Snowfall, Closed Trails, and Broken Linkages

Mount Baker Ski Resort received 80 inches of snow in the past three days. The less alpine-y Snoqualmie Pass ski area has received over 50 inches of snow in the past three days. Both areas expect up to 24 more inches of snow by tomorrow evening. In a word, this is awesome. Washington mountains are almost universally reporting base snow depths between 100 and 200 inches. Like I said, it's awesome. This is the good news.

Except when you start looking forward to the upcoming mountain biking season. I was coming off a several year mountain biking hiatus last spring and benefitted from the total lack of snow in the high country. It was my first year mountain biking in Washington and I had it good. Not only did the seasonally closed trails open several weeks early, but the alpine "big mountain" rides I came to really enjoy were free of snow by the end of May.

I've been talking with some locals who've been biking here for many years and many of our favorite rides are going to be completely snowed-in until late July, possibly the end of August. This will force us to ride the local, lower elevation trails more frequently. This is the bad news.

Of course, we must also have some ugly news, right? Here at Randomly Generated, I don't like to disappoint. Ugly news is in abundance. I've been getting antsy to get back on the bike lately, but I have a couple busted spokes in my rear wheel and a horribly shifting Shimano XT rear deraileur that, despite being almost brand new has already been serviced twice to no avail. It shifts like shit.

So I took it to a different shop than the one I usually go to and within moments learned that the previous shop installed a short-cage derailer when the bike obviously (to bike mechanics) needed a long-cage derailer. Oh, it gets better. I dropped off the bike last week to have them install a new derailer, a new chain, and to build me up a new rear wheel, as only the hub was still in good shape.

I went to pick up the bike today and layed out $300 for parts and labor. But that's not where this story goes from bad to ugly. They then pointed to a very nasty crack in the linkage that supports the rear suspension on my bike. Part of it is the fault of the design in that there is an incredible amount of pressure squeezing down on a relatively thin piece of aluminum, but part of it is my fault.

The bike is, in general terms, a "cross country racing" bike. It has 3" of travel in the front and rear and is made of lightweight carbon fibre. This bike is anything but burly. And that's what I wanted when I bought it last March because never did I imagine myself riding as aggressively as I now do. I didn't expect to actually ride the types of trails that I now crave and although I love the bike, it is indeed a bit more fragile than I should probably have. And then there is the fact that, in my mind, I'm always going to be the 165 lbs that I was when I was running track in college, but the truth is I'm actually 6 foot tall and 190 pounds. Having been the scrawny kid forever chased home from school, I'm not about to think of myself as a "big guy". And being that I do indeed bottom out the suspension from time to time, and tackle some rough terrain pretty quickly, I should have probably expected this. But I didn't.

The frame, fortunately, is under a lifetime warranty by Giant. Unfortunately, the frame did not break. The linkage did, and that is most likely not covered under warranty. To make matters worse, the only nearby shop that is still a Giant dealer is the shop that I hate dealing with the most -- the ones who installed the wrong derailer and installed a used chain when I purchased a new one. So now I have to have them order me the part and explain to them why I'm having another shop install it. I hate dealing with crap like that.

But not as much as I hate having an unrideable bike.

More DS Goodness Coming Our Way

The Nintendo DS has a couple of unique games coming to it in the spring. Games that are designed to make you smarter. That's right. Smarter. The games are Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes A Day and Big Brain Academy. While they may have the dumbest names, they've garnered rave reviews from around the world and will finally be washing up on US shores in April and May, respectively.

So what's so special about these games? Here's some info:

Based on the works of neuroscientist Professor Ryuta Kawashima, both games emphasize brain over brawn by presenting the user with a series of puzzles based on mathematics, analysis, and memorization, as well as ever-popular sudoku puzzles. The entire game is controlled via the touch screen and stylus, and a multiplayer mode allows would-be Einsteins to compete brain-to-brain.

I think this is a great thing for gamers. Not only because it helps provide examples to point to when battling those who spew forth their incessant "videogames corrupt the minds of the youth" rhetoric, but also because they can be played in just a couple of minutes at a time. That's a huge selling point for me. Heck, it's the reason why I still occasionally play Meteos and not Lumines, despite actually enjoying Lumines more. It just takes too damn long. The article over at Gamespot has some more info and a link to a video of one of games being played. Here's the link.

Cisco to Acquire Nintendo?

Yeah, right. Just as soon as I acquire my own Ferrari Enzo.

But, if you were to believe CNET, it's not entirely out of the question. Nintendo, not the Ferrari, mind you. Apparently Cisco is looking to throw around some big bucks and add to its recent acquisition of set-top maker, Scientific-Atlanta. Tivo and Nintendo are two of the big names being thrown around. Here's the link.

"A stretch? Not really. Microsoft, which is emerging as a key competitor to Cisco in the home entertainment market, is already in this market with the Xbox 360. Gaming has already proved to be a strong application for broadband, so it makes sense that Cisco would want to own a game device to help drive more traffic on its network. With its popular GameBoy product, Nintendo would also provide Cisco an entree into the mobile-handheld market."

I don't really see it happening. Nintendo has a warchest of money tucked away in Japan and they appear to be a company that is very much loyal to their country. Cisco may like picking fights with Microsoft, but they'll have to dillute the market with a 4th console if they really want to attack Microsoft in the gaming sector. Nintendo is not for sale.

Worth Every Penny

If you bothered to download the podcast I was on and listened for the full hour, you'll know what games I'm playing right now. For those with better things to do than listen to four geeks + one half-geek (that would be me) rattle on about videogames, I will tell you. Other than an occasional song or two with Guitar Hero, I have not touched anything but my Nintendo DS so far this month. Make that this year!

For starters, I've been playing Animal Crossing: Wild World, the Nintendo DS version of the popular neighborhood simulator, for lack of a better description. You know, I played this game for a while two years ago when it came out on the Gamecube and I have to tell you, I lost interest pretty quickly. But now that it's on a handheld, it's perfect! Whenever I find myself with 10 to 15 minutes to kill, I just grab the DS and fire it up. Animal Crossing is the perfect type of game for the a handheld in that it only really needs a few minutes of your time each day -- find money, buy new furniture, pay your mortgage, catch a couple fish... done -- and having it so easily accessible means I no longer have to hassle with turning on the Gamecube and the tv, and being parked somewhere. Now I can play it anywhere.

But Animal Crossing isn't the only DS game that's been occupying my time. I also recently picked up Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and I have to say that I really, really love this game. Not only is it pretty funny, but the controls are tight, it's a fun cross between platforming action and role-playing battles, and its battle system is surprisingly deep. The game isn't the perfect handheld game in that the save points can be pretty far apart at times, but having never played the Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga game (which is similar) I must say that I'm very happy with the purchase.

Of course, two games don't make a system. And although I was pretty harsh on the DS last year I'm really psyched to see me getting so much use out of it right now. And with a turn-based version of Age of Kings coming to the DS in two weeks, things are indeed looking up.

But aside from the miniscule Animal Crossing and Mario & Luigi gamecards, I haven't been playing anything outside of work in quite some time. And I don't mind one bit.

Total Sickness in NYC

Thanks to slomoking on the BBTC listserve for sending along this link. I can't help but post it. It's from a 2004 checkpoint race for bicycle couriers in Manhattan and it is completely nuts. A lot of people I know are scared to drive in Manhattan. Well, this will probably get them hyperventilating just watching it.

My brother just ended his brief foray into the world of the bicycle courier service in Denver & Boulder. His most harrowing run-in was with a pedestrian on a paved bicycle path. As crazy as my brother is, I bet he doesn't have anything on these guys (thank God).

Total insanity.

For Your Aural Pleasure

Last week I was given an opportunity to do two things that I really enjoy doing: talking and talking some more. That's right, I participated in a podcast. I was a guest on the "Colonel T" radio show along with three other people, one of whom is a friend of mine whose wedding I'll be attending next month. Anyway, the topic of the night was videogames and topics ranged from the surprising sales of the Nintendo DS to E3's so-called "booth babe ban" and, of course, the Xbox 360, games we're playing, and games we're looking forward to getting.

Colonel T's audio comes in loud and clear but the voices of the guests (including mine, shockingly) is a bit muted so be sure to turn the volume up.

You can download the radio show in mp3 form at Just right-click the link on the nav bar on the right and save it to your computer.

Fake Emails... Phew!

Steve Kelley, the columnist I discused earlier today, actually took the time to write me back today and confirmed what I had hoped for. That the emails in his column today were all fake. But he did say they were inspired by the many bizarre letters he received this week.

I don't doubt it.

Anyway, the fact hat he emailed me back on a Friday afternoon just several hours after I wrote him is pretty awesome. And just for that, I promise to not curse his name the next time he takes the literary lumber to one of my favorite players.

One Expensive Hot Dog

You know your city is hurting to finally win something of significance when a stadium hot dog is fetching over $7000 on Ebay.

I saw a $70 hamburger on the menu of a Las Vegas restaurant last fall and thought it was the biggest example of luxurious waste there could possibly be. This tops that by two orders of magnitude.

Thanks to Erik Alston for sending me this link: Hot Dog from the NFC Championship!

Steve Kelley, Comic Mastermind... And Why I Think He Might Not Be Kidding

Every morning, while the coffee is brewing, I flip open the Seattle Times to the sports section and immediately look to see what columnist Steve Kelley has to say. Most of the time, I read along nodding and shaking my head in agreement or disbelief. Occasionally, I flip to another page while cursing his jadedness in cruel and incomprehensible tongues. But seldom am I ever left dumbfounded.

Congratulations Steve, today I am completely confused. Today Steve's column was a collection of emails that he "received" since the city learned of the Seahawk's Super Bowl berth. These letters are included to showcase the utter lack of football knowledge of the city's newfound fans--people who only this week have decided to jump on the bandwagon. And let me just say that their ignorance knows no bounds.

Exhibit A:


I've often heard that the NFL is a socialists' society, with all that revenue-sharing and what-not, but I was appalled to hear during last Sunday's game that the league actually has a "Red Zone," and the "Red Zone" is a place all teams aspire to get to.

I was alive during the Cold War. I remember the Cuban missile crisis, and I ask you sir, how can this great country allow the Communists this foothold in our most popular sport?

— Roy from Chehalis

Not convinced, here's Exhibit B:

Mr. Kelley:

I am appalled by the comment made by that announcer Mr. Joe Buck during the telecast of Sunday's wonderful win over those fellows from Carolina. Mr. Buck referred to our pass catcher Joe Jurevicius as a "wide receiver." I don't believe there should be a place in society, not even sports, where a person's body type is mocked. Wide, skinny, what does it matter if he can catch the football?

— Molly, president

Positive Body Image, Inc., in Kirkland

In fact, go ahead and give yourself a reason to laugh yourself silly by reading them all right here.

You see, Seattle is not much of a sports town. At least not as much as it should be when you consider the population of the area. Sure, the city has two of the most fantastic sports venues in the known universe in Safeco Field and Qwest Field and the fans who attend games on a regular basis are indeed great fans. Anybody who's watched a recent Seahawks game on tv knows all about the "12th Man" on the Seahawks (my voice still hasn't entirely recovered from Sunday, by the way). But for the most part, this region has a general apathy towards professional, organized sports. And that's why as much as I want to believe that Mr. Kelley created all of those emails on his own for satire, a portion of me believes that they could be real. And I have some theories as to why.

For starters, Seattle is a young city and none of the professional sports teams pre-date 1967. In fact, this season is the Seahawks' 30th anniversary, and the Mariners are only a couple years their senior. And while the Sonics won the NBA Championship in 1979, no team in this city has won a championship since, excluding the WNBA Storm. So you have a lack of history. And when combined with a city that most people move to rather than away from you have a large portion of the population who feels no ties to the Seattle sports teams.

My theory for the general malaise towards professional sports in this city also places a lot of the blame on the individuality of the population. This is a place where people go out of their way to shun the status-quo and who look for ways to break away from the pack and go it alone. But that's not to say that this is an unathletic area. Quite the contrary. Individual sports rule the landscape up here in the Pacific Northwest. It's uncommon to meet someone who doesn't regularly participate in mountain climbing, kayaking, skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking and hiking. In other words, given the natural beauty of the surroundings, many people find it very unhealthy to spend your afternoon chearing for other athletes, when you yourself can be out there doing something active.

And then lastly, my final reason for thinking that the emails in that column might actually be legit, is that there is a very high nerd factor in this area of the country. This accounts for the non-transplants, and the non-individualists, and the non-athletic. Why do these other people fail to chear for the local pro sports? Because they have a grudge. And what do they have a grudge for? Because they were always picked last in gym class.

And they aren't about to forget.

Super Bowl Uniform Superstitions

There's a lot being made in the sports media this week about Pittsbugh's decision to wear their "road whites" in Super Bowl XL, despite them being designated the home team (NFL tradition is for the home team to wear dark uniforms to look more intimidating). The vast majority of the sports writers and analysts are saying that it's a great move for the Steelers because they've won the past 4 games they've played in those uniforms. Okay, that's fine. But the one counterpoint that I've yet to hear mention on any of the major sports shows is that this then forces the Seahawks to wear their dark blue uniforms. The uniforms in which they are 10-0 in this season!

Also, in keeping with the significance of the uniforms, I read a interesting factoid this morning in the paper regarding the quarterback jersey numbers: Quarterbacks wearing the number 8 in the Super Bowl are undefeated with a record of 5-0. Quarterbacks wearing the number 7 are 3-7. The Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck wears 8 and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger wears 7.

A Ticket to the NFC Championship

Yesterday was a special day. No, it was a super day. The NFC Championship had come to Seattle on the backs of an undefeated home record and the vocal chords of arguably the loudest NFL fans in America. In the team's 30th anniversary season, the Seattle Seahawks had finally ended their 21-year drought without a playoff win and brought the Conference Championship game into town. The only thing standing between them and the Super Bowl were the Carolina Panthers.

Kristin and I donned the same gameday apparel that we've worn to every game this season and left the house by 10am, nearly 6 hours before kickoff. We immediately headed to the whiskey bar at F.X. McRory's, just north of the stadium. To say this is a popular spot on gameday is an understatement. The pub measures about 70 feet across by about 80 feet deep and easily had over 400 people in it. Many reportedly waited outside for the place to open at 8am so they can lay claim to some of the tables and booths. Those lucky enough to get a table then sold the table to other guests when it was time to leave. The going rate? One round of drinks.

We weren't there early enough to get a table, but we found a great half-wall to lean against and were able to get in before they reached capacity. And so we stood. And drank. And chanted and yelled and made friends with other Seahawk fans. And watched the AFC Championship game on the television. And we drank some more. Ted Ferguson, the guy with the crash helmet who does the Bud Light "stunt" commercials came through with a camera crew and walked right by where we were standing, high-fiving everyone as he went. Yes, I high-fived Ted Ferguson, the Bud Light stuntman -- a man known for performing such acts of bravery as going shopping with his girlfriend, ignoring a table full of hot women while he was dining out with his girlfriend, and -- the most daring of all -- attempting to actually listen to his girlfriend about her day. The man is a legend.

At one point I worked my way over to the restroom and encountered a guy in a Carolina Panthers jacket on the way. And so some friendly trash talk was in order. "How did you get here without ending up in Mexico: don't all the cars in Charlotte only turn left?" He was a good sport and thought it was pretty funny. Original, at the least. I did too. I was proud of myself for having thought of it. Even moreso for not being one of the 60+ people in the hallway waiting to be allowed in. Good luck.

Eventually it was game time so we headed over to the stadium to get our customary hot dogs (always from Joe's) and kettle corn (always from The Dragon) from the vendors on the street before getting patted down on the way in. The Blackhawk helicopters that Kristin had seen earlier in the week flew overhead as the National Anthem was wrapping up (they had one of those nifty radar-jamming planes accompanying them which is definitely cool, albeit in a slightly uncomfortable way) and then it was time to raise the 12th Man Flag. This is a tradition at the start of all home games, where someone of local or Seahawks significance raises a flag with a giant #12 on it. The flag had been flying atop the Space Needle for the past week and Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen did the honors. It was a touching moment as he had never done it before and, if not for him, the team would have been moved to Los Angeles a decade ago. He saved the team and the fans are indeed appreciative. Also, watching a billionaire in a giant puffy winter coat flail about waving a towel and cheering is just plain cool.

The game was a rout. All week long we heard about how unstoppable Carolina's star wide receiver Steve Smith is (and he is damn good) but the Seahawks defense had an answer for everything and shut him down. The Panthers only managed a measly 6 yards of offense in the first quarter. A mere 56 total yards at halftime. Meanwhile, the Seahawks were unstoppable. They threw with precision, they ran with force, and Carolina could do little to keep them off the field. The Seahawks seemed to move the ball and score at will. The game ended with a final score of 34 to 14, and the Seahawks controlled the ball for nearly 42 minutes, compared to Carolina's scant 18 minutes of possession.

We cheared like we never had all season and my ears are still ringing from the noise of the crowd. Let me repeat that, my ears are still ringing. It was louder than a rock concert. And when the game ended and giant cannons launched confetti into the air, some made it all the way up to our seats, a third of the way up the upper deck and we managed to catch it. A free souvenier, if you will. This city needed this. Forever a geographical after-thought in professional sports, Seattle needed this more than any other city in the country. And tears of joy streamed down the cheaks of many in the crowd. I've only been a member of this community for four years but so desperately wanted this victory for this place that I love to call home.

With the NFC Championship Trophy awarded and the well-deserved speaches made, 70,000 people filed out of the stadium chanting Su-Per Bowl! Su-Per Bowl. Indeed, the Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl! Does that feel as weird to read as it does to write? It should. With a sore throat, ringing ears, and pulsing temples, we were carried off with the current of Seahawks fans to Pioneer Square, the city's nearby historic district. Car horns wailed, people chanted and screamed, and horse-mounted police looked on with approving smiles. We waited out the traffic at a nearby Italian restaurant and could hear the raucous noise through closed doors. When we left an hour later, it was as it was when we arrived. A party in the streets and everyone was invited.

The next two weeks will be spent listening to the pundits pre-annoint the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Super Bowl Champs and how the Seahawks aren't tough enough or nasty enough or experienced enough to win the game. They will say the same stuff they did all year long. They won't learn from the Carolina game. They'll forget what this team has accomplished, and they'll chalk the Seakaws presence in the Super Bowl up to a soft schedule and an overwhelming home field advantage. I won't argue the latter point.

And then, on February 5th, the Seahawks will once-again introduce themselves to the nation and will once again prove the so-called experts wrong. Pittsburgh is a good team that will be made to look poor. Because that's what these Seahawks do.

Nintendo's Inevitable Success and Failure

As usual, Nintendo-centric topics dominate most message boards and just as I was about to partake in another round of the endless battle against the forces of irrational fanboys, I remembered something I once read (and probably shouldn't repeat): Arguing online is like racing in the Special Olympics; even if you win, you're still retarded. And with that, I promptly closed Internet Explorer and picked up a pen. You remember pens, right? They're those things we used to use to sign checks. You do remember what a check is, right? Nevermind, I can see this is going nowhere. Let's just get down to it.

Nintendo surprised me in a big way last year. Going into 2005, I had a Nintendo DS handheld sitting on the shelf actively engaged in a dust-collecting showdown with my Gamecube. The release of the every-bit-as-good-as-you-hear Resident Evil 4 catapulted the Gamecube to the tops of my daily rotation while the DS languished in no man's land. Come spring, Sony released their tribute to all things converged, the PSP, and I immediately pronounced the pealing of the death bell for Nintendo's lock on the portable gaming market. After all, the PSP had everything: it had some good launch games, it could play movies and music, and a web browser was right around the corner.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the morgue. Sony decided to seemingly stop supporting the PSP as a games machine. The companies that were supporting it were releasing nothing but ports of dated Playstation 2 games, and the moronic decision to ship the PSP without the equivalent of a Right Analog Stick started to rear itself as being a debilitating, if not crippling, flaw in the system. Especially as more and more standard 3D action and platforming titles are released. Standard in every way except an ability to manipulate the camera. Add to that the fact the low-res (dimensionally) screen positively sucks for browsing the Internet and you've basically lost two of the biggest reasons to buy the system.

Meanwhile, Nintendo's dual-screen system starts to gain some traction with the release of Mario Kart DS and Meteos. And before long, a host of original titles are being released for the system and not only does the DS become a feasible platform, but it makes the purchase of a PSP seem like a giant mistake. By year's end the Nintendo DS becomes the system of choice for many of the same people -- like me -- who had given it up for dead earlier in the year. And to further elaborate on my mea culpa, I'll point out that I've purchased two console games since Thanksgiving and both have been for the DS. I haven't purchased a PSP title that I did not immediately return or trade in since June.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, this fun-filled story of the unrelenting underdog who overcomes the might and majesty of Sony's shiny new portable toy has no bearing whatsoever on how the next-generation consoles will fare. I commented recently on a message board that the Revolution will receive critical praise, but fail to help Nintendo regain any of their lost marketshare. I was immediately cast off as a hater and told to look at the success of the DS as a reason for the Revolution's inevitable success.

Let's be clear about what we're talking about here. We're talking about home entertainment consoles, not handheld portable gaming systems. Nintendo has always been extremely succesful in the portable side of the industry. And they likely always will. They pwn it, to put it in words the less literate of you may understand. But on the console side of things, they have been losing marketshare steadily since the days of the Super Nintendo system (early 1990's). That's going back three generations now. In other words, it's a historical trend that isn't easily reversed. Difficult in a two-competitor market, but all but impossible in a three-competitor market. Don't believe me? How's Sega fairing these days? Or Atari? Add to that the Nintendo sold fewer Gamecube systems (by a slim margin) than the new kid on the block, Microsoft, and you're looking at even more of an uphill road to climb.

In my opinion this is because, speaking in terms of the country I'm most comfortable with, Americans like the familiar. They like the standardized. Much to Nintendo's credit, they have always gone in their own direction. They were the first to go to 64 bits, the last to endorse CD-Roms and DVDs as a media choice, and the last to go online. They've also always believed in creating a unique controller for each of their systems. This is the most crucial point in my opinion. Sony's Dualshock controller that released for the original Playstation was a watershed moment in gaming as it was the first controller that seemingly did everything we would ever need. Sony refined it with the release of the Dualshock 2 for the PS2, as did Microsoft with the release of the Controller-S for the Xbox. Microsoft then refined it even further (and dare I say perfected it) with their version for the Xbox 360.

Nintendo, on the other hand, replaced the decidedly odd controller used with the N64 with their own Seuss-like version of Sony's Dualshock for the Gamecube. And while this controller works very, very well for most first-party games, it has proved limiting in third-party, multiplatform games. As an example, developers of the snowboarding game SSX3, one of the best-selling titles of this generation, went on the record stating that they had to remove nearly a third of the trickset for the Gamecube version on account of the controller. That's just one example, but there are sure to be others.

Now, with the Revolution, Nintendo is not only employing a different and slightly limiting controller, but they have gone in a totally different manner and are challenging the way games are played and the way humans interact with said game. Again, kudos to them. But whereas developers always had to make small allowances for Nintendo versions of their games in terms of the controls, now they may well have to make completely new games. This is of course a great thing for gamers if the third-party developers actually do it. But will they? All you need to do to answer that question is take a look at the shelves of any game store. How many Gamecube-exclusive third-party games do you see? Sure, there are the Capcom ones on account of the now-expired deal Nintendo and Capcom struck several years ago, but how many else? Not many.

Hold that thought.

So, gamers now have gone through two generations of console gaming in which the Nintendo-made console has suffered in terms of third-party support, whether it be because of business practices or funky controllers. And now, in round 3, Nintendo has saved their funkiest for last. Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft have seemingly perfected a standard controller for gaming. A controller that will likely be very, very easy for developers to design multi-platform games around -- not to mention the fact that the Xbox 360 controller also works on the PC. And these are controllers that the majority of us status-quo-loving Americans will embrace. In other words, Nintendo has further isolated themselves from the third-party publishers. Publishers with names like Activision, Konami, Square-Enix, Capcom, Electronic Arts, Sega, Namco, Take-Two, and others. You may have head of them.

So this gets back to the problems Nintendo will face with the Revolution. People know that the system will likely have a smaller catalog of games than the Xbox 360 and PS3. And as a result, gamers will be more reluctant to purchase the Nintendo console than ever. Either because of a fear of the unknown with regards to the mysterious remote-waving controller, or because they will make a choice to go where the third-party games go -- to Microsoft and Sony.

Unfortunately, this is all a self-fullfilling prophecy of doom and gloom. Third party publishers are reluctant to invest the tens of millions of dollars needed to make an original game for a Nintendo console because they are concerned about the limited installed userbase. And the user's are hesitant to invest in the console if it's going to lack in software. And while the Gamecube's userbase wasn't much less than the Xbox's, companies seem to understand the demographics of the Xbox owners better and are seemingly far more willing to take a chance on them.

The way I see it, the Revolution will be critically praised by the so-called gaming press (who apparently nursed on the Nintendo teet from birth), but will fail to steal marketshare from Sony and Microsoft. This is not the same as saying Nintendo is a failure. Nintendo may not need to regain a portion of the market to turn a profit. I don't know. What I do know, is that history is bound to repeat itself unless two or more of the following three things happen:
  1. The Revolution is launched at a price of $179 or less. The pricepoint in which Americans seem willing to take a chance on unproven technogadgets has risen since the last round of the console wars and the $399 price of the Xbox 360 and suspected $499 price of the PS3 helps Nintendo's cause. At $179 or less, many Americans will see it as "why not" purchase and get it for the sake of experimentation. Also, many of those with much tighter budgets will not be able to responsibly choose a console twice as expensive. Having a lower price point isn't enough, however, as a $99 Gamecube (with a free game or two) still wasn't enough in the last go through. They must also...
  2. Release more first-party games than ever before. And I'm not talking about a gaggle of sports games featuring Mario. The Revolution will likely lend itself to some very unique gameplay experiences. Take advantage of this opportunity to create new intellectual properties and expand that lovable universe of Nintendo mascots and creatures. But do make sure these games have substance. One of my biggest concerns about the Revolution's control system is that it is going to be another EyeToy and of little practical usage beyond playing mini-games. If Nintendo can release enough quality content (not one real Mario game every 4 years and a Zelda every 3 years) throughout the year then enough people will buy the Revolution and maybe, just maybe...
  3. The system gets the necessary third-party support it needs. Even if it means striking deals that you wouldn't normally even consider, third-party support is crucial. Especially if Nintendo still finds themselves unable to produce an adequate number of games throughout the year (and given their exceptional quality, I doubt they can), they must get the third-party companies to commit. I'll concede that this is the one area where the success of the Nintendo DS has surprised me and may prove relevant. Perhaps there are companies willing to experiment with something totally new and yearning to go in a different direction? I don't know, but whether there or aren't, Nintendo needs these other companies.

To say 2006 is going to be an interesting year in gaming is an understatement. and to put the success and failure of Nintendo's year at the feet of the Revolution would be grossly errant of me. This spring brings the long-awaited installment in the Legend of Zelda franchise, as well as several anticipated games for the DS. And I am glad to say that although I was forced to miss the previous two E3 Expo's on account of work (2004) and a wedding (2005) I can't wait to be there this year. And one of the things I look forward to doing most is spending some hands-on time with the Revolution and returning home to report to you, my readers. The 2 of you. And I'll say now, as one of those youngsters who grew up "playing Nintendo" I'll be happy to admit I was wrong again. I was totally wrong with respect to the DS and maybe I'll be wrong with the Revolution too. Time will tell.

Strategy Guides in PDF Form

Just wanted to post a link over to my publisher's website. BradyGames has made PDF versions of many of their most recent guidebooks available for purchase on their website. As you would guess, the e-version of the guide is at a reduced price and doesn't necessitate a trip to the store. You can download the full version for $9.99 on their website's bookstore page.

Here's the direct Link. Or just head to

Just Your Basic, Everyday Phone Conversation

The following is a transcript of your basic conversation between man and wife. Basic, that is, if you live in my house.

Phone rings... I pick up. I'm "D", she's "K".

D: Hello.
K: Hey, I just got your email so I thought it was a good time to call. You're not playing your game right?
D: No, I'm just finishing lunch. Wait. Holy shit, the sun is out! What day is it?
L: The 19th. Why?
D: I have not seen the sun in exactly one month. The rain started coming on December 19th, right? It's been an entire month without sun. 31 days.
K: Wow, what are you going to do celebrate.
D: I don't know. Maybe I'll go outside and frolick.
K: What the hell!
D: What's wrong?
K: There's giant military heicopters flying overhead, like the ones that flew over the Seahawks game last week.
D: Blackhawks? Are they the orange Coast Guard ones?
K: No, they're actually black this time.
D: That's not good. You don't want to be anywhere near those. Are they hovering in place?
K: No, they're just flying around.
D: Okay, well try to stay directly under them because their missiles and rockets have a horizontal trajectory. The safest place is right under them.
K: Okay, I'll keep that in mind. I'll try to stay under them.
D: Ohhhhh.... shit!
K: What's wrong?
D: The sun is out but it's raining. What the hell is with this weather?
K: It's a cruel joke.
D: This sucks. I'm going back to work. See you tonight. Love ya.
K: Love you too, see you tonight.


An Unfortunate Trend in Racing Games

I'm not necessarily a gear-head automobile fanatic, but when not working on a strategy guide I'm usually playing a racing game. I like racing against the clock as much as I like racing head-to-head, and I can get into a game that strives for simultion-quality presentation and controls as well as one that favors the outlandish. As long as it's fun, I don't care what it is. Cars, boats, hovercraft, tricycles, anything.

What I do mind, however, is developers who mistake unfair rules for increased difficulty. I've played several games lately where the hardest difficulty setting doesn't actually include increased driver intelligence, but rather ridiculously constraining sets of rules that only apply to the player. For example, in one recently-released game players can drift around the course to earn turbo boost. The final events in the game, however, forbid the use of turbo -- for the player. All of the other a.i.-controlled cars can use it though. There's nothing like tearing down the finishing stretch at top speed and watch helplessly as three cars boost right past you.

In another racing game that features lots of weaponry and destruction, the final event pits the player against an army of competitors in a two-lap race around a lengthy street course. The player not only is unable to use the handy "rewind" feature they've grown accustomed to, but the player is only given 1 life. Wreck the car and it's game over. Unfortunately, the competition has more lives than a cat and no matter how many times you destroy their rides, they respawn and keep coming at you. They just gradually whittle your armor down until stray spittle from a passersby's sneeze causes your car to explode into a million pieces.

This is just lazy game design.

Yes, these rules constraints are still winnable and they do indeed make it harder, but is the goal to challenge the player or frustrate him? Rules such as these place as much emphasis on getting lucky as they do being good. That's understandable at the early levels of a game when the player can't be expected to be that good yet, but at the end? The end of the game should be one about displaying your mastery against the developers' best and most sophisticated artificial-intelligence. And it should be hard and require perfection on the part of the player. That's what makes the eventual success such a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, when the developers opt for cheapness instead of excellence, that sense of triumph doesn't ever come. Instead, one of relief rules the day and rather than playing again and trying to win with a faster time or higher score or just with more style, the eject button is hit before the player can finish sighing and the game gets placed on the shelf alongside the other dust collectors.

Sure, the developers already have our $50 at this point in the process and likely don't care how long we play the game. But they will when we don't buy the sequel. They will indeed care.

More Fun With Altimeters

When Kristin first gave me my altimeter watch for Christmas, she bought me the Suunto S6. It's a skiing-specific watch designed to track how many runs you ski, your total elevation descent, and also measure slope angles and measure your rate of descent on certain terrain. It was great, but not really what I wanted since I spend most of my days in the outdoors riding cross-country mountain bike trails. Or trail running. When it comes to snowboarding, I care more about having fun and carving through the glades than I do about speed. So I exchanged it for the Suunto X6 model, which replaces the downhill-oriented skiing modes with cross country focused hiking/biking modes.

As luck would have it, the watch also knows how to automatically track a "run" as well and does much the same things as the other watch did.

So last night, after work, we headed up to Summit Central at Snoqualmie Pass to put it to the test. We counted 8 runs, all serviced via the same lift, and started the watch's logbook feature upon arrival.

Upon completion, the watch informed us that we did, in fact, take 8 runs and snowboarded a total of 7,910 feet of elevation. Each run had a descent of 989 feet according to the watch. Can the watch be trusted?

The Summit Central website reports their maximum vertical drop at 1,025 feet (granted this isn't much but for a local hill, it's cool) and since the longest lift wasn't open on account of a lack of lighting on that part of the mountain, we were on a slightly shorter lift. The upper portion of the moutain is very ridge-like and I would be willing to bet that there is no more than 35 feet or of difference in elevation between these lifts.

The watch works wonderfully. So, if you're in the market for an altimeter watch geared primarily for cross-country purposes, but would also like one that can automatically track the number of ski runs you take (or downhill runs on your long-travel mountain bike) and the total elevation you skiied/boarded, then the Suunto X6 is a fine choice.

Let's Go to the Videotape

Here's some pretty fun and interesting video links I've come across in the past week or so. And I think you'll find each of them to be pretty interesting.

1) Top Gear, an auto show on the BBC sets out to compare the Playstation 2's "Gran Turismo 4" version of the Laguna Seca to the real thing. Watch as the host of the show races an Acura NSX on the Playstation 2 and then heads to California to race the exact same car on the real-world course. Can he match his videogame time? I came across this one just browsing google video.

2) Fans of the game World of Warcraft have made tons of music videos and movies by recording their game footage and dubbing in voice-overs later. But this one titled "The Internet is For Porn" is absolutely hysterical. It's a musical, it's a duet, and the lyrics, singing, and sound effects are all top-notch. Probably not suitable for work, so put your headphones on. I came across this link browing youtube's site.

3) This one has gotten talked about a lot lately, but I have to credit Bill Harris for posting the link repeatedly on his blog, else I may have skipped over it. It's definitely one of the funniest comedy acts I've seen in a while. It's by an Aussie comedy trio called Tripod and the three of them sing a song about typical late night late romance... with a gamer.

4) And just in case you haven't seen it already or been emailed the link by all your friends, here's a link to "Lazy Sunday" the SNL rap video by Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg about their trip to see Chronicles of Narnia. And to buy cupcakes. Done in a very Beastie-esque fashion and one of the funniest SNL skits in years.

F.E.A.R. System Tests

I purchased the first-person shooter F.E.A.R. for the PC back in the early fall but resisted the temptation to install it on account of knowing that my previous computer wouldn't be able to do it justice. I knew a major hardware upgrade was in the near future, so I left it shelved and waited.

Now, armed with my new Dell XPS 600, the time has come to install it. Just so there's no confusion about what you're about to read, this is my unusual foray into the world of framerate tests and graphics settings. I ran the in-game test cinematic under 7 different configurations and will be using this article to discuss the results. Feel free to skip to the next post if PC gaming isn't your thing, as this will most likely bore you.

First things first, the pertinent computer specs:

  • Pentium D 840 (3.2GHz) w/Dual Core
  • Dual 256MB Geforce 6800 running via SLI
  • 250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive @7200 RPM
  • 16x DVD-ROM

I expected this system to absolutely be able to handle F.E.A.R. with all of its graphical bells and whistles going and at its maximum resolution of 1024x768 (which isn't much) but I was wrong. The following framerate results bear this out. All tests were conducted with the resolution set to 1024x768 and with the latest patch for the game installed.

Test 1: Forceware Drivers 77.74, Maximum Computer & Maximum Video Card Presets

Min - 25 fps
Avg - 34 fps
Max - 99 fps

0% <25 fps
56% 25-40 fps
44% >40 fps

Comment: To find that the average framerate was only 34 fps was kind of disappointing. After seeing this my goal became to find the maximum detail allowed while maintain an average framerate above 50 fps.

Test 2: Forceware Drivers 81.98, Maximum Computer & Maximum Video Card Presets

Min - 16 fps
Avg - 37 fps
Max - 110 fps

11% <25 fps
49% 25-40 fps
40% >40 fps

Comment: This really kind of surprised me. I installed the newest Forceware drivers and ran the second test and although the average came up a small bit, the minimum framerate not only lowered, but became more dominant. This was obviously going to require some fiddling.

Test 3: Forceware Drivers 81.98, Sound, Corpse Detail, Particle Bouncing all lowered to Medium. Video Card Preset remains at Maximum.

Min - 17 fps
Avg - 38 fps
Max - 109 fps

9% <25 fps
43% 25-40 fps
48% >40 fps

Comment: A slight improvement, but leads me to believe that the video cards, not the computer, are the limiting factor.

Test 4: Forceware Drivers 81.98, Computer Preset to Maximum, Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing reduced from 4x to 2x.

Min - 19 fps
Avg - 51 fps
Max - 127 fps

9% <25 fps
29% 25-40 fps
62% >40 fps

Comment: Now were getting somewhere. There's still too many frames coming in below 25 fps, but this is getting closer to acceptable. The goal now is to get at least 70% of frames above 40 fps.

Test 5: Forceware Drivers 81.98, Sound, Corpse Detail, Particle Bouncing all lowered to Medium. Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing reduced from 4x to 2x.

Min - 19fps
Avg - 51 fps
Max - 127 fps

5% <25 fps
33% 25-40 fps
62% >40 fps

Comment: This confirms my earlier thought that the computer specs were plenty capable of running at the Maximum Preset setting and that it was the FSAA that the culprit. Time to find out what the auto-detect settings yield.

Test 6: Forceware Drivers 81.98, Auto-Detect Settings yield Maximum Computer Preset & High Video Card Preset.

Min - 23 fps
Avg - 63 fps
Max - 152 fps

1% <25 fps
23% 25-40 fps
76% >40 fps

Comment: These are obviously satisfactory framerate results, but image quality has taken a dive due to Anisotropic Texture Filtering being reduced from 16x to 4x and Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing turned off. A balance must be found.

Test 7: Forceware Drivers 81.98, Computer Preset to Maximum, Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing lowered from 4x to 2x, Anisotropic Texture Filtering lowered from 16x to 8x.

Min - 20 fps
Avg - 52 fps
Max - 128 fps

7% <25 fps
23% 25-40 fps
70% >40 fps

Comment: These settings allowed the game to run at a satisfactory framerate for offline single-player gaming and still permitted the game's incredible eye candy to show. Nevertheless, it's still a bit disappointing that framerate dips on this order are so prevalent on such an expensive and capable machine. Is F.E.A.R. just ahead of its time, did I not go high-end enough? Or is the game or the latest Forceware driveers just not fully optimized yet?

The other night while at Fry's I purchased Dungeon Siege II to play on the new system as well. I was a big fan of the original Dungeon Siege, despite its simplified levelling system. Anyway, while the game is nowhere near the graphical powerhouse that is F.E.A.R., it runs at a near-solid 60 fps with only momentary dips to 42 fps. I'm scared to see how Elder Scrolls: Oblivion will run.

Too Much Snow? Who Knew?

Well, the streak of consecutive days of rainfall for Seattle came to an end yesterday. The rain began back on December 19th and lasted until January 14th and although some days only featured a scant tenth of an inch or so of rain, the total for the 27-day period was 13.22" of rain. More than a third of the annual average for this area in under a month's worth of time. And while Seattle residents like to point out that New York City and other big east coast locales average more rainfall per year than the Emerald City, such trivial details seem rather meaningless when it rains everyday.

While the resulting floods, landslides, and sinkholes were unfortunate, this massive amount of precipitation also had an adverse -- and completely unexpected -- affect on one of the local ski resorts. Last week, Mount Baker Ski Resort received 113 inches of snow in a 6 day period. That's over 9 feet of snow in less than a week! I can't help but envision what it would be like to get on a chairlift and literally be several feet below the snow surface--they'd need to dig a trench for the chairs to slip through!

But because of the tremendous avalanche risk, they were forced to close the mountain on Thursday. Most ski resorts out here spend much of the morning blasting away avalanches, but the operations at Mount Baker proved so overwhelming and the conditions so dangerous that they had to not only close the mountain down for the weekend, but they can't reopen the lifts until Wednesday.

Never have I considered the possibility of a ski resort getting too much snow and after the miserable drought we had last year, it seems like this is some sort of twisted joke being played on us by Mother Nature. The resorts lost a lot of money last year due to the lack of snow and now Mount Baker has to stay closed for nearly a week -- over a holiday weekend no less -- because of too much snow. That's just weird.

And as for the dry spell that hit the area, it barely lasted 24hrs. We woke this morning to more heavy rain and the local mountain passes are closed on account of heavy snowfall.

Anyway, the Mount Baker website has an interesting article on the hazards associate with riding in deep snow and the dangers of tree wells. Check it out right here.

Whose Honeymoon Is It Anyway (part 2 of 2)

As promised late last week, here's the lengthy conclusion to my article about attending a friend's wedding in Hawaii. I began writing this article in the summer of 2005 after returning from the trip, but did not finish it until this weekend. I hope you enjoy it.

We strolled past dozens of weddings during our few days in Lahaina, each of which took place just feet from the main footpath that linked the numerous resort pools, bars, and luaus. I may be a bit cynical, but there is a right way to get married in Maui and a wrong way. Sure, these couples were technically living out the romantic notion of getting hitched on a tropical beach, but you can’t help but wonder if their dream included thousands of passersby talking over their minister? Or people in too little swimwear for their girth frolicking in the background of their wedding photos? Or, my personal favorite, stray water-fire from children’s squirt guns! Like most everything else in Lahaina -- don’t get me started on the luaus -- these weddings were done with an eye towards maximizing the hotel’s profits and not towards creating any sense of romance. Rush them to their ten-by-ten spot on the beach, say a few quick words, snap a photo for mom and dad, and kiss the bride. Next!

Fortunately, our friends knew better than to leave their life’s most memorable day in the hands of some faceless multi-national. Instead, for no small fee, they contracted the services of a wedding specialist who not only recommended several secluded beaches to have the wedding, but also allowed them to choose from a number of traditional Hawaiian ministers to perform the ceremony. They also provided a selection of photographers and musicians. Indeed, they did it right. And although the minister was a little late in making the cross-island trip to the sandy cove near the edge of the basalt fields that Lou and Kathleen selected, the wedding ceremony was as perfect as it was beautiful. Standing there as one of the two witnesses and listening to the soft guitar music and the blowing of the conch and watching the exchanging of leis in front of the setting sun, it really made me wonder how on earth I agreed to get married in a church back in Jersey. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I probably would have joined the onlookers in shedding a tear had I not have kept myself laughing on the inside about the fact that the minister had the same name as my dog Kimo. He said it means “James” in Hawaiian, but it’s more fun to think it means “dog” in English.

With the ceremonies concluded, the photos taken, and a king’s ransom delivered to the players, we dropped a cooler on the beach and enjoyed the remainder of the sunset through the light brown glass bottles of a Silver Bullet six pack. We spent a lot of time together in the previous few days, but before we went our separate ways and allowed the newlyweds to get on with the getting it on, we drove back to Lahaina and dined at one of the island’s best restaurants, Pacific’O. This scrumptious feast of sashimi and ahi was the generous gift from man and wife, as a thank you to the four of us for making the journey to Hawaii. As if we needed to be thanked.

Now this is where attending a destination wedding can get a little tricky for the guests: The honeymoon. We’ve come all this way and aren’t ready to leave, yet surely the bride and groom need their privacy, right? We thought so, so on the morning after the wedding my wife, Kristin, and I hopped a plane over to Kauai and drove up to Hanalei on the north side of the island. We rented a small studio apartment a mile from where civilization ends and the Na Pali Coast begins. After sightseeing on the south side of the island near Poipu and Lihue, we followed the lone highway counterclockwise to its northern terminus. The drive was anything but uneventful as nightfall coincided with the heaviest downpour I had ever witnessed – and I’ve experienced several hurricanes living in North Carolina, mind you. The last several miles of highway were extremely sinuous, had no streetlights, and frequent one-lane bridge crossings. With visibility down to the front bumper of the car, it was no surprise to us that someone slipped off one of the bridges and literally impaled their van on a 2x4 wooden guardrail. But alas we found our little rental unit and set to preparing for the next phase of our trip while sipping some Kona coffee and listening to an Israel Kamakawiwo’ole disc a previous guest left behind. Indeed, Maui’s crowds and in-your-face brand of tourism had exhausted our spirits and we were in dire need of a vacation from our vacation.

The rain came all night and came hard and both Kristin and I laid awake throughout the wee hours of the morning worrying about the soggy mess the next 48 hours promised to become. We had one of the precious backcountry permits needed to hike the world famous Kalalau Trail, and we had our backpacking gear with us, but we were quickly losing our motivation. As luck would have it – or so we thought – the rain gave way to sunshine and at six o’clock the next morning, we left our wedding attire and rental car behind and started hiking down the street to the trailhead.

The Kalalau Trail is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest hikes. Its 11 miles stretch from Ke’e Lagoon through the rugged Na Pali Coast (home of Blue Lagoon and Jurassic Park) to the remote Kalalau Beach. The trail rises and falls for a cumulative elevation gain of roughly 5,000 feet and leads hikers on a harrowing journey under the equatorial sun across narrow ledges and through raging streams. All of this taking place just several miles from the rainiest spot on Earth. The typical itinerary for hikers is to hike the first 6 miles of the trail, camp for the night, and finish the remaining 5 miles the next day. They then relax at Kalalau Beach for one or two days and hike back out the day their permit expires.

Our itinerary on the other hand, as unanimously described by all we spoke to, was one of pure madness. We would hike the full 11 miles in, camp for the night, and hike back out the next day. In hindsight, our rush to cram everything in during a limited amount of time was a mistake. The trail and conditions proved to be far more difficult than anything I had ever experienced and although the legions of butterflies and views of the fluted emerald cliffs and crashing waves of the Pacific coaxed us ever-onward, the day devolved into a death march. We each drank over 180 ounces of water, waded through waist-high streams, and yet still dreamed of a deluge that never came. Our feet blistered, our skin burnt, and our minds grew ever-more twisted and conflicted by the beauty around us and the feelings of despair within. And just as we were reaching our most weary state, the trail turns lethal and a single misstep could cost you your life. Watching helplessly as Kristin stepped across gaps in the trail, clinging to the side of a ledge hundreds of feet above the ocean, was almost too much for me to handle.

But I did. And we did make it to the wondrous Kalalau Beach after 8 hours of nonstop hiking. And I literally shed a tear that it was over. I’ve run 50 kilometers in a snowstorm; I’ve raced a marathon in Death Valley; and I’ve ridden my mountain bike over 80 miles in the Carolina summer, and none of it was as grueling as these 11 miles of trail. And yes, we did make it to the end of the trail in a single day. And we did enjoy the magnificent view and the sensation of bathing under a towering tropical waterfall. And knowing that nobody could pay their way to this moment and place was a large part of the reward. But now we had to get back and the only option was to dress our blistered feet, shoulder our loads, and hike out come morning. Or so we thought.

Word spread amongst our fellow trail-battered brethren that the hippies living on the beach were willing to shuttle you back to Hanalei in their zodiac, provided you kept it under wraps and didn’t report them to the rangers (for-profit activities in the Na Pali Coast is strictly forbidden). This was our out. So, when morning came, I approached the small hippie encampment and casually broached the topic to the one guy who was awake (unfortunately not the sexy brunette doing tai chi in the nude the previous night). He lowered his voice and told me that he charged $150 per person. Clearly he knows he has a captive, desperate audience and that he is their only hope for a safe and pain-free return to comfort. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to shell out that kind of money for something I knew I’d regret anyway. I whittled him down to $175 for the two of us and he told us that he had one couple already waiting for him and for us to wait in the trees and be ready in 2 hours. Deal.

On the way back to the tent my relief turned to anger with each step. Was I really going to quit that easily? Sure, our feet were blistered, and we were exhausted, and yes we were a bit scared of the trail’s precipitous edges, but we could make it. Kristin felt the same change of emotions wash over her and before we were even done packing up our tent, our minds were made up that we were going to hike out. And aside from some briefly-horrifying gusts of winds that blew in while we were negotiating the trail’s most dangerous section, it wasn’t as bad as we feared. It was cloudier on the second day and it rained a couple of times on us, but I attribute much of our quickened pace to the promise of unlimited sake and sashimi that awaited us. That was the carrot on our stick and we raced our hearts out for it.

We bid goodbye to Hanalei the next day and returned to Lihue to spend the final night on the islands with our honeymooning friends. I was hesitant to intrude on their special time but had cleared one last meal out together with them months in advance. The four of us spent much of the day relaxing poolside and reflecting on the previous week and the good fortune that befell us in order to share this experience with one another. At night we headed south to Poipu for one final incredible meal at Plantation House where we somehow managed to spend enough money to have had the entire Brady Bunch family take the hippie-cruise off of Kalalau. Or so it seemed at the time.

Come morning the two couples boarded separate planes and Lou and I returned to our opposite coasts. There is no telling when we would get to surf together again, or when our wives would ever go for a manicure together, or do whatever it is they did that day of the wedding while we surfed, but I know that for one reason or another I alone in our group of friends got to be there to witness his special day. And while my good-fortune came with an odd sense of not deserving the honor that I felt given his closer ties to the guys who remain back east, I was indeed proud to have been there and to have my name on the wedding certificate. I’m also glad to know that a friend getting married in an exotic location isn’t necessarily an un-invite to join them. The prohibitive cost of attending such an event may preclude them from asking you to come along, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go. Sometimes inviting yourself isn’t rude or imposing, but rather an opportunity to expand the memories. Just make sure your wallet is ready in case they say yes.

Whose Honeymoon Is It Anyway (part 1 of 2)

I wrote the following last summer after a trip to Maui and Kauai for a friend's wedding. Being that we're about to go to another destination wedding for another one of my longtime friends, I thought I'd finally make this public. Part 2 will be posted on Monday.

I was paddling my rented 7’6” surfboard up and over the shoulder of one of the day’s smaller waves to my spot to the left of the lineup -- straight offshore from the lone volleyball net I eyed to mark the takeoff above the reef -- when a major dose of perspective hit me. I was on the island of Maui, riding perfectly shaped, four-foot tall, azure summer walls as they lumbered their way across the Pacific to the western side of the island, and I was with one of my best friends on his wedding day. I’ve known Lou since we were both freshmen in high school. We were on the same relay teams during the winter track and field season; we lived together out of my 1982 Toyota Celica for a summer while flipping cheesesteaks at the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk in New Jersey; we share the same tight-knit group of friends; and he was one of the groomsmen in my wedding seven years ago. Despite it all, however, I would not have joined him that day in Lahaina had gasoline prices back when we were 17 years old been what they are today.

“There’s no way we would have ever learned to surf,” Lou agreed. He hadn’t ever thought about it before either, but once the thought came there was no drowning it out. We sat there in silence, straddling our mass-production, epoxy vehicles 80 yards off the coast of Maui’s most over-developed strip of real estate, both of us thinking about the past 12 years and what we would have missed while waiting for another set to roll in.

A lot of guys our age either have friends from work, or old college buddies they keep in touch with, but it seems that few keep in close contact with their high school friends, let alone regard themselves as a brotherhood of sorts. We owe a lot of that to surfing. Or, more specifically, to a guy with a really dirty garage. Five of us ran a lawn mowing business in the summers during high school and, for a little extra dough we’d even do some odd jobs around your house. Cheap too. An older fellow who lived a couple of blocks over from me hired us to clean out his garage; he hadn’t been able to park his car in it for years. I don’t remember actually cleaning the garage, but I do remember the moment we first saw the two vintage surfboards hanging in the rafters high above the floor. The boards predated us by at least a decade, were in horrible shape -- cracks in the glassing, water stains everywhere, and quite a bit of exposed foam -- but we somehow renegotiated the surfboards as part of our cleaning fee. Either that or we stole them; like I said, I don’t remember all the details.

Regardless of how ill-gotten our gains may or may not have been, owning those surfboards changed us forever. We practiced “popping-up” in the lunchroom at school. We checked out books on surfing from the library. And we used every spare piece of duct tape we could find to get those boards rideable. By summer’s end, we had each purchased used wetsuits and were making the forty-mile trip to Manasquan Inlet several times a week. We always drove together, piled up to 5 people in a car, pooled money, and still would arrive home running on vapors, with nary a nickel to throw at the toll collectors on the Garden State Parkway. Gasoline was about $1.05 a gallon, then. Oh God, I’m only twenty-nine and I’m already talking about how much cheaper things were in my youth. Snap out of it, Doug!

Each morning in Maui we contemplated heading south of town to get away from the hotels and throngs of tourists for the opportunity to paddle out at one of the numerous roadside beach parks that line Route 30. Perhaps it was the not-so-subtle “Haole Go Home” bumper stickers plastered on many of the oversized trucks in the parking lots, or maybe it was the combination of excess alcohol and scarcity of sleep, but each day we relented and just simply walked a quarter mile or so along the paved footpath in front of the resorts and paddled out. There were no locals within sight here and most every other person in the water was on a solid-foam sponger borrowed from the Gilligan-esque, faux Hawaiian activities shack near their hotel pool. After a few waves it was pretty clear that we were the only ones in the water who had ever surfed before. We set up at the peak and essentially took every wave we wanted. They were breaking to the left and both Lou and I are goofy-footed so it was perfect.

“You dropped in on me, you bastard.” I was grinning ear to ear and Lou knew I was joking with him. I swerved to avoid his board and kept on surfing right behind him. We both had a good laugh about it and ended up sharing more than a few waves that day. Normally the competition for a wave is pretty fierce and the unwritten laws of surfing etiquette mandate only one rider per wave, but we were surfing in Hawaii and it was his wedding day. It was hard to believe we were actually there. Back on the mainland, we live on opposite coasts and haven’t hung out on a regular basis in nearly 10 years. But surfing is like that. It has a way of bonding people who might otherwise separate with time and distance. Sure, in terms of wave size and power, we were as far from Oahu’s hallowed North Shore as Seattle is from New York City, but we were in Hawaii.

The tide eventually came in and forced us out of the water. We had wanted to also get in some hiking or kayaking that day, but after four hours of surfing, the only thing on our mind was food. While his bride-to-be and the three other women in our group were spending the day preening for the big moment, we were partaking in the Hawaiian staple, the mixed plate. The mixed plate isn’t terribly different from the barbecue combo plates you can get at the mom and pop eateries in the south. You select one or two types of meat or fish, make room for a couple scoops of rice, and select an extra accompaniment such as macaroni salad or poi. Poi is something that everyone who visits the islands needs to try once. Fortunately, I completed that dastardly ritual on a previous trip and felt no shame in ordering up the macaroni salad to ride shotgun on my plate of coconut prawns. Sure, poi may look like blueberry yogurt, but that doesn’t keep it from tasting like wallpaper paste. Yep, poi and prawn-flavored pork rinds are two Hawaiian tastes that I think are best left to the natives. Everything else is golden.

A brief afternoon rain shower blew in while I toasted Lou’s impending wedding with a celebratory shot of tequila. Planning a late afternoon wedding on Hawaii is always a bit risky on account of the frequent squalls that keep the islands so lush, but this particular rain cloud vacated as smoothly as the Don Julio did from our glasses. We settled the tab and after a quick man-hug and momentary glance at the surfside rainbow off the restaurant deck, we were off. The time had come to get showered and dressed and to make an honest man out of a good friend.

I'm Back

Phew! I totally forgot what my username and password were for this blog and I couldn't update until I remembered them. And apparently I gave them some weird email address when I initially signed up and Blogspot couldn't email me the info. Anyway, I'm back.

A recap of the previous couple days in stream-of-consciousness mode:

My new computer totally rocks.
Kristin's parents flew out to visit us over the weekend and we had a great time.
I'm totally busy with work this week. Finally.
We're in the midst of our 25th straight rainy day.
We booked our airline tickets for a trip back to Costa Rica in April.
I'm hungry.

Forever Waiting

My new computer is due to arrive today via UPS. UPS comes to my house often, as its the shipping service my publisher uses. I know that they never come before 3pm and usually not until 4:30.

And yet I continue to look out the window every 10 minutes anyway. All day. Every 10 minutes.

Nobody has ever accused me of being a patient person. I'm the type of person who, when younger, would wait with their jacket on for friends to come and pick them up. And then, if those friends were late, I would not only repeatedly run to the window to see if they were coming, but I would occasionally start walking in the direction of their house. Even if it was 3 miles away. And, no, I didn't grow up in the 40's and those walks weren't uphill both ways. I would do that in the early 90's. Back when nobody walked anywhere.

Except me.

Good thing it's pouring outside and I have work to do, else I'd be walking...

(runs to window at sound of an engine... nope, just the neighbor backing out of their garage)

... where was I? Oh yeah, good thing it's raining and I'm busy or else I'd be walking to the UPS facility. Wherever it is.

Xbox and Health Care: Diabetes Tool?

As much as I love learning about great new videogames coming down the pipe, I find it even more enjoyable to read about newfound uses for videogame consoles. The following article is from today's Seattle Times. Naturally.

At the University of Washington, Dr. Harold Goldberg has just received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to bring together academic and business leaders to develop computer "environments" for home-based co-management of chronic diseases.

The twist: They'll be looking at using multiple types of hardware, including Nintendo's GameCubes and Microsoft's Smartphones, along with teen "alpha testers" to see if these popular devices can provide useful platforms for establishing regular interaction between patients and their health-care providers.

"It occurred to us that we need to move beyond the PC alone, to include the game systems with televisions and cellphones that young people prefer," Goldberg said.

Click here for the link.

New Year's Eve at the EMP

One of my favorite bars in Seattle is the Liquid Lounge at the Experience Music Project (EMP). I'm not necessarily a conoisseur of bars, but I really like this one. It never has a cover charge despite almost always having a live band playing (or at least a radio station broadcasting live), the bartenders are very friendly, and there's always a very diverse assortment of people to watch. Tourists, local punkers and goths, soccer moms, office drones, and everyone in between will feel at home there, young or old. So when I learned that the EMP's entire building -- museum, bar, restaurant, and Sky Church concert area -- was being reserved for a New Year's Eve party, I was pretty excited. Normally, Kristin and I just get together with another couple for New Year's and hang out at home all low-key and everything. But said friend, who works with Kristin, doesn't know how to talk about anything other than how much she hates her job. So this year I was intent on finding us an out.

Did I mention that New Year's Eve was also Kristin's 30th birthday?

I was intent on making a very special night of it for her. We boarded the dogs, reserved a room at the Crowne Plaza hotel, and got our tickets for the party and we're set. Or were we?

It seems yours truly made the classic mistake of forgetting to make reservations for dinner. I'm not sure how I could be so dumb, but I blame at least part of it on the fact that 99% of the restaurants in Seattle don't accept reservations. It's a very laid back kind of place and restaurant reservations don't fit that flow. Except on December 31st.

So, while Kristin was dropping the dogs off at "puppy camp" I started calling around. I went down the list of all the places I know we like or places we wanted to try. Nothing. They're booked solid. So I Google my way over to a site called and start calling random restaurants that sound good. Zilch. This site has five pages of links and my random sampling wasn't getting me anywhere. It was time to start at the top and go alphabetically. And the finally, I get to a Mediterranean place called Brasa that had a little "editor's pick" logo next to it.

Me: Hello, I know it's unlikely, but do you have a table for 2 available tonight for 6pm?
Host: We have an opening at 5:30, can you come earlier?
Me: Can we split the difference and make it for 5:45?
Host: Yes, we can but it's just that we have to have the table back by 7:30 for other reservations.
Me: That won't be a problem, we'll take our plates to the bar if we have to.

Kristin arrived home just as I was done high-fiving myself for not making her dine on street-side hotdogs on her special day and the two of us got dressed. Kristin bought an incredible-looking outfit while we were in Las Vegas in October and was finally going to wear it. Me? I had some silver pants and a black shirt with silver thread in it. Definitely New Year's type of dress. I'm seldom seen in clothing not made of fleece or denim or anything with sleeves for that matter, so here's some photos.

The birthday girl.

Dinner was great. We ended up getting there early despite my haggling for a later reservation and our meals were excellent. Kristin had a paella and I had a pistachio-crusted rack of lamb in a pomegranate sauce. I got a little nervous when I realized that I booked us a reservation at a Mediterranean restaurant, as I'm still nailing down exactly what types of shellfish I have an allergic reaction to, but fortunately there were one or two options that didn't come with mussels and clams and whatnot. So after the dinner and a nice bottle of Beaujolais and some insanely-good mascarpone cheesecake, we retired to the bar for a cocktail then hitched a cab over to the EMP.

The party at EMP was awesome. Tickets started at $45 and went up $10 in price for every 100 sold. Fortunately we got them when they were still low because there were easily 1200 people there by the end of the night. I hadn't been to the music museum in about 5 years and it was cool to walk through the exhibits with Kristin who'd never been there, nor knew much about the musicians featured. The museum also offered a nice place to retreat to when you needed some fresh air or free bottled water.

The main floor of EMP.

Liquid Lounge starting to get crowded.

The Liquid Lounge was packed as usual, but for good reason. There was an incredible R&B band (I forgot their name and the party website isn't working) playing off-and-on for nearly 4 hours straight. And definitely more on than off. These guys were playing great and the area that serves as a dancefloor pretty much puts you right on the platform stage with them. The singer and bassist would often wander through the crowd and flirt with the ladies. At one point the singer took look at what Kristin had on, turned to me and said, "boy, you're in trouble tonight". It was pretty funny, but she did look awesome. Speaking of dress, there was a little bit of everything there. Some wore jeans and nice tops, others wore nightclub attire, and some even ballgowns and tuxedos on. In a place as informal as Seattle, it was really nice to see so many people dressed up.

The singer from the R&B band.

Somebody dancing with the bassist.

Over on the main stage in the Sky Church theatre, the night started a little slow with a burlesque troupe called the "Atomic Bombshells". They looked good and their routines were cute, but it just seemed so dated. I know that's the point of a burlesque show, but still... with everything that can be seen on tv and the internet these days -- or just on top of any random bar in any college town in this country -- women in granny-panties and pasties just seems a bit old fashioned. And the unnamed cover-band that came on after them weren't much better.

Fortunately, before long it was 11:00 and the party's headliner, local band Presidents of the United States of America (PUSA) took the stage and the place really got hopping. I'm not a huge fan of this particular band because I really never took them serious enough to actually buy one of their albums but after seeing them live, I can tell you that they were a lot of fun. Their songs are a bit odd and playful, but they really know how to have a fun time (without resorting to the cheesy antics of most "entertainers") and I actually knew more of their songs than I thought. It turned out that a lot of songs that I thought were either by Weezer or Cake were actually PUSA songs. My mistake, it won't happen again.

The Presidents take the stage.

More PUSA.


The band counted us down to the New Year and when the clock struck 12, everybody went nuts. The EMP building is located directly below the Space Needle, site of Seattle's big fireworks show and because of the wind and our location, we weren't allowed out on the patio to watch the fireworks. But we did watch them through some windows near the doors and through a skylight in the roof that perfectly frames the Space Needle.

Happy New Year everybody!

The party started winding down around 1am and by 1:30 we were on our way back to the hotel. Rather than wait in line for a cab, we decided to walk and try and hail one on the way. Famous last words. We ended up walking over a mile (Kristin in heels) and never seeing a cab that wasn't already full until we were right in front of the hotel. Figures.

Time to take this little lady home.

But we did get to stop and buy some street-side hotdogs on the way to the hotel. Not out of necessity, I''m pleased to say.

Belated New Year's Post

The story of New Year's Eve is coming very shortly. The reason it has taken this long is because the batteries in my camera had died and I hadn't been able to get the photos off of it. Fortunately, last night I remembered that I had a battery charger and now, with freshly charged batteries, I can put this post together.

It's coming soon.

Too Much Information

Is there ever such thing as too much information? Or should I say too much data?

I'll know shortly.

It seems that I have dived headfirst into the world of athletic data accumulation on account of my new Suunto X6 altimeter watch. When running track in college, I never timed myself on a distance run. I was an excellent judge of pace (and still am, although the pace is much slower these days) and never really cared what my time for one of our daily 9 mile runs was. Later on in life, when training for triathlons and marathons, I started obsessing over the watch. I blamed it on the whole "tri-geek" phenomena. But even then, I refused to train with a heart rate monitor (despite my coach's urging) as I was still very capable of listening to my body and interpreting its signs.

And now it comes to this. I went for a brief run last night with my newly-calibrated toy -- a run of only about 3.25 miles or so -- and I can not only tell you what my time for the run was, but I can tell you my total ascent, descent, as well as my average ascent and descent rates for the loop. I can also scroll through the watch's graph at 10 second intervals and tell you that at exactly 4 minutes and 10 seconds into my run, I was running up a hill at a rate of 68 ft/min (ascent rate, not distance).

And the funny part is that I was only using the watch's more basic "chrono" feature. There's another mode that also stores weather info and allows for the user to mark points in the log and later download the elevation profile to the PC. I'll save that feature for lengthy mountain bike rides. For now, I just want to know how long it takes me to run my little local routes.

And my total ascent, the time at which I reached the highest point of the run, the ascent rate, cumulative elevation gain, etc., etc...

Come to think of it, I'm really glad I didn't get a GPS system instead.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I started running again a few weeks ago after taking several years off. My little neighborhood gallop last night took 21:25, contained 190 feet of elevation gain, and involved mildly gusty winds and freezing rain. I've always loved running in foul weather.

And the Neys Have It

The Seattle Times recently ran an article discussing the twenty stories that were most clicked-on by readers of their website. With all that happened this year, you'd be forgiven for thinking the most popular stories were about Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami aftermath, elections, or even the Iraqi war, Harriet Mires, or (God help us!) that blonde chick who went missing in Aruba. But you'd be woefully mistaken.

A man having sex with a horse won the race by about 8 lengths.

Not only did the story of a Washingtonian having sex with a horse lay claim to the winner's circle, but related stories also finished 3rd, 6th, 14th, and 19th as well. And you can bet that had any of those stories included photos, this guy would have won the trifecta! And, truth be told, each of these stories could have been accompanied by photos, being that the guy had hundreds of hours of videotape showing himself and others mounting their steeds.

The irony in this story is that the only reason the story came to light was because the horse finally took back the stable and apparently delivered one hell of a kick to the guy's midsection, effectively perforating his colon. Don't ask how the horse was able to harm his colon, because I have no idea and am pretty sure I don't want to know.

I'm glad to see that several of the stories I linked to on this blog made the top 20 -- don't worry, I'm not delusional enough to think my smattering of readers influenced the results -- but my favorite story of the year was one that came out before I started this blog. It's a great story about a local Quizno's sandwich shop whose owner went AWOL and how the band of employees struggled for weeks to keep it open despite not having any supplies or food. Or ability to pay themselves for their efforts. This story came in at number 7.

Here's the link to the entire top 20. I recommend reading #7 and #12. Unless of course you want to read about animal sex, in which case most of the other stories will get you home.

Read on and enjoy!

Return of the Underpants Gnomes

So I'm putting Kristin's e-machine computer back together when she requests the following.

"Can you do me a favor and keep your eyes peeled for a stack of my underwear. I washed and dryed them and folded them and I have no idea where they went. I can't find them anywhere."

Clearly, the South Parkian Underpants Gnomes have resurfaced in western Washington. Be on the lookout! They're extremely short, they are armed with pointy shin-poking caps, and they smell heavily of Bounce fabric softener. If spotted, do not approach the subject. I repeat, do not approach the subject. Instead, call your local Maytag repairman who will be more than willing to help.

Dude, I'm Getting a Dell!

And that concludes my 2006 homage to tired outdated advertising slogans. I will make it my mission to refrain from repeating such phrases for the remainder of the year. Or at least the rest of this post.

Like I was saying, I'm getting a Dell. As I wrote about in the previous article, my PC has been in a state of decline for a number of months (it's a nearly 3.5 years old Sony Vaio) and it appears that the Y2K Bug finally caught up with it, as I came home from our New Year's Eve night in the city yesterday to find my computer unresponsive and near-dead.

Unfortunately, time and current end-of-year finances aren't about to allow me the luxury of building my own custom PC this time around like I was hoping to (with help from a friend who actually knows how to do such a thing) and I had to call Dell. I've been reading good things about their new high-end XPS gaming machines on the various message boards and figured that I would give them a shot. Here's what I have coming later this week.

  • Pentium D Processor 840 w/Dual Core 3.20 GHz
  • 2GB DDR2 SDRAM at 533 MHz
  • Dual PCI Express x16 256MB nVidia GeForce 6800 graphics cards running w/SLI
  • 250 GB Serial ATA harddrive @7200 rpm
  • 160 GB Serial ATA harddrive @7200 rpm
  • 16x DVD-ROM Drive
  • 16x DVD+/-RW w/double-layer writing capability
  • 13 in 1 media card reader
  • Integrated 7.1 surround sound audio
  • Microsoft Windows XP 2005 Media Center Edition
  • Microsoft Office Basic

I basically started with their super-expensive $4,700 configuration and deleted the monitor and speakers and scaled back a few other options to get down to a more manageable price. I got 18 months of 0% interest out of them and they even bumped up the warranty from 1 to 3 years free of charge and took off about $200 worth of sales tax to help me squeeze this baby under the credit limit they ok'd me for.

With all of the video and photo editing I do on a near-daily basis for work, not to mention gaming, my off-the-shelf options were limited and I legitimately have to aim for the upper end of the consumer market. I would have loved to just let 'er rip with twin Geforce 7800's but that's almost a $500 upgrade from the two slightly smaller monsters that I did buy. Of course, all of this customizing was lost on my wife. She wasn't really sure what any of the parts of a PC do and why I would need (i.e. want) two video cards. Not only was I talking a foreign language to her, but I was doing a pretty bad job of it too. And then I came up with following explanation that seemed to work: My current computer has the equivalent of a Playstation 2 under the hood. The new one will have the equivalent of two Xbox 360's. Of course, we know that's not literally true but it's a damn good analogy that she was able to understand. Feel free to use it.

Now that I wrote about the new machine, I'm actually feeling better. Maybe this year won't suck after all? Who knows? Anyway, I'd write more about the new PC and my daily computing habits (i.e. my favorite porn sites) but it's dinner time and I want my baby back, baby back, baby back, baby back ribs. And barbecue sauce.

Okay, maybe I couldn't go the entire post...

2006: Is It Over Yet?

My did we have a great time on New Year's Eve (which I will post about shortly -- complete with photos) but since then this year is just getting worse and worse. It started with my computer having a fatal condition. It's been steadily declining in stability and performance for several months now, but the video card died last night and the hard drives are making the same sort of giant sucking sounds you heard emanating from the bullet wounds in the guys in Black Hawk Down. Add to that USB support that's spotty at best and an all-around general audio malaise and you end up with me in need of a new PC. Pronto.

But that was last night. This morning, I am awaken to the phone rining at the ungodly time of 8:30 am. I know those of you with small kids are rolling your eyes at this, but you'll understand a bit more after my post about New Year's. Anyway, it was my dentist's office wanting to know if I'd like to reschedule my 2 o'clock appointment for 11:30. Sure. I was supposed to get a crown on a tooth on my lower-right today, but one of the fillings from my youth popped out on Christmas Eve so that had to take precedent.

So, I'm sitting in the chair and the dentist comes in and says, "Happy New Year! Are you still drunk, cause God knows I am!" Welcome to my New Year: have a seat next to the dead PC or the stand-up comic with the drill. Actually, truth be told, he's an awesome dentist. A bit expensive -- especially for freelancers like me without employer-provided dental insurance -- but he travels to Nepal for 2-3 weeks a year and spends upwards of 12 hours a day doing pro-bono dentistry work for the Nepalese children. So, even though I always leave with a case of sticker shock, I know he uses some of that money to give back to the world community and not just to the local Porsche dealer. Not only that, but the Lama who runs the Buddhist temple he coordinates his trip with even came to Seattle and blessed his dental office. I wasn't there that day, but the assistant was telling me about the chanting and the incense and bells. Being a longtime wannabe Buddhist, I would have loved to have seen that.

So, now I'm home. It's almost dinner time, and I can almost feel my face again. I swiped the budget graphics card out of the hopped-up e-machine that my wife uses so I can at least limp along with my main computer and get all my photos and important files off it.

I was planning on having my friend Eric help me build a custom PC in March when I could afford it, but today's events rushed the timetable and I decided to give Dell a call. Details to follow.