One Year Ago...

As I commence packing for a lengthy bi-coastal business trip (and a couple days on the beach in North Carolina with my sister), I can't help but think back to what I was doing this time last year: Riding! I was about halfway through a 9 day mountain biking trip to the Fruita/Moab area of the southwest US with some new friends. But rather than tell you about this incredible trip, let me show you. Here's a two-part video I shot with my Kodak Zi8 pocket HD camera.

I did 99% of the filming and all of the editing. There's a couple of shots of me in there (usually in a red top, on a white Specialized Stumpjumper 29er). Unfortunately, YouTube replaced the third song "Venice Queen" by Red Hot Chili Peppers with some muzak. Best moment? Definitely part 2, at 2:20. Oh, and definitely bump it to 720p and full screen for the proper effect.

Losing Weight the DBLDBS Way!

It's been five weeks since I stepped off a plane from San Francisco weighing a few pounds more than at any previous point in my life. Nine days spent sitting idle behind a computer. Nine days of eating way too much for breakfast and drinking too many beers with dinner. We need not discuss the desserts. I can't pin all of this blame on Duke though. My eating habits in general had deteriorated over the winter and the frequency at which I was working out could be measured in lunar phases. I wasn't getting fat, but I was certainly getting soft. Something had to give.

This is where I could write about how hardcore I've become in terms of working out and watching what I eat. I could tell you that I'm again training for marathons and Ironman triathlons and stage races in Canada. But it'd be a lie. As it turns out, I'm enjoying pretty significant results with what I would consider a very non-drastic course of action. I call this the DBLDBS plan, short for Don't Be Lazy, Don't Be Stupid. All rights reserved, copyright 2011, property of Randomly Generated blog. Rebroadcast or description of events prohibited without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball. Oops.

Before I share the details of my plan, a few results are in order. I've been using our wonderful Omron scale every Thursday morning to chart my progression in terms of weight loss, body fat percentage, visceral fat, and skeletal muscle percentage. After five weeks of DBLDBS...

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

It's rare for me to watch a movie that I remember two years later, let alone one that I not only import on DVD, but that I even end up buying the accompanying comic books too. Or, in this case, the manga. Actually, it's not rare; it's unheard of. While this may not shock those of you who know me well, many suspect that because I work in the videogame industry that I have certain, shall we say, traits. Assumptions are made that I'm into action figures, that I like science-fiction and superheroes, and that I've collected comic books, played Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons, and, well, you get the idea. The truth is, the only action figures I've ever owned were a couple of ThunderCats when I was 10; I hate all things Stars, particularly Wars and Treks; I couldn't tell you who the Superfriends are. I'm not even sure if there are Superfriends or if I just made that up. And though I did buy a couple of "Ghost Rider" and "Silver Surfer" comics as a child, 90% of the reading I've done since then has been, gasp, non-fiction. I'VE. NEVER. ROLLED. TWENTY.

Alas, I am a very poor excuse for a geek. But this doesn't mean I can't be swayed. My time spent writing the Batman: Arkham Asylum Official Strategy Guide two summers ago sparked such a keen desire in me to learn more about the Batman universe that I actually bought the "Arkham Asylum" graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (an exceptional piece of storytelling and art). Though I now have no idea where that book went, I do recall enjoying it considerably (and yes, I do hope to be writing the guidebook for the sequel later this year... fingers crossed).

And that brings us to my foray into manga and Ikigami...

Deciphering Your Xbox Stats Email

So I got an email today from Microsoft detailing my own personal usage stats for March, 2011. But before I share with you a bit of my own time with the system, allow me to show off my avatar's new pant. No, I didn't forget to make it plural.

Behold the Plaid Attack!

Yes, it's a hideous concoction (though he seems to look perfectly dressed when sitting at the table in the new Full House Poker game). Think what you will about his appearance, what everyone wants to know is where did I get my pant. Well, it's actually an unlockable item in the new version of "You Don't Know Jack." Each episode in YDKJ has a sponsor-themed wrong answer. Answer incorrectly (by accident or intentionally, it doesn't matter) and happen to choose that right wrong answer during the show and you get a prize. My fabulous pant was provided by a world famous designer of high-fashion pant and slack.

Ride Report: Blanchard, err, Chuckanut Mountain

Did I really think the ride wouldn't be that hilly? What made me believe Preston would bother looking for others to join him if he wasn't going to at least be leading a relatively serious ride. Sure, he "takes the winter off" and it's "just an early season ride," but me? This year? They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. What about when zeal meets sloth? Pain and embarrassment, that's what...

I had never heard of this place Preston called Blanchard (Google Maps insists we were actually at Chuckanut Mountain). I tried to find it on the Evergreen Trail Wiki (an outstanding resource) and came up empty. I asked Preston, and was told it's just a place he likes to ride up by Mount Vernon (a lie, it's actually much closer to Bellingham but he didn't want to scare me off with a longer drive). I should have asked how far we'd be going, or how much climbing we'd be doing. After all, I had only been on my mountain bike for longer than an hour once or twice in recent months. I was also walking quite gingerly thanks to going for a run on Thursday -- my first run in a year. Forty-eight hours later is when the true muscle soreness sets in. Way to time it perfectly, Doug. All I knew was the trails "kicked the shit out of the ones at Tokul." I like Tokul. It's my favorite local ride. And I really wanted to ride someplace new, with guys I don't usually get a chance to ride with. It was settled, agony be damned.

Across Bellingham Bay to Anacortes and beyond...

New Pounds, Garmin Connect

I returned Wednesday night from a nine-day trip to the San Francisco Bay area for work and brought a little something extra home with me. There was the usual suitcase crammed with dirty laundry and a pouch filled with dozens of receipts for the expense report, but there was also an extra four pounds around my mid-section. I knew we were eating well, but I didn't realize just how well. The extra poundage comes at a bad time, as I've yet to shed my winter weight. And the fact that I just nonchalantly typed the words winter weight makes me want to punch myself in the face.

Tactics Ogre Strategy Guide: Don't Take My Word For It

Some reviews are starting to pop up on Amazon for our Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together strategy guide.

Both reviewers love the content and the writing, but would have preferred heavier paper. I don't blame them, but it was a simple matter of economics. The book is 400 pages... for a game that is played on a handheld device. In order to keep both the heft and the price of the book reasonable, cheaper paper had to be used. Now, I'm not privy to the discussions that take place regarding page count and paper stock, but my guess is that going to heavier weight paper would have pushed the retail cost of the book up to that of the game. And nobody wants that, especially for such a niche game as this.

Guidebook Giveaway: Tactics Ogre

I have three copies of our absolutely enormous strategy guide to Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together to give away. It's not often that I say having a strategy guide is essential for getting the most out of a game, but I can't imagine anyone discovering more than 70% of this game without the help of this guide. It's over 400 pages of densely packed maps, side-quests, data, and strategy.

My co-author and I (with help from the lovely Mrs. Walsh) submitted over 1200 pages of manuscript for this book. There are hundreds of maps, countless items and weapons detailed, and hundreds of skills and spells described.

And I've got three autographed copies to give away. All you have to do is sign up to become a Friend of RG (see links on the left) and post a reply to this thread. Take a moment to tell me why you want the book, your memories of playing past Tactics Ogre games, or even let me know what you're favorite character class is. I'll do a drawing of names on 3/12 to pick the winners.

A Punch to the Gut

The year has gotten off to a busier start than I ever dared imagine. My work on the strategy guide to Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together carried through the New Year and nearly all the way to the end of January. At one point I averaged over 7 hours a day for 27 straight days, not including a single minute for time spent checking email or making coffee. I started my current project just a few short days later and already have another waiting in the on-deck circle for me to begin as soon as this one ends.

Nevertheless, I came across a bit of news last night that I just can't shake from the back of my mind. It hit me with such force, I nearly doubled-over in shock.

I've spent the past week reading the book "Miles From Nowhere" by Barbara Savage, what I believe is the best-selling and most well-known travel memoir on bicycle touring. And it's obvious why. Barbara writes with an honesty and pacing that is as easy to read as it is enjoyable. And she tells a great story too. She and her husband set off in 1978 from southern California on a journey to bicycle around the world. Recently married and not too far removed from their college days, they were already tired of the humdrum routine of wake, work, sleep and set about giving themselves a memory to last a lifetime.


I first thought they were slippers. We were opening gifts from Kristin's sister and the brown corduroy shoes in my hand bore a striking resemblance to the types of slippers an uncle might wear. Not necessarily the uncle with the cane and ear hair so visible you can see it across the room, but an older uncle for sure. Then, as Kristin opened her box to uncover a pair of red ones, I recognized the little blue and white flag in the bottom. Toms!

I meant to write about Toms early last year, during my hiatus from blogging. I meant to check out their website and order a pair, but one thing led to another and the story I heard on the radio slipped from my memory. Toms Shoes isn't your typical shoe brand. Founded in Santa Monica (naturally) a few years ago by Blake Mycoskie, an American traveler during a trip to Argentina, Toms was created as a way of bringing free shoes to the barefooted children of the world. For every pair of shoes purchased, another is given to a child in need as part of the company's "One for One" mission. They've given out over 1,000,000 pairs of shoes as of September, 2010.

Get Used to this Name

Hannah Cunliffe.

The world's fastest 15 year old. Last year, at age 14, she walked away from the field in both the 100m and 200m sprints at the American Athletic Union Junior Olympics winning by an obscene margin in both events. Despite then being in the 8th grade, her time of 11.71 (wind-aided) would have won the state championship in the two largest classes in Washington state, would have placed her 3rd overall at the Pac-10 Championships, and would have placed her 4th all-time in the University of Washington record books.  Her performance in 200m was even more incredible, clocking a 23.91 and winning by over a second! Again, as an 8th grader.

Now she's in high school and she'll be competing (as a freshman!) at the UW Invitational this weekend against some top Division I collegiate talent from the PAC-10 and beyond. She's just a half-second from qualifying for next year's Olympic Trials. She could very well be racing for the Stars & Stripes at age 16.

Source: Seattle Times

Not Running From Xian to Trafalmadore

It's high time for a books post, but first a word about Kindle. As it relates to my preferred reading medium, I had long considered myself firmly in the camp of the traditionalist, wanting to feel the heft of a book in my hands, flip and dogear its pages and, yes, admire the cracked spines aligned vertically on my bookshelf. And then I saw a Kindle in person. One of the guys I worked with on the Official Halo: Reach Strategy Guide brought his first-gen Kindle in to show me. No amount of marketing or online advertisements can ever be as effective as those first ten seconds with a borrowed device. For it only took those few seconds to get it. The screen's eerie similarity to that of newspaper or a paperback immediately washed away my main reservation--the screen--and the ease of use, incredible battery life, and massive storage capacity won me over.

I went home that night and scoured all the information I could find on Amazon's site to see how many holes I could poke in its glossy veneer. None. One of the biggest selling points for me was the ability to share books with up to six Kindles on a single family account. This meant I could buy a book once (often at a steep discount over the physical form) and Kristin and I could be reading it simultaneously. Then I thought to travel guides and our future trips and realized I could pre-purchase all the guidebooks we would want and have them stored on the Kindles. A fine alternative to lugging around heavy travel guides, not to mention the challenge of finding English language guidebooks (or books in general) where nobody within a thousand miles speaks the language. I ordered a second-gen Kindle one evening late last summer, the 3G model, and have since purchased books while laying in bed well past midnight, in an airplane stuck in a lengthy queu on the runway, and, yes, in the bathroom. Kristin now has a Kindle too, one of the newer graphite-colored third-generation ones. I actually think the newest one is a little too sleak and prefer mine. She, of course, loves it. Kristin's sister gave us both Amazon gift cards for Christmas and I must say it was a lot of fun to pick out four different books each and have them beamed to both devices within seconds. We're both reading Ian Frazier's "On the Rez" right now, in fact.

Coming Soon... I hope.

I have post-it notes sticking all over my monitor, reminding me of topics to write about. They're primarily about the several books I've read recently, the Kindle, our dances with unemployment, and looking ahead to 2011.

The only problem is that I'm positively crushed with work right now. I've submitted nearly 700 pages of manuscript for the guidebook I'm currently working on, my co-author has submitted over 200 additional pages (mine contained hundreds of pages of data tables), and neither of us are done. The game we're writing on was released in Japan in December alongside a 704 page strategy guide written by 11 people.

Lucky for us, we were able to get my wife hired on to assist with the data entry and some match-and-find style translation work with a 4000 word English-Japanese glossary. Never thought I'd be saying "lucky" with respect to her having become suddenly unemployed, but it was a real blessing (in more ways than one, but that's for another post).

I should be wrapping up my work on this guide in the next couple days and will have a proper post soon. I realize this is in bad form, to bring the blog out of the closet only to post so infrequently.

Nevertheless, I hear that you're always supposed to leave them wanting more. And on that advice I'll tell you the next post will be titled "Not Running from Xian to Tralfalmadore."

I hope that piques your interest.

The Trail Unblazed

I unlocked a rather unique Achievement yesterday while playing with the Xbox: Squat Master. I did my one-thousandth squat-based exercise with EA's Active 2. I also dodged 1000 balls in the dodgeball exercise of the same game. Not at once, mind you. Over time. I've done 10 workouts in the game's 9-week "hard" program so far and the milestones are starting to pile up. The game has a number of these quadruple-digit based Achievements. I'll unlock another one once I complete my thousandth lunge, pushup, crunch, etc., etc.

I wrote about Active 2 earlier and I'm every bit as impressed with it now as I was when the novelty of Kinect was still day-one fresh. EA also released a patch for the game that has done a good job of eliminating the chance of the game confusing your arm movements for wanting to pause and see a tutorial. I'm not sure if that was what the patch, err, "title update" was for, but it seems to have gotten much better since then.

My workout yesterday concluded after 38 minutes, with me drenched in sweat after sustaining an average heart rate of 143bpm, including warm-up and cool down. The calorie-counter says I burned 517 calories, much higher than the projected burn at the start of the workout. I try to stay right on the border between zones 4 & 5 in the heart rate scale (out of a scale of 1-5) and it seems that the game expects players to spend more time in zone 3. I routinely pop my heart rate above 175bpm while playing.

But back to the Achievements. One of the reasons I enjoy this "game" so much is that the developers did a great job of keeping the carrot out in front of you, allowing you to sniff, lick, and taste tiny bites just often enough to keep you coming back for more. Unfortunately, a bit of lazy design in regards to the Achievements has given this game what may be the most difficult Achievement in all of the Xbox-land:

Trail Blazer - unlocked by running 1,000 kilometers/621 miles.