Monday, December 31, 2007

Top 10 Favorite Things About 2007

At the end of last year, I did a top 10 list of my favorite things that was probably of interest to no one but me. Well tough noogies. I'm doing it again.

Before I do though, it's kind of interesting to take a peek at last year's list and see that some of those things still rank pretty high. I still play Dwarf Fortress (#10) and Guitar Hero (#6) like crazy. I haven't read a book this year that was better than last year's conclusion to the Prince of Nothing series (#3). But there were plenty of highlights from 2007 that made it the greatest of years so far.

10 - Armageddon Empires

Earlier this year I mentioned a couple of games that were taking up my allotted gaming time. Armageddon Empires was one of them and it still is my favorite computer game of the year (Dwarf Fortress being disqualified due to inclusion on last year's list). It's a single player game and you can get an entire session finished in a couple of hours, but the number of permutations is so crazy that you'll never play anything resembling the same type of game twice. It's a wonderful strategy game made by an independent developer and if you haven't tried it out I encourage you to do so.

9 - The Fountain

This movie came out in 2006 but was only in the theaters for a couple of weeks due to absolutely terrible box office performance. I didn't see it until it arrived via Netflix in May of this year.

The history of this movie is tortured. Originally it was budgeted for huge amounts with Brad Pitt slated to play the lead, but as folks started to realize just how outside the norm this thing was going to be the money began to disappear. When the money disappeared, Brad Pitt disappeared.

Despite all of these setbacks, Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky would not stop finding ways to keep the project alive. And we're lucky he did.

The film spans three (sort of) separate plots in three separate time periods, but they're all connected by a man coping with death by trying to find a way to prevent it. Hugh Jackman gives the performance of a lifetime in what is without any question whatsoever the best movie I have seen since Lord of the Rings and one that in retrospect I wish I had seen in the theater. There are space sequences in this movie that rival Space Odyssey: 2001 in terms of sheer beauty.

I don't mind admitting I cried like a baby at the end of what was an unbelievably fast 90 minutes. Julie was fast asleep though, so be warned that this probably isn't for everybody, but I have never seen a movie that dealt with life and death in such original and profound terms.

8 - MLB Power Pros

The second of two video games to be featured on the list (available for PS2 and Wii), this is the most fun I've had playing a baseball game since Baseball Stars on the original 8-bit Nintendo.

It's like the perfect combination of my favorite features from baseball video games over the course of eternity. There are an unbelievable number of different ways to play this game, and what really sets it apart is the "Success" mode which allows you to take a made up player through college in an attempt to get him a minor league contract. To make it through Success Mode you need to balance your studies, a part time job, potentially one (or three) girlfriends, and make sure you get enough practice in to increase your skills. It's a total blast, and if you get through Success Mode... um... successfully, you can then register that player as a free agent in an already existing season OR make him part of a team that you assemble yourself.

The cartoony graphics might disguise what is the deepest baseball game I've ever played. Hopefully poor commercial sales of this long running Japanese series don't prevent a port next year as well.

7 - The Diamond Mine

Once back in college I finished a first draft of a novel. It was called Stick Figures and was basically the most pretentious and boring piece of drivel anybody could ever have been cursed to read. Perhaps fortunately, my computer caught fire a few months after I finished the first draft. The coup de grace on the hard drive would be performed when the landlord tossed it (along with a lot of other stuff in the house) into the basement while I and others were in the process of moving out.

During 2006, I finished National Novel Writing Month but didn't actually finish the novel. To this day this is a source of major disappointment to me and a serious indictment of my motivation considering there are two video games on this top 10 list. It would have been better to have two drafted novels.

On the bright side though, this year for National Novel Writing Month I did a children's/young adult book called The Diamond Mine. It wasn't as large in scope as the previous year's project and I was actually able to complete an entire first draft. In fact, I finished it a few hundred words shy of the required 50,000 which led to some wacky results involving zombies.

I did a little bit of work over the weekend editing, and it felt good. It's up to me to stick with it and finish a final draft, which would be a first for any piece of written material for me since college (this blog does not count).

6 - Dodgeball

Yes, I'm still playing dodgeball.

This year Julie and I joined a new local league with rules that match the infamous Dodgeball movie a lot more closely (catches bring back a teammate, for example). It's less competitive/serious than the old league which I think makes it a bit more fun overall.

Typically teams are named with some kind of double entendre involving "balls". Our team bucked the trend by naming ourselves "Smarter Than Sexual Innuendo". Sadly, this proved too many words for the organizers to handle and they started calling us "STD" in an alphabetically challenged attempt to abbreviate our name. Depressing.

What wasn't depressing was capturing a division title with two playoff wins, including one against a previously undefeated team. Our run ended in the finals against a team that had a coach. You heard that right. A recreational dodgeball team with a coach. They had a very intricate rotation system that probably rivals that of Liverpool's soccer team. I'd laugh if that wasn't so sad.

But it was always a blast, and I'm looking forward to the next season starting up in a few weeks. It's a great stress reliever and an excuse to hang out with friends.

5 - Burning Empires

At the beginning of the year, I started checking out some independent tabletop RPGs. The problem was that our Shadowrun group started to have more and more trouble meeting (not anybody's fault, just people's situations/availability changing), and the amount of work that was required by the GM (me) to prepare for games that may or may not be happening was starting to make things a tad wearying.

Enter Burning Empires, which would change the way I thought about tabletop games forever. I even did an interview with the creator of the game to try and learn more about it.

Shortly after that a couple of my buddies and I started playing an almost weekly three person game of Burning Empires, and it has been some of the most exciting tabletop gaming I've done in years. My only regret is that we haven't had more time to play because we could be starting a second campaign now.

4 - Wedding Season

It was a big year for weddings, with some of my closest friends tying the knot. It's just cool to see people so happy, and I'm grateful to still have such fantastic friends for these many years.

3 - Wednesday Nights

If you're wondering where such wacky ideas as the infamous pickup basketball game and the Mitchell Report Pool have come from, it's from the crew of local gents that I have the pleasure of hanging out with regularly on Wednesday nights.

The story of this crew goes back to when Julie was doing a clerkship for Family Court in Wilmington. She worked with several other girls there and they all became very close friends. By proxy, the boys associated with these girls were forced to hang out.

And a good thing we were. Perhaps more shocking than being able to stand each other, we have actually genuinely become friends.

We all have been getting together on Wednesday nights for almost the entire year now at a local bar (Wednesday is half price pitchers and burgers). We have spent most of those Wednesdays arguing about sports, in particular baseball or our fantasy football team's starting lineups. That's right, we actually shared a fantasy football team. You can imagine the number of arguments this produced. It was glorious.

But much like the Burning Empires game, it's good to know that you're going to see friends on a weekly basis.

2 - Phillies Win Division

It's sad that my beloved Phils got swept in the playoffs, because it's made a lot of people forget just how awesome it was that they were there at all.

In one of the biggest comebacks in history (or one of the biggest collapses depending on your perspective), the Phils made up a huge deficit against the hated Mets at the end of the season to capture the division pennant for the first time since 1993.

The thing that made it so delightful wasn't just that it was my favorite team coming back to beat my least favorite team. It was that, for once, the collapse wasn't us.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the Phillies can do in 2008. There's no reason to believe they shouldn't be major playoff contenders again.

1 - Trolley Square

This year's award goes to my move with Julie to Trolley Square in Wilmington, Delaware.

A few months ago Jules and I moved in together. We moved into a neighborhood near a lot of our friends, and it has been fantastic. It's great to actually be sharing a place AND be able to walk down the street to see people AND be able to walk to restaurants/bars in the area. It's been a bit of a lifestyle change, but one very much for the better.

It's also great, with the wedding coming up in just over a month now, to know we're going to really enjoy where we're going to be.

Here's hoping that in 2008 wherever you end up is where you want to be too.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The LOTR Effect

During my Christmas visit to my parents in Georgia, I saw my second movie in the theater of 2007: Sweeney Todd.

Now if you like Broadway musicals you should just go ahead and see this immediately. Ever since Chicago it seems like Hollywood rolls out a couple of musicals during Oscar season for folks who can't make the trip to New York City to see one in person. Sweeney Todd is getting great reviews and if singing is your thing you will almost certainly dig this.

I, however, fell asleep about 20-30 minutes into it. I think it was right around the time that Johnny Depp starting singing a love song to a razor blade that my brain just shut down defensively. I remember bits and pieces because it is hard to sleep completely soundly in a chair and I think I snored myself awake once or twice, but in one man's opinion this thing was about as dull as it gets.

The last movie I had seen in an actual theater though prior to Sweeney Todd was 300 back around March. The only other movie I really planned to go see in the theater this year was Transformers, but that got derailed due to an impromptu visit to Hades.

I used to go to the movies on a fairly regular basis, and the realization that I had only seen two films all year got me thinking about why it was my zeal for the movieplex has been on the wane. The Christmas season made it abundantly clear: Lord of the Rings.

During those glorious three years when the Lord of the Rings movies would come out around the holiday season, I saw the 3 best movies I will probably ever see on the big screen. That doesn't necessarily mean the LOTR movies are the best 3 movies ever (Editor's Note: They are), but these were legitimate movie-going experiences. Epic in scale. Epic in length. Special effect whizbangery and ass whooping combat sequences. I mean these movies had it all and you got twice as much for your movie dollar due to the length as pretty much anything else out there.

What can possibly compare to that now? When I see a 90 minute movie now all I can think is "Boy I'm glad I didn't shell out the bucks for that in the theater." That's a ridiculous and unfair standard, but that's just the way it is now. Everything is left wanting compared to Lord of the Rings. Even when I saw 300, which I actually enjoyed, I couldn't help thinking when I left: "Not as good as Lord of the Rings."

Again, that's an absurd and unfair standard. But with a decent TV at home and a Netflix subscription, why would I want to shell out the money to go to the movies these days? The odds are very good when you go to the movies now that:

1) The movie won't be as good as LOTR.
2) You will hear somewhere between 5 and 8 cell phones ring depending on the length of the film.
3) You will end up sitting in front of some idiot who will not stop postulating about what's going to happen next in the movie.
4) You will end up sitting next to some idiot who will not stop asking questions about the movie because they are confused.
5) You will sit behind two people making out to complete the circle.
6) The floor will be sticky.
7) You will drink too much soda and have to get up (no pause button in the theater).
8) The whole experience will just be a mess but you won't ask for your money back at the end of the movie because you don't want to be that guy that finishes his entire meal at a restaurant before "sending it back" because it wasn't cooked right.

There's just no angle I can think of that makes sense when it comes to going to the movies as opposed to just waiting for the darn thing to get released on Netflix. Then if it stinks you have the option of fast forwarding it, turning it off, getting up to make a sandwich, or mocking it out loud with whomever is watching it with you.

The amount of pressure on a movie is greatly lessened when you are watching it at home also. After having finally seen Transformers on DVD, I'm pretty sure I would have despised this movie if I had shelled out the big bucks to see it in the theater. But in the comforts of home I was able to just fast forward all of the horrendous exposition (have Turturro and Voight ever been more desperate to cash a check? They must have had some serious gambling debts to have agreed to appear in this mess) and get straight to the part where robots beat each other up real good.

That's not to say there aren't any movies in the theater I'm interested in seeing. There are quite a few I'd like to see (No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and even The Mist come to mind). But I don't know that there are any I can't wait to see like I couldn't wait to see LOTR. And there aren't any I'd rather see in the theater than in the comforts of home where not only will there be no chance of any of those things listed above happening, but I can also make as many obnoxious remarks as I want (unless Julie is enjoying the movie, in which case such a remark would be tantamount to suicide).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell Report Pool - Results

The Mitchell Report is released to the general public. After days of speculation and even a bogus list that appeared on nearly every major sports site and even WNBC in the hours leading up to the report, the wait has come to an end.

Keep in mind in that just because a name existed in the report, it doesn't mean they are actually discussed in terms of using steroids. The report is over 400 pages long and very detailed. The parameters of the contest however dictated that the name merely had to "appear" in the text of the report. All I've done is scan the report for the names in our pool to determine a winner.

Team Youk(s)
x - Jason Giambi
x - Rick Ankiel
x - Scott Schoeneweis
x - Brian Roberts
Ivan Rodriguez
x - Jerry Hairston Jr.
Rafael Betancourt
Mike Piazza

Team Jordan
x - Jay Gibbons
x - Jose Guillen
x - Troy Glaus
x - Roger Clemens
Mike Cameron
x - Eric Gagne
x - Sammy Sosa
x - Andy Pettitte

Team Kobe
x - Miguel Tejada
x - Gary Matthews Jr.
Aaron Rowand
Milton Bradley
David Ortiz
Josh Beckett
Craig Biggio
Carlos Delgado

Team Bird
x - Paul Byrd
x - Gary Sheffield
Juan Salas
x - Guillermo Mota
Neifi Perez
x - Ryan Franklin
Dan Serafini
Aubrey Huff

That makes Team Jordan (yours truly) the winner with 7 out of 8. I get a free bottle of the clear.

I can't wait to read the entire report over the next couple of days. The stuff on Clemens is particularly juicy (see what I did there? Because the report is about juicing? Man, I am hilarious).

Merry Roidmas

The Mitchell Report comes out at 2 PM today. It's possible somebody will get an early, leaked copy of it, but really, can you even trust that until 2 PM?

Seriously though, last night I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. The latest reports say that 60-80 names will be on the list, including All Stars and MVPs, names that will rock the baseball world.

This is worse than the Christmas when I snuck a peak at my presents and knew I was getting a Nintendo.

All I want for Roidmas is Roger Clemens.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster recently announced the winner of 2007's "Word of the Year" award, which was determined via the always reliable internet vote.

This year's winner was "w00t".

The article mentions that "w00t" is not currently listed in a regular Merriam-Webster dictionary but this award "might just improve its chances." If you ask me, that is awesome.

I get into a lot of debates with people about language, particularly at work. A lot of people are driven crazy by the newest slang or even differences in regional dialect, but I think it's cool, or possibly even "pimp" (the kids are still saying that right? Somebody help me out here).

I've always just thought that the entire point of language is the free flow of ideas. You're expressing yourself and trying to convey your thoughts. As long as you are able to do that and the person you are talking to can basically get what you're trying to convey, then language is fulfilling its primary purpose. How you pronounce the word "water" makes no difference whatsoever to me as long as I recognize the word.

However, not everybody agrees with me on that. There are plenty of people out there who think that putting a word like "w00t" into the dictionary just serves to further "dumb down America". I disagree with this for a number of reasons.

First of all, words go in the dictionary. "w00t" is a word. If you don't think it is then look up the definition of "word" in the same dictionary you are ostensibly trying to "protect" from "dumbing down".

word (noun)
1 - something that is said
2a - a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use
2b - a written or printed character or combination of characters representing a spoken word

I think that "w00t" qualifies based on any of those definitions.

Second, a dictionary is not some static text in a vault. It is supposed to be a reference, and as such needs to be updated to keep pace with that which it references. Disagree? The dictionary itself doesn't.

dictionary (noun)
1 - a reference source in print or electronic form containing words usually alphabetically arranged along with information about their forms, pronunciations, functions, etymologies, meanings, and syntactical and idiomatic uses

See that? It's a document containing words and a bunch of crap about words including where they came from and how they are actually used.

The dictionary is a reflection of language, not the other way around.

Third, new words get into the dictionary all the time without people making a stink. It's only weird looking words that the kids say while listening to their "rock music" and playing their "video games" that get people upset. For example, the word "nanoscience" isn't in the Merriam-Webster dictionary yet either, and yet universities are teaching classes on it and the National Science Foundation has a whole section of their website devoted to it. I don't hear anybody making a stink that they shouldn't be using that word because it isn't in Merriam-Webster, and if they do put it in next year I'm sure nobody will then either. But "w00t", a word I'd wager is being used a lot more often than "nanoscience"? English professors everywhere start weeping.

To me, the bottom line is communication. That's the point of language. If people are inventing new words and new slang, that means that there are new ideas and new ways to express those ideas out there. I'm not saying "w00t" is representative of some new age of enlightenment, but people are using the word a lot and therefore it should probably go in the dictionary.

How much sense does it actually make to only use a dictionary when reading an old book that uses words you've never heard or seen before? Doesn't it make just as much, if not way more sense, to be able to use a dictionary to look up words people are actually using regularly?

Anyway, even if you don't like it, "w00t" will probably be in the dictionary in a year or two. And there's one very obvious thing to say about that: w00t!

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Mitchell Report Pool

Even if you're not a baseball fan you have probably heard of the Mitchell Report. Former Senator George Mitchell has been putting this steroid investigation together for over a year and half now and it is expected to be released sometime in the next week or so, and will supposedly feature many, many names of Major League Baseball players involved in steroids. The report will apparently include some big names too.

In the spirit of gleaning entertainment from the cheating and public humiliation of others, a few of my buddies and I decided to put together a special Mitchell Report Pool to celebrate what is sure to be one of baseball's darkest hours. The rules were as follows:

1. Each participant (total of four) drafts a team of eight players.
2. Draft lasts eight rounds, serpentine order.
3. Players must have played in 2007 at the Major League level.
4. Barry Bonds is ineligible for the draft.
5. Participant with the most names featured on the Mitchell Report wins.
6. In the event of tie, total combined salary of the players featured on the list wins.

These rules made Jason Giambi the consensus number one pick. With his robust salary and already admitted steroid use, PLUS the fact that Giambi actually spoke to Mitchell as part of his investigation, you could say Giambi is the LaDanian Tomlinson of fantasy steroids.

The draft order was determined by an evening of Texas Hold 'Em.

This was a particularly interesting exercise because nobody really knows what the parameters are for inclusion on the Mitchell Report. The biggest question I have is whether or not guys that already have been suspended by Major League Baseball will be included in the report. If so it makes sense to cherry pick from the list of guys suspended since the steroid policy went in place. If not, however, those guys just turn out to be wasted picks. Add to that the fact that most of the suspended guys so far have turned out to be middle of road players and in the event of a tie your salary total isn't going to be high enough, and you can see that there was some serious strategy (guesswork) going on.

Some of this cast of characters you may remember from the pickup basketball game that settled the argument once and for all about who the greatest basketball player of all time was (Editor's Note: Game settled nothing). In addition to the three from that clash of titans was a fellow who I shall refer to as Kevin Youkilis only because of his affinity for the Boston Red Sox and not at all because of the similarity in facial hair or because the gentleman in question dressed as this player for Halloween.

Round One
1. Jason Giambi - Youks
2. Jay Gibbons - Jordan
3. Miguel Tejada - Kobe
4. Paul Byrd - Bird

Number one and two weren't surprises, especially with Gibbons just this week being suspended for steroids after years of claiming he would never touch the stuff. Tejada could be considered an outside risk as a first rounder, but with his significant dropoff and power it probably isn't much of a stretch.

Round Two

1. Gary Sheffield - Bird
2. Gary Matthews Jr. - Kobe
3. Jose Guillen - Jordan
4. Rick Ankiel - Youks

Again no major surprises. Sheffield claims he never knowingly took steroids although he has admitted to taking them in the form of a cream. All three of those other guys have had their names mentioned in connection to steroid investigations, with Guillen being nabbed alongside Gibbons earlier this week.

Round Three

1. Scott Schoeneweis - Youks
2. Troy Glaus - Jordan
3. Aaron Rowand - Kobe
4. Juan Salas - Bird

A shocker in the third round by Kobe as he throws out not just a former Phillie, but a beloved one who famously ran into a wall while making an over the shoulder catch, breaking his face. Rowand would incidentally be the only Phillie taken in the draft.

Round Four

1. Guillermo Mota - Bird
2. Milton Bradley - Kobe
3. Roger Clemens - Jordan
4. Brian Roberts - Youks

Bird went with back to back relief pitchers as the crafty veteran started to cherry pick off of the already suspended players list. I wanted to take Roberts here but went with my heart and took Clemens. Man I can't stand that guy.

Round Five

1. Ivan Rodriguez - Youks
2. Mike Cameron - Jordan
3. David Ortiz - Kobe
4. Neifi Perez - Bird

It was at this point abundantly clear that Kobe was rolling the dice in this draft and going for the shockers. The choice of David Ortiz garnered an unkind response from Youks. When I politely pointed out that Ortiz's numbers skyrocketed between 2002 and 2003, Youks became even more agitated. Meanwhile Neifi Perez was taken for the first time in a fantasy draft of any kind.

Round Six

1. Ryan Franklin - Bird
2. Josh Beckett - Kobe
3. Eric Gagne - Jordan
4. Jerry Hairston Jr. - Youks

In response to the remarks from Youks, Kobe fired another shot by selecting Beckett. Not wanting to miss the fun I snagged Gagne, which made 3 Red Sox in 5 picks.

Round Seven

1. Rafael Betancourt - Youks
2. Sammy Sosa - Jordan
3. Craig Biggio - Kobe
4. Dan Serafini - Bird

I have to say that I believe Sammy Sosa in round seven is the steal of this draft. Bird makes a very tricky pick by taking Serafini, who pitched 3 games in the entirety of the 2007 season.

Round Eight - Final Round

1. Aubrey Huff - Bird
2. Carlos Delgado - Kobe
3. Andy Pettitte - Jordan
4. Mike Piazza - Youks

Wanting to complete the Clemens-Pettitte love connection, I took ol' Andy with my final pick.

Looking back over the teams, it was clear that crafty old Bird had assembled a team of middling players, many of whom had already been suspended for steroids. If it comes down to a tiebreaker he is toast.

Kobe took the most risks with names like Ortiz, Beckett, and Biggio that would absolutely rock the baseball world. They are all fan favorites and any one of them would be a PR nightmare.

Youks diversified nicely with a couple of guys already caught and the rest featured prominently in previous investigations. Youks even included a flier on Piazza with his last pick.

As for me, when I took names already suspended, I took recent suspensions hoping they would still be immediate/relevant enough for inclusion in the report. Otherwise I stuck with guys that had already been named in investigations.

Now we just wait like kids before Christmas for the report. Hopefully Santa brings plenty of needles, Jose Canseco told me it's a bad idea to share.

Friday, November 30, 2007

28K Words Later

Note: Thanks to Andy for the title.

Ridiculously, I left myself in a position this year in NaNoWriMo where I needed to write 17,000 words on the final day.

Fortunately for me, I've got a few extra vacation days I have to burn before the year ends, and today was the perfect day because there was no way I was going to be able to write that much if I went into work.

With one hour to spare, I reached 50,093 words.

The problem came about fifteen minutes before that though when I reached about 49,700 words.

I had actually finished the entire story, and I was 300 words short.

It was my first crack at a children's/young adult novel, so I knew it would be shorter than past attempts, but I cursed my ill luck at falling just under the mark. I had to pad it somehow with at least 300 words of filler to reach the finish line.

The obvious solution to this, of course, was a zombie attack.

Please enjoy the last few hundred words of my novel. They will not be included in any draft after tonight. Please keep in mind that I have been writing for awhile and I'm frankly stunned I am not weeping blood from staring at this screen all day.

Some context - the story is about an immigrant family from Germany. One of the characters is named Franz, and he lives on a horseradish farm. That should really be all you need. None of this is about to make any sense anyway.


Franz walked over the crest of a hill. The world was his to explore now, and he had been traveling for many days.

Never could he have anticipated what he would see on his first trip off the farm to another town.

“Hello there,” he shouted. It looked a nice town and the people approaching seemed like normal, good-hearted folk.

Until Franz realized that one of them was gnawing on a human arm.

“S&*%,” Franz muttered. “I knew it would come to this sooner or later.”


Franz pulled out his 12 gauge. With a click-clack he cocked it.

“Time to do some horseradish farming, m%th$rf&#@ers. And by ‘horseradish farming’, I mean zombie killing.”

Franz charged down the hill, the battle cry of “JIBBLY JIBBLY” spewing from his lips.

Zombies, of course, know no fear. But if they did, they would have feared the sight of Franz and his 12 gauge tumbling down the hill.

Franz gave both barrels of business to the zombie gnawing on the arm. The zombie head exploded in a spray of blood and brains.

“I’m f%&#ing Jackson Pollock,” Franz said, “and I’m here to make some abstract art.”

Three zombies rushed him from the right. He turned and shot the first one clean through the neck, the head landing on the ground and spinning like a dreidel. “Happy Hanukkah,” he cried. He then did a full flip over the head of the second zombie in the group, shooting straight down as he did into the top of the skull of zombie #2. “That’s my Gallagher impression, b%&#h,” he shouted as the head popped like a ripe watermelon.

Franz realized as he landed that he was out of ammo. “Why the hell did I only pack six shells?” he wondered allowed. Then the zombie ate him.

Unfortunately for the zombies, they didn’t know that an elite force of ninja warriors was already on the way.


I smell a Newbury Award.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Congrats Everyone, We Did It

In a previous post where I listed some of the crazy searches that were bringing people to the blog, one of them was "beaten with a shoe".

Well I just wanted to let you know that a spike in traffic has led to this blog being #1 on the Google results if your search is "beaten with a shoe". It is also the #10 most popular search that leads people here now.

Congratulations, you depraved weirdos.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cat Update

I've gotten a couple of emails since I posted about the poop machine, er, I mean cat.

To quickly recap, Jules and I got a previously traumatized cat with some wacky problems. I even went so far as to drop some money on a cat behavior consultant, thereby earning myself some of the most palpable shame I have felt in years.

Anyway, the update is this: the cat has had two teeth extracted by the vet, one which was cracked and the other which was abscessed and was one of the most gnarly things you will ever see. Pumpkin also is constantly on some kind of medication for her ears which get this gross goopy buildup if left alone for a couple of weeks.

The cat at this point has cost us more money than I even want to think about for fear that I will start lighting money on fire in an effort to ensure a greater degree of value/amusement for my dollar.

In all seriousness though, the cat has been better behaved since those teeth came out. She still poops next to the litter box, but we have at least mitigated this problem by putting the boxes in the basement where nobody goes anyway. Of course, having said that, the cat did decide to drop a bomb in my office this morning after I didn't close the door the previous night, so I don't know that there's really progress so much as there is rationalization.

But at least the cat doesn't yowl and holler nonstop and is definitely much more low key than it was before. She's also the most affectionate cat I have ever seen.

This much headache over a cat and some of you actually have kids. I can no longer tell which of us is more insane.

The Novelling Continues

This is not going quite as well as last year.

In 2006 I wrote pretty consistently every day. The goal is 50k words in November is easily attainable if you just hunker down and spend an hour or so every day plugging away. In the big scheme of things 1,667 words per day isn't that much.

However, you can make it very challenging on yourself if you only write 9 days out of 27.

As you can see from that report the days that I have actually sat down to write I've cranked out some pretty good totals. However I've now put myself in a position with 4 days to go where I need to average 5,500 words the rest of the way.

It's doable. I'm going to give it a shot.

I could make excuses: wedding planning, holiday travel, blah blah blah. But that's all they would be: excuses. The bottom line is that there are definitely a few days in there where I could have gotten writing done and haven't done it.

That changes today, and I'm going to do my best to hit the target. I even took Friday off for a last minute push. It's like school all over again!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Flawed Machine of Memory

The most horrifying idea is that what we believe with all our hearts is not necessarily the truth.

-Dr. Elizabeth F. Loftus, Professor of Psychology

My future mother-in-law came for a visit last week and through the weekend to help finalize a lot of the wedding plans. It was a very accomplishing weekend and I think everybody feels that things are coming together nicely.

During lunch yesterday before she left for the airport, she asked me a very simple question. "How long have your parents lived in Georgia?"

Without too much hesitation I answered that it had been over ten years. For the last few years I have distinctly remembered them moving to Atlanta right around the same time I left for college.

The problem with this is that it is patently false, and I realized that as I said it yesterday at lunch. I suddenly remembered that I used to go home to Exton, Pennsylvania to visit every now and again for the first couple years while I was in college.

My parents are probably reading this and are horrified. How could I forget something so simple?

It's weird because I didn't forget going home. What got screwed up in my head was the timeline.

It was a pretty disturbing thing though, and my mouth kind of hung open there for a moment as I realized that there is a lot of fuzzy stuff during those first couple years of college. It was an altogether stressful time, but forgetting/misremembering something so basic really shook me up as I tried to reconstruct just what the heck happened during those couple years. As I said, I had a lot of memories but the order of events is all jumbled up.

I've always had a curiosity for human behavior. Things like mob behavior and memory, particularly as it applies to law, are really revealing about what we are. There are all sorts of examples of people being absolutely convinced that they remember something, and that memory becomes witness testimony, only to have completely contradictory evidence surface later that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the witness was mistaken in what they recalled.

One of the most famous cases involving memory is the Mary Bowman case in the UK. The short story is that in 1978, 44-year old Mary Bowman was found dead as a result of a lethal mix of alcohol and Valium in her body. Open and shut. Twenty years later however, her daughter, Diane, begin to vividly remember details about her mother's death, details which contrasted starkly with the simple explanation of an overdose.

Diane was five years old when her mother died in 1978. But now she remembered her father had abused her as a child and that he had murdered her mother. She recalled him punching her mother, hurling her against the fireplace, and force feeding her sleeping pills and alcohol.

Despite having no actual evidence to back this up, the police took the allegations very seriously and performed further investigation. They exhumed Mary Bowman's body, and the pathologist who performed the examination declared based on bone samples in the original autopsy that there was no doubt Mary Bowman had been strangled.

Keep in mind that Diane Bowman's new memories didn't suggest that her mother had been strangled. Not only that, there were a number of serious issues with the pathologist's declaration.

Regardless, on the basis of this Thomas Bowman was arrested, twenty years after his wife's death. Thomas Bowman had already been convicted of an unrelated sex offense involving an underage girl, so there wasn't a lot of sympathy for him.

Thomas Bowman was found guilty of murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

The whole story is incredible and I encourage you to read all about it. I can't seem to find anything after 2005 regarding the case, so if anybody knows anything I'd be interested to hear.

The whole point of this is that we rely so much on memory, and yet it has been shown to be an often deeply flawed device. Take for example the "lost in the mall" technique developed by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, quoted at the beginning of this post.

In this experiment, Loftus read narratives to subjects supposedly provided by family members and asked the subject to describe memories of the event in as much detail as possible. What the subjects did not know is that one of the "memories" was completely false, conjured from thin air. About 25% of the subjects would recall the made up event in vivid detail, regardless of the fact that it never happened.

Initially the study was criticized since getting "lost in the mall" is something pretty innocuous. But since then the experiment has been recreated with much more outrageous false memories, such as hot air balloon rides, near drowning, and animal attacks that never occurred. Amazingly, the results are similar.

So I suppose there is some small comfort that my jumbled order of significant events during a 2 year period at the beginning of college isn't an entirely uncommon occurrence. It still has me pretty spooked though. Your memory isn't just an extension of yourself, it's pretty much one of the most important things that helps define you. It strikes me as a very human thing to create a narrative out of your memories, a story that says you've made progress, you've grown, you've overcome some obstacles and prevailed. If you can't trust the order of events though, you can't trust the narrative. You can't trust yourself.

But on the other side of the coin, being aware of just how flawed the memory mechanism can be can help you from being fooled. It can force you to be more critical. It can force you to keep a more open mind. And these are all good things.

For now, though, I'm just trying not to think too hard about it. After all, I've got a novel to write, and at least that's one narrative entirely in my control.


It should be noted of course that scientists do not universally agree over Loftus' results or any of this stuff I've discussed.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Turn Your Poop Into Cash!

In a chat earlier today with the LastBestAngryMan, he informed me of a new drug that may be sweeping the nation.

Perhaps the cat's pooping habits may be of some use after all!

I don't want to think about what two straight posts on feces is going to do to my search statistics.

The Scoop on the Poop, or How I Became a Yuppie In One Transaction

Remember Pumpkin?

Unfortunately our emotionally scarred cat has been causing some troubles at home. Troubles in the shape and smell of poop.

Not using the litter box is apparently a common problem for cat owners, so for the first couple of weeks we just figured it was a matter of figuring out the combination of factors that would make the cat comfortable.

For the first few days Pumpkin used the box consistently, but then one day for reasons unknown she dropped the kids off on the kitchen floor instead of at the beach. Despite a thorough scrubbing of the area (using ammonia free products), she would just pick a different spot near the box to do her business.

Obviously we took the cat to the vet assuming there was some kind of problem, but the vet found nothing medically wrong that would explain the behavior. He suggested we confine the cat and retrain her.

We did this and sure enough the cat started using the litter box again. For 4 days. Then the poop started appearing on the floor.

Another visit to the vet and he prescribed Valium, saying it had to be a behavioral problem. Valium for a cat already seemed pretty odd to me, but hey he's the doctor.

It certainly seemed to calm the cat down at night, but didn't stop the poop machine from continuing her habits.

Since then we have tried dozens of things, including:

- Larger litter box
- Multiple boxes
- Multiple litters
- Feline pheromone relaxers
- Thorough cleaning of all boxes
- More toys
- Aluminum foil in places where cat has gone outside the box
- Food in places where cat has gone outside the box
- Vinegar in places where the cat has gone outside the box
- Leaving TV on while gone with birds playing in continuous loop
- Night lites
- Cat Behavior Books
- And Many More!

Absolutely nothing is working, and I'm starting to get concerned that all these efforts might just be exacerbating the problem.

The latest in this long list is keeping the cat in our bedroom since it seems to suffer some separation anxiety when it doesn't know where we are. This is probably a product of past treatment before we got her. We've made sure to play with the cat regularly and give her some catnip about twice a week (as per cat behavior books) to try to get her more relaxed. It's difficult to tell whether any of this does any good with the Valium right now, but overall I do think the cat seems more relaxed than she did on her first day home.

However, last night Jules caught the cat using the litter box to pee, after which she calmly stepped out of it and went to town right there on the floor of our bedroom.

At this point I don't think I've seen Jules this upset and stressed out since taking the bar exam. I know that there is some reason for the cat's behavior and she's not doing it to intentionally enrage us, but it just never seems to get any better.

Most info suggests that the cat is "middening", which is an extreme form of marking the heart of a cat's territory if it feels threatened. If that is what's happening, the frustration is that we can't figure out what is threatening the cat. It seems that it is just a lot of built up stress from past treatment and possibly fearing that our long absences during work hours mean we are abandoning her. I'm grasping at straws here.

Now, about five years ago I would've just suggested giving the cat back to the foster home or dropping it off at the SPCA. However, this particular cat has been in several homes before ours and dropping an adult cat off at the SPCA is basically a death sentence. We've spent a lot of money at this point trying to pinpoint the problem and we've grown attached to the cat, and the programmer part of me really wants to debug what is wrong. Finally, I don't want Jules to be upset that we somehow failed the cat. That probably sounds pretty lame, but the look on her face when we took the cat to the vet and they told us they would need to keep her overnight for testing was pretty heartbreaking. I don't want to imagine what her face might look like giving the cat away permanently.

So, with all of this in mind, I finally made a move that firmly places me in the category of "psychotic yuppie pet owner". I went and paid for a cat psychologist.

For $165 you get a 1-2 hour phone consultation followed by a month of daily follow up. The pragmatic part of me says this is a silly way to spend money, but when I consider the fact that we've probably spent 3-4 times that already on vet visits and trips to the pet store trying to solve this, I figure the worst that happens is the problem doesn't get fixed and we're no worse off than when we started.

A friend rightfully pointed out to me the following: "The You of five years ago would kick your ass for this." I assure you the shame is palpable.

But I also believe that one of the internet's greatest purposes is to make all shame public. And so it is in that spirit that I present myself for your mockery.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NaNoWriMo II - The Noveling

In two days it will be National Novel Writing Month again and I encourage readers to participate if possible.

Last year was my first year in NaNoWriMo and I crossed the finish line with a couple of days to spare. Problem was that after 50,000 words, the novel I was working on wasn't close to finished. I had resolved to finish before moving on to other things, but the truth is I wrote myself into a corner and I can't figure out how to get the characters out. It is said that Tolkien took years of time away from writing Lord of the Rings while thinking of ways to get the Fellowship out of Moria, but in the time in between he invented like half a dozen languages. I don't think battling pixellated zombies is quite on the same level.

This year I have a new plan. I came up with a new idea for a children's/young adult type novel that shouldn't end up being nearly as long as last year's project. Although I was satisfied to finish NaNoWriMo last year, I must admit to serious disappointment in not finishing the novel. This time 50k words should put me a lot closer to finishing a full first draft of the entire book, what with the scope being much smaller.

This year I've got a couple more writing buddies as well, including my mom. Writing buddies are great because you end up pushing each other to actually reach the goal of 50k words as you see each other's word counts increasing. As World of Warcraft and other games have taught us, there is no greater motivation than an incrementally increasing progress bar.

This will be extremely fun because my mom and I actually worked together writing a children's story when I was much younger. It was called Frankie the Fabulous Fighting Ferret. My mom had the idea for this tale after watching ferrets wrestling in a pet store, and imagined a professional wrestling league consisting entirely of ferrets. The tale followed sort of a Rocky arc, with Frankie being an unknown and fighting his way up through the ranks. I'm not sure I contributed much more than "technical" names for various pro wrestling maneuvers (yes, I was actually really into pro wrestling when I was a kid), but it was a lot of fun.

There's still a couple of days for stragglers to sign up and I encourage you to do so. Even if you get in a couple of days late, you can still catch up with one solid weekend of writing. It's going to be tougher this year with wedding planning, an extended visit from Julie's mom, and of course the ever present Thanksgiving travel, but that's sort of the point of NaNoWriMo... it's always busy and the trouble with writing is people (myself included) always talk about doing it at some distant point in the future "when we have time."

If anybody does decide to sign up and needs writing buddies, feel free to buddy up with me at robustyoungsoul.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cool Games You May Not Have Heard Of

In between furniture shopping and wedding planning I've been playing a pair of games that I heard about on various blogs I read. These two games aren't topping any best selling games charts, but I'm having as much fun with them as I've had with any games this year (certainly more consistent fun than Resident Evil 4).

First up is a game for strategy gaming types. Before you ask, yes, there is a Mac version. This should pretty much go without saying since I own a Mac (the exception to this rule is the incomparable Dwarf Fortress, which remains the sole reason I still have an XP partition). I first saw the game on the excellent blog Dubious Quality.

The game is Armageddon Empires, and it reminds me of some delicious hybrid of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Risk, and Magic the Gathering. The game is made by small outfit Cryptic Comic and they offer a free demo as well.

One word of advice if you give it a spin: READ THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL. This is not a game you can just pick up and expect immediately to know what to do. It doesn't come with an in-game tutorial, so reading the manual is absolutely essential. Dubious Quality also has a Six Part Play Guide which is extremely helpful as well.

Another word of advice: once you get the hang of this game, prepare for some late nights. The level of detail and the various options available to you are insane: with 4 different factions, 75+ unique faction heroes, and 200+ unique units, there are a TON of permutations for replayability.

The second game I've really been having a blast with is MLB Power Pros. This is, hands down, the most fun I've had playing a baseball game since Hardball 3 on the old PC. MLB Power Pros is a port of a venerable Japanese game series called Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū, which has been around since 1994. This is the first time the series has appeared in US.

And what a shame that is, because this game is an absolute dream come true for baseball fans. It has several different modes of play to appeal to any type of baseball gamer you may be. If you like to get in there and play the games, you've got Exhibition and League mode. If you like to handle GM style duties (player management, trades, salaries, etc.) you've got Season mode. If you like to do both, Season mode can be tweaked so that you play the games or interrupt them in the middle if your team is losing and you want to take control. If you want to create an expansion team, you can do that in Season mode complete with expansion draft.

That's only the tip of the iceberg. There is "Success" mode, in which you control a college player through his 3 year college baseball career. You're not just playing baseball though, you have to balance studying, dating, earning money at a part-time job, practicing, upgrading equipment... it's absolutely mind blowing. If you can get your created player through to the majors, he becomes available in other modes if you want. You can put him on the free agent list in Season mode or make him available in the next draft. OR you can create a whole team of players that you've taken through Success mode and make them into an expansion team. OR you can create an entire league of made up characters.

Get the point here? The game has absolutely everything you can think of if you are a video game baseball fan. I have a bad feeling though that the US audience is going to be put off by the weird, childish graphics of the players. The players are very cartoony, but they exhibit all the mannerisms of the MLB players they represent. The cartoony Ryan Howard points his bat at the pitcher before squatting into his stance. Cartoony Dice-K has his funky delivery. Cartoony Gary Sheffield jerks his bat around wildly and flings accusations of cartoony racism.

Seriously, if you have even a passing interest in baseball you have to get this game.

Both of these games I've mentioned are available for $30. That's a darn sight cheaper than the average game. Armageddon Empires is available for PC or Mac, while MLB Power Pros is available for your trusty old PS2 or your shiny new Wii (Wii version $40).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Falcon Faulty Pick: Week 6

I've been a member of a head-to-head pick 'em league for the NFL for several years running now. The way it works is you and your opponent pick every game and whoever gets more right wins. The scheduling is easy because there are as many players as there are teams in the league, and everybody represents a team. I happen to be the Falcon.

Pretty simple stuff except for the fact that I stink at NFL prognostication. So a few years back I started writing a semi-regular column for the league called the "Falcon's Faulty Pick of the Week". The way it works is I pick one game that seems like it should be a lock, and then watch with dismay as somehow the pick goes sour. My inaccuracy has been almost uncanny in the past.


Going into the start of the season, LaDainian Tomlinson ranked #1 on every single fantasy football player's cheatsheet. There was an excellent reason for this: he put up 1800+ yards rushing, 500+ yards receiving, and scored an absolutely absurd 31 touchdowns.... make that 33 actually, because he passed for 2 touchdowns also.

That Chargers team was so ridiculous that it won 14 football games last year. That's a winning percentage of .875. To put that in perspective, let's see what an .875 winning percentage would approximate to in other leagues:

MLB: 142-20
NBA: 72-10
NHL: Nobody cares

Despite this, the Chargers decided to fire their coach. The reason given was that they needed to take the "next step" in the playoffs. What the Chargers seem to have forgotten is that in order to actually WIN in the playoffs, you need to qualify for them in the first place.

I think there's more to it then just the "next step" however. You see, I think the Chargers understand what the NFL is all about: PARITY. This often requires IDIOCY. I believe I will henceforth call these types of dubious football decisions PARIDIOCY, and by hiring Norv Turner the Chargers demonstrated this necessary NFL trait in spades.

This week the Chargers anticipate some relief against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders currently sit atop their division at a robust 2-2. This is a result of them playing one fewer game than everybody else in their division, who all chime in with 2-3 records, making them the most PARIDIOTIC division in the league.

Despite the Chargers' woes, they should have no trouble handling the Oakland Raiders. We're talking about a team that was silly enough to not only hire Norv Turner, but to replace him with Art Shell. This is a team that splashed record breaking money for a rookie quarterback only to hand the reigns over to everybody's favorite bumbling QB, Daunte Culpepper. This is a team that no matter what can call their season a success because they already matched their entire win total last year. They are a team that has won 17 football games in the last five years. They don't even qualify as a team that demonstrates paridiocy, because they are just bad.

So bad, that the struggling Chargers are currently favored to win the game by 9 1/2 points.


Last week I actually got the pick right by taking the Patriots. The Patriots will almost certainly proceed to make me look foolish by going undefeated this year... although now that I have said that, they will probably lose this week to Dallas. Such is the metaphysical nature of the Falcon Faulty Pick. You plumb these depths at the risk of your very sanity.

Why Are You Here?

Since I finally got around to setting up Google Analytics to track the visitor stats on the blog, the narcissist in me has had a grand ol' time looking at what folks are reading here and how they're getting here in the first place.

It comes as no great surprise that the old Warcraft addiction post is how most people find the blog. There is something pretty humbling in the fact that the most popular piece of writing on your own blog isn't even written by you, but it's cool that people still read it. That post alone gets about 50+ views a day, and the two related posts rank 2 and 3 in views.

After that though things get kind of interesting, with the old Pac Man Online post on gaming theory coming in next. I can only assume that this is because the stats say some people land on the blog doing searches for "pac man online". I suppose the title is slightly misleading.

Which transitions nicely to how people are getting here, which is where the real fun is. First, check out the top 5 Google searches that land people here:

1) wow addiction
2) trade mcnabb
3) addicted to world of warcraft
4) world of warcraft suicide
5) pac man online

The first one comes as no surprise... but how in the world does my year and a half old post entitled Trade McNabb warrant the top spot on the results page of that Google search? Seems sort of silly.

But when you dig really deep, things get hilarious. Check out some of these awesome and... unique... searches that lead people to the blog:

- old man body
- transformers shower curtain
- beaten with a shoe
- being a large bodybuilder, i was shocked when i found out his penis was larger than mine
- daunte culpepper desktop wallpapers
- hitler's fecal love
- if i'm clean and taste cocaine will it come up in any drug test?
- using modafinil to go clubbing

I mean, I get in a roundabout way how "transfomers shower curtain" could lead you here, but I must admit being completely perplexed regarding "beaten with a shoe".

Any ideas?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Falcon Faulty Pick of the Week

I've been a member of a head-to-head pick 'em league for the NFL for several years running now. The way it works is you and your opponent pick every game and whoever gets more right wins. The scheduling is easy because there are as many players as there are teams in the league, and everybody represents a team. I happen to be the Falcon.

Pretty simple stuff except for the fact that I stink at NFL prognostication. So a few years back I started writing a semi-regular column for the league called the "Falcon's Faulty Pick of the Week". The way it works is I pick one game that seems like it should be a lock, and then watch with dismay as somehow the pick goes sour. My inaccuracy has been almost uncanny in the past.

Here's this week's column, the first of the season for me. The reason I haven't written the previous 4 weeks is I didn't get to make any picks due to the fact I lost a wager regarding the Colts in the Super Bowl, the penalty being that the loser had to let the winner make their picks for them for the first four weeks.

Yeah, I picked against the Colts. Like I said, I am very bad at this.


For all of the criticism that baseball receives for being imbalanced between the "haves" and the "have-nots", people seem to forget that when it comes down to crowning a champion, the NFL has not been the bastion of parity that it makes itself out to be.

The consensus has pretty much been that the AFC is far and away better than the NFC and has been for the past 6 years or so. If you were forced to pick the 2 best teams in football the past few years, the Colts and the Patriots would be the obvious choice.

Take a look at the list of the last 6 Super Bowl Winners starting with the most recent:

Dungy's Colts - Steelers - Patriots - Patriots - Dungy's Stolen Bucs - Patriots

That's 4 out of 6 for the teams everybody agrees every year are the best in the NFL... 4.5 if you give just half the credit for the Bucs to Dungy, who built that team in the first place.

How exactly is this the model of parity? Everybody points at the Yankees and Red Sox and says they make the game unbalanced, but take a look at the list of the last 6 World Series Champions starting with the most recent:

Cardinals - White Sox - Red Sox - Marlins - Angels - Diamondbacks

That would be 1 out of 6, including a win for the Marlins who had a payroll of about $14.83 that year.

I don't point this out to trash the NFL. I point this out to explain that after the top tier of teams in the NFL, it is just one big mess which provides the ILLUSION of parity the league so desperately wants to sell. I tell you this so that you won't be fooled when you think about picking AGAINST the Colts or the Patriots on any given week.

So, now that I've said all that, my first FALCON FAULTY PICK OF THE WEEK:


Last I checked the Patriots were favored by about 52.5 points, and with good reason. Most agree this team could go undefeated. I don't know about that, but I know that Randy Moss has been a stud because he is on the fantasy football team I share with my Wednesday night drinking buddies. And since fantasy football is an absolutely accurate barometer of how good someone is (Ronnie Brown is obviously the best player in football right now, the stats say so), there will be no stopping the Pats.

And usually it is bold, uninformed claims like that which put me in all kinds of trouble.

So, in case you have forgotten how this works:


After all, the Browns have Braylon Edwards who is almost as good as Moss according to some fantasy football depth charts.**

This year I will not be using a computer to make my picks after how badly that went last year. Instead I will be taking the cheap route and picking the favorites every week (sorry Texans). Fellow nerds will be pleased to know, however, that I used a computer algorithm with last year's stats to produce my fantasy depth charts and draft orders in my triumphant return to the fantasy football arena. I also promise this will be the last time I mention fantasy football.***


*You probably shouldn't pick the Browns.
**Edwards probably not as good.
***Probably won't be the last time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wedding Cake

This afternoon I returned from lunch to a full email inbox. I thought somebody had spammed me, but it turned out to just be Julie with a plethora of wedding cakes to look at. Through the miracle of Gmail chat I was able to provide instant feedback on the many designs.

Me: holy crap I am getting email bombed

Jules: tell me if you like any of these cakes

I attempt to pause long enough to provide appearance of careful cake perusal.

Jules: oh yeah there is one more

Me: magnificent
a marvel of cake design
I love it
best of the bunch
saved the best for last
the apogee of cake achievement

Jules: it was a grooms cake in another wedding

Me: never before has the world seen a cake of this excellence
this will be the gold standard of all cakes to come
this cake is the zenith of the wedding cake field
like TS Eliot's "Prufrock", it will be a standard that will haunt this designer their entire career

Pause, I assume I am off the hook.

Jules: do you have access to a color printer?

Another pause as I consider how best to answer this question.

Me: yes

Jules: oh, can I send you the cakes and have you print them?

Another pause. Panic. I choke and leave the door open.

Me: how many cakes are we talking

Second flood of cake spam begins.

Felis Silvestris Catus

So last week we got a cat.

We couldn't just get any cat though. Jules and I had been searching for weeks on Petfinder and whatnot for orange, already declawed cats.

"Declawed". Yes, a word rife with controversy and consternation. I had no clue.

When we went to the National Adoption Weekend being hosted at the local Petsmart and mentioned that we were looking for an already declawed cat, I immediately had several pamphlets and accusatory looks thrown my way. Apparently cat lovers do not take kindly to the declawing process.

Naturally Julie tried to hold her ground with the ladies at the Petsmart who were explaining to us how cruel the whole thing was, and equally naturally I made it my job to make the situation even more of a mess.

Jules: We're looking for an already declawed cat so we don't have to declaw a kitten.

Me: Babe, look at this pamphlet. Did you know that they cut the whole bone off? This looks terrible!

Helpful Cat Lady: Yes, it's so cruel what they do to the poor kitties.

Jules: We don't have a choice, it is in the lease. We have to get one declawed because of the hardwood floors.

Me: (gesturing to the pamphlet) And look at this!! It's not even legal in a lot of European countries! It's considered animal cruelty in England!

Helpful Cat Lady: Yes, we're working hard to see if we can't make it illegal here too.

Jules: This is the landlord's decision, not ours.

Me: Look at this list of countries it is illegal in: England, Israel, Australia...

Jules: (getting angry) We're not declawing one, we're getting one already declawed...

Me: ... Turkey, New Zealand... did you know capon is illegal in England too? Aren't we serving that at the wedding?

Helpful Cat Lady: (narrows eyes)

Me: Japan and Brazil too, and they'll let you get away with a lot of stuff there. It must be really bad.

I was about to mention to the lady that Julie had wanted to declaw the cat because it makes them more tender when you cook them, but I thought that might be going too far and clearly I was already getting in hot water.

Anyway we eventually were able to get a nice older cat named Pumpkin through an adoption agency called Forgotten Cats and the ladies were very nice.

Here you can see her plotting whether to poop inside the litter box or right next to it.

Like I said, we couldn't just get any cat. We had to get one with a sordid past.

Apparently Pumpkin first lived with an owner who became an alcoholic and got rid of her. Then she lived with a family whose kids tortured and tormented her, including keeping her from getting to the litter box on purpose. For the last sixth months she had been with Forgotten Cats in a foster home in a large cage and had licked/chewed most of the hair on her back legs off due to stress. I think they had largely given up hope that she would find a permanent home because she is an older cat and folks typically adopt kittens.

Naturally with this sad story I immediately wanted the cat because yes, I am a sucker. When we were at Petsmart I wanted the old blind cat that probably had about three months to live and the gigantic diseased one that had kitty AIDS (I was prevented from doing so by the claws).

So anyway Pumpkin is old, overweight, missing fur on her back legs and has some dependency issues due to past treatment.

Needless to say, I love this cat.

Resident Evil 4 - Amazing Progress

After a tactical lesson on how to properly play the game from one of my kindly neighbors, I managed to finally get past the opening sequence of Resident Evil 4.

I racked up somewhere between 50-100 pitchforks to the face before making it into the first town. I then racked up about a dozen chainsaw decapitations before finally finishing the sequence.

All told it took me a little over a month to get past the very first combat sequence in the game. The satisfaction was palpable.

And then, like the beginning of a movie, the words "Resident Evil" appeared on the screen.

Yes folks, the sequence it took me all those hours and deaths to get through was the INTRODUCTORY SEQUENCE, designed to take a few minutes to get you acclimated to the controls.

This is going to take awhile.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Four Things Meme

Got tagged by DM Osbon for this blog meme all the cool kids are into. Now that I am doing it, that almost certainly means it has ceased to be cool but I'll give it a shot anyway.

Four Jobs I have had in my life (not including current job):

  1. Shopping Cart Pusher - I collected shopping carts in the lot part time one summer at a grocery store. I actually witnessed more rampant drug use at this particular job than any other place I worked, including waiting tables. Once I also saw a couple guys throwing boxes of cereal up into the ceiling fans in back. That was absolutely spectacular. Me, I just pushed carts for four hours straight with a fifteen minute break somewhere in the middle. Time has never, ever moved more slowly than it did that summer.

  2. Waiter - Did this for years at various establishments after my first stint with a defense contractor. The funny thing about waiting tables is working in cash all the time. You kind of worry walking home late from the bus stop that somebody is going to rob you and take all your income for the day. Fortunately I only ever got robbed once and that was on the way TO the bus stop, and all I had at the time was a couple bucks for bus fare and some smokes. So there's a handy tip for all you prospective thieves out there - rob the waiters AFTER their shift!

  3. Help Desk Guy at University - I worked sometimes on the weekends as one of those help desk/computer lab guys at college who basically sits there and can't answer any of your questions when your paper gets destroyed by pieces of junk that pass for computers. In case you can't tell from editorializing, yes, that job was frustrating. I genuinely did want to be able to help people out but the computers in the labs quite literally could potentially catch fire at any point and the garbage laptop that the school recommended (along with the garbage setup package for connecting to the school network) made certain that every last person who didn't know computers inside and out would have to call the help desk or bring their laptop in. The only upside to this job was that very occasionally you'd make a house call to some cute girl's room. Unfortunately any remote chance of getting a date was crippled by the fact that you were the "computer guy" the second you walked in.

  4. Sacristan at a Catholic Retreat House - Before the job I have now, this was definitely the coolest job I had. I got this job when I was 13 or so, and it involved staying for the entire weekend at the retreat house while all these older folks (usually men only) from various groups/churches would come up to pray. All I had to do was set up microphones and other stuff for the occasional Mass/talk and the rest of the time I could do what I pleased. I could eat whatever I wanted from the fridge in the gigantic kitchen, and there were plenty of spaces where you could set up a TV to watch movies.

    The coolest part of this job though was that the place was so big they usually had TWO sacristans there, which meant it was basically three days of raising hell with whatever buddy was there for the weekend with me. At night we would take the golf carts they had there for the older gents that had trouble walking and we'd race those carts up and down the hills of the place.

    Sometimes though, there would only be one sacristan and those weekends were just as cool: you had time to sit and chill on the beautiful grounds and catch up with a book or something. I'm not a religious fellow but there was definitely a sense of peace on those weekends at that place (except when it was time to race the carts or if the Charismatics were coming... that was just odd and frankly a little creepy, although the people were usually pretty friendly when they weren't twitching on the ground and speaking in tongues).

Four Films I have watched again and again:

  1. Blade Runner (Director's Cut) - I've watched this movie more times than any other. I used to actually watch this movie on a weekly basis my second year of college. Still waiting for the super deluxe special anniversary edition which has been rumored to be in the works for awhile now.

  2. Lord of the Rings (Extended Editions) - The best movies ever. EVER. The only reason I haven't watched these more than Blade Runner is I haven't owned them as long.

  3. Ali - This one might surprise. I'm a big Michael Mann fan and this is definitely my favorite movie of his. I am almost guaranteed to put this on if I am home on a sick day or something. For a variety of reasons I find the movie to be extremely uplifting and inspirational, and the boxing choreography is very true to the original fights if you compare them with old footage.

  4. Downfall - I can't stop watching this movie. If you've never heard of it, it's a German film about the last hours of the Third Reich. It is based on an eyewitness account from Hitler's secretary of the final hours in the bunker. You can watch the actual interview with Hitler's secretary in the documentary Blind Spot, but the actual bringing to life of the events is both disturbing and riveting. Julie is constantly making fun of me for always watching these World War II movies, especially the ones about Hitler, but it is just so fascinating to me to see how easy it is to fool yourself into believing you're doing the right thing. I think it's important to remember that as we get older and more set in our ways, we don't necessarily get wiser: it's more likely that we get tunnel vision.

  5. Tommy Boy - Okay I know this is #5 but honorable mention has to go to this hilariously idiotic movie. I don't actually own this movie but I'll watch it every time it comes on TV.

Four Places I have lived:

  1. Richmond, Virginia

  2. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

  3. Exton, Pennsylvania

  4. Storage, USA - For a couple months there I was in such disastrous shape financially that I actually technically lived in a storage garage. Now that's a bit misleading because I very rarely slept in the box, but I was sort of in between places to live and... actually, the less said about this, the better.

Four Programs I love to watch:

  1. Battlestar Galactica - Best show on TV. Nothing else is even close. Of course I say this watching very little TV of this kind (usually only sports), so perhaps my opinion on this matter is worth even less than usual.

  2. Simpsons

  3. CBS Sunday Morning - C'mon, who doesn't love Charles Osgood?

  4. Uh.... - I seriously can't think of anything else not sports related. I used to watch Baseball Tonight almost nightly but that hasn't been true this year - the new lineup on that show is absolutely terrible. I like Scrubs and Law and Order, but I don't go out of my way to watch them, they just always seem to be on whether you want to see them or not.

Four Places I have been on vacation:

  1. London, England

  2. Various Cruise Ships - This is really my vacation of choice these days. You get to visit a variety of destinations, everything is taken care of for you on the boat, and you don't have to worry about trying to organize your schedule because they'll do it for you. Plus it is just extremely relaxing to sit on a boat and read a good book. I sleep better on a cruise ship than anywhere else. Let it never be said I have crass tastes!

  3. Williamsburg, Virginia - I know what you're thinking. "That's not even remotely exotic or interesting," you're mumbling to yourself right now. Well, knock it off. Somebody might catch you mumbling to yourself and have you committed, and then where you be? Well, in an institution I suppose.

    So yeah, Williamsburg. This place is awesome. There is an amusement park here with a ton of roller coasters, there's cool historic nonsense so you can claim you went there for a reason OTHER than roller coasters, and last but certainly not least there is this unbelievably sweet Wine and Cheese shop there. I would like my ashes stored here at this shop in the off chance I could come back as a ghost and just consume everything in the store. Not like Slimer in Ghostbusters though, I'm thinking more of a badass ghost like the one in the Grudge that just killed everyone for their wine and cheese. (Note: this may not have actually been depicted in the Grudge, but I believe it was implied.)

  4. Hershey, Pennsylvania - This place rocks in the winter. First of all, you've got a town that smells like chocolate. Second of all, everyone there wants to feed you chocolate. Third of all there is a ride you can go on that explains how chocolate is made. Fourth of all they give you chocolate at the end of this ride. Fifth of all the ride is free and there is no limit to the number of times you can receive free chocolate.

    I love going to this place around Christmas time. My parents used to take the family there at Christmas and I have a lot of great memories at the Lodge. The last time Jules and I went to the Lodge the place was completely overrun with screaming kids, but I would still go back again because there are other places to stay besides the Lodge. Plus the Candy Lane always looks right purty lit up with all those lights.

Four Foods I love to eat:

  1. Jambalaya - Julie makes this awesome jambalaya with chicken and sausage. I could eat an entire pot of this stuff.

  2. Green Curry - I am completely hooked on this green curry at a nearby Thai place called Sweet Basil. If you ask for it to be made so that smoke is coming out of your ears, they will actually oblige. Sure, the morning after is slightly painful, but that doesn't matter when it tastes this good.

  3. Pizza - Here's one of the great things about pizza: the boxes can double in a pinch as furniture. I once lived in a house with four other people and we used to host the weekly Dungeons & Dragons game at our place. We'd play in the basement. There were so many pizza boxes down there that I stacked them up and actually used them as a table for my dice and books.

  4. Mac & Cheese with Tuna - This is still probably my favorite thing to eat. This is especially good with Velveeta. Funny story about Velveeta, in that same house with the pizza box table I once lived for a week on a jumbo block of Velveeta cheese. Like the storage garage, the less said about this the better.

Four Drinks I love to consume:

  1. Beer

  2. Maker's Mark - Rather than list "bourbon" I'm just going to list this because it is my favorite hard stuff.

  3. Coffee - I drink more coffee than water. It should be fairly obvious at this point that I lead a very healthy lifestyle.

  4. Mountain Dew - It's like liquefied Pixie Stix. How can this possibly be a bad thing? By the way, that sound you are hearing is my heart struggling to free itself from my ribcage.

Four Places I would rather be right now:

  1. Baseball Game - I love baseball. When I retire I want to be one of those old dudes that shows people to their seats at a minor league ballpark. I'll get to complain with the other old men about how the kids today don't play the game "the right way" while getting paid to watch.

  2. In Bed - It was a pretty rough night last night. I think living in a town with a lot of bars in walking distance is starting to take a toll. Hmmm, you know, I'll bet a little nip of something would take the edge off...

  3. On a Cruise Ship

  4. Nowhere - Maybe it's cheesy, but actually I really love where I am right now. I love my job, love my neighborhood, love my friends... I'm loving life. Seems like it would be pretty silly to mess with that right now.

Okay, so now I'm supposed to tag four other people. That means LastBestAngryMan, chornbe, jclark, and Mansorium, you are all it. Get crackin' or the collective karma of the internet will hurl its mighty weight at you.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Full Review of Dragon Wars

A full review from one of the gents who saw Dragon Wars. I can sadly take no credit for this.


If it were possible to award a movie Zero Star, I would have done it. This review is to serve more as a dire warning than as an assessment: avoid this stinking pile of garbage covered crap at all costs.

The characters are distant and their actions as convoluted as the confuddled plot line (or lack there of). They seem devoid of all human emotion (other than selfishness) and motivation. I don't know if it was just sub-par performances, direction, or casting (or all of the above), however the poor writing (luuk mawmy, I writez uh moovey 4 duh 3ird grayd showkase) does nothing to pull this haggard shell of a "too-long video game cutscene" out of a kamikaze tailspin into the Ocean of Despairingly Bad Movies.

The story is great!!! "Great" if, say, you enjoy being cinematically lobotomized by a highly caffeinated, rabid wolverine wielding a rusty turbo-charged chainsaw with the word "plot" on it. It seems to me that the writer frequently got himself into situations while devising the script where he would ask himself "I wonder where I should go with this" or get himself into jams and say "wow, I wonder how I can get the characters out of this mess?"

The answers apparently came from the world famous writer's reference "How to Avoid Writing in a Coherent Manner at All Costs." This valuable treatise, of course, suggests frequently inserting large computerized cobras to take the attention away from ridiculous plot holes and unbelievable scenarios.

The aforementioned ridiculous plot holes and unbelievable scenarios are so atrocious in nature, in fact, that they are actually truly truly insulting to the movie-goer's intelligence. The director makes such insane requests for suspension of disbelief that it actually makes the audience cringe at points. Several times throughout this film I heard others around me gasp or giggle at the shear nonsensical madness taking place on-screen. I also heard many of them talking about trying to get their money back after the movie. Several questioned how it got funding to be produced in the first place.

One shining ray of light in this movie, however, was oh who am I trying to kid, there wasn't anything even remotely redeeming about this asphyxiatingly fecal production. Nothing could have salvaged this train wreck Power-Rangers meets "Reign of Fire" meets Dr. Seuss disaster save the Movie Execs handing out $1,000,000 to all twelve people in the audience who made it through the entire showing.


My anticipation for the film could not possibly be any higher at this point.

Stirring Movie Reviews

A couple of my weekly gaming buddies went to see Dragon Wars over the weekend and came away with the following reviews:

"This movie made the Dungeons & Dragons movie look like Lord of the Rings... the second Dungeons & Dragons movie."

"It left me wanting something more: a high powered rifle to end it all."

Obviously I've immediately added this to my Netflix queue.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blood Bowl - The Original Fantasy Football

I will never forget one year for Christmas as a young lad I asked for a copy of the enormous board game Blood Bowl. The first edition of this massive game was released in 1987, so I was probably about 9 or 10 when I asked for it.

I never did get a copy of the game, possibly because:
a) It was probably somewhat difficult to explain the high price tag for this board game when your parents are used to buying bargain copies of Monopoly and Life
b) The cover of the box indicated a delicious level of violence that probably would have clashed mightily with the Christmas tree
c) A game called "Blood Bowl" doesn't exactly scream "healthy pastime for a 10 year old" to most parents

To this day I still don't have a copy of the board game. It can cost over $100 if you try to get it online. You can't really get a new copy, you need to buy it secondhand off someone.

The basic gist of this game is that you put together a team of elves, dwarves, orcs, and other fantasy staples and have them play a game of bastardized American football against each other on a huge game board. There are rules for playing entire seasons where you have injuries, player aging, and even fatalities. There's a great summary on the basics on Wikipedia.

A combination of classic fantasy and American football? How can you possibly go wrong?

Well, the learning curve is a little bit on the tough side for the average Joe, and even if I were to finally get a copy of the board game now I have no idea who would actually play the game with me. It takes about 2 hours to play an individual game, and with "campaign" options and the like it would have to be a regularly weekly occurrence. There are online leagues and whatnot that have Java clients, but those players really know what they are doing and just end up destroying newbies like myself.

There is hope, however. A French developer called Focus Home Interactive is developing a PC version of the game.

Perhaps, almost 20 years later, I will have a chance to sink my teeth into this one.

Furniture Shopping, or the Fourth Circle of Hell: Part I

Thus we descended into the fourth chasm,
Gaining still farther on the dolesome shore
Which all the woe of the universe insacks...

Here saw I people, more than elsewhere, many,
On one side and the other, with great howls,
Rolling weights forward by main force of chest.

They clashed together, and then at that point
Each one turned backward, rolling retrograde,
Crying, "Why keepest?" and, "Why squanderest thou?"

Thus they returned along the lurid circle
On either hand unto the opposite point,
Shouting their shameful metre evermore.

  -- Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy - Inferno

About a month ago Jules and I moved into a new place. I'd use that as an excuse for not having posted in awhile, but the real reason is that I've just been extremely lazy.

So yeah, we moved into a bigger place into a cooler town. You can tell it is cool because people like to actually go there, as opposed to the apartment I used to live in where people tried to go the other direction.

You have one or two shootings and a carjacking and all of the sudden everybody thinks you live in a dangerous area. Sheesh!

Anyway with moving into a larger place comes the problem of having to furnish the new areas.

Different Tastes

I discovered the hard way just how different Julie's and my tastes are in furniture a few months ago. We were out on a Saturday afternoon running some errands. Normally I'd try to weasel out of running errands on a Saturday afternoon, but in this case I was persuaded by the possibility of going to see The Transformers movie.

We had taken care of all chores except one with about an hour to spare before the movie. Jules wanted to go to Bed Bath & Beyond to put a couple of things on the wedding registry. The movie theater was right next door so with an hour to spare I figured it wouldn't be a problem.

First, let me just say that Bed Bath & Beyond is really not a bad store when other people are paying. In that sense it is like Williams & Sonoma. It is one of those stores I would never, ever, in a million years spend my own money in because you can find the exact same items for half of the price with a little legwork, but the selection adds a lot to the convenience factor and I think that's why you pay a little extra. They also have some cool square china, which I'm a big fan of.

Julie, however, is not. Julie is very into traditional designs when it comes to furniture, plates, and... uh... well pretty much anything from an aesthetic standpoint.

Me, I hate traditional stuff. I like to be reminded when I walk into a room that I live in the 21st century, not 1950. If they sold robots or jetpacks in furniture stores I'd put them on the registry.

Julie had put a shower curtain on the registry via the internet that she wanted to take a look at in person. One look was all you needed to tell you this was the ugliest shower curtain in the store. The puddle of vomit and various clawed out eyeballs nearby were also a tipoff. It was like Medusa, except looking it in the eyes provoked a gag reflex, immobilizing you as you tried to expunge from your body all trace of having seen the monstrosity.

Also, nothing else that Julie had picked out matched this thing, probably because "Projectile Vomit Inducing Ugly" was SO last year.

However, we were approaching a half hour or so until Transformers started. The question became: do I mention this to Julie?

In the end I couldn't help myself. I mentioned that the towels she had picked didn't match that shower curtain.

With those words any possibility of attending the afternoon screening of Transformers vanished. Like the tortured souls in the Fourth Circle pushing great weights up against each other for eternity, we held dozens of different colored towels up against different shower curtains in an effort to find the elusive perfect match, ever just beyond our tortured grasp.

At one point we were becoming so frustrated that we started asking hapless, unsuspecting nearby shoppers, who looked at us with confusion and horror and we proffered them towels and curtains, tears streaming from our eyes.

I still have yet to see Transformers, by the way.