Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year

In a shocking development, I'm taking the day off. So Happy New Year to all of you and I'll be back on the regular schedule Monday morning.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Now You Tell Me

You're all sending me heartwarming stories about your own young children peeing in strange places and crapping on the floor. I only have one question: why didn't you tell me this BEFORE we decided to have a child?

Good grief, we could have gotten a llama instead. Llamas aren't fussy eaters, they're friendly, they don't need a college fund, if they get their girlfriend pregnant you can celebrate, and I'd get a free sweater once a year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Eli 3.4: Dangerous Waters

We were talking about fire ants on Sunday. In the park.
"Daddy, where are the fire ants?" Delightful subject. Welcome to Texas.
"Little man, when it gets cold, the ants go deeper into the ground. They don't like the cold."
"Why don't they like the cold?" Eli asked.
"Because they can't wear jackets," I said.
"Daddy, you are cracking my head up!"

Later, he climbed a giant slide and slid down about twenty times in a row, laughing and running back each time he reached the bottom. "Man, my batteries are running out!" he shouted.

On our way back to the car, we were all walking together and Eli 3.4 said "Daddy, I love Mommy more than you."
"Sure," I said, "You've only known her for three years!" Gloria gave me a good slug on the arm for that. Heh. Good times.

It was one of those golden parenting days, as it were.

'Golden.' That's foreshadowing, don't you know.

That afternoon, during Eli's nap, Gloria walks into the living room.

"I need to tell you something about Eli." I wonder what my little genius has done now. Maybe he's already reading. Maybe he's learning math. Maybe he's just absolutely the best boy in the world.
"I think Eli peed in the bathroom trash can," she says.
"He what?"
"Peed in the trash can. Unless you think the cat could have done it." I think the cat would eat me, if she could, and if you hear of me being dismembered, take a hard look at her, but she didn't pee in a trash can.
"Why in the world would he do that?" I ask, as if there's some kind of sensible reason for peeing in a trash can when a toilet is less than a foot away.
"I don't know. He just did."

Later, the dramatic confrontation.
"Eli, could you come over here for a minute? We need to talk about something." He walks over, already suspicious, looking at anything except me.
"What, Daddy?"
"Mom said that there was pee in the trash can."
"There was?"
"Yes. And I know Mommy didn't pee in the trash can, and I know I didn't, so who could have done that?"
"Hmm. Let me think...Hmm...I think it was me."
"You peed in the trash can? Why?"
"Well, because I'm a Curious George, and I was curious."

Outstanding. That makes perfect sense.

Later, after Eli's gone to bed, Gloria comes into our bedroom.
"Well, it's totally cleaned out and I used anti-bacterial spray."
"IT WAS PEED IN. Once it's peed in, it can no longer be called a 'trash can.' It can only be referred to as the 'urine receptacle.' "
"That trash can is probably cleaner than when we bought it. Besides, pee isn't really that dirty."
"Really? When did you become a card-carrying member of the Pee Lovers Association of America?"
"I've read stories about shipwrecks where people couldn't drink the salt water, but they drank their own urine to survive."
"Is this like the 'I have a friend who...' stories?"
"My mother was so fastidious that it made me nervous. I don't want to be like that."
"No worries," I said. "I think that regaling me with stories of people drinking their own pee falls somewhere on the other side of 'fastidious.' Let me just say this--I'm not touching any lemonade that you make from now on."

Things got better from there. Eli seemed to understand that peeing inside random containers did not make him a 3.4 version of James Dean. Life went back to normal, which is to say, utter chaos.

I went for a walk with Eli 3.4 last night, and when we got back to the house, he was playing with his Cozy Coupe. Gloria opens the door to the garage and gives me one of those secret little gestures. I walk over to her.

"Do you have the package? What's the password?" I ask.
"I need to talk to you about something," she says. "About Eli."
"What is it?" Eli is still happily taking a spin in the Cozy Coupe.
"I found some poop in the guest room on the floor."
"WHAT? You found WHAT?"
"Maybe it wasn't him. It could have been the cat."
"Great. The only thing worse than having crap on the guest room carpet is HAVING MULTIPLE SUSPECTS."
"I don't think the cat was in there today, though," she says. "The door was closed."
"You know, Eli peeing in the trash can didn't seem like The Good Old Days at the time, but how I miss them."
"What should we do?"
"I don't know, but I do know one thing--I don't want to hear any shipwreck stories."

Maybe I'll forget this ever happened. In twenty years or so.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


A friend of mine sent the following link: It's to a blog called "Cheese and Crackers," and this fellow has assembled a remarkable collection of links about the tsunami disaster. There are links to three home videos taken as the waves arrived, satellite photographs showing before and after conditions of the Sri Lanka coastline, and a gallery of photos taken by a man named Hellmet Issels. These images help convey the unbelievable magnitude of the tsunami--but even looking at the videos and the photos, it's still difficult to fully grasp.

There is also a link on the page to donate via Amazon to the Red Cross.

It is a tragedy of epic proportions.

2004 Year in Review: Sports Games

This was unfortunately a year when there were a few sports games that were terrific and a bunch more that were half-finished, unbalanced crap.

3 Best Trends:
1. Gameplay sliders. Yes, they're a pain in the ass to test and balance, but they've saved several excellent games (ESPN Football 2K5 as the prime example) from an early death.
2. Improved audio. EA's NCAA Football was a disappointment this year, but the one outstanding improvement they made was with the sound of the crowd. It was remarkable and incredibly immersive. ESPN added the ability to change the position of different in-game sounds in a 5.1 matrix. Both were significant improvements.
3. Oh hell, I can't even come up with a third one.

3 Worst Trends:
1. Half-finished crap. Sports games seem to be victimized by this more than any other genre, and it's even worse on the consoles, where most sports games are only partially playable and never get patched. It seems that the enticement to buy this year's version of an established sports series is for all the NEW! features, 90% of which don't completely work and have resulted in breaking 20% of the existing engine. Both EA and Sega have serious problems with this.

2. Exclusive league licenses. This is the work of The Great Satan, otherwise known as EA Sports. They now have exclusive Nascar, PGA, NFL , and World Cup licenses, as well as buying licenses individually for many of the world's best soccer leagues. Horrible for innovation, horrible for game quality, horrible for game pricing, just horrible period.

3. Out-of-Box game balance. Developers have started using the inclusion of gameplay sliders as an excuse to ship games that play terribly with the default settings. Then the sportsgaming community gets to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours improving how the game plays by experimenting with every possible slider combination. The true value of a sports game is often not known for weeks or even months as people in the community work on the gameplay sliders.

4. Color commentary. Oh, the horror. The first time a color commentator says "Joseph, Jesus, and Mary--I think he's fallen off the porch!" it's funny. The fifth time you hear it in a game, it's torture. Play-by-play commentary in quite a few of these games is excellent, but it gets ruined by the color commentary. I wish that developers would understand that the absolute death of color commentary in a game is the signature phrase. Signature phrases, by definition, are supposed to be unique and spontaneous, and also be definition, that's impossible in pre-recorded commentary. That's why Madden is a pretty interesting color commentator in real life and absolutely heinous in a video game.

I'm going to have hybrid categories since I play on both PC and Xbox, like many of you. So it's all getting dumped into the same stadium, so to speak.

Now, to the games. In dramatic order:
Honorable Mention: Winning Eleven 8. I have no doubt that if Winning Eleven 8, Konami's superb soccer simulation, was available in the U.S. (available in Europe now--to the U.S. in February), it would be in the top three. Pro Evo Soccer 3, which was the PC version of Winning Eleven 7, might have been the most authentic sports simulation of all-time.

3. Tiger Woods 2005 (PC). Graphic splendor, greatly improved gameplay (putting is nothing short of amazing this year), and improved career mode. This is counter-balanced with EA's stubborn decision to force you to play their unbalanced career mode (it was improved this year, but it's still unbalanced) in order to use a created golfer in the game, not allowing you to use user-created courses in season mode, and killing the course design community. So this is an excellent game, but I can't help but feel that it's headed in the wrong direction now. That's what happens when your excellent competition (Links) has left the course.

2. ESPN College Hoops 2K5 (Xbox). Last year's version, along with Pro Evolution Soccer 3 and NBA Street Ver. 2, were the best sports games of the year. Remarkably, this year the game is significantly improved. This is the best CPU ball movement ever seen in a basketball game, by far, and it's also a real pleasure to see a team be able to finish a fast break properly. Legacy mode is extremely deep and well-designed--I've played over sixty seasons (one full Legacy and twenty years of another) just recruting and coaching the occasional game. And speaking of Coaching mode, it's a terrific feature, allowing you to call plays, make substitutions, and do everything a coach would do during a game, without forcing you to control a player. The game looks much better than last year, and some of the animations are just tremendous.

There are some warts. There is a serious problem with the game freezing in Legacy mode, but there's also a fix: do not save a custom profile or settings. When you turn on the game, just accept the default profile but do not save it. And you can save settings inside a Legacy, but don't save a custom set at the game's main menu. I've had no freezes after doing that.

The other primary wart is that while the end-game A.I. is much improved, it's too inflexible, relying on forcing the opponent to the free throw line in the last minute even if the game score is within one possession. And last year's timeout bug (the A.I. would call all their timeouts in bizarre situations) has been remedied by having the A.I. call no timeouts at all. Um, that's not a fix, really.

Still, this game is big, big fun.

1. ESPN NFL 2K5. If you read this column on a regular basis, this is no surprise. This game was a total pain in the ass to balance via the gameplay sliders, but when it was, the fun factor was just off the charts. Looked spectacular in 480p, with incredible animations and player models. Greatest presentation in a sports game ever, with outstanding integration of the ESPN license. Also probably the greatest bargain ever--100+ hours of gameplay for $19.99.

Needed the right sliders, needed house rules in Franchise mode, needed better two-minute A.I., needed better draft A.I. So what? Everything else was so overwhelmingly positive that this game raised the bar in more ways than I can even list. A stunning, landmark achievement in sports games. It was so stunning that EA did everything they could to kill it by buying an exclusive NFL license.

And if you want to see gameplay slider and Franchise rules, go to the August archives and search on ESPN NFL 2K5.

Looking ahead to 2005: So what about next year? Winning Eleven 8 for PC is money in the bank. So is NBA Street Ver. 3 (I'm buying it used as part of my efforts to derail The Great Satan, otherwise known as EA Sports). Anything else is a roll of the dice due to the half-finished crap trend. I'm particularly hoping that someone will finally finish a damn baseball game. I haven't played a baseball game with all features working and excellent onfield A.I. in at least five years.

Something to definitely look forward to, though, is Xbox 2. I have no doubt in my mind that the new console will support 720p for all games, at a minimum, and I strongly believe they will all support 1080i as well. The few Xbox sports games that supported 720p (ESPN Baseball and MVP Baseball in particular) looked absolutely fantastic, and with the exponential leap in processing power and graphics capabilities, they should be astonishing on Xbox 2.

2004 Year in Review: Biggest Surprise

I have a transcript of this moment, fortunately. It came in August when I received a surprise phone call from the IOC.

"Hello, this is the International Olympic Committee. Congratulations on winning the gold medal in gymnastics!"
"I'm not a gymnast. I'm sitting on my couch in my underwear. I have better things to do than watch guys jouncing their prominently displayed man packages in front of my face."
"I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do. There was apparently a scoring error and it's your gold medal."
"Fine. Mail it and I'll sell it on EBay."
"Will do. And just a quick note: the entire nation of South Korea now despises you."
"They'll have to go through my publicist. I'm a gold medal winner now and don't have time for their crap.

AP Reporting Cloned Cat Hit By Car

Heh. Made you look.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Take-Two: The Sports Strategy

Take-Two has made some interesting announcements in the last few weeks. First, they purchased the Indie Built studio from Microsoft. Indie Built was the developer for Top Spin, Amped 2, and Links, all top-quality sports titles. They also purchased British developer Venom, who was responsible for the Rocky: Legends title.

And if that wasn't enough, it was revealed last week that Take-Two has an option to buy both Visual Concepts and its subsidiary Kush Games, who between them develop all of the ESPN sports titles.

Clearly, Take-Two's distribution agreement with Sega for the ESPN line was just the opening salvo in a long-term realignment of their corporate strategy. Right now, it's a company almost entirely dependent on one franchise: Grand Theft Auto. The company basically bets its future every time it releases a GTA game, and if one ever disappoints, they would be in serious trouble very, very quickly. It's a company whose stock price is based on growth, but beyond GTA they have no growth drivers.

That's not to say that they don't have other good games. They publish the Max Payne series, which is outstanding, as well as PopTop Software (Phil Steinmeyer's company). So they publish some excellent games, but none of them move enough units to maintain the company's growth rate.

Take-Two reported revenue of $1.13 billion last quarter. If they could sell ESPN Football at $39.95 and still move two million units like they did this year, one sports game would be accounting for over 7% of Take-Two's revenue for the biggest quarter of the year. An entire line of sports titles could produce the additional growth driver that Take-Two so desperately needs.

So it appears that Take-Two's strategy was to significantly improve the market share of the ESPN line this year, then purchase Visual Concepts and Kush as part of a larger strategy to become a leading developer and publisher of sports games. The price cut to $19.99 was a brilliant move and hurt Electronic Arts to a degree that I didn't think was possible.

Everything was going just about perfectly until Madden announced the exclusive NFL license. Now Take-Two is in the middle of building a stable of sports games to use as a growth driver for the company--and EA is buying exclusive licenses for the major team sports. Top Spin and Amped, even though they're both outstanding games, aren't part of a viable strategy unless the ESPN team titles are included as well. So this strategy, as well-conceived as it was, might blow up in Take-Two's face.

Unforgivable Blackness

I've been fortunate to read some outstanding books lately, and I just finished another one that was a remarkable read. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson is a brilliant, memorable biography of the first black boxer to win the heavyweight championship. Johnson's life was amazing, and even a bare recounting would be interesting, but Geoffrey Ward has done a masterful job of recounting the details of his life and the world he lived in.

There were two things that were stunning to me as I read the book. The first was the absolutely astonishing degree of racism in the United States at that time. Johnson's prime was around 1910-1915, and it is nothing short of incredible to read the excerpts from newspapers and magazines around the country. It's frightening, really. Ward does an outstanding job of letting the actual words and language of the era tell their own story, and that story is sad and ugly beyond all conception.

The second stunning moment was when I saw some of the photographs of Johnson. In his prime, he only weighed a little over two hundred pounds, but in a time when there was no scientific knowledge about weightlifting methods or nutrition, Johnson was absolutely ripped. His physique looked like it had been carved out of granite. Nearly a century later, his body would not look out of place in the world of professional sports, and I don't know of anyone else in that category.

Johnson led an amazing and incredibly controversial life. He makes Muhammad Ali look conservative, if that gives you any idea. Great subject, great author, great book.

This is a companion volume to a Ken Burns documentary that will be showing sometime in January, and I assume it will be just as brilliant as the book.

Let It Snow

I grew up in Corpus Christi, which is on the southern Texas coast. When I was twelve, it snowed. A tenth of an inch, to be exact, the first measurable snowfall in over twenty years. I built this little snowman about a foot high by scraping snow off every car I could find. Even now, it's a great memory.

So imagine my surprise when a snowstorm hit SOUTH TEXAS for Christmas. It snowed 4.5" in Corpus Christi, which was the largest snowfall on record (dating back about a hundred and fifty years). In Victoria, which is about seventy-five northeast of Corpus Christi, it snowed a FOOT. Victoria had three measurable snowfalls in the last century. It even snowed an inch and a half in Brownsville, which is right on the border with Mexico. None of these events will probably happen again in the next century--that's how rare they were.

So we were very close to having the best White Christmas in Austin ever. Victoria is a little over a hundred miles southeast of Austin, so we had even colder temperatures, but the moisture was concenrated south of us, unfortunately.

On Christmas Eve, I assembled a pedal-powered fire engine, complete with siren and horn, microphone, and a functioning fire hose. After hearing the siren about, oh, a thousand times on Christmas Day, I asked Eli 3.4 to hold off on using it for a while.

"Is it loud?" Eli 3.4 asked.
"Oh, it's loud," I said, and trust me, it's LOUD.
"Well, it's not so loud," he said. "Here." He turns on the siren for several seconds, then speaks into the microphone. "THAT'S NOT SO LOUD, RIGHT?"
"It's loud," I said.
"But listen," he said, and turned on the siren again. "It's only a yittle loud." That's still how he says 'little,' and it always cracks me up.
"That's more than a little loud," I say.
"No, no, no. Let me tell you something. Listen." He turned on the siren. Again. "See?"

Repeat one hundred times.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Allow me to drop my full-body suit of cynicism and say how much I sincerely appreciate you reading this mildly amusing crap. It's not an exaggeration to say that writing this blog and knowing that you enjoy reading it has made my life better. When I am in a frustrating situation now, I automatically start turning things over in my mind, looking for something funny that I can write about. As soon as it's funny, it's not frustrating any more. It's Valium for curmudgeons--at least it is for this one.

Best wishes to you and your family for happy holidays.

The Sand People

It got down below twenty degrees last night, and it's still below freezing this afternoon, so the heater's been on quite a bit. It's been on quite a bit for the last week, actually, and I'm starting to think it's made out of sand, because that's how dry it feels. I put on huge amounts of lotion and--still sand. The only time I don't feel like that is when I'm swimming.

By the way--the ultimate O.C.D. nightmare? Adjusting the faucet drip.

I forgot to mention yesterday that one of the personality characteristics of the Hedda Hopper cat is that it will wake you up ten times a night. That's what our cat is doing, and my sleep has been absolutely horrible the last three nights. I think I'll volunteer for a sleep deprivation study, because at least then I'll be getting paid to be woken up every hour.

So I'm at the pool today, and because I slept so poorly last night, the swim is torture. I felt like a cinder block swimming through sand. Wait, I already said I felt like I was made out of sand, so that would be sand swimming through sand, which doesn't make sense. Hmm. Okay--I'm sand swimming through broken glass. Painful, but not really what I mean. How about I'm sand swimming through semi-porous foam? No. All right, let's just say that I'm something very dry swimming through something that's very difficult to swim through.

They don't call me a wordsmith for nothing.

After I got out of the pool, there were two twenty-somethings flirting on a bench. I guess my prolific display of swimming through quicksand got them all worked up. He asks her something (I couldn't quite hear what), and she giggles and says "I think you're the first one."

I immediately think probably not. I don't blame her for saying that, though--"I think you're the next one" doesn't really have the same allure.

Now if there's some kind of Northern secret about not turning into a lizard during a cold stretch, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll just seek to gain stature in the loosely-organized community of sand people.

And in Line Behind Me at Randall's

A guy with the following items:
--A case of beer
--a quart of mayonnaise
--a pecan pie

Dude knows how to party.

Occam's Naked Razor

I was in line at the grocery store today (gift certificates only--I don't buy food--I hear it spoils) and saw an issue of Cosmopolitan on one of the impulse racks. Here's the headline I saw:

What He Thinks When He Sees You Naked

Inside the magazine, I'm sure there's a six-to-eight page article exploring the psychology and deepest emotions of men. Right. Like we have any.

Let me save you some money. Here's what he thinks when he sees you naked: Man, that took FOREVER!

Glad to help.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

She Says What? I Said Texas

From the AP:
The first cloned-to-order pet sold in the United States is named Little Nicky, a 9-week-old kitten delivered to a Texas woman saddened by the loss of a cat she had owned for 17 years.

The kitten cost its owner $50,000 and was created from DNA from her beloved cat, named Nicky, who died last year.

"He is identical. His personality is the same," the owner, Julie, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Although she agreed to be photographed with her cat, she asked that her last name and hometown not be disclosed because she said she fears being targeted by groups opposed to cloning.

She fears being targeted by groups opposed to cloning? What about groups who are opposed to stupidity? They should all be picketing outside her house right now.

I was saddened today because I was stuck in traffic on the way home. I think I'll go spend 50K at Fry's. Yeehaw!

Actually, if somebody wants to spend $50,000 to clone her cat because she's sad, it's none of my business, although I'd like to point out that you can buy a lot of damn therapy for $50,000. However, then she says "He is identical. His personality is the same."

His personality? What? How many different personalities can cats have? Look, lady, cats have a grand total of five possible personalities:
1. The Great Satan. Hisses at everybody. Pees on everything you own. Craps in your shoe. Try to pet it and you'll pull back a bloody stump of a hand.
2. Valentino. Rubs against you constantly. Demands to sit in your lap. Sleeps on your stomach. Reminds you of the time you moved out of town to get away from that woman who wanted to marry you and said she didn't mind waiting. Forever.
3. The Flying Wallenda. Can scale any height. Athletic and absolutely fearless. Breaks one vase a week.
4. Garbo. Never comes out from under the bed. Often discussed but never seen. Has been in hiding since 1987.
5. Hedda Hopper. Never stops talking. Ever. Talking back just encourages it to talk more. Frequently Siamese. I dated a women like this once, and her cat was just like her. I gave my ears to an organ donor program with the stipulation that they be taken immediately.

Listen, Julie, personalities can't be cloned, and even if they could be, you wouldn't want any of these.

Or mine, for that matter.

Of course she lives in Texas. All crazy women live in Texas. If I hear a news story about the mom who hired a hit-man so her daughter could get on the cheerleading squad, or the mom who gave her daughter a boob job for a high school graduation present, or the wife who ran over her husband with a SUV (then drove back and forth to be sure she got him), I immediately think of one magical word: TEXAS.

Top 100 Toys

Slashdot linked to a nostalgic and extremely fun article by TV Cream on the top one hundred toys of the past. I've laughed out loud about ten times already and I've only looked at the first thirty in the list. Complete with pictures and descriptions, it's the perfect time-waster if you're stuck in the office this afternoon. Here's the link:

The Return of the Worst Gaming Store: Now With 2X the Stupidity!

It was seventy-five degrees here at about 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Thirty-six hours later, it was twenty-five degrees, and tonight, it's going to be twenty. Welcome to Texas.

Yesterday I walked past the Worst Gaming Store in the World. I've mentioned this Gamestop before, and it's been absolutely awful for years. Yes, the shrink-wrap machine is still prominently displayed on the counter, and yes, the clerk uses a blow dryer to meticulously shrink-wrap the game he's just reconstituted from its various components to fill the empty box you've brought up to him. Yes, it's still impossibly stupid, because all they'd have to do is have one empty box on the shelves--and unopened boxes in the back. They'd rather disassemble every game they have, though, and then make you wait into eternity for them to 1) find the pieces of the game you want, and 2) Shrink-wrap the package so that it looks unopened. Except, of course, they've already opened it.

Anyway, as I walked by I saw this hand-written sign on the front door:

I'm not sure that was the exact wording, but it's very close. Apparently, the clerks were so bothered by potential customers that they put the kibosh on them actually attempting to buy something. Nicely done! And it's nice to see that Worst Gaming Store in the World isn't resting on its laurels--they're still stretching the frontiers of stupidity.

When I walked by this morning, the sign had been taken down. Talk about a letdown. I was hoping to see something like this:

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Merry Christmas: Now Open Your Pie-Hole (Part II)

Part one of this ongoing real-life reportage by Jason Cross is further down on the page. Here's an update:
The snacks have been in a sort of holding pattern since Monday. Today we have a bowl of Hershey's Kisses, two plates of cookies, a plate of fudge, some oddly mishapen ball-like things that are covered in powdered sugar (which I suppose may also be cookies), and a bowl of Chex Mix. The industrial coffee machine has been demoted to hot plate status, as both pots contain hot water. There is a large stack of styrofoam cups, and there are hot chocolate packets and a big jar of tea to be made. The tea is what interests me the most; the ingredients are listed as follows:

Tea, Tang, Cinnamon, Cloves

Tang? I wasn't aware that was still being made . . . last I heard, NASA had bought the entire remaining supply so they could keep their astronauts stocked with it. Perhaps this is some sort of Astronaut Tea, and the drinking of it should be considered a rare treat. Alternatively, the jar of tea may be 23 years old. I may work up the nerve to try a cup . . . I'll keep you posted.

A brief subnote of the ingredient thread: is it legal to list ingredients as finished products, provided that the ingredient isn't the major constituent? I remember once seeing a bag of marshmallows that had the ingredients listed as "Marshmallows," as if they were picked from a bush somewhere. Maybe Tang is the same way . . .somewhere in the world there may be a vast, arid plateau. Every morning the Carryalls lift the Tang Collectors out as the Ornithopters fly overhead, looking for Wormsign. They have to collect the Tang quickly and quietly, because the Worms always come.

The Pope Has Requested a Read Receipt For This Message

The Pope apparently has an e-mail address now. I hope they've got the mother of all spam filters installed on that mail server.

If the Pope's using e-mail, instant messaging is just around the corner. Great. I'll never use I.M. again, because the last thing I need is to be working on a column and get a pop-up box that says "The Pope would like to add you to his friends list."

Dictionary Alert

'Exuberation' is not a word. Thank you.

Parts is Parts

I bought a 365-day shoe calendar today for a friend of mine at work. I'm checking out at Barnes and Nobles when the clerk, a blonde-haired woman in her 40's, entirely unbidden by me, begins to chat.

"My daughter is just like that," she says, indicating the calendar. "She is a shoe FIEND. She's just crazy about them. And she even tries to buy them for me, but I'm just not into shoes."
"Nor am I," I say. "Except as basic covering for the feet."
"My mother was a foot model," she says, "and my daughter is just like her."
"A foot model?" I ask.
"Oh, yes," she says. "Now, I do have pretty feet. Just not pretty enough to model."
"Skipped a generation," I say, now absolutely confident that she is not hearing anything I say.
"I've done hair and hand modeling," she says. "I did some hair modeling just last month. I come from a family of body parts models. We've all done something--hair, neck, hands, calves, feet. I still do hair sometimes. Just not feet."
"I have ugly feet," I say. "Hideous. Almost deformed, really."
"If somebody needs a part, they just call us," she says, laughing. "Somebody's got one."
"I bite my nails," I say helpfully. "I could probably do a junkie's hands for a drug prevention ad."
"You have a Merry Christmas," she says, cheerfully handing over my bags.

I wonder if their family Christmas portrait is just a 'best parts' shot: hands, feet, neck, hair.

I'd like to think so.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Thanks, Football Santa

The Associated Press just announced that they will no longer allow the AP poll to be used in the BCS calculations. Good for them. The BCS is an absolute piece of crap. Best to get away from the stink as quickly as possible.

Dangerous Waters

I have a holiday post about Eli 3.4 and peeing coming later this week, and 'Dangerous Waters' would have been a fine title, so consider yourself warned.

In this case, though, I'm talking about Sonalysts Combat Simulations upcoming naval simulation. Dangerous Waters is from the same people who made 688(I) Hunter/Killer and Fleet Command, so the pedigree for this game is very strong.

And, for the first time ever, I have a press copy of a beta, thanks to DQ reader Jamie Carlson, who is an Associate Producer with Sonalysts. This is a deep, engaging game, and I hope to describe it more fully in upcoming columns. In the meantime, though, I just wanted to let you know that it's in WIP, so to speak.

For more information on the game, go here:


I've been getting quite a bit of e-mail from people celebrating the NBA's rejection of EA's bid for an exclusive license, a proposed deal much like the Great Satan's exclusive NFL and NFLPA licenses that they bought last week. Before we start partying on the crumbling remnants of the Berlin Wall, please consider that the story on IGN says that the 'initial' bid was rejected. That's not the NBA saying "no"--it's the NBA saying "scratch us a bigger check." So expect EA to wheedle and slime their way into this license as well, although I hope the NBA instead realizes just how stupid exclusive licenses are for sports games.

The Mall

I went to the mall today. Four days before Christmas. To shop for clothing. For my wife.

What? You believe I am ill-suited for such a task? Have I not given the impression of myself as a dashing Renaissance man? Have at you, sir, whatever that might mean.

Actually, for a cynical curmudgeon, I rather enjoy shopping for clothes for my wife. Not for myself, mind you. I've had these clothes for ten years and they still don't have holes in them, thanks very much.

And in a curious and unexpected twist, I have an eye for women's clothes. Believe it or not.
Gloria is a size 4, and for slender women, clothing is all about geometry and the ways in which angles and curves reveal the figure underneath. Geometry's in my wheelhouse. I just look at the clothing as a piece of architecture and it works out fine from there.

So I'm having lunch in the food court upstairs at the mall and I'm watching Santa's village below me. When I was a kid, I sat on Santa's lap and it felt like he was really talking just to me. He asked me if I had been good, I lied and said 'yes,' and then I told him what I wanted for Christmas. An eavesdropping elf relayed the vital information to my mom, and everything worked out from there.

Man, forget those days. Today it's all about throughput. Now, all kids do with Santa is get their picture taken. Sixty seconds a head. Smile, flash, next. Smile, flash, next. An elf works the line to make sure there that no gaps develop. All he was missing was a livestock hammer.

I long for the days when I admitted to Santa that I hadn't been nice to my sister, but only because she sucked.

Eli 3.4 got a picture taken with Santa, but clearly there was no banter between them. They both look suspicious and edgy, like they're one insult away from throwing down right there in Santa's Village.

I also noticed something today that made me think about the holidays. There were so many people in the mall who looked absolutely miserable. It was very striking and very sad. The holidays in the United States have become this massive commercial venture, and we are drowned in advertising pressuring us to buy more and more gifts for everyone. So all these grim-faced people are stalking through the mall like they're taking a test that they're deathly afraid of failing.

Back to women's clothing. I'm confident you'll never hear that phrase in this space again.

I've developed this method over the years. I look carefully at how the women working in the clothing store are dressed. I actually picked out a very nice blouse in one store today, but put it back because both the counter girls were dressed like crack whores.

That's not really fair. Maybe they were crack whores and they were just trying to make some extra spending money for Christmas, because I assume that the crack whore continuum is a closed loop. Make some money, spend it on crack. It's a fully-committed revenue stream.

In another store I see what is absolutely the most beautiful and distinctive blouse I have ever seen. It's the Half-Life 2 of blouses. A Weston Wear design. And of course it's not in Gloria's size.

I have to get this blouse. It respects my wife's basic hotness. Most relationships are either equal or within one level of basic attractiveness. Not us. It's a staggering two or three-level gap, the kind of gap you almost never see unless the man is wealthy and near death, of which I am neither. Gloria doesn't really realize it, but she just exudes hotness.

If you want to know how I managed that, I'll be damned if I know. But I do know that blouse is perfect. And I'm going to get it before Saturday.

This is what the Internet can do. I come home and start Googling. I find half a dozen places in Austin that carry Weston Wear clothing. No one has it. I find half a dozen places in Dallas. Nope. Another four in San Antonio. No. I find the San Francisco home store for Weston Wear (the only store they have) and call them. Not a chance. Finally, I e-mail the corporate location of the company itself, trying to at least get help identifying the pattern by a number or code. One very friendly e-mail later, I'm getting the blouse directly from them, and it will be here tomorrow. None of which would have been possible without the Internet.

This is a very different world from what we lived in ten years ago.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Special Discount Price

We opened Christmas gifts with my mom last night, as this year we're trying to spread out Eli's opening of gifts over several days. Last year, he opened everything up on the same day, and he was like that little monkey in the psychology experiment who kept pushing the button for more cocaine until he starved to death. 3.4 was so wired from opening up all his presents at once that I thought his head was going to explode.

One of the presents Mom got him was a little toy cash register. It's amazing how clever these toys are now--it has a little optical scanner that senses something crossing its path and rings up an imaginary price, plus there's a credit card slot that has the sound of a modem dialing out when the slot is used.

I don't think the grocery store that tries to use this register is going to be in business for very long, though. I scanned some of the play money and was able to get twenty dollars for the 'special discount price' of fifteen cents. Plus I paid for sixty-five dollars worth of groceries by sliding a plastic fried egg through the credit card slot. With those kind of weak controls in place, I'm hoping I can put some Christmas gifts on that fried egg before anyone is the wiser.

We were hoping that this would teach Eli 3.4 a few basics about money. Tonight, after he played with the register for about twenty minutes, he gathered up all the paper play money and shouted "I HAVE SIXTEEN DOLLARS! I AM IN CHARGE! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?"

Sixteen dollars and a fried egg can take a man a long way these days.


The 'C64,' is a nifty idea: a joystick that is essentially a Commodore 64 with 30 included games. Very cool on many levels, but perhaps the coolest detail is the story of the designer. Her name is Jeri Ellswsorth, she's a 30-year old high school dropout, and there's an excellent profile of her in the New York Times (registration required): The title of the article is "A Toy With a Story."

Thanks Slashdot.

The Gift That Says You Shouldn't Have Bothered. Really.

Cheese Spread.

Behold the Awesome Power of Christmas (Merchandise)

On Sunday mornings, I take Eli to the neighborhood pancake house, and after we eat we walk over to a nearby Randall's and play the crane machine game. The crane machine is located in a large lobby area, and it's usually packed with seasonal merchandise.

This is how the entrance is laid out:

I know, that looks totally ridiculous, but I couldn't think of a way to explain it without a diagram. The 1's are the side entrances, and that's how you enter the store initially, leading to the main entrance, which is the 2's. The 0's are a long bank of windows along the exterior wall, and that's where all the seasonal merchandise is displayed.

This year, the area next to the windows is absolutely jammed. It's a frightful sight, and the centerpiece is a four-foot tall Snowman. A singing snowman. And the singing is very, very loud.

Oh, and he dances. A dancing snowman. Who bellows. At random intervals. It's a technological marvel, really it is.

Because of the way the store is laid out, when someone enters, they're turning toward the entrance and don't really notice the nearby extravaganza. When they exit, though, it's all suddenly staring them right in the face. So as Eli 3.4 was playing the crane game on Sunday, I was closely watching people when they saw Christmas Alley. Sleepy people. Uncombed hair, wrinkled clothes, a few in slippers. That's what it's like at 7:30 on Sunday morning. So they're shuffling along, heavy-lidded, head down, and suddenly "OH, THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL" bursts forth at terrifying volume. They look up, shocked, and behold the awful fury of Christmas: giant animated reindeers, eight-foot tall inflated Santas and Nutcrackers, and huge gift-wrapped boxes that open and close like some kind of holiday Venus Flytraps. And in the middle, the screaming Snowman.

Some mutter. Some curse. My favorite, though, was the lady who both dropped her bag and clutched at her chest. I could see the headline: LOCAL WOMAN KILLED BY CHRISTMAS MERCHANDISE DISPLAY.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Lost, Now Found

Thanks to Pete Johnsen for sending me information on two very interesting gaming projects.

The first is The Lost Admiral Returns. Thurston Searfoss, who has one of the greatest freaking names I've EVER heard in my life, designed the original Lost Admiral ( a strategy classic, originally released in 1992) with Bruce Williams. He has created a new game titled The Lost Admiral Returns. Here's a description from the website (
Defeat your enemies in battles by outmaneuvering them for control of coastal cities with battleships, submarines, destroyers, and other types of ships. Build your own warships and then face surprises as the enemy fleet disposition gradually reveals itself. Tease the vicious enemy artificial intelligence with feints, blockades, pinch-points, and sacrifice maneuvers on strategic and tactical levels with moves that are chess-like at times.

The second is a company called Killer Bee Software (, which was started by a fellow named Mark Kinkead. He purchased the rights to both Empire Deluxe and The Perfect General and is in the process of releasing new versions of each. I can't remember another occasion where a gamer bought the rights to an out-of-print title and then set about resurrecting it. He also has an interesting perspective on why these games should survive, likening them to classics like Chess or Monopoly, and I think many people feel that way about these games in particular.

Merry Christmas: Now Open Your Pie-Hole

D.Q. reader Jason Cross sent in a Christmas story that he's letting me share with you. Given the ongoing nature of the drama, I hope to turn it into a mini-series.

I work in a pretty standard cube farm sort of place. There is a woman who sits in my row who has taken to providing treats for coworkers. In and of itself, this is not unusual. She started with a candy jar in her cube. Around Halloween she found a smallish table, set it outside her cube, and began to put the candy on that.

Following Halloween, the candy jar became a giant punch bowl filled with her old Halloween candy. Around Thanksgiving, she moved up to a significantly larger table, which now runs the entire length between the entrance to her cube and the one next to it. With the extra space, she now had room for the giant candy bowl, some Thanksgiving decorations, and a big pile of the cookies that she bakes constantly.

Fast forward to today: I come in to work to find that the table now sports the candy, three loaves of banana bread, the ubiquitous cookies, two plates of fudge (nut and non-nut), and a gi-normous coffee machine. This is the kind of appliance that cafeterias have; it has the spot on the bottom for one pot, and an extra heater on top of it all to keep an auxillary pot warm. Around lunchtime today a plate of cold cuts and some bread appeared on it as well.

I fully expect to come back for the New Year to find a full-on deli outside her cube, with waitresses, bakers, and a man in an apron who will slice some meat for you. With any luck I'll be able to make a phone call and have it delivered across the hall, and I'll never need to leave my desk.

Somebody Else's Kids: 4.0 and 3.0 Stories

We went to brunch at the house of someone we don't know very well (long story). They have a 4.0 son, and we were standing in the backyard on their deck as he fiddled with a large roll of strapping tape (he likes to tape the fence to keep bad guys out--I have no information on the effectiveness rate of that strategy). I said "What kind of games do you like to play?"

He said "Well, I throw my underwear on the roof, but dad tells me not to."

Then, at playgroup this week (Gloria's turn to host), our bitter old cat was sitting on the couch, and when a 3.0 boy tried to pet her, she arched her back and hissed loudly at him. He turned and shouted "WHAT is INSIDE that thing?"

Video Card Innovation Rapidly Increasing

From Tom's Hardware:
Chicago (IL) - Gigabyte will announce Friday a graphics card running two graphics processors on one board. According to sources, the SLI card will lift current 3DMark2003 record levels by a significant margin while being priced lower than ATI's and Nvidia's single-GPU high-end cards.

For several years, graphics cards manufacturers have taken the same approach to improving their product : the 'hella fast' strategy. They introduce a card and say "Whoo! This beast is hella fast!" It was all about frequencies and die shrinks. I've been continually surprised that no one tried to capitalize on some sort of dual-rendering technology.

In the last three months, though, innovation has returned. Nvidia's SLI approach is a terrific new idea, and it's been so well-received that ATI will be offering a similar type of setup by summer of next year. Now Gigabyte is putting dual cores on the same board, which is something else companies should have already been doing.

This has been a good year for graphics cards. Both the ATI X800 XT-PE and the GeForce 6800 Ultra are outstanding products, and the SLI and dual-core products are icing on the cake.

Mainstream Press Picks up EA/NFL Story

Look here (thanks Evil Avatar):,0,2408532.story?coll=ny-business-headlines.

Here are some excerpts:
Last year, there were at least a half-dozen NFL-themed video games on the market. Next year, expect there to be just a couple.Days after video-game maker Electronic Arts signed a five-year deal with the National Football League that gives it exclusive access to the league's brands, stadiums and players, backlash against the arrangement has swelled, with the California-based company taking a beating in Internet newsgroups and the video-game press.

'Taking a beating.' That has a nice ring to it.

Here's another interesting piece of information:
In its 15-year history, EA said the Madden NFL series has sold more than 42 million copies. This year's version has sold about 2.7 million units through November, compared with about 2.1 million of the ESPN-branded game, according to market researcher the NPD Group in Port Washington.

So last year it was a 10-1 margin in Madden's favor, and this year it's 7-5? That might be the biggest one-year market share grab in gaming history.

The petition is now nearing 13,000 signatures. The rate of additional signatures being added has dropped way off, though, so 15,000 is probably going to be close to a final number. Pretty impressive, but still well under the point where I think the press or industry analysts would take notice.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Merry Christmas From The Banals

Hi, Barb Banal here. I can't believe another year has passed and I'm sitting here with a nice glass of wine, ready to celebrate my favorite holiday tradition: the writing of our Christmas letter.

Get ready for a year's worth of The Banals!

We are blessed to have three boys in the house! Waterfall, Landscape, and Purity are all growing up faster than I can believe. Waterfall is sixteen now, and the big news is that he's taking German in school. He's also developed a real interest in German history and artifacts, and even has a few flags hanging in his room. He's joined a social club with some other boys, and of course they all look and dress alike--shaved heads, Army fatigues, and steel-toed boots. He looks so grown up!

Landscape is ten and just started the fourth grade. I'm sorry to report that he's having some trouble in school this year with other children, and I just don't understand it. Why, I watched his first month of recesses from across the park with binoculars and I didn't think he was having any problems with the other kids at all. I even talked to some of the bigger boys and told them that Landscape had a delicate constitution, and that I'd appreciate it if they'd watch out for him. Now he says his lunch money is getting stolen every day. I'd just make him a lunch, but I have Pilates at nine and I can't possibly do everything.

Purity is our youngest, and he's just turned four. He's finally potty-trained and I'm so proud of him! I've never seen a child with so much charisma--whenever we go out, every single person is looking at him, and they just never stop! He's also got some real athletic talent--a coach saw him in the Little Sluggers Pre-School T-ball League and just HAD to have him on his Select team. The coach said that if Purity practices four hours a day for the next fourteen years and plays 1,000 tournament games, then he might get an athletic scholarship to college. Can you believe it? Our son? And it's only costing us five thousand dollars a year!

Well, we have a new Christmas tradition this year. For the first time ever, a second glass of wine as I write this letter. I think I'll drink it before it gets warm.

Another new tradition. Three glasses. Hell, with the size of these glasses, I might as well finish off the bottle.

So what about Barb's year? Does anybody care about good ol' Barb? Why should this year be any different? I think I'll tell you anyway. I'm following my muse and signed up for art classes at the local community college. I created my first installation with a sledgehammer and Bob's car. Man, I love art.

Wither the future? People ask me--Barb, what will the kids be when they grow up? I need to clean my crystal ball, but here goes. I think Waterfall may be a fireman. At least, if he can put out fires as well as he sets them. Either that or a veterinarian, because he seems to have taken an interest in animals and what's inside them. Landscape can sit and stare for hours, so maybe he will be a secret shopper for a chain of strip bars. As for Purity the pants-pisser, I envision a long life for him in our basement. Great. At least I won't have to pass through a metal detector to visit him once a month.

I don't even want to talk about our relatives, but to just stop short all the whining and crying if I didn't, here you go.
The Johnsons: Two dead, one dead drunk, and Josephine went off and married a gypsy. I guess an earring and chest hair is super sexy if you come from Kentucky.
The Maxwells: Dead, dead, dying, dead, in prison. Make that pregnant in prison.
The Williamsons: I don't know how they are, and frankly, I just don't care. Like they ever did a damn thing for me.

You've probably noticed the 4x6 insert that says "MY HUSBAND IS AN ASSHOLE." Well, some of you damn people still want an update on him each year, and there it is. If you're still on his side, then stay the hell away from me. I mean it.

Thank God for spell-check. Merry friggin Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Note About the Petition

I got a few e-mails from people asking about the petition (and a ton from people who said they've signed it--thanks). Here's the dream scenario:
1. 20,000 plus gamers sign this petition. Almost 9,000 already have--in one day--so I think this number can definitely be reached.
2. Gamespot, IGN, etc.--the corporate gaming sites--pick up on the news and post a few articles: "That's a huge respone for a petition and definitely indicates how much anger is out there in the gaming community about the licensing deal."
3. The video game industry analysts--who only read the corporate sites and spend the rest of their day trying to understand video games without actually playing them--see the posts on IGN and Gamespot.
4. The analysts then make a few dramatic quotes about a possible consumer backlash against the licensing deal and how it could affect EA's profits--and their stock price. "EA's excessive payment for the license, combined with a possible consumer backlash as already seen in a petition with the signatures of 20,000 gamers, makes it appear that EA may have stumbled. This could potentially affect unit sales and thus profits for future quarters."
5. EA's stock price goes down in reaction to the quotes from the analysts.
6. EA shits its pants.
7. Merry Christmas for everyone!

NFL/EA Petition

I was looking into doing this myself, but now I don't have to. There is an online petition asking the NFL to reverse the licensing deal with EA.

This petition can't have been online for more than twenty-four hours, probably less, and I was signature 7,761. Amazing. This petition could easily get 25,000+ signatures if enough people are aware of its existence.

Here's the link:

This affects all gamers, not just sports gamers, because this tactic reduces competition, and competition is why games improve. If it's successful economically for EA, this is just the start--it will be used in all genres, not just sports. So please go sign this petition and be counted.

Book: Devil in the White City

I just finished reading an incredibly compelling book titled "Devil in the White City." It's non-fiction, and the subject is the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. There is an unbelievable amount of historical detail, and the writing is absolutely tremendous.

The book primarily focuses on two men: Daniel Burnham, who was lead architect of the World's Fair and eventually assumed full control of the project, and a man named Herman Mudgett (better known by his last-name alias 'Holmes'), who would turn out to be America's most notorious serial killer of that era. The course of both men's lives were irrevocably altered by the World's Fair, and the story makes for gripping, excellent reading.

More EA, Because Your E-Mail Demands It

I'll tell you what--I'm shocked by the amount of e-mail I've gotten about EA's exclusive NFL license. This is, by far, the most e-mail I've ever gotten on a single topic, and 100% of that mail is pissed off by the deal.

Here are a few more thoughts on this sorry situation. One, both the NFL and NFLPA were incredibly short-sighted. They would never consider offering exclusive television rights to one network--unless they owned it. If they wanted to grant licensing rights on something other than a game-by-game basis, they should have offered up two or even three licenses for bidding. More games, more total time played, more exposure for their brand.

I think what many people don't realize is that a large percentage of football fans now spend more time playing video football games than they do watching them. Our primary exposure to the game is via a game. And many of us play all of them, or at least try all of them. So what the NFL has done is reduce our exposure to their league.

The Madden franchise was wheezing like an emphysema patient this year. It's stale. What happens if EA, with their exclusive NFL license, makes a shitty football game one year? Oops. Sorry, NFL, you are 100% screwed, because now no one has anything they want to play, and it makes you look like a large accumulation of idiots for selling an exclusive license.

There's also, in my mind, and unwritten code of ethics among game developers. Destroying someone else's game instead of working to make your own game better is not part of that code, and in fact, it is an insult to the development community.

Now if you're not a sports gamer and you wonder why this matters, let me try to put it into pespective. Let's say that after Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 came out, almost everyone said that Half-Life 2 was much more fun to play, and it affected the sale of Doom 3. So instead of improving the Doom franchise, Id went out and wrote a huge check to essentially stop Valve from releasing another version of Half-Life. Would you be pissed off? I certainly would be.

What this exclusive license also doesn't address is the deterioration that is occurring throughout the EA Sports brand with their team sports games. The NCAA series is stale, and better crowd noise isn't going to fix that. The Madden series is so old and ill that it needs an iron lung. NHL is lousy. The March Madness series, which showed quite a bit of promise, is bugggy this year. The NBA Live series is probably the strongest team game right now, but it's not particularly fun (ESPN NBA got better reviews, in general, but it's not particularly fun to play either). MVP also showed promise last year, but it was released in unfinished, buggy condition. And FIFA? Wait a minute--it's hard to type with one hand holding my nose.

Even though these games have huge budgets compared to the competition, none of them are clearly better than their counterparts. What EA should be doing is analyzing how that is possible, not scratching checks to eliminate the competition that they can't match on a level playing field.

Here's a comparison:
Madden vs. ESPN NFL: ESPN this year hit Madden so hard that it needed a stretcher to get off the field.
NHL vs. ESPN NHL: What an ass-kicking. ESPN is hugely superior. The NHL series has been floundering for years. They've claimed to turn the corner so many times that they must be skating in circles.
NBA Live vs. ESPN NBA: this is pretty much a push, because neither game is that much fun to play, although Live on the PC looks excellent.
March Madness vs. ESPN College Hoops: Another ass kicking. Even with the bugs, ESPN is a terrific game, and was the best sports game released last year.
MVP vs. ESPN MLB: ESPN has a new developer this year. Last year MVP had tremendous potential but was released in very buggy condition.
FIFA vs. Konami's Winning Eleven: And one more ass kicking. The WE series is probably the premiere sports simulation on the market. FIFA is, well, shit, and has been for years.

See a pattern here? Even with more money, EA's sports line is weaker in almost every title. And if you're wondering if I'm an ESPN homer--no. ESPN has quality control issues because they cram so many new features in each year that it compromises their ability to find and fix bugs. Last year I thought Madden was the best football game I'd ever played, and NCAA was excellent. I also thought that the NBA Live and MVP games showed tremendous promise for their first years with a new engine. So 2003 was a very good year for EA Sports. But 2004 has been terrible, and isn't someone supposed to be held accountable for that?

I mean, besides us?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Madden: The Big Meeting

An anonymous source sent me an audio tape of an EA executive meeting concerning Madden 2005 sales and the future course of the franchise.

I know you're not surprised.

Jerry Bonus, Nathan Commission, Jim Options, and Dan (last name unknown) are all EA vice-presidents. The transcript begins as the meeting opens.

Jerry: Gentlemen, let's review the sales number.
Nathan: Outstanding, I'm sure.
Jim: The big dog's gotta eat. Woof-woof!
Jerry: Last year, Madden sold five million units. ESPN sold less than half a million.
Dan: Woot!
Jim: I see an ass--I think I'll kick it.
Jerry: This year, through November, Madden's sold three million units. ESPN has sold over two million.
Nathan: WHAT?
Jim: Dan, my leg's wet. Tell me you spilled a drink.
Dan: I don't HAVE a drink, Jim. Christ, did you have asparagus for lunch?
Jerry: All right, all right, let's not panic. I arranged to have the development team come in for a talk.
(Rush, Hurry, Careless and The Duke file in)
Jerry: We want your input on why Madden sales are flat this year.
Rush: We sucked ASS this year.
Hurry: MAJOR ass.
Careless: Did you see the quarterback in the console version? Dude would face backwards, then turn and fling the ball downfield.
Rush: I knew a kid in third grade who did that, but only after he got hit by a car.
Jerrry: What about online leagues?
Hurry: We have online leagues?
Careless: We're all in the same ESPN league, Mr. Thompson. Hey Rush, I rocked your world last night, man!
(Careless and Rush high-fivej)
Jerry: Do you mean you aren't even PLAYING Madden?
Rush: Dude, you pay us to MAKE it, not to PLAY it. Leagues in ESPN absolutely RULE. I only play Madden if I can't sleep. I haven't needed one pill all fall.
The Duke: I wandered lonely as a cloud.
Jerry: Who is that kid? Why is he wearing a cape?
Hurry: That's the Duke. He's the CEO's nephew.
The Duke: When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils.
Jerry: What the hell is he doing?
Careless: He thinks he's William Wordsmith.
Rush: Wordsworth.
Careless: Whatever, gay poetry dude.
The Duke: Ten thousand I saw at a glance, tossing their heads in a sprightly dance.
Jerry: Where does he work?
Rush, Careless, Hurry: QUALITY ASSURANCE.
The Duke: And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.
Jerry: You can all go now. Thanks for coming.
Jim: Don't touch the executive snack trays on your way out.
(the developers file out)
Jerry: Ideas? Anyone?
Dan: Why don't we just make the game better?
(raucous laughter)
Nathan: Dan, you kill me! You are the funniest man alive.
Dan: Thanks--I'll be appearing here all week.
Nathan: Come on. Making it better is HARD. We'd have to make a list of everything that doesn't work, then pay one of those developer guys to fix it.
Dan: Screw that.
Jim: Can't we just make them work forty more hours a week and not pay them?
Jerry: Not anymore. Class action suit.
Jim: Damn.
Dan: Maybe we should just increase the budget.
(more laughter)
Nathan: There he goes again!
Jerry: Let me explain some basic business to you. MAKING games is an EXPENSE. SELLING games is REVENUE. We want to SELL games--any money we spend actually MAKING games hurts our bottom line, and our stock price.
Nathan: And our options package.
Jerry: Exactly. What we need is a way to ship the same weak, tired-ass shit we've been shipping.
Dan: Conundrum.
Nathan: What?
Dan: Word of the day.
Jerry: I got it! We don't have to improve OUR game. We can just kill THEIR game!
Nathan: Genius.
Jerry: We'll buy exclusive rights to the real players and stadiums.
Dan: It worked with NASCAR and FIFA.
Jim: Hell, we can RAISE the price for the same old shit!
Jerry: Plus, if we kill Sega's game, maybe we can hire some of those developers from Visual Concepts.
Nathan: Yeah, because those guys have MAJOR talent.
Dan: Word.
Jim: I'm going to go change my pants.

EA Sports: Our Game's a Wreck, So We'll Scratch a Check

It's an ugly, ugly day for sports gamers and for all gamers in general.

ESPN NFL 2K5, bluntly, kicked Madden's ass this year. Visual Concepts de-cleated Electronic Arts. With the right sliders and franchise house rules, ESPN is probably the best sports video game ever made. Madden played old and tired, with inexcusable visual errors and announcing that would have been very well-received at a funeral.

This has happened to Madden before, though. The original Sony GameDay was so much better than Madden's planned Playstation version that EA cancelled it and took a year off. Then they responded with a much improved game. NFL 2K on the Dreamcast hammered the PS2 version of Madden. Again, EA responded. One of the things I've always admired about EA's sports division is that no matter what they say publicly, they know privately what game is best, and if their game isn't, they make it better.

Sega punched EA in the face, though, with their $19.95 pricing strategy. EA said enough in their earnings conference call to indicate that Sega hurt them, and EA's decision to lower the price to $20 on November 1 (months earlier than usual) is a second hint. I said in July that I thought ESPN would sell over a million units this year (4X last year), which seemed ludicrous at the time, until it sold over a million units in three weeks. The combination of a great game at a great price, along with a very weak effort from Madden, caused a seismic shift in the football market.

I scratched some numbers together to help show what happened. In 2003, Madden unit sales were roughly five million, while ESPN sold about 450,000. That's over a 10-1 advantage. This year (to the end of November, and I'm not including Gamecube sales), Madden's sold over three million units, but ESPN has sold over two million. To go from a 10% market share to 40% in one year is stunning. Take-Two's pricing strategy was the best strategic move, by far, of 2004.

I expected EA to respond as they always have with the Madden franchise--hard work, a new engine, and greater attention to detail. Not this time. Instead of working hard to improve their game, EA responded like the asshats they apparently are. Yesterday, it was announced that they had purchased the exclusive rights to use real NFL players and stadiums in their games for the next five years.

On every level, that's pathetic. This does nothing to improve Madden, no matter what marketing horse crap EA might try to shovel. All it does is kill ESPN. And that sells all of us out. And now EA has absolutely NO reason to improve their game, because there won't be any competition.

There are a couple of interesting, infuriating, and disappointing nuances in all this. First is how much EA paid for the exclusive license: according to an article on CNN Money
(, the price was OVER 300 MILLION DOLLARS. That is so utterly ridiculous on so many levels that I burst out laughing when I saw the number. I know it's an exclusive license, but they're spending more in licensing per year than Madden makes in profit--far more. How much better could they have made THE GAME by spending an additional sixty million a year in development? Instead, they use it for a kill shot on the competition.

From another angle, though, maybe that's not so stupid. Do you wonder how EA will pay for this? Here's some easy math: 5,000,000*$10=$50,000,000. That's a ten-dollar price increase, multiplied by five million in unit sales, and they've almost paid for the license right there. So expect a $59.95 Madden game. At least.

Second, look at the last sentence of Take Two's (ESPN's distributor) press release yesterday: “We remain committed to continued diversification of our product portfolio, including sports." By far, what's most important about what Take Two said is what they didn't say. They mentioned sports in general but didn't say anything about being committed to ESPN Football as a franchise. In other words, even though next year's version is well into development, they made no commitment to ship it, and they might not. And if they did ship it, they'd have to ship it at the $19.99 priced point, which means they'll move units but not make much, if any, money on the title. So they have to weight the already sunk cost of development versus how much more they need to spend to finish the game versus the number of units they think they can move at a lower price point. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the game is cancelled within weeks.

The other bad guys, maybe the biggest bad guys, in this sorry scenario are the NFL and the NFL Player's Association. They solicited the exclusive bids. They also just killed the canary. It's always been in their best interests to sell licenses to as many reputable game companies as possible, because it increases exposure and the strength of the brand--and for the NFLPA, the brand is their players. Who's going to want to build an NFL game from scratch five years from now when the EA license runs out? Who's going to spend the million and millions of dollars necessary to create the facial images, animations, etc.? No one besides EA, which means at that point, the license is worth exactly what EA will be willing to pay for it, and without competition, it won't be much. Stupid, stupid move.

I've thought about this quite a bit since yesterday, and here's what I'm going to do: I'm not buying EA games anymore. From EA, that is. I can still play their games, and I'll still write about them, but given the massive size of the used game market, particularly for console games, I'm just going to buy them used. EA won't make a dime from me. I don't mind paying for them, but I'm not paying EA. And if you feel like I do about this, I encourage you to do the same.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Breaking, Crappy News

Here's something from Business Wire:
EA Enters into Exclusive Agreements with NFL and PLAYERS INC to Expand and Integrate Customer Entertainment Experience REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Dec. 13, 2004--Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) today announced exclusive licensing relationships with the National Football League and PLAYERS INC to develop, publish and distribute interactive football games. These five-year agreements -- which EA negotiated separately -- give EA the exclusive rights to the NFL teams, stadiums and players for use in its football videogames. Both agreements also include exclusive rights for console online features. Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

Well, Merry Very Shitty Christmas to everybody who likes football games. Instead of using their money to improve their product, which ESPN kicked the crap out of this year, they instead just write a check and kill the opposition's game by denying them the use of real players and stadiums. Classy move.


I had an epiphany this weekend.

What I would normally do at this point is make a reference to 'epiphany' as food or some kind of illness, but today I'll skip that and go directly to the startling revelation: it occurred to me that Batman was married.

He must have been married, and I can prove it. If he wasn't married, then why did he need the Batcave?

Pirates! Impressions

I've spent about ten hours with Pirates! now, so it's time to write up impressions. I think I've been stalling because my feelings on the game are very mixed.

In 1987, Pirates was a 'big' game. Compared to other games of its era, it was far more open-ended and offered many more possibilities than its peers. It can also be argued that it was a seminal game for the era--it was a game that offered a glimpse of the future.

When a sequel was announced, I had the idea firmly cemented in my mind that since Pirates was a big game in 1987, it would be a big game in 2004. And it's certainly still a fun game--for how long, I'm not sure, but at least for a while--but it has reappeared as a little game. There are very few innovations beyond the introduction of a few new mini-games, and it's gameplay is so old-school that it's almost quaint.

What this all adds up to is that Atari made a terrible mistake releasing this game in late November. As a little game, it would have been perfectly positioned in February, when very few games are released and we're all starving for something to play. Releasing this game in the most competitive month of the year for new releases just wasn't realistic, given its nature, and I think sales have been somewhat underwhelming as a result.

Plus Atari has done a lousy job supporting this game. Official game forums? Not that I can find--not on the Firaxis or Atari sites. There are some fansite communities, but when is the last time you saw a supposed 'A' game not have an official forum? Very strange.

If you didn't play the original, here's what you can expect. Pirates is basically a series of mini-games accessed by sailing your ship through the West Indies. The top-level gameplay is sailing on a beautifully rendered sea. Inside that, gameplay is mini-game driven, and here's what you will find:
--ship to ship combat
--dancing (courtship)
--escape (from prison)
--land based battles
--digging for buried treasure

That might sound bare, but its not. When you sail to a city, you can trade with merchants, head to the tavern to find new crew or pick up the local gossip, visit the governor (and possibly his daughter), and repair or enhance your ship. The strength of Pirates has always been that it combines fairly simple gameplay elements into a very pleasing whole, and the combination of elements is more complex and satisfying than they would appear in isolation.

This new version looks quite nice, as you would expect. It doesn't look as good as the original Sea Dogs, but if you played the original you will probably be surprised and pleased by how nice this game looks.

So if all these individual factors seem to be positive, why is the game such a mixed experience for me? I think the answer lies in how games have changed since 1987. This was a very expansive game back then--now, though, the same gameplay (even enhanced from the original) seems somewhat limited. It didn't take very long for me to get tired of the amount of repetition. Again, this wasn't a problem in 1987, but gameplay mechanics have evolved significantly since then, and what was outstanding gameplay back then is not nearly as memorable today.

Then there are game balance issues that are somewhat puzzling. Fencing and dancing are similar mini-games in that you generally respond to your partner's (or foe's) movements, but their level of difficulty is wildly different. In fencing, you basically respond to one of three possible attacks. In dancing, you must respond to one of six possible movements, the gestures are more subtle, and there is seemingly a shorter period of time to react. This makes dancing much more difficult, and means that the best difficulty level for dancing is several levels away from the best level of difficulty for fencing. These difficulty levels can't be separated, though, so you're faced with the choice of making dancing too hard or fencing too easy, and that's a bad choice either way.

What's particularly odd about this is that when you decide to 'divide the plunder' amongst your men, which happens many times in the course of one game, you're given the option of changing the difficulty level to a more advanced one. That's an excellent bit of design, because it helps keep the game fresh without having to restart your career, but how did the same designer miss the obvious imbalance between difficulty levels of two of the most important mini-games?

There is also an issue with repetition when it comes to the cut scenes that accompany the completion of the mini-games. Fencing, in particular, becomes quite repetitive. There are a few possible cut scenes at the conclusion of a fencing encounter, and the tenth time you see the same cut scene (in a relatively short period of time) it feels weak.

These comments are not intended to imply that Pirates isn't worth playing. It's a very pleasant and relaxing game, and it's certainly worth ten or fifteen hours of gameplay before it starts to wear thin. But I think it will wear thin for most people.

Most disappointing, to me, is that I truly like Sid Meier. I like his history, I like that I've never heard anyone say that he has a big ego, I like his games. But I can't remember the last time that he contributed to the future of gaming. For the last five years, his games have built on a legacy that he developed over a decade ago. This is why I far prefer, as a designer, someone like Peter Molyneux.

So why is Molyneux a far better designer now? Because he's willing to fail. Black and White was a failure, but it was a great failure. It was innovative and incredibly imaginative--even as a failure, it was far better than many other designer's successes. Molyneux always anticipates the future, even if his anticipation isn't always fully realized. Meier, in contrast, seems like he is totally content to focus on reliving the past.

The reviews for this game have been very positive--Game Rankings ( has it at 87% based on thirteen media reviews. That's an extremely high overall score. I'm curious as to how long those reviewers played the game, because I think a review after five hours of play would be substantially different than a review after ten hours. Still, I'm clearly in the minority on this one.

Cool Christmas Blues

If you're looking for a different but excellent Christmas album, which I truly believe is the best holiday album I've ever heard, then check out Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues. Charles Brown was a great bluesman with a memorable voice, and even though the idea of a bluesy Christmas album might seem a bit odd, it's terrific.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

My Wife--Appearing Every Night This Week

We went out to dinner at a nice little restaurant called Xen on Saturday night (if you live in Austin, it's next to the Kerbey Lane on 35th street).

Verbatim transcript of the conversation on the way home. Names of friends we mentioned changed to protect the guilty.

Me: That was a really nice restaurant. We should go back sometime.
Gloria: We should ask John and Sara.
Me: No way--not with those low ceilings. John's a constant loud talker. We'd have people staring at us the whole time. We need to ask them out to warehouse restaurants, with high ceilings for audio dispersal.
Gloria: Did you say you taped something for us to watch?
Me: Yeah. It was Mystic River--or Cold Mountain, I can't remember which. Adjective, geographical feature. Plus they were almost exactly the same movie.
Gloria: Yes, except one was set in the Civil War and one was present day.
Me: Okay, except for the hundred and forty years, they were the same movie.
Gloria: And one is about a soldier who went to the Civil War while the other is about a man whose daughter was killed.
Me: Like I said--almost identical.

Friday, December 10, 2004

It's Not Rome, But I Think It's Burning

Eli 3.4 asked for 'breakfast for dinner' tonight, a popular mealtime tradition that is one of his favorite special treats. Breakfast for dinner means cinnamon toast and scrambled eggs, and the house always smells so good from the cinnamon toast that it makes me want some, too.

Gloria turned on the oven to pre-heat it (cinnamon toast uses the broiler to melt the cinnamon, sugar, and margarine into a sweet, gooey mess) and went about her business. About five minutes later, I thought I smelled something.

Something not good.

"Is that the oven?" I asked.
"I think it needs a cleaning," Gloria said, as she arranged the bread on a layer of aluminum foil. I thought it smelled worse than just a dirty oven, but she was probably right.

A few minutes later, Gloria opens the oven to put in the bread, and a wave of foul smoke comes out. "Yikes," she says, and she shuts it quickly, then peers through the little window. "Oh, no," she says. She opens the oven door and pulls out a cookie sheet--with a plastic spatula on top. A melted plastic spatula, sort of a Dali cooking project, with the handle melted over the edge of the cookie sheet.

Plastic doesn't burn well, in case you're wondering. I immediately go into stink control mode and turn on fans and open windows as quickly as I can.

A few little jokes later, everything is mostly back to normal. For the moment.

I call my Mom to say hello and see how she's doing. Eli 3.4 wants to say hello, so I hand him the phone, and the first words out of his mouth are "Granny, Gloria left a spatula in the oven and she BURNED IT UP!" Two sentences later, he says "It's burned up FOREVER!" He follows that with "Man, it STINKS like CRAZY in here."

So much for that confidentiality clause he signed last week.

Gloria says "Great. Two weeks later this will be all over the Internet." She just said that as a figure of speech, but then she looks at me and realization dawns. "Oh no! Not two weeks--THIRTY MINUTES!"

"At most," I said. "If only I had a video. Could we burn another one?"

Fifteen minutes later, Eli 3.4 is walking around his little plastic kitchen, pulling out a plastic spatula from his collection. Then he says "Daddy, look at this!" I walk over and he says "I left it in the oven. It's burned."

A few minutes later, he pulls a muffin tray from his oven. He walks over to me, shows me the plastic food inside, and says "I left this in the oven and it's BURNED. Burned, burned, BURNED."

Our holidays are burning down the house. So to speak.

Scientific American Articles

There are some very interesting articles in the last two issues of Scientific American that you might be interested in reading.

--"Optics and Realism in Renaissance Art" (December 2004). I've always thought artist David Hockney's theory that Renaissance artists used optical aids to create their startlingly realistic paintings (Jan van Eyck's Portrait of Giovannie Arnolfini and His Wife is an example) was remarkably ingenious. In this article, David Stork uses both computer vision techniques and infrared reflectography to raise some serious questions about Hockney's theory.
--"Capturing a Killer Flu Virus" (January 2005). This article recounts the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 (40 million deaths, incredibly) and the attempt to retrieve the virus's genes from the preserved tissues of victims. Amazingly, Swede Johan Hultin went to Alaska in 1949 to the settlement of Teller Mission, which had been 'all but wiped out' in 1918. They extracted tissue from a mass grave (with permission of tribal elders), but were unable to grow live virus from the specimens. However, in 1997, Hultin returned, received permission from tribal elders a second time, and found a tissue sample that eventually provided the entire genome of the 1918 virus. The attempt to identify the origins of the virus and its relationship to contemporary flu strains is excellent reading.


We just bought a Disney Christmas DVD for Eli 3.4 to feed the Goofy obsession, and it has a feature called "FastPlay." When the DVD is accessed, you're given two options--"FastPlay" or "Main Menu." To all the normal people in the world, "FastPlay" would seem to indicate the option that would take you directly to the main feature and skip all the preview crap that is jammed onto children's DVD's in unbearable quantities.

You'd be wrong, though.

What "FastPlay" actually does is play everything on the disc, and the first thing you get to see are, of course, previews. Choosing "Main Menu" takes you to the menu for the main program. Amazing.

It could be worse, though. One of the favorite annoying practices of kid's DVD's is to disable the ability to access the main menu while the previews are playing. You can fast forward through them, but they can't be skipped. Losers.

By the way, the DVD is "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas," and it's quite good. So if you're looking for a Christmas DVD for your 3-6 year old, this one is entertaining and it looks absolutely fantastic--done with digital animation and vaguely 'Pixar-like.'

Just ignore the FastPlay crap.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

'Tis the Season

Between seven and eight at night is the cursed hour. Eli 3.4 doesn't go up for his bath until eight, it's already dark, dinner's over, and he's restless. It's the hour that keeps on giving. And giving. It's the only hour of the day that just never seems to end.

Tonight, though, I have a plan. We're going out to see Christmas lights--as a family. This is something that Gloria loves to do, and every year she has to drag me out of the house, either because I'm playing the best game of the year or because the Incontinent Tire Bowl is on ESPN7.

7:00:00. We pull out of the driveway. "Let's go see some Goofy Christmas lights!" Eli 3.4 shouts.
7:00:45. "Mom, did you bring a snack?"
7:01:15. "I'm THIRSTY!"
7:02:30. We reach the target neighborhood.
7:02:45. We see a yard with four lighted reindeer, a Santa, and all the trees and the roof are decorated with lights. Eli 3.4's comment: "Did you guys bring a juice box?"
7:03:15. "I really want a juice box."
7:03:45. "I always enjoy this Christmas party, but I'm going to have to stay up ALL NIGHT," Gloria says, referring to the impending playgroup Christmas party at our house tomorrow morning. Eight moms and about a dozen kids will attend. Tragically, I will be at work.
7:04:15. "Are we going home? Can we go home now?"
7:05:00. We pass a house with large lighted packages in front. "Hey! Those look like giant juice boxes! Mommy, can we get out and take a closer look?"
7:05.45. "Dinner was just a lot more complicated to make than I thought it would be," Gloria says.
7:06:15. "Is this the way home? It looks like we're going home."
7:06:45. "This was going to be simple. Everyone was going to bring a dish. Somehow it got complicated." Eight women. Complications. Who knew?
7:07:15. "My juice box is going to be TASTY!"
7:08:00. Initiating triage, I exit the subdivision and begin heading home. I'm having a very hard time not bursting out laughing every time Eli says the words 'juice box.' He's like a vaudeville performer wringing eight punch lines out of one premise.
7:08:45. "Hey! This is the way home! Hooray!"
7:09:30. "Next year someone else is definitely hosting this playgroup party," Gloria says.
7:10:00. We pull into our driveway. As I turn off the car, Eli 3.4 says "Man! I hope we can go see Christmas lights AGAIN!"


I have a subscription to GamePro. I didn't pay for it. I can only assume that it was some kind of cruel prank.

Regardless, since it clogs my mailbox, I read it. As I'm flipping through the reviews section, I start noticing the names on the bylines--Vicious Sid, Test Monkey, Major Mike, Brother Buzz, Fart of War, Funky Zealot. I assume these rad, shiznit names are attached to the names of real human beings somewhere near the front of the magazine.

No. The real person gets no credit, only their handle. Maybe it's just me, but reading reviews by Pants Crapper, HighQ, and Trouser Trout doesn't really inspire any confidence in their judgment. About anything. And how hard is GamePro trying to eliminate the identity of their writers when we can't even find out their real names? If five guys leave one month, no problem. Just slap wacky handles on a new bunch of strangers.

What the Hell?

There's a country called Transdniestria (the Transdniestria Republic, actually).

Did any of you know that? Do these things pop up once a day now?

It declared its independence after a 'brief war' in 1993. I can only assume that the 'brief war' involved two drunken border guards and a flare gun.

I'm sure you're breathlessly wondering where this country is located. It's the eastern sliver of Moldova. Just north of Fredonia.

These fingernail-sized countries are really missing out. Why name your country 'Transdniestria' when you could name it Coca-Cola or The Quizno's Republic? Sell the naming rights, just like a sports stadium. Besides, combining a toasted sandwich and worker solidarity in a logo would be merchandising dynamite.

Having to Listen to You Talk About Your Genital Herpes is a Hassle

I saw a commercial last night that featured a woman saying "Having to live with genital herpes can be a hassle."

This is also the year of the disgusting mascot. For some inexplicable reason, drug companies have decided that having cartoon characters and mascots for these really nasty diseases is a great idea. Last night I saw the mucus mascot. He's chubby and green, oozes, and Mucinex apparently makes him leave your cartoon throat/stomach/whatever. I'm just waiting for a buxom Sofia Snot to make an appearance during a commercial break. That should be any day now.

There's an intestinal parasite mascot, too, but I've forgotten his name. Thankfully.

How do these ideas get pitched, anyway? I can see some twenty-something marketing guy in a conference room, assuming the posture of a sumo wrestler getting ready to grapple as he stiffly hops back and forth, shouting "I'm Marvin the Mucus mascot!"

Goofy 3.4

Eli 3.4 went to see Disney on Ice last weekend. He saw Goofy careen across the ice and fall on his ass, and at that moment he was immediately and completely enraptured. Now, approximately fifty times a day (a conservative estimate), he pretends to be skating, then hurls himself to the floor. And thinks it's the funniest thing in the world.

"Daddy! Daddy, watch this!" he says, and off he goes. His 'skating' resembles a sideways vaudeville trot, which might be useful when he's considering careers. "I'm Goofy!" he shouts, and he certainly is.

What makes the Goofy era particularly, well, goofy, is that he's doing this everywhere. Restaurants. Grocery stores. Anywhere. Everywhere. Today in Little Gym, they were running through this course, and when he did the Goofy fall he started a chain reaction wreck that belonged on a freeway at rush hour. He also refused to do any of his little exercises in class unless his teachers called him "Goofy"--which, of course, they did.

Forget the fire engine. I expect him to ask for long ears and big shoes for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sheer Comic Genius

This year at the The Game, some Yale students, with the help of brilliant social engineering, managed to get Harvard fans to hold up pieces of construction paper that spelled out "WE SUCK." I am in awe.

Here are the links:

The Mark of the Spam

I created a folder called "SPAM" in Outlook to shuttle all the magnificent offers for a larger penis or inexpensive Valium or a new mortage. I noticed in the mail window today that the Spam folder now contains exactly 666 items.

Coincidence? Maybe you should ask the hellspawn on top of my LCD who just shouted "Augment your member now! This is no fake!"

Your Help is Urgently Needed

I received a request for funds from a charity that I've donated to in the past. Money for shipping was urgently needed, it seems, and the flyer said, quite dramatically, "JUST ONE DOLLAR PUTS $123 WORTH OF CRITICALLY NEEDED SUPPLIES TO WORK!"

Wait. Couldn't they just send $122 and 99.18% of their problem would be solved?

Just kidding. I'll be waiting for my Scrooge of the Year medallion and hope they have my name inscribed on it soon.

Gloria supports about a thousand charities, it seems, so we get a tidal wave of phone calls and written requests. My favorite ones are the youth-oriented programs. There are about five of them in this area, they're all fighting for the same charity dollars, and they all want to send kids to the circus in the summer. All of them. In my mind, I see kids in low-income families laying down the gauntlet to their parents:

"I'm not going to the damn circus again. I've been five times already this month."
"Now Johnny, we don't want to disappoint the nice people at We Give a Disturbingly Small Percentage of Our Solicited Funds to Help the Underprivileged Dream Foundation."
"Screw that. Tell them I want a book. Just a damn book!"

A Note About College Football

You could put three hundred of the stupidest people in the world into one large room, give them an hour, one sheet of paper and a pencil, and they couldn't come up with something worse than the BCS.

And yes, I've been contacted by Notre Dame about their head coaching job, and no, I'm not interested.

Monster Thickburger

You knew it was coming to this eventually. Hardee's has introduced the Monster Thickburger, a cheeseburger that features two third-pound meat patties, three slices of cheese, and four strips of bacon.

Oh, and mayonnaise.

Weighing in at 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat fully loaded, for those of you keeping score at home. By way of comparison, the daily maintenance calories for a 6'1", 165 lb. man with an office-type job are about 2,100. So if you add an order of fries, you're done for the day.

Here's a link: I provide it primarily because of the high level of comedy. One reporter who review the burger said that people should "have a stick of butter instead. That has only 800 calories and 88 grams of fat. We could always wrap it in bacon." That's funny, but shockingly, he's trumped by The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which labeled the Thickburger "the fast-food equivalent of a snuff film."

I can only hope that the person who thought up that line starts their own blog.

I also think that Hardee's is missing an enormous cross-marketing opportunity with the makers of Fat Bastard wine ( I think the Fat Bastard combo has a very weighty ring to it. Maybe they can get Mr. Creosote as a corporate spokesperson.

Wafer-thin, don't you know.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Disruptive Technology

Quizno's is a national chain of sandwich shops whose selling point has always been--toaster ovens. I know, that sounds unlikely, but their entire advertising campaign has been built around the ability to get a toasted sub.

I walked into Subway this week and saw--a toaster oven. I asked the manager what percentage of customers were asking for toasted subs, and he said "Oh, about forty percent."


An anonymous source sent me a tape recording of an emergency meeting of Quizno's executives. See transcript below. I was unable to identify individual speakers by name.

"Gentlemen, I think you all know why we're here. It's now been confirmed by satellite thermal imaging that Subway has developed the toaster oven."
"Thieving bastards!"
"They had a mole."
"I think we've got a damned good case for industrial espionage."
"I thought we copyrighted the toaster oven."
"It would be a patent, and we can't patent the toaster oven."
"It's that kind of advice, Burger, that got us into this mess. I've argued for five years that we couldn't patent the toaster oven--but we could patent the sandwich and toaster oven working together. If only you legal eagles had listened to me."
"Smunderson, didn't you say that Carcass and Undercarriage had been investigating whether engineering had been compromised?"
"They're looking hard at a heating element engineer named Largesse."
"Damn the French!"
"He told some co-workers that he thought toaster oven technology was too powerful to be left in the hands of one sandwich company."
"How did he do it?"
"We think he used a garage sale as a drop point. Once they had a working unit, it was only a matter of time."
"Damn it! Where is he now?"
"Last week, he defected. We have intelligence photographs of him in a Subway."

The tape ran out here. Thank goodness for you.

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