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.