Hand Puppet Journalism

Unfortunately I don't have anything all that interesting to say today so instead of trying, I'm just going to link to this rather funny article I read in the paper about yesterday's Super Bowl Media Day.

The hand puppets were supposed to represent a bear and a colt, but in fact they both looked more like mutant fur-bearing frogs from space. The Mexican TV guy was thrusting these things into the faces of professional football linemen the size of convenience stores and asking them questions. Then, pretty much regardless of the answer, the hand puppet would go, "AY AY AY!"

Then the football player would pick up the TV guy by his neck and crush his windpipe like a Bud Light can.

The rest of Dave Barry's article is here.

PS: I read elsewhere in the paper that one of the questions posed to an Indianapolis Tight End was whether or not he and his teammates were trying to win the Super Bowl for Barbaro. Think about it...


EBgames.com is selling the PSP version of Sid Meier's Pirates! for $19.99 for a limited time. This is essentially a handheld version of the classic game (a game that still appears on many "best of all time" lists) and it has received universal praise. Many have even called it the best game for the PSP. If you're like me and missed Pirates! the first time around on the PC back in 1987, here's your chance to scoop it up on the cheap.

Click here to hit the sale.

And to show I'm not the curmudgeon I often portend to be, here's a link to IGN's review.

Yes, I do feel dirty now.

Where Are the Hills?

Just realized that my Sunday bike ride had nearly the identical amount of elevation gain as the entire 204 mile Seattle-to-Portland course I'll be riding later this summer. By no means do I wish for it to double the "Blood, Sweat, and Gears" course I did in North Carolina a few years ago (11,000 feet of gain in 107 miles) but I am concerned that there might not be enough hills in STP. Sure, going uphill is a lot harder than riding on flat ground, but it does provide a nice change of pace, a chance to stretch and adjust your position. Not to mention, downhills are usually good for racking up some easy miles. STP barely averages over 100 ft of elevation per mile. It's barely worth mentioning.

TR Training: Week #10 Numbers

Total Saddle Time: 10 hours, 58 minutes
Total Mileage: 154.0 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6,470 feet
Weight Loss: -1.4 pounds

It's hard to believe but 25% of my 40-week training plan is already in the books. In that time, I've gotten quite a lot of cycling in, have really built up my endurance and strength and dropped about 7.5 pounds. There were a couple of difficult weeks in there thanks to the power failure, the storms, and Christmas travel back to NJ, but it's indeed nice to flip through the training log and see that I've ridden about 6 days a week for most of that time.

Anyway, a glance back at last week. A week that saw me off the trainer and out on the roads twice in one week! In January!

Monday, 1/22
Trainer Ride - Small ring spin for 1 hour + lifting.

Tuesday, 1/23
Trainer Ride - "Enter the Red Zone" Spinervals video + squats.

Wednesday, 1/24
Road Ride - 30 miles through Snoqualmie & North Bend with 1300 feet of gain.

Thursday, 1/25
Mountain Bike - a very fast 21 miles on the "Thrilla in Woodinvilla" route.

Friday, 1/26
Scheduled off day.

Saturday, 1/27
Mountain Bike - Biked to Tokul West, rode some trails, and did 4 hours of trail work. Together with four others, we cleared nearly 50 fallen trees from the trails. 21 miles of biking total. Did not include trail work time in hourly total for the week.

Sunday, 1/28
Road Ride - 50.5 miles through the Snoqualmie Valley, including 2350 of elevation gain.

About Last Thursday...

So last Thursday morning Kristin was able to get me a spur-of-the-moment dentist appointment so I could get my tooth looked at. But, despite being in agony throughout the night and unable to sleep, I declined the appointment in favor of going mountain biking. Priorities, right? Anyway, four fitful nights of sleep later I finally made my way to the dentist this morning.

Being that the pain was radiating through the entire right side of my face, I had trouble identifying exactly which tooth was the problem. So the dentist grabbed one of his tools -- a hammer of sorts -- and began tapping.

"One, one, one, one"... nothing.
"Two, two, two, two"... nothing.
"Three, three, three, three"... nothing.
"Fo".. Holy $&@*!!!! Aggghh!!!

He dropped the hammer and ran -- okay, it was really just a speedwalk waddle but grant me some artistic license here -- to the phone and called the oral surgeon. It was noon, but he was able to pull some strings and get me scheduled for a root canal at four.

And this day started with such promise. Sigh.

I went to lunch with Kristin at my favorite post-dental visit Thai restaurant then borrowed a laptop from her company and spent the afternoon at a coffee shop working on the introduction for my latest guidebook. One americano and a short drive across Seattle later, I was in yet another dental office. Good times.

Naturally nobody told me anything about needing any pre-meds before hand so I get let into the exam room and given four large antibiotics and a copy of Sports Illustrated. Great, I immediately flip open to a two-page photo of Gould's winning field goal that eliminated the Seahawks from the playoffs. A chill runs up my spine and I imagine someone, somewhere, just kicked my dog to add insult to my injury. They'll be back in an hour, I'm told. An hour goes by, they numb me, and begin the drilling. Everything was going fine. Right up until the moment my body catapulted itself from the chair like Linda Blair on a bare mattress. I've had a lot of dental work done -- I've probably seen more drilling than Halliburton -- but gawdam that hurt!

Metallica's "Harvester of Sorrow" soon begins playing on my iPod and I immediately skip it. Damn you shuffle mode and your uncanny irony! Next up, a Jack Johnson song from the Curious George soundtrack. Much better. It brings me happy thoughts. And it's indeed time for happy thoughts.

Fifteen minutes later, the rubber bag they tried to asphyxiate me with is removed from my mouth and I have a sudden urge to yell, "Bring out the gimp!" I relax the death grip I had on the chair rails, lower the volume on the iPod, and peel my sweating back off the vinyl chair. Remarkably, the face-melting pain I had endured for five days is gone. It's replaced by an absolute numbness, but the pain is gone so I'm happy.

Yes, indeed. I am very happy. I might have lost a day of work I didn't have with a deadline looming, not to mention about $1500 in out-of-pocket dental expenses, but it will be damn nice to sleep again.

The Summer Epics are Posted

In a bold, but necessary move, I took to the BBTC ride calendar last night and unleashed the hounds. I posted the details for three epic weekends of riding for the summer. Naturally there will be plenty more posted as I ramp up my mileage in preparation for TransRockies, but I thought these would be a particularly good start. If you live in WA and are feeling up to a hearty challenge, sign up at the BBTC calendar. But please use discretion. These rides are not for the faint of heart.

June 23 - Day 1 of the 2X Double Crown Weekend.
Crystal Mountain & Palisades. Expect about 50 miles and close to 10,000 feet of climbing. The first two legs of the "triple crown".
June 24 - Day 2 of the 2X Double Crown Weekend.
Palisades & Sun Top. Expect about 45 miles and close to 10,000 feet of climbing. The latter two legs of the "triple crown".

July 7 - Day 1 of the Teanaway Assault.
Miller Peak clockwise. Only 20 or so miles, but nearly 5,000 feet of climbing and lengthy hike-a-biking.
July 8 - Day 2 of the Teanaway Assault.
This 5-Drainages ride is sure to find out just how well can you recover from a tough ride. Miles of hike-a-bike in dry, dusty, conditions. Over 5,000 feet of climbing.

July 21 - Day 1 of the Winthrop Weekend.
Angel's Staircase. High altitude, hundred-degree weather, and one of the toughest and most beautiful all-day epics in WA. 27 miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing.
July 22 - Day 2 of the Winthrop Weekend.
Will climb back to Cooney Lake and throw a dart at the map. Another long, tough day is guaranteed, but the destination remains a surprise.

For the Dogs Who Demand Only the Best

I went to the pantry to get a new bag of treats for the dogs and what should I find, but a bag of Milk-Bone chewy treats "Made With Real Filet Mignon!"

Were there dogs out there swatting the "Steak & Cheesers" flavored Milk Bones out of their owner's hands? Did a a dog somewhere lift its leg on the "Chicken Drumsticks Special Recipe" variety? And if so, how exactly does a dog demand filet mignon? Better yet, how would a dog know about it in the first place?

What's Milk-Bone Happy? It's that undeniable feeling of excitement that you get when your dog gets excited. It's contagious. Milke Bone Filet Mignon Flavor Chewy Treats have the great flavor of juicy filet mignon. They're even made with real filet mignon. Your dog won't be able to resist. Milk-Bone Chewy Treats make everybody happy. Milk-Bone Happy.

I concur. My dogs are indeed Milk-Bone Happy right now. And I guess it is thanks to that juicy filet mignon flavor. Either that or the "beef, chicken, soy grits, sugar, or cornstarch" all of which are listed ahead of filet mignon on the packaging. Nah... it's got to be the filet mignon.

Eephus Ain't Nothin'

You know what a fastball is. You've heard of a curve, a slider, a changeup, and a sinker. Maybe even a knuckleball and a slurve too. But what about the eephus pitch?

I had heard it mentioned once or twice but never knew what it was until I looked over at Wikipedia for the answer. The article over there is pretty interesting, both with old timer and present-day anecdotes. Here's the link.

The Eephus pitch is thrown overhand like most pitches, but is characterized by an unusual high arcing trajectory and corresponding slow velocity, bearing more resemblance to a slow-pitch softball delivery than to a traditional baseball pitch. It is considered a trick pitch because, in comparison to normal baseball pitches (which run from 70 to 100 miles per hour), an Eephus pitch appears to move in slow motion. Hitters typically get very anxious, swing wildly, and ground out.

I thought this particular story was pretty interesting.

After appearing in over 300 major league games, Rip Sewell only gave up one career home run off the Eephus, to Ted Williams in the 1946 All-Star Game. Williams challenged Sewell to throw the Eephus. Sewell obliged, and Williams missed the pitch. However, Sewell then announced that he was going to throw the pitch again, and Williams clobbered it for a home run. Years later, however, Williams admitted that he had been running towards the pitcher’s mound as he hit the ball, and photographs reveal that he was in fact a few feet in front of the batter’s box when he made contact (which would have resulted in an out if it was spotted by the umpire).

MS & Ninty Profits Up

Please check your fanboy allegiance at the door and simply enjoy the fact that two of "big three" game companies had a great end to their 2006. Regardless of whether you prefer the X360 or the Wii (or think the PS3 pwns all) success had by any one of these companies helps buoy the entire industry. And success by two of the three spells very good times ahead. By the looks of things, full steam ahead! Both articles below from today's Seattle Times.

Microsoft Sees Strong Growth; Xbox Scores Big

The entertainment and devices division, responsible for selling 10.4
million Xboxes by year's end, added $1.27 billion in revenue for a 76 percent
growth rate.

Wand-Wielding Wii an Earnings Boon

Booming year-end sales of the wand-wielding Wii game console sent profit at Nintendo soaring 43 percent for the nine months ended December, the Japanese manufacturer of Pokémon and Super Mario games said Thursday.

Nintendo, which also makes GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS handheld machines, recorded group net profit of $1.1 billion in the first nine months of the fiscal year, up dramatically from $756 million the same period a year earlier.

Now, it's easy to see that 76 percent growth rate for the Xbox division and get all excited, but lets remember that the original Xbox was DOA as of fall of 2005 and that there were enormous supply problems with the launch of the X360 that holiday season. Kudos to Microsoft for ironing out those wrinkles (and finding a way to make a profit from the console, instead of selling each one for a loss) but the 76% growth rate is as much about 2005 being a disaster as it is 2006 being incredibly good. When you set the bar at ground level, it's sometimes easy to bound over it.

As for the Wii, it is doing very well, but even those not on the Wii bandwagon like myself could predict its tremendous initial sales based on economics and the "newness" and uniqueness of the technology. Not to mention, Nintendo consoles always sell like wildfire when a new Zelda games releases. This will keep up through 2007 thanks to the pending releases of new games in the Metroid and Mario franchises, but I fully expect the sales to decline starting early in 2008 as the novelty wears off and Nintendo's old habit of shortchanging their systems' libraries rears its head.

That said, as long as one, two, or even all three of the big console manufacturers continue to post profits then it doesn't matter which console you own as everyone will benefit.

Crown Happy

As I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog, I'm in the process of getting every tooth in my mouth crowned. Or so it seems. Everytime I go to the dentist I'm learning about another cavity that has since formed beneath a decades-old filling and how if I don't act soon, I might end up needing a root canal. I've heard this time and again from my dentist. I was at a party once and this particular dentist somehow became the topic of conversation -- turns out he says the same thing to nearly all of us. Everybody thinks he's crown happy. And at $950, why shouldn't he be, right? And to be honest, I don't mind (other than the cost) because at least it means a good long time before anything can go wrong with those teeth.

Well, anyway, I had two more teeth crowned earlier this winter and was asked when I wanted to come back for #29. Ah, yes, good ol' tooth number 29 is apparently in very bad shape. If I don't get to it soon I will indeed need a root canal. Surrrreeee.

(by the way, that was a long, drawn out sarcastic "sure". I was not trying to summon the TomKat offspring)

I told them I needed a break and I'd let them know. They told me not to wait too long, as it could get worse. I nodded in feigned agreement, and left.

It's gotten worse.

Holy crap, has it gotten worse! What started as a dull pain last night around midnight while I was working turned into a fist-pounding dose of torture by 2am. Advil didn't seem to work, I couldn't sleep on my stomach, I couldn't sleep on my side. It only seemed to not hurt when I stood. Which, unless you're an elephant or a horse is not exactly comforting news. Kristin implored me to take more Advil and to try using the "husband pillow".

Ahh, yes, the large firm upright pillow with the little wings that you lean backwards into. It supports your back and kind of wraps around you, much like a spouse would.

"Ummm... isn't that kind of gay?"

She rolled her eyes at me and went back to sleep. After what seemed like an eternity, I eventually fell asleep on my back with my head propped up against the books that I keep on the shelf inside the headboard (it's a weird bedroom set, don't ask). Before Kristin left this morning she said she'd call the dentist and try to get me an appointment for today or tomorrow.

True to her word, she emailed me by 8:30 saying that the dentist has an opening today at 12:30 and on Monday at 11:40. I take a moment to reflect on the pain and discomfort I was in last night. I slept so little. I really need this tooth fixed. It's amazing they can take me on such short notice. All I have to do is reply...

"Schedule me for the Monday opening. I don't want this visit to impact my mountain bike ride tonight."

It's going to be a long painful weekend.

Low Cost of Guitar Heroism

The newest issue of Newsweek arrived last night as it does every Wednesday and inside was a pretty thought-provoking article about the hit videogame Guitar Hero 2. Unlike all the other articles you've read about the game, this one actually talks about the game's impact on those trying to learn how to play real instruments. It's a pretty good read and, fortunately for you non-subscribers, I found a link to it on the Newsweek/MSNBC website.

Here you go.

Clearly, Guitar Hero is fun. But by bestowing the rewards of virtuosity to those who haven't spent years to earn it, is it dumbing down musicianship? If a teenager can easily become a make-believe guitar hero, does that mean he won't ever bother to master the real thing?

The Animals Are Angry

An Australian abalone diver was partially swallowed by a Great White shark and lived to tell the tale. You just can't make this up.

"Half my body was in its mouth," Nerhus told Australian television's Nine Network.

Nerhus said he fought desperately.

"I felt down to the eye socket with my two fingers and poked them into the socket," he said. "The shark reacted by opening its mouth and I just tried to wriggle out. It was still trying to bite me. It crushed my goggles into my nose and they fell into its mouth."

He said he managed to finally escape the shark's jaws after jabbing at its eye with a chisel he used to chip abalone from rocks and was still holding despite the attack.

Nerhus, who estimated he spent two minutes inside the shark's mouth, said his chest was protected from the shark's rows of teeth by a lead-lined vest used to weight him down in the water.

Read the full article here.

Edit: This isn't the article that was in today's paper, despite it being on the Seattle Times website. The article in the paper wasn't as sensationalized and had more details. I'll try to find that one and post a link.

Lumines Live Bonus Packs on the Cheap

For a limited time only, you can get the brand new "VS CPU" and "Puzzle/Mission" packs for 100 points each. That's about $1.25 per bonus pack. There's also a new skin available for free. The two bonus packs will jump to about 300 points each on February 21st, so if you like Lumines Live, make sure you grab them now before they get expensive. Also, completing the VS CPU add-on will earn you an additional skin.

Details here.

The Scorchin' 40's

Is that...
Could it be...

I think it is. I really do think that thing in the sky is the sun!

Could it really be getting warm enough to take the road bike off the trainer and venture outside onto the streets without fenders, rain coats, and goggle-wipers? I hope to find out this afternoon. Accuweather says it might hit 49 degrees today! If so, I'll be sure to get outside to enjoy it.

Why The Upcharge Mr. Moots?

You are correct, it is a standard 19" made just for you.

I got an email today about my new bike. Moots doesn't have any frames in stock so it will be made from scratch. I kind of figured as much, especially since they likely didn't want to carry an inventory into the end-of-year for tax reasons.

Now, I'm still getting the stock 19" frame -- albeit "to order" -- but I really don't know why. If the frame is being made specifically to fill my order, then why not go ahead and make it custom? They have my measurements and while they do match up with the stock geometry, surely there is a 1/2" here or a 1/4 there that could make the fit that much better. And, since the tubes will be getting cut and welded to fill this one order, would it really cost them any extra effort to, say, cut the top-tube a 1/2" longer or shorter?

I understand that some of the other custom bike manufacturers have done away with the custom upcharge (Moots upcharges $350 to go fully custom) for this very reason. As great as this bike is going to be -- and it will be fantastic, I'm sure -- Moots ought to get with the competition in this regard. It's one thing if they have a stash of frames or dozens of pre-cut tubes for this specific frame already lying around and they only need to be welded (which may be the case), but if my bike is coming from raw uncut materials, then there is no reason for them to not make a custom bike for the same price. Aside from the fact that they don't want to.

TR Training: Week #9 Numbers

Total Saddle Time: 15 hours, 41 minutes
Total Mileage: 184.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6,990 feet
Weight Loss: +1.0 pounds

Week 9 was a great week, as I got in over six hours on the stationary trainer with the road bike (three hours in one session care of the Spinervals "Tough Love" video), had a peaceful trip to Fort Ebey State Park to ride 17 miles of its very hilly singletrack, and then also did my off-road metric century on Saturday. I felt great all week and, despite putting a pound back on (after snacking way too much Sunday while watching football) I had actually dipped back below the 190-pound threshold ever so briefly during the week. Nevertheless, I have lost about 7 pounds since starting the training program (despite the holidays) and am noticeably more muscular today than I was in November. Kristin accused me of wearing shorts with quadricep pads yesterday because she couldn't believe my cycling muscles were developing so rapidly. That was pretty funny, but more importantly I'm feeling great and enjoying the training.


No thanks hon, I'll pick up some coffee on the way in to work.

Those who've never visited the Pacific Northwest may not truly appreciate the level of this area's coffee addiction. Sure, you know about the major roasters like Starbucks and probably Seattle's Best and Tully's too and, like is typical with rain and grunge music, you probably have made a few witticisms about it while channel surfing and noticing the Seahawks were playing on Monday Night Football. But until you spend some time out here, you really can't begin to understand the depth to which the coffee fascination goes. It's not just that there's a "Starbucks on every corner", but that there's probably more than one. And right next to it, in the parking lot, is likely an independently-owned drive-thru coffee stand.

There was one of these stands right down the road from where we rented in Bellevue and it took only two visits to realize that this place was special. The women who were there were all smoking hot. They always had short skirts on, they were all about 18 years old, and they always looked incredible. And yes, their tip jar was always overflowing with money and their were always at least a half-dozen cars in line at the drive-thru. Always.

I thought this place was a lone island oasis in a sea of jittery coffee hawkers, but apparently not. Front and center on today's Seattle Times is a lengthy article (with photos... HOT!) about what has been dubbed 'sexpresso'. Apparently there are quite a number of coffee stands in the area who not only employ young, hot, women but encourage them to dress very scantily. Some wear short skirts, some wear lingerie, others little more than thigh-highs and panties. They act provocatively and succeed in seducing their patrons into tipping generously.

My father-in-law once commented that you can't compete with Starbucks. I think these folks just found a way to do the impossible.

Click here to read the article and see the photos.

"If I'm going to pay $4 for a cup of coffee" said one male customer, "I'm not going to get served by a guy."

Amen, brother.

Ride Report: Original S.I.N.S

Dream on bike boy
Dream on bike girl
And wake up to a brand new day
To find your trails haven't washed away

A few weeks ago I was talking with Kenobonn and he expressed a desire to add another milestone to the training program I created for us. He wanted something long, like 60+ miles long. And soon. I looked at the schedule and felt that January 20th would be a fine time to do it. It was the ninth week in the program and followed a scheduled recovery week, so we wouldn't have to worry about overtraining. Sure, why not, I thought. It would be nice togo a little longer and see how the training is coming. Well, as it turns out, Ken had to head out of town this weekend but I didn't let that stop me from getting in the scheduled metric century by myself. I thought I might as well combine my Ridge to Ridge ride with the lovely cruise up the SVT to Rattlesnake Lake. And wouldn't you know I even thought up a snazzy name for the ride before the first snow-covered mile rolled by: Original S.I.N.S.

Snoqualmie to
Issaquah to
North Bend and back to

Like I said, the first couple miles of trails I warmed up with on Snoqualmie Ridge were still pretty well covered in snow and slush and the paved Preston-Snoqualmie Trail was still partially frozen in areas, but I soon got onto solid, and dare I say dry, ground and pedaled my way through the little town of Preston and down to the Grand Ridge trail near High Point. The Grand Ridge trail was a bit drier than a couple weeks ago. There was still some mud in the usual spots, but for the most part it was dry. I climbed up to the road and continued straight across, around to the new section of trail, and followed it all the way down the back side off the ridge to the bog before whipping the bike around and retracing my steps. As I descended back towards the dirt road at the start of the trail I came across a most peculiar site. It was a dad pushing an enormous baby jogger up the trail, followed close behind by his wife carrying a small fist-sized dog and what couldn't have been more than a 4-year old boy with a shiny gold miniature mountain bike. Those who have climbed Grand Ridge starting from the dirtroad know how tricky this climb can be. It's steep, it's very rocky, and when its even the slightest bit wet it can provide a nice challenge for even skilled riders. But for a four year old with a bike that probably weighed more than he did? I slowed down as I got closer and said, "You guys must be feeling ambitious, this is a pretty steep, rocky trail you picked."Dad already had a deer-in-the-headlights look on him and his little boy was pushing the bike and looking miserable. They weren't even 100 yards up thetrail yet so Dad asked me if I was serious. I told him the trail challenges experienced riders all the time. Then I looked at the little kid and said,"Hey little man, you must be a pretty good bike rider to take your bike up this trail. Good luck." I glanced back when I got to the bottom and the whole family had turned around and was thankfully descending the trail. They would have figured it out soon enough, but I felt good for tactfully saving them some grief.

From there it was over to Tiger Mountain and a quick down-and-up on the Issaquah High School Trail. Back under the overpass at Exit 20 and back to Preston and up the woodchip trails to Snoqualmie Ridge. I decided to make a pitstop at my house 34 miles into the ride. I quickly downed some beef jerky, changed into a dry jersey and different jacket, changed my socks and headed back outside to my bike with a freshly filled Camelback and waterbottle. Time to head to Rattlesnake Lake! 34 miles down, 28 to go!

When I started the ride four hours earlier I had a couple of goals for whatI was hoping to accomplish and one was that I was hoping to feel somewhat better than "exhausted" when heading out towards Rattlesnake Lake. Well, I'm happy to report that I felt surprisingly fresh. I descended some trails to downtown Snoqualmie feeling completely energized by the few minutes I spent at home and was cruising along the SVT in no time. The last few miles of trail before the lake were covered in snow and slush which made the going a bit slower, as did slowing to pass the many equestrians I saw out on the trail, but I reached the lake in high spirits and spent a few minutes downing what must have been my 6th Gu for the day and a box of raisins. Time for the home stretch! Back down the SVT through the snow and slush, through downtown Snoqualmie, and back up the parkway to the ridge. Nothing like riding 62 miles and leaving yourself a nice 500-foot climb in the final mile or so! Regardless, I finished the ride feeling great. It was good to get out and do it alone, although it would have been nice to have someone to high-five when I finished, as it was that kind of ride.

Ride Stats: 62.5 miles, 4,460ft elevation gain, 5:58 actual pedal time, 6:36total time, 104 songs played on the iPod.

In addition to feeling "better than exhausted" when heading back out for the second half of the ride, I had three other goals. One was that I have no more than 5 minutes of down time (i.e. snacking, peeing, adjusting gear,resting, etc) every hour. The 6:36 time includes the 12 minute pit stop at my house and I still only averaged 6 minutes of down time every hour. I'm very pleased with this. Another goal was that I still have enough left in the tank to charge the final hill back up Snoqualmie Parkway. I did. It was probably one of my faster climbs up that hill and that too pleased me. The last goal was that I stick to my nutrition plan. I did. Not only did I haveto take 5 pee breaks (clear every time, thank you very much!) but I never felt even close to bonking and wasn't even terribly hungry when i finished the ride. As if you can't tell, I feel great about how today's lengthy solo training ride went. Dare I say days like this are what I live for.

PS: Apologies to INXS for the manhandling of their lyrics.

Two Seasons

So I'm sitting here working on a 300-page document that will eventually be the complete roster, stats, and game ratings for the players in MLB2K7 and I came to notice that eventual MVP winner Justin Morneau wasn't an All-Star last year. How can that be? How can the league MVP not even be a reserve for the All-Star team? I refused to believe this was true.

So I did a little looking around online and found out that Morneau was holding down a paltry .236 batting average as late as mid-June last year. Oh yeah, now I remember. I remember shopping him in my fantasy baseball league and nobody showed any interest. I even thought of dropping him outright and seeing who I could snag on the waiver wire. I had forgotten how rough the first half of his season was last year. You see, that slow start was easily forgotten by the time I took to bragging about my "M&M" boys later in the year (I had the Twins' Joe Mauer too). Morneau finished the year with a .326 average, 130 RBI's and 34 HR's. Anyway, no wonder he didn't get to the All-Star game.

But it kind of makes me wonder just how many times in MLB history had the eventual league MVP not even be invited to the All-Star game? Now there's a trivia question begging to be answered. Anyone know? If so, please email me.

44,117 Times a Day

That's how many times a day someone has gone into a store and purchased Gears of War since its release on November 12, 2006. Sixty eight days and over three million copies sold. Despite being released just six weeks shy of the end of the year it was the third best selling game of the year and the new multiplayer maps that were made available last week have already seen over 750,000 downloads.

You can read the rest of the fun stats here.

Personally, I'm taking a break from playing Gears of War. It's rare I play any game that I write the guidebook for, let alone continue playing it months after I buy it. With Gears, I bought it a week or so after it released, played through the main campaign on hardcore mode, played some co-op, played the multiplayer a few hours a day for a month or so and then shelved it. The multiplayer is a lot of fun, but there's just too much other stuff out there that calls to me right now. Gears is the type of game that fans will play for hours a day every day until Halo 3 releases, then they'll play that every day until Gears of War 2 comes out in, what my guess would be 2008. And the cycle will continue. Having seen firsthand how hard the folks at Epic were working on this game, it's good to see the game selling as well as it is. They deserve it.

Me Too With the Mooto

This is it. The next time you see me posting about my bike purchase exploits, it will be with pictures. I hope.

Anyway, I heard back from Fabien at TiCycles yesterday and after studying my measurements the Moots guys said that their stock 19" frame would fit me fine -- I don't need to go the custom route to get a great fit. This was very good news. So I placed the order for the Mooto-X YBB (pre-paid in full, there's no going back now) and a 340mm Moots straight Ti seatpost. I should have it in six weeks.

I also have endurance racing legend and Great Divide Race record holder Mike Curiak from www.lacemine29.com building me a set of endurance racing wheels around a pair of mango Chris King ISO hubs. He's pairing the hubs with DT Swiss Competition Butted spokes, and Bontrager Mustang Disc OSB rims for what he says will be a "responsibly light wheelset with emphasis on durability". He also says they are "very light by any standard but laterally stiff and durable enough that you should have no trouble riding these wheels non-stop through Transrockies". The guy has built thousands of wheels over the past decade, it's what he does, and he's been setting records on a 29er since 1999 so I'm not going to question the man. Sure, Bontrager may not be a chic brand, but he nailed the middle of the price range I gave him (including shipping and insurance) and he knows a hell of a lot more than I do about wheels.

Nevertheless, I do have a set of cheaper wheels coming (eventually) from Pricepoint.com that I ordered back in December. They were ridiculously cheap and have been backordered for over a month now, but they have Shimano XT hubs with Mavic 719 rims. Nothing flashy, but a decent set of wheels to abuse with day-to-day training. The wheels Mike is going to build me will only be for racing and for the occasional shakedown run on a dry day with buff conditions.

I'm really glad this is almost over. All that's left is to order a few more parts from Fabien's shop and then put it all together. But yes, I am extremely excited about the pending arrival of my baby Moots.

Chopper Pilot Saves Deer

Saw this on the nightly news and just had to link to the AP video. A deer had gone out onto some thin ice in Oklahoma and got stranded when the ice started to crack. A newsman noticed the deer in peril and used his news chopper to blow the deer across the ice and back to land.

Click here to see the video.

Coach Troy Brings the Tough Love

There are Spinervals cycling videos that are hard, painful, and make you sweat. There are some that even mix in a bunch of off-the-bike squats and weight lifting. And then there is the "Tough Love" video. This 3-hour interval training session is geared towards endurance cyclists training for a century ride or Ironman distance triathlon and let me tell you it is awesome.

Yes, you read that right. I did just say that riding my bike in the garage for three hours, racking up over 50 miles and not moving an inch, was awesome. It really is. It's a fantastic workout from start to finish in that it is very well structured, offers minimal rest, and has you just below your lactate threshold throughout the entire workout yet never becomes boring. And just when my mind did start to wander around the two-hour mark, Coach Troy was right there shouting words of encouragement and telling me to "maintain focus".

The main sets were thirty minutes long with minimal rest during and after and you are always well versed on the gearing and cadence that you should be shooting for, as well as your perceived exertion. One particular interval was thirty minutes long with Coach Troy switching up the gearing and body position (sit or stand) every minute for thirty minutes. It would have never occured to me to sprint out of the seat while in the lowest cog, but I've done it now and I can assure you it's a whole lot more painful and difficult than pushing a big gear.

All in all, I went through 2 20oz bottles of water, 2 20oz bottles of Gatorade, a 20oz bottle of Accelerade, a Cliff Bar, a package of Cliff Bloks, a Gu, and a box of raisins. Also, for the first time in a trainer ride, I had to actually switch socks halfway through as I soaked my first pair (and shoes) with sweat and my feet were going numb in the cold garage. I also had to get a second towel as my first one was soaked. Coach Troy says even a very fit cyclist will burn 2500 calories and lose 5 pounds of water weight during this workout and I don't doubt it at all.

B 'n E to Relocate?

Yes, I realize I live in Washington State and am posting about the goings'on of a dive burger joint in New Jersey. If you had eaten there even once you'd understand. Anyway, it sounds as if all might not be lost. This article tells about the frenzied final hours of business -- they were supposed to close 6am Monday morning, but ran out of food 7pm Sunday night -- and how they may be relocating.

Set your browser to www.burgerexpressNJ.com for updates and photos of the food. Man I can go for some cheese fries and hot sauce right now.

R.I.P. Burger Express

There's not a lot I hold dear to me from the town I grew up in. Sure, there are my memories of running high school track, the friends I made who I still keep in touch with regularly, and my mom. She still lives there. But other than that, there's not much about Carteret I care to reminisce about. It's a depressing, smog-choked, hole of a town bounded by the landfills of Staten Island across the water to the east, aromatic refineries and tank fields to the north, and the deteriorating, sprawling tangle of Centry Jersey hyper-development to the south and west. As far as local landmarks are concerned, there is pretty much just the prison a couple miles from my old house. It was both the site of Sylvester Stallone's movie "Lock Up" as well the prison George Clooney was taken to at the end of "Ocean's Eleven". Yep, that horrid looking structure was just a short drive down the road from my childhood home. Oh, and a couple blocks from the prison was the hotel that played host to Naughty By Nature's video for their hit song "O.P.P".

As bleak as this picture I'm painting is, it actually just got a whole lot gloomier, as Carteret's one shining example of the good life was shut down to make way for a new overpass. Some call this progress. If you grew up in Carteret, there's a pretty good chance you've been eating at Burger Express since you were old enough to handle real food. Burger Express, or "B 'n E" as we referred to it locally, was a fast food burger joint that was as unpretentious as a truckstop urinal. The large sign atop the fifty-foot pole outside didn't even bear the restaurant's name. One side said 'cheese fries' and the other said 'fried chicken'. The shop never changed its exterior, it's interior, or the menu. It was the same last week when it closed down as it was 25 years ago.

I heard through friends who still live in NJ that B 'n E was closing (they pointed me to a myspace page dedicated to saving the restaurant) so when I arrived at Newark Airport early in the morning on Christmas Eve last month, I headed there immediately. I loaded up a box of their signature breakfast sandwiches -- taylor ham, egg, and cheese -- along with the free 12oz coffees they come with and headed straight to my mom's house to chow down. It was as good as I remember it. So good in fact, I had two.

I hadn't been in the restaurant in a number of years, but it was exactly as I remember it. The same chairs, the same hideous yellow counter, and the same closet-sized bathrooms. I love it. I felt at home again. The only changes I noticed were that they no longer had any arcade games and the train was gone. Ah yes, the train. B 'n E wasn't called Burger Express because of its super-fast service, but moreso because the place had a train thing going on. Photos of old trains adorn the walls, there's a little locomotive boy in their logo, and the coupe de grace was the train. At least it used to be. They had a collection of kiddie tables built into the shape of a series of train cars along one wall, complete with a locomotive shaped out of some wood and a black steel drum. Going there as a kid and sitting in the train was better than any McDonald's playland. It was a train!

The train may have died an early death, but what's really important survived the test of time, and that's the food. Last Sunday night was the final night of business for B 'n E and my friend Ed phoned me a photo he took outside. The parking lot was jam-packed. It was as crowded as it ever was after a high school basketball game or dance and he said the cheese fries and locomotive burger was as good as ever. It's really hard to believe that an institution like Burger Express -- a place that truly defined the town -- could be torn down. But that's Carteret for you. First the track program gets cut from the budget, now Burger Express gets bulldozed. Just another reason why people like me leave that town and never return.

One of my good friends, James, has a great collection of photos of Burger Express on his Flickr site. You can view them here.

The Flag Comes Down

It's an annual ritual, and a semi-depressing one at that. Sometimes it happens in December, last year in February. This time right smack in between the two. Yes, I'm referring to the taking down of the Seahawks flag that hangs from my front porch.

Rolling the flag up this year is not quite as bitterful as last year -- after all this year we weren't robbed, but simply defeated -- but it still is a sad bit of fate. The Seahawks were finally just getting into their groove. They endured a season that saw only one offensive starter play in every game and a defense that relied on a loan officer in the Divisional Playoffs. They lost last year's league MVP for well over a month and their starting quarterback for almost as long. Their top receiver missed 9 games and they headed into the playoffs missing their top two corner backs and starting safety.

Yet, despite it all, they played a great game on Sunday against the top-seeded Chicago Bears. They could have won the game. The Bears played well, but ultimately it was a couple of bad decisions by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck at the end of the game that cost the Seahawks a chance to play for a trip to the Super Bowl. A bobbled snap here, an unnecessary sack there, and an ill-conceived pass attempt there all brought the season to a screaching halt. Not to mention a horrible punt at the one time in the season when a sure-footed boot was essential.

But congrats to the Bears, they played well all season and deserve to be in the NFC Championship. I've said it all along and I'll probably say it forever, but being at the NFC Championship game last year and watching the team win their first NFC Conference title was worth all of the sadness and exasperation that is sure to follow in coming years. For the Bears fans who waited for 20 years to get back to the Super Bowl, all of that waiting and season-ending depression and heartache could be washed away in a moment's notice next weekend.

But I hope it isn't.

The other thing I've maintained all season is that once our team is knocked out, I like so many other Americans, would become Saints fans. Well, the Seahawks are done and there are only four teams left. And the New Orleans Saints are one of them. So, for the next 3 weeks I too will bleed gold and black and cheer for a team that had to endure like no other. Not only with last year's hurricane, but throughout their entire existence. The Saints not only have never won the Super Bowl, but they have never before played for a chance to even go to the Super Bowl.

That changes next Sunday and I, devoted Seahawks fan, will be chearing for them.

Uno Momento Por Favor

I played a lot of videogames this weekend, but spent much of that time exclusively with the Live Arcade greats, Uno and Geometry Wars. It's those damn Achievements, I tell you. And in the latter game's case, it's the Friends Leaderboard. I'm only 6th on my list of 8 friends who play that game and a couple of guys are within striking distance -- if only I didn't suck at that game so badly! Arggh!

Then there's Uno. Everybody loves Uno. You can't not like it. It's un-American. The only Achievement I haven't yet earned was the one awarded for winning 40 matches. I'm up to 34 now and I hope to get the other 6 wins today or tomorrow, but it doesn't matter. It's a great game to play late at night when the house is quiet and you've only got the energy to half pay attention. Kristin made a comment about how she couldn't believe "with all the time I spend playing Uno, I haven't won 40 matches yet." Fair enough, but if she thinks I play a lot, then get a load of these stats taken straight from the game's Leaderboards.

Ranked Match
Standard rules & deck, matches to 250, draw 1 and play, random opponents.

Me: Rank 16,423 with a record of 15-50.

The #1 ranked player has a win-loss record of 2,284-5,162.
There are three ranked players with more than 2,000 wins.

There are 202,808 people on the Leaderboards for Ranked Play.

Player Match
Customizable rules & deck, can play with friends.

Me: Rank 80,824 with a record of 18-48.

The #1 ranked player has a win-loss record of 20,850-7,988.
There are three players with more than 15,000 wins.
There are eleven players with more than 10,000 wins.

There are 342,367 people on the Leaderboards for Player Match.


Let that sink in for a second. Even if each match only took a scant 3 minutes of time (which is very short for a match of Uno unless playing with obscenely low point requirements) including time spent in the lobby and on results screens then the #1 ranked player in Player Match has spent a grand total of 1,442 hours playing Uno. This is not including any time he (and let's face it, it's likely a guy... a very lonely one at that) spent with the Ranked Match or Single Player portions of the game. The fact that the game hasn't even been out for a year yet and that this person has spent 60 days playing it is frightening.

But I'm not one to begrudge anybody a good time. In fact, I do really enjoy playing the game. However, I'm starting to wonder about my fellow gamers a bit more now thanks to the ability to have the Xbox Vision camera employed during gameplay. The Xbox Vision camera is basically a video-chat device that displays whatever is in front of the camera to your opponents when playing Uno (and select other games). I don't have the camera so my opponents only see my Gamertag and avatar. But for those who do have the camera, I can see them.

From what I can tell this weekend, 90% of the Vision users are guys in their 20's and 30's just chilling out on the couch, drinking beer, and playing Uno in a dimly lit room. Just like me, although I've cut back on the beer lately. But the other 10% has me worried.
  • In one game, the player was on the floor of his dorm room and he had two or three friends watching him play Uno. They would high-five one another when he won a hand and grimmace and point and laugh when he got hit with a bad card. I found this very puzzling. If you're in a room with 3 to 4 people (all who are obviously interested in the game of Uno) why not actually, you know, buy a deck of cards for $4 and play for real? Why sit and watch one person play against strangers on a tv when you can play amongst yourselves?

  • In another game, the lady lay stretched out on her bed in a barren room with a collection of black shiny pillows. My instincts tell me a dozen cats patrolled the floor just out of view of the camera. She wore loose-fitting sweatpants and sweatshirt, her hair was a mess, and she oozed loneliness. It was actually quite depressing seeing somebody like this. I almost disabled my "video acceptance" because she was such a buzz kill.

  • There were at least two instances in which I had to call Kristin into the room for a game of "Man or Woman?"

  • The last person I saw last night was sitting with the camera zoomed tightly in on his face. He was on the cellphone the entire time. Uno is a fast-paced game. Nobody likes it when a player takes too long to throw a card. And by too long, I mean more than 2 seconds. It's bad enough when people without the cameras are playing slow, but we can at least imagine they're caught in a sneezing fit or they are wrestling open a bag of chips, but when we can actually see the person yapping away and simply ignoring the game, it's downright annoying.

Now, I am fully aware that if I did have the Vision camera, my opponents would see just another guy sitting on the couch playing his X360. You'd occasionally see one of my dogs, or my GamersWithJobs.com coffee mug, or perhaps my beautiful wife leaning in to kiss me goodnight. But that'd be rare, as she's usually asleep before I turn it on. Regardless, I'm nothing special to look at, I know this. But I didn't get the camera because I also respect my privacy. I bare a lot on this blog, including photos and personal situations and anecdotes. I see no reason to show strangers what me and my living room look like. Now before the Vision fans start calling me a curmudgeon, understand that I do enjoy the premise behind the Vision camera. Yes, it would be great for video chat or for playing games with real-life friends. I would buy it this afternoon if my friends back in NJ had it.

But for playing with strangers? A game in which nobody (on Ranked Matches at least) ever talks during? On Vision, we all look the same in our silentness. We're just a bunch of folks sitting alone on a couch or a bed staring at the television. In the best instances, we all look pretty average, some may be a little more put together than others, but we all look more or less the same. But in the worst case, especially at night, it can be depressing. What we wear, eat, drink and look like while playing videogames is a private thing. We're in our private space; we're relaxing; we're not ready for prime-time and certainly not for our close-up. Having Vision enabled during a game in which you're playing with strangers and don't plan on chatting is simply a waste of bandwith. It adds nothing to the experience but a sad distraction and reminder of just how silly we all look staring a television. Frankly, I don't need the reminder.

TR Training: Week #8 Numbers

Total Saddle Time: 5 hours, 40 minutes
Total Mileage: 72.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2210 feet
Weight Loss: -1.6 pounds

Week 8 was a Recovery Week in the program and although I only recently had one full week of riding in, it was important that I not stray from the plan. Not because I needed to recover from what I had done, but because I couldn't very well go a total of 5 weeks before the next scheduled Recovery Week. Especially now that, starting with week 9, the mileage and time spent on the bike has to really start increasing. This in spite of more scheduled snow for tonight.

A brief recap of my rather easy Recovery Week.

Monday: Scheduled Off Day
Tuesday: Mountain Biked the SVT to Rattlesnake Lake and back. 30 miles, 1550 feet of elevation gain.
Wednesday: Rode the trainer for an hour. Nice, steady 85rpm spin.
Thursday: Helped load roughly 8000 pounds of logs into a truck for two hours. That was enough.
Friday: Mountain Biked local snow-covered trails. Got in 9 miles of snowy riding.
Saturday: Scheduled Off Day
Sunday: Rode the trainer for an hour. Nice, steady 85-90rpm spin.

In other biking/training news, I had a great experience at TiCycles on Saturday and am waiting to hear back from the shop once its owner talks with Moots to see if I can fit on a standard stock geometry frame or if I need to go custom. This bike is likely to be a once-in-a-decade-or-two kind of purchase so if the measurements that were taken indicate a custom would be best, then we'll do it. However, I'm pretty sure that a shorter stem or switching to a laidback seatpost will give me enough flexibility to avoid the custom upcharge.

Also, Performance Bike store is selling all of their Spinervals DVD's for $24.99 (savings of $5-$10) and I picked one up. I forget the exact name of it, but it's difficulty rating is 9.9/10 and it is 3 hours of interval training. THREE HOURS! I'm totally doing it this week. Once I buy a small electric heater for the garage, it's gotten so cold in the garage that my knees are really starting to ache when I ride the trainer. And we can't have that!

Friday Night Snowball Fights

Sure, it's about 25 degrees outside and there's a few inches of snow on the ground, but damn if it isn't a great day to go for a bike ride!

I bundled up with all of my cold winter bike clothing and hit the neighborhood trails for 9 miles of pure, silent, snow-covered bliss. The bike handled exceptionally well, even on the slippery climbs, and I only laid it down once and that was 1/4 mile from home, on a paved section of road. Fortunately I was able to unclip and step over the handlebars and run it out on foot. Although my toes started to get a little cold towards the end of the ride, the only real casualty was the Gatorade in my water bottle -- it turned to slush and the nozzle in the cap froze shut. Other than that it was a fantastic ride.

I posted a pair of photos to the BBTC website.

Another Day in Paradise


Friday Night [Snowball] Fights

Oh, and speaking of bikes, tomorrow we're stopping at the TiCycles shop in Seattle on the way home from the half-marathon Kristin is running in Mount Vernon and I *may* be ordering a Mooto-X YBB which you can view here.

Guitar Hero II Achievements List

Achieve360points.com has the full listing of all 50 Achievements for upcoming Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360. And I have to say that the guys at Red Octane really outdid themselves with the creativity they show in not only creating the Achievements, but in naming them. You can read the entire list here.

It wasn't easy sitting by while everyone rushed out and bought the PS2 version, but between the additional songs the X360 version is getting, the promise of extra downloadable tracks, and now a very cool collection of Achievements I have to say that I am glad I waited. Now if only the game was coming out before March. Sigh...

Capcom Buyout?

There's a rumor going around that Microsoft is in the final stages of buying out Japanese software giant, Capcom. It's only a rumor so it's not worth getting all worked up about (if you're of that persuasion), but it is definitely interesting. A move like this would not only give Microsoft huge credibility in Japan (or ruin the reputation of Capcom in Japan) but would also guarantee that either big titles like Resident Evil 5 and the next installments in the Devil May Cry and Onimusha series were X360-exclusives. It would also help keep new IP like Dead Rising and Lost Planet from ever seeing the light of day on the PS3. As a happy X360 owner, I'm fine with all of that.

But I do have my concerns, professionally. Capcom is one of my favorite publishers to write guidebooks for because of the tremendous cooperation we receive from them and, to be honest, Microsoft's guideboks are the exclusive domain of our competitor. I'd really, really hate to lose future Capcom projects because they suddenly fall under the MS umbrella. That would suck. Especially Resident Evil 5, as I'm really hoping to write the guidebook for that one this year.

More on Console Hard Drives

Since my initial commentary on the rumored new-and-improved X360 with the 120 gigabye HDD and internal HDMI port for the X360, Microsoft has officially acknowledged that the console exists, but insists that it is merely for testing purposes. I believe them. The X360 debug machines that I have use for playing betas when working on strategy guides have had a 60 gigabyte HDD for some time and they too are not available to the public. Yet. And yet is indeed the key word. Without it, there'd be no need to continue the conversation. And besides, the leaked information definitely created quite a buzz thus showing there is demand for such upgrades. Anyway, Frank Regan (whose Chicago Bears will hopefully lose to the Seahawks this weekend) sent me an email about my article about the rumored X360 upgrades. And, as he's done in the past, he's brought up a few good points, which I'd like to address.

First, assuming there is a new MS HDD, it really depends on what they charge existing owners to get it vs. what they charge new console purchases that include it. If the new revamped 360 is still only $400, and I have to spend $100 or more for a new hdd, I’m going to be upset. But will they only charge that much? Right now MS charges $90 for a 20gb hdd, which is just robbery, IMO.

I completely agree. The price they charge for an add-on HDD at retail is a good price, but the size of the HDD is simply too small. MS will indeed risk burning some bridges with customers who purchased their X360 just before a new and improved one is released. Though, I think they're smart enough to know this and will lower the price of the existing X360 at least 4 months prior to the improved console being released at the $399 pricepoint. Also, although it's unpopular to admit it, everything we buy can and will be improved upon and/or offered at a lower price in the future. It's not always fair, but it has to be expected in this day and age. I was not happy that a larger version of the same tv I have was available just 12 months later for $400 less than I paid, but I had to expect that inevitability. This would be no different than buying a PS2 two weeks before a price reduction. You'd feel burned, for sure, but it's inevitable.

Sony lets you easily remove their HDD and replace it with any HDD out there. That’s right, if I want to go and buy a 180gb 2.5” sata drive and install it in a PS3. At least that is what I have read.

If that is the case, then that is indeed good news for Sony PS3 owners. I recall hearing about the ability to swap the innards of the PS3 like the components of a PC before the PS3's launch, but between Sony's track record of making all-things-proprietary and their more recent history of, well, lying about virtually everything as far as it concerns the PS3 I just don't believe it to be true. I don't know a single PS3 owner at the moment so I can't even ask a friend and at this point in the PS3's miserable PR saga, I'm not about to believe anything I see online. But if it's true, then that is very cool indeed and it would definitely be a plus for Sony.

Lastly, you’re assuming I have purchased a memory card in order to move save games from one system to another. I have not. Nor, I would bet, have most people who purchased a Premium system with a HDD in it. With both my 360 and original Xbox, I have never once had the need for a memory card, and would be quite upset if I had to spend $30 just to move my save games from one HDD to another.

No doubt. If you don't already have a Memory Card, you probably aren't going to want to purchase one just for moving a profile from one HDD to another. I have a Memory Card so that I could take my profile and game saves with me to a friend's house if I wanted to, but moreso so that I could ensure my game save files wouldn't be deleted when I'm working on-site on another company's X360. Again, to avoid any backlash, Microsoft could release a free utility that allows you to temporarily transfer you profile and game saves to your PC via the USB port while you make the switch to the newer and bigger HDD. Another possibility is for them to package in a very small Memory Card (say, 8mb) for that purpose with the new HDD. You'd then either have to re-download your Live Arcade games and tv shows, or juggle the two HDD's for a while. I guess, in hindsight, moving everything to the PC with a USB cable is the only way to go.

But this is all hypothesizing at this point because the more I think about it, the less likely I think it is happen anytime soon. Microsoft will definitely be releasing a larger HDD separately soon enough because of the success of the Video Marketplace, but I don't expect an improved console to be released until they are ready to sell the existing premium version for $100 less and they're selling too many of them at the moment to bother lowering the price. Time will tell.

Haulin' Wood

Spent a couple hours this afternoon helping a few other guys from BBTC load about 4 tons worth of trees onto a flatbed truck to be used at the Collonade Mountain Bike Park that's being constructed in Seattle. The trees had all fallen on park property in Redmond last month and the town had given the club permission to cut it up and haul it out. You'd be surprised how much an 11-foot log can weigh! There were four of us working with two slings and some of the larger logs (22" diameter) could only be moved in short spurts and required some serious lifting to get up into the truck.

Justin, the club's Executive Director, took a few photos which you can see here.

Note the seemingly enormous discrepancy in size of the logs Mike is cutting with the chainsaw in the first two pics. No, we weren't cutting up any old-growth. Ha! Behold, the power of optical illusions! It's actually the same log being cut in both pictures but it is quite misleading, although in a very funny kind of way.

Anyway, the logs are going to be split lengthwise and used in constructing log-rides and also used for rungs on ladder bridges and other TTF's that are being made. That's "technical trail features" by the way. Very nice wood and it was good to get some lifting in today, although I'm glad I've been doing all of those squats with the Spinervals videos. Even then, I'm sure my back is going to be sore tomorrow nonetheless.

Ground Clearance

We got some snow here yesterday. About 5 inches or so. Maybe a little more. No big deal, right? After all we do live in Washington state, not far from the Cascade Mountains.

You would think.

For reasons I can not begin to comprehend, Kristin's commute home last night took over 4 hours. She was at the UW for an informational session on their Executive MBA program when the snow started falling at 5 five o'clock and by the time she left the UW at 7:30, the snow was starting to pile up. Like everyone else within eyeshot of a newspaper the past few days, we knew this storm was coming. She had my Element with her so the drive home was nothing as far as she was concerned. If only everyone had all-wheel drive. Cars were abandoned on the sides of the road throughout King County and some people got so tired of sliding backwards on the hills, they simply left their cars in the middle of the Interstate and walked home. Like I said, I am unable to comprehend why this is the way it is. People live in a hilly area, are made aware of a storm for days, and still act surprised when they can't drive home. Once again, numerous reports of people running out of gas whle sitting in traffic. It just boggles the mind that so few people are prepared.

Anyway, as big of a pain in the rear the snow is for Kristin's commute and my mountain bike riding (ride tonight cancelled, by the way) our dogs love it. Our two siberian huskies absolutely love this stuff. Even in the heat of July all the neighborhood kids yell out "Snow Dogs!!!" when they see us out walking them (except the offspring of Washington State alumni; these kids see our no-connection-to-the-UW-huskies and yell out "Go Cougars!") and the kids are especially psyched to pet them and play with them in the snow. It's like the movie come to life for them. And the dogs can't get enough of it, they absolutely love kids.

We let the dogs out last night at 11:30 pm to go to the bathroom one last time before bed but within minutes, we realized they faked it. They just wanted to play. It was 11:30 pm and the dogs were chasing each other around the yard and, honestly, leaping into the air and belly flopping into the snow. It was like having two children playing exuberantly knowing school was cancelled in the morning.

In times like this it can be downright impossible to get the dogs back in the house. They're faster than me -- some would say smarter too -- and, to them, having me chase them around the yard is just another version of the same game they play with one another. But I had the secret weapon. Pizza crust. While they played in the snow, Kristin and I finally had a frozen Red Baron pizza for dinner. After all, she had only just then got home. And while the dogs definintely ignored my promise of a treat, and they certainly turned a deaf ear to my commands to "Come!", no dog can resist the scent of pizza crust. I opened the door, wafted the scent of the crust into the yard and within five seconds I had two snow-covered dogs inside the garage, tail wagging, and drool dripping from the end of their tongue.

Kristin is working from home today to avoid the icy roads and what is sure to be another 3-4 hour commute home, so I was able to talk to her this morning over coffee. I asked about her walk this morning with the dogs.

"They were ecstatic. I had to walk them a different route to try and trick them into heading back home because they refused to come home. There was one problem though. Annana was very distraught because the snow was too deep for her to poop. She's not tall enough to squat above the snow. I had no choice, but to take her into a street that had been plowed."

Ah yes, it's all fun and games till you have to poop.

Ridin' the Hood

With the Inbox filling up with messages about the impending wind and snow storm and the threat of more power failures, I was moved into action a bit earlier yesterday. And by action, I mean going for a bike ride. One of the rides I've been doing a lot lately starts out in my neighborhood on a few miles of woodchip trails, then drops into the "downtown" area of tiny Snoqualmie (population about 8,000). After about 2 miles on pavement I hop onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and ride up to Rattlesnake Lake. Once at the lake, I turn around and retrace my path home. It's a pretty easy 31 mile ride with just over 1500 feet of vertical. No singletrack, but some nice scenery nonetheless.

Steps from home and miles away.

A quick trip through town then back off-road.

A fine place for a snack.

Why Titanium?

I was on the phone with the folks at Richard's Bikes in Illinois again today. Apparently both the Ellsworth Evolve (the one I pre-ordered) and the hardtail Enlightenment 29er are not going to be available for certain until April to May.

That's simply too late. Back to the drawing board on the bike-buying decision. Grumble, grumble.

After thinking long and hard and "seeing what the pros ride" I've returned to the desire to buy a hardtail that either has carbon stays (aka firmtail) or something akin to a soft tail with 1" suspension. I'm going to trust that with the right materials, that teeny bit of suspension combined with the larger wheels will be enough cushion.

So I asked myself a somewhat loaded question: Why not titanium?

And wouldn't you know there's a site built specifically to answer that question... http://www.whytitanium.com/

If I'm truly looking to build a purpose-built endurance-racing bike, then there is no reason not to go Ti. Other than the obvious one. But isn't a frame made out of a light, strong, absorptive, corrosion and impact resistant material that can outlast its owner worth a couple extra hundge?

On the scale of over-indulgence, the decision to buy a titanium bike has to rank only slightly lower than the decision to buy a custom-made titanium bike sized specifically to your own body's dimensions. We talk a lot about "lifestyle purchases" that not only are positive for health and happiness (like cycling) but that also encourage more use and greater, more ambitious goals. That's what I'm looking to make. A purchase of a bike that will not only be wonderful to ride at TransRockies, but also a bike that will be begged to ridden in many other epic races and self-supported adventures that lurk around the next corner.

Also, there is the fact that no matter what bike one buys, it's still a lot cheaper than boating, golfing, mountaineering, and numerous other sports and hobbies. Not to mention a lot cheaper annually than smoking or a nasty cocaine addiction. Actually, is there anything that isn't cheaper than smoking? Someone who smokes just one pack of cigarettes a day in Washington state spends $2091 per year on cigarettes.

Wow. When I put it that way, it kind of makes bikes made of what some jokingly refer to as "unobtanium" seem downright affordable.

Like I said, back to the drawing board...

N3 Update

Well, at the risk of relying on a age-old sports cliche, this is why you play the game [before commenting on it].

I stuck with Ninety-Nine Nights a little longer than I expected and have so far completed the game with two of the characters. And, surprise-surprise, I'm actually starting to enjoy the story a bit. It's still completely mindless entertainment, but it's precisely what I want while sipping my morning coffee.

My continued play did result in one major complaint though and it once again has to deal with the save system. After completing Inphyy's missions, I started again with Asphaar and quickly completed the first mission. Naturally, I used the same game save file that I've been using. After all, one of the Achievements is to get an A rank or higher with every character on every mission and I just might try to get it. It would stand to reason that you'd have to accomplish this on the same game save file, right? Wrong. You can only have one character's save data per save file. So, although my records still show that I completed Inphyy's missions (with a B for Mission 6), I cannot replay that mission without starting a whole new campaign with Inphyy and playing back up to it.

So, if you're playing N3 and looking to get some of the more advanced Achievements, make sure you save each character's campaign progress to a separate save file. Else you'll have a lot of replaying on your hands. As for me, I'm currently on Myifee's campaign and although I was pretty sure I unlocked a secret character with Asphaar, there isn't one available. If there aren't any new characters available after Myifee's campaign is done, then I'll be done. Otherwise I may just surprise myself and keep playing.

Novadrome, N3, and Fight Night: Round 3

Between bike rides and sporadic bursts of effort towards redoing all the trimwork in a guestroom, I've been getting a lot of gaming in lately. And nearly all of it has been spent with these three games, two of which I rented from Gamefly, the third I downloaded for $10 from Xbox Live Arcade.

Novadrome (X360 Live Arcade)
This is a downloadable Live Arcade game that essentially involves repetitive arena battles with cars that resemble futuristic R.C.-style vehicles. I definitely consider this game worthy of the 800 Microsoft Points it costs to download, yet I also feel like it has a lot of wasted potential. The game contains a bevy of cars, courses, and gameplay modes yet each and every match usually boils down to a "kill 'em all" strategy. This is because no matter what the gameplay event is (Hounded, Beacon Blast, Survivor, Wrecking Ball, and Human Race to a lesser extent) the winner is not the driver who collects the most pods or navigates the course the fastest or reaches the most gates, but it's always the person with the most points. And the best way to get points is to kill the competition. Each time you destroy an enemy car you steal half of their total points. This means their is no incentive to follow the goal of the specific event. Instead, just let the A.I. cars worry about finding the checkpoints or collecting the pods. You'll just steal their points by blowing them up anyway. This is unfortunate, but somewhat forgiveable as the game is still fun to play.

The A.I. of the enemy cars ranges from very good to awful depending on the event and whether or not a "Boss" is on the map. It's also a long game. There are over 50 events to play through to complete the standard career mode (20 Achievement Points) and then you'll have to play through all 50 again on Supernova difficulty to earn an additional 30 Achievement Points. No thanks. I played it through once on Medium difficulty and that was enough. There's also an Arcade Challenge and Free Play mode, as well as Multiplayer, but aside from using Arcade Challenge to earn a few more Achievements there's really no incentive to play after getting through Career Mode once. It's fun but eventually it's repetition does grow tiresome. Worth $10, but not a penny more.

Ninety-Nine Nights (X360)
I popped this in the other day and I have to admit that I have no idea what the allure of games like this (and especially Dynasty Warriors) is. You basically pick a character, charge into battle, and maniacally mash the buttons to perform a number of snazzy attacks that -- and I'm not kidding here -- lay waste to hundreds of on-screen enemies. Yes, it is indeed impressive to see an army of nearly a thousand goblins come stampeding over a hill straight towards you, but it requires precious little skill to defeat them all. The brain-deadedness I feel playing games like this is somewhat offset by the beauty of the game and the fact that many of the combo attacks available are quite artistic in their own right. The problem I'm having with N3 is with the way in which the game is meant to be played. You're supposed to play through the missions repeatedly to try and earn higher ranks before moving on and, as a result further level up your character. The problem with this is that I was getting all A and S ranks on my first attempt so I never replayed any missions. Then, finally, I reach Mission 6 and can't even get halfway through it because my character isn't strong enough. So I go back and replay a couple missions, level up, and find a better sword. I return to Mission 6 and make it all the way to the end. And then die. And there is no in-game save so I have to replay the entire mission over again. In some games this is forgivable, but on a mission that contains several cinematics and major set-pieces there is no reason why an auto-save feature wasn't implemented. The urge to play this game long enough to earn a single Achievement is fading fast.

N3 can be frustrating and mindless at times, but it is far better suited for my "western taste" than the Dynasty Warriors games. For starters, the game is very impressive visually. The graphics and number of enemies that can be displayed are most impressive. It certainly makes the Xbox 360 version Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires look like an early PS2 game. Also, and this is a big also, the character names and story elements are easy to follow. I got scolded by a Chinese-American for saying this once on a message board, but I've always felt the Dynasty Warriors games were like some sort of inside-joke that were only meant to be understood by those familliar with ancient Chinese history. I'm not going to be playing through the N3 story with each of the various characters to earn all the Achievements, but I can at least tell you their names and pick each of them out of a crowd. No amount of time with Dynasty Warriors will ever be enough for me to tell Lu Xun from Wei Yan. So if you've ever wanted to play Dynasty Warriors but just couldn't get into it, give Ninety Nine Nights a try.

Fight Night: Round 3 (X360)
I know I give EA a lot of shit for some of their practices (like having corporate sponsorship of the Achievements in this particular game), but I have to say right up front that not only is this a very, very good game, but it's also the first retail X360 game that I bothered to earn all 1000 Achievement Points for. For starters, the game is absolutely stunning to look at. I love the lack of any sort of display or health meter, and only because the quality of the graphics and animation make the fighters' energy and health easily apparent just by looking at them. I also -- and this will be a first -- have to admit that the quality of the ringside commentary is superb. Yes, there are a few key lines of speech that get repeated too often but this is the first sports game I've played where I was still hearing new commentary during my 38th fight/game. If you've played the previous versions of this game then you already know what to expect -- it's been out for a year already and if you hadn't played it yet you must get it.

For those who never played one of the games in the Fight Night series before, you create a boxer for any of the available weight classes (I created a Light Heavyweight) and you work your way up from Amateur status to, hopefully, World Champion. Along the way you train, box, earn money, train, box, repeat. As your popularity rises you get invited to certain milestone fights (aka the Burger King, Dodge, Everlast, ESPN, Under Armour, and EA sponsored bouts) and if you win htose you earn and Achievement and "level up" to the next round of fights. Along the way you'll age, increase your stats, become wealthy (and spend $700,000 on a pair of trunks that increase your punching power 20%) and so on and so forth. Eventually, you'll even develop a rivalry with one or two fighters and that's where the real drama begins. There was one fighter who I fought three times. And in the third bout he actually started fighting very dirty. He was taunting and slipping in an occasional low-blow or head-butt and the drama of the fight seemed very real. It wasn't overdone, it was subtle enough to feel like he really had a beef with me personally. We traded knockdowns in the 5th round and then finally I knocked him out in the 8th round. It was the most exhausting of all the fights I had in my fighter's career and it was absolutely thrilling. By far the most emotionally engaging experience I've ever had with a sports game.

Funny I never did actually earn World Champion status though. I played through the game on Medium difficulty and only dropped it to Easy when I had to fight Evander Holyfield as he easily out-classed my Light Heavyweight's abilities. As time went on, my fighter grew to the ripe old age of 31 and had a 36-8 record. The commentators started questioning why I was still fighting at this age, or what was wrong with me that I kept coming back for more punishment after being knocked out so many times. Finally, I was two fights from earning the final Achievement and just dropped it to Easy mode and finished it out. But the weird thing, and I hate to say it but a very EA-like decision, but you actually earn all of the Achievements before even becoming World Champion. Not sure why that is, but after 40+ bouts I wasn't about to continue on once I had all 1000 Points. I'm not an Achievement Whore by no stretch, but I did find them to be a nice incentive in this game. Even if they are sponsored by Dodge and Burger King.


One of the new additions to the Xbox Live Marketplace this week is the complete first season of "The Jetsons". I loved the Jetsons. Absolutely loved the show and became giddy with the prospect of downloading some of the 22-minute episodes straight to my X360. or maybe all 24 episodes.

Then I saw the price.

160 Microsoft Points per episode is equivalent to $2.00. That's $2.00 for a 22-minute cartoon episode and unless I'm mistaken, unlike the movie downloads these do not self-delete. They're yours forever. Not a bad price individually, but there has to be some sort of bulk purchase option because you can buy the complete Season One 4-disc box set for $30 to $40 or less in brick and mortar stores.

I'm not about to pay 20% more money for an item that I not only don't possess physically (i.e. no box art or collector's booklet to flip through or at least hold in my hand) but that actually costs me more money to even own in the first place. That's right I'm talking hard drive space. Those 24 episodes of "The Jetsons" weigh in at 6.1 gigabytes. That's a huge chunk of the Xbox 360's hard drive which means that if I were to buy them and then, say, buy Season Two when it comes out, I'd have to go and spend another $100 on a second hard drive to handle it all.

The fact that there is no packaging, manufacturing, nor retail space being occupied alone should be enough to dictate that the digital version of the products cost less than the physical version you buy in a store. But when you factor in the cost of ownership in the form of hard drives, this becomes a major hit to the wallet all for the so-called convenience of being able to download on demand right from your couch. Yes, I realize that there are indeed hosting costs on the end of the provider and that there is a middle-man in the way of Microsoft, but these same costs exist at the iTunes Store as well. And you know what, you can buy the complete Season One of The Jetsons at iTunes for $27.99. The iTunes Store charges $2.00 per episode, just like the Xbox Live Marketplace, but there is the option to buy the entire season at a discount. Microsoft and their content providers have to come up with a similar offer for every day that goes by without it, they're losing money. And worse, they're pissing people off. People who otherwise rave about the service night and day.

New X360 Features and Why You Needn't Care

If you look to any of the gaming oriented websites today you're going to see lots of commentary on the rumored new Xbox 360 that comes with a 120 gigabyte hard drive and an internal HDMI port. You'll also sese plenty of mention about Microsoft's move into IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) which is, basically, a subscription service that allows you to use the Xbox 360 to essentially act like a set-top cable box. While the release of a new-and-improved console does stand to ruffle the feathers of those of us who already own the now seemingly nutered original version of the system, the IPTV announcement isn't really that significant in my eyes. Unless I'm horribly mistaken (possible) all it does is offer an alternative to cable and satellite tv. Sure, more players in the marketplace means more businesses competing for your dollars which could, theoretically, mean lower monthly rates. But when?

For as large as Microsoft is, it's going to take a long while before their IPTV service could possibly match the offerings of your local cable provider or DirecTV for that matter. If they go the a la carte route, then IPTV could be huge, especially for folks like me who don't get HBO and wouldn't mind kicking Microsoft a few dollars a month to get it if their rates are lower than DirecTV's, but it's not like this is going to eliminate the need for cable or DirecTV anytime soon. Not only would I hate to have my television coming in over an often finnicky DSL line, but I doubt Microsoft will be lining up channels like OLN (or whatever they call themselves now), or the Travel Channel anytime soon and will certainly not going to offer services like Sunday Ticket which lets you watch every NFL game every Sunday. IPTV could mean lower prices down the road, but it does not mean the end of high cable bills. Movies and tv on demand would be great, or an a la carte network plan would be great, but this technology is still in its infancy and even if every X360 owner ponied up for it, that would still only be 9 to 10 million or homes. A mere fraction of those served by other broadcasting providers.

But enough about IPTV, I really want to talk about why I do not feel cheated, threatened, or "ripped off" by the rumored new and improved Xbox 360. Let's take a look at what the two rumored enhancements are and, for now, assume they are true. The first is the 120 gigabyte hard drive. That's huge. It's massive. Sony was raving about their 60 gigabyte hard drive and how it dwarfed the size of the original X360. But, like in all good pissing contests, Microsoft wasn't fazed. Instead they unzipped their pants and unfurled a snake twice the size of Sony's. I care not and neither should you. Microsoft made the X360 so that even the most technological novice could swap out hard drives in seconds. Without the need to open anything or use a single screwdriver. If the day comes for me to need the larger hard drive for the X360 (for movies and game demos), I'll simply go out and buy it separately. And it will take no effort at all to migrate game saves and profiles from one hard drive to another via a memory card. Problem solved. If anyone should be upset by this, it's PS3 owners. When Sony undoubtedly fires back with a 200 gigabyte hard drive next year, PS3 owners will be required to buy a new console in order to upgrade because as far as I know the PS3 has no quick-swap ability for its internal hard drives. And opening that case will void your warranty.

The other big feature of the "new" Xbox 360 is the internal HDMI port. Now, for those of you who own an HDTV capable of 1080p resolution than, yes, this is big for you. You'll definitely want the internal HDMI port if you indeed want to take advantage of everything your ultra-expensive television can do.

For the rest of us with HDTV's that handle only 720p and 1080i resolutions, the lack of an HDMI cable is no big deal. The Xbox Live Marketplace started offering movies and television show downloads late in 2006 and we downloaded the 720p version of "Swordfish" the other night. It was a 4.7 gigabyte download that took several hours to complete and, as a rental, had to be watched within 14 days or it would self-delete. It cost roughly $5 to download the movie. But that's not why I'm telling you about it. I'm bringing this up because the movie looked and sounded far superior to any DVD I've viewed on my DLP television thus far. Naturally, being that I don't have an up-converting DVD player and have only been watching movies in 480p, I was expecting a significant increase in visual clarity with the movie, but even the audio was outstanding. The scene early in the movie when the bomb goes off was jaw-droppingly impressive. The quality of the picture, the detail, and vibrancy of what we saw on screen was only outdone by the incredible audio being pumped through the Bose 3-2-1 system I have in the living room. We had the volume cranked pretty big and the lights dimmed, and it was easily as impressive as anything we've seen in a theatre lately.

And that was via component cables and optical audio.

I can understand that HDMI does offer a slightly better picture quality over component cables and the fact that it also carries the audio signal does mean fewer wires and potentially less clutter behind the cabinet, but this upgrade is far from necessary. I'm no audio-/videophile but I definitely want a good movie viewing experience and from what I can tell from my admittedly limited experience with the "Swordfish" download, the original X360 with component cables and optical audio is more than adequate.

What this does make me want to get, however, is the new HD-DVD player for the X360. Especially since it up-converts standard DVD movies. There's always something...

TR Training: Base Prep Week #7

Total Saddle Time: 10 hours, 32 minutes
Total Mileage: 143.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 3250 feet
Weight Loss: -1.0 pound

Things got a bit back to normal this week now that the holidays and the power failure are (hopefully) over. The weather still really limits what can be done outdoors, both in terms of just being really nasty to ride in and also because of the condition of the trails. Many of the better places to ride are still heavily damaged from the windstorms, both from last month and, well, just about every other day. One of the things I've been working on in the face of this is a bit of attitude conditioning. I have a habit of going to sleep bent on riding a particular route in the morning and, in the past, if the weather or work or something got in the way of those plans I would metaphorically throw my arms up in disgust and not ride at all -- if it's not going to go as planned, it's not going at all! Harumph! Not lately though. I'm really becoming more flexible and rolling with the punches. This time of year, I could very easily find a reason not to ride every day if I wanted. Instead, I just have to adapt and realize that anything is better than nothing.

Exactly 50% of the time I spent on a bike this week was in my garage, on the trainer. I did get out on the mountain bike on Wednesday and again on Saturday, but most of my riding this week was indoors. Fortunately, I received some new training videos for Christmas (which I'll be posting about separately) and have also downloaded a bunch of the "Coffee Break Spanish" podcasts and am finding it enjoyable to do my "easy spin" rides while trying to learn spanish. Would help for that next surf trip to Costa Rica.

This coming week is supposed to be a Recovery Week, but I missed so much in weeks 5 and 6, but still calls for 11.9 hours of training. For comparison, my training plan called for 19.9 hours of riding for week #7. Although you can see that my total saddle time is nowhere near that mark, every time I get on the trainer for an hour or 90-minutes, it's equivalent to riding outside for 2 to 3 hours. Once the weather warms up and the rain and wind and snow die down, these times will increase for sure. But I'm not going to beat myself up about it now, as I rode more this past week than I did all of January and February last year.

Lastly, I spoke with Ken last night and we're aiming for a big ride on January 20th. Going to combine a couple rides into one lengthy 80 miler. Just a nice, long, mountain bike ride. Hopefully the weather lets it happen.

The Sniff Test

Here's something someone who doesn't own a dog just wouldn't understand.

You see a lump of dirt on the floor of your house. You know it's been raining and you were in the yard so there's a very good chance that you tracked it into the house. You pick it up. And then it hits you. Just as you have it in your hand, you begin to wonder, "is this really just dirt?". And before you realize what it is you're doing, you lower your face to sniff the foreign substance. Just as your nostrils begin to suck in the aroma of the lump in your hand, your brain fires off an alarm warning you that it might be poop. Poop that is in your hand and inches from your nose. Breathe deeply.

It was a false alarm this time. It was, in fact, just a clump of dirt. But I have to be more careful. It's one thing to clean up some dog doo, but it's another to scrub puke off the walls.

A Wii Bit of Discussion

One of the things I can always count on when returning to NJ is that cousins, siblings, friends, and family will all try to "pick my brain" about the current state of videogames. And I don't mind at all, as it beats trying to feign interest in whatever they might want to talk about instead.

That's a joke, I swear.

Anyway, this year the conversations I had throughout my week back east basically fell into three categories 1) Why don't we ever see you online playing Madden?, 2) Do you think Sony is going to end up like Sega?, and 3) What's coming out in 2007 that doesn't suck?

Answers: 1) I love football, but hate playing Madden. 2) No. 3) Hopefully Bioshock and Forza Motorsport 2.

But by far the most interesting gaming-related conversation I had over the week was with my three younger sisters (ages 10, 13, and 15) about the Nintendo Wii. Now, let me get this out of the way first. If you've read my blog much at all you know that I am not a fan of the Wii. It's true that my time with it was limited to just 2 hours or so at E3 in May, but I am not sold at all on the premise of the system, the games available for said system, or the lack of technical features. But I'm okay with that because I can accept that the Wii is not for me. Everyone says it's great fun for kids and for aunts, and grandmothers. None of which am I.

I've secretly always doubted that kids really wanted to play the Wii. Kids today are far more jaded and sophisticated than most adults think. Adults want to believe that kids frolic and laugh and enjoy making fools of themselves. Some kids do. No doubt. But they will hit an age (one that is much younger than many expect) when they see through gimmicks like the Wii.

Apparently that age is somewhere between 10 and 15. At least in my family.

The oldest of the trio is 15 and asked me if I had a PS3. I told her no and that I was very happy with my X360. I asked her if she and her sisters asked for a Wii for Christmas, expecting the answer to be yes. Boy was I in for a surprise. She told me that her friends had it and she played it a few times but really hated it. She said she gets really bored with it after a few minutes.

"None of the games are really games."

I told her I agreed and that my biggest concern with it is that Nintendo has a ten-year long track record of not being able to release more than one really good game every year or two. She then responded with this gem, at which time I realized that while we may have different mothers, she is indeed my sister.

"I just don't know why they had to make a whole system out of the motion controller. Why couldn't they just make a couple of games like that, but still have a real controller for real games? It's like, the dance pad works great for some games but nobody is making a whole console out of using the dance pad. That would be stupid. Like the Wii."

I repeat, that was said completely unbaited by a 15-year old girl. And it's one of the more thoughtful commentaries on the Wii that I've heard yet.

Her 13 year old sister nodded in agreement and added that playing the new Zelda game on the Wii made her "so mad" because the controls "were stupid".

The youngest of the three, age 10, was holding judgement until she had played it -- none of her friends have it. She didn't really want to talk about the Wii though. She was far more interested in showing me how she can beat all the songs on one of the Dance Dance Revolution games on the hardest difficulty on the Xbox. Watching her dance was very impressive. And she did in fact clear even the hardest songs on the hardest modes in the game. And she's 10.