Your Source for Quality LSD

Long Slow Distance, that is.

I've been thinking about starting a weekly endurance-training series for mountain bikers looking to get into long-distance and/or 24-hour racing and finally went ahead and sent a feeler out to the BBTC Listserve. I wasn't expecting much of a reply. Maybe a few people telling me nobody would be interested, a few others asking if there would be any dirt jumps on the rides, and maybe, just maybe, a couple people would say they were interested.

I got nearly a dozen replies from folks who are interested and I can't believe it. Of course, it's easy to say in November that you want to start doing long-distance rides in January. It's a lot harder to drag your ass out the door on a cold January morning when the sleet is coming down and you know that you're going to be riding a lot of fireroad. We'll see how things turn out, but right now I'm cautiously optimistic that I won't be riding alone.

Anyway, for those not on the BBTC Listserve, but who live in western Washington and want some info, here it is. I'm going to be leading a series of training rides to help increase speed and endurance throughout the year next year. The goal is to start off a bit on the short side and not too fast so as to not scare anyone off, but ultimately ramp up the distance and pace so that people will feel confident in tackling 100-mile rides and/or perhaps an overnight epic on the flanks of a volcano. Hint, hint. Since endurance riding isn't just about saddle time, I'm hoping to help people work out their nutrition and equipment strategies.

Many of the rides, at least in the winter, will start and finish in the Snoqualmie area although I'm going to try to mix in a few that start elsewhere so the same folks don't always get stuck driving furthest. I anticipate most of the early rides will be in the realm of 25 to 40 miles and will rely on the SVT and Tolt Pipeline Trails to connect different sections of singletrack. There is also a forest road route that can be utilized to pedal from Fall City to Index that I want to investigate. And, of course, I want to pedal onto the ferries at Anacortes and ride to Moran State Park on Orcas Island for a lengthy car-free day trip.

Those are to just get us through the winter and early spring. I have other ideas too (like the Tiger Mountain Peak Bagger ride I did last winter with Craig Beaver) but they won't vary too much until the snow melts and the high country opens up once again.

So, if you're in the western Washington area and eyeing some of the longer distance races or, perhaps, want to get some quality saddle-time in for an upcoming multi-day bicycle tour, then shoot me an email and I'll keep you updated. I expect to start the series off in early to mid January and it will be every Saturday. You'll find the rides posted on the BBTC calendar at See you out there.

PS: Dress warm.

But You'd Probably Still Have to Keep Your Normal Job

Major score this weekend: the complete first season of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords" on DVD. We don't get HBO and have only ever seen a couple of the songs on YouTube, so seeing the disc in B&N was a very pleasant surprise. The show is a musical sketch comedy featuring two guys from New Zealand who moved to NYC to make it big. Yeah, I know, you've seen that premise a thousand times. But I promise it's never been as funny as this. Here's a couple of the songs. There's plenty more online, but I definitely recommend grabbing the DVD if you see it.

Dave's Party:

If You're Into It:

Friends of Friends

Word arrived today that one of the new features in the upcoming Xbox 360 Dashboard update will be that of a social-networking ability wherein people will be allowed to browse other gamers' Friends lists. For those unfamilliar with how Xbox Live works, everyone has a Friends list much like a buddy list on AIM and when I'm online I can quickly see which of my Friends are on, what games they're playing, and even chat with them and compare Achievements.

At first glance, I thought this feature might be kind of nice, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is a stalker-feature in the making. Half of the people on my Friends list are people I know in real life, either through work or by real-world friendship. The other half are people who I've played with a couple times and/or people who simply sent me a Friend Request to which I said yes. While I have nothing against the people in this latter group, what do I stand to gain by allowing them access to the Gamertags of folks I work with? I wouldn't just give out a friend or co-workers phone number to a casual acquaintance, why would I give out their Gamertag. In 2007 they're one and the same.

Microsoft is going to allow people to select from different levels of privacy for this feature and, depending on the gamer's age, Microsoft will even step in and set certain levels automatically -- no Friends list browsing of children, for example. Beyond that, I am guessing that it won't take long before everyone who works in the gaming industry turns off this feature. I know I will. I have no problem fielding the occasional industry-related question while I'm gaming -- if I did, I wouldn't link to my Gamertag on this blog -- but I am certainly not going to subject my editors and other industry contacts on my Friends list to the risk of being incessantly cold-called about a job or harrassed in other ways.

Hopefully Microsoft doesn't advance this networking concept any further than what they already have planned, as this could quickly devolve into a Kevin Bacon scenario. Although I think the Halo crowd would write that as K3V1N B8CPWN. I don't l337-speak so I could be wrong on that pronunciation. And if I am, I'm glad.

Nevertheless, we know the December update will make it possible to download and play original Xbox games and we know it will make it possible to stalk your Friends' Friends. These are definitely features I wouldn't have expected. Now let's just hope some of the yet-to-be-announced features prove a bit more useful on an everyday basis.

Take Your Spouse to School Day

Kristin's Executive-MBA program seems to pride itself on caring about the whole student. The program obviously centers around fostering academic and business growth, but also claims to care deeply for the personal and spiritual concerns of the student as well. To demonstrate this, they let everyone know back in August that students are required to bring in a spouse, friend or significant other for a half-day in November. In preparation of the half-day seminar we were given some questionairres about work/life balance and a couple articles to read (written by the professor) about the "happy workaholic".

I take the whole "work to live" philosophy pretty seriously and had great interest in the topic for the day which was going to be a discussion about achieving a balance between work and family, or for some people, whether it was okay to embrace their workaholic lifestyle at the expense of their family and social lives.

The day started with a lengthy hour-long pre-Thanksgiving turkey lunch with some of the trimmings. We sat at a table with a fellow student and her brother and a gay couple who are renovating an old Tudor style home in the city. They all seemed very nice. It was your typical polite never-met-you-before conversation. After lunch we headed into the same room where the pipe had burst back on the Welcome Reception -- no hydro-dramatics tonight -- where the professor immediately brought all of the guests up to the front of the room for one of their famed team-building exercises.

We stood in two rows facing one another with our index fingers pointed out in alternating pattern "like a zipper". The prof then put an extended tent pole on our fingers and told us to work together to lower it to the floor while making sure the index finger on each of our hands stayed in contact with the pole at all times. Of course this caused the people at the opposite end to push upwards on the pole, thus lifting it higher into the air instead of lowering it to the ground. The guy to my let it be known over the course of the afternoon that he was resentful of his Mr. Mom status and that he hated being there and soon got frustrated enough with the pole-lowering exercise that he just walked away and sat down. As ridiculous as the exercise was and, dare I say, brain-dead half the people standing at the front of the room, his walking away and sitting down was one of the most pathetic things I had ever seen. His wife must have been humilliated. Anyway, me and the lady across from me were having a great time laughing at the situation but eventually, after allowing the others to drop the pole, lift it into the air, and hold it place for a while, finally got a bit louder in our commands and took over the situation. We finally had the damn thing on the ground and could go and sit down.

We spent the next couple hours talking about the challenges the students and the guests face with regards to their ability to balance work and life, including an example from one of the articles that talked of a guy who voluntarily scheduled a business trip the weekend both his sons were playing in football championship games in high school. From there, the discussion meandered towards the idea of the man's decision "not hurting anybody", an idea I found rather preposterous. I know few people who don't resent their father's lack of involvement in their lives as a child. One woman brought up a similar example centered around her father. I had no idea her dad was sitting next to her when I spoke up to politely argue her point. This lead us down a path to the main point I was hoping to raise -- the dad eventually spoke up saying that he didn't feel it was possible to truly be successful while maintaining the type of balance I was talking about. His definition of "success" was quickly called into question. I also suggested he read the article we were given, especially the part where it talks about the company SAS.

Doug 1, Other Guy 0.

The rest of the afternoon was spent discussing various studies regarding worker productivity, happiness, and facts and figures concerning women executives. We also spent a bit of time talking about exercise and its positive impacts on worker productivity and health. All the while, the guy to my right continued to make comments and create an uncomfortable situation for everyone at our table as it was clear he didn't want to be there and was visibly annoyed with his wife for making him come. I wasn't happy about having to be there because I was under deadline and had a lot of work to do, but I was enjoying the discussion.

Eventually we came to the final exercise. This had Kristin and I draw a timeline over the next 25 years showing the proportion of hours we expect to spend daily on work, kids, housework, elder care, personal time, together time, and sleep. This was enlightening. Kristin and I banged it out in a couple minutes, both of us thinking as one and in full agreement right down the line. It was easy for us because we spend a lot of time sitting and talking with one another. We talk about stuff like this all the time. Looking around the room, however, was depressing. It was clear from the looks on peoples' faces (not everyone, of course) that there were a lot of couples much older than us who seemed to have never really thought about this work/life balance thing at all. They never thought about the future. Or how they were going to spend their time. Not now, not in five years, and not in 20 years. Some couples left to fill out the form someplace private. The couple to my right returned as an incomplete set, the woman commenting that the exercise brought attention to something they didn't know about. She seemed slightly distraught and clearly jealous of the timeline Kristin and I drew up.

Finally, we went around the room one at a time talking for a couple minutes about what we were taking away from the day's seminar. I can't remember exactly what I said word-for-word, but I essentially said that I was both pleased and feeling slightly vindicated (I didn't use that word though). I spoke of my unique work situation and said that I take great care to place equal emphasis on spending time with Kristin and on myself as I do with my work and that the conversations had shown that the time Kristin and I spend together seems to result in a teamwork and mutual understanding that a lot of couples with workaholics don't seem to have. I also said that the day's conversations give me some sense of hope. I talked about my desire to never again have to work a typical corporate job, but knowing that business schools like Seattle University are placing emphasis on teaching this work/life balance in their leadership program, does make me rest a little easier. I was pleased to see so many of the students -- albeit, primarily the younger ones -- taking this issue so seriously.

The best moment of the day though came when Kristin told the story about threatening to quit her job as QA Manager if she was going to be prohibited from spending her lunch-hour at the gym (she was allowed to continue her lunch-hour workouts). Those at our table were very impressed with her bravery and dedication to her ideals, but none moreso than I. I think she really inspired the people we were sitting with that day, even if only in a small way. And I can't help but beam with pride whenever she tells that story. I know some of my bad habits rub off on her, but it's good to see I have some positive influences every now and then too...

Ride Report: Lake Sawyer

It had been a couple weeks since I was last on my bike and over a year since I had ridden at Lake Sawyer in Black Diamond, so I woke up early Saturday morning and met a group of 20 or so riders at the bike shop on Highway 169 in Black Diamond. The ride leader was a no-show and various splinter groups were starting to head off onto the lengthy network of trails. An email from the ride leader today states that he did eventually show up but after 20 minutes of waiting outside in the cold, I thought it best to tag along with one of the trail builders who was leading a tour of some brand-new singletrack en route to an area in Ravendale known as "Henry's Ridge".

By the way, just as an aside, the leader's tardiness didn't really bother me since there were plenty of other people who knew the trail system, but ride leaders should always be at the ride at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the ride. A ride leader who shows up 15 minutes after the scheduled start time is not "just 15 minutes late" as his email indicated, but rather at least a half hour late. Especially since you have to factor in the time it takes him to unrack his bike, get geared up, and ready to go. I was actually pleased to see the crowd break into smaller groups so this one incident doesn't bother me in the least, but as a ride leader I consider showing up "on time" to mean being at the trailhead before anyone else.

Nevertheless, we had a good group of 9 riders and the trails were in great shape. I was on the single-speed again, but other than one really steep hill on the "dark side" (across 169) was able to pedal everything, which I was happy to do since a couple guys who I didn't know seemed to think I was going to hold everyone up on the single-speed. Some of the shorter trails we rode were literally just cut in within the past couple weeks and were nothing but freshly-cut salal and ribbons of fallen leaves, but we did eventually make our way across the railroad tracks and up a gravel path behind a development to the Henry's Ridge area. My oh my! The first trail we hit went on for a mile and was filled with plenty of hairpin switchbacks and rollercoastery ups and downs. I jumped at the chance to take the lead and really enjoyed the excellent trailwork of a man named Ralph. I didn't meet Ralph and don't know a thing about him. But Ralph, if you see this, you're a damn fine trailbuilder and I loved your trails! Thanks!

We also got to talking about the housing market slowdown and the rather positive side-effect it will have on the mountain biking scene. The trails at Lake Sawyer are on land that is scheduled to eventually be cleared for further development but with neighborhoods like mine clearing the way for thousands more houses than demand currently justifies, areas further away from the Seattle/Bellevue area should take even longer to be developed. It will suck to see these trails disappear one day, but if a slower housing economy pushes the destruction of the trails from 6 to 8 years back to 10 to 12, then that's a good thing in my opinion.

After about 8 or 9 miles of some really fun singletrack near Ravendale, we crossed back over 169 to the main Lake Sawyer side and rode a trail called "Mistress" back to the coal cart parking area. This trail was so named by Todd's wife on account of all the time he spent building it. I need to head back there with my folding saw to remove a small 6" tall tree stump that caused me some significant pain. The stump brought me to a grinding halt while pedaling up a hill and I inadvertently bashed my kneecap on my bike's stem really hard. The sensation was like hitting your funny bone on a sharp metal corner. I eventually was able to walk it off and ride the rest of the way back to the cars, but I was slow getting up, that's for sure.

The only bad part about the ride on Saturday was that I had forgotten to charge the batter on my Garmin and don't have a GPS track of the route we took. I *might* be able to find my way back there one day, but I definitely want to get back and GPS that route we took on another ride. The Lake Sawyer trails are only about 25 minutes from my house and between the lengthy network of trails on the Lake Sawyer side and now these newer trails out by Henry's Ridge and the other dark side trails, it seems possible to create a 20 to 30 mile route of pure unadulterated singletrack. And that has me very excited.

The Holiday Report

I learned something this Thanksgiving, the reason why my mother "was up cooking till three in the morning" all those years when I was younger wasn't because cooking a proper Thanksgiving feast is a 15-hour affair, but rather because she likely procrastinated. Kristin and I were up Wednesday night cooking nearly till sunrise, but there was a very good reason for it: we were watching television and playing on the Xbox until nearly midnight. I had already baked a couple pumpkin pies and made a pumpkin soup earlier in the day and felt these laurels indeed warranted some resting upon, but we had friends coming over at 2pm and had a lot of cooking left to do. So, with the little hand atop the big hand, we headed into the kitchen, made a pot of coffee and commenced Operation Turkey.

Sometime during the kitchen mayhem that took place that night we decided that it would be "fun" to head to Best-Buy at 4am Friday morning, to wait outside with the huddled masses and go shopping. We weren't interested in any of the advertised "doorbuster" sale items, but were rather feeling a bit voyeuristic. That, and they were having a big sale on HD-DVD players. But moreso, we just wanted to people-watch. We make fun of those who do this every year, but felt that it might be fun to go and observe in person. And to maybe have some fun with it by spreading absurd rumors about sales at other stores. I even considered scanning and altering the prices on the Circuit City flyer to just screw with people. A little shopping stampede never hurt anyone... Hey, it's Christmas shopping, what could possibly go wrong?

My friend Brad and his wife arrived at 2pm on Thurday. The turkey was nearing its half-way point and all was under control. We had a great time with them and it was really nice to have others over to share in the feast -- especially since I continued my tradition of not being interested in the meal after I spent so much time cooking it. We played some Scene-It on the Xbox 360 (which I'll be writing about later) and mostly just sat and talked. Brad and Gina both work as interpreters for the deaf and had some rather incredible stories to tell. Brad's signed for everyone from the crazed psychotics in the asylum (do they call them asylums anymore?) to Bill Gates. He's even been along with the police in standoffs and involved in some pretty tense interrogations. The best of his tales though were from when he and his wife were working for an agency that offered video relay interpreting -- essentially video conferencing for the deaf. The caller would call into the agency and be on video relay with the interpreter while the interpreter dialed the third-party. Many of the calls were for mundane everyday stuff like ordering pizzas or calling for a taxi, but the rest? Well, the rest of the calls were for sex. To the comic enjoyment of their coworkers, my friends had to interpret calls being made to prostitutes and to 1-900 sex lines. To envision them translating and speaking out loud all the nasty, dirty things people would say to one another on a sex-chat line is hysterical. Factor in the crowd of other interpreters standing in the background laughing makes it even better. What makes it even funnier is they had to interpret in the first-person. This meant speaking as if he was the woman on the other end of the phone for the male caller and vice-versa when a woman called a male. I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks, but I was nearly tearing up laughing so hard.

Brad and Gina left around 10pm that night and Kristin and I were exhausted. We took a nap on the couch and when we woke up, decided that getting up at 4am was really a stupid idea. After all, it was already midnight and it was about 30 degrees outside. I woke up at 8:30, walked into my office, and ordered the HD-DVD player I wanted from Best-Buy's website. Same sale price. Free shipping. No lines. It will be here next week.

We did head out pretty early though to go to the National Geographic Warehouse Sale at the convention center in Seattle. That was really fun. They had aisles and aisles of books and travel guides and even some clothes and gift items all marked down to ridiculous prices. Judging by the t-shirts the staff had, this warehous sale tours the country like a rock band. Definitely hit it up if it comes to your neck of the woods, as the deals were pretty awesome.

We also went to see "Beowulf" in Digital 3D on Friday at Pacific Place. Yes, we had to wear the glasses. I almost considered leaving after the first ten minutes, but this was one of my favorite mandatory readings from high school so I hung in there and it did eventually get better. It's not a good movie by any stretch, but it's not heinous either. It's just a CGI fluff film filled with lots of violence and gratuitous shots of a digital version of Angelina Jolie's tits. In 3D.

On second thought, maybe this movie wasn't so bad after all...

Happy Thanksgiving

Just a quick post to wish all of my American friends, family, and unknown readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have an ejoyable, relaxing day today and resist the temptation to go shopping at 2 in the morning. And in the spirit of the holiday, I'd just like to say thank you to each one of you for reading this blog, sending email, and leaving comments. I really enjoy the banter and am really pleased that my ramblings provides a means for me to keep in contact with distant family members and friends.

Have a great day!

Quality Assurance, 2K6 Style

"It Looks Like it Could Be a Blowout"

That's what the commentators said at the end of the first quarter in the game of NBA 2K6 that I'm currently playing (Achievement hunting for work).

The score is 93-0.

Kobe Bryant already has 40 points, 6 assists, and 12 steals.

After just one quarter. I'm pretty sure it is a blowout at this point. And if not, what does it take to have the game's commentators to believe so. Do I need to be win by 400 points?

That's my goal by the way. No more half-court shots. I'm taking it to the rack!

Whatever that is.

But that's not what's so surprising. The game can't count. It's broken. Utterly. I received in-game "Crib" bonuses for scoring over 140 points in a game when it was 15-0. I received Crib points for a double-double after my first rebound. I was also awarded points for shooting 15 3-pointers when it was only 8-0. I've been awarded so many Crib bonuses for things I haven't done (yet) that I'm left to believe the game multiplies everything you do by a factor of ten.

Someone please do the math cause god knows the crew at Visual Concepts sure as hell didn't.

Gamers can be picky, no doubt. And they can criticize games for a number of ticky-tack reasons.

But I think we should at least expect our sports games to be able to at least keep score properly.

Way to go QA department!

Guest Guesser Update

I wrote back in early October about an 83-year old woman named Mary Sorenson who had been playing the weekly "Guest Guesser" football picks game in the Seattle Time for 56 years and had finally, for the first time, won. Perhaps you remember.

Her win earlier this fall entered her into a Championship Round this past weekend and would you believe she won again? Despite picking Washington State to beat Oregon State, she still beat out the other contest winners for the grand prize.

And now she's going to the Super Bowl. 83-years young and out-guessing the Seattle masses when it comes to NFL and College Football.

That's awesome.

And with that note, I have to get to work. Those who are curious about Kristin's "Take Your Spouse to School Day" will have to wait till tomorrow to hear all about it. But here's a teaser: It wasn't as bad as I expected.

Breaking News: Caroline Has Been ID'd

Neil Diamond has revealed the inspiration for his hit song "Sweet Caroline" to be none other than President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, who was ten at the time. Take that Republicans!

Anyway, I'm really glad that's over. I don't know about you, but the suspense was killing me. Thank you Yahoo for getting to the bottom of this mystery.

But I can't help but think that if a grown man wrote a song about a ten-year old girl today (the President's daughter, no less), he'd have cameras shoved in his face and forced to tell Chris Hansen whether or not he owns any duct tape. Fortunately for Diamond, that wasn't the case. According to the article on Yahoo, he simply had seen a photo of her in a magazine and was inspired. So inspired that he decided to write a song about her... several years later.

When something takes years to manifest into anything, is "inspired" really the right word? But he wrote the song in under an hour. Several years... and an hour. I'm confused.

One thing I would like to clarify though is that the song is not still popular because of the Boston Red Sox. The song has always been a popular sing-along song in frat-houses and karaoke bars and, if anything in popular culture should be credited for making it moreso it's the movie Beautiful Girls. And I'm not just saying that because it's one of my favorite movies. Enjoy.

Guilty of Possession

Of a mountain bike. A Marin county (California) mountain biker was found guilty of riding his mountain bike on Wilderness trails (note the initial-cap) and was not only fined for the offense, but also had his bike confiscated and had to walk 25 miles home. In cycling cleats. This despite there being no signs anywhere near the trailhead stating that the trails were closed to mountain bikes.

Read about his day in Federal Court here.

Federal lands designated as "Wilderness" do not allow any mechanical means of conveyance as the law, which was written long before mountain bikes were invented, is currently interpreted. It's my understanding that the original purpose of the law was to keep motorized vehicles off the trails, but the strong hiking lobby has helped officials interpret the law to not only ban dirt bikes and ATVs, but mountain bikes as well. Last I heard, even kayaks aren't allowed in Wilderness areas. I believe they're afraid water molecules may be damaged.

I'm all for conservation. Definitely. Those who know me know how sickened I get at sprawling development and environmental negligence. But I'm also for common sense and believe in reasonable sharing of public lands among all user groups. I have no problem keeping me and my bike off trails that are heavily hiked or ridden by equestrians. After all, riding on a busy trail isn't any fun anyway. And it's dangerous. But every year more and more trails all across the country are shut-out to mountain bikers and other recreationists because of near-sighted bureacracies and outdated regulations.

This is the world mountain bikers live in. No matter how many studies show negligible impact from mountain bikes and no matter how courteous and responsible riders become, there will always be large numbers of ignorant, selfish, trail users who will fight to keep us from enjoying the very same things they do -- wild places. Nevermind the fact that the best weapon conservationists have against development is an increase in the number of recreational users, there are those who would rather have fewer people visiting public lands than risk having to share the trail with someone who chooses to travel by bicycle.

This is why organizations like and local must be supported at all costs.

Why You Must Rent Avatar: The Last Airbender

I don't know what an Airbender is, nor really care one way or the other. But I do know that this game gives out Achievements faster than any other.

Does 1,000 Gamerscore in 2 minutes sound fast enough for you? If so, check this out.

The NFL Outhinks Itself

Last night's Patriots vs Bills game wasn't supposed to be the Sunday night game on NBC. It was supposed to be played in the afternoon. The Seahawks vs Bears was supposed to be the night game. Welcome to the world of "flexible scheduling". Nevermind the fact that the Patriots have blown out all but one of their opponents by a wide margin and nevermind the fact that the Patriots are playing next Sunday night against the Eagles (another likely blowout), but the NFL decision-makers thought it better to put them on prime-time than it was to air a game between the last two NFC Champions. No east-coast media bias, my ass.

Lucky for us, they got what they deserved.

The Seahawks vs Bears game was one of the more exciting games I've seen this year. The final score was 30 to 23 (Go Seahawks!), it was a game that featured lots of offense, some pretty good defense, and one hell of a tackle on Devin Hester by our kicker, Josh Brown, who actually ran him down from behind and almost knocked the ball loose. And even though the Bears were "bringing Rexy back" their quarterback, Sexy Rexy Grossman, played a pretty un-Grossmanlike game and definitely gave his team a chance to win. Fortunately the Bears had no answer for D.J. Hackett who was this close to having 200+ yards receiving, if only he hadn't dropped one or two of the dozen balls thrown his way.

But yeah, why would you want all of that on national television when you can promote another 56 to 10 beat-down by the New England Patriots? Why would you want to show a good game with 3 lead changes when you can show the equivalent of Ohio State versus Evergreen College? Why would you want to feature the last two NFC Champions in a game with playoff implications a division and wildcard when you can show an undefeated team beat the snot out of one that hasn't sniffed a Super Bowl appearance since losing 4 of them in the early 90's?

Why not spotlight a convicted cheater? Oh, that's right. They did.

But that's okay, I'm not bitter. After all, I did get to be home from the game in time for dinner. And the last time the NFL and ESPN and all the rest of the networks ignored the Seahawks, they went to the Super Bowl. Green Bay and Dallas look really good in the NFC, but it's only now that the Seahawks are healthy again (and without that albatross, Shaun Alexander) and should definitely not be overlooked. The media may be overlooking the Seahawks right now, but I bet the other teams won't be come January.

American Cosplay - Morbid Optimism

I don't cosplay. I don't LARP. I don't play rock-paper-scissors, and I don't own any 20-sided dice or collectible card games. I haven't ever even been wowed-over by WOW.

If you too refrain from partaking in these seedier sides of the gaming world and want a little comic relief, then check this out. It's funny. It's disgusting. It's all these things and much, much more.

Just please don't blame me for any involuntary eye-gouging you inflict upon yourself.

Two Xbox Notes

First, attentive readers may notice that the long-time surfer avatar picture is gone from my Gamertag profile. It was time. I only surf once every 18 months or so these days, I sold my board, and frankly I was tired of looking at it. I've wanted to replace it for a while now, but it wasn't until the College Hoops 2K8 Gamer Pics became available that I had a desirable replacement. I don't follow college basketball a whole lot, but I couldn't resist purchasing the Gamer Pic for my tiny 2,000-student alma-mater. I think it's fantastic that all 32 Division I conferences are included in the game and that they made Gamer Pics available for every school in each one of them. The Lafayette Leopards may not make the March Madness tourney as often as they did in the late 90's, but here's to hoping they do.

Secondly, in celebration of Xbox Live's 5-year anniversary they're allowing players to download the game Carcassonne for free. The game is fantastically entertaining and addictive and is definitely one of my favorit Live Arcade games. If you haven't already played it, head online and download a copy now for yourself. Hit me up with a Friend Request and I'll play it with you sometime next week when I have time. Oh, and if you're still on the fence, it's a very easy source of 200 Gamerscore too!

Back Home

Sitting through four 2.5 hour flights in a 40-hour span isn't fun, but fortunately I did have the Exit Row on two of the flights and although I resisted the temptation on the first three, I happily slid my credit-card through the machine and accessed the DirecTV-equipped monitor on the fourth leg of my journey. Being that I was out of reading material and my laptop battery was running low, I figured it was a good use of $5.

My primary meeting went very well on Wednesday and lunch was fantastic -- I had never been to a Mexican restaurant that made fresh guacamole table-side before. Sure, it's unnecessary, but damn if it wasn't good. Indianapolis has always struck me as a place with nothing to do -- no mountains, no oceans, just stripmalls and a very good NFL team -- but I will say that they do have some pretty cool restaurants. Even if they are all franchises.

I spent a good portion of the day yesterday standing around and chatting with my editors and watching really funny videos on the Internet. Also got to play a new build of the game I'm working on for 2008. Most importantly of all, however, I'm excited about next year and the potential games I might cover. It was a lot of time in the air and I didn't sleep a wink in the hotel Tuesday night, but you can't replace the occasional face-to-face meeting. Even if it is only once every 12-18 months.

Anyway, I'm back, well-rested, the coffee is brewing, and I've got a mountain of work to get done by Tuesday. Making matters slightly worse is that I have to go to school with Kristin tomorrow. For five hours. Ironically, the topic is balancing work and leisure, something my presence at the University all day is going to make harder for me over the short-term. Bastards. Kristin already knows a good number of students who can't bring their significant-others because of work. Something tells me it's those people who need to be there most since the whole idea of us coming is to support the student in our lives. But then again, I've always been amazed by the extent to which some people will put their work above their spouse's interests. Oh well, at least there's a free lunch involved and I'm sure I'll get some good material for the blog.

Let's hope another pipe breaks...


You'd think someone died.

I wasn't in Indianapolis for more than an hour before I heard the news that Colts defensive stud, Dwight Freeney may miss the remainder of the season. As if everyone here wasn't mourning the team's back-to-back losses as it is, this has people on the verge of tears. I thought the bartender was going to cry in my bourbon.

Good thing this place doesn't have any tall buildings...

Anyway, I got home from the comedy club, er Seahawks game, last night (Seahawks have now shutout 3 of their last 4 opponents on Monday Night Football) after ten o' clock and was settling in to post some pictures from the game (I finally remembered to take my SLR to a night-game) when Kristin reminded me that I had yet to pack.

"Yeah, I know. That will take 5 minutes."

She then reminded me that I had to be at the airport by 4:30.

In the morning.

So it's with baggy eyes that I sit here typing in a Radisson hotel somewhere in the north side of Indianapolis. I tried to order room service earlier but nobody picked up the phone so I called the Guest Services number to see if they could help me. I was told room service ended at 10pm. The clock on the nightstand read 10:02. So I asked if the free coffee in the lobby was fresh -- it was only natural that the first detail of the hotel I noticed was the small sign announcing they proudly brew Starbucks coffee -- but was told that they had actually just taken the coffee down for the night.

Apparently guests seeking services after 10pm are S.O.L. In retrospect, I'm actually surprised the woman at the front desk didn't admonish me for being up so late on a work night.

Defeated, I went into the bathroom to make a mini-pot of the vile-tasting coffee in the cellophane package. How anybody can use powdered creamer outside of an emergency situation like this is beyond my ability to comprehend. I feel like a druggie slumming for a fix.

Okay, maybe coffee is addictive. I'll agree to whatever you say, just get me some beans!

Oh, and from the Department of Things My In-Laws Don't Want to Read, Kristin and I tried to calculate how many times we had sex over the past 14 years. That was a rather interesting conversation, the details of which I will keep to myself. I'm not the type to kiss and tell. Or am I?

That was really uncalled for. I apologize for that. Then again, I was never known for my restraint. Read this blog long enough, you're bound to stumble on some stuff you just wish you didn't know. Heck, I feel that way about it too. And I'm the one writing it!

Anyway, I have some meetings scheduled tomorrow and I know that the editorial team is taking me out for lunch. Mexican, I think. I haven't seen everyone since last year's E3 (aka THE LAST E3 EVAR) so I'm really looking forward to it. Like I said last year, the only reason I ever looked forward to going to E3 was to hang out with my editors. I'm only here for one night though. I fly home tomorrow evening and then it's right back into crunch mode, as I have to positively, absolutely, no excuses allowed get a book done by next Tuesday so we can get it to retail by mid-December. It's a really fun project I'm working on, which I'll write about once it comes out. I'll have some copies to give away next month, so stay tuned.

Lastly, I lost my fantasy football game by one point this week for the second time this season. Man, that irks me to no end. The 49ers were so lousy last night that Hasselbeck only needed to throw it a half-dozen or so times the entire second half. One more pass for one more yard would have given me the point I needed to at least tie. Fortunately, I did win this week's go-around in the Salary Cap League I'm in so it looks like I'll be collecting $20 from the Commish tomorrow.

That's almost enough to cover half of the cab ride back to the airport.

Two thousand, three hundred.

Huge News From the Xbox Front

I suddenly feel a whole lot better about selling all those Xbox games I had sitting on my shelf.

This from C-Net:

Microsoft has announced that the next dashboard update for the Xbox 360 will add the ability to download original Xbox games to your hard drive. Sounds like owners of the 20GB may want to consider upgrading.

Starting December 4, Xbox 360 owners will have the option of shelling out 1,200 MS points (that's $15) for each game they'd like to download to their hard drive. As of right now, there's no word on the average size of these games so we're left wondering exactly how much space we're going to need to free up and whether or not buying these older games used is a better option (you can still find most of these games for under $15 used).

While there's no word yet of other enhancements the fall update will feature, you can see a list of the first round of games appearing on Microsoft's new service after the jump.

The first batch of games slated for download December 4 include Halo: Combat Evolved, Fable, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Indigo Prophecy, Crash
Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex
, Psychonauts, and Burnout 3: Takedown.

Not only is this a great way to bring unplayed gems like Indigo Prophecy and Psychonauts to a larger audience (and hopefully many more), but this will go a long way towards silencing the critics who always found the X360's backwards-compatibility capability to be lacking. What's especially interesting about this is that this news releases not long after Sony removes backwards-compatibility from their PS3 system. Furthermore, Xbox Live Arcade is releasing their 100th and 101st games on the system tomorrow; meanwhile it's been quite some time since I've noticed any headlines concerning downloadable games on Sony and Nintendo's delivery services. I'm sure there has been a few but considering that a developer can't fart without picking up an article on it, the lack of recent news from Nintendo and Sony is slightly puzzling.

Microsoft doesn't deserve an A+ grade for everything they've done with the X360 yet (RROD, anyone?) but as a paying subscriber to Xbox Live since day one 5 years ago, I must say that this service and the addition of Xbox Live Arcade has been an extraordinary advancement to how I play games.

Now lets just hope they get around to making Fatal Frame 2 one of the new downloadable games, as I'm really pissed I sold that one before playing it...

Passing in the Rain

This always seems to happen nowadays. There wasn't a single rainy game in the first three seasons at the Seahawks' new Qwest Field, and there normally still isn't.

Unless it's a prime-time game like tonight's Monday Night Football matchup against the 49ers.

Last year we had one prime-time game that started during such heavy rain that the power went out to part of the SoDo neighborhood and the stadium was running on backup power. Another game, against the Packers, happened to take place in the worst snowstorm to hit the metro area in a very long time. It took us nearly 3 hours to drive home because of road closures and thousands of stuck vehicles.

So how's the weather today? Very rainy and windy. The coast was getting blasted with wind gusts up to 70mph through the night and the downtown area of Seattle is experiencing heavy rain and wind gusts around 30 mph. The rain should taper off and the winds might die down, but for a team that is without its starting running back and going to be passing on 80% of its downs tonight, the weather is still going to be less than ideal.

And that stinks for my fantasy team, being that I have Hasselbeck and Engram and I'm currently down by 29 points. My opponent's entire team played yesterday and while I would normally feel pretty confident with my ability to rally with these two players, the weather is an X-factor.

I'm also in a salary cap league with the folks at BradyGames and, for the first time all season, I'm in good position to win this week. Rather good timing if I must say, as I'm flying to Indy tomorrow morning for a meeting. Hopefully, I'll be picking up a little bit of travelling money when I arrive.

That is, if D.J. Hackett can slice through the wind and rain tonight and score me a couple touchdowns.

Single-Speeding On a Trail Near You

There's a new steed in the stable. It arrived two weeks ago and although I really never thought I'd want a single-speed, that's precisely what it is. It's a purple Kona Unit 2-9 with a RockShox Reba 80mm front fork and Avid mechanical disk brakes. I won an auction for this brand new bike on Ebay for a price of $813. It retails for $990 at the local shop, and that is with a rigid steel fork and not the suspension fork mine came with. The fork is a good $400 upgrade and is just a slightly inferior model of the one I have on my Mooto-X YBB. Yeah, I got a good deal.

The bike arrived just a few hours before one of my weekly Thursday night training rides and when I pulled it out of the box, my first thought was "Where's the rest of the cockpit?". Oh yeah, no shifters. &#$@! While I stumbled a bit with putting it together, my friend Doug Carrol was willing to torque everything properly and even swapped out the 18-tooth freewheel the bike came with and leant me one of his spare 20-tooth freewheels and a larger chain (far too hilly around here for a beginning single-speeder like me to ride a 32-18 setup on a 29er).

So how was it, you ask?

Painful. But fun.

The ride begins with a 3.5 mile jaunt down the flat, paved Sammamish River Trail in Redmond and my thighs were burning from trying to keep up with everyone. Normally I'm in the big chainring and pushing a pretty tall gear at 22mph or so down this stretch. Not this time! I was spinning my legs like a crack-addled gerbil in a wheel and barely keeping up. It was like those damn Spinervals videos all over again, except even faster. I never thought a flat, paved trail could bring the pain, but oh yes it can!

We eventually got onto the switchbacking climb up the Powerline Trail, my first big test on a single-speed. I climbed the switchbacks alongside single-speeding veteran Kevin "hophead" Axt without having to get off and walk. But doing so left me pretty fried for the upper portion of the climb and I was thankful for the long wait at the stoplight. I drifted off the back of the pack on the Powerline Trail to allow my legs to relax, but Kevin waited to give me some pointers for making the transition a bit more comfortable. For starters, I was wrenching my back pretty hard with each pedal stroke. As soon as he pointed this out and advised a straighter back, I began to feel better. He also recommended staying seated for as long as possible before having to get out of the saddle. I have to work on this some more.

The rest of the loop went well. I had to get off and push up a portion of horse-pasture hill, which I fully expected. But this brief buzz-kill was quickly replaced with glee. Carelessly rolling along through the Redmond Watershed at night, alone, on my new single-speed made me feel like a kid again. While I don't ever have to "think" about my gear choice on my other bikes, I must admit that there was an innocence and a very enjoyable simplicity of riding the single-speed. It also thrilled me to be back on a hardtail. I love the 1" of cushion on my Moots -- don't get me wrong -- but this felt like going home again. I still think riders who entered the sport on a full-suspension bike are really missing out. I don't know how I went the past couple years without a hardtail in the quiver.

Anyway, the final climb up last-lonely-hill was painful, as I knew it would be, but I surprised myself and pedaled it all. And although it wasn't anywhere near as fast as my lap times from mid-summer when I was in great shape, I rolled back into the Redhook Brewery parking lot 2 hours after setting out on my first single-speed ride: a 20-mile loop with 1780 feet of climbing. And the porter flowed freely...

That was my Thursday ride. I'm also once-again meeting up with the "Tuesday at Tolt" group pretty regularly too. Erik has done a great job in leading that ride over the years and has gotten it to a point where the ride moves along at a nice, steady pace with few stops. It used to be pretty commonplace for my heart-rate to drop below 70bpm at least a dozen times during that ride because of all the standing around and waiting, but not anymore. Hell, if anything, my recent vacation from all-things-bicycle has left me being the one looking forward to the occasional rest.

Anyway, thanks to me forgetting to set my office clock back, I left for last Tuesday's ride an hour early. And rather than turn around and go home, I decided to stop at the Snoqualmie Brewery for a couple of beers. After all, the first tip Mr. Hophead gave me when I showed him the single-speed was that I had to now become an "abject alcoholic" to complete the single-speeder transformation. That's not in the cards, but I thought he'd be proud to know I was going to indulge, if only a bit, before the ride. After all, he is the one who towed a trailer full of margaritas onto the trail one night. I was going to stick to the Nitro Pale Ale, but their Brewer's Special was an Imperial Stout they made for Halloween. It boasted a 9.69% alcohol content and only came in schooner-size glasses, which is a good thing because a full pint would have left me in no shape to ride my bike nor drive to the trailhead.

As for the ride at Tolt, it went well. The climb up It's-a-Bitch lived up to its name and I did have to walk a small section in the beginning where it is steepest, but the single-speed seemed perfect for the trails on top of the plateau. In fact, I can't imagine ever riding another bike there again. It was the perfect gearing for a perfect network of rolling moderately-technical trails.

If you're wondering why I would buy this bike after raving all year about having bought my Moots, the reason is simple. It's because of the Moots that I bought the Kona. Winter conditions in the Pacific Northwest are wet, slippery, and sloppy and both Kristin and I thought it made more sense to put me on a much cheaper bike -- a single-speed no less -- than risk ruining the expensive drivetrain on my other bike. The bike repairs to my Giant NRS C2 last winter were not cheap, I can assure you. And as it turned out, on that first foray at Tolt, I caught a very long 1" thick stick that went straight through the chain and freewheel and into the wheel of the bike. It pulled the chain off the cog and, according to the guy behind me, there was no way I wouldn't have lost a rear derailleur had I have been riding my other bike. So already riding a single-speed saved me about $200 in repairs. And it's only November.

I didn't only buy the bike for financial reasons though. I also got it to get stronger. Riding a single-speeed is like doing a blend of high-speed spinning/cadence intervals mixed with slow-speed strength training. That flats are brutally hard on your thighs as you spin at 120rpm to go anywhere and the hills make your calves scream as you grind your way upwards. There's no way I won't get faster if I continue riding this all winter.

Oh, and speaking of winter riding, I am definitely NOT starting up a training plan again the week of Thanksgiving like I did last year. I completely burned out this past summer by the end of June and don't want that to happen again next year. I'm going to continue riding 2x a week through the end of the year (and running once a week on the weekends with Kristin) but am not going to crank up the training again until January. By then I should be good and hungry and really anxious to start upping the mileage. Can't wait!

Living the Life Third Person

Doug doesn't normally enjoy reading PC Gamer magazine. In fact, he doesn't even know why it still arrives in his mailbox every month and can't wait for the subscription to end (even though he doesn't recall sending the magazine a check since 2005). Nevertheless, every month the magazine comes and before throwing it into the recycling bin, Doug quickly flips through it just to see if there's anything that catches his eye. Usually, Doug only notices a lot of bashing of console-gamers and e-dick measuring between hardware nerds. But for the first time in a very, very long time, something else caught his eye.


A Brit by the name of Marc Owens wondered what it would be like to view life as we so often view our videogame avatars. That is to say from a third-person point of view. So Marc created a padded character suit and added a wide-angle camera that is mounted 6 feet behind the wearer, and a couple feet overhead. His "Avatar Machine" also includes a 7" flat monitor head-set that receieves a direct-feed from the camera so the wearer can see the action not from his eyes, but from the third-person overhead view.

Doug's first thought was mountain biking. He thinks helmet cameras are okay, but believes they tend to make even pretty technical trails look rather dull. But this? He can't help but think it would be pretty cool to have a view from directly over his shoulder while zipping down a really technical trail or crossing over some ladder bridges. That is, assuming he could still see the terrain. Hmmm... on second thought, maybe the first-person view has some advantages after all.

It's definitely better for writing, that's for sure. And I'm sure you would agree...

The Writer's Strike

I've been following Ken Levine's blog every day for a few months now and his recent posts concerning the writer's strike have been very informative and, at times, quite entertaining. This former writer for MASH, CHEERS, and THE SIMPSONS among many other shows wrote a parody about the ongoing writer's strike involving a conversation between Mr. Burns and Smithers which you can read here.

Normally, I don't believe in unions and don't like the idea of strikes for a number of reasons which are really beyond the scope of this post (I always wanted to use "beyond the scope" in a sentence). However, I really do support the writer's cause in this situation. The world is changing everyday regarding the various mediums in which we receive our information and entertainment but the current agreement between the television studios and writers ignore all of these new revenue streams. Yes, they should have had a clause in their contract about "formats not yet invented" but that doesn't mean one can't be added. As it stands now the writers aren't being compensated at all for episodes they wrote that are being sold on iTunes or over Xbox Live or on NetFlix. And when they are compenstaed, it's in the form of an insult. Take this example from an article Levine wrote for the Toronto Star.

I got a cheque recently from American Airlines. A royalty cheque. For the past several years as part of their "inflight entertainment"American Airlines has been showing episodes of Cheers, M*A*S*H and Becker that I wrote along with episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier and Dharma & Greg that I directed. Considering the number of flights and years I'd estimate they've shown my shows 10,000 times. My compensation for that: $0.19. That's right – 19 cents (American, so it's even less in Canada.) I figure at that rate, in 147 years I'll be able to buy one of their snack boxes.

An episode of Frasier I wrote is out on DVD. I make nothing. The script is included in a book. I make zilch. Soon you'll be able to download and watch it on your iPod or iPhone at IHOP. The only one who won't make money is "i".

I don't work on royalties. That might sound strange to some, but given the special circumstances involved in writing videogame strategy guides, this actually makes sense (i.e. the books sell based on the game, not the author). However, if I did I would damn well want to be compensated for any electronic versions of my books that sold in PDF format. Sounds fair, right? Well, not according to the television producers. Despite climbing over one another to get their shows features on iTunes and other electronic distribution channels, they're all acting as if none of these things make them money. That they're actually losing money by making previously aired episodes available for download at $1.99 an episode or in DVD box sets. I'm no businessman, but I'm pretty sure the phrase "revenue streams" has the word revenue in it for a reason. Of course, they're making money from these things; it was the truckloads of DVD box-sets people bought that got Fox to bring THE FAMILY GUY back from the dead.

The media coverage I've seen and heard is all making it sound like the writers on strike are a bunch of rich primadonnas afraid that they won't be able to make next month's payment on their condo in Bali. They make it sound like the rich are striking against the super-rich. Maybe for a few of them like Levine, that's true -- although I doubt it since Levine jumps at a moment's notice to still occasionally announce Mariners baseball games when someone calls in sick. Nevertheless, the idea sitcom writers are rich is absurd. Have you ever seen how many writers are listed in the credits for a single sitcom? Or for a show like SNL? These people aren't rich, by any stretch. Not to mention their job requires them to live in the LA area which is not cheap. And it's not greed to occasionally stand up and ask for what is rightfully yours. But you won't hear that on the news because the news works for the networks which own the shows the writers are striking against.

As it stands now the networks aren't even looking to come to the bargaining table. And you know why? Because they know the public has no taste and will watch anything put in front of them. Am I wrong? If so, then please tell me how BIG BROTHER is still on the air. Get used to a lot of reality TV folks, because it's cheap to make, requires no script, and, like photos of Parasite Hilton, it sells.

Support the Writer's Guild of America and turn away from reality TV. Besides, it's not like there are any likeable teams on AMAZING RACE this season, anyway...

Rock Claw

I've been playing Guitar Hero 3 a lot this week. And by a lot, I mean the following:
  • Monday: Played through every song in Career mode on Easy.
  • Tuesday: Played through Career mode on Medium, 5-starred all songs on Easy.
  • Wednesday: Started playing some songs on Hard, played through entire Co-Op Career mode on Easy. Tried to 5-star more songs on Medium.
  • Thursday: Played through entire Career mode again with "Lefty Flip" on then played the 8-minute, 1102-note song "Through the Fire and Flames" by Dragonforce about 20 times in attempt to get a 1,000 note streak. I failed every time. But I'm getting close...

Career mode, I should point out, has 42 songs. I also played quite a bit of online multiplayer a couple nights this week as well and it's quite reasonable to say that I played close to 300 songs in the past four days. And yes indeed my hands are aching. If this were a real guitar with real metal strings, I am positively certain there'd be drops of blood all over my living room and that typing this post would be physically impossible. So I guess I should be lucky that I'm only only suffering from early-onset arthritis and not typing with my knuckles.

One other thing: I did take a break from GH3 yesterday to play the new XBLA game, Word Puzzle. Yes, the game is basically a digital-version of a word jumble (aka find-a-word) which admittedly sounds like it has all the excitement of an ESPN broadcast of the World Scrabble Championships, however it's actually a pretty good game. And it offers up some very easy Gamerscore if you're into that sort of thing. The stages range from small squares to very large irregular-shaped masses of letters to actual cubes that need to be rotated. There's also a 4-player online multiplayer mode which is really fun when you actually find other humans to play it with. According to the game, there were several times last night when I was the only person in the entire world looking for a match.

I'll be shifting gears away from GH3 later today and diving into the copy of Lego Star Wars II that has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it a long time ago, from a store far, far away. And, lastly, I'll be getting back to some regular mountain biking posts this weekend, if not later tonight starting with a my thoughts concerning my recent foray into the world of single-speeding.

Couple Almost Killed By Falling Cow

RG reader and friend of mine, Ellen Maude, sent this story along to me today on a hunch I would find it amusing. She was right.

MANSON, Wash. - A Chelan County fire chief says a couple was lucky they weren't killed by a cow that fell off a cliff and smashed their minivan. District 5 Chief Arnold Baker says they missed being killed by a matter of inches Sunday as they drove on Highway 150 near Manson.

The 600-pound cow fell about 200 feet and landed on the hood of the minivan carrying Charles Everson Jr. and his wife Linda of Westland, Mich., who were in the area celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. They were checked at Lake Chelan Community Hospital as a precaution. The van was heavily damaged, including a broken windshield.

Charles Everson says he kept repeating, "I don't believe this. I don't believe this." The year-old cow had been reported missing by a breeder. It was euthanized at the scene.

Link to the story.

It's not often you get to read a story that is as equally sad and hysterical as this one. My heart breaks at the thought of the lonely misguided cow stumbling off a 200-foot cliff, but how can you possibly visualize this situation and not laugh out loud? I know I for one get startled when I'm driving and a rock bounces up and hits the car. Imagine a 600 pound cow? Falling out of the sky? I'm willing to bet the couple decides to stay home for their anniversary next year.

Oh, and yes, this is just another reason why I love living in the northwest. Stuff like this just doesn't happen in New Jersey.

Reader Request

Going for the superfecta with videogame related posts today. I've been asked a favor by one of RG's Canadian readers and I want to see if anyone out there can help. Jeremy needs a copy of the box-art for the Xbox version of the game Gun so he can print it out and make a good-as-new gamecase for himself -- he recently purchased the game on Ebay but only received the manual and disc. He's since ordered some of the empty green DVD cases the games come in but needs the insert. I've already checked and they don't have it.

So, if you do own the Xbox version of Gun and have access to a scanner, I'd really appreciate it if you could scan the case insert at 150dpi and email it to me so I can pass it along to our friend in the Great White North. Thanks.

Penny-Arcade Goes Shopping for COD4

There's been even more talk about the absurdity of shopping at Gamestop - slash - Electronics Boutique than normal lately thanks to this article by a Gamestop manager. Personally, I've given up on ever shopping in those godforsaken stores ever since my wife asked them about the availability of Donkey Konga for the Gamecube and, instead of being answered, was asked if she'd like to pre-order Halo 2. In person.

So it's with great glee that I read today's post at Penny-Arcade, in which Gabe details his most recent run-in with the ridiculous business practices of these shops. You can read the full article, titled, "My Post" here but I'll provide you with a bit of the censored version for those who wish to not disturb their company's Internet filters.

We went out yesterday afternoon to pick up Call of Duty 4. I was ready to grab it based on Tycho's recommendation. We hit the local EB and we were told they didn't have any copies for customers who didn't pre -order. I looked around at the store. It was full of posters, giant novelty game boxes and cardboard standees all advertising Call of Duty 4. The strategy guide was displayed front and center right there on the counter. But I'm supposed to believe that they didn't receive a single extra copy of the game? They didn't think anyone else might want to buy one? I've never had any kind of problem purchasing games without a pre -order from this store in the past. I've always been able to walk in on launch day and grab as many copies of whatever game I want. Now all of a sudden I'm being told there's no games for me?

Now I don't know if the manager over there John (a.k.a the goblin king) has decided to blacklist us, but something seemed fishy. Other people from the PA crew have had similar experiences in his store since the comic. Someone looking for a game was told by John that he "didn't think they had it." when he was pressed to actually check and see he turned around, glanced at the case behind him and said "nope don't have it." This could just be the sort of classic douchebaggery we've come to expect from him, but I'm starting to think there may be something more sinister going on.

I continued trading in the games I had brought and mentioned to Tycho that we should just run across the street to Best Buy and get COD 4. John piped up from atop his over turned apple crate. "They won't have it until tomorrow" he told us. Actually Best Buy had plenty. In fact they had so many they actually had them stacked next to the registers in case people wanted to buy them. This is what shopping in a *bleeping* store is like! You go in and buy what you want. You can take your 28 confessions and shove them up your *bleeping* *bleep*. How about instead of giving me a 40 paragraph strategy guide so I can shop in your pawn shop without getting screwed you just sell me a game when I ask for it.

This would be really funny if it weren't just true, but commonplace. Frankly, I have no idea why anyone shops in those stores when so many other stores get the same games on launch day and you can just walk in and pick them up. Oh, and speaking of Best Buy, I was in there today and not only picked up a copy of Viva Pinata Party Animals but also set the highest score on "Even Flow" on the in-store Guitar Hero 3 demo. If you happen into the Bellevue Best Buy and see the initials "DUG" on the GH3 scoreboard, know that you have crossed paths with a completely non-heroic guitarist who is merely a medium-sized fish in a tiny pond.

For the Overlord!

One other gaming note. I played through the game Overlord last week and must say that if you liked Pikmin on the Nintendo Gamecube but want something a little less Fisher-Priceish, then you have got to give this game a try. Overlord puts you in the position of the evil Overlord, brought back to life to wreak havoc on a peaceful land. You control up to 50 little critters called Minions that, depending on their color, have special abilities (fire, swimming, poison, etc.,). You use your Minions to solve environmental puzzles and to go after all of the quote-unquote Heroes of the land. The Achievements for the game are well thought out, although time-consuming, and there's both online play as well as a pretty fun Dungeon mode where you can battle against huge waves of enemies to gain additional Lifeforce for upgrading items and weapons. The game's lack of an in-game map is its only misstep and, ultimately, isn't too big of a problem thanks to the inclusion of a paper map with the user's manual. Thumbs way up for Overlord.

Guitar Hero 3

I've been playing a lot of Guitar Hero 3 lately and I'm a bit torn when it comes to expressing my sentiments for the game. On the one hand, I think it has the best collection of songs out of all the games in the series. "Cult of Personality" (Living Color), "Cherub Rock" (Smashing Pumpkins), "Even Flow" (Pearl Jam), and "One" (Metallica) are among the 42 featured songs and "Helicopter" (Bloc Party) is one of the Co-op bonus songs and "Ruby" (Kaiser Chiefs) is among the 24 bonus songs -- these are all great songs that get frequent play on my iPod. Sure, there are the purists who decry this dip into mainstream rock, but I'll be honest: I'm tired of playing death metal and classic rock. So, for me, the song list is a nice change of pace as I positively hated the song selection in Guitar Hero 2.

Nevertheless, there is something about this game that irks me. I'm not a guitar gaming demigod, so I don't immediately jump right to the Hard or Expert modes like a lot of people do. Instead, I like to quickly blast through the Easy mode then play on Medium in attempt to 5-star all of the songs on those two modes, knowing I will never accomplish that feat on Hard mode. And when I do this I expect a nice steady increase in difficulty as I progress through the 8 set lists and move from Easy to Medium.

This is how my experience in Easy mode went: I got a 5-star ranking on every song on my first try with the exception of Slayer's "Raining Blood". I've always hated the band Slayer and now here they were stopping me from 5-starring all of Easy mode. I barely got a 3-star on the first try. So I tried a couple times and got a 4-star rating but no matter how much I used Practice mode, and no matter how certain I was to get a perfect ranking, the 5-star rank eluded me.

So I went to Medium mode and quickly racked up a collection of 3-, 4-, and 5- star rankings. But it wasn't until "Even Flow" in the 4th set that I finally hit every note in a song on Medium and got the 500-note streak Achievement I was struggling to get. But why not until the 4th set? There were many much harder songs in the previous sets (songs that I know very well too) yet here I was breezing through songs in latter sets with perfect note completion. So I continued and eventually made my way to Metallica's "One", the very last song in the 8th set. The spot traditionally reserved for the hardest non-bonus song in the game. On Easy mode I had a 482-note streak on my first attempt on "One" and almost perfected it on the first try. On Medium mode? I couldn't even pass it. I got 79% completion on my first try and then 98% completion on my second. I needed to complete either "One" or "Raining Blood" to unlock the final Guitar Battle to beat Medium mode so I begrudgingly decided to give the murderously hard "Raining Blood" a try. No problem. I got past it on my first try with a 4-star rating. So I beat Lou the final boss you face in Guitar Battle and completed Medium mode.

I then went back to give "Raining Blood" another try on Easy mode, thinking that if I can 4-star it on Medium, I should have no trouble getting a 5-star on Easy. Wrong. I did finally get that 5-star ranking and earn the "Axe Grinder" Achievement, but it took me several more attempts, during which time I nearly smashed my plastic axe to pieces on the bamboo floor. I've seen other people on message boards decry the increase in difficulty (and seemingly randomness of it) and I must say that this is definitely bothersome. I know if I play on Hard mode and use the Practice mode I should be able to get good enough to 5-star all of the songs on Medium mode like I did in previous Guitar Hero games. Yet, for some reason, this time around I just don't think that's going to be possible for me. I'm sure there will be plenty of songs on Hard mode I have no trouble with, but that there will always a be a few on Medium that I just can't do that well on. And to me, that doesn't make much sense.

Aside from the difficulty wavering all over the place, the other common criticism of the game revolves around its use of Guitar Battles during the Career mode. Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is. There are only 3 of these boss battles and they're quite easy to get past (at least on Medium mode they are). The way the Guitar Battles work is that you face off against Tom Morello or Slash and take turns playing riffs in a song and while you do you collect power-up attacks to hit the other person with. These attacks range from "Amp Overload" where the fret board flashes on an off repeatedly for a few seconds to a "Broken String" where you can't play particular string until you mash on that one fret button 8 or so times. There's also the sadistic "Lefty Flip" which reverses the colors on the fret board to mimic a left-handed player holding the guitar. So long as you manage to stock up 2 or 3 of these attack icons, wait till the second half of the song and then release them during the opponent's busiest sections (causing him to miss the most notes) the battle will be won.

I see people saying that it's pure luck and it takes no skill, but I disagree. You can eliminate the randomness by holding onto your attacks and using them strategically to interrupt the other player's attempts at gaining attack icons of his own. Also, I don't understand the seriousness people place on this game. I hate to sound like a jerk, but this is a videogame and I'm happy that Neversoft added the Guitar Battle mode to remind us as such. I know a lot of people -- myself included -- play this game to live out their own fantasies of rock stardom, but people need to also lighten up. It's not a guitar simulator. You're really not playing any of these songs. It's a rhythym game, plain and simple. If you're that bent out of shape over the inclusion of three measly Guitar Battles (only one is required to complete Career mode) then you really ought to back away from the Xbox and buy yourself a real guitar.

Anyway, this has gone on long enough. I'll be online most of today playing Ranked Matches on Xbox Live so if anybody out there wants to play, shoot me a text message through Live and we'll get together. One of the guys Kristin works with is coming over tonight to play through Co-op Career mode with me, which just so happens to remind me of my one other complaint about this game: you can only play Co-op Career mode with two people in the same room. Although you can play Co-op songs over Xbox Live, the Co-op Career mode requires you to be in the same room playing on the same television. Why, I have no idea, but apparently Rock Band is going to be the same way. Which, in 2007, just seems positively antiquated.

A Win for Seattle Cyclists

From today's Seattle Times:

The city of Seattle has approved one of the nation's most aggressive attempts to raise the popularity of bicycles.

The 10-year Bicycle Master Plan calls for 118 miles of new bike lanes and 19 miles of trails, as well as lane markings and signs to create awareness of cycling across the city.

After three years of discussions, City Council members passed the plan unanimously Monday, adding momentum to the cycling movement. Mayor Greg Nickels has said he hopes commuter cycling will triple. Census figures showed that about 2 percent of workers traveled on bikes in 2000, and advocates think that's increased to 2 ½ percent now. A new city report said 2,273 cyclists entered downtown on Sept. 19 -- nearly one-third more than a daily total in 2000.

While the master plan was being written, the city went ahead with some of the most obvious improvements. The new Chief Sealth Trail was recently finished on Beacon Hill, and construction is under way on a new mile of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard, near Golden Gardens Park. Also, pavement is being marked with so-called "sharrows" -- icons of a bicycle, reminding motorists to share the streets.

The article is quite lengthy and contains maps and figures about annual cyclists commuting into the city and the factors that play into people's decision to commute by bike. As for the list of improvements the city plans on making in the next ten years (and beyond), here it is...

Under way or planned in the next three years:
Ship Canal Trail: Build a link from Interbay to Seattle Pacific University, going under south end of Ballard Bridge.

Golden Gardens Park: Finish the last mile of Burke-Gilman Trail from Ballard to the beach park.

Street markings: A total of 64 miles of bike lanes by 2009, and 54 miles of "sharrows," icons that remind drivers to share the streets with cyclists.

Education campaign: Safety messages and stepped-up enforcement, in collaboration with Cascade Bicycle Club.

Queen Anne bridge: To be built in 2009-10 from Myrtle Edwards Park to West Thomas Street, reaching Lower Queen Anne and Seattle Center.

"Bike boulevards": Eight miles of side streets marked for bike travel as an alternative to riding on heavily used arterials.

Long-term or unfunded projects:
Northgate overpass: Potential bike overpass crossing Interstate 5 to North Seattle Community College, in conjunction with proposed Sound Transit light-rail station.

Beacon Hill bike bridge: Chief Sealth Trail extension over I-5 from Beacon Hill to Sodo.

More trails: 16 miles of new trails by 2016.

Highway 520 bridge: State's proposed new span would have bike lanes, connecting to new city trails or bike lanes near Washington Park Arboretum.

The Beating of Our Hearts is the Only Sound

A woman Kristin works with just bought one of the model homes here on Snoqualmie Ridge that we toured three years ago when we were thinking of buying new construction. Their house-warming party was Friday night and although it was a little weird to be back in a house we once considered buying, we had a good time. Kristin caught a cold last week and had no voice for the party which, unbeknownst to me, would result in all Karaoke responsibilties being firmly placed on my shoulders. Other than the Karaoke Revolution games on the Playstation 2, I had never sang Karaoke before. And certainly not in a crowd full of strangers.

I watched the microphone go back and forth a couple of times while absently flipping through the book of available songs. Little did I know that when I jokingly suggested Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" that it would end up being ME doing the singing. Gulp! I was a bit nervous at first, after all I only knew about 3 or 4 people in the room (and these were Kristin's co-workers after all) but I soon started having fun with it. I was belting out the verses and making up words for the never-ending chorus. The Karaoke thingamabob we were using scores how well you do and would you believe that I posted a 89 out of 100 on the Tiffany song -- a score that would hold up as the highest score of the night despite hours of continued play?!?

Although I would like to say pretending to be a teenage one-cover-song-wonder on a mall float was the highlight of my evening, it wasn't. That would be singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" with a software engineer named Dietrich. Dietrich has a deep bellowing voice which he projects as if he's on stage at Radio City Music Hall so I had to really put some effort into singing loud enough to even register on the microphone. We eventually found our rhythym and were able to alternate lines to imitate the opera-esque song's intent. And it was quite fun, even if the song never seemed to end. We received a standing ovation from those in the room (or maybe we didn't, I can't remember) but despite our best Freddy Mercury impersonation, we failed to top the score I reached with Tiffany.

I'd like to say that it will hopefully be years before I have to do any Karaoke again, but it was actually pretty fun. Sure, that's probably because Kristin wasn't drinking and I drank all the Moose Drool we brought, but the Leadsinger Karaoke thing is pretty cool. It's just a wired microphone that plugs into the tv and you can purchase extra song chips that you insert into the microphone. You can check it out right here. The chips aren't cheap, but after seeing how many people enjoyed playing it at htis party, I think we might need to get it as an emergency backup plan in case this year's Super Bowl turns out to be a dud.

Earnest Goes to Nepal

The final play in the 2007 Taproot Theatre season was Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and it was fantastic. And worth the nearly 14 years I've been waiting to see it. I remember reading part of the play in a drama class I took in high school, but never actually saw it performed. I couldn't even remember what it was about other than to say it was about two guys lying about their names for the sake of being with a woman, but I knew I thought it was hysterically funny.

Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.

Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure?... I call that business.

Jack: How utterly unromantic you are!

Algernon: I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the

The play is set in the 1890's in England and tells of two friends -- one from the city and one from the country -- who have each created an imaginary sickly friend that they must care for as an excuse to sneak away on weekends. The trouble begins to enter the picture when Jack actually takes on the persona of his fictitious brother "Earnest" whenever he's in London and finds the woman of his desire reluctant to marry someone named Jack. How positively boring a name that is, after all. She's in love with a man named Earnest, not Jack. But Jack's friend Algernon complicates matters when he pays Jack's sexy teenage ward a visit while pretending to be the fictitious Earnest. It's not so much a love triangle as it is a love intersection with two women convinced they are both about to marry a man named Earnest. But there is no Earnest. The scenario Wilde dreamed up is far more complicated than I described, but I'm trying to gloss over it so as to not spoil it if you haven't seen it.

And yes, I do realize I'm trying to avoid spoilers on a 112 year old play.

Jack: Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?

Gwendolen: I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.

You can read the script here, and apparently Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench were in a 2002 film adaptation that you can probably rent from Netflix or Blockbuster. Probably not as good as the play, but better than nothing.

But, Doug, in the title you mentioned Nepal. Why? Thanks for the reminder; I'm glad you asked...

On the way to the play, Kristin and I stopped at the Annapurna Cafe on Broadway Avenue in Seattle for dinner. It's a Nepalese and Tibetan restaurant in the basement of some other shops and it was fantastic even if the Yeti beer, brewed in India, tasted a bit like Busch Light. I believe we had some Naan bread stuffed with yak-cheese, Kristin had a curried chicken dish and I had a mixed grill plate with chicken and lamb. It's a little no-frills place with a pretty robust menu of food from the Himalayan region of Asia and the staff is really friendly and the prices were pretty good. Sounds like they get a pretty good lunch crowd from the local colleges, and every table in the place was filled at dinner. If you're local and go, definitely get the Tensing Momo, the Tibetan-style chicken dumplings were awesome.

It's a Fat World After All

Thanks to RG reader Nick Valison for sending me a link to a rather pathetic story. He clearly knows the types of stories I find interesting.

Apparently Americans have become so obese that Disneyland is having to shut down their popular "It's a Small World" boat ride on account of the boats regularly becoming stuck and riding too low in the water due to the increased size of passengers. They have a similar problem with other rides, too. They say the average American is 25 pounds heavier today than we were in 1964 when the ride was built.

Let this be a lesson for people attending amusement parks. If the ride operator gives you an empty seat next to you, it's not because he wants you to be comfortable. Consider it his way of suggesting you ought to forego the monorail and hoof it back to your hotel.

Employees -- Disney calls them "cast members" -- have been aware of the issue for some time now and so discretely leave empty seats in boats carrying heavy riders. But backups persist, and in some cases no one realzes there's a problem until boats stop emerging from the ride.

Read the full story here. Thanks again, Nick.

Exceptions Must Be Made

A local high school cross country runner missed her one and only chance at qualifying for the State Championship because her coach was confused about the race's starting time and subsequently cost the girl a chance at qualifying. The coach has since resigned, which is unfortunate, but she admits that she was distracted due to caring for her newborn. This is a prime example of how rules need to sometimes be bent. I've raced in numerous state championship races when I was in high school and I can say without question that one extra runner will not make a difference concerning the logistics or integrity of the event. If the girl truly has the best times in her conference and was a favorite to win the qualifying meet then by all means, a special exemption must be given and the girl should run. Especially since this is cross-country season and it's not like a track meet where there is valid space considerations.

The state interscholastic athletic association, or whatever they call themselves in Washington, ought to make a swift decision to allow the girl to run and I see no reason (other than selfish ones) for them or any other school's coaches or athletes to object. It'd be different if the girl was injured or if she overslept or was sick, but to miss the event on account of her coach's inability to properly read an event schedule is definitely grounds for special consideration. Especially in light of the coach's resignation.

Full article here.

Stadium's Dual Purpose: Just Thinking Out Loud...

Here in the Seattle area, we're constantly hearing about the possible relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics NBA team, all due to the city's reluctance to build a new arena for the team. In a gross over-simplification, the public outcry has been vociferously against paying for a new stadium with tax payer dollars, just as it is all across the country. I believe "corporate welfair" is the words people like to throw around.

Well, I got to thinking. Last week we watched tens of thousands of people flee their homes from an onslaught of wildfires and they just so happened to take shelter in Qualcom Stadium, home to the NFL team, the San Diego Chargers. Two years ago, during Hurricane Katrina, not only did tens of thousands of people take shelter in the Louisiana Superdome, home of the NFL's New Orleans Saints, but the facility was left in tatters. The City of San Diego owns Qualcom Stadium and the Louisiana Stadium/Expo District owns the Superdome. The primary tenants of both buildings are NFL teams owned by very wealthy families yet both stadiums are public owned.

Would the public have been allowed to take shelter in a privately-owned stadium?

Before you answer that, let me ask a follow-up. Should the massive earthquake we all fear someday strike the greater Seattle area, will Boeing open its doors to the world's largest building in Everett and welcome tens of thousands of refugees in out of the cold? Will Microsoft allow those whose homes have been destroyed to spend a few fitful nights on a cot in their hundreds of conference rooms?

Those are rhetorical questions, but I'll answer them anyway. The answer is, of course they wouldn't. Nor would we expect them to. But we would expect to take comfort at Qwest and Safeco Fields, both of which are owned by the King County Stadium Authority. And we would expect to take shelter in those cavernous facilities regardless of who owned them. If Paul Allen had paid for every penny of Qwest Field himself, we would still expect to shelter there. But not in Boeing's factory. Or Microsoft's offices. And what if the private owners of the stadiums said no? Sure, it'd be bad for business for them, but what if they had flashbacks to the wretched conditions the Superdome was left in after Katrina and decided to take their chances with bad PR than risk a costly renovation?

By no means am I saying the public ought to fit the bill entirely for a new stadium or arena on the sole grounds of us maybe needing it as a place of refuge, but I do think these buildings serve a very vital secondary function as a disaster shelter. The public needs to recognize that whether they like sports or not, having those buildings yields a pricelesss benefit to the city as a whole, especially a city situated in such a seismically active part of the country like Seattle. And it's because of this need, among other reasons, that I think the city not only should help fund a new stadium every few decades when necessary, but that it's in our best interest to do so.

The stadium we buy today just might be the only place to turn tomorrow when we have nowhere else to go.

It's a BioShock Halloween

I know some are going to think this crosses a line or something, but I think it's adorable. A father dressed up as a Big Daddy and had his daughter dress as a Little Sister ala the hit game BioShock and then reenacted the way the Big Daddies in the game call for the Little Sisters. I think it's pretty cute.

Check the video here.