Jurek's Pace

The winning pace in the Spartathlon breaks out to almost a perfect 9:00/mile pace. Think about that. That's essentially the same 4 hour marathon pace the majority of "middle of the pack" marathon runners shoot for (and fail to hit). What the majority of average marathon runners can't manage over the course of just 26.2 miles, he did for 152.

Nevermind the stops for food, bathroom and possibly a brief rest, he still had to deal with an at-times muddy course and a nearly 4,000 foot ascent during the race. In contrast, most marathons have less than 500 feet of cumulative elevation change over their entire length and are on asphalt.

That is absolutely amazing.

Another Seattle Endurance Freak

And people used to think running a marathon was an accomplishment. Tell that to Scott Jurek who won the 152 mile race between Athens and Sparta in a time of roughly 22 hours and 52 minutes. There were 260 runners from 32 countries in the race.

Read the story here.

The field set out early Friday, running through rugged terrain to the finish line at the statue to ancient King Leonidas in Sparta, in the southern Peloponnese. The runners, who share a strong bond, passed through vineyards, mud, olive groves and up Mount Parthenio -- a 3,900-foot ascent -- in the middle of the night.

And if you think this is impressive, then you have to read the story about Renata Chlumska's circumnavigation of the continental US by kayak and bicycle. There's definitely something in the water out here. And it's contagious.

When Chlumska left Seattle last year, she paddled out to the Pacific Ocean and south toward California. She then cycled and kayaked until she reached Florida. Chlumska paddled from Florida to Maine then biked and kayaked to Whatcom County. From there she paddled to Seattle. She traveled more than 11,000 miles.

The 12th Man Gets Some Love

From ESPN.com's always-entertaining "Page 2" section. This is excerpted from Bill Simmons' article "Strength in Numbers" which you can read here.

In it he ranks the NFL teams from worst to best. He has Seattle at #2 with the following comments.

2. Seattle, 3-0
Kevin Jackson -- my longtime editor, as well as the man whose dual love for the Seahawks and Steelers spawned my sports bigamy column four years ago -- raised an intriguing point on the phone this week: Some people (including me) thought the Seahawks would be sunk by the Super Bowl Loser Curse. But what if Seattle was really the better team last February, and Pittsburgh was earmarked for second place and the eventual Super Bowl Loser Curse, only the refs altered the destiny of the game? Just because the game didn't play out like it should have, does that mean that the curse still proceeded as planned? And that, my friends, is why the Hawks might be the best team in football right now. That's KJ's theory.

Important note: I don't believe any of this; I just wanted to prove to you that I have an insane editor. But I do think the Hawks are legitimately good. For one thing, they have the only discernable home-field advantage in the NFL right now. It's impossible to win there. The crowd won't allow it, and they're the only team that can definitively say this. More importantly, they overpaid for Branch, but the trade gave them four quality receivers, leading to the ridiculously potent four-WR offense last week that flummoxed the Giants. As any "Madden" junkie knows, there are only three unstoppable offenses: The five-WR shotgun if your line can protect you, the two-TE offense with two quality tight ends who can block and go deep, and the four-WR offense with a great back and four good receivers.

To pull off one of these offenses in "Madden," you need to rig at least one trade and sign a couple marquee free agents. In real life, it's almost impossible; in fact, the last time it happened, the '99 Rams were involved (the most unstoppable "Madden" offense of this generation). But Seattle inadvertently stumbled upon something significant here -- they can run, they can throw, and if that's not enough, they have this obscene four-WR weapon with Alexander and Hasselbeck and tons of freakish jaw-drop upside. Play the pass and they run. Play the run and they pass. Blitz Hasselbeck and he dumps it off to an open guy. I don't see how you stop them once they get cooking. Throw in the defense, a healthy Alexander and the home-field advantage, and I'd take them over anyone right now.

But since Alexander's not healthy ...

He currently has San Diego ranked first and I agree with that. As I mentioned in my earlier post today, this coming Sunday is my birthday. There's nothing I want more than to see the Alexander-less Seahawks dominate the Bears.

Greetings from NC

Sorry for the total lack of posts in a week. I left Sunday night (after watching the Seahawks kick the *bleeping* *bleep* out of the Giants at Qwest Field) and have been working on-site about 9am to midnight every day since. Everything here is going well (other than my inability to sleep -- what can I say, I sleep better when my wife is next to me) regarding the project -- I've already received all of the map files and other assets we requested for the guidebook; I've been getting in an hour or two with the multiplayer mode each and every day (it is incredibly fun); and the walkthrough for the single player campaign is coming along nicely. This is going to be a great book for a great game.

The crew here at Epic has really been great to work with and their committment to making this game a total success is evident everywhere you look. It's remarkable how much polish the game has received since my visit in August -- it's absolutely certain that this will definitely be the X360 hit of the year (I'm on my third trip through the game now and there's no doubt in my mind regarding that last comment). I can't wait for my assistant to get here next week so I can begin writing the Co-Op strategy. That's going to be a blast. Not to mention the days of multiplayer I have to look forward to.

But anyway, as for my lack of posts, it's probably going to continue until I head home on the 9th of October. Which kind of sucks, especially since this Sunday is my birthday and I'll be spending it alone, in a conference room, playing Gears of War. Actually, when I put it that way, that sounds like a pretty freaking good day if you ask me.

Of course, it will be even nicer if the Seahawks can curb-stomp the Bears on Sunday Nigt Football. Prime time, baby!

Don't Drink and Pet

What do you get when you combine multiple jugs of beer, a touchy-feeling Chinaman, and a sleeping panda bear?

Click here to find out.

Interview with Creator of Super Columbine Massacre RPG

Very thoughtful interview at Kotaku with the creator of the much-maligned SCMRPG, especially since last week's school shooting at a college in Canada. A very good read about a very sensitive topic.

Click here for the link.

Here's a sample of the lengthy Q&A that goes on.

Q. What do you say to those out there who point to the shooting as a reason why your game should not have been made?

A. This is a question with very deep implications that are worth dissecting, I think. If one is interested in making something for the public to view--be it a painting, a book, an album, a film, or a video game, should the POSSIBLE harm that may come out of this work be grounds for its suppression from society? This is, in a sense, pre-crime. If you believe in what you're doing and you want to express yourself, the expression should be primary and any interpretations that come after must always remain of secondary importance to the creation of the work itself.

On another level, the entire correlation between the Dawson College shooting and my game is unfounded. Though it was far from shooter Kimveer Gill's favorite game, it was among the list of games he liked to play. I can only assume, after 150,000+ downloads of the game, that it is also a game that other people like to play (ones who won't be going postal). What else did Kimveer like? Black clothes? Goth music? Pizza?

And Now, A Foray Into Narcissism

A couple months back I was contacted by someone from my college's alumni office looking to interview me for the quarterly magazine. Being that the school is home to some pretty accomplished alumni, I was flattered and quickly obliged. A freelancer soon after called and chatted me up about my time at Lafayette College, my studies, and specifically the past six years I've spent as a videogame strategy guide author.

You can read the article here.

Getting Gabbly With It

Thans to 1Dgaf over at the Gamers With Jobs forums for posting about Gabbly.com. Basically, this little pop-up chatroom makes any URL a chatroom. Even this one!

Simply add gabbly.com before any website and you and others visiting the site can chat in real-time.

For example, enter http://gabbly.com/randomlygenerated.blogspot.com into your browser's address bar and you can start chatting with the 2 other bored people who read this blog. Give it a try.

Why are Giants Fans so Dumb?

Given my love of the Seahawks and my Central Jersey roots, it was inevitable that I would be engaged in mass quantities of trash talking with my friends from the wrong coast leading up to this week's game between the Seahawks and Giants. Some of you may remember The 12th Man being so loud last year that the Giants offense stumbled their way through 11 false-start penalties. They then botched 3 consecutive field goal attempts and lost the game in overtime. So, yes, there is some excitement leading up to this game.

But I couldn't help but notice that in the Yahoo Pick 'Em tournament in which you pick the winners of each matchup for the week that Giants fans, collectively, are ranked 31st out of the 32 groups of fans. The only fanbase ranked worse than them are Raiders fans and, well, that's pretty much self-explanatory. Seahawk fans, naturally a more enlightened lot, are ranked 4th overall.

Of course, the problem for the Giants fans could just be the water, as their roommate Jets fans come in at 28th overall. Not a whole lot better for the Meadowlands' resident spelling bee wizzes. Actually, it's probably not the water, but the air. New Jersey and New York fans are ranked 37th and 42nd respectively of the 52 regions included in the rankings. Fans from my fair Evergreen State, in comparison, are ranked 8th.

So, to all my Giants fans out there, please don't take me calling you dumb personal. I know you can't help it. It's the environment in which you choose to reside.

Can't wait till Sunday. And yes, I will be texting you everytime the Seahawks score. You know who you are.

Pot Meet Kettle

I was wondering about this the other day, and please forgive the short diversion into politics. The recent squabbling in our nation's capital has Bush and Congress battling about the legal rights of detainees and the use of torture and it got me thinking...

Bush sees no problem in ignoring the laws to which we agreed in the Geneva Conventions of last century citing that, basically, times change and that our predecessors couldn't have foreseen our nation's current challenges when they signed those agreements. And that's okay, I'm not here to discuss the treatment of Prisoners of War.

What I do want to know is why Republicans have such a hard time understanding that same line of reason when the topic changes to gun control? Yes, it's in the Constitution. Yes, we all know about the 2nd Ammendment. But if it's possible that our nation's leaders lacked sufficient foresight when agreeing to the Geneva Conventions of the early and mid 1900's, then isn't it possible too that our much older forefathers failed to realize that times change and maybe that they couldn't have foreseen the development of assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols with armor-piercing bullets?

Just wondering aloud, that's all. Back to our regularly scheduled ramblings about videogames, mountain biking, and my dogs.

Making Money on Xbox Live Arcade

Jeff Tunnel, a game maker who worked on Marble Blast Ultra and a writer for MakingItBigInGames.com has posted an excellent analysis about the profitability of games being designed for Xbox Live Arcade. Click here to read it. In the article he uses his own MBU game as an example, letting readers know that it cost in the upper reaches of the typical $100,000 to $300,000 development range for games of this type.

So, 120,000 units * $10 per unit = $1.2MM. That is a nice number for an Indie, but that is not the whole story. Remember, Microsoft should make something for making this cool distribution channel available, and they do take a cut. The publicly available information on this is that the distribution fees for bringing a game to XBLA is 35-70% depending upon participation by MS, i.e. the publisher gets 30-65% of the money collected for game sales. This is very much in line with what the casual portals are charging, so I think it is safe to say the numbers are probably close. Let’s say you are a publisher or a developer that is able to fund your own development, so, a $10 game (800 Gamer Points) would net you $6.50, or 120,000 units * $6.50 per unit = $780,000.

His article goes on to expand on some of the concepts that I was speaking about back in August when I wrote "The Numbers Behind Live Arcade" and he correctly points out that I didn't get the methodology behind those numbers 100% accurate. Regardless, his is a great read and goes to show that the naysayers dissing the feasibility of using Microsoft's XNA toolkit to make a profit on Xbox Live Arcade.

New Guidebook: Okami

My most recent strategy guide releases this week and it's for the wonderful game, Okami, by Capcom. Okami is an expansive adventure game in which the player takes on the role of a wolf god named Amaterasu and seeks to save helpless villagers and restore beauty to the land. Amaterasu has been summoned back to Nippon to fend off an ever-spreading evil that has managed to escape one hundred years of containment and, as it spreads, it curses and kills all life. The catch is that unlike other action-adventure stars, Amaterasu unleashes her special powers through the use of a traditional caligraphy brush known as the Celestial Brush. In addition to standard jumping and attacking and digging and all the other things one might expect a wolf to do on a 50-hour adventure, the player will also use a caligraphy brush to paint specific symbols on the screen. Depending on the brushstroke you paint, you may attack an enemy, cause rainshowers to form, a mighty wind to blow, change night to day, or even make a bomb appear out of thin air!

You will undoubtedly hear comparisons made to the Legend of Zelda series and having authored the guidebook for the last game in that franchise, I can say that Okami is highly deserving of the lofty praise and, in some ways, out does Zelda. Most notably in story and dialogue. Okami had me laughing at numerous times throughout the game, but also nearly had me in tears in the end. The writing and the animations are that good. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the game's fantastic visuals. It's pretty hard to be impressed by anything on the Playstation 2 these days, especially for those of us with an Xbox 360, but Okami is a work of art. The game's graphics resemble traditional Japanese wood-block prints combined with watercolor paintings and flow beautifully across a soft canvas texture that makes the game look like a painting in motion. It's one of the most unique visual styles of any game to date, but thinking back to Viewtiful Joe, nothing Clover Studios does artistically should surprise us. They are simply in a league of their own.

Okami is easily one of the best games I've written a guidebook for in a long while, but not only in terms of quality gameplay, but also in that it was so conducive for a strategy guide. There's just so much in this game, that the ideas of what to cover were almost never-ending. Furthermore, Capcom and the developer Clover Studios (of Viewtiful Joe fame) provided us with so much outstanding art work that the designers at BradyGames were able to produce a book that is as wonderful to look at as it is helpful. I know this is all reading as rather rah-rah company-speak, but these are my honest opinions of the game. And having seen the book (in PDF form at least), I can tell you that it is definitely one of my better works.

So, having said all that, if you would like a signed copy of the guidebook to Okami, send me an email including your name and address. The first three people to respond will get a copy of the guidebook as soon as my shipment of books arrives.

Ye Neuvo Poolhall

"I think maybe the money's what's throwing you off here today."
- Vincent Lauria in the 1986 film, "The Color of Money"

Kristin and I splurged a little with our garage sale take on Saturday night. Instead of heading to the North Bend Bar & Grill for some nachos and burgers, we opted for the Tuna House, a sushi place in Bellevue that I heard good things about from my friend Eric last week. And Eric was right to give it praise. The food was fabulous, the service very good, and the portions on everything from the sake to the spicy tuna and sashimi was excellent. Not sure how Eric got out of there as cheaply as he said he did, but it was money well spent.

It was only after draining the last of the sake that we realized we ate a really early dinner. It was barely past 6:00. I had a lot of work to do at home, but we hadn't gone out in a while and I felt like doing something. So we decided to check out the scene at the new Lincoln Square building in downtown Bellevue. This new high rise features some upscale stores and restaurants, a movie theatre, a hotel, and a dozen or two floors with million dollar condos and billion dollar views. Nothing at the cineplex really inspired us to take a seat so we continued to look. That's when we saw the sign for "Parlor".

Parlor is a 22,000 square-foot poolhall with 43 tables, multiple bars, and a drink menu the size of the Yellow Pages. It's the type of place where the male members of the staff is dressed rather dapper and the women elegant but sexy. It's the type of place where you give them your driver's license and they personally escort you to a table, summon a cocktail waitress, and you are free to play for as long as you want. The table is yours.

Wait. Did I say free? Far from it. The wall to wall carpeting, the plush barstools, the plasma televisions, the art-deco lighting and wall coverings, and the shear volume of space Parlor occupies at one of the pacific northwest's most expensive addresses guarantees you that this is not a free source of entertainment. When the clock strikes 7pm on a Friday or Saturday night, your personal pool table costs $16/hour. The drinks you'll be downing while you play hover in the $7.50 range, with some as high as $40.00. The food, while appearing voluminous and appetizing, was also on the pricy end.

This is as far from the smoke-filled dive halls of Fast Eddie's time. This is Las Vegas come to Bellevue. This is luxury and billiards, but being in the nortwest it also means that everyone was dressed in jeans. Kristin and I often remark that after our dogs pass (hopefully not anytime soon), we wouldn't mind selling the house and moving into a nice condo in a high-rise in Bellevue or Seattle. Our time at Parlor showed us why that would be a very bad decision. To be an elevator ride away from such costly distractions would be financial suicide. Especially for a compulsive distractee like myself.

We had a good time Saturday night, shooting pool, downing a few hefeweizens, and despite having just left an excellent sushi restaurant, I even threw back a couple Kobe beef Sliders (with a nice cilantro mayonaise and touch of Russian dressing). But the whole time I was there, my brain kept drifting back to the $16/hr and just how pricey the whole thing was. And I kept thinking of Las Vegas. Not only did Parlor actually remind me of many of the places in Las Vegas (although admittedly less over-the-top) but there's something about such a place being in Bellevue that seems so out of place. Yes, some of the richest people in the world live in the area. And yes, the condos in this particular high rise fetch in excess of a million dollars. But this is the pacific northwest. It's home to jeans and fleece.

Or maybe that's all changing... one building at a time.

ESRB and My Hood

One more post about my garage sale today. I mentioned earlier that I sold 40 videogames today to more than a dozen different families who were strolling the neighborhood looking for deals with their kids in tow.

In every single instance in which a kid picked out a game that he/she wanted, the parent immediately looked to see if it was rated "E" or "T" and commented aloud on it. This is not an exaggeration, this is fact. And not only did every single parent check the ESRB info, but the majority of them then flipped the game over and read the detailed info where it states things such as "Fantasy Violence" or "Partial Nudity" or "Comic Mischief". They then queried me on the content to see what I felt.

I actually heard a sister tease her brother that he couldn't play a particular game for 3 more years because it was rated "T for Teen". I watched kids pick up games, look first at the title then immediately at the lower-left corner, and put them back down with a sigh. These games were rated "M for Mature". Parents actually walked right up to the table and asked me where my "E for Everyone" games were. When confronted with a child desiring a game rated "T" they would ask me what I thought. I'm not a parent, but I tried to be as honest as I possibly could. I flat out told them when games had questionable content (ruined a sale of Whacked because I told them there was quite a bit of sexual inuendo in the game) and I also told them when I felt the ESRB was being a little too conservative (as in the case of Dead or Alive 3 which just has a couple of peek-a-boo flashes of women in their panties and bra).

It was wonderful. People rag on the ESRB all the time for doing too little or for being too obtuse or obscure or whatever other adjective you want to throw out there. I call bullshit on that notion. Maybe it's because I live in a well-heeled neighborhood with well-educated families who possess a very kid-focused attitude towards, well, everything. And maybe many of these moms don't work and therefore have more time to stay up to date on things such as, GASP!, what their kids are doing/playing/watching. But I don't think my hood is really that much different than any other.

Parents that really honestly care will make the effort to monitor what their kids are playing. And they'll be involved and try to stay educated on the matter. Parents that don't care, won't know what their kids are playing. It's very simple. And blaming the ESRB for the latter situation is wrong. I'm also not sure the problem lies at retail either, as to be honest, it probably wouldn't have occured to me to not sell an M-rated game to a young kid today unless he/she wanted something really gratuitous, then the flag would have went up in my head. Maybe. But regardless your thoughts on the role retailer play, blaming the gaming industry and the ESRB as politicians and crackpot "lawyers" like to do is clearly unjustified. Even though my sample may be small (a dozen or so families), 100% of them immediately checked the ESRB rating. One. Hundred. Percent. And this was before asking the price; before asking what the game was about; and before checking to see if they had any money on them. These parents didn't complain about violence in the media, they didn't complain about games being the downfall of civilization or make any snide remarks about games being unhealthy. They just checked the rating as if it was second nature. What a relief.

It's nice to know that some parents understand the responsibility is theirs.

Parting With Collections

We were reading our neighborhood newsletter last night and realized that this weekend was one of the twice-a-year neighborhood-wide garage sale periods. So, at 10pm last night we decided to run around the house and assembled a massive pile of crap that we either forgot we had or hadn't touched in years. Chief among the pile was nearly my entire videogame collection.

The first guy by our house this morning asked how much the games were selling for. I told him, most were $10 each, some less, some more. It depends. He then asks me how much for everything.


Everything? I wasn't prepared to sell everything. Never even thought about it. Suddenly I had a flashback to when I sold all of my NES games to my possibly-a-pedophile-uncle and the regret I felt years later. I guessed that I had about 200 games in the boxes, so I told him $2500.

He tried to talk me down, and I said the lowest I would go is $2200. Maybe. His friend owns a used-game store and he would call him and maybe be by later. As soon as he left I went through the entire collection and removed any games that I knew I would really, really miss. I took out 3 games -- two of which I hadn't played yet. No love lost for the last generation of gaming, I'm afraid.

I then counted and after my subtractions, there were 199 games left in the boxes. You know what? I would let them go for $1800. I really would. And I wouldn't feel any guilt or shame or regret.

He never came back.

But a lot of other people did come by and I ended up selling a total of 40 games. Combined with the games I sold on messaage boards earlier this year, my colleciton is over 100 games lighter than it was in the winter. And so far so good. No regret. I actually feel unburdened. If anythin, I was actually starting to feel guilty for having such a ridiculously large collection of games. And I found that selling them actually has it rewards too in addition to the money.

As I was cleaning up after the sale today I heard an unmistakable sound emanating from my neighbor's window. It was that of high-performance racing car in the game, Forza Motorsport for Xbox. He bought it earlier from me for $10 and was already giving it more use than it had seen from me in months. Maybe even a year. And that was cool. The $10 won't even buy me two beers at the Seahawks game tomorrow, but the game is being used. And presumably enjoyed.

The more gamers the better.


Just had a garage sale and picked up a cool $582 from shoppers.

$582. That feels really good to say right now. Do you mind if I repeat that one more time? $582. Ahhhh, yeahhhh...

Sold about 25 to 30 videogames, some old t-shirts and clothes that don't fit, a 13" tv, an 8-year old Onkyo receiver, a chair, and a bunch of crap that we would have regifted if we thought anybody would possibly want it. Also sold my Xbox, a bunch of books, and a slew of old VHS movies for 50 cents apiece. All in all, a good day. Now we're going to go out to dinner to celebrate our success.

Human Tissue For Transplant

The doorbell rings and it's Fed-Ex. By the time I put down my lunch and get to the door, the driver is back in his truck and the package is left at my doorstep. What can this be, I wonder.

I turn the package over in my hands and see the following sticker in the upper right-hand corner.

The sticker reads, "Human Tissue for Transplant" and "Medical Emergency" yet the Fed-Ex driver just leaves it at the door. He must have been thinking exactly what I was thinking -- it's just a joke. A friend and I accidentally took home a shirt from one another when we were in Cleveland last month and I knew he was sending it back soon. I check the return address and see it was shipped from Edison, NJ address. Yep, it's from my friends. And yes, my missing t-shirt was inside the box.

Good one, Remy. You almost got me thinking there was something gooey and disgusting inside. Almost. Problem is I know these guys too well and know to never take anything at face value. Especially when it's from Middlesex County, NJ.

Test Drive Unlimited

Imagine heading to the island of Oahu with nothing but 200 large in your wallet and the clothes on your back. You rent a car to do a little house hunting and sight-seeing, then it's off to buy your first set of wheels. That Ferrari dealership looks inviting, but for now you better take a look at what Ford or Saturn are serving up. The hell with that, let's splurge and buy an Audi TT. While in the dealership, you hop into the car and look at it from all angles. You test the horn, the windows, and rearview mirror. You turn the key and listen to it purr. You take it.

The island is big and there are hundreds of miles of road winding from one verdant corner to the next but you've got all the time in the world. The roads are your office. They're where you will make your money -- money that will help you upgrade your ride and maybe even add another lady to your garage. By cruising the island, you will learn the whereabouts of hundreds of races (time trial, street race, speed zones, etc.) and missions (hitchikers, models, transport, package delivery) as well as an unfathomable amount of car dealerships, tuning shops, clothing boutiques, paint shops, realtors, homes for sale, car rental agencies... the list goes on.

And while you cruise around, guided by the helpful voice of your GPS navigational unit, you'll often hear the chatter of other racers -- human players. That's right. While you are driving around the island trying your best to drive a gorgeous "top model" 11.5 miles to a friend's house in Honolulu or participating in a high-speed race near Makaha, there are dozens if not hundreds of other human players cruising around doing the same thing. Roll up to another human player and flash your high beams to challenge him to a race. Maybe you'll wager on it, maybe you won't. Doesn't matter -- just set the course on the map that pops up and floor it! Bragging rights are on the line.

Or maybe you want something a bit less spontaneous. Drive up to any of the many set locations for multiplayer racing and challenge other drivers to an official ranked race. Or maybe you want to just cruise with your car club or people you've befriended. Toggle the "locked" function and you and your fellow car enthusiasts can cruise the island together in a pack. Additionally, you can also pull up to a drive-in and upload your own customized events for others to participate in. And, to that extent, you can also buy, sell, and trade vehicles with other players from around the world.

If Test Drive Unlimited is starting to sound like a game with a nearly endless list of things to do and accomplish, that's because it is. I didn't even mention motorcycles yet. As you complete races and buy more and more cars, you'll come to own numerous houses throughout the island, each with at least a 4-car garage. And as your collection of cars grows and you continue to tune them and locate each of the car dealerships in the game, you'll eventually be able to purchase any number of quality crotch rockets from a bevy of manufacturers ranging from Ducati to Triumph.

To say I'm excited about TDU is an understatement. I came home from E3 in May as excited as can be about the game and, for a brief few days, was hoping to be able to author the strategy guide for it. But, alas, my publisher's competitor had already begun work on it. So be it, it's more enjoyable when I'm playing strictly for leisure than for work.

So far, I've logged a little over 6 hours in the game and have ranked up to "Expert" level in the eyes of the game. I've driven close to 350 miles, but haven't seen half of what there is to do. You can use your GPS to magically warp to a destination on the map so long as you've actually driven the roads to it previously. Although some events and key locations will appear on your GPS thanks to ranking up, you primarily fill out the map by driving past locations -- missions, races, and locations are automatically added to your GPS once you drive past them. If you haven't been there yet, you can select the location and your GPS will guide you. Thanks to this game mechanic, I once drove 31.5 miles to a race on the other side of the island. Along the way I got to learn the roads, find numerous dealerships and boutiques, and even do a little sight-seeing at Pearl Harbor. Which brings up another great feature about the game -- there's no need to stick to the road. You can drive on the beaches, through the fields, between the trees in a forest, you're only limited by your willingness to explore and your tires' traction.

Of course, the game didn't knock me off my feet from the start. The character models are pretty stiff and the women in the game (who populate every store and dealership) have absurdly rigid Botox-enhanced smiles that remind me of Chucky from the "Child's Play" movies. Fortunately, it's a racing game and the beauty of the vehicles is far more important. And the car models truly shine. Not quite to the level of Project Gotham Racing 3 but they do look great, and not nearly as plasticy as in Burnout Revenge. That said, the car physics will take a little getting used to. I was positively baffled by the way my Audi TT drove at first, but I eventually added some tuning upgrades to it and found it much more palatable. That said, many of the faster cars in the game drive like a dream.

My one main concern with the game though was that the 100 or so missions (not to be confused with the hundreds of races) would get very repetitive. After all, is there really any difference between driving a model, a hitchiker, or a package to a distance location? In each instance, you only have so much time to do it and your passenger will only tolerate collisions and off-roading for so long before the mission is failed. So, yes, this aspect of the game does get a little repetitive. However, I'm happy to say that these missions aren't a bore nor a chore as they really help you see more of the lesser-traveled roads which, in turn, makes it possible to warp to that many more locations and events that you may have never found otherwise.

So, to summarize, TDU is a fine, fine game. Not only is it a grand achievement and a great step towards the realization of a true driving-based MMO, but it's also quite fun to play. Each of my initial concerns have been laid to rest as I continued to play the game and I can't wait to play it again later today.

But I've saved the best part for last. All of this can be yours not for the next-gen price of $60. Not even for $50. Nope. Atari has released this game with a suggested price of $39.99. A great game at any price, but an absolute steal at this lower pricepoint. Test Drive Unlimited is available for Xbox 360 only.

Here's a link to the official website.

Smog Eating Sidewalks

Saw this in the newest issue of Newsweek. It's also available online here.

Sept. 18, 2006 issue - The Italian cities of Cagliari, Sassari and Selargius plan this month to begin laying a new sidewalk brick that eats smog. The bricks are made with a titanium-dioxide blend that, when exposed to light, turns carbon monoxide (smog) in the air into water and carbon dioxide—the gas in soda pop. Rossano Amadelli, who led tests for the Italian National Research Council, says he was "stunned" by how well the tiles work. Cost: $24 a square meter, 46 percent more than conventional bricks.

46% more than normal brick is a lot, and I betcha that's a whole lot more than standard pour-and-let-dry cement like we have in most cities in the US, but if the sidewalks can bond with carbon monoxide and turn it into CO2, this might just be worth the expense. Awesome.

Tony Hawk's Project 8, Producer Interview

It's September again. And like every September for the past 5 years, I'm once again working on the official guidebook for the next installment in the Tony Hawk series of skateboard videogames. And this one is an awesome return to the series' roots. Unfortunately, that's all I can tell you. I can't tell you about any new tricks or areas or challenges. And I sure as hell can't share any screenshots with you.

But what I can do is link to this article at FiringSquad.com so you can read the informative interview with the game's producer and get a better idea of what this game has to offer.

Also, Scott Pease of Neversoft, has a really cool article about the game's incredible "Nail the Trick" mode over at IGN. This describes how to perform tricks in a new way, and he includes a video.

They Take Their Games a Bit Too Serious in Philly

This is just sick, but allow me to summarize.

A 25-year old man punched his 17-month old baby girl in the face twice after she yanked too hard on the wires extending from his videogame console and knocked it over. The force of the blows killed her. The mother of the baby is 8-months pregnant and was upstairs sleeping when it happened.

It's not uncommon to hear parents yelling at their kids to go to bed while the parent sits on the couch playing Xbox Live. I've heard it several times. Just the other night, I got a good laugh from hearing a lady, somebody's momma, screaming at her kids "Don't make momma get off the couch while she's playing Burnout. You get your asses upstairs and I'll be up in a few minutes to say goodnight!" She never left the game for over an hour. How rough would that be for a kid; having to go to bed early on a school night while your mom is downstairs playing Xbox Live and cussing up a storm?

But there's a big difference between being sidetracked or acting lazy towards a kid old enough to brush his own teeth and punching an infant square in the face. Twice. I'm not sure what the legal terminology for that difference is but I hope it involves electrocution or lethal injection or maybe even a noose or a guillotine (not sure what Pennsylvania's options are). It's one thing to get upset and curse or throw a controller or pound the couch while playing videogames, we all do that. And yes, sometimes someone trips on the wire and the console falls (thankfully most consoles have moved to wireless controllers now), and while it might warrant a tongue-lashing and you might be extremely pissed, I fail to see how someone can be so off their rocker that they think it's okay to punch a baby. It's not. I don't even have nor want kids, and I know you don't punch babies. How could a dad possibly not understand that?

My X360 Has a Voice

And a blog.

Read what my game console has to say about me by clicking here.

It only started blogging last night, but the posting frequency will certainly pick up. Especially after my purchase of Test Drive Unlimited and Dead Rising yesterday. I'll be posting about TDU later today when I get the chance. But, in the meantime, it's good. Very good. So good that I played it yesterday for 6 hours. Literally.

Starforce and Write Speeds

There was a lot of talk earlier this year about the copy-protection software Starforce wreaking havoc on people's optical drives and causing significantly reduced write-speeds. Unfortunately, Starforce snuck its way onto my system when I installed Space Rangers 2 but I hadn't noticed any adverse side-effects.

Until now... I think.

I was just burning 3.6 gigabytes worth of data to a DVD-R and the program I use for my disc creation was reporting a write speed of just 4x. My DVD-R/RW drive is capable of write speeds up to 16x. I was alarmed to see such a slow reported write speed, not only because it would mean that I was potentially anotherStarforce victim, but also that it would take a damn long time to make that disc.

The disc was done in a couple short minutes. Not the twenty or thirty I would have expected out of a 4x write speed, but more like five minutes. So it got me thinking, is it possible that the problems people saw with Starforce were really just on the surface and that their drives are still all working just fine; that only the reported speeds are off? Or is it more likely that this has nothing to do with Starforce and that my DVD authoring software is just a bit off and doesn't know the difference between a 4x and a 16x?

I tend to think this latter answer is more likely, but I'd love to hear from someone who knows more about the issue of under-performing (or under-reporting) optical drives and Starforce. I'm using "Sonic" brand software for my disc creation.

Heavenly Star

Lumines 2, the sequel to everybody's favorite PSP game is due out this fall and the first of the game's many music videos has made its way to the Internet. For those who haven't played Lumines, it's a block-falling puzzle game not totally unlike Tetris or Bejeweled but features an incredibly soothing electronica and J-pop soundtrack and a overly trippy graphical style. The sequel, Lumines 2, is taking the importance of music in the game by making the already beautifully distracting backgrounds full-blown music videos. Yes, it can be distracting, and it is a bit much on the eyes, but so what? This is Lumines at it its best.

And if the first video, "Heavenly Star" is any sign of what's to come, this will definitely be a must-buy when it releases.

Watch the music video here.

And don't forget that a version of the original Lumines is being tailored to Xbox Live Arcade and will be available for download in the coming weeks as well!

Hole in the Ground (Transcript)

If you can't watch the video of Olbermann's commentary, here's a link to the transcript. Scroll to the bottom, it begins just after the last commercial break.


It starts with...

OLBERMANN: And lastly tonight, a special comment on why we are here.

This Hole in the Ground

I try to avoid any sort of political editorializing on this blog because, like you, I get enough of it from the papers, tv, and radio and tend to read the blogs of friends of family and friends as part of my leisure time. The last thing I want is friends and family shoving political propaganda down my inbox. That said, I'm going to make an exception. Last night, during a commercial on Monday Night Football, I flipped over to MSNBC to catch some of "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" which is one of my favorite news shows. I've liked Keith since his days with ESPN's SportsCenter and no other talking head on the cable news shows ever says things quite like the way I wish they'd be said. Except Keith.

And I literally stood and clapped at my television last night after listening to Keith Olbermann's excellent commentary on the five years since the 9/11 attacks. Whether you agree with him or not, I don't care. That's your call. But I think everyone should listen to what he has to say.

Link to the video.

Nine Days and 15,200 Feet later...

I was supposed to go and ride the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail today with a few half-day slackers from BBTC, but I'm feeling this weekend's rides and need to spend some time cleaning my bike and changing the brake pads. Besides, I got 5 rides in over the past nine days and racked up over 15,000 feet of climbing.

9/2 - Kachess Ridge, 3070 feet
9/4 - Grand Ridge, 2270 feet
9/6 - Annette Lake F.R., 2890 feet
9/9 - Dungeness River, 3500 feet
9/10 - Mount Muller, 3480 feet

Don't mind taking the day off after a week like that.

Welcome to Seattle, Deion!

Former Super Bowl MVP wide receiver Deion Branch of the New England Patriots is now a Seahawk. And I'm lovin' it! It cost the Seahawks a first-round draft pick, but if the season is as succesful as we all hope, that will just be the 32nd pick anyway, not like the Jets (who also wanted to trade for Branch) who would have been giving up one of the top five picks overall after what will likely be another miserable season.

I have to admit that I didn't quite see the addition of Nate Burleson as a full replacement for how incredible Joe Jurevicious was last year, but with this trade those concerns are laid to rest. Adding a former Super Bowl MVP to last year's highest scoring offense in the NFL only makes the powerhouse that much more powerful! Ignore yesterday's measly 9 points. This offense is primed and ready to shine next week at home against Arizona.

Click for the full article about the trade.

Last season, Branch caught 78 passes for 998 yards and five touchdowns, all career highs. In his four seasons, he has 213 receptions for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the 2005 Super Bowl he had 11 catches for 133 yards against Philadelphia, helping the Patriots win their third championship in four years.

Mark my words, this is the undoing of New England. They lost Vinatieri to the Colts in the off season and now golden-boy Tom Brady has lost his favorite target. Two favorite targets actually, as David Givens has gone also. The AFC East is wide-open for Miami to reclaim ownership of what is now a pretty mediocre division.

2nd Annual Olympic Peninsula Campout

The weather gods smiled brightly down upon us for the second year in a row and as the eight of us gathered our bikes and gear at the Lower Dungeness River trailhead, it became clear that it was going to be a marvelous weekend. While some much-needed rain showers drenched the Seattle area and obscured our visibility as we headed north on Route 101 towards Sequim, there was a small blue tear in the gray blanket. And it was centered directly over the Dungeness River and Gold Creek area.

Of the eight riders who made it out to the peninsula for this incredibly fun 17-mile ride, only three of us took the trail right from the start. The other five preferred to avoid the roughly 3 miles of on-and-off-again hike-a-biking that begin this ride by climbing the forest roads up to the Three O'Clock Ridge trail and rejoining the Lower Dungeness at the three mile mark. Their desire to avoid pushing the bike would net them an additional 2 miles of riding and 400 feet of elevation, but they said it was worth it. I like taking the trail because of the rocky viewpoint about 2 miles in, which was made especially pleasant on Saturday when my wife and dogs caught up to us and took a seat on the perch next to us -- even though one of my dogs almost knocked me off out of excitement.
Taking a break along the Lower Dungeness trail.
Lower Dungeness River was in excellent shape. Although the rainforest humidity was moderately suffocating, the moisture made for a soft, supple trail with excellent traction and our tires gripped the trail like a Formula 1 racer at Monte Carlo. I was also pleased to see that some of the washouts that were on the trail last year had been repaired and there were only one or two blowdowns we couldn't duck under.

We regrouped at the river cabin at 5 miles (we lost one rider due to stubborn knee pain) and continued on to the forest road. From there, the seven of us remaining took a 3.5 mile sojourn on a forest road up, up, and away to the Gold Creek trailhead. We reached the moment we had all been waiting for. I have to admit that introducing this incredibly fast, occasionally treacherous, and wonderfully under-utilized trail to new riders is one of the things that I look forward to each year on this campout and it was clear from the looks of anticipation on many of the faces in our group, that few of us had ridden it before. Those who had, get to go first.

And so we did. Gold Creek was in five-star shape. Super tacky thanks to the morning rain shower and still soft as ever thanks to all of the pine needles and relatively clay-free soil. The trail zips in and out of narrow drainages down along a narrow benched-trail with numerous blind corners. The ever-constant exposure on your left mandates that you keep your eyes focuses squarely on the trail and do not so much as steal a single sideways glance the whole way down. Although there were a couple of blowdowns (thanks to Mark and Brad for moving several out of the way) there was only one real WHOA! moment. Several miles into the descent, there is a large hump that looks like you could easily catch some air from. Don't. Not even three feet beyond this ramp-like mound, is a near-hairpin turn to the right as the trail takes a jog into a another little swale in the topography. Launching off that berm would leave you sailing -- and freefalling -- right off the trail into the forest. Fortunately, we all looked before we leapt.

Chris zipping along the Gold Creek trail.

Once back at the cars, four of the riders in the group threw their bikes into the back of Roger's pickup truck and headed back up to the Three O'Clock Ridge to descend the Lower Dungeness River trail in the unheard-of clockwise direction. It sounded like a blast, and I would have loved to join them, but Brad, Jerome, and myself had over an hour's drive to the Klahowya Campground near Mount Muller and needed to hit the road. Our group was down to three.

After a pretty decent burger at "Landing's" restaurant in Port Angeles (where the ferries from Victoria, BC let off) we contiued along 101 past Lake Crescent (is there a more beautiful road in Washington?) and out to my campground of choice. The campground was relatively empty of campers and we all shared that wonderful site #14 that Eric and Shane shared last year. And it was said once again, this time by Brad, "This has to be the most beautiful campground in the National Forest system." My thoughts exactly.

Sunday's ride at Mount Muller was every bit as painful as I remember it being each of the two previous times I've ridden it and while I pushed the bike less than in previous attempts, the 3 mile, 2200 foot climb that starts the ride does not get any easier. Fortunately, this time I remembered that the next few miles along the ridge aren't exactly a cake-walk either and I saved a bit in the ol' tank to help get me to the Mount Muller summit trail without much pain. The short spurts of downhilll through the forest were as joyful as ever and the views along the ridge stretched for miles. Mount Olympus was clearly visible for much of the ride, as was the whole of the Olympic Mountain range.

We passed several hikers on the trail, but never quite saw the horses that had post-holed their way up the trail. We didn't encounter a single blowdown on this 13.3 mile loop, but even as one of the hikers we saw said, "It's absurd how much damage those horses are doing to this trail". Her husband then went on to say that he saw a horse poke through the trail and fall off twice. We all remarked how we couldn't believe the horses didn't break their legs more often on this trail, considering how many knee-deep holes we encountered. Last year, Brian and I stopped on the climb to fill a few of them in. This year, we could have spent all day filling in these holes and still not have tended to them all. The words "lost cause" spring to mind.

The friendly fifties-ish couple atop Mount Muller made our day by saying that they've never seen a single instance of trail damage from mountain bikers, but they did have some hars words about the rest of the club. "Out of that whole club, you three tough guys are the only ones who came to Mount Muller. Tell the rest of those mountain bikers, they all get the Weenie Award!" Consider it done, Ms.

Jerome descending Mount Muller.

After a snack and some snapping of photos, we bid the couple adieu and left them to their sandwiches and mimosas and began the descent. I raced ahead to set up for photos along the infamous corner where the Lake Crescent and Mount Olympus come together as backdrop. From there, it's fun, root-dropping, switchbacking descent for a mile or so, then another short push, and then down, down, down dropping several thousand feet in a few short brake-tugging miles. But as fun as the descent is (one of the best in my opinion) I can't help but love the final trip across the valley floor just as much. There's something about the steam and light combining with the moss and fern-covered floor to provide such an otherworldly ethereal setting. It's the perfect cap to a perfect weekend. What have we done to deserve such splendor?

Kristin, the dogs, and the family fun wagon.

Far Cry Instincts: Predator

For two months I had this game sitting in the drawer above my X360 and for two months I debated whether or not I should just send it back to Gamefly and accept the fact that I'm not going to earn a single Achievement on it. I always wanted to play Far Cry for the PC but just never got around to it so one day I casually added the console version to my "Q" at Gamefly and lo and behold it was shipped. It's been the bane of my existence ever since.

Let me start by saying that while I'm no grand master at first-person shooters, I have written the official guidebooks to several games in the genre including Prey and Tron 2.0. So while I'm not an expert -- and certainly aren't going to claim much "pwnage" online -- I can hold my own and make it through the single player modes of most games on Normal difficulty without much trouble. Also, let it be known that I am one of the people who find playing a first-person shooter on a console instead of a PC to be somewhat like kissing a cousin. Sure, it's possible to enjoy it and maybe even get used to it, but deep down inside you know it's just plain weird.

Originally I was excited to see the lush Far Cry graphics in all of their high-definition splendor but while the game definitely has some nice touches in the visuals, it certainly isn't the feast for the eyes I was hoping for. But I can forgive Ubisoft for that; after all, the game is just a port of an Xbox title and it was certainly within the range of acceptable for a launch-window X360 title. Besides, it was definitely nice to see the lush island jungle environment finally come to life on my tv after having seen screenshots for this game for nearly two years.

But I'm not hear to talk about graphics or animations, but rather the ridiculous difficulty of the game and the non-bone-throwing Achievement requirements. I started the game on Normal difficulty, as I always do and promptly made my way through the opening tutorial scene in which your character, Jack Carver is fleeing enemy fire, swimming to the ruins of a ship, and then knife-fighting his way through the jungle to a communications station. It then took my far too many tries than I care to admit to advance more than 15 minutes further into the game. Not only did the game -- in my hands -- control atrociously, but the enemies were far too numerous, too deadly, and too resilient to my shots. I don't mind a challenge, but how about a learning curve? When an experienced gamer such as myself has to spend nearly 90 minutes to struggle through the first 20 minutes of gameplay, something is broken. I'll be the first to admit when I'm not giving a game a fair chance, but this was absurd.

Finally, after venting my frustrations on several message boards, I learned that I was far from alone in this matter. Apparently, nobody plays the game on Normal. Everyone I spoke with went through the same troubles and finally started over on Easy mode. So that's what I did. And I was actually starting to enjoy the game too (although the pendulum was now swung too far in the other direction and the game was so easy it wasn't much fun) until I started having to rely on the vehicles in the game to get around. Never in the history of four-wheeled videogame vehicles had their been such a collection of trucks and ATVs that controlled so horrendously. I've never seen anything like it. I can't even put it into words. Halo, which I think is one of the most overrated titles of the previous generation of gaming, had an assortement of vehicles that controlled like a dream compared to this. As did Half-Life 2 and even Pariah.

But, in the spirit of Jack Carver, I soldiered on. Or tried to. Eventually it came to a point where I just lost interest. The ground-fights were far too easy to be entertaining and the vehicle segments were far too frustrating to be worth my time. And so the game has finally gone back into the envelope and will be returned to Gamefly tomorrow morning.

What really irks me about this isn't that I rented the game for two months and never beat it, but I didn't even get the feeling like I was making any progress. I was several levels into the game -- had a couple hours of gameplay in -- but didn't earn a single Achievement because unlike every other game out there in Xbox 360 land, you actually have to complete the entire game to earn a single damn Achievement with Far Cry Pedator: Instincts. And to add insult to frustration, Only by playing through the entire main story campaign can you get to play the "Instincts" add-on portion of the game. Not a big deal for me, but for people who already played through Far Cry Predator, this can be quite an annoyance.

But getting back to the Achievements issue, maybe I've gone soft but I really look forward to earning Achievements (I don't exploit glitches or cheat to get them though) and they have definitely become the carrot on a stick that keeps me playing games that my short attention span would otherwise have me shelve. But with this game, I probably put in nearly 7 or 8 hours in total and didn't earn a single point. What fun is that? Would it have hurt Ubisoft to give out a few points for reaching milestones in the game? Did everything have to be tied to completing the game on various difficulty modes or for multiplayer? Worst of all, whenever I look at my scores online, I'll have to see that big goose egg for this title. But unlike a lot of games in my collection, I know that I at least gave this one an honest effort, but in the end we had to go our separate ways. I might still pick up Far Cry for the PC one day if I see it cheap. Then again, I probably won't.

Night Training in the Cascades

With a full moon set to rise and not a cloud to be seen in all of western Washington, last night was a great night to do a training ride in the mountains. Ken and I loaded up my truck at 6:30 and were at the Annette Lake Trailhead near Exit 47 off of I-90 just a half hour later. We packed some warm clothes into our Camelbacks for the descent, adjusted our lighting systems (we wouldn't need them for at least an hour) and were off.

The ride was entirely on forest roads, but climbed from a starting elevation of 1750 feet to over 4300 feet and provided us with the nice, steady, sog of a climb that helps riders stay in shape and, in my case, to help knock some more rust off after nearly a month off from riding. The first 1.7 miles provided a nice warmup on a flat, wide, dirt road then the fun began. My back was hurting during the first couple of miles and Ken asked if it would be okay for me to continue. "You'll learn something about me tonight," I told him "I'll whine and bitch all night about the pain, but I won't stop till I'm at the top." He laughed. I grimmaced.

The forest road we were on zigged and zagged up into the mountains and as it did the sun finally bid us a farewell and the moon finally rose above the ridgeline. One second, only a sliver of it was visible. But as we continued to climb so did the moon and just a few short minutes later it was high in the sky and shining bright. My back stopped hurting after about the 5 or 6 mile mark.

The forest road eventually turned into a much gnarlier and steeper scramble, which we had to push our bikes up. But it leveled off again soon after. After one or two more technical bits of climbing (thanks to the loose gravel and cobbles) we reached the summit of an unknown mountain.

Ken pushing his bike upwards and deeper into the dark of night.

We laid the bikes down, turned off our HID headlamps and soaked in a 360-degree panorama of mountain views partially illuminated by the moonlight. Snoqualmie Pass lays just a few miles to the east, you couldn't even see the Interstate in the valley below, and the region of forest devoted to the City of Seattle's drinking water supply stretched endlessly to the south giving us an eternally black foreground. Ken broke out a couple of airline bottles of scotch, rum, and whiskey which we quickly downed, each of us taking giant swigs from each bottle. After a few obligatory photos (which turned out very grainy due to the ISO 400 setting of my camera) we bundled up in warmer clothes and began the descent.


Ken and I atop an unknown mountain with the full moon over my left shoulder.

We kept our speed in check -- never going above 30mph -- and casually rode back down the way we came, talking about everything from work to biking to women. Mostly women. It was a great training ride (19.5 miles and 2890 feet of total elevation gain) but also a petty fun night. It took 2 hours to reach the summit and a fraction of that to get back down. By 10:30pm we were back at the truck with the bikes loaded, and were headed home. A good night was had by all.

Rain City My Ass!

It's an inevitable part of any conversation when meeting someone new. They ask where I live, I reply "just outside of Seattle". Then it happens. The comment about the rain. About the clouds. About the suicide rate. About seasonal affective disorder (doesn't it just make you S.A.D., pun intended).

Try as I might to convince them that it doesn't rain here in the summer, it falls on deaf ears. Nor do they ever believe me when I tell them that New York City gets more annual rainfall than Seattle. Fine, believe your stereotypes. One less person who might end up moving here if only they knew the truth. Harumph!

The truth is that several large counties in western Washington are in a serious state of drought. How serious? The mountain bike trails within a couple miles of my house are closed due to the danger of forest fires. Several very large fires burning elsewhere in the state are not showing much signs of stopping. Brush fires are starting to pop up near suburban neighborhoods. There's a complete burn ban for King, Kitsap, Mason, and Pierce counties, which just so happen to be the counties surrounding Puget Sound, which also just so happens to include a portion of the Olympic Peninsula. All of these areas rank right up there in people's minds when they think of "rainiest places in America".

How about some numbers. Not only to show how bad it is right now, but also to show how low the normal rainfall is too (the following taken from climate data at www.beautifulseattle.com)

July, 2006:

Precipitation for the month was less than 8 percent of normal at 0.06 inches compared to the normal 0.79 inches. There were eight days in July that had precipitation --- three days with measurable precipitation and five days with a trace of precipitation. The maximum 24-hour precipitation total was 0.03 inches on July 12. This July tied the record with 2003 for being the fourth-driest July on record.

August, 2006:

Precipitation for August 1 - 28 is running below normal at 0.01 inches compared to the normal 0.90 inches. There have been three days with precipitation --- one day with measurable precipitation and two days with a trace of precipitation. The maximum 24-hour precipitation total has been 0.01 inches on August 9. Seattle went twenty-six straight days this summer without any measurable amount of precipitation --- from July 14 through August 8. As of August 28, Seattle has only accumulated 0.07 inches of precipitation since June 17.

So let me repeat that last part. We received 0.07" of precipitation between June 17th and August 28th. We would normally receive close to 2" in that same time period, which is also very little, but to only receive 3.5% of that? That's insane. For comparison, the remnants of a typical tropical storm moving its way up the eastern seaboard typically drops anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of rain in a 48hr span. That would be 2x to 4x our average rainfall for a 2.5 month span in the summer.

So, yes, it's very very dry here. Our lawn is like hay (I refuse to water it), there's not a trail within a four hour drive that isn't Sahara-like in its conditions and dusty as hell. And this is not the first time. If memory serves, back in 2003 or 2004, we had 72 straight days without rain that summer too. The difference is that it's been much hotter this year. Both July and August averaged 2 degrees above normal. Which is to be expected considering the global climate change, but when compacted with ultra dry conditions, the extra heat makes the aridity all the more noticeable. And that much more dangerous in the forests.

Funny how those 43 straight days with measureable precipitation we had this past winter doesn't sound too bad right about now.

Mexican Sushi





(now keep singing it to yourself while you read the remainder of this post)

I found out how low someone can fall on account of sleep deprivation this past weekend. One can be so tired that their sense of what is and what isn't a good time can become tortuously entangled and impossible to be relied upon. Take this past weekend, for example. After spending nearly a half hour asking one another what we wanted for dinner, I made the call to drive to Q-Doba, the mexican place in Issaquah. It's a chain, and the food is served fast, but it's not really fast food. It's better.

The problem with Q-Doba is that I always leave the restaurant starving. Their portions suck. Saturday was no exception, especially since I did a lengthy mountain bike ride earlier in the day. But not wanting to go home yet -- or to Krispy Kreme next door -- I suggested we go walk around Fred Meyer. "It will be fun" I added.

It's a grocery store and a Target combined. No, it's not a Wal-Mart because the store is actually kind of nice and doesn't have derelects standing at the door waving to you as you enter. It's just Fred-Meyer.

We headed instantly to the electronics section where Kristin listened to me complain about the $60 price tag on Xbox 360 games, before heading over to the music where I teased her about liking Tim McGraw. Our Saturday night then took us past the books, through the paint aisles to the "Would you look at the size of that fishing net!" sporting goods aisle. After pretending to hit each other with aluminum baseball bats, we found a Nerf football and had a good game of catch in the back of the toy section (but not the "pink aisle" much to Kristin's dismay). All was going well until Kristin thought she was ambidextrous and bounced a pretty hard throw off a half-dozen Matchbox cars and into a rather limited selection of action figures.

Throwing the ball around reminded me that I was still hungry, so it was off to the pre-packaged sushi counter for a nightcap. Along the way Kristin got sidetracked comparing the labels on various poisons in the gardening section. My intent was to leave her behind (this ain't the Marines, you're on your own when you go shopping with me) and proceed directly to the sushi area.

Then I saw it. It was an endcap filled with Christmas ornaments and one stood out. Not the one with Homer Simpson and the bottle of Duff, but the one of the plain beige plastic crate with the word "Fragile" stamped on the side of it. Could it be what I think it is? I opened the crate and there it was, in all it's glory, the lamp! But that's not all. This wasn't any old lamp, but a lamp shaped like a leg. It was the lamp. The one from "A Christmas Story" and best of all, each time you opened the crate, you got to hear another audio clip from the movie. And each time you heard the old man's excitement, you could ever so faintly hear the breaking of his wife's heart in the background. What a great tree ornament! I had to have it!

But not for $22, thank you very much. My bubble was busted. I no longer felt like spell-singing the words to "Saturday Night" and I wasn't even sure I wanted any food. Kristin eventually found me (she always does) and together we found the one remaining bundle of spicy tuna, my favorite. It was awful. It had obviously been prepared early in the morning, if not the previous day. By the time we got home and finished our barely-edible snack it was close to eleven at night. Time to put the party train back in the station. But first a simple note is left on the refrigerator to serve as a reminder for future weekend escapades.

Walking around Fred-Meyer is not as fun as you think it is.

Sunset Supper at Pike Place Market

We went to this back on August 18th with my wife's sisters, Lindsay and Erica, who were in town visiting from NJ and it was too good not to post about. Expect a lot of these better-late-than-never posts this week.

It's funny how you can live somewhere for four years and never hear of some of the cooler things that go on. We're reminded of this pretty often it seems. Fortunately, one day while flipping through a copy of "Men's Journal", I came across an article about summering in Seattle and there was mention of an annual event called "Sunset Supper". It's a fund-raiser event where about 75 of the area's top restaurants, wineries, and breweries gather at the Pike Place Market for a night of good food, drinks, music, and dancing. Tickets aren't cheap - $75 for general admission with limited seating or you can spend thousands of dollars and reserve yourself a table for eight. We went the cheaper route and found ourselves far too busy eating to bother looking for a table.

Upon entry, you are given a neat pallette-shaped plate (we debated whether the hole was for your thumb or for wine glasses all night long) and some plastic utensils and are then free to roam like corraled cattle, among the endless arrays of sampling tables. It's basically like a flea-market, but in place of a gypsie hawking fake gold bracelets, each booth is manned by workers from one of Seattle's best restaurants, serving up some gourmet goodies. And some of the food was absolutely amazing. We started in the back row first and got on a long line of people that shuffled along, bumping and grinding our way past the first 16 sampling tables. This brought us to the north end of the Market. We then turned south, and descended past another 16 or so restaurants worth of food, stopping only to explore the side-area containing roughly another 18 booths filled with wine, beer, and exquisite carmel chocolates. You'd think this was enough, but oh no! We still had the entire outside to get through. We were obviously starting to fill up by the time we reached the outside, but we couldn't say no to anything. The portions were obviously little more than a bite or two, but it adds up fast! The outer row contained another dozen or so booths serving up some great food and desserts and I can easily say that we were forcing the food down by the time we were done. It was an awesome night and easily worth the $75.

That said, I didn't think it would be. I wasn't exactly too excited about going to Sunset Supper as the list of items on the menu seemed dominated by breweris and wineries (it wasn't) and I was not only worried about them running out of food (only one restaurant ran out by the time we reached them -- and it closing time anyway) but I was worried about the serving portions. I didn't expect to fill up eating so much of so little. I did. In fact, the pace of the crowd allowed us time to eat the serving from one booth in the time it took so shuffle along the eight feet to the next booth.

If there is anything to complain about Sunset Supper it was that too many of the restaurants were serving variations on Dungeness Crab. Which is fine, but there are only so many things you can do with it and it all started to become very similar. There were at least eight or so restaurants serving it. The only chain restaurant in attendance -- the ubiquitous "McCormick & Schmick's" -- had by far the worst offering with their Dungeness Crabcakes. Not sure how they screwed up such a simple item, but they clearly didn't belong in this crowd. Back to the mall for them!

As for the others, there were of course some reall oddball creations (cold Pea Soup with Dungeness Crab and Chervil Cream from "Rover's") but there was also some really memorable creations. Among the four of us, we all definitely liked the following the best:

"Racha" - Tamarind Duck (a nice surprise since I always eat here and never had this item).

"Cutter's Bayhouse" - Smoked Salmon Chowder (much better than Ivar's, which is saying something).

"Etta's" - Doughnuts with mascarpone and seasonal jam (we saved these for last and they were great).

"Lark" - Lime-basil soda float, mascarpone sorbet and white nectarine (sounds odd, but it was awesome).

"Cascadia Restaurant" - Smoked salmon with alpine martini sorbet (another odd but delicious creation)

"Ten Mercer" - Smoked sturgeon on crostini with spicy avocado spread (by far our favorite item of the night. This was superb!)

Then, lastly, I have to give a nod to the Barnes & Watson iced-teas as they were awesome, and to whoever it was that introduced us to "White Merlot". It was awesome. I mostly drank beer -- much of which is often found in my refrigerator -- but this white merlot wine was great. I'll definitely be looking for it the next time I buy wine.

Next year will be the Pike Place Market's 100th birthday and I expect this Sunset Supper will be even bigger for the special day. If you're due for a visit to Seattle and looking for a time to do it, definitely consider the weekend near August 17th, as that's the market's birthday and sure to be when they schedule the next Sunset Supper. It's worth it.

Feel the Burn

I can breathe again.

I finished up my latest book Friday afternoon, concluding a nonstop 40-hour drive to the finish line on top of a week of 18 hour days and for the first time since late July, I actually have some free time. Well... time in which I could do something other than work and not feel guilty for it. Nor will I have to stay up working all night to make up for it. This is a good thing.

I'm leading my annual mountain biking campout to the Olympic Peninsula with BBTC this coming weekend and I'm really looking forward to it. There are 18 people signed up, the weather is supposed to be great, and the trails we'll be riding are some of my favorites. But they're hard. And I haven't ridden in a month.

To help counter this month of inactivity, I headed back to Kachess Ridge on Saturday with some friends. The ride features a none-too-fun 2500-feet-in-5-miles climb on a gravel road and my decreased fitness and sleep depravity had me weaving all over the road like a drunkard. The sun beating down on me with temps around 90-degrees didn't help matters. But, my friends weren't concerned about waiting and were quick to remind me that I wait for them most of the time. The rest of the ride was rather fun. It's a technical trail at times, with a lot of steep, loose rock sections and some nice root-drops. I had to walk through one or two sections that I always clear, but my exhaustion and reduced reaction time made it unwise to take the risk.

After a day of yardwork and relaxation on Sunday, I made sure to get my butt back in the saddle last night. First, I took the kayak over to a nearby donut-shaped pond/lake about 2 miles from my house and got in a good 45-minute workout on the water. It's amazes me that I could be so close to such a massive residential neighborhood and yet be silently paddling along a tree-lined lake with mountain views and plenty of waterfowl, and not see any other people. It took about 22 minutes per lap around the lake and with a hard ride planned for the evening, I thought two laps were enough. Not to mention I once again forgot my paddling gloves and ripped a huge chunk of skin from my right thumb -- it was calloused earlier in the year, but now it's just raw.

To cap off my Labor Day weekend I headed down to Issaquah to meet up with two other riders for a 20 mile training ride on the Grand Ridge trail. I did this ride a few times in the fall and winter and it was an okay training ride, but nothing really fun. Fortunately, the trail has been extended a few miles now (down the backside of the ridge) and not only do we get a few extra miles of riding in, but some of it is actually pretty fun. It doesn't feel just like a training ride anymore. Nevertheless, the ride does pack 20 miles and 2270 feet of climbing. We had a woman with us last night who was riding at night for the first time. It's always spooky in the woods at night for the first time when you know there could be bears or cougars around. Ross and I made sure to wait for her every now and then, but she did a good job of not letting her imagination get the better of her and just enjoying it. I think we'll see her out on those night rides a lot this year.

It felt great climbing into bed last night exhausted once again from physical exertion instead of just mental stress. And it feels really good this morning to feel a little tightness in my arms and shoulders. I need this.

R.I.P. Crocodile Hunter

Steve "Crikey!" Irwin is dead. Killed by a stingray barb that pierced his heart while filming an underwater documentary. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

I can't say I've watched his show in years, but he was definitely a brave and very knowledgeable man who, apparenly, died doing what he loved. Too bad it was so early in his life.

Read the article here.