A Most Untimely Injury

I'm typing this with a wrist brace on my right hand. No, I didn't hurt myself masturbating but thank you for asking. Nor did I suffer an acute case of carpal tunnel from playing too much Forza Motorsport 2 (although doing so does cause discomfort). And no, the most obvious source of the injury -- a mountain biking crash -- was not the cause either. At least not directly.

You see, I hurt my wrist bowling. Yes, bowling. Some of the folks I ride with out of Redhook every Thursday night wanted to switch things up a bit two weeks ago and go bowling. I only get presented with an invite to don the funky community shoes and sashe across the slippery wooden planks once every few years so I immediately agreed to join them. Kristin and I, another couple also named Doug and Kristin (weird, I know), Lidia, and Ken all went bowling together. And it was fun. Three games would have been fine, but everyone wanted to stay for a fourth game and, naturally, two frames into it, we all secretly had enough and wanted to stop. At least that's what everyone's body language was saying. Except for Lidia, whose a dynamo of energy.

Anyway, ever since I woke up that next morning, some 11 days ago, my right wrist has been hurting. I didn't use too heavy of a ball -- a 12 pounder felt just about right -- and I didn't think I was throwing it with any serious effort, at least not enough to hurt myself. In fact, I was fairly consistent too and had the highest score of everyone so I wasn't up there just whipping it down the lane trying to make a racket. But, nonetheless, my wrist is hurt. There's nothing wrong with the bones or joints as tapping it causes no pain, but squeezing things such as the R Trigger on the Xbox 360 controller does cause some soreness. Also, trying to lift things with my right hand hurts.

Which is unfortunate as the two rides I am leading this weekend will both likely require some serious amounts of hike-a-bike. Which is going to be difficult, being that I can't lift things with my right arm! Can't wait to see how this pans out.

There is a funny side-story related to the bowling alley we went to. This was back in the fall of 2000, during my first time out to Redmond for a business trip to Nintendo with the guys from BradyGames. It was me, my co-author, and my editor in a rental car looking for a place to eat. We were working on the guidebook for Banjo-Tooie, one of my favorite games of all time, and it was time to hunt down a restaurant. It seemed that we were eating at Chili's every single night so I decided to play a game with the Neverlost GPS system in the car. I decided that we'd let Neverlost pick a place at random for us to eat. I forgot how I managed to do this, but after a few punches on the keypad, Neverlost was leading us to a cafe. I forget the name of it, but it sounded halfway decent and it wasn't far.

It turned out the "restaurant" Neverlost was leading us to was the snack bar in the bowling alley I was at the other night. The place has since had a change in ownership and seems much nicer now, but it was a bit of a dive back 7 years ago. I lost my restaurant-choosing priviliges that night and it took a few more trips out to Nintendo before I was allowed to play with the Neverlost again.

It's fun to think back to those trips. The first few were really good. Sure, we'd work from 8am till 10pm every day for two weeks straight, but we had some good times. Working on the guidebook for Conker's Bad Fur Day was definitely one of the most enjoyable periods in my professional career, thanks in huge part to the great crew I got to work with on it. I miss those types of projects.

Congrats to Kristin

Kristin was accepted into Seattle University's "Leadership Executive MBA" program and will be heading back to school this fall. She was expecting to go to the University of Washington, but she found that she actually preferred the smaller, private feel of Seattle University over the much larger U-District school. In fact, the acceptance letter came just in time as Kristin was about to return to UW for an additional round of interviews. Now she needn't do that.

It's going to be a tough couple of years while she juggles a full-time job, school, and personal life, and I anticipate having to pick up some of the slack and tolerate her being busier than normal but if all goes well, it will be a sacrifice worth making. I'm really proud of her and am glad that she got into the program she felt more comfortable with, and one that friends of mine have said nothing but good things about.


When I said "heading back to NC" in that last post, I meant to visit. Not to relocate.

The Must-Do Ride

They say you never forget your first time. And they just might be right. Registering for the High Pass Challenge yesterday got me thinking about my first century ride last night. I was thinking that the HPC didn't really sound all that tough -- 120 miles and 7,500 feet of climbing is nothing to laugh at, but it's not really intimidating if you like hills.

My first century ride, however, scared me to death. It was the Blood, Sweat & Gears: God's Country Century Challenge in the mountains of North Carolina. It was 100 miles (I clocked it at 107 miles) and nearly 13,000 feet of climbing. The race was on beautiful mountain roads (including a 21 mile stretch on the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway), very well supported, and featured enough climbing and nail-biting descents to make me actually think about taking a seat inside the ambulance that was parked atop the highest mountain pass. To make things more difficult, I lived at 25 feet above sea level back then and couldn't find a hill over 100 feet tall within a 2 hour drive. Nevertheless, riding into the wind all the time must have been a good hill simulation because I finished the damn thing in a time of 6:05. And vividly recall pedaling past people pushing their bikes on a hill. Folks who recognized my East Carolina Velo jersey who cheer me on and I was told "Awesome job flatlander!" more than once that day. You never forget your first. That was back in 2002 when I was training for the off-road Ironman whose name shall not be uttered.

They just ran this year's race and the winning time was barely under 5 hours. Compare that to the Flying Wheels Century where even lil ol' me was almost under 5 hours. Without drafting, mind you. That's how tough this race is.

Kristin and I have been talking about heading back to NC for a while now. We have some property we need to check on; Kristin wants to see her old friends and co-workers; and I certainly wouldn't mind paddling back out at Cape Hatteras for another surf session there. Not to mention, that I secretly also want to embark on a BBQ-based road trip from North Carolina through Tennessee and into Missouri. I think we're going to need to do this in the next year or two and wrap it around a stop in Boone for another stab at the BSGGCCC. Man, even the acronym is a handful.

Here's a link to the ride site where you can see maps and elevation profiles. Don't let the highest elevation point fool you though, this ride is plenty tough!

Has Anyone Told Him About the Hills?

A 20-year old hailing from the UK is about to leave his homeland for the first time. He's planning a ten-week tour of five European countries. He's presumably very excited about his upcoming travels, mostly because of the mode of transit he selected. He'll be travelling almost entirely on his skateboard.

He is aiming to set off on Sunday and travel through France and Switzerland, cross the Alps into Italy, then skate via Marseille to Spain. He was inspired by Dave Cornthwaite who skateboarded across Australia. Mr Benson will cross the Pyrenees during his trip, which he aims to finish in the Spanish port of Santander in mid-September.

It's been a long time since I hopped onto a skateboard not virtually tethered to me via my PlayStation 2, but I used to be pretty decent when I was a kid. Kickflips, 8-sets, mini-pipes. All that stuff. And one of the things I remember from those days is that going up hills sucks on a skateboard. And the only thing worse than going up hills was going up hills on a road that wasn't very smooth.

I don't know about you, but I've watched enough Tour de France coverage to know that many of those roads in the Alps and Pyrenees are, shall we say, not the smoothest pieces of asphalt around. Best of luck to the crazy Mr. Benson (and the somewhat less crazier American, Adam Colton, who will be joining him for the latter 3,000 kilometers of this 4,000 kilometer journey).

Full story on BBC here.

The Side Effects of Mariner Success

In case you're not into baseball, let me first inform you that the Seattle Mariners completed a sweep of the Boston Red Sox this week here in Seattle. Safeco Field has become a veritable house of horrors for the over-exposed Red Sox, as they've lost their last 8 games played in Seattle. Boston entered the series with the best record in all of baseball and, fortunately, left town with that honor in tact as the Kansas City Royals also performed a stunning sweep of the Angels. This is fortunate because the Angels are in the Mariners division and are nearly tied with Boston for the best record.

So what's the point, you wonder?

The point is that it's the end of June and instead of counting the days to Seahawks training camp like in recent years, my mind is focused squarely on baseball. So much so that I signed up for the High Pass Challenge this morning without even giving a second of thought to the fact that the ride is on a Sunday. In September. And that I have season tickets for the Seahawks.

When I told Kristin that I registered for the HPC and that it's on September 23rd, she immediately querried me on whether or not the Seahawks were out of town that weekend. D'oh! They're not. They have a home game against Cincinatti; a game I would very much like to attend.

I'm going to do the ride and Kristin will just have to take her friend Kari to the game with her. Kari won't mind, I'm sure. And Kristin will be happy because she'll finally be able to try and profess her love of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in public. Probably while drunk.

By the way: I just have to brag and say that I just Googled's T.J's name to make sure I spelled it correctly and you know what? I got it right on the first try. I clearly watch too much ESPN.

Inside Joke: Kristin doesn't really love T.J., but she does have a thing for ball players with exotic last names. Her maiden name is a one-syllable name and now her married name is plain too. Her current "squeeze" is Houshmandzadeh, but I honestly think she'd leave me if given the chance to become Mrs. Tshimanga Biakabutuka (and yes, that one I did have to look up).

Why I Win at Jeopardy

A new study finds that exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells in rats. And since I like cheese, I'm going to make the logical jump and conclude that the athletic life I've lead is the root behind my boundless mental capacity.

“In the depressed rats, running had an antidepressant-like effect after running for 30 days,” Bjornebekk told LiveScience. The once-slothful rodents spent much more time in active swimming compared with the non-running depressed rats. The researchers also examined the hippocampus region of the brain, involved in learning and memory. Neurons there increased dramatically in the depressed rats after wheel-running.

Past studies have found that the human brain’s hippocampus shrinks in depressed individuals, a phenomenon thought to cause some of the mental problems often linked with depression.

You can read the full article at Livescience.com by clicking here.

Skippin' the Encore

You ever go to a concert and scream yourself hoarse in hopes of one final encore, only to be terribly disappointed? That's how I'm feeling right now. Or, scratch that, that's how I would be feeling if I hadn't already given my sister my PS2 copy of Guitar Hero.

The complete set-list for Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's has been released (see it here on Kotaku.com) and I must say that my initial disapointment that this wasn't coming to the X360 has left me. I'm glad this isn't coming to the X360, as then I would feel obligated to buy it. Just look at that set list! It sucks.

Sure, I know it's kind of popular to trash 80's music, but as a child of the 80's I must say that there was some good stuff back then. Or, at the very least, some really bad stuff that might be fun to play. But this? Come on, man. The Go-Go's? Oingo-Boingo? Winger? Yeah, there's a couple of songs on the list that I do like -- they couldn't all be duds -- but there is hardly enough good stuff there to warrant a $10 purchase over the Xbox Marketplace, should that become an option. And I'm sad by this. The videos released so far of Neversoft's upcoming Guitar Hero III don't really sit right with me just yet, and I'm going to take a long wait-and-see approach with EA & MTV's evil offspring Rock Band, even if it is from Harmonix whose only miscue was ever making a game for the EyeToy. I hate to say it, but I think I may be hanging up the plastic axe for good. And the microphone. And the bongos. And the dance pad. And the drum kit...


Another Wednesday has come and gone and another great board game has been successfully released in digital form on the Xbox Live Arcade service. This week it was the strategy game, Carcassone. Like Catan before it, this is a game a bit out of the mainstream (Oh no, it's European! Gasp!) but one that I've wanted to play for years. You can't walk into a game store without bumping into a copy of it or one of its many expansions

Players take turns drawing a random tile and placing it on the board, not unlike Dominoes. Each tile has a portion of field, road, or perhaps a section of city on it. The goal is to place the tiles (and lay claim to them with your 7 "followers" so that lengthy roads, farms, and cities are built under your color. Or should I say colour? The challenge comes in trying to build large enough entities to score huge points, while simultaneously not letting things grow so big you can't finish them. You also have to use your followers wisely, as you can only pick them back up off the board once a road, city, or monastery has been completed. Followers placed on the all-important farming fields score huge points at the end of the game, but they're left there all game long and can't be reclaimed. Do you go after the farms early and risk having no followers for cities or roads? Or do you hold out until later and risk having all of the farms already be claimed?

This is a terrific oversimplification of the game, but truthfully you can learn how to play this game in about 15 minutes and learn how to be pretty good at it in an hour or two. I played it all day yesterday. And by all day, I do in fact mean all day. It's highly addictive, the games only take 15-20 minutes to play, and it's a great way to earn an easy 200 Gamer Score. I laid claim to 11 of the 12 Achievements yesterday without much trouble and will likely get the final one today.

Is this game going to replace Catan in my daily lineup? Not likely, but I will definitely pick it up and play on and off in the future whenever I'm in the mood for a quick casual game. Also, what I really like about this game is that, since you take turns drawing tiles at random, it's possible for multiple people to play on a single Xbox 360. The reason I say this is because Kristin and I recently bought the board game version, but we haven't played it yet. And now after having played the Xbox version all day yesterday, I can safely say that I don't have the patience to do the scoring manually. It will be far easier to simply play it on the Xbox with Kristin and let the game keep track of all of the mechanics and scoring for us.

Here's a link to IGN's Carcassone page where you can see some screenshots and video of the game in action. It costs 800 MS points ($10) and is definitely worth it in my opinion.

High Pass Challenge

The Cascade Bicycle Club recently announced a new long-distance bicycle ride for September 23rd of this year. It's called the "High Pass Challenge" and will take cyclists on a 120-mile journey over Independence Pass and up to Windy Ridge near Mount St. Helens. The ride is said to contain 7,500 feet of climbing and have a 10-hour time limit (more than enough for moderately strong cyclists). You can read more about the event here. But if you're going to register, do so quickly as it's limited to the first 500 cyclists.

I'm really happy to hear about this ride in this month's Cascade Courier newsletter as I've been wondering what to put on the calendar for after TransRockies. This will be perfect. Just enough of a challenge so that I continue riding into the fall, but not so much that I need to actively "train" for it. Even better, I love riding in the Mount St. Helens and Gifford Pinchot National Forest areas and this will be a great excuse to get in a late September camping trip down there with Kristin and the dogs. We can head down on Saturday and do some hiking and then I'll do the ride on Sunday.

Toothpicks, Lightbulbs, and Gummi Worms

One of our new favorite shows to watch is called "How It's Made" on the Science Channel. Each thirty minute episode has four topics and, in just 6 minute segments, shows you the complete manufacturing process for one of the items that are so commonplace in our lives. The show takes you inside the manufacturing facility and gives you a close-up video tour of how it's made. The narration is pretty good too, as they feed you plenty of amazing statistics like the weight of the roll of aluminum used to make aluminum soda cans or how many tootpicks can be made from a single six-foot long birch log.

The show usually strings multiple episodes back-to-back like some sort of rock block for geeks and I promise you once you start watching it you won't be able to stop. We've seen segments on diamond jewelry, wooden doors, lightbulbs, gummy worms, toothpicks, tubs, soda cans, and the list goes on and on. And the show is perfect for those with ADD as the action is fast, the segments are short, and the background music reminds me of the pinball bit from Sesame Street.

Here's a link to a listing of all the items they've already covered. I really wish I had seen the episode on kayaks and cereal.

Ride Report: Ridge to Pass

Met with Ross and Doug C. at the main park on Snoqualmie Ridge yesterday for what ended up being a bit longer of a ride than I expected. I led the three of us down the woodchip trails off the ridge and onto the railroad-grade Snoqualmie Valley Trail up to Rattlesnake Lake. We had to make a brief pit-stop in North Bend so Doug C. could buy a new pair of gloves at the bike shop; fortunately, it's only 2 blocks off the trail and we were back on the bikes not long after. We held a pretty relaxed pace at around 12mph up to the lake where we welcomed the sunshine that was pouring in through the valley. Reaching the lake felt like we were 1/4 of the way done, but it was really only the first 13 miles or so. We had a brief snack (pb&j burrito for me) and were soon pedaling up the Ironhorse trail.

The Ironhore trail leads all the way from the lake to a town in eastern Washington called Vantage. We wouldn't be going that far, but we would be following it roughly 22 miles up to Snoqualmie Pass where a 2 mile long train tunnel is located. The climb is gradual, but nonstop, gaining roughly 2200 feet in 22 miles. We passed several cyclists, lots of rock climbers, and even a couple hikers out on the trail. Best of all, we struck gold! Doug C. found a GPS unit that must have fallen out of someone's pack -- presumably during yesterday's Mountains to Sound race -- and he also found a pair of cheap sunglasses. Ross and I were holding a pretty stiff pace up the Ironhorse trail, keeping it steadily around 12-13mph, but never had to wait long for Doug C. whose back was tightening up a bit.

The tunnel through the mountain pass is pitch black inside and has a curve near the eastern end, so when you're headed towards Hyak you can't see the other end of the tunnel for much of the ride. In fact, other than the water dripping from the ceiling and the sound of your tires on the gravel, there is no sensory stimuli. It's dark, bitter cold, and somewhat spooky. The three of us each intended to bring our bright HID light systems, but Ross only remembered the battery not the lamp, and I hadn't ever recharged my light since the 24-hour race and NiMh batteries lose their charge. Fortunately, Doug C. had his light and the three of us navigated the lengthy tunnel by his light. When we got to the far end of the tunnel we discovered the reason why my light wasn't working: my cables weren't connected.

We exited the tunnel at Hyak, up in the central Cascade Mountains, having just ridden under the ski resort that I used to get my season pass to. Another pb&j burrito was had and after ten minutes of enjoying the mountain scenery and sunshine, we headed back into the tunnel for the long ride home. Although it was just an out and back ride on old railroad grade trails, the nonstop mountain views and walls of salmon berries and lupine made it feel far more epic and wild. It was chilly outside and each of us were a bit more bundled up than we would like for late June, but it was a great day. We wound our way back through North Bend and up Snoqualmie Parkway for a total of about 74 miles and appoximately 3,500 feet of climbing. I forgot to charge my Garmin after my riding over the weekend and it ran out of juice as we were leaving Rattlesnake Lake. All in all, though, the ride took about 6 hours including breaks.

To complete my tour of duty as ride leader, I led Ross and Doug C. back into old town Snoqualmie for dinner and beers at the brewery there where they have some awesome gumbo, delicious sandwiches and, of course, some pretty tasty beers. A long, cold, hard ride, followed by some tasty food and a well-needed shower.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Live

The Good:
Friday morning I get a message from one of the guys on my Friends list. It was a mass mailing to everyone on his Friends list saying that he's finished Forza Motorsport 2 and is "gifting" all of his cars away. If there's any car that I want, I should send him a reply back requesting it. Wow! I immediately leapt at the chance to get my hands on the Koenigsegg, as it's the only car from Sweden I don't have and being that I based my in-game career out of Japan, the Koenigsegg is only available to me through the online Auction House where it's fetching upwards of 500,000 credits. About twenty minutes later, Bigazzbiscuit gifted me the half-million dollar car, thereby not only adding one sweet looking supercar to my stable, but helping me unlock the "All Cars From Sweden" Achievement. I send 'biscuit a thank you note and silently think to myself how wonderful the Xbox Live service is and what great use of it some games make.

The Bad:
The release of new maps and a game update ("general housekeeping" as Epic likes to call it) for Gears of War piqued my interest and, for one reason or another, I dug out my dusty copy and popped it back in for the first time in nearly 5 months. It only took several minutes of multiplayer before I realized what an abomination the gaming public has made of this game. A game that was intended to be all about using cover and flanking the enemy has been reduced to a free-for-all of shotgun blasts, interspersed by teenage profanity-laced screeching, the content of which leaves no part of my mother's anatomy unaddressed. Is this the game I wrote the strategy guide for? Is this the game I had so many incredible multiplayer sessions with during my stay at Epic Studios' offices? Is this the game I was so happy to see win a slew of "Game of the Year" awards? What have people done to it? Matches now last mere seconds and seldom feature any weaponry other than a Shotgun or Sniper Rifle. Teams don't communicate, they curse and swear amongst one another. And as many forum message boards had warned, and I can now see, your online Rep will suffer by playing the game as it seems some only play the game for the sake of filing complaints about others... for no reason at all. I really enjoyed the single player campaign, the cooperative play, and the multiplayer mode for the first several weeks. Then the masses set in and, frankly, ruined it. I can't wait for Halo 3 to come out just so this particular breed of gamer can go back to the dregs of gaming society from whence they came.

The Ugly:
I have a stalker. He goes by the name of Mr. Floppy minus the correct spelling. I received a Friend Request from him the other day and, thinking he was a co-worker of my friend Jim, I accepted the request. In the span of two hours yesterday he sent me nearly a dozen voice messages and invites to play Gears of War with him. I finally put down Forza Motorsport 2 and joined him in an unranked match. He sounded nice enough, but he didn't know Jim. In fact, apparently there's a website that serves as a matchmaking service for Xbox 360 players. It matched up his and mine games lists and Gamer Scores and told him that he and I had similar tastes. After a game of Gears of War I told him that I wasn't in the mood for that game and was going to play Catan. Minutes later I get a voice message from Mr. Floppy saying that he just bought Catan and wants to play it with me. I ignore it. Fifteen minutes later I get another message saying he finished the tutorial and now wants me to join him in an online game. I ignore it again. Five minutes later I get another message from him wondering where I am. By the time I turned off the Xbox I had over a dozen messages from him. I believe I may have figured out why this guy needs to look to online matchmaking sites to find people to add to his Friends list. I've since erased him from my Friends list and, for the first time ever, used the "Block All Communication" feature. I expect negative feedback or a complaint to be filed against me any day now. After all, hell hath no fury like a stalker scorned.

Blogs of Note

Whenever I log into Blogger to create another post, I get to see a list of blogs that the Blogger staff, presumably, is currently keen on. I usually give the list a quick sideways glance to see if my own site is among those listed -- it never is -- and then I click the "New Post" link and continue on my way.

One of the blogs listed in today's listing did catch my eye. It's called "By Ken Levine". Being that I'm currently writing the strategy guide for the upcoming videogame Bioshock, my mind immediately made the assumption that the Ken Levine in question was the man behind Bioshock. After all, how many Ken Levines of note can there be?

Apparently two or more.

By Ken Levine is the daily writings of, from his bio, "an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. He and his partner wrote the feature VOLUNTEERS. Ken has also been the radio/TV play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres."

And I have to say that after reading the first six or so posts on his site, that it's a very interesting blog. The guy is funny, has some great anecdotes and stories to tell (how can he not with that career history) and he's a very good writer (duh). The post titled "Mr. Special Effects" should be a good barometer for you to see if you'll enjoy his other stuff.

A Tip For Life

If someone in your family should die, don't leave the news on other family members' answering machines. And if you feel the need to do so -- don't -- but if you do, make sure you are calm enough so that the name of the deceased cannot, say, be mistaken for the name of someone else... like the person your calling's sister.

This moment in Walsh Family Hysterics is brought to you by Randomly Generated reader, My Mom.

Reason Number 1,345,789

Thanks to Erik Alston for throwing yet another log on the fire. Here is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of reasons never to return to New Jersey. Seriously, you couldn't quadruple my salary and get me to move back for 6 months. But I digress...

State legislators earlier this week approved a bill banning the sale of all bikes equipped with current quick release wheels and tabbed tips.Under the bill, it would be illegal to sell bicycles with quick release wheels unless they met performance specifications that are not commercially available. Assembly bill A2686, which was introduced in February 2006, passed in the assembly with a vote of 77-3 and is now headed to the SenateCommerce Committee. While originally drafted to ban quick release wheels on children's bikes,the bill was recently amended to include bikes with 20-inch or larger wheels. It also stipulates that the secondary retention device on a wheel meet certain specifications, including that it activate automatically and always prevent wheel separation.

"It's being promoted as a bill intended to protect children," said Bob Burns, Trek's legal counsel and spokesman for the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association. "But the language would make every bicycle with quick release currently for sale in New Jersey illegal. This bill is not intended just for children's bikes."Furthermore, Burns said there's currently no secondary retention device on the market that would comply with the bill. "No system always retains the wheel," he said. "Even the bolted axle, if the bolts aren't on right, the kid's in trouble. As of right now, there's nothing on the floor that meets this definition and nothing on the horizon that is commercially proven."

All of my bikes have quick-releases. Everyone's do. It makes changing a flat tire possible without having to carry around a freaking socket wrench. My brother who used to own a bicycle shop in New Jersey used to file off the "safety tabs" on the end of the drop-outs just so people could get their wheels on and off a little easier. Quick-releases work perfectly fine and the design of most bikes is such that even if the quick-release does open, the wheel is not going to fall off, especially not the back wheel. But, then again, we're dealing with New Jersey where all it takes is one irresponsible parent who let his kid ride his bike without first giving it a once-over to make sure it was in proper mechanical shape, and BAM! Lawsuit! And, being the ignorant mass of humanity that it is, the New Jersey government would rather concoct ridiculous laws that all but force-out the entire bicycle retail business from the state than take measured strides and pen a law that makes sense. Not that one is needed, mind you.

So, please forgive the rest of the entire cycling world New Jersey as we point and laugh in your general direction.

In other news, the bicycle component company Salsa, makers of fine titanium quick-release skewers, has reportedly just announced plans to open a retail kiosk in every major New Jersey mall.

Into the Wild

Not sure how I didn't know about this, but my sister Jessica emailed me word that "Into the Wild", my favorite book by Jon Krakauer, will be releasing in theatres this fall. The movie, based on a true story, is directed by Sean Penn and stars Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless as a young twenty-something from a priviliged Baltimore-area family who sets out to live a life of adventure, free of material things, and eventually finds his way into the Alaska bush. Vince Vaughn plays the role of Wayne Westerberg, a man Chris befriends along the way who, if I remember correctly, also hires Chris to work his ranch.

Here's a link to the hi-res trailer at IGN.com.

There's still plenty of time to read the book first if you haven't already and I definitely recommend doing so. It's not a long book by any means, but it's definitely a gripping page-turner, especially if you enjoy the outdoors, adventure, and ever dreamed of just throwing it all away and taking off with nothing but a rucksack and the clothes on your back.

Here's the link to the Barnes & Noble page for the book.

Thanks for the heads up, Jess.

And I Thought I Was Just Being Ignored

Autoreply: Hello. I may not receive your message until Thursday 6/28/07. Please
phone if it's urgent.

You may think that simple message is not out of the ordinary. But you would be wrong. That auto-reply out-of-office reminder arrived tonight in response to an email I sent last November. What's even funnier is that my email was sent to an email listserve so, it's quite possible that hundreds of mountain bikers from all over western Washington are getting autoreplies tonight to messages they sent eight months ago.

Sonic RPG

I was going to post about this earlier but was preoccupied with trying to pick up tiny fragments of my skull after the news caused my head to explode. If you haven't heard, legendary game developer Bioware is in the midst of making a Sonic the Hedgehog-based RPG for the Nintendo DS. If you're old enough to have been around during the days of the Sega Genesis then, like me, you still probably shake your head in disbelief everytime you see a Sonic game running on a Nintendo console, but this? This is dogs and cats sleeping together. Actually, no. This is dogs, cats, and mice having a threesome.

Usually when companies team up to work together on something that's supposed to break new ground, they PR folks trot out a release filled with innocuous marketing-speak that could just as easily been copied-and-pasted from pressreleases.com. I don't get that feeling this time.

"BioWare is one of the hottest names in RPG development in the world," said Simon Jeffery, President and COO, SEGA of America, Inc. "Everyone at SEGA has huge confidence that Sonic is in the safest of hands, and that BioWare can create the ultimate handheld RPG experience for gamers of all ages."

"We're thrilled to be working with SEGA on Sonic, one of the industry's most enduring and compelling icons," comments Bioware's President, Greg Zeschuk. Ray Muzyka, Bioware's CEO adds "As huge fans of Sonic ourselves, we're committed to delivering a truly amazing story-driven experience within the Sonic universe, focusing on capturing the character's broad appeal and placing him in a completely original adventure."

I believe them because, really, there's no reason not to. Sonic is a big deal. In spite of all of the failed attempts of late to resurrect the speedy blue hedgehog's career, he's an enduring mascot of gaming's golden era. So when Bioware's CEO says the they're excited and aiming to deliver an amazing story, I believe them. Because, as gamers, they are likely fans of Sonic -- who isn't? -- and as fans with a special ability to create excellent story-based role-playing games, I imagine they're just as sick of seeing Sonic mistreated by other developers as we are. The difference is they can do something about it. And, as far as Sega is concerned, this is exactly what they needed to not only keep Sonic relevant but to reestablish him as a premiere face of gaming mascots.

You can read the full story at 1up.com.

And if you're wondering what games Bioware has made recently, they're responsible for the Baldur's Gate games, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, and the Game of the Year Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Not to mention the hotly-anticipated game, Mass Effect coming out later this year.

Let the Hit Parade Begin

This is going to be a great year for gaming. It seems everytime I take a glance at Gametab, I see another announcement for a really cool game coming out later this summer or fall. In fact, just take a look at all of this good stuff coming out later this year just for the Xbox 360. And this doesn't include the many Live Arcade games which, to be perfectly honest, is all I really need to enjoy that console right now.

DiRT - 6/19
The Darkness - 6/25
Overlord - 6/26
Project Sylpheed - 7/10
MotoGP 2007 - 8/2
Too Human - 8/6
Bioshock - 8/21
Mass Effect - 8/27
Blue Dragon - 8/28
Stuntman: Ignition - 8/28
PGR4 - 9/3
Loony Tunes Acme Arsenal - 9/18
Halo 3 - 9/25
Sega Rally Revo - 9/25
Guitar Hero III - 10/28
Culdcept Saga - 10/30
Assassins Creed - 11/1

And then there's a whole bunch of PSP and DS games like The Settlers, Panzer Tactics, and Parappa the Rapper.

Yeah, it's going to be a very good year. Even if it is taking a while to heat up.

China's Great Firewall

I know, who would have expected two posts about China in the same week?

Anyway, thanks to my lovely bride for sending me this CNN link about just how invasive China's internet filtering is.

China employs a complex system of filters and an army of tens of thousands of human monitors to survey the country's 140 million Internet users' surfing habits and surgically clip sensitive content from in front of their eyes.

Its stability-obsessed government says the surveillance machinery, commonly known as the Great Firewall," is necessary to let Internet users enjoy a "healthy" online environment and build a "harmonious" society.

In addition to not allowing its countrymen to view my blog, as Brian alerted me to the other day, the Chinese are also not allowed to view Flick'r, YouTube, or a host of other sites of their ilk. You know, all of the good stuff.

Trail Karma My Ass!

As mountain bikers, it's important to give back every now and then and spend a day out in the woods building new trails or helping to maintain the ones we already have. A recent, lengthy discussion about trail work on the BBTC listserve brought to light the fact that we, as a group, don't do enough to get the word out when we are holding trail work parties. So, as a means to help increase attendance at these work parties, I got a hold of the BBTC logos, had the Volunteer Coordinator and leader of the work party approve flyers I made, and then printed a half-dozen of them up on waterproof paper to hang at the trailheads around Tiger Mountain.

I won't be able to attend this Sunday's work party on account of a series of rides I'm leading elsewhere, but I figured I could at least help earn some "trail karma" by hanging the flyers. Because that's what it's all about, or so I'm told. You give back to the trails and the trails, in turn, give to you.

So I rolled up to the main signboard at the bottom of Tiger Mountain and hung my first flyer. Now it's time for the 3 mile forest road climb up to the Preston trail. It's a beautiful day out, I re-confiscated Kristin's iPod Shuffle for the ride and although my Moots in the shop awaiting new chainrings, my Giant ran well last night so I'm in a good mood. I round the first bend and suddenly hear a snap. My rear derailleur has broke in two, shot straight through my back wheel, mangled the cable and housing, and bent a spoke. Excellent.

Now I'm down to no mountain bike and have my two biggest pre-TransRockies weekends looming large on the calendar. Again, excellent.

The more you ride, the more wear and tear you do, and the more expensive this sport becomes.

Funny side-story though: I immediately brought the bike over to Singletrack Cycles to get a new derailleur put on and while I was there a guy came in with his bike. It had a flat rear wheel. He was upset because he apparently just had the shop repair a flat for him yesterday and now it's flat again. "I don't know if it's something I did or if there might be something wrong with how the tire got fixed". The man leaves his name and number and goes to run errands. Five seconds later the bike mechanic and I notice a large nail sticking out of the rear tire.

Finding Drama in Forza Motorsport 2

While checking the tire wear on my Do-Luck NSX during lap 15 of the Maple Valley Class B Endurance race I start to drift into the sand on the outside of turn 7. I quickly correct the car and get it back on track, but not before Martino Rossi passes me in his exquisite Lotus Exige Cup 240 car. I need to pit - the tires are shot and my gas tank is running low, but I don't dare take a pit stop if not in the lead. I exit the final turn into the main straightaway and notice a cloud of smoke to the left; it's Rossi. He pitted. I swing hard to the left and enter pit row way too fast, fortunately missing the concrete barrier by mere centimeters. My boys are quick and get me gassed up and a new set of rubber in time to pull out before Rossi does.

The next two laps are tight. Rossi, myself, and another driver in a Panoz Esperante GTLM are running taillight-to-headlight. On the seventeenth lap I make a gutsy attempt to escape the box the two A.I. drivers put me in, only to get sent into the wall. It was the guy in the Panoz; he nudged the rear passenger-side bumper just hard enough to spin me out. The impact is horrifying. Glass shatters, my front bumper is torn free, and the hatch buckles. Even the honorable red "H" badge of my import NSX is scuffed. Worse yet, my car is now belching smoke and many of its ponies have come up lame.

Nevertheless, I get back on track and, over the course of the next two laps, somehow manage to catch back up. I'm in third place and I'm running two-across through the tight twisty backstretch when, all of a sudden, Mr. Panoz puts me into the wall again. I yell like a sailor at my television and quickly check the damage indicator. It goes far beyond mere cosmetics: the engine is in major trouble and my suspension and transmission are gimped. I need to pit again.

I exit pit row in 4th place, but while the body of my car clearly indicates the carnage I've seen, everything under the hood and chassis is purring like new. My heart is quickening. My palms are sweaty. My race isn't going as planned, but this is endurance racing. Stay positive and keep a roll of duct tape handy at all times. I have 6 laps to try and eek out a podium. Maybe even second place. And who knows, maybe Mr. Panoz will take Rossi out and maybe, just maybe, I can climb back into first place. The laps tick by one by one and with each passing lap I gradually better my previous best lap time. I have clear road ahead of me and am soon knocking off laps at 1:40 apiece. It doesn't take long to move into third place; the BMW that passed me while I pitted was clearly outmatched by my heavily-modified NSX. And, much to my surprise, on Lap 24 of 25 I catch back up to Mr. Panoz. Rossi and his Lotus Exige are still about 5 seconds ahead of me, but hope is not lost. I'm steadily gaining over 3 seconds on him each lap and I just know that if I could just get past the guy in the Panoz soon, I just might be able to steal a victory in the final turn.

Fully aware of the driver of the Panoz's over-aggressive tendencies, I stay a foot off his bumper going through the twisties -- the site of both of our previous run-ins -- and wait for the final turn to make my move. I downshift to fourth, the engine lets out a scream, and I pull alongside him. Whether or not he saw me is unknown, but he was clearly not about to cede the apex to me and, just like that I'm once again eating concrete. The car slams the wall hard, the rear bumper is thrown across the track, and after two and a half rotations, I'm finally back on track and puttering home for one final trip around the course. I made an aggressive move and paid the price. Now, instead of trying to steal a win and well over 150,000 credits in prize money, I'm hoping to hold onto third place... and looking at over 35,000 credits in car repairs.

But I finished and I can take solace knowing that my numerous laps in the 1:40 range were over three seconds faster than both Rossi's and Mr. Panoz's best lap time. I should have won, had it not been for being overly aggressive. As I type this a Mr. Taylor from America is behind the wheel of my Do-Luck NSX giving it another shot for me. I agreed to pay this A.I. driver 95% of the winnings in exchange for me not having to do it again. If it had been a shorter race, I would have just hit the Restart Button after the first crash and eventually won it myself, but I'm happy doing it this way. I had won a couple other endurance races -- each of which took over 50 minutes to complete -- but despite coming in third place in this particular event, this was by far the most memorable moment in the 18 hours I have with this game. Actually, to be honest, it's the only memorable moment. Then again, my Gamertag isn't "Enduro" for nothing.

Still Your Father's China

I just got an email from Brian, one of the members of the Arrogant Bastard racing team I was hanging out with at the Spokane race. Brian is currently in Shanghai and, despite all of the wonderful advancements China has made recently towards capitalism, they still have a long way to go.

"FYI, looks like your blog is blocked here in China! Well, OK, not just your blog, but it looks like a bunch of blog sites are blocked here in China. You don't get any kind of punative message - when you try to surf to them, they either redirect to a Chinese version of the main blog page or your browser just times out (which is what happens when I try to hit yours). I guess I have to remember that I am in a communist country!"

Just another case of the man trying to hold me down. Or, in this case, several billion men on the other side of the planet. Thanks for writing about this Brian, now please hurry back to the United States, as it pains me to no end to think that 25% of my readership will be unable to read about my attempt at bowling last night.

Ride Report: Flying Wheels Century

Another chilly, overcast Saturday morning came with another opportunity to head to Marymoor Park in Redmond for a 100-mile road bike ride. The Flying Wheels Century is, essentially, the de facto official training ride for Seattle to Portland and, much to my surprise, over 3,000 cyclists showed up to ride either the 100, 70, or 50 mile rides. That wasn't a typo. I had never seen so many people on bikes in my life.

I was hoping to meet up with a couple of the guys from the Arrogant Bastard team, but I didn't find them in the crowd and ended up going it alone. Unlike the Tour de Cure route which primarily ventured north toward Snohomish county, the Flying Wheels ride uses many of the lesser-travelled roads near Carnation and Duvall before jutting north towards Monroe. Once again, I started about 40 minutes after the course opened and, as such, found myself with a steady stream of people to pass. I'm not sure what got into me during the ride, but I was feeling great and decided to just go for it right from the start. After a couple miles warmup on East Lake Sammammish Parkway, we turned onto our first hill and I dropped the hammer right away. Maybe I was subconsciously looking for some redemption after last week's disappointing race down in Oregon, but I was charging pretty hard throughout the entire ride. The sheer numbers of people on the road made it impossible to completely avoid drafting -- I found myself in a pace-line for about 2% of the ride -- but I did try to stay out of the draft to make sure I actually earned my 100 miles. Nothing personal against those who draft, it's just that I wanted the training.

I had two bottles of Nuun on my bike, a ziploc bag filled with about 30 Cliff Bloks in one jersey pocket, an extra tube of Nuun for refills, and a Gu flask filled with the disgusting "tropical" Hammergel. I stopped at three of the five aid stations to grab a bagel and some peanut butter and to refill my water bottles, but primarily I just kept on pedaling. After all, it was kind of chilly and a stop at an aid station was hard to do quickly given the hordes of people in attendance.

The folks organizing this ride tried early on to hype up how hilly this ride was. As my friend Ellen said earlier in the week, what's hilly to road cyclists isn't really hilly to mountain bikers. She was right. This "very hilly" route actually had only 4,000 feet of climbing over 100 miles -- 20% less than this year's Tour de Cure course. For comparison's sake, the mountain bike ride I have planned for this coming Saturday has (according to the TOPO! software) 10,000 feet of climbing in 41 miles. Granted, the gearing on the bikes is very different and there's no way in hell I could manage 10,000 feet of vert in 41 miles on my road bike, but I nevertheless found the notion of Saturday's ride being "very hilly" as somewhat laughable. It had two or three semi-noteworthy hills, but really just the one big climb up Issaquah-Fall City Road at mile 80.

Regardless, it was a fun ride and pretty scenic too. And I'd like to point out that despite there being thousands of cyclists I didn't see a single crash, nor even a close call. As for my performance, I'm very happy. I ride most of these roads all the time so I felt kind of "at home" on the course, but I had a great day and completely and absolutely shattered my previous best time for 100-mile road ride. The weather was conducive to going fast and I think taking it easy since Spokane has really helped get my energy levels back to where they need to be. I hadn't ridden my road bike in a month, but I managed a 5:08 for the full 100 mile route, which happens to be over thirty minutes faster than my previous best time. And like I said earlier, I purposely avoided drafting for as much as possible. Yeah, I'm really happy with how this went.

Knocked Up in the Cafe

A pair of free movie tickets have been sitting on our kitchen counter for the past six months; they were a "Secret Santa" gift we ended up with from a friend's Christmas Party we went to back in New Jersey in December. We had long since spent the $15 that accompanied the tickets (for soda and popcorn, presumably) but the tickets just sat there. We've gone to see several films since December, but always at a different theatre company or spur of the moment when we were without the tickets.

Finally, alas, we went and saw Knocked Up on Saturday night and it was, in a word, hysterical. Definitely funnier than 40 Year Old Virgin and far more believable too. The thing I really liked about this movie was that none of the dialogue seemed contrived. I could totally picture real people saying everything that was said in the movie. This should give you some sense as to how vulgar and crass my friends and I can be, but at the same time everything rang true. Which is a rarity. The other thing was that the rare sight gag or blunder wasn't over the top, but hit the spot just right. Definitely a good movie all the way around. Highly recommended.

That wasn't the only movie we saw this weekend. We also popped in the dvd for The Girl In the Cafe, which won an Emmy for "Best Made for TV Movie". It originally appeared on HBO sometime in 2006 and was about a fifties-ish man who works for the British government in finance who is devastatingly lonely and happens to meet a thirties-ish woman in a cafe who, surprisingly, finds hims somewhat appealing. The man, however, has a very intense job as one of the UK's primary negotiators at the G8 Summit and is essentially married to his job. He decides to take her to Iceland for the G8 Summit and, along the way, the two fall in love. This all comes unravelled when the girl begins lecturing the Chancellor about how little the G8 countries are doing to fight poverty and keep the children of Africa from dying. The movie is very well-acted (she won an Emmy), and is very interesting but it's not a comedy by any stretch. If you don't mind your dramas filled with awkward romance and heavy doses of political commentary, then this is a good movie to see. We enjoyed it, but it's definitely not for everyone.

Seven Keys of Baldpate

It was time once again for another trip to the Taproot Theatre in north Seattle. I believe this was the fifth play we've seen there and, being the creatures of habit Kristin and I are, we have a nice little routine down on play night. We're also starting to feel a bit like regulars at the playhouse which is nice.

Anyway, this time it was to see the comical mystery Seven Keys of Baldpate. The play is set in a "summer mountain resort during the winter" in the early 1900's and is about a pulp fiction author who heads to the Baldpate Inn, presumably with the only key to the place, to try and write a novel in a 24-hour period to win a bet worth $15,000. His efforts to work in absolute solitude come apart at the seems as it turns out that his key is just one of seven. A safe in the inn becomes a drop point for $500,000 worth of bribe money for a local politician and his cronies and a host of back-stabbing crooks parade through the inn to try to get the money, all the while the star of the play is trying to work on his new book. Or is he?

The play was indeed very funny and, once again, the acting was superb. One of the things Kristin and I enjoy most about attending so many plays is that we start to recognize some of the actors from previous works and it's really neat to see the range of emotions and character types they can perform.

As for Friday night's play, however, there was one aspect that completely stole the show. It was announced minutes before the start of the play that the star of the show had to tend to a family emergency and couldn't be present. They announced his replacement and both Kristin and I figured it was simply the understudy and that this happens more often than we'd expect. So, the play starts, and out comes the backfill for the main character of the play with a script in hand. At first I refused to believe we were actually paying to watch someone read the script. I was actually getting kind of annoyed because it was such a jarring break of the suspension of disbelief. Then it occurred to us that this is a small community theatre, albeit in Seattle, but that there probably wasn't a true understudy. Our instincts were correct. The man on stage, script in hand, was the director's husband. He was actually the scene and sound designer and was literally filling in as an emergency.

And you know what? He was awesome. Sure, he had to glance at the script every few seconds, but he somehow -- miraculously -- had the part completely dialed otherwise. He was fantastic with his body language, facial expressions, and blocking. And the role he played was pretty active and was by far the largest speeking part in the play. The fact that he was actually the scene and sound designer and had been thrown on stage at the last second and was able to give such a great performance is truly outstanding. We never clapped as hard at the end as we had when he came out to take a bow. I was truly impressed.

Butts Caught in Act

An Iowa woman is looking at up to 2 years in jail for stealing rolls of toilet paper from a municipal court.

As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, it turns out her last name is... drumroll please.. Butts.

Read the news story here.

A Special Thrilla

Last night's "Thrilla in Woodinvilla" ride was a special one. Kevin, the leader of the ride and founder of this arcane combination of neighborhood trails, has been having a bit of bike trouble lately. One bike he has is broken beyond repair and the one he does ride has a completely blown-out fork and, essentially, doesn't fit him that well. To make matters worse, his budget doesn't allow for expensive bike repairs let alone a new bike. It was getting to the point where he was starting to not attend his own weekly ride... the one he's been leading every week for several years. And what's special about this is that a lot of people who use this route owe a lot of their fitness and/or racing success to it. It's an excellent training ride. I know for certain that I wouldn't be where I am fitness wise right now without Kevin's "weekly excuse to drink barleypop".

So, two weeks ago, several of us got to talking about it over beers and the decision was made to try and take up a collection to see about getting Kevin's bikes fixed up. A multitude of emails and 48 hours later, there were 20 people committed to contributing enough money to buy Kevin a new bike. And that's what we did. And fortunately, one of the local shops even gave us a pretty good discount when they heard what we were up to and who it was for.

Now, of course, this was all a big secret. Kevin had no idea. And I'm sure he was wondering why there were 21 people signed up for his ride last night when it normally only draws a half dozen or so, give or take a few irregular attendees. Nevertheless, he hadn't a clue. In fact, he didn't even get suspicious when his wife -- whom none of us had ever met before -- showed up at the restaurant after the ride. And yet even when Bill stood up and started talking about us being there to honor Kevin and to thank him for the years of leading this ride, he still didn't believe him. And when Bill then informed him that, as a sign of thanks, we bought him a new bike, Kevin's reply was, "Yeah, right, sure you did. Ha ha."

Finally, Kevin was told to stand up and look behind the crowd. And there it was, the new Redline Monocog Flight 29er. A single-speed 29er, just like he wanted, with mechanical disc brakes and some pretty nice wheels to boot. And best of all, he saw the bike outside and commented to someone, "I wouldn't mind having that". So we know we did well.

It was pretty cool watching him look over his new bike, and you can tell he was somewhat in shock from the surprise. After all, nobody ever expects other people to buy them a new bike, least of all people who you wouldn't have met if not for an online ride calendar on a mountain bike website. Big kudos to Bill H. and Doug C. for building up the bike and to Bob A. for getting the ball rolling. It was cool to just be a part of it and to have a way to say thanks for giving so many of us a great place to train each week.

I'll post pictures later; the camera is still in my truck and it's raining pretty hard outside. I'll get it later.

So That's Who Buys Them

Every Thursday I head to the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville to ride a 20 mile mountain bike ride with friends. And each week, after the ride, we head inside for beer and food. Usually around 9:30 or so, I start the drive home, which takes about 35 minutes or so. I always stop at a 7-11 in Redmond for a cup of coffee and, if I'm feeling particularly sweet-toothed, I'll grab a pack of Ho-Hos or Zingers.

As I left the line at the register last night to grab my pack of Ho-Ho's, a rather large male, probably mid-20's in age, with a black death metal t-shirt on stepped in line in front of me. He had nothing in his hands, so in my head I started placing bets with myself on what he's going to ask for. The guy at the front had a bunch of items, so I even had time to think up some odds for each item I imagined the guy grabbing.

Carton of Marlboro Cigarettes - 3:1
Jugs and/or Hustler magazine - 6:1
Two hot-dogs with nacho cheese - 8:1
Handful of individual cigars (blunts) - 11:1
Pre-Paid Phone card - 25:1

Never would I have imagined seeing what I saw. The man gets to the counter, unfurls a gigantic gorilla-shaped hand from deep within the pocket of his cut-off shorts, and promptly grabs a handful of vials of "5 Hour Energy" from the display on the counter, as if it was the most normal purchase one could make at a 7-11. He grabbed three or four vials in one fell swoop much like I used to grab Tootsie-Rolls from the old 5-cent bins of candy on the lower shelf. I had never seen anyone anywhere buy one of these vials of pure caffeine, let alone expect to see a non-truckdriver grab several at once.

As much fun as trying to predict his purchases while waiting in line was, I was almost scared to think of what he might do with multiple vials of "5 Hour Energy". I'll leave it to your imagination.

You better stock up!

Bike & Rider Update

Just got off the phone with Glenn at Ti-Cycles. He was able to all-too-easily replicate the problems I had during Sunday's race and confirmed that yes indeed, I do [already!] need new middle and small chainrings for my M960 XTR crankset. Two months and about 650 miles and in need of new rings already. This sucks! Usually you go through a couple cassettes and a few chains before needing to replace chainrings, but in my case I'm replacing the chainrings first. I'd love to bite the bullet and upgrade to the new M970 crankset which apparently has titanium teeth and addresses several of the issues people had with the M960 model, but at $700 just for the cranks and rings, there's simply no way I'm about to do that. He ordered me two small and middle rings so I will have replacements to swap in before heading to TransRockies in August.

As for the hub, Chris King's help desk people tried to pass my problem off as simply part of the break-in period on their hubs. Once it was made clear that smashing my balls on the top-tube of the bike should not be part of the break-in period for any product, they told Glenn to do a complete tear-down and rebuild of the hub which he started to do this morning. If the problem persists after that then I'll likely have an issue that would necessitate a warranty replacement. One way or the other, the Mooto-X should be back up and running as good as new next week.

In the meantime, I'm definitely suffering from rider burnout. I'm still riding 2 to 3 times a week to maintain fitness (and will be doing a very hilly 100-mile road ride this Saturday) but a combination of dreary weather, mechanical issues, and some really good videogaming to be had has kept me off the bike much of this week and last. I'm not beating myself up about it, though. Instead, I'm going to continue to take it a bit easier through the early part of next week to recharge my batteries sort of speak. Then, starting next Thursday I will re-invest my energy and focus my time on the final training push towards TransRockies. I've got some big weekends planned for late June and much of July so I'm really not worried about not being ready for TR. On the other hand, if I force myself to continue riding now I'm only going to completely lose interest and fall apart before TR, just like I did before last year's Mountains to Sound adventure race, in which I went an entire month before the race without running, kayaking, or cycling even once. I'm not going to let that happen this time.

Potential Breakthrough in Photography

Associated Press is reporting that Eastman-Kodak has apparently developed a special photographic filter that can effectively double the light sensitivity for digital sensors. This means that photos around the birthday cake, or out in the woods, or around the campfire at night can be done with a faster shutter speed than normal which, in effect, makes for a much crisper photo and reduces the need for a tripod.

Kodak expects to provide samples of its new technology to a variety of camera manufacturers in the first quarter of 2008. The technology is likely to be incorporated first in mass-market point-and-shoot cameras and camera-equipped mobile phones beginning sometime next year.

"Typically new features like this would be more likely to show up in high-end products and then trickle down," said analyst Steve Hoffenberg of Lyra Research Inc. "But I think the biggest potential benefit of this may come in the camera phone environment. Camera phones are using smaller sensors to begin with and smaller sensors generally mean smaller pixels, which means lower sensitivity."

So if you're in the market for a new digital camera or camera-phone, you may just want to wait a little longer. Or, if that's not possible, get something cheap now because you may just want to replace it by next spring.

The rest of Yahoo's article can be found right here.

Cars, Settlements, and Colorful Blocks

The wily gamers among you can tell from the title that my gaming rotation is still consisting of Forza Motorsport 2, Catan, and Puzzle Quest. My love of the latter two has been well-documented on this blog and I continue to play them both each and every day. In fact, I just collected another win in ranked play on Catan several minutes ago and continue to look forward to a quick 15-minutes with PQ every night before falling asleep. It's going to be hard not to buy this game a second time when it comes out on Xbox Live Arcade.

Forza, on the other hand, did not receive the same glowing praise from me that the others did, yet I continue to play it daily. Actually, I typically reach for the controller at least two to three times a day. There's a Pokemon-like "collect 'em all" thing going on with the 200 cars in the game and although I readily admit that I don't totally enjoy playing the game, I nonetheless cannot stop. Whenever I'm playing Forza I'm thinking of turning it off and playing Catan (or getting back to work) but whenever I'm not playing it, I can't stop thinking about racing a couple more events to try and level up my driver some more.

I just reached Level 29 (of 50) this morning and I need to hit Level 30 before some more events become unlocked. I don't know how much more I'll continue playing the game, what with DiRT coming out next week, but I do want to reach Level 35 so I can finally at least complete a few more leagues. I have about 13 hours of driving time invested in the game so far, yet the way the game is structured, I haven't yet been granted permission to the final two events in the "Amateur" league. Go figure. I'm totally torn with this game, in case you can't tell, as I have such a profound respect for it technically, and want to finish it, but at the same time I can't play it for more than 15 minutes or so at a time without wanting to play something else. This game is like work. It's a grind. But it's rewarding so I continue to play it. I don't know why.

Oh, and before I forget, let me downshift back to Catan for a moment. There's a new "expansion pack" available today but all it adds is a few more historical personalities such as an AI version of Joan of Arc for use when playing single player matches. It costs 200 points ($2.50) and adds about a half-dozen or so AI characters. I think this is a fine addition for those who play the single player mode, but the game has gotten popular enough that both ranked and un-ranked multiplayer games seem to fill quickly. Right now I'm only playing ranked matches as I find people less likely to quit mid-game and because the points go towards the final Achievement that I haven't earned yet. I'm currently sporting a 21-52 record in ranked play and figure I need to play another 45 or so games to get the Chancellor of Catan Achievement. Once I do, I'll probably continue playing or wait for another expansion pack to be released.

The Return of Sodo Mojo

To everyone who feels that it's cool to assume the Mariners suck and are in last place, please note that they have won 16 of their last 20 games, are 3 games out of first place in the AL West, only one game out of the Wildcard, are 9 games over .500, and sport a top-three batting average and bullpen ERA in the American League.

I know the team has "sucked for so long" what with them having had the audacity to not make the playoffs in 4 years, but there's no reason to dis on them. Especially since it's clear that you have no idea what you're talking about. It's quite okay to simply say, "I don't follow the M's" if you catch me talking about them, but really, there's no reason to sigh, roll your eyes, or make ridiculous comments about the ineptitude you believe they exude. It only shows you to be a fair-weather fan at best and, at worse, proof positive that the Seattle area does indeed suck as a sports town.

Race Report: Test of Endurance 50

"I don't mind thrashing my bike if I'm having fun, but the amount of damage I was doing to my equipment was far exceeding the fun factor, so I pulled the plug after the first 25-mile lap."

That right there is my race in a nutshell.

Many of us talk about mountain biking and racing as a "fun" pursuit, yet our competitive spirits and plain-old stubborness can sometimes get the best of us and cause us to push on in misery when simply stepping away is clearly the more attractive option. No doubt, that determination and grit can lead to great achievements, fond memories, and certainly more than a few badges of honor have come from the unwillingness to just... simply... stop. Sunday's "Test of Endurance 50" in Blodgett, Oregon was not one of those days for me and, I'll admit, having totally wowed myself at the 24-hour race in Spokane just 2 weeks prior did make it that much eaiser to take the DNF yesterday.

Brett and I made the lengthy drive down to central-coastal Oregon on Saturday through non-stop rain showers and one lengthy confused detour that added over an hour to our trip. The goal was to arrive by 2pm, set up camp, and pre-ride a short section of the course to spin the legs out after the car ride. We didn't roll into camp until after three o'clock and decided that it was so rainy -- and likely to be so muddy -- that we'd forego the pre-ride in order to keep our gear dry and clean. The campground was simply a grassy field behind a small cafe in this one-light town, but what was lacking in the camping accoutrements was made up for by the good-and-cheap food at the smalltown cafe. Not only did the cafe serve up a heaping portion of meat lasagne for about seven dollars, but they even opened at 6am on raceday for an all-you-can-eat pancakes and eggs breakfast for five bucks. Most of the hundred-plus racers competing in Sunday's 50-mile endurance race lived close enough to sleep in their own beds, but the 20 or so folks camping at the cafe were treated to a keg of beer and a three-piece bluegrass band Saturday night, care of the race promoter. Nevertheless, the rain kept on coming all evening and throughout the night.

The TOE 50 was also -- arbitrarily in my opinion -- serving as the Northwest Single Speed Championships and 30 single-speeders were given a 15-minute headstart on the 90 or so geared riders. The first two miles of the ride were on a gravel country road and although the rain had stopped momentarily, it didn't take more than five minutes before the entire field of racers were speckled in millions of tiny brown drops of mud from helmet to pedal. But even more obvious than the mud was the incredible pace being set by the 50 or so riders at the front of the pack. Do they know this race is 50 miles long with close to 7500 feet of ascent? Somebody did tell them this isn't some little cross-country NORBA race that will have you dry and fed within 2 hours? Yeah, there were some crazy fast racers there. Despite the weather.

The course did feature a lot of climbing, but nearly all of it was middle-ring territory and although my legs were still feeling a bit leadened from the Spokane race two weeks earlier, I felt like pretty good. I definitely had the endurance to go the distance, but it was clear in the first mile or two I was not going to be "racing" this ride. I was out there for a lengthy ride at a new locale. After a few miles of forest road, we kicked onto our first section of singletrack and got a taste of what we were in for. The singletrack was a snot-slick ribbon of mud that, more often than not, dropped straight down the fall line of the mountain while snaking through trees and around ditches. The rain started falling, the mud got deeper, and with each passing rider the conditions deteriorated more and more. At one point I had the brakes locked up and was sliding down the trail with the back end of my bike nearly 90-degrees to the front with the rear wheel plowing through the mud as I continued the descent. I'd quote some of the various comments myself and others uttered during these singletrack portions, but I'd hate to have to label this post "NSFW". Let's just say that nobody I spoke with enjoyed the trail. And it wasn't just because of the conditions; I sincerely doubt these trails would be fun in even the best conditions.

Over and over we would do a mile or two of middle-ring climbing on forest road, only to once again drop into a short stretch of singletrack that further caked our bikes and bodies in mud, made us cringe in anticipation of the inevitable endo, and frankly, make us wish to be back on the damn forest road. One of the biggest challenges of the conditions were its affect on visibility. You simply had to wear protective glasses to keep the mud and grit out of your eyes. However, having sunglasses (clear or yellow lenses was virtually mandatory) caked with mud and water and fogging up reduced visibility to about 20%. I finally took to hanging the glasses low on my nose to act as a shield from the trail grit flying off my tires and would strain my eyes upwards to peer over the frame. This only offered slightly better vision. One rider who did get frustrated enough with his speckled eyewear and took them off ended up with so much debris in his eyes, I last saw him with his eyes bandaged and sitting in obvious discomfort.

Conditions aside, I was feeling good. I was drinking enough to necessitate two pee-breaks during the first lap and was right on schedule with my calorie intake. Sure, I was feeling a bit lethargic and certainly didn't have any explosivity in my pedaling, but my body was where I expected it to be. Unfortunately, my attitude was not on par with my body. My bike, which I had brought into Ti-Cycles earlier in the week to have three problems addressed, was running like shit. It's clear that they only addressed one of the bike's problems. Sure, they charged me nothing for the bike service, but I would have rather paid them some money and had a working bike. The bike is having a free-hub issue and every few minutes I would enjoy a crotch-meets-stem collision resulting from a pedal stroke with no resistance. Nothing like being out of the pedals and powering your way up a hill, only to have the free-hub spin in place, the crankarm drop with ease, and your groin slam into the stem and/or top-tube. To make matters worse, I need a new chainring. I was assured the rings were fine and that my chainsuck was rider error, yet I was repeatedly having to backpedal to unfree the chain from the middle ring. The middle ring is obviously worn out (that's another discusssion altogether) and it really sucked to be on a course that was essentially 100% middle-ring territory without one. I was constantly off the bike and prying the chain out from under the chain-stay or putting it back onto the gears. Some of this was no doubt attributed to the build-up of mud and debris on the derailleur and on the chainrings, but it was also doing this while perfectly clean and dry before the race. This is why I brought it into the shop for service. Or so I thought.

Nineteen miles into the course was a bail-out option for those who wanted to take the DNF. I was actually in good spirits when I reached this point on the course and, having gone 10 minutes without any drivetrain issues, I decided to keep on riding and go for the second lap. Minutes later the rain started hammering down, the trail turned into an unrideable and sometimes nearly unwalkable ribbon of mud, and once again the bike was having all sorts of drivetrain issues. I was pissed. I wasn't enjoying myself, I thought the trails were pretty lame, and frankly I found nothing redeeming about the race and constantly having to get off the bike and re-align the chain manually was getting me more and more annoyed, not to mention I was starting to get concerned about the unnecessary toll this was taking on the bike. When I reached the start of the second lap, I hopped off the bike and stood there thinking for a couple minutes. I didn't want to quit. After all this is the "Test of Endurance". Did I want to fail the test? Then I thought about how chewed up the course was after just one lap and how much more destroyed it would be after 120 riders pass through a second time... while the rain continues to fall.

I walked over to the checkpoint volunteer and told her I was leaving the course. It turned out that of something like 47 racers in the Men 39-39 category, there were only 31 people who finished. Unfortunately I was part of the third who didn't finish, but I really don't care. I half-expected Brett to be at my truck waiting for me when I got back to the starting area, but he went for the full two laps and ended up finishing in a time of 5:31 and 13th place out of 30 riders in the single-speed division.

The race was well organized and Mike at Mudslinger Events does a great job securing tons of excellent schwag to raffle off (including a De Salvo SS frame and Cannondale Caffeine 29er frame) and even had free massage and burritos for all racers. There's no doubt in my mind that Mudslinger is one of the most racer-friendly promoters out there as everything from the cost of entry fees to pre-race information to post-race food and prizes was done with an eye towards making it a great deal for the entrant. Unfortunately, I and many others I spoke to simply won't make the 5+ hour drive back in the future as long as the race utilizes this course. The trails simply weren't enjoyable. And I really don't think they'd be any more fun in even perfect conditions. Nor do most of the people I spoke with. A shame, really.

Blue Thunder Picture

Frank alerted me to a problem that I wasn't aware of -- that you guys can't use the link I posted to my "Blue Thunder" car on the Forza Motorsport website. Apparently you need my cookie to access that page.

I've uploaded the photo to my Flick'r site so you can see my handiwork.

Click here to check it out. Thanks for the warning, Frank!

A Horrible Reminder

Here's an unexpected post from a very experienced rider whose sense of adventure I've long admired. His accident took place on the Gold Creek trail on the Olympic Peninsula, one of my absolute favorite trails and serves as a good reminder to me, and to all of us, exactly how dangerous this sport can be. We all know to be careful, especially when riding alone, but freak accidents happen. I'm sure Gearz thought he was "being careful" too when he went down, but the crash still happened.

Blue Thunder

I finally got around to playing with the car-painting customization feature in Forza Motorsport 2 and, after applying dozens of layers of small shapes, I was able to create a Seahawks-inspired fan car out of the very pricey Nissan R390. This was the first time I've ever used the paint system in the game and although there are some incredible masterpieces available in the Auction House, I know I have some practice to do. People have admitted to spending countless hours designing graphics for their cars and I have neither the patience nor the artistic talent to match their wares.

That said, I present to you Blue Thunder.

Click here to see.

No Child Left Inside

Although I do work in the videogames industry, I am a big fan of the outdoors and try to spend as much time as possible in the mountains surrounding my home in Washington state. And the more time I do spend in the outdoors, the more I realize how few children there are. In fact, it seems that with each passing year the average age of those you do encounter at National Parks or on the local trails is indeed skewing older.

There's an interesting article about why this might be so on the Christian Science Monitor. Not that I ever read CSM, mind you, but I saw a link to this and thought it was a pretty decent read. The author suggests that gas prices are a big reason for a drop in attendance at National Parks (having just spent roughly $500 on gas driving to and from the parks in Utah, I can attest to this being a hurdle) and that videogames and a general couch-potato attitude towards life is a big reason for the kids not clamoring to visit these special places.

I don't think it's that simple of an explanation. Sure, I agree that there are a lot of kids who come home from school and would rather play a videogame (hopefully with one of my guidebooks on their lap) than go outside, but from talking with parents it seems that many of them secretly prefer it that way. Let's face it; we live in a fear-choked society. Parents are terrified of letting their kids out of sight. They're afraid of them getting hurt, molested, kidnapped, doing drugs, smoking a cigarette, having sex, stealing something, getting beat up, causing vandalism, etc., etc., etc. Sure, parents complain about "how much television the kids watch" but in truth many of them like it. They know if the kids are home, they're most likely safe. Of course, when I hear this I think back to my own childhood days when my friend Shawn and I used to use lighters and his mom's Aquanet to scare each other with miniature flamethrowers. And we did this in a tiny crawlspace under his basement stairs... inches from exposed beams and plywood. We were at his house, his mom knew where we were, so we were safe. Yeah, right...

I live on a street with many, many children. And they are always outside playing (much to my work-from-home chagrin). But these kids are never outside of a 100ft radius of their home. In fact, they seldom leave the lawn. Our neighborhood has a small park with a playground on every street. I can't tell you the last time I saw kids at one of these parks unattended. If I had to wait for my mom or dad to escort me to the park as a kid, I would probably be about 100 pounds overweight right now and sure as hell wouldn't have been active enough to get a track scholarship to college. But parents are terrified, even in their own backyards of a relatively well-heeled neighborhood like ours.

So stretch that to National Parks. Now you have the additional fears that come from seeing so many strangers around (some likely unshaven from camping... and obviously dangerous!), the fear of the kids getting lost, falling down, getting stung/bitten by something, poison ivy, or, best of all, the "likelihood" that they will get eaten by a bear or cougar. Factor in the favorable odds that dad and mom are simply too soft and unprepared for a camping trip and it's no wonder you have so few kids visiting National Parks these days. It's not [just] because the kids are a bunch of little techies who don't know how to unplug, but because they're parents are too afraid to take them. And unwilling to make them. It's easier to come up with excuses why not to take them... especially if they can then blame not going on the kids' addiction to television and videogames.

Now, I'll be honest. Nothing ruins a trip more for me than the high-pitched shrieking of children at play. I'll admit it, I'm a selfish prick and I'm not very kid-friendly. I want solitude. I want peace and quiet. And when I visit a National Park or National Forest, I want to go for hours, if not days, without seeing or hearing another human being, least of all kids. That said, I also want these places to be around forever and the only way they will be is if every generation has a critical mass of people who care enough to preserve them; that care deeply enough to keep them free of unnecessary roads; protected from a forestry service at odds with preservation; to keep them clear of mines and oil wells; and perhaps most importantly, to keep them devoid of development. We need todays youth to grow up caring for these places so that they don't turn into tomorrow's strip-miners and clear-cutters.

I've sent letters to and answered questionaires for the National Park Service about improving attendance. In my very biased opinion, the biggest thing they can do is to re-designate certain lesser-used trails as multi-use trails and allow mountain biking. I know I would definitely increase my visitorship to National Parks if I wasn't forced to keep my mountain bike on roads. Hell, I live smack dab between three National Parks yet despite being a responsible tax-paying trail user, my bike and I are unwelcome. I would definitely splurge on an annual parks pass if each park had even just two or three pieces of singletrack we were allowed to bike on. But, more importantly, making the decision to open up a few trails to mountain bikes would also increase the desire for kids to come out and play too. Mountain biking is once again enjoying a surge in popularity thanks to the freeride movement. The National Park Service has to adapt to the times and at least try to tap into what makes kids tick these days. It ain't walking gingerly through a forest, I'll tell you that much. I'm not suggesting the Park Service build X-Games inspired jumps and crazy North Shore-style freeride trails, but they need to allow for a little more excitement and something today's little adrenaline-junkies can identify with. The problem isn't that that National Parks don't have videogames and television, it's that they don't offer a suitable replacement for kids of today. And big kids of today like me.

While hiking through Canyonlands National Park last month all I kept thinking about was how incredible it would have been to be on my bike. I think that almost everytime I visit a National Park. And also everytime I do encounter kids schlepping their way back to the trailhead with a bored look on their face. Mountain biking isn't going to make all the Park Service's problems go away but if attendance and revenue are a problem, then mountain biking could definitely be at the very least a partial solution.

Additional reading about the "No Child Left Inside" movement here.

If We Had Walked the Entire Way?

This was posted on YouTube back in March, but I only just came across it today (via a link on the Bioshock forums).

How the Lord of the Rings Should Have Ended.

Very, very funny and, I must admit, I often wondered why the hobbits and Gandalf didn't try exactly what this video suggests.

TR Training Update

Time for another training update. As you can probably tell, I've gotten out of the habit of regurgitating my weekly riding stats every Monday morning. This was both out of laziness, out of consideration for those who probably don't really wish to read it anyway, and because the 24-hour race really kind of screwed things up the past couple weeks. When I say it screwed it up, I mean that in a good way. On the one hand, needing to taper for it and then recover from it allowed me to take a nice two week sojourn and just sort of ride when I wanted to and/or at least not as hard. I think this will go a long way towards keeping me from burning out by August. Also, the 24-hour race was yet another example that my conditioning is coming along very well and that the hard work is paying off. So I've stepped it back a bit since that race.

For those wondering how I went about tapering for the 24-hour race, here's what I did leading up to the event.

05-19: 100 miles, road bike
05-20: 85 miles, road bike
05-21: recovery day
05-22: 10 miles singletrack, social
05-23: recovery day
05-24: 13 miles doubletrack, social
05-25: 15 miles race course pre-ride, social

and then I raced from noon on Saturday till noon on Sunday.

Although I felt pretty good during the race, my knees started to hurt quite a bit on the drive home. They didn't want to bend anymore; they had had enough. Actually, whatever position they were in was fine, so long as I didn't try to change it. I woke up Monday morning intending on going for a light spin just to loosen things up, but I actually felt much better on Monday. Just a little muscle tightness, so rather than ride, I just spent some time stretching and felt better. Here's how I spent last week following the 24-hour race.

05-28: recovery day
05-29: recovery day (unintentional)
05-30: 26 miles of doubletrack and singletrack, moderate pace
05-31: 23 miles of hilly doubletrack, moderate pace
06-01: 20 miles of hilly doubletrack and singletrack, social
06-02: recovery day
06-03: 28 miles of hilly doubletrack and singletrack, moderate to fast pace

I rode with my TR partner Brett on Sunday and did a ride I like to call "Ridge to Ridge" that is an out-and-back from Snoqualmie Ridge and over to the Grand Ridge trail. I hadn't done the ride in several months for one reason or another, but it was interesting to see that under the same light to moderate effort, Brett and I made it to the High Point parking lot in just 45 minutes, compared to the 55 minutes it took the last time I did it. Same course, same effort, ten minutes faster! Now that's progress!

I haven't ridden yet this week. I had the CK hubs on my 29er wheels serviced and had the bottom bracket and cranks inspected (some creaking going on) and it's been raining on and off all week. Not that either of these things are an excuse to not ride, but rather I know from in the past when training really hard for a late-summer event, I do run the risk of burning out by July. I don't want that to happen this year so I've purposely been taking a couple extra days off this week and just vegging on the couch (playing mad quanitities of Xbox if you must know) to both reduce the chance of burnout and to also make sure I am fully recovered from the Spokane race and ready to bounce back for the Test of Endurance 50-miler I'm doing down in Oregon this weekend. I'm riding tonight, for certain, then it's down to Oregon with Brett Saturday morning for what should be a pretty epic day on Sunday. 50 miles and over 7,000 feet of vert! Whoo-hoo!

The Month Ahead

Is going to be very, very good.

You see, once again, I am fortunate enough to be writing the guidebook for what I expect to be the game of the year -- no, not Halo 3 -- and I look forward to beginning soon.

To help show you why I'm so excited, I direct you here.

And if you're looking for additional reading, please consider this excellent article.

Lastly, for those with Xbox Live access, do indeed download the free trailers and gameplay videos. The game is called Bioshock and I am one lucky dude. As in the past, you will not see another word about the game from me until it's mid-August release. However, I will post links to videos or other articles that are made public that I think you might be interested in.

Hopefully Lost in Translation

I was driving to REI in Seattle today and heard that the Mariners game was at 1:30 instead of the usual 7:00 starting time so I figured I might as well go and catch a game. It was chilly out and I only had a tee-shirt on, but I was going to REI to buy a new coat (I left mine at Lake Powell last month) so that problem was solved.

One of the traditions at Safeco Field (probably at most ballparks, actually) is for the scoreboard operator to highlight one of the players and post a few factoids about him up on the big center field scoreboard. Today, as is probably the case some 30 times a season, the featured player was Ichiro.

I didn't catch all of the little blurbs of info they put up, but I did note his answer to the question, "What's your favorite movie?"

His answer was Miss Congeniality.

I refuse to believe this is true. Ichiro has been in the USA since 2001 and has spent countless nights in countless hotels across this great land. You mean to tell me in all of those nights spent sitting in front of a television, that neither pay-per-view nor HBO had something better on than Miss Congeniality? I've seen that movie. It's not bad. Sandra Bullock looks awesome towards the end and it did make me chuckle once or twice. But it's also a very ordinary, predictable, and ultimately forgettable movie. How can Miss Congeniality be anyone's favorite film? I would bet that even Miss Bullock herself would rate her movie with Keanu Reeves, Speed, as being higher on her list than Miss Congeniality.

This must be one of those times in which Ichiro's interpreter is playing a joke on him. Who knows, maybe Ichiro let his wife or kids answer the questions. Or maybe the "clubbie" somehow convinced the scoreboard operator to put it on the big board. Regardless, somebody has some explaining to do because there's no way that can actually be true. And as a fan who pays good money to read scoreboard blurbs about my favorite athletes, I refuse to be lied to.

Miss Congeniality? Ha! Next they'll tell us his favorite song is "YMCA".

By the way, the Mariners 5-game winning streak ended today. They took an early 4-0 lead but Baltimore's bats got hot in the middle innings. At least the Angels lost too, so the Mariners didn't lose any ground on their chase to win the division.

Statesman of Catan

Just earned the "Statesman of Catan" Achievement, thereby marking my 500th Victory Point in ranked play in Catan on Live Arcade. I reached this milestone with a record of 17-43 in games played, although a couple of those losses came due to network hiccups. I wasn't keeping track of how many points I earned in each individual game, but was figuring an average of about 7 points per game so I actually expected to hit the mark in my 70th game played, not in my 60th. Including the false-losses in the tally, I actually scored an average of 8.3 points per game which goes to show that even my losses were very close (games are played to 10).

Other games in my collection have Achievements such as this; they simply reward constant play. No matter how good or bad you are, if you play the game enough you'll eventually earn the Achievements. I've never earned one of this type before, as I always grew tired of the games that had them. For example, I've never even earned any of the various Achievements from Gears of War that required getting 100 kills with specific weapons in ranked online play. I love the game, but in the case of Gears of War, it was the imbecilic people playing it that I grew tired of. That's another nice thing about Catan; it doesn't attract the overly-aggressive asshat crowd that the shooters do.

A ranked match of Catan typically takes about 20-30 minutes to play. If not for my 17-43 record (not including single player and unranked matches), there is no way I would have guessed that I've logged nearly 30 hours with this game. But I have and I see no end in sight. Games like this are meant to be picked up and enjoyed for years. Did anyone ever stop playing Monopoly two weeks after they bought it? Of course not. Catan is like that. I have one more Achievement left to earn in the game -- I need to score an additional 500 Victory Points in ranked play to get it -- but I'll still play the game beyond that too.

And I can't think of another game I can say that about.

More on Forza Motorsport 2

My post about Forza Motorsport 2 may have come across more negative than I wanted. I want to make it clear that I do actually like this game and do believe it to be one of the top racing simulators yet made. My problems with the game are almost exclusively tied into the design of the game's structure and how, without any self-restraint you can very easily buy your way to victory as the game does not scale the competition to meet your car's abilities.

Here's a perfect example of how the game's Auction House mode, an absolutely phenomenal feature that allows players to easily buy/sell cars to one another all around the world, can be used to easily win some races that would otherwise be a bit more difficult.

It was finally time for me to compete in the Porsche Sports Club Cup, a series of three races with some stiff competition -- all of the cars in the field were rated with a Performance Index of around 790. The only Porches in my garage were a couple of oldies that I'd rather not spend tons of money upgrading, so I headed to the Auction House to see if I can buy one from another player. It wasn't long before I was able to buy a GT3 Cup car at auction for only 32,000 credits. This is the car you actually unlock for winning the Porsche Sports Club Cup and in terms of performance, is worth over 100,000 credits compared to the stock cars from the factory. Using this "Red Bull #82 GT3 Cup" car I promptly slaughtered the competition, winning over 15,000 credits in each of the 3 races, plus a hefty bonus and, you guessed it, another GT3 Cup car as a prize. I'm now selling the car I won at auction for, hopefully, upwards of 50,000 credits.

I didn't do anything illegal. I didn't game the system. All I did was play the game as it was meant to be played. I would have been happy with a factory Porsche with a high A-rating or an S-rating, but it's not my fault that somebody had an R4-rated car dirt cheap at auction. It's also not my fault the game doesn't recognize what car I was rolling up to the line with and quickly adjust the competition behind the scenes so that I won't be able to run away with the race. I shouldn't have to rely on my own self-imposed restrictions in order to guarantee some semblance of a challenge in the game.

And yes, there are plenty of events that feature a series of races limited to a certain horsepower. I just completed another series that was limited to cars with less than 150 horsepower. I grabbed the factory Mazda Roadster I had won earlier (146 horsepower) and quickly spent a few thousand credits upgrading the transmission, tires, brakes, and suspension. I also lightened the car. I didn't increase the horsepower a single pony, but I did make the car a hell of a lot faster. And I quickly zoom-zoomed my way to victory in all three races with the only ounce of competition coming after I entered a turn at Suzuka way too hot and slammed the wall. I still won the race though.

There are things I can do to make the game more difficult. I can increase the difficulty of the A.I., I can disable the anti-lock brakes or traction control, but as it is I'm already playing with a 15% boost to the difficulty rating and why should I turn off driving-assists that are essentially standard on all modern cars? Can you even buy a car without anti-lock brakes anymore?

Forza Motorsport 2 is a very fine driving game, but it could be a great, great game with just two minor tweaks. For starters, either every race/event needs to be governed by a maximum Performance Index or the game needs to scale the competition's cars so that they are within 2% to 5% of the player's car. Another change that needs to be made going forward is a total revamping of the race/event structure. Right now, playing the game gives players the sense of working their way through a checklist. Never is there any sense of accomplishment or urge pulling you forward for "just one more race". Instead, it's just a checklist of accomplishments. You know what car you're going to win, you know you're going to win some extra credits, and you know exactly what you need to do to win those prizes. It's all a matter of sinking the time into the game and slowly plowing your way through the 20 hours or so of Career mode gameplay. Frankly, it gets a bit repetitive and I doubt I'll make it. If only the game had a way to make me care about what it is I'm doing with it, I'd probably still be playing it this time next year. But as it stands now, I'm already looking forward to next week's release of DiRT. Too bad, really.