Monday, January 31, 2005

S.C.S. Dangerous Waters is Gold

Congrats to DQ reader Jamie Carlson, Associate Producer and Designer for Sonalysts Combat Simulations, as it was announced today that their game S.C.S. Dangerous Waters has gone gold.

Here's a link to game features:

And here's a link if you'd like to pre-order:

I've ordered two copies and one will be going to a DQ reader.

HD Sets and Burn-In

DQ reader Garth Pricer, responding to the "High Definition and Next-Gen Console Specs" post last week, suggested that I mention burn-in when talking about HD screens. Most HD display technologies have at least some possibility of burn-in (including LCD T.V.'s, believe it or not--they are far less susceptible than other technologies, but they're not invulnerable).

Here's a definition for burn-in (from the AVS forums):
Typically, "burn-in" is defined as an uneven wear of a phosphor based display unit (Plasma and CRT for example). It is the phenomena of being able to "see" the remnants of something that was being "displayed" even though you are watching totally different content.

Contrary to what you might have heard, burn-in is not something that happens easily. It's actually quite rare and only happens when a fixed image is displayed for extended periods of time. You can usually see this effect on airport display screens and ATM's, where the same image has been displayed over weeks or months for 90% of the time.

However, even if it's rare, certain kinds of precautions need to be taken. One important precaution is to calibrate your new set properly. Most new HD sets are pre-set at what's disparagingly called "torch" mode, with both brightness and contrast set far beyond optimal levels. There are two excellent, simple-to-use calibration DVD's widely available: Digital Video Essentials and Avia. Either one will help you adjust contrast and brightness to the proper levels, and it only takes a few minutes.

I play games on the plasma all the time, sometimes for 1-2 hours straight, and here's the second precaution--when I'm done, I'll switch the input to regular television and let it display for 5-10 minutes. That's all. I've never had a problem with burn-in, and I have one of the older generation plasmas. The new models are far less susceptible to burn-in.

Oh, and if you see what looks like an afterimage, don't freak out. Afterimage is not the same thing as burn-in. Just run some other programming on the set for 15-20 minutes and it will probably go away.

What you don't want to do is display the CNBC ticker for twelve hours straight, or pause a game and leave it displaying on the screen overnight. Even those things might not cause burn-in, but they're significantly increasing the risk.

And if you're interested in a very long forum thread about burn-in on plasmas and LCD's, go here: There's also a link at the top of that thread to a similar thread about RPTV's.

This was probably a snoozer for those of you who already have HD sets, but I thought it might be helpful to new owners or tire kickers.

Rescue Heroes

Eli 3.6 has started watching a cartoon called "Rescue Heroes." Here's a description from
Based on the best-selling action figures from the Fisher Price division of Mattel, Rescue Heroes is an animated adventure show featuring a daring team of emergency response professionals ready and willing to race to trouble spots all over the world. Equipped with the latest information and cutting-edge technology, they put themselves in the "line of fire" to protect innocent civilians whose lives are in danger.

Here's a list of character names:
William "Billy" Blazes
Wendy Waters
Jake Justice, Richmond "Rocky" Canyon
Ariel Flyer
Jack Hammer
Roger Houston

There are quite a few more, but your forehead's probably already bloody from pounding it against your desk. Oh, what the hell--here's a few more:
Sandy Beach
Maureen Biologist
Perry Shute
Hal E. Copter

I don't care what anybody says: "Maureen Biologist" is the greatest cartoon character name ever. If my last name was "Biologist," I'd be willing to have a daughter just so I could name her "Maureen."

There has never been a more perfect match between cartoon and kid than with Rescue Heroes and Eli 3.6. The shows are dramatic but not scary, and Eli is totally worshipful of fireman and rescue-type people, so he is absolutely thrilled.

Saturday night he put on a yellow-plastic construction hat (party favor) and I scrounged up an old headset that I wasn't using anymore. He put on the headset along with the hat and, son of a gun, he looked just like one of the characters in the cartoon. Then he started playing the character, although with his usual 3.6 grasp of language, he mangled some of the dialogue. So he was running around the house saying "I am NOT giving up, and neither am I!"

This line was quite a hit at the Pancake House on Sunday morning, which he went to in full rescue gear.

I'll try to get a picture up later. Maybe he'll even use his "heroic gaze" for the photo.

Level Five

Thanks to DQ reader Ian Pottmeyer for this story:
In response to your Walgreens story about the roll of pennies...

When I was getting my undergrad degree, I was in my college's Concert Choir. And, as college choirs are wont to do, we were on tour. We were on our way to Boston from Columbus, OH, and lunchtime rolled around. At the next reasonable exit with a few fast-food places, we pulled in, and the crowd dispersed from the bus to the various restaurants. Burger King was closest to the bus, so the vast majority of us went there.

I suppose our choir was a bit large, or at least looked like it. Because upon entering the BK, the manager stopped and looked at us all like a deer in headlights. She then turned around to her workers, and screamed:


It became the catch-phrase of the rest of the tour.

At Last: Four Words

Here are the last submissions:

Wear your seat belt.
I have a dream (Martin Luther King).
Sleep’s the best option.
Look at that ass!
Bill’s making these up.
Marine's viewpoint: "Cover Me, I'm *ucked!
Marine's Counter-viewpoint: "*uck you, I'm covered!"
We screw up together.
I only need four words.
Don't know, don't care.
I'm a nice ass.
*Back that ass up.

*Dubious Quality reader Doug Walsh was nice enough to send in a link to a copyright battle between two rappers over the four-word phrase "back that ass up." Here's an excerpt:

Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King, who wrote the opinion, boiled the case down to a dispute between Louisiana rappers Juvenile and D.J. Jubilee over who owned the rights to a song "that included the poetic four-word phrase 'back that ass up.'" In its Jan. 13 opinion, the 5th Circuit sets out the following facts: In 1997, both rappers recorded songs with similar titles -- D.J. Jubilee, also known as Jerome Temple, recorded "Back That Ass Up," while Juvenile, also known as Terius Gray, recorded "Back That Azz Up."

Here's the link (and both the story and the stiff upper-lip reportage are very funny):

No word yet on whether D.J. Jubilee has copyrighted his signature four-word love ballad phrase: "There go my ho."

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Next Generation

As the next-generation console information (and misinformation) starts to ramp up, I wanted to discuss what's likely to happen.

First off, these are the lying times. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all jockeying for position with hints about product announcements and hardware specs. They will be leaking all kinds of disinformation about announcements and specs in the next two months, and you can ignore almost all of it. What you can depend on is that PS3 and Xbox 2 will both be at E3, both will almost certainly be playable (Xbox 2 100% certainly, PS3 75%), and only Microsoft will announce the actual launch date for console. Sony will wait. If they don't, they're much more concerned about Microsoft than anyone expected.

Nintendo's next-gen console will probably be there as well. That was just announced in the last day or so, and I don't know if that was planned or just panic, so that will take a few weeks for the details to play out.

I've heard several industry analysts say that Microsoft is making a mistake releasing the Xbox 2 in 2005. That's just wrong. Their competitive position certainly wouldn't be stronger after twenty million people bought the PS3. Assuming decent software support, the company with their next-generation console out in fall of 2005 has a HUGE advantage over the competition in the United States.


Right now, there is an installed base of about sixteen million DTV's (digital televisions, whether ED or HD) in the United States. Over seven million of those, though, were sold in the last year, which was a 75% increase in sales over 2003. It's entirely reasonable to project the installed base by the end of 2005 at around thirty million. And if somebody has one of those spiffy sets, which console would they buy--a next generation console with 720p support for EVERY GAME, or console with four-year old technology and only occasional 480p support? It's a no-brainer next Christmas--if Microsoft gets the console out in time for the holidays.

I've said this before, but Microsoft's strategy is one of attrition over time. They make mistakes with a first-generation product, whether it's software or hardware. They made plenty of mistakes in the first year with the Xbox. However, they made very few after that. For a first generation console to have a larger installed base worldwide (19.9 to 18.8 million) than Nintendo's Gamecube is a remarkable accomplishment. And while Microsoft is getting hammered in Japan, they're doing extremely well in both the U.S. and Europe. They also have a 1.4 million user installed base with Xbox Live to provide an additional revenue stream.

All that Sony has going for it in the U.S. right now is the Grand Theft Auto series. That's how much momentum they've lost in the last two years. So as incredible as it might sound, Sony is as vulnerable as they've been since the PS2 was introduced in October of 2000.

For the last eighteen months, Sony has been posturing that there was no need to release the PS3 until 2007. And analysts acted like that idea was mother's milk. This proves conclusively that being an "analyst" does not require you, in any way, to actually "analyze." Sony announced quarterly results this week and revenue from their videogames division was down twenty-seven percent year over year. That's staggering. Sony blamed it all on hardware shortages, but a shortfall of that magnitude can't be explained away so easily. The real problem is that the PS2 has lost the buzz, and it's not coming back. They waited too long on PS3, they're in damage control mode, and the next year is going to be very ugly for them.

I'm not even mentioning Nintendo because they have no idea how to introduce a new console, at least in the U.S. I believe that Nintendo is a victim of an unwavering belief in their own omniscience. They hold up fried shit on a stick and everybody screams "It's Nintendo! Brilliant!" Sometimes they are truly brilliant, in deep and staggering ways, but most of the time they're odd and strange and relatively ineffective. That's a separate discussion, but I don't think anyone believes that they will be second in the next generation, at least not outside of Japan. In the United States and Europe, they're going to be third--and possibly a distant third.

So what does Microsoft need to do between now and the end of the year?
1. Get Xbox 2 out for the holidays in 2005.
There's no wiggle room on this. The console needs to be out six months before PS3. That would allow a sizable user base to develop before there's another next-gen option.
2. Hit the price point.
Consoles are incredibly price-sensitive. There has to be a barebones version of the console for $299. Period. Having other versions with hard drives and other functionality for $399 or whatever is fine, but if the $299 price point isn't hit, the launch fails. And $249 would rock the industry.
3. HD support for all games.
Again, there's no wiggle room here. To decisively tap that thirty-million base of DTV's, high-definition must be supported in addition to standard-definition. It can't be developer-optional.
4. Launch the system with top-quality sports games.
Sports games are system sellers.
5. Launch the system with at least one top-quality FPS.
Again, these games are system sellers. A "Halo 2 Redux" with 720p support would work.
6. Manage the software stream.
Ten to fifteen titles at launch is adequate, particularly if there are several five-star titles, but there needs to be a steady stream of software behind that. There needs to be a significant, high-quality software library available before PS3 launches.
7. Buy an exclusive on Rockstar games.
This one's optional, but it would be a terrific move. I don't know what Take-Two's contract with Sony stipulates, but it appears that their relationship has cooled. It would be a huge boost for Microsoft to have Grand Theft Auto titles be exclusives on the new console for the first six months. Microsoft is drowning in money--it doesn't matter what it costs. Just scratch the check. And if you can make sure that EA isn't pissed off, buy Take-Two. It means you acquire Rockstar (the five-hundred pound gorillas of video games), the best sports developers in the video game industry (Visual Concepts/Kush), as well as PopTop (with the genius of Phil Steinmeyer). Yeah, I know you get all kinds of baggage by acquiring Take-Two (dodgy accounting practices, SEC investigations, and who knows what else), but again, you've got mountains of cash to survive all that. SCRATCH THE CHECK.

Just remember that half of what you hear from these companies in the next two months will be posturing and disinformation. They will float trial balloons to see how they're received. And they'll say some things just to screw with each other. Right now, though, my best guess is that Microsoft will be the first company to officially announce their new console, and it will happen at the Game Developer's Conference on March 9. They're giving a keynote address for the conference titled "The Future of Games: Unlocking the Opportunity." That seems too obvious an opportunity to pass up.

This Column Could Save Your Life

Seriously. I saw this on CNN today:
NEW YORK (AP) -- An aspiring actress and playwright whose work explored life's darker sides was shot and killed as she confronted an armed robber during an early-morning street holdup.

Nicole duFresne, 28, had just left a bar in a trendy section of the Lower East Side with her fiance and another couple early Thursday when they were approached by four or five men...

Witnesses told investigators that one of the men grabbed for the other woman's purse and duFresne intervened, asking, "What are you going to do, shoot us?" A man then fired one shot at her, police said.

Now this seems to have been a talented lady. And I'm not making light of her death. It's just that daring someone to shoot you, then having them shoot you, is something that belongs in a Warner Brothers cartoon, not real life. If she had been a regular reader of this column, she would have seen the "Live Free or Die. Or Something" post on January 20 where I specifically said "Don't flirt with Death, because you might get laid."

Dubious Quality. It might save your life someday.

Walgreen's Red Alert

I was at Walgreen's today to pick up a few things. As I was getting my change, the cashier looked up and shouted "I need a CODE SEVEN!" I would not mention this to you, except that as I was able to determine from subsequent events, a "code seven" actually means "a roll of pennies."

Editorial Correction

Well, well, well. As it turns out, the meaning of "on the down-low" has changed in the last ten years. It used to mean "in confidence."

Now it means something else. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Today's score: Joke-on-me 1, Me 0.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wow, the Webbies!

I saw a website today with a sticker proclaiming "We Were Nominated for a Webby!"

Well, that's cool. Except I have e-mail in my inbox today from the Webby Awards, imploring me to "Tell the world about your excellent website!'

Damn, I don't want the world to know. I'm kind of on the down-low with you guys and that's just fine by me. I don't think the world would get it.

And I'm damn sure not writing a $195 check. That's right--that's how nominations are decided. You scratch a check for $195, send it in, and congratulations--you've been nominated for a Webby! Woo hoo! The check cleared!

So the Webby nominations are like that time in high school when your parents got notified by mail that you had been selected as one of the nation's outstanding students. Along with the nomination came the opportunity to buy a $35 book highlighting America's best and brightest. Your picture, as one of the best and brightest, would be in that book.

So when you see all these websites with their "Webby Nominated!" highlights, just smile and remember that it should say "We bought it! We're Nominated for a Webbie!"

I think I'm going to give away my own version of the Webbies. More details later. And there will be no nomination fee, although I might make you pay me if you don't want to be nominated. Fear that.

Electronic Arts L.A. Layoffs

If you didn't hear this news yesterday, Electronic Arts laid off sixty programmers in their L.A. studio. Here's an excerpt from the Gamespot article:

EA hands out pink slips in LA
60 programmers, designers, and managers laid off at Electronic Arts' SoCal operation; studio boss Neil Young calls the move "regrettable, unfortunate, and very necessary"... According to Young, who spoke with GameSpot this afternoon, the layoffs were done in the interest of "rebalancing the teams across the entire studio." He called the cuts the "first step in transforming the studio for the future."

I'm not trying to pick on EA or Neil Young when I say this, but the phrase "transforming the studio for the future" is typical corporate doublespeak bullcrap. Studios don't get "transformed" when they're profitable--they get staff cuts because they were badly managed. Period.

Later in the day, I exchanged a series of e-mails with an employee of the EA L.A. division. This person, obviously, wishes to remain anonymous.

Here's the first e-mail I received:
I'd say at least 25% of the workforce was laid off. It is entirely because the management does not know how to utilize talent to make games, as proven by Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and Golden Eye 2: Rogue Agent. The studio wasted an amazing amount of resources on those sub-standard titles. This measure to cut costs is perhaps sensible, given that the executives don't know what to do with these people anyway.

Besides, if you spend all your money on exclusive licensing deals and advertisement, you don't have that much left to "waste" on development anyway.

The e-mail gave me an opportunity to ask a question I've always wanted to ask, Here is an excerpt of my response: "What do you think ruined those games and how early did you know that they were going to be sub-standard? I'm asking because I'm really curious as to how early in the development process something like that becomes readily apparent."

I received this response:
When it comes to the future quality of a product becoming readily apparent, it is of course different in every situation, but it is also dependant on the question, "apparent to whom?"

In the case of these two projects, it was apparent to the most experienced engineers from the very outset, due to the important engineering decisions being made by non-engineering personnel, which in the long run resulted in something like 50 thousand bugs logged, and not enough time to finish the game. Further lack of quality was driven by the lack of development skill in leadership, as demonstrated by:
- Multiple months of relative inactivity at the beginning of the project, while management meets with designers to dream up all the features which will later be cut for lack of time (presumably, designers get months of inactivity at the end of the project, since management is not yet ready to micromanage the next design phase).
- Demo-to-demo planning. ~75% of the development time (pre-finaling-phase) is spent preparing various demos. Demo hacks become ludicrous codebase during the next demo push.
- One year to make a two year game.
- "If we add online play, the hardware manufacturer will pay for advertising." Of course development time doesn’t change for this. After all we can put up a company from Texas and another from SCOTLAND in hotels across from the office for MONTHS to buy the additional man-hours we need (and extract the rest from the dev team for free!). Think of it. With no family or friends around, they have nothing to do after work or on the weekends, but work some more! I mean man-hours = product right?

And ultimately, it was clear that GE2:RA was doomed when, at the end of MoH:RS, the management didn’t say, "OK, we screwed that one up royally. Thanks for bailing us out this time.", but rather went around patting themselves on the back for the money it made (And by ‘bailing out’, I mean shipping a game, not shipping a great game. No one could have done that.).

I saw a tiny little GE2:RA postmortem that said things like "Online mode was a risk." How oblivious is that? If they want a clue, they can start with the reviews to find out what was wrong with the game, then maybe ask around about how it got that way.

Interestingly, many of the grievous management-as-engineers mistakes are being rendered impossible to make on the next go-around by the fact that they are being forced to use Renderware. But take my word for it, they’re doing their darndest.

Thanks to the anonymous source for a fascinating look inside the studio.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Something to Crow About, or Ruling the Roost

Listen, there's just no way I could make this stuff up (

OKLAHOMA CITY - An Oklahoma state senator hopes to revive cockfighting in the state by putting tiny boxing gloves on the roosters instead of razors.

The Oklahoma Legislature outlawed the blood sport in 2002 because of its cruelty to the roosters, which are slashed and pecked to death while human spectators bet on the outcome. But Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, a long-time defender of cockfighting, said the ban had wiped out a $100 million business.

To revive it, he has proposed that roosters wear little boxing gloves attached to their spurs, as well as lightweight, chicken-size vests configured with electronic sensors to record hits and help keep score.

“It’s like the fencing that you see on the Olympics, you know, where they have little balls on the ends of the swords and the fencers wear vests,” Shurden said. “That’s the same application that would be applied to the roosters.”

After Senator Shurden made his proposal, he fell immediately to the floor and wet himself.

Okay, I did make up that last line.

Just exactly whose little balls are we talking about here?

State Senator Shurden, you clearly have a great love and respect for roosters, since you are such a tremendous fan of watching them rip each other to shreds. And this is breaking my heart, sir, but roosters cannot become boxers. Didn't you watch Rocky? If they were boxers, what animal would they chase while they were training to improve their quickness?

Besides, the damned meddlers would ruin this, too. First they'd want the roosters to have headgear, then mandatory eight counts and the three-knockdown rule. Before long, they'd want pre-fight medical examinations and CAT Scans--the irony--to find roosters with pugilistic dementia. Because if they got hit in the head too many times, they'd start walking around like chickens with their heads--well, you get the picture.

Sure, this rooster boxing proposal isn't going to fly, but it was sheer brilliance. Don't brood over it. Now go spackle that gigantic hole on the side of your head and work on your next bit of legislative genius.

It will feather your nest, I'm sure.

Conversations With My Boss

One of the things I really like about my boss is that I can have a conversation like the one below and it doesn't even faze him. Good man.

"Hey, did you get any information back from that research firm yet?"
"Sorry, haven't checked with them yet. I was working on your eulogy."
"My EULOGY? Why are you working on my eulogy NOW?"
"Oh, so you mean you want a shitty eulogy? Because I can just wait and slap something together in two days when the time comes. No matter how rushed it sounds, people probably won't walk out, what with it being a funeral and everything."
"You actually did get the information from the research firm, didn't you?"
"It's on my desk. I'll be right back."

Samsung Introduces Flexible Display

Digit-Life is reporting that Samsung has announced a 5" flexible LCD screen, and the link will take you to the story (plus picture).

Mike Webster has a five-part series ("A Steeler's Melting Point) on the tragic life of Mike Webster, and even if you don't know his name (he was one of the finest centers in the history of professional football), the series is both compelling and sad. Webster went from being an All-Pro and Hall of Famer to being homeless and later died at age fifty.
Here's a link:

In a related story (also linked from that page under "a game of mortals"), there was this bit of information about a University of North Carolina study:
Nearly 2,500 retired NFL players, with an average of more than six seasons in the league, were polled. The numbers:

--Sixteen percent said they suffered from arthritis so severe it "often" limited their activities.
--Eighty-seven percent of the players said they still suffered from depression.
--Eleven percent said they had been clinically diagnosed with depression.
--Forty-six percent said they were taking anti-depressant medication.

According to the Center's study, there is a link between repeated brain trauma and depression. Players who sustained more than five concussions, it found, were three times as likely to suffer from depression than those who didn't.

The numbers on depression are absolutely shocking.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Clarification on Next-Gen Consoles

When I said that next-gen consoles will "require HD support," I meant by developers. Standard definition will still be supported. You won't need an HD set to use the next-generation consoles.

I edited the original post to clarify that.

Next Year, a Bidet

Here's a link: What's important about the link is not the guy who sold ad space on his forehead for $37,000, although that's certainly impressive. No, what's positively mind-boggling is the link to MSNBC video on the right side of that page--in particular, the story "Elephant Toilets." And when they say "toilet," they do mean porcelain throne.

Obviously, I am now required by law to list the top-five publications enjoyed by elephants while using the toilet:
5. National Review
4. A Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust
3. Ernest Hemingway: The Collected Short Stories
2. Reader's Digest
1. Peanuts

National Geographic? Sixth place.

Gloria suggested "Peanuts" and also added that if the elephant was listening to music it would be the album "Tusk."

Father Eli 3.6 Knows Best

I was with Eli 3.6 on Sunday when we saw a baby having an al fresco bottle at the Pancake House with her mom. Later, while we had our "chat and play" session at the Randall's crane machine game, Eli started talking about the baby.

"That baby can't do ANYTHING for herself," Eli said.
"That's right," I said. "Not at first. Babies are a lot of work. Do you know how many times babies eat in a day?"
"Ten," said.
"Ten?" he asked. "You are cracking my head up, Daddy."
"They do," I said. "They eat every two hours or so when they're first born. So most of the time, you're either feeding the baby or getting ready to feed them."
[note to bottle-feeders: I know that the "ten" number does not apply to you. Carry on.]
"Man!" Eli 3.6 said. He shook his head with vigor. "That is crazy!"

Soon after, he won a stuffed animal from the crane machine--a Dalmation-colored Longhorn, holding a heart in its paws that said "Be My Valentine." This is what happens when potheads design stuffed animals.

Actually, that's not true. It would have been holding a pizza.

Eli hugs his spotted Longhorn and says, emphatically, "This is my baby and I am the mommie."
"Well, it's very nice of you to take care of it," I said.
"I will wake up at night and feed it, because it's just a baby," he said.
"That's right," I said.
"And I will feed it AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN!"

Next up: Eli 3.6 writes a parenting book called Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and Again: A Guide for New Parents.

High Definition and Next-Gen Console Specs

Dribbles of information are now leaking out about specifications for the next generation of consoles. They are, in short, staggering. Pairing unbelievably fast processors with cutting-edge graphics technology means that the new generation should be capable of delivering spectacular images. Say good-bye to aliasing--it will either no longer exist or will only be barely visible in very limited circumstances.

There are a couple of things worth noting. First, there is no question that all three of the next-generation consoles will require HDTV support from developers (in addition to standard definition). At a minimum, they will require 720p support (1280x720 resolution), and many games will also optionally support 1080i (1920x1080).

This is important if you're considering the purchase of an HD set in the near future. For gaming, it will be important to have a set that supports a 720p input signal. It doesn't need to display at that resolution, but it needs to accept the signal. Quite a few HD sets, surprisingly, don't support a 720p signal, so it's important to be sure before you purchase. There are ways around this (a scaler, for example, to upconvert the signal), but they're fairly expensive.

The other thing worth noting is Microsoft's XNA platform. A set of tools to enable easy cross-platform development, it should mean that Xbox 2 games will be ported to the PC much more frequently, and since 1280x720 resolution will be supported (at least), there will be no more of those crappy, crappy conversions that featured 640x480 text overlays, etc. So the quality of ports to the PC should go up substantially, and the amount of time to develop those ports should go way down.

One last thing about HD. There is no HD display technology that is so superior to the others that it becomes essential to purchase that type of display. Manufacturers and even individual models of displays are equally as important, because image quality will vary from "breathtaking" to "crap." The best-in-breed of any HD display technology will be superior to a middle-of-the-road example of another type. That's why it's so important to choose the right display, not just the "superior" technology. I've mentioned this site several times, but the best place, by far, to compare screens are the AVS forums: There is a wealth of information and education available to anyone interested in high-definition.


Thanks to a recommendation from Jason Price of Talk Strategy (, I did something I rarely do anymore--I downloaded a demo.

The name of the game is Darwinia, and just the demo has given me more entertainment than most full games I played last year. It's also more creative and innovative than every game I played last year--combined. I have never seen so many different visual styles and gaming elements combined in the same package, and it's tremendously well done. This is going to be a breakout hit for Introversion Software, who also made the ingenious Uplink.

Why should you download the demo? Because you'll see a game that feels like Tron, Populous, The Incredible Machine, Myst, and damned near any other game you can think of. I was totally blown away.

Here's a link to the demo: Be warned that the site is very slow to load during the day (U.S. time), but the actual download speed is very good.

One warning: help in the demo is not presented in a conventional way. You're basically exploring the game and interface from the ground up, and you must actively seek help instead of it being presented to you. I thought that was terrific, but it will drive other people crazy. So here's a link to a small guide that presents help in a more conventional way:

I'll say it again: this game is going to be a huge, surprise hit.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Take Two Buys Visual Concepts

That didn't take long (from Gamespot):
Following this morning's announcement that Take-Two had secured exclusive third-party publishing rights from the Major League Baseball Players' Association, Sega confirmed to GameSpot that it is selling Visual Concepts to Take-Two.

According to sources, Sega parted with the critically esteemed developer of ESPN NFL 2K5 and ESPN NBA 2K5 for just $24 million...

Though the exact terms of the deal were not disclosed, Take-Two will become the sole owner of Visual Concepts. It will also own VC's Kush Games subsidiary, which developed ESPN NHL 2K5 and ESPN Major League Baseball 2K5. Presumably, the studio will also create Take-Two's upcoming pro baseball game.

So Take-Two is willing to gamble that sports games can still be a major growth driver for the company. That is quite a gamble. For sports gamers, though, it's great news, because without Visual Concepts/Kush making sports games, the market would be very, very thin--basically just EA, Sony, and Konami (with the Winning Eleven series). Konami actually has an excellent baseball series as well, but it's never been released outside of Japan.

Here's Take Two's problem: the Sega team sports games (now all developed by VC/Kush) have never sold well enough at a conventional price point to significantly grow revenue. They sell very well at $19.99, but they're not profitable. So Take Two isn't buying a sure thing, by any means: it's a huge gamble in a market with which they're unfamiliar. The price-cutting strategy was brilliant, but all that proved was that they understood the market's sensitivity to price. Taking that strategy and converting it into a profitable one will still be a real challenge.

Take-Two: We're Killing Competition, Too!

From Gamespot:
"The Major League Baseball Players Association ('MLBPA') today announced that it has reached an agreement in principle to grant sweeping rights to Take-Two Interactive, Inc., to develop and publish a broad portfolio of products that are expected to drive the baseball video game business to unprecedented heights," read the statement...

Initially, the vague wording of MLBPA's statement made it unclear if Take-Two had exclusive MLB rights after all. However, further along, the exact terms of the deal are spelled out. Starting in 2006, "Take-Two will have exclusive rights among third-party publishers to develop and market simulation, arcade and manager-style baseball video games on the current and next-generation PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, personal computer and hand-held video game systems," read the statement. (Emphasis added.) Said third-party exclusivity will last for seven years, until 2012. Presumably, this means that Electronic Arts' pro baseball series, MVP, will not return next season.

What the phrase "exclusive rights among third-party publishers" means is that companies who make consoles (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) can still make baseball games with the MLBPA license. Sony makes a nice baseball game, and it might be very impressive on the PS3.

This is basically a deal to shut out EA beginning next year. So long, MVP. That was one of EA's most promising sports titles, unfortunately.

Another week, another shitty near-exclusive licensing deal. What should be clear now is that all the player unions and leagues want is more money. They couldn't care less about us as fans or gamers--if somebody scratches a big enough check, they're more than willing to cash it.

Here's what I don't understand: without the ability to publish a football game with the NFLPA license, I thought the sports line was dead. I can't understand why Take-Two wants the baseball license. They can't possibly make up for the lost revenue in football with the baseball game, and it's a seven-year license.

If Take-Two is going to have a team sports line, they have to have a football game. So when they announce that they're going to do a college football game in 2006, don't be surprised. I think that's something that can be read between the lines of this announcement. Without a football game (and a pro game without the NFLPA license is not going to sell at $39.95, and it won't be profitable at $19.95), the sports line just couldn't move enough units to make it viable. So they wouldn't buy this license unless they had already decided that a college football game was going to replace the pro version.

Regardless, I thought that Take-Two would get out of sports. Clearly, that's not going to happen.

Four Words: Still Arriving

Here's another batch, in no particular order. In particular, "Milkbone in Dog World" shows a kind of twisted genius.

Just leave me alone.
EA must be stopped.
Let's make it better.
I can fix that.
My way or else
(a fiancee's words, according to Mr. X).
Read the *uckin manual!
I can do that.
What was he thinking?
Nothing is ever easy.
I am moving on.
Life isn't always fair.
Milkbone in Dog World
I don't rock boats.
You must be joking.
People desire to improve.
You want four words?
Snuh to yo momma.
Often dazed, sometimes confused.
Go Hogs, beat Texas!
Of course you're wrong.
Is everyone sandbagging it?
That's how it is.
How does it work?
Can I eat it? (the structural bias of animals)
Hell in a handbasket
Sounds like a plan.
You've got to be kidding.
Finding my own way.
Not arrogant, just better.
I do not care.
Uh-huh. Sure. Right. Whatever.
I am not Him.

If only you knew.

Finding Neverland

We went to see Finding Neverland on Saturday night.

Here's a summary from the web site: Finding Neverland is a tale of magic and fantasy inspired by the life of James Barrie, the real-life author of the children's classic "Peter Pan." Set in 1904, the film is a fictional account of Barrie's creative journey to bring Peter Pan to life...

I know what you're thinking: kill me now. Normally, seeing the words "magic" and "fantasy" in the same sentence when describing a movie are enough for me to fire up the Vomitron. Usually they're used in conjunction with the phrase "three generations of women." However, Gloria invoked The Johnny Depp Rule, which basically means that if Johnny Depp is in it, I'll go. He's one of the greatest character actors I've ever seen.

So we went and the movie was terrific--tremendously creative and very funny. Depp was sensational. Okay, there was "magic" and "fantasy" in there, but not in the Woman Dreams of Chocolate Bar Turning Into Giant Serpent, Inspiring Her to Open an Orphanage kind of way.

At one point, though, one of the main characters coughed, and Gloria and I turned to each other and whispered.
"She's dead," Gloria said.
"Man, with shovel, digging hole," I said.

That's the thing with period films, particularly anything around 1900 and earlier. If anyone coughs, they'll be dead soon. And she was.

For many years I've wanted to see Johnny Depp (the finest character actor of his generation) in a film with Helena Bonham Carter (who is the finest character actress of her generation). They're both doing voice work in Corpse Bride, but that's not the same. I found out today, though, that they're both appearing in the film version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (also directed by Tim Burton) as well as Shantaram.

I'm not sure if there's any coughing.

And when I spell-checked this, "Vomit Ron" was suggested for "Vomitron." I just wanted you Ron's to know.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Okay, It's Not Haiku

Here's another set of your four words. Again, they're in no particular order, and some of them are quite thought-provoking. Thanks to Nathan Carpenter, a four-word comic genius, for the post title.

Everything serves a purpose.
People are basically good.
Profits always trump revenues.

It could be worse.
How does that work?
Life is not fair.
Optimism Struggling Against Experience
This, too, shall pass.
There is only now.
Always talk to strangers.
You're *ucking kidding me!
Sleep, waste of life!
Oh God, what now?
Is everyone happy now?
Good until proven bad.
We save their asses.
Life is a bitch.
Appreciate what you have.
Nothing is yours forever.
I always win. Always.
Can it be deep-fried?
You have no idea.
There's good in everybody.
It could be worse.
I believe in magic.
Never ask for permission.
The world is complex.
Prove it to me.
Another beer here please.
Never too much data.

Faith. Hope. Quality booze.
Finding my own way.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Your Four Words

Thanks very much to all of you who sent in your own four words to describe your structural bias. Some were thoughtful, some were goofy, and I'm very happy to reprint them all here. Like I said, I'm not using names, except in one case of special merit.

So here they are, in absolutely no particular order:
Whatever happens, everything's cool.
I'll do it later.
Everybody is an idiot.
Natural selection in action.
I want more money.
I have no idea.
Always keep your balance.
Do it this way.
Um, what just happened?
Is that really it?
Path of Least Resistance
My underwear's too tight.
Who the hell cares?
Keep optimist in check.
You gonna eat that?
Everyone else is stupid.
It's a mystery (counting "it's" as two words).
Things will change soon.
Prove it to me.
What to do next?
Shit happens: Accept it.
Something has to give.
I am hugely unoriginal.
We are all doomed.
Everybody thinks they're right.
Always hedge your bets.
You want summa this?

Where is the meaning?
Always expect the worst.
What could go wrong?

The one mention with name goes to Nate Carpenter, who wrote:
I needed five words.

That's only half of them. I'll have the rest on Monday.


"Bring all your saliva forward." Apparently, my mouth is in a labor camp.

And those of you bet on two labor camp references in one day at 10,000 to 1 odds--your gravy train has arrived. Please collect at the front window.

Actually, my mouth is at the dentist, along with the rest of me. My dentist has this new polishing machine that uses a baking soda spray under high pressure to clean teeth. It's fast but very, very messy--spray is everywhere, and it sounds windy, if that makes any sense. It sounded and felt like somebody was filming a low-budget pirate movie in my mouth.

Corpse Bride

I had no idea that Tim Burton was working on an animated film in the style of Nightmare Before Christmas. He is, though, it's called Corpse Bride, and it's going to be released at Halloween. Here's a link to the trailer:

Queer Plunge For The Straight Sponge

LOS ANGELES - Christian Conservative groups have issued a gay alert warning over a children's video starring SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney and a host of other cartoon favorites.

The wacky square yellow SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 U.S. schools in March. The makers — the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation — say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity.

But at least two Christian activist groups say the innocent cartoon characters are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.

"A short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality," wrote Ed Vitagliano in an article for the American Family Association.

That's pretty funny, Ed. Because he's a sponge, and he lives underwater, and you used the phrase "a short step beneath the surface." Stop it. You're killing me. In a labor camp.

Don't we all have better things to do than worry about how SpongeBob SquarePants gets his freak on? Do we really need to know if he listens to Barry White or The Village People?

Gay sneaks up on you, though. I'm heterosexual, but when I watch an episode of SpongeBob, it always makes me think "Man, being gay sounds like fun," and before you know it I'm just gaying along with the rest of the episode. Why, it makes me feel quite gay just to be typing "SpongeBob SquarePants" every few sentences.

Ed, I have some question about this "gay alert warning" you sent out. Do you talk with your cohorts and say things like "Do we need to go to Gaycon Five on this one?" or "We need to raise the Gay Threat Alert to Salmon from Mauve"? Is one of the alert levels "FABULOUS"? Do you have GAYDAR to detect any incoming homosexual hostiles?

What happens between two poriferans in the privacy of their own coral reef is no business of mine.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Four Words

I was talking to my (Neile) boss today about structural bias as it relates to investing. Human structural bias, as it were. We all see the world through a philosophic lense, and depending on the correction of that lense, what we "see" may be severely distorted. People make gigantic, crushing mistakes in financial markets all the time because they fail to recognize their own structural bias.

I've known Neile for a long time, and I was sure I knew his structural bias. So I asked him "If you had four words to describe your own bias, what would it be?" He thought for a few seconds, but given the four word requirement, he was stumped. So I said "Things will work out," and he agreed. Neile is an optimistic person, and that optimism is his lense.

Then he asked "So, in four words, what is your bias?"
"*uck if I know," I said.
After he stopped laughing, he said "This is a pretty good way to size somebody up."
"It could be used for speed dating," I said. "Your nametag would be the four words that describe your structural bias."
"That's a great idea!" he said.
"You'd be wearing a tag that read 'Things will work out.' Mine would read '*uck if I know.' This is why you think it's a great idea. It's also why I never dated much when I was single."

Actually, my real four word bias is "Don't be so sure." I know, that's five without the contraction. It's allowed.

Now if you can figure out your four words, send them to me and I'll publish a list in a few days. No names, just four words. Each.

John Wayne Meets The Village People

Eli 3.5 has turned into this remarkable blend of masculinity and high camp. Last night he spent half an hour creating his own garbage truck route on the living room rug, complete with Styrofoam peanuts as trash. Then he used one of his plastic garbage trucks to make every stop.

Ten minutes later, he's wrapped in a blue blanket and dancing on the same rug. He's also singing, in his remarkably toneless way:
EVERYBODY wants to be a CAT

That's from The Aristocats, in case you're wondering.

That's what it's like around our house now. He veers from construction worker to cast member of The Rocky Horror Picture Show several times a day.

Live Free or Die. Or Something.

This is one of those news items that's just too bizarre to make up. It's from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal:

In September the Daily Nebraskan, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, published a column by Derek Kieper that argued against mandatory seat-belt laws:

As laws become increasingly strict for seat belts, fewer people will respond positively by buckling up in response to the laws. There seems to be a die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up no matter what the government does. I belong to this group. . . .

Telling me to wear my seat belt is the same as making sure I have some sort of proper education before diving into a swimming pool. If I want to dive in without knowing how to swim, that is my right. And if I want to be the jerk that flirts with death and rides around with my seat belt off, I should be able to do that, too.

Today's Lincoln Journal Star reports the sad ending of the Kieper story:

Kieper, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, died early Tuesday morning when the Ford Explorer he was a passenger in travelled off an icy section of Interstate 80 and rolled several times in a ditch. . . . Derek, who was thrown from the vehicle, was not wearing a seat belt.

And his two friends, who were both wearing seat belts, lived.

I like all of you, and I'd like for you to be around for a long time, so please let me add this: Don't flirt with death, because you might get laid.

The Sims 2: On Television

Here's a little more on the Sims 2 television show that I mentioned in last night's discussion of Electronic Arts (
The Sims is about to get a little more into The Real World. Electronic Arts has reportedly been pitching the idea of a reality television show based on the life simulator... While no plans have yet been given the green light, EA does have a few ideas on what a Sims television show would be like. Jan Bolz, vice president of marketing and sales for EA Europe, told Reuters: "One idea could be that you're controlling a family, telling them when to go to the kitchen and when to go to the bedroom, and with this mechanism you have gamers all over the world 'playing.'

It's like I've always said: there's nothing more compelling than watching television and voting to decide whether a character should go to the kitchen or the bedroom. That makes 24 sound dull. Add the dining room as a possible destination and you're talking entertainment magic!

Companies are strange creatures. Like I said yesterday, people inside the company, particuarly as you move up the management chain, develop shared assumptions that go unquestioned, and since many of them are wrong, it makes many of their conclusions totally ludicrous. But that's never discovered until the idea is taken outside the company, and many companies don't listen to the general public, anyway, because only top management has the "vision." That vision, by the way, is often constituted of--shared, erroneous assumptions. So even though this idea should be on Tony Asshat's Top Ten List of The Stupidest Ideas in Television History, it probably sailed through internal discussion without a scratch.

Although I still think it's a good idea for Jan Bolz to update his resume--and quickly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thoughts on the Future of EA

I've been thinking about Electronic Arts lately. Not them turning into The Borg, even though it appears that they are. What I've been thinking about are some of the oddities in their behavior over the last few weeks, and what those oddities might indicate about their future.

Here are the bits of information I'm working with.
1. Sports games provide 1/3 of EA's revenue (from a CNN article).
2. EA is buying up as many exclusive league licenses as they can, and paying outrageous prices for them.
3. EA just signed an agreement with ESPN for a 15-year deal to use the ESPN brand in their games.
4. EA said this week that they're looking to go "beyond" electronic entertainment and get into entertainment in general. A Sims 2 television show was mentioned.
5. EA's labor costs might go up in response to the class action suit now filed against them.

That's an odd jumble of moves. Historically, this is how EA generates its revenue:
1. Annual sports franchises
2. Licensed games like LOTR and Harry Potter
3. Buying developers after a smash hit, then flogging the sequels to death

I know that's incomplete, but I think it's the lay of the land, at least generally. Importantly, there's one thing missing, and it's the wave of the future: online games. EA has done a terrible job with online games, which is ironic, because Ultima Online was hugely successful. That was followed by disaster after disaster, culminating in The Sims Online, which was the equivalent of the Titanic sinking ten feet from the dock. The dock it embarked from. Yes, Battlefield is successful, but when was the last time you heard anyone talking about it?

Here's why I think EA has such a problem with online games. Marketing can definitely get people to buy a game, but it can't get them to keep playing. Online games generally succeed or fail on their own merits once the product has been purchased. Also, given the strange course of development for products like Motor City Online, it's clear that the online division has additional, structural issues. So in the online arena, EA's size is much less of an inherent advantage.

Regardless, EA is not participating as a primary player in online gaming, and given their status in gaming in general, that's quite surprising. Or maybe it's not so surprising. EA has a profitable map in the other three areas--they know how much a game will take to develop, how much they'll spend on marketing, and a general estimate of how many units they can sell. With online games, though, development costs are much harder to estimate, marketing is less effective, and it's very difficult to estimate how many subscribers will sign up--let alone how many will stay.

In the last two years, Electronic Arts stock (ticker symbol: ERTS) has climbed from $25 to $60, including a 50% increase in the last twelve months. Revenue, though, has only increased by 19% year-over-year. Earnings have skyrocketed, up 82%, but that's not sustainable--and in particular, their draconian overtime policies will likely be forced to change, increasing labor costs and putting more pressure on earnings. In the long term, without attractive revenue growth, a company like EA stops being sexy and starts being stodgy. Clearly, for the stock price to continue its march, revenue has to increase at an even greater pace, and once a company gets used to that rocketing stock price, it's very hard to give up.

So let's look at what they're doing. Are their recent moves reasonable in light of their need to grow the company at 20-25% a year? No. For starters, I think the sales of ESPN NFL2K5 deceived them in terms of market size. To some degree, I think they're looking at the six million in total unit sales between Madden and ESPN and, incredibly, concluding that they "lost" 2.5 million potential units because of ESPN. Any of us would know that's stupid--a large number of people bought both games, and nobody's buying two copies of Madden next year instead of one copy of each game--but companies can be amazingly short-sighted, because people inside the company have a set of common assumptions that they base their analysis on, and often those common assumptions are just wrong.

Then there's the potential move into television. Now let me get this straight--television ratings are declining every year because of the Internet (and, to some degree, online games), so EA wants to get into television? Bad, bad move. It's particularly bad to use The Sims 2 as the potential project. If The Sims Online proved anything, it's that EA really doesn't understand why The Sims was so successful. And if they don't understand that, they're not going to be able to capture it in a television show. Not that I'm sure they could, even if they understood it very well.

Here's another reason why the move into television looks disastrous to me. Remember Square? Great company, wonderful games, highly profitable. They wanted to make an animated feature (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). They knew how to control costs when making games. They had a profitable map. They had no map when it came to making a film. They poured a staggering amount of money into the film, and at some point the project just got totally out of control--they had put so much money into it that they couldn't back down. When it was finally released, it was a huge bomb (even though I thought it was better than the reviews). They spent twenty dollars for every dollar in revenue they made. That's revenue, not profit. It was the worst project in the company's history, and it took them years to recover. I'm not sure they've fully recovered yet.

When you have profitable maps of a process, it's easy to assume that some other, unknown process will be no more difficult. Bad assumption. Very bad assumption. EA is the big fish in gaming--in general entertainment, they wouldn't even be in the pond.

So these moves don't really make sense in terms of Electronic Arts growing the company. What if that's not what they're trying to do, though? There is an alternate scenario that I'm convinced has become far more plausible: EA wants to get bought.

Hold on before you say I'm crazy. EA can't keep growing at its current rate. It's much, much easier for a company to go from one billion to three billion in revenue than it is to go from three billion to nine billion. At some point, scale just eats you up. And as your growth goes down, so does your P/E, and as that happens, the stock price starts to deflate. I believe it's entirely possible that this $65 stock price might be as high as EA gets, at least for the next several years.
Sexy company, growing quickly but starting to strain, sees itself as vulnerable. What do they do? They sell. As fast as they can.

Madden as a franchise has value to a prospective suitor. What's much more valuable, though, is an exclusive NFL license for the next five years. And a fifteen-year deal with ESPN. In that context, overpaying for those deals doesn't matter, because they're designed to make the company more attractive as a buy-out target.

Television shows? Designed to demonstrate how easy it is to adapt games--EA games--to other entertainment mediums. And if a major media company believes that, think how attractive all those games would suddenly become. It's not just about games, then--it's about buying a company with attractive content that can be readily adapted to other mediums. It's about delivering a demographic that will then be willingly transported into other mediums. That would be the theory, anyway.

See? It's not so crazy. And I have to believe that Disney is the obvious choice for the suitor. Disney, through ESPN, is heavily into sports already. They're losing Pixar, which is a huge blow to their credibility, since Pixar has been responsible for whatever brilliance Disney has left. Who better to make a move on Electronic Arts and then claim that they're being "visionary" again?

I wouldn't be surprised at all if this happens in 2005. I would be very surprised if it doesn't happen by the end of 2006.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Radeon X800XT

I've been told (don't know if he wanted to be named) that Micro Center stores have the Radeon X800XT in stock for $400, which is an unbelievable price. This is not available on their website, but if you call the stores they're supposed to have them. Here's a link to the store list:

If you successfully order one of these cards at the $400 price, please let me know, and I'll post an update. Thanks.

Out to Pasture

Today's column is brought to you by Black-Eyed Pea. With over ninety-three restaurants in eight states, Black-Eyed Pea serves wholesome, home cooked food. Remember, it's "Home Cookin' Worth Going Out For."

Actually, I'm just having lunch here. Dubious Quality has not yet secured a corporate sponsor, although we are in serious discussions with Chico's Bail Bonds and Pip Boys Cleaners.

I stopped off at Einstein's Bagels on my way to work today. As I was leaving, I pulled out of the parking space and saw a woman leaving her car. She turned to look at my car to see if she had time to cross in front of me. She didn't, but usually I'll stop and let someone go, as unlikely as that may seem to regular readers of this column.

This lady was wearing black jeans and a red sweatshirt, and her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Appropriately, as it turned out.

I motioned to her to cross, and when I did she got a big grin on her face. She then proceeded to prance across the street, hands held high, as if she were riding a horse. Or maybe she was a horse. I'm somewhat lacking in my real-time analysis of street theatre.

I'd apparently waved through My Little Pony.

She pranced and cantered all the way across the street, laughing and a bit clumsy, and by the time she was finished, I have to admit that it was a little endearing. I'd have thrown her an apple if I had one.

And as I watched her, I could think of only one thing: Kathleen Burdett.

In our elementary school, Kathleen Burdett was known simply as "Pony Girl." She occasionally walked as regular humans do, but mostly she galloped, cantered, or pranced. She came with a full complement of horse sounds.

Wait a minute. That sounded kind of dirty. This is a fifth grader I'm talking about.

Okay, she MADE a full complement of horse sounds.

And every day, absolutely EVERY day, her hair was in a ponytail.

Now having a Pony Girl in your class is unusual enough, but Kathleen Burdett had one feature that made her unlike any other girl in the world: she had a crush on me. That's right--she'd come prancing into class, neighing and whinnying as she she came to a halt. In front of my desk. Where she'd tell me she liked me.

I had absolutely no idea how to handle this with a regular girl, let alone with a girl/equine hybrid. So I mostly just slouched down in my desk and made sure never to give her a sugar cube.

Then one day I came into class and she was gone. I remember thinking "Hey, she can't move--she has a crush on me!"

But she did.

So as I saw Pony Lady prancing across the street this morning, I thought about Kathleen Burdett and hoped that she was still galloping somewhere, hair in a ponytail. Happy.

And after I got to work, and no one else acted like a horse, it was, I admit, just a little disappointing.

We Have a Winner

Congratulations to Chuck Bryant on winning the Emergency Gift Thingie.

Installation Instructions: as best I can tell from the one Gloria has in our living room, you install it pointy-side down, then jam some dried flowers or fake greenery inside.

Bill Gates: As Seen In Teen Beat Magazine

Thanks to DQ reader Tara Calishain for a link to photos that were taken of Bill Gates for an article in a 1983 issue of Teen Beat magazine. They're not for the faint-hearted:

Just scroll down a bit once you get to the page.

The Emergency Gift

Gloria had an emergency gift this year.

As a guy, I was entirely unfamiliar with this concept. Apparently, if someone unexpectedly gives you a gift and you have nothing for them, the emergency gift is used. Again, as a guy, if someone unexpectedly gives me something, I'd say "I didn't get anything for you." The mysterious world of woman, though, is all about shadowy alliances, and the emergency gift is just another weapon in the ongoing diplomatic initiatives.

The gift is beautifully wrapped--Gloria could be a professional gift-wrapper with no problem--and it's still sitting in our living room, because we didn't get any surprise gifts this year.

So I thought, clearly, that I should send it to one of you.

Now please remember--this is a woman's gift. "Emergency gift" creates the image of something you pull a rip-cord on and it inflates, but that's not what you're getting. It's a kind of thingie that you hang on the wall. We have one on our wall, in addition to about one thousand other delightful thingies, and by "delightful" I mean "where did all this crap come from?"

It's about 9:20 a.m. CST now and I'm going to work. I'll check my inbox at 1:00 p.m. CST and do a random drawing from the entries.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Correct Quote

Dan Clarke over at Sportsgamer ( had a quote from EA President Larry Probst concerning the EA/ESPN deal:
"I think there's plenty of room for competition."

Clearly, that's a misquote. What Probst actually must have said was
"I think there's plenty of room for competition. As long as it's not with us."

The Great Satan Scores Again

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 17, 2005--Electronic Arts (Nasdaq:ERTS - News) and ESPN today announced a long-term agreement for the development and integrated marketing of EA SPORTS games containing ESPN content. The relationship will include established EA SPORTS franchises -- which will be enhanced by ESPN telecast, print and online content -- as well as new sports games to be published by EA based on ESPN media properties. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The agreement gives EA access to ESPN programming, personalities and integrated marketing opportunities on ESPN television programming and other ESPN properties. The ESPN integration will appear in EA SPORTS console, handheld, PC and wireless games beginning in 2006 upon the conclusion of ESPN's existing video game licensing commitments.

Well, that pretty much clinches it. The Great Satan has officially eliminated any competition in team sports games. There is no chance that the Sega line of team sports games survives the loss of the ESPN license. Baseball this spring will probably still get released, maybe football in the fall, but I doubt that anything else gets released before the entire line gets shut down. And I'm not even confident at this point that we'll see another football game--I'm just hoping.

Why in the world didn't EA just BUY VISUAL CONCEPTS? The ESPN integration is already in their games, and it was excellent, particularly in ESPN NFL. Visual Concepts develops better sports games than EA's existing development houses with fewer resources and lower budgets--why wouldn't you want that combination of talent and efficiency?

Most of the improvements in the Madden series, and EA's other team sports games, came directly as a result of competition. I discussed that in an earlier column. There is now zero incentive for EA to improve anything. The market is theirs.

Happy MLK Day

Two notes for U.S. readers. First, happy Martin Luther King Day. Second, I mentioned the book Unforgivable Blackness (the life of Jack Johnson) a few weeks ago. The documentary (by Ken Burns) starts tonight on PBS and runs for two nights, and I have no doubts that it will be outstanding. There is also apparently some actual fight footage, which is pretty amazing since the film must be ninety years old.

Game Journalism and The Wisdom of Crowds

I received several more e-mails over the weekend about Trip's Scarlet Letter, and here's one thing I didn't mention because I thought it was a given: gaming journalism is generally poor. Not all gaming journalism, mind you, but the average is somewhere around junior high school fanzine quality. It's particularly bad in the video game magazines, with the only exception (to some degree) being Play. The computer gaming magazines are much better, and I think Computer Gaming World, in particular, has become very solid since Jeff Green became editor. Overall, though, gaming journalism is spotty, at best.

There's an easy explanation for that. Writing about games is not about studying journalism in school and working your way up. There's no certification process or apprenticeship. The barriers to entry are very low. Actually, there really aren't any barriers at all.

The downside of low barriers to entry is that there are a bunch of really crappy writers doing game reviews. The upside, though, is that there are some very talented, unique voices who would never have been heard through a conventional process. Thom Moyles at is one excellent example. And because the content constraints are so loosely-defined, some gamers at gaming sites just write about life, like David Alpern at Gamer Dad. David is a terrific writer, and if you haven't read any of his stuff go to and look for the "Balancing Act" link under the "Columns" heading in the left-hand frame on the front page. His columns are very funny and absolutely top quality.

The low barriers to entry also means that there are some unique, interesting websites out there that wouldn't have existed in a conventional environment--places like and I'm more than willing to wade through the refuse to find those kinds of sites.

I also mentioned on Friday that while I generally didn't trust single reviews, I do put more stock in them in aggregate and use quite frequently. If you're wondering how individuals lacking in assessment skills can, as a group, be more perceptive, check out The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Come on, you have time--there's nothing to play this month anyway! Here's the short version: large groups of people with limited knowledge are superior at solving some types of problems than a small group of experts. The explanation of why makes for excellent reading.

The Curse of January

Here's a good reason to hate January if you're a gamer:
1/17: The Punisher
1/18: SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon 3D
1/18: Spider-Man and Friends
1/25: Playboy: The Mansion
1/30: Aerial Strike
1/31: Enigma-Rising Tide: Special Edition

Ouch. That's the rest of the month for PC releases.

Here's an excerpt from the IGN review of The Punisher (which got an 8.0 and is the most promising title listed):
The Punisher is not a particularly complex game. Each of the 16 missions features the same basic concept: Go from point A to point B and kill every single thing in your path.

Wow. I've never played that kind of game before, so this is a real genre-breaker, huh?

If you're desperate for something to play, you might take a look at one of the games that got buried last fall by other releases, like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, which was an excellent game. Dawn of War received uniformly outstanding reviews and vanished without a trace. If that game had been released in January, it would have received all the attention. Instead, it got almost none.

Oh, and I'm never going to play a game with the phrase "and Friends" in the title, because that means it's in the Kirby's Magic Ride to Cotton Candy Mountain genre.

Or maybe...
Kirby's Magic Ride to Cotton Candy Mountain is not a particularly complex game. Each of the 16 missions features the same basic concept: Go from point A to point B and kill every single thing in your path.

Friday, January 14, 2005

More On Trip's Scarlet Letter

When I first read the letter from Hawkins to Rousseau, I was first struck by just how goofy and pathetic Hawkins sounded--how could somebody be so out of touch that they would think a magazine that rated games by using smiley faces was going to "set the tone" for the "hardcore?" So my initial reaction was to make fun of him, which I greatly enjoyed. I encourage you to try it at home.

The more serious question, obviously, is whether game reviews get bought. I don't think it's an unfair question, because gaming journalism is in its relative infancy, and some of the gaming magazines are basically glorified fanzines with advertising. And I believe that in any enterprise involving humans, there will be a few scumbags. It's just good math.

However, I strongly believe that the "bought review" is rare. There is a self-correcting mechanism in game reviews. We all see and play the same game. So if somebody says a pig is the homecoming queen, all its going to do is humiliate the person who tried to put a party dress on a pig.

A few more crowns for the porcine, and that writer (and magazine) lose whatever credibility they had. And there's a financial reason against this happening as well: advertising revenue is distributed to the degree that one inflated score wouldn't be worth much. It would have to be systematic, spread across multiple advertisers, and if that happened, it would be totally obvious.

I think a far more plausible scenario, and one that I'm sure happens all the time, is when reviewers get to know developers--and like them. It's human nature. So if a reviewer really identifies with the guys who are making a game, he might kick up the score by 10%. I don't even think it's necessarily consciously done, but it's probably an inevitable consequence of the relationships in the gaming industry. And the inverse is probably true as well--a game will get marked down 10% or so because the developers just aren't liked.

I don't think that's a big deal--at least, it's not to me. I just wish that reviewers would tell us if they have any bias in favor or against the game coming in. I do have bias at times, and I always try to tell you up front.

I've also noticed one other thing about game reviews--individually, they might be well off, but in aggregate, they're pretty solid. That's why I use when I'm trying to get information on a game that I'm sitting on the fence about buying.

The Gorilla Game

Yesterday afternoon, Gloria was in the bathroom when Eli 3.5 woke up early from his nap. He came into the living room and crawled onto the couch next to me. When Gloria came out of the bathroom, she looked at me but didn't see Eli--because she wasn't expecting him to be up so early. That reminded me of a study I'd read about a few months ago concerning "inattentional blindness." Here's an excerpt from the paper (

The video shows actors in white or black shirts passing a ball amongst themselves, all the while moving in a seemingly random intertwined pattern. the subjects are given the task of counting the numbers of aerial and bounced ball passes between actors in white shirts. This task consequently holds the attention of the subject. Shortly after the video begins, an additional actor in a black gorilla suit walks on screen, beats its chest in the midst of the moving actors and occasional ball passes, and walks off screen shortly before the video ends. Amazingly, many of the subjects given the task of counting the number of ball passes are completely unaware of the gorilla, unable to remember or even give vague reports of the ape sighting.

Well, now that I read it, that wasn't why Gloria didn't see Eli, but damn it, I thought so at the time. So I told Eli about the people who didn't see the man in the gorilla suit, and he thought it was hilarious. He jumped off the couch and said "Now I'll be the gorilla and you don't see me." Then he started doing laps around the couch, and every time I stared past him, he'd start laughing. Finally, on about his sixth lap, I shook my head and shouted "What the...? A GORILLA?" That made him pass out on the couch in laughter. He calls it "The Gorilla Game."

Today, I found the actual video used in the study: I showed it to Eli 3.5 and now he stops on each lap to beat his chest like the "gorilla" in the video. And I pretend not to see him.

I've said it before--just another normal day. In our house.

The Swim

I wish I had discovered swimming twenty years ago. Actually, I did--I swam quite a bit to train for triathlons--but I can honestly say that I never enjoyed a single stroke. Nothing ever felt right, I was a boat anchor in the water, and my objective in the water was to train for races.

In July of last year, I started swimming again out of desperation, because every other workout I was doing seemed to be injuring me at an alarming and mystifying rate. So I thought that if I swam, maybe the water would protect me to some degree.

It was just as horrible as I remembered. I swam four hundred meters the first day and thought I was going to die. Thrashing around in the water is a good way to get exhausted in record time, and that's what I was doing. Plus the injuries I was struggling with had just destroyed my fitness level. I didn't have a choice, though, so I kept going to the pool.

After a few months, a funny thing happened: I started to look forward to swimming. The water was cool and quiet, and when I was swimming, so was I. In the years since Eli was born, I've become a more anxious person, which is probably a normal consequence of parenthood. One of the most difficult parts of parenting is that when anxiety builds up, you rarely have a chance for it to unwind. That's just not how the world works anymore. I almost always feel an undercurrent of anxiety in my life, in me. I realized tonight, though, at some point during the swim, that I never feel it when I'm in the water. I feel calm. It's the only time I feel that way.

What's ironic about the feeling I get is that I ran tens of thousands of miles in my life and only rarely got the sense of well-being that has been called "runner's high." And it usually took me several hours to get it when I did, which meant it usually only happened when I was on a long run in preparation for a marathon. With swimming, though, I get it almost every time now, and I usually only swim for about forty-five minutes.

I think the other facet of swimming that appeals to me so much is the privacy. As a parent, privacy essentially vanishes. I'm accessible all the time--if I'm not at home, I always have my cell phone. It's like being Batman without the costume. As you can easily tell from reading this column, though, I'm a loner to some degree, and always being "on" runs deeply counter to my nature. I think it runs counter to the nature of many people, but in this day and time that's just how our lives work.

Except when I swim.

I have a goal for my swimming this year, which I'd like to commit to this space, because it will make me work harder in the pool. I want to swim a mile in thirty minutes. That is nothing for a good swimmer, but I'm not a good swimmer, and it would be a real achievement for me. I would be as proud of doing that as I was of any of the marathons I ran. So that's the number and I guess we'll see.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Shame of Trip Hawkins

A black moment in gaming history was today revealed for the first time. At, a letter written by 3DO's Trip Hawkins to Gamepro's John Rousseau in September of 2001 was published in its entirety. Hawkins, 3DO's President/Architect of Ruin, was angry about Gamepro's review of Portal Runner, which the magazine gave a 2.3 on a scale of 1 to 5. Rousseau was Gamepro's President at the time.

Here are some excerpts from the letter (full text available at, and it is an unbelievable read):

We at 3DO were very discouraged by the slam-job...on Portal Runner. I would hope you can recognize that I do not love all my children equally and can be objective about both good and bad features in a game as well as games that are of quality and those that are not. I do not send messages like this to you after every review. But this happens to be a game that I have played all the way through and beaten on all difficulty levels and I know the game intimately.

This sort of thing is really tragic because your online review excerpt was the first public review of Portal Runner, and it set the tone by telling the hardcore what to think. It closed minds that it could have opened...In any case, your reviewer blew it on this one. And we are re-evaluating our relationship with GamePro as a result.

The audience for games no longer consists of one iconic block of angry young men who cannot get a date on Saturday night...We wanted to include boys, girls, women, and casual gaming men...Meanwhile, I personally think we made a game that hard-core adult male gamers would enjoy. But I can understand that some of them would reject it the same way some adults reject Shrek or Beethoven. But personally, I think that really means there is something wrong with a man like that, not with Portal Runner.

If you disagree with me, you do so at your own peril...As you know, most game publishers are losing money and have cut back on advertising. Many magazines and webzines have perished. What seems needless to me is the often overly negative tone that gaming editorial takes.

And do not patronize me by telling me the reader is the customer--your real customer is the one that pays you your revenue. And it is game industry advertisers.

I should mention in passing that 3DO has been one of your largest advertisers. Effective immediately, we are going to have to cut that back...In conclusion, I think you owe us one because you took us by surprise and threw our review to a wolf. And you accepted his word as God without even checking in with a major advertiser...

I've enjoyed gaming for almost twenty years, even though it makes me feel very old to say that. And in two decades, I have never read anything that shocked me more deeply. I was actually nauseous as I read Trip Hawkin's letter.

Dude, you FINISHED Portal Runner?

Not only finished it, but "beat" it on ALL difficulty levels? How did this happen? Did your Mom and Dad take all your games because you didn't get up in time to run your paper route? Did some older kid promise to buy you Final Fantasy X if you finished Portal Runner first?

Listen, Trip, finishing Portal Runner is not something that you brag about. It's like the night you got really, really drunk at a frat party and woke up in the morning with...Well, no one else would finish that sentence, because if they did it would be like saying they finished Portal Runner. I know this happened in 2001, but you need to get yourself some help, and right away. Who knows what else you've played in the last three years? Were there any Easter Eggs in Mucha Lucha! Mascaritas of the Lost Code? How was Swamp Buggy Racing, or Drake of the 99 Dragons?

Not to mention that if Beethoven were alive, he'd kick your ass.

I know you expected to buy a better review, but you had the idea that would have saved your company, and you absolutely missed it. Why didn't you start your own gaming magazine? You already had a title: Boys, Girls, Women, and Casual Gaming Men. That bad boy would have FLOWN off the shelves. Sure, the iconic block of angry young men probably wouldn't have read it, but you could have started a magazine just for them called Angry Young Man Gaming. Your visionary understanding of what gamers really wanted needed its own voice.

Portal Runner. That's just sad, man. To paraphrase Forest Gump, suck is as suck does.

Follow-up On Run Ronnie Run!

After posting about Run Ronnie Run! I received an e-mail from DQ reader Joshua Peterson, pointing me to this article: The article makes it very clear that at least one group of people absolutely hated the movie: the guys who wrote it.

The article is written by Bob Odenkirk, one of the screenplay's four writers, who were also all writers on HBO's "Mr. Show," which is where the Ronnie character first appeared. What makes the article so interesting is that Odendirk is clearly an extremely thoughtful, intelligent person, and he has a very carefully defined analysis of why Run Ronnie Run! was "ruined," in his words.

And that analysis is totally wrong.

Odendirk's theory is that the director ruined the film in editing. Well, it wasn't ruined. Most of the time, it's fall-off-the-couch funny. Whenever the film is 'plausibly real,' it's a masterpiece. However, it's the script that sometimes veers off on wildly ridiculous tangents, and those moments aren't very funny at all. The editing has nothing to do with that. So I would still highly recommend the film, because at its best moments, it's one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time. Just be prepared for some uneven moments along with the hilarious ones.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Run Ronnie Run!

I saw a funny, funny movie last night. Run Ronnie Run! is a mockumentary of white-trash culture and reality television and it is absolutely dead on. Very silly, very salty at times, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Even with its excesses and occasional missteps, it's well worth seeing.

Ask Dr. Eli

Gloria took Eli 3.5 to the doctor today for a chunky cough he'd developed.

Eli is a chameleon.
1. Any of various tropical Old World lizards of the family Chamaeleonidae, characterized by their ability to change color.

[please accept my apologies. Fact-checker Stephanie Assham-Dubious is on vacation at an island mathematical resort, the Lesser Than Antilles, and is being temporarily replaced by our new intern, Impeccable Q. Woofs. Eli 3.5 is not, in fact, a lizard.]

On trash day, Eli becomes a garbage man. When he's watching the Rose Bowl Parade, he becomes a float. So it should come as no surprise that when he visits the doctor, he becomes one. DQ Special Correspondent Gloria likes to play this game because it steers him away from the Global Pandemic Play Set in the waiting area.

"I must examine you," Eli says. "So, what is going on with you today?"
"Doctor, my leg has turned green," Gloria says.
"I can't help you with that," he says.
"Oh no! You can't do anything at all?" Gloria asks.
"Okay, let me look in the book." Eli picks up a book from a nearby table and starts thumbing through it. "Hmm...let me see...You need to drink lots of water. Also, you need to drink Tylenol every day."
"Thank you, Doctor," Gloria says. "Also, my head is hurting."
"Stop shaking it," Eli says. "And you need to stop sucking your thumb."

One additional, shocking discovery during the examination involved a finger that needed to be reattached. It was, successfully.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Things You Never Thought You'd Have to Say #32

This is a story from when Eli was potty-training that I found today when I started trying to sort through the scraps of paper that are the source of this column. Sometimes they get lost for a while, like this one.

When Eli first started potty-training, he had what's called a starter potty, which is just a little seat with a bucket attached underneath. It's less intimidating than using the regular toilet.

After watching us pour pee from the container into the toilet, Eli decided that he wanted to own that part of the process, so he demanded to do it himself. One day I forgot and emptied the pee into the toilet, whereupon he started throwing this amazing fit, almost hysterical. I looked at him and said "There are things that are worth getting upset about--if someone you know gets hurt, or if you get hurt. But pouring out your pee from the potty seat into the big toilet is not on that list."


I saw the movie "Monster" last week. Charlize Theron gives one of the most stunning performances I've ever seen in her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and while the film isn't historically accurate, it's riveting viewing. I decided after seeing the movie that I wanted to read about Wuornos, and picked up Lethal Intent, which is probably the best-researched book available on her life. It's extremely thorough, and even though the subject matter is terribly depressing, it's very interesting.

Yesterday I happened upon some Amazon reader reviews of the book. They're classics. About 20% of the reviews had comments in them like the following:

" times [the author] pissed me off that she could be so harsh in her remarks of Lee as a person."
"Poorly Written and One-Sided"
"I resented the way the author presented Ailene Wuornos."
"Aileen was not a saint, but I would have liked to have read a book where the author could have kept her hatred even slightly veiled."
"I would have preferred a more "unbiased" review of this woman's live. Some writers are simply more adept at this then others; they present both sides of the story (without judgment) and let the reader decide for themselves. I don't feel that she did this."

Oh, my apologies. I had no idea that we were talking about Pippi Longstocking instead of A SERIAL KILLER. "Serial" as in seven. "Killer' as in she-bangs. I can only hope the author issues a public apology for not spending more time on her shy, demure, heart-warming side. Next--an ABC Afterschool Special!

And if you haven't seen "Monster," Theron truly is fantastic.

More Exclusive Licensing Deals for The Great Satan

Leading publisher Electronic Arts has announced an exclusive deal for rights to the National Football League, the Arena Football League, NFL Europe, the CFL, the NCAA, High School Football Associations in all fifty states, PeeWee Football, paper football, electric football, and any game where more than three people and a football are involved.

"We don't pay overtime, fool," said EA Executive Vice-President Harry Hubris. "We saved so much money that we can buy anything! What have you got in your pocket? I'll buy an exclusive license for it, baby!" When asked to comment on whether exclusive licenses would adversely affect the sports gaming industry, Hubris said "I own you! Look at the scoreboard, bitches!"

Monday, January 10, 2005

2005 Consumer Entertainment Show Links

Here's the best site I've seen for CES articles:,1759,1749618,00.asp.

That's a link to all the CES stories by PC Magazine, and there are 100+ of them.

Some of the more "exotic" display types--OLED and SED, for two examples--are being demonstrated now in larger screen sizes (there was a 20" SED unit on display). By the time you can buy a 42" model for $7,500, though, you'll be able to buy a 42" plasma for under $1,000.

I'm going to write about HD, particularly plasma and LCD displays, in the future, but I highly recommend the AVS Forums ( as a comprehensive HD resource.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

#1 A Curious Incident
Saturday night. California Pizza Kitchen at the mall. As a family.

We weren't the only family. There was a large group sitting at the table across from us. Multiple families, small children, food everywhere, adults drinking as fast as socially acceptable (see reasons earlier in this sentence). Closest to us were a little girl and her brother. The girl, about three years old, was wearing a very pink dress with ribbons and bows, and she was clutching a baby doll from the very popular "Hey, My Head is Enormous!" series. She was rocking the "baby" and stroking its head.

You know--soothing, sweet, maternal, blah blah blah. Girl stuff.

Her brother looked a little older, maybe four, and he wanted to hold the doll. She asked, quite clearly, "Do you PROMISE to be sweet to the dolly?" and he solemnly nodded that he would be.

I looked down to pick up a piece of pizza, then started talking to Gloria, and after a few seconds I heard a repetitive banging sound. I looked up and this boy looked like Norman Bates with a knife in Psycho, raising the baby doll up as high as he could possibly could, then slamming the doll's head onto the table with the force of every ounce of his weight. Repeatedly.

The difference between boys and girls. Illustrated.

#2 The Fate of Mankind is at Stake
After dinner we went to Pottery Barn Kids. Eli 3.5 loves this store because it has all kinds of toys he can play with--mostly trains and a full line of kitchen toys (blenders, toasters, dishwashers, etc.). We're talking and Eli is blissfully using a hand mixer. Suddenly, a rail-thin employee sprints past us and disappears into the back room.
"What was that?" I asked.
"I don't know," Gloria said.
"This is Pottery Barn Kids. What situation could possibly require RUNNING?"
"Microwave popcorn in the break room?"
"Dude looked like he was in The Andromeda Strain and had ten seconds left to hit the button and stop the release of the plague."

A few minutes later, he walked out and returned to the register. Eli was still obsessing over the mixer and a nearby toaster. Then we looked up and the running man was blasting past us with a small wicker basket, again disappearing into the back room. "Run, wicker basket man, run," I said. "Save us from the doom that can only be stopped by wicker picnic baskets. Save us!"

He did not return. I only hope he was in time.

#3 Bueno
At the weekly Pancake House breakfast on Sunday mornings (boys only), Eli 3.5 and I sat down in our favorite booth, ordered our favorite food, and sat back to relax.

Unfortunately, in the booth just behind us was Shouting Throat Clearing Man.

You all know Shouting Throat Clearing Man. He's the lifetime smoker who sounds like he's coughing up half his body weight in phlegm every thirty seconds. This particular Shouting Throat Clearing Man looked like he was in his late sixties and was breakfasting with a female companion. As an added bonus, he yelled everything he said, so we got to hear every conversation. His side of them, at least.

At one point, a Hispanic lady who is one of the busboys came by to take away some plates. "BUENO BUENO BUENO!" he shouted. "BUENO AH HEH BLECH HACK HACK HUHHHHHHH."
Aghast, the lady tried to smile politely as she cleared dishes.
"Señora," she said, walking away.

Meals were abandoned in record time.

Friday, January 07, 2005

We, the Supersized

We went to a movie last weekend and bought some popcorn.

I don't know how it is in your country, but in America, large is the new small. The "small" popcorn we got was large enough for three people. I saw someone with a "jumbo" tub and I thought it was an above-ground swimming pool. Is this ever going to stop or even slow down? And when is Pfizer going to buy Taco Bell? That's corporate synergy like never before. In a creepy, sick kind of way.

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