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.