Update: South Fork Snoqualmie Road to Trail Conversion

Just a quick update regarding the backcountry trail project I'm working on. I submitted the initial application for an NRTP (National Recreational Trail Program) grant today. Tomorrow's deadline is just the first phase of a multi-step application process and primarily serves to introduce the project to the folks at the RCO (Resource Conservation Organization) and to lay out the project cost estimates, matching funds, and grant request. The next major milestone comes on August 1st -- the day I leave for Leadville -- and requires several pages of narrative in the form of Q&A, and will also require a finer level of specification. I was asked to present the project details to the BBTC Board at their next meeting to get the organization to sign off on a volunteer commitment, so that will be another first for me. I continue to hear that this is one of the most important projects in BBTC's history so I imagine it won't be hard to get the Board's approval.

The following is the project description I wrote for the grant application. I was limited to 1500 characters including spaces and forced to be very concise. Not necessarily my strongpoint, I admit, but I think it came out pretty good.

The Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club will use this grant to help design and develop a network of multi-use trails following road decommissioning in the South Fork Snoqualmie River Basin, along the south side of Interstate 90 between Olallie State Park to the west and Hansen Creek to the east. Development is expected to take place in three phases in coordination with road decommissioning by Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and will ultimately yield a 22 mile network of backcountry trails. This trail network will dramatically increase the total mileage of trails open to mountain bikes along the I-90 corridor and tie into the existing John Wayne Pioneer Trail and the to-be-constructed Mount Washington Trail in Olallie State Park.

This project was initially proposed in 1995 and has received support from numerous agencies including the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Washington Trails Association, all of whom identified a growing demand for new mountain bike trails in the region. Since the initial proposal, the USFS has acquired all necessary land from Weyerhaeuser and has scheduled 50 miles of roads for decommissioning beginning in 2009. This grant will ensure that we are able to coordinate efforts to transform existing roads into a significant recreational outlet for the growing population of the Seattle metropolitan area.

Booyah!

I think it's going to be a good week.

Just knocked off an 8:23 on the climb up Snoqualmie Parkway from the railroad tracks to Fairway Avenue. I hadn't ever done it in under nine minutes before, so this was a nice surprise. I noticed my heart rate was between 173-177 for almost all of the climb so that tells me I can probably push a little harder if I really dug deep. Of course, not being 25 miles into a ride when I start the climb would help too.

We'll see, but I just might get under eight minutes by summer.

Clemens: A Yankee Fan Boils it Down

In case you haven't heard the news, Roger Clemens, the famed pitcher being investigated for steroid use, has now been accused of having a long-term affair with country music singer, Mindy McCready. The accusations, which Clemens has denied, say the relationship began when the singer was just 15 years old. McCready said in a statement today that she can't deny any of the charges. When the sex began is unknown.

A friend of mine who is a life-long Yankee fan summarized the whole sordid situation in the following sentence, a statement that truly gets to the heart of what's important here:

So what if he did some roids as a Yankee - Clemens F'd that 15yr old when he was on the [Red] Sox.


So there you have it, illegal drug use is not as bad as statutory rape. Especially if the accused once played for a rival club.

Bulk Mileage

I'm in the final stretch leading up to the 24-hour race in Spokane. The race is just 4 weeks from now which means these next couple weeks are very important in terms of making sure I'm adequately prepared. I can't worry about the riding I didn't get do in early April, I can only worry about making the most of the time I have left to train.

I attribute much of my (relative) success at last year's race to the riding I did in Moab and Fruita during a trip made there in early May of last year. In four days I rode 165 miles with over 18,500 feet of climbing while down there. I'm not heading back to Moab this week and there's no doubt that nearly all of the really mountainous terrain is buried under deep snow around here, so I'm going to have to improvise. The goal, regardless of where I am, has to be to get three consecutive days of 5-7 hour rides in.

So here's my plan for the week:

Monday - Scheduled rest day... and boy did I need it.

Tuesday - Going to take a second rest day to get some work done and to attend a BBTC meeting tonight in Seattle.

Wednesday - 30 mile road ride, easy spin through North Bend.

Thursday - 40 mile mountain bike ride, two laps of the Thrilla course.

Friday - 60 mile mountain bike ride, Grand Ridge and up to Rattlesnake Lake.

Saturday - 90 mile mountain bike ride, two laps of the Thrilla course starting at my house.

Sunday - 100 mile road ride from Snoqualmie through Issaquah to Seattle and back through Redmond and Carnation.

I plan on being very tired next Monday.

GTA Day

Before you ask, no I'm not planning on buying GTA IV today.

I've bought two of the three earlier games in the series only to be completely entertained for an hour, then miserably bored thereafter. But rather than criticise or falsely condemn the game for things its not (i.e. just about everything you'll hear on the news this week) I think this may be one of those times when the phrase it's not you, it's me is appropo. When it comes to the GTA series, I just don't get it. People love its adult content, they love it's grittyness and the lack of what I call the Fisher-Price sheen that adorns too many otherwise worthwhile games, and they love the sandbox aspects of it. I'm in favor of all these things too, but for some reason the game always leaves me wanting to play something else.

GTA IV will no doubt sell a million copies today and I expect that by the end of the year -- especially if there's a price drop on the Xbox 360 or PS3 -- the industry will have its first billion-dollar game. 16 million copies worldwide? Doable. Thanks in no small part to the tax rebate checks Americans will be getting this week (I bet Bush's Christian Conservative constituency didn't see that one coming). But if American Idol has taught us anything, it's that popularity and ratings don't mean quality. This isn't to say GTA IV is as substance-free as manufactured television, but I don't at all buy the reasoning that something must be good because it's popular. Millions will flock to the stores to purchase GTA IV because they either loved the previous games or because the game has an average review score of 99.6 on Gamerankings.com, the highest average I have ever seen. They'll point to the open-ended world, the hundreds of hours of gameplay, the multiplayer mode, the bonus content coming soon on XBL, and myriad other features of why this do-anything you want game must be theirs.

And I alone sit on the sidelines wondering if, yet again, somebody peed in the sandbox.

The talk of revamped controls gives me hope, and significantly addresses one of my biggest complaints about the previous games, but it's still a no-sale. I need to hear from someone who had also been bored to tears by the previous games. I need to find another holdout like me stand up and preach to me the gospel of Rockstar Games. Only then will I be convinced. Only then will I join the flock of millions and tithe my $60 and hop the crazy bus to Liberty City.

In the meanwhile, I just hope there's someone around to play a different game with.

City Lights. Ferries, and Dumpster Diving

Met up with a couple of folks from Native Planet on Saturday morning in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle for my first in-city bike ride. We left Joe's rental house around 10am and made our way up and over some hills to the Eastlake neighborhood before dropping down alongside I-5 to Stewart. From there, we turned west and zipped straight through the heart of downtown Seattle. The five of us took over the right-hand lane and blasted over and around streetcar tracks, manholes, and potholes on course for the waterfront. I hadn't ever ridden in the city before and it was quite a thrill, even if it was just light weekend traffic. Joe led us down the narrow, cobblestoned, steeply sloping Post Alley landmark and more than a few Paris-Roubaixe comments were made by the group. Mental Note: Must attend that race one of these years!

Our course was plotted towards the waterfront for a reason: we were taking the ferry over to Bainbridge Island to ride the "Chilly Hilly" course. I've never been to Bainbridge Island before and have heard great things about this particular route, so I was excited. And did I mention the sun was out and the temps were (finally!) climbing into the upper 60's.

Bainbrige Island blew me away. The narrow country roads, the impecable craftsman style homes, the hills, and did I mention the views? Man alive, this is one of the nicest places I've ever ridden! A local named Tony joined our group once we got off the ferry and he took us on a slightly more intimate route than the standard Chilly Hilly course and much of the ride was right along the water. We'd swoop and climb and descend along the coast with mouths agape at the incredible views into secluded coves and bays and, of course, back across Puget Sound to the Seattle skyline and Cascade Mountains. It was the type of day that makes putting up with the Northwest winters all worth it. It was the type of bike ride that makes me glad to be alive and thankful to not be anywhere but where I am.

The Chilly Hilly course lived up to its name and while I do not see any reason to ride this route with the thousands of other cyclists in February, my bike and I will definitey be no stranger to Bainbridge Island in the summer months.

We completed the 33 mile course in time to catch the 2:00 ferry back to Seattle. We had split into two different paced groups and the slower bunch would have to catch a later ferry, but they expected as much and on a day like today, nobody was complaining. Back in Seattle, Joe and Jim and I rode north along the waterftont, past the throngs of tourists, the sculpture park, and onto the bike path towards Queen Anne hill. Joe wanted to take in "the view" from the park atop Queen Anne and who was I to argue? The climb was a bear after having already committed myself to sprinting every hill on the Chilly Hilly course, but the three of us made it to the top without stopping and were soon soaking in the incredible views overlooking the city. As usual, a wedding party was there posing for photos. They couldn't have picked a nicer day and a better backdrop if they had tried.

From there, we headed northeast and, much to my chagrin, over the Aurora Bridge. The bridge is about 165 feet high, the sidewalk not too wide, and there was plenty of gravel on the sidewalk too. I spent the entire half-mile or so trying not to look down and wondering if it was possible for me to crash in such a way that I would fall over the railing. I should point out that Aurora Bridge is Seattle's premiere suicide destination and after having ridden over it, I can now say that I'm all in favor of higher jumper-proof barriers being erected.

Jim split from the group in Fremont to head home, which left just Joe and I alone en route back to his place. This is when he looks to me and says, "Today's your lucky day, I'm going to show you a secret."

I don't really know Joe. I met him on a ride last Tuesday and to be honest, I'm not sure he and I would really have much in common besides cycling. He's a little different. He's very friendly, and a genuinely nice guy, but he's a bit more earthy than I am.

So he tells me about a bread company nearby that throws out all their day-olds into dumpsters behind their factory. For some reason they don't donate it or give it away or destroy it, but rather just chuck it all into a few dumpsters. Really high-quality "artisan" breads too. Joe's secret was that he was taking me dumpster diving.

We roll into the parking lot behind the factory and a UW hippie-chick is rummaging through one of the three dumpsters. Joe flips the lid on a second and practically starts salivating about the prospects. The breads are all in paper bags just like they'd appear on store shelves, but they were in a dumpster. The dumpster was about half full so you had to really reach in deep to grab anything. I knew refusing to partake would label me a snob so rather than turn up my nose at the whole thing, I instead chose to hold it, reach in, and feign excitement over a loaf of sourdough. To my surprise, however, the excitement turned genuine when I realized how soft the bread still was. It smelled great, it appeared clean, had a rich golden crust, and honestly, I was actually turning excited to have this $5 loaf of bread for free. Joe was excited too and in a blink of an eye, climbed into the dumpster to fish for a couple of olive-loafs for he and his fiancee. He agreed to carry all the bread back to his house -- I guess riding with a courier bag has its benefits -- and several other people drove up to the dumpsters as we were leaving. He tells me that he even sees some of the well-healed folks for the million-dollar Queen Anne condos hitting the dumpsters after work for free bread. I might even believe him.

------

Finally had a great week on the bike thanks to the turn in the weather. Got in about 10 hours of pure saddle time and over 11,000 feet of climbing this week. Also finally got around to replacing the brake pads on my road bike and buying a shorter stem. Maybe I won't be terrified descending Alpe d'Zoo this Tuesday!

Tuesday - Road Bike: 20.3 miles, 2841 feet climbing.
Thursday - Road Bike: 22.2 miles, 1271 feet climbing.
Saturday - Road Bike: 50.2 miles, 3567 feet climbing.
Sunday - Mountain Bike: 33.6 miles, 3645 feet climbing.

World's Fastest Bicycles Hit 80+ MPH!

Pretty interesting video about a very niche area of cycling that until ten minutes ago I didn't even know existed.

Underutilized Licenses

Kyle Orland has a pretty interesting article up over at Gamasutra.com. In it he discusses what he thinks are the 20 most underutilized licenses (game, movie, book, television, etc.). For each entry he gives some background on the license, how he thinks it should be made into a game, and then even suggests which development house would be best for it.

You can read it here.

Some of his entries sound pretty dull and it's pretty obvious Kyle's fascination with the Grand Theft Auto series has colored his judgment a bit, but it's a good read. And it gets major points from me for including R.C. Pro Am and the Dark Tower, two things I've been clamoring for a current-gen videogame edition of for a long time. And his suggestion for a XBLA remake of R.C. Pro-Am with HD graphics and new weaponry sounds absolutely superb.

The one big omission on his list was the Alex Kid series. How that series has not seen a single update since the Sega Master System (i.e. when I was 13 years old) is beyond me. Any game that settles boss fights with rock-paper-scissors deserves to have a cult following and be remade at least once every 6 years! And while I agree with Kyle that the movie Goodfellas could make for a good game, it's essentially already been done with the outstanding Russian-developed (go figure) Mafia game. If you haven't played the PC version of Mafia you're really missing out. It's one of the great cinematic action games around. With fantastic classic-car racing too! And by classic cars, I'm not talking about Mustangs and Camaros (gag!) I'm talking 1930's classics! It's an absolutely fantastic game, but just be sure to skip the Xbox port with the same name, as it was a bug-filled shadow of its former self.

Three Hills of Issaquah

I met up with some of the guys who do the Native Planet group road rides each week over in Issaquah on Tuesday for their hill-climbing ride. I had heard about the legendary "Alpe d'Zoo" climb near Cougar Mountain Zoo and wanted to finally give it a shot. The ride leader was riding a 1x5 Specialized hybrid/barcalounger of a bike with wheels that looked straight out of the 70's. He not only crushed everyone on the climbs, but he did so with a courier bag draped over his shoulder.

Apparently he did the climb in under 13 minutes on a single-speed hybrid bike in last year's annual Zoo Climb race.

Incredible. Alpe d'Zoo was our second climb of the day and I was holding some in reserve for the third climb up Squak Mountain, but I barely managed to do the climb in 20 minutes. Sub thirteen on a single-speed? Crikey!

Here's the elevation profile from the ride.

Click to enlarge.


Ride Stats:

Climb 1, 164th Street: 2.7 miles, 566 feet
Climb 2, Alpe d'Zoo: 2.4 miles, 1061 feet
Climb 3, Squak Mtn: 2.9 miles, 1039 feet

Total: 20.3 miles, 2841 feet

Avg Speed: 13.2 mph
Top Speed: 44.5 mph

I was on the brakes almost the entire time descending and, honestly, I was scared out of my mind. Maybe it's because I haven't been on the road bike much yet this year; perhaps it's flashbacks of cartwheeling down a road at 30+ mph once; and maybe it's because my brake pads are worn out the stem is too long and I simply don't feel safe on my road bike. Whatever the reason, I was much happier going uphill than down and think I'd rather descend technical singletrack at speed than a road with crazy guardrail-ringed hairpins.

As for the group dynamics, there were four of us. The aforementioned mountain goat on the 1x5 Specialized led on all of the climbs, then there were me and two other guys, both of them who looked quite strong and were sporting fancy Italian and French import bikes. I had to casually mention owning a Moots to ward off any inferiority complexes that might set in. After all, my road bike is nothing but a Performance Bike off-the-shelf special that I reeled in for under a grand. These guys' wheelsets (and the one on my Moots, for that matter) cost more than my whole bike.

I held back a bit on the first climb to make sure and finished about 1 minute off the back. On the second climb, Alpe d'Zoo, I pulled even with the third rider about 100 yards before the top and could have passed him, but chose to just finish up with him. I rode strong on the final climb and was alone in second of our group for much of the climb, until I got a stomach cramp and fell back to third 1/2 mile before the top. It wasn't a competitive group at all, everyone was really nice, but it was obvious everyone was looking to establish a sort of pecking order on the climbs and in that respect, being the new guy, I was glad to show obvious signs of getting comparitively stronger as the ride went on.

It dawned on me while holding on for dear life coming back down Alpe d'Zoo (and yes that is definitely a pretentious roadie name, but I kind of like it) that my road bike is over two years old now and it's not only running on the original chain and cassette and brake-pads, but it's never even been given a tune-up. Gulp!

R.I.P. Dewey Bridge

Anyone who has ever ridden the Kokopelli Trail from Fruita to Moab knows what a sight for sore eyes the Dewey Bridge is. And now it's no more. The historic structure that spans the Colorado River -- and site of my midday rest on day 2 of my ride -- went up in flames two weeks ago.

Crews began tearing away the charred planks and blackened cables of the Dewey Bridge on Monday after fire gutted the 92-year-old structure that had spanned the Colorado River 28 miles north of Moab, Utah.

Flames blamed on a 7-year-old Grand Junction boy playing with matches Sunday afternoon had devoured the bridge’s creosote-soaked wooden deck and rails.Grand County sheriff’s officials said the blaze started downstream with a boy playing with matches.

The fire, pushed upstream by an upcanyon wind, burned beneath the modern bridge that spans the river 100 or so yards downstream from the Dewey Bridge, then ran up through the sage, rabbit brush and Mormon tea, charring some streamside willows up to and beyond the Moab side of the bridge.

...

“You could feel the heat from the highway bridge,” said Tyler Fouss, a Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officer who was on the scene Sunday afternoon and Monday morning.

Thomas, who had ranched along the Colorado downstream from Dewey, said she was irked to learn how the fire started.

Ranchers years ago would routinely burn out bottomland such as the stretch that burned out of control, Thomas said.

They gave up those burns when newcomers called law enforcement to complain, she said.

“They made it impossible” to run ranches as the ranchers saw fit, she said. “All those people from California and New York should have stayed in the city.”

Dewey Bridge, I hardly knew you...

Zero Punctuation and Smash Bros

If you're like me and positively can't stand the SSBB(M) series and think most Nintendo fanboys ought to get the star-spangled Passion of the Christ treatment, then this is for you.

Definitely not suited for work, but very, very funny.

Watch Yahtzee's video review here.

Don't Download Lost Cities

Unless you want to basically waste an entire day playing head-to-head Solitaire.

All times PDT, and approximate.

08:30 - I turn on the Xbox 360 and start the download, I walk away to make coffee.
08:45 - Done with breakfast, I settle in to play through the tutorial.
08:46 - Zombie-like trance begins. I'm a sailor and Lost Cities is the mermaid on the rocks.
09:12 - After a couple of single player games, I jump into the fray for a multiplayer session.
09:13 - WTF? I Quickmatch my way into a 2vs2 game but nobody has microphones so there is no teamwork per se. We lose mightily.
09:25 - I search for 2 player multiplayer games and immediately find some. I play, and play, and play some more. I go 1-4 against live competition, but don't care because I'm totally in lust wth the game.
10:15 - I check to see what the Achievements are and set my sights on a couple I deem "reachable".
11:02 - I unlock my third and fourth Achievments, having secured a score of over 250 points total and over 100 points in a single round.
11:03 - I look at the clock and realize it's already after eleven. Two hours felt like 10 minutes playing this game. I muster all the fortitude I have and quickly turn off the Xbox before I begin repeating the productivity-killing chant of one more game.
11:07 - Upstairs on my computer I settle in to get some work done and find it hard to concentrate. Must play more Lost Cities. Must go on expeditions. Must not get negative points. Must play more Lost Cities.

Heed this warning and heed it well. Do not under any circumstance download this game if you have prior commitments today. You will miss them. This game is strictly for those people with massive amounts of free time and no responsibilities. Sure, individual games last only 10 minutes, but the game takes hours from you. Hours.

Competitive Solitaire. Freaking brilliant!!!

Tower Defense Coming to XBLA

Unless you've watched the recent developer interview with Hidden Path on Xbox Live, you may not yet be aware of this. In that interview, the developers at Hidden Path talked openly, albeit briefly, about being deep into a XBLA suped-up version of Tower Defense.

I about jumped out of my seat with joy upon hearing this. Master of Defense was one of my favorite games of 2006 and it was essentially a prettied-up version of Tower Defense available on the cheap for the PC. I think it cost $10 but I got tons of enjoyment out of it and wrote at lenth about it on this site... gentlemen start your search engines.

Having never played the original TD, I went looking for it online last night to make sure it was one and the same with my much-loved Master of Defense. It is. The games are very simple in design: you position various towers on the screen to shoot and destroy the streams of enemies moving from left to right or top to bottom. There are various types of enemies and various types of towers that can be positioned on the screen, then upgraded, then upgraded some more. It's extremely simple and impossible to put down.

I probably shouldn't admit this in case my editor is reading, but I got home from last night's road ride (20 miles, 2800 feet!) totally exhausted and wanting to go to bed. The plan was to play one or two quick games of Tower Defense then either get some work done or hit the hay. I ended up playing, trancelike, for over two hours.

And you can join me.

Here is an excellent flash-based version of Tower Defense that you can play for free that is not only very cute (hand-drawn graphics and mouth-spoken sound effects) but plays well. It's free and also has a feature to upload scores to a group scoreboard. Not only that, but you can browse other people's scores and actually see maps of their tower placements to get an idea on how to score more points.

So, while the XBLA version of TD is probably at least several months away, we can enjoy a little friendly competition with this version right now.

To enter scores onto the group leaderboard, you must play on at least Medium (normal) difficulty. Finish your game, enter your name into the box and hit send. A screen will open asking you to upload to a group. Once you do, type "Randomly Generated" into the box and your score will be listed among my own and, potentially, other ambitious RG readers.

Enjoy! Just don't be mad when your productivity plummets.

Post-Worthy

Saw this in the paper and just had to share it. It's a pretty inspirational story about a local high school kid and his attempts to make the varsity track team... after being diagnosed with cancer as a freshman, undergoing chemo treatments, and three separate operations to remove the cancer. And he continues to run and to get faster.

Just something a little different for a change.

Link.

Lost Cities

The card game Lost Cities will be making its way onto XBLA tomorrow for 800 points ($10). I talked about this game a month or so ago and linked to a video review of the tabletop version on Youtube. It looks to be a pretty quick, simple-to-understand game that in all likelihood has a high addictive quality to it.

If the adaptations of Catan, and Carcassone are any indication, then this will be another stellar addition to the XBLA line-up for those of who enjoy strategic board and card games.

Horses, Vista, and a Guy Named Stan

My bundle of various Adobe CS3 products arrived Friday evening and my initial excitement was quickly squelched by the realization that it wouldn't install on my computer. Oh, it should have installed without trouble, but after attempting the solutions detailed on over a dozen "knowledge base" articles on Adobe's website, I came to one that simply said, if nothing else works upgrade to Vista.

Sigh.

I also picked up the Infinity Pro HDMI capture card on Friday and knew a Vista upgrade was going to be required to get that running -- and to maintain friendships with a certain local MS employee -- so I spent Friday night preparing for the dirty deed. I copied everything and anything I can think of onto my external 250GB harddrive. And by everything and anything I mean everything except for the all-important product activation keys I would need to re-download electronic software purchases. And email. Oops.

Saturday morning came as it always does and I rushed over to Staples and picked up an upgrade version of Vista Ultimate. I intended to do a clean install rather than a straight upgrade. I knew the odds of catastrophic failure on my part were greater, but I really wanted to at least feel like I had an uncluttered new PC.

The install would have to wait. We had a date at the race track with friends for the opening weekend. Emerald Downs is only about 30 minutes away and is a pretty fun way to spend the day. Kristin and I brought $100 and intended to nurse it through the ten races and, if all went well, enjoy a few beers and hotdogs along the way without having to make a run to the ATM. We typically bet about $12-14 per race and were lucky enough to win about $18-20 on each of the first few races. Things got even better after that though. We hit the trifecta in the 5th race and won $256 on a $2 bet. That was exciting, save for the realization that if not for a totally bone-headed maneuver on my part, we would have won close to $2000. In addition to a random assortment of $2 bets for each race, we also made a couple of $1 superfecta bets. Winning a supefecta bet requires you to predict the first four finishers in order. Some call it a sucker's bet, but I don't see it that way. It's only a dollar, and you're guaranteed to win over a thousand if you hit it. You mean to tell me you wouldn't risk a latte on a couple of chances to win a grand? The odds are steep, but they're still a zillion times better than winning the lottery.

Anyway, we did have the correct four horses picked for one of our superfecta bets for that race -- but rather than just adding the fourth horse (#6) to the tail-end of our winning trifecta pick, we jumbled the four horses up in a totally different order. Had we have simply stuck with the trifecta-winning order and added the fourth horse to it, we would have pocketed over $2000 on a total $3 bet. I hate even typing that. We won some more during the final races, but also bet larger quantities too and ultimately went home with $320 in our wallet and a belly full of beer and snacks. Our friends won a couple of $2 show bets, totalling about $5 in winnings. Between me and the 1's and 0's of the web, I don't think they were betting enough to have much chance in winning. From what little I know, horse-racing is like playing craps in that you have to have a lot of bets on the table to have a good chance of winning.

The four of us came back to our place to watch Into the Wild and I ordered some pizzas with our winnings. The movie was just as good the second time through, but I had forgotten how long it was (2:27) and they didn't leave until almost 11pm at night. Vista had to wait until Sunday.

Sunday was Vista day. Kristin helped prepare me for my arduous quest with a plate full of french toast and a hot mug of coffee, then it was upstairs to my office to slay the dragon that tormented my dreams the previous two nights.

The install went smoothly, all things considered. Windows dumped my old stuff into a Windows.old file on the C drive that allowed quick access to some of the essentials. This came in handy to an extent, but I had nearly all of it already backed-up anyway. It would have been even more helpful if it had saved the "app data" folder, but it doesn't.

As for the problems, there were a few. For starters, Vista wouldn't recognize my printer and after much trial-and-error I learned that HP is refusing to release a driver update for the printer I had. The printer was over 5 years old but still worked very well. Other owners were told by HP to buy one of their new printers. I think it's pretty lousy that we can't even expect things to last more than 5 years anymore without the manufacturer deeming them obsolete. I was pretty ticked off about this and was determined to buy an Epson or Canon instead, but HP is running a program through May 3rd with Staples that gives you $50 off a new printer if you recycle an old one. I ended up getting the HP Deskjet 6988 which has built-in wireless networking -- Kristin is thrilled to be able to print without having to carry files on a memory stick to my PC. And, to be honest, the selection at Staples was pretty lacking in terms of non-HP printers.

Our mid-crisis trip to Staples did have the added benefit of introducing us to a barbecue place in Issaquah called Stan's. The owner grew up in Kansas City learning how to smoke meat from his father or grandfather or uncle or somebody and it definitely shows. I'm a big fan of barbecue and I had been wanting to eat at this place for a while and just never got a chance to. I knew it was going to be good before we even walked inside -- you could smell the smoke on the sidewalk. Kristin and I shared the Who's Your Daddy combo platter: 1/2 pound pulled pork, 3 ribs, 1/2 pound brisket, 2 hot links and 2 sides. We ate until we were full and still have enough for at least 2 more meals. Everything was delicious (the ribs were the low-point, If I had to pick one) and it only cost $24. I think I have a new favorite place in Issy to eat, even if it is decorated in Kansas City Chiefs memorabilia -- it's a good thing the Seahawks moved from the AFC West to the NFC West, otherwise I'd have to boycott this place. And that would be a shame.

Back home, I ran into a few other problems with the upgrade that stemmed from having purchased program upgrades online and forgetting to either burn the download file to a disk or saving the activation key. I also ran into other printer-related problems but a quick Google search found the answer -- I had to change the setttings in the "turn Windows features on and off" area of Control Panel. Oddly enough, I had to repeat this step in order to get the printer to work on our two laptops too.

All in all, everything went really well. Vista recognizes my 4gigs of RAM, all my programs installed easily, driver updates were easy to find online, and the computer is running very fast and appears very stable. The only really big hiccup that had me banging my head on the desk (other than the printer problem) was that I couldn't get the capture equipment I have for the Nintendo DS to work -- and I desperately need it to work. Long story short, I was emailed the Vista drivers for it this morning. That was a close one!

I Put a Spell On You

I started volunteering earlier this month at the Northwest Harvest food bank on Friday mornings in Seattle. Basically, I stand behind the table and keep bins of various food items filled, try to keep the line moving at a reasonable rate, and make sure everyone takes just one item from each bin. Fridays are a pretty light day at the food bank -- no more than 1,000 or so people come through -- compared to Mondays and Wednesdays which average over 2,000 people each. The people who come to the food bank appear to be from all walks of life. Many are elderly on fixed income, many are homeless, and many others are simply people who need a little help making ends meet. Nearly all of them are very appreciative, and actually quite friendly to talk to. And I really enjoy the few hours I spend there each week.

So, anyway, I'm standing behind the counter today and the bin in front of me contains bags of pastries. Primarily day-old coffee cakes, muffins, scones, and other stuff. It's all collected from the many coffee shops in the area the previous night. I also have a huge donations box filled with various off-the-shelf cakes and donuts and things like that. Some of it's Entenmanns (which has me drooling) and some of it is a bit more foreign.

In walks a guy, possibly nearing 70 years old. He's wiry, no more than 5 foot 5 inches tall, and probably not more than 125 pounds. Possibly homeless, but not necessarily. Looks to be of Pakistani or Afghan descent. Looks like the character Blue from the movie Old School. He signs in (no id required, the food bank is there for everyone and anyone), unfurls a brown paper bag, and throws a bag of donuts in. He then grabs an individually-wrapped cookie from the same bin. I let this slide since it's pretty small. He's only supposed to take 1 from each bin, but there was nobody behind him in line and we had tons of them. But then he goes to take a bag of pastries too. This is all from the same bin which is a no-no, so I had to gently put my hand out and remind him that he can only take one. This same scene plays out dozens if not hundreds of times each day. Nearly every person who comes in has to be reminded to only take one from each bin. Many need to be reminded at each and every bin. Nothing out of the ordinary so far.

The guy throws the bag of pastries down into the bin, scowls at me, and -- I'm not kidding here -- starts throwing punches at me. He's swinging wildly across the counter with these giant slow-moving hooks, only he's missing me by about a foot with each punch and, honestly, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't hurt anyway. Like I said, the guy was over twice my age and half my size.

I thought he was putting on a show and just trying to be cute so I just smiled and said, "Okay, that's enough, do you want a soda?" referring to the next bin.

He didn't.

Instead he backs away from the counter to the door, continues to give me a look that could only be described as the evil eye and then he makes this very emphatic, yet strange hand gesture punctuated with another feeble uppercut to the air.

Steve, one of the food bank managers, saw the tail end of the man's display and asked me what it was all about.

I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and told him the only thing I could.

"I think I've just been hexed."

This is Just Sad

From Yahoo Sports:

TOKYO, April 17 (Reuters) - A Japanese high school pleaded for a regional game to be abandoned after surrendering 66 runs in less than two innings, local media reported on Thursday.

The coach of Kawamoto technical high school threw in the towel to spare his pitcher’s arm with his team losing 66-0 with just one batter out in the bottom of the second.

The hapless hurler had already sent down over 250 pitches, allowing 26 runs in the first inning and 40 in the second before Kawamoto asked for mercy.

“At that pace the pitcher would have thrown around 500 pitches in four innings,” Kawamoto’s coach was quoted as saying. “There was a danger he could get injured.”

Opponents Shunshukan were officially credited with a 9-0 victory, giving the scoreline a tinge of respectability for the luckless Kawamoto school.

Racing: Time to Get Serious

The Spokane 24-hour race is barely 5 weeks away and although I did get a number of long, fast rides in this winter, I haven't been riding with much consistency. That has to end now, else I'm going to be in no shape to race in Spokane.

Unlike last year, I'm not really sticking to any sort of detailed training plan. The days of me being hostage to a spreadsheet and periodization tables are over. That said, I do need to have some sort of weekly approach to what I'm going to do just to ensure that my hilly days and my fast days don't start to pile up on top of one another.

So here's the very high-level, not-too-detailed approach I'll be taking.

Monday - Off
Tuesday - Off or 1 to 2.5 hours on mtn bike, rider's choice.
Wednesday - 50 mile mtn bike ride, Thrilla East course from home.
Thursday - 30+ miles on road bike, group ride.
Friday - Off or 1 to 2.5 hours on mtn bike, rider's choice.
Saturday - long distance road ride, Cascade Bicycle Club RAMROD training series.
Sunday - long, 6+ hour mtn bike ride.

I'll be making changes to this in the coming weeks as the 24-hour race gets closer. For starters, I'm going to really try and replicate my Kokopelli Trail experience from last year during the first week of May by trying to get the three 6+ hour days in back to back on the mountain bike. I'm also going to do what I did last year the week before the race and ride the Tour de Cure century ride on Saturday, then head out and do another 80-100 miles on the road the very next morning as well.

I'm happy to report I had a bit of a breakthrough last night. I not only finished the 50.5 mile mtn bike ride about 12 minutes faster than last week, but I even bettered my time on the route from last year when I was in (or so I thought) much better shape. I cued up the course data from last year's ride on the Garmin and raced the Virtual Partner last night. I was about a half-mile ahead of my best 2007 time at the twenty-mile mark, then pulled away by an additional 0.4 miles over the last 14 miles of the ride.

Oh, and I also learned an important lesson last night: Do not apply Icy Hot immediately after a very long, very hot shower. I forgot about the whole "opening of the pores" aspect of taking a hot shower and was in extreme pain moments after rubbing the cream into my hamstrings and calves. I ended up back in the shower 3 minutes after getting dressed, in a frantic effort to scrub the pain from my legs. I've never had that happen before and hope to never experience it again.

New Colonnade Video

BBTC's Mike Westra has been at it again... he's posted this awesome video showcasing some of the under-the-freeway jump lines at Seattle's Colonnade mountain bike park. Mike's been leading the building there for the past year or so. I don't do freeride stuff like this, but I'm looking forward to helping Mike build the Duthie Hill XC Course when we get started later this spring.

In the meantime, check out the video and prepare to be blown away.

Culdcept SAGA's "Kin" and "Surveyor" Achievements

I completed the main single-player campaign last night. I kept waiting for all of this repeating of levels and false-endings that I had heard about to come up, but it never came to fruition. Then again, for the first time in all the years I've been playing videogames I didn't watch a single minute of cinematics in Culdcept SAGA. That's right, I skipped my way through the entire story component of the game so it's pretty safe to say, I had no idea when the game might finally end. Although the final board's name "Stairway to the Heavens" kind of gave it away. I won the final match handily and, in fact, won all but 3 or 4 matches on my first try.

Oh, but I'm far from done playing this game!

Now I'm tackling each of the Achievements. I designed a special fire-only deck last night to go after the "Kin of Fire" and "Surveyor of Fire" Achievements. The former requires you to win a match using only fire-based creature cards and the latter demands you to transform every square on the map red. Similar Achievements exist for water, earth, and wind elements as well.

The way to go about earning these Achievements is to head to Versus Mode, design a deck geared completely towards one of the elements, then set up a match on Santana Village map, since it's the smallest. You have to play to at least 10,000 magic in order to unlock the Achievements, but I recommend setting it to no less than 11,000 or 12,000 so you can give yourself enough time to make the land transformations. I completed the task this morning after retooling the deck a bit and it came down to the wire. I almost accidentally won before transforming the last territory.

Here are some tips for trying to earn these color-specific Achievements:

1) Pick your opponent wisely. Just play against a single AI cepter in Versus mode and try to find one that likes to use the same color you'll be using. Part of my downfall in my opening attempt was that my opponent placed several Yeti creatures on the board. Not only are they immune to damage from fire-based creatures which my deck consisted entirely of, but Yetis also have a 60% chance of inflicting instant death against fire creatures. I almost killed one of them with reflection, but it had too much HP. In contrast, this morning's attempt was against Flammefleur, a fire-user, and I wiped the floor with him and won by over 8,000 magic.

2) Don't level up your land too early. Santana Village is a small map, but it will still cost a lot of magic to transform the 12 squares not initially red. And it will cost even more if the opponent starts leveling them up before you get to them. Because of this you have to make sure not to level up your own properties too soon. For starters, you'll need that extra magic to cover the 300+ magic transformation costs, but also you don't want to accidentally win the game too early. Level up one or two properties just to keep some magic coming in, but focus your efforts on deploying as many creatures as you can and quickly transforming the land once they're on it.

3) Use the movement commands in the territory command to move a creature off a red square onto a non-red one. You can't guarantee that you're going to land on every square and be able to place a creature on it so go ahead and move creatures around. Remember, the goal isn't to have a creature ocupying every square. The goal is to change every square to a particular color. Once you change one square, move the creature to the adjacent square and change it next. You only have to pass over a territory to access its territor commands, but you have to actually land on it in order to deploy a creature.

4) Build a deck with more enemies and item cards and fewer spells. I found the going pretty easy when using a deck consisting of nearly 60% creature cards (I typically play with just 52% creature cards) and roughly 26% item cards. This of course depends on what cards you have access to, but i suggest including as many powerful duplicates as you can. For example, in my red deck, I included several Magma Armor cards and several Magma Hammers, and anything else that benefitted fire-based creatures. Also, look to include as many cards like the Coaloid as possible. These creatures get ST and HP boosts depending on how many like-element creatures you have deployed. Let me just say that there was nothing that could have killed my Coaloids by the end of the game, when I had over a dozen red creatures deployed.

5) Buy yourself some time by allowing the opponent to take some of your properties. I almost accidentally won the game too soon this morning, but I was able to salvage the effort and transform the final square by not using any items and allowing the the opponent to take two of my properties on the final lap. This kept me below the 11,000 magic threshold when I passed the castle and bought me time to go around the lap and turn a final yellow square red. Had I not have moved a creature onto that yellow square (hostile takeover) on the previous lap I would have needed to go around again.

6) Don't rely too heavily on expensive uber-cards. I didn't include any Volcanic Dragons or Fire Giants in my deck because they simply cost too much magic to deploy. Remember, going after the various "Surveyor" Achievements is going to require you to waste an awful lot of magic transforming territories. Don't compound the challenge by relying heavily on super expensive cards. Instead, I used a lot of Fire Ogres, Minotaurs, Creeping Flames, and even a couple Phoenixes.

Hope these tips help. I'm going to try my hand at earning the water-related Achievements later tonight. Hopefully, I'll be able to build a good blue deck and accomplish the feat with the same ease I had this morning.

Totten Special Needs Trust

Came across this today. A Seattle area cyclist, and former nuclear engineer with the US Navy, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicyle crash back in 2006 and his wife and friends are having an auction to raise money for the continuation of his therapy.

The accident left Jeff in a coma for months. As he was finally making his way back to consciousness, it was apparent that he was paralyzed on his left side, had lost his ability to speak, read, eat and walk on his own.

Now, a year and a half later, Jeff is still in the long term brain injury recovery program. His brain was so severely and universally injured, his rehabilitation needs are vast and varied. He still has left side paralysis which compromises his ability to walk normally. He has significant short term memory problems. Relearning life skills requires an extraordinary amount of repetitive learning and memory exercises. He continues to require physical, occupational and cognitive therapy in his long road of rehabilitation.

Jeff’s care, which includes physical/occupational/speech therapy, brain injury awareness, neuron-cognitive therapy, 24 hour medical care, shelter and food, comes at the cost of $1,000 per day.


You can read the rest of Jeff Totten's story and see the auction items (goes live on May 12th) right here. Many of the auction items are quite luxurious and won't go cheaply, but you just might be able to win yourself a nice treat and do a family some good in the process.

SMB Theme Played on Wine Bottles

... by a radio-controlled car.

This is absolutely amazing. A guy sets up a hundred or so empty wine bottles and uses a radio-controlled car with some metal "drumsticks" hanging off the sides to hit the bottles and, well, you gotta hear it to believe it.


http://view.break.com/487616 - Watch more free videos

Thanks Kotaku for posting this.

North Cascades Highway Snow-Clearing Underway

From the WSDOT blog:

The snow depths over the pavement ranged from 4 feet to more than 9 feet from Early Winters to Washington and Rainy Passes. Below the avalanche chutes in the Cutthroat Ridge zone, snow slides were as deep as 20 feet. Through the Liberty Bell Mountain zone, the slides were 40 to 50 feet deep over the roadway. Contrary to the norm, there was more snow at Rainy Pass and to the west than at Washington Pass and to the east. Heavy snows caused avalanches that twice forced the west closure point to be moved to Newhalem, 13 miles west of the usual Diablo closure point.


I found it hard to believe that the state could just leave a highway closed for the winter when I first moved out here from the east coast, then I heard about the 20-40 foot snowdrifts and miles of continuous avalanche chutes and began to understand. The clearing of the snow on Highway 20 through North Cascades National Park is a month-long process that, if not done, probably wouldn't ever be completely snow-free before the next winter's storm starts to hit.



You can track the progress here or just head to the WSDOT's Flick'r site to see the pretty pictures here.

The Native Planet Classic bicycle ride I'm doing on June 21st will head up and over Rainy and Washington Passes once in each direction. It's going to be a couple of tough climbs, but I will at least be able to take comfort in the fact that I'm not pushing through miles of snow.

Computer Upgrades & HD Recording

The cat isn't just out of the bag, it's clawed its way up the curtains, leapt to the ceiling fan, and is now currently gnawing through the wiring.

A while back I posted a question about upgrading my PC and, as I guessed, many of you know far more about PC upgrades than I and sent emails and comments that were very helpful. And, lucky for me, many of your suggestions matched my gut feeling on what I needed to do. The problem, as I laid it out, is that I have a very capable machine that is starting to show its age and that I need to prepare it for HD video capture and editing. My goal is to spend a little bit of money to hopefully squeeze another year or two out of this machine.

First things first, I don't do much gaming on my PC anymore. I used to, but then again I used to only pay 50 cents for a cup of coffee too. Nowadays I use the PC for writing (obviously) and for batch-editing thousands of screenshots and using Photoshop & Illustrator for maps. I'm also soon going to be recording significant portions of my gameplay in uncompressed 1080i video files. As I'm sure many of you have noticed, BradyGames offers downloadable strategy videos (for a small fee) over Xbox Live and, I believe, on the Playstation Network. The gameplay you see in the Gears of War videos, for example, is that of me playing -- we dubbed Cliffy B's voice-over work on top of it, but it was me working the controller. The problem is that I had to make a special 1-day trip across the country to Epic to record that gameplay on account of not having any HD capturing equipment. The reason I didn't wasn't because of an unwillingness to invest in equipment, but rather that the cheapest capture cards back in 2006 were thousands of dollars and required dedicated machines, not to mention broadcast-level know-how.

It's 18 months later and cheaper, easier-to-use alternatives now exist. I can't put off the upgrade expense anymore -- I need to have HD video capturing capabilities for work and I can't justifiably say no any longer. Fortunately, I was tipped off to the Black Magic Intensity Pro capture card. It very simply uses an HDMI input and a PCI Express slot to capture full-resolution 1920x1080 HD video. I can use it to capture live gameplay (I'm getting the "Pro" version for the added analog inputs in case I ever need to do anything with a Nintendo Wii) on one monitor while running a second HDMI cable from the card's output to a second monitor for gameplay, as the captured video stream will be a little jittery and not conducive for gameplay.

Now for the hurdles: Recording uncompressed HD video at 1080i takes up 350 gigabytes of space per hour of video. Even compressed HD-Jpeg 1080i video occupies roughly 36 gigabytes of space per hour of gameplay. In contrast, recording uncompressed 720x480 standard-definition gameplay took up about 17 gigabytes of space per hour of video. I usually end up with a minimum of 15 hours of gameplay when I'm recording video. And for a lengthy RPG or, say, a sophisticated racing game, that total could approach 100 hours. If I recall correctly, I had over 60 hours of recorded gameplay for Okami.

So, to prepare for this increased demand for computing power, I upgraded my RAM. The PC had 2 gigs and I upgraded to 4 gigs of RAM. Best Buy had a sale on 1-gig sticks of RAM for $35 each and I picked up four of them (the PC came with 512 sticks and they were in the way). Yes, I'm running Windows XP and yes it's only recognizing 2.0 gigabytes in the System Properties box, but both the bios and MSinfo32 (thanks Erik!) are reporting all 4 gigabytes. I spoke with Dell and they said (and MS Erik concurred) was, in effect, that it doesn't matter what Windows thinks you have, you're still going to feel the benefits of having twice as much memory. And so far so good.

I also upgraded from a GeForce 6800 videocard with 256 MB on-board memory to a GeForce 8500 GT with 1 gig of on-board memory. The 8500 isn't a gamer's card per se, but is actually more geared towards HD video and application usage which is what I needed. I originally bought two of them (Best Buy on sale for $149 each) to run in SLI since I have an SLI-capable motherboard, but after much trial and error (and a housecall from Erik) we realized I simply didn't have enough power to run two of them. Each card draws 300 watts and although I have a 650-watt power supply in my PC, it was cutting it too close and the system denied the necessary resources for the second card. Since I was on the fence about running SLI again anyway (I really like using the two monitors and you have to drop down to one monitor with SLI) I decided to forego upgrading the power supply and simply returned the second card. I was already deeper into the rabbit hole than I wanted to venture in the first place.

So, moving forward, it now looks like I may have to upgrade to Vista. Black Magic says their card works with XP Professional but not XP Media Center. In fact, they specifically say it doesn't support Media Center. They also mention that it works with Vista Ultimate edition (which would at least see all 4 gigs of RAM, so it has that going for it). I supposed I could find a new-in-box copy of XP Professional for sale online. We'll see...

Then there's the issue of HDCP. HDCP is an encryption used to protect HD-quality video being output from devices like Blu-Ray Players and, I believe, the Xbox 360. I haven't gotten a straight answer on this yet but if the new-and-improved Xbox 360 with the HDMI outputs does in fact utilize HDCP I may have to get a new monitor that is also HDCP compliant. Else I won't be able to play on a second monitor and would have to actually try and play in the capture window of Adobe Premiere Pro.

Speaking of Premiere Pro, I have to get that too. I got a killer deal on the Adobe Design Standard CS3 bundle the other day through Kristin's access to the Seattle University bookstore: I scooped up CS3 versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat Pro for just $479 (normal retail is $1100 to $1300 for this bundle) but now I also need to get Premiere Pro as well in order to utilize the HD capture plug-ins that come with the card. It's either that or buy a Mac and install a copy of Final Cut. Since I don't have limitless funds, that's not an option. It's bad enough after all is said and done I'm going to have to get at least one terabyte-sized hard drive as well.

As an aside, I'm really excited to have Illustrator and InDesign again. I'm taking over layout/editing duties for the brochures and leaflets for Kristin's social justice project and have also been asked to make some changes to the Village Volunteers logo and potentially help design a fund-raising brochure for them.

So, as you can see, the upgrades are a happening. The system seems to be stable and I'm sure as soon as I get back to work on my current project -- I had to exchange the build I had for a new one so I'm at a standstill right now -- and start diving into the maps and screenshots, I'll know for sure if the new card and increased RAM are having an impact. I just dread the thought of having to upgrade operating systems. I just know I'm going to run into driver issues and other compatibility problems. Ideally I'll be able to keep on using XP until I plunk down in 2010 for a new machine.

Moran by Bike

Made my annual pilgrimage to Orcas Island yesterday to ride at Moran State Park, one of my favorite places in Washington to go mountain biking. Did things a bit differently though this time around. Instead of driving to the trailhead, I decided to bike to and from the park as well.

I picked up Doug Caroll at his house in Woodinville and together we met Kris W. and Erik B. at the ferry in Anacortes. I convinced Kristin to come along to get some hiking in with the dogs -- she needed a day away from the books and work -- and this worked in that it provided us with a sag wagon of sorts. The rain started to fall on us while we were on the ferry, but it's an hour-long boat ride to Orcas Island and things were dry on the island. Chilly and overcast, but dry.

Once off the boat, we quickly pulled over and unloaded Doug's and my bikes and suited up. Erik and Kris had stashed some of their stuff in the truck for the ride back on the ferry and, before long, the four of us pedaled off. Orcas Island is shaped like a horsehoe: the ferry dock is in the southwest corner of the island and Moran State Park is in the southeast corner. So while Kristin took the main roads up and around the northern part of the island to get over to the park and start hiking, I led the group off onto some dirt roads. We'd still have to hook up with the main roads and go through the town of Eastsound which lies at the northern side of the island, right near the water in the middle of the horseshoe, but this got us some extra climbing, some tourist-free pedaling, and some extra climbing.

We made it to the trailhead in about 75 minutes. Kristin had left the Element in the usual spot and was already off on her hike with the dogs. As for us, we started out with the obnoxiously steep, but thankfully short Cascade Trail then crossed the main road and started up Mt. Pickett. The climb up Mt. Pickett was steeper than I rememebered it being from last year (or maybe I'm just not in that great of shape) and is primarily an old wagon road that climbs up a forested hilltop to about 1750 feet above sea level. It's a nice steady climb, but nothing big. From there we descend to Twin Lakes -- the last .5 mile of the descent on very fun singletrack -- and then begin the real PITA portion of the ride.

There are a few ways to get up Mt. Constitution and while the route I like to do isn't the most fun, it's definitely the most direct way to skin the cat. I climb the switchbacking trail straight up the backside of the mountain from Twin Lakes up to the summit. It starts out gently and finishes just as easy, but the middle? The middle is a kick to the teeth, climbing nearly 1200 feet in a mile. It hurts, and does require some pushing, but it's over with pretty quickly.

Once at the top, we regrouped near the monument. The sun was out, the clouds had lifted, and from our vantage point at 2200 feet, we could see all across the San Juan Islands, across Puget Sound, and back even into the Cascade Mountains and Mount Baker. There are few places reachable by bicyle as beautiful as this.

Nor as fun! After taking the mandatory photo of Kris and his bike in front of the viewpoint (he's a recent transplant from Illinois) we started down what most people refer to as "the spiral". There are a series of trails that can be taken off the top of Mount Constitution that spiral downwards and outwards around the mountain back to Twin Lakes. The descent starts on the south side of the mountain, and quickly takes you along a very narrow, highly exposed ledge above Mountain Lake, then plummets deep into the forest, across the road, and over around the backside of the mountain. The trails were in pretty darn good shape considering it's only April. There were one or two blow-downs and some occasional patches of mud, but all in all, we were hooting and hollering and zipping along at top speed. And, best of all, the morning rain we encountered on the ferry must have scared away all the hikers because we didn't see a soul -- highly surprising given it was sunny and 75 degrees the day before.

We finished up around the biker-side of Mountain Lake, then jumped back out onto the road where we began our climb to Mt. Pickett hours earlier. Doug C's back was seizing up pretty good so he zipped back on the road to the truck and would hitch a ride back to the ferry with Kristin while the rest of us re-rode the Cascade Trail in the proper, downhill direction then embarked on our own pedaling cruise back around the island to the ferry. We skipped doing the dirt road portion of the road ride on the way back and stuck to the main roads to save a couple miles off the back end and to make sure we got to the ferry in time.

Ride Totals: 45.6 miles with 6,222 feet of elevation gain. Spotted 1 deer, a nest with a rather large osprey in it, and some spectacular views.

(no photos, too busy riding)

Kristin and the dogs ended up hiking 12 miles. The dogs are starting to get pretty old and they're a bit sore and tired today, but they really enjoy days like yesterday and we were glad they came along. Of course, they were passed out sound asleep the second they got back to the truck and slept the whole way home, on the ferry, while we were dropping Doug off, and while we were out to dinner. Both were too tired to even climb the stairs once we did get home and rather than sleep on their beds upstairs, which they always do, they simply laid down in the kitchen and spent the night down there.

I'm sure they'd do it again today if given the chance.

Wait Listed for RAMROD

I hadn't heard from the RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day) organizers about my entry so I checked online tonight -- I'm on the waitlist.

Waitlist place #246, that is.

It's the 25th anniversary of the ride and after last year's somewhat bastardized course design on account of the flood damage from the 2006 winter storms, it seems they may have a much higher number of entries this year. One of my ride buddies told me that he's been waitlisted a couple times and in each of the past two years nearly everyone who was on the waitlist got to ride. I wonder if any of them were #246 on the waitlist?

Oh well, I can't complain. I got into the Leadville 100 on my first try -- I couldn't expect to get into RAMROD on my first attempt in the same summer as that.

(not to mention the fact that they are only 9 days apart and doing both might not be the best idea in the world)

Thoughts on The Dark Tower

Sorry for the cliff-hanger post on Wednesday night, but the past few days have indeed been hectic around here and although I did finish the book, I not only didn't have the time to write about it, but I also wanted more time in order to determine what those thoughts would be.

Now, for the non-spoiler-filled portion of this post. Stephen King's The Dark Tower series is, in my opinion, an absolute must-read. Throw away any preconceived ideas or prejudices you have against King's storytelling, as this epic story is far different from the rest of his tales. And I say that both as someone who isn't that big of a fan of fiction (and especially not fantasy) and who also enjoyed many of King's earlier works -- the ones that no doubt formed those preconceptions you harbor. It's a tale that blends Old West aesthetics, time-travel, alternate worlds, robots, monsters, love, sorrow, vengeance, and a rag-tag bunch of characters not limited to an ex-junky, a teenage runaway, talking dog, and a double-amputee schizophrenic with a mouth that would make Richard Pryor blush, most of whom are plucked from New York City, albeit from different decades. Then, of course, there's Roland. The star of this epic story and a man unlike any other. If you haven't read it, do so. The story spans seven books, several of which are roughly 800 pages in length (don't worry, some are shorter) and although the story starts to putter a bit in the sixth book, hang in there because it really gets going again in the seventh (after the first 200 pages of tedium) and you will not regret finishing.

SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this post (and any comments people make) is for those of you who've already read the books.

I'm not about to recount the story or summarize all of my favorite parts, although I will say that I thought the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, was the best. I know it kind of goes against the idea behind the whole saga, but for me the best parts of the series were those when Susannah and Eddie weren't involved. I really enjoyed the first book, The Gunslinger, and the second The Drawing of the Three (because of how unique it was in spite of the characters), but I was already tiring of Odetta/Detta/Susana's histrionics and Eddie's annoying 70's New Yawker accent by the start of Wizard and Glass and was thrilled to hear what amounted to a lengthy flashback about Roland his friends and his first love in the town of Meijis. I'll probably read that volume several more times, as I think the whole flash-back made for a great story in its own right.

Anyway, as for the ending, my sister Jessica brought it to my attention that she and I both read the second edition of the book and that, perhaps, King's smarmy comments (he essentially yells at the readers for not being satisfied with the journey, but demanding our hands be held all the way to a happily-ever-after ending... or something) after the initial ending were in response to fans hating the initial ending(s). I don't know (and don't care to find out) whether the ending that was included in the epilogue of the 2nd edition was in the original, but honestly, I didn't mind either ending.

The first ending simply has Roland approach the tower, finally, and that's it. You're left to wonder if he goes inside, if he dies, if, if, if, if... Honestly, I always (and by always, I mean nearly 20 years) expected the story to end with him essentially taking his last breath outside the tower or, perhaps, resting his head against the door and starting to weep. So while I felt like King took a very lazy approach to wrapping it up, I wasn't surprised or all that disappointed. Well, maybe a little...

I walked away from the book at that point to let it sink in before reading the epilogues. I wanted to feel the true ending before I leapt into what I assumed was a lengthy discussion from King about the book and the jourey and, perhaps, the ending.

The first of the epilogues is about Susanna meeting Eddie and Jake (who both died, remember) in a New York City that wasn't quite Key World (aka our world) but was a close proximity. What was weird was that they were meeting for the first time. Since Eddie and Jake were both there, I interpreted this as meaning that the Crimson King's comment about Susana having died after going through the door that Patrick had drawn was true after all -- they're all dead and the clearing Roland always referred to, for them, was an alternate NYC.

So then I read King's tantrum essay (quickly) and settled in to read the extended ending. Again, I don't know if this was in the first printing of the book (Kristin listened to it on audiobook and says the audiobooks have the three epilogues as well), but it was in the second edition and presumably all the others.

Anyway, in the extended ending, Roland goes inside and finds a spiraling staircase -- every 19 steps is another floor. Every floor has a unique item or image of a person, as well as a scent, from an important part of his life. It's all the memories he has accumulated, some good, some not so good. Roland has a bad habit of watching everyone he loves die, so this can't be an enjoyable stroll down memory lane. It seems like it's one memory per year, but it's not specific. The staircase goes on forever it seems and, at times, it feels like it won't end. Then it does. The uppermost floor contains a door. A door marked "ROLAND" and he opens it. Through the other side he sees a desert -- it's the very same desert he is in during the opening of The Gunslinger, the very first page in the very first book of the series. Roland realizes what's about to happen. He realizes his curse -- that he's forced to endure this endless pursuit of the Dark Tower for all eternity and that when he reaches it, he's forced to begin anew. He can't help himself go through the door -- he's pulled through and the story ends with the opening two sentences from the way it began. Roland is again in pursuit of the Man in Black.

Okay, so that's how it ends. My first thought was one of wonder: Why didn't Roland just put a bullet in his head as soon as he saw the desert on the other side. There was a moment of realization before he was pulled through. I think he should have shot himself, right then and there.

But that's just a rather knee-jerk response. When I thought about it some more, some other things started to make sense. Of course it's all theory, but I can't help but feel like the story we read -- Roland's journey to the Dark Tower with Eddie and Susana and Jake and Oy -- wasn't Roland's first. He's been caught in this loop forever and, perhaps, each time is different. Perhaps that alternate world that Susana found Eddie and Jake in was actually completely comprised of people who had known Roland at one point. What if that's the reason nobody noticed her come through the door? Not because they were looking at the snow, but because there's always someone showing up out of the ether and they're just immune to noticing it now? Perhaps everyone in that world -- the entire population of Alt-NYC -- was filled with people who had once been ka-tet with Roland? Perhaps Roland has pulled countless people through the doors on the beach and no matter how they leave Mid-World, through a door or by death, they all end up here in this place? A NYC special for them.

My other thought was, thanks to the awesome flash-back about his time with Cuthbert and Alain in Meijis, we know Roland's life was progressing like normal for a while. Then something happened. A switch was flipped and the A-to-B progression of his life from birth to death became what hikers and mountain bikers call a "lollipop" route. Basically, it reached a point where instead of continuing on to death, he gets trapped in a neverending circle. So what flipped that switch? Was it coming in contact with the witch's orb (Black Thirteen?) in Meijis? Was it killing his mother? Was it the point when he learned about the Dark Tower? At some point in time, and I don't think it was ever revealed, something snapped inside Roland and he became obsessed with reaching the Dark Tower. The story begins with his pursuit of the Man in Black (aka Walter) and that's how the story ends -- him pursuing Walter again. But what put him in the desert? What set him off on this journey to reach the Dark Tower? And what cursed him to repeat it forever and ever? Or was none of this ever really hatched out and King just took a cue from Sisyphus and the Dark Tower is Roland's boulder.

Also, and this could be just account of fuzzy memory or misunderstanding, but it sounds like he comes through the door at the end of the story to find only one gun and a horn on his belt. I don't recall him having the horn in the first book. In fact, I know he started the first book with two guns. We know Susana took one of the guns through the door with her and ended up throwing it away in alt-NYC, so that must mean it was eliminated from Roland's world -- Mid-World -- forever. But does he experience slight changes each and every time he repeats the loop? Also, were his hands back to normal or was he still missing some fingers from the lobstrosities? He must heal back to the status he was at during the initial passage through this point of his life, else he'd surely be chewed to nothing after making the journey even just 2 or 3 times, let alone for all eternity which is what we're left to believe he has to endure. And why shouldn't he heal if his memory is erased?

As I sit here typing this, bouncing ideas off Kristin, and thinking back to my conversation with Jessica yesterday and the one she and Kristin had in December, I can't help but thinking that this is a great way to end the series. End it with questions. I've read a lot of books over the years and so few of them ever left anything to the imagination. So few warranted a conversation with other readers. And some of the ones that have, it was usually just a quick what-if moment and a brief shrug of the shoulders and that was that.

I know a lot of people weren't too happy with the way this story ended, but the more I think about it and the more questions I come up with, the more I realize that this was, for me, the perfect ending. I like being left to think about the ending on my own and theorizing about the details that were intentionally or accidentally left out. And I definitely enjoy the philosophical-esque discussions I've had with others about the books.

Too bad more books don't leave room for interpretation. Too bad more authors don't write stories we can age with.

The Journey Ends Tonight


Twenty years.

It's been nearly 20 years since the first time I cracked open the initial entry in Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series. Roland's adventure has, through various fits and starts and delays, held a special place in my life for as long as I've been reading for enjoyment. Sometimes years have passed without me reading a single page, most notably due to King's own absence from the project but also, as was the case with the seventh and final installment, due to my own waning interest.

But under the urging of those who I myself had recommended the series to, I was implored to pick it back up. I was told it would get better and that it had.

And tonight I finish it. I feel like a part of me is going to die off tonight and, perhaps on a subconscious level that's what I've been fearing all along.

Twenty years.

And just as Roland now sits on a hill staring at the bookmarked object of his desire, I sit with just 40 or so pages left. Twenty years, thousands of pages, and seven books the size of bricks. I've been thrilled, I've teared up, and I've been scared and angry. I've even been bored at times and confused at others. And now it's going to end.

I can't imagine how King must have felt putting the finishing touches on this saga. As much as it's been a part of the entertainment facet of two-thirds of my life, that's but a blip on the radar compared to what writing this (and more specifically, finishing it) must have been like to for King. You can feel his own excitement... and hesitation... in the final chapters leading up to the conclusion and I can't help but wonder how he felt when it was all done. Like a man burying a close, but very ill, friend is my guess. A mixture of sadness and relief.

Tonight I will lay down in bed and put this story to rest, once and for all.

Untooning

Came across an image of an "untooned" image of Mario (as in Super Mario Brothers) on Kotaku today. It was a composite of multiple reference photos built into a mugshot of Mario to show what he would look like if he were a real human.

Creepy doesn't even begin to describe it.

The guy who runs the Pixeloo blog is incredibly talented with Photoshop and also has a Homer Simpson untooned picture on the site as well.

Definitely check out Mario.

Or click here first to see Homer.

They're both incredible works of art. And highly creepy.

And You Thought You Were Having a Bad Day

I'm listening to the Mets vs Phillies game online while working today and Phillies' star second baseman Chase Utley has not only been hit by a pitch three times today (out of his first four at-bats) but he's even been hit in the back with a wild throw while running the bases too!

I've never heard of a guy being hit 3 times in a single game before (two of them were grazes, but they still count) let a lone that same guy getting hit by a wild throw when running to second.

Did he get caught in a compromising position with Mrs. Met?


I suspect some payback is in order from the Phillies pitchers, but with Jamie Moyer on the mound underhanding the ball at 70mph, it's going to have to wait. Payback doesn't really mean as much coming from Moyer.

Thy Shall Not Feed the Trolls Anymore

Do you ever wish you could un-invent the Internet and go back to a life before message boards and email lists?

My happiness and sanity went up by leaps and bounds about 18 months ago when I finally stopped posting on a particular gaming message board. I increased my enjoyment of the webernet further by deleting the majority of gaming-related bookmarks I had saved. Now the only ones I peruse are either summary feed sites or those written by folks I've come to know semi-personally over the years.

And now it's time to purge a particular mountain biking community listserve as well. It's just not worth the headaches anymore. You'd think that even amongst a group of people who actually know one another in real life and who all donate time and energy and money to a specific cause, that a certain measure of respect would be maintained. But apparently not. And while I could try not to let it bother me or I could simply ignore the bickering and stupid remarks, that's not the point. The point, to me at least, is that it simply hurts to see people who claim to care about an organization and sport so much, act so stupid and quite literally turn people off from the organization altogether.

I didn't get this before. I've been involved in a few of the firefights over the years (and in recent weeks -- anybody have a waterbottle?). And maybe some of my own comments were a bit of a turnoff for some. But only now do I get the bigger picture.

The final straw has been laid bare and I'm done.

To see someone piss all over another's good intentions and then question not only their commitment on a personal level, but make a backhanded attack at numerous other members efforts? To question their legitimacy as if this person is somehow struck with the divine power to judge? Well, that's just ridiculous. And trust me, I'm not using such soft language here on the other side of my monitor. I'm screaming mad. It's no wonder most of the people I've come to consider friends from group rides have moved away from the organization over the past two years.

It's amazing how much harm someone can do in a public setting when left to rant unmuzzled.

If someone who made the organization as much a part of their life as I did over the past 3 years is ready to just walk away, I can't help but wonder how newcomers ever bother to stay in the first place.

I had forgotten what breaking up felt like... it sucks.

This is me, moving into the background.

Escape to Cowiche Canyon

As anyone who read my post about the "8 hours of Thrilla" training ride last Tuesday might have guessed, I was in serious need of a change of scenery. I needed to get away from the trails I've been riding all winter; get away from the rain and the clouds and the muck; and perhaps most of all I needed to just have a nice, casual ride with friends... just for the sake of riding.

Erik stopped by the other morning to show me his new road bike and we got to talking about heading east to the dry part of the state and reacquainting ourselves with the sun. We had ridden at a place called Cowiche Canyon near Yakima back in the spring of 2005 and while we weren't terribly impressed with the place, it seemed like just the ticket to recharge our batteries and escape the winter blahs. If but for only one day.

Me on the super-fun canyon descent trail.
Photo by Erik.

Four of us met at the park on Snoqualmie Ridge at 9am and piled into Erik's truck for the 2 hour drive east to wine country. The only sampling we would do would be of the dry, sandy singletrack outside of Yakima. There was a nip in the air as we left and the pass was scheduled to get another couple inches of snow, but it wouldn't be long before we were basking in the sunlight.
We rode for about 3 hours including stops and although a brief squall came through that pelted us with sleet and hail for about 15 minutes, we did have a nice day. The temperatures were in the 50's, the sun did occasionally make itself known, and the only mud we saw was a thirty yard strip of it on a trail by a river. Everything else was dry and dusty -- just the way we want it this time of year.

We didn't ride fast, we didn't ride nonstop, and we didn't race one another. I even brought the my singlespeed. No, we simply just rode and talked, and had a good time. And when it was all done we went out for a hearty steak dinner in town...

Click for photo slideshow

...and killed some time because the pass was closed due to an avalanche. You can't ever fully escape winter, even in April.

Player Notes

From Yahoo

Apr 5: Catcher A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) spent mornings at his locker in spring training playing with his Nintendo DS, but he did it for a reason. Pierzynski has been working with a vision-training game for his handheld, with the hope of improving his ability to pick up the baseball. So far, the reviews are good, considering he has two home runs, a .529 batting average and a team-high seven RBI through four games.

Whether playing the Nintendo DS is really helping him see the ball better is probably up for discussion, but if this story starts to circulate and A.J. continues to hit even .350 by the end of April, you'll definitely see a lot more DS handhelds in MLB locker rooms, err, "clubhouses".

Accelerate

All I can say is wow.

R.E.M is back. Their new album Accelerate is damn-near fantastic. Easily the best album they've released since Monster back in 1994 and possibly as good as some of their even better earlier stuff. Can this band really be 30-years old?

I never thought I'd buy another R.E.M album after the disaster that was Up -- and I haven't until now -- but Accelerate has a 4.5 star average rating on iTunes from well over a hundred user reviews, and when I saw that I had to give in.

I'm not big on giving song-by-song blows because I'm a pretty poor music critic. I can't describe much at all, I only know what I like. And I like this. Some of the songs definitely remind me of the harder (relatively speaking, of course...) stuff from Monster and Automatic for the People, but there's definitely shades of Life's Rich Pageant and Out of Time on here as well. Gone is the whiny fluff from the previous albums; dispatched is the techy-experimental stuff they dabbled in between Monster and Up and in their place is classic early-to-mid 90's R.E.M.

The only thing marring this otherwise fantastic discovery is that I made the mistake of downloading it from iTunes. The lousy 128k bit-rate sounds like crap and it's not available via iTunes Plus. I should have bought the disc when I saw it in Starbucks tonight. After all, it would have been a nice addition to my collection of 14 other R.E.M albums. I might have to go back and buy the album after all, at least that way I can rip it to to my iPod at a higher bit rate so it doesn't sound as tinny.

But that's all besides the point. If you've ever liked R.E.M, particularly back in the 90's, then you have to pick this up. At the very least, give the songs "Accelerate", "Hollow Man", and "Living Well is the Best Revenge" a listen for a feel of the album. I think you'll like it.

Super Pii Pii Brothers

Thanks (I think) to Nick Valison for forwarding this on. The Japanese have released a game for the Nintendo Wii that "promotes good bathroom skills and allows women to experience for the first time the pleasure of urinating while standing."

I checked the page at ThinkGeek.com looking for some hint of an April Fool's Day joke, but it seems every bit legit.

The play mechanics are simple. Prepare yourself by strapping on the included belt harness and jacking in your Wiimote. A series of toilets are presented on screen and the challenge is to tilt your body to control a never-ending stream of pee. Get as much pee in the toilets as you can while spilling as little on the floor as possible. Sounds easy eh? Well the toilets open and close whack-a-mole style and occasionally the stray cat or other cute critter pops up. Spray a cat for extra points. Get too much pee on the ground and your game is over. With realistic fluid dynamics for the pee and over 100 different bathrooms from bars and palaces to automatic Japanese style toilets you'll be entertained for hours. And wait until your friends see the multi-player mode with dueling pee streams...

Had you have asked me a few years ago when I started this blog what the likelihood of me ever typing "dueling pee streams", I would have laughed and said very unlikely. And yet there it is, right in the same paragraph with "realistic fluid dynamics for the pee."

This is my blog officially jumping the shark (do people still use that reference anymore?).

Oh, and since I'm not opposed to pouring a can of gasoline on an inferno, here's a Youtube video of the game, ahem, going.





Just kidding: It is an April Fool's Day joke. You'll find out if you try to buy it. I didn't want to buy it (duh) but I figured that was the best way to find out if it's real. Thanks Nick. Oh, and by the way, I appreciate you not sending me the link to their Betamax-to-HD-DVD recorder.

Speaking of Coffee

One of the area metro departments placed an order for a couple dozen double-decker buses for people commuting to and from the cities.

This being the Seattle area and home to Starbucks, they're getting cute with the names and branding the buses Double-Talls.

Clover Sale to Starbucks

I've mentioned the Clover coffee system here once or twice before. It's the $12,000 coffee maker that a guy I know through BBTC invented. Well, it sounds like he just sold the business to Starbucks.

Lengthy article in the Seattle Times about it today.

I'm a huge fan of the Clover coffee system. It allows the barista to make coffee one cup at a time almost like a french press but it's partially automated while allowing for specific temperature and time controls. The coffee that comes out is superb. Unfortunately, the only place close to us with the Clover is the Zoka Coffee shop here on Snoqualmie Ridge and I had to stop going there. Not because I prefer the Starbucks across the street, but rather because of the staff.

Kristin and I went into Zoka a good month or two ago. Unbeknownst to us they were closing in 10-15 minutes (it was only 5:45 on a Saturday). We each ordered a large mug of Panamanian coffee brewed with the Clover at about $4.50 a cup. We had our laptops with us and were going to spend an hour or two enjoying the coffee and getting some work done.

Yes, this is how we roll on Saturday nights.

Anyway, it takes a few minutes for each cup of coffee to be made so we had time to set our stuff up at a table and start to get some work done. The coffee was done, served in large ceramic mugs, and we nestled into the chairs and resumed working. Ahhh...

Not two minutes later the guy behind the counter tells us they're closing in a couple minutes and we have to leave. We just got our giant steaming-hot mugs of coffee in for here cups that we paid nearly ten bucks for and now he tells us we have to leave? Now he tells us they're closing at 6pm? Couldn't think to mention that fact when we were ordering the coffee?

I worked in enough restaurants and coffee shops when I was younger to know that when closing time comes, you simply turn away new customers but you let the ones already there finish enjoying what they bought. It's not like we would have camped there for an hour if the store was closed.

I was angry, but in hindsight I should be thankful he even knew how to use the Clover. Half the time I've gone there and ordered a mug, the barista working had no idea how to use it or they didn't have any beans for it, except for the uber-expensive ones that costly about $9 a mug. No thanks.

I don't get it. There are those of us who actually make an effort to support the independently-owned shops when possible. Yet, with a few exceptions like the awesome Uptown Espresso near Kristin's office in Seattle and the Zeitgeist coffee shop near Qwest Field, this plan always seems to burn me. And for one reason only: the staff. I don't get it. Zoka has (or should I say had?) the advantage over Starbucks with the Clover. As much as I enjoy a strong americano from Starbucks, it doesn't compare to the Clover coffee. But Zoka ruins it by hiring morons. And the shop that was in that space before Zoka had the same problem. Starbucks is literally right across the street from Zoka and seems to have no problem hiring friendly, polite staff. For chrissakes, they're hiring from the same teenage & twentysomething applicant pool -- we're a town of 5,000 after all!

But if the Clovers are going to start popping up in the Starbucks stores, then that's fine by me. At least I know they won't chase me out of the store after giving me the mug.

For the Guy Who Has Everything

I somehow came across this while trying to find some Warlords screenshots for the previous post. It has nothing to do with videogames, but I'm sure some would say it has the "giant waste of money" aspect of them in common.

It's a Rolex.

That can fit over your divesuit when you go scuba diving.

And is waterproof to 12,900 feet.

You know, because nothing is more annoying than diving the Mariana Trench only to have your watch shatter. Nevermind the fact that you'll be long since dead before you get down that deep, at least your watch will still be working.

Read about it at TG Daily. And for those extra curious, the article has a link to a 30-megabyte flash file on the Rolex site to show you exactly how awesome the watch really is.

Whatever.

Warlords on XBLA

Now this made me happy yesterday. I recalled reading the original press release back in November, but had forgotten all about it.

One of my absolute favorite games from my childhood was Warlords on the Atari 2600 and it's being remade for Xbox Live Arcade. It was a family-favorite that allowed four people to play simultaneously, each occupying an L-shaped "castle" in a corner of the screen. The castle was essentially three or four layers of orange and brown bricks that protected your King. Players used the paddle controllers to bounce a ricocheting canonball back and forth at one another a la the game Breakout. The catch was that you could literally catch the cannonball and then move real fast and fling it at another person's wall. The winner was the one whose King still stood.

I have great memories of playing this game in the basement, huddled around the television with my brother, father, and usually a friend or a visiting uncle. It was unique in that it allowed all four of us to play at once, and because it was easy enough for a 4-year old to play it, but it required a bit of skill to get any good at it. Or good enough to at least beat my father at it. The paddle controllers were perfect in that all you had to do was hold the button to catch the cannonball, then spin the wheel to move the "catapult". The design of the paddle controller made it possible to quickly juke left and right and reposition your catapult in a fraction of a second, thus making it possible to fake out your opponents with relative ease.

When I think about it, the game basically owed any success it had to the controller. And the more I begin to envision playing this with the standard X360 controller, the more I start to worry that this might not be as great as it could. The pace of the game, the four-player design, and the pick-up-and-play characteristics of the game make it a perfect compliment for XBLA, but I can't help but wonder how it's going to control. Rotating the Thumbstick on the controller in half-circles and quarter-circle motions is indeed possible, but it's not really fun to do. It actually gets pretty rough on the thumb after a while.

The 12 Achievements were posted yesterday and 10 of them are for single player game modes (against 3 AI opponents, undoubtedly) and two are for multiplayer. I normally prefer it when the Achievements are geared more towards single player gaming, but with this game, the whole point of it is to play against other humans. I hope the minimal inclusion of just 2 multiplayer Achievements doesn't indicate the developers' own lack of excitement towards that aspect of the game.

We'll find out one of these days. I have no idea when this game is coming out yet, but I'll be sure to post the moment it's available for download.