Category Archives: Games

Video games, role-playing games, cards, wargames, board games: Anything you can play to kill some time and maybe make a couple of friends.

Couldn’t Happen to Just Anyone

A number of short essays on a number of subjects follow.

  • Yeah, I picked up Grand Theft Auto IV. I’ve played other games in the series and despite its reputation for being vile, its primary objectionable content comes from two things: One, it has a very colorful approach to dialogue with most if not all characters taking the Quentin Tarantino approach to phrasing and two it has a sense of humor I’d commonly associate with thirteen year old boys in medium sized groups who think there aren’t any parents around. My interest in the franchise is rooted mostly in the oddly compelling way in which the game’s story unfolds considering the developers take great pains to allow you an enormous degree of freedom at any given moment. You can certainly play the game as if it had no plot to speak of (and it’s actually only the last two or three that have really made the narrative effective) and many people do. But when you experience the game as if it were a long, meandering Godfather-style crime drama, it shows some remarkable resilience as an escapist bit of entertainment.

    I said once that I thought GTA would be better if they discarded the juvenile fledgling criminal premise and since then other games have come along and done precisely that, following GTA’s loose blueprint for open-ended environments with optional narrative elements woven throughout. Last year’s unexpected marvel Crackdown, for example, flipped the tables and cast the player as a superhuman crime fighter ridding the city of its seedy underbelly in a sort of destructive, Dirty Harry fashion. The equally surprising Gun also did something similar with a wild west theme making the player a kind of bowlegged stranger moseying in to clean up a lawless frontier.

    If you wonder why I continue to play GTA despite its environs not being precisely my cup of tea, understand that these other games lift their playbook directly from the most recent Grand Theft Auto game so they hold an appeal largely due to their genre innovation. Except something I noticed playing IV is that even in open-world games (called “sandbox” games by hobbyists) where you are cast as a good guy, there is always a sort of anti-hero edge to the proceedings. I think this is because these games are equating freedom with the ability to be a pill in their created worlds. If you think about it, the open-ness these games are providing isn’t really from the fact that you can re-order the missions you accept (you could do rudimentary variations on that theme as far back as the NES days) and it isn’t about just wandering around a large but defined space. Adventure games have given us the wandering ability for decades. Instead the freedom, whether in Crackdown, Gun or any other sandbox-style game lies in your ability to torment AI-controlled characters of no consequence. It’s in the way you can blow things up that don’t require destruction. It’s in the fact that the developers put options in the game that aren’t devoid of consequence but that give the (perhaps mistaken) impression of mischief. Even as a super-cop in Crackdown, you spent most of your “freedom” either terrifying civilians with your destructive power (ostensibly only to be directed at the criminal element, but you were of course free to blow passerby apart as well, if you didn’t mind being “reprimanded” by your virtual employer) or climbing up onto buildings where no human should be able to reach.

    Some people like to point at this controlled mischief and say it encourages real-world emulation. I can’t say I agree but I also don’t exactly ruffle my feathers to defend the games because the cop-out standard party line of “it’s only a game” conveniently ignores the truth which is that if there weren’t some perverse joy to be had in the ability to whack a virtual pedestrian with an SUV because he’s wearing a dippy shirt, the games wouldn’t have much of an audience. In effect the mischief is the hook, even if the most recent game finds a certain zen by making the option almost more appealing than the act itself and framing a well-told story within the confines of that premise. No one who wasn’t already nuts would play these games and think, “It’s on my TV so it must be an okay thing to do.” But anyone who says the potential for senseless carnage isn’t significant is lying to themselves about why they play.

  • I missed the San Jose Sharks game on Friday. It was purely accidental; my TiVo has difficulty handling the hastily-scheduled playoff games and the several-hour HD broadcasts are too taxing on my limited disk space to make the typical set-it-and-forget-it principle of TiVo worthwhile anyway. Plus, I enjoy experiencing the games as close to real time as I can anyway. But on Friday I simply lost track of the time and when I did finally remember, the game was long over.

    I was relieved to see that they had won in OT, something they seem to have a hard time doing in the playoffs as a general rule, but it was a tempered relief.

    When the team dropped game three, I groaned and made some remarks about their lack of drive and determination. Nik took me to task at the time, saying how poor of a fan I was for not believing in them despite the long odds. “Isn’t being a fan rooting for them no matter what?” she asked, pointedly. I conceded at the time that she had a case but inside I felt it was coming from someone who didn’t really understand. She hasn’t grown up as a sports fan in the Bay Area. She hasn’t been pulling for the Sharks since their inaugural season. She hasn’t watched the Giants find spectacular ways to lose just on the brink of ultimate victory.

    But I do appreciate the sentiment she offers. How can I not be considered a fair weather fan if I let my cynicism born of years of disappointing seasons color my encouragement of a team that certainly carries within its roster the skill and talent to pull off the nearly impossible? Yet I continually find it a challenge not to fix my disdain directly on the team itself. The truth is they do have the talent, so why have they gotten to this unmanageable position of requiring a herculean four-game winning streak just to forge ahead? You can say they’re halfway there, but you also can say that they didn’t do it in a convincing manner. I see the glass, I see that there are equal parts liquid and empty space, but it’s difficult to fixate on the remaining contents and discount the void.

    My brother suggested via Twitter that should the Sharks win on Friday he suspected they could go all the way. At most all I can say for now is that I hope he’s right. I desperately want him to be correct, but then I think of the facts. Only two teams have ever rallied from 0-3 series deficits to emerge victorious and the last case was 33 years ago. Put another way, such a feat has never occurred in my lifetime. Also, this mandatory win in game six must take place in Dallas but more significantly the final and crucial game seven has to be won at home, a place where other than Friday the Stars have essentially owned the Sharks for the better part of two seasons, including these playoffs. And finally, I understand that the teams are painfully equal in terms of talent and drive. I wish I could hope for a 5-1 massacre tonight or Tuesday but I fear the best case scenario is another 3-2 nail-biter or at best a 2-0 defensive showcase. But that equality leaves precious little room for the unknown variables: Officiating, momentary lapses of concentration, lucky bounces, hot opposing goalies, you name it.

    I know they can do it. I’ll be pulling for them to be that team, to enter the history books. I want them to make it happen, I’m just not quite ready to believe that they actually will.

    And maybe that’s the problem.

  • I think about my career sometimes. Through an unexpected series of choices, curveballs and luck I’ve arrived at a position where I make a comfortable living despite not having the most impressive educational background. I’m competent at the job I’m asked to do and I generally make a favorable impression, mostly through subterfuge I fear, with my employers. But I work as hard as anybody who, you know, sits down for a living and I can’t complain too loudly about most of it.

    The only thing that trips me up sometimes is the fact that while I do well and feel good for the most part about my working life, none of it is really what I feel like I’m meant to do. I started with a short stint in an accelerated occupational school for graphic design, hoping at the time to put my interest in artistic endeavors to some kind of practical use. I did okay at it but quickly found that it was a hard way to make a living and transitioned semi-naturally into an unexpected area of interest with web design. The step from web design to web development (focusing more on the technical side of building web sites than the artistic) was fairly smooth and from there I found an endless well of fascinating challenges along the lines of programming, system administration and technical support.

    But I find that here in this unintentional place I’m encountering the same basic stumbling block I did toward the end of trade school which is that my natural ability has hit its peak and further development would require a level of interest and a desire for enlightenment that I cannot feign. As with graphic design I have just enough raw ability inherent to be a so-so field journeyman but not enough drive to hone my skill to the point of being a true asset to anyone, much less myself.

    I find myself at a bit of a crossroad. On one hand my primary marketable skill is an ability to glean a surface level understanding of any complex system fairly quickly. I also have a pretty broad background in technical and design work so my self-evaluations have resulted in thinking that I might be decently suited for management. There is some interest in me to pursue that avenue; it allows me to maintain my current course and use the skills and experience I already have while furthering my career without demanding a huge commitment of time and resources. But on the other hand it doesn’t necessarily address the fact that my main source of job dissatisfaction comes from being in a field that interests me in a vague intellectual sense but doesn’t offer a lot in the way of personal enrichment. It will only ever be, I fear, a mere job.

    On the other hand, I’m so well entrenched in this sector that any course re-direction would require the aforementioned resource dedication be it schooling or blind transition with the almost certain financial implications. I’ve toyed occasionally with pipe dreams of magical wishes coming true and having unlikely dream jobs like novelist or musician or freelance weirdo essayist. But when I switch off my wandering daydreams and examine reality I find that what I really want is to provide for my family which suggests that I may be happiest just where I am. I also find myself asking from time to time whether my creativity hits a roadblock when evaluating myself. Perhaps, I think, there is a job out there that meets all my criteria for perfection that I’ve never even considered. I certainly didn’t entertain the notion of being a NOC Engineer ten years ago. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Or maybe, I’m not missing a thing.

The Occasional Taste

I’ve been sick for the last few days with a pretty hefty cold. I thought it was the flu at first because of the general sense of achy unpleasantness and chills, but after staying home on Wednesday and having it not manifest with the usual aches and fever I’m inclined to believe it’s merely an industrial-strength common cold.

I’m still recovering but I’ve been doing a lot of lying around and thinking so I have a few unconnected thoughts and anecdotes to share, in a familiar format.

  • For reasons that won’t make sense unless you’re a gamer who owns an Xbox 360 and an OCD-afflicted psychopath such as myself, I purchased a copy of Madden 06 for under $5 from my local game store and have been simulating thirty seasons worth of games. What’s significant about this is that, according to the software, the 49ers won’t win the Super Bowl again until the year 2033. Just something to look forward to.
  • I’m reading a wonderful book by Naomi Klein called “No Logo” about marketing, advertising and branding. There is a passage in the book that stuck with me:

    The people who line up for Starbukcs, writes CEO Howard Shultz, aren’t just there for the coffee. “It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community people get in Starbucks stores.”

    I guess that’s why I dislike Starbucks. Here I thought they made bad coffee and served them in pretentious and ubiquitous locations. Turns out the make pretentious and ubiquitous locations in which to serve bad coffee.

  • Our band name (comprised of myself on “vocals,” Nik on guitar, HB on drums and Gin as a roadie/groupie, but soon she’ll play bass… I just don’t have another guitar-shaped controller) is “Joey Big Hat is a Bit Much.” It’s completely an inside joke and probably not a very funny one at that. However, it still cracks me up whenever I think about it.
  • The above bullet refers to Rock Band, which Nik bought me for my birthday.
  • However, I’ve decided that this year I will buy a new guitar (I’m thinking Fender Telecaster), Nik has indicated that she wants to take guitar lessons and Lister has indicated that once he returns from overseas he wants to get a bit more serious about forming a jam band so music is on people’s minds. There may one day be a real-life variant of JBHiaBM. We probably won’t cover Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” however.
  • My folks sent me a very kind gift for my birthday which was essentially funds to be converted into San Jose Sharks tickets. I did some digging around and found that you can actually buy unwanted season tickets for a single game through Ticketmaster which seems to be the only way to get lower-reserve seating. But I found that the price differs wildly depending on what team is visiting. For example, for about $60 a ticket I can get lower-reserve center ice tickets (row 25) and see the Sharks play the Columbus Blue Jackets. For those same seats I can see them play the Anaheim Ducks… for $300 each.
  • I’m probably going to see the Blue Jackets.
  • We went and saw Juno on New Year’s Eve. It’s an exceptional movie.
  • Just days before my birthday I went to the eye doctor as a sign of solidarity with Nik, who was going because she’s had terrible migraines for about a month now and her doctor suggested she may be having vision trouble (the actual doctorese-to-English translation of that is “I have no idea what’s wrong, so hows about a stab in the dark?”). I hadn’t had my eyes checked in a very long while so I went along, assuming my vision was still 20/20. It’s not. Now I need glasses. Strangely, Nik and I need practically the same prescription.
  • I have no delusions that people who meet me or pass me on the street are fooled into thinking I’m anything but a nerd. However, for those few who may have been blinded by the ruse, I think glasses ought to remove all doubt.
  • Truthfully, I’m okay with that. However, with my basketball-shaped noggin, hairless pate and the chunky Buddy Holly style glasses I went with, I fear I may end up resembling Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

I’d Say It’s Better

I don’t know if there is a gland that secretes some sort of hormone that facilitates writing. My grades in high school Anatomy were barely passing, partially because a huge chunk of our score was based on—I’m not making this up—coloring. It was presented under the guise of education and we were instructed to use colored pencils instead of crayons as a nod to our maturity, but you can slice it however you like, it was still coloring.

Anyway, I don’t ever remember coloring in a “writer’s gland,” but then I didn’t really color in a lot of those stupid sheets. I could have missed a few.

Assuming there is a gland, mine is running fairly dry these days. Whatever that hormone is, literasium or something, I’m kinda tapped out at the moment. Here’s why: I responded to a Craigslist posting that was asking for video game writers. Anyone who has read ironSoap can attest that I write, at length, about a lot of things but very high on that list of subjects is video games. I’ve recently dedicated an entire site to that pursuit in an effort to spare you all the dissections of my game sessions.

By the way, you are welcome.

So I saw the listing and thought, “Yeah, okay.” They gave me a chance to do a two-week trial run based on, I’m only speculating here, the fact that I was the only response they received. I went ahead and worked on the site through the next couple of weeks and it seemed to go pretty well. As promised, they invited me to come on board full time and become a regular contributor.

I don’t have all the details just yet, but the long and short of it is that I contribute 15 articles per week (mostly video game-related news, but I’ve also posted a couple features). They have said they do pay, just not much; the loose wording of the original email was “about enough to cover a broadband internet connection” which I guess means anywhere from $25 to $50 a month.

This really isn’t about making stacks of cash, though. Instead it is a matter of presenting my writing in a more public forum and following the ancient adage of “write what you know.” It turns out I know video games pretty well. I can wait while you recover from the shock. I can’t say at this point what, if anything, will come of this. I do know that having a schedule of how much I need to write each day has been an adjustment. It’s not difficult necessarily; I have written far more than I’m required to often enough for my own various projects. But those are writings born from desire to express, not mandated by responsibility. I’m curious if this transition of writing from pastime to necessity will affect my view of it. So far it hasn’t become a chore, only tapped my reserves a bit, which is why my personal writing locations have fallen relatively silent.

I am picking back up some of the pace, but I have to be cautious and preserve my literasium supplies.

tail -n 4 /brain/var/log/messages

  • Nik and I were discussing our summer movie experiences the other day. We saw some pretty good ones including Stardust which has a very strong Princess Bride vibe (read that as a major compliment) and Ratatouille which Nik said was her favorite Pixar movie to date. We also just caught Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix in IMAX 3D. I hadn’t seen an IMAX or a 3D movie since some weird thing they were showing at the local amusement park (Great America, for those keeping track) back when I was probably 12, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very good and did an admirable job with what must have been a beast of a scriptwriting task. The 3D stuff was pretty impressive for the most part, but I actually thought the sound system in the IMAX theater was the star of the show.
  • My co-worker kicked the power cord for my workstation the other day. It occurred to me as my laptop stayed on and was the only thing that wasn’t at risk of losing any unsaved work that there is no reason PC manufacturers can’t include a small 10-minute battery in every power supply. I know there are products that do this but for the most part they are aimed at server administrators, not consumers. I ask, why?
  • It’s wickedly hot here in California, which is normally not so bad since most places I frequent are air-conditioned, as my pale, nearly translucent skin will attest. The exception, naturally, is the room in I work within which contains too little space and far too many heat-generating electronic components. Many of my co-workers wear shorts to work to combat the problem, but as ragtag as I typically appear, I can’t bring myself to eschew actual pants when I arrive somewhere expecting compensation.
  • Perhaps I’ve discussed my Zuma addition previously, I can’t recall. The days when that game consumed my soul are dark and grim and my mind does not revisit them readily. As a defense mechanism this localized amnesia is then somewhat flawed because it allowed me to download the version on Xbox Live Arcade which is half price this weekend only via a special promotion. My thoughts weren’t even filled with pathetic delusional justifications like, “What could one time hurt?” or “I can quit anytime I like.” I simply did it, fool that I am, casting the shreds of my dignity back into that nameless void. The sale went into effect at midnight last night and the dark circles under my eyes today are a shameful testament to just how strong my will can be against this foe.

Gaming Weekend

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, it’s probably because you’re not reading Tunnels of Doom, my gaming website. I can’t really fault you if you aren’t reading because you don’t like games, but since most of my time lately has been spent either working—which has involved a significant, if temporary, lifestyle adjustment; and trying to recover from working—which I’ve mostly accomplished by playing and writing about games. Actually, there may be some additional news in that vein coming soon, but I can’t say anything at the moment… mostly for fear of jinxing things.

Anyway, I’ve just posted my most recent game journal which is my weekly wrapup of the games I’m playing and my thoughts on related subjects that I call the Gaming Weekend. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s no secret that I’ve been coveting an HD TV for a couple of years now. But lately it’s starting to become more like a consuming obsession as it has seeped into my dreams and caused thoughts of a dark and sinister nature. A few months back my wife and I were talking about it and I came up with a perfectly reasonable plan which involved paying off an existing debt (which should happen by January) and using the money we’re accustomed to paying toward that debt to save for an HD TV, instead of applying that money back into our general fund. She agreed and it was a perfectly reasonable plan. It was really beyond reasonable: It was—and is—a very good plan. Responsible. Practical. Mature.

But also entirely unbearable. I’ve noted with pained powerlessness that is selling the exact model of HD TV I crave (the Samsung LN-T4661F for those keeping track) for a reasonable $2,000 with free shipping. I can do nothing, as it is not part of the plan to take advantage of fabulous short-term deals. I’ve taken stock of our savings account which contains sufficient funds for not only a new TV but also an HD-capable A/V reciever, speakers and probably a PS3 as well (for the Blu-Ray, obviously). Yet those savings are for the ephemeral “future” and not part of the plan. No matter how I slice it, there is no loophole in the plan, and the plan’s only flaw is that it requires discipline and patience which, normally I have an ample supply of but when matters of superhot technology are concerned, I draw from a pool so dry it cannot even be classified as a desert, they must invent a new type of landscape whose definition consists of “a place where moisture is only an abstract, theoretical concept.”

My only approach now is to try as hard as I can to convince myself that I have done everything there is to do: I’ve exhausted all avenues, I’ve searched for any chink in the armor of the plan and found it impregnable. This can only indicate that the plan is good and foolproof and should be adhered to fastidiously and without reservation.

I didn’t say it was a good approach, I said it was my only approach. It is either that or madness, and I’ve already spent that token, long ago, when the Earth was young.

We Know Everything Was Built to Expire

Engage random mode.

  • I’m not entirely sure what Buccigross is babbling about for much of his column, but the Mailbag section has a “Jeremy” from “Dallas” complaining about the dark jerseys being worn in NHL home games. Buccigross says Reebok’s new uniforms next year will reinstate the light home jerseys. Noo! I’d much rather see the superior dark jerseys when I get a chance to go to a game. In fact, I think all sports should have dark unis at home, light on the road.
  • Speaking of hockey, the Sharks went up 2-1 with a fitting 2-1 victory on Monday. They looked a little better. Not a lot better, but a little. I still think we should be winning these games by two or more goals and not from empty-netters, either. Detroit just ain’t that good. Buccigross has a point when he says the Sharks need to play with more fire because the talent is there, I’m just a little worried about how much they want it.
  • Last hockey notes regarding other series this round: The Ducks pulled off the comeback upset to go up 3-1; I didn’t see the comeback but the Sharks had better learn from Vancouver’s mistakes here because I see a lot of similarities between Vancouver and San Jose… the Sharks just have a little better luck. That will run out eventually. Luongo is really good but he can’t win alone and the Canucks have to figure out how to make the Ducks pay when they take penalties or there will be no reason for Chris “Cheap Shot” Pronger to not play his miserable brand of hockey all day long. Meanwhile, the Rangers tied up the series with another controversial video replay. I totally think the right call was made from the replay but I would have liked to see a better call on the ice and is it just me or did that whole sequence show that the overhead cameras above the goals need to be of much better quality? Two more frames in there or a better center-ice camera zoom and that’s a goal. It’s gotta be frustrating as heck to essentially lose a game due to technological limitations. At least the Sabres are heading back to home ice. I really want them to advance: They play hard and that ought to be rewarded.
  • Dr. Mac turned me on to Goozex, which has the dumbest name in history but is a really cool video game trading service.
  • On one hand, I felt like the time travel episode of Heroes did all the things I hate about SciFi time travel stories: Had no internal consistency, overlooked obvious paradoxes, muddled the story unnecessarily and introduced scenarios that had no logical explanation. On the other hand, the intent of the device was so compelling and—mind-bending anti-logic aside—so well executed that for once I found myself not really caring. One thing that Heroes has done better than any show I can think of is really make me trust the writers to come up with something awesome. I watched and do watch other serialized shows with a lot of apprehension that at some point they’ll drop the ball and just go off on a really dumb tangent (I fought this fear with the X-Files for six seasons before it became clear that the mythology had done exactly that; I continue to fight with Lost on this matter) forcing me to lose interest. There are three episodes of Heroes left and I have no doubt that they’ll be awesome. I’m even done questioning Niki because so far even things that are slower to develop (like Future Hiro) turn out to be really cool. </fanboy>
  • I watched The Last King of Scotland thinking it would be really good because I like Forest Whitaker as an actor and a lot of critics I tend to agree with really loved it. Whitaker’s performance was good but the movie itself was stupid. I think part of it was that I had no sympathy for the main character (who is not the Forest Whitaker character) and sort of wished he would go away. It’s hard to be repulsed by a villainous character when the protagonist is reprehensible himself: There is no contrast. Also, it gets really graphically violent at the end but is handled in a sort of schlocky, gratuitous manner. Dumb.
  • On the flip side, Nik and I went and saw Hot Fuzz, which was great. Even better than Shaun of the Dead, I thought, and I really liked Shaun. Word of warning though: Hot Fuzz is also over-the-top graphically violent (but the schlock works here because the whole movie is silly/serious like that) so don’t be surprised like Nik was.
  • I’m totally digging the new Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Most people would probably listen to it and go, “uh, what?” But I love it. Brilliantly weird.
  • We have actual cable-box-based Comcast now (versus the straight-from-the-wall boxless variety) and cable internet instead of DSL. For one thing, I know it may be anecdotal but I’ve always had much, much better speeds from cable than DSL. So it’s nice to have our broadband actually feel like broadband again. But since it’s been three years since we had a cable box, there are a couple of really cool things they have going now. One is the serial cable from the TiVo actually works now so I don’t have to use the stupid flaky IR solution which basically makes the TiVo have to try to change the channel as if it were pressing buttons on a remote control. Predictably it failed a number of times when we had to do it before, usually right before key programs like season finales were about to air. The other is Comcast’s On Demand service which I was skeptical about but I find to be very cool. I make the analogy that it’s kind of like watching someone else’s TiVo. You don’t necessarily have exactly what you want, but there is probably something in there worth your while. I just wish I didn’t have to pay $14.99 if I want to get FSN Plus. True, it doesn’t matter much now because all the NHL games are either on the main channel or nationally broadcast, but during the regular season I found it exceptionally annoying that a game was televised but I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t get the stupid channel.

A Final Story

I’ve got only two computers any longer: My trusty iBook G4 which is sadly having some display issues but still runs like a champ for the most part and a first generation Mac Mini which serves as our “household” computer and is shared by Nik and I. The Mini has all our iTunes stuff and we use it for general web surfing, email and pretty much anything that doesn’t get too geeky.

Since we purchased the Mini, it has been connected to an old 17″ Viewsonic CRT that was probably on its last legs a year before I hooked it to the Mini and has a horrible lack of brightness and a gargantuan footprint. When we moved to the new place we bought a new desk to replace the monstrosity I bought back when I had about twelve computers running at any given point in time (and another half dozen in various states of disuse or disrepair). The old desk was an official computer desk with all kinds of nooks and cubby holes for software, instruction manuals, CPU towers and so forth. It was, with the introduction of the Mini and the consolidation of the operating computers, grossly overwrought for its intended function.

So we got a nice, normal desk and put the beast in the garage to serve as a workbench. Of course the problem with the new desk was that without all the extraneous compartments we really needed a monitor that didn’t monopolize the whole thing. So I found a great deal online for a 19″ widescreen LCD monitor from Staples: $150 including shipping for a brand-name model. That was, I found, a good $25 cheaper than any other comparable deal—before tax and shipping. Sold. I got my order confirmation from Staples a few hours after I placed the order and was happy to know it would be delivered the next day so I could get it set up right away. After all, we’d been sharing my flaky-screened iBook for a week or more and it was about time to get things set up again.

The day of the delivery I used UPS’s website to track the order. It said it was scanned into the shipping center in Sacramento sometime Tuesday morning (the 24th) and would be shipped sometime that day. I got home from work around 11 in the morning and waited around for the guy to show. Sometime around four thirty I started to get concerned so I called UPS directly and asked what would happen if they didn’t get it to me by five o’clock. The operator told me their business day ended at 7:30 pm, so there was actually plenty of time left for it to arrive. I accepted that and went back to waiting.

7:30 on Tuesday came and went and eventually I got some sleep and woke up later that evening to go to work. I didn’t get a lot of sleep so I dragged through Wednesday morning’s shift and came home hoping to see a “Sorry we missed you!” note on the door. It wasn’t there, but I was too tired to care. I collapsed into bed and slept until Nik got home. Still no monitor. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I put it out of my mind and decided to worry about it the next day.

The next morning I woke up fairly early with a list of things to do. I started unpacking some of the millions of boxes that were still around from the move while I listened for the doorbell that would indicate the monitor had finally arrived. By one in the afternoon my unpacking was making progress, but my patience was wearing thin. I checked the UPS website for tracking again and noted with some confusion that a new entry was listed: Sometime the day before the package was scanned into the distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada. I picked up the phone and talked to an operator who was less than helpful. She offered to send a message to the Las Vegas center and have someone there call me back within an hour. I told her that their promises to do something within a certain timeframe was in question so I didn’t want to hang up and waste another hour. Was there someone else I could talk to? The Las Vegas rep, for example.

I was told that UPS uses a messaging-based system and could not directly transfer the call to Las Vegas. I suggested they might want to consider upgrading their system beyond that of the Pony Express and she offered to let me talk to a manager. I agreed.

The manager, Amy, was like most customer service managers: Practiced in her courtesy but nothing remotely resembling sincere. She apologized and I told her I didn’t really care if she was sorry, I only cared if she could get me my monitor. She said there was nothing more she could do but if I hung in there, it would arrive the following day for sure. She also offered to reimburse the shipping fees. I sighed and thanked her for her help, but I asked for and got her direct phone number. Just in case.

When I hung up I called Staples. I knew they had done their part, but I wanted to know how much the shipping fees had cost. The nice lady at Staples told me that the cost to me for shipping was nothing: All orders for more than $50 came with complimentary next-day shipping paid for by Staples out of their UPS account. I verified that when UPS refunded the cash, it would go to Staples and not me. I was told this was correct. For her part she offered me a coupon even though her company was blameless in the whole thing, and I thanked her. She told me if I continued to have problems to call back and they would see what they could do to help.

The next day I waited somewhat less patiently until sometime before noon, than I called again. I was quickly run up the chain until I spoke to some supervisor (not Amy) who told me that they weren’t, in fact, sure what had happened or even where my package was at the moment. I asked with some confusion how they were going to get me the monitor that day if they didn’t know where it was. The supervisor then told me there was no way it would come to me Friday. The best I could do was to contact the shipper (Staples) and have them institute a “trace” which was a formal investigation into the whereabouts of a lost package. I asked what that would do for me and was told it “might find my package.” I indicated that was not acceptable.

She said she understood my frustration and I—well, I didn’t exactly lose it but any calm, understanding demeanor I might have had vanished. I told her my frustration was not to be understood, it was to be expected at that point and I demanded to know what she planned to do to make good on their blunder. She said, “Nothing.” I informed her that it hadn’t even been close to pleasure doing business with her and hung up. I had nothing more to say. If she wasn’t going to help me, then I didn’t care. I called Staples.

For their part, Staples was exemplary in the whole mess. As soon as I explained what had just happened, they offered to ship me a new monitor at no charge. When I hung up and realized after talking to Nik that it would be much smarter to have it delivered to her work instead of our home, I called back and they cheerfully updated my shipping information. The only unfortunate part was that they don’t ship on the weekends so it wouldn’t be until Monday when the replacement order got out of the warehouse.

I never heard from UPS again.

Yesterday, nine days since my “next day” package was supposed to arrive, I picked up the monitor from Nik’s office.

On the up side, the monitor is beautiful and has a tiny, insignificant footprint which makes for lots of extra room on the desk. I brought the old CRT from the apartment, just in case, and it’s sitting in the garage. When I do my next round of unpacking I’ll toss it away. Good riddance.

On the down side I feel like UPS has really got a racket going on. The problem is that my default threat of taking my business elsewhere isn’t practical with UPS because so often when you order something to be shipped to you, you don’t have the choice of how that shipment takes place., for instance, will continue to use UPS whether I want to pay for UPS service or not. My alternative is to simply not take advantage of online shopping and that’s almost more of a punishment for me than it would be for UPS, not to mention the small online stores I would in turn be refusing to support.

I wonder what the correct way to handle this is? Let it go? Better Business Bureau? Buy FedEx stock? It’s annoying how callous UPS can not only have the audacity to be but can afford to be. What is their motivation for trying to make me happy? It’s not like they will realistically lose my business nor would it matter to them if they did. As far as they’re concerned they ate the cost of the shipping so their conscience is clear, but that leaves me stranded either trying to get additional restitution from a company that did no wrong (Staples) or forced to simply eat crow.

By the by, I hate crow.

So the best I can do is say any time you have a choice, I encourage you to use someone other than UPS. Trust me, it’s not worth the hassle.

The Stockings Were Hung By the Chimbly With Care

Well, obviously I didn’t get around to the site maintenance updates last weekend like I wanted to, but I did want to put a few bullet pointed thoughts out there because that used to be the kind of thing that happened around here.

  • Nik and I are heading out to see my folks for Christmas on Friday. I’m excited about the trip (well, the destination more so than the actual traveling) since I don’t get to see my family too often. However, Missouri is notorious for having “weather events” whenever we go and the only kind of event likely at this time of year is bone-numbing cold. Considering that I’ve been unhappy with the relative chill (roughly 30°) here in California, the prospect of freezing my tail off in actual cold makes me wonder why anyone would truly wish for a white Christmas.
  • Although I guess from a Rockwell-esque “old fashioned” Christmas vibe perspective it is nice to see a blanket of snow… through a window. The problem is that sooner or later, you have to get out in it.
  • If you have some time and especially if you are a big chocolate lover, you may find this article about a high-end chocolatier to be interesting. It’s long and some of it (especially the part where they try to determine the supplier) is kind of dull, but I skipped a lot of that and was perfectly able to get the gist.
  • The new job is going quite well, and the week after we get back from Missouri I’ll be working my first series of solo shifts in preparation for the switch to my regular schedule (graveyard). We also just got a new CEO who came over from eBay to help get us ready to manage our continued rapid growth so it should make for some interesting times ahead. And, atypically, I’m not using the word “interesting” in an ironic way.
  • I caught a cold somewhere. It’s not enough to keep me from work (I honestly can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing) but it is ceaselessly annoying. I’ve gone through several Pocket Paks of Kleenex in the last 24 hours (I believe I’m working on my fifth) and I’ve even resorted to taking some cold medicine which, predictably, resulted in me entering a coma-like state for several hours only to wake up and find that I’d slept through any symptom relief the medicine may have offered. I wonder sometimes if cold medicine manufacturers are really producing medicine that treats colds or if they just put powerful sleep aids in a box and figure if you’re passed out, you won’t know the difference. I’d also like to point out this was the “daytime, non-drowsy” variety.
  • I’ve been playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the last week or so. Normally I leave my video game discussion to other sites more suited to that sort of thing, but I had to point out that this is possibly the closest I’ve seen to a video role-playing game that matches the “perfect RPG” that has existed only in my head since I was about 13 years old. Some World of Warcraft players may dispute my claim, but bear in mind that I don’t play massively multiplayer RPGs. I suffer enough from Netflix guilt; I don’t need my video games to charge me a monthly fee and insert a new nagging voice in the back of my head that I’m not playing enough video games. So as it is, Oblivion is the best RPG I’ve played—possibly ever, but at least since Final Fantasy III—and the best one currently available that I’m likely to play.
  • Okay, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was up there, but it’s hard to compare Oblivion and KotOR. They’re both good. Both favorites.
  • When I lived in Texas there were a couple of burrito joints called “Freebirds” that made ginormous, delicious burritos. Since I moved back to Cali, I’ve had hundreds of burritos but none have measured up to the have-it-your-way delight of Freebirds. Then last night Lister introduced me to Burrito Real, a little place not too far from our office. It was like the reincarnation of Freebirds except Burrito Real’s carne asada is like 20 times better than Freebirds, or anyone else’s for that matter. So good.
  • Now I’m all hungry.
  • Have a Merry Christmas everyone, if I don’t pop back in before then.
  • And to all a good night.

Bullet the Blue ‘Soap

  • According to the latest poll, very few people here are taking my advice and watching Heroes. Get with it people, I’m telling you: It rules. Of course now I said that and someone will tune in tonight and the episode will completely flop.
  • My resistance to continued griping about the officiating in the NHL this season can no longer win. What exactly are these refs smoking prior to the games? Cheechoo booted for boarding a guy he hit in the faceoff circle and lost contact with for at least six feet before either player came anywhere near the boards?! An awkward and dangerous fall, sure. Fortunate that he was okay, certainly. Game misconduct? Uh, no. Also, two goals called back including one from a penalty to Mike Grier in which the goalie went back to play the puck and fell over his own stick? So, just to be clear: Hitting a defenseless San Jose goaltender in the back and throwing his head to the boards is okay; a San Jose player being in the vicinity of a clumsy netminder: two minutes in the box for interference. Got it. Just wanted to be clear.
  • I’m grouchy today because I’ve had a headache since Saturday. Have you ever seen parents of an infant try to placate the mysteriously fussy child? They feed them, change them, play with them, try to get them to sleep, and the baby remains grouchy. I feel like that with my head. I’ve eaten plenty, I’ve tried taking naps, I’ve taken Tylenol and ibuprofen, I’ve taken warm showers to relax my muscles and so on and so forth. Nothing seems to work for longer than about twenty minutes. It’s not so bad that I can’t function normally, but it’s annoying as all get out.
  • I saw a friend of mine this weekend who isn’t around too often since he decided to move overseas. He has been pestering the old XBox Live crew to upgrade to the 360 to we can get our online gaming on again and he point-blanked me with the question, “When are you getting a 360?” The sad thing is that I’ve already been thinking about it quite a bit and even broke down and included it on my wishlist so his question nearly broke my spirit clean in half. On one hand I absolutely don’t need any more goofy toys and on that same hand I have a vacation coming up, Nik and I are getting ready to move for the first time in three years and Christmas is right around the corner so monetarily it isn’t going to fly. But on the other hand: Shiny graphics and online gizmos!
  • In preparation for leaving my current job I’m tasked with cleaning out my work-provided laptop PC. I had forgotten how annoying it is to try and clean yourself off of a computer you’ve used for any significant amount of time (for me that’s about two and a half days).
  • I bought a few CDs last week including the new Muse album and Wolfmother’s disc. Both bands have a kind of 70s throwback feel with Wolfmother channeling Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull while Muse can at times be likened to Queen and Rush. It’s sort of cool although occasionally Wolfmother crosses the line between homage and outright thievery but both were worth the somewhat abbreviated prices ($10 and $11 respectively from Rasputin’s). One strange thing though, I noticed that I very much enjoyed Muse’s work when played from beginning to end in the original album order. When I listened to it again later on random, it wasn’t nearly as good. I’ve never encountered that before, I wonder why that is?
  • Above I noted that Nik and I are gearing up for a move which has been necessitated by my new job acquisition since the distance from our current apartment to the new office is, according to Google, 66 miles compared to the 29 miles I travel now. More significantly, travel to the new office from our current location during normal work and commute times would require sitting it no fewer than five heavy traffic spots. If we end up where we’ve started looking, I’ll reduce that to three traffic spots and the mileage will be about halved to 34 miles.
  • Also regarding traffic and commuting, some relief is in sight since there is a strong chance I’ll end up working at least some graveyard shifts (which would basically eliminate the traffic concerns) although Nik is not exactly thrilled with the idea of having certain evenings entirely to herself. Even if I do end up exclusively working grave shifts, they do run a 4×10 schedule which will give me three nights at home per week (ideally Thursday, Friday and Saturday) so I’ll be home for a pretty large part of the week. We’ll be all backward in our sleeping schedules, but I’m confident some sort of arrangement can be made.
  • Tomorrow’s voting is going to be somewhat unpleasant since I have to get up very early in order to make it happen, being that I have two tickets to the Sharks game tomorrow night. The elections are really stupid this year with practically every ballot measure being some sort of smokescreen to bilk more cash out of Californians and (as usual) 98% of the candidates running for office being either schmucks or despicable wastes of oxygen. But I feel even more inclined to vote in elections like this when the options are all really lame because I honestly shudder to think what your average Californian would come up with on some of this stuff without my expert guidance.
  • So what is standard procedure when leaving a place of employment for handling all the lame company schwag they dump on you? As of this moment I have it all sort of sitting in my cube where it is of no harm to me or anyone else, but I have no need for a goofy (and highly illegible) desk clock branded with this company’s logo, nor do I need a laptop bag, a wine glass or a stress ball, all adorned with corporate branding. My inclination is to just toss it but I’m afraid that might be construed as excessively rude, so am I to take it home and then junk it there? How is that really better? I guess it’s a matter of plausible deniability; where they can go on thinking I cherished this stuff long after I departed when in fact it all ended up, blissfully out of their realm of knowledge, in a dumpster at my apartment complex. Still, a large part of me wonders what kind of doofus would actually care enough to keep track one way or the other.
  • I just learned that Lister got himself a Nintendo DS. Looks like local multiplayer goodness (as opposed to WiFi multiplayer goodness which Dr. Mac and I have had trouble co-ordinating) is about to be on.
  • Turns out I have nothing else to talk about. I guess it’s time to go back to counting the minutes until tonight’s Heroes episode.
  • Actually I do have one last observation: I am a total dork.

Some… uh, Stuff

Briefly I have a few things to touch upon.

Tee to the Vee

I’ve caught a few of the new shows for this season and so far the best is (by far) Heroes. I admit that Ali Larter’s Niki Sanders character is either really lame or she’s just a terrible actress (maybe both); Adrian Pasdar plays the same exact character he always does (good guy/bad guy… who can tell?) and the cliff hanger commercial breaks were rarely ever thrilling. But still, this is a show that has something a lot of shows never have: Promise. Consider another show I caught the premiere for: Smith. A show about the other side of the law. I’m thinking Goodfellas. I’m thinking Heat. I’m thinking high-tech Sopranos. But instead it’s more like Desperate Housethieves than anything cool. Too many personal stories. Why does he have to have a respectable alter-ego? I don’t understand why someone would go through the hassle of trying to maintain a dual identity (complete with respecable sales job) if they were either that good at being a burglar or if doing their theiving would compromise their family. I mean, either you can support yourself without breaking the law or you can’t, right? It doesn’t make sense that someone would even try to do both.

At least on the Sopranos they made that part of the story.

I also caught the Shark series premiere which I enjoyed quite a bit despite it being only a shade more intriguing than would be if Sam Watterson were given the whole show (Law & Order), primarily because James Woods is fun to watch pretty much no matter what he’s doing. Although, I got the impression from the premiere that Woods was going out of his way to be all Emmy worthy. Like he was trying too hard or something. Still interesting but it did break the spell a few times.

I also caught the premiere of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which was basically not very funny and not very dramatic and therefore not very good. It seems very much like a show that the writers really wanted to do, but it turns out that watching the creative process behind the shows we watch each week? Not very interesting after all.

The only thing I’m still waiting for is The Nine and I missed the first episode of Kidnapped (but it looks like they’re re-airing it on Saturday). Other than that the few shows I’m holding onto from last year is all I’m anticipating so I have a feeling that since they usually cancel the shows I like, I’ll probably have nothing to watch in a few months.

Sporting Bads

  • The 49ers are a better team than last year, but they still managed to showcase their patented “Sieve Defense” on Sunday versus the Eagles. Here’s something I was wondering for some of you older-school Niners fans: I recall Joe Montana only as being the dominant, clutch-thriving QB that earned him a bunch of championships in the eighties. But it occurs to me that he must have had some sort of career prior to that time. Was he always good? Did he dominate in college? Was he a solid NFL QB right out of the draft? What I’m (probably obviously) driving at is, can we even hope that Alex Smith was the right guy to draft or is his so-so performance thus far indicative of a long term trend of not living up to his hype?
  • I guess the Giants are officially out of the playoff race this year. Big surprise when your starting rotation starts serving up whiffle balls on the most pivotal road trip of the whole year. So now people are starting to talk about next year. I guess nearly the whole team is up for contract renegotiation. I don’t know if you remember but back a couple years ago when the Giants choked in the World Series an East Coast radio personality and lifelong Giants fan had a screaming rant after they bowed to the Angels about how difficult it was to be a Giants fan.

    I’ve talked about this before because while the Indians and the Cubs have longer streaks without championships, it has to be easier for fans of those clubs because they have had a lot more crummy teams that can’t win the World Series (like, big surprise). The Giants reserve a special brand of torture for their fans by actually fielding good teams… who can’t win the World Series. Anyway, the guy from the East Coast (Chris Russo) got on the horn this morning with one of the local SF sports talk stations and had some pretty spot-on opinions.

    Basically he thinks that the management of the Giants has made a bunch of bonehead moves in the last few years and I agree. I mean, let’s compare the two Bay Area teams. On one hand we have the revolving door of the Oakland A’s where each year is a new crop of random youngsters and league no-names. But they’re built to be a team and somehow they keep having legitimate chances at winning stuff. Oh, and they do it with no money but having a rich farm system and focusing on things like winning games versus breaking pointless records and having recognizeable names. The Giants have a decent payroll which they squander on has-beens. San Francisco has become like the pre-retirement community for the Major Leagues. I don’t want to go to the park and watch a bunch of washed up geriatrics struggle to make basic plays, I’d rather watch a bunch of kids who have something to prove run their butts off and make stupid mistakes. For every A’s game I watch where I see some rookie get caught in a stupid rundown or something because he tried to stretch a long double into a weak triple I see two games where Bonds can’t score from second on a stinking double or Morris forgets his bifocals and walks six batters in a row. Forget these old codgers. Let’s set up a farm system, let’s get a real game plan that is more in depth than “let’s get people on base and then bring Bonds to the plate!”

    Come on. Bonds has been on the team for over ten years (since 1993) and (as Russo points out) they haven’t won with him. This year he’ll play maybe 132 games and he’ll have the lowest HR total in a season since he was a Pittsburgh Pirate which includes 1999 where he barely got in 100 games. I don’t care about the steroids thing. I don’t care about Babe Ruth’s home run record. You know what I care about? The Giants doing something that makes me glad I’m a Giants fan.

  • I was glad the Saints won last night, even if the second half of the game was pretty much snooze-fest. I wanted New Orleans to win for the same reason I’m guessing most non-Atlanteans did, although ESPN’s incessant badgering on the Katrina angle got really old after about oh, the first quarter, But I had ulterior motives as well: My opponent in fantasy football had both Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn going last night and needed them to help him make up about 30 points. Not insurmountable for a running back and a QB, but both of them sucked last night which was just fine with me. Thanks, Saints!

And the Rest of It

  • I know we just came up big time on a new-to-us 36″ TV, but the lure of HD is strong and my will save vs. techno-geekery is like -8. Thus it was with rapt attention that I followed the announcement and ensuing hullabaloo regarding the release of the TiVo Series 3 HD DVR. Of course to take advantage of such a device I would need:
    1. A HD-capable TV.
    2. HD content, probably in the form of cable television we cannot receive or an XBox 360 I can’t afford.
    3. Some place to put it and/or our existing equipment.
    4. $800 for the TiVo3.

    I have been looking at HD TVs for some time now. Remember that the Trinitron acquisition was more of a kind blessing from HB and Gin than something we sought. I keep seeing a very nice one at places like Best Buy for what I consider to be pretty reasonable (roughly $1,700 for a 42″ Sony Plasma) but then I recall that we don’t have any way of really getting HD content and we can’t afford it and we don’t need it. But like I said, I can’t resist. Stuff like this usually helps some and reminds me why, though I may be a covetous geek-tard, my patience for technological foulery is far, far too thin to be a true early adopter.

  • We’ve played a couple of sessions of a pretty fun large-party game called Werewolves of Miner’s Hollow. It’s kind of like the old elementary school rainy-day recess game “Heads Up Seven Up” where players close their eyes and someone is randomly chosen and they have to guess who picked them. This slightly more sophisticated version uses a series of phases that last through the “night” (the time when players have their eyes closed) during which various different people get to open their eyes and perform tasks. Primarily, the werewolves (determined by randomly distributed cards) look around and choose a townsperson to kill or remove from the game. The remaining players try to figure out which of those left in the morning (when all players open their eyes) is the werewolf in their midst through debate and discussion. Eventually they all must choose someone to “lynch” or remove from the game through democratic voting. Sometimes they pick correctly, other times they kill an innocent. There are a lot of other special townspeople like the Mystic who can examine one player’s card during the night and the hunter who can take someone down with him if he’s killed during the night. It’s a good game for parties because it doesn’t require a lot of set up and it encourages people to interact. We played it for Whimsy‘s “surprise” 30th birthday party last weekend and I think everyone really enjoyed it. It’s also fun because the individual rounds don’t last that long (maybe fifteen minutes) so players don’t get stuck doing the same thing and you can play through several dozen rounds in an evening. There is a very comparable game that uses similar mechanics but with a few variations that Nik and I purchased called Lupus in Tabula. The main difference between the games (from reading the Lupus instructions) is that in Lupus you don’t reveal the dead players’ identities until after the game is completely over which would probably work well to increase the general tension and paranoia since you don’t necessarily know (if you’re a regular townsperson) how many allies you have left at any given point in the game.
  • There is a new poll up. In case you were interested.

Attention Game Sites and Game Blogs

Stop with the Wii puns.

Right now.

I’m looking at my Netvibes “Games” tab and I count the following Wii-related punny headlines. This is just from today, on a sampling of maybe 15 sites:

  • NYT Tech Guys Wii-ly Clueless
  • Are Wii Ready to Rock?!
  • Wiink Dump
  • Wii are turning it up to ’11’
  • WiiDay
  • Wii All Dance?
  • Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (AKA: Resident Wiivil)

I can’t stand it.

Miss Ill Aynie Us

  • So we stopped by ConQuest SF Friday night and Saturday, enjoying some good times playing a few games and making some nice scores in the flea markets/dealer room. The highlight was a lengthy game of Arkham Horror which is so good that it probaby cracked my top five board games after only one play, so that was cool. I also scored some cool Blood Bowl blisters on the cheap and picked up a card-based fantasy wargame (very similar in mechanics and theme to Warmaster only without the pricey models) that looks pretty cool as far as that goes. The weirdest experience was a demo I got for a skirmish-level SF miniatures game called Rezolution. Put it this way: I played a quick couple of rounds against another guy getting the demo and I literally wiped him out without getting hit once. I could blame it on the dice rolling but it wasn’t like I was making spectacular rolls so instead I chalked it up to poor game balance which, in a game like that, means one thing: It’s broken. Sorry guys, try me again with Second Edition. While you’re at it, maybe think about offering something that isn’t already done (and better) in games like Necromunda.
  • We had lunch with Nik’s Dad and Grandma when we got back and then stopped to see Grandma’s new digs in the retirement community she moved into recently. It’s a nice place (Nik and I actually lived across the street from there in our first apartment right after we got married and I used to go there before the management changed to recycle newspapers for Boy Scouts way back in the day), although it is currently in the process of being rennovated so it looks kind of in-progress. Despite the general pleasantness of the surroundings, there can’t help but be a sort of sad, morbid atmosphere around a place like that. I couldn’t tell if Grandma was happy, unhappy or indifferent to the whole thing, which made it somewhat awkward on top of everything.
  • HB and Gin spent their weekend shopping for a new TV, eventually settling on a JVC 40″ HD LCD set. Of course they also needed new speakers and immediately had their old receiver give up the ghost on them (of course) so had to replace that as well. The bottom line was that they pretty much upgraded their whole entertainment setup and as a result had a leftover 36″ Sony Trinitron. They offered to let us have it for the price of taking them out to dinner (a mighty fair deal in my estimation) so we hit Ikea after we left Grandma’s place and grabbed a new TV stand (the old entertainment center wouldn’t accomodate the new TV… at least I don’t think it would; and even if it did, it worked out better this way) which marked the innagural use of the truck for hauling purposes. With Nik’s expert help we slapped the stand together in less than 30 minutes and then HB and I muscled the behemoth of a TV out to my truck, then up the stairs into our apartment. Of course we needed a bit of help from the next door neighbor once I lost my balance and ended up sitting on one of the steps with the 750 pound beast pinning me down and making my leverage such that I could not stand back up. Eventually we managed to grunt and strain to get it set on the stand and there it will stay until I pay some burly men an obscene hourly rate to move it for us because I am never picking that thing up again as long as I live. Still, it was mostly worth it once I turned it on and saw SportsCenter with Lee Corso’s head staring at me some two feet across. I did say it was mostly worth it.
  • One thing I only peripherally noticed about our old TV (now in the bedroom, replacing the sad TV/VCR combo 19″ set on which the VCR no longer worked and had a bad greenish burn-in mark in the lower left corner) is that it wasn’t aligned right so about two inches of the picture was cropped on the right side. Mostly this didn’t affect viewing except when title screens were right-aligned and you’d lose a few letters on the end of words and names. But it turns out there’s a whole little world going on over on the right side of TV screens like little faded overlays of network logos and stuff. Not that I’m super-thrilled about seeing all that now but it makes me wonder what else I missed watching the other TV.
  • Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin died yesterday in an accident involving a lethal but very uncommon stingray attack. On one hand, we all knew this was coming. I mean, the dude was constantly picking up stuff like the Venusian Death Beetle and saying, “This lil’ bugger’s got 40cc’s of the world’s most toxic poision stashed in each of seventeen different stingers! Let’s shake him up and bit and see what happens, right?” But going out on the barb of a normally docile stingray? On that hand, it’s kind of… anticlimactic? I can’t decide if him being taken out by a typically non-dangerous critter is fitting or sadly ironic. At least he wasn’t like hit by a bus or something. That would have been really weak.
  • Worst Price is Right Player Ever. Stay til the end because Bob Barker’s reaction is splendid. I kept waiting for him to say, “I need a nap.”

Turn Me Back Into the Pet That I Was When We Met

An undilluted flurry of silly linkage.

Hum a Little Tune

Today is weird. I’m not sure why but everything feels surreal, like I’m having a very vivid dream about a regular day only everything is just a little bit off. For example, I ordered a meal from Arby’s this morning—a meal I’ve ordered dozens of times from this exact same restaurant—and the price was about a dollar higher than usual. When I actually collected the food I noted that they had given me the extra large drink and a huge box of fries, without me ordering any differently than I usually do.

Also, I was sitting at a stoplight this morning on the way to work with a dozen or so other cars on a fairly busy cross street. I was about three cars back from the line. It changed from red to green to yellow to red again in the time it took me to get about eight feet. The car in front of me didn’t even make it through. The second car in line practically had to run a red light. I looked around after the strangeness at the other drivers and we were all exchanging glances like, “Uh, what?”

Finally, I was sitting at my desk when I realized I had to go to the bathroom really bad. Really bad. So I got up, walked (quickly) to the bathroom and stepped up to the urinal. Suddenly, I didn’t have to go at all. Not even a little bit. I kind of stood there, confused, for several moments before eventually shrugging and sauntering back to my desk. The feeling never really returned, not even after drinking that huge soda I didn’t order.

Since today is sort of random, I figured some random links were in order.

  • Top Ten Grossest Candies. I’m not sure what’s weirder, the gross candy or the fact that there is a website called
  • My RSS primer didn’t exactly inspire a deluge of grateful email for opening people’s eyes to the wonder of Syndication. Still, I think it’s cool so I thought I’d pass along this link that Ryan sent me for converting any RSS feed into an email newsletter. I guess it’s kinda like the FeedBlitz feature I have only it just requires an RSS feed and not some involvement on the site maintainer’s part.
  • I know a lot of people bash on high profile blogs and I don’t mean to be one of those bitter little webwriters who are so envious of others’ success that I can only sleep at night after thoroughly convincing myself that I’m only obscure because I’m elite and the mainstream is lowest-common-denominator drivel worthy of nothing but scorn. Still, as much as I usually like and respect big gaming blogs like Kotaku, posts like this really annoy me. Sure the guy has a right to his opinion and he should certainly be able to post it but c’mon. Griping that New Super Mario Bros. is lame because it doesn’t surpass what some people consider to be the best side-scrolling platformer of all time? Incommensurate expectations much?
  • Just in case you were wondering and couldn’t figure it out from the links, the Current Coolness is Seattle-style Hot Dogs which are hot dogs with a generous helping of cream cheese and maybe some grilled onions. It sounds strange at first but trust me, it’s 100% fantastic. They make them at little street vendors all over the place in Seattle but they work just as well made at home. I recommend the Grillmaster Ballpark Franks and a substantial bun, toasted if possible. Grilling the dogs is always better as well. And don’t let the picture I have fool you, mustard is definitely not needed or desired in this case (it was just the only picture of a Seattle-style I could rustle up). Take that to heart too, dear reader, since you are in the presence of a mighty mustard fan here. As for the cream cheese, usually a fairly generous spread on one half of the bun is sufficient although you might want to either heat it up some or use the “soft” or whipped variety if you aren’t going to go with the toasted buns since it has a tendency to tear up regular buns in it’s usual cold, dense state. Plus it tastes a little better when it’s warm in this case.
  • Best summer TV show: Psych. It’s clever. Clever is good.

I Do What I Do Best, I Take Scores

If it seems like my updates are coming in rapid-fire bursts instead of nice, evenly spaced distribution that has something to do with the fact that my schedule is kind of wacky at the moment and as such I get about 80% done with most of my posts a day or two before I finally get around to finishing them so I end up spending short amounts of time on several entries at once since I’m catching up before I get new stuff written/started. Maybe I’ll figure out a decent schedule one of these days.

Disclaimer taken care of, time for some bullet points:

  • I came up in the silent auction that Lister held for some salvaged game stuff a co-worker was going to toss out: I bid $40 on a box of assorted Chaos Marines 40K figures and I picked them up this weekend to happily discover that had I purchased these models outright I’d be looking at over $250. Nothing like saving over two bills to make a Hamilton man happy.
  • I also scored a complete and basically mint condition Battlefleet Gothic box set which looks like it will be a lot of fun (and mercifully easy to paint the models since they’re just ships—I have enough difficult painting projects in the queue already, thanks!) plus Lister has an alternate set of rules that we could use to play some crazy battles like Starfleet ships versus 40K Chaos ships versus Imperial Navy ships. Just ’cause it’s fun to be a geek like that.
  • Speaking of Lister, we got a chance to meet his and Whimsy‘s new daughter, Delia. She’s an adorable and very sweet little girl and her parents look like they couldn’t be happier, which makes me happy in turn. It’s satisfying to see good things happen to good people.
  • Apropos of nothing, there is a new poll up.

A Gamer Darkly

As it happens I’ve been keeping a separate weblog specifically about my video gaming over on GameSpot since I’m already using the site and I figure most people around these parts barely tolerate me babbling about video games in a disconnected observer kind of way and really would flee in droves if I started yammering about how last night’s gaming session went.

However, if you’re one of the precious few individuals who actually would be interested in something like that or perhaps you’re just masochistic enough to read pretty much anything I happen to belch into a text editor, I’ve included a link to the blog and a link to the RSS feed over in the Meta section yonder left column.

Now let us speak no more of these alternate writing outlets.

An Assortment, You See

  • If you haven’t seen the video of Darth Vader being a jerk, you should. As a co-worker pointed out, it’s random but hilarious.
  • I’d like to post a snippet of an email I received from Bosslady:

    On the Nintendo DS Lite…I actually bought one. I saw it on TV and thought it was cool. It was the commercial with the Brain Age game. I guess they should hire that marketing firm again, since I have never wanted a video game in my life.

    Does this suggest that Nintendo’s plan to expand gaming to non-gamers might be working? As a note, the link to the commercial video is a guess; she didn’t specify anything more descriptive about the ad and that was the best I could find.

  • I started working a sort of strange shift at work: They needed someone to help with the early morning coverage while one of our team members is out on personal leave. But I’ve been commuting to work with Nik since she started expanding her hours at her job. So as a compromise I log in from home at 5:00 am and watch the phones, take new tickets and follow up on things until 7:00 when Nik is ready to leave. Then I pack it up and head in to the office like normal only I get off of work sometime around 3:00 pm instead of 5:00. Unfortunately with the two hours of work-time spent doing other things (commuting and lunching) that makes for pretty lengthy days although they’re talking about doing four ten-hour days instead of five eight hour days anyway so maybe I’m just ahead of the game. The weird part is when I’m off at 3:00 Nik still works until 5:00 so I have to figure out a way to fill the time. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.
  • If you’re using Netvibes (and you really should be), check out Netvibes Ecosystem. The Sudoku module is really cool.
  • If you’ve voted in the poll, you probably noticed that the results looks pretty screwy. Apparently the polling software doesn’t care too much for links in the answers (which is really dumb, by the way). Sorry about that. I could pull the links but it would ruin the effect. Such that it is.
  • So the Giants finally snapped their nine-game skid. It’s funny because when baseball season starts I’m in full hockey mode (usually). In a few weeks I’ll be all hyped on football and in a couple of months it will be back to hockey as well. So late July and early August are pretty much the only times I actively follow baseball (I pick it up again in the fall if the Giants or the A’s are in the playoffs). A couple weeks ago I started catching a few Giants games and they beat up on the Padres enough to earn their way to first place in the National League West. Two weeks later they’re in dead last, 3.5 games out. Funny what losing nine games in a row will do to you. I’d suggest that they started losing just because I started watching, but I know that isn’t true. The Giants lose regardless. They lose the way the Red Sox used to lose. Forget the Cubs, the Giants are the new Red Sox. Perpetual losers, revelling in their ability to choke at the last minute, to fall apart right when they need to step it up. Why not? They’re my team, after all.
  • A lot of modern pop music is pretty crass, in the way that it is lowest-denominator, self-referential drivel with little redeeming value. But I like pop music in the sense that I like artists who can craft an accessible song provided they can do it in an original way or present within it original ideas. Maybe “original” isn’t even the word since nothing’s original; I can settle for unconventional. If you’re like me, you might want to check out Jem‘s Finally Woken album. It’s good, unconventional pop music and the whole album is solid. I knew it was something worth trying when perpetual death metal advocate HB recommended it to me.