Terminal Fitness

10:55pm - The phone rings. It's Ken. We decide on "Terminal Fitness" as our team name, we discuss the registration specifics (i.e. which package, whether we need an extra tent or not, official souveniers), and we open our web browsers and begin mashing the F5 key.

11:01pm - The registration link becomes active. The sounds of each of us furiously typing away can be heard echoing through the phonelines until I reach the payment section, complete the credit card info, and hit "Submit". We're in. I'm team leader.

11:04pm - Ken backs through the process and changes his entry to that of "Team Member" and I walk him through the remaining steps. You can sense the excitement in our voices. I begin to feel nauseus.

11:08pm - I receive the confirmation email and print it out. I've since hung up with Ken, thanking him again for asking me to be his teammate on the incredible challenge that awaits. I tell him that I'd rather he email the BBTC listserve about our plans, as I frankly haven't the foggiest idea what to say.

11:10pm - I go into the bedroom, wake up my dozing wife and tell her the good news. We're in. She's happy for me and tells me she knows I can do this, and I shouldn't worry. She must see the fright on my face. Even half asleep she knows exactly what to say.

11:20pm - Back at the computer, I begin this blog post. Not knowing what to write, I decide on a play-by-play of the past 20 minutes. And here I am, having written a lot but saying nothing. Time to spill the beans.

I know after I finished Mountains to Sound I said I was through with racing. Well, I guess you really shouldn't ever say never. Here you go, straight from the event's website...

The TransRockies Challenge is an epic mountain bike race through the heart of the wild and rugged Canadian Rocky Mountains. Held for the first time in 2002, the TransRockies has proven to be an adventure and experience like no other.

In its short history, the TransRockies Challenge has quickly earned the reputation as being the toughest and most rugged of the epic endurance mountain bike races. Hundreds of competitors from all over the World -- Olympians to amateurs -- come every year to spend seven days deep in the Canadian Rockies taking on the trails, the elements and themselves. It is truly the Challenge of a Lifetime.

Several key elements including format, terrain, organization, and riding go into making the TransRockies Challenge a unique test with a singular reward for finishing.

The two-person team format, though driven by the added safety element in the backcountry, adds an element of camaraderie and bonding not seen in solo races. When combined with the remoteness of the surroundings and the moving athlete village it means that that riders, staff and volunteers spend a full week immersed in a tight, multi-national community. During the week, they face challenges together, forging friendships and memories which will last a lifetime.

Though the race is held in early August--the height of Canadian summer--competitors face everything aspect of high mountain weather from heat in the 100s to snow, hail and driving rain. With an emphasis on quality organization and seamless operation, the TransRockies Challenge allows participants to focus on the experience and overcoming the challenges. In fact, an overall satisfaction rating of 96% was recorded in 2006 participant surveys.

Then, of course, there’s the riding. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are one of the birthplaces of the sport of mountain biking and they still have a unique combination of challenging singletrack, epic climbs and raw beauty. Though other events may win the statistical battle to be longer, or have more vertical metres climbed, the TransRockies is the true mountain bikers’ epic choice.

The 2007 Edition will take place from August 12-18.Registration opens every year on November 1st, and the 275 available team spots are expected to sell out quickly.

In short, it's a 7-day mountain bike stage race that criss-crosses the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies. The race covers roughly 350 miles and contains over 37,000 feet of elevation gain. Teams of two riders work together to navigate the course and overcome the elements while never straying more than 2 minutes apart. Amateur riders like myself typically spend between 7 and 11 hours a day on the bike, each day.

To put it lightly, it's not something one can do without spending the majority of the year preparing for it. It will be a huge undertaking both in tems of time spent training as well as monetarily for the expense of the event, the travel to and from Fernie, British Columbia, and all of the gear and clothing we'll need. The good news is that I have a bike that is essentially perfect for this type of event and the even better news is that I don't have to begin training in earnest until early 2007. In the meantime I can continue to ride as normal, enjoy myself, and not worry about a specific training regimen for a couple months. Also, I should add that Ken and I may not have the most in common, but we have ridden together a number of times and get a long very well. I wouldn't sign on for a team-based event such as this with someone I didn't believe would be supportive and take the event as seriously as it needs to be. We're going to be fine. I hope.

For more information, check out http://www.transrockies.com.

Three Hours

Until I know whether or not the next year of my life is completely turned upsidedown in an unimaginable way.

Why I Hate Gamers: Exhibit 2,347,859

Just when you thought all of the nonsense surrounding PS3 pre-orders and Ebay couldn't get any worse, there's this.

This aspiring entrepreneur is selling an e-book on how to get rich off the PS3 launch.

This isn’t a get rich scam, and I’m not saying you will make enough to be able to quit your job. But you will make a LOT OF EXTRA CASH RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS!


And I know alot of you don’t have the money needed to invest in buying a bunch of video game consoles, but the great thing is YOU DON’T NEED ALOT OF MONEY!

I’ll even show you how I got someone else to front the money for me completely legitimately!

Depending on which retailer you use you from my list you may not even need any investment at all!

So why you might ask am I just giving this info out to anyone? Because I think everyone can use the extra cash around the holidays and I know I’m going to be making lots more this year because this year THERE’S 2 BIG CONSOLE’S COMING OUT!

In my E-Book I’ll tell you my story of how I did it last year in every detail, which retailers used and when, and even give you access to my special members only section where I’ll be constantly updating in the days up to the launches as I do it myself along side you!

He's the HTML version of the guy in the "?" covered suit with the giant book promising to help you get money for free from the government. The website even has a bogus $24.99 with a slash through it to help show you what a bargain his "e-book" is at $4.99.

I don't know who I loathe more: the people who scavenge for consoles at launch just to profit from the shortage, or the idiots who will pay hundreds over the retail price just so their spoiled little Johnny can be the only one on his block with a PS3.

The Better Job

I get told I have a great job pretty often. And I do have a pretty cool job. I get to play games, write books, work from home, and make a pretty decent living doing so. No complaints from me, whatsoever. But I often find myself explaining to people that I don't even have the "best" job within my circle of friends. They find this hard to believe, but then I drop the bomb... my friend James is a photographer for Playboy. At this point in the conversation there are those (i.e. the prudes) who insist that I still have the better gig and then there are those who don't believe me and those who see the light and realize that, yes, being a photographer for Playboy is indeed a pretty killer job.

For those who don't believe me when I speak of my friend James or who have trouble seeing how such a job could be so rewarding, I present the following evidence. The following photo is of James "on the job" at a recent Playboy party.


What would YOU do?

We recently refinanced our house and took out some equity to pay down some revolving debt that we had on credit cards and whatnot. The escrow company insisted on paying the bills for us since, basically, they didn't trust us with the money. Whatever. So, a couple days after the closing, the checks they mailed on our behalf started showing up in our mailbox without stamps. The idiots who felt they needed to protect us from ourselves, couldn't bother to stamp the damn envelopes when they mailed the bills. Two of three made it's way back to us.

One week passed and no sign of the third check.

A second week passed and still, there was no sign of the third check. It didn't show up as a payment to the credit card nor did it make its way back home like its stamp-less siblings. So we call the escrow company (again!) and explain what happened. We demand they put a stop payment on the check and overnight another one right away to the creditor. They did.

Well, a funny thing happened while this was all going on...

The creditor cashed both checks, thus not only paying off the balance we had on the credit card, but now there's a very sizable credit. I'm thinking brand new dining room chairs, a new mountain bike, and even a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. But, of course, that would be stealing. Right? Well, at the very least, we'd likely eventually have to pay the money back.

So we've sat and let the money sit there as a credit figuring that eventually the escrow company is going to realize they really screwed up. I would have thought so, but apparently not. More than another week has gone by and nobody has seemed to figure this out yet. Except Kristin that is, she put a refund request in yesterday to the credit card company, and we should get a check for the total dollar value of the credit sometime later this week, maybe next. We're not going to spend the money -- anytime soon, at least -- but it doesn't help to at least throw it into our ING savings account and get 4.4% interest on it. Right?

Is it our responsibility to let the escrow company know they screwed up? Twice? Is it likely that the escrow company will realize what they did and just bill us for the amount they overpaid? Either way, they can't just take it back from the creditor so there's no harm in us actually getting some interest off it in the meantime. Or is that immoral? Should I care? And how long should we wait before we can spend some of it without wondering if we'll have to repay it? Pretty tricky situation, eh? Well, not if you're the type who would just send a check back to the escrow company for the amount missing, but that's not my style. I think we'll wait for them to realize they made a huge goof. Then they can have the money back.

So... WWYD?

The Team Name Game

Bear Bait
1 Beer 2 Many
Snoqualmie Psychos
Training Wheels
Sea-Town Reign
Sno-Ridge Endurados
Ken & Doug's Excellent Adventure
Terminal Fitness
Team S.C.R.E.W.E.D*

- Overbite = as in the case of biting off more than we can chew.
- Team S.C.R.E.W.E.D = Sadistic Cyclists Riding Erratically While Exhausted and Dirty

Not sure if any of these names are going to be used or if we'll even get an entry in on time for the event in question, but I'll keep you posted later tonight and/or tomorrow. I promise you that if our entry does get accepted you will hear an awful lot from me about the event at hand.

40 Degrees and Lovin' It

Nothing like a brisk 3 hour mountain bike ride in the chilly morning air this time of year to start the day! One of the trail gurus from BBTC gave me a guided tour of the Tokul West area today and despite the rain and hail from yesterday, most of the trails were relatively dry and in great shape. We stopped frequently to clear away fallen branches and smaller blow-downs and so Bob could show me where he plans to add new trails. I had no idea just how much trail there was just a few minutes from my house. I can't wait to learn that area better.

Anyway, my feet and fingers got a little cold by the end of the ride but we racked up about 16 miles and 1830 feet of climbing while out on the trails and had a wonderful time cruising over the leave and needle covered trails, zipping in and out of the misty fog bank blanketing the lower half of the mountain, and watching the sun shine a brilliant golden light on the moss and ferns.

Stopped for a pumpkin pie latte at the drive-thru coffee hut on the way home, then shortly polished off the last of yesterday's chili and warmed up with a big bowl of gumbo while watching "Around the Horn".

All was fine till I got an email from Kenobonn, then my day got a bit more interesting. But more about that on Wednesday...

Throwable Game Controllers!

Now this is an invention on par with sliced bread. I'm forever getting frustrated while playing a game and stopping myself just short of letting the controller fly out of my hands and right towards a wall, window, or -- the horror -- my HDTV! Finally, a controller that is meant to be thrown.

If only it were designed for stress release... *sigh*

Just what the doctor ordered? A new breed of throwable games controllers could turn computer gaming into a healthy pastime, reckons one Californian inventor. His "tossable peripherals" aim to get lazy console gamers up off the couch and out into the fresh air.

Each controller resembles a normal throwable object, like a beach ball, a football or a Frisbee. But they also connect via WiFi to a games console, like the PlayStation Portable. And each also contains an accelerometer capable of detecting speed and impact, an altimeter, a timer and a GPS receiver.

The connected console can then orchestrate a game of catch, awarding points for a good catch or deducting them if the peripheral is dropped hard on the ground. Or perhaps the challenge could be to can throw the object furthest, highest or fastest, with the connected computer keeping track of different competitors' scores.

Hardcore gamers, who cannot bear to be separated from a computer screen, could wear a head-mounted display that shows scores and other information. The peripheral can also emit a bleeps when it has been still for too long, to help the owner locate it in the long grass.

Not quite what I was hoping for, but I'm a geek for data and this sounds pretty cool. Thanks to NewScientistTech.com for posting this. You can read the patent application here.

Major Xbox 360 Dashboard Update Tomorrow

Head over to Xbox.com via this link for the complete list of improvements being made. There's a whole lot of goodness in this update, so be sure to log on and snag it tomorrow.

Some of the major bullet points include:

HD 1080p video mode support over VGA and component cables.
Xbox 360™ HD DVD Player support.
Stream WMV video from a Windows PC running Windows Media Player 11, Zune software, or Windows Media Connect.
Play video from storage devices such as USB flash drives, Xbox 360 Memory Units, etc.
Play video from CD or DVD data discs.
Xbox 360 Wireless Headset support, including battery level indicator in the Xbox Guide.
Video support for 50 Hz HDTV modes (DVD and HD DVD only).
Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel support.
Set up automatic downloads of newly released Xbox Live Arcade trial games.
Support for upcoming release of XNA Game Studio Express (separate download and subscription required.)
Stream music, pictures and video from a Zune device.

Duh, Where Else Would You Register?

Saw this on the USFS site for Mount St. Helens while scouting some trails to ride next weekend...

Beginning Wednesday, November 1 through March 31, those climbing Mount St Helens will need to self register at Jack’s Restaurant in Cougar, Washington to obtain a climbing permit. Climbing permits are not limited during the winter season and no fee is charged from November 1 through March 31.

It's 2006, the modern age. The 21st century. And if you believe the papers and the talk-radio blowhards, there's no end in sight to the level of intrusion by government and beuracracies. Fortunately there are still places where those who want to climb an 8300 foot active volcano on federal land need only sign a slip of paper at a local eatery to do so. I love this state.

Mountain Biking: Orcas Island

I have to admit that when the alarm clock went off at 5:15 Saturday morning, I began to question exactly why I was heading all the way to the San Juan Islands for a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride. After all, getting to Moran State Park on Orcas Island involves a 100 minute drive to the ferry dock, another 75 minutes on the ferry, then another 30 minutes or so in the car once on the island. It's a long way to go for a day-trip and I'm not the least bit surprised nobody from BBTC signed up to accompany me. Throw in the always questionable weather this time of year and even I was beginning to have second thoughts.

Yet we were out the door by six in the morning and on our way.

Kristin and I pulled into the parking spot near Cascade Lake at Moran State Park at about 11am and quickly let one another know our plans. She was going to lead the dogs on a strenuous hike up the Cold Springs trail and onward to the summit of Mount Constitution -- it's a 4.3 mile hike with 2100 feet of vertical gain. I'd likely see her as I was coming down the trail and, if all goes according to plan, we'd meet back at the car around 2pm.

As for me, I rode the 1.5 mile Cascade Lake trail towards Cascade Falls and then hopped onto the main road and climbed the asphalt to the Mount Constitution summit. The trail leading out of the parking area was a lot hillier than I expected and I was immediately huffing and puffing. I've come to accept that it takes me a few miles to warm up these days so I didn't let it bug me. Feeling crappy at the start of a ride is just a part of mountain biking for me now. After about 15 minutes or so I emerged onto the two-lane paved road that switchbacks up the side of Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 2,409 feet. I locked-out my front fork, put me head down, and started pedaling.

The weather was cloudy but the sun was doing its best to burn through the fog and mist and by the time I was halfway up the mountain, the patches of blue sky outnumbered the white two to one. I rounded a hairpin halfway up the mountain and saw a 5-point buck standing just a few steps away. He didn't mind me stopping. Nor did he start to run when I put down my bike and took off my backpack. But the unzipping of the pack startled him and off he went. I usually keep a small 4 megapixel point-and-shoot camera on my hip but today I brought my 8 megapixel Canon 20D -- had I have the little camera, I would have likely got a shot of him. Oh well, he wasn't the only white tailed deer I saw on Saturday, but was the only one I wanted a photo of.

A number of cars passed me during the climb, many of them giving me the thumb's up sign to encourage me on. That's always nice, but truth be told the climb up Mt. Constitution isn't really that tough. It's about 2100 feet of total climbing from the parking area and it's spread across 5 or so miles. I made it to the lookout tower in an hour and two minutes, including the 1.5 miles of singletrack near the car and, as expected, the views of the other islands were hit and miss. One minute there would be clear blue skies and just a couple minutes later it would be a total white-out with clouds obscuring the view entirely.

My bike and the view from Mt. Constitution.

After taking a couple of photos and whoofing down some Cliff Bloks and jerky, I started my way down the trail leading towards Cold Springs, where Kristin was coming from. I didn't make it far before running into a couple spectacular viewpoints. And it wasn't long thereafter when I ran into Kristin and the dogs. They were ready to reach the summit and take a breather, but seemed to really be enjoying themselves. She'd take a break and enjoy the views and then retrace her steps back down the mountain.

A look down at Mountain Lake from Mt. Constitution.

Now it was time for me to start riding. I quickly descended the switchbacking trail down to Cold Springs and then hung a right and followed the North Trail around the back side of Mt. Constitution. There wasn't a single person on the trails on the back side of the mountain and I really enjoyed the solitude. The trails were bone dry -- yet grippy -- and in great condition. Although mostly pretty buff, there was just enough tight switchbacks and rocks to keep you honest and make things fun. Not to mention a few ramp-like rocks on the side of the trail from which to catch some air off. And best of all, the descent was gradual enough that you really get your money's worth after making that initial climb.

Once at Twin Lakes, I hung a right and continued the descent down to Mountain Lake in lieue of the trip up and over Mt. Pickett -- wanted to keep something in reserve for for next time! There was a few more people on the trail near Mountain Lake and the views were really pretty so I slowed down and took some photos and just enjoyed the day. I eventually came back to the section of road I began my climb on and rejoined the trail I initially started on. It was a lot easier going down then up, especially since I was feeling really good at the end of the ride. I got back to the car literally 5 seconds before Kristin and the dogs.

Reflections on Mountain Lake, Orcas Island.

I had a great ride and wanted to have Kristin shuttle me back to the top for a run down the steep Cold Springs trail, but the clouds had moved in and it was starting to get a bit darker in the woods than we expected. Instead, she followed me on foot up a nearby trail and got some photos of me riding. I compose the shot, set the exposure and even do a pre-pose for the focusing then hand the camera off to her. All she has to do is point the camera and press the shutter button when I yell, "Now!" as I ride into the frame. This works really well for us, as it ensures I can't criticize her picture-taking skills. If it doesn't come out good, then it's my own fault. The shots we got this weekend came out great!

Me catching some air on a lower trail.

What a beautiful forest to ride in!

With the day half over, we headed into the small town of Eastsound and had lunch at Rose's Cafe. After an awesome roasted red pepper and tomato soup, and an even better tasting turkey sandwich, we followed some country roads out to the western edge of the island to check out the beaches. The sunset didn't appear to be worth waiting for so we zipped off to make the 5:10 ferry back to Anacortes. After a nice nap on the ferry, we decided to stop off at the Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon for a couple of beers. It didn't help me stay awake for the remainder of the drive home, but it was a perfect cap for a great day.

The San Juans: totally day-trippable!

Not at All, Why Do You Ask?

If you're wondering whether or not I feel a little weird sitting in my living room playing on my Xbox 360 while paying two guys to build the fence in my backyard, the answer is no. I'm a firm believer in paying people to do what they do well and not trying to do everything myself. There are some things that are easy to attempt and easy to correct if I screw up, like painting the spare bedroom in the house. Poking holes in my backyard, erecting a cedar fence, and anchoring it into the side of my house is not one of those things. I let people pay me to play and write about games and I'm pretty good at it. And I have no problems using that money to pay others to do what they do well.

Ideally, this would all work on a barter system and a signed copy of the "Gears of War Limited Edition Strategy Guide" and maybe some old guidebooks for "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4" would be enough to cover the cost of the fence -- I'd even be willing to throw in a couple of Moose Drools too (that's world-class beer for those of you unfortunate enough to live outside the Big Sky Brewing company's distribution network) but we're stuck with this monetary system so I make do.

By the way, speaking of money (how's that for a sequitor?), I'm here to tell you how to make the most of that $45 in your wallet. Go to REI and pick up a pair of the Acorn UpSside Down Slippers. Kristin came home with a pair of them for me last night and I've yet to take them off. They are the most comfortable anythings I've ever put on my feet. And despite being down-filled and rated to keep you warm at temps as low as 14-degrees Fahrenheit, they're "thermally regulated" to keep your feet from getting too warm. Not sure how they do that, but my feet have yet to get sweaty in them. They're perfect!

So now you know how my day is going. I'm sitting around in slippers, playing on my Xbox 360, and periodically glancing out the window to check on the two guys who are building our fence. Tomorrow we're heading to Orcas Island for some mountain biking and hiking. It's a long drive -- and an even longer ferry ride -- but the weather should be nice and we're going to make a long day of it. I'll have pics up on Monday. Have a good weekend.

I'm off to go make some chili...

A Seismic Bump in the Night

There was a magnitude 2.5 earthquake in the wee hours of Monday morning just west of Seattle by Kitsap Lake. Now, I know a 2.5 earthquake is pretty minimal, but I never would have thought it would be completely ignored. I didn't see any mention of the quake in the papers or on the news, yet just stumbled across it on the USGS website.

Link to the details of the quake.

While there's little chance that we would have felt it all the way out here in the Cascade foothills (roughly 45 miles from the epicenter) we are indeed still waiting for our first tremor. We've lived here for over 4 years now -- I thought for sure we would have felt one by now. It didn't take no time at all before we got treated to a couple of hurricanes when we moved to NC, why is Washington letting us down?

I Chose Poorly

After having downloaded the "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" trailer on Xbox Live yesterday and then having spent 2 hours with "Enchanted Arms" today, I can safely and begrudgingly admit that I chose the wrong game when shopping the other day. I'm not a super-hero fan and I never have been, but there's definitely something intriguing about a game with dozens of super-heros (especially one with the Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider) fighting together under your control.

On the other hand, "Enchanted Arms" is painfully boring, has the worst writing I've ever seen in a videogame, and the most ear-bleeding voice acting known to mankind. And I say this as someone who will defend to the death the quality of the voice acting in "Shenmue". Yes, "Enchanted Arms" is really that bad. I'm going to start up another game of it and record a video of one of the more heinous early discussions you encounter in the game and let you be the judge. Only because I want you all to suffer alongside me.

I'll post it on YouTube sometime tonight or tomorrow. Hopefully.

Naming Rights to... Achievements?

This is likely to be old news to anyone who has played EA's "Fight Night Round 3" but not only did EA only include a scant 8 Achievements in the game, but each one of them has a corporate sponsor. I received the game the other day from Gamefly (friends don't let friends buy EA games, by the way... unless it's Burnout) and I was just taking a look at the list to see how hard they might be. Lo and behold, EA amazes me yet again. So not only have they covered the game from floor to ceiling with in-game advertising, they then went the extra step to make sure that even the damn Achievements are ads! Has EA no shame?

That's rhetorical by the way.

Here are the eight Achievements you can earn in the game.

1. Burger King Achievement - Win The BK Invitational Fight.
2. Dodge Achievement - Win the Dodge sponsored fight.
3. EA SPORTS Achievement - Win any EA SPORTS sponsored fight.
4. ESPN FNF Achievement - Win any ESPN Friday Night Fight event.
5. ESPN PPV Achievement - Win any ESPN Pay Per View fight event.
6. ESPN WNF Achievement - Win any ESPN Wednesday Night Fight event.
7. Everlast Achievement - Win the Everlast sponsored fight.
8. Under Armour Achievement - Win the Under Armour sponsored fight.

So on top of their practice of selling cheat codes and unlockable items through the Xbox Live Marketplace (both of which are actually on the disc), they've also stooped to the level of selling corporate sponsoship to the names of the Achievements. Am I the only one who feels dirty?

How long will it before loading screens are actually replaced by 20 second live motion video commercials? Or until user's manuals have full-color ads like magazines? Listen, I understand that in-game product placement can be very lucrative for game makers and I'm all for them making a ton of money, but doesn't taste and decorum and suitability also belong in the conversation. How low do we have to stoop?

Apparently pretty low if you're playing EA's "Battlefield 2142". The futuristic multiplayer war game not only has a load of in-game advertising, but the ads are dynamic and could very well be catered to your web-browsing habits. Aside from the privacy issues, doesn't anyone think that a the suspension of disbelief is kind of, you know, ruined when a game set over a hundred years in the future is littered with the same McDonald's and Coca-Cola ads we see everyday in the present?

The guys at Penny-Arcade have a pretty funny comic up about this very topic. Oh, and if you think I'm just picking on EA, it's not intentional. It just so happens that they are often the ones making all the wrong decisions.

Chin Up, Sony!

Curious as to how badly Sony needs the PS3 to be a winner? Thanks to lackluster sales in the electronics division, a massive battery recall, and a particularly expensive transition in the gaming division, Sony's profits are down 94%.

Full article here.

It seems to be a common misconception that Sony makes most of their money outside of the PlayStation brand. That's not been the case for several years. Despite their ubiquitous presence in everything from televisions to radios to computers, it is the PlayStation brand that pays the bills at Sony. And that brand is in severe trouble due to supply shortages, research and development costs, and skyrocketing manufacturing expenses. Not to mention the need to spend more on marketing than usual thanks to the stiffer competition from Nintendo and Microsoft this time around. Sony is in a damned if they do, damned if they don't situation. They can't lower the price of the PS3 without taking a huge loss (more than they already are) on each one they manufacture, but they're also going to have a very hard time selling many systems at their current pricepoint.

As a guidebook author, I want all three consoles to succeed as it only means more games that need strategy guides. And while I'm sure that we're not going to see any company suffer a knockout blow during this generation, I can't help but fear that Sony's recent stalling may be the first step towards an irreversible decline. At least to the fringe-level of relevance that Nintendo now has. And despite having no plans to purchase a PS3, I use the word "fear" because I believe that gaming as a whole has reached a place where it needs all three consoles to prosper. Neither Nintendo nor Microsoft have ever demonstrated enough software support to make me feel comfortable about a future without Sony, both from a gamer's perspective and from someone who looks forward to writing ten guidebooks a year. It's popular to hate on Sony right now, and I admit that it's even fun sometimes, but even those of us who have hitched our cart to Microsoft's Xbox 360 need Sony around to ensure the overall health of the industry.

Which Is It Sony?

Kotaku has one of the new Sony PS3 commercials on their site and it, in a word, is boring. Oh, it's got a neat message and all, but it's just techno mumble jumble and a cracking floor. You can view it here. I probably talked you out of bothering to watch it, but I will say the extreme close-up of the sunflower in the commercial is pretty cool. Fans of macro photography should check it out.

But what I'd like to really bring to your attention is that once again, Sony is talking out of both sides of their mouth. In the commercial, Sony tries to visualize how much extra space there is on a standard DVD (5 GB), an HD-DVD (30 GB), and of course their BluRay Disc. They claim the BluRay Disc has 50 Gigabytes worth of space. And that the extra space on the disc is going to equate to better games on the PS3 compared to the X360 and Wii.

However, when IGN posted photos this week of their unpacking of their PS3 review-kit, there are BluRay Discs clearly visible in the photos with an offical label proudly exclaiming not 50 GB, but 25 GB worth of space. So, if we're to believe Sony, not only does the actual BluRay Disc have half the storage they claim it to, but it actually has 5 GB less than the competitor's HD-DVD discs.

Click here for the photographic evidence.

Congrats Sony. You never cease to confuse us, yourself, and all of your would-be customers.

Personally, having played through "Gears of War" for example, I think the whole concept of needing more and more space is a bit exaggerated. While I no doubt understand that the jump to 1080p (in 5 years) will require the greater space on the discs for the textures, "Gears of War" has an amazing variety of very detailed (i.e. non-repeating) textures and sounds and quite easily fits on a single DVD. Not only that, but it's also head and shoulders better looking than other Xbox 360 games on the market and better looking than anything I've yet to see from the PS3. Sony will have you believe that in order to truly experience the next-generation of gaming, you have to have a media format with more space on it. No you don't. It's the age-old quality versus quantity argument and jamming more and more crap onto a disc doesn't justify the upgrade. Epic clearly shows with "Gears of War" that you can pack a substantial amount of quality-made gaming goodness onto a standard DVD and have it run exceptionally well at 720p and outshine everything on the market. Don't buy into the space hype.

And by the way, if BluRay and 1080p are so important to our enjoyment of Sony's product, why not even include at least a pair of component cables in the box? Actually, even an S-video cable would have been nice. All that cutting edge technology in the console and they pack-in a measly set of RCA composite cables. I used better cabling on my PSone!

The Annual Toys R Us Sale

I walk into the Toys R Us in Bellevue once a year. And that time is when they have their "Buy 2 Videogames Get 1 Free" sale. The sale lasts a week and for each of the past three years, I've always walked out of there with 9 games in hand. Nine! For the Price of six! Oh, what a joyous time those days are.

Today? Not so much.

Those who follow the current release schedule of videogames will already know that all of the really, really good stuff isn't do out for another one to two weeks. I'm pretty sure the head decision makers at TRU know this as well, because their big sale is taking place this week. Nevertheless, there were a couple of games I meant to check out for the Xbox 360 and, if I'm hurting for choices, I might even pick up "Contact" for the Nintendo DS or "Bully" for the Playstation 2. Really, though, I just wanted to browse the aisles and get a good deal on a bunch of games like I always do. Every year I head off to TRU for this sale with a couple of games in mind, but usually end up leaving with a stack of stuff I didn't anticipate owning. Sometimes it works out well and othertimes the games sit ensconced in shrinkwrap for years at a time.

But a funny thing happened since last fall's sale. I became a one-console guy. It's not that I dislike my Gamecube and PS2 (or my PC, PSP, or DS) but I just don't play them anymore. All of my leisurely gaming is spent on the Xbox 360. Part of it is because I only want one console in the living room and that's the one that makes use of my HDTV; part of it is because of the Achievements and Gamer Scores; and part of it is because I prefer the controller the best and enjoy the crisper graphics and audio. But mostly, it's just that I've finally realized that I don't need to own all of the consoles anymore. One is enough, thank you very much.

So, with that caveat, let me be the first to say that picking out games at the TRU sale was a bit tougher than normal. For starters, the games I really want to own for the X360 I either already have or they aren't out yet (and I've played most of those already thanks to work). Secondly, TRU had neither "Contact" nor "Bully" so that ruled out the two non-X360 games I was considering getting.

I thought about buying "Oblivion" for the X360 despite already owning it for the PC, but decided against it. While I was mulling over picking up "G.R.A.W" someone reached down and grabbed the last copy. So I decided to go for variety. What genres don't I already have? Well... I don't own an RPG for the X360, I don't have any team-based sports games, nor do I have much in the way of action-adventure games. Actually, when it comes to the X360 all I have is racing games and "Dead Rising". Well, those and the horrendous "Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires", but I'd rather forget that purchase.

So after much deliberation, I settled on "Enchanted Arms", "Lego Star Wars II", and "NHL 2K7". And I'm happy with these choices (for now), but what I'm not happy with is that even with a buy two get one free sale, I still spent $130 including taxes. Is it me or does that seem absurdly high? I haven't been buying many games this year compared to years past and while I have a small list of titles I want to pick up in the next couple of weeks today's sale was a pretty big reminder that I have a Gamefly membership for a reason. Gaming has gotten too expensive.

Release the Hounds

When Kristin and I brought home our first dog eight and a half years ago, we were living in a two-story townhouse in Greenville, NC. The yard wasn't fenced, but we had a small deck and were able to put up a "dog runner" that stretched from a corner of the house to a tree in the yard and Kimo (and eventually Annana) would run and frolic in the yard while attached to this overhead cable with pulleys and leashes. Keeping the two dogs separated was a chore that required constant tending to early on, but as time wore on the dogs became very skilled users of the dog runner and were able to keep themselves untangled very well. Even when playing fetch, which always surprised me.

We installed a similar system in the yard of the duplex we rented when we moved to Bellevue, WA and although they didn't have the deck to sit on, they felt right at home with their tethered playtime. But I always felt bad for them. I so wanted them to have a fenced yard they can run and play in without having to be leashed to something. The house we bought two years ago didn't come with a fenced yard and trips to Hawaii and Costa Rica, not to mention buying two new cars last year, kept the fence on the backburner.

I'm happy to say that dish is finally getting cooked!

The fence construction guys came by yesterday to drop off the posts and today they're going to sink them and concrete them in. They tell me the fence will be done by Friday. I don't know how much the dogs really minded the overhead pulley system, but I do know that for two years now, they haven't gone outside off a leash attached to mine or Kristin's wrist. They haven't gotten to take a nap in the sun or play fetch or chase stupid cats that sneak into the yard. And now, come Friday, they'll be able to. I feel like I'm about to give someone the ultimate Christmas gift. I'm simultaneously thrilled that we're finally getting the fence installed while also very sad that the dogs are already cresting the hill of middle-age.

The fence is a six-foot cedar "estate" style fence, per the neighborhood's design guidelines. The dogs won't be able to jump over it and while we don't have the biggest yard in the world, it's large enough to play fetch and for Kristin and I to sit on chairs and just watch the dogs run and play. I'm just sorry it took so long.

Custom Painted Guitar Giveaway for Guitar Hero II

Head on over to BradyGames.com and register with the site, then follow this link to enter to win one of two totally bitchin' guitars for Guitar Hero II. The two guitars -- one "lightning" one "fire" -- were designed by Von Raknid and will be raffled off on January 15, 2007. Entries must be received by December 31, 2006.

Good luck.

7 of 13, Better Than You Might Think!

I only picked 7 of the 13 NFL games correctly this week. Normally, that would be a bad thing, especially since I was already ranked in the top 1% of the 208,000 people playing on Yahoo, but not this week. The average was 4 of 13 and none of the Yahoo Experts had guessed better than 5. I actually moved up over 1,000 spots by getting a scant 7 picks correct.

Here's my new ranks...

Overall - 1277, 8 behind leader
Fans of Seattle - 42, 6 behind leader
Fans from Washington - 28, 4 behind leader

And as a group, Fans of Seattle are ranked 2nd and Fans from Washington are ranked 5th.

Indian Summer on Kachess Ridge

Ken emailed me late yesterday to see if I'd want to ride Kachess Ridge with him this afternoon. Despite the three-thousand foot ascent up the fire road from the lake to the trailhead, Kachess Ridge is one of my favorite rides in Washington and when I rode it back in September, it was the morning after I wrapped up a 5-day-90-hour work week with a 36-hour marathon. I pretty much sleepwalked through that ride and had to get off the bike numerous times on some of my favorite tech sections to prevent serious injury -- you know you're having an off day when you can count the seconds between mental decisions and physical reactions. And a technical, rocky, descent in the pseudo-backcountry is no place to be suffering a laggy reaction time. So, with that in mind, I was more than happy to say yes.

Knowing the trail down the ridge is primarily on the northeastern side of the mountain, I was a little concerned about the dwindling daylight and our late start time, but we made good time out to Exit 70 on I-90 and were off and peddling by 1:45pm. The ride starts with a 5.5 mile warmup along a dirt road on the shore of the lake. From there, it's a 5 mile climb up a switchbacking fire road to a mile-high elevation. The weather was spectacular for this time of year -- mid 60's with a slight breeze -- and the wispy clouds only served to make the mountain views that much grander. There's a few nice viewpoints along the climb which gives riders a chance to see exactly how high we've gone, but I always love it when we ascend higher than the ridge on the far side of the lake and Mt. Rainier finally comes into view. And what a view it was today! Ken was struggling a bit on the climb today -- probably had something to do with that double-bacon-cheeseburger he had sitting in his stomach -- so I had plenty of time to take some photos during the climb.

Despite not having my Canon 20D with me, this is one of my favorite shots of Rainier that I've taken to date. I posted a slightly higher res version of the photo on BBTC here.

Mt. Rainier from atop Kachess Ridge.

The wind was really blowing atop Kachess Ridge and it was already past 3:30 in the afternoon. Darkness could become an issue if we lolligagged. We both put on some warmer clothing, woofed down some jerky and Odwalla bars, and prepared for the 7 mile descent. But first the hike-a-bike. The initial descent off the back of the ridge is a bit of a tease, as it is quickly followed by a quarter-mile hike-a-bike section. Much of the ground in this area was partially frozen, but it broke apart into beautiful clumps of 3-inch long needles of ice.

With the hike-a-bike over, it was time to ride. Finally! The descent was as awesome as ever, with plenty of rocks and roots to drop from and pick your way around, as well as some very fast swoopy sections through picturesque high-altitude pastures. There was quite a bit of mud halfway down the mountain, which made for some cold, wet, shoes, but all in all it was a great ride. We planned on stopping and taking plenty of photos but, as is often the case, we were having too much fun riding. Ken hadn't ever ridden Kachess Ridge before so I let him lead most of the way down, then I took the lead when the trail started to get a bit more roller-coastery. I hadn't ridden for nearly a month before last week but my recent surge in saddle time has me feeling a bit fitter again. We arrived back at the cars at about 5 o'clock, with about 30 minutes of daylight to spare. We each had a Petzl headlamp with us to use in an emergency, but it was great to actually have enough natural light to ride. Fast.

A quick drive back down I-90 to the North Bend Bar & Grill had us gulping down enormous plates of nachos and a tasty pint of Snoquamie Brewery's Harvest Moon seasonal ale. If there's a better way to spend a Monday, I'd like to hear about it.

Cheering for Losers

I've had the requisite 24 hours to sit and stew after watching Pro-Bowl Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck get carried off the field in what quickly went from a 10-10 game to a Minnesota blowout, and all I could think about is my friends back east who have remained faithful J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! fans since our childhood days. How do they do it? To say the Jets have been an underperforming franchise over the past 10-20 years is an understatement. Yet, still my friends spend their hard-earned money going to the games week in and week out, cheering for a team that in all likelihood will once again fall well short of the Wildcard. Just like they always do.

Yesterday was the first time the Seahawks lost at home during the regular season since December of 2004. The last time we witnessed a defeat was the agonizing playoff loss to the Rams (who beat the Seahawks 3 times that season) in January of 2005. Including theplayoffs, the Seahawks have won the past 12 games at home. Quite simply, I forgot it was possible for them to lose at home. Or ever, to be perfectly honest.

Watching Hasselbeck go down and Seneca Wallace (who I find very entertaining to watch... during the pre-season) turn the ball over and the defense give up big play after big play was agonizing. We were dumbstruck. We have a good time on gameday win or lose, but this was a shock to the system. It hurt. We stayed to the final whistle -- the only ones left in our section were a few other diehard fans and a smattering of purple-cloaked Vikings fans who moved down from the nosebleed section. And when we left, we had to endure the serenading of the Viking fight-song by a few Minnesotans who relocated.

But the Seahawks will live to fight another day and in all likelihood will still win the NFC West and make a playoff run once Alexander and Hasselbeck (not to mention Bobby Engram and Floyd Womack) return to the field. But for those people who go to watch the Texans, Cardinals, 49ers, Jets, Lions, Packers, Dolphins, Raiders, and Browns... How do you do it? How do you go to the stadium week in and week out knowing full well that the odds of your team winning are slim. Is the occasional surprise victory worth the weeks of punishment? Do you even watch the games, or just go for the excitement and social aspects? How drunk do you get, exactly? I understand the concept of team loyalty, but you can be loyal at home in your living room and be a few thousand dollars richer by year's end. Why go to the stadium? And, by the way, how does one become loyal to a team that hasn't experienced success in your lifetime? Cardinals fans, I'm looking at you.

But I guess that's it right there. Other than the Texans and Cardinals, every team in the NFL has given their fans something to chear about in the last 25 years. The guys who have the seats next to us at Qwest Field have been Seahawks season ticket holders for over 20 years. That's a lot of losing seaons there, folks. But you know what? They were there for the days when the Seahawks were consistently competing for the AFC Championship in the early 80's and that experience gave them hope that the team could do it again. Last season's run to the Super Bowl was thrilling enough to at least buy another 10-15 years of loyalty from me. And each team has had a season like that -- or, in the Lions case, a player named Barry who was so electric he made up for the team's shortcomings.

So I guess I do understand why fans continue to go, no matter how bad the team is. Well, except for Texans and Cardinals fans are concerned. Their moment has yet to come. But maybe next year will be the year...

Lumines Live

The much-anticipated puzzle game, Lumines Live, finally made its way to the Xbox Live Marketplace last week and rather than rejoicing the arrival of this former PSP-exclusive, it seems that everyone would rather find reasons to bitch and complain. Did I ever mention I hate gamers? Well, I do. Most of the Internet hysteria consists of berating Microsoft (who doesn't set the pricing structure or delivery schedule by the way, Q Entertainment, the game's publisher does) for selling an incomplete game. It seems that these folks thought they'd be getting the full $40 PSP experience on Xbox Live for $15. Why they thought that is beyond me.

I agree that labelling the $15 download as the "full game" was misleading, however, anyone who has read anything about this game over the past couple months knew full well that the "full game" was really just the main basic puzzle mode, time attack, and the infrastructure and UI for the puzzle and Vs CPU modes. The reason for this is many people, like me, think the Puzzle Mode is a complete waste of time. And that playing Vs CPU is utterly pointless when you're already on Xbox Live in the first place -- just play against a human!

Yet the complaints pour in nonetheless. Everyone jumping on the bandwagon and giving Microsoft a drumming for this "costly misstep". Puhleeze. The downloadable game gives you enough of the missing modes for you to sample so you know whether or not you actually want to spend the extra money on them. Now, had Achievements have been linked to those additional purchases, I would have been annoyed, but they're not. So now I'm actually happy that I didn't have to pay for something (like I did my PSP version) that I know I'm not going to use.

As for the "Advance Pack" of extra skins, maybe they should have been included with the main game, maybe not. I don't know. I do know that I can't complete all 12 of the skins that came with the game I bought -- and judging by the high scores on Xbox Live most of you can't either -- so why is everyone upset that they have to purchase extra skins? It's not like you would have seen them otherwise anyway.

This is just another reason why I've weened myself off of visiting message boards and paying too much attention to the gaming "news" of the day. It's a pointless waste of time that only serves to get my blood pressure higher than it needs to be. Yes, Q Entertainment should not have labelled the download as the "full game" as that was misleading, but still, for $15 what did you all think you were going to get?

Try, Try, Again

Rode the trails at Green Mountain today outside of Bremerton. We had beautiful weather and other than nearly missing the 8:45 ferry out of Seattle, the day went great. One of the areas we came across had this barrier that I kept trying to clear on my bike. I tried four times to clean this thing on the bike, but just kept bashing the bottom of my frame and big chainring into the iron beam and endoing over the bars. Ellen took some photos of my trying to clear it and I made this little composite. I nearly made it on the second attempt, almost hurt myself on the third, and then tried one more time in the opposite direction after putting the camera away. Almost made it but endoed pretty hard. Oh well...

Click to the see the pics.

Bikin' Dirty

Thanks to Erik Alston for forwarding this to the BBTC Listserve! This is a great mock-video about Floyd Landis set to the "Ridin' Dirty" song you've likely heard over the past few months. I know, I know, I hate that song too... but this is worth listening to it for.

Click here to watch the video.

Faceplates Explained

I should have explained this when I mentioned the "carbon fibre" faceplate for the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 is a very plain white looking thing, but one of the neat things about it is that the front faceplate comes off and Microsoft and other companies have begun releasing dozens of different designs for it that you can buy separately for about $20 apiece. Some have game characters on them, others are just weird, abstract designs, some are wood-grain, and the one I bought is of an imitation carbon weave. It's purely aesthetic.

The reason I wanted the carbon fibre one so much is because the white X360 sticks out like a sore thumb in my living room. The muted black/gray weave of the carbon faceplate, however, allows it to blend into the darkness that otherwise is the cubbyholes and shelves of the unit my tv sits on.

Unfortunately, it doesn't add any speed increase to the console, nor does it decrease the weight. But, I guess you can say there is an added secondary reason to have it in that I most often play racing games on the X360 so this kind of fits the racing motiff. That and I ride a carbon mtn bike. But my number one reason was to keep it from standing out in my living room.

Here's a link to the faceplate.

Charger Juice

After spending two weeks driving around in a Ford Taurus earlier this month, I was initially pleased to learn that of the only 7 rental cars left in all of Raleigh (furniture convention), one was a Dodge Charger and another was a Chrysler 300M. The rest were very large vans. I recall a lot of people getting excited about the new Dodge Charger so I thought, what the hell, I'll take it.

What a piece of crap. Oh, sure, it's got tons of ponies under the hood and accelerates really well. But it handles like a yacht, the interior is comprised of various black and beige panels of the same plastic that Little Tikes playground equipment is made of, and the general lay of the cockpit was such that no matter how hard I tried I couldn't configure the seat to a position that allowed me to either reach all of the controls or see the gauges. And I'm six feet tall. For the amount of money a Charger costs (both to buy and to rent) I was expecting something that offered a little more than straightline speed. In typical American design, the car is overpowered, oversized, handles horrendously, and has all the interior style of a jail cell. To be honest, I almost would have preferred the friggin' Taurus. And I say firmly believing that nobody below the age of 60 should even be allowed near a Taurus.

So I was rough on the Charger. I hit some curbs with it. Squealed the tires on a couple of occasions, drove it hard, slammed the doors, and just generally abused it as much as I could in the 28 hours I was in possession of it. It didn't deserve to be cared for. But the worst thing to happen to it was that it got sprayed by chicken juice. I was on the highway and the car was getting sprayed by some mysterious liquid coming off the mudflap of the eighteen wheeler in front of me. I look at the truck and notice that there's a continuous supply of liquid emanating from the mudflap despite us driving on a bone-dry road. The Charger is getting covered in it. And it's not clear. I look up and see the words "Tyson" painted really large on the back door. The trailer appears to be a large refrigerated unit, but it has obviously sprung a leak. And the Charger is being doused with the juicy liquid found in packaged chicken at the grocery store.

Or so this was my hunch. I run the wipers and spray some washer fluid onto the windshield to clean the mess after switching lanes and am suddenly hit with the pungent, unmistakable scent of uncooked chicken. Fortunately the odor dissipated as quickly as it came, and I got a laught out of it. The mighty Charger, with all that horsepower, was coated in chicken juice. Somehow it just seemed so appropriate.

4 Flights, 3 Delays, and 90 Minutes of Work Later...

I had to fly back to NC to record some video of Gears of War for use on the BradyGames Connected website (and possibly for use as Xbox Live Marketplace downloads) on Tuesday night and despite my two-hour delay Wednesday morning in Newark Airport, I was done with what I needed to do at Epic by mid-afternoon. Which left me with a day to while away in the Raleigh area.

My first instinct was to head to the Carey Town Center mall and wander around for a little while. Although the mall was a bit on the podunk side of things, I did manage to snag the carbon-fibre faceplate for my Xbox 360. I hadn't ever seen one outside of the display case at the E3 Expo, so this was a great find. A couple of crappy Sbarro slices of pizza later, and I found my way back to the Red Roof Inn where I promptly fell asleep. After all, I was up all night on the plane and pretty beat.

I woke up in time to watch Game 6 of the NLCS and wound my way over to the Carolina Ale House in Cary. This is a pretty cool place. It's one part neighborhood bar, one part ubiquitous chain restaurant, and one part frat house all rolled in one. It was a Wednesday night and the place was packed. I ordered up a Newcastle and a buffalo chicken sandwich and was happily surprised when my beer was served in a Redhook ESB pint glass. "Hey, Redhook ESB is one of my favorites bak in Seattle. Do you have it?" Nope, just the glasses. Foiled again.

With the Mets victory in hand, I went back to the hotel, gave Kristin a call and fell asleep watching Discovery Channel. My flight wasn't scheduled to leave on Thursday until 2:55, so that left me with plenty of time to kill. I should have brought my trail shoes and hit up Umstead State Park and ran the trails I used to train on, but I didn't. Instead, I drove over to Crabtree Valley Mall (don't ask) and wandered around for a while. Not much going on there, so I ended up wasting an hour or so at the bar in Cheesecake Factory, eating lunch and talking with the lady from Baton Rouge to my left.

Finally, it's time to head home. I get to the gate at RDU Airport and find out my flight has been delayed by 90 minutes. So I sit and wait. And wait. And wait. We finally get on the plane -- I've now already missed my conncting flight in Houston -- only to wait some more on the runway. I was really looking forward to stopping at the Bubba's Bayou restaurant in the airport in Houston and having another bowl of gumbo (had one last week and it was great) but now I would be running to catch my flight to Seattle once we landed. And it would be for nothing. I ran from Terminal C to Terminal E -- right past the restaurant I wanted to eat at -- only to find that flight too had been delayed. The sign said we'd be leaving just 20 minutes late, not enough time to go back to the restaurant, so I settled for a premade sandwich from Starbucks. 20 minutes turned into 30 which turned into a 50 minute delay by the time we actually started rumbling down the runway.

But I did make it home. And the sandwich made for good bartering onboard the plane when I traded half of it for a pair of headphones from the guy next to me. Adam Sandler's movie "Click" certainly helped pass some of the time and was easily worth half a sandwich.

So, if you're counting, that's 6,000 miles in the air for 90 minutes of work and I was back home exactly 48 hours after I left. Not the worst two days in my life, but definitely among the most uneventful.

Skills for Sale

And yes, if you read that previous post about the Tiger Woods game, you can spend a couple extra dollars and achieve maximum players stats for your character -- 110% even! Then you can go online and kick all sorts of ass. Not because you're any good or worked hard to increase your golfer's ability, but because you spent a couple extra dollars.

Congratulations, EA. Xbox Live Marketplace hasn't even existed for a full year, yet you've worked tirelessly to ruin every aspect of it that is great.

A Sunday Mugging

You can't look at the Internet these days without finding yet another reason to hate game-maker EA. First, there's this and this in addition to the plethora of complaints about EA's buggy and generally crap-tastic NBA Live 2007 basketball game, but then there's today's update over at my favorite site Achieve360Points.com. It lists the Live Marketplace items for EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007.

Here's the for-sale game content for this game.

2. Maxed Out Player (108.00 KB, 200pts - U.S. $2.50)
Max our your original game face golfer's skills. All skills will be set to 110%.

3. Own Everything in the Pro Shop! (108.00 KB, 300pts - U.S. $3.75)
The innovative character creation tool is revamped with deeper modifications, more apparel, equipment licenses, and specialty items. Save time by unlocking and owning all items in the pro shop for your golfer.

4. Sunday Tiger - Marketplace Exclusive! (108.00 KB, 240pts - U.S. $3.00)
Exclusive Unlock! Play Tiger at his Sunday best. Sunday Tiger is ONLY available on the Xbox Live Marketplace.

5. Unlock Courses (108.00 KB, 200pts - U.S. $2.50)
All-New Championship Courses. The course content doubles with the addition of new licensed courses, including Firestone Country Club, Glen Abbey, Princeville, Spyglass Hill, St Andrews, and Bandon Dunes. Save time and unlock all locked courses in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07.

6. Unlock Golfers (108.00 KB, 200pts - U.S. $2.50)
See and feel every emotion in complete detail with the introduction of all-new Universal Capture (UCAP) technology. The world's No. 1 golfer seems so real you won't believe your eyes. Unlock all locked golfers in the game with this bundle.

Aside from the fact that other than the courses, this is basically EA asking you to pay them extra money for cheat codes and unlockables, but I want to direct your attention to item number 4, "Sunday Tiger".

EA is charging $3.00 for the ability to download the trademark black and red outfit that Tiger always wears on Sundays in honor of his alma mater, Stanford University. It is just me or am I wrong for thinking that a videogame starring Tiger Woods -- one that costs $60 no less -- would include his signature outfit right out of the box. Perhaps as something you earn/win through gameplay or something that simply can only be worn on day 4 of tourneys when you're in the lead. Where's the Horse Armor-like venom among gamers now? EA is selling one of the most recognizable aspects of Tiger Woods as an extra downloadable item -- after they already sell you the game for $60.

Now if somebody knows for a fact that these unlockable items are actually attainable in the game for free and that these purchasable downloads are simply for the lazy, then please let me know and I'll redirect my ire. But I somehow doubt they are. I scan the lists of downloads available at Achieve360Points.com every day and if one thing has become clear, it's that EA moreso than any other company is trying to nickel and dime gamers more than any other company out there.

Hey EA, how about first giving us something that actually justifies the $60 price tag (i.e. actually works), then worry about providing extra content on the Marketplace.

Mountain Biking: Washington Sampler

My brother Joe was out here visiting for a few days from Boulder, CO and I finally got to show him some of that fine Washington singletrack we love so much. We rented him a Giant Faith from the shop in Black Diamond -- the shop loaned out the size Medium Giant Anthem 2 I requested earlier in the week (Pete is too casual for his own good) and gave us the size L Faith instead. Wouldn't have been too bad had the bolt not have fallen out of the rear triangle during day #3. Nice.

But I digress... it was $100 well spent for 3 days of riding. So we spent Friday night in my garage working on my bike. My brother, despite being 4 years younger than me, was the one who got me into riding in the first place and is quite the bike mechanic. He used to own a shop and worked behind the bench for years. As a result, my bike is running better than ever thanks to him. With the bikes ready to go, it was just a matter of keeping close tabs on the Accuweather forecast and minimizing our time out in the slop.

SATURDAY - Esmeralda Basin
We awoke early and drove the 2 hours out to the Esmeralda Basin area. We passed dozens of hunters on the M.F. Teanaway River road but only a few near the DeRouxe Campground where I parked my truck. It wasn't long into the ride before my lack of recent riding and general lack of climbing over the summer reared its ugly head. I was winded and tired early on in the ride and was repeatedly on and off my bike making the initial singletrack climb up the Esmeralda Basin trail from 4000 to 5900 feet. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely perfect. Temps in the upper 60's, clear blue skies for much of the ride, and a slight breeze made it all worth while. And the views, as always in that area, were great. Joe was doing really well on the climb and enjoying the technical, rocky nature of the trail. We took quite a while getting to the top and by the time we made it the wind had really picked up and the cloud cover blew in.

We didn't eat lunch at the top where the large sun-bleached "lunch tree" is, but descended a bit down the back side of the ridge for some cover from the wind. From there, it was time to nagotiate the tight switchbacks heading down to the "Jeep Road From Hell". I did a good job on most of the switchbacks -- better than normal -- but had trouble staying on the trail once it got straight and rocky at the bottom. The size Large bike my brother was renting was a bit too big for him and proved to be a bit of a problem on switchbacks, but he still made it down with little trouble. Up the JRFH to Gallagher Head Lake and, from there, we zipped down the 4 miles back to the car. I was riding really well on the DeRouxe Trail, and handling all of the tight rocky drops and switchbacks with little trouble, prompting my brother to remark on how much I improved since the last time we rode together (2002). He completely bombed the straight sections, literally leaving me in the dust, but I would usually catch up on the switchbacks. We ran into a couple of older gents on horseback about a mile or two from the cars and they were asking me about the trails and where to go. After, I remarked that it felt kind of cool to be a young guy (from Jersey no less!) on a mtn bike offering navigation tips to a couple of ol' cowboys. This somehow led to me singing Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" for the next 1/2 mile or so. I hang my head in shame as I type this.... "On a Carbon Fiber Horse I ride.... and I'm wanted... WAAAAANTTEEED Dead or A - Liveeeeeee!" No wonder nobody ever signs up for my rides. ;-)

Joe really liked riding Esmeralda but wished the DeRouxe trail was a couple miles longer. Don't we all. That said, he was digging the brief bits of exposure and the overall techy nature of the loop. Not to mention the scenery. No larch however.

SUNDAY - Tiger Mountain
The rain came Saturday night and to be honest, after looking at the satellite images on Accuweather.com we were thinking of just returning the bike and getting some money back. I really wanted to ride some more so we decided to just wait and see. After watching that awesome Seahawk comeback on Sunday morning, we noticed a small break in the rain and quickly loaded up the truck and headed 5 minutes of the road to Tiger Mountain. There, we ran into a mud-covered guy from Trinidad & Tobago. He was grinning ear to ear as he just got done riding Preston and NW Timber. I asked if he enjoyed the nicer weather earlier in the week. Nope, he just got off the plane the previous night and came right to Tiger with his hosts to ride on Sunday in the slop. He didn't care. He was totally loving it.

As for us, I wasn't looking forward to riding Preston among the salmon that would undoubtedly be swimming up the trail so we headed off towards Iverson -- my fav trail there anyway. Joe really enjoyed Iverson and thought the dense forest totally cool looking and a nice change from the Teanaway area. Iverson was in great condition with little to no standing water. We saw two pairs of hikers, but no riders out there. After Iverson, I gave Joe the choice -- we either climb 1200 feet and do a very wet 11 mile loop back to the cars or we go out-and-back on NW Timber for a total of 5 miles. We chose the latter. We ran into absolutely zero people on NW Timber and had a great time zipping through the mist-cloaked forest. Joe impressed me by climbing the real rocky/rooty little section on the way towards Preston. I've only ever seen one or two other people make that section in that direction. NW Timber was a bit wetter and definitely had some puddles on it. Back at the cars, I bid my farewell to Tiger for 2006. To think I only descended on Preston RR trail once this year and don't even miss it. I guess I have a little Bournique in me after all.

MONDAY - Fort Ebey
The plan was to go big on Joe's final day here. We'd park at the airfield in Greenwater and ride the White River, Corral Pass, Dalle's Ridge, Palisades Loop. Then we saw the weather and realized that Joe was flying out at 8:20pm and decided against it. Instead, we caught the ferry to Whidbey Island and drove up to Fort Ebey instead. It didn't rain on us there, but we never saw the sun either. That said, it's always great to see the look on a first-time visitor's face when they round the corner and emerge on the bluff trail, 80 feet directly over the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The trails were absolutely empty -- we saw zero people in the park and put in over 12 miles on the fun, roller-coastery singletrack. I lead the way to all of my favorite trails like Hokey-ka-dodo and Hootin and Madrona Hill, among many others. Joe especially liked the scenery along Shepherd's Crook in the Raider Creek section of the park and I took a few shots of him on the corkscrew section that made for a great multi-exposure composite. I told him we wouldn't get above 180ft above sea level, but still rack up nearly 2000 feet of climbing before the ride. Not sure if he believed me or not, but 12 miles later, the altimeter I wear registered 1780 feet of climbing. Don't underestimate Fort Ebey's hilliness! Oh, and if you're wondering, there was zero standing water. The trails were wet and tacky, with excellent traction and the only minor complaint would be that the new trails over by Roy Evans/Confusion/MadronaHill area were like going through a carwash. The rhodies need to get beaten back a bit.

All in all, Joe was really impressed by how different the environments we rode in were and how different each trail system was. I explained that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Factor in the Winthrop area, St. Helens, Greenwater, the Olympic Peninsula, and even places like Tolt and Devil's Gulch, and it's clear we really are blessed with an abundance of variety out here in Washington. Wouldn't have been nice to get him on something a bit more technical, but we had fun nonetheless. And best of all, he gets to repay the favor when I go to Boulder in February -- he's going to show me his favorite snowboard places. I can't wait!

The First of Three

My brother is in town visiting from Boulder, CO and we rented him a mountain bike for the weekend so I can finally give him a sample of all the great trails we have out here. Today we're heading east to do the Esmeralda Basin ride. If all goes well, I'll have photos and a video (care of my new helmet-cam) to share next week.

Tomorrow is going to depend on the weather, but the plan is to sneak a ride in at Tiger Mountain after the rain stops, but more importantly, after the Seahawks beat the Rams.

And as for Monday, that one is really up in the air. We're hoping to head down to the Greenwater area and do the big White River, Corral Pass, Dalles Ridge, Palisades loop. But I'm not sure how much my current state of fitness can handle 4000 feet of climbing. Then again, there's only one way to find out. Right?

So Long Gaming Forums

I can't take it anymore. I've been frequenting several videogame forums for the past 5 years or so and I just can't stomach the petty, juvenile, bickering that takes place anymore. I'm done. People who know only what bought-and-paid for gaming journalists tell them to believe espouse opinions as fact in such a derogatory manner that one can't help but scream at their computer monitor.

And what's weird about this is that this behavior seems unique to gamers. I never notice the level of immaturity and fanboyish behavior on forums catering to my other interests -- such as mountain biking, travel, or photography. Only gamers. Why people care so deeply about a consumer product is beyond me. The way these kids (and adults) act, you'd think they actually made the freaking games they're talking about. Who needs it? I sure don't.

96th Percentile

I had a good week this past weekend with Yahoo's "Pro Football Pick' Em". I got 13 of the 14 games right. Oddly enough, all of the favorites won and the only underdog I picked was Baltimore over Denver in the MNF game. I don't pay any attention to point spreads and who the so-called experts think is the favorite. I quickly go down the list and make snap-decisions on each matchup. I follow the NFL closely enough so that I know the records of most teams and the major injuries and trends, but I base my decisions on my own personal gut reaction.

And I'm doing pretty good so far. I'm ranked in the 96th percentile in the following three groups: Overall Leaders, Fans of Seattle, and Fans from Washington.

Overall Leaders: I'm 9 picks behind the leader and ranked 7,349 out of 232,876 players.

Fans of Seattle: I'm 6 picks behind the leader and ranked 218 out of 6,069 players.

Fans from Washington: I'm 5 picks behind the leader and ranked 153 out of 4,551 players.

Without Fantasy Football, this is all I have going on this season and it's mildly depressing. I just can't get into watching all of the other games as much without having something at stake. I still watch all of the Seahawks games (and scream my head off at the games) but it's just not the same.

Home Sweet Home

I was standing in the security line at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Monday afternoon with a book in one hand, my PSP in the other, and an anxiously-awaited cross-country flight into my wife's arms in front of me. I had already checked my luggage and was readying my boarding pass and ID when my cell phone rang. I saw the area code, recognized it as a number from my publisher's office, and immediately sighed. This couldn't be happening.

I was told I needed to head back to the developer's offices to take care of some extra stuff the marketing team wants us to offer. It would probably only take a few hours, but there were no more flights that day and I really wanted to go home. I was so close, I could almost taste the cool mountain air that was sure to be blowing through the windows of my office back home in Washington. I was already mentally checked out. I suffered from horrendous insomnia for two weeks and I was drained. Not to mention my brother was flying in from Boulder, CO on Wednesday.

"Can I go home for a few days and come back next week? The airfare will be roughly the same at this point."

I arrived home a little before 1am Monday night and was as thrilled as ever to be back in my own home, with a full refrigerator -- dining out 3 times a day for 15 days isn't all it's cracked up to be -- and my own bed. Not to mention I got to see Kristin and my dogs again. Kristin took Tuesday morning off so she could sleep in with me and make a nice breakfast -- that was awesome. We sat and watched tv together and then she went to work. I slept most of the day. I was exhausted, completely drained. The book for Gears of War is going to be awesome and I'm really proud of the work I did on it, but man was it exhausting.

I wanted to do a little shopping yesterday. Wanted to finish the one chapter I have left to wrap up; and even wanted to go for a nice run on the trails near my house. But I couldn't. I was just so glad to be home, I didn't want to leave.

Sometime next week, I'll fly back to NC for a couple of hours of work and then fly all the way home again the next day. It will suck. It would have made more sense to just stay overnight on Monday and finish up, but sometimes you just have to do what feels good. And nothing felt better than finally coming home.

Impressions are Everything

"After playing [Gears of War] there's no way I'm getting the SOCOM games for PS2 and PSP anymore. That's like dating a model only to go home and hook up with a fat chick."

-- Jim Morey

One of the many wonderful comments I got to hear during my two weeks at Epic.

Tomorrow I come home and will begin posting again with more frequency. My apologies for the lack of posts of late, but 100-hour weeks will do that.

Here and There

Saw an article in a North Carolina paper this morning at the Coffee & Crepes place I've been frequenting (and by frequenting, I mean 2 to 3 times a day) talking about the record-breaking prices that a California company was paying for square-footage in a Raleigh area office tower. The company was paying roughly $247 per square-foot of space. Hmmm... I thought, "that doesn't sound that high".

So I get to Epic and check my email and then click on over to the Seattle Times homepage. And what a coincidence! There was an article on its homepage about the record-breaking prices being paid for space in a new Bellevue high-rise office tower. How much? Roughly $560 per square-foot.

And there you have the reason why this seemingly non-descript haven of strip-malls with an utter lack of nearby recreational opportunities finds itself consistently ranked as one of the most livable parts of the country. It's cheap.

When we moved from NC to WA, we literally tripled our rent overnight. The damn best money we ever spent. There's a lot more to "quality of life" than having a low mortgage.

You May Already Be A Winner!

Well, that was certainly an atrocious way to cap off what was, essentially, a lonely, boring birthday. Nothing worse than spending your birthday working as a contractor in a nearly-empty office building, only to later go to the local sports bar and watch your team get whooped on national television. Well, actually, I imagine spending your birthday in jail or at a funeral would indeed be worse, but you get the idea.

The only good to come out of yesterday -- aside from talking to everyone in my family (and even one of my sisters-in-law which I thought was particularly nice) -- was that the bar I was at was raffling off a Shaun Alexander home jersey during last night's game. Everytime you ordered a drink or food, the bartender would give you a raffle coupon or two. Or, in my case, a dozen. Yes, I did have my Marcus Trufant jersey on and I was pretty much the only guy in the place cheering for the Seahawks (most were ambivalent and the only ones cheering for Chicago were two self-declared rednecks with $400 riding on the game, but they're another story entirely), but the bartender was doing everything he could to get me that jersey. I order a beer -- three raffle tickets. I order some wings, they come with 6 raffle tickets. At one point, right before the drawing, I go to the bathroom and while I'm at the urinal, he comes in and put another 10 raffle tickets for me atop the paper towel dispenser.

Okay, dude, now you're starting to freak me out.

But I did win. And I'm not really sure how or why my tab was only $34 considering I sat and ate and drank nonstop for nearly 4 hours, but it was obvious I got hooked up. So, knowing the jersey goes for $75 in the pro shops at the stadium, I left him a $40 tip on a $35 tab and sulked my way out of the bar with the jersey in hand.

I would have much preferred seeing the Seahawks win.