Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Yes, Those Are Real News Stories

I wouldn't be sending out a plea to imaginary stupid people: http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/11/30/lava.lamp.death.ap/index.html

A Plea to Really Stupid People

Stop killing yourselves by heating up lava lamps and stop drinking two gallons of water a day so that you can telepathically communicate with Sheryl Crow. I can't keep up.

Half-Life 2: Deathmatch

The anonymous source came through again. A post in Steam's forums by Adrian Finol of Valve indicates that the 'surprise' (first mentioned here on November 11) is going to be deathmatch. Thanks to Blue's News for this information. The title of the thread in the Steam forums is "Coming Soon..."

In Which 50.01% of Alabama Voters Embarrass the Human Race

Now you're going to think I'm making this up, but sadly, I'm not.

Alabama had a constitutional amendment on the ballot November 2 to erase certain incredibly offensive language from their state constitution. Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post article (available at MSNBC here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6596687/):
Alabama voters...refus[ed] to approve a constitutional amendment to erase segregation-era wording requiring separate schools for "white and colored children" and to eliminate references to the poll taxes once imposed to disenfranchise blacks...

The amendment had two main parts: the removal of the separate-schools language and the removal of a passage -- inserted in the 1950s in an attempt to counter the Brown v. Board of Education ruling against segregated public schools -- that said Alabama's constitution does not guarantee a right to a public education. Leading opponents, such as Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles, said they did not object to removing the passage about separate schools for "white and colored children." But, employing an argument that was ridiculed by most of the state's newspapers and by legions of legal experts, Giles and others said guaranteeing a right to a public education would have opened a door for "rogue" federal judges to order the state to raise taxes to pay for improvements in its public school system.

Yes, guaranteeing the right to a public education is clearly a subversive trick to raise taxes. I salute your acumen, sir. Perhaps now the submarines filled with Communists will be recalled from their positions just off the coast of Mobile, because clearly your state isn't going to stand for any of this. Party like it's 1849.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to be human. Damned evolution. If it wasn't for that, I would just be sitting in a tree flinging crap at my friends.

No, it's not the same. I'm not sitting in a tree.

The Great Idea

We went to get the mail yesterday. As a family.

It was just the four of us: Gloria, myself, Eli 3.3, and the grill. The Little Tikes Grill n' Glow Electronic BBQ, with wheels. "Hey! I have a GREAT IDEA!" Eli 3.3 said. The GREAT IDEA comes frequently now, several hundred times a day. "I'll take this grill with us--TO GET THE MAIL!"

If you don't have kids and think this sounds strange, just wait. You'll find out for yourself someday.

So off we go, in gale force winds as a cold front is coming through, with Eli 3.3 pushing the grill. I saw a house blow by, but he was in no hurry. It was getting colder, and quickly, but he remained unflappable, and when I said that we should speed it up because of the cold, he said "Wait a minute! I have a GREAT IDEA! I'll warm you up!"

Then he turned the knob on the plastic grill and little plastic coals glowed red and hissed. In the pretend world, I was warm almost instantly. And hungry for a steak.

Meet the Neighbors

We have new neighbors.

The house on one side of us has been vacant for over a year. Maybe word had gotten out about the people living next door. Just yesterday, we saw some new people moving in and went over to introduce ourselves. It's a young couple with a baby, and they're extremely nice. They're from Taiwan, and while their English vocabulary is very good, their accents are still extremely strong and it's very difficult to understand them.

Their names? Andy. And Doris.

Pirates! Note

If you're using an ATI card with Pirates! and you're having flickering during the cut scenes, try turning off anti-aliasing. What I did was turn off AA and AF at the ATI control panel, turned off Advanced Lighting from inside the game, and the flickering stopped. I then turned AF and Advanced Lighting back on and it still works fine, so I'm assuming that it's anti-aliasing causing the problem.

It is very disorienting to start playing this game right after finishing Half-Life 2.

Monday, November 29, 2004

ESPN 2K College Hoops 2K5 Legacy Freezing Issue

Unfortunately, there's an issue with Legacies freezing during CPU recruiting. It seems to be relatively random, but it can kill a Legacy, because after rebooting you might not be able to sim past it. This is a great game and it's a real shame that this is a problem.

I started a new Legacy after deleting my profile and turning Injuries off (as suggested by 'Brave22' in an Operation Sports forum thread), and so far I haven't had any more freezes. I'm going to keep testing this and hopefully will be able to find a resolution.

Waffles in Thirty Seconds or Less

The Tech Report has an interesting article on Nvidia SLI today:

I hadn't previously mentioned heat as a potential problem with these systems because the first batch of articles barely even mentioned it as a factor. However, logic would dictate that when two high-powered cards are put in the same system, heat is going to cause problems.

The new set of reviews coming out (mostly in the last 5-7 days) seem to bear this out. Every review mentions the test system crashing on a regular basis, and the linked article mentions that heat seems to be the primary cause.

That should be no surprise when you look at some of the test results in the article. Scott Wasson measured power consumption in the test systems at idle and under load. Look at this:
GeForce 6800 Ultra SLI--223 idle, 365 under load.
GeForce 6800 GT SLI--223 idle, 361 under load.
GeForce 6800 Ultra--155 idle, 271 under load.
Geforce 6800 GT--153 idle, 257 under load.
Radeon X800 XT-PE--115 idle, 219 under load.
Radeon X800--110 idle, 193 under load.

Please note that this is total system load, not just graphics card power consumption, but if you look at the test specs, you'll see that the systems were relatively bare.

If a system can reliably dissipate 365 watts of heat, it's going to be so packed with fans that it will be loud. Very, very loud.

Here's the other problem besides heat. If you remember the last time I mentioned SLI, I talked about how different games would use different optimization techniques, because the SLI method was going to be configured by game. I should have realized, but didn't, that this meant every game would be a custom addition to the drivers, or at least it appears to be that way. So this is not really 'plug and play' where you get automatic SLI support for any game that supports D3D, for example. It makes it possible to have higher levels of optimizations for benchmarks and a few high-profile games, but I'd much prefer broader support, even at the cost of some performance.

The other interesting note in the article had to do with Radeon X800 XT-PE performance. In some games, it actually outperformed an SLI setup with two GeForce 6800 Ultras--with about 150 fewer watts of power consumption. So if ATI has some kind of SLI solution next year, as they claim, two X800 XT-PE's would provide pretty astonishing levels of performance.

Stem Cell Breakthrough?

Here's an excerpt from the the article at the Sidney Herald:

Seoul: A South Korean woman paralyzed for 20 years is walking again after scientists say they repaired her damaged spine using stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood.

Hwang Mi-soon, 37, had been bedridden since damaging her back in an accident. Last week she walked again with the help of a walking frame at a press conference where South Korea researchers announced the results of their stem cell therapy.

They said it was the world's first published case in which a patient with spinal cord injuries had been successfully treated with stem cells from umbilical cord blood.

Although they cautioned that more research was needed and verification from international experts was required, the South Korean researchers said Ms Hwang's case could signal a leap forward in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

I think the most encouraging note in the article was that the researchers said that 'verification from international experts' was needed. Normally, if someone who is not credible makes a claim like this, verification is never allowed or is dismissed as 'unnecessary' (even thought the very foundation of science argues otherwise). So the stance of the South Korean researchers indicates to me that this might be real. And what a mind-blowing advance it would be if this therapy is proven to be effective and repeatable.

Now Endorsed By Marie Antoinette

Sometimes you guys send me things that I can write about. Sometimes that's a mistake.

Jason Cross sent me this link: http://www.lifewithease.com/bagel.html. It's what we've all been waiting for: the Bagel Guillotine.

Besides an excellent picture of the product, the website also dispenses this factoid: Cuts sustained while cutting bagels are one of the major reasons for Emergency Room visits.

Who knew?

"Dr. Incredulous, we have a bagel cutting accident in three."
"Nurse Underpants, are you kidding me? Another one? How many of these kids are going to have to die?"
"At least one more, sir, apparently."
"It's a tragedy. This culture of bagel-cutter-on-bagel-cutter violence is destroying the bakeries."
"I agree, Doctor. Your sincere concern has aroused me. Time for a quick romp in the supply cabinet?"

It's a remarkable testament to human ingenuity that a device solely intended to kill human beings can be remarketed as a household convenience. I salute you, sir!

Obviously, once this product catches fire, there are going to be some cheap copycats. Clearly, you all saw this coming as soon as you saw the phrase "Bagel Guillotine."

--Firing Squad Pastry Gun (you can't miss with this culinary accessory!)
--Lethal Doughnut Injector (now with a free jar of delicious Jamtastic©!)
--Old Sparky Stun Gun (now with Limited Edition Old Sparky Action Figure, Florida residents only)
--Hangman's Noose Bottle Opener (pull the lever, cold drinks forever!)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Goofus and Gallant--and the Shank

From the Boston Herald:
WORCESTER, Mass. - A man was charged with stabbing two relatives who allegedly criticized his table manners during Thanksgiving dinner. Police said the fight broke out when Gonzalo Ocasio, Jr., 18, and his father, Gonzalo Ocasio, 49, reprimanded an uncle for picking at the turkey with his fingers, instead of slicing off pieces with a knife, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported Friday. The uncle, Frank Palacious, 24, of Worcester, allegedly responded by stabbing them with a carving knife.

Man, come on! Stabbing people who criticize your table manners IS bad table manners. Stabbing is much worse than reaching or using your fingers or even eating with your mouth open. I think somebody needs to spend five to seven years in time out.

Friday Shopping Madness: U.S. Version

If you don't live in the United States, you may not know about the day after Thanksgiving. It's insane, basically, and it's a huge shopping day as Christmas shopping officially kicks into high

It's totally unnecessary, of course. Most retail stores stay open extended hours for the month leading up to Christmas, and places like Wal-Mart are open twenty-four hours a day. That and online shopping mean there's no need to shop when it's crowded, but people do it anyway.

Other people. If I ever get in a crowd, it means I made a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

It's not just Thanksgiving weekend shopping now. Retailes have started creeping up on Thanksgiving-day sales, believe it or not. Sears had something going where you could get a special 'preview' deal on Friday's sale items by shopping on Thursday. Within another five years, retailers are going to have huge Thanksgiving night sales.

Here's something else the retailers do. They offer some truly unbelievable deals on the day after Thanksgiving. because the competition for customers is absolutely fierce. Most of the deals are
limited quantities with no rainchecks, but they're still pretty amazing. I opened up the paper this morning and saw a Fry's ad for the following computer:
--AMD Sempron XP 2200+
--128MB DDR Memory
--40GB hard drive
--52X CD-ROM
--Integrated Graphics
--10/100 NIC
--56k Modem
--USB Ports
--Lindows 4.5

Now I know that's a lightweight system. But it was being advertised for $99.99! Are you kidding me? That's practically an impulse item.

It was limit one per customer, no rainchecks, etc., which means they probably only had a few to sell at that price, but still.

Here area a few other things Fry's was offering today:
--120GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive for $29.99
--Progressive Scan DVD player for $14.99
--3.1 Megapixel Digital Camera for $47
--512MB PC2700 DDR Memory for $39.99

Those prices make me want to buy all of that and I don't even need it.

Satan's a Nerd

That's the bumper sticker I saw today when I came out of the gym.

I would normally have no comment about Satan. I have no anonymous source closely associated with the evil overlord. I don't know if he's a cross-dresser or in a bowling league or building a deck. Although I do assume that if he is building a deck, he's going to have a premium grill.

I also have very little information about hell, although I would urge you to be cautious if you doubt its viability. The mere existence of the knowledge that J. Edgar Hoover liked to dress in women's clothes proves otherwise, as well as giving an entirely new dimension to the phrase "coyote ugly."

I realized, though, as I saw the bumper sticker that I do have inside knowledge of Satan. Clearly, Satan is not a nerd, and I know this because Satan was my ninth-grade Algebra teacher.

Obviously, this creates some logistical as well as epistemological issues. It means that the identity of Satan, if not the character, must change over time, as my Algebra teacher was not officially Satan when I was her student. I say this because I assume that retirement from the sport of human evil must precede being named its commissioner, so to speak. However, it was common knowledge that she was Satan-in-training, and would be elected by acclamation upon her death.

She was dead and working at her new job as Beelzebub when Mother Teresa passed away, and I've obtained a transcript of their encounter. Don't ask me how--you can't handle the truth.

MOTHER TERESA: I devoted my life to helping the poor and downtrodden. I was beloved around the world as a symbol of faith and charity. I won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. I am devoted to Our Father and it is a joyous day for me to be in his presence.
MY ALGEBRA TEACHER: Fine. Add these two columns of numbers together. Here is a pencil. MOTHER TERESA: Whatever you wish. I will humbly add these figures together in service of The Lord.
(Mother Teresa writes down the sum)
MOTHER TERESA: I believe this is correct.
MY ALGEBRA TEACHER: The answer cannot be correct because you have not precisely lined up the columns. You have failed the exam. Welcome to Hell.

For your own possible future use, other hell-worthy offenses include calling a 'straight edge' a 'ruler' and referring to 'zero' as 'nothing.' I say to thee, fear the wrath of the Algebra teacher, now known simply as Satan.

And if you're already in Hell, don't try chewing gum unless you're ready to hold it over your head for the next 5,000 years. Just trust me on this.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

A Question About Thanksgiving

Am I the only one who thinks that Thanksgiving is kind of an odd holiday? All of our holidays seem to have mascots now--Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, witches and goblins for Halloween. Thanksgiving is the only holiday where we eat the mascot.

We actually had Thanksgiving dinner at home today, which is the first time we've ever done that. I've always thought that you should spend the holidays either in the home you grew up in or the home you have now. We never got to do that until this year, and it was a real pleasure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Contest 2 Over

Congratulations to 'wig,' who correctly identified Richard Pryor as the comedian Bob Newhart thought was the finest of his generation.

Which is another reason I like Bob Newhart.

Would You Like Some Pie With That Turkey?

Here's a surprise: Infinium Labs, developer of the alleged gaming console 'The Phantom,' has run out of money. They have about $20,000 cash on hand, they're over $10 million in debt, and they estimate that it would take an addition $10 million on top of that to get the console to market.

So they have $20,000 and they need $20 million. At least.

I've written about these guys before, so no need to pile on here, but the short version is that twenty of them could fit into one very small car. Wait, that is piling on, isn't it?

Here's a link to the article that details information about their SEC filing:

Contest 1 Over

That took about two minutes. Congratulations to Curtis Moore, who just won a copy of Half-Life 2.

Pirates! is still available. See below for the contest question.


Okay, I don't have time to do this today and I'm going to do it anyway.

I really appreciate that all of you read this goofy column. I really enjoy writing it, but writing it for five people would somehow not be the same. So thank you.

I have a copy of Half-Life 2 and Pirates. By Friday morning at 10 a.m., one of these games (if you haven't already purchased them) might be on your desk. So while the rest of the world is getting into fistfights at the mall, you can relax and enjoy some of the finest gaming entertainment of the year.

Here are the rules:
Contest 1: it's the first e-mail I get after posting this entry. Include your address and which game you'd like.
Contest 2: Tell me who Bob Newhart thought was the finest comic of his generation.

I'll post as soon as Contest 1 finishes to let you know which game is still available. Have at it.

Oh, and you don't need to live in the U.S. to enter. Anyone on this planet (or the International Space Station) is eligible. Although if you live in Norway, it probably won't be on your desk by Friday morning.

Best Friends

Gloria had a fight with one of her best friends this week.

Men used to resolve conflict in a direct way--we shot each other. I don't like the cut of your jib, sir, so thirty paces and have at you. Hopefully your foe's bullet would nestle harmlessly in the bewildering folds of your puffy shirt.

With duels unfortunately being out of fashion, men have resorted to more civilized methods of conflict resolution. One of the most popular is punching each other in the face repeatedly. I myself am not a fan of this strategy, as I consider anything that might push my nose into my brain as less than satisfactory, even if the chances of pushing someone else's nose into their brain are considerably higher.

Not that they ever would be.

Even though my physical fight or flee response might be flee or flee faster, though, I am verbally quite direct. Men will, in general, address their conflicts, and do so directly.

Women, however, are a different breed. The documentation of the machinations of a single female friendship would run well over a thousand pages and come in a multi-CD set, unless you purchased the 'Limited Edition' DVD. Ken Burns could produce a twelve-hour documentary and pronounce the subject of female friendship more complex than the Civil War.

Here is a sample of a phone conversation between women who are agreeing to have a fight. To simplify things, I have replaced dialogue that is hopelessly obtuse with its more direct meaning, and I have italicized it so that you know when I have done so.

"Have you worn that dress you bought last week? Because it looks great on you."
"Not yet, because I want to borrow that beautiful pearl necklace of yours."
"That old thing? You can borrow it anytime. And have I mentioned that you're acting like a bitch?"
"Why, no, I don't believe you have. Now are you still coming to my multi-level marketing promotion on Tuesday? And by the way, you're the one acting like a bitch, not me."
"Of course I'm coming, and I pressured all my friends to come as well. They'll feel just uncomfortable enough to buy something. And it's just your passive-aggressiveness calling me a bitch to deflect attention from your own bitchiness."
"Should we meet and talk about this? I have those scented candles I bought for you last week, and I really need to tell you in person what a bitch you are."
"Absolutely. Coffee at four tomorrow, you bitch?"
"I'll be there, bitch. Kisses."

Gloria read this column and said "I wouldn't really call it a fight."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


It landed on my doorstep today, and I'm looking forward to it, but Half-Life 2 is going to be the only game I play until it's finished. So impressions on Pirates! are going to be delayed until late this weekend or early next week.

I went ahead and purchased the 'Limited Edition DVD' (limited to how many of us are fool enough to order it), and I was surprised and pleased to find that the original Pirates! is included on the disc as well. That's a nice bonus.

Oh, For the Life of a Garment Worker

Several of you have sent me links to the burgeoning Electronic Arts controversy. By 'controversy' I mean the allegations that EA treats its employees like shit.

Sure, I know that employees in the gaming industry are generally treated like meat in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I get that. The larger a company grows, though, the more responsibility it accepts as a corporation for the ethical treatment of its employees. This isn't a company that might not make its next payroll--it's the largest entertainment software company in the world.

Here's what started everything: http://www.livejournal.com/users/ea_spouse/. It's a journal post by the wife of an EA employee, and she spares no punches. I can't summarize it and give it justice, so please take a look and then return. Again, I know that working in the game industry is pretty brutal, but the journal post alleges systematic corporate mistreatment as a matter of policy.

In the old days (two years ago), this kind of complaint would never have been heard. Now, though, these kinds of things can land like a match in dry tinder, and before you know it something's on fire. This has gotten so much attention in the last two weeks that The New York Times did a story last weekend, and you can find it here:
If it's not coming up from that link, the story is titled "When a Video Game Stops Being Fun." It will probably be in the pay archive within another two days or so (the Times has articles online for free for about a week, and after that it's pay to play), so take a look while you can.

The Times mentions in the article that there is a class-action suit in progress against Electronic Arts with an allegation of failure to pay overtime compensation. It's going to be very interesting to see how that unfolds.

There is also an excellent link in the article to an International Game Developer's Association article about a 'quality of life' survey they conducted with over one thousand game developers. You need to register to download the paper, but registration is free, and here's the link to the abstract: http://www.igda.org/qol/whitepaper.php.

At Least It's Still Tuesday

This is what's known in the business as a late start.

Well, it's not a business, and I'm not in it, but if it was and I were, it would be.

I realized today that I'm still reading the printed newspaper because I like to turn the pages. I get almost all of my news online now, as most of the major news organizations print almost all their content online, and it's all more current than what you see in the newspaper.

For the sports section, ESPN and Sportsline have an overwhelming amount of content, and if I want to see how newspapers covered the day's sports, I go to www.sportspages.com (subscription, but well worth it if you're a sports fan). Sportspages.com has daily links to stories and columns in the major newspapers in the U.S., and the sheer depth and breadth of the links is impressive.

That left the comics. There are three sites that, combined, offer every major comic in the U.S. (and hundreds of smaller comics as well). Again, all of these sites are subscription-based, but they're each cheaper than a magazine subscription, and you can get your favorite comics e-mailed to you each day, which is a real pleasure. This would also make a great gift for someone who enjoys the comics.

Here are the sites:
--www.mycomicspage.com (130 comics to choose from, including Foxtrot and Doonesbury)
--www.comics.com (70 comics, including Get Fuzzy, Dilbert, Liberty Meadows)
--www.dailyink.com (90 comics, including Sherman's Lagoon and Zits)

And for gaming news, I again have to recommend www.gametab.com. You'll see updates grouped by gaming site with direct links to the articles. It's an easy way to see gaming news for 10+ sites at one time and is a tremendously well-executed idea. This site is only a couple of years old and has done tremendously well because it offers such a valuable service.

And if you want to start a gaming website from scratch (as I digress), look no further than www.gamerswithjobs.com. Those guys started less than two years ago, and the amound of content and forum activity they have is just amazing. From day one, they created their own distinctive look and feel for the site, and they've clearly proven that there is plenty of room for new gaming sites--as long as they're fresh.

Monday, November 22, 2004

ESPN College Hoops 2K5 Legacy Notes

Here are a couple of notes about Legacy mode in College Hoops this year:
--Check out your coach's office when you start a new Legacy. The prestige of your program will determine the quality of your office. I look like I'm in a basement. As your program improves, so do your digs. That's a small but nice touch.
--The designers have done an excellent job of making it easier to move through the interface. In the past, and with almost all sports games I've ever played, Franchise modes make heavy use of nested menus. Once you get in three or four layers deep, you have to get out the same way, and it's mind-numbingly repetitive. This year in College Hoops, though, when you're in a Legacy menu, you can push the Right analog stick and bring up a quick-menu with multiple functions. In most cases, you'll get to where you need to go with a single button press. Great design.


The Enron scandal has faded from the front pages, but Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind have written a terrific book titled "The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron." It's an excellent piece of investigative journalism, and if you're at all interested in the sorry saga, I highly recommend the book. It meticulously chronicles what happened and does a tremendous job of explaining the fraudulent accounting that was systematically used at Enron for years.

And if you want the short version--the top executives at Enron were all scumbags. There are no accounting rules interpretations that can excuse what they did. It will take a while, but almost all of those Enron guys will be going to prison.

Starry, Starry Night

We went to Home Depot on Saturday night to look for a new shower head.

Live the dream.

Home Depot has about a hundred different shower heads available, which are probably about ninety-eight more choices than anyone really needs. Plus we did this at 8:30. With Eli 3.3, by 8:30 we both feel like we've been up for a week. So we're both staring, bleary-eyed, at this massive array of shower heads, unable to process any information related to a purchase.

"Look," I say. "There's a picture of a very muscular arm holding that shower head. It must be a fine product."
"That's quite an arm," Gloria says. And it was.

In the end, the marquee arm loses out, though barely. Then Gloria wants to look for some obscure kind of Yugoslavian plant hook or something, and we can't find it, so we walk toward the registers to find some help.

Toward the front, we saw a constellation: twin planets, orbited by twin moons. In other words, a blonde with maximum boobage and two young male Home Depot employees.

She was wearing a scoop top. I think they're called 'scoop tops' because it looks like you could just reach in there and scoop out her--well, you know. Somebody get me a waffle cone--stat.

These guys were hypnotized. She was older and had a big rock on her hand, but she was still enjoying the flirting enormously, and so were her enormosities. We stood there for several minutes and the guys didn't look our way for even a split-second.

I finally tug on Gloria's hand and we walk off. "I can't believe that," Gloria says. "They didn't even look at us, let alone ask us what we needed. How did she need that much help?"
"Well, maybe they thought she needed one employee assisting each boob. Or maybe they were astronomy buffs."
"Astronomy buffs? What are you talking about?" Gloria asks.
"Didn't you see the Areola Borealis?"

Friday, November 19, 2004

Fantasy Bookspot

If you enjoy reading fantasy books, Dubious Quality reader Damon Caporaso has started a new fantasy book review website at http://www.fantasybookspot.com. The site is very well-designed and I enjoyed my visit.

ESPN College Hoops 2K5

Initial impressions are very favorable for the sequel to the game I thought was the best sports game of 2003. The graphics have been upgraded, the animations are solid, and the A.I. is improved. The sliders have a surprising amount of nuance to them, although the game plays pretty solidly with the default settings.

One innovation that is long overdue is the new free throw system. No more meters. Instead, you watch your player's motion and release the shoot button at the proper point. It's beautiful. I've always railed about 'meters' in sports games in any capacity. If you're watching a meter instead of the game, it's just wrong. That's why the Trueswing innovation by Headgate totally redefined golf sims, and I hope that developers will take note of this new free throw system and expand its use to other sports (this is how field goal kicking should be done as well).

Here's a quick example of the gameplay: the CPU was running a fast break against me, and as the point guard passed to a player heading for the basket, I knew instinctively that it should be a bounce pass because of the spacing and relationship of the offensive player and the defender. No basketball game really uses the bounce pass appropriately--at least, none that I ever played, and I've played most of them. So I had already resigned myself to another year of bad passing.

And the damn guy threw a bounce pass. And put some mustard on it, too. It looked so perfect that I was just absolutely stunned. Nicely done!

Player movement and spacing is also very well done, which again is extremely unusual for a basketball game. I have been very, very pleased with the on-court action.

Now I haven't started a Legacy yet, but Legacy mode was outstanding last year, so I expect good things from it. I'll be focusing on that when I play the game over the next few days, and I'll have some additional impressions for you early next week.

Reality 1, Myth 0

So I'm swimming before I come back here and try to pound out a few jugularities for you (yes, I just invented that word). I'm plodding along when I'm suddenly hit by this tremendous spray of water. Then again. Every few seconds, I'm splattered. It's like The Perfect Storm in a swimming pool.

It takes me a little while to figure out what's happening, but I finally realize that there's a guy in the next lane who is swimming right along with me, and that's what's spraying me. When I try to breathe on that side, I'm sucking down a quart of chlorine as I inhale his whitecaps. I decide that I can swim just a little bit faster to get away from this guy.

What? You thought I might just wait after I finished a lap and let him swim clear? Don't be ridiculous. I'm a guy.

I speed up just a bit, and 'just a bit' is about all I have in the tank. And he's still there. He sped up. Now we're both slow swimmers, not in any kind of form to be competitive, but it's on.

How do you tell if it's a race? If there are two guys in it, it's a race.

I have a hard time even believing this as I type it, but this went on for a thousand meters. The way I swim, that's about twenty minutes, and I don't think we're more than a body length apart for most of that time. At the end, though, through some secret Olympian reserve, I pull ahead by about four body lengths. My workout is done and he's still going, though, so I figure I can watch him to see how fast I was swimming.

Underwater, everything is possible. A hippo in a Speedo feels like Mark Spitz. I felt like I was swimming pretty fast, certainly faster than normal, and I felt pretty good about myself.

Then I see this guy's form for the first time.

Do you remember Tony Curtis in Houdini? There's this great scene where he's shackled and manacled and dumped into a hole in the East River (or somewhere wet around New York city). I say 'hole' because the river is covered with ice, and as he sinks the underwater current pushes him downriver. He winds up frantically swimming under the sheet of ice, pushing his face up to get a sliver of air between the ice and the water, punching the ice as he tries to break through, thrashing around in complete panic.

That's my guy.

I can't tell if it's freestyle or a cry for help. It's the single worst swimming stroke I have ever seen, and that's the guy who was making me bust my ass to get ahead of him.

Don't expect a poster of me in my Speedo with gold medals draped around my neck anytime soon.

I'm just as relieved as you are.

HL2: More Impressions

If you want to understand just how good this game is, consider the reviews. PC Gamer had 'exclusive' first reviews of both Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. Doom 3, if I remember correctly, scored somewhere around 95%, and Half-Life 2 was a 97%, which is one of the most amazingly misleading comparisons I've ever seen.

Look. If Doom 3 is 95%, or even 85%, then Half-Life 2 is 135%. Seriously. This game is so vastly superior in every conceivable way that it's impossible to even discuss them together. I don't know about the relative power of the game engines, but I do know that in everything that relates to me in terms of the game experience, Half-Life 2 absolutely kicks Doom 3 in the teeth. Hard.

I think the most powerful endorsement I can make for this game is that when I look at the screen I see what I expect to see. For twenty years, I've played games, and for twenty years I've used my imagination to fill in the blanks. When there were sixteen-color graphics, I added millions. When the animation was jerky, I smoothed it out. When the sound was lousy, I made it symphonic. The phrase 'willing suspension of disbelief' was not only helpful, but it was an integral part of the gaming experience, because there would always be disbelief.

As the years went by and games became more and more sophisticated, I realized that one day I would play a game and there would be no disbelief, no need for imagination to fill in the gaps. And now, for the very first time, there are no blanks to fill in. I'm looking at another world and it's there. It's as real as I am.

A low bar, I know, but still.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Sorry for the lack of updates today. I had some video card pukeage to deal with and just now got things up and running again. I'll have a wide range of posts tomorrow for you to dim sum from.

A Nail in the Wall

Here's an excerpt from a Stratfor intelligence report (www.stratfor.com, highly recommended):
Reports that portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il are being removed from public sites in North Korea continue to circulate. The removal of the official portraiture, which might have begun as early as August, could signal another shift in Pyongyang's attempts at economic and political evolution.

Even more intriguing is the prospect that the missing pictures, if true, could signal the end of plans for familial succession once Kim is no longer the leader.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited a Seoul source with "good connections" in the North as saying that North Korea is removing pictures of Kim Jong Il from public places. This follows an Itar-Tass report on Nov. 16 that, at a recent reception in North Korea, there was only a "light rectangular spot and a nail in the wall" where the portrait of Kim once hung next to the one of his father, Kim Il Sung.

If you're a Communist leader, the one phrase you never want to see in conjunction with your portrait is 'only a light rectangular spot and a nail in the wall.' There aren't enough state-manufactured aspirins in all of P’yŏngyang to get rid of that headache.

There's a fascinating book titled "The Commissar Vanishes" which is a look at governmental alteration of photographs in Stalin's Russia. After an individual was purged, he was wiped out from the photographic record, with someone else (still in favor) replacing him. The book has hundreds of photographs comparing the before and after images, and as you see them you realize that George Orwell was an optimist.

This is also very bad news for Kim Jong Il's recording career, since his first album ('King of the Ill') is being released next week. An anonymous source was able to obtain the track listing for me:
1. Bewitched, Bothered and Beheaded
2. Every Step You Take
3. Don't Let the Shun Come Down on Me
4. Chains of Love
5. Hang Ya
6. State-Sponsored Agricultural Worker's Solidarity Anthem
7. I Left My Seoul in South Korea
8. Man! I Feel Like a Sovereign!
9. That Don't Impress Me Much--Kill Him
10. Sympathy for the Devil (acoustic)
11. State-Sponsored Agricultural Worker's Solidarity Anthem (Dance Remix)

Advance sales have been described as 'light.'

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What's For Dinner? I Don't Know, But It Won't Fit in our Freezer

Gloria's going here tonight: www.cookingparty.net. In another astounding view into the secret life of woman, I implore you to briefly view the site before we continue. And now, since 99.9% of you didn't, let me tell briefly about this place. Actually, let me let them tell you about this place:

Attend a cooking party for about 1 1/2 hours and go home with 12 ready to freeze entrees (each serves 6) to enjoy for an entire month. We do all the menu planning, shopping, dicing and cooking. You just do the final assembly for 12 different scrumptious entrees.

Cost: $195.00 (12 Entrees, 72 portions $ 2.71 each)

On the day of your choice, you arrive with your large cooler. Sign in and enjoy a complimentary snack and drink. Pick one of the 12 stations as your spot to assemble your entrees and get started. There will be assembly instructions for each entree. You follow the simple directions for each one, there is no cooking involved only final assembly (we will be there to help if you have any questions) and in about an hour in a half, you will have 12 meals ready to take home and freeze.

I greatly appreciate the complimentary drink that only costs me a hundred and ninety-five dollars to get. Bottoms up!

"I like this," Gloria says. "I never feel like I'm cooking enough."
"Is this cooking?" I ask. "Because it sounds to me like the culinary equivalent of a garment factory--with snacks."
"But you go with your friends," she says. For women, this is apparently some kind of inducement.
"And put together food that's already been cooked so that you can feel like you're cooking more."
"Not," she says. We both say "Not" now as a one-word comment, because that's what Eli 3.3 says when he doesn't want to do something.
"Can't you just pay to have the meals assembled, too?" I ask.
"Now where's the fun in that?" Gloria asks.
"I don't know," I say. "Maybe by the Fun Wagon. Look over there."

Now if you're married, you know that Gloria's one simple idea starts dominos falling right and left. First off is one of Gloria's best friends, who cancels on her because she's in a support group for married people who decided not to have kids, and they have a movie scheduled tonight.

If you've decided not to have kids, you don't need a support group. You already have a parade. It's like creating a support group for rich people who've run out of things to buy. The world is your oyster, and it was harvested in a month ending with 'r.' In fact, with modern refrigeration, if the world is your oyster, it doesn't even matter what month it was harvested.

Here's the other domino. There are three of us. Well, for food consumption purposes, there are two of us, because Eli 3.3 still eats his own diet, heavy in waffles and chicken nuggets. Actually, there really aren't two of us, because I eat at Subway or some other fine local establishment at least three nights a week, plus we go out one night a week. So it's really 1.3 people, give or take a few people hundredths.

72 portions. 1.3 people. Finally, after years of planning, we are prepared for nuclear winter.

"So where are we keeping all this food?" I ask.
"The freezer," Gloria says.
"Whose freezer?" I ask.

It's a fair question. Our freezer is packed like a suitcase in a Loony Tunes feature. I swear I see the door flex if I get within five feet. "I'm just going to clean it out," Gloria says, and she starts taking out foil-wrapped, zip-locked mysteries, much like concerned citizens building a dam out of sandbags as the river rises during heavy rains.

"What's this label?" I ask. "Y2K preparation: Spaghetti with sauce. Do we have a CB radio to contact the other survivalists?"
"It does not say that," she says. "It says--ugh, February." Out it goes, and after fifteen minutes of diligent effort, she's cleared enough space to store--several new ice trays, neatly stacked.

"Does that $195 include the cost of a new freezer?" I ask. "Because if it does, that's a helluva deal. And you even get a free drink."
"Shut up," Gloria says. She says this as she always does--with love. Because we're all about the love.

That, and six servings of Baby Back Ribs in a Mango Chutney Marinade.


Somewhat lost in the Half-Life 2 hubbub yesterday was the news that Sid Meier's Pirates! has gone gold and is shipping on November 22.

I expect little or no innovation from the first Pirates, given that Sid Meier is generally highly derivative of Sid Meier. This time, though, that's a good thing--we don't have to worry about the game getting mucked up by a radical redesign or anything like that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Half-Life 2 Impressions

It doesn't really matter that Valve botched customer communications on a massive scale for the last fifteen months.

It doesn't matter that Vivendi and Valve have several very nasty lawsuits going.

It doesn't really matter that Steam (re-named 'Ream' for a good portion of today) couldn't handle all the authentications and puked on itself for a while.

No, what really matters, what finally matters after six years, is how good is Half-Life 2? Valve originally created the best first-person shooter and possibly the greatest game in history when they created Half-Life. They also redefined the importance of plot and story in games. After six years, could they possibly do it again?

Oh, hell yes.

Not only have they done it, they've blown the doors off. Again.

The greatness of Half-Life 2 is completely over the top. It's visually startling beyond all expectation. The story is intense and gripping. The pacing is magnificent, switching from measured caution to exhilarating speed in only seconds. It is, in a word, sensational.

Yes, it's derivative, at least in a literary sense. It borrows heavily from Orwell and H.G. Wells. Yet seeing these dark visions of the future living and breathing on the screen in front of me is nothing short of fantastic. It speaks to the quality of the game that Valve can make these written worlds come alive.

I am reminded of John Carmack's iconic comment about plots in computer game being like plots in pornographic films: no one really expects them. Id, in many ways, defined the breakout era of computer gaming with Carmack's brilliantly advanced engines, frenetic gameplay, and the genius of shareware distribution.

That era, though, has passed.

The new era is about advancing beyond pure action into a more complex experience, one that is not defined solely by the body count. It is Valve's era, and no one who plays this game will have any doubt about that. Where Id's games are all about killing, Valve's games are about life, about a living, breathing, vital game world. It is bursting with detail, with movement, with vibrance. Yes, you will kill, but unlike an Id game, the killing is not what you remember most. You must kill to live, but in Valve's world, what you remember is the living.

And that, as you might expect, makes all the difference.

Any Minute

The game's been unlocked for seven hours and sixteen minutes now, so I'm expecting the first über-goober post any minute--"I finished it and it's too short!"

I'll be able to start playing in about three hours, and I plan on having detailed impressions for you later today after about five hours of play.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Tuesday's Schedule

I've received approval from the Central Scheduling Committee to spend a large part of my day tomorrow playing Half-Life 2. I'd like to thank the CSC as well as let you know that I probably won't write anything about the game until late tomorrow. I hope to get in at least five hours, maybe more, and I'll write one long post at the end of the day to give you my impressions.

Pure Fright

I don't think I've ever played a game that truly frightened me. I don't mean the 'closet door suddenly swings open and hey there's a guy with an axe' kind of fright--that's pretty easy to find, whether it's in games of B-horror films. I mean the deeply disturbing kind of experience that in brief moments makes you feel honest, pure fear, not just surprise. I've just never had that experience in a game.

Until now.

I am playing a game now and it is, at times, terrifying. The combination of visual and audial sensations have shaken me deeply. I am on edge, not for moments, but for hours as I work my way through the game world.

Why is this game so frightening? The cut scenes and supernatural events are beautifully integrated with your own path, frequent enough that I inevitably have a hollow feeling in my stomach as I move forward, but not so frequent that they feel cheap or contrived. And they are presented in a manner that rivals the finest cinematic techniques in films.

The game, now that I've made you wait long enough, is Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (Director's Cut) for the Xbox.

This is a horror that cannot be run through in wild abandon. It has no BFG's lying in hallways to shoot gigantic demons. It cannot be run from or through, which is another reason why it is so truly unsettling. To some degree, you are a captive, and it is not killing that will set you free.

I've seen highly complimentary reviews of this game, but I've seen very little mention of the story itself, which is a watershed moment in the evolution of writing quality in games. It is, in a word, sensational, a plot that wraps itself around you in layers, each layer more disturbing than the one that preceded it.

The level of sophistication in the presentation of the story is also leagues beyond its contemporaries. I have also rarely seen sound so well-integrated into a game, and to such excellent effect.

Here are a couple of additional notes if you want to have this eerie and memorable experience.
First, play in an entirely darkened room. Second, play with headphones. Believe me, these both make a difference. I also highly recommend playing in the optional first-person mode and turning subtitles off. It makes the game much more personal and immersive--and frightening.

The game also looks terrific in 480p, so if you have a large HD set, even better.

Best of luck. I hope you get out alive.

Fright Night

I just had the pleasure of spending the last three hours with the most frightening game I have ever played. And I'll tell you more about it later tonight, when I have a chance to do a decent write-up. But I am stunned that it hasn't gotten more attention, because it is truly disturbing.

Eli Whatyousay, M.D.

Eli 3.3 found me in the living room last night around seven. He was carrying his doctor's kit.

"I have to examine you," he announces. "Go into the waiting room until I call you for your appointment." The waiting room, conveniently enough, is my study. It's the first time I haven't minded waiting for a doctor.

Fifteen minutes later, I come out of my study to check on my exam.

"Is it time for my exam, Doctor?" I ask.
"NO!" he says. "You go back and wait until I am ready." Eli is sitting on the couch with Gloria watching The Aristocats.
"It's this kind of medical indifference that will pave the way for socialized medicine," I say.
"Whatyousay?" he asks.
"Nothing. You medical professionals hold all the cards, don't you?"
"I will call you when it's time for your examination. Now go back into the waiting room."

Actually, the cards are all in my study, and that's where I get to go. After half an hour of Halo 2, I've totally forgotten about my appointment, but Dr. Eli walks in wearing his stethoscope and his red plastic glasses and says "So what is going on with you today?"

"I'm a little tired," I say. "And my shoulder is..."
"Sorry," he says. "I can do nothing for you. Now give me five monies."
"Nothing? Where did you go to medical school--Barbados? And I have a three money deductible!"
"Have a lollipop," says the Doctor. "Now I have to examine Mommy. So what is going on with YOU today?" he asks Gloria.
"I think my nose is turning green," she says.
"Now THAT is a problem," he says. He gets out his toy syringe. "Hold still," he says, as he gives her nose a shot.
"Ow!" she says. "You don't give shots in the nose."
"Listen, at least he's treating you," I said. "I'm exhausted and need rotator cuff surgery and I didn't even get a sugar pill. Besides, if your nose is turning green, it NEEDS a shot."

Dr. Eli Whatyousay 3.3 Posted by Hello

Friday, November 12, 2004

Promise Broken: Thirty-two hours, forty-two minutes

Damn it. I promise not to make any more pre-release posts about Half-Life 2, then Gamespot has to come out with a Behind the Gamer feature called "The Final Hours of Half-Life 2." It's more than the final hours--it's an in-depth look at the entire development process, including interviews with Valve principals (including Gabe Newell) that are very candid and revealing. It's a terrific read.
Here's the link:

Please note that the date Half-Life 2 actually went gold at Valve was the same date given by my source when I posted last month that the game had gone gold. I fully expect this to be the only scoop I'll have in this century. Please lower your scoop expectations accordingly.

Dungeons and Dragons Website

Longtime reader Chris Seguin asked me to mention his Dungeons and Dragons website, and I'm happy to do so. Here's his description:
After 4 long years of trying to get a group together to play the new rules set (3rd Edition), I have finally succeeded. A few weeks ago, we played our first gaming session, and I decided to start a website (sort of like a blog, but with organization) to chronicle the adventures of the players, and to tell the story.

I know quite a few of you guys play Dungeons and Dragons, so here's the site address if you want to check it out: www.geocities.com/chrisnd93.

Tech Geek 3.3

As I mentioned yesterday, I picked up the Saitek Gaming Keyboard with the neon blue backlight. It's a nice keyboard, the 9-button programmable 'command pad' is a nice addition, and I'm very pleased with it so far. Plus, I admit, the neon blue backlighting looks awesome. It belongs in Blade Runner.

Eli 3.3 walks into my study this morning. He's been having some kind of confrontation with Gloria in the living room, which is kind of a phase he's going through, and he's hollering and crying and trying to breathe all at the time. "Daddy," he says, "Mommy won't let me with the milk and I can't see the sticker and I'm very upset and I wanted a waffle and I got a timeout and I want to see one more show and Mommy won't let me and..." He's all bluster and volume, and he's wiping his nose because he's crying, and then he looks at my desk.
"WOW! Now THAT is one COOL keyboard!"

Tech geek. That's my boy.

The Swimming Lesson

My instructor's first sentence:
"Okay, the first thing you need to do is take off the water wings."

No Lifeguards On Duty: Swim at Your Own Risk

There are two things you can find in Austin in stunning abundance: bands and All-American swimmers. Every Friday, there will be bands playing at the local Borders bookstore that would be headliners in other cities. And with the success of the University of Texas swim team, there are an equivalent number of All-American swimmers.

Why is why, in the coaching equivalent of performing at Borders, I'm getting a lesson from an All-American swimmer at 1:45 today. I know, it's totally ridiculous, but that's one of the things you do if you're an ex-swimmer and want to stay in Austin--you give swimming lessons to boat anchors like me.

Here's how I expect this lesson to go. To protect her identity, my instructor will be referred to as 'SPEED.'

SPEED: So the angle of your hand on the extension has a huge effect on how much lift you get. Thirty degrees is optimal.
ME: Look! My goggles don't leak!
SPEED: Now for the flip turn you want to sight on the bottom of the pool, not look toward the wall. When you hit your mark, that's when you start to glide.
ME: Me swim pretty!
SPEED: Let's start with the 'let me hold your head underwater and see how long you can hold your breath' drill.
ME: Okay!

More Halo 2

After several more hours of play, I like the single-player campaign quite a bit more than I did initially. Just like in the original Halo, the first mission seems to be, by far, the weakest mission in the game. The first mission is like an elaborate hazing ritual to lower your expectations.

I've also noticed that Bungie has done some very clever things to compensate for the inherent imprecision of aiming with the analog stick. For one, there's a weapon (not a missile or rocket) that has a homing feature. There are also several missions where you are using weapons that have a very large blast radius. That is very clever design.

One last note. I picked up the strategy guide last night and it nearly qualifies as a work of art--it should be in a museum somewhere. Very, very impressive. I usually avoid strategy guides, but I also don't like spending an hour trying to figure out if I can squeeze the tank I'm driving through a particular opening in a wall, and the strategy guide helps me forego situations like that.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Overheard at Playgroup

I recently mentioned a trip to the emergency room at 4:30 a.m. for Eli 3.3, who had a urinary tract infection. What I did not mention is that one of the treatments he received was some lidocaine jelly on his unit to relieve pain.

The next day, he went to playgroup. He's known all these kids for most of his life, and one of his best friends is a little girl named Anna (who is almost the same age). They were reclining together on a giant stuffed puppy and Gloria overheard their conversation, which went like this:

Eli: Whoo, I am TIRED. I didn't get enough sleep last night. I had to go to the hospital. My penis hurt.
Anna: Do you want a shot?
Eli: No, I got some jelly.

The Last Pre-Release Half-Life 2 Post

There's all kinds of news in the last few days--pre-order numbers (two million plus for Steam, allegedly), acknowledgement that Vivendi does not make the same profit from a retail sale that they do from a Steam sale (speculated but not previously confirmed), that Vivendi does have some profit protection if Steam sales surge (which they have, although I doubt the protection is dollar for dollar with a retail purchase), blah blah blah.

I bet you're sick of it all. I know I am. Just let me play the damn game.

However, here's something I thought that you would want to know. The same source who scored on the game going gold sent this to me last night:
There's going to be a special treat near launch or soon after for those who are upset that Counter-Strike Source is the only multiplayer offered out of the box. I'd hate to ruin the surprise but let's just say traditionalists will be happy even if it's just one map at first. Physics Cannon!

This source was absolutely on the mark previously, so I think you can take that as completely reliable.

Thus ends all pre-release Half-Life 2 posts. I don't care if there's a parking lot shootout involving lawyers representing Valve and Vivendi in their numerous lawsuits versus one another. My keyboard is sealed.

In Glorious HD

I went to Fry's just now to pick up the Saitek backlit gaming keyboard
(http://www.saitekusa.com/usa/index.htm), which is the kind of product I mentioned in a column about a year and a half ago. It's almost exactly what I said I wanted, and the reviews I've seen have been uniformly excellent.

That's not what this is about, though. As I walked into Fry's, I saw a 50"+ high-definition set in prime viewing location near the front entrance. It's a great place to sell people on the amazing virtues of high-definition.


That's right. A fireplace video.

[Insert imaginary customers dialogue:
"Honey, I know that new television cost us two thousand dollars, but it's all worth it, because our fireplace videos are going to look better than ever before."

"I love you, Hank."]

Halo 2 Initial Thoughts

Well, it's quite a game. There's no question about that. It's really two different games, though, and there are multiple audiences for each game, and all that combined makes for a more difficult evaluation than it would originally seem.

Now if you see a standard review of this game, it will be 9.8 or something like that. Again, though, Halo 2 is really two different games. I haven't played the multiplayer, but like I said yesterday, people I trust say that it is absolutely fantastic. 10 out of 10. No question. So if you have an Xbox and Xbox Live and you like to play multiplayer, this game is a must have. In fact, if you are all of those things, you already have the game and have been playing it nonstop since Tuesday. This discussion will not be about that.

The single-player campaign is less of a slam dunk, and after about four hours, I want to share some impressions with you now, with the caveat that I'll have more after a few more hours.

The Halo backstory is a well-developed, thoughtful piece of writing. And the character of Master Chief is an absolutely great piece of design. The cut scenes are excellent, even with the occasional normal-mapping issues that have been commented on in most reviews. The 5.1 sound is some of the finest I've ever heard for a game, as is the music. In other words, the game has extremely high production values. For a console game, it's off the charts. Even for a PC game, the production values would be considered very high.

Technically, the game also pushes the Xbox very close to what must be its limits, which is also a reason to look forward to Xbox 2 next year. In 480p mode, the game looks 'nice.' It doesn't look incredible or amazing or anything like that. There is noticeable aliasing and low-res texture are very noticeable. However, the framerate has stayed high even during firefights and the animation is outstanding, so I think Bungie has done everything they can inside the performance thresholds of the platform.

This game also has a sense of humor which is usually utterly lacking in first-person shooters. The aliens are particularly funny at times with their comments during battles.

I've seen many reports that the campaign mode is only 8-10 hours long. I saw someone claim that they finished the campaign in 8 hours on legendary difficulty. Unless you are an über-goober yourself, ignore that. That length is for people who play games like they're falling off a cliff, wanting nothing so much as to reach terminal velocity and stay there until they hit the ground. Playing the game as fast as possible, for them, is the game. So those numbers don't mean anything.

For us mere humans, I'm guessing that 15 hours is a more reasonable estimate. That's not lengthy by any means, but Max Payne 2, which was one of the best games of 2003 (the second-best, in my opinion, behind KOTOR), was of similar length, so I don't think it's a huge issue as long as those 15 hours are well-spent.

However, I do think there are two issues that could be significant, particularly if you haven't picked up the game yet and aren't big into Xbox live. The first is the controller. The Xbox S-controller is fantastic, absolutely first rate, but trying to use it in a first-person shooter is very difficult. Trying to use any gamepad in a FPS is very difficult. The mouse is, by far, the best aiming mechanism--it's both tremendously accurate and totally intuitive. The analog stick, in contrast, is unbelievably annoying. It's far less precise and far, far more difficult to use. If you've put in fifty hours with console FPS games, you've probably completely adjusted, but if you're a PC gamer thinking about picking up a console to play this game, be warned that the learning curve for aiming is stiff. It will drive you crazy. It still drives me crazy, even after I've adjusted to a large degree. There is nothing more annoying than dying in a level because your aiming was imprecise, not because your tactics were poor.

The second issue is that Halo is a member of the 'shoot shit at a frantic pace' genre. There's nothing wrong with that, but some of the reviews seem to imply that it's a revolutionary game, and clearly it is not. It is a great game in the same way that Morrowind was great--not revolutionary in the slightest, but evolution of a genre taken to an extremely high level. The levels are well-designed and generally interesting (although I'd rather get cut scenes related to plot advancement and development more frequently), but everything I've seen so far I've seen before, and in all likelihood, so have you.

Like I mentioned earlier, those are initial impressions. After I get in 5-10 more hours of play, I'll have more for you. I'm also playing another Xbox game now that I am very, very impressed with, at least initially, and hopefully I'll tell you about that in another day or so as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Dino Detective

Sometimes I post stories that wind up leading off in crazy directions because of your e-mail.

I posted an entry on October 25 titled 'Another Family Dinner,' and I talked about dinosaurs as meter maids.

If this is the first time you've read this blog, I have no advice for you at this point. Good luck.

In response to this story, David Hoffman sent me an e-mail about the 'Rex' series of novels, where gumshoe detective Vincent Rubio is, literally, a dinosaur. In this alternate reality, dinosaurs never became extinct and live among us to this day, thanks to their gradual downsizing over the eons and the use of extraordinarily sophisticated body suits called 'guises.'

It sounds strange, I admit, but the books are very well-written and extremely funny. If you're interested, they're written in this order: Casual Rex, Anonymous Rex, and Hot and Sweaty Rex. If you like detective stories and/or like to laugh, I think you'll enjoy them.

Halo 2 Multiplayer

I'm hoping to have a report for you on the single-player campaign in Halo 2 later today, but i've received several reports from people I trust who say that the multiplayer is fantastic.

One of these people is Scott Ray, whose fiancee plays Halo 2 with him. Please, feel free to hate him like I do.

The Specimen and A. Guy: A Private Moment Recounted

At lunch today, I went to the gym I just joined--let's call it We Hate New Members Fitness Center. As I'm walking into the lobby, I see a specimen walking in behind me.

Spec-i-men, n.1. An individual who lifts weight eighteen hours a day and takes steroids the other six.

This guy was so jacked up, his blemishes had muscles. His arms were so big that he had to brush his teeth via remote control.

What made this particular specimen unique is that he was holding, in his left hand, another specimen. This specimen, though, appeared to be made out of bronze or wood.

I looked closely to see if the bronze specimen was holding yet another specimen, perhaps made out of cardboard, but I didn't see one. It was disappointing, because I was keen on the possibility of a Russian nesting doll moment.

So the human specimen walks up to the front desk of the gym and is greeted by A. Guy, who works behind the counter.

"What up, man?" asks A. Guy.
"I won it," says the specimen, lifting his mini-specimen. "The Manimal Southwest Muscles and Acne Championships." Or something like that.

At this moment, I have a clear vision of the future. I think to myself there can be no justice in this world if he says anything but 'AWESOME, dude!'

"AWESOME, dude!" says A. Guy.
A dream, granted.

I'm swimming a mile four days a week now. I used to run quite a bit, and I had friends who would always complain that they wanted to run but couldn't get into a routine because it was just too 'boring.' Well, I've got news for you. Compared to swimming laps in a pool, running is a lifetime free pass to Disneyworld.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault

I've played Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault for about five hours now, and I wanted to share some impressions with you.

A little history first. I thought that Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was groundbreaking for its time, a memorable experience with the exception of its ending, which must be the worst ending in the history of computer gaming. Still, Omaha Beach more than made up for that.

When the copycats started to come out, it was a mixed bag. I thought Vietcong was a deeply flawed but powerful game. Sure, it was a different war, but it was the essentially the same method, so I think it still belongs in the same class. Call of Duty was such a direct duplicate of Medal of Honor (single-player, at least--I didn't play the multi-player) that I thought it didn't really contribute anything new or compelling, even though it was well done.

I don't think I've played anything else in the 'FPS Modern Warfare' genre that impressed me in the least, although so many have come out in the last year that I'm probably forgetting something. They've generally been sloppy, unfocused, and not particularly interesting.

I expected Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault to reverse this trend, and in many ways, it does. The graphics are detailed and an extremely impressive number of objects can be rendered onscreen without slowdown. The voiceovers are high quality. The disorientation of modern war is well-portrayed. The writing and dialogue are excellent, and the opening twist is a fine, fine piece of work.

There are also a few gameplay touches that I appreciate. The most noteworthy, to me, is that you can apply bandages to both yourself and your injured comrades, thus slowing their loss of health. Medics can also come by and heal you, or you can go to them when you're injured, and I've been healed before when I was lying on the ground just waiting to die. That's a very powerful moment, to see your vision begin to clear and realize that you've been spared.

In a game of this type, what I probably value most is immersion. That's why Vietcong, even with it's flaws, was often spectacular--there were missions where you just lost yourself, where you were extraordinarily tense. Creating that kind of tension, even fear, requires a brilliance that is far beyond the reach of most developers.

This is where I find MOH: PA, at times, lacking. It is a combination of both extraordinary immersion and detachment.

Here's an example. The 'big scene' in the early game is Pearl Harbor, and it's visually magnificent. The writing and cut-scenes do a wonderful job of giving you a feel for the beauty of Hawaii (and the appeal of the base itself), and when the attack begins, it's very gripping. I'm in. They've got me.

There were times in that series of missions where I was a bit unclear as to the objective in terms of what direction I should be heading. Plus the scene itself is pretty overwhelming. So I found myself crouched behind some boxes as the sky darkens with Japanese planes. And I'm shooting at them with my rifle, both because I'm a total dumbass and because that's what you do in FPS games--you shoot stuff.

Imagine my surprise when I start shooting them down. PLANES. What the...? Now I'm not on the 'realism' difficulty setting, because I have no desire to play a mission through thirty times, but I think I'm on the second setting out of four, and is there ANY setting where I should be downing planes like they're made out of paper? No. So when I realize what's happening, I'm immediately taken from a high level of immersion to no immersion at all.

What was particularly mystifying to me about this moment, in retrospect, was that it was absolutely pointless. Being able to down those planes had absolutely no effect on anything. It was totally unnecessary to any other moment in the game.

I also realize that I can just hide behind these boxes, shooting at planes, and they'll keep coming--forever--until I reach the trigger point to start the next objective. There will be plenty of sound and fury, but absolutely nothing is really happening. All of these games are on rails to a large degree, but some games do a better job of hiding it than others. Having this happen so early in the game was like finding out the Wizard of Oz was just an old guy behind a curtain in the first scene of the film.

Here's how it should have been done: when a certain amount of time has passed and I haven't made progress toward the location-based objective, a soldier should have come up beside me and yelled my name. "We have to get to XX!" he could yell, and then he could run toward the objective. It's a reasonably well-veiled deception and the world would never go into an endless, meaningless loop.

The early missions feature quite a bit of heavy-gun work, using the giant battleship guns to blast planes out of the sky. They're very frenetic and initially very immersive, certainly a welcome change of pace from the missions found in most FPS war games, but they last such a long time that by the end I felt a certain level of detachment, as though I was just playing out the string, so to speak.

That's what I mean about this game. It's a very odd blend of absolute immersion with near-absolute detachment.

Then you'll see plenty of missions with your squad, getting into firefights, etc. We've all seen it many times before, it really doesn't feel any different here, and maybe that's the problem. It may be my problem, not yours. I think I'm starting to get genre fatigue. These first-person modern war experiences were very shocking at first, but they were absolutely compelling. The Omaha Beach mission in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault might be the single most intense moment I've ever felt in gaming. But now as I experience more and more of these moments, I'm starting to feel both detached and guilty. There's something nonsensical about reducing these brutal, terrifying experiences to five-minute segments in games. I know, that's what games do, but am I the only one who has reached a collective fatigue about this?

I just reread what I'd written so far and I think it slants more negatively than it should. There are many moments in the game that are very, very slickly done. It's clear that some very talented people produced this game. And if you like the genre, I think you'll be more than satisfied with the results. I was just deeply struck by the inconsistencies behind the excellence.

Notes From the Chair

So I'm in the dentist's chair this morning at 8:30 (part II of my chipped tooth fix, plus a metal filling replaced), and as nitrous oxide fills my head and I begin floating somehwere in outer space, this is what is running through my head as my mouth is stretched to Gateway Arch proportions and various building equipment is jammed inside: It's probably the day to write about Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault. Plus I could look through my notes and write up that "Punished!" segment if I have time.

I swear. That's what happens when your brain has turned into a real-time blog.

The Discovery

"You have scaly feet," Gloria says.

Damn it. And for years I thought my bulbous eyes and three-foot long tongue would be the first to give me away.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Any Soldier

Thanks to Justin for sending me a link to a charity website that allows you to send care packages to soldiers. These packages are then distributed to soldiers who aren't getting much (or any) mail from back home.

I'm not going to turn this into a political post--I've done so before, so you know how I feel about the war--but I think that how we feel about soldiers risking their lives is not necessarily the same as our feelings about the war in general. These guys are risking their lives in a dangerous environment, and to think that some of them don't even have family back home to send them mail, etc., is truly sad.

Here's the link if you're interested: http://www.anysoldier.com/index.cfm.

HL2 Clarification

Several people e-mailed me to point out that Vivendi may be responsible for the goofy Half-Life 2 launch time. Point taken. There's no way to know whose to blame, although with this game there's usually plenty to go around.

I will say this about Valve, though. No matter how badly they've screwed everything else up--customer relations, relationships with their publisher, release dates--all signs point to Half-Life 2 being an epic experience. And I'm still looking forward to it.


I'm standing in line at Barnes and Nobles this morning to get an asiago cheese pretzel (a new addiction, as they are utterly perfect), and the woman in front of me orders "a grande hot chocolate chocolate chocolate CHOCOLATE."

That is verbatim. The repetition is not stroke-induced or caused by some other kind of nervous disorder. Not that I don't have them.

I'm not going to comment on the fact that the woman had a Body Mass Index of 35+ and was wearing stretch pants. Well, other than to say that I have a whole new idea of what the word 'stretch' can mean. I think I may have post-traumatic stretch disorder.

No, I'd like to discuss something far more important: 'grande.' Can we stop this, please? I'm absolutely fine with you spending eight dollars on a cup of coffee with whipped cream shapes inspired by the buildings of I.M. Pei. If you want to wait half an hour to see the Bank of China Tower in your mocha migraine pilate, I salute your love of both caffeine and architecture.

How about this, though. Could we just call it a 'large'?

I actually don't mind that 'grande' is used to designate size--I have a problem with how people say it. Look, people, you're not salsa dancing on the beach in Chimichanga. There's no roasted pig on the spit or fresh pineapples halved with machetes. You're not in a Levitra commercial. It's a bookstore. Please resist the urge to break out in song.

Coffee shops aren't the worst offenders, by far. Every time I eat fast food, I'm forced to run the sizing gauntlet. No, I don't want to 'vehicular homi-size' my meal. I don't want to 'stroke up.' If I want the 'bypass buster,' I'll ask for it. Thanks very much.

Halo 2

If there are any doubts in your mind as to the dimensions of Halo 2, if 1.5 million pre-orders and 7,000 retail locations having midnight release events haven't convinced you, consider this: a story about the video game is on the front page of the Dallas Morning News, a conservative publication that would be far more comfortable if the calendar read 1958 and we were all smoking pipes.

The article is titled Anticipation, 'Halo' be thy name. See, that's supposed to be clever because...oh, never mind. It really isn't that clever.

Here's the reason that national newspapers have to put these stories on the front page: it appears that first day for Halo 2 might exceed $100 million, which would make it the largest one-day entertainment 'event' in history, far exceeding any film or music album.

What this game has also done is driven home the fact that Microsoft has done very well for itself in the console wars. I know, the console division still isn't making money, they've executed poorly in Japan, their team sports line was so poor that it spontaneously combusted, blah blah blah. Yet they've still sold a huge number of consoles, the quality of the games has consistently increased, and with Halo 2 they're suddenly the biggest thing going. The PS2 is an emphysemic casualty, wheeling an oxygen cannister around as it desperately tries to suck down some fresh air.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Bad Boys

After a week featuring posts about Pam Dawber, the pants crapper, emergency room visits, poolside musicals, and lion-converting Taiwanese missionaries, what could the week possibly end with?

Why, with police cars.

As I pulled into our cul-de-sac after returning from "The Incredibles," I saw police cars lined up like a Busby Berkeley number. Policemen are precision parkers.

Our cul-de-sac is a low crime area. Zen monasteries have higher crime rates than our cul-de-sac. Maybe it's a mini-van recall, I think as I pull into the driveway, and the police are helping by stopping at each house in this neighborhood. I supposed it could be a new doughnut shop, although I'm quite certain that the lot next door is zoned residential.

Why, then, are three police cars lined up next door?

We do have new neighbors next door. That's true. It's also true that they have a faintly funeral home vibe going, kind of a modern Addam's Family. The dad looks like he's been dropped in a chalk vat, and I've been wondering if they bought the house because the flyer mentioned a secret underground lair. Still, though, they seem civil, haven't caused any problems, and don't go out of their way to talk to me.

In other words, good neighbors.

Still, police cars are police cars. Will he come bursting out of the house in torn jeans and no shirt, yelling "I luv ya, Mary Lou!" as his wife beats the policemen with her fists?

I just don't know. I do know, though, that I want to be outside when it all goes down. Our bushes in the front yard, conveniently, need trimming. What is not so convenient is that three of my neighbors are already doing yard work, and a fourth is stringing Christmas lights.

Damn nosy neighbors. I just can't stand people like that.

I could salt the driveway, but it's sixty-five outside. Maybe I could go to their house and ask if they had any lions that I could convert to Christianity. A paleontologist-baker asking to borrow a Diplodocus egg? Or maybe I could just knock politely on their door, and when it was opened I could say "Holy hell! Are you people running a meth lab over here or something?"

That's when I remember that I have a video camera. Of course we have one--we have Eli 3.3. It's not really video surveillance--I mean, it's just like staring out the window, right? Except that it's staring automatically.

Now if you're wondering if you can suspend a handheld video camera from the string that opens and closes the Venetian blinds, why yes you can. I set up the camera, point the lense between the slats, and hit 'record.' Then I go and have a snack. That's what most famous documentary filmmakers do.

When I come back half an hour later, the police cars are gone. The video footage is top quality, since it's shot through a window, a window screen, and tree limbs, with a blinding reflection from the late afternoon sun. It's so grainy and bright that if I had focused on a leaf instead of police cars, I could have won several European film festivals.

In lieu of Cannes, however, we still need to figure out if somebody got arrested, and the footage we're reviewing makes the Zapruder film look like it was shot in high-definition. I can vaguely make out the policeman, and someone not dressed like a policeman is getting into one of the police cars, but I can't tell if it's the chalky neighbor, an alien, or Bigfoot.

I do, however, have a call from Sundance on my answering machine.

No Lions Were Harmed or Religiously Converted In the Writing of This Post

Here are some assorted bits of information about release dates:
--World of Warcraft has a November 23 release date. I believe this is going to be one of those games where people don't leave their apartments for a week as they play it continuously. Almost any game can do that, but this is one of those games where people will brag about it. Congratulations on your level 39 dwarven grocer, sir.
--The Halo 2 (Xbox) street date was temporarily broken by a midwestern retail chain called Meijer's. Presumably all offending clerks were rounded up and executed.
--In yet another sophisticated marketing move, Valve has announced that they will be pissing us off again. Half-Life 2 will be released at 12:00 a.m. on November 16. That's 12:00 a.m. Seattle time, or GMT-8. All over. So any retail stores that wanted to have a midnight launch party are out of luck unless they're in the western U.S. Midnight launch parties are fun, but somehow I doubt that any stores here in Austin are going to open at 2 a.m. It will be great for Europe, though.

My opinion last year was that Valve made brilliant games and that they were shrewd marketers. All I can say now is--those games sure are brilliant, huh?

The Incredibles

Just tell the boss you're sick and go see this movie. Immediately. It is the most wildly imaginative, laugh-out-loud funny movie I've seen in a long, long time. As amazing as Pixar's other films have been, this is far better. Imagine that.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Missionary Veal

From Reuters:
TAIPEI, Taiwan - A man leaped into a lion’s den at the Taipei Zoo on Wednesday to try to convert the king of beasts to Christianity, but was bitten in the leg for his efforts.

“Jesus will save you!” shouted the 46-year-old man at two African lions lounging under a tree a few meters away.

“Come bite me!” he said with both hands raised, television footage showed.

One of the lions, a large male with a shaggy mane, bit the man in his right leg before zoo workers drove it off with water hoses and tranquilizer guns.

Newspapers said that the lions had been fed earlier in the day, otherwise the man might have been more seriously hurt ... or worse.

I know that after reading this story, literally hundreds of you are preparing to head down to your local zoo or wildlife park and convert lions to Christianity. While confident promotional leaflets with articles like "Zebras or Salvation?" and "Roar in the Name of Jesus" may fill you with proselytizing zeal, I have prepared a cautionary information sheet that is absolutely essential. I highly recommend that you print this out, laminate it if necessary, and keep it in your wallet at all times.

WE SEE........................................................................LIONS SEE
David Beckham, International Soccer Superstar.....Lunch
Siegfried and Roy, Famous Lion Tamers.................Lunch
Mel Gibson, Superstar Actor.........................................Lunch
Ken Burns, Revered Documentary Filmmaker.........Lunch
Calista Flockhart, Star of Allie McBeal........................A Nacho
The Three Tenors, Opera Legends............................Thanksgiving

No need to thank me. I'm here to serve.

And That Brings Us Back to Pee

Continuing our enchanted week of wonder, we were in the emergency room with Eli 3.3 this morning at 4:30 a.m.

The only thing I've ever wanted to hear at 4:30 a.m. is "Would you like some fries with that?" This morning, though, I delighted in the minutia of urinary tract infections.

We're having a nervous breakdown. As a family.

Eli is going to be just fine, and I think he'll enjoy visiting us in the mental hospital, which is clearly where we're headed, because we're both totally exhausted and stressed out. In spite of that, though, today I went swimming and busted my ass for the entire mile, beyond all reason. I may be having a nervous breakdown, but that doesn't mean I can't maintain my fitness level.

As I was swimming (freestyle--three strokes to a breath), this is what I heard (presented in Dynamic--Swim-Surround-Vision©):

(breath) A female deer
(breath) A needle pulling
(breath) Of golden sun
(breath) With jam and

It takes a few laps, but I eventually figure out that I'm hearing (or hallucinating) "Doe, a Deer." Do they sing that in heaven? And if they do, should it be so off-key?

If I'm dead, why do I still have to swim laps? That's what will be on my headstone: Deceased, but still worrying about his VO2 max.

I'm afraid to stop swimming and take a look, because if I see purple unicorns doing karaoke, I'm not sure what I'll do. Actually, I know what I'll do--I'll desperately hope that they don't start singing "Her name is Rio."

After a mile, though, I can't go on. I've slowed down so much that a freshwater shrimp passed me twice in the last hundred yards. I stand up, take off my goggles, and I still hear singing. It appears to be coming from a group of seals at the end of the pool. I put on my glasses and realize, much to my disappointment, that seals are not singing. Instead, it appears to be the 70+ Granny Water-robics class, who are belting out 'Doe, a Deer' with an enthusiasm usually reserved for Irish drinking songs.

On the positive side, though, there was no fish smell.

Machinima: "I Promise"

Russ Poe sent me a link to one of the finest works of machinima I've ever seen. It's another film based on the IL2-Sturmovik engine, and it's a continual source of amazement to me that a flight simulator engine has become so popular as a film-making resource.

This is a big download, but it's a twenty-minute film and I promise it's worth it.
You'll need the DIVX codec to view.

I've said this before, but within the next three years there is going to be a piece of machinima released that will be better-written, directed, and voiced than most Hollywood films. That's where things are headed, and we'll be there very soon.

Second Warning

Once again, I implore you not to play hide-and-seek with Eli 3.3, for reasons previously discussed in this space. If you must, write "NO HIDE AND SEEK" in large letters on an index card, get some string, and wear it like a necklace as a reminder.

And if you hear the phrase 'hide-and-seek' when anywhere within fifty yards of him, run like hell. Not for hiding purposes, because you're not coming back.

Just run. Save yourself.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Team America

We saw Team America last weekend.

Make no mistake, this movie will offend you--by design. Everyone will be offended at some point. It skewers the far left and the far right with equal ferocity, it's vulgar, it's juvenile, and it's utterly tasteless.

It's also damned funny. Man, is it ever funny. I was almost in tears at least three times because I was laughing so hard that I just couldn't stop. I was laughing so hard that I could hardly even breathe. The humor is just wickedly sharp in many places. Make no mistake, even though Trey Parker and Matt Stone are juvenile, they're also brilliant.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is probably the finest American comedy ever made and certainly the finest dark comedy ever. While I was watching Team America, I thought of Dr. Strangelove several times, because Parker and Stone, on occasion, rise to a level of comedy that most people never reach in in their entire careers. I can't think of a higher compliment than that.


Here are two fun links I came across today.

The first is the website for "The Incredibles," Pixar's new film debuting Friday. This is the first Pixar film for The Iron Giant creator Brad Bird, which makes it a landmark event for me (I'm seeing at at 10:00 a.m. Friday). I thought The Iron Giant was one of the finest animated films ever made.

So after that digression, here's the website: www.theincredibles.com. Choose the 'Games' option, then choose 'Picture Yourself as a Superhero.' It's a series of mini-games after which you'll be given your own superhero name. You can then import a picture and print out a superhero badge. It's all very fun, and both Eli 3.3 and I have our own superhero badges now.

Then there's a new game from Team Large Animal called RocketBowl. Here's their description:
RocketBowl is a retro-futuristic bowling game set at the Kalamazoo World's Fair of 1958. Unlike traditional bowling games, RocketBowl is played over a contoured course of ten frames, adding a whole new dimension to the king of all leisure sports.

What makes RocketBowl fun is the retro feel (very, very well done) combined with wacky bowling alleys in outdoor environments. I downloaded the demo from http://www.largeanimal.com/games/rocketbowl/index.html and really enjoyed myself. It's very relaxing and pleasantly paced.

P.S. About Car Seats

I forgot to mention that you can take a car seat to a fire department and they will install it properly for you. They will also check to be sure that your own installation was done properly.

If you live in a city with a total population of twelve people and a goat, and your fireman also runs the video-bait-hardware store, I make no promises.

Weather 1, Me 0

I had to have blood drawn this morning. It was the best part of my day.

There are times as a parent when I just get totally dispirited. Parenthood is a workout every single day--for years. There are no days off, no recharge days. So when stress and fatigue reach a certain level, it's disastrous. If you're not a parent, that description won't make any sense, but if you are, then you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Eli 3.3 is suddenly made of balsa wood and has had a dizzying array of strange ailments in the last few weeks. Because he hasn't been feeling well, we made some exceptions in terms of what he's allowed to do, and these exceptions have created Godzilla 3.3, at least temporarily.


We're all sick to various degrees, nobody's sleeping, and we're all miserable. So I'm getting blood drawn and this very nice lady is digging the needle in just a little farther each time she pulls out a tube and replaces it with another one. And another one. And another one. Or two. By the time she gets to the fifth tube, I feel like the needle has gone through my arm and is coming out my shoulder blade.

Since I'm on parenting this morning, I'm going to mention a couple of things that I told friends of mine in the last few weeks. They're both having babies soon, and there are two things that no one told me before Eli was born that I really wish I had known about.

First, it is almost impossible to change pediatricians after your child is born. We tried to change pediatricians after about six months, because it really wasn't a good fit, and it was absolutely hopeless. Pediatricians generally accept new patients as newborns only. So if you're interviewing pediatricians, do it early and be extremely thorough, because your choice is what you're stuck with, and it will be very hard to make changes.

Second, buy the car seat early, and by early I mean three months early. Car seats are the most damnable, impossible to install contraptions every created. I saw a study once that said that 85% of all car seats were installed incorrectly, and that number just shocked me, because I can't believe 15% of them were done right. You are going to feel totally incapable and ridiculous the first time you install one. I felt that way the first ten or fifteen times, at least. It requires a huge amount of leverage and force, it's extremely awkward, and it is definitely a skill that you acquire only with practice. So buy it early, install it once a day, and get to the point where it's just automatic.

There are so many things about childbirth that honestly can't be prepared for. The car seat is something you can completely master prior to the baby's arrival, and it's one less thing to worry about. There is nothing scarier than trying to install a car seat for the very first time in the parking garage of the hospital when your baby is ready to go home. Eli was a month early, and that's what happened to me. Babies also can't keep their heads upright, so you'll need one of those little soft collars that fit around their neck so that their heads aren't lolling around like a bobblehead doll.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Warning: Racy Content, Including Frequent Use of the Word 'Tit'

To further clarify, I'm not using the word 'tit.' Personally.

Like all of you, I get spam. And, also like all of you, some of it is rather nasty. Actually, it's less nasty than it is totally laughable, like a rutting elk somehow learned to type and is sending out e-mail at random.

As an example, here's an e-mail I received today, from a Mr. Gigantic Tits. The subject of this e-mail was "Are you a tit man? TitVision has the sexiest big-titted babes!"

That's the problem with Internet pornography--the advertising is so subtle. Perhaps customer feedback could improve the quality of their marketing.

Mr. G. Tits,
What is your point, exactly? I have no idea why I should be interested in your product. What is the focus of your site? Sir, I recommend that if you'd like to increase your profitability in the future, give me a clearer idea of your site's specialty. I can't be expected to spend my valuable time trying to decipher your vaguely-worded communications.

Good day, sir.

Admiral Dan Sinking
Rearguard Communications

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