Stylin' Hygyiene

It was bound to happen eventually. In a crusty-eyed daze after a long night of play, err, working I woke at 7:45 and stumbled into the bathroom and prepared to brush my teeth as I always do. While raising the brush to my mouth I noticed that the toothpaste was pure white. No blue. No green sparklies. No red stripe. Just white.

"Hmmm, that's odd." I thought to my self. With a mental shrug of the shoulders I began to brush my teeth.

And I realized instantly what I had done. That wasn't toothpaste. It was instead, Spiker. Spiker is the "hair glue" I use. It's essentially waterproof, extremely sticky, thick, and basically a bombproof version of Elmer's glue. I had more on my toothbrush -- and now in my mouth -- than I ever dare use of the stuff in my hair.

I quickly spat it out and began rinsing at a feverish rate and gargling with mouthwash, but the taste stuck. The taste of mucilage and hairspray combined.

Somebody has a case of the Mondays.

Opting Out?

Kristin had her annual review last week and in addition to a modest merit raise, she also received some additional stock options. Funny how the words "stock options" don't really have the same impact when you're working for a company whose shares are worth a measly ninety-two cents a piece.

Something tells me that house on the beach in Malibu isn't happening any time soon...

Drat Pack

Had a great mountain bike ride with Ellen at Tokul West on Friday and although I wan't planning on getting in another ride this weekend on account of work, I decided latch onto a group setting out to ride Kachess Ridge on Sunday morning. Kachess is one of my favorite trails: 5 mile dirt road warmup alongside a lake, then a 5 mile climb with about 2800 feet of elevation gain to the main trailhead. From there it's about 8 or 9 miles of technical cross-country singletrack with a couple of stream crossings and plenty of rocky switchbacks to keep you on your toes.

The only problem was that it was cold and rainy at the parking lot and, dammit, it's July! We wanted sun! So we threw a mutiny and, I having been the only one in the group to have ever ridden Kachess Ridge was able to convince the ride leader Brian that it was going to be freezing and miserable on the ridge and that we ought to head further east to the sunshine. After some debate about going to Taneum Ridge or Esmeralda Basin, we settled for Rat Pac. It wasn't too much further and had the benefit of being in Roslyn. Which meant we can get some food and beers in the little old mining town where "Northern Exposure" was filmed. Having never watched the show, this latter fact was lost on me, but I didn't mind staying closer to home.

I've heard pretty positive reviews about Rat Pac but have to say that I don't see what the attraction is. There's a lot of gravel road and double-track climbing to get to some blink-and-you-missed-it singletrack descents. The trails all pretty much just snaked down the hillside with big high bermy walls that you could ride up during the switchbacks and there were a few good whoops, but there really wasn't anything special about it. Many of the trails bore signs with black diamonds and yellow circles on them, alerting to you to the all-too sketch trail tech features that had been assembled with the leftover props from the Blair Witch Project. A couple guys rode one or two of the TTFs but for the most part we all just looked at them funny and figured they would fall apart if you even stood next to them.

The one good part about the ride was that the supposed "three mile road climb" was only 1.5 miles, which was good because the lone guy who knew the way had completely busted his chain and for various singlespeed-related reasons couldn't fix it after 40 minutes of trying. So he was pushing. And we were waiting. Afterwards we did hit up the Roslyn Brewery for a pint of their lager and then the Roslyn Cafe for an embarrasingly small pulled pork sandwich (tasty, but tiny).

We did have much better weather east of the mountains and the sun, temps, and light breeze made it feel like a beautiful early September afternoon. Which reminds me, Seahawks training camp started this weekend! Won't be long now!

Bold Statements

If ever there was an ultimate example to be had of how passive, politically correct, and ultimately noncommittal Seattle is, I think I found it.

I was in the restroom of Racha the other day, my favorite Thai restaurant a couple blocks from where Kristin works in the city and I saw the following scribbled on the wall above the urinal. Those of you who may be expecting to read about someone sucking or about calling someone for a good time or about someone's mother are in for a shock.

This is what Seattle bathroom graffiti now looks like.

"Lance is somewhat nifty"

That is what was written on the wall. Somebody took the time to write about a guy on the bathroom wall of a restaurant and all they could muster was that he was somewhat nifty. Welcome to Seattle, have a nice day.

I'm sure you will.

Is That By You?

Moms worry; it's what they do.

Ever since moving to North Carolina immediately after getting married, my mom would make a habit of calling us from her home in New Jersey "to make sure everything's all right" if there was anything concerning NC on the news. Tornados near the Tennessee border, forest fire outside of Charlotte, shark attack off Nag's Head? It didn't matter -- she'd call. And don't get me started on hurricane season.

So now we're out in Washington, and we've been here for four years. During that time, we've had a couple pretty bad storms, Mount St. Helens started acting up again, and there's been a number of forest fires and other newsworthy things. Fortunately, no earthquakes yet.

When a mother and daughter were killed while hiking two weeks ago, I knew it was only a matter of time before my mom would call to see if that's were we go hiking. It didn't help that the National Forest where the murders took place was the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest. And I live in the town of Snoqualmie, which unbeknownst to my mother has nothing to do with the forest, nor is anywhere near where the murders took pace.

So yesterday the phone rings:

"I was watching Geraldo (Seriously, i wish I was making this up) and he said that there were hikers killed in Snoqualmie."

I tell her no, and that what Geraldo may have said was that the hikers were killed in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, about 90 minutes from our house. And, in an attempt to put it in terms she can understand, I tell her forest is roughly the size of New Jersey and surely someone in NJ gets killed every day and there's no reason to worry.

"Ohhhh.... (she turns and yells to my step-father how big the forest is without taking the phone from her mouth -- ears continue to ring as I write this) but I don't like this isolation stuff you guys do. Is this where you go hiking and mountain biking. I don't want Kristin doing that where there are killers. Geraldo said another woman was murdered while hiking in Oregon."

I tell her that we go hiking and biking all over the state and that these women may have been killed by someone they knew, or perhaps by some psychopath sitting at the trailhead waiting for a victim to come along. That she only hears about it because it's rare and sensationalized -- really mom, Geraldo? I try explaining to her that the wilderness is a lot safer than towns and highways and blah, blah, blah, but I'm not really sure she believes me.

So I hung up the phone and started wondering just how big that National Forest is. Is it the size of NJ like I said?

Not exactly. NJ is roughly 5.6 million acres and the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie NF is 1.7 million acres. So I exaggerated a bit it turns out. The forest is bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island though by a considerably margin. So at least it's up there in size with the colonies.

Fun With Numbers

344 - pages of text written in the past 15 days.
88 - maps that I placed callouts on.
736 - screenshots actually used, over a thousand captured.

14 - days to finish the book I start tomorrow morning.

There's crunch time, then there's CRUNCH TIME. My annual weekend away with the guys can't get here soon enough. Funny, last year I remember going away almost every weekend in the summer. So much for all of that camping I thought we'd do this year...

Feels Like Flesh

"Thanks to watching those cinematics over and over, and a bit of insight
from Wikipedia, I think I came up with a pretty darn good Characters
chapter. Now maybe we’ll get some artwork to flesh it out. Literally."

The second I hit the send button and mailed off another chapter to my editor, I started wondering about that whole "flesh it out" phrase. I've always been sure of the usage of it, but lately it sounds like more and more people say "flush it out". It was really bugging me, as the last person I want to look like an illiterate dufus to is my editor.

So I Googled "flesh it out" and instantly saw that I wasn't the only one who wondered about this dillema. This article at provided plenty of insight. Well, actually the comments left by other readers did.

One was to a site that I had bookmarked last year but couldn't find in my ever-growing list of "Favorites". It's an invaluable tool for anyone who uses the english language.

Here's the link to a complete list of "Common Errors in English".

And if you're wondering, the correct usage is "flesh it out" as in adding meat to the bones of something. Flush it out is what hunting dogs do, not people looking to expand on an idea.

A Pocket Full of Storage

I never thought we'd reach a point in time when a USB keychain dongle could store 4 gigs worth of information and be had for as little as $80. I'm not going to get all old-fogey on you, but my first computer had a whopping 1 gig of hard drive space and was considered cutting edge in 1996. And cost thousands! I guess the only thing that's as astonishing as this is that we actually need 4 gigs worth of space.

We do, right?

Link to the deal at Dell's website, courtesy of

The Changing Seasons

No, this isn't another post about how damn hot it is in my office (although it's still pretty stifling in here), but rather about how we're one week from August, which means that the NFL preseason will be here before you know it. I don't get too excited about preseason NFL games because it's really just a big scam to bilk more money from season ticket holders (me!) by forcing mandatory purchase of the tickets. That being said, I have to admit the Mariners are making it hard to write off the baseball season just yet. I typically watch at least an inning or two of most every Mariners game during the season, but lately I've found myself looking forward to watching the games every day and flipping to the standings in the paper first thing every morning to see exactly how many games back they are in their division (I believe 3.5 games behind Oakland as of tonight).

Take yesterday's game for example. I put in about 16-18 hours yesterday at work but had the Yahoo StatTracker version of the game open in a small window on my desktop. The game against Boston, just based on watching a statistical play by play may have been one of the most exciting games in a long, long time. Multiple home runs, a couple of lead changes, an in-the-park home run, a blown save in the top of the 9th and a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th. All to give the Mariners an 8-7 victory and a series win over Boston. Nothing better than shutting up the front-running masses who chear for the visiting team. I hate those people.

But I digress... the Mariners are fun to watch again. The played a great game tonight and now have a three game winning streak going. And with the way Oakland and Texas are playing, the M's might just win the division. Yes, I'm conveniently ignoring the Angels whose pitching is positively on fire right now.

Anyway, as much fun as it is to be in the "pennant race" stage of summer, an email from Electronics Boutique with the following image has me already drooling about the fall.

I don't buy the Madden games. Period. I was always a Sega football fan and EA's exclusive license with the NFL killed my playing of football videogames. Yes, I can be pretty damn idealistic when I want to be. That said, there's nothing I love more than seeing my boy Shaun on the cover of the best-selling videogame franchise.


I give up.

88 Degrees... Whoo-hoo!

Break out the mukluks and hot cocoa grandma, it's getting downright chilly in here! The temperature in my office has officially dipped to 88 degrees as of 3am. It's finally getting bearable in here. And I really wish I wasn't still awake to know this.

Just got done with 5-straight hours of recording game footage for the next walkthrough chapter in the book I'm working on. Wanted to have started writing this chapter by midnight, but damn it took a long time! Granted, I had to play it several times to play-test different strategies, but still... I knew this was going to be a long section when I saw the dozen accompanying maps, but gawdam!

Good Times

The temperature in my office has fluctuated between 90 and 93 degrees today.

Last night, my office was still hovering around 92 degrees at midnight.

As bad as it is (and it's pretty bad) I can't help but imagine how bad it would be if my two LCD monitors were actually CRT monitors. My uncomfortable oven would feel more like a blast furnace with all the heat those things put out.

If not for a ton of work to do, I'd be lying spread eagle on the hardwood floor downstairs in the living room just like my dogs.

Elan Atias

Every summer has that one music artist that ends up defining the summer. Sometimes it's just a song or a particular style of sound, but no matter how many years pass, you always end up being reminded of that one summer whenever you hear it again.

This summer could be Elan Atias's.

If you don't know who he is, you're not alone. I'm not sure if he's getting much radio play, as I pretty much only listen to music on Yahoo's Launchcast service these days, but his new album "Together as One" is awesome. Atias is a reggae singer who, in my limited reggae knowledge, would best be described as a cross between Sean Paul and Bob Marley. Some songs display the mellodic harmony of Marley while others feature the faster, catchy beats of recent Sean Paul songs.

Check the above link for song samples. I recommend listening to "I Wanna Yell", "Do Right By You" and "Together as One" for the mellower side, then check out "Girl" which features the singer Assassin on it. It's a totally different sound, but catchy. And then for a total Marley flashback, check out "My Kingston Girl". Anyway, thanks to Launchcast, another album I may have never heard of is joining my cd collection.

How Console "Failures" Won

Yes, this is another gaming-related post. Sorry about the lack of mountain biking posts and other "random" topics, but I'm completely slammed with work right now, which means that other than walking the dogs I haven't left my desk in days and games sites are primarily all I look at online. Well, besides porn of course. Anyway...

There's a very interesting article at Next Generation about how past console failures were often attributed to them containing features the public wasn't quite ready for. The catch is that, the article argues, some of these features are now finding homes in current systems.

Read the story here.

Take the Words Out of My Mouth

WTF is not just a way to beat the net-nannies of the world anymore. Everybody's favorite acronym is taking on a new identity as it stands for Work Time Fun. As in the Japenese-y collection of mini-games for the Playstation Portable. Surprisingly, this game is actually headed to the US shores in September. Why am I surprised?

Just read the blurb...

D3 Publisher of America announced that it was importing Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation Portable minigame collection Baito Hell 2000 as WorkTimeFun, or WTF for short. Today the company pegged a shipping date for the game as well, saying it will go out to North American retailers on September 26.

WTF combines an array of more than 30 simple minigames that see players chopping wood, entering a burping contest, or performing other similarly random feats. By performing well, gamers earn money to purchase more games or other prizes. In addition to the single- and multiplayer modes (up to five can play), there are some utilities gamers can unlock to use the PSP as a calculator, a flash light, or a ramen timer.

Let's get this straight. I'm supposed to use my ultra-sleek PSP to play a game in which I chop wood and earn a ramen timer utility for the PSP? WTF is right.

Why .400 Is Impossible

With apologies to Joe Mauer and his wonderful .380 average, ain't nobody, no-how, no-way ever hitting .400 in the Major Leagues over a full season. And perhaps just as difficult is a team to maintain a .300 average through the season as a club. I realize that's getting a hit less than one-third of the time, but it's still not entirely possible.

For proof let's turn to the world of Fantasy Baseball, where there are only 12 teams vying for all of the league's best players and there are no real-world concerns like no-trade clauses and salaries and restrictions on free agents. Even with all of that going for us in Fantasy land, the team with the highest average in our league is batting, as a club, .298. As for me, despite having the league-leading Joe Mauer and several other top hitters, my club is averaging just .281 at the plate.

And despite all of this high-priced talent, would you believe that my team and the first-place team in our league combined for an embarrassing 3 for 45 at the plate tonight. The fact that two Fantasy teams could combine for a .067 average over the course of a day just goes to show exactly how hard hitting a Major League pitch really is. Everybody has a bad day now and then. But for 14 of the best players in the bigs, most of them All-Stars, combine for a 3 for 45 day?

That's just preposterous. Yet not that rare of an occurrence. And that's why someone hitting .400 in this day and age of specialty pitchers and over-sized bullpens will be one of the single greatest sports accomplishments in the modern era. More significant than Kobe's 81 points, more impressive than Shaun's 28 touchdowns, and an even bigger deal than the Red Sox finally winning a World Series. Hitting .400 is like seeing a unicorn dealing 5-card draw to Bigfoot while riding the back of the Loch Ness Monster.

Fun With Bill Collectors

Operator: Excuse me sir, but why were you late in mailing the payment this month?

Me: I'm not sure, but if I had to guess it was because we didn't have money to pay it on time.

Operator: Did you suffer any financial hardships?

Me: No. Unless you count us going to Europe and HARDLY wanting to give you our spending money before we left.

Operator: But the check has been mailed.

Me: Yep, Quicken tells me it has.

Operator: Would you like to cancel the check and pay by phone.

Me: No, I'd rather not. I'm not convinced you aren't a scam artist.

Operator: But...

Me: There's nothing you can tell me that will alleviate my fears of you trying to swindle me. I think we're done here.

Not that we get them often (seriously, we don't) but I don't know why people ge so irritated when a bill collector calls on the phone. It's not like they're difficult to deal with. They can even be fun to talk to at times. You just have to know what to say to them.

Dad 'N Me

From's summaries of the finalists for 2006's Independent Games Festival (thanks for the link, Chi).

From the title, you'd guess that Dad 'N Me was a charming interactive tale about a father's love for his child. That's exactly the kind of wholesome headline-grabber that this industry needs. Right? Sure. Except this is not that game. No, Dad 'N Me is all about beating up children on a playground.

I'm not kidding you. You're a purple wrecking machine, and your job is to smack the crap out of little weeble-wobble-shaped children using your head, hands, feet ... garbage cans, lawmowers, propane tanks ... even other children. At first you'll be filled with awe. And then, disgust. Then, right about the time you start kicking boyscouts onto the street in front of oncoming ambulances, you move past disgust and into respect. When you stumble onto a soccer field, you can not only beat up the players, you can kick the ball into the goal to score points for either team. Then you can kick the ball into children's faces. When you're done, you can kick the referee's ass. I'm not going to make any excuses for Dad 'N Me -- if you're not already deeply offended, hurry up and play it.

Want to give it a try: head right over here to play it.

IGN's Hiring... Hypocrites Everywhere Shout With Glee

IGN is hiring. Let's look at their requirements for the job, shall we?

PC/Console Editor

Duties: Editors are responsible for general day-to-day writing and publishing duties on the site, and are the voices of the channel they work for. Daily tasks include writing and publishing channel-specific content including but not limited to news, features, previews, and reviews, maintaining a database of important channel-related contacts, as well as traveling and reporting on industry-related events.

-Must be 18 years of age or older
-Outstanding writing skills
-At least two years writing experience at a Website or journalistic publication
-Extensive knowledge of PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, Wii, and Nintendo DS games
-Excellent verbal and social skills
-Experience with HTML
-Extensive knowledge of the gaming industry, including specific games, publishers and developers
-Love and acceptance of all videogame systems
-Winning attitude
-Experience with video recording, capturing or editing a plus
-Can work in the San Francisco Bay area

Now let's take a closer look.

That's some list of requirements. I can understand needing the person to be over 18 and be able to work in the San Francisco Bay Area, after all that's where the company is located. But all of this talk about writing skills, having a winning attitude, loving all game systems, and being quality-oriented... I can't help but wonder why new hirees have to be held to a higher standard than those already there.

Actually, let's have a challenge. Send me a link to a game review or preview on IGN that doesn't contain at least 6 typos and/or blatant grammatical errors; far too much sarcasm and condescension; nor takes pot shots at anything and everything and I'll give you a prize.

I'm not going to bother thinking up a prize though because the odds of you actually succeeding are virtually nil.

Valve Does it Again

It seems that the praise I heaped upon Prey for bringing new things to the stale first-person shooter genre is already reached its expiration date, courtesy of Valve.

Valve has always beeen known for being at the forefront of the FPS genre, if not for story and action, then for cool physics and gadgets like the Gravity Gun. Enter the Portal Gun.

Rather than try and explain it, just watch the video on this page. And yes, that is a trailer for a mini-game within a game.

Thoughts From Our Valencia Gaming Correspondent...

Thanks to Gamers With Jobs: Press Pass for posting about the new-and-improved market analysis from the DFC Intelligence group concerning Sony and their upcoming Playstation 3. Here's the link to their article and commentary.

At 600 euro, the PS3 would be more than 35% of the monthly household income of a family in Valencia. Combined with the 2000 euro for an HDTV that could take advantage of Blu-Ray and four games, the total cost could top 15% of a family yearly income. On a per person basis, that would be almost 40% of an adult Valencian’s average income. Consumers in much of Europe (and North America as well) simply aren’t ready for that type of expenditure and success for Sony will require that 1) they can keep the PlayStation 2 business alive and slow consumer adoption of new systems and 2) they can make the price more affordable.

I really don't care a whole lot about Valencia's economics and I already have the HDTV but I've said it once and I'll say it again, at $600 US, Sony better have something damn intriguing in their system. And that can't be the promise of higher-def Blu-Ray movies and a lipsticked version of the same ol' Gran Turismo we've been playing for years. At $600 you can't be just talking about a movie player and a game machine. You have to offer an experience wholly unique.

And between Microsoft's wonderful Xbox Live and Live Arcade service and Nintendo's upcoming service which will allow you to download and play any of the thousands of games previously released on their various consoles, Sony is on track to be nothing but a me-too also-ran in this next generation at $600 unless they have some very hefty cards up their sleeves. Drop the price to $450 (for the good version of the system, not the nutered one) and then the need to up the ante isn't as severe.

This is what I see going down: The gaming masses who might be willing to spend $600 for a PS3 aren't going to do so until a must-have game like Metal Gear Solid 4 comes out for it. The only problem is that there is no way in bloody hell that Konami will release that game if the installed user base isn't, say, at least 5 million strong in the US alone. And the longer it takes for Sony to sell that many consoles, the closer Konami gets to releasing their game on the Xbox 360. We've already heard about Rockstar bringing the next Grand Theft Auto to the X360, nothing is stopping Konami from doing the same. Except that whole Japenese companies sticking together thing. But just like Sony's marketshare, that's the other thing that's going to change in the coming years.

I'd like to say Microsoft just pulled off the biggest coupe in the industry since Sony did it to Nintendo 10 years ago, but it's not really a coupe if the reigning king throws himself off a bridge.

Link to the DFC Intelligence report.

Opportunity Cancelled

It was the start of my freshman year of high school and I was sitting in gym class, doing some stretching, and the gym teacher asked me if I was interested in going out for the cross country team. I told him that I didn't ski, but that I was hoping to run track.

He laughed, put his hand on my shoulder, and told me to meet him in his office at 2:30. By 2:35 I was the newest member of the Carteret High School boys cross country team. I wound up getting the MVP award that year, and if memory serves, every year thereafter till I graduated. But that September meeting did more than spawn a career, a whole lot more than that. My gym teacher, who we affectionately called "Shades" (his last name was Shadell), was also the head coach of the boys cross country team, as well as the spring track team. In addition to being my coach he went on to become arguably the most important mentor in my life. At a time when my world at home was falling to pieces, high school sports offered me an escape. And Shades filled a void when it came to advice, support, encouragement, and even discipline.

High school sports was good to me. I made some great friends -- some who I still keep in contact with on a very regular basis -- and even got a healthy scholarship to a school I would have never been able to afford otherwise. And thanks to that, I met my wife. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I owe almost everything I have, everyone I love, and all that I am to my experiences in high school sports. I learned more about success and failure and hard work and determination on the track team than I ever did in any classroom. Hell, I can't tell you the name of one teacher I had, but I can tell you I hopped a plane to attend a two-hour retirement party for good ol' Shades when I learned he was hanging up the whistle for good. That's how important he was to me, and how much I cherish the experience I had. It was my way of acknowledging all he did that he didn't have to do. It was a lot more than just telling me what my workout was for the day.

It's now 13 years since I graduated high school and my best friend and former teammate now has Shades' job. And I know for a fact that a big part of the reason he does it is because he knows just how important a good coach can be in the life of a young boy or girl. A lot of people think coaches are just teachers looking to earn some extra money, but there's much more to it than that. It's people who were fortunate to have a wonderful mentor of their own as a coach and who want to offer that same goodness to another generation.

So imagine how it feels to learn that the cross country and winter track teams are being cut from the school budget. There's no denying that we grew up in an economically depressed town. It's actually so bad that the state slashed the sales tax in the town to try and spur growth. But this hurts. Other towns in New Jersey adopted pay-to-play programs for their sports programs, but in Carteret it wasn't even an option. One day my friend is the happy coach of a team that nearly tripled in size last spring and now he's looking at two of the three seasons being erased from the calendar. And let's be honest, you can't succeed in spring track without cross country and winter track. Especially if you're a distance runner. No amount of self-dedication as a teenager can make up for organized practice and competition.

What kills me about this is that had I have been growing up in that town now, trying to live the life I did and become the man I became, I wouldn't be able to. I would have never made the friends I have; never had the mentor and father-figure I needed when my parents were divorcing; never went to the tremendous college I attended; and never met my wife. And the powers at be are going to say that they don't have the few thousand dollars in the budget it costs to run the team. People think sports is just something kids do after school. I'm here to say it's a lot more than that. And not just for the professional athletes, but for even those of us who just need something to care about. After all, you never know where it can take you. Those few thousand dollars aren't just to give kids something to do, it's money invested in the future of your children.

53,594 Dead

Zombies, that is.

Want to know why Dead Rising is one of my most anticipated X360 games this year? Well, I can sum it up by just posting the requirements for one of the game's fifty achievements -- "Defeat at least 53,594 zombies".

Sure, there's been zombie games before, but none that take place in a mall infested with them! And none that featured up to 1,000 zombies on the screen at one time, nor the ability to raid every one of the dozens upon dozens of stores and restaurants in the mall and use everything from parasols to hockey sticks as a weapon against the undead brain-cravers. Actually, an article I read revealed hundreds of items that can be used as a potential weapon in the game and almost as many different food items and pieces of clothing.

If you don't mind a little pixelated zombie gore, definitely check out this game trailer at Google Video: Link to the trailer.

The Safety Wasn't On

From today's Seattle Times:

Dallas Cowboys safety Keith Davis was recovering at a Dallas hospital after he was shot twice while driving along Interstate 635 early Sunday morning.

Police said Davis, 27, was driving at about 5 a.m. when a dark-colored vehicle with tinted windows pulled alongside his Chevrolet Impala and someone in that vehicle shot at him and his passenger several times.

Davis was struck in the back of the head and in his right thigh but was able to pull his car over to the side of the road, police said. His passenger's name was not released.

Davis is expected to have surgery. Police said he was in stable condition and his injuries are not considered life-threatening.

As Davis leaned forward in the hospital to touch the bullet in his thigh, he revealed a blood-stained pillow.

"My head has been leaking, but that's OK," he said. "I've got a big head and my braids still look good."

Curtis Stephens, Davis' agent, said his client will be going home in a day or two and added, "From my brief discussions with the doctors, Keith will be able to play football soon."

Dallas police spokesman Lt. Rick Watson said, "We are trying to develop why this happened."

Watson said while police are still working on a motive and suspects, they believe one possibility is that the incident was an attempted carjacking.

It's good to hear that he's going to be alright and will likely play this season.

But there are just too many puzzling aspects to this case that bother me. No, I don't care that he was out driving around at 5am. And I really don't echo his sentiments over his braids still looking good -- although it is nice that his head didn't "leak" into the weave. What I really want to know is why the hell is this guy driving a Chevy Impala? Have you seen those things? This guy makes, what, 10? 20? 30 times as much money as I do and I wouldn't be seen test-driving one. And even more mind-boggling is that somebody was trying to carjack the Impala? Never mind the professional football player driving the thing, but someone was willing to kill another human being over an Impala. I used to think killing someone for a pair of Air Jordans was as low as humanity can go, but this takes the cake.

A Chevy? Impala? Are you kidding me?

Holy Flyer Miles, Batman!

Just got a handle on my schedule for the remainder of the year and it includes no less than 5 trips to the east coast... and three of them take place in the same month!

  • Cleveland in early-August for my annual baseball trip with the boys.
  • North Carolina in mid-August for work.
  • New Jersey in late-August for a wedding.
  • North Carolina in September for work.
  • New Jersey in December for Christmas.

All I have is two words to describe this situation. It sucks. I was wondering how I was going to squeeze in a trip to see my brother in Boulder, Colorado sometime this fall, but with all of this going on I don't even know if that's possible anymore.

Snapshot in Time

My fantasy baseball team just moved into 6th place out of 12 which marks a high water mark for my career in this particular fantasy sport. I've been playing for three or four years now and it's a very competitive league consisting of the same guys I make my annual baseball trip with. There's plenty of wheeling and dealing going on, everyone always trying to get the upper hand and trash talk is the norm.

What better way to convey the attitude of the league than to present you with a list of the current team names. I say current because many of the guys in the league change their team names on an almost weekly basis.

1) Shoot Barbaro
2) LoDuca is a Bitch!
3) Buy Low/Sell High
4) Grenadian All-Star
5) Barehanded Grab
6) Advertise Here!
7) FukItUAllStillSuk!
8) The Happy Recap
9) Gangsters w/Hats
10) The Chicago Cubs
11) Fred the Frowner
12) H-Town

There's a maximum score of 120 points in our 5x5 rotisserie league and the current range, as of this moment is 99.5 on down to 23.5. I'm holding a slightly above-average mark of 64 points.

My current lineup is a far cry from my one following the draft back in March. Conspicuously absent is Mr. 250-mil. Yep, I traded away A-Rod. Anyway, here's my team:

C: Joe Mauer, Twins
1B: Justin Morneau, Twins
2B: Chone Figgins, Angels
3B: Mike Lamb, Astros (filling in for injured Eric Chavez)
SS: Carlos Guillen, Tigers
OF: Scott Podsednik, White Sox
OF: Gary Mathews Jr, Rangers,
OF: Raul Ibanez, Mariners
UTIL: Juan Encarnaion, Cardinals

SP: Francisco Liriano, Twins
SP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
SP: Barry Zito, A's
SP: Roy Oswalt, Astros
SP: Mark Buehrle, White Sox
SP: Gil Meche, Mariners
SP: Mike Maroth, Tigers (Disabled List)
RP: Derrek Turnbow, Brewers
RP: JJ Putz, Mariners
RP: Jose Julio, Diamondbacks
RP: Scott Linebrink, Padres
RP: Chad Bradford, Mets

Prey Gets Connected

Haven't posted about any of my recent guidebooks in a while, but I just received a case of my latest, the book for Prey. Prey is a first-person shooter starring a Cherokee twenty-something named Tommy who is abducted into an alien world. Actually, the aliens have come to earth to harvest the humans they seeded the planet with so many years ago. Tommy is the one who can stop them.

The graphics in Prey are quite impressive and the story actually follows a lot of Cherokee mythology and is presented in an enjoyable manner. In writing the official strategy guide for the game, I played through it four or five times and can honestly say that I never tired of it. Perhaps the ability to walk on walls and ceilings and rotate gravity had something to do with that.

As for the guide, it marks the first in BradyGames new "Connected" line of guides that feature video clips of key battles and online. By going to this site and registering your copy of the book, you can download cool wallpapers and images, as well as videos of yours truly whooping up on all of the game's tough boss creatures, complete with narration (not my voice).

If you have the game (available for PC and Xbox 360) and would like a signed copy of the guidebook, go ahead and email me your name and address. I'll send copies to the first three people to reply. Send requests to

A Hop, Skip, and a Splat

I've been sneaking in a bit of time online with the Xbox 360 these past couple days and the two games I've been playing are Project Gotham Racing 3 and the retro game, Frogger. PGR3 features eight cars racing at speeds over 200mph through real-world cities with exquisite hi-definition graphics and sound. Frogger, on the other hand, is Frogger. Just as you remember it, but you can play head-to-head or co-operatively online through Xbox Live.

If I was to have you take a guess as to which of these two games are plagued by lag issues (delay between controller input and on-screen action due to inefficient online handling of information... to put it in idiots terms), which would you guess? Would you guess the one with the 8 racing cars, each comrpised of tens of thousands of polygons and graphics approaching photo-realism? Or would you pick the one involving a single sprite-based frog hopping and bleeping across a street and river?

Yeah, Frogger it is.

Ladies and gentlemen, the rose colored glasses are off. Frogger is crap. Plain and simple. It's hard to make a game that isn't worth $5, but this is it. Not only is the simplistic gameplay not at all fun 20 years after the fact, but the game is broken. For starters, each of the obstacles in the game play as if they are 15% larger than they actually appear, because if Frogger goes anywhere near a car or truck, he dies. Even if he clearly didn't touch it. It's as if the trucks have giant invisible mudflaps or a small invisible trailer behind them that serves no purpose other than to drain every ounce of profanity I have within me. And this isn't just me saying this, I've chatted online with others about this issue and everyone is in agreement -- no game has made them curse more in years than this re-release of good ol' Frogger.

And then there are the online lag issues. It's bad enough the controls are straight out of the 80's, but the ugliest, most low-res game on the Xbox 360 is essentially so laggy online that it's borderline unplayable. Frogger! Lag? Am I kidding you? I wish I wasn't. I played four or five quick head-to-head matches and I swear I could have won each of them by simply standing still and allowing my opponent to try to cross the street. Tap Up on the controller to hop between the cars... pause... jump... splat! Too late, friend. Playing Frogger online is like taking action shots with a cheap digital camera -- you have to anticipate the desired result and press the button before it happens. And pray. And since I'm not a praying type of guy, I simply curse at the tv.

The other day I was all excited because Microsoft announced we'd get a new Live Arcade game every Wednesday "for the rest of the summer" (i.e. till August 9th), but I have to say that Frogger was the last I buy outright without first downloading the trial version. Pac-Man and Galaga are names I remember well from my childhood. But I also remember chicken pox and getting beaten up after school. But that's probably because playing Frogger feels strikingly similar to having having my lunch money stolen.

Relying on Others

A big part of being involved in the Official Strategy Guide side of the videogame industry is in relying on the game publishers to provide various assets and answers in a timely manner. They, consumed with trying to release a game on time, don't often consider our requests a top priority. I'm sure this goes on in any business relationship in which you have a smaller company in complete reliance on a bigger company for material.

And here you have a snippet of an IM conversation with an editor of mine today.

Editor: Yeah, I noticed that too. I'll add that to my "wish list" of items to receive from [the game publisher].
Me: Ideally, we'd get a list of exactly which [secret items] unlocks what, or how many are needed to unlock certain Extras.
Editor: Right. Keep your fingers crossed that they have this info.
Me: LOL! I used to think this job was going to give me carpal tunnel due to all of the gameplaying, but I'm starting to think it's actually from the constant finger crossing.

I have a similar conversation at least once a week whenever involved with a project. I'm sure many of you can relate.

What's In a Name?

By the way, since my X360 Gamer Profile is now posted, I might as well explain the origin of my Gamer Tag, Enduro. Especially since I get asked quite often while playing.

Back in 2002 I was really active with the TRI-DRS listserve (Triathletes of the Dead Runners Society... don't ask) and made a couple of friends from California who seemed intent on egging me on into joining them in longer and stupider events. Thanks to them, I ran a 50k trail run in half a foot of snow, raced the Death Valley Marathon, and ultimately spent 6 months training for a ridiculous off-road Ironman triathlon that was scheduled to have a 30-hour time limit. Anyway, one of the guys started referring to me and the other guy as his band of "Endurados". There's part of it.

The other component is that, as a kid, we had an Atari 2600 in the house ever since I was about 5 years old. Actually, it was a wood-grain knockoff called the "Sears Entertainment Sytem" but it was basically an Atari 2600. And one of my favorite games for the system was an Activision title called "Enduro". It was a really fun racing game where all you did was try to pass hundreds of cars in varying conditions -- ice, fog, night, rain, sun. You just mashed the gas and strafed left/right across the screen passing hundreds of other racers. I think it was the first baja 1000 racing simulation. With 4-bit graphics and a 1982 release date. Or some such thing. Anyway, I loved that game and to this day racing games are still my favorites.

So... my Gamertag is really just a tip of the cap to my gaming roots and also a fun nickname reminding me of a very cool time in my life as a wannabe endurance freak. Boy am I glad that's over with.

Barry Bonds Indictment Seeing Some Action

Just when you think you've heard it all, there's this:

At least one Internet sportsbook has begun taking bets on whether Bonds will be indicted by July 31. Costa Rica-based is allowing a maximum bet of $50 on the yes-no question. Las Vegas casinos said they won't post similar wagers.

I believe that final sentence had an unfortunate omission and was originally slated to be followed by the words "at this time". I wouldn't bother wasting the two calories of energy it takes to post this if not for the ridiculous state of affairs the forehead now finds himself in. It's come to this: Bonds passes Babe Ruth on the all-time homerun list and rather than celebrating his accomplishment and enjoying his abilities during this rather blase All-Star Break, we're instead watching as people place bets on whether or not he gets rung up on perjury charges.

And he thought finishing 11th in fan All-Star balloting was having a bad week. Now even the friendly Ticos think he's a criminal. Yikes.

The full Yahoo Sports article here.

Confidence Builder

I've mostly kept it to myself but ever since my nasty endo back in April at Reiter Pit, I haven't felt very comfortable on my mountain bike. I was attempting to roll a 2-3ft drop and went over the bars pretty bad. In fact, I thought I may have rebroken my collar bone and did break my brake lever and crack the assembly. I've ridden quite a few times since then, but mostly on local trails and only once on something that was very technical or edgy.

And although it's been three months since that crash, I just still couldn't get my confidence back on the bike. I wasn't playing with the bike on the trail anymore, but rather holding on and timidly letting the trail put me where it wished. So last night I did what I should have done back in May -- I went back to local stomping grounds at Tolt MacDonald Park and rode 9 or so miles of fun, familliar, singletrack with the guys I rode with throughout the late winter and spring.

The humidity was suffocating to me last night, and I finished the climb up the IAB trail (stands for "It's A Bitch" thanks to the 0.95 mile, 400-foot climb leading straight out of the parking lot) a lot more winded than normal, but I tried blaming it on lingering side-effects from the Mountains to Sound race. Anyway, after another 30 minutes or so, I was ride back where I was pre-crash. I didn't wipeout last night, I felt fast and confident on the bike, and zigzagged through the narrow gaps between the trees with Jedi precision. I think I even managed to go the whole night with only a single dab or two that wasn't due to congestion on the trail.

My summer/fall work crush is in full swing right now, and I'm scheduled to lead a campout with the BBTC on the weekend of July 22nd to a little-known area east of Mt. Rainier. I dropped from the 8-hour epic I was scheduled to be on this coming Saturday in hopes of getting enough work done to actually be able to lead that trip the following weekend, but my sudden regaining of confidence and boost of excitement about mountain biking (I was starting to burn out from it, to be hones) has me wanting to at least sneak in a shorter ride this weekend. Maybe I'll head back down to the Greenwater area and explore those other trails in the Palisades area. Maybe this time, I can ease myself off the white-knuckle grip and let it fly. Maybe I'll have time. No, maybe I'll make the time.

Step Aside Confucious, Ichiro Has Something to Say

Trying to interview Ichiro has to be one of the most frustrating and confusing assignments a beat writer can ever get. I mean, really, as much as I love watching him play, he's a total enigma (intentionally, I believe) who seldom speaks and, when he does, he speaks in riddles. Take this latest bit for example.

While at the All-Star festivities yesterday, perrenial All-Star Ichiro was asked about the Mariner's inconsistent first half of the season.

"If there is a problem," he said, "we need to notice it, what creates the problem. The problem usually isn't just on the cover. You need to look much deeper.

"For example, if we're taking about a tree, and the tree has a problem, you need to look at the root. But you cannot see the root. The mistake is to keep watering the fruit. That's not going to solve anything. You need to find where the problem is first."

Ichiro was then asked about the conclusion of his 4-year extension next season and what it would take to keep him in Seattle.

"No way I can answer that," he said. "No matter what I see, you guys [the media] will make it into a problem, make it bigger and bigger, and create a big mess."

The reporter replied that he was just trying to find the roots under the tree.

"If I answer that, basically, what I'm doing is ruining the fruit," Ichiro replied.

You got to say this about Ichiro, nobody ever accused him of talking in cliches like nearly every other pro athlete to ever be interviewed.

You can read the whole article that appeared in today's Seattle Times here: Ichiro Goes Deep.

Blog Updates

Unless this is your first time here (welcome!) then the two images on the right-hand column most likely startled you into thinking you clicked on the wrong link. I decided to add my Gamer Profile for Xbox 360 as well as a little chart that shows my progress. Like I've been saying since my May purchase of an X360, Achievements, Gamer Points, and Profiles are beyond a doubt my favorite feature of the system and whereas I always enjoyed my Xbox these past 4 years, I've never been a bigger fan of a particular system than I am right now with the X360.

And for those curious about the icons on the Gamer Profile, those are the games I've earned Achievements for most recently. And anybody -- even you -- can click on those small icons and instantly see a list of the Achievements I've earned for that particular game. Not sure why you'd be interested unless you're just really bored at work, but it's there for your entertainment.

EDIT: Apparently you can't click on those game icons and see the Achievements lists unless you're registered with Microsoft's Passport system. Sorry about that.

PGR3 Achievement Tally Corrected

Since my last posting about the Achievements and Gamerscore feature of the Xbox 360, I've since boosted my score up to roughly 1970 points and have been called a "Point Whore". Not that I have a very high score yet, mind you, but I do admit to playing my games in ways required to earn more Achievements. Like I've said before, this system is the ultimate carrot on a stick for people like me who, on the one hand are completionists, but on the other grow bored and shelve games early.

But as much as I love this system, the one thing that has constantly bothered me was that Project Gotham Racing 3, one of my favorite games, only awarded 950 Gamer Points instead of 1000 like all the other retail games do. Not that I have all 950, but it was always the fact that it for some reason was broken. Every retail game has to have an even 1000 points to earn and every downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game has 200. It's a perfect system when it's followed consistently.

Microsoft has apparently remedied this situation. Thanks to for the good news this morning that a final 4 Achievements worth the missing 50 points have been added to the game and are relatively easy to get. Unlike many of the other Achievements in the game that help that site award the game a 9/10 on their Achievement Difficulty scale. I currently have 675 of the 1000 and look forward to knocking off these new four right away. I'm at a standstill with work until a package arrives later this morning and once it does, my recreational gaming will be on hiatus for a while. Got to get it in now while I can.

22. Mouse Master - Win a Cat & Mouse Event as the player in the E class vehicle.
23. Cat Champion - Win a Cat & Mouse Event as a player in a non E class vehicle.
24. Cone Capture Champion - Win a Cone Capture Event.
25. Team Cone Capture Champion - Be on the winning team of a Team Cone Capture Event.

*Note: the four Achievements listed here are copied directly from the Achieve360Points site, but I believe there is a typo. I think the latter two should be "Course Capture" event.

Penalty Kicks? Are You Kidding Me?

The 2006 World Cup winner was decided based on penalty kicks. After 90 minutes of regulation play and an additional 30 minutes of overtime failed to provide a victor in a match of 11 on 11, the masterminds of FIFA who govern this sport, in their infinite wisdom, feel that a once-every-four-years event should be decided on penalty kicks. That's right, what is arguably the most sacred sports trophy on the planet was awarded based on a series of one-on-one matches, in which the goalie failed to block a single shot. Italy won, no thanks to their goalie, but rather to an errant shot by one of France's kickers.

Now lets compare this with today's Chicago White Sox versus Boston Red Sox baseball game. Nothing really at stake in the grand scheme of things, just 1 of 162 regular season games. Chicago won it in the bottom of the 19th inning.

Don't you think if there was going to be a time and a place to invoke an artificial conclusion to a game, it would be on a meaningless regular season baseball game? Don't you think if there was a time to allow players to play until exhaustion, it would be in the final match of a tournament that only takes place once every four years?!

Imagine if the Super Bowl was decided by field goal kickers alternating attempts from the 35 yard line? Imagine if the World Series, after a couple obligatory extra innings, was determined by a Home Run Derby contest?

It's bad enough the World Cup was marred by excessive penalties and more dives than a Greg Louganis swimathon, but the fact that the game doesn't make accomodations to allow for a sudden-death (i.e. "Golden Goal") overtime period beyond the full 30-minute overtime is ridiculous. Allow for an extra substitution, award a couple timeouts if you need to, but to allow just a couple one-on-one attempts -- at which the goalie clearly has little hope of stuffing the kicker -- by a fraction of the two dozen men involved in the previous 2 hours of play is assinine.

If baseball -- a sport with more problems than actors in Italian soccer -- can allow for a regular season meaningless game to reach a natural conclusion after 19 innings of play, then the World Cup should allow players to play and for the winner to be determined through regular play and not an artificial abridgement of the game.

This White Man Can Jump

Just a little self-portrait to give you something to laugh at on this beautiful Friday morning. This was from Tuesday morning, as we were coming down the Emmon's Moraine Trail at Mt. Rainier National Park. I set up the camera's exposure, framed the shot, and told Kristin exactly where to aim the lowermost focusing sensor in the viewfinder. I basically used her as a tripod to capture this lighthearted pic of myself clicking my heels while hiking.

Surprisingly Popular or Success by Default?

I usually try to avoid getting involved in discussions about game sales and the quote-unquote console wars, but my May purchase of an Xbox 360 has changed that to some degree. I'm having such a great time with this console and the opportunities for enjoyment it affords me that I find myself, gasp!, actually cheering for Microsoft. And why shouldn't I, as these past weeks with the system have been the most enjoyable that I can remember as a gamer.

And apparently I'm not alone as reports the top 10 most requested games from Gamefly (gaming's answer to Netflix) are nearly all X360 titles. That's right, the console with the smallest install base of the current systems in place (PS2, Xbox, X360, Gamecube, DS, and PSP) has the most games that people are currently craving. And while it makes sense to an extent, considering that the other consoles are about to be phased out while the X360 is already enjoying next-gen life, it nevertheless is surprising when you consider that there are ten times as many PS2 owners as there are X360 owners.

-- Top Most Popular Week Ending July 3, 2006 Chart posted on Wednesday, July 05, 2006

1. Chromehounds (Xbox 360)
2. Prey (Xbox 360)
3. Over G Fighters (Xbox 360)
4. Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II (Xbox 360)
5. Dead Rising (Xbox 360)
6. NCAA Football 07 (Xbox 360)
7. Hitman: Blood Money (Xbox 360)
8. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja (PS2)
9. Gears of War (Xbox 360)
10. Call of Duty 3 (Xbox 360)

I was going to comment that this wasn't really all that impressive considering half these titles haven't been released yet (and won't until late summer and fall), but Gamefly is allowing Wii and PS3 titles to be added to people's queues. Also, where's Final Fantasy XII? Is that not an incredibly anticipated title? Interpreting this list is certainly harder than it looks on the surface. I can't help but wonder if this is just a case of Gamefly's demographics being primarily X360 owners as a result of the high price of new X360 titles ($59.99).

Actually, at least in my own case, yes it is. I've never been a fan of renting games, but the inflated price of X360 titles has led me to subscribe to Gamefly. And I too have many of the above titles on my queue. So, while the games are indeed popular, I have no intention of buying them unless they truly hook me good. Maybe posting a top ten "most popular games" list based on rental requests isn't really a good way to go about gauging the public's gaming temperature. After all, my guess is that the reason you don't see Final Fantasy XII and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on this top ten list is because most people will buy the game without needing to rent it. If only we could say the same about games like Chromehounds and many of the others on this list.

Nope, the more I think about it, the more I have to conclude that like any other non-scientific polling or list that we see on the Internet, you can likely interpret it any way you want to. Just like the NPD data that lists top selling videogames without bothering to include retail giant, Wal-Mart's data -- it's useless if it's not entirely representative of the industry. If anything, this list simply shows that while a lot of X360 games are certainly on people's radar, they're on there as "rent first, buy maybe". And while Gears of War is certain to be one of the year's biggest sellers, you have to wonder if even its success will be hampered by the higher price point.

Postcards from Rainier

Here's a few of the better shots I took yesterday. I often make a point of avoiding taking photos during the middle of the day, but the morning showers yesterday cleared the haze away and the lighting was pretty good all day long.

Prints are available for purchase via this link:

Burroughs Mountain and Mt Rainier.

Afternoon clouds roll in across Sourdough Ridge.

Mt. Rainier viewed from Sourdough Ridge.

Hikers crossing the snowy plains of Burroughs Mountain.

The Wonderland Trail wraps around Mt. Rainier.

An All American 4th

After 21 straight dry days here in the northwest, it would figure that we would wake to the sounds of rain and thunder and lightning on 4th of July morning. It was 5 o'clock and we already had the backpacks loaded with water and snacks and, rain or not, we were heading down to Mt. Rainier National Park to do some hiking. Despite living in the Seattle area for four years now, we've only been to the park at Mt Rainier once and it was a less than stellar trip with my in-laws. Not because they were there mind you, but because we took an exceedingly lengthy time to get there and then, once we did, turned back in search of a place to eat before actually seeing anything. In short, it was a non-visit to the park.

As we headed through the town of Enumclaw and out Highway 410 towards the Sunrise entrance to the park, the thick blanket of clouds began to part and by the time we parked the car, we were standing under a cloudless cobalt sky. Our first order of business was a morning hike along the Glacier Basin and Emmons Moraine trails. After spending a couple of hours taking numerous photos of Emmons Glacier, Mt Rainier, and Little Tahoma Peak, we headed back down the trail and drove up to the Sunrise visitor center. There, we found a way to pick our jaws up off the parking lot and left many of the drive-by snapshot-seekers behind as we headed up to Sourdough Ridge. We followed the ridge to Frozen Lake and then onward to Burroughs Mountain before returning along a small section of the Wonderland Trail. The trails were in great shape, even if we did have to glissade down a few snow-covered sections.

We were hungry and more than a bit sweaty so we cleaned up at the truck and quickly engulfed the large chocolate bar we bought we at the visitor center. It was filled with a delicious huckleberry syrup, but made one hell of a mess as we ate it.

We had only hiked about 8 miles so far and it was early yet so we drove out of the park and back along Hihgway 410 to the Greenwater area where I often mountain bike. Kristin had wanted to see what the forest road climbs I do on my mountain bike rides were like so I drove her up the road leading to Sun Top. The road climbs about 2700 feet in 6 miles. At which point we hopped onto the trail and hoofed our way up another 400 feet in about a half mile to the summit. She couldn't believe that we often begin our club rides with grunts up forest roads such as the one on Sun Top and, I have to admit it, I find it rather surprising too.

As we reached the Sun Top lookout, we began to hear thunder in the distance and, sure enough, there were a lot clouds back in the direction of home. And they were moving in fast -- or so it seemed. We ran back down the road to the truck and headed to Enumclaw, where I anxiously looked forward to another trip to The Mint, where John brought us on Sunday. Unfortunately, The Mint was closed for the holiday and after driving around "E-Town" looking for somewhere to eat besides Godfather Pizza and Quiznos we settled on the Rainier Bar & Grill. What a dump. The food was terrible, the service horrible, and the beer selection pretty abysmal.

If I may digress for a moment, I'd like to point out that we're not ones to get too wrapped up in holidays. For that matter, we make a point of skipping all the biggies at least every other year. But despite our lack of planning, we found ourselves having a true good ol' fashioned American 4th of July. After all, we visited a National Park; dined on burgers and beer; and were now listening to a ballgame on the radio while sipping a McDonald's milkshake. And what can possibly get your patriotic blood flowing more than listening to America's pasttime on the radio? I definitely felt a surge in my own personal American pride as I cheered on my Mariner favorites: Go Ichiro, Kenji, Jose, Shin-Choo, Raul, and Yuniesky!

Umm... nevermind that last part.

The only thing we were missing was some fireworks. And being that we happened to live in one of the towns where personal fireworks were still legal (if not encouraged), they weren't hard to come by. The mere suggestion of fireworks brought Kristin's sheltered childhood beliefs to the surface, but it wasn't hard to convince her that they were safe. No, actually I just ignored her. Anyway, we pulled up to the first fireworks tent we saw and promptly purchased an emasculating quantity of the cheapest poppers we could get. we spent a grand total of $15 and if that wasn't a surefire sign of my noob-ness, I actually asked if they sold any "ordinary firecrackers or bottle rockets". Yeah, ummm, they've been outlawed for years. I did manage to save a little face by at least purchasing one product with the word "artillery shells" across the front in a huge, angry, manly font.

And so our day was complete: National Park, hiking, burgers, beer, baseball, McDonalds, and now fireworks. Lighting off the fireworks was fun. For about 5 minutes. Then it became obvious that many of the people in our neighborhood were cranking up their own semi-professional shows. For every 50-cent ground flower I lit, they each sent a half-dozen mortar shells a quarter mile into the sky. And although my box of six artillery shells did make a large boom and look pretty cool, I eventually failed to hold even my own attention and soon wandered down the street to where my neighbors were all gathered.

One of the folks on our street apparently has an aunt or mom who works for one of the fireworks distributors and she "brought some things home from work" for the barbecue. What she brought home was three (and I'm not making this up) wheel-barrows filled with professional-grade fireworks worth well over a couple thousand dollars. Who needs to go into the city to watch the fireworks when you have the same fireworks going off a block away? Their show went on for over an hour and they had four large mortar tubes firing off in unison from the middle of the street with all of us neighbors more than happy to light a few. Nevermind that we were so close to the action that we were actually getting showered in cardboard, ash, and gunpowder. It was still awesome.

But eventually our 4th of July had to come to an end. So we strolled back to our house, shook the ash out of our hair, and finished the day with one final tip of the cap to this great country of ours... we had a piece of apple pie.

Sony First to Worst in Marketshare?

It could happen... according to market analysts at DFC Intelligence.

Furthermore, with the competition having features like Xbox Live and the Nintendo Wii controller, the PS3 may not have that much of an advantage in the
elusive "Wow Factor." That gets to the heart of the biggest concern with the
PlayStation 3. Sony has done very little to justify why the system is worth a
premium price for consumers that don't care about raw hardware performance and
are not hard-core audio/visual consumers. Unfortunately we believe that
represents over 90% of the consumers in the marketplace.

Of course, the big problem with the PlayStation 3 is price, and in theory that can be easily solved by simply lowering the price. There is always that core group of consumers that will rush out to buy a new PlayStation system no matter what the price. So it would make sense for Sony to gain as much revenue as possible from those consumers before lowering the price. The vast majority of consumers will not be in the market for a new system until holiday 2007 or later.

Here's the link to the full two-page article at

Lakes and Palisades

"Used Beer Department"

That's what the sign hanging over the urinal says at at the bar & grill we stopped at after yesterday's mountain bike ride. I thought it was pretty funny and made me like the place even more than I already did. The Mint in Enumclaw, not far from Mt. Rainier and the 22 mile Palisades loop we rode yesterday (4,000 feet of climbing), definitely earned top post-ride honors from me yesterday as their fantastic beer selection, delicious open face spicy bbq beef sandwich, and delicious roaster red pepper crab bisque was the perfect compliment to spending over 4 hours in the saddle.

What are your plans for 4th of July weekend? Chances are you were asked this dozens of times last week and it's up to you to not disappoint the person posing the query. You can't just shrug your shoulders and mumble something about yardwork. You have to get outside, throw a backyard party, maybe go to the beach, or hit the mountains. It doesn't matter so long as you do something.

We didn't do a whole lot. Saturday saw us lounging around in the morning, playing on the Xbox, then I spent a couple of hours putting a photo-album together from our trip on the Danube. This is the thank-you gift to Kristin's grandmother. I uploaded an additional 25 photos of the three of us during the trip and used Shutterfly's incredibly user-friendly custom album utility. For each page, I got to select any of two dozen different page layouts, enter captions, and insert and add pages as needed. The final albums are a maroon suede and have 35 pages of photos in them. They look awesome.

But Saturday couldn't be an all-day, indoor tribute to lethargy. At least, not if we wanted to think of ourselves as real Americans. So we went hiking. There are thousands of miles of trails in Washington and several hundred miles worth close to our house. The problem with many of the more scenic ones is that they get very, very crowded. Our solution to this: wait until 6pm to start hiking. By waiting till dinner time to hit the trail, we were able to hike the overly-used Annette Lake trail in relative solitude. It took about 90 minutes to climb the 3.5 miles and 1700 feet to the lake, where our dogs were all too willing to take a dip in the frigid alpine water. The lake sits nuzzled in the confines of a cirque so while sunset was still hours away, it had alreay dipped below the jagged peaks that formed this little amphitheatre in the Cascades. After about 20 minutes or so, we headed back down the trail, reaching the car after 9pm, but before needing to flick on the headlamps.

Annette Lake in the central Cascade Mountains, about 20 miles from our house.

Sunday's ride in the Greenwater area of Washington, on the White River, Corral Pass, Noble Knob, Ranger Creek and Palisades Trails was a long, dusty type of day and, truth be told, my body is still not fully recovered from losing over 9 pounds last Sunday at Mountains to Sound. But the ride was incredibly scenic, with postcard views of Mt. Rainier from across the valley at 6,000 feet, and some very fun, technical singletrack. Best of all, we gained some respect from other riders for actually pedaling up the Corral Pass road instead of simply shuttling to the top in a truck. When we caught up to a particularly large group that passed us on the way up, they handed us a couple of beers as a reward for the hard work. The beer was nice, but what was even better was the satisfaction of beating every one of them down the trail, after they drove past us on the way up.

Kristin has Tuesday off from work and we're going to head back to where I was yesterday and drive up some of the forest roads to do a little hiking on the ridge with the dogs so she can see these views. There's also quite a few waterfalls that I want to hike to and then, of course, I'll return to The Mint and once again indulge in their fine food and drink.