is going to get very ugly very fast:ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Athletes were involved as customers in an illicit steroid distribution network that led authorities to raid two Orlando pharmacies and arrest four company officials, a New York prosecutor said....The Times Union said investigators found evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed over the Internet to current and former Major League Baseball and NFL players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another top contender in the bodybuilding competition.
Here's how this apparently worked. Athletes would go on a website and pick out what they wanted--steriods, human growth hormone, etc. Based on the order, a doctor would then be contacted to write a prescription for the athlete.
That's all very, very illegal.
And it gets worse. A game-day physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers purchased over $150,000 in testosterone and human growth hormone last year.
The physican said that the purchases were for his "elderly patients." Um, sure.
Hopefully this will finally get professional sports leagues to start seriously testing for human growth hormone. Performance-enhancing drugs at this point seem to be absolutely endemic to team sports, and it's hard to cheer for anyone when everyone could be cheating.
Crackdown (Further Impressions)
I'm not sure how long I've played Crackdown--probably closing in on fifteen hours at this point--but I've gone through three distinct phases of interest with the game.
In the first phase, I thought it was an absolute blast. That lasted for about five hours.
In the second phase, I thought it was a one-trick pony. A fun trick, but only one. That lasted for about five more hours.
Phase two normally signals a death spiral in terms of my interest in the game. It's almost guaranteed. This time, though, in phase three I reverted back to my original opinion: the game is an absolute blast.
Last night, I couldn't sleep because I'm still having sinus problems etc. Of course, these are the glory days for not being able to sleep--I have about twenty fun things I can do in the middle of the night, and playing Crackdown was what I chose.
And what I did for an hour and a half was go to a supply point, load up on weapons, jump to the top of the building, and shoot the Firefly Rocket Launcher at Shai-Gen gang members. It was mesmerizing. Guys would get launched fifty feet in the air and rag doll like pinwheels after getting hit by a rocket. Death squads would come after me and I'd blow up their cars. The explosions are absolutely spectacular, and seeing guys flying through the air--on fire--is not to be missed.
And those little blue orbs. There are a ton of excellent design decisions in Crackdown, but here's one of the best ones: after you kill an enemey, these little blue orbs fly at you from his body, representing your skill increases that you're receiving. And blowing up five or six guys at one time with a missile means this stream of orbs comes at you from their location. It's hypnotic.
I've gone up to the top of the Agency Tower and jumped off. I've found about 380 of 500 agility orbs. I've found about 50 secret orbs. I've done ridiculous stunt jumps with cars. I've kicked bad guys 50 feet in the air. I've gone on agility time trials on city rooftops. I've taken out gang bosses.
And that list is probably short by half. I've done so many things that I can't even keep track of them all.
I've done missions, too, and what negative criticism of the game I've seen has revolved around the similarity of the missions. That's fair, but the game has an incredible variety of things to do and see, and so many ways to accomplish anything, that I think it represents the best game of this genre that I've ever played.
The one real design mistake in this game is that it doesn't show its depth. There many surprisingly deep design elements, but the game doesn't put them on display in any particular fashion--you have to discover them. I think that makes some people question the game's depth, because they haven't discovered any of those elements for themselves.
Crackdown has an absolute ton of play value and longevity, and I think people are going to be shocked by the number of copies it eventually sells, because word of mouth is very, very strong.
Throw It Down, Big Man
Deadspin has a post today with a Nerf basketball highlight reel. From a dorm room at Vanderbilt, in case you're wondering.
I don't know if you guys played much Nerf basketball growing up, but I did. I had a hoop in the house when I was a kid, and I would shoot for hours. Orange foam ball, orange plastic rim, and a monofilament net. It was great.
In college, almost all of us had some kind of basketball hoop in our rooms. In one of my dorms, though, we had a hoop in the television/rec room. It was about eight feet up (the room had high ceilings), so the games weren't all dunkathons.
I had one friend who had been a great runner in high school, but went to college and gained about thirty pounds. He was short, only about 5'3", and round. I came in one day and he was running up to the wall, planting one foot on
the wall, and leaping up to slam dunk.
He was wearing Nike waffle trainers, which had black soles, and, um, he hadn't noticed that every time he planted on the wall and leaped, he left a giant black mark on the wall. About fifty of them.
Those marks were still there when I graduated the next year. I wouldn't be surprised if they're still there today.
So anyway, if you have fond Nerf hoop memories, the video is here
. It's actually much funnier (and much more nostalgic) if you listen to it without the sound.
Still can't sleep well at night, but I did pass Misrilou. I'm down to three brutal songs: Institutionalized, Hangar 18, and Freebird. And I have a story for you tomorrow.
Here's another article on the mysterious honeybee disappearance, this time in the New York Times
There's a small graph on the left panel that shows the percentage of different crops pollinated by honeybees. Almonds, believe it or not, are 100%, and apples and blueberries are both 90%.
The Upcoming Implosion
I don't think people are quite understanding this yet, but here it comes.
Here's the thing: the installed base of the Playstation 2, worldwide, is over 100 million units.
If we take Sony at their "most recent" word, the PS3 will not have a price cut this year, and without one, they're looking at a worldwide installed base of maybe 10 million units by the end of the year. I think that's a little on the high side, actually, but let's be very generous.
So gaming companies are selling to an installed base that's smaller by 90 million
units. Yes, some of those units are out of commission, but even with that adjustment, we're talking an incredible difference in installed bases.
No problem, you might think. Publishers will just support the PS2 for another year or two--that way, they'll capture both the gigantic PS2 market and the emerging PS3 market.
Well, think again.
Here's how many PS2 games are coming out after May in the U.S. from the major publishers (according to EB Games):
Even worse, some of the people buying the PS3 aren't buying it for games--they're buying it as the least expensive Blu-Ray player. So that installed base isn't even 100% "gamer," so to speak.
So the PS3 is (according to the industry) much more expensive to develop for than the PS2, and the installed base is one-tenth. And that's one-tenth at the END of the year, not right now. Right now, it's one-fiftieth
Japanese developers will support the PS2 for much longer, just like they did with the original Playstation. Outside Japan, though, there will be carnage. I don't see how this adds up to anything less than disaster.
EA Bombshell: Probst Out as CEO
Electronic Arts CEO Larry Probst has been replaced by former EA President John Riccitiello.
That's quite a bombshell. Here's
the Gamasutra article, and a Gamespot article is here
In case you're not familiar with Larry Probst, he's been CEO since 1991. Over fifteen years.
In a word: stability.
In a stable environment, CEO succession is handled in an orderly manner. This was anything but orderly--hurriedly announced and taking effect in a month.
I think it's safe to assume that Probst was forced out, no matter what EA might say publicly. Men with great power rarely cede that power voluntarily. The question, though, is what happened?
Well, there are several possible theories here, so let's look at them in turn. First, there could be some kind of scandal, possibly involving the degree to which options were backdated. However, it seems like practically every technology or gaming company in the country was backdating options, and I haven't seen anyone get replaced anywhere else. So I mention this because it is, at least, a possibility, but it's highly unlikely.
Second, it's certainly true that EA has stagnated. Tons of sequels, very little original I.P., and what I.P. they have introduced has been generally mediocre. In a quality sense, E.A. just really doesn't seem to "get it" anymore. They're the best in the industry about getting games shipped, but I don't know anyone who would mention them when quality is discussed.
Here's the thing, though. It's been like that for years, and no one seemed to give a flying fig in the past, so why would they now?
The third possibility, and one that I think is most likely, is financial. CEO's get replaced because of bottom lines.For a stock with a P/E of almost 40, investors expect growth. It's just not that easy to grow a three billion dollar company, though, especially one like Electronic Arts. How exactly are they supposed to generate 20-30% more revenue annually from the same games they've been putting out for the last decade? Even worse, they're having to transition from the PS2, which everyone has, to the PS3, which no one seems to want.
The transition isn't Probst's fault--actually, EA is supporting the PS2 through September with more titles than any other publisher--but it's still going to bite the company in the ass.
The way these things normally proceed is like this: when EA announces earnings for the end of their fiscal year (which ends March 31, so earnings get announced in late April, probably), there will be some bad news, enough bad news that they also add some one-time charges and bury a few bodies. That way, Riccitiello gets to start "with a clean slate." They'll also lower projections for the first two quarters of the next fiscal year.
What will they blame? The console transition. Guaranteed. Which I'm going to discuss in the next post.
For your reading and viewing pleasure.
First off, from Sirius, a link to some of the most astounding photographs I've ever seen. They're called "Pictures From the Sky," and they are truly spectacular. See them here
Daniel Quock sent me a link to highlights of a Top Gear episode where the fellows converted a Robin Reliant (or Reliant Robin, if you read the Wikipedia
entry)--into a space shuttle. It's as funny and clever as all the Top Gear episodes, some of the video footage is spectacular, and you can watch it here
Also in the world of rockets, researchers at Georgia Tech have invented a five-stage rocket engine that uses 40% less fuel. How they did it was ingenious, and you can read about it here
Here's a link to a story about Islamic mathematical knowledge as revealed through fifteenth century architecture. Here's an excerpt:Magnificently sophisticated geometric patterns in medieval Islamic architecture indicate their designers achieved a mathematical breakthrough 500 years earlier than Western scholars, scientists said on Thursday. By the 15th century, decorative tile patterns on these masterpieces of Islamic architecture reached such complexity that a small number boasted what seem to be "quasicrystalline" designs, Harvard University's Peter Lu and Princeton University's Paul Steinhardt wrote in the journal Science.
Fascinating, and you can read about it here
Finally, also from Sirius, a link to a story about the world's hottest pepper. Peppers are rated for hotness on something called the Scoville scale. A japapeno is rated at 10,000. This new pepper is rated at over 1 million,
and it's twice as hot as the hottest pepper previously known to exist.
This newly discovered pepper is known as the "ghost chile," comes from northeastern India, and you can read about it here
The problem with being sick when you have an Eli 5.6 around is that it's hard to get enough rest. You can't just sleep in and stay in bed all day. So I was dragging around on Saturday, feeling poorly and really tired, and while Eli and Gloria were making a papier mache mask of the Lion King (long story), I decided to play a little Guitar Hero.
I've been practicing Laid to Rest for SIX WEEK. The entire song is basically hammer-ons and pull-offs.[actually, because I'm crazy, I counted the possible HO/PO in the song. Out of 1268 notes, in the song, 872 can be HO/PO. That's over 68%, or more than two-thirds of the song.]
There are more HO/PO opportunities in that one song than there are in some sets of five songs. I was doing fine on the solo, which is 192 notes that can all be HO/PO, but there's also a section called "Melody" which is another 98 notes of HO/PO or so, and that had been absolutely killing me. It's early in the song and also right at the end, and I could play it fine on one speed below normal--but no higher.
This song basically taught me how to do hammer-ons/pull-offs correctly (although maybe not terribly well), and I didn't want to hack through the song without them. So I kept playing and failing and failing and failing.
Yesterday, though, while I was feeling awful and my hands felt as nimble as cinder blocks, I passed the song. Not by much--I was flashing red at the end--but no matter.
That felt good, but then I took a look at Psychobilly Freakout. It looked hard, but it didn't look as hard to me as Laid to Rest. And it wasn't because I passed it on the fourth try. And then I passed YYZ on the fourth try.
So as unlikely as it seems, I made it to the final set. And I've taken a look at Beast and the Harlot
, and it's nowhere near as hard as Laid to Rest. I should pass it without drama.
[Update: and I did. On to Institutionalized, which looks really, really nasty.]
I started to get sick Thursday night.
Standard stuff, really. Sinus drainage and a scratchy throat that got worse quickly. I couldn't go to sleep, at least not until about 3 a.m. Friday morning.
I decided that I better go see a doctor, just to make sure I didn't have anything that Eli 5.6 could catch.
Of course, at least in Austin, the one night you can't get sick is Thursday. Every family physician in this city seems to work half a day on Friday, and if you try to call for an appointment Friday morning, forget it--they're all full up. My doctor works half days on Wednesday, too, and they don't accept after hours calls for emergencies anymore, so basically he's my doctor three days a week. If I get sick on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday, he's aces. Friday, though, was not one of those days.
Which is how I wound up at Johnny Skidrow's Minor Emergency Clinic and Bait Shop.
The lady measuring my vitals told me that the "normal" temperature was
98.9 °F. Of course, this was after four failed attempts at getting my blood pressure and oxygen levels, and after unplugging and replugging every cable repeatedly, she called in an expert, who proceeded to unplug and replug every cable repeatedly.
When the doctor walked in, I was mildly alarmed, since he made Doogie Howser look like Methuselah. He knew the most important thing about being a doctor, though: time is money
. He said hello, and in less than two minutes he said goodbye. I think he made a dollar a second.
Two prescriptions later, I still don't feel much better yet, but I did get a free coupon for bait.
Dark Avatar Guide
DQ reader Jeff Pinard wrote a fantastic guide to the Gal Civ II: Dark Avatar expansion. It's very thorough, has a ton of screenshots, and you can read it here
For your Friday reading pleasure.
Oh, and thanks to Randy Graham (among others) for letting me know that This American Life is branching out into television, and the show debuts March 22 on Showtime.
First off, from Chris Meadowcroft, a link to a story about heat spreaders potentially being used in computers. Here's an excerpt about the technology from Novel Concepts, Inc.:At its core, IsoSkin heat spreader technology uses what's known as a planar capillary. This planar capillary provides the necessary amount of liquid (usually water) to handle power densities of up to hundreds of watts per square centimeter..."When you have a pan of water boiling on stove on a cold day, the vapor will start to condense on the closest windows in the room. The way this IsoSkin works is: in a vacuum, when the vapor leaves, it moves at sonic velocity because there's nothing to get in its way." So [with IsoSkin] vapor moves at speed of sound to any window, or in this case, the holes in the sheets. "It would be condensing on those windows instantaneously," Thomas said, "looking for the coldest spot instantaneously." This could reduce microprocessor core temperature much faster than any of today's methods.
Very interesting, and you can read about it here
From MIT, an amazing invention: "A small, powerful rope-climbing device can pull a person up 30 stories in 30 seconds." Ten feet a second, in case you're wondering, and it only weighs twenty pounds. Read about it here
Fisherman off the coast of New Zealand caught the largest colossal squid ever successfully landed--about 990 pounds. Read about it (with a picture) here
Sylvester Stallone and his "crew" apparently tried to bring human growth hormone into Australia. The only reason I mention this (since it's no surprise, really) is that there's a picture taken from Stallone's website, and he's so 'roided out that it's funny. Take a look here
From Brian Witte, a link to some fantastic NASA conceptual art from the 1970's. Donald Davis was commissioned to create them, and you can see them on his website here
. Courtesy of BoingBoing.
Daniel Quock sent along another rocket video, this time taken from a camera positioned on the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle. It's incredible footage, and you can see it here
Finally, Tim Hibbetts sends along another amazing pilot survival story from World War II. Once again, a German pilot decides to let an American pilot survive (after pounding him for tremendous damage). Read about it here
Here's the follow-up from the NPD post yesterday. The console installed base numbers I'll be referencing come from Videogame Charts
There's an interesting disparity about the PS3 developing between the United States and Japan that I'm not sure anyone is noticing.
If you look at U.S. data and compare the PS2 monthly sales with the PS3, the PS3 after three months has about 75% of the installed base the PS2 did. That sounds very good, really, considering the price differential.
After that third month, though, from January-October of 2001, the PS2 sold an average of 370,000
units monthly. 3.7 million units in ten months. And remember, that was a from a smaller base of gamers back then.
If the PS3 can sell 2.5 millions units from January-October of this year, I would be stunned. I believe that without a significant price cut. 2.25 million units would be the absolute top end in terms of possibilities. That's roughly 60% of what the PS2 did.
Is that successful? I guess it depends on how you define "success." Sony can argue that with a system costing double what the PS2 cost, the PS3 is doing very well. I don't agree with that, but it can be argued.
In Japan, though, Sony has an utter disaster on its hands. Remember that Sony cut the price of the console before
launch, so the Japanese consumer is not paying as much as we are. In spite of that, though, the PS3's installed base is 33% the installed base of the PS2 at the same point in its lifespan. That's a difference of 1.5 million units, and while part of that can be explained by the limited launch quantities of the PS3 (the PS2 sold over 700,000 units its first week compared to 87,000 for the PS3), a giant gap in weekly sales has emerged in the last six weeks.
As an example, look at the last six weeks of sales in Japan for the PS3:
Virtua Fighter 5, which was a high profile title, helped "boost" sales by about 8,000 units the first week of its release. After that, nothing.
Compare that to the corresponding six weeks of the PS2's lifespan:
The system with the PS2-like ramp in Japan is the Wii. 1.6 million and going strong. The PS3? Just under 700,000 in three more weeks.
Sony's other problem, besides price, is that exclusives for the PS3 are drying up. In the U.S., through the end of May, there's one non-Sony developed exclusive: Coded Arms Assault by Konami. The only other Coded Arms game came out on the PSP and has a 60.7% average review score at Game Rankings.
Sony does have Motorstorm, MLB 07: The Show, and Lair scheduled to come out before the end of May. But even though MLB 06 (on the PSP, anyway) was a superb game, and Motorstorm and Lair are both at least interesting, will any of those games move large numbers of people to buy the PS3? No. Does Sony have an equivalent exclusive to Halo 3 this fall? No. Is Sony going to fall further behind all through the year? Yes. Can they afford to?
If they want to be the dominant console of this generation, then the answer is "no."
Nintendo, meanwhile, needs to make sure they don't go all Nintendo on us and have a puzzling disconnect from reality. And they need a big hit in the next six weeks--maybe it will be Paper Mario,
or maybe something else will surprise us. But they need another game besides Wii Sports,
and they're going to need it fairly soon.
Microsoft? They're absolutely loaded. They have a huge lineup of software this year, and almost every month they have at least one AAA title coming out. And they need to, because considering the available games and the difference in price, they should be outselling the PS3 in the U.S. by a far greater margin.
This is fun to watch, and as soon as someone gets desperate, prices are going to start dropping, which will put pressure everyone else to respond. It's an ulcer if you're a console executive, but it's candy for us.
Mr. Chimp. In the Dining Room. With a Spear.
Well, this is just amazing:Chimpanzees are capable of making spears to hunt other primates and have been seen using the weapons to apparently kill bushbabies for meat, scientists announced Thursday.The researchers based their findings on observations of omnivorous chimps that dwell in savannahs similar to those from which humanity's ancestors are thought to have emerged.
Read about it here
The ESRB Figures It Out
:Following up on online want ads, Entertainment Software Rating Board boss Patricia Vance tells Next-Gen that the ESRB is moving from part-time to full-time game raters, a switch that she says will help produce more consistent ratings. Vance elaborated, “Having full-time raters will allow for each [rater] to have greater experience actually reviewing content and recommending ratings, given the increased amount of time each one would spend doing it. This would provide each rater with a greater sense of historical parity for ratings, not to mention helping them to be more attuned to pertinent content and how it should be considered from a ratings standpoint.”
You know what? I think it's fair to say that the ESRB has pulled its head out of its ass. In the last six months, they've partnered with some of their political opponents, they've partnered with the PTA, they've increased emphasis on point of purchase displays, and in general they've stopped saying that underage consumers buying inappropriate content is someone else's problem.
With this announcement, they've stopped pretending that the method being used to rate games wasn't a problem.
Look. Gaming in the U.S. was a 12.5 billion
dollar business last year. It's big boy business now. You can't depend on volunteer raters playing a game for an hour, or totally rely on the people who made the game
to tell you about all the "objectionable" content. That's just not a logically sound process. The new process may not be perfect, but it definitely sounds like an improvement.
Eli 5.6, Botanist
Eli 5.6 was making a drawing yesterday of a leaf, and he wanted to label the different parts. "How you do spell stoopulus
?" he asked.
"What?" Gloria asked.
"STOOPulus," he said patiently.
"I don't recognize that word," she said.
"Honey, come on!" I said. "Stoopulus
! Stop teasing the boy!"
"That is not
a word," she said.
I looked at Eli. "It is
a word," I said. "Your mom's called me stoopulus before."
"I can see that," he said. I burst out laughing. Gloria, resigned to living with two boys, walked out of the kitchen.
"Dad," Eli said. "Thanks for making me funny."
"Dude," I said, "I didn't make you funny. You are
I think he was talking about "stipules," by the way. I think.
Go To Work On An Egg
My boss is thinking about shaving his head.
That's not as big a change as you might think. He's down to about half coverage right now, so it's more in the category of finishing the job.
He asked me what I thought and I recommended that he sell advertising. I'd really like to see him walking down the hallway with "SHARK WEEK on The Discovery Channel" tattooed on his head. Or "Think Outside the Bun."
And in a few years, when flexible displays are perfected, there will be advertising skull caps with video. Don't even think I'm joking.
A ton of you guys (Dale N was first) sent me that link to Gabe's Penny Arcade post. I read them faithfully, but hadn't seen today's post yet.
Gabe at Penny Arcade made a news post on Monday about the killing of Rex Baum, a 43-year old homeless man who was murdered by three teenagers.
For sport, seemingly.
This happened in 2004, but there was an article
over at the CNN website yesterday that revisited the tragedy, and mentioned as part of the article that one of the kids involved "told police that killing 'the bum' reminded him of playing a violent video game, a police report shows."
That's the money shot: reminded him of playing a violent video game
. Ironically, publicity whore Jack Thompson almost singlehandedly created the phenomena of a murderer using video games as an excuse. He's made it respectable. He has to, because it's his meal ticket.
So this was story was going to play out in predictable ways: Thompson shouting like an idiot, news channels breathlessly quoting "scientific studies" that have been refuted, politicians creating a new slew of unconstitutional laws.
This time, though, something else happened.
wondered (generally) why we wouldn't logically conclude that it was the parents, not video games, that were at fault.
An entirely reasonable assumption, I would add.
Life, though, is not so reasonable, and incredibly, the stepmother of one of the murderers sent Gabe a long, sad, and poignant letter. She isn't, by law, the stepmother, but she's been involved with the father for about seven years, so in essence she was placed in that role.
It's a remarkable letter, and if you're a parent (or maybe even if you're not), your stomach will fall as you read her story. Read it here
One More Note About Crackdown
A friend e-mailed me yesterday and asked me to summarize the game in one sentence, if I could. Here's what I sent him:It hands you a carrot every fifteen seconds for as long as you play.
January NPD Numbers
:According to a Bloomberg report, which cites NPD Group data obtained by Credit Suisse analyst Heath Terry, 436,000 Wii consoles were sold during January and the first week of February. The Xbox 360 was the second highest selling home console with 294,000 units sold, ahead of the PlayStation 3 at 244,000 units sold.
Let the spinning begin. I can't wait to see how Microsoft and Sony mangle this data.
To start with, remember that January was a five-week reporting period. There are four of those during the year, along with eight four-week periods.
Second, I expect more of the "Nintendo isn't really a competitor" statements from from Microsoft and Sony. Nintendo is absolutely hammering both of them--the Wii is outselling everyone, and they're doing it in an environment where their supply is extremely limited compared to the readily available 360 and PS3.
Remember I said that I expected the Wii to overtake the 360 (worldwide) by the end of the year and how ridiculous that sounded? Well, they're right on track--they'll sell at least three million more units in Japan alone in 2007. And they're tracking to sell over two million more units in the U.S., plus at least a million more in Europe. That will close the gap worldwide before
the end of the year.
Also, please remember that the Wii is still extremely supply constrained, while the 360 and PS3 are available almost everywhere in the U.S. and Japan.
So what about Microsoft? Well, the positives are that the 360 sold almost 300,000 units in January, which is almost 50,000 more than their monthly average for last year's January-October period.
However, that number is also the bad news. Last January, the 360 sold 277,000 units, but it was extremely short of supply. So this year, with no supply constraints whatsoever, the 360 sold less than 10% more units. That's not every impressive.
What has to be even less impressive for Microsoft is that one, the Wii is killing it, and two, Sony only sold 50,000 fewer units and it's $200 more expensive. If I'm Microsoft, I start reducing the price of the console by at least $50 before I start considering putting out the high-end unit with the 120GB hard drive and HDMI connection (which has been strongly rumored).
Finally, let's talk about Sony. Hey, they sold almost 250,000 units at an insane price and with almost zero software. I thought the number would be closer to 220,000, even with a five-week reporting period, so it's better than I expected. But they're still getting outsold almost 2-1 by the Wii in America and over 3-1 in Japan, and selling less than 50,000 units a week not only won't catch Microsoft in the U.S., it won't even stop them from falling further behind.
Here's the other question for Sony, and I think it's the biggest one. If you look at the weekly sales in Japan (where accurate weekly data is available), over 70,000 units were sold during the first week in January, which is when PS3's started flooding the stores both in Japan and in the U.S. Every week after that, though, sales have been less than half that.
If that's what happened here (a reasonable guess, although weekly data isn't available), and the first week in January represented the fulfilment of all excess demand related to December inventory shortages, then the PS3 sold 80,000 units the first week and 40,000 units in succeeding weeks.
How will we know? Not until next month, unfortunately, when the NPD numbers for February come out. If the PS3 sells in the 160,000 unit range (which would be a very weak number), then that per-week estimate was reasonably accurate.
Here's the comforting news for Sony, though. Even at insane prices, the PS3 is still moving units, and it was only 10,000 units a week behind the 360 in January. Sony can juice demand whenever they want to just by lowering the price. And it clearly looks like Sony has greater native demand than Microsoft--only the price disparity is holding them back.
There's nothing Microsoft or Sony can do about the Wii, though. But then, the Wii isn't a "direct competitor," right? Heh.
Crackdown Impressions (360)
There are games that awe you with their beauty, or touch you with their charm. You play these games at a measured pace, savoring each moment.
Crackdown is not one of those games.
This is a game that you play compulsively. After playing for hours, there's an afterimage in your head that will stay there for a while before it fades.
I don't know if this is a great game yet. But I do know that I can't seem to stop playing it, and that the ability to leap thirty feet in the air and lift (and throw) one ton objects is incredibly fun. Or kicking someone in the chest and watching them fly tweenty feet in the air. Or gathering a huge number of exploding cannisters into one pile and shooting one. Or kicking the car of every bad guy you see and leaving their rides upside down.
Plus there are agility orbs, little beacons placed all over the city, most in high (sometimes very high) places. Climbing and leaping to reach all of these beacons is an incredibly compulse experience. And when your agility increases, you can reach more of them.
In other words, there's lots and lots to do in this game, and most of it is fun.
It's the best example of a "just five more minutes" game since Dead Rising, and I'll have more impressions for you after another five hours of play.
The NPD numbers for January console sales were due out last Thursday and still haven't been released yet, which seems very, very odd.
I played Crackdown
(360) for five hours today. In one sitting.
Eli 5.6 was at school until 1:00, then Gloria took him to "Inflatable Wonderland" (otherwise known as Skull on Skull Collision Center™). So I started playing about 11:30 and they pulled in at 4:30 and I'd just stopped.
It's been a long time since a console game made the hours pass like that.
I'll do a writeup later tonight.
By the Way...
Thanks to all of you who e-mailed me to let me know that "This American Life" is available as a free weekly podcast from iTunes. And if you go here
, select the "free downloads" link below the "TAL audio downloads" (left-hand frame) and it gives you other options.
The 2007 Idiot Award: Hello, It's Me
Believe me, you won't even consider any other nominees after you hear this story.
So I was trying to troubleshoot my system after I got back from swimming (I swam on what is normally an off-day so that I would have more time to play Crackdown tomorrow--heh), and I was thinking that maybe I needed a bios update. I had to find out which kind of bios I had (two possible for that motherboard), and rebooting was risky, so I ran Sandra to identify it.
Sandra identified the bios as part of the mainboard information option. However, as I scrolled down, I also saw something new under the "performance tips" section (which is at the bottom of the scroll-down for that screen). It said that my mainboard temperature was too high, and it gave me a reading of 65 degrees Centigrade!
Holy crap. That's around 134 degrees Fahrenheit. That's insane.
Normally, from what I remembered, the mainboard temp was around 45C. That's a huge difference. And I verified the temperature with another program, so it wasn't an erroneous reading.
I'd put in a Noctua case fan about two months ago, and while they are incredibly quiet, I figured the airflow just wasn't high enough. I've got the Antec Sonata II case, and it runs at a slightly higher temperature, anyway.
So surely the combination of reduced airflow and a higher-temperature case was a problem. Maybe not the
problem, but I needed to address that temperature issue regardless.
I put my hand to the back of the case, where the case fan opening is, and tried to feel the airflow. Man, it sure didn't feel like much air was being vented out of the case. When I opened up the case and felt inside, it didn't feel like it was taking in much air, either.
I had the old case fan inside the box the Noctua fan came with, so I looked at the back and it mentioned an U.L.N.A. adapter.
There was a little extension cable inside the case that I used so that it could be powered by the motherboard instead of a Molex connector. Very nice of them to include that.
Oh, except that's not what it's for.
U.L.N.A. stands for Ultra Low Noise Adapter
. What that little adapter does is basically cut the RPM's of the fan IN HALF.
Now I know what you're thinking: that was incredibly stupid.
No, that was the "smartest" thing I did, actually. Because the OTHER thing I did was INSTALL THE FAN BACKWARDS.
You may be thinking no one can be this stupid. He's making this up.
Oh, no, I don't need
to make any of this up, becaues I AM that stupid.
So if I had installed the fan in the CORRECT DIRECTION, it would have been even worse.
Incredible. And I've built four systems successfully, although maybe there should be an asterik by all of them now--who knows what's backwards and upside-down.
So I re-mounted the fan, verified that air was blowing in the right direction
, and removed the U.L.N.A. adapter, which more than (subjectively) tripled the airflow--but barely increased the noise. Truly, these Noctua fans are superb accoustically, and they move an excellent amount of air considering how quiet they are.
When they're facing in the right direction and technical stuff like that.
I don't think that was my only problem, necessarily, but now the mainboard temp is back to 45C like it used to be, and for now the system is entirely stable. Hopefully I haven't cooked anything.
"Cooked" is one of those technical terms that we system experts use.
1.a flushable wall fixture, as in a public lavatory, used by men for urinating: I don't need to sit down, Dad. I just need to use the urinator.
[Origin: 2006; Eli 5.3]la·dy box·es [ley-dee bŏk-ses]–noun
1. A product (typically in a supermarket) featuring a picture of a woman on the box, i.e., not a toy or product that Eli 5.6 would be interested in: Not this row, Dad. Look at all those lady boxes.
[Origin: 2007; Eli 5.6]
Flaky, Part 2
My system's gone flaky again, so my ability to access e-mail may be limited.
I rebooted last night (because, for some reason, I was getting blank pages when I browsed, even though the Internet connection wasn't down). Then, at the black screen that says "Windows XP" and shows you the little blue loading bar, it just got stuck in an infinite loop. It would show the little blue bar completing three or four times (at which point, I usually progress to the logon screen), but this time the blue bar kept filling up again and again. Occasionally, it would stop for ten seconds, then it would start filling up again.
I tried rebooting with the last known successful configuration--no change. Tried booting into safe mode--wouldn't complete. Tried unplugging the system for a few minutes--no change.
Great. Fortunately, I've learned a few things since last time. First off, I used Spinrite right away and verified that the drive is fine--no unrecoverable sectors, no errors. And I've been defragging the drive every 3-4 days.
I decided to try to boot to a USB-CD drive and run the XP recovery console from there. So I did, but when I hit "R" to bring up the recovery console, it told me there were no files installed on the hard drive. Hmm.
So, in a fit of technical genius, I rebooted, and for some reason, instead of booting to the XP CD, when I walk back into the room (about five minutes later) I'm at the Windows logon screen.
Needless to say, I'm not real confident about how long this will last. So like I said, I may not be up for very long today. However, if you recognize this, please send me an e-mail. I haven't tried System Restore yet, but if that's a viable option for flakiness like this, I do have restores from almost a week ago that could be used.
By the way, I'm playing a game right now that, after five hours, would have to qualify in my all-inclusive, two-decade Top Ten. And you're going to find out what it is either later today or early tomorrow.
The Johnny Carson Show
Johnny Carson's second wife has had kinescopes of The Johnny Carson Show (a weekly comedy and variety series that aired briefly in 1955) for over thirty-five years . The show lasted less than a year, and until recently, no one thought there was any surviving footage.
I mention this for two reasons: one, I saw all this in an article
over at the New York Times that's quite interesting, and two, the episodes are coming out on DVD this week.
What--Were the Slag Brothers Not Available?
Reggie Bush plays football for the New Orleans Saints, and he has a contract that could potentially pay him $62 million dollars over six years.
So ESPN had a "Celebrity Basketball Game" during NBA All-Star weekend, and Reggie Bush played. Along with Carrot Top and Squatch (who is the Seattle Supersonics mascot and is a man dressed in a Sasquatch costume). Watching the video, I half-expected to see Dick Dastardly and Muttley in The Mean Machine driving onto the court.
Here's what happened: Reggie Bush was running up and down the court with Sasquatch, who was on his team, and Bush went up to block a shot, landed wrong, and hurt his ankle. He had to be helped off the court.
You can see the video here
. It's surreal, and the only thing that could have made it funnier was if Reggie Bush had been trying to block a shot by
Maybe next year.
This American Life
The one show I look forward to each week, without fail, isn't a show on television. It's a radio show, believe it or not, and it's called This American Life
This American Life includes three stories each week during the one-hour program, and they are funny and gripping and brilliantly written. It comes on each Sunday morning at 10 a.m. (in Austin, anyway--I'm not sure when it's shown in your local market), and after I take Eli 5.6 to my mom's house at 10 a.m., I often wind up sitting the driveway when I get home because I'm in the middle of a story.
If you've never heard this show, it's just spectacularly good. Go here
and click on the "our favorite shows" link on the left side, which will take you to a nice selection of past stories. Also, if you look today, on the main page you'll see a link to yesterday's show, titled "Quiz Show." The story about Roger Dowds in that episode is tremendously poignant.
Odd and Interesting
Here are several links that make for good reading.
First, there's a very interesting article over at MSNBC about the origins of The Cat in the Hat
. Here's an excerpt:In 1954, the novelist and journalist John Hersey wrote an angry essay in Life magazine that condemned the “See Spot Run” style of children’s reading textbooks. If Johnny couldn’t read, Hersey argued, it was because he was bored to tears by what he had to read. Hersey called for more imaginative reading texts and he challenged children’s-book authors, including Dr. Seuss, to write such a book. Seuss accepted the challenge, thinking it might take him “a week or so.” But then he discovered the limitations he would be laboring under. First-reader vocabularies are slim—that’s where the 236 words came in. Not even all one-syllable words were permitted. “King” worked fine, for example, but “Queen” did not. In the end, it took him a year and a half to write and draw the book, an experience that he once described as like “being lost with a witch in a tunnel of love.”
The full article is here
Next there's this
from the BBC:A bionic eye implant that could help restore the sight of millions of blind people could be available to patients within two years....The new devices work by implanting an array of tiny electrodes into the back of the retina.
A camera is used to capture pictures, and a processing unit, about the size of a small handheld computer and worn on a belt, converts the visual information into electrical signals.
These are then sent back to the glasses and wirelessly on to a receiver just under the surface of the front of the eye, which in turn feeds them to the electrodes at the rear.
The whole process happens in real time.
Here's one of the most remarkable war stories you'll ever hear (sent in by Daniel Quock):Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called 'Ye Old Pub' and as in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton. After flying over an enemy airfield, a pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he 'had never seen a plane in such a bad state'. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. he top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere. Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane. Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to and slightly over the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe.
It's a truly remarkable story, and you can read it here
Lastly, from Meg McReynolds, a link to an outstanding video that would have fit in just fine as a Monty Python skit. Very funny, and you can watch it here
In the mail today we got an adzine called "Reach: Home & Lifestyle Magazine." The description above the title says "Serving Austin's Exclusive Homes."
It was addressed to "RESIDENT", of course.
Badass of the Week
Truly, this is one of the most incredible stories I've ever seen:CANBERRA, Australia - A German paraglider was encased in ice and blacked out after being sucked into a tornado-like thunderstorm in Australia and carried to a height greater than Mount Everest. She survived....the 2005 World Cup winner was lifted 32,612 feet (9,940 meters) above sea level by the storm near Manilla in New South Wales state while preparing for the tenth FAI World Paragliding Championships next week....Wisnerska, a member of the German team, had been carried to a height greater than the 29,035-foot Mt Everest -- an area known to mountaineers as the death zone for its extreme cold -- in just 10 minutes and was rendered unconscious for almost an hour.
She encountered hailstones the size of oranges, and the temperature plummeted to minus 58 Fahrenheit.
“There’s no oxygen. She could have suffered brain damage. But she came to again at a height of 6,900 meters with ice all over her body and slowly descended herself,” said Godfrey Wenness, one of Australia’s most experienced paraglider pilots.
Wisnerska was admitted to hospital with severe frostbite and blistering to her face and ears, but has since been released.
32,000 feet in 10 minutes!
Read all about it here
A Little More
Some interesting links for you today, but a couple of comments on yesterday's long Sony post first.
Sony's consumer survey, obviously, is a complete fabrication. It's not just Sony, either--any manufacturer self-conducting and self-reporting a survey of consumers is just going to make shit up.
What is so funny, is that Sony even lies badly. Think about it: they misrepresent both consumer interest in Blu-Ray and the size of the Blu-Ray installed base by greatly exaggerating both, which makes sales of Blu-Ray discs (the one number that's independently reported) look incredibly bad.
So when Sony creates survey numbers that say 90 percent of customers have watched a Blu-Ray, and 80 percent plan to purchase a Blu-Ray movie, you bang that off the the alleged install base and the actual number of movies sold and can only come to two conclusions:
1) the 90 percent is largely made up of people who watched Talladega Nights
2) the 80 percent haven't bought a damn thing yet
This is supposed to be the hottest consumer device going, but a free movie only convinced a fraction of purchasers to buy another movie? And remember, the PS3 comes with a coupon for $15 off the purchase of a Blu-Ray movie.
And in terms of true installed base, Future Nobel Winner Brian Pilnick found a link to an interesting series of articles, including one referencing an early February article in the Wall Street Journal, which cited Adams Media Research figures indicating that only 25,000 standalone Blu-Ray players had been sold. If that's correct, and I think it's close, it means that the PS3 is well over 90% of the installed base of Blu-Ray.
Demand for both high-definition disc formats is just awful right now. There's a reason Microsoft introduced an HD-DVD add-on but soft-pedaled any promotion: they don't really want HD-DVD to succeed, and they don't think it will. What they want is for the Xbox Live Video Marketplace to take off. And believe me, they're going to start claiming numbers soon that will embarrass both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, because video on demand is much more powerful as a lure to consumers than a disc-based format.
Oh, and Phil Harrison gave an interview to 1Up this week and wasn't an asshole.
Well, That's Funny
Even though it was widely reported that the PS3 would display God of War II in 720p, it was apparently incorrect. Too bad--that was actually a good idea.
One More Thing
Sony announced this week that God of War II, while not being developed
for the PS3, will support 720p if it is played
on the PS3.
I like that. I'd like it even better if Sony could somehow cut a deal with other publishers and add downloadable patches for games like Final Fantasy XII and Okami to add 720p support on the PS3.
Today, let's take a stroll down memory lane.
Do you remember when you were in college and your best friend decided to throw a party? Even better, he somehow got the best-looking girl in school to show up. When you saw her walk in, you had one thought: this is going to be the best party ever.
There was only one problem: the best-looking girl in school. Yes, she was totally hot, but all she did was talk about how hot she was, and how we were all lucky that she showed up, and how every single girl at that party looked like ass compared to her. She was so loud and so obnoxious that you went into the backyard just to get away from her.
Later that night, though, you came back inside the house and saw her again. This time, though, she was sitting against a wall. Passed out. With vomit all over the front of her smoking hot halter top. And as you took a picture of her with your cellphone, you had one thought: this is the best party ever.
That smoking hot girl, my friends, is Sony.
I've said this before, but I don't have an anti-Sony bias. I've been extremely pro-Sony at various times in the last ten years. But I do have an anti-dickhead bias.
I haven't mentioned Jack Tretton making an ass out of himself in the latest issue of EGM because it's nothing new--every executive at Sony has been making a gigantic ass out of himself for the last year. When was the last time you saw an interview with any of those guys where they didn't act like an ass?
In case you hadn't heard, here's what Tretton said in the latest issue of EGM:JT: If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it. I can get any retail buyer on the phone with you and get them to verify that there's not a single retail location in America where there's been a Playstation 3 on the shelf for sale. They've all been sold in a matter of minutes.
There was a note attached to the article at that point that said [Editor's note: This interview took place in early January 2007].
I wrote about eBay auction prices on December 18, over two weeks before Tretton's interview took place. In the vast majority of auctions, the premium was under $100. And there were plenty of anecdotal reports of PS3's sitting on store shelves in the week before Christmas. And here's an excerpt from what I wrote on January 4:One thing we do know is that there are plenty of PS3's available right now. I called a Best Buy on Tuesday and they said they had fifteen in stock. The Best Buy website? In stock. Circuit City website? In stock. Amazon website? In stock.
Why did we have far more accurate information than the CEO of SCEA? Because to us, data is data. We're not trying to spin it or manipulate it or ignore it if it doesn't agree with what we believe. Either Tretton was ignoring data or, even worse, he wasn't even being given the latest data.
Tretton's comments display how dangerous it is to live in an insular corporate culture, and from what I've been told, Sony is incredibly insular. He was absolutely correct--a month before he gave the interview. But in the consumer entertainment industry, a month is a long, long time, and in that month, the PS3 buzz went to sub-zero.
To EGM's credit, they challenged Tretton:EGM: But we called 18 random retailers, including Best Buy and EB Games, and half of them had PS3's in stock...some had as many as 20 in the store.
Watch Tretton backtrack:JT: I am not sitting in the store to know when they got put on the shelves or if a salesperson is giving you accurate information, but if only nine of the 18 stores you contacted had supplies, that seems to be a clear indication that sales continue to be outstanding.
Wait a minute--asshole--you JUST SAID that there's not a "single retail location in America" where there's been a PS3 for sale, because they've all sold in a "matter of minutes."
Do you see how impossible it is to respect these people right now? Executives used what's called "puffery" all the time. It's exaggeration. This is not exaggeration. This is fabrication.
But wait, you say. Didn't you see where Sony said this
:Sony also noted that according to an SCEA customer survey data, 90 percent of current PS3 users have watched a Blu-ray movie on their PS3, 80 percent stated that they plan to purchase a Blu-ray movie and 72 percent stated that they plan to rent a Blu-ray movie in the near future.
And, of course, this was big, big news
, right?In response to an inquiry from Next-Gen, SCEA states that cumulative Blu-ray movie unit sales stand at just over 439,000 units in the US, while total HD-DVD sales are just under 438,000 units. Blu-ray currently stands as the number one new DVD format in unit and dollar sales in the US, according to research firm NPD Group.
Here are two more data points (from the same article linked in the preceding paragraph) that we'll be using:According to Sony, the company currently lays claim to 40 percent of the the Blu-ray player market with the PS3 and the company's $1,000 BDP-S1 standalone player.Sony had shipped 2 million PS3s worldwide by mid-January, with 1 million of those shipped to the US by the end of 2006.
Sony has been crowing about the rush to adopt the Blu-Ray format since the PS3 was introduced. If you listened to them, you'd think it as wan absolute landslide (never mind that Blu-Ray and HD-DVD combined represent less than .1% of the market right now).
That's not 1%--that's .1%
Beyond that, though, Sony's numbers never seem to add up. Ever. They throw out a bunch of numbers at one time, declare victory, and hope that we can't count.
So let's take a look at this. The article about total sales was from Next-Gen, and it was published on February 7. According to NPD, the end-of-year installed base for the PS3 in North America was 687k units.
Why am I using end-of-December numbers? To be as incredibly lenient to Sony as possible. So let's assume that Sony is talking about end-of-December hardware numbers, but end-of-January Blu-Ray movie sales.
Now when Sony says they are 40% of the Blu-Ray player market, even if they had sold ZERO of their standalone players, even if 100% of their Blu-Ray player share was made up of the PS3, it would still work out to an installed base of over 1.7 million units in North America.
An installed base of over 1.7 million units has purchased a grand total of 439k movies? Roughly one movie purchased for every four Blu-Ray players sold?
Are you kidding me?
There are only two possiblities here: either people with Blu-Ray players aren't buying Blu-Ray movies, or Sony is just lying. I think the truth is a combination of the two: people who bought PS3's are buying far fewer movies than Sony claimed they would, and Sony is lying about the installed base. I'm willing to be that the PS3 represents 75% of the Blu-Ray player market, at a minimum. And the total installed base is still under a million units.
And really, the numbers are even worse than that. To get hardware numbers that truly correspond to the movie sales, you'd need to add the January hardware sales to the installed base, and that January sales period is a five-week period for NPD.
Last data point this week (Reuters)
:Sony Corp. will cut back on future chip spending and may not produce advanced chips used in its PlayStation 3 (PS3) in-house, a senior executive said on Tuesday, in a move aimed at driving the semiconductor unit's nascent earnings recovery.
That's interesting. So is this (from 11/2003):Sony is also building its own fabrication plant for the 65nm Cell chips, with an investment estimated to be in the region of €5 billion being made in new plant in Nagasaki prefecture.
Five billion Euros. That's a lot of money to invest in manufacturing, just to abandon it three years later.
I can't tease the answer out of this right now, but Sony trying to back out of these massive investments indicates that they badly miscalculated something.
NPD numbers for January are supposed to come out later today, I think, and I'll post an update.
Winning Eleven: Pro Soccer 2007 (360) Impressions, Turning Into Guitar Hero II Notes
I'm very fond of the Winning Eleven series. The animations are spectacular. The gameplay is intricate and has a high degree of fidelity to real life. The PC version, Pro Evo Soccer, has been absolutely fantastic, and the user patches real players and leagues have made the game almost comprehensively accurate.
So when I say the first 360 version of the game is a letdown, it's really a letdown. This is a sorry-ass, weak effort that looks like a port from the PS2 version. It doesn't look next-gen in any way whatsoever. If I had bought this instead of renting, I would have wanted to jump off a building.
Nobody wants to ever give a version of Winning Eleven less than an 8 or 9 because of the stellar gameplay, but Konami totally coasted on this version. When the first, true next-gen version of the game comes out, I'm sure it will be stellar, but this isn't it.
Which is why, after an hour, I took it out and turned on the PS2 to play Guitar Hero II. I'm still stuck on Laid to Rest on Expert. That song is everything I don't do well wrapped up in one package.
What I've done for the last few days is go back to Hard and try to at least 4-star every song. I've done 32 of 40 which includes almost all of the first seven sets except for a couple of songs I really don't like to play (Woman is one, Freya is another). It's not much of an achievement for a good player, but for a grinder like me, it feels pretty good, especially on songs like Crazy On You.
Eli 5.6 also passed his first song in the game tonight. I never let him play for more than thirty minutes, and he hasn't played much at all in the last two months. When he does play, he usually just plays Strutter in practice mode. Tonight, though, he decided that he wanted to create a band ("The Rock Stars") and actually try to pass a song on Easy. He passed Surrender and Woman and was all amped up.
Next stop, Woodstock.
Quite often while I'm writing a post I'll go down a rabbit hole when I look something up. Today, I was originally using the word "carny" in that mall post to describe the retail clerk, and to be sure I had it spelled correctly I Googled it. Because of that, I stumbled onto this: Diary of a Carny
Start at the bottom, and you probably won't stop until you work your way up to the last post. It's rough-edged, very interesting, and sharply poignant at times.
One of the things I really enjoy about blogs are that they give everyone a voice. This guy clearly has talent and many stories to tell, but he'd probably never be published in a conventional way, even though what he's writing about is well worth reading.
A Clerk Too Far
We went to the mall yesterday to shop for a Valentine's Day gift for Gloria.
I'm not a shopper, but I like shopping with Eli 5.6. I know, you don't expect a five-year old to be capable of being fun in that situation, but we're laughing most of the time. We looked in stores for two hours solid and he never complained once.
We went to Dillard's, and as we were looking for jackets, we wound up in the lingerie department, which was huge. Eli looked up and said "Argghh! Women's underpanties! Let's get out of here!" So we did, walking as fast as we could.
We were still looking for the jackets when we saw a beautiful dress. "Dad, look at that dress," Eli said. It was black and so well designed that it even made the headless dummy wearing it look hot.
"Dude, I don't know," I said. "I think you can only wear that dress if you're headless. The dresses for women with heads are on the first floor."
"They make dresses for women WITHOUT HEADS?" Eli asked.
"Of course they do," I said. "Otherwise, what would headless women have to wear?"
We decided to get the dress for Gloria, but the only size they had on the rack was walrus. The dress on the dummy was an extra small, but it was the only one.
Someone was going to have to undress the dummy.
We found a lady about thirty-two departments over to help us. All these big department stores in malls have turned into ghost towns. They have millions and millions of dollars in merchandise, but almost no one on the floor to help you.
This lady, I'm guessing, was in her late fifties, and she had blonde hair. She was nicely dressed and wore makeup, but she had kind of a rough edge about her, like she knew how to handle a pool cue in a bar fight. Amiable, though.
She took the dress off the dummy, and Eli started laughing. "Dude, that dummy is NAKED," I said," and he started giggling. Then he ran around to the BACK of the dummy. "He had to see her butt," I said.
"Little boys," she said. "Yes, she has a crack," she said to Eli.
"Please note that she has only one orifice," she said to me.
"She doesn't have one in front where he could stick a finger in," she said.
Welcome to Spectacularly Inappropriate Comments From a Retail Clerk,
Here are the first few thoughts that came into my head.
1. How clever. Please excuse me while I kill myself.
2. Do you have an icepick behind the register? I'd like to gouge out my ears.
3. If you say the word "dildo" in the next ten seconds I'm going to start shrieking like a frightened little schoolgirl.
We bought the dress and got out of there. I didn't ask her what she was getting for Valentine's Day.
Rockets, Bees, Ghost Towns, Lunatics, and Candiru
You guys have sent me all kinds of cool links in the last few days, so here goes.
First off, Daniel Quock sent me links to two excellent videos. The first documents the failure of a satellite launch last week by Sea Launch. Uh, boom, and you can see it here
. The second is a video of a Boeing Delta 2 rocket being launched. The camera is actually on the rocket
and it's a spectacular view. Watch it here
Sirius sent me a link to an article about the "doomsday vault", a seed vault that will be built by the Swedish government. Here's an excerpt:The Svalbard International Seed Vault will be built into a mountainside on a remote island near the North Pole.
The vault aims to safeguard the world's agriculture from future catastrophes, such as nuclear war, asteroid strikes and climate change. Construction begins in March, and the seed bank is scheduled to open in 2008.
The Norwegian government is paying the $5m (£2.5m) construction costs of the vault, which will have enough space to house three million seed samples.
You can read the full article here
Here's another excellent link from Sirius, about a mysterious bee illness:A mysterious illness is killing tens of thousands of honeybee colonies across the country, threatening honey production, the livelihood of beekeepers and possibly crops that need bees for pollination.Researchers are scrambling to find the cause of the ailment, called Colony Collapse Disorder.
I hadn't heard of this before, but it's widespread, and scientists are baffled. Read about it here
DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles sent me a link to the story of Surfridge, a ghost town just west of the LAX runways. The story is very interesting and there are some great pictures with it, and you can read it all here
Doug Walsh sent me a link about an insane person who is swimming down the Amazon river.
That's 3,375 miles in 70 days, in case you're wondering. Here's an excerpt from a National Geographic story
:An experienced expedition swimmer, Strel is taking precautions. He will have, for example, a support boat with doctors and scientists on hand regularly checking his health and administering emergency aid, such as tossing buckets of chum into the river to distract swarming schools of piranhas. ...The Amazon, however, presents a whole new range of challenges: torrential rains, whirlpools, tidal bores, waterborne diseases … to say nothing of the candiru, a tiny, needle-like fish that swims up bodily orifices and feeds on blood and tissue.
Oh my. The crazy man's expedition website is here
From an ESPN.com article last week:"People around me are all the time having to remind me of the magnitude of me."
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Oh, I bet they do.
I had probably my strangest swim ever today.
Forty-five degrees and thirty mile-an-hour winds. Well, if you were lucky--the pool is tucked behind a building and below a second-story deck, and the combination acts as a funnel for the wind. I'm sure the wind was closer to forty miles an hour on the pool deck.
Here's how crazy it was. I normally use about 19 strokes per length of the pool. Today, heading downwind, I was using 17. Going upwind, it took 21. That may not sound like much if you don't swim, but it's a huge difference.
They've piled up, and they're all interesting, including links to the several issues of The Escapist. Actually, this is kind of the Escapist tribute post.
Matthew Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and you can read it here
. In the column, he uses the word "nomenclatorial," and, much to my surprise, it is not a lesbian sex manual.
Dave Kramer made a video--"Ye Olde Pickup Lines of Oblivion." Very clever, and you can see it here
Sirius sent me a link to an article by Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel titled "Why I Hate Fantasy RPG's." Thought provoking and funny, you can read it here
Kieron Gillen has an article in issue 81 of The Escapist titled "The Sincerest Form of Imitation." It's a list of films that the gaming industry has "borrowed" from on a regular basis. Read it here
In issue 82 of The Escapist, Troy Goodfellow has an article about A Force More
Powerful titled "Gaming For Change: How One Non-Profit Wants to Change the World." I wrote about A Force More Powerful last year, and it was a thoughtful, thought-provoking game. In the gaming sense, it was (in a loosely comparative sense) the non-ruined version of Republic: The Revolution. In a political sense, it was a pretty fascinating primer on civil disobedience as a means of social change. All in all, it was well worth experiencing, and so is the article, which you can read here
Also in issue 82, the prolific Allen Varney has an excellent article about prediction markets, and it's here
. And in issue 84, has a totally fascinating article about Dunbar's Number. Dunbar's Number (for humans, 150) is (theoretically) the largest group size a species will form, which Dunbar believes is based on the size of the neocortex. You can read about it here
Finally, Russ Pitts has a terrific article about Armadillo Run in issue 83 titled "Free Fall: Running With Armadillos," and you can read it here
I know that The Escapist puts out a ton of content, and sometimes it misses, but I've read more interesting articles in The Escapist over the last year than in every other gaming print magazine combined.
By the Way
Thanks to Skullbox.net, where I found one of the pictures used in the creation of the AMD R9000HAL video card. Not that it's not real or anything.
The great neglected game of 2006, Paraworld, is now available for ten dollars at Best Buy (in-store only, and your results may vary) and $14.99 at Gamestop. It's also $16.99 at Circuit City.
Those prices are all steals for an excellent game that never got the attention it deserved.
Friday night, Eli 5.6 started peeing every fifteen minutes. This is the early alarm for a bladder infection, and given that it was almost 5 p.m., it meant that we were headed for the emergency room as soon as he said it hurt to pee.
Which he did, about thirty minutes later.
Bladder infections can be really, really bad for kids because of the pain. There's no way to just drink cranberry juice and see if it gets better or something like that. Five-year olds need antibiotics right away.
As it turned out, even though we waited over an hour to see a doctor, it was worth it. Eli started on a course of antibiotics that night and was spared almost all of the pain that accompanies that kind of infection.
The reason I'm mentioning this, though is because of a sign we saw in the examination room. Here's what it said:Did you know that studies show that 16%-42% of patients fall more than once during a hospital stay?
Did you know that 21%-75% of people who read that sign get totally confused? Based on those numbers, I was expecting an orderly to be yelling "MAN DOWN!" every fifteen seconds.
Oh, plus the title at the top of the sign said "Catch a Falling Star." There was a yellow star with a movement trail behind it. All it was missing was a little red head wound on the top point of the star.
Then, on Sunday, Gloria called at 2 p.m., after she had picked up Eli from Mom's house (where he goes for a visit on Sunday). "I have another flat tire," she said.
I always wanted my wife to develop some hobbies. I didn't know she'd pick having flat tires.
Ironically, she has the flat tire less than a hundred feet away--from a tire place. It's closed, of course.
This time, Gloria calls AAA. I need to drive out there to give her my car, though, so that she and Eli can go about their business and not just sit there waiting. And when I get there, she says it's going to be about another forty-five minutes before AAA is supposed to show up.
You guessed it--I can either spend forty-five minutes sitting in the car reading, or I can change the tire.
Which I did.
The formula for how long AAA will take to show up and change a tire is this: the length of time it would take for you to change the tire, plus twenty minutes.
And they did show up. Right when I was putting the jack away.
So as I'm walking from the tire place to a shopping center about half a mile away, I'm walking through the parking lot of a very low-grade used car place, and I see a sign. For several seconds, I think it says this: "HAVE YOU BEEN RETARDED LATELY?"
Well, no. Although that's not what it said. It actually said "HAVE YOU BEEN REWARDED LATELY?"
Again, given that the temperature was in the low forties, the wind was blowing, and it was raining, I'd say no.
Power to the Video Card
I think it's fair to officially say that video card companies have gone insane.
:VR-Zone has learned about some new details on 80nm R600 today and there will be 2 SKUs at launch; XTX and XT. There will be 2 versions of R600XTX; one is for OEM/SI and the other for retail. Both feature 1GB DDR4 memories on board but the OEM version is 12.4" long to be exact and the retail is 9.5" long. The above picture shows a 12.4" OEM version. The power consumption of the card is huge at 270W for 12" version and 240W for 9.5" version. As for R600XT, it will have 512MB of GDDR3 memories onboard, 9.5" long and consumes 240W of power.
What? Two hundred and seventy freaking watts?
In case you're wondering, the GeForce 8800 GTX, a card that was previously judged to have a gigantic power requirement, needs 165W and is 10 1/2" long.
Has AMD just not gotten the message about performance per watt?
Even worst, AMD's next-next-gen video card has gone completely off the deep end. Thanks to DQ source A. Nonymous, who snapped this top-secret picture of the AMD R9000HAL video card.
Here's an excerpt from his e-mail:
There's no close-up because one, people were very nervous about having anyone from the outside in the lab (with good reason, since I got a picture!), and two, I wanted you to see just how damn big this video card is. That's a bare card next to a card with the heat sink installed. And no, you're not imagining things--that's an 8800BTU air conditioner mounted on the card. It's some new kind of heat transfer system that's supposed to cool both the card and the room the system is in.
I asked what the power requirements were, and three guys at once said "external power supply."
The 3DMark scores are supposed to be fantastic, though.
I don't have a second confirmation on this, but I received an e-mail saying that Toys"R"Us is also going to have the Wii in their Sunday circular. Wii's everywhere tomorrow, apparently.
There's quite a scandal ongoing in Eve Online,
and here's the opening from an investigative piece over at The Escapist:Over the past few days, news has been trickling out about certain members of the EVE Online development team using their position to give the player corporations (guilds) they belong to an unfair advantage. The story was originally broken by a player who utilized his in-game spy network to listen in on conversations between corporation alliance leaders, looking for intelligence to sell to other alliances, but he stumbled into a controversy that ultimately got him banned from EVE and exposed what could be the most blatant case of developer misconduct in years.
The full article is here
The Emperor? Of Course You People Know About the Emperor
You guys sent me some really fascinating e-mail about the first Emperor of Qin.
Just typing that last sentence made me laugh out loud. There is nothing I can write about that you guys can't make more interesting.
First off, from Angus Cepka, a note about the Emperor's tomb:Having been to Xian and seen the Terracotta Army, I can attest to its greatness, but what you may not know is that a few hundred feet away from the terracotta army is Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. It is a large hill which you can walk to the top of. It remains unexcavated. The most interesting thing about the tomb is the description offered by Sima Qian (perhaps China’s most famous historian, active in the Han Dynasty, the one right after the first emperor). He described how the tomb has an entire map of China within with rivers made from flowing mercury. In addition it is suggested that perhaps the emperor had his treasury buried along with him. Limited information about the tomb can be found here. If you have further interest, I would recommend the Discovery Channel documentary The First Emperor: The Man Who Made China.
Next, from Gary Theis:I'm in Singapore, and there was a docudrama on Emperor Qin Shi Huang's life here a few months back on our ChannelNewsAsia. Their take on his accumulation of troops was that he was paranoid that all of the people he had conquered/slaughtered in the past would be waiting for him when he died. So, in his mercury-poisoned state (some medicine he was supposedly regularly taking to extend his life was mercury-based) in his later years, he felt that having an army of his own in the afterlife would be the only thing that saved him from the vast numbers of people who would inevitably be seeking vengeance.
Then, from Guitar Hero wiz John Harwood, comes a link to an article titled "Nine major enigmas of Qin Shihuang Mausoleum." It's full of interesting information and you can read it here
Finally, from Chris Bartlett:Also of note is the fact that the Terracotta Army Wonder in Rise of Nations is the single coolest RTS wonder of all time. It's function? Spawning terracotta soldiers. It spawns a foot unit every thirty seconds for every infantry unit under your control.
Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich
This is a new biography of Pete Maravich that just came out last week.
Basketball is a team sport, but Maravich was the consumate individual player. He was the greatest one-on-five player ever. In one way, that's faint praise, but what he could do with a basketball and how he could score was astonishing. He averaged 44 points a game in college--for three years. Without a three-point line.
If you have no idea about what Pete Maravich could do on a basketball court, head over to YouTube and prepare to be amazed. As an example, I've only seen one person throw a behind-the-back-between-the-legs pass. Pete, obviously. I didn't even think it was possible. And in every one of those YouTube clips, you'll see things that are absolutely jaw-dropping.
One of Maravich's most famous games (there were many) came against Georgia at the end of his junior year in 1969. Pete scored 24 of LSU's last 29 points in regulation and brought the Tigers back from a 15-point deficit. The game went to double overtime and Maravich wound up with 58 points. At the end of the game, the fans stormed out of the stands and carried him off the court.
The GEORGIA fans. It was a road game for LSU.
There are all kinds of uncomfortable questions that you have to consider when you're thinking about Pete Maravich--most notably, his father and the issue of race in the South in the 1960's--but there is no question at all that he was a legend.
And there's certainly a connection between Press Maravich (his father) and Emperor Qin Shi Huangi (the terracotta army): it reminds us of the single-minded, obsessive behavior that can produce remarkable results--but at a terrible cost. Qin Shi Huangi's obsession was to create an army to protect him in the afterlife, and his tomb (which took 700,000 workers 38 years to complete) was an example of his both incredibly single-minded and self-serving behavior.
Press might have been one of the single worst examples of a "Little League father" in history, and his obsession produced a basketball machine. Pete, though, was rarely happy in spite of his great ability. I don't absolutely know this to be true, but I'm guessing that obsession rarely has a happy ending. And for every father who's obsessive and single-minded and their sons become wonders, there are a thousand fathers or more who try to do the same thing and destroy their sons in the process.
This is a very interesting read, and it's not sugar-coated. It's compelling and sometimes thrilling and often disturbing. If you're a sports fan, it's an excellent read, and even if you're not, it's a cautionary tale about fathers and their sons.
Here's the Amazon link
if you're interested. And if you get a chance, definitely go over to YouTube--the videos are stunning.
The Terracotta Army
I watched a show on Discovery HD a few weeks ago with Eli 5.6 (5.5 at the time) called Secrets of Ancient China.
It's an amazing show, and the picture quality is spectacular.
There was a segment on the show about the Terracotta Army, and it was truly incredible. If you've never heard this story, the first Emperor of Qin (around 210 B.C.) had life-size figures of his soldiers built out of terracotta.
Eight thousand of them.
Even more incredible, each figure had a unique face made from a mask of a soldier in Qin's army. And there were figures of horses as well.
This army was a legend in Chinese history for centuries. Then, in 1974, they were uncovered by farmers digging a well.
This why the figures were built: Qin Shi Huangi (the Emperor) wanted an army with him in the afterlife.
Imagine that. Talk about a badass--this guy wasn't satisfied with being an Emperor in one world. He was going to take an army with him and kick ass in the afterlife, too.
The show is coming on again February 9 at 2 p.m. EST.
The Wikipedia entry, which is very good and has some excellent pictures, is here
. And you can look at the website for the official museum here
I think I've decided, after building my last few computers, to let someone else do it this time, and I think I've tentatively chosen Puget Custom Computers
. They've got a six-month rating at Reseller Ratings of 10, and their lifetime score is 9.91. Very impressive customer comments, too.
Anyway, if any of you guys have ordered from them and have any comments to share, please let me know. I probably won't order until the beginning of March or so.
Update to the Update
DQ reader Vahur Teller sent me some outstanding links to information about DVD software and hardware sales.
First off, and you can read this here
, is a .pdf by the MPAA that lists unit sales for DVD's in 2005. There's also an absolute ton of interesting information in this document, but let's focus on "Sales of Home Entertainment to U.S. Dealers" (page 29). Under the category "Sell-Through DVD's", the number is 1,114.2.
That's in millions, by the way. And that means over a BILLION DVD's were sold in the U.S. last year.
Is it possible that the 1,114.2 number includes stock that hasn't been sold yet? No, because on page 31, under "DVD software units shipped to dealers", the number listed is 1,657.
I had absolutely no idea.
So HD-DVD and Blu-Ray sales aren't 1% of the total DVD market. They're more like 1/10 of 1%.
However, it does look like high-definition formats are being adopted faster than original DVD. If you look at the DVD FAQ
, only about 1.5 million DVD players were sold in the first two years of availability (1997-1998). What's interesting, though, is that the number of titles available increased at an astounding rate--from 60 in 1997, to 3,000 in 1998, to 6,300 in 1999. So it will be interesting to see the rate at which new titles for Blu-Ray and DVD-HD are coming out.
Unlikely Death Theater
Eli 5.6 has recently started inventing extremely complex, hypothetical ways that people could die.
"Dad, what happens if someone dies while they're playing basketball?" he asked. We were watching a game at the time.
"I don't think anyone's ever died while they're playing basketball," I said. Not technically true.
"Well," he said, thinking, "WHAT IF there was a big TACK on the court, and the pointy end was pointing up, and A GUY was dribbling the ball and he tripped and fell RIGHT ON the tack and it drove into his heart and killed him?"
"There aren't any tacks on basketball courts,"I said. "I don't think that could happen."
He paused, wisely. "Don't be so sure, Dad," he said ruefully. "Don't be so sure."
I haven't written much today because I've been reading a fascinating book about Jimi Hendrix called Black Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi Hendrix
by Steven Roby.
This book isn't a biography as much as it is a meticulous listing of everywhere Jimi Hendrix played. Concerts, rehearsals, jamming, and everything else--it's all listed here. And it's incredible how many people Hendrix played with, both formally and informally, in his lifetime. Everyone, it seemed, jammed with him at least once. It helped me remember how incredibly interconnected everyone was in the 60's--everyone played with everyone else, they all learned from each other, and they all seemingly helped each other.
The people who attended Hendrix's gigs were amazing as well: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Brian Epstein, Alan Clark and Robby Elliott of the Hollies, Eric Clapton, the Small Faces, the Animals, Donovan, Georgie Fame, Denny Laine (the Moody Blues, Wings), and Lulu ("To Sir With Love").
That was one
gig, by the way, a London club named Bag o' Nails on January 11, 1967. One gig!
I was also very surprised to find out that there are, literally, over a thousand hours of Hendrix recordings that haven't been released. Much of it is raw material from studio work, but there are also a bewildering number of bootlegs out there of concerts and jam sessions with other musicians. Hendrix was incredibly prolific in terms of how much he played.
Among the recordings that allegedly exist but have not yet been found: a session with Jimi and Miles Davis.
Here's an Amazon link if you're interested: Black Gold
Demo: NBA Street Homecourt (360)
I have a bit of affection for the NBA Street series. Both the debut and the sequel were entertaining and fun. What made the games so much fun, for me, was that while there were always elements that were over the top, I never felt like they dominated the game.
In other words, it wasn't NBA Jam. It was a highly stylized version of basketball, not a cartoon.
I downloaded the demo for the latest version of the game--NBA Street Homecourt--
and played it for about an hour.
The good news: it looks fantastic. The bad news: it's NBA Jam.
That's right, unfortunately. Everything is a trick now. Everything is over the top. It reminded me much, much more of NBA Jam than NBA Street.
I assume that's the curse of putting out five, or ten, or twenty versions of a game. Even if you make one version that's great, you have to change it substantially to get people to buy the next version. So NBA Street Vol. 2 was the sweet spot for this series, and it's been downhill from there.
As a rental, this game will be lots of fun for a few hours. As a glorified version of NBA Jam, though, it's not going to be worth sixty dollars.
It's going to review really well, though, because it looks spectacular.
Here's one other oddity I noticed: why in the world is the ball animation smoother in this arcade game than for NBA Live? It's still not outstanding, but it's leagues above NBA Live.
The single best thing that anyone who develops a basketball game could do would be to focus for an entire year on the flight of the ball and the interaction between the ball and hand. Making that as flawless as possible would make a basketball game exponentially more immersive.
Target is apparently hoarding Wii's for a Sunday circular, so while they show up in inventory (which is why iTrackr shows them as in stock) , they're not actually being put out on the floor.
However, it's likely that at least a few Targets will screw up and put them out for sale immediately, so it might be worth taking a look if you're near one and are still looking for a Wii.
Second, Sony's promoting itself as having taken the lead in high-definition DVD sales. According to a story
over at Next-Gen, Sony says that 439,000 Blu-Ray movies have been sold compared to 438,000 HD-DVD movies.
As I said in the post yesterday, I'd never seen unit sales information, and now it's pretty clear why no one has been releasing it. I'd be willing to be that total unit sales for both formats combined is well less than 1% of the sales of standard DVD's. That's miniscule.
A Few Random Notes
I've received a few mails indicating that people are seeing Wii's in stock at their local Targets as well, so in at least some parts of the country, Wii's are available today.
Brian over at Kotaku posted an article yesterday about Jack Thompson and his checkered legal history in terms of run-ins with various state bar associations. Today he has a post about Thompson's response, which he quotes in full. It's standard Thompson fare--rambling, haranguing, dickish, and just a little bit creepy. Take a look here
Via Engadget (and originally, Xbox-Scene) comes a story about Microsoft using a new (and much quieter) optical drive in the 360. That would be a significant improvement, since the optical drive is, by far, the loudest component in the console. Take a look here
The New York Times has an interesting article today about space junk. There's a surprising amount of it floating around in Earth orbit--over 10,000 pieces that are four inches wide or larger. China's rocket test that destroyed an old satellite last month has already added over 800 pieces. Eventually, when some of those pieces start colliding, we're going to have big problems, and you can read about it here
Now I'm off to play the Supreme Commander demo.
Wii's and Target
Most Austin area Target stores now have the Wii in stock. It started happening on a rolling basis late this morning, and while I don't know if this is true nationally, it's probably worth a phone call to your local Target if you're still looking for a Wii.
Notes on the Super Bowl
1. Not many people were talking about this, but I think the Colts offensive line turned in one of the most dominating performances in Super Bowl history. 42 rushing plays for 191 yards, an average of 4.54 yards a play. 38 passing attempts with one sack, and probably no more than five other plays when Manning got hit. The Bears defense hadn't been as good as it had been earlier in the season, but that's still an unbelievable level of domination.
2. I've seen every Super Bowl (I know--I'm old), and that was one of the very best quarterbacking performances I've ever seen. Almost no one else in the league could have thrown 38 passes in that weather and completed 2/3 of them. Not to mention the flawless playcalling and game management.
3. Rex Grossman is too erratic to be a starting quarterback for anyone, let alone a team in the Super Bowl. He also appears to be completely unable to read through a progression--he either heaves the ball downfield or immediately throws a swing pass to a running back. Kyle Orton did a better job of managing games last year than Grossman did this year.
I was rooting for the Colts, and by the end of the third quarter, the only concern I had was that Grossman might get hurt. That was my biggest fear, that he'd get hurt and have to come out of the game.
4. The Colts used to be derided as a finesse team. They aren't a finesse team anymore--they can line up and punch you in the mouth.