Sunday, December 31, 2006

An Obligatory Best-Of List

Via Joystiq, a list of the Top 10 Independent Video Games of 2006. Although DEFCON is noticeably absent from that list (the horror!), there are some interesting-looking games. I've already downloaded Kudos and will be giving it a try today. That's how I spend my holidays: playing indie video games.

But it's so much less stressful this way.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Make Believe

I pretend
To have no money
Marseilles dismissal
My "higher" brain can ignore
Boethian truth.

It's not so cold

Survey says:
She'll just buy junk
A safe place to sleep
And a loving family.

It's not so easy,
This make-believe.

A Long December

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last...

...[t]he feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl...

..I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower...

...And it’s been a long December and there’s no reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better that the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.

Bestest Cover Songs Ever

There's a lot of lists floating around at the moment (it's the end of the year, after all), but here's a great and different one: the 100 best cover songs of all time. Many of them have videos or MP3s you can download. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When Catchphrases Go Bad

Few marketers can argue with the elegance of simple catchphrases: "I'm lovin' it," "Like a Rock," whatever. I would even argue the "Intel inside" tone and the PS2 "start noise" are both, in their own way, catchphrases. The old rule states that someone has to hear something seven times before it becomes true in their mind, so endlessly repeating "I'm lovin' it" during an NFL game or the PS2 start noise after every PlayStation ad isn't something negative - it's good, if traditional, marketing.

It's also a tactic that the Bush administration has used, and used quite effectively. "Flip-flopper" to describe John Kerry. "Stay the Course" for the War in Iraq. And so on. The Daily Show is excellent at catching them in the act: their montages of different Republican-fed talking heads on various news channels, repeating the same catchphrases, are like a Marketing 101 textbook on how to repeat a message seven times. Bam. Truth.

Except there's a problem: what happens when one of your catchphrases turns out to be dead fucking wrong? Catchphrases work fine for McDonald's: who's going to argue with "I'm lovin' it?" Fast food isn't exactly the cutting edge of discourse. However, when you apply catchphrases to politics in such an aggressive manner, it's almost like a law of diminishing returns: eventually, somewhere, somehow, you'll be wrong. Like with "Stay the Course." "Stay the Course" was being used up until a week before the midterm elections. Now, it's strangely absent from Republican "discourse" (talking points.) Rather, it's a "new course."

So what does this represent, aside from their own massive "flip flop?" Is Bush really any more of a waffler than Kerry?

The answer, interestingly enough, comes from John Kerry himself in a recent WaPo editorial (hat tip: Mark Evanier.) Kerry is necessarily political in his OpEd, but there's good stuff in there:

Changing tactics in the face of changing conditions on the ground, developing new strategies because the old ones don't work, is a hell of a lot smarter than the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again with the same tragic results.

I knew from the beginning that the "stay the course" meme would eventually fall flat on its face, and Kerry identifies what anyone who has engaged in discourse beyond a Kindergarten level can tell you: changing your mind and adapting to situations isn't negative, waffling, flip-flopping, it's what adults do. It's what makes humans great, that we are so adaptable. We can live in almost any climate, often with very little environmental impact if we so choose. So why should we be accused of flip-flopping when we adapt to the situation?

While the child liberal in my would love nothing more than to climb on top of the nearest building with a bullhorn and declare "George W. Bush is a waffling flip-flopper!" that would really do nothing but buy into the exact same catchphrase nonsense.

Part of the challenge of new marketing is that we can't rely on these catchphrases anymore. You can't expect your meme to circle the Internet in the same way "The Ohio Farmer" circulated for William Henry Harrison in the 1800s, or even "knock down this wall" did for Reagan in the 1980s. The Net is like the old game of telephone, multiplied by a thousand: your messages will be tainted and distorted, and more importantly, when your catchphrase turns out to backfire, you'll be held accountable for it in a way unimaginable even ten years ago. While catchphrases will still work in traditional marketing (the PlayStation noise), they are a thing whose relevance is starting to diminish in the new marketing realm, and as this incident indicates, will likely continue in this trend. Marketer beware!

This Is Going On My Resume

It's been blogged about here and there, but Time magazine went and named us Person of the Year. As in, everyone: the empowered and informed public. One of the more astute observations on this choice was made by Jeff, who wrote:

YOU. As in "You who are blogging, getting your news from the net, checking out videos on the Youtube, and otherwise not buying our damned magazine". It is lame (as in lamer than usual) choice, and has a whole lot of "We couldn't figure out what to put up so we punted."

That pretty much sums up the cynic in me: it was a total puntjob, not unlike last year's "the soldier." Blah. Are empowered Internet users really more influential than, say, Donald Rumsfeld? Or Bush, whose response to the September 11 attacks has, for better or worse (OK, for worse), reshaped the face of foreign policy?

Nevermind. I know what Time was trying to say: that empowered users, user-created content, and the benefits the Net is bringing to consumers is becoming influential. Sure, the new marketer in me agrees 100%. Whether or not that's "more influential" as a whole than some of the individuals in the last year is open to debate, and it's a debate from which I'll spare you.

To me, Time's decision reeks of bandwagoning. It seems like a gratuitous choice made not because of consideration of what they were doing, but simply doing for the sake of doing. It is not dissimilar from another interesting new marketing story that popped up last week: "griefers" (people who intentionally make others' lives miserable on MMOs) attacked a CNET interview in Second Life. CNET was interviewing "Second Life millionaire" Anshe Chung, AKA Ailin Graef, when:

a griefer sent "animated flying penises" at the building for 15 minutes. After relocating to Chung's own theater, the Prick Assault followed and managed to crash the server.

Joystiq's coverage links to a page on SA with pictures and videos, but is embedded in posts relating to SA's own pseudo-griefing group Second Life Safari. Except SL Safari aren't griefers in that they barrage press conferences with animated cocks. They specifically go after the, ahem, animal element on Second Life. And by animal element, I mean furries. If you don't know what a furry is, first, I apologize for having to introduce you to this knowledge. If you decide to click that link and eat from the fruit, there's no going back. You have been warned.

The first link takes you to a SL Safari page regarding an email conversation with a specific furry on Second Life. What's most interesting is the lead-in:

We created the Second Life Safari because when the mainstream media covers Second Life they dance about madly and act as if an economically active virtual world is the greatest thing to happen to anyone ever. Publications like the New York Times ignore the rank, semen-stained underbelly of Second Life, perhaps because so much of it is unprintable.

In any case, they miss a lot of journalistic windfalls. They're can't talk about the truly juicy stuff that is going on in Second Life, which we love to report on!

But not everyone likes what we do. Take BabyWolfie, who didn't appreciate our visit to BabyTiger's den, which we chronicled in the last update.

Last week, BabyWolfie and I had a "Seriouse" chat about Second Life, "ISP Rights", and what it takes to slay a dragon. He's a darling little diaper wearing furry. The best thing about him, though, is that he's not just any old yiffing fucktard. He's a Second Life employee. Specifically, a "Live Instructor", who gets paid to teach newbies to script. They must be desperate if they're hiring someone with the identity--and writing comprehension--of a baby animal. Intrigued yet? Read on!

Not that I'm coming down against sexual freedom. If you want to pretend to be an anthropomorphic animal who wears diapers and shits in those diapers because you're pretending to be a baby anthropomorphic animal, and get your jollies by doing this with other like minded individuals in a rendered virtual environment, knock yourself out. I'd be a hypocrite if I said or believed otherwise. But SL Safari really has raised a good point, and in my Second Life experience, it rings true: if I had to guess, I'd say about 90-95% of that game is devoted to sex and empowering users in their sexual fetishes/deviancies/lack of social skills and sex lives. Rather than go out and dance at real night clubs, you can dance in fake nightclubs. Rather than hire a real prostitute (or find a real sexual partner), you can hire virtual prostitutes.

I'm unsure about that statistic, but what I am sure about is that with all this talk of user-created media and content, user-empowered experiences like Second Life, it might behoove new marketers to remember - before millions of flying cocks come at you during what's supposed to be a serious interview - that the freedom the Net affords caters to the childish, the socially inept, the sexual deviants in ways that the real world can't, and when you forget that, you're leaving yourself open for a lot of "grief" (pardon the pun.)

I don't mean to demean what myself and other new marketers do. My company, Edelman, has a Second Life office. CC Chapman's company, crayon, has an office there - I visited it today as a matter of fact, just to poke around and see what it was like. But for Christsakes, new marketers who ignore the lower end of the Net's bell curve are running an incredible risk for themselves and those they represent, be it in an agency relationship like I currently use, or in a direct-company relationship like I used to do at WizKids.

So it is with a grain of salt that I must take Time naming me Person of the Year. I'll still put it on my resume of course (credit to Seth for that joke), but I simply don't feel that new marketing has grown up to the point where it can say that it's anything more than a gimmick. And new marketers are partially responsible. We've sold it to our bosses, our clients, our colleagues as little more than a gimmick. We approach it with the mindset of old marketers, as something to exploit and to use and abuse as we would any other media outlet (see my post regarding the PSP ads online).

This seems kind of pessimistic. I want to stress that I really do view this optimistically: empowered consumers are the way of the future, even if I don't agree that we should be People of the Year. So next time, I'll talk a little more about my optimism regarding this space, and blogs specifically.

Life's Goings On

Astute Puppeteers will note some changes in the right nav, which can only mean one thing: I've had a couple of days off work! It's true: starting at 4:00 PM - only one hour later than scheduled - on Friday, I left my troubles and worries behind and started a four-day break, including the two weekend days. We had a splendid Christmas get-together, played a lot of video games, and shook off the non-relaxation of last weekend's power deficit.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry [Insert Holiday Here]

Whether you're celebrating the birth of your lord and savior, celebrating the Maccabbees' victory over the Seleucid Greeks and the miracle of neverending lamp oil, remembering your African heritage, honoring the winter solstice, or airing your greivences with the rest of us, have a safe and awesome holiday!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Jacking Off

You Don't Know Jack is categorically one of my favorite trivia games. Best played with a group of friends (and some booze), it's full of dry humor and in-jokes that make smart geeks feel in the know. And, it looks like it's moving online. You can play a daily Dis or Dat at the You Don't Know Jack website. Today's topic: kinky sex act or torture not endorsed by the US military. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Power

The power is back on. Apparently, a power surge destroyed our furnace. The good news is it was easily fixed.

Goodbye extra Christmas money.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Viral Marketing, the PSP, and the FTC

There's been some interesting buzz lately about viral marketing, due in no small part to the efforts of a marketing company linked to Sony's PSP handheld. The basic recap is this: a website goes up that claims to be a blog started by an 11 year old who wants a PSP for Christmas (or maybe his friend wants one - it really doesn't matter.) The kids post in "kiddiehip" AOL-style speak, and they've made some kind of rap video that went up on YouTube (but has since been removed.)

A little Internet Detective work by fellow goons on Something Awful uncovers something rotten: the domain is registered to a marketing company called Zipatoni - not exactly the 11-year-old that the site claims to be owned by. This starts to get pickup on video game blogs, and it's pretty clear to everyone that the site is a fake. Oddly enough, the name "Zipatoni" is banned from the site's comments as a "curse word."

Well, Sony eventually owns up to their shenanigans - two days after the news about the site being a fake hits. In online marketing time, that's an eternity. When the fellows are Penny Arcade are using terms like "do irreparable damage to their brand", you know you've got a problem.

The problem, of course, is transparency. In a coincidence worthy of of Charles Dickens, the FTC ruled on the same day that the blog started getting notice that "WOMM" (Word of Mouth Marketing) needs to clearly state its source. For example, you can't make pseudo-kiddie blogs without stating clearly that you're a marketing firm representing Sony.

The accounts on which I work at my firm are very strict about transparency in word of mouth marketing; it's been a policy for as long as I've been there. At WizKids, although it was never a written policy, it was one I adhered to (hell, one I developed) for one simple reason: if you want someone to trust what you have to say about a product, then you better not give them any reason not to trust you.

The shift to online and WOM marketing means that the days of claiming something to be true and it isn't are over. Between Internet Detectives and the kinds of news cycles online communities generate, you simply cannot afford to be deceptive in your marketing practices. Studies are starting to show a shift in how customers make buying decisions about products: rather than advertising, traditional news stories, or even product reviews in magazines, they are turning to online communities to gauge reactions of trusted influencers to a product in which they are interested. In nonmarketingspeak, people are going online and reading - if not outright asking and talking about - the opinions of others online that they trust. If a company wants a chance in hell of being part of that influence, they need to be able to demonstrate that they aren't jerking customers around, which is what transparency accomplishes. There are also legal boundaries, of course, but beyond those reasons for transparency, trust in a customer base strikes me as a far better reason for a company to maintain transparency in its online communications.

I'm working on two separate accounts now where transparency is a daily need (incidentally, I'm not working on the Xbox account or any other product that could potentially compete with the PSP at all at the moment - just to maintain the spirit of disclosure.) If you're reading this as a new marketer, don't just pay lip service to transparency or make it a policy because it's legal. Make it a policy because you need to in order to establish trust with online influencers.

Also, this would be an excellent opportunity to give a nod to Managing the Grey, a new marking podcast that Seth introduced me to. If you're interested in new marketing, you need to subscribe to that podcast.

More About Power

It's going on 48 hours without power now, and vast sections of the Eastside are still in the dark. We decided to drive down to Bellevue, so we're holed up in a Tullys at the moment, enjoying some warmth and an Internet connection.

This has been a pretty surreal experience; I have a feeling that is due in no small part to the fact that my sleep and work schedule has been incredibly out of whack lately. Last week was pretty crazy, and it doesn't look like it's going to be much better until after January.

I've been following newsy updates on Seattlest and updates from people all over the area, including a PSE employee, on this Something Awful thread. The windstorm was a "once every hundred years storm," according to the mayor, who is probably quite qualified to discuss the rarity and severity of historical weather patterns (note the sarcasm).

On a more personal level, it's been even more surreal. A few houses in my neighborhood have power thanks to generators; one, in a display of flagrant waste in the face of rampant want, has their vast Christmas light collection running full blast. I tried to take a picture, but couldn't get the camera to work. There are still trees laying on power lines on the road near my house, and near the back entrance to my neighborhood an entire street is cordoned off with red tape because there is a jumbled mass of power lines sitting in the road.

Best adventure: heading into the Juanita Safeway yesterday. The power was off, but the store was open. They had emergency power on, so the cash registers, ATMs, and Lotto machines were all working. Oh, and the Christmas Muzak. But all the lights were off, so the store was pitch black except for the areas by the doors. The employees were at the door telling everyone they had "no ice, no wood, and no batteries." And you couldn't buy frozen foods because they wouldn't sell them to people (liability, I suppose). They were issuing lanterns to people who wanted to shop, but a lot of people had brought little flashlights or were using their cellphones to see. The entire effect was like the grocery store at night from Dead Rising: no one was really talking, so all you heard was some mumbling over the Muzak, and the only thing you could really see were a few of the lanterns and some dark shapes moving around. It was damned unnerving.

On the upside, I'm done with my work for the weekend. On the downside, we had no power when Battlestar Galactica aired last night. Oh the humanity!

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I'm in my office, not only because I have to keep working, but because my house has been without power for about 38 hours now. It went out at 8:30 on Thursday night, and hasn't come back.

Initially, there were around 1 million people in the Seattle area without power (including all of Whidbey Island), and they're fixing it as fast as they can, but PSE is saying it could be up to a week in some places. Also, our cellphone reception at home is intermittent at best, so don't freak out if you can't get in touch.

I'll keep you all posted, as best I can.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How Busy Am I?

How busy? Let's just say that the last two days, I have worked from home - because I didn't have time to communte in.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Well HELLO There!

The official trailer for David Lynch's new classic film, INLAND EMPIRE, is out.

Expect to see me blogging more about this in the coming months.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Games: My Answers, Part Two

Here's part two of my games post, about how I discovered the games I love.

Video Games
Civilization: It's not hyperbole to say that the Civ series is my favorite video game(s) of all time. Period. I was first introduced to Civ when a friend handed me a copy (yeah, an illegal copy) and said "here, try this game." I installed it, fooled around with it, and when my buddy Mike came over for a sleepover we decided to give it a go. We stayed up the entire night playing Civilization, only to end up losing at the end game as Germany's tanks rolled over our knights. Civilization is different because no one was actually there to show me how the game worked; like a lot of video games, while it was recommended to me by a friend, I learned to play it on my own, often through trial and error. An interesting differentiation between video games and traditional games, I think, and a pattern you'll see repeated.

Also, I purchased a legit copy of Civ not long after the sleepover.

Grand Theft Auto: I include the GTA series because, unlike other games, I actually didn't like this one so much when it came out. My first roommate in college played the original GTA and I thought it was shit; I ended up with a copy of GTA2, which had its moments, but I thought GTA3 was far too violent and realistic for my tastes (it lost a lot of the cartoony flavor of the first two games.) It wasn't until Vice City that I found a GTA game I really loved, and San Andreas almost went over the edge. Actually, some parts, like the DDR-like dancing sequences and the "gravel pit" missions, did go over the edge. But I've spent a good deal enjoyable of time with the GTA games (and the slick, and in many ways superior, Bully), but it was a series I really did discover on my own.

Wasteland / Fallout: Those really are one game, right? Of all the games I've replayed that haven't been strategy games, I've had the best time with Wasteland and its spiritual successor. I also discovered Wasteland through a friend, although I discovered the game's depth myself (and Fallout as well.) What I mean by that is that I played the game with a buddy, but never really got into the game. When I got my own copy, I bothered to read the story and begin to understand the game's underlying RPG structure, so it was a far different - and more rewarding - experience.

RPGs are a little different. Some of my fellow Alliterates might string me up for this, but I think that many RPG systems are, at their base level, the same game. That is, the game where you show up, imagine you're a character taking part in a story (or creating the story in the case of the GM), and the system itself is simply an abstraction that allows the GM to govern the universe by a set of rules that includes randomness and possibilities and impossibilities. So differentiating between "the d20 system" and "the Rolemaster system" is fairly pointless, at least when it comes to the kind of analysis I'm doing here.

But that being said, I was introduced to D&D - no joke - through the "red box," advertised in a comic book and purchased by me. I ran through Zanzer Tem's tower with an Elf. I can't remember the Elf's name, but I had a good time. And I was hooked. And now look at me.

The Lone Wolf books, on the other hand - my buddy Nick Hannum put me on to those. We used to trade them back and forth. Did you know they're all available online? They are. You should play them.

Wot Sucks About Seattle This Tima Year..

Is that it's nearly dark at 4:10 in the evening.

At least all the Christmas lights downtown are purdy.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Great Local Blog

I don't read many local blogs (the Slog when I do), but this one jumped out at me as I was looking for something work-related the other day: Seattlest, kind of a general-interest Seattle blog. I'll probably put it firmly in my daily reading list for a while.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Games: My Answers

So how did I learn to play games?

I was thinking about this on my long drive home (OK, so this now counts as my Obligatory Seattle Blogger Snow Post as well, thank God.) It might be better for me if I were to break down a few games I've spent some time playing and act as a relatively representative sample - not necessarily my favorite games, mind you - into three categories. Let's call them Board Games (in which I will put tabletop miniatures games, like HeroClix), Card Games, and Video Games.

Since I consider many RPGs to be the same, just with different systems, I'll put those at the end in a kind of catch-all category.

Board Games
Monopoly: Aside from Chutes and Ladders and Candyland, Monopoly is one of the first board games I have a memory of playing. I'm reasonably certain I was about six or so when my dad taught me how to play. I was lucky in that I came from a family that valued "game nights," so we played a lot of Clue, Euchre, Pinocle, and other games. For a while, we did it once a week. Kind of like I do now with my D&D game, come to think of it.

Chess: I think my grandfather might have taught me the rules to chess. At the very least, he had a crazy chess computer circa 1980 that always played the same opening every time. I learned its opening, and finally started to mirror everything it did. I think I played that stupid computer to a draw more times than I can count, and neither of us never learned from it. I'm guessing I was about 7 or 8.

HeroClix: OK, here's a biggie. I learned HeroClix by myself, but I did so at a friend's recommendation. People who know me, know that I tried Mage Knight before I tried HeroClix and I hated it. Absolutely, no-holds-barred hated it. I thought the IP was just generic fantasy with nothing unique to recommend it, I thought the gameplay was far too imbalanced and rewarded first strike (actually, first dice roll), and it did nothing for my imagation. I discovered HeroClix on the day Infinity Challenge (the first release) hit the stores; my buddy and I were there to get comics, and he showed me the game because he knew I liked comic book statues. And the sculpts were what drew me to the game first, before the game itself. I learned the game by trudging through the manual and forcing my wife to play playing with my wife. But it was my comic shop guy's recommendation that brought me into the fold in the first place.

Fury of Dracula: I like this game, but not many of my friends do. I was introduced to this game at GenCon 2005 by Angus, who told me he'd played the original version and that I should check out a demo in the Fantasy Flight booth. So I did, and while the game is complicated (not as complicated as Arkham Horror, which I will not include in this list because I've never actually managed to play it), I had a good time and grabbed a copy when it came out later that year. I then tried to teach my wife, roommate, and friends, who didn't like it; then I tried to teach the WizKids crew, who also really didn't like it all that much. Fury of Dracula has its flaws, but what's interesting is that both my personal buddies and the WizKids crew wanted to quit playing after trying it for a certain amount of time. It just wasn't fun for them, and I can't imagine what they would have done if they'd tried to learn it by reading the instructions having purchased the game blind.

Go: First, my confession - I wanted to play Go after I watched the movie Pi because it was "cool." At least in the movie. So I bought a cheap Go set and a book to teach myself Go. I didn't really understand it. Then I journeyed onto Yahoo Games and played Go online. I didn't really understand it then, either. Then I tried to have Crabby teach me how to play Go. And to this day, I still don't understand the rules. Supposedly, the rules are simple, but so far no one has adequately explained the game's mechanics to me in such a way that I've seen the underlying strategic structure (or, for that matter, what the hell I'm supposed to be doing!) I'd still like to play Go someday.

Card Games
Poker: Texas Hold 'Em. Here's another game I didn't understand, even after watching it on television and reading a book about it. It took someone explaining to me how it worked before I "got it." Since that time, I've read all kinds of books, played all kinds of poker both in "real life" and online, listened to poker podcasts, read poker magazines, and so forth, but the game mechanics and my opinions of the game were formed when someone took the time to explain the game to me.

Pinocle: As I mentioned before, Pinocle was a game that we played on family game nights. My family, both sides, and my in-laws all play Pinocle, so it's a good game to know in my situation. I learned Pinocle as kind of an extension to Euchre (the first trick-taking game I learned). It's not really one of my favorite games, because I think it relies a little too much on luck, but it's a fun diversion.

Magic: The route by which I learned Magic is a strange one indeed. The owner of the game store in Bloomington came to give a talk about games to my mom's elementary school class. While there, he talked about this new gaming sensation called Magic. My mom was intrigued, so she bought me a deck (of unlimted) and a booster (of Arabian Nights.) I tried it out and was hooked. I showed it to my friends, who soon bought decks, even the chubby Mormon girl (yes, Mormons play Magic.) We organized a little Magic league at school. We played in Boy Scouts. And here's the funny part: none of us really knew the right rules. We finally read the rulebook enough to figure it out, but there must have been a half-dozen variants flying around at one point. We didn't realize you could play without using all of your cards - I won a tournament because I figured out that there was no rule that didn't let me play with only green cards, so I played with only my green cards. Oh, and we anted. I lost a Time Walk in an Ante. A buddy lost a Black Lotus. We didn't care, because the "collectable" aspect to the game just wasn't there for us yet.

Munchkin: I was introduced to Munchkin by, well, a munchkin (the gaming type, not the cure little kid type) at a coworker's house. Munchkin is right up there with Chez Geek and pretty much every other Steve Jackson game: if you can keep your head down and not piss anyone off, you can win about two-thirds of the time. These games are really just excuses to be social (which is fine), and are fun because the mechanics are simple to teach and you can still play the game after a drink or three.

OK, that's a really long post. Next time, I'll do video games, RPGs, and the Lone Wolf books. 'Cuz I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Games: The Question, An Answer (Not Mine)

I asked the other day about how you find what you like, and HeroClix player Grey Zealot posted a very well-thought-out answer to my question on his blog, so it's really only fair that I answer myself. Which of course I don't have time to do between my work and the obligatory Seattle Blogger Post About The Snow I still have to make.

But I'll do it later. Maybe even today, if I make it out of here at a reasonable hour.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What I Want for Christmas

Whenever anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, I respond truthfully: peace on Earth, and good will towards men (and women). Apparently that's all someone in Colorado wanted until her homeowners association decided to try to fine her $25 a day for putting up a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign.

Some highlights from the story, formatting mine:

"Some residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq, said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs.

He said some residents believed the wreath was a symbol of Satan. Three or four residents complained, he said.

"Somebody could put up signs that say drop bombs on Iraq. If you let one go up you have to let them all go up," he said in a telephone interview Sunday."

Regarding the first highlight: what the fucking fuck?

Regarding that second one: haven't we pretty much been doing that since the first Gulf War? Even Clinton got in on the action there.

Here's Dubya's "if you're not with us, you're against us" being applied once more. Or is it the Church of Satan? Or is it part of the lie-beral War on Christmas? I just don't know which irrational conservative falsehood to use anymore. Can someone please help?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gamers Who Complain

Saying "gamers are a complainy bunch" is kind of like saying that outer space is pretty big. So here's a recent Wired article on complainy gamers and what should be done with them that others in the industry out to get a kick out of.

How Do You Find What You Like?

Since I read The Long Tail, I've been reflecting slowly on some of the things that Chris Anderson discussed. This last trip home, I introduced my nephew to Settlers of Catan, one of my favorite board games. Liz and I were talking about something unrelated the other night (video games, probably), and somehow gaming habits come up - for example, examining twenty casual games in the course of GenCon rather than three very deep games. And that got me thinking about just how we are introduced to the games we like. How do we learn the games we like?

How many games did you learn by buying something based on the box's marketing copy, reading the rules, and sitting down to tear through a game without knowing anything else about it?

Then, think about how many games you've learned because someone said "hey, let me show you this cool game!"

Of course, that second option is kind of esoteric; it could be as simple as "hey, let me show you this cool game!" or as complex as you researching a game online that you think you might enjoy, or visiting an influencer (a blogger, for example) whose opinion you value. But no matter how you think of the second option, I'd be willing to be that most of the games you know and like - Monopoly, chess, checkers, Medieval 2: Total War, Dice Wars, or even Dungeons & Dragons - you learned because someone suggested them to you, or even showed you how to play. In fact, every example above, including probably a hundred others, I found based on suggestion.

Games, of course, are a little different than movies and music, but not much different. How much of your music do you listen to because someone suggested it, and how much did you simply pick up blind in the store? How many movies have you seen because someone said "hey, you really should see this movie, you'd love it."

The challenge for marketing people like myself is finding out how to tap this phenomenon without destroying it. This kind of word-of-mouth marketing, especially for games, is a self-cleaning organism, and I suspect that tampering with it too much would simply create a barrier through which we can never again pass.

It's something interesting to consider as I move forward in my career.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In Keifer, They Have a Scorpion Problem

Now there's something you don't have to worry about in Seattle that much: scorpion problems. But in Keifer (Oklahoma, where my friend's brother lives and was recently stung by such a creature), you do. Which is to say, I spent the last week in Tulsa with kith and kin, enjoying a few days off and the company of loved ones.

The trip is one of highlights: seeing my brother, fixing a main course for Thanksgiving dinner, introducing my nephews to Settlers of Catan, getting to know my parents new cat, a trip to a bar where I suddenly became a complete convert in Washington State's smoking ban, and generally just a good time. This is the first trip home where I felt more a stranger than a part of things, not because of the company, but because I've seen myself grow in the past few months without necessarily being conscious of it and sometimes it takes facing older parts of yourself that you left behind to remind yourself of that.

It's worth mentioning that it was in the high 60s and low 70s for most of my trip, and as I pulled into the coffee shop in Bellevue where I'm writing this, it started to sleet.

Some things, I'd keep if I could.



For the first time in my life, I tried standing in line for a game console this morning. I showed up 10 minutes before Best Buy opened, and left 20 minutes later when they ran out, with about 30 people still ahead of me in line.

I'm not really all that disappointed. I went home and played Medieval II: Total War and had a blast.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks Giving

My health.

My friends and my family.

My job, and the income provided so I don't have to worry about things like food.

A roof over my head, and a warm place to sleep.

My talents and abilities.

My perseverance.

My ability to allow myself to continue to grow and develop.

What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Book: Newton's Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes

And then there's Newton's Cannon. Rarely do I read a book without skipping parts - usually only paragraphs - here and there, or glancing at the last few pages to see how it turns out. Newton's Cannon is the first book in a long time that captured my interest enough so that I just didn't want to do that. Rather than tearing right through, I put it down in places just so I could savor the last third.

Premise: Sir Issac Newton discovers alchemy - or rather, the applications of it. Alchemy is kind of a mixture of magic and quantum mechanics - in the context of the book, it's all scientific, but there are certain aspects of it that aren't really covered by our modern scientific understanding. Newton's discovery touches off an age of invention that brings the world into a kind of steampunk age, with pistols that shoot lightning, machines that communicate over enormous distances, and more. England and France have squared off against each other, both trying to find an advantage, and France might just have that advantage, with the unwitting help of one young Ben Franklin. Oh, and Blackbeard the pirate makes an appearance.

Newton's Cannon is the first of a series of four books collectively called The Age of Unreason. Keyes' work is one of those rare treats where the execution of a cool premise is just as good as, if not better than, the premise itself. I've already purchased the second book in the series, A Calculus of Angels, and frankly I can't wait to read it, too.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

RIP Robert Altman

I can't necessarily say that Robert Altman was one of my favorite directors, but I've certainly enjoyed everything of his that I've seen. The movies lost a good one today.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Election Post Mortem, Via Jeff

I was going to sum up some of my thoughts regarding the national elections and the subseqent media coverage and spin, but Jeff did a fantastic job of hitting almost everything I was going to say - especially with his analysis of the new memes floating around the punditsphere about how we should be taking all of this.

Book: The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

The last Kim Stanley Robinson book I tried to read was The Years of Rice and Salt, which I couldn't finish. In the same Amazon order as the post below, I grabbed The Wild Shore, a post-apocalyptic tale by Robinson, and couldn't put it down.

Part of a triptych (trilogy) of similar books about three vastly different futures for Orange County, California, The Wild Shore takes place in an America about fifty years after a nuclear attack destroyed major cities. Bombs were detonated from ground-level, inside trucks and buildings, so the devastation isn't as complete as it could have been if they were launched from ICBMs, but it was still complete enough. The UN has decided that the United States should be cut off from the rest of the world for 100 years as punishment for its imperialism (at least, that's the explanation given in the book, but the narrator does show that there is a good reason to question whether or not that's true.) So anyone who tries to leave, is killed by one of the battleships that patrols the shore. Additionally, if any settlement makes too much progress towards reunification - such as building a railroad track - a space-based satellite destroys the structure.

A blurb on the back describes The Wild Shore as a cross between Huck Finn and Our Town, and that's as apt a description as any. The action centers around one small village of survivors, who have built a community based on fishing and agriculture. They battle with the "scavengers" who inhabit the ruins of Orange County, people who have chosen to simply live off the scraps of the old civilization rather than trying to make a new life. The book clearly comes down on the side of the farmers, and in an interesting twist for the genre, the calls to action for resistance, revolution, and reunification and rebuilding the old United States are less important than the personal lessons the main character learns as he instead grows up in his village and his decisions and perspectives start influencing the lives of those around him, for better or worse.

The Wild Shore is not a rollicking action-adventure, but it's a hell of a read regardless. It's an interesting contrast to David Brin's The Postman, which released about the same time (early 1980s) and embraced the spirit of reclamation and reunification rather than the spirit of community and family that The Wild Shore ultimately concerns itself with. Amazon sells The Wild Shore too.

Book: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

Fair warning: this is going to be less a book review than a confessional.

I typically try to keep a very open mind when reading books, especially when I'm reading a post-apocalyptic adventure novel - my favorite SF genre. So I grabbed Dies the Fire from an online recommendaton with a bevy of other books using a birthday gift certificate, because it was post-apocalyptic and sounded like an interesting premise: some sort of electrical disturbance basically puts everyone back a few hundred years, before electricity and steam. Breakdown of society, people coming together, evil enemy army, and so forth. Sure, sounds like a decent read.

The plot breaks into two arcs: rugged bush pilot flying wealthy family to remote Idaho, and Wiccan acoustic guitar playing single mother in small Oregon college town.

The pilot plot was OK I guess. But boy howdy, the other character's plotline was awful.

Maybe it's just because I've spent so much time around those folks, but in the first twenty pages the Wiccan was casting spells, remarking about how her friend who fought in the SCA and made fine weapons for Ren Faires would always stand by her side, and just generally reminded me of the worst parts of some GenCon attention whore, I put the book aside.

OK, I didn't. I skipped around. I read the end (a habit most people would cruicify me for if offered the chance, but fuck 'em, the journey is more important than the destination for me.) And the samples I found were an annoying and shitty as the first twenty pages. So this one landed on the pile that's going to Half Price the next time I'm taking a load down there.

Does that make me a bigot? Maybe. I tried to think how I would respond if the character were, say, a Muslim or a Christian. Would I be equally as annoyed by a Christian character making signs of the cross and quoting scripture? As much as I wish I could say "yes, that would equally annoy me," I know the answer is "no, not really." I have some personal feelings about Wicca and some - not all, but some - people who choose to practice that faith that color my personal judgement in this regard. But even that is a counterfeit argument - I have feelings about Christians as well, and not all of them very positive. But why my personal negative - and somewhat irrational - response to this character?

I guess the answer is, "I don't know." Maybe it is a little bit of bigotry, because it seems based largely on my personal disdain for some practitioners of the faith rather than the religion itself (as far as I'm concerned, religions are pretty much equal, with the exception of Scientology.) It's hard to explain. And maybe I don't have to.

I wish I could have kept reading, because Stirling penned some really tight prose. The pilot's plotline especially just rocked and rolled along, and I wanted to read more, just to see what happened next - not a bad thing. Seth mentioned that Stirling wrote some historical fiction, so I might try to track down a copy of that, just to give the author another shot.

If you really want to read Dies the Fire, there's a link to I can't really recommend it though.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pulp Fiction

If a news story about African gold pirates operating deep underground isn't rife with pulpy plot possibilities, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Conservative Terrorism

Via SA, some Internet Detectives did some digging and discovered that the man arrested for mailing white powder to Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann, and others, was an avid poster on conservative forum Free Republic. In fact, more than one set of Detectives has been on the case.

Unsurprising? Hardly. When you spend all day circlejerking about what you hate, eventually that hatred consumes you and becomes you.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fifteen Days Late...

Pictures of Halloween pumpking carving, 2006, including Shub-Pumpkinroth, the Black Pumpkin of the Woods.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Joe Comes Back

I half-expected Joe "Mortal Kombat should be Banned" Lieberman to switch his party affiliation to the Republicans after he had to run as an independent in the Connecticut Senate race. He says he's still a Democrat.

Now maybe he'll start acting like one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Maria and Me

My life has been all about politics lately: check my Flickr photostream for pics of Maria Cantwell's visit to my office today.

I Wake Up in a Changed America

Democrats have majority control of the House. We're on track to taking the Senate (as long as Joe "Mortal Kombat is destroying our children" Lieberman votes with the Dems, not something I'm optimistic about), and Donald "Waterboarding isn't Torture" Rumsfeld has resigned.

It is a changed America.

Do I think that we're going to be pulling out of Iraq, raising the minimum wage and issuing socialized health care in the next few weeks? No. But what this does, is offer what could very well be the best part of our American system of government: checks and balances. Our government works best when one party controls the legislature and another controls the White House (Reagan and the Dems in the 80s, Clinton and the Repubs in the 90s), only because it tends to keep the kinds of shenanigans that come with a representative electoral process to a minimum. They know that they can't act without reprisal, because the balance of power is delicate. When the balance tips, we have problems.

I do expect some progress to be made. Depending on how well the Democrats do, it's conceivable that a Dem could win the White House in 2008 - but what would that do for the balance of power? Depends on the Dem, I suppose. Hopefully it's Not Hillary. Then I won't be able to enjoy Grand Theft Auto 5. But things will probably change, albeit at the typical glacial pace of democratic politics. More importantly, America's image as a democracy stands a chance of being restored in the international community - something that's far more important.

WA Initiatives

Looks like the moronic initiatives in Washington State are failing.

Is the other shoe going to drop tonight?

Huh. We're... Winning?

MSNBC is declaring that the Democrats will win the House. Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough are talking about possible impeachments charges and investigations into the Bush administration's energy and Iraq policies.

Are we moving into Bizarroworld??

Santorum OUT!

Not of the closet, but out of office. Stay the course, chumps! Keep on staying that course!!

Did You Vote?

Hope so. Big election today. Of course, not bigger than Britney Spears filing for divorce.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Grand Theft Mario

This is making the rounds, but worth watching: a Robot Chicken bit where Mario and Luigi end up in Vice City.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lone Woof

A good deal of the wasted developmental part of my youth was spent immersed in the Lone Wolf series of RPG-book-game-adventures by Joe Dever. Did you know that you can re-live the awesomeness of these books online? Now if only I didn't have that pesky "work" thing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween at Work

The best part about days like this is that my office brings in the booze around 2 in the afternoon.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Here Comes Halloween! Also Zombie Awards

It's one of the two holidays I celebrate every year - Halloween! This year we carved pumpkins (pictures coming, I promise) and I dressed up twice! Woohoo! Today I'm half-a-zombie (again, pictures coming) and I get to wear my Fangoria "Zombie Exterminating Service" t-shirt.

Let's kick the day off with the Golden Brain Awards, recognizing accomplishment in the field of zombiism. More fun shenanigans to come, no doubt.

Have I Become a Heartless Bastard?

Maybe. Or maybe I'm letting this get to me more than I should.

Context: there's a good number of homeless people who work the streets downtown where I work. They're kind of part of the background of working here; I never give them money, but there's one guy who I've given food to on several occasions, and he always appreciates it.

Specific context: Sunday, we drove into the UD for haircuts at Rudy's and lunch with Angela. After lunch, we decide some coffee is in order. Anglea suggests a coffee joint just down the street (University Way, often called "The Ave") from us. We start our journey at about the 4900 section of University and end at the 4600 section. By New York standards (which don't apply here), that's a journey of 3/10 of a mile. In actuality, it was probably closer to 400 feet, just a little longer than a football field. That's a guess based on what I remember of football fields from high school marching band.

We we walk out of the restaurant and turn right, heading towards our destination. There's a bus stop to our left. Under the awning are two homeless people. One of them says "I need fifty cents for my bus fare." Sure you do, pal. I keep walking and don't say anything - the old "ignore 'em" tack that typically works. This guy yells after me, "you probably have twenty bucks in your wallet" and says something incoherant. For the record, I had about four bucks in ones, largely because I don't have a need for cash here unless I'm getting coffee at Monorail. But that's a different story.

Next, maybe ten steps down the road, a guy comes down the stairs and gets in front of me and asks for money. I say "no" because I've made eye contact and keeps walking. He then starts following me, continuing to ask for money. Liz and Angela are walking behind me and Crabby, and I have to turn to make sure he doesn't go for purses or anything. He eventually stops following us, just as we come to...

Two homeless people positioned on either side of the sidewalk. As one unit, they ask for money. They're holding signs. I say, fairly loudly (as I'm still a little torqued from the guy following me and tired of being asked for my hard-earned money), "it's like a gauntlet down here today," which considering the circumstances is fairly appropriate. Well, one of the last two people overheard me and started yelling about how God would bless me and make me loving and blah blah blah.

Fuck this shit, I mean really. I worked at DHS, I know what my tax dollars already pay for. I know what charities do. There's no fucking excuse to ask me for money when you could get in a shelter, start looking for a goddamned job, get off the juice, unless you didn't want to. Maybe that's not entirely true, but there is a LOT out there and social workers will try to help. I know, I was one for two years.

But I also don't hand out money to people. Period. If I'm going to give someone money, they will give me something in return. Street musicians are the only people to whom I will give change for this very reason. I used to give money to bums in London all the time until I kept seeing the same bums in the same place, day after day, asking for handouts. What was my money going for exactly? Now food I'll give, but not money.

So I submit to you, dear readers: am I a heartless bastard? I've been going over and over this incident in my head. I don't think so, but I open it to the court of public opinion.

It's Dangerous!

Some smartie-folks released the list of most dangerous cities today - well, the list of the cities who responded, ranked least-to-most dangerous. I was a little worried when Seattle, WA weighed in at #262 on the list, pretty far down there - but then I saw Tulsa, OK at #335 (out of 371 total cities) and felt better.

Monday, October 30, 2006

22 Years Behind the Times

This weekend I embarked on a cinematic voyage into unexplored (for me) territory, by renting one of the finest films I've ever seen. By "renting," I mean "got from Netflix," and by "finest films I've ever seen," I mean "This is Spinal Tap." Yes, it's true, Spinal Tap is in that era of movies where stuff came out that was Rated R and I didn't see it at the time because I had parents who actually gave a shit what their kid was up to (a good thing, mind you), and haven't gotten back to since.

All I can say is, that movie goes up to eleven. It's pretty unusual that I finish watching a movie and think, "yeah, that's pretty much one of the best movies I've ever seen," but that's certainly what happened this weekend.

So what did you do with your extra Daylight Savings Time hour?

Digging Underwater, Pirates Edition

Ahoy mateys! What's more cool than underwater archaeology? How about underwater archaeology excavating Blackbead's ship?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Vote Ye Washingtonians!

My absentee ballot arrived in the mail last week, and I used my extra hour this morning wisely and filled it out. As usual, Jeff is doing a bang-up job blogging local politics, especially the various state initiatives. So here's a brief breakdown of what's going down in Washington Legislative District 45:

I 920. Should we repeal an estate tax that effects 250 of the richest dead people in Washington each year? Let's see. No.

I 933. Should taxpayers have to pay people who want to turn their land into subdivisions but can't because of environmental or other regulation? An easy no.

I 937. Encourages environmental solutions for power companies with 25,000 or more customers. As Jeff explained, this is a wind power initiative. Sure, why not.

King County Prop 5. Should we raise sales and use of land tax by one tenth of one percent to fund King County Transit? I love taking the bus. My stress level has gone way down since I stopped driving here so much (big surprise). I'll pay a little more in property taxes to extend that benefit to others.

US Senate. Maria Cantwell (Democrat) or Mike McGavick (Republican)? I'm not a Cantwell fan, but McGavick is the former CEO of Safeco and his entire campaign reeks of personal greed, power tripping and the same kind of NeoCon nonsense that has landed the country in this spot in the first place. Perhaps if he was closer to Barry Goldwater than Rush Limbaugh, I'd consider it. So congrats Maria, you got my vote.

WA Legislative District 45. Senator: Eric Oemig (D) or Toby Nixon (R). Getting over the "Nixon" part, Eric Oemig's groundpounders came by the house last weekend for a Get out the Vote campaign. The best I've neard from Nixon was some vague attack ads I got in the mail. Bam.

Representatives: I'm not going to go through every candidate, but I do want to point out that Tim Lee, the Republican candidate who wants to represent District 45 on the Eastside, appeared at a convention with his company's staff in "Redmond Sux" t-shirts. I don't know much about local politics, but I know that someone who wants to represent the Eastside shouldn't be parading around in a shirt that tells the world "Redmond Sux."

Of course, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I'm taking that information from an attack ad that his Democratic opponent, incumbent Larry Springer, sent me in the mail. So who says dirty politics aren't effective sometimes?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Signs of Getting Old

Here's a converstion with myself that indicates I'm getting older.

Me1: Man, those pants I wore yesterday kind of smell bad. Oh well, I've only got two pairs of jeans, I guess I have to wear them anyway.

Me2: Why do you only own two pairs of jeans? You know, you're not in college anymore.

Me1: Pants are expensive! They're like 25 bucks a pop at Old Navy.

Me2: Are you honestly sitting there and telling me that you can't afford to buy yourself more pants that fit so you don't have to run around in something funky that makes your legs itch because it's got your own dried sweat in it?

Me1: ...

Me2: Yeah, I didn't think so.

So now I have one pair of pants - that fit me, without any holes in them - for each day of the week!

Six-Word Stories

I can't really give credit here because I've seen this all over the Internet, but the editors of Wired put out a call to SF writers to create stories in six words. The results vary from "meh" to "awesomely awesome," but it's worth reading.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tales from a Sport Cthutility Vehicle

Last night, I was driving from my office to our weekly D&D game. I'm stopped at a light, waiting to turn left, and I notice the person in the car behind me is having a very animated discussion with her passenger. It looks like a mother and a young daughter. Never one to pass up a chance to people-watch, I keep an eye on them in my rearview mirror. The mom looks like she's trying to explain something, as she keeps using her hands.

Then, she points at the back-left corner of my truck. Talks some more, and makes a gesture like she's showing her daughter something really big. It clicks immediately what they're talking about: the back-left corner of my truck is adorned with my Cthulhu for President bumper sticker.

Now I'm watching them outright, and the mother notices me looking in the rearview. She gives me two big thumbs up. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, I turn around and give them a thumbs-up too. They laugh. I laugh.

Later, she passes me and I wave.

Nothing like the Great Old Ones to liven up your day and remind you how cool people can be.

Birthday from Hell (Kinda)

My birthday this year was probably my second-worst birthday ever. It's going to take a lot to top my teacher slapping me with detention for not writing my spelling words ten times as homework (as happened in the fifth grade on my birthday), but this one came pretty close.

Long story short is I spent about 12 hours at my office working, and then spent another hour at home working. Luckily, the day after my birthday - when all that hard work paid off - turned out to be pretty decent.

The birthday wasn't a total wash - I got to talk to my parents, my brother (whom I almost never talk to), and my grandparents, so that was cool. Plus I am the proud owner of a new 80 GB video iPretentiousPod, and a pretty bitching iHome iPod iDock with an iClock built in, that replaced the old (non-i)CD player on my nightstand.

Also: I got pizzaid for my wizzork on the d20 Modern Fallout game, an amount that turned out to be about ten times what I got paid for my previous contract. Oddly enough, I already have a future work prospect buzzing around as well. Too bad I can't do this freelance thing full-time - yet.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Home Improvement Hilarity

Via SA, via Boing Boing, comes home improvement nightmares. I don't feel so bad about our house now.

It's Borat!

He's all over the place right now running a brilliant PR campaign for his upcoming movie. The BBC looks at how Sacha Baron Cohen hoaxed America as Borat.

Book: The Road by Cormac McCarthy offered me 5% more off my order if I ordered Cormac McCarthy's The Road with World War Z, so I said "why the hell not" and added it to the cart. It's a good book. It's a very fast read. And it's one of those simple-but-difficult books, just because of the subject matter.

The book follows an unnamed protagonist and his son as they trek south towards some unknown and esoteric goal. The goal, whatever it is, acts as a MacGuffin to provide the two with a need to move. They push an old shopping cart that contains their worldly possessions, and avoid human contact whenever possible - in no small part because many of the the other humans in the ash-covered, burned-out wasteland have resorted to cannibalism to survive.

The book is heavy. It's barely 200 pages, but it's heavy all the same, because while it has the normal survivialist masturbatory fantasies post-apocalyptic books they play second fiddle to the relationship between the father and son. The father's goal is to basically survive long enough to teach his kid how to survive, and as the story progresses he becomes more and more desperate in his drive to do this. It is clear at some points that the father isn't willing to take the kinds of risks that might actually provide a better life for his son, and his descent into paranoia is equally heartbreaking for its utter lack of hope as it is for it inevitable conclusion.

I recommend The Road, but don't expect something lighthearted. Sleep will not be an easy time coming after you finish this book.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dodging Bullets

Jon isn't the only one who can dodge bullets. My roommate noticed a "dripping" sound coming from the ceiling of the computer room this morning. After some scouting around the attic (and finding a cache of old junk - a story for another time), we found the source: a leak in the roof. We quickly consulted our "big book o' crap you get when you buy a house;" our warranty expired last year. Doh.

And yet.

We called the roofing company - they said the roof was still under warranty. And they would send someone out "right away." "Right away" turned out to be about an hour from when we called (and keep in mind, this is a Sunday.) The guy showed up, took a look, said the roof was probably installed incorrectly, and took some pictures and said he'd get back to us.

A couple hours later, he rolls up with some building materials and goes to town. The roof is temporarily fixed, and tomorrow it will be all of the way fixed. No more leak.

Again - this is a Sunday. When this is all said and done, I will pass along the roofing company's name and recommend them wholeheartedly. In the meantime, I'm having an extra glass of wine tonight and considering this a bullet dodged.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Charity Poker

Lots of games industry types will likely be at the Comic Stop's charity poker tournament on October 21. I'll probably be there. The creators of Penny Arcade and PVP will be there. Will you?

Songs in the Key of Springfield

Here's a great way to waste time at work: every episode of The Simpsons online.

Edit: Brandon's right and this is probably illegal. Link removed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Everyone judged her except for God. Only He knew the whole story."

- Found in a comic book at Zanadu today

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Book: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: The Oral History of the Zombie War is Max Brooks' successor to his pseudo-comedy book The Zombie Survivial Guide, although Z is very much a serious piece of literature that not only curb-stomps the brains out of anything else in the genre I've read, it blows it into a pulp with a shotgun blast. Yeah, it's good.

Z is a series of vignettes, each an "interview" with someone associated with a worldwide outbreak known as the "zombie war," or "World War Z." It has taken the world twelve years to push the zombie threat back to managable levels, and not without great loss; it's an apocalyptic scenario, but not a total one, as there are still millions of people as well as some infrastructure left.

What's fascinating about Brooks' Z is the same spirit that encapsulates all post-apocalyptic literature - the posed question "how would people react in this, the most extreme of circumstances?" Brooks' answer is certainly more hopeful than most, and reminds me in no small part of David Brin's take on civilization - that despite its shortcomings, it's something worth fighting for. Brooks also manages to work in some good social commentary as well without resorting to cliches or jaded and tired criticism; his details of Israel's response and the reactions in the Middle East are especially telling.

I cannot recommend World War Z enough, as the top of the zombie novel genre, a great piece of post-apoc. fiction, and just a great read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Video of the Day

I've been listening to videos for the Guitar Hero 2 songs all day through the YouTube links in my other post, and I decided to search for some of my favorite music videos from when MTV actually played music. Here's possibly the best video made during the 1980s, "Take on Me" for A-Ha.

My Next Custom Playlist

Ladies and Gentlement, now that the entire Guitar Hero 2 tracklist has been released, I can start assembling the next custom playlist for my iPod.

Almost forgot: my old iPod has finally withered and died. It gave me a three-year run. Not too shabby for something I probably used 30 hours a week.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Majority Report

There's a poll running on right now related to the recent shenanigans occuring on the Korean peninsula: "Is a preemptive strike to destroy a nation's nuclear weapons capability ever justified?" (can't link because it's a javascript poll.) As of 2:45 PT on October 9 2006, 58% (40161 votes) say "yes."

There are a lot of reasons why I would say "no," but instead I offer the Minority Report question: Is arresting a person for a crime they have not yet committed ever justified?

Weekend Watch: BSG

This weekend was Battlestar Galactica-a-riffic. Which is to say I finally got caught up on the series (thank you TV shows on DVD!) and watched the DVRed Season 3 premiere from last Friday night.

I admit that I avoided BSG due in no small part to the number of people who recommended it to me. Typically I will listen to a small number of friends who know me really well and share my tastes, who tell me "hey, you should check this out." When people I don't necessarily like or I know have poor taste tell me "hey, you should check this out," it's kind of like a Jason Repellant - it's a great way to keep me away from something.

But BSG turned out to be pretty damn good. Liz thought so too, which surprised me. And like I said, we are all caught up and ready for the new season.

The show's ambiguity is its best feature (it's pacing, however, it its worst: just a little too slow.) Are the humans supposed to represent America, or the Arab world, or Europe during World War II? What are the Cylons supposed to represent? Or are they supposed to represent anything at all, and instead just provide a scenario to explore what makes us human - or our relationships with the other members of our race?

It's one part Frankenstein (in that the Cylons are struggling to overcome the context in which they were created), one part Starship Troopers (how do you wage a war against an overwhelming enemy, and what do you sacrifice to win that war?), and one part Mad Max. And many other influences all coming together to create something worthwhile.

I'm optimistic about the direction the show will take this season, in a way I haven't been about a TV show for quite some time - especially a show that's not on HBO.

Maybe He's Just Ronery

In recent news, a power-hungry and militaristically agressive cowboy leader who disregards the health concerns of his own citizens and stays in power through fear has rattled his sabre something terrible. I speak of course about Kim "So Verwy Ronery" Jong Il, whose country joined the nuclear ranks this evening (or tomorrow, depending on what time zone you're in.)

Footage of the event has already been posted on YouTube:

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Iraq < Foley < North Korea

As any comedian can tell you, timing is everything. Only I'm just not sure where - or what - the punchline to this joke is.

Nearly two weeks ago, ABC News broke the story that Republican Mark Foley of Florida had lewd conversations with a young congressional page. Foley resigned, the exchange was printed, and hilarity ensued. Startlingly, no one seems much to care that Foley is gay - the issue here is that Foley was sending lewd IMs to underaged pages. It's interesting to note that the age of consent in Washington D.C. is 16, but since Foley was using the Internet he was subject to prosecution under a law that he in fact helped pass.

But the timing was almost immediately an issue. Despite the fact that it was a Republican aide that broke the story, Republicans called foul and claimed the Democrats timed the story to hit before the election - despite another fact that news sources - including Fox News - have had details of the story for months, and that Congressional pages were warned as early as 1995 to stay away from Foley, and that many House Republicans have known about Foley's indescretions.

Following Foley's resignation, the spin machine started - with Foley himself. He claimed he was an alcoholic and checked into rehab, following the Conservative pattern behavior of not taking personal responsibility and accountability for your actions, but blaming them on something else: parents, alcohol, Lib'ruls, Saddam, Islamofascists, the Lib'rul Media, the Feminists, Satanists, violent video games, rock and roll music, whoever. Hardly surprising. Fox News contrbuted to the effort with graphics reporting that Foley was a Democrat and stories whose language tried to disassociate him from the Republican party. Bill O'Reilly, himself known (at least among those who care) for his lewd advances to underlings, joined the party (YouTube link) too.

The word that comes to mind here is clusterfuck. And it's just getting warmed up.

But the timing is interesting here. I noted yesterday to Seth that North Korea's announcement of a nuke test seemed oddly timed to return some Good 'Ol Fear to the American consciousness right before an election (again.) Fear means vote for safety, and we all know that safety is keeping Republicans in office, right?

Seth brought up a much more compelling point, especially considering that the Foley sex scandal seems just as useless and stupid as any other sex scandal from Lewinski to Caligula - the Foley story broke a couple of days after a the intelligence report that indicated the war in Iraq has actually strengthened terrorism - a report that has now completely dropped from the headlines. In fact, ask yourself honestly whether you've thought about that report in the last three or four days, and then ask yourself how much you thought about a Florida Scientologist sending lewd emails to underaged boys.

I now wonder if the timing of everything isn't even a more elaborate machine designed not only to have us remain scared before an election, but to intentionally make us ignore a factual report that may very well have a deep and meaningful impact on who we choose when we vote in a month.

But at this point, the web is so twisted, I'm just not sure anymore.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Joke of the... Whenever

A Democrat, Conservative and a Republican were on the Titanic. When it hit the iceberg the Democrat screamed, "My God, we must save the children!"

The Conservative screamed, "Fuck the children!"

The Republican inquired, "Do we have time?"

Via the SA forums.

Book: Autumn by David Moody

Autumn came in a batch of recommendations while I was checking out World War Z from The Zombie Survival Guide scribe Max Brooks. Autumn is another example of zombie fiction, which seems to have taken off in the last five years seemingly on its own, and like Monster Island, Autumn was published online first and then self-published into the physical world. Its rawness shows; I counted a few editing mistakes and Moody's writing just flowed like something you'd read online, when the author is more concerned about getting thoughts down than in the structure of what he writes, and hasn't gone back to look it over.

Autumn is really a setup to the rest of Moody's novels, which are not avialable for free online; it's character introduction and development leading to a climax that is anti-climactic in the greater scheme of the world. It's Night of the Living Dead when you know there several more movies coming - which isn't to say it isn't a satisfying read. Moody could have stood to edit out his characters' bickering a little bit, not because it was unrealistic but simply because it got repetitive. But Autumn certainly accomplishes its goal of making you want to know what's happening next in the series. Next order I make from Amazon, I'll have to drop another of Moody's books in there.

Monday, October 02, 2006

AI vs. Graphics

Ars Technica has an interesting post speculating that certain versions of upcoming games may make sacrifices in graphical quality in favor of improved enemy AI and game interaction. While this is all speculative at this point, it certainly raises an interesting question: with all that supercomputer processing power in modern gaming consoles, is it better to use it for "more immersive" (read: high definition) graphics, or for a more interesting game experience? I'd certainly favor the later, although not to the point where you sacrificed quality and playability for it. In other words, I don't want a game so fuzzy I can't see or tell what I'm doing - GTA: Libery City Stories, I'm looking in your direction!

Gentlemen, Start the Cloning Machines!

I was considering getting a dog for home security purposes, but now I think I might hold off. In a few years, following the recent discovery of soft tissue in a T-rex skeleton, I may have other options for home security animals.

Via SA forums.

Friday, September 29, 2006

New Template Up and Running

Alrighty then, it looks like the new template is working and I've migrated the important stuff over. The last thing on the old to-do list is an interactive thingy where you can see what I've been playing, reading, and watching. We'll see how that works out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pardon the Mess

Please pardon the mess while I revamp the design a tad, thanks to Blogger Beta.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Visual Horror Movie Puzzle Game

This awesome game reminds me of the holiday covers of GAMES magazine my mom and I used to do when I was younger: a dark, renaissance-style painting that doubles as a visual puzzle where you try to guess the titles of 50 dark/horror movies.

So why don't you drop what you're doing and play? I'm up to 20 already.

Edit: Finished in 47 minutes and some change game time. I had to look up hints on the last 3, so I'm counting myself at 47/50. Not too shabby.

Keith Olbermann is My Hero

I am honored to say that when I worked at WizKids, Keith Olbermann and I exchanged emails related to the Babe Ruth Masterpiece figure we produced.

I have posted YouTube of Olbermann before, but MSN has posted Keith's rebuttal to the right-wing spin put on Clinton's recent FauxNews interview. Watch it. Now. Olbermann cuts through right-wing sophistry like a knife through butter. A knife that uses logic and fact, two things utterly foreign to the right (if you don't believe me, watch.) Via MeFi.

Monday, September 25, 2006

T-Shirt Marketing: Go To Hell(boy)

This weekend at Costco I noticed a pair of geeky-looking chaps walking in while I was walking out. Their geeky looking T-Shirts had a certain red comic book character on them, but it was the back that interested me: a website hawking an upcoming Animated Series - A quick look through the site confirms that it's not an animated series per se, but it's going to be a series of animated film releases not unlike the Ultimate Avengers films Marvel put out this year. Feature-length, direct-to-DVD, and featuring the voice talent from the Hellboy motion picture including Ron Perlman and Selma Blair.

Some quick Google-fu yielded the production diary of the movie's producers, which hints at a pre-release or sneak preview at the upcoming HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland. The festival is also showing some good horror fare, including Dead Birds, a great little creepfest that's worth paying to see.

Wonder how my work schedule looks that weekend.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Stars Are Right

This morning, we had a contractor out to give us an estimate on what it would cost to replace most of the insulation in our house. On his way out, he remarked that recognized my Ash bobblehead, and we agreed that Evil Dead is one of the best movies of all time. He then said "yeah, I saw your truck on the way in, and I thought the bumper sticker was great! Most people wouldn't even know what that was."

My bumper sticker? Cthulhu for President.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Local Politics

I neglected to post before Tuesday's primary, mostly because I have been completely swamped getting ready for the currently-running Tokyo Game Show, but it was on my mind. I got my ballot in the mailbox with minutes to spare (in Washington, we can vote absentee whenever we want, which is good because it creates a paper trail that can't be hacked.) Jeff has been doing a fantastic job of covering local politics on his blog, even summarizing the results nicely this week. But I did want to mention that I voted against Maria Cantwell in the Senate primary - and she did end up with 90% of the vote. So maybe I haven't completely lost my finicky, anti-establishmentism. I didn't vote for Mike the Mover or that guy who wanted Israel wiped off the map (but 8000 fellow Washingtonians did, according to a Seattle PI story I read a couple of weeks ago.) I did cast my vote for Hong Tran though; her progressive stance on health care and the Iraq war appealed to me more than Cantwell's "we need to pull out sometime maybe." I'm oversimplifying, true. But I have a general feeling of discontent that we need to have us a nice, old-fashioned shakeup in Congress.

I wonder if the Democratic party is looking for good PR people?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

When in Doubt, Use the Bombs!

While not exactly threatening to blow a country "back to the Stone Age," a la the Bush administration, I'm still quite excited to get my hands on DEFCON, Introversion Software's version of Global Thermonuclear War from that one awesome 80s movie.

But don't take my word for it - check out this gameplay video:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It's Late, It's Late...

And I'm online! Why you ask? Job stuff. The last couple of weeks I've shifted into hyperdrive at work; we've got upcoming back-to-back trade shows (starting tomorrow) and I've been running point on the prep work for both. I've been getting pretty frazzled (and trying - and failing - not to take it out on the ones I care about), but I'm hoping this will be the end of it for a while, and I can return you to the Puppet Show's regularly-scheduled absurdity and zombie posts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Re: The Brains

Via Seth comes a music video for a zombie song. Warning: gory scenes may not be work safe.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Michael and Me

As promised during last night's Alliterates meeting, the photo of me with Michael Moore is up on my Flickr stream, rescued from a (thankfully cached) version of my old website using the Wayback Machine.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

See Me!

I added a Flickr stream to the right nav-bar, so you can go take a gander at the goofy stuff I've been capturing with my camera.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Free Short Story!

Want to read a free, awesome short story? Of course you do. "What's expected of us" by Ted Chiang is a sci-fi short-short about free will and determinism. Sent to me by a friend.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Interactive Mall Map

This has been sailing around the Internet, but I have to give credit to one of my pals at work for linking me: the Dead Rising Interactive Mall Map. Like the computerized map in Crossroads mall, except it shows Psychos too.

New Tech

I'm slowly joining the digital revolution. I signed up for Blogger Beta, so expect to see some cosmetic changes around here (and, hopefully, I'll finally be able to migrate this thing to my personal website.) And, I got a Flickr account, so you and the rest of the world can see the cool things I take pictures of - and often post here anyway.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin RIP

He may have been crazy, he may have been ADD, but his energy, enthusiasm and knowledge were undeniable. There is little doubt that the Crocodile Hunter's antics turned a whole batch of kids on to animals, and that's never a bad thing.

RIP Steve. The world just got a little sadder.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Video Blogging - A Test

I've wanted to try dinking around with embedded video in my blog, so this is my first attempt. This is a six-minute segement from Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC, and possibly one of the most reasoned and rational responses to the Bush administration's emotional jingoism I've ever heard. Even conservatives should listen to the whole thing, because Olbermann makes some excellent points about the references the administration has been making lately to the appeasement of Hitler (argumentum ad Hitlerium, anyone?) and their overall charge of "fighting fascism." Enjoy.

Via the SA forums.

From the God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Department

A priest in Africa drowned after trying to walk on water.

    Evangelist preacher Franck Kabele, 35, told his congregation he could repeat the biblical miracle.

    One eyewitness said: "He told churchgoers he'd had a revelation that if he had enough faith, he could walk on water like Jesus.

    "He took his congregation to the beach saying he would walk across the Komo estuary, which takes 20 minutes by boat.

    "He walked into the water, which soon passed over his head and he never came back."
And the religious right wonders why anyone with an IQ greater than an eggplant thinks they are dumb.

Via the SA forums.

Dead Rising Revisited

Looks like Clive Thompson at Wired News agrees with my conclusions about Dead Rising and its save system. Money quote:

    "Save mechanisms are key to the emotional stakes in a game. Personally, I tend to prefer titles like Half-Life, where you can save anywhere you want, instantly -- and save as many different copies of your life as you want. (A sentence of utterly Philip K. Dickian weirdness, if you think about it.)

    For me, constant saving makes me feel more free: I can take more chances, go down risky alleyways, and explore the game more boldly -- because death holds no sting. I get whacked? No problem; I just restore to a moment a few seconds before my death...

    In contrast, a rare-saving game like Dead Rising forces me to be ultra cautious. I don't dillydally, explore needlessly, or take any big chances. When I creep across the mall's open lawn at midnight, when the zombies are more aggressive, my heart is in my throat -- not just because the scenario is inherently scary, but because if I die I'm gonna lose another half hour of the most nonrenewable resource in existence: my time...

    Yet here's the thing: One could just as easily argue that infrequent saving is a much more intense and authentic experience. It forces you to put some skin in the game. That's why people seek out life-threatening sports like sheer-face mountain climbing and skydiving. In situations of genuine danger, your senses snap open and you experience things more fully -- or, as any extreme athlete would boast, you live more fully.

    It's certainly true that in Dead Rising I was focused with cheetah's intensity on my enemies. I pretty quickly learned to give a wide berth to even a seemingly slow-moving, harmless zombie -- because if one grabs you, it'll hold you still long enough for the others to stagger over and pile on. I can't say I ever studied the enemies so closely in an easy-saving game like Doom III."
He articulated that point far better than I did in my short(er) review of the game. In fact, the "no save" system that I grew up with on the NES forced the same kind of emotional response, even on games like The Legend of Zelda, where you could only save when you died. I remember trying to tell my parents why I couldn't come to dinner right now, on the count of three because I had to actually get to a point where my pixelly little in-game avatar met his demise. In retrospect, it seems pretty absurd, but it certainly heightened the overall emotional investment in the game and Zelda still stands as one of my favorite console experiences because of it.

Of course, you could save any time you wanted on (most) PC games - Bard's Tale being a notable exception - and aside from doing dunder-headed things on games where part of the design was a Skinnerbox-like trial-and-error system - Sierra's graphic adventures, for example - it was never an issue. You expected to die, and die a lot. You could always restore to the last screen. But Mario wasn't like that. You had exactly three chances (plus any green mushrooms you might find) to take a lava bath before you started over at the very beginning.

I'm unconvinced it was more satisfying overall in that context, but I will argue that it is in Dead Rising. But it certainly heighened the emotional involvement in the game. It was more of an investment, in emotion and time.

Wired article via Joystiq.

Adventure Game Studio

I was very excited about today's release of XNA, the (free) utility that lets little garagehacks write games that can be played immediately on a PC and eventually on the Xbox 360. Of course, the game I want to write is an homage to the games I grew up with - the old Sierra and LucasArts games like King's Quest and Monkey Island. Someone on the XNA forums instead recommended Adventure Game Studio, an equally-free (but not Xbox 360 compatible) utility that will allow me to create my own adventure game. It also doesn't require knowledge of C# (which XNA does), and handles everything from scripting. Considering I aced PASCAL and C in high school, I should be able to figure out the scripts.

I'm going to give it a spin shortly after I publish this post.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mash-Up: Simpsons and Shakespeare

Does a one-man stage act where the actor does Macbeth in voices of 50 Simpsons characters sound good to you? Then you might want to catch a show of Machomer!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Warning: Emo Post

Why do people have to be mean?

I mean, intentionally and calculatingly mean. What's the deal? Does it really serve a purpose? Does it make us stronger if it doesn't kill us? Or is it just a way to keep things interetsing?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: mean people suck.