For the past couple of years I've thought of myself as an "advanced intermediate" when it comes to snowboarding. I would ride anywhere in bounds so long as it wasn't the double-black diamond runs or anything extemely narrow, extremely steep, or with dropoffs. Typically I would seek out the glades and look for little jumps here and there to catch some small airs off of. I'd usually get a railgrab in or maybe a nosegrab, but nothing substantial.
So last Friday I learned that not only could I handle terrain a lot steeper than I thought I could, but that I could also start hitting some of the 5 to 8 foot boulder-drops that I used to steer clear of. Best of all, I land them clean.
While at Alpental today the upper chairlift opened just as I was exiting the main lift so I skated over to it and hopped on. I had been up to very top -- the "experts only" area on two previous occasions. And both times I took the so-called easy way down via the bowl to the left. It's a fun area, but I've always heard great things about the really steep trails that drop off the frontside of the mountain. I made a deal with myself that, since I almost always ride alone, I wouldn't go over there without a helmet. So last year, for Christmas I received a helmet (with built in headphones!) but the snow sucked and we never made it to Alpental once. So today, with helmet on and with nearly three days of constant snowfall ready to be tracked through, I exited the lift and went to the right.
As luck and Murphy's Law and whatever else you chalk ironic hapennings up to, I faceplanted getting off of the lift right in front of a large "Experts Only" sign. Perfect. I laughed it off, skated over to the entrypoint for the run, and strapped in.
I dropped in away from the lift, banked to the left, and came to a sudden stop. From my vantage point all I could see was the edge of the world with a blanket of clouds and fog in the valley. Down there, through the clouds, somewhere was a trail that lead nearly 2,000 feet down to my truck. The problem was that I couldn't see the ground. I thought of how those pre-Columbus sailors must have viewed the horizon -- just a line across the sea where all matter stopped and a vast expanse of nothing began.
But I thought of the steeps that I rode last Friday with Joe and I slowly inched my way over to the precipice. Holy shit. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. The initial entry was an extremely steep slab of rock and ice that one essentially has to dive over to get to the good stuff. As one skiier next to me put it, "if you fall on the entry, you'll likely slide for a good 600 feet before coming to a stop." Again, perfect.
I was scared but the snow beyond the drop-in looked so perfectly untouched and fresh that I just had to give it a go. Besides, I'm better than I think I am. Right?
I nailed the entry and before I knew it I was carving back and forth down the steepest all-powder slope I had ever even seen. Not only was I going to make it down the run, but I was doing a kick-ass job of it too. I passed people, I hit a little jump near some trees, and I was in control. I was flying. I was floating. I was cruising the Upper International trail as if I had ridden it a hundred times before.
I paused where this upper area feeds into the trails accessible by the lower lift to allow my quads to rest for a moment and to just sit there feeling great. I pushed through another barrier today in my progression as a snowboarder and I couldn't wait to call my brother when I got back home -- he was completely stoked for me. I took a few more runs today, each time going somewhere I hadn't been since two winters ago. I found some nice little tucked away areas where the masses hadn't yet gone and I even surprised myself further by negotiating a couple of bigger dropoffs and boosting a pretty good size fronstide air off a natural hip in the glades. I'd like to think that I looked as stylish as the guys I crane my neck to watch while I'm on the lift. I know it's probably not likely, but one never knows for sure.
Until they try, that is.
Not a whole lot to remember from this early month although I did get to attend my first ever NFL playoff game, only to watch an awkwardly-thrown, prayer of a pass slip out of Darrel Jackson's hands in the endzone. The Rams ended up beating the Seahawks three times last season, including that playoff game. To compound matters, the Cascade Mountains were having one of the driest winters on record and I didn't get to go snowboarding once the entire month.
This particular month started off strong with our first annual Super Bowl Party in our new house. We had about 14 people over to watch the game and although one couple brought their kids -- which prevented people from being as comfortable as they would have -- it was still quite a lot of fun. Some people who didn't come over last year are self-inviting themselves to our 2006 party, so we must have done something right. This time, no kids. But hopefully, plenty of Seahawks! As for the rest of February, no snowboarding, lots of work, nothing really to report.
March was a good month in that the warm, dry weather got me thinking more and more about mountain biking and I ended up buying a new bike. I bought a 2005 Giant NRS C2 full-suspension cross-country bike with hydraulic disk brakes and a carbon fiber frame. This would be the impetus for us to have the kind of outdoorsy year we planned on always having when we first moved to the Pacific Northwest 3 years ago. The bike, however, was embarrasingly expensive and I had to make a deal with my wife that I didn't ride it at least once a week by Labor Day I would sell it. Well, I ended up riding it an average of 4 times a week for most of the year and had over 1,100 miles of singletrack under it by the time Labor Day had come. Also in March, Kristin's parents flew out from the east coast to visit and see the house. Kristin's father is a realtor and although we were confident in our choice, it was reassuring to get his congratulations on a good decision. Being first-time home buyers we were quite nervous. Also of note in March is that I traded in my Acura RSX Type-S to get Kristin a Honda Civic Hybrid. And if that isn't love, I don't know what it is.
Being an independent contractor can suck around tax time and 2005 was no exception, but if I'm to make any mention of money issues in this column, it's to be that in April of 2005 we mailed in the final payment on a $25,000 student load I had from my years as undergrad--don't worry I still have more student loans; even with a track scholarship Lafayette College was damn expensive! Nevertheless, this happened to coincide with the death of our Isuzu Rodeo so rather than enjoying the extra $400 a month, we promptly turned around and went back to the Honda dealership and bought me a Honda Element. My mountain bike would take up permanent residence inside it for the remainder of the year. But April wasn't all seriousness. Kristin's Grandmother (who would kill me if I ever referred to her such) and one of her sisters came out to visit. Halfway through their visit I flew to NJ to visit family and attend a friend's bachelor party in Atlantic City. What to say about the weekend other than I slept for about 6 of the 96 hours I was in NJ and had an incredible time?
May was probably one of the most memorable months for us as we returned to Hawaii for my friend Lou's wedding. Our choice was to either join Lou and his fiancee Kathleen in Maui for the wedding (along with her best friend and sisiter) or return to NJ in July for the reception. It wasn't a hard choice. But I did have to miss the big E3 Expo for the second year in a row and miss another chance to actually meet Bill Harris face-to-face. On the bright side, I did get to spend a few days surfing in Maui with one of my best friends and watch him get hitched to his very beautiful and way-cool bride. Best of all, while they honeymooned in Lihue, Kauai, Kristin and I traveled over to Kaui and backpacked the world-famous Kalalau Trail in the Na Pali region of Kauai. Not only is this 11-mile (feels like 25 miles) rugged trail in the "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" book, but it has also been featured in National Geographic's "Top 25 Hikes in the World" book. The hike was breathtaking, scary, arduous, and wonderful all at the same time. There were times when we though the heat and humidity wouldn't let us walk another step; there were times when a single misstep would cost you your life (several hundred foot freefall into the Pacific), and there were times when you almost had to weep from seeing the beauty that surrounds you. I took the following photo during this hike.
Not a whole lot went on in June other than a lot of mountain biking. I was going through a lull with work and didn't have any projects to speak of for quite a while so at this time I was riding my bike almost every day and, unfortunately, not losing any weight. Made a lot of friends through the BBTC club in the area and would spend my days and weekends riding. Not a whole lot going on.
In early July Kristin's youngest sister and her boyfriend came to visit for a few days. I'm not sure if they wanted to necessarily see the new house or if they just wanted to escape the heat and humidity of New Jersey, but either way it was good to see them. Later in the month Kristin and I started camping again with the bike club -- she would go running while we rode -- but, again, not much really jumps out.
I'd be in trouble if I didn't mention that our wedding anniversary is in August. It's hard to believe we'd been married for 8 years despite still being a couple months shy of hitting 30 years old, but what I can say? We're the last of a dying breed, I guess. Anyway, Kristin booked us a nice night out in the city to celebrate, complete with a stay at some fancy hotel downtown. It was a good time. But unfortunately, our anniversary signals the return of the busy season for work and 2005 was like no other. I ended up authoring guidebooks for 6 games between the last week of July and the end of October. Needless to say, I wasn't riding my bike every day anymore. But despite this onslaught of work, I did steal away for 4 days to Toronto for the annual trip I take with my friends. This year the votes were cast and Toronto was our destination. So 12 of us made the journey north, piled into two hotel rooms at the Toronto Hilton and enjoyed several days of drunkeness, public disorderly conduct, and all-around mayhem. The highlights were many, but walking over a mile in formation to see the Blue Jays play the Yankees with "T-H-E B-I-G U-N-I-T-S painted on our chests was definitely something to remember.
It's not in any National Geographic "best of" book, but it ought to be. I spent Labor Day weekend with three other riders up north of the border in British Columbia riding the trails in the Spruce Lake region of the Chilcotin Mountains. We rode on a float-plane up to Warner Lake and pedaled 25 miles through the mountains back to what passes for civilization up there. The scenery was terrific, we had great weather, our group was strong and got along superbly, and the constant scanning for grizzly bears added a nice touch of excitement and fear to the trip. The 8 hour drive from Seattle wasn't necessarily a highlight, but fortunately my copilot, Ellen, knew of a lesser-known border crossing that didn't have nearly as much holiday traffic. The following photo was taken at Warner Lake right after the pilot, Dale, dropped us off. Moments later two salt-of-the-earth backpackers emerged from the woods with high-powered rifles. That was their grizzly protection. We had none save for my can of Counter Assault bear spray, which everyone teased me for bringing.
It had to happen eventually, but on October 1st, I turned 30. Kristin was attending a conference in Las Vegas right around the time of my birthday so I tagged along and whiled away the days in the casino while she was at her conference. We had a great time and even got to meet up with fellow strategy guide authoring superstar Dan Birlew and his lovely wife for dinner at the Rio casino. They took us to a fantastic creole restaurant on the roof of the casino with a killer view of the strip (the Rio isn't on the strip so the view is even better). Anyway, this little trip to Vegas and a pair of Avid Juicy Seven brakes (top of the line disc brakes) for my mountain bike were supposed to be my presents, but Kristin nevertheless booked us for a brief weekend at a small B&B on Orcas Island in the San Juans. The San Juans are dead in October -- no whales to watch, most restaurants and galleries are closed, the weather is crummy -- but we had a great time anyway. Just the two of us relaxing in front of the fireplace or in the hottub and enjoying the view of the water and mountains. Speaking of mountains, we also discovered our new favorite spot in Washington on a camping trip early in the month. The Okanagon National Forest area near the North Cascades National Park and town of Winthrop. We are sooooo going to build a cabin out there once these cars are paid off!
With November came a lot of rest and relaxation for me as aside from the couple little weekend trips here and there (during which I always had my laptop with me for work) I was working 7 days a week for the better part of 3 months. November was no such thing. Instead, I putzed around the house, enjoyed walking the dogs, and riding my bike again. Best of all, the snow started falling early this year and we were up at Mount Baker for opening day before Thanksgiving with a 72" base and waist-deep powder everywhere you looked. That one day almost made up for the previous winter's complete lack of snow. Speaking of Thanksgiving, Kristin and I stayed home this year and made an incredibly abundance of food. I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday cooking while Kristin was at work and together we celebrated our gluttonous American ways with a feast for the ages on Thanksgiving. Fortunately, Kristin's uncle needed a place to stay for a couple nights that next week and helped us polish off the left-overs.
If you've been reading this blog for more than, well, a day, you're aware that we decided to rededicate ourselves to the Christmas spirit this year and that we made a point of doing Christmas-y things at least once a week. We attended a play, we went and say fake snow fall in a mall, we baked 7 dozen cookies, we decorated, etc., etc. And it was all worth it. We had a very nice holiday with my brother Joe and although I missed not seeing my friends and family, it was indeed good to stay home for once. And now the end of the year is fast-approaching. Kristin's birthday is on New Year's Eve and this year, since it's her 30th and that's supposed to be special I'm told, we're going to have some fun. We're going to the big New Year's Party at the Experience Music Project in Seattle where the entire facility is reserved for the party. We'll wander the museaum, enjoy drinks and food, and take in live acts on several different stages with the band, the Presidents of the United States of America being the headliners. Kristin bought an incredibly sexy outfit in Vegas that I can't wait to see her in and we have room booked at one of the downtown hotels so no drinking and driving worries. It should be a great time.
Now if only I can think of something to get her for her birthday...
Happy New Year everybody. Have a great time!
1: Resident Evil 4
Never did I ever imagine giving a game in this series one bit of praise, let alone actually enjoying the game enough to play through all 20 hours of it. And this is why RE4 gets my nod for Game of the Year. Few developers of popular games every scrap the plans and start from scratch all over again -- especially when they were making updates to million-selling titles. But that's exactly what Capcom did when they made RE4. The changed the way the characters move and interact with their surroundings, they changed the camera system, and in doing so they made their game playable. Playability was something that the diehard Resident Evil fans struggled with over the past 8 or so years, but not me. I would pick up the controller, play for a few minutes, and immediately push the game aside as if it were infected. With RE4 I was looking forward to playing the game when I wasn't. I was celebrating the action I saw on the screen throughout its length and almost wishing it never ended. And then, when it finally did, multiple additional gameplay modes became available. And the temptation to play with its stunning graphics and sound some more continues.
2: Guitar Hero
I could make a strong case for Guitar Hero to be in the top spot, but truth of the matter is that as incredible a game it is, I don't expect any less from Harmonix. All of their games are great (except Antigrav which was a clunker) and they are the masters of music games. And as great as the gameplay is, and as wonderful the song selection is, I can't help but say that I'd actually been waiting for this gameplay mechanic for several years. Ever since I first started playing Frequency with the shoulder buttons on the PS2 Dualshock controller, I felt that the game had a certain guitar-y feel to it and that they ought to make a game like it strictly for guitar. And they did. And they made one that is virtually perfect. So while RE4 takes the top spot in my little list here, rest assured that it is the sequel to Guitar Hero that I anticipate most.
My third and final pick was pretty hard to make as there were quite a few games that I enjoyed throughout the year, but ultimately I have to give the nod to this little PSP launch-day puzzle game. Never had a puzzle game so captivated my attention since the days of first playing Tetris in my youth. Lumines oozes style, has terrific movement and, most importantly, incredibly addictive (and frenetic) gameplay. And to once again be in an age in which we have such a wonderful puzzle game on a handheld console is something worth celebrating. Lumines is the type of game that one can easily pass their PSP back and forth amongst friends (as my friends and I did on a lengthy car ride) and people who haven't played videogames in years can pick it up and enjoy it with little to no instruction. And like all good puzzles games of the past, the better you are, the harder it gets. It's not unusual to engage in a single game of Lumines for well over an hour. Fortunately you can quickly put the PSP into sleep mode and come back to it. Then again, Lumines is good enough that I'd probably stay up all night playing if I had to.
And for those who like lists, you're in luck because I may even put up one or two lists as well!
Unfortunately, in my rushing around I put on the shirt that I wore running yesterday instead of a similar-looking one that I had meant to put on.
"I stink," I said matter of factly. "This isn't the shirt I meant to put on and now I stink."
Kristin started laughing and then proceeded to tell me that I was actually the second person today to utter those exact same words to her. It turns out her friend Kari that she works out with everyday at lunchtime also put on a dirty shirt from yesterday by mistake and she too, stank.
I tried telling Kristin that it's because everyone is always in such a rush to spend time with her that we mere mortals must let hygiene slip by the wayside, but I don't think she was buying it. On the positive side, at least the shirt didn't smell so bad that she noticed it before I did.
Instead I get to spend the next couple weeks writing the guidebook for one of my most anticipated Xbox 360 titles of early 2006. It's got cars. It's got guns. And it's got more hi-def destruction than any game deserves to possess.
And a new trailer for it just got posted to the net. Check it out here.
And my loud-talker of a brother, Joe.
The three of us spent Friday on the slopes at Stevens Pass, where a week of rain and miserable conditions chased the crowds away. I put my trust in the cadre of weather forecasting sites I have bookmarked and was pleased to find relatively good conditions, untracked powder on the mountain's backside, and empty slopes. Kristin signed up for a 2-hour group ski lesson and was treated to one-on-one lessons while Joe and I laid tracks through the double-black powder bowls on the backside. Everywhere we went, we were the first ones there and, if only for a day, we were kings of the mountain.
Our whirlwind weekend continued Saturday at Seahawks stadium where we watched the Seahawks go up 13-3 on the Colts prior to Peyton and company getting yanked from the game. Watching the Seahawks' coach succumb to the fans cheers and give Shaun Alexander an opportunity to tie the NFL all-time touchdown record late in the game made staying to the final whistle well worth it. I'd say we'll likely see the Colts again in February in Detroit, but I don't think they're going to make it through the playoffs without a loss.
We arrived home from the game to find the neighborhood in a total blackout. Of all the nights to have a power outage, Christmas Eve has got to be among the least desirable. No Christmas lights. No visible decorations. And no electronic means of distracting one from the undesirables in their midst.
Fortunately, the power came back on just in time for us to get ready to go out for a nice Christmas Eve dinner, care of my mom back in NJ. And so we went to the fabulous little Italian place nearby and had a wonderful, albeit expensive, dinner. How does one cap off such a good day? With hours of Monopoly around the kitchen table, that's how. Nowhere to go in the morning, no kids to wake up early for, no breakfasts to attend. Why not stay up till the middle of the night playing boardgames?
Sunday came and Kristin made us a nice french toast breakfast before we did presents. By the time Sunday came we had way more presents under the tree than we deserve. Packages of gifts arrived throughout the week from those on the other coast and we had them spread out under the tree, alongside the piles of gifts for my wife, myself, and my brother.
I'm not into doing the whole play-by-play of what I got and what I gave, but I will share a couple highlights with you. For starters, my brother and I bought each other identical long-sleeve Polartec base-layer shirts from REI. Same size, same style, but different color. And had the REI in Seattle have had a gray one, we would have matched colors too.
Kristin surprised me with a few items, but best of all she got me the one item I was really hoping for -- and she swears she bought it before I even really started talking about my desire to have it. And that is the Suunto X6 altimeter watch. The watch can log your elevation at 2 and 10 second intervals and plot it against time --perfect for cross-country mountain bike rides and hikes. It also monitors weather, has a built-in clinometer, measures descent/ascent rates, and also has a compass and wealth of other features. I think I need to go back to school to figure out how to use it.
Lastly, since we were't blowing a grand on airfare this year, we decided to allow Santa back into the house. Mr. Claus brought us an electronic dartboard that supports up to 8 players and has 32 different games pre-programmed. We're turning a room upstairs into a bit of a barroom and this will come in handy. Mrs. Claus wasn't as fun with her gift but far more adventurous. She got us a very nice set of plates and dishes that are specifically made for serving suhshi. She included a sushi cook.. err, raw book.
We wrapped up Sunday with a nice dinner and good company. My mountain-biking friend Ken, with whom I rode in BC this past fall, joined the three of us for dinner. In addition to bringing a spectacular pair of french wines over, he helped round out the teams for a game of Cranium before calling it a night.
And this concludes my holiday wrap-up. It was non-descript compared to our past years and, in a big way, that was what made it kind of nice.
In the meantime, I want to leave you with this one final link. A couple weeks ago I posted an article I wrote about the whole Christmas/Holiday fiasco. Yeah, I know you're tired of hearing about Fox News' latest contrived controversy and that you are sick of the boisterous, sky-is-falling emails circulating by the zealots and "ditto-heads" who listen to Rush and Coulter and O'Reilley, but this is something you really ought to read.
Anna Quindlen authored a wonderful essay on this topic for this week's edition of Newsweeek and as luck would have it, Newsweek actually allows online readers to read their columnists' offerings free of charge. Those who favor articles infused with inflamatory, profane remarks and lots of RANTING and RAVING should probably ignore it, as it doesn't have any of it. What it does have is perhaps the only level-headed contribution to this discussion -- a discussion that we wouldn't be having if not for the fine folks at Fox News changing the topic away from Bush's flailing approval rating. But that's beside the point.
Without further ado, here's the link:
Frankincense in Aisle Five!
And if you're unwilling to click the link without a teaser, here's a couple paragraphs off the tail end of this article.
The cycle of the devotional year has once again wound around to the anniversary of the Nativity, and now the foolishness is all fa-la-la-la-la. It is surprising to discover that some believe the enduring power of the story of the child born in Bethlehem to be so shaky that it must be shored up by plastic creches in town squares and middle-school concerts. Apparently, conservative critics are also exercised by the fact that various discount stores have failed to pay homage to the baby in the manger, in their advertisements, their labeling and even their in-store greetings.
It is hard for me to figure out how a snub by a home-improvement center can diminish Christmas one iota. A flu epidemic carried off as many as 50 million people around the world in the early part of the 20th century, surely a disaster to shake the faith of even the most devout. Yet the holy day endured. Through plague and war, famine and invasion, the tale was told and the lesson learned, of love for neighbors, of charity toward the poor. Carols were sung in foxholes and prisons.
O ye of little faith, who believe that somehow the birth of Christ is dependent upon acknowledgment in a circular from OfficeMax! According to the story, Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, saying that they'd made his father's house into a den of thieves. By any stretch of the imagination, does that person sound like someone who would hanker to be formally recognized at Sears and Walgreens, as though his legacy depended upon being given pride of place among redundant hand appliances and teddy bears in Santa hats?
So I've been listening to "The Loft" a lot lately and Kristin and I were just chilling out playing cards while the Christmas cookies we were making baked in the oven. This station (836) is kind of hit or miss. It's all accoustic and it occasionally gets pretty weird (i.e. eclectic gone awry) and while Kristin was up spiking our cofees with chai liqueor the most horrendous cover of an Elton John song came out. It was a female voice singing a very eerie nearly-electronica version of that Goodbye Norma Jean song (the exact title escapes me). I'm not a Elton John fan anyway, but this was wretched. So I got up to change the station.
And that's when I found "Special-X", the station dedicated to playing non-traditional Christmas music.
And what was the first song playing?
"Santa Claus Needs Some Lovin'" by Albert King. It's a blues song with quite a bit of funk and within moments I was doing the white-man's overbite, rocking my hips, pumping my arms in that tight little dance motion like the dork in the Red Stripe commercials, and singing along.
Santa Claus Needs Some Lovin... awww yeah!
Light the lamp, it's hat trick time!
Edit: After spending way too long looking for it, I found the song available for free on line. Here you go, Scrooges. Merry Christmas!
Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin by Albert King
But before I do that, I have a wish for the powers-at-be. Namely, the wonderful magicians at Harmonix.
Harmonix makes the Karaoke Revolution games as well as this wonderful Guitar Hero, right? Right. Well, just as the latest version of Karaoke Revolution contains some dance gameplay to be used with the Dance Dance Revolution dance pad, why can't the next version of Guitar Hero include singing?
Here's my idea. Release an all-accoustic sequel to Guitar Hero that includes the guitar mechanics of Guitar Hero along with the singing mechanics of Karaoke Revolution. Include musicians like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Chris Isaak, John Mayer, REM, Alice in Chains, Paul Westerberg, Toad the Wet Sprocket, even freaking Bruce Springsteen and Jewel if you absolutely have to. Yes, I am that desperate.
So then players can come that much closer to fulfilling what we all really dream of being. The complete solo act. And think about how fun a Duet Mode could be? I could be jamming out on the guitar and my wife singing the lyrics with a microphone. Or I could serenade her with my musical stylings and play the guitar and sing while she simply sits there and tries not to laugh.
Actually, that's a great idea. Now that I think of it, Harmonix, if you are reading this is there any chance you can maybe get a Guitar/Karaoke Hero/Revolution (I'll leave the nomenclature to you) game out to me that includes "Beautiful in My Eyes" by Joshua Kadison sometime next year. I know that's a tall order, but our 10 year wedding anniversary is only 20 months away and, well, you'll need the time to make the game and I'll need time to practice. I hope this isn't too much to ask.
And even if you can't do the Joshua Kadison request, please consider an all-acoustic sing-songy version of Guitar Hero. You have the technology from two great music games that seem to be made for one another. They are the yin to one another's yang. Help them make beautiful music together.
And as a self-proclaimed hater of trailwork, I do not look forward to helping make those trails rideable again. I will, but I won't like it.
For nearly three straight days now, our house is being constantly shook by steady winds of at least 35 mph with frequent gusts on the order of 50 mph. And by frequent, I mean every 10 minutes or so. Last night, the wind even blew our bbq grill over onto its side. Yes, a large cast-iron three-burner, double-rack grill. On its side.
The wind shakes the house and doors get sucked shut and windows bow and compress and, well, we're just waiting to for the sliding glass doors in the living room to shatter and cut us to shreds. It should happen any moment now. As if it wasn't bad enough that our bedroom is above the garage and, always hovering somewhere around the freezing point, but it also protrudes from the rest of the house and is subject to the wind on two of its three sides. So all night long I lay awake listening to the wind slamming the side of our bedroom and listening to the wind in the attic and the constant vibration of the metal flashing used under the cedar shakes on the roof.
Last year was our first winter in this house and we thought the wind was kind of cool. It reminded us of our years in eastern North Carolina and the annual hurricanes we would endure. But now? In layman's terms, I'm sick of this shit. I want to sleep.
Oh, good. It's now raining too. As if the gusting wind didn't send tremors through the house, now the wind and rain are sounding like machinegun fire on the windows. Welcome to my war zone. It's warm, and the coffee is piping hot, but don't count on being able to hear yourself think anytime soon.
These games are extremely addictive and the fact that they utilize real songs makes them all the more enjoyable.
Last month, Harmonix teamed with peripheral manufacturer Red Octane to release Guitar Hero, and this time they've completely outdone themselves. I commented sometime last year that I would buy any game Harmonix made sight unseen. Their games are that good. And, despite a small hiccup with their gimmicky Eyetoy snowboarding game Antigrav, I'm convinced more than ever that this company is one of the true gems in the videogame industry.
Guitar Hero in a lot of ways, is very similar to Frequency and Amplitude, except now you only play the guitar track of the song. So how can it be better? Well, the catch is that the game comes with an actual guitar-shaped controller, nearly half the size of a real guitar, and instead of having to just press one of three buttons to play a note, players must utilize five fret buttons, a strum button, and a whammy bar. Hold the corresponding fret button(s) to play the note or chord and hit the strum button in time with the on-screen display. Hold the fret buttons down for sustains and even take a moment to wail away with the whammy bar to produce some very cool sound effects, not to mention earn bonus points.
Like all Harmonix games, the difficulty curve is outstanding. There are four difficulty modes, with each adding something new to the mix. Easy mode uses just three fret buttons and few chords, Medium mode adds a fourth fret button and a larger dose of chord play, and Hard and Expert mode force you to play with all five fret buttons at a very high rate of speed, with plenty of chords and ladders.
Aside from the obvious thrill of rocking out and getting an actual sensation of playing a real guitar, what sets this game apart is the excellent song selection. Harmonix and WaveGroup have recreated 30 popular songs (see below) with professional cover bands and singers for you to try and master, and even added 17 more songs from independent bands that you likely haven't heard of, but will be glad to be introduced to.
Now, all of this great gameplay does come with a slight negative. And that is that this game is guaranteed to humble you. Despite being able to earn a 5-star ranking on all of the Easy mode songs and the majority of those in Medium mode, I can come nowhere close to even completing a single song on Hard mode. I do believe that most gamers will hit an eventual roadblock where our own phyical reflexes and coordination keep us from going forward. I believe I hit this roadblock and immediately after identifying it (it happened with Frequency and Amplitude too) I bagged the guitar and immediately put back in the RPG I was playing prior to buying the game. But now it's been three days without picking up the axe and I'm jonesing to rock. I don't even care if I can't complete a song on Hard mode; or even if I just aim for absolute perfection on Medium mode, it's still a great game and one of the finest in my collection. Everybody with a Playstation 2 owes it to themselves to buy this game.
Guitar Hero retails for $70 and includes the game and the guitar controller. You can order a second guitar for two-player jamfests via the http://www.redoctane.com website or wait a couple months and purchase their soon-to-be-released limited edition candy apple red guitar.
Anyway, if you still need more convincing here's list of the main 30 songs. Don't forget there are 17 more songs that you unlock through gameplay.
Motorhead - "Ace of Spades"
Ozzie Osbourne - "Bark at the Moon"
Audioslave - "Cochise"
Pantera - "Cowboys From Hell"
Cream - "Crossroads"
Sum 41 - "Fat Lip"
Edgar Winter Group - "Frankenstein"
Blue Oyster Cult - "Godzilla"
Burning Brides - "Heart Full of Black"
The Exies - "Hey You"
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Higher Ground"
Joann Jett - "I Love Rock and Roll"
The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Bad Religion - "Infected"
Black Sabbath - "Iron Man"
Queen - "Killer Queen"
Boston - "More Than A Feeling"
Queens of the Stone Age - "No One Knows"
ZZ Top - "Sharp Dressed Man"
Deep Purple - "Smoke on the Water"
Jimi Hendrix - "Spanish Castle Magic"
Incubus - "Stellar"
Megadeth - "Symphony of Destruction"
The Donnas - "Take It Off"
Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
Stevie Ray Vaughn - "Texas Flood"
White Zombie - "Thunderkiss 65"
Helmet - "Unsung"
Judas Priest - "You Got Another Thing Comin"
David Bowie - "Ziggy Stardust"
You can actually head over to http://www.guitarherothegame.com and listen to each of the tracks if you're too young to be familliar with some of the classics. I know I was.
Oh, and as for the title of this post, the word "casbah" was an answer (or is that a question?) on Jeopardy last night so I thought I'd work it in.
Fortunately George W. Bush has a response to the issue of global warming. Well, no, actually he doesn't. But Will Ferrel resurrecting the role of GWB on Saturday Night Live does.
This is pure funny.
Click to watch the clip
And that's when it occured to me that I took the GRE's in 1996. And that 1996 is almost a decade ago.
It's weird how easy I respond "eight years" when asked how long my wife and I have been married, or how natural it is to say I graduated high school in 1993, and how neither of these comments ever make me feel old.
But thinking that I was preparing for graduate school a decade ago? That I'll be coming up on my ten year college reunion in 18 months? Man, that just isn't cool. Not at all.
They're not alone.
I also collected a large assemblage of photos from my family in which I need to scan in, touch-up, and transfer to a DVD.
But that's not the least of it. I also purchased a Super-8mm projector off of Ebay and encouraged my father to brave the depths of his basement (where nobody has seen the floor in over a decade) to find me the cannisters of home movie reels that he shot when I was a wee toddler. And he did. And I have the reels of film in a bag in my office closet, and the projector in a large box in a spare bedroom. I have everything I need to transfer these films to DVD and bring them back from the dead for all the world to see. Or at least my immediate family. After all, I'm sure there's some incriminating stuff of me on there.
And I have the time. Or, I should say, I've had the time. But instead of actually doing something productive with my time, I've been spending my past 6 weeks of time off of work (I like to say "I'm between projects") doing little other than playing videogames and watching way too much ESPN.
Until now. Kristin's grandmother has always been extremely generous to us over the years and now she wants to take us on a trip next year. Places like Egypt, London, Novia Scotia, the Arctic, and Greece are being bantered about as possible detinations. And she's never asked about the negatives in the 18 months that I've had them -- not even when she was here last spring and likely saw them sitting there in the bonus room near the scanner. Nor has she seen the photos on those negatives in several decades. Photos of her long-ago deceased husband and son.
We printed several of the photos last year and framed them in a beautiful collage. She cried upon seeing them, but even then never asked about the progress of the DVD I told her I would make.
This woman who may have lived one of the most fascinating lives of anybody I've ever had the privilige of meeting (Holocaust survivor to cover model for "Vogue" magazine to world traveler) isn't getting any younger and I owe it to her to finish this before it's too late.
Not that she would ever ask me to hurry.
At the end of each presentation students are asked to fill out a survey about themselves and they're also asked to rate my performance on a scale of 1 to 10. Guidance counselors were also asked to fill out a survey and fax it in to my superiors at the main offices and rate me as well. I'm pleased (and a bit surprised) to report that my average score from the guidance counselors was a 9.4 out of 10 and that my marks from the students were an 8.5 out of 10.
So, I got invited back for next semester. Sadly, after originally accepting the offer -- and being quite excited about it -- I decided to turn it down a week or two later. One reason was that it was just starting to take up too much time. The next semester required memorization of two different scripts -- one for juniors beginning their college search, and another for seniors preparing to graduate. While I didn't look forward to spending a lot of time studying the scripts, I relished the thought of giving two or more presentations a day even less. I simply don't have the time for that.
But that wasn't the only reason I had to leave. Originally, I was doing this 1) because I thought it was a good program and for a good cause, 2) because the speaking experience could be useful, and 3) to make a little extra money. Unfortunately, I no longer cared about the cause as it had way too many corporate tie-ins for my liking and the message was starting to sound like an advertisement. Also, I had the experience and frankly needed to focus more on my real job. So if I were to continue, it would be just for the money. And that's where I had to decide it wasn't worth it.
I can live with having to learn the scripts free of charge -- that's completely understandable -- but 4 days locked up in a Dayton, Ohio hotel for meetings and certification tests? Unpaid? In December? Hell no. It's bad enough that you have to be a speaker for 5 semesters before you get a lousy $5 per-speech raise, but asking people to travel to Ohio for 4 days without compensation is just wrong.
By the end of last semester I was one of two speakers in the entire Pacific Northwest region still doing this. And judging by comments from the counselors on their survey forms, I was the best some of them had had in years. And that was really nice to read. Too bad all of them that said they'd request I come back in the spring will have to settle for someone else. If anybody else is even doing this anymore.
I will miss the extra spending money, but I also look forward to being able to spend that much more time and energy on my real job. The one that pays real money.
Oh, and for the record, the four days I spent at home last week instead of in Dayton, Ohio were occupied with spending a lot of time with my wife, going out shopping and to a play with her, cleaning the garage, and going to the Seahawks game. In other words, it didn't matter whether they paid or not. My time spent at home was more valuable.
But I did squeak into the playoffs in my money league as the fourth seed in the main playoff bracket and have to play the #1 seed this week. And that was despite my ridiculous decision to start Marques Tuiasosopo at QB instead of Trent Green. Fortunately, all of his interceptions and fumbles caused the guy in 4th place to lose, as his opponent racked up 18 points with the Jets defense.
Now I'm in the playoffs and I'm happy to have a chance at winning some money, but all this talk about the Colts resting their players has me nervous. Edgerin James and Marvin Harrison are what got me this far and now Dungy might rest them? Crap. It'll be even worse next week since I'll either be playing for the win or for third place and the Colts will be out here playing the Seahawks. Not only will I hate to have to chear against my fantasy team, but it's probably going to be a pretty uneventful game as both the Colts and the Seahawks will likely rest their starters and not show too much to the opposing team due to the likelihood that they face each other in the Super Bowl.
But just as one injury heals, another comes in its place. I was up at the mountain snowboarding today. They hadn't gotten any fresh snow in over a week so only a portion of the mountain was open. I hit a few jumps, but mostly spent the morning trying to get better at riding fakie. By nature, I'm a goofy-footer which means that I stand facing the left with my right foot in the front of the board. Well, I'm trying to get better at riding while facing the other direction (essentially backwards).
I would practice this on the flatter sections near the bottom of the mountain and, usually, after about 10 seconds or so I would fall or switch back over to my normal stance. As I got more comfortable with this, I started riding fakie a bit faster and trying to carve back and forth a bit more. And that's how I caught an edge and twisted my body in two. My lower body twisted one direction, my upper body went the other, and now I'm left with what is likely a slight separation in my ribs. I didn't hit the ground hard or anything so it's not a bruise or fracture, more like a separation. Either way, it hurts like hell and now I'm here nursing another small injury.
We're do for another big dose of snow late this week and into next week. Hopefully this heals in time. I'd hate to have to pop Aleve in order to go riding.
You didn't think I'd not go, did you?
In case you haven't noticed, the house you moved into last summer has a very light-colored carpet throughout the upstairs and on the staircase. It's almost white.
So why do you insist on running up and down the stairs with a full cup of coffee in your hands?
The entire play consists of a courtroom trial, taking place on Christmas Eve one year after the events of Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is in the process of suing Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future for a laundry list of crimes including breaking and entering, kidnapping, assault, attempted murder, and emotional and psychological cruelty.
We haven't gone to see a play in ages and this was a nice reminder that just because it's a local theatre doesn't mean that the actors aren't up to snuff. Many of the actors in the play had been on television and starred in numerous other performances, and their experience showed, as each of them were both entertaining and entirely convincing in their portrayals.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Christmas play without a happy ending or a "lesson learned". And there is. At one point in the play the woman who collected money for the poor in the opening of A Christmas Carol was on the stand testifying against Scrooge's greed. His cross-examination (too cheap to hire a lawyer, he represents himself) asks her why she only feels the need to collect money on behalf of the poor one day a year. Surely the taxes he pays all year round do more to feed and shelter them than the little bit she does one night a year? And, along those same lines, why is it his nephew only invites him over for dinner one night a year? What's wrong with the other 364 days a year? Why not even on Ebenezer's birthday?
And so is planted the seeds for argument. Did Scrooge lose his Christmas Spirit? Or is he simply tired of seeing people dust their's off just one day a year?
The play is laugh-out-loud funny and also a bit of a thinker. And it's definitely a nice alternative to seeing a rendition of the original for the umpteenth time. If it's playing near you, I highly recommend seeing it.
And then I got up to visit the restroom. The door was locked. While I'm standing outside the bathroom a guy comes up, probably late 30's and dressed well. A guy's guy, no doubt. He asks me why the bathroom is locked. I tell him somebody is probably in there. And so begins the weirdest conversation I've ever had with a complete stranger. Here it is, as close to verbatim as I can remember it.
Him: Why would he lock the door. I never lock the door. There's no reason to. This way someone else can come in and take a pee while I'm washing my hands, no sense in making people wait.
Me: Yeah, you got a point there.
Him: Unless he's taking a dump.
Me: Well, yeah, nobody wants to share a cramped space when that's going on.
Him: But still, if he's not taking a dump, there's no reason all three of us can't be pissing at the same time. There's plenty of room around the bowl.
Me: (starting to have fun with him) Heck, a fourth guy could just piss in the sink, too. I mean, really, just run the faucet, right?
Him: Yeah, this is bullshit that we have to stand out here and wait for him to finish. Unless he's taking a dump, of course.
Me: (now completely just egging him on) Why not just go at the same time with a woman too. I mean, we can all aim well enough, right? They ought to leave the door unlocked too. This waiting around sucks.
Him: You're totally right. Well, she would have to aim pretty good too and be kind of flexible to give us enough room to really avoid a mess, but you're totally right. Why not go with a woman?
And just as he was done saying that the woman's bathroom door opened and a lady came out and went back to her seat. My quirky companion in line for the men's room quickly jumped at the chance to use the woman's room. Seconds later, a man exited the men's room and I was finally able to go. And so I did, right after locking the door.
What do I have to say to it now? Bah-humbug!
This game is so utterly bland and holds so tight to the by-the-numbers role-playing formula that it ought to have been packaged with a set of watercolors and a brush. I wasn't expecting "high art" and knowing that it's once again another Japanese-styled RPG that pits little kids on a daring adventure, I wasn't expecting a great script. But man alive, can't they do better than this?
You want to know how boring this game is? I'll tell you.
I came home from the Seahawks game last night and took a brief nap. I then woke up, made a full french-press of extremely strong coffee and actually fell asleep playing this game (mid-battle, no less!) despite being into my second cup of coffee.
So far I've purchased 5 PSP games since the system has come out and this will be the second one I sell back to the store at a loss. I knew the PSP was expensive when I bought it, but I didn't think it would keep on costing me.
I was at Alpental last Friday and Saturday enjoying the abundance of fresh powder that had fallen last week. On Saturday afternoon I followed a skiier into a section of woods I usually ride through. I was following his line through the fresh when he caught a ski and went head-first into a tree well. I turned hard to stay uphill of him and promptly started sinking into a well of my own. I unclipped my left foot and went to push backwards out of it and my foot poked through to open air underneath the boughs of the tree and snow. I was able to get both feet out of the buckles and swim out of the hole using the board as a giant snowshoe. I then sledded over to the other guy and helped dig him out. Fortunately, another boarder decided to follow out tracks into the trees and helped me dig the skiier out of the well. It wasn't easy and, to be honest, I really don't know if he could have gotten out by himself.
Earlier this season my wife and I headed to Mount Baker on opening day to enjoy the waist-deep powder. We're unfamilliar with the mountain and I inadvertently led us to a roped-off cliff area adjacent the mountain's toughest run, "The Chute". We asked a guy who was about to duck the rope and tackle the cliffs which was the easiest way down from there and he suggested The Chute. Both my wife, a timid intermediate skiier, and I were thankful that there was a way around the cliffs and although The Chute proved far too steep and narrow for her abilities (she slid down on her butt carrying her skis while I carried her poles) it was much better than the alternative. Last week a snowboarder opted for the alternative and died shortly after ducking the rope and suffering fatal head wounds.
People die in fatal car accidents every day yet it never makes me stop to consider my driving habits. But when a couple of guys die doing the same things I like to do and at the same places I like to do them... it produces a very uncomfortable feeling. I tend to think of myself as a cautious snowboarder, I stick to areas I know well when I'm alone, I always have a radio with me, and I wear a helmet, but still... one can't help but wonder.
Of course, the obvious difference here is that the guy at Mount Baker ducked a rope and headed into a notorious section of cliffs -- something I wouldn't ever do on purpose. And there seems to be conflicting reports that the guy who died today at Alpental was on a closed run. But still... sometimes it hits close to home and you can't help but wonder if you're really any different than the unlucky ones. I bet neither of those two guys thought for a second that they would die that day. Really makes you think about what you're doing.
Not enough to stop doing it, but enough to take stock of how I do it.
The following link is to a 3-minute video of Christmas lights set to music. It's very impressive, no doubt, but also slightly disturbing that someone would actually go through this much trouble and show such utter disregard for their neighbors.
Tis the Season... I think...
Last Saturday we completed the first of our weekly "lets do something Christmas-y" events. We went to Pacific Place mall in Seattle and watched the fake snow fall. Every night throughout December in this mall, fake snow falls from the rafters for 15 minutes. But it's actually a lot better than it sounds. The mall is 4 or 5 stories tall and is shaped like a "D" with a very tall empty-air section in the center. Machines near the ceiling spray a fine mist of bubbles (smaller than a pea) that fall slowly to the ground while being hit with spotlights and backed-up by loud Christmas music. Some of the bubbles fall slow and move around on the air currents from the ventilation system while others glom onto one another to form "big flakes" that fall faster.
While soap bubbles may not sound like an ideal imitation for snow, you can't tell that the snow is fake until until it lands on you. Only then can you tell that it's actually micro-sized soap bubbles. And yes, we did actually drive over several inches of the real stuff upon backing out of our driveway to go into the city that night to see the fake snow, but it was still very spirited and very cool. People everywhere stopped for 15 minutes and looked up at the falling snow and smiled, and laughed, and posed for photos. Children were running around catching it, and even some of the elder folk in the mall stopped and smiled and looked like kids again. If ever so briefly.
They then trampled said little kids en route to the Build-A-Bear store.
And I've been playing a lot of videogames too. I have a couple more to add to the growing list of games I completed during this recess from work. Work that includes playing and completing videogames. Yes, life is good. Very good.
Test Drive: Eve of Destruction - Xbox
This has to be considered one of 2005's best sleeper titles. It got zero pub, nobody was talking about it after it came out despite its $30 pricetag, and nobody is talking about it still. And I'll tell you right now, it's a damn fine game. The gameplay is all about demolition derby racing and as weird as this is to say, it's actually a pretty deep experience. The Career Mode is huge, complete with a country town to drive around (buy new cars at the salvage yard, upgrades at the autobody shop, race for money at any number of places) and your home -- a single-wide trailer, a couple of beaters in the dirt driveway, and a flock of chickens running around. The real action is out of town at the game's many raceway/arenas. There, players compete in dozens of different demolition racing events. All of which are available in 4 person multiplayer as well. From straight up racing to demolition derby to oval-track racing with boat trailers and school buses. You can even play soccer with the cars. And sprinkled throughout the experience is a collection of very funny, and very impressive clips of real cars and people partaking in these exact events. Combine all of this fun with some impressive graphics (480p) and a pleasantly surprising physics engine and you got one of the best games nobody has heard of this year.
Resident Evil 4 - Gamecube
In stark contrast to the game mentioned above, everyone knows about this game. And everybody knows how good it is. Likely to receive plenty of "Game of the Year" accolades, RE4 is not only the first game in the series that I completed (19 hours total gameplay), but it's the first one that I could stand to play for more than 30 minutes without breaking a controller. It may have taken them the better part of a decade, but Capcom finally got the camera and controls right. And boy did they! RE4 plays well, has compelling gameplay throughout its length and just looks and sounds fabulous. Definitely one of the best-looking games on any current-gen system. Also one of the funnest. While the story is complete nonsense, the game completely embraces its videogamey-ness and gives you a really fun time. It also has several unlockable bonus games, a great weapons selection, and an impressive lack of fetch quests. If you haven't played this game, you must. And now that it's out on the PS2 as well as the GC, there's no reason not to.
Why the 25-foot rule?
This clause is the vampire-like fangs on this toothy law. Take shopping malls for example. They've been smoke-free for a very long time. Most of them well over a decade. But whenever you left the mall, you'd walk head-first into a giant cloud of smoke. Why? Because all the smokers were congregating under the awning outside the doors. Now, thanks to this 25-foot rule, smokers can't do that. Sayonara toxic clouds!
Granted, there are areas like the historic Pioneer Square district in Seattle where there's a bar or storefront every thirty feet or so. Are smokers going to have to stand in the middle of the street to light up? Perhaps they'll have to go in the alley? My guess is we'll see them hang out in their cars a lot.
If I sound elated with this new law, it's because I am. Smokers have never minded being the reason so many people have to hang their clothes outside to "air out" after a night out, so I'm not going to miss their presence. That being said, it is kind of odd to witness what amounts to in my opinion as lawful, citizen-approved discrimination in a day and age when everyone is so overly sensitive to other people's feelings.
Oh welll... screw 'em! I've Febreezed my club clothes for the last time!
But regardless how you personally feel about this fashion faux-paus, it's worth reading. Here's an excerpt:
Baseball managers wear game uniforms. Basketball coaches wear business suits. Football coaches once wore suits, but now dress like golfers. Golfers dress the way tennis players used to, before they started dressing like basketball players, cocktail waitresses and Catwoman. Catwoman's outfit isn't sparkly enough for male figure skaters, and NASCAR drivers would probably wear figure skating costumes if a sponsor anted up enough dough. Athletes in every sport essentially wear numbered pajamas, which makes all of these fashion and jersey rules seem totally arbitrary.
Here's the link to the article.
In my money league with my friends in NJ, I slipped back into 5th place this week with a win over one of the lowly teams in the league. A couple of losses from some teams ahead of me, not the least of which was my wife Kristin who watched helplessly as her QB, Matt Hasselbeck was given half the night off last night on account of the route in Philly. So, the situation is thus: I need to win and score at least 18 more points than the guy who is currently in 4th place to leap-frog him. If he loses and I win, I'm in. But that's not likely since I'm playing the 3rd place team and he's playing the 10th place team that I just beat 71 to 42 this weekend. The first three spots in this playoff bracket have already been clinched, but a whole bunch of us are fighting for the 4th spot. Fortunately, two of us have a ton more points than the rest so tiebreakers favor me.
Things are a bit more complicated for me in my freebie league. And that's fine since there's no money at stake and I've only been half paying attention to it this year. In that league, I'm in 6th place, playing the 3rd place team. Only two spots have been clinched and although I have a worse record than those in 4th and 5th place, I have more points than most of them (go figure). It's not looking good though as the guy currently in 4th place is playing the worst team in the league and even if I win, two teams will still likely have better records than me.
Last year, in the money league, I ended up finishing in 5th place and cursed Trent Green's slow start as the reason for my missing the playoffs. Well, here I am one year later, and I'm once again cursing Trent Green's slow start. I really have to draft a different QB next year.
But then I got to thinking about my own workout regimen of late and how the mountain biking I did all year didn't help me lose any weight (I wouldn't mind losing 5 to 10 pounds, nothing serious). My legs certainly got stronger, but it was really my upper body that needed to tighten up. So I thought about the pushups I was doing nightly earlier this year. Nothing impressive, just about 30, sometimes 40 pushups at night before bed. Every now and then I would feel good and do them in the morning too. But then I skipped a day and lo and behold it's been months since I've done them.
And that's what gave me an idea. What if I did just 20 pushups every other hour all day long? It would only take about 15 seconds every 2 hours; I can do it anywhere; I don't need to change my clothes for fear of getting sweaty; and it will be over before I know it. Surely I can spare 15 seconds, right?
So, starting at 9am yesterday, I dropped and did 20 pushups. No problem. 11 o'clock came around and I repeated the process. And so on and so forth throughout the day. I skipped 7 o'clock by mistake because I was caught up in the excitement of watching the Seahawks completely embarrass the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, but I resumed the plan at 9pm and then did 30 for good measure prior to going to bed.
My total for Day One in my new 15-second workout plan was 150 pushups. After about 50 or so I started to feel a nice little tightening in my abs and my shoulders and chest and when I woke up this morning, my upper body was feeling a bit tighter than normal. Could the old-fashioned pushup really provide this much work to so many muscle groups? Could this be the miracle workout everyone seems so anxious to buy on television?
At 9am this morning, I dropped and did another 20 just like yesterday and although my arms and chest are feeling the effects of yesterday's efforts, it felt good to push through the soreness that was there. I'm not sure how much this will actually help, but I know that I usually tire at about 40 or 50 pushups if I try to do them all at once. If splitting them up throughout the day can get me to 150 or more, then that's what I'll do. Now I just need to ask a personal trainer if this "bite-size" approach will net a bigger benefit than just doing one set until I collapse on the ground. I tend to think it is.
One particular commercial stars footage from Project Gotham Racing 3 and players are playing online and asking one another where they're from. After a couple states and countries are mentioned, one decidedly British voice pipes in that he's from a place called "first place" and that the others aren't likely to ever see it. It's a very clever bit of polite trash talking and, when this bit of comaraderie is combined with the incredible graphics on display, it does a very good job of making the viewer want to buy an Xbox 360 right away. The commercial then fades to black and Microsoft's new tagline "Jump In" blips onto the screen.
As a longtime fan of the Project Gotham Racing series (I was touting it as my favorite racer back on the Dreamcast when it went by the preferred name of Metropolis Street Racer) I want the game tremendously and it alone is the reason, as of right now, that I want an Xbox 360. And therein lies the problem. I want an Xbox 360 but cannot have one. Microsoft wants me to Jump In, but apparently my vertical leap isn't what it used to be because I can't seem to find anybody willing to sell me one.
I went on a quest last Thursday. I figured that with it being 10 days since the launch of the Xbox 360 that if I went to all of the major stores in the area and was there, out front, when the doors opened, that perhaps I would find one. The fact that I was conducting this quest in Microsoft's backyard made my optimism seem that much more deserved.
7:00, Fred Meyer, Issaquah
I waited outside for the doors to open and when they did, I and one other guy rushed to the electronics department to see if they had gotten any in yet. It's been 10 days since the launch of the console and not only had they not received a single one since the launch, the manager I spoke with has gotten no word from Microsoft or anybody else about when new deliveries could be expected.
8:00, Target, Issaquah
A large crowd was waiting outside Target for it to open. Many of us were there for the Xbox 360, while several others were there waiting for the latest Matchbox Cars. Who knew? The doors open and several of us take off fast-walking through the store towards the electronics department at the rear of the store. I took the scenic route through the ladies underwear section (okay, it wasn't that scenic, it was Target after all) and arrived their first. Nothing. After some milling around in a disappointed stupor I found a manager and asked him. They hadn't received a single console since the launch and weren't expecting any before the New Year. Several customers begin gossipping about a purported quarrantine.
8:30, Best Buy, Bellevue
I stopped at the Best Buy where Bill Gates himself handed out some Xbox 360's just 10 days earlier, thinking they opened at 9 o'clock. A manager was outside smoking and informed me that the store didn't open till 10 o'clock and that they hadn't received any since the launch and didn't expect any at least until next week.
9:00, Toys R' Us, Bellevue
I battled downtown traffic and made it to the Toys R' Us in time for their opening. One other guy who used to work at Bungie was there also. He too mentioned rumors of a quarrantine but was hoping that this particular store would have some systems. The two of us race-walk stride for stride into the "R Zone" when the doors open and are instantly met with mockery by a butter-faced clerk behind the counter. They hadn't received any systems since the launch, so the manager who approaches says, and apparently 400,000 systems have been found to have faulty hard drives and are quarrantined. They told us there is the chance of getting one later that day when deliveries arrive, but they wouldn't count on it.
10:00, Circuit City, Bellevue
Last chance saloon. Nada. I couldn't find anyone who would give me a straight answer as to whether or not they had even gotten in any since the launch, but everyone I spoke with was in agreement that they'd be surprised if they received any before Christmas. I tried telling them that I used to be able to dunk a volleyball and that I wasn't going to re-sell it on Ebay, and that all I wanted to do was Jump In with the British guy who was in first place on the commercial, but they didn't care.
I know it's a long time before the Playstation 3 comes out next year (don't believe the Spring, 2006 nonsense; it will be September at the earliest) and that Microsoft has plenty of time to get a sizable installed user base for their Xbox 360, they are in the process of defeating their own purpose of launching the new system so early. After all, for every one person you hear saying how much fun their having with their Xbox 360, there are a half-dozen more like me who are growing exceedingly frustrated with Microsoft's inability to live up to their own self-generated hype.
As one person had written on a message board I frequent, this isn't about "overwhelming demand" it's more about "underwhelming supply".
Microsoft reportedly shipped roughly 400,000 systems to North America for the launch of their system and reports from several news sources are citing Ebay officials that over 40,000 Xbox 360's have so far been sold on Ebay with the average console fetching over $200 more than retail price. I didn't want one bad enough to forfeit my choice of games and accessories to Gamestop and Electronics Boutique, and I'm sure not going to pay some greedy Ebayer top dollar for one either.
And maybe I'm being naive and old-fashioned, but I shouldn't have to either. Microsoft has been talking about how important getting a head-start on Sony is in the next-gen console war, but here they are, apparently searching for a misplaced set of ignition keys.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Can you and all those like you please cease your idiotic attempts at hipness and hereby refrain from referring to snow as "pow pow". It makes you sound ignorant, makes your company look amateurish, and makes me embarrassed to be reading your website, let a lone pay good money to have a season pass at your resort. "Pow Pow" is so ridiculously stupid that Saturday Night Live actually had a skit with Jonny Mosely in which even he made fun of the phrase. And that was several years ago, during the 5 minutes at which time people knew who Jonny Mosely was.
I try really hard to avoid using profanity in my blog but checking your site for updates on the snow conditions is making it harder and harder for me to keep this PG rated. Help make the word a better place to live by making the Internet a safer place to read.
Just call it powder. It's good enough to not need your embellishment.
I know you're not asking for my opinion but you came to my blog willingly and at least once every couple months, you could expect for me to post something semi-political in nature, so here it is.
Everyone involved in this discussion should save their breath because the point is moot. Christmas may have the word "Christ" in it but aside from the order in which those first 6 letters are arranged, there is absolutely nothing religious about this holiday. They want to argue about whether or not a blue spruce is a "Holiday" tree or a "Christmas" tree. Hello? It's a friggin tree! It's no different than a pumpkin or a turkey -- it's a symbol. That's it. There's no meaning to the damn tree. It's decorative. Like a shamrock on St. Patrick's Day, only much bigger.
In my household, we don't celebrate Christmas because we were raised as Christians. We celebrate Christmas and say "Merry Christmas" to each other because it's tradition. The calendar says December 25th is Christmas Day and being that we were both raised in households that celebrated Christmas in lieue of some other religious holiday we to this day celebrate Christmas. And we proudly celebrate the tradition of setting up a tree and giving gifts to one another and decorating the house and dressing a little nicer because it's a fun tradition. Because that's what we do. To us, it has nothing to do with religion and hasn't for a very long time. And it needn't either.
There are a number of holidays with religious origins that involve exchanging gifts in December. It doesn't matter what they're called or which one you particularly subscribe to and acknowledge because, combined, they all give people a reason to partake in a shared experience. The reason people started saying "Season's Greetings" is because it's all about the season. It's about adding warmth to winter and about wrapping up the year on a good, kind, and generous note. That's what this season is about. It's not because stringing 8,250 lights on your roof is a uniquely Christian thing to do, or because ringing up $7,000 worth of credit card debt is a Christian thing to do: it's an American thing to do. Hell, I would guess that even the most casual of Christians out there would agree that these things have absolutely zero to do with Christ's birth.
But yet we all do them (some with more restraint and good taste than others) because it's tradition. And I will keep on celebrating Christmas as a totally secular holiday, no different in my eyes than Thanksgiving or Independence Day, because it' a tradition that is worth keeping. It's a shared experience. I love the look of the neighborhood this time of year. I like going shopping for people and seeing the snow fall and I like the smells of the season. These are things worth celebrating and embracing regardless your religion. So what does it matter whether people say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas"?
I'll tell you why it matters. Because while the majority of Americans fall under the umbrella known as Christianity, not all do. Personally, I don't wish strangers "Merry Christmas" because I have no way of knowing whether or not that person is a celebrator of the light-stringing, credit-card-swiping season. I say Happy Holidays to co-workers or store clerks or whomever because I respect their beliefs, whatever they may be. I know it's hard for a lot of Christians to believe -- especially the rare few who attend church more than twice a year -- but religion makes some people uncomfortable. And while I have no doubt that wishes of "Merry Christmas" are meant with no ill will, it is a sign that you're not respecting the chance that the other person may be of another faith, or simply someone who doesn't wish to celebrate any particular holiday. If you don't know for certain, don't say it. It's not about you being put-out and having to bend to the will of the secular minority, but rather you being a respectful human being and acknowledging the fact that not everyone is like you.
I do not consider myself Christian, but I take no offense to anyone who says "Merry Christmas" to me, so long as they know that I do celebrate the tradition of that particular holiday season. But if you don't know me, "Happy Holidays" is preferred. Why does it matter? It matters because one shouldn't presume that everyone is just like them. And to be perfectly honest, Christians aren't exactly making a great name for themselves these days. Assuming someone is a Christian can be seen as highly offensive. After all, how many Christians out there wouldn't be insulted if someone just assumed you were Jewish? Or Muslim?
Life, and the Holiday Season, is a lot easier if you just leave religion out of it.
But this year is different. The combined lack of fresh snowfall last week and my newly-developed penchant for being a powder snob forced Kristin and I to stare the turkey in the eye and cook dinner for ourselves. Last year was one of the worst snow-seasons on record in the northwest and we spent Thanksgiving at home then too. The two of us were in our new house, vegetating on the couch in front of the television with a buffet-style spread of snacks, cheeses, and dips positioned all around us. It was easy, relaxing, and fun. And probably disgusting to anyone who may have seen it. And we would have done it again if not for Paragraph 15 of Section E, Lines 5 through 12 in the Patriot Act requiring for all citizens to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving at least once every 5 years, for fear of deportation. And although there is a clause exempting families containing vegan head-of-household, we didn't qualify. So we cooked the turkey.
Like I said, something strange happened. I decided to welcome the idea of having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I actually got excited about it. I spent Monday night picking out recipes, and then most of Tuesday grocery shopping, at which time I bought enough food for a small army -- another requirement outlined in the Patriot Act. This rule was hand-drafted by the President himself, and is known by his initials as the G.W. Rule. You may have heard of it referred to as the Gluttonous Wallowers of America rule, in which all Americans are required to purchase at least 5 pounds of food for every one person attending their feast. Well, I obliged. Again, as nice as British Columbia is, I'd like to remain a citizen of this country.
And as the hours ticked by, I got ever-more excited. I spent most of Wednesday cleaning the house and cooking pumpkin soup, apple-cranberry pie (from scratch, beotch!), and my personal favorite, pumpkin pie. Then on Thursday, Kristin cooked the turkey while I made a really awesome cranberry, apple and sausage stuffing and, a deserty praline sweet potato casserole, and, well, you get the idea. We gorged on great food. And I was happy.
Later that night, while flipping through the newest issue of Seattle magazine, I had a revelation. This year we would spend Christmas at home for the first time in the 8 years that we've been married. We would decorate, we would have gifts under the tree, and not only that, but we would spend the entire month getting in the spirit. And I don't mean by shopping. While flipping through the magazine, I realized that there were dozens and dozens of very spirited plays and events and shows that we could attend to really enjoy the season. To make the most of it for the entire month. As corny as that sounds.
And, yes, we are going to do some shopping (starting today, as I refuse to acknowledge Christmas before December 1st) but we're also going to do something different each and every week to take advantage of what's out there. When I was a kid, we would go into Manhattan in December and see the Christmas sights. And although the trip was always a big tease -- going to Rockefeller Center and not ice skating, going to F.A.O. Shwartz and not getting a new toy, etc., etc., -- it was fun and helped make the season a little nicer. I want to recapture that feeling again. And so we will. But, fortunately, by not having to go to New York.
So each week I should be posting about something we did with a nod towards Christmas and I'll let you know whether or not it helped get me in the spirit, or if it just plain sucked. Being that everything I have in mind is at least partially reliant on other people, the chances of sucking are always a distinct possibility. But I'm keeping an open mind.
This is in response to an email I received from one of my friends last week. You see, I took a nasty fall while mountain biking a couple weeks ago and in all likelihood have a small microfracture in my knee cap. It hurt steadily for a week or so, but mostly only if I went running or if I banged it on something--which I try not to do, thank you for the advice. When telling my non-biking friends back in NJ about it, one of them asked when I was going to wake up and realize that I was 30 years old and stop doing things that get me hurt. He advised I take up "fat guy" sports like golf and softball like the rest of them.
I thought this was kind of funny and I replied by asking him a chicken and the egg type question. "Which came first, the fat or the softball?" At least I thought it was funny. But it also got me thinking about how different perceptions of age can be between groups of friends and, dare I say, regions of the country. The friends I grew up with (and would still do anything for) used to be incredibly active: running, surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, whatever. Now, aside from the rare surf session, they mostly get their exercise from weekly softball games and sunday night poker tourneys. And I often get the impression that they think of my biking and whatnot as excessive. Looking across my extended family, I can only think of one relative who I would consider active and that would be my my black-belt-wearing, marathon-running aunt. As for the rest of them, it's not because they're lazy but it's because the thought of exercise or sport just doesn't occur to them. It's not something that they think is normal for people their age.
What's so weird about this is that of all the people that I ride with here in the Seattle area, and of all the people I trained for triathlons with when I lived in North Carolina, I always was and still am among the youngest. And not nearly the fastest. Many of the people I struggle to keep up with are as many as sixteen years older than me. One in particular is pushing 60 and is lightning-quick on a mountain bike. Many of these folks think nothing of riding their bikes, or going on lengthy hikes or whatnot, at least several times a week. To many of them, the thought of not mashing pedals and hike-a-biking up over mountaintops several times a week is completely foreign. Working up a good sweat each day is as much a part of their daily ritual as brushing their teeth. In a rare example, I know of several who don't even own televisions and think of watching the tube as unusual as my relatives view endurance sports.
This is coming dangerously close to my theories behind the relative lack of team-worship in the Pacific Northwest compared to the Northeast, and since I'd like to still finish working on that article and save it for another day, I'll stop here. Hmmm... how do I wrap this up?
Of course, I don't for a second think one way to live is better. Healthier perhaps, but I won't say better. Everyone is different and everyday is different. Doing what makes you happy is a personal choice and, for me, it changes each day according to my mood. Sure, I get teased for not riding on Sundays during the NFL season, but I don't care because I am just as happy screaming myself hoarse at the Seahawks game as I am bombing down singletrack. And there are days -- albeit rarely -- when I wake up and decide that I would be happier laying on the couch all day watching movies than going for a ride. So I understand that sport and exercise isn't everything to all people.
But it is weird to see how different the mindset is within different groups of people. Especially two different groups of people who share the common link as all being friends of mine.
And, Jess, thanks for wondering where the blog updates were. Glad you're still reading...
When Nintendo unveiled their upcoming "Revolution" console earlier this year at the Tokyo Game Show, I wrote in this space that the uniqueness of the system (games are played with a wand-like remote control that is tracked in three-dimensional space) was a sign of them stepping out of the race and taking their own path to the finish line. My thoughts at the time were that they knew they couldn't compete with Microsoft and Sony in the horsepower division and would instead seek to corner a new division of gaming -- a division that they alone will invent, set the rules for, and be the only player. Now I'm convinced that not only is their new direction a wise decision, but one bore not simply out of a desire to innovate, but out of necessity.
The Revolution console, expected to release in the fall of 2006 is Nintendo's last chance to prove that they can remain a hardware manufacturer (handhelds excluded) and avoid following Sega down the road to third-party software publisher. And I don't think they will.
One of the most interesting facets at work in this discussion is that Nintendo has the most rabid fanbase of the three companies. While each company certainly has its devotees, none are more devoted than those who worship at the feet of Mario. They buy everything Nintendo creates: every sequel, every add-on, every thing. And yet, despite this loyal following, Nintendo is down to owning just 14% of the market. Call me stupid, but I don't think releasing a console that will alienate third-party software publishers and fly in the face of what the majority of gamers -- that other 86% -- enjoy is going to help them regain their edge.