When Xbox Speaks

Thanks to Erik A. for forwarding me this link to a very cool article about a blogging site for Xbox 360's. No, not Xbox 360 owners, but for the machines themselves.

Read the article here. Washington Post registration may be required. I can't tell.

It's a pretty good 2-page read. I haven't played my personal Xbox 360 in a couple of weeks due to crazy amounts of work, but if it could talk it would complain about me cheating on it with the Xbox 360's at Epic Games where I got to be the first outsider to play through all of "Gears of War". Sorry, but my non-debugging machine just can't compare to that.

I do have one complaint though. The author closes with the oft-heard (dare I say cliched?) complaint about the recent backwards compatibility issue update. While it's true that "Aquaman" may go down as one of the most universally panned games in recent memory, Microsoft didn't only add compatibilty to junk. "Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly" is one of the scariest, and best-made games in the horror/adventure genre and I can't wait to play through it again on my Xbox 360. Glad to see that one made the cut.

Coming Soon

I have a list of topics to write about, but just don't have the time right now. But rather than post nothing today, I'll instead tell you what I'm not writing about today. I will, however, write about these topics later this week after I finish writing the guide for the game-that-has-no-end.

- Olympic Peninsula kayaking and camping trip with my wife's sisters (that's right Erica and Lindsay, you're gonna be famous... or ridiculed and laughed at. Your fate is in my hands.)

- Recently finished reading "River of Doubt", "Freddy and Fredericka", and "Plane Insanity" and want to write about them.

- forest fires and mountain biking (aka, no it doesn't rain here everyday so shut the hell up you ignorant jackass sitting on the plane next to me. And yes, I do prefer Starbucks, why do you ask?)

- Kristin's job hunt and interview tomorrow; how I might want her to get the job more than she.

- and hopefully the PC game "CivCity: Rome" assuming I actually find time to install it and play it.

In the meantime, please enjoy yourself at my blog and I hope the knowledge of what I'm not posting about today helps make your visit worthwhile.

I Almost Had Her

Me: Honey, you ironed a huge crease into these pants. I can't even go out of the house to get coffee in these.

Her: Sorry about that. You can still go get coffee.

Me: No I can't out of consideration for you. You have two choices: I can either take off my wedding ring and wear the creased pants, at which time women will see me and say "You poor man, you don't know how to iron and I bet you're probably lonely. Let me come over and iron for you and take care of all your other needs."

Her: Yeah, right.

Me: Or, I can leave the wedding ring on and those same women will then think "That poor man, his wife has no idea how to iron and I heard she's a total bitch. I ought to invite him over for lunch one afternoon while she's at work."

Her: Ooohhhh....

Me: See, babe, out of consideration for your feelings and our marriage, I can't leave the house until you re-iron these pants.

Her: How about I go into the coffee shop with you? Nobody will say anything then, they'll be too busy looking at me.

Your Big Break

There's a great interview at Game Informer right now with Doug Lombardi, of Valve Software, makers of the critically-acclaimed Half-Life series of PC games. It's not a stretch to say that Valve is one of, if not the, most influential and important game companies in the PC gaming world. They're also one of the most highly regarded among the fans because of the quality of their games, but also because of their willingness to hire top talent from the modding community. For those who don't follow PC games much, there are thousands of people out there at this very moment "modding" games of all types. This can range from creating new characters to changing the way the user interface looks and behaves to taking the game's graphics engine and building a new game from the ground up. They do this for bragging rights, to improve the game, because they enjoy it, and because they have dreams of getting noticed. Some do.

Link to the full interview.

GI: Can you explain how Portal came together with the DigiPen students who
created Narbacular Drop?
Lombardi: There was a group of seven kids, two women and five guys…

GI: You said kids. How old are they?
Lombardi: They’re all barely drinking age.

GI: Oh god. (laughs)
Lombardi: They’re in their senior year at DigiPen, and part of their class project was to make a game. So they made Narbacular Drop, and we’ve hired a couple people out of DigiPen over the years. They’re right close to us over in Redmond so we’re friendly with those guys. They invited a couple of people over to see the senior class showcase, which is what the school does to market the students to people in the games industry. So they invite people over from MGS and Nintendo and whatnot – all of the usual suspects in the Seattle area. Robin and a couple other people went over to visit the senior class showcase and just check out what was going on and they saw Narbacular Drop and thought “Wow, this is really cool.” So they invited the seven of them over to Valve to show it to more of us. We were all in the conference room and they started presenting it and about ten minutes in Gabe [Newell] just stopped the presentation and said, “You all should come work at Valve and build something like this on the Source engine.” And they all were just sitting there like, “Did he just say what I thought he said?” A year later we introduced Portal on the Source engine.

For us, that’s one of the greatest things about our job. People say “Shipping Half-Life 2 must have been one of the most exciting times working at Valve.” And actually for me it was calling up Matt Boone from the Day of Defeat team and saying, “Hey, do you want to bring your team to Valve and work here?” And just hearing the pause on the other end of the phone, and I was laughing in my head like, “This kid must just be crapping his pants right now.” It’s great to be able to give those guys their break, and introduce those guys into the game industry, and bring in that talent. The Portal team, just like the DoD team, they’re incredibly talented folks. And they’re kids of a generation that have been playing games all of
their lives. That’s where we look to for how we’re going to innovate is through people and through great minds.

PS3 Supposed Launch Lineup

This scanned list was leaked from a document at Gamestop (which means it has about a 100% chance of being 50% accurate) and shows all of the known titles Gamestop expects to carry for the PS3 heading into 2007. The list contains 20 launch titles, but only a half dozen of them are PS3 exclusives. Truth be told, little on the list excites me. The one launch game that I would buy is Tony Hawk's Project 8 but I'll be writing the guidebook for it, as I have done every fall for 6 years now.

The good stuff won't hit until February/March when Heavenly Sword, NBA Street 4, and Assassin's Creed release. And the latter two will also appear on the Xbox 360 so I'm not too concerned about my plan to not purchase a PS3.

Besides, with the lukewarm response to Blu-Ray, the endless reports of Sony's battery woes, and the rather craptastic redesign of the Dualshock controller (your fingers easily slip right off the triggers with each press), buying a PS3 is just too big a gamble at this point. I never would have thought it possible but in just two year's time, Sony has gone from being the "cool" brand to a liability.

Stupidest Person in the World

And the winner is... Madin Azad Amin!

Not wanting his mother to find out that he packed a penis pump in his luggage for their trip to Turkey, he told airport security screeners that he had a bomb in his suitcase when they asked about the "grenade-shaped" object in his carry on.

Madin, you could have pulled the security person aside and whispered to him what it was -- he's going to take your word for it. You then could have told your mom it was a gift for her and that she couldn't hear what it was because it would ruin the surprise -- by the time you got to Turkey, she would have forgotten. Now, instead of risking a few minutes of awkwardness in private, the whole world knows you're a complete idiot. And one with a short weener to boot! Unfortunately for you, the three years you might spend in prison won't be long enough for your friends and family to forget. The jokes will sting even more after the stint in the joint. Idiot.

Full story at Yahoo.

Mtn Biking Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Randomly Generated reader and friend, Eric Floyd, wants me to come mountain biking with him in Whistler, BC next month. He wants me to put away my wussy carbon-fiber cross-country bike and rent a downhill "sled" with 9 inches of travel. He wants me to put on body armor, a full-face helmet, and freeride.

No, thank you.

Aside from the fact that I'm likely working every day till the end of October, if not mid-November (I truly hate this time of year, but it's when I make my money so I cope) but as a self-employed writer and what some absurdly call a "professional videogame player" (I think my balls just shrunk to the size of acorns while typing that), the lack of a financial safety-net means I can't take any unnecessary risks this time of year. It's one thing to get hurt riding cross-country or snowboarding as that would just be a freak accident, but to go big-bike riding on a downhilll course? That's just asking for trouble -- best to try it sometime in the spring (assuming the snow has melted) or early summer when I can almost afford to be laid up for a few weeks should I break something.

Besides, doesn't most of the fun come from pedaling up the hill?

But speaking of freak-accidents, here's a nice x-ray of one of the BBTC member's broken finger, suffered after a crash -- exactly the type of insiginficant injury that would impact my ability to work in a very significant way.

What Can You Do In 37 Hours?

Whatever it is, I'm doubting that "swim 55 miles" would appear on your list.

Article link here.

A Seattle area man, Tyler Patterson, in celebration of his 40th birthday, decided to swim the 55 mile perimeter of Lake Washington. He managed to do, relying on short stops every three hours for a brief break to eat, drink, or to get a quick rub-down. Only once in 37 hours did he pause for more than a couple minutes (he stopped for almost an hour after swimming essentially nonstop for 27 hours). Amazing. In doing so, raised money for the Experimental Educational Unit, a school at the University of Washington for young children with disabilities.

What I find most remarkable about this is that he started training for this last October with swims of just 1,000 meters in length. To put this in perspective, when I was training for triathlons, the majority of my swim workouts were about 3,000 meters in length -- and that was for swims of only 1.2 and 2.4 miles in length. To go from workouts of just 1 kilometer in length to swimming nonstop for 55 miles less than a year later... like I said, amazing!

Equally impressive is that, including the rests, he averaged close to 1.5 miles per hour throughout the swim. If you were to talk to experienced triathletes or swimmers--whether recreational or competitive, they will tell you that swimming a mile in under 30 minutes is an accomplishment. It's something that you don't just go out and do unless you've been swimming competitively for a while. Kind of like running a 4-hour marathon -- nothing to scream and shout about, but a milestone the "middle of the packers" shoot for nonetheless. To think that someone managed to maintain this pace for a day-and-a-half simply leaves me speechless.

Good to be Home

Was supposed to be in NJ tonight, hanging with friends, celebrating some birthdays, and getting ready for a wedding tomorrow night, but I'm not. Instead, I had to come home on Thursday and cut my trip to NC short in order to finish work on another book that has somehow grown from a cute little puppy into a two-headed fire-breathing dragon. Not that the book is going to be overly thick, mind you, just that it's the sort of game that requires an hour of gameplay for each half-page of text. Or so it seems.

As for the three days in NC, everything that was work-related was great. The game was excellent, the cooperation from the developers was phenomenal, and the work conditions definitely a cut above what I often get when I have to work on site. That said, God am I glad I don't still live there. I hate me when I'm in NC because everything about the place takes me one step closer to an aneurysm (except the beaches... I love the beaches). But I'm way too busy tonight to go on a rant about retarded city planning, imbecile fast food clerks, smoke-choked everywheres, and ignorant, hick conversations at 20 decibels that you can't help but overhear and lose faith in the species with each passing word. I'm just way too busy to get into that and since I'm looking forward to enjoying some close intertwined companionship with my wife later on, it's best I don't blow a blood vessel writing about someplace 3000 miles away.

Which isn't quite far enough.

But, if you're interested, we have a very nice 1.78 acre lot in a gated waterfront community in eastern NC that we'll be selling soon. It's out of the flood zone, flat, wooded, and beautiful. Make us an offer and it -- and all the extras I described above -- can be yours. If the price is right.

Yep, I'm Back in NC

I just left that certain Cary-based developer's offices (man, are they swank by the way) and the Holiday Inn I'm staying at has complimentary beer, wine, and sushi this evening in the lobby. The bartender told me that I could be "adventurous" and try a Japanese beer. I didn't feel like being that guy and telling him that I drink Kirin Ichiban more often than I do Budweiser or Miller Light, his other two choices.

The sushi is pretty decent and they actually have a pretty nice selection. Even some nigiri which was a pleasant surprise. Of course, the lack of appropriate dishes means I'm stacking my sushi on a napkin and using the plate for my wasabi and soy. Oh well. It still tasted good, once I got the napkin unstuck from the rice.

I was the first of the people in the lobby to try it and although a couple folks did come up afterwards and take a California Roll or two, there were plenty of "they're serving BAIT tonight, Bob!" and "I ain't eat bait ever before".

Yep, I'm back in NC.

Gone to NC

I'm leaving tonight on a red-eye to fly to a certain AAA developer's offices in Cary, NC to begin work on the guidebook for a certain major Xbox 360 game. I'll be gone for the week and may or may not get a chance to post any updates as I'm also finishing up another book at night in the hotel. It's going to be a super crazy week, capped off with a quick side-trip up to NJ for my friend Jim's wedding.

I'm out.

More Top Moments From Ballpark Trip 2006

These latter three submissions may not be suitable for work. You've been warned.

From D.B.
1. not being allowed into the stadium
2. Cap One breaking the glass
3. Loudog downing warm beers with authority
4. Cap One's girlfriend showing everyone her gut
5. Remy breaking his phone in half
6. Dr. Uradick
7. Hating the rock n roll hall of fame
8. Nicastro having sexx with a four year old boy (he called "no homo" so it's okay)
9. Remy trying to share a bed with me when we were the only two people in the f'ing room
10. Brian wearing an Amazonian chicks undergarment shirt thing
11. Cap trying to join the "Piss on the Generator" Club by pissing in a toilet
12. Cap charging down the street to tackle me, me side stepping and Cap folding Loudog in half and both knocking down a construction sign
13. Remy's thumbs down dance at the whop fest
14. Pisan's hot ass bitch.... wearing a retainer. Pisan, did you lick it while you were making out with her?

From B.D.
1. The invention of "No Homo"
2. Turning a hole-in-the-wall bar into the best damn place to get your Journey on!
3. Unconsciously telling a priest to "Go to Hell!"
4. Aged, Warm Beer Chugging
5. Girl showing some boob on roadtrip to Pitt!
6. Pizan trying to out-whop WHOPFest!
7. LDB and the Lemming Dismissal!
8. Remy and LDBs fool proof plan to get into the game.
9. Heckling Corey Hart!
10. Stalking the Parrot
11. You guys getting the MBP at the Pirates game (Most Ballinest Playaz)
12. The Family Fart-a-vator.
13. Customized Jersey's at the Jake (Genius)
14. Ned Yost Re-thinking going on the field after being told he overmanages!

From C.C
1. The impressive rookie class
2. Getting a lap dance from the stripper after she got rid of Ed by spilling a drink on him...then having a nice talk with her
3. The whole PNC park experience
4. Pisan bombing...but extremly entertaining
5. Pop in a Can
6. Not knowing a chick was giving bj's downstairs at Mr Bills(Wait a minute...That f'ing sucked)
7. Bringing the heat both righty and lefty.
8. I can't say looking back that the fat chick was a favorite moment...allthough it was memorable,
9. Yelling "Because I wanted a f'ing scone" at Dave
10. B's hat, glasses and broken toe
11. Indians shirts especially Dr. Uradick
12. James lying on his survey outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
13. The sick f's who drank warm beer instead of a nice cold refreshing one(Lou was definetly on a mission)

Mr. Bill's

Good times were had by all.

Spitting Hot Fire

This just in thanks to B. Video-proof of Cap 1's lyrical mastery.

Click to watch.

Ballpark Trip 2006: The Top Moments

Rather than write up some long-winded story chronicling the daily events, I'm just going to post the list of "memorable moments" that have been submitted by everyone thus far. If you're just stumbling onto this blog for the first time, this probably won't mean much to you. But anyway, myself and ten other friends flock to a different city every year to attend a couple of baseball games and get drunk and act stupid. By the time we leave half the city loves us and the other half wants us dead. Or something like that. This year's trip included a double-header in Cleveland on Saturday and a Monday night game at Pittsburgh. I attended both Cleveland games and don't really remember watching either game for more than 10 minutes.

From L.P.
1. Cap doing the bump with the chick that Constantino took back to the hotel.
2. Left handed pitching contest.
3. Leading the entire clientele of Mr. Bill's in a Karaoke marathon .
4. Dave getting a big hit put on him by the tall hot chick .
5. Dave and Remy not being allowed into the game due to public drunken state.
6. The Winking Lizard ($4 32 oz. Miller Lites).

From D.W.
1) Brian dancing with that hat/glasses combo -- very pimp.
2) The look on Nicastro's face after walking 90 minutes through the ghetto, alone, on the way back from Italy fest at 1am.
3) Pile-on Dave on the sidewalk outside Mr. Bill's.
4) Pile-on Doug on the giant baseball glove at the stadium.
6) Seeing a 65 year old lady try to dance on the bar at Mr. Bills (I'd like to forget this but the image has been forever burned into my retinas).
7) Cap yelling "NO HOMO" while grabbing the crotch of the giant Satchel Paige statue at Jacob's Field.
8) Cerano, Hayes, Dorn, Vaughn, Parkman, and Dr. URADICK jerseys.
9) Remy slamming that buffalo wing in Dave's beer. Throwing everything we can grab in each other's beers at Winking Lizard.

From J.N.
1. Remy giving all Italians the thumbs down at the WOPFest right before Trevenen strikes out with a 17 year old.
2. The Generator Piss Club.
3. Dave's "problems" with the retarded lemming - "Keep going, it'll happen."
4. "You can have some pizza if you suck some c*ck"
5. Video bowling - nuff said.
6. Me and B passing around the Carolyn Cullen look-alike at the strip club.
7. A hammered Ed leaving the club before getting the lap dance I bought him and contemplating jumping off the Andy Warhol bridge.
8. Remy bringing down a tree while Trevenen simultaneously does the Buffalo Bill dance with his pants down - would ya???
9. B getting the Trevenen's balls - pizza bite combo and threatening to kill everyone if the microwave beeps more that 4 times.
10. Baseball trip crew on the JumboTron in PNC Park.
11. "Ned Yost, you're overmanaging!!!!"

From J.T.
1. Mr. Bills every single day.
2. Cerano, Hayes, Dorn, Vaughn, Parkman, and Dr. URADICK.
3. The Generator Piss Club.
4. Watching Dave makeout thru the bathroom door and then hearing about his "issue"
5. Best seats ever!
6. Jumbotron
7. Ordering you all to drink Jameson

From C.R.
1. Cap falling through a huge glass window and/or hooking up with a big fat lady.
2. Smashing cinderblocks.

From J.C.
1) The worm at the Velvet Dog.
2) Dance off between B-diddy and Mikey C.
3) Pink "N-word" beaters as Remy called it
4) Pass the dildo at Mr. Bills
5) Me and Cap not knowing about free BJ night at Mr. Bills
6) 60-yr old female version of skeletor bartender dancing on the bar
7) The "Rem Mass Sack"The "Ed Bittner" stance
8) NOT being allowed to take a picture of the Super Mario Castle in downtown Pittsburgh complete with mini-bosses and mini-castles
9) Proving that asians have the videogame gene when it comes to arcade bowling
10) Seeing the "Hooray Beer" crappy bar from Cleveland on Dave Attel's Insomniac on Comedy Central
11) Who are the 5 hottest rap stars right now: "Cap 1, Cap 1, Cap 1, Cap 1, and Cap 1" because he spits HOT FIRE!

From E.B.
1) Listening to Pisan loudly explain why we should blow up the entire Middle East to a Russian girl, an Indian dude, and the rest of the plane.
2) Agree to disagree.
3) Pisan 'Man of the people' brings the rapping bum into the winking lizard for a drink.
4) 'No Homo'
5) Being let into the 'cage' at the liquor store. Then being told 'You don't want to be in this area - that's why we have this cage.'
6) Cap, the human wrecking ball smashing Mr. Bills sink off the wall.
7) Throwing shit in everyone's beers at the Winking Lizard.
8) Seeing Cap One on the ground surrounded by security and a cop with no one else to be found.
9) Chaos at the hotel Sunday night.
10) The Cab rides to and from whop fest.
11) "You think I won't break this phone in half?"
12) Getting that girl to show us her tit five minutes into the road trip.
13) 'If I hear that microwave beep four times again I am going to punch someone in the face!'
14) James sacking B while Cap smashed a pizza bite on his head.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII

After a lengthy hiatus from gaming during high school and college, I picked up a Playstation in 1997 shortly after getting married and within a year or two was as hooked as I ever was. One of the games that really pulled me in was Final Fantasy VII, otherwise known as the best-selling RPG of all time. I bought the strategy guide to that game (and still have it) and logged close to 75 hours playing it. I almost beat it too, but the cheapo third-party memory card I had conked out on me and my save data disappeared.

Flash forward to 2006 and now, rather than being the procrastinating grad student staying up way too late playing the game, I got to be the guy writing the strategy guide to the game's sequel. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII is not at all like it's predecessor. Instead, it explores the story of one of the side-characters from the original, Vincent Valentine, in a third-person shooter format. In fact, you can hook up a keyboard and mouse to the Playstation 2 and play the game as a first-person shooter if you want. This isn't to say that the franchise's outstanding stories and cinemeatics aren't there, however, as they are entirely in tact. In fact, the story in Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII may even outshine the original. Having played through much of the Japanese release and then the entirety of the North American build, I can safely assure you that the complaints that were bantered about the Internet earlier in the year have been resolved. The North American release is superior to the Japanese release in every conceivable way.

Fans of the Final Fantasy universe may not like the sudden shift to an action game, but they would be foolish to skip this latest installment as the game is actually quite fun. I'll concede that the game starts out a bit on the slow side as the lengthy cinematics and ease of gameplay can seem a bit pedestrian. That having been said, the game really starts to get in its groove after the first couple chapters and the latter two-thirds are quite enjoyable, both in terms of gameplay and story.

I'm giving away autographed copies of the guidebook to the first four or five people who send an email requesting one. The guidebook is roughly 200 pages and contains everything you need to know about the countless weapons configurations, enemies, hundreds of Memory Capsules and unlockables, and, of course, a foolproof walkthrough strategy designed to help you earn an S-rank in the game. Lastly, there's a fold-out poster that covers the entire Final Fantasy VII timeline, including the events of the cell-phone spinoffs and the movie Advent Children.

Send your guidebook request to me at: hgi_doug@yahoo.com

Step Away from the Coffee

I had the luxury of being in the air during the wee hours of Thursday morning last week when the London terror plot was uncovered and the arrests were made. When I landed in Minneapolis at 5am I found myself standing amongst the crowd of CNN-watchers and thinking, "Here we go again". It's good to see this sort of thing prevented and while I'm glad the US and UK are obviously doing a pretty good job of preventing another attack, I'm not entirely satisfied. I feel bad for the folks who lost hundreds of dollars in perfume and makeup due to the sudden shift in airline policy (you can no longer take any fluid or gel-like substance on a plane) but moreso, I mourn our nation's increasing loss of common sense.

Under the new rules, most people are going to have to check every bag they bring on a plane. That's fine. You then take your liquid-less personal items over to security where they then root out any other prohibited items before you can continue on towards your gate. Congratulations, you now possess no contraband and are cleared for boarding your flight.

Wouldn't it make sense then, that anything you purchase at a store near your gate is also secure and deemed safe? Such as a bottle of water or a venti americano from Starbucks? After all, didn't the coffee and bottled beverages pass through security too? Apparently not.

This is the opposite of the post-9/11 reaction when any and all blade-like objects were banned but anybody could get their hands on a fork or knife at a restaurant at the gate. Now, we can buy a cup of coffee at the gate but can't take it on the plane. And why not? Because we're addicted to sweeping knee-jerk reactions that make little to no sense.

As someone who flies 6 or more times a year and always buys a giant cup of coffee prior to boarding, this is especially frustrating. But imagine how the companies paying those exhorbitant airport rents are going to feel? I'm just one traveler and I can tell you that on Monday alone I bought two less venti americano's than I would have otherwise. That's right, Starbucks, you lost out. And considering I was flying Northwest Air, the absolute cheapest and worst airline I've ever stepped foot on, I was pretty aggravated (on a nearly 5-hour flight from Detroit to Seattle, NWA not only failed to hand out a single packet of peanuts or pretzels, but only offered one measly beverage service). And let's not get started on the relatively recent reports on the horrendous quality of on-plane tap water used in the coffee.

The funny part about this is that you can buy a bottle of anything from a store at the gate and put it in your pocket and have no problem boarding the plane with it. Nor should you. But try that with coffee and you're going to have one serious mess on your hands, not to mention second-degree burns. So you have to hold it where it's out in the open and easily confiscated.

They don't have any detection devices at the gates so anybody and everybody can easily bring bottles of soda, water, or anything else purchased at the gate onto the plane. Hmmm... maybe I'll just have to switch to those easily-smugglable canned Starbuck's Double Shots.

Tigger Gets Busy

Don't have time for a proper write-up of my trip to Cleveland, but I did have a couple minutes to post a video to YouTube. This was from a little dive-bar near Jacob's Field, called Mr. Bills. Home of cheap drinks, 65-year old women bartenders, a basement bathroom straight out of Resident Evil, and of course Tigger. Who apparently knows how to please a duck.

Tigger Getting His in Cleveland.

Heart of Rock & Roll

Gone to Cleveland for my annual ballpark trip with my friends. Attending the doubleheader against the Royals on Saturday for Drew Carey Bobblehead night! Hopefully bars in Cleveland are cheaper than Toronto -- last year's trip was expensive.

Be back Sunday night.

My Brain on Drugs

I refused to comment on the Floyd Landis issue over the past two weeks because I didn't know exactly how to put my thoughts on the matter into a concise wording. I didn't want to just ramble on about my beliefs that he's innocent and I didn't want to just say it shouldn't matter. But I think I stumbled on a way to explain it the other night while sitting around the campfire at Mount St. Helens.

I just don't care if athletes use steroids, HGH, blood-doping, or anything else illegal and synthetic. I just don't care. Legalize it all and then, for once and for all, we can again have a level playing field. Now, I know you're probably getting ready to fire me off an angry email about the athlete's health and the "sanctity of the sport" so just here me out.

Let's be honest here folks, do you think it's healthy for a running back in the NFL to get hit thousands of times in the knees and back and head? He will. Do you think it's healthy for a catcher's knees in the MLB to spend that much time squatting down like he does? Try it and tell me how long you last. Or what about boxing? Nothing needs to be said there. Or what about the tremendous risk of ankle and knee injuries to the men and women in the NBA and WNBA. Or, to go in a different direction, look at professional ultra-marathoners and adventure racers. Do you really think it benefits your body to run 100 miles nonstop? Or to go four days without sleep? And these sports aren't the only ones. There's a reason why we have ailments called "jumper's knee" and "tennis elbow", not to mention certain surgeries named after professional athletes. Tommy John anyone?

When it comes to sports at the professional level, the demands and rigors of the activity alone are so potentially crippling long-term, that I'm not sure the side-effects of steroids and other banned substances are really worth all the hubbub they receive. But I think, if society is really unwilling to accept "drugs" as part of our sporting culture, then there's a way to let it work itself out.

Remember how horrified and shocked the nation was when Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV? Up until that point it was a well known fact that pro athletes -- especially a couple famous guys in the NBA -- were basically on a nationwide sex tour for half the year. For example, most everyone who follows sports knows of Wilt Chamberlain's claim to have had sex with over 20,000 women. There was a culture of promiscuity throughout the 70's and 80's not wholly unlike the one we believe to revolve around steroids in the 90's and 00's. But what about the sex? Once Magic announced that he had HIV, a murmur fell across the athletic populace and people began to realize the err of their ways. I'm not naive enough (or depressed, depending on how you want to think about it) to think that athletes don't get a little action on the side when they travel, but there is definitely a much lower tolerance for it nowadays. Instead of hearing stories about Magic Johnson (best name ever) having women hand-picked from the crowd and brought to his hotel room after the game, you instead see guys embracing a much more family-oriented role. And, as for the single guys, they still get their kicks no doubt, but undoubtedly with protection in most cases.

What happened with sex and Magic Johnson could happen with steroids if we let it run its course. Everyone in the 70's and 80's knew the dangers of unprotected sex and promiscuity, but it took one of their biggest stars to suffer for athletes to take notice. They have to see it hurt one of their own to take it personally and realize their mortality.

So, as for use of performance-enhancing drugs, I say let it run its course. Let anyone and everyone use it. We'll get somewhat of a level playing field; we won't have to obsess over B Samples, polygraph tests and subpoenas; and we can once again focus our enjoyment on the sport. Then, say, in 15 to 20 years from now when guys start dying or kids start being born with mutated genitalia, then finally a big enough star in sports will be able to take the microphone just like Magic Johnson and shock a whole new generation into giving up something they became accustomed to. And while it's true that some guys with moderate notoriety have suffered from steroids and, ultmately died (Lyle Alzedo comes to mind) it's not recent enough and shocking enough to matter, sad to say. Only when the supposed side-effects claim the life or offspring of someone who the public adores and who other players revere will there be a real push to end the use of these substances. The push to change what many believe to be a culture of drugs in sports has to come from within. For that to happen, a star has to fall.

And if that never happens? So be it. Enjoy your homeruns. Enjoy your world records. Enjoy it all. We in the public and those in the media like to call an athlete's body a temple, but it's really just a piece of the machinery that any corporation relies on. And like any company, an athlete (the Board) has to decide where to draw the line when it comes to taking on risk for increased profits. It's clear that where we are in sports today, the money is defintely there and, well, the risks and side-effects aren't much more than hearsay. Every company has to take risks to achieve their goals. Why treat athletes any differently?

Hooray for Hump Days

Not sure if it's confirmed for North America but Microsoft's trend of bringing the joy on Wednesdays with new Xbox Live Arcade content is going to continue throughout August and into September with the following schedule according to the UK's Official Xbox Magazine.

09 August: Pac-Man
16 August: Texas Hold 'Em
23 August: Time Pilot
30 August: Scramble
06 September: Lumines Live!

Not sold on Pac-Man (although for $5 I'll probably snag it) and although I see no point in playing Texas Hold 'Em without money on the line (or with money on the line for that matter) I'm excited about Lumines Live! and can't wait to see what the other two are about.

Seriously folks, all I play outside of work-related games these days is Xbox Live Arcade stuff. Perfect for sneaking a quick 15 minute session in. Absolutely perfect actually.

Attack of the TP

Woke up this morning and found the house across the street from mine absolutely covered in toilet paper. The trees, the cars, the basketball hoop, etc., etc. Awesome.

That's another reason not to have kids. Your kids will undoubtedly do something to provoke other kids which, in turn, gets your house egged, soaped, or covered in toilet paper. I feel bad for this guy though, cause his kids are only about 10 years old. They've got years of torture ahead of them. Speaking of which, the house next to them has three teenage daughters -- only a matter of time before something similar happens there.

Funny thing is, I was up working pretty late last night and heard a commotion outside, but just figured it was one of those teenage girls messing with their boyfriend. I probably could have put a stop to the TP'ing had I have bothered. Or I could have helped them. Not really sure which I would have done. Best I just ignore them and kept working.

Detritus of Stuffing, Glass Eyes, Amber Fur and Other Ursine Innards

On Tuesday night, at a tourist attraction named Wookey Hall Caves in western England, Barney, a doberman pinscher guard dog, briefly went berserk, running amok among a collection of teddy bears, including a 1909 German Steiff bear called Mabel reputed to have belonged, once upon a time, to Elvis Presley.

"It could have been the scent of Elvis" that triggered the attack, said Daniel Medley, a spokesman for the 70-acre site near Wells in Somerset. Or maybe Barney was nothing but a hound dog.

But whatever it was, Barney chewed, tore, ripped and otherwise savaged around 100 teddy bears before his handler, Greg West, was able to restrain him.

If the thought of a doberman going all Mike Tyson on a collection of rare teddy bears isn't funny enough for you, there's this:

There's been no suggestion that Barney should be put down," Medley said.

"But we don't want him back here. In fact, dogs are now banned from the teddy bear collection."

I'm not sure what's odder, the fact that they allowed dogs in what amounts to an expensive chew-toy exhibit or that there is a reporter who felt the need to ask if the dog was going to be put down. Ummm... hello? The dog really doesn't deserve the death penalty for what amounts to vandalism. Besides, I'm sure that "rogue scent" of Elvis would definitely help win the dog an insanity plea. I know how I get just hearing an Elvis song, I can't imagine the horror of smelling his fat, rotten ass.

Full story here.

Dodge Marketing

To be honest, the sight of gigantic oversized pickup trucks bring back memories of North Carolina, stickers showing Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo, and gun racks. But thanks to Erik, I have a newfound appreciation for what those trucks can do. Forget haulin' lumber or ATV's or cement (pronounced see-ment), we're talking bikes. Mountain bikes. Ten of them. That's right, 7 people in the cab and 10 bikes on the back and a smooth powerful ride to boot.

Click for the picture of Erik's beast.

Shown in the picture is Chris (in the truck bed), Ellen (in the orange), and me (in the green), but the real star of the shot is Erik's beastly truck.

Here's a question: what cost more... the truck or the 10 bikes on the back of it? The answer may surprise you.

Pedaling a Volcano

Just when I thought this summer was going to come and go without me riding any new trails, Erik posted a weekend campout at Mount St. Helens on the BBTC calendar. There were already 30 people signed up by the time I was ready to commit to spending a weekend away from work -- and I usually don't care for such large groups -- but I really wanted to ride at St. Helens and my friend Ellen was looking to carpool together. So I was in.

Most of the people made the 3.5 hour drive from Seattle Friday night so as to get on the trail by 9:20am, but traffic concerns and wanting to "sleep in" had us arriving late. I met Ellen at a Park & Ride at 6am and after a couple of pit stops, we arrived at the trailhead just as the group was hitting the trail. We gathered up our gear at a relaxed pace and hit the trail around 10am.

Ape Canyon, Plains of Abraham, Windy Ridge
20.5 miles, 3430ft cumulative elevation gain

I had a new 100mm Fox RL fork installed the previous day, as well as a new drivetrain, but that didn't keep my bike from skipping gears erratically at the start of the ride. Within a 1/4 mile I had massive chainsuck and a busted chain. Twenty minutes later, the chain was fixed, the deraileur adjusted, and I was good to go. The first several miles climbed roughly 900 feet through a shady coniferous forest, but there was little warmup and I was certainly feeling the climb. I was winded very early in the ride and getting slight dizzy spells. And the heat of the day was already getting to me. Fortunately, after two miles or so, we had a brief downhill and I was able to finally get my first wind.

Before long, we emerged from the trees onto the vegetation-free Ape Canyon area. Here, we were greeted with extreme close-up views of Mount St. Helens as well as a stunning view of Mt. Rainier in the distance. Ellen was riding really strong on Saturday and kept climbing and climbing without needing a break, but I was more than happy to pause and snap some photos as I was feeling like crap. Also, the extra 3/4 inch of travel my new fork afforded me threw off the geometry of my bike just enough to make my back ache. Nevertheless, the spectacular scnery kept pulling me forward. We soon caught up to half a dozen riders who left before us and together surfed the pumice slopes of the Plains of Abraham.

Ellen striking a pose at Ape Canyon.

The summit of Mount St. Helens looms large over the trail.

Derrek cruising along Ape Canyon with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Unidentified riders near Ape Canyon.

Traction on the Plains of Abe was difficult to come by in the descents and on the corners as the entire region is composed of sand and crushed pumice stone. After a while, we reached the main contingent of the BBTC group near the first turnaround point by Windy Ridge. They were turning back early rather than descend the log-steps and ride the forest road to the Spirit Lake viewpoint, but we wanted the whole trail. So after spending a good amount of time eating lunch and talking atop the Windy Ridge trail, we made the sketchy descent down to the forest road. Most in our group of 6 walked the stairs, but Ellen and I were able to succesffully surf about 90% of the steep pumice slope -- get your butt way behind the seat and over the rear wheel and pepper the brakes just enough to keep from locking up and sliding, but never going too fast. After some time at the viewpoint, we returned the way we came and suffered our way back up the stairs, with the bikes on our shoulders. Now I know why only 6 of us in a group of 30 riders bothered to go all the way to the viewpoint!

Ellen leading the group into the Plains of Abraham.

Yours truly at the foot of Mount St. Helens.

Obligatory self-portrait in front of St. Helens.

Descending Windy Ridge towards the log staircase.

When we arrived on the trail the still-active Mount St. Helens was quiet, with just the slightest wisp of steam rising from the crater. A couple of the streams we crossed early in the day were also nothing but a trickle. But by mid-day, the volcano woken up and let out a pretty good burst of steam. A vent further down the flanks also let loose with a secondary steam blast we well. All very cool, from our up-close-and-personal vantage point. Whether due to the rising temperatures and melting snow or perhaps from some new source of bubbling geothermal activity, I don't know, but the trickling streams we crossed on the way out were flowing much heavier and were of a dark chocolate color on the way back. They looked so differently that many of us would later remark that we thought we may have went the wrong way.

You're not biking, if you ain't hiking.

I got pretty far ahead of our group on the descent across the ridge at Ape Canyon and through the trees and suffered a nonstop barrage of mosquitoes while waiting for the group in the woods. Normally I wouldn't wait too long, but when a couple of guys said they had not seen any woman bikers on the trail, I began to get a little concerned. After all, there were a couple of spots were a biker could go off trail and nobody would find them. As it would turn out, I was the only one who would end up going down on Saturday. The tight twisty downhill proved to be too sandy in some of the corners and I washed out at about 22 mph in one of the turns. Too much brake, too much steering, and too much sand will do that.

After the ride, we made our way to the Eagle Cliff campground where everyone was camped and there were no sites left. After, oh, about 10 seconds of deliberation the decision was made to park my Element at one of the larger sites being occupied by BBTC folk and just sleep in the truck. We each joked around about my wife and her boyfriend having requested that we not share a tent... but they didn't say anything about not sleeping in the truck together. Which was totally harmless by the way, other than it only helped further the rumors that Ellen and I were married (oddly enough, even people who met Kristin on previous camping trips thought Ellen and I were together--good thing Ellen has a boyfriend or this may have killed her chances with some of the other guys in the club). After a brief dip in the chilly river to clean up, I cooked us up some steaks and John and Julie gave us some of their delicious spinach salad. The group of 30 riders were pretty evenly split between two areas and good times and good beer were had into the night.

Falls Creek, Point-to-Point
17 miles, 1030ft cumulative elevation gain, 2630ft cumulative descent.
(no photos... too busy riding at mach speed to stop)

Whenever you try to shuttle a ride with a group of people who don't all fully understand the game-plan, it's going to be tough. Arranging a shuttle for more than 25 people was a headache that I didn't want. But Erik and Chris took the lead and it, for the most part, worked well.

I was happy to not have to do much climbing after Saturday's ride, and this ride proved to be exactly what was needed to ensure everyone left with a smile on their face. The first 2 miles were swoopy downhill fun, followed by approximately 4 miles of climbing starting with a gradual climb on a forest road that was perfect for letting the legs warmup. We then hit the singletrack for about 600 feet of climbing on smooth but occasionally technical singletrack. I was feeling great and was riding up front with the two Davids. After regrouping and a quick lunch at the horse camp where the trail begins, I leapt at the opportunity to take the lead and avoid being in the dust-trail.

Tim Banning and I were totally bombing down the first few miles of trail which were smooth, fast, twisty, swoopy, and even had the occasional rock drop and berm. We soon came to a collapsed lava tube and waited to regroup, but before then I once again washed out in a turn at around 23mph and between the blind corner and the dust, I was lucky that Tim was able to swerve and not run over my front wheel... or my head.

I let a couple people go ahead after the lava canyon but the trail soon got a little hilly and I found myself back at the front of the pack. Not a bad place to be due to the dust we kicked up. The pressure of leading this large group down the trail (i.e. wanting to stay far enough ahead so as to not ruin the visibility or pace of those on my tail) led me to one of my fastest rides to date. I was riding as well as I've ridden in a long time. I was bombing down the trail, taking the turns and the rocks and roots with ease and was almost Jedi-like with my reflexes. I felt great and that new plusher front fork was indeed making me happy I upgraded. After four miles of nonstop cruising at mach speed, I was happy to come across the trail's namesake falls. After all, I was drenched in sweat and my fingers were starting to go numb.

After dipping my headwrap in the river and waiting for the group to gather up, we were back off for the final threee miles. More downhill, this time with some exposure on a benched-portion of trail. This latter segment was very much like the Gold Creek near Sequim, which is one of my favorites so I was in heaven. The only problem with this section was that there were several blind turns and quite a few hikers so we had to sacrifice our buzz from time to time for the sake of not killing any hikers. The things we mountain bikers have to do...

Everyone finished the ride with a huge smile and I think it's good to say that Falls Creek now has a spot in everyone's personal "Top 5 Rides in Washington" lists.

After completing the shuttle and downing an icy-cold Pacifico (thanks for the beer, Ellen) we jumped into the cars for the 4 hour ride home. Traffic was pretty bad on I-5 and were practically in Oregon so we had quite a ways to get home, but good conversation and decent coffee helped it go faster. What a great weekend.

Activision Finds Profit Potential on Live

From Gamespot.com...

During its quarterly earnings report, Activision revealed that it has sold about $1 million in Call of Duty 2 maps alone. Call of Duty 2 has consistently been the top-played Xbox 360 game over Xbox Live, and it appears as though gamers are willing to pay up for extra content.

In a question-and-answer session following the company's earnings call, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick broke down the number of downloads and money made by each downloadable map pack. The free bonus pack, which included two maps, tallied 334,000 downloads. The $5 Skirmish Map Pack was downloaded 105,000 times and generated $368,000, and the $10 Invasion Map Pack invaded 66,000 360s and raked in almost half a million dollars.

This is good news for gamers and game publishers alike. Not only will it extend the life of games and add replayability to them, which is something that must be done for people to adjust to the $60 price level, but it also opens up a new revenue stream for publishers and helps keep developers employed and busy. Activision was smart in releasing a couple of free maps first, so as to prove the quality of the ones for sale and get gamers hooked on using additional content. Ultimately, extending the life (and revenue potential) of Call of Duty 2 may also serve the purpose of allowing Call of Duty 3 to enjoy more time in the oven. Too often sequels get rushed to market too soon, but if this profitability can even get the developers of Call of Duty 3 one or two extra months, then the game ends up being all the better for it.

Now if only companies could make enough from online downloads so as to do away with in-game advertising... I can dream, can't I?

Full article here.

Dead Rising Demo

The demo (1 gig in size) is available as a free download on Xbox Live and it is worth snagging. Although only one-fifth of the mall is available in the demo, there is still much there for you to have fun with.

Beyond a doubt my favorite moment so far was running behind the counter in a cafeteria, picking up a frying pan and heating it up on the gas range. Then, as the zombies began to crawl their way over the counter to get at me, I turned and literally melted their faces off with the bottom of the red-hot frying pan. Not sure what was funnier: the charred dripping face or the "sssssss" sound that accompanied the attack. When the frying pan eventually cooled off, I used it to knock about 30 zombies unconscious before breaking open the display case of a jewelry store and throwing dozens of gems at the undead pursuers.

This is as freeform a game as can be. There are over 50,000 zombies in a gigantic mall and nearly everything you would expect to find in the mall can be used as a weapon. Good wholesome entertainment!

The Numbers Behind Live Arcade

Thanks to the database at www.mygamercard.net it's possible to search each individual game available for Xbox 360 and see how many people have posted scores to the leaderboards (i.e. have played the game while logged into Xbox Live). Now, for retail releases, the number doesn't quite represent the total number of people who have played or own the game as not everyone has a broadband connection or the Xbox Live service. But for the Live Arcade games, this is a very good indicator of how well these games are selling. Here's the data for a few of the Live Arcade games I have downloaded.

- Frogger ($5 US) - 115,998 users = $580,000 in sales.
- Bejeweled 2 ($10 US) - 115,466 users = $1,150,000 in sales.
- Geometry Wars Evolved ($10 US) - 204,640 users = $2,046,000 in sales.
- Uno ($10 US) - 180,703 users = $1,807,000 in sales.
- Galaga ($5 US) - 43,560 users = $218,000 in sales.
- Street Fighter II ($10 US) - 17,914 users = $180,000 in sales.

I haven't purchased Street Fighter II yet (and probably will not) but I include it because it only became available less than 48 hours ago. This is a game that has been around in various forms for over a decade. It's been available in arcades, in emulation, and on multiple game consoles. Nearly everyone who has ever played a videogame at one point or another has had a copy of this game in their collection. And yet, despite it all, it still nets close to $200k in sales in under two days on Xbox Live Arcade. That's pretty amazing if you ask me.

Also, I should note that that Geometry Wars Evolved has been out since January (or sooner) and Uno only released in May and has almost as many users. I still play Uno on Xbox Live almost daily, as it's the perfect chill-out game and I must say, was a genius decision to include on Live Arcade.

As for retail games, the following games are the most popular in terms of total players having posted scores to the leaderboards or claimed Achievements. Note that as with the data listed above, these figures represent all worldwide users.

- Call of Duty 2 - 327,015 users.
- Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter - 307,243 users.
- Perfect Dark Zero - 276,521 users.
- Oblivion - 250,724 users.
- Project Gotham Racing 3 = 241,578 users.
- Dead or Alive 4 - 188,942 users.
- Fight Night Round 3 - 163,225 users.

One of the neat facts in the above list is that Oblivion was also a major PC release and, most likely had far greater sales on the PC than on the Xbox 360. Yet, nonetheless, it's still one of the most-played games on the Xbox 360. Also, it's obvious that console bundles have impacted this list as, based on the rather lukewarm reviews for Perfect Dark Zero, there could be no other reason for it to have higher numbers than the superior PGR3. Unfortunately, few other X360 retail games had more than 60,000 users.

Addendum: I was thinking about what exactly could be learned from this and I kept coming back to how few games actually had more than 60,000 users so far. Take King Kong for example which, despite a movie tie-in and being one of the more common bundled-games during the launch period, only has 70,578 worldwide users. For argument's sake, let's say that people paid an average of $50 US for the game. That's roughly $3.5 million dollars in sales revenue. For a big budget, major release game that no doubt cost much more than that to make, that's disappointing. Now compare that to the nearly $2 million dollars in sales that Uno has generated. Whereas virtually every Uno owner has Xbox Live, even if only 40% of X360 owners with King Kong show up in the data here (due to not having Live accounts), there's a good chance that King Kong and other games with similar online user totals are performing far below that of "simpler" Live Arcade games like Uno and Geometry Wars Evolved. And if this isn't sign of things to come for Live Arcade then consider today's announcement that Konami is in the process of bringing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (considered one of the best games of all-time) to the Live Arcade service this winter.

What I see happening is that the blockbuster games are going to continue to thrive -- there will always be room for games like the upcoming Gears of War and Test Drive: Unlimited -- but the pricing structure and convenience of getting simpler games from Live Arcade is going to hurt the sales of the mid-tier games. Just speaking from my own recent changes in buying habits, I'm a lot less likely to buy a retail game of average caliber when I know I can have a lot of fun with an Arcade game for $5-$10. Games like King Kong will still be played, but it's not going to be at the $60 price tag. People will rely much more on renting services like Gamefly and clearance sales for these mid-tier games and save their full-price purchases for special releases. On one hand due to the increased price of the new generation games, but also because Live Arcade is just too fun and too cheap to ignore. And it will be a cycle that will only continue to feed itself. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot fewer games are released at retail over the next few years than would otherwise take place. And maybe some of these mid-tier games will be scaled back and released on Arcade instead.

In essence, the success of Live Arcade (which has to be considered a success considering the system is still less than a year old) is going to be a boost for the creation of games on the independent and low-end side of the business, but it may also be the death knell to the mid-level clutter that is released throughout the year. We might see a day when the only games being released at retail are blockbuster titles. Or, perhaps, the success of Arcade will force those publishing mid-tier games to lower the prices of these games. In which case everyone wins.

For the Mommies and Daddies

My favorite blogger, Bill Harris, has another great essay up about the fears of being a father. It's definitely cute and heart-warming and free of the usual comedic-cynicism that accompanies his posts about videogames and technology.

Read "The Ghoulies" here.

Dinner at the Dahlia Lounge

Two words: Excellent and Expensive.

Kristin and I arrived about 40 minutes early and had a drink at the bar. We sat and laughed as a few cherub-looking Navy boys ogled at women as they walked past on the sidewalk outside. So much for the stereotype of the strapping military man in his uniform -- I'd be willing to bet that these four porkers frequently got chased home from school and routinely get their lunch money stolen. Still. But all good things come to an end and the four of them eventually settled up their tabs and left, so that was our cue to take our table.

The restaurant was very nice on the inside, relatively quiet with nice ambiance and a very polite and professional wait staff. And best of all, the servings were sizable and the food delicious.

Since I know some of you watch the Iron Chef and have heard of the owner of this restaurant, Tom Douglas, here's what we had (descriptions from the online menu):

Kristin: Tuscan grilled bread salad, pesto, olives, mozzarella, spicy coppacola
Doug: Barbecued duck noodle soup, five spice broth, roasted shiitake mushrooms, Chinese parsley

Krsitin's salad was huge and delicious with several types of lettuce and loads of grilled bread moderately soaked in olive oil. She didn't care for the sundried olives, but I did so that worked out well. As for my soup, it was absolutely one of the best soups I ever had. Was served with a spoon and chopsticks and the spices and duck and mushrooms just gave it an awesome taste.

Kristin: Rotisserie roasted five spice Peking duck, scallion pancake, cashews, Kung Pao bok choy w/ Garlic butter button mushrooms on the side.
Doug: Lemon~scallion Dungeness crab cakes, sweet chili avocado, caramelized romaine, tomatoes with basil, béarnaise w/ Fries with aioli and curry ketchup on the side.

The crabcakes were definitely the best I've had -- not too bready and not to mayonaisy -- but there was no comparison with Kristin's peking duck. It was essentially my soup in solid form and it was huge. I ended up eating one-third of Kristin's dinner as well and it was absolutely delicious, as were the mushrooms she ordered on the side. I felt like a shmuck ordering fries at a restaurant like this, but I mostly wanted to try the dipping sauces and heck, I'm not the one who put it on the menu so why should I be embarrassed, right? Anyway, the dips were great but the fries were not. They were clearly the dregs of the bottom of the fryer basket. Fortunately the serving portion was huge and I was able to fill up on some good ones. I would have liked the server to notice that the bowl of fries was inedible and take it upon herself to replace them, but she didn't. And I had Kristin's duck to eat so I didn't care too much.

For desert we each had a capuccino and split a strawberry dish that isn't on the online menu. It was fresh strawberries, served with a scoop of strawberry sorbet covered in a champagne meringue. There were some other things on the platter too, but I'm not sure what they were -- one was basically a shotglass of water with diced strawberry floating in it.

Anyway, the french fry fracas aside, the dinner was exceptional and I would totally recommend the place. Just don't expect to leave the table without spending a good chunk of money. We each had two drinks and split a bottle of mineral water instead of getting a bottle of wine and split a desert, but we still spent about $175 with tip. We ony eat out at places like this about once a year, so we're not sweating it. But man, I can't imagine how people eat at places like this on a weekly or even monthly basis. That's rich.

Bursting Beads

I found something new in the shower today -- a small squeeze tube of something called Morning Burst. It's apparently a facial scrub and while I'm normally happy with the bar of Zest, this mysterious item proclaimed to contain "Bursting Beads" that would help wake me up. Not really sure what the hell a Bursting Bead is so I flipped back the cap and squeezed a dollop into my hand.

The things I do to better educate my readers...

The only way I can describe Morning Burst is that it resembles a clear gel -- much like those synthetic gel-crystal potting soils from years ago. But there's more. There's the Bursting Beads. The Bursting Beads, in my opinion, are simply Tobikko. That's right I do believe I was rubbing gelatin soil and Flying Fish roe on my face in the shower this morning. If you've never had sushi or maybe just aren't familliar with the term Tobikko, it's the small crunchy orange fish roe that some types of sushi are sprinkled with.

Yes, that indeed is what is being used as Bursting Beads. And I for one am sickened by the the thought of what I may have bursted onto my face this morning. But it did wake me up. Perhaps the true Bursting Beads do "gently exfoliate", I don't know, but I can say that the fish roe felt a lot more like someone was trying to burrow through my cheeks with a sharpened pumice stone. Not only did it wake me up, as promised, but it even had me dancing and screaming too.

I'll stick to the soap, thank you very much. And after this little experiment, I'm not about to touch that "Tea Tree" scrub she has in there either. God only knows what's in that thing.

Oregon is Idaho's Portugal

Very funny video of Stephen Colbert's "The Word" segment from a recent show. Talks about Wikipedia and how if enough people want to believe something it can become reality -- like Fox News.

Click to watch.

Still in the Cards

Jeff Passaon from Yahoo Sports has a great article on the current state of baseball card collecting available here. Anybody who grew up collecting cards -- especially in the late 80's and early 90's -- should definitely read the article as it not only provides a nice trip down memory lane, but also shows how drastically different the hobby has become.

"My motto: Flip, flip, flip," Rosen says. "If I buy, I'll sell. Unlike coins, stamps and Pogs, baseball relates to people 7 to 70. Because it's the American game, it will never go away, and this business never will, either."

Still, the direction of baseball cards disenchants him. He scans the room, looking for kids.

"There's one," he says, after a minute of looking, and there aren't any others in sight.

"You know why?" Rosen says. "When I was a kid, it was affordable to collect cards. Now it just costs $17.50 to get through the door here and $75 to buy a pack."

The debate on card companies' social responsibility – are they in business to create a huge market like commodities trading or to help promote the game of baseball to kids shying away from it? – is one without a definitive answer. Rosen entered as a hobby and saw it evolve into a business. Big Loot sells strictly for business, and he's so confident in the industry right now, he's taken on severe debt to finish his purchases.

Great read, plus the added bonus of seeing Yett's ugly stache one last time.

9 Years

On this night nine years ago, right about the time I'm making this post, I was smoking a cuban cigar and skateboarding through my brother's neighborhood in the nude. With my friends. Not really sure why we ended up skateboarding naked in the middle of the night on the eve of my wedding -- I can assure you it had nothing to do with exploring our collective sexuality -- but I think it simply started with everyone mooning the camera. Not really sure. The point is, is that I was young and rash and a bit immature, but still smart enough to know a good thing when I saw it.

Fresh out of college and staring down the life ahead of us, we knew at an early age that it'd be a lot more fun and a lot easier to tackle it together. And so we did. And it has been.

Two years ago we moved into our first house and sleept on the floor in the living room in sleeping bags. When we woke up that next morning it was our 7th anniversary. It was a wonderful coincidence that it happened to work out that way and, after four moves, we were more than ready to finally own a place of our own. It was the ultimate gift to ourselves.

This year there's no gift giving going on. We made a handshake agreement the other day in the car to "only do cards" and I intend to honor that agreement. It's not hard since we never buy each other anniversary gifts. Instead, I'm going to wake up at 5:45 to go have coffee with Kristin at the neighborhood coffee shop before she goes to work and watch the sun come up over the Cascades. And tomorrow night we're going to head back to the city for dinner at the Dahlia Lounge, one of Iron Chef Tom Douglas' restaurants. And maybe afterwards we'll head to one of the clubs in Belltown for a drink or two, but that's all. Nothing too fancy, just an excuse to go out for a nice meal. Not that we ever really need an excuse, but still...

Nine years down, seventy to go.

Ape Canyon

Looking forward to finally getting in a big mountain bike ride at Mount St. Helens this weekend and doing some camping. This summer has been so hectic I've had to skip club trips to Bend, Oregon and Sun Valley, Idaho as well as my own organized trip to the Naches River area. But not this time!

Heading down Saturday morning with my friend Ellen. Going to get there about an hour after the scheduled start time (3.5 hour ride) and planning on riding hard to catch the main group of 30 people that will be starting ahead of us. The ride is over 20 miles with about 2000 feet of climbing and apparently offers pretty awesome views all day long. I can't wait! Going to camp Saturday night then ride with the group Sunday Morning on a 12-mile stretch of trail that is supposed to just have an incredibly long and fun downhill.

Now if only my bike was in proper working order. It's getting new chainrings, cassette, and chain as we speak but I also need new bushings and seals on the front fork and they had to be ordered. Little to no chance of me getting the fork fixed up by Friday night, so I'll be riding on a slight wobble come Saturday, but I've been doing that for a month now.

Here a link to a description of the Ape Canyon ride.

And here's a link to a photo of the trail. I'll have my own photos up next week.