Guidebook Giveaway: Dragon Quest IV

Can you believe I actually forgot about a book I wrote earlier this year? It's true. I finished up my work on the strategy guide for Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen back in April, but the game only just released in the past week or two. I thought the box of books on my doortstep were for Tales of Vesperia (still haven't gotten them yet, so if you want a copy, shoot me an email) but lo and behold, they were for this Nintendo DS remake of one of the more beloved old-school RPGs to come along.

Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is a remake of Playstation remake of a Super Nintendo game and although you might think the gameplay couldn't possibly age well, you'd be mistaken. This is probably the only genre that doesn't turn to vinegar with time. The gameplay is classic Japanese-style 2D role-playing, but unlike most games in the genre, this one is almost 5 stories in one. Each of the first four chapters chronicle a few days in the life of completely separate people, living on different continents. It's not until the fifth and final chapter when you take control of the main Hero/Heroine and begin to thread the other characters into your quest to, say it together with me, save the world from forces of evil. Naturally.

It's actually a really good game with plenty of side-quests and mini-games to go along with the main story. If you have a Nintendo DS and missed out on this game from days gone by, then I definitely recommend picking it up. Sure, I'm a bit biased, but having never played any of these old-school games back when I was in school, I'm glad to have gotten the opportunity now.

I'll be giving away four signed copies of the guidebook to the first people to email me an interesting anecdote about old-school gaming. I'll post any particularly interesting messages here.


As much as I enjoy simulation-quality racing games, I can't help but think that software like Pure is precisely what the medium of videogames was designed for. Racing exotic supercars around real-world race tracks is all fine and good, but you can see others do it for real on television. Heck, with the right amount of money (and insurance) you can do it yourself with little training. And it would be incredible. But if not for videogames, how would we ever know what it might be like to drive an ATV off a cliff hundreds of feet in the air, over a river, while performing a backflip? It's this blending of unabashed absurdity with extremely realistic environments that, in my opinion, makes Pure something not only rare, but also very special.

Pure is certainly not a perfect game, and it can no doubt be frustrating to play, but try as I might to nitpick at it, I only need launch my machine off the first towering vista before a smile creeps across my face. The ground disappears, a bird flies by, and the landing area appears to be a quarter of a mile away. My rider is hanging onto the rear fenders, stretched out like superman behind the ATV. It's surreal. I laugh out loud at the insanity while being mesmerized at the actual quality of what it is I'm seeing. The vertigo-inducing heights to which you can leap with your ATV are clearly the hook of the game and it's obvious that Black Rock, the developer behind Pure, put a massive amount of resources into making it as jaw-dropping a moment as they could. There are a dozen ways in which these massive leaps of death could have proven lame or gimmicky, but Black Rock avoided every pitfall. The result is a highly polished collection of seconds that yield a sensation few other games, if any, can even approach.

The game isn't all about the jumps though. Each of the courses has a number of braided paths snaking through it and battling it out in the mud against the 16 other racers on this tight and twisty courses is indeed an enjoyable experience. The complexity and length of the tracks is something I wasn't quite prepared for. Each course has several shortcuts -- typically narrower, exposed, paths with a high degree of risk -- that you can use to shave tens of seconds off your lap times and finding these is half the challenge. There are dozens of jumps of varying shapes and sizes in each course and perhaps the game's biggest challenge to the racer is to not try and bust a huge air off every little whoop-de-doo.

I mentioned that I didn't feel the game was perfect and so I should mention a few of the gripes i have. For starters, the structure of the single player "World Tour" is ripped straight from the days of the Playstation One. It's nothing but a list of events. A checklist if you will. Place high enough in one group of events to unlock the next set of events. There is no freedom, no sense of being involved in any meaningful career, and certainly nothing that has you feel like you're on a tour. It's a checklist plain and simple... and dated.

Another grievance I have is with the stated customization. The game is marketed as having over a hundred thousand different customizations you can perform to build your ATV. And this is true. There are literally dozens of parts that you have to select from ranging from handlebars to seats to fenders to engines and grips. There are two problems with the way the game handles this though. Although it's nice that you can quick-pick a "race" or "trick" part from each category to build your ATV that much faster, you unlock new parts by completing events, seemingly at random and most of the parts are purely cosmetic and offer no performance enhancement. Othertimes, you're given a choice of upgrading one of three parts on your current ATV. Personally, I would have preferred a system that awards prize money and allows you to buy new parts to your choosing. Not only can you not "quick-add" the new upgraded part to your bike in the reward screen (you have to go back to the ATV build screen) but you have no idea how many subsequent upgrades may come available, nor when, thus making your selection rather arbitrary. Each bike has ratings for top speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and trick ability and acquiring parts to make a bike specific to racing or tricking is important. Unfortunately, I feel like earning new parts is akin to reaching into a grab-bag. Fortunately, you can scrap and build new ATVs as often as you like.

So the event structure and customization options need tweaking, but really, other than a lackluster soundtrack, there is nothing else I can even think of criticizing this game for. The variety and complexity of the courses, the trick system, and the three event types (full race, sprint, and freestyle mode) make this a really enjoyable game and definitely one of the best racing games I've played this year. In fact, I can't ever recall playing anything like this at all. Pure takes the off-road racing of Sega Rally Revo, stretches out the courses and adds the verticality and arsenal of tricks not seen since snowboarding games like SSX. And the graphics, my oh my, does this game look gorgeous.

Now if only they could get the damn Leaderboards to stop crashing the console.

We're told a patch is on the way...

For a second opinion, check out this video review from the folks at

Time with the PS3... Finally

Well I finally have some hands-on experience with a PS3 outside of a conference/expo environment and I have to say that there is now officially, zero chance of me ever buying one. In fact my exact words to Kristin were, "Please kick me in the head if you ever catch me buying a PS3."

This isn't to say that the machine doesn't have a lot of great features, it does do myriad things and probably does most of them pretty well. And aside from being dust-magnet black, the console is dead-sexy to look at. One of the finest pieces of aesthetic tech design I've ever seen. It's almost Apple-esque in its sense of style (aside from the aforementioned dust visibility issue that plagued the PS2) but also far more masculine a product than Apple would ever dare create.

So no, the design and capability isn't what I find so repulsive. What has me swearing off the PS3 for good is its controller and its interface. First the controller. While it is nice to have a controller in hand with a directional pad that actually feels good and works the way it should (Microsoft has yet to figure this out, even though Nintendo, Sony, and Sega seemed to have over a decade ago), the Thumbsticks feel just like they always have -- way too flimsy, and too close together. I've always hated the way they felt in my hand and now, after two years of pure X360 usage, I can't go back. Then there is the new R2 and L2 Buttons that aren't triggers, yet aren't exactly buttons either. Instead, they're some sort of half-breed that feels excruciatingly unresponsive, spongy, and has the added side-effect of your fingers falling off when used in a hurry. The controller does feel much more solid than the Dualshock 2 that came with the PS2, so it at least has that going for it. I have snapped Dualshock 2's in my hands out of frustration on several occasions, and while the Dualshock 3 isn't as solid as an X360 controller, it does feel quite a bit stiffer.

But then there's the interface. I used to own a PSP. Other than being painful to hold and having a ridiculous interface, I thought it was a really nifty piece of tech. Well, the PS3 uses that same interface as the PSP, but now it has twice as many options and sub-menus on it. It's such a convoluted mess that it's enough to give a seasoned gamer like me a headache. I can't imagine how a casual consumer would ever feel comfortable with such a chaotic array of options. Sony did throw everything into the PS3 -- including the kitchen sink -- but they left sorting through it all up to you.

Xbox Live is down today because of server maintenance in preparation for the new fall makeover. As great as the Xbox interface was and as fantastically easy as Xbox Live is to maneuver, it had outgrown its initial design and Microsoft is releasing a massive update that redesigns the entire front-end of the interface. For free. To put it rather bluntly, Sony would need about 10 overhauls just to get to where Xbox Live and the Xbox 360 interface is before their fall overhaul.

The PS3's interface is so uninviting that I actually thought it was special to the test system that I have here. I had to go online and check with others and look for screenshots just to see what the retail system's interface was to make sure I wasn't just seeing a rudimentary featureset that wasn't at all indicative of real-world conditions. Turns out, other than an extra option or two buried in a sub-menu, there's really nothing different at all between the test system and the retail version.

And, quite frankly, I find that horrifying.

At Least We're Not in North Korea

Ugh, I get so mad sometimes...

Anyway, after taking a deep breath or two (and placing hundreds of callouts on 36 maps), I alt-tabbed back to the 'net and came across a posting on Kotaku to a collection of photos from a North Korean arcade.

There are a million and one reasons to pity the poor, oppressed, average citizens of North Korea, but these photos really go a long way to showing you just how trapped-in-time that country really is.

Take a look at the rare entertainment arcade in Pyongyang right here.

Father Damien to be a Saint

Back in February of 2007 I made a post about the book I was reading titled The Colony. The book provided the history of the Molokai leprosy colony in Hawaii and was a fascinating, troubling, and informative telling of Hawaii's infamous leper colony and the policies that lead to its creation and ultimately its closure (although several patients still live there to this day). You can read my post about the book here.

Anyway, Father Damien, a priest who went to work at the colony in the late 1800s and lived his life with the patients and took care of them, is about to be proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church. This will no doubt increase the amount of tourism in the area, something that is very much restricted on Molokai. And for good reason, as the land is considered sacred ground. I'll be honest and admit that I have been interested in visiting Kalaupapa ever since learning of the colony during my first visit to Hawaii in 1996 and the book only piqued my interest further. That said, it is indeed a tricky situation the Hawaiians and the National Park Service find themselves in. Balancing increased tourist demands and the need to protect sacred ground while simultaneously preserving the extreme remoteness of the area.

You can learn about Father Damien, his "miracle" (required for Sainthood), and get in-a-nutshell history of Kalaupapa right here at Yahoo.

Operation Nice

Very cool site my sister just forwarded to me: Operation NICE!

Don't you love it when people go out of their way to be nice? Like when someone waits to hold the door for you. Or when a stranger waves you into a line a traffic. Or even when a coworker shoots you a friendly smile along with a "have a nice day." If everyone was a little bit nicer to the folks they encountered each day, perhaps the world would be a more pleasant place. Operation NICE was initiated to remind you that a little NICE goes a long way.

It's essentially a collection of ideas, stories, and videos on how to be a bit nicer to everyone and how, in doing so, you'll make your own life a bit less stressful. Can't argue that.

One of the posts on the site is about a guy in Sydney, Australia who started a "Free Hugs" campaign. Watch the video and have a free smile... and a nice weekend.

Something Sweet

Couldn't help but smile reading this in the paper today.

It's a story about a guy who surprised his wife of 50 years with a restored 48 Plymouth Coupe that is identical to the one they drove on their honeymoon back in 1958.

Sure it was the same model, and the same baby-blue color as the one they drove to Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 30, 1958, to get married. There was the same winged emblem painted on it.

Indeed, the more she inspected this car, the more it reminded her of their first car. "Oh my gosh, Max, Bonnie, you've got to see it. It's just like ours! It even has the same name as the car we had when we got married!" she recalls telling her husband and sister after spotting "The Blue Goose" painted in small letters above the gas intake.

Then her son told her to check out the owner, listed on the windshield.

When she saw her own name, she figured her husband had spotted the car before she did, and quickly arranged this little joke for her.

"Then he hands me the title to the car, and it hit me. I started bawling and laughing, and everyone around me started clapping," she said.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for happy old-couple stories. Read the full article at Seattle Times right here.


Real quick movie recommendation. Kristin and I downloaded Outsourced over XBLA the other night and really enjoyed it. It's about a thirtysomething sales guy for a Seattle company called Northwest Novelty (they sell lots of kitsch) who is forced to go to India to train the people who are taking over for his department. It stars Josh Hamilton (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Dane Cook) as the executive and the beautiful Ayesha Dharker as the inevitably hard-working phone-bank employee for whom Josh's character falls for.

The movie is pretty funny at times, but also as independent films are typically willing to do, doesn't mind spending some time showcasing the opposing viewpoint to a sensitivie topic, in this case showing an Indian's take on outsourcing. I also enjoyed the movie because of the culture shock-value and because it really seemed to showcase India as India, and not what Hollywood wants us to believe it's like. The portions of the movie that strayed more into travel-zine territory seemed far more genuine than in most other movies. Of course, I hadn't been to India yet, but it seemed presented in a natural state.

The characters are all likeable (except for the one who is purposely a jerk) and the setting is fantastic. It's a pretty short movie at just 103 minutes, but it's won a handful of awards including Best Film at the 2007 Seattle Independent Film Festival.

Definitely check it out.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

We covered 2,849 miles of roadway during out Colorado roadtrip last month and I have to say that Khaled Hosseini's follow-up to The Kite Runner made the time in the car far more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been. Thank goodness for iTunes audiobooks!

As someone with aspirations to write a novel in the future, I can appreciate the challenge of crafting engaging dialogue. Some books pull it off and others stumble along the way with a phoniness that oozes out of every character's mouth, but never have I read a book where the characters were so different from myself, yet so identifiable and believable. How Hosseini could write an entire book not only about women, but about Afhgan women, and make it so easy for a thirtysomething guy from the United States to relate to is beyond my comprehension. But he did. And when I say relate to I mean it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is ultimately about women growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970's with dreams and hopes and watching their lives transformed first by the Russian invasion, then by the rise of the Taliban. It's a tale of horrendous suffering, of the horrors of arranged marriages, and abuses that fortunately do not happen in our society. But it's also about love, devotion, and the hope that things can improve when logic and incoming rockets tell you otherwise. Sure, A Thousand Splendid Suns is as much a history lesson about Afghanistan as it is a drama about young women coming to terms with their marriage to a ruthless brute, but it's also more.

What really struck me when listening to this book was not how different our cultures are from one another, but rather how many similarities we share. I suspect many chidren of divorced parents will find reflections of their own youth in the early portion of the book. Not only when it describes the pang of waiting for a father to come and visit each week (and hoping he's on time), but also when the issue of going to live with him and his other family arises. The pain it causes to the mother is palpable, but pales in comparison to the disappointment of seeing an otherwise respectable man bend to the will of his other wives and ignore his child. And the repercussions are ones I can't help but say I feared would bode all too true in my own life at times. Thirty thousand miles and decades in time separate me from this character, yet it hit very close to home.

Of course, that's where the similarities between an American life and that of these characters end. Sure, they want the same freedom, education, and fortune that are universal to humankind as I imagine they are, but the predicament the women of the book find themselves in limits this. We have all heard about the women's rights violations imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet Hosseini paints such a vivid picture, that it can at times be hard to even listen to. Imagine that: a life so oppressed others can't even bear to hear it described?

There is good with the bad though, thankfully, and as with all good stories this one ends with a promise of better days. And in this case, a promise made possible by our country's reaction to the attacks on 9/11. And therein lies what is probably the unintentional ethos of the book, to show that good can be found in every wretched situation we humans can inflict upon one another. For as horrific and unconscienable the attacks on 9/11 were, our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan has brought hope to many others. It doesn't bring Americans back from the dead and it cost our country deeply, but something good did ultimately come out of it for the real-life Mariams and Lailas of Afghanistan. It's little comfort to those who lost a loved-one in the attacks, sure, but it exists.

Hosseini is clearly one of the best writers of this generation and I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns to anyone.

Fear the Air Attack

I really, really wish I was making this up.

Allow me to introduce the starting wide receivers for the Seahawks game against the 49ers this weekend:

Courtney Taylor - 5 receptions in 2007.
Billy McMullen - 45 receptions in 2003 - 2006.
Samie Parker - 110 receptions in 2004 - 2007.
Logan Payne - 0 receptions in the NFL.

They are replacing the following due to injuries.

Deion Branch - 315 receptions in 2002 - 2007, including Super Bowl MVP in 2004.
Bobby Engram - 598 receptions in 1996 - 2007.
Nate Burleson - 195 receptions in 2003 - 2007.
Ben Obomanu - 12 receptions in 2007.

Nate and Ben are gone for the year, and Bobby won't be back till October. We can only hope that Deion can get back on the field in the next two to three weeks.

The Leg Thing...

The leg thing had me worried. I'll be honest and say that my first reaction was that I was having a stroke. I know, pretty farfetched for a guy who is only 32, but not impossible. Especially when you factor in the headaches.

I was actually talking with another strategy guide author the other day and mentioned this leg pain and the headaches to him and what he told me confirmed my recent decision to impose more down-time on myself, regardless of the pressure to work round the clock.

He was working ridiculous hours in attempt to meet another nearly-impossible deadline (sound familliar?) when suddenly his arm went numb. Then his leg. Then his other arm and leg, followed by his chest. He was obviously very concerned. He did some searching online for answers, went and got bloodwork done and had a physical and everything appeared to be normal. Except for the fact that the symptoms pointed to anything and everything ranging from stress to Multiple Sclerosis. He tells me he eventually went to a neurologist to have these "body migraines" looked into a bit further. Fortunately, it's very likely that the problem is stress. Way too many hours in front of a computer, way too much stress, way too weird of a sleeping pattern.

As for me, I don't know what caused the leg pain the other night. WebMD suggests it was likely a pinched nerve, but the simultaneous arrival of the headaches and my fellow author's tale tells me it could have been a very mild case of body migraine. I don't know.

Regardless, I am making a serious effort to take more time away from the desk. In fact, I may even ease back on my blogging too. I never minded the ridiculous hours I work when on a project because it always balances out with complete downtime. I've often joked that I either work 80-100 hours a week or 0. There's no way to completely smooth that out to a nice 40 hour per week average (and frankly I wouldn't want to) but I have to make an effort to work less during those crunch times. Kristin and I are going to try and ensure we take two nights a week off from work & schoolwork and spend at least one day on the weekend not working. No matter how busy we get. We just need the downtime for health's sake apparently.

Neither of us are workaholics by any stretch, but crunch happens. It's unavoidable. I just got to find a way to not let it get out of hand.

The Eyes Have It

I started suffering from very frequent headaches this weekend, something I've only previously experienced when I was dehydrated or jonesing for a caffeine fix. These weren't normal everyday headaches either. The pain was coming from my eyebrows and were triggered by shifting my gaze. Bright lights were very painful, changing focus from near to far induced pain, and looking up, down or to the sides hurt like hell.

To make matters worse, my leg started going numb Saturday night while I sat and worked. I couldn't sit in my chair due to pain spreading through my right femur. It originated up near the pelvis and shot down through my leg to my knee. Sunday I laid on the couch all day, suffering from the headaches and periodic leg numbness. A couple of Aleve sent the pain into hibernation, but it was clear something wasn't right. Stress? A pinched nerve? Tired eyes? I toned down the brightness on my monitors, switched out my office chair, but it was only the Aleve that seemed to do anything.

I just got back from my first eye exam in at least 12 years. As expected, I ended up getting a prescription for computer glasses. My overall vision is good and I don't have any eye disease. I'm a little bit burry when it comes to distant viewing -- a slow deterioration that I've noticed over the years when in the car with Kristin -- so the doctor is giving me a mild prescription to help relax my eyes and just make it easier to handle the long hours I put in in front of the computer.

I can't say I particularly enjoyed trying on different glasses. I never thought I'd see the day. And while I'm almost always wearing sunglasses (light sensitivity and for protection while mountain biking), there is something really odd about trying on glasses with clear lenses. I at once thought I looked quite a bit older. I didn't much care for it.

Insurance picked up the exam and the $200 eye hardware credit is enough to cover the lenses (barely, thanks to the anti-glare coating), but the frame selection was super pricey. I had no idea eyeglass frames were so expensive! I should have them in 7-10 days. I just hope the headaches are minor enough so I could finish this book I'm working on in the meantime.

Leadville: Official Numbers

I finally got around to looking at the official results for the Leadville 100. Here's how it breaks down:

Official Starters: 890
Finishers < 9hrs: 114 (12.8%)
Finishers 9 to 12 hrs: 538 (60.4%)
Unofficial Finishers 12 to 13 hrs: 60 (6.7%)
Did Not Finish: 178 (20.0%)

By all accounts from those who would know, this year's race had the best conditions and was one of the fastest ever. It also had a much higher finishing percentage than normal. I believe the 2007 race had a finishing percentage of only 65%, much lower than this year's 80% (including those of us in the 12 to 13 hour bracket).

And I could be wrong, but I believe far fewer than 100 racers finished in under 9 hours last year.

I was the fifth person to come across the line after the 12-hour gunshot blast.


In other news, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not Lance would come back and race Leadville next year. That question was likely laid to rest today when he followed in the long line of athletes who come out of retirement shortly after realizing they have nothing else to do. That's right, Lance says he's entering the 2009 Tour de France. So, in all likelihood, Lance will not be racing Leadville. But if he does (highly unlikely), he's going to be more than fit enough to win after getting back into TDF shape.

No word on what team he's going to race with (my guess is Columbia or a Euro team... or Rock) but I'll still be pulling for Garmin Chipotle. After all, they're the tastiest! And speaking of Garmin Chipotle, I really hope they don't sign Lance. Let those boys who did the team so proud this year have their shot next year.

Pure-ly Spectactular

Okay, I admit that I've only gotten to play the demo and my experience with the game is limited, but the new ATV racing game Pure is absolutely fantastic. When I first viewed a trailer for this game earlier in the summer, my thoughts could be summed up as follows, Oh great, just what we need. Disney Interactive is putting out another moto-x trick game. Yawn.

Then when I was working on-site last month a certain well-known game designer had said he got to play Pure at a gaming event in Toronto. He had nothing but praise for the game. I believe "F'ing awesome" were his exact words.

So I downloaded the demo the other day and was immediately blown away, not just by the graphics which were impressive, but by the overall quality of the demo and the natural ease at which the game played. The game is indeed about racing four-wheelers (quads or ATVs or whatever other coloquial term you have for them) through mountainous terrain, but the game's hook is that the jumps allow you to literally fly hundreds of feet in the air and, thanks to the magic of whatever graphics engine they're using, you really do get a sense of vertigo. There is an intuitive trick system that features 70 different tricks. The races have 16 racers in them (single player career and online multiplayer) and the quads are all customizable with different parts and settings, supposedly allowing 100,000 different set-ups.

But games like this always rest on their ability to provide a fun diversion while offering a difficulty that balances challenge with frustration. I've been playing a lot of Sega Rally Revo over the past few months and that game goes too far into the realm of frustration for me to really recommend it to anyone other than racing-game masochists. There's no telling just yet if Pure will get the difficulty curve handled -- the demo race felt about perfect, if not a hair or two on the easy side -- but the addition of 16-player multiplayer makes this a must-buy for me regardless.

This game was so off my radar a month ago, I would have never given it a glance in the store. But now? September 16th can't get here fast enough.

(actually, yes it can since I have a deadline on the 15th)

Marathons, Football, and Spiritual Craziness

Kristin and her friend Cristyann went up to northern Washington yesterday and ran the Skagit Valley Marathon. They had been training for a couple months together -- it was Cristyann's first -- and they finished the pancake flat course in a time of 4:30 without any blisters or walking. They ran together and chatted and basically took in the scenery as they ran towards the coast outside of Burlington.

They weren't even done for two hours before Cristyann started talking about going down to Portland in four weeks to run another one. Kristin's biggest reservation about coming back and doing another marathon in just 4 weeks isn't the wear and tear on the body, but rather that it would mean another Sunday spent away from the couch she and I camp in front of the tv on during the NFL season.

I did miss her yesterday, especially since the gawd-awful play of the Seahawks necessitated having someone to accompany me in my viewing misery. What a weekend for Washington football fans: First UW gets their heart ripped out of their throat by a phantom celebration penalty with 2 seconds to play and loses 28-27, then WSU gets taken to the woodshed by Cal and loses 66-3, and then the Seahawks, the one team around here not in the WNBA that anyone has any hopes for, goes and lays down for the Bills in New York. Forget millions of dollars, the Seahawks don't even deserve the flier miles they got for that trip. Especially not the offensive line. Too bad George Carlin wasn't still alive, as he could have easily added "Seahawks" to his list of dirty words after the way they played yesterday. But hey, blame it on the jet-lag again why don't ya.

Anyway, back to running. All this talk about running marathons has reminded me that I never did break 3 hours like I always wanted to. I'm not so sure I could anymore, let a lone want to do the training it would take to do so, but I am giving getting back into running a little thought. If for no other reason than, I much prefer running in the fall and winter to cycling and it does a far better job of keeping the winter pounds at bay thn cycling. We'll see...

One thing for certain, there is a race in Queens, New York that I know I will never enter. No, not the New York Marathon (although I have no interest in running with that many people either), but rather the "Self-Transcendence Race". I was reading about this in Men's Journal the other night. The race is 3,100 miles long (you read that correctly) but never leaves the city block where it begins. Racers race lap after lap around a single block in Queens that isn't even a half-mile long for 51 days, in attempt to rack up 3,100 miles worth of distance. The article states that runners typically run from 6am to midnight every day in order to average 60.7 miles per day so as to finish in the 51 day limit.

The runners are disciples of Sri Chinmoy, a Bengali guru and the race's founder. Chinoy, who died last year, sought spirtual harmony through creativity and athletics, with an an emphasis on quantity (he is said to have authored 1,500 books and completed 16 million bird drawings).


A race pamphlet warns of fatigue, minor injuries, and, the greatest threat, boredom. "Listening to Harry Potter is popular, says Welsh runner Abichal.

A race so long and tedious that competitors actually recommend audio books. Yikes.

But hey, what better way to achievieve spiritual enlightenment than by listening to a book about pre-pubescent wizards and warlocks.

A better man than I would refrain from that last sentence, but the irony was just too rich.

Political Food for Thought

Good news everyone! It turns out I don't actually have acid reflux disease. I was exhibiting all of the symptoms this week, but the doctor said all I needed was a good strong drink and to wait until Friday when network programming returned to normal.

That was a close one. I'm already feeling much better, thanks for asking.

But seriously, if I may, now that the conventions have come and gone I think a couple of things really need to be addressed (and yes, I'm purposely trying to diminish my readership by talking politics again). Although my overly strong gag-reflex limited the amount of speeches I was able to watch from this week's RNC, there were two very strong themes that I saw running through the show. One was the issue of "judgement" and the other was an unyielding, blind-faith sense of pride in the country.

Let's discuss this "pride of our country" issue first. The whole issue arises from a well-known comment Michelle Obama made so long ago, but it doesn't stop the GOP from trying to bludgeon anyone and everyone with the fact that they, unlike some people, are always proud of their country. These were Palin's exact words on Wednesday.

My response is this. Really? You're always proud of your country? You were proud when the photos from Abu Ghraib prison surfaced? You were proud when we let New Orleans drown and the President didn't even bother flying over the area until 4 days later? You were proud when our Secretary of State argued semantics while millions were slaughtered in Rwanda? You were proud when we re-elected George W. Bush?

Oh, my bad, I'm not sure how that slipped in there...

Why do Republicans so often confuse the words pride and love? Normal people known the difference. I know the difference. Michelle Obama knew the difference. I love this country tremendously. I love the opportunities, I love the geography, I love the beauty, and I love the promise and idea of it and what it stands for. But I am most certainly not always proud of it.

Just like a parent isn't always proud of their child's behavior. They always love them. That's the rule of nature. But they're not always proud. How many times have we been scolded as a child and heard our parents say, "I will always love you, but I'm not always proud of you." Okay, maybe I heard that more than you did, but I was real bastard as a kid. Well, no, not a bastard literally, just figuratively. Anyway, even kids know the difference between a parent loving them and being proud. So why don't Republicans?

The other theme that kept coming up during the convention and throughout the election as a whole so far is the concept of judgment. Both sides have used it over and over. But let's talk about judgment for a moment.

Eight years ago, I was giddy with delight about switching parties and voting for McCain in the 2000 primary. For those who have forgotten, it was eight years ago when McCain was all the things he's trying to make himself out to be today. Back then, he really was the maverick he purports to still be. Eight years ago he had as few friends in the Republican party as he did in the Democratic. Eight years ago he was getting things done. Unfortunately, eight years of kowtowing to the man who defeated him in that primary has changed him. He barely resembles the man I was so anxious to vote for, but couldn't.

And you know why I couldn't vote for McCain? Because the collective judgment of Republicans thought George W. Bush would make a better President than McCain. He was defeated before NC had their primary.

Think about that, Republicans. When left to choose amongst your own, you all but ignored McCain in 2000. You turned against him in vicious ways; you believed Karl Rove's lies and smears; and you joined together to say that George W. Bush would make a better president than John McCain. Eight years later, Bush has the lowest approval rating in the history of our country and is by all accounts the worst President in American history, perhaps second only to Hoover who, oddly enough, also turned a blind eye to the massive economic struggles of his citizenry.

For those who need it spelled out, what does it say about Republican judgment when, just eight years ago, they as a party thought Bush would make a better President than McCain?

Now McCain is more like the rest of them and they want a do-over. I'd be tempted to give them one too, if only we could go back in time to 2000 and vote for the John McCain who ran for President back then. Unfortunately we can't, and even sadder is the eight years under Bush really changed him. For as strong and resilient of a man he is, Bush's presidency has seemed to beat him down too.

We can't afford to elect a man who, within his own Republican Party, was thought to be less-fit to be President than the one with a current approval rating of 25%. Doing so wouldn't show wise judgment.

Keurig Addendum

Okay, I'm even more excited about this Keurig thing now than I was the other day.

We're going through the K-Cups that came with it pretty quickly (September is my busiest month and I'm averaging 6 K-Cups a day) so I logged onto to make a purchase. Lo and behold, they really do have quite the selection. I also didn't realize this, but Keurig is owned by Green Mountain Roasters, a coffee I have very fond memories of from college.

Allow me to explain...

I was a student at Lafayette College back in 93-97 and, long before Starbucks became a household name, I had a "meal plan" at a little coffee shop off campus in the College Hill neighborhood called Hill of Beans. The shop was owned by a really nice woman -- I tried not to hold her being a Steelers fan against her -- and she always had several carafes of excellent coffee on the ready and would automatically make me a toasted spinach bagle every morning when I walked in. And she always put just the right amount of butter on it. Man, I miss those bagels... and what a great little shop. I probably did the majority of my studying in that place.

Anyway, she only ever brewed Green Mountain coffee and ever since then, that particular brand of coffee has felt like home to me. I don't see it much any more since I now live on the west coast (the namesake Green Mountains, for the geographically challenged, are in Vermont) but just spotting the logo brings back really fond memories.

So this brings me back to the Keurig coffee maker and the K-Cups. Keurig does indeed have a ton of different roasts on their website to offer, but it also has a couple dozen varieties from Green Mountain, which is fantastic. They also have a coffee club that starts out with a 10% discount and free shipping to customers buying 4 or more 24-packs of coffee. You get a single point for every K-Cup in your order and once you've accrued 500 points, you move up to a 15% discount and free shipping.

Our first order consisted of (2) 24-packs, (2) 25-packs, and (2) 5-pack samplers. After the discount and free shipping were factored in, the 108 K-Cups averaged out to just 51 cents a mug.

Not only do I no longer waste any beans on undrank coffee, but the maker is so easy and convenient to use, but my runs to Starbucks have diminished substantially also (the Cuisinart was such a pain to use, I found it more convenient to bicycle the 1/2 mile to the nearby Starbucks). And the replacement is 51-cent mugs of coffee. Good coffee. Ready in a matter of seconds. I couldn't be happier.


***Note: To the employees who work for competing single-cup coffee makers, please save yourself the time and refrain from spamming my comments section with your transparent praise for competing makers. In the future, perhaps you should not have your blogger profile name link directly to your company's website. If you're going to attempt guerrila/viral marketing, you might want to at least attempt to look like an everyday reader and not the shill you really are. That said, if you think your coffee maker is superior to the Keurig, I'd be happy to put a demo model through its paces and post my opinion. Use my email to contact me directly.

Aerosmith and European Trains

I'll have a post about the few hours I spent at the Penny Arcade Expo up later, but in the meantime I want to briefly mention two games I've been playing a bit this weekend.

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith
I wasn't going to get this game. In fact, I had sworn off the Guitar Hero franchise after GH3. Nevertheless, my excitement over next month's release of Rock Band 2 combined with the fun I had playing Guitar Hero: World Tour at PAX (the line for Rock Band 2 was way too long) and resulted in one of the most impulsive purchases I've made in some time.

And now, I will say with some certainty, that I will not buy another game in the Guitar Hero franchise. And this time I mean it. It's not that this is a bad game, it's just that it lacks effort. The set list is short, missing many of Aerosmith's most famous songs, and far too reliant on songs from the 70's. Each set has two songs from a band not-named Aerosmith and these filler songs are generally more fun to play than the ones by the featured band.

There was a lot of discussion about the quality of the note charts in GH3 when compared to those in Rock Band and now I see exactly what people were talking about. Too frequent were the times I felt the notes I was playing had little to nothing to do with the music. "Dream On", one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, was a particular abomination.

Nevertheless, I played through everything on Medium and began going through the songs on Hard mode. I am enjoying playing the game again, even if only to practice for RB2, but little annoyances bug me. For starters, there isn't any downloadable content. No "Cryin", no "Janie's Got a Gun", and no "The Other Side". I know not every one of Aerosmith's hits lend themselves to the Guitar Hero treatment, but come on? Are ballads really that bad? Another annoyance is that the Leaderboards doesn't sort your Friends list. If I want to check the scores from those on my Friends list, I have to manually scroll through all 40+ people on the list, just to find the 4 or 5 who have actually played the game -- every other game would put those people at the top and just show dash marks for those who never played it, which is the majority.

All is not bad though. The Achievements are far less painful (i.e. annoying) than in Guitar Hero III, and the difficulty jump from Easy to Medium to Hard is more in tune with the way Harmonix used to have it. The jump in difficulty in Guitar Hero III was obnoxious. That said, unless you are a GH-addict, in love with Aerosmith (particularly, their older stuff), or find this one on sale, I really can't recommend it. Just bide your time until Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero: World Tour release this fall.

Ticket to Ride: European Expansion
I'm totally hooked on Ticket to Ride, the classic board game that has you connecting cities across a map of 19th century United States (and lower Canada). The European Expansion brings the famed European map and introduces several subtle, but powerful, gameplay changes. The lines between cities are generally much shorter, but now you have to contend with tunnels and ferries, both of which can be much tougher to build than tracks crisscrossing the American west. Routes that make use of ferries mandate the use of a locomotive card and those that burrow through mountains or under inland seas carry the risk of cost overruns -- three additional cards are drawn and if any are a locomotive or of the same color you played, then you have to cough up additional cards or forfeit your turn.

The other big addition to the ruleset is the use of stations. You can purchase up to three stations per game to "borrow" a line of track from one of your competitors. This can be helpful if you need to finish a major route, but it also costs you points in the end since you get a bonus for finishing with more unused stations. Stations don't come into play too much in two- and three-player games, but are certainly more common in four- and five-player matches.

In general, the game plays much the same as standard Ticket to Ride. The only thing that is taking some time to get used to is that the cities are all spelled in their native tongue, which can be very different from how we Americans have seen them spelled in history books and on the nightly news. For example, Cophenhagen is spelled Kobenhavn in the game, just like it is in Denmark. Other cities are even less easily identifiable. I'm not complaining about this -- I actually like the geography lesson -- it's just something that I wasn't expecting.

In the end, if you like Ticket to Ride, the expansion is definitely worthy of your time. At 600 points, the expansion costs less than the full game, as expected, but possibly not the 400 points most were anticipating. That said, the expansion does come with two new Achievements worth a total of 30 Gamerscore, so at least there's that.

One Step Closer to a Jetsons Life

The company I was working on-site at last month had one of those massive single-cup coffee makers with piped-in water, multiple containers of beans, and even a few bottles of flavoring syrups for the heathen portion of their staff who like their mana mangled. It was incredible. You told it what type of roast you wanted, whether you wanted straight drip coffee or something more akin to a latte or cappucino, then you told it how strong, what flavor (none being the only correct answer), and then you hit the button that the staff dutifully labeld as "ENGAGE!"

Your coffee was served in seconds and, to my initial surprise, it wasn't bad.Not great, but there are times when quantity is far more important than quality. 14-hour days of multiplayer gaming is one of them.

I wanted this machine in my office -- my home office. Unfortunately, constraints of the space, plumbing, and financial kind made this an impossibility. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about what a total pain-in-the-beans it is to use the Cuisinart Grind n' Brew coffee maker we currently have. Not only does it take forever to clean after each use and not only does it sound like a turbo-prop attempting to take off from my kitchen, but the thing has a nasty habit of... wait for it... spilling an entire pot of coffee on the counter. Oh, yes, apparently the design geniouses at Cuisinart never heard of a little something I like to call surface tension. The coffee doesn't always make its way through the miniscule drip holes in the top of the carafe. Instead, it floods the kitchen.

As it turns out, single-cup coffee makers have come a long way over the past years and after reading numerous reviews, I decided to give the Keurig K-Cup system a try. I was a bit hesitant at first because of the cost of the larger makers (I wanted one with a large reservoir) and because buying my coffee at Lines n Things or Macy's seems about as natural as putting your pants on two legs at a time. Nevertheless, I decided I was going to track down Keurig Platinum version and give it a try.

I think I love you...

I didn't. Instead, I was able to secure the Keurig Special Edition at Costco for far less money and it came with a box of 72 extra coffee K-Cups. I can see it now: You're wondering what the hell a K-Cup is. Don't fret, I hadn't known until a few days ago either. Let me tell you...

First things first, the Keurig Special Edition is a single-cup coffee maker that has a 48oz reservoir, three cup sizes, and digital display with timed on/off settings and 5-degrees of temperature control. I leave it at the max of 192-degrees. The coffeemaker is designed to be left on all the time -- it pumps about ten ounces of water into an internal chamber and maintains it at the desired temperature so it's ready when you are. (Wow, that sounded like a commercial. My bad.) I set it to turn on at 6:15 in the morning and turn off at 11pm at night.

To use the Keurig during that time, all I need to do is lift the lid, remove the spent K-Cup from my last serving, put a new one in (this process takes roughly 4 seconds), close the lid, and press the button for which size mug I'm using. That's it. Nothing to clean. Nothing to rinse. No grinds or beans to fret over. The water is always hot and from start to finish it takes about 20 seconds to have a cup of coffee ready to go.

And, depending on the roast you choose, it tastes fantastic.

K-Cups are little plastic containers packed with ground coffee and sealed tight. The Keurig punctures the bottom and the top, injects water through the top of the K-Cup and out the bottom into your mug. The bonus box we received with the coffee maker came with K-Cups from Green Mountain, Carribou, Tully's, and Newman's Own coffees. I learned quickly that you have to stick to the 6 or 8 oz servings if using one of the lighter roasts, and hold onto the French roast from Tully's and Newman's Own for when you want a 10oz cup. Otherwise, you risk it getting a little weak. You can, of course, remove the drip tray, place a huge travel mug under it and run two K-Cups worth of coffee into it.

Keurig's website boasts over 200 varieties of coffees, teas, and other drinks (our maker came with several teas and even hot cocoa K-Cups). They are typically sold in boxes of 18 K-Cups for $10. That works out $0.56 per cup of coffee. Depending on the size of your Starbucks addiction, this may or may not sound like a lot of money for coffee. When it comes to coffee, there are those people who think nothing of squeezing a couple weeks out of a can of five-buck can of Maxwell House grounds, and then there are those who drop upwards of five bucks on a single cup of a Clover-brewed exotic roast. And everyone in between.

I typically made a pot of coffee every morning and every night. A rather large 8 or 10 cup pot. And undoubtedly, I would end up throwing out at least one-third of it because it would sit too long. I'd typically drink 5 big mugs of coffee a day. Now, with the Keurig, that works out to about $2.75 a day in K-Cups. Definitely more than I'd spend on average on grinds, but also the same price a single venti americano fetches at Starbucks (my drink of choice). And here's the catch: there's no waste. Every cup is made to order so I'm never wasting beans on coffee that gets thrown out.

Now, I wasn't too excited about leaving a coffee maker on all day long. After all, we're all trying to reduce our energy consumption. Right? Fortunately, the Keurig draws very little energy and the water that is on-standby is kept in a very well-insulated internal chamber. The coffee maker doesn't try to heat the entire 48oz reservoir. Now, that said, I do feel a bit dirty everytime I throw one of the spent K-Cups into the garbage. I imagine that, in total, they probably use no more plastic than a foil-lined bag of beans, but I do want to look into recycling or composting the K-Cups, if at all possible. In the meantime, I'll take comfort in knowing that Kristin and I generate only a small bag of garbage each week and the K-Cups are barely the size of a Dixie cup. And, like I said before, there's no wasted coffee or water.

The only knock I have against the Keurig Ultimate is that I wish there was a 12oz setting for larger mugs (the Keurig Platinum has that) and that the K-Cups were available in grocery stores. I haven't seen them yet. Fortunately, they can be ordered from their website and judging by the May, 2009 expiration dates on the bottom of the K-Cup I just used, they last plenty long enough.

I never thought I'd buy (and like) a single-cup coffee maker after trying one of the pod coffee makers a couple years ago, but this thing looks great, is easy to use, and the coffee tastes great.