Back in August I wrote about our tenth anniversary and mentioned the gifts Kristin got me. It's been almost two months and I've yet to take off the titanium neckchain she gave me, but I didn't have as much luck with the flask. We left the next week for TransRockies and, before going, I filled the flask with some Bushmills Black Bush whiskey. It was to be my celebratory drink for when I finished the race. Well, I finished the race but when I went to bring the flask with me to the finisher's ceremony later that night, it was leaking. There was a small crack in the bottom of it. Fortunately, my toolbox has a roll of duct tape in it and I was able to repair the flask well enough to prevent further leakage.

Believe it or not, this is another post that references that "name" article I wrote earlier in the year.

The flask she had given me had my "DJW" initials on it, but I had asked Kristin that she not use all three initials on the replacement flask. I thought "DW" would suffice. I'm not a big fan of middle names. It's one of my quirks. So, when Kristin was at the jewelry store getting another one ordered, she decided to call me to double-check if that's what I really wanted. Was I sure I didn't want DJW? Did I really just want DW?

I thought about it some more. Just as I don't really see myself as a "Douglas Joseph Walsh" I don't really see myself as that much of a flask guy either. And monograms are nice and all, but they're just not me. Too... pretentious is the word I think I'm looking for. So I thought we'd have a little fun with it.

"Why don't you have them engrave DUG on the flask?"

Proof that Kristin is the perfect yin to my always incorrigible yang, she didn't laugh or act surprised at this seemingly absurd request. She knew exactly what the significance of the letters were and also the "deeper" meaning I had for picking it. It was done.

DUG was the perfect way of disarming any self-conciousness I felt about having some hoidy-toidy monogrammed flask and, surprise as you may be, wasn't just a goofy way of spelling my name (albeit, a phonetically correct one). It just so happens that I've been using the initials DUG dating back to the 1980's when I first ever got my name in the top ten on an arcade game. So it was a win-win on a couple levels and best of all, Kristin gets to see me enjoy one of the gifts she gave me.

And while it may have taken forever, the new flask was finally ready for pickup today and it's great. It's got the dimpled pewter finish (like a golfball) and is also a bit smaller than the original leaky one she picky out -- which will make it easier to carry in a pocket. I can't wait to smuggle a little Knob Creek into the next Seahawks home game!

On Second Thought Nurse, I Think I'll Skip the Anaesthesia

My poor, poor dog.

She goes in for a dental cleaning and winds up with a catheter in one hole and a probe up the other. No wonder she's walking funny.

I don't know about you, but when I go to see my dentist I don't expect to see "complimentary anal sac expression" on the invoice. I mean, sure, it's nice that they also trimmed her toe nails, but I'm not so sure about these other extras.

I remember when I had my wisdom teeth removed. One second the anaesthesiologist and nurse were telling jokes and the next thing I know, I'm lying on a couch with a freaking teddy bear tucked under my arm and Kristin's laughing at me. After seeing how my dog was freaking sodomized while knocked out, I'm really starting to wonder exactly what may have happened to me that day. Oh, sure, they say I was a little wobbly because of the drugs, but was that really the reason I couldn't walk straight? Was it now? Was it?

Note: It was very hard not to title this post "Expressions of a Happy Anal Sac". Sometimes when things write themselves, it's best to put in a little extra effort and come up with something else. You can thank me later.

We Can All Breathe a Little Easier Now...

When Annana is at close range, that is.

We just got word from the veterinary office that Annana is coming off the anaethesia and that her teeth cleaning went well. Her teeth were really, really dirty but fortunately none of them were decaying or needed to be extracted. Now, before you tell us what awful doggie owners we are, Kristin does make a point of brushing the dogs teeth with relative frequency. Kimo's teeth are in excellent shape. It's just that, unfortunately, Annana has some pretty resilient oral bacteria that fend off the brushing. And no amount of poultry-flavored toothpaste can pry that decrepit bacteria from our canine's canines.

We've been putting off getting her teeth cleaned due to the cost and because we didn't want to have to put her under, but the vet was having a month-long "sale" on teeth cleaning and, well, Annana's breath was getting pretty rank. We also had a rapdily enlargening mole removed from her leg-pit that was becoming quite unsightly. Her gums are going to be really swollen and she's probably can be out of sorts for a day or so, but it was necessary. If we had waited any longer she probably would have lost some of her teeth.

And I'm not about get dentures for my dog.

Right on Cue...

It hasn't even been 12 hours since I wrote how refreshing it was to see videogames discussed by real journalists. Yeah, that was a nice change. And as if to prove my point, videogame news sites all over the web this morning are reporting on a Kansas teenager who allegedly lost sense of reality and strangled his kid sister who interrupted him while he was playing BioShock. The story goes that he thought it was one of the game's "Little Sister" characters who possess the valuable nutrient your character in the game so desperately needs.

Naturally, the story was fake.

Yet, witout apparently Googling the story or checking CNN or any other real news site, let alone the police blotter from the Kansas community in question, gaming news sites took the bait and ran with it. Within minutes sensationalized immature headlines were thrown up in attempt to attract readers and leapfrog one another in the Gametab top 10 links column. Fortunately, some of those stories have since been removed and/or updated.

And this is why when I say I'm a writer in the videogames industry, I go through great pains to make sure it's very, very clear that I'm not one of the so-called journalists. Pathetic.

Note: Apparently a writer for Destructoid.com did actually call a Kansas news channel for comfirmation and was first to learn that it was indeed fake. So there is hope...

So Long High Country, See You in July

I was supposed to be about 4.5 hours from home right now, asleep in the back of my truck (or perhaps still sitting fireside with a bottle of Moose Drool in my hand). I was supposed to be waking up early tomorrow to embark on what would have been the first of three consecutive big mountain epic rides deep in the Okanagan National Forest. I had to bail from this trip earlier in the week when I learned that the schedule for my current project was suddenly accelerated.

And it's a good thing too, as the snow level is dropping to 3,500 feet tonight and the precipitation should come off and on all weekend. Oh, and the trails I would have been riding would have taken us up above 7,000 feeet each day. Hopefully those that decided to go anyway will be met with less precipitation than we're getting here on the west side of the state, but I doubt it. That's a long way to drive for what are likely to be pretty miserable conditions.

What makes this even worse is that I had a similar campout planned for next weekend as well, in about the same area. I got snowed on doing that ride two years ago and that was a week earlier in the season. When the winter comes in the North Cascades, it comes pretty quick. Looks like I'll be going without views like this again this fall.

The Monitor Dishes on the Halo Effect

Even those living under metaphorical rocks and in caves know that Halo 3 released this week. And I assume the majority of the populace have by now heard that the game grossed $170 million in sales in 24-hours, making it the single biggest money making day in entertainment history. Personally, I really don't see what the allure of Halo is and was sufficiently soured from the original enough that I have yet to spend a minute with the second game let alone harbor any plans on buying the third. But I admit I am relatively alone on an island in that opinion. And in the interest of full disclosure I'll also admit to having a predisposition to hate anything dealing with wars among stars and heroes thought to be super. It'd be fair to say I prefer my fiction and science be kept separate at all times.

Nevertheless, the Halo 3 release has indeed given gamers and non-gamers alike a chance to reap the benefits of national media attention and, as a result, get to read articles about videogames written by real journalists for a change. I've read quite a few this week and while it's nice to read an article that's not written for the sole purpose of being quoted by thirteen year olds riding the school bus, one article stood out from the crowd. And it was from the least likely of sources.

I admit that I was hesitant to click the link leading to the article on the Christian Science Monitor's website. Granted, I didn't feel that queasy, nauseus feeling I get when forwarded a link to anything on the Fox News site, but I still felt awkward. Was I allowed to visit their site? I mean, it has the word Christian right in the title, after all. Won't they get mad? Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. There was no flashing GIF animation visually demanding me to repent, nor was I forced into a digital confessional booth before gaining access to the news I sought.

No, instead I found one of the most fair and dare I say enjoyable mainstream stories about videogames yet. The journalist went to one of the midnight openings and reported on what he saw. But rather than talk to the ubiquitous 23 year-olds lined up for hours, he instead talked to the parents of younger kids who came with their children to see what the fuss was about. Let me say that again, the parents were actually taking an interest in their kids' hobbies. And videogames no less!

Here's a few of the comments parents made to the reporter:

"This is like chess for the 21st century," argued Jeremiah Pick, a father in Berkeley, Calif. "Maybe there is a future for him in this," he said of his son.

One mother said indoor games are safer than roaming the neighborhood.

And a slightly balding father, standing next to his mop-haired son, exclaimed: "Oh, this isn't for him. This is for me!"

For Mary Phillips of Castro Valley, Calif., it's a window into her son's world. She scans the 50 youths lined up late Monday – some for seven hours or more, others scribbling out homework – waiting to be among the first to get the game. "I thought we'd make a family event of it, so that way I could see what it was all about," she says. "I see that it's an older group, [but] it looks like a good group of people."

Another mother sees video games as, in essence, today's neighborhood hangout.

Ms. Young likes the way games such as "Halo" allow for team play over the Internet or together in a room. Her son Kevin says he has made friends he would never have made otherwise. He has traveled as far as the Czech Republic to play in professional "Halo 2" competitions. "You practice with your team on the weekends," he says, likening it to playing sports. "You go to dinner together, you party together, you get so accustomed to each other that you think in a unified way."

It's sad that I get surprised to see such rational commentary on videogames in the press, but after years of reading about unconstitutional legislative proposals, grandstanding politicians, and lawyers (and parents) blaming videogames for every act of teenage disobedience, seeing such reasonable parental commentary is quite refreshing. And, as with all good and fair journalism, differing opinions are also presented. Concerns over digital isolation and unhealthy addictions with games are mentioned and I feel that both are valid concerns. It's a very good article and one I think everyone should check out.

Read it here.


A while back I wrote a long-winded post about the importance of a name. It started with a discussion of my dislike for my own name, then twisted and turned along a rather nonsensically circuitous path and finally reached the intended destination: a commentary on the new game company "SEEDS" that was founded by the minds behind such great games as Okami and Resident Evil. I was particularly impressed with the name of the new company, as it was in recognition of those who created the seeds that eventually flowered into such important gaming experiences. And, despite its lackluster sales, Okami was one of the great milestones of gaming in my opinion.

Yeah, well, so much for the supposed importance of symbolism and nature in Japanese culture.

SEEDS was renamed Platinum Games today as a result of a merger with some company none of us ever heard of.

I can only assume they were disappointed to learn their first choice, Acme Products, was already taken.

If their games are even half as generic as the name of their company, then we're all going to be in for a big disappointment.

Round the World Planning and Saving

This post is about our methodology in planning and saving for the round-the-world (RTW) trip I mentioned last week. It's probably not that interesting to those not currently daydreaming of a similar excursion. And it's probably pretty boring even if you are so consider yourself warned.

Kristin surprised me last Saturday by asking if I had a few hours to talk about the trip and my timeline idea. I essentially had the week off, which left me with plenty of time to read, research, and daydream about the RTW trip we're planning and was glad Kristin wanted to start working on what I've been calling our timeline.

Despite my use of the word in our original conversation (and my resulting blog post) I'm keenly aware we can't actually go "everywhere". Not in one trip, at least. And probably not in one lifetime, for that matter. But before we started culling locations from our wishlist of destinations I thought it would be good to map out the times of year that are best to visit various regions. I'm not talking about making sure we're in Spain for the Tomatina or in Rio de Janeiro in time for Carnival, but rather that we're not trying to trek in Nepal in winter and not trying to hike to Angkor Wat during monsoon season. I'm much more concerned about when you don't want to be someplace than when the it time is to be there.

So I opened that most boring of programs, Excel, and listed a year's worth of Mondays across the top, starting with the middle of September 2012. And then began listing countries and regions we have an interest in down the first column. We began with our North American leg which we'd like to frame around ferry travel to Alaska and a trainride across Canada. The main concern here, as far as our timeline is concerned, is hitting Churchill Bay in northern Manitoba between mid-October and mid-November so we can see the polar bears. From there, we plan to continue on east through Quebec City to the island provinces and eventually down to New Jersey to visit family before heading to the United Kingdom.

When it comes to Europe, we're rather indifferent towards when we need to be there. On one hand, I really want to do some hiking in Switzerland or at least a lengthy mountain drive through the Austrian Alps and it would stink to miss that because we're there in January. But, on the other hand, Europe is damn expensive and it'd be better to be there in the off-season when it's much, much cheaper. Not to mention we could always go snowboarding. Whatever.

So we decided we could skip over Europe for timeline purposes and, instead jump to the two big "must dos" on our list for that part of the world. The first of these is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (or nearby Mt. Kenya; it's supposedly very similar and less crowded) and see the game migration in Ngorongoro Crater and the second is to travel the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Moscow to Beijing. Wouldn't you know that one of the migration periods is between December and February (also a good time for climbing) and that the trains don't start running on the Trans-Siberia line until mid-May? This works out perfectly. Assuming we land in Scotland in early November, we'd be able to leisurely make our way through western Europe down to Spain and Portugal, ferry across the Strait of Gibralter into Morocco, check out the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, then fly over to Nairobi to climb in late January. From there, we can head to Egypt, ferry across the Mediterranean to Greece and then thread our way back up through eastern Europe during the spring to make it to Moscow in time for the train trip. Speaking of which, the Trans-Siberian trip would likely be the one and only package deal we purchase well in advance of the trip. I've been eyeing packages like this one for years.

So that would put us into Beijing in mid to late June. Just in time for monsoon season in southeast Asia. Crap. Oh well, we've got five years to figure out what to do next (although Kristin's suggestion of waiting out the monsoon season in New Zealand and Australia before hitting southeast Asia might prove useful.

Anyway, so that's where we're at in our "macro-level" planning for the trip. I know it's so far off and that it must be rather comical to read, but I think this was a useful exercise. If for no other reason than to drive home exactly how mammoth an undertaking this will be and, more importanly, how expensive it will be. Even by staying in hostels and eating primarily in markets (hepatitus shots, anyone?) the transportation fees, gear, and not to mention visas will certainly add up. And for every $1 meal we eat in Africa or Asia, I'm sure there's going to be a $20 meal had in Europe or North America. Taking into account all of this and the occasional splurge on a nice hotel or excursion, I imagine we'll need to save up $28,000 to $35,000 for the two of us to do this trip. Gulp.

I've been reading a lot on travel forums for saving ideas and it seems that by and large most people employ the method we've already been using -- they make monthly auomatic deposits to an ING savings account. Our account with ING is currently fetching 4.30% interest and there are no fees. Since we don't want to spend this money and we also don't want to risk losing any of it while investing, we're going to take advantage of ING's line of CDs and periodically dump a large portion of the money into a 9- or 12-month CD to get an extra 1% interest out of it over the regular savings account. Additionally, we also have a "Keep the Change" account with Bank of America that automatically rounds-up each purchase we make on our debit card to the whole dollar and dumps the difference into a savings account. Sounds petty, but we had over $300 in that account in less than a year. And we never missed it from our checking account. We keep that up for another 5 years and it will cover the airfare to Europe for the two of us. And then some!

As fine as this all is, we naturally have to put aside more money than we have been each month and that leads us to making changes. Kristin, being the rare female who hates shopping and seldom goes out with friends, has nowhere to make any cuts. She has her gym membership and a gum/chapstick addiction that I find rather amusing at times, but she's pretty frugal. Me, on the other hand, spent a few years as a consumerist whore and have plenty of things around the house to sell. I've also cut back on my trips to the coffee shop (just once a week now) and am cutting back on my weekly bar tab at Redhook Brewery after my Thursday night bike rides. I've made these rather small changes so we can put an extra $50 or so a month into the savings account under the premise that every little bit will help. And as I continue to sell things I haven't used in years, I put that money into our travel savings as well. It will be really nice next year when one of the cars is paid off and we can really up the monthly savings.

So that about sums it up. We feel really strongly about how we'd like to spend the first half to two-thirds of the trip and we have a financial goal concerning how much we need to save to make it happen. And that's what this is all about really. If we don't make these goals right now then this whole conversation will be for naught. And then I'll be embarrassed and depressed and would have wasted your time reading this stuff. And nobody wants that.

I received a package from my sister today -- an early birthday present -- and in it was a little something extra to help us stay motivated for the trip. It's a small metal sign on a chain that I immediately hung near the front door. The sign reads "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."

I like that. I like that a lot.

Clover: A Proper Plug

When I wrote about the Clover coffee brewing system the other day I didn't do so with any intent other than to mention a great cup of coffee. Today, however, I received an email from one of my fellow BBTC members, Zander Nosler, thanking me for the plug. The rest of his email lead me to believe he was thanking me for mentioning the Clover system -- and I did recall him saying he owned a company that makes coffee equipment the last time we rode together -- so I Googled him up and found out that, yes indeed, Zander is the brains behind the Clover. Small world, isn't it?

From a 2006 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Is the world ready for an $8,000 drip coffee maker? The Coffee Equipment Co., an eight-person startup in Ballard, has bet $1 million that it is. Co-founder and resident Zander Nosler, 34, said he has loved product design all his life, inspired at age 11 by the distinctive action and sound of the turn-signal stalk in a new Honda.

Zander Nosler, 34, president of The Coffee Equipment Co., pours grounds into the Clover, a commercial-grade machine that makes individual cups of drip coffee. In May 2004, when he perceived a gap in the expanding market for coffee products, he wrote a business plan and left his job at Seattle industrial design firm Teague to produce the ideal drip coffee maker.

Dubbed the Clover, it's claimed to be the first commercial-grade machine to give baristas consistent, independent control over the four variables of drip coffee: water temperature, coffee grind, coffee-to-water ratio and brew time.

Investors -- mainly family and friends, but also some Seattle-area venture capitalists -- have pumped just more than $1 million into the company since mid-2004. The Clover is intended to complement top-quality espresso machines now
finding their way onto the market from companies such as Seattle's Synesso.

High-priced equipment may yield commensurate rewards in the big business of coffee, which grew to $9.62 billion in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), from $8.96 billion in 2003, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

You can read the rest of the article about Zander and his $8,000 coffee maker via this link. And, like I alluded to the other day, if you find yourself in a cafe that has the Clover system, give it a try. Sure, it will run you $3-5 for a cup of coffee depending on the beans you select, but it's a nice treat and it sure beats taking out a second mortgage to buy the coffee maker yourself.

Edit: I'm told the Clover now costs $11,000, but is still in line with other high-end espresso machines.

Peace and Quiet For Sale

If you were watching World News Tonight this evening you may have seen a quick rundown of some gadgetry designed to counter many of today's more annoying inventions. The one that caught my eye was the cell phone jammer. The small pocket-size device sends out a jamming signal and renders cell phones useless in the immediate vicinity.

Think about the possibilities...

Want to go to the coffee shop and read in quiet? Or just without hearing people yell? Bring the cell phone jammer.

At the airport and tired of hearing businessmen carrying on their listen-to-how-important-I-am conversations at eighty decibels? Bring the jammer.

Out to dinner and stuck with some clueless jerk who refuses to turn his cell phone off or take it outside? Turn it off for him with the jammer.

In the theatre and tired of hearing others yapping away on their phones? Make 'em zip it with the jammer.

The more I write about this thing, the more I think the $200 pricetag might be worth it after all. Unfortunately they're very illegal in the US and carry an $11,000 fine and year in the slammer (because of all of those 911 calls you're potentially interfering with).

If only society didn't make such inventions necessary. If only people had an ounce of courtesy when out in public. And if only pigs could fly... it's a nice dream, isn't it?

Loser People?

Okay, I just sold the computer tower a second time. This time I made it very clear there is a scrolling issue and that the videocard may need to be replaced. I was unaware of these issues the first time I sold it.

Anyway, the weird thing is how seemingly embarrassed the lady who was buying it acted on the phone. When I asked where she lived to give her directions to my house, she said she "hate[s] saying this, but I live in the Habitat for Humanity neighborhood--but I'm not one of the loser people down here."

Wow. What does one say to that?

I can't help but wonder if her comment says more about the self-consciousness of people living in HfH homes or about the treatment they must receive (or at least perceive) from those who don't.

I've run through the HfH neighborhood several times and always thought it seemed a nice place to live and that the houses all appeared rather nice on the outside. And I'm actually glad that this development I live in with its million dollar homes and private golf club (I own or belong to neither by the way) has made space for an HfH area and at least in that way makes an effort to be more inclusive of people with lower income levels. It's a shame though that the people, at least judging by this one woman, feel so self-conscious about it.

But I can't let it bother me. After all, she's buying the computer for her kids so at least I know that while I'm selling the computer for very little money, at least it's going to be used by a family who doesn't have the money for something new and shiny. And the money will go to our travel account and maybe get us a few extra days in Cambodia sometime in the future. And that's a hell of a lot better than dumping it at a computer recycling center or letting it continue to collect dust in the spare bedroom.

Bite-Sized Blogging

In keeping with the title of the blog, I'm going to post some Randomly Generated nuggets from the past 24 hours...

1) The computer I sold for $75 to a lady in the neighborhood has a videocard issue and rather than split a new one 50/50 she wanted her money back. The only problem with the videocard was a scrolling issue. It's pretty bad, I admit, but duh... there's a reason I was selling it for $75.

2) Spent a while on the Alaska Ferry website yesterday (again!) and was shocked to see how much money it costs to take a ferry from Ketchikan to Homer -- roughly $1,000! Then I looked at my world map and saw that Homer is as far away from Ketchikan as Seattle is. D'oh! I have more to write about travel planning tomorrow.

3) Was walking the dogs and smelled natural gas near the park across the street. Told a neighbor about the smell and, I think, caused him to fear a leak in his outdoor gasline going to his grill. Turned out that one of the houses behind me had a bad leak and the firemen and police had to come and shut down the road and alley for a little while. No explosion, thankfully. I still remember the day a house around the block from my childhood home blew up from a gas leak. I don't know what was scarier: hearing the blast or seeing the instant pile of rubble where a house once was.

4) If you haven't had a cup of coffee brewed via the Clover method, you have to try it. The new Zoka coffee shop really aims for the coffee connoisseur crowd and they have a Clover brewer which sucks the water through the grounds rather than letting the water drip through. It's a couple bucks for a single cup of coffee and I thought I'd finally try it. Holy cow, it's worth it. First of all, the mug they give you is enormous. Easily the size of 2-3 regular cups of coffee. But the coffee is phenomenal and almost creamy in the texture. Definitely worth it.

5) The X360 faceplate that came with my copy of Eternal Sonata is beautiful. The artwork on it and the quality of the paint and clearcoat on it is truly outstanding. The game is pretty darn good too, but I have to play it more to form a proper opinion. Speaking of Eternal Sonata, I pre-ordered it from EBgames.com and selected the super cheap 5 day shipping they offer for $2.99. The game arrived at my door the day after it released. Don't overpay for shipping, the cheap options may surprise you!

6) I think Microsoft is going to make a small bit of headway in the Asian market with the Xbox 360 thanks to Project Gotham Racing 4. Whether it was intentional or not, I don't know, but three of the 9 cities in the game are all in the Far East: Macau, Tokyo, and Shanghai. I used to enjoy the Gran Turismo games just because of the chance to race by landmarks in Seattle. Featuring three prominent Asian locations such as those could help with console sales in that market. And at this point, every little bit of help they get will certainly be appreciated.

7) Halo 3 released at midnight last night and I don't give a damn.

8) Does anybody want to buy a surfboard?

9) Or some PC games or a computer? Or what about a packaged surround sound system? Or another PC with a monitor? Or some bookshelf speakers? Or a DVD Recorder? I'm really trying to unload some stuff we haven't used in a long while. Please email me if interested, as it's all for sale very cheaply.

10) One of my editors called me at 9am this morning (I was still sleeping) to tell me that my next project may have just been bumped up by three weeks. I was going to be starting work on it today at a rather leisurely pace. Now it looks like I may need to have it done by yesterday.

Utah Trip Photos

It's hard to believe, but I never actually went through the hundreds of photos I took during our trip to Utah this past spring. Well, sure, I skimmed them really fast and yanked out all of the ones I took during my crossing of the Kokopelli Trail to make this slideshow, but I never went through all of the other shots.

Until now.

Kristin had to go to Atlanta for a couple days for business, so I decided to spend all night processing the photos (I shoot RAW format). It took a lot longer than I would have liked, but I enjoy it. And, best of all, a lot more of the shots made the cut than I expected. I'm extremely critical of my photography and am happy to say that I actually found quite a few of them to be acceptable. And a couple I think are actually pretty darn okay. How's that for a strong opinion? Actually, I really like nearly all of the shots I posted online and the only reason I don't like all of them is because I'm actually in some of them. Which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of being the photographer in the family. Nevertheless, I had to include them else Kristin and my mother would never let me hear the end of it.

So, without further ado, here's the link to my Utah Multisport Trip photos.

I did put descriptions in for every photo, but I recommend first just watching the slideshow. It's in chronological order, although the Kokopelli Trail stuff has been removed. I'll post those photos separately later. The trip included a visit to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell).

Stuntmen of Scotland Declare Independence

Just some quick bites of info on some things that have been entertaining me this week.

Stuntman: Ignition
This sequel to one of the most disappointing games in my memory is very hard to put down. It pits you as a stunt driver, trying to make a name for yourself by doing all of the vehicle stunt driving in a half-dozen movies and another half-dozen or so commercials and exhibitions. Each movie is a hillariously-cliched take on a major action movie sub-genre and contains six scenes. Your job is to perform all of the stunts in each scene (roughly 2:00 of driving per scene) while trying to avoid any retakes. A grading system adds plenty of replay value and a combo system cribbed from Project Gotham Racing only helps add to the replay value and enjoyment of the game. I haven't played any of the multiplayer yet and haven't played around in the Constructor arena where you can create your own "sets", but I do really enjoy the game. I'm on my second to last film and everything from the driving to the near-instantaneous load times (the first game's fatal flaw) to the hysterical director personas and fake movie trailers make this a must have game for anybody who just wants some lighthearted fun mixed with a dose of precision stunt driving. Forget what you may remember about the original Stuntman game. This game is better in every possible way.

The Last King of Scotland
We finally got around to watching this the other night via NetFlix and I must say that there is no surprise why Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for his role as Uganda President Amin. The movie is set in the 1970's immediately following a British-assisted coupe that overthrew the former Ugandan leadership and inserted Amin in its place. At roughly the same time this was going on, a wide-eyed doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, fresh out of medical school in Scotland makes his way to Uganda to offer medical care to the country's impoverished. A chance encounter between Amin and Dr. Garrigan leads to an odd friendship and Amin eventually convinces Garrigan to move to the capital and become his personal physician and adviser. Whitaker's character is so immense, yet so charming and personable that even though we eventually come to learn otherwise, he seems like the kind of giant teddy bear we all wouldn't mind having as a friend. At the risk of spoiling anything, I'm going to end here. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it now. Everything from the acting to the scenery to the music and costumes was done wonderfully. Definitely one of the better movies I've seen in a long while. Heck, I might even get the DVD.

The Declaration
Kristin's boss's son was starring in this improvisational comedy at the University Theatre in Seattle and a group of us went to see it on Friday night. I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect. The theatre was tiny, the stage was bare, the lighting was minimal, and if not for the brand new seating I may have been apt to wonder if the whole building shouldn't just be condemned. Fortunately it hasn't been. The Declaration begins with the actor's representing John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and Charles Thompson (who nobody has ever heard of) coming on stage one by one to ask their constituents (the audience) what problems we want the Congress to address. One was parking tickets, another was the British stealing our coffee and replacing it with decaf, another was squirrels not having socks to wear, and the fourth was men with underdeveloped calf muscles. So then the play begins. The four Congressmen and the Speaker begin to "re-enact" a legislative meeting in Philadelphia in 1776 in which these topics are addressed, debated, and voted on. It was very, very funny to hear the improvised discussion (granted, around a framework they work from nightly) about each of these topics and the first act culminates when Thomas Jefferson's wig is ripped from his head to reveal that he is actually a she. The refer to as Thomasina from then on. Did I mention they routinely drank bottles of Sam Adams during the play and even handed some out to the audience? "Be sure and thank your cousin for the beer again, John" was one of the lines I thought rather obvious, but still pretty funny.

The second act is also quite funny and continues to show the actors' ability to improvise. One member of the audience is chosen to be the King of England and given the ability to enact new laws, albeit with some guidance from the actor serving as Messenger. The first rule was to ban three-legged racing. The second was that they could no longer wear wigs. And the third was that they couldn't use the word "Motion". This inevitably leads to the idea to create the Declaration of Independence. But somehow also led to the invention of the Limbo as well. Go figure. I'll be watching the Wing-It Productions calendar in the future and will no doubt attend another play in the future. Their shows are too funny and too cheap not to.

Into the Wild

The film adaptation of Jon Krakauer's best-selling book "Into the Wild" opens in select theatres tonight and, so far, the reviews are strong. Rottentomatoes is reporting a 87% rating which is indeed good news for those of us hoping the movie is good. I was hoping to see the movie tonight, but alas, we're going to this instead.

Fortunately, tomorrow always comes (we can count on tomorrow, right?) and the matinee will be cheaper. For those also looking forward to seeing the film, or who have no idea what it's about, National Geographic Adventure has an excellent article about how the movie came to be and discusses the director's (Sean Penn) role in dealing with the family of the main character Chris McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) and convincing them to make the movie.

You can read the article here.

Lights & Tights

What a difference 4 weeks makes.

The last time I went out to do the Thursday night "Thrilla in Woodinvilla" ride, I was in shorts, the evening temps were in the upper 70's, and it stayed light well past the time we finished. Then the work crush began and I was off the bike for nearly a month. Made it back out last night, finally, and was none too pleased to find the temperature in the upper 50's and that I needed to turn my night riding lights on by 7:20. We did an extended version of the normal ride last night -- we added a brief tour of the trails through the ever-so-pretentious sounding "Tuscany" neighborhood -- and got back to the cars well past dark. It wasn't exactly cold last night, especially if you kept moving, but it was definitely kind of clammy, what with the humidity from the rain earlier in the day still lying around.

I'm currently signed up for two big weekends of riding in the Okanagan National Forest area to cap off the season, but it's going to depend on the weather. All of the rides that we have planned these next two weekends venture up to about 8,000 feet in elevation and the snow level has already been reported down to about 7,000 in some areas. The scenery in the Okanagan is especially gorgeous in the fall when the needles of the larch trees turn from a dark green to a golden yellow and I really don't want to miss it a second year in a row. I hate to go without Kristin and she's got way too much school-related stuff to come. And I'd hate to go alone because it's a 4-hour drive each way.

I think this will be one of those times when I stay home if I can't find a carpool buddy. Or maybe the weather will make the decision for all of us and nobody goes. That would suck, but it wouldn't be the first time a late September trip to the North Cascades got snowed out.

Party Time!

On Xbox Live that is.

As part of the "Bringing it Home" initiative, Microsoft is going to be posting tons of videos and trailers and hopefully a few demos from the Tokyo Game Show this week. The first demo went Live (pardon the pun) this morning and it's for Viva Pinata Party Animals. It's a party game for up to 4 players (on the couch or over Live) with 40+ party games and 12 foot races featuring the characters from the cartoon and videogame of the same name, Viva Pinata. Personally, I love the Viva Pinata stuff. I think the game is fantastic, one of the best "sandbox" style games I've ever played. And I actually like the cartoon too. It's really funny and wonderfully animated.

I'm downloading the demo right now (971 MB) and really hope it's good. My sister and her boyfriend are getting an X360 this fall and this is exactly the type of game I look forward to playing with them. We might be 3,000 miles apart, but if we can play and chat together every week it will certainly make the distance seem less. And what better way to do it than competing in a Laugh-a-Lympics style collection of mini games with farting pinatas?

Watch a Viva Pinata Party Animals trailer here.

I have more to say about Live and the Xbox 360 as a whole, but I'm saving it for a lengthier post. Maybe tomorrow.

The Simplifying Life

As you can probably guess, I've been practically glued to the Internet the past couple days browsing travel message boards (http://www.bootsnall.com/), in particular) and have already started to plan the route we'll eventually take to cross Canada by train. CanRail has a pass that gets you 12 days of train travel within a thirty-day period for $850 (peak season). The idea of using it to travel a heavily interrupted month-long route from Prince Rupert, BC to Halifax, Nova Scotia is exhilirating. Yes, I do believe I used the word "exhilirating" to describe potential train travel. But that's because we're planning a lengthy side-trip to Churchill, Manitoba during the height of polar bear season. Exhilirating meet totally freaking awesomeness! As for getting to Prince Rupert, the Alaska Ferry System makes stops there (Prince Rupert is just south of the border with Alaska, and a stone's throw from Ketchikan) and we anticipate beginning the trip on that ferry, leaving Bellingham, WA and making our way to Sitka and Homer and eventually Denali. The latter of which would be over land of course. We were actually planning on doing that ferry-based Alaska trip next summer, but we've decided that patience would be beneficial for us grasshoppers.

Anyway, the real purpose of this post was to say that I've also started looking around the house for stuff we could do without in attempt to streamline things. Both for now and for later. I started with the closet in my office. For 7 years now, everytime I author a guidebook I get a box of 10 contributor's copies. I give some of these away, but there's a lot of times that I'll write a guidebok for a less-than-popular game and find no takers. I literally had several hundred pounds of these books on a metal wire shelf in my closet. And yes, I was indeed scared to stand under it. Well, I finally went through roughly 15 boxes of guidebooks, set aside two of each book (in addition to the one I have on my shelf) and bundled the others us. I hate to do it, but I'm taking them to the recyling center.

It looks much better now. Trust me.

I also finally sorted through the box of "desk" stuff that I've had sitting in various rooms ever since we packed up and left North Carolina over 5 years ago. It was all mostly software that we've long since updated. And books about writing cover letters and tips for small businesses and other things of that sort. I gathered up all of the non-videogame books (along with a few Stephen King hardcovers I've had since I was 14) and am going to take them down to Half-Price Books in Bellevue today to get a little money for them. Hopefully enough to warrant a mid-month transfer to our savings account, but probably just enough to buy me a beer or two after tonight's mountain biking ride.

Looking elsewhere in the house didn't reveal too many things we can part with, well, other than my music collection. Ever since I got my iPod last year, I can't say that I really see the need for music cd's anymore. My Element has an MP3 jack right in the dashboard for the iPod and if I'm not at my desk or in my car, I'm not really anwywhere I need to listen to music. Why keep the cd's? I can back up iTunes onto my external harddrive, might as well sell the music, right? I couldn't do it all at once, because even the world's best music store isn't going to want me rolling in with a handcart and boxes of 400 cd's. I'll have to go in trips.

Either way, the transformation is in progress. I'm not about to quit buying the occasional videogame or books to read or other things, but I do feel like just by cleaning my closet out and unloading some old books was a good first step. And Kristin is glad to be ridding ourselves of some of the stuff too.

We've been talking about The Trip every day now since last Friday and the possibilities are endless. Not just in terms of places to see, but also in terms of what might happen to our desire to come home. It's not inconceivable that we end up wanting to spend another 6 months somewhere teaching English. Or that we come home only long enough for me to write another two or three guidebooks (as an example), then head back out again for another year. Who knows? There's plenty of people out there who do it. I don't know if that's even something we would want to make a habit, but I don't know that we wouldn't.

But that's a long way's off. A much more pressing concern is trying to sell the surfboard I haven't used in 5 years.

Greedy Katamari

Beautiful Katamari, the third game in the Katamari Damacy lineage, is set to roll onto store shelves mid-October. I played the demo today and, well, it seems the same as the others which is a good thing, but that's not why I'm writing about it. I'm writing because of the Achievements that accompany the game. The Achievements, made public a month before the game releases, already shows 1250 possible Gamerscore. The extra 250 points can only be had by buying the downloadable content via Xbox Live, which they already list here. Which is also supposed to be available right after the game's release.

This means that, rather than continuing to support their game after it launches by releasing additional content for gamers at a later date, Namco Bandai is instead taking a small portion of the game that's already been made and holding it hostage. Instead of working for the next month or two on bonus maps or new features that gamers request, they're simply taking a chunk of what could (and should) be included on the retail version and ransoming it off over Xbox Live for those who want it. What's worse is that, most likely when you buy the downloadable content, you won't even be downloading anything more than a small script that unlocks the content on the disc you bought. So, you see, you already have the content. You already bought it. You already own it. But you have to pay extra to use it.

This is an EA level of shadiness.

I haven't noticed any outrcy or backlash about this yet and I suspect that it's partly because either people have already grown tired of this once-innovative game, or because they are forgiving Namco Bandai since the game is only going to retail for $40. Or maybe everyone is already numb to the nickel and diming we're subject to with the downloadable content and isn't surprised by how low some companies will sink.

When I buy downloadable content, I expect that it was content that simply couldn't be finished in time for the initial delivery of the game. Or that it was so large that it is truly worthy of being called an expansion. Or that it contains features and specifics that can only be said to be released "by popular demand". But to have extra content available on Day One of a game's release is just an insult.

And they're going to sell tons of it. It's only a matter of time that developers realize they can pad their sales figures by releasing extra content that contains the extra 250 Gamerscore worth of Achievements. Heck, I imagine there's already games in development that will purposely feature the easiest set of Achievements possible because they know gamers will buy the games that get them the quickest Gamerscore boost. Those Cabela's games don't sell because they're any good, people get them because they want a quick boost to their Gamerscore.

PC Games for Sale

Realized over the weekend that I haven't played any of my PC games since buying an Xbox 360. Sure, I have a pretty kickass PC -- that I cripple regularly via work -- but I just don't enjoy gaming on a PC like I once did. Perhaps somebody out there in RG reader land may be interested in my collection of PC games?

They're up for sale on Ebay. Cheap.

See the listing here.

Screw the Louvre

After Kristin came home Friday night from her retreat, and after we ate pizza and made our way back up to the office for me to get to work on my guidebook and Kristin to catch up on her email, I started getting depressed. It was a slow gradual build up of emotion over the past few days and weeks -- and no doubt my intense, prolonged sleep deprivation had contributed to it -- but it had grown to a point where I couldn't work. I couldn't focus. I wanted to sleep, but even moreso I wanted something. The feelings were easy to ignore the three days Kristin was gone because those three days were really just one long work day for me, broken up by short naps and the occasional trip outside to visit the coffee shop or to walk the dogs. But now that Kristin was home, I had to talk.

I wanted to know "What's next?"

I'm a person who needs a goal. I always need to know what's on deck in my life, both professionally and personally. My publisher sometimes has to tell me to just focus on my current project instead of worrying about what's coming down the pipe, but I can't help it, it's the way I am. With work, it's out of curiosity and because I like to plan out my free time. But with life, well, if I'm not actively working towards a goal or training for something, or planning for a trip, I feel empty. And I've been feeling empty ever since TransRockies. For 9 months I trained and prepared for that race. For 9 months I blogged about it, talked about it, thought about it almost every day. Sometimes every hour. And then it was done.

I read a quote not long ago that said "Obsessive is what the lazy call the determined." I like that a lot and kept it in my mind whenever I thought I might be giving TransRockies too much attention. After all, I would tell myself, how does one over-prepare for a 7-day bike race? Well, now that it's come and gone and I've written the ride report and have seen the photos, I'm left wanting more. I need a new goal.

Another quote I read this past year which I've come to think of as a nice motto to have is, "Nobody every laid on their death bed wishing they had traveled less." No. No, they haven't.

So I started talking to Kristin Friday night about this. About wanting something big to look forward to. And not a race. And not just a trip. But something potentially life-changing. What I had in mind has been bouncing around in the back corner of my mind for years. I've mentioned it to Kristin a couple of times -- she always knew I was serious whenever I brought it up -- but it was always met with a daydreamy sigh and her telling me that it would be really nice one day.

That day isn't now.

But when Kristin asked me where I want to go and I told her everywhere she knew exactly what I was hinting at. And she knew I was completely serious. It was time for us to finally commit to making it happen. We have the house, we've decided to not have kids, and we're in good health. It's time. So, it brings me great joy to finally say that after several hours of discussion and a couple hugs, a handshake, a kiss, and a promise, we've agreed that what we will indeed finally take a year off and spend it traveling the world. Yes, she agreed to everywhere.

The plan is to spend the next 5 or so years saving to cover the cost of the trip, that we would sell our cars for extra money before leaving, and lease out our house fully furnished while we're gone so that we would have some extra income being set aside to help us get by while job hunting when we return. Five years will give us enough time to save the money needed to pull it off, and also give Kristin ample time to get through her Exec MBA program and give her current employer the two extra years of service they agreed to after she has the degree (that's the deal: they pay for the schooling, she promises to work there for another two years afterwards). As for me, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I have several ideas of what to do if/when I decide to no longer write strategy guides. Or should that decision ever be made for me. I also have several "projects" in mind for the trip -- I've made it no secret that ultimately I'd like to parlay my career as a guidebook writer of fictional places (i.e. videogames) to a travel writer and novelist. This would give me the material.

As far as planning the actual trip is concerned, we are going to make a point of planning only at the macro level. We're going to map out what countries we want to visit and at what time of year and plan an itinerary that suggests little more than be at country X during month Y. We will not book a single hotel or guide before leaving (and probably not many while we're gone), that is part of our deal. One of the things we already do know is that we'll likely begin on a train. A trainride across Canada, in the fall. And after a few days in Nova Scotia we'll make our way south along the coast to New Jersey to say goodbye to family and friends and fly from Newark to London. We want to gradually guide ourselves through a tour of cultures that get progressively more different from our own. I expect us to return home to Seattle some time many months later on a flight from Tokyo or Shanghai.

As for research, we've already hung up a map, bought boxes of pins to stick in the places we want to go and will rely heavily on this, this, and especially this. The latter of which was given to me by Kristin's parents many years ago and helped plant this seed. I've also been a subscriber to Men's Journal and National Geographic Adventure and have been mentally saving clippings of travel ideas for years. But now it's time to save the clippings for real. One of Kristin's ideas for this that I had to agree to is that while we're gone we will try to hook up with various international volunteer organizations and lend a hand for at least one week of every month while we're travelling. I like that idea. I also hope that in a similar vein we'll be able to meet locals either online or during our travels who will let us stay with them. It's much cheaper and more interesting to me to rent a spare room from someone who lives where you're going than to stay in a hotel with other foreigners. Granted this will be easier in Europe and Australia and New Zealand, but I hope to make it a big part of the trip.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Since our talk on Friday night, I've been a walking, talking daydream. Agreeing to do this not only answers the big question of "What's next?" but does so much more. For starters, it makes me really excited to save money. We've always had an ING savings account that we put money in monthly as a travel fund, but now we know it's time to up the monthly transfer. It also helps light a fire under me to finally paint the rest of the house. And to get better with my photography and to also start work on a few of the side-projects I've been keeping in mind to start making some money outside of videogames. Also, the only thing that I love better than travelling to new places is the actual planning of those trips. So much excitement so early. But even aside from that sort of stuff, it's going to make it that much easier to suck it up these next couple of years and focus just on work and helping Kristin get through school (which, by the way, I know doesn't include sarcastic blog posts -- to be honest, I write those to make her laugh. And I succeed).

It's going to be hard to wait 5 years, but we have loads of reasons to wait, some of which are more personal than others.

In the meantime, do indeed send suggestions to places off the tourist circuit if you think of any and also please note that this won't be something I'll be posting about frequently. It's a long time off and I don't want to bore you with details about planning it. I wanted to make this initial post for my own benefit -- after writing 470 pages of copy in the past 24 days I have to remind myself sometimes that the pain is worth it -- and because we're both very excited. I hope those of you who know us well, know what a big deal this is for us and are happy for us.

Now where did I put that atlas?

Colin McRae Dies in Helicopter Crash

Famed former World Rally Champion and namesake behind one of my favorite videogame racing series, Colin McRae, died over the weekend when a helicopter he, his 5-year old son, and two other people were in crashed in Scotland.

You can read the details in an article at the BBC here.

Codemasters, the developer of the Colin McRae Rally games and, more recently, the game DiRT which lacked McRae's moniker but had his input nonetheless released the following statement:

Everyone at Codemasters, especially those who worked directly with Colin McRae, is deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic events of this weekend.

The loss of Colin McRae is deeply distressing. That it involved his son and another so young makes it even more tragic. Our thoughts are with his family and those closest to him and we share in their pain.

For over ten years, Colin was part of the Codemasters family and it was a privilege to have a man recognised as a true legend on the team. He always took a keen interest in the game experience, wanting to make sure it was without equal in its portrayal of the sport.

His contribution was inspirational and brought his technical expertise and passion for rally driving to each and every McRae game. Through the popularity of those games, he brought a whole new audience to the sport itself.

Codemasters’ relationship with Colin began through Jim, David and Richard Darling and their condolences, along with ours, are passed to Colin’s family. We are heavy of heart at his passing but we are also brimming with pride at knowing him and to have played a small role in his life.

He will never be forgotten by all at Codemasters.

TransRockies Photos Posted!

Spectrum Imaging has over 25,000 photos posted for this year's TransRockies event.

Although I'm actually pretty disappointed with the overall quality of the shots as far as exposure and their choice of photo location are concerned, there are a couple shots there that I'll likely buy the digital file of.

You can see the shots of Brett and I right here.

I'm hoping they post a link to general scenery shots that I can link to later. As it stands now, I'd have to rank the photos as being only moderately better than the food. Unfortunately.

Travel As a Political Act

Seattle-area travel guru Rick Steves (PBS travel guides to Europe) was recently interviewed by Mark Rahner of the Seattle Times and had some poignant comments about travel, politics, and Americans overseas. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek and snarky, but ultimately a good read.

MR: You're suggesting actually learning about a culture before invading it? I mean traveling to it.

RS: Yeah, I'm saying if everybody traveled before they could vote, we would not be outvoted in the United Nations routinely 130 to 4. We would not go into wars alone. We would work better with the rest of the planet.

MR: What have you observed first-hand to be the effect of the Iraq war and our current foreign policies on the way people treat American travelers?

RS: People in most countries know from first-hand experience that you can elect a person that's an embarrassment, so they cut us some slack.

MR: We don't have to see Europe through the back door now because they hate us?

RS: No, they don't hate Americans. People love Americans. Some people go over there and want to put their judgments on other people to tell them how to do things right. Europeans don't need other people to tell them how to do things right and wrong. And they don't take very well to it. As long as you go to a country with a wide-open enthusiasm and an open mind and an interest in giving some of their ways of living a whirl, they love to have you visit. ...

You can read the article in full via this link.

This, as a pure coincidence, has to do with a long discussion Kristin and I had last night (which reminded us both about the conversations we had about moving to the west coast) about "What's next". I'm not going to make a big thing about it because it's some time off, but it's something I've secretly wanted to do for a very long time. I'll post more details next week.

Speaking of next week, I have notes for several articles about stuff I've been meaning to post for a while, but just haven't had the time. I'll be getting back to a normal posting routine on Monday. Sorry for the sparse posts of late, but it's September in the gaming industry... Heck, the only two times I've ridden my bike in the past three weeks was to the Starbucks down the road.

Mascot Fight

One of the best things I've ever seen regarding mascots was a game of mascot football that took place at halftime of a Seahawks game about 4 years ago. All of the major mascots from northwest pro and college teams played a game of five on five football and were positively blowing each other up. Blitz (Seahawks), 'Squatch (Supersonics), and Butch (Washington State) were seemingly taking turns blasting the Mariner Moose. It was awesome.

But this might be even better. The Oregon Duck took it upon himself to not only mess with the Houston University Cougar a couple weeks ago, but ended up beating the crap out of him. Only, the problem is that the him was actually a her. I wonder if the Duck knew that when he mock-teabagged her?

Kristin Goes to Camp

Kristin left this morning for a three day team-building retreat with the rest of her MBA classmates. She called me earlier today to tell me how every minute of the three days from 8am till 9pm is completely mapped out for her. Today's big highlight was the trust-building exercises they had to do. Things like putting on a blindfold and "falling over" towards a circle of people and trusting that they're not going to let you hit the ground. Or putting on yet another blindfold and trusting the person paired with you to guide you along a forested trail. I don't get this stuff. I mean, sure you have to put some trust in people at the moment you're blindfolded, but are you trusting that they're helping you out of sincerity or because they simply are paying a lot of money to attend University and don't want to get bad marks? I mean, really, in that situation is letting the person fall on their face even an option? And come to think of it, Kristin and I did these same exercises 14 years ago when we met in freshman orientation at college. Funny, but I can't recall a single time say, even three months later, when I thought to myself, "Wow, I can really trust Jim not to let me down on this group homework assignment. After all, he kept me from falling when we were in the trust-circle." I'm sorry, but the whole idea of silly little exercises like this meaning a damn thing even 30 days from now just reaks of whishful thinking at best and, at worst, unbridled ignorance.

But it's going to get more interesting though. Tomorrow has a ropes-class where they're going to have to help each other climb... stuff. Kristin is afraid for her safety. One of things I didn't mention about that welcome dinner we attended a couple weeks ago was that her class has the largest collection of obese people that I've encountered since leaving the east coast. Kristin and I often remarked since moving to the Seattle area that it's nice to see so few unhealthy looking people. I used to think they all just hung out at Costco, but now we know where they've been -- they've been working overtime to save up for business school. It's not pretty, but I can't shake this image of Kristin straining underneath next year's Biggest Loser (pre-audition), pushing against their massive ass cheeks with all of her might to help thrust them up and over a wall or something. In the vision that plays in my head, her left hand disappears... and her engagement and wedding ring are not to be seen again. I know that's disgusting but why should I have to suffer with this mental imagery alone?

Anyway, it's now almost ten o'clock and she should be calling soon. They had lecture after dinner tonight then some sort of wine and cheese mingling thing. I've joked with her this past week that once the camp counselors go to sleep all the cool kids would down some more wine and play spin-the-bottle. I told her it was okay with me, but only Honest Retail Abe from the welcoming dinner was allowed to get to second base. Her response was to once again remind me that she thinks I'm insane. I get that a lot from her.

But, this week isn't all about being led through the woods like sheep -- or worse a blind sheep -- she also had to read a book titled "Elements of Justice" in its entirety before today. Kristin reading an entire comic book in two weeks would be reason to pop some champagne under normal circumstances, but despite the C-SPAN-like excitement of the prose, she finished it cover to cover. I paged through it and I tried to discuss it with her last night briefly to help prep her, but I was afraid if we talked any longer about it we'd run the risk of forcing one of our dogs to discover a way to report a double-suicide. The book is a study in deciding who is deserving of things in this world and who isn't, only all of the examples presented were so absurdly polarizing that neither option ever seemed to make the least bit of sense. My suggestion for her was that if she was called on to discuss the book to say that if business leaders really, honestly think in such stark black & white manners and have such extreme opinions regarding people's rights, that it's no wonder why the average American has such little faith in corporate America. I mean, for chrissakes, one of the examples was harvesting the organs of a UPS delivery guy who just happened to drop some packages off at a hospital. I can't not recommend reading that book enough. And since this whole post has a negative vibe to it, I'm not going to backspace and edit out the double-negative in that last sentence.

On a more serious note, I had Steak-Ums for dinner tonight. And cookies.

With coffee.

Crunch Time to Give

Want to know what it's like in the videogame industry in the fall?

You're sitting at the dinner table, just about done with the last couple of bites of food, and you notice the clock on the microwave. It reads 7:39. And your first thought is "Oh, good, it's not even 8 o'clock yet. I can still get another 6 or 7 of hours of work in today."

Of course, I work from home and actually make a point of eating dinner each night with my wife. I'm sure for most people in the industry however, the above situation is still the same only it involves a couple of Hot Pockets, a can of Mountain Dew (or Red Bull) and they're eating at their desk.

Hence the lack of posts lately. This will be over soon enough, though. Although I'd be lying if I didn't say I already have two projects waiting on deck for me to start as soon as this one is done. It could be worse though, I could be struggling to get any projects so I'll take the occasional deluge to avoid the drought.

But, I don't want you to come away from here with nothing, so I'm pointing you to some very good reading at the Seattle Times. It's called the Giving Game and it's a series of articles that were featured in the paper all last week about professional athletes and the charities they create. The series spotlights 5 Seattle athletes (one now pitching for the Phillies, another recently traded to the Celtics) and talks about the pitfalls, the dangers, and the successes found when pro athletes try to "give back". It's an excellent piece of journalism and I think it could possibly be interesting to anyone, but especially those in the not-for-profit sector. Hi Jess.

Part 1: Seahawk Shaun Alexander Wrestles With Vision and Reality
Part 2: Seahawk Deion Branch Finds Motivation in His Son Who Can't Speak
Part 3: NBA Star Ray Allen Learns About the Pitfalls and Dangers
Part 4: Moyer Foundation a Shining Example of Hard Work and Commitment
Part 5: NBA Star Brandon Roy Considers Starting His Own Charity

There Might be Crying in Baseball, but There's no Pink in Football

I couldn't go to yesterday's season opener against the Bucaneers due to my current workload, but I did watch the game on tv*. I wanted to go, I had the tickets, I just couldn't afford to tack on another couple hours for driving to and from the game and going to all of our traditional pre-game haunts. Kristin was going to stay home in some weird parallel universe version of what's known as "sympathy weight" in households with children, but I convinced her to take a friend and go without me. "We ain't the Marines, babe, you can leave me behind."

She invited her friend Kari to come along. Kari has been to a few Seahawks games before. Her boyfriend has a share of a pair of tickets on the 10-yard line, first row. They've got to pet the hawk, that's how close to the field they are. So Kristin was pretty psyched that she actually had a girlfriend to bring to the game who knows the game, can identify the players (Kristin will call a holding penalty from the upper deck and get the number correct), and knew she would be expected to scream her head off. After all, it's not only the Seahawks NFC Division title on the line this season, but the fans sure don't want to lose their recognition as the loudest in the NFL, either. We take that very seriously, and have ever since the Giants committed 12 false starts in one game here in 2005. Man, that was a great day.

Anyway, getting back to the game, I think a part of Kristin was ultimately disappointed in her selection though. Despite her petiteness and seemingly ageless beauty, Kristin is not a priss. And especially not on Sundays. Yet, she had no choice to walk around and then sit next to her friend Kari wearing one of the made-for-chicks PINK Seahawks jerseys. It didn't even have a player's number or name on it either. It just had a "1" and said "Seahawks" where the name would go. We've seen these jerseys before. They're always worn by one of three types of people: the disinterested significant other who was was dragged kicking and screaming to the game; by the fashion-minded lady who simply wants to be seen at the game because the Seahawks are in; or by a woman who was given it by their patronizing boyfriend. Real fans wear the blue. Or the white. But they don't wear pink. It's just the way it is. Kristin gave her crap about it all day yesterday, she said and made her buy all the beer. Thatta girl!

As for the crying in baseball part, have you seen the Mariners lately? I mean, seriously, if you've seen them please let us know because they've been missing since mid August. How a team just one game behind the division leader can go on a 1-13 streak is beyond me.

*As for TV, have you seen the new features on DirecTV's "Sunday Ticket SuperFan" package? You can actually tell your receiver what players are on your fantasy football team and a Player Tracker will blip onto the screen and give you updates whenever one of those guys does something. Personally, I just get it for the Red Zone Channel -- no commercials and somebody else to constantly flip back and forth between all of the games whenever one team is about to score. It's awesome. We've stopped getting the MLB Extra Innings package because it was just too much baseball every day. But the NFL package is fantastic, especially the HD version.

Culdcept Saga Achievements

The carrot at the end of the stick leading me onward through my annual fall workload crush is the game Culdcept: Saga, the sequel to the only PS2 game I kept after selling nearly 100 titles earlier this year to help pay for my new mountain bike. Of course, I no longer own a PS2 console either -- I sold all of them as well -- but I couldn't part with such a hard-to-find gem of a game.

Anyway, I digress. The Achievements for the X360 sequel have been posted and my excitement needle is pegged at max. If you push it any harder, the whole thing will blow. Or something like that. Anyway, this is already a game I couldn't wait to play but adding Achievements and the ability to play others online (Brad, I'm looking at you) is going to make this a game that will reside in my X360 for many months to come.

And the fact that one of the Achievements requires colleting 1,000 cards only adds to my confidence that I won't be buying any games in 2008 for quite a while. I just hope I manage to have some downtime this winter so I can enjoy it.

Doorbell Ditch

So I'm sitting in my office, working dilligently trying to finish one book by Saturday so I can start and finish another by Wednesday (yes, I'm being literal) and I hear a bunch of boys laughing outside. Nothing out of the ordinary, there. My neighbors surround me with an army of boys ranging in age from 8 to about 14 or so. Five seconds later the doorbell rings. I didn't hear a Fed-Ex truck so I assume it's the little girls across the street wanting to play with my dogs. But a part of me also suspects that, perhaps, the boys are feeling a bit daring and are going to ring the doorbell and run and hide. In the moment it took to push away from my desk I figured that yes this was very much what was going on -- I always expect the worst, it's how I am. So I bound down the stairs in about three strides and open the door.

I see nobody. No surprise there. But I turn to my left in time to see the boys trying to enter their house right next door.

"Hi there boys."

"Umm...." They clearly didn't expect me get to the door so quickly. Talk about getting your hands caught in the cookie jar.

"I used to play doorbell ditch when I was your age too. Don't worry, I'm not mad. But you really ought to pick a house that you don't live next to. And maybe one where the people won't actually suspect that's what's going. It's only funny if you catch the person off-guard. I heard you boys laughing through my window before you rang the doorbell and knew that's what you were up to."

They were speechless. I did get an "uh-huh" and a very scared nod of the head. Clearly they were worried I would tell their dad. But I won't do that. I did a hell of a lot worse than play doorbell ditch when I was a kid (although we had a very un-PC name for it back then that I won't repeat) so I'll let them have their fun. So long as my house never gets egged or TP'd or anything happens to my car, I don't care what they do.

No, that's not true. They ring my doorbell again today and I'll have no choice but to duct-tape them to the lamppost.

Milk Money

My mom cracks us up.

Kristin got home from work yesterday and came upstairs to ask me if I knew anything about a package my mom had sent her. I did, vaguely. I knew my mom had put together a "Back to School" care package for Kristin as a sort of cutesy joke. To know my mom is to know that there are three things she's very good at: decorating, cooking, and buying truckloads of inexpensive crap. Everything else usually just makes her cry, which is sad, but it's my mom so we're kind of used to it. Fortunately, the idea of putting a care package together called on one of her three strengths and, I'm assuming, no tears were shed in the shipping of said package.

So Kristin tears into the package and immediately starts ooohing and ahhing and laughing. The contents of the box include, but are not limited to, a miniature Hello Kitty lunchbox (the gag: I told my mom Kristin hates Hello Kitty), a pair of cute little socks, chapstick, a couple of Power Bars, some pens, some highlighters, a notepad or two, and a twenty dollar bill with a post-it note on it that read "Milk Money". This really made her day, and I just know that the Hello Kitty lunchbox (it's really like a metal handbag, actually) will sit on her desk as a holder for pads and pens. She'll love it and hate it at the same time, which is what a good gag gift should do.

Of course, with my birthday coming in a few weeks, I had to let my mother know that she just raised the bar. No more slapping a check in a card, I want some effort! There's going to be some 'splaining to do If I don't get my own box full of crap next month!

Cycling Update

I took the bike out for a spin Friday evening to stretch out the legs. It was a pretty hard ride, too, but not for the reasons you may be expecting. I don't know about you but I find it pretty hard to pedal with a 20 ounce piping-hot Americano in my left hand. I mean, sure, it might have only been three-quarters of a mile to the Starbucks, but there's gotta be at least 30 or maybe even 35 feet of elevation gain on the way back!

It was enough to make me call it quits for the week. I don't want to risk overstressing my muscles...

Veggie Abuse

Ever wonder how they make the gruesome sound effects that accompany many of today's bloodiest videogames? The answer is produce. The developers for the upcoming action game Dark Sector have put a video of their audio recording session up on the web for all to see. It's pretty entertaining and I guarantee you won't be able to look your grocer's veggie aisle the same again.

I tried to embed the video but it isn't working too well, so here's a link to the video at Gametrailers.com.

Also, for those interested in reading about this recording session, you can do so at the developer's blog via this link. Or check out more about this game here.

The World Without Us

It was nearly midnight the night before we embarked on our 12-hour drive to Panorama Resort near Invermere, BC for the start of TransRockies and there was still one important thing I had left to do: I had to find an audiobook to download to my iPod for the drive. I saw iTunes had "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman, a book I recalled recently reading a review for in National Geographic Adventure and thinking that it sounded fascinating. And it was.

"The World Without Us" is based around a very simple premise: what would happen to the world as we know it if humans were to suddenly, for whatever reason, just disappear. How would Earth react if we were to instantly vanish and were no longer able to do all the things we humans do every day. Would our buildings and highways survive? Would our impact on other species and the landscape prove irreversible? Have we in fact done irrevocable damage to the global ecosystem? Or are even our greatest achievements in science and engineering simply no match for the grand scale of geologic time?

Weisman has done a masterful job of exploring nearly every aspect of our collective human existence and has relied heavily on expert geologists, biologists, engineers, chemists, and every other form of scientific expert you can imagine to nail down precisely how the Earth would go about undoing our creations. The book begins with a detailed blow-by-blow breakdown of how the landscape would quickly take back a farmhouse in the country and, surprisingly, almost as swiftly return Manhattan to the wild place it was when our ancestors purchased it from the natives -- the key lies in the near instantaneous flooding of the subway tunnels. From there, the book moves on to look back in time to how humans aided the mega-fauna extinction on North America and how, with us gone, domesticated pets and livestock would serve as a buffet for carnivores. It wouldn't take long for big cats and other carnivores to return their numbers to populations that existed before humans settled the world. Lengthy chapters about the use of plastics in our lives prove rather unsettling and soon give way to an in-depth look at the petrochemical industry. With the help of expert petrochemical engineers, Weisman provides a step-by-step analysis of how the safety systems in place at refineries would be overwhelmed without human assistance and how every refinery in the world would go up in flames before long.

The book relies heavily on research and expert testimony to get its point across, but it doesn't ever stray too far into being preachy and does not serve as a call for human extinction. Rather, Weisman seems content to try and provide the most factual answer possible to an utterly hypothetical question. Although there are some lengthy sections concerning natural history and botany that can run dry, and not everyone is going to appreciate discussions of raw material plastic nerdles riding the sea currents around the world, I think the book, as a whole, is still worth reading (or listening to). It's not for the masses and isn't a light read, but I imagine anyone with an interest in science or engineering will find at least a couple of chapters to prove rather fascinating. If you enjoy nonfiction and have an interest in the environment or sciences, then it's a no-brainer. If not, you should probably page through it at the bookstore and see if it hooks you before buying.

Link to the book at Barnes & Noble.

Link to the audiobook at iTunes.

From the publisher's description:

Discover the impact of the human footprint in The World Without Us. Take us off the Earth and what traces of us would linger? And which would disappear? Alan Weisman writes about which objects from today would vanish without us; how our pipes, wires, and cables would be pulverized into an unusual (but mere) line of red rock; why some museums and churches might be the last human creations standing; how rats and roaches would struggle without us; and how plastic, cast-iron, and radio waves may be our most lasting gifts to the planet. But The World Without Us is also about how parts of our world currently fare without a human presence (Chernobyl; a Polish old-growth forest, the Korean DMZ) and it looks at the human legacy on Earth, both fleeting and indelible. It’s narrative nonfiction at its finest, taking an irresistible concept with gravity and a highly-readable touch. Some examples of what would happen:

One year: Several more billions birds will live when airplane warning lights cease blinking.

Twenty years: The water-soaked steel columns that support the street above New York’s East Side would corrode and buckle. As Lexington Avenue caves in, it becomes a river.

100,000 years: CO2 will be back to pre-human levels (or it might take longer).

Forever: Our radio waves, fragmented as they may be, will still be going out.

Fantasy Football Draft 2007

After a year off from Fantasy Football in which Kristin and I had little reason to watch non-Seahawks games, we are back in for another go around. For some reason my friends all decided to not do it last year and, like us, really, really missed it. I think what we really missed was the weekly excuse to tell one another to "suck it" via the league message boards, but that's really besides the point. So the draft was today. It's a 12-team head-to-head league with pretty standard scoring and team composition. You're allowed to start the following: QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, RB/WR, TE, K, DEF and then there's room for another 6 players on your bench.

I picked 11th out of the twelve teams. Here's my draft results:

1. Reggie Bush, RB, Saints
2. Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens
3. Torry Holt, WR, Rams
4. Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks
5. Hines Ward, WR, Steelers
6. Todd Heap, TE, Ravens
7. LaDell Betts, RB, Redskins
8. Pittsburgh, DEF, Steelers
9. Donte Stallworth, WR, Patriots
10. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos
11. D.J. Hackett, WR, Seahawks
12. Devin Hester, WR, Bears
13. Olindo Mare, K, Saints
14. Justin Fargas, RB, Raiders
15. Seneca Wallace, QB, Seahawks

The last two picks were throw-away picks as the draft had gone on for three hours and I was simply just picking names off the top of my head (or bottom of the cheat-sheet in Fargas' case) to keep things moving along. I'm really excited about my running back selections and although I am relying a bit Holt and Hasselbeck to have bounce-back seasons, I think they've still got some good seasons in them. Oh, and speaking of the Rams receive corps, I just dropped Fargas and picked up Drew Bennet, assuming he clears waivers on the 5th.

The only thing that really irked me was that I took LaDell Betts with my 7th pick. I was going to take the Chargers Defense in the 7th round, but figured that since we were on the come-back with the serpentine draft and my next pick was only two picks away, that I would get the Chargers then. No. I actually track how many players from each position other people draft and had I have looked at my own grid sheet, I would have seen that the guy picking after me (for two picks) already had 3 RB's but no Defense. Obviously the odds of him taking the Chargers Defense were much greater than him taking Betts, but I ignored my own tracking sheet and chose Betts.

I still got a pretty good Defense in Pittsburgh, but it's bad enough I have to root for Hines Ward and now having to actually hope Pittsburgh keeps opponents under 10 points a game is going to really irk me. Yes, I'm still bitter about the Super Bowl. Not to mention just have a real distaste for Steelers fans.