming so fast that speed is certain to fail, but it's true. At some point on Hard, you realize that you have to take apart your style and learn the advanced techniques of hammer-ons and pull-offs, which basically allow you to play multiple notes with the same strum and with less finger movement. You play faster by playing slower. It's only through becoming more precise with your style that it's possible to continue.

Now there are quite a few brilliant aspects to that in terms of game design, but what I like is that I'm already so into the game that I don't mind working to improve my style, even if it temporarily means that I move sideways instead of forward. If I'd had to master those moves right off the bat, I might have been discouraged. Now, though, those techniques are a way to get to Expert level, not a way to begin the game.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this game is the progression. Your progression. I'll play songs on Hard and sometimes get frustrated that I'm not playing better--then I'll go back to Medium and play something like Bark at the Moon (which seems insanely difficult when you first play it) and it will feel like I'm playing in slow motion. So even when you're momentarily stopped by a song, dropping back to a lower difficulty lets you clearly see how much you've progressed.

Like I've said several times the last few weeks, this game is the most fun of any game I've ever played. Is it worth buying a used PS2 just to play this one game? Absolutely.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Fermion Superfluid

An excerpt from Science Daily
Quantum Superfluid Could Be Akin To Exotic Matter Found In Quark Star
In the bizarre and rule-bound world of quantum physics, every tiny spec of matter has something called "spin" - an intrinsic trait like eye color - that cannot be changed and which dictates, very specifically, what other bits of matter the spec can share quantum space with. When fermions, the most antisocial type of quantum particle, do get together, they pair up in a wondrous dance that enables such things as superconductivity.

For the first time, researchers at Rice University have succeeded in creating and observing an elusive and long-sought quantum state - a superfluid of fermions with mismatched numbers of dance partners. Despite more than 40 years of theoretical musings about what would occur in such a case, the result - a cluster of matched pairs surrounded by a cloud of would-be dance partners - was largely unexpected.

The 2006 Gamer's Tome of Ultimate Wisdom

Friend and sports gaming guru Bill Abner just had his book released--The 2006 Gamer’s Tome of Ultimate Wisdom: An Almanac of Pimps, Orcs and Lightsabers. Here's the press release:
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – December 23, 2005- The 2006 Gamer’s Tome of Ultimate Wisdom: An Almanac of Pimps, Orcs and Lightsabers book by William Abner is filled with entertaining reviews, previews, and commentaries on all gaming platforms and the gaming industry as a whole. The 300 page book takes a month-by-month look back at the significant game releases of 2005 and looks ahead to the exciting titles gamers can expect to see in 2006. Along the way the Gamer’s Tome offers insights into anything and everything that has to do with gaming, including why sports games are the biggest rip-off in the industry, advice on how to talk about games in public without being shunned by “regular” people and even what energy drinks give you that extra oomph you need to get through an all-night LAN party.

The 2006 Gamer’s Tome of Ultimate Wisdom: An Almanac of Pimps, Orcs and Lightsabers (ISBN: 0789734656) priced at $19.99 is currently available at major retail stores and online sellers. For more information and quick delivery visit Que Publishing at

The book includes:
· A daily dose of gaming goodness for PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, GameCube, GameBoy, Nintendo DS, and the PSP
· "Best of" and "Top 10" lists for every aspect of gaming

· Trivia, history, and nifty facts about gaming
· Nostalgic trips with classic games and how to play them on your computer today.
· Corporate Graveyard essays that discuss the legacy of formerly popular developers such as Ion Storm, Troika Games, and Looking Glass Studios
· Bargain Bin essays that highlight great games that can be bought for $20 or less

· Links on where to grab some of the best mods for popular PC games
· The Gamer's Tome covers every genre from sports, shooters, platformers, adventure, role-playing, strategy, MMOGs, and much, much more

I've read a few chapters and it's a very fun book. If Amazon will get off its ass and ship me my copy, I'll have more to tell you. In the meantime, here's an Amazon link:

You're In the Christmas Now (Part 2)

"I will TREASURE this FOREVER," said Eli 4.4, holding a still-wrapped Christmas present. "Mommy, what IS it?"

For a four-year old, Eli actually did pretty well when it came time to open presents, unlike last year, when he became so frenzied that I felt like Robert Oppenheimer at Trinity.

This year, though, he didn't even want to open one of his presents first. Emily, our babysitter, had been collaborating with Eli on various nefarious projects for several weeks, and Eli handed Gloria the gift he had made, which was a jewelry box with pasta glued on the front in an elaborate design.

Without kids, a jewely box with pasta glued on top doesn't sound like much. With kids, though, you understand that it was, by far, the best gift Gloria received this year.

Eli had written a story for me called "The Hole in My Backyard." It was full of dinosaurs, danger, and last minute escapes. In one scene, I saved the entire family by "pulling lava" with a special rope that shout out of my wrists.

I'm sure I couldn't have done that before I played Guitar Hero.

If you're wondering what Eli 4.4 received this year, the highlights were pre-historic: two Pachycephalosaurus, an Ankylasaurus, a wooly Mammath, and an Iguanodon. Those were specifically on his Christmas list, and if you ever want to know the difference between Ornithiscians and Saurischians, well, just ask him. I think meeting a paleontologist at the Texas Natural History Museum last week was the highlight of his holidays.

He got the Roboraptor as well, and that enabled him to create elaborate dinosaur scenes were the Roboraptor actually moved and attacked the other dinosaurs.

Child geek heaven. That's my boy.

He also got a bike (with training wheels), and watching your son pedal on his first bike at half a mile an hour around your house is a happy, happy time.

He also got two other presents that are fully worthy of their own descriptions in this column, and that will come tomorrow.

More Later

"You're in the Christmas Now" has a part two which will be coming later today.

You're In the Christmas Now

Up at 4:30 a.m.

Immediately, command decisions must be made. Negotiations must be conducted with allies--and foes. By 6:00 a.m., you are full-tilt into the day. By 8:00 a.m., you've done more than most people do all day.

The Army? No, just Christmas with Eli 4.4.

"DADDY! IT'S CHRISTMAS!" Eli 4.4 yells. In the dark. At 4:30 a.m. As he bounces on our bed.

"Little Dude, Santa doesn't end his North American run until 6 a.m.," I said. We went out to the NORAD website last night and got hourly updates on Santa's position. He was entering Canadian airspace when Eli went up for his bath--when he heard that he nodded with a satisfied "everything's on schedule" look.

"No getting up until 6 a.m.," I said. "Santa's a recluse. He's Howard Hughes with a weight problem and a sleigh." Eli grudgingly consents and crawls into bed with us.

This kicks off, quite literally, an entirely predictable pattern. Eli always crawls into bed on Gloria's side. Within minutes, he will be kicking his feet and thrashing around, which will make Gloria move over. By "move over" I mean "move into me." After about fifteen minutes, I'm clinging to the bed like a stuntman hanging on to the side of a train. Soon after that, I'll be taking my pillows and evacuating to the guest room, where the bed is uncomfortable but the atmosphere is much less open-air market.

6:02 a.m. The door flies open and hits into the side wall with a jump-inducing slam. "DADDY! IT'S CHRISTMAS! WOO HOOOOOOOO!"

And it's on.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays

Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia Day, Guadalupe Day, Boxing Day, Shichi-Go-San (which I missed by a few weeks), or Festivus (my personal favorite)--whatever you're celebrating, I hope you have a wonderful time.

Barbie (2)

From DQ reader and frequent contributor Matt Kreuch (in reference to the Barbie, Torture, Kill post):

My daughter's getting a Barbie for Christmas. I'm removing a few of her limbs before I wrap it up though.... stocking stuffers.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Barbie, Torture, Kill

I just keep seeing one heartwarming holiday story after another (this time, courtesy of Francis Cermak).

Did you notice the phrase "heartwarming holiday," where I used the consonant "H" at the beginning of each word? That's called "alliteration," and all the real pros use it, at least according to Chapter Three of The Compendium of Professional Writing Tips for People Who Are Not Professional Writers, Because Professional Writers Already Know About Them, Vol. 4.

So take a look at this
Researchers Find Barbie Is Often Mutilated
..."The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a 'cool' activity," said Agnes Nairn, one of the University of Bath researchers. "The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving."

Yes, I know--the girls have issued a press release where they deny that what they do is "torture." Don't think I wasn't tempted to get on that horse and ride it into the sunset.

They left out boiling, by the way. I'm pretty sure that happens, not that I'd know anything about that.

Here's another interesting excerpt:
Researchers from the university's marketing and psychology departments questioned 100 children about their attitudes to a range of products as part of a study on branding. They found Barbie provoked the strongest reaction, with youngsters reporting "rejection, hatred and violence," Nairn said.

Actually, I really do find it kind of heartwarming that children have a tremendous dislike of Barbie, because does any toy represent women in a more one-dimensional, shallow, appearance focused way than Barbie?

Open up the microwave. Let's get this party started.

Gamestop Certainly Does

I received about half a dozen e-mails from people yesterday saying that they had successfully scored 360's at Best Buy. Kotaku was the original source of that information--I just reposted it--but I'm really happy to hear that it helped some of you get consoles for Christmas.

One of my good friends, John Harwood, was one of the people who got a 360 at Best Buy yesterday morning. I met him today at a spot in Austin called the Arboretum. He was there to get his pre-paid 360 order refunded from Gamestop. They were still telling him "March" as of last week.

Now wait a minute. He pre-paid $450 for a console and they're telling him he won't get it until March, but they're intermittently selling $1,000 bundles on the damn website? What?

There's one word for that: pathetic.

We're not talking $50 deposits here or something like that. This is a fully pre-paid console order.

Well, we'll fix them. We'll just take all our business to EB and--oh, crap.

Congratulations, Gamestop--you get the Christmas Mounds of Asshead Award.

Here's one other strange thing. Why exactly are Best Buy and Target getting shipments of consoles when Gamestop has pre-paid orders waiting to be filled? I think I have an answer for this, or at least a reasonable hypothesis, and it's called used game sales. I doubt that Microsoft is in any hurry at all to send their limited inventory to a gaming store that devotes 80% of its shelf space to used games. So everybody who pre-paid at Gamestop or EB is basically twisting in the wind and might be for another few months.

Meanwhile, retailers who aren't selling used games seem to be getting the lion's share of the shipments. And since Gamestop is taking the systems they do get and package them as part of their very popular $1,000 GameRape Bundle, it seems like it's in people's best interests to get their pre-orders refunded and go somewhere else. Quickly.

And if I'm a Gamestop manager, I am pissed, pissed off, because I have to deal with a gigantic list of people who are very angry.

You Don't Want To Be Working Anyway

There's a tremendously entertaining list over at MSNBC of the "Most Peculiar Stories of 2005." Let me share a few of my favorite headlines:
--Hooked Fish Gets Revenge, Lures Angler to Death
--Plumber Takes a Leak Instead of Fixing one
--Kittens Use Fax as Toilet, Spark House Fire
--Man in Trunk Was Bound to Enjoy It
--School Mistakes Huge Burrito For Weapon, Goes Into Lockdown
--Blind Scotsman Accused of Biting Guide Dog
--Good to His Word, Bad to His Testicles

I'm pretty sure that "Good to His Word, Bad to His Testicles" is a country song.

I think they've outsourced some of their headline writing to The Onion. There's a poll down below the main story, and absolutely one of the greatest headlines ever written is there:
Deal Nips Lawsuit Over Showing Breasts to Ape

Here's the link:
And there are links to ever single story listed. That should keep you busy for a while.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Science Magazine: Top Scientific Breakthroughs of 2005

Here's an article with a nice summary of what Science Magazine considers the top scientific breakthroughs of 2005:

#1: Evidence supporting evolution.
In the annual roundup, the journal's editors pointed to wide-ranging research built on the foundations of Charles Darwin’s landmark 1859 work ”The Origin of Species” and the idea of natural selection. Among the highlights: a study that showed a mere 4 percent difference between human and chimpanzee DNA, and studies documenting the splits in species of birds, fish and caterpillars.

In Conversation

The Tarzan cartoon is in heavy rotation at our house right now. This morning, Eli 4.4 was watching the opening, and Tarzan pounded his chest and sounded his savage cry. Eli turned toward us with a gigantic smile on his face, pounded his chest, and said "I LOVE IT when he DOES that!"

We were on our way to dinner tonight and Eli was in a mood to talk. This is not uncommon.

"Daddy, we're doers, not waiters, right?" Eli asked.

"That's right, little man," I said. "We're not waiters."

"Mommy, are you a waiter?" he asked.

"I'm not a waiter," Gloria said," but I do make people wait."

"If waiting is a disease," I said, "then she's more of a carrier."

Traffic was absolutely awful tonight, and on our way home we were in bumper to bumper traffic (at seven o'clock, and we weren't even on the highway).

"What is up with this traffic?" I asked.

"Well, some people leave town for the the holidays, but the people who stay are going out," Gloria said.

"Your people are going out," I said. "My people are avoiding your people."

Another Heartwarming Christmas Story

I'm going to find something fun to write about tonight, I promise. Because this sure isn't
New spyware claim against Sony BMG
The Texas attorney general said on Wednesday that he added a new claim to a lawsuit charging Sony BMG Music Entertainment with violating the state's laws on deceptive trade practices by hiding "spyware" on its compact discs.

...The new charges brought by Abbott contend that MediaMax software used by Sony BMG to thwart illegal copying of music on CDs violated state laws because it was downloaded even if users rejected a license agreement.

...Critics have said the MediaMax software lets the company track customers' listening habits even if customers reject maker SunnComm's terms in a licensing agreement that appears upon installation.

Downloaded even if the licensing agreement is rejected? Man, if that's true, Sony needs to get a big-ass stack of blank checks and just start making them out, just like Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) writing checks in "The Jerk." That will be a guaranteed class action lawsuit or the equivalent in every country where Sony sold those CD's.

This is like the cut that just won't stop bleeding for Sony. Every time it looks like it's been controlled, giant spurts of arterial blood leap up from the wound. It amazes me that they could so misunderstand consumer sentiment--or maybe they just thought they'd never get caught.

Creative HN-700

I collect noise cancellation headphones. Why? Because it's damned noisy around here.

Creative has come out with some new noise cancellation headphones and they're excellent. The model number is HN-700. I received my pair today and I'm very impressed. The ear pieces are a little smaller than I'm used to, but after a few minutes they're very comfortable. Noise cancellation is very good, roughly equivalent (to my ears) to the Bose noise cancellation headphones, but the Bose cost $299.99.

The Creative? $69.99. Freaking unbelievable.

Here's a link to the U.S. product page, if you're interested:

Theory of Fun

Raph Koster was kind enough to e-mail and let me know he has written an entire book on the theory of fun, and if you visit his website, you'll see that and all kinds of other material. Here's the link:

And for the first time ever, I have spelled his name correctly. Jason Maskell will be beside himself.

Warning: Magnetix

DQ reader Dave Kramer, who used to cover the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a reporter, sent me a link to an unbelievably sad story about a child dying as a result of swallowing a piece of a popular children's toy.

The difference between this and a regular story involving children choking on toy pieces is that the child in this case swallowed small magnets that are part of the toy:
An autopsy revealed he had swallowed two tiny magnetic cylinders that together had pinched his intestines shut. He died from septic shock, the resulting buildup of toxins in his body.

Here's a link to the story:

The toy is called "Magnetix," and here's a list of some of the sets:
--Magnetix Xtreme magnetic building set product line
--Magnetix Xtreme Combo product line
--Magnetix MagnaWorld product line
--Magnetix World
--Magnetix Xtreme connectors

This is a toy for older kids--around ten, I believe--but if you're considering buying this and you have younger children, please be very careful.

I know, not the kind of stuff we usually talk about here, but I thought it was important to let you guys know, since so many of you (based on my e-mail) are parents.

Now, back to stupid columns about my ass and other critically important subjects.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bonus Letters, No Charge

Jason Maskell reminded me that it's "Raph Koster", not "Ralph Kostner." The reason I mention that is because the last time I mentioned Koster, I did the exact same thing, and Jason pointed it out then, too.

A Theory of Fun

DQ reader Jeremy Fischer sent me a terrific link to something called "A Theory of Fun," written by Raph Koster. It's a .pdf that's over fifty pages long, but there are plenty of drawings along with the text, so it actually only takes a few minutes to read. It's interesting and fun and thought-provoking. Here's the link:

Exile in Midgar

There's a very poignant story in the latest issue of The Escapist titled Exile in Midgar: A Holiday Story. It's about both the holidays and Final Fantasy VII, believe it or not, and it is a very touching read. Here's the link:

One of the gaming moments that I will never forget is the final battle in Final Fantasy VII. There's a Greek chorus in the background as the battle rages, and it's all brilliant and overwhelming.

King Kong

Well, it looks like Peter Jackson is going to be wearing a t-shirt instead of me. His t-shirt will read "I AM POKEMON'S BITCH" since the Wednesday opening of King Kong was only the ninth best in history and below the opening for Pokemon.


I will repeat this one more time: it's a three hour film about a gorilla. No matter what phrase is inserted after "It's a three hour film...", there are plenty of people who have already stopped listening.

Universal was crowing about a probable $100 million dollar opening week (Wed-Sun) for King Kong. Um, try $66 million, which is nothing short of a catastrophe after all the pre-release hype the movie received. My favorite quote is from Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal:
Shmuger noted how Kong enjoyed a bigger Saturday bump over Friday (40 percent) than any of the Lord of the Rings pictures or Titanic. "It suggests growing momentum behind the numbers," he added. "I'm feeling incredibly bullish."

My man, I hate to Scrooge you, but I did a little research. The numbers two through ten films at the box office last weekend had a dropoff in per-theatre revenue from Sunday to Monday of 51.7%. What's pretty remarkable is the consistency of this pattern. Take a look (numbers two through ten, in order):

That's a very tight pattern, with no film having a greater dropoff than 54.2%.

So what was King Kong's dropoff? -63.7%.

I'm sure there's some way to spin that, but as far as I can tell, that's not bullish. Unless I'm dyslexic.

Child's Play

I just wanted to mention that the Penny Arcade charity drive Child's Play has raised over four hundred and twenty thousand dollars this year. That is just freaking incredible. And if you would like to donate, here's the link:

Finding the 360: Here Are Some Clues

I have two pieces of information for those of you still trying to score a 360 for Christmas.

First, DQ reader Christopher Boyd (who sent it in first) sent me a link to a program called WebMon. Here's a link:
What this program does is check for changes in web pages and then alert you via both sound and pop-up alerts. So you could put in the URL for the 360 product page for multiple retailers and have the program check as often as you'd like for changes (as frequently as once a minute). Very cool.

Second, Kotaku linked to a scanned Best Buy internal memo that indicates their stores are getting more 360's this week. Apparently, they will be available when the stores open Thursday morning. You actually need to ask the store greeter about the 360 when you walk in the store to get the golden ticket.

No word yet on whether a secret handshake is required.

Here's the link:

Another Heartwarming Story of Retail Expertise

From long-time DQ reader Scott Moore:
Wal Mart employees seem to be even worse than the CompUSA employees. The Wife and I were there last night trying to find some toy called Line Chaserz. We asked a young gentleman on the Hot Wheels isle if they carried them.

"I've never heard of it. I'm sure we don't have it," he said.

We thank him and turn to walk off. As we turn, there they are, right in front of our face. He was actually straightening up the boxes of Line Chaserz when we walked up to him.


This is how my day starts: sitting at the infamous four-minute red light to get out of my neighborhood, shaving. Then the electric razor starts to groan. It moans. It expires.

The right side of my face is shaved. The left side is not.

Think I'm stopping at a convenience store to pick up a razor and some shaving cream? Think again. I'm in the middle of the holiday death march, I'm worn down, and my giveadamn is busted.

I'll say it's an art installation--shavebeardshave. I'll sit in a chair with the drained razor on a table beside me. Then I'll just wait for the $25,000 checks to start rolling in.

I report promptly to the operations manager when I reach work. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm violating company hygeine policy," I said.

"Oh God!" she said, putting her hands over her face. "Don't show me!"

That's what happens when your finest professional skill is lowering the bar.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Gaming Links

You guys are sending in great links this week, and here are a few more.

DQ reader LP Miller (Editor-in-Chief of sends in a heartwarming Christmas story of Xbox 360 scalpers--being robbed. Here's the link:

Sirius sends in an excellent link about the history of videogame litigation:

From Todd Ballenger, the news that U.S. News and World Report has gaming listed at #15 in a "50 Ways to Improve Your Life" article.


We went to a new restaurant on Saturday. Gloria has some sort of NRPS (New Restaurant Positioning System) that automatically notifies her within one week of a grand opening. I'll call the restaurant "Fini."

Here's a generally solid guideline about restaurants: the more expensive the food, the smaller the tables. If you're paying thirty dollars for an entre, the table is the size of a playing card. This restaurant wasn't that expensive, but it wasn't Whataburger, that's for sure. I felt like I was being punished at Thanksgiving dinner by being assigned to the children's table.

Not that anything like that has ever happened to me.

The menu was, well, not helpful. "Do you see any appetizers you might like?" Gloria asked hopefully.

"I think I might go for the braised lamb's forehead wrapped in grape leaves," I said. That wasn't on the menu, but based on the other dishes, it could have been.

We settled on the fried oysters, which arrived, well, inconspicuously.

"He put a plate down," I said. "Do you see anything?"

"Not yet," Gloria said.

"What are those thumb tacks doing on the plate?" I asked. "Wait--they have batter." And thus the fried oysters were discovered in all their diminutive glory.

Time to eating completion: forty-seven seconds. I think that set us back eight dollars or so.

We ordered paella for dinner. "Paella" is Spanish for "something that doesn't suck in expensive restaurants." It's a bunch of different types of meat/chicken/shellfish lobbed in a frying pan with rice, saffron, and olive oil. Paella is also usually served in the frying pan.

When the paella arrived, I was hungry. Very hungry, actually. Yet the paella was still very not-good. "Do we get to keep this pan?" I asked Gloria.

"Unlikely," she said.

"Because if we get to keep the pan, which I like very much, then I think it was a fair price," I said. "If he takes the pan, though, we've been ripped off."

He did. And we so were.

We looked at the dessert menu. I saw the word "goat cheese." I don't even know where to go with that.

As we were walking back to the car, I said "As a restaurant, as opposed to an environment, I have to say it was weak in the 'food' category."

Chic-Fil-A, however, where we stopped fifteen minutes later, was positively delightful.

We also went to Target to look at bikes for Eli 4.4. Gloria went to the restroom, so I went directly to the bike area and started looking around. She came by a few minutes later and said "Does anything look good?"

"Look at this," I said, pointing to a bicycle box. "They say 'Easy Five-Step Assembly'. Do you know what that means?"

"Easy five-step assembly?" she guessed.

"Rot in hell," I said. "That's what it means. Rot in hell."

There's a Demand

A classic story from DQ reader David Gloier.

I have yet to locate a 360 and was out shopping for other things this evening. I decide to duck into the local CompUSA to see if maybe I might luck into a shipment. A salesman (boy, whatever), seeing me lingering around the 360 kiosk, asks me if I’m looking for an Xbox 360.

“Just seeing if you might have one or two floating around," I reply.

“No, but we get shipments in every Monday.”

“Really? Today’s Monday. Did you already sell them all?”

“We didn’t get a shipment in today.”

“But you said 'every Monday'.”

“If we get them, they come on Mondays.”

So I let that just slide, seeing as this conversation will turn into a cross between teaching my mom how to use the VCR for the 1,000th time and Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine. He then proceeds to ask if I have seen the recall, saying every single unit released would overheat within an hour of turning it on and they would actually melt the casing.

“Why would you keep selling it if you know they are going to overheat and turn into a giant steaming pile of melted plastic, possibly burning down a customer’s home?” I ask, knowing CompUSA would probably face some liability in selling a faulty product that could quite possibly kill everyone that bought the console, if they knew that for a fact.”

His answer?

“There’s a demand.”

Well…Johnny here obviously just finished his freshman economics class at community college, with, I’m guessing, about a C-.

Before I can even form a response, he adds, “You’re best bet would be to wait and get the PS3. It’s over 200 times more powerful than the 360 and is going to change things. It’ll be out by the time we get another shipment of 360’s.”

“That’d be on a Monday, right?”


I haven’t been into CompUSA in over a year. For the past month they have been advertising revamped stores with product specific customer service so that the customer can intelligently compare products and make an informed purchase.

Apparently, the Austin stores haven’t gotten the memo.

360 Mini-Game Plus

What I forgot to mention in the last post is the importance of perceived desire of the public when judging a launch as a success or failure. Would it be better for Microsoft to ship 1.5 million systems at launch and sell 1 million, or ship 300,000, sell out instantly, and sell out instantly again with another shipment of 300,000 a month later?

Even though selling a million systems is mathematically better than selling 600,000, I think they're far better off with the smaller number, because they've managed to maintain demand or possibly even increased it. They have far more momentum this way, and momentum is hugely important for a consumer product like this. So when Sony starts putting out press releases saying that the PS3 will cure cancer, it's not going to have nearly as great an effect on 360 sales.

The 360 Mini-Game

I've been desperately trying for several weeks to find a 360 for a friend of mine for Christmas. I'm not actually giving it to him--I'm in procurement. His wife is Santa. I just have to find one.

Which has been, actually, impossible.

The reason I mention this is because it indicates how well Microsoft has managed supply and demand for this product. They've done a masterful job of stoking people's desires. Sure, I'm pissed off that I haven't got one--I would do just about anything to help out this friend--but Microsoft has totally won the war of public perception with this product. Totally.

Here's what I've been doing, basically. Every day, every half hour that I'm home, I check this website:
That site automatically checks inventory at approximately seventy different Xbox 360 URL's, usually multiple bundles for each vendor. Here's a list of merchants:
Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Best Buy,, Circuit City, CompUSA,, KBToys, Kmart,, Radio Shack, Sam's Club, Target, Wal-Mart,, EB Games, GameStop, DVD Empire, and JC Penney.

Some of these bundles are for the core system or cost two thousand freaking dollars (thank you, Target bitches), but there's a nice selection of premium systems not bundled with a ton of games.

Now you would think that if I'm checking every half hour for most of the day, it would be absolutely no problem to get a system. Wrong. The closest I came was last week, when I took Eli 4.4 out to lunch (getting home about two hours later than my regular routine) and missed a premium system with no games in stock at Circuit City by about thirty minutes..

I'd heard last week that Best Buy was going to have a drop of 300,00 systems on Sunday the 18th. Golden opportunity.

I got up on Sunday at 7 with Eli, immediately checked the Best Buy circular, and saw that the stores were opening up at 8 a.m. during the Christmas shopping season.

Oops. Didn't see that coming.

There's a store about fifteen minutes from us, then another one in the relative sticks about ten miles north of that (the other stores in our area are all very high volume). I knew how many systems each store was getting, so I was confident I could gauge the line (if any) at the closer store, then race up to the store in the sticks if I had to. Solid plan.

At 7:30, we leave the house. Eli 4.4 is all amped up about helping get a Christmas present, particuarly because my friend made a semi-magical impression on him the only time they've met. We pull into the Best Buy parking lot at 7:50. Cake, I'm thinking. Absolutely cake.

There are over A HUNDRED people in line.

Holy shit. It's not even eight in the morning on a Sunday and the line stretches for fifty yards. It's insane.

It's at that moment that I realize that Microsoft has, without any question, kicked ass. That would be an outstanding LAUNCH line. To have that kind of demand a month later is nothing short of outstanding.

I know how many systems that store is getting, and it's not enough. So I tell Eli we're headed to the store in the sticks. "WOO HOO!" he says. "I'm in a BAD ATTITUDE! LET'S GO!"

He still gets a little mangled on word meanings, but he was totally "enthusiastica" about the trip.

We pull into the Best Buy parking lot at 8:05 and walk into the store. Over fifty people in line at the front of the store, and this store only got half the allocation of the store we just left. I ask the employee at the front of the store, hoping for a miracle, but she shakes her head and says that every system is already spoken for by the line.


So the demand for this system is so great that just getting one has turned into its own mini-game. That is marketing genius. Sure, some people are going to be upset, but how many of those people won't buy a 360 the minute they finally see one in the store?

Not many, I'm guessing.

McMammoth Burgers One Step Closer to Reality

Scientists have mapped part of the genome of the wooly mammoth, a huge mammal that's been extinct for about 10,000 years.

The breakthrough could lead to recreating the creatures.

A team led by Hendrik Poinar at McMaster University unlocked secrets of the creature's nuclear DNA by working with a well-preserved 27,000-year-old specimen from Siberia. Colleagues at Penn State sequenced 1 percent of the genome in a few hours and say they expect to finish the whole genome in about a year if funding is provided.

Unbelievable. That "could lead to recreating the creatures" is way, way premature, but it's still stunning.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gaming Links

DQ reader and future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick sent in a link to a terrific article at Gamasutra on game rating systems around the world--in particular, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany. It's a very interesting and thorough read, and you can find it here:

DQ reader Dave Kramer has written an article for Gamestay titled 10 reasons the Xbox 360 doesn't quite rock--yet. He has some interesting ideas and you can read about them here:

From Teddy Fuhringer and Mike Minnotte, a link an article over at The Onion titled New Video Game Designed to Have no Influence on Kids' Behavior. Here's a "quote" from the lead developer of Stacker, the box-stacking simulator:
We're confident that the new 'reluctantly interactive' content engine we designed will prevent any excitement or emotional involvement, inappropriate or otherwise, on the part of the player."

It's brilliant stuff (as always) from The Onion, and you can find it here:

Finally, DQ reader John Catania sends a link to a bonus pack for Fate, one of my top three PC games of the year.

Blizzard Xfire World of Warcraft Movie Contest

Xfire has announced a machinima contest in conjunction with Blizzard, and there are over $10,000 in prizes. Here's an excerpt:
The contest involves entrants producing movies using the Blizzard Entertainment MMORPG World of Warcraft game engine to create imaginative movies in the three main categories of Dance, Comedy and Drama. Five prizes will be awarded for each category. An additional ten prizes will be awarded for special categories including Best Music, Best Dialog, Best Action Scene, Best Pun or Line, and Best Editing and Special Effects. A special prize will also be awarded to a selected movie among all valid contest entrants. Entries must be submitted by January, 21st 2006.

Excellent, and here's the link:

Because You Don't Want to Work Anyway

Here are some links for your enjoyment. And by the way, Guitar Hero on hard is officially HARD.

From DQ reader Don Barree, a link to a new option after death (I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for new options after death): mummification. Believe it or not. Here's the link: And don't worry, because your pet can be "forever memorialized" by mummification as well.

That reminds me in a very obtuse way of a brilliant, memorable Ray Bradbury short story titled "Next in Line." A married couple visits Mexico and the wife sees a mass-burial tomb, and her reaction and the subsequent events of the story are tremendously unsettling. It's in the short story collection titled "The October Country," in case you're interested.

Then, from Mitch Youngblood, a link to a city that has made it illegal to die. It's in Biritiba Mirim, Brazil, in case you're wondering, and here's the link:

From DQ reader Marty Devine, an amazing story about a Christmas tree (in reference to the post I made last week about Eli 4.4 wanting to use our Christmas tree "next year"):
My dad one year actually re-planted our Christmas tree, and believe it or not, it worked! To this day, I have no clue how he managed to get a hole dug in the frozen ground in Illinois in January, but he lopped off about six inches of branches off of the tree bottom, then cut off about four inches from the trunk itself, replanted it, and by god that sucker grew! We let it grow through the next two years, then cut it down and used the tree again. However, at that point my dad threw the tree out. Said it was too much work, and that it was easier to just buy a new one. My brother and I were crushed.

Thank you for not telling Eli 4.4 about this.

From DQ reader Michael Kolar, a terrific link to an exhibit by the Library of Congress of color photographs from the early 1940's. They're fantastic. Here's the link:

From Geoff Engelstein, a very funny link to the history of, believe it or not, Flubber. It actually existed as a commercial product in conjunction with the Son of Flubber movie in 1963. It didn't go well. Here's the link:

From Dan Holmes, a link to a bizarre celestial object. Here's an excerpt:
A large object has been found beyond Pluto travelling in an orbit tilted by 47 degrees to most other bodies in the solar system. Astronomers are at a loss to explain why the object's orbit is so off-kilter while being almost circular.

Well, that's just, um,seems wrong. Here's the link:

Coming Later

Lots and lots of content. I'm running out the door to work, but it's a short day and I've got a ton of stuff for you guys later.

Friday, December 16, 2005

For Stan

You remember That Guy.

Well all knew that guy when we were growing up. You and he were part of some strange double helix, always crossing paths, somehow bound together. In a parallel universe, that guy was you, and you were him. You were alike, sometimes eerily so, but life and fate broke differently for you than it did for him, and from a few simple branches an entirely different life opened up. Maybe he had better luck than you did, maybe worse, but you couldn’t help thinking that his life could have been yours.

My guy put a bullet through his face last week.

“Stan committed suicide,” my mom said, and I wanted to hang up the phone right then, without saying a word.

When I was in seventh grade, some new neighbors moved in right across the alley from us. There was a boy a year younger than I was, and his name was Stan.

Stan was a lot like me. He was a smart kid, just like I was. He loved to read, just like I did. His mother taught at the high school, just like my mom did. When it came right down to it, we were the same kid.

And yet we weren’t.

We tried to hang out a few times, tried to be friends, but it just didn’t take. I was an eccentric kid, but Stan was downright strange. If I was a carnival inside, Stan was a funhouse. Even then, even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, something was wrong with Stan.

In High School, we saw each other in the teacher’s parking lot, where our moms parked. I got into Speech and started competing in tournaments. The next year, so did Stan. I got into Debate and Persuasive Speaking. So did Stan.

My best friend, Bobby, was one of the only friends Stan had. Bobby said Stan stayed up all night reading. Man, I loved to do that.

Still, though, we were different. Stan was just like me in that when he got interested in something, he went a mile deep, but he stayed up all night reading comic books, not non-fiction.

We were on the same debate team once. Mathematically, we were the strongest possible team by far. Practically, we were a disaster together, so similar and yet somehow not. I found another partner and it worked out for me. Stan found another partner and it didn’t.

That’s how things went for us. It’s not like everything worked out for me, but enough did that I felt like the world was somehow fair, was somehow manageable. Stuff didn’t really work out for Stan.

I had a few conversations with him in high school, and we were as awkward as ever. I was still eccentric, just like him, but it was different. I was in a place that other people could reach, but didn’t want to go. Stan was in a place that no one else could even get to. I didn’t fit in everywhere, but Stan didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

I didn’t really understand why. There wasn’t a dramatic difference between us—not really. It was more of a threshold, a thin line between us. I was on one side and Stan was on the other. That line was the difference between being reasonably happy and being something else.

Stan wound up going to a college that was the opposite of my school. I went to a place that stressed being an individual, while Stan went to a place that focused on being part of a group. I majored in English. He majored in pre-law. I would see him behind the fence every summer and exchange a few pleasantries. Stan’s life had veered off from mine.

After I got out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Neither did Stan. He passed the bar but decided that he didn’t want to practice law. My mom and his mom were friends, and I’d hear little pieces of information about his life from time to time. Every detail just reinforced what I already knew: Stan wasn’t comfortable in his own skin, and he made bad decisions because of it. Stan fought addiction: to food, to alcohol, to everything. I had that personality, and I had addictions, but I was lucky—mine were things like gaming and working out. I was just as compulsive as Stan, but my addictions improved my life instead of crippling it.

Stumbling around for a career, I wound up in computers. I was lucky again, because it was exactly where I needed to be. Stan went to grad school and wound up with a master’s degree in urban planning. He finally got a job and everyone hoped he would finally be grounded.

Grounding is a funny thing. Somehow I bumbled through adulthood until I woke up one day and realized that I was grounded. Eccentric, yes. Even odd. But certainly grounded. I had a routine, one that had value and made me feel secure.

Stan would never get grounded.

As it turned out, though, I was right—something was wrong with Stan. He was bi-polar, although he wasn’t diagnosed until he was nearly forty. And somehow knowing what was wrong didn’t help him much, even with medication. Somehow all the things that give people nourishment from life, that sustain them, gave nothing to Stan.

In the end, he moved to Austin, only ten miles between us. Right about the time I realized I was grounded, Stan had a minor stroke. That’s what he told his mother, anyway, although no one was really sure. He said he couldn’t read anymore, which would have been a terrible blow for someone who loved to read as much as Stan.

He tried working at a law firm just a few weeks ago—I don’t even know how—but his behavior had been so erratic that he was already on notice. It just wasn’t working out for Stan, but then nothing ever seemed to.

One day last week, in the mid-afternoon, Stan sat down in his recliner, a time during the day when I’m often sitting in my own recliner. While I watched Eli 4.4 run around happily, watched kittens run around like furry anarchists, and listened easily to my wife’s laughter, Stan sat in his recliner with a gun in his hand and thought about all the things I never had to, felt the despair that I’ve never known. Then he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

When I heard about Stan, I thought about the line between us. We might have been on either side of the line, but it was still ours. What would his life have been like if he had just been on the other side of the line, if he could have just stepped over that invisible threshold? And if he had stepped across, would I have taken his place? Why did he wind up just inches beyond that threshold, while I wound up just inches on the other side?

So this column is for Stan, and I hope that in some parallel universe, he’s sitting down at his computer, writing a column about how lucky he is not to be some guy named Bill, while his son plays and his wife laughs in the next room.

I walked outside after I finished writing this. A cold front was blowing in, and the dark skies were spitting rain. The wind stung my face. I jammed my hands into my coat pockets and started walking.

Living the Writing Dream

MSNBC headline writer Ernie Kovacs strikes again
You’ve Got Mail, and Maybe Gonorrhea
Free e-cards inform sex partners they may have an STD


Here's an excerpt:
LOS ANGELES - You’ve got mail — and possibly gonorrhea, HIV or another sexually transmitted disease.

E-mail sent through Web sites launched in Los Angeles and San Francisco is providing people with a free, sometimes anonymous, way to tell their casual sex partners they might have picked up more than they bargained for.

...The site allows users to choose one of six free e-cards to send to their sexual contacts either unsigned or with a personal message that avoids awkward face-to-face disclosure.

“It’s not what you bought to the party, it’s what you left with,” says one e-card featuring a picture of a bare-chested man. “I left with an STD. You might have one too. Get checked out soon.”

Now there's a dream job for a writer--the Hallmark of Herpes.

I have a few suggestions for future e-cards.

You said you put the sizzle in the steak. I had no idea.

[Communist reader content alert]
It rhymes with North Korea.

Paris is burning. Wait--that's not Paris.

I see England
I see France
I see your underpants
So I gave you syphilis

I'm sure we're not done with this yet.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

*ucking Correction

DQ reader Raith Barber correctly pointed out that the title of the NIN song is "Closer." I knew that, and I'd forgotten, and getting old and forgetting things sucks.

360 Titles (your correction)

I wrote yesterday that the 360 might well be facing a software drought for the next month or so. DQ reader Malek Annabi, though, pointed out something I had totally forgotten about--the Xbox Live Marketplace. Wik & the Fable of Souls has been released this week, and there's an interesting mix of titles already available. It's a unique mechanism to supplement retail releases, and it could go a long way in providing a steady stream of new content.

Holiday Medley

Eli 4.4 enjoys singing while he uses the bathroom. That's why if you were in the J.C. Penney's bathroom at Barton Creek Mall this afternoon, you might well have heard him belting out a holiday medley of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, God Bless America, and It's a Small World After All.

*uck You Like a Tasty Pastry

I went to a local convenience store yesterday.

The clerk had music blasting at tremendous volume, and while I'm standing in line a Nine Inch Nails song starts to play. So the dude is checking out customers, singing along to *uck You Like an Animal.

I'm thinking man, I'm just here for the Pop-Tarts.

I Thought This Was a Lazy Test

Many of you have e-mailed me suggesting that the answers I posted to the Lazy 101 Semester Final were not the laziest possible responses.

Think about that for a minute.

Note on Semester Final for Lazy 101

Of course I didn't post the questions. That would be far too much work. This is an advanced course in lazy, people.

I'm a Nuclear Physicist and a Pencil Sharpener

I'm leaving 24 Hour Dungeon of Fitness today after my swim. The car parked next to mine has advertising on the back window.

I can't remember the woman's exact name. I do know that her last name was "Rains," though, so I'm going to call her Paisley Rains. The entire hatchback window of her car was covered with self-promotional advertising.

Whoa. Hold on, Katharine Hepburn, I think I'd leave the poop scooping skills out of that sequence.

Her website was listed, of course, and I despise myself for forgetting her exact name.

Lazy 101 Semester Final: Test Answers

1. Soup.
It's the laziest nutritional meal possible, because you get a full meal using just one utensil and an extremely limited range of motion. There are also no dishes to wash, since you purchased the microwave soup that is heated in its own container.

2. Chocolate-pumpkin pie.
Both favorite holiday pies in one slice, requiring only one fork and one plate.

3. The new paper towel holder.
Clearly, the new holder is superior, because it does not have a top knob that must be removed to change the paper towel roll, then replaced once the change is completed.

Extra credit: the additional feature needed by the paper towel holder is a heavier base. That way, no second hand is needed for stabilization.

Gamers, Live Long and Prosper

The "Year in Science" issue of Discover magazine lists what it considers the top hundred science stories of 2005.

#24 is titled "At Last: We Find Out Why Stupid People Usually Die Young." Here's an excerpt:
In 2001 researchers in Great Britain were surprised to discover that people with low IQ's live shorter lives. But a more startling finding came this year with a report that reaction time proved an even stronger predictor of life span than IQ.

As it turns out, the correlation between IQ and lifespan was a red herring. The real correlation was between reaction time and lifespan. As to the possibilities of why, here's another excerpt:
Another hypothesis is that the differences restult from more fundamental, lifelong variations in the speed at which people process information.

Oh, that's outstanding. Gaming improves your reaction time--substantially. And I think it also increases the speed at which information gets processed. So does that mean we're going to live longer because we play games?


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Calling All Johnsons

Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president Phil Harrison has claimed that Microsoft's Xbox 360 "doesn't have true HD functionality," saying that consumers seeking a HD experience will have to wait for the PS3 to arrive.

..."As you well know," he continued, "the Xbox 360 doesn't play high definition movies and doesn't have true HD functionality - PlayStation 3 is the only format that has 1080-progressive, which is the true definition of HD, so it's really premature to be talking about the HD era."

"The HD era really only starts when we are on the market," he concluded.

Man, is Sony going to rename themselves Wang? Because that's all they seem to be doing lately--dropping trou and showing off their wang.

Could you guys maybe, um, stop waving your unit around and actually show some playable games? You're allegedly launching in Japan in about four months and you've got dick to show for it so far.

Penis references so far: three.

In lieu of actual gameplay, they're doing interviews. Nice. It's not like I won't buy a PS3 when it comes out, because I'll be there on launch day, but this "mine is bigger than yours" act has really gotten tiresome, especially because Sony still hasn't shown us much of anything except a few trailers.

Fall 2006 in the U.S.? Right.

Scooter, please button up and come back when you have something like, um, games to show.


Russ "Fletcher" Pitts wrote a rambling, shambling piece of brilliance over at Gamers With Jobs. Here's the link:

I haven't mentioned GWJ in a while, but they are the most unique gaming site on the web, as far as I'm concerned. The front page content is terrific, but they've done one thing which, in this heyday of the anonymous Internet asshole, is singularly remarkable: they've created an online community without rancor.

I lurk at a few gaming forums, but GWJ is the only one where I always feel better after I've been there. Every single time.

Darwinia via Steam

One of the most visually arresting games ever made, Darwinia is now available via Steam, and there is also a demo available.

Guitar Hero

I come out of my study throwing the sign of the goat.

"Are you throwing the goat or is your hand cramping?" Gloria asked.

"This just in," I said. "I ROCK."

"Thanks for that critical update," she said.

"One hundred and two thousand on Bark At the Moon. Four stars. On Medium difficulty."

"Medium difficulty?" she asked. "That doesn't sound like rocking."

"Medium difficulty would actually be Sickeningly Hard difficulty in any other game," I said. "Bark at the Moon on Medium is insanely hard."

"Yet it's called Medium," Gloria.

"Yes, it is," I said, "Non-rocker."

"Watch it," Gloria says.

"Twenty-three songs out of thirty at five stars on Medium," I said.

"Stunning," she said. "To someone."

"I credit my rock instinct," I said. "Some might call it Rockstinct."

"There's certainly some 'stinct' in there somewhere," she said.

Cowboys From Hell (Pantera) is harder for me to play than Bark At The Moon, which is the song everyone complains about. Cowboys From Hell requires so many different skills that it really exposes all my weaknesses.

I tried a few songs on Hard last night and it's brutal. Hard difficulty introduces a fifth fret button, so instead of having a one-to-one correspondence between frets and fingers, now you have to start sliding your hand over to reach that fifth fret. Plus the speed has been amped up on Hard.

A note about the bonus songs: you can unlock them with the cash you earn at Medium level and up, and some of the songs are very, very fun to play--lots of Star Power notes and plenty of chords. There's a song by The Slip that I particularly like (I think it's called "Even Rats")--it's actually relaxing to play. So if you haven't checked out the bonus songs, unlock a few and give them a try. Some information about the band is also presented on the loading screen, which is another nice touch.

Xbox 360: Japan Launch, Etc.

From Bloomberg
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp., the second-largest maker of video game systems, sold 28 percent of Xbox 360 consoles on store shelves in Japan, according to preliminary figures from market researcher Media Create Co.

Microsoft sold 41,817 consoles in the first two days since the Xbox 360 was introduced on Dec. 10 in Japan, Tokyo-based Media Create said...

So that means there were (roughly) 150,000 units in Japan at launch. It's hard to believe they wasted 100,000 units of production in Japan when they could easily sell another 500,000 tomorrow in the U.S.

But they did.

Next-Gen is estimating a higher sales number (60,000+), but it's still almost 100k short of the available units. Certainly, those numbers would have been higher if Dead or Alive 4 had shipped at launch, but even if that had doubled sales, they would still have significantly overestimated demand.

I think people will look back at this launch in a few years and be amazed that Microsoft launched in three major territories in a month. That's incredible, really. It's just too bad that the FUBAR'd the estimates of initial demand, because any mistakes cost another territory units that would have sold immediately.

The good news is that Japan shouldn't be taking any more production units for at least a month, so that manufacturing capacity should provide increased numbers of units to the U.S. and Europe.

Next-Gen also reported today that an analyst from American Technology Research claims that 300,000 additional units will ship in North America this week. That would help.

Microsoft may be facing another problem--a software drought. The only game scheduled to come out between now and 1/23 (at best) is Dead or Alive 4. That will be almost two months from launch with only one additional title. That's pushing it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

About You Guys (2)

Add the Phillipines, Hong Kong, and Iceland. I think that's it for one day.

Order of the Stick

I didn't mean to imply in the previous post that Order of the Stick is dormant, just that the particular comic I linked to was from 2003. It's still alive and quite well.


Wide ranging and interesting.

From MSNBC, a story about the discovery of a Mayan mural dating back to roughly 100 B.C. (the oldest ever discovered). Includes an amazing picture. Here's the link:

Here's a funky little link to a place called "happy palace." It's basically just sets of photos submitted by users, and it's somehow very compelling.
[Correction: these pictures aren't submitted by users, but are found by the site author (referred to only as "f"), which makes it even more amazing.]

Dubious Quality Film Advisor Ben Ormand sends a link to a Giant in the Playground comic. It's from 2003, but it's still funny, particularly if you've ever played D&D:

From Jeremy Fischer, a link to an excellent essay titled written by MIT Professor Henry Jenkins. Titled "Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked," it intelligently answers some of the hysterical claims of video game "opponents."

It's all reminding me more and more of the hysteria over "crime" comic books in the 1940's and 1950's. And here's a link for that, if you're interested:

Good friend Andy Stingel sends in a link to the Australian National Public Toilet Map, which is a project of the National Continence Management Strategy. My favorite feature? The ability to create "My Toilet Map." No, I'm not kidding. Here's the link:

The Christmas Spirit

"The first decorated tree was in Strasbourg in 1605," Gloria said. She was reading from a complimentary Christmas mug given to us by the Papa Noel Christmas Tree people, from whom we'd just purchased our Christmas tree. "It was decorated with paper roses, nuts, apples, and candles," she said, her voice rising when she said "candles."

"Not coincidentally, Strasbourg was the site of the first fire department, also established in 1605," I said.

She loves candles. I'm the fire marshall.

"Daddy, we got a GREAT tree this year," Eli 4.4 said. The tree is rattling around in our trunk, tied down by a very polite teenager who seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Good thing, because I generally have no idea what I'm doing.

"I think it's great, too," I said. We both know that within twenty-four hours, the kittens will have absolutely destroyed it along with every ornament, and in fact, George the kitten is actually sitting in the tree within three hours. For now, though, it's in our trunk, totally unmarred.

"Maybe we can use this tree NEXT year, becuase I really love it," Eli said.

"Eli, you can't re-use a Christmas tree," Gloria said.

"Why not?"

"Because it has to be cut out of the ground for us to take it home, and it can't live without roots."

"Ooh, that sounded bad," I whispered. "Tree murderer."

"What happens to it?" Eli 4.4 asked.

"Well, it gets recycled," Gloria said.

"What do they make from it?" Eli knows all about recycling.

"Toilet paper," I said. "The kind that your mom buys when she goes to Central Market." The "alternative" grocery store, where you can buy onions hand-grown on top of Mount Tateyama in Toyama Prefecture, but the only toilet paper you can buy makes your ass chant "Attica! Attica!" after one wipe.

"Daddy, you are kidding," Eli said.

"No, I'm not, sadly," I said. "They grind up the tree once to get it the size of wood chips, but then they add a little water and roll it out. You can use it as toilet paper or sandpaper."

"Daddy, stop it!" Eli said, laughing. Eli thinks rough toilet paper is very funny, because butts are involved, and butts are comedy gold when you're four.

"Ask your mother what happened the last time she bought that toilet paper," I said.

"Mommy, what happened?"

"Great," Gloria said.

"I knew right away that your mom had bought the scary toilet paper, and I looked under the sink and found three more rolls in the package, so that was the first time I'd used it. I took a red laundry pen and wrote "J'ACCUSE!" on the package and left it on the counter."

"Mommy, Daddy didn't do that," Eli 4.4 said, laughing. I don't think he knows what "J'accuse" means, but this is the same kid who asked for a Pachycephalosaurus for Christmas, so who knows?

"Oh, he did that," Gloria said. "Believe me."

You should have heard her when she walked into the bathroom. It's in my precious book of memories.

About You Guys

I subscribe to a service called Site Meter that tracks page views and site visits for Dubious Quality. It's something simple that helps me keep track of whether anyone besides Gloria and my mom are reading the column.

Yesterday, I saw a report option that I'd never noticed before, even though I'm sure it's been there all the time. It was "Country Share." Well, it's very cool. It lets me know what percentage of visitors come from each country on a daily basis. Here's the snapshot as of 12:15 my time today:

76.25% United States
9.05% Canada
2.73% United Kingdom
2.38% Australia
1.05% Germany
0.70% Netherlands
0.63% Sweden
0.55% Unknown Country
0.45% Norway
0.45% Finland
0.40% Japan
0.40% Italy
0.38% Singapore
0.38% Spain
0.44% France
0.33% Denmark
0.25% Republic of Korea
0.23% Brazil
0.23% Taiwan
0.20% Portugal
0.20% India
0.17% Malaysia
0.17% Estonia
2.14% Miscellaneous

I would see a little sliver for a country and go "Hey, I remember that guy!" because many of you international readers have e-mailed me at some point in the last few years.

So that's where you guys come from. And thanks to all of you for visiting.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pure Pwnage #9

Episode nine of the generally demented and always entertaining Pure Pwnage series is now available for download.

Science Links

Some cool science links for your enjoyment.

First, from Robot Wisdom Weblog, a link to a satellite photograph from Envisat taken over England within five hours of the start of the fires at the Buncefield oil depot. It's a remarkable photograph:

From Slashdot, a link to a story about what is potentially the birth of a new ocean. Here's an excerpt:
Researchers from Britain, France, Italy and the U.S. have been observing the 37-mile long fissure since it split open in September in the Afar desert and estimate it will take a million years to fully form into an ocean, said Dereje Ayalew, who leads the team of 18 scientists studying the phenomenon.

..."We believe we have seen the birth of a new ocean basin," said Dereje of Addis Ababa University. "This is unprecedented in scientific history because we usually see the split after it has happened. But here we are watching the phenomenon."

Amazing, and here's the link:

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Oh, good grief.

From the ESRB website (
NEW YORK - The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) today assigned a failing grade of "F" to the National Institute for Media and Family (NIMF) for its seriously flawed Video Game Report Card released last week.

How remarkably mature of them. Dualing report cards. How junior high school.

Here's more:
"In recent years, the report card concept has become increasingly arbitrary, simple-minded, and silly, more of a headline-grabbing tool than a parent-helping tool, and NIMF's 2005 report card continues that disappointing tradition," said ESRB President Patricia Vance.

Do you mean headline grabbing as opposed to you issuing this press release? Because I'm kind of confused as to the difference, since you're both issuing report cards and everything.

So the ESRB used to just act like idiots, but now they're acting like assholes. I guess this is what they call a "new strategic direction."

Seriously, though, does Patricia Vance have anything approaching a clue? Does she somehow think that acting like a seventh grader is going to positively influence public opinion?

IGF Finalists

Here's the announcement of nominees for the 2006 Independent Games Festival Awards (from the IGF website at

Following an amazing set of entries for this year's IGF, we're pleased to announced that the judges have picked this year's Independent Games Festival finalists, and they are as follows:
Seumas McNally Grand Prize: Darwinia, Dofus, Professor Fizzwizzle, Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space, Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa.
Best Web Browser Game: Dodge That Anvil, Moleculous, Dad 'N Me.
Innovation In Game Design: Rumble Box, Strange Attractors, Braid, The Witch's Yarn, Darwinia.
Technical Excellence: Saints & Sinners Bowling, Tribal Trouble, Tube Twist, Darwinia, Crazy Ball.
Innovation In Visual Art: Dofus, Darwinia, Putt Nutz, Glow Worm, Thomas And The Magical Words
nnovation In Audio: Professor Fizzwizzle, Saints & Sinners Bowling, Dodge That Anvil, Glow Worm, Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space.

Those links will take you to details about each game, as well as links to each game's website.

The IGF awards are a wonderful way to find and reward new development talent each year, and one of my favorite things to do is to go check out these nominees (which I'll be doing over the next few days).

I can't say enough about how great it is that Darwinia is suddenly receiving so much attention. It's a unique, phenomenal game, one of the best PC games released this year, and for a while there it looked like it was going to disappear without a trace. In the last month, though, it was announced as being available on Steam, and now it's a nominee for the most prestigious award given to independent developers.

I'm going to look at as many of these games as I can in the next few days, and I'll write about what I find that I think you might like.

ATI, NVIDIA, and the High End

I rode Nvidia's ass pretty hard for at least six months. They were blatantly cheating on benchmarks, their signature card sounded like a vacuum cleaner, and it even required a separate power connector. ATI's top end was faster, had better image quality, was much quieter, and consumed far less power.

I also wrote about ATI's upcoming Crossfire solution as being more effective than Nvidia's SLI because there was a default rendering method for games without specific profiles, unlike SLI, where there was no default.

Man, things can change in six months.

Nvidia released the 7800 GTX, which is an outstanding card. Tremendously fast, much quieter, and a terrific card overall.

ATI released nothing.

There was an engineering issue with their next generation design that took almost five months to find and fix. When they finally did release their new generation of cards (just a couple of months ago), no one cared. The X1800 XT produced absolutely zero buzz. It consumes a huge amount of power, requires a separate power connector, and it's loud. And while it's very competitive with the 7800 GTX, Nvidia released the 7800 GTX 512, which is faster in almost every benchmark.

Even worse for ATI, even though Crossfire is now available, the default super tiling rendering method (in lieu of a game-specific profile in the drivers) produces significantly poorer performance for a dual-card setup than for a single card. Ouch. And ouch again.

Right now, at least, Nvidia owns the high end.

I would have normally written about this months ago, but both of these companies have made a serious strategic error by no longer supporting AGP with their high-end cards. All these super-fast, expensive cards are lots of fun to read about, but 75% of the market is still AGP, and none of those people can buy these new cards, because they're PCI-E only. Even if the AGP version was slower, they'd still clean up by offering one.

Since I can't upgrade without building a new system, my interest in the new technology has really gone down. But I'll give Nvidia credit for improving their product and regaining the technology lead. And if I build a new system for my birthday in April, which is a possibility, I may go with SLI instead of Crossfire, even though I've used ATI cards exclusively for over two years now.

Eli 4.4 Meets a Role Model

I went with Eli 4.4 to a local park yesterday, and there we met Fearless Kid.

You remember Fearless Kid. His arm was broken ever summer because he'd jumped off the roof or skateboarded down a steep hill into a car. Fearless Kid always had something broken, but he was still always having more fun than you were.

There was a twelve-year old and his friend in the park, and one of them was a scrawny, mop-headed kid with a big smile.

Fearless Kid.

As he set up a barrier by the swingset that he'd have to jump over or die, his friend said "You're going to get hurt."

"So what? I get hurt every day!" said Fearless Kid, and he proceeded to leap from the swings over this barrier five times in a row, moving it farther out every time. And because he's Fearless Kid, he kept moving it out until he had a spectacular wipeout.

Then he went over to a tall slide on a playscape. We'd been talking back and forth, and I said "No excitement there for you."

He said "I make everything exciting, and with that he climbed to the top of the slide and jumped off. Not just to the ground, but to a neighboring, lower level of the playground. It was a Beamon-esque jump, and the fall alone was over ten feet.

Eli 4.4 said two things the entire time we were there: "That kid is crazy!" immediately followed by "I want to do that."

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