Saturday, December 30, 2006

About the Dwarf Fortress Interview

I'm very happy about how the interview is turning out. Tarn and Zach are just as interesting to interview as Dwarf Fortress is to play, and I think you guys are really going to enjoy reading about them.

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Year in Review: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Hanging

The first half of 2006 looked like a banner year for the "gaming is teh devil" crowd.

Hillary Clinton and Joe Libermann wanted a piece. State legislatures wanted a piece. Advocay groups like "The Center for Successful Parenting" wanted a piece.

Everybody, it seemed, wanted a freaking piece of us.

It would have been one thing if these people had wanted some kind of rational discussion. They didn't. They just wanted a piece of rope and a scaffold.

The gaming lobby, meanwhile, seemed stuck in a state of denial. Sure, there was a rating system for games, but enforcing it was everyone else's problem. The myopia of that approach seemed obvious to everyone but them--by refusing to join the discussion, they had no chance of framing the discussion in reasonable terms.

It was all ridiculous, really. There's essentially one issue when it comes to children and gaming, and it's an issue where there is wide agreement: children shouldn't be playing games that are inappropriate for their age.

Seriously. That's what this Sturm und Drang is all about. And there is plenty of common ground inside that issue for everyone. And if you find common ground, you don't have to agree on every single particular to have a positive influence.

That's the reasonable approach, and it seemed entirely remote that the software industry would ever do the reasonable thing.

Then came November and December, and two remarkable things happened.

The first was the launch of the Nintendo Wii. Almost overnight, the gaming demographic changed. Everyone, it seemed, was trying the Wii, and everyone was having a great time. It's much harder to bash games when Grandma is carrying a 235 average in bowling when she plays Wii Sports. With the Wii, games were fun in a way that non-gamers could enjoy. The stereotype of the "angry young man gamer" suddenly seemed very silly.

The second remarkable thing happened in early December. Witch hunters Hillary Clinton and Joe Liebermann announced a partnership with the ESRB on a series of public service announcements to better educate parents on the game rating system.

What? Cooperation? Common ground?

And with that, it seems that the rope has been put away.

Buggy Saints Row: The Musical

Thanks to Nicholas Avenell for a link to "Buggy Saints Row: The Musical."

It's not the video of the bugs that's so funny--it's the song that goes with it, which is totally inspired. You can see it here.

Saints Row sold a jillion copies, so I'm sure the guys at Volition can enjoy this, too.

Bowmaster Prelude

Before you read this post, just be warned that your productivity for the rest of the afternoon will be shot.

Here's a link to a little Flash game called "BowMaster Prelude" and it is totally addictive. You shoot arrows from a castle at an invading army, and with every level you survive you can buy arrow upgrades, troop support, even trebuchets. You can "draw" the arrows with your mouse, which makes it even more interesting. Very nice graphics, excellent sound effects, and all kinds of strategic options. It's a terrific game.

And as far as getting anything else done this afternoon--don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Money

I was playing Wii Sports with Eli 5.4. There's a mini-game where you try to knock down progressively larger numbers of pins, all the way up to ninety-one, and it's a blast. Eli actually struck on ninety-one yesterday.

So we were playing this tonight, like we do every day now, and I struck on fifty-five.

"Dad, how did you DO that?" Eli 5.4 asked.

"Because I'm MONEY," I said. I say that every night at some point.

"Stop saying that," he said. "You're annoying me."

I roll the next ball and knock down sixty-seven out of sixty-eight.

"Nice shot, Dad," Eli said.

"Dude, what does M-O-N-E-Y spell?" I asked.

"It spells--DAD! Argghhh! It spells MONEY!"

"Which is what I am," I said.

"Mom! Make him stop!" Eli said.

I rolled the next ball and knocked down seventy-seven out of seventy-eight pins. "Dinero," I said.

"Well, at least you're not saying MONEY again," Eli said.

"It's Spanish," I said.

"MOM! What does 'dinero' mean?" Eli asked.

"Money," Gloria said.

"OH NO!" Eli said.

Later we were playing tennis together. You can play doubles on the same side, and we really enjoy playing on the same team. I hit a winner. "And DO NOT say you are money," Eli 5.4 said. "I mean it."

Nothing To See Here--Move Along

After doing some additional research and about half a dozen e-mails from you guys, there doesn't seem to be anything strange with that large Take-Two trade I mentioned yesterday. Glenview Capital Management is a big hedge firm, they held a large position in Take-Two for ten months, and they moved less than half of it yesterday, even if it was three million shares. So it's certainly a huge trade, but given the size of GCM and the number of shares Take-Two has outstanding, it's not necessarily an indicator of trouble.

Links!

Some links for your end-of-2006 enjoyment.

Here's a photo of an IBM hard drive--from 1956! 5MB of storage power and it weighed over a ton. Thanks to Digg (and Jessie Leimkuehler), you can see it here.

I don't write about football very often, but you guys know that I follow both college and pro football closely. And since I live within about three hours of Dallas, Terrell Owens acting like an ass has been a major part of the sports section all year. If you want to know how bad it's gotten for T.O. in Dallas, just read this column that appeared today in the Dallas Morning News. They're tired of his act and it didn't even take a season to wear out his welcome.

Here's a link from Sirius to an amazing video of an octopus changing color to blend into its background. It's remarkable, and you can watch it here.

DQ reader Michael sent me a link to a site called Will it Blend?, which is a promotional site for Blendtec blenders. They have a series of very funny videos where they grind up all kinds of things in their blenders--hockey pucks, Barbie dolls, crowbars, oyster shells, you name it. Just go to the "Don't Try This At Home" link off the front page.

Dave Kramer wrote a thoughtful but pointed commentary about downloadable purchases for the 360 and how Microsoft's practice of licensing content to a console is a disaster waiting to happen. Read it here.

It's just what you've been looking for--a video from Japanese television in the 70's that features samuari, mariachi, Spiderman, and Power Rangers. It's got to be a strong contender for the worst three minutes of television in history, and you can see it here.

No, You Don't

So here's an actual e-mail I received yesterday:
Do I get to see that painting of the horses' asses? I'm looking for a painting of (over a hundred) wild horses running free.

That's about a post made in 2004--this one, actually.

Which is how I found out that if you search on "asses of wild horses" in Google, I'm #1, baby! This is almost as big as the time I was (albeit briefly) #1 on Google for the phrase "monkey smelling finger after scratching his butt," although clearly that brief bit of fame was too good to last.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Interesting

The latest SEC filing from Take-Two has some interesting numbers.

Specifically, someone's just unloaded THREE MILLION shares of stock. True, there are seventy-two million shares outstanding, but that is still a huge transaction, worth over fifty-seven million dollars.

Who did this? If I'm understanding the SEC filing correctly, it's by entities who own more than 10% of the company. Here's how they're identified in the footnotes:
--Glenview Capital Partners, L.P, a Delaware limited partnership
--Glenview Capital Master Fund, Ltd., a Cayman Islands exempted company
--Glenview Institutional Partners, L.P., a Delaware limited partnership
--GCM Little Arbor Master Fund, Ltd., a Cayman Islands exempted company
--GCM Little Arbor Institutional Partners, L.P., a Delaware limited partnership

Those sound like many flavors of the same ice cream, but I'm not sure how it all breaks out. Transactions of that size, though, often signal that something is afoot.

29 Down, 11 To Go

In what must be considered a holiday miracle, I just passed Rock This Town on Expert.

I will probably still be working on those last eleven songs when Guitar Hero for the 360 comes out. And Guitar Hero for the PS3. And Guitar Hero for their successors.

2006 Year in Review: The Big Lie

2006 was the year of the big lie.

Sometimes I write about something when I'm still mad, and it comes off as a rant. This isn't one of those times, though. This isn't about anger--it's just about math.

As politicians know all too well, sometimes it's easier and more effective to tell a big lie than a small one. Sometimes the most outrageous statements are the most believable, especially whoppers that are told to generate sympathy.

So this is what we were told in 2006: development costs are skyrocketing. Skyrocketing! A top-quality game for next-gen platforms like the 360 and the PS3 could cost 20 million dollars to develop. Even at $59.95, we desperately need you gamers to tolerate in-game advertising and buy downloadable content if you want us to survive.

Spearheading this frenzy was Electronic Arts, of course. They signed in-game advertising deals with IGA and Massive, and they have over a thousand purchasable downloads available via the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Think about that for a minute. Electronic Arts is a three billion dollar company, based on its trailing twelve month revenues. It's market cap is almost sixteen billion dollars. It has over two billion dollars in cash on its balance sheet.

So a three billion dollar company with two billion dollars in cash is portraying themselves as an underdog, as a victim, of the harsh economics of the gaming industry--the same economics, by the way, that made them a three billion dollar company in the first place.

You know what, Electronic Arts? I don't give a shit about your problems. If you spend twenty million dollars developing a game, it's not my fault. And guess what? For every 360 or PS3 game you spend twenty million dollars on, you'll make twenty (or fifty, or a hundred) games that cost much less. Guess what? You'll be charging us $59.95 for those, too. You'll be jamming in-game advertising down our throat. You'll be making us PAY for cheat codes.

This is a company pleading poverty when it's made over a hundred and eighty million dollars in profit in the last twelve months. Maybe I would be more sympathetic if players didn't dunk through the backboard in NBA Live '07. Or if the people who bought that gigantic turd could take it back for a refund. But they can't, can they? You guys released an alpha, people bought it, and they're screwed.

Maybe you could have taken a few million out of that hundred and eighty million dollars in profit and finished that game. Or maybe you could have finished a few others that came out, well, badly. But all too often in the gaming industry, big companies expect loyalty to be a one-way street--from us to them.

A company that respects its customers receives my full attention if they claim that the current environment is unforgiving. They will receive my continuing support. But a giant company that makes generally average games, displays generally zero concern for its customers, and claims it can't survive without ripping us off even more is just an embarrassment.

If you think you're sick of paying for downloadable content that should have been included with the game, or in-game advertising, just wait. Believe me, it will never be better than it is now, because we're going to see a high-velocity adoption of both. Take-Two, Activision, Microsoft--they're all in.

Oh, and just so we're clear here (trailing twelve-month revenues):
Take-Two: 1.01 billion. 141 million in cash.
Activision: 1.4 billion. 790 million in cash.
Microsoft: 45.35 billion. 28.25 billion in cash.

Huge companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash claiming that they just can't surive unless they charge us more, add advertising, and make us pay for content that should have been included with the game.

That, unfortunately, was the single most important trend of 2006.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dwarf Fortress: the Interview

Well, here's a nice surprise.

The creators of Dwarf Fortress, Tarn and Zach Adams, have agreed to answer a few questions. I've got a set I'd like to ask them, but I know you guys have questions you'd like to ask them, too, so I'm opening it up for submissions.

If you'd like to contribute, please send a specific question in completed form, not "hey, ask them about xyz." I can't promise that your questions will be used, as the number we can ask is limited, but you guys are a hell of lot more interesting than I am, and I assume your questions will be, too.

I'll be accept submissions until late Wednesday.

And if you're new to the blog and don't know about Dwarf Fortress, it's one of the best PC games of this or any other year, and it's still in alpha. The link to my first column about the game is here, and the month of September was basically Dwarf Fortress month on the blog, so you can find plenty of other posts in the September archive.

Christmas Date

We went to our favorite restaurant on Saturday night for a "Christmas date." It's called Cafe Josie, and it has a very small main room and a second room that's kind of an indoor patio.

With a tin roof.

It hasn't rained here in any significant way for months, so of course it was absolutely pouring. And we sat on the patio.

"THIS IS SO RELAXING," Gloria shouted over the thunderous roar of the roof.

"YEAH, I'M REALLY GLAD WE CAME HERE," I yelled back. "I THINK I'M DEAF."

"REALLY?" she asked.

"WHAT?"

"IT'S COZY," she said.

I should type all the rest of this in caps, because we were shouting the entire time, but I'll save your eyes.

"I love the sound of rain on a tin roof," Gloria said. "I have such good memories of my Grandmother's house and the tin roof she had over the porch. I just sat in the swing and listened to the rain."

"I have sounds like that," I said. "The roar of the crowd as the kicker runs toward the ball for the opening kickoff. The sound of a computer's fans spinning up when it gets turned on. Good times."

"Good grief," she said.

The food was just fantastic (it always is), and we started shouting again after dinner. Other diners near us were shouting as well.

"There's another sound I like," Gloria said. "I like to hear people talking.."

"I like to hear people talking when they're not talking to me," I said. "It's soothing to know that I don't have to listen."

Chalking

I was discussing the discovery of the "new" sauropod in Spain with my Mom, and she had a great idea. She said I should get a tape measure and show Eli just how long a 125-foot dinosaur would extend.

Which I did.

It's pretty awe-inspiring to do that. Just seeing the actual length and imagining a creature that was that size and walked on land is an amazing feeling. Eli 5.4's mind was totally blown. Mine, too.

AGP

I thought we'd seen the end of high-end video cards, but I was (fortunately) wrong. There's an AGP version of the Radeon X1950 Pro, and from everything I've seen, it's a scorcher. There are some detailed benchmarks in a Firing Squad review that you can read here.

Visiontek, Powercolor, and Sapphire are all making cards. The Powercolor version, in particular, looks like a fantastic deal, because it's apparently going to retail for just over $200 (it should start shipping in early-mid January). That's a great upgrade for someone who doesn't want to buy (or build) a new system.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Few GHII Notes

Eli 5.4 was playing Guitar Hero II while I was mounting the case fan. He played for about five minutes, then said "Daddy, I'm stopping--my arm is all rock 'n roll twisted."

I played the original Guitar Hero for a few minutes tonight, taking two passes at The Donna's song Take It Off on Expert, and I was shocked by how slow it felt. That was a fast song in the first game, and it felt almost pedestrian now. It was also almost impossible for me to do hammer-ons and pull-offs, which I do with ease in the new game. So Guitar Hero II is definitely faster and more complex than the first game, but the addition of practice mode and better HO/PO timing compensates.

And I still SUCK at Cowboys From Hell on Expert. 29 out of 30 freaking songs passed and I bet I never even sniff passing that song. I'll never get out of the opening riff.

I did slog my way up to 55% completion on Rock This Town on Expert. That is a nasty, nasty song.

'Soft-Mounted Case Fan'

"I have some important instructions for you," I said to Gloria as I walked into the kitchen. "If you ever hear me say the words 'soft-mounted case fan' again, I want you to kill me."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," she said.

"Doesn't matter," I said. "No more than it matters that I know what you're talking about when you say 'Never let me cut my own bangs.' It's the phrase that's important--if you hear it, grab a knife."

I have no idea how anyone has ever successfully soft-mounted a case fan. Pulling the damn rubber mounting dealies through the case with enough force to actually install them seems to make them shear off about half the time. And if you can get through that step, actually getting the fan mounted is still about a million to one shot, at least for me.

I mention this because I was trying to install a Noctua NF-S12 case fan. They are incredibly quiet, as you can see here. I wound up using screws to mount the fan (which is no walk in the park, either), but the fan is freaky quiet and very, very impressive.

My system is unbelievably quiet at this point, which means it's almost time to build a new one that will annoy the shit out of me. And so the cycle of life continues.

Red Octane Wireless Guitar Hero Controller

That is one wicked sweet plastic guitar.

Rock This Town may drive me insane. It's one of my favorite songs on Hard, but on Expert it is incredibly fast and unbelievably difficult. I've made it to 41% and that's after a day of practice. Man!

I went out shopping this morning and I wonder what the correct ratio of "gifts for others/gifts for you" should be. I bought seven books and two CD's, but also wound up with a book and a CD for myself. That seems wrong, somehow.

Good Reading

There are two articles in The Escapist this week that are well worth mentioning.

The first is by Sean Sands (Elysium at Gamer With Jobs) and it's titled "Christmas Behind the Cash Register." It's about managing a game store at Christmas, and it's full of dark whimsy that makes it an excellent read. You can read it here.

[And GOOD GRIEF--I can't believe I confused Elysium with Fletcher (Russ Pitts). The problem is that all the GWJ and ex-GWJ guys have names and handles and even after e-mailing them for years I STILL can't keep it all straight. Arggghhh.]

The second is by Lara Crigger, who has also written for Gamers With Jobs. It's a beautiful piece of writing called "Maajh, Ladies," and it's about her grandmother and majong--well, and life. Like I said, it's a beautifully written piece, and you can read it here.

It's pretty clear at this point that Gamers With Jobs has taken over the world. In another few years, 90% of all the good articles on gaming will be written by current or ex-Gamers With Jobs writers.

With the other 10% being written by Tom Chick, obviously.

Eli 5.4 Gets the Christmas Spirit

I was upstairs in the bathroom and heard Eli 5.4 clomping up the stairs.

"HEY DAD!" he shouts, two feet outside the bathroom door.

"Yes, buddy?"

"I have a QUESTION for you," he said. "Can I open up a Christmas present?"

"No," I said. "Any other questions?"

"No," he said. "That was it." I heard him walk off, then heard him shout "MOM! HE WON'T LET ME OPEN UP ONE EITHER!"

****
Eli was watching The Fox and the Hound, and there were two foxes nuzzling each other. He said "That's a lot of lovage there."

When the show ended, he realized he hadn't had a "movie snack." To him, the snack is as much a part of the movie as the movie itself, and since we were out of popcorn, he'd missed out. He went to Gloria and said "But what am I going to have for movie-ing?"

****
Eli has a friend named Madison who tends to be a bit bossy--just like him. So he went for a visit this week, and when he came back, I asked him if he had a good time. "Pretty good," he said. "But Madison is SO BOSSY. I have ideas on what to do, and SHE just drives me crazy."

****
Eli was watching a Superman cartoon on a DVD that had been given to him by some friends for Christmas. We weren't sure the content was suitable for him, so he was being allowed to watch one episode. After about ten minutes and about five rescues by Superman, I asked him if he liked the show. "It's pretty good," he said. "No violence yet--just saving."

Obviously, You Don't Want to Work Today...

...so read some of these.

This is a fantastic link to a story about the most dangerous roads in the world. The pictures alone make it worth taking a look--they're spectacular. And the blog itself is a great read--take a look at some of the recent posts. The most dangerous road story is here.

MSNBC has listed their Top 10 "Most Peculiar Stories" for the year. Here are a few of the headlines:
--Briton hurt after lighting firecracker in buttocks
--Police arrest naked man with concealed weapon
--Man sues himself for vehicle damage
--Pair in hot water after fake penis microwaved.

Read all about them here.

A new giant dinosaur was discovered in Europe. Here's an excerpt:
WASHINGTON - Scientists in Spain have found the fossilized remains of one of the largest animals ever to walk the earth, a gargantuan plant-eating dinosaur up to 125 feet (38 meters) long and weighing as much as seven elephants.

Turiasaurus riodevensis, named for the region and village in Spain where it was found, lived about 145 million years ago and was a sauropod, that familiar kind of dinosaur with a long neck, long tail and massive body that walked on four stout legs.

It is the largest dinosaur ever found in Europe.

The full story is here.

Allen Varney wrote another terrific article for The Escapist, this time on boutique MMOG's. There are a lot of people making a lot of money serving a smaller audience with much lower development costs, and you can read about them here.

Japanese researchers successfully filmed giant squid live. Thanks to Jesse Leimkuehler, you can read about it (and see the video) here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ask Mr. Avacado

This delightful fellow is available for viewing at the Chipotle Grill website--just take the "Eat" option off the worst opening menu in the world, then if the avocado shows up, click on the pit.

Seriously, do you think I could even make this up?

Well, it took some serious negotiating by Stephanie Dubious-Assham, but he's agreed to answer a few questions from readers.

Dear Mr. Avocado,
I never know how to address people this time of year when I want to give a seasonal greeting. Should I say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"?
Sincerely,
Barb Banal

Lady, I'm an AVOCADO PIT. Pardon me for not brushing up on my holiday etiquette--I'm more concerned with minor details like NOT HAVING ANY GODDAMN ARMS.

My name is Larry Avocado Pitts, and it's pronounced a-VOC-a-do. It's not "Mr. Avocado." So if you want to give me a seasonal greeting, just say "I promise I'll learn your name before I ask any more stupid damn questions."

Dear Mr. Avocado,
My husband's family is coming over for Christmas dinner this year, and I want everything to be perfect. Do you have any suggestions for cooking the holiday turkey?
Hopeful,
Clarissa Crisp

Yes. DON'T USE AVOCADOS. Oh, and this just in--LEARN MY DAMN NAME.

Dear Mr. Avocado,
At what point in history was it decisively concluded that air power outclassed the battleship? Was it when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
Sincerely and whatnot,
Admiral Dan Sinking

Actually, this debate was still going on at the highest levels of the U.S. Navy near the end of WWII. Admiral Spruance tried to initiate a grand battle with the Yamato and its defenders by sending the battleships of Task Force 54 into attacking position. He was outmaneuvered by Vice Admiral Mitscher, who was able to get the aircraft carriers of Task Force 58 into position sooner and was cleared to attack. It was clear after the sinking of the Yamato that the era of the battleship had passed.

What? I dabble.

Dear Mr. Avacado,
My boyfriend seems distant lately. He's traveling much more on business than he used to, and last night when I called him I could swear I heard a female voice laughing in the background. It's the holidays and I'm heartbroken What should I do?
Upset,
Debra Lojak

Let me get this straight: you're having a problem in your relationship, and you're so desperate and pathetic that you're asking an AVOCADO PIT for advice? What--was a WATERMELON SEED not available?

He's just not that into you. Do I need to draw you a picture with some mashed avocado? Oh, that's right, I can't--I DON'T HAVE ARMS.

You people make me sick. You think you have problems? I fell off a tree AND SOMEBODY CUT ME OPEN. Excuse the hell out of me if I don't feel like singing Christmas carols.

Now Appearing in the Same Sentence: 'Heirloom' and 'Barf'

My friend Kim sent me a link to one of the funniest news story I've ever read. Here are a few excerpts:
Let It Be Whale Vomit, Not Just Sea Junk
MONTAUK, N.Y. (Dec. 18) — In this season of strange presents from relatives, Dorothy Ferreira got a doozy the other day from her 82-year-old sister in Waterloo, Iowa. It was ugly. It weighed four pounds. There was no receipt in the box.

Inside she found what looked like a gnarled, funky candle but could actually be a huge hunk of petrified whale vomit worth as much as $18,000.

Here are a few of the phrase jewels you'll read in this story:
--"Heirloom Whale Barf'?"
--“we don’t keep a certified whale-vomit expert on staff.”
--"The Chinese called it lung sien hiang, or 'dragon’s spittle fragrance.' "

To find out what the heck is going on, go here.

Wills

We've been working on our wills for the last few months.

Wills are one of those weird grown-up things that make me very uncomfortable. Maybe it's that in making plans in the event of your death, you feel like you're encouraging your death.

Or maybe I'm just a dumbass. Occam would be betting heavily on that choice.

So we made some final changes and sent them to our attorney. He had been recommended by my boss, so we didn't actually know him very well, but we'd had a couple of meetings together to discuss various things and he seemed like a nice guy.

I sent the changes to him via e-mail on a Friday in early November and told him I hoped we could finish everything by Thanksgiving.

Then he dropped dead.

He didn't drop, actually. But that Friday night, he had a massive heart attack and died in his sleep. He was 52.

When you're 30, someone dying of a heart attack at 52 seems entirely reasonable and perfectly remote. At 45, like I am, it seems totally ridiculous--how could anyone who's only 7 years older than I am have something like that happen to them?

I was told that his cholestorol and blood pressure were both through the roof. Even if that's true, it's hard to translate numbers from a test into just not being here anymore.

We finally signed the final copies of our wills today--his partner helped us finish everything. Then I went to swim and had the worst case of the ghoulies I've ever had--just a mile in the water and nothing to do but think about how suddenly life can stop being certain, and how that could affect the people you care about.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Your E-mail and Links

From a source who wishes to remain anonymous:
About 3:30 am this morning, at a lab in Folsom, we fired up the first 45nm processor.

That's Intel, in case you're wondering. Amazing.

Next, from Michael Clayton:
I live in the unincorporated part, what I call the near country, in Fort Worth [Texas]. On my way home last night driving through the woods, I saw a small hand painted sign posted beside the road selling a Nintendo Wii for $600 and the phone number.

Soon they'll be selling them from the back of pickup trucks, just like firewood for winter.

Sirius sent in a link to a very interesting essay on the physics of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. The essay was first written in 1984, but it's still a very interesting read, and you can find it here.

Several of you sent in linnks to a very interesting feature over at Gamsutra titled "The Quantum Leap Awards," which discusses the most innovative games of the year. It's generally spot-on (generally), and you can read it here.

Dear Sir

Dear Sir,
I saw you walking along a street near the Arboretum today, wearing a backpack in a frontward facing manner, much as a new parent would wear a BabyBjorn to carry a child.

By the confident swagger with which you were walking, you appeared to believe that wearing a backpack in this manner was very "cool."

From a spectator's point of view, sir, I can assure you that it was, in fact, not.
Sincerely,
Everyone Else

It's the Perfect Last Minute Christmas Gift

I remember, not that long ago, when a 42" Panasonic ED plasma was over $7,000. That was the discounted price--list was $9,999.

That was in 2000, if I remember correctly.

Today? A 42" Panasonic HD plasma (with a resolution of 1024x768 compared to the ED resolution of 852x480) is $1,025. The 42" ED is $895. The freaking 50-inch HD plasma (1366x768 resolution) is $1,595! Those 50" screens have basically gone down 50% in price in the last twelve months.

That's all at Visual Apex, by the way, which I have purchased from in the past and have always received excellent service.

So if you're looking for a stocking stuffer... for your stocking, obviously.

It May Take Longer

So I started the conversion process to the new version of Blogger last night at 10 p.m. The friendly message said it would just take "a few minutes." After a few minutes, I got this message:
We need a bit more time...
We're still working on moving your blogs. In most cases, this will take only a few more minutes. If you have a blog with a lot of posts or comments it may take longer.


A blog with a lot of posts? I figured Google was probably crashing at that very moment.

In other news, I never have to play Freya again, because I passed it on Expert.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Pick List

Gloria took four hours to pack for the trip to Shreveport. I took fifteen minutes, and for the last five I was totally goofing off.

Because I'm a guy, though, spending fifteen minutes on packing was far too long.

"I think I could pack in five minutes if I had a pick list," I said.

"What's a pick list?" Gloria asked.

"If you're in a warehouse, and you're filling orders, you have a list that tells you what to "pick" from inventory," I said. "I could create an Excel spreadsheet where I just input the weather and the trip length, and it would generate and print a pick list for me. I could save at least five minutes every time I pack."

"So how many years would it take before you were in the black after actually spending the time to create that spreadsheet?" she asked.

"I was in the black the minute I thought about creating it," I said. "Every idea I have is Black Friday. Because I'm MONEY. Not in the sense of currency or actual value, of course."

"Of course."

"While you're tediously constructing that hand-written list, then worry about losing the list, I'll have my pre-generated pick list that will take me less than ten seconds to generate. And as I hold that list, I will be looking down at you from outer space."

"Where you live," she said.

Links

There’s a fascinating profile of Reinhold Messner in the November issue of National Geographic. It's called "Murdering the Impossible," and there's a lengthy excerpt here.

Believe it or not, bandages are now using nanotechnology.
The first clinical trials of a medical bandage that heals wounds faster concludes this month, bringing two University of Akron researchers closer to commercializing a product years in the making.

Professors Daniel Smith and Darrell Reneker used electricity to spin ultrafine polymer fibers while infusing them with chemicals that open a wound to oxygen.

The treated fibers reduce inflammation, kill bacteria and repair slow-healing wounds faster than conventional methods, Smith said.

The ``nanofiber bandage'' is particularly helpful for diabetics because the dressing releases nitric oxide gas, a natural chemical diabetics don't produce enough of, but one that is crucial for body repair.

The full article is here.

There's a very funny article over at the Radar Report titled "Pray for Coal: the 10 most dangerous toys of all time." I never thought I'd hear the word "Jarts" again. Here's an excerpt:
1. Lawn Darts
Removable parts? Suffocation risk? Lead paint? Pussy hazards compared to the granddaddy of them all. Lawn Darts, or "Jarts," as they were marketed, would never fly in our current ultra-paranoid, safety-helmeted, Dr. Phil toy culture. Lawn darts were massive weighted spears. You threw them. They stuck where they landed. If they happened to land in your skull, well, then you should have moved. During their brief (and generally awesome) reign in 1980s suburbia, Jarts racked up 6,700 injuries and four deaths.

The full article is here.

I've linked to this before, but the story just keeps getting better. It's a website devoted to listing all the things that a British fellow and his German girlfriend fight about. His writing style is exceptionally funny and there are some real side-splitters. It's called "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About," and you can read it here.

It Looked Great In The Closet

I leave for work about 8:30 this morning. I'm wearing the shirt that was first in line in the closet, just a standard white long-sleeve dress shirt. It's been hanging in my closet since it was picked up at the dry cleaners (I get my work shirts laundered).

So I get in the car and drive to work. Total drive time: ten minutes. I exit the car and walk into the building.

On the way up in the elevator (I work on the seventh floor), I can see my reflection in the elevator doors. There's a tear in my shirt on the left shoulder. The entire shirt is wrinkled and rumpled. I look like I've been sleeping in the street for a week.

In other words, a pretty regular day.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Eli 5.4: an RPG for Christmas

I decided that I wanted to start Eli on some role-playing for Christmas this year. The pen and paper kind, so we can spend time together and he can use his imagination.

The spur for this ideas was Power Rangers: SPD, or, as I like to call it, "total crap." He's only getting to watch thirty minutes of the show each day, but he's still obsessed with it. I thought about it for a while and decided that he's obsessed because he doesn't have anything more interesting as an alternative.

What I decided on after a fair bit of research was The Zorcerer of Zo. The guide supposedly includes recommendations on tailoring the experience for kids of different ages, which should be very helpful, and I think Eli 5.4 would be blown away by actually being "in" an adventure that unfolds as he plays. This is an Atomic Sock Monkey game, and I've heard good things about them (they did Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot), so hopefully this will work out.

PS3/Wii Auction Update

I may be violating my own embargo here, but I've been tracking this and posting updates since the launch, so here goes.

I looked at 10 consecutive auctions tonight for the PS3 60GB and the Wii. Here are the results.

PS3 (retail price $599):
--$735 (including Call of Duty 3 and Resistance)
--$699 (0 bids)
--$630
--$560 (reserve not met)
--$670
--$650
--$690
--$650 (o bids)
--$800
--$700

Except for the one crazy person who bid $800, the premium for these systems was in the $0-$100 range. The seller who included COD3 and Resistance made $6.02.

Six dollars.

A few days after launch, these systems were selling for a $500-$700 premium.

Wii auctions (retail price $249):
--$460
--$449 (including Zelda)
--$420
--$415
--$408
--$440
--$410
--$430
--$408
--$415

The lowest premium on these ten consecutive Wii auctions was $151 (the auction that included Zelda, if you subtract the price of the game).

eBay is indicating that there is very little demand for the PS3 right now, even with the extremely constrained supply.

Can Sony fix this? Not at $599. They have a marketing nightmare on their hands.

Survivor: Shreveport (2)

There's always a signature moment during a trip to Shreveport, a moment where you desperately wish your head would explode.

This time, there were two.

The first was Saturday afternoon, when an aunt began discussing, at length, the news story about the pit bull who ate off a baby's toes.

This discussion happened at lunch, with Eli 5.4 sitting two chairs down, although we quickly went for an extended walk, during which I shot up a flare that I hoped would attract the attention of the American Red Cross.

That night, though, produced a moment that will live in Shreveport infamy. We were having dinner with three members of Gloria's family. Halfway through the meal, I looked to my right at one person and he had this translucent pea of post-nasal drip hanging from his nose.

It bounded and swayed and wobbled. It was a peppy little pea.

In desperation, I turned to my left, where I saw another family member eating a piece of Texas toast (which has the dimensions of regular bread except that it's about 1" thick) with a fork. Not pieces of toast--he had speared the whole piece of bread and was holding it in front of his face. The toast covered almost his entire face except for his mouth, and there was this one moment where I thought I was looking at a lanky piece of toast that was slowly eating its own head.

Sure, you make it back home, but you're never the same.

Survivor: Shreveport

When we reached Shreveport on Thursday, we checked into a brand-spanking new hotel. We'd reserved a non-smoking room.

And, since this was Shreveport, as we walked down the hallway to our room on the fourth floor, we smelled cigarette smoke and heard a barking dog.

"Do they have livestock pens on this floor?" I asked. If a man had come bursting out of a room with a lasso, chasing a pig, I would not have been surprised.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Twisted Tale of Nuts

“There’s a boy at Lindsey’s school who says that Lindsey threatened to kick him in the nuts,” Janet said. I work with Janet. She’s a nice lady, and she’s never threatened to kick me in the nuts.

“The nuts?” I asked. “Boy, that brings back some memories. That I won’t share with you, obviously.”

“His mother called me last night,” she said.

“She called you just to tell you that your daughter threatened to kick her son in the nuts?” I asked. “That was it?”

“That was it,” she said. “She said Lindsey was a menace.”

Lindsay and “a boy”, otherwise known as “Michael”, are both seven, by the way.

"She also said that Michael comes home crying every day because Lindsey ‘covers him in dirt’. I’ve got an appointment with her teacher this afternoon, because I don’t think she knows anything about this. Oh, and get this—she suggested that I hide behind a tree next to the playground so that I can watch them and see what’s going on. She said she’s done it before.”

“I’m sure she has,” I said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she’d slept in one overnight.”

The next day, I asked Janet about the appointment. “Her teacher hasn’t seen anything,” she said. “And Michael’s mother hasn’t talked to her about it.”

“The rich fantasy life of boys,” I said. “End of story.”

Only it wasn’t. A few days later, Janet walked over to my desk.

“Remember that story I told you last week about Lindsey?”

“Remember it? I was considering paying you by the episode.”

“Well, Lindsey has a school friend named Madison, who I don’t really like, and Madison has apparently been teaching Lindsey to say some, um, things.”

“Oh, no!” I said. “Then it WAS true!”

“I’m not sure,” she said, “but there was some kind of threat and it may have involved nuts.”

“It’s not really a threat if it doesn’t,” I said.

“Lindsey told me that Michael is going around bragging that his mother is sending him to karate classes now,” Janet said.

“Really?” I asked.

“For self-defense,” I said.

“Listen, I’m not a betting man,” I said, “but put me down for fifty bucks on ‘kick in the nuts’. I’m all in on this one.”

Two weeks later.

“So Lindsey brought home the class bear this weekend,” Janet said.

“I’ve learned now to assume nothing when it comes to Lindsey,” I said. “Was this a real bear? Did she kick it in the nuts?”

“It was a little stuffed bear called Smokey,” Janet said. “Each of the kids brings it home for a weekend, and then they write a letter “from” Smokey that tells what they did while they were visting.”

“Okay,” I said.

“The letters are all in the same book, so you can see what the other kids wrote,” Janet said. “Guess who had the bear last weekend?”

Michael, of course, and here’s what his letter said:
I hated it at Michael’s house. Michael locked me in prison the whole time. I was starving. I almost died. I hate Michael.
Love,
Smokey

“Whoa,” I said. “When you can almost starve a stuffed plush toy, you are bad. I didn’t even know they could get hungry.”

“He has some issues,” Janet said.

I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, at least until last Friday. That’s when Janet walked in and said “There’s an update.”

“Thank goodness,” I said. “Because this is so much better than anything I can make up.”

“Look at the letter that Michael gave Lindsey yesterday,” Janet said. “The teacher apparently made him write it.” She handed the letter to me.

Dear Lindsey,
I am so sorry that I wrote that hate note to you. I wanted to get back at you for hitting and kicking me. However it was wrong of me to write that note to you. I am very guilty for doing that. I don’t really want to kill you. I am very sorry, would you please forgive me?

He’s a charmer. I see a spring wedding.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's Certainly Why I'm Languishing in AAA

DQ reader Steve West sent this to me. From the Detroit Free Press:
The Tigers are satisfied they won't see a recurrence of the right wrist and forearm inflammation that sidelined Joel Zumaya for three games of the American League Championship Series.

Why? Club president and general manager Dave Dombrowski told WXYT-AM (1270) on Wednesday the team had concluded Zumaya's injury resulted from playing a video game, not from his powerful throwing motion.

"That was probably what was taking place," Dombrowski later told the Free Press.

Zumaya, 22, was known to play "Guitar Hero," a PlayStation 2 game in which a player uses a guitar-shaped controller to simulate the performance of popular songs.

I can't stand mainstream journalists, because they never get the important details. What's Zumaya's band name? Did he pass Cowboys From Hell on Expert?

Oh, wait--his band name was probably called Injured Reserve.

Like I said--Guitar Hero has taken over the world. And I have no complaints about that.

Eli 5.4: Out of Context (and In)

Out of context:
1. “Let’s buy her some lotion and a couple jewelries."

2. “Good one, Dad! I’m never taking a day off from not listening to my Dad.”

3. “Boy, I’m glad you didn’t leave after you egged me.”

4. “He’s going to prison? But I know him!”

5. “I have the technology for robotic power.”

6. "Now before I tell you about this, I didn't do it. I didn't touch anything."

Context:
1. One of Eli's teachers at school (who he really likes) is quite the kidder. And since Eli is only 5.4, sometimes he doesn't realize that she's kidding. So he told Gloria that Miss Sue said she wasn't getting any Christmas presents this year, and that he needed to get her a gift. “Let’s buy her some lotion and a couple jewelries," he said.

2. Gloria has these shoes she wears with a dangerous heel. I'm talking a pedestrian-crushing, Godzilla-stomping-on-Tokyo-skyscrapers heel.

Last week, she was gathering up her gear to go to the store, and she was wearing those shoes. Eli 5.4 and I were watching televisions.

We heard her before we saw her, because another thing about those shoes is that they're INCREDIBLY loud.

"Are you going outside?" I asked.

"I'm about to go to the store," she said.

"Warning: all squirrels and rabbits need to take cover," I said. "Animal crushing shoes are now activated. Hide for your own safety."

Eli cracked up. “Good one, Dad! I’m never taking a day off from not listening to my Dad,” he said.

"My thoughts exactly," Gloria said.

3. Gloria was explaining to Eli that one of the differences between lizards and dinosaurs is that after dinosaurs laid their eggs, they stayed to raise the babies, while lizards didn't. “Boy, I’m glad you didn’t leave after you egged me,” Eli said.

4. We were driving downtown on Saturday for the Trail of Tears Christmas Light Walk, and as we passed the CSC building I mentioned to Gloria that Computer Associates ex-CEO Sanjay Kumar (who tried to buy out CSC while Gloria was working there) was going to prison.

Eli said “He’s going to prison? But I know him!”

5. This was also when we were driving downtown on Saturday night. Sometimes Eli just gets bored and starts saying things at random.

Draw your parallels with this feature [HERE].

So we're all quiet for a few seconds as we're waiting at a stop light, then Eli says “I have the technology for robotic power.”

6. Somehow the upstairs bathroom door got locked. Again. Suspiciously, this only seems to happen when Eli 5.4 has just used the bathroom. He came walking down the stairs and said, "Now before I tell you about this, I didn't DO it. I didn't touch ANYTHING."

Stinging Journalism

This has to be one of the best (unintentionally funny) news articles I've ever seen. From WFTV in Florida:
3 Million Bees Removed From Kitchen Of Couple's Apartment
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- A south Florida couple was happy to not be sharing their home with millions of bees. Jesus Molina said he and his girlfriend were ready to buzz off after a swarm of bees invaded the kitchen wall of their Miami Beach apartment.

"So we're trying to, like, get rid of most of them, but without professional help we can't. So now we almost … They're biting me!'" Molina screamed, running from the home during an interview with reporters.

Beekeepers removed more than 3 million bees from the apartment. They also extracted nearly 60 pounds of honey.

And thus "They're biting me!" passes into news legend.

Links

Quite an assortment here.

From the Times Online, an article about the construction of the Great Pyramids. Here's an excerpt:
The Ancient Egyptians built their great Pyramids by pouring concrete into blocks high on the site rather than hauling up giant stones, according to a new Franco-American study.

...The pair used X-rays, a plasma torch and electron microscopes to compare small fragments from pyramids with stone from the Toura and Maadi quarries.

They found “traces of a rapid chemical reaction which did not allow natural crystalisation . . . The reaction would be inexplicable if the stones were quarried, but perfectly comprehensible if one accepts that they were cast like concrete.”

Remarkable, and you can read about it here.

From Edwin Garcia, a link to a series of images of flame fractals. They're breathtaking and truly beautiful, and you can see them here.

Here's a link from Jesse Leimkuehler to an image of a spectacular solar flare.

From Matt Sbonik, a link to one of the greatest MSNBC headlines ever:
Nobody move or the one on the right gets it, too
Would-be kidnapper shoots own left testicle,
police say, then nails left calf

That's a classic.

From Sirius, a link to a study suggesting that Neanderthals were cannibals. Here's an excerpt:
"There is strong evidence suggesting that these Neanderthals were eaten," said the study's lead author, Antonio Rosas of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid. "That is, long bones and the skull were broken for extraction of the marrow, [which] is very nutritious."

According to Rosas, there is evidence of cannibalism in Neanderthal remains from other European sites.
"
I would say this practice… was general among Neanderthal populations," he said.

Here's a link to a very interesting article on the science of arson (thanks Slashdot). It's apparently changed significantly in the last fifteen years, and you can read about it here.

DQ reader Steven Davis sent me an e-mail last week and I saw a link at the bottom to his blog. I took a look and it's very interesting, plus it covers some topics that are slightly off the beaten track for most blogs. From the blog description:
"On anti-cheating, piracy, gold farming, RMT, and other security, industry, Asian online games, and IT Security news."

Like I said, it's very interesting and you can read it here.

A Note on Guitar Hero II

According to this article over at Voodoo Extreme, which listed the top-selling console games of November, Guitar Hero II now apparently rules the world.

1) Final Fantasy XII - Playstation 2 - Square Enix Inc.
2) Gears of War - Xbox 360 - Microsoft
3) Guitar Hero 2 With Guitar - Playstation 2 - Activision

Third? Are you freaking kidding me? Oh, and it's not really third:
12) Guitar Hero 2 - Playstation 2 - Activision
19) Guitar Hero Bundle - Playstation 2 - Activision

If you add the sales of all three versions together, Guitar Hero sold more than HALF-A-MILLION copies.

The first time I played Guitar Hero, in the first thirty seconds, I knew that I had a feeling I'd never had in game before: joy. There's just no other word I can use to describe how it feels to play. It is that concepually pure and that totally immersive.

I don't think I've ever felt that a game deserved to go large and stun us all than this game. And damn, it did.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Home for the Hellidays (2006)

Tomorrow morning, we leave for Shreveport to visit Gloria's family. I'll post before I leave, and on Friday I'll be live on tape, because I've written plenty of stuff to keep you busy if not entertained, and my friend Glen Haag will post it all if I don't have Internet access.

I'm sticking close to the phone, in case the Governor calls, but I'm not expecting a commutation.

I won't have e-mail access from Thursday morning to late Sunday, so if you e-mail during that period, expect a delay before you hear back from me.

Oh, and Freya on Expert is a blight on mankind. I swear I played for what seemed like ten minutes, and when I failed the song I'd only hit the 65% mark.

Guitar Hero II

I hadn't played Guitar Hero II in several days (since my system started puking), so I sat down tonight to try and pass a few more songs in Expert mode.

I'm not exactly sure what happened. All I know is that I was playing better than I ever have and was passing songs on Expert without even using star power on most of them. I passed ten songs in one sitting, only failing two even once, and got all the way to Freya.

That's a nasty song on expert.

So I'm up to 22 out of 40 songs on Expert, and maybe there's hope for me yet. A bit of hope, anyway.

Update: What I Learned

You guys sent me a ton of good information when my system was puking.

So, let me pass some of that information along. I received more suggestions than I can even compile, but I appreciate everything that was sent to me.

Here's what I learned.
1. Check the simple things first.
I already knew this, but man, it got pounded into my head again. Check connections. Try different cables. Very simple to do, but it's crucial to rule out the easy causes first. I didn't do that, so don't be stupid like me.

2. If you're having drive problems, SpinRite kicks ass.
SpinRite is a data recovery and drive maintenance utility. It's amazing. Norton didn't find an unrecoverable sector on my hard drive, but SpinRite did (using a level 4 diagnostic, which took almost four hours to run). And once it did, and successfully flagged that sector, my problems ended.
3. True Image also kicks ass.
It's backup software that's very flexible and very easy to use. My problem with most utility programs is that they tend to be cryptic, but True Image is very simple to use.

4. The repair install option for Windows XP does not appear from the Windows Recovery Console.
I didn't have to attempt a repair install from the XP CD, but if you need to, Fredrik Skarstedt sent me a link to an excellent, detailed article about what to do. It's incredibly thorough, going screen-by-screen, and you can find it here.

So now I have a full drive backup as well as an extra .pst backup for Outlook. And the system's running great at this point--15-20 hours later. I just need to make it to mid-January, when I'll build the new system.

The Gaming Industry Gets a Clue

Whoa. From Next Generation:
Two figures known for butting heads with the game industry—US Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman—have partnered with the Entertainment Software Rating Board on a new series of TV PSAs.

...In a statement, Sen. Clinton said, “We all share in the responsibility of making sure our children play age-appropriate video games, and I’m pleased that the ESRB and retailers are working together to educate parents about the video game ratings and make sure they are enforced.”

Sen. Lieberman added, “I have long said that the ESRB ratings are the most comprehensive in the media industry. There are many age-appropriate games that are clever and entertaining. Parents should understand and use the ratings to help them decide which video games to buy for their families."

What?

It seems like only six months ago, Clinton and Lieberman were waving burning torches on their way to Frankenstein's castle.

Isn't it funny how one election can change all that?

Suddenly, the hot political demographic isn't extremist. It's much closer to the middle, and bonfire rhetoric doesn't appeal to the middle. Which means that association with Jack Thompson and his ilk (man, I wish he had an elk, because I'd love to type "and his elk") is now a political liability when you're trying to appeal to a national audience. Lieberman has supported the ESRB in the past, but the level of cooperation and the lack of sabre-rattling in the press release differs markedly from his attitude of the last few years.

Even though this was a largely symbolic announcement, the symbolism is important. I criticize the ESRB and the ESA on a regular basis, but this was a very clever (though long overdue) move. In a strategic sense, the best thing you can do to political opposition is start separating them. The more separate groups you can help create, the more they're likely to start fighting with each other instead of you. Clinton and Lieberman have been separated, to some degree, from the rest of the mob, and that's going to get people like Jack Thompson to scream.

Look, no one wants kids to buy games that are inappropriate for their age. And while there is strong disagreement over the meaning of "inappropriate", there's plenty of common ground that we all agree on. What the ESRB/ESA has finally done is focus on that common ground. Partnering on common ground makes it far more likely that the uncommon ground can be negotiated as well. And while they should have done this years ago, at least it appears that they're finally doing it now.

Here's something else (from Gamespot, November 15):
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) today announced the next step in its initiative to educate parents about the ratings system. The organization that rates most of the console and PC games brought to market in the US said it was partnering with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to launch a nationwide game ratings education campaign.

The partnership will see 1.3 million brochures in English and Spanish distributed to 26,000 PTA groups nationwide. "Just as with all media, we urge parents to be as involved and informed as they can," Anna Weselak, PTA national president, said in a statement. The brochures are due to arrive at PTA locations in the next few days.

Again, well done. Common ground. Doing good deeds. Insead of sounding whiny and shrill, like it has in the past when faced with criticism, the gaming industry is suddenly taking a logical, common sense approach to its problems.

This is a huge opportunity for the gaming industry. Reasonable, effective partnerships with politicians and responsible parenting organizations will build relationships. The shrieking anti-game crusaders aren't building relationships--they're just screaming "GAMES ARE THE DEVIL!" And that, over time, will contribute to their isolation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Three-Hour Man

I'm a three-hour man.

When I was a kid, the most exciting thing in the world for me was pro football. You could not drag me away from the TV on Sunday. I lived and breathed football.

I've wondered for years why I've never enjoyed the holidays that much. I really enjoy the enthusiasm of Eli 5.4, but almost everything also about the holiday is a real grind. It's not a holiday--it's work.

And it lasts too long.

Yesterday, we went to Eli's school Christmas show. There are about a hundred kids at his school, broken up into six different classes. Add four hundred adults (parents/relatives) and stir. In a word: anarchy.

At any one moment, there were kids making a break for it, two hundred adults with video cameras jamming the aisles, kids screaming and crying. All we needed were tanks and it would have been indistinguishable from a revolution.

Every class got up and sang songs and did little skits and got presents from Santa AND IT WOULDN'T END. Eli's class didn't even get up to the stage until ninety freaking minutes after we got there.

In the meantime, though, we were entertained by the family in front of us, who seemed to be constantly arguing (and not quietly). At one point, the mother's veins were sticking out on her neck because she was so mad, and I suddenly thought: wouldn't it be cool if smoke started pouring out of her head, then her head kind of came loose from her neck, and if you looked closely you could see wires inside?

But of course that didn't happen, because nothing cool like that EVER happens to me.

Eli was the opening announcer for the entire show, by the way, and kicked complete ass. We were in an offsite auditorium, and I wasn't kidding when I said there were four hundred people in the audience. So Eli 5.4 walks up to the microphone in front of this angry mob and speaks very calmly and clearly. There must have been fifty kids talk into the microphone at some point, but he was the only one who spoke at the proper volume and pace and was easy to understand. I thought he might be intimidated, but nothing phases that little guy.

Clearly, he doesn't get that quality from his father.

After the Christmas show finally ended--in late February, as far as I could tell--we went to eat dinner. I was miserable--not because there was anything intrinsically WRONG with anything we'd been doing, but because it had all lasted so long. We'd left the house four hours ago and were just finally sitting down to eat.

So I started kind of idly thinking about other times when I'd had this feeling, and after a few minutes I had, after forty-five years of life, finally figured it out: I'm a three-hour man.

Remember pro football when I was a kid? The games lasted--three hours. Or less. Now, if anything lasts longer than three hours--including driving time--I can't stand it. It's like there's a timer in my head, and when that three hour timer reaches zero, I get grouchy as hell.

Gloria might say the difference from my normal "mood" is hard to discern.

That's the number, though, and it makes sense of all kinds of things. Gloria loves festivals and I don't like them at all--because they last so long. Driving an hour to go on some kind of nature hike? Too long. Two-and-a-half hour movie, plus dinner? Too long.

We went to something they call "The Trail of Lights" on Saturday night. It's a gigantic Christmas light display in Zilker Park where people can walk through what seems like a hundred displays of Christmas lights with different themes. We were the last ones in before they shut the gate for the night, and we were literally running to stay ahead of the guy who was turning out the lights behind us.

Okay, we had crashed a special preview of the Trail of Lights that was intended for runners participating in some kind of race, and it wasn't even officially open yet, but we didn't know that. And it was kind of funny having to speed walk through the damn thing. "Keep moving!" I'd shout when I saw the little guy driving the maintenance cart.

Including the driving time, dinner, the mile walk TO the Trail of Lights, the mile walk THROUGH the Trail of Lights, the walk to the Zilker Park Christmas tree, the mile walk BACK to the car, and the drive home, we were out for four hours.

Last hour sucked. For everyone.

"That was the worst trip ever," Eli 5.4 said when we finally got back to the car after the long, long walk.

"Oh, no way," I said. "We've had much worse trips than that."

"Like what?" he asked.

"Well, I went to New Orleans with your Mom once and her friends thought it would be fun if we all stayed in a converted orphanage. And they wound up running out of rooms and sent us to this crumbling house that they said Germans liked to stay in because it reminded them of a Wim Wenders film."

"WHAT?" I really like it when he's amazed, even if he has no idea what I'm talking about.

"The house looked like it had rats, so we wound up staying at this hotel with dark blue rooms that had roaches instead. So that, buddy, was a worse trip than this. Actually, any trip we've ever taken to New Orleans was much worse than this."

"Tell me ANOTHER one, Daddy!" At this point I heard something sort of like growling, and since we didn't have a dog in the car, I figured I better stop.

So now that I've finally figured this out, I get to officially drive Gloria crazy. Here is a template of the conversation we'll have a hundred times in the next few years:
"So, honey, I thought we might go to see [INSERT EVENT HERE]."

"How long will that last, including driving time? Is it past the three hour limit of non-suckitude?"
"Now you know it's for [INSERT GOOD CAUSE, FAMILY MEMBER, FRIEND, OR REQUIREMENT OF PROBATION HERE]."

"I do, and if it lasts less than three hours--including driving time--I'm ready to go."

"[INSERT ARRGGHHH! HERE]."

I'd never survive in Europe.

The Style Hole

Gloria put on a new pair of jeans today that she bought last weekend.

"What's with the gaping hole in the leg there?" I asked. They looked like somebody had put them through a shredder.

"That's a style hole," Gloria said.

"Well, I can say the same thing about my head."

Eli 5.4 Notes

Two notes on Monday lunch with Eli 5.4. First, we went back to Pottery Barn Kids last Monday and it’s not a trebuchet—it’s a catapult.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re probably better off.

Second, we went to Dave & Buster’s two weeks ago and spent a little time playing the the giant wheel that spins around (think Wheel of Fortune) and pays a 500 ticket jackpot if you stop the wheel at just the right time. While we were there, we saw a guy get the 500 ticket jackpot THREE TIMES in five minutes. We were both in the gift shop at the same time, so we mentioned our awe, and he said “there’s a secret.” Then he told us that there’s a light “click” when the wheel is in place for the jackpot. So if you stop the wheel right when you hear that click, it’s much more reliable than watching the wheel spin. Allegedly.

Moving Toward "Less Screwed"

That four-hour SpinRite diagnostic test didn't just find an unrecoverable sector, it must have successfully marked it off, because Diskeeper just successfully degragged with no problem whatsoever. That hopefully means I'll be able to get a full drive image tomorrow, because True Image and Diskeeper had been failing with the same error message.

Woo hoo, in other words.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I'm Screwed Update

A SpinRite level 4 diagnostic found one unrecoverable sector on the hard drive. So my theory, pending correction from all of you who are far brighter about this than I am, is that Windows runs fine until it needs something from that sector. Which would mean my Windows install is corrupt, but fortunately Outlook, etc., all run fine, and I can even do a .pst export with no problem.

I also replaced the power supply today, and the voltages stopped fluctuating. This new power supply (Seasonic S12 650w) is rock-solid and it is freaking silent. It's amazingly quiet.

That will be the power supply I'll use when I build the new system. This gives me a chance to put it through a one-month shakedown cruise.

So the plan right now is to try to reinstall Windows over the top of the existing installation. I can't really face up to doing that now, since we're leaving for Shrevepit on Thursday, but I could do it when we get back.

That may change in consultation with PC Jedi Master John Harwood and you guys, but that's what it looks like for now.

Oh No: The Power Rangers

We've been able to avoid the Power Rangers until now.

If you don't have an Eli 5.4 or closely-related series, you might not know about the Power Rangers. They've become a rite of passage for almost every young boy. There have been THIRTEEN different versions of the show, with a new series starting up every fifteen minutes. And they've been around for a long time, too--the first series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, debuted in the U.S. in 1993. So unlike most other crazes involving kid shows, this one has been around for (relatively) forever.

All of Eli's friends watch the Power Rangers. And we've let him get some of the merchandise, including a red Power Ranger Halloween costume, but he's never watched the show.

Yes, the violence concerns me, except that it's clearly pretend. 90% of the time in the endless fight scenes, people don't even touch each other. So even as live action, it looks about as fake as anything could possibly be.

Here's a very brief description of the show. There are five Power Rangers, and they morph into the Power Ranger suits and whatnot by shouting a slogan and using some kind of power dealio. They can also combine into something called a Megazord, which is a giant mech robot (or looks like one, anyway). And they can individually transform into other things as well. In Power Rangers "SPD", which was the version I was watching, there are people dressed in bird costumes and guys with jars on their heads and all kinds of goofy things. It's a menagerie--of crap.

And THAT'S what concerns me. Eli is totally hip in his choice of shows right now, and going from Kim Possible to the Power Rangers is such a step down in class that it's like jumping off a building. Which I might do if he starts watching them every day.

Gloria relented last week and let him tape one episode of Power Rangers SPD, which he's watched relentlessly since then. He knows the fight scenes are incredibly goofy, but he enjoys the show anyway. During one of the lengthy fight scenes, which mostly consisted of people running around and yelling "YAH!" he said "There's a LOT of YAH in this show."

I was watching the episode with him (for about the third time), and one of the Power Rangers said "I think this thing needs a tune-up" when he turned into a robot. Eli 5.4 said "What's a tune-up?"

"That's where you take an engine to a mechanic to make it work better," I said. "Engines need to get tuned up every once in a while.:

"Eli, you know," Gloria said. "It's like when we go to Jiffy Lube."

Eli started watching the show again.

"I guess you could take the Megazord to Jiffy Lube," I said.

"I can just hear it now," Gloria said. "Excuse me, ma'am, but are you the owner of the Megazord? Could you come over here for just a second? Now THIS is the air filter we took out of the Megazord, and THIS is a clean air filter. I just wanted you to see the difference."

Totally Understandable

From MSNBC:
NEW DELHI - Condoms designed to meet international size specifications are too big for many Indian men as their penises fall short of what manufacturers had anticipated, an Indian study has found.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, a leading state-run center, said its initial findings from a two-year study showed 60 percent of men in the financial capital Mumbai had penises about 1 inch shorter than those condoms catered for.

For a further 30 percent, the difference was at least 2 inches.


Listen, I totally know how that happened. "Manufacturers" just took a survey of men in India and asked them how large their penises were.

Stumbling Around

I went into the bios and checked the power supply voltages. I have only a bare understanding of how this works, but here are two readings I saw:
VIN1, which fluctuated between 11.79-11.85 volts
VIN2, which fluctuated between -11.21- 12.77 volts

I don't think that VIN2 reading is supposed to be negative (who knows), but I do know that cycling from 11.21v to 12.77v is very bad. I'm wondering if I might actually have a power supply issue here, which would also explain the occasional rebooting. So in half an hour or so I may be off to Fry's to buy a new power supply.

In the interim, if what I said makes no sense (and specifically, no sense this time), please let me know. Thanks.

The Last Car Seat Note--I Swear

Several of you wrote in to mention that the local Fire Department in many cities will inspect and even help you install your car seat. And Brian Witte sent in a link to help you find an NHTSA certified inspection location. It's here: http://www.seatcheck.org/.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One More Riddle Clue (Maybe)

I checked the Event Viewer in Administrative Tools and I'm getting this every hour:
DCOM got error "The service cannot be started, either because it is disabled or because it has no enabled devices associated with it. " attempting to start the service MDM with arguments "" in order to run the server:
{0C0A3666-30C9-11D0-8F20-00805F2CD064}


That seems to be the only error-related event that's gettin logged.

Wait, that's not correct. I'm also getting quite a few errors for "LoadPerf." Here are the two I'm getting consistently:
The performance strings in the Performance registry value is corrupted when process Performance extension counter provider. BaseIndex value from Performance registry is the first DWORD in Data section, LastCounter value is the second DWORD in Data section, and LastHelp value is the third DWORD in Data section.
Unloading the performance counter strings for service WmiApRpl (WmiApRpl) failed. The Error code is the first DWORD in Data section.

Those are both listed as happening at the same second (every hour), with the first message listed, then the second, as separate events.

The Riddle, or This Just In: I'm Screwed

Here was my Saturday:
7 a.m. system freezing up…%*$&…can’t boot into Windows now…*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%&*&^%.

Oh, hell.

I'd suspected that my system was rebooting at night after Bit Defender did its scan (or something), but it didn't seem like a high-priority issue. Clearly, though, something was going wrong.

What I normally do when something like this happens is make a list first. Make a list of everything that might be causing the problem, and think about the most efficient approach to the problem. With us leaving for Shreveport on Thursday, though, and every day jammed full until then, I was trying to skip steps.

That’s foreshadowing.

Here's the short version. XP tried to run chkdsk and puked at 44%. Oops. So I tried to run chkdsk from a command line after booting from a floppy, but you can't do that with an NTFS volume. The recovery CD from Norton was able to examine the hard drive and fix a slew of errors. After, that I booted right into Windows. And that only took four hours.

Not so fast.

We were leaving for our annual walk through the Trail of Lights—uh, Trail of Tears (I’ll tell you about that later)—and we’d be gone for several hours. I decided to shut down the system instead of leaving it on, which was a tough call. So when we came back and I turned it on, it puked. More error messages. Couldn’t get into Windows.

Oh, and even better, now the drive wasn’t even recognized by the bios when the system booted up. That meant Norton wouldn’t see it, either.

At this point, I figured I was dead. And even though the FIRST thing I should have done was replace the cables and check the power connection, it’s almost never the cause of anything, more of a check-off than anything. I decided to try it, though.

Now I’m not sure if the power cable was slightly loose or not. It seemed slightly loose, but that could have been my imagination. I took it out and made sure it gave a little click when I pushed it back in.

The bios recognized the drive when I booted back up. Good sign. Norton repaired a few errors. Another good sign. I could boot into Windows. Also good.

Now I just wanted to back up the damn drive. But the hard drive has developed a fatal attraction--as long as I don't try anything backup-related, everything runs just fine. But if I try to defrag the hard drive or run a full backup, it pukes. I get an error box and this message:
Disk Error
Disk failed!!!
Disk location (controller 0, channel 0, Master)

I get that same error message in both the XP defrag tool and if I'm trying to do a full drive backup in True Image. Then it goes to a nasty BSOD with a long, long message that goes by way too fast to read--something about critical processes being shut down.

Oh, and Diskeeper gives me that same message when it tries to analzye the hard drive--it gets about halfway and pukes, too.

So, bizarrely, I'm up and running just fine, but I can't do a backup, and I'm reasonably sure this drive is close to a horrible death. I was able to do an Outlook export to a .pst file, so that kind of backup isn't a problem, at least.

If I had built the new system as I’d planned, I would have missed out on all this joy, but that’s probably postponed until January because I just didn’t think I’d have time. So I’ve probably spent more time in the last two days troubleshooting this than it would have taken to build a new system.

So at this point, I'm in limbo. I could try the repair console on the XP install disc, but that might irrevocably corrupt something in the process of an attempted repair. I could just try reinstalling Windows over the existing install. But if I can't find a utility to mark off those bad sectors so that XP doesn't try to use them, I could be right back where I started.

I could also clone the drive to a new drive IF I could get an image run.

For now, I'm just doing more research. And I ran two different virus scans to confirm that I don't have anything nasty on the system that could be causing this.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Chipotle Grill

I was checking the Chipotle Grill website to see if they had nutritional information. They do, and I was able to figure out a way to have a chicken burrito that wouldn't make me sick later as long as I only ate a third of it. Ah, joy.

That's not what this post is about, though.

What this post is about is their website. It's one of the worst websites I've ever seen--or, at least, the front page is one of the worst I've ever seen. Here, take a look for yourself: Chipotle Grill. It's so bad I started laughing as soon as I saw it.

What were they thinking?

November NPD numbers

Here's information from GameDaily on the November NPD numbers:
The NPD Group has just released its video game sales data for the month of November...
Looking at how the new Sony and Nintendo consoles fared, the Wii sold through 476K units in the U.S. while the PS3 sold 197K units. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Xbox 360 (which is in far greater supply) sold 511K units and is now at 3.8 million total in the U.S. Interestingly, the PS2 managed to outsell the Xbox 360 yet again. In fact, so did the old Game Boy. The PS2 and Game Boy sold a respective 664K and 641K units. But the real winner continues to be the Nintendo DS, which sold a whopping 918K units and has reached an install base of 8.1 million in the U.S. alone.

There's a long discussion to be had about the accuracy and usefulness of the NPD numbers, but it would be boring, so let's not have it today. Or ever.

In conjunction with the PS3/Wii hardware-related post embargo, no comment on those numbers. However, I think the 360 numbers merit mention. That seems like relatively weak sales (511k) for a console that was in ready supply and had a far stronger software lineup than either of the two new consoles.

Remember, excluding launch and supply constraints, it's a decent rule of thumb to say that a console sells as many units in November-December as it will in the other ten months combined. That can't even be close to the number Microsoft wanted for one of the best two months of the year.
[Update: someone e-mailed me and said that the NPD numbers may have a November 25 cut-off date. If so, that would mean that full-month numbers are higher, although Black Friday and its weekend would still be included.]

Does that mean a price cut for the 360 soon? Not now, certainly, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see a $50 price cut in the March-April timeframe. That would make the 360 Core the same price as the Wii, and would further distance it from the PS3.

Full article here.

The Stink, Verified

Remember when I said the latest study by Dr. Vincent Mathews about video game violence and it's affect on teenagers had a whiff of stink? If you don't, it's here.

My concern was "The Center for Successful Parenting," the "Don't Let Your Kids be Gamewashed" people. Here, take a look at the front page of their website.


Exactly. They're extremists--not because of what they believe, but because of the sensationalistic nature of their advocacy. They represent the polar opposite of objective scientific research.

So who is front and center on the "studies" link of their website? Why, it's Dr. Vincent Mathews and his previous study (also discussed here a few weeks ago)--which was funded by The Center for Successful Parenting.

Oh, and guess what? So was this latest study. From an MSNBC article that appeared this morning:
Larry Ley, the director and coordinator of research for the Center for Successful Parenting, which funded Mathews’ study, says the purpose of the research was to help parents make informed decisions.

So the two studies about brain activity and "violent" video games that have received, by far, the most media coverage, have both been funded by a group with basically a 100% bias. Mathews is their poster boy, scientifically, and they're funding his research.

Does this mean that Mathews' research is biased? No, not implicitly. Does it mean it could be biased, and that the source of his funding makes it legitimate to ask that question? Yes. It's certainly reasonable to subject the methodology and results of this study to extreme scrutiny because of the funding source--and I'd do the same if the Entertainment Software Association was funding studies on the same subject.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Books

I've been fortunate to read some very, very good books lately. If you're looking for a good read or just some ideas for Christmas gifts, read on.

--Space Race, by Deborah Cadbury
This is a sensational piece of writing and a detailed, remarkable look at the race between the United States and the Soviet Union, all the way from the early days of the Cold War to the moon landing. What distinguishes this book is the level of detail on the Soviet space program, particularly lead designer Sergei Korolev, and Cadbury's writing style is extraordinarily skilled. It's a riveting story, told by a riveting writer, and, as you would expect, it makes for a fantastic read.

--Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero, by William Kalush and Larry Sloman
This book has quite a bit of buzz because the authors claim that Houdini worked as a spy during his career. That's interesting, and they make a persuasive case, but what makes this book such an engrossing read is the amount of detail (both professional and personal) they accumulated on Houdini's life. The level of detail is far beyond anything ever written about him before, and it's all written so well that the book is almost impossible to put down. If you have a Houdini fascination (don't we all?), you'll want to read this.

--Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt
It's a long read (almost a thousand pages), but it's a big story. There are enough details and consequences on each page to make you think about the implications for days, and when I say every page, I'm not kidding. And while it's huge, and it's dense, it's not dry. It's a masterful piece of writing, and if you know any history buffs, this would make an excellent gift.

--My Life as a Quant, by Emanuel Derman
Derman was born in South Africa, earned a PhD in theoretical physics from Columbia University, and wound up doing quantitative finance on Wall Street. How it all happened makes for a fascinating story, and Derman is a very entertaining writer who comes off as surprisingly human. He also wrote one of the funniest things I've ever read (I'm probably paraphrasing here): "It was then that I realized not all Nobel Prizes are created equal." Talk about rarified air.

--The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (Rolling Stone)
I know--the "greatest of all time" thing is a cliche. So are coffee table books. So is Rolling Stone. And this is all three--but it's still fun. They have every album cover and a description of why the music was good and why it mattered. Lots of interesting details, nicely presented, and you're going to find albums you meant to listen to but never did. It's very fun to just flip through the pages, or if you're crazy like I am, you methodically go through and make a list of all the albums you want to hear. Not that I did that or anything.

"Japan Gets Its RPG..." (360)

There's a very interesting feature over at Kotaku on the Blue Dragon launch in Japan. One of the unique things Kotaka does is have quite a few "man in the street" stories from Japan, and they're almost always well-written and very entertaining. You can read it here.

Culture Clash

Matthew Sakey's excellent Culture Clash series has a new monthly installment and you can read it here.

Unsafe Toys

I saw this list by the Consumer Products Safety Commission of the "Top Ten Unsafe Toys for Christmas" and I thought I'd pass it along.

10. Timber! Logging for Kids
9. Jr. Laboratory: Fun with Fire
8. Noose and Ladders
7. You Can Really Fly Superman Set
6. Famous Circus Hand Axe Throwing Kit
5. My First Dysentary
4. Build-It-Yourself History #7: The Guillotine
3. Championship Eye Darts
2. Be Like Daddy: the Circular Saw (book)
1. Jump Higher, Shoot Farther: The Archery Tramp

A Well-Balanced Post

So to speak.

First off, several people mentioned that I should list some statistics about colorectal cancer. Here's some information from the American Cancer Society:
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and in women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 106,680 new cases of colon cancer (49,220 men and 57,460 women) and 41,930 new cases of rectal cancer (23,580 men and 18,350 women) will be diagnosed in 2006.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and is expected to cause about 55,170 deaths (27,870 men and 27,300 women) during 2006.

Almost all of those deaths would be prevented with regular screening, because cancer in the colon begins as benign polyps that are easily removed as part of a colonoscopy. It's only if left untreated that they can eventually become malignant, and it happens so slowly that for most people over the age of 50, a colonoscopy every five years (for some, even ten) is enough.

Here's one more note. There's also a procedure called a sigmoidoscopy, which is less expensive than a colonoscopy but only examines the last few feet of the colon. That means there's a "whole lotta colon" that the procedure just can't see.

All right, as a balancing factor to all that seriousness, here's a link from Curtis Schnitzler called Facts on Farts. It's windily exhaustive.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball

Gary Gorski (Wolverine Studios), developer of Total Pro Golf, is working on a pro basketball simulation titled Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball. I'm in the beta test, and Gary is adding some interesting features to liven up the sports text-sim, including a huge improvement in how the draft is presented. He's put together a video on the draft presentation and you can see it here.

Basically, he's taken the actual ESPN broadcast approach of the real draft, complete with multiple announcers, and modeled that in the game. It's very, very impressive in a genre that rarely focuses on presentation.

A Curious Discovery

So I'm eating my lunch and I see this:


What is it?

If you answered "a sauropod," you are correct. What one was doing in my chicken stir fry bowl, I do not know.

Another Note About Those Damn Car Seats

It should give you some idea of just how annoying they are by the amount of e-mail I'm getting, which is substantial.

Everyone is reminding me that sitting or kneeling on the car seat as you install it is absolutely necessary to getting it tight. That's true, and it's one of the most counter-intuitive things ever. It would have never even crossed my mind when I first tried to install a car seat that I'd have to put all my weight on it like that. It's also why Gloria could never install the seat snugly, because she only weighs 105 pounds.

Glen Haag also reminded me that you can purchase a car seat with a permant base and detachable carriage. So you buy two bases, but not two full seats.

Grey Dog Picks up Fast Break

Grey Dog announced late last week that Brian Nichols was joining their company as lead basketball developer. That's a nice pickup for Grey Dog, because Brian's Fast Break College Basketball was a solid game, and it's great that he's finally getting some recognition. It will be interesting to see what he's able to do with more support.

Forty Percent and Buggy Whips

I saw this article linked over at Slashdot:
New World Record Achieved in Solar Cell Technology
New Solar Cell Breaks the “40 Percent Efficient” Sunlight-to-Electricity Barrier
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner today announced that with DOE funding, a concentrator solar cell produced by Boeing-Spectrolab has recently achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent, establishing a new milestone in sunlight-to-electricity performance. This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8-10 cents per kilowatt/hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of our nation’s energy mix.


I don't know what the previous "record" for efficiency was, but that seems vastly more efficient than any version of solar technology even a few years ago.

That's not exactly why I'm posting about it, though.

One of the things I occasionally like to do with Slashdot posts is read through some of the comments, because they're outstanding examples of nerd-snark. Under this particular post, though, I saw one of the most interesting comments I've ever seen.

The discussion was wandering all over the place, like they always do, and someone posted about how converting to solar power would cost "hundreds of thousands of jobs in the power industry" and would actually hurt the economy.

Then someone (like I said, nerd-snark) posted this:
Yeah.
And what about all the buggy whip makers!
Who is thinking of THEM!

Then maggard (5579) posted this:
Actually, my Grandfather was a buggy whip salesmen.

After returning from The Great War, WWI, he was disabled (indeed he'd been declared dead & in the morgue at one point - mustard gas.) The job he could get was selling buggy whips, and his territory was the US Midwest & Canada. He was away from home for long stretches of time, and as you can imagine had some pretty amazing tales to tell of traveling to remote ccommunities back when travel was HARD.

However he saw the car taking over and once he'd saved up enough money he did the smart thing: Opened a service station.

Later it went bust in the Great Depression. He then started again, in putting in power lines, then power plants, and eventually became VP of a a large construction firm and responsible for many of the major structures still standing in Kansas City including the Liberty Memorial [libertymem...museum.org], Nelson Gallery [nelson-atkins.org], and the Starlight Theatre [kcstarlight.com].

The point is, he really was in the buggy whip business and when the new technologies came in he adapted and took advantage of them. Then when the bust came he reinvented himself again and took his skills and when into an entirely new career. Not a new high-tech story, rather from a fella raised in a sod hut in the Oklahoma Territory where buffalo were a constant threat.

What a great story.

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