Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vacation: Detour (From The Inside)

A former Disney employee who is a DQ reader asked me if I had any questions for him, and of course, I did. He sent me some terrific information about what it's like to work for Disney, and it's interesting to read about what Disney is like from the other side of the curtain, so to speak. Let's just call him "Mr. X."

I do know that different “roles” get different training--I had about a week before I started. I was a waiter in the bar at the Fort Wilderness Resort from 1999-2002… if there’s an ass-end of Disney World, it’s there. It’s one of the oldest resorts, essentially it’s a campground/RV park built in ‘72 or ‘73. A lot of the hardcore Disney enthusiasts like it because you can stay on-site for super-cheap compared to the other hotel rooms, but if you really want one they have air-conditioned little cabins that sleep up to 8 (at full hotel prices). At our bar it’s one of the cheapest places you can feed a family of four (about $16 for a large cheese pizza and 4 waters). People can get a season passes and drive up in an RV and stay for months. As well, other people really do stay in a friggin’ tent for their entire stay at WDW.

Anyway, back to the induction procedures. It is drilled into you again and again that if a “guest” complains about you, you can lose your job. I think it’s the best customer service training I’ve ever gotten… they really do come first. You’ve seen the quotes I’ve put above… the big thing about Disney is they’ve cultivated a corporate culture where you’re part of the “show,” no matter who you are. Everything is put in terms of the show: employees are “cast members performing a role,” no one is a customer, they’re always guests (as in, treat them as you would a guest in your own home). Anywhere that guests can see is “on-stage,” anywhere they can’t is “backstage.” Do you want the role with the most guest contact? Be a janitor (they have another name for it but I can’t remember it off the top of my head). Probably the first place the janitors ever got intensive customer service training. And janitors do have a certain amount of cred among other cast members because it's a tough job.

You’re taught to go out of your way to exceed expectations – a phrase that has become commonplace in the business world, but I first heard at WDW. There’s an incentive scheme as well – you can nominate other cast members for providing “magical moments,” where they go over and above to provide a great piece of customer service. Those nominations can factor into bonuses or other rewards. There’s a lot of attention to detail: anything a guest can possibly be exposed to has had some thought put into it.

You can get free admission to any park at any time it’s open – you’re encouraged to ride/experience everything… the better to make recommendations for guests. You also, in lieu of monetary bonuses, get a number of guest passes for family and friends. You actually have to enter the park with them (to prevent a black market – there used to be one, from what I understand).

There are obviously some no-no’s: don’t ever, EVER say or do anything that breaks the illusion, especially while on-stage. The guy who commiserated with you, if a manager might have seen/overheard, might have gotten a reprimand (some managers are Disney nazi’s, others are a bit more human). Mickey Mouse, while obviously the most popular character, has a highly detailed schedule of appearances… he never is on-stage in more than one place at the same time. None of the characters are, actually. Any time a kid does see something, or asks about something, if you can’t explain it away you just say “it’s part of Disney magic.”

You do pretty much have to be a Disney fan to work there. There are several evil things corporate Disney does (or is rumored to), but one of them is that they pay well below the market rate for wages/salaries. Simple supply & demand: they know there are talented people out there who will work for them. I still list it on my CV today – it’s a talking point in an interview and I can provide good customer service examples… even though I work in banking software, about as far from Disney as you can get. I also gamed the system a bit by being a waiter – I was paid by tips the guests left, not so much by Disney itself.

As a side note, both Gloria and I were very impressed by the Disney employees. Yes, some of them did look miserable, but they were unfailingly helpful and courteous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vacation (Part Three)


The mouse lies.

My favorite shoes of the whole trip: black and white checked, high-top, canvas, lace-up Converse. I tried to get a picture without looking like a stalker: failed.

Pirates of the Caribbean was a fun ride, the exit from which, inevitably, went through "Ye Olde Merchandise Shoppe."

We ate at a restaurant in Magic Kingdom and this was the first time I'd seen all employees look uniformly miserable. They looked like indentured servants.

I asked the cashier if I should order a particular salad or chicken strips. "Do you like the salad?" I asked.

"Um," she said. "Um. Well." Five seconds went by.

"Chicken strips it is," I said. "Thank you for your honest silence." She laughed. In a situation like that, I follow a three-second rule (not unlike dropping food on the floor at home): if it takes them longer than three seconds, don't order it.

Later, I mentioned to Gloria how unhappy everyone looked. "I look at theme park employees like I do animals in the zoo," I said. "Are their habitats large enough? Are they doing repetitive things that indicate a high level of stress?"

Tour Guide Gloria's two-word guide to Disney: "don't go."

Magic Kingdom, much more than the other parks we visited, is full of people exhibiting what I call "Disney rage." They have these dark, angry looks on their faces (always parents, usually men), like they're ready to shiv someone at any moment.

I've seen a few parents just go OFF on their kids, too, which is always incredibly discouraging. Anyone who has to do that lost control of themselves and the situation way back up the road, and the kids always look stunned and panicked.

By the way, Magic Kingdom wasn't really as miserable as these notes, but it seemed to be what I was writing down during the day. What we hadn't realized was that much of Magic Kingom is basically a copy of parts of Disneyland, and since we went there a few years ago, it was nothing new. They had a decent arcade, though, a fun water ride, and there were some funny moments.

Example: after about a million hours of walking all over the place, Eli really wanted to go back to the hotel (so that we could play at the excellent arcade). Looking for an ironclad way out, he said, "My foot hurts."
"You're nine and your foot already hurts," I said. "You have a an unfortunate and difficult life ahead of you."

"Dad!" he said, laughing.

Once we got out of Magic Kingdom, the day quickly improved. We went back to the hotel, and the maid had arranged all of Eli's stuffed animals (that he'd won during the trip) on the bed:

That little white figure on the left of the bed is an elephant--made out of hand towels--with another of his stuffed animals riding the elephant. That was absolutely one of the best moments of the whole trip.

We went to Downtown Disney and had another nice surprise when we decided to eat at T-Rex, which is a dinosaur-themed restaurant.

It was awesome. Seriously. Here's where we were sitting:

That background changed to deep red (lava theme) every few minutes, and there was a meteor shower every fifteen minutes or so. It was more immersive than anything I'd seen in the theme parks, and we had an absolute blast.

On another restaurant menu we'd seen earlier, we'd seen the word "fufu" (a staple food of Central and West Africa, according to Wikipedia).

"I've always wanted to eat fufu for dinner," Eli said.

"You mean Little BUNNY Fufu?" I asked.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Links!

From Sirius, video of a new sport that combines skiing and paragliding: speedflying. It should also be called "A Scenic Way To Die." Also, the story of the Clan Towers Of Ingushetia, impregnable towers where people lived for years without ever coming out. One more, and it's a discovery of how certain snakes manage to fly.

Here's a fascinating link from Mr. Fritz: The Shadow Scholar. The author writes all sorts of collegiate papers, including graduate dissertations, for a living, and it's a terrific (and disturbing) read.

Here's an excellent (and rare) interview with Berke Breathed (creator of the much-loved Bloom County, among other things).

From Mitch Youngblood, a bizarre but fascinating project: Russia plans domed city in Siberian mine. I don't know if there should be a second "o" in "domed" or not.

From Randy Graham, and anyone with a smartphone has probably experienced this, it's Damn You, Auto Correct.

From John Catania, and you really need to see this, it's The Most Realistic CGI You've Ever Seen.

From Jim Moss, some absolutely spectacular pictures taken from the International Space Station.

From Dave Yeager, an episode of Unbeatable Banzuke--this time, featuring a unicylist.

From Keith Grogan, a fantastic collection of images from the National Geographic Photography Contest.

From Frank Regan, and this must be the coolest kid's room ever: Perimeter Marble Run.

From Brian DeyErmand, and if you're a basketball fan, this is a must-see: a visual representation of each player's stats in the form of a human (that's a crappy explanation, but just go here and read the explanation, then click on the screen to move through the players. It's incredibly clever.

Finally, in the That Can't Be What You Really Meant department, a poignant story hampered by the headline: Man touched by two drunk drivers gives thanks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vacation (Part Two)


"Chicken nuggets were not the original nuggets," Gloria said to Eli, while we were trying to explain the origin of "Denver Nuggets." He didn't know they were talking about gold nuggets.

We rode a roller coaster called "Expedition Everest," which was quite a sight from a distance. This sight, actually:

We saw a sign as we got off Everest that said CHILD SWAP. "Hey, do you want to see what's available?" I asked Gloria.

"Hey!" Eli said.

Eli's been walking around singing "I'm just an orphenated boy," which never fails to make me start laughing (that's a highly broken version of a Miley Cyrus song).

I've always wanted to have a picture album that's nothing but pictures of other people taking pictures.

We stopped at one point and got Eli a Sprite. "Dad, there's a bug in my drink," he said.

"It's a small bug," I said. "Drink it down, baby!"

We went on a "safari ride", and at one point, the narrator said "This is the wild Africa we're trying so hard to protect." Only wild Africa was nowhere in sight.

"Little white bird," I said.

"Squirrel," Eli said.

Later on the safari ride, we drove past a rhinocerous who was standing motionless. "Their feet are actually glued to pedestals," I said. "Not many people know that."

We stopped at a drink stand and the vendor was a very witty older woman. At one point, Eli said something about getting run over by an elephant. "Oh, I hope not," she said. "I'd hate to have to call the offal truck."

I wore a shirt that was captioned "the evolution of man," and featured a series of images that progressed from ape to video game player. A clerk at a gift shop complimented me on the shirt, and as I had been hoping to ask a Disney employee a question about the dual joyful/soulless nature of their job, I figured this was a good time.

"So, what's your favorite thing to do in this park?" I asked.

"I really don't hang out in the park," he said. "After I'm here all day, I really want to go home."

"So is it strange working here?" I asked. "I mean, this is a distillation of something real, but it's also incredibly sanitized. Is it a surreal feeling to work here?"

"It is, it really is," he said. "I found out that so much of this is manufactured happiness."

"I bet you get a ton of training in that," I said.

"We do, and it's very specific," he said. "It's so specific that it's a little unnerving."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vacation (Part One)

Narrated, but essentially unedited.

It took us 2:45 to fly from Austin to Orlando. It took 2:00 from the time we landed to get to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I texted my friend Mike:
We're still on the bus. I think we're being taken to a work camp.

We were not. Here is the view from our Animal Kingdom lodge patio the next morning:

Yes, those are two giraffes in the background.

We go to Universal to see Harry Potter world. Disney has an elaborate bus system, but not to go to the competition. We did make it there as the park opened.

We just stood in line for twenty minutes for a ride that lasted thirty seconds.

I've never seen so many churro stands in my life. Fucking churros.

Welcome to the International Line Disguise Institute (ILDI)

Ratio of places where you can spend money versus places that are free: 5-1.

An uneasy alliance of joyful and soulless.

Harry Potter World is a two-hour experience, if you go slow. Thanks for that.

I'm behind, and I'm more behind Poseidon's Fury. Very good, to come up here. I have no idea what the hell that meant, but here's a picture of Poseidon's Temple:

There are Blondie and Beetle Bailey stores here. What am I, 100?

Eli played a game on the Midway and lost. He pouted for a few seconds because we didn't let him play it again, then I said, "You lost. Get over it and move on with your life." He laughed. Pouting over.

A glowering cab driver's seemingly personal comment on a recent cab robbery: "You should never rob a cab. It's stupid. What you should do--is rob is a bank."

Universal is an actress who only gets character roles now. Genial, a little faded, past her prime.

During another cab ride, I texted Mike again:
We have a Thai cab driver and Girls Just Want To Have Fun just came on the radio. I desperately hope that he starts singing.

There's a huge arcade in Downtown Disney. It costs a small fortune and it's not worth it, but they did have part of a floor dedicated to old sports games. And out of the twenty or so on display, the best two, by far, were World Series Baseball and Virtua Tennis.

This was a machine so old that the Mets were batting Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile (1997, I believe). Oh, and "M. Alexander", which made me curious enough that I looked him up. That would be Manny Alexander, light-hitting utility infielder with a lifetime batting average of .231 and 15 HR in 1271 career at-bats. Incredibly, he was still playing in Italy in 2009 after playing for six different major league clubs.

Virtua Tennis was also ancient, but it reminded me of how tremendous the animation was in that game. Jim Courier, in particular, was perfectly modeled. right down to his dives.

Gloria looks like the Unabomber in that hoodie.

She did not appreciate the reference.

Later, I got a picture of her in a signature stylish moment, just before playing a 3-D game:

Asleep by 9:30. Not wearing the glasses.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Honest Answer

I take Eli 9.3 to California Pizza Kitchen every Friday after unicycling club. We sit at the counter because a tremendously nice lady named Alana works there, and she treats Eli like one of her own children.

Last week, she told us a story about her daughter Melody (who's five). Melody has, on occasion, poured out full bottles of shampoo into the shower drain. Alana had just bought a new bottle of shampoo, and after Melody took a shower, Alana noticed that the new shampoo bottle no longer had any shampoo.

"Did you pour all the shampoo out of the bottle?" she asked Melody.

"No," Melody said. "Maybe."

"Why did you do that?" Alana asked.

"I don't have a good reason," Melody said.


We were watching the Penguins play the Rangers last week, and some knucklehead started fighting some other knucklehead. A discussion about fighting ensued.

[boring part edited out--at least, I hope you think that after reading the rest]

"Well, fighting is never going to solve anything," Gloria said.

"Oh, sure, Mom, I can't believe you're saying that, Eli 9.3 said. "You've started a few fights."

"What?" she said, laughing. "I have not."

"Mom, come on!" Eli said.

Reason steps into the void.

"Little dude, what you say is true or has an element of truth pretty often," I said. "but your mother has never started a fistfight. I know about the YouTube videos, but those are so grainy that they're totally inconclusive."

Rock Band From A Musician's Perspective

Bill Saunders sent me some excellent links from the Create Digital Music website about Rock Band 3 from a musician's perspective. It's particularly interesting to read about Rock Band from a more technical perspective. Here are the articles:
Rock Band 3, Behind The Scenes: When A Music Game Gets More Real
Hands On: Rock Band 3's Keytar, A Surprisingly Serious $80 MIDI Keyboard
Exclusive Details: How the Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang Works as a MIDI Guitar

Monday, November 22, 2010


The man who might have been the greatest ultra-endurance athlete in history, Jure Robič, died in a car accident at age 50.

How great was he? He holds the 24-hour cycling record: 834.77 km (518.70 miles). Yes, that's over 21 miles an hour for a 24-hour period.


If you missed it originally, here's a NY Times article about him titled (appropriately) That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger. The "stranger" part was in reference to some of the absolutely bizarre things that ultra-endurance athletes must pass through during their events. There's also a documentary (which I haven't seen, but will soon): Bicycle Dreams.

Gran Turismo 5: The Condundrum

Yes, "The Conundrum" should be a race track, but it isn't.

Sony announced yesterday that Gran Turismo 5 wil be released on November 24. I'm not particularly interested in driving games anymore, but having played past verions of Gran Turismo, there's no doubt in my mind that it will be a genre-defining game.

There's a sub-plot involving Gran Turismo 5, though, that is much more interesting.

This game has been in development by Digital Polyphony for almost five years. Digital Polyphony, according to their website, has "approximately" 110 employees.

I can't translate 5 years X 110 employees and come up with a development budget for the game, but let me settle on the general term "ultra-shitload of mony."

Question: how does Sony ever make their money back by selling GT5 for $60?

Answer: they don't.

That means they have to sell DLC, and lots of it, but it seems that every GT5 interview has always stressed the overwhelming amount of content available in the "standard" game. So what do they hold back to offer as DLC?

I think there's another shoe dropping here, at some point. Either Sony takes a big hit financially, or they lock a significant amount of content on the disc and sell us DLC for several years.

To me, it would be worth it to just offer this ridiculously fantastic product for $60 and take a loss, because the goodwill (and possibly, additional hardware sales) would more than make up for it. But the PS3 era has been nothing short of a financial boondoggle for Sony, so they may not be thinking in terms of goodwill.

A New Breed

We were in the car on the way back from hockey practice, driving into our neighborhood. I saw an older woman with a sizable poodle (the dog, not the hairdo, although that would have been amusing).

"Hey, look at that lady walking her poodle," I said.

"Dad," Eli 9.3 said patiently, "that's not a poodle."

"Of course it's a poodle," I said. "What is it if it isn't a poodle?"

"I think it's a German Yapper," he said.

I burst out laughing. "Okay, there's no such thing as a German Yapper, but there should be," I said.

We now refer to all small dogs as German Yappers.

Etrian Odyssey III (Update)

Since I wrote a glowing post about Etrian Odyssey III a few weeks ago, let me give you an update.

I hit the 30-40 hour mark, had 40+ level characters, was completely immersed in the game, and then it just got stupidly hard. The boss fights are always lengthy affairs, but they became ridiculous, and to continue, I would have needed to grind away for several hours to add 5+ levels to my characters (even though I'd already been grinding a bit).

So it's been great, but they lost me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Links!

From Kevin W, and this link actually contains ten videos: unusual scientific phenomena videos.

A new installment of Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column is up. This month, The Game of Life.

From Sirius, and this looks insanely difficult, it's an 8-year-old boy break dancing--performing 30 air flairs. Also, a bizarre yet entirely brilliant discovery: Gold Nanoparticles Could Transform Trees Into Street Lights. Here's one more: In the Grip of the New Monopolists. Wait, she isn't done yet: the magic pill that turns sour into sweet.

From DQ Reader My Wife, a story from The Onion: Oprah Invites Hundreds Of Lucky Fans To Be Buried With Her In Massive Tomb.

From John Rodriguez, and this video is amazing: Lewis Crathern Kite-jumps Brighton Pier.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, the staggeringly beautiful cliff temples of India.

From Frank Regan, and trust me, you want to see this: a 15-story building built in two days. That's not a typo. Oh, and here's something else that is also excellent: an interactive story version of Night Of The Living Dead.

From Jonathan Arnold, a smokestack demolition gone awry.

If you've ever played Pop-A-Shot, you need to see this girl. "Fast" and "accurate" don't even begin to describe her.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, the new video by Danny Macaskill, who is a freakishly excellent BMX rider. It's called Way Back Home.

From Jeremy Fischer, a video from comedian Tim Hawkins, with a routine about classic rock songs being updated to reflect the singer's age.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Believe It Or Not

Yes, we're going to Disney World. If you are a member of a contemporary religion, please pray for me. If you are pagan, please sacrifice a goat. If you are Aztec, please play an odd form of soccer with a human head and execute the losing team.

Well, I'm sort of hoping that you're not Aztec.

What this means for you is that Dubious Quality will be on auto-pilot until next Wednesday. However, all content (including the Friday Links post) has already been written, so you will be well supplied (or at least as well-supplied as normal).

In addition, there is the possiblity of me kiting in with a few tales of theme park disaster.

I won't have access to e-mail. You can still send it, but I won't get it for a while. Please consider that if you're sending a time-sensitive communication like "YOUR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION PLEASE KIND SIR TO UNLOCK $20 MILLION IN U.S. CURRENCY."

Rock Band 3: Here's Hoping

A little history. Please note that these numbers are U.S. sales only.

Rock Band
--released on November 20, 2007 for the 360
--sold 311,000 units in November (360 only--other platforms released later)
--sold over 4 million units (all platforms) by October 9, 2008

Rock Band 2
--released September 14, 2008 for the 360
--sold 363,000 units in September. #3 in NPD sales for the month (360 only).
--released October 19, 2008 for the PS3
--sold 118,000 units for the PS3 in October. #16 in NPD sales for the month (PS3 only).
--released December 18, 2008 for the Wii
--sold 150,000 units for the Wii in December.
--first month combined sales (all three platforms, roughly two weeks for each platform): 631,000

Yes, I know that's scotch-taping "first month combined sales," because they didn't release simultaneously. Bear with me.

The Beatles: Rock Band
--released September 9, 2009 (all platforms)
--first month sales (combined): 597,200, with roughly one additional week of sales compared to that Rock Band 2 number I Frankensteined.
--if NPD had been combining sales data across platforms back then (as it does now), TB:RB would have been the #2 game for the month, behind only Halo: ADHD (that would be the perfect name, wouldn't it?).

As an aside, The Beatles: Rock Band was a masterpiece. An absolute, full-blown masterpiece.

So, we come to Rock Band 3. It was #15 in combined sales (although, to be fair, there were only six days of sales in October).

We know that #10 (WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011) sold 225,000 units units for the month. However, the decay rate between #10 and #15 (based on some digging around in the data over at the Video Game Sales Wiki) appears to roughly be in the range of 20-25%.

That would put total Rock Band 3 sales in the 160,000-180,000 range. Again, you can look at how I arrived at that number and disagree, but regardless, even the highest possible number (based on #10 being 225k) isn't good. I'm willing to bet that Rock Band 3, even after adjusting for the release date, is selling at less than half the rate of The Beatles: Rock Band.

There are several possible mitigating factors here:
--only six days of sales
--music games can have long tails in sales terms
--maybe people are just waiting for the Squier

Here's the problem with the "waiting for the Squier" theory, though: more people are waiting for a $300 peripheral bundle than they were for a $60 game? Don't get me wrong--I want to be #1 in line for a Squier--but in a mass market sense, it's hard to see that generating significant sales.

Like I've said many times, this is my favorite franchise in gaming history, and Harmonix is incredibly talented, so if anyone survives in this genre, they will. These numbers are ugly, but RB3 is a terrific game, and I always hope that quality wins out in the end.

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Console Post Of The Week: This Time, With Notes About Plenty Of Other Things As Well

If this is correct (and if it's not, it's close), here are your October NPD numbers:
Xbox 360--325,000

For comparsion, last year's October sales:
Xbox 360--249,700

Yes--those are huge changes for all three consoles. Microsoft and Sony have almost exactly reversed sales figures, while Nintendo is down over half.

What we can say in reasonably educated fashion:
--Microsoft's 2010 final sales in the U.S. will be up over 20% from 2009, and they will easily be the best selling console in the U.S. for 2010. Kinect may or may not be driving hardware sales, but it has a legitimate buzz going.
--Sony's 2010 final sales in the U.S. will be up less than 5% from 2009. "Move", in spite of Sony's claims, isn't moving anything at all, least of all console sales.
--Nintendo's 2010 final sales, at best, will be down 35% from 2009. At best. And no one seems to be excited about the Wii anymore.

More interesting this month than the hardware numbers, though, are some of the software figures. Tony Hawk: Shread? 3,000 units. Shaun White Skateboarding? Less than 10,000 units.

It's not just the music game genre that's on life support--skateboarding looks like it's in ICU right now as well. They may give a do not resuscitate order at any time.

Oh, and here's one more. DJ Hero 2? 59,000 units [cue sound of Bobby Kotick coughing up a human soul]. The DJ Hero Franchise? Dead. We're all just sitting around waiting for the obituary.

Are you seeing a trend here? I am, and it's disturbing. With almost everyone (EA, Take-Two, Ubisoft, etc.) following the Activision strategy of releasing fewer games, watching these franchises die off like honeybees is positively alarming.

Let's take a look in the DQ wayback machine, from March 30 of this year:
With fewer games from everyone, it becomes a marketing arms race. Much more is riding on each game, and even one failure is a disaster. Remember, too, that these games have to sell over a million units to even have a chance to break even.

In the "old" days, maybe a "AAA" flop would be recouped by a lower budget game that exceeded expectations, a game that could grow into a top tier franchise. With the big publishers, though, that second tier is essentially gone now. There's no fallback, no surprise hit.

For us, it means that these companies are going to flog existing franchises until their coats are foaming and they break down. Then they'll be shot. But there will be nothing to replace them, because there were no lower-tier franchises being groomed to eventually take their place.

Right now, I think it's fair to say that Tony Hawk, DJ Hero, and Guitar Hero are dead franchises. What does Activision have left besides Modern Warfare and World of Warcraft? They have Bungie working on a new franchise, which apparently better have "War" in the title.

So here's the question: when a bunch of companies follow Activision's strategy because Activision is making so much  money, and then Activision throws up all over itself, what do those other companies do then?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

October NPD

In the ridiculous cat-and-mouse game that has become monthly NPD numbers, NeoGAF has compiled part of the picture:
Xbox 360--325,000
PS3--less than 250,000
Wii--at least 204,000

Yes, that's annoying as hell.

Rock Band 3 (all platforms) apparently charted at #15, but since #10 sold 225,000 units, that means what--around 200,000 units? That's only for six days (released October 26), but it's still depressing.

Analysis tomorrow. Probably.


This is the kind of crap that drives me absolutely crazy.

Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published a story titled Is Your Videogame Machine Watching You? The article included this:
Dennis Durkin, who serves as chief operating officer and chief financial officer for Microsoft’s Xbox video game business, told investors Thursday that Kinect - which allows users to play video games without so much as a joystick - presents business opportunities for targeted game marketing and advertising.

Kinect is a camera peripheral that plugs into the Xbox 360 console and allows players to control games with only body movements. The system uses facial recognition technology to sign in players and match them with their avatars and profiles. But the technology can also be put to use beyond those purposes, Durkin said in a presentation at an investors conference sponsored by BMO Capital Markets.

“We can cater which content we present to you based on who you are,” Durkin said. “How many people are in the room when an ad is shown? How many people are in the room when a game is being played? When you add this sort of device to a living room, there’s a bunch of business opportunities that come with that.”

George Orwell, line four. George Orwell.

Now those quotes are about as damned specific as they could possibly be, and the meaning in what Durkin said is abundantly clear. That's clearly where Microsoft wants to head with this device.

So what does Microsoft do? Respond with feigned outrage and this statement:
Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes. Microsoft has a strong track record of implementing some of the best privacy protection measures in the industry. We place great importance on the privacy of our customers’ information and the safety of their experiences.

Yes, and clearly you dickhats* (new term) are going to be strongly committed to those privacy protection measures in the future--that's why your CFO was talking about "a bunch of business opportunities" that involve sticking a rectal probe up our collective asses.

Look, I understand that the era of having privacy inside our homes has, to a large degree, been compromised by the Internet in exchange for all the wonderful and disgusting things it has to offer. But Kinect looks like a genuinely interesting device, particularly in the hands of hackers. Couldn't you f-ers have let us bask in the warm glow of potential for at least a week before turning into Lord Voldemort?


If you didn't see Jerricho Cotchery's catch on Sunday in overtime against the Browns, you missed what may be the single greatest catch I've ever seen. During the play, he tore a groin muscle, hopped on one leg for about five seconds, and then made a sensational catch.

Wait for the third replay in this clip and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Child's Play 2010

The Child's Play  site went live today for this holiday season, and you know what to do.

The Golden Years

Last year, I gave Gloria an XM radio receiver for Christmas.

Last week, she got it installed. It's been busy.

She came home and I went out to her car to check it out. "It also has an iPod dock," she said. "Just unplug this and plug in your iPod." She unplugged a cable that went into a standard headphone jack on the side of the unit.

"Very nice," I said.

Then she went to plug the cable back in--and missed. "Oops," she said. She tried again. "Almost got it," she said. Then again. And again. And one more time. "I know it's right there," she said. "This car light is too dim." And again. One more time. Not quite. Just missed it.

"This must be what it's like to watch an old person try to pick up change," I said.

Unlimited Fun Now Costs $1.59

On Mondays, when I pick up Eli 9.3 from school,we always stop at Einstein's Bagels to get an iced sugar cookie. Well, two sugar cookies, because I eat one, too.

Incredibly, a photograph of this product does not appear to exist on the World Wide Web, so let me describe it for you. It's round and generously sized, with white icing, and colored sprinkles on top. 

Those sprinkles are important. They're almost perfectly round, and about the size of the head of a straight pin.

We were sitting at a counter, happily eating our respective snacks, when a sprinkle fell off my cookie, hit the counter in front of me, and began to roll freely.

Repeat: began to roll freely.

As I was watching, hypnotized, I looked up and saw Eli doing the same thing. I reached down and touched the red sprinkle with the edge of my finger, and it shot into the air.

"Oh, here we go!" Eli said (and yes, he got that phrase from the Bud Light commercials).

What followed was 15 minutes of non-stop laughter as we launched about 50 tiny sprinkles per cookie, one at a time. There was the Field Goal, the Pinball, the Shuttle Launch--and every single one made us laugh.

Micro fun.

On the way out to the car, I said, "Best sugar cookies ever."

Eli said, "We have some fun, don't we?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a classic story for our times: How Google Maps Led to an Accidental Invasion.

From a highly placed government source who wishes to remain anonymous, you really need to see, this, it's an explanation of The McGurk Effect.

From Martin Kingsley, and you must read this, even if you read nothing else this week: Please Allow Me To Correct a Few Things. It's described as a response from Mick Jagger to the recent Keith Richards autobiography. It's difficult to ascertain whether it's real, but once you read it, it doesn't matter-- it's so clearly true, whether it's real or not.

From Lummox JR, and you must also read this, because it's remarkable: babies reduce bullying.

Here's an interesting article about fusion reactors: "Snowflake" Plasma Containment Fields.

From Aaron Ward, and you just have to see it to believe it, it's The Rodenator.

From Kez, multiple examples of excellence: first, a classic e-mail exchange. Next, the book of Gord in comic book form.

He's 7 feet tall, he's from India, he plays basketball, and he's 14.

From David Gloier, and these are spectacular images, it's gravity defying goats (actually, that really should be "goats defying gravity"-- don't let my lack of precision confuse you).

From Mark Trinkwalder, and this is crazy: turbine powered RC Jet .

From Dib O, and these are beautiful pictures, it's the abandoned City Hall subway stop.

Here's a surprisingly interesting article about how a Wheel Of Fortune contestant solved a lengthy puzzle--
with just one letter.

From Sirius, news of a medical breakthrough: scientists can now make human blood from adult human skin. Of slightly less importance, there's this story: Bank Robber Foiled by Baggy Pants. Finally, and this is an excellent way to end the week, take a look at A Brief History of Time-Traveling Gadgets.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Third Floor And Rising

My drum teacher told me a terrific story today.

I asked him about the first band he'd ever joined (he's been in 200+, easily, over the years, and is in three right now). He leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and said "Man." Then he had to think for a minute.

As it turns out, he joined his first band while he was still in a Catholic private school. Their name was "Third Floor And Rising," and their first gig was at a dance at his high school.

He said it was the first time he'd ever played with a mixing board and a monitor, and during sound check he heard himself and realized that, while he wasn't a genius or anything, he was pretty good. That was also the moment he said he decided he wanted to play drums for a living for the rest of his life.

Here's the epic part. One of their best songs was "A Daisy Chain 4 Satan" (My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult), and the lyrics in that song are, to say it gently, "unsuitable" for a Catholic high school dance, given that they include such phrases as "I live for drugs" and "Dope forever, forever loaded."

However, he said that all the brothers (fathers? I'm not sure about the correct term there) heard was noise, being completely unwilling to actually listen to the music, so they couldn't make out the lyrics. No plugs were pulled, no shows were stopped, and on Monday, he said he had Hall of Fame credentials with his friends.

The Day the Music Died

Viacom has announced that it plans to sell Harmonix, developer of the Rock Band series and Dance Central. The mega-corp has reclassified the Boston-based company as a "discontinued operation" in its third-quarter financial and has already changed all future earnings to reflect the sale.

Does that mean the little plastic instrument genre is dead? No-- it was already dead. This is just the sound of the body hitting the floor.

When Harmonix announced earlier this week that all DLC going forward will be RB3-compatible only, they officially announced the inception date of their suicide mission.

I don't mean that as a condemnation-- let me make that clear--but as a mathematical conclusion.

Here's the math. Harmonix, with one decision, excluded their entire customer base from buying DLC unless they purchased Rock Band 3. So if you've shrunk your customer base for DLC, and substantially, how do you make up for the lost revenue?

This, seemingly, is a fatal mistake: at a time when the pool of people willing to purchase little plastic instrument games and DLC was already shrinking, Harmonix went ahead and essentially drained the existing pool. That's exactly the opposite of what they should've been doing. The entire focus should have been on making the pool larger.

Back to Viacom. Here's a question: who would want to sell an unprofitable business when the customer base is clearly shrinking?

Answer: everyone.

Another question: who would want to buy an unprofitable operation when the customer base is clearly shrinking?

Answer: crickets chirping.

Someone, I'm sure, will buy Harmonix. Even if the bottom line might be frightening, the amount of talent and the quality level at Harmonix is unsurpassed. It appears, though, that Rock Band continues as a franchise only via DLC.

I'm fine with that, but I'm afraid that even the days as a DLC franchise are numbered.

Raise a glass of something, then, to celebrate how Harmonix lived, not how they died. It was a magnificent run, filled with some of the greatest games ever made. I don't think any other gaming company ever made so much sheer fun in such a short span of time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mini-Console Post of the Week: Kinect

Based on my e-mail, I think I underestimated Kinect.

Generally, the impressions you've collectively sent me have been positive. Kinect is clearly not quite fully-baked, you've said, but even so, you're having a good time. Even with not-great games, it's still fun.

I trust you guys, and I think your impressions are a very positive sign for the future of the hardware.

There's one exception: those of you who have had problems with calibration, or keeping the system calibrated. Your impressions read something like this: $*$&#*#*(@!

It's about a 90/10 split, though, which is impressive.

I still don't know if Kinect is going to sell much hardware in the early stages of its lifetime, but it does seem that it will at least have a lifetime.

By the way, I saw an interesting article with some clever suggestions for people with small children and space issues: Kinect and your kids: What works, what won't.


There's a story over at Daily Tech titled "Report: Netflix Will Clobber U.S. Bandwidth."

I don't think "clobber" is correct. However, I do think it's correct to say that Internet users will download significantly more data than last year.

Remember what I wrote a few months back about the upcoming scorched-earth wars between content providers and Internet providers? It seems reasonable to say that between Netflix, ESPN3, and assorted other online content distribution methods, that war will be coming very soon--within the next year, certainly.

Time Warner was already trying to implement usage caps. Comcast was doing the same. Video streaming, seemingly, is their apocalypse (if you listen to them). I have no sympathy for these companies--they've been milking broadband for huge profits for years--but they are going to cry big crocodile tears, and some people will believe them.

The Greatest All-Star Idea Ever

From ESPN:
The NHL All-Star Game will look like a schoolyard pickup game this year.

The league announced Wednesday that it is switching from the conference-vs.-conference format it has used for years to a player draft conducted by the All-Stars themselves, in which captains selected by the players will determine the teams.

That is complete genius.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More Of Your Halloween

First off, I received additional costume data from Washington and Iowa that put us well over 600 costumes. Next year, we break 1,000.

Halloween in the UK has turned somewhat ugly, apparently (thanks to Miles Osborne for the links). First, a Hampshire Constabulary posting, and here's an excerpt:
If you do not want to be disturbed by trick or treaters this Halloween, download and print out a copy of the 'No Trick Or Treat' poster to display by your front door.

Every year Hampshire Constabulary’s force control room receives calls from people who have been frightened or disturbed by trick or treaters in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

...Local shops are also displaying posters, reminding shoppers that eggs or flour will not be sold to under 18s in the days leading up to Saturday, October 31.

Then, from Dorset:
Halloween can be a busy time of the year for Dorset Police, and to ensure that residents and visitors are kept safe and feel safe, Safer Neighbourhood Teams will be carrying out extra patrols.

Lots of people like to dress up and have fun on Halloween, but for some members of our community it can be quite a distressing time.

It is important that trick or treaters appreciate that some people – particularly vulnerable members of our community – may be scared or intimidated by groups of trick or treaters knocking on their doors.

If residents do not want to answer their doors, then the trick or treaters should respect this and move on. All residents have the right to say no to trick or treaters.

You can download a poster from this webpage that informs trick or treaters that you do not want any calls from them. Simply print this poster out and display it on a door or window over the Halloween period.


Next, better news from Scott Hillis:
I think you might be trapped in a local circular eddy of stagnant Halloween sentiment. Where I live, in Lynnwood, WA (about 15 miles north of Seattle), my 8.11-year-old son went out with the neighborhood kids for nearly two hours, and we ran across dozens and dozens of other kids within a couple block radius. I ran into a nearby father who said he had just dropped off his oldest son at a friend's neighborhood about a mile away and he said there had to be 200 kids on the streets there. A few years ago, I lived in Albany, CA (just north of Berkeley) and there were tons of kids out for hours on end.

As for candy, this year my son collected probably 10-15 pounds of candy, with a final tally of close to 300 pieces of loot. It was pretty disgusting. There were several houses where I could hear the occupant telling the kids, "Go ahead, take a handful!" or, "That's it? C'mon, take some more!"

10-15 pounds. That's respectable.

From Greg A.:
I'm from a small town in British Columbia, Canada, population ~10,000.

I live in a crescent of newer houses; we seem to get quite a few more kids than other neighbourhoods, probably because it's quick and easy to walk the outside and then the inside of the crescent and come away with a big pile 'o goods.

We had 140 kids this year, about the same as last year. That's triple my parents total (they're only 2 blocks away, also a nice neighbourhood) and 10 times my grandparents (older neighbourhood, beautiful location).

Adam W. sent in this slightly disturbing note:
Another data point, this year was the first year we have ever seen an un-costumed adult trick or treat. Used a large black plastic garbage bag to collect candy also.

I'm stoning the grown-up. No soup for you.

Next, from David:
I am struck by how different my experience has been this year (with some caveats) to your other stories. We live just outside a middle sized city (25kish) in middle TN, so we don't get any Treaters at all, but we drive 15 miles to go to church in Monterey, TN (population: 3,000, elevation: 1900ft). There are 4 churches there in Monterey all in a row just off the main drag (2 stoplights!). Each year at Halloween they all set up cars with decorated trunks and give out candy. The Baptist church at the end of the row sets up games in their parking lot and serves free chili and hotdogs. There are also about 5 residences on this road, all of which were decorated and giving out candy.

We carved two pumpkins to go with our trunk decorations (and fog machine!), and all 5 adults with me dressed up (Monk, Cat, Rock Star, Wolverine, and Abby from NCIS). Daughter 3.5 (Curious George) and Son 0.3 (Bumble Bee) as well.

There must have been 500+ kids (that's just counting kids). We got there a little late (5:30ish) and gave out 5 bags of candy. We were turning folks away at 8 and left at 8:30.

Almost all the children (15 and under) wore costumes, and many of the adults as well.

Chili? On Halloween? Ladle that right into the plastic pumpkin, please.

Rob Cigan sent in a terrific and poignant story:
When I was younger, around 9-12, I used to go trick or treating with a group of friends. The costumes didn't matter as much to us, we were just thrilled to get to run around at night yelling and having fun and collecting candy. We used to take 3 average sized pillow cases and generally fill up two, and always be disappointed we didn't get three full each. We'd complain about it, and remember the glory years of "last year, or the year before" when we easily pulled in three pillow cases worth (even though it never happened). We used to TP houses as we got older and get into more trouble but it was still just about having fun as kids together at night. I don't think we all grasped why it was fun, but looking back, it was the unity of it. The bonding done at a time when we were all usually indoors, awaiting the next school day. Did I mention collecting candy? That was the sweetest bonus.

We had a friend with a November 1st birthday, so we'd all sleep over at his house Halloween night. As we got a little older, we used to play a game we devised with cap guns and full maps and boundaries, in which we'd split up into two teams and hunt each other down. Couple of hours of trick or treating from about 6-8, then when the sun went down, the war was on. We'd sneak in the shadows, communicate over impressively powerful walkie talkie units, all while the neighborhood trick-or-treaters acted as unknowing decoys. Afterward we'd all crash off of our sugar highs playing video games in a basement. His parents wouldn't allow all the bags downstairs while we slept, and for good reason, so naturally we sent the two most ninja-silent of us upstairs with flashlights to locate and obtain pocket fulls of goodies. We'd get completely buzzed and crash, spending the next day cramming our faces with more and gaming all day long.

These days we hardly draw any doorbell rings anymore. Granted one of the reasons I think is that we're slightly out of the way, in a corner off of a road no one walks across much, we naturally don't get many people on average but this year was especially low. As I'd mentioned earlier, there are so many other options and I do believe as someone else pointed out, that in time, the idea of ringing a stranger's doorbell and expecting candy, will be as foreign to children as home phones, pagers and arcades.

It's an odd concept, that trick-or-treating might not exist someday.

Finally, from Tim Jones:
We live in Olympia, WA in a newer neighborhood, as most of the houses are newer than three years old.

In the newer neighborhoods around here most of houses are very close together(as in 20 ft between sides). There is a main street Balistrade that runs straight through the middle. The total neighborhood has around 600 homes. Even before it gets dark around 5:30 the kids start coming. There are hundreds of people out on the streets by dark. You wouldn’t believe it unless you see it. There are groups of sometimes 10 kids together. It’s crazy and they even have police patrols.

Me and my six year old went out for about 1:45 and we filled up one of the little size pumpkins and she was done. On the main street we even had to wait in line to get up to a couple of cool decorated houses.

That's a wrap on Halloween for this year. Thanks very much for the costume tabulation and the excellent stories.


A gas flare, alternatively known as a flare stack, is an elevated vertical conveyance found accompanying the presence of oil wells, gas wells, rigs, refineries, chemical plants, natural gas plants, and landfills. They ...act as safety systems for non-waste gas, released via pressure relief valve when needed to ease the strain on equipment. They protect gas processing equipments from being overpressured. Also in case of an emergency situation, the flare system helps burn out the total reserve gas.

My friend at work was talking about her son today: "We were so busy yesterday that Ross never got a chance to go outside after school and play, and today his teacher called and asked if anything had happened, because he was bouncing off the walls at school."

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Tournament

Eli 9.3 had a hockey tournament in Corpus Christi this weekend.

Corpus Christi, at its very (and rare) best, is a low-rent version of San Diego, and it was indeed at its best--clear skies, highs in the mid 70s, and light winds.

The arena the kids played in was also spectacular.There's only one rink in Corpus Christi, so that's where they played--seating capacity 8,100, and almost brand-new, the same arena where the CHL team plays.

Eli has only been skating for seven months, so to go from nowhere to playing tournaments so quickly was quite a move. Even better, he was the back-up goalie and was going to get to play two games in goal (out of four). In the other games, he was going to play as a defenseman, which was a good fit, because his shot is still pretty weak, but he's a good decision-maker in terms of passing.

This tournament was a "rec team" tournament, which is basically a starting level. I think the team he's on is also called a "house team." No one gets cut, and no one has to be selected through tryouts. Everyone gets to play.

In spite of that, he has some excellent players on his team, and in general, the skill level is much higher than I expected. It looks like hockey.

He played as a defenseman in the first game, and even though he's had very little instruction about positioning, he had a terrific game.  I basically told him to stand a few feet inside the blue line, keep the puck in the zone, and not let any opposing players break past him. He kept the puck in the zone constantly, was a general nuisance on defense, and also made two outlet passes that were perfectly placed and led to immediate goals.

One game, two assists, and a 4-0 win. Plus his goalie only faced five shots (11:00 periods).

Hey, this isn't so hard.

Eli was really looking forward to playing goalie in the second game, and I was really looking forward to seeing him.

About 15 minutes before the puck dropped, though, I heard the coaches of the other team talking in the hallway outside their locker room. They were talkingabout strategy like it was the Stanley Cup finals.


As it turned out, this was a travel team from the previous year that didn't travel anymore. In other words, they were basically playing down at least one level.

As my friend Ben Ormand says, let me just go ahead and rip the Band-Aid off: Eli got hammered. 8-2.

It was so painful to watch. The other kids skated circles around our kids, it seemed like they had a breakaway every couple of minutes, and they had one kid in particular who was a little superstar: he scored five goals.

Eli tried. Man, he tried. He had 18 saves out of 26 shots (remember, these were only 11:00 periods,so that would be like facing almost 50 shots in a regular NHL game), but he also gave up several soft goals because he was so flustered. He didn't get mad, and he stayed focused, but he was miserable. I saw him looking up at the scoreboard several times, just hoping that the game would end.

We had 5 shots, by the way.

It hurt to see him suffer like that. It hurts now, just typing it, so I can only imagine how he felt. He did make some truly beautiful saves, but there's no way to sugar-coat eight goals.

I met him when he came off the ice, and he cried for about a minute in the locker room, but then he went back to being who he is, which is this unreasonably spectacular kid. They had an indoor pool party at the hotel, everyone had a great time, and by the end of the day, he was already talking about getting revenge the next day, when they would play the same team again.

This was insane, because all that was going to happen was a second ass-beating. There was no reason to think anything was going to change.

Overnight, though, something did change: the other team's superstar left.

During warm-ups, I looked for their star, but he was nowhere to be found. Not playing. This totally changed the flow of the game, and what also changed was that Eli's team was much more determined than the day before.

We scored first, and shots were about even through the first period, which was hard to believe. In the second, it was 1-1 and we were starting to leak fuel--shaky on defense, losing confidence, looking ready to crumble.

Tha's when his team cleared a puck out of their defensive zone, and Eli chased it into the offensive end. It was a singular moment, because he was leading the charge for the first time. He got the puck, passed it to a teammate who was in position to shoot, and skated to the net.

The puck bounced off the goalie, right to Eli 9.3's stick. And he buried it.

Cue goal celebration (the chainsaw), cue me high-fiving Gloria in the stands, and cue his entire team in a wild celebration.

That was the first shot he'd ever taken in a real game. Shooting percentage 1.000.

With that, his team took over. They led 4-1 (he also had an assist) before a late, scary flurry of goals from the other team made the final 5-4.

It's hard to explain how happy I was for him. He was always a finisher in soccer, but I never thought he would be able to translate that to hockey, given that he was starting from zero. But the moment came, the biggest moment of the game, and he was still the finisher.

That was the loudest locker room I've ever been, and also the happiest.

In the final game, Eli played goal, faced only three shots, and they tied 0-0. For the day, he had some crazy goalie version of a hat trick: a goal, an assist, and a shutout.

Little big man.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday Links!

That Bruce Lee video from last week was not real. Damn it. But there are many more things that aren't real this week for your reading pleasure.

From Don Barree, a fascinating look at an underground street art project in New York City.

From David Gloier, a story about the resurgence of pinball.

Here's a fascinating link from Katy Mulvey: proof of concept of stone-age telegraphy. No, I'm not saying telegraphy existed in the stone age, but rather, that the materials existed to create a working telegraph.

Jeremy Fischer, and be sure to read the reviews, it's the Wheelmate Steering Wheel Desk Tray. From the same company that brought you the Ninja Folding Grappling Hook. Also, The Fall of Realtime Worlds. Also, The Escapist has its take on Realtime Worlds as well.

From Frank Regan, and this is quite good, a fan-made trailer for a Twisted Metal movie.

Glen Haag of The Blog For The Sports Gamer did an interview with Gary Gorski (Draft Day Sports, Total Pro Golf series).

From Chris Pencis, and these are outstanding, it's Vintage Star Wars travel posters.

From Dan Quock, a writer for Ellen walking through a haunted house. It's not Masterpiece Theater.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's people doing awesome things. Also, and this is amazing, it's clay shooting with a compound bow.

Leo Tan, in addition to debunking the Bruce Lee video, sent in two remarkable links to Lee's one-inch punch (the first is Lee himself, while this one is of a student, Sijo James DeMille).

From Mark Lahren, and this is quite striking it's a marble machine.

Two excellent links from Chris Meyer: the first, about how the echolocation used by bats can cause odd behavior, and dolphins walking on water. Oh, and one more, about bots playing Starcraft.

From Brian Minsker, it's spectacular cardboard art. Also, the Bear Saver, a bear resistant poly cart (the video makes it look like a bear toy, more than bear resistant).

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Console Post Of The Week: Micro Edition

I'm still deeply skeptical about the utility of Kinect when it comes to playing conventional games, but I will say this: Microsoft has done a decent job of creating a palpable buzz around the device.

Still, though, it seems like they have a problem.

If you make a great product, the #1 thing you want to do is get it into reviewer's hands early. Let them experience the greatness for themselves.

Kinect, though, doesn't have any hardware reviews or game reviews as of Wednesday, one day before launch. And Aaron Greenberg had this to say:
For us, these are different types of titles and experiences than maybe some of the games traditionally that are targeted to the core market. So the correlation between a review score for Halo: Reach and sales is very high, but Kinect Sports is more about just having fun.

I don't know how reviewers will grade those games because they're so unique and so different to what the reviewers have played with controllers. We'd love to see great reviews but I don't think you'll see the same type of correlation between reviews and actual sales of the game, would be my guess.

Uh-oh. In other words, reviews will be shit, but game sales will be through the roof.

In the same interview, Greenberg also had this to say:
We haven't given any projections beyond this holiday, but this will be the largest launch we've ever had as a business. We'll definitely sell more sensors than the Wii sold when it launched or the Xbox 360 sold when it launched.

We feel safe we'll do three million this holiday, which puts us in pretty high territory for even a consumer electronics product.
And by "do" he means "ship", which is an entirely different thing from actually selling three million Kinect units in the holiday season.

I get the feeling from listening to these executives that Kinect is nothing short of a cult inside Microsoft. That happens quite often inside a company, a product being pushed so hard internally that it converts the doubters.

The problem, though, is that the conversion process in a company can take months or years of a constant flow of information to a captive audience. Consumers aren't captives, and Kinect needs to make a highly positive impression, and quickly.


[Rant on.]

Georgia assistant football coach Todd Grantham yelled "You're going to f***ing choke!" at Florida kicker Chas Henry in overtime of last weekend's game, right before Henry attempted what would be a game-winning field goal.

Grantham also put his hands around his neck in the choke sign.

Gee, what a dick.

Hey, but in the SEC, that's no problem. Here's what his head coach had to say:
“I’m aware of it,” Richt said. "I’ll just say that emotions run high. People do things they probably wish they didn’t do. So I think that was what was being communicated. I don’t think he’s necessarily proud of it. We’re just going to learn from it and move on.”

Oh, I see. So being an asshole is okay when "emotions run high."

Even better, here's Grantham's own response:
“As a competitor, sometimes you get caught up in the heat of the moment,” Grantham said. “I wish the situation hadn’t happened."

Are you kidding me?

So if you're a competitor, sometimes you're a gigantic asshole? That's kind of a logical leap, isn't it, Todd?
Maybe you can get caught up in the heat of the moment and NON act like a five-year-old who didn't get enough candy.

This is the kind of thing that makes me sick. Hey, sometimes you're a dickhead if you're trying to win. WTF? I thought the whole alleged point of sports was to teach sportsmanship? This guy is a coach, and he's doing that to a player on an opposing team?

The idea that people care more when they're acting like dicks is pathetic. The idea that something is so important that civility becomes unimportant is pathetic. This is the kind of mentality that produces Pop Warner coaches fighting on the field, that turns athletes into gigantic jerks.

They're just learning by example.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Halloween (Yours)

You guys sent in an excellent assortment of Halloween observations and memories, so let's take a look.

First off is Ian Jalbert, from north of Toronto:
This year we only had about 35 kids come by. When we moved here 8 years ago it was about 80. The neighborhood has refreshed itself over the last 2 years, and the average kids age is younger than ever, but less turned out.

I was talking to one of my friends yesterday who had a similar experience with the dropping numbers. She was saying that when we’re older and have grandkids we’ll be talking about this experience of how once a year we’d get dressed up in costumes, go door to door, and people would hand us candy. The grandkids would think we’re insane, because how would something like that ever happen? And it’s true, it is such a big difference from when we were kids, and every year there’s less and less kids trick or treating, and less houses handing out candy. I’d say only 1/3 of the houses in our neighborhood had the lights on--when we were kids, if one house had their lights off it would be like a personal insult, and that house would get egged or toilet papered.

That's right. If you turned off your lights, you lived in fear for the rest of the evening. Buy more candy next year, Scrooge McGrinch.

Next, from Stephen T.:
I have two brothers and a sister and grew up in Massachusetts during the 80's. On Halloween, we used to get bundled up and head out right after dinner. We lived in a good size town and would spend at least 2 hours walking around hitting every house on every block we could reach. My grandmother lived about 1.5 miles away and I remember the years we ventured that far (quite a trek for a 10,9,7, & 4 year olds). The hauls were epic. The grocery stores used to give out plastic trick or treat bags and we would each fill two. They were bigger than today's grocery bags, but not much thicker, so there was always the threat of the bag tearing as it got full. When we moved on to the second bag, our parents somehow had to corral all of us and carry the four already-full bags.

Since sweets were a real treat in our house, our hauls were guarded something on the order of Fort Knox. Bags were clearly labeled and inventoried each day. The goal was to enjoy it, but make it last. One year, I made mine last until Easter - when we got even more candy. It was the Year Of Sugar.

I think I actually made a physical inventory list of my candy one year. Sheer candy volume demanded documentation.

Next, from Matt Kreuch:
First, my childhood experience... Halloween for me was always a huge event. There were bragging rights at school for who commandeered the greatest loot. My costume of choice (just about every year) was a hobo. I don't think kids even know what a hobo is today, but for me it was a broom handle with a bag of of clothes hanging from it, dirty face, corn-cob pipe and raggedy hat. As a habit, I would bounce the pipe up and down between my teeth and without fail, I would return home at the end of the evening without the pipe because it flew out of my mouth without me realizing somewhere along my travels. My prime "trick or treating" childhood years were spent growing up in Winston-Salem, NC. Times were much different then. At the age of 9, I would set out with a group of friends scoring as much candy as possible as well as wreaking havoc on neighbors yards in the form of toilet paper. Throwing rolls of toilet paper into the trees was a common practice back then, and the day after Halloween a good percentage of the houses on our street would be covered in white streams. Most of all, I remember having a great excuse to run wild in through the night with a pack of friends. When our bags were full of candy, we would dump them at home and head right back out for more. Silly string and shaving cream were essential.

I can't imagine letting my kids at 9.0 and 10.7 roam the streets today. The world a scarier place today and the fear of losing one of them is everpresent.

As for this Halloween... such a disappointment. I try so hard to recapture the same excitement and thrill I felt during Halloween for my kids, but it's just not that important to them. Leading up to Halloween, I thought they had that excitement building in them as we planned costumes, carved pumpkins, etc. Our Trick or Treating experience lasted less than an hour (including drive time to a better candy neighborhood). We were at it for about 10 minutes when my 10.7, Alex, nudged me and then looked up and said, "I'm really not into this". I encouraged them to keep at it for the next 30 minutes, but they were completely not interested. We called it a night and were home before 8PM. I think I was the only one who was disappointed.

Eli 9.3 wasn't nearly as interested this year, either. In past years, he would talk about his costume for months, but this year, he barely mentioned it. Kids just have so many cool things to do today that a one-off holiday (unless it involves lots of presents) just doesn't mean as much.

Of course, if I could choose, I'd be a kid now, what with video games and NHL Center Ice readily available.

Next, from Joe Lewis:
I have to agree with you that trick or treating in the modern era is pathetic. Most of the kids that came by my house had those little plastic pumpkins. Those things can't hold nearly enough candy! Back in the day, we lugged around at least one pillow case filled to the brim. You had to bring around a reserve pillow case just in case the first one couldn't hold any more. We planned out routes based on previous year's experience and optimized the amount of candy we could get.

Hell, yes. When I was a kid, I used a little plastic pumpkin as a ladle to dip into my pillowcase full of candy.

Okay, last one for today (more tomorrow), and it's from Bill. T.:
I totally agree with you on the pathetic piles of candy. And also totally agree with you on the Karo Syrup popcorn balls. There was a house in my neighborhood in Seattle when I was a kid that gave them.

Trick-or-treating is still pretty awesome in Seattle, though—at least in my neighborhood. It’s hard to say how many kids we had this year, but it was somewhere around 70. I know this because I had bag of 70 mini-bags of Candy Corn that I gave out, along with the mini candy bars. The kids who came to my house and said their trick-or-treats were told “If you say ‘trick or treat’ you get one. If you say ‘Go Ducks!’ you get two.” I went through the entire bag of candy corn plus six other bags of candy, and only had a few left over after giving out two for most of the night—-a beautiful chorus of 'Go Ducks!' (followed by groans from Washington Husky parents).

Also, we still get vans of kids bussed in from other neighborhoods. And my son (6.0) and his friends were out for a good 90 minutes of trick or treating.

More tomorrow.


I was very much hoping that this wouldn't happen (thanks to Dave Tyrell for the link):
According to UKIE, Rock Band 3 sold just 7386 units for the week ending 30th October. That breaks down into 5318 Xbox 360 copies, 1555 PS3 copies and 295 Wii copies.

As a result, Harmonix's tour de force spent a debut week at 26th in the UK all-formats top 40. Rival Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock finished one place below in 27th.

But Activision's game had a much better start, entering the chart in sixth before going on to place 14th, 22nd and 21st in subsequent weeks.

Don't bother sending me the spin on this-- believe me, I've tried to spin it every way possible. But regardless of the strength of the Rock Band brand in Europe, those numbers suck.

Repeat: suck.

Here's hoping (there's that damn word again) that the U.S. numbers are entirely different. If they're not, then all of us who love this franchise better start moving through the Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Halloween (Costume Edition)

First off, the states where we had readers reporting costume data:

Not bad for a first year, and there were twelve reporters in all (including three from Texas and two from Washington). 494 costumes were counted in all.

In total, there were 161 different costumes (categorization is sometimes difficult). Here's your top ten:

"Losers" are people who didn't wear costumes, by the way.

It's a classic list: witches, princesses, vampires, ninjas, zombies, skeletons, fairy princesses, pirates, faires, and football players.

Points of possible interest:
--Vampires are doing very well (thanks, Twilight), but Frankenstein (1) has dropped off the radar. So, too, has the Wolfman (0).
--For very young children, the Bumblebee (8) is a popular theme.
--Dorothy (4) endures, 71 years after the Wizard of Oz was released. That's really quite incredible.
--Five years ago, there would have been a ton of kids dressed as Power Rangers (1).
--Astronauts (1) have also (sadly) all but disappeared.

For you true costume nerds, here's the full data dump:
Witch (37)
Princess (33)
Vampire (23)
Losers (21)
Ninja (17)
Zombie (16)
Skeleton (15)
Fairy Princess (14)
Pirate (13)
Fairies, Football Player (11)
Cheerleader (9)
Batman, Bumblebee,Cat (8)
Harry Potter, Iron Man, Monster (6)
Clown, Gangster (5)

Asian Princesses, Darth Vader, Dorothy, Ghoul, Jason, Knight, Ladybug, Scream, Soldier, Spiderman, Transformers (4)

Angel, Army Man/Girl, Baseball Player, Bear, Clone Trooper, Cowboy, Grim Reaper, Gypsy, Hannah Montana, Mummy, NY Gant (that's a typo and I don't think it's "Giant", so I have no idea) (3)

50s Female (from Grease), Army Men, Boba Fett, Camo, Death, Devil, Evil Doctor, Farmer, Figure Skater, Goth Girls, Japanese Pop idols, Jedi, Lion,
Mario, Martial Arts, Nurse, Optimus Prime, Pig, Policeman, Pumpkin, Puppy, Robin, Scarecrow, Snow White, Supergirl, Thomas The Tank Engine (2)

50s Baseball Player, Astronaut, Barbie, Biker, Boba Fett, Businesswoman, Butcher, Candy Corn Witch, Cat in the Hat, Cereal, Chicken, Court Jester,
Dancer, Demon, Dinosaur, Diva, Dracula, Dragon, Duck, Dumbo, Eeyore, Elvis, Evil Pilgrim, Fairy Godmother, Fireman, Flapper, Frankenstein, Freddy Krueger, Frog, Geek, Ghost, Glam Rocker, Gorilla, Hot Dog, Indian Princess, Jasmine, Jogger, Ketchup, Little green men alien, Luigi, Luke Skywalker, Lumberjack, Mexican wrestler, Mime, Money, Mustard, Pig, Power Ranger, Pumpkin Fairy, Race Car Driver (hopefully named Jerry), Racing Pit Crew member, Rapper, Red Crayon, Santa, Scooby Doo, Secret Agent, Skateboarder, Snow White, Spartan, Stunt Man, Sulley (Monsters Inc.), Supergirl, Superman, SWAT Officer, The Flash, The Hulk, Thing 1, Thing 2, Tiana, Tigger, Toy Story Jessie, Vampire Cheerleader, Vampire Coroner, Vampire Jason, Waspman, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Wrestler, Yankees Fan, Zeus, Zombie Doctor, Zombie Rabbit, Bad Guy, Bert, Bunny, Ceiling Fan, Cinderella, Ernie, Evil Princess, King Kong, Pac Man, Robin Hood's Daughter, Soldier Maid (1)

Obviously, there are a few commendations to be handed out to the following:
--Evil Princess
--Evil Pilgrim (conceptually outstanding)
--Soldier Maid
--Zombie Rabbit
--Ceiling Fan
--Vampire Coroner
--Thing 1 and Thing 2
--Hot dog, mustard, and ketchup (who appeared as a group)

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing some of your Halloween memories.

Fender Squier Stratocaster Guitar And Controller

Pre-orders begin January 1. Available March 1. Price $279.99.

See here.

I'm fine with that price, but March? Damn.

So Far...

359 trick-or-treaters recorded. Ten reporters from eight states.

Post will be up later, and please send in your data if you haven't done so yet.

Monday, November 01, 2010


I can't remember a single costume that I wore as a kid (and neither can Mom 80.7), but I do remember the single greatest treat I ever got while trick-or-treating.

I know I've written about this before (and after 9+ years, I must have written about everything before), but one year I was handed a Karo Syrup popcorn ball inside a plastic, pouch-style sandwich bag. Karo was a clear, light syrup, and it was the sweetest, most delicious thing I've ever eaten.

I went back to that house fifteen minutes later (hoping that would be long enough for them to forget me), but in that time, word had spread, and the popcorn balls were gone.

From that moment forward, Karo syrup popcorn balls became the Holy Grail of Halloween treats. I never found another one, though, and to this day, that's the only one I've ever had.

[This just in: Mom 80.7 just called and clearly remembers one year when I dressed as a "Chinaman." Remember, this was in the mid-1960s, and that word still meant a mysterious but wise figure dressed in a kimono, basically (yes, the kimono is Japanese, but it was Chinese before it was Japanese, apparently, not that I knew that as a five-year-old).]

Trick-or-treating in my day was an event. On Halloween, even the old woman who had fifty cats in her house and regarded you suspiciously every time you walked by gave you a piece of candy. You'd go down whole blocks and every single house would be giving out candy, and every single kid in the neighborhood would be lining up.

Plenty of people still made their own treats, too, although there was still a regrettable lack of Karo Syrup popcorn balls, obviously.

Kids still trick-or-treat today, but they don't know anything. There's no informal communication network advising as to the location of the best treats. There are no kids coming in from other cities in the back of pick-up trucks.

Mostly, kids just don't understand about candy.

Eli 9.3 came in last night after an exhausting thirty minutes of trick-or-treating (this generation has extremely low trick-or-treating stamina), and as he spread his collected candy in front of me and said, "Dad, I scored HUGE this year!"

It was a sad little pile.

Sure, there were probably eighty pieces of candy there, but in my day, when we had to walk ten miles through the snow to get to school, that amount of candy would have been inexcusable. Hell, you didn't have enough candy unless your parents were positively alarmed by the amount of candy. If they didn't lecture you for fifteen minutes about how you couldn't eat all that candy at once, then you had failed.

Mostly, Eli has a much cooler life than I did as a kid. There are exponentially more opportunities for a kid today than there were for kids 40+ years ago. When it comes to trick-or-treating, though, I'm sorry that Eli 9.3 can't go out with Me 9.3 and trick-or-treat in my old neighborhood.

I think we'd have fun.

Also, there's this:

That's Zeus, and the painted-on beard puts it totally over-the-top, as far as I'm concerned.

I have trick-or-treater data submitted from five different states, and I'm still hoping for a few more e-mails, so I'll share the results with you tomorrow.

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